Without Lenin, there would be no Chanel N°5.
The absurd thought occurred to me as I was reading China Miéville’s meticulously researched and brilliantly written October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. Conflating the Ten Days that Shook the World[i] with Ernest Beaux’s fifth proposal to Gabrielle Chanel may seem like a bit of a jump. But Beaux wouldn’t have immigrated to France if it hadn’t been for the Bolsheviks. And his contribution to perfumery was, if not an actual revolution, a definite game-changer (unlike the house’s latest offering). Playing with blotters and vials might seem like strumming the balalaika while the world burns, drowns and quakes (has anybody else who grew up during the Cold War been having atomic mushroom nightmares again?). For what it’s worth, this fall I’ll salute the 100th anniversary of Red October with the ten scents that are shaking my world these days.
Nuit de Bakélite
by Isabelle Doyen for Naomi Goodsir
by Christophe Laudamiel
You say you want a revolution? The maverick Laudamiel has gone and done it. After authoring a manifesto like any proper avant-garde artist, he is now offering non-IFRA compliant perfumes, to be sprayed on clothes (or wherever: you’re an adult) in his own brand, The Zoo. He even specifies which materials go over authorized concentrations. Other scents are suitable for skin wear. As an added twist, each is offered with a choice of two names and labels: it’s up to you, for instance, to choose whether you’re more of a Club Design or Scent Tattoo critter.
Le Cri de la lumière
by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfum d’Empire
With a name like “The Scream”, you’d expect Corticchiato, never one to shy away from intense, saturated notes, to come up with an olfactory banshee. But the Corsican perfumer has undergone his own cultural revolution. Presented as a “rebirth”, his crystalline Le Cri is a limpid, dawn-tinged aura of ambrette, iris and rose. Radiant, but a nose-teaser. Wearing it, more than once I sniffed at people around me before realizing I was the one who smelled so good…
Eau de Velours
by Michel Almairac & Mylène Alran for Bottega Veneta
My crush of the season in the mainstream: a wine-rich, suede-petaled rose that feels utterly right -- Almairac’s great gift being what the Renaissance Italians called sprezzatura, defined by Castiglione as “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”.
by Daniela Andrier for Prada
No commemoration of the Russian Revolution would be complete without a carnation, the flower of the Workers’ Movement since the Second International in 1889 and the iconic blossom of the Soviets. As I’ve already listed my favorite new carnations in my summer round-up, I’ll go for Infusion d’Oeillet’s chic, spice-whipped soapy froth.
by Antoine Lie for Trudon
The cult French candle maker has ditched the “Cires” from its name and branched out into fine fragrance with a lovely, soulful collection. Lyn Harris’s smoky Révolution would have been more relevant to the theme, but the aromatic Bruma -- the name of the winter solstice in Latin -- radiates a melancholy palette of violet, lavender and iris that suits the waning light of the season.
by Annick Menardo for Une Nuit Nomade
It was already in this summer’s list, but its funky smokiness is like a preview of chilly nights by the fireplace with a lash of Laphroaig aged in a sherry cask.
Ford often gives out references to 70s perfumes in his briefs. Noir Anthracite smells as though, back in the day, young Tom had spray-painted himself with some dark aromatic leather brew like Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme after spending quality time with a doobie, just before sneaking back into his parents’ house. What’s not to love?
Attaquer le Soleil
by Quentin Bisch for État Libre d’Orange
Though it’s a tribute to the Marquis de Sade -- its author Quentin Bisch decided to “sadize” himself by confronting an ingredient that somehow freaks him out --, “Attack the Sun” sounds like the slogan of a particularly ambitious super-villain. This is cistus from mask to boots, with kinky facets of heated skin and the mineral glint of incense for a faint whiff of sacrilege.
by Nicolas Beaulieu for Comme des Garçons
A rubescent, milky sandalwood set ablaze with ginger, Concrete (as in the building material) trades the traditional powder note for the concrete dust of the Berlin Wall brought down with hammers (but no sickles).
[i] The book the American journalist John Reed wrote about the October Revolution in Russia.
Image: Portrait with flacon by Alexander Rodtchenko