Sunday, 27 October 2013

Aedes de Venustas, and a meeting with Bertrand Duchaufour

Aedes de Venustas shop front, 9 Christopher Street

Ever meet a rock star? I did, the other week. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Bertrand Duchaufour, the perfumer responsible for some of the loveliest niche fragrances of the last two decades, including many for L'Artisan Parfumer, where he works in-house, Penhaligon's Amaranthine and Vaara, and my beloved Comme de Garcons Incense Kyoto.

M. Duchaufour was in London for the UK debut of fragrances and candles by Aedes de Venustas, a boutique treasure-trove of a perfumery in Christopher Street, Manhattan. Aedes' products are newly available at Liberty, and will shortly be joined by a new collection of 4 scented candles. Aedes (pronounced eye-EE-dees) is a New York institution, but new to the UK.

Inside the Aedes de Venustas Manhattan store

The rococo Manhattan shop, a grotto of velvet, jewels, flowers and ornate ephemera, was New York's conduit for brave and beautiful niche fragrances during the 1990s. The store was founded by Karl Bradl and his partner Robert Gerstner in 1995. Through personal service, loving gift-wrapping and word of mouth, they played a huge part in winning the hearts of celebrities and magazine editors over to the virtues of L'Artisan Parfumer, Etro, Frederic Malle and other delicious niche smells previously unknown on that side of the Atlantic. 

Aedes de Venustas eau de parfum

After several successful years curating and nurturing a stable of niche fragrances from other brands, and collaborating on a L'Artisan fragrance named for them in 2008, the Aedes founders teamed up with Bertrand Duchaufour to create their own eponymous signature fragrance - Aedes de Venustas eau de parfum - in 2012.

Aedes de Venustas EDP

Aedes de Venustas travel atomiser, EDP bottle and candle

Aedes de Venustas EDP is an unexpected concoction of rhubarb, vetiver, incense, tomato leaf. It smells like walking into a verdant greenhouse in mid-summer, and having your nostrils assaulted by rife, lush, growing life. The tomato leaf is coarse and intense, the rhubarb sweet and deep, and the vetiver provides a steady undercurrent. While there's incense present, it takes a back seat to the living green and fruity notes, without the smoky insistence of typical incense scents.

Talking about the composition, Duchaufour explained that the rhubarb, usually a short-lived note, is carried and sustained by the vetiver, creating a consistent but alternating dialogue between the two notes that persists across head, heart and base, overwriting the traditional 3-note fragrance structure. (Incidentally this is not his first foray into rhubarb - he also created Comme de Garcons Rhubarb, part of the Sherbert series, in 2003. I haven't smelled this, but I now very much want to compare the two approaches to this note.)

Iris Nazarena

Iris Nazarena, created by Ralf Schwieger, is the second of Aedes' own fragrances. It's a cooler and more restrained sort of animal than the eponymous scent, named after the Bismarck iris flowers that grow in the Israeli mountains near Nazareth. It's an iris that is light and fresh rather than warm and rooty, and while I like the comforting orris note, the delicacy of this is undeniably lovely. It's paired with soft suede leather, and again, Aedes signature incense note. I find that the leather is ever so slightly over-prominent in this one, but it's still a mesmeric can't-stop-sniffing-wrist experience.

Postcards showing the pictures for the new Aedes candles, and the "muse" image for Iris Nazarena

Karl talked us through the briefing process he uses when commissioning a fragrance. It's all visual - he creates an ad-agency-style mood board of evocative images, which forms a combined brief and inspirational jumping-off point for the perfumer. The Aedes candles, which are forthcoming (no UK date as yet) each have an artwork that acts at the perfumer's "muse".

The four candles...

Cellarius - an olfactory sketch of an ancient observatory. Old books, paper and leather, pencil shavings, brass and wood.

Phoenicis - the aftermath of a forest fire. Deeper and more nuanced than your average firewood candle.

Indica - heady and intoxicating hash resin. A tribute to French biologist Lamarck, who discovered the narcotic power of Kush grass. (Duchaufour has returned to the rhubarb theme here too.)

Mel Mellis - honey and wax, with juniper and labdanum - inspired by the smell of an old-fashioned rolled beeswax candle.

Karl Bradl and Bertrand Duchaufour, London, October 2013

The eponymous Aedes de Venustas fragrance, along with new scent Iris Nazarena, is available now in Liberty. Each costs £185.

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