Think fashion people are bitchy? Try fragrance enthusiasts. Take a quick glance through fragrance forums like Basenotes and Fragrantica and you’ll uncover putdowns more wounding than any of Anna Wintour’s icy glares.
Hawk-eyed, difficult to please and staggeringly quick to level searing criticism against scents that don’t meet their discerning standards, perfume obsessives take what most people agree to be a fairly frothy affair very, very seriously.
Consider, for example, the reaction to Italian luxury fragrance house Acqua di Parma’s new Colonia Quercia – a scent derided by one Basenotes member as “synthetic and generic”, or the “worst of them all” by another. Seems a bit harsh, no?
“Them”, above, refers of course to the rest of the flankers in Acqua di Parma’s Ingredients Collection: Colonia Oud, Colonia Leather, Colonia Ambra and Colonia Sandalo. Each is inspired by a different region of Italy, or in some cases more far-flung locales, and all, to this author’s nose at least, are solid fragrances. Fragrances that do what they say on the tin.
Which is perhaps where Colonia Quercia goes wrong. Taking the verdant forests of Piedmont (more specifically the Italian oak tree) as its starting point for inspiration, it trumpets oakmoss absolute (an ingredient extracted from the barks and trunks of oak trees) as its main draw, further advertising its supposed woodiness with dark chestnut brown packaging which seems earthy, ancient and a natural fit for a scent that promises to transport you to the centuries-old estates of the Italian aristocracy.
The scent, though, is something else. Opening with a burst of bergamot, lemon, petitgrain and pink pepper (a flurry of top notes that makes good on the press release’s chat of leisurely strolls through lush forests), Quercia soon dries down into base of tonka bean, patchouli and, of course, oakmoss (hitting notes of geranium, cardamom and cedarwood along the way). But it’s not especially woody. The oakmoss is there, sure, but it’s a gesture, not the headliner.
Quercia isn’t bracingly earthy, but sweet and sumptuous instead – the kind of fragrance you spritz on and for a split second think about drinking on the off chance it tastes half as good as it smells. Which is not to say it’s a bad fragrance. It’s maybe just not the fragrance it says it is, making some of the more caustic reactions to Quercia (“Whoever is behind those [sic] fragrances, they should be ashamed”), although unwarranted, a little bit more comprehensible.
Available at Selfridges, priced £167 for 100ml of eau de cologne.
Bottle: A dark chocolate brown art deco-inspired flacon swaddled in bronze satin.
Head notes: Bergamot, lemon, petitgrain, pink pepper;
Heart notes: Cardamom, cedarwood, geranium;
Base notes: Oakmoss absolute, tonka bean, patchouli.
Best for: evening/fans of men’s scents that skew feminine/smelling so deliciously sweet that you’ll want to lick yourself.