The bewitching Traversée du Bosphore is a simulacrum of softness and deception. Leather beneath the rose. Sugar cast across thorns. Nominally a portrait of Istanbul, the ancient and historical heart of the Ottoman Empire. A day in notes, sketched portraits: glimpses of tulips in the city’s parks, apple fritters bubbling in syrup, echoes of Istanbul’s leather trade, the famous Hazer Baba, Turkey’s apple tea, and of course, loukoum, or Turkish delight, soft and unctuous, flavoured with rosewater or mastic and rolled in powdered sugar. Now I love loukoum, only the rose kind mind, no messing about with pistachio and other bits of postmodern nut and flavouring nonsense. Living in Iran as a child I used to eat it by ice cold pools while adults cracked pistachios, dropping the shells into smutty ashtrays.
I think this olfactory portrait of the world’s most mysterious cities is one of Duchaufour’s finest creations. Everything fits together beautifully, layers of colour and texture to produce an overall effect of fur, leather and sugar; something a little unsettling, the fetish beneath convention. I imagine a room, hung with tapestries, red and gold, a scent of shattered sugar in the air, a drifting, like snow across the senses. Fur and silk beneath the fingers, a low light. Then a door to an antechamber, similar but also different, darker; a whiff of leather, a swirl of darkness, musks and roses crushed underfoot, the softest calfskin glove dipped in sugar dust and dragged across my lips with the faintest trace of lipstick. I feel drugged, swooning into the muscular arms of musks and amber.
Bonfire night toffee apples and Turkish delight. Hidden desires and fetish dreams. It is the ravishing leather and sugar concoction that captures me every time I put it on....and the apple too, that faded, weird woody apple note from crates of winter stored apples, sweet and slightly alcoholic. The tulip note is unsettling as the scent dries down, rubbery and sexual, with that slightly squeaky texture the flowers have as you wrestle them into vases. It is almost the look of them you can detect in Traversée du Bosphore, not their scent. As it finally fades away after hours on the skin, it feels like night falling in a mythical Istanbul, empty streets, echoing footsteps, throwing up sugar dust into the soft falling night. Sky filled with shadowed musks and crumbled rose. It is an elegiac fragrance; I imagine myself lost just for a while in Istanbul, looking back over my shoulder at something beautiful, but knowing it has already slipped away into the night.
I have been lucky enough to meet the self-effacing and oddly introverted Duchaufour. He is a quietly passionate man who vibrates with desire for his craft and the pursuit of excellence in his field. His knowledge and skill in aroma chemistry is exquisite. But for me it is his subtle artistry and use of the scented palette to create olfactory masterpieces that sets him apart from his industry peers. He can be dismissive and charming in turn about others in the perfume world, critical of other perfumers, aromatically eloquent and yet oddly evasive on the subject of other perfumes. His journals and sketchbooks made during his perfumed travels for L’Artisan Parfumeur show his inspirational hand at work, but also how he sees the natural world; delicate and transparent, alive and vibrant yet fleeting and transitory in places.
Duchaufour paints the world in scent, choosing from an elaborate and precise palette of odours to capture and recreate places and moments in time. His work is akin to the sketchbooks and diaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Grand Tourists travelling the globe and absorbing a multitude of sensory experiences.
I love the atmosphere of his fragrances, the earth, skies, smoke, leaf and bloom he conjures up. He has produced a wide ranging œuvre for amongst others: Comme Des Garcons, Eau d’Italie, Amouage, Penhaligon’s and of course as house nose for L’Artisan Parfumeur. These fragrances are among some of the most intriguing and beautiful scentscapes in recent times. Nuit de Tubéreuse with its weird capsicum note and leftfield take on the fleshy and overblown tuberose resulted in an incandescent scent that glows from within with a fierce Parisian intensity. Timbuktu’s soft ritualistic smoke and muddy atmospherics is utterly compelling and the creamy pirate lash of vanilla and cigar-tinted rum that is Vanille Absolument is perhaps one of the most stylish renderings of vanilla in years.
I worship his Al Oudh (fourth bottle and counting....), a dirtyfilthygorgeous mix of desert and bedroom, an Arabian fantasy of Oudh, dried fruits, rubbed spices, animal musks, leather and the promise of carnal abandonment. My skin adores this scent, the smoky sweet dates smearing across the darkness, rounding off the bullwhip crack of sweat and spices that can so often shock and awe with Oudh. As I move through rooms, I carry with me the ghosts of 1000 sheikhs, ululating dreams and cinematic sensuality.
Duchaufour’s perfumes are like the passage of storms, shifting and gathering on the skin. One moment, full on, dramatic and massively emotional. Then calm. Gentle. A falling, a subtle scent behind the winds, a taste of something in the beginning of rain. They are hugely affecting fragrances, with beautiful natural elements woven together with the oddness of specific aromachemical chords to enhance, polish and heighten the senses. There is chiaroscuro in his oeuvre, a blurring of the natural line. There is often a real sense of time; night and day and mood. I have always found his Kyoto scent profoundly dark and melancholy, a statement of profound meditative mourning, deep aching loss, never to be assuaged, against a backdrop of muffled temple bells and weeping. His 1697 for Frapin, rumoured to soon be folded back into the loving arms of L’Artisan Parfumeur, was extraordinary, a boozy, woozy staggering conflagration that seemed to literally burn off the skin. It reminded me of heating brandy in a ladle, ready to drip liquid flame over the Christmas pudding, rolling the liquor around, waiting for the temperature to rise, then whooomp, a soft and sudden ignition. The heady blend of tobacco, dried fruits, vanilla, divine balsams, spices and cognac ravish the senses. Bertrand’s stylised motif of dried fruits is beautifully used to counterpoint the vaporous hangover inducing booze notes swilling around in the juice.
Everything is imprinted with a sense of wonder and genuine sensuality that is all too rare in the pretentious and dizzyingly cynical world of fragrance. Duchaufour’s magical touch, the dazzle, the subtle flourishes and sheer artistry, have made him one of the most important and influential creative perfumers at work today.