Most perfumes that are touted as smelling like “skin” are often poorly constructed fragrances that have more in common with The Emperor’s New Clothes than the art of perfumery. Not so with Dans Tes Bras, the latest fragrance from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. Add perfumer Maurice Roucel to the mix and something rare in the landscape of fine fragrance creation emerges; a beautifully constructed perfume that sculpts the air and turns the wearer into a work of art.
Dans Tes Bras is different from Musc Ravageur (2000), Roucel’s first creation for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. Musc Ravageur is the scent of intent, the magnetic stare that compels when sexual appetite smolders and the object of desire is within reach. Dans Tes Bras (French for “in your arms”) is the glance of the beloved when you aren’t looking, the sensation of connection when eyes meet and you know that you’re exactly where you belong. Where Musc Ravageur pounces Dans Tes Bras lingers. Though attributes of spice, wood, musk and incense are clearly present, the fragrance is softened by floralcy that is gently ambrosial and sensually fresh. The ingredients (Bergamot, Clove, Violet, Jasmine, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Incense, Cashmeran®, Heliotrope and White Musk) are only part of the story. In the brochure for the fragrance Malle writes, “We hoped to capture the deep and lasting odor of warm skin, with all its salty hints and rich, intimate overtones.”
The application of Cashmeran® in Dans Tes Bras involves calibrated overdosing (something perfumer Pierre Bourdon did with dihydromyrcenol when he created Davidoff Cool Water in 1988.) Cashmeran® is a molecule with a musky, woody and spicy odor profile that was discovered by IFF scientists 40 years ago. When smelled on its own it’s hard to believe that a single molecule can have so much character and it’s this very quality that has rendered its timeless appeal to both functional and fine fragrance perfumers. Thierry Mugler’s Alien boldly lists Cashmeran® as an ingredient, but most perfume companies that include the molecule in formulas use fantasy names such as Kashmir Wood or Bois de Cashemire to describe it. This approach elicits an emotional response from the consumer, as opposed to educating them on the beauty and variety of the molecular palette.
So what is the theory behind overdosing? Malle tells Glass Petal Smoke, “There are two ways of overdosing. One can use a raw material and build the rest of the fragrance against it, like a painter would put a big mass of red on one side for instance, and compose the rest of his work to counterbalance it. The other way is to overdose a texturing raw material like Iso E or Galaxolide® as a base (almost like alcohol) and dilute the rest of the composition into it. By doing so, some raw materials like the two I just named, which were originally designed to be back notes, work during the entire evaporation. One can also say that the products that we choose to overdose are often complex enough and almost interesting enough to be perfumes of their own.” (Perfumer Geza Schön, of Escentric Molecules, brings attention to Iso E Super® and Ambroxan molecules by creating fragrances based on each raw material and complementing the singular compositions with a sister fragrance that utilizes the molecule in combination with other ingredients. It is an architectural approach that is at once scientific and emotional.)
A raw material in Dans Tes Bras that is not listed in the brochure is Michelia alba, a variety of Magnolia that has served as Roucel’s muse and has appeared in all of his fragrance creations since 1993 (it was christened in Tocade). Perfumistas who follow Roucel’s work and have a keen sense of smell will detect his signature even though Michelia alba is very lightly dosed. When asked why the expensive raw material wasn’t mentioned, Malle replies, “The list of ingredients can generate emotions, but they are often unrelated to the fragrance, as the list of ingredients doesn’t disclose the dosages. It is also a means to manipulate people that marketing companies employ, something that I refuse to do, as I believe that only the final result counts. We make fragrances, not recipes.”
Wittingly or not, Frederic Malle owns the recipe for success in niche fragrances. An intrepid pioneer, he promotes the art of perfumery and has proven what every true perfume lover knows; that the real celebrity in the business of fine fragrance is the perfume itself.
Dans Tes Bras will be available at U.S. counters in November and will be sold at Barneys.