The two latest fragrances from By Kilian’s Asian Tales collection let us smell the result of a very original exercise by perfumer Calice Becker. I feel like borrowing to the vocabulary of painting and calling it hyperrealism: rather far from the usual compositions of the house – fragrances in which the multiple notes serve a narrative purpose – these two rather try and convey the olfactory impression of a single note. Jasmine tea for one, Mysore sandalwood for the other. Why so different? Because it was Calice Becker’s own initiative to compose them, for her own pleasure. Because he found them beautiful, Kilian later decided to add these creations to his collection and build a story around them (as opposed to the usual process where a pre-existing story – AKA the brief – precedes and guides the perfumer’s work of composition).
Imperial Tea is an amazing reproduction of hot jasmine tea. “I did the work of a copyist”, says Calice Becker, a perfumer of Russian origins who also tells me she “grew up with 18 cups of tea every day”. A reason why this perfume is so original is that it doesn’t feature the tea note such as we conceive it since 1992, the year when Jean-Claude Ellena composed its famous Eau PArfumée au Thé Vert for Bulgari and started the tea trend, which gave birth to countless tea perfumes. A tea which actually never really smelled of tea but rather of the idea of tea, light, vegetal, fresh.
Imperial Tea is something different: smell it and you will discover not only a beautiful jasmine sambac, but also a perfectly new tea note. The tea is there, true to reality, you can smell its astringent tannins and almost the steam escaping from the cup. The perfumer worked with her nose only, borrowing the food aromas industry some of its raw materials to obtain this near-photographic realism. Knowing whether or not one wants to smell like a cup of jasmine tea everyday is another matter. I, for one, salute the exercise’s originality and the virtuosity of the perfumer behind it.
Sacred Wood is a reverence to Mysore sandalwood. This luxurious raw material with strong religious connotations has been used in perfumery for two millenaries. In India where it is grown, its recent overexploitation has led to its rarefaction and an increase in prices so dramatic that most of us has never had the opportunity to set a nostril on true Mysore Sandalwood. To “pay homage” to this endangered ingredient, Calice Becker took an Australian Sandalwood as her starting point and “added” what was missing to make it a Mysore: this hot milk note, this velvety feel. Sacred Wood depicts a creamy, milky sandal (not as rich, though, as the one in Chanel’s beyond-words Bois des Iles), infused with peppery, spicy notes, then balanced by a mineral note of incense. I am not lucky enough to be able to compare this composition to genuine Mysore Sandalwood essence, but as far as this perfume goes, I don’t care much for realism, in the end: it is one of the most beautiful woody perfumes I’ve worn lately.