Dead Letter Office: Comme des Garcons Play- Not Around Long Enough

I have written often how lack of longevity on skin has become inextricably entwined with quality in the consensus of the fragrance consumer. I can write until my fingers tire that the very notes which impart longevity are some of the cheapest and most synthetic; it falls as if a tree in a forest with no one around to hear. One of the reasons this has become a truism in perfume marketing is because in the mid-2000’s a number of brands put this to the test by releasing truly interesting short-lived perfumes. Almost all of them now occupy a shelf in the Dead Letter Office. One of the best examples is Comme des Garcons Play.

Christian Astuguevieille

By 2007 Comme des Garcons had emerged as one of the early pillars of the niche perfume sector. Overseen by Creative Director Christian Astuguevieille they would define many of the core principles of what it meant to be an artistic fragrance. Especially in these first years they were also the most willing to experiment. To their credit they still are. What that meant in 2007 was M. Astuguevieille wanted to see if the idea of longevity could be overcome with something truly avant-garde but fleeting.

The place within the Comme des Garcons brand where something like this might do well was the Play collection. On the clothing side Play was debuted in 2002 as a source of “casual luxury”. Which meant t-shirts and other casual wear done in the Comme des Garcons way. This brand generated one of the most iconic Comme des Garcons images. Shown above artist Filip Pagowski’s heart with eyes is as emblematic of the overall brand as it is for the sub-collection it was designed for. The Play collection were sold in these new outlets called Dover Street Market. To fill up the shelf space accessories were going to be hard on the heels of the clothing.

Aurelien Guichard

Five years on M. Astuguevieille collaborated with perfumer Aurelien Guichard for Play. It isn’t explicitly stated in any of the press materials that they were trying to make a short-lived fragrance. What is sure is Play is the Comme des Garcons aesthetic in short form.

It opens on a mixture of peppery citrus as black pepper and bitter orange provide a lively opening. It transitions quickly to an herbal heart of sage and thyme lifted on a cloud of aquatic notes like Calone. It sets up the truly odd accord that forms the base. If you ever spent time wiring stereo speakers in the old days before wireless made it irrelevant there is a smell of electronics in a wood cabinet. That is exactly what M. Guichard assembles out of patchouli, oakmoss. and musks for the final moments of Play. I’ve always thought of this as an electronic chypre.

Play has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The final accord is a classic odd Comme des Garcons example. It is unlikely that was the reason Play didn’t survive. The longevity was pointed out time and again whenever it was written about. It became a kind of baseline to compare other new releases to, “it lasts longer than Play”. Very quickly the decision came to pull the plug. It would be replaced by set of three perfumes Play Red, Play Green, and Play Black which would not make the same mistakes. What it comes down to is Play was not around long enough because it was not around long enough on a perfume lover.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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