Every action provokes a reaction, a fact that is seldom more true than in the fickle world of fragrance. Our senses are, by their nature, sensitive, so to overload them is to numb them. And right now, it seems that the fragrance-wearing population has said enough is enough to the ubiquitous fruity floral. The sugar rush has turned into an empty, glucose low; these saccharine scents are giving us olfactory toothache.
So the pattern goes that we start to look for the diametric opposite for our new fragrance love affair. As mass-made, mass-marketed fragrances sing their swan song, an opening has been created for serious, sophisticated, complex scents.
And with such ingredients must come skill. It’s time for fragrance houses to demonstrate their commitment to craftsmanship and, in doing so, redefine olfactive luxury.
In simple terms, this means one thing: provenance. It’s not enough to glue a label onto a bottle merely alluding to its integrity – we need to know that the best ingredients have been sourced to create an intricate and beautifully structured accord. And the interesting thing is that you can smell it immediately. Because elegant, expensive ingredients smell precisely that, and right now the general mood is for the juiciest, darkest and most intense notes. They are the 80% dark chocolate eaux de parfum to last year’s flying-saucer scents. They are sophisticated, substantial and seductive. Welcome to the era of the grown-up ingredient.
First, there are the white flowers. There has been a massive resurgence of these in the last couple of years: tuberose, gardenia, orange blossom, jasmine and lily of the valley, which give the impression of crystal flacons sitting atop a dressing table with a gently mottled mirror. They might sound airy and innocent, but they are, in fact, the grandes dames of perfumery. They’ve been around, they’ve seen it all, and they have the power to give authority and old-world elegance to an accord. A recent addition to Tom Ford’s Private Blend line, Jasmin Rouge, is a sublime interpretation of modern white flowers. Ford took time to source sambac jasmine sepals absolute, a rarely used jasmine derivative, which has the sweetest, most heady scent. Combined with sage, the jasmine has come of age, taking on a spellbinding dimension.
In Amouage’s Beloved, on the other hand, a spicy white floral heart is tentatively introduced with sweeter top notes of “purple” rose and jasmine, all sourced from France’s fragrance capital, Grasse. And, as these fade and the scent settles on the skin, the fragrance comes into its own, revealing an elegant chypre accord with ylang-ylang, violet and patchouli.
Intensifying existing elements can also lend gravitas to a fragrance. Valentino, for instance, has taken its existing Valentina scent and created the Assoluto, concentrating the white flower accord at the fragrance’s heart (tuberose, orange flower, jasmine) and adding to it a more classic chypre base. Instantly, this fragrance goes from whimsical to worldly; the Valentino girl becomes a woman.
Clive Christian has built a reputation on being the man who created the most expensive fragrance in the world, so when he sources jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom, you can be sure they come from the most luscious corners of the globe. There is a romanticism in Christian’s second fragrance, “V” for Women, which comes from mingling white flowers with balmy lavender,
giving the scent a dreamy, lingering dry down on the skin.
The other floral star of this new generation has to be rose, an olfactory chameleon that can transform from fresh to dark, vintage to even dangerous. The current trend is certainly for the more dark, velvety rose or the antique rose, worlds away from its frothy, fresh counterpart. Givenchy’s new Dahlia Noir is a perfect example of this. The deepest red roses have been sourced and combined with iris and mimosa in the eau de parfum to imagine the scent of that mythical flower, the black dahlia. Givenchy’s Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci, describes it as “a fragrance crafted like a couture gown”.
As a brand for whom flowers are a fundamental olfactory ingredient, Dior has also looked to the darker side of the rose for its latest addition to La Collection Privée Christian Dior: Ambre Nuit. The finest Turkish rose essence was sourced and then “donned in eveningwear” by being combined with amber. Collected along the New Zealand coast, the specific ambergris that perfumer François Demachy selected is one of the rarest ingredients in perfumery. Demachy worked on the fragrance for many years before he was happy enough to launch it. The result is a rose-based fragrance that has a masculine amber edge; on a woman, it’s the olfactory equivalent of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking.
In an age in which much of life is disposable, updateable and replaceable,
there is beauty and rarity in this return to olfactory craftsmanship, and in all the fantastical glamour that comes with it.
All fragrances shown are available from The Beauty Apothecary
and The Perfumery Hall, Ground Floor; and harrods.com