Alaïa is a surprisingly divisive fragrance, for something seems so unassuming and, basically, solid and pleasant wearing, despite its fundamental strangeness. When I wear it, I wonder what the brief, exactly, was. I feel certain, it had something to do with skin, as it seems like skin is one of the fundamental tropes is contemporary perfumery*, and, also, because Azzdeine Alaïas clothing, those band-aid stretch corset dresses, are so much about skin, from how they mimic the way it hugs the body (in beige-to-brown shades that make the wearer appear nude), to the way they accentuate the bodys lines, and provoke curiosity about what lies beneath, skin both seen and unseen. Regardless of whether this perfume was literally inspired by skin, Alaïa references it, because it is a leather perfume, and not just a leather, but a suede, the most intimate of leather materials, made from the underside of skins, the part of skin of that lies beneath the surface of skin itself.
Suede is traditionally scented with violet and nitrile ingredients, metallic and mineralic, the scent of the sturdiest materials available, of stone and steel, and that is how Alaïa opens. It is evocative, of both nature and artifice, things that grow, and things that are carved, melted, sculpted, and built with human hands. The opening is lifted by a broad, ozonic accord, the scent of air, whooshing its violet, stone, and metal apart, and leaves this accord hanging, like the ingredients molecular structures are trying to tear themselves apart from the insidemetaphysical and weird, but also beautiful.
Then, the violets turn lusher and fruitier, almost plummy, steering the perfume to a floral accord with a steely edge, as bitter suede unfolds in its purple flowers. I wish this phase of the perfume lasted longer, because I love aggro, edgy violet perfumes like Insolence. But Alaïa isnt as sassy as Insolence, and it is considerably more restrained and tasteful. There are aquatics hissing in its ozone, and they contribute to the steely sheen of its violet accord, giving it a disorienting, fizzy, buzzy quality. I think this comes from a carefully dosed combination of aldehydes and ISO-E-Super, that makes the perfume seem to be both everywhere and nowhere, with a kind of atmospheric transparency.
Alaïa tunes down to a background hum with a greige tint that could be boring, if it werent so texturally surreal. Clean, soapy musk, more aldehydes, and then the scent of great grass emerge, reminiscent of Jacomos classic Silences, with violet returning to the mix, almost like a more floral take on masculine perennials, like Grey Flannel, and Green Irish Tweed, and finally, in its last stages, it reminds me of an upscale reimagining of Irish Spring Soap, a comforting scent that brings back memories of 1970s childhood. I think there is also some kind of synthetic ambrette in its drydown, which brings the perfume full circle, back to the animalic leather opening. Its mineral texture persists, a granite path in its greenery, and that, with the occasional reappearance of its abstract ozone materials, makes the perfume really interesting to me.
I notice that a lot of reviewers have said they have trouble smelling Alaïa, and I had similar problems with my bottle for at least six months, after I bought it. I hear this is a problem with lots of fragrances that lean on ISO-E-Super, and, while some people might be genuinely anosmic to it, it is possible that, one, this ingredient requires a good spray mechanism to work properly, and, two, perfume that contain it need time after the first two or three wearings to expel any inert gas (perfume manufacturers add it on top of the juice during bottling to help preserve shelf life), and let in oxygen so the perfume can continue to macerate and develop. Other people dont like it because it doesnt smell like vintage perfume. I love vintage, but I love other things, too. And I love this.
Alaïa is one of the most challenging perfumes I have yet tried to review, because it has an elusive, hide-and-seek quality that made it very difficult for me to pin down what was happening, where the transitions began and ended, and what was happening with its note separation. I can understand why Luca Turin loves it so much, as he seems to prize originality, and Alaïa is not like anything else I have ever smelled. It genuflects towards one of the great mid century leather perfumes, Balmains Jolie Madame, and, noticing that, helped me get my bearings, and untangle the rest, as did smelling Tom Fords really good Noir Anthricite, which helped me sleuth out the mineral materials in Alaïa.
Because of its ISO-E-super powered transparency, it is hard for me to quantify Alaïas projection and sillage. It is the opposite of dense, and it seems to form a kind of bubble or aura around the wearer, rather than emenate from a specific location. Just a couple of sprays seems to fill a room, but it mingles so easily with other ambient scents that I cannot locate the limits of its projection, especially during the first three or four hours of wearing it. It lasts about seven or eight hours on skin, at least twelve or more or fabric. I sprayed some inside my favorite corduroy cap, and I can detect it there after over 24 hours.
Alaïa is a great choice for office wear, and I like it more during daytime, than evening, but its so versatile, that it doesnt have a particular season, or occasion. I have no idea what the given note pyramid has to do with this perfume, because I literally cannot find any pink pepper, peony, or anything else on that list. That is the only thing I can find to complain about. I love this stuff. Five stars, and two sculpted, buffed-and-shined thumbs up.
I totally get the negative reviews, and I dont even disagree with the points they make.
And this fragrance has captured the ambient scent of working in a high end department store in 1991, when Alaia dresses were a really big deal. I could not have told you which notes would create that effect, apart from maybe a strong aquatic note and leather. I get more violet than freesia from this, though freesia would be so in keeping with the early 90s idea - Antonias Flowers was so beloved.
The marketing materials Ive heard about dont seem to make any mention of this department store impression as part of the brief, so I dont know that its intentional. But it IS uncanny.
I find the scent to be a sillage and longevity beast, which only goes to show that what were anosmic to isnt universal; I cant smell Prada Candy.
I would love this if it went more violet/mineral/suede and less aquatic on my skin. Or maybe aquatics are what my nose picks up most because I dont much like them. Usually I spray a little in my leather bag instead of wearing it on my person, and will later notice an unusual and beautiful smell and forget for a minute that its Alaia.
Opening is an assault of contemporary Saccharin sweetened, Musk, indistinct Floral, with hints to Tobacco in the aftertaste. Topped with an Aquatic, it has an effect similar, to, soft hydrogenated Peanut Butter stickiness to my palate. Olfactive, soft, muddy dullness, with whispers of public lavatory flatulence lingering.
I am hugely entertained by the "Musings" of this scent
by Luca Turin.
Boom XB-1 Baby Boom commercial iterations, I hope, would choose, to pump in Bond No.9 Westside, for an appropriate Nostalgie.
This stuff, needs to remain, on the shelves of, American Shopping Malls and Airports.
Even worse than Narciso edp. Unidentifiable dry florals + a peppery, chemical mishmash that smells more irksome than bland. I'm having a hard time trying to imagine anyone paying money for this and deliberately wearing it.