Iridescent, Esxence 2023
Hectic, full-speed, flamboyant. The perfect words to describe my experience at this edition of Esxence. It felt like a speed dating. So much good energy to take in in such a short amount of time took longer than expected to assimilate. My plan for this year's edition was to not deny any invitation to a booth, to a conference, to lunch, dinner or a party, or time spent with a friend, for as short as it was. And I fulfilled it. The four days i spent in Milano could be seen as a "play forward" movie, always on the rush, from waking up early in the morning, with the luggage struggling to keep up the pace of my feet, going to work and from there straight to the airport, arriving at Milano airport, taking the train to Milano and the subway to the hotel, checking in, picking up an Uber to make it to a special and intimate dinner with dear friends, spending the evening seeing through each other's eyes and rejoicing at heart by our time together, getting back to the hotel and starting each day without knowing where the journey will take me. Long hours of walking, too many brands to stop by, some interesting conferences, familiarizing with the history of Italian perfumery by the hands of L' Osmothèque, serendipitous meetings at the underground cafeteria, dinners, parties, birthdays at midnight, laughter and tears of joy. It was mostly about people, perfume fell into second place, although it was always present, either in our conversations or in our noses.
IrideScent, this year's theme, was imagined by the Esxence's team as "bright, solar, rainbow, Ambroxan, softness, clean, surprise, dazzling and clean".
And indeed, Esxence greeted us with its old Ambermax and guaiac wood aroma, but, this time around, it was slowly losing power as soon as you got past the Main brands aisle. I was pleasantly surprised to see many more small brands pushing their way into the giant that is Esxence, with a visible concept of sustainability and creativity and a clearer fight for acceptance and diversity.
From the established brands, several introduced new fragrances that caught my eye and offered an interesting olfactive experience on the spot:
- Created by Cristiano Canali for Rubini - a young and talented perfumer (the kind of man who draws your eyes whether you're interested in him or not), that also created the rest of the fragrances for the brand, - Odenaturae is the fragrance that put a spell on me since first contact.
The way that the bitter-aromatic greenness of the chamomile is combined with the creamy woodiness, we also find in Fundamental and Tambour Sacré, and the sourness of red fruits is captivating and extremely enjoyable. For the mention, Fundamental was remade into a new formula, which is not a bad thing given that, in Andrea's words, the fragrance that introduced the brand to the world in 2015 had to evolve and to change and adapt to the pass of time, as he has since then. I love the original Fundamental, despite many people's opinion of it being incomplete. The newer one is indeed more balanced, airier and with a metallic nuance the older was missing.
- Le Jardin Retrouvée, a brand for which i have lots of respect and admiration and also memories, being one of the first indie brands i wrote about at the beginning of this blog, introduced this year Osmanthe Liu Yuan - a solar fragrance, exactly the kind of fragrance that Esxence was looking for through its theme (less the killer deal of Ambroxan, which luckily doesn't come included in the composition).
Osmanthe is joyful and playful and serene. The perfumer, Maxence Moutte, recreated the fragrant osmanthus by using different accords, among them fruity, floral and rooty-smoky. The garden-fresh side and is all about fruits - sweet citruses, mandarine-like, lactonic aldehydes that give away an apricot scent - and florals that reflect their greener, dusty and fresher facets. A darker accord is used to contra-balance the almost shampoo-ish freshness with a soft woody smokiness. The result is an uplifting "sunny blue sky with a cloud here and there" type of fragrance. Also, proud friend moment: Cristian Marianciuc was the artist in charge of decorating the Le Jardin Retrouvée's booth and he did a marvelous job! Just look at the incredible details!
- Although oud seems to not be in trend anymore, Masque Milano resuscitated it for its new Ruby collection, using it as base for four of their bestsellers, Tango, Russian Tea, Mandala and Love Kills. I must admit I was a bit skeptical about this collection and, after testing the four, I ended up being caught in Mandala Oud and Russian Tea Oud spells.
The first, by Christian Carbonnel, is spicier, creamier and somehow airier, while the second, created by Julien Rasquinet, is fruitier, dry and bitter with an ashy feeling, similar in qualities to Tuscan Leather but rounder and well balanced.
The green one was too much for me handle.
- Under the same umbrella as Masque Milano, Malbrum launched Volume III containing three new fragrances: Godspeed, Here comes the Son and Paraiso Super, all created by Cristiano Canali. I'm starting to have a crush on this man's way of perfume making. Godspeed creates a beautiful ecclesiastical aura around, the kind of peaceful and meditative ambience that invites to an one to themselves spiritual connection.
Here comes the Son is an ode to the sandalwood, in my humble opinion. Canali took the creamy / buttery / sweaty qualities of the wood and enriched it with aromatics, florals and resins and built it as the perfect picture for a Santalum rising in the middle of a meadow. Paraiso Super didn't draw my attention at first, it was after testing all the samples I received when I discovered its interesting composition, marked by a clean acetone-like fruity accord with airy-lactonic and almond nuances.
- Francesca Bianchi created, for her second brand Hedonik, Obsessive Devotion, a frangipani focused fragrance that plays around her famous leather/iris accord.
- Dusita Parfums presented Rosarine, a fruity and playful rose, that despite its youthful aura is a nod to the past. Between its tart / jammy-like fruitiness and the sweet burnt-sugar combination, it results too sweet for my taste, but I can't help loving the dry bitterness that lies underneath, surrounded by roots, earth and a soft vetiver-like smokiness.
- Nishane celebrated its ten years anniversary with an unforgettable dinner, followed by a party, where they launched five of their bestsellers, Ani, Fan Your Flames, Hundred Silent Ways, Hacivat and Wūlóng Chá, in a new X collection.
Although I wasn't into Hacivat before, the newer formulation, created by Julien Rasquinet, is improved, equilibrated and more elegant, in comparison to the older one, when I used to be thrown away by the pungent woods. My favorite on the spot was Wūlóng Chá X, also a Julien Rasquinet composition, due to its realistic citrus accord, with its sour, terpenic and bitter qualities. It has tea and aromatic nuances that form a soft green halo around the citruses. After taking the time on testing all of them, Fan Your Flames X took the second place - on skin it's less sugar coated than its older self although it presents sweet / nutty / caramel carrot-cake-like nuances, it's fresher on both, the resinous and the aromatic sides, which helps to adjust the whole composition to normal levels (at least for me) of sweetness.
My new discoveries, brand-wise, aren't so many - counted on the fingers of my two hands - have managed yet to add new fragrances to my selective encyclopedia.
- Olfactive Pharmacy. Tilia made my eyes leak… this fragrance, as a whole, is my hometown's atmosphere in June, when the linden trees explode into blooming, filling the air with their honeyed tea-like floral brightness. It touched me to the core.
A simple composition in apparence due to its soliflore character, all of its ingredients are extremely well blended and put together in order to recreate the perfect scent of a linden flower. My second favorite from the brand and worthy of mention, was Betula - a green leather I haven't smelled before. Mark Buxton created both of these fragrances and did a marvelous job.
- Toskovat, a Romanian brand with an artistic sense of perfumery and a unusual list of notes for their fragrances.
Their offerings are artistic, with a strange feeling of "accidental" untidiness, giving away a clear purpose of impact. I had the chance to try their upcoming fragrances and I've noticed an evident evolution in David-Lev Jipa-Slivinschi as a perfumer.
- Carlotha Ray. Seen through my eyes, this was the perfect perfume brand - it offers fair compositions in a really nice packaging, it's sustainable and it supports diversity.
Their light-weight bottles are refillable and they are using exclusively locally-sourced, natural materials, the slides are composed by a percentage between 60% to 80% of natural rubber coming from a plant-based latex extraction, the box is made from Italian FSC certified paper composed of 40% recycled material, 55% pure environmentally friendly fiber and 5% hemp fiber and is 100% recyclable and their bottles are packed in a fabric in Grasse by people with certain disabilities. I really like their concept and their care for nature and diversity. Besides, I had a fan-like moment at their booth, when I was introduced to the creator of three of their fragrances, Jean-Michel Duriez. Known as perfumer for Jean Patou for 40 years, 8 for Rochas, creator of Sira des Indes and PanAme for Jean Patou, among others, of some of Les Cascades for Rochas, of Yohji Homme and Yohji Essential, Duriez signs Poire&Santal Blanc, Rose Blanche&Gardénia and Mandarine& Maté Vert for Carlotha Ray. I enjoy the contrasts between green and earth in Mandarine&Maté Vert.
- Nissaba, a Switzerland based brand that focuses on a key ingredient from a specific region of the world that produces it and creates a fragrance paying tribute to that particular ingredient.
Their packaging is sustainable and a certain percentage of their sales goes to the region that sources the ingredient they're using, which is admirable. My favorite is Provence, a Sebastien Cresp's creation, an aromatic fragrance composed around different types of lavender from the region were it got its name from.
- Boujee Bougies. An UK brand, founded by Pia Long and Nick Gilbert, which need no introduction to the perfume aficionados. Started as a candle brand, it also launched a perfume line inspired by their candles, Eau de Boujee. Well bodied and giving a feeling of intimacy, Gilded had me, the whole me. Oh!
- Antinomie Parfum. You know that saying, do not judge a book by its cover? Well, although I try my best to never judge, I did it with this brand. Ah, another luxury faux-brand! I thought to myself after seeing the packaging. Well, shame on me...
They have two lines - an Eau de Parfum and an Extrait. The Extrait line was a bit too much for my taste, but the Eau de Perfume are very nice - Neroli Poète and Musc Infidèle being the ones I liked the most. Neroli Poète is a beautiful fragrance for everyday use, not crossing any weird limits.
They call it "affordable luxury" and I just love it.
- J-Scent. Their fragrance collection is quite extensive and although it's impossible to build an opinion on the spot, after testing so many fragrances in a short amount of time, I really liked their style. Sumo Wrestler and Hisui caught my attention.
- Burdin. A french perfume style with an Argentinian heart. Emmène-moi by Nathalie Feisthauer was definitely a yes for me due to its old-school style.
- Rosae Virtus. An Italian brand founded by a botanist specialized in roses. For rose lovers, the ideal match. They have four fragrances, all launched this year, each dedicated to a rose and a season.
- Argentum. I like their fragrances, although I had no idea until the end if the fair was water-based. As a concept, it makes sense given that their main activity is cosmetics. I guess they want to continue with the same respect for skin with the range of fragrances they offer. They had a really cool way for each person to choose their fragrance - by picking up a tarot card blindly. Mine was the Magician. What can i say, spices and resins love my skin.
From already existing small brands that didn't add new fragrances to their lines, but were present at Esxence, I can't allow myself to forget about:
- Tobba - Rose on the Shore and Force are still standing tall in my eyes, nonetheless the rest of their creations are starting to grow on me. Jasper Li's talent as a perfumer is undeniable.
- Soul Couture. Wonderful, original and outstanding fragrances, that for whatsoever reason pass overlooked. I don't agree with all the PR stuff that pushes the fragrances through beautiful and deceitful storytelling, but I do agree with Soul Couture's, "a bespoke collection that pushes the boundaries of style…". Michele Marin created six unique fragrances that stand out to many niche offerings.
Things i tried, intentionally or accidentally, outside the fair, that haven't been launched yet: - (Leaf in French) by Miskeo Parfums, - Dance Lascive and a precious attar by Angelos Créations Olfactives, - the hair perfume from Frassaï - for now will be only two fragrances, Rosa Sacra and El Descanso, - Mad Tea Party by Le Frag, - "a few" interesting Zoologist, - and last, but not least, Sultan Pasha's new attar and fragrances in spray.
While at Esxence i made time for some of the interesting conferences they hosted, of which i would like to highlight two:
- Perfumers Speaking out on Education, Diversity and Creativity, led by Karen Marin with guest-perfumers, Alexandre Helwani, Hiram Green, Véronique Nyberg and Alex Lee. A conversation around their personal experience following the theme, although I wish they would have applied it to their work environment and deepen the subject on diversity in the perfume industry.
- 2023 ESSENCIONAL OBSERVATORY The Evolution of Artistic Perfumery: web analysis, survey results and insights. Which offered a perspective on the growth the artistic perfume market has registered after the pandemic.
I arrived at the end of this long-length report with the feeling I've missed many other beautiful things that are worth mentioning, but the most important is that I was there and I did my best. Until next time, Milano, arrivederci!