Kilian is the most generous perfume house. I just clicked once on their Facebook page and I keep receiving unexpected, unsolicited samples in the mail. This is so generous and I cannot thank them enough. I have recently received samples of the new Asian Tales duo, Water Calligraphy and Bamboo Harmony. They are both lovely. Bamboo Harmony is a delicate green tea fragrance with a citrus opening and a light mossy drydown. Imagine a very refined Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert. Water Calligraphy is an almost floral cologne. Jasmin, lotus and magnolia anchor on soapy vetiver base creating a water colour serene image. I love them both. But I have a couple of issues with the fragrances themselves and the whole Asiaxploitation theme that has taken over western luxury brands.
The Asian Tales duo actually are a little bit embarrassing. While no one can doubt the excellent quality of materials they are very weak in terms of the usual perfume parameters (sillage, longevity and projection) something that cannot be easily forgiven for such expensive fragrances. They are also rather unimaginative. They have a “been there, done that”quality and as they both progress to the drydown they start smelling very similar. They feel like a for her and for him versions of the same aquatic base. I do not have an objection to aquatic scents, I see their charm and I recognize their beauty. My objection is that I was expecting something a little more imaginative from Kilian.
And this is where embarrassment comes in: is this the way the West sees the East? Why a house like Kilian who has some quite daring fragrances in their line-up have chosen this approach to create perfumes for the Asian market? Both perfumes are composed of very common notes that are heavily used in western perfumes. Many popular perfumes come to mind when one smells the Asian Tales and none of them can be accused of sophistication and originality. Where are some interesting notes like calligraphy ink, japanese incense, the myriad of japanese herbs and chinese spices? I can contradict myself immediately by saying that what I find missing form them is a western vision of Asia. Why would someone from China or Japan or Korea want to smell like calligraphy ink? If they can afford by Kilian they probably want to smell like westerners. But is this really the case? I feel that analogies should be drawn to put things into perspective. And the analogy would be a chinese perfume named “Queen Elizabeth Patchouli” or “Marie Antoinette Fromage”. If the name Water Calligraphy can show an ounce of poetic license, Bamboo Harmony is plain tacky.
I would really like to hear what real Asians think of this blatant exploitation of Asian money. To me it feels like an accident waiting to happen. In fact one such accident happened a few weeks ago when Ferrari decided to celebrate its 20th anniversary in the Chinese market, the fastest growing Ferrari market. They set up a grand evening and presented the limited edition Ferrari Italia 458 Dragon. Only 20 cars will be produced and this is a description from techblog.com: “ Limited to just 20-units and exclusive to China, the Ferrari 458 Italia Dragon features gold wheels / winglets, embroidered seats, and even a special plaque denoting that it’s a “20th Anniversary Special Edition“. It’s rumored that all 20 vehicles have already been sold”. And if you cannot believe what you are reading here are some photos of the beautiful car after Asiaxploitation vandalism. It is not yet clear who actually came up with a disasterous idea to honour the Chinese: at some point of the evening a video was screened in which a Ferrari was actually speeding on the Great Wall leaving skid marks on the only human construction visible from space, built 2200 years ago to protect the Chinese Empire. Analogies are always helpful, as long as they are properly drawn. So I suppose the analogy Ferrari used was that of a Ferrari leaving skid marks on the streets of Rome. And they were right in approving this analogy because both Rome and Ferrari are top export products for the Italian economy. However this is the wrong analogy. The correct one would have been a Geely (吉利控股集團) leaving its marks on the Colosseum. I think even the most recession stricken Italian would object. The Chinese also objected. Vigorously! They stopped the event and they demanded that Ferrari cleaned up the mess on the Great Wall. The visible one, because they made a point of how this unsophisticated demonstration of technical supremacy has probably compromised structurally this monument. Ferrari of course denied that it was their idea and blamed the whole embarrassing event on a local Ferrari employee.
My point is that if the West wants to pay homage to their newly discovered growing markets they should be a little more respectful and research their history and culture. And in this case their perfume history and culture. Calice Becker, the perfumer behind Asian Tales, is very talented but wouldn’t it be wiser and far more interesting to turn to an Asian perfumer (I am sure there are several, even though we prefer to ignore them) for a real Asian tale?
Image of the Ferrari promotional skid marks on the Great Wall from here