Pulling out the deeper scents is just about my only consolation for saying goodbye to the long days, light dresses and bare legs of the Indian summer. I’m re-reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, listening to Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and to the Shangri-Las. My current obsession is with leather and smoke. The stance is tough and smoldering: I’ve had no time for pretty lately. Seduction, certainly: but on my own terms. Remember that Garbage song, “I’m only happy when it rains”? That’s not me. But I’m making do with beauty. Here’s my top ten for fall.
1/Guerlain Mitsouko (pre-reformulation): Needs no presentation. You either get it or you don’t. One of the few that can make me utter strings of four-letter words in utter delight, or go weak at the knees; the one I’d shoot back at anyone who says perfume can’t be art. Using up my decent, but not endless stash of the pre-reformulated version may be the ultimate expression of the poignant, perishable, ephemeral nature of perfume: a luxurious waste of my most precious olfactory be(long)ing, vanishing into thin air, burned into my mind. One day I’ll be a Mitsouko widow.
2/Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois: This one was saved from the IFRA vandals, barely scathed, by Serge Lutens. I own and wear both the original version and the reformulated one. The latter may have lost some of the former’s heft but I’m fully happy with its dusky topaz and amethyst radiance: it’s still the tersely elegant contrapuntal harmony of cedar and candied fruit that pierced the Angel/L’Eau d’Issey haze in 1992 and established Serge Lutens’ voice as one of the most original in contemporary perfumery.
3/Estée Lauder Knowing: Like all the great, quintessentially American Estée Lauder classics, this one’s got serious sillage – and it makes no apologies for it. Why should it? It’s all woman, way past voting age and it’s not going to apologize for that either. A refugee from the era when mainstream brands had balls: a Hummer-sized rose with a bitter, mossy streak – think of a heated field in mid-summer, with that slightly animal scent you get from drying weeds. Spices? Fruit? Incense? What’s in that brew? All or none of the above? Knowing keeps you guessing, just like a grown woman should.
4/ Chanel Cuir de Russie: The leather of reference now that Hermès Doblis and Lanvin Scandal have joined the scrap heap of perfume history: a warm, smooth texture pricked with aldehydes, to let the coolness of iris air out an almost stable-like pungency. One of the oldest gender-benders in the repertoire, and still a defiant gesture.
5/Le Labo Patchouli 24: With its vanilla-gaiac-birch tar burn, Annick Menardo’s riff on phenols and balsams feels comforting, brainy and hard-bitten all at once – as though an Angel mama slipped out to read Saint Augustine in between serving crèmes brûlées by a roaring fire.
6/Cartier XIII – La Treizième Heure: My gushing on Mathilde Laurent’s ode to smoke – a splash of Lapsang Souchong on a leather jacket, complete with the cold bite of zippers – is so recent I’ll just ask you to click here to know why you’ll love it.
7/Bulgari Black: Like La Treizième Heure, Black is a modern, urban take on the Shalimar template – in my review I called it a “Shalimar for replicants”, and I’m still pretty happy with that definition. The smell of headlights bouncing off wet pavement on a rainy October night.
8/Chanel Sycomore: Vetiver is one of the most gorgeous materials in perfumery, and barely needs dressing up, but in Sycomore, Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake have streamlined its smoky earthiness until each of its facets shine through.
9/ The Different Company Oriental Lounge: Céline Ellena doesn’t like orientals, so her take on the genre sets off the aromatic warmth of labdanum with the decidedly un-classic, raspy green caloupilé (i.e. curry) leaf and a butch, woody red rose. This is the Orient with minimal arabesques and no navel rhinestone in sight.
10/ Prada L’Eau Ambrée: Daniela Andrier’s sly aura of a scent starts off with juicy mandarin before weaving a haze of gardenia and ambergris so immaterial it feels practically subliminal at times. Possibly the best mainstream launch this fall.
For more Fall 2009 Top Ten selections, please click on the following links:
Image: Yves Klein, Peinture-Feu (1961)