dimanche 22 février 2009

Ego Facto: 7 Hermaphrodites in a Bottle

You know the concept of niche perfumery has been voided of all its meaning when… a niche line is distributed in a mainstream chain of cosmetics stores (the French Marionnaud). But if it had to be done, it might as well be with Ego Facto, the new line launched by the fragrance consultant Pierre Aulas, who has worked with brands such as Thierry Mugler (for the Miroir series).

Pierre Aulas, a former singer in the chorus of the Orchestre de Paris, sees himself as a conductor. His soloists are among the best in the business: Anne Flipo, Alberto Morillas, Jean and Aurélien Guichard, Dominique Ropion, and the regretted Laurent Bruyère.

Ring a bell? It should. Frédéric Malle has been doing it for years, and Ego Facto could be seen as a more mainstream version of the Éditions de Parfums: Malle for the masses, as it were. But while Malle, though fairly present in the media, puts forward his perfumers, the Ego Facto website plays up the personality of the very personable Aulas, perhaps understandably so , considering its stated concept – 7 portraits of 7 strong egos. As an artistic director, Pierre Aulas co-signs each fragrance.

The result of this team-work is a reasonably priced (59 € for 50 ml) line of seven eaux de parfum, each of which has got a twist, a little je-ne-sais-quoi that makes them playful in a very French, flirty way – the brand communication plays on humor, though in a much less provocative style than État Libre d’Orange. All are just edgy enough to be called “niche” and attract the attention of the discerning perfumista, without sending the basic Acqua di Gio/ Light Blue consumer home screaming. And for most niche brands, several blur the gender lines, though these do it in a yin/yang way: they aren’t so much unisex as hermaphroditic.

Me Myself and I, by Jean and Aurélien Guichard: the father and son team at Givaudan have come up with the unlikely pairing of tuberose and vetiver topped off with a hemlock flower accord (last seen in Ormonde Jayne’s masterful Ormonde Woman). The heavy, wintergreen-tinged tuberose is pulled towards a darker, almost licorice-like burnt smokiness by the vetiver, with slightly salty, yeasty, almost bread-like top notes; it eventually subsumes into a woodier base. The blend is so seamless it’s hard to tease out the individual components: yin (vetiver) and yang (tuberose) united in a solipsistic whole. Me, myself and I has one idea, and keeps to it until the end, but that one idea is so great – why has no one matched up those two materials before? – that you don’t mind listening to it over and over for hours. The best in the collection for my money.

Poopoo Pidoo, by Dominique Ropion (IFF): An evocation of old fashioned poudre de riz (rice powder). Orange blossom water, a milky cloudiness due to the almondy heliotropin paired up with a rice note in a swan’s down puff of white musk. This hovers on the edge of being the kind of fragrance you put in cosmetics, with a slight foodiness. Unexpectedly simple for the author of the masterfully complex Une Fleur de Cassie, but regressively delicious. The most outright feminine of the bunch.

Pièges à Filles, by Anne Flipo (IFF) is Poopoo Pidoo’s mate, a Fleurs du Mâle kind of gender-bending masculine fragrance with an overdose of girly heliotropin and orange blossom on a butchier vetiver-tobacco base with a pinch of human cumin. Both male and female, it seems like an olfactory shortcut to self-sufficiency for today’s metrosexuals, despite its being called a “Girl Trap”. Unless the trap is a mirror.

Fool for Love, by Laurent Bruyère (IFF) plays the foody side full-on on with a coconut punch accord on a buttery frangipani flower heart, with cinnamon thrown in to add a little fire, on a sharper woody base that makes it take an unexpected turn into a more masculine realm.

Sacré-Coeur, also by Laurent Bruyère, is quite possibly the most overtly masculine of the bunch with its patchouli-tobacco-leather accord. The top notes are meant to evoke the acid and flinty Chablis, with its tart fruity notes (lemon and green apple). A surprising variation on the traditional citrus-headed leathers.

Jamais le Dimanche, by Alberto Morillas (Firmenich) is another example of the neo-ozonic vogue we’ve been seeing lately. Although “Never on Sunday” boasts a marijuana note I get mostly incense and calone (or a similar material) and a lick of hesperidics. Clearly, this Sunday is spent by the sea after mass, with possibly a little herbal remedy.

Prends Garde à Toi, also by Jean and Aurélien Guichard, is easily the weirdest of the bunch. With a herbal top note that’s just on the edge of being vile – a real love-it-or-hate-it – but ends up being oddly attractive, it clearly deserves its name, drawn from Carmen’s “Habanera”, which means “You’d best beware!”. According to the site, this is the essential oil of nettle, but as I’ve never smelled or eaten nettle (the only way I’ve ever approached the foul plant is from behind – mine – in circumstances on which I’d rather not elaborate), I’d say that this reminds me of the sour, tangy sorrel I throw into my omelets in spring. There is also a slight absinthe-like whiff. Other reviewers describe this herbal smell as Artemisia (Octavian of 1000fragrances) or tomato leaf and anise basil (Jeanne of the French auparfum), which sound about right. Though there is a jasmine heart according to the site, it isn’t terribly perceptible after having my nose rubbed into nettle. I do get a lot of earthy, dirty patchouli in the drydown with a mineral whiff.

The scent was composed as a tribute Carmen – Pierre Aulas says he had the inspiration to start his own fragrance line while singing in the chorus of the opera – and it’s certainly an unexpected one, Aulas’ personal favorite.

As far as I know, the Ego Facto fragrances are not yet available outside of France, where they are sold exclusively at selected Marionnaud stores, but Marionnaud sells them online. The Ego Facto site is, for the moment, exclusively in French but an English version is in the works. Meanwhile, you can check the humorous Ken and Barbie visuals and check out the handsome Pierre.

Image: “Je” by Ben Vautier.

12 commentaires:

  1. Strange sculpture, that Hermaphrodite from the Louvre, as well as Canovas interpretation of Amor and Psyche. But you got it right for Ego Facto! That's the description I was missing.
    Prends garde a toi has that mezzo voice (une voix rauque, je pense) of a strange music. It has also that strange image of "woman with beard" as in old "gravures de cirque".
    jamais le dimanche can also be described as "les algues sur l'autel". both temple and sea.
    As for the tuberose-vetiver, I was surprised to see how many people liked this perfume from the first sniff. They must have put something inside :)
    Another strange note similar to one put in Ego Facto was previously used in Angelique Lilas (Guerlain).
    my artemisia impression was close to wormwood, absinthe and other plants from the same botanic family (strange family).

  2. Thanks for the reviews, D. I wish I had been able to sample these more thoroughly in France. I did like the vetiver-tuberose, as you know, and would have liked to have explored it more.

  3. Octavian: of course, I should've put the Louvre Hermaphrodite as an illustration! I wonder if that masculine/feminine thing the perfumes have got going is intentionally linked to the concept of "ego", as in: I need no one to complete me?
    The tuberose-vetiver is definitely a winner.

  4. Jarvis, you only smelled the scent strips, right? I'm sure Pierre Aulas will strike a deal with a US distributor, though how soon, I don't know...

  5. I seem to recall I was also vaguely intrigued by Pièges à Filles.

    It is interesting to consider what would make a perfume "hermaphrodite" (i.e. exhibiting characteristics both masculine and feminine), as opposed to "unisex" or "gender neutral."

  6. It's a pet theory of mine, Jarvis. Hermaphrodite is when it exhibits the distinct signs of both genders. Androgynous is when the gendered signs veer towards to other gender (for instance: tobacco/leather scents for women). Unisex is when neither gender is referenced with signs (Colognes for instance). Maybe there's a post in there!

  7. You read my thoughts! I was just thinking what would be the "mythological" scent of the Louvre sculpture. What is the scent of an hermaphrodite (not the fragrance). If that marble sculpture became alive by a miracle, what would be the first "sensorial" experiences? Tuberose-vetiver-castoreum is already a good combination.
    Hybrid creatures can be a good subject to transpose into scents.

  8. Octavian, one day I'll tell you about the time I caressed that statue while the guard wasn't looking (used to be a great sport of mine: stroking statues -- poor things are usually so dusty!).
    I do remember our conversation about myth. I think Me myself and I is a good smell for her/him. Or Jicky, but the old one: an angel with a death-by-civet sillage.

  9. Since we're confessing to such things, I was struck by the urge to caress Michelangelo's L'esclave mourant, which has got to be one of the most sensual pieces of sculpture I've ever seen.

    I restrained myself, as I'm sure it would have scandalized the large flock of Japanese tourists.

  10. Jarvis, who wouldn't have that urge? Come to think of it, I think I *did* shock some Japanese tourists.

  11. Thank you for doing reviews of these. I had been intrigued when Robin posted some info on NST and I'm fond of a rummage around Marionnard when in France - I obtained a lovely little bottle of Coco parfum at a good price last time....anyway. I am also a fan of the work of Guichard father and son so the tuberose -vetiver caught my eye. (I've recently sniffed Manoumalia and was struck by how wonderful vetiver can smell with a full on white floral). I suspect it is time to wrestle with the website as I doubt they'll come to the UK. donanicola

  12. Nicola, there's no reason why the Ego Facto can't be distributed outside France,it's more a matter of when than if... I don't think they have a sample program, but it's worth writing to them.