Is there anyone out there who thinks there should be more perfume releases? Clearly, the answer to that question is a resounding Yes, because the number of new creations emerging from fragrance houses - both niche and mainstream - shows no sign of abating. I may think that a brief respite would be great, and I daresay that the majority of you reading these words would be inclined to agree, but we're obviously wrong and we don't know what's good for us, at least as far as marketing departments are concerned.
The latest barrage comes in the form of five scents (yes, that's right, five, because there appears to be some unwritten law stating you can no longer release perfumes singly) from L'Artisan Parfumeur under the title Mon Numéro. Granted, they are essentially re-releases of fragrances that were available in the past in an ultra-exclusive form, but as far as mere mortals are concerned, they're new and they've all hit the shelves at the same time. Each of them has been assigned to a particular city and is available "exclusively" in that city's Artisan boutique... although all of them are also available online, which would suggest the firm is adopting a rather loose interpretation of the word 'exclusive'.
Despite the disparaging tone of the two paras above, I actually believe all five are worth trying, which is why I question the wisdom of releasing them simultaneously. They all possess wonderful evaporation arcs, developing and throwing up surprises over the course of several hours, and they provide compelling evidence of Bertrand Duchaufour's ability to turn his hand to several different styles and tones.
Number 9 is the most disappointing of the quintet, which - purely on a selfish level - is a shame, as it's been assigned to London. It's a straightforward cologne, and yes, I concede that it doesn't pretend to be anything else, but I would've thought that if a house of Artisan's standing makes the decision to release a cologne, they're obliged to create something that brings a hitherto unseen quality to the genre. This one ticks most of the right boxes (all the citrus fruits and petitgrain-style woods are present) but it sacrifices radiance for the sake of longevity (the drydown is surprisingly musk heavy). Colognes are supposed to be invigorating and fleeting: this one doesn't sparkle enough and it lasts too long.
1 has the least promising opening. The garish peach accord made me wonder if the scent's been granted first place so that punters quickly get it out of the way and move on to more interesting fare. Thankfully, the mid-section is more measured, combining sappy, fig notes with a green, pollen-saturated mimosa. The whole clings to the skin in a manner that most will probably find too quiet - and I confess I wondered whether this would work better as a candle than a perfume - but it certainly isn't without merit.
The most overtly masculine entry is 10. Essentially an ambery wood scent, it combines a pepper note with incense, leather and an acrid, gooseberry-like, green powderiness. Sadly, the blend doesn't produce a particularly memorable effect, despite sounding quite intriguing on paper. In fact, more than anything else, it's reminiscent of Pledge furniture polish, circa 1985... which is not necessarily a criticism!
I'd give the award for Best Effort to number 6. For the first few minutes of its evolution - after a forgettable burst of citrus shampoo top notes - it manages to occupy a central space at the heart of a finely-tuned balance of an aquatic accord, woods, incense, florals and greens. There's a transparency to the structure - not unlike Olivia Giacobetti's work in Passage d'Enfer - which demands an acknowledgement of the skill that has gone into maintaining the legibility of such a large number of disparate elements. However, the harmony breaks down after a while and we're left with a dull woody floral, a tame version of Comme Des Garçons 2.
Finally - and yes, I have saved the best for last - we have 8. It starts life as a leathery iris - a sort of testosterone-fuelled Traversée Du Bosphore without the sweetness - complete with bitter apple and parched kindling. Could this be a rugged Dior Homme, I asked myself when wearing it. Dior Guy? Dior Bloke, even? But then comes a complete surprise. Our man jumps into a soapy bath and proceeds to turn into an attractive young woman bearing a handful of freshly-picked, powder-puff rose petals. By the time she puts on her plush dressing gown, we're in No. 5 territory, or perhaps that of No. 5 Eau Premiere, to be precise. It's one of the most enjoyable tricks Monsieur Duchaufour has pulled off for quite some time and it effectively turns the perfume into a homage to some of the most enchanting aspects of classical French perfumery. It's no wonder then, that 8 has been allocated to Paris.
A few more numbers are scheduled to be released in the autumn, and on the strength of the five above, I can't say I won't be interested in trying them, but I'd be more than happy to wait a while longer for the pleasure. Although there are no masterpieces amongst this initial batch, each of the scents deserves the time and space to find a following of its own. Perhaps releasing so many in quick succession makes sense on some spreadsheet somewhere, but for me, as a critic and, more importantly, a consumer, it dilutes the impact of an important, well-respected brand. Artisan ought to watch out: if they try to add too many numéros together too quickly, they may just end up with un gros zero.
[Review of 9 based on a sample of eau de cologne; reviews of 1, 6, 8 and 10 based on samples of eau de parfum; all samples provided by L'Artisan Parfumeur in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]