While New York, London, Milan and Paris have been hosting (or are about to host) the autumn/winter 2013 womenswear shows, fragrance counters everywhere are unveiling their candidates for spring/summer. And while “summer” and “celebrity” have been the dominant trends of the 200-plus perfume launches that happen annually, this time two identifiable olfactory themes stand out: oud (a rich scent from the resin of the Agar tree) and nude.
Nude is so soft and subtle that you have to be up close and personal to smell it; oud is rich, sensual and, while not quite in the 1980s “enters a room before you do” category, makes an obvious statement. What gives the trends weight is that they both have not only heritage – the clean scents of Asia and the heavy perfumes of Arabia – but a modern global market dimension too.
“For 20 years, the trend has been for fruity, floral scents aimed at US and European women who prefer those toiletry-style fragrances,” says Francis Kurkdjian, one of the world’s master perfumers. “But Arabia and Asia are where the luxury markets are now, so perfumers have to adapt accordingly.”
Not that these scents are being created solely as a cash cow. “We’re saturated in fruity florals and now want to smell things that are different,” says Trudi Loren, Estée Lauder’s vice-president for corporate fragrance development. “Consumers are influenced by the aromas of places where they travel, and by the fragrances worn by women who visit our countries too, so they’re looking for something interesting but wearable.”
Oud fragrances, with their intense, smoky woodiness, are becoming such a mainstay of modern perfumery that Kurkdjian is convinced they will eventually become a new fragrance category. “They are more than a passing trend,” he says. “Oud started out as something quite alien, outside the classic western fragrance families, but as our noses have become accustomed to it, we’ve fallen in love with the note.”
Perfect for the Gulf region, where women in traditional dress use fragrance as a way of expression, but in the past considered too overpowering for European sensibilities, oud has been modified by contemporary perfumers who blend it with softening floral notes, fruits and spices so there’s a familiarity within the intrigue. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud (£190), for example, combines the ingredient with patchouli as well as cedarwood and saffron for seductive depth; while Jo Malone Velvet Rose & Oud Cologne Intense (£95) has a sparkling quality thanks to bergamot and ginger lily.
Approaching oud as a unisex scent, Tom Ford Private Blend Oud Wood (£135), Aramis Perfume Calligraphy (£105), and Dior La Collection Privée Oud Ispahan (£125) all use more masculine notes, including lemon, cardamom, amber and vetiver.
At the opposite end of the scent spectrum, Asian-inspired nude fragrances are having a nascent moment too. “The olfactory taste in the east is for fluid, transparent scents that are not invasive,” says Lauder’s Loren. “Cultural etiquette is not to intrude on someone else’s space with a fragrance, but wear it to enhance the essence of clean skin.”
Besides, in a climate that is persistently hot and humid, a blend of light notes is essential. “In Asia, perfumers often use florals, but they are treated very differently so they have a sheer, airy quality,” says Loren.
“For western tastes we can boost those notes so they still have that airy feel, but with a hint of warmth and sensuality for more impact.”
With the addition of neroli and lily of the valley, Philosophy’s Living Grace (£32) calls to mind slipping between freshly washed sheets, while Diptyque’s L’Eau du Trente-Quatre (from £60) takes the luminosity of bergamot and verbena and then spices it up with skin-hugging nutmeg and musk.
Honey and jasmine give warmth to Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey Absolue (from £35, available mid-February) and jasmine also forms the centrepiece of Nasomatto Nuda (£128), which smells as seductive as it sounds. Finally, taking the scent a step further, Guerlain’s Elixirs Charnels Eau de Lingerie (£60, from Harrods) blends vanilla, pink iris and sandalwood into a subtle aroma, created specially for spritzing over your finest underwear. (Really.)
For those who respond to both fragrance extremes, and don’t want to choose between the two, James Craven, perfume archivist at specialist perfumery Les Senteurs in London, has a prediction for the future (maybe even next season): the oud/nude explosion is going to be game-changing. “Some very clever perfumer will eventually bring the two together in a veil of oud that just dusts the skin,” he says. “It will be the perfect perfume.”
Of spice and men
Creativity is not limited to female fragrance; men’s scents are getting an update too, with understated sophistication the theme for spring. Here are five of the newest examples:
Davidoff The Game (from £29). Iris, juniper berry and blackwood give an elegant overlay to the brand’s aquatic DNA.
Bulgari Man Extreme (from £45, from April 1). The sleek flacon holds a scent made from cardamom, vetiver, amber and bergamot to create a woody fragrance with a fresh twist.
Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel (from £65, late March). A powerful blend of leather and woods, combined with a sharp note inspired by Breton salt fields.
Giorgio Armani Eau de Nuit (from £49, mid-March). With punchy pink pepper, elegant iris and sultry tonka bean, and blended to slip on at dusk like a tuxedo.
Versace Eros (from £35, mid-March). Fresh, woody and slightly oriental, thanks to green apple and mint oil, as well as geranium, warm amber and tonka bean.
Bex London SE1 (£81). Inspired by London’s historical spice trade, this scent combines pimento, cardamom and nutmeg with vetiver, amber and sea moss.