I found myself thinking a great deal about Fougère Royale whilst wearing Tauer's new Phi - Une Rose De Kandahar (the second scent to enter his Collectibles range, after 2011's Zeta). For one thing, the two perfumes share a few common facets in their construction. It would probably be a push to state that Phi is a fougère, but bitter almond, bergamot and geranium are prominent in its profile, and its drydown relies heavily on the powdery coumarin facets of tonka beans, so it isn't light years away from the territory Parquet explored all those decades ago. But more importantly, its primary strategy is to seduce through stealth, which has been true of most of the great fougères. Once its initial salvo dies away, it radiates calm, tranquility and contentment - primarily by emphasising the rosier aspects of patchouli, vanilla and synthetic musks - and it never feels the need to draw attention by raising its voice or indulging in a showy flourish.
But you'll have noticed that I used the word 'salvo' to describe this perfume's top section. Tauer has explained that Phi came into being when he happened to get his hands on a small quantity of an Afghani rose oil which seized his imagination. And it's easy to understand why when you first spray the scent. Different people will no doubt react to the intense sensory stimulus in different ways, but I was instantly taken back to the moment when I purchased a tiny vial of scent in Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra. It was based around rose too, and I vividly recall being impressed by what I could only describe as the dustiness of the petals it was evoking in my mind.
The very same, ancient, sun-roasted, parched sensibility comes to the fore at the beginning of Phi. The rose is burnished and russet. It comes from a world where winds and sands ravage anything that stands in their way. As it unfurls, it reveals the scarlets and ochres of a Middle Eastern dusk. In short, it is breathtaking. But - and I wonder if this is going to be a sticking point for some - its effect fades very quickly. In a manner reminiscent of, but far less dramatic than the opening of Lonestar Memories (ie birch tar making way for floral delicacy), the near-carnal overture of Phi soon segues into the aforementioned, fougère-like genteelness. I confess, I found this transition disconcerting at first; I was so taken with the top notes that I didn't want them to vanish. But of course, I resolved to take the composition on its own terms, rather than on a preconceived notion of what I wanted it to be. And the narrative which then offered itself up to me - strife followed by a very intimate, body-centred equilibrium - somehow seems fitting for a perfume inspired by one of the most war-torn corners of the globe.
Tauer's work has gone through a considerable shift since his first release in 2005. Le Maroc Pour Elle, the aforementioned Lonestar Memories, and even Rêverie Au Jardin and Vetiver Dance (of which I'm not a fan) were commendably brash, bold and ballsy. His recent output has opted to create a less explosive impact, which is, in some ways, understandable; I guess he feels he can't keep playing the same tune forever. But with this new release, he seems to have tried to find a balance between his older style and his current aesthetic. And by and large, I'd say he's succeeded. Phi's core may be more overtly customer-friendly than some niche-lovers would have hoped, but that incredible rose at the start goes some way towards making amends for a compromise or two here and there.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Tauer Perfumes and Scent & Sensibility in 2013.]