The purpose of these olfactory deconstructions (see Iris and Vetiver) is to understand a raw material used in perfumery by dissecting it into its many facets. By experiencing the many nuances, one starts to gain an appreciation for how it is used within a wider composition and how it can be utilised to create interesting and novel effects. Such is the magic of perfumery – where one distinct material can bring so much more to a fragrance than its odour profile, shifting and changing as it tessellates with other notes to create things that are more than the sum of their parts.
Today’s deconstruction is a widely used material: patchouli. I chose patchouli because it’s a material found in so many fragrances, many of which utilise it as a supporting act as opposed to the star that takes top billing. I also picked it because it’s a tricky note to love, due largely to its associations with head shops and hippies, not to mention how abrasive it can be as a smell. But patchouli is so much more than a new age oil, it’s actually a fascinating and multifaceted material that deserves a lot of attention – and today we are going to give it that attention!
“Monsieur., your chest rug is peeking through your shirt.”
“Monsieur., would you like the bear skin rug dry cleaned before you lie seductively upon it?”
“Monsieur., the 1970s called and they would like their headshop back.”
“Monsieur., is that an afro comb in the pocket of your flares or are you just pleased to see me?”
These were my initial thoughts when smelling ‘Monsieur.‘ the latest release from Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. As you may be able to tell, it’s somewhat of a retro macho bomb and style wise, it certainly comes across as somewhat of a departure from Malle’s ultra-modern aesthetic. That said, I find it to be fabulously retro, which is to say that it celebrates a moment in time and a certain type of machismo that is utterly classic: that of the hairy chested, suave yet roguish animal of a man, or in this case a slightly older man. Wait, is Monsieur. a DILF?!
Monsieur is the second outing at Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle for perfumer Bruno Jovanovic, the man behind the delightfully subversive Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle and designer scents such as Calvin Klein Reveal. With Monsieur., Jovanovic tackles patchouli, a staple ingredient within the world of perfumery that has made many a fragrance a classic. The thing with patchouli though, is the fact that it feels a bit old fashioned. It’s still used in perfumery today, of course, but most examples of the note today show it as sanitised to nothing but a dark fuzz that adds texture to the composition. Gone is that dirty, earthy and oily melange that we knew as patchouli in the 1970s and 1980s. Monsieur. however, aims to pay homage to the multi-faceted and complex nature of this ingredient and the perfumes of yesteryear, with over 50% of its composition comprising of patchouli sourced through molecular distillation. As the brand puts it; “Monsieur. is to patchouli what Carnal Flower is to tuberose”.
So Monsieur. is a patchouli weapon – a tool for seduction for the man suave enough to wield its powers responsibly. As Persolaise noted in his review, it’s also a fragrance that looks backwards rather than forwards, making it an interesting step in the Editions de Parfums oeuvre. Although evocative, I’m sure my description of Monsieur. as a somewhat-attractive paternal figure may not be what the brand intended, I shall therefore, refer you to the official description as per Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle:
“Although seemingly simple, this formula evokes for Frédéric Malle, since its genesis, remorseless seducers such as Alfonso de Portago, Mark Birley, Jose-Luis de Villalonga or Gianni Agnelli. Their manly and timeless elegance has relentlessly guided the development of this empowering perfume. Monsieur., a neo-classical perfume, manly and utterly elegant. Monsieur.”
The trajectory of the use of patchouli in perfume is a sad one. Most associate the earthy, oily and sour smell of the note with the hippy head shops in the 1970s however, one would find it almost impossible to come across such an impression in a modern fragrance, as it seems that all of the mirk and filth has been extracted from today’s perfumery landscape, leaving behind a sea of sanitised patchouli notes that are nice, but certainly not a patch on the real thing.
Tom Ford is a man that likes patchouli. Since he launched Tom Ford Beauty with Black Orchid in 2006 he has treated us to not one, not two, but three patchouli-based fragrances. His patchoulis, Purple Patchouli (2007), White Patchouli (2008) and the latest, Patchouli Absolu, present a diverse array of blends that showcase the marvelous versatility of an age-old note. Whether he be showcasing the sweet and fruity tones of Purple Patchouli or the high-class floral tones of White Patchouli, Tom Ford refuses to offer up a clean or unrealistic take on the note, and for that he must be applauded.
Patchouli Absolu takes patchouli back to its roots and displays a multi-faceted take on the note that it is extremely complex and thoroughly modern. At the core sits a trio of patchouli ingredients – Patchouli Oil, which gives a “raw and primal texture”, Patchouli Coeur, the “absolute extract of the plant” that provides a “refined earthiness”, and a “breakthrough iteration of patchouli” called Clearwood, that offers a pure rendition of patchouli. Patchouli Absolu is a true patchouli delivered in the signature opulence and luxury of Tom Ford’s Private Collection.
“Patchouli Absolu is Tom Ford’s personal ode to an ingredient that is intertwined with his own story. The iconic olfactive note of the 1970s, it evokes louche sensuality and after-dark glamour, as well as the heady blending of masculine and feminine that defined the era. This Eastern oil perfumed the skin of late seventies’ glitterati and bohemians alike, pervading the air of jet-set parties with a provocative, dark glamour. Patchouli fragranced the world that was to shape Tom Ford’s singular vision of style.”
Juliette Has a Gun is a curious little outfit. They seem to happily fill the space that separates niche and designer perfumes and does so in a young and fancy free way. The thing is, as much as I like the brand and one or two of the scents they’ve yet to have a hit as far as I’m concerned. Calamity J and Romantina came close but neither had the wow factor needed to convince me to part with any of my hard-earned dosh.
That said, the spunky, take-no-prisoners attitude of Romano Ricci’s heroines is definitely appealing to me and I’m always more than happy to dive into their new releases to see what they are up to. So far we’ve had charming girls, vengeful ladies, queens and delightfully calamities but with their latest release Juliette Has a Gun is unleashing the Mad Madame.
“For this new episode I wanted to pay tribute to a woman who dares. A woman slightly more mature than the previous episodes, but by no means better behaved! Mad Madame has this touch of craziness, which she is happily displaying. Endowed with a sense of provocation, she enjoys being looked at and igniting conversations. As Oscar Wilde once said, The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Mad Madame is described as a green chypre “revolving around the metallic Rose Oxyde” and as you would expect from Juliette Has a Gun it is a fragrance with a strong character, as Mr. Ricci puts it; “Mad Madame has the knack of getting herself talked about. And she likes it.” What are they saying about this Madame? Well, I can tell you that it may not all be good.
Have you ever discovered a perfume that you’ve known about for years but never tried? I have. I cannot tell you how many times I have perused the offerings of many a Guerlain counter, spritzing on and sampling almost everything they have to scent me with, but I always seemed to overlook, nay ignore the Aqua Allegoria line, meaning that up until very recently I had never tried Pamplelune. Now I can’t help but think; “what took you so long Thomas?!”
It was Persolaise’s review of the latest Aqua Allegoria; Lys Soleia, that led me to seeking out the Aqua Allegoria line, and I’m very glad that I did. My interest in the line, and Pamplelune specifically, was further piqued by Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels who had written that she was a big fan of Pamplelune but other people’s reactions prevented her from wearing it. Well after that I simply had to try it, and try it I did.
Pamplelune was part of the original crop of Aqua Allegoria’s released in 1999, a collection inspired by nature and intended to be more accessible to the younger Guerlain consumer. Available in a lighter concentration (EDT) and at a lower price point than the regular Guerlains, the Aqua Allegoria’s still manage to showcase fantastic ingredients, both natural and synthetic, to create perfumes that feel like non-ephemeral interpretations of nature for the skin.
Having stood the test of time, where other Aqua Allegoria’s have come and gone, Pamplelune was created to capture “the spirit of grapefruit” and that’s what it does. Now I should probably say that my opinion of grapefruit as a fruit is the same as my opinion of watermelon (see my review of Ruth Mastenbroek’s Amorosa), that is that I think It’s naff. It tastes so awful I don’t know why anyone would eat it, other than as a form of self-torture and on top of that grapefruit notes in modern perfumes are usually dire. Oh wait, now I know why it took me so long to try Pamplelune…
Throughout the majority of my perfume journey I have been under the impression that it’s all about the juice with my mantra very much being; ‘nothing else matters except the smell’. But I’m no longer sure that this is entirely true, after all a perfume is a concept, and the best perfumes are the ones where the smell, bottle, name and concept are harmonious with each other. One thing that I have recently discovered is that a bad name can really take away from my overall enjoyment of a perfume. I can hide a crap bottle and I don’t necessarily have to tell people the inspiration behind the perfume I’m wearing, but if the name is bad then things can go sour rapidly.
Take Shalimar for example, could Guerlain have picked a more beautiful and fitting name? Or what about Gorilla Perfume’s ‘Breath of God’? Or on the flip-side, think of Thierry Mugler’s Womanity, the hideous name (sorry Thierry) honestly does make me hesitate from picking up my bottle at times. A bad name can ruin things, just as a good name can be the cherry on top that makes for perfection.
One brand who can always be counted on for an interesting name is Etat Libre d’Orange – they’ve got it all, from Fat Electricians to Magnificent Secretions and Hotel Whores. I think these names are fabulous but I can understand why they might rub some people up the wrong way, they are after all quite risqué. But name-wise Etat Libre d’Orange are at their best when they aren’t trying to be controversial (‘Jasmin et Cigarette’ anyone?) and none have been bestowed with a more perfect name than their latest release – ‘Malaise of the 1970s’.
Malaise of the 1970s may be the latest perfume from the Orange Free State but it is in fact a repackaged version of 2010’s Sex Pistols fragrance created in collaboration with Sephora. Etat Libre d’Orange describe Malaise of the 1970s as being “Inspired by a wealth of seventies pop culture references, from Star Wars to The Stranglers, Malaise of the 1970s captures the resistant and tumultuous spirit of the times. A metallic juice that resonates like the twang of a guitar string, its sharpness reminiscent of safety pins fastened to tartan. A distillation of rebellion, music and raw emotion.”