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.