Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie, 2000

(image, Ex Machina) Perfumer Dominique Ropion Ropion knows how to make monster florals. Ysatis, Amarige, Alien. Jarring and disturbing to some, ravishing to others. (Count me in the disturbed category.) The key is in the synth-natural play of Ropion’s aesthetic. Take Amarige and Alien (co-authored with Laurent Bruyère). They are considered versions of the soliflor yet to my nose they are so unequivocally chemical in tone as to be science-fiction. Ropion’s mainstream florals are so exaggerated, so counterbalanced with potent synthetics that they can seem…

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Editions Parfums de Frédéric Malle Dans tes Bras, 2008

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle launched in 2000 with a rock-star lineup of perfumers, including Maurice Roucel, who composed the culty Musc Ravageur for the brand. Art direction and commissioning independent perfumers was nothing new in 2000. In fact, it was the founding model of niche perfumery. Early examples Diptyques (1961), l’Artisan Parfumeurs (1976), Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (1988) were still going strong. The Serge Lutens brand (1992) had attained permanent revolution and were the leader in experimentation. Hip and trendy were taken, so Frédéric…

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Cadavre Exquis, 2016

(image le Lido de Paris) Cadavre Exquis is a gourmand perfume from two perfumers known for exploring ‘classy’ genres like animalic chypres and aldehydic florals. It was made following the rules of a surrealist parlor game called exquisite corpse. In an exquisite corpse the participants take turns adding words or images, or in this case accords and materials, until the project is complete. The final product might be nothing that the participants imagined. The corpse is rigged to favor unpredictability and can give rise to…

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l’Artisan Parfumeur Rose Privée, 2015

Stéphanie Bakouche’s sensational Invasion Barbare for Parfums MDCI is a hard act to follow, and it’s worth considering that early-career success is not without its downside. The expectation following a Luca Turin 5-star rating of a first perfume is stratospheric. Rose Privée is Backouche’s second perfume, released a full ten years after Invasion Barbare and co-authored by Bertrand Duchaufour, cited by l’Artisan as Bakouche’s mentor. In the intervening years she’s been at the heart of the l’Artisan Parfumeur line, first as a Trainer and then…

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Fragrance Republic, 2014

  Desert House Party, Slim Aarons. Fragrance Republic was a perfume line that attempted to create a new model for producing and purchasing perfume. In 2014 nine perfumes by nine perfumers were released simultaneously. Fragrance Republic was a subscription service with different packages and pricepoints as well as the option to buy any perfume individually. The subscription/purchase plan was complicated and statements of art direction that fostered artistic expression didn’t seem to match the perfumes themselves. If perfumers were given the liberty to decide the…

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Thierry Mugler Miroir Miroir Collection, 2008

Image, Hot Pants by John Currin from the Broad Museum. The Miroir Collection was a new blueprint for Mugler in 2008. At the time, the rest of the line was based on a seemingly exponential quantity of flankers of Angel, Cologne, Alien. (Womanity was released in 2010.) The five-piece collection was sold as a fairytale fantasy mirror. Three are woody florals (A Travers le Miroir, Miroir des Secrets, Miroir des Vanités) and two are gourmand-florals (Dis Moi Miroir, Miroir des Envies). A Travers le Miroir…

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Slumberhouse Sova, 2012

(Photo from pandawhale.com) Slumberhouse perfumer Josh Lobb has said that he doesn’t work with topnotes. Most of his perfumes smell layered, as if materials with similar consistencies or densities were creating a ‘wall of scent.’ Materials meet each other head to head on a level playing field. The democracy of materials urges you to find your own understanding of the perfumes without being steered along a particular course. By contrast, a traditional top/heart/base has a momentum that guides your attention more explicitly. If you favor…

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Worth Je Reviens, 1932

(Image, The Party by Marisol Escobar. 1965-1966) Perfumer Maurice Blanchet. I wore Je Reviens on and off in the early ’80s. I’m sure it read as dowdy and anachronistic, especially on a twenty year old, but I’d never smelled anything quite like it and was taken by its plastic, synthetic beauty. I knew a few floral aldehydes and loved Arpège, Joy and No 5 but I knew nothing about the history of perfume. It would never have occurred to me to consider perfume as the…

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Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud, 2012

(Photo Shevaun Williams for OKC Ballet) Oud perfumes are the new “orientals”.  Like their early 20th century predecessors, their fantasy/reality ratio is sky-high. They are less overtly culturally offensive, but in terms of authenticity, they are just as much a bill of goods. Francis Kurkdjian avoided the pitfall of attempting to mimic Arabic style. Instead, he treated oud like any other centerpiece note in western traditional perfumery. His Oud has some of the characteristic scent of oud materials, particularly the band-aid note, but the setting…

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Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat 540, 2014

(Photo by Melody Melamed) Kurkdjian excels at creating well turned-out perfumes. Smooth, seamless perfumes with lovely olfactory shapes and pleasant profiles. Of course, he also makes Cologne and Absolue pour le Soir, two of the dirtiest roses available, so he’s not limited to olfactory pleasantry. Still, most of the Maison Francis Kurkdjian perfumes have a mannered quality. Where various perfume lines promise Arabian fantasy or minimalism or narrative, MFK offers the comfort of normalcy. Only better. MFK gives us the mainstream, but with a perfection that…

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Imaginary Authors The Soft Lawn, 2012

(Photo of Althea Gibson, source unknown.) Perfumer Josh Meyer. I am suspicious—make that incredulous—of storytelling in perfumery. The minute the exposition or the plot commences, I tune out. Perfume evokes ideas and states, and reflects trains of thought that no other art-form can. Trying to make perfumes tell stories reminds me of those tiny dogs in circus acts, dressed in clown-like costumes, jumping up and down on their hind legs. So why do I enjoy the perfume fictions of Imaginary Authors so much? Maybe it’s…

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Jean Patou Sublime, 1992

  (Image of Lee Liberace, source unknown.) Perfumer Jean Kerléo. Somewhere in the ’90s the chypre fell off the radar. Blame the IFRA, blame Angel (also 1992), blame whoever you like. It went quietly from the pinnacle of chic to over-the-hill faster than you can say ‘mousse de chêne.’ Why and how to restrict perfume materials is a popular if confusing debate today, but in the 70s-90s the discussion of the hazards of aromachemicals and botanicals took place behind closed-doors. The general public didn’t know what…

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