This is the first Scent Notes column that I get to write for something that I’ve composed to be released by another brand. Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know and eventually become friends with Dave Kern, who has undertaken a really exciting project called AMERICAN PERFUMER®, based in Louisville, Kentucky. It seeks to highlight the best of American independent perfumers, and so I am uniquely honored to not only be featured on the shelves next to some of the pioneers of the American independent fragrance, but also to be selected to create a fragrance for AMERICAN PERFUMER.
This fourth release from the AMERICAN PERFUMER series is in rarefied air and set a very high bar for me in order to live up to the sky-high standard that those before me have set. The series has included Colorado by the incomparable Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, which garnered the Art and Olfaction Award for the best independent perfume of 2019. The first release was from Maria McElroy, Desert Flower, which is a breathtaking composition in its own right. Most recently, Hans Hendley, whose work is some of my favorite that I’ve experienced recently, composed Bloodline, not only a great fragrance that has been all over best of 2019 lists, but also one of the best cedarwood fragrances I’ve ever smelled, with a focus on a red cedar oil distilled by the perfumer’s father from a tree from the family property.
So when planning out this fragrance, I first of all knew that I had to pull out all of the stops when it came to selecting materials. I began to seek out some of the finest materials that I’ve always wanted to use. Additionally, I knew that I had to find a great story that found that common ground that Dave and I both had for love of our Midwestern river cities named after King Louis, and how interesting the history of a river city is due to the confluence of different cultures coming together and creating something new.
Introducing Madame Chouteau
Therefore, when speaking with Dave, I brought up the story of Marie-Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau, known to history as Madame Chouteau, the uncredited co-founder of Saint Louis. Left by her husband to raise their children on her own, she left her native New Orleans to go up the river and find a new life in a nascent trading hamlet. Though she claimed to be a widow in order to gain some semblance of rights in society (as a widow she was restricted, but as a married woman whose husband was not there she would have practically none), she never changed her name nor actually lived with her new love and Saint Louis cofounder, Pierre Laclede Liguest. When they founded Saint Louis, the credit due to Madame Chouteau went to her son, Augustus Chouteau, though the matriarch of Saint Louis deserves recognition for her perseverance and vision. As time went on she grew her fortune in the avenues afforded to her (with help from Pierre Laclede) and her husband tried to return to reap the fruits of her arduous labor to overcome the obstacles that he himself imposed, but the influence of the Lacledes and Chouteaus in the territory helped influence the New Orleans authorities to delay her husband’s ability to travel to Saint Louis until he eventually passed away due to old age.
The Composition: Apricot and Fruit
The composition of Madame Chouteau was meant to honor this amazing woman in a way that she deserved but was not able to celebrate in her time. The top begins with a ripe apricot skin, composed using natural apricot essential oil from the classic French distilling house Robertet. It is given a shimmering opulence through the use of a peach aldehyde, as well as damascenone total and damascene beta, two monstrously rich and vibrant materials that give certain rose varietals their rich fruitiness. The richness of this note is further enhanced by very small doses of davana essential oil, derived from a plant with rich citrus and floral undertones, along with pyroprunat, a material that I consider to be one of my signatures, with its fruit-skin scent with a touch of juiciness underneath.
Jasmine and Jonquil
Underneath these rest jasmine and jonquil, two flowers that I consider to be both very powerful and very feminine. The jasmine notes that I used include three absolutes, one jasmine sambac along with a jasmine grandflorum from Egypt and another from India. I enhanced the diffusiveness of these notes with kharismal, a more citrus-forward derivative of hedione, a jasmine-type material used ubiquitously in perfumery so that it would fold into the apricot note well. The jonquil absolute is from France, and the richness of anisyl acetate and anise aldehyde, just enough to amplify the raspiness of the two rich floral notes, as well as a touch of orange blossom absolute and carrot seed absolute to fill out the note with some extra depth and fullness.
Tobacco and Mousse de Saint Louis
Next, a tobacco note comes from liatrix absolute, a tobacco flower that has a more honeyed bent than a straight tobacco absolute would. I find this connects the previously mentioned notes with what I call Mousse de Saint Louis, a modification on the classic Mousse de Saxe base created by the house of DeLaire that was used frequently in the golden age of perfumery nearly 100 years ago. It translates to moss base, which includes leather, moss, geranium, vanilla and ionones, a type of molecule found often in powdery compositions.
The Mousse de Saint Louis is perhaps a little less forward, more subdued, just as any well-mannered and polite Midwesterner would be. Instead of vanilla or vanillin, I used vanilys, a more dirty vanilla note, inspired by the perfume legend of Guerlain in their golden age when they were said to select their supplier’s discarded vanilla because they wanted a dirtier vanilla note for Shalimar. Additionally, I used an atranol-free oakmoss absolute so in order to avoid any irritation possibilities and reinforced it with an elemi essential oil from Robertet to add some backbone to the oakmoss lost in removing the atranol. Instead of the more forceful geranium note, I used the dusty and transparent Rose Verte accord that I created for Rose Santal, dihydro ionone beta (for its woody characteristics compared to the more powdery ionones) and an orris tincture from France. Finally, for the leathery parts of the accord, I dialed back on the isobutyl quinoline, a forceful green bitter leather note, and added 6 methyl quinoline, which is smoother and more nutty, and then added strawberry furanone, which is somewhat more phenolic than fruity, beeswax absolute and just the slightest microdose of rectified cade oil.
Sandalwood, Oud and the Base Notes
Finally, the opulent base notes include sandalwood essential oil from Mysore, India, and sandalwood essential oil with high levels of the desirable santalol beta that is sustainably harvested in conditions meant to replicate the growing conditions in Mysore during its heyday. Additionally, I added a Thai oud that paired very well with the Mousse de Saint Louis, and rich musks of globanone and cosmone, which add a deep-throated purr to the woody accord. This is all supported with small doses of various classic musk recreations and resins, as well as some creamy notes to fill out the sandalwood and give it that classic character that makes it so buttery smooth.
Overall, I can’t say how honored I was to be selected to be part of such a great project. AMERICAN PERFUMER has an incredible vision and Dave is tirelessly dedicated to carrying it out and raising the profile of the amazing visionaries and tradition-breaking creativity that is available throughout the American independent fragrance scene. I think Madame Chouteau is a character who exemplifies that pioneering artistic spirit that is captured throughout the curated collection at American Perfumer, and this composition is meant to honor that wonderful history and so many daring olfactive artists. Only 25 bottles will be available through AMERICAN PERFUMER in February. Make sure to follow AMERICAN PERFUMER on social media to get information on this release and all of the amazing work that they are doing.
And with this as my first experience releasing something with my own personal name, not simply the Chatillon Lux brand name, this will be leading to an upcoming announcement about a new structure going forward. I will be providing more information about this soon. Stay tuned!