(pour lire la version française, cliquez ici)
Does the back-story of a fragrance add to the emotion it conjures?
Say you’d lost the place where you grew up in such circumstances that you thought you’d never set foot there again, even if you could, because you couldn’t stand being there and not being home.
Now say you were a perfumer, and you’d moved on just enough to be able to revisit the place in order to recapture it in a scent...
So much has been made of perfume-as-Proustian-epiphany I sometimes wish that the young Marcel had never dipped his madeleine into his herbal tea… But the point is, he fished out his soggy piece of cake from the cup and went on to build his cathedral of memory upon it: his flashback actually took him forward, into his future as the author of In Search of Lost Time.
Similarly, I imagine many perfumers are driven by the quest to recapture lost scents, the first words of their fragrant vocabulary…
Thus, if Marc-Antoine Corticchiato’s first scent, Eau de Gloire, was a tribute to his family’s roots in Corsica, like many islanders he then set off for the farthest destinations with his next compositions. With the thirteenth, he’s come home at last.
Azemour is a tribute to his parents’ orange groves on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, by the estuary of the Oum Er r’Bia wadi; it is named after the ancient city of Azemmour. Like all of Corticchiato’s work, it is a robust, colour-saturated composition: a powerful citrus chypre with an almost chewable quality, as though you’d bitten into an orange without peeling it, and caught a mouthful of bitter essential oil along with the juicy flesh.
Like the orange tree in springtime that carries both last year’s fruit and this year’s flowers, Azemour draws on everything the tree gives to perfumery: the fruit, the blossom, the leaves, the twigs… But as Corticchiato tugs on that tree to bring back his memories, it is not only the roots – his roots – but the entire landscape he carries off.
The dried grass at the foot of the trees and growing in the dunes, conjured with oak moss, henna (which smells a bit like tea, grass and maté) and a delicately sweet hay absolute. But also the sea-spray: oak moss carries faint iodic notes, but an algae absolute was also added for a marine (but most emphatically not aquatic) effect… In fact, the overlaying of citruses with these briny facets produces the savoury effect of the preserved lemons used to prepare the traditional Moroccan tajine.
But though Azemour is sprinkled with spices (coriander, cumin, pink and black pepper – quite a bit of the latter) it never comes off as foody. Chypres never do, and with it salty-mossy, tear-streaked base, Azemour is much more of a chypre than a sunny citrus scent.
This perfume-as-landscape is made all the more poignant by its author’s personal history, but like all perfumes, it leaves enough space to write in your own…
When it pre-premiered in July in a lovely, tiny boutique in Le Marais, Marie-Antoinette, I stepped in for the owner who was having a bit of struggle with the English language to present the Parfum d’Empire line to a lovely Californian lady and her teenage daughter. As soon as I mentioned an orange grove, their faces lit up: they lived near an orange grove, and, yes, they recognized the smells. And for a moment, through the scented memories of an exile, these two charming tourists were home again. The bottle, needless to say, went with them.
Illustration: Azemmour in 1935.