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.
Sometimes, there are happy surprises when you test a fragrance. Fougere du Paradis and Pure Incense both took me outside of my normal comfort zones and, much to my astonishment, the new environment actually turned out to be wonderful. It was the last thing that I had expected. “Pure incense” usually ends up being a “Catholic High Mass,” liturgical fragrance like Avignon, and I dislike the attendant dustiness, soapiness, and coldness that usually shows up. As for lavender, the foundational element of a fougère, I’ve hated it since childhood and was actually phobic about it until just a few years ago. (I’ve now progressed to the “wary” category, where it strongly depends on how the plant is handled.)
But Sultan Pasha has tweaked the traditional settings for both genres, and it’s made all the difference. Fougere du Paradis transports you to a bucolic pastoral setting where the lavender is bisected by verdant, grassy fields, piney elemi, and soft herbs under a warm sun. When night falls, the olfactory landscape turns dark, smoky, earthy, leathery, and immensely resinous in a way that is reminiscent of Bogue‘s much admired, limited-edition, lavender-leather fragrance, Cologne Reloaded. Pure Incense is also different than the norm. Instead of plumes of cold, clean, dusty, white smoke evoking High Mass at the Vatican (or a church crypt), this is incense by candlelight: golden, warm, resinous, and cozy. So, let’s look at each one in-depth.