Fine fragrance has finally cut loose from skin.
It was bound to happen. One the one hand, for the past decade, mainstream fragrances have been veering towards the notes of functional perfumery, while perfumed candles and house sprays have been getting better and better. On the other hand, perfumers have been seeking new inspiration by capturing the olfactory imprint of places rather than working on perfume as an extension of female or male personae – Hermès’s Jardins series or L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Voyages collection being cases in point.
I’ve been thinking a lot this past year that home fragrances are the last unsaturated market in perfumery: perhaps not the final frontier, but definitely an under-exploited field. Clearly, Frédéric Malle has been thinking along the same lines, and he has acted upon his idea, by commissioning some of the finest perfumers in the business – Dominique Ropion, Carlos Benaïm and Sophia Grosjman – to compose home fragrances that meet the same exacting standards as those they apply for “skin-wear”.
It isn’t an entirely novel venture: Annick Goutal, Iunx, By Kilian or L’Artisan all offer candles (and in the case of L’Artisan, room sprays) that are either adaptations of their fragrance lines or “stand-alones”, composed by the same perfumers.
But Frédéric Malle has taken the process one step further by conceptualizing it and thus, by asking his perfumers to think about the possibilities opened by divorcing fine fragrance from skin. The structure and development could be different; they could forego the “skin-loving notes” of personal fragrances.
And this is where it gets interesting. Malle asked his dream-team to base itself on the type of formula that practically never makes it to perfumery shelves: olfactory sketches and “captures” of the smell of specific places or flowers by IFF’s “Living Flowers Technology” developed by the late Dr. Braja Mookherjee…
Frédéric Malle then took another step into new territories, by developing, alongside the traditional candles, a novel way of diffusing the scent. Thinking that a hot flame was a strange way of sending out the fresh smell of gardenia, muguet, rose, magnolia or lily in the air, he sought to replicate the way flowers puff out their scent all day long, without the top/head/base notes of skin perfumery. The result is a red box called the “Fleur Mécanique”, a one-channel, totally silent smell radio: press on the button once, and it sends out two hours of, say, “the gardenia song”. Press it twice, and you get a three-hour show. The fragrance itself is in a bottle inserted inside the gizmo.
Mr. Malle also developed what he calls “Rubber Incense”: small rubber mats impregnated with Saint des Saints, developed by Carlos Benaïm from Dr. Mookherjee’s “Living Flower” capture of the air in Indian temples. The pads can be slipped in drawers, closets or cars. No one has reported using them for mouse-pads yet, but it’s certainly tempting. The scent itself, Saint des saints, is quite impossible to pin down – a sandalwood-and-incense-bathed air saturated with the auras of centuries of faithful… It is also offered as a candle, as are Benaïm’s Coffee Society, a capture of “the ephemeral odor of a living room a few minutes after the end of a Parisian dinner, when the guests have just left”, an Sophia Grojsman’s Russian Nights, a nutmeg, cinnamon, iris and sandalwood blend, and
Five scents are offered both in the Fleurs Mécaniques and candle medium: Carlos Benaïm’s Rosa Rugosa, a dry, fresh rose to combine with Edouard Fléchier darker, winey Une rose; his Rubrum Lily, which can be played off Lys Méditerranée in a ying-yang duet of hot-dry-spicy and green-fresh-watery; and his Jurassic Flower, the olfactory portrait of magnolia. Dominique Ropion’s 1er Mai, a realistic rendition of lily-of-the-valley based on historical muguet formulas and headspace technology; and his Un Gardénia, la nuit, a “living flower” capture. Ropion’s Santal Cardamome, an accord the perfumer found while working with Malle on the reconstitution of the smell of Mysore sandalwood (the trees are now protected and their essence is no longer available to perfumers), is offered only in the candle.
Now, you say, is this all any good? And that’s where I’m stumped. I love the realistic, creamy rendition of gardenia especially and found Saint des Saints very intriguing indeed. But the collection’s very high price point means I only smelled it in the shop: at 105 euros, the gardenia candle is the most expensive (the others are priced from 60 to 90 euros). The Fleur Mécanique is a Visa-busting 260 euros, CORRECTION: including the scent (refills between 50 and 70 euros). The Rubber Incense mat costs 75 euros. So that however much I think the concept is excellent and the compositions lovely… I’ll have to take a pass.
Now on to you: Which atmosphere would you like to capture with the "Living Flowers" technology?
Illustration of “Saint des Saints” by Konstantin Kakanias, drawn from the “Fleurs Mécaniques, Esquisse & Matières” press book by Frédéric Malle Éditions de Parfums.
Fascinating, Denyse. The price point does make it hard to sample these effectively, though...RépondreSupprimer
Jarvis, four of the candles are at current upscale candle prices, at 60 euros. But sadly not the gardenia, my favorite. I found the concept of the compositions so intriguing though... You never get to smell a "headspaced" floral scent by itself, for instance.RépondreSupprimer
::sigh:: This is the best explanation of these products I've run across, unfortunately. Unfortunate because previously I've been able to dismiss them as yet more gimmicky room sprays. However. A really good, true magnolia? ::swoon:: Or a lily? Oh, I adore lilies, I love the smell of them in my home, but I cannot have them because I have a cat and it is the one aspect of life with my darling I begrudge.RépondreSupprimer
But I cannot, CANNOT bring myself to spend that kind of money on a candle (quite literally burning up money), or a gizmo of any sort to scent my home, however good it might be. So I look forward to sniffing, but I ain't buyin'.
The smell of irises -- actual, scented irises -- not orris. I lived in a place once that had an exotic-species iris ranch (you could go and buy the rhizomes, much like people collect rare roses; there are iris freaks too.) Denyse, the smell of that place when they were all in bloom in August was astonishing. I'd gone there to *look*, not even realizing until then that particular iris cultivars were acquired in part for their scent. I've been longing for it ever sense.RépondreSupprimer
I can't believe I typed "sense" instead of "since," but you know what I mean.RépondreSupprimer
Amy, look at it this way: burning, spraying, what's the difference, it all ends up in the air anyway... Still, I feel the way you do. That is, until the royalty checks start rolling in...RépondreSupprimer
March, wow... I've never smelled a scented iris... I know the good people at FM read this, so from your mouth to the dashing Frédéric's ears...RépondreSupprimer
If FM could make my house smell like fresh narcissus without giving off the headiness that candles add, I might be more tempted. I feel like I say this about everything, but, won't someone think of the narcissus!?RépondreSupprimer
I want ALL of these!RépondreSupprimer
Re: what March said, iris blossoms are often fragrant, at least the "bearded" kind that are commonly cultivated, and it's tied to their color - purple ones smell grapey, yellow ones often smell a bit like lemon, and my personal favorite, a a gorgeous pink one called Vanity, smells for all the world like strawberry ice cream. :-D
The species Iris pallida is also very sweet-smelling, but its blossoms are quite ephemeral, and a pale washy blue in color.
I want the Rubrum Lily home scent, as lilies are my favorites. Another scent that would be wonderful is primroses; it's the true sign that spring is really here. And let's not forget the lemony rapture of Daphne odora, so delicious it's almost more than I can take. How wonderful that aroma would be in a room where you could relax and de-stress. Now that's aroma therapy!
Ah, Denyse, these all sound good, and I so want to sniff Saint des Saints and Cafe Society.RépondreSupprimer
The most wonderful place I ever smelled was a giant sequoia forest, Muir Woods, not far from San Francisco, California. The air was cool and misty, and the fresh-balsamic smell of the trees was marvelous.
You can get a tiny idea of it from the hemlock note in Ormonde Jayne Woman, but the scent of the woods was constant and enveloping. -- nozknoz
How to deal with IFRA restrictions in 2010? Lutens goes soapy and Malle abandons perfume for scented accessories! LOLRépondreSupprimer
Let's end this on a positive "note" - Malle Fleur de Cassie has been reformulated and has no longer that off-putting animalic note.
Billy, I was smelling narcissus in a bouquet the other day, and it is truly a gorgeous smell... I'm all for narcissus too!RépondreSupprimer
Flora, iris flavours, now *that's* intriguing...RépondreSupprimer
And now you're making me impatient for spring so I can go and stick my nose into lots of growing things.
Nozknoz -- thanks for helping me pin down the image I was looking for to describe Ormonde Woman: Kim Novak and James Stewart in the sequoia forest in Hitchcock's Vertigo...RépondreSupprimer
Moon Palace: could be, but there are IFRA restrictions as well on room scents (though they're a bit different).RépondreSupprimer
As for Une Fleur de Cassie, to me that's a very negative note indeed: that animalic bit is what gives it depth. Now I need to go smell the current version. If it's changed, I'm desperate. I have no back-up.
a bluebell wood, the earth would still be damp because of the tree cover but beyond the trees the lawns would be bathed in sunlightRépondreSupprimer
I like the new UFDC better, it's brighter and more wearable, however, here in New York they still sell the "old" original bottles (UFDC is not selling good at all, obviously they still have old stocks). I found out about the new reformulated version when I tried the UFDC 2ml samples, the difference is striking!RépondreSupprimer
A spruce forest with some damp earth, punctuated by whiffs of woodland flowers, like when hiking...I can dream, right?RépondreSupprimer
The fact is that I'd be more likely to spend, well, maybe not this much cash, but some, on a spray than a candle. I like the idea of occasionally being able to use the spray on clothing, but can't carry a candle around.
First of all, I have to second March's call for real iris. There are a myriad of iris flower smells, actually; I have three variations on lemon in my own garden, plus the grape of my grandfather's iris, and the crazy smell of swamp iris. I, too, am near an iris flower farm, and love visiting when the flowers are in bloom; you place an order, and these tuberish rhizomes appear in a box at your door a few months later, waiting to become flowers in the spring...RépondreSupprimer
What smell would I like to have as an experiential room fragrance? The pocket that defines the space between mixed-wood forest and a fresh water lake. Honey locust wafting over violets. While we're doing this...could layers, as in height in space, be replicated? Because I'd love the middle to be sappy stem height in the garden, with dirt and hummus hanging out at floor level and blossoms somewhere above your eyes. And, just for fun, how about the smell of a cedar closet that has both books and warm woolens?
Sin of all sins, I have not one but two.RépondreSupprimer
The rubber mats are fabulous and keep my car smelling like a riot of mingling smells as I am yet to remove the L'Artisan Amber Ball or the SMN potpourri... but I can still smell the scent on my handkerchiefs now after 8 hours in my pocket. given the number of mats one gets these are excellent value.
I also bought, with a discount, I might add, one of the candles. The 1er Mai is quite wonderful and despite having a very small wick, seems to burn very evenly and very slowly. Perhaps this is enough to convince people to buy one...
On the negative side, I did here that there was a problem with the Coffee Society and the Russian Nights Candles and hence no availability. I am hoping this will have passed!
I just had a quick look at the refills and I think one could quite easily use a small motorised fan and do away with the red box...
Rose, I'm ashamed to say I've never smelled bluebells... Sounds idyllic!RépondreSupprimer
Moon Palace, I'll try to see if there's still a chance of nabbing some in Paris...RépondreSupprimer
Olfacta, I'm wondering whether the oils to use in the little red box could be diverted? On a handkerchief, perhaps, or those rings you put on lamps? I agree one can't very well go round carrying a candle like some wayward cultist of the church of scent...RépondreSupprimer
Scentscelf, I definitely have to find those irises... I leave nowhere near any field of any kind.RépondreSupprimer
As for layers, I'm sure they'll come up with the technology, wouldn't it be magical?
Alexander, I've smelled that car, and it *is* a riot of scents, yes sir.RépondreSupprimer
Thanks for the info on the candle: as I couldn't experience it firsthand, it's good to know just how good they are.
Alexander, now there's an idea...RépondreSupprimer
Would like the smell of a mountain stream, wet rocks and earth and vegetation. Alternately, roses and honeysuckle on a hot spring night in Georgia.RépondreSupprimer
Annick Goutal's rose candle was the best. candle. ever. Smells like fresh roses. Wish I had 50 more of them.
Dissed, I'd love that mountain stream too... in early spring. Reminds me of childhook hikes in Canada.RépondreSupprimer
I am dismayed to hear of the reformulating of Une Fleur de Cassie. Excuse me while I go stock up on old bottles. *runs*RépondreSupprimer
Jarvis, I'll go investigate... Sometimes the difference is due to older batches macerating or oxydating, or to slight variations in the natural materials. If not, stocking up is indeed in order.RépondreSupprimer
I've been using Une Fleur de Cassie for over 5 years and I've noticed some variations over the time. I don't believe this is due to a reformulation but to the fact that this perfume contains a high proportion of naturals (among which cassie and mimosa absolutes whic give this perfume its unique personality). I guess these oils may vary slightly depending on the season, place of origin and harvest. Also I've noticed that this particular perfume changes slightly over time (I have a bottle in my home in the south of France that I have been using for so many years and it gets better and better, just smoother, less harsh almost like a bottle of good wine in the cellar!)RépondreSupprimer
Anonymous, what you describe is very likely. I was discussing this with Isabelle Doyen last week, and she was saying exactly the same thing about L'Eau d'Hadrien (see her interview above).RépondreSupprimer
I'm so pleased to see others chiming in here on the iris as well! And the scents vary as they do among roses ... in a general way I'd describe iris as smelling somewhere between rose and carnation -- less weighty than rose, but without carnation's frivolity, if that makes any sense at all. Possibly not. In any case: please, Malle perfumers, hear our pleas!RépondreSupprimer
March, ok, definitely going round sniffing irises as soon as spring comes.RépondreSupprimer