If you spend any time at all on the perfume forums, you have may seen a few posts posing one of the essential philosophical questions of our age: “What is a stripper perfume?” At first, I had great hopes of learning about unusual, seductive perfumes in these threads but after dutifully reading the accumulated responses, I learned that professional female strippers favor vanilla in their perfumes. So it seems that strippers smell pretty much like most of the other women at the mall.
It is probably unnecessary to point out that Burlesque by Maria Candida Gentile is not your typical stripper perfume. In fact, its bodacious name is an extremely odd choice for this perfume and for a perfumer whose work is distinguished by Old World elegance. Gentile is an independent Grasse-trained perfumer based in Italy, whose compositions have been praised as “proper fragrances” by Turin and Sanchez in their Perfumes: A – Z Guide. Before trying Burlesque, I was familiar with only two perfumes by Gentile, Sideris and Hanbury, and I found them to be restrained, thoughtful, and just a little eccentric. Perfumes for bluestockings, perhaps. Hanbury (2010) is named after the botanical gardens of the Villa Hanbury, in Liguria Italy, established in the nineteenth century by Sir Thomas Hanbury, businessman, importer, and founder of the eponymous tea company. Like the garden containing more than six thousand rare species, Hanbury is an unusual floral deeply redolent of herbs and sweet Mediterranean flowers such as mimosa and calycanthus. I enjoy the experience of Hanbury, but I find it a bit too heady for all-day wear. Sideris (2009) is an equally distinctive perfume, inspired by a poem by Cesare Pavese, that is frequently celebrated by lovers of incense in perfumes. Like many other lapsed Catholics, I enjoy the slightly sacrilegious experience of wearing perfumes rich in frankincense and myrrh, but to me, Sideris is dominated by its beeswax and honey notes, evoking the stuffy and dusty closet where the church candles are stored (and perhaps where bad girls are locked up) rather than the aromatic and inspiring smoke from the censer floating up to the vault.
And so, although I have been interested in Gentile’s perfumes for some time, I hadn’t found one that I really wanted to wear until I tried Burlesque. Released in 2012 as part of Gentile’s Exclusive line, Burlesque hasn’t generated a lot of discussion in the perfume world, but I think it is a simply stunning perfume. Although it is meant to evoke the dressing table of a performer, sprinkled with powder and paint, the perfume doesn’t suggest the hyper-feminine, sometimes over the top sensibility of a burlesque queen at all. Rather, I see Burlesque as a classical, even a definitively purist perfume composition. In Burlesque, an exceptional iris accord is the star of the show, with rose as a supporting player. Many contemporary iris perfumes feel wispy and thin, offering brief, tantalizing whiffs of iris before devolving into woods or soap (Naomi Goodsir’s Iris Cendre, Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d’Iris, Hermes’ Hiris, Chanel’s La Pausa, et. al.) Burlesque is a full-figured iris perfume along the lines of Xerjoff’s extraordinary and rare Irisse. The irises are fresh and blooming in Burlesque’s opening, develop waxy and orris powder facets in its middle, and finish with the berried sweetness of dark purple bearded irises. I suppose Burlesque might feel “retro” to some, but it isn’t a self-consciously backward-looking scent. Like my vintage Joy and No. 5 extraits, Burlesque is a beautiful floral compositions of great quality and deceptive simplicity.
Burlesque is available in the parfum concentration only, but it is very accessible, especially in a 15 ml. travel bottle. It is a classic, richly feminine perfume suitable for any occasion with moderate sillage and great longevity. It just needs a new name.