When Serge Lutens came up with an idea for Shiseido’s Feminité du Bois, he was asked so often about his “vision of a woman” that he got exasperated and said that he wasn’t making a perfume that smelled of any woman, that he merely wanted the smell of Moroccan cedar. That was in the early 1990s. I’d wager that today few briefs will surprise a perfumer, even as in the case of Aedes de Venustas’s Grenadille d’Afrique, the request is for ebony, “from crackling sap to balmy resin and from smoky wood to sun-heated stone… [and] also the primal landscape in which it grows.” For this, we have to thank Lutens and other niche pioneers.
At first glance, Grenadille d’Afrique is a classical Aedes perfume–dry woods, peppery spices, amber, a hint of incense. With seven fragrances in its collection, the New York boutique has put together a coherent, well-edited lineup. Even if it’s famously enamored with incense, its touch is delicate enough, neither the church nor the ashram. Grenadille d’Afrique, however, brings a new element that I haven’t noticed before–retro glamour.
The curious aspect is how this is accomplished, because the main impression of Grenadille d’Afrique is a sleek perfume that smells less of a “primal African landscape” than of the chic ateliers of Soho. The dry woods, which give Grenadille d’Afrique its distinctive character, are not of the exotic variety. Presented in a polished frame of bitter citrus and pepper, they are almost familiar.
At first, the perfume feels bright and bracing, but within the next half an hour it softens. Instead of herbes de provence and jolts of pink pepper, I’m suddenly wrapped in leathery violets and smoky vanilla. For me, it’s a nostalgic effect, reminiscent of old Carons or Guerlains, of days when I first started making my acquaintance with vintages. Despite the perfume’s sharply tailored and trendy look, Grenadille d’Afrique has a mellow, romantic side. It’s just a hint, so perhaps die-hard retro glamour lovers won’t be satisfied, but it charms me.
Alberto Morillas, its author, is known for his refined accords. Here too, he strings notes into complex arpeggios that sound differently to me every time I wear Grenadille d’Afrique. Some days I notice more sun-bleached woods; on others, it’s vetiver and vanilla that take center stage. The rich notes notwithstanding, the perfume remains transparent and airy.
Like all Aedes fragrances, Grenadille d’Afrique is suited to both men and women. In presence, it’s between a cologne and a chypre, a light, skin-hugging scent. (In character, if not in exact scent, it reminds me of Hermès Cuir d’Ange and Comme des Garçons Quarzazate.) That being said, its lasting power and sillage are good–enough to keep one company but not to bother one’s companions.
Aedes de Venustas Grenadille d’Afrique Eau de Parfum includes notes of lavender, bergamot, juniper, violet, vetiver, labdanum, vanilla and musk. 100 ml/$245.
Sample: via Aedes de Venustas.