One of my aims in life is to keep Patty happy with smell pleasures, and my samples up for review today will be winging their way across the Atlantic as you read this – if I can dare to part with them, that is. Because, for these past five days, I’ve been falling in love. Teased, caressed, confused and discombobulated, I need someone else to unpick these three fragrances for me, because I’ve been blinded by their beauty. Well, to be honest, I’ve only got eyes for one of them, though I’d hate you to let the other two know as they’re both great for flirting.
I am, of course, writing about the Parfum d’Empire trio, released sometime later this month: Osmanthus Interdite, Equistrius, Fougere Bengale. First, the background schtick – the line is the brainchild of Corsican Marc Antoine Corticchiato. He designs the bottles, does the historical research and creates the perfumes themselves. And all of that is done with impressive skill and artistic flair. He’s apparently an exacting nose when it comes to what he wants in a fragrance – the iris / rose / amber / sandalwood has to be EXACTLY right, or else… I’m not sure that his perfumes are recreations of scents of the past; to me they seem to be homages in a modern style to periods and people of historical richness. So far, we’ve had Napoleon and Josephine (Eau de Gloire, Eau Suave), Alexander (Iskander), the nineteenth century Russian court in all its heady opulence (Ambre Russe) and my favourite, the wealth and sophistication of the Ottoman Empire (Cuir Ottoman). While historians among us may question the wilful romanticism of these visions – where’s the blood, sweat and tears of culture here? – it’s much more difficult to doubt the beauty of at least one or two of these scents. There’s something for everyone here.
So, as I arrived at Les Senteurs last Friday, I did wonder where Corticchiato might go next. The lovely SAs at the best perfume store in Britain (FACT!) gave me free rein over the tiny sample bottles they’ve received as a pre-release, and they also made me the aforementioned vials to take away. Of course, I was distracted by the other glistening goodies instore, but kept returning to the newbies, because there was much to fascinate me there. I’d say, as a preamble, that the latest three are much more abstractions on a theme, rather than portraits. I might attempt to explain why, though it’s likelier I’ll be lazy and sloppy in my review. Never mind!
Osmanthus Interdite: L´osmanthus, fleur reine de la Chine, possà¨de une saveur fine aux accents d´abricot. Osmanthus Interdite, dont le nom est un clin d´Å“il à la majestueuse Cité Interdite de Pékin, évoque aussi la Chine d´aujourd´hui et ses nouveaux Empereurs. Les capitalistes rouges´ triomphent en Chine, conquerrant le XXIà¨me sià¨cle à coup de projets colossaux. Ils modernisent l´Empire millénaire et conduisent vers son prodigieux destin prà¨s du quart de l´humanité. Le parfum s´ouvre sur les notes fraà®ches d´un thé chinois aux accents verts et hespéridés. Autour de la rose et du jasmin, le cÅ“ur dévoile la saveur fruitée fleurie de l´osmanthus, qui évolue vers un sillage légà¨rement cuiré. Les muscs, cristallins, viennent clore la fragrance.
Helpful? Osmoz only has the details in French – I’ll leave it to you to babelfish or googletranslate it – I’m sure the mangling will be amusing. Though, it’s simple enough to get the gist of the message – an homage to China, represented by the Osmanthus, that refers to the past (the Forbidden City of Beijing) and the new capitalism of the 21st century, representing a quarter of the planet’s population. Not much to ask in a perfume, is it? So, what’s the juice like? I don’t get much in the way of red, personally. In fact, I’d be happy to swap the rich velvet red label on this one with the white one on the Equistrius bottle, partly because it does strike me as a delicate and ethereal fruity-floral, much like something in the Jean-Claude Ellena style. It starts with a finely subtle tea note that holds down the fruitier edges of osmanthus and plays up its more floral qualities. It’s supposed to be green tea, though that wasn’t necessarily clear to me. It was noticeably unfermented though – perhaps even a white tea note? As the fragrance develops, it gets both more floral (the support of the jasmine, the power of the rose – though I get no distinct high-pitched rose here) and fruitier, as the apricot aspects become prominent. And then the drydown – a definite leathery quality, like a light suede. It’s beautifully rendered and so not me, whereas Hermes’s Osmanthe Yunnan, perhaps this perfume’s most obvious point of reference, definitely is. What they share in common is the transparent quality they have – they are both silk like, built up of diaphanous layers so that you can see (pale) colours separately, as well as a blend. Whereas Osmanthe Yunnan seems to rely on hesperidic sparkle anchored by mossy basenotes, this scent, in its pale and innocent floral richness – hence the white – is too feminine for me. Conventional old me, eh?
Equistrius is the horsey one. Supposed to represent the might and majesty of the Roman equine worship, I was expecting something animalic and sweaty, more along the lines of Cuir Ottoman I guess. Instead, this opens up on a sparkling iris accord, supported by a twinkle of violets as far as Osmoz claims. It’s more like Lutens’s Iris Silver Mist, or The Different Company’s Bois d’Iris in its first few minutes – an iris that avoids powderiness completely and instead goes for the brilliance of the first shafts of sunlight on cold ground. I’ve tried to picture a horse, and all I imagine is a white stallion located somewhere in Ted Hughes’s eponymous poem.
Except for a few minutes of aftershaviness (funny how scents can do that – it’s all butch for a while and then snap! it vanishes as quickly as it arrived), this perfume is exactly ambiguous in its sexual identity. It slowly warms up, becoming more ambery, and woodier, but with the softness of high quality sandalwood, rather than the often coarser cedar (don’t tell Serge I said that!). I definitely get the chocolate, but this steers far clear of gourmand land and just adds to the enveloping warmth of the composition. Not a snort or bray to be found. So, as a scent its an interesting juxtaposition of chilly opening, clean as frost, and warm snuggle. Decant-worthy, at the very least.
Now onto love. Fougere Bengale is enigmatic. When I sprayed it on in the store, I was startled by its apparent similarity to Eau Noire or Sables. But that was smell memory tricking me – the spiciness pretended it was immortelle, but I’m now not sure there’s any of that weirdly spicey-sweet beautiful-ugliness in there. It’s nothing like those two perfumes. In fact, each time I test this scent (and no more spraying iunfortunately, which I imagine is exactly what this scent really needs), I get something different. Gingerbread and Christmas one moment; curry the next; bucolic rolls in the hay a little while later; then another time, beautiful tobacco – it’s doing the blond tobacco thing as I type, in fact. It’s a shapeshifter in extremis and five days of sniffing hasn’t been enough for me to pin it down. So, looking at the notes as listed on Osmoz, I can agree with all of them. Because, most curious of all, it is obviously a classic fougere. There’s a buzz, a thrum, in what a fougere does on the skin – when it works that is – as the perfume notes play off against each other. In something like Rive Gauche pour Homme, it gives the overall composition a salty quality, as Luca Turin wisely noted on his long defunct blog. There’s a salty-sweet thrum here too that, in spite of all the OTHER CRAZY STUFF going on, never lets you forget that you’re in weirdly mixed up classic territory. And in the base, if all that isn’t enough, there’s a funkily animalic party occurring too – the tiger of the story, no doubt.
This should be a mess. It isn’t. It’s wonderful – frequently restrained, at times refined, but on the verge of collapse at any moment, with claws out at the very end. It’s supposed to be the Victorian Empire in India – perhaps here, Corticchiato gets his history right. A bottle is mine as soon as it hits the shelves.