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Bombay Duck London

Nez à Nez Atelier d'un Artiste

Once upon a time, in her slightly misspent youth, The Scent Critic was an artist’s muse.  (She is now slightly at that oh-heck-I’d-better-buy-up-all-those-nudes stage in life, but since the artist went on to become rather collectible, that’s not really an option.)

What I’m leading up to is that I know only too well what the inside of an artist’s studio smells like, and this is eerily reminiscent:  cedar pencils, a touch of incense wafting in the background, plenty of tobacco – even strangely Gauleoise-y, which happens to be the brand of cigarettes the artist in question chain-smoked – and a glass of spirits, perenially beside the easel.  (Rum and a rather fruity Cognac – almost Calvados – are clearly present in Atelier d’Artiste.)

In some ways, with its amber sensuality, this chunkily bottled perfume has strong echoes of Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, which I once went on record in a colour supplement as saying was ‘sex-in-a-bottle’ – prompting a somewhat undignified scramble to the perfume counters.  This is also sexy:  languid afternoons with velvet curtains drawn and only candles to illuminate the gloom, the rain pouring down outside, a fire flickering in the grate, a fur hearth-rug, and – well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

Ambre Sultan roars, though.  Not much subtlety to it (though it is darned gorgeous, to my nostrils).  After a few potent opening minutes of its own, Atelier d’un Artiste becomes gentler, humming and thrumming, its come-hither less of a Moulin Rouge chorus kick, more of a Dangerous Liaisons wink over a concertina-ed fan.

Slightly incongruously, then, I feel a little like Julie Andrews trilling ‘These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’, reeling off the list of base notes:  patchouli, vetiver, tobacco, vanilla, leather.  Love all those.  Love them, love them, love them.  There’s a delicious fruitiness, too, in the overture – they say black grape and raspberry, I say booze-soaked dried fruits and Christmas cake.  Oh, and a chaser of a double espresso – candied with enough demerara to stand your spoon up in it.

The ‘pencil’ note is omnipresent, meanwhile, like a captain’s sea chest, the inside of your school pencil box or (slightly less romantically) those anti-moth blocks that cashmere-owners are wise to stockpile.  All in all the impression is unseasonably warm, as fragrances go (most definitely unsuited to the hot April day on which this review’s being written), cocooning and enveloping.  The sillage is great, as is the staying-power.  And always a bonus:  The Scent Critic’s husband declares ‘that’s really sexy’, post-neck-nuzzle.  Complex and bottom-heavy, this almost certainly not to everyone’s taste – but I’m definitely stashing it away for cooler weather.

To set the scene, Nez à Nez is a small, intriguing Parisian fragrance house:  a collaboration between a painter and writer, and an anthropologist and inveterate traveller, whose ‘souvenirs’ are hundreds of smells that she now seeks to capture in a bottle, like an insect in amber.  Initially, the fragrances are ‘imagined pictorially’, as they tell it:  drawings, colours, photographs – and then, the essences, the notes, the compositions.   (Actually, ‘noses’ for the big houses often work from moodboards, but these two don’t have a strict commercial brief to work to, and their imaginations – as you can tell from Nez à Nez’s bottled wonders – can wander more freely.)

On their website is a rather good quiz, worth filling in if your French is passable and you’ve got a coffee break to kill, to help steer you to your potential ‘matches’, within the Nez à Nez collection.  Having had a bit of fun with the questionnaire myself, I’m looking forward to exploring some more of their recommended confections:  Ambre à Sade (I’m liking the sound of Russian leather, tonka bean and patchouli), and jasmine/vanilla/Earl Grey tea-infused Vanithé, par example.

As for Atelier d’Artiste, it takes me right back to that fourth-floor walk-up studio, and my life modelling days.  Indeed, it’s had me rummaging in my own attic, hauling down some portraits of my more youthful self and rehanging them in this house – just happy to have fared somewhat better than Dorian Grey, overall.

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