In 1977, Yves Saint Laurent released his Opium perfume for women, taking a risk by basing a perfume on a poisonous flower, not exactly an alluring concept. The gamble paid off and Opium became one of the most successful fragrances ever produced (Dior followed suit almost a decade later with Poison.). Jean-Louis Sieuzac was the nose behind Opium, and his apprentice was Emilie Copperman, who went on to become a nose for Symrise, one of the leading producers of flavors and fragrances in the world.
When Joseph Quartana, the former fashion director of the cult downtown boutique Seven New York, teamed up with the company to produce a perfume line based on poisonous flowers, Les Potions Fatales, Coppermann naturally became involved. When you smell Coppermann-executed Poppy Soma, one of the nine fragrances in the Parfums Quartana line, the relationship between it and Opium gains clarity. Her contemporary creation retains the graceful appeal of its predecessor.
Quartana is no stranger to the perfume business. He previously masterminded a highly successful but ill-fated Six Scents series, for which he connected promising young fashion designers such as Gareth Pugh and Damir Doma with the noses at Givaudan, the well-respected Swiss perfume powerhouse. In a booming industry where, an engaging story is often a prerequisite and contributor to perfume’s success, building scents inspired by poisonous flowers is not a novel concept. Even Lady Gaga has taken a stab at it. But that’s where all comparisons end, because we have not seen such deliberate planning, purposeful composition, and meticulous execution as we have seen with Les Potions Fatales. The nine eau de parfums tell separate, idiosyncratic stories that trace the etymology of each deadly flower, whether real or mythical, for which we would hate to see an antidote.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the perfume experience often begins with the packaging. Quartana’s fragrances are sheltered in a clean-looking bottle akin to the blue amethyst jars that housed the noxious concoctions of the ancient Greeks. The synesthetic feeling is awakened once you lay eyes upon the array of colors that adorn each box, the designs of which were constructed by Aerosyn Lex Mestrovic. Making associations between colors and smells is not something we can all do intrinsically, but Quartana’s potions give insight into our neurological wiring. While the bottles’ and boxes’ hyperpigmentation and psychedelic patterns grant them shelf visibility, their aposematism actually invites tactile and olfactory curiosity.
One of our favorites in the presentation department is Mandrake. Despite its deceptively zesty introduction, orange citrus is not formally listed as a note. We can attribute its effervescent quality to the note of bergamot. One might also think of mandarin after reading the name on the bottle. The coloration of the container, which aligns all too well with the traffic that occupies a synesthete’s cognitive pathways, however, begs to differ. Reputed with emitting a fatal, supersonic scream when exhumed from the earth, the flower inspiring the fragrance’s eponymous title is cleverly represented in a few different ways. Birch assumes the role of the earth from which mandrake is plucked, and bright, aromatic ingredients convey the shrillness of the scream.
While Mandrake can be classified as unisex, there are some fragrances within the line that have a tendency to lean a bit more feminine. On Quartana’s website, each fragrance has an accompanying meter that measures the gender for which each fragrance is best suited, in order to navigate you through the nine scents. We prefer to leave it up to you to decide what’s feminine or masculine, and thus Lily of the Valley may very well be your thing even though you are a guy. A closer look, or smell in this case, into the fragrance’s construction will reveal the presence of a few androgynous notes including vetiver bourbon, vanilla absolute, and leather gloves accord. The latter accord alone makes this fragrance worth sampling.
Another notable fragrance in the line, Wolfsbane, captures the ferocity of wolves and the virility of the warrior who hunts them. Wolfsbane, another name for aconite, was once used to poison the tips of arrows that decimated wolf populations in the Far East. Wolfsbane’s olfactory profile is colored by accords such as angelica root, fig leaf, absinthe, and deer tongue. The latter is merely a moniker for a relative of the tobacco plant; so don’t hold your nose. This fragrance, composed by Philippe Paparella-Paris, evokes a warm and masculine earthiness through the use of notes like patchouli, cedar wood, and vetiver. Wolfsbane is the perfect balance of raw history and refined modernity.
“The lolling weeds of Lether, green or wan,
Exhale their fatal languors on the light;
From out infernal grails of aconite
Poisons and dews are proffered to the dawn.”
– Clark Ashton Smith
Poppy Soma, the one executed by Emilie Copperman, reveals its meditative and ecclesiastical heart with its old church incense accord. This is likely the smell that occupied the laboratory setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s morally disposed narrative, The Birthmark, in which Aylmer administers his fatal elixir to his wife to rid her of her facial blemish. Other dense notes occupying the base of this composition include labdanum, styrax, and Tonquin musk. The former two are resins with a rich and sweet aroma. Their low rate of volatility contributes immensely to the fragrance’s potency. Expect this fragrance to last well over ten hours on skin.
Another one that excels in the longevity department is Hemlock. With notes ranging from Rum Martinique to cinnamon bark and suede leather, this perfume pays homage to the very substance that cemented Socrates’ mortality. Coumarin, an aroma molecule from tonka bean and cinnamon, provides sweetness to the fragrance’s architecture while jasmine and a white floral accord articulate tranquility. Hemlock is a pleasant dichotomy of mellow and murderous.
“Socrates gave a lot of advice, and he was given hemlock to drink.”
– Rose Kennedy
The haute-Goth theme in the fragrance Bloodflower illustrates the psychedelia of the collection in a more familiar manner. What starts as a strident, metallic fragrance ultimately subsides to an anisic/licorice-esque blend whose addictive nature can best be described by drawing a parallel with a vampire yearning his sanguine drink. Don’t wear this one if you are hemophobic. The rose note that dominates this composition is strongly evocative of the smell of blood. Bloodflower is foreboding yet enchanting. You have been warned of this fragrance’s high olfactory frequency.
“Look at my blood flowers,
because I write with a
serene sharp blade that
soothes as much as cuts
into the deepest parts
of my soul.”
All in all, even the most timid insect with aposematic coloration has the ability to keep its prey at bay. Don’t let the bright, inviting colors of Quartana’s bottles fool you. Looks can be deceiving. In a calculated way, Quartana has shown us that there is delicacy in the deadly. There is closure in the chasm. There is poise in the poisonous.
We have highlighted some of our favorites of the collection. Below are the notes on the full lineup.
Bloodflower – developed by perfumer Alexandra Carlin. An aromatic woody boozy gourmand, with licorice, anise, blood accord, clover, orris, dark rose, amber and patchouli. $145, in Eau de Parfum.
Digitalis – developed by perfumer David Apel. A fresh oceanic spicy green, with galbanum, iris, cucumber, basil, pepper, ozone, coriander, florozone, violet, neroli, rose, jasmine, gentiane, incense, fern, wet moss and violet leaf. $145, in Eau de Parfum.
Hemlock – developed by perfumer Christelle Laprade. A green woody spicy synthetic oriental, with rum, pink pepper, bergamot, crushed leaves, glossy white floral, cinnamon, clove, jasmine, styrax, black vinyl accord, magnolia, cyclamen, salt, benzoin, vanilla, suede, sandalwood, patchouli, tonka bean, musk and masculine amber woods. $145, in Eau de Toilette.
Lily of the Valley – developed by perfumer Nathalie Benareau. A fresh white leather floral, with bergamot, neroli, dewy petals, cassis buds, muguet des bois, orange blossom, dark rose, jasmine, black leather glove accord, labdanum, vetiver, vanilla, and sandalwood. $165, in Eau de Parfum.
Mandrake – developed by perfumer Carlos J. Vinals. A fruity green woody leather, with apple, pomegranate, birch leaf, birch root, bergamot, mandrake flower accord, rhubarb, cardamom, suede leather, deadly addiction accord, patchouli, vanilla, sandalwood and tonka bean. $145, in Eau de Parfum.
Midnight Datura – developed by perfumer Lisa Fleischmann. A fresh creamy boozy fruity amber floral with powder, featuring green leaf, mandarin, bergamot, davana, rum, jasmine, tuberose, magnolia, muguet, rose, violet, lavender, heliotrope, datura, clove, nutmeg, pepper, balsam, patchouli, vanilla, sandalwood, cedar, amber and musk. $165, in Eau de Parfum.
Poppy Soma – developed by perfumer Emilie Coppermann. A smoky spicy floriental, with Sichuan pepper, curry leaf, red pepper, gardenia, jasmine, rose, old church incense, labdanum, tuberose, styrax and Tonkin musk. $185, in Eau de Parfum.
Venetian Belladonna – developed by perfumer Pierre-Constantin Gueros. A spicy woody fruity floral with cassis, violet water, plum, sultanene, cognac, styrax, ambrette, sampaquia, honey, iris, tuberose, patchouli, labdanum, suede, saffron, beeswax, sandalwood and vetiver. $165, in Eau de Parfum.
Wolfsbane – developed by perfumer Philippe Paparella-Paris. An animalic spicy woods, with angelica root, fig leaf, cumin, ginger, absinthe, patchouli, cedar, tuberose, tobacco flower, castoreum, benzoin, sandalwood, prunol, vetiver, deer tongue and black truffles. $185, in Eau de Parfum.
Parfums Quartana fragrances may be purchased at https://six-scents.com/ and in select boutiques worldwide.