“Something that feels familiar yet also unexpected…” — so reads one part of Roja Dove’s official description for Britannia, and it is a somewhat accurate description. This is a fragrance which does indeed smell very familiar, thanks to the way it echoes, at different points in time, everything from vintage L’Origan and vintage L’Heure Bleue to modern gourmand floral orientals and modern spicy-woody oriental ambers, including several from Roja Parfums. For me, the “unexpected” part of the equation arises from the degree to which Britannia’s first stage harkens back to the opulent vintage aesthetic which had originally made Roja Dove so incredibly popular, rather than the mainstream designer or Middle Eastern bouquets which have characterized so many of his recent releases over the last two and a half years.
Willy Wonka would probably have loved Areej Le Doré‘s new Russian Oud. The chocolate and candy magician in Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book was noted for transforming sweet items into something fun outside of its usual structure. The same can be said for Russian Oud which puts an oriental twist on the famed sweets factory or, to view it in a different light, takes Willy Wonka’s magic factory and places it firmly in the Orient. Imagine Willy’s river of chocolate, but now slash it through with caramel and treacly labdanum toffee and transport it to Ali Baba’s cave of oriental treasures. The cave lies deep in the heart of a Hindi oud mountain, its carved walls emitting gusts of black smoke and heavy brown muskiness. Willy Wonka’s gourmand river now runs alongside tall river beds made out of resinous, smoky red sandalwood and brown-red earthy patchouli, and is watched over by Oompa Loompas clad in birch tar leather, their skin orange from a thin patina of spices, and Ali Baba’s forty thieves clad in myrrh and more leather. Together, they stir the molten river of chocolate, toffee, and caramel with long paddles made out of creamy sandalwood, oud wood, and buttered oud calfskin, sending it down into the heart of the mountain where it finally winds its way into an ambered pool of caramel muskiness flecked with a pinch of cocoa.
There is an exciting, bright new talent on the perfume scene, John Biebel, a man who reminds me a bit of Slumberhouse‘s Josh Lobb in his creative, bold, unusual, and very modern voice, a man who has quietly released two of the most accomplished and striking fragrances of 2017 and a third pretty one. They demonstrate a remarkably deft mastery of complex fragrance structures, an eye for good quality raw materials, and an innate talent but, above all else, his fragrances feel authentically original. Like Mr. Lobb (and also Serge Lutens), Mr. Biebel has the rare ability to combine unusual notes or aromas that might sound odd on paper but, thanks to his talent and skill, come across in the most interesting ways that leave you sniffing your arm again and again, wondering why no-one had thought of the idea before. At other times, though, he takes a classical composition and manages to make it feel modern and fresh but also dramatic. In both instances, I think that the result is bound to be somewhat polarizing, but then original, thought-provoking, impactful, and sometimes challenging fragrances usually are.
Bourreau des Fleurs is the newest addition to Serge Lutens‘ Section d’Or. The name means “executioner of flowers” and the fragrance is devoid of any floralcy. Instead, it is a delicious, rather addictive, semi-gourmand oriental that traverses the light spectrum from golden immortelle to a darkness created out of salty black licorice, balsamic amber resins, and incense-y wood smoke. It’s my favourite new Lutens release in a long time, but it comes with some baggage.