When I interviewed Papillon's founder, Liz Moores*, I told her that, putting aside the issue of personal taste, the most striking feature of her debut scents is that they are extremely well-rounded and finished in comparison with other niche creations. Several non-mainstream fragrances display a cheerful roughness around their edges - indeed, in some cases, this is their most endearing feature - but Moores' work conveys a maturity and craftsmanship entirely at odds with her low levels of experience and her claims about a lack of formal perfumery training. I guess she's just talented, pure and simple. When faced with an array of scented materials, her head and her hands know exactly what to do.
This confidence is abundant in Anubis, the most disquieting member of the trio. Like the dissonant Ligeti compositions in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is both compelling and impenetrable, using an assertive leather accord - lifted by spices, indolic jasmine, smoke and a medicinal facet - to weave a dramatic tale of death and decay. It grows too quiet too quickly - it's a shame the 'tangy lime on baked concrete' drydown isn't more powerful - but as an expression of strange, seductive untrustworthiness, it's worth checking out.
If Anubis recalls a bizarre, modernist symphony, Tobacco Rose is an opulent Handel concerto, erupting with life and verve. At its core is a gorgeous rose material, as rich as any I've ever smelt. Peppery, honeyed and ambery, it infuses its surroundings with a sense of occasion normally achieved through the use of dim lighting and heavy drapery. Where it parts ways with Baroque aesthetics is in its relative lack of complexity. There's no denying that its floral centre is beautiful - even if it doesn't display the tobacco referred to by its name - but the predictability of its development is something of a let down, especially in the scent's final stages, which offer little more than the balsamic plum notes of labdanum.
Tobacco Rose is the most popular of the three, but I shall rather perversely declare that my favourite turned out to be Angélique, chiefly on the grounds that it was the most surprising and the least overtly figurative member of the collection. To continue the musical analogy, this is the Dave Grusin jazz composition, unremarkable on the surface, and yet full of rewards for those willing to exercise a little patience. It initially comes across as a mono-dimensional, lactonic, green floral, with more than a suggestion of Gucci's Rush. But it conceals all sorts of curious twists and diversions, notably a snuffed candle facet, a quiet incense note and a beige, woody base. The whole exudes an endearing, understated confidence, like a less chilly version of Chanel's No 19. It's a commendable piece of work and, when placed alongside its two companions, it raises Papillon to the level of a serious player on the niche scene.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Papillon in 2014.]
* The interview should be published here at some point over the course of the next few weeks.