lundi 29 août 2016

Comme des Garçons Blackpepper: Faux Noir




In the early, day-glo 80s, Rei Kawakubo turned black into the color of female empowerment, much like Chanel had sixty years before her. Though their approach was profoundly different, the former could have embraced the latter’s motto, “Elegance is refusal”: in the aptly-named Comme des Garçons, it was the refusal of the standardized codes of femininity; the search for the beauty of the misshapen, the rejected, the odd. (Wearing CdG-inspired garb in the aerobic 80s earned me as many sneers and jibes as my punk get-ups during the disco era.)

Since then, black has become the default setting of the fashion and beauty world, and one of the most common epithets in fragrance. Translating black into scent, however, remains just as subversive an experiment, and one that Kawakubo has often asked Christian Astuguevieille, the creative director of Comme des Garçons Parfums to carry out. The brand’s first, eponymous eau de parfum sprang from a brief that envisioned diving in a pool of ink-black water; its groundbreaking Incense series explored the combustible resin in nuances of soot, spices and smoke. Black from the Play trilogy used soot-on-metal oxides to conjure the color. The later, award-winning Black aligned olfactory synonyms for “charred”.

After the brand’s most recent launches – Dot’s osmanthus in an ice storm and the purring rose held by Grace Coddington’s kawaii kitty-shaped bottle – Blackpepper comes off as both an Anti-Dot (as in “antimatter”), and an altogether more feral beast, all fiery tooth and claw and black fur. It’s more figurative than Play Black or Black, in that the eponymous spice is immediately and unrelentingly recognizable. And no wonder, since Antoine Maisondieu injected a nose-searing 20% of it in the formula.  Yet this shot of peppercorns punching black holes in the air (and our olfactory epithelium) -- a reminiscence of the infamous “Comme des Garçons lace” produced by knitting machines induced to go awry – is also a deconstruction of the note. (In this, again, the scent echoes Kawakubo’s approach to fashion.)

In the 90s, Serge Lutens created a palette of eyeshadows for Shiseido that was a set of four different blacks. Blackpepper, like its tinted bottle -- just on the edge of blue in certain lights, its mirrored glaze catching glints of surrounding colors – is also an essay on the variegations of its namesake color; a marquetry of faux noirs ranging from the dark-chocolate smoothness of tonka to the matte amber of clary sage, by way of flint, dust, leather and tar.  And the methodical refutation of everything La Petite Robe Noire stands for.

Illustration from the Comme des Garçons Winter 1982-83 collection, by Peter Lindbergh

mercredi 24 août 2016

Galop d'Hermès: Décolleté cavalier


Plus qu’une griffe de luxe, Hermès relève en France du patrimoine national. C’est dire combien porte d’enjeux la première création majeure de son nouveau parfumeur-maison, Christine Nagel (son Eau de rhubarbe écarlate relevant plutôt du galop d’essai). Difficile, donc, de lire en Galop d’Hermès un simple parfum, plutôt qu’un palimpseste d’influences passées, de concurrences actuelles ou de lignes esthétiques à venir.

En offrant à Galop un classement olfactif peu courant, le « floral animal » -- expression de « la part animale en chacun de nous » -- et doublant sa rose de cuir, le nouveau nez d’Hermès lance un message à la fois culotté et rassurant (oud et fruitchouli ? que nenni !). On pourrait aussi y flairer une frappe préemptive contre la collection inaugurale de certain concurrent, où figurent deux cuirs. Mais on n’a pas mauvais esprit.

Limpide à l’ouverture, Galop d’Hermès semble prendre le relais, par l’éclat vert soufre de son bourgeon de cassis, de ces accents de pamplemousse qui ont souvent éclairé les compositions de Jean-Claude Ellena. Mais dès qu’il atteint sa pleine allure, sa rose moelleuse et poudrée prend une certaine allure de classique 90s. Question de pedigree : Christine Nagel a jadis offert à Lancôme un Mille et une roses, édition limitée déclinant le trésor olfactif de la marque à la rose…

A priori opposés, la rose et le cuir se rejoignent pourtant par des chemins de traverse olfactifs, des baies à l’abricot et du tabac au tanné, fusionnant la rose au cuir dans un hybride au toucher velouté de pétale et de peau (de pêche). Le cuir, perceptible sur toute la longueur, double ces effets sensuels d’un courant plus sombre, plus amer, plus tendu.

Synesthésie dictée par la marque ? Si la publicité de Galop parcourt plutôt une palette sable, grège ou ivoire, on y flairerait plutôt l’orange et le rouge Hermès – couleurs de rose ou de Kelly. Sensuel, adulte, discrètement enjoué (mais pas forcément aussi fougueux que son nom ne le laisserait entendre), ce parfum affiche une assurance cavalière assez aristocratique (le cuir n’a jamais été une note populaire), mais une coupe assez épurée pour lui donner une allure contemporaine.

Étant donné ses notes (segmentantes, comme on dit), son prix (certes, l’époustouflant flacon en forme d’étrier est rechargeable) et sa concentration (un extrait), ce Galop d’Hermès ne vise sans doute pas à procurer à Hermès un équivalent féminin à Terre. Mais il offre à cette gamme qui, depuis l’arrivée de Jean-Claude Ellena, s’est offert l’immense luxe d’un propos olfactif, une dimension un peu délaissée depuis 24 Faubourg : le moelleux d’un décolleté.

 Illustrations: à la soirée de lancement de Galop d'Hermès durant la projection du film publicitaire chorégraphié par Angelin Prejlocaj, photo prise par moi; packshot du flacon, courtesy Hermès.

lundi 22 août 2016

Galop d'Hermès: the Amazon gets cleavage

In France, Hermès is more than a luxury brand: it’s practically national heritage. As a result, so much is riding on Christine Nagel’s first major launch as its new in-house perfumer that it’s very difficult to assess Galop d’Hermès for what it is, a scent, rather than a palimpsest of past influences, current competitors and future aesthetic stances. 

For instance, branding Galop as a “floral animal”, a tribute to the “animal within each of us”, and picking leather as one of its two main notes, are both gutsy moves and reassuring messages (no fruitchoulis or ouds in this house, young lady, thank you very much). They may also be sly pre-emptive strikes at a direct competitor whose maiden collection comprises two leather-driven scents.

As an olfactory form, Galop d’Hermès moves from a limpid overture to liqueur-smooth richness. Straight out the gate it’s tempting to see a segue from Ellena’s trademark grapefruit in the sulfurous cassis bud that dominate the top notes. But the plush powdery rose that blooms almost immediately seems to channel the hug-me, powdery-musky jamminess of 90s classics – Nagel worked on a confidential Mille et une roses for Lancôme that riffed off the genre. In Galop d’Hermès, it melds with leather to yield a velvety, petal-and-peach-skin texture.

Is it brand-induced synesthesia? Though the ad’s color scheme runs to sand, greige and ivory, Galop conjures the house’s signature red and orange. Discreetly playful though perhaps not quite as kinetic as the name implies, the scent is elegant, bold in an old-money sort of way (leather has never been a popular note), eminently grown-up but simple enough in its cut to feel contemporary.

Considering its price point (to be fair, the gorgeous stirrup-shaped bottle is refillable) and concentration (extrait), Galop d’Hermès may not yet be the house’s bid for a feminine pendant to its masculine blockbuster Terre d’Hermès. But it offers a house that’s enjoyed, since the nomination of Jean-Claude Ellena, the extravagant luxury of an olfactory style, a dimension somewhat neglected since 24 Faubourg: cleavage.

Ilustrations: Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj for the launch of Galop d'Hermès, my photo, and packshot of the bottle, courtesy Hermès.