jeudi 21 mai 2009

Nara 1869 by Parfums 137: Write a Story, Win a Set

In the wonderful and ever-expanding world of niche perfumery, concept is pretty much everything, isn’t it? To launch a brand, you need a story, and Parfums 137 is a tiny French house that’s taken the story idea literally, by offering a trio of scents woven into a mini-novel. There are two stories so far, Nara 1869 and Stromboli 1950. The three scents may be worn individually or layered. Hence the name of the brand, 137: one story, three fragrances, seven possibilities.

The first tome is a historical novel, whose hero is the (fictional) 19th century perfumer Akimoff: his adventures take him from perfumery house Violet to the arms of the Parisian courtesan extraordinaire, the Countess of Castiglione, and thence to Japan where he falls in love with a geisha…

Osmanthus, Bigarade and Olibanum, composed by Akimoff in the story, were authored by Isabelle Maillebiau of Drom Fragrances International, a scion of the Schlienger family (she is the grand-daughter of Jacques Schlienger and thus related to Monique Schlienger, founder of the perfumery school Cinquième Sens).

Bigarade is pretty much straight-on petitgrain/neroli (respectively distilled from the leaves and flowers of the bigaradier, the bitter orange tree), but Osmanthus doesn’t smell overwhelmingly of its namesake, unlike Olibanum, the best of the set and very true to the incense note, set in pine, patchouli, clove, myrrh and benzoin.

The trio works well in its various combinations; for a fairly reasonable 60 euros, you get three 15ml atomizers and a fair amount of playing around – you could probably experiment layering with other fragrances. The set, presented in a paperback-sized box with a booklet, also makes a rather charming gift. Parfums 137 isn’t available yet in the USA but can be ordered directly from the website, which also sells samples.

The second installment of Parfums 137, Stromboli 1950, takes the reader/perfume lover for a journey from Hollywood to the Italian island of Stromboli, in a tribute to post-WWII detective stories. The three star notes here are Spearmint, Myrte and Immortelle. I’ve only tested these in store, but I find that the spearmint note, pure Wrigley’s, tends to overwhelm the other two.

Now on to you… Which story would you create for three notes? And in which literary genre?

The best entry – judged by myself – will receive a full-sized set of Nara 1869. It’s mine and it’s only a few spritzes short!

A sample set will be drawn among the other entries.

You have until June 1st to submit your micro-novels.

Image: Japanese courtesan photographed by Felice Beato.

29 commentaires:

  1. I think I would go for a Jilly Cooper plot line- Polo perhaps- the scents would be:

    One could call it Argentina 1946- The story of two brothers both Polo players on different sides of the Peronista revolution- divided by their mutual love for one woman- they decide who can marry her over a game of polo- however, in a cruel twist of fate, she marries a rich handsome outsider (because no sensible woman lets two men fight over her as she is capable of making up her own mind).

    1) A Leathery saddle soap smell of freshly cleaned tack.
    2) A sweaty horse- distinctly animal and yet very grassy
    3)What is, for me, the smell of Argentina, a green, mown hay and a small cinnamony wildflower bleached by the heat of the midday sun.

  2. Alexander, I would love to smell that fragrance! Narcissus has a horsey/hay/tobacco smell, do you think we could include it?

  3. I bow to your superior knowledge... Narcissus would be wonderful...

    I am also thinking about how to include the smell of the up-turned divots of turf from the polo pitch... a whisp of cool patchouli or even citronella.

    I just received a lump of labdanum that just smells divine- like a still warm,slowly cooling summer evening, herbs and flowers floating on a breeze. I am convinced that alone it would make a wonderful scent....

  4. Alexander, for the wet earth, have you thought of cypriol? It's more a damp church stone smell, but it does bring divots to mind...

  5. Notes: Orange, Tuberose absolute, Silver Frankincense.
    I can only provide an extract:
    “Upstairs, a man was resting. In a corner of the room, incense was burning. Volutes of silky smoke whirled towards the ceiling.
    His head was burning, too.
    His wife was downstairs, in the kitchen.
    She was cutting slices of blood orange peels to decorate the dinner table.
    Dressed in a dark blue strapless dress, she was thinking of her husband. Without realising, she stuck the knife in the soft orange pulp. Few drops of red juice fell on a blinding-white table cloth. The heady smell of a fragrant tuberose bouquet was intoxicating the room.
    She could catch whiffs of sweaty skin, and camphor, melded with the creamy floral sweetness – her head was aching. The smell was overwhelming. She left the room, staggering. Unconsciously, she was holding the knife in her hand…”
    “This is the beginning of the […] Noir of the year” – NYT;
    “Comic, dreadful, splatter. Often veering towards the edge of bad taste – and sometimes crossing the line – it keeps you turning pages thanks to a witty, machiavellic, plot” – TNY;
    “Très Pulp. Digne héritier du roman éponyme de Bukovsky. Sans le serpent.” – Vogue Paris;
    “This is not a perfume book, but the plot is scattered with perfume references (for the joy of the curious perfumista). Freely inspired by the most inspiring of fragrances, this novel deserves its outrageous name: Tuberose Criminelle” - NST

  6. Zazie, wow! Tuberose is one of my favorite notes, and criminelle is how I love her. The combination with orange is intriguing... Serge, are you reading this?

  7. What an interesting idea.

    I kind of miss nordic inspered scents in perfumery, so I would call mine Kautokeino 1852.

    The notes are: cloudberry, marsh herbs and dwarf birch.

    The story is about a native laplandic women that meets and fell in love with a handsome russian merchant. Their love is impossible, since it´s the year of the Kautokeino rebellion and together they decide to run over the fjells and trough the marshes to Sweden...

    The perfume is an interprention of the scents surrounding them during their long walk to freedom and love...

  8. Zazie, Rebella, Let me know if you want a literay agent... I know a very good one.

    Re: Cypriol- sounds like the 4th scent to the novel- the denouement where the brothers duel in the church crypt.

    Do you have any recommendations as to where one can get reliable supplies/samples of materials? I always feel at sea with the mish-mash of essential oil vendors etc. and want to guarantee I am getting what I order.

  9. Rebella, you're right, there aren't any truly Nordic scents, are there? I don't know what cloudberry smells like, but I find the idea very evocative...

  10. Alexander, I don't usually buy materials (I have friends in smelly places), but Les Ateliers du Parfum in Switzerland sell essences and kits (the link is on my blogroll)and in New York seem to have wonderful naturals (note to self: order the gardenia oil).
    There is supplier in the USA who sells small quantities, but I've mislaid the reference. I need to post on this at some point.

    Keep me posted on Argentina 1946 -- I want to smell it, read it and see the movie...

  11. Carmencanada: The Perfumers Apprentice, online out of Sounthern CA, sells fragrance kits for beginners and "masters", and carries a large stock of naturals and aromachemicals available in small quantity, as well as supplies (bottles, touches, etc) with excellent customer service.

  12. My story...
    A scientists awakens in a concrete bunker in Svalbard, Norway, where he has been sleeping in suspended animation for thousands of years, in the doomsday seed repository. He has nightmarish memories of the time preceding his sleep, of a world wracked by war and climate change, and the hasty attempts of a coalition of scientists to preserve the human race along with the flora of the planet. He finds he is utterly alone, but is haunted by the memories of his wife and children, summers at their beach house in southern France, nights at the opera in Paris, Sunday mornings in bed after lovemaking, lingering with coffee and pastry and sweat, living life as though it would never end. Slowly, he comes to understand his purpose and plants the seeds of his memory in the Earth's re-born soil, cleansed by eons of rain and snow and tears, so that he can smell again and recall vividly the remembrances of things past....

  13. Scott, thanks, I hadn't bookmarked the site and couldn't remember its name...

  14. And, Scott, that's a heartbreaking and beautiful idea for a scent -- I am sometimes haunted in that way already when I think of what's to become of this planet... I wonder what your hero would plant? And I hope he wouldn't wake up alone...

  15. Love this! Plotting...

    ...meanwhile, Rebella, I know what you mean by missing a good Nordic scent or scents. I had ordered a Geir Ness hoping to find some Nordic element inside--while he insists it is there, and I certainly have never spent enough time there to be knowledgeable, it didn't ring true in any way, whether with individual notes or as an overall impression.

    I love your idea of the Nordic note trio. I wonder if other elements might include reindeer musk, or alpine dirt. I'd go for lingonberry...and accept ambergris as part of an overall pastiche. But such are the impressions of a once-visited, much read, married-to-a-Norwegian kind of amateur scent hound.

  16. Natalie, I suppose it does, in a loose way, though it's actually the story of a woman perfumer who flees the mob and ends up on the volcanic island. But who can read that name and that date without thinking of the film, its star and director? Its images are engraved in my mind.

  17. ScentScelf, now I'm really intrigued. Reindeer musk?
    Ambergris would indeed suit a Nordic scent (at least in my imagination), with its marine facets...

  18. ScentScelf: I haven´t yet tried any of Geir Ness, but apart from that I think Neil Morris have a perfume inspired by Finland (not treid either).

    I think it´s a little strange tough, the nordic landscape, flora and fauna is really interesting enough to inspire perfumers... Make no sense the only swedish niche brand, Byredo, making perfumes like Gypsy Water and Bal d'Afrique (nothing wrong with that tough) but I wish for something else sometimes.

    Reindeer musc... I wonder how that would smell, I know how reindeers smell tough. Their fur is really strange...

  19. Rebella, a Swedish friend told me about another, very new Swedish brand called something like "Agnostic"? Or maybe it's just the one fragrance... Do you know anything about that?

  20. Never heard of it, but you make me very curious...

  21. How fun! Here is mine - it's a little long:

    My Three Notes: White Lilac, Star Gazer Lily, Comptonia peregrina (Sweet Fern)

    Style: Tragic Romance

    She awoke early on her wedding day with an odd sense of foreboding. She had never been more sure of anything than she was about how right it would be to marry him, so that couldn’t be the reason. Nor was the weather an uncertain factor, for through the gauzy curtains of her bedroom a dew-laden breeze carried the ethereal scent of lilacs freshened by the previous night’s brief shower, and the sky was a hazy azure that foretold a clear day in the offing. So what was her unease about?

    The sound of her sister’s excited chatter from downstairs and her mother’s calm voice in response settled her nerves made her eager for appointment with destiny in the early afternoon. She was glad that it would be a simple ceremony in the little stone church of her childhood followed by a small reception at home, and not the lavish affair her fiancé’s mother had pushed for. That woman almost always got what she wanted, but not this time; her son had chosen her over the cool cashmere-clad blonde preferred by the family matriarch, and he never stopped telling her how happy he was with his choice.

    Dressed in her simple gown of palest pink adorned with tiny floral sprigs, she went to the church snuggled against her father’s side in the car, savoring her last moments with him. How she would miss him, and all of her family, but all she could think of now was how her beloved would look at her as he waited for her at the flower-bedecked altar. She had picked out the sweet crimson lilies that she loved, just so she would always be reminded of their happiness on that day whenever she smelled their heady aroma. She planned to fill their new garden with them once they were settled in.

    As it turned out, she never got to see him gaze at her from the end of the aisle, for as she waited in the tiny room off the chapel, a small envelope was passed into her hand by the maid-of-honor, and when she opened it her world contracted to a tiny, hot point of painful light as she read his words of dismissive apology; it seemed that he preferred cashmere above all other things after all, and he was sorry he could not tell her in person, but there was so very much planning to do for the big wedding. Her bouquet of lilies dropped from her senseless fingers as she finally understood. She could only think of how awful it was that she would never be able to even look at a lily ever again.

    That night as she lay sleepless and cried-out in her girlhood bower, another breeze stole in through the window, but it was not laden with lilacs. No, this one carried a bitter tinge along with its green freshness; the sweet fern was wafting its nocturnal spell over the meadow, filling her with such deep longing that she wanted to fly out into the woods and never come back. A whippoorwill’s haunting cry only deepened her loneliness. Let her sleep with the forest creatures, and crawl into their dens to sleep dreamlessly, cocooned in the embrace of the wild. As she finally gave in to her exhaustion and felt the world slipping away, her last sensation was of the crushed green smell of the sweet fern, trampled by the wild animals on their midnight wanderings, and she wished she could be one of them, living only to survive and not having to think of all that she had lost. Tomorrow, she thought; tomorrow I will have to start learning to live all over again.

  22. Flora: that's not a novel. That's the first chapter of a novel, after which the heroine discovers herself, the world, and a much better man! And learn to love lilies again... Thanks!

  23. Thank you very much for the advice- some cypiol on order after a weekend of walking through bluebell woods and newly flowering gorse bushes- giving off their coconutty smell. mmm...

  24. Alexander, I envy your fragrant week-end. I spent mine inside working on a certain project... ;-)
    Let me know what you think of the cypriol. I hope I get to smell Argentina 1946 some time soon!

  25. There is this little happy boy and his happy mother, both caramel skined, big dark eyes. The boy keeps smelling his mother breasts covered by her colorful dresses, the mother smells always so good and now and then he comes back from his toys to put his nose between his breasts. One day the mother dies. The little boy is in the first row behind the car who brings her mother in the coffin to the cemetery. The mother was not well emblamed and it smells terrible, it takes a long long way to the cemetery and the smell is so bad and there will be years to forget that haunting smell. He hates smells. After many years the boy discoveres the women breasts. He puts his nose in hundreds of women breasts. But nothing is the same and nobody can tell what perfume his mother wore. He starts asking perfumers all over the world. The best perfumer in the world, too old, too sad and too bored listens to him in the warm night in his garden. “That’s a pretty pathetic story and I don’t like that in perfumes. I can’t smell anything anymore for so long and I’ve got left only the pure memory of thousands smells. They are not happy, not nostalgic, nor tragic. I will give you three of them and you go”. It was Milk with Orange Peel, Violet with Carnation and Anise, Oud with Dark Rose. Her Breasts collection made his life since then.

  26. Perfumes inspired by the nordic landscape: We must not forget Chanel no 5! Ernest Beaux, 1946:
    “’I’ve been asked some questions about the subject of the creation of No. 5. When did I create it? In 1920 exactly [launched in 1921], upon my return from the war. I had been part of the campaign in a northern region of Europe, above the arctic circle, during the midnight sun, where the lakes and rivers exuded a perfume of extreme freshness. I retained this note and recreated it, not without difficulty, for the first aldehydes I was able to find were unstable and unreliable.
    Cited from Bois de Jasmin, who cites it from the memoires of Constantin Weriguine

  27. Maria, brava, that's a sad and lovely story... A perfumer friend of mine once told me brunette women's breasts smelled like one of the phases of Aromatics Elixir. But your scent sounds lovely.

  28. Stella, I remember that quote, Victoria had already reproduced it some time ago. I would love to lay hands on that discontinued book...