Beaufort London “Come Hell or High Water” Collection: three shades of smoke

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Beaufort London appears in the niche perfume world for the first time with a triptych of eaux de parfums under the collective name “Come Hell or High Water”. Under the creative direction of musician and writer Leo Crabtree, live percussionist of the mega group Prodigy, Beaufort promises a voyage in the darkest waters of British naval history. I can only suppose that whoever the perfumer behind these three innovative creations is, the technical guidelines he was given could only be: “Create a Firestarter!”. How else can I describe the sensation of smelling an entire perfume collection built around the core note of smoke. And I do not mean smoky vetiver, or branded leather. These perfumes smell the real deal: smoke as it rises from the flames of a fire, or to be more precise, from three distinct types of fire. Anyone who has messed around with aroma chemicals they will tell you that smoke essence is an extremely tricky ingredient. It permeates and consumes every other ingredient with a monstrous longevity and tenacity throughout its presence. I was intrigued to see how one could work with this material. Technically I am not sure this classifies as an aroma chemical because the smoke flavouring used in food is simply natural smoke collected in its passage through water. If you have ever tried to cook with liquid smoke you will know that more often than not it turns to be a disaster. Everything ends up smelling like the skin of smoked fish… How does the damn thing hold up in the kitchen of niche perfumery then?

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1805 Tonnere was created to capture the aura of the battle of Trafalgar and for the first moments it managed to intimidate me with what seems to be the impression of the “before” to Etat Libre d’Orange Secretions Magnifique’s “after”. Perfumeshrine perfectly describes the conceptual legend that Secretions Magnifiques has become as the combined smell of a seedy down-town attic, an operating theatre and a refugee camp in Africa. Well, doesn’t that make you wonder what the hell happened to someone to end up in these places? Tonnere explains the story. Chaos and mayhem, awe and terror. Imagine being persecuted and having to run for your life. After a whole day on the run, fugitive, you end up in a deserted depot where the only items available to quench your thirst and warm your body are salt, lemons, wood and tires. You start a fire with wood, you rest your body on the tires and you bite into the lemons knowing that you should’t be doing that. As soon as you start to relax a threatening noise startles you out of your light sleep and as you twist your body trying to grasp your knife and at the same time look at the direction of the noise, a clumsy move sends a packet of salt and your knife into the flames. The only thing that makes sense is grab a piece of the broken old tires and try to fish the knife out of the blue-green flames that are consuming the salt. Now try to imagine what your arm smells like after having done all this… Smoked of course, with a vague smell of vaporised salt and lemon peal juices cutting through in the most uncomfortable way. If I had sprayed this on a blotter this would have been the end of the story, but having done this mistake in the past, I never base my reviews on paper testing. I will not try to argue that this is classical composition in any sense this word could take in a perfume context, it is not. However it develops in the classic way a composition should. Lemons start to fade very slowly and the smoke either decides to disperse or my nose gets used to it. What used to smell like burning tires now gets a fresh rubber vibe. Clean rubber and gunpowder emerge from what used to be an almost rustic opening. The scent becomes almost tech and celebrates artificial in a Comme des Garçons way. A breezy, cucumber-like rubber.

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Vi et Armis was conceived as an ambitious interpretation of Britain’s naval history and the role of the sea trade in conquering the world, commercially and otherwise. The perfume house uses a quote from George Bernard Shaw to insinuate what is coming in the bottle:  “Emotional excitement reaches men through Tea, Tobacco, Opium, Whisky and religion”. The roof is on fire with this one too. But this time what feeds the fire is the cargo of the ship: hemp woven bags are burning with white smoke, slowly releasing their exotic contents. Cardamom and pepper mix with burning resins and incense and as the burning hemp bags burst and spill their contents in heaps, the spices meet the whiskey that has been pouring out of shattered vats. The smell of destruction here is sweet but I wouldn’t say gourmand, It stops at culinary. I get some light green notes of crackling fresh wood, the kind that produces thick white smoke, Although Vi et Armis is not as alarming -or even alarmist- as Tonnere, the tempestuous imagery cannot escape my mind. The smoke note stays longer in this one but it is a more approachable rendition. There is always a marine air vibe throughout the development and although I could not have believed that all these elements could produce a palatable result, they do. The far end of the development leaves a smoky, woody scent with a marine aloofness and warm spicy fumes.

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Coeur de Noir is Beaufort’s homage to the art born after the battles and the conquests. It is the least combative of the three without ever giving way. Smoke exists here in a more conventional way, as a background note. The main players are ink and vanilla, another combination I would never have thought would work.The overall effect is that of a milky and medicinal accord at the same time. Vanilla usually makes me look the other way but in Coeur de Noir it is used in a covert way. It creates a boudoir ambience, the arty reference I guess, together with a suede note and what starts as a new book smell. Later however -a couple of hours later that is- this scent becomes a creamy cedar. And even further down the road -many hours later- the base reveals an amber accord. This is the one that enjoyed the most but I think just because it is the most approachable one. On hindsight, the other two ones kept me more interested!

All three Beaufort London fragrances might sound gimmicky and exploitative if someone stays on the imaginative copy text and profuse use of smoke as an ingredient. I warn you once more that these are not just smoky fragrances but really smoke-fragrances. I am still not sure as I write this piece whether Coeur de Noir is composed without actual smoke as an ingredient or it is just the fact that I tried it last that makes it stand out. However I was very happily surprised to see that the perfumer actually worked with smoke as an ingredient and managed to create three perfumes which start extremely unconventional but possess a classical progression that keeps the wearer interested for quite a long time. So Beaufort London might not be suitable for you who tend to look for the classic beauty of French perfumery. If you consider yourself to be open-minded and love being surprised however, you will enjoy these.And if you are looking for a signature scent, look no further!

Beaufort London is available at Essenza Nobile.

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