The fougere is one of the oldest genres of perfumery. It is accepted as being the place where modern perfumery began 134 years ago. Since then it has been one of the styles which has probably had the broadest impact from the drugstore to the niche boutique. Much like its cousin, cologne, it has been ripe for remodeling. The modern versions of these venerable forms allow for the use of new ingredients to reinvigorate the form. I support that kind of thinking but there are moments when I want to return to the beginning. I just want a traditional fougere done with exceptional materials; the new Parfums MDCI Le Barbier de Tanger is exactly that.
Fougeres are most often described as “barbershop” fragrances. It is generally true that the keynotes of citrus, lavender, and vetiver which form the spine of many fougeres are also the milieu of the barbershop. In fact, when I try and describe vetiver to non-perfume people I invoke the barbershop as a place where they might have encountered it. Fougeres have always called up the barbershop I went to as a child not only for the smells of the shop but the patrons were likely to be wearing the mass-market men’s fragrances of the day; in the 1960’s those were fougeres. Fougeres are also the culprit when a man wears too much perfume. Which is all part of the reasons why current perfumers have embraced making changes to step away from that. Le Barbier de Tanger embraces something different by hewing to the classic architecture.
Claude Marchal the owner and creative director behind Parfums MDCI oversaw one of the best modern fougeres in one of the brand’s earliest releases, Invasion Barbare. Le Barbier de Tanger is an alternative as M. Marchal asks perfumer Anne-Sophie Behagel to go back and create a classic fougere with top-notch raw materials.
Le Barbier de Tanger uses a mixture of bergamot, lemon, and tangerine to provide the citrus top accord. To that Mme Behagel adds basil and cardamom as contrast and complement respectively. This is as good a citrus opening phase as I’ve tried this year. Mme Behagel places each piece so that they all shine brightly together. The heart brings in lavender which at first tilts more herbal because of the basil but then goes more sweetly floral because Mme Behagel adds pineapple to it. To keep this from getting too sweet she also employs petitgrain to tune this so it stays right in that sweet spot that doesn’t challenge those barbershop norms. A verdant vetiver provides the center for the base accord to form around. Patchouli and woods provide traditional support but Mme Behagel turns it just a bit leathery with some oakmoss to form the leather accord.
Le Barbier de Tanger has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage. Be careful this is like those fougeres of yesteryear they can fill up a room if you spray too much.
When I read M. Marchal’s description before trying Le Barbier de Tanger I hadn’t realized how much I missed a true old-fashioned fougere. Once I had the opportunity to experience it I felt like I was welcoming a childhood friend back into my life. Le Barbier de Tanger is so good because it follows all the first principles of fougeres.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Osswald NYC.
One of the strengths of Parfums MDCI has been owner Claude Marchal’s delight in doing things differently. It has produced an eclectic collection encompassing many of the best releases of a given year. Starting in 2013 M. Marchal began collaborating with perfumer Cecile Zarokian. Mme Zarokian is another artist who enjoys toying with the tried and true looking for a place to turn it from common to memorable. In particular, the last release for Parfums MDCI, Les Indes Galantes, was a fantastic updating of the gourmand style of perfume. For their latest release, Fetes Persanes, they are creating a baroque floral with some of those twists Mme Zarokian is becoming known for.
The inspiration of for Fetes Persanes comes from a movement within Jean-Philippe Rameau’s musical work Les Indes Galantes. This is the part of the opera which describes a Persian Feast which coincidentally is a flower festival. Fetes Persanes is meant to capture that combination of the smells of the feast in conjunction with the flower power surrounding it. If it sounds like it is going to be a gigantic floral that is where M. Marchal and Mme Zarokian enjoy playing with our preconceived notions.
The fragrant feast opens with black pepper out front. If I am looking for flowers and am greeted with the spicy black pepper I am alerted right away this is not going to be what I think. The spice theme continues as the smells of the spices used to prepare the food come in to focus. Mme Zarokian uses a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. She keeps these weighted in such a way so that they aren’t too heavy but I wouldn’t describe them as transparent. Then in what I think is a very intelligent choice there aren’t multiple floral notes there is just one, rose. Mme Zarokian has shown in the past she knows how to get the most out of rose. In Fetes Persanes she uses a bit of geranium to bring forward some of the greener facets. The spices settle among the petals matching the characteristic spicy core of a good rose. This is a very good rose accord made up of three or four sources. Patchouli provides a transition from the flower festival back to the food for dessert. Clean woods of gaiac and cedar frame a luscious vanilla. This plays off the softness of a white musk cocktail.
Fetes Persanes has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I really like that M. Marchal chose to make Fetes Persanes not a literal flower festival but a festival of rose swathed in spices. This is a party well worth spending some time at.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
For being one of the most recent sub genres of perfume the Gourmand sector has been in danger of becoming a cliché. It has gone from delightfully decadent to boringly banal in what seems record time. Too many releases throw together some fruit, some sugar, some spice, and drench it all in vanilla. Maybe one different ingredient, or two, but the result is the same; a seemingly endless assembly line of bland vanilla cupcakes. Thankfully Claude Marchal owner and creative director of Parfums MDCI does not believe in corporate constructed pablum. His vision is of a gourmand that is like a hand-made cupcake which makes the boring other ones seem even less appealing. That is what Les Indes Galantes achieves.
The name comes from the ballet heroique composed by Jean-Philippe Rameau. One of the nice things about some of the names of perfume is I learn something new. This is a work and composer I am completely unfamiliar with. Wikipedia tells me he was the foremost French opera composer during the Baroque period and he played a mean harpsichord. There is nothing about the fragrance which connects to this in any way I can discern,
M. Marchal collaborates again with perfumer Cecile Zarokian on their third fragrance for Parfums MDCI. This is the first Gourmand for MDCI and it is only the second in Mme Zarokian’s young career. That relative freshness at approaching a perfume like Les Indes Galantes might be the reason it feels so different to me. Many of the same familiar levels of this type of fragrance are present but M. Marchal and Mme Zarokian take a different tack throughout Les Indes Galantes.
Citrus and berries is a well-worn opening. Mme Zarokian takes the orange and the raspberry but she enhances the tartness of the orange with a good amount of bergamot. The raspberry is elided of much of its juicy berry character by the use of almond restraining that exuberance. This makes the top layer a tug of war between bitter and sweet. In the heart the spices arrive. The three Mme Zarokian chooses are cinnamon, clove, and coriander. In a lesser perfume the cinnamon would lead the way. Mme Zarokian inverts that thinking with the coriander and clove on top and the cinnamon providing a simmering warmth underneath. In the base here comes the vanilla and benzoin but Mme Zarokina turns it exotic with a set of unusual notes to turn the boring into beauty. Labdanum, leather, and heliotrope all provide contrast on top of the sweet.
Les Indes Galantes has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It is so striking when something different in an overextended sector comes along. Les Indes Galantes is like seeing gourmands with new eyes. I can only hope for another lovely cupcake from Claude & Cecile sometime in the future.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.