03 February 2012

Elements Showcase III

In the spirit of this coming weekend’s juggernaut sporting event, the title of this post is in fact a half-serious suggestion to the Elements co-founders Frederick Bouchardy, Ulrich Lang and Jeffrey Lawson: start numbering the showcases, like Super Bowls! The third Elements Showcase (the second I have attended) took place earlier this week and marked the first anniversary of what’s clearly becoming a pretty major event, what with the sprawling number of brands exhibiting there and, for the first time, the Fragrance Foundation being involved. In that regard, my warm congratulations to Odin on winning the first Indie FiFi Award for 06 Amanu. I’ll be writing at greater length about some specific products from the show that I’m still sampling, but here’s a quick rundown of what struck my fancy.

I’m declaring a tie for best-in-show between Neela Vermeire’s brilliant trio of eaux de parfum and Carlos Huber’s captivating, romantic Arquiste collection. Given how much breathy praise has already been lavished on these two practically-newborn brands, I approached them with less anticipation than skepticism: each the brainchild of an obsessive individual, benefiting from the expertise of highly skilled perfumers and equally generous budgets, dressed in slick packaging and draped with poetic descriptions… Haven’t we seen this before, and with less-than-great results

Color me humbled. Given that both of these brands are already commercially available (Arquiste is surely doing gangbusters sales at Barney’s), it says a lot about their respective entrepreneurial pride that both of the creators were there, and not just their PR people. And while I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to speak to Carlos, who’s understandably everbody’s sudden darling, I completely fell under the spell of his historically-inspired fragrances. Working from his concepts, Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Jann Vasnier have really outdone themselves in producing six scents that span a range of tastes and are pretty uniformly exquisite. My picks among them: Infanta en Flor, a portrait of Louis XIV’s betrothed Spanish princess in orange blossom and glove suede; Aleksandr, which recreates the morning of Pushkin’s last duel; and my favorite, L’Etrog, with its namesake citron, head-clearing myrtle, and a drydown like a blanket yanked from a cedarwood closet.

Speaking of myrtle -- Alexandra Balahoutis has it! The nose behind Strange Invisible Perfumes was on hand with her full line of scents, including the excellent gourmand Dimanche, and the limited edition Tribute, chock full of naturally aldehyde-laden florals as an homage to the experimental fervor of early 20th century perfumery. Sadly, her display lacked what I wished I could have smelled most -- an evidently transformative hydro-distilled myrtle grown on her family’s 500-acre property in California’s Ojai valley. She grows and distills a number of her own essences there, oranges and their flowers among them, in keeping with her commitment to using pure organic botanical essences and nothing else. I’m beyond eager to see where -- or rather, in what -- that myrtle essence ends up.

A few booths away, I was patient enough to wait my turn to meet the gracious Neela Vermeire, who slogged all the way from Paris to chat with the likes of me. Her collaboration with Bertrand Duchaufour has yielded three utterly unique scents that were inspired by history as well, but all geographically linked to India. 

I admire Duchaufour’s work as much as any perfume devotee, but at first sniff these struck me as unlike most (if anything) he’s done before. Neela agreed, opining that Trayee, meant to evoke India’s Vedic era and spiritual history, is the most atypically-Duchaufour scent he’s ever done, and Bombay Bling, reflecting the vibrancy of contemporary India, is one of the most complex. Initially I was most partial to Trayee, but having spent a little time with samples of each, I’ve fallen for Mohur, inspired by the Moghul-British Raj era. Its powerful rose-oud core would risk being unwearable were it not cloaked by layers of sweet spice, soft white florals, an almost confectionary iris and a subtle leather accord. I tried giving myself over to the spirituality of Trayee, but if you’re one of my handful of regular readers it shouldn’t surprise you that regal luxury won the day.

Other things of note: Bulletproof, one of the Tokyo Milk Dark collection by Margot Elena -- a fairly predictable smoky tea-sandalwood concoction right up until the bizarrely wonderful coconut kicks in. And finally, the privelege of being among the first in the U.S. to smell the Di Ser perfume line, exclusive to Japan since its founding 12 years ago. There is a range of ‘elements’ -- Tsuki (moon), Mizu (water), Taiyo (sun) and Kaze (wind) -- and a range of opulent floral ‘goddesses’. I honestly can’t remember what various note combinations populated these remarkable fragrances (yuzu, rose, jasmine and sandalwood all made frequent appearances) but they felt so meticulously constructed, with certain notes frequently illuminating unexpected facets of other notes, like the pivot words in medieval Japanese court poetry.

*UPDATE, February 6, 2012:  I've received a nice e-mail from Neela Vermeire clarifying that her budget was not, in fact, all that extravagant, and the woman I mistook for her "PR" person was actually a close friend from her university years. Clearly this has been a very personal project from the beginning.