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Winter Fragrance Guide: Fragrances More Intoxicating Than Wine

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Friday Nov 5, 2010

As with wine, fragrance is about pleasure: the pleasure of intoxicating aromas that fill your nose and open your memory. The intent is to make you feel good.

And the more you drink wine, and the more you talk about it, the more you learn: about what you like and about all that went into making that particular bottle such a heady combination.

In one of the more telling scenes from the film Sideways (2004), Maya waxes poetic about how wine is a living thing, the consequence of sun and rain and the grape pickers, and how wine ages and evolves and gains complexity. It’s a monologue that makes you want to drink a glass right then and there.

So it is with fragrance. Just as with wine, fragrance is a living thing, changing over time. And the more you learn about the various top notes, and heart notes, and basenotes of a fragrance, the more you appreciate a fragrance’s progression from top note to basenote. You start to think about the combinations of various scents, and the molecular compounds within, and how it is that they trip your memory and take you places.

And, as with wine, fragrance is evanescent, ultimately leaving only its wake: a hint of fragrance in the air like a trace of wine on the palate - before disappearing altogether. Only the memory remains - and in that way, in their haunting transience, both wine and fragrance serve as beautiful metaphors for life.

With so many niche fragrances emerging in the marketplace (just as with boutique vineyards and wineries), more and more people are availing themselves of the pleasures of fragrance.

According to a recent study conducted by Osmoz, the online fragrance community, 63% of all men feel that fragrance completes their outfit, while 85% of women feel naked without perfume and 75% of women believe that fragrance helps them attract attention.

Give in to the pleasure; enjoy some of the fragrance world’s more intoxicating creations.


Van Cleef & Arpels : Midnight in Paris (2010)

With a name like Midnight in Paris, a name harnessing two of the more beautiful concepts in the world, what else would you expect but a revelation? Years ago, when we were very young, we found ourselves walking all night through the streets of Paris. Over the bridges and across the Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome, through the parks and past the cafes, inhaling everything we could, in the exhilaration of being young and free in the City of Light.

For years, Van Cleef & Arpels has been sheathing the necks, wrists, and ears of the world’s more beautiful specimens with their legendary jewelry. Fragrance is a natural extension of a jeweler, particularly when one considers that the placement of fragrance is often right next to the jewels: behind the ears, on the wrists, at the tip of the sternum. Ever since the 1976 introduction of Feerie from its flagship on Place Vendome, Van Cleef & Arpels has solidified its place in the fragrance industry.

Inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels’ Midnight in Paris timepiece with its map of the stars under a Paris sky on the watch face, this eponymous fragrance is packaged in a box as indigo as the Paris sky in winter. The midnight blue glass bottle, rounded like a watch face, is embossed with the constellations, while an engraved silver-plated rim encircles the bottle. As for the bottle top, its etched surface evokes the crown of the eponymous watch.

Harking back to the work of the great perfumers during the days of Art Deco, when bottles were created by artisans at Lalique, Midnight in Paris is one of the more stunning bottles in modern fragrance.

Opening with a burst of lemon and bergamot, the citrus top note is almost immediately mitigated by an intensely aromatic rosemary. With leather and lily waiting in the wings - you can feel them pushing forward through the citrus - it’s as if you’ve slipped into your favorite banquette at La Coupole, right around midnight. There’s a black lily on the table, next to your black leather briefcase - the one your godfather gave to you years before which still retains his scent: incense and scotch. Wes Montgomery’s on the piano, playing "’Round Midnight" - and you’re reading Hemingway’s "A Moveable Feast," while sipping Courvoisier. It’s hard to believe, but everything has come together, your whole life, every experience, bringing you here to form this perfect moment.

That’s the genius of Midnight in Paris: one element building upon another, a linear progression moving on from the darkened lily and leather into the base notes of amber and incense, with the warmth of tonka bean as soothing as the liquor.

Slowly the joint empties out until it’s just you and the bartender, the waiter reading Le Figaro at the bar. You and Midnight in Paris, enveloped in dreams and memories of the City of Light.

PRICE: $95.00 / 125 ml.
LINK: Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight in Paris


Hermès : Hermès Iris Ukiyoé (2010)

Not unlike Firenze, where the iris line the banks of the Arno, and where you find yourself marveling anew at a town that has for so long smitten artists, romantics, and lovers - so, too, does Hermès Iris Ukiyoé reward those who return, inexorably drawn back to its mesmeric beauty.

You think you know it. Like a haiku you read in school, one as beautiful as it was clean and straightforward - and yet when you read it again, studied it further, you realized the paradoxes imbedded within its 5-7-5 structure.

So it is with Florence, and its iris - and Hermès Iris Ukiyoé.

Hermès master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has long admired the haiku for its ability to convey the ephemeral and the eternal with restraint and clarity. Iris Ukiyoé, the ninth fragrance in the Hermessence collection, draws inspiration from the Japanese word ukiyoé, sometimes defined as "images of the floating world," and which also refers to 19th-century Japanese wood-block prints. The concept behind ukiyoé is the art of living for the moment in the enjoyment of sensory pleasures - while disengaging from that which is disheartening about life.

In a word, ukiyoé is about beauty, which is why it’s an apt name for Ellena’s latest olfactory creation.

As with the great Japanese ukiyoé master, Hiroshige, whose work Ellena greatly admires, Hermès Iris Ukiyoé reveals its hidden treasures upon closer scrutiny. Described as a "divertimento on the theme of iris," the fragrance opens with a sharply-focused rose and orange blossom bouquet, a reflection of the many scents Ellena associates with the iris flower (rather than the ubiquitous rhizome), which Ellena cultivates in his garden. Deepening into an aqueous muguet before shifting again into a vegetal crispness that one might associate with the cucumber in a Pimm’s Cup, Hermès Iris Ukiyoé possesses an almost-thespian quality of registering emotion with the tiniest shifting of expression and gesture.

Like a watercolor in the process of being painted, the color mutating as it meets the water and slides across the paper, like misty clouds across a storm-swept sky, like an Impressionist painting that reveals itself in distance, Hermès Iris Ukiyoé is an endlessly fascinating, shape-shifting illusion, moving from its cool, floral morning tones into the warmth of an afternoon with the hint of a storm on the horizon.

As with all objets Hermès, the presentation is as artful as the content. Both the stopper and the bottle are dressed in Hermès signature saddle-stitched leather, this time in violet iris Swift calfskin, with Hermès orange Mysore goatskin lining the interior of the case. The glass of the decanter-cut bottle is tinged with streaks of violet, evoking again the watery banks of the Arno with its profusion of heraldic iris in spring.

In short, Hermès Iris Ukiyoé is as hypnotizing as nature on one of those mornings when the mist on petals seems as miraculous as the shimmer of leaves - and you remain transfixed, in awe of all that envelops you in the evanescent moment in the midst of the garden of life.

PRICE: $235.00 / 100 ml.
LINK: Hermès : Hermès Iris Ukiyoé


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