With a total of 75 perfumes created under the brand’s name since 1994, Comme des Garçons’ creative director of parfums, Christian Astuguevieille, is able to boast an extraordinary body of work. When not designing furniture, jewellery or consulting on architectural projects (Astuguevieille was involved in the construction of the Centre Pompidou), the artist is eschewing atypical approaches to luxury perfume. To the beat of Rei Kawakubo’s avant-garde drum, steering clear of marketing research and never targeting a particular ‘type’ of customer, Astuguevieille has overseen some of the most radical fragrances to ever hit shelves.
“Our customer is the same kind of person who would buy a dress or jacket from Comme des Garçons,” Astuguevieille told AnOther’s Olivia Singer late last year. “Their age, their sex, is not our business; our world is more free.” Maintaining the same freedom that underpins Kawakubo’s clothing designs, the brand’s perfumes explore our philosophical relationship with scent. From a sensory investigation into the idea of green leaves (an exploration of traditional lily by way of a lurid green aluminum can), to synthetics, or “socially incorrect fragrances based on man-made places”, the result of this olfactory research is a portfolio of compelling and inimitably addictive fragrances.
In true Comme des Garçons style, many of these enchanting creations had limited-edition runs and releases, the stuff of dream encounters on a chance weekend in Tokyo, bemoans of which fill the comments boards of fragrance fan sites worldwide. Today, however, aficionados will find themselves in luck, as Dover Street Market launches the Olfactory Library, a re-issue of 10 of their most coveted creations. Delivered in uniform white cans of Eau de Toilette, the scents have shed their historical packaging (losing the Mariah Carey-worthy butterfly bottles of the Sweet collection will no doubt incite debate). We’ve decoded five of the most enthralling...
Conceived by nose Florence Idier, Lily, formerly belonging to the series titled Leaves, offers a truly straightforward floral. While it offers a roll call of old school ingredients – lily-of-the-valley, lilac, freesia and rose – this scent is unexpectedly sour with greenness. Crisp and wet at first spritz, images emerge of April rain rolling down perky petals in an ad for an acerbic air freshener. However, the drydown of this fragrance is altogether creamier and more voluptuous, revealing a steady sophistication lurking beneath a shiny veneer.
With the Synthetic series of 2004 came a set of groundbreaking scents, hamming up the irony of the use of man-made chemicals employed to create the pretty, ‘natural’ scents on the market. Tar lists notes of “grilled cigarettes teamed with town gas and bergamot”; what ensues is an alluringly hollow aroma, plasticky and flat: a taxi cab interior, wet asphalt, or the static of a newly unboxed laptop. The urban-industrial notes of this perfume challenge our understanding of what we choose to spray all over our bodies, and why.
There’s no dirt or grime in this garage: surfaces are slick and the lights are on full-beam. For this addition to the Synthetic series, we approximate the memory of mopped up Kerosene, long-soaked into a cool concrete floor: a fumey notion evoked through vaporative menthol notes clanging sharply against metallic aldehydes. Perfumer Marie-Aude Couture brings in a floral vetiver to cut through smoky cedar hues, summoning boyish dreams of becoming a man.
A sweet and thirst quenching bouquet, Nathalie Feisthauer’s fizzy citrus Soda echoes the cheap hit of a Panda Pop lemonade. On first acquaintance, you’re hit by a caustic citrus: those rivers of green you carefully licked from a Twister ice cream as a child. Sharp pepper kicks in shortly afterwards, like the delayed punch of bubbles delivered from an enthusiastic gulp of cold carbonate, while ingredients from old soda favourites – citral, pimental and galaxolide – appear alongside a warm woody ginger and a splash of rum. In little time, Soda’s sweetness translates into a grown-up peppery hum, meaning that the guilty pleasure of a kitschy throwback is reserved exclusively for the wearer.
Soft and syrupy notes of honey, sugar and myrrh come together in this delicious addition to the Sweet series. Rounded with creamy notes of almond, pistachio and milk you have a recipe for teenage obsession – but not the kind you’d envisage. A plasticky hardness sees syrupy sweetness merging with the dry breeze of a sporty deodorant: a romantic tryst in a poster-plastered bedroom. With this scent, a glimmering patisserie is called to mind but sans pastel-toned macarons: instead, the cellophane wrap on a tray of buttery madeleines; static from the cash till; the electric hum of the refrigerators.
The Olfactory Library by Comme des Garçons drops at Dover Street Market, London today.