Ineke Rühland is an artisan perfumer based in San Francisco. Her perfumed oeuvre is both whimsical and deadly serious. I have worn and loved her stylish and charming Evening Edged in Gold for years. I was originally intrigued by the name but the juice was heavenly; osmanthus blended with plum, Angel’s Trumpet, saffron, leather, woods and Midnight Candy, a strange, hypnotic floral note with echoes of stock and heliotrope. It smelt like a painting by Watteau; carefree, concocted with nose for frivolity and studded with coded sensuality.
Ineke uses startling floral tones with grace and deadly charm, like lines of carefully crafted verse. Her fragrances read and unfold like olfactory poems.
Field Notes from Paris is striking too, but very different to Evening Edged in Gold. A pervasive woody oriental, with tonka bean, tobacco flower and leaf, patchouli, beeswax and vanilla. Smoky, bitter, sweet and spiced, Field Notes… is a revelation on the skin, smelling of sticky Paris streets, wafts of cigarette smoke and coffee from the terraces, yesterday's perfume on skin, crepes, tarmac and the Seine. I have to be in the mood to wear it, but when I am, it wreaks havoc with my senses.
Ineke was born and educated in Canada. She trained in fragrance at the ISIPCA in Versailles. This rigid training structure, combined with visits to Grasse, the spiritual home of fragrance and her distinctive passion for literature and art has formed a unique perception of perfume. She created her innovative and quirky brand after moving to San Francisco. Her trademark manipulation of rare floral notes and other unusual ingredients has resulted in a beautiful library of scented stories.
I was intrigued by her collaboration with Anthropologie. The US brand is becoming quite the destination for offbeat scents: Histoires de Parfum, Ineke, their own very strange work with Le Labo, Tocca, Teo Cabanel, Carthusia, Royal Apothic, Happ & Stahns and A Rather Novel can all be found nestling among the eclectic mix of clothes and homeware.
The Ineke collection is called Floral Curiosities and consists of four fragrances. I bought Briar Rose and I loved the laundry hiss and linen knap of Scarlet Larkspur. Poet’s Jasmine and Angel’s Trumpet didn’t really do it for me. The collection is limited, the packaging inscribed and painterly, with flourishes of penmanship and washes of colour. Briar Rose has a TS Eliot quote inside the box lid:
‘Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden’.
The quote is from ‘Burnt Norton’, a melancholy and moving poem from the Quartets on regret and sense of time passing. The full quote is worth repeating.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
I did open the door. Tentatively at first, but the experience was intoxicating. Briar Rose is incredibly rich, a massive whoosh of jammy rosa rubiginosa (Briar rose), black raspberry, violet and blackberry supported by the crushed intensity of autumnal fruit picking, sticky, green and woozy. Other delicious notes include bitter almond, green apple, clove bud oil, cinnamon bark, patchouli, vanilla and cacao. The list is almost ridiculously gourmand and could have been unbearably twee and sickly. More akin to neon horrors produced by divas such as Mariah, Celine or J-Lo. However Ineke has something of the sorceress abut her when it comes to blending her potions. The pinches here and there of spices, the herbal tinctures, the ravishing floral notes. Things are used carefully. Sweetness is balanced with green. Spices smoothed with soft woods, leaves flicker in powdered skies.
The results are compelling and dreamy. Ineke weaves binding magic through the perfumed layers, conjuring up lost gardens, fairytale domains, slumbering maidens and androgynous princes. Her gardens are wildly sensual and full of surprises, unexpected blooms, and shifts in the weather, mood changes, storms, lightning, sunshine and rain. Laughter and tears. Love and loss.
Briar Rose is quite different for me. It is a beautifully rounded rose, wrapped in layers of hedgerow warmth and late summer brilliance. The sun dazzles the eye. The violet is dusky and nostalgic, allowing the fruits and bitter chocolate notes to settle on the skin without overwhelming the senses. I love the bakewell tart note. Briar Rose twists this effect with apple and cardamom and blasts it with a very strong patchouli note. The result is a luminous rose, lit from within, glowing sweet with a hot spiced heart and oozing fruit like a tart fresh from the oven, still bubbling and hissing as the fruit lava settles.
When I wear it and close my eyes, it rolls around in the air like a fairy tale, telling a tale of slumber in a bed of roses in a house where it is forever autumn. Everything is golden, red and claret toned. The air is ripe with harvest scents, apples and berries, leaves crushed underfoot. The sugar in the leaves is turning to fire. The house is wrapped in thorns as I toss and turn in fevered dreams. I can taste maple syrup kisses. Someone’s lips draw near with a promise of vanilla and bloody raspberry. His hands are ripped from fighting through the thorns. The intoxication is dangerous. I hear the thorns at the door, curling and twisting. But the air is so sweet. There is darkness and shimmering light, roses exhale a heady velvet blur into the sky. Hours later the ghost of thorns and muted hedgerows still flits across my skin as I toss and turn.
My dreams teem with armour, enchanted swords, rebel princes and deathly pale maidens. Gardens are overgrown and sensual; fingers trail through leaves and petals. Kisses are stolen under ripening fruit and darkening skies. I smell roses everywhere, on and around me. They pour out of my skin. But beware the thorns, the sweet, sweet thorns. They leave exquisite marks as they tug at the skin.
I love Briar Rose like a drug. It is incredibly addictive. The soft sweet darkness, the thorny brilliance of the spices, the moreish compulsion of the black fruits and the dizzying fix of violet and almond that holds the composition together. Ineke Rühland is a sorceress. She binds you to her perfumes with stories of brilliance and haunting charm. How much is marketing, posturing and scented manipulation is actually hard to tell but I for one am happy to wear such beautiful creations and listen to the stories and for a little while, be spellbound in her dark and fragrant kingdom.