Hidden gems, forgotten favourites, fragrances flying under the radar – the world of perfume is a changeable one, subject to whims both collective and individual. In this blog post, we take a discerning look at some enduring gems, making the case for their appearance in the limelight. Some of these fragrances are making their return, while others – like a delayed debut – are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. Despite the trends, a good perfume is compellingly forever, regardless of our tastes at a given time.
There is no formula for a timeless perfume. Thoughtful compositions, premium ingredients, and coherent narratives attached to and evoked by a scent all form a battery of necessary qualities that lend the perfume an allure, commanding our attention and leaving an enduring impression. These are fragrances that we can revisit forever, repeatedly offering an experience that cannot be exhausted in a single wear, leaving us wanting more. And when we revisit these fragrances, sometimes in moments as long as years, with new experiences and adjusted expectations, the magic remains – not the same but not completely different either, consistently triggering that same sensation in us that informs us that a perfume is rightfully beguiling, and that we are correct in our assessments – this is good! That is all we are left saying, because nothing else can be said.
Such is the experience with a high impact perfume like Interlude Man, an early work within the Amouage catalogue (2012), enrobed in a smoky blue bottle scintillating with gold accents. Perfumer Pierre Nagrin’s resinous incense masterpiece marked the turning point into the collective hysteria of the niche perfume obsession, the oud trend, and for many was the first foray into perfumery and Oman-based Amouage alike. Over a decade later, and with two flankers (Black Iris and Interlude 53 Extrait), revisiting Interlude Man is like a reunion with an old friend graced with a staid wisdom. Its opening is like the intense montage of a thrilling title sequence: the bold and uncertain chaos of leathery bergamot, fruity pepper, and oily oregano like an explosion of contradictions, digressing infinitely until it eventually finishes on an ashy aftermath of incense, labdanum, patchouli, and oud. The fragrance is dark, brooding, but somehow affable. Nowadays, every brand has their big statement perfume – but Interlude Man has proved that the statement it makes is memorable and inimitable. Case in point: we’re still talking about Interlude after all this time.
Naomi Goodsir’s perfumes are rare creations, of the philosophy where less is more. Each new release is the result of careful consideration – parts of a narrative whole – and Cuir Velours (2012) is the early work of IFF perfumer Julien Rasquinet, who is now a well-established nose in the industry. Like exploring an artist’s preparatory sketchbook, early ideas demonstrate latent brilliance, offering an opportunity to explore themes before they are refined in later works. Here, Rasquinet’s Arabesque inspirations are rendered through a classically French filter, and offers enveloping decadence in carefully measured stages. A supple suede accord is the thread throughout the lifetime of this perfume, as it trails along vapours of incense, tobacco leaves, sticky sweet immortelle, and glossy amber resins. For the enthusiast, Cuir Velours is a necessity not only of the leather category, but an important albeit quiet landmark within Naomi Goodsir’s and Rasquinet’s respective catalogues.
Certain perfumes achieve the winning combination where the notes lend themselves effortlessly to a captivating story. The drool worthy combination of rum, lime, mint, and tobacco in Frapin’s Speakeasy (2012) evoke a vivid Havana fantasy, against a tawny and sundrenched background of leather, tonka bean, and glossy immortelle flower. Speakeasy elicits imaginings of twilight descending upon Cuba, as the colours of the Havana sunset caress the land in warm golden hues. The sound of laughter and lively conversations drifts through the air, accompanied by a melodious musical sound in the distance. The caramelised scent of cigars and sugars mingle, infusing the atmosphere with a heady aroma.
A scene like this, captured in scent, is unforgettable and forever – and patiently awaits moments where we wish to revisit this fantasy once more.
Imagine the tines of a fork running across the skin of ginger. Zeste de Gingembre (2020) is a precise picture of cold metal against the cool raspy heat of the root. A master of fresh citrus-oriented compositions, James Heeley gives heed to all of its virtues, adding to this a peerless and elevated sense of meticulousness. Heeley returns to this theme repeatedly, variations with a different focus every time. His most famous examples, Sel Marin, St. Clement's, and Menthe Fraiche, are salves destined for sweltering days; cooling essences to be applied generously to the skin. Zeste is no different, like a distal relation in this family of freshies, and exists somewhat in the shadow of its successful older brothers. A linear yet long scent, its central ginger feature will undoubtably prove itself to be an exemplar of the note, which is softened of its abrasive burn in a svelte cordial of lime and orange, punctuated with the aromatic breath of cardamom and pink pepper, redoubling the effect of a cool fire. A good thing is not easily replaceable.
Amongst the permanent popularity of L’Air du Desert Marocain and Au Coeur du Desert, Tauer’s Orange Star (2010) proves to be just as singular and unrepeatable. Its logic is that of contrast: offer the brightest and fizziest medley of twinkling orange citrus fruits – a luminous supernova – and then situate it against the darkness of the night sky. Clementine, orange blossom, and lemongrass tumble and twirl like a ribbon dancer, onto a salty gourmand base of ambergris, tonka, and vanilla. Such freshness is reined in by a delicious paste that could almost call to mind caramel, smoked with incense to make it all the more impactful. The secret of Orange Star’s unfading relevance is manifest – and like Hemingway – Andy Tauer writes ‘one true sentence’, the truest that he knows, in the belief that this truth cannot be forgotten, nor can it be denied. The result is the fragrance of an orange – the truest orange, possible only within the artistic realm of perfumery.