l’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument, 2009

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Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour

When Duchaufour’s work is discussed, you often see words such as translucent, sheer, radiant, weightless. I only know a small fraction of his work, but I’m interested in the meaning of this weightless quality.

Duchaufour separates  scent from other material qualities that our noses identify as weight, viscosity, density. Removing what reads to the nose as mass or palpability from identifiable aromas gives fascinating results. The perfumes aren’t less complex or thinner than traditional perfumes. They are not simply diminished. They become twisted in a manner that raises questions. Timbuktu feels not so much like an incense fragrance, but an answer the question, is light a wave or a particle? (Timbuktu’s radiance says wave.) Can the flavor of Turkish Delight be imprinted like a permanent watermark on a perfume? (Yes, Traversée du Bosphore)

Vanille Absolument doesn’t change vanilla itself. It alters the context and gives us a vanilla pod in zero-G.

Duchaufour’s work, more than any in the past 20 years of perfumery, takes us back to one of the original questions posed by modern perfumery, starting with the coumarin in Fougere Royale: how do you define synthetic and natural? Duchaufour’s take is not to argue for a distinction, but to focus on the interpretation of our senses. Duchaufour liberates instinct from the fairy-tale realm of ‘nature’, revealing it as subjective and malleable—a hunch that we tend to believe is absolute.  It’s a chance to retrain our ‘gut’ and smell the world differently if we choose to. And we get to smell nice along the way.

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