He may not be prolific, but Michel Roudnitska must surely be one of the most fearless perfumers working today. With an apparent disdain for the path of least resistance, he pushes his finest work into that thrilling zone of fragrance creation where success and failure are divided by a line as thin, weightless and translucent as a soap bubble. His best scents teeter on the edge of that boundary, forever threatening to collapse, knowing full well that their precariousness is precisely what makes them so compelling.
Noir Epices (Frederic Malle) is a case in point: its spicy, sartorial elegance keeps switching between fine-tuned balance and over-egged, cinnamon sweetness. His Magnolia for the Sydney-based Grandiflora brand - founded by Saskia Havekes - is equally difficult to pin down, shifting from photo-realism to self-indulgence with beguiling dexterity. And now, he's repeated the trick one more time, for Grandiflora again, with Madagascan Jasmine, one of the most complex soliflore-style scents to have settled on my skin for months.
On one level, this new scent is, as you'd expect from its name, a jasmine. Straight up and down. Grand and full-bodied. A worthy candidate for the pithy 'Death by jasmine' review Tania Sanchez offered in The A-Z Guide for Lutens' À La Nuit (which, together with Beyond Paradise, would make an interesting point of comparison with the subject of today's post). But - not surprisingly, considering that it comes to us from Roudnitska's hands - it is also much greater than an attempt to provide a figurative representation of a single flower. Indeed, as I've suggested above, it is an exercise in tight-rope walking. Catch it in a certain light, and it soars to the heights of the greatest jasmines ever committed to a bottle. Green. Honeyed. Creamy. Indolic, but never excessively so. Just the right side of 'week old ashtray'. Subtle on the pepper.
Adjust the angle of observation, and it presents a more challenging demeanour. Has that sensuous, floral note turned soapy? Is the green facet now strident and chemical? Has the honey aspect taken on the character of a cheap strawberry? Well, yes and no... and that's the point. With enviable skill, Roudnitska has managed to combine all these seemingly contradictory elements to produce an effect that embraces the charm of the off-kilter. The whole drama benefits from the inclusion of lesser sub-plots.
Madagascan Jasmine isn't flawless - there are moments when its two halves don't see eye to eye - but it is never less than engrossing and, with its refusal to iron out its less attractive features, it presents a quality rarely seen in perfumery: defiance. Like Romeo yelling to the stars about injustice, it is somehow both morbid and desperate for life, carrying itself away on waves of vitality even as it succumbs to oblivion. The journey is mesmerising to behold, and I am grateful to Roudnitska and Havekes for gifting it to us.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Grandiflora in 2015.]