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

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Desolation of Vigil: ‘Foxglove’ by HYLNDS & D.S. & Durga

‘And a softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.

From ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ by William Butler Yeats

I have been planning this piece for a while, ever since I read David Moltz at D.S.& Durga was working on a new creation for his atmospheric line of olfactive myth and poetry, HYLNDS, a potent oeuvre inspired by the ghostly Celtic hinterlands of Northern Europe.

I’m a huge fan of D.S.& Durga; I think David Seth Moltz and his wife Kavi (Durga) Moltz have created one of the most exciting and truly unique artisan fragrance lines of recent years. Working out of Brooklyn the couple have really stoked the olfactory imaginations of perfume addicts and writers like myself. I feel like a moth pinned on their scented mood board of imagination. Style bibles love them and you only have to Google them to see that the couple are indeed beautiful and perfectly photogenic. David’s background as a musician and Kavi’s architectural training only adds to the artistic layering of this talented duo.

D.S.& Durga started life in 2007 with capsule batches of scent, tonics and colognes made exclusively for friends and family. When David and Kavi got married he created three decadent bespoke scents for the traditionally Indian tri-part ceremony..

‘I made three custom perfumes and sourced really old bottles and vintage trays for each. Every one was delivered to Kavi with a note that was sealed by candle wax.
The first scent was a neroli for party time. I got the rarest expensive thing you could never mass-produce, and that went into an Edwardian–era cut crystal with a silver flip top. That came on a pineapple tray because our wedding was pineapple-themed. For the ceremony, the scent had to be the most rich, unctuous thing. It was daffodil, rose, orange blossom, and super heavy, and came in a little tiny French bottle from the 1940s. Then for the nighttime, it was big and loud and sexy fun with big florals. That one came in a turn-of-the-century round crystal bottle.

Kavi came down the aisle in a super-dramatic red sari with tons of 24-karat gold. I could smell her when she came down that way. I never, ever think I’m trying to capture the scent of love. That sounds corny to me. It was really about her favorite things and complete and utter decadence.’

David Moltz, from ‘5 Perfumers On The Best Wedding Scent’
The Cut 01 August 2014

The emphasis has always been on the made… everything close to hand. You can smell the hard work, dedication and esoteric research that have gone into developing Durga scents. Materials are sourced from a variety of unusual places and painstakingly prepared by David in his atmospheric workshop. I have Mississippi Medicine, Bowmakers and Burning Barbershop in my collection, all of which I just adore, their mingle of pure, guttural notes: smoke, mud, pungent tingling sap, seared limes, violin workshops, shellac and wood dust. The link to my piece on Mississippi Medicine is here, I really loved writing this piece and still think it’s one of the best things I’ve written:

The weird muffled beauty of Siberian Snow has recently begun to obsess me and will be next I think for the collection. I have never really smelled anything like these dense, textured Durga aromas before; coupled with a haunting sense of lost worlds, faded Americana, art, history and personal topography, the collection of D.S. & Durga fragrances are more like a sheaf of sepia photographs, discovered dust-drenched behind failing walls. They tell stories, evoke memories and imply perhaps that scent might be more than just juice in bottles. They are the ghost towns of American perfumery. Amber-suspended moments of preserved history and scented recall.

There was always a sense with David Moltz though of something else, that while the essences of Durga were rewarding and atmospheric, he was pushing at his definitions as an artist and perfumer. There have been a number of innovative and lovely collaborations: Spent Musket Oil for BKLYN Dry Goods, Rodin for skin guru Linda Rodin and Staghorn Sumac with fellow Brooklynites and neighbours, Joya. All the scented divergences and forays outside the core line, while generally in keeping with the style of the brand’s aromatic motifs hinted at development and a shift in tonal ambition.

This came to fruition in 2013 with the release of HYLNDS, a trio of three quite remarkable eaux de parfums, Bitter Rose, Broken Spear, Isle Ryder and Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake. Anyone that owns these will agree that these perfumes are exceptional. They glow and mutter like magic, suggesting ritual and persuasive alchemy. The perfumes pay homage to the veils of life and love hanging precariously between our worlds and the next, specifically in the Manx, Angle, Irish, Pict, Orcadian, Gaelic histories and mythologies. Many of these cultures have powerful storytelling traditions obsessed with the travelling of love and desire across the shimmering veils.

My first HYLNDS was Spirit of the Glen, the fourth member of the HYLNDS family and David Moltz’s collaboration with the Glenlivet distillery in Speyside. Spirit of the Glen is a dense, swirling scent inspired by the accords and effects produced during the production of Glenlivet 18 malt. Damn, it’s beautiful. A spun out superfine golden incarnation of Scottish eau de vie, shot through with charred casks, pineapple grass, wild grasses, barley, oak and the most delicious pear note which seems to burn across the top of the scent like pale green fire. It is not just a capture of the ethereal spirit itself, but a portrait of the local terroir as well, the windswept grasses and damp air of Speyside.

Living here in Edinburgh, I choose to love the rain, wind, damp and unpredictable climate of these northern tropes. The skies are often low and glowering, the air moist with haar and hops. But I would live nowhere else. If I venture north into the Highlands, I am moved to silence by the sweep and towering awe of the landscape. The colours and textures can shift and change in moments as weather and shadows roll like raging moods across munro, loch and glen. HYLNDS perfumes reflect the hue and cry of these Celtic emotions: stone, lichen, iron, heather, berry, larch, woods, rushes, mist, rain and gelid romanticism. It’s a tricky subject, fraught with dubious Lord of the Rings danger and elven soft-focus nonsense. But the HYLNDS approach is one of chill and isolation, contemplation and stillness. The fragrances feel lost in time; they are scented armour, worn like talismans to protect us now in uncertain times.

Each of the HYLNDS perfumes resonates with something frontier and fabled, an essence of aromas travelling through time. They are fragrances that demand your attention, you need to engage with the aromatic pieces. Like the original Durga line there is signature and mood but this time, there are ghostly traces of dye and tincture, twine and olfactive fibre woven through the formulae.

Bitter Rose, Broken Spear in many ways encapsulates the fierce beauty of HYLNDS, a scent of antique iron smiting wet highland stone, sparks glittering into foggy air. The notes include embers, wild mountain thyme, cubeb (an aromatic sweet pepper), bitter rose, thistle, a lovely creamy nutmeg, smelted iron, amber and cold damp larch. It is the scent of abandoned fires, damp and dewy as the mist trembles on charred wood and stone.

It is the loneliest rose I have worn; a rose forged in dark Celtic nights. I know the scent, it is all around us as the troubled question of identity rolls across Scotland and we ponder the resonance of our own personal histories in the flickering shadow of post-referendum heartache. The iron spear will shatter on bitter rocks, as roses burn in the night. As the scent fades on skin there is a swell of sadness, lost in sweeping rain. It is odd to think of scent having weather, but David Moltz has always composed his work like art, with washes of colour and climate behind the notes. It is necessary. It enforces the beauty of the accords and persuades the wearer they inhabit their own scented landscape.

Foxglove is the latest addition to the HYLNDS line and I bought it blind, convinced it would be extraordinary. It was, but not quite in the way I imagined. I think Foxglove might be David Moltz’s most concealed and dazzling composition to date. It is daring and poignant perfumery by someone who has assembled emotion, story, abstraction and desire into a scent of ephemeral power.

Foxgloves or digitalis (which means fingerlike) has lots of associative folklore, mostly with witchcraft and fairy folk. Their distinctive bell-shaped flowers have over the years led to numerous names such as Bloody Fingers, Witches’ Gloves, Deadman’s Bells and Gloves of our Lady. The tall and stately collections of trumpet-shaped bells come in many shades of speckled and smeared blues, pinks and lilacs. The flowers themselves are poisonous, the main component, digitalin is used to regulate irregular heartbeats, but can kill at higher doses.  An old saying states that foxgloves ‘..can raise the dead and kill the living.’ It was German herbalist Leonard Fuchs who first labelled this most iconic of blooms digitalis as its official Latin and scientific name. Digitabulum is Latin for thimble and Fuchs used the adjectival version. The German word for foxglove is actually fingerhut, the same as thimble. The French call them gantelée or little glove.  

Scandinavian legend has it that fairy folk taught foxes to ring the little floral bells to warn of any approaching hunters. My favourite story is of foxes wearing the bell-shaped flowers on their feet to muffle the sound of their paws as they raided farms and henhouses. The most likely origin of the name sadly probably has nothing to do with foxes, much as it pains me to say it; folksglove is perhaps the original name, in reference to the fairy or little magic folk and over time the name has slurred and corrupted into foxglove. I do prefer the soft-shoed foxes version though…

HYLNDS’Foxglove is about vigil. The desolation of lonely attendance over a love lost to time. The perfume is inspired by the story of Oisin, the Irish warrior poet, his lover Niamh and the mystical land of Tir Na Nog, the tempting Land Of Youth. Foxglove is Niamh, watching devotedly over the final resting place of her lyrical lover. David Moltz visited Oisin’s resting place and found a solitary foxglove about 20 feet from the grave. This lonely bloom, keeping vigil, was the catalyst for David’s perfumery imagination to wander, harvest and paint.

In keeping with the pattern he has set with previous HYLNDS fragrances, Foxglove balances myth and landscape in order to tell its misty story. This signature of the HYLNDS line of background and setting gives the fragrances weather, soil, climate, sound and texture. The environment is vital to David; he absorbs the elements like a olfactory sponge and then leaks them out in tones of ochre, lovat, cranberry, broom, heather, aqua, iron and lichen.

Reading the notes on paper, especially the suede, iris and peach skin lying deep in the base notes made me imagine something very different in style from previous HYLNDS pieces, but I couldn’t quite imagine how these notes would be assembled by David. I just knew it would be beautiful.

It was. The opening burst of hyper-real citrus peel is huge, like a sudden Celtic shower. It has a heady polished aroma which is dazzling in its reach. Champaca and the Queens Anne Lace, a form of wild carrot lend bite and radiance to the swelling pelt effect of soft, supple suede. This note is amplified by the iris and to a certain degree by the weird carrot effect, which smells anisic and woody. It becomes obvious that Foxglove is something out of time and of the future, a masterly echo of classical French perfumery tenets with touches of haunting things to come. Everything is in place for the skin to murmur.. I am Foxglove, I bear Guerlain and Caron in my wild, Brontean genetics. 

It is the remarkable peach skin note that really stuns me in Foxglove. I can’t get over how it has been rendered with such 3D clarity. The odour of ripe peaches is one of life’s most sensual experiences, a scent like none other, heightened I think by the blush velveteen pelt of the fruit. No other fruit has the same sensation. In fragrance it is the luscious anchor of Mitsouko, Jacques Guerlain’s spicy essay in sweet melancholia from 1919. Gucci’s porn-drenched trashy neon Rush from 1999 is soaked in an incendiary peach gauze thrown over the mix and then set on fire. Parfums Mugler used it beautifully in the heady cocoa flanker of Angel in the Le Goût du Parfum series in 2011. The oozing peach added a much-needed balance of tropical sweetness to the dense chocolate and caramel blend.

It is however virtually impossible in this perfumed day and age to create a peach and orris scent without noting echoes of Jacques Guerlain’s haunting and luminous chypré Mitsouko. His legendary 1919 classic was inspired by a character in Claude Farrère’s novel La Bataille about the doomed love affair between a British naval officer and the wife of a Japanese naval admiral during the Russo-Japanese war. Jacques Guerlain was apparently a friend of the author. Mitsouko was the one of the first perfumes to utilise a synthetic peach effect, more specifically C14 aldehyde, technically not an aldehyde, but a lactone: gamma-undecalactone. This revolutionary abstract note in many ways changed perfumery forever and many experts and fragrance historians consider Mitsouko the epitome of concise, exquisite chypré structure. Jacques Guerlain’s magical composition would not be Mitsouko without the orris though, the silvery powdered note extracted from the rhizome of the ghostly iris. It is the eau de parfum concentration of vintage Mitsouko that seems to haunt Foxglove, that Guerlain-esque balancing act between the actuality of sheer, breathing skin and bitter herbal aromatics. The sense of actual furred peach skin is quite distinctive as the rootiness of the orris settles through the jasmine, rose, spice and molten amber. 

Persicol the famous peach lactone base has never really been matched in terms of its unique transformative effect in scent, its ability it create a shimmering sensation of fur and liquidity in the perfumes it was added to. This use of bases (like Prunol, Mousse de Saxe and the infamous Animalis by Albert Fraysse’s Synerome)resulted in perfumes of unparalleled depth, roundness and complexity. Creating the same intensity of effect now is very hard indeed, without the fragrance smelling cheap and empty.

This is why David Moltz’s extraordinary handling of the peach skin effect in the base of Foxglove is so jaw-dropping. It smells so vintage, the call across time to Mitsouko is bold and beautiful and yet it is entirely its own olfactory creature, plush, vibrant and quixotic. Blended to perfection with the nuttiness of the wild carrot and soft glimmered iris.

My friend and perfumer Mr E has been sniffing Foxglove for me and helping me navigate how we think David might have built this rather dazzling effect. It’s fun to wonder. I’m not keen on asking perfumers to give up heir secrets anyway. A little mystery is always more alluring than total transparency.  Mr E helped me with the armomachemical stuff I mentioned above and suggested too that a CO2 extract of peach saturated in fructose/fruanone might also have been used. Another lactone, gamma-octalactone imparts a delicious milky tropical coconut facet to compositions; used with caution, it can add the most subtle and glowing effect of fruity light. We can only speculate. David, if you read this – Bravo!  

The immortelle is important as Foxglove settles into its final beautiful stages, laying down stability and a warm shrubby licquorice facet. Mixed with the supple, cool suede and an extremely realistic ambergris effect, all these combine to anchor and draw out a scent with remarkable longevity and projection. There is tenderness too, in the incredibly graceful fade.

I sprayed Foxglove into the crook of a slightly fevered arm and drifted off into erratic sleep. After eight hours the residue was sublimely soft, a diaphanous peachy skein of worn hide, with a sigh of druggy champaca lingering like smoke. It was then I really felt the echoes of a desolate, skeletal Mitsouko, a ghostly presence of pelty skin that demonstrates David Moltz’s precise and imaginative control of his medium.

The mélange of wild carrot (smells a tad like ambrette…), iris and suede provide a swell of aerated texture for the melancholy flounce of peach fuzz and golden odour. Foxglove is quite simply the most captivating creation to wear and perhaps the most refined and surprising perfume to date from the HYLNDS line. 

The eerie, doomed tale of Oisin travelling to Tir-Na-Nog and losing himself in what he thinks is three days of love for the comely Niamh is a compelling romance, forged in darkness and lonely weather-torn elements. The enchantment is carried through into a scent of wonder and singular sorcery. Osin’s return is bleak, his life is gone, every one he has known and loved is gone. His three days was three centuries and life has changed forever. Love is reduced to vigil, a single pink foxglove watching over an eternal resting place.

David and Kavi Moltz are very adept at avoiding the potential clichéd pitfalls of this kind of scented storytelling. Instead of sentiment there is bleakness and the odour of attendance. With Foxglove, there is a potent sense of classicism; we are smelling future skin, the scent of things to come. To all intents and purposes, David Moltz is a resolutely scented time traveller, pulling us back and forth with him in his quixotic quest to re-engineer our senses with didactic wonder. I will travel with him, the inhaling and scented weather will be unforgettable.

For further information on HYLNDS and D.S.& Durga, please follow the link below:

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Handful of Dust in Autumn – ‘Yesterday Haze’ by Imaginary Authors

The land wants me to come back
To a handful of dust in autumn,
To a raindrop
In the palm of my hand
In spring.
The land wants me to come back
To a broken song in October
To a snowbird on the wing.
The land wants me back.

Langston Hughes – ‘Dust Bowl’

My love affair with the scented fictions of Josh Meyer continues as he releases another volume in his page-turning collection of seductive creations. I first blogged on his wonderful niche brand in January this year in a piece called Strawberries and Asphalt, examining in detail two of my favourites, Cape Heartache and The Cobra & The Canary that I acquired for the Foxy library. Now I have Yesterday Haze to swoon over. It arrived carefully wrapped in the most beautiful Imaginary Authors packaging that made me reluctant to open the parcel. It is this attention to detail that makes me love Josh and his brand so much, the unique bottle designs by his friend Ashod Simonian with their distinctive illustrative finishes and the bookmarks he sends out with samples and purchases detailing the notes of the fragrances, book synopses and mini-biogs for his imaginary authors.

Josh’s concept of creating a line of fragrances based on fictional fictions as it were is pretty inspired let’s be honest. I said in my earlier piece it could have been a horribly self-conscious exercise in hipster vanity, but a sense of humour, genuine talent and a gorgeous sense of literary olfaction have allowed the Imaginary Authors line to become beautiful expressions of scented plot and characterisation. I love the idea that a new scent might be a newly discovered work by one of Josh’s intriguing authors. Memoirs of a Trespasser and Cape Heartache are both purported works by Philip Sava (1867-1923). And while both these scents are quite different in texture and effect - Memoirs of a Trespasser is a dense mulchy vanilla and Cape Heartache is a foggy forest of strawberry mist – the similarities are subtle yet striking. As authors often have signature styles that inform their work, these two fragrances share a playful woodsman tone, an atmospheric dichotomy of sweet and manly, something that really shouldn’t work but does. Almost like the kissing boys of Brokeback, the tough, harsh mountain life tempered by hot skin and forbidden desire against a backdrop of desolate sweetness.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Obsessive Gloss & Sanctity: ‘Lys Fumé’ by Tom Ford

There is so much I love about Thomas Carlyle Ford, aka Tom Ford. The man himself is sexy, charming, scrupulously chic, gloriously hirsute and a control freak. He oozes a glossy, mini-series style of sensuality, a mix of porno chic and brutal, blatant vintage referencing. He pines for Halston, Studio 54, strutting diaphanous disco and Warhol’s carnival of drugged up glitter and coitus. He has the golden suede touch, an unerring ability to read us, push us, titillate and sometimes shock. 

He sails pretty close to the wind on occasion, but damn, he’s so polite and quietly ambitious, we just smile, blush and turn a page. From his wilderness years as a jobbing actor to his meteoric rise through YSL, Gucci, Hollywood to founding his own sexed-up label, Mr Ford is a fabulous gay man. Women adore him, men want be him or fuck him.. (just the once maybe if no one ever found out…..)

There was his directorial debut with a very personal adaptation of Isherwood’s A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a repository for Ford’s neuroses. Firth bagged an Oscar, but Julianne Moore stole the film, drenched in shades of apricot and beige, an immaculate English accent and nails painted to match her Sobranies. Every molecule of the film was designed by Ford, obsessively so, sometimes to the point of stylistic overdose and yet he managed to fashion a disciplined and melancholy portrait of himself, a man tied to routines with a mania for minutiae. The character of George exercises huge control over every part of his waking hours and yet the only thing he can’t govern with any true certainly is his broken heart. The loss of his lover, being denied access to true closure and mourning, makes George snowbound, locks him down as life ticks on. I wonder sometimes when I watch this beautiful film how much of this august, reaching pain has in common with Ford’s life and past. People who present perfection often hide ordeal and woe.