Go Ask Alice | review by Perfume Critic Marlen Elliot Harrison
Summary: An all-natural fragrance designed by Shelley Waddington for 2011′s Summer of Patchouli Love project that manages to present patchouli as both edgy and sophisticated. Leave a comment below for your chance to win a deluxe mini.
Pros: This is the (affordable) fragrance that will convert patchouli-haters to patchouli-lovers; likewise, this is also the fragrance that will convert naturals-haters to naturals-lovers; one of this year’s top 10 international releases (full list coming soon); perfect for all those who love woody, spicy, ambery aromas.
Cons: None I can think of….hmmm, imagine that.
Notes: “Go Ask Alice is an oriental-gourmand with top notes of California orange peel, bitter orange Caribe, bergamot from Calabria, Sri Lankan black pepper, and orange flower laced with fresh raspberry and strawberry. The heart notes contain patchouli leaf tincture, mimosa blossoms, and rose absolue. Vintage patchouli Sumatra, sandalwood deux, cocoa, vanille, tonka, labdanum Spain, balsam Peru France, and beach-washed ambergris provide a deep creamy base.” (From press release)
Reminds me of: Every time I wear this, I detect a slightly different character and so I’ve thought of everything from Crabtree & Evelyn’s Mysore Sandalwood (because yes, the sandalwood is THAT good in Go Ask Alice) to Fresh’s Patchouli Pure, Keiko Mecheri’s Patchoulisime, Rochas Lui, Molinard’s Bois Precieux and Molinard’s Patchouli.
Designer’s Descriptions: “I wanted to compose a perfume that would define and contemporize the 1967 Summer of Love, a time when young Americans protested the Vietnam War, sold flowers, smoked pot, and trailed clouds of patchouli,”,reports perfumer Shelley Waddington. “My biggest challenges were in retaining the authenticity and the surrealistic quality of this iconic theme while achieving my goal to contemporize and raise it to the level of a classy, wearable, and versatile perfume.” (From press release)
Number of times tested: 5+ times from samples sent to me for the Summer of Patchouli Love project and by Shelley Waddington.
Number of sprays applied for this review: Four on the back of each wrist and sides of neck.
Fragrance Strength: EDP
Development: (Linear / Average / Complex): Just as Lewis Carroll had his heroine, Alice, grow and shrink in order to continue her journey, so too does Go Ask Alice morph and shift on its own journey. From the beginning I am taken from bright, round citrus with clear, aquatic facets into a silky, smooth patchouli accord that offers hints of chocolate, sandalwood, vanilla and wood resins. Along the way there are flashes of rose, red fruit (not at all sweet), pepper and powder.
Longevity: (Short / Average / Long-lasting): Those four sprays lasted almost 8 hours on my skin and through to the next day on my shirt.
Sillage: (A Little / Average / A Lot): Although Alice’s presence cannot be denied, she is neither prone to shouting nor histrionics. She is a proper English lady, afterall.
Where Can I Buy It? $6 US for .10oz EDP mini spray; $45 US for a .5oz EDP spray; $65 US for a .25oz Parfum splash at EnVoyagePerfumes.com
Note About the Packaging: The parfum is housed in a simple, clear, cylindrical glass bottle while the EDP is housed in a clear, rectangular glass bottle.
The Bottom Line (or The Conversion): Back in June when I first tested Go Ask Alice, I wrote: “the patchouli gets lost in a typical “naturals” accord at first but then spices up as it dries down…reminds me a bit of Crabtree & Evelyn’s Mysore Sandalwood fragrance. Loving this.” Now that I’ve had the chance to fully experience the aroma on numerous occasions, I can offer further explanation.
As I noted above, the aroma opens with surprising citrus and aquatics, likely due to the orange flower, orange peel, neroli and bergamot. At various times throughout the wearing I am almost tempted to consider the scent a beachy ozonic. But Go Ask Alice is definitely not a citrus or orange flower fragrance and is firmly anchored in oriental traditions. And although the patchouli here seems wrapped in its own perfume of fruity rose, Go Ask Alice is most definitely not a fruity-floral. Truly, Go Ask Alice is all about the basenotes. And oh boy, what a blend of basenotes they are. A subtle gourmand replete with a hint of cocoa powder and vanilla, the ambery base is what sets this patchouli blend so far apart from others. Understanding the current fascination with all things dessert (a journey that was firmly initiated almost twenty years ago in perfumery with the introduction of Thierry Mugler’s Angel), perfumer Shelley Waddinton’s decision to go gourmand but NOT sweet, is another stroke of brilliance that makes Go Ask Alice so incredibly comforting…and addictive.
I’ve learned that one of the advantages of working with natural ingredients is the way particular materials are used as tinctures (scented alcohols) in which other materials are then placed. Gourmand notes seem to be rather popular to use in such a way and I imagine this is exactly what perfumer Shelley Waddington has done with Go Ask Alice. Likewise, I think this is how she managed to avoid the cloying candy factor that the inclusion of chocolate and vanilla so often results in. The patchouli here is so smooth, so completely friendly that one might wonder why they had never met patchouli in such a way before. This is not to say that the bushy herb has lost its groovy vibe. On the contrary, this is hippy chic.
One of the other surprises I’ve noticed about naturals is the way that they constantly shift characters, grow at first quiet and then loud, and play hide and seek. And so in Go Ask Alice, the composition delightfully echoes the infamous story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. About two hours into the development, once the clean crisp top notes have disappeared, and once Alice has finally made it to the land of roses, the fragrance becomes a bit, well, rosey! I know I’m becoming repetitive, but although this character reveals itself, I want to make sure to emphasize that Go Ask Alice is also NOT a floral by any stretch of the imagination.
The real proof of Go Ask Alice’s appeal lies in its ability to equally enchant individuals of very differing scent aesthethics. So storytime:
Act 1: The Set-up
I brought Go Ask Alice with me to Helsinki last weekend where I met with some of Finland’s leading beauty experts for late afternoon cocktails, one of whom was a self-proclaimed patchouli-hater. I had just come from a 2pm presentation of recent research to a group of teachers at University of Helsinki and hadn’t applied Go Ask Alice since 8am that morning. Once at the bar where we were to meet, I realized my lack of scent and whipped out my 15ml spray of Go Ask Alice and shpritzed a few times. I worried that perhaps I may have disturbed the other patrons around me but selfishly took delight in my new sillage.
Act 2: The Conversion
Upon salutatory hugs I was met with a “WHAT is THAT divine scent?” by the patchouli-hater of the group. I quickly revealed my aroma without revealing the star ingredient and much to my surprise, the said hater removed the cap and sprayed herself! I was a bit astonished. Mmmms and aaaaahs soon issued forth as arms greeted noses and all agreed that the scent was indeed divine. Pens came out of bags and the perfumer’s name and website were scribbled onto cocktail napkins for future worship.
Later that evening I received a text message asking, “What did you spray on me that smells like chocolate sandalwood?” I reminded her of Shelley Waddington. This led to some deep convincing that she was sniffing a patchouli fragrance. Said hater converted. The Perfume Critic strikes again.
One final note: Go Ask Alice is a 100% natural perfume. As those of you who have been reading my October entries here at The Perfume Critic or my Facebook page for ThePerfumeCritic.com, you’ll know that I have been a naturals hater for some time and the majority of naturals I test do nothing to change this bias. Although the citric opening of Go Ask Alice hints that the aroma is indeed a work of natural perfumery, future wearings have had me completely forgetting that this is of a genre I typically avoid. Whereas it converted my patchouli-hating colleague, Go Ask Alice is the final step in a month-long process of converting me from a naturals-hater to, well….being more open-minded about giving naturals a chance.
Considering perfumer Shelley Waddington’s description of Go Ask Alice, above, I end with the following by Lewis Carroll from All in the Golden Afternoon (PoemHunter.com):
Alice! a childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined
In Memory’s mystic band,
Like pilgrim’s withered wreath of flowers
Plucked in a far-off land.
If you ever thought you hated patchouli or natural perfumes, now is your chance to challenge your expectations. Go Ask Alice and join the converted.