L’Artisan Parfumeur 101- Five to Get You Started


At this point niche perfume has become a fact of life. The discussion has even moved along to whether niche has any meaning anymore. In 1978 the phrase niche perfume didn’t exist. It took the creation of the brand called L’Artisan Parfumeur by perfumer and creative director Jean Laporte to require a way to describe this collection of perfumes that were different. On that day in 1978 when M. Laporte released the initial seven perfumes, perfumery changed. L’Artisan Parfumeur has continued to thrive for the last 37 years. One of the reasons is two of our greatest perfumers, Olivia Giacobetti and Bertrand Duchaufour, produced some of their earliest and best work for the brand. One thing to admire about the brand is it covers the entire spectrum of the fragrance spectrum. There are over 50 fragrances to choose from. To help you here are the five I would start with.

Only three of the original seven releases are still available. Mure et Musc co-signed by Henri Sorsana and Jean Laporte feels as contemporary as it did back in 1978. The herbal citrus open which moves into one of the best fruity floral accords I’ve ever smelled as the perfumers combine jasmine and blackberry. This all rests on a bed of white musk supported by patchouli. Every time I wear this I think to myself this is where niche began.

Olivia Giacobetti would be the perfumer behind most of the releases between1994-2000. Her first release Premier Figuier is what most cite. I actually think her most accessible work for the brand came as she returned in 2001 with Tea for Two. It has Mme Giacobetti’s trademark transparency but the wonderful smoked tea heart makes this a classic. It opens almost boringly with neroli but it quickly heads to the tea room. In the heart smoky tea leaves are crushed with cinnamon, anise, and ginger. This is my favorite tea accord I wear. A honey and vanilla base finishes this version of olfactory tea service. Tea for Two was discontinued for a time but it was brought back in 2014.


The other perfume by Mme Giacobetti is 2006’s Fou D’Absinthe. In this perfume she works with a little less opacity. Fou D’Absinthe might be one of her more strongly constructed fragrances. She chooses to take redolent wormwood and make it even greener with blackcurrant buds. The heart is a swirl of spices on top of the absinthe accord. It finishes with a resinous pine accord. When people tell me Mme Giacobetti makes her perfumes too light this is where I send them.

As Mme Giacobetti left Bertrand Duchaufour would take up the reins and be primarily responsible for the next ten years 2000-2010. M. Duchaufour’s collection within L’Artisan is impressive and at the time of this writing my favorite, Vanille Absolument, is discontinued. What is left to bring you into the L’Artisan fold is what might be perhaps M. Duchaufour’s greatest perfume, Timbuktu. M. Duchaufour wanted to capture the smells of the African bazaars. During 2004 he had become a master at working with incense. For Timbuktu he used a smoky incense as his nucleus to build the bazaar milieu around. He would add cardamom and mango to represent the spices and fruit for sale. Patchouli, vetiver, and benzoin provide the sultry warmth of the desert.

My final choice, Caligna signed by Dora Arnaud, shows M. Laporte’s vision is still as vital today as it was in the beginning. Caligna is a completely unique mix of fig, jasmine, and olive wood. Mme Arnaud turns her fig herbal by matching it with sage. This makes the fig greener and less ripe. The heart is dominated by a “jasmine marmalade” accord. This takes jasmine and suffuses it with more sweetness without sacrificing the indolic core. In the base she uses a uniquely sourced olive wood to provide an unusual woody finish.

If you love perfume and particularly the current crop of independent niche perfume brands you owe it to yourself to become familiar with L’Artisan Parfumeur. So much of what I think are the core principles of what niche perfume means to me came from this brand. Try the five suggestions above and find out why I believe this.

Disclosure: this review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Bertrand Duchaufour “The High Priest of Resins” 2002-2007

Throughout the early years of the 2000’s there was a perfumer who I dubbed The High Priest of Resins. Over five years and seven perfumes perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make seven perfumes with significant incense accords in them. By the time he hit the seventh, 2007’s Amouage Jubilation XXV, he would have perfected his touch with these ingredients to produce a perfume I consider a masterpiece. As I look back it was definitely a process which spread across work for three brands; Comme des Garcons, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Eau d’Italie. Each of the perfumes created for those brands allowed him to test the limits of the resinous side of his palette.

It started in 2002 with the release of Comme des Garcons Series 3 Incense Avignon & Kyoto. For those fragrances M. Duchaufour constructed two disparate incense accords. For Avignon it was the stony chill of a cathedral made of ancient stone. It carries the weight of the centuries as you feel the slightly metallic tang of the incense over the aged wood of the pews. Kyoto, as its names portends, was a Japanese minimalist aesthetic. Clean woods matched with the sweeter resins make for a truly meditative harmonious, soothing incense accord. Both of these fragrances are still among my favorites but they really were the foundation of where M. Duchaufour would start to refine the accord.

In 2004 it was his work for the original Eau d’Italie fragrance which would show the light use of incense and L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu the deeper darker side. With Eau d’Italie M. Duchaufour puts in an ethereal gauzy incense veil over the opening moments of a perfume that will turn very green and floral. It was a bit of ingenious sleight of hand as just as you think you’re headed in one direction off you go in an entirely different one. He had found a way to take the lighter accord of Kyoto and now make it float like a feather. Avignon’s incense accord is so astringent it has sharp edges to it. With Timbuktu M. Duchaufour decided to add some attenuating resins in myrrh and benzoin to soften those edges without sacrificing the impact.


Bertrand Duchaufour

By 2006 he was looking for ways to take incense and match them with florals. L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha would have a heart of chai tea, incense, and orris. This incense is the exact middle ground between the previous lighter style and the weightier version. It has a presence without being overwhelming. In Dzongkha combined with a chai accord and orris it forms a heart of one of the most underrated perfumes in M. Duchaufour’s vast portfolio. Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose has always been considered to be one of his finest creations as he replaces the orris of Dzongkha with a redolent Turkish rose. He returns to the heavier incense accord but uses elemi, opopanax and benzoin to smooth the rough edges. It gives an uplifting foundation and at this point I thought this was the pinnacle of M. Duchaufour’s incense perfumes.

Late in 2007 Amouage Jubilation XXV would prove to me there was one perfume left to draw all of this together. Throughout Jubilation XXV the experience with these notes comes back to coalesce into something transcendent. It starts with that gauzy lilting incense on top before heading into a floral and incense heart. The heart of Jubilation of XXV is a model of precision as M. Duchaufour also dusts it all with spice. By the time the deeper incense accord is on display in the base M. Duchaufour has determined it is myrrh and opoponax which provide the perfect partners to his austere frankincense.

Every one of these perfumes I have mentioned is among my favorites but it is this sense of feeling, as a perfumista, that I am following the development of an artist as he learns to fine tune his use of materials which makes this so interesting. M. Duchaufour has done this over the years as he has perfected his leather accord and rum accord over the course of many releases all leading to one which brings all of it together. It is what makes him one of the most fascinating perfumers working today and forever, in my mind, The High Priest of Resins.

Mark Behnke