In this post I bring to you three collaborations by NEZ éditions, the French olfactory magazine that is published biannually. There are currently twelve 12 volumes, and I am proud to own all except number 5 (which is sold out at the moment) and the first two which are only available in French, but I do read French so I might get around to buying those at some point.
The collaborations, called 1+1, are between perfumers and leading figures from other creative realms. Each of the resulting olfactory creations is available as a limited edition with every new issue of the magazine. The idea was developed under the direction of Jeanne Doré, Nez Olfactory Magazine’s editor in chief. There are now five perfumes to date, and I believe the plan is to have a new perfume released alongside every issue. The first one appeared in issue number 8. There is a write up about each perfume at the back of each publication, but if you only buy the perfume, you might get sent a separate brochure, as I did when I purchased a second bottle of Ambre à Levres (I liked it that much). These fragrances are superb, but indeed they are limited editions and might be tricky to get a hold of as time passes. I think the HongKong Oolong that I have here is no longer available, at least in two online sources. You can purchase the Nez publications and associated perfumes directly from their website, from Lucky Scent, and probably also from Tiger Lily (now Ministry of Scent?), which I’ve never used because they do not ship internationally.
I was debating whether or not to talk about each perfume separately because each these fragrances has such a detailed story behind it, but I decided to squeeze all three into this longer post because I am rather desperate to use them. Once I start spraying, I’ll quickly use them up, and then they will be gone and it’s not as fun and easy to review a perfume that only exists in your memory.
Ambre à Levres
2020’s Ambre à Levres is the creation of perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, the nose behind a BDK perfume called Gris Charnel which I adour. She collaborated with artist/filmmaker Marjane Satrapi as her muse to bring forth a beautiful fragrance that pulls from the two’s passion for scents and their childhood memories. (I recommend checking out Marjane’s graphic novel Persepolis, FYI). Anyway, the name of this perfume is a dead giveaway for what it smells like – amber and lipstick. Ambre à Levres is the 3rd in the series of perfumes from Nez Editions, featured in volume 10 – with an appropriate red lip on the front. Here are the notes:
- Florentine iris, rose absolute, violet, heliotrope
- vanilla absolute, vanilla essence, amber
- benzoin, tonka bean, suede accord, musks
This scent opens up as a jammy sweet amber coddled with fresh green and roses, almost like syrupy red berries. That tangy amber graciously applauds the lipstick brigade that follows close behind. The lipsticks of Marjane’s great aunt from pre-revolutionary Tehran form the backbone of this fragrance, with lots of iris and rose. It’s got some powdery accords of violet and heliotrope that amp up the cosmetic vibe, and bridging the lip-smacking florals to the amber facet, which is strong and center stage, are some vanillas – vanilla absolute and something called Pure Jungle Essence. Traces of benzoin, tonka bean and suede accord melt onto this bridge and fix it in place. The suede is velvety and fuzzy and reminds me of something Serge Lutins-esk. And there are some musky notes in there too, giving some air to all the thickness and adding further reinforcements.
This is such an evocative fragrance that I find so comforting that I decided, in the middle of a very high fever, to grab for my toiletry bag as I packed for hospital when I had COVID19. I chose it not only for its warm embrace, but because although this fragrance has moderate projection, sillage, and longevity, for some reason I find it rather powerful. I knew I might lose my sense of smell and taste, and I wanted something perceptible to test myself with. As a fumehead, I was indeed really worried about not being able to smell anything. And sure enough. I remember that on day four or five in hospital, about two weeks after my first symptoms appeared at home, I could no longer smell anything. Thankfully, it was only gone for a few days. I think it was around five days later that my brain picked up this scent again, and I felt like a loved one was there with me in that lonely, sterile room. Of course, now that COVID memory is attached to this scent. It was not a good month, but interestingly, when I smell this, I just feel resilience, strength, and love (or something akin to it).
Apparently, this fragrance came together quickly in its creation, as Marjane had a clear idea of what she was hoping for with the fragrance. According to perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, Marjane’s personality is radiant, warm and assertive—like the matte orange red hue of her lips or the contrasting colors of her portraits of women. And this perfume is indeed that. I’m going to be sad when it’s gone. Again… I probably have to buy another bottle. But I will try to hold back because here is the thing: there is so much great perfume out there to enjoy, and I have limited time, space and money. This one has become special to me, though. It stands out from all the other amber fragrances out there, assertively, but not in an ostentatious manner. At 35 USD for 15ml, this and the other Nez 1+1 scents do not break the bank, either.
The next scent I bought was HongKong Oolong and yes, if you think this is going to smell like tea, you would be right! This 2019 collaboration is between prolific French perfumer Maurice Roucel and Hong Kong’s famous designer and tea connoisseur Alan Chan. I believe this concoction was the first scent in the the 1+1 collection. Roucel is the nose behind Frederik Malle’s Musc Ravageur, that apple fragrance and its flankers by DKNY, Rochas Man, and my favourite Bond no. 9 scent – New Haarlem (and of course much more!). Apparently Roucel knew nothing about tea and admitted that the closest thing he drank close to it was whisky, only similar to oolong cha in terms of the liquid coloring and the fact that it has its own distinct aromas. But I believe Chan educated him a little about his passion. In the classic book of tea by Okakura Kakuzo, “A man with no tea inside him is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” Well, despite the omission of women and youth, I have come to appreciate this quote. I never really began to appreciate tea before I moved to Asia.
Anyway, this scent is a modern take on tea, but the tea within is discernibly traditional. There are subtle spice notes in here that I would not normally associate with Oolong, such as cloves, cardamon, and ginger, but they are very subtle, and serve only to warm the blend. Along with a heavy dose of musk, the spices ground the fragrance and make it earthy and almost sweaty. Oolong tea like ocha or green tea, is a type of beverage I would never consider consuming with milk, but I perhaps due to the western influences you can get sweater and creamier versions of Asian tea now. Just look at my favourite offering from my local Starbucks – a macha cream frappachino – Yum!
But if there is milk and sugar added to this blend, it’s just a dash. I think the base of sandalwood and tonka are responsible for that. I pick up more floral notes that might be more responsible for the sweet traces – jasmine, definitely. Here are the official notes:
- cinnamon, cardamon, ginger,
- jasmine, honeysuckle, magnolia, leather,
- incense, moss, sandalwood, tonka bean, musk
Because I lack aroma chemistry knowledge, I have no idea how that overall effect of Oonlong tea is created without any obvious tea itself in the mix, but if I understand correctly, the leather has something do to with it – probably the mix of a few accords. (Perfumery is such a fantastic blend of science, art and alchemy!) I did not originally pick up honeysuckle, leather or incense, but they’re there. And yes, there is a vegetal freshness in the tea leaf effect. It’s a lovely composition, and if you’re a tea fan, this will NOT disappoint – assuming you can still get it.
My most recent purchase of a composition via NEZ éditions is a collaboration between perfumer Marie Salamagne and Yoann Lemoine, aka Woodkid, a musician and filmmaker who creates very soulful and cinematic music. Like Marjane Satrapi, he’s an artist of many talents. I think Kraft Gommé refers to painter’s tape – perhaps the blue stuff I use to protect my Louis Vuitton canvas when I dye the vacchetta leather. This fragrance, released in 2021, is to me more of a wearable aroma than a perfume per se. It reminds me in that way of By the Fireplace by Maison Martin Margiela. Perhaps that is not by chance, because I realized after having made the association that Marie Salamagne is responsible for By the Fireplace, too! She’s also the nose behind Beachwalk, which is also a very literal fragrance. Make no mistake, this is a fragrance, and it is highly wearable, and obviously I love this one, too.
Woodkid’s memories of art school are embedded in this juice. I get pencil shavings, warm erasures, paper, glue, varnish, melted waxes, blown out match sticks, and a wooden easel -100% an artist’s workshop, one that includes a giant cedarwood table. It’s very cool and dry, and yet also humid and a little sticky or pasty. I can imagine a man with loose black curls and paint and nicotine-stained hands sketching on some thick paper. There’s loose tobacco and rolling paper on the table, and the warmly lit space looks like organized chaos, filled with sketches, paintings, and word-carved sculptures. There’s a naked woman posing – the man’s wife? And I see a hint of an erection showing in the artist’s overalls. Yes, this is a smidge naughty. Here are the notes:
- myrrh, beeswax, linen
- cedar, tobacco
- ambroxan, Tolu balsam
OK, my lovelies. That is it for my three Nez scents. I just want finish with some words of praise for the author of this series, Aurélie Dematons. She is the observing third party in the collaborations, writing backgrounds to each of the parties involved and the interactions between perfumer and muse as they collaborate to bring each new perfume to life. It’s been wonderful reading. And in general, if you are as obsessed with perfume as I am, I highly recommend this series. Each one sells for under 30 USD, and I think each perfume might be cheaper if you purchase them as a set. I plan to buy both the publications and perfumes that I am missing if I can get my hands on them, as well as any forthcoming fragrances from this project via Lucky Scent.