100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 23: Perfume As Art

    100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 23: Perfume As Art

    post #1 of 7
    Thread Starter 
    So, in continuation from yesterday, if perfume can be art, what exactly makes a perfume art? For sure, it has to have had a lot of work put into its creation, with a keen attention to detail. I think it should be trying to make a point or paint a picture thats larger than simply smelling nice. And, in a way, I think it should be non-mainstream, in that a perfume thats trying to smell like everything else in order to be easy to sell cant really be art in my opinion.

    Yesterdays picks (Dirt and Odeur 71) were rather obvious examples of scents that pushed the envelope of fragrance as art, but there are many other perfumes that I think meet these qualifications and are worthy of a sniff. So, I give you my picks of some great examples of perfume as art.

    Perfume As Art

    68. Paestum Rose by Eau dItalie



    When it comes to perfume as art, any discussion must include perfumer Bertrand Duchoufour. He was responsible for a good portion of the Comme Des Garcons Incense Series, as well as a many of the best of the LArtisan Parfumeur line. As a nose, he constantly rides the line between wearable beauty and exploration of an interesting theme. His Sartorial for Penhaligons is a peculiar study in the steam and fabric of an old English tailor, while his Piment Brulant for LArtisan is a minimalist examination of the striking similarities between cocoa, cilantro and bell peppers. But I think one of his most interesting works is Paestum Rose.

    On the surface, Paestum Rose is based on a fairly standard attar of rose, patchouli, and sandalwood blended with oud. But its the Italian connection that Duchoufour exploits so artfully. If nothing else, Italy can be defined by its food. So Paestum Rose incorporates a distinctly Italian mix of spices (most notably basil, oregano, and sage), which somehow magically combine with elements of the rose and patchouli to smell like homemade tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. A subtle vinegar note brings out an edible oily quality of the oud, while the rose somehow ends up smelling like a vegetable. The end result is a mindfuck of a perfume that can smell like pizza on an overheating car engine, or a big jar of oil-cured olives spilled on a leather jacket. Alternately, it can also smell like an especially spicy rose/oud combination on a salty beach. Then just when you think youve got it figured out, it goes oaky and somehow the rose and the patchouli and whatever else all come together to smell like wine. So, not only does Paestum Rose constantly change and smell interesting the whole time, but all of its twists and contortions reference the famous smells of Tuscany.

    Hence, Paestum Rose is a perfect example of something I consider an art scent. Its certainly not commercial (and is arguably a bit difficult to wear), it provides an in-depth study on an interesting theme, its exceedingly well made, and it makes for captivating sniffing, although I must admit that it really does smell quite strange.


    69. Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella



    If Paestum Rose is an artful study of Italian food and culture based on a classic Mediterranean attar, Nostalgia is a tribute to a classic Italian sports car. A strange brew of rubber, leather, and burnished wood cloaked in gasoline fumes, it almost magically creates a sense of an overheating machine. Like the others in todays list, its not easy to wear, but it makes for an utterly fascinating day smelling it as it develops.



    70. Bulgari Black by Bulgari



    Dont let it be said that only obscure niche companies create artful perfumes. 1998s Bulgari Black (along with Declaration, which already made this list, and Terre dHermes, which is coming soon) proved that there is room in the mall-walking mass market for truly artful scents.

    Bulgari began their tea obsession with Eau Parfumee au The Verte and followed it through a series of flankers. Officially, the inspiration for Black is lapsang souchong, a rare variety of Chinese tea that is smoked over burning pine and mostly known for smelling like burning rubber. Of course, to most of the folks who arent experts in rare and difficult teas, that means Bulgari Black basically smells like burnt rubber. That being said, they made it work.

    Bulgari Black uses the same basic trick as Fahrenheit, mixing the smoky rubber note with a big glob of mace, the cinnamon/nutmeg pie spice. Then, they go a step further by smothering everything in vanilla. As such, its too avant garde to be a gourmand, but too sweet to be off-putting, so it perfectly hits the spot where its weird and artful, but still quite wearable.


    71. Eau Noire by Christian Dior



    Christian Dior was no stranger to artful perfumes. When he was alive, he considered himself an artist of perfumes every bit as much as a clothing designer. Ill leave it to the experts on classic feminine perfumes to give suggestions (maybe in the comments hint hint ) and focus on one of the most interesting modern works from the Dior house.

    While Dior is very much a designer company, Eau Noire was part of their exclusive line and, at this point, is only available at a few stores in the world, making it technically harder to track down than many obscure niche scents, so I dont think Eau Noire could ever have been considered a mass market product.

    Technically, Eau Noire is based on Helichrysum, a specific flower in the immortelle family. To make matters more confusing, immortelle is a common perfume note (its that rum smell used to make everything from Spiriteuese Double Vanille to Ananas Fizz smell boozy) and Helichrysum smells nothing like it, even though Helichrysum often gets listed as immortelle in note lists. Urgh

    So what does Helichrysum actually smell like? Its a complex smell somewhere between maple syrup and medicinal ginger tea mixed with honey. It has a surprising brightness to it, reminiscent of old-fashioned sassafras soda, yet it also has a woody caramelized depth that almost smells like Christmas fruit cake minus the fruits. As such, Eau Noire is an incredibly complex scent. Not only does it carry all the dizzying undertones of the Helichrysum, but it mixes it with a Lutens-esque spice bazaar of cumin and curry and burnt licorice and smoky woods. Its dark, intricate, and difficult, a thick syrup of scent that a person has to live in for a while in order to peel back the layers and find all of its secrets, which makes it a bit challenging to wear, but the artistic payoff is worth the funny looks


    post #2 of 7
    I eagerly read your entries Rogalal, even when I dont want to say anything..
    I am glad today you nuance your definition of art as having 'no real purpose or use' with "I think it should be trying to make a point or paint a picture that’s larger than simply smelling nice"
    With this chapter you make every Basenoter feel like an enlightened art afficionado. At least this Basenoteuse. I understand better why I keep Bulgari Black, and a few others, even when I hardly ever wear them yet really don't want to part : the artistic experience.
    If you would allow me though, and I hate to be so undiplomatic but I have to, that's me.
    I was made on an island where Immortelle flowers grow and they smell just like your description of Helichrysum. They are tiny and bright yellow and they are called immortal because they look and feel liked dried flower even when in the ground and can keep forever when you cut them. When I walk to the beach I can smell them in the air. No picking though ! They are nowadays protected juste like sand dunes are. Can last forever but first must be allowed to grow. To recall this island in the Atlantic, near La Rochelle , I have Sables by Annick Goutal : it is fully immortelles (on boozy amber) with woody curry liquorice facets included.
    post #3 of 7
    Thread Starter 
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt6096

    I was made on an island where Immortelle flowers grow and they smell just like your description of Helichrysum. They are tiny and bright yellow and they are called immortal because they look and feel liked dried flower even when in the ground and can keep forever when you cut them. When I walk to the beach I can smell them in the air. No picking though ! They are nowadays protected juste like sand dunes are. Can last forever but first must be allowed to grow. To recall this island in the Atlantic, near La Rochelle , I have Sables by Annick Goutal : it is fully immortelles (on boozy amber) with woody curry liquorice facets included.

    That's fantastic! I would love to smell real immortelle flowers! My descriptions of their smells (helichrysum vs immortelle) are based on their essential oils. Your explanation goes a long way to explain why note lists use these the way they do - if helichrysum oil smells like immortelle flowers, that would explain why they always call it an immortelle note. Though I still think it seems a bit unfair to also use the same name for actual immortelle essential oil (which apparently doesn't smell like immortelle flowers, but instead really does smell like spiced booze). Doh!
    post #4 of 7
    Oh I see.. well you know.. when I read in the 'fragrance single note exploration' thread I often see oils of the same name having different smells and outcome. I believe it is the concentration (and maybe the origin). For instance in Sables the immortelle is like a thick syrup, maybe the reason why it is boozy. If I spritz lightly I will get a more airy result. And in nature the immortelles smells have all the spice and wood smell, but more transparent.
    Actually, I have seen bowls of cut immortelles (surely grown in farms) at L'Occitane boutiques, maybe worth asking them in your area ?
    post #5 of 7
    Thread Starter 
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt6100

    Oh I see.. well you know.. when I read in the 'fragrance single note exploration' thread I often see oils of the same name having different smells and outcome. I believe it is the concentration (and maybe the origin). For instance in Sables the immortelle is like a thick syrup, maybe the reason why it is boozy. If I spritz lightly I will get a more airy result. And in nature the immortelles smells have all the spice and wood smell, but more transparent.
    Actually, I have seen bowls of cut immortelles (surely grown in farms) at L'Occitane boutiques, maybe worth asking them in your area ?

    Honestly, I don't know, but I think you're probably right. Essential oils are weird - it's amazing how often they don't smell like what they came from, especially in flowers (I think lily is the most famous example). It wouldn't surprise me if an immortelle note (like in Sables or Eau Noire) only comes from the specific kinds of immortelle flowers, while others give that boozy rum smell, but whay you say also makes sense - it could be a concentration thing. When Ineke had us smell cardamom at an SF meet-up, it was disgusting (moldy booze), but using just a tiny ammount of it is apparently what makes the cardamom note we all love in perfumes...

    Note to self - stop by L'Ocitane boutique the next time I'm in SF...
    post #6 of 7
    To add to the confusion, looking this up in Wikipedia, Helichrysum is a plant genus of about 600 species, including H. arenarium (immortelle) and the very similar H. stoechas, which "is found in Western France on dunes near the sea." There's also the common H. italicum, which is supposed to smell like Indian curry.
    Also, the Diptyque boutique once had a small bottle of "immortelle" and it smelled very much like coffee liqueur.
    If you'd like to grow the plants, you can get seeds at http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/everlasting.html ("useful for dyspeptic disorders"). It wouldn't grow well outside in the Bay Area, but you might be able to grow it indoors.
    post #7 of 7
    Thread Starter 
    And the mystery deepens... I made a quick stop in the L'Ocitane boutique yesterday and they actually did have little bunches of dried immortelle flowers. They smelled wonderful, like maple syrup mixed with honey, the smell of the helichrysum oil.

    And Rotto, if you remember, I spilled that Diptyque immortelle on myself at that SF meet-up and reeked of it for a couple of days - that's how I got to know it . It's that boozy smell I know from all kinds of things (the most striking being that it's what Guerlain uses to give their perfumes that boozy quality).

    Urgh, until one of use goes to France and studies to be a perfumer, we may never get the answer to the helichrysum/immortelle concentration vs different plant mystery...
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    11/7/11 at 1:27pm

    rogalal said:



    So, in continuation from yesterday, if perfume can be art, what exactly makes a perfume art? For sure, it has to have had a lot of work put into its creation, with a keen attention to detail. I think it should be trying to make a point or paint a picture thats larger than simply smelling nice. And, in a way, I think it should be non-mainstream, in that a perfume thats trying to smell like everything else in order to be easy to sell cant really be art in my opinion.

    Yesterdays picks (Dirt and Odeur 71) were rather obvious examples of scents that pushed the envelope of fragrance as art, but there are many other perfumes that I think meet these qualifications and are worthy of a sniff. So, I give you my picks of some great examples of perfume as art.

    Perfume As Art

    68. Paestum Rose by Eau dItalie



    When it comes to perfume as art, any discussion must include perfumer Bertrand Duchoufour. He was responsible for a good portion of the Comme Des Garcons Incense Series, as well as a many of the best of the LArtisan Parfumeur line. As a nose, he constantly rides the line between wearable beauty and exploration of an interesting theme. His Sartorial for Penhaligons is a peculiar study in the steam and fabric of an old English tailor, while his Piment Brulant for LArtisan is a minimalist examination of the striking similarities between cocoa, cilantro and bell peppers. But I think one of his most interesting works is Paestum Rose.

    On the surface, Paestum Rose is based on a fairly standard attar of rose, patchouli, and sandalwood blended with oud. But its the Italian connection that Duchoufour exploits so artfully. If nothing else, Italy can be defined by its food. So Paestum Rose incorporates a distinctly Italian mix of spices (most notably basil, oregano, and sage), which somehow magically combine with elements of the rose and patchouli to smell like homemade tomato sauce bubbling on the stove. A subtle vinegar note brings out an edible oily quality of the oud, while the rose somehow ends up smelling like a vegetable. The end result is a mindfuck of a perfume that can smell like pizza on an overheating car engine, or a big jar of oil-cured olives spilled on a leather jacket. Alternately, it can also smell like an especially spicy rose/oud combination on a salty beach. Then just when you think youve got it figured out, it goes oaky and somehow the rose and the patchouli and whatever else all come together to smell like wine. So, not only does Paestum Rose constantly change and smell interesting the whole time, but all of its twists and contortions reference the famous smells of Tuscany.

    Hence, Paestum Rose is a perfect example of something I consider an art scent. Its certainly not commercial (and is arguably a bit difficult to wear), it provides an in-depth study on an interesting theme, its exceedingly well made, and it makes for captivating sniffing, although I must admit that it really does smell quite strange.


    69. Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella



    If Paestum Rose is an artful study of Italian food and culture based on a classic Mediterranean attar, Nostalgia is a tribute to a classic Italian sports car. A strange brew of rubber, leather, and burnished wood cloaked in gasoline fumes, it almost magically creates a sense of an overheating machine. Like the others in todays list, its not easy to wear, but it makes for an utterly fascinating day smelling it as it develops.



    70. Bulgari Black by Bulgari



    Dont let it be said that only obscure niche companies create artful perfumes. 1998s Bulgari Black (along with Declaration, which already made this list, and Terre dHermes, which is coming soon) proved that there is room in the mall-walking mass market for truly artful scents.

    Bulgari began their tea obsession with Eau Parfumee au The Verte and followed it through a series of flankers. Officially, the inspiration for Black is lapsang souchong, a rare variety of Chinese tea that is smoked over burning pine and mostly known for smelling like burning rubber. Of course, to most of the folks who arent experts in rare and difficult teas, that means Bulgari Black basically smells like burnt rubber. That being said, they made it work.

    Bulgari Black uses the same basic trick as Fahrenheit, mixing the smoky rubber note with a big glob of mace, the cinnamon/nutmeg pie spice. Then, they go a step further by smothering everything in vanilla. As such, its too avant garde to be a gourmand, but too sweet to be off-putting, so it perfectly hits the spot where its weird and artful, but still quite wearable.


    71. Eau Noire by Christian Dior



    Christian Dior was no stranger to artful perfumes. When he was alive, he considered himself an artist of perfumes every bit as much as a clothing designer. Ill leave it to the experts on classic feminine perfumes to give suggestions (maybe in the comments hint hint ) and focus on one of the most interesting modern works from the Dior house.

    While Dior is very much a designer company, Eau Noire was part of their exclusive line and, at this point, is only available at a few stores in the world, making it technically harder to track down than many obscure niche scents, so I dont think Eau Noire could ever have been considered a mass market product.

    Technically, Eau Noire is based on Helichrysum, a specific flower in the immortelle family. To make matters more confusing, immortelle is a common perfume note (its that rum smell used to make everything from Spiriteuese Double Vanille to Ananas Fizz smell boozy) and Helichrysum smells nothing like it, even though Helichrysum often gets listed as immortelle in note lists. Urgh

    So what does Helichrysum actually smell like? Its a complex smell somewhere between maple syrup and medicinal ginger tea mixed with honey. It has a surprising brightness to it, reminiscent of old-fashioned sassafras soda, yet it also has a woody caramelized depth that almost smells like Christmas fruit cake minus the fruits. As such, Eau Noire is an incredibly complex scent. Not only does it carry all the dizzying undertones of the Helichrysum, but it mixes it with a Lutens-esque spice bazaar of cumin and curry and burnt licorice and smoky woods. Its dark, intricate, and difficult, a thick syrup of scent that a person has to live in for a while in order to peel back the layers and find all of its secrets, which makes it a bit challenging to wear, but the artistic payoff is worth the funny looks


    11/7/11 at 3:47pm

    Laureline said:



    I eagerly read your entries Rogalal, even when I dont want to say anything..
    I am glad today you nuance your definition of art as having 'no real purpose or use' with "I think it should be trying to make a point or paint a picture that’s larger than simply smelling nice"
    With this chapter you make every Basenoter feel like an enlightened art afficionado. At least this Basenoteuse. I understand better why I keep Bulgari Black, and a few others, even when I hardly ever wear them yet really don't want to part : the artistic experience.
    If you would allow me though, and I hate to be so undiplomatic but I have to, that's me.
    I was made on an island where Immortelle flowers grow and they smell just like your description of Helichrysum. They are tiny and bright yellow and they are called immortal because they look and feel liked dried flower even when in the ground and can keep forever when you cut them. When I walk to the beach I can smell them in the air. No picking though ! They are nowadays protected juste like sand dunes are. Can last forever but first must be allowed to grow. To recall this island in the Atlantic, near La Rochelle , I have Sables by Annick Goutal : it is fully immortelles (on boozy amber) with woody curry liquorice facets included.

    11/7/11 at 6:48pm

    rogalal said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt6096

    I was made on an island where Immortelle flowers grow and they smell just like your description of Helichrysum. They are tiny and bright yellow and they are called immortal because they look and feel liked dried flower even when in the ground and can keep forever when you cut them. When I walk to the beach I can smell them in the air. No picking though ! They are nowadays protected juste like sand dunes are. Can last forever but first must be allowed to grow. To recall this island in the Atlantic, near La Rochelle , I have Sables by Annick Goutal : it is fully immortelles (on boozy amber) with woody curry liquorice facets included.

    That's fantastic! I would love to smell real immortelle flowers! My descriptions of their smells (helichrysum vs immortelle) are based on their essential oils. Your explanation goes a long way to explain why note lists use these the way they do - if helichrysum oil smells like immortelle flowers, that would explain why they always call it an immortelle note. Though I still think it seems a bit unfair to also use the same name for actual immortelle essential oil (which apparently doesn't smell like immortelle flowers, but instead really does smell like spiced booze). Doh!

    11/8/11 at 2:33am

    Laureline said:



    Oh I see.. well you know.. when I read in the 'fragrance single note exploration' thread I often see oils of the same name having different smells and outcome. I believe it is the concentration (and maybe the origin). For instance in Sables the immortelle is like a thick syrup, maybe the reason why it is boozy. If I spritz lightly I will get a more airy result. And in nature the immortelles smells have all the spice and wood smell, but more transparent.
    Actually, I have seen bowls of cut immortelles (surely grown in farms) at L'Occitane boutiques, maybe worth asking them in your area ?

    11/9/11 at 12:47am

    rogalal said:



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Laureline;bt6100

    Oh I see.. well you know.. when I read in the 'fragrance single note exploration' thread I often see oils of the same name having different smells and outcome. I believe it is the concentration (and maybe the origin). For instance in Sables the immortelle is like a thick syrup, maybe the reason why it is boozy. If I spritz lightly I will get a more airy result. And in nature the immortelles smells have all the spice and wood smell, but more transparent.
    Actually, I have seen bowls of cut immortelles (surely grown in farms) at L'Occitane boutiques, maybe worth asking them in your area ?

    Honestly, I don't know, but I think you're probably right. Essential oils are weird - it's amazing how often they don't smell like what they came from, especially in flowers (I think lily is the most famous example). It wouldn't surprise me if an immortelle note (like in Sables or Eau Noire) only comes from the specific kinds of immortelle flowers, while others give that boozy rum smell, but whay you say also makes sense - it could be a concentration thing. When Ineke had us smell cardamom at an SF meet-up, it was disgusting (moldy booze), but using just a tiny ammount of it is apparently what makes the cardamom note we all love in perfumes...

    Note to self - stop by L'Ocitane boutique the next time I'm in SF...

    11/10/11 at 10:38am

    ROtto said:



    To add to the confusion, looking this up in Wikipedia, Helichrysum is a plant genus of about 600 species, including H. arenarium (immortelle) and the very similar H. stoechas, which "is found in Western France on dunes near the sea." There's also the common H. italicum, which is supposed to smell like Indian curry.
    Also, the Diptyque boutique once had a small bottle of "immortelle" and it smelled very much like coffee liqueur.
    If you'd like to grow the plants, you can get seeds at http://www.sandmountainherbs.com/everlasting.html ("useful for dyspeptic disorders"). It wouldn't grow well outside in the Bay Area, but you might be able to grow it indoors.

    11/10/11 at 12:29pm

    rogalal said:



    And the mystery deepens... I made a quick stop in the L'Ocitane boutique yesterday and they actually did have little bunches of dried immortelle flowers. They smelled wonderful, like maple syrup mixed with honey, the smell of the helichrysum oil.

    And Rotto, if you remember, I spilled that Diptyque immortelle on myself at that SF meet-up and reeked of it for a couple of days - that's how I got to know it . It's that boozy smell I know from all kinds of things (the most striking being that it's what Guerlain uses to give their perfumes that boozy quality).

    Urgh, until one of use goes to France and studies to be a perfumer, we may never get the answer to the helichrysum/immortelle concentration vs different plant mystery...





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