The process from a good idea to a great perfume usually goes through a stage of broad strokes followed by a long, slow and painstaking stage of refinement. This is not unlike editing a text, where you may, in a burst of activity, write a couple of thousand words in a morning, then find yourself messing with one small thing or another for weeks. Half-way through the refining, you become thoroughly sick with the whole thing, so jaded that you don’t even notice glaring typos anymore and can no longer tell whether you’re making things better or worse. Perfumery is like writing, only harder, which is why all perfumers, even the greatest, rely on evaluators to tell them whether or not they are getting “warmer” during the adjustment phase. The Givaudan perfumer Calice Becker once told me that her Tommy Girl had gone through over a thousand variants before being settled, and that the evaluator had made a huge contribution (before leaving the industry and going on to study philosophy).
Perhaps the biggest difficulty for indie perfumers is that they tend to work alone, which makes it all the more impressive when you encounter one, like Hans Hendley, achieving one polished perfume after another. This rare skill is easy to recognise by its effect, which as ever for me translates to timbre. I get the same feeling when I try on a great pair of headphones, a sensation of magical ease and comfort that makes me want to turn the volume up. Audiophiles will know what I mean. Hendley fragrances are not striving to shock and bewilder. They focus instead on being as pleasurable as possible. When I sprayed all six on strips before me, the room filled with an Eric Whitacre chorus of —mostly natural— materials. They are all good, but my two favorites are Fume, which I rate up there with Skive and Lampblack among the best smoky fragrances around. It has an unusual background of aldehydes which makes the autumnal colors of the fragrance shine as if painted on reflective tape. The other is Gia, a fragrance uncannily close to Paul Parquet’s epochal Parfum Idéal (Houbigant, 1900), which I found in a Moscow antique store, unopened, 90 years later. I cannot improve on Hendley’s own description of Gia as a “sumptuous, spiced perfume evocative of nights out in the finest makeup and furs.” J’allais le dire.
Categories: niche houses