Woods: 18 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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L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse : Perfume Review

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Narcissus is a flower that doesn’t smell floral. In general, the perfumery palette abounds in aromatics that play tricks on the senses. For instance, an iris note in fragrance smells more of carrots than of blossoms. Patchouli, a leaf, smells like woods. And so on. Narcissus, however, is one of the most intriguing ingredients. If you expect petals, April showers and gauzy lightness, you’ll be in for a surprise.

On its own narcissus absolute smells of woods and leather and has a facet reminiscent of damp hay. If you let it develop on a blotter and sniff it the next day, you’ll notice caramelized spices–cinnamon and clove–and a hint of musk.  It’s a powerful material and it often plays the role of a supporting player in the composition, lifting up the delicate floral or citrus accords or else accenting the woods and animalic notes. Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit is one of the best examples of narcissus in classical perfumery.

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Comme des Garcons Black : Perfume Review

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If you’ve never tried any Comme des Garçons fragrances, think of the stuff you might smell at your car mechanic–tar, machine grease, burnt rubber. Today’s collection includes more than a dozen perfumes, and by and large, they have an industrial, deliberately synthetic feel (even if created with natural materials.)  To some people, these are the ultimate edgy perfumes, to others–smells to avoid.

kandinsky

Whatever camp you belong to, Black Eau de Toilette is likely to be a love it or hate it perfume. The name doesn’t lie–it’s a dark, potent brew. If you’ve ever dreamed of smelling like molten asphalt or barbecued ribs or a cross between the two, then your wish has come true.

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The Art of Scented Candles

When my mother travels, she packs with her a votive candle in her favorite scent, rose, violet or mimosa. A familiar scent makes even the blandest hotel room feel cozier and brighter. I started following her example some years ago. Should one want to select from the range of excellent scented candles, the choice these days is overwhelming. So, in my new FT column, The Art of Candles, I’ve selected my current favorites.

Here is one, for instance.

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Woods : Scents and Words

For our edition of scent diary today, I’ve selected woods as our theme. You can describe your favorite perfume that contains woods such as cedarwood, sandalwood, rosewood, etc. Although it’s a leaf, patchouli is classified as a woody note. Or you can pay attention to your environment throughout the day and see if you can notice a woody aroma–coffee, cloves, pepper also have nuances reminiscent of woods.

One of my favorite woods is cedarwood, a wood redolent either of fresh sap and violet petals or of pepper and soft smoke. In perfumery, the note called cedarwood usually comes from a type of juniper, although the precious Atlas cedarwood is also used for its plush honeyed effect. Another popular cedarwood is a synthetic called Iso E Super. To experience it unvarnished, you can try Escentric Molecules Molecule 01, which is a solution of Iso E Super, or Hermessence Poivre Samarcande, which overdoses Iso E Super.

Extra Reading: Perfumes with Cedarwood Notes

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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