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

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Ateliers & Patisserie Steam: An Odour of Nostalgia – ‘John Galliano Eau de Parfum’ by John Galliano

I have always adored this atmospheric perfume, it has a strange demanding aroma of the now, something edgy and hidden from view, masked and potentially dangerous; yet simultaneously radiating violet-dusted hours of yesteryear, a longing for love and rosy skin upon which to lay a weary head.

I bought Galliano’s debut eau de parfum the week it was released in Harrods in 2008. Our old head office used to be in lovely Beauchamp Place in London, around the corner from Harrods, which made shopping rather irresistible. The distinctive Joel Desgrippes bottle wasn’t hard to spot and I was kinda obsessed with the Mondino campaign fronted by the compelling amphibian-faced model Guinevere van Seenus.

Now, this piece will not be any kind of apologist prose poem for the actions of Galliano. But I was and still am an enormous fan of his couture; he was an extraordinary fashion visionary who understood the extravagance and magnificence of the past and succeeded in translating that into a modern vision of couture transcendence. That this talent was fucked to pieces in one appalling evening of drunken, anti-Semitic ranting is tragic and probably inevitable considering the spiralling horror of his personal and high octane work lives.

He has spent the time since that terrible evening in Paris hidden away from he world, wounded and silent, emerging blinking uncertainly into the light on very rare occasions such as the wedding of his loyal friend Kate Moss whose wedding dress he designed. Its gentle simplicity and exquisite romanticism seemed to say I am still here, but bombast and drama are put away. You need a monstrous ego to survive in haute couture; it is a fickle, vicious and all consuming racket. The price is often bodies and souls wracked by abuse, booze, drugs, and sex; manipulated and isolated by those demanding the light burn brighter and longer. Like candles left burning too long, the flames will collapse and drown in waxen loathing.

As his eponymous scent launched Galliano seemed noticeably more fragile but still working obsessively at his outrageous and glorious game. His Spring/Summer couture line was incredibly vibrant with billowing shades of mustard, burnt orange and shocking midnight blues. Echoes of Singer Sargent, Klimt and Galliano’s fetish geisha motifs all unfolded and flowed under space age millinery by Stephen Jones. He followed that with a tighter, more austere autumn/winter showing. I loved this collection of New Look silhouettes and huge jutting skirts, sleek column gowns and sensual swirling nipped in waists. The body appeared wrapped, tied and belted, cocooned erotically in shades of black, cream and white. 

Macaroon tones of caramel, pistachio and violet augmented a potentially funereal palette. There were no huge surprises in either collection and you couldn’t fail to notice Galliano’s double-edged referencing – of his own hits and the obsession with Dior’s delicious past. His preoccupation with nostalgia and the couture rendering of leitmotifs would eventually exhaust him. Themes that once looked referentially modern and worked to perfection began to look a little tired and repetitive. Dior haute couture was starting to look dated. It seemed no one was prepared to say no to Galliano. Then suddenly, it was too late.

Galliano was involved in much of the perfume’s creation, from olfactive consultations to working with Jean-Baptiste Mondino on the imagery and ad campaign. Looking at the box and bottle in my study this evening, I realise that nothing else has ever really looked or smelled like this peculiar perfume. Joel Desgrippes’ bottle still divides opinion today on fragrance forums with its ombré cerise and berry-stained gown-form shape, cinched in at the neck with something resembling a revolutionary cockade. The bottle is topped off with a sprayer designed like a gothic font ‘G’ for Galliano, gaudy and grandiose. I personally like the bottle; I like a flacon that feels comfortable in the hand as this does. There is a doll-like quality to it, a sense of vintage chichi fragility, echoing again Galliano’s relentless obsession plundering of bygone themes.

The scent launched in 2008 and is the work of Christine Nagel and Aurelian Guichard. (There is a lighter, more playful eau de toilette version that launched in 2010 which while still quite charming has none of the eccentricity and velvet sensuality of the original). The eau de parfum is essentially built around a delicious violet note mixed with Monaco Rose and iris absolute in the heart to create the huge swell of yesteryear. Bergamot and lavender open up the scent; the lavender smells mauve and airy, proving lift to the romantic posy of floral heart notes. There is a whisper of sweet chypré to the mix from oakmoss and dry cedar in the base; they chime softly in the shadow of the moody violet ionones.

Violet is the odour of nostalgia, shorthand if you like for referencing the fin de siècle past implied by the aloof Guinevere van Seenus in the ad campaigns, her oddball features slicked in shades of crimson and smeared mulberry. Often dismissed as sweetie soft and old fashioned; handled with innovation and intelligence, violet can invoke lost worlds and textures with haunting and judicious delicacy. 

Galliano has often spoken of his love for Boldini’s lush portrait of the Marchesa de Casati, a true icon of her time. Wearing fabulous silken black with accents of bruised lavender she poses with a glossy coal-coloured Italian greyhound, radiating a dangerous sense of barely contained sensuality. Interestingly in the painting, Luisa Marchesa’s coquettish silhouette echoes the form (and to a certain degree the hue) of Desgrippes’ flacon. The carton is decorated in a kind of faux-painted version of Van Seenus, but oddly masculinised, with echoes of New Romantics swaying at the 1908’s Blitz Club and the album cover of Arcadia’s So Red The Rose. These touches of oddness destabilise and freshen any potentially sentimental overload.

In an interview with L’Express Galliano said:

J’étais trés passioné. J’avias en tête une fragrance romantique avec une rose très anglaise et une note poudre. Mon nom de code était au depart ‘Cocotte’ et après toutes ces étapes, on est finalement revenue à cette idée.

(I was so passionate about this project. In my mind I had a romantic scent with a very English style rose at the centre, powdered in style. The working title from the start was ‘Cocotte’ and after so much hard work, we now have this fragrance.)

Tellingly, cocotte, is a slang or street word for a prostitute, so Galliano was aware at all times that his scent would be a contradiction, a portrait of alluring yet ambiguous and dangerous attraction. The slattern beneath the silks as it were. In many ways it captures the tension at the heart of Galliano, especially
at Dior, the slutty swagger of whores, pirates and dandies subverting the opulent sweep and courtly magnificence of the man’s neurotic couture vision.

For me the Galliano scent is now imbued with even more melancholy and bitter tragedy since his excruciating fall from grace. There was always a sense chez Galliano of a hugely theatrical craving for approval, to show doubters he could achieve success on his own flamboyant terms. Like Alexander McQueen, both men had strong working class roots and this I think made their choice of profession fraught with doubt, pushing them to perfectionist levels of graft, craftsmanship and an often-difficult relationship with their own images and appearances. Both McQueen and John went under the knife to alter the way they looked. Lee had extensive liposuction and dramatically lost weight and John’s face slowly evolved a life of its own. Both men vanished, in different ways, Lee by his own hand and John by drunken, career suicide. But to all intents and purposes they were consumed by the terrifying and isolating demands of their high-pressure métier.  

This fragrance will never be judged on its own merits, it is too tied into the Galliano aura, but it should be, it has a sense of lost beauty, odours drifting in time. For me it is the gauzy story of attic needlecraft, women with calloused fingertips, bound together in their carefully applied skills and handed down superstitions of blood on cloth and the symbolism of spilled needles and pricked digits. The windows of this room are shaded partly in left over lace, the light filtering through in shades of mauve, lilac and dappled ivory. The air is rich with the scent of embroidery, tumbles of cloth, plush nap, glue, hessian, muslin and the cold flash of oily shears. Into this vintage mix is mixed the seamstresses themselves; powder, hair lacquer, perspiration and perfume. There is the metallic hiss of steam, the dry folded aromas of starch, a scent I adore. I always starch my shirt collars and love the moment a hot iron hits damp starched cotton.

It is the hefty dose of aldehydes in the opening of the Eau de Parfum that generates the striking steam effect. It’s a bold move, not necessarily from an aldehydic point of view, but the dosage is big, claustrophobic and exciting. The saturated corsage of iris, rose and violet at the heart of the scent is pinned to a veiled and hazy backdrop with a lovely angelica effect, lending the blooms a candied fennel touch that speaks of settling dust and quietude.

The rose/violet union is hardly new in scent. Used as it is to suggest vintage memory, powdered traces, dust, faded haze; make up, boudoir distance and a certain sense of floral antiquity. Used adroitly it smells lipsticky, smeared and achingly beautiful. Allied to iris, the three floral notes intensify in ephemerality as the fragrance settles into its opaque and vaporous drydown. What makes the scent so fascinating is the underlying tone of patisserie and sweet brioche that rises through the notes as the aldehydes buzz and gleam. It smells as if someone has rushed into the atelier with white boxes of delicious sinful goodies and broken the rhythm of the room so everyone can indulge.

This epicurean blend of retro floral delicacy, steam, starch, patisserie and musky indulgence has never smelled better. It has enormous flounce and pout, a real presence on the skin, throwing out skeins of vintage molecules wrapped in seriously elegant atmospherics. Marketed to women on its release, it also had dandy written all over it, the sheer bravado of sweet steam makes it irresistible. It has been discontinued and treated with the same pariah status meted out to John Galliano. It can be found for a song on Amazon in its various sizes.

I’m overjoyed to fall in love with it all over again. It was a favourite then and a favourite now. In many ways it stands as a rather poignant reminder of Galliano’s fall. His tenure at Dior has been effectively erased and yet Raf Simons is essentially recycling himself and his own work at Jill Sander. It is not really Dior. Galliano’s flamboyancy and passion can never really be lost, his work at Dior was far too extraordinary for that to happen. But the man will always be an apologetic shadow of himself, moving carefully and quietly, attempting to heal and perhaps be a little forgotten. I wonder if he ever thinks of his beautiful scent, created with such joie de vivre and devil may care carousel? I hope so, it is remarkable and smells of couture, lost beautifully in time.

I’m not sure anything will smell like this again, roses and violets will come and go, aldehydes will haunt and dazzle the senses for years to come; but this peculiar, flamboyant synthesis of atelier ghosts and brazen chic walks a dimming runway in an empty hall. Galliano’s hubris has tainted any legacy he might have had. It is incredibly hard to be objective about any aspects of his work without the spectre of that fateful café evening rising up to darken the mind. I hold to my opinion that Galliano’s debut eau de parfum is a beautiful, personal and affecting scent. Oddly, his downfall has only augmented the glamour of the aroma.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Imagining Nuances: The Terroir of Olfaction – ‘14°S 48°E’ by Richard Lüscher Britos & Vero Kern

‘Make no sound, do not speak: eyes, heart, mind dreams
are about to explore a forest…A secret but tangible forest.’

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, Madagascan poet, 1901-1937

If you use the co-ordinates in the title of this most singular of natural perfumes, you will find yourself located in the north-eastern part of Madagascar, near Ambanja. This is ylang and vanilla country. The climate and geography of the region have forged perfect growing conditions for bourbon vanilla and one of the world’s most sensual blooms. Add frangipani, pink peppercorn, green mandarin, cocoa and vetiver into the mix alongside the sweet leathered sheath and you have the particular local materials needed to create a scent of remarkable grace and beauty.

The talented trio of friends Malvin Richard, Lukas Lüscher and Serena Britos launched their refined and handsome house in 2013. Malvin’s father Jean-Claude is a perfumer and created two of the RLB collection, 04˚N 74˚W, a coffee-infused gardenia scent inspired by Columbia and 36˚N 16˚E, a Calabrian harmony of honeyed citrus and woods.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Whip me Softly: ‘Diorling’ My Dirty Aristo Love…

This post is for D. an Aussie lass with bite, wit & a passion for scent & jewellery. She bought me Diorling as a gift; the kindness of the gesture overwhelmed me.

I am dank with Diorling this evening. It is spiky, vintage and weird, aristocratic and leathered. It smells ancient and cosmic, of powdered aircraft fuel and Miss Haversham’s bridal bouquet. I can never remember if I love it or loathe it; all I know is that it smells damn sexy on me and I am fast becoming besotted with its wanton Belle de Jour atmospherics.

The original tweed and riding boots feel has been unstitched and restructured by Dior’s in-house perfumer François Demachy. He has avoided facsimile and pastiche, instead producing a scent of vintage reference and enormous modern wearability. I imagine him cracking the notes apart with an old, heirloom crop and then carefully reassembling the pieces, layering and varnishing, burnishing the notes with the olfactory equivalent of worn chamois cloths. Every time I wear it I feel the air around me thick with sepia desire. One of the reasons I am rather partial to this new Diorling is Demachy’s perverse and reverential translation of the sixties clash of tradition and modernity into a modern perfume idiom. I would rather this than the continued and blatant (& often denied) reformulation of beloved classics until barely a shadow of the original remains.
Controversy swirls in the air when it comes to the reformulation of classic perfumes. Bloggers, reviewers and critics bemoan the death of olfactory creation, the demise of beauty. I am not sure it is quite so cut and dried. Extinction is part of the way we live. Time moves on. I personally like the idea of imagining how beautiful things once were, it allows me the chance to dream, to speculate scent into a historical context with fashion, manners and language. All of these are constantly reinterpreted, reinvented and thrown out into the world.

Fragrance is no different, themes come and go, dipping in and out of lifetimes. I know purists will always argue the case for retaining original formulae or leaving well alone. I can understand this, perfume is deeply personal but re-interpretation, done with reverence and intelligence by talented perfumers can yield interesting and illuminating results.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Duality & Frozen Turmoil – ‘Wisteria Hysteria’ by Stephen Jones X Comme des Garçons

‘Millinery, I think is closer to fragrance than fashion. A hat, like a perfume, is an evocation of something nebulous, ephemeral, other-worldly’.

Stephen Jones

This revealing quote from Stephen Jones, one of the most skilled and irreverent milliners of our time demonstrates the often-neglected abstractions of hats and scent. Both are frequently perceived as frivolous and unnecessary adornment, but to those that obsess over them they are the lace, plume, felt, tweed, lacquer, gold leaf, juice, Perspex and je ne sais quoi that completes an ensemble. While a hat is more visual and obvious in its intent, fragrance adorns and subconsciously manipulates just as much in its own passionate and purposeful way.

Stephen’s influence on the world of couture is far-reaching. You can see the influence of his eccentric attention to detail and radial deconstruction of conventional form in things as varied as spectacles patisserie, the adornment of shoes and book design. He has landscaped the head. The asymmetry, elegant whooshes, skeletal construct and use of masking have filtered into countless high street department store millinery departments. Even the fluttering froufrou touches at the necks of so many perfume flacons echo the singular eccentricity of his hat making. 

Sadly, we have fallen out of the way of wearing hats. Arguably as our lives have become less formal, there are fewer opportunities to showcase proper millinery. It has become something associated with Lambrini-swilling race goers, the faded aristocracy, red carpet soap stars and the feather and lace-exploded horror of fascinators decorating staggering hens on the drunken mean streets of our late night city centres. I love hats, they gild and mask, augment and mystify. I’m admit I’m not the best hat wearer, I prefer to bleach or silver my hair and beard instead, twirl my moustache. But I admire those that rock headgear and I mean really serious millinery, not just nasty beanies and hipster fedoras or cheap tiaras and scraps of feathers.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Wanton Lure of Golden Skin: ‘Salt Caramel’ by Shay & Blue

Sometimes I find myself wondering if the honeyed, aurous caramel note is something of a kitch holy grail in fragrance. I know it gets dissed as a rather frivolous effect; a note for neon scents, Starbucks lattes and Angel clones. But increasingly, more and more niche houses are picking up this warm enveloping gourmand note and weaving it into sophisticated, adult fragrances that enhance and sensualise the skin whilst avoiding the more traditional garish glow and heady residues associated with mainstream foodie fragrances.

Toffee, caramel, cocoa, milk chocolate, popcorn, coconut, candyfloss, brown sugar, milk, coffee, loukhoum, marshmallow, dulce de leche, nougat, praline, marzipan, vanilla, crème caramel and honey – all of these things sweeten our lives and delight our palates. Just reading that list makes me weak. I rarely indulge in desserts and apart from chocolate and (very good) Turkish delight I rarely go on sugar rampages, but when these things are woven into scent for me to lavish on my skin… oh lordy.. then I become wild and sweetly out of control.

My collection of fragrances is ambrosial, with a largish amount of candied, toothsome gourmands. I have a HUGE weakness for them. I’m not really sure why. One rather slutty friend once suggested it was a desire to reek of sugared skin, inviting sexual consumption… sniffing, licking and nuzzling. In retrospect this was just a little wishful thinking on his part. All I really know is how much I adore the effect these strange and contentious notes smell on my body and how people react to my aura and sillage when I wear them. I say contentious as many people loathe gourmand fragrances, arguing that foodie notes are not natural perfume smells and lack subtlety or profundity in application and creation.

But as much as you can’t control who you fall in love with, the same applies to perfume; we love what our skin desires. We are slaves to molecules and our primal cerebral reactions. I can’t remember not liking this family of moreish dainties and delectable addictions.