Smarter than the crowd pleaser
If a rather conservative house like Micallef names one of its fragrances “Avant Garde”, one may become curious!
And indeed, this fragrance is something one does not find every day. At the core of it, there is a chocolate-like note which qualifies this fragrance as a gourmand. It is set against a dark, masculine background of tobacco and slightly smoky notes. However, the charm of Avant Garde comes from the dialogue of the chocolate with fresh, almost aquatic hints. These can be found mainly in the top and the heart. They fade away slowly and give way to a more straightforward “smoky” and ambery chocolate.
The fresh notes, however, are what interest me the most. They define all the charm of this beautiful fragrance. There are discreet citruses in the head notes. I get very vague hints of something like cucumber or melon, but there is also a slight hint of saltiness or even iodine – the note that was so soundly fathomed in Annick Goutal's Vétiver. Additionally to the notes stated here and on the Micallef site, First-in-Fragrance also denominates orris and nymphea in the top.
Now, if your expectation of an avant garde perfume is weird experiments with hyper-modern molecules, Avant Garde will disappoint you. This kind of avant-gardism is rather tamed down, very discreet, and it cannot deny that it is deeply rooted in traditional craftsmanship and artistry. The ingredients may not be hyper-modern, but the combination of notes is rather rare.
There may not be many other reminiscent fragrances, but especially one has become tremendously successful and popular here: Guerlain's L'Instant pour Homme. It has the same chocolate appeal – however, Avant Garde appears to be lighter. Actually, I would rather compare Avant Garde to the light L'Instant pH flankers Christaux d'Agrume and L'Instant d'un Été that – sadly – have been discontinued. All those fragrances came out during the last decade, and so, one may regard Avant Garde as Micallef's answer to those successful Guerlain colognes.
Whereas Guerlain's L'Instant pour Homme and the Eau Extrême obviously were designed for the gents with a secret sweet tooth, the basic character of the light flankers as well as of Avant Garde is completely different. It is all about how such a solid and robust gourmand note like chocolate can be set into a dialogue with freshness, transparency and airiness. The result of all three attempts is light elegance – something that would rather not satisfy typical gourmand needs. Within this frame I would locate Avant Garde somewhere in between the popular L'Instant pH original and the light summer flankers. It is the darkish and smoky aspects in the base of Avant Garde that makes one hesitate to categorize it as a straightforward summer fragrance.
Since the Guerlain light flankers of L'Instant pH are history, it looks like Avant Garde is currently the only gents' fragrance exploring the stress field between chocolate and light transparency. For me, it is truly avant-garde in a sense that Avant Garde is anything but a crowd pleaser. If fragrance notes are so far apart from each other, the outcome is hardly easy to wear. Avant Garde should be worn thoughtfully and attentively. The longevity of only an Eau de Toilette helps to avoid wearing it ad nauseam.
A few years ago, I had the chance to talk to Geoffrey Nejman from Micallef. He explained to me that their understanding was that of a family business which includes not to grow beyond a certain size. He told me about his plans for new fragrances but also conceded that others would have to go in return. By now, we have seen quite a few circles of new perfumes by Micallef but Avant Garde is still there! I never expected that - well, sometimes quality prevails.