Monday, September 17, 2012

Multiple Rouge by Humiecki and Graef

There's really nothing else like Multiple Rouge, which has made it difficult to write about. My favorite of the offbeat Humiecki and Graef line, it's somehow simultaneously weirder than it sounds, and tamer. There's no denying it's a big bowl of fruity berries, a sort of study in various succulent hues of red. There's no getting around the immortelle, which, like patchouli, is going to be a deal breaker for some. But somehow, these two, encouraged by a dash of coriander, play nice. Multiple Rouge is similar to the fruitchouli, but something else altogether, thanks to the immortelle and a salted caramel effect.

The berries have a darker quality than, say, the explosive brightness of a fragrance like Byredo Pulp, but Pulp is a useful comparison. Like Multiple Rouge, Pulp is an oversized fantasy take on fruit. Still, for all its outlandish strangeness, Multiple Rouge is a far mellower wear. Moodier, too. Pineapple and peach complicate things, arranging the scent into interesting tensions. This is tart but seasoned pineapple, and a stewed peach. Together they seem to conjure something like apple, if not in the shape of anything you'd want to eat.

There's a savory feel to Multiple Rouge unlike anything I've smelled in a berried fragrance. While it isn't gourmand in any conventional way, it nevertheless feels foody. There's something aquatic going on as well. So: berry, salt, apple, peach, pineapple, ozonic, immortelle. See what I mean?

People talk about Multiple Rouge's sense of playfulness. Beyond words, it's a study in absurdity, fragrance as delighted squeal. Just as many seem to feel the joke's on them, and fail to see the humor. Did I mention the booziness? Those apples and berries are on their way to some kind of special, simmering brew, the kind you find in a Crock-pot around the holidays, spiked to get you through Uncle Ed's second wind; dash of grenadine, dash of cognac.

I appreciate Multiple Rouge's unusualness, but wear it seriously. It's one of my favorite immortelle scents, along with Fougere Bengale, Sables, Eau Noire, and 1740.

Top photo: Bert Stern
Middle: Norman Parkinson
Bottom: Irving Penn

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Miss Dior le Parfum: One of Those Things That's Not Like the Other

Dior has never been one for leaving a good thing unbroken. Fahrenheit, while nowhere near what it used to be, remains within the company's inventory, but has spawned something like seven flankers - and counting. J'Adore, a bit of a ghost of its former self as well, has been parlayed into its own cottage industry, with about fourteen related "versions", including limited editions, seasonal variations, anniversary distillations, and one extrait and absolute after another. Since launching in 1999, J'Adore has been subjected to these updates or additions annually.  Addict and Dior Homme have been handled similarly.

At the same time, Dior has shown some superficial sensitivity to the preservation of its antiques, housing them, however renovated, within the collection called "Les Creations de Monsieur Dior", a funny name maybe, considering the monsieur in question would presumably be Christian himself, whose name has been removed from the brand for some years, which is simply now referred to as "Dior." It's questionable at this point just who Monsieur is meant to mean: Christian, or François Demachy, the man responsible for overseeing these various "collections" and for re-orchestrating (i.e. reformulating) their constituent fragrances.

Diorling, Diorella, Diorama, and Dioressence bear little resemblance to the scents they once were. Demachy has argued that the auteur theories about perfumers are overstatements, if not misleading simplifications. A fragrance like Ungaro Diva, commonly regarded as an early composition by Jacques Polge, was in fact, Demachy has asserted, more collaborative, representing the work of several well known perfumers, among them Demachy himself. I don't doubt it; nor do I believe that our romance about perfumers and the sanctity of their work properly accounts for the bigger picture reality of business as usual at a large aroma-chemical corporate entity like Givaudin or Symrise.

Demachy has something more at stake in this line of argument promoting the devaluation of single authorship in mass market perfumery.  Dior's parent company, LVMH (of which Demachy is "super creative director"), has moved to take over Dior's fragrances, previously owned as we knew them by chemical corporations (such as Givaudin and Symrise, et al) which copyrighted the original in-house formulas. By creating these variations, Dior and LVMH seek to restore their ownership and control; slightly different names, slightly different formulas, made with materials other than those owned by the companies who patented them. The fact the resulting fragrances bear little resemblance to their namesakes is I guess apparently neither here nor there, unless you are a consumer who fell in love with the originals. Still, you have to ask yourself what Dior doesn't seem to be asking itself - is it worth holding onto these names if they gradually move so far astray of recognizability that what's in a name means next to nothing? Demachy says yes indeedy, by contesting, however justifiably, issues of authorship.

Miss Dior Cherie and Miss Dior are the first real indication of what all this means for those of us with our fingers on the atomizer. Created by perfumer Christine Nagel for Givaudin, the original Miss Dior Cherie was maybe one of the best iterations of what we now know as the category fruity patchouli. It had an interesting tension to it, part strawberry, part caramel, part buttered popcorn. It bore some relation to Angel, but was brighter somehow, its contrasts, though bold, not quite as confrontational. Some loved it, some hated it. In the last several years, Dior and LVMH seem to have used Miss Dior Cherie as a litmus for how far they can take Dior's fragrances away from their vocabulary, and as a barometer for the usefulness of that vocabulary in the first place.

Miss Dior Cherie is now, for all intents and purposes, Miss Dior, and Miss Dior is something no one talks about. We all know it existed. We all know this Miss Dior is not that one. That Miss Dior, I imagine Demachy would be the first to point out, was already very little who she'd once been. She'd been, as we say, gutted. Though still recognizable, facelifts had rendered her indefinably altered. We lamented the changes, however hard they were to pinpoint. Demachy seems to be saying that nothing remains the same, so laboring over a name is a pointless endeavor. But trying to pinpoint the changes, I'd argue, with an existing reference point - i.e a name - was useful in some way. What happens when the reference point is evacuated entirely? The reference points are arguably essential, if only to attempt to qualify how over time things inevitably change, and what change means as an ongoing reality.

The conversation generated by those kinds of ongoing comparisons (between original and reformulation, for instance) is killed as far as Miss Dior is concerned. Before long, it will be as if the conversation never happened. The conversation will live on in our minds, vague over time, the way the original Miss Dior, or its facsimiles, will. Imagine the dialogue at your local department store now, where the Dior sales associate will look at you foggy eyed when you assert that there was once a Miss Dior of a different stripe, that Miss Dior is not in fact simply Miss Dior Cherie renamed and rebottled. Try to imagine a conversation of this kind, dealing in nuance and subtle distinction, with associates who still actively contend there is no difference between an eau de parfum and an eau de toilette. These are, typically, people who, as it stands, treat anything they don't stock as fictitious. I have to question Dior's game plan, after my experience buying Miss Dior le Parfum. The Dior associate who helped me spent twenty minutes trying to track down just what I was looking for, with all the boxes (Miss Dior eau de Parfum, Miss Dior Cherie EDT, Miss Dior Cherie EDP, Miss Dior Eau Fraiche, etc.) lined up right under her nose. Try cultivating brand loyalty when determining what exactly the brand is involves an afternoon-long excavation.

Miss Dior le Parfum smells lovely. There are remnants or echoes of original Miss Dior Cherie in it, though nothing I can discern remotely connected to the original Miss Dior. Like much of what Demachy has done, there is an abiding amber creaminess to Miss Dior le Parfum. It's rich, if not particularly expansive. There's something like strawberry in it, marinated in an abundance of vanilla, amber, and refined patchouli. One wonders, smelling it on cloth or paper, whether anyone involved in its creation ever actually smelled it on skin, because on skin that richness becomes a bit self-absorbed - rarefied and stingy like the girl at the party who knows everyone will eventually come to her. Like J'Adore L'Or and Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle, both also by Demachy, Miss Dior le Parfum approaches embarrassment of riches, in the sense that it is almost too refined to bother with pleasing anyone but itself, let alone you. It makes the most sense on a paper strip, where it plays out slowly.

It's one of the more exciting things at the department store counter right now, and that makes it seem very exciting indeed. How exciting is that, when the barometer is lower than the final stages of a drunken game of limbo, where the bar is down where only the truly inebriated would dare to crouch? I love it, with some kind of qualification I can't put my finger on, but who can spot much with a moving target? What exactly am I comparing it to, and why bother? It's a great fragrance: something old, something new, a department store fragrance done well. It invites a series of fantasies. It lasts reasonably well. And it has no relationship to anything I can attach emotional significance to.

It has nothing at all to do with its namesake, and hardly needs to, so I suppose the problem for me lies with Demachy, Dior, and LMVH. While I sympathize with their position, I find their tactics dishonest and offensive. It's a small thing, ultimately. They're telling me that the name means nothing. And yet they're fighting hard to keep it, which indicates otherwise. We all know, as consumers, that these names do in fact mean many things, many infinitely personal things. These creations live with us and become parts of our narratives. I trust Demachy, at least, knows this. It's one thing to be told that things change and that, for instance, the fragrance your mother or your grandmother wore as an integral part of her identity and your understanding of her will go the way of all relics. It's quite another to assert that you might as well play fast and loose with these cultural signifiers, insisting on the one hand that they mean very little, even as you work hard to capitalize on their mystique.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Comme des Garçons: Original

A good ten years before I started collecting perfume in earnest, I visited New York, and made a stop at Barney's. I'd always loved perfume but I didn't wear it much, if ever. I had an old bottle of Coriandre and a few other things, and I kept these in the bathroom cabinet, back when there was room to do such a thing. I'm not sure what I was doing at Barney's, or why I felt it necessary to go - but Comme des Garçons had just come out, and it was heavily represented on the first floor, and there wasn't much time wasted between smelling it and purchasing it.

A few years later, I gave my practically full bottle away. A friend really loved it, and it was hard to make an argument with myself for keeping it, given I never wore it. Several years later, once I had quite a few fragrances, so much that there was no more room in the bathroom cabinet, I was in said friend's bathroom and saw my old bottle of Comme des Garçons sitting there on the counter. I smelled it again and tried to remember why I'd thought it rational in any way to part with it. Within a few weeks I'd purchased another bottle online.

Marc Buxton created this fragrance in 1994, and while there might have been a few things like it at the time, I'd never smelled them. Intensely woody and spicy, Comme des Garçons explores now standard territory for niche (and even mainstream) perfumery - CDG itself has investigated nearly every facet represented here in its own range of perfumes since - and yet, nearly fifteen years later, the fragrance smells entirely new each time I smell it.

Interviewed upon its release, Buxton spoke of the freedom he was given - and the responsibility that came with it. Given carte blanche creatively, he was limited only by his conviction that the fragrance should be something one could, and would want to, wear. It is wearable, but also stratifying. The alleged medicinal aspects of Comme des Garçons waver on a line that divides opinion. That said, this is no Secretions Magnifiques. I say alleged because I've never gotten any such medicinal thing smelling it. I get woods (sandalwood, cedar), spices (cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, coriander), incense (frankincense), honey, and something which conjures rose. The overall impression for me is something as boozy and illicit as a prohibition speakeasy - a little wood, a little leather, the sense of something you wear with the intent of getting yourself into some trouble.

Comme des Garçons is long lasting but not hugely diffusive on me. It falls into a category I have no name for in my collection but which includes Black Cashmere, L'Air du Desert Marocain, Yatagan, Norma Kamali Incense, Monk, Moschino de Moschino, and Jubilation XXV, among others. What is that category, exactly? You'd have to tell me. When I feel like what CDG has to offer, nothing else, not Lutens, Montale, the Incense Series, or even any other fragrance in this loose category will do. Of all the interesting things Marc Buxton has done, this remains my favorite.

Friday, September 7, 2012

By Hové: Three from New Orleans

I'd been living in Memphis a good two decades, a hop and a skip away from New Orleans, and a couple of years into collecting all things perfume, before I learned about Hové Parfumeur. Located on Chartres St., in the French Quarter, Hové has been around a lot longer than I've been around here, let alone anywhere. The store opened for business in 1931, right after the worst stock market crash in history.

Opening a luxury perfume house during an economic depression seems like the kind of bold, if not foolish, move only the truly deluded would make, but like other forms of entertainment - movies, for instance - perfume offered a reasonable and useful distraction, if not relief, from overall financial duress. While it might have been tempting to view Hové's founder and perfumer, Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King, as a naive woman when her bright idea struck, it's now just as tempting to view her along the lines of a small-scale Coco Chanel, somewhat visionary in her understanding of the things which sustain people during hardship, priceless commodities for which they're willing to pay with what little money they have.

Her husband's investment business went the way of the crash. There must have been few other prospects. Opening a perfumery was a wild hair idea, maybe, but probably less ridiculous than doing nothing. The couple lived above the first shop, located on Royal Street. In 1938, the year that Commander Hovey died, the outfit moved to Toulouse. Again, Mrs. Hovey lived in an apartment above the store.

In 1961, the widowed Hovey, having survived her husband by over twenty years, passed away, leaving the brand to her daughter and granddaughter. Before its move to Chartres, Hové was moved to one other location. Since the death of its founder it has been passed along to several generations of the extended Hovey family. Currently, it's being run by the Wendels, husband and wife, who, like Mrs. Hovey, live above the shop.

Mrs. Hovey is said to have learned the craft of perfumery from her Creole French mother. There's very little about Hové online, other than the company's website, and I've been unable to find out who its "house" perfumer is now. Several of the fragrances - there are quite a few - are said to have been revived, suggesting reformulation. I still haven't made it over to the storefront, but friends have visited and, calling me on the phone from the counter, relayed their impressions based on what they imagined I would like.

Hové sells parfum extrait and eau de cologne versions ranging in sizes from half ounce to four ounce splashes. A half ounce of extrait runs for 55 to 65 dollars, depending on the line. The smallest cologne comes in a 2 ounce atomizer and costs 31 or 37.

After our telephone conversation, a friend brought me back Vetiver, Fascinator, and Spanish Moss, the three I felt might be most up my alley, or at least as good a place as any to start. Of the three, I've smelled only the vetiver in both cologne and extrait formulations.

VETIVERT is the safest bet. It's one of the nicer vetivers I've smelled; strong - and persistent - enough to satisfy in either concentration. Hové's Vetivert is raw and peppery. Of the many vetivers I know, I'd say Encre Noire comes closest. As much as I love Encre Noire, I prefer Hové's version: it's rawer still. For all its earthiness, Encre Noire has an airy quality I wish would dig deeper. Even in cologne form, Hové's vetiver maintains the rooty opacity of the best vetiver oil. Despite this, it isn't a "thick" wear. It's just that it doesn't bat its eyes at you. It has none of the cheery bright reassurance of the present day Guerlain Vetiver.

SPANISH MOSS is my second favorite. The subject of some debate in the few online reviews I've read, it is said to be either the perfect moss or nothing close. It smells plenty mossy to me. Hové's website doesn't list much by way of notes, but on one customer review they're listed as: Lilac, lemon, rose, orange blossom, osmanthus, orris, heliotrope, myrrh, and vanilla. That all sounds about right to me, and sniffing my wrist I get more than anything the heliotrope, vanilla, rose, and orange blossom. Why there isn't any moss in the formula, if in fact there isn't, is something you'd have to take up with the ghost of Mrs. Hovey, but like Nahema, a rose which is said to contain anything but, Spanish Moss conjures the impression of sweet, dry moss with a floral wind running through it. The extrait lasts respectably, with modest projection.

FASCINATOR, according to the Hové website, is a medley of musks and moss. It's an old school scent, to my nose somewhere along the chypre continuum - falling on the light side. Aspects of the fragrance remind me of 31 Rue Cambon, which isn't to say they smell alike; only that both get close to what I imagine people must mean when they talk about modern day chypres. In other words, they smell like the present with a distinct nod to the past. Fascinator smells best right out of the bottle, and I wish it would stay that way. It fades to a murmur too quickly for my taste. I picture the little pieces of drama it's named after, those vintage hats, and I want it to have more of their flair.

All three of these Hové scents, while wearable as modern perfumery, rather than mere curiosity pieces of the past, have a definite vintage vibe to them.

Hové doesn't seem to offer sample vials, so it's a bit of a crap shoot exploring the line. The packaging is fairly utilitarian. The bottles are simply labeled, with no particular frills to their silhouettes.  The company also sells soaps in some of the scents it produces. I've smelled vetiver, which was wonderful. I keep trying to find an excuse to get back to New Orleans so I can spend some serious time in the shop, but it hasn't worked out yet.