That Unattainable Object of Desire: L’Air de Panache by Mark Buxton

After writing about the Wes Anderson movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in this week’s The Sunday Magazine I got a lot of questions about the fragrance inspired by the movie. To answer those questions not only have I smelled it but perfumer Mark Buxton gave me enough of a sample of it to wear. After wearing L’Air de Panache and seeing the movie I have to say that Mr. Buxton given the freedom of composing what amounts to a bespoke perfume delivered a true fragrance experience every bit as indie as the movie it is based upon.

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Gustave H''s Wardrobe

L’Air de Panache is the signature scent of the protagonist of the movie Gustave H., the concierge at The Grand Budapest Hotel. As played by Ralph Fiennes, Gustave H. is a consummate concierge and the master of his universe. L’Air de Panache is how people know Gustave H. and it consistently keeps appearing throughout the film.

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Mark Buxton (l.) and Nicolas Cloutier (Photo: makemylemonade.com)

When they were filming they, of course, used water. For the World Premiere Mr. Anderson wanted to turn L’Air de Panache into a reality to be given as a present to the cast and crew. For this very special project he would turn to the Paris fragrance boutique Nose to bring the fictional fragrance to life, in six weeks! Nicolas Cloutier would act as creative director to perfumer Mark Buxton as they sought to make a perfume which would live up to what we saw in the movie. Because this was a very small batch release, not intended for sale, it freed Mr. Buxton to use any ingredient on his perfumer’s palette. I would also comment that the short time frame forced Messrs. Cloutier and Buxton to trust their instincts and I think the end result is all the better for that. L’Air de Panache is a definite throwback cologne but, cleverly, throughout its development there are nods to the events of the film.

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Boy with Apple

Gustave H. is known for his excellent personal service to the aging, blonde they must be blonde, women who come to the hotel. The beginning of L’Air de Panache pays homage to them with a fleeting aldehyde opening which is the hairspray version of those ingredients. They dissipate as quickly as a cloud of Aqua Net to reveal underneath a rich citrus opening made modern by the addition of basil, instead of the more traditional rosemary. The other note is green apple and that nods to the McGuffin which propels the caper part of the film, a painting simply named “Boy with Apple”.  A stunningly complex jasmine sambac holds the heart of L’Air de Panache it is as elegant as Gustave H. as he strides the halls. This all gives way to a well-mannered jungle cat of a base as Mr. Buxton lets L’Air de Panache off the leash to growl with musk, castoreum, amber, oakmoss, and patchouli. This is Gustave H. behind a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room of one of his paramours.

L’Air de Panache has 4-6 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. Which is why Gustave H. is always topping it up and everyone knows where he’s been.

For this series the fragrance I am writing about will truly be nearly impossible to find. In the case of L’Air de Panache I am hopeful this might not always be the case. To be clear right this moment there are only a few bottles of it in existence and they are all in the hands of the people who made the movie. Except if you find yourself in Paris and visit Nose they have a bottle for you to experience this quite amazing fragrance. Because of the top shelf ingredients used I suspect a bottle would carry a fairly hefty price tag but if it does come to pass that it is for sale one day I’ll be first in line to buy it. For now I have enough left to allow myself to feel like the master of my own universe for one day of my choosing; it is enough.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided to me by Mark Buxton.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Grand Budapest Hotel

When I was a child going to the movies was an event. You had to buy tickets in advance, you had assigned seating and there were intermissions. These were for the special movies shot in CinemaScope or Cinerama and projected on massive curved screens. It was the great-grandfather of IMAX. During those days the movies had multiple stars in them and the movie posters would have pictures of all of their faces. Movies like ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World’ or ‘Grand Prix’ are examples of this kind of event movie full of popular stars. As I walked by the poster for the new movie by director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I was reminded of those days.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Monsieur Gustave H. during the year 1932 in the titular edifice located in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave as a man completely in control of everybody and everything in the hotel. Young Zero asks to become The Lobby Boy and it is through his narration, as an older man, the events of the movie unfold through a number of chapters. One of the best things about Gustave is he has a signature fragrance he wears called L’Air de Panache. It crops up throughout the movie as people use it to know that Gustave has recently walked by and in my favorite scene the only thing he really gets upset about not having at hand after an incarceration.

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The movie shows Gustave as a companion to elderly women who also must be blonde. The movie revolves around one of these; Madame D, played by Tilda Swinton almost unrecognizable under the makeup used to age her. After her latest visit she passes away after she returns home. Gustave finds out at the reading of the will she has bequeathed him a valuable painting ‘Boy with Apple’. Fearing the family will not let him have this he takes the painting and leaves. This starts the caper aspects of the bulk of the film as the consequences of taking the painting play themselves out. Throughout the movie there is a very breezy frenetic feel which does seem a lot like those old wide-screen comedies of my youth as another current actor makes a cameo and leaves. What sets it apart is the framing sequence where an author hears the story from the older Zero in which we see The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, in 1968, as an aging blonde dowager. No matter how successful Zero’s life has been he cannot let go of this original love of his no matter whether she is showing her age.

Wes-Anderson

Wes Anderson

I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be a return to those old caper comedies. But through the lens of a very talented filmmaker in Mr. Anderson who allows a bit of pathos in the end to draw a tear, while wearing a smile, it has a very modern indie feel to it. To use a perfume analogy it is like the Nouveau Retro creations we are getting of defunct perfume houses. Completely feeling like a throwback but with modern flourishes.

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As for the perfume spoken about within the movie it didn’t really exist until a few months ago for the premiere. Perfumer Mark Buxton created L’Air de Panache and it was given to the cast and those at the World Premiere of the movie. When I sniffed it at Esxence it also felt like something one of the better dressed gentlemen at those event movies of my youth might have worn.

Mark Behnke