When Andy Tauer launched his first fragrance in 2005, indie perfumery, as we know it today, was still in its infancy and independent houses like Tauer Perfumes were categorised under the banner of niche fragrance. Niche is a vague term at best and the existing line between niche and high-end commercial perfumery is becoming increasingly blurred, so much so, I suspect it’s a term that will be redundant in a matter of years, especially now that multi-national cosmetics companies have started buying popular niche fragrance houses from their founders. While the definition of niche broadens, the focus on indie has increased. Well-known fragrance reviewer, Luca Turin’s latest blog site is dedicated almost entirely to his reviews of indie fragrances.
Andy Tauer is the poster child for this new generation of independent olfactory creators. The Swiss entrepreneur and self-made perfumer has managed to successfully establish an independent house that is worthy competition for fragrance industry heavyweights who have far more financial clout. It’s a classic David and Goliath story. Seeing his work evolve over time is enjoyable as much as it is interesting. With most niche houses, you don’t get to ride alongside as the brand self-discovers. Most niche houses aim to establish themselves immediately at the top of the niche food chain. It’s common for a newly established niche house to launch an entire collection of fragrances created by one or more already well-established perfumers.
Indie fragrance is not so different from indie music. I was recently listening to old Smashing Pumpkins albums on Apple Music. While the band’s DNA, themes and style is consistent, there are differences if you compare their early work to albums the band recorded a few years later after their global success. The band’s recent work sounds ultra clean with high production value. Compare this to an earlier album like Pisces Iscariot, which has tracks recorded in lead singer Billy Corgan’s bedroom. In the background of one acoustic track you hear the muffled sound of traffic driving by Corgan’s bedroom window. It’s this rawness and crude creativity that makes the indie scene so interesting. It’s the perfect imperfect, which is often sterilised out of commercial perfumery. This is increasingly the case in niche perfumery too.
I have a couple of Tauer Perfumes’ earlier fragrances in my collection, which showcase Andy’s talent for working with billowing smoky accords, resinous pits and opulent flowers. My interest in his work was recently rekindled when his fragrances launched in Australia at Men’s Biz, a men’s grooming specialist and barbershop based in Melbourne and Sydney. A Tauer fragrance I earmarked during the press showing was PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar, which presented a more restrained and ordered side to the perfumer’s style. Aside from it being a stunning rose fragrance, the story of its creation was also a reminder of the great things a small independent house like Tauer Perfumes can do that would not be possible for a larger house. A big perfume launch requires a lot of compound and a consistent supply and quality of raw material. Smaller businesses are much more agile and they can take greater risks. In 2013, Tauer Perfumes released a new fragrance line called Collectibles. The line featured PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar, a perfume Andy was inspired to create after he came in contact with a rare rose oil sourced from Afghanistan, a country that has a long history of growing Damask roses. Even though Afghan community leaders are encouraging their local farmers to cultivate roses in place of poppies, Afghanistan’s current social issues and war has made supply of this precious rose oil very unreliable. Andy made the decision to produce PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar with no guarantee the perfume will be available to the public. It all depends on how much Afghan rose oil he can acquire to produce his small batches.
PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar is a delightful tapestry of scent. Woven with strands of rose notes ranging from blood red rose oil to soft, fleshy tones of rose absolute; notes of cinnamon, apricot and bitter almond transform this floral theme into a gourmand delicacy. Every desert recipe calls for a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness. Here, bergamot oil is used to give lift, preventing the entire thing from melting into a weighty block of candy. There is a lot going on around the rose note but everything is positioned in such a way that this rare Afghan rose oil can be appreciated in isolation during the brief opening notes before it recedes into a metallic sheath of Bourbon geranium followed by Bulgarian rose absolute. I’ve always been fascinated by the difference in odour steam distillation and solvent extraction produces, even though the source material is the same rose flower. Rose absolute (solvent extraction) is inviting, honeyed and pretty. Rose oil (steam distillation) is striking, brutal and in my opinion more masculine. With generous use of the two sides, PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar offers both the yin and the yang of this ancient flower. The almond note and spices pin down the gourmand theme until tonka bean and vanilla have their chance to impart their sweet effect on the fragrance’s base. With its powerful musk note, PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar is like a single rose stem, laid out on a pillow of rose coloured marshmallow. The dried tobacco leaves and ambergris give the fragrance a vintage charm as it finishes. I like it for many of the same reasons I like Guerlain’s Shalimar extrait de parfum.
On my social media I’ve encountered a number of men who enjoy wearing Shalimar. For many it is a guilty pleasure. At some point in history, gourmand floral fragrances were erased from the list of what men should smell like. It got embargoed! Shalimar’s jasmine, another note commonly associated with women’s fragrances, doesn’t help our claim to it either however PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar is raw and gritty compared to Guerlain’s Art Deco masterpiece, which has been polished and cleaned by reformulation over recent decades. If you like vintage classics such as Guerlain’s Shalimar and Coty’s Emeraude, PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar takes you to that world but through the lens of contemporary perfumery.
Perfumer: Andy Tauer
Release Date: 2013
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Floral