I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Thursday 4 April 2013
Popcorn Candy & Radiant Waffles – ‘Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle’
have that styraxy thing of Etat Libre d’Orange to it, but with added pastries…’
inhaled our wrists again.
know those jelly beans..?’ said Mr E.
Belly…? The multi-flavour beans?’ I replied.
he said, ‘it smells like the taste of the popcorn one, the one speckled like a
hen’s egg, yellow pink.’
sniffed again. And it did.
been thirteen years since Frédéric Malle launched his Éditions,
focusing attention on the skills and artistry of the perfumer. A scrupulous
editor, he has published some of the most striking and original scents of
recent years by some of the world’s leading perfumers. Arguably some of the
perfumes have re-defined the concept of niche perfumery, exemplifying the
highest levels of techniques, imagination and materials. Collaborating with
noses like Ropion, Giacobetti, Schweiger, Ellena, Fléchier, Roucel and Bourdon has
made his capsule collection almost legendary in its brevity, style and ambition.
My picks: Schweiger’s smeared and supersexy Lipstick
Rose, Ropion’s radiant Vetiver Extraordinaire
and trangressive Carnal Flower. I
love Roucel’s disturbing Musc Ravageur, it
plays sociopathic skin-games, Jean-Claude Ellena’s L’Eau d’Hiver is icy and minimalistic and Pierre Bourdon’s Iris Poudré has the beauty of an indoor
collaborations have always been dynamic duos, Malle working with the perfumer,
inspiration moving back and forth. It has been almost three years since the
launch of Dominique Ropion’s Portrait of
a Lady, the last addition to the line. News starting circulating last year
of a new line of olfactory Portraits, ‘XXX par Frédéric Malle’, an olfactory
triumvirate of model/inspiration, perfumer and Malle.
have the first of the new series: Dries
Van Noten par Frédéric Malle, a stylised set of olfactive impressions of
the cult Antwerp-based designer woven rather brilliantly into a strange and
beguiling perfume. The scent is essentially built around a Mysore sandalwood
note that is deliciously rendered by the IFF perfumer Bruno Jovanovic. He has
enhanced the natural milky nature of a true sandalwood note with the addition
of ethyl maltol (the candyfloss/fairground note in Angel), sulfurol, a kiss of jasmine, patchouli and one of the most textured
vanilla notes I have breathed off my skin in a while.
de Parfum shone
the spotlight on perfumers, showcasing the true beauty of their métier. It was a bold move and allowed perfume lovers
the opportunity to see the artistry inherent in the creation of emotive and
personal aromas. For those that followed names like Jean-Claude Ellena, Dominique
Ropion and Maurice Roucel it was fascinating to compare and analyse their niche
work alongside their more controlled creations for big name houses. Olfactory
signatures, styles, themes, scented leitmotifs shimmered into view.
time round Malle has displaced the perfumer off the label in favour of his name
and that of the person who has inspired the perfume, in this case iconic
Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. Apparently the IFF perfumer, New-York based
Bruno Jovanovich did not really spend much time with Van Noten but he was ‘a
great listener’ and consulted with Malle who acted as a kind of editor and
aromatic translator. I am intrigued by this filtering of impressions. The
fragrance is Malle’s personal transcription of the world, work and personality
of Van Noten, a designer Malle regards as a ‘hero’. It is like commissioning a
portrait and working from a description of the sitter, rather than having them
in front of you, an amalgamation of Malle and Van Noten blended into olfactory brush
strokes, impressions, notes and accords.
Van Noten is an intriguing first choice as muse. He was a member of the
original Antwerp Six who had a seismic impact on fashion after graduating from
the Antwerp Royal Academy between 1980-1981. They studied under the influential
tutelage of Head of Fashion Linda Loppa. Other members of the six included Ann
Demeulemeester, Dirk Bikkembergs and Walter Van Bierendonck. They placed quiet
mood and a sense of art into fashion, an avant-garde quality of poise and
confidence that was softly radical. It was achieved with flickers and nods of
things to come, innovative use of fabrics, layering, deconstruction, moody
dressing, the blurring of gender, a rejection of the conventional sexed up take
on runway presentations. Their work was highly influential and placed the
Belgian School and in particular Antwerp Royal Academy at the centre of the
fashion world. Today, the school is still closely observed by fashion insiders in
case something extraordinary appears.
Noten’s work is witty and striking. He does not design couture. The clothes are
ready to wear and ready for retail. There is practicality and a streak of
puritanical fervor in his denial of the excesses of couture. But as he simply
put it when asked, he didn’t see the point in creating clothes that were not
going to be sold. His clothes are fluid on the body and move with consummate
grace. This often sets him apart from other designers who may be able to design
and put together ideas, but neglect the body inside the cloth. First and foremost
his clothes are made to be worn. They have a lovely neutrality and softness of
line when it comes to gender. He shows womenswear and menswear, but when you
look closely at the pieces there is a gentle blurring of boy and girl that is
barely discernible yet somehow imbues his work with tremendous grace and
vitality. There is always a playful use of fabrics and colour, cleverly
harnessed to flatter the skin and movement of the body in motion or repose. And
there is the layering. I have tried to resist, but I layer, oh I do; I like
nothing more than layers of black, grey and white in my downtime, cut, slashed
and worn, frayed edges, holes over my heart. Smart and eccentric for work, a
little more Gus van Sant rough trade on days off. I prefer a grungier take on
layering, but Dries van Noten’s intelligent use of line and drape has created a
distinctive and enviable body of work.
the world of Van Noten into a fragrance would seem complex and fraught with
potential pitfalls. Van Noten and Malle are not noses, Jovanovich is not a
designer, nor does he have the accrued and connective experience in the world
of perfumery that Malle has. The point of this new Portraits collection seems to me to be wonderfully intimate though;
impressions and ideas passed like notes in a classroom between a trio of
individuals who want to create a harmonious triptych from gathered memories,
images, cultural pointers, personal impressions and abstractions of all of the
is an odd choice as perfumer for this project on paper, his CV includes
CKIN2Us, Beyonce’s Pulse, the dull Onde Extase for Armani, the genocidal Lady Million for Paco Rabanne and the
truly poisonous Fierce for
Abercrombie & Fitch, the scent that pollutes their heinous heaving stores.
This scent for Malle is a massive progression in terms of style and
imagination. He seems to have suddenly learned how to slow down and take note
of things around him, listen, smell and then translate these things into
something different from the brash commercialism of his other work. He still
uses his commercial nose though; it comes through in the vanilla, ethyl maltol
and strident patchouli. These notes smell resolutely mainstream to me. But working
with Malle has taught him reserve and tact. He has added a harmonious delicacy
to his handling of more volatile notes, blending the Sulfurol and Peru balsam
with an expert nose for rigour and detail.
Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle is essentially a gourmand hymn to sandalwood.
Sandalwood has been almost virtually wiped out in real perfumery terms.
Sandalwood stocks were brought to the brink of destruction 20-25 years ago, therefore
dramatically pushing up costs and perfumery had to look to synthetics for help
in creating this most vital of notes. Aromachemicals such as Polysantol,
Ebanol, Firsantol and Levosandol have been used to capture the trademark
creaminess associated with Indian Sandalwood. Some of these molecules are
exceptional, (like Javanol, used so well in Comme des Garçon’s dry and airy Wonderwood) and very real in their
interpretation of aspects of the wood. But the presence of real Mysore
sandalwood in unmistakable. A good case point is the re-formulation of Samsara, Jean-Paul Guerlain’s love
letter to sandalwood and rose. Samsara
used to glow like a lantern in a winter window; the woods were so damn radiant.
Then the synthetics slowly crept in, almost criminally, under cover of denial.
All of sudden Samsara dimmed, the light
faded and one of Guerlain’s most charismatic fragrances became a little more
sandalwood Jovanovic has used to illuminating and patisserie effect is actually
santalum album, real Mysore
Sandalwood from a sustainable source in Australia. You can smell the difference;
it is deep and expansive with a glowing roundness that only comes from the real
wood. Around this glorious woody note are an expert arrangement of delicious
and carefully calibrated notes including lemon, vanilla, jasmine, guaiac wood,
tonka bean, Cashmeran, musks, saffron, patchouli, Sulfurol, nutmeg, bergamot
and Peru Balsam. The fragrance feels like a luxurious hushed party, discreet
and velveteen, the notes mingling like guests, lit with delicacy and vanillic radiance.
I get no
real sense of a classic triangle when I wear the fragrance. Yes it’s stronger
obviously when it goes on. It does shed notes as it dries down, they fall away
like veils, but it is pretty linear in design. The notes all seem to envelop
you at once, woody, vanillic, honeyed, spicy, biscuity and petrolic. Then it
moves and settles in a variety of directions depending on your perception.
popcorn jellybeans. I smell waffles dusted in vanilla sugar, fresh and washed
down with milky tea. I smell biscuits, that weird air-filling beige aroma that
fills the car as you drive by biscuit factories. Mr E smells the pinkified
clove spice of dental rinse and I can catch a whiff of Dentyne cinnamon gum. A
few reviews have mentioned Speculoos,
a cookie traditionally eaten in the Festive period in parts of Belgium,
northern France and the Netherlands. The biscuits are flavoured with spices
such as ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. The classic Speculoos have scenes
relevant to the life of St Nicholas (Euro Santa.) on one side. Equally popular
is a cookie butter version in a jar version of the same flavour. I’ve eaten it
a couple of times, I used to be able to buy it in Lidl oddly, then in a local
deli. It’s very sweet and quite sinful, with a Christmassy caramalised taste.
It does smell amazing, nostalgic and instantly comforting. Opening the jar and
sniffing is probably the best part of eating it! One of my new coveted brands, L’Antichambre, set up by Anne Pascale
Mathy-Devalck in Brussels has a gorgeous sounding scent solely devoted to this
moreish biscuit. Called quite simply Le
Speculoos, it is vanilla-rich with brown sugar, cardamom, biscuit accord, cinnamon,
clove, ginger and nutmeg. Perfume extract strength, this has gone onto my Most Desired list..
underpinning this sweet nostalgic whiff in the Dries Van Noten is something
altogether more substantial. Under the frivolity of surface and effect is a
meatier more uncomfortable facet that rises and falls through the patisserie
kindness. This is the Sulfurol, often used in food flavourings; it adds an off-kilter
gamy note. Combined with a huge burst of plummy patchouli and a squeeze of bergamot,
these three notes lend Dries Van Noten a profundity and initial ferocity that
might otherwise have been swamped by the undeniably wonderful wood &
realised after the first few times of wearing Dries van Noten I kept raking
through my olfactory memory for something. It was Kenzo Jungle from 1996, a papal blast of patchouli and licquorice, ylang,
mango, heliotrope and vanilla. I wore it so much I made myself ill. I can smell
a molecule of it at 100 paces. But something about the combination of
patchouli, Sulfurol and touches of saffron in the Dries Van Noten brings Jungle roaring back into my memory.
Dries Van Noten’s clothing, there is immense simplicity and invisible
complexity to his collaborative scent. The layers shift and float as you move
through the air. Van Noten is well known for colour and pattern in his work and
it is interesting that the fragrance that bears his name should be so creamily monochromatic.
The more I wear it, the more it exerts its power over me. I am using a generous
sample kindly sourced from Liberty for me by a friend. And despite the
substantial price tag (£110 for 50ml, £155 for 100ml) I now have to have this
fragrance I realise...
Reviews have been mixed so far. Frédéric Malle
set himself very high standards with his original Éditions
and I think people expected him to follow a similar olfactory template. But Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle is
very different, a marked shift in mood and intent. It feels like a drawing in,
a more private commitment. I sense Malle is more involved. This fragrance somehow
feels more personal, a project that will allow him to explore some of his own
quirks, passions and desires as he works with perfumers to create a portrait of
someone or something. For now I am in lust with this observant and subtle take
on popcorn candy, woods and yeasty waffles. It has everything I like in a
scent, style, charm, aloofness and just enough cookie dough eccentricity to
turn a head in a room. What more could you want?
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