I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Friday, 16 August 2013
Let the Stone Weep Around Me: ‘Violette Fumée’ by Mona Di Orio
of July was Mona di Orio’s birthday and bloggers and writers across the
electronic ether again reminded us that the perfumed world is a far less
interesting place since Mona’s premature death at the end of 2011.
I am the
same age and feel the loss oddly. Sitting here in my sun-flooded Edinburgh
kitchen, I simply cannot imagine not being here, doing this, creating, writing and
I have nowhere near the talent and artistic power that flowed from Mona. The
more I wear her creations, the more I realise how close to genius she was in
her instinctual understanding of olfactive chiaroscuro.
perfumes oscillate between light and dark, illuminating the shadows but at the
same time masking and veiling, keeping certain things hidden from us. This
tilting of the light away from the face
or main theme, of allowing us to see the edges and hinterlands of compositions; this is her legacy. No one understood the nuances of light and shade like Mona, you
can smell the tonal shifts, feel the luminescence on your skin and the bruises
of night. There are times when we all need drama, majesty and true luxury in
our fragrances. This is when we turn to Mona de Orio.
it is early to say this, and you must forgive any offence, but her premature
death has also I think deepened an already very powerful sense of connection to
Mona’s work. There is an aura of ownership and enhanced familiarity. The people
around the world who have worn her scents feel her absence keenly and draw her
creations around themselves like protective charms. I am aware of her loss each
time I wear one of her beautiful creations. I am sure she would have been
troubled by this sense of melancholia as her work was a celebration of life and
nature it all its glory. But we sense what we sense. The poems of Plath, Lowell
and Brooke, the films of Monroe, Dean and Jean Vigo, the music of Buckley and
Morrison, the art of Basquiat and Schiele, the lives of Princesses Diana and
Grace – we imbue these with a different colour of memory. Tragedy bestows nostalgia
and absence reinforcing our connections to those that have gone before their
always bittersweet. At the peak or on the cusp of artistic or creative greatness,
we can never really know how much was to come, how much glory was to follow. In
the case of Mona, a parfumeuse
operating at the peak of her powers, the loss is incomparable. Only those
closest to her know what she was preparing to do. Jeroen Oude Sogtoen was left not
only with the painful task of coping with the loss of a beloved friend and business
partner but also the looming issue of continuance. How to carry on with the perfumed
work with Mona gone? However he has managed very successfully to keep Mona’s
memory alive while at the same time necessitating movement forward. Transition
is painful and forces introspection and change, but it is necessary in order to
saw the release of Rose Etoile de Hollande,
a delicious, glass-candy rose Mona had been working on before she died. A
typically razor-sharp, complex and soulful portrait of a particular climbing rose
from Cabris, the spiritual home where she studied with the great Edmound
Roudnitska. Rose Etoile ravishes the
senses. I love my roses and this glossy, head-turning configuration of petals,
peach, leather, amber and a delicious plunge of powdered heliotrope dazzled me
from the moment it hit my skin. I love the peach thing, it can be a danger in
scent, tipping the floral elements over the edge into confectionary overload,
but like Victoria Minya’s recent Hedonist,
the peach note is so deftly handled you are seduced and swooning at the subtle
assemblage of everything.
rose is luxuriantly glassy. Like spun sugar sculpture. It smells in fact like
Dale Chihuly glass looks, the intricate weaving and moulding of extraordinary
shape and colour. Hand-blown glass, animalic, frond-like, dazzling in the
light, strange and sentient in the shadows. It is one of my favourite rose
scents simply because it is beautiful and moves me. There is grassiness,
morning dew, a dusting of powder, a deep plushness of petals, blushed pink and
streaked with red. Then the peach, an echo of Guerlain, a nod to Mitsouko, tremulous and full, like
morning sun on a summer porch.
The Rose Etoile de Hollande, like the Oud, Vetyver, Vanille, Ambre, Cuir and Tubereuse before it are part of the Nombres d’Or collection, Mona’s
showcasing of her exquisite talent for finding newness in classic perfumery
thematics. By taking each of these tenets of modern olfaction, Mona rebuilt them,
gilding them with her special brand of magic and in doing so reinvigorated
their reputations as fragrance notes. She infused this Œuvre with modernity and
her own instinctual understanding of classical structures and themes.
setting near perfect standards, this collection of harmonious formulae
demonstrate Mona’s dexterity and talent as she left us. Each time I wear one of
these fragrances I am reminded of her ability to see inside scent and persuade us for a moment it was her hand on our skin as the notes settled. Mona knew good
skin. It’s a simple thing, but countless perfumers forget it in the tumble of
money, deadlines, client briefs and material costs. Scent is nothing without
skin. Mona knew this, her fragrances are about osmosis, becoming one with the
Jeroen has kindly and I imagine perhaps a little sadly agreed to share his
personal scent created for him by Mona – Violette
Fumée. Without sounding too histrionic, it is one of the most luxuriant and
affective fragrances I have sampled in a while.
been a tad spoilt this year, falling in love with Ann Gerard’s Cuir de Nacre and Vero Kern’s incredible
creations. Revisiting Pierre Guillaume’s architectural wonders… Discovering Viktoria
Minya’s gorgeous Hedonist and
obsessing over Shay & Blue. And now a violet. And my goodness me, what a
violet it is.
the aromachemical that create the potent illusion of violets in scent were
isolated way back in 1893 by Tiemann and Kriger. Chemically speaking, they are
strong ketone compounds that allow one sniff of something and then strangely
make the senses asnomic to anything after. They take their name from Ion, the Greek word for violet. Methyl
ionones lent their considerable weight to two key fragrances of my teenage
years, Grey Flannel (1975) by
Geoffrey Beene and the original (14%!! violet…) Fahrenheit(1988)by Christian Dior. Sadly, today’s Fahrenheit is a
mutilated eunuch of a thing, a mere powdered shadow of its former roaring self.
of violet leaves was originally extracted by the beautiful but painstakingly
slow process of enfleurage – laying down
successive layers of flowers in wax or animal fat filled trays or chassis, continually replacing the
flowers by hand until the wax or fat was saturated with the essential oils of
the decaying blooms. This laborious process could produce exquisite results and
was reserved for delicate blooms such as jasmine, mimosa, gardenia, honeysuckle
and of course violets.
breakthrough by Tiemann and Kriger put an end to this process and meant that
violet-tinted fragrances could be made much more cheaply. I think sadly the
problem for many violet fragrances, apart from the ubiquitous Violette de Parme references, is that
the discovery of synthetics, while certainly transforming modern perfumery
created its own set of olfactive issues. Violet scents became easy to make and
market and it became increasingly difficult to make the violet note smell lush
and luxurious. Many early violet scents have a whiff of the housemaid about
them, something one might might buy at the chemist with hard-earned pennies.
Creating decadent, velveteen juice with elements of night and rich sensuality
seemed elusive. Occasionally however in the right hands violets were
transformed into diamonds of the night.
some favourite violet scents. Guerlain’s poignant L’Apres L’Ondée and hairspray-tastic Insolence have played with the transparencies of violet. L’Artisan
Parfumeur’s Drôlede Rose and Ralf Schweiger’s Lipstick Rose for Frédérick Malle blend retro-boudoir
violet notes with rose to create sexy, smeared lipstick accords. Annick
Ménardo’s otherworldy Le Premier Parfum
for Lolita Lempicka layered a joyful sparkling violet note over aniseed,
licquorice, praline and vanilla amongst other things, resulting in a addictive
brew that smelt of twisted fairytales and forgotten overgrown castles. Balenciaga’s
Paris Essence reminded us that the
violet lives in darkness too, tucked away in shadows on the forest floor.
Penhaligon’s Violetta is operatic and
dark, musk and geranium lending the simple structure an almost Gothic hooded intensity.
Jeroen Oude Sogteon
Violette Fumée is unlike any of these. As a personal
reflection of an individual it is deeply affecting. Combining Jeroen’s love of
luxury (by contrasting the inherent powder and purr of violet flower),
cashmere, the languorous throatiness of Bryan Ferry, his father’s pipe tobacco
and the singular sensations of cashmere and suede. Other keynotes include
myrrh, lavender and oppoponax, elements drawn from Jeroen’s life with Mona.
crackled as the scent hit my skin; like dry brush catching aflame in a drought.
Instant fire. Violette Fumée smoulders
with anticipation. I adore powder in scent and often seek out scents for this
reason. The powder in Mona’s scent is the drifting embers of papal burnout.
Purple velvet set softly alight at dusk. As I inhaled at my pulse points, I
realised I was thinking of L’Heure Bleue,
arguably Guerlain’s masterpiece created in 1912 by Jacques Guerlain. The
original formulation has long been lost to time. But there is a violet note
wrapped into the heliotrope, rose, carnation and jasmine heart that floats out
like mauve-tinted fumes even now in the current brasher formulation. This
classical echoing and homage has always been present in Mona’s œvre, yet she
revisited influences she loved and looked more deeply into the light and
shadows that held the elements together.
often said we fall in love with our first loves over and over again throughout
our lives; looking for their faces, mannerisms, colouring, style and touch. We
search to recreate the visceral impact of those emotions, the power of those
early days and giddy rollercoaster courtship and desire. Mona wrote about the
impact of L’Heure Bleue on her early
olfactory senses. It was her first proper grown-up fragrance and she saved up
especially to buy it. So desperate to smell the perfume, she could not wait
until she got home and opened the box and bottle in the street. One can only
imagine how special and charged that moment was for the young Mona di Orio and
I think with each fragrance she created she tried to capture that potent and
imprinting moment and pass it on to each of us. She wants us to feel the way
she did as a young woman experiencing the full-blown shock and awe of L’Heure Bleue as it flooded her senses
on the street. With each of her fragrances we think we might anticipate effect,
how it might possibly smell, but the chiaroscuro details Mona layered into her
work, allows us to see, smell and experience the familiar on a more complex and
vintage familiarity of Violette Fumée
soon segues into something much more compelling, a portrait of melancholia
wrapped in the smoke of time forgotten. An empty street, rolling with mist,
gardens lit with bonfires ooze sweet smoke into chilled night air. Swathed in
cashmere the colour of bruises, a man walks the street, his cigarette smoke
curling high into the city sky. His skin is lavender and bergamot, dusted with
violet and rose dust. Smoke clings to him like guilt.
is a city of ghosts. The stone is impassive and we are watched over by the
looming castle on its volcanic plug and Arthur’s Seat, wind-torn hills
overlooking Holyrood Place, the scene of so much political struggle and
bloodshed. Burke and Hare hunted their victims across the city and Stevenson
was so obsessed by the city’s fetid darkness he created Mr Hyde to eat the
night and consume poor Dr Jekyll. The city’s underground passages now entertain
tourists and host festival shows, but they are genuinely eerie spaces, echoing
with the footsteps of the dead.
certain nights, the veil between the living and dead in this stone city seems
thinner than usual, the streets resonate with sadness and vacant bustle.
Figures turn and faces catch the light. As the autumnal haar mists roll in from
the sea Edinburgh loses its edges like a muffled bell; everything drops to the
ground, muted and close.
I know, but Violette Fumée is the
pensive and mournful manifestation of this mood for me. I know others will
disagree, but I find safety in introspection and melancholia. It reassures me.
This hypnotic scent is like wearing a soft vaporous storm, private and running
over the skin under layers of black cashmere and tweed. Small plumes of smoke
escaping though fingertips.
violet and rose are laid down with great mastery and coloured gently with
saffron, an effusive spice if not tempered or used with caution. Rubbed
sparingly it adds an unparalleled sense of burnished gold. The resins and woods
are balanced with very precise measures of Haitian vetiver and clary sage, both
of which deepen the scorched earth note that haunts the central part of the
composition. Throughout the settling, violet fumes roam the senses like a
restless spirit, mauve and bruised. This note is truly magnificent. Each time I
inhale my skin, I wonder at its papal beauty.
perhaps Mona’s finest work. I have actually really struggled with this decision.
The Rose Etoile De Hollande suits me
beautifully and wears like diamonds on my skin, glass-candy magic with poignancy
and the occasional head back full-blown throaty laugh in the sunlight. The Vanille is like being dipped in caramel
and set on fire in the night. I was a huge Chamarré
fan and counted Lux and Carnation amongst my collection. These
earlier works, although still beautiful, now seem like detailed indications of
the themes Mona was exploring. As the first Nombres
D’Or fragrances appeared and the older collections was discontinued, we
realised that Mona had reached a level of awareness in her work that meant she
no longer needed the early pieces any more. This was a brave and difficult
call, to axe popular scents. But as the Nombres
D’Or perfumes started to roll out and her fans realised how important and
of course how incredibly well made they were, the decisions clicked into place.
With their wise and haunting blends of heritage and classical themes and the
precise exploration of single notes, this collection is like studying old
masters in the dark by candlelight, passing the flame back and forth across the
canvas, illuminating and obscuring at the same time.
As I lie
drifting off in bed, with ideas wreathing in out of a lightly euphoric
post-migraine wrapped skull I smell the embers of Violette Fumée fuming off my wrists. It’s been hours since I
applied it and still it holds sway, insistently lachrymose and compelling. Let
the stones of the city weep around me. Violette
Fumeé affects me so. To wear something this personal, created by Mona for
Jeroen with deep love and understanding, with soul and generosity is an honour
and sorrowful pleasure. Merci Mona. Merci
Violette Fumeé launches in September 2103. My review was based on a sample kindly provided by Maison Mona di Orio.
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