Monday, 23 February 2015

Les Perles d'Isabey - Extraits d'Exception

Parfums Panouge have wowed and amazed with their highly anticipated launch of Les Perles d'Isabey - new pure parfum editions of three existing scents in their stable: Perle de la route d'Emeraude, Perle de Gardenia and Perle de Lys Noir. Yours truly has waxed lyrical in previous posts about the second coming of the esteemed house of Isabey, and these exquisite "Perles" signify a return to the House's traditions of meticulously crafted perfumes and perfume presentations.

In keeping with early Isabey examples from the Art Deco age, each flacon is realised as a pearly balloon of glass, inspired by a glassmaking method first introduced to the house in 1925 by master glassworker André Jollivet, who perfected the process adopting techniques imported from the Orient. Each flacon is individually packaged in a luxurious double-hinged silk-lined box with leather-like finish. It is accepted that in this day and age, so few perfume houses lavish the capital and resources to produce such exacting presentations, but this is something it appears that Isabey will never compromise. The meticulous packaging merely hints at the perfume residing inside as being one of exceptional quality and beauty. And to this author's nose, they are just that.

Perle de Gardenia
My relationship with Isabey's Gardenia eau de parfum is a long one, so when Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I heard of a parfum extrait edition, we were instantly excited. At the first opportunity to sniff and wear, we were astonished at how lovely it was, even if there is something of a divergence from the EDP. The parfum version feels slightly more resonant - perhaps less sharp or crisp - in the first moments when applied to skin. There is a very different texture too... more evocative of napped suede, which borders on white chocolate. Panouge / Isabey Parfumeur Jean Jacques has shunned the expected and deliberately taken "Gardenia" on a trajectory that does not follow, but rather runs parallel with the eau de parfum edition. Instead of simply turning up the volume in his parfum version, he has added an enchanting accord of white leather. This note adds a resolute sensuality; a softness that shifts away from heady gardenia blooms, into something more... intimate. It somehow feels more round... indeed, much like a pearl. Worn on its own, or even layered with the EDP, La Perle de Gardenia offers another captivating shade of the scent that the pair of us know and love.


Perle de la route d'Emeraude
In his approach to creating La Perle de la Route d'Emeraude, Jean Jacques again, has taken some artistic liberties that steer it away from the EDP. The precious golden orb holds an elixir which perhaps reaches even further into the Orient; more so than the eau de parfum which primarily focused on sun-soaked orange-blossom, jasmine and tuberose. Here, the Perle edition unfurls (to my nose) with a vaguely more resinous/incense slant... in its flight there is a brief undercurrent of smokey plumes (largely absent from the EDP) which later dissipate. There is a warmer, creamier nucleus of orris and ylang-ylang which emits a hazy ambery glow... in this regard, La perle de la Route d'Emeraude could perhaps not be any more appropriately packaged... its olfactory texture is of diffused golden light. Lightly spiced with cinnamon and imbued with silky vanilla it makes for a lip-smacking extrait that oozes sexiness and charm.

Perle de Lys Noir
The enchanting Lys Noir eau de parfum has become an undisputed favourite of mine... I relish its narcissus / lily / heliotrope blooms which when combined, emit an almost coconutty accord in its flight. La Perle de Lys Noir, on the other hand sees a shift in focus where - moments out of the bottle - there is a huff of pepperiness... one which diminishes after several moments. Over the span of its life, the EDP remains slightly more diaphanous, floral and musky, whereas the pure parfum feels somewhat more dense. A delicious yellow-brown ribbon of Ylang-ylang takes up residence between the other existing florals, and darker woodier notes tend to advance from below. Sandalwood and resinous frankincense underpin the composition, and it is awash with a balsamic, slightly animalic quality in the trail (perhaps ambergris). Perle de Lys Noir is sumptuous and mysterious... and indeed, I would expect no less from this revered House.

If one looks to quantify the opulence and lavishness of a perfume house, then one needn't look any further than Isabey. Les Perles d'Isabey are proof-positive that exacting standards, exceptional ingredients and masterful blending can truly create magic. The art of perfume is not dead... it is alive and well in the here and now.

Parfums Isabey are available in select retail outlets (online and offline) internationally, and I sincerely hope for us Australian perfumisti, that they will soon be readily accessible to us here.

For more information on Parfums Panouge and Isabey, visit: www.panouge.com

Friday, 20 February 2015

Gorilla Perfumes and More: Lots Going On at LUSH


With their roots planted firmly in the 1970's, UK cosmetic outfitters LUSH are today a globally recognised brand. Perhaps first known for their eye-catching soaps sold by the pound, LUSH have since expanded their inventory to include (amongst other things) exciting handmade cosmetics, innovative hair-care products, jiggly shower jellies and precious perfume oils.
Seriously people! In 2015, no fully-fledged perfumisto should be recoiling from LUSH shopfronts, deterred by the pungent odours that spill from the door! In fact, any serious fragophile worth their salt might actually like to spend a little time in there.

Gorilla Perfume is an arm of the company that produces blended perfume oils sourced from all corners of the earth. In 2010, Sorcery of Scent blogged about Icon - a scent which truly won me over, but alas, was discontinued shortly thereafter. As it turns out, Icon was only one of a number of Gorilla Perfumes that enjoyed its 15 minutes of glory before being retired forever. In that regard, Gorilla Perfumes feels a bit renegade - a bit non-conformist... releasing perfumes in finite little 'volumes'... a "get-it-while-its-hot" approach to perfumery. This in itself can prove both frustrating and exhilarating: favourites can be suddenly pulled, but new editions come that beg to be explored.

In recent 'Volumes', yours truly has been swept away by two scents in particular; namely Sikkim Girls and Hellstone. The former is wanton blend of tuberose, frangipani, tea and jasmine... it feels devoutly heady and carnal, and is (at the time of posting) still a mainstay in the line. The latter, Hellstone, is a punchy, brawny blend of earthy vetiver, resinous opoponax and animalic cumin... it resides in a register of gruff masculine virility, and challenges the nose much in the same way other cumin-laiden favourites like Rochas Femme might. Alas, the latter has recently been retired, but not before yours truly panic-bought a bunch of bottles! The magic that ensues when this pair is layered must be experienced to be believed... we're talking Va-va-voom! With many perfumes to explore (and seemingly endless layering combinations), even a novice perfumista would find much to love in the current Gorilla Perfume inventory.


But the fun doesn't end with the perfume oils. LUSH, I've discovered, are being incredibly crafty with their product lines, creating perfumed products that truly innovate: chewable toothpaste tabs in a cornucopia of flavours, bronzing bars that you rub on skin, and shampoo solids for your hair. Perhaps one of my most favourite products to date is the fascinating "Copperhead" solid shampoo... a macaroon-sized disc that - if it weren't for its tremendously appealing perfume of earthy, smokey vetiver - might look a bit like a puck-sized cowpat. Its magic however, lies in it's composition... a blend of melted henna, arabica coffee grounds,vanilla absolute and roasted cocoa extract. These ingredients work together to produce a surprisingly generous lather, and add conditioning and lustre to the hair. With each disc lasting approximately 80 washes, I've resigned myself to buying a handful of these as gifts to give to friends.

Throwback time: I distinctly recall the first time I ever walked into a LUSH store... it was in Piraeus, Greece circa 1998 and Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I were lured through the doors the smell of soap cartwheeling on the air. Back then the store inventory comprised chiefly of their soaps - enormous rounds of the stuff that looked like iced cakes and amethyst stones and frozen water from the Aegean. Today, LUSH still produce exceptional handmade soaps, and my my most recent sample was their zesty "Sexy Peel" soap... a sun-coloured slice that smells of limoncello and citrus sorbet... arguably THE most appropriate thing to use in the heart of the West Australian summer. After rinsing with it, I found the top layer of peel acted as a gentle exfoliant, and my skin stayed perfumed with the pleasing odours of a delectable lemon curd or scrummy marmalade jam.

Suffice to say, LUSH are making quite a flutter. I can't help but tip my hat at a company that are pushing the limits of convention, and are offering a range of products that span from vegan to those that are ethically sourced. In this day and age, its refreshing to see a global entity return to time-honoured values whilst still staying relevant today.

LUSH have stores in most major cities and a comprehensive online presence. Visitors in Australia can visit lush.com.au or drop into a local Lush boutique. (If you're in Perth, the team in Plaza Arcade in the central CBD are knowledgable, genuine and attentive). For international visitors, visit: www.lush.com

Monday, 16 February 2015

QUICKIE REVIEWS: Guerlain: Teazzura, LPRN Ma Robe Petales, Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie

Whilst many are still nursing a Christmas hangover, Guerlain are already straight out of the gates with three brand new releases for Jan/Feb 2015! One by one, Maison Guerlain have sounded off with a new creation in three of their existing product avenues: the Aqua Allegorias, the principal parfums, and the parfums d'exception collections.


Teazzura (Aqua Allegoria)

Much as the name might suggest, Teazzura is an invigorating 'eau' that feels brisk, inviting and infinitely blue... perhaps an olfactory moment of pause beside a cerulean pool which is overlooking the sweeping Santorini caldera. Bristling lemon/bergamot bring a sense of Guerlain's 'signature' flight before a ripple of dry aromatic chamomile lends a husky, hay-like warmth to the mix. Fresh green-tipped leaves of tea counterbalance the citrus with a sedatory, calming effect and lend a sense of weightlessness and transparency. All this is awash over a considered base of white musk and calone, which together, suggest unspoiled waters lapping against the white-sand shores of a far-flung isle.
Teazzura is a lovely citrus / aromatic scent with an arresting aquatic slant... a sense of shimmering summer-blue found whilst holidaying at the equator.



La Petite Robe Noire - Ma Robe Pétales

Arguably Guerlain's most successful cash-cow in recent years, the LPRN collection never fails to enchant with its collectable editions rendered with a mere stroke of a brush. Ma Robe Pétales is the latest addition to the line which surprisingly side-steps the somewhat expected lip-smacking cherry-soaked red-berry signature of its elders and instead, takes a fanciful pirhouette across newly-introduced facets of mandarin, freesia and pistachio. This makes for quite a leap away from the LPRN that we are accustomed to, and towards something more spritely and fresh. There are occasional huffs of spring/summertime florals like rose, neroli and jasmine; but also a feeling of lantana (a very fragrant but poisonous flower that grows abundantly along footpaths - although this note is not actually listed). These lend a vivaciousness and lightness that is a welcome change from the existing LPRN olfactory benchmark. However, before you start to think it is sounding too far removed from the original, there is a familiar and endearing tonka / patchouli trail that is common to them both.
La Petite Robe Noire Ma Robe Petales will undoubtedly sell hand over fist... if not for its collectibility (and its potential brevity as a Guerlain flanker), but also for its perfume. A very solid and enchanting release.


La Plus Beau Jour de Ma Vie - (eau de parfum)

"Le Bouquet de la Mariée" is a brand new parfum extrait launched this month, presented in a 125ml quadrilobe flacon which represents the house's first commercial bridal perfume in over a century. The 60ml eau de parfum version - christened "The Most Beautiful Day of my Life" (above) - is prettiness personified with its monogrammed flacon and puffer... everything a bride could wish for! A delicate composition comprising opening notes of citrus, angelica and pink pepper, there is instantly a feeling of 'nude'... cashmere soft skin tones with perhaps a flush of timidness on the cheeks. A candied almond note not only lends a sense of celebratory tradition, but also a toothsome deliciousness, whilst pretty pink and white florals peer from beneath a veil of mouthwatering vanilla. The composition is underpinned by notes of white musks and patchouli: the perfect foundation upon which all others rest. 
This perfume's appeal extends well beyond potential brides-to-be, so it's billing as a wedding perfume can be no more than a marketing angle. With a similar structure and DNA, La Plus Beau Jour de Ma Vie could quite as easily take up place amongst her siblings in the L'Art et la Matière collection. One to be cherished, just as one should their partner.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Secret of Chanel No. 5



Perhaps no other perfume has penetrated the global psyche in the same way as Gabrielle Chanel's Chanel No. 5. Since its launch 94 years ago, this iconic scent has sold more than any other known, and it's minimalist packaging and clean-cut square-shouldered flacon are instantly recognisable in every part of the world. In her fascinating book "The Secret of Chanel No. 5 - The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous perfume", author and cultural historian Tilar Mazzeo casts a shining light on the No. 5 story from birth until today. Not only an absorbing read for perfume nerds like yours truly, this book will appeal to Francophiles and history buffs for it's exceptional research and intelligent writing. But I'm not here to review the book... rather, to pull from it's pages something of great interest to me.

I was shocked to learn that Gabrielle Chanel signed over 90% of the rights to her legendary perfume in 1924, just a few years after it was cast onto the world stage. With the remaining stakes split between Theophile Bader, then-owner of the prestigious Galleries Lafayette (20%) and Paul and Pierre Wertheimer, brothers and proprietors of the perfume giant Bourjois in the US (70%) Gabrielle later spent the rest of her days living with a pang of regret. In this engrossing account of what transpired thereafter, the solicitous management and marketing of Chanel No. 5 largely impacted our cultural cognisance of it today, almost 100 years later.

Here is where I wish to indulge myself and place a bookmark in the sweeping No. 5 timeline, if I may. One thing I found interesting about the marketing of Chanel No. 5 is how for almost 2 decades, it was regarded by many as completely inaccessible... a luxury item which, right up until the second world war, could only be afforded by the well-heeled. However, in the throes of WWII when resources were scant and little money remained to spend on lavish goods, the Wertheimer brothers made a risky decision to expand the perfume's distribution, offering smaller presentations at a lower price point so that it might appeal to a middle-class customer. A decision was made to extend availability to the hundreds of U.S Army Post Exchanges in the US and abroad; giving service men and women the opportunity to purchase Chanel No. 5 tax-free. At the time Gabrielle Chanel though it a preposterous idea and an erosion of it's exclusivity, but the sales it generated - and the new wave of No. 5 admirers it garnered - shot into the stratosphere.

Below, some striking images of WWII U.S Army Exchanges where No. 5 might have been distributed.


 Photo: Flickr
Photo: Vintage Postcards USA (ebay)
  Photo: Flickr

 Photo: Flickr

It is rare to discover an example of a wartime U.S Army issue of Chanel No. 5.
Here is such an example from the author's personal collection.



The back of the paper label reads:
"FOR RESALE U.S ARMY EXCHANGES ONLY"


I can't help but be charmed by such sweet keepsakes from a time of war. Perhaps it was purchased by a G.I, intended as a gift for his sweetheart?

Perhaps another image fitting of inclusion here, is one lifted from the official Chanel website. It depicts a line of U.S soldiers queuing up outside the flagship Chanel boutique on the rue Cambon in the French capital in 1945, only days after the liberation of Paris; a gathering of war-worn young men with only one purchase in mind before returning to their loved ones on the other side of the Atlantic. Chanel No. 5.



Such is the romance and classicism of Gabrielle Chanel's celebrated perfume. For as long as we draw breath, the world may never again see such an iconic name nor iconic scent weave its way into the tapestry of mankind. Chanel No. 5 charms us today, just as she did the heroes of yesterday.

For a look at Chanel's illustrious history, visit the illustrated timeline presented on "Inside Chanel".

Monday, 29 December 2014

NAOMI GOODSIR - Or du Sérail


I'm sure you'll forgive me for a moment for championing some home-grown talent, but watching Aussie milliner extraordinaire Naomi Goodsir's star rise in recent years has been an absolute joy to behold... particularly where her stunning fragrances are concerned. Goodsir has built her international reputation on the back of her quirky, newfangled and luxurious headwear which has had the spotlight trained to it since the early 2000's. More recently however, it has also been in part, for her parfums d'exception.

In October 2012, Sorcery of Scent reviewed the exquisite Bois d'Ascese and Cuir Velours - a pair of striking scents that marked Naomi's first foray into fine fragrance. In 2014, Parfums Naomi Goodsir have launched Or du Sérail - the latest in the trio which speaks of Asiatic opulence and richness.

Or du Sérail is a Bertrand Duchaufour creation with an enchanting Oriental slant... it captures the sensation of warm skin, hazy air and golden light. A citrusy, fruity opening tickles the nose with the scent of plump berries and tropical fruits... a cornucopia of dewy, nectar-like accords that stimulates one's saliva glands. Moments in, a huff of chocolatey / coconutty lavishness appears over a steadily-thickening seam of warm, ambery accords that swell from beneath. A sweet, heady wisp of ylang ylang imbues the heart with a staunchly sensual feel, whilst a swirling ribbon of golden brown tobacco and fragrant woods bring with it a bittersweet richness reminiscent of the air trapped in a hookah den. As Or du Sérail unfurls, one cannot help but be enchanted and consumed by its narcotising lavishness. It's trail lingers on skin for many hours - a caramel-like whisper left behind to beckon and cajole.

Hats off (no pun intended) to Naomi and creative director Renaud CoutaudierOr du Sérail takes its place amongst its older siblings as not only a very worth successor, but also one of the most interesting niche releases of this year.

Or du Sérail is available in Australia at Peony Haute Parfumerie in Melbourne, or internationally at e-tailers such as Ausliebezumduft.


Monday, 15 December 2014

PARFUMS ISABEY - Resurrection of an iconic House



On any given occasion, ask my wife what fragrance she is wearing, and 8 times out of 10, she will tell you "Isabey"... which (if we're to be honest) isn't 100% true. Her signature scent is in fact Isabey's "Gardenia", and has been since the early 00's. Why so vague then? you might ask. Well, her nebulous response is not for fear of divulging a closely guarded secret, but rather because both she and I hope that our non-definite response might compel the inquirer to take some time to investigate the *entire* Isabey line. Parfums Isabey was founded almost a century ago, but it is only in recent years that they have had the spotlight trained to them again. And deservedly so.

In 2009, I wrote this article on the renaissance of one of France's most luxurious perfume houses, Isabey, and the release of their then-new fragrance Fleur Nocturne. Isabey - a brand new company in the early 1920s - decided to exhibit their perfumes at the world famous Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1925 and - up against giants such as Houbigant and Coty - managed a coup... they were awarded a Gold Medal for their perfumes, packaged in enchanting flacons and exquisitely crafted perfume presentations. In the years following, Isabey continued to manufacture exceptional perfume bottles designed by some of Europe's biggest glassmakers: Rene Lalique, Julien Viard, Andre Jollivet and Ludwig Moser, and many still stand today as a yardstick against which many other luxurious perfume presentations are measured. (A single boxed Isabey flacon sold at auction in 2012 with the hammer price achieving a staggering €61,000; setting a world record in sales of antique perfume bottles).
Unfortunately, when war tore through Europe in 1944, Parfums Isabey vanished as so many others did. But this was not the end. In 2001, the Parisian House of Panouge resurrected this iconic brand, and bought it back from the foxed pages of history.

Parfums Panouge (PArfums NOUvelle GEneration) looked to the heritage and traditions of the House when approaching it's reinstitution. With careful consideration given not only to the reconstruction of the parfums, but also the flacons and packaging, Panouge have exhibited a keen understanding and sensitivity to Isabey's past. Perfumer Jean Jacques and artistic director Rania Naim observe these traditions and have created eye-catching and tactile presentations that tip their hat to the creations of yesteryear. To date there have been five Isabey perfumes reprised. They are:

Gardenia (2001 / commercially 2006)
Fleur Nocturne (2009) - originally launched as "Bleu de Chine" in the early 20th century.
L'Ambre de Carthage (2011)
La Route d'Emeraude (2012)
Lys Noir (2014)

In producing these scents, Jean Jacques echoes the sentiments of Robert Bienaimé - his predecessor and Isabey perfumer of almost a century ago. Here are some brief words about those that have not yet been featured on Sorcery of Scent.



GARDENIA

The perfume that was first revisited and reintroduced in an exquisite "pearl" limited edition flacon in 2001, later became a more accessible EDP.

A magnificent overture to femininity, Gardenia acts as a sumptuously velvety mantle composed of blossoming florals... ylang ylang, jasmine rose and iris feature over a glowing heart of gardenia. This scent feels warm and cashmere-like, but also has qualities that are luminous and radiant. Foundation notes of sandalwood and musks allow it to rest on skin for many hours.  Gardenia is an exemplary composition that will enchant and beguile... it is sensual, seductive and infinitely sophisticated.




L'AMBRE DE CARTHAGE

The first masculine launch which has enchanted both men and women alike. 

A scent that surprises with it's unconventional approach, L'Ambre de Carthage feels resolutely more aromatic than most 'ambers' with the inspired introduction of bergamot, osmanthus and jasmine tea. This unfolds over a considered blend of oliban, labdanum, sandalwood, patchouli and musk. Mercifully, L'Ambre de Carthage is totally devoid of the tooth-achingly sweet accord of vanilla which one tends to expect in an amber scent. By veering away from an expected 'cookie-cutter' treatment, the outcome is a classy, sensuous and profound take on a time-honoured theme. 





LA ROUTE D'EMERAUDE

Inspired by the "Emerald Triangle" of Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, the flacon and packaging has been designed with an oriental slant. 

With a brisk opening of citrus and sunny white florals, La Route d'Emeraude instantly evokes the sensation of solar warmth and the chirrup of cicadas ringing in the ears. Orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose blanket the perfume laterally, whilst a delicate pink blush of rose blossoms within. As the scent unfolds, lightly spiced, ambery, musky accords unfold on the skin, bringing with them a carnal, almost organic component. Elegant, opulent and alluring.


LYS NOIR

The most recent feminine release, presented in a beautiful silver satin-lined box harkens back to timeless perfume pillars of the past.

A scent originally launched in 1924, Lys Noir embodies the art deco age in appearance. Ageless and captivating this is a perfume with a hushed, intimate feel, like a sensual whisper in the ear from behind cupped hands. The oft-heady blooms of narcissus, lily and tuberose have been treated with a measured hand, and their heaviness diminished to just a tantalizing breath. The clever use of heliotrope, woods and musks brings complexity and balance. An extraordinary composition leaves Lys Noir dancing between being a voluptuous floral and a lip-smacking oriental. Mysterious and captivating, it is certain to turn heads.




In January 2015, Isabey will add three new novelties to the line; Les Perles d'Isabey. These are parfum extrait editions of Gardenia, Lys Noir and La Route d'Emeraude, presented in a pearl-shaped stoppered flacon and jewel box; exceptional pieces that echo those from Isabey's resplendent past.

For more information on Parfums Isabey, visit the Panouge website: www.panouge.com




Finally, for a walk through Isabey's history, and to marvel at the stunning perfume presentations of almost a century ago, I recommend you search for the book "Isabey Paris, Parfumeur depuis 1924" by Editions Gourcuff Gradenigo (French and English language).

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Late 19th / Early 20th Century photos of Vintage Perfumeries




Over a century ago
you commenced trading,
I deduce from these photos;
with sepia fading.
My gaze, it finds yours
but yours doesn't mine,
alas, we're fractured in two
by a fissure in time.

Sensible hemlines,
waistcoats and ties;
your buttoned existence,
lends pride to your eyes.
I feel I know you -
the person you were,
a purveyor of perfume,
dear madam, dear sir.

You'll never know me
nor imagine my world
but I stand here as tribute
to how the future unfurled.
Your chosen vocation
giving the gift of fine scent
has endured to this day
dear lady, dear gent.

But since your beginnings,
a colossus emerged...
a greedy behemoth,
how sales have surged!
Gone is the era
of graces and airs
your tailor-made service...
now nothing compares.

So wherever you're lying
I hope its at rest
dear mister, dear miss,
you couldn't have guessed.
There is no reverse,
our cards have been played,
and like a whisper of perfume,
we too, will fade.




Monday, 13 October 2014

QUICKIE REVIEWS: Guerlain: French Kiss & Santal Royal


New to the Guerlain "Les Elixirs Charnels" lineup in 2014 is the super-sexy French Kiss. Quintessentially French and quintessentially Guerlain, 'French Kiss' is a mouth-watering délice created by the hand of Thierry Wasser that typifies the series' fondness for confection-like sweetness.

French Kiss opens with an ambosial flight... jammy, pulpy raspberries meet the nose beneath an initial sparkle of citrus. The berries are deep red in hue, and their olfactory profile borders on that of sour cherry. An enchanting blend of violet and orris lend a faint lipstick vibe (no surprise really, given the scent was created to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Guerlain's Kiss Kiss lipstick line). These accords also lend a sense of powdery dryness, which calls to mind a baked meringue dusted with confectioner's sugar... fluffy and chewy on the inside, and chalky and brittle on the outside. A caramel-brown ribbon of heliotrope and vanilla add a creamy sweetness to the trail - the effect something like a ganache or melted French vanilla ice-cream.

A Fruity Floral with strong gourmand characteristics, French Kiss veers away from the pedestrian and feels very much the sequential successor in the Elixirs Charnels series. On paper, it may appear to have certain nuances plucked from the mega-successful commercial release La Petite Robe Noire, but the quality here speaks for itself. And lets face it, who here doesn't find glacé desserts and candied trappings kind of sexy?

* * * * *

This year Guerlain introduce a new scent intended for the Middle Eastern market; Santal Royal. With exclusivity limited to the new Salon de Parfums at Harrods in London (for the time being), Santal Royal is an ode to one of perfumery's highly regarded ingredients; sandalwood.

Presented in a handsome black glass flacon normally usually reserved for the "Les Eaux de Rituels" collection, and with a label design appended from early Shalimar powder boxes, Santal Royal cuts a striking new figure, whilst still acknowledging the House's prodigious heritage.

Santal Royal surprises with its opening which features (quite obviously) sandalwood, but if in these fleeting opening moments one can avoid being seduced by the darker, woodier aspects of the fragrance, the flight has something of a signature Guerlain treatment: wafts of bergamot and lavender tippy-toe over an aromatic slant of geranium and coriander. These nuances keep the scent uplifting and bright before - mere moments later -  richer, more complex notes emerge. Cinnamon and clove-like spices give rise to a thicker core of florals... rose, ylang-ylang and jasmine seem tickle my receptors. They are imbued with an off-the-rack oud accord (which, if I'm to be honest, I've smelled before in Armani's Cuir Noir and Puredistance Black), but it's earthiness does work well against the precious santal. A biting tartness is also present, suggestive of tanned leather, but it only makes its presence felt from time to time. A warmer foundation of amber, tonka and musks steer the scent back to a more familiar 'Guerlain' stable, before the fragrance vanishes from skin altogether a generous 8 -10 hours later.

I wonder if Santal Royal is just a one-off, or if it might lend itself to an Aqua Allegoria-type series for the middle east? If indeed the latter, I dearly look forward to what might come next.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Hermès: Hermessence - Cuir d'Ange

This October, we are honoured to receive more prose from the perfumed pen of Hermès nose Jean-Claude Ellena, as the house gives flight to Cuir d'Ange, the twelfth creation in its exclusive Hermessence line.

In 2014, Jean-Claude has found his muse between the pages of a book - one that has touched his life profoundly. Twentieth century French writer Jean Giono refers to 'angel leather' in a passage from the book "Jean le Bleu", and it was from there that Ellena's inspiration took seed.

"Two words, two smells: the smell of angels, the smell of leather, and already the name of a perfume".

In keeping with strong House traditions, Cuir d'Ange is devoutly Hermès through and through... it tips its hat to the historic Hermès scents of the 1950's, whilst in the same breath feels strikingly contemporary. If one were asked to trace its ancestry, one could not look past the cardamom-laiden citrus flight of Eau d'Hermès, and the delectable bittersweet leathery qualities of Doblis. Moving forward along the timeline, the floral/leather treatment of Kelly Caleche springs to mind, though Cuir d'Ange feels a little more mature and sophisticated. I wonder too, if Ellena has borrowed from his recent creation Épice Marine, perhaps with a rearrangement of it's salty ozonic accords included here to suggest vast and infinite space overhead. After all, is that not where angels reside?

Cuir d'Ange darts between the ethereal and the earthbound. It's enchanting florals - heliotrope, iris, violet and daffodil - steal glances through a more grounded leather/musky veil. The sandy pink calfskin lid and nude blush hue of the flacon communicate a certain tenderness... the napped suede caress of an angel, maybe.

Two words is all it took for Ellena to make tangible a scent that is genderless and appealing, and observes the traditions of the House. As an author of perfume, his words are his smells, and here he has written a poem of unearthly beauty and the sublime.

Cuir d'Ange is available in Australia at Hermes.com, and internationally online and in Hermès boutiques in 15ml, 100ml and 200ml sizes.


Monday, 22 September 2014

GUERLAIN CHRONICLES Part III - "An Afternoon in the Laboratory with Thierry Wasser".

It is a Monday afternoon, and Paris is unusually still. As Frédéric parks the blue beetle near the offices of Christian Dior on the rue de Teheran, there is barely a soul to be seen. I question him as to why it seems abnormally quiet. 
"It is week 33", he responds. 
It hadn't occurred to me, when Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I were planning our vacation, that week 33 - the middle week of August - is a common time for Parisians to vacate the bustle of the city and enjoy an excursion of their own. 
"My colleagues are all on holiday, so there will be no-one inside", Frédéric adds, as we walk from the car. "Oh, maybe Thierry will be… I don't know"
My stomach instantly fires with nervousness and the look on my face makes Frédéric laugh. With a swipe of his access card, the three of us enter the ground floor lobby of the building and cross the marbled hall toward a row of digital turnstyles. Fred acknowledges a blonde receptionist sitting behind a large marble desk branded with the word "Dior", and legitimises our presence as his guests. She smiles at him and waves us through politely. 
We take the lift to the sixth floor and as the doors roll open, Fred calls out down the empty corridor. 
"Boss, are you here?!"
"Yes!" comes the response from a room unseen.
Fred looks at me and smiles broadly. 
"Thierry is here", he says, relishing the terror-stricken change in my expression. He giggles impishly; his brown eyes are sparkling. My wife squeezes my hand. I am panicking inside.
I'm about to meet my idol.

* * * * *

As two separate entities under the LVMH umbrella, both Christian Dior and Guerlain share the same premises. The walls from foyer to rooftop are decorated with framed advertisements, hand-painted artworks and vitrines decorated with rare and coveted flacons iconic to both brands. But whilst part of the same consortium, it feels as though there's a clear partition between the two. I ponder for a moment how this setup works in a practical sense… I visualise two old housemates living in a share situation, striving to get on… each declaring a particular armchair in the den as their own, and stickering food in the pantry with their own name. Housemates they may be, but security is rigid and competition between the pair is visible.

* * * * *

My wife and I follow Frédéric to an end office and stand just outside the open door. I peer around the corner and see Master Perfumer Thierry Wasser and Fred greet one another. Thierry's desk is blanketed with sample vials and labelled mouilettes that have been pinned into finger-like fans. They wave at me hello. Thierry turns to us. He is wearing a monogrammed white lab coat, and he snatches his spectacles from his nose with one hand as he extends the other. His smile is broad and engaging. 
"Its a pleasure to meet you both", he announces… Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I are taken by his sincerity. Thierry's accent dances between French and American. "So I hear you are from Perth, Western Australia?". 
We respond affirmatively, and Thierry mentions the sustainable plantations of Santalum album growing in the tropical north region of Western Australia, and in the same breath, his experiences with Boronia oil - a product native to our state. We are impressed and delighted at his knowledge of the raw materials in the region.
We talk for a few moments, and Thierry asks if Fred will be showing us the Guerlain laboratory. Fred responds in French, and Thierry tells us "Go right ahead, I'll follow you in a moment"
As we are led down another hallway, my wife and I speak in glances. "He's coming with us?!" I ask her telepathically. 
"I think so", she responds, without moving a muscle. 
Our inner conversation is intercepted by Frédéric. He smiles and responds as if he had overheard our mental discussion. "So Thierry will spend some time with us. What an honour", he says, as we slip through a pair of glass sliding doors. 
"An honour indeed", I reply.

* * * * *

Frédéric's work space is in a large room, sectioned into four distinct work stations. Horizontal glass shelves hold hundreds of essence bottles - mostly for show - and the back wall is lined with labelled amber glass flacons. 
"Here is where I work", Fred announces with a sweep of his hand. 
A large bench extends around 3 sides of his station with refrigerators and cupboards below. Several expensive weighing instruments are visible, and a rotating tiered carousel of Guerlain bottles catches my eye. The space is neat, clinical and largely unembellished. Two very large, very conspicuous pin-back buttons are displayed on Fred's desk, both depicting Thierry Wasser, presumably visiting Guerlain's suppliers of raw materials. Thierry's comical expressions make me laugh.
 "What are these?", I ask.
"This is Thierry on location. This year, I wore this one to the Olfactorama awards ceremony of Le Prix du Patrimoine Olfactif when Mitsouko was honoured for its beauty", he responds. I laugh, because each of the buttons are easily the size of a lunch plate, and I can visualise it pinned to Fred's lapel.

Thierry walks into the lab and perches himself on a bench, his legs swinging over the edge like a marionette. I see miniature versions of Fred's buttons pinned to his lab coat that I hadn't noticed before. A man with a sense of humour, I reason.
We strike up a conversation about Guerlain and the work he and Frédéric are doing to preserve the House's legacy.
"I am in an extraordinary position", he says. "I have a very good relationship with this guy…". Thierry gestures towards a large artistic illustration of Jean-Paul hanging on the wall. 
"He is very dear to me, and he is the direct bridge between today and the 1800's. His knowledge, experience and advice is incalculable".
We discuss the Guerlain timeline, and how the decades have impacted upon the classics, such as Shalimar, Jicky and Mitsouko. Thierry affirms that seasonal variation and restriction of materials have all played a part, but also declares that the production of several perfume bases used in a handful of Guerlain creations - once sourced from companies such as Givaudan - were simply stopped cold. 
"This is why, for instance, we do not have certain perfumes anymore, or perfumes in certain concentrations... Parure, for example". 
We discuss sourcing raw materials. "This is like a full time job", he says with a smile. "The importance of partnerships is paramount… the relationships we have with our suppliers and the transparency of sharing our knowledge". 
Thierry goes on to illustrate his point. "Guerlain has several suppliers for Vetiver, for example. When we are working with remote communities in these regions, we share our knowledge so that both we and they will benefit. What we have learned, for instance, is that soil that has grown vetiver has a higher yield when replanted with corn and certain other produce. In some of these communities, it is therefore in their best interests to plant vetiver - which we can use - so that the soil is richer for their future harvests. This type of knowledge comes through years of trial and error, and from this guy", he says, pointing to Jean-Paul once more. 
Frédéric is quick to hand each of us several mouillettes soaked in vetiver oils sourced from India, Haiti and Indonesia. The olfactory profiles are profoundly different. A silence falls over the laboratory as we all sniff and contemplate. 

Thierry explains the importance of sourcing ingredients of the highest quality. He asks Fred to prepare two blotters for each of us, soaked in lavender. "One is lavande, and the other lavandin", he says. We sniff the mouillettes and the dissimilarity is obvious. 
"Lavande is so French, that when you uncork the bottle, it speaks with a French accent", Thierry says, thickening his French pronunciation so that the light American twang is gone. 
"Lavandin is a hybrid, and is used by rival companies and passed off as lavender". 
We agree that the lavandin smells resolutely camphorous. 
"How can this not have an effect on the end result?", he asks. "Guerlain uses lavande", he says, before screwing the lid tightly on the aluminium canister. 
To further illustrate the contrasts between regional raw materials, Fred produces three more cards soaked with oils. Thierry continues. "These are the same variety of rose… one produced in Iran, one in Turkey, and one in Bulgaria". 
We sniff, and I instantly recognise the Bulgarian variety used in Guerlain's Idylle and La Petite Robe Noire. We are enchanted by the contrasts. 
The room is heavy with contemplation and Thierry breaks the silence by asking if we smoke. We decline, but follow him and Fred to a narrow balcony overlooking a central courtyard. The balustrade is lined with potted citrus plants which act as a screen. Thierry tells us a story about a man who was arrested attempting to climb over the rooftop and into the courtyard a while ago. "But this place is more secure than Fort Knox", he declares, and I'm sure he isn't kidding. 
From this vantage point, we peer down several stories and see two Dior employees sitting at a table, reviewing product artwork. 
"Oh, lets see what Dior's new makeup line will look like!" Thierry whispers playfully. We all laugh aloud, and then conspicuously avert our eyes. Thierry points to a small row of potted plants against the wall by the door. 
"I'm furious!" he says, looking at Fred in disbelief. "In these pots I am trying to grow sandalwood… the other day the gardener yanked out my one-and-only Mysore seedling, thinking it was a weed!" 
My wife and I lean over the pots to inspect the plants closely. 
"Touch those leaves", Thierry says, pointing to a low bushel of Mimosa pudica. We caress the plant with the tip of our finger and gasp as its leaves shrink away from our touch. Thierry and Fred enjoy our reaction. For a moment I reflect upon what a unique and unexpected experience we have been blessed with… larking at the Guerlain laboratory, like two kids in a candy shop. 
With cigarette break over, we return to the lab.

We are asked if there are any specific materials we would like to sniff, and I respond immediately. "Ambergris".
"Ah! Whale puke!" Thierry says, with a laugh. Fred produces a tincture for us to sniff as Thierry reaches for his smartphone. He pulls up a photo of a lump of ambergris sitting on a scale, and informs us it is a piece Guerlain secured some time ago. The digital display in the picture reads well over 3 kilograms. Thierry disappears momentarily and returns with a screwtop plastic container holding several tomato-sized lumps of the real thing. Mrs Sorcery of Scent and I take one in our hands. It is more porous than I'd imagined, and it feels semi-firm… I squeeze it and liken its tension to that of a squash ball. I hold it to my nose and it smells oceanic, balsamic and slightly sweet. Meanwhile, Frédéric has materialised several more containers: one holding deer musk pods, and one, castoreum pods. We find the furry musk pods are odourless, and Thierry explains they first must be split to retrieve the fragrant grains inside. The castoreum is pungent and leathery. We replace the cap tightly, and Fred proffers us a small lidded container. 
"Civet paste" he says, and he and Thierry exchange knowing looks. 
A deft interpreter of glances too, I surmise that we are about to be served our final exam at the School of Raw Materials. We sniff and my wife recoils immediately. The gentlemen laugh. I linger for a while and take in its odour. 
"I smell Jicky!" I proclaim, and the pair grin. Fred retrieves a pair of aluminium canisters from a refrigerator and dips a fresh mouillette into each of them. 
"Voilà, castoreum and civet", he says. I sniff them and recognise them from what I'd just smelled.
"Are these tinctures?", I ask. The pair exchange glances again. 
"Non. These are our reconstructed civet and castoreum", Thierry reveals. "These are the culmination of 2-3 years work for us. We strive to be as faithful as we can to the raw ingredient… we take it very seriously".
I am astonished that I am smelling a blend of synthetic molecules, and struggle to reach for a divergence from the real components. 
"This is amazing!" I declare, and Mrs Sorcery of Scent agrees. In this very moment, I grasp the efforts Wasser and Sacone have gone to, to preserve the Guerlain legacy… one solitary and singular component at a time. Their recent efforts in re-tracing the Guerlain timeline by recreating known and lost Guerlain perfumes from the 1800s up until the 1950s (precisely as the original formulas dictate) has given them a true insight into the Guerlain DNA. Moving forward, I can't help but feel the heritage of the House is secure.
My wife mentions her love of iris, and Fred presents orris butter for us to sniff before the words even leave her mouth. "Apres l'Ondee and L'Heure Bleue!", I sigh, and Thierry acknowledges my conclusions. Again, I am taken by the quality of the ingredients and how they translate directly into the perfumes.
The conversation shifts to the different international markets, and Thierry takes some moments to describe where Guerlain are focusing their efforts. 
"Guerlain is infinitely French, but of course there are other areas we would like to penetrate"
I mention Australia (of course), Russia, China and the Middle East over the course of the conversation, but Thierry doesn't give too much away… just a whisper of something over the horizon in the United Arab Emirates.

Conscious that we have consumed almost 2 and a half hours of Theirry's time, we begin  to wrap things up, but not before mentioning the new launch of L'Homme Ideal, and the success of La Petite Robe Noire. I ask how he feels about working with both the old and the new. 
"Today, we are sitting on 2 chairs - the heritage chair, and the new chair - and both feel somewhat uncomfortable", he confesses. "Whilst we have an obligation to lovers of our classic perfumes, we have also to recognise that we must do things very differently today. Marketing, of course, plays a big part in what we do. No matter what, we must always answer to LVMH". 
I find Thierry's response both sincere and somewhat reassuring. I have seen first hand the efforts he and Fred are going to in order to maintain the House's tradition, whilst at the same time, one cannot deny the success of scents like La Petite Robe Noire as a product of the money-backed marketing engine of LVMH. To my mind, there is a place in 2014 (and beyond) for both.

With time no longer on our side, we slowly leave the laboratory and retreat to the hallway again. We admire exquisite Guerlain pieces from Frédéric's personal collection that have been locked away in glass vitrines before returning to Thierry's office where we exchange our reluctant goodbyes. Our enduring impression of him is of a man who is charming, articulate, intelligent and commanding… with a devilish sense of humour to boot. As we take the lift back to the lobby and wave goodbye to the patient blonde receptionist, I reflect upon the experience. Frédéric and Thierry have demonstrated how they strive to uphold the Guerlain legacy, whilst submitting to the ebb and flow of a new age. 

To all my readers; to the perfumisti, the bloggers, the skeptics and the Guerlainophiles, I can sincerely state - hand over heart - that Wasser and Sacone live and breathe this brand. Their endeavours not only serve to honour Guerlain's illustrious past, but to shift with the times as modern civilisation evolves. 
Maison Guerlain could not be in better hands. Period.