Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The smell of Asia

Swarms of Asiatic tourists are a common sight in the world's great shopping cities. In Paris, they line the Louis Vuitton stores, queue at Ladurée outlets, and recoup their VAT once they have the shopping bags with all of the right brand names on them. They are also big perfume buyers, with the Paris Look store on the Boulevard Haussmann proving just as popular as its more famous neighbours, the Galeries Lafayette and the Printemps.

However, just as those from China and Japan follow the latest European trends, we in Europe are jumping steadily onto the Asian bandwagon. In addition to European brands like The Body Shop scenting their products with Japanese cherry blossoms, silk, citrus, peony, red flower and green tea, Japanese perfume designs and designers also enjoy popularity with European consumers.

Kenzo is among the best-known Japanese brands, with its distinctive red flower curving through many a shop window. Their other perfumes, though, are very much in the background, and perhaps overly so: it is almost a surprise to look at Kenzo's website and find that they sell other equally lovely perfumes, which I have never heard of due to the arguable over-publicising of Flower By Kenzo.

Shiseido, however, seems to under-publicise their scents, preferring instead to emphasise their makeup and anti-ageing lines. This is a shame, as their cutting-edge, cubic packaging is almost like a mecca to the perfume universe as light reflects through the packaging of Zen and Zen White Heat. Even though the body cream packaging bearing the same scent is not nearly so innovative, Shiseido would do well to push this aspect of their line forward to enhance the range of Japanese perfumes available to European consumers.

As previously mentioned, among the genuinely Japanese brands adorning department store shelves are others which are not Japanese but which take on the country's spirit, such as the Harajuku Lovers, invented by Westerner Gwen Stefani. Possibly the cutest perfume design on the market, the four Japanese girl figures are inspired by the singer's backup dancers, and add vibrancy and colour to the sometimes serious perfume departments. Also covering apparel, stationery and fashion accessories, they bring the friendly, sweet and kooky aspects of Japanese culture to a more mainstream audience.

On the more glamorous side are sideline brands such as the beautiful Hanae Mori, with its poetically-named products such as Butterfly and Magical Moon. It seems faintly tragic that while Hanae Mori is one of the most prominent and respected designers in Japan, her work has been marginalised in Europe.

Mainstream but still marginalised is the range of Issey Miyake perfume, whose tall conical bottles perhaps add something different to the perfume market in general, whether in the cool serene form of L'Eau d'Issey or in the traffic-light Summer version. Whatever your taste, it would appear that there is something out there for everyone when it comes to adding a little Oriental fragrance to your life.

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