Every medium has its own experimental barriers. Sensations we are either naturally inclined, or trained, to dislike provide a sort of dangerous frontier for artists. Just last week, I raved about Fate Man’s triumph over the body odor associations with cumin; Kori and I are also loud fans of Zoologist’s rather fecal masterpiece Hyrax. The beautifully-named Asphalt Rainbow provides another challenge: capturing the sunstruck-road smell that serves as its namesake.
I’ve encountered well-done asphalt smells in perfumery before. Blackbird’s Universal Supreme is a summer wonder that manages to pair the icy nature of fruity popsicles with the artificial shock of pavement. But Asphalt Rainbow aims for something a bit more abstract, ditching the nostalgic brightness of Universal Supreme for something more transcendently artificial. The real question is whether or not the execution is as enthralling as the idea behind it.
Asphalt Rainbow Notes
Rose Absolute, Rose Fragments, Galbanum, Lily of the Valley, Lychee, Ylang, Saffron, Magnolia, Leather, Cistus, Asphalt, Patchouli, Wood, Amber
Asphalt Rainbow’s note list is full of flavor-of-the-month ingredients: saffron, rose, and leather to name a few. It gives the impression of an experimental composition couched in classical technique. Unfortunately, the actual perfume completely lacks the balance required to make such an ambitious masterpiece. The asphalt in asphalt rainbow is absolutely front-and-center here. While that might sound like an impressionistic journey, it instead scans as an alcoholic blast not unlike the cheap perfumes found on a Five Below shelf. The opening is undoubtedly a mess, but most persistent wearers will guess that something richer lies beneath.
Asphalt Rainbow somehow never manages to shake its cheap, abrasive opening. Rose and patchouli, along with sweet florals, are the first to rise through the alcoholic fog. Instead of comforting, these notes give the impression of so many other modern bitter rose perfumes. It’s almost as if a Montale powerhouse decided to completely abandon any trace of pleasant realism. If you took away the rich wood aspects of their medicinal oud and kept in its bracing chemical tang, then added their most wilted rose note on top of it, you’d reach something close to Asphalt Rainbow. It’s somehow the worst of both worlds. Sure, it’s experimental in a way – it’s blatantly unappealing to a mainstream audience. And yet it’s also incredibly boring, because the ‘rainbow’ aspect of the fragrance uses faded versions of perfumery’s most common notes.
Experimental art tends to blossom over time. I’ve encountered dozens of albums, films, and perfumes that I hated upon first glance and then grew to love. At the end of year two with Asphalt Rainbow, I can only see this perfume as a dead end. Sure, you can take the detour for a new experience. But most likely the most memorable part of the fragrance is the moment you utter that disappointed “oh” and turn around.
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