Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
Germaine Cellier and Edmond Roudnitska were among the creators who had a chance to compose their fragrances based solely on their own ideas of what the art of fragrance entailed. Roudnitska, who has devoted much effort to make fragrance acceptable as an art form, famously said that he does not allow someone else dictate to him as he composes his fragrances. Cellier rejected accepted cannons and produced a fascinating array of perfumes, from the unforgettable verdancy of crushed emeralds in Vent Vert to the menacing violet concealing the animalic darkness of Jolie Madame. However, in the current climate, it is not realistic to expect perfumers to be able to create in the same free manner without external constraints. What perfumers would want to create if they had the freedom is an interesting thought to ponder. Among the first people who attempted to make this viable was Frédéric Malle, whose idea of giving creative freedom to the renowned perfumers working for him has produced a great and interesting line of fragrances.
Sacré Nobi of S-Perfume also makes a bold step in the avant-garde direction with his line that explores the aesthetic sensibility of a modern artist and his fascination with the sense of smell.
Working with famous perfumers, such as Sophia Grojsman (a living legend is a term that would be most appropriate here), Annick Ménardo (one of her creations is the stunning Bulgari Black, an unforgettable fragrance of black tea with burnt smoky notes), Alberto Morillas (Rochas Byzance, Givenchy Pi, Kenzo Flower and Flower Oriental, among numerous others) and Christophe Laudamiel (Estee Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude, Michael Kors Island, Clinique Happy Heart), S-Perfume includes four fragrances that are daring in terms of their construction and juxtaposition of accords. Abstract sketches of olfactory ideas, the fragrances manage to fascinate, all the while being wearable.
The two newest additions to the line, Lust and Sloth, were developed as olfactory installations for the Seven Deadly Sins. The first installation of /7S/ took place in Cleveland, Ohio in January 2003 (read the article about the exhibit here). Being concept fragrances, they might strike one as more abstract than what S-Perfume has offered in the past; however, they are memorably orchestrated to explore elements that are not part of the classical tradition. The fascination with the dissonances is what makes these compositions interesting, much like the combination of cool aldehydes and sweet fruity rose in 100% Love). or the metallic coolness and warm leather in S-ex). Such contrasts lend these fragrances an air of suspense; although, their unconventionality may make them challenging to appreciate. Nevertheless, while there are plenty of simply pleasant fragrances, those that are daring and unusual are far and few between; therefore, I cannot but applaud the efforts of S-Perfume.
Lust was a fragrance created by Alberto Morillas to represent the installation entitled “Luxuria,” the Latin word for lust. Experiencing this fragrance makes me regret that I did not see the original installation because Lust juxtaposes the elements in an unpredictable manner. Nothing is sublte about this fragrance. The high pitched camphorous note plunges into the darkness of patchouli, its dry, fiery presence turning into effervescent vapor under the veil of cool earthiness punctuated with leather and rubbery touches. The drydown sheds much of the dark earthiness that characterized the arrangement initially and reveals the scent of hot, balmy skin clothed in the silkiness of woods, bluntly aggressive one moment and suggestively sweet the next. Like a wicked siren call, the drydown beckons one to come closer and closer.
Initially, Sloth may strike one as a delicate orange blossom rendition, calling to mind classical neroli colognes; however, the warm metallic and cool earthy elements dispel this image fairly quickly. Sloth or “Acedia” by Thierry Wasser pairs the clarity of orange blossom with an undercurrent of earthiness, sunny warmth with the coolness of shadows. As the orange blossom attempts to soar, the clinging darkness pulls it into its fold, and while it never succeeds, the tension gives an interesting metallic twist to the composition. Whether it is a suggestion of the name or the relaxing effect of orange blossom, the aura of the fragrance has a serene quality, the wistfulness of which is unsettled by the slowly creeping musky heaviness.
Both Lust and Sloth, while originally intended as art scents rather than personal fragrances, are wearable, especially for those who do not mind abstraction and modern minimalism. Certainly, experiencing them gives one an idea what the concept fragrance might embody and how modern art can embrace the olfactory experiences and be enriched by them. Sloth is a fragrance I found myself spraying on liberally during moments when I wish to forget about the rest of the world, its relaxing and gentle veil being a perfect accompaniment on such days. Lust, on the other hand, is the fragrance that seduced me slowly, its sharpness and earthiness being strange and disconcerting at first and powerfully addictive upon further trials. I do not know if this feeling is sinful, but the ability of this composition to embody the complexity of a given concept is what makes scent an art form.
S-Perfume fragrances are available from STUDIO at Los Angeles Fred Segal, Colette Paris, and Mother Tokyo (03 5433 1748). Moreover, the samples and fragrances are available directly from The Shaping Room/S-Perfume. Lust and Sloth will debut in February, however in the meantime the samples can be obtained directly from the website.
Painting: René Magritte. Dangerous Liaisons. 1926. Oil on canvas. 72 x 64 cm. Private collection.