Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pyramid Building - 2

First of all, I must convey sincere thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to respond to my initial Pyramid Building post. In addition to the comments, I also received several fascinating emails, all of which contained a good deal of food for thought.

The general consensus seems to be that, no, you cannot smell the entirety of a fragrance within just a few seconds. Or, to steal a verb used by one of my emailers, you cannot see into a whole fragrance that easily. I'm not sure where this leaves the experienced perfumer I mentioned in the previous post, but there we are. Perhaps his skills have been honed to such a degree that he genuinely requires mere moments in order to come to a conclusion about the composition of a scent.

I appreciate that, in many ways, the question I've raised is rather simplistic. After all, as another one of my correspondents pointed out, perfumery is bound by the laws of physics. Some substances evaporate faster than others. In order to impose a structure on this phenomenon, we've developed the notion of three different layers of notes. There is no discussion. Bergamot oil evaporates faster than jasmine absolute which evaporates faster than sandalwood oil. What else is there to say?

Well, there's something about the neatness of that explanation that leaves me rather unsatisfied, not least because it's been challenged by several notable figures over the years. Okay, fine, it may be a useful tool when you need a convenient shorthand with which to explain a perfume to someone who's considering spending money on it. But as a means of conveying the complexity of your creation, it seems rather inadequate. Surely we could come up with something better.

Alec Lawless proposes an interesting idea on his site: he has devised a framework which he calls ‘Heart, Nuance and Intrigue’® (a trademark which he has registered to Essentially Me LLP). He writes,

I have evolved another conceptual tool, which I have found very useful. It involves thinking about a fragrance in terms of heart, nuance and intrigue. The heart® is the body of the fragrance, its main theme. Nuance® is provided by complimentary smell groups in order to make the heart more interesting and complex. Finally, intrigue® is provided by unexpected even dissonant notes, which invite curiosity by not being obvious. If you imagine the infra red/ultra violet spectrum of top, middle and base as a vertical axis and if we combine the use of heart, nuance and intrigue® as a horizontal axis we have a three dimensional model to aid conception.

So that's what I'll leave you with today. Have a think about his concept and please let me know your views.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Links To Tauerville

UK-based fans of Andy Tauer's work may be interested to learn that he's going to launch Une Rose Vermeille and Eau d'Épices (soon to be reviewed here on in London on 9th October. Please visit Scent & Sensibility for further details.

Those of you who live too far away to attend the event might want to head over to Nathan Branch's blog, which features the first instalment of what promises to be a fascinating public discussion between Mr Tauer and Mandy Aftel.


Interview With Roja Dove

Please click here to be taken to my exclusive Basenotes interview with Roja Dove, curator of the Perfume Diaries exhibition at Harrods.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Review: Bang by Marc Jacobs (2010)

Some fragrances impress you with the coherence of the entire package in which they arrive: the name, the colour of the juice, the bottle, the poster... they all interlock into a convincing whole. Sadly, Bang, the new masculine from Marc Jacobs, isn't one such scent, which is a shame, because it actually smells rather good, albeit for a few, brief minutes. In a mainstream market where Chanel think it's acceptable to release Bleu, it is gratifying to find a male eau de toilette that doesn't seem intent on being indistinguishable from every other citrus clone. Its peppery opening deserves praise, as do its woody mid-notes, with their scalpel-thin sprinklings of cedar. But just as you start getting really excited, the whole lot fades away into the pale distance and is entirely gone within a couple of hours. So even though the flacon, the name and the advertising campaign are all noteworthy in their own way, they seem designed for an entirely different scent, because no matter how pleasant it may be, this fragrance certainly isn't powerful enough to be named after bangs of any sort... unless, of course, you're talking about the quick, 'wham bam, thank you, maam' variety.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin]


Monday, 27 September 2010

Advance Warning: Perfume Giveaway + Scentsations of Southampton

This weekend brought a wholly unexpected and very welcome surprise. I was trying to find some information on a company about which all I could remember was that its name is a play on the word 'scent'. I consulted the Oracle of Goog, typed 'scentsations', and immediately discovered that my memory had failed me: the company was called something else. However, as luck would have it, the top item in the search list turned out to be a niche perfumery store that's a mere 20 miles from where I live. What's more, it's been around since 1989! Needless to say, I made my way to it as soon as I could.

London-based readers of this blog may not understand my excitement at making this find, but the fact of the matter is that until now, I was under the impression that there was not one shop near me which stocks brands such as Serge Lutens, Amouage or Annick Goutal. The local John Lewis has a small (and dwindling) selection of L'Artisan Parfumeur, but that's about it, as far as non-mainstream perfume houses go. Thank goodness that I've been proved wrong.

Scentsations is one of a small cluster of independent shops on Southampton's Bedford Place, a road with which, I confess, I was entirely unfamiliar. Its wares are divided Sephora-style - feminines on the left, masculines on the right - and although it's a shame that you can't reach behind the counters and pick up the testers yourself, the member of staff who served me couldn't have been more accommodating. What's most important is that the shelves hold bottles which you'll never find at your local Boots or Debenhams. In addition to the aforementioned three, there's also a selection from Jean-Charles Brosseau, Acqua Di Parma and Lalique, as well as a few other worthy names; have a look at their website for the full list.

So the moral of the story is: you never know what treasures are hidden right under your nose.


Please keep checking over the course of the next few weeks for news about an exciting draw with a very special prize!


Thursday, 23 September 2010

New Event At Harrods Perfume Diaries + Autumn Calls

A quick post to share a piece of info some of you may find interesting. One final event has been added to the Harrods Perfume Diaries calendar: on Thursday 30th September, a representative from Baccarat will talk about the art and history of making perfume bottles. I suspect the event will start at 6:30 pm, but if you're considering going, I'd contact Harrods just to check and make sure.

In other news... now that post-summer life at Maison Persolaise is just about back to normal, I hope I'll be able to spend this weekend sorting out my lab and getting myself ready for many evenings in the company of paper strips and vials. The priority for the next few months is to get to grips with the previously mentioned 'smoke' project, although I'm also going to continue to explore the 'top-middle-base' conundrum raised in an earlier post.

Have a wonderful weekend,


Monday, 20 September 2010

Pyramid Building - 1

Here's a question for you: how long does it take to smell a whole fragrance?

Allow me to explain what I mean. A well-respected and successful perfumer I know once stated that you can tell precisely what's wrong with a scent within moments of applying it onto a blotter or your skin. According to him, all it takes is a few seconds to determine if an ingredient has been overused or if the overall composition lacks something.

You may not be surprised to read that I was a little taken aback by his words. "So does that mean," I asked, "that you don't really believe in top, heart and base notes?"

"Not at all," he answered, "I think the idea of the three layers of notes is extremely useful."

"But then... how can you smell an entire fragrance in just a few moments without waiting for the heart and the base to emerge?"

"You don't need to wait for the whole development. You can smell all three levels pretty much straight away."

Having considered his statement very seriously, I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, but I'm aware that he's far more experienced in these matters than I am and, in some ways, I can see what he means. After all, if you spray Chanel No. 5, it takes no more than about thirty seconds for its distinctive identity to appear and linger - essentially unchanged - for hours. If Madame Persolaise sprays Nahema in the morning before going to work, the scent she leaves in her wake is basically the same as the one I detect when we have lunch together at midday. And yet it can't be denied that a well-structured perfume also changes with the passage of time, shedding some aspects of its personality whilst making room for others to grow more prominent.

Where are all these thoughts heading? Well, over the next few weeks, I would like to engage you in a discussion about the validity of the traditional top-heart-base pyramid. Do you think it serves a useful purpose or do you believe that it doesn't properly reflect the way a scent functions? Do you think that it works just fine or does it need tweaking? Is it more helpful to those who wear perfume or those who sell it?

I will, of course, publish my views and ideas here, but I also hope some of you will consider contributing your own opinions, if not in the form of a 'public' comment, then by sending an email to persolaise at gmail dot com.

So finally, just to bring things full circle, let me repeat my initial question: how long do you think it takes to smell a whole perfume?


Saturday, 18 September 2010

When Persolaise Met Monsieur Guerlain...

Please click here to be redirected to my Basenotes article about a very special event I attended last week: an audience with none other than Monsieur Jean-Paul Guerlain (creator of several Guerlain classics, including Nahema and Habit Rouge) as well Thierry Wasser, the firm's current in-house perfumer.

Have a great weekend, everybody.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Review: Bleu De Chanel by Chanel (2010)

More often than not, a spray of a new men's perfume leaves me sorely disappointed. Most of the recipes follow the same, cardboard-cutout pattern: a mono-dimensional burst of citrus leading to an overdose of lavender and Iso E Super before settling into an unremarkable drydown of thin woods, as though the juice actually wants to be forgettable. This is precisely the type of perfumery that I now, sadly, consider to be standard fare from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Davidoff and Ralph Lauren, but I genuinely didn't think I'd ever feel so let down by a release from the house of Chanel. Allure For Men certainly wasn't a masterpiece either, but I'm sorry to report that Jacques Polge et al have reached new depths of depressing predictability with Bleu. The fragrance's advertising tagline is "Be Unexpected." Well, guess what, they sure aren't kidding, because I certainly never expected something so downright ordinary to be graced by the double-C logo.

There really isn't very much one can say about it apart from the fact that it features an overly long bergamot opening and a quasi-woody-spicy middle section with no hint of originality whatsoever. From start to finish, it is an exercise in the most dismaying type of generic 'pleasantness', a timid perfume designed for a person determined not to make an individual mark on the world. Perhaps we, as blog-devouring perfume fanatics, have simply come to expect too much from what are, after all, massive, multi-national firms with unabashed commercial intentions. Perhaps the more we indulge our love of our bottled treasures, the more we'll feel compelled to turn away from releases that wish to play it safe. Perhaps Bleu is just a very uninspiring piece of work. Either way, I'm sure it'll make millions for Chanel and set back mainstream men's perfumery by a good few years.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]


Monday, 13 September 2010

The Perfume Diaries at Harrods

A few days ago, Madame Persolaise and I had a leisurely wander around the Perfume Diaries exhibition on the 4th floor of Harrods. There is a great deal I could write about the two hours we spent there, but in the interests of brevity, I shall have to restrain myself to just a few thoughts and observations. In a nutshell: it is without doubt a must-see. If you consider yourself to be a perfume fan and you're going to be in the London area between now and the beginning of October, you absolutely need to make your way to Knightsbridge.

My recommendation isn't entirely unreserved. For a start, the punctuation and composition of the prose that accompanies the artefacts is quite appalling in a few cases. I'd also suggest that insufficient attention has been paid to masculine fragrances, although I appreciate that the history of perfume revolves largely around scents created for women. I would also have enjoyed a few more opportunities actually to smell some of the creations on display, but I suppose this might have created a logistical headache for the organisers. But these are relatively minor quibbles and did not detract from what turned out to be a thoroughly illuminating experience.

The exhibit basically follows the same structure as curator Roja Dove's book, The Essence Of Perfume: after a brief explanation of fragrance creation and raw materials, the visitor is guided, decade by decade, through a history of scent. The rarity of some of the bottles on display is nothing short of astonishing and must surely mark some sort of milestone as far as UK-based perfume exhibitions are concerned. There are two bottles created by Guerlain exclusively for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, containing two different scents that were designed to complement each other. There is a highly collectable - and rather hideous! - dog-shaped bottle made by Christian Dior for a fragrance which he used to give to his friends. There are also several old Coty bottles on display, including the Holy Grail itself, the much sought-after Chypre.

Questionable prose notwithstanding, I enjoyed reading the blurbs that provided a summary of each of the decades: on the one hand they proved the old adage that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, and on the other, they were helpful in placing the development of perfume within the context of other art forms.

Other personal highlights included seeing the original packaging for an 1840s Guerlain soap, featuring the official authentication of the French government in order to distinguish it from the counterfeits which were apparently in high circulation at the time. I was also impressed by the bottle for an exclusive Thierry Wasser creation called Abeille De Guerlain, designed, appropriately enough, like a giant bee, with massive, bevelled wings. Apparently, only 46 bottles of this new scent have been made and each one costs more than 10,000 euros. Chanel No. 5 is given pride of place in one area of the exhibit with a fascinating line-up of all the scent's bottle designs, from its birth to the present day. The original flacon still seems shockingly minimalist by today's standards, so one can only imagine the impact it must have had when it was first sold.

It was encouraging to see that the exhibition concludes with the assertion that the future of the industry belongs to niche perfumers: a cabinet containing creations from the likes of Ormonde Jayne and The Different Company is covered in quotations expressing the idea that knowledgeable consumers are now choosing to turn away from the celebrity, market-research driven ethos that defined much of the mainstream fragrance output of the last two decades. Perhaps this was a somewhat incongruous statement to read in the setting of Harrods, but I took it as a sign that the event's organisers have made a genuine attempt to cater to the needs of a wide range of visitors, and judging from the fact that Madame Persolaise - who is by no means a perfume fanatic - enjoyed the two hours as much as I did, I would say they succeeded quite admirably.

[Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to take pictures of any of the exhibits, but please click on this link to be taken to a Basenotes article which contains quite a few photos.]


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Review: Une Rose Vermeille by Tauer Perfumes (2010)

I'm told that many of Europe's most beloved fairy tales were pretty naughty and risque before they were cleaned up for today's prudish sensibilities. Perhaps thoughts of more daring versions of Grimm's and Andersen's stories were on Andy Tauer's mind when he composed Une Rose Vermeille, because it somehow pulls off the trick of seeming innocent whilst giving free rein to a streak that can only be described as cheeky and mischievous.

The first step in its seduction ritual is a fizzing firework display of raspberry, so sparkling, it takes you by surprise each time you re-spray the scent. The gourmand sweetness is allowed to grow larger, before making room for the eponymous floral note: a deep, velvety, peppery rose that whispers intimacies in your ear and pulls you further into a realm of sugars. And just when you think your system couldn't possibly cope with any more olfactory calories, the base of the fragrance reveals itself to be a delicate layer of the finest marzipan, spotlessly white and enriched with the complex contrasts of almonds.

This is Andy's most resolutely feminine scent, designed for Snow White on an evening when she feels like letting her hair down. She borrows Little Red Riding Hood's cape, paints her nails crismson and applies glossy scarlet lipstick to her coquettish pout. She puts on a ruby ring and slips her feet into pillar-box stilletos. And then she hits the town, racing through the streets in a blood-red Lamborghini, looking for someone willing to bite into her deliciously wicked apple and succumb to the delights of her playful poison.

[Andy Tauer will formally launch Une Rose Vermeille this weekend at Florence's Pitti exhibition; review based on a sample of eau de parfum obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin; click here for a retrospective review of the Tauer Perfumes range, or here for a review of Eau D'Épices, which was released at the same time as Une Rose Vermeille.]


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Perfume Regulation On The BBC

UK readers may like to click on this link to listen to the latest podcast of BBC Radio 4's You & Yours. About 27 minutes into the episode you'll find a report focussing on the regulation of ingredients in the perfume industry; the interviewees include Roja Dova and Linda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne.

Whilst fragrance afficionados may not learn anything new from the podcast, it is interesting - perhaps even encouraging? - that a mainstream context like Radio 4 has decided to highlight the current state of perfumery in one of its flagship programmes. Some of the statements in the report are questionable, such as the assertion that IFRA is responsible for the ban on certain raw materials (check out this post from Andy Tauer for an illuminating explanation of where the regulatory power really lies). It's also worth noting that whilst the speakers in the report acknowledge that certain classics have had to be reformulated over the years, they maintain that these changes are almost impossible to discern by consumers (I can hear all of you laughing with derision right now). And I was personally very pleased to hear more people express concern about the weird logic that allows potentially lethal peanuts to be sold with a simple health warning, but forbids a customer from making a personal choice about buying a product containing an 'excess' of oakmoss, which may cause little more than a rash.

A 10-minute report on You & Yours may not change the world, but it does offer welcome evidence of a growing awareness of what many consider to be an increasingly important problem.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Normal Service...

Maison Persolaise is still hosting guests, so I'm afraid I need to apologise for the shortage of posts. But here are a couple of things to keep you busy. Please visit the last few entries on Andy Tauer's blog for a fascinating - and, in the world of perfume blogging, very rare - explanation of the composition of one of his latest fragrances.

And if you're going to be anywhere near London for the next four weeks, you need to make the time to attend the Pefume Diaries exhibition at Harrods. I managed a quick visit the other day, but I'll soon be returning for a more detailed peruse, and I have no doubt that a thorough report will follow on However, just to whet your appetites, I will say that the event is an absolute must see!



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