Some time ago, Alan Cumming decided to join the group of celebrities releasing a scent. Arguably, he and Jane Birkin were the only two celebrities to back interesting ones. Everyone else seemed to be pushing a synthetic variant of something else provided that the something else in question had sold well in the target demographic. These are the parameters of originality and creativity in the commercial world. Cumming the Fragrance though, was different. I mean, quite different.
To understand what I mean here, you must put the perfume into context. Compared with Jane Birkin’s perfume done by Miller Harris, Cumming the Fragrance was radical. Birkin’s L’Air de Rien is a play on Bal a Versailles and Youth Dew, it strips down their formulae, but their neroli note is prominent, followed by a lot of earthy woods and ambers. They are both animalic perfumes but nothing in comparison with Cumming.
Cumming is EARTHY. Straight out of the bottle, it comes at you with a small lavender note, but immediately afterwards a big earth note. The earth is not just any old earth, either. It’s peat, a very acid soil with a distinctive scent, and mixed in there is a Scotch note. I’m guessing a salute to all the single malts Mr. Cumming may have downed in a lifetime.
Then I get something that smells like rubber wellies, the big usually combat green kind people use to go out and seriously hunt or fish in, presumably covered in the aforementioned peat.
Then there is a truffle note. Now there is probably not a pig on the planet who likes truffles more than I do. Stick a leash on me and I’ll root about under half the oak trees in France. But the note here, most unfortunately, is faint. Still, it’s the pivotal note in this formula because immediately afterwards the fragrance loses that cigar smoking game keeper thing it had going on and becomes…civilized.
In short, what Cumming does is to take you on a ten minute tour of the Hebrides jumbling together the smell of the bogs and distilleries and all terrain vehicles flashing past you, until you arrive at the quaint, only intermittently visible village of Wackadoon where there is no great emphasis placed on personal hygiene.
By now you’re thinking, well this is something I’d better steer clear of But not so fast. In fact, Cumming belongs to a very respectable perfume family, the fougère, which is usually based on an accord between lavender and either tonka beans or coumarin, and which has been around since the 1882 creation of Fougère Royale. Cumming merely takes the low road of the animalic fougere instead of the high road of the aromatic fougere. This means that in a way its Grandpa is Mouchoir de Monsieur and not Cool Water as is the case with so many others.
You see, the naughty animalic is not a new thing in perfumery at all. It is merely in abeyance right now. Back in the early twentieth century Jacques Guerlain did a pair of fragrances for a couple he knew who were getting married and the pair, Mouchoir de Monsieur and Voilette de Madame, are the scent equivalents of tin cans tied to fenders, or the best man’s speech. They are in short, dirty jokes. The punch lines come at different segments of the fragrances, but there is in both a considerable animalic, musky phase. Cumming is that sort of fragrance
I notice, by the by, that there is no standard rubric of fougères that mentions an animalic category, so we might as well claim that this unusual perfume may have inaugurated one, since Mouchoir de Monsieur is generally classified as either a fougère or a citrus amber.
Here I should also mention that it is the creation of Christopher Brosius the Brooklyn based perfumer, and that Cumming is now reissued and available through his website CB I HATE PERFUME. The scent may have been reformulated to better reflect Mr. Cumming’s original intentions.
If so, I personally wish for a little more scotch, and more truffle. Based on this perfume, I certainly will want to smell more of Mr. Brosius’ work, but perhaps In the Library is more my speed.