For the last few days I've been thinking about the d-word. Derivative. It's an issue to consider in the analysis of any creative pursuit. But I'd say it's particularly pressing in perfumery because the distinction between a scent that nudges an idea into novel territory and one which merely re-hashes a concept is so very hazy. What's prompted these musings? Two scents: Larmes Du Désert and Lune Féline from Atelier Des Ors. The first thing that has to be said about them is: stunning packaging. Beautiful, solar-inspired etching in the glass bottles. Elegant art work on the outer boxes. Glittering flakes of gold leaf (yes, you read that right) floating in the juice. An absolute must-see.
But what of the scents? They're both lovely. Lune Féline is a burnt, musky vanilla, smooth, decadent and unafraid to pile on the gourmand calories. Larmes Du Désert is, as its name implies, an assortment of resins, blending labdanum, myrrh and frankincense into a carnal feast. But enjoyable and well-made though they are, I can't ignore the feeling that I've come across them before. Féline doesn't expand on vanilla statements made in the past and Larmes is too closely related to the likes of Rodrigo Flores-Roux's Sahara Noir for Tom Ford. (Mind you, Sahara has been discontinued, so perhaps I shouldn't complain that Atelier Des Ors have resurrected it.)
Incense also comes up in Andy Tauer's new Incense Flash (for his Tauerville range), yet here, the path it takes ends up being more pictueresque than it is in Larmes. Trouble is: it's difficult to pinpoint the precise cause of this difference. The effect is unquestionable: on one day, I wore Larmes and I was left pleasantly unmoved; on another I wore Incense Flash and I was unable to detach my nose from my wrist. But what's behind the effect?
A marketing department would probably spout some claim about the quality of the raw materials, and yes, of course, Tauer tends to use excellent ingredients, but I suspect the stuff used by Atelier Des Ors is pretty decent too. Maybe the problem, in this case, is a lack of light and shade. Perhaps, sometimes in perfumery, the opposite of 'derivative' is 'full of contrasts'. Maybe, on some occasions, a juxtaposition of various, seemingly conflicting elements is what our noses and brains require to stop us from concluding that what we're smelling has wafted across our olfactory bulbs a hundred times before.
The interesting thing is that Incense Flash isn't entirely original. Far from it. It falls right into the camp occupied by, say, Avignon (Comme Des Garcons), Tauer's own Incense Extrême and even the aforementioned Sahara Noir. But it displays enough depth and - here's that word again - contrasts to be worth smelling. The coolness of the incense is offset by a well-handled citrus top note. Its cleanliness is rendered more compelling with the inclusion of a brash, animalic facet (one of the most brazen we've seen in a Tauer composition, I'd say). And its ecclesiastical associations are steered away from plunging into cliches with the addition of woods and amber effects. So yes, in a nutshell, it just offers more for us to smell than Larmes and Féline do.
[Samples provided by Atelier Des Ors and Tauerville; Larmes Du Désert and Lune Féline were composed by Marie Salamagne.]
PS In the interests of fairness I should mention that I wasn't similarly won over by Tauer's Vanilla Flash. Again, it's lovely - there's a comforting smokiness wafting through its base - but I don't think it says anything appreciably different from what we've been offered in the past. For a chance to try one of the Flash scents for yourself, please come back tomorrow.