I can't recall many occasions when I've felt conflicted about an offering from Prada. Even when the brand is at the zenith of zany – see the spring 2011 collection – I have still mustered up myriad reasons to defend my love for Miuccia, whose grandfather and great uncle founded the leather-goods business in 1913.
Next month, however, Prada's newest fragrance will hit beauty counters and it's a head-scratcher, at least as far as first impressions go.
Prada Candy, as it's known, is a dramatic departure from the brand's existing stable of scents, which began in 2005 with Amber for women and has since featured a series of "Infusions" inspired by a single flower. But while the infusions, some of which are admittedly quirky, could be considered the olfactory equivalent of Prada's suiting and dresses, Candy is more akin to a trendy accessory – a teddy-bear keychain, for example.
Like all perfume literature, the official description is full of breathless hyperbole. "Prada Candy is instantly seductive – pure pleasure wrapped in impulsive charm. In an explosion of shocking pink and gold, Prada Candy takes us on a walk on the wild side, showing us a new facet of Prada femininity where more is more and excess is everything."
In many respects, Candy is a fragrance with an identity crisis. Recently, much has been made by zeitgeist watchers of mothers who dress like their daughters; among this set, Prada's latest, an unapologetically youthful scent targeted toward women well beyond their prom years, is likely to be a hit. "This is for a woman who is in her 40s and freaking," speculates global fragrance expert Marian Bendeth, who compares Prada Candy to a costume bauble.
Of course, Candy could also have been created to catch Prada devotees by surprise, to keep its fan base guessing. Still, something's not right: Is the philosophy behind it purely commercial or is it a radical attempt to move away from the glut of glamorous fragrances toward escapist fun? Does Prada, in other words, know something we don't?
At the heart of Prada Candy is benzoin, a tree resin that smells a little like root beer – sweet yet herbaceous. Here, however, a thick slick of caramel combined with musk overpowers any possibility of aromatic undertones. Imported from Laos, benzoin is a popular fragrance note, but it typically occurs in concentrations of 0.1 per cent. By contrast, it makes up 12 per cent of Candy's formula, requiring Givaudan, the Swiss-based processor of such raw materials, to double its production of the ingredient.
Most perfume aficionados have yet to sample Prada Candy, but that hasn't stopped them from voicing conflicting opinions on the popular fragrance website Now Smell This. Some applaud the eccentric venture ("So right for Miuccia … when others zig, she zags!"), while others remain skeptical ("I'm halfway between horror and fascination, although I quite love all Pradas so far.")
In an interview provided by Prada, perfumer Daniela Andrier explains how the fragrance reflects the brand. "Prada fashion can have very strong colours, incredible shoes, everything exaggerated and, still, by an amazing miracle, not be too much," she says. "When you smell Prada Candy, it's not overpowering. It's a way of making things look just right, but not in a compromised way. Our world is dictated by compromise, but Prada Candy is about exaggeration. It has a revolutionary spirit."
I, like the horrified/fascinated commenter, wouldn't go that far. I also take issue with the bottle, which, despite its distinctive Art Deco-esque design, falls short of the calibre I expect from Prada. The pink detail meant to replicate Prada's signature safiano leather, for instance, loses its charm as a band of plastic.
To be sure, Prada could slap its name on a can of baked beans and there would be people out there to scoop it up within seconds. Regarding Candy, however, who exactly is going to pick up this particular can is the burning question? Will it be women who crave the youthfulness of a sweet-smelling juice under the banner of a respected brand? Teens who thumb their noses at Juicy Couture? Maybe the fragrance is for all those women who can't remember the last time they ate sugar, although this thought is especially sad. Candy, after all, is much more fun to eat than to smell.