Monday, January 25, 2021

Luxury and the Hermessences: Fragrant Musings

Hermès has always seemed to me the height of luxury: not just a status symbol to carry around, but a brand organically grown out of that most aristocratic accoutrement, horse riding and its paraphernalia. As saddlers, Hermès have distinguished themselves in the axiom of "beauty serving functionality", a sort of van der Rohe "less is more" philosophy where every touch is truly meaningful, truly essential. Their fragrances are a reflection of this effortless luxury, diverting from bourgeois spick-and-span, and speaks of old money, not new. 


 

The fact that Réna Dumas (née Gregoriadès), architect and mother of Pierre Alexis Dumas, was of Greek extraction, alongside her pushing a Hellenic aesthetic to the brand through collaborations with artists and illustrators, has solidified this classical approach in my mind. She detested pomposity, she embraced serenity and douceur de vivre.


 

This fusion of functionality and douceur (softness) is what is also reflected in Jean Claude Ellena's work for Hermès, especially in the Hermessences, their boutique-only line of fragrances which are simple like haikus, harmonious like the Parthenon, but never simplistic, nor unnecessarily imposing. They retain a human closeness, a sort of philosophical proximity with the culture of light, a message read on the pure blue skies of a life bathed in inherent goodness.


 

The Hermessences line, essences by Hermès literally, is comprised of laconic names, often with a double entendre, focusing on unexpected facets of a given material, rather than trying to highlight its stereotypical olfactory profile. They do not rely on in-your-face exclusivity or luxury, like other designer lines, but rather a desire to explore new pathways to pleasure.

After all these years, I'm still taken with their subtlety, their grace, their effortless nod to luxury, a suspension of time. 

L'Artisan Parfumeur Mure et Musc: fragrance review

Berries are an especially pliant fruity note in perfumes; no less because a certain group of synthetic musks has a berry undertone. The classic Mûre et Musc by L'Artisan Parfumeur paved the way in as early as 1978. The passionfruit focus of Escada's own Chiffon Sorbet didn't come out of the blue either: Guerlain's Nahéma (1978) brought a saturated fruity mantle to the central rose lending sonorous timbre. 


 

The idea for using this fruit in fragrance was conceived by Jean Laporte, the founder of the small niche brand of the pioneering group of artisan perfumers of the 1970s, L'Artisan Parfumeur. His little wonder of innovation from 1978, Mûre et Musc, still seduces its audience just as much over 40 years later. Discreet and gentle, Mûre et Musc was almost hippy-ish in its innocent naivety. The fresh tanginess of citrus (comprised of lemon, orange, and mandarin with a hint of spicy basil) complements the blackberry, enhancing the sweetish trail with a musky base note that lingers for a very long time on skin and on clothes.

Flanked with raspberry ketone, blackcurrant bud, and Galaxolide (a clean smelling musk), this structure would be simple, direct, innocent, sweetish, and tart in equal degrees, and captivating to those harboring the same memories in their heart of hearts! He succeeded with Mure et Musc, a huge cult phenomenon which gave rise to a constellation of berry musks that took the market by storm and formed the springboard for many young girls to jump into the realm of fine fragrance.

But why did it become so special in people's minds that even drugstores came to order their own blackberry-musk mix for their not-especially sophisticated clientele? "Its cottony-fruity notes that melt flawlessly to the skin. It's a close-to-the-skin perfume, which brings people in," to quote Jean-Claude Ellena who oversaw the commemorative editions that reprised the theme decades later for the, now owned by a conglomerate, L'Artisan Parfumeur. The original's cute innocence and come-hither subtlety still beguile the young at heart.

 

 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Penhaligon's Babylon: fragrance review

 
Babylon is a quite a "new and now" launch  by Penhaligon's, a Harrods' exclusive till January 2021, but I was lucky enough to secure some and am wearing it right now to better grasp its messages. By no means revolutionary, this spicy oriental feels like the polished woods of Duchaufour's compositions that have made an indelible impression to the world of upscale perfumery. Cypriol oil (known also as nagarmotha in southeastern Asia) dominates. You might recognize it from the oddly and unjustly doomed Magnifique by Lancome (2008) or from the critically acclaimed Timbuktu by L'Artisan Parfumeur (2004). In Babylon it's sweetened and caressed in warm, soft milky notes and vanilla, with an undertone of spices, of which saffron gives a subtle iodine touch. It's evocative of autumnal joys and middle-eastern images.


 

Housed in Penhaligon's distinctive ribbon-wrapped glass flacon, and full of saturated tones of warm red, teal and gold, the till now obscure Babylon eau de parfum enters the scene in big strides. It takes inspiration from Eastern spices to create an oriental scent, part of the Trade Routes Collection inspired by popular stop-overs on the Silk Route.

This is probably thought of as part of a grander plan of the company owning the brand; reaching out to people who shop for gifts at luxury stop-overs to and from the Emirates and/or other luxurious destinations. There the airport boutiques are decked to the nines in gold and gilt. The collection has therefore "Arabian perfumery style" written all over it. Halfeti was one I reviewed in the past and I like it, but I think Babylon is even more to my style.


 

I would have liked it to be more conceptual, as the potential is there for sure, but the execution is nevertheless flawless.Babylon eau de parfum is delicious and persistent and is felt like a confident aura rising from the skin. It possesses that alluring quality that Ambre Narguile (Hermessences) and Spicebomb Extreme (Viktor & Rolf) also exude, particularly that smoky warmth, beckoning you closer to better fill your receptive olfactory organ with the evaporating goodness.

The beautiful whiskey-like color of the liquid is darker than shown in pictures and beautifully matches the scent; it's as if you're led to take a sip of a rich liquor and get intoxicated, while reading an oriental cylindric seal depicting the lord god Marduc.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Top Perfumes of 2020

 The annus horribilis is behind us. Perfume was one luxury which alleviated the gloom for us. Here are a few top perfumes of 2020. 

In photo form for ease. Feast your eyes upon the beautiful bottles.

 


 




Friday, December 18, 2020

Kingdom Scotland: the first Scottish niche perfume brand

by guest writer Rose Strang

Interview by Rose Strang, professional artist and perfume reviewer for L.L.M – Edinburgh’s lifestyle magazine 

 

What word springs to mind when you think of Scotland? Mountains? Whisky? Rain…?!

Imogen Russon Taylor, founder and owner of Scotland’s first luxury perfume house, Kingdom Scotland, reveals that the word which springs to most people’s minds is, in fact; magical. On a sunny Autumn day, I met up with Imogen on the banks of Edinburgh’s Water of Leith to ask what inspired her to launch Kingdom Scotland. 

My first question though, was: ‘What’s that perfume you’re wearing? It’s lovely - I smell vetiver!’ For me, vetiver (from the roots of vetiver grass – green, lemony, smoky and earthy) recalls the time I stayed in a remote cottage in the Scottish Highlands – a log fire, the scent of vetiver incense, eating a bowl of fresh-grown vegetables from the garden outside, with the ancient forest of soft green mosses and Scots Pine beyond.

The scent I’d detected from Imogen was Portal - described by Kingdom Scotland as: A transporting herbaceous and woody scent – a gateway to the ancient Caledonian forests of Scotland. Invitingly fresh and outdoor – an escape to a sylvan wonderland. With top notes of herbs, green florals and a base of vetiver and Scots Pine, no wonder I was transported! Vetiver was most detectable to my nose, it being one of my favourite notes, but, as with all perfumes in the Kingdom series, Portal is complex, abstract – a style of perfume composition associated in particular with classic French perfumery. 

It comes as no surprise therefore, that Imogen’s heritage is part French as well as Scottish. Her Grandmother was a model in the 1950’s and owned a dress boutique called ‘the Gown Shop’. She described the formative experience of watching female family members dressing and perfuming themselves – the impact it had on her understanding of perfume – how both the dramatic and the subtle come into play when creating a mood, or expressing personality.

While working on brand marketing some years ago, with some of Scotland’s leading whisky brands (including Macallan, Famous Grouse and Highland Park) Imogen trained in the skills of ‘nosing’ - the art of recognising and memorising the notes and bouquet of high quality malt whiskies.

The legacy of that experience is reflected in Metamorphic, described on the Kingdom Scotland website as: a perfume inspired by metamorphic rock that is spectacularly woven into the landscape … a reference to our Founder’s love of Islay Malt whisky with a smouldering aspect that is softened with the heart of dark rose. Complex, rich, with an intense metamorphosis on the skin. Scotland has been described as ‘a geologist’s dream’, with rocks dating from among the oldest on earth – it’s a subject close to Imogen’s heart as her first university degree was in geology. Metamorphic - inspired by a landscape that has changed form radically over millennia, with the scent of whisky, leather, minerals and rose - draws together threads of inspiration in a way that truly ‘speaks’ to me of my experience of Scotland.

I find Portal and Metamorphic visceral perfumes – they evoke my own experiences of forests and log fires and more – they reflect my fascination (as a painter by profession) of capturing Scotland’s landscape in paint. 

 In contrast, Albaura takes inspiration from the personality and life of Scottish botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchison. Born in 1889, Hutchison was a pioneer; one of the first significant female botanists, she rejected marriage and domesticity to travel to the Arctic. Imogen describes Albaura as; “A tribute to Isobel Wylie Hutchison, her work and her life. She travelled alone generally, so I wanted the opening to be almost like petals on coastal ice, glaciers, a coldness to it … “ Albaura opens on skin with a white coolness that becomes gradually softer, more green – there’s a touch of orris root (obtained from the roots of iris) which evokes the sense of powdered snow. Imogen explains that herbals and juniper add to its cool greenness too. To my mind this adds a cerebral or witty touch to the perfume – juniper berries and coolness equals - gin and tonic! Iris, or orris root – used also in powders and makeup – light powderiness. These scent associations are usually understood at the edge of our consciousness, unless you’ve trained in perfumery or really focus on scent associations. Imogen continued her fascination with botany (Albaura was created in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh) in the making of her most recent perfume release, Botanica. 

 The Botanic Gardens contacted Imogen to say; “We love doing this, it’s our 350th anniversary coming up and would you consider making a perfume to celebrate 350 years?’ She describes it as; “a tough brief, because you don’t want something to be linear, or one dimensional. This was basically about biodiversity in a perfume and all the stories of healing, the physic garden, right through to conservation. I call it Botanical maximalism ; every time you smell it, you’ll smell something else”.

Botanica opens with an immediate complexity, the mood is warm and sensual. Imogen describes it as mostly floral, featuring rich plum blossom from Asia in particular but, she explains, it also features exotic woods and incense. My impressions overall are of warmth, a delicious subtle sweetness and depth – it strikes me as a perfume that would have much appeal for women in particular. I find it almost gourmand (i.e. verging on foodie) as I’m reminded somehow of fine French patisserie – spiced apricot tart perhaps! It’s one of those perfumes in which each wearer will experience a unique aspect - its sillage appealed very much to my partner too!

My conversation with Imogen touched on her many interests - geology, clothes-design, whisky, botany, not to mention marketing luxury brands – all apparently disparate threads, woven together to create perfume. She describes her search for a high quality perfumer (or ‘nose’ as the profession is described in the business) who’d work with her collaboratively and creatively, and her approach to creating a perfume house; “I had the idea for the business eight years ago and set it up four years ago and then spent two years in research before I even launched a product, so it took a long time. I suppose I wanted to be proud of it, so it was true”.

Those two years in research included a deep dive into Scotland’s archives to find perfume houses that had existed in Scotland’s past. As it turned out – none! 

Surprisingly, for a country that’s often associated with inventions, Kingdom Scotland is its first luxury perfume house. She explains; “In some ways I was disappointed because I thought I might be able to bring something back to life, but then I thought ‘well actually, this is the opportunity’ and I can start as I thought perhaps a brand should have been, if it were there”. I can see dedication to quality in all aspects of Kingdom Scotland. I feel that if Scotland is to have a perfume house, I want it to speak of glacier-sculpted landscape and flora, mysterious forests - and of course - the pleasure of whisky by the fire on a dreich day! Right now as I type, with a November chill in the air, rain lashing the windows and a view of the last autumn leaves swirling in the wind outside, I’m cuddling up with Metamorphic’s tingling fireside warmth. Magical!  

To find out more or to order perfumes from Kingdom Scotland, visit the website here: https://www.kingdomscotland.com/ 

Rose Strang particulars: Rose.strang @ gmail.com 

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