The shady, cloistered Cour Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence hides a treasure trove of small cafes to challenge even Athens. But it is the seemingly endless array of fountains that belies the connection with my city of dwelling. The palpable coolness and crispness of water spray in the air are solace in the hot summer months, the ivy clad building where Chez Feraud gets its business, the birthhouse of the painter Cezanne transformed into a small museum, the parade of students resting their bikes by the bottle green hitching posts on the street a buzzing beehive of life… A slice of that joyous life is caught in Aqua Sextius, launched by Jul et Mad last March during the Excence scent exhibition in Milan.
Aqua Sextius is the latest opus by Cecile Zarokian, a perfumer that shapes up to become a force to be reckoned with in the niche perfume sector. I have enjoyed her Amouage Epic for the ladies, exhibiting a gift for plushness that doesn't drag by impenetrable density. Her portfolio includes fragrances for Jovoy, Laboratorio Olfactivo and MDCI Perfumes, and also other even more esoteric or fledging brands which I admit haven't really explored (but am open to all the same!). The latest composition she submitted to the real life binational couple of "Jul et Mad" (Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard) who have based their brand onto their real life romance, told chapter by chapter, fragrance by fragrance, is wildly different from the thing I expected before checking out the press description.
Although Aqua predisposes one for "water", my mind reeled more into the "Eau" French counterpart that usually denotes a light and limpid citrus & herbs composition inspired by the time-honored eau de cologne recipe bequest from the 18th century onwards. Boy, as I wrong in assuming.
Aqua Sextius by Jul et Mad comes across as indeed an "aquatic" and if there's one genre which the current perfumista micro- world hasn't quite forgiven the 1990s (the median perfumista's budding years, I suppose therefore dismissed for being naive?) it is "marine" fragrances.
This is mainly a fault of the relative blandness of the blends, the impression of chilling silence before a piercing battle cry (that'd be the 2000s uber-sweet gourmands that'd risk giving cavities even by osmosis) rather than the smell of water bodies and the sea that aquatic fragrances in vain tried to approximate. As a consequence of perfumers not being entirely able to catch the nuance seascape into a predetermined "chord" or "note", a couple of aces up their sleeves became olfactory code for "aquatic", realism be damned: Calone, the smell of cut melon, dewy and too sweet to stand for convincing water but wildly propaged such as in CK Escape; violet nitriles, giving the damp and juicy impression of sliced cucumbers and dewy violet leaves (a successful example in Eau de Cartier); dihydromyrcenol, a metallic citrus-lavender molecule with a side of dish wash cleaner, famously enshrined to public consciousness in Davidoff's Cool water and its prolific spawn. Unless you'd been told (or had been suggested to by images of sea & river spray via advertising and packaging) you'd hardly pick "water" or "sea" to describe those notes. No matter, they're part of semiotics.
The duo of Julien and Madalina (the Jul et Mad of the company's brand name) apparently asked Zarokian for a fragrance that'd replicate their meeting in Aix-en-Provence (the Latin name of consul Gaius Sextius reflected in the later Germanic-rooted Aix): the fountains, the buzz of warm weather insects, the countryside, the romance of Southern France. One tends to forget it, rapped up into the Parisian sophistication perpetuated for public consumption, but France is a Mediterranean country, a significant part of its shores bathed in the azure of Mare Nostrum. But as mentioned above, catching that elusive scent is supremely difficult. Aqua Sextius instead turns to mint and a hint of eucalyptus to give a fresh green piquancy reminiscent of the "city of 100 fountains" as Aix-en-Provence is famed as, a slice of cedar woodiness and musky amber diffusive elements, the "marine" part reminding me of dihydromyrcenol (thankfully sans Calone). "The market has homogenized tastes and the crisis hasn't really changed that; people turn to what is already familiar", comments Vincent Gregoire, trend watcher and the Nelly Rodi lifestyle director. Maybe is this a reason behind using such a familiar "note" in a celestial fragrance that comes from a niche brand? It could be. It could also be a personal bet that Cecile Zarokian put herself in for; it's not easy to divest a popular trope of its signs and view it anew. I don't know what to make of it, really but at least I can see where Zarokian is coming from.
The fragrance's shade, an inviting aqua (bit bluer than the green depicted above in real life) that I'd love to include in my summery chiffon blouses arsenal, is one of those cases that the coloring of the juice is supremely matched to the olfactory impression rendered.
High marks to Jul et Mad for offering several options of packaging in even really small sizes for perfumephiles to cut their teeth onto, such as the 20ml black glass Compagon atomiser and the 5ml Love Dose miniatures.