Radiance in perfume is an elusive quality. The best way of understanding it is to envision a candle burning in a dark room, its glow lifting the dark shadows. A radiant fragrance is not necessarily a strong smell – it follows the wearer at a few paces, but it’s neither heavy nor overpowering. Capturing this duality seems impossible, but perfumers are adept at creating illusions.
Calice Becker is one such creator, and her fragrances illustrate the idea of radiance. Her Tommy Girl (£35 for 50ml EDT) contains a green tea accord so luminous that it seems fluorescent. Another trendsetter is Becker’s Christian Dior J’Adore (£58 for 100ml EDT), a layer of flower notes as tightly woven as the millefiori ornaments of Murano glass. Perfumery students learn the craft much like artists, by copying the work of the masters, and when I was trying to achieve the variegated radiance of J’Adore, its complexity and nuances mesmerised – and confounded – me. Despite the conventional saying that too much knowledge kills the mystery, the experience made me appreciate both Becker’s craft and J’Adore’s lingering glow.
One of the recent creations by Becker is By Kilian’s Moonlight in Heaven (€215 for 50ml EDP). It’s a complete vignette – an evening, the splash of waves, jasmine blossoms entangled in the hair, a banana leaf piled with sticky rice and mangoes – that famous Thai dessert – a salty kiss with an aftertaste of coconut cream. On skin, it unfolds in soft layers, each as radiant as the one preceding it.
Another perfumer I admire for his ability to render scents luminous is Francis Kurkdjian. Having first studied ballet, Kurkdjian carries over the precision and grace of classical dance to his perfumery. For his eponymous line he has interpreted a variety of genres, from citrus to woods, and this year he has added Petit Matin and Grand Soir (each €140 for 70ml EDP) to the collection. The former is a bright orange blossom and amber theme. Grand Soir, on the other hand, is in the dark register, generous in resins and balsams. Such materials enrich a fragrance, but they also weigh it down and make it opaque. In Kurkdjian’s hands, however, the heavy notes are made as lucent as Renaissance enamels.
Finally, a discussion of radiant perfumes can’t miss the creations by Jean-Claude Ellena. From Van Cleef & Arpels First (£48 for 60ml EDT) to Hermès Muguet Porcelaine (£171 for 100ml EDT), he has perfected the art of radiance. In one of my all-time favourite perfumes, Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (£58 for 75ml EDC), the eau de cologne theme is given a new guise. Instead of citrus and orange flower, it’s the tea and violet that set the mood. Initially, Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert appears simple, but it soon reveals many unexpected contrasts – warm and bitter, spicy and sweet, shimmering and velvety. A delicate perfume, it has an impressive sillage, another surprise and Ellena’s trademark. Wearing this perfume is like being lit up by the soft morning light at all hours of the day.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog http://boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.