24 June 2010

Summer Crudité with a Side of Chandler Burr

A number of my friends have been talking up the local CSAs and farmshares they’re participating in this summer – something I have neither the discipline nor creativity to make the most of (what in the world would I do with two pounds of garlic scapes that will go bad in a week?). Luckily, while they’re congratulating each other for their armloads of sustainably-grown produce, I’ve got my own veggies to go on about. They're found in Tilda Swinton: Like This by Etat Libre d’Orange and I ♥ Les Carottes by Honoré des Prés.

An Anti-Celebrity Fragrance
Like This, an homage to actress Tilda Swinton from iconoclastic house Etat Libre d’Orange, is one I’ve been very keen to smell, but also suspicious of in the same way I’m suspicious of all celebrity scents. After its stateside launch at Henri Bendel in New York last week, I’ll concede that Mathilde Bijaoui's work was worth the wait. Tilda herself was there, stone-faced and fauxhawked, esconced on a high railed balcony overlooking the main floor, where she conducted a minimum of press interviews. Since I’m not ‘press’ by any stretch of the imagination, I didn’t get a chance to fawn over her, but I did manage to get a sorry iPhone picture of this rather puzzling display:

Given that they’re nowhere in the official notes listed for Like This, what’s with the carrots? The real star of the show here is the pumpkin accord – fleshy, sweet and quite vegetal. Immortelle makes a star turn, but in an uncharacteristically supporting role. Yes, it’s just as ‘everlasting’ here as it is in other immortelle fragrances, accounting for 95% of the scent’s 12-hour longevity. But it’s not working quite so hard to stand out from all the other ingredients, or simply to overwhelm them as immortelle is prone to doing. It harmonizes with them instead, providing a complex canvas for an accent of ginger and deepening the richness of the pumpkin. This spiced pumpkin-immortelle cocktail follows some mellow citrus top notes and works its way towards a soft, smooth base of rose, vetiver, heliotrope and clean musk.

Like This is a challenging fragrance, clearly meant to be an artistic reach rather than a crowd-pleaser. It differs in that respect from virtually all other celebrity fragrances, and also in the sense that it actually reflects the aesthetic character of its namesake: striking, strange and desirable.

A Short Scene in a Department Store
The best part of this whole affair, though, was that I got to meet one of my perfume heroes – Chandler Burr, author, journalist and scent critic for T magazine, whose “Scent Notes” are the genesis of my now full-blown obsession with perfume. I greeted him on his way out with a crack in my voice and some egregiously untrimmed nosehairs, and he was gracious enough to speak to me for about 45 mortifying seconds. It went something like this:


ARTHUR hovers by the elevator as CHANDLER BURR approaches.

Excuse me, are you Chandler Burr?

(leaning down because he is very tall)

Hi. Sorry to be a creepy hanger-on; I just wanted to say hello and that your column in T  is what got me interested in perfume.

Oh, great. … That’s what we try to do.

Can I ask what you think of the fragrance?

I love it. I know Tilda and can tell you that she was very involved in every part of the process, and the fragrance is such a surprise. It’s a spicy, [something I can’t remember], abstract expressionist gourmand.

I’m impressed with how they used immortelle.

Yes. I do not like immortelle, and I think it’s great here.

Yeah, I really love this line. I own Fat Electrician, [mumbling sheepishly]…

The elevator dings: going down.

I’ve got to run, sorry.

Sure, nice to meet…

CHANDLER turns and gets on the elevator.

ARTHUR (cont’d)

What’s Yr Take On Giacobetti?
(Bonus points for anyone who gets the musical reference in that subhead!)  I bought I ♥ Les Carottes without having smelled it for two reasons: 1) I love root smells, and 2) it was authored by Olivia Giacobetti. I don’t regret it in the least. If Like This is – as Mr. Burr sensibly suggests – an exercise in abstract expressionism, then Giacobetti’s new scent for French indie organic line Honoré des Prés is an equally captivating stab at something like photorealism.

Using carrot seed oil, sweet orange and a beautifully rooty iris, Giacobetti has created an uncompromised olfactory expression of newly-pulled, dirt-covered carrots. The impression is immediate, with a strong anise-y aspect accompanying the raw sweetness. Earthy patchouli and Madagascan vanilla are the only fixatives, and make for an unfussy and comfortable drydown.

The literalism and simplicity of this perfume is very representative, I find, of Giacobetti’s style. Whether it’s the wet-cardboard marvel of her Dzing! for L’Artisan, or the grey pepper and driftwood of her Preparation Parfumée for Andrée Putman, her compositions are unfailingly straightforward and stray not an inch from their strict intentions.

I ♥ Les Carottes is one of the three Honoré des Prés scents that comprise their new “We Love New York” collection, and they’ve really squeezed the theme dry. The flacon comes lodged in an HdP branded coffee cup, nestled inside a crumpled brown bag. The promotional copy even includes an anecdote about Olivia Giacobetti cooking and freezing and re-cooking organic carrots grown in Harlem (eh?). I interpreted it as a cheeky admission that I could get the same results from splashing an orange-carrot Jamba Juice all over my torso.

Most cryptically, the blurb goes on to reference the “it-carrot culture”… Do I take that to mean I’m among those manning the prow of some carrot moment? Or perhaps the more appropriate question would be whether these two examples consitute a trend: is 2010 the year of the vegetable gourmand? I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Etat Libre d’Orange Tilda Swinton: Like This is $100 for 50 ml, at Henri Bendel or LuckyScent. Honoré des Prés I ♥ Les Carottes is about $80 for 50 ml, at Colette.

A heartfelt thank-you to Lendon Flanagan for the I ♥ Les Carottes photo.

16 June 2010

Local Favorite: MiN New York

For both novices and nerds like me, shopping for perfume can be an awfully frustrating retail experience. Perfume salespeople range from the desperately solicitous to the rudely dismissive, and most stores (in New York, anyway) that carry anything worth buying have simply too large a variety to sample without suffering a serious case of nose fatigue. Worst of all is the frequently unsound guidance dispensed by some salespeople: in the case of one department store associate who I asked about a certain brand, this guidance was limited to indicating which scents were “for gentlemen” and which “for ladies.”

Fortunately for fellow New York perfume junkies, there’s a remedy in MiN, an apothecary on Crosby street that stocks  a diverse but tightly edited collection of fragrances, many of which are exclusive to them, and an equally discerning selection of men’s grooming products. Mindy and Chad, the owners, have a genuine interest in perfume and share their knowledge helpfully, as opposed to imperiously. Even the space itself (a bit clubby and masculine; stately ceiling height; lots of wood) is a welcome change from harshly lit department stores and cramped upscale pharmacies.

Linari, one of the lines they carry exclusively, is a relatively new line of four luxury fragrances. Eleganza Luminosa (an exceptionally pretty and balanced feminine floral) and Vista Sul Mare (a citrus-ozonic scent with a spicy floral heart and soft amber-cedar base – talk about development!) were created by Egon Oelkers, whose strong suits appear to be sophistication and reserved luxury. The more interesting Linari fragrances to my nose are the two authored by Mark Buxton, who can also do luxury but not without a deliberate twist. Hence the heady herbal cocktail of absinthe, clove and sage that lifts the blandly woody heart of Notte Bianca, or the startling cherry-raspberry accord that opens the gourmand Angelo di Fiume and manages not to smell like dessert.

All of the Linari fragrances are exceptionally complex, smell of extremely high quality ingredients and definitely have some tenaciousness on the skin, but they do seem very occasional and, for me anyway, too dressy to wear with any frequency. For something a little more rough around the edges, I turned to Frapin, the French cognac producer, which makes a line of perfumes also carried exclusively at MiN.

Admittedly the neatly trapezoidal bottles with their birch wood caps is what lured me in, but two of the scents kept me interested. Passion Boisée embodies a very old-world elegance and masculinity, with sweet spices (nutmeg, clove) to warm the citrus top notes, rum and glove leather to butch it up a bit, and oakmoss, patchouli and cedar for a super-dry chypre base. If I ever had what one could remotely call a ‘power lunch’ I would be all over this.

Finally, Terre de Sarment combines those same sweet spices (this time nutmeg and cinnamon) with grapefruit, cumin, both neroli and sweet orange blossom, a medley of resins, tobacco and vanilla. I don’t particularly like the first fifteen minutes of this scent, which is all spiced fruit, but it eventually assumes a mesmerizing oscillation between the cool, smokey incense and myrrh and the warm, ambery sweetness of the vanilla and benzoin. I wish the tobacco note were a bit earthier to give the dry down more dimension, but it’s still constantly interesting.

MiN New York is on Crosby street between Houston and Prince, in Soho. Among the other not-easy-to-find brands they carry are L’Artisan Parfumeur, Parfum d’Empire, Parfums d’Orsay, Penhaligon’s, Geo F. Trumper, CB I Hate Perfume, and Dr. Vranjes.