Olfactory Chemistry: Stemone- Find Your Fig Leaf

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

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.

olivia-giacobetti

Olivia Giacobetti

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.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman L’Original- The Forgotten Giacobetti

When I look back over a perfumer’s career I look for those years when their creativity comes into full bloom. If pressed to pick the time period where perfumer Olivia Giacobetti reached that level, I would say that 1999-2001 was the moment when she was finding her first peak as a perfumer. Over ten fragrances in that time period she made some of her most memorable perfumes including Editions de Parums Frederic Malle En Passant, L’Artisan Passage D’Enfer, and Hermes Hiris. The one which got lost in this period of creativity was a collaboration with famed French interior designer Andree Putman.

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Andree Putman (Photo: Nour El Gammal)

Mme Putman came to her vocation at the age of 46 when she founded Createurs & Industriels where she was free to indulge her desire to “design beautiful things”. She also provided an incubator space for designers among whom were Issey Miyake, Claude Montana, and Thierry Mugler. The idealism of Createurs &  Industriels would go bankrupt and she would turn to the world of interior design. When she was commissioned to do the interior of the Morgans Hotel in New York City it would spark a career which would see her design museums, boutiques, government office buildings, and other hotels. One of her last commissions was to revamp the interior of the Guerlain flagship store on the Champs-Elysees in 2005. In 1997 she opened the Andree Putman Studio and branched out into all areas of design including fragrance in 2001.

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Olivia Giacobetti

During this time period Mme Putman was doing a lot of one-of-a-kind design like asymmetric flatware for Christofle or a champagne bucket for Veuve Clicquot. When it came to fragrance she turned to Frederic Malle to help advise her on the creative direction and employed Mme Giacobetti to bring their vision to life. What they came up with was an asymmetrical response to the aquatic wave cresting in fragrance at that time. Mme Giacobetti composes one of her most ethereal perfumes which carries a fragile beauty. The perfume was called Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman when it was released. It was gone from shelves in 2013 and I thought it was going to be an entry in the Dead Letter Office. Last March I discovered it was returning, renamed as Preparation Parfumee Andree Putman L’Original, as part of a collection which included six other new releases.

L’Original opens on a fascinating duet of pepper and damp wood. Most often pepper has a nose-tickling presence. Mme Giacobetti uses it to breathe life into her damp wood accord. If you spend any time in a rainforest you know that Nature adds its own form of spiciness to the trees in the wild. The pepper is used to make the top accord feel as if it is photorealistically accurate. The heart is a transition note of waterlily where the green qualities of the floral float through a mist of water. This is the riposte to the Calone-heavy aquatics as Mme Gicobetti makes an aquatic that is meditative instead of disruptive. The base is the opposite of the top as a bleached out driftwood accord is displayed paired with cilantro for a unique green contrast. The driftwood accord is a triumph of delicacy as again something which can be so strident is instead turned into something which requires you to lean in to get the full impression. The cilantro is such an outre green note yet it conjures up the grass growing in the dunes as the sea breeze blows through it.

L’Original has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

L’Original is a masterpiece of construction by a perfumer in her prime. Every note has a function and a place in creating a fabulous perfume. I had thought this lost but now it has been found again. If you love the architecture of perfume do not allow L’Original to not be on your radar screen.

Disclosure: This review based on a bottle of the 2001 release I purchased and a sample of the 2015 re-issue I received from Andree Putman.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Costes- Giacobetti’s Hotel

As I’ve mentioned in the past I have never been to Paris. In my imagination I have been to Paris many times. For the last ten years it is a perfume which has been the inspiration for where I would want to stay on my mind trips. The perfume is 2003’s Costes by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti.

costes perfume

After an incredible eight year span where Mme Giacobetti created some of the best perfumes of that time she had decided to strike out on her own. In 2003 there was news she was working on her own line of perfumes. By 2005 that would become reality as the IUNX boutique would open in Paris. During this time the owner of the Hotel Costes in Paris, Jean-Louis Costes, convinced Mme Giacobetti to make a perfume to be used as the trademark scent for the Hotel Costes. For many years the only place to buy it was at the Hotel Costes. It is only fairly recently that it has been sold elsewhere. Because of that unavailability I think this is one of Mme Giacobetti’s least known perfumes from a time when she was producing one memorable perfume after another.

Costes is Mme Giacobetti’s take on a classic wood-laden Oriental. It has an exotic feel as she weaves in spicy and floral facets early on before a mix of woods and incense finish it all. It is the scent which represents where I want to begin and end my days when I eventually do get to Paris.

olivia-giacobetti

Olivia Giacobetti

Mme Giacobetti takes lavender as her opening and then sheathes it with spices. Coriander, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper. The last two notes are the most prominent as the cinnamon is that of red hots candy and the pepper is a little more biting than in most other perfumes. It is a mixture of spicy heat around the cool lavender. Rose and laurel comprise the heart and they form the bridge to the woods and incense in the base. The swirling spiral of incense winding its way through the latter stages of Costes is almost a trademark of Mme Giacobetti’s use of this note during this time period. It always feel like a tight spiral of resinous smoke rising off the tip of a lit stick of incense. It isn’t transparent but neither is it as strong as it can be. Mme Giacobetti knows how to find just the right volume for her incense. The woods are made much more interesting because of this level of incense.

Costes has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I suspect many are familiar with the highlights of Mme Giacobetti’s career from 1983-2001. Costs belongs with that time and phase of her creativity. Costes is like a found manuscript by a favorite author which reminds you how much you like the artist all over again.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

L’Artisan Parfumeur 101- Five to Get You Started

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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.

Fou-dabsinthe

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: Olivia Giacobetti’s 1996- L’Artisan Parfumeure Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete + Diptyque Philosykos

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.

Olivia-Giacobetti

 

Olivia Giacobetti

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.

drole de rose

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.

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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.

philosykos

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diptyque Geranium Odorata & Eau de Lavande- The Return of Fabrice and Olivia

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I tend to remember the fragrance which makes me sit up and notice a perfumer for the first time. Diptyque is responsible for two of those moments. When I tried Philosykos in the late 1990’s I had never considered fig to be something I would want in a perfume, Phiolsykos changed that. It was one of my earliest impulse buys because I couldn’t walk away from it. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the perfumer was Olivia Giacobetti. A similar encounter happened in 2003 at the same Diptyque counter as I tried Tam Dao and found one of my favorite sandalwood fragrances of all-time. Perfumers Fabrice Pellegrin and Daniele Moliere were the co-creators but this was the start of M. Pellegrin’s amazing run at Diptyque. It is really the work of these two perfumers, Mme Giacobetti and M. Pellegrin, that I consider to represent the continued artistic excellence of the Diptyque brand. It is why I was delighted to see that both of them were back at work each doing one of the two new releases from Diptyque, Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande.

fabrice pellegrin

Fabrice Pellegrin

In Geranium Odorata M. Pellegrin returns to green themes he explored previously at Diptyque in 2006’s Eau de Lierre. That fragrance was the smell of ivy growing on a brick wall. Geranium Odorata is the smell of a geranium stem snipped away from the bush. M. Pellegrin combines the “green rose” quality of geranum with very different green notes on top and bottom. It has the same realistic aspect as the ivy in Eau de Lierre but there is also more artistic flair in how that is achieved in Geranium Odorata.

Cardamom is one of my favorite notes in all of perfumery and by pairing it with bergamot M. Pellegrin highlights the lemony and minty aspects of that raw material. The geranium arrives at first smelling a lot like rose before its characteristic green aspects begin to take hold. It is this rougher, rawer kind of rose that makes me like geranium as a perfume ingredient and here M. Pellegrin displays it beautifully. There is a bit of pink pepper to allow the spicy facets to not get lost. The last bit of green comes from a powerful Haitian vetiver. This vetiver leaps into a clinch with the geranium and together they dance a green tinted quickstep through to the finish.

Geranium Odorata has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Olivia-Giacobetti

Olivia Giacobetti

Mme Giacobetti’s trademark is the creation of perfumes that seem almost inconsequentially lightweight but have surprising structure and power for that fragility. I’ve always likened them to a soap bubble floating on the breeze. You can see through it as if it is clear but if you look closer there are all of the colors of the rainbow swirling on the surface. This is Mme Giacobetti’s gift and it is on full display in Eau de Lavande. Lavender Water is one of the earliest fragrances known but Mme Giacobetti also wants to do something different and she does so by combining the two major sources of lavender oil and infusing them with spices.

There is the more precious and expensive Lavender oil from the L. angustofolia species. Lavandin is the more plentiful L. x intermedia species. Because of the lower cost this is the smell of lavender in most laundry products and soaps. Mme Giacobetti uses almost equal amounts of each as the spine of Eau de Lavande. Early on she uses coriander seed and basil to create a haze of green to surround the lavender. In the heart cedar is used to accentuate the more familiar lavandin. This will give you a soapy moment but it is quickly removed form that by cinnamon and nutmeg and together they banish any thought of the laundry room that was beginning to form. The base is a beautifully composed mix of the lightest sandalwood and incense. This is where Mme Giacobetti always impresses me as when I read those notes I’m expecting something strong and instead I get delicacy, she does it to me nearly every time.

Eau de Lavande has 4-6 hour longevity and deceptive sillage. I often thought it was gone only to catch a sniff again.

Both perfumers have very different styles but their success at Diptyque has helped define the way I think about the brand. Geranium Odorata and Eau de Lavande both contribute to that history quite ably.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Incense

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I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.

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Frankincense

Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.

Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.

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Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.

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Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.

Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.

This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.

Mark Behnke