Monthly Archives: October 2012

KILLER FRUIT: PULP BY BYREDO (2008) + BABY DOLL by YVES SAINT LAURENT (1999)

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BABY DOLL / YVES SAINT LAURENT (1999)

Knee-high nightie. Grapefruit, peach; a shrill, bitter note of pomegranate. Redcurrant, rhubarb: not quite Chucky, but there is still more than a hint of malevolence in Laurent’s Baby Doll. Wickedly fruity, sharp, and sexy – the prototype that launched a thousand copy-cats from rosy moppet-factories dotted across the landscape – this perfume is sweet but self-aware; bright, effervescent, and juicy; a pinky-floral laced with just enough insouciant wit and cynicism to prevent the whole from giving you toothache. The best of its type, and a very big hit in Japan.

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PULP / BYREDO (2008)

‘Fruit basket’ can denote different things: a wicker bowl of cherries perched on apples, oranges and pears. Or a wilful kooky; a loop de loop. Pulp, by Byredo, is a touch of the former, but mostly the latter. The company itself admits that this creation is a ‘dramatic composition focused on the idea of a ripe, sweet, shapeless mass of fruit; an intense and unruly flavor.’ And fruity isn’t the half of it. This is a pinky, foaming, bilge of strawberries, peaches and blackcurrants, thrilling and tooth-rotting: one sniff and I was in James’ Giant Peach with all the creatures, partying and orgying at the core.

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DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME: THE NEW ROMANTICS IN PERFUME (PART 1) : POUR FEMME by ARMANI (1982) + CLANDESTINE by GUY LAROCHE (1985)

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My three biggest passions in life are cinema, music, and perfume.

Since my early teenage years I have loved the heady, mindless escape into each art form ; enjoyed observing how it evolves with the times; the strong sensation that each  year has a very particular aesthetic, influenced by politics, fashion, and the zeitgeist that straddles boundaries of genre, affecting everything.

While I think I have really quite an eclectic taste in music, I came of age, or more precisely came alive, to the pop music of the early eighties, which offered a beautiful refuge to a boy who was essentially very traumatized by the terrifying knowledge that he was ‘different’ to others, despite being ostensibly loved, and popular at school.

However, though piano competitions and being decent academically gave me a sense of achievement, the darkness at my centre as I was compelled by society to hide my true self; the fear that I might not only be rejected, but even possibly injured or killed (because that was how I saw it, based on what was being said around me), was truly devastating to one as sensitive as me, and resulted in a schism where I think a chasm opened up inside of me that, when I first fell in love with music, was flooded like a lung with water.

So, while my one half functioned as usual, the other broke off into the dreams and beauty of pop.

 

 

On Sunday nights I would religiously wait for the top 40 UK charts, finger always on the pause button of the cassette player to record the new songs, which I would edit and listen to obsessively, enraptured. When I finally started getting pocket money or earned my own from a paper round, the records I managed to buy were like religious objects to venerate. I loved them. I would stare at the sleeves, hold them; an unbearable desire and yearning in me to somehow POSSESS  them – an impulse I usually expressed instead by dancing frenetically around my room in a tearful mix of joy and desperation.

 

While the seventies were my childhood years and I love the music from that era – the disco, the folk, the funk, the AOR (the ABBA, god), it belonged more to my parents, or at least their generation.  The new records belonged to ME: Duran, Japan, Soft Cell, Scritti, but particularly Culture Club, whose mix of innocence, colour, and beauty gave me a strange kind of unsullied, elemental, hope. It was a strangely dark period in Britain, the turning of the decade personified musically by post-punk and the politico-pop of The Jam, The Specials and the like, but I was too young really to understand (or frankly, care) about miners on strike or unemployment.  I had enough pain of my own to contend with.

 

To me, now, the whole period is a bittersweet swirl of memories and emotion; of school discos; the ridiculous levels of excitement I would feel as the music cascaded down to me as if from heaven, and  in fact that first school disco, where I was hooked up with a girl called Jessica with her giant, silver, hooped earrings, is to me in my memory like my first taste of reality: the dancefloor; the blur of lights; the smell of swathes of dry ice alighting on my tongue.

 

 

This may seem unrelated to the topic of perfume, but in fact the period of 1981 to 1985, before Madonna reigned, and perfume came to reflect the engorged confidence and material greed in rich, molotov cocktails of scent (Poison, Panthère, Obsession…) was as beautiful in perfume as it was in music. Like diaphanous chrysalids emerging from darkness, the records and the perfumes of this delicate time were couched in irreality, a certain purity and, not least importantly, a sense of fun. The lyrics to half the songs were nonsensical, particularly those of Duran; it was a time when a song called ‘Karma Chameleon’ could reach number one.

 

 

What is interesting is that although the ‘public’ might not consciously realize it, perfume is not simply an intangible nothing, a ‘pleasant smell’ that some company has randomly come up with out of the blue, but, like music and cinema, an actual reflection of the times. Conservative eras breed conservative perfumes (have you ever smelled Nina Ricci’s Capricci?), more louche periods give us Jovan Musk. And following the classicism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the wife-swapping 1970’s, but before the horror of those later 80’s Reaganite ‘power fragrances’ (Boucheron, Senso, Red Door) there came a new dawn of softer, more mysterious beauty that has not been much written about.

 

 

The perfumes of the 80’s tend to get stereotyped exclusively with the standard jokes about big hair and shoulderpads, but like the music itself of the period, which, in the charts at least, became crass and cheap around 1986 (Stock, Aitken and Waterman, Starship, Samantha Fox), perfume had a period of great creativity and spark prior to this uglier time (which I of course of now love, in adult retrospect, in all its Pat Benatar glory). Brosseau’s Ombre Rose, that shadowy, powdered, gorgeously salty creature from 1981, is the smell of the thick foundation and blusher that the girls and the boys were wearing at the time, tenebrous and sombre but also beautifully suggestive and so pink, a colour I most definitely associate with the period.

 

 

Despite the dire economic and social circumstances, the popsters I most identified with understandably turned away from the ‘reality’ of the day, taking refuge in fancy and fairy tale, tarting themselves up like Prince Charmings in their Rococco frills and lace. And, not by coincidence, most of the hit fragrances from this period were based on a preponderance of that most romantic of flowers, the rose, especially the more shadowy Damask roses from Bulgaria and Turkey. These satin-red scents were not characterized by soft aldehydes or chypre notes, like the perfumes of the fifties and sixties, but instead given a new sensibility: intense, brilliant bouquets of flowers sharpened with notes of green, and rounded with sensuous amber to produce a new kind of Modern Romance. Diva, Nocturnes, Courrèges in Blue, Armani Pour Femme and Clandestine, among others, all captured the spirit of these years perfectly.

 

Does all this mean that wearing a scent such as Diva caterpults you straight back into the past? I don’t think so. Perfumes reflect the times we live in but are still, ultimately invisible. Our olfactory apparatus is far less developed than our visual acuity, with which we have become accustomed to processing every image and rapidly filing it in whatever societal classification we see fit. It is very unlikely that someone on the street will flick their head round as you pass by, snidely remarking ‘Jesus, you smell so 1982′.

 

 

It is thirty years ago since The Associates, Spandau, ABC, and the other New Romantics graced the charts, yet the music has been reincarnated in the countless electro acts that are the current musical babes du jour: the fashions, ludicrous as they were, also rechannelled into the latest collections in Paris and Milan. It seems as though the eighties will never die, and for fashion completists who want to capture the entire New Wave look, three-dimensionalizing it with a dusky scent from the actual times, the olfactory lifeblood that emanated from the skins of people actually dancing to that music in those clubs, could be quite compelling.

 

 

You will not find any of these perfumes in the shops anymore, as all have been long deleted from their company’s fragrance lineups, if they are even still in existence, but most can be found quite cheaply online, and I can assure you they are well worth investigating. Compared to what is sold on the high street now they are masterpieces, with the ingredient quality of the best current niche perfumes but fuller; more perfumey, more of an event.

 

 

Perfumes to have your first crush to.

 

 

 

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POUR FEMME / ARMANI (1982)

Armani is a strange creature, personifying certain of the qualities I have written about above. To me it is a glorious mix of the chaste and the carnal, a baroque green rose chypre with a troubling ambery afterglow, overlaid delicately with herbs, woods, and spices. A ghostly girl in white ruffles who in reality has the heart of a tiger. Insistent, feminine, a pallid, hypersensitive girl, you think at first, until her lushness and erotic undertones take over and you realize she is a powerhouse.

In certain reviews I have read about vintage Armani, the talk is all of chypre, and it is true that the scent, particularly in one early black vintage bottle I have, has quite a lot of oakmoss (the defining characteristic of this perfume group): but the benzoin and amber that graze the fuzzier, semi-oriental later stages of the scent, along with the heart notes of Turkish and Bulgarian roses, take it very far away from the witchier, darker scents we associate with that classification, such as Paloma Picasso, 1000, and Magie Noire.

Armani is a perfume of tension. The fluttering sweetness of the rosaceous heart is overlayed with an atypical top note of glinting, tart marigold/tagetes (a trendy note of the period, also a main feature in Lauren and Courrèges in Blue), and a very green accord of  pineapple, galbanum and spearmint which persists throughout the fragrance, even in the more nebulous later stages. This accord, painted in virginal brushstrokes, contrasts brilliantly with the spiced Reine Margot below, those honeyed red roses buttressed with notes of  cyclamen, orchid and narcissus.  It is all very sweet, and very clingy somehow, with a wide-eyed quality that disturbs and gets under the skin.

In 1982 I myself did not have any opportunities to smell this on anybody as the girls at my school were all wearing Impulse. The first time I smelled it was ten years later in Rome. I was waiting in line to enrol at the Università di Sapienza, and a girl, who we will call Christina, introduced herself. It is possible that I am quite a callous, superficial person because what I remember more about her than anything else to this day is her scent : most other things have faded away. Having said that, she was very reticent and didn’t give much away. But somehow she didn’t need to: she wore Armani to perfection, and it almost spoke for her: its sweetness, its strange greenness, and that disturbing, ambered aureole surrounded her with a classical, almost grave, enigma.

 

 

 

CLANDESTINE / GUY LAROCHE (1985)

Here comes the mirror man…..

Like dancing to the Human League at the school disco.

Boob-tubed girls with dangling gold earrings and pink legwarmers chew gum, sip Dr Pepper, glance around. They dance to the beat, flicking their hair to walls of discolights pumping blue and red….

Clandestine, smelled now, is a vivid flashback to the early 80’s, a cherry-lipsalve perfume of plum, pineapple, tuberose and ylang, that is bright, fruity, a touch tacky and young.

As the discoball twirls and you move slowly across the dancefloor, you can almost, almost taste her lipgloss….

 

 

 

 

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SHALL WE NOT TALK ABOUT LAST NIGHT: L’OMBRE FAUVE by PARFUMERIE GENERALE (2008)

 

 

An unclean, and obsessive perfume, Ombre Fauve (‘bestial shadow’) is crepuscular, haunting; dirty, with the smell of unwashed hair;  unmade beds.

 

 

The soft, musked, amalgamating amber and patchouli, slovenly, tameless, feels like a real man or woman; libido overflowing with encroaching mental illness,  wanting more, sprawled in your sheets, depraved.

 

 

 

 

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FAG ASH LIL : : : JASMIN ET CIGARETTE by ETAT LIBRE D’ORANGE (2006)

 

 

 

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The Etat Libre d’Orange perfumes all have a very human quality.  The first impressions are generally flashy and ‘philosophical’, but the ends usually smell like real peoples’ lives.  In the case of Jasmin Et Cigarette, rather than designing a perfume to be worn in a late night bar, the company hilariously put the end result of this scenario (the morning after) actually in the perfume.  And so the top note of a beautifully fresh, living jasmine flower,  delicate, alive, kidnapped directly from nature,  is soon taken over, convincingly,  by the stale aroma of cigarette butts stubbed out by Saturday night careless punters in some overflowing,  snooker club’s ashtray.  Having myself actually on occasion at teenage parties mistakenly drunk from a beer glass in which someone’s fag had been extinguished, and paid the subsequent wrenching,  bog-heaving price,  I must say that I personally find this mouth of ashes hard to take.

 

On some skins, though, that resinous tobacco note, like swirls of cigarette smoke encircling a floral smelling shirt, achieves the Dietrich-ish pall the perfumer probably intended:  a tanked-up floozy; laughing, not giving a shit, and raucously lording it up in some late night saloon with her mates.   On my friend Laurie (the only perfume she will wear),  I have to say that this perfume really does smell kind of glorious. Strangely trustworthy and endearing; peculiarly vulnerable, with its contradictory angles of fag and flower;  butt and bloom, there is real poetry.

 

 

The majority though  (the moral majority…. …yes)  will obviously just smell spent,  trashed and unacceptable in this perfume ; a weeny bit dirty and annihilated.

 

 

 

Probably one to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

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KASHMIRI TEAK: BLACK SAFFRON by BYREDO (2012)

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A person’s reaction to any art form is always highly subjective, and this is especially true of perfume: one man’s Poison really is another man’s cat piss.

And after reading perfume collective Cafleurebon’s recent review of Byredo’s tarry Black Saffron I was amazed :  the talk of soft black violets, dewy crystal roses, and soft, enveloping wisps of Hindi saffron stigmas bore almost no resemblance to my personal experience of this  fragrance, which, while cleverly put together and in some ways obviously attractive, feels to me more like an assault.

I adore saffron, and have an involuntary reflex action whenever I open my little jar of fragrant ochre strands in the kitchen (usually when I make my signature pasta dish of crab and salmon in a white wine saffron tomato and white cabbage sauce): a cross between a groan and a sigh, a slightly flushed sensation in the chest. That this substance is an aphrodisiac is something I don’t need to be told: I know it as a personally felt physiological experience, and it is for this reason that the precious spice, derived from the flowers of the Persian crocus, has been esteemed for millennia as a sexual stimulant.

In perfume, the only saffron I have ever really come across as a leading note is in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Safran Troublant, whose beginning I do find troublingly attractive, but whose end ( a synthetic, creamy sandalwood), I dislike; Ormonde Jayne’s  rosy, saffrontastic Taïf; and as a component in several perfumes I have by Montale, including the peachy-saffron floral strangeness of Velvet Flowers, which I have a bottle of, and sometimes enjoy wearing when in a freaky mood.  At the Paris Montale boutique in the Place Vendôme, when I went there several years ago, there was even a pure saffron scent – just saffron, concentrated – to be layered; tinting the skin a peculiar, culinary orange-yellow.

But Black Saffron, a fragrance by popular Swedish outfit Byredo (a perfume house I essentially cannot abide), has none of the willowing desert eros of these saffron ribbons threading calescent air, or emerging, salivatingly, in the top or heart notes of a scent. Rather, the nifty, urban composition weds a saffronish block of thick, industrialised, dense woods to an intense mix of leather, cashmeran, and vetiver, with an outspoken middle note of raspberry-flavoured pipe tobacco and, at the fore, a piercing, brain-drilling, citrus note of Asian Pomelo (a kind of Chinese grapefruit).

The effect, when you first smell the scent, is very pungent. Though the raspberry-laced tobacco idea has been done before in Tom Ford’s appealing Tuscan Leather, the sensuous addition of black saffron and the penetrating citrus and juniper top note here takes the scent into interesting, if difficult, territory. The juicy bitterness of the pomelo fruit enfolded into the light-devouring woody central theme sees the notes blocked together, with an uncomfortable intensity, as though you were creosoting a fence with tar, while simultaneously sucking on a blood orange and a framboise cigar, poisoning your mouth, and nose, blood, and possibly  your brain, in the process.

This dry yet viscid mouthfeel of Black Saffron has a rich homefurnishings qualität, the pleasurable suffocation of top-level, shining teak tables fresh from furniture polish, and for that reason I initially tried a few squirts as a room spray in my genkan, or entrance, thinking it might work quite nicely in that context. But within seconds, in an Indian peek-a-boo game of nuclear sillage, the scent, with the ability to move through walls with the silent stealth of a Kashmiri insurrectionist, had filled up my kitchen: a billowing, conscious-dimming, black cloud of orange-rind-drenched mahogany. Or should I say agony.

Needless to say, this is not something I would be able to wear myself.

Nevertheless, I can imagine that Black Saffron will have been quite a big hit for Byredo. Despite what I have written above, it does smell good, in the sense that it is well constructed, direct, and smells contemporary. It would accompany an expensively dressed city hipster perfectly, turning heads in the process.

With a scent trail this strong, that is a guarantee.

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KEEP YOUR FLOWERS: :::::::::::THE ORIGINAL MISS DIOR by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1947)

 

 

 

 

“My dream is to save them from nature.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, apparently, said Monsieur Dior.

 

 

And his first scent, the marvellous Miss Dior, was the highly abstract, crisp and green aldehydic chypre that was the sensation of its day, a refreshing post-war antidote to the idea of woman as flower. In its original form, this was a lush, complex, and very poised blend that managed to be womanly without even a hint of sweetness, like a sharply-tailored tweed suit. The keen-edged aroma that you experience as you first apply the perfume comes from a vivid, racy blend of green galbanum; clary sage; bergamot and fresh gardenia petals, on a spiced, and unfloral, heart of rose, jasmine, muguet, carnation and orris, and it is one of those dastardly well constructed scents that brilliantly radiate out these ingredients so you experience each soloist in turn – yet never out of step with the whole ensemble. Dark, musky depths of mosses, patchouli and woods finish the scent with a lingering suggestiveness and a touch of leather, and it is this quality, the combination of a masculine accord with the crisp fresh florals of the top, that gives Miss Dior its unique allure.

 

 

 

A touch kinky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SEXING THE CHERRY: LOUVE by SERGE LUTENS (2007)

 

 

 

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The scent of almond essence is an acquired taste. For some, its sweetness may repel, the confectionery connotations of marzipan and amaretto seemingly unsuited to perfume. For others, myself included, and especially in colder weather, a good almond scent is a delightful, childlike refuge – a nuzzling cocoon.

 

 

 

This sweet, encapsulating, underrated, and delicious perfume is a sleet of confectionery: the snow powdered almonds; the rain, almond essence….

 

 

 

Louve, the fluffed-up white she-wolf, sniffs the cold night air of her marzipan wilderness. Comes bounding across the flaking hills of her snowdrift landscape;  and dissolves; slowly; painlessly.

 

 

 

Only her scent remains.

 

 

 

 

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Beginning exactly like annindofu, the Chinese almond dessert popular in Japan made with the ground down kernels of apricots, tofu, and almond essence, Louve at first might seem like a joke (Lutens is famous for pushing, pushing his perfumers – ‘no, more iris, more musk, more almond, until they give in and produce the bacchanalia he is famous for). But with the poignant, vanillic roses; the hint of jasmine; and the dirty, voluptuous hint of animal musk that salaciously lines the cherry, the joke pays off. For almond lovers there is nothing better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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