Bespoke Perfumes, Who Needs Them?

From time to time I start thinking about bespoke perfumes. Not in terms that I consider ordering one for myself but in general, as of the idea itself.

If you were to do a search online for “bespoke perfume,” you’d find dozens of articles about that type of service, as well as offers of the said services. The prices start from $250 for a 50 ml bottle and goes all the way up to “contact for the price” (or 200K pounds mentioned in one of the articles – not sure how figurative was that figure).

Why wouldn’t I want to have perfume made just for me? Let’s look at it step by step. Since it is a theoretical exercise, I’ll assume that anything is possible.

Perfumer

I think it would be strange to have your perfume created by some random perfumer with whose work you are not familiar: while we can keep the discussion going whether perfume is art or not, it is definitely not pure science; and, in my opinion, not everyone can just learn how to mix ingredients and start creating amazing perfumes.

I ran a query in my database and figured out, which five perfumers created the most perfumes that I love.

 

Christine Nagel. Most of my favorites from her are her work for Jo Malone. As much as I like perfumes from that brand, do I really want my bespoke perfume to be of that “easy-wear-office-friendly” type?

Christopher Sheldrake. All Serge Lutens perfumes that I like and wear have been created by Sheldrake. But most of Serge Lutens perfumes that I do not like, were also created by him.

Bertrand Duchaufour. I like and wear many perfumes by this talented perfumer, and now when the daughter of the bloody dictator, for whom he created perfume 5 years ago (if you’ve somehow missed the story, look the Leftovers part of this post) is arrested, I probably wouldn’t mind him to be a creator of my bespoke perfume. But would he even have time? The man authors approximately one perfume per month.

Geza Schoen (presuming he actually is the nose behind all Ormonde Jayne perfumes). Until the brand decided to become a luxury one, they were one of my absolute favorites: I love or at least like 7-8 of their perfumes. But I’m not sure I would be able to pry a vat of Iso E-Super from him, no matter how much I pay.

Jean-Claude Ellena. I just don’t know if he still has any Dia left in him. And everything else is a little too sheer for my current taste: I like wearing many of his perfumes as my day-wear perfumes but none of them would be on a short list for a proverbial signature scent (or bespoke perfume, while we’re on the topic).

Notes

But let’s say I settled on the Perfumer. How do I know what I want to get? Clearly, I should shoot for the most beautiful perfume I do not have in my collection already. So of course I can show the Perfumer my most recent exercise with the Desert Island Perfumes and provide a list of my 13 favorite notes: linden, amber, lavender, iris, black currant, rose, mimosa, lily of the valley, narcissus, galbanum, sandalwood, cedarwood and vetiver. But how do I know that actually these thirteen notes make me like perfume? As my analysis in that post showed, the highest count of those favorite notes (8 of 13) make up my favorite Chanel No 19 – but I already have Chanel No 19, and I don’t need another one. And how do I know that it is not the combination of the other 76 notes, which composed my Top 20, that do the trick?

My Favorite Notes

Process

Assuming the Perfumer got all the information both from the notes I think I like and based on the list of perfumes I know I like, after a while we’ll have the first take – and what? How many times have you tried perfumes that sounded amazing based on what you read about them only to be completely disappointed? It is not easy to write a negative review for perfumes created by the brand or perfumer with whom you have some type of relationship or even just like them without knowing them personally. Also, have you ever experienced personally or witnessed any perfumer’s reaction to somebody criticizing their work?

I’m not sure I would be able to say: “Scratch that, let’s start over.” Instead, most likely, there would be polite going back-and-forth with: “It seems a little too sweet…”, “What if we were to add more floral notes?” or “It reminds me X, which I already love and wear.” How many iterations would I go through before giving up and agreeing to something that is very nice but doesn’t come even close to how I feel about my most beloved perfumes? What if it is not even “very nice”?

Price

For my theoretical experiment I’m going with the assumption that I can pay any price. But what is the price? What the price should be?

ScentTrunk, which keeps searching for the business model for making money from the exploding perfume industry, offers a free test kit that “includes a palette of the 6 fragrance families so our lab can identify the smells you love or hate” (you pay $4.95 for S&H). After that you can get your personalized perfume for just $11.95/month. I think we can all agree that I will skip the discussion of what exactly one might expect to get for the money.

Ok, how about € 220 for 50 ml of all-natural perfume “by Perfumer Composer AbdusSalaam Attar”? You can choose up to 7 (out of 92) essences for your perfume. If you want something “rare,” you’ll need to pay more: extra € 100 for ambergris, € 150 for Mysore sandalwood, € 250 for iris root and € 300 for agarwood. But even if you go “all in,” the most you pay is € 1,020. And you can name it whatever you want! So choose 7 ingredients, mention the most important 3, tell your profession or field of work (“important for olfactory psychology”!), add comments, “give your skype for contact ecc…”, prove that you’re not a bot (because, you know, it’s a huge work to put all those 7 notes into the shopping cart; and if you make a mistake, the whole form refreshes – so you should really be into placing that order) – and … I’m not sure what happens next because I didn’t manage to convince the page I wasn’t a “spammer.” But anyway, how personal can you expect it to be for € 220?

$6,750 can buy you three consultations with the team of perfumers at Floris, which will result in 100 ml bottle of your bespoke perfume (plus 5 future refills).

Even though By Kilian’s site states “Price upon request” on their Bespoke Perfume by Kilian page, from my recent visit to Salon de Parfums in Harrods I can surmise that it won’t be less than £15,000 – because that is how much their “one-of-a-kind” Midnight in London that Tara and I tested there costs.

By Kilian Midnight In London

I heard different numbers for bespoke perfumes by Roja Dove but the closest one to the official price was £25,000, which was mentioned a year ago in the article-interview with Mr. Dove. If you ask me, his semi-bespoke perfumes rumored at £1,000 for 250 ml, is a better deal: you can try it and decide if you like it, if it is unique enough before you commit.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, you can find dozens of brands, perfumers and no-name services that offer customized/custom/bespoke perfumes on the wide range of prices. But, in my opinion, even the highest price I cited here is not enough to pay for real creativity and uniqueness. I just do not believe that any great and talented perfumer would create something really great just for me – one person.

Why would the Perfumer spend enough time and effort to earn even £25,000, if selling it to a brand or launching it under their name would get a much better return? The explanation I could come up with was that it might make sense only if the result is not expected to be anything too special. For example, if it is done for “civilians” – people who have previously used Perfume de Jour from department stores: almost any average-pleasant perfume made from good ingredients by somebody who knows the trade would be a definite step up. It also can work for people who do not love perfumes but want to wear them because it is a part of the accepted routine. In this case, exclusivity and personal service might be much more important than actual perfume. In both cases it shouldn’t require too much time or magic from a skillful Perfumer. And those “bespoke” perfumes do not even have to be that unique from one customer to another – they just have to be different enough from what one can come across at regular perfume counters.

I have it. Now what?

But even if I manage to get the result I really like, what would I do with it? Should this perfume become my signature scent? Probably not: I’m not a one perfume woman. Should I treat it as a special occasion perfume? But then what should I do with my other special occasion perfumes? I’m not sure I have enough special occasions. Do I wear it just like any other perfume in my collection, several times per year? But then why even go through the exercise of creating bespoke perfume?

So even in my imaginary world, in which I can choose any perfumer to work on my scent and am not limited by any financial considerations, going through with that project does not seem appealing.

And then one last thought had occurred to me: I bet I can wear many of the existing perfumes in my current collection, and, almost any way you look at it, those would be not much farther from a bespoke perfume then any created as such might be.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images: my own

Advertisements

Déjà vu, Episode 4: des pairs, dis-pair, Despair

 

In the Episode 1 of the o Déjà vu series to explain how I see those scents that I feature in the series I cited Daphne du Maurier‘s book The Scapegoat. The plot concerns an Englishman who meets his double, a French aristocrat, while visiting France, and is forced into changing places with him… Today’s episode calls for another literature reference but I’ll get to it later.

Half a year ago, soon after I introduced my lemmings for the upcoming release of Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee in one of the Weekly round-up episodes, I was contacted by a person from Beauté Prestige International’s PR department. She asked for my address to send me press information and a sample. It was my first ever contact from PR people and it was about the perfume I was so anxious to try. Probably you can imagine my feelings. But being paranoid as I am, before responding I checked the name and the e-mail address. Everything was legit so I replied and started waiting… Well, the sample has never arrived but at least I felt thrilled for a while.

Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee

A month later Natalie (Another Perfume Blog) brought a small vial of Nuit Etoilee to our perfume sniffing rendezvous. I applied it to my wrist, inhaled – and immediately thought that it reminded me of another perfume that I already had in my collection.

As soon as I bought Nuit Etoilee I contacted my blogo-friends who previously helped me with similar projects and asked them to participate in another blind testing. They agreed and I sent them two color-coded spray vials – green and blue. The main question I asked was: Do you think these perfumes smell similar? I have an input from three bloggers so I recruited Rusty to help with visuals (click to enlarge).

Rusty and Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee

Natalie of Another Perfume Blog:

To start off, and hopefully this doesn’t matter, but I feel pretty sure I know both of these. I believe the blue one is Nuit Etoilee. It has that kind’ve minty orange feeling at first, and then it is sappy and piney and quickly dries down to a certain ingredient that I smell in a lot of things and cannot figure out what it is. I think I’ve mentioned it to you before. It smells to me like hot dry cleaned clothes. Whatever it is, this ingredient is very prominent in the blue one and in Chanel Jersey.

Wearing the blue one side by side with the green one makes me smell something in the blue one that I don’t think I would have otherwise (and if blue is Nuit Etoilee, I never smelled this before in it), and that is tobacco. I feel like I sense some tobacco in the blue one when I wear it next to the green one. The green one, though, to me is very much tobacco (and the blue one isn’t). And the green is very chewy and dense and sweet, with a thicker sweetness than the blue one.

I think they have something else in common as well for a little while. I don’t know what it is. The closest I can come to an association is very weird: maple and raisins. People sometimes speak about berry as a component of tobacco, and maybe this is what they are talking about. I don’t know. Then, it goes away and they are very different again.

Overall, they smell somewhat similar to me, but less so than Gold and Climat (the reference is to the Episode 2 – Undina).

Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles

Judith of the unseen censer:

The answer to your question is yes, I do think that right at the beginning they have a similar green-galbanum-carnation-peppery thing that could be considered similar. The stuff in the green vial is so MUCH MORE than the stuff in the blue vial that even that first shot of peppery green is a lot more three-dimensional, to my nose, than the blue vial; but there is a similarity, enough that I would believe some of the same ingredients were used to get the effect, though the blue vial develops so much more simply and sheerly and the green vial develops immediately into the “swamp accord” that makes me think it must be Amouage Honour Woman or something in that line.

The blue vial turns into a VERY powdery iris, which for some reason reminds me of Prada Infusion d’Iris but I think must be Iris Silver Mist or another one of those very classic irises that I have smelled but do not wear and do not like. IT’S A LOT OF IRIS. The green vial has more of a general floral quality to it (which is why I think it might be Honour rather than Interlude Woman) and at the far drydown, where the blue vial is just trying to hit me over the head with powdery iris and makes me want to walk away, the green vial has settled into more of a clean woody base and what might very well be a bit of iris might be what is filling in the background of the wood and giving it that “clean” touch without there being a musk or something similar (I don’t think the clean note is musk but would be willing to hear that I am wrong). I think that it’s iris because it has something of the feel of Chanel No. 19 about the cleanness – it’s not a modern laundry clean, more of a soft/crisp vegetal clean that I associate with iris.

For the record, I don’t think these scents smell at all alike, but these two structural elements – the opening green, and the iris – seem to make them something like third cousins once removed, or something.

Rusty and Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilee

Suzanne of Eiderdown Press:

If I were a betting woman, I’d bet the farm that the perfume in the green vial is Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles.  The first words I wrote down on smelling the green vial fragrance were: “woody, spicy, amber, rum raisins, cedar or some kind of really dry wood … so dry and camphorous, it reminds me of oud.”  The first two fragrances it made me think of were Amouage Opus VI and Serge Lutens Borneo 1834.  In fact, it was hard for me to get off that track for a while … I kept thinking, deep, woody amber with patchouli.  But after a while, the camphor seemed more like the tingliness of pine, and the scent was so spicy that I began to focus in these two directions, which is what led to pull out a dab sample that Birgit once sent me of Fille en Aiguilles.  Funny thing is, when Birgit sent me that sample, I remember not liking the combination of sweetness and woods — and now, I am utterly infatuated.  If indeed the fragrance in the green vial is Fille en Aiguilles, then all I can say is, what a difference spraying makes!  In either case, I now madly want Fille en Aiguilles and whatever is in that green vial you sent.  Deep, sensuous, masculine leaning … I’d better stop there. ;-)

The fragrance in the blue vial has pretty much thrown me for a loop.  It smells so familiar, as if its name ought to be on the tip of my tongue, yet I can’t figure it out. To my nose, this is a very light and airy fragrance that smells of tea, citrus, hay-like greens, spice that leans heavily on anise (with hints of other spices I’ll mention in a minute) and lots of clean white musk.  It reminds me of Cartier L’Heure Fougueuse in some ways, but I know it’s not that one, as it lacks leather and is sweeter than L’Heure Fogueuse. I thought in some ways it resembled Annick Goutal Mandragore, but Mandragore is deeper.  The blue vial fragrance also strikes me as cologne-like, and I find some resemblance to the samples you once sent me from Atelier — Trefle Pur and Bois Blonds — as it has elements of both of those in it.  In the end, I can’t identify it and I can’t detect much in the way of resemblance (or smell-alike notes) with the green vial fragrance, except for this: mid-way through its development, it has a similar smell in terms of spice notes: in both fragrances, I get hints of anise, wormwood/absinthe (which is obvously not a spice, but I’m lumping it here anyway), ginger, bay leaf, and a faint trace of lavender.  I find the anise and absinthe smell — a very green-like spicy smell — the thing that seems most common to both fragrances (in the green and blue vials).

Rusty and Serge Lutens Fille Aiguilles

Natalie was right: the blue vial contained Nuit Etoilee – created in 2012 by Isabelle Doyen, notes include citron, sweet orange, peppermint, Siberian pine (balsam fir and everlasting absolutes) and angelica seeds. And Suzanne was right: in the green vial it was Fille en Aiguilles – created in 2009 by Christopher Sheldrake, notes include Pine needles, vetiver, sugary sap, laurel, fir balsam, frankincense, candied fruit and spice. And all three contributors did not think these two perfumes had too much in common.

As I said in the beginning, the situation reminds me of a fiction book. Despair. It’s a novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Hermann Karlovich, a Russian émigré businessman, meets a tramp in the city of Prague, whom he believes to be his exact double. […] After some time, Hermann shares with Felix a plan for both of them to profit off their shared likeness by having Felix briefly pretend to be Hermann. After that, though, Despair unwinds differently from The Scapegoat. After Felix is disguised as Hermann, Hermann kills Felix in order to collect the insurance money […]. But as it turns out, there is no resemblance whatsoever between the two men, the murder is not ‘perfect’, and the murderer is about to be captured by the police […]. If you keep reading Wikipedia article you’ll see from where I’ve got the idea of the title though I do not think they are correct: even though Nabokov is known for his love for playing with words in multiple languages, the novel was written in Russian and the English word used by him later in translation is just that – a translation the original title.

Nuit Etoilee and Fille en Aiguilles Twins

By now I wore both perfumes many times. I know that they aren’t identical. Perfumes I covered before in this series were much closer to each other than Nuit Etoilee and Fille en Aiguilles. I can tell one from the other and won’t mix them. I do not think owning both is redundant (did you see that beautiful blue bottle?!) But again and again when I test them in parallel I can’t help but thinking how much they have in common for my nose: they both smell of pine and fir – the scent I was looking for last year’s holiday season. This year I have two perfect perfumes for the upcoming season. I’m prepared.

 

Images: my own

«О, Ёлочка!» – O Tannenbaum!

This post is a part of a Joint Blogging Event – O Tannenbaum!, a celebration of perfumes highlighting woody notes.

I grew up without Christmas. I knew of Christmas but I didn’t really know Christmas. It was something from another time (O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker) or another place (foreign movies, e.g. A Christmas Story, Die Hard) but it wasn’t a holiday celebrated in the country where I lived.

Instead we celebrated the New Year. It was one of the most popular and loved holidays. It resembled Christmas in many ways: there were traditional family gatherings, festive food and presents under the tree (mostly for kids but some adults exchanged gifts as well). We would buy a holiday tree around December 28 and set it up just in time for the New Year celebration and would keep until mid-January.

Winter WoodsWe didn’t have Christmas but we had winters – very cold and snowy one year; chilly and sludgy another. There whole city would be colored in grayscale tones – white sidewalks, gray roads and almost black tree branches against the whitish winter skies.  And it was so cozy to look at those bare branches through a window from warmth of a room while decorating a holiday tree. Just add a fireplace (we didn’t have those but I can “see” it now) and you’ll get the picture I paint in my mind when I think about Winter Woods perfume.

Winter Woods by Sonoma Scent Studio – created in 2008 (and updated in 2009) by Laurie Erickson, notes include guaiacwood, cedar, sandalwood, birch tar, cade, oakmoss absolute, castoreum, amber, labdanum absolute, vetiver, ambergris and musk.

Ines from All I am – a redhead smells sweetness in Winter Woods. If it’s there I cannot smell this type of sweetness. For me it’s a pleasant combination of several woods: wood burning in a fireplace, wood log next to in a holder, Christmas tree by the window and even a snow-covered bough outside of the window.

Winter Woods is available from Sonoma Scent Studio website in multiple sizes (1 ml, 2.5ml, 5 ml, 17 ml and 34 ml). I’m using the 2.5 ml spray sample that I bought as a part of a very nice box set. It has a good tenacity so my sample will be enough for a while. When it’s done I’ll go for another one of a purse spray.

After we’ve moved to California, I remember it was so unusual that all the decorations were up early in December. Combined with heavy rains, evergreen plants and relatively warm weather the idea of celebrating Christmas hadn’t taken roots for a while.

Christmas TreeOur first year here we went to get a tree the next day after Christmas. We found it on the closest abandoned Christmas tree lot. It was free. When it was time to take it down (mid-January, remember?) we couldn’t figure out a way to dispose of it. Now it seems so trivial, I can think of many options – for that or any other “problem” but back then, several months in the country, it felt unsolvable. The best solution we found was to take it out to the balcony… It stayed there for another two years and became at some point a family joke.

For the second New Year here we tried to follow the same strategy (in the first part – getting a tree, with throwing it away we were smarter and did it in line with neighbors). It failed! I think it was a city ordinance that prevented lots’ owners from abandoning them again, even for a couple of days. So by the time we went looking for a tree everything was gone. The New Year would have been ruined for me if it weren’t for some neighbor who had no use for a Christmas tree a day or two after the holiday: we found a perfectly fresh tree next to a dumpster and not being too squeamish, brought it home, decorated it and let this tree fulfill its destiny the second time. How many other cut Christmas trees are getting the second chance?

When I’m thinking about that time one perfume comes to mind – Rush for Men. That was the first perfume I bought for my vSO here, and we both always thought it smelled of “ёлочка” (Tannenbaum).

Rush for Men by Gucci – created in 2000 by Daniela Roche-Andrier and Antoine Mainsondieu, notes include lavender, cypress, incense, cedarwood, patchouli, Okoumé wood, sandalwood and musk. Does it really smell like a pine or a fir tree? Not any more since now my nose can distinguish scents more precisely. But still when I carefully spray Rush from an almost empty bottle – that same bottle that I bought more than ten years ago – the first thought that crosses my mind is “it smells of “ёлочка.” Sadly Rush for Men has been discontinued and can be found only on eBay at the price that successfully cures nostalgia. As I’ve mentioned already, my bottle is almost empty and the staying power of the perfume decreased over years so I might buy another bottle if I come across it for a more reasonable price.

I haven’t found any real reviews for Gucci Rush for Men from any blogs I read. If you reviewed this perfume please share a link in your comment.

In the recent several years we started celebrating all winter holidays – Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year. We get (and sometimes even decorate) our holiday tree earlier in December; I kindle my Menorah for eight days; we attend a traditional Christmas Day dinner at our friends’ house (and even hosted it once when their house was being rebuilt); and we gather with our close friends to greet a New Year at 12 o’clock on December 31, eat, drink and exchange gifts trying to stay awake as long as we can.

Christmas Tree 2I love the scent of a Christmas tree. I wait the whole year for that one month that smells of pine or fir resin and needles. I look forward to decorating trees, both at the office and at home. And an olfactory experience is a big part of the joy.

This year everything is slightly off.

First, I made a decision (yes, it was all my doing, I have nobody to blame) to buy an artificial tree for our office. I had good reasons for that: while natural trees of the size we need do not survive with our AC/heating system, I found a perfect artificial tree that looks extremely lifelike. It doesn’t smell.

Then for my home I bought a beautiful real tree in a pot. After holidays we plan to either plant it on our backyard or keep it there in its pot for a year and use it again for the next holiday season. It’s very beautiful – just the right size, color and fluffiness. Guess what? IT DOESN’T SMELL!

How have I been coping with that mishap? Over the last couple of weeks while thinking about this post and then writing it, I was constantly wearing Winter Woods, Rush and especially Fille en Aiguilles.

Fille en Aiguilles by Serge Lutens – created in 2009 by Christopher Sheldrake, notes include Pine needles, vetiver, sugary sap, laurel, fir balsam, frankincense, candied fruit and spice.

They say “Be careful what you wish for.” In my comment to Birgit’s wonderful review and giveaway I wrote “I still hope to find at least one SL’s perfume to love and to want to buy a FB.” I won that giveaway (once again – thank you, Birgit, for hosting it and thank you, Vanessa, for delivering it to me). I’m almost done with my Fille en Aiguilles sample vial and I definitely want need more! I won’t try to describe the scent: if you haven’t tried it yet read that review at Olfactoria’s Travels (link above) and then try it for yourself. I just want to say that I really enjoy Fille en Aiguilles and I’m grateful to it for helping me through this unscented holiday season.

Images: my own

If you haven’t done it yet, check out other Joint Blogging Event participants’ blogs: