So few successful perfume houses have emerged out of Scandinavia, which to me - someone living in Denmark - is something of a mystery. One might reason that Scandinavia is perhaps best recognised for its simple, clean, unembellished style and one might further suggest that perfume (a rather complex creation), somehow contradicts the widespread notion that function is perhaps more esteemed than excess here in the Great North. Fortunately, Agonist Parfums, based in Stockholm Sweden, is the second major Nordic brand to enter the international fragrance market in recent years, and is one that represents a marriage between modern Swedish handcrafts and perfumes that are exceptional in nature.
In close collaboration with professional perfumers in Grasse, Agonist is a new Scandinavian fragrance brand launched in November 2008 that creates gender-neutral eau de parfums that embody a sense of Nordic climates and cultures: full of dramatic contrasts and artistic exactness. Agonist Parfums' bond with with glass artist Åsa Jungnelius who works with Sweden's most prestigious, oldest glassworks Kosta Boda has resulted in stunning artistic interpretations of each fragrance in glass. Her unique flacon designs are individually fashioned for Agonist in Kosta Boda's raging furnaces.
To date, Agonist have released 2 perfumes. The first, Kallocain (2008), was presented in a stunning black glass flacon with tapering neck - a design that was exhibited worldwide and is now a part of the permanent collections at the Röhsska Design Museum in Sweden. The second, named The Infidel (2009) was originally presented as a limited edition figural pair of artglass flacons, and recently re-realised in stunning vermillion red.
If the truth be told, prior to my sampling, I could not have imagined the elixir that any of these remarkable vessels held. Perhaps I had expected something typically Scandinavian: understated, architectural, sanitary; but I most certainly was not prepared for my experience with The Infidel. This perfume reveals a dignified citrus opening with flourishes of semi-transparent black currant, but almost immediately steps off the abyss and plunges towards a fathomlessly deep heart of aromatic cumin. Under normal circumstances, I might have winced at such a heavy-handed use of cumin, but here it resides amongst a narcotising scattering of aromatic florals, which do well to transform the sweaty skank into something camouflaged and hypnotising. As the cumin continues to establish itself, a blossoming magnolia accord reaches out with its powdery pink tendrils over a creamy tonka core. Some time later, there is a sensation of growing heat that presses up from below... an insolent ember of amber and rockrose that provide a residual background warmth. The Infidel as it's name suggests, is a non-conformer. This perfume represents all that I had not imagined I might experience when applying it to my wrists. It is rich, spectacular and imposing.
The Infidel continues to evolve over many hours, and at some point, doubles back on itself. Where most perfumes work through their olfactory pyramid from top, to middle, to base; I felt as though after a time, it worked its way back again. Nine hours after application, the amber and cumin have dissipated and I am left with the faintest huff of floral greens on my skin.
Whilst many perfumistas might argue that the Kosta Boda presentations are inessential (and many glass collectors feel the same about the perfume), I feel Agonist have succeeded in unifying two spectacular works of art.
Visit the Agonist Parfums website for more information on the brand, and how to order Agonist products.