Sniffing Highlights – Juliet Has A Gun Citizen Queen, Réminiscence Les Notes Gourmandes & SAHLiNi FÉMiNíNDE
In the course of my chat with Zsolt Zólyomi, we managed to fit in a fair amount of sampling, focusing in particular on the brands and perfumes with which I was not familiar. It goes without saying that I melted into the background when customers appeared, and the sale of a bottle of Juliet Has A Gun Citizen Queen was an opportunity for me to try a scent in that line which I had overlooked up to now. It turned out to be a wistful powdery rose with slightly dark undertones - as Zsolt pointed out, Citizen Queen is a scent not unlike that of an oldfashioned pot of rouge that your grandmother might have worn.
Now I couldn't find anything approaching a definitive note listing for Citizen Queen - perhaps because the formulation is said to contain 160 ingredients! - but here is one version from Luckyscent:
Notes: Leather, Bulgarian Rose, Iris, Amber, Immortal flowers, Labdanum
Overall, Citizen Queen manages to be retro without veering into "old lady's boudoir" territory, and though I wouldn't describe it as edgy exactly - and I can't truthfully say that I picked up on the leather I see listed - it was a nice offbeat recommendation for the young woman in question.
Staying with the theme of powder, Zsolt introduced me to a range that was completely new to me: Réminiscence. This company was founded in 1970 by bohemian duo Zoe Coste and Nino Amaddeo, who sold their range of silver and costume jewellery initially through a couple of stores on the French Riviera. They opened their second shop in Cannes the very year I used to commute there daily to my teaching job at a lycée just behind La Croisette, while their original shop is in Juan-les-Pins, where I lived. Back then Réminiscence only had one scent in their range, the suitably hippyish "Patchouli", but I wasn't remotely interested in perfume at the time, nor in jewellery particularly, and - as you can see - my clothes sense was also questionable...
Within the Réminiscence range Zsolt drew my attention to Les Notes Gourmandes, a quartet of cute, powdery gourmand scents released in 2008 and named after what I now know to be called the "solfège syllables" in musical scales. Well, obviously I felt moved to investigate this word "solfège" a little further, and in Wikipedia I found a definition that went far beyond a certain song title from The Sound of Music:
"In music, solfège (French pronunciation: [sɔl.fɛʒ], also called solfeggio, sol-fa or solfa), is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable (or "sol-fa syllable"). The seven syllables commonly used for this practice in English-speaking countries are: do (or doh in tonic sol-fa), re, mi, fa, sol (so in tonic sol-fa), la, and ti/si."
"A pedagogical solmization technique" - who knew?
The first thing to note about these perfumes is their pretty, opaque, pastel bottles with gold lettering, slightly reminiscent (no pun intended) of the packaging of Bal à Versailles EDT.
But anyway, on to the fragrances themselves: Do Re, Mi Fa, Sol La and Si Do. The only one I didn't care for was Sol La, a rather sharp and confused citrus composition - still fluffy, but strangely herbal and a tad acerbic with it.
My favourite (and Zsolt's too! - we seemed to have quite similar taste) was the green one, Do Re, a figgy, woody musk scent with a nutty, slightly burnt quality that had me nuzzling my wrist all day. Having now clocked the notes, I can see that Do Re has heliotrope, tonka bean, vanilla AND almond in it - why, on the face of it that sounds like a vanilla custard you could stand your spoon straight up in!
Notes: heliotrope, green fig, almond, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla, tonka bean, benzoin and musk.
Now heliotrope (billed as the central note) can be dodgy in my book - I don't care for Hervé Léger or Barbara Bui or Lalique Le Parfum for this very reason. It is clearly present here, yet the overall blend in Do Re doesn't go overboard on the creamy comfort food front - possibly due to the restaining influence of the fig and cedar.
Coming in a close second in the favourites ranking is Mi Fa, aka "the pink one". It is off the scale of the fluffy-ometer, but I loved it. The opening is bright and zesty, with a heart of yielding marshmallow, the key note in this composition:
Notes: marshmallow, bergamot, tangerine, neroli, ozone, almond, lavender, rosemary, mint, petitgrain, black pepper, jasmine, tonka bean, vanilla, cedar, patchouli, sandalwood and musk.
Sure, Mi Fa is sweet, but not tooth-rottingly so - the lavender, rosemary and mint may well be acting as an olfactory mouthwash! - and it also manages to have a bit of an edge to it, as indeed do all the scents in the range. If you like Vivienne Westwood's Naughty Alice, or Floris Snow Rose, or Prada Candy, or L'Agent by L'Agent Provocateur, there's a fighting chance you will like this one too. It is fluff, no question, but fluff with attitude. Think of a Persian cat lying on its back having its tummy tickled, while flexing its claws ever so slightly...
Si Do (aka "the mauve one") was my third favourite, a quirky woody gourmand with a marked iris and carrot note in the opening. The drydown is softer and more diffuse, but I struggle a bit with the idea of a fluffy iris scent, which this is, at least initially.
Notes: orange, citron, bergamot, ambrette, iris, carrot, cedar, clove, ylang ylang, peach, pear, vanilla and musk.
Another brand in Zsolt's store which I had never seen before was SAHLiNi, notable for its multinational roots and bewildering use of lower case "i"s. The founder is an Indian woman, originally named Sahlini, who was adopted by a French couple at the age of seven months and grew up in France as Céline Martin. A graphic designer by profession, Martin launched her perfume company in 2006, and her four perfumes - L'Homme, La Femme, La Femme en Noir and FÉMiNíNDE - fuse the luxury and finesse of her adopted French culture with the exoticism and sensuality of her Indian roots.
I think La Femme was the best seller of the line, and from memory - I only tested it on card - it was a floral oriental, big and blowsy and sweet, but within acceptable bounds. The notes include "fresh notes", which temper the potentially heady blend of orange flower, tuberose and jasmine. It was big, but not rich or sumptuous - more a Mary Greenwell Plum level of potency and airiness, say - and it had one of my favourite bases of sandalwood, patchouli, vanilla and musk. Stylistically I'd place it on the cusp between mainstream and niche, like a Cartier, say - or Plum, indeed.
But it was FÉMiNiNDE which made the more lasting impression on me, not least because of the dinky Bollywood-style trimmings on the bottle!
Notes: orange, cardamom, black pepper, rose absolute, vetiver, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, fir and sandalwood.
FÉMiNíNDE is a spicy oriental, but of the lightest and most delicate kind. On first application it tingles on the skin like Bvlgari Omnia or a light spitting of rain; then as the scent dries down it takes on the translucent fruity quality of Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan, with just the faintest zing of spice in the background. I haven't come across a perfume quite like it, and shall enjoy using up my sample.
So those were the sniffing highlights of the afternoon for me, though as I mentioned at the top of the post, I smelt quite a few other things in the course of our session: some seasonal candles created by L'Artisan Parfumeur for Burberry; a couple of the more masculine Odins I had not yet tried (Nomad and Century); Puredistance M (quite tarry on my skin initially, though the back seat of the Aston Martin made its appearance in the end!).
I also tried that slightly boozy limited edition scent, Frapin 1697 - well, I guess they are all slightly boozy by definition, come to think of it. Zsolt told me how he had met Bertrand Duchaufour (the nose behind 1697) at the Frapin chateau in Segonzac, and (if I remember rightly) was involved in a brainstorming session to do with marketing aspects such as packaging design. Zsolt also mentioned that the scent is being relaunched on a more widespread basis in a lighter concentration.
Another thing that fascinated me about Zsolt was the way he - very naturally - dropped references to specific aromachemicals into the conversation. I only had to say that I did or didn't care for a scent because of a specfic aspect, and he was able to jump right in and tell me exactly what was causing the effect I was referring to. I enjoyed just hearing the names of aromachemicals being cited in the same breath as scents that were familiar to me - though obviously not so familiar when deconstructed into their chemical consitutents! If I had had my perfume-buying head on that day, I would have found it strangely reassuring to be advised by Zsolt - like buying a house after undertaking a full structural survey, instead of putting in an offer purely on the basis of the attractive hanging baskets.
So if I ever find myself back in Budapest, I shall make a point of visiting Le Parfum Croisette again, to see what's new and how Zsolt is getting on generally with his fragrant crusade. And if it turns out that he isn't in the store that day, I will do my best to sniff his airborne essence in the museum next time...
Photo of rouge pot from flappergirlcreations.wordpress.com, photo of Réminiscence jewellery from Ebay.co.uk, photo of Do Re from milchstore.com, photo of marshmallows from frameshiftcoaching.wordpress.com, photo of FEMiNiNDE from polyvore.com, advert for SAHLiNi from brandmile.com, photo of Burberry candle from thisnext.com, other photos my own.