lundi 24 novembre 2014

Don't Bogart That Fume, My Friend: By Kilian's Smoke for the Soul

Would weed by any other name smell as pungent? After rounding off his Asian Tales collection with an uncharacteristically figurative Imperial Tea, Kilian Hennessy offers another type of hyperrealistic “tea” with Smoke for the Soul, as part of his Addictive State of Mind trilogy. The cannabis accord is not directly mentioned but constantly alluded to in the ad copy: when the first whiff bops you in the nose, it’s hard not to lapse into reefer madness (fits of the giggles included, munchies optional).

Spritzing on Smoke for the Soul might not quite be advisable for job interviews, border crossings or family reunions – but then again, “I swear, officer, it’s my cologne” could be a defense strategy. That said, I wonder whether the pot could be that easily sniffed you if you smelled the scent without being aware of its inspiration.

In fact, far from being a novelty fume, Smoke for the Soul fully stands up on its own as a fine fragrance. Like the better-structured gourmands, which cull desserts from the menu to shift them onto the structure of classic fragrance families – Prada Candy is a twist on Shalimar; Serge Lutens Rahät Loukoum ultimately derives from L’Heure Bleue –, Smoke for the Soul is based on the aromatic chypre.

Though Kilian Hennessy denies it was Fabrice Pellegrin’s intention, the scent’s unrelenting bitterness feels like Bandit with the flowers ripped out; it nods towards the mugwort and castoreum-laced Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme (the one in the black Art Deco bottle), Estée Lauder’s original Azurée (or its masculine forerunner Aramis).

Bitterness is an intriguing area of the olfactory map that few fragrances explore. Smoke for the Soul draws it from grapefruit and matches it with similarly butch notes: eucalyptus (camphoraceous), thyme (aromatic) and birch tar (smoky resinous). This witty twist on the very etymology of perfume (per fumare, through smoke) is sufficiently original for a major, must-respected perfumer to have been spotted buying a full bottle in a Parisian department store…

Pschitt psychotrope : Smoke for the Soul de Fabrice Pellegrin pour By Kilian

Après avoir bouclé sa série Asian Tales avec un Imperial Tea étonnamment figuratif – ce qui n’est pas dans le style de la maison --, Kilian Hennessy évoque un autre type d’herbe, tout aussi hyperréaliste, avec Smoke for the Soul, dans la nouvelle trilogie Addictive State of Mind. Dans le dossier de presse, l’accord cannabis n’est jamais nommé bien qu’on y fasse constamment allusion. Mais dès la première bouffée, les effets s’en font ressentir (fou rire assuré, fringale en option).

On ne recommanderait pas forcément un pschitt de Smoke for the Soul avant un entretien d’embauche, une réunion familiale ou le passage des frontières (« Je vous jure, monsieur l’agent, c’est mon eau de toilette »). Cela étant, on peut se demander si l’herbe qui fait rire se repérerait aussi facilement en sentant ce parfum sans connaître son inspiration (« Euh, oui, j’ai inhalé »).

D’ailleurs, loin d’être une senteur-gimmick, Smoke for the Soul relève pleinement du champ de la « vraie » parfumerie. Comme les gourmands les plus intéressants, qui se servent d’accords figuratifs chipés à la carte des desserts pour décaler des structures olfactives classiques – Candy de Prada descend de Shalimar ; Rahät Loukoum de Serge Lutens est dérivé de L’Heure Bleue --, Smoke for the Soul se fonde sur le chypre aromatique.

Kilian Hennessy affirme que Fabrice Pellegrin ne s’en est pas inspiré, mais pour moi, l’amertume implacable de sa composition évoque un Bandit auquel on aurait arraché son bouquet floral ou son descendant via Aramis, Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme (celui dans le flacon Art Déco noir), voire le désormais confidentiel Azurée d’Estée Lauder (l’original de Bernard Chant).

L’amertume est l’une des zones les moins explorées et les plus intrigantes de la carte olfactive. Smoke for the Soul tire la sienne d’un pamplemousse sans sucre, qui annonce une séquence de notes tout aussi intransigeantes : eucalyptus (camphré), thym (aromatique) et bouleau (fumé résineux). Façon spirituelle de prendre les origines du parfum (per fumare) au pied de la lettre, Smoke for the Soul a largement de quoi monter à la tête.

Illustration tirée du film américain anti-drogue Reefer Madness (1936).

lundi 10 novembre 2014

Les Exceptions: Thierry Mugler's Retro-Futuristic Classics

How often do I feel like springing for a full bottle? Not often. Yet when I drained the 1.5ml vial of Oriental Express from my sample set of Les Exceptions in less than a day, I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Designed by IFF’s Jean-Christophe Hérault, one of the younger perfumers whose work I find the most compelling, and Olivier Polge, before the latter went on to succeed his father at Chanel, Thierry Mugler’s new exclusive collection shifts the couturier’s retro-futuristic aesthetics onto four classic fragrance families – orientals, fougères, chypres and florals, plus musk – by twisting them in several ways.

First, Hérault and Polge resorted to contemporary, high-tech molecular distillations or to analyses unavailable when classics were composed, such as the “Living Flower” (IFF’s headspace capture technology). Then, they pared down the structures to their bearing walls and rebuilt them in Mugler’s signature “big blocks of notes” style: “The formulas are concise, and the olfactory forms are well-drawn because they aren’t drowned in all sorts of notes. There are overdoses that enable us to emphasize lines”, Hérault explained over the phone.

In a third operation, the duo shifted those structures on the olfactory map by replacing certain canonical notes by notes with the same “value” (for instance, pear instead of peach), while maintaining the relationship between the notes so that the form (oriental, chypre, fougères…) would still be recognizable. Lastly, they twisted or balanced them differently to blur gender boundaries: Fougère Furieuse doesn’t smell like it’ll grow chest hair, and Oriental Express swaps the harem girl get-up for a sharp-edged suit. 

Oriental Express
As I’ve said, this is the one that made the strongest impression on me. In it, the founding ingredients of the oriental family – vanilla, benzoin and labdanum – are jolted into a toughness more usually found in uncut patchouli. Oriental Express powers up its engine with a startlingly aromatic green rush of basil. The sweetness of its balsamic base is kept in check by a note intriguingly listed as “carrot wood”. “Don’t go looking for a forest of carrot trees”, jokes Hérault. “This is actually an olfactive concept designating a type of extraction of carrot seed, a molecular distillation which has the characteristic of revealing the woody-iris part of carrot. The note brings a genuinely novel power and verticality that shifts the oriental structure”, he adds.

Supra Floral 
Reviving a floral note that seldom gets a starring role in contemporary compositions, Supra Floral uproots the hyacinth from N°19, plants it in incense and shows it up for the bitch it really is, oozing venomous green sap from the stems of its turgid, curly purple sprays.
What I liked about working on the note was the fact we used modern analyses methods that have taught us a lot about flowers. It’s a tribute to the past with a form of modernity, because these Living Flower analyses have enabled us to be much closer to nature. By being more figurative, you gain modernity”, says Hérault. “This isn’t a vapid, romantic flower: it’s extremely green, animalic (because of the indole) and honeyed. That’s why it was chosen, otherwise it wouldn’t have been Thierry Mugler.

Chypre in the superlative form? On paper, this should have been my favorite of the series. The scent is built around “a patchouli fraction that is a masterpiece of technology”, enthuses Hérault. “It’s the most beautiful quality offered by LMR [Laboratoires Monique Rémy, the naturals branch of IFF]. You avoid the camphoraceous, earthy facets of patchouli: it’s got just as much depth but it’s more luminous, and you avoid what could be a bit dated in patchouli.
Pear stands in for the more traditional lactonic fruit (peach or plum), lending a juicy tartness to the top notes. It “removes the vintage patina of this great monument of classic perfumery”, Oliver Polge states in the press booklet. Unfortunately, on my skin Chyprissime quickly gets overtaken by the aforementioned patchouli – which is indeed much more luminous and transparent than the uncut version, while the pear goes from tart-sweet to slightly metallic. But on a fellow perfume lover in Montreal, the scent was wonderfully redolent of a cigar box, so it might just be one of those not-for-me things…

Over the Musk 
The cuddliest juice of the series and its best-seller last summer at The Bay in Montreal (the collection was pre-launched in Canada), Over the Musk is nearly all, well, musk, including the iris-tinged ambrette which contains vegetal musk molecules: “It’s quite vertical”, Hérault explains. “Whereas if I had to describe the olfactory form of musk, I’d say it’s rather round.” A touch of Cashmeran, a molecule that is technically musk but doesn’t smell overly of it (I can always pick it out because to my nose, oddly, it gives off a whiff of dusty wood), added to vanilla notes, produces balsamic, powdery cosmetic effects veering into milkiness. Though Hérault’s compositions, many of them signed with Olivier Polge, are edgy and contemporary (think Balenciaga Rosabotanica’s deconstructionist rose), there is a tenderness to Over the Musk that I feel is very much part of his style as well.

Fougère Furieuse
How do I hate fougères? Let me count the ways. Most recent examples of the genre reek of the obnoxious, laundry-fresh dihydromyrcenol, a metallic citrus-lavender molecule that’s come to be the olfactory synonym of “I’m afraid I won’t smell like a man”. Thankfully, this particular fougère’s fury is not testosterone-driven. Aromatic notes are toned down. The neroli (actually a pillar of such 70s porn-star moustachioed fougères as Brut) is blown up, along with coumarin and amber – though Hérault says there’s no clary sage in Fougère Furieuse, the combination of both with a lush overdose of Cashmeran yields bitter-almondy tobacco effects. To sum up, this is a twist on fougères I’d bathe in.

The Les Exceptions collection is available on the website of Parfums Thierry Mugler.