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Sometimes I smell a perfume and I just don’t know what to make of it. Whilst many fragrances I smell can provoke an immediate reaction – filing themselves neatly in to piles of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘ew’, and ‘oooooh’, some take time, and some forever remain in a purgatory land where an opinion is the absolution never to arrive. OK, so I’m being a bit dramatic (just a tad, mind) and this is all a very longwinded way of saying that sometimes, it takes me a while to make up my mind about a fragrance.

Aaaaaand you can probably guess where this is going, right? Yes, when it came to Opus XI from Amouage, the 11th instalment in the brand’s Library Collection (where Amouage does its most unusual and often challenging work), I found myself unsure what I thought, even after spending a considerable amount of time with it. Opus XI was created by perfumer Pierre Negrin – it takes inspiration from the Orient and presents oud, one of perfumery’s most popular materials, in an entirely new guise. It’s a singular perfume that brings nuances to a material that could easily be described as tired, forging something that really is fascinating.

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One can accuse the perfume industry of many things, but one cannot call it unproductive. There are now over 2,000 launches per year and it feels almost as if a new brand comes into being every single day.  Now, I’m not sure how I feel about all this olfactory noise – part of me thinks the more the merrier, after all, it’s exciting to smell new things all of the time.  But the other half – the grumpy cynical half (sometimes he’s not a half and verges on a whole, I’ll be honest) – thinks that all this noise makes it difficult to discern what is good or not. How can one find the magic needle in all that hay? Sometimes it’s hard.

Perfume brands come from all sorts of places; from perfumers who want to go it alone and perfume fanatics who stumble into the industry wide-eyed and ambitious. My cynical side tells me to include the fact that brands can also come from entrepreneurs who have no passion for the subject but an eye for making money too, so let’s indulge him for a moment.  In my experience though, the brands that work most successfully are those that come from people who are passionate about perfume (whoever they may be, perfumers, industry insiders or outsiders) but also understand the realities of the industry and retail. Ostens is one such brand – it comes from two industry veterans, two people that not only love perfume, but understand it too – two people who understand the challenges consumers have relating to perfume and have crafted a brand that makes it both accessible and experimental.

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Harmony is balance, and balance is something we often look for in perfumery. After all, perfumery is the harmony of individual ingredients – separate elements made into a harmonious whole. It is through the idea of harmony and balance, through proportion and nuance that the art of perfumery presents odours that smell beautiful, interesting and new.

Niche brand The Harmonist is all about harmony. Following ancient Asian philosophies they present fragrances based on the elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Water and Metal) in two versions: a Yin and a Yang. The idea is that an individual can be guided to their fragrance using the date, time and place of their birth – through this the dominant element is defined. It’s certainly an interesting way on taking a person on an olfactory journey – one that no other brand is doing.

My fragrance of destiny was Guiding Water – a fragrance defined as “a peaceful and natural source of vitality”.

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The Luxury Collection is where rebellious niche house Juliette Has a Gun stretches its olfactory legs. Their other offerings sit comfortably between mainstream and niche – they’re made with good quality materials and bring unique twists to very accessible, affable fragrances. The Luxury Collection however, is a bit more serious and has a touch more of an abstract feel to it, bringing a strong sense of niche-ness. It’s where Juliette Has a Gun ditches the cool air and the fun names in exchange for some serious perfumery.

Liquid Illusion (good name – after all, perfume is just a liquid illusion) is the latest addition to the Luxury Collection. It takes its inspiration from heliotropin – a fragrant material that is also found in the drug ecstasy. The idea here, is to present a stimulating fragrance that pairs heliotropin with the luxurious note of iris – something as intense and electrifying as the inky-blue bottle it comes in. The result is something quite intriguing indeed.

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Miller Harris has had a very busy year – they’ve launched two capsule collections of fragrances: Scherzo x Tender and Forage (Lost, Wander & Hidden), and to complete the hat trick, they now presents their third collection of fragrances this year: Peau Santal and Powdered Veil. Housed in bottles coated in intriguing shades of pink (baby pink for Powdered Veil and a more ‘nude’ (not a word I like to use because it only represents one type of skin colour, but other descriptors escape me, ‘blush’ maybe?) shade for Peau Santal), these two fragrances celebrate the intimacy and the ritual of glamming up – the lace of dresses, the powder of make-up, and the wood of dressing tables, and wardrobes. They are fragrances with distinct textures, of powder and skin, that arrive perfectly in time for winter. Let’s check them out.

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The colour white is achromatic – it has no hue. But white is not the absence of colour, it is the abundance of it. White is what the eye sees when the three primary colours are viewed simultaneously. So despite our connotations of purity, of perfect white snow and  blankness, the colour white is actually representative of something multifaceted, chaotic and brilliant. For Map of the Heart, the subversive Australian niche brand, the colour white represents love.

White Heart v.7 is Map of the Heart’s latest fragrance. It follow’s  last year’s Pink Heart v.6 and is billed as ‘The Heart of Love’. It’s actually a very tricky perfume to define one that seems to enjoy jumping across many fragrance families and presenting florals, woods, spices, and aldehydes in a jumbled composition that holds interest due to its contrasting and confusing nature. I bet that description has caught your interest…

 

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Parle Moi de Parfum translates as ‘speak to me about perfume’ and it’s a name that I, as a writer of perfumer, can certainly get on board with. The brand is a family affair – created by Benjamin Almairac who, with his mother and brother, created a retail space in Paris that is also a functioning perfume lab, making perfumes created by his famous perfumer father, Michel Almairac (Gucci Rush, L’Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses and Dior Fahrenheit, to name but a few). Perfumery is in the DNA of the brand it seems!

There are currently ten fragrances in the line, each of which is presented without gimmick. The idea of talking about perfume extends past the lab into the fragrance names, each of which contains a number that represents the number of modifications each formula went through before the final composition was agreed upon. One of the brand’s newest fragrances is Orris Tattoo / 29 – a perfume that centres on an icon of perfumery: the iris root. Parle Moi de Parfum describe the scent as being a “permanent scented reminder, a universal symbol, a unique self-expression like an invisible tattoo that withstands the test of time”, utilising a legendary material as olfactory ink. Colour me intrigued.