Fidji (Guy Laroche, 1965), Chamade (Guerlain, 1969), N°19, Cristalle (Chanel, 1970 and 1974)… With their galbanum/hyacinth, these scents picked up twenty years after Balmain’s epochal 1947 Vent Vert left off, to express the youth revolution – albeit in the poised, bourgeois tones of an industry that catered to the middle-class rather than to patchouli and musk-dabbed Flower Children.
But today’s revival isn’t as much about youth or retro sensibilities as a response to the trend for all things green – from environmentalism to vegetarianism and organic food – a symbolic green-washing of the perfume industry, so to speak.
It is also another way of expressing “freshness” without resorting to citruses or aquatic notes -- which brings us, of course, to Issey Miyaké…
Since 1992, L’Eau d’Issey has managed to sell millions of bottles on the premise that “it smelled of water” and thus, not of perfume at all, despite the industrial strength of its melon/cucumber Calone note. A Scent by Issey Miyaké similarly aims to pass itself off as a non-perfume. “A scent as simple and beautiful as the air we breathe”, claims the press release. After water and fire (the defunct Feu d’Issey), air… If the next one is about earth, Miyaké will have the four elements covered.
But A Scent by Issey Miyaké is actually – cue drum roll… a chypre, albeit one of the new-fangled, de-materialized, holographic chypres.
My first impression was of a stripped-down version of Cristalle. And I must say I like what Firmenich’s Daphné Bugey did with Henri Robert’s original idea quite a bit more than Jacques Polge and Chris Sheldrake’s recent, bitter-lemon variation on it.
The official notes state galbanum, verbena, hyacinth and jasmine, along with a “crystal moss” that is clearly Firmenich’s answer to the “white moss” accord used by IFF in Estée Lauder’s Jasmine White Moss. Apart from the discreet powdery musk base that seeps through after a few hours that list pretty much seems to cover the notes.
A Scent kicks off with a pretty hefty galbanum blast – its fizzy bitterness intensified by lemon (from the verbena and, I suspect, a sprinkling of aldehydes) – before moving on to the slightly dirty-earthy tones brought out by the moss. It is in this phase A Scent is most reminiscent of Cristalle. But this is actually a fragrance with a classic pyramid evolution, so that, like its forerunners (starting with Vent Vert) is segues into a floral heart, with hyacinth – galbanum’s usual partner-in-crime – and a decently substantial, though non-indolic jasmine. The lemony verbena notes lasts well into the drydown, which seems to fall a little flat after five or six hours.
Though A Scent is marketed to women, there is no earthly reason why it couldn’t be worn by men: it is drier, more translucent and much less distinctly femme than the other big green floral of the moment, Jasmine White Moss. I can’t exactly figure out why the Lauder inspired me to grumble while I’m feeling quite happy about the Miyaké: they clearly have the same lineage. After all, I bear a lot more of a grudge with Issey Miyaké who’s been poisoning my airspace with Calone for over 15 years.
Could it be that A Scent’s fabulous bottles have softened me up? It’s probably no coincidence that two of the very best flacons of the year, Ross Lovegrove’s for Narciso Rodriguez Essence and Arik Levy’s for A Scent have both been commissioned by the same company, Beauté Prestige International (a division of Shiseido that also makes Jean-Paul Gaultier). The new Miyaké bottles come in three different sizes, and they look like they’ve been laser-sliced from a chunk of ice (click here for pictures). The cutting-edge, minimal design of these will probably inspire quite a few cases of bottle-lust. Including mine.
Image: Verushka von Lehndorff by Franco Rubartelli