I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Friday, 4 May 2012
A Special Luminescence: Mona di Orio, Roudnitska and the Sensation of Light, Part II
This post is dedicated
To the memory of Mona di Orio,
If Mona Di Orio’s oeuvre is viewed as a
body of work, rather than individual pieces then it coalesces into something
different. A subtle and deliberate attempt to create beauty from nature as she
had been taught. If you consider the nature of light and the multi-facetted changes
it undergoes around us, the profundity it has at certain times; dawn, dusk, in
darkening rooms, churches, on water, in a lover’s eyes; all of this can be
toyed with and applied to scent in terms of notes and structure.
If you think for example of an ocean, of the
sparkling particles trembling at the surface reaching toward the sun and then down
deeper to the richer aqua and emerald tones and the light leaking away way down
to basso profundo depths, towards an inky silence where flickers of luminescence
spark in the darkness. This can be suggested in the journey from sparking citric
top notes, through richer, rounder floral heart notes down to musky, murkier
more sensual depths. Colours, moods, notes, light. Everything moving to create
mood and atmospherics.
This use of chiaroscuro in scent is quite
rare and hard to balance correctly. Often the tonality is too dark or too bright
and over-exposed, the notes too screechy. But Di Orio understood the subtlety
of chiaroscuro and her lightness of touch moulds her classic fragrances Lux and Nuit Noire, both of which dip in and out of shade as you wear them,
flickering across your skin like the softest impressions of vintage cine film.
Just when you think there is depth, something to stand on, the ground beneath
you dissolves away. I love this unpredictability and movement. It allows me to
wear the fragrances differently each time. I know the perfumer has wondered
about the effects and imagined how it will travel and unfold on the skin.
Di Orio’s scents really do polarize people.
I know many people who loathe her work. But I know many like me who love her
perfumes. She was an artist first and foremost. And like a lot of art, it is very personal; one
has to live with it for a while to truly appreciate its true worth. Her most
recent releases were a beautiful and rather unexpected body of work called Les Nombres D’Or The Golden Numbers),
working with very high quality ingredients inspired by mathematics’ golden ratio
to achieve exquisite results. The first three eaux de toilettes were Cuir, Ambre and Musc, each of
them beautifully balanced and harmonised with great dexterity and restraint.
They seemed like musical compositions, the notes moving together to produce
olfactory music of hypnotic depth and charm. I had always admired Mona’s work
but suddenly it seemed she had found her true voice. Yes there were still
fingerprint traces of her master on her compositions, but that was inevitable,
however her exploration of light and floral anatomy was producing work of lucent
beauty very much her own.
My favourite from the collection is Les Nombres D’Or Vanille, laden with
orange, ylang-ylang, cinnamon, tonka bean and vanilla absolute. It is very
erotic and boozy; a drunken reel with a man you’ve loved for years and never
had the courage to approach. A hot summer’s beach party, a fire sparking into the
shadows, laughter swallowed by the night. Dance and forget. It’s a beautiful
soft scent, creamy with an atmospheric smokiness that burns off in the woody
and spicy drydown. I love my vanillic scents, can’t get enough of them, but
they have to have the real thing, the split pod, the fleshy, plastic burnt
truffly depth of true vanilla, not the cheap toffee fix of vanillin. Granted,
there’s a time and place for that… But for serious skin and seduction, real
vanilla rolls off the flesh like a howl in the night.
My first Mona di Orio scent was a later
one, Chamarré, one that many
reviewers disliked. I had toyed with Lux
and Carnation and liked them both a lot.
I almost bought Nuit Noire but it
resolutely refused to settle well on my skin and dropped away to zero as if the
notes were oil and my skin water. Chamarré
was different; it married beautifully to my skin. It was very different to the
fragrances I usually wore, sparkling and green with highly ornamental floral
structures. Chamarré translates as bedecked, adorned, the implication in
French is overdone, a slight sneer,
of de trop… a little ostentatious
perhaps. But to me the decorative elements of Chamarré are more akin to Flemish tapestry, the rose, iris and
violet threaded like sliver and gold through a deep background of ambergris and
cashmeran. The surface dazzles with aldehydes and a very strange wash of
lavender that seems to set fire across the top of the scent like a flaming Sambuca.
As with all Mona di Orio, the notes need time to really settle and stretch
across the skin.
I like the idea of dressing and adornment
in fragrance, when I wear my beloved Vanille
Absolument by L’Artisan Parfumeur it feels like a bejewelled cloak,
doge-like and russet gold. Nothing austere, just limitless depth and inhalation
of luxury. We all need ornamentation and lashings of adornment from time to
time, something to slip into, sigh into and moan against starving skin.
This idea of wearing textured scents, imagining a touch, a rub, and plush is a
beautiful thing. Some perfumers instinctively understand the need to go a
little further, to dress our skin and live through it.
When I decided to wear Chamarré, I also decided to only wear it in private, in front of
darkening mirrors, Salomé-like, shedding inhibitions. I love the suggestive
sway of the drydown, the twist and sigh of the notes that are so artistically
arranged to form an impression of something glinting just out of the corner of
one’s eye. The swelling rose absolute that rolls and caresses the aldehydes in
such an unexpected way, like a lick of subtle fire. There is a delightful burn
of Oppoponax that flares up as it settles, sending shivers of desire through
the composition. The cashmeran in the base is intriguing, used so carefully as
if weighed by eye alone, it gives the formula a silken glitter akin to running
your fingers over finest Siberian mink. A whisper of ambergris floats a marine
verdigris facet across the drydown like a warm smoky salt kissed breeze. The
disparate elements of florals, woods, fur, fire, animalics, aldehydes, day,
night, sex and privacy are caressed and moulded with consummate skill. It is quietly
ablaze with dazzling scented effects and was one of Mona Di Orio’s best works,
an exercise in embellished sadness. Wearing it reminds me how close perfume can
come to art and how close Di Orio was to bridging that tenuous and oh so
As I come to to the end of writing this piece, I
stop and apply some Chamarré. I pause
for a while and wander through my apartment. It has been raining all morning,
but now thesun is burning off the
cloud. I open the window and smell the wet earth on the ruined herbs in the
window box. My cat jumps up. As I close my eyes and turn my face into the sun,
the cats’s warm fur beneath my fingers, Chamarré
rises up from my pulse points. For a moment I imagine Mona di Orio under a
French sun in Grasse, sampling a bloom, imagining how it will fracture apart in
her mind. Her work has great emotional resonance and beauty and I will always
love wearing her perfumes. It is hard to believe she is gone.
For more information on Mona Di Orio, please click below: