l’Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Absolument, 2009

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 implicitly makes us question the works until we’ve come to some understanding of them. 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 our beliefs, based on the interpretation of our senses, of what feels natural or synthetic.  He gives us the tools to recalibrate our instinct, to retrain our ‘gut’ and smell the world differently if we choose to.

In doing so, we, the subject, are changed.  We are not ‘natural’ in that our instinct, our inborn ability to sense a more fundamental reality than our 5 senses reveal, is shown to be mutable and therefore subjective. Instinct is revealed as a hunch that we tend to believe is absolute.  Duchaufour liberates instinct from the fairy-tale realm of natural and un-natural and shows us how to make better use of our intuition and insights.  And we get to smell nice along the way.

By  welcoming the wearer to question societal beliefs, Duchaufour makes perfume wearers comrades in arts, an important piece in the definition of perfume artistry.

(12/2012.  I’m not very well informed on the Uzbek perfume issue, so I won’t comment.  The question of the ethics of the ‘independent contractor’ or ‘hired gun’ in perfumery does raise interesting questions, though.)

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