Years ago a friend of mine who happened to be a Hi-Fi dealer in Nice (we met as a result of me sitting on the couch in his listening room for days on end) told me that the most impressive recording he ever heard was a direct-to-wax recording of Enrico Caruso on a mechanical Grammophone. The sound, he said, was completely inadequate by modern standards, but there was a magical freshness to it that no electrical recording in his experience ever achieved. I assume the ear focuses on tiny signs of life present in the signal that are usually eliminated in the obstacle course through hundreds of electronic components, but make it through unscathed in a simple horn-membrane-needle-and-back system. The best illustration of this is the sound of a cymbal: tickle one in a music shop, and you will immediately realise that no recording ever reproduces the texture of metallic velvet.
A similar thing applies to smell: when we smell a rose or a sandalwood extract, we are smelling a vast number of different molecules simultaneously and our brain does not merely detect the note, but also revels in, for lack of a better word, the rich timbre of the smell that resides in all the tiny components. Good natural materials are a joy to smell and often a drag to use in perfumery, because they vary from harvest to harvest and from batch to batch, making the life of the compounder who wants a constant product difficult. Large perfumery firms will sometimes settle for a reliable supply of a second-rate material over a better, unreliable one simply because they like to sleep at night.
There seems to be a movement out there which I would describe as Steampunk Distillation, that involves travelling the world (or, as the Yellow Pages used to say, let your fingers do the walking) to source weird and wonderful things that smell great and likely will never be the same again. RPP is one such. They sent me a box of samples that included some custom-distilled oils that smelled great, and samples of a “commercial line developed along with Robertet, to be launched sometime (hopefully) in the near future”, some of which were terrific. To an unadventurous cove like myself, things don’t get more daringly niche than this: here I am, reviewing products that may not even exist at all, though it seems one can order some online.
The one that had me smiling from ear to ear is their Fougère which their unusually erudite web page describes as “reserved for masculine perfumery”. I assume this, and the picture of the prat that comes with it, are intended to trigger a rush of orders from women who just will not listen to sense. Fougère is a classical composition, and lends itself well to a magisterial sprucing up with top-notch materials. RPP and Robertet appear to have done just that, and produced what could well be the best Fougère since Paul Parquet’s Fougère Royale, though more citrusy, less animalic and none the worse for it. TS, ever practical, says it smells like a Bee and Flower soap. I’m gonna get me both.
Categories: niche houses