Tagged: woody

Quiet but luminous: Balenciaga Paris (for Women)

As with people, you can often distill the essence of a perfume by observing its arrangements. After all, if thoughtful, one’s style is the culmination of a series of deliberate decisions; a concentration of what I am, and a dilution of what I do not want to be. The act of picking a perfume bottle is but a radical, strenuous form of this process.

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On the subject, iconic bottle designer Marc Rosen (Burberry, Ricci) commented, “the bottle should be the embodiment of the fragrance.”  The thought that the vessel is the window to the soul is impossibly regressive, but remains unanimous in practice in this industry – to arguable success. Oh, but how they try: a friend whose spouse designs bottles for department-store scents once informed me that it takes hundreds of sketches, months and months of bureaucratic approval, for a perfume bottle to reach a shelf. I wasn’t surprised, but it seemed trivial. Should the cap be gold or silver? Should the corners be less angular? Why does it matter?

The attempt to squeeze the scope of research findings (which profile responded to the bottle, and which to the scent?) into one small container seems laughable, but there are times when such a rigorous and absurd approach becomes useful. For one, when a bottle is vocal about its contents, it saves the perfume-seeker from having to dip her nose into the coffee beans excessively. And honestly, sometimes, the approximation is startling.

When I first saw Balenciaga Paris, I could almost guess its scent – the bottle told me everything that I needed to know, and the sample confirmed it. The neck of the bottle is soft, rounded, sweet; its foundation crystalline, sharp, elegant. It is sophisticated, but not mature. It’s gentle, but stands up for itself. (Unsurprisingly, the face of the fragrance of is Charlotte Gainsbourg.)

The fragrance does as well. The notes: bergamot, spices, pepper, violet, carnation, oakmoss, cedar, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum (which, for the interested, is a resin essential to many earthier perfumes – woody, smokey). Characterized as a chypre (an interweaving of bergamot, oakmoss, and other woody elements), it opens on a bright, natural note – violets, carnations, with glints of a metallic finishing, and dries off earthy. Comparisons have been made to Prada’s Infusion d’Iris, which is more diaphanous in my opinion, but the resemblance is there.

I’ve been more committed to this scent than I have to most – beautiful bottle or not. It’s got just the right amount of character. It won’t be loud enough to draw attention to itself, but it definitely rewards those who notice.

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The scent of Scandinavian design: Andrea Maack’s Parfums + Standard by CDG x Artek

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In the humble opinion of the author (admittedly a Montreal snob) one of the biggest selling points of living in the Junction in Toronto is the proximity to Mjölk, a lifestyle store focused on Scandinavian and Japanese design. It is a space that I thrive in – pale wood, careful craftsmanship, negative space. I’ve even tried to use it as bait for design-oriented Montrealer friends; no luck so far, but I’m getting close. Anyway, they’d been renovating for a while, which deterred me from visiting, but today I walked around and admired their curation. I was happy to see Sorensen bags in such an unlikely neighbourhood locale, and even more pleased to discover that they housed several fragrances.

ImageIt was all so fittingly minimal and soothing to contemplate. I was drawn to the packaging for Andrea Maack Parfums, an eponymous line from the Icelandic artist’s collaboration with a French perfumery. It resulted in a series of perfumes inspired by her artwork, a fascinating translative process in itself. The perfumes, on the other hand, were a little underwhelming for me: they inspired in equal measures recognition and alienation. Consider the notes for Smart (pictured here). Mainly flowers – violets, jasmines – with peeks of sandalwood, and what I have now singled out as buckskin. Buckskin! It diluted what would usually be really immediate florals, and the whole was very soft, very detached. I smelled the five on display, Smart being my favourite, and moved on.

The other perfume they displayed was a Comme des Garçons (Standard – the opening image), which I predict will soon become my favourite fragrance house (not a guarantee that I wear any of them well, but their chemistry is refreshing). It is also a collaborative effort, this time with Artek, a Finnish furniture brand. The man working at Mjölk strongly recommended I smell it, having purchased it himself. He was enthused, and so I did.

Having worn it for several hours now, I felt the urge to write about it, even though I told myself I’d pace myself (no one wants to read about perfume everyday, Tracy). It’s a very strange, very unique smell. Let’s begin with the technicalities. Perfume sites say: Finnish Labrador Tea, honeysuckle (twinflower to be specific, but same family), fennel, ginger, lemon, musk, saffron, cedarwood. To me, the cedar dominates in tandem with the sweetness of saffron/twinflower, and it’s all topped with what I thought I read as rust (but seems to be undocumented). All in all: woody, green, metallics.

Here’s what’s fascinating about it: it smells AUSTERE. It smells like monosyllabic politeness. As a material, it would be steel bred with pencil shavings. As a personality, it would be reserved, stoic, but occasionally insightful. If minimalism emitted a fragrance, you’ll find it that it smells something like Standard (what perfect nomenclature). If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with minimalism, even though it is somewhat unreflected in my habits — I have the same sentiments toward this scent. It’s not me (really) but it could be (ideally), and I would, without a doubt, pin the shit out of it.

Thinking about this, I’ve come to understand that the alienation I was experiencing is actually the heart of these perfumes, and central to the whole design aesthetic as well. Scandinavian design – elegant, understated, and pared-down until it feels almost too stark. It’s a philosophy that hinges on the hybrid between organic and synthetic: nature simply crafted to fit man, but in ways that revere this same nature. Pencil shavings and steel.

If you’re ever in the area or come upon it, I highly suggest you give it a try. It’s totally unisex.

Not Comme des Garçons – 2 Man (2004)

Disappointment, already an unpleasant emotion, is always intensified by the coloring of one’s expectations. To really, really look forward to something, to build it up in one’s imagination until it exceeds all of its realistic dimensions — this is an unfortunate reality most of us are familiar with. Previously, we’ve exercised these hopes for schoolyard crushes, Christmas gifts. Then, university applications, first dates, second chances.


Not to be overdramatic, but this is how I felt about Comme des Garçons’ 2 Man. (Whereas certain people have the emotional range of a teaspoon, I hyperextend.) I came upon it in a menswear shop in Montreal, at the beginning of the year. A close friend had tried it on, and it peeled itself layer by layer on his wrist, magnificently. We sniffed at it repeatedly on the way back to his apartment.

Perplexed as to its constituents, an investigation was launched immediately: white smoke, incense, saffron, mahogany, vetiver, leather. If my perfect match existed on paper, this was it. A true soulmate-level compatibility. Certain interests are piqued by appearances, and others by rumoured defining traits — I had liked what these notes were saying about the cologne. Like the infatuation forged when a cute date shares your taste in literature, my interest became an obsession. (As I said, hyperextension.)

I had left the shop without trying it on, not believing at the time that a cologne of 2 Man‘s nature could be successfully worn by a woman. I don’t know what kind of self-limiting witchcraft  I was exposed to, but there it is. I didn’t think I could live up to it. (In my defence, the tagline was: “a worker, a man who loves his work.” I don’t aspire to such standards.) But when a friend introduced me to The Perfumed Court and its overwhelming decanting possibilities, I ordered it immediately. Surely, it would reward my fondness with a good projection, a rich and enduring complexity.

And of course, it didn’t. It stank. I smelled like an elderly hoarder with a proclivity for medicine and ink. Gutted, I wore it repeatedly, offering up my wrist to any willing nose — many noses were unwilling, but obliged by friendship and/or proximity. In the feedback I gathered, descriptives were rich and plentiful: they ranged from ‘attractive but slightly dusty librarian’ to ‘refined cougar’, to ‘what you might be in 40 years if you didn’t age well.’ Sum all, not positive. My disappointment welled.

And honestly, I should have known better. It was, for all intents and purposes, an anosmic* date. (*Research was needed for this. Whereas words denoting most sensual deprivations –blind, mute, deaf, numb — are integrated into the English vernacular, the sense of smell has been revealingly left out. Anosmic: relating to an impairment or loss of the sense of smell.)

Plus, the outcome is to be expected: for one, the individuality of body chemistry not withstanding, male and female bodies vastly differ in muscle/fat distribution, and consequently in thermoregulation. A man’s exterior body temperature is noticeably higher than a woman’s (no scientific references here, but personal empiricism – just watch whom your cats gravitate towards). As such, my body was never going to yield the same  scents as my friend did. This is why I can’t have nice things.