Christian Dior was late to the trend of creating an exclusive niche line of fragrances apart from their mainstream offerings. They really didn’t jump into it wholeheartedly until 2010. Prior to that there was a collection of three fragrances only available at Dior Homme boutiques. In 2010 Francois Demachy took two of those perfumes and added seven new perfumes he composed to create the La Collection Privee. In just five years the collection has grown to 20 perfumes. This is one of the great underpublicized collections in all of perfumery. If you haven’t tried any of them here are five to get you started.
Bois D’Argent by perfumer Annick Menardo is probably my favorite honey perfume of all time. After smelling this I made a special trip to Las Vegas to buy a bottle. Mme Menardo keeps a light tone throughout as she starts with a transparent incense into a fabulous heart of orris, honey, and myrrh. It all ends with a soft leather and patchouli base. The whole composition is so opaque it defies the weight of the components.
Eau Noire by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is one of the more fascinating studies of immortelle on the market. M. Kurkdjian uses it as the spine of Eau Noire. Clary sage on top turns it herbal and incense-like. Lavender enhances the floralcy of it in the heart. In the base vanilla brings out the inherent maple syrup sweetness. Immortelle can be a hard note to love but Eau Noire makes sure you experience everything immortelle can bring to a perfume.
Mitzah by perfumer Francois Demachy is a fabulous resinous rose Oriental. M. Demachy uses a spice swathed rose as foil to a very concentrated frankincense. A bit of vanilla and patchouli add some nuance but this is the rose and incense show all the way.
New Look 1947 also by M. Demachy takes an expertly balanced heart of three of the heaviest floral notes and makes something powerfully heady. Jasmine, Turkish rose, and tuberose form a heart that one can get lost inside of. A pinch of baie rose on top and some benzoin and vanilla in the base provide some contrast.
Oud Ispahan also by M. Demachy takes the classic rose and oud combination and gives it a Dior spin. This is a Western version of that classic Eastern staple. M. Demachy keeps it simple. Allowing the rose and oud to carry on throughout the development. They are pitched at a much lighter level than most of the other ouds on the market and it allows for the labdanum, patchouli, and sandalwood to provide some texture to the power duo.
As I mentioned this is not the easiest of collections to find. If you do find it the five choices above are great places to start.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
If you’re looking for the creativity in perfume you have to look no further than the very excellent Christian Dior La Collection Privee composed by Francois Demachy. Starting in 2009 with Ambre Nuit M. Demachy has curated and composed a collection which represents everything Christian Dior stands for. There is no shortage of imaginative perfume making going on throughout the fragrances in this collection. It is also seems to be relatively unknown. I know at every Sniffapalooza when I introduce some one to the line in its in-store boutique at Bergdorf Goodman they also walk away impressed and usually with a bottle in their bag.
The latest release Feve Delicieuse is the first real gourmand in La Collection Privee. Even as I type that I hesitate to call it a gourmand because while it is a vanilla fragrance it is mostly a tonka bean perfume. M. Demachy keeps it very simple but he also uses some really beautiful raw materials. This means that Feve Delicieuse relies upon the ability of those materials to all take their place in the proper order without taking over. M. Demachy ends up turning Feve Delicieuse into a vanilla that is not cloying or syrupy. It has an unusual delineation and a snap to it instead of the more typical treacly kind of vanilla more common within the gourmand family.
Feve Delicieuse starts off with a patina of Calabrian bergamot. Bergamot is such a ubiquitous ingredient in the opening of perfumes it is easy to overlook it. M. Demachy found a bergamot which makes sure you pay attention. It has that lively bright citric tartness but this also has a subtle undertone of crisp apple. I’m not sure if there is another ingredient which helps focus that grace note into something crisp and green. It is almost a palate cleanser as the main course of tonka bean from Venezuela is next. Tonka is one of those versatile notes in perfumery because it has a transparent vanillic character paired with a coumarin-laden nutty hay-like quality. Usually a perfumer picks one side or the other to accentuate. Because the tonka is the star M. Demachy does both. In the early moments of the tonka appearing, there are richer sweet gourmand notes of caramel and chocolate. The nutty part of tonka sinks in to the sticky matrix and forms an abstract hazelnut accord. If that was all there was to Feve Delicieuse I would have been happy. M. Demachy had some more to show me. The vanilla side of tonka starts to become more pronounced because M. Demachy adds in Madagascar vanilla. This is where Feve Delicieuse becomes something more than gourmand. As the tonka and the vanilla combine instead of heading for full-on gourmand territory it finds a lightness of being which then turns almost golden like diffuse sunlight. It is an immensely satisfying place to spend the final hours with Feve Delicieuse.
Feve Delicieuse has 10-12 hour longevity and modest sillage.
M. Demachy on the Christian Dior website talks about how he wanted Feve Delicieuse to portray the “love of harmony” that is the Dior aesthetic. In the case of Feve Delicieuse I have to agree that the harmonies are all spot on as they sing an intricately layered song.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
One of the benefits of being able to look back and find interesting moments in a perfumer’s history is I have the benefit of perfect vision when looking backwards. One of the moments I realized was a real watershed moment in masculine perfumes happened under the aegis of two of the best designer perfumers working. As I’ve covered previously in the late 1980’s men’s fragrance was beginning a shift towards the aquatic and the fresh. Two perfumers who had been working together for about five years were not going to let it go down without offering an alternative. The three men’s perfumes Francois Demachy and Jacques Polge had a hand in from 1987-1990 were Chanel pour Monsieur Concentree, Tiffany for Men, and Chanel Egoiste. Messrs. Demachy and Polge would offer a less burly fragrance that wasn’t quite as aquatic or clean, as the burgeoning trend towards that style was beginning to dominate the market.
They combined on adapting the original Chanel pour Monsieur composed in 1955 by Henri Robert into the Concentree version in 1987. This was a follow-up to their only previous masculine release 1981’s Chanel Antaeus. Where Antaeus was the scent of a player circa 1980’s; with Pour Monsieur Concentree they were trying to define a certain more refined masculine style. If the aquatics were for casual perfume wearing. Pour Monsieur Concentree was for wearing once you came in from the sun. Messrs. Demachy and Polge took the original and intensified it. It was a divisive move as some think it throws the balance off and turns it cloying. I have the opposite opinion. They upped the central note of cardamom until it goes from just a hint of green into something that is no mere trifle at the heart of Pour Monsieur Concentree. This enhanced cardamom follows an energetic lemon opening. This opening would return in 1996’s Chanel Allure. The base was a classic chypre finish but again taken up a couple notches in intensity. I believe they took what was a traditional cologne and beefed it up into something which has much more presence.
Two years later they would return to the themes of Pour Monsieur but while being asked to create a perfume for the jewelry brand Tiffany. 1989’s Tiffany for Men seems like what Messrs. Demachy and Polge wanted to do with Pour Monsieur Concentree but were handcuffed into reprising the original set of notes. Freed of those constraints they would create a uniquely masculine Oriental. They start with bergamot to provide the citrus but juniper berry and coriander provide a bit of a gin accord to go with it. This time instead of just taking cardamom and upping the concentration to create green they take geranium and galbanum to create a seriously green floral heart. The base notes of nutmeg and pepper over a very creamy sandalwood are a fabulous finish. This is one of my favorite men’s perfumes of all-time because it really does have it all. The fresh opening into an intense green down to a spicy woody finish. I knew I didn’t want to smell like the ocean I wanted to smell like Tiffany’s.
In 1990 they would bring all of this together to create the unforgettable Chanel Egoiste. Again they open with citrus but the choice this time is the sweeter tangerine paired with a pale rosewood. Those rose facets will lead into rose in the heart which is enhanced by the presence of coriander. The coriander defines the spiciness underlying a great rose. For the base notes sandalwood is here but they choose to go sweet with vanilla and they use the botanical musk of ambrette seeds to provide a much more delicate muskiness to the final moments. Egoiste is considered to be one of the great masculine masterpieces and continues to be held in high regard.
These three perfumes provided a counterpoint to the perfume trends which wer ein flux. That I can still look back and laud them shows that Messrs. Demachy and Polge succeeded in giving men of a certain aesthetic an alternative.
All of the great design houses have their exclusive luxury line of perfumes and certainly Cartier, Chanel, Hermes, and Tom Ford have represented the names on their bottles admirably. Consistent creative direction has ensured this success. For my money there is a designer line which has produced better fragrances over the past five years and it is tied directly to the moment the current creative director took charge. The line I am speaking of is Dior La Collection Privee and the creative director/perfumer is Francois Demachy. The latest release Cuir Cannage is a terrific example of the creativity and vision M. Demachy has brought to Dior fragrances.
In 2009 when M. Demachy took the reins of the La Collection Privee at Dior he immediately produced an impact with Ambre Nuit. One year later he would add seven new La Collection Privee fragrances. All seven of these were excellent and three of them, New Look 1947, Mitzah, and Leather Oud were among the best perfumes of that year. M. Demachy has captured the brand genetics of Dior with this collection as they all carry a sophistication and willingness to challenge a perfume wearer without making it confrontational. This line is Dior’s best kept secret and every Sniffapalooza I take a few people over to experience the line for the first time and I always get the response, “I didn’t know about these.” Over the fifteen fragrances in the line there is something for every perfumista.
Cuir Cannage shows off everything great about the Dior La Collection Privee. M. Demachy wanted to make a modern floral leather fragrance which would evoke the scent of a Dior leather handbag and some of the things you might find in there, particularly the cosmetics. So you get a grouping of floral notes which harmonize delightfully before the leather of the handbag comes forward. M. Demachy wanted to go for a real old-fashioned leather accord and therefore uses healthy amounts of cade and birch tar to construct it. This is what I speak of when saying M. Demachy likes challenging a perfumista. The florals have structural beauty familiar and comforting which are juxtaposed with the leather full of powerful smells and managing to envelop the florals without extinguishing them. It leaves a lifeline for the wearer to grab ahold of and ride the leather rollercoaster in safety.
Dior Mini Cannage Dinner Bag (2012)
M. Demachy opens with orange blossom in full measure. Orange blossom is the most delicate of the common perfume white flowers. When a perfumer allows it to act more like an indolic white flower and less like a pretty accessory is when I am happiest. M. Demachy allows the orange blossom to stand alone throughout the early moments. He then lets jasmine form an indole-heavy duet with the orange blossom. Rose and ylang-ylang form a complementary higher pitched floral pair. Together they create a full octave of floralcy. Then in thick viscous bubbles the birch tar picks up the indoles and the cade adds texture and intensity. In what seems like a moment it all forms a classic heavy leather accord as the desired new handbag springs to life. The floral notes are all still there but they are now enclosed in the metaphorical purse.
Cuir Cannage has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Cuir Cannage feels like a modern re-telling of the classic leather fragrances of the early 20th century. It is an unusual move because most modern leathers go for the lighter more refined accord. M. Demachy reaches back and creates an accord which reminds you this is the hide of a living thing no matter how refined. I am delighted that M. Demachy is making fragrances with an artistic viewpoint unmatched by few others at the big houses. Cuir Cannage is one of my very favorite new fragrances of this year.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Dior and a sample purchased from Surrender to Chance.