Collaborations across different art forms and platforms are always intriguing. I think it is even more so when two different artists use the same source of inspiration to create works in two different mediums. Tableau de Parfums is one such collaboration, consisting of a perfume and movie pairing between the Swiss perfumer, Andy Tauer, and the American, Memphis-based, indie filmmaker, Brian Pera (who is also a perfume blogger at I Smell Therefore I Am).
There are three Tableau perfumes (Miriam, Loretta, and Ingrid) and, as the Tableau Parfums website at Evelyn Avenue explains, each one is an olfactory portrait “inspired by the films of Pera’s ongoing series, Woman’s Picture.” According to the website, “Woman’s Picture is an anthology film inspired by classic women’s films of the thirties, forties, and fifties. The story is divided into three sections, each of which presents a portrait of a specific female character.” The Miriam perfume is supposed to be quite heavily aldehydic, so I eschewed that one, and opted for Loretta which is an eau de parfum released in 2012 and which is supposed to be centered around tuberose. It’s my favorite flower, but the fragrance also has orange blossom (another winner in my book), ambergris, and other appealing notes.
Loretta‘s cinematographic tale is about a young woman by that same name who works in a motel. It comes in three parts, two of which are posted here. As Fragrantica summarizes: “She is shy and withdrawn, but creates her own life in a fantasy world where she danced and falls in love with a man. She is sensual, sexy and seductive, but she has a secretive dark side.” The reason why that’s important is because of the way the perfume is intended to reflect her light and dark sides. According to the press release quoted by Now Smell This:
Like the film, Loretta the fragrance explores the way fantasy and reality inform each other in an interplay of light and dark impulses and energies. In the film, the character of Loretta, played by Amy LaVere, deals with a difficult, mysterious past by transforming it into a dream world of possibility and romantic adventure. The balance between the past and her fantastic reinvention of it is delicate, fraught with tensions, where childlike naivete and adult awareness twist and curl into increasingly complex sensual patterns. Fragrance becomes an important gateway into this transformed world.
Andy Tauer on Loretta: “Loretta is an incredibly sensual and erotic story, in which a daydream world becomes a powerful, seductive reality. In Loretta’s world there is music, dance, romantic intimacy, soft light and a natural, childlike shyness confronted with somewhat dark, adult realities. Loretta’s flower is tuberose, and I wanted this fragrance to be as dark and mysterious, as opulent and seductive as her reveries themselves.”
It all sounds fascinating and intriguing, doesn’t it? Alas, I did not share Loretta’s adventures with the fragrance, not even remotely, which is a sad disappointment given the story, the tantalizingly dark aspects to the short films, and the wonderful notes in the fragrance. Those notes, as compiled from Luckyscent, Fragrantica, that press release, and The Perfumed Court, include:
ripe dark fruit, velvet rose, cinnamon, clove, coriander, spicy tuberose, orange blossom, patchouli, woody notes, ambergris, leather, vanilla, and sweetened orris root.
Loretta opens on my skin with an explosion of grape juice that smells exactly like the American brand, Welch’s, in concentrated form. It’s as though a thousand kilos of Concord grape have been distilled down with about a gallon of sugar into a treacly syrup. There are lots of perfume explanations for the aroma, from the use of methyl anthranilate that occurs naturally in tuberose, to the amplifying effect of the dark fruits like plum. I’m sure the use of fruited patchouli had some indirect effect on the combination as well. Either way, I’m not a fan, and it doesn’t make me happy how prominent the grape juice accord is for a vast portion of the perfume’s lifespan.
In the immediate seconds after that unbelievably sweet burst of grapes, other notes are introduced. There are candied dark fruits, led by plum, and covered with more sugar, followed by coriander, some amorphous dark notes, and hints of cinnamon. A very hesitant orange blossom peeks her head through the curtains, along with touches of vetiver and sugared orris root, but all three remain on the sidelines for fear that they’ll be plowed down by the stampede of grape and crystallized dark fruits. Have I mentioned sugar yet? God, it seems to be seeping out from so many different corners! Take the orris root which is where one commonly gets the approximation of an iris smell. Here, on my skin, the note doesn’t smell so much of the flower, but of some sugared root. There is also a vague hint of some darkened, aged leather lurking about, but that too is sweetened. It’s simply too, too much for me.
Hovering all around is a wafting floral bouquet. It never feels like tuberose in the traditional sense, and it’s not like typical orange blossom or rose, either. In fact, it’s simply an abstract floral sweetness without much shape, delineation, or substance. It simply smells fruited and cloyingly sweet. (Have I discussed sugar, lately?)
Thirty minutes in, Loretta shifts a little. The leathery undertones temporarily become more prominent, along with amorphous, abstract woody notes and the blasted ISO E Super that Mr. Tauer loves so much. The latter isn’t overwhelming though, nor particularly strong, and it certainly isn’t medicinal in any way. Frankly, I think the reason why it doesn’t smell very noticeable is because not even that synthetic horror can compete with the saccharine grape juice and its bulldozer effect upon everything in its path.
While the perfume is getting a little darker on some levels, it’s also getting a little lighter on other ones. There is the subtle introduction of a powdery element that smells both vaguely floral in nature and slightly vanillic. Lurking underneath is a jarring hint of something that really resembles cooked celery to my nose. Perhaps it is the result of the combination of the vetiver with coriander, orris, and leather, but there is a definite vegetal quality in the base. Alongside it is a faintly sour nuance underlying the fragrance’s woodiness, but the latter is so vague, it’s hard to really analyze.
At the 90-minute mark, the notes blur, the perfume falls flat, and starts to feel thin. Loretta is still primarily a grape floral with dark fruits and increasingly soft spices, but the patchouli starts to feel more prominent. It doesn’t feel dark, dirty, and chewy like black patchouli, but it’s not wholly fruity and purple, either. Equally noticeable is the powder which is more sugared than anything akin to orris or makeup powder. In his blog entry about the making of Loretta, Mr. Tauer said he used benzyl acetate (a natural component of tuberose) to create a soft, sweet powdery note that lasts throughout the perfume’s development. He succeeded, because it does. Underneath all this are hints of something rooty, but they’re not distinguishable as either orris or vetiver. There are also whispers of darkened leather and vanilla flittering about, but they feel nebulous as well.
By the start of the 3rd hour, Loretta is an abstract, intangible, amorphous bouquet. The notes feel flat, muted, and vague. The fragrance itself hovers just an inch or two above the skin, though it is still very potent when sniffed up close. For the most part, Loretta is a candy, bubblegum floral, thanks to the overall combination of sweet powder, fruits, and flowers. It has little delineation or definition, and not a single bit of it feels like the woman in the tale with her dark side, her quiet eroticism, and her fantasies of seduction. To the extent that Loretta, the woman, had a “soft light and a natural, childlike shyness,” that part is covered, but the seductive, languidly fleshy, heady, opulent and erotic side of such indolic flowers as tuberose and orange blossom? There is not a whisper of it on my skin. I’m quite saddened, not only because of my love for both flowers, but because I know how much work went into the fragrance. Andy Tauer’s blog has a detailed perfume breakdown of what he did to the tuberose, and the other elements he used. All the “tuberose specials” that he talks about, along with the concentrated orange blossom absolute, somehow got lost in translation on my skin. I’m not alone in that, but we’ll get to other people’s experiences in a moment.
For a long time, I was very confused as to why Fragrantica classified Loretta as a floral oriental, but things became clearer at the end of the fourth hour. Until that point, Loretta had gone from being a cloying, unbearably sweet, fruity scent with vague florals, to just plain, powdered Juicy Fruit with less sweetness and still vague florals. At the end of the fourth hour, however, Loretta veers sharply and abruptly into a whole new category when the amber rises to the surface. In less than an hour, it takes over completely. Loretta is now sweet powdered amber with a lingering trace of Juicy Fruit gum. There are hints of a jammy, patchouli-infused rose that pop up every now and then, but they’re fleeting and extremely muted. For the most part, Loretta is merely soft, hazy, sugar-powdered amber, and it remains that way until its dying moments when it is nothing more than powdered sweetness. All in all, it lasted Loretta lasted just shy of 11.5 hours on my skin. It had moderate sillage throughout most of its lifetime, though it was generally quite potent if you sniffed it up close for much of the first 7 hours.
I’m not the only person who found Loretta to be dominated by an incredibly sweet grape note and, to a lesser extent, sweet powder. The Scented Hound had the same reaction, and, like me, found the remaining notes to be hard to pull out from under the deluge. In his very diplomatic review, he wrote:
Loretta opens with candied tart sweetness. It’s bright with just a tinge of sour. Quickly it moves into grape soda. Really??? Then quickly again, the grape soda is met with a light powder. […] Thankfully, the grape soda is met with a bit of warmth that helps to anchor the sweetness. The plum (which to me smells like grape soda) completely dominates and therefore makes it hard for me to pick out additional notes even though I know they’re there as the fragrance starts to even out. Finally, Loretta settles down some to reveal a lightly sweetened patchouli woodiness tinged with a bit of what seems to be some coriander. [¶]
Loretta confuses me. I don’t hate her and I don’t love her and am struggling with when I would want to wear her. I keep reading about the tuberose in this, but that is completely escaping me. Finally, besides grape soda, Loretta reminds me of what the penny candy aisle at the Ben Franklin store used to smell like. Not for me, but I could see someone else digging this for its uniqueness.
On Fragrantica, there is more talk about the fragrance’s sweetness and oddness. To give just one example:
This smells to me as if I was carrying grape flavor Crush inside of a black leather pouch. It’s very weird and dissonant, like an orchestra tuning before a show.
I get a strong leather note, with a sweet plum and tuberose accord. Super strange perfume… it’s sweet, sweet, sweet, but in an airy kind of way that only orange blossom has. It’s also screechy and spicy. I’m reminded of extremely synthetic gummy candies and that’s fun. This is truly a scent for an original individual, I think, while being very sexy and confident. Who can pull this off!!?? It’s all over the place, colorful and confusing, but mesmerizing, like an acid trip. I keep on sniffing it and I get this highly enjoyable repulsion/attraction duality. I love that.
Another trippy perfume that wears me instead of me wearing it… smells just like a purple gummy bear stuck to my black leather jacket. Fun times.
Others talk about how the fragrance smells of “spicy tutti-fruity” gum, sticky sweetness, a greasy oily nuance, or black rubber notes. One commentator finds that “the plum overtakes everything and with the other warm resinous notes it smells of decadence- overripe fruit right on the verge of rotting.” Well, I agree that Loretta has a tutti-fruitti gum note, but, for me, the scent is not “fun times” as stated in the quote above, and I can see why one reviewer finds it “unwearable.” Even apart from the fragrance’s nebulous haziness, I don’t want a weird “acid trip… repulsion/attraction duality” with “purple gummy bears” for $160 for a 1.7 oz bottle. I don’t mind very different, weird fragrances if they smell good, but a cloyingly sweet scent that makes me feel I just got three cavities is not my cup of tea at any price.
My personal tastes notwithstanding, Loretta is not a bad fragrance, and I think it would be well suited for a young woman who is looking for something different, quirky, and playful. It’s definitely original and unconventional enough to venture into the “fun” category. In fact, I can see CosPlayers dressed up as Japanese anime characters enjoying the scent, or, perhaps, Lolita types. Whether they’d want to pay $160 for the experience, I have no idea. People who love extremely sweet fruity-florals, powdery sugar scents, or Welch’s grape juice may also want to give Loretta a sniff. For everyone else, especially men, I wouldn’t recommend Loretta.