Dutch fashion designer Lilian Driessen launched her triptych of MariaLux fragrances in 2012. The perfumer is her husband the avant-gardist scent-creator Alessandro Gualtieri, aka The Nose a genuine Italian eccentric who launched and created the cult Nasamotto range of sleek and enigmatic scents including the crystalline Narcotic Venus and the indelible, pungent reek of Black Afgano. I know so many people that love this dark druggy formulation and shops that sell it struggle to keep it in stock, but I’m very uncomfortable with its suffocating herbal reek on my skin. Now I think Gualtieri’s technique and imagination is magical, I love the glassy, slow neo-gardenia intoxication of Narcotic Venus and the explosive machismo of Duro, but Black Afgano and me… no, never gonna work, it chews at my senses like a rabid dog and makes the blood vessels in my brain expand to breaking point. But as ever with such complex scent-making.. each to their own druggy, smoky darkness.
The creativity surging back and forth between Driessen and Gualtieri must be quite awe-inspiring. The couple are based in Amsterdam and Lilian has also masterminded a trio of unique fragrance-selling spaces, Avery Fine Perfumery in London, Modena and New Orleans.
I have a special connection to the London boutique, as it was the subject of my very first Silver Fox blog piece back in June 2011. I went in and immersed myself in the Avery/aviary experience, sampling beautiful fragrances from The Dressing Table, an ornate set of deep drawers set on anthropomorphic bird feet, hding bottles of beautifully curated scents
‘Perfume is volatile, like a bird,’ Driessen once said.
I was introduced scent by carefully chosen scent by a wonderful sales consultant until we found Atelier d’Artiste by Nez à Nez, the sadly now discontinued brand by Stephane Humbert Luca. The scenting of a black feather, the distinctive tissue, and the airy sound of birdsong as I shopped made for a strange and beguiling experience, one I have never forgotten. And one I always remembered very time I wore that extraordinary blend of woods, paint, turpentine, brandy, tobacco and fruit. At the time I had no idea who was behind Avery, I just loved the concept. They stocked a unique selection of perfumes and candles and enjoyed a prestige word of mouth reputation among the perfume cognoscenti.
I like the glamour of the Driessen/Gualtieri dynamic. Outside of Nasamotto, Gualtieri has only worked on a limited number of projects, a very niche distillation of a rural community (wild flowers, grasses, hay and earth) entitled Eau de Polder and Green for the Morgane Le Fey line, a very odd mix of fruit and verdancy that uses coconut water to throw a disconcerting veil of cucumberness over the composition. At Esxence 2014 he grandiosely declared: ‘Nasamotto is dead! Orto Parisi is born!’ referring to his new line of five perfumes launching this year, whilst still promoting the launch of Blamage, the final Nasamotto scent and the Paul Rigter film about the creation of this particular scent. Quite the man.
Working for his beloved wife though, I think The Nose has excelled himself. The three MariaLux scents (they will be joined by two more later this year) are exercises in restraint and internal subversion. They seduce gradually from within, over gentle time. They feel personal, intimate and most of all immaculate.
I had noticed the three MariaLux perfumes in a couple of places and for some odd reason not tried them. I don’t know why, the retro jewel-cut style crystal effect bottles are sheer joy. I love the soft 70s stewardess uniform colour palette and the vague kitchy touchy-feely quality they possess. They have a doll’s house aura, the faded immediacy of 70’s nostalgia. Images of Lauren Hutton, Margaux Hemmingway, a sense of little girl lost in the sexual blur of the disco darkness.
MariaLux is Lilian Driessen; she is quite adamant about that. Maria of The Light, The Luxurious, The Lustful. She is both alter ego and reflection. Virgin. Mother, Lover. A powerful and ancient triumvirate, subverted into Light, Luxury and Lust, thus becoming Truly, Madly, Deeply. This alternative Driessen, split into three Romanticised olfactive elements perform in part like talismans to protect the whole, real woman.
Dreissen’s background is in fashion, this was her world for 25 years, including stints at Diesel Black & Gold and Viktor & Rolf. Her own label is moody and simmers with strong female attitude. The images are spiky, layered and defiant, the models naturalistic and moody. The cloth hangs over the body like evening wear armour; there is danger in Driessen’s heels and belts, the subtle draping and concealment. The oscillation between extreme femininity and warrior is at times perturbing. The fragrances launched in 2012 adding another layer of lustre and enigma to the MariaLux persona. Fragrance is arguably a form of clothing, worn very close, both revealing and masking the body. Few designers understand the true intimacy of scent, the absorption of skin, scent and fabric. On the MariaLux website Lilian writes: Everything I own smells of you. This is a clarion call of sensual scented couture.
One of the key working differences for Alessandro Gualtieri as a perfumer is the retention of mystery; he reveals next to nothing about the notes in his formulations, preferring clients and perfume lovers to experience his creations unbiased as it were, free of preconceptions. It can be a little frustrating in this day and age when we are so used to being able to Google any single piece of information we require. Even I find the lack of info a little irritating, but it just means I have to dedicate a little more time than usual to the olfactory reverse engineering and pondering/sniffing I like to do at night with a note book and pencil by my side.
There a few indications to help; Truly is a white floral essay of true, pure and everlasting love. Madly as the name suggests examines the nature of obsession, dark and emotional with powder, spice and resins. Finally there is Deeply, pain and broken hearts, the sweetness of lost love, a spicy honeyed gourmand. These are somewhat superficial readings of very complex and singular fragrances. It took me a while to really breathe my way through the structures and effects, the winsome diversions and pockets of shadow. These three facets of woman - beauty, daring and eroticism – are uncompromising and deceptively abstract perfumes.
I have shown these three fragrances to a few people who kinda sniffed blankly and shook their heads, told me they ‘didn’t get them’ and didn’t understand the point of them. I secretly smiled. They belong to a genre I like to call Inscrutable Chic. The only other person who understands this is my friend Mr E, schooled and raised in a haze of classics such as pearlescent Chanels and Carons and the boudoir trailings of Guerlain. He appreciates the thrill of fine cashmere and the lustre of a pearl in a certain smoky light. Fragrances like MariaLux (and to a certain degree Nasamotto) rely on effect, light and texture to create an interaction with the wearer. Of course the notes matter, but the minimalism and in some cases removal of the formulae, allow a freer association with the structure. The Ann Gerard fragrances fit into this category, they are outstanding works of olfaction, but Bertrand Duchaufour and Ann have carefully manipulated our awareness of stone, metals, shine and glow to create these jewel inspired scents. Thy have immense compulsion and artistry, yet remain aloof and just a little out of reach and all the more beautiful for it. Ys Uzac is another niche house I would add to this Inscrutable Chic category, I LOVE Vincent Micotti’s aristocratic and refined fragrances, all inspired by the esoteric and sensual world of jazz and classical music. He is very open about his influences and materials and yet somehow his exquisitely rendered creations (in perhaps the niche world’s most beautiful packaging…) still remain stylishly arcane. I am currently writing on Ys Uzac and the very odd Lale… so, more to come on that.
There is no huge mystery to the beauty of these inscrutably chic scents; they echo many grande dames of perfumery, after all, there are only a certain number of classical permutations available to create the big effects. True, aromachemistry can push the boundaries of illusion, but like an artist with colours on a palette, the trick is to dazzle with effect and sleight of hand with the chromatics available. In an age where so many of our great benchmarks of perfumery have been re-orchestrated, face-lifted and diluted it is vital that these stylish and offbeat echoes of clarity and grandeur are loved, cherished and worn.
So as in life, sex and love a little mystery can still be a valued commodity. The big reveal is not always lovely. True sensuality is in the tease, the flirt and suggestion. I have been wearing Truly, Madly, Deeply for a couple of hours now. This is my sixth or seventh wearing and I am struck each time how flawless and uncompromising Gualtieri’s structuring is. I do prefer Truly and Deeply. Madly fades off a little too quickly for my liking.
Truly is a fuzzy, fizzy white floral, opening on a roaring old-fashioned Lux soap note that made me smile my lips off. If you have ever used soap flakes to wash delicates, it smells like they feel as you rub them between your fingers, weird and intensely heady. Truly smells aldehydic, gauzy as it unfolds, rolling a shimmering echo of every truly vintage Chanel over the skin. This impression is very subtle though as if to remind us very quietly how much we have lost in the reformulations and modernisings chez Chanel. As it settles I was put in mind of shimmering silver fur laid over the shoulders of the most luminous skin. The blooms are bone white and bitter, I smell galbanum and an icy muguet, some baie rose and soft resins, a little blush of rose perhaps, jasmine and a creamy lick of nascent magnolia. All of these and maybe none, maybe just the ghost of them carefully wrapped in tissue paper with the memories of a beloved love-drenched wedding.
The middle section Madly, I find a little frustrating, schizophrenic even. Maybe this is the point, to represent an obsessive unstable aspect of love. I’m not so sure. I prefer the more hidden/maternal interpretation of Madly. It is my least favourite of the three, but that is not to say I didn’t like it, I found it quite ephemeral and it just didn’t last that long. It did however linger in fibres as I found out by accidently spraying on a black cashmere jumper, as I lay crashed out with fever and migraine this week. It took on a whole different dimension, much more nurturing and rounded. When you first spray it on skin, the notes are beautifully warm and enticing with a mellow, follow-me moreishness. The glow of resins, balms and what I perceive as a tropical tuberose facet (I smell C18 aldehyde or something laying down a rather volatile coconut effect). There is a sprinkling of powder, a certain haphazard chalkiness that flutters through the composition with very little real conviction. Brushed over the perfume I think is the intent to offer up philtres and spell to the skies above; Madly may have been conceived as an ode to the follies and impetuous nature of love, but is really a rather insipid collage that dissipates all too soon.
Deeply is a gourmand, underpinned by hints of armpitty balsams, spices and a persistent styrax-type plushness in the way the perfume diffuses so luxuriously on the skin. I smell hints of caramel and frankincense, dusted in maltol-sugars, amber and torched vanilla. It smells as if it should be served in a porcelain cup, laced with gold filigree, such is its luminescence. I expected to like Deeply; I knew it was the more gourmand of the trio, but its persuasive animalic undertow makes it very foxy indeed. This third part of Lilian Driessen’s triptych is loosely themed around the lover, the pain and emotion of love as it were I suppose purely because of the supposed depth and resonance of this particular scent. Again it radiates certain classicism, the balsamic hints of a faded Shalimar, and a whiff of the original Angel with the lost muskiness I now associate with my beloved and much mourned Eau de Cologne by Helmut Lang. I search high and low for that elusive snowy opaque embrace and there is just enough of that effect in the dying moments of Deeply to make me shudder. In the end it is a nuzzling thing, recondite and post-coital, fabulous in the dark.
Lilian was interviewed by one of my favourite people in scented writing, Helder Suffenplan, for his online magazine Scentury. She describes herself as a storyteller, an auteur, using life and everyday travels, loves and experiences, sparking a desire to simply as she puts it: ‘voice a difference; for my craft lies in expressing that’. She also mentions key influences, including two of my heroes Rei Kawakubo and Louise Bourgeois, artists (and women.. for they are most importantly women.) who have changed the perceptions of art, design and sculpture. And I was thrilled to bits to see Roberto Lorenzi in her five, the eccentric menswear designer for Diesel Black & Gold. I may not like his slick rock and roll take on apparel, but he isn’t afraid to look wild and untamed, a little crazy, like some kind of holy fool. It’s a short and revealing interview and you can follow the link to the piece here.
I adore the undeniable vintage vibe glittering through the MariaLux trio. It’s as if Lilian Driessen is channelling her power through old style beauty and all our fragranced yesteryears; the freedom of fabulous androgynous Dietrich tailoring, the artic chill of Grace Kelly, the marabou trimmed froufrou of Doris Day and Jayne Mansfield, a touch of Nordic enigma, some Garbo say and Bergman…the mix is knowing and divine. All of this has been translated into a refined and perceptive collection by an expert Nose and a woman who understands perfectly the eternal attraction of private sensuality. A gentle covert edge has been applied to these beautiful formulae, adding elements of alien ornamentation and discreet tones of modernism. They have the texture of rarity and opulence. They whisper rather than shout. I like the moving forward of beauty while referencing those who have perfumed before. Love, passion and obsession; are these not the touchstones of scent?
For more information on Marialux, please follow the link below:
For more information on Nasomatto, please follow the link below: