Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Fine Fragrances, a record of the less-than-stellar entries in the annals of perfumery. They’re not bad, per se, just quantifiably okay, capably pleasant in a pinch but too familiar or faceless to really thrill. Today in our running tally of all the fragrances on the lowest rungs of wearability (because wearing them is better than wearing nothing at all): McQueen Eau de Parfum.
To be fair upfront, my expectations for McQueen Eau de Parfum were probably unreasonably high from the start. Not only am I a self-proclaimed “slut for tuberose,” but my swooning appreciation of Alexander McQueen’s work comes from that one time in 2011 when I saw his Met retrospective and Savage Beauty shook me to my very core and the other time this past weekend when I saw the new documentary McQueen and quite loved it despite it in some ways being a pretty standard documentary, subject matter aside. As it turns out, just like my love for tuberose, my love for Alexander McQueen comes from a visceral space that is difficult to reason with as it is wholly about deeply felt emotion instead of a more formal education, and that leads to a standard of expectation best met only by fever dreams. As such, it’s little wonder I’m not more moved by McQueen Eau de Parfum.
The McQueen EdP is a tuberose white floral fragrance with a bit of an oriental affectation. I like it well enough because I like most tuberose fragrances in general, and I certainly prefer well executed, full-figured tuberose fragrances like this over low-cal confections like Guerlain’s Joyeuse Tubéreuse, but the most I can muster is a “Well, that smells quite nice,” and “Well, that smells quite nice” feels fundamentally at odds with what you’d expect from a fragrance bearing McQueen’s name.
After all, Alexander McQueen’s designs always seemed to find ways fold the perverse into the beautiful and vice versa. With its odd notes of rubber and raw meat and all other sorts of distressing things, tuberose is such a potentially gnarly olfactory playground that you’d think we’d get something more provocatively indolic or at least unusual in its mold. Instead, the McQueen Eau de Parfum recalls the spiced tuberose at the heart of Givenchy’s Organza and Madonna’s plush Fracas reinvention, Truth or Dare. These are fine reference points, for sure, but familiar is a far cry from avant garde. I’m not saying I need McQueen to smell like steak tartare or an open wound, but even a hint of that would certainly leave a more distinct, and distinctly McQueen, impression.
About the only thing that really captures the McQueen ethos, quite frankly, is this magic hour moment between the EdP’s floral heart and it’s barely-there drydown, although to call it a “hour” is deeply generous reinterpretation of space and time. There is this moment I observed as the fragrance shifts gears between the two modes (there, and not there) where the tuberose wilts and the dusty earthiness of the base (vetiver, allegedly) creeps up and we are oh-so-briefly in a hall full of dead flowers. It hints at a could-be-brilliant accord, very Miss Havisham, very much in keeping with that gothic romantic core of a lot of McQueen’s work, and an altogether clever homage to his brilliant ability to craft beauty out of dead things.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that McQueen is more impressive as a Parfum than the Eau de Parfum I’ve got a few samples of, but the Parfum will set you back damn near $400, so I’ll save myself from the chance of further, more expensive disappointments. The EdP ain’t terrible, obviously, and my scent sensitive coworker remarked that it’s her favorite thing I’ve worn, so I’d imagine they’re using quality materials. The problem I have with this one is that lacks any discernible relation to its visionary namesake, and that feels pretty significant in this instance.
All of this arguably bodes ill for the eight (!!!) new fragrances McQueen is officially launching in September, but who knows? Eight new fragrances are eight opportunities to do right by Alexander McQueen’s legacy, after all, and Heaven knows I’d just love it if they were able to invite Miss Havisham back for a starring role in one of ’em.