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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Angelical demons or how something so dark can smell as sweet?

One might wonder what a picture of the Austrian actor Helmut Berger has to do with the legendary perfume commissioned by Marlene Dietrich to the house of Creed, Angélique Encens. And yet there is an unmistakable connection.

As is often the case with Perfume Shrine, obsessions take on many forms, one of which is cinematic. Helmut Berger, né Helmut Steinberger in Salzburg, Austria in 1944 was director Luchino Visconti’s preferred actor and also partner for the length of Viconti’s last 12 years of life.
In the latter’s magnum opus “The Damned” (also featuring a very young Charlotte Rambling, another one of Perfume Shrine's fixations; the film is originally named “La Caduta degli dei”, meaning Fall of the Gods, and has influenced both “Cabaret” and The Night Porter artistically) he plays the role of Martin Von Essenbeck, black sheep of a rich family of pre-WWII steel industrialists, marxistically scrutinized in their entrapment into the Nazi rise and their role in history as they first resented Adolph Hitler, then accepted him, and at last embraced him.

His memorable tour de force as an immature, closet pedophile, perverse son to the unscrupulous arch-mother of the dynasty included a priceless segment in which he reprises the role of Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg's Blue Angel , her classic film of fatal seduction, for the delectation of family viewers.
The sight is compelling, disturbing and alarming to watch as real-life bisexual Berger, dressed in transvestite attire, down to the hat and stockings of Marlene, performs a dance and song at the beginning of the film.

Angélique Encens has an uncanny way of reminding me of that performance in its haunting quality. Created in 1933 by the house of Creed it ties in with the background of the byzantine plot of the film as well, which contributes to my fixation. Apart from Marlene Dietrich, less mysterious Marie Osmond is a great fan as well, which is perhaps something you were better off not knowing, if you recall the cute image of the latter from 70’s shows.
Today the fragrance is part of the Private Collection, a collection of scents by famous patrons, which basically translates as very expensive and hard to get perfumes, if only because they come in truly huge bottles of 250, 500 or 1000ml. That’s a lot of jus! Enough to bathe in it literally. Luckily my sources are more cunning than that and I was able to procure a "decant", perfume-talk for a small quantity taken from someone’s larger bottle; naturally at a more reasonable price than that for the entire bottle.
Although Angélique Encens was created for a woman -albeit a woman that proved to be an icon for homosexuals for so long, still to this day- I can see it effortlessly worn by discerning and adventurous men, even if they do not share Berger’s sensibilities.

Built around the dark green of the strange angelica plant, the harsh green of it tied to Chartreuse , here it couples it with sensuous vanilla and incense. Angélique Encens is an anomaly in the house of Creed, because it lacks the shrill metallic note that most of the other offerings possess; sometimes to their detriment (Spring Flower), other times to their advantage (Silver Mountain Mist). Instead it is smooth and rich from the very start, which makes for an orientalised feeling right away. The vanilla shows itself through from the very beginning. It’s as if one has taken the peeled black pods and immersed them in a seemingly innocent beverage quickly under the table, adding dashes of alcohol; some person who is trying to hide the darker side of an addiction with a wide smile, seemingly appreciative of all your jokes and ramblings but with a too bright, crazy eye.
The inclusion of carnal tuberose takes an unexpected turn that astonishes with its intricacy and pairing with the herbal aspects, as it only reveals itself sporadically at the mid phase of the development of the glorious bouquet. Each unfolding stage is a wonder of velvet plush and baroque that entraps you in its spin of strange twisted comfort (an oxymoron if there ever were one). The inclusion of ambergris and unidentified precious wood and resins makes the perfume mysterious and mesmerizing, completely fit for the colder season, just like The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky is too. A little childish amusement, a lot of dark russian soul. The final drydown of vanilla and amber lingers on and on and on, making us doubt our ability to disentangle ourselves from our obsessions.

Official notes: angelica, tuberose, amber, incense and vanilla

Available from Bergdorf Goodman in the US, Les Senteurs and Escentual.co.uk (later by phone or mail order only and not on-line)
Mail info@escentual.co.uk or call 02920 437343 (shop: 63-67 Wellfield Road, Cardiff, UK)


Top pic of Helmut Berger courtesy of Robinson Archive. Pic of Visconti's "The Damned" DVD jacket from Wikipedia.

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