While the main perfumery hall at Harrods is a cacophonous miasma and clamouring jam-packed of competing people, perfumes, sounds and smells- and not a particularly enjoyable perfume browsing experience from my own perspective – take the escalators up to the sixth floor to the recentishly opened Salon De Parfums (the former Ali Baba’s smoke and mirrors black and gold reliquary of perfumes, The Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, which I used to love visiting for its carpeted luxe and gilded tranquillity, has been moved and extended to a corridor of white and boutique perfumeries), and you have a quiet, expansive and very enjoyable way to sample perfumes at your leisure.
Sat in each polished, private and hushed, enclave, the assistants very happy and willing to take you through their particular house’s collection (because in essence there is nobody else there and all they have to do otherwise is talk to each other; dust their surfaces; or stare into space) this, for me, is a kind of perfume nerd bliss. Persolaise and I spent a good two and a half hours there just being led through various collections – one of which I had not even heard of before and which was divine – I will probably write about that one next and more about this pleasurable space of high class perfumery in general – unstressed, smelling endlessly, at our own discretion, and, sat down in comfortable chairs at a table to boot which suited my tired London legs no end as the personable and attitude-free assistants brought the perfumes to us one by one at our request; each one sealed in an envelope for decontamination purposes to be smelled again later and recalled as and when necessary.
I have no real interest in Burberry as a brand, neither in terms of clothing – that ubiquitous and supposedly iconic chequered pattern bores me to tears- nor the very obvious and unmagnetizing fragrances that have not even ever grazed the outer edges of my olfactory consciousness – but the space at the Bespoke Burberry concession, all wood panelling and quiet glass, at that particular moment the collection looked inviting. As is often discussed by the perfume writers and bloggers, all fashion and fragrance houses now, post the Chanel Les Exclusifs, have their own higher priced ‘exceptional’ collections for the people with money, and usually in my experience, it has to be admitted, though overpriced, the perfumes are in general far more appealing than their duty-free and high street poorer siblings; usually they are note and ingredient rather than brand recognition- based, higher quality, with the odd little beauty raising its head when you were least expecting it (Givenchy’s Immortelle Tribale for example, which I smelled in Istanbul airport on the way back to England, is quite a wild and creative curry fantasy, new and interesting, the likes of which I don’t think I have experienced since Diptyque’s iconoclastic and sadly discontinued L’autre (the wrenching smell of a cumin-stenched armpit after a night at an Indian restaurant)).
Burberry, also, has some unexpectedly savage little concoctions up its sleeve in its collection as well, one of which is so extreme, and so disgusting, that you would assume that the entire thing was a joke – the Burberry representative herself seemed rather embarrassed by it as well – and which when smelling it again on the perfume card last night elicited grimaces of revulsion, horror and great amusement from my family and, later in the evening, from my original perfume partner in crime and best friend Helen, who, as she stood outside our front door and I proffered this brand new perfume for her to smell, memorably said to me, while swallowing her nausea, that the perfume, ‘from throat to gut’, gave her a ‘feeling of sickness’.
I have written about Francis Kurkidjian recently, in relation to Black Mirror and the perfection of his flawlessly light-riven blends that are almost android-like in their futurism and airbrushed infallibility. I also wrote that he is something of a genius, and a chameleon, who is not wedded to one particular style and can produce whatever is expected of him by the brief. Thus, when being taken through the Burberry Bespoke range, all created by FK, we immediately hone in on the two obvious commercially appealing blends – as confirmed by the member of staff who said that these two perfumes were selling like hot cakes- Amber Heath, a solid, warm, optimistic and very wearable Obsession-like amber that I would wear myself without hesitation as it feels less repressed and oppressive than his own also appealing Grand Soir; fluffier and more feel-good if lacking in any twists or obvious originality; Garden Roses, similarly, a fresh, high-paced, harmoniously balanced modern rose that is simple and uneventful but eminently wearable and convincing – my first thought was that you could also quite easily wear both of these prototypical fragrances together for a more sensual base and a light, rosy, pink spritz as a contemporary afterthought.
At completely the other end of the extreme though, far more inventive, button-pushing and downright weird, is the freakish oceanic High Tide, which in my own body produced that repelled but wide-eyed (because genuinely new ideas are always, no matter your primal emotional responses to them, stimulating) reaction of ‘wow, what is that’ – Persolaise agreed with me as well, this was definitely a perfumer being given free reign to produce whatever he wanted as long as he had a few more objectively pleasing scents in his range, as he has made something that is somewhat indescribable – a conflicted and clashing confection on the one hand of bergamot, aldehydes and panoramic sea notes, and a jasmine and a quite dirty oak moss and possibly immortelle/cumin-like underbelly. To me, it reminded me a bit of unfortunate and unsuccessful self-tanning experiments as a teenager, those lotions that react with your sweat and melanin and produce a peculiar smell of curdling skin: imagine that smell, if you know it, and then running into the waves on a hot summer’s day and you have something of the effect of this jarring, surprising, and quite indigestible, perfume.
Ivy Musk, though. Jesus. This is a monster. A joke. Surely. The pooiest civet I have ever smelled – one that makes Mouchoir De Monsieur smell like L’Eau De Issey Miyake in comparison:: a really faecal, gut-churning animal civet that for all I know might be entirely synthetic (seeing that the poor prodded antagonised creatures are not usually used any more by perfumers with a conscience), with completely anti-intuitive fresh and ozonic green notes overlaying the foul-breathed and genuinely shocking decaying gorgon heart in a manner that is, for all intents and purposes in modern society, unacceptable. HILARIOUS. It would be fascinating actually to do a Youtube video of this one: stop people in the street, make them stick their nose in the envelope, and film their reactions: it would be a dead certain kaleidoscope of olfactory horror and dismay, a WTF of what are you trying to do to me, that isn’t a perfume, that is vile, are you having a laugh, what the fuck is that: myself and Persolaise were also very much WOAH, and even assistants in other boutiques said ‘have you smelled the new Burberry Ivy Musk?’ – you imagine it must already be a new in-joke among the Harrods Salon de Parfums staff.
Yes. This is most definitely a perfumer run amok. Going a bit apeshit and, because of his stellar reputation generally, getting away with it. And there is something quite exciting about this. A perfumer, amid the mindless banality of modern popular ‘fragrance’, just letting off a bit of steam and taking off the trivial brakes (HA! you think all my perfumes are clean?’!) The sheer extremity of it (especially given the fact that at the Burberry boutiques you can choose the dilution of your perfume by percentage- the strongest version of this perfume could totally be used for terrorist attacks as crowd-clearing stink bombs, making it true guerrilla perfumery). As if Francis Kurkdijian is just there in his perfume studio laughing to himself and slapping his thighs in glee as he sees just how far he can push this particular idea: hiding the huge, society-scandalising, shit-breathed godzilla within a name as innocuous as ‘Ivy Musk’, a concept in which we rightly imagine a scent that is green and light-natured but instead faint and clap our hands over our mouths and nostrils in instinctive horror in its presence. Like Etat Libre D’Orange’s equally ‘challenging’ Secretions Magnifies, though – a perfume I find repugnant beyond measure – there is still something about this ludicrous new release that is oddly compelling, even magnetising – you almost want to seek out, and timidly sniff, the low percentile jackpot winner for whom this almost incomprehensible perfume works as a boggish and carnally seductive komodo dragon scent: its balls, its collusion. Its absolute fearlessness.