Thursday, January 28, 2021

Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady: fragrance review

 Portrait of a Lady in the line Editions des Parfums Frederic Malle is named after the homonymous novel by Henry James from 1881; a romantic detail which never fails to stir the imagination as related to fragrance. The novel tells the story of Isabel Archer, a young American heiress who "affronts her destiny". Dealing with one of James' recurrent themes, an American in Europe (as in Wings of the Dove), and the differences between the two cultures, The Portrait of a Lady is a tale of the conspiracy to separate Isabel from her fortune, and subsequently  the value of autonomy and accountability.


The olfactory inspiration however has little to do with ladies, and lots to do with the burgeoning trend, set years before with Serge Lutens opening Les Salons de Palais Royal (find the perfume addresses of Paris here), of Arabian-inspired perfumery. Portrait of a Lady, by perfumer Dominique Ropion, deals with a rose note and spices in a new, contemporary way that varies between the oriental and chypre theme with patchouli, natural and intense, dominating the heart of the composition.

It is interesting to compare and contrast two rose-centric fragrances in the Malle collection, Portrait of a Lady and Une Rose. The Damascus rose makes itself felt in the former, while Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Une Rose, created by Edouard Flechier, contains a record 1% of the expensive absolute of the Rose de Mai, a more crystalline, more citrusy variant, which is hereby allied to a chord smelling like truffles to give it an earthy, fleshy quality.

Rose and patchouli is a classic combination, memorized by every amateur perfumer like a mantra, and used by every professional one, revered for the ability of the latter essence to make the former seemingly bloom out in all eternity; keeping it moist, green, fresh, and yet at the same time dark, thorny and dangerous. L'Artisan Parfumeur's Voleur de Roses is a great example of the synergy of the two, with a minty, camphoraceous patchouli creating something totally unexpected for a rose fragrance, which is so often left to smell prim and proper like bath products.

The damascones present in rose, also make up a significant part as the component of the smell of raspberries, as well as tobacco. The tying of Turkish rose with raspberry in Portrait of a Lady, and underscoring it with honeyed facets and smoky incense, creates ooomph. Volume, projection, a flaming red tongue wagging to everyone in the vicinity commanding respect. 

This is no shy lady. Beware! Her skin is ivory, the rose is blood red, her person is on the cusp of hot and cold. Like in the song Herrin de Fueurs, she has "hair of copper, like a chestnut tree in flames" and "name and blood from the innermost of the earth."


Fragrant notes for Portrait of a Lady:  Turkish rose, raspberry, black currant, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, ambroxan, benzoin and white musk

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.



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