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

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Veiled Empress of Extreme – ‘Myrrh Casati’ by Maison Mona di Orio

It was always going to difficult imagining what those left behind in the wake of Mona Di Orio’s sudden death in 2011 would do when metaphorically speaking, they had to rise and inhale the raw materials of reality. Moving the House on would be complex and fraught with emotion. Her partner and cofounder, Jeroen Oude Sogtoen had built the House around her. Together, they had created a strong blueprint of scented identity, an elegant signature written indelibly across the memories of the maison.. a house of luxury, warmth and constancy.

Mona’s legacy was of course extraordinary; her Nombres D’Or collection redefined in exquisite detail the perfections, nuances and weather of classic perfumery tenets. Each year, as we approach the anniversary of her death, electronic and breathing keepers of the flame remember her, wear her fragrances and flood social media with emotional remembrance. We honour her best of all by clothing ourselves in her precious odours and allowing ourselves to wander amid complex and distinctive fumes. 

  Jeroen Oude Sogtoen

Jeroen Oude Sogtoen had to deal with deep personal grief at Mona’s passing but also more prosaically address the fact that the parfumeuse du maison has gone, terribly and abruptly. Mona and presumably Jeroen had taken the decision some years before to discontinue the collection of signature Mona fragrances including Lux, Chamarré, Nuit Noire and Carnation. While the loss of these was much lamented among some perfume lovers, it was obvious that Mona’s obsession with perfection and her detailed and scrupulous training with Edmond Roudnitska had brought her to this point of clarity.

(Nuit Noire and Lux are the first two re-introductions in the Signature Collection.)

When she died we were left with the afterglow. It was almost unbearable; it still feels strange to me and I’m sure to many others how obsessive and loyal Mona’s fans were. I’m not criticising, I was (and still very much am) someone fascinated by Mona’s deeply connective way with scent and abstraction. Her scent had soul. This comes partly from natural instinct but also from the flawless and rigorous apprenticeship Mona had undertaken with the near-mythical Edmond Roudnitska. We were all profoundly shaken by the loss of light.

Jeroen has carried on with privacy and grace; maintaining a dignified silence in regard to his loss and how he was planning to develop the company. The glassy Rose Etoile d’Hollande that Mona had been working on before she died launched in 2012 to a somewhat muted reception due partly I think to a general snobbery about the hidden sensuality of roses.

Then Jeroen surprised us with the release of Violette Fumée, a parfum created especially for him by Mona, woven from distinctive elements of his life. Pipe tobacco, violet memories of childhood, the effect of cashmere on skin, the languid tones of Bryan Ferry, and these favoured things were woven into a scent of astonishing beauty and emotion.

Silver Fox artwork for Violette Fumé blog piece, August 2013 

It is my favourite Mona scent, but I am aware in the wearing of it of the deeply personal resonances the scent carries. Like hearing bell chimes in fog, I shudder a little and pull metaphorical layers of thought around me to ward off the cold. Sometimes, the melancholy is overwhelming. Jeroen has gone on record saying that if Mona were alive, Violette Fumée would never had seen the light of day and would have remained as it was intended, secret and treasured. It must be strange for him imagining such intended privacy elsewhere.

Now, things are changing again, quite radically actually. The House is undergoing a complex and emotional transformation in order to pave the way for the next organic stage in the Mona di Orio story. There will be three on-going collections, Signature, Monogram and Nombres d’Or all housed in beautiful new oval flacons designed by Ateliers Dinand in Paris.

Myrrh Casati in the new Ateliers Dinand flacons

Established in 1968 by Pierre Dinand, they refer to themselves rather wonderfully as Architecte du Parfum - perfume architects. Their design innovations include Klein’s Corbusier inflected form for Obsession, the brutalist framing of Calandre for Paco Rabanne and YLS’s inro-inspired Opium flacon. The YSL bottle, decorative and mysterious, the oriental juice held in the most fabulous flowers of fire design is a very important scent memory for me. My mother wore Opium, always from the inro bottle, the delicate ropes and tassels stained with whispers of amber, cinnamon and castoreum. I was born in the Middle East, in an RAF hospital in Muharraq, Bahrain to be more precise and those years of international flitting from Saudi to Iran, Nigeria and Benin are scent-tracked by Opium. My mother would liberally apply this most decadent of orientals before boarding aircraft. Whenever I smell the original Opium (which is pretty rare these days), I inhale hot tarmac, jet fuel and sand-heated air. She was masking the dense, tiresome boredom of long-haul flights and creating in me an obsessional desire to enhance skin and environment.

That classic Dinand inro bottle for YSL is a personal icon and it seems only fitting that Jeroen turned to this esteemed design house for the re-invention of the Mona di Orio flacon. The original Nombres d’Or bottles reflected Mona’s wine connoisseurship, housing her precious juice in clean cut square bottles, topped with black bespoke caps from the champagne House of Jacquesson and held in place with gilded muselets. The new bottles are forged in fire, each one hand-made chez Dinand in a sensual oval form reminiscent of Brancusi or Hepworth. A new Deco-infused logo and pared down aesthetic herald a more austere beauty. There will be those that lament the loss of the older plush vintage Mona style, but Jeroen knew her best and is carrying forward with what he knows in his heart is the correct thing to do.

Petrovsky & Ramone image for Myrrh Casati

A noticeable part of this re-launch is the hushed luxury of the marketing imagery by Petrovsky & Ramone. Petra and Morena are celebrated Dutch art photographers, whose high impact work combines feral gloss with a reportage style. The images created for Jeroen’s re-orchestration are absolutely perfect; very different from anything associated with the brand before, but this is intentional. Capturing the spirit of Mona’s brand is a tricky brief, but the erotically charged imagery created by the duo suggests the inherent sexuality of scent while portraying an inner complex existence of private landscape and craved skin. The necessity of creating a new visual language was important; yes, Jeroen could have continued the sanctification of Mona and used her distinctive Modigliani-esque presence to sell the brand but this would have been both uncomfortable and unnecessary. Mona is gone. Her memory lives on in the fragrances. The subtle shifts in the house signal both respect and a desire to evolve beyond olfactory mourning.

So to Myrrh Casati, the debut scent in the new Monogram Collection, created by Melanie Leroux, working according to Jeroen ‘based on the fundaments of Maison Mona di Orio… inspired by art, nature and light.’ The fragrances are collaborations with Accords et Parfums in Grasse, the atelier where Mona worked for many years.

It was always going to be difficult to follow Mona but we need to remember, that this is not the point. I have noticed some social media postings recently bemoaning the continuance of the line without her. This happens all the time with brands and we need to be careful to avoid olfactory hagiography when it comes to the memory of Mona di Orio. Retrospection is all well and good but not when it affects our emotional judgement.  

The Monogram Collection will be a school of Monaesque perfume, scents exploring her trademark elements of scented chiaroscuro. Her work investigated the shifting ambiguity between light and dark and how our senses reacted to these subtle changes. As a painter displays refraction, luminosity, lux, shadow, tenebrosity and murk, Mona used olfactive effects, aromachemistry and a soulful palette of natural materials to illuminate the essence of floral life and beauty.

Portrait of Luisa Casati by Man Ray

Any fragrance dealing with the legendary Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino was going to have to take into account the eccentric and flamboyant heiress’s obsession with surface, performance, death, ritual and vacancy. Nothing was real and yet everything was real. Her life was a work of art, one that startled and appalled many. Others however found her both dazzling and sinister, alluring and eternally mesmerising.

Portrait of Luisa Casati by Augustus John

The Marchesa was born in Italy in 1881 and decided early on in life that she was to be extraordinary; she would mark the world with the sheer force of her avant-garde will. She would shock and awe. Her life needed to be witnessed to appreciate the full impact of her demi-monde pornography, the snakes and marmosets, the nudity, the flaming red hair, her deep-set kohl eyes glittering like votive fires in the night. In this way witnesses would repeat, embellish and gild the Casati legend. True eccentricity is dead. The Marchesa’s obsession with image, masks, portraiture, masques, tableaux and performances perpetuated her desire to be ambitiously remembered, varnished and embellished throughout history and time.

Tilda Swinton as Luisa Casati, lensed by Paolo Roversi for Acne Paper Sweden, January 2010

However outrageous she was – night nudity, shedding ostrich feathers across Venetian piazzas, gliding her black manservants, strutting streets with leashed cheetahs, rumours of Satanic masses – the intensely manufactured theatricality masked a sense of true shadow, of fleeing from oneself. Reading about true eccentrics like the Marchesa or say Truman Capote and Stephen Tennant there is a powerful feeling of fugitive lives, of people on the run from themselves. Many of us do it to a lesser degree; it is a form of protection from mundaneness and fear of decrepitude.

'Infinite Variety, The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati' by Scott D Ryersson & Michael Orlando Yaccarino

As someone who was in fact not particularly beautiful or indeed rarely seen without the trappings of artifice, the Marchesa was obsessed with the presentation of appearances using elaborate settings, lighting, costumes, mirrors, music and scent, even weather and live animals to achieve the effects she desired. The intensity of her basilisk gaze was much noted and was hard to ignore as her eyes were (in)famously ringed with huge amounts of kohl (Cherry Blossom shoe polish in later life apparently…!). Her tiny wraithlike form was perfectly suited to the ambiguous trends of the day and her ability to submerge her personality into a series of dangerous and lurid personages shocked and horrified everyday society and made her one of the most fascinating and in demand creatures in the rarefied world of druggy, sexed up twilight flickering worlds that flourished mid wars.

Portrait of Luisa Casati by Man Ray

I am surprised this most divisive and arresting of creatures has not inspired more fragrances before. When I wrote a blog piece earlier this year on John Galliano’s eponymous scent from 2008 I was already aware of his preoccupation with the Marchesa’s iconoclastic style and in particular the divine full length portrait of her in shades of black and violet with a greyhound by her friend Giovanni Boldini. The campaign for his debut fragrance, shot by Jean Baptiste Mondino with Guinevere Van Seenus oozed the bruised, shadowed spirit of Luisa. Even the opalescent, figurine bottle resembled a twisted silhouette of the Boldini portrait. 

Marchesa Luisa Casati with greyhound by Giovanni Boldini 

John Galliano fragrance ad campaign, starring Guinevere Van Seenus, lensed by Jean Baptiste Mondino (2008)

Any scented venture into the Marchesa’s word would have to be robust and strange, ethereal, unexpected, mysterious and bold. It would have to impact on the senses, leave you thinking: I will remember this and I will be remembered. It would need entrance and awe, profundity and a touch of the absurd. It’s a tall ask of a perfume. Mona’s mission in scent was to examine and distil darkness into filaments of light, allowing them to exhale her carefully wrought vision of the world onto our flesh. The match seems perfect.   

'Smoke - eagle' Image by Julia Gray

The Marchesa was preoccupied with the theatricalities of darkness so what better note in perfumery could symbolise this strange and commanding woman but myrrh, balm of the dead, resin of the gods, burnt by Emperor Nero in such huge quantities on the occasion of his wife Poppea’s death that an entire year’s harvest of the sacred tears scented Rome’s skies.

Myrrh is a resinous gum, exuded by certain thorny members of the genus Commiphora. The trees are wounded repeatedly to encourage weeping of the precious resins. The waxen gum hardens and darkens; colours, striations and tone vary from species to species. The etymology of the word myrrh is biblical; from the Hebrew word mor, meaning bitter. It has a long history as a medicinal gum, used in the treatment of tooth and gum related disorders, as an analgesic and is being considered in the treatment of some cancers. It was of course one of the three gifts offered in scripture by the three kings to the infant Jesus on the occasion of his birth in Bethlehem. The symbolism of offering myrrh is often interpreted as the foreshadowing of his adult death as myrrh was traditionally used in embalming rituals.

It is a strange and singular resin, with a very distinctive ghostly smoked mournful aroma. Smelling a wonderful cut down decant of myrrh absolute Mr E. gave me, I can detect desert rain and honeyed clove. It is an arresting, loamy and contained scent, like that of vintage trunks and luggage. Funereal perhaps, an odd choice perhaps to launch a signature Mona di Orio school of olfactory effect, but the balm is sweet and elusively strange enough in Melanie Leroux’s reverential and nearly perfect mix. I have a few issues with the overall composition; Mona’s trademark chiaroscuro is a little muddied and blurred in the central section of Myrrh Casati, the notes not quite as bright and clearly defined as they might be. Where there should be shadow and a true sense of darkness, there is perhaps a fleeting scamper of claw and whiff of veil.

It is easy to say Mona would have done things differently, but this is futile speculation. Many Houses survive the disappearance of a muse or creatrix and successfully evolve. The trick is innovation, bravery and imagination and while this homage to one of perfumery’s most bizarre and beautiful unguents may not be the dazzling showstopper some had hoped for, it is in fact something else entirely, a hypnotic flame, steady with allure and flickering supple ritual, casting an aromatic spell as a candle unerringly throws shade on night walls.

There is a complex list of quality notes as befitting any Mona formulation. From baie rose and Guatemalan cardamom, a strong dose of saffron and licquorice drifts slowly down through a Demerara-ish benzoin into the enormous aircraft hanger of myrrh. This is a really big note that does threaten to dominate the composition; it takes a little while for the scented weather to settle before moving on. The base of Myrrh Casati is quite odd, it reads heavy – incense, patchouli, cipriol and guaiac wood – all robust, hot notes with potentially dramatic effects on the final resonance of a scent. However, Leroux, thinking in a Monaesque way, has almost polished all of this heavier, weightier notes to near transparency, thus allowing them to veil over the other materials like a series of filters, altering the translucency, light, shadow and definition of the myrrh’s personality.

In terms of Casati herself the perfume intrigues and perplexes. The Marchesa was an elaborate confection of artifice and effect, but nonetheless arrogantly real for all her theatrics. The fragrance opens with a bang of huge effect, the door is flung open, curtains, drop, lights burn. MYRHH!!! It’s a huge note, hurling itself at your senses. The lifetime of illusory smoke and mirrors that Casati tried to perfect, losing herself in ever increasingly convoluted settings and psychodramas is reflected in the cold wraithlike smoke that wreathes the central part of Myrrh Casati as it settles in, the saffron seems to become gaseous and flows like cold air over the voluminous balm. The key to Luisa Casati’s charm and appeal was the balance between mystery and intent, artificiality and the true sadness of light and shadow.

It is a strong scent; skin adores it, stretching out the exquisitely rendered notes for much longer than I anticipated. The marriage of earthy, rooty saffron and the muted, ancient hymn of myrrh are elegantly staged against a fumy tapestry of shadowed tribute.

Ultimately though for me, like the woman herself, there is an odd sense of emptiness at the heart of Myrrh Casati, a void of blurred, smudged darkness, where the colours and tonal scents have failed to convince. Strangely this might not be a bad thing; perfection can be a dull attraction and the conception and execution by Melanie Leroux of this challenging and expectant brief is as good as we could have hoped for. Like Casati, it demands an audience. I leave the choice of audience to you.

For more information on Maison Mona di Orio, please follow the link below:

Disclosure  - Thank you to Jeroen Oude Sogtoen for kindly sending me samples of Myrrh Casati, Lux and Nuit Noire. Writing on Mona, Jeroen and the fascinating and emotional story of the Maison Mona di Orio has always brought me immense pleasure and a little sadness as a writer. I wish Jeroen and his team every success with the future of this beautiful, precious house. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

A Floral for All Seasons -‘My Burberry’ by Francis Kurkdjian for Burberry

The Fox loves his florals, ivory, snow white and blinding, veiled, gauzy and dazzling. It feels like the wearing of light, my skin adores gardenia, ylang ylang, orange blossom, lily, jasmine, sweet pea and tuberose. It is the inhalation of carnality and innocence both glittering and corrupted. As a man too, there is subversion in the lavish embrace of florals. It is unexpected and sly with a nod to transgression and bygone dandyism. I think boys smell beautiful in blooms but then I am biased. Wrap a guy in roses, Madonna lily and rubbered fleshy ylang I can lose my scented mind.

Floral notes dominate both high street and niche main themes or frameworks for other formulations. In niche the flower is often diva driven signature…my gardenia… my rose... my multifarious jasmines. Perfumers like to imagine their shadowed violet, filthy rose or resinous mulchy muguet is the definitive version. The high street has its fair share of soliflores but they err on the side of feeble or just plain poisonous. Sometimes it’s a budget thing or the lack of a coherent brief or perhaps just olfactory fatigue setting in.

Sometimes I feel though an opportunity to really explode the diversity of white florals is missed. I like the concept of bouquets. In real life they can of course be dull and generic mixes of standard blooms but in the hands of talented green-fingered artists like my friends Fee and Tal who run the ridiculously gorgeous Pyrus Flowers from a walled garden outside of Edinburgh they become shimmering, emotional gatherings of leaf, petals, tone, shade and scent. The same applies to fragrance; it is not enough just to gather together floral motifs such as rose, jasmine, gardenia, wrap them in green and lay them on wood and earth with perhaps a dash of ozonics and white musks to suggest sky and rain. The Pyrus gals assemble with sensual intent, every stamen, pod, stalk, leaf, bud and fruit has its role to play in the overall composition of what the girls are trying to achieve. Combining this attention to detail with quirky containers and presentation allows the floral work to be interpreted in a joyous and interactive way.

I am intrigued by the occasional appearance of oddities in mainstream scent that question one’s perception of accessible fragrances. Some of these scents approach floral perfumery in a similar way to the Pyrus gals, creating bouquets of flowers in fragrances, challenging the general conception that the high street is a wasteland of innovation.   

I always sample new releases across the board, but there is immense satisfaction and joy to be had in finding something beautifully crafted and just a little leftfield from big name houses and designer labels. Who can forget how extraordinary Michel Almairac’s delicious leather and iris eau de parfum was for Bottega Veneta in 2011? It was one of the best new fragrances, niche or mainstream for years. Almairic was also responsible for the delicate Chloe L’Eau De Chloe that he drenched through with rosewater and rose petals and seductive vintage lemonade effect of soft dewy citrus notes.

Balenciaga’s Florabotanica was another interesting example of mainstream oddity. Launched in 2012 and created by Olivier Polge and Jean-Christophe Hérault, it was a scent that really rattled me on first sniff and compelled me to purchase. I go through bottles of it, imagining a sci-fi garden scent, created by colonists on a distant planet. There was a lot of PR and press nonsense about carnivorous blooms and the darkness of Florabotanica’s allure, but it was the subversive flattening out of the floral accords with very unusual metallic minty pressure that made the scent so distinctive and glorious to wear with abandonment.

Francis Kurkdjian is one of the most well known names in the fragrance world, one of the perfumed elite. Born in Paris to Armenian-French heritage he originally thought to dance, but fate led him to perfume instead and a career creating thoughtful quiet fragrances that err on the luxurious silken side.

He is probably best known as the creator of the iconic juggernaut lavender that is Le Mâle for Jean Paul Gaultier back in 1995. Despite the enormous global success of this scent, Kurkdjian has managed to combine a unique position in the perfume world of producing shimmering chic niche for his own stand-alone eponymous house while still remaining one of the most stylish scented guns for hire in the business.

Now, first off, I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of Maison Francis Kurkdjian, blasphemous as that may sound. There was tremendous excitement when FK announced his intention to deliver his own collection of scents after years of collaborating with other designers and big name houses. I know the FK line is much-beloved and I’ll admit there are petals and curves that are very beautiful. His original Oud is dexterous and creamily moreish and I am partial to the plummy depths of Lumière Noire Pour Femme, a powerhouse rose/patchouli executed with subtle force. Would I buy them? Probably not. It is undoubtedly an elegant and covetable brand with a luxury price tag but it leaves me rather cold. The look of his maison is cool Margiela-like white, everything has the feel of luxury wedding stationary. White, cream, gold, embossing etc. The bottles are very cool though, with their heavyweight metal tops, très tactile and desirable.

I think Kurkdjian does some of his most interesting work for other people, held captive as it were within a brief, looking at a brand, examining parameters, counting costs. This is certainly true of Carven Le Parfum, Parfum Elie Saab and Rumeur for Lanvin back in 2006, three fragrances I tend to always have in my Foxy wardrobe. These bright, sharp florals are sources of light and sensuous cheer in moments of darkness and shadowed days. I cant quite put my finger on why I like them so much if I’m really honest, I just know that in the last 6-8 years my senses have craved white flowers at certain times. Searching for the perfect ivory scented blooms it seemed the majority of the ones I have loved were been signed by one man: Francis Kurkdjian.  

The Carven, Lanvin and Elie Saab fragrances all bear his hallmark glamour and and sense of glittering simplicity. They may be considered mainstream or high street fragrances but sit amongst my all time favourite florals. The gentle, circumspect bouquet of Carven Le Parfum’s sweet pea, white hyacinth and jasmine was an enchanting release from Carven, the first new fragrance release under the artistic directorship of Guillaume Henry. 

Kurkdjian’s jasmine and orange blossom soaked debut scent for Lebanese designer Elie Saab was just thrilling to smell after so many mediocre feminine launches. It appeared at the same time as Almairac’s Bottega Veneta scent. He used sambac and grandiflorum jasmine and glazed them with a rose honey accord. This is divine perfumery; each time I wear it I marvel at the way the floral notes are seamlessly assembled over a shimmering raft of woods and patchouli. Elie Saab Le Parfum is bolder and warmer in tone than the Carven, which perhaps fades a little too quickly from its truly lovely apricotty breezy top.

Lanvin’s Rumeur… sigh. How much do I love this damn scent? Nine empty 100ml bottles much.. Launched in 2006 and obviously sharing a name with an original and very different Lanvin scent from 1934 created by André Fraysse. Re-using this name annoyed a lot of scent-nerds who felt it was disingenuous and misleading. But I think Alber Elbaz wanted to reference the house’s important heritage, while playing with the notion of rumours, whispers and the fickle nature of couture in general. My god it’s strong too, it just lasts and lasts, radiating its huge crystalline magnolia shimmer for hours. It’s my scented drug… there are times when I just drown in it and fall into to clean sheets, almost dizzy and blind on the fountain of aldehydes and icy petals. 

Kurkdjian said of Rumeur:

Being a perfumer is a bit like being a magician, it’s about realising your vision of someone else’s emotions. It took all my energy for six months to come up with the right formula for Rumeur because for me, it was not just about mixing raw materials, it’s about creating a memory that will last.’

(Francis Kurkdjian, ‘Fragrance Focus – Cosmetics International’ 18/08/2006.)

To this favoured trio must now be added the shockingly good new release from Christopher Bailey’s iconic Burberry. I say shocking because despite the enormous revenue Burberry (and Burberry Prorsum) generates as a successful global brand, they have seemed forever incapable of producing a scent of any distinction. Everything has been oddly naff and off-centre, unable to truly capture the undeniably stylish spirit that lies under the avalanche of mackintoshes, ubiquitous check and perversely tacky memorabilia created for Burberry’s overseas clientele.

There has been a relentless attempt to woo the youth market, overseas Asian, US and hip London scenesters with London, Brit, Rhythm, Beat and the vaguely improved reach of Body created by the surprising choice of Michel Almairic. Body’s silky take on the neo-chypré pointed to a potential development in quality in the Burberry scent department. Mind you this was all but destroyed by the utterly heinous flankers…. The Intense version was loud enough to flatten houses. One of my boutique clients, a man with wonderful taste in scent, a devotee of Serge Lutens, singles out Burberry Brit Rhythm, by the all star triumvirate of Anne Flipo, Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion as his worst scent of all time.

Now, on an enormous (and very gorgeous) wave of Testino-lensed publicity we have My Burberry, a truly ravishing and juicy floral scent encapsulating the charm, eccentricity and reserve of British Burberry and more specifically the iconic charm of the classic Sandringham mac. The hype built up on this mega-launch for quite some time, particularly around the pairing of Kate Moss and Cara Delevigne working together in Mario’s undeniably lavish and sexy campaign. The carefree teaser pics of the models laughing on set, under artificial rain, naked under tightly belted trenchcoats made the imminent release of the perfume much more desirable.

There is genuinely lovely chemistry in the Cara/Kate shoot, both women, unconventionally alluring, rebellious and unpredictable. I’ve adored Kate for as long as I can remember, since I first saw her in The Face Magazine all those years shot by her friend the late Corinne Day, waiflike and disturbingly knowing. Cara I’ve taken my time to warm to, her face-pulling, sexed up street antics, the bi-sexuality, pretention and privilege were hard to take for a while. But in the last year she has become a spectacular model, walking runways with coltish, raw sexual energy and her face adapts to so many campaigns with seeming ease and chameleon charm. Testino seems to adore them both, (he has shot Kate for years) and has managed to capture a moment of perfect poise and status as befits the Burberry brand. But if you look a little closer, you will glimpse the polished thigh, the glint of sex under the carefully styled trench. The shoes catch my eyes, the girls’ ankles bound in leather straps, a counterpoint to the folds and gloss of hair and gabardine. It is a knowing campaign, pitch perfect in its calm, persuasive intent. But the awareness of these maverick women, held still in a monochrome momentarily is deceptive. It is a statement of surface versus the glory of juicy reality.

I have wondered for years why, with so much money to play with, Burberry have not produced better scents. I think the answer is, it is easier not to. Now however, with the luxury market becoming ever more cutthroat and demanding, it is not enough anymore for brand with the global status of Burberry to throw out duty-free style perfumery and hope the money comes rolling in. My Burberry is a HUGE advance in style and execution. The ownership implied in the name relates to the iconic Burberry trench, made in gabardine, a form of densely woven worsted twill with more warp to weft, invented by Thomas Burberry back in 1879 and patented in 1888. It is a staple item of any fashionista’s wardrobe, belted, loose, over the shoulders; the Burberry trench seriously never goes out of style.  

Even when the brand was brought to the brink of extinction by chav-tastic celebs and thugs decked out in fake Burberry checks, it was the classic beige trench, belted with discreet flashes of check that stood the test of time. Vintage ones are highly sought after. You have them for life, they mature and mould to you as you shift and move through life. The basic design has been tweaked endlessly over the decades; cut, colour, length, collar, all have succumbed to the vagaries of trends and the demands of foreign markets. But the original, as wrapped around Kate and Cara, is a timeless masterpiece of design, instantly recognisable in silhouette, tone and cut.

Paying homage to this icon is something I’m surprised Burberry haven’t attempted earlier. But in Francis Kurkdjian they have exactly the right perfumer for the brief. This scent had to smell as close to classic as possible, grand, bright and capable of huge generosity of spirit. A little touch of eccentricity and naughtiness would be nice of course. Being a British floral, it couldn’t be too reserved though. Rather like Cara and Kate; sublime and knowing in the campaign, but you know that booze, fags and dirty laughter aren’t too far away.

The heavy-weight bottle is a delight, the oversize faux-horn top a witty homage to the trench buttons and I particularly like the cute gabardine bow, integrated into the neck; this is a delightful and proper reference to Thomas Burberry’s original trench fabric. A lot of effort has gone into making the flacon this effortlessly chic. The trademark Burberry check is limited to a discreet knocked back ochre & olive rendition on the inside of the grosgrain textured box.

I really like this gorgeous rain soaked floral, it smells pretty damn perfect to me. The concept of having a fave old trench you can pick up, throw on and wear with just about anything is very alluring. It speaks volumes about iconic clothing. Burberry, Christopher Bailey and Kurkdjian have approached the creation of the scent in a similar way I think, attempting to formulate a perfume that can be worn with anything, bestowing an instant sense of timelessness. The principal floral motif is sweet pea, slightly creamier and less flounced than the one Kurkdjian used in his Carven Le Parfum. The bergamot is delicate and winsome with the effect of raindrops on urban trellises groaning with blooms. A dusting of peppered freesia heralds a geranium and quince effect which rolls off my skin like unripe Mackintosh (appropriately enough…) apples. Above all, this is reassuringly luxurious fragrance, air-after-rain clean, the notes sparkling as they open, making me smile.

I can’t smell much patchouli to be honest, despite its inclusion in the list of notes, although in many of today’s glassy, glossy launches a patchouli note can really anything from a hint of spice to smoke in your eyes. It very rarely actually smells of the dense, leathery, oily shrub that to me smells of dirty machines and bitter cocoa. It perhaps lays down the odd, rubbed linen effect I pick up in the later stages of the scent, something I find a little out of place amid the honeyed floral ambiance, but no matter, it fades quickly enough. 

It took me a few wearings to focus on the roses, but they are present and correct (damask and Centifolia) and they matter, adding a discernable romantic hue and slo-mo transparency to the beauty of the overall composition. It is an agile scent, despite the languor and elegance of the notes. There is briskness, laughter and defiance in the beauty of Kurkdjian’s masterly manipulation of classic white notes, musks and the concept of a skin bouquet. It’s all about balance. Few perfumers really understand the technicalities or indeed complexities of intricate simplicity quite like Francis Kurkdjian.

The scent returns to the concept of the trench, in the wearing and the settling, the notes like the trench itself, become familiar and mould to the body. The crispness and oddly uptight cluttered sweet pea and freesia duo soften up and become beautifully malleable with time. Everything breathes and flows with the body, My Burberry, your Burberry, my body, your body. I like the idea built into the whole scenyted concept of being asked…

‘You smell beautiful… what are you wearing…?
‘My Burberry..

Trench or scent. Simple. Classic. Timeless.

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