vendredi 8 juin 2018

My Top 10 scents of summer, for dipping into a Hockney pool

Gentle reader, this is it: my very first trip to the West Coast. Three days in L.A. for work, then three days in Portland to visit a friend, and a couple of nights in a historic Hollywood hotel before flying back to Paris.

Of course I’ve been obsessing over my suitcase ever since I’ve known I was going. And of course my entire collection of swimsuits was reviewed, found lacking a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, and promptly replaced by an all-new line-up. Those swimsuits are going to be immersed in a pool painted by David Hockney! And those are the only items I’m sure about, less than a week before flying off, especially I’ve decided to live dangerously and travel 10 days out of a carry-on.

And I haven’t even begun to think about what to decant. Scents can veer into radically different directions when worn in a new setting. I’m still obsessed with À ce soir by Pont des Arts and L’Âme perdue by Le Galion, so those might make the cut. Otherwise, here are my possibilities, with no particular theme in mind. They’re pretty much all over the map. Please do weigh in!

Nomade, Chloé
Like L.A.’s new NoMad hotel, set in a Neo-classical bank building from the 1920s, Nomade evokes the ghosts of bygone glamor. Quentin Bisch composed it as an airy fruity chypre, stripped-down and built for speed. The fruit is mirabelle, a tiny, particularly fragrant golden plum. The mossy base is evernyl, which gives Nomade a very contemporary, salty-mineral edge.
Un air d’apogée, Violet
I utterly adore this new house, revived by three students of the École Supérieure du Parfum in Paris – they founded it in place of scouting around for internships, and convinced Firmenich to back them. Nathalie Lorson has done wonderful work reinventing the three first scents, but I’ve got a special tenderness for the pollen-dusted suede, the tannic tang of maté, mimosa and fresh tobacco leaf of Un air d’apogée. When I go, I want to be drowned in a vat of Cashmeran, is what I’m saying.

Chinotto di Liguria, Acqua di Parma
So Santa Monica isn’t the Ligurian Riviera, and I doubt California grows the myrtle-leaved orange tree that gives chinotto, a bitter citrus fruit used as an aroma in Campari. But Chinotto di Liguria, a Roudnitskaesque variation on Eau Sauvage and Eau d’Hermès by François Demachy, is as delightful and refreshing as quaffing a Spritz, which I hope I shall be doing shortly by the pool.

Grand amour, Goutal
I’ve recently rediscovered Isabelle Doyen’s tribute to Chamade, and I’ve been getting off on the huge blast of galbanum that slaps me when I spritz. The contrast between that raspy green hyacinth and the nectar-slick creaminess of the lily-honeysuckle heart makes Grand amour a very distant forerunner of Doyen’s award-winning Nuit de Bakélite for Naomi Goodsir.

L’innommable, Serge Lutens
I somehow doubt I’d be allowed into the country with Serge’s latest, his first for the Gratte-ciel (“skyscraper”) line that will henceforth house Tubéreuse criminelle, Muscs Koublaï Khan, Bornéo 1834, Cuir mauresque, and 5 more signature scents… In French, innommable means “unspeakable”. And L’innommable cuts loose on the skank, peppering powdery benzoin with a kegful of cumin. The sandalwood base only seems to get stronger as the scent dries down. What can I say? The Dude abides.

Superstitious, Frédéric Malle
Not sure Golden Era scents can express themselves properly in today’s L.A., so for that Polo Lounge vibe, I suppose I could do worse than slink around in Dominique Ropion’s stripped-down homage to the glamour of yore, the aldehydes-meet-indole Superstitious.

 Eau de soleil blanc, Tom Ford
Orange, coconut, pistachio, vanilla… The notes reads like a raid on the ice-cream menu in a Howard Johnson. The result, in Tom Ford’s more-is-more olfactory aesthetic, makes me want to channel my inner Don Draper, going AWOL in California with a louche Eurotrash tribe.

Eau de narcisse bleu, Hermès
After the spiky-woods fest that is Eau de Citron Noir – which I innocently sprayed on my skin thinking Hermès could do no wrong, and made me consider flaying my own arm --, I reached for my personal favorite Ellena. A sea-blue bottle, a salubrious whiff of horsiness, and, again, that tannic bitter rasp I find so interesting (and underexploited) in perfumery… Now channeling Nina van Pallandt on the beach in Altman’s 1973 Long Goodbye.

Eau de Ki, Sankodo
This isn’t technically a fragrance, but a Japanese moisturizing lotion – but because of its alcohol content, more of a cleanser-toner. No idea whether it’ll fulfill its rejuvenating promises (anti-aging skincare is a bit like psychoanalysis: you don’t know if it does anything, but you don’t know what condition you’d be in without it). Anyhoo, with rose, linden blossom, rosemary and birch among its ingredients, Eau de Ki smells of a fabulous rose chypre – think Knowing. I’d bathe in it if I could.

Bio Beauté Baume haute nutrition, Nuxe
Another entry in the please-don’t-eat-the-skincare column. A tiny pot of this cold-cream landed in my bag as a sample. The rosewater, sweet almond oil, coconut oil and bee wax smells utterly delicious. I may turn up my nose at gourmands, but after I’ve slathered my legs with this it’s all I can do not to twist like a pretzel to lick my shins. Failing that, I’m pretty sure it’ll be a skin-saver after too many dips in that Hockney pool…

 For more summer round-ups, please dip into Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This and The Non-Blonde.

vendredi 6 avril 2018

My Top 10 Scents of Spring: #NoFilter Frags & Witchy ‘Fumes

The stealthy one: 
You by Glossier
Glossier You couldn’t be more on-brand if it tried. The olfactory equivalent of those my-skin-but-better-enhancers – Guerlain’s Blurring active base is a current favorite -- that can make you hashtag #NoFilter with a straight face. I call them aura boosters. Plausible deniability perfumes. There’s just something about the limpidity of ambrette, the pastel tenderness of musk and earthy moistness of iris and violet that suits this wet, blustery Paris spring.

The arty one:   
Elevator Music by Off-White x Byredo
This is plausible olfactory deniability played as concept: scent as unobtrusive background hum. Ben Gorham and Virgil Abloh presented it in Paris along with an installation by Carsten Höller, an artist who uses smells in some of his pieces (but not here). Elevator Music is not only a collab’ on a capsule colleciton: “the project attempts to define the least amount of information needed to understand a product’s context and background”. That said, the scent itself is lovely, a water-gorged earth and violet note with a faint, singed-wood aftertaste. Combined with the name, it conjures a metal box filled with the sounds/smells – smounds. -- of mid-March forest. Just close your eyes, dear. It’ll be all right.

The chypre one: 
Le Cri de la Lumière by Parfum d’Empire
This one was in my last top 10, but it’s still in the rotation. And it’s made me realize that the ambrette-iris-musk accords that are having such a moment -- I had no trouble at all listing half a dozen new ones in a couple of minutes are actually fruity chypre structures. A fruity top note? Peary ambrette, especially bolstered with rose, fit the bill. Musk plays the role of the fleshy amber accords skewered upright by a woody vertical axis – iris. Great olfactory families never disappear: they just shift and drift on the olfactory map. And if you look well enough, you can tease out strands of Femme DNA, via Féminité du Bois.

The lush one: 
Niral by Neela Vermeire Créations
Bertrand Duchaufour couldn’t do wussy if he tried. Neela Vermeire never asks him to. With Niral, Mr. D. takes a break from the boozy woods his clients can’t seem to get enough of, and adds a lush variation to the iris and rose series he kicked off with Traversée du Bosphore. Here it is Indian tussar silk that is evoked rather than Turkish delight. The scent has the heft and variegated sheen to match its inspiration.

The bohemian one:  
Sur la Peau by Diptyque
So it turns out Olivier Pescheux has turned me on to musk. It’s never been my favorite olfactory theme, but the curry-green weirdness of angelica and the rootiness of carrot and iris give Sur la peau an earth-mama, back-to-nature vibe befitting a tribute to 1968, for Diptyques 50th anniversary as a perfume house.

The sexy one:
 À ce soir by Pont des Arts
Bertrand Duchaufour calls it a vanilla blossom, but to me, it brings together three scents that were summarily ejected from the L’Artisan / Penhaligon’s catalogue. Havana Vanille’s fresh tobacco leaf and rum chica-boom sensuousness, matched by the hay, honey and pollen-dusted daffodil of Ostara (though the green here is more sap than hyacinth), with a dash of Amaranthine’s lush ylang-ylang. It’s pretty much got my heart in a love-lock. Who knew I’d fall for vanilla?

The glam one: 
Bloom by Gucci
No true Love Witch should be without her fresh batch of tuberose. In Alberto Morillas’ delightfully neo-90s Gucci Bloom, the bitchiest flower of the perfumer’s organ engages in a spot of bondage with the Rangoon Creeper.

The bubbly one:  
Oak moss shower gel by Arket
The bath and body line by H&M’s upmarket brand Arket kicked off with Vetiver and Oak moss, bless their Scandi-chic hearts. Signed by Jérôme Épinette of Robertet and Byredo fame, the brine-tinged, water-gorged Oak moss shower gel leaves you smelling like you’re about to be foraged and locavored at René Redzepi’s Noma 2.0.  

The bitchy one:  
Damn Rebel Witches by Reek
There’s something exhilarating about this scent, and it’s not just the gin, blood, peat and smoke brew whipped up by indie perfumer Sarah McCartney for Sara and Molly Sheridan, the mother and daughter team who founded Reek. And it isn’t just because the artisan, feminist, vegan, queer-friendly and cruelty free Edinburgh-based brand ticks all the right boxes. It’s the sheer fun and energy of it all. It’s the laying claim to bitches and witches, to dirty hands, to cheeky stickers, and stretch marks and tats and the shriek of Reek. I am totally getting that Bitches Unite tee-shirt. And I’m seriously considering flying to Edinburgh to get it. The witches have promised me a reeky, brilliantly bitchy good time. 

For more spring round-ups, click on to Bois de Jasmin (up on Monday) and Now Smell This

Illustration: detail of an installation for Fleur de Peau by Diptyque

vendredi 26 janvier 2018

My top scents for surviving winter (you must believe in spring)

Between colder-than-Mars Canada, thank-God-for-Gore-Tex Paris, and the Doomsday Clock moving forward again, I just want to hunker down with dark, fusty, cozy scents until such time as I can poke my nose outside... Perfume is a way of breathing.

Ambrette, northern lights and goose down
Iridescent, crystal-clear as chilled pear alcohol, yet musky-soft, the hibiscus seed is having a moment, its facets polished with iris, rose and pear, in with Parfum d’Empire’s soaring chypre Le Cri de la Lumière and Zadig & Voltaire’s ethereal La Pureté, by the peerless Michel Almairac, in their new Scent Library collection. Alternative choices: the more easily-sourced, adamantine Chanel N°18 or the rarer Eau Aztèque by Olivia Giacobetti for Iunx, the precursor of the ambrette solinotes in 2003.

Hibernating in patchouli
Burrowing deep in humus and earth, rolled up in a ball, waiting for spring… Dear Rose’s Comme une Fleur by Fabrice Pellegrin improbably combines uncut, hippie patchouli and orange blossom to evoke the strength of flower pushing through earth to come to light. Daniela Andrier’s deeply weird Une Amourette for État Libre d’Orange skews the same accord by boosting the indole and spiking her funky patchouli with Akigalawood, a sci-fi Givaudan material that mutates patchouli into a pepper-and-earth note.

The bitter comfort of dark chocolate
Cocoa absolute is surprisingly funky, a cruelty-free substitute for animal materials (my cat reacts to it as she does to castoreum) and an intriguing shift along the olfactory map that leads to patchouli or vanilla. I’ve been sating my dark chocolate cravings with my decant of Mathilde Laurent’s VII- L’Heure Défendue in Cartier’s “Les Heures de Parfum” collection, a liqueur-smooth wedding of the bean and the beast. By Kilian’s Noir Aphrodisiaque, a Paris exclusive composed by Calice Becker and genius chocolatier Jacques Génin, brings a more floral twist to the cocoa-patchouli accord: a sip of jasmine tea melting a square of cinnamon-laced dark chocolate (it’s getting hot in here). 

Part of my all-time winter rotation, Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis melds the Aztec bean with unsweetened vanilla, chili pepper and a Prunol-ish, chypre vibe that somehow makes it the distant Latino relative of Serge Lutens’ Arab-by-way-of-Tokyo Féminité du Bois, a major matrix of contemporary perfumery.

Now to post this before the Seine runneth over and wets my toes…

For more Winter top 10s, please visit Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This, Perfume Posse and TheNon-Blonde.

Illustration: this steampunk Death Star was my view from the window of my room in the Queen Elizabeth hotel. It's actually the dome of the Montreal Cathedral.

As a bonus, Gene Kelly's exhilarating riffing on Michel Legrand in Jacques Demy's Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

vendredi 29 décembre 2017

The 10 Denchest Scents of 2017

One of the few bright-ish sides of this dismal year comes from the perfume industry: we have officially reached Peak Sweet. There’s no way to add more ethyl maltol than there is in the more recent olfactory confectionaries without the stuff precipitating to the bottom of the bottle. Of course, that won’t keep perfumers from pursuing “addiction” – the word that’s replaced “gourmand”, as though drugs had less of a negative connotation than food. But their research is venturing beyond praline and macarons, veering into roasted (nuts, coffee, chocolate) and salty notes. There you have it: that’s pretty much as excited as the perfume world has made me in 2017.

I did find out about a fragrance whose name is my new motto: Stay Dench. “Dench” being a synonym for “sick” (which means “nice” in English slang), “used for saying that someone or something is extremely attractive, fashionable, impressive, etc.” according to the Macmillan online dictionary. Launched by grime star Lethal Bizzle, the word springs directly from Judi Dench’s unimpeachable badassery. It is now the name of a brand and a fragrance (if you’ve smelled it, please report) for which Dame Judith teamed up with Lethal Bizzle for a first lesson in rap. So I’ll just leave this here before moving on to my favorite launches of 2017.

So, what made my nose go "Pow!" in 2017?

Nuit de Bakélite by Isabelle Doyen for Naomi Goodsir nips tuberose’s criminal intentions right in the bud, turning niche’s fetish flower into a venomous stem oozing Day-glo sap. One of the year’s most striking olfactory signatures.

L’Âme Perdue by Rodrigo Flores Roux for Le Galion is a ghost ship of a scent, haunted by the glamorous specter of Prunol – Femme’s spice-sweating goddess by way of the turgid, incense-veiled lilies Rodrigo does so well.

Le Cri de la Lumière by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfum d’Empire resonates like a crystal chrysalis shattering to reveal a break in the Corsican’s saturated, balls-to-the-wall olfactory style. A mossy rose chypre base drenched in opalescent ambrette, as delicately unheimlich as a pastel by Redon.

Lui by Delphine Jelk for Guerlain tugs out a seldom-celebrated strand of Jacques Guerlain’s heritage. The red carnation that burns at the heart of L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko lights up the sweet fumes of benzoin. As retro as the black Deco bottle it filched from Liu, with a contemporary, pared-down build.

Eau de Velours by Michel Almairac for Bottega Veneta has turned out to be my go-to of the year. Meant as a variation on the initial Bottega Veneta, this “velvet water” has the texture of a wine-hued rose petal.

Light Blue Eau Intense by Olivier Cresp for Dolce & Gabbana reboots the brand’s crown jewel, in this first flanker since its acquisition by BPI/Shiseido. Cresp’s tweaks don’t alter the original’s utterly perfect balance: Magritte’s giant green apple hovering between sky and sea, held up by a force field of translucent woods.

Wicked Love, by Maison Margiela (nose not disclosed) is pitched as “gun metal and roses”. It comes off as a mutant descendant of Rive Gauche and Coriandre: a rose oxide and vetiver axis, incongruously topped off with a green pepper note. A neo-noir scent, well in keeping with its early 70s, “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” sensibility.

Une Amourette de Roland Mouret, by Daniela Andrier for État Libre d’Orange. Straying from her impeccable Prada Infusion accord, Andrier gets down and dirty for the ELO x Mouret collab. She states she went for a scent in red and black. Pepper-sprinkled, incense-cured patchouli in full camphor mode meets indole-boosted neroli.  The name means “a fling”. Clearly, it’s a fling with rough trade.

2015 Le Phénix, by Michel Almairac for Les Bains Guerbois, an establishment previously known as Les Bains Douches, Paris’ 80s answer to Studio 54. Le Phénix is a more intense version of the cologne launched by the new owner to salute Les Bain’s rebirth as a boutique hotel, a smoldering spice and incense rework of Almairac’s 2003 Gucci pour Homme.

Miss Me by Annick Menardo for Stella Cadente is actually a rediscovery I made while interviewing the perfumer for the 4th issue of Nez (click here to find out more). Inspired by Patou’s Huile de Chaldée, which she wore on the beaches of her native Cannes as a teen, it’s the only scent of hers Menardo actually wears. Sadly launched by a brand too small to follow through – it deserved to become a bestseller – the eccentric balsamic blend can still be sourced online. Nab it.

You’ll find more yearly round-ups with the usual suspects:

Meanwhile, my best wishes for a dench 2018.

Top illustration drawn from the Fish Love campaign to protect the seas from destructive fishing.