Recently I began to develop a strong craving for Avignon, the super-churchy incense EdT from Comme le Garcons by Bertrand Duchcaufour. This is one of those perfumes that if you are in the least susceptible to the high ritualistic style of old cathedrals, you will be sunk the instant you try it.
Since it’s been very cool in the evenings and there have been frequent dark and rainy days this Spring, it’s not been untoward at all to put on this sonorous, deep fragrance. It amazingly and accurately recalls the lingering scent of smoke, frankincense and myrrh that has seeped into every crevice of a vast cathedral interior, condensing on cool stone, penetrating the fabrics and even seeping into the wood in such an interior space.
The notes list as Roman chamomile, for the dryness, cistus oil, also dry and herbaceous, elemi, which is a strong resin, incense, vanilla, patchouli, the dry but woody transition into intimate darkness, palisander, a Brazilian rosewood, and ambrette seeds for the amplification of musk. I think the patchouli and ambrette have much to do with the strength of character in this fragrance. So too the incense of course, but I think the softness and space is probably an effect of the vanilla and musk. This is one fragrance you must be careful not to use too much, or even too often, or you might overwhelm yourself and others and get so you can’t take it any more. Until that point comes though, it is a swooning type of beauty experience. It’s what I would imagine outer space would smell like, if it had an atmosphere that could carry a perfume.
I find it pairs perfectly with florals, too, especially those with very green elements and white flowers. Lilies are made for this atmosphere. I think of the many holidays cathedrals are decorated with huge masses of highly scented flowers, such as for Easter, and weddings. The contrast between the two types of perfume enhances the qualities of each.
So I say, try Avignon at the throat, and Nectars des Iles and/or Vents Ardents by EnVoyage Perfumes at each wrist if you get the chance. These florals are soft, but tenacious and strong enough to register against the likes of Avignon. Of course, very judiciously applied, or you will be fainting on the couch from overdoing it. More is not necessarily better in this case, but just enough is transcendent. Putting both together is a richly layered but perfect combination, like coffee or dark chocolate and whipped cream. The sweetness against the bitterness heightens and reveals the inner nature of each.
Nectar des Iles is gardenia, frangipani, and tiare, creamy and sultry, with a good longevity, placing a citric note at the back of the throat that informs the greener, lusher floral at the foreground. It is refreshing, like taking a sweet scented bath in soft rain water, and the tropical florals are reminiscent of lilies and other strong Spring flowers, such as hyacinth and narcissus, without their most cloying aspects.
Vents Ardents is a mid-toned fragrance, like a transitional step between the two above, with wood and rum and vanilla and citrus, but again shows off high-keyed notes that contrast well against the depth of Avignon or any other deep and dark background.
I have worn each of them alone also, and find that they are definitely noticeable but not over-imposing as they develop on skin, even in a public space such as at the movie theater.
Each of them alone are true beauties in their own right, but I find them to be incredibly good for layering if you apply with an consciousness of the humidity and heat level of the atmosphere. Cooler weather can carry these as on a breeze but once the heat and humidity rise together it is important not to go too far or they could get dangerously close to being truly intoxicating. Once that happens, you will be able to think of nothing and do nothing but exist helplessly in the midst of fragrance like some kind of drowsy bee.
Avignon by Comme les Garcons is at Aedes de Venustas and Luckyscent and elsewhere;
EnVoyage Perfumes by Shelly Waddington is a niche perfume available online, and is completely handmade;
The Asphodel Lily and Magnolia Grandiflora above are cut-paper collages/mosaics by the 18th century Mary Delany; as shown in a book by the poet Mary Peacock.
This remarkable botanical artist brought out the beauty of the bright plants and flowers against deep black backgrounds; see the NYT book review for a link to an excerpt.