Though perfume lovers are apt to have a wider scope of tastes than civilians, most of us feel more affinities with certain areas of the scent-map. The spot where the majority of our favorite fragrances overlap. It’s not necessarily an olfactive family. In my case, I’d say it’s the point where a few of them intersect or skirt each other.
White florals, fruity chypres and an offshoot of the latter I’d call fruity woods have one point in common: lactones. They’re present in tuberose, gardenia and jasmine (but not orange blossom); they provide part of the pit-fruit (peach, plum, apricot) accords; certain musks, like the ones in angelica, are also lactones. As their name indicates, lactones have a creamy aspect – to find out why they love skin, click on the link to my Elle.com article. And that’s where they skirt the areas where other notes hang out. For instance benzoin, which has a fluffy powdery milky tinge, or Mysore sandalwood, which is creamy and smoky with floral rosy facets.
However they are treated, lactones and milky-creamy notes swing between the carnal and the cuddly. That’s the zone I find myself gravitating to year-round, but here are my more winter-friendly picks for the season…
Mon Parfum Chéri par Camille made my top ten of 2011 list and it’s still going strong in the rotation. It’s also one of the very few Goutals I’ve seen eliciting such love-hate reactions. As a descendent of Femme gone full-on Boho, it wraps the lactonic plum-and-peach heart of a Prunol-type base in violets and rose under a huge whiff of earthy patchouli. To me, Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal have achieved a perfect combination of vintage glamour, contemporary gutsiness and tender warmth.
In the City of Sin, by Calice Becker for By Kilian’s new white collection, is to my nose another contemporary quote of the fruity chypre family, channeling Femme by way of Féminité du Bois but shifting the latter’s form – lactonic fruit, spices and woods – towards a neighboring area of the scent-map. Here, peach turns into apricot, with the greenness of the skin conjured by cardamom, and the jammier, almost boozy flesh bolstered by rose. The sweetness is kept in check by the woodier fond, but I’ll definitely be experimented with cardamom and rose-water come apricot season.
Good Girl Gone Bad, also in Kilian’s white collection, was a project initiated by Jacques Cavallier who Kilian Hennessy had worked with on Armani Mania back when he was at L’Oréal. When Cavallier was hired by Louis Vuitton, Alberto Morillas took over. My overwhelming impression of GGGB is of a big, squishy floral ball – an abstract impression of flowers that could read as either a hardcore version of J’Adore or the nocturnal face of Jour d’Hermès. The “gone bad” bit is a seductively “off”, fruit-turning-into-liqueur note provided by osmanthus, rose and davana, picking up the creaminess of jasmine and tuberose. I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to these non-figurative floral notes: it’s really what mainstream could and should be.
Vol de Nuit Évasion, the duty-free only eau de toilette version of Guet-Apens/Attrape-cœur, has long been discontinued. I’m hoarding two bottles of it (along with one each of the other versions). To me, Mathilde Laurent’s touched-with-peach, smooth-as-caramel tribute to De Laire’s famed Ambre 83 (a labdanum and vanilla base) is still the quintessential contemporary Guerlain, though I guess it now qualifies as vintage since it was made in 1999.
Felanilla popped up in my memory when I retrieved Vol de Nuit Évasion from my archives, and in fact I see I’d name-checked Attrape-Coeur in my review. Launches come at such a fast and furious pace it’s easy to forget a 2008 fragrance, but Pierre Guillaume’s compelling weirdo for Parfumerie Générale blends the wintery metallic coolness of saffron and iris with a warm, balsamic base that stills feel very forward-thinking after five years’ perspective.
Candy by Daniela Andrier for Prada is another one that’s holding up from my best-of-2011: I spray it with abandon on colder days. The caramel crust gives way quite quickly to the creamy vanilla and benzoin heart: it’s like eating bonbons in heaven.
Santal Majuscule, Serge Luten’s third take on a note introduced with Féminité du Bois, follows another path in the Milky Way. This time the creaminess is achieved by the eponymous sandalwood. I detect a hint of peach – part of Lutens’s signature lactonic fruit palette – made jammier by a honeyed rose that picks up sandalwood’s floral facets. Understated for the house, and again, a lovely balance of carnal and cuddly.
L’Arbre is the first new composition Olivia Giacobetti produces for Iunx since her house was stricken from Shiseido’s portfolio and re-emerged as an ultra-exclusive line sold solely in the boutique of the Hotel Costes in Paris. It is said to contain real Indian Mysore sandalwood, either from older stock or from a new, sustainable source like the one tapped in another launch by a prestigious niche brand (hush-hush: I’ve been sworn to secrecy until February 15th). A very different take from the Lutens, done in Giacobetti’s unique ethereal style, this is sandalwood vapor.
Santal Massoïa, the latest Hermessence, tugs the smoky milkiness of sandalwood into a dulce de leche effect, toppling it straight into the lactone zone, since massoïa wood does actually contain a lactone. Jean-Claude Ellena being Jean-Claude Ellena, this doesn’t translate into heavy-hitting sandalwood jam but rather into a delicate tea and fig-tinged Platonician idea of sandalwood. As other reviewers have remarked, its lasting power isn’t stellar, a critique Ellena addresses by stating that once he’s achieved the scent he envisioned, he’s not willing to deform it by adding ingredients with more skin-welding power.
L’Amandière, part of the “Extrait” trio presented by James Heeley last spring, strays a bit out of my chosen theme. But its charming green-tinged almond-blossom accord provides the indispensible “spring is just around the corner” scent one needs in the dead of winter, while retaining enough heft and warm balsamic effects to stave off the chill.
I’m not including 1932, the latest Chanel Exclusive in this list since it will only be out on February 1st, but it’s immediately become a personal favorite among the upcoming launches. I’ll be giving it my full attention next week, along with a sample draw, so be sure to pop in on Thursday 31st!
For more seasonal round-ups, check out the usual suspects: Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This, The Perfume Posse and Perfume-Smellin' Things.
Illustration: Pygmalion and Galatea (Marlene Dietrich) by Cecil Beaton, a choice motivated by etymology since "Galatea" means "whose skin is white as milk".