The 19th 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.
Her 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.
I worry 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 time.
It is 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 survive.