Sunday, 22 April 2012
Chocolate Essay II – Feral Taste of Desire: ‘Chocolat Amère’ by Il Profvmo
Chocolat Amère by Il Profvmo is my touchstone chocolate fragrance, dark and bitter, it sits on the skin like lacquer. A masculine chocolate, designed to settle into moaning darkness and fever dreams. I have never tired of it and every time I wear it I am asked what I have on. It turns heads; people sniff the air expectantly, searching for an animalic trail, a whiff of hunt. It is not something I ever thought I’d find in a chocolate scent.
Il Profvmo was founded by Italian aromatherapist and cosmetologist Silvana Casoli. She recently created a bespoke scent for Pope Benedict XVI, inspired in part by the Pontiff’s alleged hankering for his beloved Black Forest. The fragrance has notes of lime blossom and grasses. Silvana has already authored two fragrances for the Catholic church; Acqua Della Speranza (Water of Hope) and Acqua Della Feda (Water of Faith). I like the uneasy mix of sacred and profane in her work. The classic Catholic dichotomy. Nice to see it pop up in fragrance, albeit rather glibly. The website is a little disappointing, poor info, typos and an irritating soundtrack. It’s a pity because the range is underrated and has some very special things buried amid the rather messy graphics and orientation issues.
The fragrances are often hard to find (Luckyscent, Amazon weirdly…only a few though). I came across them in Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh who as usual stocked them for six months, failed to promote them properly, buried them away in the corners of their perfumery with Rancé and then discontinued them saying they didn’t sell. This is the HN way. But you do stumble across them in the oddest places: a clothing store in Amsterdam, niche homeware stores in Manchester, department stores in Moscow.
Casoli’s perfumed oeuvre is intriguing and varied, ranging from floral fragrances to gourmand interpretations, spicy and green offerings and interesting experiments in abstraction. Two other favourites from the line are Nuda and Macadam. Nuda is skin incarnate, supposedly skin in ecstasy, but it has a disarmingly creamy softness that tugs the mind between carnality and comfort. The use of white musks is billowing and layered perfection. The perfumed expression of Renaissance marble.
Macadam is the perfumed personification of Roger Vivier patent shoes skipping along springtime Parisian streets, water flung from flower shops, freshly washed hair, a touch of pavement, a whiff of car, that special early vibration of Paris mornings. It is a very odd scent, a gentle collision of floral, green, forest and musky powder. It works, audaciously, just.
The range also has a range of oil-based fragrances called Osmo Absolus. These are quite something. The website has lots of puffery about evaporations curves, skin osmosis…. blah blah. But the reality is a line of well-made oil based scents with warm and lingering drydowns that rise constantly from skin to the brain. I have tried three. They are intense, with complex body interactions. They drop into the skin and then work out their own way to smell. I loved the Patchouli Noir, this smelt astonishing as a base under the Chocolat Amère, ramping up the truffly woody aspect of the cocoa bean. The Vanille Bourbon is sweet and silky, gorgeous for vanilla lovers like me. And the Musc Bleu is a glittering intensity of skin musk. It smells like turning the lights off and turning to realise your lover is glowing in the dark like white fire.
I have a real passion for chocolate. I love it cheap and sweet, white and fleshy, truffly and serotonin boostingly deep. I’m not a chocolate snob, I like the elegance of high percentage cocoa solids with roasted nuts and black cherries say or just on its own melted in the mouth with clarifying Earl Grey Tea. But I crave the simple rush of Cadburys milky smoothness too. It’s a mood thing.
It’s the same with chocolate in my fragrances. Sometimes, I want the dramatic cocoa show of Amour de Cacao by Comptoir Sud Pacifique or the milky peach fuzz softness of the original Omnia by Bulgari, white chocolate notes and mandarin. My skin adores the new Angel flanker, part of The Taste of Fragrance series, a collaboration with Parfums Mugler and Helene Darrouze, the Michelin starred chef, based at the Connaught in London. A huge whoosh of dark cocoa has been added to the original candyfloss and caramel infused formula. The result is quite beautiful, red berry rich, truffly and skin-lickingly sensual. Musc Maori by Parfumerie Generale is another favourite, white musks, coffee, cocoa bean, tonka and vanilla. But strong and woody, with tremendous verve and personality, the man in the room you just can’t stop looking at out of the corner of your eye. Something I sampled recently and can’t stop thinking about is Greedy Chocolate by Montale, the purveyors of all things oud. Love the name alone. It is glossy chocolate ganache with orange smeared undertones and a massive lashing of dirty vanilla. Very odd and really should not work. Like the dessert you know you really should not have, but god it tastes amazing. Cocoa, moka bean, bitter orange and vanilla; the notes are simple but balanced with a patisserie chef’s master hand.
One of the first chocolate gourmand scents I remember owning and loving was Eau de Charlotte by Annick Goutal, created for her daughter in 1982. The subtlety and delicacy of the gourmand notes is interlaced with cassis, mimosa and vanilla. It is a very French fragrance, the pale yellow tones of mimosa drifting across a breakfast scene of bread, jam and warm hot chocolate. Like many perfumes, it has specific memories folded through it for me: of a boy, tattooed with random text from Baudelaire, sharing my Sunday breakfast over a rough-hewn wooden board, scattering crumbs over smoky trashed sheets. Kisses tasting of chocolate and Bonne Maman jam.
It’s the contradiction of sweet stuff on skin that draws us in. The gourmand thing has gone AWOL these days, with so many dizzying permutations of sweetness. Caramel, strawberries, toffee, licquorice, milk, hazelnut, popcorn and of course every style of chocolate known…..But a counterpointing is needed to fan the flames of sweet desire, to enhance the feral qualities of good chocolate; a touch of shadow, some vibrating rose damascones, vetiver bourbon, deep shrubby patchouli, Madagascan vanilla, tobacco, creamy orchid or indolic Casablanca lily.
The Aztecs made the raw cocoa bean into a cold drink called xocolātl, a Nuhuatl word meaning bitter water. The beans were fermented and the drink was consumed in vast quantities with presumed aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayans preferred their version of the beverage warm and this appealed to the voracious Spanish invaders who took the bean home to Europe in the 16th Century. It was hugely popular at the Spanish court and spread across Europe. The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657.
Some of like us like it dark, some of us like it sweet. Chocolate I think can be rather telling. White chocolate is baby soft and safe, the chocolate equivalent of the missionary position with the lights off and no talking. Milk is comfort, oozing and creamy, skin-like and lickable. We know this stuff, Cadburys, Galaxy, the melt in the mouth, the sensation, the chemistry.
This was done so well in Missoni Missoni by Maurice Roucel, a masterpiece of floral gourmand counterpointing. The milk chocolate notes are tempered with magnolia, peony, orange, Japanese apple and amber. The Italian love of hazelnuts is woven through it giving the composition a soft kiss-kiss drydown that is dewy and highly addictive. Missoni later released Gianduja, a massively ramped up nutella-tastic scent (with added praline and hazelnut facets) that just reeked of smeared animalic amber and chocolate. I loved it. Smelt kinda morning after sexy on me. Although occasionally it made me feel like I’d been at a Nutella orgy and passed out somewhere after the foil was broken on jar three…
A near perfect essay on the history of chocolate was created by Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur. Released in 2002, Piment Brûlant was inspired by the Aztec chocolate love potions downed by Montezuma before he visited the women in his harem. A creamy raw chocolate note has been blended with red pepper lending the composition a bizarre red-hot and sweet combo like sugar dusted electricity. A really gorgeous silvered poppy seed facet mingles with clove and vanilla to round off this abstracted gourmand scent. It was launched originally with Olivia Giacobetti’s Safran Troublant and Poivre Piquant, also by Bertrand. The collection was called Les Epices de la Passion, all three fragrances promoted with an aphrodisiac angle. I love the way Piment Brulant sits on my skin, the chilli smells like freshly cut bell pepper as the scent opens out. The chocolate has a fabulous raw edge to it, like sniffing melted 90% cocoa, earthy and dirtysexy. Along with the Chocolat Amère, it has the feel and drugginess of real quality cocoa.
As an aside…….Amid the recent Mugler reboots, the only one I didn’t like was the Amen re-orchestration, with red chilli shot through the original gourmand formula of coffee, chocolate, musks, lavender and tonka. Oddly the element of red heat unbalanced what for me is already a rather chaotic and thin scent. Smelt like putting your tongue to the knife that cut the chocolate and chilli. Cold, oily and metallic with a little tingle of fire. Not impressive.
But lets return to the theme of chocolate as a revealer of sensual types… Dark chocolate is bitter, smooth and to be savoured in small quantities with a fine port perhaps or an aged malt. There is elitism in the high solids, the upper echelons of darkness. There is an implied sense of connoisseurship and appreciation of fine craftsmanship in the consumption of the bitter, darker cocoas, either on their own, single estate bars, or concoctions designed to enhance the beauty of the bean.
As with fragrance, chocolate flavourings have gotten a little crazy. I do like sea salt and caramel blends. Sea salt on its own it very odd and works well with a fine green tea. I sampled some herb chocolates last year, and liked one with tiny echoes of sage running through it. Nutmeg is a favourite note of mine and black tea as well. I’ve tasted Islay malts, damson and mushroom in dark chocolate recently and found these bleak, dank notes marry well with the brooding nature of dark chocolate. It seems the darker cocoa lover is the person who can whisper your name and melt the skin from your bones.
The reason Chocolat Amère works is the witty and handsome blending of materials. Like a man who knows how to put together his fabrics with subtlety and grace, the fragrance presents itself with warmth, passion and understated elegance. The gourmand facets of the scent are played off against spices and white flowers. As in Roucel’s Missoni Missoni, where a similar counterpointing plays out between the sweetening flutter of magnolia and peony with the rootier chocolate, amber and hazelnut facets. The keynote in Chocolate Amère is the galbanum, the earthy resin that gives classic fragrances like Must de Cartier, Balmain’s Vent Vert and Penhaligon’s cult Bluebell their distinctive woody, green aroma. Cut with the bitterness of dark chocolate and lit through with incense and spices (particularly a lovely rounded sweet nutmeg note), the galbanum lifts the whole gourmand accord to an altogether more complex atmospheric experience. The dispersion rate of the structure seems to spread like the cooling of quality ganache on marble.
I know a lot of people deplore the rise of gourmand notes in perfumery, but with studied application of chemistry and natural oils the results can be sensual and deeply satisfying. There is the strange struggle between comfort and desire that plays out in our mind as we inhale the sweetness on skin, be it our own or the skin we’re loving. The transition from a state of comfort and spooning to licking, clawing and fucking can be shockingly sudden and feral. This beautifully rendered portrait of dark chocolate desire reeks of this.
For more info on Il Profvmo and Silvana Casoli's fragrances, please follow link below.