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

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