What happens when you give two perfumers the same passage of text and ask them to make a fragrance with no olfactive brief? The answer is two fragrances that are as different as day and night and it’s an experiment undertaken by a surprising house: Miller Harris. Now, if you’ve not been sniffing the recent launches from Miller Harris you have been missing out. They’ve been very quietly doing some phenomenal work (I point your noses in the direction of Rose Silence and Le Cèdre, to name just two, but trust me when I say that there are many more exciting things to sniff) and it really seems that they are forging an identity for themselves, after years of muddled direction. Miller Harris now has a personality and a character, and I’m here for it.
For their latest project (launching in January 2018), Miller Harris is releasing two fragrances inspired by a passage of text from F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. The idea is that the brand handed this passage to two perfumers, Mathieu Nardin (the creator of lots of their recent works such as the aforementioned Rose Silence and Le Cèdre – check him out, you must) and Bertrand Duchaufour (y’all know who he is) and asked them to make a fragrance each inspired by the text. That’s it. No olfactive direction, no concept, just simple literary inspiration. The result is Scherzo (Mathieu) and Tender (Bertrand) and they really are quite surprising.
…She walked on, between kaleidoscopic peonies massed in pink clouds, black and brown tulips and fragile mauve stemmed roses, transparent like sugar flowers in a confectioner’s window – until, as if the scherzo of colour could reach no further intensity, it broke off suddenly in mid-air.
– F.Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
Top: Tangerine and Davana
Heart: Olibanum, Narcissus, Pittosporum and Dark Rose
Base: Patchouli, Vanilla, Oudh and Sweet Note
Mathieu Nardin (Robertet)
How Does it Smell?
Sniffing Scherzo, it’s easy to pick out pieces of the passage of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text that Miller Harris has chosen as its subject material for this project. Scherzo is the “pink fluffy clouds” and “sugar flowers in a confectioner’s window” of the text, which are showcased here in the form of a deliciously sweet and fuzzy blend of ethyl maltol and rose. But Scherzo isn’t all about rose-flavoured cotton candy (what a delicious thing that is, by the way) and it’s not your average take on sugar either, it’s something with a lot more depth and contrast than that. You may sniff this thinking it’s the no-brainer, commercial one of the pair (and it is easily the more on-trend) but actually, Scherzo has a lot of uniqueness to offer.
In contrast to the pink fluffy clouds and sugar flowers, Scherzo has an underlying darkness. If all clouds have silver linings, then in the case of Scherzo those linings are dark plumes of wood smoke. The heady, petroleum-like air of oud blends with vanilla and patchouli to represent the break in colour referenced in the inspirational text. This contrast to the candied roses doesn’t exactly feel like a contrast. Instead it feels like a transition, almost as if the pink plumes of sugar smoke turn black and savoury at the edges. It’s a clever piece of work and as far as modern, cotton-candy gourmands go, this one is wonderfully complex and undeniably luxe.
Top: Pink Pepper CO2, Aldehydes, Green Hyacinth Note and Cinnamon
Heart: Black Tulip (Tulip + Ink), Leather, Saffron, Geranium Cyclamen, Incense Oil and Rose Turkey Absolute
Base: Amber, Cedarwood, Myrrh Absolute, Patchouli Fraction, Frankincense Resin, Vanilla Absolute, Storax Resin, Sandalwood and Musk
Bertrand Duchaufour (Independent)
How Does it Smell?
Tender, like most of Bertrand Duchaufour’s work, is hugely complex and entirely seamless in its execution. Immediately there are so many things going on. There’s a floral crispness, the kind that brings to mind the inside of a florist’s refrigerator. There’s also the sharpness of purple fruit – the darkness of blackcurrant amongst the greenery. There’s even the effervescent fizz of lemon (which feels like the citrus section of a magnolia flower). There’s a tension in the colours here, almost like one of those cars with a metallic paint job that presents two colours dependent on what angle it’s viewed from. In this case those colours are green and purple. Tender is a chameleon of a fragrance.
I find Tender to be quite linear, despite the fact that it’s somewhat of a shapeshifter. Everything is out in the open from the start, but it swirls around to reveal each of its many facets as time progresses. Rose and patchouli play a large part, adding a intensity to Tender’s dark purples and greens. There’s also an underlying woodiness – a subtle cedar and sandalwood duo that provides softness and smoothness, rounding off those sharper, more zingy edges. Tender is the thinking man’s perfume in the duo and it’s easily the most ‘niche’ of the two, but at the same time, it’s less immediately enjoyable (it’s either going to resonate with you or not), which makes for a rather intriguing combination, and a fitting compliment to Scherzo’s more approachable style.
Scherzo and Tender really are like chalk and cheese. In fact, one could compare them to night and day, with Scherzo representing the headiness of pink sugar flowers in the heat of the sun, and Tender presenting the same garden in the coldness of night. They could not be more dissimilar if they tried, which itself is quite fascinating, seeing as they both take inspiration from the same passage of text. This just goes to show how each perfumer interprets the same brief in an entirely different way. The result is fascinating, and in the case of both perfumes, really beautiful. I have been wearing and enjoying both, Scherzo for comfort and Tender for introspective moments. If I had to pick one from the pair though, I’d probably opt for Scherzo, but let’s face it, The Candy Perfume Boy does have a bit of a sweet tooth now, doesn’t he?
Scherzo & Tender launch in January 2018. They will be available in 50ml (£120) and 100ml (£165) Eau de Parfum
Samples, notes and quotes via Miller Harris. Images are my own.