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

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.   

Alongside a quietly elegant restructuring of the house came a new sleek ovoid bottle created in collaboration with Atelier Dinand, one of the great flacon designers, responsible for the original YSL inrō bottle in the 1970s. There was a fleeting flap of disgruntled wings at the discontinuation of the old style Mona di Orio bottles topped with black bespoke caps from the champagne House of Jacquesson held in place with gilded muselets. But the new Bauhaus smooth flacon is immensely sensual in form, tint and weight. The lacquer boxes are gone that once held the old bottles, they seems oddly out of date looking at them now.

Petrovksy & Ramone visual for
Bohea Bohème

There is a distinctive shift in the visual representation of the brand too, a smudged erotic imagery from Dutch art photographers Petrovsky & Ramone. The aching, blurred images of lovers and skin have a dreamy charged quality reminiscent of the legendary Sarah Moon. It is notoriously hard to capture brand moods with imagery like this especially such a specific niche perfume house like Mona Di Orio, but the combination of colour, tone, abstraction and offbeat sexuality is both restrained and suggestively hushed. You cannot deny the sexuality of Mona’s work; her scents hit the skin and burn like private fever. Acknowledgment of these plush desires is a must. But this has to be balanced against an innate craving for aloof beautiful things, a craving to be apart from others. A want I find thankfully satiated by parfums Maison Mona di Orio.   

Jeroen Oude Sogteon

Jeroen has carefully and gently moved the House on; he has grieved, we must not forget how much he lost and how he has made difficult but necessary decisions.  It would have perhaps been simpler to leave things as they were, but it would have carried an unbearable weight of Mona I think. The house belonged to both of them. The perfumes will be forever, but the structures must evolve, honour her memory, and not bury her under the burden of self-indulgence and hagiography. Everything about the new direction works, it is quiet, luxurious, harmonious and above all allows us to focus on the perfumes. Mona’s name is still above the door as it were, her story burns like fire behind the scenes, lighting everything with a soft embracing glow. But it is not all consuming. There is more now. There is Jeroen who has moved centre stage, partly by default, but this has changed the dynamic of the brand and there is the future, Monogram; Jeroen working with a new in-house nose, the first since Mona to create a new future motif and persona for the eaux de parfums.

Portrait of Marchesa di Casati by Man Ray

Myrrh Casati was signed off by Melanie Leroux and while it felt right at the time; I wasn’t entirely sure if Melanie was the right fit as house nose and wondered if Jeroen was considering perhaps a library of perfumers like Masque Milano or Claude Marchal’s enigmatic MDCI. At that scented moment in 2014 Maison Mona di Orio needed something new and the dramatic smoke-wreathed sacrificial ode to the hedonistic Marchesa was perfect.  The scent captures the moribund pyrotechnics of this odd woman’s milieu; masked, bejewelled, kohl-eyed and ravenous for attention. Her theatrics were often accompanied by fireworks, incense and flames. In real life, or what there was of that, the Marchesa herself was illusion behind illusion, often living beyond her means, a precarious artifice of myth and hand to lover living. It is perhaps fitting that Leroux’s composition was centred around a precious unguent used in rituals of death, embalming and on altars, sending prayers and supplications to the gods above. Each time I wear it I am struck by its mournful yet rather clandestine frisson of macabre sensuality.

Much is made of Mona’s trademark use of olfactory chiaroscuro in scent, her way of manipulating light and shadow, definition and incandescence in the connections and synapses within the aromatic building blocks of her work. She understood how shifts in tonality and shadow in the chromatics of her oeuvre could protect and shade effects until required later in the composition. It is something very few perfumers can do, except Mona’s great tutor, Edmound Roudnitska; perhaps Jean-Claude Ellena and to a slightly lesser degree but still rather beautifully, perfumers like Mathilde Laurent and Delphine Thierry. I have written extensively in the past on this aspect of her work, it was the singularity that drew me to her in the first place, her perfumes have the allure of extraordinary art, lambent in their own private worlds. They smell like nothing else, they divide opinion and I didn’t want to share. It was love at first inhalation.


Each time I write on Mona di Orio, I revisit the entire collection, call it nostalgia, homage or reverence but it is something I always do to remind myself of how profoundly dexterous and sensual the perfumes are, how complex the fusion of materials and concept. I don’t like everything, how could I? However, everything is beautiful; that is a given. I have never liked the brittle, effervescent pungency of Eau Absolue, but I understand its citrus driven power and memory blast that drove its creation for Mona, trained for fifteen years in Provençal Cabris, soaked in ochre, pointillist sun. She used citrus like Vermeer used yellow, to suggest the utter glory of sunlight, heart breaking, holy and mysterious. 

Browsing the olfactive Mona-esque pages as it were I have come to realise the talismanic power of smoke and vapour in her rich banquet of work. They serve as veil and protection, occasionally misdirection, but always haunting and inspiring. The sweet drifting tobacco in Jeroen’s Violette Fumée, the guaiac and oppoponax in Amyitis, the carnal growlburn of Cuir, the bleak and penetrating collision of nagamotha and patchouli in Oudh Osmanthus and the boozy pirate kiss of rum, burning decks and salt in Mona’s exceptional Vanille.  Even my beloved Carnation, lost to time, had a bittersweet fumy mist of styrax that lay down so very gently over those lovely heart notes of chiming jasmine and violet. I’m currently besotted with the Musc, it reminds me so much of my fetish twenties club&sex scent the long discontinued Helmut Lang EDP in its huge white clinging expanse. Mona’s Musc is more claustrophobic which I kinda like; a scent of nebulous follow and deceptive carnality. (I know the Helmut Lang has been re-launched. It’s not the same. I don’t care what anyone says. )

Foxy flacon of Violette Fumée

Mona’s use of aromatic chiaroscuro in her work is something lovers of her perfumes acknowledge as a key element of her olfactive talent; a skill I think she instinctively had but was honed to almost absolute perfection by her scholarly sixteen year apprenticeship with Edmound Roudnitska, the man who essentially taught her to see beyond the perceived boundaries of scent, to try and imagine the interior, the soul of a flower; how it might actually be. Working this way outwards, shaping the floral form in her mind’s eye and giving it a second life inside a complex and controlled system of nuanced raw materials and aroma chemicals set her apart from others. I think applying this rigourous aesthetic to root, leaf, musk, resin, blossom, balm or bark allowed Mona to create a palette of radiant, lit materials generating within the array of perfumes the interplay of light and dark she is so well known for. Other perfumers use similar methods too, but few used the shifts in tones from dark to light, moving from resins, ouds, vanilla and woods to bright citrus, bergamot, iris, jasmine, ginger and vetiver with such careful and luxurious consideration.

The presence and power of smoke is however a lingering power in her work, it stalks the more obvious chiaroscuro element but is nonetheless a sensual and persuasive motif in Mona’s oeuvre. When the Monogram Collection was announced in 2014 with the launch of the Myrrh Casati, I think many people expected a signature style to unfold, fragrances in a Mona-esque mode.  Jeroen was far too clever for this and more brutally Mona was gone, why copy? Pay homage by all means, develop a line inspired by her preoccupations with light, shadow and the mesmeric interplay of the two in harmonious finely assembled materials. But people seem to suggest ‘Where is the Mona in this?’ .. the answer is ..there is none. Mona lies in the established line, they continue on unchanged, a pure untarnished tribute to her talents, but as I have said before, the house must move, it cannot lie weeping forever in a dark room, no matter how much diehard fans would prefer it to do so. There is money to be made and perfumes to plan and Mona’s flickering wild flame to keep alive with originality and luminescence.

I feel that the Myrrh Casati and now this wholly original and wildly beautiful Bohea Bohème are increasingly concerned with the mysteries of olfactive smoke, effluvium and cinereous whispers rather than the golden classicism of Mona’s original chiaroscurist vision.  This new launch from Jeroen and the team at Maison Mona di Orio is hauntingly authentic, a voluptuous, vapourous homage to the charred and sinuous oolong teas of the legendary Wuyi Mountains in China’s Northern Fujian province.

Lapsang Souchong tea from Eteaket

Round the corner from where I work is a lovely little independent tea salon called Eteaket, run by Erica Moore, who relinquished a lucrative career in law to pursue a passion for tea. Against all the odds and the rising tide of painfully self-aware artisan coffee shops staffed by bearded know-it-alls and bored rah red-head boho girls, Eteaket has survived and flourished, now selling its teas through a successful wholesale business and online. I mention them because as part of a fragrance launch once, when work used to be interesting, I had a beautiful white peony tea blended especially for the event, from a black, lightly smoked Chinese tea, with peony buds, rose petals and flashes of blue cornflowers mixed through it. It smelled like exquisite lost scent and tasted soft like floral smoke. As pat of the prep for this, myself and Mr E, spent an afternoon in the company of Erica, learning about different varieties of tea, some salient tea facts and of course tasting.

Golden Oolong from Eteaket

The Fox is a tea drinker. I like the odd milky latte in a day, but to be honest I don’t do coffee and definitely don’t subscribe to the coffee is liquid perfume in a cup nonsense I’ve heard bandied about over the years. Yes the roasted beans have an extraordinary aroma, akin to sweet earth, slow cooked veg, pipe tobacco, weed, certain whiskies, beetroot, petrichor etc. But the juice itself. Meh. Just not me. It’s partly medical too, the large doses of caffeine can surge into my system like bushfire and trigger migraine attacks. For some reason, tea doesn’t do this.  So Mr E and I sampled black, white, red and green teas, looking at the dry tea leaves, the colour, shape and texture, then inhaling the startling differences in the vapours given off during the surprisingly precise steeping times. I will admit to be an addict what I like to refer to as builders’ tea, ie… brutally strong, milk. End of. However I do love a high quality Earl or Lady Grey, the leaves infused with lemon, orange and bergamot and I love the smokiness of Lapsang Souchong and charred, malted hit of a finely blended China Caravan tea. The tea tasting itself was almost surreal, an elegant parade of brews, some nearly ghostly, others aggressively floral and chewy, and others infused with the smoke and fire of distant terroir. Some so delicate as to be barely discernible but for lingering blue-green aquatic tannic tones that seemed to suddenly rise as the liquid brushed the throat. One of the interesting things was smelling the leafy detritus after brewing, the tepid, piled tea leaves exuding a mix of mulchy essence of soil, branch and damped down campfire in some cases. The afternoon of tasting and inhaling did alter my perception of tea, leaves, the brewing process and provenance. So now when I see tea for instance listed as a note in perfume, I expect something singular, something important.

The oolongs were the surprise; teas that take name from wūlōng chā, or black dragon tea. The camellia sinensis leaves are partially oxidised and withered under strong high sun before being beautifully twisted or tightly curled in their distinctive aromatic dried form. The Wuyi Mountains have a very particular sparse rocky terrain making for low yields in the tea harvest. This in turn makes the tea highly prized and consequently quite costly. The area has been recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site thus insuring its stability and safety for years to come. The word Bohea was the trade name for Wuyi black and oolong teas, such as Lapsang Souchong,  Da Hong Pao, Rougui and Shui Xian. The roasting or smoking is the unique last stage that sets these teas part from all others, imparting wondrous fumy aromas, hints of preserved plums, leathered peaches, tobacco and campfire wood. Lapsang Souchong, my personal favourite is traditionally smoked over pinewood chips that lend the tea its very particular mix of medicinal linctus and forest fire. The pine smoke has aromachemicals, longifolene and terpenes in it, responsible for the charred aroma; these escharotic molecules saturate the tealeaves, giving that charismatic smouldered vapour that rises so seductively out of our cups.

Burning lapsang souchong tea...
(oh the smell was divine...)

It is the olfactory embers of swirling Wuyi black mountain teas, smoky and enigmatic that Swedish perfumer Fredrick Dalman has used as the leitmotif in the strange and thrilling Bohea Bohème, only the second Mona di Orio scent to be released since her death not to be signed off by her.  Fredrik is a young perfumer at Art et Parfum in Sainte Blanche, Cabris in the south of France, a fragrance creation company founded by master perfumer and Mona’s tutor Edmound Roudnitska in the 1940s and now run by his son Michel, a talented perfumer in his own right. He has worked in retail for Linda Pilkington’s gorgeous Ormonde Jayne brand in Harrods and briefly for L’Artisan Parfumeur before undertaking a year’s apprenticeship position in June 2014 with their then in-house nose Bertrand Duchaufour. He joined Art et Parfum in autumn 2015. From what I know of Jeroen, he must have found something kindred in Fredrik, a certain pulse and way of communicating aromatic visions that reverberated in him. Jeroen told me he was very excited to be working with Fredrik and had found the process of creating Bohea Bohème very special. For someone this young and to be honest untested in fragrance terms this is extraordinary trust and an honour for Fredrik to explore the concepts, tenets and influences of the Mona di Orio heritage.

Fredrik has rewarded the trust placed in him with this highly original fumed, tea-soaked and enigmatic offering. As Jeroen has often noted, Mona loved her citrus notes and really understood how to use them and balance the acidities of differences when it came to blending them together. This of course found its apotheosis in her startling Eau Absolue and also earlier in the perhaps more animalic and flickering Lux which always seemed to me like a bare white bulb swinging in a stark, empty room. I think Fredrik being Swedish is somehow important; Jeroen said to me.. ‘Mona used a lot of citrus notes in her work and Fredrik is using pine in similar ways’. This is an important observation; Sweden is a Northern land of whiteness, cold shadow, bright sun and a reputation for introversion and melancholia far removed from the warm, bucolic climes of Provençal Cabris. It nurtures a differing palette of monochromic chiaroscuro, one of dark folklore, runes, alabaster sun, snow and sunless days. Social experimentation in societal living seemed a beautiful dream and then wilted in the face of brutal shifts in class and corrosion within governmental and civil service structures. Just over 50% of Sweden is actually classified as boreal, ie: forested, it is a country of contrasts, like its climate. Fredrik is from Uppsala, the fourth largest city in Sweden, some forty miles north of Stockholm. The city can have eighteen hours of sunlight at the summer solstice zenith and a mere six during the winter. External perceptions of Sweden have been very driven and to a certain extent coloured by the explosion of interest in Nordic crime writing and its subsequent adaptation for both small and large screen.

Foxy Nordic Noir.. 

More Nordic Noir..

The so-called Nordic Noir phenomenon has gripped the small screen, movies and particular the minutiae of the once ailing thriller genre with incredibly gifted writers such as Henning Mankel, Johan Theorin, Asa Larsson, Arin Dahl, Camilla Lackberg and the huge posthumous success globally of Steig Larssen’s Millennium Trilogy and its avowedly anti-establishment anti-heroine Lisbeth Sander. All these writers owe a huge debt to the hugely influential and socially critical decalogue of Martin Beck crime novels published in Sweden in the 1960s and written by a husband and wife duo called Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. I’m a huge fan of the more esoteric side of Swedish electro music, The Knife, Fever Ray and my beloved Lykke Li whose lyrics are tattooed on my skin. Words and beats that chill and darken the heart.

Fredrik Dalman - perfumer

I find Jeroen’s choice of Fredrik Dalman quite fascinating and the more I have worn Bohea Bohème I realise probably the correct one. He will flourish as the new in-house perfumer for Maison Mona di Orio. Much as I loved the high impact and drama of Myrrh Casati, it wobbled a little in the latter stages after so much sensation in the smoky stagecraft. I actually like it a lot more now, over a year later than I did when it launched. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brave and triumphant scent to announce a shift in the perception of Maison Mona di Orio and I mentioned in my review at the time my perceiving of a certain void in Myrrh Casati. I realise now this was the uncertain face behind the Casati mask, unsure as to what the future held. Jeroen is a careful, considerate man, aware of the importance of the Mona name and heritage but also of the cold hard fact that the brand must sell fragrance in order to survive. But he will do this as much as he can on his own terms. There will of course be a tightening of viewpoint for marketing purposes but generally speaking I think he will choose to steer the Monogram Collection in an original and dynamic route. When we spoke recently, he said the word ‘original’ was one of the best compliments he could hear about Bohea Bohème. We agreed that amid to the flotilla of good/nice perfumes that set sail upon the market every year, genuine originality was a flickering, elusive thing.  

Tasting the lapsang souchong..

Much of Mona’s work, even the early masterpieces such as Lux, Nuit Noire, Chamarré and Carnation were suffused with this unique Di Orio light, a particularly mellifluent and honeyed light that revealed, sheltered and illuminated other materials. It was the Nombres d’Or Collection that would showcase this ability to its full extant, taking classic perfume tenets in in Mona’s classically minutely trained mind producing perfect elixirs. In each case she made her chosen material resolutely her own; her Rose Etoile de Hollande is glassy, Dale Chihuly candy-esque, all harem peach and gossamer petal. Vanille is an extraordinary essay in sweet piratey woods swabbed in an oddly medicinal vanilla, burned under a hot still sun. Cuir, a beefy toreador attitude of sexual conquest, uncomfortable and addictive and the Musc, one of my favourites is an unexpected cocoon of loss and silence, a bed of white dust and quiet rapture.  

Nygårds Karin Bengtsson - 'The Forest'

Fredrik Dalman brings a cooler, darker tone to the Monogram proceedings, the long shadows of northern Nordic winters in a country where 65% of the forests are terpenic pine. In the high surreal Arctic Circle the sun is real when it appears to break winter’s suffocating hold, but the heat is tentative, haughty and ambivalent. The interplay and shift between the light and dark is different from Mona’s southern European lustre and olfactive fever. The white is pallid with purity; the darkness has the potential to consume it. Melancholy is a secret sport.

I have been wearing Bohea Bohème over and over and still finding nuances amid the tea-soaked vapours. When you first spray, it is the powerful personality of pungent bonfire tea and oily green cardamom that really hits the senses; it’s a huge atmospheric effect, the tea is startlingly real, earthy, pungent, shot through with twisting tendrils of barky fumed pine. I’m a huge fan of beeswax in scent, it’s something I often look for; I’m often disappointed mind you, its rare to find to blended with sensuality and power. Only Séville à l ‘Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Floris’ Honey Oud and Naomi Goodsir’s Or de Sérail in my opinion use it well. Beeswax in perfumery must be five years old, thus impregnated with the full pheronomic imprint of the hive, a warm, sweet animalic mustiness. It smells like a generous torn chunk of raw honeycomb plunged into smouldering black tea and left to fall apart. The list of materials in Bohea Bohème is one of those rare collections of notes that reads like an incantation, a witch’s gathering of wild things to bind the senses… boxtree, blue chamomile, fir balsam, bay leaf, beeswax, poplar bud and oak wood.. The blue chamomile is an incredible touch, spinning in the inky tea with its singular vanillic tobacco vibe. It is quite different in tone from regular chamomile which is I find rather urinous and vulgar. The blue strain is more hay-stained, throaty and enigmatic.

It is of course the sooty Lapsang Souchong at the heart of the Bohea Bohème that really arrests the senses, it is so smooth and persuasive and oddly comforting. The ghostly scatter of pine needles and ashen juniper seem so damn dry as they collide beautifully with the sticky smudge of popular bud, a note I adore but rarely smell in scent. It’s a favourite of olfactory maverick Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse who loves his dense forested, arable, orchard aromatics weaving them into compositions of astonishing power and tactility. In Bohea Bohème, it has a resinous edginess, a tincture-like quality floating perfectly through the smoky tea.

As it rests down on skin, Bohea Bohème becomes more arid, the fumes less pungent; it’s here I can detect the bergamot more fully, a delicate earl grey shudder in my bones. Despite the smouldering autumnal grace of Dalman’s aromatic build, the Bohea Bohème flame is blue, burning between night-struck Swedish pines, shadows dancing off snow. It is this inbuilt oscillation between the Northern dry, cool medicinal reserve and the voluptuous vapours of smoked tea, woods, Florentine iris, spice and waxen, honeyed vanilla that drives the alluring dynamic at the heart of this strange perfume. The atrementous insistence of the extraordinary oolongs teas and their heady swirling mystery flood over skin with immense elegance and control. It has the poise of a teacup held in the hand of an Ingmar Bergman character swathed in the cindered memory of that distant rocky Wuyi terrain in Fujian Province. Fredrik’s comprehension and utility of soft tensions seems innate, already in this, his first Mona di Orio scent. I feel his work is less concerned with the minutiae of chiaroscuro as Mona was, but more with shadow, dusk and umbra; the way notes, effects and accords shift and blur, hide and reveal intent as they unfold on skin. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one to discern I think.

Smoked tea tincture
(courtesy of Euan McCall)

Does it work? Yes it does. To be honest I sample so many things I am now a little wary of compositions that wow me immediately; if I am really moved or altered in some way, that is beautiful, but a little shock and suspicion, even repugnance is wonderful. I find Bohea Bohème to be rather outstanding. I had some initial misgivings, the black tea note is wild and defiantly incendiary, it never truly fades, impacting all the materials in the perfume. In the later autumnal stages of the dry down an elegantly arranged honeyed vanilla note appears, having taken its time to rise through the complex list of natural materials. Mixed with that delicious beeswax note, the base disperses on skin with whiffs of charred pollen and mead, glowing warmly like a candle in distant window at the end of a long hard day. This final malleable sweetness tempers the smoke, taking the tannic edge off that hypnotic dark tea oil.

The final moments of Bohea Bohème are precious and touching, the assembled drifting smoke and tea-stained journey fading to fragrant embers on grateful skin. One can imagine a silent hunter in a darkening Nordic forest kicking snow over the remains of his pinewood fire and discarded tealeaves before turning in the shadows for home.

Bohea Bohème is an essay in luminosity, pyre and shadow. I admire the unique way in which Fredrick Dalman has used his Nordic vision and measured it against Mona’s radiant ache and sparkle. He hasn’t simply aped her methods or tried to recreate her technique, but has used his own burgeoning skill to compose a perfume that’s sits with respectful and original beauty in the Mono di Orio Monogram Collection. I find my skin haunted by the smoke. It is a wonderful creation, one I will wear with love.

(Note:Bohea Bohème launches towards the end of May 2016)

For more information on Mona di Orio, please follow the link below:

©TheSilverFox 25 April 2016

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