There are a small group of perfumers who create fragrance on an entirely different level. All perfumers want to make something that people will want to interact with. The smaller group I am speaking of are the ones who want to find the frontiers of modern perfumery and move them outward. This is a fraught effort because sometimes the frontier pushes back. The attempt to expand things collapses under its own weight. What is best about these types of perfumers is they get back up and try again. One of those is Stephane Humbert Lucas. He has been doing this ever since I first met him when he was working at Nez a Nez. Seven years ago he began his own line Stephane Humbert Lucas 777. Now at the anniversary of that we have Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Isra & Miraj.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
These perfumes have all been focused on the Orient as inspiration. These are not Oriental perfumes in that sense. M. Lucas wants to evolve into something more genuine. What is great is it doesn’t always succeed. It has been a few years since one of his releases has captured me the way Isra & Miraj has.
Isra & Miraj are the tale of a Night Journey by the prophet Muhammad. Isra is the trip to the mosque in Jerusalem. Miraj is his journey, escorted by the angel Gabriel, through the seven levels of Heaven. Each level contains a prophet for Muhammad to speak with until he finds Allah in the 7th Sky. It is a story of learning new ways of thinking.
Isra & Miraj is that Oriental-not-Oriental that has been the core of the 777 collection. As it is the symbology of the Night Journey which is expressed most clearly.
That comes in the opening accord as the Isra brings us to the mosque. A fabulously balanced citrus and spice version awaits. The contrast of the heat of cinnamon and the sweet of nutmeg are infused into tangerine. This is an opulently formed version of these ingredients. The angel Gabriel arrives with wings of osmanthus and heliotrope. The heliotrope provides a powdery sheen to the leather and apricot of the osmanthus. M. Lucas creates a lighter version of these two ingredients than I expected when I saw them on the note list. They find an equivalence with the top accord without either taking precedence. The final stage is the Miraj the rise through the seven levels of Heaven. M. Lucas imagines this with precise amounts of some of the most precious materials in perfumery. Briny ambergris, flows through leather and patchouli into a natural oud on top of Mysore sandalwood. It is all given the airiness of white musks creating the vault of Heaven.
Isra & Miraj has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
My description of the final stages of this perfume do not do it justice. M. Lucas takes some of the most extroverted ingredients and transforms them into something humble and spiritual. If you look at that list it should be a train wreck. That it is not is why M. Lucas is such a special artist. He has the audacity to scent the 7th Sky.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
There is a maxim that art should provoke a reaction. Some artists think provocation equates to confrontation. Some artists will work with materials not thought of as beautiful and somehow find grace within. Other artists will seek to provoke, like a long con, by working their way into your consciousness and refusing to leave. The very best will attempt to do all of this. When it comes to perfume there are very few artists that pull this trifecta off repeatedly. One of them is Stephane Humbert Lucas. His latest release is called Mortal Skin which manages to confront, confound, and compel.
Mortal Skin is not being released under the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 brand. When speaking with him at Esxence he told me he wanted to distinguish the two lines from each other. Mortal Skin does not feel like a 777 fragrance. It reminds me most of his previous work for Nez a Nez. In those perfumes M. Lucas helped compose olfactory stories layered and nuanced that rewarded repeat wearings with new discoveries. I have found Mortal Skin to have the same effect. I have had a sample since Esxence and it has been one of my favorite perfumes to wear of 2015. One of the reasons for that is I still don’t think I’ve discovered all there is to enjoy and I’ve worn this a lot. In a career of very imaginative creations Mortal Skin might be the best.
Stephane Humbert Lucas (Photo: Robert Greco)
Mortal Skin is meant to evoke a snake slowly drawing you into its gaze before striking. The top notes are mesmerizing as M. Lucas starts with a black ink accord which is coupled with smoky frankincense. It takes the acrid slightly unpleasant ink smell and by wrapping it in resinous fumes transforms it from unpleasant into an incense accord which smells like few others. The ink accentuates those hard metallic edges found in fine frankincense. The smoke floats over it all. The frankincense and ink give way to a breeze of cardamom which carries into the heart. Myrrh provides resinous warmth to contrast the chill of iris. Opoponax and davana provide depth and texture. This all leads to a base which speaks of the decay of death and the fragility of life. A woody triptych of birch, sandalwood, and cedar provide a strong framework within which M. Lucas adds in ambergris and labdanum. This is the smell of the ocean and the soaring sentinel trees. It is joined by civet and musk in high concentration so that the ambergris and labdanum are struggling at all times to be noticed over the animalic decay. This final stage is what is so compelling to me. There are times life wins as the woods and ambergris manage to make themselves more apparent. There are days entropy wins and the civet and musk rise up to remind me everything falls apart.
Mortal Skin has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I imagine it is apparent that Mortal Skin is one of my favorite perfumes of 2015. I would say it is the most artistic perfume M. Lucas has ever released. This is not the kind of perfume meant to wear easily while running errands. This is a perfume to wear with a friend with whom you want to have a meaningful encounter. The answer to “What are you wearing?” might lead to some interesting places. If you are a fan of the 777 perfumes allow M. Lucas to take you to a different mind space I think you’ll enjoy the new direction. I know it is a place I plan on returning to often because it is at its most basic, great olfactory art.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.
When it comes to iris in perfumery there are more than their share of excellent perfumes featuring the rooty wonder. There are so many great iris perfumes that doing a list of my top 5 for My Favorite Things has been almost impossible. The only thing that has remained constant on that ever evolving list is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein. Which made me realize that perfume has to be my Gold Standard when it comes to iris.
Stephane Humbert Lucas is one of my favorite perfumers working because I don’t think he is trying to make a bestselling perfume. I have described his perfumes as “art house” fragrances alluding to the idea that they appeal to those who expect more of the art form than just to smell good. Many of the perfumes he has composed for Nez a Nez, SoOud, and Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 are brilliantly realized bold artistic visions. If I had to pick one of his creations as one most likely to be widely appreciated it would be Khol de Bahrein. Continuing the movie analogy this is the art house hit that makes it to the multiplex. What I admire about Khol de Bahrein is M. Lucas makes a hypnotic perfume which draws you into its purple tinted gaze until you forget what you were doing.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
Khol is the dark eyeshadow made famous by the heavy application of it by Cleopatra. The darkness surrounding the eyes has a way of focusing one’s attention on the point of color represented by the irises. Which makes M. Lucas’ choice to make Khol de Bahrein an iris focused perfume amusing.
Khol de Bahrein opens with a different floral shade of purple as violet along with incense make up the top notes. The violet here is the violet that is rich and tinged with green. The incense seems to infuse the floral as if a joss stick was placed in a flower pot of violets. The heart is made up of a decadent amount of orris butter, sandalwood, and ambergris. This is a perfect marriage of ingredients as the orris sets itself up to be hugged by creamy sandalwood on one side and real ambergris on the other. Together this elevates the orris to bob along on a piece of driftwood floating upon the ocean. The base notes are musk and balsamic notes. The musk is that human skin accord made exotic by the presence of the balsamic notes.
Khol de Bahrein has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
It has been only two years since Khol de Bahrein has been released but I consider it a new classic already. It is the best perfume by M. Lucas to date; which is saying quite a bit since I hold most of his perfumes to a high standard. When it comes to iris The Gold Standard is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Khol de Bahrein.
Disclosure; This review based on a bottle I purchased.
This was a very different Esxence for me than any previous one that I attended. One reason for that was I spent a large portion of my time in The Mall in Milano with a microphone in my hand and in front of a camera. It is a different perspective to be sure and I want to thank every one of my interview subjects for making it so easy for me. I hope those watching at home on the web viewer could feel my excitement.
One oddity of every Esxence is I have to travel across an entire ocean to meet someone who lives in the US. This year that dubious honor goes to Saskia Wilson-Brown of The Institute for Art & Olfaction (IAO). On the first day of the show she revealed the five finalists in each category for the 2015 Art & Olfaction Awards. The simple creation of the IAO and the awards which carry their name already let me know what a great person she was. The opportunity we had to chat over all three days confirmed that. After spending this time with her I am more sure than ever that the Art & Olfaction Awards are going to be one of the premiere awards in all of perfumery sooner than later.
If there was one person I met who radiated the passion of doing something you love it was Andrea Rubini. I started Day 3 standing in front of his stand and told him to tell me about his perfume. Instead of business plans or sales strategies he started with a smile and the phrase, “I was born into a family of perfumers….” From there he proudly displayed the perfume which carries his name and he was equally as excited when describing the other members of the team behind Rubini Fundamental. In a show of 150 different brands it might have been the tiniest which had the largest emotion.
Another feature of every Esxence for me is I spend time with perfumers with whom I have not had an opportunity to meet previously.
Luca Maffei of Atelier Fragranze Milano was tapped by brand Jul et Mad to do two of their new “Les White” collection. Sig. Maffei was so joyously animated when speaking with me about the creative process behind Nea and Garuda it was infectious. He has a joie de vivre which translates to his perfumes.
The other perfumer I spent some time with was Stephane Humbert Lucas. I have been a big supporter of his work in the past but we had never had the opportunity to really talk about perfume for any length of time before. As he showed me his new Mortal Skin and Harrod’s Limited Edition there was a noticeable smile on his face as he watched my reactions. I think perfumers know when they have made something special and he seemed happy as he watched me connect with his new creations.
Believe it or not I had never met Bertrand Duchaufour prior to Esxence. He showed me his new I miss Violet for The Different Company. That a perfumer as prolific as M. Duchaufour also still displays the delight of creation is testament to his longevity.
If there was a rock star of this year’s Esxence it had to be Michael Edwards of the Fragrances of the World reference book. He was seemingly everywhere on the floor as I worked my way around. His SRO talk on how oud came to be part of western perfumery was one of the highlights of that part of the Esxence program.
Oh yes there were perfumes to be sampled and tomorrow in Part 2 I’ll call out the top 10 from Esxence 2015.
Ever since I first encountered the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 line of perfume at Esxence in 2013 I have very slowly and deliberately taken my time to understand each one. Many perfume collections would fall apart underneath this much scrutiny. M. Humbert Lucas, working for himself, has authored a body of olfactory art that almost demands you spend time with it to allow it to fully reveal all that is present in each perfume. Therefore even though it has been almost a year and a half I am still getting to the last couple of entries from the line. Most recently I’ve spent time with 2022 Generation Homme and like every one of the 777 perfumes there was much to enjoy.
One of the reasons that I held off on 2022 Generation Homme is that on a strip this was the oudiest of the entire collection. On a strip it never seemed to open up. When I finally sprayed some on my skin it was like there was an entire experience hidden from detection. The oud was there but there was also an array of spices surrounding a yuzu. These offer a fresh crisp contrast to the very complex oud mixture M. Humbert Lucas uses.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
2022 Generation Homme opens with yuzu floating like a shimmery veil over an intense oud. Very often many see yuzu as a stand-in for grapefruit but when it is appropriately allowed to have a personality in a fragrance it is more like a hybrid of lemon and grapefruit. It has a snappy brightness that neither lemon nor grapefruit have on their own. M. Humbert Lucas takes that and adds even more snap with mint coming along for the ride. It is just a touch of mint but it is present and adds an important effect underneath the yuzu. The final addition to the top notes is a very green blackcurrant bud. This is used at such a level that it has a urine-like characteristic. On its own it would be offputting. Placed in the middle ground between the yuzu-mint and the oud it works surprisingly well. The rough sticky green smell forms a bridge to the more sulfurous aspects of the yuzu and the more medicinal qualities of good oud. This is not an easy part of the development as it sort of pushes forward many of the more challenging aspects of both the yuzu and the oud. It took me some time to learn to roll with it instead of struggling to make it something it wasn’t. 2022 Genration Homme finishes on a peru balsam matched with a second source of oud. This oud has less of the medicinal and more of the woody nuances. Matched with the peru balsam is ends this on a final woody platform.
2022 Generation Homme has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
2022 Generation Homme is one of the hidden gems within the entire 777 line. I think it is imperative that it is worn on skin to truly experience it completely. It took that for me to finally realize how good it was and bring it out from Under the Radar.
Disclosure: This review was based on a samples provided by Stephane Humbert Lucas and Osswald NYC.
I think every young boy goes through a phase where they are fascinated by rocks and minerals. The texture of different types, the density, or unusual lightness, of something which looks so hard. I remember going to the store which sold pieces to trade in a gift certificate. From the moment I received the gift I knew with a certainty what I wanted; a piece of obsidian. I was enraptured by the different textures on display in the hunk I purchased. On one side it was smooth as glass and black as night, it felt like it was drawing me in to an alternate dimension. On the other side it was rough with whorls and sharp edges. Like a cloud I could stare at it for hours seeing shapes forming in the complexity of the lines and topography. Of the few things I still have from my childhood that piece of obsidian is one and it sits near my desk. When I received my bottle of Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 Oumma I realized almost immediately that it was my obsidian in olfactory form.
Stephane Humbert Lucas
Stephane Humbert Lucas’ eponymous 777 line is one of the best new entries into the ultra-luxe perfume market. M. Lucas uses large quantities of high quality raw materials and this collection is heavily tilted towards Middle Eastern influences with many of them containing oud. Oumma has probably the highest concentration of oud in the entire 777 collection. It seems like almost every ingredient in Oumma is present in near overdose quantities. M. Lucas shows a precise hand in taking the disparate loud voices and finding a harmony that allows them all to sing in unison albeit at high volume. Prima facie Oumma is a typical woody rose oud combo and it is certainly that. It is also so intense it draws you in like that smooth surface of the obsidian into a dimension defined by the familiar but made unconventional by its energy. Once inside, the development abounds with remarkable textures which allow imagination free rein.
There is no easing into a fragrance like Oumma, M. Lucas tosses you into the deep end of the pool and you are floating in a bath of jasmine and rose. It inhabits every receptor in your nose and then as you break the surface you take a deep breath of oud. It is so prominent in all of its schizophrenic glory. The woodiness, the odd medicinal quality, the subtle floral aspect, the smoke; it forms its own fragrant whorls and ridges to let one decide where they want to place their attention. The source of the oud is a Burmese oud which also carries a significant peppery character and M. Lucas takes that and ups the ante by adding in cade. It makes everything that can be fractious about oud even more cantankerous in quality. This ridge is so sharp it could cut if you’re not careful. The base is a cocktail of tolu and Peruvian balsams which are also very strong but they are the easiest thing to cling to throughout the entire torrid development.
Oumma has 24 hour longevity, and then some. It also has prodigious sillage a little goes a very long way.
There are many oud fragrances on the market and there are even many woody rose oud fragrances on the market. None of them approach the mesmerizing intensity of Oumma. It feels as ageless as my piece of obsidian swallowing all of the surrounding light in its inky beauty. If you like oud dive in to the Stygian depths and breathe deeply there are rewards in excess.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Oumma I purchased.