I am emotional about fragrance. We scent a pathway through our lives, remember to pause, inhale & imprint. Inhale & desire.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hues of Redolent Philtre: The Illuminated Palette of Hans Hendley.

Grandma my sleep is narrow
Bid you bring me some strong drink
Strain out the pulps and set them close outside
For when my belly
For when my little belly speaks..

From Belispeak by Purity Ring

The olfactory landscape of Hans Hendley is that of luminescent hinterland: edges, lines, washed walls, torn metal sheeting and sun drenched roadways burnt around the carefully balanced edges. His flowers are sunlit in vintage opalescent glass. Gardens are overgrown, closed in and secretive, tucked away behind graffiti-tagged fences. The mix of urbanity and wilderness dream is beguiling and partly real, an echo of Hans’ wandering childhood and his present roaming of New York’s looming urban enormity.

Photography by Hans Hendley 
(Reproduced by kind permission of HH)

He has a large artful portfolio of photographs smeared through glare and echoing mournful vignette. He was worked devotedly in lomotography with its foggy attributes of cross processing, spontaneity and shoot now think later artistic ethos. Hans’ lomo work is a soothing assembly of saturated stills, pulled from a film-set of a mind, places and atmospheres stylised to relentlessly pursue a deeply personal view of Hans-life. He worked in a lomotography store in NY for a while, passing on his skills to others and honing his visual acuity. His Flickr page is quite different in style, calm and studied, images of elegant air, cut with colour-blocked architecture, gardens and composed lines. Any people inhabiting the spaces are immobile, vacant, at rest.

Lomotography by Hans Hendley
(Images reproduced by kind permission of HH)

Hans has a BFA in Photography from the University of North Texas School of Visual Arts, a subject he actively pursued after an reasonably unconventional upbringing in North Texas. Born in Dallas, his parents re-located to wilder climes and young Hans was kinda home-schooled by devoutly craft-loving inventive and artistically inclined parents. This kind of free-wheeling nurturing of a young person’s psyche will allow for a more far-reaching connection to surrounding elements be they sounds, scents, textures, images or a sensual coalescence of them all.

I was raised abroad for the early part of my childhood in the Middle East and West Africa by parents who believed passionately in travel, experience and exposure to everything, good or bad. Home-schooled for years, my imagination was glutted with history, archaeology, poetry, classic literature, ancient mythologies, Arthurian legend and a bizarre obsession with Aztec death rites. You learn skewed methods and eclectic fact, have passions for the obscure and arcane. Words and emotion matter, either demonstrating or masking them.

Hans has said in interviews that he always harboured secret perfumery desires, mixing leaves, bark and petals as so many do when they are young. I sense though, with Hans, there was probably a more determined searching for effect and result. If you look at his perfumery with an artistic eye, there is a chromatic bent and innate sense of pared down structure and composition similar to that of his photography. Pigmentation and saturation sit happily alongside olfactive effect and Han’s dense and wondrous capture of light, berry, smoke, resin, petal, sheath, pod and bloom.

His perfume house is joyously simple, hand-crafted, hand-poured and labelled and yet the edges and selvedge seem hidden. His website is an exercise is minimalism, with carefully chosen words used to precisely capture emotions regarding his work, persuading us to listen and crave the odours. Auric is described as ‘Rush. Honeyed Bloom. Bitersweet Radiance’ and Gia as ‘Silk Road. Manifest Destiny. Opulent Plume.’ Massively simple but achingly decorative phrasing. This skeletal presentation works, it creates honest enigma, an oxymoron of sorts, but one that is rare in perfumery. You want to sample, blind buy even, tempted by simple poignant phrasing. At the same time, Hans' workings remain veiled, at a remove.

Images by Hans Hendley
(reproduced by kind permission of HH)

There is no denying Hans considers his work a personal art form. He communicates this through his images and presentation of bottles, juice and working practices, be it cutting labels, filtering, decanting or just capturing sunlight blazing through his multi-coloured formulae. Everything is carefully considered before presentation. I like his sense of control. It’s how I am too. He has set up a very simple website platform with minimal fuss and frou-frou. As a business launch it works because the scents shine. He stands back. Sometimes a little modesty is a good thing; you can step into the light later.

Images by Hans Hendley
(Reproduced by kind permission of HH)

There is both restraint and labyrinth in Hans’ odours, a melding of old-fashioned alchemy and modern perfumed reflection. His natural perfumed pages glow with olfactive calligraphy, illuminated with petals, leaves, buds coiled and reaching over thorns, mulch, herbs and fuming stalk. I do smell glimmers and echoes of Gorilla, D.S.& Durga, Aftel, Slumberhouse and OLO Fragrance in the medicinal apothecary raw materials but also softer smears of Caron, Guerlain in his handling of boudoir resins, rose and vanilla. So much oddity and mystery for one so early in his scented career.  

His perfumes celebrate the careful craft of assembly and Hans’ perception of the sensual world. His raising, eye, vision and photographic leanings have created a perfumed skill of acute precision. His palette may be restrictive but it vibrates with intent. There is glow from the hinterland.

Hans very kindly sent me samples in the post from New York, via Paris (he was worried about delivery and piggybacked a friend as courier..). I was kinda wowed by the sexy/casual way he arranged the sample cards in artfully torn parcel paper (did he know how much I LOVE the look of buff, crumpled parcel paper…?), sealed and tucked it inside a heavy duty plastic zip bag. Each stage of the unfolding resembled an art project. There had been tiny leakage onto the tumble of cards, smears of green, rust and autumnal serum. The mingle of low smell was beautiful and alluring.

I was gifted Fume, Bourbon, Rosenthal, Auric, Tama, Gia and something rather special entitled Jade, an arresting minted pea-green scent Hans has been working on. It’s an imminent launch; he wanted to make a fresh formula with no citrus. Anyway, more on that later. All of these odours have a powerful, alchemical draw to them, they feel private and a little runic. There is sensuality and raw calling, subtle enchantment and good old-fashioned limpid olfaction. As with so much artisan, home-brewed scent, gender is fluid, the sex of scent flowing freely in out of Han’s handsome array.

Glittering Hendley Juice
(Image reproduced by kind permission of HH)

As always with any collection, some speak to me louder than others. None of them bored me per se but I found myself musing over some more than others, captured by elements of base notes or trailing the juices on my skin to re-in hale the heady rush of pungent opening salvoes.

Fume is Han’s haunted forest, smoked, tenaciously brutal with conifer resins, vetiver, oakmoss and the delicious loamy tread of galbanum. I smell a hit of Slumberhouse’s satanic Norne in the tainted edges, but the vetiver is sweet enough to hold its own against the medicinal slide of malachite coppice brooding. The murk and shade of Fume is beautiful, nuanced and balanced enough to allow variation of tonality in the drydown. On card, the lingering of Fume is amazingly long, with a drawn-out fermented fruitiness I think is sadly impossible to produce on skin. I want to revisit Fume this winter as the icy cold sets in and terrorises Edinburgh; I’m not sure its quite the right weather just now for me to fully appreciate it. It’s a slow-burn aroma, you need time for the mossy smoke to go from chilled to heat to open up the nuances. You could of course just fuck in it.. this would be incredible sex-scent. Just saying.

Fact. The Fox is obsessed with vanilla. So I had to kinda hold myself back from hurtling at Bourbon, knowing it was rich in woozy vanilla, benzoin and tonka, three of my favourite notes in scent. It was one of the vials that had oozed onto card in transit, so there was a delicious, Guerlinade-type aroma wafting up from the samples. I love the sweet booziness of expert vanilla perfumery. I’ve mentioned it before, but my signature scent for years now has been the sadly discontinued Vanille Absolument by L’Artisan Parfumeur, created by Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. It reeks of heady, swooning, rum soaked vanilla with tobacco and narcotic narcissus absolute. For me it is the benchmark vanilla. Interestingly, Hans has used cognac oil to influence his composition; this umber-toned effect saturates the bourbon vanilla, resins and bittersweet whiff of animalic sugar in the slightly unstable base. Bourbon is sexy vanilla, rich and clandestine, the way I like it, wearing close to skin, yet occasionally throwing off subtle tendrils of vintage Guerlain-esque charm. The more is wear it, the more I recognise echoes of Jicky and L’Heure Bleue in the fatty, animalic rendering of the final stages. Intentional or not, the echoes are there, buried in the genetic code of expertly handled vanilla.   

Rosenthal was one of my immediate loves. It’s a dirty rose, wreathed in claret-tinted smoke and a patchouli note that Hans has enhanced with the fennel chew of angelica. Juniper in the top chills the rose a little, almost like dew on petal. I love my rose perfumes, my collection is filled with rosaceous compositions. Rosenthal has a curious feeling of darkness about it, there is no lustrous celebration of queenly bloom, instead we have a moody complex rose, married to a unctuous sandalwood wash in the base. There is a momentary rush of Nahéma in the ashen spill of opening bloom, that terrific shattering of colour and reformation that the Guérlain composition pulls off with startling sensual violence. Hans interprets this French high drama in a lower US indie key, but Rosenthal is still a lingering essay in rose from bud to falling extinguished petal.

Auric is crushed and smeared vintage Caron, a peppered leather sweetness that underpins a raw bouquet of jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang and rose. This lovely mix of flowers and chocolatey timber is the scent of homespun weddings, intimate gatherings of close friends and family over worn wooden tables set with wild and reaching seasonal flowers./Blooms and stems in jam jars, old botanical glass, apothecary ware; the air embroidered with honeyed, leafy joy. The scent of table linen, a mingle of perfumes, the bride’s beloved orange blossom woven into tumbled hair. For a moment, a sudden rush of powdered antiquity floods Auric as the floral heart liquefies, creating the Coup de Fouet Caron echo I mentioned earlier. Auric is at its most beautiful in the twilight stages, the notes ghosted on skin. The petitgrain in the top is a little too strident for my liking, but necessary perhaps to announce and mask the joyful pungency that ensues.

I will admit to not liking Tama very much at all at first, this has more to do with my love/hate relationship with frankincense rather than Hans’ actual composition. I go through tortuous phases with sacred, glassy olibanum; it is one of those aromas that gnaws at me, worries my senses. I am in no way a lapsed Catholic, despite desperately wanting to be one during my wanton obsession with all things Brideshead Revisited (that hasn’t quite departed btw…) so I can’t lay claim to memories of mass and tortured faith. I did spend some student years in Paris and occupied a lot of my time with crumbling neighbourhood churches, the more isolated and cold the better. Part of me though associates frankincense with the sandy heat and searing stillness of my Arabian childhood. Many of the objects we owned had the reek of resins and spice, woods impregnated with balms and unguents. To me these odours of faith and offering, frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, oppoponax etc have the weight of shifting melancholia. As it so is with Tama, the blend smells sacrificial, unsettling. The arid expanse of textured resin over a glittering mirage of amber and barely flickering agarwood smells like sombre fuel. It has grown on me with repeated applications, but for now frankincense and I will continue to glower in the dark at each other, musing over rapprochement.  

On paper Gia reads like a recipe for a pungent siren to decorate herself with before setting off to hunt a mate to fuck and devour. A huge oppoponax note brazenly struts out of the bottle, trailing ginger and rose otto behind like a train of ragged drama Ginger is generally a note I prefer in cake and biscuits, I find it tediously overpowering in scent. Hans has managed however to harness its naturally juicy sweetness to counterpoint the crimson commotion of the rose. The skin adaption of Gia is dramatic, more verdant, more foody oddly, the vanilla bean tincture reminds me of Japanese azuki bean cakes. The settling is one of sharp clovey powder with a touch of vegetal hangover from the oppoponax. Hans has used an orris root CO2 extraction and ambrette to dust a particular kind of chalkiness through the mix. The overall sensation is one of abandoned rooms, rococo boudoir tables coated in dust, a vase of dead roses placed near a shaded window. Gia is fascinating to wear, at once dirty and soft, masculine and feminine, Hans has thought carefully about the sensual ambiguity and impact of the blend, realising I think that this is scent for night time, beds and skin on skin on sheets.

Finally to Jade, a unique and rather dazzling interpretation of green. I worked for some time with the National Museums of Scotland, specifically with Chinese, Japanese and Korean fine art. One of my tasks in a week of accessing objects was to check over the collection of jades we had in storage. There were magnificent pieces on display but as with all such institutions; tip and iceberg. That intense, eye-straining afternoon in the chilly cellars, poring over drawer after drawer of jade was extraordinary. I was simply astonished by the dazzling array of tonality and texture of green, white, blue stone lying in the shadows. The flecking, striations, veins and cloudy details were so beautiful. Jade of course compels touch, the surface cold and oddly greasy. Some pieces feel like skin, others like petals of flowers.

Whenever I hear the word jade.. my mind floats back over these trays of multihued nephrite and jadeite pieces. I’ve said before how wary of mint I am in scent, it took the magnificent Russian Tea by Masque Milano last year to demonstrate how a full-bodied mint effect could be blended with virtuosity into a complex and arresting formula. I realised Jade wasn’t on the Hendley Perfume site and contacted Hans. It’s new, something he has been working on for a while, an ambitious desire to create a fresh dynamic scent with no citrus notes involved. He has also used spearmint, which is very difficult to handle I think as it often lends fragrances a distinctly chewing gum aroma if you’re not too careful.  

Jade is Hans’ beauteous ode to geranium, an often overlooked note in perfume as a pure, spot-lit note. It is used as a supporting note for its leafy texture and perfumed atmospherics. It has a beautiful affinity with rose, lavender, bergamot and pepper. Dominique Ropion’s Geranium pour Monsieur for Editions Frédéric Malle is pretty much the benchmark geranium scent in terms of the masculine soapier aspects of the application. Ropion used rhodinal, a highly aromatic concentrate facet extracted from Chinese geranium. A massive dose of ambroxan whitens the formula, allowing the layers of green to filter carefully over the skin. For a softer, more comforting, garden-inspired take on geranium there is Geranium Oderata, released in 2014 by Diptyque. It is a pungent, creamy scent, rubbed and sensual, with a lovely trail of leaf and stem. I personally have a weakness for Miller Harris’ Geranium Bourbon with is mucky rush of peppered rose and vanillic musky base. It was particularly addictive in its solid format, smeared and bloodily waxen as the battered tins wore down.

Jade is much sharper and more alert than these, a snapped pea-pod green, cut though with a delicious lemon bay note replacing the usual citrus effects. Some star anise and violet add an unusual relationship in the middle of the scent, a sensual disharmony allowing the resinous benzoin time to warm up and provide a robust spiky base for the more ephemeral myrtle and sap verdancy. It is to Hans’s credit that the geranium note he has obviously worked so hard to personify lasts as long as it does on skin; the spearmint is pretty full on and bolshy. But the two notes play together with beautiful ease and comfort, there is little sense of deliberation and coerced effect. Jade could easily have been a wan, vegetal Gorilla rip off, but Hans’ steady hand and respect for his bright materials has produced a rather unexpected portrait of mint-tinted brightness.

Hans Hendley

I have been anointing myself in Hans’s illuminated palette throughout the writing of this piece. For a debut artisan perfumer, he packs quite the olfactory punch. His precise manipulation of outstanding and glittering materials works beautifully alongside his obvious predilection for delicacy and allure. His lovely photographic eye has served him well, translating aromatically into a series of tonally shifting odours that belie their relatively constrained origins. You can smell the circumspect methodology of filtering, cutting, blending and maceration in the formulae. The juice smells personal. This is important, this batch-made potency, delivered to our skins with love and fervour. I’m so glad to have discovered Hendley Perfumes and Hans, the lovely guy behind them. They’re made in small amounts and sell fast, such is the nature of his work and the scale for now of this operation. But if you are interested in scent and the way in which materials, ideas and imagination are assembled with sweet and intimate care you need to sample Hans’ fragrances for yourself. His world is filtered with wonderful, life affirming chromatics.   

For further information on the world of Hans Hendley, please click on the link below:

©The Silver Fox

23 March 2015

Disclosure – Samples kindly sent by Hans Hendley. Thank you. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Haunting of Absence – ‘Saffron Rose’ & The Black Label Collection by Grossmith London

“Now that you're there, where everything is known,tell me: What else lived in that house besides us?
Anna Akhmatova

I have been wearing Grossmith fragrances since 2005 when this most venerable and historic of English perfume houses was resurrected carefully and reverentially through a fluke of genealogical research by Simon Brooke, a former chartered surveyor. With the aid of family, the guidance of perfume consultant and all round shiny scented guru Roja Dove (and his connections at Robertet) Simon and his wife Amanda invested savings, abandoned a regular income and devoted painstaking amounts of time to what must have seemed like an utterly bonkers venture. But… family Brooke have succeeded magnificently, nay, regally in re-orchestrating a truly delightful vintage line for the modern age, carefully walking an expensive and luxurious line between accessibility and profit. A genuine phantom of the original house haunts the contemporary line and yet the scents themselves combine past tastes and modern yearning for all things heritage with resolute and stylish aplomb.

Old fragrances die all the time. Trends and tastes change. These things we know. It doesn’t make it right or any easier to accept, but sometimes we have to move on and simply just remember. Some vanish forever but occasionally it seems, some are worth saving. Simon discovered he was the great great-grandson of John Grossmith and set about researching not only his own family connections but as much as he could about the Grossmith perfume heritage. The Brookes featured in the entertaining BBC series entitled Perfume from 2011. They were in episode 3 entitled The Smell of the Future. YouTube it. Well worth watching. Worth it for the sight of Roja Dove wandering his glittering emporium, polishing crystal and glass with what looks like part of his voluminous silken MC Hammer ensemble. But their quite passionate and heartfelt dedication to the family story is eloquent and terribly British.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Silvered Choice: A Reflection & Harvest of 2014 – Part III

This is the third and final part of my 2014 olfactory harvest, I have included some of most favourite scents of last year and finally my most beloved of all: Foxglove by HYLNDS, my best of year. I'm not entirely sure why I am quite so profoundly obsessed with it, but I am. It is perfume perfection. To me it smells of melancholy, sex and soul woven with dexterity, élan and erudition by David Moltz, one the most talented noses working in scented storytelling today. 

It was odd, assembling these recollections into three parts. But it has provided me with a unique insight into how I work and more importantly how I portray the odours I crave and obsess over to all of you my lovely Foxy followers.

Leather & Hazy Smoke

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”

From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ by Tom Stoppard

French Leather – Memo Fragrance

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Memo’s French Leather at first. The third volet in their richly decorative Cuirs Nomades collection was on initial acquaintance very different from the brutal, horse-beat of Irish Leather and the vanillic enormity of Italian Leather, a scent I find myself shockingly addicted to. I have been wearing Memo fragrances for years, entranced by Memo co-founder Clara Molloy and perfumer Aliénor Massenet’s translations of wistful wanderings. Towns, landscapes, mountain ranges, seas, quartiers and memories… frissons, souvenirs: these are the essences of Memo(ory), subtle renderings of times and places with gathered emotive materials. The journey is the destination. This is the Memo way. I am happy to follow. Siwa and Lalibela are my fetish choices from the house. I return to them again and again. The Cuirs Nomades series broke new ground for Memo, yes the perfumes looked to locations (albeit abstracted locales..) yet preoccupation with a single tenet and the density and supple carnality of the formulations was fabulously at odds with the other scents.

Irish Leather was a savage love letter to Clara’s Irish husband John, an equine homage to saddlery and the wild Irish countryside. The second was the laidback playboy sex of Italian Leather which floods an ecstatic hide note with a deluge of tonka-laced vanilla and an eerie tomato-leaf facet. So when French Leather was announced I wonder how that would roll; the mention of lime threw me slightly. In the accompanying PR text for the launch was a cryptic phrase, describing the scent as: a heroine’s modesty..a second skin..a private journal.’ But as I sampled and wore it, this description began to make sense, the notes writing themselves very discreetly, yet purposefully on skin. There are distinctive echoes of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Kelly Calèche, I can’t get away from that, but his Barenia calf extract and tuberose combo could often be suffocating and sinister. French Leather is an aloof portrait of the conflicted Parisienne, alone in her world of applied and honed perfection, a veil of carefully controlled desire between her and the urban world she navigates with brittle, spike-heeled elegance. I have come to adore this truly lovely scent, each time I wear it, I feel a little transported. The lime essence and pink pepper in the opening of the scent echo the glitter of wet pavements on Parisian spring mornings. My worries over the lime were unfounded, it’s an adroit addition by Massenet, counterpointing the suede and glowing rose, bitter kiss on floral leather, just delicious. Touches of cedar and juniper freshen the mix and the drydown is as elegant as a sun-dappled stroll along the Seine. French Leather is nowhere near as dramatic and full on as the first two, but that was never really going to be the case. This is a study of quiet ardour and sophistication, a perfume that leaves enigmatic traces behind, a sense of special wonder. The beautiful work continues at Memo. Will we get Russian Leather, something imperial and cold, or perhaps Patagonian? Gaucho soft, cactus green and wind-scoured? We will see.

Yesterday Haze/A City on Fire
Imaginary Authors

Josh Meyer. Where do I start? He’s my perfume crush.. a geeky, Portland scented savant dreaming up olfactory tomes of imaginary adventures for me to wear and obsess over. I own so many now, he’s a divisive perfumer, you love his work or you don’t. I love it, his style of atmospheric playfulness based his pungent scents on novels or writing he has conjured up from Imaginary Authors just makes me warm and thrilled to be scented. There is a great erudition at work in the assemblage of ideas, images, timelines, graphics etc. Now the juice itself could easily have played second fiddle to Josh’s blatantly fertile imagination, but the marriage of olfaction to concept is canny and stylish. I’ve enjoyed nearly all of his fragrance to date. I obsess over Cape Heartache with its melancholy portrayal of mulchy trees dripping in webby moss, the ground alive with wild strawberries glittering in morning dew. I love the lonely flattened out asphalt accord in The Cobra & the Canary, mixed with bitter, dry lemon, hay and sun-hot tobacco, the story of two boys on the road to destruction.

In 2014 Josh released two very different scents, a moody smouldering wonder with the fabulous title of A City on Fire and Yesterday Haze, a love story of dust and orchards, fig and lies. Both scents have outstanding presence on the skin, telling the story of their notes with wit, clarity and just enough mystery to further enslave the wearer. Yesterday Haze is a dreamy wander of a perfume, the addition of walnut bitters, iris and tree bark reinforce the sensation of the novel’s heroine restlessly wandering orchards at night, wondering if she should choose crop-duster lover or loyal farmer husband. I normally dislike fig so I was delighted to find the note a little subverted, crushed underfoot in the orchard grass, dusty and abandoned. The more I wear this strange fragrance, the more I love it. Then at the tail end of the year came A City on Fire, a collaboration with Machus Menswear, a boutique in Portland. Ostensibly inspired by an imagined graphic novel about Rupert, who makes matches and Frances, who pens a dating column for a local paper (matchmaking..). Together they witness a murder and find themselves involved in the darker, more tenebrous elements of the city. The scent is both of them, dangerous, explosive, troublesome… quick to spark. The keynote is cade oil or juniper tar as it is sometimes referred to; a hugely powerful whoosh of heady reeking burn. But Josh being Josh, always does things differently. This could have been just smoke, burnt out buildings, torched cars, blackened drums. But he has added a red berry facet through the burn, like handfuls of lipsticky haws exploding in the heat. The sweet smoke is amazing and demonstrates Josh’s simmering intelligence, wit and olfactory skill.  

Myrrh Casati – Maison Mona di Orio

My final vaporous entry is Myrrh Casati, a triumphant and haunted release from Maison Mona di Orio, the first new scent to be created for the house by a new perfumer since Mona’s death in December 2011 at the age of 42. Mona’s partner and Creative Director of the house Jeroen Oude Sogtoen has taken his time, carefully and beautifully controlling the release of work since 2011. Rose Etoile de Hollande, Eau Absolue, and Violette Fumée, (created for him by Mona) have all appeared to critical acclaim. But it was inevitable that a time would come when Jeroen would have to recruit new talent to carry on the name of the house. This was never going to be easy, the weight of expectation was enormous, from passionate fans and the industry alike. Mona was the house muse, it revolved around her; she was its luminescence. Then last year, Jeroen announced not only a new scent, Myrrh Casati, but also the return of two of the older discontinued signature scents, Lux and Nuit Noire. The re-boot would also include new flacons by Ateliers Dinand, sensual, androgynous photography and division of the oeuvre into three distinctive collections: Signature, Les Nombres d’Or and Monogram.

It was always going to be hard to follow Mona; the Monogram collection will celebrate her style, influences and traditions without attempting to recreate her golden, shifting chiaroscuro style. Myrrh is one of those powerful and elusive notes that wreathes the senses, a resin burned on altars, mingling with prayers twisting towards gods and heavens. The perfumer Melanie Leroux has used layers of smoke, illusion and veil to formulate an enigmatic yet defiantly sensual scent. I smell mournful things, solitary rooms and abandoned possessions; I’m not sure why, it a perplexing scent, with bold honeyed moments mixed with other more unsettling shifts of rooty fumes and smudged urgency. There is always a sense of mask and veil, of something underneath the notes.

Luisa, Marchesa di Casati was a Italian noble woman who spent her entire life masked from reality within a series of elaborately contrived personas, dramas, art pieces and multiple lives. Yet she was extraordinary, blazing like a surreal, persuasive flame, drawing people obsessively to her and repelling others in disgust. She was both enigma and performer, benefactress and charlatan. She sat for a remarkable array of painters and sculptors many of whom were seemingly ensnared by her bizarre sexuality. She was truly gothic, obsessed with the macabre, the dead and magic, her performances were swathed in smoke, incense and a sense of genuine oddity and dread often using elaborate settings, lighting, costumes, mirrors, music and scent, even weather and live animals to achieve the effects she desired to perpetuate the Casati myth.  

Myrrh Casati is strong stuff, a rendering of the Marchesa’s complex and divisive personality though smoke, transparency and manifold mix of materials. I love the saffron and cardamom mingle in the middle section, the touch of warm dark licquorice and swell of benzoin as the heady medicinal notes of guaiac wood, incense and cypriol begin to flare in the base. The myrrh is huge though, a shuddering banner held aloft in darkening sky. It smells so beautiful; it takes your breath away. It takes quite some time to fade, drifting into a sueded sweetness that lingers like dreamtime. It is a different kind of Mona scent, but one I am glad we have, it proves the house is vibrantly alive and somewhere Mona is smiling softly. 


“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  André Berthiaume

Russian Tea/TangoMasque Milano

Masque Milano were my niche house of the year over at Cafleurebon, each of their beautifully appointed fragrances preoccupied and delighted me in different ways. Delphine Thierry’s Montecristo was the fragrance that drew me dizzyingly into the Masque world of operatic illusion and sensual excess. However it was the 2014 double whammy of Tango by Cécile Zarokian and Russian Tea by Julian Rasquinet that really blew me away. I had already been aware of Masque because I had gone looking for more work by Delphine Thierry after acquiring Cloon Keen’s epicurean Castãna and Akaad and Galaad she made for Lubin. Her virtually flower-free Montecristo is a roaring beast of smoky animalic excess. Radiating with faecal, pissy hyraceum, Thierry’s turbulent essay in fumy sexuality binds animalism with styrax, rum, ambrette and a filthy blaze of tobacco.

Masque Milano is skincare and scent, founded and illuminated by Italian creative duo Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi. The guys have tremendous artistic skill and imagination, building Masque around an operatic concept of life, love and emotional environment set against a olfactory backdrop of imagined scenes and acts composed by a handful of remarkable noses including Thierry, Zarokian, Rasquinet and also Meo Fuiscini. Tango by Cécile Zarokian is indeed a dance of dark, paranoid desire. The notes are subversive and feel so wrong, dissonant and misplaced; the olfactory rhythm seems off-kilter. And yet of course it is glorious, rose and jasmine, lifted and held by the heat and glowing power of spices, balsams, tonka and a thrumming leather accord. I loved the scent of decay it has. This sound totally nuts, but sniffing it straight off skin, it’s as if you have found some forgotten bottle of evaporated vintage scent, residue lying syrupy in the base of the flacon. Fabulous!!

Russian Tea was a blind buy, a risky one as it had mint in it, not a favourite Foxy note, but something made me have to have it. I was captivated by the simplicity of the inspiration. A tea ritual in a tearoom overlooking the frozen Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad, hot water poured over smoky black leaves and shattered mint, the powerful diffusive brew sweetened raspberry preserve. Alessandro and Riccardo handed this evocative idea to Julian Rasquinet who in turn created a perfume of infinite complexity and slow turning beauty. Like sweet smoke on ice-lashed days, Russian Tea seems to inhabit the senses like a warm, redolent presence. There is a honeyed ghostly heart of magnolia that flickers momentarily and is then consumed by the baroque eagerness of the perfume’s glorious smoky swagger. I was devoutly thrilled by the triptych of raspberry, mint and tea; it came together so beautifully in the vaporous arms of Samovar dreams. 

Aberration & Desire

“By living a life “against nature,” the deviant or pervert becomes a hero or heroine in decadent fiction.”  Asti Hustvedt

MaaiBogue Profumo

I sample so much I am rarely truly jolted by scents, but every now and again something enters my environment that momentarily causes my senses to short and my skin to ripple, shudder with unexpected pleasure. Vero Kern’s perfumes had that unique effect, as did David Moltz’s gorgeous HYLNDS formulations. Then I found Bogue, an esoteric and guarded Italian trove of aromas by architect and designer Antonio Gardoni. There were three ready to wear scents, Eau d’E, Cologne Reloaded and the claustrophobic sexually charged atmospherics of Maai, a perfume which kinda blew my mind. The scent of brothels and abandoned caves, mouldering monasteries and vampiric bedchambers. Part of me was horrified by my body’s overwhelming attraction to such a dank and animalic reek, but then most of me just smiled, applied liberally and waited for the world to end.

Antonio is someone who needs to probes at edges and darkness. He is the founder of Studio AG, an architecture and design studio based in Brescia, Italy, co-founder of Jump Studios in London (with Ron Arad) and also a professor of industrial and interior design in Brecia. Most of all he is fascinated it seems by personal environment and how we inhabit it, either through physicality, objectivity and olfaction. He is a deliberate and obsessive man, seeking finite detail in everything he does. Bogue Profumo grew from the rooty discovery of a vintage assembly of perfumer’s materials in a forgotten pharmacy basement. By blending these redolent raw materials with contemporary techniques and adding ingredients such as styrax, castoreum, lavender and citrus, Antonio created vaporous and substantive variations of the original essences.

There is a feral, defiant signature written boldly across the work that declares. I am unafraid of fear, olfaction is subjective, skin is art. This is how I read Antonio’s extraordinary formulae. Maai is an trangressive work of art, arguably hardly perfume at all, instead something dangerous and challenging to be carefully stored away in the crepuscular cupboard that houses Andrea Maack’s undead Coven, Josh Lobb’s sticky vampiric Norne for Slumberhouse and Vero Kern’s bordello thigh porn chic, all aromas that flame my often jaded senses.

Maai smells both teeming and desolate, like a once busy town now abandoned to mildew dust and memory. The rose and slovenly jasmine smell so incredibly rich and full against a pissy green backdrop of obsessive tuberose. The bestiality and power of Antonio’s ballsy assault on the chypré genre is magnificent. I smell his buried oakmoss like a coded invitation to share in some private ritualistic dare. Maai is one of those rare concoctions that appears so very rarely, a brew of studied concentration and desire. In its exquisite flacon and hand-cast fetish rubber top, it is a scent for the brave and trangressive. I feel sublimely corrosive and sexy as its notes flow over me. Ben fatto Signor Gardoni!

Foxy #1 – Foxglove by HYLNDS

I knew as soon as I inhaled this singular juice off my skin, it would be my scent of 2014. I loved so many things, but David Moltz’s Foxglove electrified my senses and seized my heart with silvered and unequivocal skill.

Brooklyn-based David and Kavi Moltz and started their lauded niche line D.S.& Durga in 2007, working with small hand-finished batches of tonics and perfumed brews for friends and family. David’s musicianship and Kavi’s architectural training fed in and out of the burgeoning Brooklyn self-sufficiency, artisan movement of the time, sweeping through food, furniture, coffee, beer, ceramics, chocolate and of course scent. It may seem now seem arch and a tad hipster in retrospect, but the importance of people creating, making; realising personal visions of art and emphasising that pure craft could communicate and also sell should never be underestimated. David is the juice maker and Kavi looks after the design element of the lines. This is probably a little simplistic though. They are a beautiful couple and obviously deliciously in love with one another, so the creative process must be more instinctive and symbiotic than a mere 50/50 division of labour. 

I love the potency and historical/artistic referencing of the Durga line, a number of their fragrances sit in my study and I have a serious craving for Debaser, their latest launch, inspired fabulously and darkly by the Pixies track. The PR stuff is adorned with the macabre eye-slicing scene from Dali and Buñuel’s ‘Un Chien Andalou’. Way to get a Fox’s attention.

But my heart belongs I think to HYLNDS, David Moltz’s masterly collection of Celtic mythic storytelling liqueurs that seem somehow to be painted and spellcast into their bottles, ready to spray charm, magic, oddity and enigma onto stunned skin. They smell somehow different; better is unfair, as the classic Durga line is beautiful, the HYLNDS anthology does have a different texture and tone in its telling. Using Manx, Angle, Norse, Irish and Scots myths and histories as a starting point has allowed David to indulge his obsession for rare and precise raw materials to reflect his intended olfactive visions. He has also visited the places he has envisaged in his perfumes, walked the lands, inhaled the shifting airs, handled soil, grasses and felt rain and mist on his adaptive skin. This immersive approach demonstrates not only a commitment to his craft but also to a pursuit of knowledge, understanding how the scented pieces assemble around and inside us.

I have Spirit of the Glen in my collection, David’s HYLNDS collaboration with the Glenlivet distillery in Speyside. Living in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, you can’t avoid the importance of whisky to the culture and economy of the country. It has proven over the years to be a tricky note to elucidate in perfume; boozy is easy, the nuances of distillation of rye, malt, location, peat etc, not quite as much. I do love Aqua Alba, Angela Flanders' wonderful smoky, vanillic oud-tinted whisky scent, created with Jim Beveridge, Master Blender at Johnny Walker, inspired by the Johnny Walker Black Label. More recently, Harris Tweed announced an amazing new product, something they have working on for ages, called The Fabric of Flavour, a very unique technology, whereby the scent of Aqua Alba is microencapsulated through the fabric in the finishing process. The scent is defiantly imbued in the tweed. 

Spirit of the Glen is very different in character, soft, yet pungently subversive, rich and creamy with the most beautiful smoked barrel notes played over a pear-tined eau de vie and pineapple grass melange. The other HYLNDS aromas such as Bitter Rose, Broken Spear and Isle Ryder share a common weather of stony, lichen toned geography with touches of wild flora and limpid pools, metalwork and sky.

Foxglove was a revelation. On paper I saw iris and peach and thought perhaps David had reimagined Mitsouko on the skin of Brontëan drama queen Cathy Earnshaw as she scours the moors for her feral addictive Heathcliff. Foxglove turned to be more ephemeral and captivating than I imagined. The perfume was glittering flesh wrapped in the exquisitely mastered skin assembled most carefully from musks, iris, immortelle and soft soft soft suede.  

I realised early that David Moltz has written a perfumed essay on the melancholy state of vigil. The desolation of lonely attendance over a love lost to time. Foxglove is inspired by the story of Oisin, the Irish warrior poet, his lover Niamh and the mystical land of Tir Na Nog, the tempting Land Of Youth. Foxglove is Niamh, watching devotedly over the final resting place of her lyrical lover. David visited Oisin’s resting place and found a solitary foxglove about twenty feet from the grave. This lonely bloom, keeping watch, was the catalyst for David’s erudite olfactory mind to wander and begin its fabulous detailed assemblage.

The carroty green chew in the apex of Foxglove, mixed with a delicious spray of citrus peel is beautifully deceptive, totally wrong-footing the senses as the full power of the peach and orris combo radiates out with terrific cold vintage force. David’s handling of this iconic peach note is both reverential and brazen; echoes of bygone Guerlain flood the senses as the lactonic fruit tones mingle with lemon and musks..but and it’s a big but, the plush shimmer and ooze of Foxglove is unique, aided in part by the use of Champaca and a stunning amber effect that seems to throw a series of CGI lenses over the composition, lending depth, sheen, gloss and luminescence depending on mood and time of day. A skeletal slivered Mitsouko lies beneath a furred and dappled formula of magisterial grace and power.

Foxglove is a scent I will wear for as long as it is made. I feel unbearably sacred when I wear it; it smells so defined and rare that I almost lose myself in its oddity and significance. It is alchemy like the making of Foxglove and its subsequent osmosis with my skin that reminds me why I do this, this writing thing, the words, the sampling, the endless sniffing and foraging for fragrant juice. David and Kavi Moltz have created two lines I adore, but HYLNDS has me hooked and Foxglove is David’s best work yet, an epic of tremulous emotion on a quiet lonely stage.    

So, I finally end my harvest of 2014, for me a strong and intriguing year for perfumery. I already have some great things lined up to review for this year that I look forward to sharing with you all.


31 January 2015