Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the world’s most well known and prolific perfumers. Who better to lead this sniff-along guide to his work than perfume specialist Nick Gilbert. Not only does he have great knowledge of Duchaufour’s work but he also knows him in a professional capacity through his position as Penhaligon’s Fragrance Ambassador. As always, the evening was hosted by Lila das Gupta.
Here is an abbreviated version of the evening.
Nuit de Tubereuse, L’Artisan Parfumeur
Nick: I’ve been lucky to spend time with Bertrand in his lab, so of course the first question I asked him was “What is the perfume you think is your masterpiece?” He answered “Nuit de Tubereuse”.
Nuit de Tubereuse is not a syrupy or hot white floral. There’s strangely dark incense, a slight amount of coconut and fleshy mango. Ripe luminous notes against dark incense.
Lila: This is the only tuberose perfume I adore. You get all that night air along with the florals. It’s slightly green as well. I only wear it in the summer.
Edmond Roudnitska said to Mona di Orio that to understand tuberose she had to experience it at night. So Mona slept with a tuberose plant in her room. She woke up during the night and thought there was someone with her but it was the tuberose!
Signature pour Femme, S.T. Dupont
Lila: This is “Early Bertie”, an example of Bertrand’s early work.
Nick: S.T. Dupont are a pen and lighter company and Signature came out in 2008. Signature is a weirdly bright floral with sticky, fruity tulip. There are certain themes in Bertrand’s work. He has an affinity with resinous notes.
Lila: Can you tell us a bit about Bertrand’s background?
Nick: He grew up in Auvergne in the South of France where the narcissus fields inspired him to become a perfumer. Recently, he made Ostara for Penhaligon’s which is based on narcissus.
He’s been kind of the in-house perfumer at L’Artisan/Penhaligon’s since 2008 but is free to work with other brands. It feels like every niche house has at least one fragrance by Bertrand.
Signature becomes really petal-ly on the skin over time, quite jasmine-like. It’s quite interesting for a mainstream fragrance.
Lila: It’s actually rather nice.
Nick: Bertrand is so unique because he can create amazingly atmospheric fragrances based on a particular place or memory.
Sartorial was released in 2010 and even as someone who is not a fan of the traditional fougère, I can appreciate that this is amazing. A fougère is a fern based fragrance which goes back to 1882’s Fougére Royale (Houbigant).
Bertrand based Sartorial on his visit to a tailor’s workroom. It’s a fougère but there’s also something tweedy and leathery about it. There are so many elements including chalk, woodiness (for the tables they cut the patterns on) and a metallic note but it’s still smooth.
Audience member: I think it’s one of his Top 3.
Nick: It’s very popular with Japanese women for some reason.
Audience member: It would work well on a man who wears a suit.
Copal Azur, Aedes de Venustas
Lila: Aedes de Venustas is a baroque perfume shop in New York. It’s a temple of loveliness.
Nick: Bertrand is amazing at incense. You probably know he did the Incense Series for Comme des Garcons.
Copal Azur shows just what he can do with incense. It’s so multi-faceted. It has all the resins, greenness and an orange quality you notice when you drink frankincense. It’s a dry, austere incense, not smoky.
Lila: I think it’s fabulous.
Audience member: I can smell bay leaf.
Nick: Copal Azur is a really wearable incense. Bertrand likes to use an accord in a lot of fragrances made up of pink peppercorn, vetiver, cardamom and incense. It gives them a lot of space.
Eau d’Italie, Eau d’Italie
Nick: Eau d’Italie is one of my favourite brands and I think it’s underappreciated. This is the original fragrance launched in 2005 which was commissioned by the owners of a luxury hotel on the cliffs in Positano.
It was intended to capture the smell of Positano so it’s breezy with a bright freshness. There’s incense from the church, greenery and terracotta from the cliffs and a mineral facet. It’s incredible on skin.
Nick: Bertrand loves to travel and created a whole range of scents for L’Artisan based on travel.
Vaara for Penhaligon’s was created to replicate the aromas at the Maharaja’s summer palace in Jodhpur. It’s a stunning fruity rose with a mineral facet underneath.
Lila: It’s lovely and pretty.
Nick: Bertrand also explored India with Neela Vermeire. She went to him because she knew he had an attachment to India. Trayee has dark spices, dry incense and resins.
Lila: There’s also a basmati rice note.
Nick: It’s almost popcorn-like.
Audience member: It’s a bit metallic.
Nick: Bertrand likes a mineral note.
Nick: Traversée du Bosphore is another one of Bertrand’s travelogues. It’s based on Istanbul and has apple, Turkish Delight, tulip and leather.
Lila: I really want to love it but the metallic note puts me off.
Nick: Continuing the travel theme we are going further east to Shanghai. I would not be true to the narcissistic way I see myself if I didn’t include this. Lothair was my idea.
We had to come up with names for a Trades Route collection and I had a model of a tea clipper, The Cutty Sark, in my living room when growing up. So Lothair captures the breeze, the waves and the tea. It’s fresh and salty. There’s a bright herbal accord which adds to the breezy element. A minty green adds a fig accord. There’s lots of cardamom, incense, grapefruit and juniper.
It’s massively popular. I’m thrilled.
Audience member: It’s airy and ozonic.
Nick: But not aquatic, which is hard to do.
Jubilation XXV Man, Amouage
Nick: This is the men’s version, the women’s was done by someone else. It’s obviously made of good materials.
Lila: It’s gorgeous. I like everything from Amouage.
Nick: It’s rich, animal incense.
Audience member: It’s quite old school.
Audience member: It’s very traditional. It reminds me of my dad.
Lila: It’s not a young man’s fragrance.
Nick: I think Dzongkha is Bertrand’s masterpiece. It’s a weird fragrance based on the foothills of the mountains in Bhutan. Dry leather, cool mountain air, cut green capsicums, iris, incense and lychee. It’s the most atmospheric and evocative fragrance he’s ever made.
I’ve gone through about 6 bottles and I’m not someone who uses up perfume.
Audience member: It’s a nose-gasm. It evolves, it lasts.
Nick: It’s dry, crisp, cold, leathery and earthy with a mineral facet.
Lila: It smells better on people.
Audience member: It’s very iris-y.
Lila: Yes, a bready iris.
That rounded off the guided sniff, after which we were free to further explore these and other fragrances created by Duchaufour.
Many thanks to Nick (who is always a fun and fabulous speaker) and to Lila for putting the event together. Also special thanks to Basenotes and Poshpac who are two of the sponsors that make these fab evenings possible.
How do you get on with Bertrand Duchaufour’s fragrances? Do you have any in your collection? Please tell me in the comments.