Readers of The Economist and jaundiced realists like myself will not be surprised to hear that diversity and competition are the engines of creation. Add to that the magic element of surplus, i.e. a surfeit of talented art school graduates chasing too few jobs, and you have the makings of a revolution. This is precisely what happened in postwar Italy: too many architects + too few interesting things to build = Italian Design. A similar thing may be happening in perfumery, thanks to the Web and despite the insane restrictions on the shipping of “dangerous” goods.
This may explain why I keep getting sample sets from people who have not gone through the rigorous and mostly disheartening training process that steers passionate apprentice perfumers towards decades of drudgery and imitation. Sixteen92 is headed by Claire Baxter who describes herself as an “Art school-educated former advertising Creative Director, fine art photographer and classically trained opera singer.” I have no idea whether she composes her own perfumes, and it does not matter. What matters is art direction, and there is plenty of it on display. I got seven fragrances, some of which were in a hyperrealist vein, cut flowers and earth, definitely skilful but, to me, less immediately interesting.
Of the ones I liked: Blood and Honey is that rare thing, a successful honey fragrance and a healing experience for those still recovering from Lutens’ appalling Miel de Bois. The cleverness of BaH, almost a pun, is the addition of a honeysuckle accord which adds a fresh, decorative curlicue to the heavy solemnity of honey. Hellebore is a very nice, and for once rather cheerful, tuberose that reminded me of beeswax (perhaps by proximity) and includes a fresh-powdery floral accord that adds up to a oddly old-fashioned fragrance. In the same retro-modern vein, my favorite Violet Bruise is a very clever lipstick and iris combination, with a lovely balance of boiled-sweet acidity, awkward freshness and youthful melancholy.