A regular drinker of coffee, I sometimes also find myself craving the essence of coffea arabica and robusta in perfume : but only when it doesn’t actually smell like coffee. Last week in Yokosuka, suddenly in the mood for the more spring-ambered balsamic, I swooned over myself in pleasure wearing an instinctively grabbed Serge Lutens Cèdre (an amber tuberose) all over one arm, and L’Artisan Parfumeur’s phenomenal Eau Navigateur – allegedly the first perfume ever to use coffee absolute in its formulation – all over the other : it smelled great. Navigateur is one of those double-edged bottles of happiness and melancholy for me, though; sad in the sense that each precious time I decide to use it, it means there is less for the future : our bottle is now down to its last eighth. I can’t waste this any more : such an exquisitely, intuitively built perfume by the late Jean Laporte (who I personally think was a very underrated genius) – that it somehow manages to be both light as air – like blue skies and sunlight in the desert – and yet irreplaceably warm; soft; enveloping and enigmatic, with its intricately filigréed notes of spice; coffee; incense; rum, myrrh and other resins; a hint of tobacco and a delicate floral breeze (it sometimes reminds me of Chamade) – but used with such a genial deftness of touch……………to me this perfume is an out and out masterpiece. It is, unfortunately, also now very difficult to find, so I must cherish it while it lasts. While the spiced dexterity of amber and all the other ingredients is sense-prickling and inspired in this blend, the coffee note in Navigateur is, I think, ultimately what makes it – conferring a strangely unexpected and otherworldly quality. Yet it somehow never smells especially coffeeish; more a feeling; an aromatic lift – perhaps wisps of coffee aromas emanating from some unplaceable building nearby, rather than the physical, caffeined embodiment of the drink’s invigoration itself.
The weather is up and down here at the moment – summer to winter and back again from one day to the next – crazily changeable and intense. Friday, the first day of the national ‘Golden Week’, was freezing: heinous with tempestuous rains and winds, and I had all the fires on; wrapped up in sweaters and blankets and doused, and I mean doused , in about twenty sprays of the already incredibly dense and sweet Encens Suave by Matiere Premiere, an intoxicating autosuffocation that even with one spray perhaps verges on a cloying – but very natural smelling – Madagascar vanilla, benzoin and labdanum, a heart of Somalian frankincense, and unusually, a top note of fresh coffee, which I found myself nuzzling into on my knitwear with gusto on Monday, huffing like an obsessive cat; the lightness of the coffee aroma melding divinely with the incense and vanilla and making me melt. Before, with this scent, my nose had been focusing more on the vanilla and incense that dominate; but now that one’s nasal hairs have unearthed the fresher coffee nuances (once you smell something you can’t unsmell it) Encens Suave has the chance to potentially become one of the Beloveds – and I will have to savour it just a little more carefully. The scent also lingers magnificently, and that is another quality that I hold dear in a perfume – when I pick up my clothes the next day and just want to put the same ones on again they smell so good.
A friend of mine recently went through a six month caffeine-free period for health reasons rather than out of choice, and came to the ultimate conclusion that life was crap without it. I am also addicted to coffee, but try to limit myself to two cups a day now to avoid too much overstimulation – overdosing because of the cravings and the deliciousness only leads to jittery regrets and upset stomachs. It is definitely better in moderation – and for the powerful antioxidant factor, which is another reason I drink it (we all need our excuses), only ever the real thing, never ‘instant’, which I would only ever drink as a desperate last resort. It also needs to be a good bean; well rendered; hot enough (vital – must be piping) and presented in a nice vessel to get the Chapman approval. Fortunately, Japan does coffee extremely well in all the above regards, so I am usually pretty satisfied.
Are you also a coffee aficionado (and who isn’t?) If so, I would like to know what other coffee perfumes you would recommend as they have got under my skin. I am sure that in the niche world, there must be quite a few interesting numbers that fallen beneath my radar over the years: I like Tom Ford’s Café Rose, thought Aftelier Cologne’s Cafe Tuberosa was interesting, and was also an early champion of Diptyque’s bizarre but curiously alluring aquatic coffee, roasted sesame and apple blossom scent Florabellio, which I once enjoyed throughout a trip to Cambodia. I would like to be familiar with other, unusual perfumes that contain this note (not too compressedly though ) if you have any recommendations. I am rarely, if ever, drawn to the ‘designer’ gourmand popular style by Valentino/Versace/ Dolce & Gabbana et al, nor even A*Men, with all their myriads of overdosed notes that just feel clogged up with woods and oversugared commerce – perfumes that just ‘hedge their bets’ by throwing everything into the blender and coming out thick, staid and overconventional (but if you know of any standouts of these nature I am open to try them: there are always exceptions…..)
At the same time, I am not interested in the very literal smell of Cappuccino and espresso perfumes either – I spill enough drinks over myself as it is, being one of the clumsiest people in the world – and so in that sense I have often unwillingly ‘worn’ the smell of coffee plenty of times in my adult life throughout the workday having upturned my late morning mug onto my suit. I want the coffee note to play an intriguing ‘supporting role’, ideally, in an unusual and original, even underhand, way even if sometimes, the more ‘out there’ uses of the coffee note can be really quite peculiar. Lush’s Confetti, for example, combines coffee with a pungently synthetic ‘pear drop’ note and a rich, natural rose oil over hysterically sweet, powdered almond violets – the kind of crude and unimaginable perfume that could have certain swathes of the population chundering in pink plastic buckets it is so weird and headache inducingly acid-sugared — and yet there is still something very addictive about it that means I would never part with my bottle. I wear it. And let it linger in the room that I am writing in right now: there is nothing else quite like it. Billed by the company as a wedding day perfume, though, I really wouldn’t ever recommend this usage of Confetti on the day itself, as you might end up inducing your father to faint as he walks you down the aisle.
Another coffee perfume I have rather liked recently, to my surprise, is Byredo’s Mumbai Noise – probably my favourite in their range so far, and a potential buy, even if it has proved to be polarizing for a lot of people. The notes of contention are the bitter oud / ‘amber’ in the base, which I can imagine becoming a deal breaker for me ( I have yet to try it on skin )- but nicely entwined with a rich coffee and sweet, liqueurish davana absolute, normally also a note I would avoid – over amber, spices and sandalwood and with an overall atmosphere of friendliness and generosity that I know would be moodboosting: : the whole just brims with positivity. I have liked it both times that I have gravitated towards it on the department store shelf. Where Byredo perfumes are often, in my experience, so acridly woody you are immediately transformed into a creosote-coated plank upon one spray, each iron nail drilled brutally right into your head (probably why a lot of the die-hard hardcore Byredo-Heads are, unlike me, vocally less impressed with this less aggressive release – really, though, I could never in a million years take such wooded intensity on my skin for even a few seconds as I would just feel blood-poisoned ) —- Mumbai Noise, in contrast, is a new sensation for me : far mellower; rounded — aromatically full — and, at least on first impressions, just edging towards the sweet.