Trade shows give you an acute feeling of the passage of time. It is not just the fact that companies appear and vanish, but also that an immense amount of effort and worry has gone into making them appear, and most will vanish anyway. Also, you can see in people’s eyes that running a fragrance business is hard. People visibly looked two difficult years older, or maybe I felt that way and saw it in others. Fragrance is harder than most because unlike lawn-mowers and carpet-cleaners, it is not a necessity. Esxence is a big deal if your life depends on it. The place breathed excitement, best-behavior, grace in the face of casual rudeness, and fond hope for success.
It also breathed vapid vulgarity. The smell in the air was ominously duty-free generic, as if the sum total of all efforts to be different was merely more of the same. Much of the overt effort in niche perfumery this year seemed to be on packaging, which is aiming for Chanel levels of perfection. The era of stock bottles, Futura Extra Light, and minimalism is nearly over. I rather liked it in retrospect, because plan B seems to be Tom Ford on ludes. This trend, incidentally, does not augur well for the fragrance, given that budgeting for the different parts is zero-sum. This being Milan, every guy was in a jacket two sizes too small, with Brahmsian beard, fashy haircut, trousers above the ankle, pink linen socks, and brogues, and looked like they were waiting for the Sartorialist to snap them (he wouldn’t).
The show seemed bigger than ever, and arranged in a long hairpin shape such that after seeing it all you found yourself at the entrance again. I went in the wrong way, to the very end of the trek, through a beaded curtain of the sort designed to keep flying insects and perfumistas out, and came upon the Osmothèque stand, bigger than ever, with more fragrances than I’ve ever seen exhibited. I smelled a drop-dead Vent Vert and marvelled, as always, at Germaine Cellier’s ferocity. As always also, the charming and competent attendants had that slightly resigned look of people exhibiting the Koh-i-Noor at a costume jewellery show. It was a melancholy thought that if you did go through the show the right way, your nose would likely be shot by the time you got to that point.
What impressed me? In no particular order: Arab stands bravely selling attars, many of them anything but quiet, to a largely uncomprehending audience. Delightfully polite and mild Omanis with a classic range of fragrances that happen to be exactly what we have been trying to flog them for years, only miles better. Dubai perfumes with a range of vivid marvels best worn on a terrace with a sea-breeze. (I asked for their insane paper tote bag with a huge Q in gold for a handle, but they were out.) A small, plucky Italian firm perched in the mountains, nearly felled by a big earthquake three years ago, is now moving to Tenerife to take advantage of local tax and regulations on perfumery alcohol. (Europe needs to stop punishing people for showing initiative.)
What surprised me? The number of knowledgeable people getting into the act. Silvio Levi—one of Esxence’s organisers from day one—had a huge stand for his house, Calè. Chantal Roos, one of the greatest perfumery art directors alive, was there with a range of fragrances called Roos & Roos; Mentha Religiosa alone makes it worth it. Also, I brought my six-foot-tall daughter as a bodyguard expecting to be punched in the face at least twice by someone who’d read the latest guide. In the event, the only bad vibes came from a stand we’d said great things about. But then, they were French. LT
Click here for the 2018 guide.