by Beth Hammarlund
I blame Jennifer Lopez. It’s true that she wasn’t the first celebrity to launch a vanity fragrance. (I’m sure I wasn’t the only little girl in the late ’80s begging her mom for Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds. Oh wait, I probably was.) But she was certainly the first celebrity to successfully roll out a fragrance as part of her personal empire. JLo Glow is still a top fragrance and a huge moneymaker, and it’s spawned three spin-off fragrances: Miami Glow, My Glow, and Love at First Glow.
Normally, I’m not much for nose-in-the-air snobbery. I’m more of an everywoman kind of girl. But fragrance is an exception. Because guess what? Making perfume is hard. It’s an art and a science, and the true masters of fragrance are extraordinarily gifted and mad as hatters. Have you read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer? It’s exactly like that, but with fewer murders and giant group orgies…I think. Actually, it’s probably pretty spot-on.
So to see a celebrity slap his or her name onto a fragrance and make a couple mill gives me a case of the ranties. Sure, Jennifer Aniston seems like a nice enough person, and she’s marrying Justin Theroux, an undisputed hottie with an impressive literary pedigree, but there is no reason that she should have her own perfume. There is no reason that Jessica Simpson should have five (four of which have the word “fancy” in the title). From Katy Perry and Taylor Swift to Halle Berry and Gwen Stefani, the fragrance wall in Sephora reads like a roster of InStyle cover girls.
It’s not that these fragrances aren’t good. Some are surprisingly decent. (Britney Spears’ Curious is actually a quite well-executed white floral that’s earned some love from fragrance critics.) It’s just that their very existence pisses me off. Selena Gomez’s perfume should not be anywhere near a bottle of the classic Guerlain Shalimar, but there it is. They’re neighbors.
That said, there are a handful of celebrity fragrances that don’t make me angry by just existing. Sarah Jessica Parker is a true perfume nerd, often gushing in interviews about Skin Musk, the most awesome and under-appreciated of the cheap drugstore fragrances. And her fragrances Lovely and Dawn are quite stunning. (Covet’s good too, but not as good.)
Which brings me to this week’s addition to the fragrance world, Lady Gaga Fame. Let me start off by admitting that I’m incredibly biased. I adore Lady Gaga. But still, when the fragrance was announced, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. No, Lady Gaga! Be different! Be the one celebrity in the universe who doesn’t have a fragrance! It will be totally counter-culture! But it was probably inevitable. And since I trust the woman’s psychotic taste, I predicted I would like it. I just didn’t anticipate how much.
Fame is an unexpected scent. It’s a spicy floral, which isn’t anything new, but it shies away from many of the typical notes used in that fragrance category, creating an elixir that, according to Gaga, smells like “an expensive hooker.” It’s heavy on the belladonna (deadly nightshade, naturally) and incense, but it’s the notes of apricot and honey that really make the mix come together. My guess is that this will be a polarizing fragrance. You will love it or you will hate it. Much like Theirry Mugler’s Alien, perhaps the most divisive scent of all time.
Which brings me to the design of the bottle. Though it was clearly inspired by her egg-shaped chariot at the 2011 Grammys, her now well-known “Monster Claw,” and the work of artist Constantin Brancusi, the similarities to the Mugler Alien bottle are clear. I would ascribe this more to an appreciation of Alien than a cheap imitation, as one of Gaga’s best friends and long-time collaborators, Nicola Formichetti, is the creative director at Mugler.
In the ads for Fame, the bottle appears black, but it’s actually clear glass. The color comes from the liquid itself. Yes, Gaga has released the first black perfume. A gimmick for sure, but a pretty cool gimmick. (And don’t worry, it sprays on clear.) So no, I don’t feel embarrassed to have this bottle rubbing elbows with Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb and Chanel Coco Mademoiselle on my fragrance tray. In fact, I think they’ll get along famously. Hey-yo!
And now, the hilariously awesome song that inspired this column’s headline: