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Bombay Duck London

Bottega Veneta

‘Never apologise, never explain.’  So:  no long-winded justification for The Scent Critic’s hiatus;  she’s simply throwing herself headlong into reviews again, before the 2012 launch season gets up a serious head of steam.  Let us hope that this will be another vintage year, as 2011 surprisingly turned out to be – the Chateau Pétrus (or should that be the Brunello…?) of which, in my book, was Bottega Veneta’s debut scent.

Everything about it shrieks the cliché ‘understated luxury’ – but for once, with this modern chypre, created by Michel Almairac, that couldn’t be more appropriate.  We all know that the raison d’être of the scent industry – at its more commercial end – is to drive ‘you-can’t-afford-the-bag-so-buy-the-perfume’ sales.  Simple as that.  Ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching.

Mostly, I wouldn’t want the perfume or the handbag – but Bottega Veneta is different.  Well over 30 years ago I found myself virtually licking the window of their first little shop near Harry’s Bar, lusting after the so-unusual woven leather bag I saw there.  I can remember it vividly:  chocolate brown, butter-soft, no logo.  I loved its absolute discretion:  this was a bag that only those-in-the-know would recognise.  (I’d never heard of Bottega Veneta, notwithstanding my Vogue subscription.)  And there was absolutely no way, then, that I was going to find the £700 it required – in 1976, for God’s sake! – to acquire it.  One day, I vowed, I’d own one.

But the Bottega Veneta in my possession isn’t a swanky bag:  it’s a (satisfyingly weighty) bottle.  Bottega Veneta (the scent) is constructed, artisan-style, like a true, classic chypre:  the required blink-and-you-miss them citrus topnotes (here, bergamot, plus a twist of pink pepper);  flowers at the heart – while swirling mistily around the very generous quantity of leather in the base is a an equally hefty dose of oakmoss and patchouli, which gives it plenty of staying power, as well as a little musk and that vanilla.  Some chypres are frankly old-fashioned – yet this feels totally contemporary.  (Funnily enough, this is exactly what I expected the debut Jimmy Choo fragrance to smell like – but no, not a leather note anywhere near that composition.)

This is not saddle-y tack-room leather, or shiny-new-shoe leather, or dominatrix-outfit-in-an-Old-Compton-Street-sex-shop leather;  Bottega Veneta really, truly is put-your-head-in-a-very pricy-handbag-and-inhale leather.  Indeed, there’s a distinct touch of ‘Mummy’s handbag’ in the heart:  not exactly lipsticky, but an iris note that delivers a fleeting, takes-you-back-to-childhood flash.  Then it skips its teenage years entirely and goes seriously sophisticated on you.  Soft as naked skin (and just as nuzzleable).  Silky as ice cream, melting on the tongue;  that’ll be the sweet but super-subtle vanilla undertone, delivering a sense-blurring action.  And almost intoxicating, actually:  it also conjures up a very fine Cognac, clinging stickily to the curved sides of a balloon glass.  (More pleasurable to smell than drink, for me, not least as a hangover-from-hell-avoidance tactic.)

You could wear this in daytime:  it’s versatile, and will get you noticed – and probably get you taken seriously.  But for me, it really only comes alive, vampire-ishly, after sundown.  There’s something sensually dark about it:  the click of heels on limestone echoing in a foggy backstreet behind the Campo San Polo in November, as you weave towards the warmth of a candlelit restaurant off the Rialto Market.  Personally, I’d say it quite simply absolutely begs to be taken out to dinner.  And fed squid ink risotto, and frutti di mare, and one of those little zabaglione-filled pastries, for dessert.  Only it’s impossible just to have one of those – and Bottega Veneta has the same moreish quality as those pastries:  as I sit here, I can’t stop spritzing and re-spritzing, each time enjoying the heft of the Murano-glass-like bottle, with its embossed ‘woven’ base and (naturally) a slim taupe leather tie, at the neck…

What’s really encouraging, to me, is that Bottega Veneta comes from the fragrance house Coty – better known for blockbuster celebrity and designer scents (although some good ones in there, nonetheless:  from SJP to Marc Jacobs, who’s barely put a foot wrong fragrance-wise).  Distribution’s more limited for Bottega Veneta than those crowd-pleasing Big Name Brands – but this still smells daringly like something that a genius niche perfumer would have come up with, unpressured by mood-boards and budgets.  Genius, yes, but Almirac isn’t niche at all:  his long-as-your-arm list of previous creations includes Gucci’s Eau de Gucci, Dunhill for Men, Burberry Body – not to mention (yes, really) Naomi Campbell Cat Deluxe, one of his less enduring creations.

The bottom line, then:  I’m way better off than I was in 1976, for sure – and the identical handbag is still available.  For fifteen hundred quid.  (Now recognisable by many, many more people than in the 70s.)  But I’m not merely resigned to the fact that the closest I will ever get to the bag that I fell in love is this perfume:  given the choice, now, though, I’d actually rather get my leathery lust deliciously satisfied several times a day by this sensational scent,  bank the extra £1450, and put it towards the customarily painful January tax bill.

And I certainly make no apologies for that, either.










4 comments to Bottega Veneta

  • Anna in Edinburgh

    Good to see you!

    Can you say how Bottega Veneta compares with Cuir de Lancome in the leather/suede “good handbag” stakes?

  • Natalie

    Welcome back!

    I’ve been going back and forth on whether to buy a full bottle of BV for months now. And I still can’t decide. On the one hand, all the scrumptious suede-y-ness. On the other, the possibly more compelling weirdness of Mon Parfum Cherie Par Camille. On the third, the lack of suede in MPCPC … it’s clear this needs more thought. :)

  • Donna

    This was THE BEST NEW RELEASE OF 2011. Totally addictive.

  • Grecia

    I love this fragrance! I didn’t read this article until after wearing it, and found this article because I was interested in a professional’s description of the ingredients. I enjoy many a pricey handbag, and never thought of this fragrance as reminding me of the leather, but it would explain why I like this scent so much. Thanks for the info!

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