Usually, by the time I get around to writing about a limited edition release, it's as hard to find as a shred of maturity in a Quentin Tarantino movie. So for all I know, Coudray's glorious Ylang Ylang is now conspicuous by its absence in perfumeries and is doing the rounds of the auction sites and the scent-swap communities. Nevertheless, I must bring it to your attention. A re-working of the brand's own Fetiche from 1978, it's the sort of composition that reduces cynical critics to gibbering wrecks and renders us speechless. "Perfumery must look to the future," we tend to say, "there's no point dwelling on the past, we can't keep expecting old brands to produce the sort of thing they made decades ago." But then along comes a retro beauty like this one, and we're forced to scuttle into a corner like toddlers, waiting to be served a portion of our own high-and-mighty words.
Completely ignoring the current trend for translucency and hyper-legibility, Ylang Ylang is as 1970s in its approach to floral bouquets as every glitter-ball and platform shoe-cliche you can think of. Here, the idea isn't to showcase a specific material but to create an aura, a texture, an endless vista of scent. Sure, the eponymous ingredient is unquestionably part of the scenery, but the seams between it and its neighbours are difficult to detect. One moment it flows into jasmine territory, then it veers close to some roses and then there's a whole area where lilies and freesias dominate. And then there's the sandalwood in the base, as well as the vetivert and the patchouli and and and... The whole is almost too symphonic for words. Reach for your bottle of First from Van Cleef & Arpels and you'll get a strong idea of how this stuff operates, although it is far more opulent and luxurious.
So yes, I'm certainly one of those critics who claim that the art of perfumery must always be pushed in the direction of tomorrow. But thank goodness for the likes of Ylang Ylang: they remind me it's a good thing some scent-makers know when to ignore the critics.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by E Coudray in 2017.]
The Perfume exhibition at Somerset House - co-curated by Lizzie Ostrom - opened earlier this week and had it done so at any other time of the year, I would have rushed to put together a review of it for you. But this is always the season when I have to go into virtual hibernation (ages ago, I used to refer to it as The Invasion Of The Day Job, but I stopped doing that for fear of boring you all into a stupor) and this year, it has been particularly taxing. I hope that by the time we enter the middle of July, I might be able to return to some normality and compose a post on the subject. (With any luck, I might even be able to scribble something during an imminent train journey, but I'm not holding my breath.) However, having said all of that, I can't let this week pass without sharing a few initial thoughts.
Bottom line: you must see the exhibition if you possibly can. I want to return for a second viewing before too long, because the first one - a bit of a hurried affair during the launch event - was largely a case of getting my preconceptions out of my system. Now that I know what the exhibition is not, I feel I'm in a better position to appreciate what it is. And what is it? Well, something that would probably benefit from being kept spoiler-free, I think... which of course raises the question of whether I should write a review of it at all, but let's not stumble into that conundrum right now, because my exhausted brain wouldn't be able to cope.
Briefly, and on the strength of nothing more than that aforementioned hurried viewing, I would say the exhibition is an invitation to perceive perfume as something more than the focus of a post-breakfast, pre-commute, 'What shall I wear today?' decision. Big deal, I hear you say; after all, if you're reading these words, chances are you already consider perfume to be much more than an accessory to one's attire. But the vast majority of the public most definitely does not. And that's what makes the Somerset House show so fascinating, because it is a serious attempt to shift the mainstream consciousness, as far as the subject of fragrance composition is concerned. How effectively it achieves its aim is a different question, but the fact that a venue like Somerset House is even raising the issue is, in itself, a triumph.
More soon... I hope...