Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harrod's The Perfume Diaries

Well, I've learned one or two things from the "Evening of European Perfumery" I attended last week at Harrod's Perfume Diaries exhibit. For one, if you invite company reps, even from the top tier, to give talks about perfumery, you're going to get a bland PR presentation on why their house is so great and on the new/upcoming release. That wasn't really surprising, yet nonetheless somewhat disappointing. The other thing I learnt is that Olivia Chantecaille is even better looking in real life than on photographs. She wore a stunning, minimalist dress in orange which looked very haute couture and clashed violently with the dashiki-like Hermès thing Roja Dove was wearing to prove his olfactory asthetics are far superior to his visuals (as Luca Turin once remarked, most Hermès products are hideously ugly marvels of traditional quality and craft). As you may note this post has been made commensurate to the gravity of the reported event. However, I need to point out that the little exhibit put on by Harrods with the help of numerous perfume houses really is worth while seeing, as they have assembled an impressive number of beautiful and interesting flacons, including a fair amount of rare gems, which most of us will at best normally get to see in books. I also liked the idea of providing little smell stations featuring four scents representative of each decade - if you ever needed proof that things have been going downhill since the late 80s, there it was. But there was a silver lining, too. Chantecaille presented its three fragrances Vetyver, Pétales and Kalimantan and they were old-fashioned in a good way. I know what you're thinking, but no, I'm not saying this because I was hypnotized by Olivia's beauty. The ubiquitous claim of high percentages of top-grad naturals was backed up with facts. Vetyver was very traditional, unisex, green-nutty, drawing on some of the classics, very good, but giving me a headache just as Guerlain's and Lubin's renditions do (beyond that, this was far better than Guerlain's male product, but not quite as convincing as Vetyver pour elle). Pétales is a traditional, natural-smelling rich bouquet fragrance, that I'd prefer over all those ghastly fruity-floral synths from hell on a woman any day, though I wouldn't have minded a tad of dioresque dirt in there. Kalimantan, as the name suggests, provides patchouli spice and amber, not too innovative, but on par quality-wise with classic Lutens juices. It is good to see such a commitment to quality in at least some houses and one can only hope that high-end consumers will register and reward this, rather than jumping after the next fragrance gimmick. The olfactory trail of Comme des Garcons certainly indicates that the glory days of anti- or guerilla perfumery are over and it's time to refocus on basics. Call it slow smell, but that's a subject for some future manifesto.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Roses are red...

OK, folks, I'm not a bloggy kind of person which has meant that I've frequently slipped into extended essaying here (not a bad thing per se), with the counterproductive effect of posting only a few times a year. Since I do want to make this space a bit livelier, I will try to be more frequent and brief, albeit without relinquishing occasional attempts at lengthier meditations.

So here, for one is a picture from a beautiful Victorian-style Salon de Thé in Strasbourg aptly called Au Fond du Jardin. This lovely place of respite right next to the Palace Rohan and the awesome, but busily touristy Muenster was bound to remind of perfume, not just because of the divine Madeleines that come in a baffling variety of brilliant variations and will surely burn themselves into your olfactory and gustatory memory as powerfully as the ones Proust smelled, but because the whole place is about the smells of flowers (dried rose leaf infusion, gently floral- scented tea compositions), the tastes of sweets and spice and a plush world of yore which can only evoke classic heady perfumes in ornate flacons.

I communicated as best I could with the gracious host and Anglophile Frédéric Robert (the "stylist") and his partner Laurent (the "creator") and felt naturally compelled to recommend Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet as a perfect scent for anyone who so lovingly designed such an Ur-British environment in the heart of Alsace. I also had on hand a few scents from my travel coffret which seemed perfect matches: vintage Italian-made Czech & Speake No. 88 and Washington Tremlett's Black Tie, both made by the wonderfully skilled folks at Forester Milano , who have access to some phenomenal floral essences. That brought to mind another of their rose masterpieces, the beautiful, melancholy-masculine Domenico Caraceni with its dark resin and tobacco. Feasting on an Audrey Hepburn Madeleine (spices & Earl Grey), sipping the floral Un ange à Rome (rose and bramble) in their little flower-drenched forecourt, while traces of a fine rose scent sweeten the air is as close as paradise as one will get on earth - to Strasbourg, friends.