The word berceuse translates as lullaby; gentle rocking rhythms often in 6/8 time, suggesting a soothing rhythm to aid sleep. The word derives from the French bercer ("to rock") and ultimately from the Old French bers ("cradle").
It is a beautiful name for a perfume brand, suggesting a musical influx of rhythms and quietude. The key is a hushed exploration of themes and the ability to lull body and mind. Words such as composition, notes and rhythm are frequently used in perfumery: music as invisible odour and perfume as miniature sonatas, études and of course lullabies.
Will Carius, the founder of Berceuse already has scented history, as the chap behind Barrister and Mann, a stylish, overtly robust shaving line that contains two vigorous and atmospheric perfumes called Fougère Gothique and Just Right for a Tuesday. There is a hint of skull ring and seared silver about the line, but Will knows his clientele. A lot of shaving brands have this gothic, Jason Mamoa vibe but Barrister and Mann is sleek, playful and the materials and tips are very persuasive.
Despite the French sounding name, Berceuse is based in San Francisco, which in most people’s mind suggests a background of freedom, hippies, drugs and of course a panoply of music styles that defined an era and still resonate today. Taking on two very different styles of music, one classical the other a rusty jazz ambience is ambitious and using Antonio Gardoni and Spyros Drosopolous to interpret such ambition is inspired.
Music generally is quite difficult with any genuine persuasion in perfumes. The only one to consider seriously is Violette Fumée, created as a private portrait by the much-missed Mona di Orio for her partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen. Mona gathered together a skein of souvenirs that Jeroen felt were important to him. One of these delicate strands was the music of Bryan Ferry, the distinctive soft glam lounge lizard vocals and of course his style, debonair and world weary. Wearing Violette Fumeé, it is beautifully possible to discern a Ferry-esque languor and attention to soft throbbing swooning.
Berceuse is a very different brand. Only two detailed and musically inspired perfumes. However, when they are this good, they are the definition of less being more. Allegretto 7.2, a journey in the shadowy tumult of Beethoven was first and recently joined by Minneapolis 5.3, a reflection on Tom Wait’s gravelled seminal track, Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, from his 1978 album Blue Valentine. Musical inspirations are hardly a novelty in perfumery, but the intensity and dedication to olfactive verve and understanding of musical form sets the Berceuse perfumes apart.
A little like the prose of the great Henry James, the American author who best understood the nuances of Anglo-American social mores and graces, Will Carius uses his perfumers and musicology to examine European perfume tropes with an American sensibility. It is a compelling idea; the duo is diametrically opposed in mood yet somehow they echo and exalt each other. It will be intriguing to see how Will develops Berceuse, there is obviously huge scope in the musical concept, but the choice of perfumer and musical inspiration will be vital.
Allegretto is dank, herbal and pervasive, a slow emotive perfume that permeates mind and body. Minneapolis is quicker to bloom with a powerful and mournful ambience, harder edged. Once Waits’ track has echoed through neon memory, Minneapolis smells intimate and poignant.
Berceuse is an intriguing idea and one that runs and runs, depending on Carius’ musical selection and choice of distinctive collaborators. Anyone interested in perfume pushing at the edges of emotion should try them.