Have you ever been kissed by a booze-drenched rose?
Neither have I. But I have drunk old rum, Armagnac and cognac from lips that weren’t my own and Frapin’s new elixir conjures that sensation: a woody spicy ambery burn made more burning still by body heat.
Great spirits, like fine wines, can produce accords as harmonious and complex as those of the best perfumes. It isn’t entirely illogical then that a house that has been producing cognac for twenty generations should branch out into perfumes: both are the quintessence of the French art de vivre, and both yield a share to the angels, the famous part des anges that escapes into the air as wines and spirits age…
“La Part des Anges” having been co-opted by Thierry Mugler for a patented maceration process in wooden casks, Frapin turned to the next best thing. Their seventh opus was announced last summer as Les Ailes du Désir, “the wings of desire”, which was also the French title of Wim Wenders’ 1987 Der Himmel über Berlin (“The Sky over Berlin”). The story of an angel who chooses to become human in order to experience the pains and pleasures of life on earth seemed particularly suited – because of their volatile, combustible essence, distilled spirits and perfumes also hover between the spiritual and the carnal… Of course, before the Wenders movie, those “wings of desire” were not the attribute of angels but of the winged phallus used in fertility rites and commonly associated with the cult of the Greek god of wine and ecstasy: Dionysus.
Unfortunately, Frapin’s David Frossard hit a snag when Wim Wenders’ company took legal action to prevent the use of the title. The launch, initially slated for September, was delayed but as no quick solution was forthcoming, the name 1697 -- the year in which the Frapin family was ennobled by Louis XIV – was chosen as an alternative.
Up to then, the perfume had been off to an auspicious start. In 2009, David Frossard had been introduced to Bertrand Duchaufour by Pamela Roberts, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s former creative director, whom Frossard knew well from his four years as the export director of the brand. Duchaufour loved Frapin and was open to the idea of working with them. Knowing better than to fetter the perfumer with a restrictive brief, Frossard simply asked for a glamorous yet erotic fragrance…
The result nods towards two older Duchaufour compositions which also happen to be two particular favorites of Frossard’s, Patchouli Patch and Bois d’Ombrie (the latter already featured a cognac note); it picks up where Al Oudh and Havana Vanille/Vanille Absolument left off.
Vanilla is of course a prominent aroma in spirits aged in oak casks, since vanillin can be derived from oak, which also imparts leather and clove notes. Both Havana Vanille and 1697 feature it, but where the L’Artisan stretched out the facets of the vanilla pod until it started morphing into a cigar, the Frapin builds a space from which a vivid idea of fine spirit can emerge. The various accords (wood, amber, balsam, spice, leather, tobacco, dried fruit) spin around this axis to conjure a booze illusion.
In 1697, Havana Vanille’s hot flash of rum is amped up to conjure the rich burning sensation of a sip of cognac. The dried fruit facets of cabreuva, a wood essence seldom used in perfumery, and davana, one of Duchaufour’s signature notes, bolster the boozy effect. After the volatile rum absolute has evaporated, hot spices – cinnamon and clove – pick up the heat, soaking through the floral heart: with its ylang-ylang, jasmine and rose, at times 1697 could be perceived as a work on spicy flowers, with a phantom carnation spiking the bouquet…
The formula is built from top to bottom around the aromas of cognac or whiskey, with cresylic and tannic facets. The amber/leather effect is produced by cistus essence and cistus absolute, cassie absolute and a touch of isobutyl-quinolin. Patchouli is quite prominent in the blend.
The drydown of 1697 draws it towards balsamic notes, with vanilla, myrrh, tonka bean with its touch of chocolate and a sweetened condensed milk effect, but the mouth-burning booziness remains consistent throughout.
My only qualm may be the 14 per cent concentration, which I feel flattens the development a bit, whereas the 12 per cent concentration which I’d tested last summer in a small preview sample seemed to produce more ample sillage. As it is, though, it’s gorgeous stuff: a riff on the feel of cognac rather than a literal rendition, but just as head-turning as the drinkable Frapins; a dionysiac romp in the vineyard that should heat up what remains of this particularly chilly winter…
But consume with moderation: you’re apt to get licked by random Cupids.
Frapin 1697 will be launched in February, in a limited edition of 1697 numbered 50 ml bottles.
Illustration: Cupid and Psyche by Jacques-Louis David