Thursday, January 13, 2011

L'Artisan Parfumeur Traversee du Bosphore: fragrance review & draw

Wheelbarrow, lay off the whip and don't rush the horses,
you don't need to hurry when you've got your love so close by.
When he smiles, the world smiles at me,
so let the wheel run where it might,

and wherever it goes, it's fine by me.

~from the song "Wheelbarrow" by Manos Hadjidakis from the 1963 Greek film
Χτυποκάρδια στα θρανία/
(hence the top clip)

Any mention of Bosphorus, the strait between East and West, uniting and at the same time dividing Constantinople (Istanbul), which lays on both its banks, never fails to ignite a very palpable nostalgia laced with a smattering of pain for any Greek. We're automatically thinking of the failing grandeur of the Paleologi dynasty and lamenting for the times when Greeks and Turks co-existed in peace for centuries in this most cosmopolitan of Eastern cities. Traversée du Bosphore (Crossing the Bosphorus) by L'Artisan Parfumeur, like its namesake strait, was the straw that broke the ~proverbial~ camel's back, as anything referencing the city of Constantine will make me reminiscence yet again of my forebearers and the sweet camaraderie they had to abandond due to political turmoil. But The City, Istanbul, is in reality neither Greek, nor Turkish. It's neither christian nor muslim. It's a cultural border, a place where everything meets and unites, a cauldron of cultures and men; the place which millions of different people, of different nationalities and religions, loved madly through the centuries. A city so beautiful that there was no other way to call it than The City, η Πόλη!

Traversée du Bosphore comes now from Bertrand Duchaufour and L'Artisan Parfumeur as the symbolic strait between modern French perfumery and its oriental heritage. The unisex fragrance was fittingly inspired by a journey to Istanbul, when at the crack of dawn the cobblestone streets still retain their sleepy languor, like heavy-boned odalisques stealing gazes through the lacework wooden panel of the musharabieh, and when the many fishermen set out to catch their day's worth, packing nets, salty sardines and pita bread. You can easily lose yourself promenading unhurriedly through the small alleys towards the seraglio and Kahrié djami with its blue-peacock mosaics, gazing at the narthex's domes for hours or the many fountains where pilgrims ritualistically wash their head and hands before proceeding. It's a slow world, filled with beautiful wistfulness.

The strange thing about Traversée du Bosphore, part of the Travel series in the niche brand's subplot, is how a -by now- cliché concept (i.e.eastern exoticism) that should be a foregone conclusion (loukhoum, tanneries, saffron, milky salep drink, tobacco in hookahs, opulent roses, strange white flowers......hasn't Lutens exhausted that genre?) smells interesting and contemporary; nothing like a heavy odalisque looking through the parapets or Alladin rolled into plies and plies of plush carpets. Instead it's a gouache of a scent: a transparent suede floriental with soft musky notes, a marriage of rosewater and suede.

Indeed, the list of official notes for Traversée du Bosphore reads like a shopping list of things to find in a Turkish souk or at the very least smells encountered around a Turkish souk. The apple-laced çay (tea) is very popular and no one makes it more delicious than Piyer Loti Kahvesi at Eyup (the European side of the city), a stone's throw away from Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Byzantine apotheosis that is the temple of Aghia Sophia. Loti is the writer of Aziyadé (see the perfume inspired by it) and knew a thing or two about sensual abandon...Tobacco is still smoked in hookahs; not only by old men in derelict coffee-shops, heavy in political talk, but from younger ones as well, when they finally sit down to have an aimless break. Men and women alike buy fresh phyllo pastry, almonds and pistachios to make baklava, and Turkish delight by the pound to bring back at home. The market is filled with golden and red heaps of spices, precious saffron and dried Turkish roses for using as pot-pourri. Tanneries do work merrily (Turkish leathers have competitive prices), although the effluvium isn't anything one would associate with perfume.

But the summation of the notes or the panoramic vol plané shot does not really tell the whole tale: Duchaufour was no stranger to Byzantine formulae, including everything but the kitchen sink before, and the results are diverse: from the baroque patina gold of Jubilation XXV for Amouage to the carnal tryst of Amaranthine for Penhaligon's, all the way to the deceptively diaphanous muddy-incense of Timbuktu for L'Artisan. His compositions include many pathways that lead to a gauze of orientalia.
For Traversée du Bosphore Duchaufour eschewed clichés to come up with a composition that marries on the one hand Anatolian leather (you will only smell grey suede, really, not harsh quinolines; it's comparable to the note in Sonia Rykiel Woman-Not for Men! and Barbara Bui Le Parfum) and on the other hand Turkish Delight (loukhoum), into a unique interpretation of the leather genre; velvety and whispery soft, opening upside down: After the brief apple çay top (blink and you'll miss it!), you sense the suede and only later the powdery loukhoum accord.
The strangely greyish powderiness of iris dusts the notes like white copra dust enrobes the small rose-laced loukhoum cubes, while saffron with its leathery bitterish facets reinforces the impression and balances the sweeter notes, much like it kept vanilla in check in Saffran Troublant. The iris-leather accord in Traversée du Bosphore weaves a whispery path together with a hint of almond giving a light gourmand nod. The whole smells like rosewater sweets wrapped in a suede pouch, never surupy and very skin-scent like (incorporating that Havana Vanille base), although a tad more flowery feminine than most men would feel comfortable with. It's a fragrance which smells nice and simple like a nostalgic song from an old movie which dies down to a murmur, and might demand your attention to catch the smaller nuances.

As for me I know well that the past is inextricably tied to the future, and revel in thinking of Istanbul as the pathway where cultures and people will eternally meet...and part.

For our readers a draw: one sample to a lucky commenter. Draw is now closed, thank you!
Tell us where you would envision the next travel series by L'Artisan should take us.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore is available in 50 ($115) and 100 ml ($155) of Eau de Parfum wherever L'Artisan is sold (voutiques, Perfume Shoppe, Luckyscent, Aedes, First in Fragrance etc).

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Travel memoirs Instanbul part 1, part 2, part 3,Leather scents

The bottom music clip and the film stills come from the Greek 2003 film Πολίτικη Κουζίνα/A Touch of Spice by Tasos Boulmetis, starring George Corraface and exploring the culinary philosophy that maps the course of modern Istanbul and the fateful, doomed romance between a Greek boy and a Turkish girl before the deportation of Greeks in 1964. It's uploaded in its entirety with English subtitles on Youtube: the first part is on this link and you can take it from there. Happy watching!


  1. That's a great review of a perfume I have not yet tried but through the words there is scent...

    I think I would choose a Traversee des Iles ... Tahiti and all that side of the world that is filled with fragrances and so much beauty. I could also say the Caribbean but then.. I get lost among these two places. Les Iles... Yes.


  2. Lovely article! I watched that Greek film some time ago and it is very nice. A beautiful movie, indeed.

    L'Artisan could take us to Japan next time. I'm not sure if they have travelled there before. I would like an exotic woody-green fragrance.

    Plase, enter me in the draw :) Thanks!

  3. Gorgeous descriptions - you bring the scents to life beautifully.

    I suggest a perfum trip to the Seychelles, all warm frangipani blossom and strange dense wood.

  4. Annette22:59

    A perfume jungle safari, South Africa perhaps? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Scent of the Lion. Please enter me in the draw

  5. Now this sounds interesting Helg - please enter me in the draw too!
    Hope it gets to my shores soon.

  6. Anonymous00:43

    I was so excited about this that I accidentally shut down my computer in my haste to type, and I'm all fingers and thumbs now! (Deep breath.)

    The next travel series by L'Artisan should take us to China - not just because it is a growing market for luxury goods, which doesn't hurt, but because it is a dynamic and changing place with a massive backstory. The options for scent are limitless, and what a chance to branch out from the usual "Oriental" perfume expectations! They could do something wonderful, I know they could.

    (Another deep breath.)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  7. I'd love to see an Irish scent. Why not? Peaty bogs and broad blue skies. And sheep...? Well, maybe not Ireland. ;)

  8. I am pretty sure Bertrand Duchaufour next project will focus on his travels to Japan he was inspired by rice and black ink if I remember correctly. I totally think focusing on an Asian country would be wonderful.

  9. I agree with taffynfontana: Japan would be very interesting. M. Duchaufour, if you come to Japan, be sure to try zukoh, a kind of incense powder that is rubbed on the hands (for purification) in certain Buddhist temples. It contains not only the expected oud and sandalwood, but also turmeric, clove, saffron and other exotic spices. (Hoping to win the draw :) )

  10. I think a trip to frozen siberian land could be interesting, although the suggested Japan is very tempting
    please, enter me the draw-thank you

  11. Ooooh, how about South-East Asia.

    Please ener me in the draw, T/Y!

    ~ Susan

  12. Stephan10:38

    Time and again I adore your way of sharing diverse cultural aspects with your readers. That's a true pleasure to me.
    Next travel?! Maybe not so fancy, but I'd like to make it to Oman.

  13. Anonymous10:40

    Thanx for a chance at the draw . .

    And what a fine little essay that was. Felt like I almost experienced the city. Next stop: how about the heart of Africa? Let's go in, deep and dense.

  14. Being Greek, I really feel what is written in the review. It feels to the point it hurts...
    I just hope that the perfume does justice to the dreamy, oriental, cosmopolitan picture drawn. I just need to get it.

  15. Anonymous14:02

    So many great ideas here already. I'm going to vote for a scent from the north - Iceland or Norway. I'd love to see what someone would come up with for that.

    And do please enter me in the draw - I've not been able to try the Bosphore yet and would love to.

  16. Anonymous14:07

    Next adventure...Greece. I lived in this beautiful country for several years and it stole my heart. Sun on stone, the sea, the scent of the mountains,myrtle,rosemary, carnations,figs, quince...the possibilities would be endless!

  17. I'd love to see what Mssr. Duchaufour could do with Bali. I don't know what Bali smells like, but it is a fascinating place--the sole Hindu-majority island in the otherwise Muslim country of Indonesia. Please enter me in the draw. And thank you for pointing out the wonderful films.

  18. Oh, all these ideas sound wonderful! I love the idea of the tropicals, and adore the idea of the dry open African spaces... but how about New York? What, I wonder, would the King of Transparent do for the densest of cities? Could be very interesting.

  19. i'm afraid i must join the Japan contingent as the scent of Sumi ink obsesses me.

    please enter me in the draw.

  20. China is mostly unexplored territory....

  21. Ireland or Scotland!
    Please enter me in the draw. :o)

  22. DRTVRMoi22:21

    The former USSR is so tempting....

  23. Vl,

    thank you and hope you get a chance to try it out.
    The tropical isles are so very beautiful...especially when it's winter and one thinks of sandy beaches, suagr-spun almost, and lush flowers in the distance...

    HOpe you're very well!! :-)

  24. Isa,

    how nice that you have watched the film and got the references! It's delightful how it used language to propose the idea that longer words "hide" inside them other words with a different (but associated) meaning.

    Duchaufour did travel to Japan apparently and I do think it would make its way into a future scent ;-) So your wish might come true.

    You're in, good luck!

  25. Deborah,

    aw, thank you!
    It would be great if a "strange dense wood" note were married to frangipani, the contrast is always more interesting!

  26. Annete,

    an interesting idea, one that hasn't been explored too much. Of course there is Timbuktu which is inspired by rituals in Africa and Dzing had always been promoted as "the scent of the circus" and the lion ring, I suppose, but Africa is such a vast continent with jarringly contradictory aspects from North to South....I very much like your idea, myself!!

  27. M,

    it's soft and cuddly, I predict it will be quite popular, although it's not as impressive/obviously intricate as some of his other scents.
    Good luck and I do hope it reaches your shores soon, in retail form and possibly (why not?) in inspiration form for the next installment. (I absolutely adored Australia when I visited, the beaches, as well as the views, especially on Manley, have stuck with me for ever)

  28. Anna,

    ouch, sorry I involuntarily produced such a frenzy of typing desire.

    China is a great destination, good thinking and great reasoning. The history and culture is so dense and nuanced that tomes and tomes of perfume authoring could be "written". It would be even greater if some of the intricate and delicate china patterns that are so precious get transported into a fragrance bottle (a la Al Oudh!)I would assume that a Chinese inspired scent should be transparent and ethereal; the sensibility is completely different than the opulence of the maharhajas of the southern peninsulas of Asia...
    Let's see. In the meantime, best of luck!

  29. Jen,

    it's always struck me as how some countries and some nations inspire instant perfume associations and some don't; is it received wisdom or sheer marketing on their part? (It is if we're talking of the French who have finetuned this "pushing" into an artform). I have yet to hear of anyone propose Ireland and I fervently believe it is a GREAT idea. I'm thinking of beer myself, Guiness to be exact. :D
    A little bit of sheep's lanolin note wouldn't be too bad, would it? Goats are the really smelly ones, right?

  30. Taffy,

    indeed. You are well informed, I see. But rice and black ink do strike me as a bit of "expected" notes for Japan; tea would be a cliche, but are we too far off that risk with the above? Ink especially is making a somewhat "trendy" entry (see the infamous Byredo) and I want to check myself from saying "beware of trends" but...I sorta feel that way.
    Anyway, let's not put the cart before the horses and wait till we see what happens.
    I am 100% behind you that an Asian inspiration would come in handy.

  31. Johnl,

    what a wonderful idea and what a dreamy post! I now want to rub my hands with the delightful zukoh paste... you tease! ;-)

    Best of luck!

  32. Irina,

    it's an old idea of mine that snow-covered planes would provide a very intriguing idea for a fragrance: I imagine flowers or stems piercing through ice and smelling painfully pure. The air ringing, the nose feeling a sting of something almost trigeminal nerve touching coming.
    It's a diffucult idea to execute though: none of the so claimed "cool" scents seems cool enough to me for this (Apres L'Ondee for instance is rather warmish really with all that heliotrope, I have always found, not icy) I would love to see L'Artisan set foot in the steppes and do a Sibirskiy tsiryulnik turn! ;-)

  33. Susan,

    you're in, hope you win!

    South-East Asia is a very particular, exciting and unique locale, as I recall from Bali, Bankoong and Singapore.
    However isn't Dzongha inspired by Bhutan already? (so we're eliminating regions; mind you I don't think that way, but I bet the marketing team does)

  34. Stephan,

    you're very welcome, it's always a pleasure writing those things and an even greater joy when they provide enjoyment to others.
    Oman would be quite opulent; is Bertrand up to doing another gilded "antique gold" scent? (I refer to his Amouage opus of course)

  35. Anon,

    you're welcome, best of luck!

    And thanks for the kind words on the writing.
    Heart of Africa is so very mystical and hidden I don't even know how they would go after that idea. But it's a thought! What do you propose as notes/associations?

  36. Nilam,

    then you must have noticed a few of my trasngressions with the translation, I'm afraid. Or not?

  37. Nilam,

    then you must have noticed a few of my trasngressions with the translation, I'm afraid. Or not?

  38. Debby,

    ahhh...a kindred spirit! See above about irina's and my idea of a Siberian scent. Iceland and Norway would be equally interesting.
    I have to say the rather oxymoronic Iceland name (with their hot springs scattered everywhere, I mean...) stands for all sort of cunning and cute wordplay when they would be about to choose a name for the scent.

    You're in!

  39. Anon,

    glad it was so!
    I'm afraid no one has made justice to the land in olfactory terms yet (although the older Diptyques with their herbal and incense references did a plausible job). I live for the day they do. The possibilities are indeed endless.
    I would definitely add oleander, olives (both the leaves and the fruit), lots of dust notes and cypress. Oh and some turpenes in there, to jazz it up (since they do enter in some specific wines anyway).

  40. Queen,

    it's a nice enough idea, as Bali is so wet and humid. I bet it would bring forth all sort of earthy, leafy smells. I recall South-East Asia having a rather yeasty smell. It made an impression on me. The temples are certainly a reference; it seems they're so ingrained into the cadre of talking about those regions.

    You're most welcome and best of luck!

  41. StyleSpy,

    I would absolutely love to see your idea materialised!! Smashing, now there's a thought. How a bespectacled Franc with intellectual ideas about perfume will transcribe that labyrinth of cultures? It's a tall order, but so worth it. (and I would be glad that a certain brand that will remain nameless to protect the innocent won't have cornered the concept then!)

  42. Classflirt,

    it's certainly a fascinating smell. I do wish it doesn't become the next oud/iris/vetiver etc., though. It would cease to be so fascinating then.
    It's early times yet, nevertheless and if anyone can do it, Duchaufour can.

    Good luck!

  43. CCW,

    assuredly so! And a giant that has just stretched its long legs after a beauty sleep. It will be most surprising to see it full awake and running, I bet.
    There are so many ideas to explore in a Chinese or Japanese theme...

  44. Eva,

    unusual ideas always have my ears perked up. I'm behind you on this!

    Hope you win!

  45. DRTVRMoi,

    so very tempting that I hope the above mentioned (in the comments) Siberian idea doesn't feature a gulag!
    I'm just kidding.

    Thanks for stopping by, wonder if that might do the trick with an historical fragrance, to be honest! (<Maybe it's an idea for Parfum d'Empire; that would be kinda funny in its way, come to think about it.)

  46. When I think of landscapes I would love to smell, my heart always goes back to Southern California where I grew up--no the smog, but the eucalyptus trees, the scent of sage, hot sun on dust. Or maybe a camp in the high Sierras: ponderosa pines, the fresh scent of glacial water on stone, hot sun on pine needles.

    Please enter me in the draw

  47. Valentine22:12

    I would love L'Artisan to go on an olfactory tour of Egypt.

  48. I must a agree with Waverly. I am also from Southern California, and in spring, it smells amazing. Where I live there is plenty of jasmine, orange, lime and lemon trees, eucalyptus, and a sweet smelling mini-magnolia down the street. Nearby is a hiking trail that smells of sages -- I'm not sure if these two walking journeys would work well together, though. Perhaps two different scents are called for. Walking my dog that time I year, I'm always stopping and thinking, "where's that fantastic smell coming from?" Or I pinch a neighbors rosemary or lavender plants and roll the leaves or buds between my fingers to release their scent. I'd love to have these scents bottled so I can remember what's coming when suffering the baking heat of our Indian Summers.

  49. Wow...I want to experience ALL of these scents. I live on the coast in Central California (big state--we need to identify our region!), and I love the smells here.
    But, I was thinking of Bali, too. I've never been there, but it would seem to smell of damp warm green. Yum.
    Please enter me in the drawing.

  50. Canada! A mythic-historical Canada, perhaps, but something with the smell of cold clean air and running water (really cold and clean, not the synthetic freshness we're all so sick of), the various woods and their loamy undergrowth (since it is such a heavily forested country), and of course castoreum in the base (because the fur trade, particularly in beaver skins, was so important in the early part of the country's history). I'd snap that up.

  51. Anonymous09:04

    I would love to smell what he can come up with or the other extreme -Brasil!
    thank you for the beautiful article!

  52. Barbara16:45

    Beautifully written review as always!! [swooning here]

    My own idea would be a trip to New Zealand and the inspiration coming from that part of the world. It seems so off the chart, doesn't it?

    Thanks for entering me in the draw.

  53. What a mouth watering description of this perfume and the markets; makes you want to hop on a plane! Since all the exotic places I would have picked are mentioned I think I will go with where I live. How about the Pacific Northwest...woods, pine, cedar, resin, rain and gray mist, salt air, ferns and forest blossoms...I don't know?


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