We often talk about ‘notes’ or materials in fragrances and how they come together to create a multi-faceted composition. But these materials are incredibly nuanced themselves and each one brings not one, not two, but a multitude of different things to a fragrance, meaning that there is always a lot to learn when one goes back to the source materials. I always think that the best way to understand a perfume material is to break it down into facets and that’s exactly what these olfactory deconstruction pieces are for – to dissect each material into little parts so we can really understand what makes it tick, and what makes it smell so good.
Perfume is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each fragrance is made up of specifically shaped pieces that lock together. Perfumers match up the pieces, locking them together facet-to-facet, tessellating each nuance to either enhance or contrast them, or in some cases, to create something entirely new. The great thing is that, unlike jigsaw puzzles, where there is one way of piecing things together, perfumery is open-ended and the perfumer can tie things together in whichever way they see fit. This means that the picture at the end can be whatever they dream up. There are endless possibilities and to me, that’s pretty damn exciting.
Speed Sniffs is a way to bring you ‘to-the-point’ fragrance reviews that are quick and easy to digest. They are perfume reviews without the faff.
Madame Carven loved to travel, so much so in fact, that the brand has launched Collection Carven, a selection of seven fragrances that celebrate Madame Carven’s journeys from Paris to a number of exotic cities. Collection Carven ties the spirit of the brand’s couture into themes of discovery and exoticism, resulting in seven distinct fragrances. I was sent two to try: Paris-Izmir (a trip to a field of roses in Turkey) and Paris-Bangalore (a voyage to delicate treats in India). Both are very different as well as completely unlike anything else the brand has done so far, so let’s put them to the speed sniff test!
Every time I look at one of those masculine Carven bottles I smile. They really are the most handsome flacons housing mainstream masculine fragrances on the market today and the scents themselves, Carven Pour Homme and Vétiver, are a delight to sniff. Carven’s fragrances don’t follow trends, they do their own thing, whether that be the revival of a classic or an entirely new take on a well-versed ingredient. They may not be cutting edge, but they are not sheep either.
This year, Carven added a brand new masculine fragrance to their line up: ‘L’Eau Intense’, this time in a white bottle evocative of a masculine fashion staple. The scent was composed by Francis Kurkdjian (he who needs no introduction nowadays) and Jérôme Di Marino. It’s described as an “oxymoron” because it is “as refreshing as mint leaf-infused water, yet brimming with intensely spicy and woody notes”. So how does this olfactory oxymoron stand up to the sniff test? Let’s see…
A few weeks back I slapped on some of Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver (the Eau de Parfum) and commented on my instragram, that “when in doubt, go for vetiver”. A flippant comment for sure, but it is one that seems to ring true, and let’s face it: you really can’t go wrong with vetiver. Vetiver, a fragrant perennial grass native to India, is so successful as a perfume ingredient because it is so distinct – there isn’t really much else that smells like it. Of course, being distinct does mean that it is less versatile as a note than some others (rose, for example), but many perfumers have found interesting ways to utilise the ingredient as a main feature or a supporting act. I like vetiver very much and when one is in the mood for something clean, sharp and dashingly dapper, there’s not much else that can beat it.
There are many excellent vetiver fragrances out there, many of which are aimed predominately at men. Classics such as Guerlain’s Vetiver (Jean-Paul Guerlain; 1961) immediately spring to mind, but one can’t ignore wonderful modern interpretations such as the aforementioned Grey Vetiver (Harry Fremont; 2009), Etat Libre d’Orange’s Fat Electrician (Antoine Maisondieu; 2009), Lalique’s Encre Noire (Nathalie Lorson; 2006) and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle’s Vétiver Extraordinaire (Dominique Ropion; 2002), to name but a few. Each one does something entirely different with this incredibly familiar note, whether it be amping it up to the armpit-like spice of the Malle or pairing it with gorgeously creamy and smoky resins as the Etat Libre d’Orange does. Vetiver may not be a shape-shifting material, but it certainly does have an element of range.
One vetiver that doesn’t get a huge amount of press is Carven’s. Now, this may be due to the fact that it has been in and out of production since its launch in 1957, but now its back and should be considered as a serious contender for any vetiver afficiando. Housed within a new and gorgeously modern bottle, coloured with the most attractive shade of green Carven’s Vétiver, is that rare thing – a casual vetiver. This is not a vetiver fragrance to be worn with a sharp suit or a crisp white shirt, no, no, no. This is a vetiver to pair with a chunky piece of knitwear in muted, earth tones. It’s a relaxed vetiver to cuddle up with – to explore softly and quietly – a vetiver that salutes introspection rather than attention seeking ostentation.
“Rather than the lover of the Carven Woman, the Carven Man is a brother and a soul mate.”
The above quote from the press release for Carven’s brand new masculine fragrance, ‘Carven Pour Homme‘ struck me as quite refreshing. So often, us gents are marketed fragrances on their ability to attract the opposite sex (a strategy that weirdly doesn’t work for me – I wonder why), positioning the wearer as an object of physical attraction rather than a kindred spirit. Carven, whose fashion and fragrance lines have recently been revived, appear to want to do something different.
Carven further describe their man as “a handsome face; even better, an interesting face of undeniable strength and gentleness, calm and determination” – a guy that they can envisage “strolling with a book of poetry in hand, rowing swiftly on the Seine, [and] sipping a coffee on the terrace of a Paris café”. This romanticised notion of the modern man is a break from the steroid pumped, oily chested and fastidiously preened berk one is so used to seeing in perfume advertisements, and for that reason, he sounds rather wonderful indeed.
Penned by perfumers Francis Kurkdjian (Le Mâle, Carven Le Parfum & the Maison Francis Kurkdjian line) and Patricia Choux (Jo Malone Blue Agava & Cacao and Clive Christian X for Women), Carven Pour Homme is the first masculine fragrance from the brand since its relaunch. Positioned as a signature scent for the house, the scent is described as “the very essence of Carven style in a masculine mode” and has been created as an everyday item that intends to be an essential piece in the Carven wardrobe. Carven Pour Homme is a fragrance created in the relaxed and comfortable style of Guillaume Henry, who is now the former Artistic Director of the brand (now at Nina Ricci), and it fits perfectly.
When Carven released their first perfume – the aptly named ‘Ma Griffe‘ (‘My Signature’) – in 1946 the brand dropped hundreds of parachutes over the skies of Paris, each of which carried a special piece of cargo – a sample of Madame Carven’s signature perfume. In a genius stroke of early PR, this stunt ensured that the scent of Ma Griffe was simply unavoidable:
“The lingering scent of Ma Griffe floated everywhere: at the Opera, at charity balls, at the most fashionable sports events from Deauville to Monte Carlo…”
Flash forward to 2013, following the resurrection of the fashion arm of Carven and the launch of the brand’s modern signature fragrance ‘Le Parfum‘, it is time for the relaunch of Ma Griffe. This time Carven has opted for a much more muted launch, almost silently slipping the classic fragrance back on the market in the hope that it will once again float weightlessly around city streets.
Following the earlier review of Le Parfum one was intrigued to discover the world of Ma Griffe, purely as an exercise to see how the house has changed from 1946 to 2013. The truth is that the differences between the Carven perfume of days gone by and the Carven perfume of today serve as a microcosm for how the world of perfumery has evolved over the last 70 years.
Not having spent time with Ma Griffe before its 2013 re-release has allowed one to approach it from an entirely objective point of view, reviewing it not as a long gone piece of the past but as an old school signature presented amongst the modern trends of perfumery as they are today. To say the process was an eyeopener would be an understatement…
Following the release of their new fragrance – ‘Le Parfum‘ – historic french brand Carven have scheduled a fragrance masterclass with perfumer Francis Kurkdjian at the luxury London department store Selfridges. Having created Le Parfum and a number of other luxury fragrances, Kurkdjian is a fascinating individual with a unique insight to the perfume industry.
“The afternoon event invites guests to enjoy a glass of champagne and canapés whilst Francis journeys through the intimate and captivating charm that encapsulates the couture spirit of the legendary Parisian fashion house, Carven. Guest will discover the history, delicacy and grace of the Carven woman and discuss the raw ingredients of the beautiful new Carven female fragrance, Le Parfum.”