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Comme des Garçons 2 - Wearing Modern Art (December 2, 2011 New Fragrance Listing)

Photo - Wikipedia - Comme des Garçons Aoyama store

Unlike painting, sculpture, or music, perfume is art that you wear, so the marriage of perfume with fashion and jewellery design is a natural – you have to wear these creations to fully experience and appreciate their beauty. The perfume world is built on the great 20th century works of art from Chanel, Dior, Gres, Balmain, Givenchy, St. Laurent, Bulgari, Van Cleef and Arpels, etc. The marriage of these wearable arts continues with the work from contemporary design houses such as Comme des Garçons.

Comme des Garçons, the unconventional Japanese design house headed by designer Rei Kawakubo, has been around since the early 90’s and is known for its unconstructed ‘anti-fashion’ minimalist asthetic. Neutral colours, unstructured, androgynous, – different, not what you’d expect, not what you are looking for, unconventional, odd, intriguing. Definitely young.

The first perfume from Comme des Garçons was CdeG Original by Mark Buxton in 1994, a rich unisex chypre, spicy and mossy, with heart notes of rose and geranium on a bed of honeyed, smoked woods. It’s an unusual scent, not sweet but deep and complex, and is regarded as a benchmark for non-gendered scents, a 90 degree turn away from the hyperbolic feminine florals of the 80’s, like Dior Poison and Giorgio.

Comme des Garçons 2, launched in 1999, is a 180 degree U-turn from those 80’s sillage monsters, and takes perfume art into new territory, into the minimalist aesthetic of Rei Kawakubo. Marc Buxton renders this minimalist style perfectly with CdG2, which is built around the smell of ink. Yes, ink.

Ms. Kawabuko asked Mark Buxton to create a perfume which captured the smell of the ink used in Japanese calligraphy, sumi ink. “The perfume is all about contrasts and compliments, and the duality expressed by the number two,” noted Hawkins [Lisa Hawkins, marketing VP], who explained this was the intention of Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo. (Women’s Wear Daily, 8/8/2003)

Now I’ve never smelled sumi ink, but I can remember the sweetish metallic smell of the dark blue ink we used in grade school when learning cursive writing. Blobs of it on our notebooks, indigo stains on our fingers. It had a definite scent, but how can that smell of ink, or sumi ink, be reproduced in a perfume?

Mark Buxton did it through the use of “headspace technology” which sounds like some kind of New Age therapy, but is a technical process. Headspace technology is a technique which captures the olfactive compounds in the air surrounding specific objects or places, which can’t be captured through the normal process of distillation.  After being analyzed, these captured compounds can then be recreated by a perfumer, which is exactly what Buxton did with the sumi ink notes, combining them with aldehydes, mixing with natural ingredients, and voila...Comme des Garçons 2.

This scent is abstract, difficult to describe, one of those scents that can smell quite different to different people, which may not seem all that unusual in 2011, but in 1999 was a real ground breaker. I really do smell the ink, that metallic ink note, but it’s mixed with citrus in the opening, slightly bitter and tart like citrus zest, juicy and citrus-sweet. The aldehydes make it bright, and probably give it the cool metallic vibe that makes it almost fizz when it comes out of the bottle.

The florals bloom right away but I can’t tell you what they are – rose? peony? - the note list includes angelica and magnolia, so I’m really off base. The heart notes are the spices and herbal/woody resins but I can’t identify them individually – more like a rich mulled spice mix wrapped in green woody boughs, with the ink note a shadow in the background. As the dry-down develops, the richness expands with a mix of labdanum, patchouli and warm amber entwined with hints of smoky incense. The effect of this accord is that CdG2 becomes like a smooth cashmere blanket with silver threads that floats on top of your skin, rather than a cushy, goose-down comforter that wraps and enfolds you.  It does not become what I call a skin scent – it’s a scent that you wear.

So CdeG2 is bright and shadowed, soft and metallic, warm and cool, and is definitely about contrasts and duality. On my skin, CdG2 is mostly quiet, except for the first minute or so, and seems to change with the weather and the time of day, shifting from soft floral to soft spicy to soft woods, but always with the dark inky edge. 

I’ve been wearing nothing but Comme des Garçons 2 for several days, and now appreciate its artistic brilliance. The minimalist character, the sumi ink note, forcefully demands attention, but once it has your attention, this perfume rewards your nose and senses with beauty that is truly and interestingly different, like nothing else.

I love that fact that I can wear great modern art, whenever I choose.

Today, we’re adding Comme des Garçons 2 to our decant sample offering. Decants are $4.00.