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

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Behind a Mask I Will Wait For You: ‘L’Attesa’ by Masque Milano

‘Nous portons tous un masque, c'est bien connu; et vient un moment où nous ne pouvons l'enlever sans nous arracher la peau.’ André Berthiaume

(‘We all wear masks, this goes without saying but there comes a time when we can’t remove the mask with tearing the skin beneath’)

During copious amounts of nocturnal reading in preparation for this piece on Masque Milano’s startling new iris perfume L’Attesa, I came across a description of orris root as Love Drawing Powder. How wondrous is this strange definition of one of perfumery’s most incomparable and sensitive materials. The idea that you lay a subtle olfactive trail of orris dust and the object of your desire will simply come to you, drawn by the beauty and overwhelming puissance of a rhizome. It is in so many ways a perfect metaphor for this new enigmatic portrait of iris by Italian perfumer Luca Maffei.

It is no secret how much I admire the work of Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi at Masque Milano. Ever since I bought and reviewed Russian Tea, created for them by the hugely underrated nose Julien Rasquinet, I have had a kind a fever for their flamboyantly butch oeuvre. There is something about certain really handsome Italian men; so secure in their sexual mores that they can push at the boundaries of their gender with fabulous danger and enticing illusion. Romanza, A Victorian Dandy was the exquisitely rendered, narcotic crystallisation of this dynamic. Created in 2015 by Cristiano Canali, author too of the magnificently abstract Soave-splashed Fundamental for Rubini, Romanza, is finally, beautifully appearing now after the guys deciding to wait and put the gorgeous narcissus-stained juice into the new 30ml heavy-base flacons.  

I reviewed Romanza and picked it as one of my top three fragrances of 2015. It is a profoundly erotic work with a pungent narcissus note that swells like jaundiced rage before completely enveloping the senses. It will always divide wearers and this is good. It is the gorgeous androgyne at the stuffy Victorian ball, dressed in a suit of chartreuse silk. Revellers will stumble, mutter and stare, horrified by the barely veiled deviancy. But there will be those who will dance on, whirling, burning with jealousy and desire within the confines of their own time and conventions.

'L'Attesa' by Masque Milano

L’Attesa is a worthy successor to Romanza, an austere, cryptic portrait of iris by Luca Maffei that wowed folk at Esxence in Milan this year. It is getting excellent reviews from bloggers and perfume lovers. I’ve taken my time with it.. you need to. It is a strange and complex perfume that solicits your attention and then seems to push you away, denying you access to its secrets. Luca Maffei can do no wrong just now, Masque Milano have launched L’Attesa just as Luca garnered another Golden Pear in the Independent category at the 2016 Art & Olfaction awards for Néa, one part of the Les White triptych by Jul et Mad. (He also composed Garuda in the same trio; Nin-Shar was made by Sidonie Lancesseur). I think Maisïa, the charred fig scent he made recently for his frequent collaborator Gabriella Chieffo is an incredible composition, a weird mix of seared concrete, ash, green fig and sweet sad air. His Houbigant Cologne Intense has been lavishly praised too as an expert interpretation of the cologne style scent, his handling of the citrus elements seemed refreshingly realistic and drenched in liquid sunshine.

Alessandro and Riccardo have already worked with a succulent menu of perfumers as they assemble their opera of desire, using these gifted olfactive composers to create scenes of fascinating mise-en-scènes. Cécile Zarokian, Meo Fuscini, Julien Rasquinet, Cristiano Canali and Delphine Thierry have already laid down graceful and complex work for Masque Milano and now Luca lays down his concealed and graceful iris on a stage in near darkness while we marvel at its beauty.

I have a passion for iris scents; their buried silver beauty and rooty powder tug at me always. Despite the huge number of fragrance launches each year, the actual number of truly innovative or beautiful iris/orris perfumes is very small. I am usually underwhelmed and bored by the offerings or I admire the technical detailing, perhaps a decorative flourish and pass on by. Iris is hard to use, but it needs imagination and skill, an understanding of how the various irones, aldehydes and superlative concretes dose and calibrate in compositions. I could wear iris perfumes form morn till night, from birth till death and beyond, never tiring of the insect wing chill and chalky glissando. There is something otherworldly in the delicate settling of iris-scented structures. They have a bruised, haunted aspect that appeals to my increasingly macabre nature, as my mind plays in rooms long abandoned to dust and illness.

I have five beloved repeatedly worn iris fragrances. I’m not going to say they are the best ever… but they are my best. Cuir de Nacre is Bertrand Duchaufour’s ambrette-flickered iris for Parisian jeweller Ann Gérard who over the years has specialised in work with lustrous reflective intent, mother of pearl, opals and moonstone. The beauty of Cuir de Nacre as the name suggests is the nacreous cocoon of white suede that beds the iris. I would argue that Bertrand’s quartet for Ann, especially Rose Cut, Cuir de Nacre and Perle de Mousse, his delicate moist lily of the valley are among his finest work. The quality and feel of the work is beautiful.

I fell badly for Ralf Schweiger’s Iris Nazerena he composed for Aedes Perfumery; it has a powerful sensation of aching, period velvet bordello grey, worn down by endless waiting skin. It is plush, smells of loss and sadness and is a work of great olfactive art.

David Moltz of D.S.& Durga created a mesmerising peach-stained glassy iris scent for his spin off line HYLNDS called Foxglove. I chose it as my scent of the year in 2014; it just moved me immeasurably, inspired as it was by the concept of a single foxglove flower growing in vigil on the grave of Irish warrior poet Oisìn. The mixing of wild carrot, peach skin and a quixotic Champaca over David’s mournful iris make it a scent I find myself all too easily obsessed with.

The fourth one is a recent addition to my collection, iri_del by Nomenclature, an exhilarating assembly of synthetic exploration by perfumers Patricia Choux of Takasago and Frank Voelkl of Firmenich. The brainchild of Aedes Boutique co-founder Karl Bradl and designer Carlos Quintana, Nomenclature showcases the cyborg brilliance of certain key synthetic molecules, including Paradisone, Helvetolide, Orbitone and iris aldehyde. The beautiful handiwork of Patricia Choux, I described in a recent essay on the quartet:

.. ‘The showcase iris aldehyde imparts an oddly damp shiver of cucumber or bitter gourd under its initial generosity of vegetal welcome. This is counterbalanced by some of the waxier, fattier elements the material exudes as it sinks through the bright bergamot and sublime rooty, fine-spun ambrette.’

Sitting in my study this evening, surrounded by my collection I rediscovered an iris scent I had forgotten, Moulin Rouge by Histoires de Parfums, Gérald Ghislain’s stylish array of evocative richesse. The sumptuous heart of iris in Moulin Rouge is the slutty, silvered drag of midnight fur, fattened with cinnamon and sugared plum to suggest the blooded lipstick of the night’s glamourous denizens pouring out of an evening’s extravaganza. I had forgotten how sexual the iris is in Moulin Rouge, how suggestive and carnal, roaring into the darkness, drunk on musks and cavernous patchouli.

All of these portraits have chromatic reflections and nuances; it is something I find particularly resonant in iris scents.  Iris Nazerena is a poignant oyster pink of faded velvets and brocade. iri_del a more chilled, vestal white, with an aura of bruise-blue. Cuir de Nacre is dove grey, a bolt of habit cloth laid on marble. The ethereal Foxglove is a blush of aurous peach on verdant white and Moulin Rouge so lascivious, the iris burgundy plush and brazen with fatty violaceous smear.  

Penelope Tree lensed
by Richard Avedon
at Truman Capote's Black & White Ball

Luca’s L’Attesa for Masque Milano is none of these things, despite its urgent champagne overture, for me this is an austere monochrome iris, a black and white Avedon portrait of a 60’s ingénue caught in masked flashlight glare. The tonal contrast is not one of starkness or brutal difference between light and shade, but one of veiled grain and wash. It is the first time I have really experienced an iris like this, normally I inhale the composition and play the chords and facets and sense glimmers of aromatic colour, but L’Attesa is very different, achromatic and mysteriously withheld. There is an unsettling dissonance between Luca’s iris triptych and the more carnal aspirations of his Madagascan ylang and stealthy tuberose. But all of these things make for a mesmerising experience.

Iris Pallida

There are three facets of iris used in L’Attesa, an Italian iris absolute, Italian iris root butter and French iris root butter, each of these particular materials have a slightly different personality, adding intricacy and gradation to the already rather elusive effects resting under that buzzy, yeasty champagne top. 

Iris Germanica
The French, Grasse-grown iris smells more fruity with a glowing chocolate mouth-feel tonality to it, noticeably more malleable and gourmand in tone, whereas the Italian (Pallida) iris is drier, greener, cooler somehow, chalky and distant.

the precious iris rhizome.. 

It is the rhizome or root of the iris that is used in perfumery; it is such a precious trembling commodity in the business and so damn expensive to use. The best is acknowledged as Iris Pallida from Italy. I think the Iris Germanica from Morocco is sublime too, diaphanous and steely at the same time, the powder that of ground stars. The roots of the iris are harvested traditionally between the months of July and September, approximately one ton of dried rhizomes will eventually produce four and half pounds of orris butter. The fresh roots are peeled to speed up the promotion of oxygenation, vital to the production of irones, a liquid ketone responsible for the valuable iris aroma. A period of four years is the ideal for hanging or maturation of the rhizomes.

A distillation stage of the dried root produces a pure oil that solidifies at room temperature; this is orris concrete or orris butter as it sometimes known due to the pale creamy yellow colour it can have. The solidifying of the material is due to the high (85%) content of myristic acid in the mix. The process from harvest, through drying of the rhizome to orris butter and iris absolute is both labour intensive and costly; patience, skill and commitment to this utterly remarkable raw material are required in order to achieve an end product of silken, sensual drama.

The perfume guys...(l-r) Riccardo, Luca & Alessandro 

The triumvirate of Alessandro, Riccardo and Luca could so easily have gone down a relatively conventional, albeit lovely dusted road, the iris note sueded and cool, powdered motes of louche playfulness caught in sunlight like summer pollen. It could have smelled of silver fur and cold pearls on warm aristocratic skin like Bertrand Duchaufour’s misunderstood but skeletal sexy Mon Numéro 8 for L’Artisan Parfumeur, his sublime homage to ghosts of Chanel past. But thankfully for us they did not. They went austere and formal, an iris masked, presenting itself with solemn sensuality and a sense of freedom that somehow you will be the talk of your senses for weeks to come.

Now, as soon as I inhaled L’Attesa off the tattoos on the inside of my arm I had a very clear image in my mind, of a particular person captured arrestingly in a particular extraordinary moment of social history. I have no definitive answer to the very strong associations I made between perfume and moment, but now I cannot shake it.

Kay Graham & Truman Capote
arriving at the Plaza Hotel

On the evening on November 28th 1966, anyone who was anyone in American high society was making their to the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City for Truman Copote’s feverishly anticipated Black and White Ball held in honour of Katherine (Kay) Graham, the then Editor of the Washington Post, who had bravely and somewhat reluctantly assumed the position after the suicide of her husband Philip in 1963.

 Penelope Tree arriving at the 
Black & White  Ball in 1966.

An image taken by Richard Avedon of a young sixteen-year-old ingénue called Penelope Tree arriving at the party in a slashed black tunic dress and baleful mask caused a sensation. With her strange half-open mouth and penetrating eyes staring out of her mask, long hair and exquisite bangs she brought a sense of elfin malevolence and modernity to the gathering. Despite her parents’ vociferous objections (they really didn’t want her to be a model..), she was the talk of the press and fashion world after the ball. Avedon’s image is partly surreal and partly reportage, Penelope enters the melée almost prepared for war, her mask, and protection against what is to come. A cat-masked man to her right seems louche and controlled, gazing out at us whilst at the back a woman in a oddly macabre white rabbit mask is caught mid-conversation in Avedon’s headlight.

The invite read:

“In honor of Mrs. Katherine Graham / Mr Truman Capote / requests the pleasure of your company / at a Black and White Dance / on Monday, the twenty-eighth of November / at ten o’clock / Grand Ballroom, The Plaza / DRESS Gentlemen: Black Tie; Black mask. Ladies: Black or White dress; White mask; fan. R.S.V.P Miss Elizabeth David, 465 Park Avenue, New York.”

Capote was on a high, Cold Blood, his magnum opus non-fiction masterpiece has been published earlier that year to huge critical acclaim. His chilling, minutiae soaked account of the slaying of the Clutter family in rural Kansas by Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock had taken him five painstaking years and to the hinterlands of his often fragile mind to complete. Fascinated, some say a little too much by Perry Smith, Capote’s reconstruction of the crime, aftermath, trials and his friendship with Alvin Dewey, the chief prosecutor of the killings was lauded as a huge innovation in true crime fiction. It was in many ways a vindication for years of people wondering if Truman Capote would be anything any other than another waspish precocious antebellum prodigy. But In Cold Blood had taken quite a toll on Truman Capote, more than anyone realised.  He would never write anything as good again and would destroy himself and his enormous talent in a maelstrom of bitterness, self-loathing, booze and biting of hands that feed.

The Invite

However in 1966 he was the acerbic, puckish talk of the town, gleefully planning his ball in a series of black and white notebooks with the intensity of a novelist preparing to knuckle down and write the next big thing. Truman being Truman could not resist the teasing of who might be on the list as it were, he enjoyed those kinds of games. In the end his guest list exceeded its 480 to about 540 and was a mixture of people that Truman felt needed to be assembled in that place at that particular time. Yes, the room glittered with the beautiful and the damned, but also his Kansas associates from the Clutter investigation, PA’s, extended members of his lover’s family, writers, artists and of course the gilded rich of society’s elite.

Sergeant Shriver & Eunice Kennedy

He saw himself as a sort of wicked puppeteer, orchestrating and tugging at silken strings.  Lauren Bacall, Jerome Robbins, Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Princess Radziwill, Oscar de la Renta, Jacqueline de Ribes, the Agnellis, Sergeant and Eunice Shriver, Candice Bergen, Gloria Guinness, and Tallulah Bankhead are just a handful of the people that graced the Plaza Ballroom that night.   

Candice Bergen with her
Halston designed rabbit mask

Truman’s insistence on a monochrome theme was partly inspired by Cecil Beaton’s dazzling Ascot scene from My Fair Lady and partly because the colour coding was a leveller, allowing a sense of consistency across an eclectic guest list. And while attendees might try and outdo one another sartorially, it would all become one in the overall black and white thematics of the throng. 

Princess Luciana Pignatelli (L) wearing a Harry Winston
diamond on her forehead instead of a mask

The masks would come off at midnight, but until then, they introduced a sort of social frisson, a perturbing barrier, the essence of classical anonymous masquerade. The room would be mostly full of the rich, famous and notorious but the masks at least for a while permitted an illusion of safety, remove and abandonment. A fleeting fantasy that all were one monochrome existence.

Avedon’s image of Penelope Tree and other images of her at the ball show her to be a strangely avant-garde creature, correctly attired in the dress code, yet somehow alien, a precursor to the wide-eyed moon faced 70’s waif. Capote’s extravagant ball was also the truly last great gasp of society’s gilded closed-door age, social barriers were beginning to crumble and new money, pop stars, industry, political savvy were all mingling with the society’s long cherished blue bloodline. 

Frank Sinatra & Mia Farrow

The symbolism of Penelope Tree’s hypnotic entrance to the Black and White Ball is undeniable; Truman himself seemed unable to resist biting the gilded hands that had fed and caressed his coruscating ego for so long. By inviting symbols of the future and colliding them with the old guard may have seemed like fun in his devious notebooks, but in the cold light of day it was the mischievous denizens of 70’s pop art, music and cinema that would hold sway and the traditional structures of old style mannered society soaked in etiquette and brutal rules of birth right would begin to fade. His later unfinished book Unanswered Prayers, with it’s barely veiled (and often unflattering) portraits of many of his society friends, secret spilling and roman-clef tactics destroyed him and many of his former friends and supporters felt betrayed and abandoned him.

The Fox, masked,
party end, 2010

L’Attesa is this odd, singular party guest, a monochromatic iris, arrestingly captured at a Masque of melancholy quiescence. The utter aridity of the Italian iris is extraordinary, intensifying as the perfume beds down onto skin. The more gourmand facets of the French orris are sublime, performing like a halo, with the cold, white luminescence of LED lighting.  One of the main taking points surrounding the launch of L’Attesa was Luca Maffei’s use of a champagne effect in the top of the composition, something that really shocks as the scents overtures from the bottle. It is one thing reading about and imagining how it might smell, but actually experiencing it is something else altogther. Perfumers often use witty aldehydes or generous bursts of pink pepper and cabreuva to suggest sparkle but Luca has used a stunningly weird Beer CO2 material (botanical name: Humulus lupulus) from Charabot. According to Luca it is a supercritical extraction from certain hops and fermented cereals. I asked him why he chose to use this and he said:

‘..the Italian orris absolute has a very intense top note due to the high percentage of irones it contains. I was delighted by the idea of using the Beer CO2 to reinforce the powdery note and give the bitter powder note of the yeast to open the door the orris in the fragrance.’

Throughout the developmental process of L’Attesa Luca, Alessandro and Riccardo discussed the importance of a real champagne opening, a yeasty, fermented facet as opposed to a lip service special effect. In this Luca has more than succeeded. As you apply the scent, it’s like someone has smashed a bottle of ebullient fizz at your feet as you enter a ballroom and the air is debauched with enzymes and spume. The Charabot Beer CO2 will have a naturally aldehydic glitter anyway from the hoppy, bitter blondness lending the perfume the throaty laughter of bubbles a champagne scent should rightly have. The juxtaposition of this odd addictive yeastiness and the couture sophistication of the irises are at once veiled and playful.

Shattered grand cru....

The three iris notes are illuminated by the force and bravado of this beery/yeasty opening. But it succeeds beautifully. The base notes of Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss and the whispered leather accord are ghostly, the ylang and tuberose hold their own, jarring a little, purposefully and a little arrogantly, their petals and waxen beauty refusing to bend under the monochrome powder of so much iris. Luca Maffei has an innate understanding of how to blend and counterpoise materials; each composition he creates has a sense of something immediate that you feel your skin desires. By using arguably traditional perfumery tropes, paying homage to grand florals, spices and resins Luca twists an eloquent spirit of aromatic sexuality into works of undeniable classic reference and modernistic yearning.

It is hard I think to make an iris perfume this aloof and enigmatic. They usually have a certain boudoir charm, a lipsticky glory, memories of fur and night. Others have rooty gourmand oddness, whiffs of ganache and grass. L’Attesa is about abeyance, distraction, waiting behind a veil of this most unusual construct of iris for the external world to somehow touch you. A party may be gathering momentum around you, voices and skin colliding, conversing; but you are poised on a cusp of awareness. Like most of Masque Milano perfumes L’Attesa has a sense of the narcotic and dangerous, it is something that Alessandro and Riccardo seem to filter through their operatic line.  It is the stillness of L’Attesa that makes it so beguiling, an eye of the storm beauty as chaos rages at its environmental edges. Behind the mask, something rarefied and perceptive awaits.

Each new launch from Masque Milano as they inscribe their interlocking acts and scenes lays down deepening layers of intensity and sensuality. Among them, Montecristo, Delphine Thierry’s smoky porno hum of ambered hyraceum and Cécile Zarokian’s essay of molten tonka rose and resinous mucky spice Tango is unbearably good. I adore Julien Rasquinet’s atmospheric Dr Zhivago-esque minted raspberry Russian Tea scent; my senses thrill to its snow, steam and shadows. Meo Fuscini’s Luci ed Ombre is a quieter more contemplative work, no less striking for its calm powerful white floral stance and hazy leaded skies. And Romanza, by quiet man, Cristiano Canali, the swooning drug of bittersweet narcissus, lush and violently beautiful, so shockingly sensual on skin as to stop time itself.

L’Attesa now joins this provocative gathering of perfumed moments and moods, but feels in some ways like an outsider, its true nature and intentions disguised or concealed. It is not the easiest perfume in the Masque Milano repertoire, but I am in love with its dignified and seemingly distant persona only just hidden behind that astonishing mask of multiple monochrome irises and once the bready sparkle of champagne moistens the air the wait is over.

For more information on Masque Milano, please follow the link below:

TheSilverFox 29 May 2016

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Ghost Trees & Shadowed Line – ‘Sombres Dessins’ by Jovoy

'“Everything is worse...if you think something is looking at you.” Shirley Jackson

This is a ghost wood, a scent of phantom capture, a fragrance that sets out to define a certain essence and emotion of true sandalwood and yet somehow leaves us with a shimmering graphite obliqueness amid a forest of ephemeral trees that seems to recede the closer you are to them. The sandalwood effect is divine, creamy and atmospheric, conjured up by the immensely talented (..and very busy) Amélie Bourgeois inspired in part by the intense memories of Jovoy’s Creative Director François Hénin. In a former life he worked in Asia sourcing essential oils and raw materials for the industry. His encounters with the harvesting and distillation of Mysore sandalwood made a powerful impression on him. Literally; the potent scent of the aromatic oil embedding in skin and hair.  

Sandalwood carving

So the memory of sandalwood has a near mythical status for Monsieur Hénin and now the harvesting and use of these precious Santalum album forests is strictly controlled to the point of near prohibition. This means that very few people will ever really be able to experience the burnished comfort and power of true Mysore sandalwood.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Taking Tea in a Distant Forest of Pine & Fumed Shadow – 'Bohea Bohème' by Maison Mona di Orio

‘Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world’ 
Tien Yiheg

2014 saw the launch of Myrrh Casati, the first wholly new composition from Maison Mona di Orio since the tragic death of the perfumer from surgical complications in December 2011. It was inspired by the wantonly complex Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino, a flamboyant and possessed creature obsessed with art, arcane rituals, death, sex who created for herself a world of calculated shock and artistic awe. It was the first in the new Monogram Collection, a series of perfumes, devised by Creative Director and Brand Co-founder Jeroen Oude Sogtoen ‘based on the fundaments of Maison Mona di Orio… inspired by art, nature and light.’

The Monogram, alongside the Signature and cult Nombres d’Or Collections form the three main arterial lines of the house. Signature contains reissued compositions, so far, the sparkling bestial Nuit Noire and unctuous glitterball Lux. Nombres d’Or, inspired by the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion contains Mona’s masterpieces showcasing the classic perfumery tenets; Oudh Osmanthus (originally Oudh), Vanille, Musc, Vetyver, Cuir, Eau Absolue, Ambre, Tubereuse, the posthumously released Rose Etoile de Hollande and Violette Fumée that Mona originally created privately for Jeroen from his scented memories. 

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Glimmerfur: Pungency & Shimmer – ‘Bat’ & ‘Hummingbird’ by Zoologist Perfumes

I wanted to try Zoologist’s Bat and Hummingbird for a while; they sounded pretty bonkers to be honest but in a textured and fertile way. They seemed daring and artistic, heartfelt and whimsical. I liked the allure of the dandified steampunky personifications of the scents gazing mysteriously from the boxes like animal Mona Lisas. I really wanted Bat quite badly actually, I’d read amazing things about this cavey, funky furred olfactory collaboration between Zoologist Creative and Brand Director Victor Wong and independent perfumer and bat echolocation specialist Dr Ellen Covey of Washington State University. I kinda knew it would be fabulous. Weird but Attenborough fabulous.

Foxy's Bat

Recently I’ve been writing less. It’s the way it is. But the writing when it comes is more dense and passionate; it must be driven and inspired by olfaction that really intrigues me, moves me or delivers something else in terms of experience. Yes, there will always be houses, brands and noses I adore and report on. I am loyal and love to watch development, reflection, adaptation and genuine emotional shift. Things don’t always have to be magnificent or gloriously luxurious, but they must be intriguing, invite desire, repeat visitation and scented conversation. I must want it on my skin and want to revel in persuasive brilliance.

Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes

Somehow I knew Bat would be all this. I chatted to Victor through (for me) night electronica; Zoologist is based in Canada and I said hello, wondering if there were any UK stockists. It turned out there weren’t so I purchased Bat through picturesque Zoologist website and waited. End of the week, the kindest, sweetest gesture that moved me immeasurably, was Victor’s gift of a bottle of Hummingbird nestled next to my purchased Bat in a speedily delivered parcel. Gorgeous packaging. I set the boxes down, a haughty aristocratic bat and Jane Austenesque hummingbird peering coyly and enigmatically from their black, Victoriana-style livery.

Beaver, Panda & Rhino 

Now, when Zoologist Perfumes first appeared in 2014 with Panda, Rhinoceros and Beaver I will admit I was a tad sceptical, whilst the packaging and beautiful illustrations of the perfumes by Daisy Chan, who is one of Victor’s co-workers at Ganz, a toy company where he is a Senior 3D video game artist in his day persona were alluring and fun, the brand concept seemed a little gimmicky and simplistic. This turned out to be an erroneous reading of a heartfelt and charmingly conceived brand. I had some samples of Panda and Rhinoceros, both created by US based perfumer Paul Kiler. I liked the aquatic, jadeite grace of Panda, it’s not my thing, but the execution is clean and thorough. Rhinoceros is a mucky leather, bone dry, a suggestion of the thick animal hide pushing and scraping its way through arid savannah bush. I wasn’t keen on the development of this slightly off balance composition; I feel the herbs and immortelle are just tipped over the edge by the rather uncomfortable bitter smoky facet in the base. Rather than the sweeping aromatics of brush fire the notes seem tinged with an unpleasant melted black rubber aroma. It’s a fleeting impression and of course a subjective one.

When it came to sampling Beaver I was really impressed. I love castoreum as a note in scent. Now almost always synthesised, as originally it was obtained from the castor sacs of American beavers, it has an unparalleled musky, woody, arid, rosaceous, skanky aroma that many people find very sensual. Beaver is a strikingly dry and aerated hymn to this most bizarre and erotic of perfumery materials. A synth version obviously but is smells gorgeously well dressed, feral and rude. It is a beaver chewing down trees for a treasured fuggy insulated lodge. A scent of unexpected corners and edges that talented British perfumer Chris Bartlett has mixed with choice musks and sweet bestial castoreum. The use of linden blossom is arresting, it acts like air-con, breezing a gentle path through the undergrowth and fumy atmospherics of Beaver’s rather unsettling later stages.

It is technically a very dapper scent, the abstracted fresh air, ash, smoke and undergrowth effects are not merely dazzlenotes, but carefully constructed aromachemical fictions used to support Beaver’s chewy leather dexterity and whiffy impact. Many fragrances use castoreum with reckless abandon, just to conjure up an overwhelming porno-excremental backhander. Chris Bartlett has adroitly avoided this all too obvious and frankly rather tedious route by setting his still undeniably animalic Beaver in a blithe, vivid landscape of powdered earth, clean air, sun on water, trees whispering on smoke-tinted breezes and a musky intrigue of dark, dank bed and banks. It all coalesces into a perfume of considerable skill and unexpected charm. It has gorgeous, swelling presence on skin, not for the faint of heart mind you, castoreum is an acquired feral taste, but revisiting Beaver for this review, I realised how complex and balanced the mix was and how much I enjoyed Chris Bartlett’s expert handling of the Zoologist brief.

Foxy's Bat & Hummingbird

Bat and Hummingbird appeared in 2015, created by dynamic US perfumers Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington respectively. It seemed obvious to me that this duo of perfumes was different from the original trio, richer, more pungent, fertile and experimental. It felt to me that Victor had pondered reactions to his line and thought very carefully about his follow up collaborators. The fecundity and cornucopia of aromatic styles on display chez Covey’s Olympic Orchids and Waddington’s En Voyage perfume houses has earned these creative women critical plaudits and a devoted following.

Blackbird by Ellen Covey

Ellen Covey made the final round of the Art and Olfaction Awards in 2014 with Blackbird, a scent of blackberries, fir and elemi and again in 2015 with her arboreal call to arms Woodcut, an alarmingly beautiful and poignant cedar scent with a wise and wonderful singed sugar accord burned through it as if to remind us that whilst our skins may be decorated and enhanced, trees fall silently in distant lands that we might exude woody sensuality, build, sit, carve, heat and power our rippling world. Woodcut took home the award in the Artisan Category and rightly so. 

Ellen, Woodcut & the Art & Olfaction kudos.... 

Olympic Orchids launched its first fragrances in 2010. Ellen’s accidental sideways move into orchid husbandry after a work colleague bequeathed her some plants led her into a passionate and detailed scientific relationship with these most notoriously complex and alluring of blooms. This preoccupation with the orchids led her into perfumery and compositions such as Osafume, Red Cattaleya and African Orchid. She does hold a post at Washington State University in the Department of Psychology, (she originally studied chemical senses, more specifically chemosensory awareness) teaching courses on senses and perception. This lead to an interest in hearing and very precisely and most importantly for us, echolocation in bats.

Dr Ellen Covey
perfumer, creatrix, bat specialist & orchid grower

So, Dr Ellen Covey, indie creatrix of Olympic Orchid Perfumes, owner of Olympic Orchids orchid nursery, bat expert and scent specialist approached Victor at Zoologist to see if he might be interested in creating a bat-themed perfume. Ellen’s extensive scientific experience with bats and their sensory communication systems had allowed her to travel on a variety of field trips, experiencing a diversity of bat habitats that have informed this most extraordinary of aromatic recipes. From cramped eaves and claustrophobic grottoes to soaring cave cathedrals, bats use a unique system of communication to talk to one another as they fly and assemble or move out of caves in vast numbers. But their echolocation system is used in its purest form to catch prey; the winged furry mammals are able to identify insects and pinpoint distance etc by bouncing their radar-like squeaks off insects’ bodies. A series of echoes form an exact picture in the bat’s brain of the cricket, mayfly or moth for example winging its way through dark space.

The fact that bats choose to dwell in darkness and paint pictures in the dark with sound just thrills me to foxy bits. So Bat was set in motion, with Ellen and Victor I imagine both initially having quite different ideas about how a bat themed scent might smell. The finished result is anomalous and wondrous, unlike anything I have really smelled before. I have picked up on pieces of Bat in other compositions (Andrea Maack’s soil tincture in Coven and Josh Lobb’s hemlock/pine symbiosis in Norne to mention a couple), but the erudition and olfactory skill that has gone into the blending and character creation of Bat is exemplary

Gemosmin molecule

On first encounter Bat is quite a shock, an olfactory landscape of seemingly discordant and inappropriate aromas for fine perfumery. The initial hit of geosmin is outrageous, but of course perfect for this scent. Bats love geosmin and are ultra sensitive to it; many night-blooming flowers and cacti exude it to attract pollinators. We love it too; it is the odour of turned earth, petrichor and rain. It was first isolated by Bush Boake Allen (now part of IFF) and is currently synthesised. Normally used at a dilution dosage of 0.1% Geosmin is a very powerful aromachemical, the smallest trace of which that can have a huge impact on fragrances. I must admit to being quite obsessed by its weird, muddy compulsion. Its effects can vary from the tremulous promise of rain, the loamy taste of fresh beets to stale muddy water, rumbling taps spurting brown water and the sticky manure reek of turned topsoil.

Cave. Floor. Bats. 

In Bat, geosmin is bat breath, muddy gloom, a glittering shifting carapace floor, dead banana and fig, chewed, digested and shit out from on high, the mineralised odour of millennial cave walls. Ellen Covey wanted a very deliberate overdose of geosmin to suggest this very particular assembly of habitats she had knew well through her research and field trips. Fluttering through her geosmin net are her beloved bats, these strange flying mammals some of us love and some of us fear. Chiroptophobia is the name given to the phobia of bats, derived from the Greek words cheir for hand and pteron for wing. Winged-hand; the perfect bat description. Despite my personal abhorrence for birds, bats don’t bother me in the slightest, I came across them a lot during my childhood in Africa, their little foxy, canine faces, leathered frames coated in the most tranquil, soft fur fascinated me. I always remember how immensely fragile they seemed, their wings like warm malleable silk.

I am not afraid...

Bat is all about the geosmin, its particular overdosing and redolent effects on the surrounding materials and subsequently on our senses and how we interpret the composition; how our senses locate themselves within Ellen Covey’s complex skein of mulchy, naturalistic olfactive experience. It’s coincidental I have just purchased another remarkable scent that uses geosmin along with a number of other unusual and revelatory aromachemicals such as Calypsone and Petalia. This is Hermann à mes Cotés me Paraissait Comme une Ombre by Etat Libre d’Orange, created for them by the stylish and stubbornly single-minded Quentin Bisch who made their enigmatic Fin du Monde and the over indulgent Ambre Impérial for Van Cleef & Arpels. Mugler have just announced the launch in May of Angel Muse, a new reflection/interpretation of the original maltol behemoth. Bisch is the nose for this too, a sweet honour for a young perfumer with only a few scents under his belt. But his slick buttered popcorn accord in Fin du Monde is to die for.

Hermann à mes Cotés me Paraissait Comme une Ombre
by Quentin Bisch for Etat Libre d'Orange

He has used geosmin very differently in his Etat perfume. Hermann. It is a essentially a perverted rose, slashed, shadowed and dank, carried in bloody hand through darkness, thorns cutting, leaves and petals falling to moon ribboned floor. Thankfully this brooding, fairy-tale scent is a return to form for Etat Libre d’Orange after a succession of lacklustre and childish fragrances that seemed to contradict the very foundations of the original House message of innovation, olfactive war and anti-perfume. True Lust Rayon Violet de Ses Yeux was an uninspired mash up of Putain des Palaces and Dangerous Complicity and Remarkable People was anything but, a flattened out champagne accord lost amid overtly crude, uncooked spices. But Bisch has used his imagination with Hermann to suggest a savage bloom, dripping with minerals and soil, held up to thunderous sky. Petalia is a Givaudan molecule with a deep, rich rosaceous peony pitch to it; blending this this with citric marine Calypsone and the mulchy, petrichor redolence of geosmin has allowed Bisch to formulate an immensely odd and bleak bloom but one that is compelling and gothic in tone.

Bisch’s handling of geosmin to darken the edges, tearstain the mood of his ambitious Grimm rose. It is a nuanced performance, strong in scent, covert and elegant in execution, suggesting forest floor, roots, and roses torn from shadowy hollows. Ellen Covey never had any real intention of nuance; the geosmin in Bat is a mood character, a darkening clime.

Whose Banana? by Luis Alegre
(apped by TSF)

The strong opening salvo in Bat is ripe banana and fig. I haven’t smelled banana this good since Bertrand Duchaufour’s tropical 40s hothouse love affair floral Amaranthine that Penhaligon’s ruthlessly crushed into the mud some years ago with scant regard to its beauty, citing as usual the wearisome refrain of expense and poor sales. It is such a bloody hard note to get right, rubbery, creamy, porny and downright rank if you’re not careful. Bertrand married it to green spiced oils and most glorious ylang and jasmine duo, lending Amaranthine a radiant silken boudoir aroma, laced with dirt and post-coital fumes. Ellen’s banana note is ripe, yellow and bruised. Chewed, dropped, discarded, defecated to the profound cave floor to rot or consumed by the glittering army of insects and bacteria that power the cave systems. 

The rootiness and resins, smoke and earth suggest age and eroding subsystems, centuries of dripping attrition, tree root intrigue, lianas, landslides, encroaching forests and lichen eating and breathing in the cavernous gloom. This background is perfect for Bat, a ghostly suggestion of bats themselves, shrouded in protective obscurity, in their colonies of thousands, their membranous apricot-tinted wings, folded to shelter and insulate in the clicking shadows of the caves.

Bat has shock value; the stormburst dose of petrichor ensures I am quite obsessed by the conjured furry world of beating, flitting, and squeaking pungent mammalian panorama. As it opens, it becomes very dark very quickly, muddy and a little repugnant, the slippery, tactile fruit notes jarring deliberately with the resins and bitter vetiver. There is an undeniable bleak guano reek in the mid to late stage of Bat that you must embrace. It is glorious and necessary. The conflict in Bat of this feral reality, the warm army of furred mammals assembling amid the dizzying green fizz of geosmin and decay of fruit and damp cave walls is a swooping, turbulent journey. It will go into my Olfactory Cabinet of Wonder with Sogno Reale by Mendittorosa, Andrea Maack’s Wicca-bound Coven, the green cathedrals of Norne by Slumberhouse, Mink by Byredo, CdG’s tape and glue stained Eau de Parfum, Vero Kern’s salacious monumental Onda, Romanza by Masque Milano and Fundamental by Rubini Profumo. Ellen Covey’s innate understanding of her subjects, both pteropine and aromatic has led her to create a perfume of divisive complexity and rare ambience. This perfume is an ode to dense atmospheric road trips and locations, temperatures, weather, fauna, flora, habitat and odiferous experience. It is the most divine expression of sensual scientific endeavour.

Foxy's Hummingbird
Hummingbird, composed for Victor by Shelley Waddington, while completely opposite in mood and fabric to Bat is still also a perfume of dazzling profundity and luminous experience. Shelley is the much-lauded nose behind En Voyage Perfumes, based in Carmel in northern California. Launched in 2011, the brand has never really appealed to me all that much, the mix of styles and leapfrogging form genre to genre with a touch of recklessness is entertaining but ultimately somewhat tiring. There are moments of scented impulse; Fiore di Bellagio is a brave attempt to tackle a wrecked vintage boudoir floral with a genuinely excellent carnation note set amid smutty resins, creepy costus and gunshot residue of iris. A vixen lipstick scent that smells unashamedly right. But as always with perfume, each to their own and En Voyage doesn’t need me to wear or love its perfumes, Shelley has fans galore.  

Frida - En Voyage Perfumes

Shelley did however really pull it all together in 2015 with the launch of Frida, gaining plaudits and critical acclaim from bloggers and fragrance lovers all over the world. Essentially a heady tuberose and Champaca-drunk homage to Mexican art, pain and eyebrow icon Frida Kahlo, Frida drips with beautifully rendered watermelon, peach and apricot notes. The use of hibiscus, cactus flower, copal and a defiantly sweet feminine tobacco note make Frida a fascinating and ever shifting composition to wear on skin. It vibrates colour and urgency, demands your attention and yet as you wear it, you feel somehow the smoke and incense are in some ways a nod to the gods, a per fumum offering amid the sweet bewilderment of floral fruited dazzle.

Shelley Waddington

It is a feature of Shelley’s undeniably joyful work that her palette of gleefully gathered materials just sings out of bottles, off skin. There is an instantaneous recognition of exuberance and succulent tableaux, the ingredients harmonising and infusing to delight and beguile the senses. You feel this exuberance as soon you spray Hummingbird on the skin. Victor is very proud of this collaboration with Shelley and so he should be. To be honest, I had no real idea what to expect; yes I’d read the longer than average list of notes, overflowing with fruits, florals, woods, musks and oddly worrying cream thing. With Bat, whilst it was magnificently surreal and unexpected, I hoped it would reek the way it did. With Hummingbird I had images in my head of nectarous glow, petals glittering with sun, hummingbird gorgets refracting raspberry, emerald and blood toned light. Hum, buzz, sticky luminescence. I couldn’t quite imagine the notes on paper coalescing into a cogent formulation without at least some cacophony or shriek. The absolute opposite is true in fact, some of my anticipated desires for Hummingbird exploded out of Shelley’s lush cannonade of bravura floral technique. But no shriek, just beauty.

I need to backtrack a little and muse on hummingbirds, after all, their nature and physiology informs the emotional content and configuration of Shelley’s composition just as much as Ellen’s background and expertise in bat behaviour and habitat informed her singular formula. I will admit I not a huge fan of birds generally, not entirely sure why, they bore me and freak me out in equal measure. Is it the wings, the beady eyes, feathers, the weird OMG feet? Just not sure. Hummingbirds however like birds of paradise seem rather surreal, fabricated, offbeat and dizzying. I’m not sure I’ve really taken much notice of these tiny hovering bird-insects before and yet I’ve seen them up close in Africa, buzzing intoxicatingly over blood-red bell flowers in, gorging on molten nectar, their blue and rust coloured gorgets flashing in the West African sun.

They are the world’s smallest species of bird; in fact the Bee Hummingbird is only 5-6cm long. They have the highest metabolism of any member of the bird family, beating their wings 50-60 times a second, driving a ferocious heartbeat and stamina. They need to consume their own bodyweight in nectar everyday in order to maintain this punishing existence. They are able to manoeuvre their flying forward, backwards and from to side. All this takes a huge toll on the tiny birds. They do rest; they have odd feet, evolved beyond walking to a continual state of being airborne, but they need to stop, switch off. This state is called torpor, essentially a summoned form of adapted hibernation, where the hummingbird’s bodily functions slow down to 1/15th of its normal active state. It’s a precarious time for the birds. Too exhausted, they fail to wake and they are at the mercy of inclement weather and predators.

adapted from

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science

Hummingbirds are of course essentially nectarivores and over time have evolved in certain global habitats alongside certain blooms, developing peculiarities of tongue, beak and nectar harvesting. They are odd, potentially doomed little things, usually hours from death, unless they can ensure an adequate source of nectar. This manna is a mix of glucose, sucrose and fructose and fuels the little humming, eternally flying things. They do supplement this sugary, addictive regime with winged bugs for added proteins and I guess as a touch of variety from the crack cocaine rush of continual sugar.

They don’t sing. I found this out during my reading, but honestly, who would have thought they had the time or the inclination to stop, trill, chirrup etc. Far too busy staving off death. Instead, their dazzling gorgets, the iridescent tightly overlapping breast feathers are often dazzlingly hued in shades of ruby, malachite, azure, gold, emerald and honeyed ochre. As they zip through sun-kissed air, these refractive feathers glitter like red-carpet parures. They hover, dip and harvest nectar their tiny wings vibrating, humming.

 Shelley has brought her full talent as an intuitive perfumer to bear on this ephemeral, scintillating concept, balancing delicacy and lushness, harmonising the demands of a hugely fruity backdrop of blushing apple, cherry and simmering plum with a vividly rendered bouquet of honeyed blooms such as tulips, lilac, muguet, rose, violet leaf, honeysuckle, mimosa, peony and ylang absolute. Some real, some aromachemical creations, it doesn’t really matter, the suggestion and picaresque sleight of hand is enough. Like the hummingbird though, Shelley’s composition darts beautifully from mood to mood, palette-to-palette, assembling odiferous nectars, sugars and pollen to assuage cravings and dazzle our senses.

Hummingbird is a creamy topography of floral flicker and glow; nectarous dip and enticing foliate fanfare. But and it’s an intriguing and important but, beneath the undeniably and unctuous assembly, as time smears down on skin, there is an unorthodox aromatic stain underpinning the fruity hovering celebration. It is I think a craving for rest and safety, stillness, a nest to repose weary wings and unconventional feet. The base of coumarin, woods and airy moss feels entwined, the ylang and amber somehow softly glazed and precious. You need these final offbeat tones and emotions to prevent Hummingbird collapsing into a generic wedding clutch of overdesigned flowers. I like this suggestion of dirt, muckiness, it does have a whiff of the unclean as the flowers fade and the fruits ripen. I am very addicted to the oscillating density and transparency of Hummingbird, it is a piece of olfactory work that truly delights and transports me each time I wear it.

Bat and Hummingbird mark a definite evolution for Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes. Rhino, Panda and Beaver were very good, especially Chris Bartlett’s controlled and swanky Beaver. But Bat and Hummingbird are like works from an altered period in an artist’s development. An exaggeration? Perhaps, but the tactile sensuality and technical virtuosity revealed in both compositions are superlative. They are mournful twilight vs. the ephemeral rays of dawn break. Whilst Ellen and Shelley’s’ work seems different in style, the duo’s approach to Victor’s brief have both used committed imaginative focus of naturalistic palettes, olfactory hints of gothic-tinged impressionism, pointillism, Flemish genre painting, Henri le Douanier, Edgar Allen Poe and Frida Kahlo mixed into a impressive fusion of expertly handled raw materials, naturals, conceived accords, molecules and flexible abstractions.

adapted from

Heck's Pictorial Archive of Nature and Science


Ellen Covey’s dank potholey Bat interior is musty and thrillingly weird in its enveloping furry flitting construct; discarded fruit, mineral bouquets of guano, cave rot and warm mammalian occupancy. I am helpless in its macabre mulchy ambience; it feels revelatory, sweetly repugnant, addictive and a perfume I know will always make me stop and wonder, revel in its dark force.

Shelley’s glorious winged floral Hummingbird journey is exhaustingly lovely, skin a lush buffet of ambrosial petals, snapped stems and oozing scattered nectar. Everything is chromatics, speed, dazzle and capture. Then that swooning lilt into mucky rest and oddly tangled nest, heart roaring, but roaring less, tongue and beak slick with flower blood.

Victor’s brand is a fascinating one; the possibilities are of course endless when it comes to choosing potential animal candidates to inspire perfumers. This will be the relatively easy part, it will the judicious arrangement of perfumer/creator and olfactory animal totem that will be vitally important. Zoologist will need scent artists with flexibility, imagination and ability to think outside the perfumed box and play with aromatic weather. There are some incredible independent perfumers out there who I think could conjure up extraordinary animals: elk, tigers, mongooses, cranes, flamingos, pangolins, binturongs, gorilla etc. People like Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery, Scottish perfumer Euan McCall, John Pegg of Kerosene, Heather Sielaff of OLO and Hans Hendley of Hendley Perfumes; all of these guys have created original textured and artistic work, reflective of themselves and landscape.

Victor’s challenge will be to decide or imagine how the olfactory zoo and the perfumers might correlate and produce work as good as the collection so far and in the case of Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington bring such personal and quirky virtuosity to perfumes like Bat and Hummingbird.

Keep a close eye on Zoologist perfumes and Victor Wong’s increasingly sophisticated clan of superior dapper animals; destined to delight and fascinate us with each beautiful rendition of tooth, claw, fur, wing, hide, beak, tail, paw and hoof. These perfumed habitats and manifestations of animalic intent are sensational.

For more Information on Zoologist Perfumes, please click on the link below:

©TheSilverFox 02/04/2016