Friday, 30 March 2012

Madrugada Honey Bee: Review Of L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’aube

I was just looking up the Spanish word “madrugada” to doublecheck its meaning – I know it is mentioned somewhere in "The Perfume Lover", but I am not sure if I could find it now! I knew it was the Spanish word for “l’aube” ie dawn, but had a feeling that it also meant “the wee small hours”, regardless of prevailing light conditions - and as far as I can tell, it does. “Rolling-home-after-a-party-o’clock”, if you will.

And whilst satisfying my curiosity on this point, I lit upon an intriguing Google search term suggestion (a topic so interesting in its own right that I was moved to devote a whole post to it), namely “Madrugada Honey Bee Lyrics”. I couldn’t resist exploring further, and discovered that Madrugada is in fact a Norwegian rock band, and Honey Bee a love song by them, fortuitously referencing perfume and a romantic clinch not unlike the one described in “The Perfume Lover” between Denyse and Román, which inspired the creation of the perfume Séville à l’aube. (Denyse was even wearing a “black lace shift”…)

A young man should be blessed with love
There's just flesh and fire below
This drunken, senseless reeling
Hands on my face
Some silk and lace
Sweet perfume kisses
For me

Well, now that is funny, for as I was racking my brain for a title for this post – after discounting “Navel Orange-Gazing” on various grounds, not least those of provenance - my mind flitted to images around the idea of honey and nectar, which are featured in Séville à l’aube. Blow me if Google didn’t go and serve it up on a plate, or drizzle it on my keyboard, even.

Now I said in my review of “The Perfume Lover” that my corresponding write up of the perfume itself would be short. By which I meant the actual perfume review part – as ever, the rest of the post will be what it will be... For Séville à l’aube is a complex scent, and in the “mod-by-mod” account of its development I was fascinated in particular by the gradual addition, subtraction and volumetric adjustment of the various notes. This was mostly by design, and occasionally because something that had been previously included in the formulation was simply overlooked some 25 mods later, say.

“African Stone? I made him (Bertrand Duchaufour) smell it the day I told him that, in Monsieur’s opinion, the scent wasn’t erotic enough. It was dropped between 63 and 90, though not on purpose – Bertrand just forgot about it. He’ll put it in again, but he’ll also experiment with civet.” (Editor’s note - not too much it would seem, thankfully!)

Also, I remember there being at least 43 separate materials in the formulation at one point. I can’t recall the final tally, but a lot more than my nose could ever detect, it is safe to say, so I will focus on my general impressions. It would be tough for me to deconstruct this scent in a way that does justice to the glorious interplay of its components, for Séville à l’aube is as fiendishly beautiful as olfactory sudoku...

What Denyse and Bertrand set out to do was to weave different notes into the composition to capture all the fragrant aspects of that momentous night – not in some dogged box-ticking way, but with the aim of creating a composition that far transcended the sum of its components. In her excellent review of both book and scent, Mals86 of Muse In Wooden Shoes has included a handy schema that lays out what the French might call (but probably don't!) “les grands axes” of the fragrance, ie its major scent themes and how they interrelate.

To take a specific example of this associative process or "olfactory riffing", while wearing the lush and “radiant” Mod 90, Denyse explains to Bertrand that it is conjuring up images of gardens for her – “memories of sucking nectar out of flowers” - which prompts the perfumer to explain how he works with words as much as with smells:

“…like that plaza full of orange trees in full blossom buzzing with drunken bees. From there you go to beeswax candles, from candles to incense.”


I will kick off by saying that I am a fan of orange blossom scents. They are cheery and uplifting and remind me of the year I spent teaching on The French Riviera. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I own four scents in this style: Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne (also by Bertrand Duchaufour - review here), Penhaligon’s Castile (also Spanish-themed!), The Different Company Bergamote and Jo Malone Orange Blossom (which have no discernible Spanish or perfumer link that I can think of!).

And even though there was a bit of tinkering after Mod 90, and the commercial release appears likely to be 128 or thereabouts, the finished article is also pretty darn radiant: on two consecutive occasions it lasted on my skin from mid-morning till bedtime - and as some of you know, I am not noted for my early nights. Now the Jo Malone above is radiant, and so for that matter are a couple of other orange blossom-forward scents like Elie Saab and Alien. But Séville à l’aube has more heft than either of those.

Also worth noting is that it flirts with indolic notes, but only gets to first base on the skank-o-meter. In that regard it has more in common with Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom Cologne than Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger, say. Even the Jo Malone is more indolic to my nose. And this might well strike people as odd, given some of the action in the book - it did me. Now I know Bertrand and Denyse were trying to incorporate the religious aspects of the Easter procession into the composition, which would have the effect of toning it down, but I find it interesting all the same that the finished article is as relatively demure as it is!

In addition to its diffusive character, Séville à l’aube feels unctuous, rich and honeyed, yet simultaneously light and sherbety – there is a powdery, pollen-like quality to the scent which persists throughout its development, a “snuffed out” facet, which I imagine must be the incense – incense AND pollen, maybe? However, it is not the dank and crypt-y kind of Etro Messe de Minuit or even Bertrand Duchaufour’s own Avignon – think of it rather as “snuffed out nectar”, if that doesn’t sound like synaesthetic gibberish. The combination of orange and incense can be tricky to pull off; another orange + incense scent by Bertrand that springs to my mind is Baume du Doge (review here), but that is darker in tone, spicier and more woody than this composition. This incense is borderline fluffy - thanks to the honey/beeswax business it is almost gourmand, but with a citrus bite.

A belated word about the opening now! It is very green and a tad too sharp for my liking. Petitgrain frenzy at a guess. There is a word in French which merely means citrus – “agrumes” – but in my mind’s eye there is a sharp, acerbic quality to this term, which is exactly how the opening smells to me. It keeps the orange heart from being too sweet and cloying, which Denyse and Bertrand were keen to do, plus it probably nudges the scent a little closer towards unisex territory. To my nose, Séville à l’aube is unequivocably feminine, however, especially after the citrus blast has subsided.

There are so many notes in there that I don’t pick up on – the lavender, for example, the blood and tobacco notes I remember reading about in the book, or the civet that I also thought had made the final cut – I am not even conscious of the vanilla particularly, though I know it's there. To me Séville à l’aube is mostly about bracing citrussy greenness seguing into a voluptuous orange heart – it is “pulpeuse” - to quote the term a sales assistant used to describe Denyse’s “blossoming” physique. But that voluptuousness is leavened by the sherbety-pollen-incense accord – which is not unlike mimosa in fact, another flower associated with Southern Europe. Now, notwithstanding the felicitous title of this post, I don’t wish to suggest that Séville à l’aube is as honeyed as Chanel Beige or as MAC Naked Honey, for that would be wide of the mark. But there is a lovely powdery pollen thing going on here, and "to beeswax lyrical" for a moment, it stains your soul

Yes, in “The Perfume Lover” Denyse talks about how she will know they have lit upon the perfect variant of the formulation. It will be so affecting that she will let out “the moan”, just as she will have done that sultry night, locked in Roman’s embrace.

Are you ready, folks?

Mooooaaaaaaaaan!!” (reaches for credit card – oh blow, the darn thing isn’t out yet. That was a…. ; - ) ) By the way, that silver (and not intentionally suggestive-looking) atomiser pictured is the leaky one I was talking about. Do not be fooled by its seductively sleek contours and burnished metal buffness!

Moving on, I just went to google the official note listing and fetched up this general description of the scent, courtesy of Denyse herself: "an orange blossom oriental with zesty, green and balsamic effects, with notes of petitgrain, petitgrain citronnier, orange blossom absolute, beeswax absolute, incense resinoid, Luisieri lavender absolute and Siam benzoin resinoid."

My own scent memories of Seville

Now I know this perfume is not about me or my own holiday in Seville, but inevitably I cannot help but think back to that time nearly 20 years ago, when I took myself off to Spain following the recent break up of a pretty tempestuous relationship. The fact that I ended up in Seville was quite unintentional, though. I had gone to visit a friend in Soria in the north, but it snowed the entire time I was there (in May!), so after five days of shivering in inappropriate outfits, my friend packed me onto a train to Seville, and I spent the remaining five days of my trip basking in the 90F heat, happily alone in a city I consider to be the most sensual on earth (that I have been to, at least).

This was long before my perfumistahood, but if I cast my mind back and try to dredge up some scent memories of my stay, this is what I come up with:

Apple cake glaze – every morning I would sit outside a café near the Giralda cathedral with a cup of tea and a slice of apple cake, topped with that patisserie glaze that is jelly-like and vaguely perfumed.

Bocadillo de tortilla de patatas – omelette bap, effectively, but doesn’t it sound great in Spanish? : - ) I had a warm one of these for my lunch every day, purchased from a kiosk at the entrance to the Maria Luisa Park, before finding a sunny spot to flop in for the whole of each long, scorching afternoon.

Aromatic grasses – my many hours spent lying on the ground meant that I got "up close and personal" with the grass and vegetation of the park, some of it spiky and far from benign (as evidenced by the painful rash I developed that necessitated an emergency visit to a pharmacy!)

Cold stone – the contrast between the baking sunshine outside and the cool dark interiors of the churches couldn’t have been more marked, and I vividly recall that cold, damp, musty scent of flagstones in the many churches in which I sought refuge during my stay (as much to escape the heat as to marvel at Seville's ecclesiastical heritage, it must be said!)

Horse droppings – a memorable tourist attraction is the guided city tour in a horse-drawn carriage, so it doesn't take much for me to summon up the pungent pong of dung (from desiccated to steaming fresh!), especially in the area by the cathedral (see my own photo in the previous post).

Hot night flowers – one of my earliest scent memories is of arriving in Minorca on a night flight and being hit by a fragrant wall of heat as I walked down the steps of the plane. It was my first whiff of a Mediterranean summer, and wherever you go in Southern Europe you get this beautiful ambient floral bouquet in the air, especially at night.

Bonus tactile memory!

I bought this skirt and top while I was in Seville, in wonderfully slinky fabrics of viscose and acetate. I wore them for a while, before shorter hemlines came into fashion, condemning the ensemble to languish in wardrobes since the late 90s at a guess. But I note in the press that the maxi skirt is making a comeback. Mine may in fact be a midi, but I am quite stunted in the leg department. And I believe the midi itself is pretty on-trend too! So the outfit may yet enjoy a second life.

So anyway, I shall definitely be buying Séville à l’aube when it comes out. It is a stellar fragrance in its own right, plus it already feels more personal to me because I followed its gestation in the book – like a birthing partner, you could say. Or a husband coming along to ante-natal classes, perhaps, for birthing partners may only be deployed at the foetal equivalent of the "last “mod”, so to speak! But I don't have kids, so hey, what do I know? : - ) And then there are my own memories of Seville – not quite at dawn, but I saw the wrong side of 3am a few times, as I wandered aimlessly for miles by the light of a slivery (and silvery!) moon – and these also reinforce the appeal of this scent to me. For Seville symbolises my newfound single state, when I felt more energised and comfortable in my own skin (once the rash got better, obviously!) than at any point in my life, even if the height of my tactile adventures in this magical place was a clingy fabric or two and some antihistamine cream.

And if, by my serendipitous choice of title, I can introduce fans of a Norwegian rock band to a great new perfume inspired by another distant madrugada, that will be a Random Act Of Kindness in the truest sense of the term. Cheers, Google... : - )

For further impressions of both book and scent check out these reviews by Nathan Branch and the Candy Perfume Boy on Basenotes. And here on Now Smell This is an interesting Q & A session with Denyse Beaulieu, talking about her book.

Photo of Seville at dawn by Turismo de Sevilla via Flickr CC, photo of Madrugada concert by Anika via Flickr CC, photo of honey bee by Vincent Ramos via Wikimedia Commons, photo of garden with orange blossom by Anual via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Baume du Doge from Eau d'Italie website, photo of Triana district and river by Gregory Zeier via Wikimedia Commons, photo of omelette roll from Wikipedia, other photos my own


Olfactoria's Travels said...

Excellent! What a gem of a post!
I laughed and was moved and marveled at your creativity - that's how I like my reading. ;)
I have a sample of Seville a l'aube on the way from Denyse, and your review makes me very confident that I will like it.
Do you think there are similarities to Klian's Sweet Redemption, Xerjoff Oesel or L'Artisan's Fleur d'Oranger?

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Thanks a lot! I am very confident you will love Seville A L'Aube too, and will dig out those samples you mention and refresh my memory as to how they compare.

Off the top of my head I would say that the L'Artisan is too sheer and straightforward - it is more of a classy version of the Jo Malone (less shouty, higher quality than the JM) - but it doesn't have the sherbety-incense depth or the green/citrus tang of the opening of Seville.

Then Sweet Redemption is more sticky and honeyed and spicy, I'd say, and more brooding - it is a like a sticky Baume du Doge but brighter. Think kitten heels (albeit killer kitten heels!) for Seville and knee length boots for Sweet Redemption, maybe (for seasonal reasons as much as anything : - ) ).

As for Oesel, it is bright and radiant but more "perfumey", and lacking that powdery incense facet. Can't remember where it stands on the citrus front.

But I really need to retry all three to be sure - this could be total nonsense! I have to say I have never smelt anything like Seville A L'Aube. Maybe if Oesel and Mimosa pour Moi had a love child which banged its head against a censer we would be getting somewhere, I don't know... : - )

Cymbaline said...

Hi Vanessa, I finished reading Denyse's book a few days ago and am in sync with the review of it in your last post. I'm also looking forward to trying the perfume. SL's orange blossom is one of my favorites, but it can be a bit of a 'wild child' in polite company. Orange blossom options would be good!

I'd also like to add that I felt your reviews of both the book and the perfume were fair ( balanced and thoughtful, not middling! ).
Baring your life and soul to the world takes some guts and I think the absolute best would be to have people, especially those in the perfume-blogging community, treat your product with respect!

As always, I appreciate the time and effort you invest in your reviews : )

Undina said...

Vanessa, you got me with a title! :)
Then while reading your review I kept humming:
"If I was a flower growing wild and free
All I'd want is you to be my sweet honey bee"

Thank you for the joyful read. I'll have to get both - the book and a sample of this perfume and "test" both. And then I'll come back and read both of your reviews again.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Back again (Blogger wouldn't let me comment for a while there!), and have now retested Sweet Redemption and Oesel - can't put my hand on Fleur d'Oranger, but my comment above probably stands.

Oesel is very herbal on me today - almost mentholated - which I take to be some weird manifestation of the cedar/patch/tobacco notes on my skin. Not feeling any pollen or mimosa!

Sweet Redemption is nothing like Seville or much like Baume du Doge in fact! It is more woody/spicy/boozy - and sticky.

In short, B and D appear to have broken the mould with this one! I think they did consciously strive to differentiate it from his other creations certainly, especially those with incense, which is a bit of a "signature note" of BD's, if a perfumer can be said to have such a thing.

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Thanks for checking, V!
I got my sample by now, and while I won't say much yet, I agree with your comparisons. It is quite different from what I thought in any case...

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Thanks for your comment and I am glad you also enjoyed the book. SL Fleurs d'Oranger is very much a "wild child" orange blossom scent, I couldn't agree more!

And you make a very good point about it being brave to bare you life and soul to the world. You kindly allude to the time and effort I put into these reviews, which makes one realise how much that is magnified when someone sets out to write a whole book!

I have a half-finished travel book lying around in fact - based on my misadventures on overseas work trips, and partly written pre-Bonkers - but I am paralysed with indecision as to the best way to structure it (by country? by theme?), so it never gets finished! Yes, it is a major undertaking to write something on this scale.

And I hope it was clear from my review of the book that I was not disappointed - I really did find it as pleasurable a read as The Perfect Scent, the book it most closely resembles in my view.

The choppy structure was fine once I gave in to it - a bit like agreeing to go to a shopping mall with a friend: the plan may be to just go to the department store and a mobile phone shop, but you end up going here, there and everywhere because something catches your friend's eye in a shop window. : - ) So "Go with the flow" - or lack of it! - would definitely be my watchword, even though the abrupt topic changes might slightly frustrate the reader agog to see how the next wave of "mods" turned out!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Haha, I like that other musical honey bee quote - was not familiar with the song... : - )

I very much look forward to hearing your take on book and scent in due course. I can't imagine anyone in our circles not liking the book on some level - after all, there are plenty to choose from!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

I am glad your sample has arrived and can't wait to read your own review of it!

It is curious that Seville a L'Aube isn't anything like as raunchy and indolic as I had expected given some of the scenes in the book. That was the biggest surprise to me. I could easily have envisioned an orange version of Lust from Gorilla Perfumes!

Cymbaline said...

Hello again, V.

Yes, it was clear from your review that you enjoyed the book and I think your analogy of friends bouncing around at the mall is spot on - great fun but slightly disjointed. Your idea that Denyse may have several books combined into one makes a lot of sense. I'm wondering if all this 'literary-talk' will inspire you to re-visit your unfinished travel writings? Bring it on!

Oh, and about your skirt and top - if you 'wear it like you mean it' just about any outfit will pass muster! I say wear it : )

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

At the risk of having two "mean"s in one sentence, I know exactly what you mean when you say "wear it like you mean it", and will try to take your advice!

And you never know, this "literary-talk" may be just want I need to kick start my own book-in-not-much-progress. Especially if this proves a lean year workwise, as seems possible.

Tara said...

Vanessa, I loved viewing Seville the place and the perfume through your eyes! And how about those songs lyrics? Completely perfect.

Thanks for the comparisons with Sweet Redemption and L'Artisan's FdO, as I wondering about that too. Sounds like it is more than different enough. I was surprised during the Monday Question just how many people had it on their Wish List and it's not even out yet!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Those song lyrics were pretty nifty, aren't they?

It is very different, I'd say. Can't wait to hear Birgit's take on it shortly. I hope it will be a massive success for L'Artisan - and Denyse can be very proud of her part in creating such a beauty as muse / critic / evaluator - or any other names she was called in the book to describe her role!

Victoria said...

What a great review, V! And you made me want to go Seville. I've been to Spain but not to Seville, and since I fell in love with the country on my first visit, I know that I will be back again. One of my favorite memories was having cafe con leche and a flaky bun with candied melon filling at the tiny coffee shop.

I enjoy the fragrance very much. I'm a big fan of orange blossom and incense, but the way it is blended seems unusual. It isn't as skanky as I thought it would be whene I was reading the description in the novel, but maybe the skank would detract from the romantic brightness of orange blossom.

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

Thanks for dropping in and for your kind comment. I would be interested to know which bits of Spain you visited - and that bun you describe sounds delicious. When I was up in the north for the first part of my holiday, my friend and I sat *inside* cafes nursing hot chocolate and churros, which was suitably warming in the unseasonably cold weather!

As well as Seville, I also love Granada, and would very much like to visit Cordoba one day, which is supposed to be very beautiful too.

Glad you also like Seville A L'Aube - it is certainly tamer than I expected, but I tend to shy away from very indolic scents, so the way it is is fine for me. The incense is pitched just right too - I prefer this fluffier variety, for want of a better word!

Victoria said...

I went to Barcelona, Zaragoza and San Sebastian. I also visited Mallorca. I looked up the name of that bun-ensaimada, which is a Mallorcan specialty. Seville, Granada, Cordoba are all on my to visit list. The melange of cultural influences really fascinates me, and any place where the nights are filled with the scent of jasmine and orange blossom is a perfect place in my book. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

That's an interesting mix of inland and coastal places. Barcelona is somewhere I have only ever driven through, so I would like to visit it at leisure, also swinging by the boutique/offices of Carner! I gather there is a museum connected with perfume in the city, though I could be wrong. Mallorca is a beautiful island, and has become rather upmarket in recent years.

Thanks too for the ID of the bun! And I do agree that places smelling of orange and jasmine are about as good as it gets...

Natalie said...

After so many rave reviews for this, I am increasingly interested in trying it. I was a little worried about the orange blossom and honey combination, but in your description it sounds unworrisome!

Thanks for the wonderful review, and for your memories of Seville!

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

It is indeed unworrisome, and as with the multi-faceted book itself, I think time will show that there is "something for everyone" in the scent too. : - )