been incinerated, I’ve oft returned to this thought,
that all things loved are pursued and never caught,
even as you slept beside me you were flying off.’
From ‘Ash Ode’ 1955 by Dean Young
In my study, bottles of Slumberhouse extracts in hues of mead, copper, decay, wine, moss, lichen, honey, tobacco, mould, pollen, malachite and velvet dream in darkness. These philtres and potions are deep-wrought formulae of transformation, slumber and death; enraptured hexes for craven skin created by a necromancer’s love of exile and shadow. They are of course the olfactive work of the enigmatic perfumer Josh Lobb, a hallucinator of arcane aromatics; someone capable of producing olfactive work of original profundity and eeriness. The compositions often feel like the work of a man who cannot only converse to his materials but also to their shadows.
There is heretical swoon in Slumberhouse perfumery. Always. Right from the start, when I was wearing Vikt, Rume and Grev and wondering how Josh seized the visceral personae of his materials, I knew evolution, experimentation, transubstantiation, fear, horror and olfactive violence would produce increasingly exceptional work. Ore, Norne, Zahd, Sadanne, Kiste and now New Sibet. Josh has no concerns for conformity in terms of traditional perfumery structures. His compositions more often than not eschew top and upper heart notes, focussing on the full grandeur of decent into bases, revelling in the effects that can be achieved by the far-reaching, resinous, ambered, smoke-laden ripples of linear composition.
Despite this apparent lack of perceived conventional structure, I would argue that Josh has created a very instinctive aromatic language of his own, spending long periods of time perfecting the exact nuances and timbres of each raw material for his compositions. There is claustrophobia of intent; the perfumed works resemble well-worked paintings sitting on easels alone in darkness, cloaked in cloth. Josh approaches by candlelight to add small touches of aromatic colour here and there, scraping scented pigment away to reveal another colour somewhere else. Wax is dropped and trailed, drops of shellac, surfaces burned. The processes are comparable. His juice breaks rules. There are those that say it is not really fragrance at all. Utter nonsense of course, it is art and liquid perturbation, one man’s obsessive vision of a decidedly unconventional and pungent world.
There is a sense of a deranged artistry and sensual pornography in Slumberhouse compositions, the sneaking suspicion that our skins are mere testing grounds for some arcane experiment by Josh as he researches the long-term effects of his tactile, rococo-ceptual work. No-one making scents like these is entirely sane or particularly rational. The juices are dreamlike, visual poems, hallucinogenic journeys through vistas of astonishingly gathered materials.
The clarity and visceral impact of Josh’s palette is anathema to some. Good. Like so much incontrovertibly misunderstood art, there will be derision and division. Slumberhouse really is a brand that divides opinion. Love, hate and people falling into that weird ‘…mmm I admire it, but I just wouldn’t wear it’ camp. They bug the hell out of me. Just hate it. I’d have more respect for you. But in order to fully understand the Slumberhouse darkness, the textured dream, you must wear these creeping extraits on skin, stain your surfaces, ravish your senses. Full immersion into Josh’s labyrinthine process of converting weather, sex, body, landscape and tongues is a eerie and challenging journey/mind fuck but one with so much shuddering reward.
Slumberhouse was born out of Portland, Oregon, founded by Josh Lobb and a pack of like-minded friends who functioned as a kind of collective. Slowly, they drifted away; leaving Josh a man singularly obsessed in his pursuit of odiferous purity and cracked olfaction to continue the Slumberhouse story. He didn’t wear scent when he was younger, so this left him in with a huge blank anti-memory of perfume to draw on. Everything he has created from the early days has been chthonic, primal, rooted in a sense of oppressive surround as if he were trying to distil, leach and seduce every molecule from his environment. There are two sides to him I feel, the sheer brutal perfectionist, honing his compositions until the heart is dazzled and then the hallucinator, the man who needs to break free from himself in order to understand better how he is assembled. His fragrances are more like witchcraft and I suspect his shamanistic avatar alter ego might view the panoply of turbulent, verdigris, vapourous odours as conduits of sorts to altered sates.
Anyone familiar with his work will be aware of Josh’s disdain for traditional perfume structure; head, heart, base etc. He prefers the meat of the scent, the viscera if you like and fattier more dramatic impact stuff of heart and particularly of base. Each new launch however has seen I think a slight relenting in this self-imposed rigidity. Sådanne and Kiste had more structure to them, yes the swirling molten ground of aromatics and tinctured intensity was still very much apparent, however under and over these scented planes, Josh had built curved and hollowed out escapes of scented effect, rare absolutes, carefully arranged accords he wanted to showcase amid his usual wall of odour. The latest launch New Sibet is almost and I mean almost conventionally arranged, the notes configured to fit together in a sequence, not necessarily in time, but in character and tonality. Just when you think it is done, things shift and change again, like weather appearing from nowhere to obscure the view.
The news of a new Slumberhouse scent appearing is akin to the sighting of rare black or albino aberrational bloom on a distant mountain. You say to yourself…it will be beautiful…it will be mine. The obsession kicks in. I have remnants of Vikt, Grev, Rume and Mohr; bottles of Norne, Jeke, Sådanne, Kiste and the limited edition Zahd that Josh very kindly replaced for me when I dropped and shattered mine filing the air around me with wine-soaked cranberry. They are all in the new 30ml flask style flacons apart from my Norne that I have in the old style round bottle filled with hypnotic glass beads to keep the juice alive and moving. The colour is that of dragon’s blood, malachite green, slowly darkening over the past few years in Foxy storage and its viscosity and malevolence increasing.
Norne obsesses me; you will never smell anything like it and I don’t think the current batches smell like mine. They are less possessed. As that shocking forest green trail of sticky, smoked and meaty verdant resins rolls slowly down, the senses register a soaring cathedral of green, moist, fungal, alive with spirits, song and bones. When I originally reviewed Norne back in September 2013 I was so struck by the haunted quality of the fragrance, and it’s aromatic thaumaturgy. Smelling it and wearing again, my feelings still haven’t changed; this feeling of oddity and otherworldliness is inherently part of the inhaled experience. The huge odour of foggy primordial forest, clammy glistening mosses, burnt oiled air, an essence of the trees, their blood. All this crowds the senses. In my mind, in this cathedral of green I see a small wooden dwelling; overgrown with morass and lichen, the windows blind with ivy. The forest embraces it, slowly consuming timbers, floor, fork and plate. Yet despite the decay, the ruin glows with emerald malice. I am draw inexorably to it, obsessed by the swirling verdancy of aromas even though my mind tells me if I enter this green place I will vanish.
|Norne tree. |
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
Norne is a towering achievement, deeply weird, creepy as hell but after hours of patience, capable of astonishing heart-breaking beauty as it settles down to rest it’s jewelled minutiae of smoky shadows on quiet wrists and throats. That dragon green faded to boreal spectre and whispering air. In my original post on Norne I wrote of the final moments:
‘And then what is left after six or seven hours is perhaps the beautiful thing of all, the softest mossy imprint on the skin of a remarkable scented journey. Like waking from a slumber of a hundred years, the flesh smells sweetly vegetative, candied almost, a hint of angelica, emerald dust, medicine, linctus, a memory of needles. Norne is a dream of dark extremes and awe. It is forever night in the forest my darlings and no-one is coming to find you. ‘ (From Verdigris Cathedrals: ‘Norne’ & Slumberhouse)
Zahd was a limited edition, only 125 bottles, and the first of his creations in the new flask design. The idea was that we all pre-ordered and only when Josh has sold out would he ship out the orders. It was risky, no previews, samples or press. But Zahd was a project that had preoccupied him for quite some time, producing some eighty variations, which is a quite a lot for this style of dense, intensely embroidered work.
‘As I began creating the formula for Zahd, I realized I was subconsciously sculpting the scent to replicate how I felt crushed red velvet would smell if a fabric could be transformed into scent. I wanted something lush, opulent, alluring, completely gender neutral and ultimately mysterious.’ Josh Lobb
It is the pure, powerful scent of cranberries made sanguineous with bold black cherry, red wine ethers, cocoa, plum, Champaca and rich benzoin resin. Fir, sandalwood and tolu balsam further emulsify and intensify the brew. Josh very kindly replaced my bottle after I dropped and smashed my original. I was so horrified I think I stood motionless for an hour. Slight exaggeration but my lord… my entire apartment was S A T U R A T E D in the scent of resinous, vampiric berries. Even the cats’ fur radiated New England cranberry harvest. Typically of Josh he stripped the cranberry of any prettiness, any Ocean Spray association; this wasn’t a berry of bounce and water-soaked goodness. Quite the contrary, in his febrile hands it seemed like dark upside down Christmas, an outlaw love to be sprayed as the tree is torn down and burned for flickering backlight for skin on sticky, red-stained skin. The bottle of Zahd I have is evolving, thickening, the juice deepening in colour, the scent becoming more confrontational and fabulous as time passes. I sprayed it the other day in semi-darkness, watched in run down my tattooed wrists like blood.
Kiste was the last launch from Josh back in 2015 and one I feel deeply in love with. Living as I do in Scotland, it felt like a molten, lichen-strewn capture of Highland peat fire and heather honey. I love the elderberry and defiant sensual stain of room-pervading henna-creep rushing over skin like the autumnal fires of ochre, russet and whisky that sweep the glens as summer slides rapidly away. The peach and tonka that swell so dramatically as the scent heats up on skin lend it an undeniable inhalation of swirling Drambuie, a liqueur of whisky, honey and spices. For me the love comes from its reek of warm, weird boozy pollen, I’ve never really smelled anything like it, Josh’s olfactory kiste of aurous eccentricity, a liquid of immense beauty I find almost sacred. Each time of wearing it produces a myriad moods. The original inspiration for Kiste was the unforgiving Savannah heat of a Georgia summer and I can read this in the warped playfulness of Josh’s pipe-smoking peach and heat-haze heather glazed in glittering honey. But Slumberhouse extraits are given to us as spells and incantations and we read them as we must.
Up until autumn last year I always struggled a little with Jeke and its dense triptych of pipe tobacco absolutes from Bulgaria, France and Spain. Wearing it I often felt I was in a locked room, the lights fading and suddenly I was aware of struggling to breathe; the miasma around me was one of resinous rising sweetness that panicked me. I needed air. Then for some reason, I don’t know if Josh tweaked it or I just clicked with it, Jeke and I started loving each other. Some things are just worth persevering with. My friend Philip who probably has the most beautiful taste in fragrance of anyone I know is a firm believer in olfactory perseverance. We have both disliked (and in some cases loathed) scents we have gone on to love and buy. He is a Slumberhouse devotee, in fact Sadånne was a scent he did not like AT ALL when I bought it, however… its strawberry-rose wine soaked madness seduced him enough to buy it. Philip gifted me my bottle of Jeke so I have him to thank for my conversion to it’s lapsang aura of bonkers black vanilla and surreal levels of sweet, chewy pipe smoke. It is one of more challenging scents that Josh has formulated, but anyone interested in the olfactive semantics of smoke; Jeke is the blueprint pretty much. Every plume, leaf, twist, cure, desiccation, and curl of tobacco from plantation to exhalation is embedded in the precise, medicinal (and I would imagine very time-consuming knowing Josh) tobacco absolutes used in the preparation of Jeke. Winter is coming here, so Jeke will be worn as a talisman to keep me safe from haar mists and creeping frosts.
Stained glass syrup
Serenades in damascone minor
Allegory obscured / pastel wound
A slurry of subtlety
This was the text Josh wrote to promote, sensualise and in many ways obfuscate the launch of Sadånne, as he decided not to reveal the notes this time round. I reviewed it for my friend Editor in Chief Michelyn Camen over at Cafleurebon and had a blast doing so. Literally. Essentially it is a gorgeous syrupy rose, the damascones ripe and languidly rolling around a cranberry coloured goblet like De Medici wine. However I just could not get the odour of giant Haribo Strawbs out of my head.
|Seared Haribo Strawb|
A bored moment with a lighter and singeing one produced what I described as ‘an amalgamation of gummy melt, plastic and ketones’. An afternoon with my friend Mr E. and a cook’s blowtorch produced bonkers aromas and some amazing images. There are lush suggestions of everything in Sadånne, and sometimes with Slumberhouse, one’s visceral Grimm wandering of the notes and immersion in Josh’s fractured visions of odiferous hypnosis are more important than any literal list of materials. I smell edges of cocoa and tea in Sadånne, crushed hibiscus and a rooty cassis but its core is sanguineous roses and candied pastel strawberries, still as a drugged dream, potent as uncut heroin. Everything feels burnished, glittered and suspended. Drink, wear and swoon.
The fragments, samples and decants I have of Vikt, Sova Rume, Mohr, Pear+Olive, Verg, Ore and Grev are treasured and bound in darkness; sometimes I wonder if I say the names together by low light like an incantation, over and over, something of infinitesimal concealment and binding will rise through the floor and consume me. Now a new hoodoo, New Sibet is joining the collection and is for me anyway Josh’s finest work since Norne, joining the arboreal woodblood and Kiste as aromatic assemblages, proving perfumery like this is thrillingly visceral art and skin-storm.
|Fourrure de Chèvre|
I have a certain in-built bias with New Sibet, reeking as is does of slippery, mountain cold iris and herds of fantastical warm, milling, pungent mammals. Josh has created a smouldering goat fur accord the like of which I haven’t inhaled before and as someone who is normally horrified by all things goaty, cheese, milk etc, I was more than a little wary of but obscenely fascinated to try. I knew he would be supplementing his leather note with something wild and unforeseen. It’s a dry cracking, dusty accord, loaded with animalic leer and gusto but… my oh my… goat fur loves the buttery slip and grace of iris so.
New Sibet is a shift in style from the opaque, medicinal and hallucinogenic darkness of Josh’s earlier work. I know Pear+Olive is a deliciously light amuse-gueule of a scent; the structured gourmandise is still leftfield enough to allow a sense of unease as the oily piquancy of the shockingly realistic olive note suddenly opens up like a saline bloom. Sadånne too is relatively transparent, yet your senses feel like they are drowning in a viscous strawberry dream. The Slumberhouse signature has been just that, slumbering willingly in a house of exquisite olfactory blocks and textures, slowly losing your sense of self, unwilling to leave.
|Ann Demeulemeester |
goat fur coat
Fall 2012, Paris
New Sibet has clarity and air, but is still manages somehow to be incredibly inscrutable. I was immensely moved by it. I first tested it in darkness, in the silence of my room; it smelled sacred, like I was inhaling unguent as part of ancient burial rituals. The shock of the goat fur, iris and leather dusted in grey ashes made everything smell rooty, feral, cloven, of lamentation. There was a sense of mountain moss cling and sudden swooping mists, words muttered and stillness. Such stillness.
The listed notes of carnation, mint, ash, leather, iris, cistus, goat fur and moss are beautiful and suggestive enough but as I have already mentioned with Slumberhouse, the magnificence and minutiae of blending produces worlds within worlds and visions within impressions. Everything about New Sibet says prayer, ritual and death, a perfume of loss and achievements amid dreams of tears of empirical dust. Mo matter how much we garner, now matter how much we gather to us, all burns, all is cinder. All is whispered words over bone and skin, scoured with herb, bloom, resin and ember.
Josh’s incredible goat fur accord resembles costus in the initial holyfuckingbeautifulconjuredthing first application that even even now, three days later I am still thinking about. The cold carnation is a lonely start, edges of this much maligned sensual bloom tinted green by mint and malevolence. The air is dust and fur, it pollutes part of the iris, dirties it gently with a soiled ambrette funky sweetness that segues into a leather note I see in my mind’s eye hand-prepared, scraped, cleansed and rubbed down in ash until the surface glows like night sky. Finally the sticky allure of labdanum, a distant memory of chypré glories nuzzling up to the sparse, aloof arrangement of moss in the base. Despite all of this, the aching dry hymn of New Sibet is iris, it dominates the perfume; it is the arched backbone of this Slumberhouse sky burial.
I am an iris fiend, a powdered, rooty vampire and just when you think you have smelled as many permutations of iris as you can, New Sibet proves that you can transfigure iris in a vast exploded way by marrying it with Josh’s arresting goat fur accord and that palpable warm breathing leather. The iris retains its profoundly sensual butter-soft quality well into the five/six hour linger, if fact, if anything this is amplified by the strange caprine drift into its own mineralised weather.
I am always very affected by Slumberhouse odours, they move beyond the definition of perfumery standards, not exactly writing new ones, just refusing to conform and be recognised. For me New Sibet is such a melancholy scent and I’m not ashamed to say how moved I was by it. I sat for some time inhaling the layers over and over, realising exactly what I wanted to write about, how the words would be arranged on the page, how I would live in the writing of it. This would be a piece on my imagining of sky burials and the abandonment of centuries of mind, soul and body to the elements, beak, tooth, hammer and claw.
On a carefully chosen mountain, my body is wrapped in leather after a process of rites and orisons. The mist drops and moves like a guide. I feel nothing. Birds will spin and spiral overhead on the updrafts as they have done for centuries, waiting for the voices to cease. Around me I feel the love of all those who have lain here before, bound like gifts in scented hide, our cavities filled with posies of blooms and herbs, our skin cleansed with mint and our gods painted in ash on our faces. I can feel the desiccation began as over me, words of farewell, encounter and absorption are sung like a lullaby. But I am already asleep and will slumber while animals plunder my bones.
|Mountain burial bones..|
It is fitting that the final pall of New Sibet is one of serene ash, not smoke or burning, nothing as dull or as clichéd as that, but the sense of purity through fire, the aftermath, ash falling like Pompeii rain. Everything as always with Josh Lobb has mind-altering texture, heft and hue. His perfume fugues are like crepuscular motel rooms momentarily lit by passing car headlights and neon signs and then plunged into darkness again. The light is intense chez Slumberhouse, the formulae aphotic in mood but New Sibet is different; I know for me it’s a mournful abstraction, but others will see and feel it differently. It is a departure from the previous impasto style and it feels somehow more wearable and yet despite the shift New Sibet is still as uncompromisingly strange and alien as Slumberhouse has ever been.
It has been a while since the hazy, studied swoon of Kiste, a scent I loved so much I could have quite happily climbed inside the bottle and hung there, a fox in amber, but New Sibet, well, well, well Mr Lobb, this is quite a visceral achievement. It resonates in me like the most private invocation. So many are going to dislike its despair, but so many more will be obsessed by its singular ability to conjure up beautiful desolation and ruin, ashen contemplation; a pure moment when skin becomes sacred.
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©The Silver Fox 29/09/16