Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd


L'Eau Froide by Serge Lutens

When I read Sanchez/Turin The Guide I was taken by the idea mentioned in the review of Equipage. It was said to be fashioned after the scent of cold pipe. My mind went to plumbing. The image stuck with me long after I put the review down. Over the course of time, it dawned on me that Turin had meant the kind of pipe you smoke. Not too bright, I know, but it did make me seek out Hermès Equipage, a fragrance I loved from first sniff.

But Serge Lutens has redeemed me! He has made a fragrance that smells like condensation on cold metal pipes. L'Eau Froide smells like cold metal, it smells like a stony brook in autumn, it smells like drinking melted water from a metal camping cup in winter. It's made of frankincense, but it smells like snow.

We use the expression 'skin scent' as a placeholder for a perfume's later stages of coziness, quiet and low sillage. It’s when the scent has faded to the point that you must jam your nose to your wrist to make it out, at which time you're actually smelling your own skin far more than the perfume applied 12 hours prior. 'Skin scent' coziness can be applied to almost any perfume, but it will never be used to refer to l'Eau Froide. L'Eau Froide points out that the scent of live warmth is the true olfactory association with skin, as if we can smell the blood within the flesh.

L'Eau Froide might pass as the scent of a marble bust, but that is as close as it comes to flesh. You'll never mistake it for a skin scent.

18th May, 2015 (last edited: 21st June, 2015)

Interlude Man by Amouage

God knows Amouage have done the 'go big or go home' style masculine fragrances before. In fact they are some of the line's most successful perfumes. Hybrid vigor, Amouage's implicit goal, has led to beautiful fragrances that highlight traditional Eastern materials and Western compositional methods.

The sensibility that results from this hybrid has seldom been timid and Interlude Man is a beast, but a lovely one. Contemporary men's fragrances, niche and mainstream alike, often use a particular set of woody notes to imply masculinity. This limited vocabulary has drawbacks. Firstly, these notes are usually created from a range of aromachemicals that, when left alone, smell like chemicals. Secondly, without padding, without other notes to fill the empty spaces and round out the angles, men's fragrances often smell alike and lack nuance. Interlude avoids this mistake and is aromatic, expensive, nuanced, complex and capital-B Beautiful.

Line up Interlude with Amouage's other classic masculines (Dia, Ciel, Epic...) and the family resemblance, based largely in their use of incense, is easy to see. The real point of comparison for Interlude, though is the best of the men's Power Fragrances from the 1980s. They're sometimes referred to as knuckle dragging simpletons, but the best of them were simultaneously loud, beautiful and subtle. YSL Kouros was an orange-flower beauty. Hermès Bel Ami wrapped leather in violet and gasoline. Chanel Antaeus had aromatic top notes and lunged at you like a coke-head on aldehydes. Dior Jules and Caron Third Man emphasized the ruggedness of the fougère by smothering it in aromatic and floral notes. Lauder for Men hid its gruffness behind a very pretty muguet note.

Interlude is most similar to the BFFs of the time, the Big Fucking Fougères. It doesn't share the genres defining lavender/coumarin mix, but it balances bass and baritone notes with durable higher pitched notes. Like the BFFs it has a broad spectrum harmony that lasts from start to finish. You don't just hear the high-pitched notes in the top notes, and you don't get the lower register notes only in the bass notes. The harmony last from top to bottom. The similarity to the fougère genre lies in its aromatic quality. Where an aromatic fougère might use geranium or some other leafy green, Interlude uses oregano.

Oregano! Maybe not the greatest selling point points in a list of notes, but extremely successful in bringing a green expansive quality to a woody perfume. A bit of patchouli seems to integrate the oregano, so that it doesn't suggest pizza or a sore thumb. Incense jumps out from first sniff, but the rest of the woody tone is an interesting blend. Oud? Sandalwood? There is a warm, leathery, dusty quality in the basenotes that just purrs.

Interlude's combination of boldness and complexity differentiates it from the dull crowd of most contemporary woody fragrances and links it to the best of the 1980s. Vive le power frag
18th May, 2015

Sotto la Luna : Gardenia by Tauer

There are generally two challenges to making a gardenia perfume. The first is that it requires a complete fabrication since the flower itself yields no aromatic essence. The second is balancing gardenia’s heady and sweet notes with its fleshy, salty, umami underbelly.

Another hurdle, though, is matching the specificity of the appearance of the flower and its scent. There are a lot of things in this world that smell like a rose, jasmine or lemon. Nothing else smells like a gardenia, and so for those who can see, the fragrance and the look of the flower are intertwined. If in re-creating the scent of a gardenia the visual image isn't also summoned, then the representation is incomplete.

Bolstering the association between scent and the visual appearance of the flower, and therefore adding to this challenge, is the way the look of the flower and its fragrance suggest each other. The creaminess of the scent matches exactly the matte texture and luminosity of the petal. The creepy, fleshy quality of the aroma is enhanced by the flower’s likeness to cyanotic or vampiric skin. The hint of blue color to the creamy white matches the cool, liquid quality of the aroma. Gardenia has a visual/olfactory mirroring similar to the way sound and meaning echo each other in onomatopoeia.

Tauer clears the first two challenges easily. The top notes of gardenia smell like a particular slice of the scent of a gardenia. It is an abstraction, as any attempt at re-creating a gardenia will be. The success here is in the point of view. It is a perfectly proportioned sketch of the flower, not a photorealistic image. It stimulates your imagination, and engages you to complete the image for yourself. As for the umami, Tauer gives us a dusty mushroom, one that suggests that dank dark place where a mushroom grows as much as a mushroom itself.

As for the challenge of the sensory mirroring, Tauer shines. The scent of Sotto di Luna Gardenia is like a gardenia under a black light. The aroma suggests spiced cream, a cool touch, a bone marrow blue-tinted white. Over time the specific appearance of a gardenia goes away but the shape holds. The precise abstraction remains, and the surface tension between sweetness and meatiness, creaminess and dustiness lasts through drydown. The gardenia itself is gone, but the angular lushness that characterize it remains. A wonderful 'morning after' scent.
18th May, 2015
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Jour de Fête by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Olivia Giacobetti has a way of challenging the wearer without threatening. Jour de Fete makes you question your senses. It presents you with notions of softness, quiet and comfort at the same time that it makes you consider legibility and dynamics. It poses questions. What is the difference between quiet and soft in a perfume? Is low sillage a weakness or an advantage? Giacobetti's gift is to make perfumes that carry ideas, but not at the expense of pleasure and emotion.

The name itself captures the conundrum. Jour de Fete. It sounds like a party in a bottle, but if you come to it expecting music, cheering and applause, you'll be either surprised or disappointed. It's less a party and more like a discussion with a fascinating stranger. It has a black-box quality that I love in Giacobetti's other work. I've read others call Jour de Fete overpowering, undetectable, sweet, bitter, long-lasting and instantly disappearing. Everybody sees something different in the box.

Is there an opposite of a vanishing act? On applying Jour de Fete, I could just barely smell a hint of marzipan and play-do. It suggests scent as well as substances with particular textures. I had to strain to detect it. Within 15 to 20 minutes, I could smell it a bit more strongly. But what I smelled was more of a quality than a scent, per se. For lack of a better word, it smelled blunt. It's as though I was at the outer edge of something that actually absorbed sent. Now, eight hours later, I can't stop pulling my arm to my nose. It's remarkably composed. Simple, but suggestive. I have the same experience with Dzing! (another Giacobetti perfume for l'Artisan Parfumeurs) at its drydown. While the two smell nothing alike, at this stage, they both are evocative without suggesting or referring to anything in particular. They don't smell like anything else I can point to, but they make my mind race.

Giacobetti’s work is fascinating. I’d give anything to have the chance to sit quietly in the corner and observe her at work for a week.

18th May, 2015

Perfume Calligraphy Rose by Aramis

The rose is often maligned among fumies. It's quaint, it's prosaic, it's the low hanging fruit of floral perfumes. It's lovely on the bush but uninteresting in the bottle. Perhaps the rose's greatest sin among the cognicsienti: it's common.

I see it differently. The rose’s ability to play the common denominator makes it the ultimate contextual note. Whole genres are created through the rose's affinity with woods, ambers and resins, fruits and mosses. Rose notes make the most beautiful chypres, fruity florals, florientals and woody florals. It has so many intuitive pairings because there are many facets to rose that are enhanced by other materials and notes: patchouli, oakmoss, cedar, citrus, musk, labdanum, vanilla, berry. Rose perfumes can be woody, jammy, sweet/dry, bright/dark, soft, garish, innocent or skanky. Rose is to flowers what sandalwood is to woods: the broadest, most encompassing example of its genre. The best analogy I can come up with for the rose is blood types. Rose is the AB + blood type of perfumery: the universal recipient. The rose can be paired with just about anything.

And here is the trap.

Many fumies disdain rose perfumes because, where's the artistry in a note that can't help but smell good? What good is beauty if it's common? My counter to this line of thinking has two parts. 1) There have been terrible rose perfumes, so quality isn't guaranteed. 2) Smell Amouage Lyric Woman, Vero Profumo Rozy or Paco Rabanne la Nuit and tell me that rose lacks character.

Aramis Calligraphy Rose takes full advantage of the rose and uses oud to make a woody rose/floriental hybrid. A hybrid/hybrid. The rose springboards off a light oud note to create a heady, jammy, boozy perfume with lush sillage and a long arc. Aramis clearly sees the perfume as a market-expander, a foot in the door of an Arabic sensibility and demographic. The marketing strategy is simple to the point of crass, especially compared to Amouage, a comparison Aramis would desperately like the consumer to make. But the perfume is lovely. It steps straight into the line of fire of the rose critics by being a 'feel good' fragrance. But passing the Guy Robert 'smell good' test is only the first hurdle of any perfume. From there, a perfume must then be considered in light of criteria such as coherence, balance and thoughtfulness, and Calligraphy Rose rises to the occasion.
18th May, 2015

Parure by Guerlain

The signature scent is an obsolete model of perfume use. It was the perfume you mated with and wore exclusively day in, day out. If your perfume was discontinued or fatally reformulated, you were out of luck. I read often about the drawbacks of so many perfume releases each year. Creativity and exploration in commercial perfumery is stifled by market needs, narrow margins and short time frames for success. The explosion of 'niche' is impossible to keep up with without curation. Each year, hundreds of launches are aimed at the same fat middle of the bell curve. 25 years ago the dilemma was simply a dozen men's perfumes that tried to copy Davidoff Coolwater’s success after the fact. Today it’s hundreds of concurrent launches that all smell like Bleu de Chanel, each following the same model of risk management.

iTania Sanchez’s analysis that Chanel 5 wasn't successful due to marketing but to quality isn’t applicable to new perfumes. Half of those hundreds of simultaneous fragrances don't smell any worse or much different than Bleu. The quality, innovation or artistry of the product are the least important variables in the equation. Branding and marketing are the deciding factors and Chanel wins through PR power and prowess alone.

The lifelong signature fragrance has become a losing prospect. Perhaps a better model is to swim out a bit further and let the tide carry you. I don’t mean to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Wall at Sephora. But investigate a bit. Interested in oud? You’ll have hundreds to choose from. Don't like oud? Try one of the throngs of translucent incense perfumes. Rose is having a moment these days and there are some gorgeous Rose perfumes. Why not try one of those? Even a genre as tired as for the Fruity Floral has been tested by evolution for long enough that there are some solid choices.

If you never step into the same river twice, maybe this constant flow of new perfumes isn't a bad thing. I can't think of any given time in the past 20 years when there haven't been a good number of exceptional perfumes available. I'm thrilled that Guerlain seem to have found a way to resurrect Mitsouko. But if it had simply gone the way, I would have shed a tear and moved on. This attitude is not ahistorical. There lineages, traditions and movements in perfumery that continue whether historical icons remain extant or not.

We reminisce about signature fragrances when we talk about dear old Gran who wore Arpège and Grand-dad who used to wear Caron pour un Homme. Forget the arcadian past and ask yourself, would anyone be better off still wearing Giorgio every day rather than having discovered Carnal Flower? What if your boss still wore Opium rather than l’Air du Désert Marocain?

The choices are there if you chose to act. Investigate new entries in a genre that you’ve like in the past. Discover something completely new. Follow a perfumer whose work you’ve admired. There’s a lot of perfume bliss to be followed these days


But back to Guerlain Parure and the value of the new. A large decant of the discontinued but coveted Parure was sent to me by a generous friend who has a particularly good ability to read perfume. I think there was some degree of test implied in the gift. What would I do with Parure? Thinking about the river of new releases has influenced my take on Parure.

From a market perspective, novelty has come to be a universally positive attribute. It has a value beyond mere goodness. If new is good, then newer is better. The latest is the greatest.

Oy, did Parure missed the boat.

Parure was released in 1975, composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain. For perspective, Guerlain released Chant d’Aromes, a prim powdery floral in 1962, Chamade, an exquisitely powerful green floral from 1969 and Nahema, an over-the-top disco queen in 1979. How is it possible that Parure is so much more in the mold of Chant d’Aromes than Nahema?

I don’t think Parure was intended to be retro. It was simply behind the times and was released into a market that had already had many similar fragrances for years. Aldehydic floral chypres: Paco Rabanne Calandre (1969), YSL Rive Gauche (1970). Green powdery chypres: Estée Lauder Private Collection (1973), Weil de Weil (1971). The more emancipated green fragrances had left the dainty green floral aldehyde behind. By emancipated, I mean taking the lead like Aromatics Elixir (1971), carefree like Revlon Charlie (1973), or active and engaged like Estée Lauder Aliage (1972). For god’s sake, 25-30 years prior women were wearing Rochas Femme (1943), Robert Piguet Bandit (1944) and Miss Dior (1947). These perfumes were erotic, some tacitly, others blatantly. They highlighted the sensuality of the body. By comparison, Parure suggested as much distance from the body as a perfume can make.

Parure was intended for a woman who closed the drawing room doors before the Summer of Love started and still hadn’t opened them in 1975. Even the name, “Parure” which means both a matched set of jewelry and, simply, finery, shows how out of step this perfume was in 1975.

But that was then. As a homo in 2014, I reclaim Parure. Its dynamics are delicate and balanced just so. Removed from the context of the retiring bourgeoise of the mid 1970s, it is a soft floral chypre with fruity elements that, after 15 years of syrupy tactless fruity florals, seem subtle and sexy. Appropriating staid perfumes that were well designed but fundamentally conservative and making them a bit come-hither breathes life into them. God, it's great to be queer.
18th May, 2015

Cuir Cuba Intense by Nicolaï

I applaud PR wing of Parfums de Nicolai. Coordinating the release of Cuir Cuba Intense with the US administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba? Brilliant!

Cuir Cuba Intense is a tobacco perfume. No surprise, given the locale in the name, but Patricia de Nicolai creates the notes the way a stage magician plays with your focus. I recognize the tobacco. I smell it as an arpeggio of floral, woody and herbal tones, but he tobacco takes two forms: the humidor and the fresh tobacco leaf. A humidor's richness is a result of both the container and the contents. Fresh tobacco leaf is filled with resinous juice and its fragrance is more characteristically floral than leafy.

De Nicolai uses the tobacco note to focus your attention, but it’s a ruse. As with any good magic act, the real action takes place right in front of you without your notice.

Ta da! Cuir Cuba Intense is a fougère!

Granted, it's an impressionistic one, but an effective one. The classical fougère is typically described as soapy, but from Houbigant Fougère Royale to Caron Troisième Homme to YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme, the coumarin in a fougère smells of hay and tobacco. In Cuir Cuba Intense, de Nicolai uses all the tricks the fougère has to offer. It plays the cool, and anisic tones of coumarin against warmer woody hues. It balances delectable, caramelized qualities with soapy inedibility, suggesting forbidden fruit. And wrapping identifiably masculine aroma (tobacco, leather, rumbly woods) up in a pretty bow, it is a classical dandy. Also in classically Victorian dandy fashion, and epitomizing the early generations of the fougère, Cuir Cuba Intense opens with a generous, expansive geranium note.

Prestidigitation works best on the suggestible and Cuir Cuba Intense is highly suggestive perfume. The fougère is there, but so is the leather. A citrus note ties to a dry smokiness and the heartnotes hint at citrus-leathers like Hermès Bel Ami and Estée Lauder Azurée. The combination of botanical references alongside undisguised chemical qualities reminds me of Robert Piguet Bandit. There is a sweet, caramel-patchouli inflection to the quiet but durable basenotes that is the balanced, pleasant version of Thierry Mugler A*Men’s hangover of a drydown. Cuir Cuba Intense isn’t derivative, it’s just composed of a lot of moving parts.

My strongest association between Cuir Cuba Intense and tobacco is not the way it smells, but the tone of voice and the synesthesia it triggers. It smells like Betty Bacall's gorgeous, cigarette-raspy voice sounds. Her husky feminine voice was exotic yet she was forthright and plain-spoken. This same duality runs through the perfume.

Classical perfumery's forté is orchestration, the ability to build notes and accords and swing them around with flourish. Contemporary perfumery, from about the mid-90s forward, used the tools of postmodernism, focussing on deconstruction and recontextualization to make perfume. De Nicolai’s Guerlain heritage is often cited in order to emphasize her traditionalism. Cuir Cuba Intense shows that she is as contemporary as she is classical and that first and foremost she is an expert structuralist.

18th May, 2015

Cuir Velours by Naomi Goodsir

Cuir Velours suffers from the same malady as its sibling, Bois d’Ascèse. The problem isn’t the fragrance, it’s the strategy.

So let’s get the perfume out of the way. It’s a waxy, fruity leather. Less soapy than Serge Lutens Daim Blond, more spiced than Robert Piguet’s revived Visa. A pretty fruit/leather that smokes and drinks. Very nice, truth be told.

But, why? Is niche perfumery strictly about branding. Say you sell a luxury fashion commodity. Shoes, purses, phone cases. Hats. Must a line of perfumes be part of the business plan? The smugness of viewing niche perfumery as a merely a style to be taken up and dropped is certainly nothing new, but the niche version seems dismissive by design. I know that there need to be business opportunities for up and coming perfumers, but is niche perfumery the lapdog of fashion businesses?

The thought that niche perfumery will serve to accessorize fashion is disheartening. Taking the focus away from exploration and placing it on the production of perfumes ‘in the style’ of niche is exactly how the soul is sold.

Niche orthodoxy. It will be the death of us.

18th May, 2015

Chypre Palatin by MDCI

International Fragrance Association (IFRA) restrictions on materials have made the chypre the bellwether in the reformulation debate. Limiting the quantity of oakmoss that may be used and the type of bergamot allowed, the IFRA have knocked out two legs of the chypre tripod. The limitations have pushed perfumers to reconsider composition and materials-producers to search for novel chemicals and botanicals.

The question remains: is it possible to make a true chypre perfume today? And if so, how? I don’t know the engineering of perfume composition enough to say what’s under the hood of the current lineup of chypre perfumes, but there seem to be a few strategies. Chanel go the route of re-creating the geometry of the composition so as to suggest the chypre. Thierry Wasser has apparently fiddled with the forces of the nature and reconfigured the chemical structure of oakmoss (Mitsouko) and reanimated the chypre. Vero Kern, god knows how, simply makes a chypre with Onda.

The wonder of the chypre is that you smell bergamot, oakmoss and amber at the same time that the totality of the perfume rises above the materials. Chypre Palatin has some of the characteristic elements of the chypre. It has great sillage in the headnotes, a raspy heart and a warm, leathery drydown. Like a chypre its evolution is gradual but substantive. Overall, though, it’s simply smells like the sum of its parts.

Chypre Palatin lacks this synergy and therefore lacks soul. In a go-big-or-go-home attempt to deceive, Parfums MDCI would have us believe that Chypre Palatin is not simply a chypre, but a ‘palatial’ one and they charge accordingly. ($250/75 ml) Despite Parfums MDCI’s goal of high art in perfume, a big-name perfumer and an emphasis on the finest materials, Chypre Palatin swings and misses. It is a chypre in the way a tofu steak is meat and carob-chip cookies are satisfying. It doesn’t appear like an attempt to reinvent the chypre so much as a ploy to fool the buyer.

18th May, 2015

Grand Cuir by Parfums Retro

Parfums Retro Grand Cuir is framed for you before you even try it. Putting the expectation right out front is an interesting strategy. The name tells you it will be a backward-looking, stonking leather perfume. While the name is not an outright fiction, it’s a ruse. Grand Cuir is a leather perfume, but it plays rough with genres and assumptions. If you take the name as a suggestion rather than scripture, the perfume speaks for itself and the fun starts.

Grand Cuir refers to the big, androgynous leathers of the early 20th century, the smoking and drinking party girls and boys such as Caron Tabac Blond, the various Cuirs de Russie, Schiaparelli Shocking and Lanvin Scandal. It is formal but rakish in that unbuttoned tuxedo, end of the evening style. It also links to the whopping aromatic fougeres of later in the 20th century with herbal, soapy facets that smack of loud shower-singing. The references might be retro, but its genre-blurring was current when released in 2013 and the huskiness of the floral leather notes matches a pendulum-swing away from sheer suede/leather notes and toward smoky, peaty leather tones.

Like the early 20th Century Shalimars, Emeraudes and Tabus with their dress up, play-acting orientalism, the art deco-era leather perfumes had a bit of costumey amateur-theater to them. The aromatic fougère of the mid-20th century was equally burdened with drama, in this case the overstuffed props of a wounded masculinity. Grand Cuir takes the stage but does it with a wry, comedy-of-manners-style that suits the project. The irony is smart and never reaches into sarcasm. Grand Cuir simply lives in a world of props and set-dressing appropriate to the genres.

Grand Cuir plays with olfactory tones as much as it plays with genres. Soapiness is common to both floral-leathers and fougères and Grand Cuir uses it to modulate the tannic woodiness of the leather and scratchy herbal qualities. The perfume balances tones of voice that typically would be dissonant. The hissiness of the orange blossom-leather pairing sits easily next to the barbershop quartet of the fougère. Grand Cuir is a big broad perfume and holds these differences in place without them seeming shoehorned into the same bottle.

Taken seriously, lightly or laughingly, Grand Cuir is a potent but nuanced perfume. Its opening gives a picture of the journey of the next 12 hours. The details, though, are nicely calibrated and the sites that you see en route are delightful.

18th May, 2015

Cuir de Russie by Chanel

Most of what has been written on classical perfumery falls into three categories: the description, the tribute and the complaint, also known as anger passing for nostalgia.

Take Chanel no 5:

• The description: Soapy. Bubbly. Old Lady perfume. Flowery. Feminine.

• The tribute: The greatest perfume ever made. The ultimate fashion accessory of the 20th century. The perfume that launched thousand ships.

• The complaint can be sophisticated or simplistic, but the meaning is the same: something I am entitled to has been taken away from me and I'm bitter. Blame political correctness for taking animal products off the perfumers palate, blame the governmental nannies for taking away nitro musks. Wherever I point the finger, though, I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to wear this anymore.

Cuir de Russe is a seminal work from one of the acknowledged founders of contemporary perfumery, Ernest Beaux. Describing it, idolizing it or bitching about its current state doesn't seem sufficient.

So what can I say about it? It is one of the few remaining examples of the sub genre after which it was named. The Russian leathers were defined by their specific combination of the hard and the soft. Rough leather notes, typically created with great helpings of birch tar, are balanced by dry floral notes. They combined the rugged and the refined and played on the Franco-Russian mystique of the early 20th century. They conveyed the sensibility of an era where sophistication was not defined by effete finery, but by an almost swashbuckling pursuit of 'the finer things'.

Does Chanel's Cuir de Russie meet these expectations? Tough to say. Perfume's capacity to evoke a broad sensibility is a function of many factors, from accessibility and social expectation to marketing, cost and personal habit. The Russian Leathers's connotation of class and privilege was likely a smoke-and-mirrors game at the start of the 20th Century. In the second decade of the 21st it is virtually mythology, which Chanel maintain with their heritage pillars: No 5, Cuir de Russie and Bois des Isles.

Cuir de Russie must meet a two-part goal for Chanel. It must remain coherent with the image of Chanel's history yet be desirable to the buyer who doesn't know or care that the perfume has a history. This is the precipice where many vintage perfumes die. They are reformulated, whether due to materials or strategy, and they lose the buyers. Caron's strategy has been to reformulate their heritage products drastically (eg. Narcisse Noir). Vintage lovers protest that their favorite perfumes have been gutted and new younger buyers have little interest in 'old lady perfumes.’ Taking a different tack, Guerlain reissued Vega as true to its original form as possible. Buyers who didn't care about its historical significance didn't buy it and it has been discontinued.

Caron is the cautionary tale and Chanel have paid close attention. Cuir de Russie 'ain't what she used to be,' but is an exceptional perfume that is precicely calibrated for 2015. The reference to the past is apparent but the perfume isn't nostalgic in the least. Neither is it adorned with olfactory signifiers like fruit notes, lingering woody ambers or cotton candy that that would suggest a cynical attempt to trick a younger demographic. The juxtaposition of leather with flowers is the idea at the heart of both the vintage and the current formulations of Cuir de Russie. The current version focusses on the same concepts that the original did rather than try to recreate it. In emphasizing evolution and continuity Chanel have made the current Cuir de Russie what it always was: a reference point and a standard against which other perfumes are measured.

An excellent leather perfume has been evidence of quality and distinction for niche and classic houses. Robert Piguet are 'known' for Bandit, as is Heeley for Cuir Pleine Fleur and Balmain formerly was for Jolie Madame. Cuir de Russie might not be a best-seller for Chanel, but it is critical to their image and their perfume portfolio. Jacques Polge, who oversees the maintenance of the line and is responsible for its current composition, gets high marks for the deliberation and subtlety that make the contemporary Cuir de Russie an exceptional perfume.

18th May, 2015

Hermèssence Cuir d'Ange by Hermès

2014 marks Jean-Claude Ellena’s 10th year as in-house perfumer at Hermès as well as his departure from the house. His final perfume for Hermès is Cuir d’Ange, released as a part of the Hermessence line that he created soon after his arrival to Hermès. Hermès was one of the first French luxury house to create a luxe-plus, high-cost line. Dior launched their Collection Privé the same year. Chanel followed with Les Exclusifs in 2007. Cartier released Les Heures in 2009.

The luxury on steroids bandwagon was the result of a number of tendencies in the perfume market but had one common goal: profit. The trends driving the escalation included the perfumer-as-artiste movement, a desire to reclaim the distinction that niche brands had stolen and demands for market growth. Each house sold the premise differently. Chanel touted its heritage. Guerlain used misdirection, rereleasing poorly selling perfumes in new bottles at high mark-up in line after line, from l’Art et la Matière and les Parisiènnes to Les Elixirs Charnels and the City Lines. The ongoing question is, how are the perfumes in the exclusive lines any more valuable than their less expensive counterparts? Luxury houses have long espoused convoluted and esoteric equations of worth to sell us their wares. The bottom line was: they created and maintained markets for ever more costly perfumes.

Rather than commissioning hired guns to produce a perfume at a time, Hermès had a more ambitious plan and brought in Ellena to reinvent Hermès’s perfumery starting with the creation of the Jardins series and the Hermessence line. It is valid to be skeptical of the charm of a contemporary luxury goods producer. The avarice of multinational corporations filtered through the haughtiness of top-tier tastemakers calls for suspicion at a minumum. Still, Hermès’s renovation was well considered and transparent, something refreshing in Fashion.

Ellena was the ideal choice. He had a proven track record of success with designer houses (Van Cleef and Arpels, Bvlgari and Cartier) and played a large part in defining niche perfumery with his work for l’Artisan Parfumeur, The Different Company, Amouage and Frédéric Malle. He had an enviable lineage, apprenticing in Grasse, studying at the new perfume school at Givaudan in the 1970s, following in the lineage of Edmond Roudnitska and being a founding member of l'Osmothèque. He brought expertise, talent, a proven track record and, importantly for a house whose currency is status and standing, prestige. The position offered Ellena the possibility to play a critical part in shaping the state of the art of contemporary perfumery and pursuing a vision. It was a rare opportunity for a perfumer. It was a match made in heaven.

But was it also a deal with the devil?

Ellena’s body of work for Hermès defines the states of art and elegance. But it could be argued that Hermès’s explicit focus on finery, exclusivity and branding were a set of golden handcuffs for Ellena. Ellena’s minimalism and Hermès’s refinement might seem like a perfect match at a glance, but the incongruity is implicit. The company’s pristine objets are impeccable, but conceptually fussy. They stem from the decorative arts, but serve as dull finery and symbols of bourgeois prestige. Ellena’s minimalism is deliberate and rigorous, not a superficial style. His work is the result of years of contemplation and effort on the nature of perfumery. In a line of work where chasing the next brief defines long-term planning, Ellena’s body of work demonstrates a coherent vocabulary and philosophy.

So is Ellena’s work for Hermès restrained or constrained? The brand’s sheer, radiant perfumes with their controlled range of dynamics are thoughtful successors to perfumes like Bvlgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (1992) and Osmanthus (2001) for the Different Company. But this is also the perfumer who made highly orchestrated perfumes such as Van Cleef and Arpels First (1976), l’Artisan Parfumeur l'Eau du Navigateur (1982), Rumba (1988) for Balenciaga and Amouage Dia (2002). Was this side of his work set aside during his tenure at Hermès? Will Jean-Claude Ellena step out of his rue du Faubourg St. Honore closet and live large starting in 2015?

Only the future will tell, but Cuir d’Ange provides an enticing hint.

Cuir d’Ange takes a full step away from the tone of Ellena’s prior work for Hermès. It is as composed and edited as the others in the Hermessense line, but it is far more lyrical. Where the majority of the Hermessence line are defined by a dispassionate understatement, Cuir d’Ange has an expansiveness, a brio that is almost startling. Ellena is known for having fine-tuned the narrowly evolving, quietly radiant perfume while at Hermès. He made perfumes that were not static but were largely linear. Cuir d’Ange has sweeping topnotes and a range of dynamics that are akin to those in Calèche, a perfume made by Guy Robert for Hermès in 1961. Cuir d’Ange simultaneously fits the brand’s legacy and Ellena’s oeuvre like no other perfume he’s made for the marque. It has a foot in the past and reaches into the future without sentimentality or contrivance.

(The relation of Cuir d’Ange and Caleche is conjecture, but it isn’t without precedent. Ellena’s Dia for Amouage was a response to Robert’s Amouage Gold [1983], the perfume that launched the Amouage line.)

Cuir d’Ange is a floral-leather, a category that existed before Hermès produced its first perfume. The nod to historical genre tells me that Ellena intends to work with, if not within, tradition. The specific floral quality of the perfume is unexpected. It is bitter and dusty with an herbal, soapy quality reminiscent of Ivoire de Balmain. The scent is strong and specific yet detached. Cuir d'Ange smells more specifically like suede than most leather perfumes, but suggests that the scent comes from objects in a nearby room. Despite the olfactory realism the perfume is abstract and it defeats the expectation of how a leather perfume should play out. It’s neither smokey nor woody and it never warms or sweetens. It becomes hushed over time, but stays soapy and cool, hovering just off the skin without ever becoming a ‘skin scent’ as most leather perfumes do.

Ellena’s work is both literate and legible. He uses a systematic and ordered approach to make expressive if subtle perfumes. His perfumes reveal a coherent aesthetic that can be read. He has both a sense of history and an intimate knowledge of the most recent innovations in perfumery. He is poised to leave Hermès into a wide open future and I’m keen to see what he’ll choose to do next.

17th May, 2015

Rêve en Cuir by Indult

Some notes are easier than others. Not to create, but to accept at face value. Vanilla is one. People recognize 'vanilla', whether it's a vanilla bean or ethyl vanillin. Synthetic vanilla aromachemicals are used because they smell ‘like’ vanilla.

Leather requires a little more imagination. There are more links in the chain of associations that lead to the scent of leather. It’s not even strictly leather that we smell, it’s the combination of the hides and the chemicals of the tanning process. The scent of leather is not one particular thing, but a range of tones in the spectrum of leather.

However a material is derived, if it smells ‘like’ vanilla, it can be considered vanilla. Perfume composition relies on an olfactory algebra: let x = vanilla. Leather presents a more interesting premise to the perfumer. After a connection from A through Z is made, our neurology doesn’t perceive the steps in a chain of associations, just the connection of A and Z. Whether we see the links or not, they are there for the perfumer to play with, making leather a playground of abstraction. Witness the birch tar leathers from early in the early 20th century, the inky synthetic leathers that followed and the range of floral and plastic leathers that came along as compositional rules loosened.

The goal of creating a leather perfume isn’t emulation of leather, though perfume marketing has historically spun piles of bullshit about leather opera gloves, black leather corsets and the innards of Birkin bags. Leather is the inspiration, not the goal. There are as many strategies to composing a leather perfume as there are sub-genres. See: Vierges et Toreros’s lucite leather. S-Ex’s subliminal musky leather. Azurée’s sizzling citrus leather. Bel Ami’s gasoline leather. Cuir de Russie’s iris leather. Cuir d’Ange’s herbal-soapy leather.

Reve en Cuir’s approach isn’t novel but it is effective. It creates a hissy topnote similar to the violet-leaf gasoline of Dior Fahrenheit and its predecessor, Bel Ami. The topnotes sharpen, coalescing into a cool, sweet, clove-like heart. Reve en Cuir’s richness comes from intricacy and what it lacks in projection it makes up for in evolution and duration. It balances richness with precision editing and, though it smells like no particular leather object, it is perfectly coherent. Exemplary of Kurkdjian’s best work, it isn’t radical but it is inventive and intelligible.

17th May, 2015
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Coromandel by Chanel

A house like Chanel has to play a few different angles at once if they want to sell their products. With Cormandel they tie together a few different narratives that target a number of key demographics simultaneously. It’s an odd dance that Coromandel performs seamlessly.

Coromandel is a Hippy Patchouli and it’s an Old Lady Perfume. It’s for the old guard and the debutantes. It’s stuffy and it’s boho chic. And it does it all without compromise. It starts with an explosion of citrus, flowers and bucketsful of bright, cold patchouli. There’s not a doubt in the world that Coromandel is a Patchouli Perfume, but it’s a clever one. It's similar in concept to Guerlain Shalimar. It plays patchouli in just the way that Shalimar plays vanilla. In each perfume, the material is the undisputed center of the composition, but not a solo act. Neither uses the material like a flower in a soliflor or a single-note hippy shop oil. Still, if you miss the vanilla in Shalimar or the patchouli in Coromandel, Jacques Guerlain and Jacques Polge have miscalculated.

If you don’t like the scent of patchouli there’s little likelihood that that you’ll warm to Coromandel. But if you take the plunge you’ll find every aspect of patchouli is played to maximum effect. I’ve been looking for a Patchouli-patchouli perfume. You know, a perfume that is earthy, icy, green, powdery, camphorous and potent. The whole package. But it must be a perfume, not some headshop oil or sledgehammer perfume without thoughtful composition. Coromandel is precisely what I’ve been looking for. It’s a spectacular combination of all the facets of patchouli without compromise. The patchouli is fleshed out with incense, amber, vanilla and god knows what else, but it never feels heavy or overburdened. Oh, it’s enormous. It verges on rococo, but it works without ever teetering and has an unrestrained charm that is the key to its wide appeal.

Old ladies, hippies, spoiled rich kids and fumies can all come together on this one.


17th May, 2015

Lampblack by Bruno Fazzolari

There is nothing new in Lampblack. Then again newness is overrated in perfumery. 'Unconventionality' is code—camouflage for a lack of nuance and uninventive composition. Niche perfumery is the boy, novelty is the wolf.

Better than novelty, Lampblack has a point of view. Consideration and creativity are more valuable than gimmickry, and let’s call Lampblack what it is. It is a perfume that uses known materials and compositional tools. But it manipulates otherwise recognizable facets of the materials to offer a new perspective. It is a thoughtful piece of work.

Bruno Fazzolari is a visual artist who has chosen perfumery as another medium for the investigation of ideas. His crossover to perfumery disproves the axiom that the medium is the message. It also points out that artistry and technical training are not the same thing, a point that vocational schools such as Givaudan and ISIPCA may or may not recognize.

There is considerable buzz around Fazzolari’s perfumes, Lampblack in particular. The problem with buzz it that there’s always the next new thing to capture it. Fuck the buzz and forget the flavor of the month, but try Lampblack if you have the chance. It is remarkable not for the hype, but its thoughtfulness and exploration of ideas.
17th May, 2015

Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez

Notes are a fairy tale in perfumery. Believe them as you would believe in the Sugar Plum Fairy or Tom Cruise. They’re ‘real’ but not actual. Aurélien Guichard doesn’t refute the notion of notes but he rephrases them. He separates aromas (floral, green, fruity, musky) from the other tones that the nose perceives (roundness, velvet, opacity.)

Slicing and dicing notes is nothing new in contemporary perfumery. Notes and materials have long been picked apart and shuffled around. Deconstruction and recontextualization are the classic two-step of post-modern art, a relic that perfumery has taken and run with. The next step, the rebuilding, the creation of a new picture is harder to achieve and is largely missing in contemporary perfumery.

Narciso is abstraction in its fullest. The separation and identification of the parts is thoughtful, but Narciso reconceptualizes perfume more credibly than you’d expect find in a designer fragrance. Guichard manipulates his materials so that the broad qualities, not the notes themselves predominate. There is not so much a clear magnolia note as there is a sultry luster. It is less specifically woody than it has the feel of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Materials and notes aside, Narciso smells balanced and synthetic in the artistic sense. It doesn’t attempt to recreate aspects of “nature” as in the solifor and it has none of the smugness that can accompany avant-nichery. It’s a perfume made with an eye on aesthetics and ideals. Its indelible trait is an ambience, a spherical quality that feels like an additional dimension has been added to musk. The tone is both pervasive and subliminal. It surrounds you but it subverts the whistly, woody-amber persistence of many contemporary woody-musky perfumes. It is less radiant than evenly distributed. There are no seams showing, no bumps in the ride. If I could read a perfume formula, I suspect this one would have some sort of dimensional trickery like an Escher drawing. Impossibility made probable by screwing carefully with perspective.

Narciso’s commitment to aesthetics feels almost Greco-Roman in its classicism. Like many classical works, Narciso has a designed imperfection, a distraction that keeps you from falling into a beauty-trance. Narciso’s blemish is its whiff of paint. Sniffed from the right angle, Narciso has the wonderful smell of a fresh can of exterior paint. It might seem odd at a cursory sniff, but it is perfectly placed and enhances the overall purr of the musk.

17th May, 2015

Musc Ravageur by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

L de Lolita defined my fear of the gourmand genre. Thick scents of chocolate dessert are coupled with musks and ambers, both of which are known for their fixative properties. Amber 'fixes' the gourmand quality of L de Lolita the way concrete shoes 'set' in a mafia fable before you're thrown in the river.

Wearing L de Lolita could well be a Catholic-school lesson on the sin of gluttony and the threats of eternal hell. The anticipation draws you close, the titilation makes you give in, the satisfaction is the pleasure you've been denied. Then you continue to eat, unable to control yourself, long past the point of nausea and revulsion. Jaques Guerlain gave a seminar on the line between plenty and excess when he took Shalimar close to crème brulée, but then pulled back. The value of gourmand notes is in the suggestion or the temptation, not in the pudding. L de Lolita demonstrates the lesson by failing it and falling into the more-is-better trap.

So if L de Lolita (2006) is a sin against god, does Musc Ravageur (2000) have a more original sin?

I experienced Roucel's trio out of sequence. I first smelled Labdanum 18 (2006), then L de Lolita (2006) and finally Musc Ravageur (2000). I hadn't known that the same perfumer made all three, nor had I known that the two 2006 perfumes were derived from Musc Ravageur. Now I understand who's who, or better, who's the flanker.

Musc Ravageur is the template. The other two variations were made by turning up and down the volume of specific notes of the original. Labdanum 18 skips the aromatic topnotes but overdoses the sweet vanilla and powdery musk. Without the loud aromatic topnotes of Musc Ravageur, Labdanum18 feels listless by comparison, yet is famously le Labo's best seller. If Labdanum was made by subtraction, L de Lolita relies on the addition of chocolate and maple syrup to distinguish itself. The classic vanilla 'oriental' is given the chocolate-steroid treatment and the bergamot topnote of Musc Ravageur is twisted into a candied orange. Piling a maple syrup/imortelle/fenugreek note on top of the chocolate makes L de Lolita a Frankenstein-Gourmand and poster-child for the excesses of gourmand perfumery.

L de Lolita is so egregious that having smelled it a number of times seven years ago it tainted my experience of Musc Ravageur. This week I wore Musc Ravageur for the first time. I wore it three days in a row, haunted by the anticipation of recognition that wouldn't come. While distracted, the flashback to L de Lolita struck me in the gut and having made the connection, there's no turning back.

How might I have experienced Musc Ravageur if I hadn't first been affected by L de Lolita? We all arrive to a perfume with our bags packed, but the recycling of ideas across different lines without marketing the subsequent perfumes as flankers muddies the waters. Maybe I've been damaged by the Lolita perfume association and have made the jump to Nabokov's Lolita. With its effusive barbershop masculine reference and smarmy musky-amber sweetness Musc Ravageur reads like the perfume a stereotypical dirty old man would wear.

(Please don't take my 'kitchen sink' quibble with Musc Ravaguer as a blanket criticism. I'm all for excess in perfumery generally and in Roucel's work specifically. He's used it to great success in Guerlain Insolence, Hermès 24, Faubourg, Missoni by Missoni and Gucci Envy.)

17th May, 2015

La Petite Robe Noire Couture by Guerlain

Guerlain have long followed the rule that it's better to be good than to be first. Or at least it's better to be the last one standing. Coty Chypre created the genre that defined perfumery in the 20th century. Mitsouko copied the formula, improved it and is now the standard-bearer. Shalimar came on the heels of Coty Emeraude and a number of other huge vanillic/balsamic ambers that were popular at the time. It then surpassed them and became the model of the genre. Coty l'Origan, then Guerlain l'Heure Bleue. Caron En Avion, then Guerlain Vol de Nuit. Even on the men's side, Guerlain's eponymous Vetiver followed Carven's by four years.

The Fruitchouli genre is a somewhat restrained take on the egregious gourmands of late 1990s. The Fruitchouli's emphasis on berry notes makes it technically gourmand in nature, but it is Gourmand 2.0. The questionable goal of smelling like a cupcake was toppled and 'hints of (fill-in-the-blank) berry' became the marketing catch-phrase. In 2009, late in the game, Guerlain entered the fray with La Petite Robe Noire eau de toilette. The reference Fruitchoulis by this time were already dead and gone. Badgely Mischka by Badgely Mischka was discontinued and Miss Dior Chérie had been thoroughly reformulated, flanked and renamed to the point of anonymity. Guerlain went the shell-game route of Miss Dior Chérie, quickly replacing its first version by Delphine Jelk with a similar version by Thierry Wasser, then releasing an eau de parfum. Then came the stream of flankers, each distinguished by a slightly different silhouette of a little black dress on the bottle. Most buyers don't actually know which perfume they actually have.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture is the stand-out of the lot. It is unmistakably a Fruitchouli, but rather than simply following the reduction of the genre (sweetness + berry flavor = perfume) that has become the norm, it benefits from Guerlain's years of twisting patisserie into perfume. It shows its Guerlain DNA in an almost campy exaggeration of its predecessors. Mitsouko's plum is prim next to La Petite Robe Noire Couture's sweet berry cobbler, but the likeness is there. La Petite Robe Noire Couture's dark sweetness is a less restrained play on L'Heure Bleue's bittersweet version of the floral oriental.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture's real precedent, though, is Guerlain Insolence. Insolence was derided as a trite sweet floral that watered down the reputation of the brand. Guerlain's smart move was to beat the criticism by going further over the top, creating Insolence Eau de Parfum. It was a monstrous, laughing fuck-you of a perfume that made critics of the original appear out of step and fussy. If La Petite Robe is considered just the next post-LVMH nail in Guerlain's coffin (also said of l'Instant, Insolence, Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial and l'Homme Ideal) the Couture model wades further into the dogfight. The berry compote is simmered down to an even thicker consistency so that Couture's sweetness is denser than the edt's or edp's. It even steals a page directly from Insolence with a touch of a hairspray note that gives Couture a defiantly 'perfumey' quality.

You thought the original Petite Robe Noire was a little déclassé for Guerlain? Try Couture. Modesty is for pussies.

17th May, 2015

Kiste by Slumberhouse

Perfumer Josh Lobb

(The below is 18 hours after wearing and sleeping in Kiste. I usually wait a bit to write about a perfume, but not today.)

There is an entire wing of niche perfumery whose strategy is to reverse-engineer Slumberhouse perfumes and then try to replicate their results. This is a losing strategy for any number of reasons, principally for the cheapness of disregarding process and wanting an end product without the requisite start and middle.

Slumberhouse perfumes can be difficult, conceptually and practically. Ore isn’t an easy ‘daily wear’ and Jeke would make a demanding signature fragrance. Slumberhouse perfumes take backbone to wear and I inwardly gird my loins when I put on Sova or Sadanne. They aren’t simple or easy.

If perfumer Josh Lobb’s goal is to play with our expectations as much as our desires, he’s succeded. Kiste isn't simple, but it is effortless. I can surmise the work that must have gone into making this perfume but I don’t feel it.

I’m listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as I write. The groundedness, the keenness of their talent, the complexities of their success in their era. It’s all there in the music, but listening to it is a breeze. I don’t listen to this music because I don’t want a challenge. I listen to it to remind myself that life is good.

Peach, sweet-tea, bourbon, tobacco, hay. The Southern connection might be in the notes, but it's also in the pace of the experience. Kiste is a sippin' whiskey of a perfume. Potent but smooth, satisfying from start to finish.

Ease is not a lack of ambition. Kiste is the reflection of a mid-career artist stretching his legs. It covers a lot of ground in a golden, lustrous range of late afternoon tones. The allusions to fruit, honey, old-fashioned ‘miracle elixirs’, tobacco and liquor swirl around you. There is a lot of movement in the first few hours of Kiste, but it fine-tunes into a goldilocks 'just right' drydown that is less sweet and more medicinal than the top and heartnotes lead me to expect. Complexity reads as intricacy rather than complication.

17th May, 2015

Vétiver Extraordinaire by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Vetiver root has been used in perfumery since day one, but the eponymous masculine Vetivers fixate on it with a particular reverence. Vetiver isn’t simply the masculine equivalent of the feminine white floral. It’s become a ceremonial totem of male toiletry, ranking with the fougère as a masculine olfactory reference. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Big Three (Carven, Guerlain, Givenchy) boosted vetiver from a fixative and a basenote material to the center of the discussion.

The Maculine Vetiver became safe harbor in the 1960s-1970s when the underpinnings of masculinity were up for discussion. More vetiver fragrances than you can shake a stick at followed. Some kept close to the scent of the vetiver root itself (eg. Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Route du Vetiver, Etro Vetiver, Lalique Encre Noire) while others strayed a bit further, riffing on a particular quality of the root (Annick Goutal Vetiver’s salty iodine, Serge Lutens’s chocolate Vetiver Oriental, ELDO Fat Electrician’s plastic and vinyl.)

Vetiver Extraordinaire falls into the conservative camp of Vetiver perfumes and The Big Three are its specific predecessors. All four are sweeping, classical perfumes that balance broad splashes and nuanced choices. Malle and Ropion are too well-versed in composition and history not to have understood the importance of the Big Three, but they chose to rival them rather than to imitate them. Malle also takes advantage of the of the fetishism surrounding the material, and fumies dutifully cite the 25% of vetiver oil used in the composition.

Ropion’s approach is to take vetiver to finishing school. After the dazzling citrus punch of the first sniff, he employs a swirling floral topnote to accentuate vetiver’s inherent thumping bass range. The liveliness of the topenotes have hints of lipstick and makeup and Vetiver Extraordinaire barely skirts the scandalous 'Old Lady Perfume' territory. The topnotes are ‘perfumey’ and remind me that Ropion known for his over-the-top perfumey feminine florals (Givenchy Amarige and Ysatis, Malle’s own Carnal Flower). Vetiver Extraordinaire eventually settles into a more traditionally masculine woody range, albeit with a dandy flourish.

Vetiver Extraordinaire captures the sensibility of the Frédéric Malle line perfectly. It is a superlative contemporary spin on a traditional form. Though not nearly as ubiquitous, Vetiver Extraordinaire rivals Guerlain Vetiver as the standard-bearer of the genre among vetiver enthusiasts.

17th May, 2015

Rozy Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

Perfumery gets away with a lot. It can tell you quite a bit if you're listening, but because it can't be pinned down to any literal meaning, it appears entirely subjective. It's the ongoing problem of scent and language. Because we can’t express clearly to others what we smell, we confuse the personal for the subjective. Scent doesn't convey a repeatable, specific meaning in the way a visual image does. Show 10 people a photo of a cat, ask, "What is this?" and they'll all answer either a cat or an image of a cat. Representation is easy with the visual. It gets harder with the olfactory. Wave a fragrant rose under 10 noses and ask the same question and you might get a majority of "Rose" answers. Try the same with perfume and who knows what the responses will be.

Vero Kern creates the tools to look a little closer. The three versions of her fragrances--extrait, voile d'extrait, eau de parfum--are not just different concentrations. They are different points of view. Kern states that the purpose of the voile d'extrait is to combine the potency and shape of the extrait with the lift and expansiveness of the edp. In investigating an idea over the course of three versions of the perfume, Kern does in one shot what Edmond Roudnitska did over his career with Eau Sauvage, Diorella and Parfum de Thérèse. Both perfumers explore an idea or set of principals over the course of a number of perfumes.

Branding is apparently a necessary evil, and Kern's approach is both old-school and effective. Not the the marketing blunderbuss of Chanel or the LVMH subsidiaries. Not the dancing-as-fast-as-I-can dissembling of Creed PR. Not the bell-curve mediocrity you get when design and marketing are so close as to be indistinguishable (Maison Francis Kurkdjian). Vero Profumo’s strategy appears to be this: make a concise and well-edited line of exceptional products, package them beautifully, let the artist speak.

The three versions of her perfumes aren't an attempt to gain a larger demographic foothold and they aren't the product of focus group tinkering. They are the expression of fully explored creative concepts. Each model stands on its own, but smelling the different versions feels like an exploration. Perfumery tends to have a very limited view of the relationship of perfumes in a line. A line is formed by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks ( ie., serial releases) and then copying what does stick ( ie., flankers) Kern's approach borrows from other art forms and, while each of her perfumes is a complete work, it can also be understood as an episode, a movement, an act, a part of a series or triptych.

.rozy highlights perfume’s capacity to explore aesthetics. Despite marketing that tells you that a perfume is 'about' yachting, privilege, hipness or cupcakes, or that a perfume will make you sexier, what perfume in fact offers is the chance to explore the world from a particular sensory angle. Kern's work shines when it's viewed conceptually. For all its complexity and density, .rozy has clarity and it wins me over for its beauty and its integrity. Kern doesn't try to convince you, she offers you excellent perfume and asks you to consider it. No bullshit. No yachting, no promise of heightening my allure.

.rozy is thick with ideas. Large dynamic qualities sit next to subtleties. Acute angles and body-shaped curves intersect. While there are references (Knize Ten and Jean Desprez’s Bal à Versailles, Anna Magnani’s performance in The Rose Tatoo) they aren’t overstated. They are enhancements to your experience. The punctuation and spelling of the name tell you that rose is involved, but that it is a qualified rose, 'not your mother's' rose. Rose is nested so far into leather notes that I only notice it out of the corner of my eye. Even the leather is a moving target, ranging from rubber to dust to honey. .rozy isn't the expected woody, balsamic, syrupy or ambered rose. It's hardly a rose perfume at all. It's more of an Easter-egg hunt for the rose that you're told is hidden somewhere. Expectation of a rose might take you into this perfume, but the leathery tar is what sticks to you. .rozy has a long arc over the course of a day, though. Where you first feel caught in a tar pit, by the end of the day you find yourself lounging in a honey pot. Were you captured? Did you choose to stay? Did you submit?

Were you seduced? I was.

.rozy is a serious perfume and requires backbone to wear. Wearing .rozy is like going to the ballet or the opera. Anyone can buy a ticket, but the audience who are taught the language and history of the form appreciates it differently. The same goes for .rozy. Anyone could wear it, but perfumists will just squeal over it.

17th May, 2015

Kiki Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

The ability to break perfume down into notes and ingredients is highly valued among perfume fans. It is understood to indicate a discerning nose and is often used to distinguish the cognoscenti from the overwashed masses. Unfortunately, it is unduly valued and can impede enjoyment and a better understanding of perfume for the wearer. This misconception is one of the side-effects of the secrecy of the perfume industry. What perfume wearers know about the inner workings of perfume composition and production amounts to few odd bits of information and the mythology that a little knowledge tends to foster. One tidbit is that an important, if elementary, skill in composing perfume is identifying and deconstructing scents. We mistakenly assume that the skills needed to make perfume are the same ones needed to appreciate and understand it.
A knowledge of frequency, pigments and aromachemicals does not equate to a better or more meaningful experience in appreciating painting, music or perfumery. Perfumery can be read, but calls for critical thinking and self-reflection. The vocabulary of aroma is helpful, but not necessary.


Reading Kiki tells you about the perfume and by extension the perfumer. Kiki reinforces what I suspected on wearing Kern's Rozy and Onda: Kern is a classicist but not necessarily a traditionalist. All three perfumes demonstrate a measured use of the vocabulary and techniques of quintessential western perfumery. Kiki is an essay on lavender and makes allusions to 19th century icons such as Houbigant Fougère Royale and Guerlain Jicky without being either derivative or strictly traditional. Kern says she used a lavender with a high percentage of coumarin, so the shape of a fougère is implied. The inedible soapiness of a fougère is nowhere to be found, though. Instead, a tease of caramel connotes candy-sweetness with a dry powderiness balancing the confection so that Kiki never lands in the gourmand camp. In fact, Kiki is reminiscent of early "oriental" perfumes. Where Shalimar contrasts a tart, rich bergamot with vanilla, Kiki matches bergamot and musky caramel, a compositional juxtaposition that again leans toward the classical.

The best of early 20th century perfumery was daring and pushed the expectation of what perfumery could accomplish. In this one sense, Kern can be considered traditional. More broadly, though, she uses classical methods to experiment and to explore rather than to follow. Kiki takes the expected, lavender, and gives us something novel and gorgeous.

Unearthing originality while using known forms and techniques is rare and for the less deliberate artist might never happen. Kern's combination of classicism and unconventionality pays dividends. Her perfumes are unorthodox and exquisite. Her perfumes may not appeal to all, but polarization is a consequence of deliberation and vision in art and I doubt that Kern is looking for her work to be considered broad entertainment. Call it bias or call it alignment of artist and audience, but I both admire and adore Kiki. I'm smitten.

17th May, 2015

Mito Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

Mito’s topnotes are pure Spring. It's all white dresses, espadrilles and birds singing.

Yeah, right.

Don't let the green breeze fool you. Look closely and Spring's annual rebirth gets messy. The birth and life bit isn't placid, it's explosive. Green is to plants what blood is to us: vitality. And like blood, green can connote both life and violence. Mito Voile d’Extrait reads like a dramatic production. Think of Mito as Kern's Right of Spring.

The acceleration of the perfume's opening is almost overwhelming but the topnotes settle into a legible green that ranges from sharp citrus to peppery grassiness. A world of green grows up around you and becomes the mise en scène for the unfolding of the rest of the perfume. The brightness of the topnotes is balanced by mossiness and the white flowers of the heart complete the picture. Creamy magnolia, breathy jasmine. Where green connotes vitality and growth, the white flower's allure is its decadence, its hint of decay. From the moment a flower opens, it moves slowly toward its death. The threshold between ripeness and rot is a fine one and Mito teeters on the line.

Over the course of the heartnotes Mito keeps the green backdrop but shifts the focus to the white flowers, magnolia in particular. Moss connects the top and heartnotes and lends a bit of saltiness to balance the floral sweetness. It gives the heart a rich, slightly rough texture and magnifies magnolia's inherent sultriness. The heartnotes are intricate but hardy and seem to rise up from my wrists almost unpredictably.

I've made the point before that perfumer Vero Kern is more a classicist than a traditionalist and I'll stick by that. But in the case of Mito she manages to be both. Here she works in the tradition of perfumers such as Edmond Roudnitska and Germaine Cellier referring to both Dior Diorella and Balmain Vent Vert. Like Diorella, Mito has a decadent heart and a louche tone but it also plays with a chilled floral contrast as Cellier did in Vent Vert. Roudnitska and Cellier shook the perfumery of their times by the shoulders. Their works were as subversive as they were sublime. Cellier put the coded language of butch/femme lesbianism into her perfumes. Roudnitska re-created the scent of a delicate little flower in his seminal Diorissimo and in doing so defied convention and rewrote the rules for composition.

So, Cellier was profane and Roudnitska was radical. Where does that leave Kern? It's too early in her career as a perfumer to characterize her body of work, but Mito is a hybrid pinnacle of the green and floral chypre sub-genres, a field that includes works such as YSL Y, Guerlain Parure, Chanel 19 & Cristalle, Estée Lauder Private Collection and Parfum de Nicolai Odalisque. It is both meaningful and delectable and just as in Cellier's Vent Vert and Roudnitska's Diorissimo, art and desire go hand in hand.

The most satisfying artistic traditions step outside of their forms and their genres and Mito reaches outside perfumery. Kern has said that the inspiration for Mito was the sumptuous gardens at Villa d'Este, a 16-17th century fountain and garden extravaganza in Tivoli, Italy. Like the gardens, Mito is the result botany and artifice and feels like rococo drag next to the 'just the topnotes, ma'am’ perfumery you’d find in fashion mag inserts. As Kern also demonstrates in Rubj and Rozy sumptuousness is not a sin


Mito is a perfume that I could wear forever and still be surprised by. Disposability is built into most contemporary perfumery by design. Even the idea of a signature fragrance means the perfume you might wear for a spell before you flush it in lieu of the next one. Mito reminds me why many people in the early and mid-20th-century had one perfume that they bonded to for life. I've said that I could wear Diorella forever, but reformulation has nixed that prospect. Thank god I've found Mito. Now I know which bottle to grab if the house is on fire.

17th May, 2015

Onda Parfum Extrait by Vero Profumo

Aesthetics might be shared but beauty is experienced personally. Discussions of aesthetics often lead to unanswerable questions on the nature of attraction, absolutes and subjectivity.

Onda's contribution to the debate is to show where the discussion takes place. Wearing Onda shows you that beauty is experienced at the limits. Simple ease and comfort might be found without much effort, but satisfaction and the greater pleasures don’t land in your lap. They require your engagement and determination. The cliché, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ takes the burden off the object and places it in the mind of the witness. Onda refutes the passivity of the 'beholder' making the experience not just looking, but craving. Onda fuses beauty with desire. The question shifts from, "What is Beauty?" to Beauty slapping you in the face, smiling and asking, "So, what are you going to do about it?" Onda's question of beauty come in the form of a dare.

The mirror image of beauty isn't ugliness, it is fear and Onda gives you desire and fear in equal helpings. Fear as much as beauty balances on the precipice of activity and passivity. In considering fear you find the seeds for the broader questions of agency and fate. Is a fear of heights a fear of falling or jumping?

Onda interrogates beauty in a similar manner and beauty is revealed to be neither pretty nor polite. It is sinister and seductive. It is gorgeous. It comes at you forcefully whether you're ready or not. Onda favors destructive beauty and the heights that challenging work inspires. Beauty can cut, but it can also transform you. It is up to you whether or not to take the risk.

I wear Onda EDP often, but have recently been introduced to the Extrait de Parfum, which is a slightly different breed of cat. A little less alarming, a good bit more seductive. The differences are noticeable in the projection. The EDP uses passionfruit to light the fuse on the hot, salty, earthy heart of Onda. The EDP lunges at you with a sense of momentum and feels constantly expanding as if an exercise in olfactory physics. The Extrait moves more fluidly. It surrounds you and seeps into you. It's harder to pinpoint its source even though you know where you dabbed it. It is extremely rich and elaborate. The Extrait is darker than the EDP and its complexity makes it denser, though not heavier. It is even more alluring than the EDP and cuts me deeper. The Extrait is more a chypre than the EDP and while it has all the magnetism of the classical chypres, it is neither retro in style nor reminiscent in tone.

Kern uses three concentrations (Eau de Parfum, Voile d’Extrait and Extrait de Parfum) to explore the range of ideas that she presents in each of her perfumes. They share common ground, but they offer different perspectives. In Onda, the EDP and the Extrait both play with the notion of wildness and the whimsy of trying to tame it, the capriciousness of control. Onda EDP gives its animal a long leash and provokes a feeling of recklessness, excitement. The animal in the Extrait appears more tame and on the surface the Extrait seems less less audacious than the EDP. But here is the the Extrait’s threat: It might be quitely purring at the moment, but how tame can a wild animal really be? When will the confidence of your safety shatter? The EDP urges impulsiveness. The Extrait feels dangerous.

There is an etiquette in corporate perfumery that dictates that perfume shouldn’t challenge the consumer for fear of alienating even one potential buyer. The rule is reversed in niche perfumery. It’s a spin on neo-punk: a show of outrageousness or non-conformity but no attempt to alter the status quo.

Kern looks past these constraints and makes perfume that both challenges the wearer and disrupts convention. She reserves the right to provoke. Her work doesn’t simply express a range of aesthetics, it engineers aesthetics to poke at the questions of beauty, desire and self. The questions aren't easy, and neither are Kern's answers, but they are rewarding and satisfying.

Wear Onda. I dare you.

17th May, 2015

Onda Eau de Parfum by Vero Profumo

Monsters frighten us for the way they tell us about ourselves. Don't doubt it, Onda is a monster. Vero Kern plucks specific and unexpected descriptors from each of her component pieces. Vetiver (salt lick), passionfruit (floral rot), ginger (sand-paper), honey (musky sharpness),woods (dust). Using these disparate pieces Kern composes a perfectly poised perfume that I could never have dreamed of. It's not simply coherent, implying that the the odd bits have been smoothed over. It's right, as if it reveals something important that I hadn't considered. It should look like Frankenstein's monster; torso from one body, head from another, limbs from a few others. We should notice the ill-fit and coarse seems. It should be awkward if not uncomfortable. But it is in fact perfect.

So, with my biases hanging out and my eyes a little glazed, Onda.

I turn to the artist not to reassure me of what I already know or believe, but for the unexpected. Wearing Onda gives me a detachment from normalcy that I could just kiss. It's hallucinatory. It's the scent of an angel, who, on getting up after a hard fall, adjusts his powdered wig and his jockstrap with delicately gloved hands before digging through the soil to harvest pickled citrus fruit. Fantasy and synesthesia in a bottle.

Abstraction is a tool for reducing components to the properties that the artist find most important. Kern recognizes properties that another artist might not. For all the outrageousness of this composition, it feels comfortable, like the way that a vivid dream can have a bizarre narrative while feeling perfectly normal. While Onda brings to mind a trippy angel it also also simply smells like skin and motion. There's an expression that pops into my head unsummoned when I wear Onda. "The sins of the flesh." This expression, like Kern's perfume, ties together desire, fear, exposure and release into one experience. To pay Kern a high complement, her perfume is gorgeously, magnificently queer. Kern shows the difference between prettiness and beauty and prettiness starts to seem beside the point.

17th May, 2015

Rozy Parfum Extrait by Vero Profumo

Vero Kern is known for using three versions of a perfume in order to express a concept in its entirety. The three concentrations are exceptionally detailed and finished, yet considered together, they allow you to contemplate more fully the meaning of the perfume. Each fragrance is a fully executed idea and the choice is yours to select the ‘Goldilocks’ version, the one that’s just right.

Kern defies the trend in perfumery of rehashing an idea with serial iterations of a perfume. It might seem a fine point, but it is important in understanding Kern’s work: the three concentrations of her perfumes are not flankers or sequals. Each piece stands alone, yet together they provide different perspectives and propose an ongoing discussion. They are akin to triptychs in the visual arts.

Rozy Eau de Parfum drapes honeyed fruit notes and smooth leather on the balancing point of the rose. It is both sultry and contemplative, triggering my imagination of the ambrosia of Greek mythology. The Voile d’Extrait, on the other hand, makes the EDP feel positively introspective. It is a universe of rose and leather micosconds after the Big Bang. It expands in all directions and accelerates your senses. Both concentrations expound on similar notes but send them on very different journeys.

The extrait or pure perfume concentration has traditionally been considered the ultimate version of a perfume (eg. Chanel 5, Jean Patou Joy, Guerlain Mitsouko). Kern is known for her extraits and they demonstrate her thorough understanding of classical perfumery. Like the best traditional pure perfumes, her extraits balance a stronger concentration of materials with a plusher sensibility. Some contemporary pure perfumes mistake strength for volume and come off as simply loud. Kern’s extraits are powerful, but they focus on width and texture. They are three-dimensional yet spectral. They are simultaneously particular and elusive, more dreamlike than her other concentrations.

After the carnal EDP and the bombastic Voile d’Extrait, Rozy Extrait is the brilliant resolution to the Rozy story. The three share the same DNA, but the Extrait reconfigures the features of its siblings. It’s a face I recognize, but couldn’t have imagined on my own. Rozy Extrait is a refined and effortlessly powerful perfume. Where the EDP is leisurely and the Voile d’Extrait races, the Extrait demonstrates poise, that balance between movement and stillness, not stasis but self-possession. You don't consider gravity until you try to overcome it. Rozy Extrait exerts a similar force but with a lipsticked smile. The rose is dark and the leather is heavy but Rozy floats obligingly around you like your own personal atmosphere.

Like the Extrait version of Onda, Rozy Extrait feels as though there is a threat below its calm surface. It is alluring. It is tantalizing. Each time I wear it, I can resist for all of a minute before I give in. Vero Kern gives us a surprise with Rozy Extrait and reminds me why I turn to the artist for what I couldn’t have imagined myself.

17th May, 2015

Vanilla Flash by Tauerville

The Tauerville line is perfumer Andy Tauer’s attempt to simplify. Not to make simple perfumes, but to streamline the process of conceiving, marketing, distributing and selling perfume.

The line is sold through the Tauerville website and from select dealers. Packaging is uncomplicated and handsome and the 30 ml bottles and 10 ml roll-ons are ideal sizes. Each perfume and size is available singly or in reasonable quantities at a 50% discount so that small retailers can sell the line with a minimum of risk. The streamlining of the process has a two-fold benefit for the consumer: pricing is low and it frees Tauer up from his role as a business owner to focus on his role as perfumer.

There are plenty of perfume lines that have a spare, clean visual styles. Tauerville goes deeper and puts simplicity to work not as a style but as a practical means of getting the perfume into your hands. It’s not spare in the sense of a modernist aesthetic; presentationally sparse, conceptually fussy. Rather it’s candid and unprententious. The excitement is in the perfume, not the box it comes in.

The Tauerville concept is sly. It presents itself as simple: less lather, lower cost, no purple prose. (Good lord, is this crazy man selling perfume and not lifestyle?) It’s also apparent, though, that a lot of consideration went into Tauerville. It’s the confident result of a conviction that perfume is more important than hype. It’s a refreshing alternative to an increasingly baroque, portly niche market.

It’s actually a bit subversive. Niche perfumery has come to reflect an amped-up ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ notion of luxury that makes 1980s style seem reserved. Tauerville’s lack of ostentation is a welcome provocation to the hyperbolic status quo.

As for the perfume, it too benefits from the distillation process. Vanilla Flash feels immediate and specific. Tauer says on the Tauerville site that his inspiration for Vanilla Flash was, “…the quest to come up with a vanilla that I will wear.” When I think about it, what better scale is there for an artist to measure his work than himself? Vanilla Flash is personal not for the fact that it reveals secrets about the perfumer’s character. It's what he would wear, it suits him and therefore I assume is a reflection of his desires. Tauer’s methodology fills in a piece of the puzzle of how perfume creates meaning.

Oh, notes. Not really my thing to talk about perfume in notes, but I suppose the name is an invitation to the discussion. The vanilla/spice/tobacco notes are precise yet blended. Unsweetened and unsentimental, as if they have been finely sifted together. Tobacco leaf has a floral quality and links Vanilla Flash to the woody floral genre. Patchouli and vanilla are paired in perfumes often. They combine to give a lasting aromatic quality that lets a perfume keep a melodic tone of voice into drydown. Vanilla Flash plays on the pairing, but articulates it differently. There is a cool, camphorous quality to Vanilla Flash that I imagine comes from patchouli. (If not, a cool spice?) It prevents the perfume from straying the warm/busomy range that most vanilla perfumes inhabit by reflex.

To rephrase an old chestnut: cold hands, cool heartnotes. Skin is warm. Your perfume doesn’t have to be.

17th May, 2015

Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari

Searing woods, rough ouds, tarry incenses. The overtly tough perfumes get most of the attention in the discussion of ‘challenging’ perfumes. Grim, dense, basenote-heavy perfumes are assumed to be threatening. Within the perfume fraternity they land somewhere between a hazing ritual and a hot-pepper eating contest. They have an aura of intimidation and tests of manhood, but conceptually they are as menacing as someone jumping out at you and yelling, “BOO!"

Room 237's challenge is less overt. It's not a dare, it's a threat.

The perfume's name is a reference to a specific scene and set from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The scene is horrifying for the way it creates suspense, for the way evil is revealed. It doesn't confront you. It invites you, it lures you. It's banal and common and you only become aware of it because you are becoming part of it. Whether you knew it or not, sin surrounds you and always has. Having peeled back the curtain and seeing the evil, there's no turning back.

It's a great spin on the tree of knowledge myth. Temptation, the internalization of evil, the fall from grace. So how can a perfume be 'about' these concepts? Room 237 works with discord smartly and delicately. The scent does evoke bathroom rituals. It suggests an enclosed space, moist air, human skin. It even borrows the form of the musky eau de cologne that often completes the bathing ritual. Perfumes have used materials like musks and costus to depict cleanliness against a backdrop of human animalism (eg. Eau d’Hermès, YSL Kouros, Miller Harris l’Air de Rien.)

Room 237 tweaks the juxtaposition, suggesting not a steamy bath, but the lingering moments after, where condensation on cold porcelain and plastic refute the humanity of the scenario. Cleansing and grooming should leave one at the height of freshness, so why is the setting so disturbing? Why does warm skin shiver? Is it a chill or the touch of something wicked? The incongruities, the inappropriateness might be at the far corner of your attention, just past the periphery, but you can sense them and they're not going away.

Sinister and just a bit seductive.

17th May, 2015

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta

Perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac made some of the most memorable and influential perfumes of the 1970s-1990s.

Yves Saint Laurent’s era-defining Opium (1977) smothered the oriental genre in spice, making the previous big-girls like Shalimar and Youth Dew seem quaint. In the 1980s Sieuzac skipped the match, but piled on the gasoline to redefine leather with the twin brutes Hermès Bel Ami (1986) and Christian Dior Fahrenheit (1988). As if to stuff the genie that he released with Opium back into the bottle, in 1991 he composed Christian Dior Dune, an eerie beauty that gives me a shiver every time I put it on. It has the jarring capacity to make opposing qualities fit together that renders it both off-putting and seductive. In retrospect, Dune is the the perfume that sat aloof and alone at the cusp of the 80s and 90s. It managed simultaneously to refer to the disproportionate scale of 1980s perfumery yet usher in the sense of concession and atonement of the perfumes of the early 1990s.

In 1977 Sieuzac also made Oscar for Oscar de la Renta. Though it won the 1978 Women’s Fragrance of the Year Fifi Award it was overshadowed by its its own sibling Opium, which crushed everything in its trajectory. Compared to Opium, whose name and scent suggest the unquestioning pursuit of pleasure (ahhh…the 70s), Oscar’s terse mixed floral tone might well have coined the phrase ‘old lady perfume.’ Oscar is a sharp, starched white floriental perfume that leans more toward the dry sting of carnation and the remoteness of gardenia than the lushness of jasmine or tuberose. Opium’s relationship to tradition was to break from it by surpassing it. Oscar could not have been more different in its aspiration. It was in the lineage of Caron Bellodgia, Dior Dioressence and Guerlain l’Heure Bleue—perfumes that might not have been intended to be distant, but came to be seen as remote standard-bearers. In fact Oscar shares l’Heure Bleue’s classic bittersweetness with a similar midpoint between glacé resinousness and acrid powder. It is a potent, almost forceful fragrance but its tone was so conservative compared to its contemporaries that wearing it gives the sensation of falling backward, stepping away from the accelerating dynamic of the late 1970s.

I doubt that a lot of people in the late 70s wore both Opium and Oscar. They capture the two sides of what would very soon come to be called America’s “culture war.” Sieuzac deserves great credit for straddling this nascent divide and creating two exceptional compositions in the process. It cannot have happened inadvertently. Oscar suited the de la Renta brand’s goal of dressing the ladies-who-lunch, the women who aspired to the society-set. Opium captured the Yves Saint Laurent brand’s desire for a new chic: the androgyny, the Studio 54 vibe, the casual affluence.

Perfume’s language is an openly debated question in 2015. Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s perfumes from 1977 comment subtly but precisely on this issues of the day and are a record of how perfumery speaks and can be read. It’s unfortunate that in 1977 the work of the perfumer wasn’t publicly attributed to him. Within the next two decades that closet door would start to open. Better late than never, my hat is off to Jean-Louis Sieuzac.

(Based on an excellently preserved bottle of eau de toilette from the early 1980s.)

17th May, 2015

Cologne Reloaded by Bogue Profumo

Cologne Reloaded is made with perfume materials from the 1940s that found their way into the hands of perfumer and architect Antonio Gardoni. It is derived from a concentrated eau de cologne base called "Colonia della Esperis”. The base included instructions for reconstitution to various concentrations, each of which Gardoni prepared in his investigation of the materials.

The discussion of Cologne Reloaded focuses quickly on the materials. Due to regulation and ethical considerations many historical materials are no longer used. As found objects from a remote past, though, these extant materials are free from contemporary censure and can be appreciated for their aesthetic value. They are an unearthed treasure, a time-capsule. The question is what to do with them?

cologne reloadedHow should we view a cultural artifact separated from its era and lineage? In the case of the perfume base, you have the object as well as clear instructions for how it was used during its time. How do you interpret it in the present? Should they be preserved? Studied? Revived and prepared per the instructions? The answer to these questions leads from the materials to the perfumer.

Mixed-media work is not uncommon. With Cologne Reloaded, though, the form isn't an intermedia hybrid. The artist is.

Architecture has a language for adapting the past to the present/future and changing a structure’s meaning. Adaptation requires analysis of the original form and reimagining it while reflecting on the unexpected and unintended. An architect who is also a perfumer is in an interesting position to answer the questions posed by these materials from the past.

The rediscovered essences were the starting place for the composition that eventually became Cologne Reloaded. Employing an eau de parfum concentration for a composition intended as an eau de cologne increases the potency but also risks a loss of clarity. Rather than avoid the issue of intensity, Gardoni chose to highlight it, adding materials that emphasize the forcefulness of the perfume by opening it up and making it more expansive. The topnotes in particular vibrate as if they are barely contained and Cologne Reloaded lunges out of the bottle. It has many of the signifiers of old-school perfumery including an expansive hesperidic opening that recalls an eau de cologne and a barber-shoppy hum nicked from the classic fougère. It borrows the twisted logic of the mid 20th century chypre and starts with a pouncing animalic quality yet finishes with a dense, powdery tone. Despite the references to the past, Cologne Reloaded is neither nostalgic nor dated.

Some of the source materials came in the form of pre-mixed bases. The inherent complication of a base is that a perfumer can add to it but not subtract from it. Strong choices and editing become difficult to balance. Gardoni is adept and succeeds in making a perfume with a large dynamic range but no gaps or sharp edges. It bridges genres as easily as it bridges eras. Gardoni makes a compelling argument in favor of tradition, showing it to be a strength rather than a burden. He takes advantage of a traditional approach without falling into the traps of a conservative method. Cologne Reloaded is neither a repetition of the past nor a refuge from innovation. It is contemporary in structure if not style. At a time when restrictions on materials often foster nostalgia and regret, Gardoni uses vintage materials to ground his work firmly in the present.

Production of Cologne Reloaded was restricted by a limited supply of the perfume base. Colonia della Esperis presented the classic zero-sum game: its supply is finite and cannot be reproduced. The dilemma becomes preservation versus meaningful use. Should it be reconstituted per instructions? Is it a museum-piece for display? Should we genuflect when we refer to it? Is there another option?

Gardoni’s solution is to investigate the materials and to recognize what they offer. Colonia della Esperis could no longer be produced today, but current aromachemicals allows for the creation of perfume that couldn't have been imagined in the 1940s. Gardoni demonstrates that the value of tradition is not the repetition of customs or the replication of historical objects. It is the evolution of ideas.

Colonia della Esperis and Cologne Reloaded highlight perfume’s impermanence and its predicament as both an object and an experience. The perfumes are gone and I mourn their loss, but Antonio Gardoni remains, a prospect that leaves me upbeat about the future of perfumery.

17th May, 2015