(photo lifted from Vika Palatova)
Perfumer, Cecile Hua.
I loved Charenton Maceration’s first perfume, Christopher Street, but found myself at odds with its stated premise of narration. With the brand’s second perfume, Asphalt Rainbow I’m persuaded.
The perfume has a two-part approach:
First: Pack the perfume with a varied range of dynamic qualities. Asphalt Rose smells like shellac and vibrates about an octave above a purr. It feels liquid and it smells like cardboard. It is an explosive pastel. None of these qualities contradicts any of the others, but neither do they lead in just one direction. It’s not chaotic by a long-shot, but it also isn’t easily pinned down.
Second: Use the olfactory to capture the other senses. If you live in NYC asphalt is the ubiquitous terrain. Its range of smells suggests a broad sweep of climate, humanity and artiface. It also has rough tactile quality, a hard echoing sound and an instantly recognizable visual image. Scent leads the way but Asphalt Rainbow’s images pluck the other senses as well.
More simply, give the perfume a structure that will hold a wide range of qualities then fill it with ideas.
The perfume doesn’t smell like asphalt per se, but the name is a part of the experience and as odd as this might sound, Asphalt Rainbow smells urban. It doesn’t smell like an object from an urban setting as, say, the Comme des Garçons Synthetic perfumes do. The perfume’s olfactory journey is similar to the experience of walking in New York where a stroll down one block can give you the rapid-fire scents of a flower-shop, a café, diesel fumes, a construction site, a passerby’s perfume and dry-cleaning chemicals. There is a similar logic to Asphalt Rainbow, but it is constructed rather than random. Layered olfactory properties suggest scenarios, which then trigger your own imagination to take the perfume even further. It’s a cascade-effect and ultimately the perfume doesn’t have its own narrative, you do. The perfume is the scent-track to the story you build for yourself.
If you don’t care to delve into image or storyline, you’re still in luck. Asphalt Rainbow is balanced and seamless, it evolves in an interesting manner and it is beautiful in a way that rewards your consideration.
I’ve railed against perfume producers trying to tell us bedtime stories with perfume. One of the cheapest marketing tricks of perfume is the tedious faux-narrative fantasy that it shares with the fashion biz. It’s less a true narrative than a log-in to well-worn aspirational memes. Davidoff’s yachting schtick, Estée Lauder’s town-and-country lifestyle, Roja Dove’s clumsy superiority and finery, Odriu’s high-art histrionics.
Douglas Bender, Charenton Maceration’s founder, contends that perfume, like any other art, creates a synergy beyond its materials. Creativity expressed through composition has a logic and Bender and perfumer Cecile Hua use perfume to create a moment spring-loaded with potential that the wearer unpacks based on her own inclinations. It’s a riff on guided imagery, and while it’s loosely drawn, it’s not at all arbitrary. Asphalt Rainbow makes an assertion about how perfume works and then proves it point without seeming dogmatic, no easy trick.