One of the joys of reviewing niche fragrances is encountering brands that have recently appeared and/or I have never heard of, which means I have exactly zero expectations. Anatole Lebreton sent me small sprays of his four fragrances, with a nice letter and a leaflet more suggestive of a yoga retreat than a niche perfumery firm, a million miles away from the luxury-goods ambiance of most of the industry. I smelled all four top notes on strips, and immediately felt once again that this entire lark of reviewing niche fragrances was a great idea. Lebreton’s fragrances, all released in the last couple of years, are remarkable. They feel satisfyingly like classical fragrances, with a lot of natural materials but without all-natural sogginess. They are also powerful, though nominally at EdP concentration, always an indication that a properly worked out composition is on song, as engine tuners say. And best of all, they are inventive.
Eau de Merzhin Lebreton, as his name indicates, is from Brittany, and this fragrance is named after the Breton form of Merlin. EdM is a big, handsome woody green fragrance in the manner of Givenchy III. This style is to fragrance what string-orchestra writing is to music: no sweetness, no brass, just a play of dense textures in a range of greens and greys that manages to be at once lively and restful, like a verdant landscape stirred by a a turbulent wind.
Eau Scandaleuse I have always been fond of the fruity lactonic notes found variously in Mitsouko, Opium, Gucci Rush and Chinatown. They have a unique artificial-light feel, and suggest neon and night life. The top note of davana oil in ES flickers like a pink arrow sign pointing to a shiny black door with a peephole. This one differs from most other come-hither fragrances in that Lebreton has managed to connect this powdery sweetness to a dry-as-dust heart with a lurking animalic drydown note. This propels ES into unexpectedly masculine territory, a flamenco dancer wearing, as it were, a traje de luz instead of the usual black. Really good and aptly named.
Incarnata Launched in 2015, this one seems to indicate a growing confidence on the part of AL to embark upon the high seas of fragrance. Incarnata is one of the weirdest accords it has been my good fortune to smell. Before I read the list of materials and was able to take it apart, it seemed to me to smell delightfully of black olives of the oil-cured, wrinkly kind. For a second I imagined someone had revived the legendary Egyptian material made of olives macerated in palm wine. No such thing: this extraordinary effect seems to result from an accord of iris and a violet leaf material, against a balsamic leather background. The melancholy of iris and the alien, metallic glint of violet leaf add up to a memorably haughty fragrance. Brilliantly original.
Bois Lumière I had to spray this one on skin to understand the beginning, a very dissonant intrada of fruity and dried-tomatoes notes unlike anything I remember. When things settle down, the oddly edible start merges imperceptibly into a beautiful, spacious accord of cedarwood and smoke which leads into a quiet, elegant drydown.