Tuesday, August 23, 2011

almost summer: atelier cologne

I have always been fascinated by Eau de Cologne, which in its apparent simplicity is a great challenge to any perfumer. As his correspondence and notes show, the inventor of Eau de Cologne, Johann Maria Farina, was obsessed with the quality of raw materials and oils, their distillation, blending and maturation and I believe it still holds today that in no fragrance genre is quality, and a reliance on the best naturals in particular, more important. I was quite excited to read about Atelier Cologne, which appeared on the scene in 2009/10 in the wake of the Eau de Cologne renaissance which has seen houses great and small coming forth with classic or modern waters (many of which I found to dismally fail the "Farina test"). The concept behind Atelier is to build on classic Eau de Cologne types, but increase the perfume concentration, so as to provide the desired freshness and lightness without compromising on longevity (thus avoiding Napoeleon syndrome, .i.e. dousing yourself with 20 bottles of EdC daily). This is a wonderful and challenging idea which has a few predecessors, such as Eau Sauvage (classic EdC plus Hedione), Eau de Guerlain, and a number of very accomplished scents by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier's scents (e.g. Pour le Jeune Homme is a classic neroli cologne amped up to EdT status). But Sylvie Ganter and Christopher Cervasel are the first to build an entire house around high powered Eau de Cologne and it seems they are doing well. The fact that they are cooperating with quality suppliers Mane and Robertet, known for first rate naturals, increased my excitement. 

The free samples I graciously received were beautifully packed with postcard still lifes visualizing each scent and a brief prose fragment adding words. A great idea, the photography is well done, while the prose (in the English version) could use a little improvement in my opinion (but those are fine points).

The fragrances themselves,I feel, promise more than they deliver - but I must add that what I seek in an EdC, contrary to other perfumes, is not so much art, but a perfect referencing of nature. That's one reason why I feel the EdCs by Chanel and Lutens are monumental failures, apart from the fact that they smell like cheap bathroom products. But on to Atelier Cologne's foursome:

After a hesitant start, perfumer Ralf Schwieger's Orange Sanguine blossoms into a zesty, mouth-watering, true-to-life blood orange, but a pasteurized-juice feel soon catches up on this beautiful moment and when the florals set in, it becomes pure hotel soap, slightly reminiscent of Roger & Gallet's Extra-Vieille, in fact. That's nice, if you like it, but not what I seek in an Eau de Cologne and also not good enough for the money charged.

Top notes: Blood orange, bitter orange
Heart notes: Jasmine, geranium from South Africa
Base notes: Amber woods, tonka beans, sandalwood

Trèfle Pur: A limey-citrus green with dusky notes. It lacks the purity of something like the body-splash like Extract of Limes by Geo. F. Trumper and will inevitably remind some folks of washing up liquid.  It quickly veers into shampoo or beauty-product terrain. I simply expect more from niche, though I know I rarely get it. 
Top notes: Bitter orange, cardamon, basilic
Heart notes: Clover absolute, violet leaves, Tunisian neroli
Base notes: Patchouli, moss, musk

Grand Néroli is nice, as most nerolis are, but a bit too musky for my taste. The drydown has some smokey-amber which works well, but the scent is not convincing, becoming too intrusively synthetic as it progresses. Doesn't hold a stick to Xerjoff's Kobe quality-wise, but then virtually nothing else does in my book. Of the four sampled Ateliers, it is nonetheless my favorite.

Top notes: Moroccan neroli, chilled lemon, Sicilian bergamot, petitgrain
Heart notes: Persian galbanum, moss, birch leaves
Base notes: Clean musk, white amber, vanilla from Madagascar

Bois Blond is so extremely faint I suspect I am anosmic to some key ingredient. I smell pure spirit at the outset, and then a weak synthetic dark wood note. It just doesn't happen.
Official pyramid:

Top notes: Tunisian neroli, pink pepper
Heart notes: Moroccan orange flower, incense
Base notes: Blond woods, musks, vetiver from Haiti

The Atelier colognes include some nice notes, but it is not one note that bryngeth summer - or maketh good cologne. The feeling of a really high-end, refreshing, natural Eau de Cologne isn't there, while the intensity and duration is not all that great in turn. The idea is great, the esthetic is accomplished, but I feel these scents will only satisfy, if you're looking for rather conventional fragrances on the light, fresh side. Personally, for the genuine Eau de Cologne experience, I'll stick with the classics and a few all-natural scents.

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