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

Sunday 18 December 2011

Rose Essay VI – Sweet & Bloody Avant Garde: Eau de Protection (for Rossy de Palma) by Etat Libre D’Orange

This strange and otherworldly rose scent is talismanic, designed to safeguard; ward off evil, protect you from death as you battle in the arena of love. As you suffer the effects of the poison tipped arrows of desire this uniquely twisted take on black romance will slash at life and hold you close. If you bleed it will tend your wounds, if you swoon it will stand vigil and keep you safe from harm, cradling you in cocoa and patchouli tinted beauty.

Eau de Protection was created for the cubist beauty Rossy de Palma: Almoldovar muse, actress and model by perfume terrorists Etat Libre D’Orange. It is so far removed from the usual glittering neon celebrity style perfumes that saturate the market as to be moon dust to compost. But then De Palma is hardly your average star. Her extraordinary broken beauty is defiantly at odds with our conceptions of conventional Hollywood manipulated and platicised appearances. Yet she is utterly magnificent. ELd'O also recently created Like This for Tilda Swinton, another maverick beauty who does not give a damn for convention. Like This was made by Mathilde Bijaoui who created my beloved Lily & Spice for Penhaligon’s. Like This is beautifully weird and unsettling, with a charismatic pumpkin note running through it, giving it a spiced gourd-like tint. Both fragrances demonstrate a willingness to push at scented limits given the right inspiration and muse.

Etat do not always get it right; their recent stab at a Sex Pistols scent was just dreadful, a nasty cheap smelling throwaway thing with very little thought behind it. It could have been extraordinary: a palette of metals, leather, wax, safety pin effects, spray paint, the scent of aerosols and sweaty dripping gigs. An angry bitter scent with a sweet hit of kohl rimmed nostalgia to underpin the violence. But instead it was dull and barely there, musky and faded to dull nothingness on the skin.   

Rossy de Palma’s Eau de Protection is scented armour for the battlefield of love and desire. It is one of my favourite Etat scents. I love their perfumes and have collected and worn many of them including:

‘Rien’ (my first…so deep and shattering like a gunshot in a chapel)

‘Charogne’ - fleshy and flayed, the wolf tearing out of its human host in the milky glow of a full moon.

‘Jasmin et Cigarettes’ - me as a drunken Jane Birkin, forever reliving my drunken Paris student years.

‘Tom of Finland’ - just the most delicious sueude-tastic leather ever, sniffing Harley seats and wishing you could have fucked James Dean in Giant.

‘Delicious Closet Queen’ - creepy intersex stalker scent.

‘Vierges et Torreros’ - Ava Gardner whispering faster pussycat kill kill in your dreams…. Surrounded by bull’s balls and blood on the sand.

‘Noël au Balcon’ - If Santa was your boyfriend.

‘Sécrétions Magnifiques’ - Just plain filthy. Compulsive, disgusting and yet strangely moving.

All of them have a hypnotic depth of something untoward, wicked and glossily pornographic. I’m not entirely convinced by the cod-erotica of the overly suggestive website. But the house has carved a distinctive and divisive niche for itself, one that reeks of styrax, posturing, balsams, jasmine, artifice and hissy aromachemical cleverness.

Eau de Protection is artfully arranged, the main elements of the perfume twisted and turned like art nouveau metalwork around the central Bulgarian rose motif. Then everything is lacquered in red to heighten the sense of alarm and sex. Parts have been blasted with light and dust, muting the effects, allowing areas of the scent to settle with tremendous style and grace. The exposed tea rose aspect of the scent is at once steely, wistful, feminine and bizarrely androgynous. The addition of ginger, a startling lick of jasmine and enormous amounts of benzoin heightens the already overwrought sense of unease the fragrance builds on the skin.

In her desire to create an ultimate rose scent, Rossy de Palma has initiated something daring and sublimely deep. Soft and needy, feminine and palpable but at the same time barbed and savage. The uncomfortable truth of love is pain. Love does hurt. Love is war. We need to protect and arm ourselves. Weaponry, charms, talismans, voodoo. The disconcerting blood note in Eau de Protection is barely discernable until you realise the world has shifted and the battle is nearly over. The ground around you is soaked crimson.     

The sun is setting on a field of golden slaughter. The talismanic hoodoo, the perfumed essences, the rose-tinted bindings have held you fast, kept you safe. You have survived another day. Touching a bloodstained finger to your lips throws the lush rose into vivid focus, the pricked fairytale magic, the swoon, the sleep, the kingdoms lost in time.

The sensuality of Eau de Protection is magnificent. The resonance of the rose as it settles amid the moreish dust of the cocoa and patchouli is like the tolling of a bell in the warm heat of summer. There is a petrolic shimmer to it sometimes when I wear it, eddies of petrol in pools at gas stations, shimmering up at the sky in iridescent rainbows. Petrol chocolate rose. Only at Etat Libre d’Orange. Other times I get the weird metal notes, the rust effect of sucking blood from your finger when you cut yourself.

Rossy de Palma’s fractured beauty is confrontational and unique. On film she is weirdly compelling to watch, stylish, sensual and fearless. The same could be said for Etat Libre d’Orange. Their scents are brave and without compromise. Divisive? Perhaps. But then arguably all art should be. Controversial? Again, what is the point of creating if not to question and divide? I love their perfumes. They love me, my skin vibrates in them. Eau de Protection was my second scent. The stunning and suffocating Rien was my first and probably my favourite, although I have a terrible weakness for the suede, birch and tonka bean beauty of Tom of Finland. But Rossy de Palma’s twisted and sexy rose is soft centered and metal-edged with razor blades hidden away at the heart. Going into battle for love, what more do you want? Eau de Protection is a provocative and fearsome warrior rose.

For more information on Etat Libre D'Orange and their seductive world of fragrance anarchy, click on the link below:

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Snowblind – A Story of White Love Inspired by Cartier’s ‘Baiser Volé’

I saw him first through the glass panel of a door. Like a lily in water. Upright, slowly turning through the air, lit by morning sun, chalk dust from the floor glittering in the air like pollen. Somehow he seemed crystalline, as fragile as a dream. As he turned a series of petit fouettés, sweat beaded across his face, his legs tensing and flexing into positions, rotating his body in a series of fluid blurs. His dark hair rolled over his face as he turned, his pumps twisting and scraping on the wooden floors I clean each day.

I opened the door softly and moved along the wall, stepping quietly over bags and tumbled personal flotsam. One of the pale, severe creatures draped across the barre lifted her head and looked through me at Ilya. ‘Always so eager Ilya, but your pointe work is dull, and no-one is watching.’ She dropped her head again and started singing quietly to herself.

He stopped very suddenly and then slowly rotated on one foot, the other leg beautifully arched and tensed in the air. I could feel the muscles flexing beneath his skin. The air crackled with tension. He bent so slowly to the floor and then relaxed laughing. The room filled with bustle, foot stamping and hand clapping. Outside, the winter winds were tearing at the walls and throwing snow and ice through the air. The old school building creaked and complained like an elderly woman around us, bending her knees to the fire.

I moved quietly through the room, checking the ancient metal radiators, testing the valves and taps, gently tapping the twisted coils, listening as the water started to bubble through. I could feel the rumble of the furnace through the floor. The dancers warmed up, stretching tired limbs and aching feet and toes. There was chatting and touching, weary heads on shoulders, trailing fingers, hair tucked away and skin soothed. The crack of a bone, groaning as something stretched and eased.

Ilya stood near a window looking out across the snow. He shivered and one of the girls, Olyenka, placed a shawl over his shoulders. He whispered something to her and they laughed easily, the room suddenly echoing with the smooth white sound of it.

Outside the sun flashed gold off the snow, dazzling the eye. His ballon and placement are considered near perfect but for some reason as I travel through rooms I hear the teachers murmuring dislike and dissent. Arrogance and lethargy they say. Distance. I heard one of his teachers describe Ilya as ‘A dancer with secrets, he is opaque, no light gets in.’

This opacity to me is beautiful. It blurs like molten light when he dances. I know he dances for himself and perhaps for abandonment. You can see it the occasional deconstructed battement or reckless tour en l’air.

He will never notice me. I move very silently through spaces. I have perfected the art of being almost invisible. Even if you meet me, you will never remember me. I am no-one.

Crystalline Refraction – ‘Baiser Volé’ by Cartier: A Lily Through the Prism of Mathilde Laurent

Anyone that knows me is aware of my passion for the lily. Lilium, giglio, lirio, lilya, lilie, krinos. The singular bloom that burns white on white in the fevered mind, Madonna and whore, shimmering in the imagination. Like luminous Rita Hayworth forever trapped in Gilda, fleshily beautiful, luscious and sensual.

I have loved lilies all my life, the whiteness, their carnal murmurings, clarity and divisive intent. I love the boudoir leanings and funereal chill, the heady indolic descent into decay and unsettling sweet morgue atmospherics. When you read those questionnaires about what kind of animal would you be etc. If asked about flowers, I would be a Casablanca lily, wrapped up in the snowiest white, like the glorious Tilda in a column of glittering icy fur.

I have posted previously on my love of Penhaligon’s beautifully hissy Lily & Spice with its chilly laundry rendering of Madonna lily, smooth creamy vanilla and weird saffron slide into pepper and addictive rooty benzoin base. I am still in love with it, layering with L’Artisan’s boozy Vanille Absolument (post on that in the new year…..)  

But good lily soliflores are still rare, so I get excited by the appearance of new ones. The combination of Mathilde Laurent, the White Witch of perfumery and the snowy challenge of Casablanca lilies was tantalising news. I couldn’t wait to sample it, wear it, breathe it. And the name…..Baiser Volé….stolen kiss… conjuring up images of sleeping beauties on marble biers or thieves in the night, hovering in darkness, just brushing the lips of obsessional loves lost in dreams.

The bottle is a nod to Cartier’s luxurious pedigree and their iconic lighters, with an elegant flip top zippo style lid and perfect in-the-hand ergonomics. I imagined Lauren Hutton snapping it open to light a Vogue cigarette on safari with Peter Beard while he wonders if she will fit inside a crocodile.

Monday 28 November 2011

Infatuation and Marlboro Red: Azzaro Pour Homme by Azzaro

My love affair with Azzaro is all wrapped up in one very intense and heartbreaking summer. Involving a fragile me, a skinny Elvis-hipped Syrian loverman, his possessive girlfriend, a laidback deli and ridiculous but very real emotions lived out and crushed in thickly scented rooms.

Azzaro pour Homme is such a strange scent: skunky, cheapish, sexy and rather unforgettable. Created in 1978, played with from time to time I think and like all leather/fougère/chypré perfumes, things have fallen away from it, transformed and died. The full blown glorious original made in the image of Lois Azzaro, a Tunisian-born Sicilian, was defiantly masculine, robust, ballsy and reeked of late seventies dancefloor hedonism. Time and tweaking has faded the original but it can still stir the senses and bust some moves.

There are some lovely touches in it; the required fougère touchstones of tonka, oakmoss and lavender, rounded out and butched up with leather, cedar, sandalwood, bergamot, sage and basil. The brightness I remember like a cheeky smile at the top comes from a splash of lemon mixed with cocktail lightness with caraway, orris and anise. The potential lounge lizard leer of Azzaro has always been kept in check by the balance of the notes and the drydown, a sensual and erotic landing of musks and amber. Nothing shouts, whistles or grabs at you. It has a dated feel sometimes, but then you can watch movies with Redford, McQueen, Delon, Mastrioanni, Montand, Stamp and Bogarde; and think: dated maybe but damn they were STARS.        

I have avoided smelling Azzaro for so long. I know it still wields tremendous power over me. People like him come along so rarely. I will call him Nic. I can see his smoky bottles; he always had at least four or five scattered about, tangled in sheets, in clothes on the floor, next to the kettle in the kitchen or by a pile of books and unopened mail by the door. Everything reeked of Azzaro, from his thick curling hair to the cups in the kitchen. If I borrowed a pair of paper-thin jeans or a shirt, the perfume’s leather and brown musky woods were woven through the very fibres. I could lick it off my own skin, smell it in the hair tumbling over my eyes. He’d flash that devastating grin that said ‘I’ve got you…’ and I’d go weak and realise I was hopelessly obsessed.

He wore so much of it. It was a Middle Eastern thing, the way he’d been brought up, to anoint himself, treating perfume as an essential ritual of everyday life. I used to watch him comb it through his hair or splash it across his chest before pulling on a crisp white shirt. He taught me a trick of putting scent into the palm of one hand, letting the alcohol evaporate a little and then running scented fingers through hair. I still do this now, the ritual echoing the memory of Nic’s sensual toilette. But the excess suited him, I bathed in the glow of his Azzaro overdose, it formed a sort of scented soundtrack for the memories of that astonishing summer.

He came up behind me on my first day in the deli coffee shop as I struggled with the coffee machine and whispered ‘You smell very very nice….’ I turned. He grinned and I got my first massive wave of Nic/Azzaro. The intense woodiness and spice that almost seemed to sweat out of him, mixed with the fragrance’s cardamom and weird salted lemon accord. He was jittery, always on the edge of caffeine and nicotine withdrawal. We all smoked. I loved the smoky tar and nuttiness of Camels, something I carried back from Paris with me. I liked the pictures of Paris that rose and fell in the air as I exhaled. Nic was a Marlboro Red man. Full strength, no prisoners. Sometimes at the end of an evening his voice rasped down to burning embers as he smoked on, always a spare tucked away behind his ear.

I was wearing Antaeus when I met him, Chanel’s beeswax transvestite fougère. I wore it to piss people off, it was strong. I wasn’t even sure it suited me. I’d been wearing my beloved Sagamore for years, but it was disappearing fast. Lancôme had stopped making it and I was struggling to find it. I was shocked he put his hands on my waist when he spoke to me, as if it were the easiest thing in the world, heat and pressure from his fingers on my skin. He was the deli’s bad boy. Everyone rushed to tell me so, eyes rolling. Lateness. Language. ‘Unsuitable behaviour’. I never really found out what any of this was but it just made me look at him even more closely.

Friday 4 November 2011

Rose Essay 4: Sweet Darkness of Thorns – ‘Briar Rose’ by Ineke for Anthropologie

Ineke Rühland is an artisan perfumer based in San Francisco. Her perfumed oeuvre is both whimsical and deadly serious. I have worn and loved her stylish and charming Evening Edged in Gold for years. I was originally intrigued by the name but the juice was heavenly; osmanthus blended with plum, Angel’s Trumpet, saffron, leather, woods and Midnight Candy, a strange, hypnotic floral note with echoes of stock and heliotrope. It smelt like a painting by Watteau; carefree, concocted with nose for frivolity and studded with coded sensuality.

Ineke uses startling floral tones with grace and deadly charm, like lines of carefully crafted verse. Her fragrances read and unfold like olfactory poems.

Field Notes from Paris is striking too, but very different to Evening Edged in Gold. A pervasive woody oriental, with tonka bean, tobacco flower and leaf, patchouli, beeswax and vanilla. Smoky, bitter, sweet and spiced, Field Notes… is a revelation on the skin, smelling of sticky Paris streets, wafts of cigarette smoke and coffee from the terraces, yesterday's perfume on skin, crepes, tarmac and the Seine. I have to be in the mood to wear it, but when I am, it wreaks havoc with my senses.      

Ineke was born and educated in Canada. She trained in fragrance at the ISIPCA in Versailles. This rigid training structure, combined with visits to Grasse, the spiritual home of fragrance and her distinctive passion for literature and art has formed a unique perception of perfume. She created her innovative and quirky brand after moving to San Francisco. Her trademark manipulation of rare floral notes and other unusual ingredients has resulted in a beautiful library of scented stories.

I was intrigued by her collaboration with Anthropologie. The US brand is becoming quite the destination for offbeat scents: Histoires de Parfum, Ineke, their own very strange work with Le Labo, Tocca, Teo Cabanel, Carthusia, Royal Apothic, Happ & Stahns and A Rather Novel can all be found nestling among the eclectic mix of clothes and homeware.

The Ineke collection is called Floral Curiosities and consists of four fragrances. I bought Briar Rose and I loved the laundry hiss and linen knap of Scarlet Larkspur. Poet’s Jasmine and Angel’s Trumpet didn’t really do it for me. The collection is limited, the packaging inscribed and painterly, with flourishes of penmanship and washes of colour. Briar Rose has a TS Eliot quote inside the box lid:

‘Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden’.

The quote is from ‘Burnt Norton’, a melancholy and moving poem from the Quartets on regret and sense of time passing. The full quote is worth repeating.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

I did open the door. Tentatively at first, but the experience was intoxicating. Briar Rose is incredibly rich, a massive whoosh of jammy rosa rubiginosa (Briar rose), black raspberry, violet and blackberry supported by the crushed intensity of autumnal fruit picking, sticky, green and woozy. Other delicious notes include bitter almond, green apple, clove bud oil, cinnamon bark, patchouli, vanilla and cacao. The list is almost ridiculously gourmand and could have been unbearably twee and sickly. More akin to neon horrors produced by divas such as Mariah, Celine or J-Lo. However Ineke has something of the sorceress abut her when it comes to blending her potions. The pinches here and there of spices, the herbal tinctures, the ravishing floral notes. Things are used carefully. Sweetness is balanced with green. Spices smoothed with soft woods, leaves flicker in powdered skies.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Rose Essay 3 - Royal Portraiture: ‘Sa Majesté la Rose’ by Serge Lutens

We all have our fragrance passions. Studying the men and women creating niche perfumery is for me akin to obsessing over the work of film auteurs rather than actors; studying the oeuvre of Kazan, Von Trier, Desplechin, Lynch, Ozon, Herzog, Fassbender, Sirk etc. The noses, creators and artists behind so many scents, whether they are commissioned or work in-house are what make niche scent an extraordinary atelier blend of the Avant Garde and the commercial. Because at the end of the day, it has to sell. It may be lauded to the skies for originality and beauty, it may break rules and introduce new notes or tonal effects. But the bottom line is – it must sell. 

I have my favourites. I love the varied and explosive work of Annick Ménardo – Bulgari Black, Le Labo’s Patchouli 23, Bois D’Argent and Hypnotic Poison for Dior, YSL’s Kouros Body, Jaipur Homme for Van Cleef & Arpels and Bois D’Armenie for Guerlain, a much-neglected masterpiece. Her commercial collaborations with other perfumers for Diesel, Gaultier and Armani amongst others are always interesting.

I am also a huge fan of Bertrand Duchaufour. Traverseé de Bosphore, Al Oudh, Vanille Absolument and Patchouli Patch for L’Artisan Parfumeur, his Amaranthine and Orange Blossom for Penhaligon’s, Harissa and Avignon for Comme des Garçons and Baume de Doge for Parfums d’Italie.

Other perfumers I admire include Pierre Guillaume at Parfumerie Générale, Alessandro Gauliter at Nasamotto, Illuminati’s Michael Boadi, Dominique Ropion, Fabrice Penot and Edourd Roschi at Le Labo, Michel Almairac, Karin Vinchon, Celine Ellena, Olivia Giacobetti, Mathilde Laurent, Antoine Masiondieu, Francis Kurkdjian, Aurélien Guichard and of course the mighty work of Christopher Sheldrake. The creative processes behind doors at brands like Le labo, Editions, Frédérick Malle, Byredo and Constant are quietly revolutionising the world of fine fragrance, one bottle at a time.   

Sheldrake’s perfumed collaboration with Serge Lutens (and his occasional Exclusif forays to Chanel….) has produced works of heft and enormous scented magnitude. You cannot underestimate the importance of Sheldrake’s impact on the artistic development of fragrance. His playfulness, vision and oddness, the sinuous and sometimes disturbing translations of desire, sexuality and memory played out in leather, fir, oud, spices, sweat, chocolate, musks, woods, grasses and a dazzling array of floral tones. 

Sometimes it feels like he is re-inventing how we smell, throwing us forward in time, demanding we sample what is come, challenging our senses. Many of the fragrances have titles that would not be out of place in galleries and hushed spotlit spaces. La Filles aux Aguilles, Les Boxeuses, Bas de Soie, Borneo 1834 (a scent that seems to stand behind you, hands over your eyes, whispering your name hotly into the back of your neck), Gris Clair, Femininité de Bois, Jeaux de Peaux, Fourreau Noir, Five O’clock au Gingembre and many others. These evocative and teasing, often punning titles mask complex fragrances. Lutens’s background in photography and film and Sheldrake’s passion for architecture have created a body of work preoccupied with glittering surface, finish, internal structure, composition and of course great olfactory beauty.

Saturday 22 October 2011

A Bouquet of Glass & Fur: ‘Vitriol D’Oeillet’ by Serge Lutens

Dianthus Caryophyllus or carnation is to many people just a pitiful bouquet filler, a garage forecourt or supermarket standby. Maligned and mocked, carnations have drifted from serious consideration as floral heavyweights into a strange world of pseudo-bloom, neither here nor there. Yes they are flowers, but hardly worthy of real attention. But they are also my birth flower, the bloom of January. The white carnation signifying innocence and pure love. They are surrounded by stories and symbolism. Purple carnations represent capriciousness, pink flowers for gratitude. In France they are ominous flowers, cursed, funereal, associated with misfortune and bad luck. Yet Christians believe the original carnations sprang from the soil where Mary’s anguished tears hit the ground as she witnessed her son’s anguished stagger under the weight of the cross toward Golgotha. This transfiguration of pain into beauty is a powerful and sobering image of the mocked carnation.

Carnations rarely smell of anything any more, often just the cellophane they are wrapped in or the tiniest whisper of a memory of a scent. But I remember being in Athens as a child, smelling a garden, just off a city square, awash with frilled and jagged carnations, the air choked with the sweet rubicund aroma of their perfume. Bees filled the air, thrumming their wings in the oppressive Greek summer heat.

So I do have a soft spot for carnations tucked away in my olfactory memory. I rarely find them replicated truthfully in fragrance. The effect is usually too heavy-handed or suffocatingly powdery. The use of eugenols (the aromachemicals used to conjure up the illusion of carnations) has become so strictly controlled by IFRA that the opportunities of ever really creating anything close to my carefully protected memory of that magical inhalation of spicy floral theatrics seems almost impossible.

The name dianthus roughly translates as flower of the gods, (dios + anthos) which is a world apart from the carnation’s often reviled image as perennial boutonnières, café table decorations and the predictable partner to Baby’s Breath in a million bouquets. The origin of the word carnation is little more complex and weird. Probably originating from carnation-, (stem of carnatio), late Latin for likeness of flesh, referring to the colour that was typical of the earliest flowers. Another theory ties the name to a corruption of the word coronation, referring to the crown-like corolla effect of the petals. Either way I rather like the image of a fleshy corrupted crown, it appeals to the Cronenberg in me.

I have worked in places over the years where the use of them was banned in floral displays as cheap and degrading. I’ve known people go hysterical at the sight of them in bouquets, tearing them out and flinging them to the ground. An extreme reaction to a bloom, that if scented and I mean deeply, richly, clovely powdered and brimming with boudoir carnality is quite simply heart stopping. They can reek of Wildean pomposity and desire; bear witness to deviance and the spilling of erotic ink and blood. In many a buttonhole and nosegay, I imagine the humble, yet haughty and sensual carnation the unblinking chronicler of a bygone era where rules wavered and lines blurred, yet somehow propriety held sway, just.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Rose Essay 2 - Shock and Scented Awe: ‘Nahéma’ by Guerlain

Nahéma means ‘Daughter of Fire’. An appropriate name for a smouldering fragrance forged from a sensual elixir of roses, peach, tonka, benzoin, ylang, sandalwood and of course the mysterious and magical vanillic twist that has transformed so many Guerlain fragrances into lush hypnotic classics.

Created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1979, Nahéma is bronzed and golden, a burnished blooming rose, so beautiful as to be almost untouchable, like a movie star, glowing on screen in a darkened auditorium. It inspires shock and awe and no one else has come close to capturing the power and impact of Nahéma’s massive beauty. It seems like every rose ever made and like no real rose at all. I had forgotten its ability to literally stop my world turning, just for a moment as a storm of roses splinters, then coalesces and reforms around you. 

I have been a Guerlain fan for years. Derby, Chamade pour Homme, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Bois D’Arménie, Shalimar, Sous le Vent. Any trip to Paris incudes a visit to the salon on the Champs Elysées with its glittering golden stairs and specialist consultants who live and breathe Guerlain. I love the reverence of the language they use, the vanillic taste in the air, the chic and eternal way fragrance is revered from mainstays like Mitsouko and Insolence to hidden beauties like Iris Ganache, Cruel Gardenia, Derby Pour Homme and Quand Vient la Pluie.

So in early spring last year I was browsing a Guerlain counter listening to the facile chat of the saleswoman who seemed incredibly shocked I wore anything vaguely feminine and insisted on talking to me about Habit Rouge and Vetiver. I told her I actually disliked both and Guerlain had murdered the Vetiver through pointless tinkering and reformulation. She asked my opinion on Guerlain Homme, Thierry Wasser’s first major work for Guerlain after joining them as in-house perfumer and master in waiting to Jean-Paul G. I paused, recalling the acidic lime/mojito horror that had surfaced under the Guerlain name. It was utterly banal, bereft of any style and seemed to say: look Guerlain can do street. I told the poor woman it was not my thing. I liked my vanillas and balsams, my impact scents: my beloved Jicky and L’Heure Bleue, deep and full of personal history. Dancefloors, kissing older men, and falling into taxis reeking of vanilla, amber, sex and fags. I always wore them too young, but the memories resonate and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Hollywood Jasmine: ‘Violet Blonde’ by Tom Ford

Sometimes I’m silver blonde. Urbane and aloof. Sometimes platinum. Harlow stark. Sometimes I crave the darkening roots and mucky Cobain style peroxide corolla. The thing is the shift and change in mood the colour brings. I catch myself in the mirror occasionally and stare, wondering who the hell I am.

This weird and transformative new take on violet by Mr Ford is barely a violet at all, more a luscious lick of jasmine sambac rolled in a Hollywood glaze of powdered mauve dream. It is an unpredictable blonde and rather magnificent.     

Violet Blonde was created for Ford by Antoine Lie at Givaudan. It is enigmatic and mercurial and for me, superior to the latest additions to his over-hyped and underwhelming Private Blend. I must admit their success puzzles me. Some are good. Some are okay. Some are dreadful (Neroli Portofino is a blandly metallic and bloodless attempt to out-citrus Acqua di Parma). Tuscan Leather and Tobacco Vanille are rather arrestingly 70s in execution and body, but the notes have been done better elsewhere: Aramis, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Amouage, Stetson...

The two latest Private Blend offerings, Santal Blush and Jasmin Rouge are a little mediocre. As always, well presented, glossily smug, if a little porny. The whimper of captive jasmine struggling to breathe in Jasmin Rouge amid a cacophony of musks and woods is rather sad. I wanted so much to love the Santal Blush. The name is great (Hi…! My name is Santal Blush, I used to be big in the 80s….) and I love rich creamy sandalwood. But it dies away to a synthetic whisper, like someone shouting for help in the dark and no one comes. A beautiful voice fades to a scratch in the night.

As usual, the campaigns and shine of everything is inextricably linked to the hirsute Texan himself and it’s hard to see past the lacquered Halstonesque vibe Tom Ford loves so much. I have always preferred his mainline scents. I wore Black Orchid to death, long before it became the Giorgio Beverly Hills of our times, sweeping in on crashing waves through every room in every bar, every night, in every town, on any over-tanned, slapped up skin. I loved the mysterious truffly dirt of the perfume, the danger, the transgression of dark plummy florals on masculine skin; all this was killed by relentless ubiquity.  

I was a passionate fan of White Patchouli too, Ford’s divisive follow up to Black Orchid. Great hot white plastic smell, freshly turned earth, new copy paper, indoles and spices. Loved it. It had a sweet, nutty drydown, crisp and clean with a tenacity that could stun horses. It didn’t get the recognition it deserved. It had tremendous verve and personality, again, that touch of seventies glam Tom Ford loves so much, the echo of Studio 54. The scent of Bianca Jagger on her white birthday horse. A Helmut Newton woman in a white tux, cigarette ash tumbling onto a wet Parisian street.

His mainline men’s scents have bored me. Nothing particularly original. Both Black Orchid and White Patchouli were awesome on guys, trangressively sexual. Grey Vetiver was dull and insipid. A washed out paper-thin scent with a barely discernable semblance of vetiver. His signature men’s scent was spices, sweat and tobacco by numbers. Only the distilled extracted version came anywhere near originality, but even then it just echoed classic Aramis and Azzaro.

Rose Essay 1 - Thunderstruck: ‘Voleur de Roses’ by L’Artisan Parfumeur

I’m wearing this as I write. I woke up this morning with a craving for it. It rises off my wrists like smoke. Pungent and druggy, I adore the black earthy rub of rose and patchouli (more patchouli I guess, but it loves the rose to death…). Melancholy and mulchy, like drops of fairytale blood split in an enchanted garden. It has a burnt electrified aroma as it seeps into the skin. Like waking one morning to find your rose garden has been savaged by an electrical storm, leaves and petals torn asunder, crushed to the ground. The air still feels dangerous, alive somehow, perfumed with green sweet power. You kneel down and push your hands into the mix of leaves, shattered petals and wet earth. This is Voleur Des Roses.

Created in 1999 by Michel Almairac for L’Artisan Parfumeur, this wild and pungent scent packs quite a punch. The rose & patchouli accord seems commonplace now, but Voleur des Roses still dazzles. The sillage is painterly, a cloak of autumnal plum and bruise coloured leaves dragging softly behind, occasionally picked up and lashed by a passing breeze.

As you look around the savaged garden, still inhaling the electrified air, it easy to imagine the vengeful storm tearing through the roses, shredding leaves and petals in glee, pulling electrical charges from the sky and scorching the earth and shaken roses just for the sheer joy of it. This drama embeds in the scent. The truffly almost bitter chocolate note that rises from the plunging drydown. There is darkness. Like a finding a dead robin amid the leaves, redbreast glowing poignantly against the cigar tones of autumn. I love the shiver of darkness in Voleur, the trembling sense of something wrong. It is a very strange fragrance. Classified as a masculine scent, but troublingly feminine too. A questioning of tone and emotion that makes it so exciting to wear and smell on others.

Almairac’s ability to conjure up atmosphere is magical. His new heritage leather floral for Bottega is divine. Gucci Rush (1999) still thrills me into sticky, naughty dreams of neon-scented weaponry. His Ambrette 9 (2006) for Le Labo is simply staggering. You literally need to sit down after you’ve tried it, it’s that intoxicating. I have worn his Fire Island (Bond No 9, 2006) for a while now. It continually amazes me every time I wear it, how succulent the suntan lotion note is, how golden and how heroic it is. How close the composition is to standing with my eyes closed on a Brittany beach, sun dappling over my eyelids, listening to waves and the crack of windsurfers. 

Almairac was also the creator of one my other more sentimental favourites: Minotaure, by Paloma Picasso. Dating back to 1992, a wonderfully atmospheric blend of citrus, jasmine and sweet leather. I was probably too young at 19 to be gadding about in such a ambiguous scent. But I remember clubbing to death in it, long floppy hair, slutty eyed and drugged up moves. God it smelt good on fired up skin. I haven’t smelt it in years. I’m not sure I want to. Sometimes, certain memories are better left untouched.  

Voleur des Roses may be nearly 20 years old, but sitting here with both wrists blooded with patchouli, rose and plum I realise it’s a masterpiece of counterpointing. Like swirling the lees of an aged burgundy in a warmed glass by the glow of a winter fire as snow and rain rage in the corner of the room. Romance meets brutality. Caress meets abduction. Kiss and strike. Quite the contrary rose.

Sunday 2 October 2011

The Scent of Heirloom Grace: Eau de Parfum by Bottega Veneta

I had wanted to this to be a whip crack. A brutal Drag Marlene, sneering and soft at the same time, Destry riding again, putting out for the boys in the backroom.  So at first I was a little disappointed. Bottega Veneta’s first foray into scent just plain puzzled me.

I adore leather in my scents. Knize 10. Bandit. Tom of Finland. Azzaro. Cuir de Russie. Diorling. Cuir Beluga. Traversée de Bosphore. Dzing! Jolie Madame. Cuir Ambre by Prada and recently L’Oiseau de Nuit by Parfumerie Générale and three weeks ago I rekindled my love affair with Cuir Mauresque by Serge Lutens.

The Bottega Veneta campaign is beautiful. The tremulous Grecian beauty of Nine D’Urso the shockingly beautiful daughter of style icon Ines de la Fressange, photographed by Bruce Weber. The fit is divine.  Weber has produced a pared down campaign that Cecil Beaton would be proud of. I just wasn’t sure about the juice. The scent seemed transparent and fleeting; an exercise in over-precise ingredients and attention to effect rather than overall mood and actual drydown and bloom on the skin. But in fact I was very wrong. It is an exquisite and intricate exploration of subtlety. The subtlety of wealth in fact, the kind of access to certain kinds of gardens, books, fabrics, skincare; maintenance, that only money can buy. Not fast and vulgar money, but old money, flowing through years of bloodlines, glimpsed in details: shoes, watches, seams, cuffs, the soft curve of a expensive manicure, the cut of a collar, the scent of a expensive throat. This secretive wealth of the privately acquired; the ordered and ultrafine is encapsulated in Bottega Veneta’s new fragrance, an understated statement of luxurious intent.    

There was a lot of expectation for this fragrance. There have been scented products before, a graceful candle range, with notes of leather, wood and freshly mown hay, in collaboration with Olivia Giacobetti and L’Artisan Parfumeur. The brand has come of age recently after years of languishing on the sidelines as other leather accessories brands stormed the citadels of taste and occasional vulgarity.  Some rose, some fell. Some sold out, others remained quietly luxurious and discreetly covetable. Bottega waited and watched. The name itself means Venetian Atelier and was founded in 1966.  It was briefly a hugely influential jet set brand when the jet set was actually something exciting and fun to be part of. Andy Warhol famously created a small film for Bottega in the giddy 1980s. The Gucci Group took control of the brand in 2002 and invited German designer Tomas Maier to head up the company. It was Maier who reinvigorated and honed Bottega, making the trademark woven leather technique known as intrecciato the central motif of the brand.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Papal Sugar: 'Loverdose' by Diesel

Loverdose by Diesel had me at the name alone. This is gothic sugar and liquorice overdose at the Chelsea Hotel styled by the Balenciaged Olsen Twins, slumped in papal darkness, air awash with vanilla, star anise, smoky woods and aftershocks of amber. The floor is littered with fragments of broken glittering hearts.

Loverdose is hardcore, loving at full tilt, rushing at life. Clinging to whatever you crave and kissing till your lips bleed.

Diesel has created something carefree and headstrong. It feels freeform, simple and shattering. It reeks of liquorice; sticky childhood, torpedoes, laces, sherbet dips, explosive heady hits of chewy darkness and powder.

I have very little time for perfume snobs. If I like something and it works on my skin I will wear it, no matter who makes it or what the bottle or the juice looks like. Hence the inclusion in my collection of Britney Spears Circus Fantasy. A neon-tastic harlot take on blue peony and orchid and god knows what else. Gaudy, brittle and throbbingly bright it may be, but it smells porny and gorgeous when I’m in the right mood. All pina colada and carnal cocktail skin.

Diesel’s Fuel for Life (for men) by Wasser and Menardo, another shrieking, pulsating neon blast of fruit and petrol. I posted a review of this on Basenotes as raspberries shredded through aircraft turbines and thrown onto the tarmac at Cannes airport, reeking of jammy, shimmering fuel. But again, it flows off my skin with violence and metallic beauty. (I am waiting with bated breath for the Wasser/Menardo collaboration on the new JPG men’s scent Kokorico; cacao, fig and woods). Please be good….please be wonderful….

I love some of the D&G Marseille Tarot series. Inspired simplicity. Not all of them work, but some are surprisingly rich and profound. La Roue de la Fortune is glorious, crashing Côte d’Azur hits of benzoin, pineapple, vanilla, pink pepper and gardenia. We all need a little overdose in our lives, something a little vulgar, something bad for us, something we should stay away from, and just can’t resist. Like inked, metal-head boys, booze and married men. But what would be the point of life if we were always good? A little bit of bad is often incredibly liberating. Never ever forget the first rule of fragrance. If it smells good, wear it.    
There is no denying Loverdose is vulgar. It practically chews gum and tells you to fuck off. The purple chunk of heart shaped glass is both tacky and dramatic. I can imagine hurling it slo-mo across a room in a rage and watching the shards sparkle and fly, purple tinted juice spilling like papal blood across the floor. And the name: Loverdose. A fractured film starring Lou Doillon as an anti-Monroe, just tinted pieces, silent, Lou-Marilyn wrapped in mauve, in a motel drinking martinis, endlessly smoking. Kissing young men through teary mascara, holding her fingers to their lips and smiling. The sun drips behind them. She turns to the camera, tips back her head and closes her yes.

Candy Darling: Prada 'Candy', Ambiguity and Obsession

Prada Candy with its golden caramel halo and rumoured 12% overdose of narcotic benzoin (3-4% is the norm….) is the odour of obsession and stalking, the perfume equivalent of De Clérambault Syndrome. Up close and disturbingly personal, every sign, whiff and signal could be interpreted as love and private passion, to touch and consummate skin on skin. This total absorption, the tiniest notes giving the obsessive an affirmation of private and perfect desire. Like the afterglow of an extinguished bulb, the wing beat of a moth in amber darkness. Despite the warning signs, the craving rolls on regardless. The molten attraction of soft golden benzoin cut like class A drugs with white musks and powdered floral accords. Then the pre-Raphaelite honeyed kiss of a drydown, all liquid eyes and trailing limbs.

Candy is one of the most elegant releases so far this year. It delivers a striking but subtle and poignant look at our seemingly endless obsession with gourmand fragrances. Everything about Candy is disarmingly soft and sensual, but this golden hued abstraction is wrapped around an intensely addictive core. It demands to be worn, lavished over the body and inhaled off the skin. It made me dizzy with desire when I first smelt it. I wanted to chew my friend’s hand off when he tried it, it was that sexy. Up close it does very strange things. Now I love benzoin, the more the better, so I knew I would like it, but it stalked me, crept closer, kissed the back of neck and then consumed me.

Of course it’s only a fragrance and a high street one at that, but Prada understand the singularity of oddness, the subtle leverage at the edge of conformity. It’s not the first time Prada have toyed with benzoin. Daniela Andrier’s niche Exclusive line for Muiccia four or five years ago resulted in some truly extraordinary fragrances that were around all too fleetingly. Single note essays in purity and abstraction they were presented like art, stripped down and offered up as gifts to the gods. They included a very haunting take on myrrh, a creamy and obsessive glowing leather: Cuir Ambre and a smoky and ritualistic Oppoponax. Despite myself I also loved the Toulouse Lautrec dazzle of Oeillet; a near perfect rendition of dizzying clove dusted carnations. 

The standout was No 9 Benjoin in 2007, a stormy marriage of bigarade and benzoin tears. It was a shocking scent. Vegetal, hot, spiced, sweet and incredibly heart-breaking on the skin. It moved and shifted like a virus, virtually impossible to identify as it sweetened, spiked and licked seductively at the senses. Part of me laments the rarity of the Exclusive line, but the other part of me secretly smiles and privately remembers the beauty.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Rose Essay V: My Heart is a Filigree Rose - 'Rose Water & Vanilla' by Jo Malone

There is a photograph from my childhood of a brightly tinted group holidaying by the Red Sea on the Arabian Peninsula. The sun is low and we have our hands up to shield our eyes. Every time I look at this image I can smell roses, as if the torn and curled print itself were impregnated. Not the blowsy collapsing scent of English garden roses or the timid squeak of perfume from over-cultivated sculptural topknots in supermarkets. Not the wet neon heads shimmering in manicured gardens that puzzled me on fleeting visits home from the Middle East nor the melancholy washed fragrance of saddened petals in bonfire night gardens. All these things have their olfactory place too. But this scent… this scent is something else; ephemeral, sweet and yearning. Loukoum, halva, the soft and persistent tumbling of scented water from silver ewers into open hands. The chilled interiors of hidden houses, rooms veiled from the heat outside. Gardens and courtyards like delicate oases tucked away from prying eyes.

I travelled so much as a child memories tumble over one another but the olfactory anchors resist the ebb and flow of time's tides. That cool milky scent of eastern roses is so potent, a direct emotional link back to those early years in Saudi and Iran; hot journeys to Persepolis and Petra, swimming pool parties, air-conditioned rooms, and vast empty supermarkets. It is the aroma and taste of syllabubs, syrups and teas. Roses floating in cool water to rinse the fingers. Jewel-coloured jams, the divine marriage of almond and rose, pastries bubbling in perfumed syrups. And of course loukhoum or Turkish delight, enveloped in silky powder that billowed up as you savoured the floral melt of each bite. 

All of this rush of memory has been recently triggered again by the remarkable new Rose Water & Vanilla scent launched by Jo Malone. Part of their stylish new Cologne Intense series of four new fragrances inspired by the scents and rituals of the Middle East. The other scents are Iris & White Musk, Oud & Bergamot and Amber & Patchouli. Rose Water & Vanilla is the stand out scent of the new quartet, (with the White Iris & Musk coming in a slightly distant second), and one of the sleekest and most complex fragrances Jo Malone have created in my opinion. Signed off by Christine Nagel of Fragrance Resources, it is modern, intriguing and for me, personally, a very emotional riff on sweet Middle Eastern pathos and silvered desire. I am a little obsessed by it for now. Whenever I wear it I am asked what I have on. Friends lean in, close their eyes and inhale. It makes them smile. I like my aura of poignant powder.

Friday 5 August 2011

Requiem for Snow: ‘Eau de Cologne’ by Helmut Lang

I sleep. I dream. In the dream it’s snowing. A cityscape softened by layer upon falling layer of crystals. I walk in silence, air gently swirling around me, eddies of snow lifted and swept past my feet as I move through the peaceful streets. There is no cold, no chill in my bones. The snow falls like powder, with a lightness that seems to say I am covering this pallid ground and when I am done, it will be something different, something better, something beautiful.

I come across a park, stretched out before me are trees bowed in white prayer. There is a frozen lake staring up at an alabaster sky. I breathe in the ethereal silence; a scent of vanilla and orange tinted lavender rising from beneath the snow. I am wearing white, shades of milk and silver, canescent in the reflective glow of the muffled landscape. All moisture has been stripped out of the air and the flakes dance like diamond dust. I gaze up at shapes in the sky, distant mountains perhaps. Whiteness drops silently around me like ash from a thousand volcanoes. Such huge expanses of white seem cruel and barren, but I find them immensely beautiful and soothing. 
Swans have frozen over on the lake, their longboat forms moulded by snow. A horse stands still under a tree, bone white and shimmering in the low glinting light. I hold out my hands and let the snow fall, watching the crystals flutter and quake. They don’t seem to melt. Instead they disintegrate like the softest dust when I rub my fingers together. I smell jasmine, almonds, roses, the most delicate whisper of woods; all wrapped in crumbling musks the colour of bruises. My skin smells beautiful, soft and blurred; the texture of pearlescent mohair. I wake, pressing my nose into the warm crook of my arm. Traces of the scent still linger. If I close my eyes, snow falls in my room across sheets and skin. I am slowly covered like a lost citizen of Pompeii.