Scents and Sensibility: Highlights from the Elements Showcase
The Elements Showcase in New York lived up to its name as attendees faced a wintry mix of snow, wind and rain to sniff their way through the latest offerings in scents and sensibilities.
As I entered the Skylight West space on Manhattan's far west side, two things hit me hard and fast: the alluring array of aromas and the magnitude of the perfume industry. According to the leading U.S. market research company, the NPD Group, the annual U.S. sales for perfume is over $5 billion, with worldwide intake at a heady $27.5 billion. That's a lot of Old Spice!
While I smelled and sprayed my way through an array of products, I discovered three unique standouts that represent history as well as innovation.
Acqua di Stresa
The Acqua di Stresa collection is based on co-owners Giovanni Castelli and Andrea Potrucco’s mutual love of the lush Lake Maggiore in the small town of Stresa in northern Italy. They desire to share the scents and the emotion of the garden of their beloved buen retiro -- the Castillo di Ripa, a 200-year-old castle and botanical paradise.
Acqua di Stresa embodies what we envision of the Italian countryside: intoxicating and bold bouquets of bergamot, osmanthus, black pepper and winter camellia.
My favorite of the group, the Calycanthus Brumae was described as "mystic and silent like dusk on the lake." It is indeed ethereal, mysterious and powerful. It cloaked my senses and if I’d ever been to that famous lake, I’m sure it would have whisked me right back.
Acqua di Stresa also includes a bath line enriched with camellia oil as well as home fragrances that mirror the body scents.
Eight & Bob
Acqua di Stresa wasn’t the only brand with a backstory. Each booth offered creative tales with varied inspirations. Eight & Bob was founded by an early 20th century Parisian aristocrat, Albert Fouquet, who created and perfected various essences for his own private use -- aided by Philippe, the family butler.
In summer 1937 Fouquet meets a charming young American student touring France. The American, a very young John F. Kennedy, was instantly taken by Fouquet’s cologne and begged for some of his own.
In typical French fashion, Fouquet agreed but left this little saucy note next to the gift: "In this bottle, you will find the dash of French glamour that your American personality lacks."
JFK was hooked and requested the first official order for eight bottles with the caveat "if your production allows, another one for Bob." The name was born and when JFK and his father Joseph Kennedy hob-knobbed with the Hollywood elite, the demand for the cologne increased. Soon, the likes of Cary Grant, James Stewart and others wanted some Eight & Bob for their own.
When Fouquet died in 1939, Philippe kept the brand alive until WWII forced him to relocate. The final shipments of Eight & Bob were sent out in hollowed out books to hide them from the Nazis. Decades later, thanks to the family of Philippe the butler, the formula has been completely recovered and back in business.
The ingredients and formula are closely held secrets. What is known is that the fragrance is based on a rare aromatic plant from Chile and smells fresh, green and surprisingly modern. Not overwhelming, this is an intriguing scent that begs for closer inspection.
My last stop on this olfactory tour was Blood Concept. Intimidating in name and idea, this is future minimalism/art chic at its most. Blood Concept is packaged in shiny metal bottles designed like clinical eyedroppers and composed of primal scents with no floral notes.
After the first flush of heady notes died down, I inhaled that odd whiff of spoon you notice when eating hot soup. The brand representative pointed out that all the formulas contain a strong metallic tone like in blood.
Taking it one step further, each scent is designed to appeal to specific blood types. Confession: as someone who doesn’t know his own blood type, I felt I had a disadvantage. At the same time I could appreciate the scents without the conceptual influence.
I was drawn to Type A with its basil, star anise and typical metallic notes. Perhaps a call to my doctor to find out my blood type is in order.
An afternoon at the Elements Showcase was a great opportunity to learn more about both emerging and established brands. The various scents whisked me to the Italian countryside, took me back to an era of American royalty and even encouraged me to think about the connection between hematology and fragrance composition.