vendredi 28 décembre 2018

My Top 10 Fragrances of 2018, dedicated to Vero Kern

Her big, boisterous laugh. Her even bigger heart. Her dauntless style. The free spirit that only comes with the second spring of age... We’ve lost Vero Kern. I’ve lost a friend. In one of our last conversations, an interview for the exhibition catalogue of « Nez à Nez » at the mudac in Lausanne, she told me:

« Naja is the culmination of my work as a perfumer: it unites, in some way or another, all my previous creations. From the beginning, I had the idea to create a limited collection, and with Naja it is complete. In 2020, I will turn 80. Can you see me bringing out a new perfume every year? No, of course not. The market has become much too tough and I would like to use the time I have left for doing other things! »

That was on September 18th, three months to a day before she left us. May the healing shamanic soul, she-wolf boldness and riotous beauty of her perfumes – her spirit --remain with us. So that this yearly round-up can only be topped with Naja...

Naja, Vero Profumo
In Vero’s words: A scent of tobacco, which is considered to be one of Native American shamans’ most powerful medicines. The name comes from an Algerian cigarette brand from the thirties:Naja, from the Sanskrit nāga, which means “cobra”. A symbolof renaissance and knowledge, healing and death, of cosmos and chaos. Blending tobacco absolute with linden blossom, tenacious osmanthus absolute and succulent melon, Naja is a rough diamond, contradictory and archaic: a spiritual reflection on the future and the soul.

Princesses de Malabar, Lubin
In France, “Malabar” is more likely to evoke a childhood chewing gum than the fiery spices of Southern India… In a sly play on both, Lubin’s Princesses de Malabar sprinkles gossamer iris powder on a pink, fruit-flavored bubble of musk. There’s a giddy, girly tenderness to the scent that matches its fairy-tale name and fairy-wing iridescence, but enough sweet floral flesh underneath to suit a grown-up princess.

Princess, By Kilian
When Kilian goes mainstream, with the Sephora-exclusive “My Kind of Love” collection, he teases out the most crowd-pleasing facets of his niche offerings (Love’s marshmallow, Dark Lord’s coffee and rum) and gives them a playful twist. With its matcha mocha/marshmallow accord Princess flirts with the gourmand without veering into the fruitchouli, Angel-inspired school of olfactory pastry. Rather, Honorine Blanc’s composition has a ginger-whipped latte foam fluffiness that heralds a new style of figurative food notes. And it’s fun.

The Only One, Dolce&Gabbana
The charming oddity of Violaine Collas’ main accord makes this bestseller another example of mainstream done right. A sprinkle of violet sugar sweetening a frothy caramel macchiato shifts the classic berry-patchouli accord on the olfactory ma, while giving the scent a nice little retro-lipstick touch.

L’Eau, Diptyque
The proto-niche L’Eau composed by Desmond Knox-Leet, one of Diptyque three co-founders, has hit 50 this year. Though more of a spice-infused potion than a “skin” scent, its ginger, cinnamon and clove pomander accord never fails to warm me in the damp Paris winter.

Acqua di Scandola, Parfum d’Empire
Most “sea and skin” scents go for a blend of aquatic (calone and its ilk) and sunscreen – the most interesting recent example of the genre being Arquiste’s Sydney Rock Pool by Rodrigo Flores Roux. In this tribute to the UNESCO heritage site of Scandola in his native Corsica, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato skips the Coppertone and coats burnt-sugar skin (labdanum, immortelle) with a fine spray of sea salt.

Moroccan Leather, Memo
When I want to give my students a proper, old-school floral leather to smell, I’ve been spritzing Moroccan Leather. Despite its name, this is what I imagine Catarani de Medici’s gloves to smell like, with Grasse’s fabled “green” leather rubbed in orris butter and rinsed with orange blossom water – there’s a proper whiff of indole lurking in there.

Noir Anthracite, Tom Ford
Cheating a bit, since this retro-70s masculine actually came out last year. But it’s become one of Monsieur’s go-to scents out of my collection and I’ve been nuzzling quite a bit of this resinous, galbanum-infused offspring of Bandit by way of Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme. 

Une Forêt d’or, Goutal
Don’t be fooled by the name: this “golden forest” is exactly the same formula as Isabelle Doyen’s marvelous Noël fragrance diffuser (there is also a candle), a bracing mandarin and fir balsam accord that can now scent your rooms all year round.

For more takes on the top fragrances of 2018, see Bois de Jasmin

vendredi 12 octobre 2018

My top 10 scents for fall 2018

Acqua di Scandola
A master of epic, saturated scents in the manner of Delacroix, Marc-Antoine Corticchiato delivered a delicate, quivering pastel with Le Cri de la Lumière. Acqua di Scandola sees him turn to watercolor, or rather, to an intensely personal, original take on marine notes. This tribute to a secluded UNESCO-heritage site in his native Corsica smells like the taste of sea-spray on your lips, with an underlying ochre animalic thrum that feels like sun-heated skin. Limpid and masterful.

Naja, Vero Profumo 
There’s always been something archaic about Vero Kern’s style – a hint of the witch’s brew, or of ancient times when spices were macerated in wine and honey to make scent, in Egypt or Imperial Rome... But if anything, though it is based on tobacco, Naja reminds me of Moroccan maâjoune, hashish candy made of honey, dried fruit, almonds and spices. But the vision revealed well into the sticky gingerbread drydown is a twisted skein of vetiver, radiant in its flint and citrus glow against the earth and smoke.

Pourpre d’automne, Violet
Launched by the young-old Maison Violet (founded in 1827, revived by a trio of enterprising perfumery school graduates), Pourpre d’Automne has the bone structure of a proper fruity chypre, cross-pollinated with Coty’s Rose Jacqueminot. Nathalie Lorson keeps it streamlined, breathable, stopping it short enough of pretty to make it moving and wistful, rather than lipstick-like. Can’t keep my nose off my arm, as one says.

Electric Purple, Lalique
Nathalie Lorson has a singular talent for composing berry and musk fragrances – descendants of L’Artisan’s Mûre et Musc – that turn the cheerful genre into an elegant statement. With Electric Purple, in Lalique’s exclusive Les Compositions Parfumées collection, she matches a mouthwatering Boysenberry accord with the deeper, bitter green of Artemisia against a light chypre background. This is a delight, and never fails to make me smile.

 Monstera, Xinu

Between Ella (Arquiste) and L’Ame Perdue (Le Galion), Rodrigo Flores Roux’s scents are in heavy rotation on my skin: I find his intensely emotional, baroque style moves me, and always keeps me interested. With Monstera, for the new Mexican brand Xinu, he grows a rainforest on my skin, from the humus-rich ground to the dayglow sap-oozing leaves of the canopy. This is green, raspy and wild: an olfactory fugue from Northern latitudes.

Fleurs et flammes, Antonio Alessandria
How can I have left out Il Bel’Antonio’s Fleurs et Flammes from these seasonal round-ups? I am remiss. I will atone. Because lilies. Carnations. My two favorite, flamboyant floral notes. And galbanum – there can never be enough. If you’ve ever missed Floris Malmaison, give it a try.

Carat, Cartier
Among the tumbrels of florals that have been tumbling since last year – a trend that shows no sign of abating, Carat is that rare jewel: a bouquet not planted in a pot of sweet vanilla and tonka. In interpreting the spectrum of light as diamonds diffract it, Mathilde Laurent raises the specter of aldehydic florals. Not so much the smell as the effect; the glimmer and glamour, in the original meaning of the Scots term – enchantment, spell. A swirl of delicately detailed flowers (violet, iris, hyacinth, tulip, honeysuckle, daffodil, ylang), Carat is very lovely fairy dance of gossamer-light, frost-edged pastel petals.

Rose Rouge N°19058NH, Van Cleef & Arpels

What gal doesn’t love roses and chocolates? And, if you’re anything like me, a good rose vetiver chypre. In Julien Rasquinet’s first fragrance for the always impeccable Collection extraordinaire, he matches petal and bean – the former an arrestingly natural fruity rose, the latter a slightly animalic cocoa extract – for a mouthwatering, yet amazingly light-textured effect. Exquisite work by the young perfumer-poet who signed Naomi Goodsir's wistful Iris Cendré.

Club Design, The Zoo
A winner of the 2018 Art & Olfaction Awards in the Artisan category – which I had the pleasure of handing to Christophe Laudamiel in London – Club Design offers a laser-sharp take on leather. Smoky saffron-dusted lily; burnt styrax; a yielding almond facet adds a touch of stretch to the kinky catsuit. The Zoo’s website recommends wearing this on clothes rather than skin, since it’s not quite IFRA-compliant for leave-on fragrance. But we’re all adults here. Do with Club Design as you damn well please – I have.

Orage, Louis Vuitton
Crackling citrus followed by a flint and petrichor accord… Orage could be a less alien(ating) version of Annick Menardo’s mesmerizing Peau d’Ailleurs for Philippe Starck. Simple, but it works.

Dark Lord, By Kilian
During my ISIPCA Summer School session this summer, I asked students to blind-smell three of Alberto Morillas’ fragrances and define his style. “This must be a very happy person”, they all agreed, and anyone who’s met the ever-smiling, genial Morillas would concur. So it’s kind of hilarious to see him do a fragrance called Dark Lord, in a Damien-Hirst-y, Goth box with a skull – it’s like casting Tom Hanks as Alistair Crowley. That said, Dark Lord brings his trademark fuzzy style to bear on everything that’s (deliciously) unholy in the perfumer’s palette. A delicately smoky vetiver, edging on the burnt, skewering booze-splashed leather, hides an unexpected puff of jasmine… The Devil is a smooth operator.

Illustration: Burning Flowers by Matt Collishaw

For more seasonal round-ups, please visit Bois de Jasmin, Now Smell This and The Non-Blonde.