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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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By Kilian: Beyond Love : Prohibited (2007)

Recently, we found ourselves in a bucolic, woodsy setting, residing in a lovely cottage, where we were writing wine and fragrance reviews (it’s all about pleasure...), and amidst our testing, the mistress of the house ventured over from the main house, wondering what we were doing. It was the perfect opportunity to determine if our noses were still functioning - and so we placed one drop of By Kilian’s Beyond Love on each of her wrists, and then another behind each of her ears, and finally, one at her throat. A total of five drops. That was all.

That was all it took. What happened then was akin to the discovery of an entirely new realm of pleasure. To see the look on her face - and to hear her descriptions was to corroborate what we, too, already knew about By Kilian’s Beyond Love.

This is narcotic. This is tuberose - in all its myriad forms. This is perfumer Calice Becker overdosing herself, and all fans of tuberose, with a heady explosion of this most seductive and mysterious of scents.

Originally from Mexico, but now primarily cultivated in India, tuberose has often been considered an aphrodisiac - and in certain societies, young women are warned away from the fields and the flowers.

What makes By Kilian’s Beyond Love something more than other fragrances based upon this most sensual flower is the tropical top note, provided by coconut. Suddenly, the hypnotizing creaminess of the tuberose is magnified by the milky sweetness of coconut - and the result is nothing short of immediate intoxication.

As anyone who has ever worn By Kilian’s fragrances knows, these are potent concoctions with serious sillage - and to wear Beyond Love while operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle might be masochistic.

With Beyond Love, Kilian Hennessy, scion of the famous Hennessy cognac family, grandson of the founder of the luxury group LVMH, has created a mesmerizing fragrance that induces a response comparable to what Salieri felt upon hearing Mozart for the first time: a mind-altering confrontation with the visceral consequences of genius.

It’s no wonder that the full name of this creation is Beyond Love: Prohibited.

PRICE: $225 / 50 ml. / 1.7 oz.
LINK: By Kilian Beyond Love: Prohibited


Histoires de Parfums : 1969 Parfum de Revolte (2001)

It was some year. From the lovefest that was Woodstock in August to the murders at Altamont in December, along with the gay riots at Stonewall in June, 1969 would’ve been a noteworthy year even without the first manned moon landing in July.

For some reason, certain years resonate long after the curtain falls on December 31st - and, arguably, 1969 has become even more significant with the passage of time. So much was happening on a daily basis - Ted Kennedy driving off a bridge, John Lennon and Yoko Ono singing "Give Peace A Chance" from their bed-in in Montreal, the first flight of a Boeing 747, Midnight Cowboy on the screen, Oh! Calcutta! in the theatre, "Aquarius" on the airwaves... It’s as if one single year packed an entire decade into its 365 days - and, therefore, it’s no wonder that Histoires de Parfums creator, Gérald Ghislain, created an olfactory homage to this cultural bounty.

Described as a oriental gourmand with notes of clove, chocolate, musk and patchouli, 1969 Parfum de Revolte is perhaps less about cultural revolution than it is about standing in your backyard during that momentous summer and staring into the sky in adolescent wonder. This time-traveling fragrance opens with a delicious sun-ripened peach top note both expansive and intoxication. With juice dribbling down your chin, it’s the kind of peach that reminds you of summer’s glory. And then there’s the smell of white flowers, with a hint of rose, before settling into a bouquet of spices marked by clove and cardamom.

It’s almost like you’ve followed someone into a field, someone with a clove cigarette, someone you’ve noticed in art class but never yet spoken to. That long-haired guy who wears patchouli or musk, not a lot, just a little - and when you find him lying in the grass, staring up at the sky, you’re not surprised when he motions for you to join him. The two of you on your backs, not quite touching, blowing smoke rings - and you can hardly believe it when you find half a chocolate bar in your fringed vest pocket that you share with him.

1969 is a fragrance that’s as innocent as it is loaded with possibility. It’s an olfactory complement to the 1969 hits, "Hot Fun (In the Summertime)," "Crimson and Clover," "Grazing in the Grass" - and "Honky Tonk Woman." Relive what you missed by the accident of your birth and revel in the revolution.

PRICE: $185 / 120 ml.
LINK: Histoires de Parfums : 1969 Parfum de Revolte


Atelier Cologne : Trèfle Pur Cologne Absolue (2010)

While Henry James declared "summer afternoon" to be the two most beautiful words in the English language, we might vote for "field of clover." There’s something impossibly romantic about a field of ripe clover, with its ongoing invitation to fall into its embrace - and particularly when with another.

Atelier Cologne’s Trèfle Pur (Pure Clover) is a fragrance for those unwilling to let go of summer. The top notes include basil, one of summer’s signature scents, as well as orange blossom, which together create an almost peppery opening. You could be standing on a porch, gin-and-tonic in hand, while the neighbor boy cuts your lawn, the scent of limes and freshly-mown grass mixing with a loamy dampness.

With a cologne absolue concentration of 18%, well above the industry standard for eau de cologne, Trèfle Pur has something unusual for a citrus-based fragrance and that’s sillage, the trail of a scent lingering on your skin, in your wake...

By the fourth or fifth hour, Trèfle Pur has settled into a moss-based bottom note, with hints of violet leaf still hovering in the air. It’s as if you’ve fallen asleep in that field of clover, your cheek and nostrils nestled near the musky ground, while the mist of evening has blanketed you with its dew.

Tradition has it that the each leaf of a three-leaved clover represents faith, hope, and love - with the fourth leaf of a rare four-leaf clover symbolizing luck. With Trèfle Pur, perfumer Jérome Epinette has created his vision of a lucky afternoon. Sink into the clover - and have a field day.

PRICE: $165.00 / 200 ml
LINK: Atelier Cologne : Trèfle Pur Cologne Absolue


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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