Une Rose by Frederic Malle (2003) ★★★★★
There is a moment in Une Rose where it is like a smudge – like rubbing an unctuous paste of rose between the thumb and forefinger. It is decadent and rich, a sumptuous stain of fatal red that swirls into vertiginous darkness. Une Rose is well executed; supreme and total in its composition. Think of perceptual adumbration: a singular profusion of all the intense profiles of rose given in a singular instant – magically complete all at once. Is it the mirror-sleek rub of satin, the deep dispersive softness of velvet, or is it diaphanous chiffon? Une Rose manages to offer all of this and then even more. Beauty in complex simplicity. A solar fire of passionate red rose is covered in a blanket of earth.
Perfume in Colour: No. 5 by Chanel (1921) ★★★★★
Sometimes all it takes is a perfume, like the Eau de Toilette of Chanel No. 5, to remind us to smell in the register of colour. No. 5 is a variegated fragrance, which, beginning with its aldehydic flash of pristine white light (coming from above; like – in an act of miraculous surprise – a deus ex machina that transforms what is otherwise a fairly solid bouquet of florals into an extraordinary arrangement), which then invites us to embrace its rhapsody of tones. For instance, No. 5 always has this definite vertical streak of yellow running through it, and you can smell the utter confidence of its application. Whether it’s the visual arts or the olfactory, this confidence is immediately registered first on the level of phenomenology, and then are we compelled to investigate. The yellow here is ylang-ylang, which has always been the unsung hero of the composition, rivalled only by the scintillating tilt of jasmine. This is no exegetical review of No. 5, but a simple reminder to return to our scents, and to learn how to view them with fresh noses.
Handsome is as Handsome Does: Eau des Baux by L’Occitane (2006) ★★★★
Eau des Baux is, in my world, exactly the type of ‘masculine-coded’ scent that the market needs to embrace again – falling in that very precise category of spice and woods that essentially forgoes a hesperidic top (like a zingy aperitif before the main event), driving straight into the blunted depth of the heart of the composition. Yes, bergamot is present, but in such a scant sense – more functional than apparent, per se – that it doesn’t even register on the nose.
The trick, although in no way does it remain a secret, is a combination cardamom, pink pepper, and nutmeg, a trio of spice notes that occupy a curious position on the continuum of spices. They are, in a word, fresh: they do not pull down, but enjoy a diffusive property whilst offering signature warmth without fire; more ember than flame. Cooling warmth – to employ an apt oxymoron. Blurring into a heart of cedar and cypress no doubt improves this effect – two wood notes of distinct aromatic texture, scratchy yet all-the-whilst wearing a leather glove, salubrious (herbal-esque), and seemingly impossible to overdose, to then be cold smoked with the cool glow frankincense.
Even the vanilla note, paired with its usually bolstering complement of tonka bean, lacks that sense of custard-like saturation, but a lithe and pleasantly uncommon angular build (Eau Duelle by Diptyque shares a similar quality, but differs in that it smells ‘washed’ and more curvaceous). Eau des Baux is svelte. It lacks the typically atmospheric cloyingness of vanilla (viz., Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille) and punchy synthy ambers (viz., Dior’s Sauvage), which both after a period of time numb the nose. Eaux des Baux is marked by utter subtlety, at times appealing to the phantasmic ideal of (naturally, and handsomely) male-scented skin which is not pheremonal (in the sense that has been smuggled into the conscience of everyday consumers), but like an inverse image of Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966) – not virile man-as-washed, but man returned to pristine nature; where virility is not the operative mode of being that must be actively intended, but, rather, a natural disposition.
Futur by Robert Piguet (1960’s; re-release 2009) ★★★★
Half sweet dust and half salubrious bitter herb, a beautiful top of neroli (purity) meets the (danger) of green bitterness. Futur evokes the nostalgia of a medicine cabinet: dark and bitter tonics, cool-tiled bathrooms, pastel hues, and hard dull plastics.
Futur is slightly weedy without falling into the chaotic lushness of verdant overgrowth, or the immediate associationism of natural beauty, but rather, it is a savage beauty (a beauty no less). Futur is a green that is directly and almost ambivalently foregrounded – definitely aloof, but not without warmth somewhere deep in the composition. Sadomasochistic bitterness; a bliss you need to wrestle. At its centre: absolute desiccation via Isobutyl Quinoline with a coarse resinous slick. Daffodil, galbanum, smoky vetiver. Futur is delayed freshness; a saturated echo. A cough from a dry throat. The perfect green without falling into the trope of prettiness or excess delicacy. The green of Futur is brutal, coarse, crunchy, and even icy. Futur is all of this, not at all pretty, but beautiful in its ownness.
Hippie Rose by Heeley (2011) ★★½
Hippie Rose is a watercolour painting of something absolutely luscious; an ornamental richness rendered in an impressionistic way. To put it simply, it is the Baroque depicted in watercolour. It is as if, in employing this medium, a sense of modesty is imposed as to what can possibly depicted, and so the total effect is a rose patchouli which merely reminds you of richness.
I could call this an aquatic rose, as I have observed others doing so, but that doesn’t seem quite right – there is too much of a floral potency here, shaded in the bitter tones of spice and inky moss for me to want to say that the rose itself is aquatic. Therefore, I’d more accurately describe the experience of Hippie Rose as one of viewing a classic floral-chypre through clear water that has a shiny slick of oil on its surface. It is like a lens, to the effect of it literally colouring the world through water, where discrete edges blur into each other. The chypre family, in its traditional manner of composition and arrangement, is generally so imposing about its structural form, that to then partially dissolve it in an aqueous solution achieves the effect of relaxing it, exposing what is usually underneath its acerbic and shell-like exterior. There is woodiness, green freshness, the atmospheric saturation of incense, and even a musk that pillows the work, lending cool viscous unctuousness.
One thought on “Fragments (July 2021): Frederic Malle, Chanel, L’Occitane, Robert Piguet, Heeley”
Delicious writing! I’m familiar with the first 3 of these. I worked at L’Occitane, and you made me feel/imagine Baux wholly. xo