"Princess Asagao had sent perfumes kneaded into rather large balls in two jars, indigo and white, the former decorated with a pine branch and the latter a branch of plum. Though the cords and knots were conventional, one immediately detected the hand of a lady of taste. Inspecting the gifts and finding them admirable, the prince came upon a poem in faint ink which he softly read over to himself. 'Its blossoms fallen, the plum is of no further use. Let its fragrance sink into the sleeves of another.' " ~"The Tale of the Genji"
Parfums 137 is a fledging French niche brand which decided to base their concept on the escapism that perfume so accomodatingly offers: olfactory memory and travel so often powerfully combine, as we have many times personally attested in our "Travel Memoirs" here on Perfume Shrine. Parfums 137 decided to combine that given with the nifty ~but tentative~ alchemist that so many of us hide inside and propose a story layered in 3 different scents which could be mixed and matched, ending up in up to 7 different combinations, so as to produce a unique result each time, however the mood strikes. Hence the subtitle Jeux de Parfums (Perfumes Game). The even niftier touch however is that you could probably use each one of them to layer under other fragrances which you already own, but I will leave this further experimentation to your fertile imagination!
According to the press release with Nara 1869 we're taken on a fictional journey whereupon, a perfumer named Akimoff, was sent by the house of Violet to scout raw materials in mystical Japan on the year 1869. He met a Venitian photographer, Felice Beato, who introduced him to the traditional ceremony Kôdô/Kou-dou, in which participants are asked to recognize essences. The Umegae Chapter (A Branch of Plum) in "The Tale of the Genji" speaks of Incense Making contests, and incense kneaded with honey which form integral part in Kou-dou. It therefore comes as little surprise that it was banned during the later Meiji period because it had become a popular gambling pastime! Still the ceremony is mystifying: The players start with rice chaff ash (kouro-bai), stirred so as to allow for air circulation and placing the hot charcoal on a hole in the center of the censer cup, over which an ash pattern is created (Shin-kouro, Gyou-kouro and Sou-kouro). A vent is pierced and over it a mica plate (Gin-you) is placed where the incense (Kou boku) is finally placed to burn.
Here is a delightful passage from The Tale of the Genji:
"The time had come to review the perfumes. "It should be on a rainy evening," said Genji. "And you shall judge them. Who if not you?" He had censers brought in. A most marvelous display was ranged before the prince, for the ladies were determined that their manufactures be presented to the very best advantage. "I am hardly the one who knows," said the prince. He went over them very carefully, finding this and that delicate flaw, for the finest perfumes are sometimes just a shade too insistent or too bland. Genji sent for the two perfumes of his own compounding. It being in the old court tradition to bury perfumes beside the guardsmen's stream, he had buried them near the stream that flowed between the main hall and the west wing. He dispatched Koremitsu's son, now a councillor, to dig them up. Yu~giri brought them in. "You have assigned me a most difficult task," said the prince. "I fear that my judgment may be a bit smoky." The same tradition had in several fashions made its way down to the several contestants. Each had added ingeniously original touches. The prince was faced with many interesting and delicate problems. Despite Asagao's self-deprecatory poem, her "dark" winter incense was judged the best, somehow gentler and yet deeper than the others. The prince decided that among the autumn scents, the "chamberlain's per- fumes," as they are called, Genji's had an intimacy which however did not insist upon itself. Of Murasaki's three, the plum or spring perfume was especially bright and original, with a tartness that was rather daring. "Nothing goes better with a spring breeze than a plum blossom," said the prince.Parfums 137 place Akimoff under the charm of a young geisha on Dec 7th 1869 & subsequently want him to create 3 perfumes based on his experiences of Kodo. Alexandre Bigle, the founder of Parfums 137 came up with the idea of creating a coffret that would incorporate interpretations of these scents and commissioned the trio to nose Isabelle Maillebiau (of Drom Fragrances).
Observing the competition from her summer quarter, the lady of the orange blossoms was characteristically reticent, as inconspicuous as a wisp of smoke from a censer. She finally submitted a single perfume, a summer lotus-leaf blend with a pungency that was gentle but firm. In the winter quarter the Akashi lady had as little confidence that she could hold her own in such competition. She finally submitted a "hundred pace" sachet from an adaptation of Minamoto Kintada's formula by the earlier Suzaku emperor, of very great delicacy and refinement. The prince announced that each of the perfumes was obviously the result of careful thought and that each had much to recommend it".
Out of the Nara 1869 triumvirate, Olibanum easily won me over with its nuanced ambience of warmth and cool that raises up into the air in serene tulips of smoke, more Far Eastern Boudhist temples than Orthodox or Catholic crypts.
In Osmanthus the characteristic apricote-suede facets of the natural flower are subtler than in other renditions, with the "sanitised" patchouli of neo-chypres emerging as an underpinning that gives it a disctinctly modern edge. I am reminded of floral woodies such as Coco Mademoiselle or Midnight Poison and their ilk which tells me it will be tremendously popular.
Bigarade is dominated by the heavenly smell of citrus aurantia, or bigaradier; the Seville bitter orange tree that flanks the streets of the Spanish city, and which produces neroli via steam distillation of its leaves and twigs. Here, neroli is fused with the lightly warm, sweetish effluvium of smooth, clean musk, offering another interpretation of the formula that accounts for the tangier and cooler Eau d'Orange Verte.
Personally I thought that the combination of Bigarade and Olibanum complimented one another best, the citrusy facets of one echoeing the tangier facets of the other, but numerous combinations can be tried.
Notes for Parfums 137 Nara 1869:
Bigarade: notes of citruses, white tea blossoms, musk, woods.
Osmanthus: notes of peaches and abricot together with florals and patchouli.
Olibanum: fresh, spicy, an ode to incense with notes of myrrh and patchouli.
Nara 1869 comes in three 15ml/0.5oz sprayers in an illustrated coffret with booklet for 60 Euros and although unavailable in the US, it can be purchased on the official site.
Parfums 137 has also introduced a coffret named Stromboli 1950, comprised of the scents of Spearmint, Myrte and Immortelle (very Med, all of them!) which personally reminds me of the fiesty Roberto Rosellini and Ingrid Bergman affair on that fateful Italian volcanic landscape, but I guess you will have to find out more for yourselves on the official site for Parfums 137 where they also offer samples.
Pics via taiko.be and nipponkodo.com