Cedarwood: 32 posts

How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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Dry vs Sweet vs Bitter : Perfume Descriptors (New Video)

What does dry mean when applied to a perfume? In fragrance, dry is used to describe compositions that are not sweet–it’s similar to wine terminology. Since the distinction can be confusing, I made a video comparing and contrasting different woods based on their main characteristics–dry, sweet or bitter.

Examples can be drawn from the whole perfume wheel, but I decided to focus on woods, because it’s easy to see why cedarwood is classified as dry and sandalwood as sweet. There are also many excellent perfumes on the market that fully explore these characteristics of raw materials and make them the key elements of their structure. The creamy sweetness of sandalwood in Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, for instance, is its hallmark trait. The dryness of cedarwoods gives Cartier Declaration and Hermès Poivre Samarcande their pleasing sharpness.

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Hermes Cedre Sambac : Perfume Review

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The moment I set my foot in lands where jasmine blooms, I find a flower to smell–a single blossom, a sprig, a garland. I think that I know exactly what jasmine smells like, but every soil makes for a different scent. Jasmine in Provence has an apricot nuance. Indian jasmine smells leathery. Spanish jasmine has a cinnamon inflection in the afternoon and a simmering musky warmth in the evening. Indonesian jasmine is green and sweet, the most unexpected combination. Smelling Hermès’s Cèdre Sambac, I wonder where the perfumer Christine Nagel found an inspiration for such a creamy yet transparent impression.

Nagel says that the inspiration for the five new Hermessences came from the Middle East. Jasmine attars from that part of the world have a certain richness that can be either opulent or smothering, depending on the attar-blender’s skill and the perfume lover’s capacity for jasmine. Cèdre Sambac, however, is all glow.

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Aedes de Venustas Palissandre d’Or : Perfume Review

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Aedes de Venustas is a niche’s niche. A brand developed by Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner, the owners of the eponymous New York artisanal perfume boutique. In collaboration with several renowned perfumers, they’ve released Aedes de Venustas Eau de Parfum, Copal Azur, Iris Nazarena, and Oeillet Bengale, all four standing out in the crowded niche field. The fifth launch, Palissandre d’Or, likewise has much to recommend itself.

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The concept is a new take on woods. Palisander, rosewood, is a precious variety, with a bright, crisp aroma that doesn’t resemble a wood as much as a flower. At the same time, it has sharpness and vigor, ideal qualities to weave into woody and oriental perfumes. Rosewood, on its own, is not a common theme, however, so Aedes’s decision to let it strike out solo is brave. Even more so is the request to perfumer Alberto Morillas to make it new and modern.

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Guerlain L’Homme Ideal : Fragrance Review

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The first time I smelled Guerlain’s L’Homme Idéal, I chuckled, because clearly, their ideal man is wearing a little black dress. Yes, L’Homme Idéal is a masculine twist on La Petite Robe Noire. But this kind of borrowing, right down to the toasted almond and praline details, is clever rather than boring. This is not just another bland and safe sports cologne, that’s for sure.

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The quest for an ideal man is nothing new, in life or in perfume, and Guerlain’s approach to L’Homme Idéal is rather humorous. Instead of using notes that for reasons of accident and culture came to be seen as the only ones appropriate to men, like lavender, herbs, cedarwood or mild spices, perfumer Thierry Wasser loads the composition with gourmand accents.  It tries to tempt men with the same delicious notes that made La Petite Robe Noire such a success. Continue reading →

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