Now that I have been writing about perfume for a while, I have attained some perspective through longevity. A part of that is seeing independent perfumers who have navigated the years while staying true to themselves. I admire anyone who can find a vision while seeing it evolve through the years. In 2005 Olivier Durbano began a collection of perfumes he called “Parfums de Pierres Poemes”, Stone Poem Perfumes. All his perfumes were named after a gemstone which he interpreted as a fragrance. I didn’t discover him until 2007 with his third perfume Black Tourmaline. It was the entry to a brand which has delighted me with every release.
His releases in 2018 and 2019 moved away from the gemstone theme in lieu of spiritual themes. The perfumes remained just as interesting. When I read the press release for Olivier Durbano Aram it seems as if he was merging the spiritual and Pierres Poemes in something larger. He says the fragrance has twin inspirations. One is the full moon, perhaps the biggest stone to write a fragrant poem about. It is also influenced by his first, and only trip to Syria. What he takes from there is the scent of the terroir, the very ground under his feet. A poem about the stone we live upon. Aram is a construct of moon and earth.
Aram opens on a movement of bitter ingredients in harmony. M. Durbano uses grapefruit in its slightly sufurous citric profile. I adore this on its own. It is joined by the biting green of artemisia, and green tea. All of these have an edge to them. In combination it could have become raspy. Somehow, they find an appealing coexistence despite those rough spots. The heart is where the stone resides. Early on it is the dustiness of a Syrian street as incense, myrrh, and olibanum form that. The lunar surface glows through vetiver, benzoin, and cedar. In between both is an ingredient identified as “gum ammoniac”. Based on what I can find it is a sour scented resin. It sits in Aram as a piece of connective tissue to the top accord and the earth and moon faces. From in between all of it comes a rose as if to offer an ameliorating effect. A plea to find beauty wherever you are.
Aram has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
Aram feels like the largest stone poem ever. A grande pierre poeme? It has three accords connected through the rose and gum ammoniac. It is an example of how assured a perfumer M. Durbano has become that even the stones of Earth and Moon still respond to his touch.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
All independent perfumers look for their guiding light.Olivier Durbano has found his muse to be stones. Ever since he appeared, in 2005, he has created perfume meant to evoke some aspect of stones. Early on it was actual gemstones. More recently it has been some of those stones from fictional influences. M. Durbano has never failed to engage me with his bold aesthetic. In these days of transparency he stands like a monolith forcing those other perfumes to flow around him. That audacity has maybe never been as pronounced as it is with Olivier Durbano SpeM PetraM.
Before you all think I’ve fat fingered my shift key the capital “M”’s are intentional. The name translates to “Stone of Hope” while the double-M is meant to represent Mary Magdalene. That inspiration is seen in two specific ways in SpeM PetraM. The first is M. Durbano’s use of a Bible-named root; nard. The other is the personification of Mary Magdalene as a rose. In SpeM PetraM the nard provides the stone while the rose provides the feminine hope within.
M. Durbano, and Google, inform me that nard is a plant of the Himalayas related to valerian. In its American incarnation it has been called spikenard. I have encountered it in the perfumes of natural perfumers previously. It seems like it must be a difficult ingredient to work with because it has three strong pillars which make up its scent profile. One is an earthiness, the other is mineralic, and the last is terpenic. Because of that variability it explains why this was an ancient perfume because it was good by itself. In the present day a perfumer must adroitly balance those competing aspects into something greater. M. Durbano is the kind of perfumer who is up to this task.
SpeM PetraM is all nard to begin. Those three faces I mentioned above are all on display early on. M. Durbano accentuates the earthiness with the warmth of saffron and the heat of cinnamon. The mineralic is wrapped in a haze of olibanum. The terpenic is given the lead as fir amplifies it into predominance. This is where M. Durbano brings MM into view as a gorgeous rose rises out of the nard accord. The ascendency of the rose is what makes SpeM PetraM something special. Every time I wore it the rose felt like a tiny piece of hope among the stone.
SpeM PetraM has 12-14 hour longevity.
I think there are some who will find the strength of the nard off-putting. This is not a perfume for everyone. It is for those who enjoy experiencing something different in the hands of a perfumer who can turn that into beauty. It might be a stone of hope, but I think of it as the Stone of Mary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.
I thought independent perfumer Olivier Durbano had reached a new level of creativity with last year’s release Promethee. The new more mature aesthetic was perhaps paired with a move away from his beloved crystals as the focal point for his perfumes. For the new release, Chrysolithe, the perfumer still ascending has remained. The inspiration has once again turned to the crystalline.
Chrysolithe is a Greek word meaning “gold stone”. It describes gems which “sparkle gold, tinted with green”. The most notable thing about Chrysolithe is that green. M. Durbano uses sage as the green to tint his other notes. While golden is not the adjective I would use to describe those notes the color of the juice is the promised golden color.
M. Durbano uses hyssop in the early going to provide the green. Hyssop is not one of those usual materials you find it has a strongly herbal quality under laid with a camphor-like nature. When you combine it with strong spicy notes like cumin black pepper, and cinnamon there is roughness to the hyssop which also become apparent. The opening is a good example of the accomplished artist M. Durbano has become. The choices made set the stage for the arrival of the sage in the heart. For that middle part of the development he employs sage essence matched up with rosemary and jasmine. This is mostly rosemary and sage; the jasmine is more in the nature of a grace note which takes some effort to detect. The sage displaces the hyssop in a sheer way. The base will make a more indelible sage statement as there the absolute forms the nucleus. Around it cedar, vetiver, and ambergris provide the complementary facets. The sage has all of my attention over the last part of wearing Chrysolithe. It becomes the logical ending to what has come before.
Chrysolithe has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Chrysolithe is the work of a perfumer working with clarity of purpose. When M. Durbano spoke to me about the creation of Chrysolithe at Pitti Fragranze it was obvious the level of conscious creation he had worked with. I think this only comes when you have achieved enough experience to make these choices thoughtfully. M. Durbano has most definitely attained that skill level and Chrysolithe is another example of that. I am going to be wearing a lot of this “gold stone” over the fall. It is going to be lingering on more than a few of my scarves.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Olivier Durbano at Pitti Fragranze 2015.
It is funny but at the time I didn’t recall 2004-2005 as being an especially auspicious year for independent perfumery. It is only as 2014 has moved along and a number of our best, and most established, independent perfumers are celebrating ten years, or so, that I missed noticing the convergence of the class of 2005. Perfumer Olivier Durbano was one of those who did leave an impression when he released his first perfume Rock Crystal back then. I say this often but one of the pleasures of having been around at the beginning makes the moment when they create something transcendent all the more enjoyable. M. Durbano’s tenth perfume Promethee is a moment of fire-kissed transcendence.
When I reviewed last year’s Lapis Philosophorum I mentioned that M. Durbano being able to interpret from myth versus the reality of stone freed him to be especially creative. Promethee shows even more of the creativity that was on display in that fragrance. M. Durbano wanted to capture the myth of Prometheus and his tricking Zeus while regaining fire for humanity. Prometheus would pay a price for this betrayal by being shackled to a rock while attacked by an eagle while his immortality kept him alive. Eventually Hercules would free him. M. Durbano chooses his keynotes and accords to re-tell the story in perfumed form. Prometheus used a stalk of fennel to capture the flame from Zeus. That forms the core of the top notes. M. Durbano’s near-trademark mineral accord evokes the years of imprisonment chained to the rock. The smell of the woods in the forest reveals the smell of the freedom to walk amongst the trees once again.
M. Durbano opens Promethee with a stalk of fennel glowing softly with the banked fire of spices. Sage, pink pepper, nutmeg, and fenugreek add an herbal flame atop the fennel. The fennel along with the fenugreek provide a strongly anisic character which the herbs and spices complement perfectly. The heart is the olibanum based mineral accord M. Durbano has used in the past. This time he allows the accord to represent the weight of the rock Prometheus is chained to. In the other perfumes this has appeared in it is often a foundation for other notes. In Promethee the mineral accord is made more prominent and it gives it weight. I have always admired this particular accord, in the past, but by using it so boldly it makes me appreciate it even more. The base notes form a forest walk free of the chains with cedar as the core along with vetiver, labdanum, storax, and lavender absolute. The balsamic facets of storax are the glue which holds the base accord together.
Promethee has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Promethee is the best perfume M. Durbano has ever produced. It is by far his most complex and complete creation. While I can pick apart the various voices in the chorus Promethee succeeds so well I really don’t want to make the effort. When I mentioned that the freedom to interpret the mythological freed M. Durbano’s creativity I couldn’t have imagined it would lead to something like this. Promethee is one of the best new perfumes of 2014.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Olivier Durbano at Pitti Fragranze 2014.
On day 2 of Pitti Fragranze the public is invited to attend. This gives a different energy to the fair from Day 1 which is industry only. It is enjoyable to watch young perfumistas discovering brands and meeting the perfumers behind them. Their attendance today will light a fire in their heart which will burn for many years to come. I still had some work to do catching up with some of my favorite brands and exploring some new brands.
I didn’t recognize Pierre Guillaume with his new short haircut and as a result I kept looking past the tall man standing next to his display. Maybe because it was first thing in the morning but I finally realized that tall man was M. Guillaume. Another perfumer who I had never met in person before. He showed me his latest release for his Huitieme Art Parfums line Liqueur Charnelle. This is a rich cognac perfume that made me feel as if I needed to be wearing a velvet jacket next to a fireplace. I also got a preview of the next new release Mojito Chypre. You might think the name tells you all you need to know but M. Guillaume includes a wonderfully surreal strawberry note in between the lime and the chypre. This felt like perfume made with a wink and a smile.
Perfumer Cecile Zarokian has been having a tremendously successful year and I was able to try her two latest releases; Laboratorio Olfattivo Patchouliful and Jacques Zolty Van’lle. The press art for Patchouliful captures a king sitting on a throne in shorts and flip flops. It is an apt description for a fragrance which uses patchouli in a lighter opaque application. It is another example of Mme Zarokian’s ability to find new ways to interpret notes we all think we know. Jacques Zolty is meant to be an entry brand into niche with a bit of niche sensibility. Easy to wear but with some unique aspects added to it. Van’lle is just that a rich light amiable vanilla. It doesn’t cloy it swaddles you in sweet comfort.
I also connected with Olivier Durbano and tried his tenth release, Promethee. M. Durbano delved into the Greek myth of Prometheus. My first impression is this might be the best fragrance M. Durbano has released. Promethee captures the fragrant touchstones of the myth and it is housed in a temple of resinous components. This is confident perfume made by a perfumer who has developed over the last ten years into one of the best independent perfumers we have working.
John Molloy of Memo walked by and asked me when I was going to drop by and get a sneak preview of the next release from them. Before I sprayed it on he told me to imagine a woman dressed in a leather skirt who carried that ineffable air of a Parisienne wearing rose perfume. The upcoming French Leather is that rose and leather combination with the style of Paris imposed on it. It will be released early in the fall.
Chandler Burr (l.) and Robert Gerstner
Time for the presentation by Chandler Burr interviewing Robert Gerstner and Miguel Briceno of Aedes de Venustas in New York City. For the first part of the interview the talk centered on how the selections in the store are curated and what it takes to have the full package necessary to be included in the store. They figure they get approached by one new brand a day and over the course of a year they might only find one or two which they would like to add to the inventory. It was a fascinating candid look behind the scenes in a premiere niche perfumery and how decisions are made.
Now I went to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the section called Spring for new fragrances by small independent brands. I saw most of them and there were two which stood out to me.
Peccato Originale is an inventive brand which bases their packaging, perfume names, and inspirations on old pharmacy artifacts. What you see above is a first aid kit from sometime in the 1920’s. Two new fragrances were introduced at Pitti, Tintura Spiritosa and Antidoto. Silvia Monti has taken her previous life as a pharmacist and used it to make perfumes which feel like blend of old style chemist and new style perfumer. Antidoto is my favorite of the two new releases as it has a very long-lived top note combination of intense citrus. It takes hours before mate tea followed by rum push it out of the way. This kind of juxtaposition was really interesting to wear and I enjoyed the languid development which is still continuing twelve hours after I applied it.
The best new brand I have seen through the first two days of the show is Map of the Heart. Pierre Dinand designed heart shaped bottles which look like they came out of the television show Once Upon a Time. These fragrances are no fairy tale as the three fragrances Clear Heart, Black Heart, and Red Heart form a diverse collection from Clear Heart’s easy wearing affability through to Red Heart wearing its tuberose on its sleeve. The one real stand out of not only the line but the entire show is Black Heart. This is a descent into all of the dark places most perfumes fear to tread. It is not for those who like their fragrances lighter. Black Heart is simply fascinating to wear.
One day left and eight hours to try and cover everything I haven’t so far. See you tomorrow.