Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the founder of French niche brand Parfum d’Empire, set out on an unusual and compelling plan for a perfume brand: to recreate, or rather draw inspiration from, historical empires, from Roman to Russian. His brand was informed by perfume historian Elisabeth de Feydeau, who teaches at ISIPCA, the Versailles perfumery school where Corticchiato also enrolled. Abstaining from tired tropes and aiming for a genuine passion for a feeling for the context of fragrance as a cultural object, they embarked in a fascinating route of pure semiotics.
The experience of Corticchiato with botany and creating projects for luxury brands, such as the Hotel Lutetia, has informed his own collection with the streamlining which a niche brand should aim for. There are no redundancies in the collection, no gimmicks, no unstoppable flankers like with mainstream perfumery.
The raw materials are the soul of the collection. Corticchiato was involved in aromatherapy in the 1990s, before founding his Parfum d’Empire in 2003, so his technical expertise was put to good use. Pushing the materials into a story, as he did in Corsica Furiosa with the shrub of lentiscus which gives us mastic resin, is part of his approach. Green and ardent, rather oleaginous, the essence at the heart of this fragrance reveals the soul of the brand.
Building into the story of Empires was however precedent. Two of them especially, deservedly hold cult status among perfume lovers, and continue to be among the best-selling fragrances of the brand.
Ambre Russe is an amber to end all ambers. Contrary to our given expectations, which would imply that the Russian Empire of the Tsars would opt for a predominantly Cuir de Russie type of scent (as the legend goes, the cossacks used birch tar to waterproof their boots, hence the scent), this fragrance plunges into the plush of amber. Calorific, satisfying, expansive and delectable, Ambre Russe does include Russian leather chords, as well as stalwart vodka and juniper berries notes. One for connoisseurs, the opening hits you with booze and coriander, and quickly segues into amber, embraced with leather and incense. It is as if we’re allowed to glimpse into the empire, turmoil and all, just before the fall of the Tsars, but with modern ingredients on what concerns the structure of the formula.
The other beacon of the historical collection is none other than Cuir Ottoman. One would be more inclined to associate a purely oriental fragrance with the Ottoman Empire, but tanning is also part of the heritage of the Turks, as attested in the industrious manufacturing of leather-wear to this day. Corticchiato’s fragrance is not intensely leather-like however, lacking the pungency of the roasted birch tar or the inky green isoquinolines which are otherwise used in the composition of leather chords. Instead Cuir Ottoman possesses a sweet tea note, also characteristic of the Ottoman tradition, as the modern country is counted among top consumers of black tea globally. Smooth, sweetish, with an ambery lace around it, and buttery starchy iris, making it unique in its genre and a must try for all, this elegant composition lends itself to daily wearing effortlessly.
Another popular specimen in the historical collection is Eau Suave, different from the previous two, a fruity chypre inspired by the rose gardens of Empress Josephine, consort of Napoleon Bonaparte. Although the mention of Josephine might indicate a feminine fantasy of powdery roses, this is instead a twist on rose, with a very natural feeling stemming from Corticchiato’s impressive knowledge of this much-loved flower. The natural distillate comprises no less than 400 different molecules, meaning it’s an extraordinary composition devised by nature itself. The mastery with which Marc-Antoine treats it means he can fall back on the ancient Arab recipes, enhancing it into a unisex marvel. Equal parts mossy, peppery, soapy and earthy, it is a must smell for anyone who is studying the multi-nuanced effects of roses in perfumery.
A second rose-strewn fragrance in the collection is the revered Le Cri (originally Cry of the Light), built on the precious and scarce to source vegetal musk note of ambrette, which comes from an hibiscus seed extract from India, and the aldehydic treatment of Turkish rose. At once ethereal and powdery, thanks to an abundance of orris root, Le Cri's wearer becomes the goddess incarnate of light hovering over the mountaintops of dawn.
One of Corticchiato’s other passionate loves is horses, ever since he was 8 and almost becoming his profession. From this passion comes Equistrius, named after a horse that belonged to Marc-Antoine, and a piece straight from the Roman Empire and its vast dependence on horses. Horses are fascinating creatures, their skin, their breath, their straw, their dung even, and there’s a small facet of each of those things in Equistrius the fragrance. Not loud, but neither meek, this iris-starched suede is amber-leaning in places, comforting and dependable in equal measure. Bitterish at first with a cocoa dust impression from the iris, it unfolds into chocolate-like suede and powder. It sounds luxurious and it most certainly is.
Musc Tonkin is also inspired by an animal, this time the long sought after deer musk of Nepal, who had to be male and in rut, and it had to be killed at that precise moment to extract a gland, which smells extremely strong – and nothing like those modern, very clean musks. Prized both for its erotic character as well as its fixative properties, the musk bearing animal was hunted extensively until it reached the status of endangered species. For Corticchiato, this musk is the ghost of perfumery, and with Musc Tonkin he offers us the equivalent in contemporary terms. He recreated the animal scent with various ingredients which do not harm animals in the process, one of which notably the mysterious African Stone. This derives from the fossilized urine of a small African critter known as Hyrax, deposited on rocks, and smells animalistic, sweetish and powerfully suave. It’s foiled in the animalistic facets of rose, osmanthus and tuberose, too. If you’re a fan of YSL's classic Kouros, do give it a chance, it’s a scent to behold.
Wazamba and Aziyadé are both inspired by mythical destinations, the former by the musical instruments used in West African ceremonies, the latter by the tales of Istanbul harems as recounted by novelist Pierre Loti. Incense-y and resinous, Wazamba is oddly soapy and sweet, full of the compelling note of myrrh, a resin from an African tree, and one for those who can appreciate the silent mastery of one’s own craft rather than the boisterous claims of ambitious entrepreneurs. Aziyadé on the other hand was a real eye-opener here at LKNU! Who would have thought we’d fall headlong for something as spicy? Cardamom and cumin dominate the composition, with the stewed pudding chord of dates and plums at the background; fit for the sensuous body of a young concubine, trained to be the king’s kadin, his favourite wife.
But historical paradigms is not all that Parfum d’Empire is about. There’s more. Corticchiato, born in Morocco in Azemmour, but hailing from the French island of Corsica, was enamoured with plants, which is what led him into perfumery in the first place. In his sub-collection L’Heritage Corse, which was pre-empted by the aromatic citrus Eau de Gloire in 2003, Marc-Antoine recounts the memories of his holidays in Ajaccio where the family home stood, as well as honouring the Corsicans who left, but who retain the maquis, the intensely aromatic vegetation of the Mediterranean, close at heart.
Immortelle Corse is a tale of helichrysum, the so called everlasting flower, a yellow blossomed small plant, which dots the hillsides around the Mediterranean coast. The intense essence of immortelle dominates the heart of this scent, with treacly notes of maple syrup, and juxtaposes the leather and iodine facets of saffron, another precious ingredient coming from the stamens of a small purple flower growing in the Mediterranean and Iran. It’s a fragrance of sunny warmth and dryness, vaguely reminiscent of manly fragrances of yore, yet also implicating sweet and bitter nuances that make it appropriate for all sexes.
Corsica Furiosa is another one which includes natural elements from the island of Marc-Antoine’s childhood vacations, focusing on mastic. Corticchiato says, “In Corsica Furiosa, the lentisque (mastic) essence plays a role in the head, the absolute comes in the heart all the way to the base, and there’s an exclusive extract you can smell from the end of the heart to the base. The essence smells like the steam, the absolute has a green aspect that evolves into hay, which wasn’t what I wanted to convey, whereas this exclusive extract had the green-woody aspect of the lentisque, as you can smell it in the maquis.” Impetuous and dynamic, this is a fragrance of green herbal lift, with the tang of tomato leaves, and a resinous hint at the heart, which fits a hot summer like a glove.
Last but not least, Aqua di Scandola replicates the serene landscape off the coast of Corsica, with marine notes that evoke the unique blue waters of the sea, with the salty nuance of algae. Windswept whiffs of botanical notes of artemisia, basil and helichrysum, and the crackling salt clinging on the rocks lull us into a summery fantasy of endless vacations. The opening taste of bitter orange, also appearing in Yuzu Fou and Azemour Les Orangers is a prelude to the tall drink you will be sipping by the coast; we want to feel like this forever.
So whether you’re intrigued by history, or enthralled by the eternal allure of the Mediterranean, Parfum d’Empire has something to make you feel truly decadent, truly indulging like an emperor. And frankly, it’s a challenge we’re itching to scratch any season, aren’t you?
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