Perfumer Antonio Gardoni.
Noun starts with the scratchiness, the hint of dissonance that I love in Antonio Gardoni’s perfumes. His perfumes are built for the long haul, unfolding slowly over the course of the day. Like traditional extraits they aren’t meant to be judged at the first sniff where they can appear so potent as to be aggressive.
Gardoni seems to have learned a lesson about fruit from Edmond Roudnitska. Noun’s salty, citric topnotes wouldn’t be out of place coming from a bottle of Diorella or Dior Dior. Roudnitska’s trick wasn’t simply emphasizing fruity notes. He tied animalic qualities to fruit to create perfume with an overtly seductive edge. Noun’s fruit leans so far in a salty direction that it can seem preserved or pickled, but after the blast of the topnotes, the perfume relaxes into a come-hither pose that I imagine Roudnitska would have approved of.
Fruit marks the transition to the perfumes heart. The citrus transforms into an almost grape-like note that creates a flinty whiff of white wine. Noun turns jammy but never actually grows sweet. Noun’s fruit—what I perceive as jamminess and the mineral hint of white wine (you might characterize it differently)— hovers beside the perfume’s central woody-floral core, as though sensed through the olfactory equivalent of peripheral vision. The hint of grape highlights the perfume’s floral quality similarly to the way Dior Poison and Caron Narcisse Noir famously amped their white floral bouquets with methyl anthranilate, a material that can give a concord grape, bubble-gummy flavor to tuberose and orange blossom. In Noun, the effect is much more subtle and the hint of grape gives the woody-floral heart a smooth glow.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the importance of patchouli in Noun. Over the course of hours, the balance of flowers-to-woods tips in favor of the woods that ultimately define the perfume. Gardoni’s perfumes tend to shine in dry down, where precise layering of resinous materials give the perfumes impressive coherence and Noun is no exception. The emphasis on patchouli’s camphorous side gives Noun’s drydown a cool vibe that differentiates it from the warm basenotes of Maai.
But Noun’s drydown caught me off guard. It struck me as a successor to the towering patchouli-floral chypres of the ‘70s—notably, Rochas Mystère, Lancome Magie Noire and Clinique Aromatics Elixir. Gardoni’s perfume is firmly planted in the present but it has a stylish sophistication that evokes the late ’70s.
Material restrictions might be the proximate cause for the demise of these perfumes. (Mystère is discontinued. Magie Noire has been gutted. ) Sure, these monsters were chock full of all the toxins that, like smoking, made life worth living, but reformulation is a straw man. The real culprit is more likely the fickleness of trend and fashion. Video might have killed the Radio Star, but in the ’80s Poison, Giorgio, Duran Duran and Madonna made the austere woody chypres of the ’70s seem dated. I don’t quite know how Gardoni did it, though I suspect patchouli has a lot to do with it, but he captured the chic of the ‘70s woody chypres with unusual fidelity.
On first wearing Noun, I was struck by how prominent the Bogue-identifiers are. The salty/musky balance and the pattern of the white florals in particular are familiar. The question Noun must answer is: Is it just a different flavor of a ‘house accord’ that Gardoni has shown before? My answer is no, but I suspect that Gardoni has beaten me to the punch and answered the question already. Noun’s topnote will be instantly identifiable to wearers of Maai and Aeon 001, but despite the ‘signature style’ of the opening, the perfume avoids predictability. Gardoni puts his distinctive mark on the perfume’s topnote—almost a taunt—then retracts it as the perfume dives deep into the patchouli.
All artists must watch their work closely over time to avoid repeating themselves. Gardoni’s perfumes reiterate themes within a specific genre. Still, I wouldn’t rebuke a classical composer for not creating a jazz piece and I don’t fault Gardoni for making woody-floral perfumes, especially when he continues to find new patterns and ideas in his work. In fact, I would argue that as he continues to explore the resinous woody-floral range, Gardoni’s work becomes more personal. Noun and MEM, which preceded it, are particularly strong efforts and demonstrate Gardoni’s ability to mine a concept for different configurations that produce novel results.
Again, the comparison to Roudnitska fits. Roudnitska created a small but seminal body of perfumes, the great majority of which were fruity chypres. He had a strongly conceptual basis to his work, something I image a hybrid artist like Gardoni (architect/perfumer) would relate to. Yet despite his theoretical approach, Roudnitska’s work had deeply sensual vibe—a quality I imagine would also appeal to the perfumer who conjured a Femme Fatale via perfume (Maai) and then composed the perfume equivalent of fuck-me pumps (Gardelia)
Layered perfumes that reveal their patterns as they unfold provide a particular opportunity to steer the discussion away from notes and materials and toward qualities and intention. This single step, even if it seems like a simple change in terminology, allows the descriptive discussion of perfume to be both broader and more specific and consequently much more interesting. It decouples perfume from the materials used to make it and creates room for a language that addresses aesthetics and meaning—the sort of langage that surrounds virtually all other art forms. Noun, and really all Gardoni’s perfumes, by nature of their combination of broad strikes and subtle tones, create a great setting for the discussion.
Image by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Vogue February 2017