I have this rather embarrassing tendency to hoard perfume samples like a fragrant dragon, it's true, but I don't think I can be entirely blamed for it. These teeny vials are a dime a dozen; I regularly have two or three thrown in my Sephora and Nordstrom orders, sales associates have no problem making me a trial size of whatever I'm interested in, and a lot of my friends who don't wear fragrances just dump their samples on me. I also have a slight obsession with pretty discovery sets and am forever on the quest for Full Bottle Worthy scents, but, you know...let's just ignore that and pretend it's not my fault.
What I must work on, though, is thinking carefully about hype before I make my purchases and free sample selections. For instance, I'm vaguely aware that I encounter two different forms of fragrance hype. First, there are the chic, "don't you want a lifestyle like this" Instagrammers who post carefully posed pictures of unisex fragrances in minimalist bottles, the types of perfumes that smell like musk, citruses, ambroxan, and a hint of millennial pink. (I openly admit that I am sometimes guilty of this.) Then there's the YouTube "frag comm," which is male dominated and tends to favor rich, spicy, or textured fragrances loaded with patchouli, leather, vanilla, incense, and tobacco; if it's a niche fragrance, all the better, my man. I enjoy both communities, and somehow, I get suckered in to both forms of hype.
Hence, I now own a number of samples from Commodity and Replica (minimalist Instagrammers), as well as a few bottles from Imaginary Authors (Frag Comm). And I think it's time to give you some of my thoughts on them. Please note that the product images you're about to see were stolen from Sephora and/or the house's website, since my broke ass doesn't have full bottles of any of these.
Lipstick On, by Maison Margiela Replica
I used to snark that Replica fragrances were just lazy attempts at making people feel like they've moved beyond the department store. Then I realized I was being a fucking fragrance hipster, which is annoying. I still stand by my belief that the range as a whole is merely okay, initially became popular because of the minimalist bottles versus any sort of outstanding smell, and is overpriced for the quality. But you know what? Some of these are nice, easy-to-wear-without-smelling-too-generic perfumes, and I get why people love them.
Lipstick On is one of the few I never got to smell in stores, so I'm glad it popped up in one of my recent Sephora orders. When first spritzed, this perfume smells like straight up lipstick wax--not like old school perfumed lipsticks, not like a candle, but like an actual waxy lipstick. That might sound gross, but as a lipstick lover, I really appreciated this brief but nostalgic top. After 15-ish minutes, it fades in to soft, sweet, very slightly powdery floral, with notes of vanilla, iris, and heliotrope dominating. Lipstick On had typical Replica fragrance performance on me: it sat close to the skin and faded within 3-4 hours.
Again: merely okay and blatantly overpriced, but easy-to-wear and, for me, vaguely nostalgic. If they sold smaller bottles of this at a reasonable price, I might actually get one just for that waxy top.
Book and Tea, by Commodity
I probably should've known that Commodity's range isn't for me. The people who wear their fragrances tend to have very different tastes, and the note lists don't usually inspire me. They also claim that their perfumes are meant for mixing to create "your own unique scent," which I get is a thing some people enjoy; it just kind of seems like an easy way to excuse a high price tag for a super simple fragrance. However...I had that $20 off of a $50 Sephora purchase email. And there was a discovery set. I'm weak for discovery sets. And the set included candles! Instagram fodder! Wee!
Yeah, no, this was a bit of a disaster. I actually love how the Oolong candle smells--I'm burning it as I write this, even--and I sort of expected the Tea fragrance to smell similar. The minute I sprayed it on, I realized I'd made a mistake. Not only does it smell thicker, muskier, and less fresh, but it has a jasmine note in it. Now, I love jasmine to bits, and it usually smells amazing on me. But jasmine can also go very fecal. And that's what happened with Tea: I smelt like a Port-a-John for a full hour until a subscriber was kind enough to suggest removing it with rubbing alcohol. Even when I sniff it in the bottle, it smells weirdly rank. What a shame.
I have a slightly different problem with Book. I actually can see why people enjoy this one, but I don't think it's as unique or complex as people suggest, and I'm not entirely sure why it gets so much hype. Admittedly, it has a simultaneously green and woodsy quality that I think makes it very unisex and pleasant; there's earthy vetiver, some crisp, bright cucumber and herbal eucalyptus for freshness, and a little bit of sandalwood that adds texture. But it's just...okay. It's like Cool Girl cologne, and that's not a terrible thing, but it's also not something that stands out to me. And as with every other Commodity fragrance I've tried, Book doesn't last more than 4 hours (though it has okay projection while it's on).
As a side note, a lot of people compare Commodity Book to Le Labo Santal 33. While they share some notes and have a similar tangy quality to them, I really think they're being compared because they're both popular right now. Book reads more green and fresh, Santal 33 is thicker and more textured.
Slow Explosions, by Imaginary Authors
I'm very open about my appreciation for the Imaginary Authors range, as well as my preference for leather fragrances. So you'd think I'd jump right on Slow Explosions when it came out in 2016.
Instead, I waited it out. Fragrances are expensive, and niche lines like Imaginary Authors are pretty much impossible to smell ahead of time unless you live in a big city with a quirky perfume shop or are able to snag a sample. Since I didn't have those opportunities, I gathered information from oodles of raving YouTube reviews and waited for a bottle to float my way.
When I first sprayed this perfume, I actually said out loud, "Oh my God, why the Hell did I get this?" The initial blast is an unpleasant, chemical leather smell that reeks of melting car tires. I almost scrubbed it off, but I waited ten minutes...and I'm glad I did. While I'll never enjoy that acrid opening, the middle is stunning. Large amounts of saffron give the leather a soft, almost powdery feel, a dash of tarte apple lingers in the background, and there's a muskiness underlying all of it that makes it quite sexy and smooth. This is definitely a modern fragrance, and while I admit that my personal preferences play a part in this, I truly feel it's way cooler than almost anything else I've sniffed recently.
Then again, I like to eat a gallon-sized bowl of popcorn while watching The Great British Baking Show in bed, so I don't know if I'm the best judge of "cool."
Sillage is moderate with this fragrance, provided you only do one or two sprays (which is more than enough). I get pretty solid staying power from Slow Explosions, but though it does sit closer to the skin after the first couple of hours.