Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Caron Parfum Sacre Intense eau de parfum: fragrance review

Back when I was a teenager I developed a strong belief that "real" perfume was supposed to harken to its oriental roots and smell of the East; or at least what my west-laden eyes of the mind imagined a mythical East to be like. Parfum Sacre (sacred perfume, the quintessential notion of eastern scent), launched in 1991, at the cusp of the transition into the blander part of mainstream perfumery after a clashing cacophony of too many loud perfumes worn all together in the 1980s, and it sort of flopped commercially. But it was such a good execution that they have kept it. And when the Parfum Sacre Intense version rolled over by Parfums Caron in 2010 I admit I was greatly intrigued.


There was a 1925 fragrance called Mystikum, by perfume Scherk, tagged "the mystery of flowers" of all things, and accompanied by a full range of body products in the coming years, but surely the name would fit Caron's perfume perfectly as well.


I own a quite large decant of Caron's Parfum Sacre Intense (more like a purse spray), and I should quickly upgrade to a full bottle, but each time I use it I feel like a goddess on a pedestal, receiving rites of peppery spices and rosy sacrifices upon a sacrificial altar, while myrrh fills the atmosphere with the solemnity of religion. The myrrh is especially warm, bittersweet, with no powdery after-effects, so it doesn't project as "clean" or "groomed" rather than sombre and liturgical, but it's the alliance of spicy rose with musk which makes the real message of devotion to a higher being. For once, rose sheds its prim guise and reveals a throbbing heart full of thorns.

I dig this kind of ritual and therefore Parfum Sacre Intense aims for the sweet spot. Touchée.

I just wish they hadn't changed the bottle, from the glorious deep purple with the peppercorns into the blander columnar ones they have used when revamping the line a couple of years ago...

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hermes Hiris: fragrance review

Once upon a time, concubines in the Far East were fed animal musk, so that their bodies would sweat in sweet fragrance. Nowadays they feed themselves angelica roots, boiled carrots, and almond baked in tin foil, with the tin foil intact. They spray themselves absent-mindedly with an obsolete hairspray that engulfs them in musk, sending electrical sparks like a loose train set on liquid tracks, running in the storm to nobody knows where. They work under azure skies which never betray the greyness of their gaze. They dream of "Et la lune descent sur le temple qui fut". Some girls nowadays are fed Hiris by Hermès...

Hiris: from the flower to the fragrance, the modern and refined mindset of a unique soliflore, all devoted to the splendor of the iris. A perfume of emotion and subtlety conceived by perfumer Olivia de Giacobetti in 1999, it expresses its charm with an infinite delicacy; sometimes floral, sometimes powdery or plant-like, always one of the olfactory wonders of nature.

The quintessential dry powder scent, Hiris by Hermès is the yardstick against which orris scents can be measured in a sweetness to dryness climax; this one is set on ultra-dry. For sheer uniqueness it could only be compared to the cold melancholia of Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens, but it's less gloomy, less sombre, warming a bit through the skin-like ambrette seed. It's for INFP types for sure.
And it falls naturally into the pattern set out by Hermès, a house that caters to an effortless sensibility of quiet sensuousness, of subtle sexiness, of refined intellectuality. A precious keepsake.

Fragrance notes for Hermès Hiris:
Top Notes
Iris, Coriander, Carrot
Heart Notes
Iris, Neroli, Rose, Hay
Base notes
Honey, Almond wood, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Ambrette seed

NB. The older bottles are in blue frosted glass packaged in an orange carton. The newer ones are in a transparent glass bottle with gold cap and a blue label, packaged in an orange and blue carton. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Chanel Cristalle: fragrance review, history & comparison of concentrations

To consider Cristalle by Chanel a predominantly "fresh" scent begs the question: which version of it? Contrary to some of the previous fresh scents that dominated the 1970s like Eau de Patou, Eau Libre (YSL) or Eau de Rochas, Cristalle has circulated in two distinct variations that differ considerably.

Although only one of them is set in the 1970s, namely the eau de toilette original version, the 1990s eau de parfum edition is also popular and perhaps blurs the lines most between simple freshness and ripe enigma; if the citrus burst of the eau de toilette is a sunny but still crisp morning, then the more floral chypre leaning of the eau de parfum is late afternoon when the warmth of the sun has made everything ripen and smell moist and earthy.

The structure of Chanel Cristalle Eau de Toilette is citrusy green, almost cologne-y, with only a hint of chypre perfume  structure; more jovial, more unisex and altogether happier. The structure of the Cristalle Eau de Parfum version is more feminine, with the floral offset of jasmine and ylang ylang bringing to the fore the more romantic elements. If the former is a brainy librarian, the latter is a brainy librarian with one button undone on her blouse. As you would surmise from my description, I like and respect both, but would personally find more cause for celebration in the latter.

Cristalle is a case in point where the genius of Henri Robert is fittingly corralled to that of Jacques Polge, the two perfumers responsible for the creation of the former and the latter editions respectively.

The 1970s were all about freshness, vivacity, a new energy with the youth movement and the female emancipation. A lively citrusy green scent like Cristalle Eau de Toilette sounds totally logical and expected of the historical context. Cristalle Eau de Toilette has endured and has gained new fans over the decades exactly because it is a triumph of mind over matter. It feels tinglingly fresh, yes; it feels brainy and perfect for sharing whether you are a man or a woman. It also fits its architectural packaging to a T, perhaps more than any other perfume in the Chanel stable. It feels sleek and sparse and 100% proud of it. It also means that when you opt for it you know you're picking the freshest thing in the shop; there is nary a fresher scent on the Chanel counter now or ever. Only the galbanum throat-slicing-blade of the original Chanel No.19 could be compared for sheer chill!

But what about the Eau de Parfum version of Chanel's Cristalle?

The 1990s have gained an odd reputation in perfume lovers' minds because they mostly contributed the mega trend of the "ozonic" and "marine" fragrances, scents cutting loose with the denser and richer French and American tradition and ushering a sense of Japanese zen into personal fragrance. At the time they produced a huge chasm with everything that preceded them; and fittingly one of the first to do so was Kenzo pour Homme in 1991. Suddenly one wearing such a quiet scent seemed like someone walking in velvet slippers contrasted with a Louboutin stiletto wearer, emitting Dior Poison, marking some poor 18th century parquet floor; you instantly knew who was going to get more sympathetic smiles and friendly nods of the head and who was to be greeted with wrinkled noses. Such were the mores then; we have become loud with our scent choices again of course. But the overindulgence in quiet can become deafening in the end and this is what happened by the end of that grunge-dominated decade. Still Chanel Cristalle Eau de Parfum managed to straddle the ground between quiet and loud, producing a composition between soft flannel wool and luxurious yet rough soie sauvage which was advertised with the immortal line: "Exuberance comes of age!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Perfume as a Personal Story: the Auteur Viewpoint

Lucien François, famous journalist and critic of the 1920s, used to say about perfumers that they are mirage creators, constructors of a unique world, of a piece of paradise. We, perfumephiles, can certainly read those lines and nod our heads sympathetically, even at the distance of a century between us.


Back then perfume makers, perfumers themselves as well as perfume company directors such as François Coty or Jean François Houbigant prior to him, were surrounded by a halo of celebrity, which—although abandoned for a great part of the 20th century—has recently been revived thanks to the resurgence of the perfumer-star or—more intellectually—auteur du parfum, a term which creates its own connotations.

Perfumery became tied to fashion design in the early 20th century,  losing its apothecary axis of individualised attention to the client, opting for a more uniform product. Practices changed with the advent of World War II and the pacing up of the industry, speeding its metamorphosis into a commercial vehicle, meant a disruption of the exclusive perfumer attached to a single firm. New constraints, such as the procurance of raw materials or cost studies shifted perfumery into a web of technical support which necessitated bigger firms with the necessary equipment, staff and know how instead of the "one-man show" of days of yore. Perfumery became an industry, heavy industry for some countries such as France and the USA, but it also lost something of that momentous revelation that was at the core of previous creations. From "directive" and cutting out a path for other fashions, perfumery assimilated the cultural milieu seeking to comply to the consumer instead, to heed to sociological needs, to anticipate its desires instead of creating them in the first place so as to ensure growth and sales. Marketing studies attended to the most minutiae variations in public's tastes.

Perfume sought to create a "look," a personality for the wearer, to reflect a specific mold, often amalgamating the one of the brand with the one of the wearer; designer brands especially continue to be very sensitive into having their perfumed products reflect their aesthetic principles first shown on the catwalk. This consolidated the notion of the "signature scent" for the masses, but it also guaranteed brand loyalty; there were the Chanel followers, the Dior acolytes, the Yves Saint Laurent fans...

In a relance that harkens back to the Cahiers du Cinema concept of "auteur," authentic perfume creators (be it perfumers themselves or art directors such as Serge Lutens or Frederic Malle) re-establish their role into directing the public instead of being directed by the market, and consolidate their authorship. Perfumers who have really thought out their craft and have exalted it into the level of art, such as Jean Claude Ellena displays in his book Diary of a Nose, approve of the term "auteur du parfum," as their journey is parallel to that of a writer. It also poses the same ethical issues: authorship means intellectual property rights.

A fragrance as an intellectual work means the return of creativity; the imperceptible twists in a generic, crowd-pleasing formula which could create a million similar, homogenized scents—like pasteurized milk in different cartons—is unacceptable by this standard. Houses are increasingly returning to engaging a single "nose" for their creations: Chanel already had a steady with Jacques Polge and Guerlain with Jean Paul Guerlain, but Patou perfumes managed to effortlessly pass from Jean Kerléo to Jean-Michel Duriez and Hermès to earn Jean Claude Ellena. L'Artisan Parfumeur has increasingly used Bertrand Duchaufour, Lutens has an almost unbreakable bond with Chris Sheldrake.

Modern creators offer a perfume for an occasion, a perfume for a specific mood, be it joyous (Le Temps d'une fête), innocent (La Chasse aux papillons), contemplative (Angéliques sous la pluie), mystical (Avignon) or wistful (Douce Amère), a scent for a man's or a woman's persona rather than personality, as in role-playing, and thus they re-connect with the momentous revelation that fragrance used to mean to the awe-receptive audiences of the late 19th and early 20th century.

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