“Perfumed escapism” – that’s what Nick Steward, founder of indie brand Gallivant, aims to bring to the world with his collection of city-inspired scents, and let’s be real, if there ever was a time when we needed to be transported elsewhere by perfume, now is it. With so many people under lockdown or working from home, and unable to travel, all because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Gallivant provides virtual tours of faraway places, all through the medium of olfaction. Gallivant makes this big old world a much smaller and more accessible place, all with just one spritz of their transportive perfumes.
With their latest launch, Gallivant whisks us away to Uzbekistan and the noble city of Bukhara. This “fairytale city on the Silk Road”, as Gallivant puts it, is home to beautiful, colourful architecture, talented artisans, welcoming people and a melting pot of spices, fabrics and fruits. Gallivant worked with perfumer Ralf Schweiger (Lipstick Rose by Frederic Malle; Eau des Merveilles by Hermès, and so many more iconic scents) to distill the city of Bukhara into olfactory form. Together they chose the luxurious and elegant note of iris as Bukhara’s core material. To be honest, they had me at “orris”.
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.
Iris, or orris, is many things. It is famously known as the most expensive natural ingredient in the perfumer’s pallet, making it one of the most elusive and luxurious materials out there. It’s also one of the most beautiful and complex ingredients in the perfumer’s magic bag of tricks, allowing itself to be utilised in a vast variety of ways, which gives it this strange shape-shifting ability, whilst also allowing it to remain instantly and undeniably recognisable as ‘iris’ at all times. Iris is also a divisive material – some will dive readily into its often cold and aloof arms, whilst others will simply say it smells like carrots and they wish for it to be moved very far away from them. Both view points are valid of course, but the striking character of iris cannot be denied.
In perfumery it is not the iris flowers that are used, instead it is the root. The roots are dried over a number of years (hence the hefty cost – orris is an exercise in patience) and then ground before being distilled to create orris butter (beurre d’iris). Reportedly, one ton of iris root produces two kilos of iris butter, making for a painstaking process that drives the cost of the material skyrocketing up to the roof and beyond. But is the beauty of the material matched by the price? Well, the answer to that question will certainly depend on your opinion however, the complexity of the odour profile of orris certainly lives up to its value, more so in fact.
The scent of orris is a tricky one to pin down. It is most known for its earthy character, which in extreme can smell vegetal, like carrots and turnips. The scent is mineral but it can also have sweetness, sharing a similar character to violets. If we’re talking texture, orris can be suede-like or powdery, but in some instances it can also appear as doughy and thick. There’s also a woody character to the material and in terms of colour, orris can present hues that range from blue to purple to grey to beige. If you hadn’t guessed already, orris is one of the most fascinating and flexible fragrant materials out there and it has been put to use in thousands of intriguing ways throughout the history of perfumery.
If you hadn’t have guessed from Friday’s post, I’m a bit of a Frederic Malle fan-boy. There simply isn’t a single dud within his finely curated Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle collection. I own many, I wear them often and as I’ve previously stated on this blog, Malle’s collection is one of the very few where I’d happily own a bottle of each scent (wouldn’t that be lovely?). So there you go, I’m a fan and I know that many of you are too!
One thing I also love about Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is the fact that the brand also has a range of incredible products for the body and home. There are candles, room sprays and rubber incense, not to mention body butters, soaps and shower gels a plenty! But there are also a number of scent-specific products that belong solely to one fragrance in the collection, for example; hair mist and after sun scented with Carnal Flower; and hair & body oil scented with Portrait of a Lady. There’s a careful randomness to this, with the products picked because they compliment the odour profile and spirit of the product. It’s easy to bring a product out in every fragrance in the collection but it requires a measured restraint to pick out the best scents for the best products. So kudos, as always, has to go to Frederic Malle for curating everything so carefully.
The latest product from Frederic Malle that I’m obsessing over is the Iris Hand Cream (Creme Pour Les Mains au Beurre d’Iris) which boasts a beautiful iris scent created by Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. The cream contains a number of patented molecules that feature a film that clings to water molecules, thus preventing dehydration of the top layers of skin, in addition to a further film that protects against ageing and pollution. Its scent is a nod to the house of Medici, who brought the origins of perfume making to France and had a penchant for scenting their hands and gloves with iris hand cream. This is a very special product indeed, one filled with technology, history and beauty.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m rather fond of Jo Malone London. There is nothing more fun to me than untying the handsome black ribbon off the top of those beautiful yellow-cream boxes and pulling apart waves of tissue paper to reveal a gorgeously-scented treat for me or my home. There’s joy in those boxes, whether it be a bottle of Cologne or Cologne Intense, a scented candle or a bath oil, or all of the above (if the box is big enough, of course). They do what they do very well and their fragrances, which are odes to perfumery’s most famous and beautiful ingredients, present traditional themes with an eccentrically British twist. They’re often fun, sometimes striking and always eminently wearable. That’s Jo Malone London.
In their Cologne Intense Collection, the brand steps away from their lighter and more ephemeral sensibilities to explore richer notes in higher concentrations. These are often more opulent and exotic fragrances that have a bit more heft to them (but not too much, mind you). This is the collection where you will find ingredients such as oud, tuberose, incense and rose, all in their full, fragrant glory, and presented in Jo Malone London’s unfussy and relatable style. In January, the brand added the next chapter to the Cologne Intense Collection and two more ingredients to their ever-expanding list of notes explored: Orris & Sandalwood.
“This scent was about framing the orris to bring out its unique duality; it is both woody and powdery, floral and deep. We did this by using other woods as well as waiting a picture of the iris flower itself.”
– Pierre Negrin
Orris & Sandalwood, the latest instalment in Jo Malone London’s exploration of intensity was created by Pierre Negrin, the perfumer behind such masterpieces as Amouage’s Interlude Man and Tom Ford’s Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Working with one of his favourite materials within the perfumer’s palette, Negrin states that he loves the complexity of orris, describing the note as a “perfume in itself” due to its varied odour profile which is “warm, sensual, feminine, masculine, violety, woody, powdery”. It’s no surprise then, that Negrin was excited to “create something new with such a classic ingredient”, and that is exactly what he managed to do. Orris & Sandalwood is billed as the next journey within the Cologne Intense Collection, one set in Tuscany during the iris harvest. It’s an exploration of perfumery’s most beautiful and expensive ingredient, all served in the contemporary manner that Jo Malone London is famous for, all with a touch of Pierre Negrin’s signature flair. It’s sounding good already, isn’t it?