How do you inject air into a fragrance? After all, as I wrote in last Monday’s post about Nuit de Cellophane, air is the unsung material of perfumery, the bearer of fragrant molecules, the carrier of sillage…
In olden days, aldehydes were used to lift heavier notes. But as they are now perceived as old-lady-ish, they are used in minutes quantities, more for their function than for their olfactory quality. Some perfumers, like Aurélien Guichard in his reformulation of Robert Piguet Baghari, have experimented with very sugary notes to achieve a similar “lifting” effect. With Vanille Galante, Jean-Claude Ellena performs his own brand of molecular wizardry to stretch out notes that should logically be heavy and heady until they practically dematerialize (I still haven’t wrapped my head around that particular feat).
With Un Matin d’orage (“a morning storm”) Isabelle Doyen tackles the problem from a different angle – and from a very different direction, coming right after her rough-hewn, balsamic Orientalistes -- by reinventing the ozonic floral. In his exhilarating review, Octavian Coifan gives a breakdown of the notes, and offers an analysis of the various effects of Un Matin d’orage, that I can’t even dream of equaling, so I’ll just focus on that ozonic reinvention…
Un Matin d’orage smells nowhere near L’Eau d’Issey but it does seem to contain Calone or some similar material. There is something fruity at the outset, but it isn’t really melon: I would say – my friend Jarvis (hi!) and the Goutal S.A.s have reached similar conclusions independently – that it smells of the skin of a not quite ripe nectarine.
But what’s most surprising about Un Matin d’orage is the jarring effect produced by the crackling, post-storm ozonic layer; a mineral flavor reminiscent of some volcanic spring waters like the French Volvic; the pinpricks of a fine, sharp drizzle. But instead of battering down the fragrance rising from the gardenia and jasmine, it actually seems to suck it upwards, as though the drizzle were being sprayed out from the bushes. There may be a hint of ginger in there – there was in Doyen’s Jasmin for Annick Goutal – adding to the general impression of coolness.
In time, the flowers gain on the garden-after-the-storm effect of the ozone but they retain a dewy, green, ethereal quality. The gardenia is just about as far from the eponymous, candied Chanel fragrance or the over-ripe, bordering-on-stinky Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia, as it can be while still being a recognizable gardenia – this isn’t the representation of gardenia in perfumery, or rather, it is an entirely different one. The magnolia then seeps in, with its distinctive, vanilla-lemon facets before subsiding in a veil of musk.
While I am not quite as taken as Octavian, I am deeply intrigued, both by the novel approach of the ozonic floral and the departure that this represents for Doyen, and for the house of Goutal, whose feminine scents have often tended, pre-Orientalists, towards bourgeois-bohemian prettiness. Un Matin d’orage is a composition that seems to demand a different type of attention; a readjustment of expectations. In this sense, its name is particularly suiting: it seems like a fresh start, but in stormy weather.
Image: Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, Frontier (1935)