Frankly, I couldn’t care less about my fragrances being natural (as long as there’s a fair amount of natural ingredients to give them richness and heft), and even less about the ingredients being organic. And I must admit that the first, perverse thought that came into my mind when I first tried the Honoré des Prés line composed by Olivia Giacobetti, which is both natural and organic, was: How did she manage to make it feel like there were some good synthetics in this? In other words: How did she manage to make fragrances that actually smell pretty much like fine perfumery, given her constraints? Mind you, I expected no less from someone with Giacobetti’s talent and vision. I doubt she’d put her name to something that wasn’t up to the standards she set out for herself in her own line, IUNX.
The IUNX aren’t organic, but they do share two points with the five Honoré des Prés: no floral notes and little lasting power. In the case of the Honoré des Prés, as both Octavian Coifan and Jeanne of auparfum.com explain, this is due to the lack of synthetic musks, which usually act as fixatives, but also to the fact that most of the heavier balsams, resins and woody notes (say, benzoin or patchouli), which could’ve made the fragrances longer lasting, were set aside. Possibly, their opulence didn’t mesh with the particular natural-smelling vibes (citrus, green, herbaceous-aromatic, sweet, woody-smoky-spicy) that Giacobetti was seeking out.
Though organic perfumery, in this case, seems more of a marketing ploy, and the fleetingness of the fragrances might make them more popular with people who don’t actually like perfume much, the five compositions are excellent while they last – with one proviso: the alcohol is of a nose-searing variety, and waiting for its evaporation is highly recommended.
Honoré's Trip is the olfactory equivalent of a tall, mouth-watering glass of mixed citrus juice: a virtual vitamin-fest with orange, mandarin and assorted lemons, with a dash of pimento. As quickly consumed as the morning smoothie (Use against hangovers untested, but likely).
Bonté’s Bloom has a rosy/lemony tinge; the blue chamomile and sage give it the herbaceous, animalic, just-bordering-on-the-edge-of-stinky smell of a heated June meadow. Just a tinge of muguet and we’d have been in business for more than 15 minutes… But as it is, a great, bucolic moment: this literally feels of nature.
Nu Green opens up with a burst of mint and chlorophyll; it gives off a vodka smell which could be the listed “vegetal musk”, if the “vegetal musk” used in this is ambrette. But “vegetal musk” might also be the essential oil of musk mallow, i.e. malva moschata; confusingly, the term “musk mallow” also seems to designate the hibiscus, i.e. abelmoschus moschatus, i.e…. ambrette. Anyway, Miss Musk passes in such a hurry that it hardly seems the bother to learn her real name (the best we could do, if we caught her, would be to smell her breath: boozy? Ah, Ambrette, we meet at last…)
Sexy Angelic reflects Giacobetti’s more gourmand side, the one you get in IUNX candles like Papyrus or Frangipane: almond with an anisic tinge, a mixture of sweet skin-smell and confectionery (the delicacy from Aix-en-Provence called “calissons”, made with sugar, powdered almonds, candied melon and candied orange peels). Arm-lickingly delicious, and a tad longer-lasting. As an alternative, I suggest getting ourselves rubbed with calissons this summer as performance art during the Aix-en-Provence Opera Festival. Plenty enough starving artists around to get the licking done. A good deed, and fun.
Chaman’s Party is the most recognizably Giacobetti in her woody-spicy, ethereal mode: the smoky earthiness vetiver is layered on the smoky, vanilla-like sweetness of the “wood of life” (as listed), better know as gaiac wood. The “dried clove tree flowers”, better known as cloves – the note list is nothing if not poetic – dry out the blend just when it was getting relaxed and hippie with their cold-hot camphoraceous blast. This one actually lasts a fairly long time on the skin. It feels somehow dry enough to tan mummies: anyway, it could be a strategy to drive the flies and bees away from the calisson girls. Crack a match, let’em combust in a huge, resin-borne whoosh.
For the time being, the Honoré des Prés line is exclusively available in France: the brand will soon open an online shop, but in the meantime, La Mûre Favorite in Lyon (no affiliation her) can take online orders.
Given the price point (between 128 and 148 euros) the Honoré des Prés definitely could give a little more throw for the money, but they’re really quite complex and subtle given the constraints of organic perfumery – good enough, in fact, to stand as fragrances on their own merits.
This is organic perfumery all grown up and ready to go play with the big guys on its own, revised terms: thank God, there isn’t a whiff of health-store self-righteousness in them; at no time, thankfully, does aromatherapy spring to mind.
These are spot-on trendy boho chic – in the brand’s website, Honoré des Prés, a contraction of the names two very bourgeois Parisian quarters, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, has been turned into the character of a rich, nature-loving yet night-clubbing aristocrat, in a preemptive, trendily ironic spoof (whatever those guys were having while they were writing, organic or not, I want some).
In a word, the point isn’t, to me, that they are natural: it’s that they conjure the smell of nature, through the artist’s artifice.
Image: Sue and Peter Hill at the Chelsea Flower Show 2008, courtesy Quinquabelle.