Friday, 29 April 2016
‘Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world’
2014 saw the launch of Myrrh Casati, the first wholly new composition from Maison Mona di Orio since the tragic death of the perfumer from surgical complications in December 2011. It was inspired by the wantonly complex Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Soncino, a flamboyant and possessed creature obsessed with art, arcane rituals, death, sex who created for herself a world of calculated shock and artistic awe. It was the first in the new Monogram Collection, a series of perfumes, devised by Creative Director and Brand Co-founder Jeroen Oude Sogtoen ‘based on the fundaments of Maison Mona di Orio… inspired by art, nature and light.’
The Monogram, alongside the Signature and cult Nombres d’Or Collections form the three main arterial lines of the house. Signature contains reissued compositions, so far, the sparkling bestial Nuit Noire and unctuous glitterball Lux. Nombres d’Or, inspired by the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion contains Mona’s masterpieces showcasing the classic perfumery tenets; Oudh Osmanthus (originally Oudh), Vanille, Musc, Vetyver, Cuir, Eau Absolue, Ambre, Tubereuse, the posthumously released Rose Etoile de Hollande and Violette Fumée that Mona originally created privately for Jeroen from his scented memories.
Saturday, 2 April 2016
I wanted to try Zoologist’s Bat and Hummingbird for a while; they sounded pretty bonkers to be honest but in a textured and fertile way. They seemed daring and artistic, heartfelt and whimsical. I liked the allure of the dandified steampunky personifications of the scents gazing mysteriously from the boxes like animal Mona Lisas. I really wanted Bat quite badly actually, I’d read amazing things about this cavey, funky furred olfactory collaboration between Zoologist Creative and Brand Director Victor Wong and independent perfumer and bat echolocation specialist Dr Ellen Covey of Washington State University. I kinda knew it would be fabulous. Weird but Attenborough fabulous.
Recently I’ve been writing less. It’s the way it is. But the writing when it comes is more dense and passionate; it must be driven and inspired by olfaction that really intrigues me, moves me or delivers something else in terms of experience. Yes, there will always be houses, brands and noses I adore and report on. I am loyal and love to watch development, reflection, adaptation and genuine emotional shift. Things don’t always have to be magnificent or gloriously luxurious, but they must be intriguing, invite desire, repeat visitation and scented conversation. I must want it on my skin and want to revel in persuasive brilliance.
|Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes|
Somehow I knew Bat would be all this. I chatted to Victor through (for me) night electronica; Zoologist is based in Canada and I said hello, wondering if there were any UK stockists. It turned out there weren’t so I purchased Bat through picturesque Zoologist website and waited. End of the week, the kindest, sweetest gesture that moved me immeasurably, was Victor’s gift of a bottle of Hummingbird nestled next to my purchased Bat in a speedily delivered parcel. Gorgeous packaging. I set the boxes down, a haughty aristocratic bat and Jane Austenesque hummingbird peering coyly and enigmatically from their black, Victoriana-style livery.
|Beaver, Panda & Rhino|
Now, when Zoologist Perfumes first appeared in 2014 with Panda, Rhinoceros and Beaver I will admit I was a tad sceptical, whilst the packaging and beautiful illustrations of the perfumes by Daisy Chan, who is one of Victor’s co-workers at Ganz, a toy company where he is a Senior 3D video game artist in his day persona were alluring and fun, the brand concept seemed a little gimmicky and simplistic. This turned out to be an erroneous reading of a heartfelt and charmingly conceived brand. I had some samples of Panda and Rhinoceros, both created by US based perfumer Paul Kiler. I liked the aquatic, jadeite grace of Panda, it’s not my thing, but the execution is clean and thorough. Rhinoceros is a mucky leather, bone dry, a suggestion of the thick animal hide pushing and scraping its way through arid savannah bush. I wasn’t keen on the development of this slightly off balance composition; I feel the herbs and immortelle are just tipped over the edge by the rather uncomfortable bitter smoky facet in the base. Rather than the sweeping aromatics of brush fire the notes seem tinged with an unpleasant melted black rubber aroma. It’s a fleeting impression and of course a subjective one.
When it came to sampling Beaver I was really impressed. I love castoreum as a note in scent. Now almost always synthesised, as originally it was obtained from the castor sacs of American beavers, it has an unparalleled musky, woody, arid, rosaceous, skanky aroma that many people find very sensual. Beaver is a strikingly dry and aerated hymn to this most bizarre and erotic of perfumery materials. A synth version obviously but is smells gorgeously well dressed, feral and rude. It is a beaver chewing down trees for a treasured fuggy insulated lodge. A scent of unexpected corners and edges that talented British perfumer Chris Bartlett has mixed with choice musks and sweet bestial castoreum. The use of linden blossom is arresting, it acts like air-con, breezing a gentle path through the undergrowth and fumy atmospherics of Beaver’s rather unsettling later stages.
It is technically a very dapper scent, the abstracted fresh air, ash, smoke and undergrowth effects are not merely dazzlenotes, but carefully constructed aromachemical fictions used to support Beaver’s chewy leather dexterity and whiffy impact. Many fragrances use castoreum with reckless abandon, just to conjure up an overwhelming porno-excremental backhander. Chris Bartlett has adroitly avoided this all too obvious and frankly rather tedious route by setting his still undeniably animalic Beaver in a blithe, vivid landscape of powdered earth, clean air, sun on water, trees whispering on smoke-tinted breezes and a musky intrigue of dark, dank bed and banks. It all coalesces into a perfume of considerable skill and unexpected charm. It has gorgeous, swelling presence on skin, not for the faint of heart mind you, castoreum is an acquired feral taste, but revisiting Beaver for this review, I realised how complex and balanced the mix was and how much I enjoyed Chris Bartlett’s expert handling of the Zoologist brief.
|Foxy's Bat & Hummingbird|
Bat and Hummingbird appeared in 2015, created by dynamic US perfumers Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington respectively. It seemed obvious to me that this duo of perfumes was different from the original trio, richer, more pungent, fertile and experimental. It felt to me that Victor had pondered reactions to his line and thought very carefully about his follow up collaborators. The fecundity and cornucopia of aromatic styles on display chez Covey’s Olympic Orchids and Waddington’s En Voyage perfume houses has earned these creative women critical plaudits and a devoted following.
|Blackbird by Ellen Covey|
Ellen Covey made the final round of the Art and Olfaction Awards in 2014 with Blackbird, a scent of blackberries, fir and elemi and again in 2015 with her arboreal call to arms Woodcut, an alarmingly beautiful and poignant cedar scent with a wise and wonderful singed sugar accord burned through it as if to remind us that whilst our skins may be decorated and enhanced, trees fall silently in distant lands that we might exude woody sensuality, build, sit, carve, heat and power our rippling world. Woodcut took home the award in the Artisan Category and rightly so.
|Ellen, Woodcut & the Art & Olfaction kudos....|
Olympic Orchids launched its first fragrances in 2010. Ellen’s accidental sideways move into orchid husbandry after a work colleague bequeathed her some plants led her into a passionate and detailed scientific relationship with these most notoriously complex and alluring of blooms. This preoccupation with the orchids led her into perfumery and compositions such as Osafume, Red Cattaleya and African Orchid. She does hold a post at Washington State University in the Department of Psychology, (she originally studied chemical senses, more specifically chemosensory awareness) teaching courses on senses and perception. This lead to an interest in hearing and very precisely and most importantly for us, echolocation in bats.
|Dr Ellen Covey|
perfumer, creatrix, bat specialist & orchid grower
So, Dr Ellen Covey, indie creatrix of Olympic Orchid Perfumes, owner of Olympic Orchids orchid nursery, bat expert and scent specialist approached Victor at Zoologist to see if he might be interested in creating a bat-themed perfume. Ellen’s extensive scientific experience with bats and their sensory communication systems had allowed her to travel on a variety of field trips, experiencing a diversity of bat habitats that have informed this most extraordinary of aromatic recipes. From cramped eaves and claustrophobic grottoes to soaring cave cathedrals, bats use a unique system of communication to talk to one another as they fly and assemble or move out of caves in vast numbers. But their echolocation system is used in its purest form to catch prey; the winged furry mammals are able to identify insects and pinpoint distance etc by bouncing their radar-like squeaks off insects’ bodies. A series of echoes form an exact picture in the bat’s brain of the cricket, mayfly or moth for example winging its way through dark space.
The fact that bats choose to dwell in darkness and paint pictures in the dark with sound just thrills me to foxy bits. So Bat was set in motion, with Ellen and Victor I imagine both initially having quite different ideas about how a bat themed scent might smell. The finished result is anomalous and wondrous, unlike anything I have really smelled before. I have picked up on pieces of Bat in other compositions (Andrea Maack’s soil tincture in Coven and Josh Lobb’s hemlock/pine symbiosis in Norne to mention a couple), but the erudition and olfactory skill that has gone into the blending and character creation of Bat is exemplary
On first encounter Bat is quite a shock, an olfactory landscape of seemingly discordant and inappropriate aromas for fine perfumery. The initial hit of geosmin is outrageous, but of course perfect for this scent. Bats love geosmin and are ultra sensitive to it; many night-blooming flowers and cacti exude it to attract pollinators. We love it too; it is the odour of turned earth, petrichor and rain. It was first isolated by Bush Boake Allen (now part of IFF) and is currently synthesised. Normally used at a dilution dosage of 0.1% Geosmin is a very powerful aromachemical, the smallest trace of which that can have a huge impact on fragrances. I must admit to being quite obsessed by its weird, muddy compulsion. Its effects can vary from the tremulous promise of rain, the loamy taste of fresh beets to stale muddy water, rumbling taps spurting brown water and the sticky manure reek of turned topsoil.
|Cave. Floor. Bats.|
In Bat, geosmin is bat breath, muddy gloom, a glittering shifting carapace floor, dead banana and fig, chewed, digested and shit out from on high, the mineralised odour of millennial cave walls. Ellen Covey wanted a very deliberate overdose of geosmin to suggest this very particular assembly of habitats she had knew well through her research and field trips. Fluttering through her geosmin net are her beloved bats, these strange flying mammals some of us love and some of us fear. Chiroptophobia is the name given to the phobia of bats, derived from the Greek words cheir for hand and pteron for wing. Winged-hand; the perfect bat description. Despite my personal abhorrence for birds, bats don’t bother me in the slightest, I came across them a lot during my childhood in Africa, their little foxy, canine faces, leathered frames coated in the most tranquil, soft fur fascinated me. I always remember how immensely fragile they seemed, their wings like warm malleable silk.
|I am not afraid...|
Bat is all about the geosmin, its particular overdosing and redolent effects on the surrounding materials and subsequently on our senses and how we interpret the composition; how our senses locate themselves within Ellen Covey’s complex skein of mulchy, naturalistic olfactive experience. It’s coincidental I have just purchased another remarkable scent that uses geosmin along with a number of other unusual and revelatory aromachemicals such as Calypsone and Petalia. This is Hermann à mes Cotés me Paraissait Comme une Ombre by Etat Libre d’Orange, created for them by the stylish and stubbornly single-minded Quentin Bisch who made their enigmatic Fin du Monde and the over indulgent Ambre Impérial for Van Cleef & Arpels. Mugler have just announced the launch in May of Angel Muse, a new reflection/interpretation of the original maltol behemoth. Bisch is the nose for this too, a sweet honour for a young perfumer with only a few scents under his belt. But his slick buttered popcorn accord in Fin du Monde is to die for.
|Hermann à mes Cotés me Paraissait Comme une Ombre|
by Quentin Bisch for Etat Libre d'Orange
He has used geosmin very differently in his Etat perfume. Hermann. It is a essentially a perverted rose, slashed, shadowed and dank, carried in bloody hand through darkness, thorns cutting, leaves and petals falling to moon ribboned floor. Thankfully this brooding, fairy-tale scent is a return to form for Etat Libre d’Orange after a succession of lacklustre and childish fragrances that seemed to contradict the very foundations of the original House message of innovation, olfactive war and anti-perfume. True Lust Rayon Violet de Ses Yeux was an uninspired mash up of Putain des Palaces and Dangerous Complicity and Remarkable People was anything but, a flattened out champagne accord lost amid overtly crude, uncooked spices. But Bisch has used his imagination with Hermann to suggest a savage bloom, dripping with minerals and soil, held up to thunderous sky. Petalia is a Givaudan molecule with a deep, rich rosaceous peony pitch to it; blending this this with citric marine Calypsone and the mulchy, petrichor redolence of geosmin has allowed Bisch to formulate an immensely odd and bleak bloom but one that is compelling and gothic in tone.
Bisch’s handling of geosmin to darken the edges, tearstain the mood of his ambitious Grimm rose. It is a nuanced performance, strong in scent, covert and elegant in execution, suggesting forest floor, roots, and roses torn from shadowy hollows. Ellen Covey never had any real intention of nuance; the geosmin in Bat is a mood character, a darkening clime.
|Whose Banana? by Luis Alegre|
(apped by TSF)
The strong opening salvo in Bat is ripe banana and fig. I haven’t smelled banana this good since Bertrand Duchaufour’s tropical 40s hothouse love affair floral Amaranthine that Penhaligon’s ruthlessly crushed into the mud some years ago with scant regard to its beauty, citing as usual the wearisome refrain of expense and poor sales. It is such a bloody hard note to get right, rubbery, creamy, porny and downright rank if you’re not careful. Bertrand married it to green spiced oils and most glorious ylang and jasmine duo, lending Amaranthine a radiant silken boudoir aroma, laced with dirt and post-coital fumes. Ellen’s banana note is ripe, yellow and bruised. Chewed, dropped, discarded, defecated to the profound cave floor to rot or consumed by the glittering army of insects and bacteria that power the cave systems.
The rootiness and resins, smoke and earth suggest age and eroding subsystems, centuries of dripping attrition, tree root intrigue, lianas, landslides, encroaching forests and lichen eating and breathing in the cavernous gloom. This background is perfect for Bat, a ghostly suggestion of bats themselves, shrouded in protective obscurity, in their colonies of thousands, their membranous apricot-tinted wings, folded to shelter and insulate in the clicking shadows of the caves.
Bat has shock value; the stormburst dose of petrichor ensures I am quite obsessed by the conjured furry world of beating, flitting, and squeaking pungent mammalian panorama. As it opens, it becomes very dark very quickly, muddy and a little repugnant, the slippery, tactile fruit notes jarring deliberately with the resins and bitter vetiver. There is an undeniable bleak guano reek in the mid to late stage of Bat that you must embrace. It is glorious and necessary. The conflict in Bat of this feral reality, the warm army of furred mammals assembling amid the dizzying green fizz of geosmin and decay of fruit and damp cave walls is a swooping, turbulent journey. It will go into my Olfactory Cabinet of Wonder with Sogno Reale by Mendittorosa, Andrea Maack’s Wicca-bound Coven, the green cathedrals of Norne by Slumberhouse, Mink by Byredo, CdG’s tape and glue stained Eau de Parfum, Vero Kern’s salacious monumental Onda, Romanza by Masque Milano and Fundamental by Rubini Profumo. Ellen Covey’s innate understanding of her subjects, both pteropine and aromatic has led her to create a perfume of divisive complexity and rare ambience. This perfume is an ode to dense atmospheric road trips and locations, temperatures, weather, fauna, flora, habitat and odiferous experience. It is the most divine expression of sensual scientific endeavour.
Hummingbird, composed for Victor by Shelley Waddington, while completely opposite in mood and fabric to Bat is still also a perfume of dazzling profundity and luminous experience. Shelley is the much-lauded nose behind En Voyage Perfumes, based in Carmel in northern California. Launched in 2011, the brand has never really appealed to me all that much, the mix of styles and leapfrogging form genre to genre with a touch of recklessness is entertaining but ultimately somewhat tiring. There are moments of scented impulse; Fiore di Bellagio is a brave attempt to tackle a wrecked vintage boudoir floral with a genuinely excellent carnation note set amid smutty resins, creepy costus and gunshot residue of iris. A vixen lipstick scent that smells unashamedly right. But as always with perfume, each to their own and En Voyage doesn’t need me to wear or love its perfumes, Shelley has fans galore.
|Frida - En Voyage Perfumes|
Shelley did however really pull it all together in 2015 with the launch of Frida, gaining plaudits and critical acclaim from bloggers and fragrance lovers all over the world. Essentially a heady tuberose and Champaca-drunk homage to Mexican art, pain and eyebrow icon Frida Kahlo, Frida drips with beautifully rendered watermelon, peach and apricot notes. The use of hibiscus, cactus flower, copal and a defiantly sweet feminine tobacco note make Frida a fascinating and ever shifting composition to wear on skin. It vibrates colour and urgency, demands your attention and yet as you wear it, you feel somehow the smoke and incense are in some ways a nod to the gods, a per fumum offering amid the sweet bewilderment of floral fruited dazzle.
It is a feature of Shelley’s undeniably joyful work that her palette of gleefully gathered materials just sings out of bottles, off skin. There is an instantaneous recognition of exuberance and succulent tableaux, the ingredients harmonising and infusing to delight and beguile the senses. You feel this exuberance as soon you spray Hummingbird on the skin. Victor is very proud of this collaboration with Shelley and so he should be. To be honest, I had no real idea what to expect; yes I’d read the longer than average list of notes, overflowing with fruits, florals, woods, musks and oddly worrying cream thing. With Bat, whilst it was magnificently surreal and unexpected, I hoped it would reek the way it did. With Hummingbird I had images in my head of nectarous glow, petals glittering with sun, hummingbird gorgets refracting raspberry, emerald and blood toned light. Hum, buzz, sticky luminescence. I couldn’t quite imagine the notes on paper coalescing into a cogent formulation without at least some cacophony or shriek. The absolute opposite is true in fact, some of my anticipated desires for Hummingbird exploded out of Shelley’s lush cannonade of bravura floral technique. But no shriek, just beauty.
I need to backtrack a little and muse on hummingbirds, after all, their nature and physiology informs the emotional content and configuration of Shelley’s composition just as much as Ellen’s background and expertise in bat behaviour and habitat informed her singular formula. I will admit I not a huge fan of birds generally, not entirely sure why, they bore me and freak me out in equal measure. Is it the wings, the beady eyes, feathers, the weird OMG feet? Just not sure. Hummingbirds however like birds of paradise seem rather surreal, fabricated, offbeat and dizzying. I’m not sure I’ve really taken much notice of these tiny hovering bird-insects before and yet I’ve seen them up close in Africa, buzzing intoxicatingly over blood-red bell flowers in, gorging on molten nectar, their blue and rust coloured gorgets flashing in the West African sun.
They are the world’s smallest species of bird; in fact the Bee Hummingbird is only 5-6cm long. They have the highest metabolism of any member of the bird family, beating their wings 50-60 times a second, driving a ferocious heartbeat and stamina. They need to consume their own bodyweight in nectar everyday in order to maintain this punishing existence. They are able to manoeuvre their flying forward, backwards and from to side. All this takes a huge toll on the tiny birds. They do rest; they have odd feet, evolved beyond walking to a continual state of being airborne, but they need to stop, switch off. This state is called torpor, essentially a summoned form of adapted hibernation, where the hummingbird’s bodily functions slow down to 1/15th of its normal active state. It’s a precarious time for the birds. Too exhausted, they fail to wake and they are at the mercy of inclement weather and predators.
Hummingbirds are of course essentially nectarivores and over time have evolved in certain global habitats alongside certain blooms, developing peculiarities of tongue, beak and nectar harvesting. They are odd, potentially doomed little things, usually hours from death, unless they can ensure an adequate source of nectar. This manna is a mix of glucose, sucrose and fructose and fuels the little humming, eternally flying things. They do supplement this sugary, addictive regime with winged bugs for added proteins and I guess as a touch of variety from the crack cocaine rush of continual sugar.
They don’t sing. I found this out during my reading, but honestly, who would have thought they had the time or the inclination to stop, trill, chirrup etc. Far too busy staving off death. Instead, their dazzling gorgets, the iridescent tightly overlapping breast feathers are often dazzlingly hued in shades of ruby, malachite, azure, gold, emerald and honeyed ochre. As they zip through sun-kissed air, these refractive feathers glitter like red-carpet parures. They hover, dip and harvest nectar their tiny wings vibrating, humming.
Shelley has brought her full talent as an intuitive perfumer to bear on this ephemeral, scintillating concept, balancing delicacy and lushness, harmonising the demands of a hugely fruity backdrop of blushing apple, cherry and simmering plum with a vividly rendered bouquet of honeyed blooms such as tulips, lilac, muguet, rose, violet leaf, honeysuckle, mimosa, peony and ylang absolute. Some real, some aromachemical creations, it doesn’t really matter, the suggestion and picaresque sleight of hand is enough. Like the hummingbird though, Shelley’s composition darts beautifully from mood to mood, palette-to-palette, assembling odiferous nectars, sugars and pollen to assuage cravings and dazzle our senses.
Hummingbird is a creamy topography of floral flicker and glow; nectarous dip and enticing foliate fanfare. But and it’s an intriguing and important but, beneath the undeniably and unctuous assembly, as time smears down on skin, there is an unorthodox aromatic stain underpinning the fruity hovering celebration. It is I think a craving for rest and safety, stillness, a nest to repose weary wings and unconventional feet. The base of coumarin, woods and airy moss feels entwined, the ylang and amber somehow softly glazed and precious. You need these final offbeat tones and emotions to prevent Hummingbird collapsing into a generic wedding clutch of overdesigned flowers. I like this suggestion of dirt, muckiness, it does have a whiff of the unclean as the flowers fade and the fruits ripen. I am very addicted to the oscillating density and transparency of Hummingbird, it is a piece of olfactory work that truly delights and transports me each time I wear it.
Bat and Hummingbird mark a definite evolution for Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes. Rhino, Panda and Beaver were very good, especially Chris Bartlett’s controlled and swanky Beaver. But Bat and Hummingbird are like works from an altered period in an artist’s development. An exaggeration? Perhaps, but the tactile sensuality and technical virtuosity revealed in both compositions are superlative. They are mournful twilight vs. the ephemeral rays of dawn break. Whilst Ellen and Shelley’s’ work seems different in style, the duo’s approach to Victor’s brief have both used committed imaginative focus of naturalistic palettes, olfactory hints of gothic-tinged impressionism, pointillism, Flemish genre painting, Henri le Douanier, Edgar Allen Poe and Frida Kahlo mixed into a impressive fusion of expertly handled raw materials, naturals, conceived accords, molecules and flexible abstractions.
Ellen Covey’s dank potholey Bat interior is musty and thrillingly weird in its enveloping furry flitting construct; discarded fruit, mineral bouquets of guano, cave rot and warm mammalian occupancy. I am helpless in its macabre mulchy ambience; it feels revelatory, sweetly repugnant, addictive and a perfume I know will always make me stop and wonder, revel in its dark force.
Shelley’s glorious winged floral Hummingbird journey is exhaustingly lovely, skin a lush buffet of ambrosial petals, snapped stems and oozing scattered nectar. Everything is chromatics, speed, dazzle and capture. Then that swooning lilt into mucky rest and oddly tangled nest, heart roaring, but roaring less, tongue and beak slick with flower blood.
Victor’s brand is a fascinating one; the possibilities are of course endless when it comes to choosing potential animal candidates to inspire perfumers. This will be the relatively easy part, it will the judicious arrangement of perfumer/creator and olfactory animal totem that will be vitally important. Zoologist will need scent artists with flexibility, imagination and ability to think outside the perfumed box and play with aromatic weather. There are some incredible independent perfumers out there who I think could conjure up extraordinary animals: elk, tigers, mongooses, cranes, flamingos, pangolins, binturongs, gorilla etc. People like Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery, Scottish perfumer Euan McCall, John Pegg of Kerosene, Heather Sielaff of OLO and Hans Hendley of Hendley Perfumes; all of these guys have created original textured and artistic work, reflective of themselves and landscape.
Victor’s challenge will be to decide or imagine how the olfactory zoo and the perfumers might correlate and produce work as good as the collection so far and in the case of Ellen Covey and Shelley Waddington bring such personal and quirky virtuosity to perfumes like Bat and Hummingbird.
Keep a close eye on Zoologist perfumes and Victor Wong’s increasingly sophisticated clan of superior dapper animals; destined to delight and fascinate us with each beautiful rendition of tooth, claw, fur, wing, hide, beak, tail, paw and hoof. These perfumed habitats and manifestations of animalic intent are sensational.
For more Information on Zoologist Perfumes, please click on the link below: