A few weeks ago, Madame Persolaise and I were on an escalator, descending into London's Tube network. She was wearing vintage Diorissimo; I'd dabbed my wrists with a few drops of an oud oil I'd picked up in India. As we sank deeper inside the city, a draught of air rushed past us, blowing through our hair and clothes. And in that instant, something rather magical happened. The incomparable lily of the valley of Monsieur Roudnitska's masterpiece mingled with the feral snarl of my oud and created an entirely new scent around us: an odd, unearthly mix that glowed over our heads like an incandescent halo.
The essence of that moment has been captured by Andy Tauer in Carillon Pour Un Ange, easily the most unusual of the four scents he's released this year. I say 'unusual' because it's the type of perfume that causes reviewers to stare at their keyboards in frustration and resort to maddening phrases like 'almost, but not quite' and 'just about, possibly, maybe, but I'm not entirely sure'. In other words, it's an enigma. Yes, its heart is based around a green lily of the valley accord, but it doesn't try for a single moment to provide a straightforward impersonation of the flower: with a diffusiveness and a tenacity that are nothing short of astonishing (spray a tiny bit on paper and you'll see what I mean) it creates a strange, otherworldly evocation of the tiny white blossoms, boldly pushing the scent to a grassy, pea-like extreme at which it almost becomes too synthetic. Almost, but not quite.
Underneath this floral shimmer is a dark base that could perhaps be summed up by the word 'leather', but again, that wouldn't come close to conveying the fullness of its complexity. Mossy, earthy and metallic, its foundation conjures an intensely physical shade of brown, a landscape covered in unrecognisable textures that seem organic, but could possibly be entirely man-made. Possibly, but I'm not entirely sure.
Carillon's intangible unknowability suddenly makes sense when you consider that, in the early stages of its development, it was called Gabriel. Like the vision that appeared before Mary, it is recognisable, yet utterly alien; it projects a sense of protective safety, whilst remaining frightening; it is divinely beautiful but also, in some ways, divinely unapproachable. And like Biblical angels, it dispenses with human notions of sexuality and presents its own celestial sensuousness. Indeed, it's one of very few 'unisex' fragrances for which the term seems reductive: the way it operates requires a far more provocative label, something like 'duosex,' perhaps.
Like all challenging scents, it's bound to divide opinion. But if you consider yourself to be a fan of perfumes that are out of the ordinary and you wish to be transported to a setting that's as concrete as it is illusory, you cannot afford to turn deaf ears on this particular peal of heavenly bells.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]