Thursday, 31 December 2009

MM - MMIX: brief thoughts


Tonight we come to the end of the "naughties" and usher in a brand new year with a full moon - something we are not likely to experience again until 2028. As we step across this invisible threshold, I am puzzled as to what this new decade will be referred to as: the "tens" perhaps, or maybe "teens"? More so, I ponder the current trajectory of the perfuming arts, and wonder where it will have taken us ten years from now. Much like orbiting celestial bodies, I expect we might come full-circle again, doubling-back on ourselves in a similar fashion as we have in decades gone by.

The naughties saw us shift away from the androgynous, unembellished unisex styles of the 90's and return to excess and 'maximalism' in perfumery - a harkening back to the powerhouse styles of the 80's complete with overindulgent packaging and lavish bottle designs. Again, perfume followed trend as style-sultan Tom Ford and others reintroduced Hollywood glam and 80's immoderation to fashion. The naughties was a decade where we looked over our shoulders to reinterpret and reinvent the past. In addition, echoes of the roaring 20's and art deco themes resonated with the prolific reintroduction of chypre-style perfumes. In the last ten years, a marked return to traditional values and time-honoured muses prevailed. Perhaps the decade to come will see us oppose this inclination once again and veer off in favour of a more neutral, epicene approach to perfumery.

It has become increasingly clear to me that innovation in this industry is a difficult thing to achieve. Few have managed to accomplish it and contribute something that severs the time-space 'loop' that sees us parrot ourselves every twenty or thirty years. Perhaps we are teetering on the edge of such a breakthrough. I guess only time will tell.

Happy 2010.
Dimitri.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Isabey: Fleur Nocturne


Les Parfums d'Isabey was founded in Paris in 1924 by Maurice Loewe - backed by the Rothschild family - to produce high-quality perfumes in luxury packaging. It was named after Isabey, an early 19th century artist. It became best known perhaps for its scents Gardenia, (created in 1924 and revived again in 2002), and Bleu de Chine, created in 1925.
Now, in 2009, Bleu de Chine has experienced a revival of its own, though now under the name Fleur Nocturne, as the original name has since been trademarked by another company. In 1925, the amethyst-coloured parfum flacon designed by Julien Viard and created by Ludwig Moser, was a much sought-after luxury item. The design was later re-realised in a cylindrical moulded glass eau de toilette presentation, reminiscent of a Chinese lantern with ornate embellishments in relief. This flacon is the basis for the modern 2009 interpretation which is rendered in smooth indigo blue glass. In 1941 the company was acquired by Marcel Guerlain (no relation to "that" Guerlain) and now Isabey is owned by Panouge Parfums, Paris.


French perfumer Jean Jacques is the nose responsible for appending and reinterpreting the olfactory markers of the original release, and giving it a modern-day vernacular. Here, Jacques presents us with a dramatic floral arrangement with semi-sweet, nectar-like accords. Whilst the opening of Fleur Nocturne is delicately perfumed with soft white peaches and apricot blossoms, it is the heart of white flowers that forms the decadently sumptuous basis of this scent. Magnolias feature here in a similar fashion as they do in Acqua di Parma's Magnolia Nobile, however the heady perfume of jasmine swells in the air, just as their star-shaped blossoms do on the vine just before nightfall. A very spectacular gardenia note serves as the red thread that ties this fragrance to Isabey's Gardenia: a scent that is cherished for its lavish and masterful portrayal of this flower. A tender vein of vanilla meanders throughout the composition which not only acts as a fixative, but also as a supporting accord to the flourishing florals. The press notes accompanying the perfume suggest that patchouli also lends itself to the framework of this fragrance, but my nose simply doesn't smell it.

There is no doubt in my mind that Fleur Nocturne is probably quite removed from the original Bleu de Chine. Whilst I feel it may flash a secretive wink at Isabey's esteemed best-selling perfume of the 1920's, I do feel it very much in the here and now. Still, one cannot fault the efforts of a perfume house that is willing to strike a balance between tradition and modern reinterpretation. Just as the beautiful flacon has evolved over the course of a century, I suspect so too has the perfume. Without the honour of sampling Bleu de Chine however, this is pure speculation.

Isabey Fleur Nocturne will appeal to those who appreciate twenty-first century splendour with a pinch of sentimental whimsy. It is available in 50ml size for €129, from www.ausliebezumduft.de. Direct link here.


Saturday, 19 December 2009

Monocle x Comme des Garcons Scent Two: Laurel


As tends to be the case with many Comme des Garcons perfume collaborations, the partnership with British business, culture and design magazine Monacle has proven to be a triumph. The limited edition 2008 fragrance release Hinoki put them on the map, and now in December 2009 the alliance introduces their second scent to date: Laurel.

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu (the nose behind Hinoki and fragrances from the Etat Libre d'Orange portfolio) was recruited a second time to give life to Laurel - a scent that is inspired by the fertile Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Laurel opens with a blast of vivacious, aromatic green which is extremely sappy/resinous in nature. I liken the smell to the odour that is transferred to your fingertips when you crush the needle-like leaves of cypress pine in your hands. It is a sharp, sweet odour shared by many conifers, that also embodies the scent of the softwood at its heart. Earlier this year I blogged about Aleppo Oil sourced from Pinus halepensis - a pine species found across the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, Lybia and Syria, which has a very specific smell (one that is quite lemony in nature, and less "glacé" than many other resinous pines). To my nose, Laurel seems to embody this sensation of Aleppo, and those familiar with Aleppo soap products from Damascus will easily be cognizant of it here. It is also safe to say that laurel plays a starring role in this fragrance, and it does indeed - the distinct aroma of dried bay leaves is unmistakable here, and adds to the exotic eastern feel of the perfume. It has been cleverly married however, to other accords that pay hommage to this special part of the world. The Al Shouf Cedar Reserve covers about 5% of the overall area of Lebanon so it is only fitting that Laurel includes a cedar component. Fortunately though, it seems well removed from "stock standard" cedar that has pervaded perfume releases in the past few years.

In contrast to this evergreen characteristic, and perhaps what I find most interesting about Laurel is how it prickles at the back of the nose with what I can only describe as a "white pepper" vibe which almost triggers a sneeze. I take delight in this physiological response, which I also experience when sniffing other scents like L'eau Bleue d'Issey and Eau de Sisley 3. This stimulating vein of pepper tingles over earthy patchouli, a wonderful resinous frankincense and warm amber accords to create a perfume that aligns my nose and draws my mind's eye once again to the colourful Near East.

Laurel is a tenacious and spirited eau de toilette that has a rather linear composition (as one has come to expect from Comme des Garcons) and lasts well over nine hours on my skin.
If the union between Comme des Garcons and Monacle continues to flourish, then I already anticipate a third release, every bit as spectacular as this one.


Thursday, 17 December 2009

Reliable Online E-tailers


Sorcery of Scent occasionally receives emails or comments asking me to make personal recommendations for reliable online fragrance e-tailers. Whilst bricks-and-mortar stores can provide you with the opportunity to sample scents and enjoy the tactile aspect of holding the flacon and packaging in your hands, e-tailers offer accessibility to scents that might otherwise be impossible to source in your area. It is wise to embrace both online and offline methods to source your smellies and to ensure you're getting the best deal.
As far as e-tailers are concerned, there are two main options:

1. Online Discounters, and
2. Online Retailers

1. Online discounters provide a shopfront in which mainstream and (occasionally) niche perfumes can be purchased at a competitive price to the same products in bricks and mortar stores. There are often excellent deals to be had, but the only downside is that you never quite know how "fresh" their inventory is. A vast number of discounters offer testers, damaged stock and dead stock - perhaps items that have been difficult to shift in stores and have been stored for a number of years. Some of these online stores are hit and miss, so its important to find one that clearly disclose if they are selling testers, unboxed items and so on.
www.strawberrynet.com is an online discounter that ships internationally that I can recommend. I have shopped with them for many years, and their generous loyalty program can offer you attractive bonuses. They are just beginning to add niche lines to their range such as Creed, Floris, Nasomatto, Serge Lutens and so on. I have also had successful and reliable transactions with www.directcosmetics.com - a discounter operating out of the UK.

2. Online retailers include websites created specifically by individual perfume houses, and internet shopfronts that offer perfumes at "standard" retail (non discounted) prices. As a consumer, one might wonder why one would wish to shop at full retail price for goods that you might well find on a discounted website (and pay for postage to boot!)... well, the upside is that buying direct from manufacturer's websites can almost always guarantee the product is fresh and uncompromised, and you will more often than not have the opportunity to sample other scents from their line. Perfume houses often reward customer loyalty for buying direct with catalogues and samples and small gifts. Joining the Thierry Mugler Circle, for example ( http://www.thierrymugler.com ), will mean you will be sent generous samples of new releases, digital media items such as perfume-related CD roms, and comprehensive literature.
Other online shopfronts such as http://www.ausliebezumduft.de and http://www.essenza-nobile.de - both sites I strongly recommend for European perfumistas - cater to an international clientele, and build their business by offering a staggering range of niche and hard-to-find fragrances, and also offer generous free sampling programs. Some will also provide e-vouchers which will furnish the customer with 'cash' to put towards their purchases. http://www.luckyscent.com is another reputable e-tailer that ships internationally, and is based in the USA.

Whilst there are a vast number of e-tailers on the internet, it is always good practice to do your homework in order to determine whether a specific supplier is reliable and trustworthy. Customer feedback presented on "discounter" sites for example, is not always dependable as there is a slim chance it might well have been fabricated. A good resource available to cross check e-tailers and legitimate customer feedback can be found here. Basenotes is the leading internet perfume resource with over 35,000 members and 66,000 consumer reviews.

Ultimately, a little leg-work, combined with some hours spent on the internet should provide you with a sound idea of what is available to you both locally and in cyber-space. Armed with this information, I wish you many enlightened perfume purchases.

Footnote: At the time of publishing this blog, Sorcery of Scent has no affiliation with any of the e-tailers listed above.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Calé Fragranze d'Autore - Mistero


Calé is an Italian company with a fifty year history selecting and distributing niche perfume products, whom - through a dense network of personal relationships - have harnessed their increasingly intimate knowledge of the art of perfume composition and gone on to create something special. Calé Fragranze d'Autore (Calé Fragrances of the Author) is the brainchild of President Silvio Levi; a man whose passion and love for artistic perfumery has motivated him to create perfumes inspired by short excerpts from stories. His creations are "olfactory poetry", aimed at people who like to "listen" to perfumes and follow the narrative that unfolds from within. Italian nose Maurizio Cerizza is the perfumer chosen to interpret Levi's stories and transform them with mastery and elegance into stirring perfumed poems.
I have fallen for more than a few of the scents from this line - the first of which I'd like to highlight is Mistero.

Classified as a Woody Aromatic men's scent, Mistero offers a warm complexity which transcends many offerings available in the current niche market. From the outset, the opening is fabulously peppered with the smokey, balsamic woodiness of agarwood which melds with a comforting semi-sweet distilled rum accord. I encounter a sense of familiarity here - not a likeness to another perfume, but rather an impression of having come inside from a campfire that has been dampened by rain, with the smell of smoke and rainwater soaking through my wool jumper. I also glean a sense of enjoying a nice boozy nightcap whilst sitting by a woodstove waiting for my clothes to dry. This underlying narrative is the olfactory tale that I begin to build upon as the author of my own olfactory experience.


What I find interesting about Mistero, are the unique and unusual notes which, at a glance, might seem rather arbitrary.

Head notes Rum, Rhubarb, Mint

Middle notes Pimento, Elemi, Saffron, Basmati Rice

Bottom notes Oakwood, Agarwood, Labdanum, Musk


The bottom line is that, despite the somewhat unconventional inclusions of rhubarb, pimento and basmati rice, they all work profoundly well together. The rhubarb and mint accords in the top notes lend a well-rounded zippy crispness which all-too-often in perfumery, is usually attributed to essences from the citrus family. Here they furnish the opening spritz with a mouth-smacking tartness. The saffron is ever-present, but achieved with a very measured hand, and the basmati rice note is truly unique - it offers a starchy (almost lactic) accord which successfully rounds off some of the sharpness in the head notes. The pimento emits a certain ambient warmth, but the fundamental and (to my mind) most enjoyable aspect of this edt is the woody, musky base. The agarwood has a smokey, ever-so-slight medicinal quality which works well with the oakwood, resinous labdanum and a very visceral musk.
Mistero prickles and glows like campfire embers, whilst at the same time, offers olfactory sustenance through the clever incorporation of familiar, almost edible accords. It is important to note however, that the final mix is far removed from those scents classified as gourmand. I find this marriage of components extraordinary.

Silvio Levi and Maurizio Cerizza may be the very adept authors of this fragrance, but part of its appeal is the imagery it evokes in one's own mind's eye. It draws upon your inner reflections, memories, emotions, and associations. Mistero is stimulating and unexpected - much like the pages of a good book.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Costume National Homme

Few scents I have anticipated more in 2009 than the recent offering from Italian apostles of au courant, Costume National. Costume National Homme marks a departure from the house's unisex/androgynous fragrance portfolio by offering for the first time in their 21 year history, a scent aimed directly at the male market - and I, for one, am excited.
So few men's scents these days are created in an eau de parfum concentration, but here Ennio Capasa and team have responded to the pooled male petition for scents that are far from fleeting. What I notice first about the bottle and packaging is that all the signature CN aesthetic sensibilities are present and accounted for; a restrained neutral colour palette, architectural lines, and new innovation - all utilised with understated intent. Innovation comes in the form of an invisible tube to draw up the juice: something never seen before.


When applied, Costume National Homme surprises with a mouth-watering opening of citrus, patchouli and cinnamon/nutmeg, which is very addictive in nature. As the alcohol evaporates, I get a lovely warm "peach cobbler" vibe and enjoy for a time, the lip-smacking aroma of oven-baked comfort foods. Ten minutes in, and the saccharine edge tapers away to reveal the lovely bittersweet prickle of clove and husky woods. Here is where this scent hits its stride, evolving from something with rich gourmand nuances to a fragrance with a sophisticated spicy heart. Wisps of sweet-scented sandalwood materialise slowly from a resinous/ambery labdanum base (in fact, one that is not too far removed from Zara's Ambar). Over the course of the drydown I also observe curious tendrils of what I can only describe as 'geraniumint' reaching forward and then receding; fleeting moments akin to Frederic Malle's Geranium Pour Monsieur, perhaps. It may be no coincidence that Dominique Ropion is the author behind both perfumes.

Hours later and CN Homme is still going strong... Im pleased to say the promise of increased longevity that this eau de parfum can offer does not disappoint. My skin remains perfumed with earthy patchouli and a scattering of fragrant wood shavings: perhaps shavings struck from a knotty clump of overgrown herbs that have long since gone to seed.

I will be the first to admit that, on the whole, I enjoy much of what Costume National as a fashion, design and perfume house has to offer. Costume National Homme is not at all out of place in their current perfume portfolio, and might well attract a new unisex fanbase.
For now however, I cant think of a better scent to wear over the Holidays.