Presentation means a lot, don't you think?
When looking through my samples haul from Sniffapalooza, the one package that caught my eye most came from the French company Atelier Cologne. Wrapped up in glassine and tied with a purple satin ribbon was a series of five post cards, in individual envelopes, each containing a generous sample.
Most of the time, samples are given with a little card, if that, and not much else. A list of “notes” doesn’t mean much, as they are often couched in overblown phraseology like “gentle white woods in the rain” or “a rainy spring day in Monet's garden."
These are different. Each postcard is a scenario, a desk or tabletop. A collection of objects, designed to evoke a time and place, and to give information about the scent. There are five of these colognes, and the cards convey a the idea of a journey. Brevity allows me to show just one of the cards here: “Oolang Infinity” (image above).
Here we see an antique typewriter, on which someone has been writing a script or play in an old-fashioned serif font. A leather-bound notebook and horn-rimmed reading glasses. A glass of whiskey, with ice. Fountain pens. Bowls of potpourri, or possibly tea. A passport wallet, tarnished silver objects, a blue light bulb. Folios, cards, paper. And -- almost as an afterthought -- a bottle of cologne, just one of the objects, a supporting player, not the star. A writer’s desk from another time.
The fragrance itself is an exploration of, as the name says, Oolang tea. It’s strong, laced generously with bergamot and neroli, but not musky like Earl Grey. This is a cup of tea meant to wake you up, get the juices going, as they say, to be used as a writer uses tea or coffee. Very Anglo, manly, colonial: Rudyard Kipling’s desk. (Not sure what the blue light bulb is about, though -- any guesses?)
Each of the five fragrances has, as its calling card, one of these scenarios. For “Orange Sanguine,” which opens with perfect replication of a jug of fresh orange juice, it’s a breakfast table at an Italian seaside villa -- shells, starfish, coral, driftwood -- and a yo-yo, another odd object to guess about. Tea, again; a postcard with a scene of an Italian fishing village. For “Bois Blonds,” we see an antique movie camera, a compass, very old binoculars, a map, dice: an explorer’s belongings. The scent is of sweet tropical woods, a bit of incense, orange flower and vetiver. For “Grand Neroli,” the most feminine of the scents, a bohemian woman’s vanity table: an antique mirror with rococo frame, flowers, shells, silver-topped powder jar, whimsical ceramic Siamese cat. The scent is a mix of citrus, orange blossom and a little amber, reminiscent to me of a morning in Redondo Beach, the water still placid but the sun already strong. “Tréfle Pur” is shown to us with a tabletop, an antique photo, sprays of ivy, a silver hurricane lamp, pressed fern frond in a frame, stuffed tropical bird, old books; the scent (“trèfle” is French for “clover”) a bracing green tonic. It’s violet leaves, new-mown grass, bitter orange, spices, moss and musk.
I love these postcards, and the scents. They’re as refreshing as the visual concept. They’re obviously made with fine, some natural, ingredients -- the website says “Grasse-sourced” -- and, for colognes, long-lasting, even on my skin.
I wish all perfumes were presented this way. I’m really tired -- and I bet you are, too -- of perfume advertising consisting of silly posed supermodels and pouting, staring celebs. Spare me! This is the art of fragrance, presented as, well, art. Beautiful objects painting a portrait, not just of a smell, but of an imaginary wearer, a touch on a shoulder, not a hammer to the skull. I hope we’ll see more ideas like this.
The postcards were conceived and assembled by Nathalie Cassegrain, a set designer, and photographed by David Meredith.
These “cologne absolues” are prepared in 12 to 20% concentration, quite high for cologne, yet the prices are reasonable: between $145 - $175 for 200 mls. (That's right: 200.) All are unisex.
For “Oolang Infiniti”: bergamot, oolang tea, tobacco, jasmine, guaic wood, “blond leather,” vetiver. Perfumer: Jerome Epinette (Byredo’s “Bal d’Afrique” and “Gypsy Water.”)
For “Trèful Pur”: violet leaf, freshly cut grass, clover, bitter orange, cardamom, neroli, “Patchouli Moss,” basil. Perfumer: Jerome Epinette.
“Bois Blond”: “unique and precious woods,” incense, orange flower, vetiver, neroli, pink pepper, musk. Perfumer: Jerome Epinette.
“Grand Neroli”: orange blossom, musks, petitgrain, bergamot, galbanum, vanilla, neroli, birch leaf, “white amber.” Perfumer: Cecile Krakower (Mane Yu, and, er, Paris Hilton “Fairy Dust.”)
“Orange Sanguine”: orange, orange peel, geranium, jasmine, “amber woods,” tonka bean, sandalwood. Perfumer: Ralf Schwerger (Malle’s “Lipstick Rose,” Hermes “eau de Merveilles” (with Nathalie Feisthauer) and the currently controversial "M Mink," for Byredo.
Disclosure: I got this package at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2010.