Saturday, September 26, 2015

Perfume House M. Micallef Celebrates One Year Anniversary in Singapore with launch of Akowa

Structural, crystal-studded Ylang in Gold bottles
French luxury niche brand M. Micallef has been in the market for almost 20 years, but just celebrated their first birthday in Singapore with the launch of sexy new men's fragrance Akowa (SGD$345), a sensual, woody-aromatic concoction which contains a "secret ingredient" extracted from the root of an undisclosed plant from Africa. The name and concept is drawn from the reclusive African Akowa tribe, and the scent itself has an herbal bite along with a soft almost-sweet muskiness.

Aside from the slightly bitter bite of the mysterious African root, the composition also includes orange blossom and bergamot for a fresher opening, amber and cocoa for a warm inviting heart, and vetiver and white musk to ground it in the base. The overall scent is not too soapy-fresh, not too sweet, not too bitter. It's pleasingly complex but not too complicated and full of itself (as some niche scents lean towards).

The blend of old and new is something of a common theme for M. Micallef. 
They are still credited as one of the first perfume houses to embrace niche ingredients like Aoud (or Oud wood) before it became fashionable to put it in everything, and even in the design of the painstakingly hand-crafted bottles, there is a blend of classic, old-fashioned opulence with a touch of modernity.

Some of the bottles (especially the stoppered collector's bottles and the pointy-topped Ananda bottles) remind me of Arabian perfumes. 

But if you're worried that these will smell like cloying, heavy Arabic-style perfumes, don't be. Most of M. Micallef's scents can be described with the words "smooth and likeable". Some, like their bestseller, the original Anande, are sweetly-floral and extremely wearable. Ananda Dolce is fruity and creamier, like an peach-almond dessert. I love big white florals so Ananda Black with it's fleshy tuberose and ylang is my favorite of the three.

For those who love a slightly more fruity and flirty concoction, Mon Parfum M. Micallef (below) contains orange blossom, mandarin, patchouli, and a shot of yummy caramel. 

My personal favorites are Ylang In Gold and Royal Muska from the Collection Jewel line, pictured below. These are delicately sweet scents that wear like "your skin but better" because they both have a light lactonic "milky" quality to them that makes them super smooth. (If a smell can be described as smooth.) 

From left: Jewel for Him, Ylang in Gold, and Royal Muska

Royal Muska features notes like sweet raspberry, Turkish rose, ylang ylang, precious woods, warm benzoin, and musk. Ylang in Gold has ylang ylang (again - you can tell I love it!) coconut, sandalwood, and vanilla, although I also smell a fruity tang not included in these notes.

Ylang in Gold in particular, is a scent I love. Wearing it is like wrapping yourself in a silk scarf. There are no hard edges or rough bits. It's airy light and smooth as butter. It does remind me of another favorite, Il Profumo's Macadam, and these are both compositions that make me think of walking into a room with a plate of untouched French macarons sitting on the table.

Macaron tower, picture credits:
There's a soft delicate, creamy sweetness in the air but it's not a full-on gourmand dessert smell. There is nothing sticky, sugary or cloying.

And to top it off, it's available in a version filled with shimmery flecks of gold mica to deposit a glimmering veil every time you spray your skin.

M. Micallef Le Parfum Couture
Aside from the regular fragrances, the house also offers custom hand-painted bottles for serious collectors. These are available in the regular sizes, as well as much larger ones. And this year, Martine Micallef created a special 1 litre flacon for SG50, decorated with an elaborate hand-painted Merlion, studded with Swarovski crystals.

This bottle will be auctioned off at a private charity and filled with the new owner's choice of scent. If you're interested in taking a look, you might be able to see it at Takashimaya S.C. Level 1 in the Beauty Hall pop-up exhibition area before end of September.

I had the pleasure of chatting with founders (and husband and wife team) Geoffrey Nejman and Martine Micallef during the anniversary event, and asked them about the creative process behind their scents. Martine's response was that art takes inspiration from many sources and they try never to limit or structure the process too much.

Sometimes she is inspired by art, design, colors, objects, light, or a mood, and designs the bottle and concept before Geoffrey works with their long-time parfumeur Jean-Claude Astier to come up with the fragrance. Sometimes they are inspired by a scent or a particular new ingredient and the fragrance is created before a bottle is designed.

Martine Micallef hand-painting a bottle for a customer
So far, none of the M. Micallef scents I've smelt is extremely "challenging" to the nose in comparison to some of the more avant garde niche lines around. Most of their scents are very inviting and tasteful while still being a step up from generic. Which is great for the perfume dabbler who wants something that is sophisticated and not too common. (I like my Coco Mademoiselle but so do the other 1,420,932 million women in the world who wear it and instantly recognize it.) 

If you have a very developed nose and are looking for an olfactory adventure however, I feel M. Micallef might be too understated for you. Then again, I haven't had the chance to sniff through the entire range so I might be wrong! 

Aoud Gourmet is probably next on my list of scents to check out. 

M. Micallef is available at Takashimaya S.C. Level 1 in Singapore.


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