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

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Between Flinted Spoor & Sky – ‘Neandertal’ by Kentaro Yamada & Euan McCall

I firstly admit this piece will be a personal one. It has to be. The perfumer Euan McCall is a dear friend and someone I have known and worked with for years. However, I would not be reviewing the two chiaroscuro reflections of Neandertal if I did not think they were worthy of consideration. Euan and I are both intensely private men with high personal standards when it comes to our work: his olfaction and my writing. I inhale his work. He reads mine. I have observed the genesis of Neandertal and sampled the various mods along the way of what eventually coalesced into the Light and Dark versions of the compositions.

Euan is voraciously self-taught, obsessed with the beauty and power of perfume from an early age thanks in part to his own clinical, acquiring nature, perfectionism and a grandmother who wore only the most beautiful classic perfumes and instilled in him the importance of scent as statement, raiment and bijou. He has acquired an astonishing amount of knowledge since I have known him, organic chemistry, reverse engineering and the nuts and bolts of assembling a multitude of differing accords, bases and mods. He has set about making himself into the perfumer I think he has always wanted to be.

Euan + Lily

 We have worked alongside each other now for years in a small Edinburgh-based fragrance boutique, laughing lots, occasionally bickering, sulking, learning from each other, but mostly laughing so damn much. We worked together on a few olfactory projects, but to be honest my heart (and talents..) do not lie in perfume creation. I am a writer, poet and evaluator. I can sample, inhale, sniff, wear, laud, love and wax lyrical on scented assembly and emotional impact, however Euan has an innate understanding of fragrance chemistry and construction. 

Mouilettes, numbers & materials

He has honed and deepened this skill with self-study, market research and the steady, relentless creation of accords, bases, riffs and scents. His carefully gathered collection of oils and synthetics is mightily impressive and has dramatically helped to enrich and inform my own writing and connections to the often technically demanding entourage of olfactory flim-flam and obfuscation. 

Overhead of Euan's workspace

The only way to really understand materials, their nuances and interactions is to smell, build and experiment. And Repeat. It is a rigourous discipline, more akin to science and mathematics with the complexities and minutiae of actual material weight and the more abstract exigencies of weighing off the effects and themes against one another. The relatively clinical role of combining ingredients seems straightforward enough and yet behind the science is a powerful and dramatic assembly of knowledge; the subtlety of floral aromatic sculpture, molecular tenacity, complimentary effects and polarising flora, an awareness of skin as canvas.. dirty, seductive and alluring. 

Euan's workbench with lily

Fragrances are composed like musical compositions, notes, flowing over, in and out each other, rising falling, pianissimo, crescendo, aubade and coda. This of course is true for contemporary niche and artisanal perfumery; high street, big budget scent creation strides a different client-led budget-controlled path which while it might have some artistic credibility and imagination glimmering behind it is essentially a big-bucks driven behemoth that must move enormous unitary in order to justify blockbuster ad campaigns, models, movie stars and mini-movies.

There is room for both niche and mainstream. We need both in fact, just as light needs dark. Everyone needs choice. Euan and I have spent a lot of time together talking scent over the years and sniffing nearly 2000 perfumes, colognes, eaux de toilettes and extracts. We’ve gone on sampling excursions and keep a close eye of the industry. As a writer and blogger I buy a lot of good scent and send off for a large array of samples which we enjoy or don’t enjoy dissecting. One of the nicest things about my commitment to writing on niche and the connections I have made and maintained is the kindness and generosity of independent perfumers and small brands when it comes to sending out samples of their work. This constant aromatic exposure to what is happening in the perfume world is vital to me as a writer and olfactory observer, but also helps keep Euan in the loop. To be honest it’s pretty rare that things really catch our attention these days. Collections or perfumes have to be really exceptional or at least intriguingly flawed. There is just so much monotony, copying, dilution and safety.

Jean-Claude Ellena by Richard Dumas
(Image copyright Hermès)

Euan’s perfume idol has always been Jean-Claude Ellena, the in-house nose at Maison Hermes. I’m a fan too; it just took me a little longer to get there. The complete Jardin series sit in my collection and I reviewed the exquisite and tremulous Jardin de Monsieur Li earlier this year. 

Le Jardin de Monsieur Li
Monsieur Li - Foxy Review

Ellena is old school, a man who obsesses over seamless perfection, texture and transparency. Why use five hundred ingredients when you can use five? At Hermes the uniqueness of his contract with them dictates he only creates when the muse strikes, when he has something to say. Euan once said to me that despite all the constant references to Ellena as a minimalist, in order to be ‘a true minimalist you have to understand your work in the most extreme, the point where you have gone past perfection so the concept now feels lived in’. Ellena’s work on floral portraiture is extraordinary. His Iris Ukiyoe in the Hermessence series, while superficially a soliflore is much more than that. The delicate use of musks, irones and his trademark Iso-e-Super create a literal floating world of shifting mauve bleeds on the watercolour paper of skin. Euan introduced me to Ellena’s gorgeous Eau de Clair Merveilles, it is one of his fave Ellena compositions along with the scoured and melancholy L’Eau d’Hiver he made for Editions Frédéric Malle.

Red+MA: Antoine Lie for Blood Concept

His other favourite nose is also one of mine, the so-called enfant terrible Antoine Lie, an olfactory antidote in Euan’s words to the classicism of Ellena’s work. My collection is stuffed with the cyberised flora and rubbered sexual hinterlands of Lie’s fabulous aromachemical visions. Daphne, Black and Eau de Parfum for Comme des Garçons, Tom of Finland for Etat Libre d’Orange, Latex for Uermi and the stunning vampiric RED+MA for Blood Concept. Euan’s a fan of Etat’s Les Sécretions Magnifiques, Lie’s bilge water and cum-edged floral; me not so much, it turns on my migraines, but there is not doubting Lie’s unerring ability to mine fragrance traditions for inspiration whilst laying down his own unnerving sense of beauty. His morbidly erotic and powerful Daphne is simply astonishing, translating his vision of the skeletal and eccentric heiress and her peripatetic life into a thrilling and twisted fumy indolic floral bower.    

The reason I mention these perfumers is to illuminate in part Euan’s textural and emotional inspiration as he embarks on his olfactory career, for while his gathering signature of studied flinty aloofness and feral flora blooms, the influences of Lie and Ellena can be felt in the weft and molecular weave of his relentless experimentation. We share a huge admiration for the scented architecture of Pierre Guillaume in his Parfumerie Générale, Huitième Art and Collection Croisière lines. Vero Kern is another contemporary perfumer we both admire greatly. Her work is endlessly fascinating, creating three singular interpretations of each perfume. I have Onda, Kiki and Rozy in my collection, treasuring their sexuality and echoes of vintage scented mastery. Euan loves a growl of animal in a scent, a cheeky smear of shitty hyrax, rutting musks, dirty, fur-matted castoreum. Liz Moore’s (Papillon Perfumery) recent porn-grenade Salome was fucking filthy, a contemporary Tabac Blond, lashed with Jicky, fag ash and rain on a neon-lit street, littered with tired whores. We loved it. 

Mona di Orio

And of course Mona di Orio. I have written extensively on Mona since starting this blog, her work matters to me immensely, her innate understanding of botanical soul, how to assemble the components with light and dark, use this sense of olfactive chiaroscuro to create a body of revelatory perfumes that seem to gather mystery and iconography each year that passes since her tragic death in December 2011. When we talked about her recently and revisited the collection, (I’m currently writing on Vanille and Musc ..)he said: ‘Mona di Orio’s structures are always enlightening… her work is to perfumery what Le Corbusier's ‘Modulor’ is to architecture.’


So bearing all this in mind Euan has been carefully devoting his spare time to becoming the perfumer he has always wanted to be. The Neandertal project came about via an introduction by a mutual friend we all share, Ericka Duffy, Canadian national, scent technician, coffee lover & barista, mixologist and fabulous beatnik polymath. She is a remarkable creature, one of those dynamic people that gathers, weaves and stitches like-minded folk together with an unerring sense of wonder, naiveté and cunning. She is an electro-folk salon queen with an obsession for jasmine and Thierry Mugler’s Alien.

The Harrods exclusive
Celebration Sensoreielle Gift Set

Ericka also introduced Euan to contacts she had at Courvoisier and he worked for them on a very unique project, the Célébration Sensorielle Gift Set, aimed at enhancing not just the brand’s existing luxury image but augmenting their clientele’s actual sensory enjoyment of the product. To this end, Euan worked to create a pair of scented candles, inspired by night and day aspects of 19th century Paris to compliment a bottle of Initiale Extra Cognac. The idea is one of sensual surround, immersion in taste and aromatics, synapses firing. This is on-going project with a lot of potential. 

Kentaro Yamada

Kentaro Yamada is a Japanese-born artist, currently London based, who graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts at the university of Auckland in 2004. He completed an MA in Fine Arts at The School of Art Institute in Chicago 2008-2009 and a second MA at Goldsmiths in London 2010-2011. He is a multi-disciplinary artist working in several media including ceramics, metal, found objects, installations, video, glass and sculpture. His work is concerned with the flickering state of ephemera between man and nature, how we move from light to dark, a lot of his work is preoccupied with shadow and the starkness of time moving over land and through lives. 

Knapping, casting, prototype.

Kentaro had already designed the distinctive flacons inspired by ancient knapping techniques to create tools and weapons. (These encase a 10ml vial of perfume) The bottles were based on an original knapped piece and then slip-cast in porcelain by a Portuguese manufacturer called Vise Alegre. For now each bottle has been hand-finished and numbered. 100 black and 100 white. They feel remarkable in the hand, precious tactile objets d’art that carry a potent visual echo of design provenance. 

Black & White flacons

Along with the images of the bottle and a black flacon prototype, Euan received an intriguing and complex brief for what was originally one perfume. The brief was detailed; videos, research info, visuals etc. Euan used this as the starting point for his interpretation of was to become in fact two versions of Neandertal. For the website he wrote:

‘If Neanderthals still walked the earth, how would their unique olfactory system influence their perception of perfume organoleptically?’. What odorants would Neanderthals have used and what materials would the 'modern' Neanderthal have an affinity with now. The fragrance is partly informed by materials available throughout ancient history, present day and in part conceptual’. 

We have only recently really accepted the idea that the descendants of modern man shared the earth with Neanderthals; the species walked side by side across the earth in certain regions for thousands of years and modern humans share 99.5% of their DNA with Neanderthals. These early genus homo had divergent physiological differences to modern man in response to their environment, climate, hunter/gatherer existence and reliance on fight or flight reactions to the 100% multi-natural sensory world around them. With shorter, more compact bodies, closer to the ground and most particularly a longer wider nose higher on the face than contemporary man. With this odd fact in mind it is not hard to imagine how Neanderthals were much more in tune with their senses: vision, hearing and perhaps olfaction too as they moved through their days inhaling the air for prey, weather change, sickness, fertility and danger.



This concept has been abstracted by Kentaro and distilled visually into his knapped porcelain flacon, an evocative shape that instantly conjures up a certain set of images in our minds which are deeply and emotively enhanced by further handling of the objects which are surprisingly light and seem like ghosts of Kentaro’s original idea. Euan’s perfume is a further abstraction of the olfactive Neanderthal: his personal translation of gathered materials into a vision of kinetic and mysterious connections.

When creating a fragrance I am first and foremost inspired by raw materials. The joy and challenge comes from translating these materials into a narrative that works in harmony with the original concept and inspiration.’ Euan McCall

The Dark and Light versions of Neandertal are equally as compelling as each other; they require one another. My personal preference is the lighter of the two (as is Euan’s..), but mixed on the skin, they are amazing. The split into two was a natural one that came about after nine months of refinement and sampling of mods. Sending samples back and forth to one another, Euan and Kentaro realised they had the possibilities for two variations, one a more intense, animalic, stony version for the original black bottle and a second lighter fresher interpretation with brighter, illuminated facets of the dark formulation which would be housed in the snowy white flacon.

Knapping the flint..

The knapping theme of the flacon is important and is echoed through both perfumes as a flinty mineral character, inspired by the odd, sharp hot mix of spark and stone created during the stone knapping process. I was struck too, particularly in the Light version of Neandertal, of a working of texture, a certain glassy slide that worked flint has. Both scents have a delicate grain and moments of polished relief.

This heated flint aroma has been designed to be high impact, boosted by strong steroidal odorants such as cashmeran, sandalwood, musks and ambergris. Both have a particularly beautiful motif of earthy saffron married to a piquant ginger absolute. Added to this is a really aromatic anisic caraway CO2 note that glazes the hearts in grey weather. The dark version uses oud over vetiver, patchouli and creamy shimmering cashmeran to suggest rooty verdancy. There is a weird pelty thing I love to bits, like dirty skin rubbed down in wet grass. Hinoki is hard to control, it can be as dull as hell when done badly. Euan has created his hinoki accord with oximes, terpenes, aldehydes and sparkling pink pepper. He has dropped it carefully into the top of both versions; however it seems more vibrant to me in the dark translation, enhanced with the bittersweet buzz of grapefruit and midwinter zing of tangerine. The medicinal underpinning of the oud is lovely in the drydown and is helped with just enough vanilla and mulchy galbanum.

Insert from Neandertal box

The Light version is more metallic and powdered to my mind and works better on my skin; the main point of difference being the switching out of the weightier oud, patchouli, labdanum and heavier musks in the base of the Dark rendition in favour of lighter, sweeter notes. This has produced a more aerated effect on the scent with Euan using vetiver as the foundation for a spinal oceanic texture that twists from head to base. This is fleshed out with a lighter more solar amber effect and a cashew nut and vanilla aroma that seems to bloom on my odd skin. Again the lovely ginger, saffron and caraway triumvirate glow at the heart, this time with less fire, but still beautifully bestowed with a velveteen magnolia touch and a smudge of myrrh and frankincense. There is a faint stickiness to the final stages of the Light version, as pieces of broken rose seem to filter through. It happens in the Dark version too, but quickly fades into the more noirish oudy, earthy base notes. Euan has used IMP as a solvent, at a slighter higher dose of 12% too (normally 10%), this deliberately lends Neandertal a denser, tactile texture, a sense of give on the skin. It sits initially on the skin like a reflective film before sinking in.

I love the latter stages of Neandertal Light; the mingle of salty metals, bud and scattered soil. The aromatics are delicious and tempered by a off-beat clash of solar/marine osmosis. Worn together it is the caraway, ginger and saffron threesome that seems to resonate and amplify, the ozonics and sweet citrus oils mingling with peppers and the subtle oud, creating a complex landscape that oscillates between flinted spoor and rolling sky.   

Euan + Lily II

These are mature works for a young man starting out in perfumery. But for as long as I have known him, Euan has been an old soul in young skin. He has a great future ahead of him as an olfactory artist; I am lucky enough to be sampling his work on regular basis. As I’m typing these final paragraphs I am wearing the delicious mod of a milky gourmand he has been working on. Last week we wore a lovely orange blossom that smelled like sepia-tinted vacations.

Neandertal Dark resting... 

This Neandertal project with Kentaro Yamada has provided Euan with an opportunity to unfold his skills and olfactive emotions. He is a private man and he will always use his work to speak for him. The language will be complex and discreet, artistic and purposeful. On a one to one basis he is delightfully funny, erudite and fiercely loyal to his friends. Like me he is fickle and explosive, dark and intensely self-critical. He is both passionate and highly judgemental about the perfume industry. I share this seemingly unpopular view. We adore mass market stuff as well the quirky thematic of niche, both of us are big Dior fans, Euan and I both consider Oliver Polge’s Dior Homme one of the best men’s launches of the last twenty years. And I adore Christine Nagel’s original Miss Dior Cherie, a masterpiece of popcorn drenched strawberries and sparkling musks. The lines are blurring between niche and high street perfumes and both sides produce good and bad, beauty and beast. It is a question of control, of your materials and remit, ideas and development.


For me personally, Euan’s skill is concerned with the thoughtful binding of naturals and dazzling synthetics, creating a skein of ideas that is reflected in his modulated notes and diagrams. He is a man who has built a dark carapace to protect himself from criticism and the annoyances of the mundane. But this carapace in certain light is iridescent and dazzling, like insect wings. The light has the aroma of vanilla, powdered woods and iris. Watch for his name.

For more information on the Neandertal project please follow the link below: 

©The Silver Fox 04 November 2015

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