Friday, 29 July 2011

Review: Auburn Pentachord, Verdant Pentachord & White Pentachord from Tauer Perfumes (2011)

One of the reasons I'm an admirer of the music of Björk is that it combines the finest elements of classicism with a reckless love of everything that modernity has to offer. And it struck me the other day that this may also be why I'm a fan of Andy Tauer's perfumery: his most ravishing scents draw inspiration from old school excellence whilst pushing the craft forward into the future.

Bearing this in mind, perhaps it was inevitable that he would release the Pentachords, a series of fragrances (three to start) each of which contains only five synthetic ingredients. It's a move that reflects a desire to strip away anything that might be deemed redundant in a more traditional composition and to make a statement about the importance and usefulness of man-made materials. However, although I was initially fascinated by the concept - and I believe the ideas behind it may be worth pursuing - I cannot give the resultant perfumes a ringing endorsement.

To my nose, Auburn is essentially the 'plastic cinnamon' aspect of Eau d'Épices writ large. For a few moments, it presents suggestions of other notes - a sweet citrus, a hint of amber - but it soon fixates itself on an unsettling, oddly metallic bubble gum scent that grows in intensity until it becomes quite overpowering. If we're playing a game of 'Spot Where It Comes From', I'd say Verdant is possibly the green, mossy component of Carillon Pour Un Ange. It too opens with a varied palette - a cold smokiness, a sharp, medicinal pine, a dose of bitter tree sap - but again, the contrasts fade and all that remains is a sickly, artificial sweetness.

The only one of the three which I was able to wear with some measure of comfort was White. Here, the tensions between the various components last slightly longer and therefore produce a more compelling effect: an iris note adds a corrugated, aluminium-like chill to the sweetness of vanilla whilst a woodiness introduces a gnarled, tactile aspect. The whole begins to conjure a steel skyscraper designed by the architect who made the house of the witch from Hansel And Gretel. But again, the ultimate impact is disappointing and reminds me of two decidedly unsophisticated food products, namely marshmallows and Coca-Cola.

I've no doubt that all three scents will find some fans, as indeed most do. They are suitably diffusive, their longevity is extremely good and I suppose I must concede that they are fairly distinctive. But whilst wearing them, I could never shake off the sensation that the smell reaching my nose was of chemicals. I think I can see why a perfumer might wish to set himself or herself the challenge of adhering to a pared down aesthetic, but I would've thought that in such an endeavour, the end must always justify the means. When I watch a film, I don't wish to be made aware of the 'unreality' of the special effects; I'm afraid that the first three Pentachords never persuaded me to suspend my disbelief and enjoy them not as experiments but as fully-fledged perfumes.

[Reviews of Auburn and White based on samples of eau de parfum; review of Verdant based on sample of eau de toilette; samples provided by Scent & Sensibility in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]



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  2. Interesting. I think the basic idea of these scents and their minimalist aesthetic carries a double risk.

    1) If there can be only 5 ingredients there's a high chance the scent will smell 'blunt' or harsh as our noses are naturally attracted to complexity and are used to smelling complexity in nature.

    2) that those 5 ingredients are chemicals - adding further to the simplicity.

    I think it's interesting that you find they smell similar to 'elements' of other fragrances - well, it's not really surprising. I think they probably need more ingredients!

    I approve of Andy Tauer and his independence but I've sometimes find his scents end with a big, nuclear thump of tar, turpentine or powder and I haven't found one I wanted to buy yet. I haven't given up though, and I'll try and give these a sniff.

  3. I'm curious to see what these are like. I've read a couple of reviews and it's interesting to see a perfumer restrict himself and create in those confines.

  4. I haven't tried these perfumes but I believe your review more than a couple of those which praised them. I still might end up liking them when I try - if for no other reason, just because my expectations are really low, but the simplicity idea doesn't appeal to me.

  5. I've become so used to wearing naturals, I can barely stand department store scents at all anymore. But Andy is a rare talent, and I will try these if they come my way. My favorite of his is his wonderfully natural Zeta, so I don't know if I'll cotton to Pentachords....

  6. Well ,I really did like the Pentachords because they have such strong characters and paint such vivid pictures in my mind. However I certainly do not have the nose of a perfumer! At least you were not put off by the initial concept which I think is going to be a stumbling block for a lot of people.

  7. I start with stating that I am a huge huge Andy Tauer fan. Love most of his perfumes, either on myself or on my wife. His Lonestar Memories is my favourite. But I do not like all his works. I am not saying anything yet on the Penthacords due to the simple fact that I have not yet smelled them. But I was waiting for a long time for such a review. Not that I am glad you pretty much destroyed the Penthacords but I finally see a review that is negative. Most of the reviews on the net (not talking now about the ones of Persolaise) just go ahhhhhhhhh and ohhhhhhhhh and fantastic and love it and such. How on earth can a perfumer know if the perfumes are liked or loved by the public or by the targeted public when they all keep the negative stuff for themselves? Therefore I welcome this review and promise to get back with my thoughts on Penthacords as soon as I smelled them. Until that time, well done Persolaise.

  8. Kev, if you do get a chance to smell the Pentachords, I'd love to know what you make of them.

  9. Liam, I absolutely agree that it's interesting when any artist or artisan imposes certain limitations on himself or herself.

  10. Undina, I'm sure the other reviews you read expressed their authors' honest opinions.

    As for simplicity, I don't think Andy necessarily wanted the Pentachords to smell simple: he just wanted their formulae to be very 'clean' and short.

  11. Marla, when/if you get a chance to try the Pentachords, please let me know what you think of them.

  12. Tara, yes, I definitely wasn't put off by the concept. In fact, I really wanted to like all three scents. But unfortunately...

  13. Magnus, thanks for your comment.

    You'll appreciate that I can't really say anything about other blogs and the ways in which they review perfumes. I'm sure most blogs publish opinions that are genuine and honest. That's certainly what I try to do.

    When you smell the Pentachords, please let me know what you think of them.

  14. Really thoughtful review Persolaise. When someone is so talented and original a perfumer as Andy and for those who have have had the privilige of hearing him speak about his work and meet such a lovely, warm and friendly man it is even harder to be dispassionate about his work. I have had a diquieting sense of "Emperors New Clothes" when I've read some of the more gushing pieces in the blogosphere! This was a really nuanced piece pointing out to the intellectually interesting aspects of this work alongside an honest personal response to the fragrances.

  15. Maureen, thanks very much indeed. And I couldn't agree more about Andy's warmth and talent.

    As for the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome (?), I think all I can say is that I trust all views published on the Net reflect the genuine feelings and opinions of their authors.


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