Scent Strip by Chandler Burr
New York Times
Darkness, when it is crystalline and somewhat luminous, may be the most difficult quality to capture in a perfume. It was recently achieved when Sylvaine Delacourte, the fragrance-creation director for Guerlain, went shopping for a new rose perfume. One could argue that there are a surfeit of rose perfumes, but Francis Kurkdjian, a 37-year-old French perfumer at the top of his game, astonished Guerlain with Rose Barbare. Kurkdjian conceptually re-engineered Jacques Guerlain’s Mitsouko, from 1919, one of the greatest chypres ever. Where Guerlain put jasmine and a fairly new synthetic called aldehyde C-14 (it gives the delicious aroma of sweet peach) in Mitsouko, Kurkdjian took this idea and spun it forward, substituting a roughly $2,600-a-pound Turkish rose absolute for the jasmine. The result sweeps over you like the silent, massive shadow of an Airbus A340, a tactile component that makes you narrow your eyes. If it fades slightly faster than one might hope (this is my main complaint with Rose Barbare. It is stunning but no lasting power!), the aesthetics are pitch-perfect. There are other gorgeous roses — Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris, Eau d’Italie’s Paestum Rose(Lancome's 2000 et une Rose---how can people forget this one?) — but Rose Barbare is a crepuscular, rose-inflected darkness suffused with a luminosity that floats on the skin. It is swoonworthy.
Jo Malone’s perfume genius, by contrast, is light. Not light as in the antonym of heavy, but light as in photon radiation. Think about Grapefruit cologne or French Lime Blossom — that radiant glass-roof sensation. This is what makes Pomegranate Noir such a departure for Malone. This is the scent of the darkness that inhabits a Rubens, a warm, rich, purple blackness; Pomegranate Noir is like a box of truffles with the lid on, sweet bits of darkness, waiting. This really was one of the most impressive Malones.
Because of the way Malone composes her scents, each built to accommodate others, no single scent will ever reach the level of artistry of a single scent by Kurkdjian, whose robust, complex compositions are meant to stand alone. By design, Pomegranate Noir merits only two stars — but two lovely stars; this scent is like spraying a layer of twilight on your body. Now I want a scent that is like "layering twilight on your body"!!
Frédéric Malle’s uniquely strange and difficult-to-find outfit, Éditions de Parfums, has created a perfume collection in the running for best in the world. No truer words have ever been spoken. Malle’s method is simple: he invites top perfumers to create their dream scents for him. The result is outrageous. L’Eau d’Hiver by Jean-Claude Ellena (now Hermès’s in-house perfumer) is a small revolution; Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower is a blossom flower with the impact of a baseball bat. But it is Ellena’s Bigarade Concentrée that plays brilliantly with darkness. Bigarade smells like a person trapped in a complex weather system, the wonderful scent of a guy’s armpit and a woman’s humid skin washed in fresh rainwater and ozone (Malle doesn’t waste time gendering his scents, and Bigarade is for both women and men). It is a masterful juxtaposition, and smelling Bigarade is like looking down into a well of cool, black water. Your retinas expand from the strange pleasure of this scent. I disliked Brigarade but now I will have to sniff it again to see if I get this description.
This summer I fell very hard for Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower. This Malle has the highest amount of natural tuberose absolute in any fragrance. I am a girl that shys away from Fracas and any other tuberose based fragrance. They are too loud for me. Carnal Flower manages to be a loud whisper. No baseball bat impact for me! It has wonderful sillage and the drydown is gorgeous. Like a lush jungle. It was beyond perfect for this summer.
The notes are Bergamot, Melon, Eucalyptus, Ylang Ylang, Salicylates, Jasmine, Tuberose absolute, Orange Blossom absolute, Coconut, White Musks. It was created by Dominique Ropion.
I am going to LOVE these columns.
Long live Chandler Burr!!!
photos: gettyimages, abcgallery, a330.gakama.net and NYMetro.