Artisanal Fragrance: France’s L’Artisan Parfumeur

By Sarah Ingram March 26, 2013 12:08 PM
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Artisanal Fragrance: France’s L’Artisan Parfumeur

I have been writing about perfume for three years now, and still feel overwhelmed by how many amazing fragrances are out there waiting to be discovered. I haven’t even scratched the surface of possibilities.

This is particularly true of what are often called “niche fragrances.” Five years ago I did not know niche scents even existed. Then I discovered the world of perfume blogs, and found a community of fragrance aficionados with endless lists of new scents to try. These fragrances were sometimes unusual, had limited distribution and were often hard to find (hence the term “niche”).

Inspired by the new options I was discovering, I started experimenting and had the good fortune to find a wonderful perfume shop in Los Angeles called Scent Bar, which is the retail outlet of a website called Lucky Scent. On my first visit to the store I fell in love with a fragrance called La Chasse aux Papillons. The name is French for “chasing butterflies,” and it is a floral with notes of linden, orange blossom, and tuberose. It struck me as the perfect scent for spring and summer, and it does evoke an image of chasing butterflies—ideally in a garden in the South of France.

I learned that my new favorite was created by a company that has been a pioneer in the world of fragrance. L’Artisan Parfumeur was founded in Paris in 1976 by perfumer-chemist Jean Laporte. With L’Artisan, Laporte created one of the first perfume houses that we now call “niche.” Today the house is so established that the term “niche” does not feel accurate. Instead, I think L’Artisan Parfumeur is true to its name: the company works with artisans in the fragrance world to create unique luxury scents. It truly is an artisanal line, combining the techniques of classical perfumery with an artistic, sometimes avant-garde approach.

To create its fragrances, L’Artisan Parfumeur has developed collaborations with some of the world’s top perfumers, including Bertrand Duchaufour, Olivia Giacobetti, and Anne Flipo. All are given access to the highest quality ingredients and the freedom to use their creativity and personal vision, as well as whatever experiences, memories and fantasies might inspire them, to create their fragrances. The result is a collection that does not fit any one mold. Some of L’Artisan’s creations are single florals, others are unexpected blends designed to evoke moods or places. Some are light and fresh, others are warm and spicy. What unifies them is a focus on the art and craft of fragrance, combined with a bit of risk taking.

As I learned more about L’Artisan’s fragrances, I was very lucky to meet Brian Kurtz, the company’s sales and marketing director, at an event at Scent Bar, and he graciously helped me explore the L’Artisan Parfumeur line. After speaking with Brian I decided to focus on a few of the line’s classic scents and long-time favorites. “Our industry is so launch-driven that I think we sometimes forget that people have favorite scents they keep coming back to, beautiful fragrances that are really timeless,” Brian told me. “We have many of those at L’Artisan Parfumeur.”

Number one among those timeless favorites is Mûre et Musc, created in 1978 and still a global best seller. Mûre et Musc combines the fruitiness of fresh blackberries with crisp citrus and clean musk. The fragrance evokes the balmy air of a summer day and the smell of picking berries in the sun. It warms softly on the skin, and is fruity without being sugary. “You hear blackberries and you expect Mûre et Musc to be jammy, but it’s actually light and sparkling, with a warm base,” Brian said. “I think that contrast makes it intriguing.”

Several other L’Artisan fragrances evoke the same feeling of a fresh summer breeze that I liked so much in both La Chasse aux Papillons and Mûre et Musc. My favorite of these is Mimosa Pour Moi, which combines the tiny mimosa flower with its leaves and stems. The result is a delicate, creamy floral scent that is also transparent and watery—Brian Kurtz likened it to a summer day on the Italian Riviera. It has a hint of cucumber, which adds a freshness that I know will be perfect for hazy hot days in LA. When I did more research on Mimosa Pour Moi I discovered it was created by the same perfumer who did La Chasse Aux Papillons, Anne Flipo. I will have to explore more of her fragrances.

Another discovery was Thé pour un Été, which means “tea for summer.” The scent is just that, a refreshing blend of green tea, jasmine and lemon that reminded me of a glass of summer iced tea, garnished with sprigs of mint. It was created by Olivia Giacobetti, who is also the perfumer behind one of my favorite spring scents, the lilac-inspired En Passant from Parfums Frédéric Malle.

Since I liked Thé pour un Été so much, I decided to sample the other scents Giacobetti created for L’Artisan Parfumeur. The first I tried, L’Été en Douce, has the same summery feel as Thé pour un Été. It is quiet and soft, and I don’t think I can top the description on L’Artisan’s website, which compares L’Été en Douce to “the scent of clean white sheets drying in a garden rich with orange blossom and shimmering dewy grass.” That sounds perfect to me, a combination of pretty, clean and refreshing, just right for summer.

Olivia Giacobetti also created the last fragrance I tried during my sampling trip to Scent Bar—Fou d’Absinthe. I was surprised to learn it was a Giacobetti creation, as it smelled nothing like the other Giacobetti scents that I like so much. It is named for absinthe, the infamous, highly alcoholic, anise-flavored beverage that was popular in late 19th century France. Absinthe has long been associated with the famous artists and bohemians of Impressionist era Paris, and drinking too much of it supposedly caused insanity (Degas has a famous painting called “The Absinthe Drinker” that is a bleak portrait of the probable effects of drinking to much of it). Fou d’Absinthe starts out with the icy cold smell of alcohol and anise, but then becomes warm and spicy thanks to its notes of pepper, clove, nutmeg and ginger. The “madness” of the title (“fou” means “mad” in French) likely refers to the split personality of Fou d’Absinthe, which swings from cold to hot and back again. It is a very intriguing fragrance that dries down to a piney scent, which may be Giacobetti complementing her summer scents with a winter one. I think it would be particularly good on men.

If you want to learn more about L’Artisan Parfumeur fragrances and the people behind them, the company’s website has background on all of the perfumers and great descriptions of the entire line. You can buy L’Artisan Parfumeur at Barneys and at select boutiques throughout the U.S. If you are in Los Angeles, you can sample most of the line and get great advice from the team at Scent Bar. The fragrances are also available on line at www.artisanparfumeur.com and at www.luckyscent.com.


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