18 August 2011

It’s Fun When I Can Call a Post “Coverage”:
Highlights from the Elements Showcase

I confess to being self-conscious about how legitimately I can call myself a blogger, what with my whopping nine followers (and yes, I know it’s not helping things that I would rather die than join Facebook), so I was only half-serious when I RSVP’d as “press” for the Elements Showcase, a New York trade show focused on niche fragrance and beauty brands. But in the end it didn’t matter that I’ve never garnered more than a few dozen unique views in any 24-hour period; everyone I spoke to seemed intrigued that I was even there. Oh, you’re a perfume blogger? Cool! No questions asked.

One of my first stops was the display for the New York-based Joya perfume and home fragrance line, run by Elements Showcase co-founder Frederick Bouchardy. Joya places a lot of significance on containers – most notably the gorgeous matte ceramics by Sarah Cihat that enclose many of their candles and their perfume duo Composition No .1 and Composition No. 6. One of the coolest examples of this appreciation for containers was a double-candle housed in a WWII-era British military soap tin (a clamshell design, thus accomodating one candle poured into each side of the tin; the scents are “Amber Absolute” and “Bitter Orange Leaf”).

But the most fascinating thing on display at Joya was their new limited-run collaboration with indie perfume darlings D.S. & Durga called “Staghorn Sumac” [1], which complements the sharp and lemony namesake plant with accords of lily and bison grass (heavy on the coumarin). I love the way D.S. & Durga translate arcane Americana into scent (i.e. Mississippi Medicine, based on the rituals of a “proto-Mississippian death cult” from the 1200s), and this bright but earthy and bone-dry homage to the American plains fits right in with their oeuvre. I will definitely be pre-ordering one of the 100 bottles they plan to produce.

I got to shoot the shit a bit with Anne McClain, fellow Brooklynite and founder/perfumer of MCMC Fragrances. I’d never smelled the scents in her ‘stories’ collection (each inspired by a personal experience) and I took a real liking to Maine, with its beautifully oddball pairing of Bulgarian rose and seaweed absolutes, and the super-resinous Hunter [2], loaded with fir balsam and tobacco.

I had an equally fun chat with Annie and Therese Gibbons, the sisters behind Alora Ambiance, the first home fragrance company to bring reed diffusers to the U.S. We disagreed on the virtues of vetiver (one of them, like me, adores it; the other not so much) while passing around a scent strip of their interpretation of that note - a pure and wild vetiver, inspired by the woven vetiver mats found just about everywhere in Indonesia.

The display of Williamsburg salon/apothecary Woodley & Bunny featured Andy Tauer’s new Pentachords series (so named because each fragrance is composed of only five components), which I’ve been eager to sniff. After being sold exclusively in Italy for the past few months, the limited-run Pentachords are going global this fall. Verdant [3], as suggested, is green, wet, leafy and earthy. Auburn [4] is warm, dry and woody, with an emphasis on the lovely cinnamon note. While obviously quite different from each other, both were striking and successfully communicated the minimalist intention behind the collection, as opposed to White, a meek, anonymously sweet and utterly non-threatening iris.

I also got to sample two independent European brands that haven’t yet arrived on the U.S. market. The first was Spanish line Carner Barcelona, which launched two perfumes in Europe last year: D600, inspired by Barcelona nightlife; and Tardes [5], a woody floral by Daniela Andrier (I just can’t stay away!) that alludes to wheat fields, almond groves, wild roses and geraniums and the dwindling light of late afternoon. This is a particularly romantic work for Andrier, but – like many of her other works – includes an unexpected element, in this case a fresh, barely salty celery note that keeps the cedar, tonka and Heliotrope in the base from turning too sweet. Fall brings the launch of their third perfume: a great smoky leather simply called Cuirs, surely a nod to the long line of leather artisans from whom founder Sara Carner is descended.

After that I was introduced to Technique Indiscrète, a refined but quirky fragrance line by Belgian-born fashion designer Libertin Louison. Standouts from his collection of eight eaux de parfum include: Paname Paname [6], a chypre re-interpretation that kicks off with an audacious cumin-citrus pairing and sweetens with an “apple cake” note; Safran Nobile, inspired by a wedding in India, a heady swirl of sweet spice, saffron, vanillic benzoin, patchouli and dirty jasmine; and Délivre Moi, a modest but comforting better-than-skin scent focused on honey, accented with almond and heliotrope on a mild woody-musky base. Technique Indiscrète also produce three eaux de cologne and a line of hydrosols.

Last but not least, I marveled at sculptor Niho Kozuru’s gorgeous beeswax candles, which she casts in molds made from reclaimed turned-wood architectural details from traditional New England homes. The molds are so accurate that you can often see the woodgrain on the candles’ surfaces. We bonded over our love of the smell of beeswax (“it won’t overpower your dinner party” being one of the benefits I hadn’t previously considered). You can find her candles, appropriately, at the Noguchi Museum gift shop.

11 August 2011

Coming Up This Fall

Fall is sadly nowhere near, but happily, there’s more to look forward to than just a merciful drop in temperature.

Prada Candy
As I've confessed before, I’m fascinated by Daniela Andrier’s steadily expanding portfolio for Prada. Her latest, the upcoming Candy, is positioned as a signature fragrance (not part of the Infusions series) and appears to be a departure from her typically diaphanous style towards something much bolder and more saturated: the press release uses the phrase “overdose of benzoin.” Musks and a “modern” caramel accord round out the cast. I'm hoping that Candy is as good as it sounds, and not merely an attempt to translate Love, Chloé into Prada-ese.

Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum
I covet Bottega Veneta's anony-chic clothes, accessories and $40,000 luggage sets like vampires long for sunlight: quite simply never going to happen. But - lo and behold! - the ultra luxe brand has teamed up with no less than Coty, purveyors of the illustrious David and Victoria Beckam air pollution fragrance line, to launch their first perfume this fall. You, reader, lose 10 points if you missed the skepticism and sass in that last sentence. On the other hand, while the “leathery floral chypre” is transparently a brand ambassador to the non-wealthy, there are two reasons why it may also be a good perfume: 1) The perfumer, Michel Almairac, who was behind the original Gucci Pour Homme, several of the better Bond No. 9 perfumes and the adorably delicate Ambrette 9 for Le Labo; 2) Tomas Maier, the brand's creative director, who conceptualized this Eau and whose taste is frankly unassailable. Brand-whore bonus: the bottom of the flacon bears the same debossed intrecciato pattern as BV's fine Murano glassware.

Parfumerie Générale No. 25 Indochine
I'm planning to write soon about Fareb, the only scent from Pierre Guillaume's new Huitième Art line that I've sampled, but I'm also happy to see PG returning to his signature numbered Parfumerie Générale collection. Like Prada Candy, PG's No. 25 Indochine has benzoin at its core, but augments it in typical PG fashion with exotic supporting ingredients: Kampot pepper, Laotian honey and thanaka, a traditional Burmese cosmetic paste that smells something akin to sandalwood. This one I know will be good.

09 August 2011

Late Summer Survival Guide, or
What to Wear When the World's Ending

Maybe it’s insensitive to be writing about perfume when London is burning and our economy back home is imploding – again. But write about perfume I will. Between these doomsday scenes and the hottest, most humid New York summer in years, it’s been quite comforting to come across some lovely warm-weather scents.

Heeley Hippie Rose
Many of James Heeley’s perfume concepts straddle the line between formal and colloquial. The exquisite church incense of Cardinal, the weightless ‘tiger balm’ of Esprit du Tigre, and of course the nursery rhyme namesake of Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement's – they reference the commonplace through exercises in luxury.

So it goes for Heeley’s latest, the sweetly named Hippie Rose, inspired by Antonioni's dusty, sun-bathed imagining of hippies in the American West in Zabriskie Point. Hippie-chic is nothing new, nor are fragrances centered on rose and patchouli. Yet Heeley somehow makes these ideas new by conforming them to the house’s ultra-smooth style – putting a nice green bergamot up front, sweeping away the patchouli’s dirtier facets, smoothing over the rose’s harsher edges with mellow incense and vetiver, wrapping it all up in a sheer woody-amber accord. The rose in this case is Bulgarian rosa damascena – a wise choice because it’s always struck me as the ‘wildest’ smelling rose; plays well with others, so to speak; and avoids both the unflinching, cold perfection of Turkish rosa damascena and the ultra-femme, honeyed sweetness of the Grasse rosa centifolia.

Hippie Rose is an extremely fine execution of an idea that, frankly, never really got me going. Unfortunately, another feature of the Heeley line is frustratingly short longevity, and like a pretty flower (or pretty hippie) in the California desert, this one’s prone to withering in the heat.

Eau d’Italie Jardin du Poete
I was going to write about Eau d’Italie’s latest perfume via an open letter to Bertrand Duchaufour, its frighteningly prolific perfumer. Duchaufour was behind countless splashy niche debuts from the past two years, and a few in the near future: The Different Company's upcoming Oud Shamash; L'Artisan's Traversée du Bosphore, Nuit de Tubereuse and hyper-exclusive Mon Numéro series; Amaranthine and Sartorial for Penhaligon's, along with that house's Anthology series; 1697, Frapin's ode to cognac; Parfums MDCI's tribute to the French pear dessert, La Belle Helene; the list goes on. And don't even get me started on that bottled female orgasm for Marc Atlan. Really, Bertrand? Essentially, Duchaufour seems to have achieved the positioning of a movie director who can afford to choose only the most compelling jobs offered to him. Good for you, Bertrand!

I ditched the sassy open letter idea because, truthfully, that skyrocketing reputation isn’t undeserved: most of the perfumes I listed above are expertly crafted, if not everyone’s cup of tea. Perfect proportion and complexity of development are what I see as Duchaufour’s signature strengths, and Jardin du Poete is no exception, despite being less overtly ‘daring’ than his other perfumes for Eau d’Italie. Bracing citrus (primarily green orange) and a green bouquet of mint and basil give way to a cold spice mix of cardamom, pink pepper, and angelica, and some ‘wet’-feeling floral notes. The scent quickly moves on to a drier, warmer and sweeter phase, with a remarkably light immortelle note that manages not to wipe out the freshness of the opening, buttressed by moss and hay. 

There is a lot going on in this production ‒ perhaps too much. As impressed as I am by the scent’s rendering of a Mediterranean garden, I don’t know that a scent for the stickiest days of summer needs to be all that complex or cleverly referential.

Atelier Cologne Trèfle Pur
In contrast to Jardin du Poete, this little wonder is perfectly happy being discreet. In fact, it shares a number of notes with Jardin: cool, greenish basil and cardamom, and a mossy drydown. But it’s not as aggressively pristine as Duchaufour’s olfactory landscaping, and feels ‒ true to the Atelier Cologne concept – like a traditional eau de cologne with a bit of extra oomph and longevity, rather than a full-figured eau de parfum.

The basil and cardamom tint and refine the opening bitter orange; the heart pairs clover absolute (fainter than I’d wish, to be completely honest) with violet leaves and beautiful Tunisian neroli. Patchouli, moss and light musk round out the final phase, with glimmers here and there of the bitter green opening. The development is as leisurely and seamless as a Mercedes transmission. Trèfle Pur was composed by Jerome Epinette, best known for authoring almost all of Byredo’s perfumes (which makes me eager to give that whole line a more-than-cursory smelling).

Heeley Hippie Rose - $185 for 100 ml at LuckyScent.
Eau d’Italie Jardin du Poete - $140 for 100 ml at Aedes.
Atelier Cologne Trèfle Pur - $165 for 200 ml / $60 for 30 ml at Bergdorf Goodman