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

Saturday 16 May 2015

Aspects of Structured Verdancy: ‘Panorama’ by Olfactive Studio

The glorious Sheats-Goldstein residence juts out of tropical LA fauna into the sun with unashamed glittering brilliance and angular arrogance. It is a modern cave, a spiky fuck-off-statement of exquisite harmony and brooding privacy. An alien abode containing no 90º angles or painted objects, it built from concrete, glass, stone and leather. I have loved it for decades and always wanted to visit it. Depending on how it is viewed, it seemed to hover and float next to the trees and flora, from other perspectives it seems to be reaching out like one of Ray Bradbury’s haunted Martian architectural maws into the glittering air.

It is photographer Miguel Sandinha’s emerald-suffused image of the Sheats-Goldstein residence that has inspired Panorama, the latest release from Céline Verleure’s artistic and über-chic niche house Olfactive Studio. I have only just treated myself to the solemn, shadowed stickiness of Ombre Indigo created by Mylène Arlan a young Roberet parfumeuse who studied under Jacques Flori and Michel Almairac. The image for Ombre Indigo by Gustavo Pellizzon is a haunting one, a shadow creature walking water or perhaps waiting at the edge for passage across a darkening lake.

The figure seems composed of dark matter and motionless, brooding, clothed in saffron orange, lending it a symbolic religiosity. Only in the top left of the image does light appear, again ambiguously, it could be flooding in or fleeing. A lick of orange fire on the water correlates with the figure’s raiment.

'Ombre Indigo': Gustavo Pellizzon
I will be honest; I have struggled a little in the past with Olfactive Studio’s concept of marrying a photographic image to a perfume. In theory I love it, two artforms I have huge passion for, both of them essentially mirrors of emotion, canvases of development and desire. Trying to feed one into the other was always going to be tricky and despite the intrigue and spark of the initial results, I wasn’t entirely sold.

Céline Verleure

Olfactive Studio is the brainchild of the lovely Céline Verleure, a woman of multifarious talents, driven by a passion for excellence and innovation. Her background is in marketing but she has long harboured a secret dream of architecture and building her own special world. She worked chez Kenzo and collaborated with Dominique Ropion and Jean-Louis Sieuzac on the plummy sandalwood wonder that is Jungle, a scent I still forage about for on Duty Free shelves. It has the power of a nuclear bomb with sky-high heliotrope and CGI rendering of rainforest green dusted with reckless doses of cumin, cardamom and clove. I used to go through bottles of it. Now I’m not so sure I even like it but I have to have it my collection or else I kinda panic. There will always be a moment when I need to wear it, sucking all the oxygen out of the room. A second scent L’Eau de Kenzo was co-signed with Olivier Cresp and was one of the few 90’s aquatics I liked, with an ice-cold mint note threaded through the waterfall ozonic rush. Stints of marketing at L’Oréal, wine importing and the founding of the influential website followed. Then came the innovative crowdsourcing project Le Blog Du Parfum Qui N’Existe Pas (Encore)!, a vibrant community of scent lovers who suggested names, design ideas and thematics. The FB page has over 5000 likes now. As a result, Olfactive Studio was born in 2011, debuting with three fragrances, Auto Portrait by Nathalie Lorson, Still Life by Dora Arnaud and Chambre Noire by Dorothée Piot. I wasn’t sold on these to be honest, although I am happy to admit of course scent is all about personal tastes and were not quite to mine. Lumière Blanche by Sidonie Lancesseur in 2012 had its moments, especially in a milky, snowy heart that for a moment persuaded you the skin was closed and draped white for winter. But I found its anise note scraped away at my migraineur senses with a brutal insistency.

Flash Back in 2013 was the Olfactive Studio scent that persuaded me to revisit and perhaps re-evaluate my thoughts of Céline’s aromatic labours of love. It was created by Master Perfumer Olivier Cresp and reunited him with Céline, a kind of symbolic flashback to their time working together on the 1996 Kenzo L’Eau de Kenzo. Cresp is an astonishingly prolific perfumer, aromatic with gregarious charm and movie star looks. He has some mega mainstream hits under his belt including Angel for Mugler (with Yves de Chiris), Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Lancôme Magnifique (with Jacques Cavallier), Givenchy Ange ou Démon and Paco Rabanne Black XS. It always seemed like he wasn’t particularly interested in the insular world of niche scent. Then he worked with British cult brand Penhaligon’s on Juniper Sling, a hugely successful gin-inspired fragrance, ice-cold, anisic with angelica and flooded with a HUGE dose of Cresp’s beloved Ambroxan. It seemed to release his desire to flex his more experimental side.

'Flash Back': L.Segretier

Flash Back is very interesting, again very cold, hanging on two vibrant notes of rhubarb and a quite specific Granny Smith apple recreation. It is a memory scent of childhood, of harvest, summer and baking filtered through a twisted modern idiom of aromachemical manipulation. What seems real is in fact effect. A rhubarb tart so real, it is holographic in its steady humming intensity. The scent is matched by a what at first glance looks like a highly pixelated capture from CCTV footage, someone searching for the face of a loved one amid a crowd. The image is by Laurent Segretier, a French artist who uses the vagaries and random effects of digital film to create work that flickers and tugs at our notions of identity. The smeared visage could raise memories or questions or simply slide away into time. All good scent is a question of raising ghosts and Flash Back’s rhubarb and apple combo smells deliciously like home baked tart gone cold… the heat just off into the summer air. I have come to love its minimal albino quality as if the fruit were leached of colour and placed carefully in the centre of a bright gallery space.

So Olfactive Studio and it’s image/art combo had reeled me in enough to visit Bloom’s new store in Covent Garden and buy Ombre Indigo. I love its fumy tuberose and tactile resins. The plum and saffron smell singed and rubbered as it settles, sticky with the grapey violence of Methyl-anthranilite and nightclub Safraleine. The heart is paper and leather, all texture, glimpsed in darkness, by the light of a single bare bulb swinging back and forth in a windowless room. One of my friends said it smells like burnt VCR tape, which is a fabulous description of its dirty kick-off.

The definition of panorama is the point looking out over a view when everything before you drops away from mere perspective, coalescing sharply into magnificence. Vista becomes unbroken awe. Miguel Sandinha’s sci-fi tinted image of the Sheats-Goldstein house catches this fabulous moment of wow with lush green power. The glass and concrete corner of the seating area juts provocatively out into the airy void, floating over the seemingly tropical morass below.

The house was designed by architect John Lautner and built between 1961-1963 for Paul and Helen Sheats, an expert in child education and his wife who was an artist. They lived in the finished house for a number of years with their five children; Helen cleverly had windows installed in the pool so she could watch the children playing while she worked in her studio/study. Subsequent owners did not care for the house in the quite the same way and when the rather mesmerising and James F Goldstein acquired the property in 1972, it was in a state of sacrilegious neglect. He set about a long intensive programme of structural remodelling with Lautner and later, after Lautner’s death, with Duncan Nicolson who worked in Lautner’s office. A lot of work was done internally to enhance the existing features, modernising the original structure without compromising the visionary concept. Goldstein requested Lautner to design all the fitting as well, carpets, furniture, lighting etc so there was no visible seam in the aesthetics. Goldstein commissioned landscape designer Eric Nagelmann to create a unique microclimate to cocoon the house, inspired by the tropical flora of Tahiti or Bali. This has worked beautifully with Lautner’s edges and planes, producing a series of shadowed enclaves and quiet concrete-clad walkways. The contemporary beauty of this jungle meets urban cave concept owes much to James F Goldstein’s unwavering belief in a pure, driven aesthetic vision.   

Panorama (image by Miguel Sandinha)

Translating an image of this iconic house into wearable and understandable scent is a big ask and the task falls to Clément Gavarry of IFF, whose father Max co-created the original and fabulous Z-14 for Halston. Clément has the recent Diana Vreeland scents under his belt and co-signed (the now sadly discontinued) Black Violet for Tom Ford with Pascal Guarin. He is a graduate of the Versailles based ISIPCA school and now based in New York.
The house is a beautifully controlled marriage of organic form and shadowed plane. Light is manipulated through angled glass, skylights, filters; green becomes intimate personality and form. It is this intense shock of tropical surround that informs the structure of Panorama; it has one of the most arresting openings of any scent I have sampled in years. Much of this is due to the glorious blast of a beautifully rendered wasabi accord in the top of the notes. This is the piquant difference that has every tone talking about Panorama, and so it should, it is fabulously bright and attention grabbing. Wasabi is such an odd thing; knobbly, rooty and marshy in flavour with a fresh clean herbaceous fire taste on the tongue. 

Drawing of wasabi plant. 1830. 
By Iwasaki Kanen

The phrase Japanese Horseradish is bandied about a lot, but wasabi is in fact a brassica, although a lot of so-called wasabi flavoured products use combinations of horseradish, mustard and green colourants to achieve their effects. I used to buy real wasabi from a farmers’ market; it came wrapped in damp muslin, smelling of sharp mulch and bitter leaf. I had a special ceramic grater for it, textured like sharkskin. The vibrant green colour and cleansing heat is like nothing else.

Wasbai grater

Clément Gavarry has allied the eccentric stalkiness of his wasabi accord with the zingy tang of lemon and bergamot bursting out of the bottle with magnificent force. Wrapped around them are the more elusive tones of bamboo and fig leaves serving as pale drifting canopy effects, carrying the shock of green into clear blue air. Galbanum I think is having a little bit of an emerald-tinted renaissance, it’s not the easiest of notes, never the knock-out beauty at the ball, more the fascinating wallflower, whose dark tricks and secrets are thrown into dangerous and seductive relief as the light go down. In Panorama the mulchy smiling creep of galbanum is quite noticeable in the heart of the scent but this is submerged in a powerful slash of violet leaf. This smells like someone has thrown coloured ink across a window, it’s that arresting. In facet the more I wear Panorama, the more I realise how important this violet leaf note is, it works off the ‘wasabi’ note, galbanum and lemon in the top like the equivalent of reflections on glass. The dazzle is verdant fire. Fresh cut grass is listed as a heart note, could be a high dose of cis-3-hexanol that has the most beautiful uplifting effect on surrounding notes. Whatever it is, it sings a metallic song under the spicy, ozonic expanse of the opening emerald salvo.

Panorama (image by Miguel Sandinha)

The opening of Panorama is undoubtedly one of the most impressive I have sampled in ages, it has vista and vibrancy, an ability to make you stop and focus for moment on the exact nature of olfactory assembly. It’s all about the green, the surround, and the sudden impact of the initial environment. The Sheats-Goldstein house is a building that has evolved organically to possess, blend into and soar over its carefully controlled tropical microclimate. Everything is designed to have a purpose from the skylights and electronically controlled shutters to rugs and precisely arranged leather suites and transparent sinks. The base notes of Panorama, while necessary, are in many ways like the foundations of this extraordinary house, important but in this case, overshadowed by the shock and sexy awe of the architectural notes and effects above.

The fir balsam and myrrh do burn and fume in the base, rolling upwards to cast delicate shadows that tinge the drydown rather beautifully with a soft resinous whisper. Vanilla, tonka and musks are fleeting guests, barely registering on my skin, just laying down enough sweetness and amandine dust to take the edge of all the vegetal urgency and whiff of cold evening lawn. 

It really is all about the top and heart with Panorama and this is no bad thing, topping up and re-applying is a task of joy. Just as Lautner’s visionary house seems to float out in the shimmering LA air, dazzling with its juxtaposed planes of glass, concrete and steel set against a private jungle, Panorama’s complex and masterful use of an edgy vibrant green palette of unexpected notes and high quality materials has produced a perfume of unexpected allure and emerald aesthetics. What could have been anther dull venture into flat green generic herbaceous boredom is in fact one of the most intriguing and moreish launches in recent years. 

It has made me a little more tolerant of Olfactive Studio’s photograph=scent approach. I’m still not entirely sold on it, but it think both Panorama and Ombre Indigo are major shifts in style and depth for Céline Verleure’s©TheSilverFox 2015
(Disclosure - Bottle of Panorama kindly received from Olfactive Studio. Ombre Indigo and samples my own)

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