mardi 29 juillet 2008

A few thoughts on Olivia Giacobetti and IUNX

Do women perfumers compose scents in their own image? Is the question even relevant?
It is in fashion, where the fact of dressing people of your own sex implies a play with self-image (the feminine body you inhabit). From Gabrielle Chanel to Sonia Rykiel and An Demeulemeester, many women fashion designers have obviously developed for others a style they had initially invented for themselves. In the case of women perfumers, whose work is usually commissioned, and of who, like their male colleagues, very little is known, the matter is harder to settle for lack of information.

There are, however, some exceptions, when the woman perfumer in question launches her own line. Annick Goutal, who usually linked her new fragrances with the intimate, family circumstances that had inspired them, seemed to bottle a part of her own history. And now, as Olivia Giacobetti relaunches IUNX, she states that “I have put everything I love in it.”

Because, like Goutal before her, Giacobetti has a bit more media exposure, it is easier to detect a distinct consistency between IUNX and her personal culinary and sartorial tastes. In an interview she gave in March 2004 to the French magazine Votre Beauté, she speaks of her love for the Asian grocery store Tang Frères, its lotus blossoms and sandalwood soaps; for the sleek austerity of Helmut Lang and Jill Sander, and the simplicity of APC jeans and tee-shirt, Repetto ballerina shoes or The Banana Republic’s white shirts (under which she wears Victoria’s Secret lingerie)…

Spices and white cotton, minimalism and exoticism: the life of Olivia Giacobetti seems to be transposed in IUNX. Not so much as a narcissistic extension as through the atmospheric re-creations. Vaporous and impalpable even when they tend towards the gourmand[1], Olivia Giacobetti’s fragrances are like virtual environments conjured through a cloud of molecules, rather than the expression of a woman’s (or a man’s) personality.

They are mists of olfactory memory, ghosts of a time or a place in which the body is immersed, as though in a parallel life, rather than the reflection of the body itself in its vanity. Giacobetti’s own streamlined, discreet sartorial style seems to intensify her desire to retreat into olfactory-gustatory experiences in which she creates vignettes both intensely personal and so ethereal that they allow another body/imagination to slide into them. These fragrant displacements, much more numerous when the whole of the IUNX range was available, are currently restricted to three choices.

L’Eau Blanche: steam

“Water in the air, the mere presence of a white linen vapour
rising from white linen drying in the sun.”

The notes given are white linen, orris butter and teak wood. Of course, the white linen refers to Estée Lauder. But while the American fragrance plays on the blindingly bright and soapy thrills of its aldehydic effervescence, L’Eau Blanche only lifts an infinitesimal part of the hot iron on linen smell of some aldehydes, a molecular mist underlined by the metallic tinge of iris. The result is a hybrid of L’Été en Douce (L’Artisan Parfumeur) minus the linden flower, and of Hiris (Hermès) without the carroty notes. A scent by subtraction, almost a non-fragrance, which gently recedes into a white musk veil, which emphasizes the clean linen effect.

L’Éther: vibration

“L’Éther is the soft and warm smoke escaping from a resin fire,
a magnetic vapour, a breath of wood gliding on the skin,
pure and embracing.”

A dash of saffron warms up an evanescent rose on a bed of sandalwood (Giacobetti treated this rose-saffron-sandalwood accord very differently, in a much more gourmand style, in L’Artisan Parfumeur Safran Troublant). The spicy roundness of myrrh and the dryness of incense feel like smoke rather than the actual resin: the result is quite reminiscent of another L'Artisan, Passage d'Enfer, without the vanilla richness of the lily. A white musk base anchors the undulating wafts on the skin. Once more, this is almost more of a luminous vibration than a perfume.

Splash Forte: potion

“A crimson red water that warms up and shakes up.
A hot Jamaïcan water filled with wood and burnt spices.”

The first whiff irresistibly brings to mind the red fish-shaped cinnamon candies of childhood. It is an olfactory illusion: the mint and Jamaïca chilli pepper accord produces this burning-to-the-point-of-iciness effect. Apart from the listed bay rum, other spices can be teased out of the blend: cardamom, cumin, nutmeg. The astringency of cinchona (a bitter-tasting tropical bark) is softened by a musk base. A gutsy, almost drinkable composition, so burning that, oddly, it produces a cooling effect.

A word on the meaning of IUNX

According to the brand’s press releases, the Greek word “iunx” means seduction through perfume. My friend Helg, from The Perfume Shrine, confirms that this is a fantasy definition of which no trace is found in ancient documents.
In his book on spices in Greek mythology, The Gardens of Adonis, the historian Marcel Détienne writes that the word “has a triple meaning: it is a species of bird; it is also an instrument of erotic magic; it is finally a witch expert in aphrodisiac potions.” The bird is the wryneck (Jynx torquilla), called the “bird of delirium” by the Ancients for its incessant movements and strident cries (this is the bird depicted in the illustration to this post). It is by tying it to a tiny wheel that Aphrodite makes a potent love-charm; this first, divine iunx was reproduced by piercing a small wheel with two holes, through which strings are inserted; the wheel spins and whirrs along the ropes (see the picture of the French post). Thirdly, the magician Mintha, daughter of the nymph Echo or of Peitho, the power of Persuasion, is also sometimes called Iunx.

Mintha, mistress of Hades, the god of Inferno, is transformed into mint by the goddess Demeter when she boasts of being more beautiful than Demeter’s daughter, the new bride of Hades, Persephone. Which brings us back to fragrance. Under the innocence of her white shirts and ballerina shoes, Olivia Giacobetti, is wilier than she seems: through her art of the scented ethereal, she also knows the recipes of magic potions.

[1] For L’Artisan Parfumeur, Giacobetti has created much foodier fragrances like Premier Figuier, Mandarine Tout Simplement, Fou d'Absinthe or Safran Troublant.

Image: The wryneck (Jynx torquilla), also known as Iunx.

12 commentaires:

  1. I have to authoritatively chime in and state that:

    "iunx" being "seduction by perfume" in Greek is a complete and utter fabrication: It doesn't mean that, they're overstretching it to include perfume!
    (but they use it amply in their advertisements, it seems:

    "Junx" as referred to the wrybird is of course later Latin taxonomy.
    The story of Mintha (a Naiad) is again derived from Latin lore: it appears in Ovid's "Metamorphoses".
    Détienne must be referring to Latinized Greek myths.

    Iunx, according to the Suidas lexicon (10th cent.AD and the only complete existing anthology of myths in Greek) is actually the daughter of Peitho (=Persuasion) and Pan; or in other sources of Echo and Pan. She used magic to make Zeus fall in love with Io, for which Hera punished her metamorphosizing her into stone or in the bird referenced (the latter ref is by Theocritus).

    The funny thing is that the bird is also called Kinaidion, which has the same root as Kinaidos, the Greek word for homosexual (said in a derogatory sense)!

    I seem to recall that Absolument Absinthe is a brand name of its own, not a scent by L'artisan parfumeur, but could be wrong?
    She did make Premier Figuier for L'artisan though.

  2. Thanks for chiming in, Helg. I'm glad to hear you confirm that the definition given by the brand is a bit of a stretch of the imagination (they probably weren't aiming to sell to many Hellenists). I hadn't found any trace of the perfume reference either, but wasn't 100% sure.
    Of course, you're right, the Absinthe scent for L'Artisan is Fou d'Absinthe. I'm correcting the mistake right now! And I'm adding Premier Figuier to the list. It's the heat, I tell you!

  3. Now that you've gotten me interested in saffron, L'Ether sounds more and more interesting. But do I lose points for saying that L'Eau Blanche sounds like it would be my favorite? Sorry to bring this up again, but it sounds like the same idea that Prada was going for with their new men's scent (Infusion D'Homme), which ultimately smells like cheap detergent instead of "fresh linen" with a little bit of iris thrown in. Orris + teak sounds divine. So does L'ete en Douce + Hiris!

    So as for distribution, they are maintaining a strict no-ship policy for now, correct? Any word on if they have plans for wider distribution? Oh, and how much are these guys? And concentrations? And now I'm interested in another impossible-to-get fragrance. C'est ma vie.

  4. Hello, Denyse --

    thank you for a lovely review. These fragrances sound fascinating. I'm particularly drawn to L'Éther. I love a rose-saffron accord, but I was disappointed by the added vanilla in Safran Troublant's gourmand rendition.

    Now I will have to figure out how to get to Paris...

  5. Billy, sometimes I think you love to make it hard on yourself with those inaccessible fragrances...;-)
    For the moment, yes, strictly no-ship policy, and no plans disclosed as of yet for distribution.
    A 150 ml of L'Eau Blanche is 103 euros, $160, for edt concentration.
    As an iris lover, you might really like L'Eau Blanche, though it's a very impalpable scent, so you shouldn't expect strong concentrations or much laster power...

  6. Jarvis, thanks for the compliment, and, yes, Paris *does* have its fragrant attractions...
    Personally, I felt more drawn to the Safran, but L'Éther is very beautiful and interesting indeed, so if you didn't feel comfortable with the foodiness, you might prefer this rendition of the theme.

  7. At least you get a fair amount of juice for the price. I'm so jaded that now I look at anything under $200 as a bargain (not that I buy of course), but then I realize that often the amount is for 50 ml or even only an ounce for EDT or EDP.

    And no samples either? Jees. How about the bottles--are they pretty at least? I haven't been able to find a pic. Planning on reviewing the candles at all? I'm just a junkie for scented prose.

  8. No samples either... I didn't dare do the "pulling out a vial" trick with the very nice gentleman in the shop. He may very well have thrown me out on my ear.
    The bottles are plain, tall cylinders, the same as the IUNX line. I'm not surprised you couldn't find images, you're not allowed to take pictures in the shop either... If you click on this link you'll get the idea:

    No plans to review the candles yet, but it's an idea. They smelled delicious.

  9. Thank you so much for discussing these. Ether is my favorite scent of this line, I have an old bottle, hopefully the new one smells the same. Are they still using the black flat bottle that looks like a computer mouse, or did they put it into the regular cylinders? Please do review the candles. :-)

  10. Tara, you're welcome! I'm afraid I can't compare the old and the new Ether, I never got to smelling the old one... But a MUAer friend who was with me, and who owns the old Ether, didn't notice any difference.
    If I'm very, very good, I might try to entice them at the boutique to dip some sticks into the wax so I can take them home... Just a thought.

  11. Do women perfumers compose scents in their own image?
    I think the scents of women perfumers reflect more their female personality than their image. I 've said it before, I personally have more interest in strong exceptional women, women of character such as Coco Chanel and Germaine Cellier than "regular" women like Annick Goutal, Olivia Giacobetti and Victoire Gobin Daude whose perfumery to me is like hospital food.
    When Coco Chanel commissioned No 5 she demanded it smells like a woman which was a sexual statement, she didn 't want some rose or lilly of the valley eau de toilette, it 's clear she would have never commissioned the present Parfums de Rosine as is.
    I admire the fact that she took a stand that most women wouldn 't have specially back in her times. Germaine Cellier had a bad reputation of being thick-headed and independant, again it greatly reflected in her perfume style. Bandit is not l 'Eau du Ciel or l 'Eau Blanche! LOL


  12. Thank you Emmanuella for picking up the theme I developed in the first part of the post. You know I worship at the altar of sainte Germaine! But you can't deny that the three women perfumers you could did/do reflect something of their personnality in their fragrances, even if they're not your style. Giacobetti's scents are not my n°1 choices but they *are* distinctive and consistent, enough to draw me back to explore her style.