Happy Valentine’s Day! What better way to celebrate than with a review of a perfume housed within a bottle shaped like a pink heart, eh?
I’ll be perfectly honest and say that when I first became aware of the Australian niche brand Map of the Heart a few years back, I didn’t feel particularly enthused. Here’s just another gimmicky niche brand, I thought – all bottle and no substance. But as we all know, one should not be so judgemental when it comes to perfume because there is always the potential to be surprised! Anyway, Map of the Heart is based on the premise that our hearts are the centre of all we are – as the brand says “our heart is everything pure, good and evil. It aches, it desires, it is who we are.” Map of the Heart is a journey exploration of humankind through the medium olfaction, with six fragrances to date, each one representing a different aspect of humanity (freedom, valour, passion, peace, darkness etc.). Each fragrance is housed within a bottle that takes the anatomical form of the human heart – a flacon designed by the legendary bottle designer Pierre Dinard, no less – the man behind the vessels for Opium, Obsession, Cheap & Chic, and Rive Gauche!
Map of the Heart’s latest fragrances is Pink Heart v.6 and it represents the heart of ecstasy. The brand describes it as “a scent of the imagination and is at once hallucinogenic and hypnotic”. Pink Heart centres on the note of narcissus, presenting an experience that is “narcotic” and “hyper-real”. Having sniffed all of the scents in the collection, Pink Heart strikes me as the boldest and most vivid, but also the most fun. It’s an opulent, excessive fragrance that takes a note so usually associated with glamour and darkness, and spray paints it in the cutest shade of baby pink. So without further ado, lets get to the heart of the matter (bad pun – sorry) and give Pink Heart a big old sniff.
In the somewhat limited lexicon of perfume description, one relies quite heavily on the concept of character when attempting to translate odour into words. I’ll often find myself personifying a fragrance, bringing in characters from popular culture to best describe the spirit of a scent. Heck, I’ve even done it the other way round and have paired scents with famous characters. Perfume can convey the attitude, emotion and style of a character – characters that resonate with us and allow us to identify with a perfume. These character-filled scents are the ones that lead us to spritz something on and declare it “just so me”.
St Giles is an exciting new brand that understands the character of perfume. So much so, in fact, that their debut collection consists of five personalities in olfactory form. From the mind of Michael Donovan, a luxury PR legend, St Giles brings us The Tycoon, The Actress, The Mechanic, The Stylist, and the subject of today’s review: The Writer. These five fragrances were created to “stimulate and amplify the many different aspects of our character” celebrating “the parts that make us who we are, fusing the reality and the fantasy”. They are five characters one wants to get to know – each translated into perfume form by the incomparable Bertrand Duchaufour – and whilst they are all beautiful, The Writer is the standout. So let’s sniff.
There’s an ongoing debate as to whether perfume is an art. I for one, know which side of the debate I come down on and I very much believe that yes, perfume is an art form – after all, it can evoke emotion, illicit memories and tell stories in the exact same way sculpture, photography, film and many other types of art can. But does that mean that every perfume is art? Hell no! Perfume is first and foremost a commercial enterprise, in which many brands create things that are new, exciting and beautiful, but also where many others create replicants that are simply made to sell, so it’s a mixed bag and a more in-depth conversation than this one paragraph allows for.
Anyway, I talk about perfume and art because the fragrance I’m reviewing today is created by an artist named Paul Schütze, whose work spans photography, sound and now, perfume. Schütze’s latest duo of fragrances (Cuadra and Villa M – his fourth and fifth fragrances) take inspiration from two famous buildings, weaving architecture and olfaction together in a bold way. Today’s subject, the bright-pink-bottled Cuadra, is inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragan’s “brilliantly hued modern masterpiece” Cuadra San Cristobal – a ranch situated amongst reflective pools and fountains. I tell you now, it makes for one heck of a fragrance!
There’s a simplicity and cleanliness to the Tom Daxon brand that really appeals to me. It feels unfussy and uncomplicated in presentation, with clean, structural lines favoured over anything remotely eye-catching or gimmicky. It’s a brand where the fragrances are allowed to speak for themselves and whilst the presentation may be simple (and elegantly so) the composition of each of the fragrances is anything but. Tom Daxon presents a collection with remarkable range, offering beautiful twists on familiar themes, creating fragrances that really don’t smell like anything else. If you haven’t sniffed anything from Tom Daxon then you absolutely must rectify that fact immediately.
The latest addition to the Tom Daxon collection is Riven Oak, and if you’re in to woods in a big way, then your interest should most definitely be piqued right now. Tom Daxon describes this oak-centric fragrance as “layers of smooth woods” and without giving away too much in advance of this review (because I’d quite like you to read on!), I’d say that’s a pretty spot on description. Riven Oak is no ordinary wood fragrance (see more on wood fragrances here) – it’s a multifaceted essay on the complexity of wood, with an entirely unique signature. Interest still piqued? Good, because it should be.
Please indulge me whilst I tell you a little tale that informs you all you need to know about Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. I was sit in the lobby of the Soho Hotel the other day, having just attended an evening with Perfumer Christine Nagel hosted by the Fragrance Foundation. It had been a long day and I desperately needed to charge my phone (for instagram purpose, obviously). As I sat there, minding by own little fragrant business, I watched industry bods trickle past me on their way out. After about ten minutes, two journalists walked past and their conversation went something along the lines of:
“You’re wearing Baccarat Rouge by Kurkdjian, aren’t you?”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. I can smell it.”
“I’m not. I think I’d know.”
“I can smell it!”
Guess who was rocking the Baccarat Rouge? Oh yeah, that’s right, this bad candy boy right here, that’s who! I fessed up, don’t you worry. But this little tale just goes to show how distinct and unique a signature the fragrance has. In fact, I don’t think I said this when I reviewed Baccarat Rouge 540 last year, but I think it is easily the cleverest perfume composition of the last five years. For a short formula it does a lot, evoking white and red hot crystal with novel accords that feel entirely new. It’s a technical marvel but it’s also a rather unrestrained essay in excess, from a perfumer who usually brings us spacious, chic beauty with a steady hand. I’ll stop beating around the bush and just come out and say that Baccarat Rouge 540 is a god damn masterpiece, and now it comes in an even more lush and luxurious Extrait de Parfum. Colour me excited!
I’ve learned to expect nothing but boldness from Beaufort London. As perfume brands go, they’re up there with the best of them when it comes to distinctiveness. In the politest possible terms, Beaufort fragrances are stinky – they have very distinct signatures and all fit the aesthetic of the brand, which is darkly historical with a modern twist. Imagine if Guy Ritchie did perfume, then that’s Beaufort London. Where so many niche brands get the look and concept right, but fall down at the juice, Beaufort London have never failed to make intriguing perfume (just see last year’s fascinating Fathom V for proof) and they’re not scared of the less than pleasant aspects of history, and olfaction either. Beaufort London fragrances may not be for everyone, but tell me, Dear Reader, what great things in life are?
Beaufort London launched with the ‘Come Hell or High Water’ collection, which took inspiration from Britain’s nautical heritage. This year the brand is adding a brand new collection called ‘Revenants’ which remembers historical figures through the art of olfaction. The first launch within the Revenants collection is Iron Duke and it is inspired by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), who is described as a “celebrated horseman, warrior politician and sartorial pioneer”. It’s a fully-worked out concept with a beautiful promo shot by Matthew Seed and a bottle inscribed with a horse motif designed by tattoo artist Robert Gisbourne-Ashby. Iron Duke the fragrance is billed as a “strikingly powerful fragrance with animalic depths”, which certainly piqued my interest. Shall we dive in and see if it really is as filthy as it sounds?
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.