The Green Question
How green is Synthetic Jungle? It is fortuitous that as I explore my present kick for all that is verdant, perfumer Anne Flipo has released a fragrance that promises green. Can we trust a promise made with the guarantee of Frederic Malle, at the helm of the exquisitely considered and highly edited Editions de Parfums? It is hard not to.
Launching a green is a surprise without shock. On the one hand, Malle is no stranger to inflections of green. Consider, for instance, Edmond Roudnitska’s Le Parfum de Thérèse, which explores the kaleidoscopic range of green as it morphs across the entire chromatic-olfactory spectrum alike. Green is sublimated with the fruity rush of melon, plum, and mandarin, providing an effluent solar atmosphere that rightfully calls to mind fleshy ripeness and humid warmth. The sensual floral heart of Thérèse is vertically stretched, concentrated, and intensified: the tenderness of rose undergoes three simultaneous transformations. The celestial and complex sweet notes of honied fruits lend punctuating vibrancy to the fragrance, a confident touch of cucumber and melon adds aqueous respite without loss – adding contrast, and a sustained base of vetiver and patchouli add earthiness – toning the fragrance. Then, there is an animality which emerges from the depths, where indolic jasmine and spicy leather pull back down to a firmly retro structure. Together, Thérèse is structurally defined by masterful symmetry and balance that marks classicism in perfumery, revamped with the strikingly varied green tones of mouth-watering fruit.
My appreciation for Thérèse considered, Pierre Bourdon’s French Lover is yet another example of nouveau vert, which, much like Synthetic Jungle, identifies a paradigmatic exemplar of a style and reworks it. In French Lover, Bourdon and Malle share a maternal fascination for the green chypre floral of Miss Dior (1947), and recompose its feminine codes, turning them into masculine ones. It is intense and confidently thunderous. The cackling gunpowder green of galbanum remains, as does the pleasantly raw and intensely impenetrable earthy floor of vetiver root. But, uniquely, French Lover sings up to marvellous aromatic heights with angelica, incense, and pimento. Freshness without citrus; rugged sophistication that pushes up and eventually returns to a heart of cedar wood. Whilst masculine fragrances can be roughly characterised by their shimmery and radiating aromatic tops (which I attribute to the popularity of cologne formulations), feminine fragrances seem to pay much more due to their bases (which I attribute to the popularity of parfum concentrations). This is apparent in French Lover, whereby differentiation is the partial result of a shift in emphasis from bottom to top.
But, this is a post dedicated to Synthetic Jungle: Malle’s latest and greatest, and Flipo’s entry into the brand. So, why begin with this preamble? I wish to make clear that for the Frederic Malle brand, as it goes through changes, and as it continues to move through time (20 going on 21), there is the risk of neglecting the pre-existing brilliance that marks the lineup. This is not the first green for Malle (despite what he claims in the marketing), but it is tempting to see it as such, because it is a fragrance with a name that signifies green the most. It too seems to be the scent with the most reference to green in its marketing. As certain fragrances take primacy over others from amongst the Malle range, I fear for a loss of creative daring in favour of scents that simply situate themselves squarely within the paradigm. For a brand which speaks of freedom and makes creativity its primary drive, can we trust the current paradigm of taste? I think of Carnal Flower, Musc Ravageur, and Portrait of a Lady, and then I think of Noir Epices, Le Parfum de Thérèse, and Une Fleur de Cassie. As Malle further embraces the market, and as a resultant increase in popularity means the brand enters into broader public consciousness, these lesser scents are at risk of fading away. This is not to ask for consistent brilliance, but I hope for integrity. I hope to see the Malle ethos preserved. Not all tastes are popular tastes, and neither are all tastes exquisite ones. How does one strike the balance? A question for another time.
Synthetic Jungle (Anne Flipo for Frederic Malle, 2021) ★★★★
Where, then, do I begin? What becomes the basis for my criticisms? When in doubt, when overwhelmed, and when perplexed: return to the things themselves! One cannot forget that all perfume reviewing rests on the essential axis of intentionality. Reviewing can only begin when we take the first intentional breath: anything prior to this becomes dependent upon this first proper breath. The breath that is critical, focussed, engaged, and open.
And with this, I immediately encounter a fragrance that wishes to come into order, as a disparate orbit of parts not yet in arrangement. The intense neon-coloured fruitiness of cassis, which to me, has always been best described as ‘bruised’ – at once sharp yet mellow, fruity but with a grounded earthiness, mixes with a prickly dance of metallic effects. It is a neon fruit salad with hints of the tropical in a cold metal bowl. Already – the delayed appearance of green – is indicative of the sort of jungle Flipo has created in scent. Not one of overwhelming wilderness, nor a tempestuous exchange of intensities, but of polite severity. A jungle that is just enough, with the requisite qualities and quantities of green that demonstrates a sophisticated level of restraint: of one thing less which in turn renders that which remains much more striking.
The introduction of hyacinth is the first proper sense of green in this Eau de Parfum, which has this effect of great projection without loudness. All manicured wilderness, Synthetic Jungle is immediately lush but never evocative of overgrowth. Hyacinth is oily, multi-coloured, more-than-green but essentially a verdant tone. It is indeed floral in character, proportionally huge and blooming; the utter concentrated essence of springtime. The note primes the composition for what is to arrive, coming together in balanced unison. This jungle is not aggressive, but serene and refreshingly still, padded with atmospheric noise, and in a single instant an entire array of greens are made apparent to the nose. To my nose, muguet rapidly becomes the central note in which all else orbits. Its serene angelic breath is a green drowned in an excess of white light, and this shadowless purity provides the background in which the crunchy, peppery, and anisic snap of basil is juxtaposed with the sizzling bitterness of sappy galbanum. While Chanel’s Bel Respiro (2007) takes basil and blends it with daffodil to give it a bucolic effect, Synthetic Jungle avoids this feature, firmly retaining its fantasy quality of ideal jungle greens. The fantasy itself is achieved with the ‘synthetic’ qualifier, itself a promise of abstraction – a movement away from determinate natural reference points – the creation of a utopic jungle that is immediately known but cannot be located in real space or mimetic memory (it is a jungle we all know of, but have never known properly). It belongs solely to the imagination, the productive house of phantasia – a presentation without concrete precedent.
Embrace the play of the imagination which defines this fragrance. This, after all, is what makes perfume a creative art. Synthetic Jungle begins as a unity of contrasts: the natural receiving expression through the synthetic, and vice-versa. It embraces old forms and content with impressive tweaks – technical proficiency which then makes possible the realisation of imaginative brilliance. To me, there are 3 clear sources of inspiration for this fragrance: Estee Lauder’s Private Collection (1973), Chanel No. 19 (1971), Guerlain’s Chamade (1969) – the first two explicitly specified by Malle and Flipo. Indeed, Synthetic Jungle runs the risk of staying too close to this marked style of retro green, but manages (with synthetics of course) to present a categorically green scent without too much of an association made to precedented greens. Synthetic Jungle is an impossible jungle of green petals and not leaves. Favouring tender petals and not razor sharp leaves connotes softness, and a certain synesthesiac degree of texture and tenderness. More than this, presented is tender foliage made of bakelite: palpably mellow give, slick smoothness to the touch, soft rounded edges, with pleasantly buttery tones of green of toothsome marble texture. Here, synthetics not only produces technical effects to the end of partially transcending a paradigm (to make anew), but with a dose of sparkling aldehydes – like the joyful purity of soap and the waxiness similarly found in Superstitious (Frederic Malle, 2016), cooling metallic effects, and a fierce drop of a nuclear fruity-green molecule, we can perceive that it makes the natural notes smell more natural. It makes things smell more like themselves.
Synthetic Jungle is not a perfume that requires one to scan through the axes of the composition, but it is given, in total, from a single standpoint. In visual terms, it is as if the work is always perceived from the ideal distance required in order to take the entirety of the jungle in; to apprehend the vast immensity of space of the perfume itself without having to shift perspectives to then uncover new aspects. Synthetic Jungle has borders, and its entire reality is contained squarely within it. Some perfumes exceed the wearer, but not this one. Which is not to say that Synthetic Jungle is singular, or lacking in dimensionality, but rather, it is constructed with a one-point perspective. Synthetic Jungle is a green of discernible layers of saturation that hold together as one – the result of technical precision; and not an indeterminate mess of vague green.
Ultimately, Synthetic Jungle is a sustained chord of green. Exposed subtlety, it neither floats off into airy and ethereal realms, nor descends into savage untamed earth, but is perfectly middle, in weight, tone, and timbre. As an example of the same idea done differently, it’s hard to not compare this to Naomi Goodsir’s Nuit de Bakélite (2017), which does all of this with a fiercely clenched fist, relying especially on the camphoraceous tilt of tuberose. More concretely grounded in the base, retro not only for its stunning flash of green, but also powdery and waxy with a disarming dose of rubbery and sunstruck styrax. Synthetic Jungle has the benefit of soft spokenness, of confident and crisp laconicism, at times smelling as if it has invented a new shade of green through techniques of careful composition and arrangement. Where Bakélite is wild and ornamental, Synthetic Jungle is unexpectedly urbane and moderne. Both are technical wonders yet massively divergent in terms of style. Where many green fragrances either plunge into the depths of dark greens, or embrace the certain free spiritedness of lightness (in all of its senses), Synthetic Jungle capably offers the wearer both in excellent balance. There is the gorgeously airy, slightly salty aqueous breeze of florals, and there too is the grounding base of patchouli and moss. Imagine the shiver of arboreal petals and green grass as an exalting wind rushes through, picking up the scent of the forest on its voyage. That is the smell of the latest Malle: not the only green in the range, but a mighty fine example of how a green ought to be, especially when, in a depraved market, it seems that all perfumed forms have been exhausted – and the crucial element missing is a spark of inspiration. Creativity is infinite, but only under the appropriate conditions.
Also Try: Muguet Porcelain (Hermes, 2016); Nuit de Bakélite (Naomi Goodsir, 2017); Bel Respiro (Chanel, 2007)