Eau de Fleur de Soie (Kenzo)

There is a tree, stunted and scoliotic, that can be found trailing its wispy foliage over the front yards of suburban South Jersey. This is the Persian silk tree -- Albizia julibrissin, AKA mimosa -- a leguminous native of Asia that has found new vitality in the Pine Barrens' sandy soil.

Neighborhood children derive endless delight from stroking its leaves to watch them snap shut (a self-protective trick botanists call seismonasty). Its papery seed pods can be written on with berry ink and passed as love notes; if the receiver doesn't care for the message, he or she can crumple the pod to powder in one hand. And during the summer, the silk tree produces spectacular clusters of finely tasseled coral-pink flowers. These make wonderful fantasy powderpuffs for little girls, but they seem to offer precious little in the way of natural perfume.

This seems to be the idea behind Fleur de Soie, the 2008 chapter of Kenzo's Eaux de Fleur serial. Fleur de Soie uses a flyaway silk tree blossom as its totem image, to great dramatic effect. But in reality, Fleur de Soie is all show and no scent.

Can a perfume be seismonastic? As I sprayed it on the inside of my arm, Fleur de Soie disappeared almost immediately, as if it could not bear to be in contact with skin. I had to spray several more times to build up enough fragrance to analyze, only to find it saccharine and faintly metallic, self-effacing, a non-smell. Now, I know that perfumers love to claim the most exotic natural materials for their inspiration... but with all the world's botanical references to choose from, couldn't Jean Jacques have picked one whose primary instinct isn't to shrivel up and hide?

Most people have no idea what a silk tree blossom smells like. But even in fantasy -- no, ESPECIALLY in fantasy -- a flower ought to smell, well, if not good, then like something, anything. Why not make it smell like heaven-- or hell, if that's your whim? Instead, this "silk flower" is the sort you buy in a craft store. In this context, its lack of fragrance makes perfect sense. But even a fabric flower glued to a plastic stem is capable of evoking romance. Isn't it?

Alas, the only thing Fleur de Soie evokes is a glass of fruit punch so diluted with ice cube meltwater that it's lost all color and taste. No matter how sticky-sweet or artificially-flavored the full-strength beverage might be, it's GOT to be more fun than this.

Scent Elements: "Silk flower", plus some fruity-floral chemicals. The Kenzo website claims that the ingredients of its Eaux de Fleur are "picked from Japanese trees", which is plausible only if these trees are grown in a laboratory.