The latest Dior Escale à Portofino (Port of Call in Portofino) created by François Demachy presents itself as an unconventional, rethought Eau de Cologne. It clearly borrows its main structural idea from the genre which first came to be known to the public in the 18th century under the name Aqua Mirabilis, but lets through a rethinking of the concept influenced by the existing Cologne Blanche by Dior, a previous niche cologne offering from the house created by Francis Kurkdjian which pairs fresh and soft. Escale à Portofino can further be seen to develop the in-house lineage of freshness in perfumed compositions inaugurated by Edmond Roudnitska at Dior but pulling it in the direciton of the spare "niche" feel of the trio of colognes by Kurkdjian.
The scent is part of a new line of summer fragrances illustrating a travel theme, a mirror collection of perfumes to the annual Dior Cruise Collection designed by John Galliano.
Freshness, but also Transparency and Softness
Roudnitska the Elder, if we may so call him, (his son Michel Roudnitska is also a well-known contemporary perfumer) is famous for having brought to life fragrances playing upon sensations of lightness and clarity such as Eau d'Hermès (1951), Eau Fraîche (1953), Diorissimo (1956), Eau Sauvage (1966), and Diorella (1972) when full-bodied perfumes for women were a dominant norm. Like Poiret encouraging women to drop the corset and traditional focus on waist and hips, Roudnistka seems to have followed a comparable intuition with his non Femme-like fresh perfumes asking women to lighten the structural ornateness of their scents and make it more modern, different, perhaps more fluid......
Panorama of Portofino by Giorgiopix
Escale à Portofino, with its pure transparent and watercolor effect, owes to the Roudnitska heritage, especially - and this is quite perceptible in my opinion - as it was further illustrated, prolonged and made more definite and characteristic by Hermès in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena (see our upcoming review of the new Un Jardin Après La Mousson). But there is also in the case of Escale a new unpredictable sensation and a supplementary layer of textural meaning, that of an ineffable, indefinite yet characteristic softness in the heart of the perfume which seems to be François Demachy's personal touch and most original contribution to both the sensation of a fresh perfume and the classic revisited genre of the eau de cologne.
In general it would be very fascinating, I think, to compare the different sorts of transparencies and freshnesses one encounters in these authors' perfumes. Every nuance is important to appreciate these subtle effects.
Demachy, just like Jean-Paul Guerlain, recently declared that he was particularly interested in the concept of freshness. Here we experience the freshness paired with transparency but even more characteristically with softness of the air, citruses, bitter almond, green herbs, skin, and summer.
21st Century Eaux de Cologne: Exercises de Style in the Summer of 2008
What is even more exciting is that this season we are witnessing the launch of a slew of updated eaux de colognes with creations by not only Dior, but also Diptyque, Miller Harris, and Jean Paul Gaultier who all are proposing their own 21st century versions of this ancient eau originally meant not only to smell good, but to cool down, invigorate and more generally be curative for the body and soul. Besides this group of more sophisticated, thought-out, and ambitious re-compositions of eau de cologne, you will see the usual citrusy waters for the summer, but the latter are an on-going phenomenon while the first is not. Extending the analysis a little, we think we can draw a comparison by including Un Jardin Après La Mousson and the Jardin series in general which, if not described as eaux de cologne per se, nevertheless seems to impact the rethinking of it, at least in this cologne version by Demachy where the effect of a transparent tracing-paper-like impression is palpable. When does an eau de cologne cease to be? And when does an aquarelle eau like the Jardin series by Hermès start to be, is a question one can cradle a bit to sense the fluctuating lines of demarcation between perfumes within a genre, the perfumer-creators' interpretations, and periods of history.
According to the press release, "François Demachy wanted to work with the theme of freshness, creating a fresh, light, genuinely summery fragrance." It is "an interpretation of the classic, timeless freshness of a cologne, graced with slightly more feminine accents. This new version of a Cologne, an archetype of simplicity in perfumery, is an "immediate" fragrance that is a true pleasure to use. It sends a clear message: I want to smell good." It is also an elegant composition, a modern paean sung to historical Petitgrain (its leaves and twigs here) and significantly more.
Two forms of Petitgrain are used, the one emanating from Bitter Orange tree which incurred a sophisticated process of molecular distillation to remove its earthy facet and enhance the green refreshing one, as well as Petitgrain from Lemon tree a kind which is also called "Citronnier". But the subtle addition of a delicately evanescent milky and green almond note is what makes this eau de cologne feels like it is taking poetical license, disrupting the genre a little although at first, the effect is even more interesting than that since the almond is perceived first in its textural effect within the composition rather than as an isolated, full-fledged facet.
Escale à Portofino
Our first words after some sense of wonderment and puzzlement at the perception of something indefinable were "Delicious, absolutely delicious." Here the opening of the Eau de Toilette-cum-Eau de Cologne (the original eau de cologne offered an eau-de-toilette concentration at 5%) is not pretext, a moment of impatience where one starts tapping on the floor with one's foot waiting for the top notes to pass their conventional citrusy message, but a spectacular antechamber like the scene in Scorcese's "The Age of Innocence" in which the spectator is led through Newland Archer's eyes through red velvety antechambers as visually compelling as the ballroom of the Beauforts at the end, the pièce de résistance, except that here the crystal chandeliers cascade and shine in the light from the start. The opening has the effect of citrus fireworks. The perfume is so citrony and mouth-wateringly so! Gentle soft herbs seem to rustle and wave in the summer breeze below the crystalline citrine-like transparent yellow surface. Hints of marine-scented ambergris warm up the composition and gives it some body while the metallic reflections of this raw material keep the perfume cool and nonchalantly edged between sea and land. It is a citrus cologne with a soft chamois-like effect slipped in the interstices of the scent. It smells a bit like some suave Angelica. Puzzled by this intriguing effect we later look at the description of notes and realize it is due to a bitter almond and orange blossom accord pairing with the hesperidic notes. The drydown is subtly woody (cypress, cedar) with a discreet touch of caraway to suggest a natural nuance of refined polished perspiration in the summer and constitutes yet another subtle homage paid to Roudnistka (Eau d'Hermès, Diorella). An oxygenated facet makes the scent feel eternally ethereal.
Escale à Portofino is a very elegant composition evoking a boat sailing with transparent sails feeling like ice sheets under a Citrine-like sun. The softness of the almond note is caressing like a summer breeze and tempers the vivacity of the rich citruses: Sicilian Petigrain, Calabrian bergamot and Italian Citron while evoking yet another effect of transparency, almond water, whatever that figment of the imagination might be. The balance of cool and warm is remarkable.
People who seek perfumes that are very long lasting will probably be disappointed. Escale à Portofino is an Eau de Toilette borrowing some of the spirit of an Eau de Cologne and moreover contains 16 different natural essences, which would make it more evanescent than a perfume gorged with synthetics to the brim. Just reapply. Just remember that there is elegance in the sense of a perfume that is subtle and natural enough to slowly vanish rather than be permanently present. The glorious opening unambiguously invites you to do so.
Notes: Sicilian Petigrain, Calabrian bergamot, Italian Citron, Bitter Almond essence (like a touch of Amaretto, see also another creation by François Demachy Pucci Vivara), Juniper berries, cold spices, Cypress, Cedar, white musk, caraway, galbanum.
The distribution of this perfume is very limited. In the US you will be able to find it in the Disney shops - they should be able to ship.
See here for more information about the new line of perfumes and a peek at the advert.