I'm loathe to condemn a fragrance based only on personal dislike. A perfume review is such a subjective thing, and though I might wish it could be impersonal it is anything but. There's usually something there, demonstrating artistry in one form or another, or if lacking creativity, at least a certain level of competence. I try to respect that even fragrances I dislike show at the very least, skilled chemistry.
A few weeks back, I purchased a four fragrance set of Celine Dion's scents at Big Lots for $8.00 USD. I'm a fan of drugstore scents, and a good celebrity perfume can be a fun addition to my collection without splashing out too much. These were ½ oz. bottles, so it was a generous amount of fragrance for the money. I'm well aware of the adage, “You get what you pay for”, but having proven it wrong so many times I saw no harm in giving Canada's national diva a sniff (apologies to Helen Reddy).
The first two I tried from the set were the worst. By, “Worst” I mean that I couldn't find anything positive to say, no matter how hard I tried. I've re-written this review several times trying to be kinder and eliminating phrases like, “Too cheap for a ten dollar hooker”, and “If it were named for Louis Ferdinand Celine rather than Celine Dion, it might make sense because it smells of contempt for humankind... and a mustard factory.”
The truth is, I'm dumbfounded. There's perfume I recoil from, but these two-Pure Brilliance and Sensational horrify me in a way I've yet to encounter with fragrance. They are physically repulsive. As they were both the work of skilled perfumers with several well-known scents on their CV's, I couldn't quite grasp what it was that was so sickness inducing about them. The fragrances didn't smell turned, and when I checked the remaining bottles in the set they were fine-I didn't like them, but they didn't send me screaming from the room. I looked around the web for various reviews, checked the forums at Base Notes, and Fragrantica, and it seems that I'm really the odd one out here-both fragrances have legions of fans writing positive reviews.
Both Sensational and Pure Brilliance share fruit notes, which I have always found difficult. That said, if I could comprehend Poison, it shouldn't be that impossible to find some redeeming quality in these. I'm telling you, I can not. I concede it is probably something in the way I experience fruit notes, or the way my brain interprets them that makes these two fragrances so unbearably awful to me. They smell cheap, grotesquely synthetic, and somewhat reminiscent of rotting meat, and unwashed hair. And that's just the qualities they share-each has its own special sort of stomach churning recipe.
Let's start with Sensational. The notes themselves don't look that bad, on paper. Sprayed generously on my arm is a different story, and I'm sorry to report the longevity is rather good on this one. On fabric, well into the following day. The silage is huge, a cloud of pear and plum threatening to asphyxiate anyone stupid enough (me) to spray it in a poorly ventilated space.
Sometimes, pear, apple and plum can smell like a cross between hairspray, and fruit flavoured chewing gum. Not the sort of thing I'd seek out, but pleasant enough if you were putting the finishing touches on a hairdo or trying to eliminate bad breath. In Sensational, there's a strange note that comes and goes throughout the opening and middle that reminds me of a fish tank in need of some upkeep. Mildew? Mould? Algae? I can't quite pin it down, but it isn't what I'd think of as, “marine.” There's a whiff of piss/ammonia to it. By the time the base of amber breaks through it is too late-the warmth is murky, unpleasant, and too muted by everything else. I wish I could experience all the lovely qualities other reviewers have noted, but to my nose, it smells like a big, cheap, tacky mess of fruit, the Shedd Aquarium, and a restroom someone forgot to clean, and then hastily splashed with Lysol.
Notes according to Fragrantica:
Plum, apple, pear, mimosa, freesia, orris root, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, violet, amber, musk.
Nose: Maurice Roucel (yes, he's responsible for my two least favourite Guerlain perfumes -Insolence and L'Instant de Guerlain, but those are merely dislikes, not flee the room hate).
Notes according to Goody: Are you kidding?!
The second fragrance in the set is Pure Brilliance, which is (if you can believe it) worse than Sensational. Pure Brilliance is everything I hate in a perfume amplified a few million times. I was temporarily concerned my sinuses might have suffered permanent damage from this experience. I tried Pure Brilliance on a day when one thing after another kept going wrong, and I foolishly thought, “This day can't get any worse.” When, oh when will I learn to stop challenging the Universe?
Like Sensational, the fruit notes are there right at the top where they don't so much “open” as they launch an offensive. I surrender, just make it stop. Apple is such a hard note to get right. It can be done, but the rest of the composition had better be damned good, or it is going to smell like a glass of cider crossed with cider vinegar-sweet, sharp, and yeasty. Not the building block of a great perfume in unskilled hands. In nature, apples to my nose always smell on the verge of fermentation, no matter how fresh off the tree they are. I keep a few in a bowl on the dining room table in season, but only a few-the rest are stored safely away in the bins of the fridge where they can't transfer their smell to anything but an unsuspecting carrot.
I spent twelve years living in rural Nebraska on a farm. Field mice are part of life, particularly in the cooler weather as they seek heat and food inside the farm house. Sometimes, I'd forget an out-of-the way trap until a certain sweet, yet sharp smell would waft out from the forgotten corner. When I did not yet know I was pregnant, I kept smelling what I thought was a mouse in a forgotten trap. I tore the house apart thinking a mouse might have run off with the trap dragging behind it and died behind the piano or something. I never did locate the trap, but a pregnancy test eventually confirmed Danny was on his way. That strange note-be it from pregnancy hormones or a mouse rotting away behind a bookcase is essentially what I smell in Pure Brilliance-something putrefying, but unable to be located.
Great perfumes often have a bit of nastiness underneath, but this isn't a hint of indole, or muskiness in Pure Brilliance, or if it is, I can't process it as such. Pure Brilliance is in my experience of it rank, from start to finish with only the vaguest hint of rose, also so poorly done that it smells more of the water in the vase than the blooms themselves. It is in the air, if you try really hard to notice.
Notes according to Fragrantica:
Pear, apple, peach, freesia, green notes, honeysuckle, wood notes, lily and musk. Kind of like opening a tin of fruit cocktail in a funeral parlour right after the lilies for the service have arrived. Ooop, someone forgot to do the embalming, and it is getting kind of close in there...You know, aldehydes wouldn't hurt here.
Nose: Harry Fremont, responsible for unleashing CK One on the world, and closer to home, on the buses I had to ride in East Boston through the mid-to-late 90's when every teenager was drenched in the stuff. God, I'll never forgive him for that. He's the nose behind Halston Catalyst for men *shudder*, and Lauder's Modern Muse (which I loathe, but Danny likes) as well.
Notes according to Goody: You're still shitting me, right?
I've really struggled with these. The next fragrance in the set, Signature is better. I'll review it after a few more wears, but of the fragrances in the line I've tried thus far, it is certainly the best. I wouldn't go out of my way to wear it if I weren't crafting a review, but it isn't repulsive. Given the first two, that's saying something. I was braced for the worst though, which isn't the best place to start a review from.
Marketing is so crucial to a fragrance that I have to wonder if the people raving about Sensational and Pure Brilliance are fans of Celine Dion. My only experience with Celine Dion was when my dad was in hospital years ago, and I sat at his bedside after some procedure (I've forgotten what) as he watched her perform a concert on television. This would have been the 90's when I guess she was at the height of her career. “Isn't she beautiful? And that voice!” Given that the only other pop-culture figure to capture his attention was Pamela Anderson, I have to wonder if he harboured some subconscious attraction to Canadian women. Pammy can't sing, but I think I know what he admired about her. Anyway, I watched the Celine Dion concert with him, shrugged, and that was the first and last I'd thought about her in 25 years until faced with this “gift set.” As the holidays draw closer more of these sets are turning up at drugstores and discounters. Proceed with caution, or at least try them before giving as gifts-you don't want the stench of Sensational or Pure Brilliance interfering with the enjoyment of homebaked stollen and coffee come Christmas morning.
There are very good, inexpensive celebrity fragrances out there (Madonna Truth or Dare, Rihanna Nude, Eau du Gaga, Sofia Vergara, etc.) and I encourage you to keep an open mind (and nose). So far, the Celine Dion fragrances are not for me (they are the two worst fragrances I have ever encountered, and I've encountered a whole hell of a lot of perfume) but I know that there are drugstore gems to be found.
Have you worn Sensational, or Pure Brilliance and had a good experience? I won't fault you for liking them (though I might show up on your door step armed with sample vials and try to stage an intervention) and I'm interested to know what I'm missing. The stuff sells well, so there must be something there. What is eluding me? Please, share your experience.