These past few years we've seen a number of "modernized" versions of classic fragrances. Some of them, like Yves Saint Laurent Belle d'Opium and Christian Dior Miss Dior Chérie, don't smell at all like their parent versions. Others, like Chanel No. 5 Eau Première, Estée Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude, and (to go back a few years) Hermès Soie de Calèche are recognizable kin of their forebears. Oscar de la Renta Esprit d'Oscar stands apart from the pack in that it is both clearly related to the original Oscar de la Renta of 1977 and yet has its own personality. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up outselling its parent.
Perfumer Frank Voelkl created Esprit d'Oscar, which launched this month. Esprit d'Oscar's notes include lemon, bergamot, citron, jasmine, orange flower, tuberose, heliotrope, vetiver, tonka bean, and musk. Although I hadn't smelled Oscar, the original, in years, Esprit d'Oscar called to mind the original's tuberose and sandalwood signature right away. But there was something different — softer, lighter, and not as insistent, yet complex and much more than a watered-down version of the original.
Esprit d'Oscar's citrus is a quick whiff on the way to the double whammy of sandalwood-toasted tuberose sitting on the vanilla-almond-cocoa powder of heliotrope. The tuberose here is warm and golden, just about ready to drop off the stem. It's not at all the tropical fresh tuberose of, say, Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. The powerful personality of the sandalwood-tuberose combination reminds me a little bit of the sandalwood-jasmine combination of Guerlain Samsara. Although it's quieter than Samsara, Esprit d'Oscar is equally distinctive.
Then, earthy, rooty vetiver steps up and the heliotrope dials down its volume. The caramelized tuberose and sandalwood heart soldier on, but the vetiver grounds them and cuts the cloy. At this point Esprit d'Oscar reminds me a little of Lancôme Trésor's rose-vetiver heart. This might sound like a powdery, confused mess. After all, tuberose, heliotrope, sandalwood, and vetiver? Samsara and Trésor? And did I forget to mention the pinch of cardamom I swear I smell, too? To me, it all works deliciously and forges a one-of-a-kind olfactory fingerprint — not many fragrances can claim that these days.
Esprit d'Oscar has moderate sillage and lasts for a good while. Despite being distinct, Esprit d'Oscar doesn't demand attention. I wore it heavily for a week, and although I could smell it around me, I never worried about gassing out my coworkers. Esprit d'Oscar sweetened a tiny bit as it aged, but it dried down true to form and faded over about ten hours. It's a true floral oriental and might overwhelm in humid heat, but it's not particularly heavy.
After smelling Esprit d'Oscar, I was curious about the original Oscar de la Renta and stopped by Macy's for a quick spritz of the Eau de Parfum. I remembered a whopper, juicy tuberose-sandalwood-cardamom fragrance, but Oscar's tuberose, while still bright — brighter than that of Esprit d'Oscar — was thin, and a funk (civet? plastic cardamom?) wore right through, start to finish. A burst of sneezy aldehydes kicked it all off. Oscar smelled dated, and I'm not sure if it could ever make the transition to "classic." Still, you've got to hand it to Oscar, it does have a singular approach.
In the end, I prefer Esprit d'Oscar. I know I'll be referring friends to Esprit d'Oscar who don't have the patience for sampling and mail-order niche fragrances. To the person who is tempted by the sensual, warmly colored marketing of Belle d'Opium or Gucci Guilty, I say, try Esprit d'Oscar instead. It's more individual, definitely more enjoyable, and has all the makings of a signature fragrance. This is one I look forward to smelling on the streets. If you like floral orientals, it's worth a trip to the mall to sample.
Oscar de la Renta Esprit d’Oscar is available in 50 ($78) and 100 ($98) ml Eau de Parfum at select department stores.