modern classics: 5 posts

My Three Classics : Introduction to Classical Perfumery

Who is afraid of perfume classics? Classical perfumery often elicits two different reactions. There are those who worship at the altar of Guerlain Mitsouko and define the tastes of others by their reactions to Jean Patou Joy or Chanel No 5. Frankly, if Joy were the last perfume available in this world, I wouldn’t wear it, and I enjoy No 5 more on others than on myself. But this is not the point. Classics weren’t created the way perfumes are today–they weren’t meant to be crowd pleasers, they weren’t tested on groups of women from New Jersey* to determine their appeal. They reflect their time and place, and it’s perfectly fine to decide that one doesn’t care for Mitsouko or Hermès Calèche.

And then there are those who think that classics are old-fashioned, outdated or simply too difficult to wear. I agree that classics mirror their time and fashion bubble, but that can be their very appeal to some. Dismissing classics altogether is also a mistake, because this style of fragrance is still current and exploring it can be enjoyable. For instance, expensive niche lines like Tom Ford are known to be inspired–and strongly at that–by classics.  So, one could pay  niche prices or find a similar perfume among the more affordably priced lines.

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Vetiver Voyages

“Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible,” wrote the cubist, surrealist and expressionist painter Paul Klee. The same could be said about perfumery, which is an art of intangible substances. The greatest fragrances conjure up the most complex of images, holding the artistic intent of their creators and offering a glimpse into their thoughts and memories. Just how perfumers achieve is what I explore in my recent article for my FT column, Vetiver Voyages. I use vetiver as an illustration.

One of my favourite examples is Lalique’s Encre Noire Pour Homme, released in 2006, which perfumer Nathalie Lorson composed with the intention of showing off the suave, languid character of vetiver – a note usually seen as bracing and cold. A type of grass originating in India, vetiver is grown to prevent soil erosion and produces a complex essential oil with accents of liquorice, bitter grapefruit peel, smoke and damp earth. To continue, please click here.

The other fragrances in the Modern Classic series were Serge Lutens’s Féminité du BoisLolita LempickaBulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, and Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower.

What are your favorite vetiver fragrances?

Image via FT

Carnal Flowers

No fragrance type elicits more polarized reactions than white flowers. For some, they’re the ultimate love potion. For others–a bottled nightmare. I realize that the term “white flowers” covers too many botanicals to be useful, but let’s pretend we’re talking about night-blooming plants like jasmine, gardenia and tuberose. Jasmine can smell like horse sweat. Gardenia has a distinct whiff of mushrooms. But at least jasmine and gardenia can be tamed and made pretty and gentle. Tuberose, on the other hand, doesn’t do demure well and it also stands no competition. Add a touch of tuberose to a perfume, and it takes over everything with its warmth and luxurious heft. It’s perfect for those of us tired of wan floral perfumes that smell as if they need to be on life support.

My favorite tuberose is Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. It’s been around since 2005, and I’ve rhapsodized about it for about that long. It thrills me with the richness of the sensations it evokes, from the brightness of green notes to the warmth of the tuberose petals. But that’s not why I selected it for my modern classics series, On White Flowers. Over the past decade it has become one of the gold standard tuberose fragrances against which others are judged. Love it or hate it, but it’s a modern classic.

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Modern Classics : Tea Colognes and Bulgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert

Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert is an unexpected modern classic. It wasn’t even meant to be displayed outside the Bulgari  boutiques, where its role was to be an elegant extra next to the house’s jewelry collection. Yet such was its allure and originality that it became one of the perfume trendsetters. And it made Bulgari into a perfume house of note. I tell the story of Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert in my newest FT column, Tempting Tea-Inspired Perfumes. But first I take you on my honeymoon to Kerala.

Munnar, a hill station in India’s southwestern state of Kerala, is one of the country’s largest tea producers. Ensconced in the Western Ghats mountain range, the town is surrounded by plantations that cascade down the hills and hide in misty ravines. I was in Munnar for my honeymoon, and my recollections of long, languorous walks around the tea gardens, the tolling church bells and the opulence of garlands at the Sri Subramanya Temple are laced with the scent of tea leaves. Crushed in my fingers, they smelled green and tannic; when carried by the morning breeze, the aroma resembled violets and driftwood. To continue, please click here.

The other fragrances in the Modern Classic series were Serge Lutens’s Féminité du Bois and Lolita Lempicka.

Researching the article made me realize how many excellent and distinctive perfumes feature the tea accord. Next week I will share a selection of favorites to complement my choices in the article above.

Image via FT

Modern Classics Gourmands and Lolita Lempicka

Among some perfume lovers gourmand fragrances are the equivalent of chick lit, somehow seen as pleasant, entertaining but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. Although the fragrance shops are full of boring blends that smell like candy factories, this genre is far from dull and embarrassing. Not only do the sweet accords have a long tradition–visit the Osmothèque and ask to smell Parfums de Rosine’s Le Fruit Défendu, a banana sundae extravaganza from 1916, they also can be as complicated or as simple as a perfumer’s imagination allows. To defend this maligned genre, I bring to you the next installment in the Modern Classics series, Gourmands and Lolita Lempicka. My new FT column is all about indulgence and pleasure, without a shade of guilt.

Lolita Lempicka arrived in the wake of Angel in 1997. It is a perfume for those who want to avoid the jejune prettiness and cloying sweetness of many gourmand fragrances, while offering an indulgence. The heart of Lolita Lempicka is a clever pairing of patchouli (a nod to Angel) and iris. In a brilliant twist, the cool character of iris inflects all layers of the composition, rising like a soft mist over the confection of liquorice, Amarena cherries and praline. To continue, please click here.

The previous fragrance in the Modern Classic series was Serge Lutens’s Féminité du Bois.

Please let me know about your favorite gourmand perfumes. Do you have any sweet fragrances that are appropriate for the warm weather?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin.

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