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

Thursday 22 September 2016

Grace & Restoration: ‘Green Water’ & Creating Fath’s Essentials.

No water, no life. No blue, no green.

Sylvia Earle. American marine biologist & explorer.

This will be an unabashed love letter to the seemingly unending talents of perfumer Cécile Zarokian but also to the four outstanding scents she has created with Panouge for Jacques Fath Paris. There is too, undeniably the poignant histoire of Jacques Fath himself, a golden prince of couture who, post Second World War in France, along with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain redefined the essence of feminine fashion and made women feel outrageously glamourous and beautiful. He died far too young at the age of forty-two, but while he was alive he blazed like a supernova.

Jacques Fath lensed
by Avedon

Those of you who follow and read my work will know how much I admire the perfumery and artistry of French perfumer Cécile Zarokian. Originally ISIPCA trained, she is now an independent creator with her own laboratory, Cécile Zarokian Sarl, set up in 2011, with over fifty compositions under her belt for houses and brands such as Jul et Mad, Masque Milano, Amouage (she composed Epic Woman while still at ISIPCA), Jovoy, Xerjoff, Uer Mi, Laboratorio Olfattivo, David Jourquin and Hayari. 

Cécile Zarokian 

Each piece of work is different, technically Cécile is brilliant, smoothly adapt at working within the complexities of IFRA constraints, although refreshingly she has said that she is part of a new generation of perfumers who have trained within this so-called restrictive system and therefore have to be more creative as a result. Along with contemporaries like Luca Maffei, Cristiano Canali, Quentin Bisch, Julien Rasquinet, Amélie Bourgeois, Sophie Labbé and Aliénor Massenet it is true that perhaps the time for grumbling about IFRA’s punitive hold on perfumery materials should be stilled a little.

For many people the Jacques Fath name has faded into obscurity, known only to couture connoisseurs. Yet at his peak, in the 50s, he was dazzling, married to Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère, a model and aspiring actress he had met during a brief stint in acting school. Together they embodied the glittering, gilded sexuality that Fath wanted women to attain when they wore his exquisitely cut and tailored couture. He was self-taught, which I think made a difference, it drove him to care, he was very dynamic and hands on, fitting cloth to the models own bodies, a throwback to the minute attention he had paid to the seams, patterns and structures of his mother and sisters’ dresses when he was younger. He read voraciously and visited museums, looking at mannequins, draped in costumes and fabrics. They say he had a way of making the invisible visible; such was his mastery of the silhouette.

Fath in his atelier

His house models were incredibly sophisticated and elegant; Geneviève was in many ways his great muse, she had wanted to be a model and always wore his clothes when travelling or at parties. But he also had other great beauties of the day working for him. Bettina Graziani was an incredibly elegant brunette with soulful eyes and an extraordinary ability to transmute Fath’s couture into fairy-tale allure, wondrously illuminated by her enigmatic presence. 

Fath & Bettina Graziani

And there was the gorgeous Lucie Daouphars a former welder who became one of the top three Fath house models. A defiant image of her in black by a bridge lensed by Cologne-based photographer Walde Huth (1923-2011) is an image that obsessed me when I first came across it, capturing as it does so perfectly the strange and iconic beauty of this willowy, alluring woman. Looking at images of these amazing women in his creations, you can get a sense of how the Fath woman was embodied, how Jacques projected her persona onto a post-war womanhood eager for sensuality and charisma.

Lucie Daouphars 

Jacques had Hollywood glamour; he designed a wedding dress for Rita Hayworth, the dresses Moira Shearer wore in Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and he dressed the creamy beauty that was Kay Kendall in the sprightly old fashioned film Genevieve, an actress we forget now, but her talent was wasted in the time she lived. She was luminously chic on screen with a gift for screwball comedy. Tragically she died so young at the age of only thirty-two of myeloid leukaemia, a fact that was kept from her by her well-meaning lover Rex Harrison. She died believing it was due to an iron deficiency. If you watch Genevieve, it’s still tremendous fun, but Kendall looks incredibly stylish, hats, gloves, coats, dresses all Fath and she looks like she was born to wear them. There are subtle colour plates throughout the movie too and her wardrobe shifts and adapts throughout.

Kay Kendall (in Jacques Fath)
& Kenneth More
in 'Genevieve'. (1953)

Jacques Fath was only ten years older than Kay Kendall when he died at the age of forty-two in 1953. He had created an exceptional life of beauty and excitement around himself, living hard, burning up, the flame diminishing fast. His wife continued the label for a while but it was not the same and couture production ceased in favour of more lucrative, manageable products such as hosiery, millinery, glove making and of course perfumery. The first fragrances had appeared as early as 1947 including the near-mythical Iris Gris composed by Vincent Roubert who also made the house’s original Green Water in 1947 and the whipcracking butch-fatale classic Knize Ten. Now Iris Gris is one of those Holy Grail scents, a legendary Xanadu benchmark of iris perfumes with Roubert’s dove-grey rhizome sublimated by the underdecalactone or aldehyde C-14 that gives the tremulous iris a beatific halo of glistening peach. One of the best descriptions of meeting and experiencing Iris Gris is from writer Denyse Beaulieu, who came across a sealed, near perfect bottle in Parisian flea market. Making Iris Gris again now to the same formula or as close as possible would be a fascinating if fraught process and one I can I imagine Cécile would either relish or flatly refuse.

The other early Fath perfumes such as Canasta (1950) and Fath de Fath (1953) and the later more conventional mainstream juices like Irissime Noir (2014), Les Folies de Fath (2012) and Rose de Fath (2014)etc fell by the olfactory wayside to a House reinventing but not surviving. Marie Salamagne had an interesting shot at the iris legacy with Irissime in 2009, but the overall synthetic textures of the floral accords and a huge overdose of pink pepper made for uncomfortable wearing.

Vintage Fath perfumes

Now Panouge, who also have Isabey, Masakï Paris, Sue Wong and Masukaï Matsushïma in their portfolio, have collaborated with Cécile Zarokian to bring a sense of olfactive credibility and sophistication back to the world of Jacques Fath parfums. I have to admit it seemed on paper to be a tricky challenge; the trend for resuscitating dead or waning houses has become almost a rite of passage for perfumers with moneymen and investors searching about for neglected, archaic brands buried in cellars, disused townhouse basements and museums. Grossmith, Oriza L. Legrand, Lubin, Houbigant and Le Galion are just a few of the more successful aromatic renaissance stories in recent years.

Fath's Essentials

Cécile and Panouge have decided to play relatively safe, but only just. The debut collection of four graceful and beautifully made parfums is entitled Fath’s Essentials and consists of Cécile’s remarkable reworking of Roubert’s 1947 Green Water and three new compositions in wonderful, carefree homage to Jacques Fath, his elegant atelier models and the sense of controlled sensuality and wonder that suffused his couture work. These are Curacao Bay, Vers le Sud and the sublime Bel Ambre. All four perfumes seems perfectly in tune with one another stylistically, of today and yet somehow on skin seem of another time, more radiant, playful and urgent. The materials are of the highest quality and Cécile’s astute blending once again proves why she is without doubt one of the most adaptable and technically elegant perfumers at work today. Her Silk Roads Trilogy for Claude Marchal’s MDCI Parfums, inspired by Puccini and Rameau were sublime, Tango for Masque Milano and her benchmark Patchouliful for Laboratorio Olfattivo were both superb. Private Label, the vibrating, worn and supple leather she made for François Hénin at Jovoy is the brand’s best-kept secret and the fragrance that really helped make her name. I think Aqua Sextius she made for Jul et Mad, in honour of the brand creative directors Julien and Madalina getting married in Aix-en-Provence is perhaps one of the most beautiful compositions Cécile has put her name to. I find myself returning to it over and over, marvelling at her skill in creating something so full of resinous, musky air yet lush with such photorealistic mandarin and grapefruit. The hazy heat of Provence is suggested by fig, pine resin and the sultry lilt of white blossoms. These notes float so softly over a slowly developing base of guaiac-tinted bed notes and moss. It is a very clever and instantly recognisble aromatic capture of the environs, radiant with joy and studied calm. 

Green Water 

Cécile has brought that same sense of studied elegance and awareness of careful structure to her lovely work on Fath’s Essentials. Now the work on Green Water has been unusual to say the least, the original version has been long vanished from this olfactive world and the nasty version that appeared in 1993 was an eye-watering travesty that had more in common with toothpaste and mouth rinses that perfume. Vincent Roubert’s son gave the original formula to Jean Kerléo, the founder and keeper of the Osmothèque flame in Paris. Now you imagine it would simply be a case of Cécile being able to ask permission to view the formula. The answer to that would be no. She like us can visit the Osmothèque and sniff the formula they have there but that is it. Cécile was unable to take away a sample and had to keep revisiting in order to refresh her smelling strips. I personally find it a rum state of affairs that a perfumer of Cécile Zarokian’s calibre and proven track record is not permitted to view or even really discuss the materials of what was to be honest hardly a ground-breaking masterpiece the first time. However… I am not privy to Osmothèque procedures or aware of Kerléo’s decisions re his close control of the original Green Water formula; what I do know is that out of this strange balancing of information and encouragement on Kerléo’s part we now have this rather magnificent neroli-saturated incarnation of Green Water.

Green Water

The citrus notes just salvo out of the top of Cécile’s formulation, they are raucous and fizzing with sherbet mayhem. Crisp, clean, emerald sleek and somehow managing to avoid any the usual immediate associations one has with citrus scents; cleaning products, car fresheners, cheap and cheerful shower gels. This is partly due to the high quality of the ingredients but also I think to the rapid expansion of the herbal notes that Cécile has placed in the second stage of the top as those citrus notes start to cool down. Basil and tarragon, herbs that beg to rubbed as you pass by in the kitchen or garden in order to appreciate that abrasion of green. In fact the verdancy of Green Water is quite muted, it’s not a glossy, Hollywood hills wet-look lawn, more of a pale myrtle celadon glaze or muttonfat jade. There is a touch of moistness left over as those wonderful citrus notes settle into a slightly more crystallised echo of their former lushness.

I can really smell the caraway seeds, lightly crushed, anisic and carrying their yeasty associations, exalted here by one of the best mint notes I have smelled in years. Such a hard material to get right. I generally dislike it as a rule; Cartier Roadster gave me nightmares. I have only really smelled it done well in three fragrances if I’m honest. One is Bertrand Duchaufour’s lovely reworking of Esprit de Roi for Penhaligon’s, mixed with tomato leaf and raspberry; another is Hans Hendley’s gorgeous Jade, a blend of glassy mint, star anise and geranium that genuinely made me stop and wonder how he had managed to create something so shockingly real. I personally love the dirt, slightly grubby mint in Phaedon’s Noir Marine, rollicking about with Egyptian tobacco, cedarwood, sea salt, pepper and tolu balsam. People rave about Heeley’s Menthe Fraiche, but it smells terrible on me and falls of my skin far too quickly. Cécile’s mint is warm and relatively transparent with facets of tea and nettle. It really is quite beautiful, never overpowering the other materials.  

The base has this mysteriously silken grey amber infusion that Cécile has used in this composition and Curacao Bay; real ambergris, exquisitely waxen and textured like cold mist so as to temper, almost obfuscate the final pastel moments. The base contains a controlled dosage of whispered oakmoss and a supersoft vetiver that compliments the herbs and mint that opened the scent but it’s that phantom amber infusion haunting the base, creating a kind of diffusive dreamscape for the green water to drop quietly into; for me that what completes this excellent reworking. I know the percentage of neroli is high and you smell its lushness throughout the development of Green Water. Cécile has used it so well, tumbling it with joy, avoiding the soapy, barbershop tonality it can sometimes impart. Here is just smells radiant, like a warm comforting light shining through the materials.

When all is said and done, Green Water is not a hugely powerful scent; projection is intimate, staying close which I like. Those looking for a considered and elegant cologne-style scent that does things with debonair intricacy will enjoy the bravura array of citrus, neroli and mint as they explode out of the bottle. Me, I like the gentle etiquette and echo of classic European eaux de colognes wrapped in a strange, crystallised herbiness. But I was so seduced by that grey amber infusion and its serene presence, imbuing Green Water with a gentle haze that falls between grassy retro and emerald abstraction.

Faithful reproduction? Well that I think is really for Jean Kerléo to say and anyone who has tried the original 1947 formula. I’d like to hope this was never really an exercise in copying Vincent Roubert’s work to the letter; I can’t really see the point in that. Tastes change and Cécile’s composition is about re-imagining Green Water for 2016 in the most Jacques Fath way possible. He would have adored this version I think in every way possible.

Curacao Bay

Curacao Bay was love at first spray for me, the salty iodine and grey amber infusion over a creamy frangipani and bitter-berry blackcurrant doused in lavish glugs of boozy scented Grand Marnier-like orange and tangerine head notes all making for rather addictive perfumery. And that’s even before the long drawn out briny, beachy dry out…

I’m not entirely sure Curacao Bay should have worked really; a blue-toned scent with a vaguely dubious Tiki bar name associated with a liqueur that perhaps has a reputation of being one of the more tacky in the drinks cabinet and can be found mingling and flirting loudly with Tia Maria, Apricot Bols, Kahlua and Midori in a darkened dusty corner. It’s a drink that gets a bad rap, an anomalous orange-flavoured liqueur coloured vividly with E133 Brilliant Blue. Genuine Curacao is flavoured with the aromatic peel of the laraha fruit, a bitter adapted descendent of the Valencia orange brought over by the Spanish in 1527 to the island of Curacao in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela. It didn’t really take to the soil, the flesh of the laraha (citrus currantium currassuviensis) is too fibrous to eat but the peel is beautifully odiferous when dried. Spices are added to the peel and then it is added to the alcohol (traditionally brandy) and allowed to macerate. The classic liqueur has a bitter green, intensely tawny aroma, the sweetness of orange note off set by the echo of pith and peel. Quite where the blueness arrived from it a matter of conjecture, but most people agree it is a gimmick, the blue tone is in many ways the epitome of cocktail garishness. I quite like the unexpected sensory dissonance of drinking something blue toned, cool in appearance that tastes of oranges, yellows, sunshine and laughter. You could argue too that the colour is reflective of the azure seas lapping up against the dreamy beaches of a fantasy Curacao Bay…

Blue Curacao

One of the stylish touches only European perfumers, particularly French and Italian noses seem to add to certain fragrances is that hazy, lazy sense of warm holiday beach summers, a profoundly nostalgic aroma of hot skin, sea salt mingled with the remnants of tanning lotions and oils, something I like to refer to the Ambre Solaire accord. It’s a distinctive osmosis of mood and place, suspension of time and memory, filtered through a particular colour and glare of sun glancing off waves and glittering sea. The effect is often smears of benzyl salicylates, the naturally occurring aromachemical in indolic white bloom, but they are used in particular sun care lotions in France and the associations are forever there.

A great example is the Eurotrashy Roberto Cavalli from 2012. It was laced with large doses of orange blossom, vanilla and benzoin giving the formula a high gloss sheen of summer tanning oils, gummy vanilla and resins. The whole thing has Cote d’Azur heat, gleaming Ferraris and gold swimwear written all over it but it smells bloody amazing. You kinda feel it should come with a yacht and tanned twenty-somethings draped all over it. The solar effect of the orange blossom has been hugely enhanced in the Cavalli and it really works. Thierry Wasser did the same thing with the gorgeous Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia from 2012. I went through three bottles of this indolic, lily and ylang soaked olfactive crack. It was ridiculously addictive. Again due to the radiant solar effects that exalt the tropical hazy feel of the white flowers, musks and Guerlain vanilla. Curacao Bay has this vibe too, not quite as sunlit and yellow as other more solar drenched compositions I have sampled; there is a drift of blue cloud across the warm skies. The scent however still has that very particular holiday ambience, laid back and chilled. There is I think something a little introspective about Curacao Bay, it is very persistent on the skin, softly so, but takes quite some time to fade away completely. It’s this period of pale blue linger I enjoy the most, nuzzly cashmeran and ambroxan, hinting at driftwood and clinging sand. Everything feels finally just a little cold. Wonderful stuff.

I need to talk about the top though; it is all about the bittersweet orange and citrus to reflect the traditional laraha peel. Lemon, petitgrain, bigarade and tangerine combine to boost that pitch perfect harmony of spirited curacao orange. But it’s the bigarade and the sweeter tangerine that have most impact lending Curacao Bay it’s Mandarine Napoléon Liqueur hit. The frangipani and blackcurrant notes are vital; I hadn’t realised how much so until my fourth or fifth wearing. Frangipani is a beautiful effect in scent if used anything approaching realism and subtlety. Blackcurrant or cassis on the other hand has to be carefully modulated or it can just overwhelm formulae with its trademark feline pissiness. Used with discretion as Cécile has done here it adds a delicate suggestion of snapped stem and rubbed leaf with just enough suggestion of the phenolic jammy berry. Mixed with the creamy whisper of frangipani the notes, they act as romantic details to sweeten and soften the citrus cocktail landscape.

Curacao Bay is sophisticated but fun perfumery from Cécile Zarokian, elegant and a little frivolous. I like the fact that Panouge and the decision-makers have gone with the blue colour, it appeals to my sense of aesthetics and the actual shade seems rather Fath-like, a faded pale powder blue, perfect for a evening gown in shimmering shot silk. 

I remember in series six of Mad Men when Don and Megan go on an immaculately dressed Hawaiian holiday, they drink classic Blue Hawaiian cocktails on the beach, a super nostalgic mix of vodka, Blue Curacao, coconut syrup and pineapple juice all topped off with one perfect maraschino cherry. This carefully tailored attention to retro detail is echoed in Cécile’s delicate yet precise handling of her cocktail, holiday-suffused materials. I could happily wear this blue-tinted juice forever.

Vers Le Sud

Vers Le Sud is one of those subtly insistent fragrances you know if you inhaled it in passing off a handsome, stylish guy you’d be tempted to follow him, just for a while to see where he worked perhaps. Leaning into his warm figgy green and radiant citric aura in a coffee queue or catching tendrils of him on a shared bench in the city sun. Your skin just smells divine in this. I’m not saying it’s exclusively for the boys either, but for me it has a 50s style masculine undertow to it, an echo of the beautiful Montgomery Clift perhaps.

It’s this sort of mysterious hold that Cécile has woven into Vers le Sud, an imagined ambrosial journey to a sun-baked Mediterranean island. The structure is lightly but coherently balanced, an olfactory equivalent of a white boat cutting through sparking blue water on its way to the island, droplets and sea spray catching the high sun like overflowing champagne and glittering diamonds. The opening of lavender and Argentine lemon is electric bright, the lemon having a particularly impasto quality that plays so well with the potential fussiness of the herby, summer-blue lavender.

Jul et Mad - 'Aqua Sextius' 

Cécile has used a fig note to lovely effect in the heart of Vers le Sud; its quiet beauty echoes her superb work on Aqua Sextius, the fourth volet in the love story of Jul et Mad’s Les Classiques. It was created ostensibly to celebrate the marriage of Julien and Madalina in the setting of Aix-en-Provence, (Aqua Sextius is an old name for the town)tying up the trilogy of love fictions:  Stilettos on Lex, Terasse à St Germain and Amour de Palazzo. The fig note in Aqua Sextius is super cool, reserved and combined so beautifully with buttery mimosa, eucalyptus and a radiant canopy of citrus notes. All of this is washed over with just the most discreet aqueous tonal effects, more of a watercolour bleed than a noticeable marine intrusion. The overall emotion of Aqua Sextius is one of musky green chypré, shot through the bubbling laughter of two beautiful people marrying and raising their glasses to love in the seductive dry floral heat of southern France.

In Vers le Sud, the fig/marine accord is more obvious, salted and woody. The fig feels more epicurean, the fruits split, charred and dusted in crystals of fleur de sel; the effect on the olfactory palate is that pungent. The first couple of times I wore it, I felt my saliva run a little at the salinity of the mix. This fig interlude segues into a calmer moored stage thanks to a rather unexpected use of violet that only really reveals itself as a bruised timbre in the latter half of proceedings. It is neither leaf nor flower, more a shadowed perception of violet that gently dusts the edges of the composition, blurring any hard lines and sharpness. 

Generous doses of ambroxan and cashmeran really stretch out the longevity of Vers le Sud but also imbue the scent with a whiff of warm dusty concrete that I really like. I must admit to liking this strange, moreish scent so much more than I thought I would. On paper; fig, lemon, lavender and marine notes. Hmm. However, we are talking about these elements being assembled by Cécile Zarokian and her use of classic Mediterranean style tropes is never less than outstanding. The picture conjured by Vers le Sud is seductive and hypnotic. That bleached white boat on impossibly azure water, the sparkling spray as summer hands trail in the water. Destination is a small, still island, shimmering under claustrophobic heat, where the water is visible from all over the island but this only seems to intensify the aridity of the seared air. Vers le Sud simply smells amazing on skin; it has been very warm here in Edinburgh for a change and my warm skin initially soaked up the floral figginess, leaving behind the a very strong marine effect. Then everything righted itself, as that huge squeeze of lemon at the top seemed to catalyse the overall structure to swirl and settle. The fig note rises back and floats happily amid the lavender and woody musks; if you can imagine the scent were glass and you tipped your wrist back and forth in the light, pieces of pale, viridian, emerald and mauve would flicker off the walls.

Bel Ambre

I have saved Bel Ambre, my personal favourite of the Fath’s Essentials quartet until the end. Actually I like them all, especially Curacao Bay, that smelled SO good on my skin I couldn’t stop inhaling myself and Vers le Sud, surprised me so much with its elegant dry fig and marine accord. Green Water is a hugely impressive achievement and each time I wear it I smile and marvel at Cécile’s innate skills and patience as a perfumer. She has produced with this quartet a collection of grace and exquisitely tailored wearability. They combine a sense of bygone luxury with carefree charm that is sadly lacking in today’s overcrowded and repetitive contemporary fragrance market.

Bel Ambre is as it translates…  beautiful amber. Far too often amber scents are laboured and over ornamental. This smelted, sensuous scent with its mysterious green shadows is to me more about containment and control. A lot of purported amber fragrances explode off skin like gobby fireworks, squandering effects and any attempts at subtlety in order to catch your attention. Doses of vanilla, ethyl vanillin, labdanum, cetalox, geranium, benzoin, clary sage etc…flying over the place. As the use of animal musks and amber derivatives is either prohibited or severely regulated, perfumers have been creating golden, glowing accords to replicate and suggest their effects for decades now. There is often a sense of repetition and predictability with many amber-based perfumes on the current market. But some of them are divine, I sampled one recently from a 100% natural perfumery line that made me go very quiet for an hour or so as I just waited for it develop. It was gorgeously composed and very original.

I think Bel Ambre was different from what I expected, lighter is tone, but no less unctuous and seductive. It feels like entering a low-lit room, an old room, much loved, books piled here and there, old Vogues in glossy towers, objects picked out in pools of molten light. A fragment of tapestry, stitched in scarlet and gold, a Sèvres cup and saucer, edged in gilt and tiny green leaves, a Mies Van Der Rohe Barcelona chair upholstered in oxblood. Sitting curled in this chair is a young woman in a white T-shirt and jeans, barefoot, her leather jacket flung to the floor. An ashtray is precariously perched on the edge of the chair as she blows smoke past a blunt fringe, turning the pages of her book slowly, savouring the words like fine wine.   

This juxtaposition of vintage elementals and modern methods, the casual beauty of the here and now co-existing with carefully chosen references to the past; this is Cécile Zarokian at her best, it is how she works and extrapolates the inspiration and olfactive impulses she requires to create the work she does. Her take on amber is of course utterly her own for Fath’s Essentials with just enough classical referencing to give it a sense of security and recognition. The heads notes are surprisingly cold, a generous measure of spiky juniper and mellow black pepper sweetened only slightly by mellifluous citrus notes, in this instance lemon and bergamot. They float airily in the top, dry and quiet. It’s a lovely, unexpectedly tranquil outset for an amber. I like the chill, inert top, it’s odd but works, it allows the beautiful orris butter at the heart of the composition time to settle and effloresce on the skin.

You can almost feel the silken rub of the orris as it warms up, working as a translucent dynamic around a more robust floral motif but also in harmony with the bready caraway seed note to prevent any potential over-sweetening of this central section. It is deftly handled, the orris providing slip and glide as the ambered notes begin radiating off skin. There is a phantom salinity washed across the middle and base section, despite the lack of anything could really account for it. I like it though; it gives pause for thought echoing the grey amber infusion in Green Water and Curacao Bay. It could be the vetiver and musks or a reverberation from the caraway seed, I’m not an expert when it comes to interactions, it’s just an impression I get as the top notes come off and the orris absolute and caraway slip into gear.  

My skin really loved Bel Ambre but there was a strange anomaly that I found myself quite obsessed with, a curious sugared antiseptic movement on the soft way to drydown, an insistent waft of crushed rock sugar and medicinal swabs. I know this sounds odd, but in the context of Bel Ambre’s orris and spice ground and the welling up of musks, amber and leather from the base, it smells disconcertingly brilliant. I feel it might be the embers of black pepper and juniper. In a way, this strange little green moment echoes the final leafy-minted stages of Green Water. Whatever it is, it’s a fascinating mirror to the swelling foundation of vetiver, amber, leather and musks. It is a gorgeous sensual base, you can actually sense it as soon as you spray Bel Ambre, it’s just that the bigger notes have the manners to stand back for a while and let others have their moment in the spotlight. The supple imagined leather, saturated one might imagine in a heady mix of ambered oil and Cécile’s beautifully transparent amber accord make themselves gracefully known, connecting quietly with the gentle orris and nutty, clean caraway.

The vetiver is less grassy than I normally perceive it; it has more of a vegetal chill to it here and the musks are tightly diffusive, lending the scent a low glow that holds close to the skin. When you think of traditional amber scents, you tend to think of golden, spicy, warm oriental style formulations; Bel Ambre has hints of this, but only hints. It is a more important and sensual essay in pared down modern elegance, reshaping the amber into something desirable and elusive, a scent for a beautiful young woman reading a book in an heirloom room dropping ash onto old things and drying bike boots by a smouldering fire. It isn’t golden anymore; it has translucency and vitality, warmth provided by the skin of the wearer. It is osmosis, the ambered materials need a host and then the fire is lit.

Bel Ambre is a defiantly strange scent; those coming to wanting sexy knockout heat will be sorely disappointed. Those prepared to wear something a little unexpected that shifts and transforms over time will be rewarded with an amber formulation of uncommon loveliness. I think it’s one of the best amber fragrances I’ve smelled in a while. My friend and perfumer Euan McCall loves it, it was by far and way his favourite of the four. He was very impressed by Cécile’s work on these fragrances and the quality of the materials. Bel Ambre has tremendous longevity on me, after a night’s sleep and a shower, traces lingered into mid morning. As with anything truly beautiful, sometimes simplicity is the key. Bel Ambre, while not exactly simple, has been created perfectly from superb materials and arranged with dexterity and studied flair. I could wear this forever I think, its top to toe development is fascinating and at the end of the day it just smells sooooooo good. I mean really good. Once it’s on your skin, it’s impossible to ignore its joyful sophistication. The collision of wearable amber and oddball musks and that medicinal green tweed thing make it well on nigh utterly irresistible.

This overview of Green Water and the other three Fath’s Essentials has taken me a few months to write. Why? I guess because I need to take my time and live in fragrances. I’ve been here before with my original piece on Arquiste and with my other big work in progress on the collection from Istanbul-based house Nishane. I apply the same rigourous etiquette to all my olfactory subjects, it’s just that some seem to ask a little more of me when it comes to the wordsmithery. I was aware too throughout this piece of Jacques Fath the couturier, a man celebrated in his lifetime, but perhaps a little overshadowed since his shockingly early death at the age of forty-six by his contemporaries Balenciaga and Dior. They are of course still around, glossy, billion dollar machines whereas Jacques Fath lingered a little after his death but then vanished.

Bettina Graziani in Fath Couture

I was quite moved by his biographical detailing; the life rapidly, explosively, glamorously lived and extinguished far too soon. I love the Fath silhouette, and that particular 50s mix of controlled cocktail siren and tailored aloofness. Fath was a master of the unseen curve and dramatic line, his suits, gowns and dresses imbuing his women with a sense of haughty, barely concealed sensuality. His immaculate palette of celadon, duck egg blue, faded gold, hunting scarlet, chartreuse, burgundy, russet and topaz enhanced with buttons, sequins and net seemed magical and unattainable. Yet, for this appearance of dazzle and distance there was always a small sense of normalcy and sensual wearability to his couture. His clothes were only just out of beautiful 

Fath evening gown (back detail)

This quartet of persuasively lovely Fath’s Essentials in many ways reflects much of this ethos, luxurious high-end couture style perfumery made using the finest materials available. Green Water is a superlative renaissance of a an original formulation, respectful, dynamic and manages to successfully fulfil a brief of vintage resurrection but also reverse ages said work, creating a noble reflection that perfectly bridges the aromatic styles of 1947 and 2016. More often than not this kind of near reverential olfaction can overly restrict the natural instinct of the perfumer. In this case Cécile Zarokian has been allowed (not without quite some give and take I feel...) to create Green Water in a way that best honour the memory of Jacque Fath, the original perfumer Vincent Roubert and a contemporary perfume public eager to buy into the continuing trend for heritage revival. Curacao Bay, Vers le Sud and my favourite, the gorgeous Bel Ambre are impeccably stylish and addictive reflections of the Fath spirit of elegance and joie de vivre. They honour his exquisite sense of 50s mode and haughty, simmering sensuality. All four are further proof if needed of Cécile Zarokian’s seriously elegant handling of complex perfumed projects and succeeding brilliantly. I urge anyone interested in perfume to try Fath’s Essentials. They are just that. Essential.

©The Silver Fox 22 September 2016    

For more information on Panouge & Jacques Fath, please click on the link below: 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mr Foxy. I want Green Water and Curacao Bay and I want them NOW!!!! I hold you responsible sir, for a lot of my recent perfume cravings. You are a master of the art. x