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.
I was having a conversation with a good friend the other day and the subject of our musings was that when it comes to fragrance, CHANEL is rarely bad. One can accuse them of being commercial at times, and on the very rare occasion, they can even be guilty of being bland, but bad? Never! There is an inherent quality to CHANEL fragrances – a fastidious commitment to a luxurious house signature achieved through an obsessive dedication to the very best ingredients, both natural and synthetic – that means everything they make is undeniably wearable and pleasant.
CHANEL has created a great many wonderful fragrances (I don’t need to list them – you know what they are) and the ones I adore the most are within their capsule collection ‘LES EXCLUSIFS DE CHANEL’. In this collection, CHANEL goes inwards and draws inspiration from its history, creating perfumes of house significance, with reference points in the fabrics, addresses, and muses, found deep within the CHANEL archives. In my view, LES EXCLUSIFS DE CHANEL, is the brand at its most experimental (by CHANEL standards, of course) where a subtle boldness and an effortless wearability come together in harmony.
It has been two years since CHANEL last added a fragrance to LES EXCLUSIFS (the subversive feminine twist on a fougère that was the remarkable BOY) and I for one, have been waiting very patiently. The new fragrance is 1957 and it celebrates Coco Chanel’s relationship with America – a country where the couturier made her fortune. The name of the fragrance is an amalgam of reference points. 1957 was the year that Coco Chanel was awarded the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. 19 is Chanel’s birthday and 57 is the address of the CHANEL boutique on New York’s East 57th Street – the largest CHANEL boutique in America. 1957 is all of these things and an olfactory ode to the country that cemented the success of CHANEL.
Amy Winehouse was a tremendous talent. Her voice (that voice!) was unlike any other and she crossed the genres, traversing jazz and r&b, to create her own unique sound – the sound of Amy. I remember hearing her for the first time – my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) played me the song ‘Take the Box’, in which Amy implores her ex-lover to pack up the shit he bought her, put it in a box and go on his merry way. Her humour, pain, and power all came through in that song – with that voice. I hadn’t heard anything like it and sadly, won’t hear it again.
Amy did the unconventional – she became the voice of a generation with just two albums. These albums, her jazzy debut ‘Frank’ and her insolent, pain-soaked sophomore effort ‘Back to Black’ are opposing works but each are iconic in their own right. Speaking of icons, Jusbox is a brand that takes inspiration from titans of music – from decades and artists, so it’s no surprise that Amy Winehouse is the feature of their 13th fragrance: the pink rose of Siren & Sailors. It is Amy’s haunt, the bohemian Camden Town in London, that provides inspiration for this olfactory tale – the story of a beautifully voice siren who enchanted those who heard her sing.
This week I’m mostly wearing the euphorically beautiful Jasmine Absolute (IFF-LMR) Préparation by Ostens.
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.
There are a few perfume ‘genres’ that I have never really ‘got’: green, woody and amber. Well, with time (and through this blog) I’ve learned to appreciate green and to love woods, but for the most part amber still eludes me. Amber, for those of you not familiar with it, is a blend of benzoin (a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of a number of trees within the Styrax genus), labdanum (a sticky brown resin sourced from shrubs) and vanilla that creates a warm, glowing sweetness that is soft, fluffy and gauzy in texture. It is the backbone of big oriental fragrances such as Shalimar, but it’s also used as a standalone theme in many modern perfumes.
More than being an iconic perfume genre, the amber is also the perfect scent for this cold weather. I like to think of ambers as winter warmers – those gloriously toasty and enveloping scents that get stuck in one’s winter scarf, wafting a hedonistic aura around the wearer. So as the winter draws in, it makes sense for everyone to have an amber in their wardrobe. But what happens when you don’t really like amber? Or, you think that you don’t like amber?