Sunday, September 14, 2008

JAR


Not much has been written about Joel Arthur Rosenthal’s bejeweled perfume creations. In 2005 Luca Turin remarked on his Duftnote blog: “When jewellers make perfume (Boucheron, Van Cleef et Arpels, Bulgari), it is usually because they have a big name and want to generate some cash flow. But that can't be JAR’s reason since his entire customer base can (and probably does) fit in the Ritz, and the perfumes are if anything even more confidential than the jewels.” Indeed they are, only available at an address in the 1er and at Bergdorf Goodman.

Having circumvented the JAR boutique in the past, I was surprised three weeks ago when Karen Dubin (founder of Sniffapalooza) and I expressed simultaneous urges to penetrate the inner sanctum and put the perfumes to the test. Nary a bottle in sight, the boutique is painted in a dark purple hue with a trompe-l’oeil ceiling bisected by an ominous bolt of lightning. It reminds one of a back-room at Harry Winston, where Audrey Hepburn or Empress Farah would sit waiting for the tiara to be presented. Six lidded glass jars holding pieces of perfume-imbued purple suede sit atop a small table complemented by two purple velvet-upholstered side chairs. I can’t say that we were treated with any of the fanfare or “Spanish court rigmarole” that others have noted. The attendant produced the perfumes one by one – some enchanting, some off-putting, all singular.

My first impressions, coming from Shadow and Diamond Water, were marked by the recognition of high-quality natural materials (mint, oakmoss absolute, sandalwood, carnation absolute, to name a few), but unlike the plethora of mass-market scents that owe their power to the genius of chemistry, they were able to amplify on the skin without the (at least recognizable) presence of fancy man-made molecules. There were chemicals for sure, to bind and bolster ... but not chemicals for the sake of chemicals. Somehow all the while, with each opened jar, the perfumes themselves were proving that the truest novelty, the strangest strangeness if you will, was right there in nature itself. Whether this (and the prices, which run upwards of $380 an ounce) will appeal to the better part of niche perfume shoppers, I haven’t the foggiest. Certainly, if you take the materials into account, the price is not inflated terribly much. After all, that hundred-buck eau de toilette you bought last week is worth less than the price of the bottle it came in. And what’s more, if JAR’s creations don’t feel quite like you, they at least feel like they were made only for you – despite the fact that they didn’t quite get it the way you wanted it. But, there again, the better part of luxury is growing into an understanding of the difficult thing. I’ve always felt that luxury without some difficulty is just blasé. To be continued...

Image credit: Bangle Bracelet, c. 1987 JAR, diamonds, colored stones, titanium, private collection, New York. Reproduced with permission.

10 Comments:

Blogger ScentScelf said...

Ah, thanks for the peek at the inner sanctum, "good read" style.

September 15, 2008 at 5:49 AM  
Anonymous MarkDavid said...

everytime Ive ever gone to that boutique, they've had to go find the man who is supposed to work there. I lose patience after waiting for 10 minutes. One of these days, maybe I'll give them more attention than what I have. Golconda is a nice, spicy carnation, but I think Bellodgia or Poivre are better (and cheaper).

September 16, 2008 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

While I personally love Caron Poivre (it's on my fall list), Bellodgia in its present form is wraithlike. A true pity. Even in the extrait, it packs no punch. JAR Golconda packs a heavy-weight punch. IMHO it is the greatest carnation since Francois Coty Carnation France (1922). That said, it is quite expensive for my average reader (not that I have any average readers, but you get my drift). A small bottle is over $500.

September 17, 2008 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I should have bought Golcondo when it first was released, years ago; but then, its price was outrageous !

Many JARS are formidably exquisite- they are marvelous,but I cannot go there, price-wise.
So, I'll gnaw your arm off, instead; at least, that's what I've done previously, at Sniffas.......

September 18, 2008 at 5:15 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

I would love to actually visit the boutique in Bergdorf Goodman. I'll get there eventually.

I've tested two of the JAR Fragrances from samples purchased from The Perfumed Court -- Bolt of Lightning and Shadow. Both of them are amazing: utterly unique. They start off so oddly and then voila! They turn extraordinarily beautiful just when you weren't expecting it. The classic example of the ugly duckling turns into a swan story.

Patience truly is a virtue when it comes to JAR.

September 18, 2008 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

These scents change with each person who wears them. They may not always be "appropriate," but, rather, are indulgent and impulsive and quite frankly a type of genius in a bottle. Each one is stormy in its own way (tuberose and pear, par example)... And to me, there is no price that you can place on such as that.

September 18, 2008 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger Emmanuella said...

Basically, they took Serge Lutens visionary concept of elitist prestige, stripped it of all intellectual, cultural and orientalist contents and ornaments then turned into materialistic high end crap.

September 22, 2008 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Emmanuella,

I chafe at blanket dismissals of anything, but now that you've shaken your spear how about applying your criticism to a specific perfume. I don't think JAR has a visionary concept in perfume -- certainly, not one like SL -- I think it has an olfactory one; and my nose, for one, finds it a welcome one. Because of the narrow consumer segment, it can use materials that most perfumers could never use in such concentration. As for the accusation of crass materialism, perfume IS materialistic. (Alas, for many it is the pretense of a luxury they cannot afford or acquire.) It is many other things as well, but my blog is quite clear on those other things.

September 23, 2008 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Emmanuella said...

vetivresse, perfume is not materialistic nor pretense, I know it is for a lot of perfume lovers but I really think those who share that mentality are in the wrong. Perfume IS subjective, it 's an intellectual and scientific process.
JAR, By Kilian, Tom Ford, Armani Prive, Christian Clive, Indult...
they all claim using rare and precious materials and that is true but this is not what perfumery is about either. After all most of them if not all come up with mediocre executed fragrances at $200.00 a bottle, usually gourmand leathers or overtly calorific vanillas because like Edmond Roudnitska used to say, gourmands/sweet notes are used by perfumers with serious shortcomings.
Some POlers and Basenoters even order pure indian sandalwood etc but this is not perfumery, Luca Turin would tell you this is aromatherapy. Perfumery is not an assemblage of precious materials, a great perfume is an exceptional execution composed with synthetics and natural ingredients. An assemblage of extremely expensive materials even used in exeptional concentration doesn 't guarantee a masterpiece.

September 24, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

E., You're right. Expensive natural materials don't guarantee a masterpiece. That said, many perfumers would jump at the opportunity to use them in a non-mass-market line of perfumes because of their complexity. For the mass market, many of them are much too volatile and mercurial to ensure that batch 1 and batch 99 will be identical.

JAR, By Kilian, Tom Ford Private Blend and Clive Christian are lines that contain some very beautiful fragrances and some forgettable ones. Their production runs are much smaller than those of, say, P&G-distributed scents; their prices are higher. Some contain very expensive ingredients, some not. JAR, though, stands out because the price of each scent is different, owing, I think, to what went into it. Not to say (!!) that a perfume is merely the sum of its parts, but the parts do count. I can buy a suit made out of Sea Island cotton or made out of English wool. The cut may be impeccable in both, but the price is understandably different.

I think that Diamond Water, Ferme Tes Yeux and Golconda are intriguing works of the perfumer's art. Bolt of Lightning is a harder sell for me, I admire its novel juxtapositions. Jardenia, while it shows off a bouquet I can't say I'm nuts about, is very, very well done. Shadow is a very good masculine, but alas it lives a bit TOO close to the skin to be called memorable--somehow the building just doesn't soar.

Yes, perfume is subjective. And I can in my unhumble opinion say that JAR offers some of the most interesting recent creations I have had the pleasure to wear and experience.

September 24, 2008 at 12:43 PM  

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