Défilé New York (Histoires de Parfums)

Masterminded by Vogue editor Anna Wintour as an economy-boosting corollary to NYC Fashion Week, the citywide open house known as Fashion's Night Out promised street-level prêt-à-porter retailers a cut of couture action. For four years running (2009-2012), boutiques stayed open late on a chosen September evening to ply visitors with free champagne and a parade of A-list celebrities. The public accepted the invitation-- but they did not spend money, which was the whole point. Instead of landing ledgers solidly in the black, Fashion's Night Out drowned NYC's small businesses in a flood of recession red. As a result, city promoters cancelled Night Out in 2013, and no plans have been announced to revive it.

Something about Fashion's Night Out reminds me of the Bradley-Martin Ball, held at the Waldorf Hotel in 1897. Ostensibly motivated by a desire to stimulate the economy, socialite Cornelia Bradley-Martin planned a masquerade both lavish and locally-sourced-- even mailing her invitations out late to prevent guests from ordering their costumes from Paris. Spending fortunes on clothing, jewelry, flowers, champagne, and favors, the Bradley-Martin set congratulated themselves on "buying American"-- yet it never occurred to any of them to put that cash directly into the city poor-box. Public furor over the bill reached such a pitch that the hapless hosts were forced to expatriate after the last fragment of caviar was swept up from the carpet. The Bradley-Martin ball had no equal and no sequel... until Fashion Night Out.

Designed to embody the spirit of Manhattan's fabled Garment District, Défilé New York made its debut in September 2010 as a very limited edition eau de parfum exclusive to Henri Bendel. I have yet to discover the figure on the price tag from four years ago-- but maybe it doesn't matter anymore. What does it smell like? Let's go to the press release:
The top notes blow in a soft wind of fresh mint, bergamot and cut grass – paying respect to the many years spent in the famed Bryant Park tents – and also give a nod to the new Lincoln Center location, just steps away from Central Park’s grassy lawns and fresh flowers... The heart of the fragrance opens with the smooth scent of water flowers, pineapple and rhubarb, ushering out the marine and citrus scents of summer and heralding in the scents of autumn harvests.
True enough, so far. Unfortunately, if I could pass on any portion of Défilé New York -- or better yet trim it off like so much excess fabric-- this opener is exactly what I'd skip. Minty-melony-watery, it's a chlorinated bore. But what comes next?
The warm scents of fall prevail with the addition of sweet spices like clove, cinnamon and star anise... The lingering base notes take us backstage at the runway – full of anticipation, yelling and muddled laughter. The aroma of Venti coffees, bite-size gourmet chocolates and licorice snacks waft out from the dressing rooms and mix with the scents of blond wood and vanilla emanating from the walls and floors of historic Lincoln Center.
Now, set aside all the folderol about runways and dressing rooms, and this thing's right up my alley: a scent that strays away from uptown comfort and heads for the little neighborhoods and boroughs beyond, drifting far and wide on an East River breeze. Its coffee is spicy, gritty, not especially high-end; it comes in a cardboard cup. As advertised, the chocolate is only bite-sized, but the licorice is cheap, sticky, and plentiful. Overall, Défilé New York is like an edgier version of Tokyo Milk's Bulletproof (or a slightly more diffuse Covet, depending on your vantage point). But in no way is it luxe, and I like it better for it.

Keep your fancy swag bags and give me only this: a perfume for the people.

Scent Elements: Mint, bergamot, cut grass, water flower, pineapple, rhubarb, clove, cinnamon, star anise, coffee, chocolate, licorice, blond wood, vanilla