Neo Classics - Any Candidates?

Inspired by a recent discussion on Now Smell This, I would like to not only voice my opinions and musings, but also hear what you feel about  Frédéric Malle's notion that "Since Thierry Mugler’s Angel, created in 1992, the market has not generated one classic" and "They don’t concentrate on the fragrance at all. They concentrate on the story, they concentrate on getting a star, or an image or a launch or an event. It’s an idea they sell. It’s the easiest way to sell a fragrance which will please everybody, because everybody likes Céline Dion, for instance — or many people do. They create the sale by selling something cheap in a small bottle. None of these fragrances are designed to last."

Interesting observation. While Angel is an iconic scent, I don't think (and don't want to think) that classics have stopped there. It's hard to find spectacularly innovative mainstream perfumes. Somehow with Dune and Angel inventing the linear structure - it seems that innovation came to a halt and perfumes kinda stayed going in that direction. But there are some iconic scents that happened since then - Tocade (1994 - same linear story), Le Mâle (1995), Bvlgari Black (1998), and if judging by popularity alone - also Coco Mademoiselle (2001), Narciso Rodriguez for Her (2003) and Lovely (2005). The latter is probably the only celebrity fragrance that I would consider a candidate for an "iconic fragrance" - though it does not exactly offer something all that different from NR. though for those three, I think only time will tell: Remember how Cabotine (1990) was worn by EVERYONE and everybody back in the early 90's? (unless they were wearing AnaisAnais - which is is from 1978...) - I doubt that anyone would consider them classics by now. They sure are distinctive scents, but I don't think they come even remotely close in terms of popularity (customer approval) or their aesthetics/design significance (industry expert appreciation).

Kingdom and M7 were rather iconic too, and may have influenced greatly what happened later in the niche world - but since neither were a commercial success and already discontinued - we probably can't really consider them as classics. A classic would and should survive the test of time like Shalimar, No. 5, Mitsouko and the other masterpieces have.

To say that innovation ended with Angel is like saying that perfumery is a dead art. I think nothing could be further away from the truth! All you need to do is visit one of the smaller perfume shows of niche brands and the smaller artisan brands (such as those who participated in the Artisan Fragrance Salon that debuted this summer on the West Coast) to find a living proof that perfumery as an art form is alive and kicking: Vibrant innovation and out-of-the-box creativity is still possible. New technologies make possible more true-to-nature raw materials. Perfumers are exploring new dynamics or "structures" possible within the olfactory art form.

Last but not least: contrary to Mr. Malle's statement, story telling in perfume does not by any means contradict creativity or artistry! Rather, it is an integral part of the art of perfumery, and should remain this way. While the perfumes in his line might not have the traditional marketing schemes - but to say that they do not tell a story is an insult to the perfumers' art and the hard work they put in doing exactly this: telling a story by putting together volatile molecules that meld together sharing the same space and chase and replace one another in succession in a dance that begins in the bottle and ends on the skin. 


dreaming of you, originally uploaded by Amsterdamned!.

In Dans tes Bras, Maurice Roucel brings up the unspeakable topic of intimacy. Intimacy is something that is difficult to describe, but easily felt. It's a subtle emotion and a state of mind that occurs when we somehow connect to another person on the deepest level through closeness or proximity. It's one of those strange connections between spirit and matter: looking into someone's eyes and having a glimpse into their soul; being so close you can hear their heartbeat and sense their breath on your skin and breathing in the invisible scent of their skin.

Seemingly, there is nothing unusual about Dans tes Bras. It is very perfumey at first: violet accord that is both powdery like orris and wet and woody like cassie underlined by noticeable dosage of heliotropin - that vanillic molecule that makes heliotrope smells so sweet, almondy and plasticky all at once.

It is not until a few hours in that the intimate aspects of Dans tes Bras reveal themselves. At which point, technically speaking the woody base notes (most notably patchouli) are exposed, along with foreign molecules which I’ve never smelled separately and which create the sensation of minerals and salt on hot skin. From a more sentimental point of view, this is the point where Dans tes Bras begins to smell like perfumed skin that has been immaturely washed away in a warm salty ocean, but not completely. Whatever is left on the skin is going to dry out in the hot sand and sun and become only a vague memory of that violet perfume but an even stronger memory of that sunny afternoon on the beach. But if you wait till the morning, you will wake up to remnants of Nag Champa incense smoke that has stuck to your clothes, sheets and everything you've ever possessed.

Top notes: bergamot, clove

Heart notes: violet, jasmine, cassie, orris

Base notes: sandalwood, patchouli, incense, cashmeran, heliotrope, white musk

Lys Méditerranée

Lys Méditerranée creates the illusion of inhaling a lush Easter lily (AKA Madonna lily), resulting in a pollen-dusted nose. Top notes of lily are followed by the drip of citrus-honey, light and juicy, and a warm, full bodied orange blossom and rose for a touch of pure elegance. The orange blossom makes this particularly cheerful and happy. The dry down is warm, rich and ambery yet somewhat dry with the prominent note being Peru Balsam oil (which is woodier and less sweet than the balsam itself).

The sweetness is intoxicating but never heady, as it releases itself in small spurts of nectar. Lys Méditerranée may start off as innocent as a Madonna Lily but continues on to an almost pornographic nectar-dripping seduction.

Lys Méditerranée was designed by Edouard Fléchier for Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums. Other perfumes by Fléchier: Une Rose for Frederic Malle, Dior's Poison and Tendre Poison, Christian Lacroix C'est La Vie, Montana Parfum de Homme and the reformulation of Montana Parfum de Peau.

Photo: The Secret Life of an Easter Lily courtesy of Steve Kirby.

Une Fleur de Cassie

Une Fleur de Cassie by Dominique Ropion has a perfumey, flowery-powdery, indolic and wet presence. It surprises with a counterpoint of contrasting elements that work harmonioiusly despite the fact that some of them are very single-minded and stubborn. Aside from a high concentration of Cassie absolute, the notes I find most dominant in Une Fleur de Cassie are a highly indolic Jasmine accord accented even further to the domain of body odours by essence of cumin. The cumin is subtle yet carnal, which is very contradictory to the cool, green and aloof note of violet leaf echoing the cassie. In addition, orris root contributes a buttery powderiness, which along with the cumin feels warm and sensual. The base is sweetened with vanilla and balanced with the lead-like pencil-shaving note of cedarwood, which invokes the texture of wet green clay, musty and dusty.

Une Fleur de Cassie starts a bit perfumey, though not as much as Mimosaique. It is unmistakably a Cassie perfume. Cassie, also known asAcacia Farnesiana or Sweet Acacia, has an intense note that can be quite objectionable when undiluted or in high concentration. As I said earlier, it is one of the most unusual floral notes because it is a floral base note and provides an interesting floral foundation for other lighter floral notes. It is rarely used in such concentration as in Une Fleur de Cassie, and therefore it is not surprising that it often garners ambivalent or repulsive reactions. However, this is what makes it unique. And particularly when played by this particular ensemble of notes such as the cumin.

According to Basenotes, the notes are:
Top Note: Cassie, Mimosa, Jasmine, Clove, Cumin, Bergamot,
Middle Notes: Rose, Violet, Apricot, Aldehyde, Salicylate,
Base Notes: Musk Ketone, Cedarwood, Sandalwood.

The photo is courtesy of my brother, Yotam Dehan, a Desert Ranger in the Dead Sea area. It is a blue robin on an Acacia tree in the Yehuda Desert near the Dead Sea. You can also view more photos by Yotam on his photolight webpage.

Vetiver Extraordinaire

My very first encounter of Vetiver Extraoirdinaire was in the shower gel form. I took it with me to my trip to New York in August 2006, and it prove to be a nice companion in a trip to this humid land of concrete: cooling, grounding and somewhat earthy in comparison to the environment.

It is therefore comes as no surprise than, that my first impression from Vetiver Extraordinaire was that it’s a clean vetiver, perhaps along the lines of Guerlain’s vetiver, yet with far more subtle citrus nuances than the latter. The earthy cleanliness being one of the most esteemed virtues of vetiver, I saw no fault at that and found it very appealing, even charming at first. My current obsession with vetiver got me to revisit the sample I got at Barney’s when I got my Le Parfum de Therese last summer.

And indeed, Vetiver Extraordinaire is clean and fresh, with accent on the woody aspect of vetiver. It reads like a polished, smoothly worked pebble of wood that calls for repeat finger strokes, yet lacks the warmth of wood. Instead, you will find the coolness of a stone pebble at the bottom of a cold stream. Strangely, it feels more urbane than earthy.

Vetiver Extraordinare creates the illusion of thirst-clenching. Its coolness seems to pour continuously (until it vanishes completely from my skin, after about 2 hours; quite unusual for me because perfumes usually have a very good lasting power on my skin). It feels almost sterile and distance and the lack of evolution or depth leaves much more to be desired.

I found no information about specific notes other than vetiver for this scent, and I also can’t say I smell much more in it. Perhaps a tinge of citrus and a smidgeon of mint, and an even smaller amount of myrrh is all I can detect besides the vetiverness. The ad copy from Editions de Parfums claims it is made of 25% vetiver. The remaning 75%, I am afraid, seem to be made of mostly synthetic as far as I can smell.
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