Wednesday, September 28, 2011

jekyll & hyde

More news from the Eau de Cologne front. Askett & English is a recently launched firm from Marlow in bucolic Buckinghamshire. Askett is the name of a nearby hamlet, not one of the owners, The double name  is supposed to suggest English (fragrance) tradition (think Turnbull & Asser in shirts, Dege & Skinner in suits and of course the high end Czech & Speake, the mid-range Truefitt & Hill, or the TK Maxx bargain bin favorite Asquith & Somerset), as do the restrained packaging (slightly reminiscent of the old Crabtree & Evelyn) and the copy on the website. The Cologne duo of "Essential" and "Absolute" is currently available in Britain at Les Senteurs, outfitters Harvie & Hudson and a number of other reputable addresses. A&E dons the mantles of "artisan perfumery," the "tradition of classic cologne,"and "rare quality and taste." A tall order for a fragrance start-up, but we saw Grossmith pull it off (admittedly, with a long, rich history to draw upon).
Is all this backed up by the fragrances? I believe not. Essential and Absolute (strange names for Eau de Colognes, is this a borrowing from Atelier's "Cologne's Absolue" concept?) are actually a bit Jekyll & Hyde for me. The former is a decent aromatic citrus, the official notes being lemon, bergamot, aromatic herbs, lavender, jasmine, tonka, cedar, vetiver. There's nothing English about it in style, the most obvious reference to me being Goutal's Eau du Sud (A & E do in fact refer to their scents "recalling summers spent in Italy and France."). Essential pales in direct comparison, both in construction, which shows synthetic tailends compared to the flawless natural impression of Eau du Sud, and oil quality. It's a crowded genre to begin and Essential lacks both the ambition to compete with the very best in the field and a new twist which would set it apart from many similar fragrances. I'd roughly class it with Taylor of Old Bond Street quality-wise, who sell at a third of the price of A&E. 
Absolute is a 90s aquatic citrus, pure international style with nothing Britsh or traditional about it. The light bergamot note is overpowered by a generic synthetic cocktail to produce the typical fabric softener effect known from Gendarme and a gazillion other fragrances and "fresh-fragranced" products. If you're a fan of Truefitt & Hill scents, i.e. like the whole Victorian packaging bit but actually prefer a modern aquatic vibe in your fragrance, then this might be for you. As everyone who knows my tastes is aware of, I cannot stand aquatics and this one is no exception. At least it comes cheaper than Serge Lutens' cruel joke, the ridiculously redundant L'Eau. 
A & E has chosen a currently very tight market for itself, with every fragrance house and their grandmother having  issued an Eau de Cologne in recent years. All I can say is good luck.
Meanwhile, my off-the-cuff recommendations for "fortified" Colognes remain:
Monsier Balmain (lemon/bergamot)
Guerlain AA Pamplelune (Grapefruit)
MPG pour le jeune homme (neroli)
MPG Fraiche Baidane (lime, mandarin)
Annick Goutal Eau du Sud or Detaille Aeroplane (aromatic citrus)
Eau Sauvage (bergamot)
Eau de Guerlain (simply brilliant) 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

jitterbug perfume from a garden of delights

Natural perfumer Anya McCoy is a witch, which obviously should be understood as a compliment. It doesn't require mentioning that her creations do not smell like typical synthetic-plus-natural products, but they also transcend the aromatherapy clichés of many natural fragrances. In fact, they speak of a deep wisdom about all manner of plants, as the herb women of yore passed it on from generation to generation. Thus witch (did you know the Royal Mail even features a lovely witch on a stamp? It's Nanny Ogg from Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld, a character worthy of emulation by all of us).
I like to believe that I would smell this wisdom in Anya's perfumes even without knowing about her magic garden in Florida, her ethnobotanical studies and long involvement in organic gardening. They have a certain "je ne sais quoi" that comes about when people genuinely and deeply live what they do ( I'm not being paid for writing this, though please note the samples were provided free of charge :-) ).

I'll be posting about several fragrances from "Anya's Garden" in weeks to come, but Pan deserves an article of its own. It brought a smile to my face the first time I smelled it and still does. Why? Well, for starters, it's a very nice, classic ambery Fougère made from superb materials. That's a good and rare thing and I'm giving bonus points to every perfume these days that will not clobber my nose with cheapo synthetic redundancies because the perfumer had no budget, no time or no more ideas (oh yes, I'm talking $$$$ niche here, not drugstore stuff).

But there's more, beyond the dusty green opening (cedar, hay, lavender), a strong, but really good, non-headshop patchouli that picks up on the dryness and builds a bridge to the gently sweetened beeswaxy drydown (but nothing here is sticky in the least). That "more" is the (billy) goat's hair tincture amply discussed by all reviewers of this scent, which makes the whole thing "Pan out" (cough!). It's not skanky - you have to deduct the droppings, pee and other barnyard details from the animal. This may be a rutty goat, but it is proudly-standing-on-top-of-Olympus-Mons-clean. It's not even erotically animalic (at least in an obvious way), as the homage to Tom Robbins' ribald novel Jitterbug Perfume would suggest, but really quite well-behaved  - definitely there, though, and certainly recognizable if you've spent time around hairy animals. It also seems to modulate the other notes and works nicely to harmonize them in Pan, as it perfectly connects with the coumarinic aspect of the lavender and the leafy-earthy patchouli. Pan can be applied generously, as sillage is rather moderate and it isn't too lasting either (the presence after an hour is very subtle). Great fun while it lasts though, just as those encounters with the horned God, and a beautiful perfume for men and venturous women which one should have around if only to sniff the bottle. My only suggestion would be to release a flanker (Pan-Demonium?) which would sufficiently dirty the original up in the direction of Jicky to create a flat-out erotic variant - a challenge when avoiding civet, but I really think Billy the goat is full of potential. 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (