"JAR" By Luca Turin
My disparaging comments on niche fragrances a few months back had the expected result: an imperious e-mail reached me two weeks later pointing out the existence of a perfume firm I’d never heard of: JAR, situated 14 rue de Castiglione, bang in the posh middle of Paris. A little research revealed that this was the perfume wing of a nearby jeweller of quasi-mythical status. Judging from an exhibition catalogue I have obtained, JAR’s jewels are fairytale stuff that makes you wish you owned Brazil. When jewellers make perfume (Boucheron, Van Cleef et Arpels, Bulgari), it is usually because they have a big name and want to generate some cash flow. But that can’t be JAR’s reason since his entire customer base can (and probably does) fit in the Ritz, and the perfumes are if anything even more confidential than the jewels.
I called up for samples, and eventually got hold of the complete collection, beautiful engraved flasks inside purple suede pouches. Gossip led me to expect something weird, and weird is what I got. JAR fragrances are uniquely shocking, and I have delayed writing this article until I could begin to understand why. Most normal Perfumes are symphonic: the idea is to blend materials the way a composer blends sounds to achieve something which is more than the sum of its parts, with the parts no longer perceptible. But JAR’s perfumes aren’t normal. They were clearly composed by a guy who spends his days picking out rubies from a box and laying them one by one next to a huge pearl. Gemstones don’t mix, God forbid, they just glow like mad.
Same with his fragrances. Instead of the usual expert blend we get sensational raw materials juxtaposed and set, all in full view under the bright lights, for maximum effect. They range from the merely grand to what Wodehouse’s Jeeves, straining for understatement, would have described as "a bit sudden". If you visit the store, a good starting point might be Golconde , a huge oriental with the cheekbones of Joan Crawford and the shoulders of Esther Williams. Once you have got used to the idea, graduate to Jarling, the sweetest, most poisonous heliotrope note ever devised. Give that one a few weeks to sink in properly, then go back and ask to smell the fragrance with no name, the one with forked lightning engraved on the bottle. Clue: tuberose and pear. If you’ve hankered all your life for André Breton’s beauté convulsive, your search is over.