Narciso Rodriguez Narciso, 2014

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Image from NAM collective, Hiroshi Manaka / Takayuki Nakazaw.

Perfumer Aurélien Guichard.

Notes are a fairy tale in perfumery. Believe them as you would believe in the Sugar Plum Fairy or Tom Cruise. They’re ‘real’ but not actual. Aurélien Guichard doesn’t refute the notion of notes but he rephrases them. He separates aromas (floral, green, fruity, musky) from the other tones that the nose perceives (roundness, velvet, opacity.)

Slicing and dicing notes is nothing new in contemporary perfumery. Notes and materials have long been picked apart and shuffled around. Deconstruction and recontextualization are the classic two-step of post-modern art, a relic that perfumery has taken and run with. The next step, the rebuilding, the creation of a new picture is harder to achieve and is largely missing in contemporary perfumery.

Narciso is abstraction in its fullest. The separation and identification of the parts is thoughtful, but Narciso reconceptualizes perfume more credibly than you’d expect find in a designer fragrance. Guichard manipulates his materials so that the broad qualities, not the notes themselves predominate. There is not so much a clear magnolia note as there is a sultry luster. It is less specifically woody than it has the feel of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Materials and notes aside, Narciso smells balanced and synthetic in the artistic sense. It doesn’t attempt to recreate aspects of “nature” as in the solifor and it has none of the smugness that can accompany avant-nichery. It’s a perfume made with an eye on aesthetics and ideals. Its indelible trait is an ambience, a spherical quality that feels like an additional dimension has been added to musk. The tone is both pervasive and subliminal. It surrounds you but it subverts the whistly, woody-amber persistence of many contemporary woody-musky perfumes. It is less radiant than evenly distributed. There are no seams showing, no bumps in the ride. If I could read a perfume formula, I suspect this one would have some sort of dimensional trickery like an Escher drawing. Impossibility made probable by screwing carefully with perspective.

Narciso’s commitment to aesthetics feels almost Greco-Roman in its classicism. Like many classical works, Narciso has a designed imperfection, a distraction that keeps you from falling into a beauty-trance. Narciso’s blemish is its whiff of paint. Sniffed from the right angle, Narciso has the wonderful smell of a fresh can of exterior paint. It might  seem odd at a cursory sniff, but it is perfectly placed and enhances the overall purr of the musk.

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