Crossing the circular lobby of the Plaza Athénée on the avenue Montaigne is like diving into a cloud of baby powder: someone on the staff has had a heavy hand spraying the hotel’s benzoin-laden signature scent. Thankfully, none of it has seeped into the fabled chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, where IFF is staging one of the most exciting perfume-related events on the calendar: the annual Speed-smelling lunch, which already had its New York edition. One hour to discover ten free-style olfactory exercises outside the constraints of budgets, briefs or launches, but also some of the outstanding materials produced by Laboratoire Monique Rémy (LMR), the naturals branch of IFF, always a great source of inspiration. The event is therefore a unique opportunity for journalists and perfumers to connect directly, albeit briefly, to discuss their actual creative process.
I team up with the seasoned industry journalist Sabine Chabbert (who recently published the mouth-watering La Cuisine des Nez and is therefore the best possible companion for this sniff and savour sprint) and we are ushered to our first table by Judith Gross, IFF’s global marketing director for naturals and R&D.
Juliette Karagueuzoglou authored the gorgeous, woody-spicy Costume National 21 in 2007, a year after joining IFF. The jasmine and panna cotta accord she presented at last year’s Speed-smelling session has already made it into Ferragamo’s Signorina (due to come out in February). This year’s Incarnation is a tribute to her grand-mother’s L’Air du Temps, modernized by swapping the classic aldehydes with the fruitier mandarin aldehyde, paring down the eugenols (an IFRA no-no) and tweaking the jasmine towards a delicate tiaré-lily-salicylic feel. The result is soft, rounded and benzoin-powdery, with almond facets: the feel, if not the actual smell, is somehow reminiscent of the cosy, ambient-music accords of Kenzo Flower.
The olfactory game of musical chairs next drops us in front of Céline Barel (also featured in the New York edition), a vintage-loving fashionista with a bent for the trashy aesthetics of photographer David Lachapelle and 80s sillage monsters like Obsession and Giorgio Beverly Hills. Céline is still giddy with the excitement of having spent a few weeks at the avant-garde artistic director Bob Wilson’s Watermill Center summer program, a laboratory for performance in which dozens of artists from all over the world collaborate on various projects – this year’s edition, inspired by the Weimar Republic, was called “Voluptuous Panic”. Céline’s creative partner was the Argentinean artist Santiago Taccetti. For his Smoke and Mirrors installation (click here to see it) he asked her to alter the perception of space and time by adding an olfactory dimension – a scented mist pumped into the glass cube. Unfazed, Céline asked herself what the void would smell like, and came up with a scent both polar-cold and hot by combining aldehydes, oxides and a “spiky wood” material called Amber Xtreme. Smoke and Mirrors is tough, mineral and scary: being immersed in a mist-filled cube scented with it and glowing with the eerie stripes of neon bars could indeed induce space-time distortions…
Another type of consciousness-altering is in store for us with Véronique Nyberg (My Queen, Jimmy Choo, Costume National Homme), who loves to work with aromatologists – it’s likely we’ll be seeing this type of cross-pollination more frequently in the future. This time, she’s partnered up with the Plaza Athénée’s mixologists to conceive a cocktail which she then interpreted as a fine fragrance, Yamazaki Idylle, based on a high-end brand of Japanese whisky. The cocktail is infused with LMR’s peerless vanilla CO2, iris concrete and orange blossom absolute placed in a ball: lemon juice acts as a top note; Galliano, an Italian herbal liqueur whose composition already reads like a perfume pyramid, adds an anisic note while bolstering the citrus and vanilla facets. We swap our champagne glasses for sips of the cocktail while sniffing the blotters: the smoky vanilla absorbs the flavour of the whisky; the iris isn’t perceptible – Véronique explains it just adds sensuality.
Anne Flipo, long part of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s dream team (from La Chasse aux Papillons to the tobacco-laden Fleur de Narcisse) has decorated her table with lumps of moss and lichen on which delicate pieces of jewellery are laid. She too has drawn her inspiration from another creative field, partnering up with the young jeweller Marie Simphal for an evocation of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and of the landscapes of the French Opal Coast with its dunes and pine groves. Her feminine fougère is built around two LMR materials, immortelle and broom absolute, with its warm, fatty, hay-honey animalic facets. The often overpowering immortelle is rendered in delicate, grilled hazelnut tones.
The first time I’d spoken with Olivier Polge (Dior Homme, Midnight in Paris, Balenciaga Paris), we’d discussed animal materials at length, deploring the ban set by brands on their use, even when they are available (for instance, Canada must cull its beaver populations because of reduced habitats, and can therefore produce castoreum). So I’m not overly surprised when Olivier presents Animal, an exercise on castoreum set in natural sandalwood, styrax and Tolu and Peru balsam. For him, castoreum produces a similar effect to oak moss in blends, giving them an irreplaceable patina, a “worn clothing” effect. Smelling the rich, tough black olive, leather and ink facets of the material is a shock: this is definitely something that is missing in perfumery.
What fun! I'd have run straight for Animal and a whiff of that castoreum-fest. Can't wait to read Part 2.RépondreSupprimer
My dear, we didn't know in advance what perfumers were presenting, and the IFF people were directing the different journalists to tables are they were freed up... Mind you, making straight for Olivier Polge's table would be understandable, whatever he chose to work on!RépondreSupprimer
Oh, this sounds like an amazing event! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. To see this intersection of flavor and fragrance, and to visit with perfumers and industry leaders is amazing. Thanks for letting us live a bit through your writing. Be well.RépondreSupprimer
HemlockSillage, what was particularly exciting was the possibility of seeing what these people can do outside mainstream briefs -- apart from Anne Flipo, Dominique Ropion and Aliénor Massenet who work for niche brands, most only express their more personal ideas through specific events and projects than never make it into wider public release. I'm hoping some of the ideas I discovered find their expression in commercial products!RépondreSupprimer
Denyse, what a dream event - thank you so much for sharing with us it virtually!RépondreSupprimer
I think IFF has done something amazing here, and I hope they will give these creations the immortality they deserve by registering the formulae with the Osmotheque. (A more widely available sample pack wouldn't would hurt, either - sign me up! ;-) ~~nozknoz
Nozknoz, when I attend this type of event I always regret that samples sets aren't made available for the type of clientele that would appreciate them, but apart from the fact oil houses aren't equipped for direct sale, I do see two drawbacks: one, some of these products might be sold to clients and two, it would make copying too easy, when these compositions are still prototypes.RépondreSupprimer