When I began really expanding my perfumed horizons one of my earliest discoveries were the fig-based fragrances done by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. Over the course of three fragrances: L’Artisan Premier Figuier, Diptyque Philosykos, and L’Artisan Premier Figuier Extreme. Though all three of these fragrances there was one aromachemical at the center of Mme Giacobetti’s compositions, Stemone.
Stemone is an interesting class of chemical called an oxime. Oximes are defined by a double bonded nitrogen(N) which is also bonded to an alcohol(OH), highlighted in red. It is a derivative of the more common fragrance ingredients known as ketones. In the figure above you see Stemone next to the ketone from which it is synthesized, 5-methyl-3-heptanone. As I like to demonstrate in this series even a simple change like you see above has a dramatic effect on the scent profile. 5-methyl-3-heptanone has a sweet herbal scent at a concentration of 10%; at 100% it becomes citrusier. It is not a common fragrance ingredient and it found its uses more as a flavoring to bring that citrus aspect to food products.
When it is converted to Stemone it stops being herbal and goes very green. It is a lighter stand-in for galbanum. It can also be used at higher concentrations to form a fresh-cut grass presence. Its most common usage is as a leafy component so much so that it is called “leafy oxime” by many perfumers.
When it comes to making a fig accord Stemone stands front and center usually representing the fig leaves. It is then left to the perfumer to form the fruit part of the accord from a selection of different lactones depending on the ripeness level of the fig the perfumer is attempting to achieve.
The three perfumes by Mme Giacobetti are fabulous examples of how to tune this accord in different ways. In Premier Figuier the Stemone level is much higher and the lactone Mme Giacobetti employs is also creamier representing a ripe fig still on the tree. When she would move forward to Premier Figuier Extreme she adds to the lactones while pulling back on the Stemone; ripening her fig. For Philosykos she takes the Stemone down to a much more transparent level. This is the beginning of what will become Mme Giacobetti’s evolution to her signature style. It still smells like the fig leaf but an abstracted version. She again changes the lactones to less creamy versions elucidating a greener fig accord while keeping the volume at the same level as the Stemone.
Stemone has continued to be a key building block when a perfumer wants a green effect especially when looking for alternatives to the stronger green ingredients like galbanum. Fig leaves might have been the first clothing for Adam and Eve but in perfumery Stemone makes sure fig leaves have much more of a presence.
It wasn’t my first niche fragrance but it was the first perfume which burrowed deep into my consciousness and wouldn’t let go. Around the year 2000 I would have a sales associate spray a patch of skin with Diptyque Philosykos. This lead to many many visits to the Diptyque boutique as I slowly explored this exemplary line of perfumes. Over the forty-plus years Diptyque has been making fragrance they have produced one of the best collections available as well as working with some of the best perfumers available. Diptyque has stood for quality within the niche sector for as long as it has existed. If you haven’t tried the line here are five to get you started.
Philosykos by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is a brilliantly transparent fig perfume. It is one of the greatest perfumes created in the last twenty-five years. Mme Giacobetti captures every part of a fig tree from the leaves to the wood finally landing on the fruit itself. It made me love fig-based perfumes and simultaneously set a ridiculously high bar for every one which has come after.
What Mme Giacobetti did for fig; perfumers Daniel Moliere and Fabrice Pellegrin do for sandalwood in Tam Dao. Tam Dao is an exploration of sandalwood in three acts as you move from top through the heart to the base. At each part of the development there is something which draws your focus to a different perspective. It has the same kind of sheer quality as Philosykos which makes it a versatile fragrance for all occasions.
I have hundreds of citrus perfumes in the vault but there are only a few which have truly risen above the mob. One of them is L’Eau de Tarocco by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. The opening is one of the juiciest citrus accords in my collection. M. Pescheux transforms it from sweet sun into smoldering spicy rose as saffron and cinnamon add to the rose. This ends on a fantastic musk and frankincense base. One of the few citrus perfumes which can be worn in the cold as well as the warmth.
Vanilla is just so vanilla it is difficult to make it interesting. Perfume Fabrice Pellegrin manages to do that with Eau Duelle. By using two sources of vanilla a light and a dark one. He creates Tao-like duality which M. Pellegrin cleverly uses throughout the entire composition as spices like cardamom and saffron find space next to tea and cypress wood. A fantastically complex vanilla perfume.
Fabrice Pellegrin was also responsible for Volutes. The more I wear Volutes the more I realize I underestimated how good this was in my early testing and wearing. Given the perspective of time I realize M. Pellegrin has created one of the best tobacco scents I own. Immortelle and Orris provide the opening through which the narcotic richness of the tobacco swirls through. Myrrh and styrax provide a base of resinous depth.
The entire DIptyque line is worthy of exploration especially because besides these five there are some advanced style of perfumes which will surprise and delight any perfume lover. Before you get to those start with these five they will introduce you to one of the original niche perfume brands.
Disclosure: Reviews based on bottles of each fragrance I purchased.
Olivia Giacobetti is one of my very favorite perfumers because of that transparent style she imparts to things that shouldn’t have that lightness of being. Many of the most striking fragrances I own, for that sheer fragility, are signed by Mme Giacobetti. Her style has now been refined that it almost deserves its own adjective, Giacobettiesque. There have been other perfumers who are able to make perfume that is Giacobettiesque but it is her creations which stand the test of time.
When I looked back for the year where this style began to coalesce I found 1996 to be a good year to observe this. In that year Mme Giacobetti would release two fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete. Both of those were perfumes where the style was still a work in progress. The third release in 1996 is one of Mme Giacobetti’s enduring masterpieces Diptyque Philosykos as all the elements that make her a great perfumer come together for the first time.
The two fragrances for L’Artisan were her third and fourth for the line. Drole de Rose is a much lighter rose but here Mme Giacobetti lays down a layer of powdery notes as the heart note of orris turns this closer in style to iris-scented lipstick. The skeletal concepts of Mme Giacobetti’s style come with the honeyed leather in the base. It is the base which I think is the best part of Drole de Rose as once the powder is figuratively blown away what is left is this opaque sweet leather. Mme Giacobetti would find a rose scent which did fit her style with the discontinued Opone for Diptyque in 2001.
The Pour un Ete was meant to be a jasmine green tea fragrance as if it was being served in a chilled glass dripping with condensation on a summer day. The Pour un Ete is perhaps too simple for its own good. It starts with a sprig of mint and lemon floating on top of the jasmine tea accord all of it resting on a cedar and sandalwood coaster. The Pour un Ete feels like the axis of a great fragrance was here but by not adding in contrapuntal notes it just sits there like that proverbial glass of tea watching the beads of water slide down the glass monotonously. Tea would become the focus of another of Mme Giacobetti’s best compositions L’Artisan Tea for Two, which is one of my all-time favorite tea perfumes.
As I mentioned above it seems at this point in her career it took two tries for Mme Giacobetti to really find her voice on a particular note. In 1994 she had done Premier Figuier for L’Artisan and it was a fig fragrance centered on the creamy ripe qualities as she used almond and coconut milk to enhance that aspect. It is beautiful but it wears sort of heavily. By the time she took a second stab at fig in Philosykos she wanted to go greener as this time not only the fruit but also the leaves and the tree itself were meant to be represented. She tilts the fig greener with galbanum early on. Then the leaves pick up the green and this time she uses only coconut milk as a complementary source of the ripening pulpy inside of the fig. She finishes off Philosykos with a breeze of benzoin and cedar.
Mme Giacobetti is now one of the most reliable perfumers functioning and both for her Paris exclusive line IUNX and the rare commissions she takes her style is unmistakable, Back in 1996 it was just coming together,
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances I purchased.