I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
Sweet Cask Memories (or Some Like it Bluesy): ‘Speakeasy’ by Frapin
written about this remarkable fragrance by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Frapin
a lot recently on the Fox’s Facebook page and I picked it as one of my five
fragrances I wanted from Papa Noel. I became somewhat consumed with the idea of
Speakeasy and what I would smell like,
how it would evolve, how the carefully assembled notes would unfold and seduce
my senses. I imagined the tobacco, liatrix, mint, leather, tonka, white musks
and immortelle all tumbling and writhing across me. I realised I was obsessed
with the idea of a fragrance I had never actually experienced.
friend in olfactory exploration, Bertrand, visited Nose, the new temple of
scented wonder at 20 rue Bachaumont in Paris and fell for its charms… (Amongst a
number other things it must be said!). He is becoming quite the perfumed rogue.
He and his partner Dounia sent me the loveliest gift for Christmas, a box of perfumed,
edible and heartfelt delights. In it was an atomiser brimming with Speakeasy. Now, I didn’t know what it
was it when I first tried it on, as Bertrand & Dounia had deliberately not labeled
it. I had no idea. It smelt so weird, sweetly tannic and green, like a shot of whisky
and wheatgrass strained through a rusty sieve by a woman smoking Gitanes
through a veil. I realised it had to be something Bertrand had bought and
guessed it was Speakeasy.
reason I wanted to write this post is because I am rarely wrong-footed by a
fragrance. But the disparity between reading so much about Speakeasy and the actual smelling of it was truly visceral. I don’t
think I’ve sampled something in a long time as complex and idiosyncratic that
smelt so utterly different from how I expected it to be. It felt so good to be thrown
laughed out loud when I realised how peculiar the scent was, how the notes I expected
actually coalesced into something else altogether; a portrait of ambivalence,
shared desires, cocktails, secrets and laughter in the night. Leather and smoke
became alive and whispered of jolting love in cars. Davana, styrax and orange
spoke of abandonment, straying fingers and lacquered nails. The mojito accord
of mint, lime and rum is the sweetener before the break-ups in a louche deco
bar. There is innocence too, a sweet bready background note of patisserie, a
whiff of rum baba, a childhood memory of cake shops and kitchens mixed with a
mother’s smile. Perfume fills the bar; a smear of lipstick stains a glass. I
can smell the fuzzy scent of hairspray mixed with booze and cigarette trails.
Speakeasy is all this and more. Ephemeral. Never heavy.
The images it raises shimmer and blur like a mirage, never quite fully coming
into focus. I had imagined something so much deeper. A dark, echoing room with
everything swirling like amber whisky rolling around the base of a cut crystal
glass in the light of flickering fire. I expected density, the notes to weigh
down on the skin, to be almost tactile. But the layers of scented effects shift
and slide seamlessly over each other like a series of perfumed Japanese
screens; transparent enough to allow the admittance of light and shade but
still opaque enough to permit a certain privacy and structure.
oeuvre for his own house Parfums D’Empire is often very dramatic, so I guess I
was expecting echoes of this in Speakeasy.
I am huge fan of his Ambre Russe, an
opera of leather, black tea, ambergris, vodka, smoke and an almost gleeful
violence of notes marching through the composition. The cacophony of effects
paint a picture of a cavalry officer’s boots flung aside before passionate sex
on fur and silks, smoking and smashing vodka glasses into an open fire. It has
a glorious intensity, getting stronger as it settles, and the boozy weaving of
oriental and ecclesiastical notes rising to the heavens like a guilty whispered
other two outstanding fragrances from the line are Musc Tonkin and Cuir Ottoman.
Marc-Antoine’s extensive experience with the composition of natural raw
materials has served him remarkably well as a perfumer. There is a minute
attention to detail and for me an intrinsic awareness of texture. He seems to embroider fragrances, into luxurious
fabrics of olfactory wonder, the notes woven together seamlessly to create olfactory
tapestries of drama and harmonious beauty.
is Corsican, born however in Morocco and raised partly amid the citrus groves
of North Africa and the family home of Cuttoli Corticchiato amid the fabled
Corsican maquis. From a background in chemistry and an interest in the scented
life cycles of aromatic plants, he completed his training at the world famous
ISIPCA, the École Internationale de Parfumerie De Versailles.
D’Empire is a collection of fragranced publications inspired by Marc-Antoine’s
passion for history. Each scent echoes an aspect of great empires: Russian,
Ottoman, Alexandrine, and Napoleonic for example. He also sees the skin as an
empire to be conquered by perfume, his perfumes. The fragrances are notable for
their glowing depth and quality of raw ingredients. Cuir Ottoman has a truly beautiful dirtiness, a reveling in the
baseness of skin.
limited edition Musc Tonkin is slutty
and oily, swimming with balms, resins, fire and of course an massive overdose
of musks. There are no notes listed for this concentrated extract, but the
composition reeks of fucked skin, the heat and exhalations of post-coital
flesh, perfumed and wantonly sweaty. An homage to Tonkin musk, a very rare musk
produced by Himalayan deer, the juice waxes and wanes with a fevered honeyed
intensity. I sampled it on a visit to London and felt pornographic for hours.
It spreads out and amplifies, ripples of musk becoming huge waves until you are
knocked off your feet by the force of the effects. It made me feel vaguely
unwell too, headachy and dizzy, like that point on an evening out when you know
you really should go home…. but you don’t. The lure of the night is too
addictive. If you get a chance to try it, please do, it makes the skin a dirty
canvas begging to be licked and bruised.
own words: “. My scents are an invitation
to explore the most complex and mysterious of empires: the realm of the senses.”
Frapin & Cie was established in 1270 in the heart of the Grande Champagne
region of France, establishing themselves in the Chateau de Fontpinot. The
estate covers 300 hectares and the family has been distilling cognac for over twenty
live in Scotland I have over the years learned a lot about the whisky industry
and while I cannot say I am massive fan of the amber nectar (I also stopped
drinking 7 years ago), the variety of regional styles and odours that permeate
the trade still amazes me. The scent of distilleries is kaleidoscopic, the
older the better. Coastal ones for example can have an oceanic, iodine tang
mixed with the woody, yeasty scents of the actual processes. Some of the
distilleries have a whiff of must and dirt, some are gleaming new chromatic
wonders with a steely sharpness of citrus and beery foamy wonder. The language
used in the whisky trade is astonishing, ranging from fruity innuendo to
downright abstract and goddam filthy and vile. From Weetabix, hen’s mash and
oilskin to Madeira cake, nutmeg and bubblegum.
in Burgundy some years ago I had the opportunity to visit several vineyards and
wineries. Again it was the smells and textures of the air that I remember, not
so much the tastings and wine we bought. The dry vineyards themselves have a
particular fluttering salad aroma and I remember the tannic dust and burnt
fruit tones in the cellar air. In one old vineyard there was a weird humming metallic
scent in the extraction chambers that felt comforting and oppressive. And finally the incredible boozy lullaby of
cavernous rooms where casks of wine lay slumbering in semi-darkness as the
elements slowly macerated and blended, creating a dense and complex palette of
tastes and aromas.
these cask memories started coming back as I wore Speakeasy and concentrated on the oddness of the drydown, the shift
from mojito fruity top down through the blond tobacco, leather, resins, tonka
and musks. It shouldn’t really work, draping the ghost of a rum-soaked gourmand
over the tough skeleton of a resinous leather scent. But the sweet aftertaste
works, it allows the skin to love the cellar notes and bar smoke, the potential
pitfalls of olfactory abstraction. Frapin have centuries of experience in the
fine art of maceration and blending in order to achieve the perfect balance on
the palette and in the brain. Bringing the weight of this knowledge to bear on
perfumery was always going to yield intriguing results.
In 2002 Frapin
decided to launch 1270, what they
like to refer to thier parfum des
origines, the scent of their roots, or the scent of the soil if you like.
Created by the daughter of the family, Beatrice Cointreau with the Frapin
Cellar Master, 1270 was designed to
celebrate the vertiginous heritage of the Frapin legacy and the terre itself, the fruits of the vine,
the Folle Blanche grape and the obsessive stages of the cognac’s history. Built
around a duet of vine flowers and the dry green licquorice tones of immortelle,
1270 mixes candied orange, nuts,
prunes, cocoa, tonka and coffee over a sublime and harmonious base of honey,
vanilla and woods.
1270 was the first Frapin I came across on a New
Year trip to Paris and I was blown away by the resonance of the accords and in
particular the controlled booziness of the drydown. Like the flickering heat of
burning Christmas spirits, the blend of woods, spice, fruit and floral facets
is masterly. Everything smells finished, smoothed off and matured. This boozy
woozy sexiness was pushed even further by Bertrand Duchaufour’s 1697, a celebration of the year that
Louis IX bestowed the Frapin family with the status of nobility and a coat of
arms. Rum, rose, patchouli, jasmine sambac and ambergris meld together with
dried fruits and spices, producing a voluptuous, head-spinning eau de parfum of
unique power. It burns off the skin like fire, woody, moreish, giddy and so very
So for Speakeasy, Frapin turned to Marc-Antoine
Corticchiato. Speakeasys were all about coded signals, what to say, who to talk
to, passwords and the potential dangers of drinking during the Prohibition era.
This made everything sparkle at the edges with alarm and threat. With the
booze-swilling culture we have now it is quite hard to imagine a time when
Prohibition could have been a real state of affairs. Now that tobacco has
become persona non grata in so many countries across the western world, more
and more of us are less exposed (probably a good thing) to the smell of
tobacco. I gave up smoking years ago. Yet I still have days and minutes when I
imagine a Marlboro Light in my hand, the strange anticipation of my heart
rising in rhythm to meet the first draw. But most of my smoking memoires are
linked to Gauloises in Paris, and coffee, nasty endless cups in Bastille cafes,
idling time with ratty wannabe punkish boys and bored au-pairs. Smoking until I
wanted to pass out or die and then just tearing open another soft pack and
mentioned earlier I was expecting Speakeasy
to be more amber toned, tawny in the glass as it were. So the blond tobacco
note that floats out of the notes early on was quite a shock. It is clean and damp,
lip-wet. This soft smoky come-hither feel is deepened by the use of immortelle
and its addictive aromas of burnt sugar and sweet grass. Liatrix (deer tongue)
and tonka bean enhance the sense of hazy interiors even more; a fan overhead
slowly chop chopping through the air as the smoke rises and falls around
lipsticked mouths and blue unshaven chins.
magnificence of Speakeasy is the
playfulness, the laughter at the bar, the couple unafraid to laugh, crash their
glasses together and kiss with abandon. This joy is the incredibly beautiful
mojito accord that Cortcchiato has built into the top of the fragrance. It
smells expensive; a cocktail mixed with the world’s finest ingredients, in this
case, rum, Russian mint and fizzy lime from Brazil. It works brilliantly, cool
and laid back, wrong-footing anyone expecting the tobacco and base notes to
throw themselves forward demanding attention. Cortcchiato is far too subtle a
perfumer for that. A touch of orange and the sweetness of Davana keep the top
notes exhilarating for far longer than one would expect.
has ciste, styrax, labdanum, musks and leather blended with the tobacco and
immortelle. They are heavy hitting notes. But nothing ever feels weighed down
or muddied. As Speakeasy dried down I
was continually surprised by the complexity of the evaporation curve, the
evolution of the materials assembled by Corticchiato. I kept picking up a really
compulsive rum baba note, sticky, heady and very nostalgic. Paris again. Tearooms
in winter with hot chocolate served properly in jugs with milk to thin it out.
The bustle of veiled cruising happening all around as I nibbled and dipped my
booze-drenched baba, catching eyes and looking away with a smile. This
delicious patisserie note, tempered by the curveball mojito effect at the top
is what makes Speakeasy so unusual
and desirable on the skin. I think however it is the addition of immortelle absolute
that swings it for me; it is one of my keynote materials. I wrote about it
extensively in my post on L’Être Aimé by Parfums Divine, which is shaped by this
delicious scrubby wonder.
particular burnt sugar and scorched chlorophyll facets of immortelle; along
with a whiff of licquorice left in the sun bolster the off-kilter gourmand
jazzy vibe that comes off Speakeasy.
It runs through the scent like a tenor sax note as the other elements mingle
and coalesce into a soft-focused noir bar scene, plaintive yet persistent and
very taken with this skewed and bluesy scent. It has a certain laid back
quality to it, a tension of illicit love, of stolen kisses and lipstick in the gloom, stubble
against one’s cheek, a whiff of cigarettes, the smell of the streets on a hat
and fingers. Speakeasy is bravura
perfume making, a maceration of themes and ideas from a perfumer and an ancient
cognac House. Together they have created something innovative and singularly