Saturday, December 13, 2014

Karl Lagerfeld Kapsules (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

Karl Lagerfeld Kapsules
(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 28, 2011)

Apparently über-kühl German designer Karl Lagerfeld loves geometry and music, in addition to fashion, and his launch of the Kapsule trio—a set of three unisex perfumes designed to be worn separately or mixed together according to the wearer's liking—is a multidimensional tribute to all of Karl's loves simultaneously.

Since these perfumes are sold separately, they can and should, it seems to me, be initially evaluated as stand-alone fragrances. How do they measure up next to similar perfumes in their respective categories?

Subtle or boring? Well, it's all a matter of personal values, I suppose. To my nose, Kapsule Light is without question a subtle, slightly masculine-leaning cologne. The dominant cedarish quality is, I gather, imparted by iso-E-super? Karl's not the kind to show all his cards, so there probably is a lot more going on than the officially listed notes suggest.

In any case, the principal spicey notes in this composition are characteristically strong ones: bitter orange, clove, and nutmeg. The latter two of those notes usually signal big, bad oriental. Here, however, they are very lightly applied, with the overall effect of being to my nose at the very threshold of perceptibility. The scent ends up seeming much closer to Molecule 01 than to typical nutmeg, clove, and bitter orange-laden perfumes. Yes, Kapsule Light, as advertised, is light.

This would make a fine scent for the modern wall-less open office, where loud colognes can really be too much for all parties concerned—including the wearer, given the potential for undue strife and contention caused by overly sensitive co-workers. I am fairly sure that Kapsule Light would mix well with more intense perfumes, to mellow them out a bit, though I do not mean to suggest that this is somehow solvent-like. In addition to testing some of the Kapsule combinations, I am going to try mixing this one, in particular, with some of the harder-hitting offerings from the house of Comme des Garçons.

The color of the Kapsule Light bottle is, appropriately enough, a lighter version of the tealish-smoky blue of the Kapsule Woody bottle, suggesting that a stroll in that direction might be in order...

Perfumer: Mark Buxton
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann
Salient notes (from bitter orange, jasmine, nutmeg, cloves and musk

The plum and the wood of Kapsule Woody mingle together enticingly with the moss, though I should say that it does not really seem like oakmoss to me, nor is evernia prunastri listed among the ingredients.

By far my favorite of the Kapsule trio, Kapsule Woody is fully unisex to my nose. I do find this one a bit different from the usual woody colognes out there, primarily because of the plum. Somehow I'm getting a bit of an emergent incense vibe out of the deceptively simple line-up of notes. Again, I don't think this is a three-note wonder, but it is fairly streamlined and smooth.

The gorgeous Kapsule Woody bottle is a deep tealish blue, which is dark enough to convey more of a midnight in a forest (woody, oriental, chypre) than a sunny day at the beach (aquatic) impression. Splendid!!!!

Perfumer: Oliver Cresp (Firmenich)
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann
Salient notes (from cedar, moss, gourmet plum.

Although this perfume comes in a black-tinged red bottle, the composition has a rather creamy yellow feeling to me, falling somewhere in between Kapsule Woody and Henri Bendel Vanilla Flower. Surely there's more to this perfume than violet, tea, and ivy? I'd add wood, possibly tobacco leaf, and vanilla, for starters. There is definitely a lightly mimosa-esque feel to the overall composition, although it is not overly floral. However, Kapsule Floriental does seem to me more feminine than the other two members of the trio.

Kapsule Floriental is a gentle, not-too-sweet, not-too-spicy, not-too-flowery, oriental perfume, with a softness vaguely reminiscent of Jill Sander Style Pastel Soft Yellow—but perhaps without the benzoin and with a touch more wood?

Although this perfume is not all that original, it has a soothing and warm quality which makes it suitable for cooler weather. It will be interesting to see how this mixes with the other two Kapsules.

Perfumer: Emilie Coppermann (Symrise)
Salient notes (from ivy leaves, violet and black tea leaves.
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann

Synoptic Aesthetic Assessment
I read one amusing review in which these perfumes were described as “three flankers in search of an original,” with which I must respectfully disagree—although I certainly do appreciate the wittiness of that turn of phrase! To call a perfume “flanker-esque” these days is certainly not to pay it a compliment, so the reviewer's point was of course that, as stand-alone perfumes, none of the Kapsules is all that memorable or iconic.

In my view, it is indeed true that the individual perfumes of this collection are not earth-shatteringly brilliant. Nonetheless, I feel that overall, when all facets and factors are taken into consideration, the Kapsule collection succeeds. In order to understand how I can claim, on the one hand, that the perfumes are not individually extraordinary but, on the other hand, the collection succeeds as an aesthetic project, it is important to bear in mind what this was all about in the first place.

Karl wanted to create a modular “chord-like” trio of perfumes. In order to mix compatibly with one another, according to unique wearers' own idiosyncratic preferences, each individual perfume had to be, of necessity, relatively simple, and the names needed to reflect that simplicity as well: LightWoodyFloriental. Yes, compared to the names given to perfumes today, these all sound pretty boring. But imagine, for example, mixing together two or three classic perfumes with wild development trajectories filled with dozens of notes unfurling in various and unpredictable ways in the approach to the drydown. The effect of such a combination could quickly become unwearable, if not downright emetic.

The Kapsule trio not only invites perfumistas to be creative in applying their fragrance, it also inspires thought about the process of creating a perfume, how it is that perfumers arrive at the products which they launch as finished perfumes. Here is a list of some of the combinations which wearers might hit upon by mixing equal numbers of spritzes of the three Kapsules with one another:


When one considers the many other possible permutations, where multiple spritzes are combined with single spritzes—or even half-spritzes—then the numbers quickly leap exponentially. I did not, needless to say, try all or even many of these combinations, but I did experiment a bit with simple 1:1 mixtures, and what I found was that they actually did make wearable perfumes with varying degrees of complexity.

The Kapsules succeed aesthetically, therefore, precisely because of their individual simplicity, which is an integral part of the grand scheme underlying the overall production. A derogatory dismissal of the Kapsules as “three flankers in search of an original” fails to grasp (or appreciate) the governing concept of the project, and the designer's unique vision in coming up with the musical-mathematical-perfumic idea in the first place.

In the end, I regard the Kapsule trio as a fascinating concept, with splendid aesthetic execution on all fronts, including the visual presentation. Why even the silver-and-white-accented, textured-black cardboard boxes are beautiful to behold! Karl's signature is stamped—using raised lettering, as in Braille—on the bottom of the bottles (see the picture of Kapsule Woody, above), yet another aesthetic flourish.

The three bottles look very sleek lined up together, forming a three-layered box, and even sound nice when clinked. The sleek, brushed-aluminum cap and matching circular name plates provide the perfect finish to the appealingly colored square-shaped bottles. I really do love the geometry and aesthetics of the whole presentation—and I suspect that even some perfume haters would as well. If they perchance received this collection as a gift and have some appreciation for visual aesthetics, they might even consider, rather than throwing the bottles away, displaying the collection proudly among other objets d'art on a bureau or book shelf. Yes, believe it or not, every angle and node in logical space is covered by the Kapsules! The perfume hater would be the one who chooses combination 000.

Touching and seeing the bottles in which perfume is housed is no less of a sensory experience than is smelling what's inside. Kudos to Karl & Co. for not neglecting the all-important details all-too-often overlooked.

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