jeudi 8 décembre 2011

IFF's Speed-Smelling lunch, Part II

To read part one, click here.

Dominique Ropion
Replacing the effects of animal materials is also on Dominique Ropion’s mind. I interviewed him recently for an article on oud for Citizen K since IFF, via its natural products branch Laboratoire Monique Rémy, has recently put oud oil on its catalogue – one of the main problems with oud, Dominique explains, is that almost all the ouds on the market are cut with other materials. By working with Laotian producers to ensure a consistent, sustainable source, LMR allows Western perfumers to integrate oud into their formulas. I’d been thinking that this would enable them to use oud not as a theme for Middle-Eastern type products, but as a note in their palette. And this is just what Dominique has done in Fast-Oud, a powdery, floral woody “Guerlinade” in which the oud acts as an animalic note, for an effect akin to the leather note in Shalimar. He demonstrates this effect by showing us the same accord without oud: the difference is striking. The oud lends smoothness, depth and sensuality to the blend: it doesn’t read as oud per se, or even as overtly animalic – which was never, as Dominique underlines, the point of animal materials. The demonstration is utterly convincing: this is one I dearly hope makes it to the shelves.

Aliénor Massenet
As we move to Aliénor Massenet’s table, she jokes that her colleague’s oud is drowning out every other smell. Aliénor, who has authored many scents for the travel-themed niche brand Memo, tells us she will be carrying us back to childhood with the irresistible smell of Nutella, a hazelnut and cocoa spread that is to most Europeans what peanut butter is to North Americans. Aliénor anchors this hazelnut-cocoa accord, with its lovely roasted notes, in a woody base. She explains she tried out the Australian sandalwood (santalum spiccatum) in various distillations, but she found it too cedar-y and dry, with bacon-like gaiac effects. So she went back to the Indian variety, santalum album, whose lactonic notes were a good match for the milk in Nutella. Her Bois de Nutella is a joyfully regressive gourmand – around the table, we all agree that these sweet, reassuring childhood notes would do well in the current context.

Domitille Bertier
We’ve tarried so long that the hour has run out, so as the tables are being set for lunch, we huddle in a corner with Domitille Bertier (Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight in Paris, Thierry Mugler Miroir des Secrets), who tells us that she got the idea for Alma Mater from climbing Mount Kilimandjaro, and finding the air so dry at the summit there were no smells at all. So she decided to invent her tribute to Mother Earth (in French, mater sounds like “ma terre”, i.e. “my earth”) by blending ginger, iris and vetiver, three rhizomes with earthy/mineral notes. The effect is indeed earthy and raspy, infused with the ginger's citrus-like top notes: probably not wearable as is, but interesting as the core of a more elaborate composition...

Sophie Labbé
As we make our way to our tables, we are waylaid by Sophie Labbé, who debuted spectacularly at IFF with Givenchy Organza. In Mémoire, she reprises the immortelle note prominent in her Cologne du 68 for Guerlain: the memory in question is that of a box contained Amsterdamer pipe tobacco, with its honeyed vanilla-coumarin aroma, and a little gingerbread man. After a boozy burst of what feels like rum absolute, fenugreek, benzoin and vetiver add to the warm, nutty-roasted feel of the blend – with three proposals revolving around this type of accord, nutty-roasted feels like the inception of a trend…

Nicolas Beaulieu
By this time everyone’s settled down at their tables: I miss out on my homonym Nicolas Beaulieu’s (no relation) Larmes d’Érythrée, which I will later find in my bag along with samples of everything I’ve smelled today. To compensate, I’ve asked him to present it by email. Here is his answer:
“Unlike classic olibanum, which is heavier and smokier, with a strong church incense connotation, this quality reveals a beautiful contrast between sparkling top notes – I see nuances of grapefruit and mandarin zest --, very bright, on a suave and soft base, with a very modern woody, burnished gold sensuousness”, Nicolas explains. “The idea wasn’t to create a figurative perfume”, he adds, “but to transcribe the different facets and contrasts of the material: fresh (bergamot and rosemary), crisp (Italian lemon and pink pepper). The bright effect is rendered by a slightly metallic accord of clove, saffron and woody ambery notes… We quickly shift towards a smooth accord, with the softness and comfort of leather (an oud effect, but cleaner), and sensuous woods (cedar and sandalwood). For the base notes, I wanted to conjure the burnished gold effect by using a classic accord of benzoin, patchouli and vanilla, modernized by woody ambers and musk.”

Conclusion? It’s impossible to speak about trends, but my feel is that in a general way, when left to their own devices, many perfumers turn to other forms of artistic/creative expression for inspiration, as a breather from marketing-formatted briefs.
I also sense a need for strong olfactory anchors in this unmoored, insecure period:
-          Primal notes: animal, earthy, mossy, even mineral.
-          Memories and nostalgia, comforting smells.
-          Cross-inspiration from aromatologists, chefs, and the world of flavours in general, and more research into new types of gourmands.

Speaking of which, none of us were too smelled-out not to enjoy the flavourful, light lunch prepared by the chef Christophe Saintagne: Chardonnay crawfish, scallops and celeriac in black truffle sauce and wild duck with turnips and quince. A time-honoured French tradition is speaking about other beautiful food and wine we’ve had while enjoying a great meal, but then someone brings up her little boy’s question about the meaning of life… By the time our coffees are served along with black chocolates with a lightly salted peanut-praline ganache, we agree that this – the beautiful scents, the gorgeous food, the friendly, relaxed talk and, well, those mind-blowing chocolates – is at least part of the answer. You wouldn’t expect less from perfumers…and perfume lovers.

Photos by William Beaucardet.

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