I am quicksilver. The fox in the night. I am emotional about fragrance, poetry, love & desire in scent. Read me.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Process of Rites and Orisons: ‘New Sibet’ by Slumberhouse

‘…Since I’ve
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.   

New Sibet 

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.

Foxy's Norne

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)

Foxy's Zahd

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.  

Foxy's Kiste   

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.

Foxy's Jeke

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. 

Foxy's Sadånne

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.

For further information on Slumberhouse, please click on the link below:

©The Silver Fox 29/09/16      


Thursday, 22 September 2016

Grace & Restoration: ‘Green Water’ & Creating Fath’s Essentials.

No water, no life. No blue, no green.

Sylvia Earle. American marine biologist & explorer.

This will be an unabashed love letter to the seemingly unending talents of perfumer Cécile Zarokian but also to the four outstanding scents she has created with Panouge for Jacques Fath Paris. There is too, undeniably the poignant histoire of Jacques Fath himself, a golden prince of couture who, post Second World War in France, along with Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain redefined the essence of feminine fashion and made women feel outrageously glamourous and beautiful. He died far too young at the age of forty-two, but while he was alive he blazed like a supernova.

Jacques Fath lensed
by Avedon

Those of you who follow and read my work will know how much I admire the perfumery and artistry of French perfumer Cécile Zarokian. Originally ISIPCA trained, she is now an independent creator with her own laboratory, Cécile Zarokian Sarl, set up in 2011, with over fifty compositions under her belt for houses and brands such as Jul et Mad, Masque Milano, Amouage (she composed Epic Woman while still at ISIPCA), Jovoy, Xerjoff, Uer Mi, Laboratorio Olfattivo, David Jourquin and Hayari. 

Cécile Zarokian 

Each piece of work is different, technically Cécile is brilliant, smoothly adapt at working within the complexities of IFRA constraints, although refreshingly she has said that she is part of a new generation of perfumers who have trained within this so-called restrictive system and therefore have to be more creative as a result. Along with contemporaries like Luca Maffei, Cristiano Canali, Quentin Bisch, Julien Rasquinet, Amélie Bourgeois, Sophie Labbé and Aliénor Massenet it is true that perhaps the time for grumbling about IFRA’s punitive hold on perfumery materials should be stilled a little.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

..And Moroder Sanctified Their Disco Skin: ÉL & ELLA by Arquiste

Disco deserved a better name, a beautiful name because it was a beautiful art form. It made the consumer beautiful. The consumer was the star.’ Barry White

Evening. 10:30pm
Costera Miguel Alemán, Acapulco. December. 1978.

In the rear-view mirror he watched her applying lipstick from a golden tube. Her cascade of dark hair and glowing bronzed skin was illuminated by the beams of passing cars. Dressed in plunging ivory with pieces of gold at her throat and neck, she glowed like a pearl in the shadowed interior of the car.

”Eyes on the road, I don’t want to die tonight.”

The driver winked at her.

“You are as beautiful as the magazine pages señorita, my wife has your pictures cut out and saved. She will never believe you have been in my car tonight.”

She smiled as the limo glided along the brightly lit boulevard towards Armando’s Le Club. She wound down the window and listened to the tropical night. The New York shoot had exhausted her, she felt as fragile as glass. She lit a cigarette, the sound of the match suddenly flaring like a shout in the night.

The road was oddly tranquil as she watched the car disappear, the palm trees overhead brushing the sky. The bay was awash with hotel lights. I have missed this… she murmured. A sudden explosion of sharply dressed party people seemed to appear from nowhere, carnival and louche. Someone waved, she nodded and turned to look toward the ocean, hearing its wash and swell in her mind. Holding a small white glass bottle she’d taken from her purse she pulled her hair to one side, exposing the back of her neck and scented her skin feeling her senses cool in the evening miasma. A fine mist for her hair, then throat and décolleté, her skin still slightly slick with oil from an afternoon of languid sunbathing and exquisite observation from behind the biggest sunglasses money could buy.

Armando's Le Club

The doorman nodded recognition. Once she was inside she felt like she had come home. She wondered how long she had been coming to Aramando Sotres’ club now, endless afternoons by the sparkling azure-tiled pool under an Acapulco sun that always seemed that little more Hollywood when she was here, glittered off the Moorish white walls and columns. The reflected heat and dense tropical foliage gave the place an eerie, dislocated feel like one of her endless photo-shoots in empty pools or abandoned zoos. Occasionally peacocks wandered poolside like overdressed visitors. She loved the emptiness of sun worship, the near-claustrophobia of stillness cut by the arrival of cocktails, gossip and sexy waiters.

 ÉL and ELLA
Image ©Arquiste

Night time at Armando’s Le Club was dinner and serious dancing; dancing till dawn or until your feet gave out and then falling into the dawn light on the beach. That was one of the delirious truths about Armando’s; it ran from boulevard down to glorious beach. She smiled to her herself at memories of spinning out onto the sand, skin on fire from hours of music, laughter, collisions, kisses and sleeping under a cool rising sun. Sometimes diving into the ocean to shock away the night. She swirled her champagne around and around in her glass. It was nearly midnight. He was late.

A man came up quietly behind her and gently leaned into her neck.

“You smell of hot flowers. Come, dance with me.”

“I should bite you for making me wait so long. Where have you been?”

“Over there on the other side of the room, you see the girl in the emerald dress that sparkles like a snake? I danced a little with her, to watch you.”

She raised her hand as if to strike; he caught her wrist and inhaled her pulse point, licking softly at the surface of the skin.

“A trail of tanning oil…Sobranie…and…jasmine…”.

He pulled her to him, she inhaled all of him violently, a feral charge of sweat, leather and tobacco rose like smoke off his dark curling chest. The lights around them flashed off the stained glass windows and flickered like fever dream. They felt their bodies instantly react to that sliding electronic intro and the beginnings of glistening thunderous arpeggios… Ooh, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good, it's so good… she looked to him through the strobing, rolling lights and the now heaving dance floor, everyone moving in their own sweat-tossed worlds to Donna Summer’s insistent pulsating vocals. I have come home…she said out loud, words swallowed by the music. He took her hands gently at first to find a rhythm; she realised Moroder sanctified their disco skin as their bodies flexed and curved in obeisance to the bassline. The smell of champagne and skin filled the floor.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Only the Light Moves: ‘Dilettante’ by Hiram Green

‘We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.

Leonora Carrington

The word dilettante can often cast a slight pejorative shadow but its original etymology lies in the Latin delactare and Italian dilettare, to delight; hence dilettante, thus signifying someone who delighted, particularly in the arts. It is now used as a casually throwaway term for someone who dabbles or professes an effusive, superficial love of the arts but lacks a true understanding of any one singular form. You know something though… if I had to choose between one respective so-called expert and a ballroom full of gadfly dilettanti; give me the fun-loving, flitting, dilettanti any day. I’ve had my fill of experts. I’d rather have the laughter and hedonistic skimming.

Natural perfumery is divisive; it often seems to cause a schism of olfactive confusion, annoyance and just plain misunderstanding amongst perfume lovers. I will admit that I am not always its biggest fan and often struggle to find scents I like or that suit my senses. But with age, wisdom and illness actually, I have taken it upon myself to incrementally learn more. Now, more than ever, the natural perfumery movement is a vital and powerful part of the contemporary aromatic scene, offering up a fertile and profound mirror of alternatives to synthetics, fixatives and chemicals. It offers perhaps a more complex and raw communion with the natural world, allowing our skin to come into contact with our scented environment that artificial dilutions abstract and obfuscate.

Natural perfumer - Hiram Green

Now, haters are gonna hate, but not all of it is good; some of it is still a tad spoiled in my opinion by an overly simplistic herbaceous strain of foraging, mountain-craft style work, sullied DIY enfleurage, an over reliance of the medicinal leanings of apothecary verdancy. Often the blending is uninspired and blocky, you can discern the materials lying together in the solvent and there is little true sense of assembly. This of course could be the point, I know from the experience of watching perfumers at work how dense and volatile naturals are to work with and controlling dosage and nuance is difficult. Maybe simplicity is the key. Repeated brushes with illness have taught me painful lessons about detaching and treating different parts of myself rather than the undeniable whole. I think reading this back and seeking a little insight from a friend that perhaps the same applies to natural perfumery, examining the agrestal, pure whole rather than focussing on the shards and immediacies. These raw materials were medicine, poison, balm, weapon and magic; their power and inherent life force has never really departed.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Duet of Scarlet & Gold: The Perfect Hermès Arrival of Christine Nagel (& Jean-Claude’s Saffron-Infused Welcome…)

..When Valia asked me,
'When did you first set foot in the world?',
my laugh, like a rhubarb shoot
pokes its head through the snow of my mouth…

From A Few Lines About My Age by Kurdish poet Abdullah Pashwew

In 2013 it was announced at Hermès that in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena had chosen a scented successor. The news seemed a little shocking despite the rumours of Ellena’s impending retirement that had been drifting carefully around for a while.

Jean-Claude Ellena & Christine Nagel
(image ©Hermès)

Step forward Christine Nagel, half-French, half-Swiss, an elegant and prolifically stylish perfumer with some fascinating work on her CV including big hits for Maison Dior, John Galliano and Guerlain under her belt. Her most intriguing portfolio perhaps best demonstrating her instinctive nuances and clarity is her work at Jo Malone London under the seemingly relentless PR machine of Estée Lauder. Among the twenty five successful and commercially viable fragrances she has composed for Jo Malone London there are some exceptional perfumes, complex odours I have loved and admired that have at times seemed to look to Hermès and Jean-Claude’s less-is-more approach. Her swan song Wood Sage & Sea Salt in particular was an especially poignant and minimalist adieu, sparse and scoured with subtle details and speckles of observed texture. An abstracted capture of distinctly English windswept beaches, driftwood and bundled cashmere-wrapped wanderings along deserted coastal stretches. It was a bittersweet sign-off to a rather brilliant and I think somewhat underrated body of outstanding work.  

From the Foxy collection
Jo Malone London: Wood Sage & Sea Salt,
Rose Water & Vanilla and Bitter Orange & Chocolate
Christine’s Rose Water & Vanilla, one of the original Cologne Intense series from 2010 is a scent I have loved since its launch. I was born in Bahrain and this it is nostalgic silvered Middle Eastern rose alchemy in a bottle to me. Sadly, Lauder decided to axe it from the line so I stocked up and have three 100ml dark flacons slumbering in the Foxy study. Christine’s Peony & Blush Suede was one of the brand’s biggest ever hits, a clever subtle riff on niche leather trends, sublimating it with a veil of rosy apple and drifting carnation. Iris & Lady Moore, a nice mix of powder and rubbed geranium was an unexpected delight in 2012, part of the London Bloom collection and I have always really enjoyed Christine’s foray into gourmand territory with offerings such as Ginger Biscuit, Lemon Tart and the divine Bitter Orange & Chocolate that was literally Terry’s chocolate orange in a bottle. I went through three bottles and have two more in storage.