Actress Tilda Swinton just launched her debut signature perfume called Like This, Tilda Swinton last weekend in Paris. The event took place at the boutique of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on Saturday March 13th, 2010.
The Background Story: How it All Came About
Before the launch took place (please check back for an upcoming perfume-launch post by guest-writer Yasmine), the story of the scent starts with Tilda Swinton deciding one day to look at the world in a slightly different light wishing to leave a state which she describes as one of prolonged "olfactory laziness." In this case, the inspiration came from perfumes worn by people close to her.
The Scottish actress happens to be friends with one of director Pedro Almodovar's fetish actresses, Rossy de Palma, who herself developed a perfume with Etat Libre d'Orange called Eau de Protection (Protective Water) in 2008 one of those confidential, arty-celebrity fragrances which are the purview of niche fragrance houses as the genre now does not confine itself anymore to the mass-market shelves.
A second source for the new-found interest of Swinton for perfume was the sillage left by her agent who also happened to wear yet another Etat Libre d'Orange scent, Tom of Finland - another celebs scent of sorts (inspired by illustrator Tom of Finland's homoerotic art.)
Fate. The dices were cast in this way and started rolling in the direction of the perfume house conveniently and naughtily located at 69, rue des Archives in the Marais district in Paris...
Tilda Swinton decided to approach the relatively confidential Parisian label rather than the reverse took place in case you thought they went scouting for an opportunity to create a celebrity perfume with the Oscar winner for Best Supporting actress for Michael Clayton.
As the brand comments further upon the project to us, without the actress's manifest interest they would have felt not exactly in the same league to compete with the likes of giants like Coty or LVMH although Swinton is probably too confidential a name still to interest such corporations. ELO are quick to add however that if they had to choose a muse, it would have been Tilda Swinton, an idea which rings true to their preference for edgy artists.
Etat Libre d'Orange were therefore overjoyed at the prospect of creating a perfume with someone who appreciates their work, is still of their underground sensitivity while being able at the same time able to stand in the much more mainstream Hollywood limelight. This project screamed interesting mix, at all levels of it.
From the beginning, it was understood that this would not be a commercial venture but rather a project revolving around the simple experience of "creating together a very beautiful perfume." According to a source, founder Etienne de Swardt actually owns a number of businesses and his perfume house is not his most important venture but rather his self-indulgence or as the French like to say his "danseuse."
Beyond the more spiritual and general Rumi reference appearing on the website (you can listen to Swinton reading the poem) Tilda Swinton wanted the perfume to remind her of her home in Scotland located in Nairn in the Highlands so that she could feel at home while traveling.
For this reason the scent offers a facet voluntarily reminiscent of "a Sunday afternoon spent sitting by the fire." It was also critical for her that the composition include a note of ginger as it holds symbolic meaning to her not only as a color - that of her hair - but as in the expression "To be ginger for something" to be passionately ready, to really want to do something. "It is in this willful and strong sense that she proclaims herself to be Ginger."
Perfume Review & Musings
Like This, Tilda Swinton created by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui in close collaboration with Swinton opens on a clear and sweet ginger note - think juicy crystallized ginger tidbits - resting on deeper notes of all-spice blended with slightly bland, doughy even pudding-y iris mixed also with a heavily caramelized and maple syrup-like note of immortelle, or Everlasting flower. The top notes are rather heavy, not literally so but stylistically so; they easily dissipate after a while.
The gourmand scent approximates well that of a regional American dessert specialty which owes its existence to the spice trade: New England pudding. It makes in this case for a very - I would even say particularly and inordinately creamy, flanc-like perfume with hints of spicy clove and slight smoky coffee-like nuance. Think a more English, high-tea version of the sexy crème brûlée that is Ricci Ricci by Nina Ricci. But the most immediate olfactory comparison that came to my mind actually was Un Crime Exotique by Parfumerie Générale which smells like a Thanksgiving repast taken in the fall of New England. Finally, and at least conceptually, you would need to draw a comparison with Serge Lutens Five O'Clock au Gingembre a tea-and-ginger scent - also interested in capturing Englishness.
In these initial instants Like This could also be the scent wafting from your slice of pumpkin pie at a Starbucks coffee shop except that in a subsequent, discreet evolution of the composition the perfume starts smelling less pastry-like and veers more in the direction of pumpkin-pie scented tea with the spices - nutmeg in particular - and aqueous ginger taking on more prominence.
The punch-in-the-nose gourmand scent of the initial stages becomes more low-cal and more abtract illusion. This is brought in part by a soft, vegetal and subtly dewy ginger note which makes the dessert reference recedes in the background after a while. Like This then develops a soft honeyed and woodsy stage in which all the preceding notes seem to remain thanks to their lingering woody nuances: the rooty iris, a drier hay-like immortelle, the rooty ginger, the vetiver but all very much quieted down.
The drydown offers the discretion of a skin scent floating just a whisper above the skin. It is a Milka bar, but spicier and more pungent than a mainstream Milka bar of a scent like Wanted by Helena Rubinstein, and then also much softer and discreet in the end. The ginger becomes more and more aromatic, then softens. The maple syrup note of immortelle plays out licorice nuances in the longer drydown. Although sandalwood is not mentioned, the drydown wafts of the spiciness and woodiness of it. Ambergris browns the ginger-colored notes further.
The structure of the perfume is like a one-note ginger scent showcased by a series of supporting variations around it.
Like This is a comforting and discreetly sexed-up gourmand perfume in the end - although its beginning is highly gourmand - managing to make the scent of fresh pumpkin flesh feel sexy. Actress Tilda Swinton added that she elected ginger as a central note to be included in her signature perfume because she likes not only the way it smells but the way it tastes. The passage from the gustatory to the olfactory facets of ginger I think was well taken into account by the perfumer. I remember that despite the familiar gourmand accents, the initial perception of an iris and pumpkin accord was unusual.
As in the cases of many celebrity perfumes, it is in some ways a mission-accomplished composition: Like This, Tilda swinton smells and looks the color of ginger. It feels like it would be a good fit for Tilda Swinton's milky-white skin and spicy-orange hair, an achievement in and of itself. Less so perhaps for her androgynous looks à la David Bowie and her more abstract lines. The scent would make the round, sensual sides of her personality stand out better and will surprise you for its taste for sweetness and simple comfort. There is a suggestion of hominess also in the way the perfume smells a bit like a warm scented wax candle although it manages to not get stuck in that category but to evolve into an intimate skin scent.
One might still be a bit surprised to discover that Swinton went for a gourmand and for a russet Christmas-pantry ambiance while invoking the philosophy of Rumi but on the other hand the scent does lend itself to being interpreted as self-evident and not abstract or theoretically distant. It is her life after all. Like This points here to pumpkin pie, there to the scent of skin, over there to warm feelings of comfort and coziness, underneath there or up there, to a hint of eroticism.
Pumpkin pie, licorice (and doughnut) incidentally are all reported to be erotic smells to men not just tasty ones. This perfume composition by Bijaoui brings that idea home to women thanks to their subtle alliance with the musks to which men are reportedly less sensitive than women.
Pumpkin never smelled so alcôve-like although the tale of Cinderella might have hinted at its unexploited aphrodisiacal properties.
Musks blended with pumpkin, licorice and doughy iris might after all be a concerted attempt to capture the androgynous, "unisex" persona of the actress since they combine notes that assembled together would reportedly constitute attractive sensual signals to both women and men. Swinton has at any rate said that she is entirely happy with the results.
Notes: yellow mandarin, ginger, pumpkin accord, immortelle, Moroccan neroli, Grasse rose, vetiver, heliotrope, musks.