Purely by coincidence (though not ill-timed), this fall marks the launch of two scents with major Hollywood glamour in their DNA. Swarovski and Elie Saab have become mainstays on the red carpet, but, until now, they have both shied away from fragrance.
Aura by Swarovski comes from the ubiquitous crystal giant and encruster par excellence. Elie Saab Le Parfum is named after the Beirut-based couturier whose label rose to fame after Halle Berry wore one of his gowns to the Oscars in 2002. (Mila Kunis donned a dusty lavender creation of his for the Academy Awards this past February – most people were probably fixated on the deep neckline).
If, like me, you expected that such red-carpet favourites would simply rely on their popularity with celebs as a selling point for their fragrance ventures, you might want to sniff elsewhere (like, say, Berry’s collection of scents). Instead – and much to my surprise – both took an artful risk and decided to focus on bottling the intangible beauty of light.
Consider Saab’s goal: “a fragrance which expresses a radiant femininity and which includes the duality of my world: the light of the Middle East and the modernity of the West. For me, light is eternal strength.”
Then there’s what Pierre Aulas, Swarovski’s olfactory artistic director, has to say: “The name Swarovski instantly evokes crystal, clarity and an enigmatic alchemy of light. With Aura, we deliberately chose a different path, transforming crystal into living matter, always luminous but equally sensual.”
There’s more: “With Aura, more than ever, the woman is the heart of a whirlwind of light. She captures and reflects it, as if she herself has become the crystal.”
Creating the olfactory equivalent of light could not be an easy task. It’s not like being handed a brief to formulate a scent inspired by a rose garden. Light has empirical qualities that will fascinate physicists and photographers for their entire careers but it’s positively devoid of odour.
With fruity and floral notes of lychee and white tuberose, Aura is sweeter than Saab (built around orange blossom and jasmine) but not by much. Both use the word “solar” to articulate their luminosity. Aura reaches higher into the nostrils, perhaps thanks to “a prism of energy” comprised of amber, benzoin and white musk. On some skin, the scent might border on cloying. Saab expresses a more wearable refinement. Like the dresses, it speaks the universal language of pretty.
Since neither brand has a fragrance division, they turned to the pros. Swarovski’s scent is part of the Clarins portfolio (see also Thierry Mugler, David Yurman and Burberry) and Saab is overseen by Beauté Prestige International (Narciso Rodriguez, Issey Miyake).
Mega noses were recruited; Olivier Cresp with Jean-Pierre Bethouart for Aura and Francis Kurkdjian for Le Parfum. (These names won’t mean anything to most, but suffice it to say, Kurkdjian is the Darren Aronofsky of the fragrance world.) On hand for a media preview in Toronto a few months ago, Danny Ventura, the international spokesperson for Elie Saab Parfums, explained how the fragrance was designed similarly to a couture gown; just as we see a dress’s train as a woman walks away, we smell the trail (or sillage in French). According to Ventura, “the celebrity, the bride and the princess” are the ultimate Saab women.
I do like the thought that went into Aura’s refillable bottle (a nod to being eco-minded); it resembles a miniature metallic monolith that’s topped with an actual Swarovski crystal. The Saab scent is housed in a comparatively classic, multifaceted cube. In some ways – particularly its substantial weight – the bottle feels more crystal-like.
Both juices are tinged pink (peachy for Saab, rosy for Swarovski). “With the pink, we wanted to make a link with dawn and, of course, it’s very feminine,” Nelly Chenelat, brand director for Clarins, said during a visit to Toronto this summer.
Aura and Elie Saab are hitting stores in the concentrated eau de parfum format rather than the lighter eau de toilette. This underscores their high-end positioning, which is also reflected in their prices; $116 for the 75-millilitre bottle of Aura (available at The Bay); $140 for 90 millilitres of Saab (available at Holt Renfrew).
There’s no doubt the scents are luxe. But be mindful of where and when you wear them. I’m thinking, in particular, about the Toronto International Film Festival, which gets under way on Thursday. My feeling is they’d prove too strong for fellow moviegoers. In a dark theatre, you could say, they’d give off too much light.