Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Bonkers Grand Tour: My Serendipitous Sniff-In With Zsolt Zólyomi, Hungary’s Only Perfumer – Part 2

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),[1] 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, photo of Réminiscence jewellery from, photo of Do Re from, photo of marshmallows from, photo of FEMiNiNDE from, advert for SAHLiNi from, photo of Burberry candle from, other photos my own.


Anonymous said...

Very interesti g and u usual things that you smelled in Budapest!
Love that photo of you in France! :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Those dungarees were a dreadful colour on me - I should never wear baby pastels with my sallow skin - and what they are doing over a turquoise lambswool sweater Lord only knows! At least I couldn't find the snap of me outside the villa I shared with two other teaching assistants (for "villa" read "bungalow with curly wrought iron embellishments") wearing said dungarees, accessorised by an emerald green silk scarf knotted at the neck like a boy scout. I shudder at the vision of my fashion fecklessness! The dungarees were quite a trendy brand, though - Chipie - but even trendy brands have off days...

lovethescents said...

Vanessa, years ago I fell in love with Do Re and sent you a sample!! You said it was too heliotropey for you. Oh how things change :-) I adore Do Re, and Mi Fa. Mi Fa is, as you said, cozy and comforting and slightly sweet, but the mint carries it beautifully.

I love Sahlini! Only the Homme version is a bit boring. La Femme is stunning and Femininde makes me feel all Bollywood :-) By the way, for your readers, Sahlini has a great samples program. And they send your samples out in a beautiful gold bag, of course.

What a great story. I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself. I wish I had been there.

Oh, almost forgot, now you've peaked my interest in a range I never bothered with: Juliet Has Gun.

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

You did? I said that? Well I never! It is L'Eau de L'Hermine all over again. : - )

I certainly don't have any recall of your sending me Do Re - or indeed the sample in question! My excuse for this black hole - or pastel green hole, in this case - is my advancing years, meaning that my medium term memory appears to be totally shot. Further memory loss - possibly ultimately escalating to goldfish proportions - cannot be ruled out.

My taste is definitely a moving target, even over the relatively short amount of time I have been interested in perfume. The day may yet come when I fully embrace really tart grapefruit as well as our friend civet in all concentrations.

Meanwhile it is a slow, imperceptible process of transition. That's "imperceptible" to me, I mean, as I don't appear to have a clue about what I liked before.

: - )

Undina said...

I love the idea of using musical notes as perfume names but I can't agree on coupling them one next to the next - sorry, but it just won't sound good. It's a pity: the idea was great! Can you imagine a line of perfumes: seven notes (and, maybe, five additional sub-notes) that combine well as accords?

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Using musical notes as perfume names is a pretty wacky notion, I agree, and I don't think the musical analogy bears close inspection. For as you imply, the notes may not lend themselves to every combination you could make out of them in an olfactory song! I guess the bottom line is that the fragrances are meant to stand on their own as different interpretations of the sweet gourmand theme, and the musical names are just a bit of fun really...

Suzanne said...

I have to agree with Undina: I hate the names of those perfumes; if someone asked me what I was wearing and I said, "Mi Fa," I think it would sound like I was swearing in Mandarin (not that I know any Mandarin, but something about the names of these musical perfumes reminds me of the Joss Wheedon series "FireFly," where all the characters swore in Chinese). But the perfumes themselves sound quite lovely. And both your reports from Budapest and meeting the handsome and talented Zsolt Zolyomi are fascinating. They have the effect, for me, of making the perfume world seem wider and yet also more intimate -- more "real," in the very best sense of that word.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Now you mention it, you would feel very silly uttering those perfume names, and I quite see the Mandarin connection. I started to learn Mandarin (for just one day, listening to a tape). I remember a word that sounded like - but almost certainly wasn't spelled - "MA", which, depending on your intonation, meant up to four different things. Way too hard, I thought.

Your comment about the size of the perfume world puts me in mind of a quote from my favourite poem by Louis Macneice (which I have quoted several times on Bonkers before, so apologies for anyone's sense of deja lu!):

"World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various"

A Roja Dove-equivalent person just happened to pop out of the woodwork in Central Europe when I was least expecting it...

There again, the drunkenness of things being various is not always a good thing. One look at my overstocked perfume fridge confirms this!