Sunday, 8 January 2012
Chocolate Essay I – Edible Skin: Amour de Cacao by Comptoir Sud Pacifique
Oh I love these delicious canned concoctions from Comptoir Sud Pacifique, they make me want to smile, lick and eat myself. I discovered them in France, in Galeries Lafayettes in Paris to be precise on a meandering drift through the miasma of scent and shopping cacophony.
They don’t even really look like fragrances, presented as they are in brushed aluminum casings and foodie style ambience. They are not for the faint-hearted, they ooze sweetness: coconut, vanilla, apricot, milk, chocolate, praline, caramel……. But I find them so addictive. They smell beautiful on the skin, smiling like sunshine. They melt, drip, sprinkle, frost, smear…. Explosions of heightened patisserie memories mingle with tropical fantasies. You always smell amazing. I love mixing them, like cocktails. A dash of coconut, some condensed milk, topped off with more coconut……maybe some banana…..dusted with cocoa and flaked almonds.
You have to be in the right frame of mind to wear them. The perfume community is rather dismissive, considering them no better than mere body sprays rather like Lynx (Axe in the US). But then I must confess to a guilty love of Lnyx Dark Temptation. Again a synthetic dry blast of chocolate. I know it’s a cheap hit, rammed with chemicals, but it smells great on my skin. For some reason my brain buckles with desire and I get so many comments about how good I smell. Many of these turn to horror when I mention Lynx. It’s almost worth it for that to be smirkingly honest. But as I’ve said before, if it smells good, wear it.
I like sweet things. Clever sweet things, sweet things with structure and imagination. I have always loved Angel’s twisted Veltol note; Mugler’s perfumed search for the elusive fairgrounds of his childhood. So much more than just ‘that chocolate fragrance’, it doesn’t even smell of chocolate to me. It radiates burnt sugar, toffee apples and engine oil, patchouli and a weird and wonderful madcap shrieking vanilla that smells like purple tar.
I’m always on the lookout for new sweet things. I have tried so many. Omnia by Bulgari, lovely white chocolate and mandarin, Eau de Charlotte by Annick Goutal, soft whispering chocolate and jammy and compulsive, Giandjuia by Missoni, nutella in a bottle, Greedy Chocolate by Montale, rich and subversive with a dirty violent flourish.
I recently sampled the new intensely gourmand tweakings of the Mugler family of scents, a collaboration with Hélène Darroze, the Michelin starred chef and Parfums Thierry Mugler. Womanity, Angel, A*men and Alien have all had food notes or ‘flavour enhancers’ added to their formulas to heighten the original structures. Fig chutney to Womanity. Salted butter caramel to Alien. Red chilli (pimento berry) to A*men and bitter cocoa to Angel. The Alien/Caramel marriage is slick and golden with a beautifully unsettling and surprisingly sensual nutty drydown, the sambac jasmine enrobed in smooth golden warmth. The Angel/Cocoa mix is divine, truffly and so dirty/dark. Almost like compost. The depth out of the bottle is staggering. This incredible first impression softens away and leaves a sensual warm and brown woody finish dusted across the skin like dredged bitter cocoa powder.
The CSP scents are undeniably French. They have a nostalgic patisserie and gateaux pedigree to them, creamy and indulgent. The brand was created in 1974 by Joseé Fournier. The ideé fixe was to create fantasy fragrances inspired by the concept of paradise, the voyage, a word that conjures up more than just flights and airports, but a world of exploration and experiences. The implied exoticism is expressed in the dominant themes of coconut, vanilla, sugar, spices, exotic woods, fig, almonds, milk etc. Very much a reflection too of an ideal French colonial island paradise; the laid back white-sand life and idyllic island fantasies of Bora Bora, Papeete and Tahiti.
These bottled holidays are unctuous and comforting scents, not particularly groundbreaking, but pushing the gourmand palette to a swooning toffee tinted extreme. Joseé Fournier was one of the earliest advocates of fragrance combining, recommending the layering of the eaux de voyages, experimenting to create a personalised coating of delicious sweetness and lickable wonder.
There is a dreamy, soft focus quality to the fragrances, almost beyond powdery. I have worn quite a few over the years and loved the cutesy and strangely sexy way they interact with the skin. I am sucker for coconut and love the Coco Extrème with vanilla, hot milk notes, powdered coconut, almond, candy sugar and dried coconut. Yes I smell like a Bounty bar…… but I think Bounty bars are all kinds of sexy chocolate….. as do the boys I’ve rolled in sheets with.
The Vanille Amande, (soothing nutty white vanilla) and the Coco Figue (moreish fig and ice-creamy coconut) are both sensational. You could argue they are regressive nursery style scents, the perfume equivalent of baby food, whizzed up simplicity, but I find them charming and elegant. Like a clean executed classic magnolia wall after a surfeit of fussy paint effects and nonsense artworks, simplicity can be gratifying and very soothing.
The Amour de Cacao has always been my favourite. It’s like being dusted in the softest sprinkling of milk chocolate. It has orange zest notes, cocoa bean and vanilla pod. It smells to me of chestnuts too, marrons glacés, or Mont Blanc, that peculiar dessert made with chestnut paste and cream. The ‘cooked’ milk note, like caramelised condensed milk or dulce de leche is a ghost note in many of the CSP fragrances. It drops onto the skin with a sunburnt quality and dries down to a comforting and moreish baked aroma. I love this smell. It makes me smile inside. Reminds me of holidays in Togo in West Africa as a child on wind scoured hotel promenades and equally of eating hot chestnuts out of twists of paper in Paris at New Year.
I wear it a lot as a base with rose scents, especially my beloved Nahéma. The chocolately orange notes play wistfully under the petrolic bower of Nahéma’s dazzling roses. I marry it to Matin Calin too, another sweet overdose of nostalgia by CSP. This is just condensed milk in a bottle. There is a burnt, off edge to it that unsettles some people. A lot of people just loathe it. Too milky, lactose aversion. But the toffee, vanilla and strange sandalwood notes love my skin and mixed with the Amour de Cacao, it has a soft and delightful private aroma. I don’t wear it out much. Like Lost Marc’h’s Lann Ael, and Lush’s Vanillary, some fragrances are for private lullabies and safety.
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