For further information on MiN New York please follow the link below:
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Vagabond Polaroids: ‘Scent Stories Vol I’ by MiN New York
MiN New York Apothecary & Atelier is a scent repository and haven for bruised and bothered senses at 117 Crosby Street in New York owned and orchestrated by Founder and CEO Chad Murawczyk and Vice President and Curator Mindy Yang in 1999.
The place itself is a meld of Euro sensibility; American boho beat style and gentleman’s smoking den, stocked with a curated collection of scent, skincare and shaving lines from around the world. The emphasis at MiN has always been on personal experience, presenting items from fine fabrics, leather, glass, the inhale of rare niche scents and the smoky fumes of exquisite chandlery to fit the client, making it feel right for them.
Chad & Mindy - Airport Study in Black
(taken from MiN New York Intstagram)
tweaked & titled by TSF
Chad and Mindy are darkly beautiful, predominantly garbed in shades of noir and strategic in their use of social media. Mindy in particular is a perceptive and elegant tweeter, highlighting trends, causes and magpie philosophies. It’s a damn chic brand, just on the cusp of being painfully so, but pulled back by a genuine passion and obsession with scent and quality and providing a consistently unique environs where their clients can inhale and experience extraordinary olfaction, chandlery, skincare and grooming.
Chad was part of the original group that launched American Crew, the successful gents’ hair and grooming range; this led to the beginning of MiN New York, selling shaving and grooming apparel to the booming metrosexual market. The point of difference was difference; a collection of products assembled and created by artisans and passionate individuals, part of a growing trend in the scented trade where people were making small batches of colognes, tonics, perfumes, beard oils etc for friends and family. This culture of cottage skincare and perfumery has produced some exceptional US indie brands including Juniper Ridge, Kerosene, Imaginary Authors, Aftelier Perfumes, Dawn Spencer Horowitz, Cognoscenti and D.S & Durga. The effect is a seismic sense of the personal rumbling through a whole generation of American perfumery.
Mindy Yang is a more elusive creature, her gregarious New York personality a fluid mix of arts, architecture, lifestyle design, new age esotericism and eclectic digital philosophies. She is a trained Reiki master and someone switched on to the constant shift and rhythms of social media. Together with Chad, they have mixed classic free-spirited American style with European chic and art-perfumery. What ties the lines together is a preoccupation with quality and craftsmanship.
Chad asks himself ‘Does this product move me?’
I’m intrigued by this desire to believe in the development of brands and products. One of the things I love about writing on niche and so-called art or artisan scent is my opportunity on some occasions to strike up relationships with perfumers, makers and creative directors. I have never taken this for granted and feel very lucky to be able to count some extraordinarily talented olfactory artists as friends. This scale of operation, from inception to launch/shelf etc is strikingly different at niche level and one that international haute olfaction boutiques such as MiN, Aedes de Venustas, Scent Bar, Osswald, Indigo, Les Senteurs, Bloom Perfumery, Avery, Skins in Amsterdam, Nose, Jovoy, TigerLily Perfumery, Sens Unique, La Basilica Galeria in Barcelona, Etiket in Montréal and Peony Haute Perfumery in Melbourne have tapped into, allowing their clientele to feel closer to a more specialised and private product. The implied exclusivity and cachet of eccentricity is all part of the experience.
The lines stocked at MiN New York include Heeley, Frapin, Lubin, Kerosene, Naomi Goodsir, The Vagabond Prince, Miller Harris, Jul et Mad, Laboratiorio Olfattivo, D.R.Harris haircare, Culti, Dr Vranjes and Cire Trudon for the home and MiN’s own brand accessories and branded skincare. I like the melange, it’s laid back and sophisticated, useful and elegant.
There is of course a rather sensual snobbery in the relishing of niche, hard to find scents, skin-wear and candles that you secretly hope the average street-wanderer is oblivious to. The definition of niche seems to shift like treacherous sands and I’m not going to add to the confusion by trying to tie down the definitive meaning here. Just to say that I don’t subscribe to the theory of quality, that somehow niche scent is inherently constructed with more care and with higher quality ingredients. This just isn’t true as there are occasionally mainstream or high street scents that come along and just blow this theory out of the water. In 2014 alone My Burberry, Balenciaga B and Knot by Bottega Veneta proved how strange and deliciously beautiful big house releases could be, smelling like abstract essays in floral peculiarity whilst still playing the big bucks game. However it is the approach and fevered passions inherent in the selling and sharing of niche scent that sets it apart. You feel part of something exclusive, private and perhaps just a little bit special. After all, it does feel nice sometimes to think your aroma is perhaps limited to a few hundred skins, rather than tens of thousands.
I have smelled so much poor quality niche in recent years, expensively dressed juice wrapped in abstruse concepts and tricky architectural cartons. Art glass, rare plastics, recycled tires, pornographic billet doux… all distracting the senses from the olfactory void at the heart of the matter. It’s a difficult balance, the strive for commercialism and aloof artisanal kudos. Something always has to give. Sadly it’s often the scent, and yet nothing else should matter, it after all what it’s all about.
An intriguing development in recent years has been the ownership of artistic intention by some important niche boutiques, extending their brand profile by creating their own scents. One of the most successful of these has been Aedes de Venustas, an independent scent boutique founded by Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner that opened in 1995 on Christopher Street in New York. They have now collaborated with Bertrand Duchaufour, Roberto Flores-Roux and Ralf Schwieger on an influential portfolio of sensual house perfumes. Schwieger’s Iris Nazerena is one of my fetish iris scents. Their latest launch called Pallisandre d’Or is a creamy burnished fantasia of sandalwood and frankincense signed off by master perfumer Alberto Morillas.
Chad and Mindy have done things a little differently. Having spent so much time immersed among a variety of intricate and intriguing lines they have chosen to work with a Grasse-based master perfumer (for now anonymous) to develop a picturesque array of olfactory snapshots to augment the existing lines already stocked in store.
Scent Stories Vol I is a striking and abstract collection of memories, effects and aromatic impressions designed to suggest places and people, voyage, laughter, sadness, childhood, sex, wonder, desire, anxiety, mystery and love. The scope is wide, ambition high. I had wanted to try them for ages, especially Moon Dust and Chad very kindly arranged for a full set of samples to be sent from New York to me in Edinburgh. They arrived beautifully packaged, in MiN’s trademark black paper, marked with the MiN obsidian griffin rampant of course, each sample labelled with a MiN New York store card telling me what it was.
These scents are only available to people in MiN’s private club; entry to this sweet-smelling group is determined by a form that tests your commitment to the love of scent and what you can bring to the MiN high table of artistic aroma. You can access the form online.
The collection is limited too in other ways, only 1000 bottles of each expression are made and each flacon is signed and numbered. Chad and Mindy describe Scent Stories on the MiN New York site as olfactory art.
‘The chapters of SCENT STORIES are inspired by vignettes and memories through which our perfumes are potions that transcend time and space. It’s important that with each spray, an intimate dynamic takes place. No different than visual, auditory, or tactile media in art, we invite personal projections in each engagement. We created the scents to inspire or provoke..’ Mindy Yang.
These vagabond Polaroids are abstracted snapshots and capture of moments and wanderlust. These days with apps, anyone can fashion their own tinted, light-flooded memories, but the real deal, those alien, bleached-out glare-squares of time that some of us have in boxes and dark-stored albums are hauntingly suggestive. My entire African childhood sojourn is mapped out in a series of anonymous ex-pat themed images, intercut with me and my brother, pet monkeys, startled chameleons, drunken roaring dad, endless pools, skinny weather beaten dudes and landscapes of weathered rocks, scrub and snarling hyenas. As they age, these objects - for somehow they seem weightier than regular photographic prints - erode, decay, shift and evolve into reflections and in some cases actual distortions of the originals. Some of the Polaroids I have of our peripatetic life in Nigeria have leaked, scratched and faded; people appear like ghosts, chemicals have burned away the edges. All part of the process of memory and remembrance.
Chad and Mindy’s gathering of impressions, memories and olfactory variance is a reflection of influences and taste making. It would be hard not to spend so much time immersed in niche scent and not be affected by the molecules and aromas that surround you. This Proustian surround will settle like fine golden dust on receptors over countless inhalations. When I commenced sampling Scent Stories Vol I I was struck by the ambition of the range; to launch one scent is brave enough in today’s cutthroat aroma market, but a library of eleven? Dangerous, foolhardy even. But the ambiance of this collection from the get go was different. When word began circulating that MiN was launching Scent Stories, the names of the fragrances (Old School Bench, Moon Dust, The Botanist etc) and the sleekly designed black bottle with its distinctly architectural and draughtsmanship feel to it pointed to a project with serious heft and pleasing perfumed possibilities.
There are hints and echoes of others brands woven through the collection, hints of sensual influence, reverential homage and a careful desire to respect classic tropes without toppling into pastiche. I smell little zephyrs of Durga and Frapin, Histoires de Parfum, Mona de Orio, Bond No 9 and Amouage. Just hints; Scent Stories is very much its own narrative, but I like the little shivers of familiarity I get with some of them, it’s intelligent, human scent-making with a nod of respect to others.
It is an intriguing gathering, showcasing a variety of recognisable olfactory styles, demonstrating Chad and Mindy’s awareness and understanding of the functionality of scent. The ability to create stories, paint pictures, curate memories, is something more niche enterprises are being drawn to; allowing their clientele to imagine themselves more profoundly involved in the scented worlds they are being offered.
I liked the whole collection. This surprised me, normally I don’t like stuff, some styles bore me and there is always a runt or two. Not so much here to be honest. Sure, there are a couple of weaker formulae that probably didn’t desperately need making, but they still have facets of interest. But some are just so beautiful and strange, packed with ideas and scented interest. One or two really caught me and made me revisit skin over and over. I settled eventually on one that just obsessed me, I could not get it out of my mind. But more on that later. I’ll take you through the collection, scent by scent, they are bold separate publications, but do hold together as an assemblage of themes and ideas.
There is rough with smooth, some frayed edges, void, echo and transgression, disappointment, edit and in a few cases just a little too much over positioning of concept. But overall my thought of Polaroids holds fast, the immediacy of capture and result as result, no change. I have been through the collection a number of times as I think you should, trying them on skin, on mouillettes, making notes. Each time I catch slightly different things from several of them. Others fade and then flash up on a return visit.
During a stint with the National Museums of Scotland, I worked with contemporary craft for a while, assisting on a unique exhibition of Scottish basket making, a mix of makers working with traditional styles and more experimental art forms. I became quite obsessed with the scent of willow, wet, dry, stripped, snapped, sappy and manipulated. The Botanist is this scent, fingertip green, barky, damp and a memory of loam. Over this mix is a blush of orchard and fallen blooms. I like its quietude and closeness. I’m not generally a fan of things green, but this is hushed and linked to that potent willow memory. Basket-making wrecks your hands but the smell embeds and lingers, The Botanist leaves light traces of peel and grass as it fades.
Magic Circus is fragmentary and alluring, the pieces of dusted acrobat skin and the bandage whiff of tented interiors coming and going over a blast of cotton candy and spilled caramel nuts. It has a gourmand character, but without the nerve-shredding edge of the more neon-toned exponents of the genre. I smell a slightly off tropical fruit tone I rather like sitting behind the attention grabbing carnival facets, it smells like someone has dropped guava or pineapple on the circus floor of trampled woodchips. There is do denying echoes of Mugler’s masterful Angel, Chopard’s pretty decent angelic doppelganger Wish and Olivia Giacobetti’s masterpiece of roaring, equine oddity, Dzing! with its crazy note of panther fur! But Magic Circus is interesting as it breaks apart and coalesces at differing times, the effects, sometimes welcome, other times puzzling. I love a gourmand of course, so its disordered sweet elegance pleases me.
Ahhh.. Barrel. Now this I wanted to like so much, but it turned out to be one of my least favourites initially. However..it needs time. There is a lot going on in Barrel in terms of notes – spices, a dirt accord, tannin, woods, absinth, rum, myrrh, oak, oakmoss, leather, vanilla, patchouli, coriander, pink pepper and some floral tones of orange blossom and tuberose. Exhausting non? Living in whisky land I have spent a good part of my life nosing and drinking beautiful malts from all over Scotland. I have visited distilleries and drowned in the enormous array of odours on offer from barley, fermenting yeast, grain, copper, woods, salt, cellar stone, cask and smoke. Each whisky has a myriad of tonalities, flavour, textures and odour affected by maceration, blend and storage. I wanted Barrel to be a massive blast of iodic peaty eau de vie, but it is quite the opposite in fact; it is the ghost in the wood, the ephemeral spirit in the glass. Boozy fumes shimmering in the senses rather than any full blown intoxicated reel. This fleeting liquored hush is defiantly at odds with its listings, but I have come to like the soft rise of cellar dirt and golden spirit as it settles down on skin. It just needs patience.
Long Board is one of those benzyl salicylate infused summer scents that radiates tanning lotion and sun-struck indolence. I was put a little in mind of Bond No 9’s luscious Fire Island by Maurice Roucel, thick and creamy, so damn sexy, with mouth watering orange blossom and slathered vanillic skin tones. Long Board echoes this smile, sun and skin thing but is more laid back, more bubbly and joyous, youthful and innocent. There is a foamy sense of tropical swell in the notes of coconut and vanilla. Amber is drizzled over the composition like caramel. The solar effect is low key but lovely, radiating a hipster insouciance that makes Long Board fun to wear. (I smell waffle cone in the mix, from the vanilla and coconut and the solar thing..?) It’s a lovely orange blossom construction, cool and well handled, balanced by a citric vetiver that barely registers until the final soft, cooler stages. I do have a few of these solar florals, shot through with marine breezes, but this is good, sunny and languid, perfect for cold winter skin to recreate the illusions of lost summer.
Dune Road is the melancholy downtime companion piece to Long Board, the weary wander home at dusk from beach day. You skirt spiky dunes and well-trodden paths, detour into the cooling sea as the skies flare and darken down. It is a breezy, mucky aquatic, awash with algenone or some such algae mimicking molecule. It’s a big dose actually; the opening is very rockpool and emerald sea-tugged stone. The saline touch is frothy and palpable; you can almost feel the salt between your fingertips. This driftwood capture is a lovely thing in scent if done correctly; Christine Nagel’s swansong scent for Jo Malone, Wood Sage & Sea Salt was wonderfully brisk and atmospheric with it and Pierre Guilluame’s recent Cruise Collection quartet were masterly essays in the flexibility and reach of aquatic sensuality. I like the chopped herbiness of Dune Road as it settles; it smells of caraway, parsley stalks and celery seed. It is a little synthetic in the later stage; the algae effect just a tad too persistent on my skin. It’s an odd little thing, rather sad and errant, the sniff of evening sky as mist and night rolls in.
On paper Momento does not read that well, a tumbled mix of aldehydes, Caron style floral notes, absinth and herbs on a resinous, woody base. It looks like an old school floral chypré, but the all-important oakmoss is missing from the line-up. On first fuzzy, bright inhalation, it has tremors of big Lauder aldehydic florals like White Linen, while shimmering with a vintage sweetness of classic French style boudoir scents of the 40s and 50s such as like Quadrille and Dix by Balenciaga and the glassy verdancy of Guerlain’s original Vetiver from 1956. MiN describes Momento as a scent of heritage and flashbacks. For me it is more concerned with the fade and find of memories, objects, photos, clothes, a wedding dress, a prom sash, a carefully preserved corsage or diadem.
It is the persistent image of a wedding I see lost somewhere in time, captured in a sliding stack of photographs. The dress and veil are carefully folded with flowers and flutters of confetti, a pair of pale pink gloves, buttoned down the side with seed pearls. All of this stored in a vintage kiste, lined in tissue and an old fur coat. The wedding unfolded in spring, in a borrowed lush garden, those delicate gloves holding a bouquet of carnations, roses and heady narcotic jasmine. The garden exuded its herby grassy welcome; verbena, tarragon and lavender ripe with rubbed exuberance. Momento is unexpectedly fizzy, happy with aldehydic buzz and sparkle. I kept imagining I could smell Trebor Refreshers, crumbled up and powdered on my fingertips; it’s a distinctive rainbow smell. This eventually gives way to a genuinely haunting carnation effect that smells momentarily 3D and textured. I’m not sure it’s for me, but this genuinely quirky, trousseau-in-a-box experience is delightful.
Dahab is the older, secretive sibling to Dune Road and Long Board, the one who’s travelled forever and rarely appears at family gatherings. When they do they are just a little out of focus and off-putting. All of these things of course make them wildly attractive. I’m deliberately avoiding gender here, as Dahab’s transient nomadic leanings make it a scent of genderless obfuscation. Dahab translates as time goes and mixes a cold wash of oud with foodie spices and a similar if paler more transparent version of the aquatic note in Long Board and Dune Road. It’s a scent of contradiction; desert meets sea under night stars. It doesn’t quite come off, the cumin and nutmeg are a little too brash and the blending is raw around the edges. I like the dryness of the assembly, the ambient drift of hazy sky, but the oud is muted and the opportunity to have created a unique chilly and arid night scent has been missed.
Onsen is another miss for me, just an aquatic too far. I know what the intention was, to try and capture an elusive Japanese bathing abstraction of woods, bamboo, steam and minerals, but it falls short in execution, the hinoki, pine and cypress smell more vegetal than bracing. Onsen is the Japanese word for hot springs and has transferred to the hugely popular industry in bathing facilities in inns hotels built near geothermic springs. Fundamentally rural in nature, they are a deeply engrained part of Japanese culture, soaking as a meditative pastime with some hope of physical benefits. Onsen bathing waters are highly regarded due to the mineral content, with a variety of health benefits attributed to immersion on the hot steamy brews. They are legally regulated; the waters must contain particular mineral elements for qualification. These include iron, sulphur, copper and sodium bicarbonate. With this in mind I really wanted a more sulphurous, bubbling volcanic undertone, smoke on the water, metal on the tongue. As Onsen opens, there is a fleeting damp pumice stone smell, but this fades off pretty fast. It just smells odd and not in a particularly interesting way, a little unfinished perhaps. This style of olfactory haiku is damn hard to hard, stillness and Zen are tricky concepts to convey.
I am a huge fan of David Moltz; a D.S.& Durga groupie, I am in awe of his beautiful, wild and emotive work. I own quite a number now, all different, all charged with the same shock and startling precision now that they had when I first acquired and smelled them. In my collection is Mississippi Medicine, a huge, spiralling religious conflagration of leaves, branches, viola and cypress offered up to gods above and the ashes then dug into the ground for the gods below. Oh it’s as bitter as death, shamanic and guttural. MiN New York’s ritualistic slow-burn patchouli, Shaman, echoes many aspects of the Durga piece but still has quirks and avenues of its own. Both scents combine a powerful birch tar/cade effect with the torn grassy whiff of violet leaf. This is Mindy Yang’s signature scent from the collection and I can see why, it fits perfectly with her passion for spirituality, transcendence and mystery. It is not exactly hardcore, not the charred assault of Mississippi Medicine, but something sweeter and more filtered green cathedral than eye-watering sweat lodge. The more I wear Shaman, the more I like its overcast, gentle menace. The smoke is the kind to comfort rather then scrub off or launder out of fibres and the scents descends gently into a fumy lullaby of woodsy vapour. Not my favourite right now; I have so many caliginous scents in the Foxy study, but I could love this in time, especially in the icy blasts of Edinburgh’s barren winters.
I saved the best till last, as one should. Moon Dust and Old School Bench, both of which are exceptional olfaction, packed with ideas, impact, nostalgia, beauty, echoes of familiarity and a mood of sensual transportation that I just adored.
Moon Dust is bleak, a fury of obsidian smoke out of the spray, a hard flinted note pushing through like a weapon. A slo-mo gunshot in alien air. It has a fabulous lurking soil note crumbled right through the composition. I love a bit of soil in my scent. Andrea Maack’s Coven and Norne by Slumberhouse all have dramatic burial and mulch facets I adore. The clawing decay of Coven is very different however from the desiccated fragility of black powder on display in Moon Dust. Benzoin, ozone effects and tobacco have been used to suggest shift and surface in the scent. There is a feeling at times of compression and claustrophobia and the shades of noir unfold. There is very little light; all is consumed by the pervasive glitter of night cinders. I smell cold chimney flues, layered in years of sooty neglect and emptiness.
Usually I have little time for smoke-themed scents; very few genuinely hit the mark, overdosing on cade, incense, olibanum or ubiquitous oud. When I do find ones I like, they possess mystery and void, something unexplainable. Theoretically they are the textbook symbolism of perfume, per fumum.. through smoke, gifting prayer, credence and supplication to the gods above. Smoke also cleanses, purifies; bodies, souls and illness have been purged with aromatic burning and sacred smoke. Moon Dust does things a little differently, by implying an off-world illusion of monochrome ambience, it suggests alienation and silence, as I inhale the abstract recipe of notes I cannot help but see austere vistas, cineral landscapes set to the sound of lonely breathing apparatus.
Old School Bench
Old School Bench is a delicious exercise in transference and nostalgia. I read the notes for this and thought ..oh please be as good as you sound.. It was. My first impression on smelling it was French literature, Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate in English) to be a little more precise. I don’t know how many of you have read this magical, heart-breaking book by Alain-Fournier? I studied it at Uni and re-read it and over.
It is narrated by a young man called François whose father runs a small country school in the Sologne heartland region of France. One day his school friend Agustin Meaulnes disappears, only to return with an incredible story of an extraordinary nighttime Fête Champêtre at an incredible chateau, where everyone was in costumes. There, Augustin meets the beautiful Yvonne de Galais, the girl who haunts his dreams. He spends the rest of the book trying to return to this mysterious place, to Yvonne and recapture that glittering costumed evening of love and happiness. The book deals with the powerful themes of friendship of young obsessive love, but also the complex transition into adulthood. But it is the exquisite writing of the school scenes that has always stayed with me, the day-to-day classroom stuff, the way the weather impacts on temperatures, the smell of wood and outdoors, the seasons unfolding around the restless pupils. It is these minutiae that seem to surface when I smell Old School Bench’s scent of wood, paper, chalk and skin.
Each time I wear Old School Bench I detect tiny nuances of moods, like the scratches and inherited graffiti of handed-down vintage desks. The sweetness of the scent is quite poignant in the drydown, tucked in amongst the heartfelt drift of varnish, chalk and ink-stained paper. The rum, chocolate and vanilla lay down a soft moreish gourmand sensation over the woods, patchouli and rather bitter vetiver base notes. Wood wax is listed as a note; now abstract facet or not, this is the thing I like the most, the sniff of dripped, sullied candle wax on fraught wood. It slowly rises through the notes on skin as the scent relaxes. A touch of citrus in the top is just enough sunlight spilt across paper and deserted desks in a forgotten studio.
Old School Bench is the most rewarding and captivating fragrance for me out of a complex, ardent gathering of olfactory ideas. But there are threads to be followed in each of the Scent Stories; we all have different olfactory histories and developmental arrangements. Our connections to aroma have been carefully orchestrated since birth to mould, move and manipulate us. In many ways we are prisoners of our olfactive history. This elaborate and ambitious roll out of perfumes from Chad and Mindy at MiN New York is not without flaws, but then, we are flawed also. Perfection is highly overrated and as I have aged and watched those around me either rise or fall, I have realised of course that true beauty lies in imperfection, fallibility and the journey of discovery. I like my flaws and damage.
It has taken me some time to work my way through Scent Stories; revisiting them to find them altered, my perceptions shifted and surprised. I would add Old School Bench, Moon Dust and maybe Magic Circus to my collection, that particular dust-bowl carny gourmand gets better with every wear. As snapshots, a sheaf of atmospheric Polaroids, the collection is awash with hooks and themes for all of us. We all have stories and MiN’s aromatic tales are familiar and elusive like all good fiction.
Botanist artwork: Mandragora by MS Waldron
Long Board image: Joyce Hoffman, women's world surfing champion with longboard in San Juan, Capistrano, California.
Shaman image: Gary Latham photography - The Fire Walkers of Baining
Dahab image: 'Skeleton Coast, Nimibia' by Catherine Rouse.
Any editing and Apping of images, by TSF.