vendredi 29 décembre 2017

The 10 Denchest Scents of 2017

One of the few bright-ish sides of this dismal year comes from the perfume industry: we have officially reached Peak Sweet. There’s no way to add more ethyl maltol than there is in the more recent olfactory confectionaries without the stuff precipitating to the bottom of the bottle. Of course, that won’t keep perfumers from pursuing “addiction” – the word that’s replaced “gourmand”, as though drugs had less of a negative connotation than food. But their research is venturing beyond praline and macarons, veering into roasted (nuts, coffee, chocolate) and salty notes. There you have it: that’s pretty much as excited as the perfume world has made me in 2017.

I did find out about a fragrance whose name is my new motto: Stay Dench. “Dench” being a synonym for “sick” (which means “nice” in English slang), “used for saying that someone or something is extremely attractive, fashionable, impressive, etc.” according to the Macmillan online dictionary. Launched by grime star Lethal Bizzle, the word springs directly from Judi Dench’s unimpeachable badassery. It is now the name of a brand and a fragrance (if you’ve smelled it, please report) for which Dame Judith teamed up with Lethal Bizzle for a first lesson in rap. So I’ll just leave this here before moving on to my favorite launches of 2017.

So, what made my nose go "Pow!" in 2017?

Nuit de Bakélite by Isabelle Doyen for Naomi Goodsir nips tuberose’s criminal intentions right in the bud, turning niche’s fetish flower into a venomous stem oozing Day-glo sap. One of the year’s most striking olfactory signatures.

L’Âme Perdue by Rodrigo Flores Roux for Le Galion is a ghost ship of a scent, haunted by the glamorous specter of Prunol – Femme’s spice-sweating goddess by way of the turgid, incense-veiled lilies Rodrigo does so well.

Le Cri de la Lumière by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfum d’Empire resonates like a crystal chrysalis shattering to reveal a break in the Corsican’s saturated, balls-to-the-wall olfactory style. A mossy rose chypre base drenched in opalescent ambrette, as delicately unheimlich as a pastel by Redon.

Lui by Delphine Jelk for Guerlain tugs out a seldom-celebrated strand of Jacques Guerlain’s heritage. The red carnation that burns at the heart of L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko lights up the sweet fumes of benzoin. As retro as the black Deco bottle it filched from Liu, with a contemporary, pared-down build.

Eau de Velours by Michel Almairac for Bottega Veneta has turned out to be my go-to of the year. Meant as a variation on the initial Bottega Veneta, this “velvet water” has the texture of a wine-hued rose petal.

Light Blue Eau Intense by Olivier Cresp for Dolce & Gabbana reboots the brand’s crown jewel, in this first flanker since its acquisition by BPI/Shiseido. Cresp’s tweaks don’t alter the original’s utterly perfect balance: Magritte’s giant green apple hovering between sky and sea, held up by a force field of translucent woods.

Wicked Love, by Maison Margiela (nose not disclosed) is pitched as “gun metal and roses”. It comes off as a mutant descendant of Rive Gauche and Coriandre: a rose oxide and vetiver axis, incongruously topped off with a green pepper note. A neo-noir scent, well in keeping with its early 70s, “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” sensibility.

Une Amourette de Roland Mouret, by Daniela Andrier for État Libre d’Orange. Straying from her impeccable Prada Infusion accord, Andrier gets down and dirty for the ELO x Mouret collab. She states she went for a scent in red and black. Pepper-sprinkled, incense-cured patchouli in full camphor mode meets indole-boosted neroli.  The name means “a fling”. Clearly, it’s a fling with rough trade.

2015 Le Phénix, by Michel Almairac for Les Bains Guerbois, an establishment previously known as Les Bains Douches, Paris’ 80s answer to Studio 54. Le Phénix is a more intense version of the cologne launched by the new owner to salute Les Bain’s rebirth as a boutique hotel, a smoldering spice and incense rework of Almairac’s 2003 Gucci pour Homme.

Miss Me by Annick Menardo for Stella Cadente is actually a rediscovery I made while interviewing the perfumer for the 4th issue of Nez (click here to find out more). Inspired by Patou’s Huile de Chaldée, which she wore on the beaches of her native Cannes as a teen, it’s the only scent of hers Menardo actually wears. Sadly launched by a brand too small to follow through – it deserved to become a bestseller – the eccentric balsamic blend can still be sourced online. Nab it.

You’ll find more yearly round-ups with the usual suspects:

Meanwhile, my best wishes for a dench 2018.

Top illustration drawn from the Fish Love campaign to protect the seas from destructive fishing.

vendredi 22 septembre 2017

Red October: 10 scents that are shaking my world this fall

Without Lenin, there would be no Chanel N°5.
The absurd thought occurred to me as I was reading China Miéville’s meticulously researched and brilliantly written October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. Conflating the Ten Days that Shook the World[i] with Ernest Beaux’s fifth proposal to Gabrielle Chanel may seem like a bit of a jump. But Beaux wouldn’t have immigrated to France if it hadn’t been for the Bolsheviks. And his contribution to perfumery was, if not an actual revolution, a definite game-changer (unlike the house’s latest offering). Playing with blotters and vials might seem like strumming the balalaika while the world burns, drowns and quakes (has anybody else who grew up during the Cold War been having atomic mushroom nightmares again?). For what it’s worth, this fall I’ll salute the 100th anniversary of Red October with the ten scents that are shaking my world these days.

Nuit de Bakélite
by Isabelle Doyen for Naomi Goodsir

For all the delicate, poetic fragrances she composed for Annick Goutal, it’s easy to forget that Isabelle Doyen can also be a badass avant-gardist (as she demonstrates in her nearly impossible to find Les Nez creations). In Nuit de Bakélite, she turns the tuberose -- or rather, the “peduncle that connects the stem to the flower” -- into a mutant plant exuding radioactive sap; a scent-track for Day of the Triffids. Milky-thick at the heart, day-glo green at the edges with an opalescent splash of iris, this non-linear composition has one of the most distinctive signatures I’ve smelled of late.

The Zoo
by Christophe Laudamiel
You say you want a revolution? The maverick Laudamiel has gone and done it. After authoring a manifesto like any proper avant-garde artist, he is now offering non-IFRA compliant perfumes, to be sprayed on clothes (or wherever: you’re an adult) in his own brand, The Zoo. He even specifies which materials go over authorized concentrations. Other scents are suitable for skin wear. As an added twist, each is offered with a choice of two names and labels: it’s up to you, for instance, to choose whether you’re more of a Club Design or Scent Tattoo critter.

Le Cri de la lumière 
by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfum d’Empire
With a name like “The Scream”, you’d expect Corticchiato, never one to shy away from intense, saturated notes, to come up with an olfactory banshee. But the Corsican perfumer has undergone his own cultural revolution. Presented as a “rebirth”, his crystalline Le Cri is a limpid, dawn-tinged aura of ambrette, iris and rose. Radiant, but a nose-teaser. Wearing it, more than once I sniffed at people around me before realizing I was the one who smelled so good…

Eau de Velours
 by Michel Almairac & Mylène Alran for Bottega Veneta
My crush of the season in the mainstream: a wine-rich, suede-petaled rose that feels utterly right -- Almairac’s great gift being what the Renaissance Italians called sprezzatura, defined by Castiglione as “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”.

Infusion d’Oeillet
 by Daniela Andrier for Prada
No commemoration of the Russian Revolution would be complete without a carnation, the flower of the Workers’ Movement since the Second International in 1889 and the iconic blossom of the Soviets. As I’ve already listed my favorite new carnations in my summer round-up, I’ll go for Infusion d’Oeillet’s chic, spice-whipped soapy froth.  

by Antoine Lie for Trudon
The cult French candle maker has ditched the “Cires” from its name and branched out into fine fragrance with a lovely, soulful collection. Lyn Harris’s smoky Révolution would have been more relevant to the theme, but the aromatic Bruma -- the name of the winter solstice in Latin -- radiates a melancholy palette of violet, lavender and iris that suits the waning light of the season.

Memory Motel 
by Annick Menardo for Une Nuit Nomade
It was already in this summer’s list, but its funky smokiness is like a preview of chilly nights by the fireplace with a lash of Laphroaig aged in a sherry cask.

Noir Anthracite 
Tom Ford
Ford often gives out references to 70s perfumes in his briefs. Noir Anthracite smells as though, back in the day, young Tom had spray-painted himself with some dark aromatic leather brew like Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme after spending quality time with a doobie, just before sneaking back into his parents’ house. What’s not to love?

Attaquer le Soleil
  by Quentin Bisch for État Libre d’Orange
Though it’s a tribute to the Marquis de Sade -- its author Quentin Bisch decided to “sadize” himself by confronting an ingredient that somehow freaks him out --, “Attack the Sun” sounds like the slogan of a particularly ambitious super-villain. This is cistus from mask to boots, with kinky facets of heated skin and the mineral glint of incense for a faint whiff of sacrilege.

by Nicolas Beaulieu for Comme des Garçons
A rubescent, milky sandalwood set ablaze with ginger, Concrete (as in the building material) trades the traditional powder note for the concrete dust of the Berlin Wall brought down with hammers (but no sickles).

For more round-ups of fall fragrances, pop over to Bois de Jasmin, and Now Smell This

[i] The book the American journalist John Reed wrote about the October Revolution in Russia.

Image: Portrait with flacon by Alexander Rodtchenko