If Kimonanthe were an item of food, it would be marmalade shot through with slivers of charcoal.
If it were a painting, it would be Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow On White And Red) by Mark Rothko.
If it were a person, it would be the linguistics professor who never quite seems to inhabit the same planet as everyone else.
Isn't it wonderful to come across a perfume that you can't immediately work out? Like a painting that seems unfathomable at first glance (Ad Reinhardt's Abstract Painting No. 5) or a film that doesn't reveal its riches until a second viewing (Sokurov's Russian Ark), a difficult fragrance is a rare gift: a compelling conundrum that tugs at your attention in sly, subtle ways. This unknowable quality is precisely what makes Fabrice Pellegrin's Kimonanthe (part of Diptyque's boutique-only Collection 34) such an attention-worthy release.
According to the press info, the scent is a combination of osmanthus (the variant heavy on jammy, apricot notes) as well as a powdered, Japanese incense called zukoh (which I've never had the pleasure to encounter). As far as official descriptions go, yes, this one's pretty brief, but it's actually quite helpful. For one thing, it accurately sums up the main characteristics of this intriguing composition. But more importantly, it conveys how downright weird the smell is. Who would've though that apricot and incense could work well next to each other? Yet somehow they do, maybe because they each bring out the other's most striking facets.
Then again, perhaps the real star here is the bridge between the two. With characteristic skill, Pellegrin seems to have placed the osmanthus and the incense at either end of a line, and then proceeded to link them together with complementary materials. Enter: cloves, orange peel, sweet bubble gum, nutmeg and, of course, leather. I say 'of course' because certain varieties of osmanthus materials (especially those which have been aged for particular long periods) take on tannery-centred, almost oud-like characteristics, which then slot into the incendiary facets of incense.
So does the above render this olfactory mystery solved? No, not quite, because Kimonanthe continues to intrigue with strange shifts in tone and perplexing changes in volume. When I wore it, several people felt the need to comment, and although some of them didn't like what they were smelling, they all conceded that this was, indeed, something different. Like a discovery of an ancient Chinese chest at an antique fair, Kimonanthe seems to speak of the past with a voice that is all the more beautiful for its throaty dustiness. And that's an increasingly uncommon quality in modern perfumery.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Diptyque in 2016.]