Have you noticed the rising trend of perfume exclusives? They’re big business these days since perfume houses know that customers will pay extra for something unique – not mass-marketed.
Just another marketing ploy, you might think and I would agree it usually is, though sometimes luxury perfumes are genuinely luxuriant. Quality is gauged by pleasure of course, but also things such as longevity – the way the perfume lingers and develops on skin.
That level of quality requires not just an excellent ‘nose’, as it’s called in the business, but also high-quality natural absolutes, usually alongside aroma chemicals that ‘open out’ a perfume or enhance it.
Some niche luxury brands are gimmicky, relying on celebrity endorsement or quirky marketing rather than high quality, which brings me to the subject of this article; GUCCI’S new perfume series The Alchemist’s Garden.
Earlier this year I wandered into Harvey Nichols for my regular perfume sniffing session, on the lookout for something new and inspiring. The GUCCI assistant called me over to test their new Alchemist’s Garden series, a range of eau de parfum, scented waters and scented oils.
Gucci have been slow to adopt the luxury or limited edition trend and at £240 per 100ml this series is pricy, but when you know that two small squooshes will last a long, lo-o-o-ng time – and smell gorgeous – and attract compliments from complete strangers, well … it does seem worth the price.
I was captivated firstly by the gorgeous medieval-inspired packaging. The bottles are in apothecary-style indigo-blue, spring-green, black and off-white ceramic (no discernible plastic here!) with exquisitely detailed sketches etched in gold or colour; such as squirrels, snakes and botanical drawings.
It being Edinburgh in winter with a frosty nip in the air, I was drawn to the golden warmth of Eyes of the Tiger – a warm, sweet, woody perfume with a classic amber base lightened with dusty saffron. The assistant was unusually well-versed in perfume ingredients and went on to explain the concept: Each eau de parfum can be layered with a lighter perfumed water (‘acque profumate’) or a more deeply scented oil. I layered Eyes of the Tiger with A Forgotten Rose perfumed oil – the amber and deep rose reminded me of old-fashioned potpourri – a classic combination.
Winter’s Spring reminded me of cool, fresh daffodils – but its bright yet musky quality is thanks to mimosa – an animalic, hay-like yet fresh scent. (Perfume aficionados among you who’ve tried Frederic Malle’s Un Cassie would enjoy this, though it’s fresher in feel).
Voice of the Snake intrigued me because of the Oud trend in perfumery. Arabian in origin, Oud is a sort of tree-fungus, distinctly tarry, dry or smoky, used in incense and perfume. Its waft can be intriguing and very sensual on the right person. It’s only in recent years it’s become so popular in Western perfumery, particularly for men. Voice of the Snake is an unabashedly dark take on Oud, with a background patchouli. I’d normally find such a scent rather heavy, but again it’s about quality. Patchouli that’s aged well loses it’s 1970’s hippy vibe and becomes dry, almost chocolaty. Similarly to Eyes of the Tiger, saffron has also been added here for its lightening, gold-dust effect.
A Kiss From Violet is a classic take on the soapy nostalgia of violets, very English. It will be a love or hate for most people since violet has old-fashioned connotations. When smelling this you can almost see the lilac-purple of forest violets – not too sweet, not too powdery – to my nose it’s one of the best I’ve tried.
Voice of the Snake and Winter’s Spring are completely contemporary in feel, and in contrast with the classic take on violet, or rose in A Forgotten Rose and amber in Eyes of the Tiger, it’s an indication of the range of ideas presented, not to mention the sheer perfume nous of the ‘nose’ of this series Alberto Morillas, whose knowledge of perfume materials is alchemy indeed.
Morillas is a perfume veteran, probably best known for contemporary classics such as Kenzo’s Flower and Marc Jacob’s Daisy, among hundreds of others. It takes decades of experience to create the range of ideas presented in The Alchemist’s Garden so successfully and I’m impressed – by the price tag as much as the perfume (maybe someone will take pity on me for my next birthday, it’s in November so – seven months to save up!)
GUCCI’S Alchemist’s Garden series is available at Harvey Nichols, Harrods, GUCCI’s website and from perfume retailers online.