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January 1, 2007

"Perfume’s perfumes" By Luca Turin

"Perfume’s perfumes" By Luca Turin

I’ll start with an admission: I couldn’t finish Patrick Suskind’s book, and won’t see the movie until they show it on airplanes and I’m stuck in 44F. The sex-drugs-and-minuet thing bores me. However, one good thing came my way when the film was released: a limited-edition red plush boxed set from Thierry Mugler. Ah, the joys of being a perfume critic ! It retails for €550 and I get to play with it for free. It contains fifteen fragrances composed by "The Christophs", Laudamiel and Hornetz, illustrative of various scenes in the movie. They both work for the great fragrance composition firm IFF, and this was clearly a labor of love (they pitched it to the filmmaker, not the other way round) as well a couple of years’ work.

Laudamiel’s style is so distinctive I knew some of this was his work even before I looked at the beautiful website. What he excels at is bold, steely, transparent accords that feel like architect sketches for a penthouse flat flying in earth orbit. One third of the fragrances in the box are in this manner. Another third are lavish, classical set-pieces in period dress, all of them good. The remaining third are literal depictions, the best being a cobbler’s shop (Atelier Grimal), a wonderful, bitter leather accord, and another, depressingly entitled Human Existence, which contains the biggest, most fecal dose of civet in living memory . The centrepiece of the boxed set is a fragrance called Aura. There is nothing sketchy about this one, a melancholy milky-powdery heliotrope note reminiscent of Guerlain’s Après L’Ondée. Aura is the only one that will be sold separately, and apparently is to be used in conjunction with other fragrances, though it smells fine to me as is.

Who will buy this thing ? I would, for the sheer fun of it. Every year, at my children’s school, I do a two-hour presentation to the 6-year-olds explaining what perfume is about. Usually I cobble together bottles of raw materials, but next time I’ll just bring the red box. The range of abstract and real, old and new is a perfect showcase of what makes modern perfumery exciting, from strange and powerful synthetics to exotic, top-flight naturals. But there’s another reason to shell out: the bottle labelled Salon Rouge contains the most vertiginously beautiful accord I’ve smelled in years, supposedly made of davana fruit and sandalwood. If I could play the game in reverse and choose the film scene it illustrates, it would be Harold Lloyd dangling from the hands of a huge clock twenty floors up.

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