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.
Speakeasy by Frapin
Speakeasy. The word is so evocative. Film Noir, Prohibiton, louche men, easy women, tobacco-soaked air with a touch of rum and gin. The druggy, fuggy ambience of by gone days. Piano music jazzing into the wee dark hours, the touch of a hand looking for comfort. Lipstick, stubble, whatever floats your boat. Frapin is a somewhat overlooked House in my opinion, yet the fragrances are incredibly complex and atmospheric. The highlight to date has been Bertrand Duchaufour’s lush and boozy 1697, a homage to the year Louis IV gave his apothecary Pierre Frapin the right to bear a coat of arms. Essentially a massive fuck off rose and jasmine scent, 1697 is swilling with vanilla-suffused woods and a stunning rum top note that lingers on the nose as the scent evolves through its complexity. Dried fruits and a golden glow of cognac burn out of the composition. Like a ladle of brandy catching fire before being poured over the stickiness of Christmas pudding, the scent catches fire and burns on the skin.
Speakeasy has been created for Frapin by Marc-Antoine Cortchiatto, the perfumer and brains behind Parfums d’Empire, another hugely underrated niche house. His trademark manipulation of depth and resonance, using luxurious and leftfield notes has produced some swooning work. Now that smoking is so prohibited the romance (and I use the word deliberately….)of smoky interiors, enjoying a well-chosen tipple and enjoying a mélange of odours that has been part of Noir legend for years has evaporated. Good tobacco accords have become something much sought after now in fragrance. Nostalgia? Perhaps. The attraction of the note, hay-like and sweet with a touch of animalic magnetism can thrill the skin and seduce the very air around you. It marries so well with vanilla, tonka, lavender, heliotrope, orange blossom and beeswax, all notes I adore.
Speakeasy is described as an oriental leather perfume. The list of notes is simply mouthwatering:
Rum extract, Indian davana, Sweet Italian orange and Fizzy lime from Brazil, Cold Russian mint and Egyptian geranium, Oriental leather accord, Ciste absolute, Labdanum absolute, Styrax essence, Turkish tobacco accord, Tobacco absolute, Liatrix absolute (Deer tongue… a beautiful and delicate note), Everlasting flower absolute (immortelle… another of my favourite notes), Tonka bean absolute (sigh…) and white musks (but of course…).
As cognac makers, Frapin have approached the assemblage of fine perfume in much the same way; with finesse, time, luxuriousness, savoir-faire and of course a certain Gallic je ne sais quoi. Each of their fragrances has a finish, a smoothness and polish that is sometimes lacking in modern perfumery. I like the sound of the ‘mojito’ accord in Speakeasy,(rum, mint and lime) bubbling through the golden hues of the potentially heavy surround. One of my signature scents is Vanille Absolument, the oriental gourmand created in homage to the rhythms of Havana. Rum-soaked vanilla and tobacco melt artfully onto the skin. But something about Speakeasy’s darkness beckons me, a inkling of sensual claustrophobia, nighttime drinking and chain-smoking, the inability to leave and go home. I really want it to smell like this. I hope it does.
Amour de Palazzo by Jul et Mad
I am a sucker for fragranced love, so the story of JUL ET MAD and their three exquisite eaux de parfums really captured me. This carefully assembled brand is the veritable histoire d’amour of Madalina Stoïca, Roumanian-born, brought up in New York and Julien Blanchard, a French hipster du monde, scholar and traveller. Their meeting, burgeoning love and marriage is played out through three electrifying and specific scents. I love this idea. Ever since Maurice Blanchet launched Worth with his haunting quintet of linked poetic fragrances: Dans La Nuit, Vers le Jour, Sans Adieu, Je Reviens, Vers Toi. (In the Night, Just Before Dawn, With No Goodbye, I Will Return, To You)I have been taken with the idea of story telling through fragrances.
The three perfumes, Stilettos on Lex, Terrase à St Germain and Amour de Palazzo distill key encounters and memories into intense and complex jus. The fragrances have been created in collaboration with Dorotheé Piot. Seemingly she was given enormous artistic freedom with the creation of these first three chapters or moments in the story of Jul and Mad. You can see this is the list of beautiful ingredients listed in the scents… davana, plum liquor, rose absolutes, Atlas cedar, Madagascan vanilla, rhubabrb, castoreum, violet absolute, lotus flower and oudh.
‘Perfume without Compromise’ is the motto of Jul et Mad, a ballsy statement but one which says: we believe in our work, our story is real, we have the fragrances to carry this through.
The parfum I want is the third in the triptych: Amour de Palazzo, where Jul and Mad are settled deeply into their love and exploring the legendary romantic beauty of Venice. Not the superficial city of cornetto canals, bored gondoliers and the overpriced espressos of Piazza San Marco, but the disturbing nebulous city of Ian McEwan’s 1981 novel The Comfort of Strangers, layered with the hedonistic glamour days of Peggy Guggenheim at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni where she entertained some of the world’s most celebrated artists.
As I perused the notes of Amour de Palazzo I felt a true stab of physical longing. Pepper, clove, ginger and nutmeg in the headnotes, all abrasive spicy rush and desire. The heart notes are swooningly beautiful; the haunting bruise of violet absolute, atlas cedarwood, leather facets, patchouli from Indonesia and labdanum. These textured notes make me stretch and yearn to be doused and touched, my tattoos traced from top to toe. The base notes of musk, oudh, amber, papyrus and the glorious addition of castoreum pulse with light and warmth. I have an image in my head of how this will glow and roll off the skin like mysterious ignis fatuus…. I shudder with anticipation.
Jul and Mad have created this fragrance to celebrate the depth of their love for each other. I love the privacy of the notes; the combination of raw ingredients and accords paints a portrait of romanticism and labyrinthine desire married to a subtle lost melancholy air.
No 14 Rossetto by Prada
The mainline Prada line scents bore me truth be told, the ever-hyped obsession with iris and the insistence on the worlds most expensive ingredients. And yet somehow they all smell similarly ozonic and pumped full of headache-inducing accords that cut through my senses like shards of ringing glass. However… the Essences Exclusives Prada collection with its focus on single notes and exploration of the effects of a engineered olfactory experience are quite different. Benzoin, rose, iris, carnation, myhrrh, tuberose and opoponax have all received the Daniela Andrier treatment. She has burnished the notes with careful love and a vintage eye. They smell classic and at the same time, resolutely modern in their alien aloofness.
So I am very excited by the announcement of something a little different this time. Prada Essence No.14 Rossetto is a new interpretation of the classic rose/violet lipstick accord. It is one of my favourite effects in fragrance, played with a lot and rarely done with any sense of real style or glossy smudged beauty. There are some exceptions. Frederick Malle’s Lipstick Rose (created by Ralf Schweiger) is magnificent, slutty and lost in time. I love the boudoir shadows of Drôle de Rose and the more disturbing lipstick in the mist, dominatrix traces and fruity smear of Traverseé du Bosphore, both by L’Artisan Parfumeur.
I also love the rummagy crumpled tissue and lipstick aromas of Kelly Calèche by Hermès too, the weird, almost repugnant marriage of a vegetal smelling leather with glittering iris and cassie, tobacco facets and a mere slip of narcissus. I actually loathed this for ages oddly, then just fell in love with it. It still unsettles me, but then so does the voice of Asaf Avidan, but I still can’t stop listening to him.
Penhaligon’s vivacious and earthy Peoneve, released this year and created for the brand by Olivier Cresp, marries Bulgarian rose absolutes and a synthetic white peony note captured especially by the Firmenich boffins for Cresp from the white peonies growing in the family garden in Grasse. The addition of a violet top note, mirrored in the base with a substantial vetiver note and a hefty dose of hedione lends Peoneve a drowsy, magnified and oddly petrolic aroma that radiates off the skin like solar flares. It mixes lipstick and nail polish to dazzling effect.
No 14.Rossetto sounds promising; a lipstick accord, rose, violet, raspberry, heliotrope, vanilla and musks. The addition of heliotrope might smooth a sticky marzipan and glazed cherry facet through the concoction. It will be interesting to smell and marks a more adventurous move I think in these Prada perfumed essays.
Dolce Acqva by Profumum Roma
A friend told me that Dolce Acqua by Profumum Roma smells like warm, freshly made macaroons cooling in a room lit by beeswax candles. She sampled the line in Moscow on a recent trip and said they were beautiful. I realised I had tried Vanitas, the brand’s stylish and somewhat aloof take on vanilla. Blended with orange blossom and the earthiness of feral myrrh, the sweetness of the vanilla stands apart like a beautiful woman at a darkened party, her reflection casting back tears into the room.
The brand is a family concern, dating back to after the Second World War when Celestino and Lucia Durante set up a small business in Rome. It grew into a chain of stores producing products for the home, beauty items and scented things, perfumes and collectibles. In 1996, the grandchildren, Giuseppe, Luciano, Maria and Felice Durante inherited the stores and decided to launch a range of exclusive luxury scents, inspired by their personal histories and of course their beloved Italy.
Dolce Acqua has notes of coconut, almond, vanilla, tonka bean and heliotrope. I’m a sucker for his type of skin-close gourmand, soft and chewy with warm, toasted white nut aromas. They work so well on my skin. I flood them with a little rose perhaps, some Chocolat Amere by Il Profumo and the skin is alive with baking, caking sexiness. There is of course great comfort in these vanillic, air-filled formulae, they soothe and wrap us in memories of kitchen love. But I find them very sexy too, the perfume equivalent of licking cake mix off lightly bound lovers…… As you can imagine, I am already looking for the skin to bind.
A few other scented bibelots I have my eye on are a bottle of Chanel No 19 Poudré. The brittle galbanum curve of No 19 is too bulby for me, but the ghost whispering iris of this rather soigneé flanker catches me each time I pass a Chanel counter. It is no masterpiece, but I love its softness and Monet-like diffusion on the skin.
Ralf Schwieger created Fils de Dieu for Etat Libre D’Orange, a incredible sweet and sour citrus-tinted oriental take on jasmine with billowing steamed rice and suede notes. His new composition for this naughty, porny house is The Afternoon of a Faun, inspired by Nijinsky’s scandalous 1912 ballet; Mallarmé’s verse poem performed to a score by Debussy, it shocked audiences with the highly erotised symbolism and anti-dance style. Nijinsky was pilloried and feted in equal measure.
Reviews have mentioned woods and patina, dampness, moss and varnish. There is rose, twisted, burnished and burned of course, something of a signature of ElO. The presence of immortelle pleases me, it is one of my favourite notes, lending a basso profundo resonance of smoky liqourice. The other notes listed include moss, leather, incense, orris, myrrh and benzoin. I have loved all of Schwieger’s work to date, he is a fascinating and precise perfumer who seems to truly delight in the tumble and counterpointing of accords. He understands the sweetness of skin, so I have high hopes for this. His Fils de Dieu, Lipstick Rose and Eau des Merveilles (a collaboration with Nathalie Feisthauser) are three of my collection favourites now.
Untitled No 2 by quirky Amsterdam-based brand Magnetic Scents, all mellow chai and dry spicy chocolate dazzled me.
No 6 ‘M’, by Yann Vasnier from the Six Scents, Series Three calls to me in the night with its sultry voice of black plum, tonka, castoreum and Moxalone.
I really loved Cuir de Nacre by Parisian jeweller Anne Gerard, created for her by Betrand Duchaufour. It is just the most divine veil of white plush leather. Incredibly luxurious and barely there, but soooooooo damn elegant.
Santal Majuscule, Serge Lutens’ latest essay in this fickle wood really caught me too. I am not the biggest sandalwood fan, but this echoes with oblivion and a throaty shout of orgasmic joy in the night.
So now all I can do is dream and hope. Obviously I’ll just end up buying these for myself anyway, but a Fox can dream.
The Silver Fox