For all of the series I have on Colognoisseur there is a long list of potential subjects which I choose from when I am ready to write a new entry. For the series called Dead Letter Office which is about discontinued perfumes which I think are incredible pieces of olfactory art I recently noticed an interesting thing. When I started the blog in February of 2014 I made up a list of discontinued perfumes and the perfumer for each. When I look over the list of about thirty there is one perfumer who is responsible for five of the entries. All of them were released from 1998-2004. All of them were composed by perfumer Jacques Cavallier who I now dub the Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office.
Those five perfumes are Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey, Yves St. Laurent Nu, Yves St. Laurent M7 (co-created with Alberto Morillas), Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Boucheron Trouble. If there is any similarity between the perfumes it is that they failed for being out of step with the prevailing perfume trends at the time of “fresh and clean” or fruity floral. None of these followed those trends and thus the marketplace rejected them to eventually be discontinued. If you think M. Cavallier himself was out of step that also isn’t the case as he is the perfumer behind Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey which could be said to be the standard bearer for “fresh and clean”.
The reason M. Cavallier is associated with these discontinued perfumes is because the Creative Directors for each of them was willing to take a big risk. These are all perfumes which flew in the face of the market forces attempting to shift the trends onto something different. Those two visionary Creative Directors were Chantal Roos and Tom Ford who are responsible, in part or together, for the creative direction of all five. If there is anything I repeat over and over is I want a brand to take a chance on breaking away from convention; these perfumes do that.
M. Cavallier has provided truly unique aspects to each. The raw coconut milk accord of Le Feu D’Issey. The cumin based human musk of Alexander McQueen Kingdom. The fantastic green cardamom of YSL Nu. The contrast from lemon meringue to wood infused vanilla in Boucheron Trouble. Finally, most famously, the first prominent use of oud in western perfumery in YSL M7.
This is the soul of creativity and what turns a perfume from fragrance to olfactory art. That M. Cavallier can seamlessly create mega-hits like L’Eau D’Issey and any of these five perfumes mentioned above shows how talented he is. Even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances which I purchased.
One of the most cutting edge fashion designers of the last fifty years was Alexander McQueen. His was a life of vibrant imagery crossed with internal demons which would lead to him taking his own life in 2010 at the age of 40. Like many who have their brilliance tempered with something entirely the opposite it leaves behind a glittering trail like a shooting star across the sky.
Mr. McQueen by 2003 at the age of 34 had been named British Designer of the Year four times. Like all designers with that much success it was time to branch out into other areas. Of course one of those areas was fragrance. The first perfume was released in 2003, Alexander McQueen Kingdom. Of the many designers who release their first signature perfume Kingdom might have been the most emblematic of the fashion that the name on the bottle portended it to be.
Mr. McQueen would team up with Chantal Roos, as Creative Directors, to perfumer Jacques Cavallier for Kingdom. Mr. McQueen was known for going for the dramatic on his catwalk shows. Kingdom was going to do the same. M. Cavallier while producing many mainstream fragrances was also having a creative streak with lots of different fashion designer brands. I think most of those fragrances in the latter category are part of the most impressively creative collection by a single perfumer. That most of them will be subjects of this series tell you they really were for only a precious few. Kingdom was no different M. Cavallier was creating a perfume that was meant to shock and the note he was going to use to shock and awe was cumin.
By the time I got my opportunity to try Kingdom that cumin note was all anyone was talking about. Remember in 2003 the predominant perfume aesthetic was the fresh and clean. Cumin was not fresh and clean it was filthy dirty. When I was talking about it with a couple of other perfume lovers they told me it was disgusting that it smelled like, as they lowered their voices, “a vagina”. This became a pervasive label for Kingdom and it is at least partially responsible for its demise. It was out of step with the current trends and the whisper campaign did it no favors.
I love cumin in perfume and one of my most favorite Ditpyques, L’Autre, was loaded with cumin. It was also one of the perfumes I had to be careful to choose my moments on when to wear it. Hearing Kingdom was similar had me smiling in anticipation. So imagine my surprise when I finally get a bottle that the first thing I smell is orange. M. Cavallier takes bergamot, neroli, orange blossom, and mandarin to create this gauzily beautiful citrus opening. It is gorgeous and it is shredded in the next phase as a spicy rose and indolic jasmine form the layers that the cumin would perch between. the indolic jasmine was the perfect floral to go with the cumin to form a deeply human accord. The rose is not as prevalent as you might think as it creeps in and out with a waxing and waning effect. This all finishes on a base of Copahu balm, sandalwood and myrrh. After the heart this serves to soothe the nerves set jangling with the confrontational heart.
Kingdom has 12-14 hour longevity in the EDP concentration and above average sillage.
This is one of my most cherished bottles because I think the entire creative team achieved the perfume they wanted to make. That they had the fortitude to release it into a world which, at the time, was not ready for it was also impressive. I end many of these by saying if it was released today it would find its audience. Not in this case. Kingdom was a unique evocation of a particular designer’s aesthetic written in bold olfactory strokes. This was never going to be a commercial success. It is a spectacular piece of olfactory art that I have continued to enjoy for many years now.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.