Perfume is a story.
It doesn’t matter if the story is real or a product of make believe – but if I can close my eyes, inhale, and capture expansive landscapes, charismatic characters and/or romantic ideas, then the perfume is achieving one of its multifarious functions.
It is my belief that even the most fictional of things – mermaids, mythical cities, or epic tales – come from a place that is indubitably real, because the composite parts of what is conjured must exist in the real realm, or at least, in the imagination.
That’s one thing I like about Arquiste the brand: they immerse you into a story. These are places at a certain time sealed in a crystal dome and wanting to be observed by an outside world. These are the smells of a story – the blood of a victim and the guilt of a murderer in Serge Luten’s Tubereuse Criminelle. The acrimonious battle of light and dark, good versus evil in La Religiuse – meeting at an equilibrium, actually unbalanced. And Aleksandr by Arquiste, the surrendering of the self to an inevitable fate, a methodical preparation for the end.
January 1837, St. Petersburg, Russia
“On a frosty winter afternoon, a fiery gentleman finishes his toilette by dabbing on a preparation of Neroli and Violet. He draws down his cuffs, dons a heavy fur and strides out in polished leather boots. As he rides off on his sleigh, the woody scent of Fir fills the air. Beyond the snow-laden trees, on a clearing bathed in amber light, the fateful duel awaits.”
Aleksandr takes me on an experience of preparation, where the proportions are kept in fine balance. The notes throughout the overall fragrance combine to elucidate a reality that works just as well on paper than it does as a scent. It pulls in classic masculine directions, like a strong cavalier protecting his honour. Violet leaf for instance expands rapidly from initial spray, mimicking the cool bracing effect of drinking chilled vodka straight from the cooler. The violet leaf is officious, pleasantly oily like a good potato-based vodka, and gives a potent warm and astringent quality to the fragrance. When combined with the ambivalent note of neroli, a classic and certainly rarified note seemingly belonging to antique eras, it resembles eau de cologne with an instant appeal to classicism and an old school manliness.
The charm to this fragrance, and this spicy floral eau de cologne top structure is that it hints at reality: it merely serves to mask a deeper odour of animalic balsamics. The verdancy of the violet leaf and the sweeping freshness of neroli make way for a subtler blend of posh and worn-in leathers and a warming heart of fir. This resembles not only the smell of our tragic hero, but his embellishments and his context. The long fur shawls and jackets to keep warm in a Russian snow, the oily vodka slick to mimic cool mineral rocks and a feigned seasoned bravery that only alcohol and spirit can provide, fir to produce the image of grand conifers topped with a blanket of white snow, and of course birch tar, the practical and handsomely leathery note applied to footwear. This is at the bottom of the scent, with the warm tones filled in with vanilla and soft powdery amber.
The elegance of the scent comes from its contrast – the dandyish opening of a contemporary poet donning aftershave, followed by a brave albeit broken man now made aware of his impending demise – a marker of the ultimate resolution. From a cultured freshness following into a suede-like leatheriness, attached altogether with violet leaf, Aleksandr is a spiritual leathery scent that adds both a new and redolent feature to modern masculine perfumery in what can be called a very linear and classical style, which is largely this scent’s only downfall. The floral impression builds with contiguous notes of animal, musk, amber, and spice – refined, simple, very clean.
Alternative: Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley
A good staple in the male-inclined category. It is the portrayal of ‘cold’.
Subjective rating: 3.5/5
Objective rating: 3.5/5