I am emotional about fragrance. We scent a pathway through our lives, remember to pause, inhale & imprint. Inhale & desire.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Handful of Dust in Autumn – ‘Yesterday Haze’ by Imaginary Authors

The land wants me to come back
To a handful of dust in autumn,
To a raindrop
In the palm of my hand
In spring.
The land wants me to come back
To a broken song in October
To a snowbird on the wing.
The land wants me back.

Langston Hughes – ‘Dust Bowl’

My love affair with the scented fictions of Josh Meyer continues as he releases another volume in his page-turning collection of seductive creations. I first blogged on his wonderful niche brand in January this year in a piece called Strawberries and Asphalt, examining in detail two of my favourites, Cape Heartache and The Cobra & The Canary that I acquired for the Foxy library. Now I have Yesterday Haze to swoon over. It arrived carefully wrapped in the most beautiful Imaginary Authors packaging that made me reluctant to open the parcel. It is this attention to detail that makes me love Josh and his brand so much, the unique bottle designs by his friend Ashod Simonian with their distinctive illustrative finishes and the bookmarks he sends out with samples and purchases detailing the notes of the fragrances, book synopses and mini-biogs for his imaginary authors.

Josh’s concept of creating a line of fragrances based on fictional fictions as it were is pretty inspired let’s be honest. I said in my earlier piece it could have been a horribly self-conscious exercise in hipster vanity, but a sense of humour, genuine talent and a gorgeous sense of literary olfaction have allowed the Imaginary Authors line to become beautiful expressions of scented plot and characterisation. I love the idea that a new scent might be a newly discovered work by one of Josh’s intriguing authors. Memoirs of a Trespasser and Cape Heartache are both purported works by Philip Sava (1867-1923). And while both these scents are quite different in texture and effect - Memoirs of a Trespasser is a dense mulchy vanilla and Cape Heartache is a foggy forest of strawberry mist – the similarities are subtle yet striking. As authors often have signature styles that inform their work, these two fragrances share a playful woodsman tone, an atmospheric dichotomy of sweet and manly, something that really shouldn’t work but does. Almost like the kissing boys of Brokeback, the tough, harsh mountain life tempered by hot skin and forbidden desire against a backdrop of desolate sweetness. 

Yesterday Haze is the follow up to Violet Disguise by Lenora Blumberg, another one of Josh’s imagined authors:

‘A Californian through and through, Blumberg’s early stories invoke the innocence of picnics in the park, days whiled away picking plums in the orchard, and warm nights cruising canyon roads with the top down. After Violet Disguise was adapted for the screen Blumberg spent several years consorting with Hollywood’s elite but abandoned the glitz for a quiet life on a plum orchard in the Ojai Valley.’

Great scent setting for a bizarre scent, an oddly sensual violet, with a lurking whiff of androgyny and menace. It was one of my favourites from the collection and I nearly bought it..and probably should have done. The plum note has been rendered with a strange dry transparency, on the cusp of smoky but not quite. Violets and me go way back, weird and awkward; I kinda like the vintage creepiness they donate to scent, that mix of shattered doll and antique floral lace. But at the same time I can never quite shake the sensation I might smell like Norman Bates’ mother.

This is what I wrote about it in my January post:

‘..Rum, dried fruits, violet, amber and wait for it… evening air and The Month of May. How could I possibly resist? It’s a sumptuous aromatic fruity thing with a whimsical chypré feel to the central section. The violet is plush and leathery, with a hint of night. Beautifully constructed, it fades away into a mauve dawn with grace and discretion, never outstaying its welcome.’

I’d remove the word whimsical now I think, revisiting Violet Disguise again. It’s more direct than I recall. But mauve dawn still captures for me how this compelling mix of flower and powdered isolation feels on my skin. It is more bruised and ephemeral than I remember in the distant chill of January and the plum note is a little more reserved and disconcerting, but it still smells convincingly lovely. Anything containing ionones will trigger nostalgia; it’s an odd phenomena.. 

In the UK we have a talcy confectionary called Parma Violet made by a Derbyshire-based company called Swizzel Matlow; fizzy and tinted with anthocyanin, they are a familiar if shuddering part of many people’s childhood. Oddly it is this crumbled, chalky sweet lavender coloured candy that seems dredged like fine dust through Violet Disguise. The more I wear this scent, and I’ve been wearing it a lot recently, I have realised that the vintage floral riff is in fact the disguise, the mask under which a more forsaken and isolated theme plays out. The plum and woods are lit with synthetic amber while the rum is a brazen companion to notes of such seeming discretion.

Lenora’s personal story of fading glitz and glamour, from necessary fame to a gentle decline amid fruit trees and dusky orchard nights is well served by Josh’s clever and rather poignant floral cri de coeur. Violet Disguise will be eventually be added to my collection of Imaginary Authors, I like its resolute androgyny and ability to surprise and disconcert me. Fruit notes are a fraught concept for me in scent, plums, prunes, apples, pears etc.. these things can often be sweetly suffocating but perversely moreish. I want to like them, but my skins hurls them back acidic and unloved. The fruits have to be dried and leathered or boozy eau de vie simulacrums. As I drifted off to sleep the other night, my wrists anointed with Violet Disguise, I imagined perhaps the name might refer to Lenora’s reclusive fictional self, biographically tucked away in balmy orchards, walking amid the redolent gnarled harvest, wrapped in shades of violet, mauve, amethyst and wine.

This wistful dream-projection has stayed with me for days and is testament I think to the atmospheric impact and concept of Josh and his carefully wrought authorial sway. 

Josh’s highly anticipated new addition to his library Yesterday Haze is dreamy and disconcerting too; a weird nutty, figgy abstraction of scent. It seems simple, linear, quiet and yet as it settles onto skin it opens into a perfume of generosity and secrets.

I’ve said it before, but I really don’t care for fig fragrances. In recent years they have become almost a sub-genre of their own in niche, the sweet, woody oozing scent of holidays and jammy Mediterranean pastries. There are really only two benchmark fig scents. One is Diptyque’s cult bestseller Philosykos, created in 1996 by Olivia Giacobetti; a near perfect portrait of the fig tree, rich with cedar and a milky coconut note to suggest the ripening fruit. The other is Premier Figuier by L’Artisan Parfumeur, also created by Olivia Giacobetti back in 1994. A richer milkier take on the fig note, Premier Figuier feels almost decadent in its fruity excess. An Extrème version, pulled back on the fruits and delineated the tree, leaves, soil and sun. It smells like lying on the ground under the shade of the fig tree, staring up at the sun through the branches as a slight breeze moves the scent of green fruit and sap in warm air.

There have been a few other fig scents of note including the curiously cold cedar-kissed Marc Jacobs Men (his original classic scent in the lovely heavyweight rectangular bottle), Jovoy’s patchouli rich L’Abre de Connaissance and finally Jean-Claude Ellena’s lush and immersive Un Jardin En Méditeranée. I will admit to loving Figues et Garçons by the now sadly deceased Nez à Nez niche house, with incredible scents by Stephane Humbert Lucas. It reeked of vanillic paint and figgy acetone. Most odd and not a particularly easy scent, but one I admired and found fascinating to wear.  

I’m not entirely sure why fig and I don’t get on; working in a boutique years ago with someone who wore WAY too much Philosykos every day didn’t really help. I think as well, the milky, oozing edge to a lot of fig scents (usually some sort of coconut lactone), an attempt to capture the ripe, lacteous fruit on the heavy French branch appals my senses, affecting my ability to see beyond this hyped and rather clichéd hipster fruit. However, I was more than prepared to trust Josh with a take on fig, I just could not imagine him doing anything even remotely conventional or predictable with it. Also he had to build it into his imagined fiction for Lenora’s Yesterday Haze, something it turned out he could do with his customary skill and savoir-faire.     

I guess fig counts as gourmand, an edible foodie note. It usually smells pretty sweet in scent, vaguely tropical or Mediterranean, the jammier, solar aspects of the fruit offset by sharper, woodier notes and stem facets, mint, grass and ozonics. The notes for Yesterday Haze include fig, walnut bitters, whipped cream, iris and tonka bean, tree bark and of course let’s not forget the orchard dust. Josh has been taken to task by a couple of bloggers and some casual reviewers for his use of synthetics. There would be very little fragrance without them. Used correctly, with imagination and obviously within IFRA guidelines, aromachemical effects are the CGI and fireworks of perfumery, creating illusion, scentscapes, olfactive dazzle and most importantly structure and support for naturals and absolutes. Marrying the two sides is very challenging. Creating scents purely from 100% natural materials is incredibly demanding and made fraught by IFRA’s detailed list of minute material controls. So many all-natural fragrances lack lift and complex harmony due to the volatility and weight of the materials used. A rare jewel is the Richard Lüscher Britos collection of Natural Terroir Perfumes, launched earlier this year. Exceptionally high quality ingredients painstakingly applied to particular terroir areas of the world. I blogged in July on 14˚S 48˚E, a Madagascan fiction of ylang and vanilla by Vero Kern.

Josh has always used all the tools of his trade with wit and verve, naturals, synthetics etc, assembled to write or inscribe aromatically his literary inspired formulae. I sense a collage sensibility, an ability to gather influences, images, words and motifs in his head. These are in some cases literally cut out, copied and sourced for authorial headshots, PR blurb and excerpts from his fictional works. Then on a deeper, more subliminal level the montage of notions and imaginings are translated into fragrance notes, accords and structures. This can of course all go horribly wrong in the execution and roll out, but Josh has a firm editorial grip on his fragrances allowing a certain odour of thematics to radiate through the line, while creating juice that is fun, benevolent and often quite moving. There is something about the depth and impact of occasional notes that seems to haze off the skin and trigger memories, textures and actual 3D place. I know this is the much-discussed point of perfumery in general, but Imaginary Authors is a rather addictive universe, with page-turning, skin lavishing attraction.

Browsing through the generous array of samples that Josh sent me along with order of Yesterday Haze, I am struck again by the ambition of Josh’s perfumed elegance. Yes there is eccentricity, artiness and whiff of hipster (Portland….) however; the perfumes themselves have been assembled with love and a genuine desire to communicate something beyond the generic bottle/carton combo. Now I know that some people just don’t get on with Imaginary Authors and that’s fine. As with most things in life, we all have our own specific tastes. But I know an awful lot of people like me who love Josh’s olfactive fictions and find moments of contemplative and humorous beauty amid the bulls blood, limestone, tennis balls, asphalt, wild strawberries, warm sand and satin. We can write ourselves into Josh’s perceptive aromas.

Now we have Josh’s new perfume based on Lenora Blumberg’s second fiction, Yesterday Haze, set in the San Joaquin Valley. It tells the story of a farmer’s wife who has been unfaithful to her husband for decades and then decides to tell him. Her lover is a crop duster pilot who also happens to work for her husband. There is even a quote from this complex imagined work… ‘Just as sunsets are more beautiful on hazy days… so too are the memories of yesterday.’

I was very intrigued by the promise of this scent, mainly because of the looming confrontation of my figgy nemesis but also because I sensed that perhaps this perfume would be somehow different, a more mature and pared down arrangement than previous juice. There is an inherent theatricality and coded campiness to Josh’s line, an archness that is necessary to balance any accusations of pretention. But the uncluttered synopsis for Yesterday Haze suggested in advance a more melancholy honed formulation, a fragrance without the edge of Technicolor exuberance that tinted the previous releases.

There is no doubt Josh is having ridiculous amounts of fun with his Imaginary Authors line. The notes are of course always a wonderful mix of precisely chosen real materials mixed with more romanticised and oblique concept notes. Yesterday Haze is no exception, containing fig, iris, cream tonka bean, tree bark, walnut bitters & orchard dust….. yes fabulous and  nonsensical yet instantly atmospheric orchard dust.  Like the old growth and mountain in Cape Heartache, oak barrels in Memoirs of a Trespasser, tennis balls in Soft Lawn and the limestone and artesian well in Mosaic, Josh wants us to imagine beyond mere descriptions into his aromatic and beguiling world where aromachemicals and natural materials become alive, landscaped and breathing.

So could Josh could make me love fig? Yesterday Haze smells instantly familiar and somehow utterly weird. The fig is warm and distant, a dream of fig if you like, an imagined fruit somewhere, malleable and blushing, on a wooden table in the warm midday sun. I really like the walnut facet, the slightly oiled roll of kernel fresh from the shell. It reminds me a little of Fra Angelico, the obscure hazelnut liqueur that comes in a dark brown monk-shaped bottle. It does smell wonderfully creamy in a slow, vintage way, the fumes lifting off skin like the last rays of summer. When I first read abut this scent I had a vision of Lenora Blumberg’s character of the wife, wandering through dry, crackling fields, dressed in white, her face shielded from the sun by a hat she has worn since her teens. She is tied to the way of the land and her husband but her heart is pulled elsewhere. 

There is a signature I feel to Josh’s work, a scent of oddity and melancholy faded towns. Literally it is a woody, hazy, veiled amber feeling, like staring out at the garden through the protection of a screen. As it settles, Yesterday Haze becomes a woman’s lonely early evening walk in the orchard, torn between lover and spouse, the air tainted with damp fruit and shifting soil. Overhead, the soft drone of her lover’s plane buzzes the sky far far away as his day slows to an end. She looks up and catches her husband’s eye; he is standing in a brightly lit room of the old, comfortable house. He turns away and the light goes out. She knows she must tell a man she loves oddly with comfort that she loves another with passion and fire.

The fig note is peculiar in Yesterday Haze, blurred and almost out of reach. Josh has presented the fruit quite differently from other perfumers whom have always been keen to exploit the more lush, oozing, Mediterranean facets of this divisive fruit. Here it smells a little ghostly, a projected aroma-portrait symbolising for me the forbidden echo of their affair. Over-reading perhaps but that is what happens when you meld scent and evocative wordsmithery together.

Josh Meyer’s scented volumes present a particularly rich and eccentric approach to scent creation. The passion and force of imagination at work is incredible and I personally never tire of wearing his witty and charming scents on my skin. Yesterday Haze may be my favourite to date, I adore the strawberry campfire cacophony of Cape Heartache and the doomed tyreburning confrontation of The Cobra & the Canary, but right now the olfactory wistfulness and complexity of Josh & Lenora’s duplicitous drifting wife has me hooked. (And yes Josh made me like fig….)

For more info on Josh Meyer and his fragrances, click on the link below:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Obsessive Gloss & Sanctity: ‘Lys Fumé’ by Tom Ford

There is so much I love about Thomas Carlyle Ford, aka Tom Ford. The man himself is sexy, charming, scrupulously chic, gloriously hirsute and a control freak. He oozes a glossy, mini-series style of sensuality, a mix of porno chic and brutal, blatant vintage referencing. He pines for Halston, Studio 54, strutting diaphanous disco and Warhol’s carnival of drugged up glitter and coitus. He has the golden suede touch, an unerring ability to read us, push us, titillate and sometimes shock. 

He sails pretty close to the wind on occasion, but damn, he’s so polite and quietly ambitious, we just smile, blush and turn a page. From his wilderness years as a jobbing actor to his meteoric rise through YSL, Gucci, Hollywood to founding his own sexed-up label, Mr Ford is a fabulous gay man. Women adore him, men want be him or fuck him.. (just the once maybe if no one ever found out…..)

There was his directorial debut with a very personal adaptation of Isherwood’s A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a repository for Ford’s neuroses. Firth bagged an Oscar, but Julianne Moore stole the film, drenched in shades of apricot and beige, an immaculate English accent and nails painted to match her Sobranies. Every molecule of the film was designed by Ford, obsessively so, sometimes to the point of stylistic overdose and yet he managed to fashion a disciplined and melancholy portrait of himself, a man tied to routines with a mania for minutiae. The character of George exercises huge control over every part of his waking hours and yet the only thing he can’t govern with any true certainly is his broken heart. The loss of his lover, being denied access to true closure and mourning, makes George snowbound, locks him down as life ticks on. I wonder sometimes when I watch this beautiful film how much of this august, reaching pain has in common with Ford’s life and past. People who present perfection often hide ordeal and woe.

Ford’s work is about detail, finish and appearance. Nothing is really left to chance. He is a notorious workaholic, preoccupied with all aspects of his multi-layered businesses. Even his predilection for placing himself centre-stage for campaigns; in other designers might seem monstrously egotistical, but with Ford, it just seems normal, something he needs to do. He is married to the writer Richard Buckley whom he met in 1986 when he was 25 and Richard was 38. They now have a child called Alexander and Ford divides his time between the US and London where he has a design office. He likes the pace of life in London and I imagine the eccentricity and balls of London life; the weird collision of commerce, street style, reserve and old-fashioned Savile Row defiance and tradition.  

His stints at Gucci, Lauder and YSL all had a huge impact on the Houses’ fragrance divisions. He launched arguably one of the first major commercially created oud fragrances at YSL called M7, using a very controversial (and very sexy…) ad campaign with a hirsute French model/martial arts star in a full frontal nude pose that echoed Yves Saint Laurent’s equally contentious willowy nude shoot for his Y For Men fragrance in the 70s. He also launched Nu in 2001 a strange, incense-laced floral scent by Jacques Cavallier in a unique flat round dark blue bottle that resembled a large old-fashioned make-up compact. Nu sadly flopped, but it was way ahead of its time. If you smell it now, it’s astonishing how modern it seems.  At Gucci, there was Rush, one of my favourite porno scents. Like Angel before it this screeching lactonic marvel of hairspray and buzzy florals was utterly divisive. Love. Loathe. The neon red plastic bottle made it both garish and daring. Nothing has ever smelled like Rush. TF apparently took three seconds upon smelling the mod to say yes to the final version. I love its ravishing neon violence, the way everything in the composition is at full volume, garish and sleek, seducing the sense with serious lacquered intent. Scent as Ferrari.

While working with Esteé Lauder, he dared to play with an established classic, Youth Dew, Estée Lauder’s original scented foundation stone, the oriental bath oil that started it all. For a limited edition entitled Youth Dew Amber Nude, he commissioned Christophe Laudmiel to tighten the notes, lighten the deep vanillic plunge and add a warm golden haze of cocoa dust and tolu in the base. It was gorgeous and overtly sensual yet dripping in charm and a little honeyed mystery. The original is a huge scent, with little subtlety and I imagine scars from a little too much scented surgery. Youth Dew Amber Nude somehow managed to maintain the spirit of Estée Lauder’s original groundbreaking scent whilst translating the formula into a new modern idiom.

Now in 2014, Tom Ford perfume has a global turnover in the multi-millions. He has not looked back since the launch of the truffly, all pervasive Black Orchid in 2006 with it ENORMOUS lingering aura. Rumours abounded he wanted Black Orchid to have the whiff of male crotch..a typically Fordian shock tactic that did nothing to dissuade millions of us (myself included)to indulge in this most hedonistic of epicurean florientals. There was a point, maybe six or eight months after it launched, when you could smell it everywhere, on everyone. It became one of the most ubiquitous aromas on the streets. Everybody wanted a small piece of the Fordian dream, to feel for a moment like Julia Roitfeld in the swooning languorous ad. Then came White Patchouli, Tom Ford for Men, Violet Blonde, Grey Vetiver, Noir, Sahara Noir and most recently a new interpretation of his original blockbuster called Velvet Orchid. I’ve worn White Patchouli on and off for years and I love Violet Blonde, blogging on it back in October 2011:

The androgyny of Ford’s female scents is striking. I love the jasmine blonde glistening beneath the platinum violet. Suggestive of alter egos and closeted fragranced lives. Violet Blonde is head-turning drag queen suede and indolic jasmine, a shocking flirt of milky woods and a whiff of homme fatale. It had me sniffing my skin and closing my eyes all day, wondering if I smelt like Jean Harlow laid out on fur. (probably not….)The journey from fuel and hairspray to creamy musks, jasmine and sueded leather is a compelling one. Violet leaf and flower can be mournful, melancholy notes. Mr Ford’s occasionally violent jasmine/violet is a beautiful dip into an inky mauve sea, contemplative and yet enticingly sensual. I love it on my skin. It works magnificently. Harlow, Monroe, Cobain. Suicidal blondes maybe, but oh the fame, the glamour, the frozen Hollywood moment.  

The Private Blend Collection debuted in 2007 with twelve fragrances - Amber Absolute, Noir de Noir, Velvet Gardenia, Black Violet, Tobacco Vanille, Oud Wood, Purple Patchouli, Bois Rouge, Moss Brèches, Tuscan Leather, Neroli Portofino and Japan Noir.  They were described by Ford as unisex; complex, multi-note fragrances woven around themes or tenets of perfumery such as oriental leathers, mossy fougères, fruit-tinted chyprés, woods and classic soliflore stalwarts such as gardenia, violet and jasmine.

Then in 2012 Ford released an intriguing quartet called Jardin Noir consisting of Café Rose, Ombre de Hyacinth, Jonquille de Nuit and Lys Fumé. They have been among the more creative of the Private Blends, but hardly as Noir as the name implies. Ford does like his noir… noir this… noir that… Perfume addicts love the word though and it has become industry shorthand for darkness, night, sexy, depth, mystery etc. I dislike hyacinth in any form so I avoided the Ombre.. and the Jonquille is a marred and off-kilter attempt to do an abstracted daffodil. There are parts of the Jonquille de Nuit that sort of work, the narcissus and angelica notes are well-played, cool and deliciously retro in their placement with the slightly fussy and spinster-like assemblage of cyclamen, violet and mimosa. But the composition collapses half way through, leaving a bitter, smeared leaf effect I did not like at all. The rose and lily are the two which really caught my attention though.

I love my roses and Café Rose is warm, roasted and chypré-esque in style, lit through with a triptych of Rose de Mai, Bulgarian and Turkish Roses. I like the name oddly, obviously implying coffee in the juice, but also more discreetly suggesting a private, intimate little hideaway, a floral scented snug with wood panelled walls and a soft flickering fire. Saffron and black pepper add heat and texture, the creamy saffron creating a supple suede-like ground for the roses. A very subtle use of incense in the base with woods and a whisper of oakmoss hint at ghostly chypré structures.

I was pleasantly surprised by this essay of roses, even more so when I discovered it had been made by the niche avant-gardiste Antoine Lie, one of my favourite perfumers. He is normally associated with more experimental and arthouse scentmakers such as Comme des Garçons, Nu_Be, PureDistance and Etat Libre D’Orange. Café Rose doesn’t immediately strike me as overtly Liesque; one of the odd characteristics of many of the Private Blend scents is the relative anonymity of the formulae. They could have been made by anyone; the signatures are barely legible beneath the high gloss shine and shimmering commercialism. However, the more I have worn Café Rose, the more I have noticed blips and shudders of strangeness. Lie’s use of coffee is hardly conventional, it doesn’t really smell of coffee at all in fact. There is just a very warm, roasted creamy effect drifted through the mix allied to a light metallic twist to the base. Lie loves his freaky aroma buzz and I can smell hints of CDG’s Wonderwood and Blood Concept’s Red+MA behind the relatively conventional rose and sweet smoky ensemble. It’s difficult to get perfumers like Lie to create anything close to normal as it were; Café Rose is safe yet rather beautifully rendered. As if Lie has challenged himself to do normal and then couldn’t resist flirting with oddity as the occasion presented itself.

I of course have a massive weakness for lily soliflores so the Lys Fumé caught my Foxy eye. I tried it in passing and liked it sharp, glassy heart of white shattered petals cocooned in rummy vanilla and silky woods. Then I put it aside, distracted by so many other things and once again kinda shell-shocked by the price.  I have bumped into it again at my local Tom Ford counter, the Manager Gillian is one of the loveliest people you could want selling you scent, genuine and full of joy and scented exuberance. 

Created jointly by Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Shyamala Maisondieu, Lys Fumé doesn’t initially seem to break new floral ground, but that perception shifts with time, as the scent takes hold. It does capture the strange arrogance of lilies, an odour that drives me crazy with self-love. For me it’s all about the dichotomy, the split of light and darkness, purity and wanton desire, demise and annunciation. Lilies journey from bright creamy sensuality to pollen-drop and atrophy. The many varieties of lily share a carnality of form – undulation, curl and crevice.

The scent of lilies is a compulsion, a trembling want. I feel almost sanctified in their unctuous embrace. The odour is like anything else, pungent, invasive, repellent, sexual, desirable and cold. There is no warmth, only vacancy and abstraction. As a bloom it sulks and pouts, maunders and haunts. Growing old disgracefully, one needs a fetish inflorescence and the lily is mine.

My collection will always be haunted by lily soliflores and now I add Lys Fumé. I have written before at length on my lily passion and the scented alarm bells that go off when I see a new lily scent launching. My favourites include the glorious Baiser Volé by Mathilde Laurent for Cartier and her recent Essence version which is bloody gorgeous, the now vanished Lily & Spice by Penhaligon’s, the best floral the house has ever made, created for them by Mathilde Bijaoui and Guerlian’s lush tropical Lys Soleia by Thierry Wasser, the best Aqua Allegoria to date. There’s just something so decadent and fin de siècle about the curvaceous reaching petals and shifting slide into sweet indolic decay.

Tom Ford’s Private Blend is all about the glamour and finish of the juice… the Hollywoodisation of scent if you like. This works on a certain level, the glamorous shimmering of surface and illusion; it allows submersion in an olfactive world of luxurious materials and the occasion to buy into Mr Ford’s saturated world of gloss and effect. I’m not sure if I buy into the concept of scent as accessory which I how I feel Tom Ford sees fragrance to be honest. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but as with jewellery or a clutch, if that is the case the accessory must therefore be extraordinary, unique and head-turning.

Lys Fumé is the olfactory equivalent of a smoky grey opal, a discreet and eerie statement piece. I’ve been wearing it so much, revelling in the unexpected melange of waxen demise and a rather beautiful boozy dried apricot facet that I find incredibly chic. Maisondieu and Flores-Roux have used a complex skein of notes to create their illusion of a smudged, ephemeral lily. The fumé aspect is less smoked, rather blurred, as the lines and form of the bloom were obfuscated in fine mist.

Lilies as they fade and die ooze a claustrophobic campheraceous odour that can smother the air in a room. Perversely, it is this shocking intensity that I love, the autumnal death throes of petal and stamen, the wanton stain of saffron coloured pollen, deadly to cats and malicious to skin and clothing. Such a dramatic bloom, swooning and poisonous, intoxicating and capricious.

Lys Fumé is a burnished, low-key take on the lily soliflore, using rum, styrax and shadowy labdanum to provide a flickering warm backdrop for the bloom to display its quietly opulent gifts. I think the unexpected dried fruit effect I keep smelling is due to the nutmeg and Davana; it’s a strange sensation, the interplay of air-dried fruit, broken stem and the mothball ardour of the generous liliform opening. Turmeric is listed in the notes; a spice we all know as a deep yellow powder, used extensively in Indian cuisine. But it starts life as a rhizome (like ginger and galangal) with one of the most unusual odours in the spice world. It’s earthy, bitter with an odd whiff of dried orange peel. You don’t come across it in scent much, but as with food, a tiny amount goes a looooooong way. So it’s interesting to see it nestled amongst the lily, mandarin and ylang ylang. But if you sniff your skin carefully you can sense the heat and warmth this unique note has brought to the floral elements, a kind of hot dust. It’s a delicious touch of barely there magic.

The lily note does fade as the scent works through its delightful evaporation curve, but not perhaps in the way I expected. Of course the full indolic glow wanes, but it does so with grace and discretion as if the grey smoky opal were polished carefully and retired into a soft black velvet bag. There is no bitterness, no regret, just a delicious smooth floral signature left floating above the skin. The dying of the light, the fall of the base is perhaps a little generic, Madagascan vanilla providing a familiar haven for the preceding impressions. But this doesn’t really matter because your senses have been imprinted by that dove grey opalescent floral heart, wreathed in cinematic ambiguity and for a while that is all you can really remember.

The original Private Blend collection had no real sense of gender attached to it, allowing us to pick and choose from a wide-ranging if somewhat reigned in palette of aromas. Some were more masculine and others more feminine, but I think women just admired the high-octane possibilities of Tom Ford offering them leather, tobacco, moss and all varieties of noir. The embedded sexuality of his perfumery, the lacquering of skin with perfume was brilliantly exploited by the desirability of the bottles, luxurious packaging and ad campaigns. Skincare and make-up followed, all of it exquisitely made and presented. High price points, rather than putting people off, encouraged indulgence.

More and more fragrances have joined the Private Blend family, decreasing in quality in my Foxy opinion, but still they sell. Santal Blush and Jasmin Rouge were terribly mediocre; the names sound like porn stars… ‘Hi y’all… my name is Santal Blush… I was REAL big in the 80s…’… 

Oud Wood from the original disciples was repackaged and re-launched alongside two more generic and very similar interpretations of oud – Tobacco Oud and Oud Fleur. The 2013 Atelier d’Orient collection of Shanghai Lily, Plum Japonais, Fleur de Chine and Rive D’Ambre were again weak and unfocused, the olfactive equivalent of those patronising old garish Hollywood Technicolor movies about the orient with western stars playing Japanese or Chinese characters. A weird, unsubtle idealised Orient, untainted by reality.   

Ford’s brash Aqua di Parma wannabe Neroli Portofino is a handsome bastard, I’ll give it that. Two more Italian studs joined him by the pool in their tight white budgie smugglers and perma tans: Mandarino di Amalfi and Costa Azzura. Oooooo, Mr Ford so wants these to be ice cool and white linen sophisticate, mysterious and elegant. They are well-executed citrus scents exploding with vigour and freshness, but hardly original. But lordy they are selling well as once again Ford’s uncanny ability to make you desire something, wear it and convince you that your skin and life need it bears itself out.

I know there are die-hard fans of Tom Ford fragrances out there and that is just fine. His fragrances are a passionate mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, paying homage to his clubbing druggy climes of disco glaze and a resolute attempt to introduce a sense of luxury and glamour back into a jaded and bitter mainstream beauty industry. Ford gives us what we want, he charges for it and we buy. We want a piece, however small of his sexually charged and slickly managed world, even it’s just a veil of coffee-tinted rose, funereal lily or a fabulous slash of dazzling carmine lipstick. Sanctity and gloss are heady lovers. Tom Ford has always understood this.

Lys Fumé is a compelling eerie scent, more lover than scent, clinging to the senses like sweet clouded weather. It stands out so much from the other scents, I worry for its safety. I’m so thrilled to have fallen in love again with this grey, fixated bloom. I cant quite decide if its armour or weapon. I shall play dress up and we shall see.   

For more information on the rest on Tom Ford's scents, please follow link below: