vendredi 22 janvier 2016

Frost Flowers: my Top 10 Scents for the Winter of 2016

After a creepily balmy Christmas both in Montreal and Paris, winter has come back with a bite. This is a time, traditionally, to pull out our sultriest ambers (Nicolaï’s Ambre Cashmere is a recent favorite) and to crank up the heat with scorching spices (Aedes’ Oeillet Bengale is still going strong). But for a change, and because I can’t say I’ve found new loves since our Top 10 of 2015 a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to dig into my collection to pull out scents that conjure snow, frost, ice or winter skies. As fuzzy an object as ever was, scent is uniquely ductile when it comes to lending itself to all sorts of similes and metaphors, so why not indulge in the exercise?

N°22 (Chanel)
If Ernest Beaux famously said he conceived N°5 while thinking of the icy lakes and rivers of the Arctic Circle, N°22, created in the same series, can similarly conjure images of winter: a blizzard in a hothouse, frosty aldehydes settling on white petals in a creamy swirl.

N°18 (Chanel)
As limpid as an icicle tinged by dawn with pink and mauve (rosy ambrette, powdery iris), N°18 is a paradox: a scent with tremendous character that somehow has the transparency of a non-scent.(Click here for the full review)

Eau Aztèque (Iunx)
In your next Paris perfume pilgrimage, hop over to the Left Bank, where Olivia Giacobetti reopened a boutique dedicated to her brand Iunx. On my first visit, I impulse-bought Eau Aztèque, sold as “a water to fly from winter to summer”. A work on ambrette and rose like N°18, though rather than ice, its rosewater and vanilla-laced musk evokes the comforting fluffiness of a freshly-fallen coat of snow.
Cuir d’Ange (Hermès)
Jean-Claude Ellena’s floral leather conjures the pristine flurries that we Quebeckers call poudrerie – powdery snow blown upwards from snowdrifts by gusts of wind. Or by the white wings of angels? (Click here for the full review)

de Bachmakov (The Different Company)
A tribute to its co-founder Thierry de Bachmakov’s Russian roots and one of Céline Ellena’s last collaborations with the brand, this limpid scent still stands as one of its best offerings. A blade of bison grass shooting through an icy pond; the peppery burn of Artic winds; the serenity of the steppe.

Shalimar Eau de Cologne (Guerlain)
Unlike the moist floral Souffle de Parfum, which strayed so far from the original it barely deserved to bear its name, this Eau de Cologne is recognizably Shalimar, though with a sharper, lemon sherbet-y bite: the tang of a snowflake melting on the tongue.

Alaïa Paris (Alaïa)
The Tunisian-born designer’s brief was cool water splashing on a burning wall, yet something of Alaïa Paris’s original take on aquatic – mineral and inky rather than iodic or melony – reminds me of the smell of snow. (Click here for the full review)

Noël (Annick Goutal)
Christmas may be behind us, but I’ll be clinging to my Noël scent diffuser (reeds in a bottle of scented oil) as long as my heater’s on. With its raspy green effects and candied fruit notes, Noël brings out the connection between mandarin rind and fir resin. This is a yearly limited edition, but it still seems to be available.

Filles en Aiguille (Serge Lutens)
The aiguilles in the name may refer to sewing needles or stilettoes, but the scent draws us straight into the coniferous forests of fairy tales – there be ogres, witches and bears out there… A simple, salubrious and oddly comforting blend. (Click here for the full review)

Wazamba (Parfum d’Empire)
Though named after a West-African musical instrument and a blend of essences sacred to various cultures, Wazamba also brings to mind wintery pine forests – its aldehydic incense accord a cold, mineral note underlying the warmth of balsams, with a wisp of smoke rising from some distant hearth… (Click here for the full review)

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lundi 28 décembre 2015

Goodbye 2015: The Best of the Year

I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to 2015. Here in Paris, the year began and ended in tragedy. Of course, like all things of beauty, perfume can be a solace. Yet after the shock and horror, it’s been hard to channel quite the same amount of enthusiasm into it as usual. Or even to muster up much desire to write. Whenever work hasn’t been tying me down to the computer, I’ve felt the need to be with people rather than putting in more hours at the keyboard. With deadlines piling up and a nagging health issue requiring attention, the blog was the only area in my life where I could cut myself some slack, hence my silence.

Meanwhile, the landscape of Perfumeland has shifted. With L’Artisan Parfumeur bought up by the people who brought us One Million, the last nail in the coffin of the pioneering niche brands has been hammered in. To be fair, Puig does handle the unimpeachable Comme des Garçons, and L’Artisan hasn’t been properly helmed for years. Still, the brand founded by Jean-François Laporte in 1976 as a reaction to the ascendancy of marketing will become a marketing-driven brand. And in dispensing with Bertrand Duchaufour’s signature, the Catalan giant has purged the ur-niche house of its last shred of soul. Let’s just hope Puig doesn’t cull too many fragrances from the catalogue.

Of course, niche – the reason most of us became perfume geeks in the first place – is still thriving. In the list provided by the Fragrance Foundation France in view of the Experts’ Award at the 2016 French Fifis, I’ve counted over 350 launches – that’s just the stuff sold in France -- for 110 brands, a full third of which I’d never heard of. And more than a dozen of which put out 4 new scents or more in 2015: Atelier Cologne churned out a whopping 10 new juices, as did Jo Malone.

On the whole, in the limited number of things I did spend some time with, I admit I haven’t found anything that’s blown my stockings off. Still, there are a few launches I’ve loved, and one oldie I’ve (re)discovered. Here they are, in alphabetical order…

Ambre Cashmere Intense (Parfums de Nicolaï)
Amber can sit a little uneasily on the liver when expressed in all its fatty-waxy glory. Despite the scent’s “intense” qualifier, Patricia de Nicolaï delivers a deliciously Parisian – i.e. measured – interpretation of the note, dried up with iris and clove, and pricked with enough black pepper to open up the accord.

Cannibale (Serge Lutens)
I’ve been dithering about including one of Lutens’ new “Section d’Or” collection – one shouldn’t have to mortgage a kidney to smell good. Still, it’s hard to turn up your nose at scents that are so quintessentially Lutens. Like all the “Section d’Or”, Cannibale is of a denser, almost resinous olfactory texture than the “bell jar” or “export” collections. Charred rice powder and ashes of roses flutter over crackling incense tears… the cannibal in question may well refer to the alchemical process of digestion.

Cross of Asia (Orlov Paris)
In Cross of Asia, Dominique Ropion says he’s done for ylang – a notoriously difficult note to treat as a soliflore – what he’d done for tuberose in Carnal Flower. Up close, this seemingly straight-up floral is a compelling oddball that picks apart and reassembles all of the facets of ylang – including intriguing salty, rosy and green apple notes. For the time being, the Paris-based brand is only sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, but it’s well worth seeking out.

Misia (Chanel)
Olivier Polge’s first composition as Chanel’s new in-house perfumer is a deliciously retro take on the Paris violet-rose accord. Lipstick and fur on heated flesh: Chanel’s first perfume named after a woman not the founder is the brand’s most carnal offering to date.

Nanban (Arquiste)
Am I influenced by Nanban’s Asian inspiration? At the heart of Rodrigo Flores Roux’s chewy resinous incense and amber accord, I can pick out smoked plum – as though a bit of Femme had been steeped in traditional cuir de Russie.

Narciso (Narciso Rodriguez)
One of the few 2015 mainstream launches most of my French perfume blogger friends seem to agree about. To my nose, this creamy, gardenia-tinged cosmetic notes is on the same area of the scent-map as my beloved Ylang 49: a rose-vetiver axis that is faintly reminiscent of 70s chypres. I’ve been favoring the oil version, in which the vetiver stands out more distinctly.

Ostara (Penhaligon’s)
With its splash of sap drizzling on a lick of honey, Bertrand Duchaufour’s take on daffodil reads like a color-saturated, baroque descendant of Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s masterful Dune: a northern interpretation of solar notes.

Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire)
It was a bold move to launch a fragrance named after such a tabooed substance – but then, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato is one of the industry’s ballsiest noses. Matched with the hay and sap facets of narcissus, bolstered by the mulled-fruit lushness of immortelle, the scent is not about smoke or ashes but about the leaf.

Tellus (Liquides imaginaires)
Part of the “Eaux Arborantes” trilogy dedicated to trees – the brand’s best to date, to my nose – Nadège Le Garlantezec’s Tellus uproots facets of perfumery materials usually expunged from the palette. Smells of dank, mushroom, humus and dirt-smeared burrowing critters… It’s the nose gone to earth. Primeval and oddly comforting.

Timbuktu (L’Artisan Parfumeur)
Last (in alphabetical order) but not least… despite being a decade old, Bertrand Duchaufour’s interpretation of the Malian ritual of thiourayé was truly my scent of the year. I rediscovered it while researching African-themed fragrances for Citizen K International. Its vetiver backbone, slender as a blade of bison grass, holds up a grapefruit-to-smoke vertical structure as satisfying as the best white wines. And somehow, wearing it on alternate days with Mitsouko shed light on both scents, showing Timbuktu as a chypre and making the role vetiver plays in Mitsouko (in the current edp) more legible. Great perfumes, like all works of art, yield different readings over the years. Thus, my 2015 Timbuktu is not the one I knew in 2005. May 2016 bring many more such discoveries… And may Puig not discontinue this rare gem.

For more views on the best fragrances of 2015, please visit:

Illustrations: Anna Karina in stills from Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le Fou.