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

Monday 19 November 2012

Tar Boats & Scorched Limes – ‘Lord of Goathorn’ by Gorilla Perfume.

Well well, I finally got my hands on Lord of Goathorn. It was personally delivered by Lady Duffy, who urged me not to open it at work as if it would flatten trees and atomise walls. Now I was scared. I packed it carefully in tissue paper and carried it home with me.

The fragrance or anti-fragrance was inspired by Goathorn peninsula near Poole in Dorset, the home of all things Lush. The scent is a disturbing ode to the longshoreman caretaker of Goathorn whose boat was often commandeered by smugglers into return for bounty. The peninsula is private with a distinctive wild atmosphere. There are prehistoric overtones to the landscape and oil is pumped discreetly by BP from below the surface of the archaic landscape.  

When I visited the Gorilla Bus last month, they didn’t have Goathorn for me to sample and I heard very conflicting opinions on it, ranging from ‘unhygienic’ to ‘strangely compulsive’. My Bus Guide Cassie said that after the somewhat shocking ‘fish sauce’ top note, the development and drydown were weirdly striking. I am all for strange in scent, I like fragrances to push at limits. Fragrance as abstraction is a rather arch new trend in perfumery as creators search further afield for increasingly elaborate and esoteric inspiration. Also the constant evolution in fragrance technologies is allowing perfumers to become more and more ambitious and experimental in their formulae and olfactory reach.

Goathorn is another one of the Set in Stone fragrances that Gorilla unveiled at Lushfest on a specially constructed stone circle. It smells more like a condiment than scent, but I’ll get to that. Every now and again the industry throws up utterly bizarre oddities that defy any real classification. Like more experimental art that repels and intrigues at the same time, requiring a much more complex of values and senses to deconstruct and understand, these fragrances throw an olfactory curve ball, confounding expectations with fucked up notes, twisted structures or seemingly no structures at all.

I have a number of messed up smells in my collection. Les Sécretions Magnifiques by Antoine Lie for Etat Libre D’Orange is one of the creepiest and yet sublimely spun essays in scented disgust and cutting-edge fragrance design. Inspired by various bodily fluids this briny vicarious floral is a unsettling saline vision of perfumery rarely explored in scent. It has an overwhelming wash of metallic notes, a mucid facet that really can shock. The tongue-on-battery zing it has, the whiff of ferrous oxide, of rust and blood can make it very uncomfortable to smell. I spray it through my clothes, especially on my Harris Tweed (the dense fibres adore it….). It diffuses like poison, corroding the senses, but as a warped vision of the body as a flower exuding it juices it is without parallel.  

The Unicorn Spell by Les Nez is another love/loathe concoction. Isabelle Doyen, the nose behind many of the Annick Goutal scents is the creatrix behind the oblique and controversial Les Nez fragrances. Let Me Play the Lion is quite amazing, dry as dust, an anguished cry of smoky pain across an echoing expanse of dunes and airless sky.

The Unicorn Spell however stops you in your tracks. It is GREEN! Like snapped snow peas or an avalanche of green beans poured over a frozen glittering park in the night. I hated it, but could not stop smelling my wrist. The Les Nez guff re Unicorns and milky breath etc is quite ludicrous, but the technical beauty and ambition of the scent is astounding. As the emerald blast settles, a very ghostly violet notes filters through and almost suffocates the skin. I have tried to wear it a number of times, but like a dark room with a malignant presence, it just scares the hell out of me.

A recent addition to my scented cabinet of curiosities is a sample of Tindrer by Amsterdam-based niche whizz kids Magnetic Scents. They have created beautiful and unique scents, including Untitled No 2, a very seductive and warming photo-realistic riff on chai latte with vanilla, cocoa and Indian spices. The Gerhardt Richter of scent making, Magnetic Scents are portraitists. I don’t want to say too much as I am preparing a longer post on three of their fragrances. Tindrer is Danish for sparkle and this very peculiar collection of notes was inspired by a song of the same name by the band Under Byen. Purportedly a portrait of clear spring Scandinavian days with trembling weather patterns of rain and clear blue skies. Notes of cypress, galbanum and a wet soil accord float over an off-beat riff of cut grass, musks, oakmoss, cedar and heliotropin. It shares with The Unicorn Spell a very pungent metallic violet note that rises suddenly and pierces the senses like a velvet-coated blade. I have tried to wear this four times and get to the 20-minute mark and have to remove it. I’m not sure why it unsettles me so, but it makes my skin flicker and I feel vaguely white and sweaty. Conversely I do kinda love this about it. At least it’s not a meh scent.

Now, back to Lord of Goathorn. I was born in Bahrain, and one of the most pungent smells of this peripatetic childhood was the busy fish markets. The cacophony of noise and carnival of smells was brutally overpowering and sweetly welcoming at the same time. Certain aromas, despite their power and necessary unpleasantness still rock my olfactory foundations. Memories of straw-bound rickety stalls of dried fish, hanging like torn hide in the fetid air, suffocated by salt, spices, sweat, sand, heat and perfume. A very heady experience. Piercing shots of this blasted through me as I took the top off Lord of Goathorn. Now, I am not that great with all things fish. I like the smell in context; beaches, restaurants etc, but generally it throws me sideways. I am one of those people who like their fish in cans, no eyes, fins, claws, etc. Cowardly I know, but there you go. Even on holidays to Brittany I struggle with langoustine and spider crab, home-caught fish and dredging for bones in spindly fish carcasses.               

So I had a set of objections in place for this scent before I really even got past the lid. My god, the massive wave of nam pla that rolled up to greet me was quite something. Nothing had quite prepared me for that. It’s a smell I cannot abide. But in the interest of bloggerdom, I waited and then applied the juice to my wrists. Its hard to pause and wait for the piscine salinity and very vocal breath of the sea facets to settle down. But ramp down they do, with smouldering dignity and a strangely alluring song of the siren feel. Its hard to resist the pull of it actually, the top note of seaweed literally burns off with a shocking pungency reminiscent of the practice of kelp burning once common practice in Ireland, Brittany, Norway and on the Scottish Islands. This wet, sand-blasted bonfire aroma burns through Goathorn with real drama as it dries down. I’ve smelt a recreation of kelp burning techniques in Brittany and the aroma is astonishing. Ashen, molten, fishy and brutally sulphuric. Repellant and historically beautiful.

The process was used to extract iodine (and potash and soda) for use in various industries including medicine, glassmaking, photography and soap making. It was incredibly labour intensive and the industry died out in late 19th century. The ghosts of kelp pits can still be seen in Orkney and other places.

As I pondered the various contradictory odours firing off my skin, Goathorn underwent a dramatic shift into foodie territory. Not the sweetness of gourmands, but the aromas of scorched limes, salt crumbled over fish cooking over hot coals, resinous leaves burning amongst the smouldering coals. Then lemon and limes dashed across the sizzling dish. The smoke note is amazing! Almost choking, but really flavoured and rich. I love salt and the salinity of this scent is remarkable. It has the tanginess of an evening beach breeze, smoke carried through rolling plumes of fog, the lingerings of a thousand beach barbecues.

There is a fabulous whiff of upturned boats running through Goathorn. Old fishing boats, tipped up and vulnerable in dry dock, the scent of the sea drenched through the wood. A lashing of tar to protect, an accumulation of salt staining the timbers. This mingles with the smoke and lime to be almost crepuscular, a projection of dying times and dwindling trades. 

The drydown is so strange, almost ghostly, just an inkling of the frankly terrifying top note remains, but the body of scent is inky dark sooty smearings on the skin drifting down to a lick of lime and dirty salt.

I can’t say I will ever wear Lord of the Goathorn, but then again I am drawn to its compulsive smoked aesthetics. I have rarely smelt anything so bizarre and complicated, repellent and progressively haunting. I know that hardly anyone is going to really try this properly, but you should. Let the bladderwrack intensity boil off and plunge into the fury of the smoke and burning limes. It’s worth the effort, it’s not a comfortable scent, but whoever said that fragrance should always be cute and comforting. We all know true comfort can be found in darkness.

For more information on Lord of Goathorn and the other new Gorilla fragrances, please click the link below:

Monday 12 November 2012

Landscape and Belief: Smoke, Stone and Surveillance – New Gorilla Perfumes 2012 (Part 2)

The other new Gorilla fragrances are incredibly diverse and range from smoke and metal to sunshine and seduction.  The Voice of Reason was growlingly gorgeous and bowled me over again, my skin prickled and I felt momentarily lost in darkness. It is powerful reactive stuff, this fragrance, a woozy, barbequed genie in a damn fine bourbon-soaked bottle. That reeking of cold bonfire as you move in and out of doors on November 5th, eyes stinging, hair full of stars and dirty night. Inspired by the Beat Generation: Kerouac, the porno visionary Burroughs, Gil Scott Heron, and the tar-pit rumblings of Leonard Cohen, The Voice of Reason is smoke incarnate. Devil’s breath, exhaled through jazz trumpets and wrapped in sin. Huge doses of my beloved tonka bean and sandalwood ebb and flow on the skin, making the drydown one sensual slide into sweet sweet embers. It smells filthy too; I realised that the other day as I wore it out to meet a friend who leaned in and inhaled my throat like a starved vampire. Dirty smoke. Who could ask for more?

The Bug. Hmm. I loathed this on application. I kinda knew I would, it packs quite a galbanum punch and this is one of those notes I really dislike when it sits up and stares at you. (Yes… Penhaligon’s Bluebell…. I’m talking to you…..). In discreet doses it adds a certain whoosh and curve to scent; Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit literally takes beautiful plunging flight as the galbanum in the top drops off and the other notes mingle and meld.  This weird almost anti-scent was the one that caught my attention when I was following Lushfest as it was seemingly inspired by the contradictions and paranoia of the modern electronic age. The buzz of everyday lives, surveillance, wires, noise, images, information technology. We crave it, seemingly cannot live without it, yet on a daily basis it is used against us, we are hacked, spied on, photographed, scanned and observed by any number of cameras by any number of institutions. A challenging concept for a scent.

The first spray was shocking. Really bitter and repellent, with an underlying sweetness that really reminded me of Raid and other insect sprays that mask their killing prowess with a unsettling sickly sweet aroma a little like playdough. Then it started to transform, virus-like on the skin, opening up its facets one by one. Elemi and labdanum resinoid throb like veins and give the scent a buzzing, beating sensation. Massive tonka note too, softening the edges a little, a whisper of voices perhaps, soothing the shout of galbanum. It has an uncomfortable tongue on battery feel, an element of impending poison. It is very odd to find fragrances that push and pull, repel you and then draw you back down to inhale afresh as the notes transform. There is a strong pepper note and this works rather well, seasoning an already complex scent with a persuasive yet elegant presence. I will say that The Bug is not for me, but I want it in my collection as it demonstrates how a very abstract concept can be translated into scent with verve and robust eccentricity. And you never know, I may love it in months to come.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Landscape and Belief: Smoke, Stone and Surveillance – New Gorilla Perfumes 2012 (Part 1)

On Thursday 11 October I got the opportunity to sample some of the latest Gorilla Perfume launches as their hand-painted Gorilla Bus (by the bonkers Plastic Crimewave) set up scented camp in Edinburgh.  It was a grey, damp and muffled day, but the slow falling rain always highlights the depth and beauty of Edinburgh City stone. A suitably melancholy backdrop as it turned out for some of the peculiar aromas I touched to my skin.

The Perfumed Goddess herself, Ericka Duffy, friend, Top Banana and fragrance obsessive, had invited me; she suggested I go down and visit the Gorilla Bus when it came into town.  I have been really excited to sample the new scents since Lushfest 2012 and following the buzz surrounding some of the more unusual fragrances on the blogosphere. Ericka had swung by recently with a bottle of The Voice of Reason and I just loved the weird smoky barbecue thing it billowed across my skin. Bacon, Laphroaig, lichen, fuggy sexed up cars humming with hash smoke. Damn, it was beautiful. So obviously I was rather excited at revisiting The Voice of Reason again and the other new creations from Mark and Simon Constantine.  

The new collection was debuted as part of the big Lushfest celebration in July 2012 at Holton Lee in Dorset. A massive scented Lushy jamboree for the employees of the brand and some public days for mere mortals to swing by and sample new Lush products. Always done with wit and verve, music and tremendous passion, the event is incredibly well diffused across the electronic ether via blog sites, twitter and Facebook. Lush have a huge and diverse following and this dedication explodes their message and love of this seriously eccentric brand across the world.

Perfumers have become unlikely stars in recent years with perfume buyers becoming much more fascinated by the actual artistry and inspirations of the niche or marginal inspirations of the fragrance world.  Mark and Simon are so intrinsically linked to their olfactory creations, from the era of Be Never too Busy to be Beautiful up to Simon’s innovative unveiling of the new creations on stone megaliths at Lushfest 2012. A small stone circle was designed to showcase six diverse and incredibly evocative fragrances, inspired by myths, landmarks and folkloric beliefs. Each one has a very distinctive legend for want of a better term. Some of them are among some of the oddest things I have sniffed in quite a while.  

It’s no secret how much I love Gorilla’s The Smell of Weather Turning; it is an extraordinary Heathcliffian scent and it is still one of my blog posts I enjoyed writing the most. I wore it down to the Gorilla Bus, mixed with a layer of my other favourite the weird and wonderful Ladyboy.

The Bus was fab, it did look a little forlorn on Castle Street with Edinburgh Castle looming overhead and the weather was somewhat dreich and shuddery. But it was a bright green spot of colour on such a shadowed day. The Bus murals and the new artwork on the bottles are the work of Plastic Crimewave, aka Steven H. Krakow, the multi-talented and quite possibly totally nuts musician/illustrator/writer based in Chicago. An underground legend in a various mind-boggling musical sub-genres, he has created very distinctive visual identities for each of the new fragrances and also illustrated the Gorilla Magazine to accompany the new launches, explaining their inspirations and some of the notes and overall vibe.

The Gorilla Bus itself is a simple concept. Fill it with perfume, hit the road with like-minded people and spread the scented word. However this being Gorilla, it is a much more than this. There is music, poetry, soul and art, all tied to the development and diffusion of the fragrance thematics. Inside the Bus you are 100% immersed in a Gorilla world, printed matter, doodles, shelves and boxes of bottles in all shapes and sizes, phrenology heads, books, vintage vinyl, herbs, plants and spices. Dotted amid the bottles and assorted Gorilla paraphernalia are little votive offerings from visitors to the bus. If the Gorilla guys like your gifts… they might swap you for some perfume.

The interior felt like the fantastic marriage of a centuries old gypsy caravan and the wares of travelling snake oil salesman, walls rattling with lotions and potions as he works his way from city to city, dispensing his words of mysticism and slick showmanship. Maybe, just maybe something he sells might work in the heat of city night. If not, he ‘s long gone before morning. Pioneer fragrance, this is how I felt as I stood surrounded by a very carefully constructed idea of pagan influenced scent and sensibility. 

Gorilla may play at simplifying the world of perfume and demystifying the claptrap and hi-faluting nonsense of normal haute-parfumerie, but in actual fact they are deadly serious, not only in their mission to alter the way we perceive fragrance but also the stories and inspirations behind the scents. This commitment to their audience is paramount to their success and dedicated following.