Review: Guerlain Vol de Nuit — 5.0 points

During the golden age of aviation, the general sentiment was one of exploration, adventure, and fascination with the unexplored. This is because these could be made possible by the advent of aviation. Such sentiments pervaded the air of the time, and therefore, when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the novel Vol de Nuit or ‘Night Flight’ in 1931 based on his experience as an aviator, it became an international best-seller. Its tale of a courageous pilot braving the night storm and plunging himself into an unknown fate whilst his dear wife awaited the grave news moved many.

As perfumery caught on this l’air du temp, perfumer Jacques Guerlain — himself a friend of Saint-Exupéry — composed Vol de Nuit (Guerlain, 1933) in honour of the pioneering aviator. The resplendent composition of green, floral, woody, and animalic elements was most avant-garde, and did not lend itself to any immediately recognisable category.

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The extrait de parfum that I acquired in 2015 opens with a snap of bitter-green galbanum and wonderfully tart bergamot. The latter recalls the fine tartness of Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) in the top.  More importantly, I like the way the galbanum is intertwined with bergamot, creating a temperamental green character that is, at once, fierce and gentle. From then on, Vol de Nuit begins its descent into the bottomless pit.

The dark green ripples of jonquille absolute bridge the green top with their deep mellow touch. Then, I smell what is effectively a Guerlinade accord. It is a soft oriental powder revolving around jasmine, orange blossom, orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. Throughout, the powerful leathery and animalic note of castoreum is present and becomes more evident as the composition develops. Its animalic allure maintain the gravity of the composition. The dry down is a combination of resins, amber, and a light touch of oakmoss. Much later, it smells of resinous woods.

My impression of Vol de Nuit in the extrait de parfum is that it is a dense and most beautiful atramentum. I must admit, though, that I had a hard time at first because of the castoreum funk and the fierce and dark green notes of galbanum and jonquille. But a few times of wearing it changed my mind. This is because a composition like Vol de Nuit demands patience. It takes time to play out the sublime depth of the notes.

Vol de Nuit is all about the depth of night, but neither is the familiar contrast of cool and warm notes missing. There is plenty in the fresh green top versus the animalic warm base. Jacques Guerlain brought disparate elements together, despite their strong and seemingly irreconcilable differences. There are the greens of galbanum and jonquille, the floral-oriental and the feral impertience of castoreum and resinous notes. The heterogeneity of Vol de Nuit is what gives the anticipation and the excitement of charting an unknown territory. That is why I admire and covet Vol de Nuit. It feels like raw instinct as one plunges into the abyss.

More than eight decades later and stripped of some of its animalic tinctures and oakmoss, it is still daring, bold, and certainly one of a kind.

Source: guerlain.fr

Review: Chanel N°5 L’Eau — 4.0 points

A flanker of Chanel N°5 (1921) aiming at the modern crowd must not only possess the glamour and history of its forbear, but also appeal to modern taste. Perfumer Jacques Polge bore that in mind: the structure must be kept, but some old-fashioned notes reduced or replaced. The result was Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008) — made more transparent to highlight certain notes, but still faithful to the original. Effortless sophistication.

That responsibility has fallen to his son and successor Olivier Polge who took the rein early in 2015 as in-house perfumer. And, in creating the latest flanker for an even younger crowd, namely women in their twenties, he accorded the same respect. Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016) thus exudes the vivacity of a young mademoiselle, but at the same time, possesses the bearing of its predecessor.leau

The aldehydic shards, for which the opening of Chanel N°5 is infamous, are reduced to just a dash in L’Eau. The exuberance of citrus and neroli sets the bright tone. It is transparent, fresh, sparkling as I imagine the perfect eau de cologne version of Chanel N°5 should be.

Its iconic floral bouquet is sheer and well-blended, but all the flowers are still vying for attention. I can make out the components now and then. Sunny heady ylang ylang dominates; jasmine petals are scattered here and there; and the spicy and green nuance of rose imbues the composition with a strong rosy accent.

L’Eau is also heavy on musks and sweet vanilla, but it feels tender. If the rich, balsamic, animalic dry down of Chanel N°5 were velvet, then the cottony radiant musk of L’Eau would be layers of shimmering organza. But those anosmic to certain musks may find L’Eau even more reticent than is the case.

L’Eau is an example of how a good flanker should be. The spirit of the great grand dame – the hesperedic top, the floral bouquet, and the musky woods — is kept alive in a different light. The vivacity of citrus is emphasised and the musky dry down is radiant. The aldehydic and powdery aspects are also reduced. This lighter take on the original icon resembles Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008), but is even more light-hearted and jovial even. Its ingredients smell of quality. And, I am sure those other than its target audience will be pleased.

source: chanel.fr

Review: Guerlain Bois d’Arménie — 4.5 points

Papier d’arménie is a curious object. The so-called ‘Armenian paper’ is neither a paper for all its purpose and intent, nor is it originated from Armenia. In fact, it was a French innovation. Auguste Ponsot had observed during his travels in the Ottoman Empire that the inhabitants often burnt incense to perfume their homes. Upon his return, he worked with pharmacist Henri Rivier to develop a method that facilitated the process. The result was papier d’arménie. They are paper strips that have been soaked in tinctures of benzoin, styrax, frankincense, and other sweet balsams before they are dried, and they emanate sweet incense upon combustion.

Perfumer Annick Ménardo took to these fragrant, combustible strips of paper and created Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006). It is a composition of glowing, sweet incense that reminisces the paper strips, but with a polished style.

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It opens with a brief pink pepper that marries well with its oriental theme. The rest is a bulk of balsamic incense. That sounds like a hefty theme indeed, but in the adept hands of perfumer Annick Ménardo, it is rendered luminous. She has a knack for interpreting heavy accords in a radiant manner, and one only needs to smell Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) to see how she lifts a rich iris-musk accord with plenty of frankincense oil and Ambrox to create the impression of warm, crisp driftwoods.

Likewise, the treacly sweetness of balsams and benzoin in Bois d’Arménie are offset by frankincense. Iris, meanwhile, lends its powdery touch to mellow the sharp resinous note of frankincense. And, patchouli rounds the accord with woody richness. Then, throw in guaiac wood, and the overall effect is a soft, glowing balsam with accents of smoky woods and rose petals.

It finishes on a musky, balsamic incense note. I especially like how its incense crackles, sending out its rich noble notes over a balmy and dulcet base. In a way, it is like the extinguished Armenian papers oozing its fragrant incense smoke. The difference is that the polished glow of Bois d’Arménie never fades. It lasts well, and throughout the day, I feel as though I were wrapped in a warm cocoon. Its soft glowing presence begs one to lean in and inquire as to the nature of this addictive, cosy scent.

Source: guerlain.fr

The Reassurance and Wisdom of Huang Yuxing’s Paintings

And ne forhtedon ná — ‘Be not afraid’ is a phrase from an Anglo-Saxon poem commemorating the Battle of Maldon, during which the Anglo-Saxon, despite their gallantry, were defeated by the Viking marauders. It was also the inspiration for the great twentieth-century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges who was not afraid to explore the chaos of disrupted narrative and literary forgery that blurs fact and fiction. And, Huang Yuxing is another kindred spirit who has found his tome of wisdom in the leitmotif: ‘Be not afraid’.

Humans face the unexpected and sometimes inevitable facts of life, often accompanied by apprehension and fear. They can be grim, but humans are resilient creatures with a capacity for adaptation and survival. These can be invaluable lessons in life, and something wondrous may be born of such tribulations. Thus, in his recent works, Yuxing encourages us to look at such happenings with a positive outlook just like his source of inspiration: And ne forthedon ná.

Such wisdom pervades his works. For example, it might suggest that such changes, however foreboding they are, might unexpectedly turn out to give cause for delight. And, the moment I stepped into Galerie Perrotin, I was greeted with a psychedelic eruption of colours and patterns in ‘New Order Hurtling Down The Proletariat’. The exuberant outburst of neon colours somehow had given me an inexplicable sense of exultation even before I read the title of the work.

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New Order Hurtling Down The Proletariat

Indeed, the skull-like forms embedded amongst the rigid geometric crystals represent the impoverished proletariat, and they are being bombarded by changes of all sorts in the forms of colourful beams. The result is a turbulent moment of liberation and an outpour of feelings, and the proletariat, seemingly from the vivid palette of colours, might even enjoy this process. The bottom line is ‘be not afraid’ of these changes.

My favourite from this series is ‘Software Factory’. Ignoring the title for a moment, it feels to me that the work contemplates the passage of human existence as one space of fluid colours dissolving into another geometric space. It looks as though they were passing on our human essences. I particularly like this painting because it gives a sense of continuity. As our corporeal body fades, our spirit remains and we pass it on to the next generation. Here, Yuxing’s wisdom once again prevails.

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Software Factory

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Maternal Body

Beside the inspirational theme, what makes the work striking also shines through the various motifs. The splash of neon colours, the geometric forms, and the skull-like objects act as signifiers. With an adept hand, they are rendered smooth and benign even, free of any macabre associations. Simply look at ‘Maternal Body’ and one realises that the skulls, albeit born of a grim reality, have become quite the contrary. I find these elements most reassuring and they guide us back to the leitmotif — And ne forhtedon ná.

Source: Galerie Perrotin

History and Review: Houbigant Fougère Royale — 4.0 points

Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) is a composition that represents the defining turn of perfumery. It is the first fine perfume to employ a synthetic compound, coumarin, the principal odorant of tonka bean. It also started the trend of complex, abstract ideas in perfumes. Most evidently, it gave birth to the fougère or ‘fern’ family, which is an interplay of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. In this accord, citrus usually adds a sparkle to the top, whilst the heart often contains geranium, and the base contains woody, animalic, and/or ambery notes.

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Original Fougère Royale

The fougère family is one of the most popular and versatile style. It includes iconic successors like Jicky (Guerlain, 1889), Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent, 1981), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche, 1982), and Cool Water (Davidoff, 1988). Recent launches such as Brit Rhythm For Women (Burberry, 2014) and Boy (Chanel, 2016) can reaffirm that the fougère never goes out of style. For this reason, Fougère Royale is simply revolutionary.

In creating it, perfumer Paul Parquet used coumarin in combination with the natural essences of citrus and aromatic herbs. The result gave a twist of character to the familiar classical eau de cologne. Its complexity made Fougère Royale intriguing to discover and its strong character was memorable.

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Re-launched Fougère Royale in 2010

Even in the re-orchestrated version by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, there is no mistaking its fougère identity. Although thin, the building blocks are still in place. The transparency and freshness of bergamot open the composition to an aromatic character marked by a combination of lavender and Provençal herbs. Geranium also lends a green accent. Meanwhile, the spicy contrast is provided by nutmeg and a carnation accord. The notes are well-blended and nothing specifically stands out.

These cool herbs are paired with a warm mossy musk. It recalls the bitter-sweet, classic note of a barber shop with animalic suede-like warmth. Its contrasting idea of cool and warm notes is not unlike the striking contrasts found in many of Guerlain’s creations that succeeded it, starting from Jicky (1889).

The re-orchestrated Fougère Royale is worth a sniff just for the fact that it is a milestone in perfumery. From the brightness of its hesperidic opening and the rustic charms of aromatic herbs to the surprising ruggedness of mossy notes, the re-formulated version offers a glimpse of the classical fougère accord with modern transparency. However, its lasting power will surprise you. It also feels neat and smart with a penchant for old-school stylishness. It easily puts many modern launches of this year to shame.

Sources: houbigant-parfums.com, aromyth.com

  1. Perkin, W. H. (1868). “On the artificial production of coumarin and formation of its homologues”. Journal of the Chemical Society. 21: 53–63.