MDCI earned its place as a fixed first-magnitude star in the perfume heavens with its first batch of fragrances, released between 2000 and 2003, which included definitive masterpieces like Invasion Barbare, Promesse de l’Aube and Enlèvement au Sérail. That is a very hard act to follow. The trickiest moment for a niche company is the transition from novelty to continuity, when a brand hits its stride, acquires customers that are not necessarily aficionados, and needs to find a second wind for the middle distance. Two problems arise at that point: 1- Great ideas and exceptional talent are in short supply in any field, be it science, storytelling or perfumery and 2- Most people understandably want perfume to smell nice and easy, and do not plan to spritz Euclid’s Elements onto their skin every morning. Diehard blasé types like myself, forever hankering for weird, insane greatness are too few in number to actually pay the bills.
I suspect that what the majority of fragrance wearers actually desire is a mainstream fragrance type (currently floral, fruity floral, gourmand, etc.), but for once done properly and expensively, away from the horrid chemical cheapness of most of the current crop. Perhaps the most pertinent question is why the mainstream houses (with the possible exception of Lauder) routinely break Coty’s Law: “Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask [..] ask a reasonable price for it, and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen.” Coty became the richest man in France doing just that, and today LVMH owner Bernard Arnault is the second richest by not doing it. It is astonishing that Dior markets its quality stuff as a Collection Privée whereas is should be in every drugstore as Coty once was.
A further complication arises from the fact that mainstream perfumery these days, as befits a branch of chemistry, is a highly technical discipline. Perfumes include a lot of weird, powerful and hard to handle aromachemicals. If you want to do mainstream, only better, you had better make sure the fragrance still performs (tenacity, sillage) like a mainstream one. Very few perfumers indeed can both deliver that, and have the time or inclination to work for a niche house. Two that clearly can are Bertrand Duchaufour and Cécile Zarokian, and it is no accident that my favorites among recent MDCI are theirs. As is clear from the above, these are not pathbreaking fragrances, but instead impeccable implementations of what mainstream firms do shoddily.
Duchaufour’s Chypre Palatin ilustrates what happens when you do a proper job with a woody chypre, without over-egging the pudding as in Roja Dove’s Diaghilev. A fresh, handsome, complex start, a rich, warm middle and a lovely oakmoss drydown, all present and correct.
I am not overly fond of sentimental white florals, the romance novels of perfumery, but I am bowled over by Cécile Zarokian’s Nuit Andalouse, a superb, soft, powdery gardenia that takes its place next to Harry Frémont’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia as one of the best in the genre.
Fêtes Persanes, another Zarokian creation, is a lovely spicy-woody structure very much in the manner of Déclaration, but less overtly masculine, and with a soft, expensive-smelling drydown.
Categories: niche houses