On Thursday 11 October I got the opportunity to sample some of the latest Gorilla Perfume launches as their hand-painted Gorilla Bus (by the bonkers Plastic Crimewave) set up scented camp in Edinburgh. It was a grey, damp and muffled day, but the slow falling rain always highlights the depth and beauty of Edinburgh City stone. A suitably melancholy backdrop as it turned out for some of the peculiar aromas I touched to my skin.
The Perfumed Goddess herself, Ericka Duffy, friend, Top Banana and fragrance obsessive, had invited me; she suggested I go down and visit the Gorilla Bus when it came into town. I have been really excited to sample the new scents since Lushfest 2012 and following the buzz surrounding some of the more unusual fragrances on the blogosphere. Ericka had swung by recently with a bottle of The Voice of Reason and I just loved the weird smoky barbecue thing it billowed across my skin. Bacon, Laphroaig, lichen, fuggy sexed up cars humming with hash smoke. Damn, it was beautiful. So obviously I was rather excited at revisiting The Voice of Reason again and the other new creations from Mark and Simon Constantine.
The new collection was debuted as part of the big Lushfest celebration in July 2012 at Holton Lee in Dorset. A massive scented Lushy jamboree for the employees of the brand and some public days for mere mortals to swing by and sample new Lush products. Always done with wit and verve, music and tremendous passion, the event is incredibly well diffused across the electronic ether via blog sites, twitter and Facebook. Lush have a huge and diverse following and this dedication explodes their message and love of this seriously eccentric brand across the world.
Perfumers have become unlikely stars in recent years with perfume buyers becoming much more fascinated by the actual artistry and inspirations of the niche or marginal inspirations of the fragrance world. Mark and Simon are so intrinsically linked to their olfactory creations, from the era of Be Never too Busy to be Beautiful up to Simon’s innovative unveiling of the new creations on stone megaliths at Lushfest 2012. A small stone circle was designed to showcase six diverse and incredibly evocative fragrances, inspired by myths, landmarks and folkloric beliefs. Each one has a very distinctive legend for want of a better term. Some of them are among some of the oddest things I have sniffed in quite a while.
It’s no secret how much I love Gorilla’s The Smell of Weather Turning; it is an extraordinary Heathcliffian scent and it is still one of my blog posts I enjoyed writing the most. I wore it down to the Gorilla Bus, mixed with a layer of my other favourite the weird and wonderful Ladyboy.
The Bus was fab, it did look a little forlorn on Castle Street with Edinburgh Castle looming overhead and the weather was somewhat dreich and shuddery. But it was a bright green spot of colour on such a shadowed day. The Bus murals and the new artwork on the bottles are the work of Plastic Crimewave, aka Steven H. Krakow, the multi-talented and quite possibly totally nuts musician/illustrator/writer based in Chicago. An underground legend in a various mind-boggling musical sub-genres, he has created very distinctive visual identities for each of the new fragrances and also illustrated the Gorilla Magazine to accompany the new launches, explaining their inspirations and some of the notes and overall vibe.
The Gorilla Bus itself is a simple concept. Fill it with perfume, hit the road with like-minded people and spread the scented word. However this being Gorilla, it is a much more than this. There is music, poetry, soul and art, all tied to the development and diffusion of the fragrance thematics. Inside the Bus you are 100% immersed in a Gorilla world, printed matter, doodles, shelves and boxes of bottles in all shapes and sizes, phrenology heads, books, vintage vinyl, herbs, plants and spices. Dotted amid the bottles and assorted Gorilla paraphernalia are little votive offerings from visitors to the bus. If the Gorilla guys like your gifts… they might swap you for some perfume.
The interior felt like the fantastic marriage of a centuries old gypsy caravan and the wares of travelling snake oil salesman, walls rattling with lotions and potions as he works his way from city to city, dispensing his words of mysticism and slick showmanship. Maybe, just maybe something he sells might work in the heat of city night. If not, he ‘s long gone before morning. Pioneer fragrance, this is how I felt as I stood surrounded by a very carefully constructed idea of pagan influenced scent and sensibility.
Gorilla may play at simplifying the world of perfume and demystifying the claptrap and hi-faluting nonsense of normal haute-parfumerie, but in actual fact they are deadly serious, not only in their mission to alter the way we perceive fragrance but also the stories and inspirations behind the scents. This commitment to their audience is paramount to their success and dedicated following.
The new selection of perfumes is seismic in its comparison to the existing range. These new perfumes feel substantial and concrete. I did not like them all, some feel a little unfinished and hollow, there are gaps between the notes, asking for clarification. A couple have accords that are a little too distinctive and take too much time to coalesce and when they finally do, the magic of the original sensation has escaped. However… and it’s a very big however, some of them are magnificent. Utterly original, unsettling, haunting, persuasive and emotional, retaining a Gorilla aspect while at the same time exploring new and sometimes challenging olfactory fields.
This is no mean feat in a somewhat sterile British perfume world. And Gorilla do have a uniquely British slant; Simon and Mark Constantine are not afraid to look at our pagan past, the druidical heritage, ancient music, mystical plants, folklore, the classic hippie traditions, baby boomer aspirational values and channel all this into atmospheric and resolutely odd skin scents.
I am always amazed how ignorant people are of Gorilla Perfume and their connection to Lush. I enjoy educating them in the delights to come. I have been honest before that Lush is not really for me, however I admire the ethics and incredible verve and ambition of the brand. It is rare to find a contemporary brand that inspires such devotion and passion in its customers and its employees. I was one of the biased ones who passed the stores by, but after sampling the delights of the original Be Never Too Busy to be Beautiful in Covent Garden on a visit to London years ago, I was converted to the compulsive beauty and landscaped charms of what was re-launched as Gorilla Perfume through the Lush stores. I always recalled the fervent reality of the fragrances, their ability to marry to skin and senses, manipulating the brain along long forgotten (and sometimes new…) scented pathways.
Like all fragrance, the juices are of course subjective and everyone will have their own very take on Gorilla. The original collection does have a signature personality, an underlying earthy green shrubbiness, married to jasmine, orange blossom and tonka, these notes run through the collection like river dreams.
The Set in Stone fragrances are diversely peculiar. Varying from sensual and ethereal to downright skanky and looking over your shoulder weird. (I didn’t sample Lord of the Goathorn or Burning Rosemary, as they did not have them to try.) Mind you I have heard soooooo much polarising opinion about Lord of the Goathorn, it will be a very interesting scent to try. It varied from loathing to baffled acceptance from some of the Lush peeps I spoke to. Oh, I do love a controversial smell.
So…. Hellstone first. This is the only one of the fragrances in an oil base, jojoba to be precise. Inspired by an ancient stone megalith used as a burial mound created as the devil himself flung the ancient stones into place. The scent itself hurtles mightily out of the bottle like an uncontrollable spell escaping into the air. A thick swathe of beeswax is threaded with rooty vetiver and a very powerful cumin note. Combined with the warm smoothness of the base oil, the scent reeks of storm wrenched thunderstruck tree roots and ravaged eerie landscapes. There is a very unsettling smokiness rolling through it like the aftermath of cannon fire after a battle. One can imagine splintered trees, exploded mud and the metallic tang of blood in the air. It unsettled me tremendously. I’m not sure I want to wear it actually, but it smelt addictively incredible, a vision of something coming in the darkness.
Furze was instantly gorgeous, a lovely lick of vanilla, custardy, drawn across the back of a wooden spoon. Very soft and ever so mohairy in the background, Furze was inspired by gorse and its hardy little creamy flowers. Simon added a vanillic facet; a delightful soft touch of mimosa and a really swooning coconut framework, lending the composition a delicious milky cocktail feel on the skin as it dries down. I found it very persistent too, wearing it to bed and still loving the depth in the morning. It seems a simple scent, but the weirdness and alien prickliness of gorse pokes through the vanilla as it settles, reminding you this is not all that it seems. It will be a huge success for Gorilla I think striking a very clever balance between sweet, clever, soothing and unpredictable.
Flower’s Barrow has blackcurrant in it, one of my least favourite notes in fragrance. I did a stint at Space NK for my sins and a scent I loathed was L’Ombre dans L’Eau by Dyptyque, a rose and blackcurrant leaf scent, purportedly worn by Kristen Scott-Thomas. It made me feel so ill, the cat-pissy acridness and sickly off-bloom note was just dizzying. To this day if I smell it on anyone it makes me feel as if I am standing on the deck of a boat in rough seas. So you can imagine I wasn’t really jumping for joy at the thought of more blackcurrant. But this leftfield brew inspired by an overgrown Iron Age hill fort has tremendous presence and atmosphere. If you can imagine ruins tangled in briars, echoing with a tremulous history, a sense of something haunted in the stone, wrapped with very British weeds and leaves, you will have a inkling of how Flower’s Barrow might smell. The blackcurrant is mixed with sage, thyme and geranium, reminding me of reading The Go-Between by LP Hartley as a teenager, the most painful essaying of teenage love and betrayal set amid exquisitely rendered countryside and buttoned-up seething English sexuality. The opening line –‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. "- is one of the most resonant in literature.
I have worn Flower’s Barrow for a couple of days now and it has grown on me immensely. Something I did not expect at all. It goes perversely sweet in the drydown, the dreaded blackcurrant leaf becoming more Rowntrees fruit pastille in tone as it drifts through the closing stages. I got whiffs of marshmallow and jelly baby sugar powder mixed with a distinctive calendula note too. Most odd and strangely comforting. I put drops on cold radiators too and as they warmed up, the rooms filled with the most delicious scent of tangled briars and sweet vanilla dust.
The final fragrance I sampled in the Set in Stone sequence was The Devil’s Nightcap, inspired by a stone megalith in Studland. Local folklore claims Old Nick hurled the stone in an attempt to hit nearby Corfe castle. Whatever the story, the scent itself is one of the most un-fragrance like of the whole collection. It reminds me a lot of herbal tinctures with its bitter oakwood note and raging facets of clary sage and oakmoss. An uncomfortable counterpointing of ylang-ylang and orange flower doesn’t quite work on my skin, the composition tipped into ashen thinness. Sniffing it after a couple of hours made me shudder, just not for me at all. One of friends loves it though; he thought it smell warlocky…… like something you’d drink at creepy magic ceremonies. Hmm.
The very oddness and wavelengths of these Set in Stone fragrances demonstrate the strengths of the Constantine men as perfumers. Despite some of the floral and herbal tones, these are spells cast by wizarding fingers. (Even Furze has barbs as it rides out the vanilla….). They feel masculine, brooding, stormy and introverted. There are moments of subtle femininity but they hark back to a harsher time when druids spilt blood and pagan superstitions held sway across darkened lands. Stones cast shadows and the goddess slumbers under the earth. Nature swells and dies, the seasons bloom and wither. These scents have something of the oracle about them, an echoing of ceremonies and tongues. A smell of ritual.
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For part 2 of this post, please click here: