Friday, March 30, 2007

Mitsouko Saved!

For those of you that are interested, there is a new Luca Turin article up in NZZ Folio that reports on Eduoard Fléicher's efforts to update the Guerlain classics. (For more on Fléicher, see the Une Rose review below.) Miraculously, for once, it seems that all is well.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tauer Perfumes L'air du desert marocain

One of these days I will get around to finishing my Frédéric Malle "week". In the meantime, with my Rêverie au jardin sample winging its way to me, I have decided to review Andy Tauer's second scent, L'air du desert marocain. I will preface my review with a disclaimer to any brave, sane, unscented reader who doesn't already know who Andy is, but is still checking in here just to see if they can understand a word I have written: I have corresponded with Andy, I follow his blog and I intend to write a review so fawning that even Paula Abdul would blush reading it.

A quick bio: Andy is a self-taught perfumer with a chemistry background who works from his home in Zurich, Switzerland. He has produced three fabulous scents, Le Maroc (2005), L'air du desert marocain (2005) and Lonestar Memories (2006) as well as a limited edition perfume, Orris (2006). Rêverie au jardin, his new lavender-based scent, will be available for purchase April 21st (see buying information below).

L'air is the only perfume I own that seems to trigger a full-body physiological response. You step out of an air-conditioned hotel in some exotic, baked country and your exposed skin tightens in the blast of dry heat - this is the effect created by L'air. Released in 2005, it contains coriander, cumin, petitgrain, lemon, bergamot, jasmin, cistus (rockrose), bourbon, geranium, cedar, vetiver, patchouli and ambergris. What that list of notes does not suggest is the level of dryness. This is a dry, dry, dry perfume, an ode to the spirit of the Maghreb desert, a scent that manages to be truly unisex and, well... very dry. For me, it conjures a sand-sweeping wind much more reliably than Serge Lutens' Chergui. A complex, stylized, romantic fragrance, Chergui was initially a bit of a disappointment to me; after the spiced hay of the opening burnt off, there was a very rich, buttery, sweet dessert heart that wasn't as hot or dry as I had expected. I've learned to really enjoy this stage of the perfume, but there is something about the middle of Andy's fragrance that makes Chergui seem very tame. Labeled as an "intense" eau de toilette, L'air is like no other EdT in existence. There are long stretches of time when it almost seems to be gaining in intensity on the skin. For sillage and lasting power,I can think of very few rivals: Angel, maybe, and that's it for the mainstream.

The opening of L'air is close to boozy - the bourbon? - with the coriander in the forefront. There is something up high, in an airy, almost floral register, which I cannot quite place. Very soon, the cedar begins to take center stage - a fresh and yet searing, almost minty or mentholated cedar that is still, of course, very dry. My husband says this stage smells like Jordan (candied wedding) almonds, and he is not quite crazy. I get no almonds, but there is almost a resemblance to the Indian candied digestive mixes you get after meals. I am thinking not just of saunf or candied anise/fennel and rock sugar, but also the paan or beeda mixes with cardamom, cloves and betel nut. (I actually like betel nut, but try and limit myself when I get the opportunity to have some, as I have so far managed to keep all my addictions non-carcinogenic.) The heart of L'air has that same spare, roasted, balsamic sweetness. Very gradually, this gives way to an ambered drydown, with touches of earthy and (dare I say it?) dry vetiver and patchouli. The whole is very seamless, and somehow both raw and comforting. It is one of the very few perfumes that smells "like me" and is my favourite so far from Andy's line. Lonestar Memories has a similar sense of space to it - a feeling of the distances, breezes and plenty of the wide-open outdoors - and is a close second for me. It is a shame that the word "masterpiece" has lost its currency from overuse, because that is precisely the word Andy's works bring to mind.

All of Andy's scents, with the exception of the sold-out Orris, are sold through luckyscent, luilei, first-in-fragrance and Andy's own website and distributor.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Frédéric Malle Une Rose

The problem with creating a rose soliflore in modern times is that everybody who is accustomed to smelling like pink frosting and iced vodka will disparage it as "perfume-y" - the worst insult such people can imagine. Indeed, some rose scents are perfume-y: strong and old-fashioned with an invasive hairspray note up top and a heavy, oily bottom down below. In order to avoid this trap, contemporary perfumers usually go one of three routes: a) they amp up the lemony citral content to brighten the top and heart notes and convince you to go brew some ice tea; or b) they sweeten and soften with a feminine dusting of powder; or c) they spice the start liberally, the usual suspects being eugenol (cloves) or, lately, saffron. Very few noses dare to turn up the geranium or green side of roses, because of the insistent, claustrophobic, sneezy power of noble geraniol. And yet that is precisely what Eduoard Fléicher does in Une Rose (Frédéric Malle). Creator of the legendarily strident Poison, Fléicher sends a message with this uncompromising beginning: if you are sweet and girlish, try Lipstick Rose.

Once only the fanatics are left, Une Rose quickly settles into a bright, slightly honeyed rose with an open air feel. It speaks to me of the garden party atmosphere of the Edwardian era in BBC mini-series, where everyone wears hats and linen suits and uses phrases like "I say, that's smashing!" Many white North Americans now deny this is a romantic scent - it is the smell of Western Imperialism! - while Indians, with the dignified good sense of many sinned against peoples, feel a proper nostalgia for those little shaped gift soaps from Marks & Spencer. When I wore Une Rose to the mall yesterday, two wonderful brown ladies asked what rich, soft scent I was projecting, which pleased me, even though it confirmed I had put on rather a lot.

And that is something to remember about Une Rose: if you spray on too much or you are not in the mood, you will be gradually smothered as the drydown gains in winey, ambered intensity. I have showered at the end of a long Une Rose day and stumbled out of the bathroom like a hangover victim, still reeking of velvety, tannic petals.

Une Rose contains Turkish rose absolute, geranium, blue camomile, wine dregs, truffle accord (patchouli, vetiver and animal notes), and amber. It is available from Barney's or the Editions de Parfums website. The matching Beurre Exquise is supposed to be painfully lovely.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie

I apologise to all those who have been faithfully checking in these last weeks: I had very limited internet access in France, and have busy working on another, deadlined writing project since I returned to Canada a week ago. After purchasing Bigarade Concentrée on the trip, I realized I had written very little about one of perfume houses I admire the most, Frédéric Malle's Editions de Parfums, and so I vow to rectify the situation over the next week with reviews on some FM favourites.

But first, my nemesis, Une Fleur de Cassie. About two years ago, after trying Caron's Farnesiana, I was under the impression that I enjoyed cassie flower or acacia farnesiana, a type of mimosa. Une Fleur de Cassie was therefore one of the Frédéric Malle scents I was most eager to try when I first sampled the line at the Los Angeles branch of Barney's in August 2005. Created by Dominique Ropion, who also did Vétiver Extraordinaire and Carnal Flower for the line, Une Fleur de Cassie contains bergamot, apricot, cassie, mimosa, rose, violet, jasmin, carnation, clove, cumin, aldheydes, salicylate, musk, vanilla, cedar and sandalwood. This list of notes in no way conveys the surpassing weirdness of the perfume.

When Une Fleur de Cassie is first sprayed - on to skin or paper, or into the air of Malle's pointless, television sci-fi smelling booths - everything is normal for the first 40 seconds or so: there is the bright, powdery, soapy smell of bergamot with a touch of fruity sweetness. Very quickly, however, a profoundly strange note begins to take shape, increasing in intensity as the seconds pass. Half gamey wildness, half "floral" cleaning solvent, the smell is aggressive, elegant and almost alien in its aloofness. It is floral in the way of one of those stinking, carnivorous plants at the zoo, feline in the way of the surreal big cat from Chez Jane, one of those hilariously confounding poems by Frank O'Hara (a favourite writer of mine) : "The white chocolate jar full of petals / swills odds and ends around in a dizzying eye... / The tiger, / marvellously striped and iritable, leaps / on the table and without disturbing a hair / of the flowers' breathless attention, pisses / into the pot, right down its delicate spout." Some reviewers have compared the smell to that of a papermill and certainly it has the pervasive, flat and yet peppery quality to it that such factories do, though it lacks that sulfurous, farty wind that comes off wet wood pulp. Une Fleur de Cassie smells as I imagine a tannery or furrier might. There is a sprinkling of chalk dust, a little warm and woody violet... but mostly that smell.

One of the many things I love about Frédéric Malle is the website: the product photos and descriptions provided are clear and helpful, the perfumer bios heartening, and their scent-choosing questionnaire pioneered the interactive approach taken up by other fragrance companies (their prompt replies and generous sample send-outs still make them the leaders here, too). One of the fascinating things I've noticed is that the website assigns a colour to each scent and the colours I prefer seem to mark the fragrances I love best - the sunny mango of Le Parfum de Thérèse, the grey-green of Bigarade Concentrée, the warm raspberry of Une Rose. The colour representing Une Fleur de Cassie is what we call around this house "baby-poo yellow". This is a remarkably appropriate colour - anybody who has changed the diaper of a breastfed baby knows that there is a rich, fatty smell to their poop which is bizarrely close to that of hot, buttered popcorn, and there is a hint of this scent in the heart of Ropion's perfume.

Indeed, despite its elegance, there is a circus air to Une Fleur de Cassie - a leathery, furry, urinous fug mixing with the smell of roasting nuts, popcorn and powdered sugar. In my opinion, it conjures the circus better than Dzing!, a subtler, warmer fragrance that sometimes feels to me like a dry run for another Giacobetti/L'Artisan creation, Tea for Two. It is interesting that some testers report that Une Fleur de Cassie smells of cardboard to them, as Dzing! is famous for that warm note. The Malle scent, however, has none of the sheer, cheerful wearability of a L'Artisan fragrance: in the words of the Malle website, it is "voluptuous", "disturbing", "bestial" and "verging on coarse". I find it utterly unwearable and yet oddly compelling. Please comment if you've tried the body butter (Beurre Exquise).