There is a moment with every independent perfumer where they hit an inflection point. From then onward they enter a better more complete phase of perfume-making. Often you see the threads of things in their early fragrances strengthened and a real development of a personal aesthetic. It is a joy when I get a sample from the indie perfumers I think are on the verge of this kind of success to see if that will be the inflection point. In 2013 over the course of her two releases, Zelda and A Study in Water, perfumer Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes hit that place where her fragrances truly came of age. In both of those perfumes Ms. Waddington reached back for classic inspiration as starting points to go off in two delightfully distinct directions. Of course for these to truly signal the sea change I expected it would depend on what Ms. Wadidngton followed them up with. For 2014 she has created three fragrances within what she has called the Souvenir de Chocolate collection. As promised in Café Cacao, Captured in Amber, and Indigo Vanilla there is chocolate; but it is what else is included that truly delivers on Ms. Waddington’s talent.
In Café Cacao Ms. Waddington was going for a scented version of “Parisienne café mocha” crossed with Marie Antoinette, who added ambergris to her hot cocoa; and Empress Josephine who impregnated the walls of the palace with musk. In the early going it is all steaming hot café mocha. In Paris they must sprinkle some cardamom on their mochas because it provides spicy contrast to the sweetness of the cream and vanilla present around the chocolate. From here the French historical divas have their way as Marie adds some real ambergris, beachcombed from New Zealand, and Josephine embeds the musk. Together they provide a combination of animalic, briny, sweet coffee. That might sound like something you wouldn’t want to experience but Ms. Waddington has worked with her raw materials and positioned them just so to result in something very unique.
Amber is a resin which can preserve things trapped within in a timeless matrix. Captured in Amber is Ms. Waddington’s nod to “the opiated Oriental fantasies that gripped turn-of-the-century Paris and London.” The key here is through the arts was how most of Europe was becoming acquainted with the Orient and so it led to emphasis on the more attention getting aspects of behavior encountered by those translating it into art. Captured in Amber also captures that larger-than-life quality as Ms. Waddington goes for opulent to the nth degree. It starts with a swish of bitter orange before her amber accord takes over. Ms. Waddington tames a whole cornucopia of resins to create this sumptuous amber accord. You can pick the strands apart, but why bother, because the whole is so much greater than the parts. For all the complexity in creating her amber accord the rest of Captured in Amber is simplicity as first a very dark chocolate and more of the real ambergris combine to provide the foundation of Captured in Amber.
I’m not sure where Ms. Waddington hangs out when in New Orleans but I need to find out because in Indigo Violet her inspiration is “New Orleans hot chocolate” which seems to have violet sugar added to the traditional ingredients. For this last fragrance in the Souvenir de Chocolate collection she starts with a sugared violet. This is crystalline violet sparkling with sweetness. It slowly sinks into a creamy luxuriant accord equal parts chocolate and cream. I think many perfumers would have continued the gourmand theme and finished with more foodie notes. Instead Ms. Waddington resurrects the French royalty from Café Cacao and ambergris and musk again provide the finish. This time they seem much more sensual and intimate than they do in Café Cacao, which again shows Ms. Waddington’s ability to tune similar notes to disparate effect.
All three fragrances in the Souvenir de Chocolate collection have 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
The virtue of being an indie perfumer allows Ms. Waddington the freedom to use exquisite ingredients, like the New Zealand ambergris, in her small batches. That it shows up in all three of these fragrances means she could easily have called it Souvenir de Ambergris. Really though it is the different forms of chocolate and the skill Ms. Waddington brings to bear which are the true stars of this fragrant show. Take a bow Madame your star continues to ascend.
Disclosure: this review was based on samples provided by En Voyage Perfumes.