Friday, 20 May 2011

New Mona di Orio "Les Nombres d'Or": Vétyver, Vanille, Tubéreuse and Oud

The perfumes launched under the Mona di Orio name are arguably amongst the finest you will ever find. After all, the French perfumer after whom the brand is named was the protégée of master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska. With a stunning portfolio of perfumes already to her credit and an insight into the art of perfume-making that few will ever attain, Mona di Orio is now set to add four new fragrances to her "Les Nombres d'Or" range.

Based on the principle of "the golden ratio"- a precise mathematical formula used by artists for centuries - "Les Nombres d'Or" is a line of perfumes that interpret a single scent, but in a most unconventional way. Cuir, Ambre, and Musc were welcomed to the world stage in 2010; each of them a unique study of raw components used traditionally in perfume. This year, Mona introduces four new scents to the "Les Nombres d'Or" library: Vétyver, Vanille, Tubéreuse and Oud.

Vétyver is a verdantly green scent with zesty ginger and grapefruit in the opening which immediately suggests a vetiver fragrance with solar radiance. It has a lightly aromatic/spiced heart of nutmeg and sage, though these exist chiefly to play off the dustiness of the vetiver and intensify its lovely leafiness. A light musk component brings this perfume a fresh, semi-diaphanous crispness that I find irresistible.
Notes include: Ginger, Grapefruit, Nutmeg, Vetiver Bourbon, Labdanum, Musk, Patchouli, Sage.

Vanille is a very atypical portrayal of a traditional perfume theme. Much like mint, vanilla can prove to be a tricky component to work into a formula without it taking over. Here, Mona di Orio has created a striking blend which paints an exciting abstract portrait of vanilla. It has a delicate composition, opening with bitter orange and petitgrain but with a pale chocolate-brown ribbon of guaiac wood, rum absolute, sandalwood, rooty vetiver, clove and leather meandering beneath. A delectable creaminess comes through with sandalwood, tonka, and the vanilla from Madagascar, but surprisingly, Vanille is not very gourmand in nature. It is elegant and sophisticated. This is unorthodox in style, and an extremely compelling blend.
Notes include: Bitter orange, Rum, Petitgrain, Clove, Vanilla, Guaiac Wood, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Ylang-Ylang, Tonka, Leather, Musk, Amber.

Tubéreuse is a soliflore interpretation which has been done with a great degree of sensitivity. Often known for its polarising effect in perfume, Mona has created this perfume around a tuberose absolute from India. Joyful and well-behaved, this tuberose is blended with spicy pink pepper and sunny bergamot which bring a spirited 'spring-time' vibe to the fragrance. It feels just like the blossoms are turning to face the morning sun as it climbs in the sky. Not a hint of headiness or dirt... but a very fetching floral.
Notes include: Pink pepper, Bergamot, Tuberose absolute, Benzoin, Heliotrope, Cashmeran.

All of these scents are beautiful renderings in perfume, but I am admittedly wholly and completely taken by Oud.

For perfumistas who have never smelled true oud, you're in for both a treat and an education. Forget the M7, the Montales and the tasteless Bond No9's... Mona di Orio's Oud is set to become the yardstick against which all other mainstream and niche 'oud' releases in the western world ought to be measured. Mona dared introduce pure oud to a western perfume, and it is an absolute triumph!

Oud is a beautiful and mysterious fragrance which opens with a brief note of mandarin before the oud is unveiled... it reveals itself much like a rare Arabian treasure might from beneath an ancient magician's blanket. It has an infinitely unique odour profile - one which is both woody and animalic, with deeply earthy, balsamic qualities. Contrary to many perfumes inspired by the middle east (and in particular those using oud), there is surprisingly no rose used in Mona's mix... instead, her oud is flanked by jasmin and osmanthus, all of which diffuse through a deeply resinous opoponax core. The composition is spiritually intoxicating, and one finds themselves drawn into an imagined landscape of full rising desert moons, flickering fires and colourful twirling Dervishes. An ambery, mossy base provides a rich, enduring backbone to the perfume, and ensures well-above average longevity on your skin.

Oud was a perfume Mona di Orio was not entirely enthusiastic about making - I assume in part because of the prolific number of oud releases in recent years. However, her middle-eastern clientele demanded it, and I for one am thrilled that she relented. Mona's sensitive approach to her craft and her unique intuition have once again resulted in a perfume that can easily be measured against the masters.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Jacomo Art Collection: #08

After 40 years of perfume-making to modest international acclaim, US perfume house Jacomo enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in 2010 with the launch of their colourful Art Collection series: a trio of perfumes launched to explore an olfactory dialogue between perfume and art. The fragrant threesome have each been assigned a number, and both individually and collectively offer something unique in the Jacomo gallery of scent.

#02 is described as a tactile Oriental Leather Gourmand, and includes notes of bergamot, tonka, vanilla, patchouli and suede. Graphic artist Cecilia Carlstedt drew inspiration for the packaging artwork from her time in New York.
#09 is a colourful Woody/Fruity/Spicy scent with notes of lemon zest, orange pulp, pink pepper, mango, cinnamon, praline and vanilla. Swedish watercolour painter Stina Persson is the artist commissioned for this release.

But of the three, I am particularly fond of #08 - a deeply aromatic eau de parfum that draws its inspiration from the vibrant and colourful cities of Bengal and Madras. Swedish illustrator/artist Daniel Egnéus created the artwork for the packaging which suggests strong links to the east.

#08 surprises with its asian-influenced opening of crisp ginger and black tea, through which a startling and enduring spicy cardamom accord emerges. It instantly speaks of the cuisine of northern India, and resolutely plays a preeminent role for the first 10 - 15 minutes. A milky accord in the heart of the perfume, coupled with warm notes of sweet cinnamon both furnish the perfume with a delicious 'iced chai latte' vibe. But there is abundant colour present too... luminous freesia, golden honey, and dewy fruit pulp all lend a vibrant lip-smacking quality to the scent.

To my nose, #08 is the olfactory equal to the religious Indian Holi Festival held each spring; a celebration in which brilliantly coloured powders and coloured water is hurled between worshippers. It is spirited, colourful, fun, and something in which both men and women can partake.

One would assume that more numerically-assigned fragrances might soon emerge from Jacomo in the Art Collection series. These offerings are rather exciting to explore, and seem to offer a 'niche' fragrance experience on a mainstream budget.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Vintage Tobacco: Chérigan Fleurs de Tabac

I grew up around old people, and as a child of nine years whose mother worked as a sole charge nurse in a number of aged-care homes, I got to know many of the patients by name. A bespectacled lady called Daisy taught me how to knit, a mute named Sylvia to write with my left hand, and Sam... well, he taught me not to smoke.
Sam terrified me every time he would follow me down a hallway with his emphysemic rattle and persistent wheeze. Gaunt and ashen, he had been a heavy smoker all his life. I would watch my mother dispense his daily allowance of cigarettes (usually three) with his medications after breakfast, but also knew he rolled his own thanks to contraband smuggled in to the resthome by other patients. But that was our little secret.
Right up until the day before I found him lifeless one morning in his bed, I would watch Sam roll his illicit cigarettes and would always indulge if invited to push my nose into his outstretched bag of stringy cured tobacco. It smelled pungent and sweet. Now, some 30 years after Sam's passing, I recall that distinct odour... though not by way of a bag of tobacco.

Chérigan Perfumers is a company for which there is little recorded history in the public arena. It was said to be established in the 1920's in Paris by a Czech immigrant named Ota Polacek whose Champs Elysées address was shared by so many influential perfume houses of that age. In 1929, no less than three perfumes were launched to the house's credit: Mascarades, Chance, and Fleurs de Tabac. Examples of all three perfumes (as well as a number of others released in the 1940's) still exist to this day, though they are found quite infrequently. Fleurs de Tabac is a wonderful example of the European penchant for tobacco-inspired scents in the 20's and 30's, and is the cause of today's vivid recollection from my youth.

It is often Tabac Blond - the masterwork of perfumer Ernest Daltroff and founder of the house of Caron - that is seen as the yardstick against which all other tobacco scents are measured, however Fleurs de Tabac emerges as a strong contender for the ultimate tobacco accolade. Whilst Tabac Blond was primarily marketed to women, Fleurs de Tabac was geared towards men; although it is fair to say that both perfumes seem to have a shared respect and appreciation across both genders.

Fleurs de Tabac is a paradigm of masterful blending. Without any olfactory notes to refer to, I follow my nose and enjoy a brisk citrus opening and am instantly charmed by a dry, smokey vetiver which swells from beneath. There is an 'unaired' mustiness that the vetiver brings and it possesses a certain 'olfactory temperature' that I immediately recognise: Guerlain's illustrious Djedi instantly springs to mind. Star-shaped tobacco flowers and jasmine tippy-toe over generous splinters of cured tobacco leaves, and a spicy warmth spreads laterally across the heart of this perfume. Here is where Fleurs de Tabac and Tabac Blond converge slightly in style (though the former lacks the punchy clove and leather notes that the latter possesses). A rich amber/vanilla base can be felt through a a light haze of smoke, and as the perfume dries down it becomes increasingly fleecy and powdery. A sensual muskiness reveals itself - one that can be likened to the sensation of burying ones face in the plush fur or hide of a magnificent beast. With it's final whispers, Fleurs de Tabac becomes a cas fortuit of carnality.

When coming to know this perfume, it is an important revelation to discover that Ota Polacek opened a second outlet after the store on Champs Elysées was established, and that was in Havana, Cuba. I would speculate that the raw tobacco materials used to create Fleurs de Tabac might well have been sourced (and even distilled) locally, and a retail outlet created to meet the demands of the Cuban contingent. Whatever the case, Fleurs de Tabac is a virtually unknown tobacco perfume which possesses all I love about the Art Deco age.

Although not having made a splash in the industry for decades, it is interesting to note that Chérigan Paris have a basic website, registered through a company in the Netherlands.