vendredi 24 mars 2017

Spring has sprung in Paris: My top 10 scents

© Marin Montagut, courtesy RMN

The picture above is the design of a scarf by the young artist Marin Montagut, exclusively sold at the Grand Palais boutique during the Jardins exhibition, depicting one of my two favorite places in Paris, the Luxembourg Gardens. My other being the Palais-Royal, a technicolour riot of hot-pink magnolias, purple hyacinths and yellow daffodils these days. It’s hard to resist springtime in Paris, despite the news being unrelentingly dismal. So I’ll share a few pictures I took last week along with our seasonal top 10!

The Jardins exhibition at the Grand Palais
Perfumes are our immaterial gardens; and like gardens, they are ways of framing and dreaming the vegetal world. Last week I celebrated spring slightly ahead of the calendar -- but the thermometer read 20°C -- by visiting the beautiful “Jardins” exhibition at the Grand Palais. From Dürer’s violets to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s herbarium, Gerhard Richter’s hazy, haunting Sommer Tag or Patrick Neu’s obsessively detailed watercolour portraits of wilting irises (see above), it’s incredibly rich, and it lasts until 24 July, so if  you’re in Paris, book yourself a visit

Sous les magnolias, Pierre Bourdon
I wore this bright chewy fruity floral chypre in the same room as the great perfumer A.M., aka the Human Chromatographer. “Someone’s wearing a very good Diorella”, she said. And it is. Sous les magnolias is as close to a signature scent as I’ve had these past few months. So here it is again, heading my list.

White song, Dear Rose
The brand’s co-founder, singer-songwriter Alexandra Roos, used to wear Poison (much to the chagrin of her mother, the tremendous Chantal Roos, who worked on the Opium team and created the Issey Miyake and Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume brands). Fabrice Pellegrin’s spicy almond blossom White Song is Poison gone cool French rock chick, L’Heure Bleue without the blues.

Le Sillage Blanc, Dusita
Its author, the self-taught Thai perfumer Pissara Umavijani, named this after one of her father’s poems. Something must’ve been lost in translation, because it’s hard to think of any scent smelling less “blanc”. This is Bandit’s love child grown up wild in Phuket: a bracingly bitter green earth brew that connects with the past without feeling retro.

Totally White, Parle Moi de Parfum
Michel Almairac is a perfumer’s perfumer: the name that comes up when they have to praise a colleague still in activity. He’s cut loose in the brand created by his son, not by doing crazy niche-y stuff, but by giving them cherished formulas he’d never sold, on one condition: no tweaks. Totally White is a gift to his wife, who asked for an evocation of the Parc Monceau shrouded in a frothy white nebula of lilac, hawthorn and mock orange. This is, quite simply, springtime in Paris bottled. You need it.

Bleu Framboise, Jean-Michel Duriez
Now gone indie, the former nose of Patou and Rochas conceived this while crossing the Pont Alexandre III on the Seine, just as sunset turned the sky blue and red. Hence the name, which translates into a mouthwatering raspberry accord and a touch of blue chamomile. This is a fruity floral chypre with a cheerful verdant twist (rhubarb, galbanum, geranium, oakmoss…) and a hefty animalic kick from jasmine sambac. This smells like Paris filmed by Wes Anderson.

L’Eau Bleue, Miu Miu
Most things in life can be improved by the mere fact that kittens exist. And few songs are more empowering than Lesley Gore’s “You don’t own me”. The film for L’Eau Bleue features both. And both make me feel pretty sappy. It’s the operational word for Daniela Andrier’s second Miu Miu fragrance though this time in the original sense: a day-glo green sap dotting the bells of her lily-of-the-valley. Like Diorissimo in its day, this is not “the flower, but an arabesque around the flower” (to quote Edmond Roudnitska). Dew, sap, and the moist earth of a Givaudan captive, akigalawood (a mutant patchouli obtained through enzymatic reaction). And kittens.

Grace by Grace Coddington, Comme des Garçons
You’d expect the flame-haired Ms. Coddington’s rose to come fully equipped with claws (here be lions). But then, anything that comes out of a pouch adorned with twee drawings of cats and capped with the kind of pussyhat a space explorer would wear to land on Planet Claire can’t be too feral. Twisted with a bunch of basil and mint and tossed on a Cashmeran throw, Coddington’s rose exudes a playful, I-woke-up-like-this charm.

Parco Palladiano V, Bottega Veneta
How often do we get to smell aromatic notes outside of fougères -- and their dread “fresh” men’s deodorant accord -- in fragrance? Composed by Daniela Andrier for Bottega Veneta’s exclusives line, Parco Palladiano V plucks a bouquet garni from an Italian herb garden and serves it up as is. Rosemary, laurel and sage, no longer used as olfactory condiments, reveal their fresh, spicy and ambery facets. Pity such a simple, embraceable scent should be featured in such a costly collection. Its salubrious scent evokes the half-medicinal, half-fragrant recipes that preceded Eau de Cologne as European fragrance blockbusters, such as the Eau de la Reine de Hongrie. I’d splash it on every morning.

 Woodissime, Thierry Mugler
You could say this is Féminité du Bois led astray from Morocco -- its notes spanning the Orient from the Middle-East to China. Here, the violet/pit fruit and cedar/sandalwood accords are shifted on the scent-map to, respectively, osmanthus and oud. The principle of Mugler’s Les Exceptions is twisting a classic form with what they call an “unexpected guest”: in the present case, osmanthus. Which makes more sense than you’d think: Jean-Christophe Hérault hooks them up by teasing out the phenolic facets in both (leather, beaver butt, ink, black olive -- after all, osmanthus, an Oleaceae like jasmine, is related to the olive tree). The result is what may well be the sole smiling oud on the market.

For more Spring round-ups:

 All pictures are mine, taken at the Jardins exhibition or at the gardens of the Palais-Royal, except the topmost.

vendredi 20 janvier 2017

My Top 10 for the Winter of 2017: Scents of comfort and fortitude

Perfume feels like a very frivolous topic to address on this particular day, given the obscenity of what is unfolding in Washington as this post goes up.

Yet… Our focus on scent is less trivial than it seems. Smell is a sense that people mostly use to detect and reject -- food that’s gone bad, but also the cooking of others, the smells of others. As perfume lovers, we’re able to go beyond that gut-level, “this isn’t me/us” rejection. Not just because of our fabled fascination for skank, but because we’ve learned to embrace notes we didn’t care about initially. We’re willing to approach them, spend time with them, “see” them differently. Go past our prejudices. Find out more.

This openness, this willingness to engage with otherness through the most intimate of our senses (along with taste) could stand as a metaphor for the open-mindedness we need to counter the rancid stench of toxic masculinity that is creeping over our poor planet. We also need the curiosity and love of knowledge that yielded the teeming culture we’ve created around perfume. Disregard for facts starts with the B.S. we get fed to make us buy stuff. It ends in post-truth.

In the short, cold days of winter, we crave warmth, comfort and light. Today more than ever. So here’s a mix of the new and old, to fight the cold and help us stand up. Scents of comfort and fortitude. As our dear departed Leonard Cohen sang in Anthem: “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

Monday January 23rd
Just adding this whiff of the Women's March, from a piece by Laurie Penny:

"Inauguration Day stank of limp rage and lukewarm hotdogs, lost-looking people shivering in American flags, the crowd too thin to keep each other warm. The Women’s March smelled of paint and glue and, not unpleasantly, of lots of nice ladies sweating lightly under sensible knitwear, realizing that they have more power in numbers than they ever guessed."  

Little Bianca (Mizensir)
Smells don’t cheat, little Bianca. They speak to the heart, in a language that always tells the truth”, writes Alberto Morillas in the press release for Little Bianca, the rose cologne he composed for his granddaughter. A simple, luminous scent that brings together “everything I love, simple, beautiful scents so you’ll recognize what is true and essential”. This includes Paradisone, a gorgeous upgrade of hedione, which smells like the souls of all the white flowers that died for us and went to heaven. But the main ingredient is love.

Cologne pour le Soir (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)
Often neglected in favor of its more outrageous variation Absolue pour le soir, this powdery, honeyed, incense-infused scent is as softly comforting as its inspiration, the benzoin-based Papier d’Arménie.

Ambre Éternel (Guerlain)
Despite its name, this isn’t the creamy vanilla and cistus blend called “amber” in perfumery, but a gauzy aura of frosty, carroty iris layered over incense-infused orange blossom. A touch of sweet smokiness lingers like the faint memory of a log fire on a woolen scarf.

Close Up (Olfactive Studio)
Perfumery’s Riot Grrrl Annick Menardo finds the sweet spot connecting amber, cherry and tobacco on the toffee-to-coffee continuum. Anise and green coffee provide the link with the licorice-y tonka. Caramel-smooth, toasty, incredibly long-lasting and unexpectedly tough.

Oeillet Bengale (Aedes de Venustas)
The pepper-sparked, incense-fuelled carnation explosion set off by Rodrigo Flores Roux has been a winter mainstay of mine since it came out. I’d warm myself up with the Mexican firebrand at the Women’s March if I were in Washington tomorrow…

Blackpepper (Comme des Garçons)
As a (symbolic) antidote to pepper spray: after the initial blast of the titular ingredient, Antoine Maisondieu’s dark blend unfolds into a marquetry of faux noirs ranging from the dark-chocolate smoothness of tonka to the matte amber of clary sage, by way of flint, dust, leather and tar. 

Encre Noire (Lalique)
Vetiver is the most vertical ingredient I know: the very definition of an olfactory backbone. Deftly faceted by Nathalie Lorson, Encre Noire brings out glints of flint and bitter chocolate. 

Cuir de Russie (Chanel)
Remember that scene at the end of Casablanca? Captain Renault (Claude Rains) bins a bottle of Vichy water, ditching the collaborationist French government (then based in the spa town of Vichy) to go over to the Resistance with Rick. Given the current circumstances, the scene popped into my mind as I reached for Chanel’s classic… But I’m hanging on to the EDT version I bought days after Obama was first elected. The new EDP version, while lovely, tones down the cool sheen of aldehydes and that slight stable-y funk, while amping up the musks. In either version, this olfactory emblem of women’s emancipation in the 20s is still pretty badass.

 N°19 (Chanel)
To remember that spring does come back, eventually. Because I need a scent with a backbone. A scent that is irrefutable. I’ve got a couple of vintage bottles in the fridge, along with a recent-ish extrait that’s still glorious.

Aromatics Elixir (Clinique)
I recently caught a patchouli-laden whiff of this in an office and thought: this classic American fragrance is unimpeachable

For more seasonal round-ups, see the usual suspects:

The picture above was taken by me in Montreal.