Esxence 2022: You can smell the niche from miles away

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A major world event for niche perfumery, the Milanese Esxence trade show was held under the shelter of the June sun, in a large hall transformed into a labyrinth of brands. Here’s an overview of the discoveries and upcoming launches.

It’s ten o’clock in the morning, 30 degrees Celsius. A crowd gathers in front of the Milano Convention Centre, in the middle of an area under construction. But once you’ve picked up your badge, the subdued glow, the neon lights reminiscent of a nightclub and the muffled sound of heels on the soft floor take you into the precious world of niche. The theme this year is “Through the Mirror.” It is indeed a parallel world that opens up to us, with its labyrinthine aspect. I decided to proceed methodically, and began with Nomenclature, which was before me. The New York-based brand, which focuses on synthetic molecules, is presenting a new collection called “Modern Eclectics.” Minted is a mint tea with fruity and cucumber facets. Wood Dew is reminiscent of nature after a storm, with notes of damp, milky wood, fruit and violet. Neo Rose is almost metallic, spicy and woody. Pink Ivory is the sweetest, a bit melony, quite gustatory. My preference is for the jasmine with its citrusy opening and crumpled leaf Palmetto, but the base is more conventional.

The New York based brand Nomenclature

I walk to the Miller et Bertaux stand: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen these bottles! Aymara promises to take us to Bolivia, with its notes of cardamom and cumin, married to woods, incense and amber… “Ah, but you have a stand for Nez?” my interlocutor asks me, surprised. Yes, in the basement. “Ah, but there is a basement?” Yes, you just have to go left, left again, then straight on, right, left… A real treasure hunt. The concept is launched: After the speakeasy, the Nez-easy (but not easy to find anyway).

Miller et Bertaux, all in freshness

At the corner, I see Étienne de Swardt, the founder of État libre d’Orange. He introduces me to Frustration, a vanilla that speaks to us of desire in love, signed by Mathilde Bijaoui at Mane. Sold exclusively at Selfridge’s since January, the fragrance will now be distributed more globally in the “Baroque” collection. I have a popcorn effect when I open, which reminds me of La Fin du monde from 2013. The whole thing feels creamy and appetizing, between cinnamon, marron glacé, vetiver and, of course, vanilla.

On the corner, a landmark: État Libre d’Orange

Pop and summer atmosphere on the Carner Barcelona stand, which presents its “Summer journey” range. A morning swim with Sal y limon, which as promised is zesty, iodized and reminds me of… a tequila bang! The woody base seems to offer long hours of wear. Same salty aspect in Tennis Club – a few drops beading on a skin warmed up by a game of racket? With more neroli and musk, it is also a bit more complex than the first one. Super Moon, proposed for evenings, evokes the color of this moon with its red fruits and a slightly acidic blackcurrant – but not enough to make me forget the syrupy aspect that is a little too present.

Carner Barcelona, fruit’n fun

The stands follow as a chain, in a dazzling whiteness, with the scents of flowers, pink ouds and fruity notes that follow one another, mingle and repeat themselves with the rhythm of a waking dream. “Ah, but there is a basement…?” I have lost, like Alice’s white rabbit, all notion of time. But I arrived somewhat by chance at an unknown stand – with the familiar name of Nōse perfumes. Day Off, a woody and balmy tuberose, Meadow Tea, both green and resinous, or Lumberman, an animated and smoky leather, lead me to believe that this independent brand from Russia, and not yet distributed in France, likes to work with warm materials, far from the Spanish freshness I just left. 

Nōse, or perfumery in a couple

This same density is found in the new creation presented to me by Hiram Green, named Arcadia, after the Greek region plunged into the Aegean Sea. The perfumer was inspired by the idyllic vision of nature that this place conveys, to build a fern with an aromatic opening, where a honeyed lavender echoes the resin that one imagines beading on the Mediterranean shrubs, rooted in a dry soil revealed by an earthy patchouli. A 100% natural composition, like the previous ones.

At the center of creations from Hiram Green, the new one, Arcadia

A bucolic atmosphere and birdsong rise from Le Jardin retrouvé, green and calm like a haven of peace in the middle of the surrounding tumult. On my way back to the hidden stand of Nez, I meet Anatole Lebreton and take the opportunity to smell his future creation – but shhh! We’ll know more next autumn.

Le Jardin retrouvé: Can you hear the birds singing?

A conference awaits me, in the basement. Marta Siembab talks to us about innovations around the sense of smell. In the field of health, devices are being developed to detect changes in a person’s olfactory perception, which are considered to be a good indicator of certain pathologies. She also mentions that recent studies explain cacosmia (a smell disorder characterized by the persistent perception of an unpleasant odor) by the presence of a specific molecule that is poorly processed by the brain, and talks about treatments for these disorders that have been developing since the pandemic.
In terms of creation, after mentioning the artificial intelligence tools used in composition houses, the development of the device by the Tokyo Institute of Technology is highlighted: This would allow the illusion of perceiving complex scents to be recreated with only 20 or so odorous compounds. 
Marta Siembab then discusses the different trends, from “functional fragrance” – which takes into account the effects of fragrances on our emotions – to do-it-yourself and its security and regulatory issues, or even blockchain, which offers traceability of creations. 
The various olfactory routes offered in museums are then discussed – good timing, we offer you a perspective on the Nez website! Finally, according to the speaker, several companies are looking to develop devices to make us smell through our screens, enhancing future Zoom meetings, but also virtual tourism. Could smell be the final key to the online experience? It is with this question, and feeling a little chilled, that I leave the conference room. 

Hard to find, but fully colored: the Nez stand

And I’m back “upstairs,” where Karine Torrent, the founder of Floratropia, gives me a whiff of two exciting future creations, still under development.

Floratropia, pure nature

But I quickly change the mood: Intrigued by Coreterno’s gothic world and black-clad staff, I timidly approach. The brand, launched in 2014, presents me with Hardkor, whose very fruity and syrupy notes at the opening are contrasted by a leathery and smoky base, with strong oud overtones. 

Coreterno: gothic, so chic ?

Oud again at Histoire de parfums, which launches Encens roi, a creation based on olibanum – the favorite material of its founder, Gérard Ghislain, who has dedicated an entire brand to it, called Olibanum, which is present at the next stand. 

Histoires de parfums, this is not a date

Suddenly, a flock of influencers jump behind their group selfie and draw my attention to the Perfume Sucks stand, with its provocative name, just like the boxes – toilet paper tubes. Swiss perfumer Andreas Wilhelm founded his own brand in 2017, after a career with composition houses. He chose to print his formula on the bottle and offers several perfumery kits – a “perfume hacking kit” to create two perfumes from the collection yourself, and raw materials learning boxes. Among the creations, with their color names, my preference is for Living Coral, a slightly gourmand cosmetic iris.

Perfume Sucks, and their toilet paper rolls

But I’m starting to get tired: Going through a wave of woody and spicy perfumes, oriental roses and indolent white flowers, I look for the exit, take the wrong path ten times, and end up finding daylight, the bite of the sun, the smell of jasmine in the Milanese streets, the song of the city and of the little metro that crosses it, as if from another time. Phew, I can breathe again!

Esxence, day 2: The return of the blotter

Second day. After a night’s sleep where I dream of blotters, labyrinths and neon lights, and two tiny Italian-style cafés, I’m back on the runway. I take advantage of the relative space available to venture on to the Filippo Sorcinelli stand, whose black, plastic-coated, picture-adorned décor attracts the show’s hipsters, like the founder (himself adorned a beard and tattoos). Alongside his new collection of body products called “SuperFluo?” is Lux visionaria, created in collaboration with journalist Bianca de la Garza. A cold, smoky, almost damp incense rises, warmed by musky ambrette seed, solar white flowers and above all an ambery vanilla base. But the throng quickly forces me to escape the now crowded place, leaving my host to be snatched up.

Fluorescent and dark art interweave at Filippo Sorcinelli’s

The Panouge stand lights up a few steps away, and I ask to smell Iris de Fath, an extract launched in 2018. I am told that an eau de parfum version, also by Patrice Revillard, will be available early 2023: What joy! September 2022 will see the release of Vétiver gris, created by Jean-Christophe Hérault of IFF, which offers a rather gourmand treatment of the root, with a nutty accord. At Isabey, taken over by the group in 1999, it is Avant et après, a bouquet of sweet and sour white flowers that will be launched in October; and at the beginning of July, the very pretty Fleur de gardénia candle composed by the same Patrice, in which we can even slightly perceive the mushroom side of the plant. 

Jacques Fath et Isabey at Panouge stand

At a crossroads, carried in the arms of its owner – who perhaps wanted to thumb his nose at the term “niche”, wich means in french “doghouse” – a dog looked at me, its heart beating. I find the image amusing, given that dogs have 44 times more olfactory receptors than humans. Does he like Middle Eastern perfumery and its animalized ouds more or Spanish citruses to refresh him from this heat wave that he can no longer stand? History does not tell us. 

But the stand of the photographer and perfumer Christèle Jacquemin takes me out of these metaphysical questions and plunges me into aesthetic contemplation. Each of her compositions puts into perfume one of her pictures, taken in different cities of the world. I discover in particular the last three creations, Echoes of Silence, inspired by Murcia in Spain, very green and citrusy, with facets of lemongrass; Slow Life, for the city of Okubo in Japan, both animalic and green – nard, Christèle explains to me – and finally Enlightenment, a cold and iridescent peppery sage, created as a tribute to La Foux d’Allos, a French ski resort. A signed and well-crafted perfumery, which is a pleasure to smell. 

The pictures taken by Christèle Jacquemin that inspired her perfumes

Several new products are also featured at Pont des arts, of which I am familiar with the oriental À ce soir by Bertrand Duchaufour. He has also signed a tribute to vetiver with Next Tee, an aromatic woody scent opened by a juicy and spicy note of grapefruit. I also discovered Chukker, with its floral and leathery oud, Jardins des Avelines, a musky fruity floral, Cologne Vendôme, a chypre eau de cologne with a vintage feel and finally On Board, a salty and fruity aquatic – definitely, the salty note is in fashion. 

At Pont des arts stand, a little product placement…

The last discovery of the day, The Harmonist is one of those brands working on “functional fragrances” – we mentioned them earlier. It is based on the philosophy of Feng Shui, and the compositions are available in black and white versions – for yin and yang. Alongside the existing collection, I was presented with three new items: Yin Transformation, watery, cottony and musky; Moon Glory, a bouquet of honeyed white flowers; and Sun Force, a more conventional spicy woody scent. 

The Harmonist, Feng Shui atmosphere

Its name reminds me that outside, the sun is still shining. Like me, some are looking for the exit door and slowly walking away, as if from a drunken party, their eyes trying to adjust to the still bright light of a too hot day. From the gothic hipster to the sharp businesswoman, from the overdone fashionista to the extravagant salesman, everyone finds their way back to the Milanese streets, putting their feet up on the melted asphalt, ready to go and sip their cool spritz. 

Match your nail polish to your glass, the new luxury

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