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

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Necro-Floral Nocturne: ‘Room 237’ by Bruno Fazzolari

The eerie celadon-toned wash of Room 237 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is the creeping inspiration for one of the most unsettling perfumes I have discovered for a while. I’m enthralled and a little appalled by this claustrophobic essay in abandoned floral silence. Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari is uncomfortable scent making, a prickling journey of disintegrating soapy compulsion that is hard to shake.

Foxy bottle of Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari

I have been wearing this lurid aroma for a while and find myself in love with the toxicity, its suggestion of nocturnal soapiness on the edge of mould, mingled with absence, mildew, wall, tile and fleeting hints of phantom ablutions. It is like nothing else in my collection.

Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari
(shower curtain impression I)

Bruno is a San Francisco based artist who earned his MFA at San Francisco Art Institute in 1996 after graduating with a BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. He has exhibited in groups as a solo artist in LA, New York and across California. He has synaesthesia, the much discussed condition which allows those that suffer if I have to use such a term, to taste colour, see music and taste sounds. The senses to a certain degree are cross-wired, but this description barely does the condition justice, it is far more complex and abstract than that. Many people see it is a gift, a secret talent, a special viewfinder on the world. I think for Bruno, odours splinter into tonal impressions that move and shift with rather distinctive emotional effect. These colour mood boards that form inside his mind and sometimes on paper act as a point of departure for olfactory exploration.

Bruno's sensory colour
breakdown of rose otto
(source - Bruno Fazzolari blog

There are many different manifestations of synaesthesia and experts continue to redefine the mechanisms and protocols of individual experiences. Some people feel skin sensations on hearing certain sounds, others see colours instead, letters have colours, sounds and words have tastes. A particularly rare manifestation is genuinely empathetic; synesthetes witnessing for example a touch to a person’s cheek will feel that same gesture on their own face. It is a deeply intriguing and emotive subject and makes for very interesting discussion when applied to the creative arts, be they visual, musical, olfactive or even gustatory.   

Bruno’s own experiences with synaesthesia are concerned with his visualisations of perfumery materials and how their tonalities develop as they drydown or shift on skin and blotters. I can relate to this in my own way. Throughout my years of writing, I am always searching for new, innovative and interesting ways to discuss and intrigue with olfactive prose. I am overtly preoccupied with colour and use chromatic definitions and comparisons a lot in my fragrance writing. In Bruno’s own words on his website’s blog he has an intriguing explanation of synaesthesia:

‘Consider how yellow is a quality of the experience of lemons. It's very natural to know that an experience of lemons includes yellow — but not exclusively, since your actual experience of a lemon is multi-sensory. When you experience a lemon, you don't isolate a single aspect. The tactile quality of the skin, the scent, the colour, the sharp, sour taste, all of these are mixed together. The yellow is not wiping out the rest of your experience with its yellow-ness. And so you know the lemon to be yellow in a very ordinary way. In your actual experience, there is one, undivided, ever shifting, smelling-vibrating-seeing-touching-thinking-tasting experience that is the experience of a lemon—and that experience includes yellow-ness.

I'm not sure that describes the experience of synaesthesia very well, but maybe it demystifies it a little. For me, scent "has color" in the same way. Complex scents like rose oil or jasmine absolute, have several colors and those colors change and shift.

Bruno Fazzolari

A recent 2012 documentary by Rodney Ascher called Room 237 gave a multi-voice showcase to various theories regarding the symbolism supposedly buried within the ornate controlled structures of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Everything from carpet patterns, larder tins and Danny’s sweater to the Minotaur & labyrinth theory and Native American Indian genocide are discussed with earnest and rather disturbing sincerity. Interestingly Stephen King has refused to watch it; but then Kubrick’s The Shining is a very different beast from King’s modulated tight, building prose hysteria. 

Stanley Kubrick's annotated copy of 'The Shining'

It is a film and experience that really does divide. I adore horror films, it might surprise many of you to know that, but it’s my favourite genre of movies. I like them schlocky too, but nothing beats the visceral thrill of beautifully crafted psychological horror. Fear soothes me, the unsettling reminds me I am alive. I like to be disturbed, provoked and challenged. Safety in art forms is dull. Yes, I can admire the majesty of true beauty, but there has to be a catch, a flaw, just something off. This introduces a singularity.

Danny. Patterns. Overlook. Carpet. Sweater. 

The prowling, Steadicam menace of The Shining is an experience that roams the senses long after the film descends into door smashing theatrics. The film is full of moments that resonate with glowing hazard, thunder and shine. The twin girls, the snowy maze, blood tsunami, the Overlook bar scene and of course Jack’s slippery, macabre rendezvous in the sickly clinic-hued haze of Room 237. In the book a certain Lorraine Massey books into Room 237, an older woman whose has a penchant for younger men and bellboys. When one of these young men leaves her she overdoses and dies in the room. Her presence and lingering hunger is saturated into Kubrick’s vision with Jack’s creepy encounter with an initially beautiful nude woman who rises from the bathroom and kisses him only to age rapidly into a pale, grasping crone, reaching for desperate desire.

Room 237 scene - The Shining (1980)

It is one of the most unpleasant scenes in the whole film, all the more so for the way it is lit and filmed in queasy shades of enclosed viridian and washed out jadeite. The sense of close up skin, hair, nightmare intimacy and forced engagement is vividly realised. I first saw The Shining when I was about thirteen and this scene just horrified me. Obviously it was wholly unsuitable at the time, but I watched it anyway, gleefully freaked out. When I first noticed reviews of a scent called Room 237 popping on blog sites I knew I had to have some.

Up until the launch of Room 237, Bruno’s work had fundamentally been linked to and inspired by his artwork. Lampblack for example, a bizarre collision of bright bitter grapefruit, orange and nagamotha was created to accompany an exhibition of ink paintings at the Gallery Paule Anglim in 2001.  The name refers to the black painters’ pigment made from burnt lamp soot; it smells so disconcerting on skim, like cold morning sun trying to penetrate a dirt stained window. It has a sensation on skin of making you feeling observed, as if someone were looking over your shoulder. A shadow following you and not your own. Lampblack works, (and it shouldn’t really) because Bruno has ventured far enough into a swinging bulb-lit hinterland as to allow the shadows and light to coalesce and writhe. I’m not sure how I feel about the acerbic top notes, but the atramental body and sooty bleed are addictive and impressively focused. 

Monserrat takes its name from the colour monserrat orange, a gorgeous peachy, faded tone that reminds me of Renaissance frescoes which is fitting as the fantasy note Bruno has played with is setting plaster. You can smell this odd chilled damp wall effect amid the musks, jasmine, grapefruit and powdery carrot seed. As it settles it gives off an odd buzz of Berocca effervescent vitamin tablets. Orange and I do not play well; I turn the note oddly dark and strip out the brightness. When I returned to this an hour or so later the chalkiness made me smile which is interesting. I’m not sure why, but I rather liked the fading flat Fanta effect.

Jimmy is a strange tight floral scent inspired by James Schuyler, the American Pulitzer award-winning poet whose work is intimately conversational and yet somehow imbues the everyday with heroic beauty and pathos. I’m a poetry nut and love the poems of American writers like Ashbery, Plath, O’Hara, Sexton, Bishop and `Berryman. Jimmy has the softest lipstick accord over a mossy base, peculiar in light of its inspiration, but the floral notes have a gentle poetry as they float over a skein of powdery heliotrope and Bruno’s abstract daylight note. It’s not for me, but the violet note is sheer and rather sad.

A friend smelled Five and said ‘wet dog..’ which is pretty bang on. Factor in wet dog on a beach and a mineralised sandy air facet and it’s how the scent unfolds. It was premiered at an exhibition of bright colourful artworks lit by buzzing fluorescent lights so Bruno has in way lit the scent with ozonic touches and the pretty vibrant zing of neroli and bergamot. It smells damp and ragged as it evaporates, the notes don’t quite hold together for me, but that initial kite-flying exuberance is bright enough.

Olivier Messaien is considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential composers. He is also one of the oblique and potentially frustrating too. He eschewed many standard descriptions of his work, believing only in music with or without colour. Like Bruno, Messaien was a synesthete, in his particular case, seeing colours when he heard certain notes. His life’s work of notes, chords, harmonies, progressions and structures are transfused with this extraordinary vision of the world. It’s an acquired taste. Bruno’s Au Delà is his homage to Messaien, a bold, rambunctious chypré-licked floral with shards of neroli and coriander played over an overtly raw-edged marriage of sticky jasmine, orange flower absolute and a cold amber derivative which seems to emphasise the jarring haze of the white flowers. I struggle a little with jasmine this jammy sometimes, so as much as I rather liked the overall sense of beauty within the glare and disconnections of notes, Au Delà is not something I would wear. The final fade is the part I like most, a shudder of bruised violet then nothing.  

Room 237

Room 237 is Bruno’s masterpiece though, a perverse enclosed universe of soapy paranoia and urgent proximity. The opening reek of aldehydes feels like alien arterial spray reeking out of the bottle, shot through with lemon from one those tactile squeezy facsimile lemon things and cut with sharp metallic tarragon. It all slows down dramatically as a queasy astonishing costus effect nudges its way against your body, under your nose as if an unwashed scalp was trying to make contact from the other side.

The perfume comes boxed as an art piece in a brown card carton, accompanied by an art card linking it to its artistic inspiration. In this case Bruno has created a miniature business card impression of The Shining’s lurid green bathtub and shower curtain in a screen-print type effect. Bruno Fazzolari boxes are stamped with the perfumer’s personal take on the Japanese hanko or stamped seal. In Japan, hankos are very official and must be registered with the government. According to Bruno’s lovely blog he was looking to create a unique way to personalise his boxes. His elegant abstract three-unit symbol is an adaptation of an old alchemical symbol for gold. The finished pictogram resembles stylised trees, flowers and lollipops. Bruno had the original stamp carved in stone in Japan and sent to him in California. The resulting stamp is perfect, a lovely hybrid of Bruno’s wants and echoes of other more esoteric sources.

Bruno Fazzolari box, typeface & hanko

Room 237 is intimately odd, I find myself preoccupied with the soapiness. The listed fleabane is essentially a daisy note and combined with bay and other offbeat floral aberrations setting a scene of potent connubial ablution. A mix of shave cream, hair spray, bay rum and Lux soap ghosted over an insistent tactile vinyl odour, a dread mildewed cling of old shower curtain. It smells hyper real then intensely imagined like a trick designed to disorientate you.

Room 237
(shower curtain impression II)

The oppoponax is weird stuff here; it’s a resin I find hard to handle sometimes, translating as a sweetish, greasy smoke or a vaguely faecal haze of dread. Oscillating between noble and cadaverous depending on the levels used; in Room 237, it is pungent and cloying, deliberately so I think to provide textural relief from the roaming phantom soapiness. As the shudder and shrill rendering of the opening notes fade down, the true disquieting nature of the grimy soapy florals begin to bloom like damp stains on forgotten walls and ceilings.  

All the while it is well nigh on impossible to stop inhaling the scent despite visions of damp cling and unwashed bathroom tiles. Bruno’s mature handling of his frankly macabre and contradictory palette works with fucked up precision and timing. The smell of pissy spattered flowers, abandoned fittings, lost skin, ghostly scalp, forgotten frailties, powders, plastics, mildew, residues, soap lather and phantom bouquets. All of this has been assembled into a haunted scent of foreboding sway and surprisingly tenacity.

It has been some time since I was quite so jolted by a perfume, but Room 237 has a fabulous, insidious inspiration and impresses as a necro-floral nocturne of some considerable power. It is difficult, confrontational, perturbing, compelling, dirty, haunting needful, salacious and deviant. But I will be wearing and loving every mournful, mould-possessed drop of it. We all need to live a little in Room 237, fear and uncertainty are good for the jaded soul.

For more information on Bruno Fazzolari, please click on the link below:


24 September 2015 


Friday, 11 September 2015

A Cargo of Samurai Dreams - ‘Nanban’ by Arquiste

As I was writing my recently posted two-part piece on the Arquiste collection I wondered what would come next from the prodigiously talented triumvirate of Carlos Huber, Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. Then, part way through my extensive note making and sampling, the lovely Ruth at Bloom Perfumery (now sadly moved on…) sent me a sample of a new Arquiste perfume that Carlos has shown the Bloom team at a floral themed Arquiste event earlier in the year.

Arquiste Instagram teaser image.. 

The sample was Nanban. It was astonishing. At the time, I had no notes to go with it so I wore it blind, free from trying to locate specific effects and notes in the mix. I set it aside and waited until I was really ready to do it justice. I had been struggling with a weird dose of asnomia from a viral infection and just wasn’t sure if I wasn’t smelling things correctly or even at all to be honest. I had a surreal moment sampling gardenia perfumes and had to stop. I just couldn’t tell if I perceived olfactory inflections of gardenia or just inhaling my own memory paintings of the bloom. It was both harrowing and immensely unsettling.

Carlos Huber & Rodrigo Flores-Roux taking
mischievous shots of yet to be launched Nanban... 

After a month or so, my olfactory senses rebalanced. I reached a point of equilibrium; a necessary if rather nasty regimen of meds seemed to unlock the grace and recognition of my aromatic abilities. As I so often do, I wore Nanban to bed. The weather was close, I always sleep with notebooks by my bed in case I need to write things down, it’s a hangover from teenage dream journals. I knew Nanban was different as soon it curled like careful bonfire over skin.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Supple Vistas – ‘African Leather’ by Memo Paris

After Irish, Italian and French interpretations of skin and wander, African Leather will be #4 in the Cuirs Nomades series from luxury French perfume house Memo Paris, one of the fragrance world’s best kept and most indulgent secrets. This beautiful new creation launches in the autumn but I have been lucky enough to spend time recently, indulging in its rather extraordinary aromas. 

'African Leather' - Memo Paris

Each time I champion Memo fragrances, part of me is a little reluctant to do so for fear that others might discover the olfactory wanderlust and my beloved choices might become commonplace. Nonsense of course, but it a fear I think that potentially stalks some increasingly successful niche brands. How successful do you have to be before tipping into something resembling popular mainstream acceptance. Brands like Le Labo, By Kilian and Editions Frédéric Malle and L’Artisan Parfumeur for example occupy uncomfortable ground. It’s not a surprise that Malle and Le Labo have been acquired by Estée Lauder and L’Artisan and their sibling brand Penhaligon’s by Puig. Big name brands want some shiny niche baubles to hang in their windows. But sooner or later, the niche labels tarnishes or the quality is eroded, carefully at first. Acquisition of niche is all about subtlety and patience.  

Clara Molloy of Memo Paris

Memo Paris for me is a quintessential French niche brand, private, defiantly esoteric and emotional, linked directly to co-founder (the other is her husband John)and Artistic director Clara Molloy. The fragrances are precious and precisely luxurious, inspired always by Clara’s obsession with travel and the psychology of journey, of moving thorough landscapes to a destination. Indeed the brand’s motto is The Journey is the Destination. This could be said to be true of their beautiful catalogue of scents. They are constructed in such wise and picturesque ways as to storytell materials and aroma effects in seductive and often unexpected forms.

Aliénor Massenet
parfumeuse extraordianaire

Les Echappés is the name of the core anthology of travel inspired perfumes that Clara and her talented parfumeuse Aliénor Massenet have assembled together. The relationship between these women is fearsome, their artistic symbiosis and instinctual understanding of one another’s nuances is key to Memo. Along with John’s business head and the distinctive photographic style of Guillaume Lebon whose images seem to guide, capture and suggest mood and emotion as scents are developed, the Memo Paris style is one of languid beauty, arresting haze and the need to be admired, quietly and urgently.

My first Memo was Siwa, endless bottles in and I am still in love with its soothing cereal-soft beige booze vibe. It has a delicious buttery popcorn facet that I adore; overlaid with sweet narcissus, my skin smells ghostly, a vanillic lullaby. I also have Lalibela and Monoa in my collection, one a demanding glassy desert rose, the other a glittering comet of oppoponax.


There is a new collection chez Mémo, Les Graines Vagabondes (Wandering Seeds…) that has commenced with the appearance of the delicious Kedu, a scent so aromatic with smeared and toasted sesame I was quite lost for a while when I first sampled it. I just kept returning to my nutty, verdant wrist over and over. Kedu is inspired by Indonesia and the dramatic temple of Borobudur, the 9th century Buddhist temple in central Java. Pilgrims ascend three levels of this symbolically carved stone mountain/temple. As they do so, they interact with complex bas-relief cosmology and multifarious deities. The temple came to light again in the 19th century, after lying asleep under volcanic detritus and hungry jungle for centuries.

Aliénor Massenet and Clara have used the symbolism of sesame seeds to construct a unique and deeply resonant scent. According to Javanese tradition, throwing the aromatic white seeds into fire can purify your soul. Anyone who cooks and who has pan roasted sesame seeds will know how exquisite the oily, creamy scent of the toasted seeds are they turn golden. Fin du Monde by Etat Libre d’Orange is the only other scent I have sampled which has such a lovely sesame note. The precocious young talent Quentin Bisch tasked by Etat with creating their hazy apocalyptic gourmand allied his sesame with iris and a tremulous gunshot effect. It is a remarkable scent and one that Quentin has yet to capitalise on.

The comforting white nuttiness of sesame is hard to explain, but it’s a smell I have always loved, in tahini, baked in bread, on Mediterranean pastries and the oil drizzled over stir-fired Chinese greens. Kedu uses three main players, the sesame, grapefruit and white musks to create an airy, blanched ground of grace and careful texture. Over this trails whispers of mate absolute, moss and a fragile rose-peony accord that wears like crumbled frozen raspberries. I love Kedu’s complexity and embracing nutty comfort. I will be adding it to my collection; I need its pallid plane.  

I am very intrigued by this first chapter of Les Graines Vagabondes. So much scope for olfactive exploration. You could look at the title in two ways I guess; seed dispersal, carried by winds, seas, rivers, fur, gut, foot and shoe to places beyond origin to germinate and start afresh. Or the beautiful gathering or anthology of seeds by bygone explorers, collectors and pioneer botanists, travelling by ship or overland, their precious cargo of seeds bound for botanic gardens or private collections. We are familiar with the sci-fi trope of floral and agricultural arks of seed of seedlings heading off to distant galaxies to green future landscapes and crops. It will be fascinating to see what Memo do next in this very promising series.

Grace Jones... an Empress of leather

For now I am still deeply besotted with Les Cuirs Nomades, a collection that continues to evolve opulently and beautifully. Leather fragrances have a particular attraction I think, appealing to our baser, more animalic sensual instincts. The materials may have changed over the decades of perfumery as the technology of aromachemistry has become increasingly more advanced, nuanced and in many ways more atmospheric but the desire to capture the ghost and imprint of pelt and hide is still a powerful one.

Equine dreams..

The first, Irish Leather was wild, green and equine, a love letter to (Irish) John Molloy from Clara Molloy. The scent is an abstracted capture of sweat-flecked horses racing through verdant countryside. Juniper and mate absolute play superbly foliate against Massenet’s devout love of tonka bean. It is beautiful, unpredictable, bitter then sweet, supple and ghostly. There is just enough whiff of mane and fur to cause pause, but this is quickly snatched up in the bravura assembly of crackling, swift materials.

Auto dreams...

Next up was the ravishing Italian Leather… OMG.. I swooned on first smelling this, the vanilla bean effect was ENORMOUS; allied to iris, galbanum, oppoponax, sage and the most glorious tomato leaf effect made the scent supple, sensual and almost overpoweringly present. There is a gluttonous, gourmand intensity to Italian Leather; it is quite the malleable, moreish force. It is also damn sexy, a leather of luxury classic cars, vintage lather driving gloves steering an heirloom car or caressing a bare suntanned thigh. A leather of sun and open windows. 

Couture dreams...

French Leather was quieter, more introspective, a sueded leather of discretion and poise. This took me a few wearings, and then I was hooked. The triptych of rose, lime and leather is very unique and works with an alarming beauty. This is a couture, cut leather form, a bag, a laser cut sheath dress, something moulded softly to the body like a second skin in shades of thulian and amaranth. French Leather does echo Jean-Claude Ellena’s Hermès masterpiece Kelly Calèche in its expensive Birkin interior rummagy aroma. Yet French Leather sets itself apart by dripping that rather brave lime note top downward. It serves to fittingly counterpoint any potential rosaceous excess and season the pink pepper, woods and resins.

panthera leo

Memo’s African Leather is strong juice, a sonorous expansive spiced floral scent on a taut dry leather ground. Aromatic is a word bandied out with recklessness in scent, but this is just that, a perfume deep and cohesive with aroma, its components assembled and blended with satisfying and panoramic beauty. The saffron/cumin/cardamom triptych is intensely bitter and green lending the huge opening of the scent an arid sun-baked quality.

Giraffa camelopardalis

There is a sense of pressure in African Leather of open sky weighing down on parched ground and animal hides searching for shade. The strong leather accord that Massenet has created is not the smooth supple interior car upholstery of Italian Leather, but rather that of ragged ear, bitten hide, camouflage fur and striated stillness. The vetiver is the grass and cover from heat, eyes and tooth. So much profundity to the materials used, you can feel it in each shift and roll of the evaporation curve. I’m not the biggest fan of geranium, it often smells medicinal, but the high quality MD geranium absolute used in the lush middle stage of African Leather is fabulously verdant savannah, the ground as it were, a canvas of safe perfumed heat over which moves the rumble of hoof, paw and claw.

Equus quagga

African Leather has vista and haze, but is essentially a still mood piece. There is restlessness and charge but its animalic gaze is actually rather basilisk and unrelenting. Massenet has laid down this emerald velvet geranium at the feet of Memo’s imagined grazing mammals and the effect is dazzling.

Loxodonta africana

As with all the Cuirs Nomades series, African Leather too has serious projection, sillage and longevity. The oud accord and parched chewy patchouli stretch out the drydown with a campheraceous trail. The all-important leather is preserved and well-travelled like an explorer’s venerated bag, salted with time, rattling around in dust-tossed Landrovers. This is of course is also a fantasy leather, a safari melange of up-market and managed game reserves, dusk-lit designer lodges and tables laid with white table cloths and improbable food, flickering in the light of torches and mannered staff. All of this seemingly at odds with the reality of religious and tribal intolerance, poverty, HIV, corruption and the fractious, wearying alliance between terror, tourism and economical needs in these rushing multi-media times.

'African Leather' press event
chez Deyrolle, Paris

African Leather is panoramic, a complex aromatic and luxury scent of a perceived effect, an animalic tone suggestive of roaming savannah wildlife, corralled by westernised floral tropes. It seems viewed almost from above as a light aircraft passes silently over a game reserve, a flowing intermittent shadow of wings passing over the bush below. The animals grazing beneath don’t notice the interloper on high. It’s an affecting montage of motifs and mood that has been collected and assembled by Clara and Aliénor reflecting once again, Memo’s unique and stylish ability to encapsulate the singular essence of a place or destination, however vast or seemingly obtuse. Memo perfumes lie on the floor of the mind like scattered photographs, evocative souvenirs for our skin to savour, rendered with brio and substance.

The final fabulous stages of African Leather are sheer joy. Hours into the ornate drydown the golden glow of saffron sudden ignites again, setting fire to the grasslands of the mind.   

©SilverFox 14 August 2015

For more information on Memo Paris fragrances, please click on the link below:

Disclosure - Sample of 'African Leather' very kindly provided by Memo Paris, opinions my own.