Monday, April 13, 2009

Thoughts on the two Mackies

One of the goodies I found in the vintage samples from Dave's mom was a mini of the original Bob Mackie perfume, which arrived on the market in 1985. As I type this post, I’ve got a dab of it on my left hand, and a spritz of its relaunch, Mackie (1991), on my right. If I said the two are like night and day I’d be guilty of understatement. I feel a little like Lokai.

The current Mackie, for those of you who wouldn’t be caught dead sampling something so mainstream, is a shrill floriental dominated by tuberose. It’s a much thinner version of two heavyweights that came out around the same time: Estee Lauder Spellbound and Givenchy Amarige. (A herd of these heady, spicy florals werer launched in the early 90s, before the world of mass market fragrances became nothing but fruit juices and Angel clones. Vicky Tiel Sirene and Nicole Miller's signature fragrance are a couple that still survive.)

Mackie is a particularly one-dimensional example of the genre. There’s a touch of fruit, chiefly raspberry, in the top, but most of the life of the scent is in the floral heart. Tuberose and more tuberose, plus touches of jasmine and orange blossom, rest on a rather light spicy/ambery base. Although it’s quite loud--a real sillage Godzilla--Mackie has an odd lack of depth. You couldn’t call it sheer, but the relative absence of animalic or heavy resinous notes gives it a brittleness that is unusual in a floriental. You keep waiting for those powerful florals to develop or decay, but they just sit on the skin and slowly fade, like perfect plastic blossoms left in a sunny window

Bob Mackie, on the other hand, is a classic 80s floral chypre. It has an unusual fruity opening, rich with peach and a touch of black currant, but it quickly transitions to a heart of jasmine, neroli, lavender and rose. The base is a warm combination of moss and woods. There’s a potent civet note that becomes very pronounced once the flowers have entirely disappeared, but the overall character of the scent remains ladylike, refined. It’s a sensual fragrance, sexy but not shameless.

Vintage lover that I am, I suppose this is where I should start moaning about the decline of mass market perfumery as evidenced by the two Mackies. It’s certainly true that you couldn’t ask for a clearer illustration of the crass turn the fragrance industry took in the late 80s/early90s. Original Bob Mackie is a meticulously composed perfume with warmth and depth, definitely a fragrance for a grown-up woman with a touch of glamour. Mackie smells like a successful chemistry experiment that could be worn equally well by a teenager, a senior citizen or a department store mannequin.

And yet, for some reason, I’m disinclined to mourn the oldie. Maybe I’ve just been sniffing too many vintage perfumes, but I’m beginning to understand why the market tired of glamour and maturity in fragrances. Grand perfumes are, well, grand. They are beautiful and complicated, and they demand a lot of the wearer. You have to live up to them. Sure, you can drench yourself in Mitsouko while wearing jeans and flip-flops, but it’s a little like reading A Thousand Plateaus while you wait for the bus. On some level, you are just kidding yourself.

There's something to be said for the bland, characterless perfumery of the present day. It's heresy, I know, but almost no one lives and dresses to suit the great classics we all love so much. Since we can't do them justice, maybe it's better for them to pass away.


Mary said...

Re: your final paragraph; I never thought about it that way, but I think you're right! :)

jmcleod76 said...

I doubt I'd like either of them, but that bottle is great.

BitterGrace said...

I'm glad you sympathize with the heresy, Mary. Too bad the grand perfumes can't last the way great paintings do. It would be wonderful to think that people could at least get a sniff of them as relics 400 years from now.

I love the bottle, too, J. It's sort of whimsical and elegant at the same time.

Alyssa said...

Oh I don't know. I understand where you're coming from, but I like having something around that I have to live up to, that encourages me to sit up straight and command the room, and that helps me understand the baroque power games of old. And I desperately want perfumers to know their history and be able to draw from it.

And, believe it or not, Mitsouko really does feel like a comfort scent to me sometimes.

Perfumeshrine said...

You certainly have a point there and for everything there is a the proper time (I've got a 60s song earworm right now!). It's alsoI believe related to the disillusionment of a whole generation and the coming of age of the kids of the hippies. The ones who rejected revolution )their parents') even before knowing what it is. (The generation I like to call "born old" -I'm marginally a little older than them thank God!)

Mackie sounds like the absolute terror!! (Spellbound and Amarige? Kill me now! LOL)

BitterGrace said...

Truth be told, Alyssa, I am as attached to the oldies as anybody. I do appreciate the style they embody. I'm not in any danger of pouring my Lanvins down the sink or anything. I just feel that it might be time to let go of some of that attachment. At least, that's how I feel today. Tomorrow might be a different story ;-)

E, you would almost certainly dislike the new Mackie. The old one would be much more to your taste, though truth be told, it is not a stellar example of its type. It's a little incoherent--like a Mackie dress!