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

Wednesday 20 March 2013

If a Sacred Vetiver Falls in a Forest and No One is Around to Hear it, Does it make a Sound? – The Death of ‘Cœur de Vétiver Sacré’ by L’Artisan Parfumeur.

Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) is one of perfumery’s most ambrosial and unique raw materials. Valued for its natural fixative properties in olfactory compositions but most of all for its alluring and seductive scent that can range from smoked grasses, China caravan tea and monsoon rain gardens to sweet stripped willow, aged leather, freshly turned earth, gardening gloves, candied lemon peel, marijuana and cinnamon spiced apples.

Like rose, it is a note I have grown into. I never appreciated its charms when I was younger, I think I avoided it as I imagined it to be overtly masculine and too verdant for my skin. So, like the sound of the cello, the soprano voice and a love of sequestered silence, I have come to appreciate a more robust presence of vetiver in fragrances. Like it’s citric counterpart, neroli, vetiver is used in a large amount of perfumes, nearly 40% of the world’s compositions. Due to its high solubility in alcohol, it works very well with a number of fragrance styles. Its versatility allows it to be used in fizzing head notes, glowing hearts, all the way down to the solidifying comfort and stability of base notes.  

The well-known fixative properties of vetiver ease out the drydown and subtleties of countless niche and high street formulae. However, as a soliradix, it was until fairly recently rarely served well. The reference point has always been Vetiver by Guerlain launched in 1961 (1959) and again in 2000 in a new (and uglier) bottle. I used to wear it from time to time, but I never really liked the zippy freshness of it. There was always a nagging sensation I was wearing something too old for my years. It just smelt awkward and wrong. Even now when I sniff it, it has a scent of dated rather bland rooms and hairstyles just out of time. It smells reformulated too, the dryness and warmth has been sucked out of it and there has been too much citrus pumped into the top notes.

It therefore fell to niche perfumery to start shining a light on the radiant rooty glories of vetiver. With a reported 500 mods and his legendary nose for the esoteric and the sublime, Dominique Ropion unleashed a path-clearing new example of how to project a purity of note and still maintain a stability of crystalline beauty as it radiates off the skin. Ropion’s Vetiver Extraordinare for Editions Frédérick Malle contains a whopping 24/25% vetiver oil making it one of the most expensive scents to produce. It smells so rarified and special it simply expands to fill the air around you. Ropion’s trademark use of very high quality raw ingredients serves him well, allowing the vetiver to shimmer like sweet green fire across the other notes like myrrh, nutmeg, bigarade, cedar and sandalwood and slowly consume them to the point of exhaustion. It feels new somehow, cleansing and vital. Quite a portrait.

Céline Ellena’s Sel de Vétiver for The Different Company is a salty, sedge-whipped take on the note, whispering in a melancholy Breton night. It is oddly floral at times, then bitter and twisted, the vetiver note lost like a cry in the wind. I like any attempt at salinity in scent, and this grassy saltiness is near perfection, I just have to be in the right frame of mind to wear it.  

The perfume that really turned me onto vetiver was L’Encre Noire, created by Nathalie Lorson for Lalique, a heft of peaty, smoky denseness. For me it feels like a scented reflection of black Indian ink dripping softly onto parchment and spreading out like the darkest, most beautiful blood. I had seen it around for ages and never really wanted to try it and then one damp cold evening wandering around Terminal 5 at Heathrow waiting for a delayed flight I picked up a bottle in the reduced section at Duty Free. The bottle is a heavyweight weapon in the hand, now sitting on my shelf like an ancient inkwell. Lalique has been working with crystal for over a century so a beautiful flacon should be de rigeur mind you. L’Encre Noire is a tricky scent to decipher; it is much thicker than many other vetiver fragrances on the market, a vision of smoke and dense, woven roots. I wore it for ages and it took me a while to realise the distinct absence of light. It is all darkness, like a night sky without stars.

Then in 2010, L’Artisan Parfumeur launched a very unusual and sweetly aromatic twist on vetiver that I fell in love with. Created by Karine Vinchon who had authored the shimmering organic Eau de Jatamansi for the French brand. Cœur de Vétiver Sacré was described as a journey to the heart of the vetiver. Apparently Vinchon wanted to explore the masculine and feminine sides of the vetiver by working with high quality Haitian vetiver (masculine) and the more esoteric cœur de vetiver essence (feminine). There is deconstruction at play here, an attempt to echo the very nature of the vetiver note: the smoke, the spice and the more elusive glittering sweetness. The haunting indefinable quality of vetiver is cleverly masked amid Vinchon’s weaving of olfactory textures and effects. The more I have lived with it and worn it the more I have learned to admire and love the dry, sweet and shaded complications it weaves around me.

It is a complicated fragrance, with multitudinous layers and seems to willfully defy decryption as if allowing us in would spoil the secret of its compulsive charms. Vetiver has many facets: smoky, sweet, green, earthy and lemony. Vinchon touches on these aspects with admirable finesse, casting a light on each one, like candles highlighting faces in a darkened room. There are lovely hints of black tea, incense and osmanthus wrapped around the vetiver like a halo. The verdancy of bergamot and tarragon are striking additions to a mix of grasses and heavy woods. The base is rich in vanilla, birch tar and castoreum. Ordinarily these might be cloying, but Vinchon’s lightness of touch is that of a patisserie chef, delicate and assured. Birch tar is a stunning note, adding a rich burnt leather facet that reeks of dead trees and the Siberian trappers who render the stuff down and smear it on themselves and their animals as insect repellant in the summer.

The notes that bind me to this delicious incarnation of vetiver though are the dried fruit accords. Bertrand Duchaufour used candied dates in his dauntingly beautiful Al Oudh to add stickiness, a moment of gourmand contemplation amid the sweaty miasma of spices, woods and animalic urgency. Vinchon plays a similar olfactory card here with dates again and a dried apricot note. I love the smell of apricots; their leathered succulence compliments the osmanthus and the weird coconut rice aspect you sometimes get off saffron. The texture and lift that the fruit notes lend to Cœur de Vétiver Sacré are key. It is magical and thoughtful fragrance making.

What I find interesting with vetiver is the distinct lack of smell associations for it. There is a general consensus it smells rooty, earthy and green, but beyond that we generally struggle to pin down its actual variety of olfactory guises. Roses, lavender, lilies, citrus, sandalwood, vanilla etc., these elements have anticipated notions of how they will smell, we have odour memories of them somewhere inside our brains. The trick of course for perfumers is to re-invent these odours, surprise us with an aspect or facet we had only imagined existed. Or sometimes just simply to remind us how beautiful the pure note can be. I was quite taken aback years ago smelling real perfumery grade patchouli oil for the first time. In my brain I searched and measured it against the memories or imaginings I had of patchouli and simply failed. It was like re-learning to smell again. The shockingly pungent shrubby green oil that rose from the bottle smelt like minted cocoa and bore very little resemblance to the patchouli of my memory. It changed my perception of Pogostemon cablin forever.

Vetiver was similar. I had a vague idea of what I thought it smelt like and each time I added another quality vetiver-based scent to my limbic palette, I realised the enormous complexity of this raw material. Geographic factors play a part too, vetiver from Réunion (Bourbon Vétiver) is considered the finest, but the crops from Java, India (where it is known as Khus), Indonesia and especially Haiti all have different qualities and aromas. The highest quality oil is extracted from roots that have been matured like game for 18-24 months. Steam distillation is used and the oil produced is allowed to mature further, the deeper rounder facets of the oil appearing as the vetiver ages.

The Haitian vetiver in Cœur de Vétiver Sacré has a tart dry lemon aspect that emerges as the scent settles. It plays well with the ginger and orange and sets the scene well for the lusher smokier elements that follow on. I have learned slowly to love this strange note, not as a supporting player where it certainly has a role, but as a principal character, fully formed, multi-facetted and ultimately keeping just a little back for each performance. It’s a similar journey I took with iris/orris and white lilies, sampling, breathing, wearing and loving. So even though I have a much clearer emotional set of associations in my head, I hope I can still be surprised by incarnations of vetiver to come.

It’s been very wet and cold here in the Athens of the North recently and I have been wrapped up in this wonderful fragrance again. Its grassy sweet inhalations are superb doused on scarves and skin. The cashmere I wound on this morning smelt incredible, of crumbled soil and yoghurt-coated apricots. Sadly, L’Artisan Parfumeur have decided to discontinue it (along with Bertrand Duchaufour’s glorious Vanille Absolument, Fleur de Liane and Verte Violette). The official line that it doesn’t sell and is very expensive to make (the default excuse these days for discontinuing anything..)is easily countered with: Make less of the more expensive perfumes then when they sell out, aficionados will wait for new batches of their favourites.* Its all about exclusivity and specialty. Niche has this advantage over mainstream and high street fragrance. I like wearing something different, many of us do, we search out the obscure so we smell leftfield. If I had to wait for bottles of my beloved Vanille to arrive back in stock then I would, at least I would know I would be wearing it again. Now for the second time in three years I will have to look for something to define my skin. I have of course stocked up on the delicious boozy Vanille…

I don’t wear Cœur de Vétiver Sacré everyday; it is part of my wardrobe of perfume I choose from depending on my mood, clothing, season etc. Right now it’s a scent for cold and unpredictable squally days. It stabilises me.  I’m mixing it with Voleur des Roses from L’Artisan or Velvet Rose & Oud from Jo Malone, both of which have sweet earthy rose notes that marry well with the smoky fruits and grasses of Cœur. But I would like to know I could still get it. Of all the vetiver fragrances I have tried, it is the one that loves my skin the most. I will mourn its passing.

For now I will savour what I have left of my Cœur de Vétiver Sacré and the bottle I have put aside in my cellar. I have realised over the years there is little point in making a scented fuss as the decisions have already been signed off and implemented. But I wanted to write this post to celebrate the understated and enveloping beauty of one of the most elegant and interesting portraits of vetiver I have worn. RIP, Cœur de Vétiver Sacré. 

*Since finishing this piece, I have heard that L’Artisan intend to do just this, create small batches of some of their fragrances to keep connoisseurs content and scented in their favourites. 

For more info on L'Artisan Parfumeur, please click below:

Thursday 14 March 2013

A Tremulous Rose & Charred Oranges – A Shay & Blue Addendum

After finishing my original piece on Shay & Blue I couldn’t stop thinking about their Amber Rose perfume and just went ahead and ordered it along with a 30ml bottle of Blood Oranges as well. I love a rose fragrance, it’s just something that’s crept up on me over the years, a mixture of nostalgia, the deep sensuality of the bloom itself, its ability to surround and lift the senses and also strong emotional echoes of my childhood travelling in the Middle East, the scent and taste of rose in halva, water, hair, clothes, pastries and skin.

To be honest though, much as I love a rose, it was the mention of dulce de leche in the heart of Amber Rose that really enticed me. The sweet caramelised cooked milk confiture de lait that has become increasingly popular in recent years, flavouring ice cream, biscuits, cupcakes, coffee and now it seems fragrance. I love the stuff, it’s a jar and spoon thing for me, a fix from the fridge; yes it’s a great flavouring, but nothing quite beats the indulgence of scooping it out and licking the spoon clean. And like so much gorgeous sweet sexy stuff, you know it’s bad for you. It tastes of melted demerara sugar, and creamy bubbling of condensed milk about to burn. It has a great nutty aroma, toasty-sweet and smooth. I always think of Matin Calin by Comptoir Sud Pacifique when I open a jar, a huge blast of condensed milk memory, student flats, boarding school childhood, night-munchies; it’s lacteal and a little weird. I don’t think I have come across it yet in fragrance and combining it with rose just grabs me.

Amber Rose uses Rose de Mai as its main note, it smells so shimmering as to be almost transparent. When you first spray it on, it feels like someone is whispering rose rose rossssssse rossssssssss……sses in your ear ever so softly. The petals of these roses are pale and translucent, floating and laying themselves down on your skin with mannered beauty. White amber and woods are listed in the base notes. There is so much light shot through this delicate skein of notes. The woods are soft and creamy and the amber seems to glow like dawn. The melting sugared heart is divine, not sweet as such, but a tempered pouring of toffee-ness, lifted by the pistachio like quality of the milky rose. The deftness of touch is admirable. Massé and De Vetta obviously felt the collection needed a strong floral and what else but a portrait of Queen Rose.  However their interpretation is playful and deeply beautiful. Twenty minutes into the drydown my skin smelt extraordinary. Polished, dusted with a delicate yet persistent scent of warm musky rose and a lick of caramel.

The clarity and couture application of the roses remind me of the Nagel rose constructions for the Cologne Intense series at Jo Malone. Both Velvet Rose & Oud and Rose Water & Vanilla share the same delicacy and sense of glittering reverence for this most radiant of blooms. However Amber Rose does something a little different, it echoes the roses of Chanel with reverence, but the nod is there in the fluttering powder, the nacreous atmospherics. It will not convert those who consider roses old-fashioned as there is something at work in Amber Rose that tugs at the memory of a thousand scents, however, for those of you that truly love this most extraordinary of flowers, this is a delightful and poignant addition to a collection. 

Blood Oranges was quite a shock. It is the perfume from the Shay & Blue Collection that is getting the most coverage and the one that Dom de Vetta recently picked as a potential brand cult scent.  I have never liked citrus fragrances; they bore me and can often trigger severe migraines. Neroli and I have a very troubled and conflicted relationship.  But the sheer drenched juiciness of Blood Oranges is quite stunning, painterly and shouting with colour and fire, almost fauvist in its intensity. Blood oranges are a pomelo/clementine hybrid and have a rich and ruby taste, oozing sun and crimson juices. 

Instead of bolstering and potentially submerging this gorgeous orange feeling with other citrus notes, Julie Massé has opted to wash over darker aspects of olfactory burnt umber, using charred woods, leather and musks. The result is a landscape of shifting effects, very cleverly arranged over the dominant sanguineous orange personality. The perfume opens like a sunrise, dazzling and fresh, grabbing the senses and then opens out into a warm generous embrace of, smoked woods and the occasional zephyr of juice to remind you of how well the note has been painted. As the day winds to an end, the sun drops and traces of sunshine linger in the leather and musks. It is odd for me to like such a blatant citrus scent but the mimosa cocktail charm of the orange is so perfectly married to the drifting scent of charred woods. The leather lends mystery I think, a sense of something just off scene, shadowed and deeply sensual.

I am still being surprised by Blood Oranges each time I wear it. The longevity of the orange note is very good indeed; even three or four hours into the drydown I can still inhale oozing traces of juice. It has tremendous warmth and a sense of renaissance gilt to it. I stand by my previous mention of Velasquez’s court paintings in my other Shay & Blue blog piece. There are shards of glitter and gold in the scent, varnished in age and aloof beauty. Strangeness too, sensual detail buried in the interplay between citrus, embers and tanned skins. 

It makes me smile inside, as if I have discovered a dark scented secret I will keep to myself. I wore it yesterday layered with my beloved Vanille Absolument and the combination was amazing, a caramalised dessert aroma with a strange salacious drydown. Skin-provoking and glorious.

To read the first part of this Shay & Blue post, please follow the link below:

For more information on Shay & Blue, please follow the link below:

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Shay & Blue: Voluptuous Niche (Or how I fell in love with nightshade, almonds and cucumber…)

I’m wearing Almond Cucumber by Shay and Blue today. It’s a very original composition, a touch of old-school cleanser, a crumble of macaroon, a spoonful of tatziki, a crunch of turrón and a refreshing inhalation of Riviera floral. The distinctive marzipan nuttiness and sweet powdered aspect I often detect with almond notes is further enhanced by an exquisite flaxen-tinted bouquet of lush mimosa at the heart of the composition.  

Shay & Blue is a London based brand and launched late last year with the website going live first and the boutique in Marylebone opening its elegantly appointed doors in mid January.  The signature livery of Delft blues and white ticking is very Regency, a lick of Beau Brummel and echoes of Jane Austen.

They describe their perfumed work as Richly decadent, simply unique, re-inventing classic themes from perfumery’s past and bringing the ideas up to date. 

Contemporising the past. The aim surely of all great perfumers. Novelty and shock value are all well and good; aromachemistry is always going to push perfumery in multifarious directions but classic perfumery, like Haute Couture actually has a relatively limited palette of accords to play with. It is this rarified containment that makes the challenge of difference so thrilling. It is why I never tire of searching out twisted new chyprés, rose/violet accords, smeared lipstick facets married to rose or cassie absolutes, permutations of beeswax and honey, the multiple shifting personalities of vanilla, and the aching governess tones of sad sad iris.

Don’t get me wrong; I love aroma technology and the effects achieved in fragrance. I wear some great perfumes with dazzling synthetic effects popping through them. But both sides of the olfactory experience are needed to allow us to truly understand the beauty of scent and the mechanics of perfume on our skin. Shay & Blue are definitely come down more on the classical side of perfumery, but within the blends there are touches of aromachemical devilry. This makes them a very interesting brand to wear and watch.

Each part of Shay & Blue has been carefully designed from the packaging and boutique styling to social media usage and marketing campaigns. I would describe it as quiet luxury. There is lushness and desirability dripping from the perfume images and editorial blurb. I liked the slow build of anticipation through their Facebook page as they neared launch date. Followers were introduced to the brand concept from May 2012. They met the founders (more on them in a mo.) saw packaging and colour musings, shots of flower harvests in Grasse, images and inspiration for the perfumes themselves. Eventually the details firmed up: fonts, colour influences, bottle manufacturing, arrival of the essential oils, fragrance names, the corporate bag, the box and the location of the boutique. So when the brand finally launched last year, you felt a familiarity and covert possessiveness of the brand. A kind of in-the-know warmth and privacy.

An interesting aspect to the development of Shay & Blue is the use of the beautiful half Senegalese, half French Julia Sarr-Jamois, model, icon and Fashion Editor at Wonderland Magazine.  Her title at Shay & Blue is Style Director, but she is very much the brand’s muse, presenting an elegant and classic vibe as ambassador. It is clever move. Sarr-Jamois’ work at Wonderland is striking in its mix of vintage and classic elements, exploring the dreamy retro quality that wraps itself around the more outré elements of contemporary couture.  She is a creature born to the shifting vagaries of style and fashion.  Her trademark afro is awesome and her mix of vintage favourites worn with key couture pieces marks her out as someone who always seems to be aware of what is exactly right for a certain time and place. Working with Dom de Vetta and Julie Massé seems like synchronicity.

Dom de Vetta has spent many years working in fine fragrance and was a Senior Vice-President of Chanel, working alongside Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake. He developed the existing boutique exclusive range, then No 22, Gardénia, Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie. Then, elaborating on the rich theme of archival and vintage inspired haute-parfumerie, he became Head of Development for the range of Exclusifs that came to include Coromandel, Bel Respiro, 31 Rue Cambon, No 18, La Pausa and the outstanding Eau de Cologne. They have won plaudits from critics and fans alike. As a result other brands started reminiscing about the scented past and revisiting their archives. But no one has really done it with the style and panache of De Vetta and Co. at Chanel.

In 2003 Jo Malone finally stepped down from her own brand after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She had already sold her company to Estée Lauder in 1999 and had stayed on as Creative Director. Lauder then bought in De Vetta as Global General Manager. His influence was apparent in the decision to start talking about the names behind the fragrances and in particular the decision to bring in renowned nose, Christine Nagel to create the fragrances. I think she brought a lovely olfactory style to the Jo Malone brand, one of muted elegance and French-tinted sensuality. Some of the fragrances she created: Amber & Ginger Lily, Rose Water & Vanilla, Velvet Rose & Oud (part of the Cologne Intense Collection), English Pear & Freesia, the Kodo Wood and Sugar & Spice Collections are quite singular and have been successful and well received by perfume critics.

I love the two oriental roses she created: Rose Water & Vanilla and Velvet Rose & Oud. They will always have a place in my collection. I think this collaboration has really paid off, I take a lot more time now at Jo Malone and really appreciate the new level of sophistication and finesse that De Vetta and Nagel laid gently down over what was becoming a somewhat staid brand stuck in a routine lime, basil and mandarin scented rut.

De Vetta apparently sought advice from Nagel on young perfumers to work with as he set up Shay & Blue. Julie Massé was his final choice. A vibrant young perfumer with the lovely Blanc de Courrèges under her belt, Massé is a graduate of the ISIPCA perfume school at Versailles and worked at Mane alongside Christine Nagel in the company’s Fine Fragrance Department.  Blanc de Courrèges is a stylish essay in snowy beauty, echoing the stark whiteness of classic early Courrèges designs. Using a scrubbed, almost bleached patchouli, Massé created a nude ground for iris, white musks and clouds of aldehydes. There is I think a nod to Nagel’s love of transparency in the working of the musks and the way the composition is so playful on skin. It was a very impressive fragrance for someone so young.

Massé is originally from Grasse, but grew up in Japan. This duality is noticeable in her work for Shay & Blue; a passion for flowers and raw ingredients, la terre; balanced with an awareness of aesthetics, the purity of a scented line and just a touch of oddness, enough to puzzle and cause pause, but not enough to render silence.  She has worked alongside Pierre Bourdon and Nagel, both perfumers with strong olfactory visions.  Bourdon created two of my favourite fragrances, both for Editions Frédérick Malle, French Lover and the haunting end of time Iris Poudré.  Massé’s work for Shay & Blue is very much her own, but the influences of Nagel and Bourdon are detectable in the exquisite finish to her fragrances and the controlled quality of raw ingredients. You can almost feel them under your fingers like fine silks and cashmere piled and tumbled in scented rooms.

Shay & Blue’s reasonable entry price point is impressive. Their fragrances come in two sizes, 30ml and 100ml bottles, £30 and £55 respectively. The scented candles are 140g of natural beeswax, with a 40 hour burning time and retail at  £35. This is a great price for fragrances of such quality.  I ordered two 30mls - Atropa Belladonna and Almond Cucumber and waited…

They arrived promptly, oddly in 100ml boxes, nestling in pretty blue and white striped tissue, so I assumed the 30ml boxes were not quite ready. The boxes are blue of course, well made with fragrance specific labels adorned with botanical drawings by artist Holly Somerville. The bottles are a washed out blue, like beach glass, solid in the hand.

I wore Almond Cucumber first.  Now I have always loved all things amygdaline…. macaroons, turrón, marzipan, Calisson, Korres Bitter Almond shower gel, Jergen’s gorgeous Cherry & Almond Moisturiser, L’Occitane’s foaming Almond Shower Gel, chilled homemade almond milk with vanilla pod and dates. Mix this nut obsession with the chilled opacity of cucumber and the sweet Riviera kiss of mimosa and you have an intoxicating fragrance.  Mimosa is notoriously difficult to reproduce authentically in perfumery. Many people have never experienced the real thing.

I first smelt it properly on a trip to Carpentras years ago. Visiting nearby Avignon to spend time at the Palais des Papes, I came across a small contemporary art gallery tucked away in a side street. Inside was a courtyard with mimosa trees, branches heavy with daffodil and lemon coloured blooms.  It was a radiant sight, at odds with the diesel heat from the streets only moments away.

The fragrance initially explodes with cucumber, an aqueous charge of massive intent. It then softens down to a sweet green melon facet that is seriously delicious. Then the almonds, freshly hulled and crushed, swirling creamily at the heart of the scent, mixed with mimosa and heliotrope further enhancing the unctuous white vibe the scent has. There is grit though, touches of crunch and almond wood adding texture and body in the drydown. Almond Cucumber smells both creamy and gossamer clean. The almond elements have been done with subtlety and reverence. It is a hard note to pull off, it can be too bitter, too baking, too marzipan and too cyanide. This is just right. The mimosa is romantic and swoons gently onto the skin, making you feel rested and ready I think for love.

I bought Atropa Belladonna because of the name. I kept thinking of all the Gothic novels I read as a teenager (Walpole, Stoker, Poe, Shelley and Le Fanu), all the dark poisonings and hallucinations. Belladonna or deadly nightshade is one of the most toxic plants in the world and produces atropine, a poison that acts on the nervous and respiratory systems.  Bella donna (beautiful woman) is derived from the fact that it was often used to dilate the pupils of the eyes, an effect considered beautiful in women. I have always been fascinated by tales of poison, often considered a woman’s crime. One of my favourite films is La Reine Margot. It is impossible to forget Virna Lisi’s scuttling shadowed performance as Catherine De Medici, poisoning and manipulating bloodlines and courtiers to her own savage ends.  So like (Hypnotic) Poison and Opium, I am intrigued by anything druggy and narcotic.

As you spray Atropa Belladonna, there is an instant sense of liquefying darkness, a pooling sense of unease. It is a very odd beginning. The crème de cassis top note is so rich, is fairly oozes over the skin like amethyst tears. Narcissus and jasmine from Grasse form the luxurious heart of the fragrance. I was quite taken aback by the morphine rush of the floral notes. Narcissus is a fickle note, often promising much but delivering little. Like ylang, doses have to be carefully controlled. High levels can cause dizziness and nausea. Combined with the indolic flush of jasmine, the duo pack quite a punch; everything feels a little boozy and end of partyish. (The Shay & Blue website claims the 30ml contains 1lb of jasmine and narcissus. The 100ml 3lb…..) The patchouli, sandalwood and vanilla in the base are very beautifully arranged, delicate and reserved, allowing the glories of the flowers and cassis to really bloom across the skin.

Now I have written before about my longstanding dislike of blackcurrant in fragrances, the pissy leaf and the shuddering little berry.  In fact berries, red and black, have never been a taste I have acquired in fragrance. They nearly always smell fake and remind me of so many people in my youth drenched in Body Shop stuff, yes Dewberry I mean you. So Atropa Belladonna was a little bit of a test, to see how my reaction to these notes has stood the test of time. But Shay & Blue have created something very substantial that has really seduced me with depth and studied flow. Positively Venetian in its textured drag and Carnivale mystery. There is a masked quality to the structure, a delay in the blossoming of the full power of the fragrance until at least thirty minutes into the drydown. Then like a mask coming off and the beauty, until then, only hinted at, is fully revealed. It was a risky blind buy for me, but I adore it. It is an evening fragrance; it needs darkness. Like belladonna causing dilation of the pupils, this remarkable perfume makes my senses react in a similar way, widening and flickering with desire.

Next from Shay & Blue for me will I think will be the Amber Rose, I am intrigued by the dulche de leche note at the heart of the fragrance. Blood Oranges interests me too, it is getting a lot of press, as it seems to be a different take on a citrus note, something that rarely appeals to me. Blood oranges have a very distinctive sweetness, an almost anisic blend of orange and plasticised rose.  Julie Massé and Dom de Vetta have used the entirety of the blood orange, segments and juice etc and blended this with charred wood, nappa leather, amber and musks. It sounds scrumptious and strange. For some reason every time I read about it or imagine how it might smell I see images in my head of Velasquez paintings of the Spanish court, weighed down in suffocating finery.

The Shay & Blue boutique opened in Marylebone in February and looks amazing from the images they have posted, reminiscent of classic Dutch interiors with its palette of rich blues and distinctive flagstone floor. I have not had a chance to visit yet but swill be swinging by on my next trip to London. Creating a visual identity this precise and making it seem ‘discovered’ is hard and the disparate elements of Shay & Blue; artisan perfumery, Grasse, Chanel, Jo Malone, Regency London, Sarr-Jamois, Farrow & Ball, and Vermeeresque floor have coalesced beautifully into a muted and chic ambience that works very well in the current climate of frayed excess and fiscal worry.

I am pleased to discover a genuinely independent and beautifully wrought new fragrance House and one that has chosen London as its home. The fragrances are a seductive mix of British reserve and French sensuality. You can almost taste the ingredients, they seem that real.  I am in love with Almond Cucumber; it is one of the most joyful perfumes I have worn in ages. There is just a moment’s hesitation when I think… really? But then my senses take over and I revel in the creaminess, the almond&vanilla smoothie fun of it and let go. And Atropa Belladonna for nighttime, kissing strangers or alone in clean sheets, inky, tattooed and stained. Lasting till morning light and still trailing the loveliest sillage of crushed jasmine and powdered vanilla.  My skin says yes, yes, yes.

For more info on Shay & Blue, please follow the link below: