Saturday 22 August 2009

Stephen Jones x Comme des Garcons

To my mind, anything that bares the signature of French fashion/fragrance house Comme des Garcons is something to be explored. For the past forty years CdG's owner Rei Kawakubo has continually shocked and amazed with cutting-edge fashion, boutique installations and advertising that are all extremely avant garde in nature. Their approach to perfume has also always been unconventional and innovatory - from their world's first "anti-perfume" release in 1998 titled Odeur 53, to their more recent Synthetic series.

It hence comes as no surprise to me that Comme des Garcons teamed up with British milliner extraordinaire Stephen Jones, winner of an Outstanding Achievement Award in Fashion for his flamboyant and progressive headwear; to create the perfume Stephen Jones Millinery.

As one might expect from such an alliance of pioneering minds, Stephen Jones Millinery is both remarkable and unique... it bears the nonconformist olfactory fingerprint of CdG, and the outlandish aesthetic of Stephen Jones. Beautifully packaged in a jet-black miniature hat box and wrapped in a milliner's veil, the obsidian-coloured flacon is semi-organic in appearance - reminding me perhaps of a galactic seed-pod waiting to eject perfumed spores into the air. As I turn it in my hands, deep inside the bottle one can see flashes of violet as the light picks out its facets. There is something cold, alien, or otherworldly about it.
The juice itself sparkles with aldehydes as it is first applied, like some shiny, twinkling nebula. It is a bracing introduction to a perfume which is very Comme des Garcons: unruly, bold and commanding. Violets feature heavily in the opening of this scent, but it is not a mainstream interpretation of violets: they are cold and metallic, as if plucked from the gardens of a dark moon found in some distant starscape. CdG list meteorite and magma as starring accords, and one would agree that they have succeeded in introducing a cold mineralic quality to the composition. The scent does however, retain some earthbound accords as well - a dewy rose, peppery carnation and slightly muddy vetiver feature, though, I get the impression that they too may have been cryogenically frozen and then defrosted again in some intergalactic ark. There is a distinct sensation of breathing refrigerated air here which is not at all unpleasant... just interesting. If Stephen Jones and Comme des Garcons set out to compel and inspire, then they have succeeded.

Few scents these days make me literally step back and say "Wow!" because sometimes I just feel as if I've "seen it all". Fortunately, Millinery exceeded my expectations and has given me much to ponder. As my wife and I share our 50ml bottle, (and in doing so garner peculiar stares at the sushi bar or ATM); I reflect upon the future of perfumery and what could be regarded as the final frontier.

Stephen Jones Millinery is exclusively available in 50ml bottles, and lasts up to 7 hours on my skin and 9 hours on hers. Its sillage is above average. One definitely worth experiencing.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

XerJoff Casamorati: Fiore d'Ulivo

In April of this year I blogged about a niche Italian fragrance house whose star is on the rise: XerJoff - a brand that embraces the idea of opulence and excess, and whose perfumes are nothing short of stupendous.
The most recent series in the XerJoff line is the delightful Casamorati range - a collection that preserves the distinguished history of a glorious fragrance house that was founded in Italy between the 18th and 19th centuries. The House of Casamorati was traditionally revered for its perfumed bathing soaps, and the vintage aromas once used to scent their creations have now been reincarnated in the form of this stunning Xerjoff perfume duo.

XJ Casamorati 1888 comprises two eau de parfums - the first Mefisto; an uplifting Italian oriental scent for men, and the second, Fiore d'Ulivo, a fresh floral for women. To my nose however, each of these scents can easily be worn and enjoyed by both genders. Mefisto is a tribute to classic Italian colognes, with a crisp citrus opening leading to a more floral heart of lavender, rose and Florentine iris. These accords shimmer over a rich base of sandalwood, cedar, vanilla and musk... the overall impression reminds me a little of Creed's Silver Mountain Water; however Mefisto offers something more of a classic Mediterranean character with rich undertones that lends it a soft and luscious oriental finish. In terms of refinement and finish, the Creed simply does come close.

But for my money, I am very taken with Fiore d'Ulivo... a parfum which embodies spring time in the Mediterranean, where the olive trees bloom for just a few days each year. This perfume is a simple composition, using just a handful of ingredients, but one with a very profound outcome. Fresh citrus and lotus flower rest at the top of this scent, where the gentle olive blooms take a starring role. For anyone who has smelled olive blossoms straight from the tree, Fiore d'Ulivo is a very accomplished rendering of that lovely perfume. Tender jasmine and magnolia emphasise the floral facet, and there is a lush soapiness present which conjures a sense of vivifying purity; as if having just washed ones hair in natural rainwater that has been perfumed with tiny flowers. Clean amber and musk lie beneath which add depth and a feeling of richness to the mix. XerJoff are not mincing words when they refer to Fiore d'Ulivo as a "magical springtime potion".
Gratifyingly, both Mefisto and Fiore d'Ulivo are offered in generous eau de parfum concentrations that render them detectable on the skin some 8 hours later.

The Casamorati collection are available through very select retail outlets in the UK, France, Italy and Russia, and retail for €165 each. The perfumes pictured above show this range presented in exquisite hand-made Chinese porcelain flacons, however due to the unexpected porousness of the bottles, they will soon be shipping in beautiful glass flacons instead. Should you ever come across a porcelain presentation, it will surely serve as a very rare and precious keepsake.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Acqua di Parma: Magnolia Nobile

Ever since my love affair with Colonia Intensa germinated in the autumn of 2007, I find myself drawn to all that Acqua di Parma does. If I had a silly amount of money to spend on lavish leather goods and plush towelling robes, I would find myself jetting off to Milan's Acqua di Palma Via del Gesu' boutique to stock up on trinkets. As far as fragrance is concerned, whilst the original men's Colonia does not appeal to me much, I have a strong appreciation for the Colonia flankers and the women's bewitching creation Iris Nobile. Today, much to my delight, I had the opportunity to experience the latest in the women's "Nobile" series: Magnolia Nobile.

Magnolia is the protagonist appearing in the lush villa gardens sprawling around the enchanting Lake Como. Blushing blossoms reach skyward amongst a mosaic of roof gardens and terraces, whilst releasing their rousing perfume on the air... it is a flower that exudes a timeless sense of elegant femininity. It is no wonder that Acqua di Parma awarded her a starring role in this new eau de parfum.

Magnolia Nobile is an abstract of true magnolias - a foray into enchanting florals, much in the same way Iris Nobile demanded your nose attempt to conjure an image of purple irises. Magnolia opens with what I would call the "signature" Acqua di Parma topnote of bergamot and lemon which are distinctly Mediterranean in style. A puff of cedar beckons the nose into a rich floral heart of magnolia, rose, tuberose and jasmine... but there is also a crystalline sharpness which is akin to the Egyptian white musk abundant in Narciso Rodriguez for Her. An adept marriage of floral accords and earthy patchouli and sandalwood makes Magnolia Nobile both modern and whimsical. It is a scent of contrasts in which radiance meets velvety softness. Whilst I wouldn't call it particularly ground-breaking, I would call it a very sophisticated scent of noble intention.

Magnolia Nobile sits close to the skin, and lasts approximately 6-7 hours. I think it a very fitting scent to demonstrate the evolution of the "Nobile" series, and an ideal perfume to celebrate these final days of summer as the days draw in.

Available from September 2009.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Scents in Orthodoxy: Byredo Encens

Celebrations in the Orthodox calendar are numerous. Whilst I grew up far from my Greek heritage and motherland, as an adult married to a Serbian woman, I find myself more and more immersed in the rich tradition that Orthodoxy embraces. Today, on August the 2nd, my wife and family celebrate the Serbian Orthodox feast of Prophet Ilias... an annual observance of the family's patron saint. The day often begins with a ritual visit to the Orthodox church where slavski kolac - a traditional bread is blessed, and then taken home to be eaten with lunch.

Whilst I'm not particularly devout, I do enjoy the opportunity to visit the church with its highly decorative wall paintings and cavernous ceilings. The interior is usually dimly lit with flickering candles which illuminate the centuries-old icons around the room. The air is thick with the smell of beeswax candles and billowing incense, which spills from golden swinging censers. Our occasional visits to these closed spaces result in a sensory blitz of enormous proportions, but when we arrive home again, we find our clothes have been imbued with exotic resinous perfume. For some time now, we have wished for the perfect incense with which to scent our home in the very same fashion.

In my opinion, French perfumer Olivier Durbano best interprets incense in his seven stone poems, however I have finally discovered another treasure; one that we can use to scent our domicile. That is, the hard-to-come-by Encens by Byredo - an ambient room spray and votive candle that are true to their name. Encens is one in a series of discontinued Byredo ambient perfume products that I have enthusiastically taken under my wing. It is tarry and thick with the aroma of smokey benzoin, fragrant clove and bitter cinnamon. There is a soft floral quality

at its heart - something akin to rose - but this only lends a tender dewyness to the mix. I sense the green tang of bay leaves at its core too... the sum of these ingredients make for a comforting, warm, mouth-watering spray that perfume the home magnificently.
It may be a far cry from the censers of the Greek or Serbian church, but Encens is what we want our home to smell of... husky incense; perhaps coupled with the persistent aroma of gingerbread baking in the other room. A few spritzes on the sheer curtains pulled across an open window will scent our house for hours.

It is unfortunate that Byredo have decided to cease production of this product. It could quite possibly have been one of those 'best-kept secrets' that people pass on to one another by word of mouth.
I am shouting it from the rooftops in the hope that you, cherished reader, still have the time and motivation to get out and source some. While you're at it, have a sniff of Byredo's Bibliotheque room spray for a ground-breaking olfactory experience.

While stocks last.