Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the presence of greatness. But first we need to get something less exciting out of the way.
Dangerous Complicity - one of two new releases from Etat Libre D'Orange - is an extremely well put-together osmanthus scent. With admirable fluidity, Violaine Collas' composition presents the flower's familiar, jammy, apricot-like facets, before moving on to a jasmine-hued tea note and a patchouli drydown. The whole works very well indeed, not unlike a sweeter version of Spicebomb.
However, contrary to what the publicity material would have us believe, it conveys not one iota of peril. Apparently, the fruitiness of the fragrance is supposed to evoke ideas of the Garden Of Eden, whilst the faintly leathery base is meant to suggest the carnal consequences of Eve taking dietary advice from a reptile. I'm afraid all of this was lost on me. Once its candied opening subsides, DC is enjoyable and innocuous, but it never lives up to its name. The opening of Genesis is usually read as a profound statement about humanity's loss of innocence; on the evidence of this perfume, it's little more than a sentimental tale of romance.
Thankfully, we also have New Release #2. This pairing of contrasting scents seems to be turning into something of a pattern for ELDO. Earlier this year, they linked the lovely but forgettable Bijou Romantique with the innovative Fils De Dieu. And now they've decided that DC's relatively safe aesthetic will enter the world hand in hand with something far more noteworthy. If that's what they have to do in order to achieve both commercial success and critical credibility, then long may they keep to their policy, because I can honestly say that The Afternoon Of A Faun is one of the best things they've ever given us.
In an effort to remain concise, I'll state that it represents those rare occasions when all the disparate elements of a perfume's construction align themselves with breathtaking symmetry. As is well known, Stéphane Mallarmé's poem, L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune, inspired Nijinksy to choreograph and perform one of the Ballets Russes' most celebrated dances. It is also fairly well known that Diaghilev, founder of said ballet company, was an ardent fan of Mitsouko. Therefore, it's not surprising that ELDO decided their olfactory tribute to one of the twentieth century's most important artistic endeavours should be inspired by Guerlain's masterpiece. In other words, they asked Ralf Schwieger to make them a classic chypre.
Of course, as you're all well aware, that's easier said than done. A vital constituent of this most venerable of perfumery genres is oakmoss absolute, which is famously restricted by anti-allergen guidelines. Modern chypres have got around this problem either by using synthetic substitutes (which have never been entirely convincing) or re-interpreting the 'standard' accord (by emphasising other elements, such as patchouli or rose).
But I'm guessing someone, somewhere has found a new synthetic oakmoss (or sucked the offending molecules out of the natural version... or made a pact with some devilish blend of hitherto un-explored natural substances) and given it to Schwieger, because what he's created here is a gorgeous, back-to-basics chypre that feels as though it's been lifted straight off a forest floor. It's this primal, archetypal quality that makes Afternoon Of A Faun especially praiseworthy. It isn't a new, peach-accented take on Mitsouko like, say, Roja Dove's much-loved Diaghilev. Nor is it an attempt to expand on successful recent chypres, such as Mon Parfum Chéri. Instead, it is a wonderful showcase of the alchemy which occurs when you blend fresh bergamot, smoky labdanum and green, woody oakmoss in that magical ratio that causes them to rise above the sum of their parts.
Add some incense for an air of mystery, rose to round out the heart, jasmine for sensuality, vetivert for an authoritative base, benzoin for delicate powderiness and a few drops of some modern je ne sais quoi to deflect accusations of re-hashing the past, and what you get is a work of art as graceful, physical and intimate as Nijinsky's dance must have been... a dance which was first performed 100 years ago. How's that for symmetry?
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Etat Libre D'Orange in 2012.]