vendredi 14 octobre 2016

My Top Fragrances for Fall 2016

ELLA, Arquiste
It’s a tribute to Carlos Huber’s taste and Rodrigo Flores Roux’s peerless ability that Ella smells like a mash-up of every 70s chypre rubbed in sweat and venomous sap, without ever devolving into a hot mess -- except the most pleasurable type. One of my biggest perfume thrills of the year. More about it here.

Kimonanthe, Diptyque
Fabrice Pellegrin’s best work comes in two types of flavors: the materials-driven soliflore (as in Diptyque’s “Essences Insensées” collection). And the weirdos, like By Kilian’s cannabis-inspired Smoke for the Soul or Dear Rose’s mint-and-patchouli Mentha Religiosa. Named after the wintersweet blossom and based on zukoh, a Japanese powdered incense, Kimonanthe belongs to the latter group. Sweet and unusually camphoraceous, the scent comes strikingly close to its model and is therefore just off-kilter -- foreign -- enough to be fascinating.

L’Air du temps: Le Crépuscule,  Nina Ricci
Out in November, Calice Becker’s two limited-edition variations on L’Air du Temps, L’Aube and Le Crépuscule (“dawn” and “twilight”) extrapolate their accords from the original formula, an olfactory form so fertile it spawned Fracas, Fidji and Paris. In Le Crépuscule, Becker tugs out the benzyl salicylate used in the carnation accord to grow Mirabilis jalapa, known in French as belle-de-nuit (“beauty of the night”). Green, moist and indolic, with a faint whiff of tropical fruit, the scent smells like an actual flower, even if you’ve never stuck your nose in a Mirabilis jalapa blossom. Arrestingly lovely.

“Les Extraits Verts” collection, Tom Ford
Like Arquiste’s ELLA and EL, Tom Ford’s new “Les Extraits Verts” collection specifically references the 70s (this being Tom Ford, of course they decade is dubbed “decadent”). The vernal Vert Bohème falls somewhere between N°19 and Vero Kern’s Mito on the galbanum-hyacinth scale (did TF recycle the formula of his discontinued Ombre de Hyacinth -- eech, the Frenglish). Vert des Bois, which boast a novel poplar bud extract, gives off a tart-raspy sap scent with a smidge of umami -- a lovage-like note. The heliotrope-sweetened patchouli in Vert d’Encens, initially reminiscent of Dear Rose’s compelling weirdo Mentha Religiosa, adds layers of salted herbs and smoke to the mix, with a hint of box tree (which may go catpissy to certain noses). Perhaps the most autumnal of the three, but all are tremendously enjoyable and a little offbeat. (Ok, so that counts as three, right?).

N°5 L’Eau, Chanel
Like the Argo ship mentioned by Roland Barthes, whose pieces were replaced one by one by the Argonauts until they ended up with an entirely new vessel without changing its name or form, N°5 has crossed the century without changing its form, perfectly recognizable with each slight shift on the olfactory map. The new curator of this Modernist monument, Olivier Polge, has confronted it with a more contemporary sensibility by opening, within its notes, a habitable space; creating a clearing that makes them more legible. Here, aldehydes remember they come from citrus peels, and flowers plump up with that moist-petal feel that signifies freshness in perfumery. But it’s still N°5. The form holds up. And it’s lovely.

Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, Bulgari
I poked my nose into this again this fall, and once more, I was gobsmacked by the perfect, so simple-it-looks-simplistic balance of Jean-Claude Ellena’s composition. Eau Parfumée, which introduced the slightly tannic hedione-and-ionone green tea accord in perfumery, was initially a proposal for Fahrenheit (Maurice Roger, the CEO of Dior perfumes at the time, had put out a brief for a tea note). Limpid, figurative and gender-free, it is one of the four game-changers of 1992, along with Angel, L’Eau d’Issey and Féminité du Bois, though considerably more discreet. Perhaps the word that defines it best is the Italian sprezzatura, coined by Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier to express "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".

Cozé Verdé 2.1, Parfumerie Générale
When I saw him at the opening of his boutique (see below), Pierre Guillaume told me he’d dug up my first order on his website some 9 years ago, a sample set that included his maiden scent, Cozé. Dipping my nose into his earliest efforts brought me back to my early, heady days as a fledgling perfumista (remember when we could talk about the same thing for weeks because the number of launches was under 1000?). As a tribute, I walked out with Pierre re-reading of Cozé, Cozé Verdé. A perfect fit for early fall, with fig adding a sweet, milky-raspy splash of sap to the original’s tobacco leaf, and added licorice tying in with the fruit’s deep-purple woody effect.

Pierre Guillaume’s new Parisian boutique
For his brand’s 10th birthday, the maverick and adorable Pierre Guillaume gave himself a gift: a Paris boutique on the chic, soon-to-be-pedestrian rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, just a spritz away from Serge Lutens at the Palais-Royal. In addition to the Parfumerie Générale, Huitième Art and Croisière line-ups, the shop features the Paris-exclusive Rhapsody collection, a series of accords Pierre Guillaume deemed too uncommercial for a wider release. Not to be missed: the secret closet full of raw materials, including rare, sexy bases like Prunol and Mousse de Saxe… Be sure to demand a sniff!
Pierre Guillaume Paris, 13 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, Paris 1
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 am to 2 pm and 3 to 7 pm

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lundi 26 septembre 2016

Arquiste EL and ELLA by Rodrigo Flores Roux: perfume as hauntology

Ever since I got a preview snootful in August, I’ve been utterly obsessed with the new Arquiste for women, ELLA. Not only did it have the oft-namechecked, seldom-experienced Proustian effect on me, but I believe that, along with its companion EL, it’s the most visceral, exciting work the Carlos Huber/ Rodrigo Flores Roux duo have produced to date. So that despite the Parisian intello character of the notes below, I’m chuffed.

Though it’s customary to compare music and scent, they differ in a major respect: since the late 19th century, music has been recorded. The literal moments in which it was performed are preserved to be experienced, studied, fetishized, or quoted in later pieces. Perfume disappears at it is experienced. Extinct or reformulated scents only live on in memories, and only perfumers can voluntarily “replay” them in their minds – most of us are at the mercy of a random whiff. But like pop music, though to a considerably lesser extent, perfumery has been driven by retromania since the mid-90s: niche perfumery founded itself on it both in its discourse (going back to the roots of the art) and notes (leather, incense, chypres…). And a significant sector of the perfume aficion focuses on classics and/or vintage scents.

Historicist in its storytelling, though not in its actual olfactory structures, Arquiste never came under retromania per se since it didn’t reference moments within anyone’s living memory. Part of what drives retro is the nostalgic charge you get from the artefacts of a given period in pop culture. Arquiste’s new EL and ELLA gave me that charge. Almost a shock, in fact: a punch in the gut, in fact.

Once I’d read the “liner notes” – i.e. the press material --, I understood why. Rodrigo Flores Roux has used the 70s interpretations of chypres and fougères as quotes in both compositions (interestingly, it is precisely in the 1970s that the retro sensibility took off). The idea wasn’t to make note-perfect renditions, but to embed them within a narrative: a day in Acapulco in the glamorous disco era, from beach club to night club to a tryst in the dunes. So that both scents needed to feel lived, sweated and loved in; rubbed together so that some notes would be shared.

In ELLA, Flores Roux manages to hit a sweet spot that conjures all of the chypre forms of the era, from Aromatics Elixir to Azzaro (which was a Prunol-type) by way of the greenies (Givenchy III, Jean-Louis Scherrer I), with a splash of blindingly white, soapy aldehydic florals like Estée Super et Michel Hy’s original Ivoire for Balmain.

Similarly, the perfumer’s tribute to pornstached Boogie Night love gods, though it mainly references the era’s fougères, can also easily raise the ghost of Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme, a jet-black aromatic leather chypre that my friends and I wore to a man during the post-punk era.

Catching spectres of fragrances past out of the corner of the nostril though never a specific one. The honeyed sweat and booze-splashed haze shrouding both scents mirror the distortions of memory. Every single person I’ve met who actually lived through those days has felt the same shock. This goes beyond retro: it is perfume as hauntology.[1]

[1] The term, coined by Jacques Derrida, initially referred to the death of Communism. More widely, cultural critics have used it to refer to “the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive" (Colin Davis): in this case, the revenants of perfume modernity.

The picture of Janice Dickinson is by Guy Bourdin.