The legendary Diana Vreeland once said, “Fragrances fill the senses with the mysterious.” Extravagance Russe is meant to incorporate some of that emotion, as well as the iconic Vogue editor’s love of opulence. It is a new fragrance from a new house created by Alexander Vreeland in homage to his glamourous grandmother. Honestly, I’m not too sure what she would have thought about Extravagance Russe. Diana Vreeland stood out, and was the epitome of exuberant boldness (not to mention luxurious excess), but her fragrance is none of those things. Frankly, I find the woman far more interesting than the scent which is meant to encapsulate her.
The name may not ring a lot of bells today for the general public, but Diana Vreeland ruled fashion for decades. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue in the 1960s, after a long tenure at Harper’s Bazaar that begin the 1930s, but she partied like a rock star all the way through to the 1980s. People loved her wit, sense of humour, and charm, even more than they liked her “fabulous” personal style. In short, think of a nice version of Anna Wintour, only more influential and actually liked. She advised First Lady Jackie Kennedy on style and fashion; allegedly discovered Lauren Bacall and Twiggy; and was friends with everyone (from Wallis Simpson to Yves. St. Laurent, Valentino, Andy Warhol, Coco Chanel, Jack Nicholson, and people in-between). She lived life with exuberance, and always with a perfect witticism on her lips.
Into the Gloss has a nice piece on her, along with 50 of her famous quotes. (I was amused by the one about Coco Chanel: “Where Chanel came from in France is anyone’s guess. She said one thing one day and another thing the next. She was a peasant—and a genius. Peasants and geniuses are the only people who count and she was both.” There is also NY Magazine’s full tribute to “The Divine Mrs. V” which talks about some of the difficulties in her life and her marriage. I’ve compiled some photos from NY Magazine’s “Iconic Style” article on the new Vreeland perfume collection, Vogue Italia, Hint Magazine, Fashion’s Most Wanted blog (which has some really fantastic ones), and from the internet in general to put together a gallery of photos, all in thumbnails but which you can see in full by clicking on each tile.
Alexander Vreeland has now launched Diana Vreeland Parfums to pay tribute to his grandmother. Apparently, she loved perfume, which is something I did not previously know. She is quoted as once saying, “This is a great shame, but of course there have to be some things in life that not everybody can have, and great perfume is one of them.” In fact, she loved fragrances to such a point that, according to Surrender to Chance, “[when] she was a special consultant to the Costume Institute at the Met, she was known to pump fragrances in the air conditioning ducts of her exhibitions as well as perfuming her furniture.”
There are five Vreeland perfumes, and each one is an eau de parfum that is meant to embody a different side of Ms. Vreeland’s personality, as well as encapsulate one of her famous quotes.
In the case of Extravagance Russe, the quote and descriptions are:
“Style is everything.” —Diana Vreeland
Extravagance Russe by Clement Gavarry was created as an homage to Mrs. Vreeland’s love of Orientalism. Capturing the essence of amber’s sacred and mystical note in perfumery, the fragrance goes deep into the collective olfactive memory. It maintains the original codes of amber within a contemporary structure. The scent harmoniously wraps luxurious resins and balsams with precious vanilla bourbon and musk for an enhanced impression of skin like and captivating sensuality. [Emphasis to perfumer’s name added by me.]
The succinct note list is quite simply:
Amber, resins, balsamc, vanilla bourbon, and musk.
It all sounds very promising, doesn’t it? And, in fact, Extravagance Russe does live up to that promise with its opening — for all of about 10 minutes…. Then, the fireworks fade, and what is left is a perfectly serviceable, decent fragrance that doesn’t stand out from the many ambers on the market and isn’t worth its high price-tag.
The perfume starts with a sumptuously deep, bold, vibrant wave of boozy labdanum amber that is lashed with sticky, balsamic resins and smokiness. There are nutty undertones like toasted hazelnuts, layers of the rich toffee so characteristic of labdanum as a type of amber, and a boozy Bourbon vanilla. Streaks of muskiness run through it like golden veins, then a surprising hint of something chocolate-like, and a ghostly hint of something leathery.
It’s all wonderfully decadent, and feels potent as well. I really like the resinous base which pulsates out small waves of smokiness, but the booziness is equally appealing. Unfortunately, the latter’s cognac-like profile is cut in half within a mere five minutes. To my surprise, the perfume itself seems to thin out, losing some of its body, along with many of its finer nuances. The toasted hazelnuts, chocolate, and leatheriness quickly retreat to the sidelines. A few minutes after that, the vanilla joins them. Thin (very thin) streaks occasionally slip out over the course of the first hour, but, to all effects and purposes, the vanilla is done as a softening agent.
What is left roughly 10 minutes into the course of the perfume’s development is a simple mix of labdanum amber and smoky resins. It’s still a very nice bouquet, but it is disappointingly sheer. Even worse, the sillage turns incredibly weak. Using 3 large smears equal to 2 big sprays from an actual bottle, Extravagance Russe initially opened with 2.5 inches of sillage. It was exceedingly strong up close, but the projection dropped to just an inch after only 10 minutes. The perfume was almost a skin scent after 75 minutes, hovering a half-inch (at best) above my skin.
Extravagance Russe shows little complexity from its early minutes onwards. It remains a simple, very thin, very quiet duet of toffee’d labdanum amber with smoky resins, and barely changes in any significant way. It turns into a skin scent at the 1.75 hour mark, then becomes a mere smear of labdanum amber at the end of the 3rd hour. The most noticeable difference occurs near the end of the 5th hour when the fragrance suddenly turns much smokier and drier, takes on a leathery darkness in its base, and loses any remaining vestiges of sweetness. And that’s it — slightly masculine labdanum with smokiness until its dying gasp.
To my surprise, Extravagance Russe lasted much longer than I had thought it would, judging by its substandard sillage and sheerness. On several occasions starting in the middle of the 6th hour and every half-hour after that, I thought the perfume was about to finally die, but Extravagance Russe chugged on tenaciously. All in all, it lasted 8.25 hours, albeit in a gauzy sliver of a smear for much of that time.
Very little of it seems like Diana Vreeland, the woman . Let me ask you, does a simple, two-note scent with almost no complexity or layers and with a wallflower quietness seem like the embodiment of the woman whom I described at the top of this post? A woman who decorated, loved, and lived in a notoriously red (red, RED) room that was incredibly loud to the point of brashness? It was a room that was so over-the-top that I’d call it garish, gaudy, and painful, which is probably why an artist was inspired to paint what he called “Diana Vreeland, Garden in Hell Sitting Room.” A site called Into The Fashion has a composite photo that shows Diana Vreeland in her living room in 1985 (on the left) and the painting (on the right):
That painting may be about a hellish living room, but at least it captures the Russian and Orientalist ostentatiousness that Diana Vreeland loved so much. Extravagance Russe needs a lot more “extravagance” to live up to its name, not to mention to justify its price. The perfume costs $250 for 100 ml or $185 for 50 ml, which is too much for this fragrance. If you want to spend that kind of money on an intimate, office-appropriate labdanum amber soliflore, then I think you’d do significantly better with Armani Privé‘s Ambre Soie. It is priced roughly the same (though it only comes in a 100 ml bottle), has many more nuances than Extravagance Russe, and feels very refined. Ambre Soie is too simple, light, and quiet for my personal tastes but, as compared to the Vreeland scent, it feels practically baroque and plush.
I’m not the only one who was disappointed with Extravagance Russe. The Non-Blonde was disappointed with the whole line, to the point that she wasn’t even motivated to do an in-depth analysis for the perfumes, stuck with a limited testing without going back for me, and simply gave a short synopsis of her “First Impression.” She writes, in relevant part, as follows:
Leaving Diana Vreeland’s heritage aside, if you’re launching a luxury perfume brand that takes a wall and a counter at Bergdorf Goodman you’d better have something interesting to offer, and preferably more than just colored glass. At $185 for 50ml (and $250 for 100ml) these perfumes should better make a statement of quality and creativity. Instead, what we got was the standard department store fare. You could have slapped any designer label on these floral-fruity-fake wood-vanilla combos and no one would blink.
These are my general impressions from my first encounter with Diana Vreeland Perfumes. It’s not a comprehensive review, since I gave them limited time and limited skin space. Frankly, I doubt I’d go back for more. This is meant to give a general idea of the fragrances and not an in-depth analysis.
Extravagance Russe. I expected the most from this one, considering the Russian theme and the oriental notes. It’s hard to ruin an oriental perfume, and this isn’t a bad one (not crazy sweet), just surprisingly flat and unremarkable amber. Think of the magnificent Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe ($145/100ml), and understand my disappointment.
Notes: amber, resins, vanilla, musk
If you have contemplated trying any of the Vreeland scents, you should read her post in full because her dripping disdain for one of them in particular made me laugh. When someone like the The Non-Blonde — who is not harsh as a general rule — ends her post by suggesting that you buy something from Serge Lutens instead, you know the fragrance is rather terribly flawed. Or, in this case, all five of them.
Blacknall Allen at A Perfume Blog seems to share many of the same sentiments about the collection as a whole. She thought the line was an “attempt to commercialize the reputation” of Ms. Vreeland, “fluctuate[d] in merit,” and were priced somewhat high. Only “two out of five” worked for her, but one of those was Extravagance Russe. Yet, even that one received a very qualified, ambivalent analysis: it was “high quality” but also “less interesting” than some other amber fragrances which it resembled. Her thoughts on Extravagance Russe read, in full, as follows:
Extravagance Russe is an amber, and reminds me of Ambre Russe and Oriental Brulant though it’s less interestingly put together than either of those, with amber, musk, vanilla, and some resins. Still the scent’s high quality and lasting. This was also done by Clement Gavarry.
Blacknall Allen can be a very detailed blogger, so I think it says something when a fragrance is summed up in 3 sentences, one of which is simply to give the perfumer’s name. The bottom line is that Extravagance Russe is a really simple scent that is treading well-established territory. The Non-Blonde called all the Vreeland perfumes “the standard department store fare,” and she’s largely correct. I think Extravagance Russe lacks the synthetics of cheaper, mainstream fragrances that you’d find in mid-range department stores, but it is simply too thin, subdued, basic, and uninteresting for $250 or $185.
As everyone keeps saying, there are much better ambers out there for less. The Ambre Russe that both Blacknall Allen and The Non-Blonde mentioned is significantly cheaper at $145 for 100 ml, while one of the most famous reference ambers, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, can often be found at a huge discount for about $70 for 50 ml. If neither boozy (vodka) nor hardcore labdanum are your thing, and if you don’t mind spending almost the same amount, then there is Armani’s Ambre Soie which I discussed earlier. Its labdanum has a gingerbread and root-beer vibe, and the scent as a whole has a similarity to the much-loved, discontinued Theorema from Fendi. Or you can skip the labdanum sub-set entirely, and go for ambergris instead with the very sexy Ambre Nera from Farmacia SS. Annunziata which is $160 for 100 ml of pure parfum extrait.
Still, if you’re curious, give Extravagance Russe a sniff, but you may want to ignore the opulence of the name and to have tempered expectations.