I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Santa Baby….Bring me something scented...(Or what The Fox wants for Christmas)

It is that time of year again when the scented industries go into overdrive trying to attract our attention with opulent advertising, special offers, teetering piles of coffret sets and a deep seated sense of insecurity about how their perfumes are performing. It is party season, both work and private, we dose our skins, venture out and bloom in the night. The streets and bars are giddy with the scent of a hundred mingled accords. We are gifted perfume and buy it too, hoping it will be loved and perhaps we will be desired in return.

I’m posting this later than I intended, but I’ve been so busy and so very tired. It’s an exhilarating and draining time of the year. Greed and kindness battle for supremacy and the streets glitter like so many Vegas strip shows. 

Everyone always says perfume is such a personal thing to buy for someone…. But surely this is the point? I can’t think of a better gift to receive than a flacon of heavenly scented juice that someone has taken time to consider and imagine on my skin. Perfumery should be n inherently intimate form of gifting. This is the problem of course, it can be a slapdash and brutal choice with last minute snap decisions resulting in poor choices and plastered-on smiles across the faces of recipients.

I have been drawing up my wish list for Scented Santa. Fragrances I haven’t got around to buying yet, and perfumes that have roamed the crowded rooms of my olfactory brain this year. I cannot have everything, that would be shameless, but Santa baby…. Hear my scented plea….

Volutes eau de parfum by Diptyque

I REALLY want this. I have never been a particularly big Diptyque fan, although Eau Lente makes me flicker and like no other incarnation of opoponax, the balsamic flammable resin burned by Alexander the Great to thank the gods as he conquered and fucked his way across the ancient world. It is thick and incantatory, reeking of sweet waxen altars and exhortations to ancient skies.

But as a rule the buttoned-up safety of Diptyque formulae leave me distinctly chilly. They often have the feel of empty rooms, with only traces left behind. (I also  have a vast hatred of L’Ombre dans L’Eau, its invasive blackcurrant note is pissy and bitter on the skin, mixed with the rose it makes me sick and dizzy…. A personal connection to a job I loathed). The new smoky wonder that is Volutes is ravishing though, a portrait of languid smoke tendrils from La Khedive cigarettes curling into the air. Inspired by a memory of one of the Diptyque founders Yves Coueslant, crossing by boat from Marseilles to Saigon. The image of women leaning on the rails of the boat, smoking these aromatic cigarettes is a potent one and captured with monochromatic nostalgia and delicacy.

The initial sharpness, like the crack of a flame settles quickly and a soft and embracing tobacco/iris accord rises and swirls about the skin with great poignancy. There is a gentle tonka/vanilla note in the background like the first glimpse of sun on a rainy day. If you imagine the women wearing classic French 30s style fragrance, voluminous Guerlains, peppery leathered Carons as they languidly exhale their smoke into the hazy  heated air. This mix of musks, elegance, smoke and vanillic tobacco is softly rendered in a modern whispered way. I keep sampling it and slowly the obsession builds. My skin adores it. 

Siwa by Memo 

A re-visit next, a sudden craving. You all know by now if you follow me how much I love my sleepy, nuzzly gourmands: Lann-Ael by Lostmarc’h, Dior’s Hypnotic Poison, Chocolat Amere by Il Profumo, and Vanille Absolument by L’Artisan Parfumeur.

Siwa by Memo, Clara Molloy’s luminous little brand is a gorgeous scent, instantly comforting and recognisable and yet somehow mysterious and incantatory at the same time. It is a soft sheer veil of perfume, a dusting of notes that redefines the skin. 

Memo is Clara and John Molloy, he is Irish, she is a peripatetic traveler, with French roots. They met on a ski lift in 2005 and set out on a creative olfactory journey with perfumer Aliénor Massenet, one of the more instinctive and interesting noses at work in perfumery today. Her work is marked with robust attention to emotion and clarity of ingredients. She created the delicious Jasmin for Armani Privé, the best of the line.

The tagline for the Memo is:

Fragrance is a souvenir
Memo is its memory

Memo approach each scent like a journey that transports you, travelling with you from start to finish. I was drawn initially to Siwa because of its cereal note. I was coming down from my rush of love from Lann-Ael and craving more Cheerios/Golden Nuggets type effects.

I was down in London and doing the scented rounds with a colleague. We were on the top floor of Harvey Nichols and came across the Memo and Comptoir Sud Pacifique fragrances; both brands were on the point of withdrawing from the store. I was buying some half-price Amour Cacao and Matin Calin from CSP when the young guy working at Memo wandered over to chat. I told him I had bought some Lalibela the week before in Edinburgh, the weird hypnotic rose perfume inspired by a city of pilgrimage in Ethiopia. He went back to his counter and then returned, presenting me with a bottle of Siwa as a gift. I was very taken aback and very touched. He said they were leaving HN and asked me simply to ‘love the scent’. And I did.

It is gorgeous. The softest touch of aldehydes ushers in a delicate blend of narcissus absolute, cloudy whiskey and popcorn on a floating cloud of musks and vanilla. There is a lovely puff of cinnamon across the notes that really catches the heart. It smells so luxurious and quietly indulgent as it dries down, a lick of dulche de leche and powdered cereals crushed by a ceramic spoon. I sniffed the ghost of this from the empty bottle the other day and my body ached. So on the list it goes.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Beauteous Love…..Falling for Guerlain again: ‘La Petite Robe Noire’ & ‘Lys Soleia’ (Part II)

Who would have thought that Thierry Wasser would create his most beautiful work thus far for Guerlain as part of the more incidental and experimental Aqua Allegoria range? But that is what he has done with Lys Soleia.

Over the years a number of odd little fragrances have popped up among the Aqua Allegoria line. Originally launched in 1999 as a cheaper, lighter more spirited introduction to the Guerlain name, fragrances are added and taken away, year in year out. Some are lovely, delicately scented and sometimes erring on the quirky and strange side. What has been interesting is that if they don’t work, they are removed and replaced with something else and so on. The line has the feel of a testing ground, for playing with scented ideas. They are not expensive but still retain a quality feel to them. I really like the lightness they often have and the interesting and imaginative combinations of notes and ingredients.

I loved Rosa Blanca from 2011, a strange and zingy rose scent with touches of magnolia and luscious peach. Thierry Wasser’s Jasminora from 2011 did not sell well, but I really liked it’s snowy whiteness, the underpinning of galbanum and musks which gave the drydown a lovely laundry feel. My two favourites to date were the weird and wonderful Laurier Réglisse (2008) by Aurélien Guichard and Anisa Bella (2004) by Marie Salamange. The Laurier Réglisse had a delightful orange blossom giggling quality as it went on, supported by bay laurel and bergamot. I don’t normally like too much citrus, but any bitterness of the orange blossom was sublimated by the soft rooty drag of licquorice, a note I love but don’t come across that often in fragrance (apart from the deliriously trashy Loverdose by Diesel….). A lot of people hated Laurier Réglisse, complaining about longevity and a certain harshness or synthetic nature to the later stages of the drydown. But I like a whiff of plastics and burnt flex in my floral indolics, so I rather liked the ambiguous and trembling uncertainty of the licquorice and more verdant facets of the foliage.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Beauteous Love…..Falling for Guerlain again: ‘La Petite Robe Noire’ & ‘Lys Soleia’ (Part I)

I tumble in and out of bed with Guerlain. It can often feel a little licentious. I flirt with the counters, fantasise about the vanillic rollercoaster filth of Double Spirtueuse Vanille , the haunting rosy-hued drydowns of Nahéma, the fire and ice eroticism of Jicky or the vast thrumming expanses of Derby. I imagine my skin lacquered in the legendary Guerlinade base, laying down spoors of chypré-tinted desire in a hundred imaginary nights. So many nights, rooms, hotels and sheets, so much skin scented with Guerlain. I can smell fingers and shoulders, echoes of Chamade, Insolence, Parure, Attrape Coeur and a tumble of mingled names and sly and fevered meetings.  

Over the years however, I have occasionally wondered where this noble House was going. There have been good years and lean, sterile ones. There seemed to be an on/off sense of olfactory and stylistic schizophrenia at play. Sometimes rarified and pretentious scents were released with limited distribution and without any real thought to perfumery or effect. These ran alongside mass market and weakly executed fragrances that seemed to be mere reflections of other contemporary heavy hitters. Guerlain seemed to be playing catch up and then when in doubt, like many other brands to be fair, the prestigious House would fall back on their archives or iconic scents and tweak or re-orchestrate a classic or two and hope their loyal clientele would still dip their noses deep into the Guerlain myth. Yet, occasionally, amidst the darkness there was always something burning, the myth made real, a flame of beauteous love, a sense of real perfumery, sensual, connective and waiting to burnish a million skins. It is this potential and magic that binds followers loyally to Maison Guerlain.      

Some houses are not really made to be too contemporary. Dior, Caron and Chanel also fall into this category, their attempts over the years to more blatantly follow trends or appeal to the fickle late teen/early twenties age bracket have come unstuck. Grand Houses need loyalty and to be honest the whole point of youth is disloyalty and fickleness. Everyone knows someone who has worn Mitsouko, Dioressence, Chanel No 5, the Garboesque drama of L’Heure Blue or the shimmering insouciance of Vol de Nuit. There is so much prestige and tactile luxury behind Maison Guerlain. The brand drips history like a comb oozing honey in the summer sun. Many brands go a little awry when attempting modernity. I mean…I know Dior Addict is successful but it is a horrific scent that sits awkwardly at Maison Dior. And what were Chanel thinking with Coco Noir? It is a dull, airbrushed confection with little merit. The bottle is beautiful (the only real Noir thing about it really…), but the juice could never claim to be anything other than generic. On the other hand Dior’s La Collection Privée and the Chanel Exclusives are very beautiful and have raised the bar in terms of archival reissues. A little restraint may be in order now though, they have been in danger of being over-stretched in recent years. There is only so much referencing of Chanel’s possessions and influences (Jersey, Cormomandal etc) and Christian Dior’s weekend pied-à-terre (Milly-La-Forêt) before it begins to sound a little arch and contrived. Sadly Caron have been over the place for years now. Their fragrances have been eroded by reformulation, strange, inappropriate launches and the resolutely old-fashioned tone of their PR and marketing. 

I think a lot of big names were startled by the sudden and starry success of the first raft of Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances, which appeared all at once and offered men and women a sizeable scented whack of uber-glamourous alternatives to high street and more traditional established names. Ironically Ford basically paid homage to many of these iconic house in his own lacquered high fashion way, but I think it made many perfume houses realise that they could start charging more and customers started wanting something more than just relentless attempts to capture elusive perfumed zeitgeists. Ford’s trick was to make everything bigger, glossier and bolder. Sexy advertising and slick packaging dazzled the weary consumer eye. Essentially Ford sold his soul to the spirit of Studio 54, re-visited some great perfumery hits along the way and demonstrated how much he learnt at YSL and Gucci. Marrying it altogether with lashings of sex and of course himself at the hirsute centre was the icing on the cake. His fragrances have sold spectacularly well.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Tar Boats & Scorched Limes – ‘Lord of Goathorn’ by Gorilla Perfume.

Well well, I finally got my hands on Lord of Goathorn. It was personally delivered by Lady Duffy, who urged me not to open it at work as if it would flatten trees and atomise walls. Now I was scared. I packed it carefully in tissue paper and carried it home with me.

The fragrance or anti-fragrance was inspired by Goathorn peninsula near Poole in Dorset, the home of all things Lush. The scent is a disturbing ode to the longshoreman caretaker of Goathorn whose boat was often commandeered by smugglers into return for bounty. The peninsula is private with a distinctive wild atmosphere. There are prehistoric overtones to the landscape and oil is pumped discreetly by BP from below the surface of the archaic landscape.  

When I visited the Gorilla Bus last month, they didn’t have Goathorn for me to sample and I heard very conflicting opinions on it, ranging from ‘unhygienic’ to ‘strangely compulsive’. My Bus Guide Cassie said that after the somewhat shocking ‘fish sauce’ top note, the development and drydown were weirdly striking. I am all for strange in scent, I like fragrances to push at limits. Fragrance as abstraction is a rather arch new trend in perfumery as creators search further afield for increasingly elaborate and esoteric inspiration. Also the constant evolution in fragrance technologies is allowing perfumers to become more and more ambitious and experimental in their formulae and olfactory reach.

Goathorn is another one of the Set in Stone fragrances that Gorilla unveiled at Lushfest on a specially constructed stone circle. It smells more like a condiment than scent, but I’ll get to that. Every now and again the industry throws up utterly bizarre oddities that defy any real classification. Like more experimental art that repels and intrigues at the same time, requiring a much more complex of values and senses to deconstruct and understand, these fragrances throw an olfactory curve ball, confounding expectations with fucked up notes, twisted structures or seemingly no structures at all.

I have a number of messed up smells in my collection. Les Sécretions Magnifiques by Antoine Lie for Etat Libre D’Orange is one of the creepiest and yet sublimely spun essays in scented disgust and cutting-edge fragrance design. Inspired by various bodily fluids this briny vicarious floral is a unsettling saline vision of perfumery rarely explored in scent. It has an overwhelming wash of metallic notes, a mucid facet that really can shock. The tongue-on-battery zing it has, the whiff of ferrous oxide, of rust and blood can make it very uncomfortable to smell. I spray it through my clothes, especially on my Harris Tweed (the dense fibres adore it….). It diffuses like poison, corroding the senses, but as a warped vision of the body as a flower exuding it juices it is without parallel.  

The Unicorn Spell by Les Nez is another love/loathe concoction. Isabelle Doyen, the nose behind many of the Annick Goutal scents is the creatrix behind the oblique and controversial Les Nez fragrances. Let Me Play the Lion is quite amazing, dry as dust, an anguished cry of smoky pain across an echoing expanse of dunes and airless sky.

The Unicorn Spell however stops you in your tracks. It is GREEN! Like snapped snow peas or an avalanche of green beans poured over a frozen glittering park in the night. I hated it, but could not stop smelling my wrist. The Les Nez guff re Unicorns and milky breath etc is quite ludicrous, but the technical beauty and ambition of the scent is astounding. As the emerald blast settles, a very ghostly violet notes filters through and almost suffocates the skin. I have tried to wear it a number of times, but like a dark room with a malignant presence, it just scares the hell out of me.

A recent addition to my scented cabinet of curiosities is a sample of Tindrer by Amsterdam-based niche whizz kids Magnetic Scents. They have created beautiful and unique scents, including Untitled No 2, a very seductive and warming photo-realistic riff on chai latte with vanilla, cocoa and Indian spices. The Gerhardt Richter of scent making, Magnetic Scents are portraitists. I don’t want to say too much as I am preparing a longer post on three of their fragrances. Tindrer is Danish for sparkle and this very peculiar collection of notes was inspired by a song of the same name by the band Under Byen. Purportedly a portrait of clear spring Scandinavian days with trembling weather patterns of rain and clear blue skies. Notes of cypress, galbanum and a wet soil accord float over an off-beat riff of cut grass, musks, oakmoss, cedar and heliotropin. It shares with The Unicorn Spell a very pungent metallic violet note that rises suddenly and pierces the senses like a velvet-coated blade. I have tried to wear this four times and get to the 20-minute mark and have to remove it. I’m not sure why it unsettles me so, but it makes my skin flicker and I feel vaguely white and sweaty. Conversely I do kinda love this about it. At least it’s not a meh scent.

Now, back to Lord of Goathorn. I was born in Bahrain, and one of the most pungent smells of this peripatetic childhood was the busy fish markets. The cacophony of noise and carnival of smells was brutally overpowering and sweetly welcoming at the same time. Certain aromas, despite their power and necessary unpleasantness still rock my olfactory foundations. Memories of straw-bound rickety stalls of dried fish, hanging like torn hide in the fetid air, suffocated by salt, spices, sweat, sand, heat and perfume. A very heady experience. Piercing shots of this blasted through me as I took the top off Lord of Goathorn. Now, I am not that great with all things fish. I like the smell in context; beaches, restaurants etc, but generally it throws me sideways. I am one of those people who like their fish in cans, no eyes, fins, claws, etc. Cowardly I know, but there you go. Even on holidays to Brittany I struggle with langoustine and spider crab, home-caught fish and dredging for bones in spindly fish carcasses.               

So I had a set of objections in place for this scent before I really even got past the lid. My god, the massive wave of nam pla that rolled up to greet me was quite something. Nothing had quite prepared me for that. It’s a smell I cannot abide. But in the interest of bloggerdom, I waited and then applied the juice to my wrists. Its hard to pause and wait for the piscine salinity and very vocal breath of the sea facets to settle down. But ramp down they do, with smouldering dignity and a strangely alluring song of the siren feel. Its hard to resist the pull of it actually, the top note of seaweed literally burns off with a shocking pungency reminiscent of the practice of kelp burning once common practice in Ireland, Brittany, Norway and on the Scottish Islands. This wet, sand-blasted bonfire aroma burns through Goathorn with real drama as it dries down. I’ve smelt a recreation of kelp burning techniques in Brittany and the aroma is astonishing. Ashen, molten, fishy and brutally sulphuric. Repellant and historically beautiful.

The process was used to extract iodine (and potash and soda) for use in various industries including medicine, glassmaking, photography and soap making. It was incredibly labour intensive and the industry died out in late 19th century. The ghosts of kelp pits can still be seen in Orkney and other places.

As I pondered the various contradictory odours firing off my skin, Goathorn underwent a dramatic shift into foodie territory. Not the sweetness of gourmands, but the aromas of scorched limes, salt crumbled over fish cooking over hot coals, resinous leaves burning amongst the smouldering coals. Then lemon and limes dashed across the sizzling dish. The smoke note is amazing! Almost choking, but really flavoured and rich. I love salt and the salinity of this scent is remarkable. It has the tanginess of an evening beach breeze, smoke carried through rolling plumes of fog, the lingerings of a thousand beach barbecues.

There is a fabulous whiff of upturned boats running through Goathorn. Old fishing boats, tipped up and vulnerable in dry dock, the scent of the sea drenched through the wood. A lashing of tar to protect, an accumulation of salt staining the timbers. This mingles with the smoke and lime to be almost crepuscular, a projection of dying times and dwindling trades. 

The drydown is so strange, almost ghostly, just an inkling of the frankly terrifying top note remains, but the body of scent is inky dark sooty smearings on the skin drifting down to a lick of lime and dirty salt.

I can’t say I will ever wear Lord of the Goathorn, but then again I am drawn to its compulsive smoked aesthetics. I have rarely smelt anything so bizarre and complicated, repellent and progressively haunting. I know that hardly anyone is going to really try this properly, but you should. Let the bladderwrack intensity boil off and plunge into the fury of the smoke and burning limes. It’s worth the effort, it’s not a comfortable scent, but whoever said that fragrance should always be cute and comforting. We all know true comfort can be found in darkness.

For more information on Lord of Goathorn and the other new Gorilla fragrances, please click the link below:

Monday, 12 November 2012

Landscape and Belief: Smoke, Stone and Surveillance – New Gorilla Perfumes 2012 (Part 2)

The other new Gorilla fragrances are incredibly diverse and range from smoke and metal to sunshine and seduction.  The Voice of Reason was growlingly gorgeous and bowled me over again, my skin prickled and I felt momentarily lost in darkness. It is powerful reactive stuff, this fragrance, a woozy, barbequed genie in a damn fine bourbon-soaked bottle. That reeking of cold bonfire as you move in and out of doors on November 5th, eyes stinging, hair full of stars and dirty night. Inspired by the Beat Generation: Kerouac, the porno visionary Burroughs, Gil Scott Heron, and the tar-pit rumblings of Leonard Cohen, The Voice of Reason is smoke incarnate. Devil’s breath, exhaled through jazz trumpets and wrapped in sin. Huge doses of my beloved tonka bean and sandalwood ebb and flow on the skin, making the drydown one sensual slide into sweet sweet embers. It smells filthy too; I realised that the other day as I wore it out to meet a friend who leaned in and inhaled my throat like a starved vampire. Dirty smoke. Who could ask for more?

The Bug. Hmm. I loathed this on application. I kinda knew I would, it packs quite a galbanum punch and this is one of those notes I really dislike when it sits up and stares at you. (Yes… Penhaligon’s Bluebell…. I’m talking to you…..). In discreet doses it adds a certain whoosh and curve to scent; Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit literally takes beautiful plunging flight as the galbanum in the top drops off and the other notes mingle and meld.  This weird almost anti-scent was the one that caught my attention when I was following Lushfest as it was seemingly inspired by the contradictions and paranoia of the modern electronic age. The buzz of everyday lives, surveillance, wires, noise, images, information technology. We crave it, seemingly cannot live without it, yet on a daily basis it is used against us, we are hacked, spied on, photographed, scanned and observed by any number of cameras by any number of institutions. A challenging concept for a scent.

The first spray was shocking. Really bitter and repellent, with an underlying sweetness that really reminded me of Raid and other insect sprays that mask their killing prowess with a unsettling sickly sweet aroma a little like playdough. Then it started to transform, virus-like on the skin, opening up its facets one by one. Elemi and labdanum resinoid throb like veins and give the scent a buzzing, beating sensation. Massive tonka note too, softening the edges a little, a whisper of voices perhaps, soothing the shout of galbanum. It has an uncomfortable tongue on battery feel, an element of impending poison. It is very odd to find fragrances that push and pull, repel you and then draw you back down to inhale afresh as the notes transform. There is a strong pepper note and this works rather well, seasoning an already complex scent with a persuasive yet elegant presence. I will say that The Bug is not for me, but I want it in my collection as it demonstrates how a very abstract concept can be translated into scent with verve and robust eccentricity. And you never know, I may love it in months to come.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Landscape and Belief: Smoke, Stone and Surveillance – New Gorilla Perfumes 2012 (Part 1)

On Thursday 11 October I got the opportunity to sample some of the latest Gorilla Perfume launches as their hand-painted Gorilla Bus (by the bonkers Plastic Crimewave) set up scented camp in Edinburgh.  It was a grey, damp and muffled day, but the slow falling rain always highlights the depth and beauty of Edinburgh City stone. A suitably melancholy backdrop as it turned out for some of the peculiar aromas I touched to my skin.

The Perfumed Goddess herself, Ericka Duffy, friend, Top Banana and fragrance obsessive, had invited me; she suggested I go down and visit the Gorilla Bus when it came into town.  I have been really excited to sample the new scents since Lushfest 2012 and following the buzz surrounding some of the more unusual fragrances on the blogosphere. Ericka had swung by recently with a bottle of The Voice of Reason and I just loved the weird smoky barbecue thing it billowed across my skin. Bacon, Laphroaig, lichen, fuggy sexed up cars humming with hash smoke. Damn, it was beautiful. So obviously I was rather excited at revisiting The Voice of Reason again and the other new creations from Mark and Simon Constantine.  

The new collection was debuted as part of the big Lushfest celebration in July 2012 at Holton Lee in Dorset. A massive scented Lushy jamboree for the employees of the brand and some public days for mere mortals to swing by and sample new Lush products. Always done with wit and verve, music and tremendous passion, the event is incredibly well diffused across the electronic ether via blog sites, twitter and Facebook. Lush have a huge and diverse following and this dedication explodes their message and love of this seriously eccentric brand across the world.

Perfumers have become unlikely stars in recent years with perfume buyers becoming much more fascinated by the actual artistry and inspirations of the niche or marginal inspirations of the fragrance world.  Mark and Simon are so intrinsically linked to their olfactory creations, from the era of Be Never too Busy to be Beautiful up to Simon’s innovative unveiling of the new creations on stone megaliths at Lushfest 2012. A small stone circle was designed to showcase six diverse and incredibly evocative fragrances, inspired by myths, landmarks and folkloric beliefs. Each one has a very distinctive legend for want of a better term. Some of them are among some of the oddest things I have sniffed in quite a while.  

It’s no secret how much I love Gorilla’s The Smell of Weather Turning; it is an extraordinary Heathcliffian scent and it is still one of my blog posts I enjoyed writing the most. I wore it down to the Gorilla Bus, mixed with a layer of my other favourite the weird and wonderful Ladyboy.

The Bus was fab, it did look a little forlorn on Castle Street with Edinburgh Castle looming overhead and the weather was somewhat dreich and shuddery. But it was a bright green spot of colour on such a shadowed day. The Bus murals and the new artwork on the bottles are the work of Plastic Crimewave, aka Steven H. Krakow, the multi-talented and quite possibly totally nuts musician/illustrator/writer based in Chicago. An underground legend in a various mind-boggling musical sub-genres, he has created very distinctive visual identities for each of the new fragrances and also illustrated the Gorilla Magazine to accompany the new launches, explaining their inspirations and some of the notes and overall vibe.

The Gorilla Bus itself is a simple concept. Fill it with perfume, hit the road with like-minded people and spread the scented word. However this being Gorilla, it is a much more than this. There is music, poetry, soul and art, all tied to the development and diffusion of the fragrance thematics. Inside the Bus you are 100% immersed in a Gorilla world, printed matter, doodles, shelves and boxes of bottles in all shapes and sizes, phrenology heads, books, vintage vinyl, herbs, plants and spices. Dotted amid the bottles and assorted Gorilla paraphernalia are little votive offerings from visitors to the bus. If the Gorilla guys like your gifts… they might swap you for some perfume.

The interior felt like the fantastic marriage of a centuries old gypsy caravan and the wares of travelling snake oil salesman, walls rattling with lotions and potions as he works his way from city to city, dispensing his words of mysticism and slick showmanship. Maybe, just maybe something he sells might work in the heat of city night. If not, he ‘s long gone before morning. Pioneer fragrance, this is how I felt as I stood surrounded by a very carefully constructed idea of pagan influenced scent and sensibility. 

Gorilla may play at simplifying the world of perfume and demystifying the claptrap and hi-faluting nonsense of normal haute-parfumerie, but in actual fact they are deadly serious, not only in their mission to alter the way we perceive fragrance but also the stories and inspirations behind the scents. This commitment to their audience is paramount to their success and dedicated following.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Leather Queens: Alien & Angel - Collection de Cuir by Parfums Mugler

When I sprayed this new and lavishly sensual incarnation of Angel on a friend, he seemed momentarily lost and later came back to me and said it smelled of Portishead because of his emotive connections to a friend who wore Angel years ago and played a lot of Portishead at the time.   

I love these synaptic firings, the strange ways we associate and layer our emotions with memories and experience. I smell aircraft fuel when I smell Opium due to the amount of travelling I did as a child and my mother wearing the classic YSL oriental to try and mask the smells of planes, the metallic hum of fuselage, the drifting smoke from the backs of planes (you could smoke on planes then….) and that very particular dry foamy smell of aircraft seating.

I have realised throughout my years of wearing Angel and to a lesser degree, Alien, how reactive these scents are, how like so much art and music they provoke extreme reactions. And yet very few people would even begin to categorise these iconic scents as any kind of art. Yet in their own way they are, created to have impact, move and divide us. Everyone I have mentioned Angel to recently has a reaction, good or bad or at the very least a distinctive memory or story to tell. I had a friend who laced her hair with it, long dark hair, that swung in heady sweet hanks around her as she moved. She permeated a room, the scent crashing against the walls like caramelised water.    

Angel is 20 years old this year and to celebrate, Parfums Mugler have released another innovative quartet of flankers celebrating Angel, Alien, A*men and Womanity. Following on from the critical and commercial success of ‘The Taste of Fragrance’ quartet last year, a collaboration with Hélène Darrouze, the Michelin starred chef who highlighted notes to sublimate and ‘pop’ the four signature scents.  I loved them and bought a couple each of Angel and Alien. They are privately sublime. Angel had a massively amplified dark cocoa note injected through it and settled down like sexy mulch on the skin. Alien had buttered salted caramel oozing through it and this worked so well with the jasmine sambac that gives Alien its distinctive glowing soul.

The new flankers have the name Collection de Cuir or Leather Collection. Mugler have really pulled out the technological and referential stops with this set of scented incarnations. Collaborating with Clarins Laboratories, the Centre Tecnhnologique de Cuir and Orfeverie d’Anjou, Parfums Mugler have produced I think one of the best flanker collections in quite some time. It proves you can take classic fragrances and with careful application of imagination, technical nous and of course an in-depth knowledge of your brand produce witty and revealing depths to existing formulae.

This is the trick, to explore existing icons in a new and exciting way, unfurling new facets and perhaps if you are lucky, creating something golden and revelatory from the original motherlode. Mugler have travelled some distance from the originals, but seem to enjoy playing with the recipes. Sometimes it works, like last year’s foodie flankers, the Liqueurs de Parfums, Alien Absolue, the recent Angel Eau de Toilette, the transcendent Rose and Pivoine incarnations of Angel and the joyful tobacco and whiskey tinted A*mens. This restless reworking of thematics will always have failures, like a shattered pots on the floor of a kiln, experimentation is necessary in order to find form and function that might possibly work.

Last year’s mouthwatering quartet worked so well because of the precise application of the sublimated gourmand notes. Long accused of triggering the avalanche of gourmand trends that cascaded extravagantly subsequently through the world of fragrance, Angel in fact re-wrote the rules entirely in terms of construction and ingredients. It is hard now twenty years on to truly appreciate the seismic shock the launch of Olivier Cresp’s original Veltol and patchouli drenched oriental had.

What I admire in the evolution of the Mugler olfactory family, is the careful scrutiny of the notes and facets in each of the four classic Mugler scents and the consideration of how these aspects can be honed, twisted and re-orchestrated without losing sight of what made them unique in the first place. This is actually very hard to do. Many brands tinker with favourites and archive classics but rarely get it right. I was not overly impressed with Thierry Wasser’s attempt to modernise Shalimar with Parfum Initial. Intended as a lighter, softer, more pinkified rendition of the House classic it felt weirdly aggressive and cheap somehow, Shalimar viewed through a cracked Fisher Price camera lens.   

This year’s batch of Mugler flankers are inspired in part by the traditional craft of scented glove-making, where the glove leathers are carefully and deeply cured in scented oils and then handmade has revived this classic tradition this year as part of their beautiful Collection De Grasse. The artisan gloves are scented with the House’s iconic Mure et Musc perfume.

Working with the Orfeverie D’Anjou, the world-renowned pewter specialists, Parfums Mugler commissioned bespoke Inox vats in order to soak the four fragrances with specially created vegetal leather. This note really radiates out of all four scents. It smells very different from trying to recreate a leather facet from aromachemicals. There is no bitterness or underlying tar-like ambiguity. There is a reality to the Mugler leather facet, suppleness, softness, malleability and in the case of Alien a wonderful brushed white suede effect that complements the jasmine beautifully.

I dived in and bought two, Angel and Alien, the same two I bought last year from The Taste of Fragrance collection. I have never really been won over by Womanity. I will admit it’s a clever take on fig, marrying it with a marine breath of caviar, but I really dislike the saline undertones and the name is ghastly. I just hear womb all the time. I have never been taken with A*men, the recipe has smelled perpetually cheap, although the valiant whisky and tobacco permutations did bring new life to an increasingly dull formula. It took me a while to warm to the tobacco version though. I bought it, wore it, hated it and shelved it. Then one weird autumn day of rain and heavy hot showers I wore it and loved it, the notes fell into place and the delicacy of the smoky, amber facet gave a certain gravitas to the somewhat generic coffee, chocolate and spice combo.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Powder and Foxes: Bloom - A New Niche Perfume Boutique for London

When in London for business, I like to take time to search out and sample any new and exiting olfactory offerings that have appeared an array of scented flowers to be sniffed at and maybe, just maybe find a place in my increasingly judgmental heart.

Our overheated and crammed head office is smack bang in the middle of Spitalfields in London E1. A diverse and multi-cultural area, now awash with every permutation of hipster know to man. Coffee shops and clothing boutiques mingle with bric-a-brac shops and gentrified slum housing. The air is potent with spices, concrete and traffic fumes. The area feels alive and vibrant if a little veneered and tenuous in places.

It was here a colleague introduced me to Bloom (parfumea splendiosa indeed!), a new fragrance boutique and the scented brainchild of Oxana Polyakova, which opened its doors a month or so ago at 4 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. It feels special as soon as you walk in. Immaculately merchandised with quirky little displays and visual treats designed to draw the eye. The shop feels white and softly Scandic yet cool and welcoming. It has a Hammershoi vibe I really like; it allows the fragrances to quietly stand out. The brands they stock are chic and alluring and work well in the context of what is an intimate yet well thought out space. 

‘Compared to mass-market perfume a good niche scent is what a good book is to a glossy magazine. A book has a plot, lots of characters living through a main part, a beginning and an ending.’

This statement of quiet intent from their super-cute website is a good indication of the genre of perfume Bloom sell. They have thought carefully about the luxury of the brands. And this is not the luxury of bling, sparkle and tanned flesh on super yachts but rather the unspoken richness of liquid cashmere, heirloom leather and worn, rubbed wealth. The unexpected diamond glittering on a hand covered in mud from gardening. Introverted wealth and subtlety. Sure there are some strong elixirs but Bloom is about the journey. The destination is important, but you need to slow down, look out of the window, adapt your senses, count the petals, touch the pollen and smell the atoms.  

The perfumes Bloom stock include Eight & Bob, the bizarre and moreish Blood Concept scents, the voluptuous Nez à Nez (Including one of my obsessive perfumes: Atelier d’Artiste….), Koju 1575, Six Scents, Vero Profumo, Pierre Guillaume’s stunning Parfumerie Générale line and his innovative Huitième Art collection. The also stock fabulous candles including the decadent Cire Trudon, perhaps the most beautiful candles in the world and candles by Jovoy and Phaedon as well.

It is a really elegant and thoughtful library of fragrances with truly intriguing concepts for everyone to explore. One of the flaws with niche fragrance has always been the disparity between price point and perceived artistic intentions of the house or perfumer. People read marketing blurb about esoteric inspirations, obscure references and the often-difficult world of aromachemistry. This is fine if you are familiar with the more abstract and in-depth aspects of perfumery but approaching to as a novice you can often be left bewildered and vaguely patronised.

Bloom does not feel like this at all, the atmosphere is hushed and welcming. I loved the lived feel of things, the whiteness, the faded feel in the air. First impressions count for so much and I felt at home straight away. The scent in the air was subtle, temperature good; always important with fragrance shops, just cool enough to hang the molecules in the air without wrecking their meaning. I of course approved of the fox in the fireplace and the lovely storybook-style fox on their business cards.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Way Through the Woods is Strangely Shadowed: ‘Florabotanica’ by Balenciaga Paris

Wandering through Harvey Nichols on a work break, tired and vaguely peeved as I am usually am in department stores by the miasma of scent and the slapdash approach to perfume promotion, I was not really expecting to see or at least smell anything interesting. I had already been utterly deflated by the latest Tom Ford floral releases, hyped as usual and massively underwhelming. As a man obsessed with all things lilium related I had been looking forward to trying his Lys Fumé, the lily soliflore from the Jardin Noir quartet. I realised after spraying it on, there is a facet to all of the TF fragrances that I actively dislike; that in fact rather irritates me. Despite all the talk of high-level naturals and absolutes etc, they all have an off-putting malaise, a breath of deoderised car, lighter fuel and smoked bug spray that sits under the notes like a latent curse. The Lys Fumé was no exception; in fact I recoiled from my own skin. Now if you follow my writing you will now how much I adore lily soliflores, I have at least six or seven tremulous variations in my collection at home, but this smelt like burnt bathroom freshener, not a good effect in a fragrance.

Revisiting my wrist in a vain hope the drydown might unlock a twist in the formula and I would perhaps marvel at the sudden majesty of lily-form lines and curves, I noticed the new Balenciaga fragrance was being merchandised. Obviously just in, the striking carnivorous botanical packaging caught my eye and lured me over. The Lys Fumé at this point had withered to a flat and unimaginative campheraceous echo of the original indolic floral flourish. The smoked note was drawn in the air like cheap cigarette smoke in a bus shelter. I am really beginning to wonder whether the immaculately hirsute Mr Ford has anything to do with his scents any more, they are becoming increasingly dull and formulaic. Pricy and glossy Dynasty concoctions for scousewives and Beverly Hills princesses.  

Florabotanica is the third fragrance from Balenciaga under the mighty creative sweep of Nicholas Ghesquière, one of the few true visionaries working in fashion today. The first two fragrances used the enigmatic note of violet to create similar yet reflectively different interpretations.  I will admit to being rather underwhelmed by the first Balenciaga Paris, which I found bloodless and wan. It expired far too quickly on my skin and made me shudder as if shaking the hand of someone I knew was going to die. It was too safe, despite a coldly beautiful campaign fronted by the mercurial and inscrutable Charlotte Gainsbourg. However the second version, Balenciaga Paris L’Essence, was divine, poetic and fairytale-like in its dreamy interpretation of the way through the woods. The violets glowing amethyst in hazy pockets of sunshine dappled with glinting metallic musk tones like coins in the sunlight counterpointing the floral elements with elegance and grace; lending an air of toughness I found lacking in the original.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Immortal Love: ‘L’Être Aimé’ by Parfums Divine

Pour D & B, Merci.

I received the most wonderful gift in the post from two new friends in Lyon recently. Fellow fragrance lovers, on holiday in Edinburgh earlier this year, we met and bonded over olfactory passions, practiced our languages and now talk in the electronic ether about all things fragrance related. They both have exquisite emotional taste in perfume and are adventurous in their desires to search out the new and unusual while remaining faithful to fragrances that anchor them to memories of their travels, home and each other.

I sent them some samples of fragrance, Penhaligon’s Peoneve and a spare bottle of my touchtone leather, Tom of Finland by Etat Libre D’Orange for B to try. My gift arrived wrapped in lovely vintage Laura Ashley wallpaper, and slightly knocked from its journey and there was a faint scent of caramelised sugar rising from the paper. Inside the box was a bottle of L’Être Aimé by Parfums Divine, a bijou niche house based in Dinard on the north coast of Brittany and founded by Yvon Mouchel in 1986.

Mouchel’s elegant and classically constructed fragrances have become quietly successful with perfume cognoscenti and lovers of scented difference. As an independant, Mouchel has control over his own business, releasing a limited number of bottles a year. Instead of following trends he is free to explore his love and passion for the drama and classicism of fine fragrance. His first creation, the eponymous Divine, released in 1986 is a sophisticated and truly elegant portrayal of woman as art. TO me she is swathed in pearls and a subtle cigarette haze with the music of Mahler playing softly around her as she stands at a window looking out in the night. It was Divine that created the scented buzz that started Mouchel’s cult following.

Originally from a cosmetics background, Mouchel was pretty much fragrance self taught, obsessed with the artistic aspects of olfactory experiences. He works with renowned noses, fellow Breton Yann Vasnier (Givaudan)and Richard Ibanez (Robertet)to create a line of fragrances that have clarity, intent and tremendous beauty. They seem to echo luminous creations of the past, while somehow remaining totally unique to themselves. This is very difficult to achieve in today’s crowded and cloned fragrance world.

‘Creating a perfume is an artform…. A great perfume is a work of art’. 

This is how Mouchel views his world. Perhaps other perfumers should listen (and take notes….!) and we might be spared the avalanche of tedious smelling releases that crowd around us with the monotony of elevator jazz.

The attention to detail and commitment to quality in Divine frgrances is superb. Each of the fragrances has soul, personality and oozes distinctive style. I have sampled the original Divine and L’Homme de Coeur before. Then someone passed on a decant of L’Inspiratrice, dismissing it as too sweet for their skin. I on the other hand loved its sweetness, it translated into chocolate fire on my skin, laced with ylang, peony, white musks and tonka, all things I like in my fragrances. Also the rose note floating through was rather mournful, like a cloud passing overhead on an otherwise sunny day. Most beguiling.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Tell the Bees My Heart Overflows With Sorrowful Wax: ‘Séville à L’Aube’ by L’Artisan Parfumeur

I have become much preoccupied with orange blossom in recent years, not the burnt sugar aromas of neroli which can make me dizzy and nauseous in large doses, but the delicious floating beauty of orange blossom water, redolent of sweet succulent jasmine as late evenings drop from summer skies.

2012 seems to be a big year for orange blossom with a number of lip-smacking releases already out and more to come. Roberto Cavalli’s eponymous scent for women reeks of slickly oiled eurotrash and heady casino nights and is tremendous fun to wear. Bobbi Brown’s Beach is salty and full of the coastal rush of summer love, innocent and lickable.

There have been some lovely interpretations of orange blossom over the last couple of perfumed years. Some of my favourites include Killian’s Love, Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom (although I wear this glazed with Prada Candy….) Serge Lutens’ Fleur D’Oranger, A Lab on Fire’s Sweet Dreams 2003 and Azemour Les Orangers by Parfums D’Empire. It is a very tricky note in my opinion to get right, to balance on the skin. I have a real love/hate relationship with the bitter marmalade facets of neroli, it often triggers severe migraines. But the more jasmine-like tones of orange blossom lull me with dreamy longing.

I’m all a tremble just now with the release of one of the most intricate and sensual fragrances I have ever smelt: Séville à L’Aube, a new limited edition eau de parfum by L’Artisan Parfumeur. Brought to life by Bertrand Duchaufour and inspired by an intense erotic olfactory memory experienced by perfume blogger, writer and critic Denyse Beaulieu. This memory of a man and a moment, of skin, touching, lips, tobacco, of Holy Week in Séville, candles, incense, wax and the rush of sexual desire has been mined by Bertrand and Denyse in painstaking and detailed sessions of sturm und drang, emotion and calm. drama and analytical fragrance chemistry in Denyse’s book The Perfume Lover. This aromatic slutty memoir details the collaboration from concept to perfume. Denyse has recently said how the fragrance has shaped and led her and Betrand, manipulating them through the twists and turns of various mods, toying with themes, effects, abstractions and emotions.

I don’t want to go into any great detail about the birth and development of the scent. You should read the book for yourselves. I want to talk about my reaction to this amazing fragrance and the effect it had on me.

It is a fragrance of many facets, animalic, floral, smoke and sun, desire, sex and memory. I love the contrasts, the internal shifts from the pouting innocence of orange blossom to the comforting hive smearings of the beeswax wrapped in smoke and woods. I was lucky enough to wear it before it launched and became obsessed with it. On my skin the osmosis was exquisite.

Every now and again, fragrances come along that seem made for you. Séville à L’Aube is one such fragrance, as soon as it settled on my skin and I sniffed the beautiful hot lavender notes rising lazily through the indolic orange blossom and waxen animalics, I realised I had found something extraordinary. It lives and breathes with you. Denyse’s erotic memory lives on, gilded and transmuted through the painterly olfactory skills of Bertrand Duchaufour. His ability to visualize light and texture, to feel a moment has served this fragrance well.

His 2010 Orange Blossom for London brand Penhaligon’s was very stylish and a touch déshabillé. It is a top to toe re-working of the House’s uninspired 1976 original and much the better for it. He lifted and refreshed the formula with incandescent orange blossom and neroli notes blended with cedar, vanilla, peach flower and a delicate Ambre Solaire flourish (benzyl salicylate) to suggest holidays and beaches. The final result is a glorious rounded floral with touches of deep shocking indolic beauty and was by far and away the highlight of the company’s somewhat hit and miss Anthology Collection.  

There are echoes of Bertrand’s work on Orange Blossom (and also his creamy magnum opus Vanille Absolument for L’Artisan Parfumeur) wafting through Séville à L’Aube, but it has a very distinct identity of its own. Shadows and sexual darkness, an erotic past, whisper in the street. I find it very emotional, beeswax does that to me. I burn beeswax candles I buy in a cathedral shop, the scent is like nothing else, sweet and strange, filling my rooms with an ethereal sugared heat that triggers memories of school chapel, a French lover who wore Antaeus and a minor erotic obsession I had with a catholic pretender to a small European principality in my late teens.

The distinctive smell of polished wooden floors, peat smoke, the mahogany warmth of much loved furniture. Corridors and summer sunlit rain, Mallaig and the windswept west coast of Scotland. These are random shards of memory that rise and fall when I smell Séville à L’Aube, it seems to stir quite the olfactory stew. But it’s dirty too, sexual and growling. The costus element; skin and scalp, the leaning in, the nuzzling that runs under the initial indolic rush moulded through the wax is both comforting and repellant. The desire to push away and pull in is quite remarkable. The heat of a moment defined in a scent. So hard to capture, the stay, go… let go, give in. These complex emotions have been translated into a subtle cascading pyramid of notes and that draws you into the heart of a horny and shimmering fragrance.