Monday, April 9

Flowers of night and day - Shanghai Lily the perfume

In the book "The perfume lover" I guide Denyse Beaulieu in the world of night flowers, the most powerful and mysterious scented creatures (book review article). In the picture you have Shanghai Lily, my Easter perfume gift for the author. I made it to reflect the ideas of chapter 18.
Small, tiny and delicate, these flowers do not fade. Night flowers do not die, they become stars on the sky as their fragile being is taken away from this world. They are small and white, they have shapes that are less pretentious than the exuberance of flowers blooming at noon. They have no wrinkles, only the perfection of their scent and the complex chemistry which relates beauty and decay.
In daylight, flowers attract with their amazing colors and enchant our eyes with the beauty of their shapes. Their presence is visual, sometime it is even an illusion because some of the most beautiful roses are almost scentless. But flowers of the dark knows only the power of attraction by scent when bees, hungry for precious honey are dreaming.
Perfumes based on roses are the first to fade, they are the first to go out of fashion because we relate them with images. When a rose in daylight is at the end of its natural cycle we first see its visual corruption, the slightly sour odor of fermentation of the flowers who gave their precious honey and were fertilized thanks to hungry bees. It is not uncommon to notice in the odor of some roses or even in the scent of the expensive rose absolute a note of a decomposing universe similar to the vegetal compost in the garden. But when jasmine and tuberose fade and their death is imminent, the increasing amount of indole and similar molecules of decaying flesh will accentuate the nature of the odor. The flower, though naturally fading, becomes more powerful like the last sparkle before she reaches the stars of the night sky. Its substance emerges with even more power.
In terms of perfume cycles, roses bloom when new ingredients are discovered, often found in traces in the flowers, when new aspects of the flower become dominant or when a rose is rediscovered after it bloomed so many years ago and it was forgotten by everybody. Rose perfumes fade quickly from one generation to another and are those who play a major role in the "old lady smell" - it is not the rose itself, but the interpretation, subject to evolution and decay like the natural flower. When people name "rose", they rarely refer to its specific scent, they speak more often about the visual symbol, the image, the cultural idea of a rose, completely immaterial. Show today the classic Bulgarian rose oils, once sold in small vials in Eastern Europe and half will reject with disgust this scent. In the past there were so many roses in terms of perfume specialties because in order to survive as a perfume concept, this flower needed variation and revolution.
La Rose Jaqueminot, the amazing perfume from Coty, could not be launched today, it can only bloom as a scent idea from time to time. The same paradox of the flower is at the heart of Caron classic perfumes who used a lot of fabulous rose extractions - sometime they were in fashion, but many years they simply smelled "old".
Lily of the valley, a flower blooming in shadow in the morning, is the perfect balance between day and night, with a strong dose of rose alcohols and green notes. Until Roudnitska, perfumers made this flower with a lot of rose molecules and even some ionone-violet, like in the perfumes of Coty and Houbigant. But only the addition of the night facet in Diorissimo gave naturalness and eternity to this scent prototype. Often a lily of the valley scent idea ends as a functional perfume and, decades after, a prototype, once original, seems "faded", though it has survived as a different scented product. More a perfume is "natural", fresh and delicate capturing the elusiveness of nature, less chances it has to survive the next decade in a process which mimics the cycle of odors in nature.
When Coco Chanel said she did not want a rose perfume, certainly a reference to her competitor Paul Poiret who started with La Rose de Rosine in 1911, she made also a fashion statement. In 1921, La Rose Jacqueminot had 17 years. La Rose de Rosine had 10 years, their time was over like the note of Angel (Thierry Mugler) which smells teribly old in 2012 for the young generation. When Jean Patou launched JOY, the masterpiece of Henri Alméras used an overdose of rose, but it had also an impressive amount of jasmine - the women who knew the rose in their childhood, a popular theme before WWI, had their madeleine in a new context.
The perfume of white flowers, when it is interpreted with talent by a great perfumer, survive many years in the complex biology of the market as women age and their skin chemistry changes. New and youthful roses do not match their skin chemistry, while old roses, scent prototypes from previous decades, show their wrinkles with accuracy. On the contrary, white flowers do not age, they have an unknown immortal beauty secret. Rose themes can survive only with a very specific perfume combination. It is the same since the first part of the XIXth century and only the notes set around knew a variation.
Rose chemistry is one of the most important fields of research because it supplies the creator with new elements for a scent which is subject to evolution like the natural floral prototype.
Rose perfumes sell everywhere, every time and very easy. But it is rarely the same "universal" and eternal flower because this plant alone as a solinote does not survive. White flowers might not please at first, but they always survive and decades after, when an old bottle is opened, the perfume emerges as if no oxidation has occurred. I have tuberose-gardenia-jasmine soliflores from end XIXth century or mid 20's and they smell as if they were compounded yesterday.
Horticulturists, for obvious reasons, spent their efforts on the development of rose hybrids in an endless quest for beauty like perfumers made endless variations on roses since end XIXth century. Very few things were done in the universe of night flowers, but thanks to Firmenich we have the most beautiful jasmine and tuberose elements.
The rose paradox - constantly asking for new molecules and new scent combinations because the highly popular flower fades like any queen of the day;
The tuberose paradox - the flower lasts many years, often makes a tremendous unforgettable entrance like a night queen;

A woman wearing a rose perfume is always admired but often forgotten unless her rose is a masterpiece. A woman wearing a night flower is always remembered.
Rose perfumes are highly based on new synthetics. It is not only a question of price, I hardly think a classic rose with huge amounts of absolute and oil would sell today, but new rose extractions or different roses used for extraction can change this. Caron did amazing perfumes, but few consumers are still speaking that language of perfumery. Women buy the idea of a rose, not its scent stricto sensu. Roses found in chemistry their most precious ally and thanks to Firmenich we have today all the wonderful products of their research since the late 1950's. Night flowers like jasmine and tuberose are even more expensive than roses, but their extractions are already a perfume which needs little adjustments. A true revolution will begin when perfumers will have other night flowers at their disposal as extractions or even different hybrids of classic flowers they can smell. People smell roses during the day at home, perfumers explore them in public parks at lunch time, sometime they get tired. The flowers of the night are the uncharted territory of perfume creation. Marketers often speak about the perfume which makes us dream …. but rarely they explore those flowers which bloom when we dream. Their dream perfume is many times the rose which blooms at noon and is known by everybody.
The personal perfume is an alter ego, a shadow, it is not a functional smelling good product. It is emotion like those flowers people experience in summer during the evening at night parties - "C'est la fête".
In Shanghai Lily, the personal perfume I made for Denyse Beaulieu to celebrate her book "The perfume lover" (book review article), I used tuberose absolute LMR with a selection of floral notes from Egypt  which make the feminine skin highly addictive and sensual using the technique of "scent quote" I explained in an old article.
Marlene Dietrich as Shanghai Lily / Magdalen in Josef von Sternberg’s
80 years ago and now,
... after 5 years ....
a new present from Madeleine

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Tuesday, April 3

The Perfume Lover - a personal book presentation

The four posts I wrote in the weekend were maybe a surprise because the literary approach, where reality and fiction were mixed, was certainly not very familiar with my style. I thought it was a more funny way to present a selection of real facts because often a serious tone "ex cathedra" might be considered too pretentious. After all, the Bram Stoker 2012 Awards took place on march 31, Descartes' birthday! But the true reason behind this small writing experiment was the fact that I became a character in a new book about perfumes -  The Perfume Lover - a personal story of scent by French author Denyse Beaulieu.
I met Denyse 5 years ago, before she started her blog. Today her "duende" became reality and the "dominus" spirit hauting every perfume bottle became the "dueño" (master). It was released in our world. She has recently published a magnificent story about perfumes and her dream perfume is now presented by Artisan Parfumeur. She is one of my best students, though my "school" has not the appearance of any formal institution.
We met on the same place where I enjoy my coffee in Paris watching the people entering "La Comédie Française" and the famous characters walking through the arcades of Palais Royal, the magnificent Valois building where Serge Lutens, the scent wizard, had its perfume shop. We met under the auspices of a forgotten masterpiece she discovered - Iris Gris by Jacques Fath. Her vintage version, I later remade for myself, is better than the perfume reconstructed by the Osmothèque in Versailles.
Since then, we've been seeing each other many times, usually it is "domingo" (Sunday), because we share the same area in Paris. In fact, she lives at the angle of the street where a pharmacist worked 100 years ago, he published an important perfume book still in use by those who buy old formulae books. I presented her many raw materials, ingredients, old perfumes from my collection, I advised her on vintage purchases, I shared my experience from my perfume school.
When I graduated ISIPCA there was not a single perfumer in Paris who wanted to take me for what is called "stage" or "apprenticeship". From the 50+ letters I wrote to everybody in Paris all answers were negative. For instance, Firmenich said that I do not have the right age for them to work as a perfumer (which is rather strange because a perfumer can change his appearance at will, as Count Saint Germain would suggest). Since I am a generous nature I thought that many of the things I knew better than others should be shared with the rest of the world. Denyse has been very gifted and I helped her when she set her perfume training in London. She has a real talent and communication skills with young students.
Before her book,  The Perfume Lover, we had another project or idea which obviously did not work because things in France are complicated and impossible. It is futile for us to defend the interests of a country whose name is not on our passport. But I was extremely happy when she finally succeeded to publish her book in UK, "The Perfume Lover", a real story about perfume and an expression of her literary talent. My nature is more objective and oriented towards history and science. If "The Perfume" from Süskind is a metaphor and a work of fiction, the "Perfume Lover" is the real account of the often untold stories behind any great creation. Love, passion, memories, art, criticism and reflection - the objective nature of the perfume captured by the subjective lenses of those who live it.
Denyse Beaulieu is also teaching at London College of Fashion where she does an excellent work which is impossible in Paris but will soon spread all over Europe in other countries more open for perfume collaborations. After all, France is only a temporary host for the perfume industry, its Frenchness is explained in the book and its decline is only a matter of years (read also Jean Claude Ellena about l'impérialisme olfactif de la France in Le Monde)
In  The Perfume Lover, I guide Denyse in chapter 18, after Serge Lutens has condemned her with a perfume, in the world of "white flowers", creatures of the night with dark, potent and vibrating odors haunted by bats and moths, who by the way are responsible for the pollination of these flowers.
What else is the perfume if not the sign of transformation? The trail in the maze of darkness which transforms the dream in reality, after you whispered the invocatio.
"What if I took you to Seville for Easter, then?"
As the years passed and she began working on this book, I often told her "you will become a different woman". The perfume is future memory, she replied quite often. But the nature of this work, whether it is expressed in the literature or in the real experience of the a scent is unknown to us.
"El Duende", the name of a character in the book, is the spirit of evocation which characterizes an artistic performance that is particularly expressive and, as portrayed by Garcia Lorca, it is a demonic earth spirit helping the artist see the limitations of intelligence, to a higher degree than the muse. His arrival means a radical change like a miracle. The perfume too, is capable of Duende because it emerges with power from the human body pointing directly to the soul.
"Seville à l'aube", the perfume imagined by star-perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour for Denyse Beaulieu and now sold by Artisan Parfumeur, is the expression of this fleeting moment from Seville - the orange blossoms in bloom during a procession with incense. One might call this special moment "La Fuite des Heures" as Balenciaga said with his perfume, the gift Denyse made me when we first met in Paris to speak about perfumes.
The book is a wonderful expression about how one's life becomes legend through the work of a perfume giving both a real account of the events and one of its most poetic interpretation. There are many ways to teach or pass a message from the shadow of a bottle to the light of one's heart, but literature has always been one of the best way. When Denyse Beaulieu and Bertrand Duchaufour arrive at the vial 128, the perfume whose development started at chapter 8 with the code name "Séville Semaine Sainte", is ready to breathe and go out in the world. The dream of a forbidden presence becomes real and from the shadow emerges the scent of a new universe.
This miracle is not the book itself, neither the perfume, but something else you will notice in the future. If auto-biography is the technique employed by the author in the rich narrative texture, her real character and companion is "The Perfume" whose secrets are intermingled with reality and fiction. She gives a precise account of its nature, both emotionally and very technical, following the development of the creation imagined by Bertrand Duchaufour. I would say she is both the muse and the client of a special essence she dreamt when she opened one day a perfume bottle - its content is symbolicaly the "Spiritus Familiaris" of the Grimm brothers. How the perfume is made, how it is constructed, preserved, taught, sold, protected, the entire mechanism of the modern perfume industry is presented with delicacy and charm inside this book. It is also the passion and innocence of the author who discovers month after month more amazing things from the infinity of the perfume universe. She's constantly asking for more in an aesthetic addiction which knows no cure. Perfume is like Love.
As I meet with Denyse usually on Sunday to smell perfumes or rare findings, I often came with very old XIXth century perfumes from my collection because I believe that a writer should nourish his spirit with the scents of those he admires and their shadow. The perfume of Marquis de Sade she wrote about in her previous book? It survived in a XIXth century perfume I presented on this blog. Because Denyse studied literature at Sorbonne I thought it was a good technique to "connect", even for several minutes in a modest way, with the air of those glorious years (technique I discovered at Wagner), without revealing her that some of my bottles belonged to some notorious estates.
If the  The Perfume Lover is an excellent reading, it is also because Denyse was surrounded by very good perfumes, as she enjoys only the most exquisite things in life like any Parisian woman who made her life an art performance with "duende".
Her personal perfume she worked with Bertrand Duchaufor for a long time, studying the evolution of every note and idea through 128 trials, is also the reflection of another hidden desire called Embrujo de Sevilla. One Sunday, looking into the photos of Myrurgia glorious perfumes created before WWII (she published an article in September 2008) we both made a secret wish in our heart - to smell all of them. It is not a secret today that foreign masterpieces of the perfume history cannot be found in Paris, the Osmothèque is devoted to the glory of French houses and preserve only those creations which can be remade when the original formula is available. That's why I thought bringing to live some forgotten Russian creations in Paris. But one day, all those orphan scents will be all housed in my Museum along with many other dreams of any perfume lover which are not possible today in Paris.
The book presents with accuracy many aspects of the perfume industry and its history. I helped her to avoid any possible mistake. After reading the book there is still one question - Who is the Perfume Lover?
An old acquaintance from the past, once living in Seville and surrounded by a garden of perfumes? A perfumer who left the amazing city to follow his path? A forgotten perfume house whose masterpieces are to be re-discovered?
Everybody who has ever entered the perfume universe follows the paths of the Book in any of its possible combinations because without perfume and scent there is no life.
The book is a perfect and correct account of the perfume industry where the author is taking a lot of care to sculpt the details, it is also the story of an initiation. The perfume is a Cathedral, it has the infinity of the space, people react to it in an almost religious way. It is also a Cathedral of knowledge which links past and future taking the reader into its maze like the pilgrim who discovers the maze of a gothic cathedral.
If  The Perfume Lover concludes with the presentation of the perfume "Seville à l'aube", a creation of Bertrand Duchaufour for Denyse Beaulieu, now sold by Artisan Parfumeur, the story doesn't really end. After all, the true nature of the perfume is not inside the bottle, but outside, when it is released into the world and is adopted by those who can share their love.
As you have already noticed, I did not unveil very much from the book itself. It is because I consider that every perfume lover should buy, at least two of it, one to read, the other as a present for Easter, and every niche brand who has ever been presented on her blog or mine should buy at least 4 books. As you know, my blog and her blog where we have extensively shared many things about the art of perfume are free. It is a small form of gratitude for the thousands of pages written and a form of gratitude for the support we brought to the universe of perfumes. Texts don't write themselves by magic! In real life you plant a tree, in the world of fiction you buy a book and I have always considered that authors must be supported because without imagination, passion and intelligence an industry cannot live.

One might ask what is a perfume, after all? It is a link between reality and fiction like the picture showed on the cover of Denyse Beaulieu's book portraying "Marie Madeleine", the woman who once kept the most precious vial of perfume in her hands. Do not try to search the nature of a scent only through the chemistry like modern companies do. Try also the imaginary of cultures where every plant and every scent have left their traces, but explore them with the instruments of Reason. Scent is the shadow of the Word and I learnt the most important things not in the perfume books but exploring mythology and literature where the scent becomes the reflection of author's inner thoughts. Like Plato's World of Ideas, perfumes have their own existence.


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