I did not remember smelling the original Oscar de la Renta way back in the 80s, when it was relatively new, but it did smell sort of familiar when I managed to get hold of a used miniature bottle for a few dollars on ebay. It smelled like a tuberose-rich white floral on one of those kitchen-sink bases that you used to get in your average department-store floral – less mossy than Chloe, less civet-dirty than Ysatis, but a rich floral-woody-oriental all the same. It is actually a contemporary of Chloe’s, being released just two years later, and the two run fairly congruently along the lines of their notes lists. (I have a strong preference for Chloe as being cleaner and more ladylike, but you might attribute that preference to the fact that I wore Chloe for more than a decade.)
Oscar was composed by Jean-Louis Sieuzac, who also authored some of the most famous fragrances of the 70s and 80s: Dune, Fahrenheit, Bel Ami, Opium. Its notes list: (Top) orange blossom, basil, coriander, galbanum, peach, gardenia, (Heart) ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, rose, rosemary, cyclamen, lavender, orchid, (Base) opoponax, carnation, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, amber.
Oscar also has a distinctively “ashtray” note that I’ve found in only a few other fragrances: Cristalle edt and Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. Presumably this ashtray note pops up other places (Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarette, perhaps? I haven’t smelled it), but I don’t know what causes it, and I don’t tend to find it in fragrances that list a tobacco note. In any case, Tania Sanchez mentions it in her review in P:TG as well.
“The current version of… Oscar… is complicated but flat, zipping from a tobacco-tinged tuberose top note to a nondescript woody oriental that reminds me of the way my clothes used to smell the morning after a big night out – clinging remnants of perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Ysatis was a better, plusher version of this kind of thing, although I hear that Oscar was a big, impressive tuberose once. It isn’t now.”
I haven’t smelled the modern iteration of Oscar, and I can only go on the (slightly-age-damaged) bottle of vintage parfum I have on hand. The first whiff is of nail polish remover – fairly common in older perfumes, and nothing serious to worry about. It seems to be related to the breakdown of aldehydes, and is usually out of the way in ten to fifteen minutes. I don’t smell any herbs or galbanum when I put on this Oscar, or perhaps they’re buried under the heavy florals. Vintage Oscar is indeed a big, impressive white-floral composition, on that complicated base that I mentioned earlier. What comes through most in the base is woods and amber, sweet and insistent. Along with the tuberose, there is a pile of orange blossom and jasmine. There is also quite a bit of heliotrope, and the combination makes me think fleetingly of L’Heure Bleue, though it’s less seamless than L’HB, and the ashtray cast dirties the whole thing up.
Oscar seems rather bad-tempered to me, with a Bette Davis “Jezebel” don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude. Again, it might be that my vintage parfum is to blame here, but the odd thing about this haughty fragrance is that it seems right that it’s haughty. It’s not quite the thin, couture-clad woman smoking a cigarette in a holder and walking an ocelot on a jeweled leash sort of Erte-illustration haughtiness that you get from your big rose chypres, but it’s a sort of “I pay my pool boy more in a week than you’ll earn this year, sweetie” condescending haughtiness that doesn’t feel very much like me: a plush limo, a lady-that-lunches. It is fairly dated, in a way that probably would bring up the dreaded “old lady” appellation, and I’m guessing that your average man would feel uncomfortable wearing it.
The parfum does last well, about six hours, but without the big sillage I expected. I’ll bet the EdP is a sillage bomb, though. I bought my partially-used mini bottle on eBay for about $4, but new bottles range from $30 for a 30ml bottle of EdT at online discounters, to $85 for a 100ml bottle of EdT or $104 for a quart-ounce of parfum in a department store. It’s easily available, and there are also miniatures and body products (lotion, etc.) associated.
From blog comments and reviews, I’d heard that Esprit d’Oscar was an updated, easy-listening version of the original white floral beast, and that it was very pleasant. I was happy to run across a sample in a swap (thanks, AnnS!) and even happier to find that Esprit is so attractive and wearable. It was composed by the team of Frank Voelkl and Ann Gottlieb, and released this year (2011). The notes list for Esprit d’Oscar includes bergamot, lemon, citron, jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, musk, heliotrope, tonka bean, and vetiver.
Esprit begins with some lovely citrus notes, under which I smell a lot of white florals. It does away with the ashtray note and a good bit of the ballast of Oscar, and opts to highlight orange blossom over tuberose. Both are clearly present, but it’s a clean, pretty orange blossom that is in focus here. In fact, what with the orange blossom and heliotrope, Esprit smells, for a time, even more like L’Heure Bleue than the original Oscar does. The other big change, aside from the general lightening of the formula, is the use of a creamy, face-powder smoothness that reminds me a little bit of Love, Chloe and Dior New Look 1947. I really like this sort of thing, particularly in conjunction with the white floral blend in Esprit d’Oscar, and I’m not surprised that several perfume bloggers have found Esprit congenial.
Of course, it’s a truism that if there’s orange blossom in a particular fragrance, it tends to smell of soap to me. I truly think that there is something about the interaction of orange blossom and my skin that creates the illusion of soap. Every time I wear something heavy on the OB, I’ll ask family members, individually, what they think, and invariably I’ll get the answer, “That smells like soap.” Sometimes the response is positive, as it is with Esprit d’Oscar: my husband, when asked, said, “That’s nice and clean. Very pleasant. Honestly, it smells like you just showered with one of those fancy soaps.”
Thing is, I don’t actually use fancy soaps. I always buy shower gel of some kind or other, because our water is very hard (calcium carbonate) and soap leaves impossible-to-eradicate scum in the showers. The shower gels always lack that creamy sort of smell that I think of as being classic soap.
The longer Esprit is on, the more musk I smell. It’s a clean sort of musk, but of the variety I call “skin,” as opposed to “laundry.” A quick drugstore reference, if I’m not making sense to you here: “skin” musk is Jovan Musk for Women, or, duh, Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk. These are warm, gentle perfumes that smell like clean skin, and since Jovan Musk was one of my mother’s everyday fragrances when I was a kid, skin-musk scents tend to strike me as being warm, clean, and comforting. “Laundry” musk is easily smellable in Jovan White Musk, which smells like harsh industrial soap to me, that nasty chemical stuff they use in hospital laundries. I happen to like musk, as long as it doesn’t encroach on what I call “goaty” musk. (Ever smell a goat up close? Do yourself a favor, and don’t. I like goats, but the smell is fairly beastly. Maybe I just like the idea of goats. Ahem. We’re leaving the goat pen behind. No dallying with Muscs Koublai Khan or Smell Bent Commando, now. Press onward.)
The overall effect of Esprit d’Oscar is pretty and clean and perfumey, but at the same time, it seems vastly more unisex than Oscar. It’s very easy to wear, and I doubt you’d offend anyone if you were drenched in the stuff, so it might make a great gift, and I think it’s a perfect office, or “wallpaper” scent, the kind that hangs around like a veil and smells pleasant without drawing notice to itself. The clean angle and the skin musk take it out of that dated, heavy-floral realm that Oscar is now situated in.
Esprit d’Oscar is an eau de parfum and lasts pretty well on my skin, probably due to the musk. I usually get about four to five hours, dabbed moderately. It might last even longer sprayed, but I have a dabber sample (now mostly used and enjoyed). It’s available at certain department stores from $78 for a 50ml bottle, and $98 for a 100ml one. I don’t yet see any body products or miniatures in production, but if it sells well, as it should, those will probably be produced.