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

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.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the whole ‘I discovered I was a Grossmith story…’ here, it’s has been told better by others, particularly by Simon himself in this delightful piece called Scent by Descent in the Telegraph in 2013: bit.ly/10ztppN

Simon Brooke

Grossmith was originally founded in 1835 and renowned for its lush and sultry overtly exotic Victorian vision of the orient; hyper-feminine florals and a playful yet accurate capture of the then contemporary zeitgeist of aromatic mores. Exotica was sexy business – Indian spices, booming trade routes, sensual art and oriental objets, geisha girls, Hammam baths, mysterious veiled women, the promise of bedroom allure wrapped in a haze of bottled musks, powder and heady floral desire. All rather at odds with the actual acutely patriarchal steadfast and brutal sense of dubious morality in place across the empire. As always the disparity between private desire and public face was a violent one; hypocrisy was a convenient mask.

What sets the Grossmith story apart I think is the tremendous courage and unwavering belief in the realism and accuracy of the line. The first three perfumes to appear: Hasu-no-Hana (1888), Phul-Nana (1891) and Shem-em-Nessim (1906) were appropriately rich and fantastical versions of the successful originals. The Brookes bravely gave Robertet free rein budget-wise in terms of the quality of the materials needed to re-create these complex vintage formulae. This must have felt a little like skydiving and praying so damn hard your parachute opened and you landed without shattering every bone in your body.

It paid off though; this resolutely retro trio have sold well in a variety of luxury outlets but especially in the money-drenched, scent-obsessed markets of the Middle East. In fact, part funding for the stunning Baccarat bottles from original designs, originally commissioned for the Série de Luxe range in 1919, came from the royal families of Oman and Bahrain. The set of three bottles etched in gold will cost you approximately £23,000 and they sell out continually. This combination of rare exclusive original and heritage luxury tied to perfumes of very high sensual quality has made Grossmith an unusual success story in today’s somewhat contemptible and disposable society.  

Despite the oriental exuberance of aromas and the distinctly expensive whiff of aloofness to the Grossmith perfumes, it is in fact a house of great warmth and shimmering addictive beauty. These are adult scents for perfume lovers who want to take their time, explore a sense of time and elegance seemingly long gone. They are challenging, heavy, dense, contradictory, winsome, weird and ancient. But my goodness they are alluring and oddly wild. Like the original era that saw their first incarnations, the scents harbour layers of swirling sensuality and turbulent fiction beneath flowers, lowered gazes and still waters.

When I first sampled the original triptych I was pretty mesmerised. I spent years dipping into scents like that, lustrous with brothel age, corsetry and velveteen exotic allure. But somehow I wasn’t quite prepared to wear them; they were little too full-bodied for me at the time, steeped as I was in aroma-chemical minimalism and swathes of smoky indie Americana. My porny collision with Vero Kern’s incendiary Onda reignited my (barely) dormant obsession with carnality and Hasu-no-Hana’s Japanese inspired lotus lily scent utterly seduced me. A truly ravishing and melancholy chypré with the most exquisite blending of bone dry aromatics (oakmoss, vetiver) mixed with bergamot, bitter orange, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris on a very pronounced and provocative bed of patchouli, cedarwood, sandalwood, and tonka bean. It floats on skin like leaves cast on rippling water, the notes, just turbulent enough to cause effect and glint. The floral blending is beautiful; tumbling petals, a dash of moonlight and dry night air. It is not an easy scent, the complexity is deliberate and a little challenging at first. The quality is delicious and I’m sure finer than the original, more robust somehow, but it’s hard to tell, the accuracy of antique olfaction is shockingly good.

It took me several bemused and disconcerted wearings to really appreciate how refined and perversely elegant the Grossmith scents are. They may smell gorgeously rich and sophisticated, but there is to my nose something else going on, a buried sense of salacious suggestion, whiff of skanky echo and unwashed skin in the drying powder. The undressed body and odour of boudoir is never too far away from the expensive application of rose, orris, supple leather, creamy vanilla and exotic faraway woods.

This buried subversion is important, that the Victorian hankering for kink and erotic adventurism dressed up as cultural expansion still threads its oddly comforting way through these thought-provoking and desirable perfumes.

I lay one day on my bed, half-hit by late summer sun, anointed in the possessed stillness of Hasu-no-Hana and imagined a later life, retired to a room made of woods and cinnabar, I’m smoking cherry pipe tobacco in a foxy Meerschaum, the windows are draped in eternal velvet and I’m not sure I care if there’s a door or not. Books smell of sweet rooty powder, air smells of frozen blooms. I realised as the sun moved slowly over tired skin, I could happily live forever in the plush eccentricities of Grossmith.

I was intrigued to see what Simon and Amanda would do next. They had access to over 300 formulae thanks to a chance meeting with a distant Grossmith relation who had detailed ledgers packed full of olfactive detail, so would they continue down the vintage resurrection road? It appeared so for a while.

Betrothal appeared in 2011 to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. It was originally created in 1893 to celebrate the impending nuptials of Princess May of Teck and the Duke of York. Resolutely traditional in appearance, Betrothal was a deceptively unsettling floral bouquet with an underlying sensation that the flowers clutched nervously in the pale white hands of a bride have begun to turn, wilt and die. Not my favourite from the line but a strong statement nonetheless.

2014 saw the release of Sylvan Song, a new green and woody composition by Céline Guivarc’h, exclusively for Fortnum & Masons in London with whom Grossmith have a particular affinity and mutually appreciative relationship. I sampled the line there once on a visit to London on a rubbish rain-soaked day. Normally I am not overly impressed by the sales and service in Fortnums, it has declined in recent years, but the young man who talked me through the Grossmith line that day was wonderful; he genuinely understood the appeal of the line and told the story with interest, not just as a marketing or sales hook. There are many so-called vintage brands out there coasting on somewhat dubious provenance, dates fudged, facts altered to fit the sales package. Grossmith is the real deal and inhaling them as you listen is very part of this experience.

Mark Behnke over at Colognoisseur has reviewed Sylvan Song beautifully after sampling it at Pitti. To read his review, please click on the link: bit.ly/1tQRKSE

In 2012 however, there was a surprise. Four new Grossmith perfumes appeared entitled the Black Label Collection. The beautiful packaging by the one of the Brooke’s daughters Eleanor, an architect graduate who works for her parents part-time combines the feel of Victorian mourning stationary with the bleak austerity of modernist mono chromatics.

There are four fragrances, Amelia (named for Simon’s grandmother), Golden Chypre, Saffron Rose and Floral Veil, all original formulations but still retaining a distinctly haunted vintage halo. This quartet really caught me in a séance of olfactory wonder. Trevor Nichols has created three of the four - Amelia, Golden Chypré and my favourite Saffron Rose, with the honour of composing Floral Veil going to Jean-Marie Santantoni.

Amelia is a strange shy floral, akin to the understated woman whose beauty is underplayed and quietly glowing in a room of glaring tone and artificial enhancement. Sure, the gaudy blooms would be noticed first, but the wrong kind of light and brash charm soon force these wrecked creatures to lose their pall. Then the more subversive allure of Amelia comes into its own, her role of wallflower played to perfection. Tendrils of osmanthus and neroli set a delicate yet important scene for the luxuriously supple triumvirate of rose, peony and jasmine. The drydown is stately and discreet, the floral notes amplifying with lovely, measured time.

Golden Chypré is a vivid and sun-drenched re-imagining of 30s style animalic chyprés, something Gloria Swanson might have worn as she rolled lasciviously toward a terrified camera. It has a smudged tobacco edge, sweet and addictive, with a lovely spool of heliotrope echoing through it. Spices are something Grossmith do very well; they smell defined and correct but blend seamlessly within the formulations. The use of leftfield nutmeg is perfect here, adding depth and a creamy coffee-like effect as it mixes with oily cardamom and rose. Golden Chypré could be the name for a high quality rolling tobacco in fact, such is the sensuality and warmth of this earthy composition. I like the final stages, dry and wintry, last leaves of trees, low sun in skies, burning copper light on empty streets. While not exactly a full-blown traditional chypré, Golden Chypré is in fact a reflection in a gilded oaken eye and all the better for it.

Floral Veil is my least favourite.. not that it is any way a poor perfume at all, in fact the vanilla orchid at the heart of the scent has radiant moreish hothouse weather. No, my problem is the geranium lying in the top; it’s an immovable malachite force that just irritates me. It’s a note when combined with rose, as it is here that I actively dislike in floral scents. I’m aware the melding creates a potent and realistic rendering of wet garden roses, oozing summer perfumes, but not for me I’m afraid, just too twee and Miss Marple-esque. Floral Veil disappears quickly; the cashmeran in the drydown smells coldly bland and plasticised. It’s a pity, because for just a moment, the burst of ivory floral in the middle is truly sublime.

Best till last. Saffron Rose. This is Grossmith’s nod to the ubiquitous oud trend, but my oh my…. what a masterly Wildean nod it is. The whiff of sweet iniquity beneath the buttoned up propriety of everyday wandering skin. This complex and seductive scent is everything I want from an oud/rose combination – warmth, surprise, elasticity, transparency, eroticism and a sense of transgression. It is for me the best scent in the Grossmith house because of its shimmering violence and ambiguity. Trevor Nichols who created it, has used the classical tenets of stuffy Edwardian exotica and literally fucked it full of spice and animalic resins. The myrrh smells filthy, added to the intense plantation aroma of cinnamon, the rose begins to swell and palpate like a desperate heart.

For all of its thrashing drama, Saffron Rose is vintage Grossmith through and through, a homage to so many men and women whose lives were lived in secret, the dangerous duality of Edwardian sexuality, craving adventure, illicit horizons, yet bound by conventions, mores, clothing and societal gaze. It has a whiff of the unexpected, lost and strayed. Tobacco and woods lend the later stages the most poignant whispered drydown that is hard to ignore. You can almost stand and hear the embers pop and fall.

The thing I love about Grossmith is the tireless and genuine dedication to time gone by. There is no jolt of fakery. Perhaps it is to do with the high quality ingredients or attention to vintage structure. After all, Simon and Amanda have a lot of recipes and detail to pull on now. I think though the often-eerie recreation of past olfaction is a correct understanding of what we want from re-orchestrated heritage scent-making; a need to wear something that suggests to our senses and dormant genetics a way of perfumery that was once deeply emotive and private.

I’ve had a recurring image in my head since I started planning this piece on Saffron Rose and working my through the various samples and one generous decant I have. I see Saffron Rose’s haunting ambiguity as akin to spirit photography, the kind so popular in the Victorian era as so many desperately bereaved sought answers from beyond the grave and so many others preyed mercilessly upon them. I am quite obsessed by old images of watchful hovering spirits and mediums vomiting up so-called ectoplasm. They are a fascinating visual testament to an age when despite huge advances in science, industry and medicine people might still be fooled by middle aged women in booths regurgitating fine-spun lace that glowed in the darkness of church halls.

These Black Collection Grossmith scents have something of the haunted about them, an unsettling echo of beautiful absence that makes them very intriguing to wear. They are the olfactory equivalent of vintage portraiture with the lingering ghostly smear, the shadowed shawl and the awareness of melancholy eyes in a distant doorway. This is how I feel Grossmith have interpreted the historical referencing without resorting to pastiche and slavish note for note reconstruction.

Each time I spray Saffron Rose, I half expect voices to whisper in the room behind me or to catch another face, just slightly in my battered vintage octagonal bathroom mirror. Foolish thinking really, but such is the beauty of these old style perfumes that you can’t help seeing and inhaling ghosts.   

©The Silver Fox

February 2015

To visit the Grossmith site, please click below:

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