Truth or Dare by Madonna Eau de Parfum — A Ray of Light
Raising eyebrows, pushing the boundaries of propriety, and diving head-first into social taboos have always been part of a day’s work for pop icon Madonna. Whether prancing around onstage in a Gaultier-designed cone bustier, exploring fetishism and androgyny in her black-and-white “Justify My Love” video, angering the Vatican by blending sexual and religious imagery in her “Like A Prayer” video (including a dream sequence of her seemingly seducing a black saint), French kissing Britney Spears at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, or bewildering her audiences by adopting a British accent and presenting herself as an etiquette devotee with a matronly ensemble, only to resurface in a 2012 Superbowl Half Time performance as a Roman gladiator replete with a horned Philip Treacy headpiece, Madonna has gravitated to controversy like a moth fluttering toward a flame. And while some argue that her most recent antics during the MDNA tour are desperate calls for attention — the actions have included brandishing a prop pistol during an Edinburgh performance (in deliberate defiance of the country’s strict weapons laws), flashing her breasts during a show in Turkey, and showing a video in which a swastika symbol appears superimposed over the forehead of conservative French politician Marine Le Pen as a commentary on her repressive policies — Madonna staunchly defends her actions, asserting that they’ve been means through which to make social commentaries and ignite discourse. Whatever your stance on Madonna’s behavior, present or past, there’s no denying that she’s a polarizing force, a seasoned provocateur.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the pop icon flirted with trouble when developing her new scent, Truth or Dare by Madonna Eau de Parfum ($55 for 1.7 oz. and $68 for 2.5 oz. at Macys.com). First, of course, there’s the slim white bottle with the gold Truth or Dare logo at its center (which itself seems to fuse together a cross icon a wide “M”). Designed by Fabien Baron in collaboration with Madonna, the bottle bears an uncanny resemblance to classic Catholic Holy Water bottles, while the golden bottle cap with its studded details recalls the opulent domes of Russian Orthodox churches (think St. Petersburgh’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral).
Madonna has described her Truth or Dare scent as an exploration of humanity’s dual nature, of the tug-of-war between darkness and light, purity and depravity, egoism and solidarity. The bottle instantly conveys this sense of contradiction — after all, it makes use of sanctimonious imagery (visuals that could be construed as sacred and pure) in a plausibly forbidden manner (for something other than religious fare).
As for the fragrance, it also toes the line between virtue and sin by combining beautiful florals with more sensual gourmand notes like vanilla and caramelized amber. Developed by Givaudan perfumer Stephen Nilsen, the Truth or Dare EDP features top notes of rich gardenia, creamy tuberose, and dewy neroli that usher in a heart of jasmine, benzoin tears and white lily petals. The delicacy and femininity of these white florals is then counteracted by seductive base notes of vanilla absolute, caramelized amber, and sensual musk.
Though I’m as avid a Madonna fan as they come, I admit that I assumed this fragrance would be 99% gimmick — after all, most celebrity-branded perfumes are aromatic atrocities made in order to capitalize on our fame-obsessed consumer culture. To my surprise, the fragrance is a delight, with the fresh, powdery, clean scent of gardenias swathed in a creamy vanilla for a pretty yet slyly provocative aromatic combination. Perhaps what I love most about this scent is its demureness. While you might expect a Madonna scent to have an in-your-face character, this one has more of an understated charm — it’s the perfect example of when a whisper proves more titillating and provocative than a shout (think the aromatic equivalent of Madonna’s “Secret”) and, moreover, yet another indication that, even when we think she’s done it all, Madonna still manages to surprise us.