|'L'Attesa' by Masque Milano|
L’Attesa is a worthy successor to Romanza, an austere, cryptic portrait of iris by Luca Maffei that wowed folk at Esxence in Milan this year. It is getting excellent reviews from bloggers and perfume lovers. I’ve taken my time with it.. you need to. It is a strange and complex perfume that solicits your attention and then seems to push you away, denying you access to its secrets. Luca Maffei can do no wrong just now, Masque Milano have launched L’Attesa just as Luca garnered another Golden Pear in the Independent category at the 2016 Art & Olfaction awards for Néa, one part of the Les White triptych by Jul et Mad. (He also composed Garuda in the same trio; Nin-Shar was made by Sidonie Lancesseur). I think Maisïa, the charred fig scent he made recently for his frequent collaborator Gabriella Chieffo is an incredible composition, a weird mix of seared concrete, ash, green fig and sweet sad air. His Houbigant Cologne Intense has been lavishly praised too as an expert interpretation of the cologne style scent, his handling of the citrus elements seemed refreshingly realistic and drenched in liquid sunshine.
I have a passion for iris scents; their buried silver beauty and rooty powder tug at me always. Despite the huge number of fragrance launches each year, the actual number of truly innovative or beautiful iris/orris perfumes is very small. I am usually underwhelmed and bored by the offerings or I admire the technical detailing, perhaps a decorative flourish and pass on by. Iris is hard to use, but it needs imagination and skill, an understanding of how the various irones, aldehydes and superlative concretes dose and calibrate in compositions. I could wear iris perfumes form morn till night, from birth till death and beyond, never tiring of the insect wing chill and chalky glissando. There is something otherworldly in the delicate settling of iris-scented structures. They have a bruised, haunted aspect that appeals to my increasingly macabre nature, as my mind plays in rooms long abandoned to dust and illness.
I have five beloved repeatedly worn iris fragrances. I’m not going to say they are the best ever… but they are my best. Cuir de Nacre is Bertrand Duchaufour’s ambrette-flickered iris for Parisian jeweller Ann Gérard who over the years has specialised in work with lustrous reflective intent, mother of pearl, opals and moonstone. The beauty of Cuir de Nacre as the name suggests is the nacreous cocoon of white suede that beds the iris. I would argue that Bertrand’s quartet for Ann, especially Rose Cut, Cuir de Nacre and Perle de Mousse, his delicate moist lily of the valley are among his finest work. The quality and feel of the work is beautiful.
|Penelope Tree lensed |
by Richard Avedon
at Truman Capote's Black & White Ball
Luca’s L’Attesa for Masque Milano is none of these things, despite its urgent champagne overture, for me this is an austere monochrome iris, a black and white Avedon portrait of a 60’s ingénue caught in masked flashlight glare. The tonal contrast is not one of starkness or brutal difference between light and shade, but one of veiled grain and wash. It is the first time I have really experienced an iris like this, normally I inhale the composition and play the chords and facets and sense glimmers of aromatic colour, but L’Attesa is very different, achromatic and mysteriously withheld. There is an unsettling dissonance between Luca’s iris triptych and the more carnal aspirations of his Madagascan ylang and stealthy tuberose. But all of these things make for a mesmerising experience.
There are three facets of iris used in L’Attesa, an Italian iris absolute, Italian iris root butter and French iris root butter, each of these particular materials have a slightly different personality, adding intricacy and gradation to the already rather elusive effects resting under that buzzy, yeasty champagne top.
|the precious iris rhizome..|
It is the rhizome or root of the iris that is used in perfumery; it is such a precious trembling commodity in the business and so damn expensive to use. The best is acknowledged as Iris Pallida from Italy. I think the Iris Germanica from Morocco is sublime too, diaphanous and steely at the same time, the powder that of ground stars. The roots of the iris are harvested traditionally between the months of July and September, approximately one ton of dried rhizomes will eventually produce four and half pounds of orris butter. The fresh roots are peeled to speed up the promotion of oxygenation, vital to the production of irones, a liquid ketone responsible for the valuable iris aroma. A period of four years is the ideal for hanging or maturation of the rhizomes.
|The perfume guys...(l-r) Riccardo, Luca & Alessandro|
The triumvirate of Alessandro, Riccardo and Luca could so easily have gone down a relatively conventional, albeit lovely dusted road, the iris note sueded and cool, powdered motes of louche playfulness caught in sunlight like summer pollen. It could have smelled of silver fur and cold pearls on warm aristocratic skin like Bertrand Duchaufour’s misunderstood but skeletal sexy Mon Numéro 8 for L’Artisan Parfumeur, his sublime homage to ghosts of Chanel past. But thankfully for us they did not. They went austere and formal, an iris masked, presenting itself with solemn sensuality and a sense of freedom that somehow you will be the talk of your senses for weeks to come.
|Kay Graham & Truman Capote |
arriving at the Plaza Hotel
On the evening on November 28th 1966, anyone who was anyone in American high society was making their to the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City for Truman Copote’s feverishly anticipated Black and White Ball held in honour of Katherine (Kay) Graham, the then Editor of the Washington Post, who had bravely and somewhat reluctantly assumed the position after the suicide of her husband Philip in 1963.
| Penelope Tree arriving at the |
Black & White Ball in 1966.
An image taken by Richard Avedon of a young sixteen-year-old ingénue called Penelope Tree arriving at the party in a slashed black tunic dress and baleful mask caused a sensation. With her strange half-open mouth and penetrating eyes staring out of her mask, long hair and exquisite bangs she brought a sense of elfin malevolence and modernity to the gathering. Despite her parents’ vociferous objections (they really didn’t want her to be a model..), she was the talk of the press and fashion world after the ball. Avedon’s image is partly surreal and partly reportage, Penelope enters the melée almost prepared for war, her mask, and protection against what is to come. A cat-masked man to her right seems louche and controlled, gazing out at us whilst at the back a woman in a oddly macabre white rabbit mask is caught mid-conversation in Avedon’s headlight.
However in 1966 he was the acerbic, puckish talk of the town, gleefully planning his ball in a series of black and white notebooks with the intensity of a novelist preparing to knuckle down and write the next big thing. Truman being Truman could not resist the teasing of who might be on the list as it were, he enjoyed those kinds of games. In the end his guest list exceeded its 480 to about 540 and was a mixture of people that Truman felt needed to be assembled in that place at that particular time. Yes, the room glittered with the beautiful and the damned, but also his Kansas associates from the Clutter investigation, PA’s, extended members of his lover’s family, writers, artists and of course the gilded rich of society’s elite.
|Sergeant Shriver & Eunice Kennedy|
He saw himself as a sort of wicked puppeteer, orchestrating and tugging at silken strings. Lauren Bacall, Jerome Robbins, Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Princess Radziwill, Oscar de la Renta, Jacqueline de Ribes, the Agnellis, Sergeant and Eunice Shriver, Candice Bergen, Gloria Guinness, and Tallulah Bankhead are just a handful of the people that graced the Plaza Ballroom that night.
|Candice Bergen with her |
Halston designed rabbit mask
Truman’s insistence on a monochrome theme was partly inspired by Cecil Beaton’s dazzling Ascot scene from My Fair Lady and partly because the colour coding was a leveller, allowing a sense of consistency across an eclectic guest list. And while attendees might try and outdo one another sartorially, it would all become one in the overall black and white thematics of the throng.
|Princess Luciana Pignatelli (L) wearing a Harry Winston|
diamond on her forehead instead of a mask
The masks would come off at midnight, but until then, they introduced a sort of social frisson, a perturbing barrier, the essence of classical anonymous masquerade. The room would be mostly full of the rich, famous and notorious but the masks at least for a while permitted an illusion of safety, remove and abandonment. A fleeting fantasy that all were one monochrome existence.
|Frank Sinatra & Mia Farrow|
The symbolism of Penelope Tree’s hypnotic entrance to the Black and White Ball is undeniable; Truman himself seemed unable to resist biting the gilded hands that had fed and caressed his coruscating ego for so long. By inviting symbols of the future and colliding them with the old guard may have seemed like fun in his devious notebooks, but in the cold light of day it was the mischievous denizens of 70’s pop art, music and cinema that would hold sway and the traditional structures of old style mannered society soaked in etiquette and brutal rules of birth right would begin to fade. His later unfinished book Unanswered Prayers, with it’s barely veiled (and often unflattering) portraits of many of his society friends, secret spilling and roman-clef tactics destroyed him and many of his former friends and supporters felt betrayed and abandoned him.
|The Fox, masked, |
party end, 2010
L’Attesa is this odd, singular party guest, a monochromatic iris, arrestingly captured at a Masque of melancholy quiescence. The utter aridity of the Italian iris is extraordinary, intensifying as the perfume beds down onto skin. The more gourmand facets of the French orris are sublime, performing like a halo, with the cold, white luminescence of LED lighting. One of the main taking points surrounding the launch of L’Attesa was Luca Maffei’s use of a champagne effect in the top of the composition, something that really shocks as the scents overtures from the bottle. It is one thing reading about and imagining how it might smell, but actually experiencing it is something else altogther. Perfumers often use witty aldehydes or generous bursts of pink pepper and cabreuva to suggest sparkle but Luca has used a stunningly weird Beer CO2 material (botanical name: Humulus lupulus) from Charabot. According to Luca it is a supercritical extraction from certain hops and fermented cereals. I asked him why he chose to use this and he said:
|Shattered grand cru....|
The three iris notes are illuminated by the force and bravado of this beery/yeasty opening. But it succeeds beautifully. The base notes of Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss and the whispered leather accord are ghostly, the ylang and tuberose hold their own, jarring a little, purposefully and a little arrogantly, their petals and waxen beauty refusing to bend under the monochrome powder of so much iris. Luca Maffei has an innate understanding of how to blend and counterpoise materials; each composition he creates has a sense of something immediate that you feel your skin desires. By using arguably traditional perfumery tropes, paying homage to grand florals, spices and resins Luca twists an eloquent spirit of aromatic sexuality into works of undeniable classic reference and modernistic yearning.
It is hard I think to make an iris perfume this aloof and enigmatic. They usually have a certain boudoir charm, a lipsticky glory, memories of fur and night. Others have rooty gourmand oddness, whiffs of ganache and grass. L’Attesa is about abeyance, distraction, waiting behind a veil of this most unusual construct of iris for the external world to somehow touch you. A party may be gathering momentum around you, voices and skin colliding, conversing; but you are poised on a cusp of awareness. Like most of Masque Milano perfumes L’Attesa has a sense of the narcotic and dangerous, it is something that Alessandro and Riccardo seem to filter through their operatic line. It is the stillness of L’Attesa that makes it so beguiling, an eye of the storm beauty as chaos rages at its environmental edges. Behind the mask, something rarefied and perceptive awaits.