One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dr. Pepper: L'Artisan Parfumeur Poivre Piquant

A few years ago, I did a fragrance swap with someone: I always like to throw in a bunch of samples, and luckily for me, they did, too, because I wound up with a set of three vials of the then-new collection by L'Artisan Parfumeur, "Les Epices de la Passion", three spice-based scents which manage to be subtle yet distinctive, gourmand yet unsweet, at the same time.

I liked all three, but was madly in love with one, Piment Brûlant, a heady blend of chocolate and red pepper. I used the three vials sparingly, but of course one day they ran out. I knew I had to own the set, and finally, earlier this year, I ordered it online. It's funny how your tastes change over time; the one that mesmerized me back then is now merely an appealing part of my collection, while the one I liked the least has become my favourite by far.

Poivre Piquant begins with a dust-dry surge of freshly-ground pepper, almost immediately joined by an equally powdery sprinkling of licorice root. The starkness, the aridity, of the top note is astounding. (It won't appeal to every taste: it probably won't appeal to many tastes at all.)

But the perfumer is not done: after grinding his spices before us, he slowly stirs them into a pot of hot milk, barely sweetened. The milky note--so similar to that at the base of the equally strange and fascinating Le Feu D'Issey--slowly rises up to envelop the hard edges of the pepper and the bitter-herbal licorice. From then on there's little development, just a slow cooking of the few carefully-chosen ingredients.

Complexity is a good thing in art, but sometimes utter simplicity is what we long for: sometimes less is more, and the stripped-down, intellectualized, flawless Poivre Piquant is the perfect illustration of that maxim.



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