Irrévérent and Outrecuidant are two of three new releases by the French brand, Histoires de Parfums (the other one is Prolixe, which was unavailable when I was buying samples). I’m always interested in sampling the new releases from Histoires de Parfums, as it was one of the first niche houses I loved, but in the last few years, I just haven’t been able to keep up. Luckily, while browsing a French site, I spotted samples of the newest Histoires de Parfums fragrances and just jumped on it. And I’m glad I did, because both are pretty darned great.
I smelled both perfumes blind before looking up the notes, and I think it would be interesting to give you my uninformed impressions first. Notes lists and scent pyramids – hmmm, I tend to agree with Chandler Burr here. Refusing to publish a list of notes for his collaboration with Etat Libre d’Orange, You Or Someone Like You, Burr stated that using a set of published notes “is an incredibly impoverished way of “understanding what a scent smells like.”
I suspect that Burr was taking shots more at the superficial marketing language of magazine editors than at bloggers or regular perfume users, but I agree that we need to break out of this nasty habit of relying on the notes list to inform our nose what we are smelling.
In particular, I am turned off by reviews that simply list a progression of notes, as if any fragrance truly develops in such a linear fashion, i.e., “first there is rose, then there is leather, and finally there is sandalwood.” This way of describing a perfume is dull and doesn’t tell me anything at all. Instead, the reviews I find genuinely helpful are those that report honest impressions of what it smells like to the wearer, regardless of whether that matches up the notes list or not. I myself often smell a particular note or material more strongly than another, and sometimes I can smell it up front, and not in the base where the pyramid tells me I am going to smell it. Who is to say that my experience is wrong?
Published notes are a rudimentary outline of what you might smell but they don’t guarantee it. They are good for a quick reference, but inadequate when it comes to explaining the associations, memories, or reactions one experiences when actually smelling the perfume. We all mentally sort smells according to a back catalog of scent we’ve stored in our head over time, and honestly, this is a frame of reference every bit as valid as a list of notes.
A case in point is Outrecuidant, which struck me as being a spicy marine fougère at first, with a thick, briny note that reminded me of both Ambrarem and Rosam from the same house. However, Outrecuidant is not a marine scent or an aquatic – it’s an oriental.
Looking now at the notes, I think that there is just something about cardamom and ginger that strikes me as vaguely aquatic or related to sports fragrances for men. But still, I was surprised when I discovered that Outrecuidant was not a marine fragrance. The oriental bones of the scent emerged later in the form of a dry, resinous texture, however, the beginning definitely has that sweet bilge-like note that Histoires de Parfums likes to use. This note smells thick and almost ambery; low-harbor seaweed dipped in a bath of caramel.
Despite not being a fan of the marine style, I found myself immediately fascinated and attracted to Outrecuidant; there is a dense floral musk element underneath the bilge-like spice, fleshing it out, and reminding me of the sophisticated cloud of scent that accompanied my father’s French (male) customs officer colleagues wherever they went. It smells French; confident, masculine, stylish. It is the sort of smell that evokes a deep nostalgia within me, though I am pains to say why. Violet Moss by SP Parfums is another perfume that recalls these chic, macho French men, but the two perfumes share nothing except perhaps this atmosphere of elusive French “maleness”. But that’s something you won’t see on any notes list.
Now, as for the official notes list for Outrecuidant, I must admit that I really can’t smell many of the notes listed there apart from the cardamom and ginger. It is a diaphanous, musky fragrance in structure, with all the resins and spices unfolding in one amorphous blur rather than performing as separate entities. Despite the presence of both rose and oud, nothing about this is particularly floral or oudy. It is certainly not a rose-oud.
The base is, however, most definitely animalic in a low-key way. It smells musky and skin-like, as well as suggestive of the pleasantly stuffy, halitosis intimacy of an ambergris-musk combination. The musk becomes progressively filthier, and now, at last, there appears a tinge of urinous rose – a discreet dollop of Paco Rabanne’s A La Nuit or Serge Lutens’ Rose de Nuit tucked into the tailbone.
Of course, there is nothing in the notes that indicate that this is how the fragrance should smell. And yet, to me, it does. Outrecuidant is an odd but compelling fragrance.
Notes: ginger, cardamom, olibanum, rose, patchouli, tobacco, agarwood (oud)
Irrévérent is not as unusual as Outrecuidant, but it is more immediately likeable – or maybe I just mean accessible? There’s that very human comfort in being able to recognize the bones of a familiar perfume in a new one.
Irrévérent is a spicy, radiant resin-amber fragrance in the vein of Amouage Opus VI, Maison Francis Kurkdijan Grand Soir, Atelier des Ors Larmes du Desért, and SHL 777 Taklamakan. But it differs slightly from these in the beginning by way of a dustier, more austere labdanum note that recalls the use of this material in both Donna Karan Labdanum and Etat Libre d’Orange Attaquer Le Soleil Marquis de Sade.
From its dusty start, it becomes ever sweeter, to the point of being syrupy. Texture-wise, this is a shimmering red-gold brick of resins radiating overlapping waves of sweet patchouli, labdanum, and perhaps a sticky, resinous vanilla (not listed). Of course, none of this exactly breaks new ground. But it’s delicious nonetheless.
I can’t pretend to smell much of the bright, fresh notes such as bergamot, lavender, and elemi. To my nose, Irrévérent is a fragrance that plunges straight for the balsamic heart and stays there, with the result that its only failing is perhaps that monolithic tendency that most amber scents possess. Resins are attractive, yes, but they tend to drown out other more delicate notes.
There is a faint coffee note here, although I struggle to pick it out as clearly as I do in another Histoires de Parfums fragrance, Fidelis. Mostly, the resinous notes of coffee, oud, and styrax add a gentle texturization of the fabric of the amber, rather than standing out as strong notes themselves. The styrax does dry out the scent in the base, giving it a smoky, leathery edge that approaches the weird petroleum jelly accord in the tail end of Ambre Fetiche (Annick Goutal).
I will say that, despite the weaker presence of coffee, I prefer Irrévérent to Fidelis, because of its generally smoother, more natural feel (something in Fidelis bothers my nose, although it is a technically impressive scent). Another quick point of reference: Irrévérent is far more thickly oriental and resinous in tone than Ambre 114, which has a golden, herbal lightness that reads as woody more than ambery.
Since Histoires de Parfums has decided to release these in both the 120ml and 15ml bottles, I think I might even pick up a mini of these at some point. Now, where oh where to find the elusive Prolixe?
Notes: bergamot, elemi, lavender, coffee, agarwood (oud), styrax, patchouli, sandalwood, amber