mardi 5 mai 2015

I Miss Violet by Bertrand Duchaufour for The Different Company: Leather Flower




Bertrand Duchaufour’s new installment for The Different Company’s “La Collection Excessive” could be seen as the last panel in an iris/violet/leather triptych comprising La Traversée du Bosphore (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and Cuir de Nacre (Ann Gérard). Duchaufour conceived it both as a modern take on violet and as a vegetal leather.

In this respect, I Miss Violet springs from the same intention as Jean-Claude Ellena’s Cuir d’Ange for Hermès: fashioning leather from flowers, and more significantly, breaking free from “perfumer’s leather”, i.e. the traditional ways of achieving the note as a cuir de Russie, or Bandit-style with isobutyl quinoline. Predictably, given the two men’s respective styles, the same endeavor has yielded radically divergent results. While Ellena’s angel leather is ethereal, radiant and powdery in scent and texture, Duchaufour’s leather violet is a dark, fatty flower grown in damp spring earth.

This cuir de violette manages to be tough without smelling like biker leather: its toughness springs from its strong olfactory options. It is propped up by the “classic” leather base its author initially composed for La Traversée du Bosphore and tweaked for the new scent. But it is what fleshes out the leather base that gives I Miss Violet its distinctiveness: that trademark Duchaufour stance of working off the less appealing facets of his materials, in this case flowers with a leather facet, rather than trying to cover them up.

If you’ve ever smelled violet leaf, osmanthus, cassie or mimosa absolutes, you’ll have noticed that beyond their shared powder and leather effects, they also give off whiffs of waterlogged plants – somewhere between snapped pea pods, old flower vase water and cucumber. To him, cucumber skin smells like eel leather, Duchaufour explained at the launch: so he bolstered the cucumber-y facets of his floral absolutes with even more green aqueous aldehydic notes. Osmanthus, a member of the Oleaceae family like the olive tree (or jasmine, for that matter), also contributes a black olive note it shares with castoreum.

As a result, though it is smoothed out by a musk, vanilla and ambergris base, Violet smells like the uncanny hybrid flesh of plant and beast. The watery facets last little on my skin, but the vegetal effect persists well into the drydown, as does the apricot jam facet of osmanthus after the powdery sweetness of violet melts away. The scent has great naturality and though I wouldn’t call it sheer or “frothy” (as per the press release), it isn’t hemmed in by the dense dark tarriness of classic “perfumer” leathers.

I Miss Violet is a beautiful weirdo, and with it, Duchaufour pulls off what he set out to achieve. Its trappings, however, are less convincing. “Violet” being both a perfume note and a woman’s name, Luc Gabriel, the co-founder and owner of The Different Company, explains that “the name called for embodiment, and embodiment called for images”, he adds. So that Duchaufour’s purely olfactory project was saddled with a series of pictures featuring a feline redhead in violet eye-shadow, and with a story that reads like the synopsis of an advertising movie, that of the jet-setting “Violet”, who flits from Venice to Hong Kong by way of Paris before sailing off to an island near Java… and leaving her fragrance with a man who says he “misses her already”. The picture below is meant to be used in points of sale.



Giving a fragrance a face, and giving that face a glamorous story? That’s what the mainstream does. And it’s bound to do it better than any niche brand, because mainstream brands have more money and more experience in the field. In moving into this territory, I feel that The Different Company is straying from the core values of auteur perfumery. The very values it contributed to shape when it was co-founded in 2000 by Jean-Claude Ellena, the designer Thierry de Bachmakov and Luc Gabriel. It was thanks to pioneers like TDF that perfumers went back to signing their work after being eclipsed by fashion designers for several decades. That they could disclose their actual sources of inspiration, and some of their work process, rather than have to answer questions like “what kind of woman did you make this fragrance for?” That they became the faces of fragrance.

To be fair, the press material for I Miss Violet does prominently feature Duchaufour and his olfactory approach to the fragrance. And of course, TDF is not the only niche brand to produce images, and the issue of niche perfumery visuals would deserve a much lengthier development… For the moment, I’ll break off by saying that lovely though she is, “Violet” might be given a miss while I Miss Violet smells like a hit…After all it’s the perfumer who puts the “Different” in the Company.


lundi 4 mai 2015

I Miss Violet de Bertrand Duchaufour pour The Different Company : Peau de fleur




La nouvelle création de Bertrand Duchaufour pour la « Collection excessive » de The Different Company forme le troisième panneau d’un triptyque sur le thème du cuir irisé entamé avec La Traversée du Bosphore (L’Artisan Parfumeur) et Cuir de Nacre (Ann Gérard). Le parfumeur l’a conçue à la fois comme « une violette vibrante et moderne » et comme « un cuir végétal ».

Sur ce point, I Miss Violet relève de la même intention que le Cuir d’Ange de Jean-Claude Ellena : tirer un cuir des fleurs, mais surtout, s’affranchir du « cuir de parfumeur », cuir de Russie goudronneux fumé, ou cuir à la Bandit basé sur l’isobutyl quinoléine. Certes, étant donné les écritures respectives des deux hommes, les résultats sont forcément divergents. Alors que le cuir d’Ellena est lumineux, éthéré, d’odeur et de texture poudrée, celui de Duchaufour est sombre, gras, issu d’une fleur plantée dans l’humus gorgé de pluie du printemps.

Ce cuir de violette est aussi culotté, sans pour autant s’apparenter à la botte de Cosaque ni au jus de motard : c’est à ses parti-pris olfactifs qu’il doit sa radicalité. Retravaillée pour l’occasion, la base cuir composée pour La Traversée du Bosphore sert de tuteur à la composition. Mais c’est la chair que soutient ce tuteur qui donne son caractère à I Miss Violet; cette façon éminemment signée qu’a Duchaufour de s’appuyer sur les aspérités de ses matériaux -- en l'occurrence des fleurs à notes cuirées -- plutôt que de les masquer.

Ceux qui ont déjà senti des absolus de feuille de violette, de cassie, de mimosa ou d’osmanthus en conviendront : outre leurs communs effets poudrés et cuirés, ils partagent des relents de végétaux détrempés oscillant entre la cosse de pois cassée, la vieille eau de vase à fleurs et le concombre. Or, expliquait Duchaufour lors du lancement, pour lui la peau de concombre sent le cuir d’anguille : il a donc renforcé les facettes cucurbitacées de ses ingrédients par des aldéhydes ad hoc comme le nonadiénal. L’osmanthus, membre de la famille des Oléacées tout comme l’olivier (et d’ailleurs le jasmin), contribue une facette olive noire qu’il partage avec le castoréum, matériau traditionnel des notes cuirées…

Pour sophistiqué qu’il soit avec son fond musqué vanillé, le résultat dégage d’étonnants relents de chair mi-végétale, mi-animale. Les facettes aqueuses durent peu sur ma peau, mais l’effet végétal persiste plusieurs heures, tout comme la facette confiture d’abricot de l’osmanthus où se fond le sucre poudre de la violette. S’il n’est sans doute pas, sur moi, aussi « mousseux » ou « diaphane » que ne l’a voulu son créateur, le parfum ne vient pas buter contre le mur goudronné opaque des cuirs de parfumeur classiques : il continue à déployer une belle naturalité jusque dans les notes de fond.

Si le projet olfactif de I Miss Violet est indéniablement abouti, je m’avoue moins convaincue par sa présentation. Puisque « violette » est à la fois une note et un prénom, Luc Gabriel, co-fondateur et propriétaire de The Different Company expliquait lors du lancement que « le prénom appelle l’incarnation, [et que] l’incarnation appelle l’image. » Le parfum est donc incarné par Cécile, une jolie rousse féline dans une série de visuels aux allures de rédactionnel de mode  -- et pour cause, c’est un photographe de mode, Alexis Limousin, qui les a réalisés. Et d’un récit, celui d’une « Violet » globe-trotteuse – dîner à Venise, gala à Paris, clubbing à Hong Kong – dont les aventures tiennent du synopsis de film publicitaire. Laquelle Violet laisse son parfum à celui à qui elle manque déjà avant de voguer en mer de Java… Le visuel reproduit ci-dessous n’est toutefois pas une pub, mais une affiche proposée aux points de vente.



Doter un parfum d’un visage et d’une histoire glamour ? C’est précisément ce que fait le mainstream. Mieux qu’une marque de niche, forcément – question de budget et d’expérience, d’autant que la plupart des marques mainstream viennent de la mode. En s’aventurant sur ce territoire, The Different Company s’écarte des valeurs d’une parfumerie d’auteur qu’elle a contribué à créer lors de sa fondation en 2000 par Jean-Claude Ellena, le designer Thierry de Bachmakov et Luc Gabriel. C’est grâce aux pionniers de cette deuxième vague du niche que les parfumeurs ont pu à nouveau signer leurs créations (rappelons qu’à leurs débuts, ni L’Artisan, ni Goutal, ni Lutens ne nommaient leurs nez), après avoir été éclipsés par les couturiers pendant plusieurs décennies. Que le parfum s’est affranchi des histoires de nana-qui pour s’inspirer d’autres récits. Bref, que les parfumeurs ont pu répondre de leurs créations, leur donner un nom et un visage.

Certes, le dossier de presse de I Miss Violet fait une large part à l’auteur du parfum et à sa démarche olfactive. Et certes, TDF n’est pas la seule marque de niche à produire des visuels : la question (déjà abordée au sujet de Byredo) mériterait d’être plus largement fouillée. Disons simplement que ce qui rend la « Company » de Luc Gabriel « Different » se décèle bien moins à l’œil qu’au nez…




vendredi 10 avril 2015

My Top 10 Fragrances of Spring


Last Tuesday, the French Fifi Award for best niche fragrance was given out to Corsica Furiosa by Parfum d’Empire. I was part of the jury, comprising 25 journalists, evaluators and bloggers, who went through three rounds of voting to select the winners in two categories, niche and “big brand” exclusive lines. The last round of votes on the short-listed products was done on anonymous blotters – but of course it wasn’t hard to identify Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale, Serge Lutens L’Orpheline, Comme des Garçons + Pharrell Williams Girl and Parfum d’Empire Musc Tonkin and Corsica Furiosa

Any one of the finalists would have deserved to win, but many of us were rooting for Parfum d’Empire, as a truly independent brand and one of the few headed by a perfumer, its fearless, physical, baroque style deserved to be saluted. When Marc-Antoine Corticchiato was called up to collect his Fifi, I just about let out a whoop (but it wasn’t that sort of gala – apart from the very vocal L’Oréal tables).

So, obviously, I’m kicking off this seasonal top 10 with…

Corsica Furiosa by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato
 for Parfum d’Empire

In music, “furioso” means “to be played rapidly and with passion”. Based on lentiscus, a Mediterranean shrub whose olfactory range spans from ivy to earthy via hay, moss, pepper, liquorice and leather, Corsica Furiosa celebrates the rites of spring on the Island of Beauty with an exhilarating blast of green.

Succus by Shyamala Maisondieu 
for Liquides Imaginaires

“Succus” is an obsolete medical term designating the expressed juice of a plant. Part of Liquides Imaginaires’ new trilogy “Les Eaux arborantes”, a tribute to trees, Succus smells like a hallucinogenic vegetal potion served by an Amazonia shaman. Sharp, metallic, sappy, peppery, smoky, this compelling weirdo’s effect is quasi-synesthetic – you’ll see iridescent butterflies, day-glo birds, psychedelic fruit and carnivorous (or carnivalesque?) flowers.

Ostara by Bertrand Duchaufour
for Penhaligon’s

With Ostara, Bertrand D. adds another deconstructivist blossom to his herbarium. Built around narcissus absolute, his daffodil sets off its heady, horsey-honeyed facets with dew-gorged green. A spritz of this is enough: Ostara is powerfully radiant – a sign of its strong identity and excellent balance – and has the half-life of plutonium on hair or textiles…

Cologne Indélébile by Dominique Ropion 
for Frédéric Malle

The name is an oxymoron. And so, of course, is the olfactory effect: a cologne that tattoos itself on skin rather than evaporating within an hour. But the most fascinating balancing act of Ropion/Malle’s new opus is the way it constantly teeters on the brink of functional perfumery without ever toppling over into it, its clean neroli and white musks structure gloriously messed up by narcissus absolute.

Vacances by Henri Almeras 
for Jean Patou

The scent was launched to celebrate an event Jean Patou’s chic clientele couldn’t have cared less about: in 1936, for the first time ever, French workers were given paid holidays. Which meant the countryside rather than the beach back then. So that Vacances, part of the latest trio of Jean Patou’s “Collection Héritage” reformulated by Thomas Fontaine, smells of a spring break rather than a summer vacation, with its big verdant burst of galbanum and vivid lilac-hyacinth accords…

Mimosa by Jean-Christophe Hérault 
for the IFF Speed Smelling Coffret

Some brand has to nab this jewel. A tender, poetic interpretation of the late-winter flower, this very limited-edition scent is based on Hérault’s notes as a young perfumer discovering the hills of the Massif du Tanneron near Grasse when mimosa trees are in bloom.

L’Ile au Thé by Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal 
for Annick Goutal

Though inspired by a visit to the Korean island of Jeju, “the island of tea” somehow summons images for the “Pastoral Symphony” sequence of Disney’s Fantasia  -- the one where a family of winged horses gambol in a pastel sky and seascape… Like Ninfeo Mio, L’Ile au thé blends notes actually found in the setting: mandarin blossom, osmanthus, and, obviously, tea – a natural match for osmanthus which features a tea facet.

Ilha do Mel by Aliénor Massenet 
for Mémo

Another island, off the coast of Brazil… Neither Mémo’s owner Clara Molloy nor the perfumer Aliénor Massenet set foot on it, but the idea of a “Honey Island” proved irresistibly inspiring. Honey is a note many perfumers are exploring right now – it works well with florals, is gourmand without smelling of candy, and provides animalic dimensions without being ripped off a furry critter’s bottom. Ilha do Mel derives its honeyed effects from broom and orange blossom absolute, drenching its core jasmine-gardénia accord with golden nectar.

L’Eau en Blanc by Annick Ménardo 
for Lolita Lempicka

Launched in 2012 and re-issued this year as a bridal scent, L’Eau en Blanc shares its bottle with LL’s signature fragrance. But it sheds the liquorice to expose an olfactory arc spanning from raspberry to violet (the latter’s ionones being used to conjure the former), on to iris and heliotrope, an almondy note that stands in for the more anisic, caramelized liquorice. Somehow, to me this a descendant of Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée, minus the wistfulness…

Narciso by Aurélien Guichard 
for Narciso Rodriguez

Alberto Morillas’ masterful (and discontinued) Essence strayed too far from For Her’s olfactory codes. Not so Narciso, which picks up the brand’s signature woody musk accord – swapping For Her’s patchouli for vetiver and adding a milky, stylized gardenia. A lovely, luminescent cosmetic aura – if angels have a toiletries range, that’s what it must smell like.

La Panthère eau de parfum légère 
by Mathilde Laurent for Cartier

I was utterly disgusted when Black Opium (aka Starbucks coffee) beat out La Panthère at the French Fifis for Best Feminine Fragrance. Clearly, the industry professionals who voted acknowledged commercial success rather than olfactory merit. This new flanker adds a tiaré blossom note to La Panthère’s gardenia (the two flowers are botanically related) and lightens up a bit on the beast, but it’s still a curvaceous, purring animal…

For more seasonal round-ups, please visit:

P.S. For those who’ve been wondering why I’ve gone AWOL, well, there’s nothing the body resents like being knocked unconscious and cut open… Nothing serious, and I’m on the mend, but I’ve cut myself all the slack I could afford while still meeting my professional deadlines (because bodies also resent not eating).

The illustration is a picture I took of the Villa Livia frescoes at the Palazzo Massimo museum of Roman Antiquities.