I recently had a chance to ask Bertrand Duchaufour about his and Mark Buxton’s role in inventing the new style of perfumery typified by Timbuktu and CdG 2 Man . What was interesting to me was that they both worked in the same oil firm, Créations Aromatiques, when this happened, and seemingly hit upon the same ideas at the same time. I had earlier asked Buxton whether they collaborated, and he said they had not. Duchaufour confirmed this, but when pressed as to what had made it all happen, just said that cypriol became available and they just ran with it. It is probably no accident that this more or less coincided with the phasing out of another phenolic material, oakmoss. As a general rule, fragrant materials in plants are there either to attract discerning insects or to exterminate bacteria and moulds. Phenols appear to be exceptionally good at disinfection and are also powerful odorants, e.g. the clove smell of eugenol, which forms a large part of the smell of rose and may be dual-purpose. Plant a clove “nail” in the middle of a Petri dish filled with gelatin, and the bacterial growth will keep a respectful distance.
This is why we smoke fish and ham, why Joseph Lister sprayed phenol in the operating room and saved thousands of lives, and why British railway stations smelled phenolic until some tasteless soul decided lemon was better. Kippered fragrances soon became big and the tarry smell appealed to those who had long bought Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco just for the pleasure of smelling it, because it alone contained Latakia tobacco, that weird twice-smoked variety. Tea fragrances like Tommy Girl also fall on the edge of this class since the smell of tea is predominantly phenolic. The association, started by Buxton and Duchaufour, of tarry smells with spices, woods and other empyreumatic smells like incense and myrrh created a style of perfumery that falls somewhere between liturgical and medicinal, and does not have an atom of conventional femininity in it. These are distant descendants of Piguet’s Bandit and Balmain’s Jolie Madame. Instead of keeping pathogens at bay, they serve to discourage lovers of fruity florals from coming too close.
I’ve had good things to say in the past about smoky fragrances like Lampblack, Skive , Vi et Armis and others. Incendo (which to my Italian ears sounds like incendio , house fire) is very much in this manner and elegantly brings together all the elements, from vetiver to cypriol via incense to produce a quiet, stylish and crisp fragrance. La Curie is based in Tucson, AZ, and is a fine instance of the creative independent perfumery currently thriving in the US. The tongue-in-cheek website lists materials for Incendo: fir needles, embers, incense and sun-kissed dark skies. What I particularly love about Incendo is that the top note achieves an inner-tube rubbery quality that brings to mind, in a less playful context, the great and now discontinued Bulgari Black. Very nice work.