lundi 29 décembre 2008

Looking back in a violet haze... 2008

Helg of The Perfume Shrine has had the excellent idea of herding a group of us holidaying bloggers for a look back at the Year of the Crunch… As you read this, I shall be in my native Montreal a-sniffing with my fellow PoLer and friend Tara!

The Violet Revival

Clearly, after the pale purple year of iris, we were due for an exploration of the astoundingly flexible, candied-powdery-woody facets of the so-retro-it’s-avant-garde violet.

And so violet was 2008’s goût du jour with star turns in Maurice Roucel’s candied Insolence Eau de Parfum (Guerlain) and weird Dans Tes Bras (Frédéric Malle), Antoine Maisondieu’s weirder Comme des Garçons + Stephen Jones, Christophe Laudamiel’s weirder still Geste (Humiecki & Graef), as well as in Emilie Coppermann's Kapsule Floriental (Karl Lagerfeld), Christine Nagel and Aurélien Guichard’s John Galliano (John Galliano), Creed’s Love in Black and Serge Lutens’ El Attarine. Speaking of which, Shiseido’s lawyers ought to get busy: Berdoues, purveyor of violet fragrances since 1936, have launched their own Bois de Violette, according to Osmoz.

Perfumistas go mainstream

Well, perhaps not quite. But the blogs, forums and Sniffapalooza events got quite a lot of mentions in the mainstream media in the US. In the UK, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide benefitted from a savvy press campaign that got the book reviewed for the quality of its writing as much as for its contents, establishing perfume criticism as a legitimate literary endeavor. One hopes. Certainly, the fact that a genre that was pretty much nurtured online was deemed worthy of a paper publication (by which I mean that publishers actually invested money to produce it, as opposed to the rest of us bloggers investing our time, usually with no financial return) seems to hint to that growing legitimacy in the mainstream. But whether it really becomes a genre, with shelf-space in bookshops, depends on other perfumista authors getting their own publishing contracts.

Several signs seem to point towards a breakthrough in the discourse on perfumery, similar to the development of the discourse on gastronomy: perfumistas may well be tomorrow’s foodies.

…and international

Online perfume-loving communities have been international from the outset, but mostly English-speaking. I’m noticing more hits recently from various national-language forums and blogs, in Germany, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Slovakia, Romania…

The year of the perfumer-as-star

Could 2008 mark a turning point in the recognition of perfumers? Following the example set by Frédéric Malle, more and more brands are naming perfumers, and pushing them in the spotlights when they promote their launches. The nomination of Thierry Wasser for Guerlain, Bertrand Duchaufour for L’Artisan Parfumeur and Jean-Michel Duriez for Rochas (while remaining at Jean Patou, also owned by Procter and Gamble) as in-house perfumers points to the need, for major brands, to create an identity and/or a stronger consistency in their releases.

Conversely, a handful of perfumers have been striking out on their own. Mark Buxton launched an eponymous line. Christophe Laudamiel authored the whole, offbeat Humiecki & Graef collection but also, more significantly, resigned from his position as senior perfumer at IFF to become co-CEO of a new olfactory design company called AEOSPHERE. Francis Kurkdjian has founded his own perfume house, which he conceives not as a new niche brand, but as the Guerlain of the 21st century.

It will be interesting to note whether this is a trend, and if more mavericks will rebel against the drudge of concocting the nth Angel-clone on a Febreze budget. It also poses the question of art direction: up to now, the degree of creative input of most perfumers is pretty much unknown, except to industry insiders. Even in a brand like Frédéric Malle’s, where total creative freedom is claimed to be the rule, one can suppose that Mr. Malle exercises some guidance, at least in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if there is more transparency about this process as a result of the higher visibility of perfumers.

And finally, my top... Seven

1) Chanel N°5 Eau Première: N°5 fans turned up their nose, but this reworking of a legend is luminous and perfectly balanced.

2) Chanel Sycomore: A no-flash, exquisitely calibrated vetiver, both smoky and thirst-quenching.

3) Serge Lutens El Attarine: Drew “mehs”from many fans, but to me, this is a sum of Lutensiana: as though several earlier leitmotivs had been drawn together.

4) Guerlain Insolence Eau de Parfum: because smelling it in a duty-free shop got a big grin on my face: the EdP is undeniably Guerlain, Après L’ondée’s manga-reading great-great-great-grand-daughter.

5) Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras: I’m not even sure I like it, but for sheer I-need-to-smell-this-again oddness, Maurice Roucel’s composition has held me in its spell since August.

6) Humiecki & Graef: Christophe Laudamiel’s conceptual quintet pushes towards a redefinition of the art of perfumery, while managing to be hilariously witty.

7) Acqua di Parma Profumo: Kudos to Nathalie Lorson for a particularly well executed reformulation of a beautiful 50s fruity chypre (as were Lubin's Nuit de Longchamp and L).

For more views on the year that was, click on the links:


Ars Aromatica

A Rose Beyond the Thames

Bittergrace Notes

I smell therefore I am


Notes from the Ledge


Savvy Thinker

The Non Blonde


The Perfume Shrine

dimanche 21 décembre 2008

Caron Nuit de Noël : Carolling with Auntie Mame

For the past fifteen years (or thereabouts), every year on Christmas Eve I dab on a touch of Caron Nuit de Noël.

The ritual, which has apparently consumed less than a third of the lovely Art Deco bottle (it’s hard to tell because it’s black), came about during the Caron binge that succeeded my 10-year exclusive love affair with Habanita

As a follow-up to Habanita, Nuit de Noël was a pretty good choice for my pre-perfumista nose to zero in on: in Michael Edward’s Perfume Legends, the perfumer Guy Robert explains that the 1922 Caron served as an inspiration for the 1924 Molinard, as well as for the 1926 Chanel Bois des Iles and the 1937 Schiaparelli Shocking, scents I cherish. I can even detect a kernel of my later infatuation with leather chypres such as Bandit and Diorling in the legendary “mousse de Saxe” that underlies most of the Carons. This de Laire base was composed by Mme de Laire to dress up a rather rough-smelling molecule, isobutyl-quinolin, first synthesized in the 1880s: she rounded off its licorice, leather and iodine facets with geranium and vanilla.

Again according to Guy Robert, this time in his out-of-print Les Sens du Parfum, the Russian Ernest Daltroff, a self-taught perfumer like his contemporary François Coty, relished “powerful” and even “brutal” materials, including new synthetics other perfumers were reluctant to use. As a result, his scents had an overwhelming and very modern – at the time – quality well-suited to the new type of the sheath-wearing garçonne, excess in make-up, embroidery and fragrance had replaced the intricacies of 19th century feminine fashion.

“You are at the theater, Robert writes, your right-hand neighbour smells of Opium, the left-hand one of Mitsouko, in front of you a woman is wearing Estée. Another woman arrives wearing Nuit de Noël and suddenly you can’t smell the other perfumes!”

Nuit de Noël hides its powerful punch under an overdose of rose de Mai (rosa centifolia) absolute; combined with orris, the first waft is intensely powdery with a slightly green aspect (violet leaf, muguet and vetiver) which lends it a touch of bitterness, and an undercurrent of the wine-like note certain roses give off. The other florals (jasmine, ylang-ylang and tuberose) are much less prominent to my nose.

Somehow, perhaps because of the dark, burnt licorice-like IBQ married with the sweetness of vanilla and ylang-ylang – which shares molecules with cocoa butter – Nuit de Noël manages to give off the scent of candied sweets: Luca Turin is spot-on when he speaks of “marron glacé” (candied chestnuts) in The Guide. Other commentators mention black-chocolate-coated orange rinds…

But does Nuit de Noël smell like Christmas? Most definitely not, if Christmas smells of fir, oranges spiked with cloves and gingerbread… Rather, its powdery-dark blend evokes a bitterly cold night from which one emerges, wrapped in furs, shoulders and breasts dusted with Poudre Caron under a 1920s beaded sheath for a champagne réveillon at the Crillon. No wonder Patrick Dennis chose it as a scent for his iconic Auntie Mame, a froth of whipped cream and champagne and daydreams and Nuit de Noël perfume.” (quote found in a post by Blogdorf Goodman)

The crazed, witty, flamboyant Mame, “lavish practitioner of multiple personae” (Camille Paglia) – and a woman who would definitely eclipse any other when making her entrance in a theater – is who I channel when wearing Nuit de Noël to somewhat homier family celebrations. So feminine that she veers into androgyny through excess theatricality, just as Nuit de Noël hides its deceptive toughness under its powdery rosy retro cloud. If you bump into her under the mistletoe, run for cover or prepare for surrender: this is not a scent for wusses.

P.S. The fragrance I’ve reviewed was purchased in the early 90s; I haven’t tested the current version. Blogs and forums have been buzzing with comments on recent, disastrous reformulations of Caron classics, especially since the house got thrashed in Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide. If you have had the opportunity to compare, please feel free to comment.

Image: Rosalind Russell in Morton DaCosta's 1958 Auntie Mame.

Nuit de Noël de Caron : Réveillon au Crillon

Depuis une quinzaine d’années environ, je porte une touche de Nuit de Noël de Caron pour le réveillon du 24 décembre.

Ce rituel, qui n’a consumé qu’environ un tiers du ravissant flacon art déco (difficile à dire car il est noir) est né au cours de la passion pour Caron qui m’a prise après une relation exclusive de dix ans avec Habanita.

Apparemment, mon nez de proto-perfumista était plutôt affûté, puisque selon le parfumeur Guy Robert, cité dans le Parfums de Légende de Michael Edwards, ce Caron de 1922 a servi d’inspiration au Molinard de 1924, ainsi d’ailleurs qu’à Bois des Iles de Chanel (1926) et Shocking de Schiaparelli (1937), deux parfums que je chéris. Je décèle même dans Nuit de Noël les prémisses de mon amour plus tardif pour des chypres cuirés comme Bandit et Diorling, ou plus précisément, dans la fameuse « mousse de Saxe » qui est la signature de la plupart des Caron. Cette base des laboratoires de Laire a été composée par Mme de Laire pour habiller une molécule à l’odeur assez abrupte, l’isobutyle quinoléine (synthétisée dans les années 1880), dont elle arrondit les facettes de réglisse, cuir et iode grâce au géranium et à la vanille.

Toujours d’après Guy Robert, cette fois dans son ouvrage malheureusement épuisé Les Sens du Parfum, le Russe Ernest Daltroff, parfumeur autodidacte comme son contemporain François Coty, avait une prédilection pour les matériaux « puissants », voire « brutaux », y compris des matériaux de synthèse que ses confrères étaient réticents à employer. Ses parfums envahissants et très modernes – pour l’époque – étaient donc idéalement adaptés au nouveau type de la garçonne en robe-chemise, chez qui la surcharge de maquillage, de broderies et de parfum avait remplacé la complication des tenues féminines du 19ème siècle.

« Vous êtes au théâtre, écrit Robert, votre voisine de droite sent l’Opium, celle de gauche le Mitsouko, devant vous une femme porte Estée. Voici qu’une autre femme arrive qui porte Nuit de Noël et subitement vous ne sentez plus les autres parfums ! »

Nuit de Noël dissimule son impact sous une overdose d’absolu rose de Mai ; marié à l’iris, il dégage au premier abord une senteur intensément poudrée, sous-tendus d’une note un peu verte (feuille de violette, muguet et vétiver) qui lui confère une légère amertume, accentuée par les facettes presque vineuses de la rose. Les autres fleurs (jasmin, ylang-ylang et tubéreuse) sont moins facilement décelables.

Curieusement, peut-être à cause du côté réglisse-brûle de l’IBQ enrobé de vanille et d’ylang-ylang – qui partage des molécules avec le beurre de cacao – Nuit de Noël dégage une odeur de friandise. Luca Turin y décèle, très justement, le marron glacé ; d’autres commentatrices parlent d’écorce d’orange plongée dans du chocolat noir…

Mais Nuit de Noël sent-il Noël ? Sûrement pas, si Noël sent le sapin, les oranges piquées de clous de girofle et le pain d’épices… Ses accords à la fois sombres et poudrés évoqueraient plutôt une nuit glaciale dont on émerge, engoncée dans un manteau de fourrure, épaules et seins nimbés de poudre Caron sous un fourreau 1920 rebrodé de perles, pour un réveillon au champagne au Crillon…

Si excessivement féminin qu’il vire à l’androgyne par surcroît de théâtralité, Nuit de Noël cache bien sa dureté sous son nuage rétro poudré rosé. Gare à vous si vous la croisez sous le gui -- ou alors, préparez-vous à une reddition inconditionnelle : Nuit de Noël n’est pas un parfum de mauviette.

P.S. Le parfum dont je parle a été acheté au début des années 1990. On a énormément parlé, ces derniers temps, de reformulations désastreuses dans la maison Caron, notamment suite à la publication du Perfumes : The Guide de Luca Turin et Tania Sanchez. Je n’ai pas comparé la version actuelle de Nuit de Noël avec la mienne. Si vous avez des commentaires à ce sujet…

Image: Rosalind Russell dans Auntie Mame (Ma Tante) de Morton DaCosta (1958). Ce personnage de grande dame excentrique, héroïne du roman éponyme de Patrick Dennis, fait l'objet d'un véritable culte aux USA; selon l'auteur, son parfum est Nuit de Noël.

mardi 16 décembre 2008

Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane

Un nouveau parfum de Serge Lutens, Nuit de Cellophane, sera lancé en janvier 2009… Aucune information ne filtre encore sur sa composition – la rumeur veut qu’il soit à base de fleur d’osmanthe, dont l’extrait abricot-daim est déjà pratiquement un parfum en soi. La cellophane est-elle une allusion à la transparence (assez peu caractéristique des parfums lutensiens), ou à l’origine de cette matière, le bois (puisque la cellophane est fabriquée à partir de la cellulose, constituant principal du bois) ? Mystère… En tous cas, le nom, inhabituel, semble inaugurer après la serge de Serge Noire une série sur les matières « couvrantes »… On attend plus d’informations d’ici peu !

Serge Lutens’ new fragrance, Nuit de Cellophane, will be launched in January 2009… Nothing is known as of yet about its composition – according to rumors, it could be based on the osmanthus blossom, whose apricot-suede facets are almost already a perfume in themselves. Is cellophane an allusion to transparence (which isn’t the predominant characteristic of lutensian compositions), or to the source of the material, wood (cellophane is manufactured with cellulose, the main constituent of wood)? The plot thickens… After the serge of Serge Noire, the unusual name seems to inaugurate a series on “covering” materials… I’ll keep you posted as soon as I get more information!

Image: Cellophane Woman by Man Ray.