Six L’Artisan Parfumeur Perfumes…

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L’Artisan Parfumeur’s perfumes © Victor Wong

It’s a bit surprising to find out that L’Artisan is a 40 year old “niche perfume” company and have published nearly 80 perfumes, and I am glad that they are still here.

Although I really like the new 2016 packaging design of L’Artisan, I see it as a signal for me to bite the bullet and buy some of the bottles with the old design that I’ve always wanted – my collection will look better, also right now the prices are really good on eBay.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’eau du Caporal (1985)

L’eau du Caporal, one of the earliest releases, is a scent that’s supposed to make you smell like a handsome corporal with perfect pearly teeth on the cover a paperback romance novel. To me, it’s a combo scent of fresh breath after a vigorous gargling of spearmint mouthwash (that lasts and lasts), and a light fougere with hints of lavender and patchouli that fights your perspiration under that blue stiff jacket. The combined effect is actually quite unusual (light manly minty cologne), I have never smelled anything like it, and it doesn’t smell dated at all.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Seville a L’aube (2012)

I’ve heard many good things about Seville a L’aube and some people call it the reference orange blossom perfume. I can see why, but somehow any perfumes with an orange blossom theme tend to smell similar, like any vanilla themed dessert when you start putting strawberries or chocolate on top it’s no longer a vanilla themed dessert.

I over-applied this perfume once by reflex action because it’s a L’Artisan perfume – they rarely last more than three hours on me, but this time I was wrong. It stays with me like a bucket of orange blossom concentrate that has rained on me in the movie Carrie. Luckily, the scent has a soapy vibe; I smell like I have taken a really good shower.

L’artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi (1992)

Before smelling Mimosa Pour Moi and Diptyque’s Mimosa candles, I only had a vague understanding of what mimosa really smelled like because they are often blended in perfumes to give some olfactive effect. (Kind of like flour mixed into oil to make gravy; it thickens a perfume to make it smells gelatinous. I sound like a lunatic, don’t I?)

I can’t say I am crazy about the scent of mimosa, and it has a smell that I can’t describe perfectly – it smells resinous and a bit raw and vegetal but not completely; and I can’t even say it smells floral to me. It’s just strange.

Mimosa Pour Moi to me is a perfume for reference. It’s not complicated at all, it’s just… mimosa and something light. It doesn’t bring me much joy but more like an enlightenment.

L’Artisan Parfume’s Passage d’Enfer (1999)

The translated French title is “Passage to Hell”. With a name like this, how come no one talks about it? If it really were a passage to hell, you are going to be greeted by a silly golden retriever licking your face and a welcome basket of kittens.

This is a 17 year old incense themed perfume and it still smells modern and “niche” by today’s standard, but it doesn’t have a distinct, opulent or bad boy character of today’s incense perfumes. It is light, airy, mildly sweet, woody scent infused with a little bit of lily. If you like Le Labo’s prohibitively expensive Gaiac 10 perfume, this is the incense version of it.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mandarine (2006)

I got this when L’Artisan put everything on sale to get rid of the old packaging, and possibly this one for good. This scent reminds me of two things – hotel lobby and Tang artificial orange powder drink.

The opening is a refreshing, friendly, mildly sweet citrus scent with ginger to make it slightly exotic, but this blend smells like the lobby of a few hotels that I have stayed in Hong Kong, which runs powerful aroma diffusers 24/7. The scent is nice and inoffensive, and even my friend has been looking for this scent for his home ever since he returned. Now if I wear Mandarine next to him, he might ask if I have just visited Hong Kong.

The mid phase of this scent is Tang orange powder that has made millions of kids fat, unfortunately I am one of the victims, and the needle is hovering between “you ruined me” and “why does it smell powdery” and wouldn’t stop like a sine curve for an hour or so.

Eventually it settles into a sweet, mild ambery orangey skin scent that would smell nice on anybody on a summer day.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fou d’Absinthe (2006)

From zero interest to full-blown love. It wasn’t the most interesting scent from L’artisan when I started exploring the line and the 1ml sample didn’t help. Now I find absinthe smell more interesting than vetiver and this scent is elegant like Chanel’s Sycomore, “barbershop-style humble”, manly, but staying 10 yards away from the gang who wears Drakkar Noir. An elegant classic.

Kenzo’s Parfum d’Été (1992)

Kenzo's Parfum d'Ete (1992) © Victor Wong
Kenzo’s Parfum d’Ete (1992) © Victor Wong

Kenzo’s Parfum d’Été (Scent of Summer) comes in a leaf-shaped bottle that I think looked so tacky in the 90s is now finely-aged, uber-tacky, and its big bottle cap made out of 500 pounds of non-recyclable plastic is so ridiculously big and awkwardly shaped that it could be used as a lifeboat when the flood hits my city. I simply love it and have to have it.

There are a lot of 50 mL Parfum d’Été bottles on eBay but not many 100 mL bottles that also come with the original box and a good price (yes, I am that fussy). In fact, my local perfume shop still has one left (with no box) and I was so close to buying it because the scent was actually very good (umm… to be discussed), but I resisted the temptation. (By the way, there is a “newer” version of Parfum d’Été that comes in a more sensible and modern bottle design, but the scent is much more diluted. It’s also discontinued but still widely available.)

Eventually an unopened, brand new 1992 Parfum d’Été appeared on eBay and no one wanted it and I got it for a good price. The package arrived, I unwrapped it, took it out of the box carefully by grabbing the gigantic perfume cap and the bottle just fell off my hand and hit the floor. My heart was screaming in such a high-pitch voice that my neighbour’s evil pure white Pomeranian started barking. I suddenly had flashbacks of reading people’s posts saying how much they had missed their bottles because they all slipped off their hands and fell to the ground, shattered. Now I think about it, Parfum d’Été has the world’s worst ergonomically designed perfume bottle.

Now on to the perfume itself… I put it in an interrogation room for a week and everyday I asked the same question, “Are you a perfume or a shampoo scent!?” I analyzed its DNA sample in my head and the result was not conclusive. As a vintage scent, I could detect notes that I have never smelled in shampoos (hints of oakmoss, musks, sandalwood, rose and amber), but it also has a bunch of rather synthetic floral notes that are now commonly used in shampoos (green aldehyde, freesia, peony, etc). But really, no one cares, when I wear it it brings me happiness and feelings of cleanliness and freshness. It can also be interpreted as an extension of my hair hygiene.

Annick Goutal’s Ce Soir Ou Jamais (1999)

Annick Goutal Ce Soir Ou Jamais © Victor Wong
Annick Goutal Ce Soir Ou Jamais © Victor Wong

The first time I smelled Annick Goutal’s Ce Soir Ou Jamais (Tonight or Never) it was freshly sprayed on a test strip in a department store. Its opening was so beautiful that I almost bought it immediately, but I didn’t and shouldn’t because I was already holding a shopping bag in my hand. The opening smelled of ripe Bartlett pears, it’s so juicy, sweet and lovely, I felt that I had levitated half an inch above ground. (Actually it was ambrette seed note that I was smelling.)

The second time I visited the counter, I smelled Ce Soir Ou Jamais again, but from the bottle cap. The fresh opening was already gone, and all I got was Miss Fatturkish Rose. “Miss Rose? I didn’t expect to see you here.” “Yes, hun, I got stuck in this cap for a while. Can you ask the sales assistant for a pry bar?”

In my head there’s a mini war going on… Should I bring Miss Rose home? I already have a lot of rose perfumes. Ombre Rose, Robert Piguet’s Rose Perfection, even Portrait of a Lady… well, who am I kidding, I of course lost. What a meaningless war. I bought a bottle.

When I reached home, I sat down and checked out some fragrance reviews online. One of the reviews of Ce Soir Ou Jamais was, “Annick Goutal, or whoever wearing this perfume, you are responsible for cleaning up the floor when people throw up after smelling it.” I frowned. I then reached for my Perfumes review book, and Tania Sanchez wrote, “Tonight or Never? Never. Two stars.”

I was upset, I tore open the shrink-wrap and sprayed myself crazy. I levitated a full inch above ground and floated around the living room like a piece of cloud.

Diptyque’s Ofrésia (1999)

Diptyque Ofresia © Victor Wong
Diptyque Ofresia © Victor Wong

Diptyque’s Ofresia freaked me out.

First of all, the perfumer of this minimalistic floral scent is Olivia Giacometti, a talented perfumer who has created many great scents for different perfume houses such as L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Dzing, Frederic Malle’s En Passant and Lubin’s Idole. While she is not the type of perfumer who likes to use a lot of notes in her creations, Ofresia has only three notes: freesia, pepper and wood. Yes, if you can buy perfumery ingredients in a supermarket, you don’t even need to bring a grocery list to make Ofresia a la King.

Ok, Ofresia only has three notes, so what? Does it smell good? Well, a big no at first then a big yes. But let me clarify first. It doesn’t smell cheap and it doesn’t smell overly simple. When I first smelled Ofresia, I “woah?” a little bit because all I could smell was a light fresh floral mixed with rubber. I know what pepper and wood smell like, so by deduction I guess freesia smells a little bit rubbery in nature? I know that the scents of a lot of flowers are actually quite complex (e.g jasmine smells redolent and fecal), maybe freesia smells fresh, redolent, green and rubbery in nature? Once I’ve overcome that “some flowers smell a bit weird” mental hurdle, Ofresia becomes an one-of-a-kind scent that I enjoy very much. Now if I want a perfume with a floral scent that is not rose, jasmine, tuberose or iris, I know which bottle to reach for.

Serge Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle (1999)

Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle © Victor Wong
Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle © Victor Wong

While lining up to pay at a Toronto Korean grocery store, a caucasian woman in the shop suddenly screamed, “No, you can’t do this! This is poisonous!” Everyone turned around to see what happened, but all I saw was an old man mopping the floor.

“No, you can’t mix bleach with other cleaning products! It creates toxic fumes and they will kill you!” The woman pointed at the bucket as she spoke very nervously.

I could faintly smell something in the air was wrong, but the store was huge and well ventilated, the toxic fume was not strong enough to cause anyone harm. The more dangerous and sad thing about this was that no one ever stepped up to tell the old man about the situation in Korean, and as much as I wanted to help, I couldn’t because I didn’t know any Korean. The woman ran out of the store to bring a shopping mall security guard to handle the situation, and to her frustration, the guard didn’t know what to say to the old man because they couldn’t communicate. I saw two streams of tears running down the woman’s pomegranate face and before she left the store, she said, “You guys are assholes! Assholes! Criminals!”

Compared to Christopher Sheldrake’s Tubereuse Criminelle where he poured gasoline into a tuberose perfume and called it a crime, Tubereuse Criminelle is a much less deadlier concoction. If you can mentally subtract the gasoline notes or Vicks Vapour Rub smell from this perfume, you have a very beautiful tuberose perfume. He really didn’t have to put those unusual notes in the perfume because before he had created a perfume for Serge Lutens called A La Nuit, a relatively simple perfume that was all about jasmine and it worked. I guess as an artist you have to constantly push people’s buttons and challenge yourself; if you have been painting flowers for years it’s fun to paint a gas station explosion scene where a woman wearing shades and a white Chinese gown walks slowly towards the camera.

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 6 : L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mechant Loup (1997)

L'Artisan Parfumeur Mechant Loup © Victor Wong
L’Artisan Parfumeur Mechant Loup © Victor Wong

[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]

Pt. VI. Perfume Names and Expectation – L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mechant Loup

I don’t know French, but I would be in big trouble if I do – I could read all the French perfume names, and easily get sucked into the little fantasy world that they create and possibly buy a bottle just because of the name itself. Recently Luckyscent.com announced that their top-selling perfumes in 2014 included “The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. IMHO” by 4160 Tuesdays, and I think one of the major contributing factors is its cute name.

Film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel mentioned that the movie Dirty Dancing was a smash hit in the 80s’ probably because it had one of the best movie titles in history. In the perfume world, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume was a huge hit in the 80s’ not just because the scent was good, but the name was controversial and it sounded dangerous and decadent. However, Opium has been banned in China because China paid a heavy price in the Opium Wars in the 19th century; an opportunity gained here, and an opportunity lost there. (There’s an Opium flanker called Opium Eau D’orient Poesie de Chine, but on the box, the Chinese title that dominates the packaging reads “My Fair Lady”, not Opium).

One the other hand, I also find it interesting that simple, literal names such as Guerlain’s “Vetiver” and Tom Ford’s “Tobacco Vanille” also work. Maybe certain people prefer simple straight-forward names to fancy names like “What We Do in Paris Is Secret” (by A Lab of Fire), but I suspect in order for such names to work, the brand itself is already well-known for its style or other qualities, such as Tom Ford is perceived as luxurious and stylish, there’s no need to pretty up the perfumes with some obscure names.

(Speaking of Vetiver, did you notice there are a lot of perfumes with the same name Vetiver? I wonder is it because you can’t register a product name with a single word that you can find in a dictionary?)

At one point I got very interested in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s perfumes, and I had watched quite a few of their promotional videos on Youtube. In one of the videos, the “ambassador” of L’Artisan Parfumeur mentioned the perfume “Mechant Loup”. He enthusiastically proclaimed, “Mechant Loup means big bad wolf in French!” Hmm, interesting! I immediately checked Luca Turin’s book on perfumes for a quick review (it has become a reflex action, unfortunately). In his one-star, one-sentence review, he wrote: “Bad wolf? More like a wet dog.” Actually this made me more interested in smelling Mechant Loup – why did L’Artisan Parfumeur give it that name and how did it fail?

To me, Mechant Loup doesn’t conjure up an image of a bad wolf or a wet dog. It smells too tame and too quiet to be bad or animalic, but I think it smells very nice and herbal. In fact, it reminds me of a traditional Chinese herbal drink called Five-Flower Tea (Plumeria, Chrysanthemum, Pagoda Tree Flower, Japanese Honeysuckle, Cotton Tree Flower). It smells dry, herbal, with a hint of pumped-up roasty chamomile and honey sweetness. I actually prefer Mechant Loup to the famous Timbuktu. So I guess Merchant Loup “fails” because of mismatched expectation; if L’Artisan Parfumeur named it differently, would Luca Turin give it a better score? I suspect he would.

Near the end of the development cycle of my perfumes, I handed out samples to my co-workers for final feedbacks. My boss told me that his wife thought that Panda was “perfect” and she also liked “Beaver”, but she disliked the name. I told him I could name it “Sensual Musks”. He immediately said, “Never mind what I have just said. You will have no fighting chance if you name it Sensual Musks.”

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 3: Diptyque’s Philosykos (1996)

Diptyque Philosykos EDP © Victor
Diptyque Philosykos EDP © Victor

[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]

Pt. III. Unwavered Olfactive and Art Direction – Diptyque’s Philosykos

I remember taking a test strip sprayed with some Philosykos and walked out of a department store, people looking at me sniffing that white strip of paper as I passed them by, as if there was some kind of new fun drug that just got legalized and they were missing out, and 15 minutes later I turned around and bought a full bottle.

Philosykos smells like one part my childhood in Hong Kong, and one part my adulthood in Canada – when I was a kid, my favourite snack drink was semi-sweet coconut milk in a little carton box; when I was living by myself in a condo unit in Toronto 15 years ago, I had a mini potted fig tree and I could smell the green yet milky fig leaves every time I touched it. Philosykos smells fresh, comforting, edible, because it’s a little sweet and coconutty, not-so-edible because it smells botanical and raw. It’s awesome.

Strangely, out of that many Diptyque fragrances, I only love one or two bottles, but it has never crossed my mind that I would hate any of the scents that I don’t love. If one day Diptyque releases an oud fragrance, I will be a little bit disappointed, because to me, Diptyque is all about fresh or woody botanical scents, and it has an abstract and yet consistent olfactive style. They are a little bit like Hayao Miyazaki’s anime, one look and you can tell it’s his movie because of the art direction, yet each one has its own story to tell.

What also drew me to their scents was their label artwork. Imperfect black and white ink pen artwork and chaotic pre-letterset typography that channel you to an unfamiliar yet lovely location or mood, such as the pagoda or the Indian palace depicted on the Do Son and Eau Lente label artwork, or a Mediterranean garden full of lavender from the label of Eau de Lavande.

I remember asking my coworker Caro which perfume brand she likes more and she says, “umm… they don’t smell strong but nice, they have one that smells of tomato stem (L’Ombre Dans L’eau)… which one is it?” “Diptyque?” “Yes.”

Diptyque fragrances don’t get a lot of Scent of the Day mention in Facebook fragrance groups, probably because they are not really exciting scents, but I want to make a wild guess that 3 out of 5 women in the fragrance community has a bottle of Diptyque in their collection. If this is true, Diptyque is a very successful brand, in my eyes.

If I can’t make my perfumes all share the same olfactive style, I want my packaging to at least have a consistent and distinct art direction like Diptyque’s.