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May 1, 2006

"Simplexity" By Luca Turin

"Simplexity" By Luca Turin

Blue at one end and red at the other like a carpenter’s pencil, the word simplexity was coined by artist Laura Duke to denote the combination of cool blue elegance and teeming red intricacy that science uncovers everywhere. It also applies to art: the best creations consistently combine clear structure with rich detail. In perfumery, simplexity is present even at the level of the most basic building blocks: Two different grades of lavender oil, though identical at the blue end, will nevertheless feel different, because each red end writes its own signature. Put the two substances in your analytical equipment, turn up the magnification to the maximum, and you will see, nestled against the Everest peak of linalool, a range of foothills. These are the impurities whose presence or absence determines whether the view looks like Kashmir or the Moon. Perfumes are now made by aromachemical companies, by chemists striving for purity: blue. Flowers, by contrast, are living things striving to attract bees, and bees like complex: red. For chemists and accountants, natural materials are a complicated red scribble: they have good years and bad years, quality control is a constant worry, prices fluctuate. This has been the driving force towards all-blue perfumes that are either bare or fake.

But as always, just when one is about to give up, proof emerges that chemical poetry has not run out of words. Two wonderful fragrances have come my way, significantly both composed by relative beginners. Both exhibit the telltale shimmer of simplexity, and never smell the same two days in a row. One is Andy Tauer’s Air du Désert Marocain. He is a Zurich-based self-taught perfumer. L’Air du Désert is his second fragrance, an austere, woody-balsamic accord sweetened with just enough amber and vanilla to wrap a smile on its noble bone structure. It is probably the best fragrance to come out of amateur hands since Coty quit his day job at Antoine Chiris et Compagnie and composed La Rose Jacqueminot in 1904. The other is Chinatown, from the brash, humorous and very successful New York firm Bond No.9. It was composed by Aurélien Guichard, son of Jean, Givaudan’s great perfumer. Aurélien is, I am told, in his twenties, and Chinatown is his first masterpiece. It has been described as gourmand, i.e. foody-sweet, but that is missing the point. What Chinatown does is put a new shine on the Clausewitzian notion that what lovers enjoy doing at 3 AM is the continuation of dessert by other means.

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