As I said in a previous post, I chanced into the Masque Milano stand at Esxence and was sat down and given a glass of bubbly and a very cogent explanation of their recent work. It was immediately obvious that a lot of thought had gone into the fragrance art direction. Thought is not a sufficient condition to make great perfumes, but it is necessary, and in very short supply in the industry. The second impression was that the perfumers had paid attention to the brief and given their best work to Masque. So often, particularly with well-known perfumers who are busy with big-money briefs, you feel that they may listen intently to what is asked of them by the small niche outfit, but then ignore it completely and submit some banal lash-up. Not here: all of Masque’s fragrances have a very distinctive shape and purpose. Third, a ton of money was spent on the formula.
L’Attesa: (The Wait). I had a chance to talk to perfumer Luca Maffei earlier and we both had a laugh when he explained to me that he had put a “champagne” accord in his latest iris fragrance, which turned out to be this one. Champagne is a polite word for yeast, and I was interested to hear that, because TS and I had noticed on a trip to Amsterdam a few years ago, while walking downwind of a brewery, how close the yeast fumes were to certain facets of iris. Iris is the very essence of refined melancholy and a hugely fashionable material at the moment. Despite its beauty, it is nevertheless a frustratingly thin and wispy material, easily scared by any loud adjacent smell. This means that everybody has to be very quiet around iris, and the fragrances can end up a touch bloodless. Historic exceptions are Iris Gris with its lovely peach candy glow, and the original Iris Silver Mist, which by adding up every iris in the book achieved the desired density.
I am frankly amazed by what Maffei has pulled off with L’Attesa. At the top the solid and unusually sunny iris note (Maffei seems to have used four different iris materials) is joined at the hip with a satisfyingly smooth, slightly sweet white flowers accord. In the heart, the bread crust note of the champagne accord fills the gaps between the other materials, and the drydown gradually scales down the entire, stylish, grown-up, composition without loss of balance. This is not only an excellent iris (I cannot think of a better one available today), full of well-judged small touches that make it work all the way through, but overall a composition that has the feel of a big-league fragrance house. If someone had handed me the smelling strip and told me “Guerlain’s finally done an iris!” I would have believed them. I love the fact that the artistic self-censorship that causes so much niche perfumery to remain mired in cuteness is completely absent here. The big guys had better beware: Masque is after their business.
Russian Tea. To a student of fragrance chemistry like myself, Russian Tea is pure delight, because it contains an extraordinary chemical epigram. The most distinctive features of aromachemicals reside in what are called their functional groups, that is to say the chemically reactive handles attached to the rest of the molecule. Functional groups impart a distinctive smell to molecules, and many of the great smell categories are named after them: ethereal, nitrilic, sulfuraceous, adehydic, etc. Russian Tea, composed by Julien Rasquinet, is a wrestling match between two functional groups never seen together in the ring before: oximes and phenols. Oximes (-NOH) all smell fruity-camphoraceous, and buchoxime, the one used here, is a facet of a proper blackcurrant smell. Phenols (Ø-OH) smell variously tarry-smoky. The combination of camphor, fruit and smoke which makes up the central chord of Russian Tea is simply brilliant and, once smelled, never forgotten. Only time will tell how it works on an actual human being in real life, but I for one would buy it simply to be able to experience that surprise again and again.
Tango. To their eternal credit, Masque sought out Cecile Zarokian before everyone else did, and she produced a remarkable piece of work. When you first smell Tango, you are tempted to put it in the “nice, big ambery oriental” category. Except that it never seems to drive straight down the middle of that well-traveled road, but is always pulling to one side, with a weird note of coumarin and chocolate. I expected it to finally relent and join the centerline in good time, but it stubbornly refuses to become ordinary. The drydown is, if anything, even weirder than the start. This is apparently in part due to a big slug of mélilot (sweet clover), a note I do not remember smelling before. Lovely stuff.
Romanza. This one, composed by Cristiano Canali, is based on a legendary fragrance material, the wild narcissus absolute of Laboratoire Monique Rémy, now owned by IFF. It comes from the magnificent Auvergne region of France, is harvested by hand and processed on the spot. Narcissus absolute costs a small fortune and smells of… just about everything from heavenly flowers to chicken coop. Romanza is a deferential habillage of LMR narcissus which results in a surprisingly classical green floral in the manner of the old Ma Griffe (Carven), but with a more delicate, natural transparent touch. Superb work.