Today, gourmand scents go beyond the soothing and familiar, with artisan perfumers incorporating ever more fantastical foodstuffs into their work. Pulp by Swedish fragrance house Byredo, for example, is an explosion of exotic fruits, with a top note of blackcurrant and a heart of ripe fig and red apple. Epicureans, meanwhile, love niche fragrance house Frederic Malle’s Une Rose, which evokes the earthy scent of woodland using truffles and the lees of red wine. Perhaps not wishing to bow down to these innovative concoctions, the father of gourmand scents, Mugler, has taken the relationship one step further by pairing up with Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze. The French chef has translated four of Mugler’s perfumes – Angel, Alien, A*Men and Womanity – into an utterly unique menu. Interestingly, Angel was reinterpreted as a dish of sautéed duck breast in a pink praline crust with beets, turnips and raspberries – not a hint of vanilla in sight.
Though essentially something of a gimmick, Darroze’s experiment has brought the relationship between taste and our olfactory system back into focus, inspiring fresh interest in the work of perfumers who elevate gourmand scents to heady heights by incorporating alcoholic spirits. While there’s nothing immediately appealing about reeking of a boozer, the similarities between alcohol and perfume suggest a natural crossover: perfume, like fine wine, is laid down to macerate and is also distilled in much the same way as Cognac. “It’s not that people want to smell like alcohol or food,” says Jones. “But the story behind these elements can be fantastically emotive and by incorporating their history, the person wearing the scent can feel part of that.”
Nasomatto is a fragrance house that’s currently proving the point with the ambitious Absinth – an intoxicatingly earthy and green perfume that playfully intends to ‘stimulate irresponsible behaviour’. Similarly going for all out decadence is Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe: inspired by the splendour of the Romanov Court, it has top notes of vodka and Champagne. But perhaps the most overtly alcoholic perfume is the liquor-loving 1697. Created by Cognac house Frapin, which branched out into perfumes in 2008, it’s a spice-spiked medley of rum and dried fruit soaked in a wood, amber and leather base.
For something less intense, look to Lubin’s juniper berry-laden Gin Fizz. Far subtler than a scent like 1697, it was designed in 1955 to pay homage to Grace Kelly as well as the year’s most fashionable cocktail. Re-issued in 2009, it was one of a new surge of boozy perfumes – but it also reawakened the idea that fragrance could evoke more than just personal memories.
THE BOTTLE AS ART
Gin Fizz wasn’t a celebrity perfume (that fire didn’t fully ignite until Elizabeth Taylor launched White Diamonds in 1991). It was merely suggesting Kelly’s sense of style and grace, if not through the scent itself, then certainly through the elegant, feminine curves of the bottle. As if proof were needed, it cemented the importance of the bottle’s role in the emotion-arousing fragrance experience and was re-launched at a time when up-and-coming houses such as Agonist were newly acknowledging the age-old art of evocative, crafted bottles.
The Swedish house works with glass artist Åsa Jungnelius, handcrafting its stunning glass perfume bottles to reflect each artisanal fragrance. It’s a process that’s in complete contrast to the mass-produced sprayers of today and it brings to mind artist René Lalique’s work on the heels of the Industrial Revolution. His Art Deco glass bottles are iconic, and the Lalique house continues to produce decorative glassware in a similar vein, recently launching Hommage à L’Homme – a men’s perfume whose bottle incorporates a motif René Lalique designed to decorate the Orient-Express.
THE SCENT AS ART
With such work considered art, perfumers are also looking to have their own efforts acknowledged as such. And who can blame them? Astonishing perfumers such as Christa Patout and Stéphane Humbert Lucas, whose new brand Nez à Nez is causing quite a stir in the artisanal fragrance industry, are literally working like painters. Humbert Lucas has synaesthesia – a condition that enables him to experience scents as colour – and he constructs fragrances much like a painting. “My profession allows me to play with my synaesthesia,” he says. “I take advantage of it – but I also draw on all the arts.”
Nez à Nez’s Atelier D’Artists takes this to a more explicit level, conjuring the scents of an artist’s studio, from the paint and thinner to the coffee grounds and tobacco. And, much like Mugler’s comfortingly sweet Angel, Nez à Nez’s fragrances are aiming for the ultimate result: to inspire an emotion, a reaction, a feeling. “For me, everything has a smell: objects, urges, even a temperature,” says Humbert Lucas. “To translate these smells into a bottle is asking madness – but it’s an experimental journey. I admit I don’t often achieve the objective, but the art of fragrance is about striving to be as close to that truth as possible.”