‘I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.’
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.’
(From Mirror by Sylvia Plath)
My love affair with Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima began a number of years ago with a small parcel of carefully wrapped samples sent to me from Poland by my friend Jakub Piotrovicz, a very early Fox fan and now as some of you may know, the busy bearded dandy of the euro perfume scene and co-founder of the Persefume website with his friend Ola Cacha.
This is how it started. Loving the immortelle-drunk rose-soaked Le Mat, a truly beautiful proposition of Lynchian boudoir dreams inspired by the troublesome kitch of the Marseille tarot pack. Id, the closing volet in a personal trilogy on identity along with Alfa and Omega, a very strange love letter to a volcano, pitted, stony and bleak. A black, soft dream of sulphur with an overdose of labdanum that smells like beach noir.
South is a perfume I have fallen in love with slowly. I liked its eccentric attempt to suggest a southern Mediterranean mix of freshly baked bread and shattered nuts against a ground of white flowers and bright white washed linen drying in the sun. But when I first tried it, something didn’t quite click, my skin felt ill-fitted, but now it feels perfect, that expanse of white musk backdrop and scattered landscape of flowers, woods and carroty powder.
|Sogno Reale |
However I did fall quite obsessively in love with a deeply weird thing called Sogno Reale, a sea urchin leather, an odour of ocean dreaming, of lemon squeezed violently over seafood on a bright table in the sun, the air rich with brine and flecks of spray.
And with the following launches, Nettuno and Osang, I found my words and dazzlement flowed like lava from brand owner Stefania Squeglia’s sacred Stromboli, dark love and preoccupation with the motifs, rituals, organum and strange reverie that decorate the house.
|Stefania Squeglia & Amélie Bourgeois|
sampling Rituale (Image©Persefume)
Stefania who hails from Naples is a pale and compelling red-haired spirit who draws her inspiration from a multitude of fascinating and esoteric sources. Sanctified catholic blood rituals, tarotology, astrology, volcanology, the amniotic sea, children’s drawings and Plato’s cave myth have all been carefully, stylistically embroidered, burned and painted through the Mendittorosa palette by Stefania and the select perfumers she has chosen to work with.
|Le Mat (Image©TSF)|
These include Paris-based Amélie Bourgeois and Ann-Sophie Behaghel at Flair whose diverse and constantly evolving work across a pretty impressive roster of niche brand names is always fascinating to sample and wear. They seem to have an innate ability to work symbiotically with clients either as a duo or individually and the perfumes are vibrant, controlled and often just that little bit more leftfield.
|Ann-Sophie Behaghel & Amélie Bourgeois|
of Flair Paris.
Their perfumes for Liquides Imaginaries, Æther, Jovoy and Room 101 for example showcase imaginative perfumery with a clear head and a beating sensuous heart.
Osang was a more mysterious proposition, a truly astonishing odiferous thing, but in many ways this was Stefania’s homecoming, her passionate and mysterious hymn to the city that created her, Napoli. After living in France for a while, she decided to return to Naples and Osang, the sanguineous tribute to the miracle of San Gennaro and his sanctified, resurrected blood was an all too perfect subject for her Neapolitan return.
Osang’s theme of miracles and transmutation makes for rather extraordinary perfume storytelling. The call to liquefaction of San Gennaro’s sacred blood, coagulated and stored in crystal reliquaries is a hugely symbolic ceremony that takes place three times a year.
Religious or not it is hard to deny the glittering eccentricity and fervent adherence to something that on the surface seems like madness: a ancient saint’s blood liquefying in the presence of his gold-plated skull while the faithful chant his name. More often than not the miracle is secured, San Gennaro’s blood flows and the white handkerchief is raised to signal success. Neapolitans are born superstitious; numbers, lotto, charms, trinkets etc and they believe if the blood stays solid inside the arcas, bad luck and even disaster will befall the city and its inhabitants. Living as they do in the shadow of rumbling stratovolcano Mount Vesuvius, their fears and superstitions have a haunting logic.
Osang was something very different from the heart and mind of Stefania Squeglia, a more brutal and ritualistic scent, a perfume that smelled raw and burned; a high concentration of fenugreek absolute clashed with pyrazines, honey, herbs, meadow flowers and a weird after scent of disrupted storm air. The mix of sweet altar and charred aftermath with a whiff of volcanic drift was divisive. How could it be not? All the most beautiful and challenging things usually are. Stefania withheld the name of the perfumer saying only that it had been created by Napoli and its Huge Hope. Part of me senses her physical hand at work in Osang; it smells reckless and beautiful enough to be true.
The launch of Osang also coincided with a decision by Stefania to split her original Mendittorosa line in two with the duo of North and South and the trilogy of Alfa, Omega and Id remaining as Mendittorosa Odori D’Anima and Le Mat, Sogno Reale, Nettuno and Osang forming a new collection entitled Talismans Collezione Preziosa. I was very kindly invited by Stefania to create text for this phase of her evolution, creating language both for Osang and also for the Talismans creations, separating their unique identities out from the Mendittorosa mothership. This was a commission that brought me great joy, allowing me to really flex my linguistic skills and imagination.
The first Osang flacon was beautiful. A simple glass bottle but topped in a bespoke Capodimonte cap designed by sororal Naples artisans Nada for Nada that echoed ecclesiastical mitres. Drops of red sealing wax speckled the glass, symbolising San Gennaro’s blood. I actually gasped when my bottle arrived in the post, asleep in the new luxurious style boxes like a jewel. The original idea was a limited edition run but Osang will now continue to be very much a part of the Talismans universe, but each new edition will showcase a new cap.
|Osang New Edition|
Image from Mendittorosa/Talismans
(digitally altered by TSF)
The second one has only recently launched with a gorgeous gold cap again with a mitre echo but this time more armoured and defensive, the blood reflected in the crimson-coloured tassel that adorns the bottle. It also resembles the cupola dome of a renaissance church, the holes echoing windows cut, allowing light to stream down like holy rays on the faithful below.
Stefania launched Osang at Esxence 2017 alongside Rituale and Archetipo, two new additions to the Odori D’Anima universe and the beginning of a concept called Time Without Time. The pair was well received in Milan with lots of buzz from bloggers and visitors. Again exquisitely designed flacons with handmade caps of swirling metal tendrils like spaghetti, knots, roots or neural pathways. Amélie Bourgeois signed off Rituale and Italiano wonderboy Luca Maffei, one of the busiest independent perfumers around just now has signed off Archetipo, his first composition for Stefania and Mendittorosa.
It was at Esxence that Stefania finally revealed the emotive and personal origins of the Mendittorosa name. She had with her an identity card for her gracious grandmother Rosa Menditto.
|Digital image TSF|
Hence Mendittorosa Odori D’Anima translates quite simply and beautifully as scents of the soul and references her matrilineal heritage, which goes to the very heart of what Stefania is doing with her brand, creating perfumes that connect to us on a more profound emotional level. So much of Stefania’s curiosities and raptures are poured into the collaborations with perfumers, the symbiosis has to date produced some of the more original and exciting work in the niche sector.
|Archetipo & Rituale (Image©TSF)|
Rituale and Archetipo are among the best perfumes she has created, a quietly beguiling and shadowed duo of guttering flames, ritual, repetition and reflection. Amélie and Luca have brought the full force of their artistic olfactive talents to bear on Stefania’s complex briefs. The results are unique. The duo reflect and repel, stand alone and crave one another. I hear whispers of a third creation to join them in early 2018 so I await its arrival with great interest.
I think Rituale has nudged Amélie outside of her Flair comfort zone. The red berry harvest and bloody glitter of pomegranate could potentially have been messy and fruitchouli-ish; all pomegranate-stained fragrances run the risk of echoing Jo Malone’s behemoth oriental Pomegranate Noir, but Amélie is far too gifted a perfumer for that. There is still the subtlest of Pomegranate Noir flashes as Rituale rushes from the bottle, but this is quickly picked up, soothed and altered as the perfume develops into something more complex and unusual.
|Rituale by Mendittorosa Odori D'Anima|
My immediate impressions of Rituale are of using a knife moulded from rose petals to cut gently through the heart fruit of Amélie’s pomegranate, a mix of resistant skin and oozing sanguineous fascinating seeds. If you’re a fan of these remarkable fruits, you will know the earthy, tannic scented juice stains like hell. My chopping boards have terrifying stains running through them. I have a pomegranate tattoo on my right calf with six seeds falling like red tears; this is to echo the myth of Hades and Persephone I was told as a child by my mother and never forgot. Hades, desirous of Demeter’s wild and understandably reluctant daughter Persephone to be his underground bride, offers her a pomegranate. She consumes six seeds, thus committing herself to six months above ground, spring and summer and six below, autumn and winter.
The tendency is to err on the side of jammy, compote-scented aromas, the natural tartness and vibrancy of the berry scent lost in sweetness. Not in Rituale. The sudden loveliness of torn rose petals and cut piquant fruit is quite different. This intriguing opening is then washed in aldehydes, green gauze flickers at the senses, just enough to register interference but still elegant enough to raise a ghost of vintage veils and rubbed moth wings.
The trilogy of rose, jasmine and narcissus that Amélie has arranged so delicately as the floral centrepiece of Rituale glows with careful, almost reverential lustre. Jasmine and druggy narcissus can’t help but stand out against the red. If you imagine walking into a white room filled with white blooms and someone has hurled crimson paint across one wall, red droplets falling on scattered snowy petals.
|Red Room II (Image©TSF)|
Interestingly the head notes seem to sink down into the central section, particularly a lovely on-the-tongue pith and peel mandarin note and some lavender that feels like finely ground paint pigment needing only oil to explode the hue. I barely noticed it on the blotter, but skin heat intensifies my beloved beeswax, and suddenly you realise it was always there, a honeyed unguent to work slowly into tired inviting flesh, easing away memories. Once I sensed the beeswax amid the décor of fruit, aldehydes and musks I realise I was more than a little lost to the rituals of Rituale.
The wax is a base-ish note, warmed carefully over patchouli, cedarwood, amberwood, crystalline musks and a studied dose of hyraceum, a fascinating material, sometimes called African or Golden Stone that has become more frequently used in perfumes of late to impart a sense of dangerous animalism, a whiff of recoil and perverse desire. Used well and with skill it has an unparalleled effect, an invitation to dirty surrender, the suggestion that under all beauty there is always the odour of instinct and pelt.
Amélie has already used it superlatively in Sogno Reale for Stefania’s Talismans Collezione Preziosa, creating something genuinely original and compelling in her imagined sea urchin leather, a briny collision of citrus, amber, smoke, rum, woods and a drowning tuberose. In some ways Rituale is a companion piece to Sogno Reale in the way that the hyraceum appears lighter, more malleable in tone; a wash of effect as apposed to an opaque smear.
As Rituale blooms, those fruit notes flow over the skin and become lucid and restful. I am not normally a big fan of red fruit notes in perfumery. My initial reaction to the Time Drops sample of Rituale as Stefania is calling them was a little wobbly because of the berrilicious pomegranate strain. But any sense of familiarity becomes soothed into absorbing originality. More often than not, these fruity sparkled perfumes either structurally disintegrate as they unfurl, any sense of charm dashed on dull synthetic patchouli and cashmeran shores. Or the fruit becomes like a high-pitched neon scream and slaps your eyes and blood vessels into submission until migraine knocks you out.
Amélie does something interesting with the red fruit concept, under-painting it with a mineralised ground of white musks and synth ambers. If you could x-ray Rituale I imagine these notes appearing like washes of brush strokes beneath the flush of red-stain. This is an important technique as it prevents any sugared bleed into the narcissus and jasmine that over time on skin travel from starkly lit against glass to collapsed and melancholic. Rituale is beautiful perfume assembly and I would expect nothing less from Stefania and Amélie; an aromatic conversation between two women of time passing, notes shifting and evolving into an assuaged and hallowed sanctum.
As the name suggests, Rituale suggests a profound sense of ritual, ceremony and observance; the daily routines we use and enact to protect and reassure ourselves. All of the Menditterosa and Talismans are religiously unisex in their conception and execution. However for the first time I do sense fissures in Stefania’s rigid code. This is not a criticism at all, merely an observation. When two perfumes are released like this side by side with no precise common ground, the senses search for comprehension. I am aware of Stefania’s nebulous Time Without Time project title but it doesn’t hold me quickly enough for now. Rituale is the first Mendittorosa perfume to have a suggestion of feminine form, a skeletal whisper moving beneath the quiescent layers of musky fruit and decaying aldehydes. A drift of blushing vestals in a mineral temple.
I got to thinking this mineral weather has actually always been a sympathetic gauze in the Mendittorosa canon. I returned to my collection and sampled everything and of course I’m aware that between Stefania and Amélie and Anne-Sophie at Flair there has over time developed a signature of sorts. But Osang and Archetipo are different and bear a heavier weight from the olfactive memory and wants of Stefania. Whether or not she is overtly aware of it her obsessive connection to Stromboli rumbles through the entire œuvre to varying degrees.
|Time Drops: Rituale & Archetipo samples...|
‘I changed my life to create Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima. Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima is my way, my life, my real soul. I was in a special place when I finally decided to open this magic chapter of my life, that place is Stromboli, a volcano, which is still alive. A black lava mountain 1000 metres above the sea and 2000 down. My symbol. My muse. My amulet. My Stromboli. My Iddu*. A new Energy Baptism. I hope this pure energy will reach you now.’
Stefania Squeglia (From Menditterosa website)
*(Iddu is the vernacular Sicilian name for the still active volcano, it translates as ‘He’)
It’s just a theory but I’ve spent a lot of time with Stefania’s perfumes, looking closely at styles, moods, flow, flaws, inspirations and the creative processes. She has fire in her, Stefania, her hair, red like flowing lava and like any artist she is unpredictable. Id created with Amélie Bourgeois in 2012 is key to the mineral taint that shadows Stefania’s olfactory imagination. There is a generous overdose of sticky cistus or labdanum in Id lying uncomfortably under a bleak bouquet of iris, violet and carnation that while suggesting powder actually falls like ash on skin. Oud, birch, patchouli and musks are burn and smoke, cinders dampened in the rain of ambroxan. Other notes including jasmine, campheraceous Ravensara and the sweet dust of cinnamon add ambitious texture to the overall isolated difference of Id. It smells alone and strong, chthonic and granular. This is the odour of her sacred place, the black sand, the fire, a scent of sulphur in the air, the smell of surrounding sea as you travel to and from the island.
Alfa, Omega, North, South, Sogno Reale, Nettuno, Le Mat, Osang and now Rituale and Archetipo share this same genetic timbre to varying degrees. In fact getting louder as the line has progressed. As if Stefania needs to hear/smell something in the perfumes as they evolve, something that constantly loops back to Stromboli where her dream began.
After splitting the line into Menditterosa Odori D’Anima and Talismans Preziosa, the perfumes are evolving in elegant and subtly different ways, the psychology of Talismans intimately involved with the creation of olfactive phylactery, molecular amulets and nature we wear next to skin. While the Mendittorosa perfumes look inward, taking an abstracted journey of soul and cerebral observance, the body as temple, the mind as refuge. Rituale and Archetipo are devout apostles to Stefania’s Mendittorosa cause, each of them bringing new and darker elements that serve to deepen the profundity of the line.
I am strangely pleased that Luca Maffei has worked with Stefania; I’m aware of how seemingly ubiquitous he seems right now in terms of Euro niche but what you have to remember is that the perfume will be intrinsically more intriguing if the relationship between nose and client is strong and founded on trust. If not, meh, it is mere transaction. Luca’s work with Gabriella Chieffo for instance is beautiful and innovative. You get a real sense of artistic discussion and freedom of interpretation. The same goes for his exceptional portrait of iris, L’Attesa, he made for Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi at Masque Milano. There is a huge sense of sensual liberation and joy in L’Attesa, throwing open the doors to gilded ballrooms and hurling bottles of fizzing gold-flecked champagne to the floor.
|Foxy's MyLo (Image©TSF)|
MyLo and Nun for Laboratorio Olfattivo are another example of Luca matching his skills to a relatively low-key house that prides itself on atmospheric and truthful compositions. MyLo is a Polaroid snap of white lilies, just slightly out of focus, but captured perfectly in all their ivory, analogue beauty.
‘Original pattern from which copies are made’ < from Latin archetypum an original < Greek Archétypon a model, pattern.
1 The original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind based on or copied from; a model; first form; prototype.
2 In Jungian Psychology, an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic image that is derived from the past collective experience of humanity and is present in the unconscious mind of the individual. Also called imago. These archetypal images rise out of the collective unconscious and appear in dreams, mythology and fairy tales.
(Adapted from the Dictionary.com definition of archetype)
|Archetipo by Mendittorosa Odori D'Anima|
Luca is a workaholic perfumer and someone I think who prides himself on approaching each commission as an opportunity to try something original or improve on a theme or concept that perhaps didn’t quite succeed as he would have liked the first time round. He is boyish enough in demeanour to pass for someone younger but it would a mistake to consider him anything other than an acutely aware and stylish perfumer with something of a playboy’s touch to his work but also a serious dedication to the machinations and craft of classical perfumery. He is the head perfumer at Atelier Fragranze Milano, a company founder by Luca’s father Marco and perfumer Maurizio Cerizzo and the lab is professionally very busy and very highly regarded within the niche perfume world.
On paper, despite the obvious Italian connection and the fact that Luca has created work for nearly all the niche Italian houses, I wondered what exactly the collaborative rendezvous of Luca X Stefania would bring to Mendittorosa. Now after Architepo has launched and I can’t stop wearing it, I realise that a great scent has arisen from the meeting of two quite different temperaments. Emotion vs. logic, dream vs. reality. Shadow vs. light. Archetipo is so beautiful and strange, I find wearing it both tender and savage. It has elements of booming distance and intimate embrace, a perfume of reflection and recoil.
|Archetipo cap (Image©TSF)|
At the heart of Archetipo are two reflective accords that Luca and Stefania are calling Burning Flame and Moonstone. These evocative titles might sound a little highfalutin but actually they are perfectly in context within the themes and atmospheric mood of the perfume. As I set out above, Archetipo translates as Archetype, a word loaded with multiple meanings, many of which are reflected in flickering ways in Luca’s vividly shadowed formulation. An important leitmotif in Architepo is Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave or Plato’s Cave Myth as it is sometimes referred to, dealing with ‘…the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature’. It was drummed into my head at university by a Russian lecturer who felt anyone studying Russia and the Russian Revolution had to understand it. I had to remind myself of the finer details, it has been a long time since Foxy’s uni-days. I found an elegantly written explanation by a student called Anam Lohdi, which lays out Plato’s ideas cogently and wisely. So please do read it if you want a more comprehensive version.
The Allegory Of The Cave opens Book VII of Plato’s Republic and is written as a dialogue between Socrates (Plato’s mentor) and Glaucas, a brother of Plato. Socrates describes a group of people raised from birth in the cave, shackled behind a raised wall, unable to move to the left or the right and or to see the people next to them. They can only see dead ahead at the cave wall in front of them. Behind the wall a fire has been lit and between the fire and the reverse of the wall, people pass by holding up objects, models of animals and such like, all these casting exaggerated shadows on the cave wall like a cinema screen. The bound cave dwellers, having no reference points for what they are seeing have no notion they are seeing shadows and reflections and instead interpret the parade of presented forms as reality. It becomes a state of normality; they believe what they see to be true.
Socrates then supposes a prisoner manages to escape but is nearly blinded by the light of the fire. On his own, disorientated and angry he would turn back to what he knew and the familiarity of shadowed forms on the wall. But then Socrates supposes another scenario where the prisoner is reluctantly made to adapt to firelight and is then ascended toward the brighter light of day outside the cave. All this seems like torture, but slowly, looking at reflections of things and people in water and the strangeness of moonlight is he able to look at the sun and know what it is.
This revelation is something he knows he must take back to the cave and share with the prisoners he left behind. Entering the cave he would realise he has lost his dark-adaption and is blind. The paranoid prisoners would believe this is due to his exposure to the world outside the cave and decide they would not make the same journey as him. Socrates infers that if the shackled prisoners were able to move they might kill anyone who tried to remove them from the safety of the cave.
It is a much-debated dialogue and a fascinating one, examining the movement/journey from darkness to light, ignorance to enlightenment, the stages of education and resistance. Theoretically we all have the capacity to learn, but do we all possess the actual desire to do so? The prisoner does not enjoy the journey toward the light/knowledge, but the final result and awareness make the difficulty worth it. It was necessary to expect resistance. From shadows on the wall to flame light, light of day, reflections and the direct luminescence of the sun itself; all these are stages of education, resistance toward acceptance.
We must therefore suppose that once awareness of the cave shadows are mere illusions, crude reflections of reality, there really is no returning to an original shackled state until total comprehension has been reached. The truth you saw before was an illusion created for you by others and now you must decide for yourself what is real and what is not. For the shackled prisoners, still staring face forward, ignorance is a determined bliss. They find safety in the obeisance of illusion because they know of nothing else.
This allegory, while complex, if you think about it is perhaps more relevant now than ever. The Trump administration, Theresa May’s Brexiteers, the UN, North Korea, pharmaceutical companies, newspapers and social media; all these are the puppeteers brandishing information that so many blindly follow as law, truth and reality. The shadows on the wall are relentless, a constant flow of things designed to shore up shaky realities to keep the shackles masses subdued. Truth seeking, education and the difficult exposure of reality is not wanted. Only one version of truth is acceptable, the one told in shadow play upon the flickering cave wall.
Thank you for having the patience to stay with me. There is reason in my unfolding of the Cave Myth; with Archetipo, Stefania had in perfume terms a brief that seemed challengingly abstract in terms of olfactory interpretation. Luca however has taken potent elements of Plato’s allegory and woven them through his own world of guttering flames, flickering shadows and the dirty, earthen scent of illusion.
|Archetipo & Rituale (Image©TSF)|
Each time I wear Archetipo I get the same vivid sensation from the overture of gunpowder and snapped raw pea shells, fresh green tea and a beguiling metallic effect. Not a ferrous taste as such, but the sensation of being in a tunnel made of bright hammered tin. Then something electrical, a burnt out plug or dust burning off a light bulb as it is switched on for the first time in a while. All the while, everything plays out over that mineralised ground and the scent of firestones. It is quite the mix of sensations, but one that works for the simple reason that the materials are sublime and Luca deliberately wants this jarring slide show of sensations to infect us with excitement and just enough unease to echo that parade of manipulated shadows in the shuddering light of the cave.
Incense Super Essence, vetiver (a note that Luca really understands) and a forest-smoky fir balsam stagger the senses initially, making quite the pagan fire first impression. I have some fir balsam essential oil in fractionated coconut oil that the lovely John Biebel sent me and I can really smell the almost dry-sizzle of back bacon and peacock bluegreen medicinal vapours I noted when I wore his sample. Fir balsam will forever be associated with Norne, the odour that sent me spiralling down the Slumberhouse rabbit hole at the mercy of Josh Lobb’s mercurial and darkly seductive talent. His scent of decaying fairytale cottages in malevolent towering Nordic pine forests, being slowly devoured by roots, mould amid the echoes of death metal music is still one of the most arresting compositions.
|Rituale & Archetipo chez Foxy...|
Luca Maffei is, along with a handful of other smart niche noses, very busy and professional in his approach to perfume briefs and their subsequent development. The team at Atelier Fragranze Milano, including his wonderful evaluator Brandusa Paulescu are meticulously organised in their support of his formulations and processes. 2017 may have seen a lot of his work launched onto the market, but we also saw a lot of perfumes from Cécile Zarokian, Amélie Bourgeois, Mark Buxton, Daphne Bugney, Bertrand Duchaufour, Yann Vasnier and Alberto Morillas so that point is moot. I am huge devotee of Luca’s work and have followed his progress since his earliest days as a creator. I have a number of Luca’s compositions in my collections and really like his style. His gift, for want of a better word, is taking the highest quality of fragrance materials and fixing them like gemstones into settings of splendour and discrete luxury. There is no sense of overt theatricality or wasted time. This is something he shares with Cécile Zarokian. They have different signatures, Cécile using couture methodology, assembling and draping her materials closely to skin and adding exquisite detail, the olfactive broderie and reflective pearls, in order to produce perfumes that smell flawless and flow on skin with liquid grace.
Luca is more instinctual I think, building work with materials he is familiar with and then adding an architectural detail that inhaled from the skin by different people at different times will completely alter the perception and olfactive appearance of the perfume. The discomforting saline & seaweed of Acquasala and seared concrete fig distortion of Maisìa for Gabriella Chieffo are sensational.
|Ragu by Gabriella Chieffo (Image©TSF)|
And Ragu… it will always be a perfume I remember as utterly beautiful. Smelling it for the first time was such a revelation; the dry rubbed oregano and basil effects, pepper, sweet simmering pomodoro mood as my friend Jakub might say and an outrageous dose of cashmeran. Every time I wear it, I marvel at its resinous souvenir strangeness. The Maffei point of difference I think is taking a risk in using something unusual to create sensual attention within his creations.
Archetipo is the shadow cast by Rituale, the luminescence of Amélie’s fizzing fruit-strewn chambers glittering with golden aldehydes eroded by a darkness that flickers through with flame-cast odours and an ambience of damp cave claustrophobia/melancholia. They reflect and absorb one another with exquisite grace. Light, time passing and umbra. I wear them separately and they are of course beautiful and wild with individual insistence and allure. But I wear them together all the time… especially at night. Rituale over Archetipo and Archetipo over Rituale; the sequence determines differing nuance. I’m not the biggest advocate of layering perfumes. Occasionally it works, but you really need to understand what you’re wearing. Some folk are just naturally very good at it and instinctively able to combine their fragrances either in layers or on different parts of the body, projecting a complex and vibrant skin portrait of odour. Rituale and Archetipo seem drawn together, almost despite themselves as two halves of a troubled heart; one side tenebrous and veiled, the other white and calm.
The cave allegory I discussed earlier is a disturbing journey when you imagine how Stefania and Luca turned this philosophical treatise into odiferous motif inspiration within Archetipo. When you read Plato’s allegory it is impossible to shake the image of flame and shadows cast on the cave wall from your mind. I had this concept in my head for weeks; only being able to see projections and distortions of reality but unaware of any deliberate attempt to mislead or cruelly induce a false sense of perverted truth, Plato’s cave dwellers believe their world is the cave wall and shadows. You can of course argue they are safe, even protected in their alternate, given universe, constructing lives (such as they are), language, dreams from what they are given or shown. There is no interference, no decisions to be made, no questioning. The flame serves as light, maker of shadows and conversely the maker of lies. When one person breaks free, it is this light that initially blinds them and leads them on a fractious, ever brightening movement into luminescent enlightenment.
At the heart of Archetipo is an imago of fire, a ritualised dry flame, oscillating in the mind’s cave; redolent with an austere desert incense stained in cactus wax and the subtle perfumes of arid stone and mineral weather. Those two mysterious Burning Flame and Moonstone accords are vital to the Mendittorosa creation of this abstracted Platonic scentscape. Around them swirls a dark and sometimes chaotic perfume of great beauty, lit by trembling glow and dancing veil.
The Burning Flame accord has been created using Sarcocaulon Mossamedensis or Bushman’s Candle as it is often called, a shrubby succulent, and native to South Africa. A spined, Bonsai-type thing, it is seriously xerophytic and has adapted extreme ways of survival in the harsh and scouring conditions of its habitat. S. mossamedensis produces a translucent wax coating over its stems that protect the plant from moisture loss and external damage from wind and corrosive sand. Over time the wax is burnished to a golden brown. The wax is flammable, hence the popular and alternative name for the plant, the wax burning, even if the stems are damp. When dry and ignited, Bushman’s Candle has a unique wintered sweet incense odour that is quite powerful.
Mane SA the French fragrance and flavour manufacturer, is one of the only suppliers of Bushman’s Candle essential oil. Interestingly at Esxence in 2013, a young Mane perfumer called Alexander Lee showcased a fragrance called ETOILEGANCE, with Bushman’s Candle at the heart of his creation, allied to rum, iris, osmanthus, tagete and Davana. The originality of his creation won Alexander The Scent of Esxence Award. It is this unique arid fume that Luca places at the heart of Archetipo, his Platonic flame, casting shadows in a cave of lost dreams.
A fundamental message of Stefania’s perfumed œuvre has been one of self-exploration and the acceptance of what we are. Perfume will always struggle to be accepted as a serious communicative art form, but there is no reason why the combination of materials, inspiration, art direction and collaborative perfumer cannot produce work that is not only beautiful in many ways to so many of us but can also ask complex questions of our senses and skin. If our flesh be canvas and perfume the medium, the inhalation and gaze if you will, should be extraordinary. We don’t all wear perfume to challenge the senses all the time, like music, books and cinema we all need relief and succour from the strident rigours of daily living. But personally I have become more austere in tone and like my scents to have a certain intelligence or at least a gravitas I can feel leaning toward me through the aromatic haze.
|My Osang hands...|
Luca has utilised the idea of Plato’s cave myth to create a rather unsettling but ultimately very coercive composition of darker more densely perceived materials such as patchouli, black amber, sticky labdanum and fir balsam and lit them through with his two central accords. These materials in effect become the trembling shadows played out on the cave wall. I have an image of a cave wall worn smooth over time by mysterious hands; the air smells of damp minerals, like licking wet river stones. There is a distinctive granular quality to Archetipo, something charred, like smuts of ash and hot sand.
This weird moonstone thing is more waxen as it appears, quite different in texture and momentum from the rest of the arrangement. A single white candle on a cracked marble table burns slowly down in front of a silvered bloomed mirror. A man sits in front of the looking glass, his eyes blind and milky. Everything to him is shadow. He dreams of a sand-filled cave and a parade of life over a flickering wall.
|Mirror Moon (Image©TSF)|
This arresting embrace and contradiction of pace at the heart of this perfume is its emotional crux. The chill sense of candles repeatedly lit and extinguished, unseeing eyes watching rituals unfold. The rush of moist ore and pungent forest fumes. All this wreathed in arid incense and a touch of Maffei enigma make Archetipo feel intangible and brutally sensual in places. For me, the opening cold gritty mineral rush is everything. It is rare to genuinely experience an initial coldness, like clinging moisture in the air; it feels forbidding and despite the presence of smoke and flame it remains for me anyway a distant unsettling thing. This makes it sound like I don’t like it, but this isn’t true at all, it is in fact very me, sombre, built in shades of temple-dimmed shadow that wrap around me like a charcoal shroud.
As usual when writing, I wear the perfumes religiously; in this case the phrase is apt as the duo of Rituale and Archetipo have a solemnity to their olfactive moods that renders their wearings almost a strange embedded worship, such is the allure and repetitive pull of the notes.
It honestly took me a while to fully click into these perfumes; this is one of the reasons why I often don’t write immediately. The kind of olfactory work I like and admire is sometimes challenging and I like to live with it for a while, revisit, and make observations and notes. My opinions can evolve as time passes. It is a little like meeting someone for the first time and being vaguely irritated but not sure why. You don’t want to not see them, but at the same time you find this thing, this unexplained thing difficult to overcome. Time and exposure, familiarity, understanding, questions and patience often offer answers and friendship, perhaps love blooms. You might look back and realise that thing...that was the reason you actually fell so hard.
I’m aware that some people don’t get the Mendittorosa thing and find the perfumes difficult and I’m not saying this is because I know better. However I appreciate the artistic and olfactive collaborative processes that have been rallied into creating not just the juice but the packaging, caps, bottles, filmwork and continued aesthetic development of the brand. As I age, I am no longer going to apologise for the way I look, how I feel and my accumulated and quite particular tastes in life. I want more intrigue from the things I experience. One of the most wonderful things about writing on smaller niche and artisan houses has been the opportunity to befriend the perfumers and creative directors behind the brands.
As the folk that I have reviewed are aware my interpretations of perfumes are my own and how they rise and journey through my senses. Poetry is an obsessive love for me and decades of reading its forms and abstractions has coloured my thought processes like in vivo staining. I am a failed poet at heart I guess and strive in some small way to channel that ache into my essays. In the end it all comes down to personal taste; you like, you don’t like. You can choose to be outraged at the prices and lets face it some sectors of niche are frankly obscene these days, but people are still buying.
I write slow and sure, savouring the pleasure of words, research and assembly. Allying this to intriguing perfumes and processes of talented directors, noses and designers brings me sweet, strange and meaningful pleasure. Rituale and Archetipo are a duo of some considerable impact, emanating from an Italian house at the peak of its storytelling powers.
Stefania Squeglia is a woman haunted by volcanic dreams, searching to reconcile skin, heart and soul through the fraught and slippery medium of scent-provoked memory. It is an ambitious and some might say arch and grandiose calling, but for those of us that wear the Mendittorosa and Talismans perfumes as one might wear elegant selvedge garments in monochromatic hues of prayer and supplication, they feel designated.
When I wear them I feel memorable. This is what I want and indeed require from perfumery.
These two new additions to Stefania’s universe are very beautiful and affected me immensely. Not all of you will like them. But some of you will worship them. And that is enough.
For more information on Mendittorosa Odori D'Anima and Talismans, please click on the link below: