Wednesday, September 28, 2011

jekyll & hyde

More news from the Eau de Cologne front. Askett & English is a recently launched firm from Marlow in bucolic Buckinghamshire. Askett is the name of a nearby hamlet, not one of the owners, The double name  is supposed to suggest English (fragrance) tradition (think Turnbull & Asser in shirts, Dege & Skinner in suits and of course the high end Czech & Speake, the mid-range Truefitt & Hill, or the TK Maxx bargain bin favorite Asquith & Somerset), as do the restrained packaging (slightly reminiscent of the old Crabtree & Evelyn) and the copy on the website. The Cologne duo of "Essential" and "Absolute" is currently available in Britain at Les Senteurs, outfitters Harvie & Hudson and a number of other reputable addresses. A&E dons the mantles of "artisan perfumery," the "tradition of classic cologne,"and "rare quality and taste." A tall order for a fragrance start-up, but we saw Grossmith pull it off (admittedly, with a long, rich history to draw upon).
Is all this backed up by the fragrances? I believe not. Essential and Absolute (strange names for Eau de Colognes, is this a borrowing from Atelier's "Cologne's Absolue" concept?) are actually a bit Jekyll & Hyde for me. The former is a decent aromatic citrus, the official notes being lemon, bergamot, aromatic herbs, lavender, jasmine, tonka, cedar, vetiver. There's nothing English about it in style, the most obvious reference to me being Goutal's Eau du Sud (A & E do in fact refer to their scents "recalling summers spent in Italy and France."). Essential pales in direct comparison, both in construction, which shows synthetic tailends compared to the flawless natural impression of Eau du Sud, and oil quality. It's a crowded genre to begin and Essential lacks both the ambition to compete with the very best in the field and a new twist which would set it apart from many similar fragrances. I'd roughly class it with Taylor of Old Bond Street quality-wise, who sell at a third of the price of A&E. 
Absolute is a 90s aquatic citrus, pure international style with nothing Britsh or traditional about it. The light bergamot note is overpowered by a generic synthetic cocktail to produce the typical fabric softener effect known from Gendarme and a gazillion other fragrances and "fresh-fragranced" products. If you're a fan of Truefitt & Hill scents, i.e. like the whole Victorian packaging bit but actually prefer a modern aquatic vibe in your fragrance, then this might be for you. As everyone who knows my tastes is aware of, I cannot stand aquatics and this one is no exception. At least it comes cheaper than Serge Lutens' cruel joke, the ridiculously redundant L'Eau. 
A & E has chosen a currently very tight market for itself, with every fragrance house and their grandmother having  issued an Eau de Cologne in recent years. All I can say is good luck.
Meanwhile, my off-the-cuff recommendations for "fortified" Colognes remain:
Monsier Balmain (lemon/bergamot)
Guerlain AA Pamplelune (Grapefruit)
MPG pour le jeune homme (neroli)
MPG Fraiche Baidane (lime, mandarin)
Annick Goutal Eau du Sud or Detaille Aeroplane (aromatic citrus)
Eau Sauvage (bergamot)
Eau de Guerlain (simply brilliant) 


Matthew, Askett and English said...

Dear Tom,

Further to you personal views and assumptions I would like to clarify a couple of points if I may and put forward the opinions of others, whom I believe to be suitably qualified as professional perfumers or because they own perfumeries and have many years of directly relevant experience.

The first point is that the Askett part of the name is because that is where the fragrances were created. Marlow is merely the address at which the company name is registered. Askett is a physical place, a hamlet dating back to 1250, and is without doubt typically English, with thatched cottages and rose gardens. The reason the name of the fragrances birthplace was linked with English is because in the first place it is, and in the second it was considered desirable to avoid any possible confusion with some other companies.

Now for the wisdom and opinions of true industry experts with whom I have discussed and experienced my fragrances first hand. These include the people at Les Senteurs (see the descriptions on their web site), and the owners of Rich Perfumerie, Burgins and Woodfordes who all stock Askett & English as well as a senior perfumer from Symrise.

Askett “Essential” was and is considered by all consulted to be a citrus that fits between Acqua di Genova and Acqua di Parma. It is considered to have similar top notes to Acqua di Genova but with more heart, depth and endurance. I was also told there are similarities with Acqua di Parma but this time the basenotes of Askett Essential are lighter and less “headache” inducing. I am not sure what Eau du Sud or Aeroplane smell like but understand they are both described as a citrus chypre and I wonder why Essential, which you called a citrus aromatic would be compared with them. No doubt I will find out when I sample them. In the meantime it should also be noted that Askett “Essential” is the fragrance that Elizabeth Hawksley the founder of Les Senteurs has stated is now a personal favourite – per the Les Senteurs summer newsletter.

Askett “Absolute” was generally considered to be a more floral version of a citrus, and to be without similar or comparable offerings with the exception of a mention of Castile, when a comparison was made to say Absolute was more “pure” and without the soapiness of Castile. This fragrance appealed strongly to the owners of Burgins, Woodfordes and Rich, who all said they wished to wear it personally.

As you will no doubt be aware these perfumeries specialise in quality “niche” fragrances and none of them carry Taylor which I believe shows your comments equating the quality of Askett & English colognes with that of Taylor to be completely wrong. Unless Askett & English colognes were of a sufficiently excellent quality to stand alongside other “niche” offerings, such as Annick Goutal, Lutens, Creed and the like, these prestigious outlets would simply refuse to carry them. After all the perfumery owners probably know more about what their clients want and expect than any perfumer or perfume house. One additional point, a senior nose and head of fragrances at Symrise (not my supplier) after sampling opined without prompting that the fragrances were based on very high quality ingredients. For your information, my fragrance oil supplier is indeed of similar standing to Robertet, Symrise, Firmenich, CPL and so on and the oils used were indeed of the highest quality. You may think otherwise but without the facts on all the fragrances being compared it has to remain a thought or opinion, not a statement of fact.

So, In the meantime and whilst you are of course welcome to maintain your personal opinion, I would rather focus on those that really know the subject i.e. the perfumery owners and continue to be encouraged by their unanimously positive response whilst hoping as more people experience the fragrances I can spread a little pleasure in these troubled times.



dukeofpallmall said...

Dear Matthew, thanks for honouring my inconspicuous blog with an extended comment. I have no issue with the name of your house, by the way, but was merely pointing out its cultural semantics.
As you will see by comparing the pyramid of Eau du Sud and your fragrance “Essential” both are citrus fragrances with strong herbal notes ("aromatic citrus"), tempered with subtle florals and built upon a woody mossy base (chypre). IMO Essential is far closer to this style than to either Acqua di Genova or Acqua di Parma. I personally find the former to be the better scent for reasons stated but that should keep no one from believing otherwise or for that matter from actively seeking out your fragrance to see for themselves what they think of it. Let’s also remember that to most people this is just arcane hair-splitting, as most average perfume users seem to throw Eau de Cologne / light citrus fragrances into one big bag anyway and even some aficionados are known to consider this whole genre dead-boring. I suppose we can at least agree on that not being the case.

Facts of course, are a difficult subject in perfumery, because the industry as a whole tries to keep them as far as possible from consumers – starting with the role of synthetics and ending with the corporate- industrial nature of 99% of the business, including many “niche” brands which are just image facades recycling mainstream products as “de luxe” (I suggest reading some of the scathing comments by undisputed experts such as Octavian Coifan on lines such as Byredo and Atelier Cologne or Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez on Linari etc.). I’m certain the proprietors of Les Senteurs and other high-end perfumeries love their work. They are also in business and know very well how the business works and thus they cannot afford not to sell popular brands or individual perfumes even if they know them to be the aesthetically inept $ 200 versions of some dire drugstore product. What I’m saying is: that a perfume is being offered by a high end, niche-heavy store is in itself insufficient evidence of its quality in terms of aesthetic vision or ingredient quality and if you seriously believe otherwise you may have a few things to learn about the perfume business. You should base your faith in your product not on what other people say, but on what you have invested in it, economically and emotionally. That doesn’t mean you cannot fully enjoy and reap benefits from the fact that Les Senteurs publicly endorsed your perfumes, whether from sincere pleasure, marketing considerations, or both. On the other hand, there’s no epistemological need to proclaim anybody who doesn’t like your product quite as much to be incompetent; diverse and distinct evaluations are inevitable in this field. I highly respect Luca Turin, but I still believe Beyond Paradise Men to be crap. On re-smelling Absolute, I find it to be a good deal more pleasant and better than either Serge Lutens L’Eau or the products by L’Atelier Cologne, if that makes you happy. Yet, I still do not enjoy it as the synthetics come through too strongly on the drydown and I distinctly dislike that “fresh linen” style in Eau de Colognes because of its proximity to functional perfumery. I’ll stick to that opinion even if you win a FiFi next year, which I wouldn’t begrudge you at all. Good luck.

Matthew, Askett and English said...

Dear Tom,
Thanks for the considered response. This will be a little shorter. I am not so daft as to think high end stores do not sometimes offer sub-par products due to market demand and incidentally, the fact that my fragrances are unknown is the best reason for the stores not to carry them and instead allocate the shelf space for others. That said the reassurance I gained from those stores carrying my fragrances which perhaps I didn’t describe sufficiently, was in the human interaction with the store owners - the genuine surprise and delight when they experienced the fragrances and the shock that someone previously unknown could produce something that they considered comparable with the more established houses. The fact that the owners actually wanted to wear the fragrance themselves was completely unexpected. The support from this quarter was extremely important and provides all the confidence I need. As for emotional involvement, yes that’s important, however, I created these fragrances not simply to satisfy myself but to satisfy myself and others – the others being potential clients. Believe me, melding creativity with the realities of business is far more difficult than simply indulging ones creativity. I would also like to point out that your comment on Absolute this time was so much more ….. well yes it did make me happy. It was a pleasant way of describing things rather than what I considered before with the fabric softener comment to be mere condescention. Perhaps you would be kind enough to say the same when Basenotes finally makes the proper Askett & English review boxes available. Thanks then for your comments (but not the previous Taylor one), and I believe we are clearer with each others perspectives as a result of healthy dialogue. We’ll see where things go from here.