These hot summer days I can’t seem to get enough of my Atelier Cologne ‘Sud Magnolia’. A fragrance I’d never met until three days ago. A brand I’d never heard of three years ago. This is definitely a ‘summer affair’.
Amazing how things can happen so quickly.
For la petite histoire, I discovered Atelier Cologne in 2012 thanks to a chance encounter at the annual French Fifi Awards dinner. At cocktails, Frédéric Malle introduced me to Ralf Schwieger, a German perfumer whom Frédéric said was doing some ‘interesting new fragrances I should look out for’. Not a half hour later I found myself seated at the dinner table with Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel. They told me they had just arrived from New York because their first fragrance ‘Orange Sanguine’ by Ralf Schwieger was up for a Fifi Award. Their brand, Atelier Cologne, was something different they said. Fragrances with the freshness of cologne and the staying power of perfume.
And then, everything went very fast. The Experts’ Award (the only Fifi for ‘niche’ and ‘exclusive’ fragrances) was one of the first to be announced, and next thing we knew, Annette Green, Philippe Ughetto and Sabine Chabbert were calling their name, and heads were turning all across the ballroom. I shot this photo of Sylvie, Christophe, and Ralf holding the cherished Fifi, and in that same moment the journalist in me realized that a new chapter in perfumery was opening before my eyes.
Moments later, upon my first whiff of ‘Orange Sanguine’, the perfume lover in me had a similar realisation.
By the time the Paris boutique opened on the rue Saint Florentine in 2013, I knew about Atelier Cologne’s other fragrances. I’d even heard rumors about Atelier Cologne’s romantic fragrance duo, ‘Rose Anonyme’ and ‘Vetiver Fatal’, and was expecting great stuff. Even so, I was totally unprepared when ‘Vetiver Fatal’ crept up on me like a gentleman thief, and took me for all I was worth, right there in one of the most respectable neighbors of Paris. ‘And he calls himself a cologne!’ I sniffed.
All this to say that the other night when I went to the Atelier Cologne party I was no babe in arms, and was on my guard in anticipation of meeting the guests of honor, the four ‘Azur Collection’ fragrances. Even so, the moment I sampled ‘Sud Magnolia’, I felt something I wasn’t prepared for. Everything else became secondary. Just one whiff and I said, ‘This is IT.’
Blame it on the heat. Blame it on the moment. Blame it on summer and an Azur blue bottle in a fuchsia leather case. Blame it on whatever it is that makes a person instantly fall in love with a fragrance. There might have been others to sample. I don’t remember. Didn’t matter. Couldn’t get my mind off ‘Sud Magnolia’. Had to wear it home. Had to dream in it all night. Haven’t been able to get enough of it since.
Coming from the American South, I used to take it as a derogatory remark when someone would say, “Oh, she’ll be a magnolia”. Now I love it. I’ve learned that in addition to being beautiful, there’s something sharp and sweet, carnal, clean, and unwavering in a magnolia. Perfumer Jerome Epinette has caught this in ‘Sud Magnolia’ with an intoxicating combination of bitter orange, pomelo (similar to a green grapefruit), black currant, rose, saffron, Atlas cedar, sandalwood and musk.
The morning after the Atelier Cologne party ‘Magnolia Sud’ and I left Paris together and went south to a domain just outside ‘Le Coudon’ in La Valette du Var (near Marseille). This is a place overlooking orange and lemon trees, olive groves, and the Mediterranean. A place where crickets chirp all day in the warm dry air.
This southern terroir, like my native South is both a place and a state of mind. It’s here that I can indulge my ‘Magnolia Sud’ and exult in her powers — light enough to apply and re-apply several times during the day without unsettling my entourage, and still lingering in faint tantalizing notes at dawn.
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