Over the last year or so I have been fortunate to be given a bit of a crash course in new perfume ingredients. The chemist in me is fascinated with the structure of the molecules and the difference in effect moving bonds and atoms around has on a scent profile. Equally as fascinating is the way natural materials are extracted and then further separated via different physical techniques.
It is fun to meet a perfumer who is using a new raw material as they build a new perfume. There is a palpable enthusiasm at using something different. I wonder if the same kind of enthusiasm was present when new pigments expanded the options for the painters. I suspect any artist when given something new to consider they immediately begin to think of the places this could fit into their current imaginings.
I’ve also begun thinking about this because of the new wave of transparent minimal fragrances being released to appeal to the younger generation of perfume buyers. Since there is seemingly a market for minimalist constructions it provides an outlet for the different isolates of the cornerstones of perfumery to provide a different perspective.
What has been trending particularly this year is to use a particular isolate which is missing a characteristic part of the full-spectrum ingredient. For instance, the sandalwood used by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu in Comme des Garcons Concrete is missing some of the austere woody character. The white flowers at the heart of Chanel Gabrielle can be dialed to a desired indole level by perfumer Olivier Polge. Daniela Andrier uses a specific less rooty version of iris in Tiffany & Co.
What is interesting is each perfumer adds in what is missing with a different ingredient providing an opaque abstraction of the keynote. M. Beaulieu uses rose oxide and its metallic nature to replace the desiccated wood. M. Polge uses a set of white musks to set off the small amount of indoles present. Mme Andrier lets patchouli provide a different earthiness.
This is what will drive this current generational shift in perfume styles. By having more options, the perfumers can more precisely find a desired effect. It is the definition of modern perfumery to take nature and interpret it through our sense of smell. With the cornucopia of new options, the expansion of the perfumer’s palette promises a creativity that fragrance has not seen before.
With the re-release of the Comme des Garcons Olfactory Library plus last year’s Blackpepper, which felt like a Series style fragrance, I was excited for all the wrong reasons when I saw the new release was named Concrete. I was expecting an exploration of the smells of fresh concrete. Especially since it was inspired by “urban cityscapes”. Then I read further to find out this was the opposite of what I thought. It was meant to be a “deconstructed sandalwood” fragrance.
I was still interested because I have had some access to the incredible number of different sandalwood isolates for a perfumer to use. If the perfumer, Nicolas Beaulieu, chose well he could use those different sandalwood sources leaving spaces for other ingredients to fill in. This is what I thought of as I experienced Concrete. The sandalwood used is like the steel infrastructure of a skyscraper. Not in the way it smells but in the way it provides the framework from which other ingredients can fill out the rest of the structure. Under the ever-present creative direction of Christian Astuguevieille he and M. Beaulieu form a sandalwood edifice.
From the first moments, the sandalwood presents itself. I would dearly love to know which sandalwood ingredients he is using for sure. What I experience is one where the austere elements are removed while the sweeter woodiness is enhanced. The creaminess is also attenuated but not as much as the desiccated qualities. Then a spice trio of cardamom, clove, and cumin begin to add to the sandalwood structure. The cardamom is the greener version contrasting the amplified sweetness. Clove complements the same quality while cumin provides a bit of the sweat of the construction crew, but just a tiny bit of that. Besides the sandalwood the other keynote in Concrete is rose oxide. I always think of rose oxide as sci-fi rose because it feels like the rose a robot would produce. It has a geranium-like rose effect shot through with metallic threads. This turns it into a perfect partner for the sandalwood here. It inserts an industrially pretty floral right in the heart. A little jasmine provides some lift to the upper stories of our skyscraper. The base uses cedar to provide a cleaner woody partner to the sandalwood while some musk, as the cumin did before, adds some humanity to the final moments.
Concrete has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is an excellent addition to the Comme des Garcons collection. It might not have been a riff on the smell of poured concrete; but after wearing it for a few days I have come to prefer Concrete as produced by Messrs. Astuguevieille and Beaulieu. I am extremely happy to ride the elevators in my sandalwood skyscraper all-day long.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Comme des Garcons/ Dover Street Market.