When I was nineteen, I used to work in a nightclub in Dublin called Copper Face Jacks. It was – and maybe still is – somewhat notorious in Ireland as a meat market, in other words, a place where young people would come to get drunk and make some very bad sexual decisions (sometimes without even leaving the confines of the club). Coppers, as we staff would grimly call it, was owned by a former policeman, or a guard, as we call them in Ireland. We would routinely get ‘raided’ by the gardai, who would shut us down for the night, throw the punters out with a stiff warning ringing in their ears, and then proceed to drink us dry until the wee hours of the morning. The only consolation was being allowed by the owner the rare treat of being allowed to have one drink free.
But one drink does not go far, especially when you have to deal with a bunch of increasingly drunk and badly behaved gardai, so what we would do is this: we would take the dregs of the glasses of expensive whiskey and cognac that the gardai were knocking back, pour them into a jar, add ice and milk, shake up the ungodly contents, and divide up the spoils. It kept us just ‘buzzy’ enough to keep the fake smiles plastered on our faces.
Korrigan by Lubin kind of smells like a bastard drink made out of sheer desperation. The basic accord – a sweetish, almost queasy-making mash-up between Bailey’s Irish Cream (or cognac and milk) and a packet of caramels – sits on top of a very musky, woodsy base, reminiscent somewhat of the stale, night-end emanations from the tired, old leather banquettes and wooden floors in the club. There is a wave of ashy smoke in the first fifteen minutes, which I attribute to the lavender. The cigarette ash accord adds to the overall scent memory of an after-hours bar that Korrigan summons up for me. For the brief time that the lavender is in play, the fragrance actually conjures up the ghost of Fumerie Turque, minus the urine note.
If this description makes it sound like I don’t like it, then you’d be wrong. I like when straightforward-sounding gourmand fragrances take a detour into non-edible, slightly grimy territory. It keeps things interesting. For instance, I am extremely fond of Parfumerie Generale’s Aomassai, which teams a mouth-watering caramel accord with a dark, roasted licorice, smokey incense, and damp hay. Similarly, Penhaglion’s weird but wonderful Tralala (by Betrand Duchoufour) pairs whiskey, cream, and tonka with a musky ambrette base and an almost grotesque tuberose. All three fragrances – Korrigan, Tralala, and Aomassai – are interesting to me because they place a dairy-rich gourmand note against the backdrop of inedible, almost bitter notes such as dark woods or incense.
Unfortunately, though, Korrigan is never as interesting or as bold as Tralala or Aomassai. Part of the problem – for me at least – is its restraint. This is a fragrance that has one thing to say, and it’s an interesting thing (perhaps), but it whispers its message so softly that you have to strain to hear it, and by the time you’ve decoded the message, you are already bored. Korrigan not only drops to a skin scent within an hour or two, but also peters out into a fairly pedestrian base of creamy woods and amber in the drydown. Korrigan does indeed smell milky and comforting, but the contrasting accords that make it so interesting at the start (the aromatics, the vetiver-leather accord, even the musky ambrette) don’t stick around to counter the gloopy gourmand aspect all the way through.
Maybe I’m holding Korrigan to an even higher standard than its peers in the gourmand category, and that is, to Lubin’s own Idole. Idole is a rum-soaked, saffron-specked paean to living it up Pirate style, and is a real tour-de-force. Korrigan feels like someone at Lubin swapped out each of Idole’s notes for something similar (cognac instead of rum, caramel instead of burned sugar, lavender instead of saffron, etc.) and hoped that the structure would hold true. It doesn’t. That’s not to say that Korrigan isn’t a good fragrance – it is. But when measured against Idole, it’s just not a great one. And even within the category of creamy, musky gourmands, Korrigan faces stiff competition from other, earlier entries in the field. I’ve worn Korrigan over and over again (from a sample), hoping to glimpse at least in part the greatness that caused Luca Turin to award it a rare five stars, but I’m afraid that its greatness eludes me. How Korrigan got five stars, and Maai only four is a head-scratcher of epic proportions.