Inside the artist's studio: Bruno Fazzolari Editions perfumes (And a prize draw!)
I had the great pleasure of meeting artist and perfumer Bruno Fazzolari when I took my first ever trip to San Francisco earlier this year. He is a low-key, thoughtful and kind person, but underneath the calm exterior lies an extraordinary talent. He began as a visual artist and later began to translate his creative ideas to the art of perfumery, and I for one am very happy that he branched out; the diversity of the offering is a testament to his willingness to take risks, and that has paid off in a big way. In the two short years since the fragrance line was launched, his work has garnered a lot of the right kind of attention, and deservedly so. (Did I mention that he also has the rare gift of synesthesia?)
One of the delightful surprises in the line is the retro chypre Au Delà, a stunner of a scent that pushes all my buttons – it has depth and mystery, a heavily animalic character and it's a real chypre, with galbanum and resins and oakmoss, so of course I fell hard for it. I am loving this trend among American indie perfumers of making the fragrances that Europe can no longer produce with the advent of the ever-tightening IFRA/EU restrictions. With such recent perfumes as Au Delà, Zelda from En Voyage Perfumes, Intimacy from JoAnne Bassett, and DSH Perfumes' Vert pour Madame, it may no longer be necessary to troll EBay for vintage – we can just order them brand new! In fact, I recently had the opportunity to sample a very rare old chypre that is impossible to find now. At first it reminded me of both Miss Dior and Rochas Femme, but as it developed on my skin and became ever more animalic and intense, I realized that it also bore a strong resemblance to the warm and vibrant Au Delà. Wear this when you mean business; it's for adults only, if you know what I mean...
I was initially reluctant to mention it because it's no longer available, but the “flanker” of Au Delà called Au Delà - Narcisse des Montagnes is one of the most astonishing perfumes I have smelled in the past few years, with the finest narcissus absolute of piercing beauty overlaid on the original perfume's structure. It adds a sublime, almost honeyed floral beauty and a green aspect as well, while still maintaining the main idea of a chypre. The key ingredient is very hard to source so this was a limited edition; if it ever comes back, grab it with no questions asked if you love narcissus, because this does that flower justice in a big way, capturing the unique fresh/sweet/chilly/loamy character of the flower. It is very unusual to come across a modern fragrance that showcases narcissus because the absolute is so precious, and there is no acceptable substitute.
In complete contrast, Lampblack has attracted a near-cult following for its fascinating take on a masculine spicy scent. What sets it apart is the confluence of bitter (grapefruit) spicy/woody (nagarmotha and black pepper) and smoky, the sensation of which comes from a “burnt” vetiver note, which has an inky aroma. Vetiver is my perfume nemesis – I like the smell out of the bottle, but on my skin, it tends to turn into something that smells like old vase water, murky and mildewed. Here, it is transformed into a roasted, tinder-dry, almost charcoal-like element that I really enjoyed, and it did not turn against me even after hours of wear. I never thought I could find a vetiver I could live with, but you never know! In this instance, going over to the dark side is exactly the right thing to do.
Some of Bruno's fragrances are not so serious. Jimmy is a real charmer; you have watch out for him, he will talk you out of your last dollar and you'll be happy to hand it it over. Jimmy is the Fred Astaire of fragrances, nimble and light on his feet, brash and breezy and without a care in the world. He makes an entrance bursting with the exuberance of lemon and geranium, but lest you think he is a little too assertive, he whisks a bouquet of pink roses, sweet violets and ylang ylang out from behind his back and presents it to you with a bow and smile. Who could resist? He won't linger for very long, but you will remember him with fondness.
If you are going to make a cologne style fragrance, the competition is fierce so you had better do it right; no problem here with Five. Clean, fizzy lemon, petitgrain and sweet orange mate well with savory rosemary and a woody/spicy base in this crisp, classic refreshment of a scent. Excellent materials and expert construction make this one stand out from the crowd. This one also has an ozonic quality, which I don't always care for, but here it is judiciously employed and does not dominate the composition.
Want even more variety? Try the flat-out gorgeous Montserrat, a romantic and genre-defying perfume with a delicious aura of ripe apricots, courtesy of the magic of osmanthus absolute, and limpid jasmine. It was the first one I wore when I started testing these; it just kept blooming and opening as time went on, becoming ever warmer and lovelier, yet there was something fresh and interesting hovering in the background that I could not figure out, but I loved it; I found out later that's it's a note based on the idea of wet plaster, the kind that is used to make artistic frescoes. Now that I know what it is, it jumps out at me, but it just makes me love Montserrat even more; it is actually named for a specific artist's paint color, Montserrat Orange which is a beautiful hue somewhere between apricot and terracotta, so it's all of a piece. Indeed, it's the perfect counterpart to the sweetness of the other notes, and I have always loved the aromas of making art, paint, plaster, varnish and all the rest. I just can't overstate how lovely and unusual this is, and it captured my heart at first sniff.
The most recent introduction to the brand is Room 237. and it's unusual to say the least. Its source of inspiration? The horror film “The Shining.” How do you make a wearable perfume based on an idea like that? If you are Bruno Fazzolari, you do something no one has done before and make it with: a shower curtain accord. I don't even begin to know how this was accomplished, but it works. In the category of “strange yet oddly compelling” Room 237 is right up there with the best of them. It's fresh and soapy with florals, green herbal notes and white musks, but first impressions can be deceiving. The smell of vinyl, clean yet somewhat claustrophobic, evokes the atmosphere of places where unspeakable things happen behind closed doors – hospitals, asylums, and yes, cursed hotels. (The smell of something that's a little too clean is always disturbing; what is it hiding?) It reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite (and sadly discontinued) Imaginary Authors fragrances, L'Orchidée Terrible, not in the way it smells, but in how the aldehydic shimmer on the surface acts with intent to deceive, since it's not in the least bit innocent despite its pretty façade; so does Room 237 present itself as a brightly scrubbed, smooth surface, until you figure out what lies beneath. That said, it's perfectly enjoyable to wear and has been such a hit that it is currently sold out, but more is on the way soon.
Now for the best part - I was so enamored of Au Delà – Narcisse des Montagnes that I bought one of the last remaining bottles, and I am offering a sample of this rarity to one lucky reader! Please leave a comment if you would like to enter to win it – please note, you must have a mailing address in the continental U.S. since I cannot ship internationally.
Image credits: Art courtesy of Bruno Fazzolari: “Lampblack”, “Nearside”, “Room 237”, and detail from the “Au Delà – Narcisse des Montagnes” poster, from brunofazzolari.com .
Disclaimer: The perfume samples I tested for this review were given to me by Bruno Fazzolari.