Someone at Helmut Lang HQ finally wised up to the fact that second-hand bottles of the brand’s discontinued fragrances were being auctioned on Ebay at extortionate prices. Last year Helmut Lang reintroduced its fragrant trio, Eau de Cologne, Eau de Parfum and Cuiron, which were axed a short time after being released in succession from 2000 to 2002. It was a tumultuous time for the fashion brand. In 2005, at the height of his career, Helmut Lang made a shock announcement that he was retiring from fashion. Dissolving a lucrative partnership with Prada Group, the designer traded his fashion career for a life in the visual arts. To mark his retirement, Lang put his entire archive that was rumoured to be 6000 – 8000 pieces of clothing through an industrial shredder. Some of that shredded pulp has since resurfaced in the artist’s sculptures.
In fashion, Helmut Lang was best known for his avant-garde approach to deconstruction and minimalism. When the designer decided to include fragrances in his collection he used the same approach. The olfactory themes he explored were not minimal in their execution, but ideas were drawn back to their fundmentals before new paths were set. Eau de Cologne contained the essential elements that defined the eau de cologne genre but the way those elements were expressed was a new direction. The packaging was distinctly Helmut Lang. A simple rectangle bottle and cap was used with minimal text on a white label. Lang worked with two very talented perfumers Maurice Roucel and Francoise Caron. That decision undoubtedly influenced the continual growth in cult status these fragrances enjoyed; well-made perfumes live on long after Marketing has given up and in this case, the brand owner has sold and the distribution company (Proctor & Gamble) has dropped all of its small brands to concentrate on “brands with big global potential.” Since Lang’s departure, the Helmut Lang brand has passed through various hands and continues to produce collections under the design ethos that made Lang famous in the late-1980s and 1990s.
Last year when the current brand owners announced the relaunch of Helmut Lang fragrances the news received a lot of attention from online perfume forums. Perfume enthusiasts are always apprehensive when a brand decides to bring a discontinued perfume back to life. Sometimes these fragrances smell different compared to their originals. With IFRA regulations under constant revision, the original formula often needs to be reformulated to comply with IFRA’s current Code of Practice. In some instances a relaunched fragrance suffers from new owners wishing to cut corners on raw material costs. Thankfully none of this happened with the Helmut Lang relaunches, well, to my nose anyway. Cuiron smells just as good from today’s bottle as it does from the bottle I have in my collection from a few years back. It will be interesting to see is if the brand is content with the return of these fragrances or whether new ones will be added, and if so, what will they smell like?
Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne begins with aromatic notes of lavender, rosemary and petitgrain oil distilled from the leaves and twigs of the orange tree. Less floral and odour-wise, more crude compared to neroli oil distilled from orange flowers, the petigrain note dominates the opening sequence and brings a raw, artisanal quality to the eau de cologne theme. Aliphatic aldehydes work their magic casting a shimmering veil over the top notes and later help build powdery notes around the floral heart of jasmine, heliotrope and rose. As the evergreen foliage clears, Eau de Cologne begins to warm with an inescapable musk accord that envelops the fragrance, smelling cuddly and inviting but still with an element of the untamed and unclean like lanolin-rich raw sheep wool. Cedar, patchouli, sandalwood and a touch of amber add complexity and texture to an oriental dry-down. Using base note ingredients that have good tenacity avoids the common complaint classic eaux de cologne attract of being too short-lived. In this respect Eau de Cologne performs more like an eau de toilette or eau de parfum.
Helmut Lang and Maurice Roucel’s take on the classic eau de cologne theme is one of the most interesting adaptations I’ve experienced. It’s so far from the narrow parameters that define the genre, yet all of the elements are still present. The overdose of musk and oriental base notes are obvious disfigurements of the genre but this is what makes it work so well. Any offer of refreshing herbal and citrus notes are muted by the wave of musk that sways between fecal animal tones, strawberries and cashmere. It’s a visionary fragrance that is as relevant today, if not more so, as it was when it was introduced in 2000. My preference is to wear Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne as an evening fragrance even though it is a versatile fragrance. Part of its abstract charm is that it can be worn anywhere, anytime and by anyone. But I should pre-warn readers, I think you need to like musk to fully enjoy wearing this fragrance. It is not the sparkling citrus scent generally associated with eau de cologne.
Further Recommendations: Kiehl’s Musk, Serge Lutens Clair de Musc, Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum
Perfumer: Maurice Roucel
Bottle Designer: Marc Atlan
Release Date: 2000
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody oriental