The niche fragrance industry is showing no signs of slowing down in 2016 with new brands constantly emerging and existing brands releasing more and more new fragrances. A decade ago the industry was less hurried and niche brands had a monopoly on the customer’s attention. Customers waited with bated breath for the next fragrance launch. Often it was an annual event with some houses preferring to release a new fragrance once every two or three years. With the rise of social media and the current ease of global online shopping, niche fragrances are now highly accessible. Launches take place regularly and it is not uncommon for brands to release an entire collection of fragrances at once. There is no longer a need to actively seek out niche fragrances; today’s challenge is sifting through all the hay to find the one or two rare needles.
Amongst last year’s daily flow of images and hashtags on my Instagram feed, I started to see a lot of people talking about Nishane, a new fragrance brand from Turkey. I had the opportunity to smell Nishane’s fragrances at Pitti Fragranze in Florence later that year. Something positive to come out of niche’s rapid expansion is the growing opportunity to experience fragrance through the lens of different cultures. The Orient has inspired British and French perfumery for more than a century but it is only recently that these fragrant stories are reaching Western senses via brands that are native to the Middle East, which have global reach.
Mert Güzel and Murat Katran founded Nishane in 2012. The pair’s idea was to create a niche fragrance house that could showcase the rich heritage and fragrances of Instanbul, the city where both founders were born and raised. Through their fragrances, created with Istanbul-based perfumer Jorge Lee, Nishane offers a collection of olfactory stories reflecting on Istanbul’s history and the many influences that have shaped the cosmopolitan city over time.
Not immune to the trend of launching large numbers of fragrances at one time, Nishane established itself with sixteen fragrances. Earlier this year Nishane launched two more fragrances called Hundred Silent Ways and Fan Your Flames. The titles are inspired by popular 13th century poet Jalal al-Din Rumi. Although Rumi lived during the 13th century, his work has had a great influence on Turkish literature. In the English-speaking world, Rumi’s universal words of spiritual wisdom reached many during the self-help era of the 1990s. Fan Your Flames quotes a line from one of Rumi’s poems: “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” The olfactory story behind the fragrance is inspired by shisha, Turkish tobacco that has been marinated in flavoured molasses. The flavoured tobacco is smoked from a narguile pipe. Narguile’s etymology is rooted in the Sanskrit word for coconut, which suggests that early pipes were made from coconut shells. Fan Your Flames is a woody oriental fragrance that features the unmistakably rich aroma of tobacco leaves layered with notes of coconut, rum and fiery woods. Like Nishane’s odd but fabulous Pasión Choco, Fan Your Flames pulls together two seemingly contradictory notes but the unusual pairing creates a unique and balanced harmony. In Pasión Choco, acidic tropical fruit is played off against fatty, milky chocolate. In Fan Your Flames, contrast is created by pairing dry, sober notes of tobacco and cedar with warm, festive notes of coconut and rum. It is my favourite Nishane fragrance to date.
The smell of dried tobacco leaf is a wonderful thing even if nicotine addiction and cancer caused by smoking has stained tobacco’s reputation. Many fragrance brands, particularly in the mainstream, steer clear of using tobacco notes in their products because of the attached stigma even though chemists can remove all nicotine content and the only molecule in tobacco absolute that is on IFRA’s restricted list is coumarin, a molecule that is present in other frequently used ingredients such as lavender and tonka bean. More daring are the niche fragrance houses and a handful of luxury fragrance houses such as Tom Ford, whose retro-inspired beauty often borrows from the 1970s and 80s, a time when smoking was associated with glamour and power. Inadvertently, tobacco is now associated with expensive luxury and niche fragrances even though the raw material isn’t the most expensive ingredient in the perfumer’s palette.
When the fragrance is lifted from tobacco leaves through solvent extraction, the resulting odour is rich and multi-faceted. The top notes are warm, boozy and sweet. The heart notes are spicy, dry and hay-like. The dry-down is ambery, animalic and urinous. It’s a challenging note for perfumers to work with, which is another reason why tobacco is often reserved for use in niche fragrances designed for a more experienced customer.
Fan Your Flames takes advantage of tobacco’s diverse odour profile, playfully extending each facet with supporting accords. Tobacco’s boozy note is extended with notes of rum and coconut. The lactonic coconut note is a unique a clever play on contrast. The gourmand notes of white coconut flesh push against the dark aromas of Chinese cedarwood and earthy tobacco. As the rum note settles down in the top, warm and powdery tonka bean adds another layer of sweetness underneath the dryness of tobacco. Both ingredients are naturally high in coumarin, which creates a synergy. With oakmoss and cedar, the dry-down feels modern and masculine and being an extrait de parfum, Fan Your Flames is a marathon runner of a fragrance. It glides through a day of wear and I can still smell it lingering on my jacket lapel days later.
The French make wonderful perfumes. It is the reason why most new niche brands that aren’t French make the pilgrimage to Grasse or Paris to find a perfumer to fulfil their design briefs. But in doing this I feel like a little bit of the story gets lost in translation in the pursuit of technical excellence. I like the fact that Nishane are working with a perfumer living in Instanbul, who is absorbed in the culture his clients want to convey through scent. For me the Nishane scents are a little bit more rustic compared to other Middle Eastern fragrance houses that have their sights set on the lucrative UAE market. The fragrances are much more approachable compared these other brands, which have flashy bottles encrusted with Swarovski crystal and that smell as ostentatious as they look. The Nishane fragrances smell like they have a soul and if woody oriental fragrances or tobacco notes are your thing, Fan Your Flames could be of interest to you. Like most tobacco fragrances, I think it’s an excellent fragrance choice for smokers.
Further recommendations: Tom Ford – Tobacco Oud, Miller Harris – Feuilles de Tabac, Creed – Tabarome, Puredistance – Sheiduna
Perfumer: Jorge Lee
Creative Direction: Mert Güzel & Murat Katran
Release Date: 2016
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody Oriental