I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Scent of A Wicked Lady – ‘Tobacco Rose’ and Papillon Perfumes

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.”

Anne Brontë

The Silver Fox is relatively new to Twitter and to be honest part of me is still a little ambiguous about my decision to sign up. I am willing to accept the enormous benefits it has brought to my profile as a blogger and writer and for this I am very grateful; people have been very kind and supportive. I have been able to reach out to perfumers, Houses and boutiques in a way that is virtually impossible with Facebook and posting blogs. I have always written for personal and aesthetic reasons and for the beauty of the perfumed world. I have received some nasty and snide messages in recent months criticizing my emotive style, my lack of negative fragrances reviews (apparently it’s not okay just to be positive…) and most oddly my speed of publication. To all of these I say nothing. My work is my work, read it or don’t.

One of the great joys of Twitter is making friends and the immediacy of getting to know them. It feels exhilarating and charming. There is a sense of community, even if I don’t chat and participate as much as some do, the reassuring flow of news, trivia, shared olfactory expertise and gossip is both cocooning and stimulating. This is how I met Elizabeth (Liz) Moores, the founder and joyous creatrix behind a nascent niche house, Papillon Perfumery, based near the New Forest in southern England. Getting to know her, bouncing thoughts and laughs back and forth has been a demonstration of the benevolence of Twitter and for that alone I am grateful.  

A triptych of ornate and alluring fragrances has been created by Liz, Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angélique, all housed in classic squared-off bottles and graced with Papillon’s trademark butterfly motif. Launching later this year and already garnering some excellent pre-launch reviews and feedback, the three scents are all eau de parfum strength and feel deeply textured on the skin. I have a feeling they lean more toward extrait in their constructions, such is the billowing amplification of intent on the skin. They already have the ambience and heft of fragrances I have always known somewhere in my history. The notes have resonance and a delightful dexterity in their transmutation of raw materials and delicately rendered aromachemistry.  

Liz had arrived at this sweet aromatic moment after years of hard scented work, trial and error, endless mods, sleepless nights and a sense of perfumed dedication informing her that she was good, damn good. Her background has a ballet story and some remedial massage. Both these elements strike me as vital, using poise, control and carefully applied force where needed to achieve specific effects. Both mediums demand patience and continuous application of technique.

The handling of essential oils in her massage led Liz to broaden and deepen her understanding of aromachemistry and the building blocks of fine fragrance. She completed the Fragrance Foundation CFSS (Certified Fragrance Sales Specialist) course in 2009, submitted to further training then and set about scent making, for friends and family, art & literary projects with one eye continually on a more definitive perfumed future.  

Papillon is artisanal, batch-made juice, the kind I adore, made with passion, anger, sweat and devotion. Chatting to Liz on Twitter, especially about the Tobacco Rose, my favourite of her three fragrances, she was full of humour and gutsy self-criticism about the painful gestation of her rosaceous wonder. It took 147 mods and a lot of creative tantrums for Liz to finally walk away from her testing willful rose, able perhaps to admit she could allow it a sense of freedom, an unfinished edge, a sense of olfactory selvedge. Continuing to chip away at it, honing and obsessing would have left her with nothing except remorse and anger. (And perhaps a battered weary rose…). 

I have a veritable bouquet of rose fragrances in my collection and never tire of sampling new ones. I’ve written before on my aging swoon into this most luxurious and carnal of blooms. The velveteen petals, the weight of symbolism, thorns, love, blood, sexuality, the feel of flesh, death and funereal decoration, the vortex of giddy, compelling scent; all these things roll and crash against each other like aromatic tides. I find rose scents so alluring and thankfully they work beautifully with my skin chemistry. I like my roses on the darker side, the hue of wine, night and papal misconduct. Touches of spice, civet, amber, oppoponax, oud, and chocolate are things I love. But a part of me obsesses over a lipstick accord, the smeared boudoir nostalgia of roses and violet with a dusting of orris and a sparkle of raspberry. So I embrace Voleur des Roses and Drôle de Rose by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Lipstick Rose by Éditions Frédéric Malle, Rose Anonyme by Atelier Cologne, Nahéma by Guerlain, Amber Rose by Shay & Blue, Velvet Rose & Oud and Rosewater & Vanilla by Jo Malone, Isparta by Parfumerie Générale, Rose d’Homme by Rosine, Angel Rose Garden of Stars by Parfums Mugler, Ta’if by Ormonde Jayne, Sa Majesté La Rose by Serge Lutens and Rose Barbare by Guerlain. 

To this esteemed list must now be added Liz’s intoxicating and oddly blasphemous Tobacco Rose, so unlike any of the above and testament to her commitment to and (often difficult) relationship with this most demanding of flowers. I say blasphemous as there is the most delicious sensation of transgression that emanates from the skin, an image of a deeply scented whore, veiled and gaudy, walking the aisle of a catholic church in the quiet aftermath of mass, genuflecting in sunlit traces of resinous smoke. It is a wicked boozy scent in so many ways and I LOVE it. A blend of two different roses, sweet smeared beeswax, oakmoss, ambergris, damp ashen hay and a lovely gourmand patchouli base.

I have been wearing it so much recently, along with Anubis and Angélique, the other two scents in the Papillon collection. Lying in bed the other evening under the influence of yet another round of woozy antibiotics I was drifting in Liz’s rosaceous world and decided Tobacco Rose was the perfume for the wanton Lady Skelton from the very popular 1945 Gainsborough film The Wicked Lady, starring the ravishing and erotic Margaret Lockwood. Indeed her cleavage was deemed so risqué many of her balcony scenes were re-shot for US audiences. Based on the novel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall, the film tells the racy and voluptuous story of a bored and amoral landowner’s wife who revels in the life of a criminal on the open roads as the doxy of a renowned highwayman, played by the silver-tongued James Mason, preferring it to the stifling conformity of marriage, constricting dresses and duty. It is still a shocking film in many ways, she kills, betrays and dies alone, but the excitement and sexuality of her freedom is thrillingly displayed. The image of Lockwood’s beautiful eyes over her mask is a powerful and unforgettable image.

Tobacco Rose is Lady Barbara Skelton, a thrilling ride from conformity; she is an overtly sexual creature, a gameplayer, leathered, dangerous and uncompromising. The dirtiness of the rose is gorgeous, rubbed and daubed, a hot echo of saddle and ridden skin. For me, the blooms are kept beautifully in check by the beeswax/honey; this was a very clever addition. It happens to be one of my favourite notes in perfumery, but can sometimes get lost in the constructions. Here it has been spread through as if with a golden knife, ecclesiastical and sweet. The whiff of hive and wing is rendered with fleeting subtlety beneath the stained glass light of the roses.

The hay and immortelle (Helichrysum) deepen the smoke and leather ambience of Tobacco Rose, reinforcing the late night inn and ridden leather aspect of the scent. Immortelle often has licquorice and burnt dark sugar tones, but here is has echoes of its maquis scrubbiness, dry and gorse-like with a yellow waxen tug beneath the aridity.     

The roses themselves (Centifolia and Damascena), the blooms that drove Liz to olfactory distraction are fused with skill and determination. The blooms are playful, slutty and coy, a delicate balancing act to pull off. The Damascena rose is lustier, more crepuscular, the Centifolia more delicate and reserved. Together they balance and bolster each other’s strengths and weaknesses to produce an ornate, perfumed vintage of heady carmine excess with lovely facets of clove, gasoline and blooded earth. I asked Liz about her use of roses and difficulties she encountered while created Tobacco Rose. A lot of problems stemmed from the use of the rose otto (Rosa Damascena). It is a notoriously volatile material to use. To use Liz’s own fabulous words on rose otto: ‘I love this gal, but she a bitch to work with.’ The measurements have to be perfection; too little and the crushed velveteen texture of the oil is lost amid the sea of other notes, too much and the rose facet edges into mulchy verdigris and dead fridge vegetables. Liz said she had added a small amount of galbanum to suggest greenery, a leaf effect if you like for the flowers to rest on.

So the bitch was tamed (eventually) and Liz got her sexy dirty smeared rose. Easily for boys and girls, Tobacco Rose adapts itself to different skins, deepening, flirting and smoking as and when required. I wore it on a chilled January evening and it smelled like a particular Turkish rose jam I’m rather partial to, tactile and sugared with a shockingly heady bouquet. On a friend it smelled like charred blooms, much more catholic than I imagined. This shape shifting is good scent to me; the perfumer has used notes to anticipate difference and individuality. I love the jammy thing; it stays with me for days as persistent as trashy neon pop.

The other fragrances in Liz’s triptych are just as sumptuous and sexy. I love Angélique; it’s a deceptively simple assembly of cedar, osmanthus, white champaca, mimosa and orris. I am not generally an osmanthus fan; it’s a pretty meh note for me… so I was expecting a pristine softness, woody powder with perhaps a kiss of floral ambiguity. But it is so much more than this. Angélique is the perfumed tale of a pretty, barefaced girl, walking in a spring park. Dressed in white she seems chaste and pure. A sudden downpour reveals her skin, inked with turbulent motifs. Everything is contradiction.

One of the keynotes in Angélique is mimosa, a very French note in my olfactory lexicon; Côte d’Azur roads and sea breezes tugging at the sweet waxen yellow blossoms. I always smell salt and puffs of dust with mimosa; it’s just an automatic association. Liz has blended this most Grace Kelly of blooms with tremendous elegance, marrying it to the soothing tea tones of osmanthus, another note that can sometimes drown under the weight of expectation. Angélique is French for angelica, a member of the fennel family. It imparts a whiff of aniseed to scent and in the drydown of this sophisticated scent, there is definitely a bite of something anisic over the ground of woods and violaceous drift of orris. I had it on the pulse point of my right wrist as I wandered off into dreamland, I imagined Angélique to be sticky and peculiarly hush-hush and smiled….

Anubis was the ancient Egyptian god associated with the funeral rites of mummification and the journeys of the afterlife. His distinctive jackal-headed avatar makes him one of the most easily recognisable of the large panoply of Egyptian deities. Anubis was also present at the ‘Weighing of the Heart’, a ceremony where the heart was weighed against a feather representing truth. If the heart outweighed the feather the soul was destroyed. It’s an intriguing name for a fragrance, but that’s what Liz has named the third scent in her collection.

Anubis is a sueded oriental shrugged jauntily over a supple layer of saffron and jasmine that smells divinely spiced and febrile as it blooms on skin. Liz has used immortelle again, this time for its sombre tobacco-like aroma that mingles so alluringly with the olibanum and bitter cistus lying provocatively in the base. A basmati rice facet rises through the notes and simmers gently into the drydown, warm and sweet and very comforting. It’s an artful and creative composition; streamlined and blended with an eye for effect, drama and beauty. Each of the notes has its place yet they lock into one another and move smoothly, blurring themselves into a perfect perfume rhythm. I have smelt a number of niche scents recently where the notes, beautiful as they are, seem to be spinning in air, unable to connect to other elements in the formulae. The simplicity hurts. 

What I love about this particular scent is that it’s not a slavish Egyptian style oriental per se but homage to the idea of Egypt. It’s a little like the huge mania that gripped the world for all things Egyptian after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922. Fragrances, jewellery, fashions, movies and literature were all influenced by the obsession for Egyptology, mingled with the then art style of Art Deco. Everybody wanted an echo of the Old Kingdoms, the style, golden and monumental, the mummies, the treasures, pyramids and strange gods. But on Western, sanitised terms, safe and gorgeous, far removed from the reality of canopic jars and brutal slavery.   

Anubis is an Egyptian dream scent, a fantasy of influences and scented outcomes. I have moved away from orientals in the last five years or so, I just can’t take a chance with the severity of my migraine attacks. I used to adore them and drowned in their effulgence. As the god once weighed the human heart for worthiness, Anubis balances out decadence with pragmatism, sex with promises, reality with molten imagination.

Tobacco Rose is my pick of Liz Moore’s three wonderful fragrances, but then I am biased about all things rosaceous. It is an earthy, slutty rose and such a delight to find a scent that makes me examine again my love for this most fickle harlot of floral design. I am wearing it again tonight in the still of a dimly lit room. My apartment is exquisitely quiet. I am beautifully tired and my wrists smell of cigars stubbed out in rose jam. How bloody fantastic is that…?

Liz will be launching her three Papillon fragrances on June 21st 2014, Midsummer’s Day which Liz hopes (and I do too…) will be an auspicious day for her and Papillon. I wish her all the luck in the world.

Papillon can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Liz kindly said she can be contacted at the Papillon office if anyone wants to chat, the number is +44(0)20 3691 8822 or alternatively the studio mobile is +44(0)7825 550557