I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
The Reek of Truthful Desire: Les Parfums de Vero Profumo
I am not
sure how sexual and graphic I will end up being in this piece, but it’s a long
time since I have smelt perfumes this visceral and erotic. With me, perfume is
a skin thing. Juice on skin. Ink on skin. Flesh as canvas. The body beautiful
bores me. The body painted, anointed, dipped, carved, oozing smoke, indoles,
musks, sweat, vanilla, hot petals, tears and leather. Now that’s interesting.
incomparable Vero Kern is inseparable from her wanton and compelling
fragrances. Once worn, they own and haunt.
Her Onda was the subversive and palpable hit
of my poetry and perfume event at Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens on a late May
evening of sun and sensuality. Séville à
L’Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur and Gorilla’s The Smell of Weather Turning also caused considerable ripples. But
it was Onda as it name suggests that
caused the biggest wave. I chose it as my scent of the evening to wear. I knew
I would as soon as I smelt it in Bloom Perfumery in London moths ago. My flesh
and garments were doused in the bitter-sexy tarantella of ylang, bergamot,
honey, passion fruit, musk and woods. This was just the eau de parfum. I then
anointed my pulse points and laced my throat with Vero’s skeletal extraitOnda companion. Pared down it may be - mace, vetiver, ginger and
coriander – but it packs quite a salacious punch.
the night I radiated Onda with the
subtlety of an erotic dirty bomb and smelt bloody gorgeous. Everyone I greeted
wanted to know what I was wearing, leaning in like olfactory vampires to
inhale, tempted in several cases to even lick me.
calling the sensual reek of Onda is something mainstream perfumery
has been fleeing from for years. Skin, real skin, flushed and handled, lit with
libido and longing, a blush of coition or just the promise of all the above to
come. The French have always embraced this reek, the skank beneath the vanillic
bouquet. Exploring in classical delicious formulae, the hint of something
unsavoury yet intensely moreish lurking under jasmine, roses, iris, lavender
and exotic balms. Animalic notes bringing the skin to the edge of disrepute.
the rise of clean scents, white musks and the weird crossover of detergent and
towel notes into mainstream perfumery have caused a massive backlash against
reek and skank. The world of ozonic and deadly locker room sport scents have
laid waste to the decadent beauties that once sashayed their lascivious wares
through international perfumery. The US mainstream market is obsessed with
these clean smelling scents and the stickier neon end of the gourmand trade. (Although
some fascinating small niche houses like DS & Durga, Slumberhouse and
Kerosene are doing innovative and fascinating olfactory things in the US). Far Eastern
tastes are generally more floral, the weather and cultural desires dictate a
more feminine and accessible approach to scent. Another huge market is Brazil,
where it is all about the fruit, in everything, shower gels, home scents,
detergents and of course fragrance. The humidity and weather patterns often
mean multiple showering, cleansing and therefore Brazilians love love love
their fruit. It’s a tough market to break. No coconut, papaya, banana, kiwi,
passion fruit, local specialties, it ain’t gonna happen.
however a secret yearning for reek and skank explains the ubiquitous rise in
the use of Oud (agarwood) by nearly every major player, mainstream or artisan
across the global market in recent years. Few have resisted its sweaty allure. Essentially
Oud wood is the infected heartwood of Aquilaria
or Gyrings trees. A form of mould, it
parasitises the heart of its host and the result is both prohibitively
expensive and well nigh on irresistible.
no denying the underlying armpitty and unwashed corporeal headiness that Oud
brings to scent. But it requires quality and the right aromatic partners to reveal
its true beauty. I love it with rose and iris, sometimes a dusting of
chocolate. L’Artisan Parfumeur's Al Oudh
is my favourite, followed closely by Francis Kurkdjian’s original Oud (which just burns out my synapses…),
the fabulously foul Musc Koublai Khan
by Serge Lutens and then Amber Oud by
By Kilian which I am reluctant to like because as a brand they so blatantly
signal all the exotic clichés of Oud I have come to hate. But hey ho, the skin
likes what it likes.
many of us I would imagine, my first real introduction to mainstream Oud was
through Tom Ford’s hirsute M7 for YSL
in 2007. It was quite a revelation, created by the power pairing of Alberto
Morillas and Jacques Cavallier, it really shook up the world and had so many
people asking: what is agarwood? The rebooted 2011 version M7 Oud Absolu however is ghastly, a namby pamby pretender to the
Burt Reynolds Cosmo Centrefold original. I liked the coldly burnished way M7
vibrated off the skin like varnished cello notes. It was oddly medicinal too,
feral in its search for purpose.
campaign reeked of sex too, shot as a full frontal of French martial arts
champion Samuel Le Clubber; the guy was as hairy as hell and had his bits out.
Not everywhere mind, some countries (well most actually) panicked and cropped
him. The image was composed as an echo of the Yves Saint Laurent’s daring
bespectacled nude campaign for Homme, his
first men’s fragrance in 1971, taken by Jeanloup Sieff.
anyone who has ever worn Kouros by
Pierre Bourdon, launched in 1981, will know that YSL is no strangers to skank. Kouros still divides, despite signs of
obvious tinkering. The graphic civetty bathroom odour of aldehydes, wormwood,
musks and lemon blended so outrageously with carnation, orris, leather and
jasmine tipped a fougère into a piss-stained, backroom work of art.
great reek and skank perfumes I would mention include Schiaparelli’s gussety Shocking, the original Jicky by Guerlain, Germaine Cellier’s
original knife-wielding Bandit and
Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, which
must have been achingly beautiful before being gutted of its animalic roar and
gossipy sexuality. I consider all of these prime examples of fragrances that
once allowed us to truly explore the concept of the brothel beneath the skin.
We all have a hankering for carnality; only some of us choose to embrace it as
the blue hour approaches.
And so I
return to Vero. This remarkable alchemist of sensuality embraces this with
every fibre in her roguish and energetic body. There is knowingness, erudition
and a healthy dose of humour amid the sensually charged homage, the nods and
winks to her potent idols, but her oeuvre is very much her own.
started atypically; there a few indicators of things to come, an aromatologist
by training for many years she changed tack and deepened her passion for oils, odours
and skin by embarking on a Zurich-Paris commute to attend perfume courses. Many
people do this, however, very few have the imagination and forethought Of Vero
Kern. I wonder how people who encountered who then realised what a
groundbreaking yet respectful perfumer she would become.
announced herself in 2007 at the age of 67 with three extraits: Rubj, Kiki and Onda, prepared lovingly in her two bedroom, hand-painted Zurich
apartment. In an exclusive interview with Dimitri at Sorcery of Scent, she said, "Creating perfume - the use of
aromatic materials - to me is similar to cooking".
tiny jewel-like extraits are
meticulously prepared with all the care and attention of a witch doctor or
ancient pharmacist preparing illicit philtres
d’amours for exclusive lovestruck clients. The extraits are brutally simple and therein lays their complexity and
Rubj (pronounced Ruby) is Moroccan orange blossom,
musk and Egyptian jasmine. Kiki is
lavender, caramel, musks and fruits. Onda
a potent quartet of vetiver, ginger, mace and coriander.
its influences. Kiki is a homage to
Paris and the artist’s muse Alice Prin, better known as Kiki de Montparnasse,
who modeled for some of the greatest artists of the day including most notably
Man Ray but also Cocteau, Joujita, Picabia and Chaim Soutine. She embodied the
decadence and free spirited vibe that we almost expect now with every film, mémoire and publication on 20s Paris, but Kiki
was the real deal, dying of alcohol complications and buried with appropriate
boho pomp in the Cimitière de Montparnasse.
Rubj is apparently inspired by Sheikh Nefzawi’s
‘The Perfumed Garden’ a rare Arab discourse on the act of physical sex, a
graphic and poetic treatise of female sexuality, translated most famously by
the scholar, orientalist, sexual explorer, spy, diplomat and roué, Sir Richard Burton. It is an explicit work,
written approximately 600 years ago. But reading it now, it is intensely
sensual and strange in the light of current Islamic hardline views on
wonderful quote is from the Burton translation and chapter 5 entitled – Relating to The Act of Generation.
is like a fruit, which will not yield its sweetness until you rub it between
your hands. Look at the basil plant; if you do not rub it warm with your
fingers it will not emit any scent. Do you not know that the amber, unless it
be handled and warmed, keeps hidden within its pores the aroma contained in it?
It is the same with woman. If you do not animate her with your toying,
intermixed with Kissing, nibbling and touching, you will not obtain from her
what you are wishing; you will feel no enjoyment when you share her couch, and
you will waken in her heart neither inclination nor affection, nor love for
you; all her qualities will remain hidden.’
true of skin and scent alike.
Onda is more difficult to pin down. Vero has used
the phrase jolie laide to describe
Onda. This is a complex term for Brits, Americans and aspirational Asians whose
concepts of beauty are increasingly being warped and destroyed by the
unstoppable rise of plasticised, so called ‘beauty’. This is not beauty. True
beauty is earned, lived in, a reflection of the soul and life’s experience. The
ravages of cosmetic procedures on the worlds acting profession is just
terrifying. (Yes Burt Reynolds, Milla Jovovich, Melanie Griffith to name a few,
we mean you). South Korean women (and some guys) are undergoing very painful
jaw-breaking surgical procedures and eyelifts to give them western eyes. It
seems we have gone crazy. Very few true stylish people glitter around us
anymore. Style, not beauty is in the (unaltered) eye of the beholder.
Jolie laide is Simone Signoret, Romy Scheider, the
wildfire Beatrice Dalle, oddly Adjani as she sheds her frozen years, my beloved
Charlotte Gainbourg and her demi-sibling Lou Doillon, the divinely silvered
Kristen Macmanamy, feral Vincent Cassell, the weirdly horse-sexy Benedict
Cumberbatch, Diana Vreeland, Peggy Guggenheim and Le Tourbillon, Jeanne Moreau,
one of the most alluring creatures ever to grace the screen. What they have is
a unique mélange of curious tugging sexuality and a veiled
suggestion of rivers running deep. Charms and dangers that lie in wait to
reward the daring. Gainsbourg’s screen performances for Lars von Trier
(including the eagerly awaited Nymphomaniac)
arguably contain some of the most visceral and revealing scenes of female
sexuality in recent years. Always divisive but forever fascinating.
is Onda, a recoil and drag back to
the skin, to inhale deeply and then wonder what the hell you are experiencing,
processing the elements, wondering if it’s real. I adore the contradiction of
this, the idea you are wearing something that needs to be approached with a
certain amount of caution.
the extraits came the eaux des parfums. Vero bravely shattered
the original compositions and re-orchestrated them with a Fauvist attention to
detail, vibrancy and texture. She took the original notes and embellished them
with dashes of wild Henri le Douanier brilliance. It is this touch of naïveté
studied eroticism that makes the work of Vero Kern so momentous and compelling.
Mito, an astringent and creamy essay in verdancy and mulch was added to the collection
last year, ostensibly only as an eau de parfum for now (although the extrait is
imminent). Awash with gorgeous magnolia and cypress, counterpointed with a very
Vero citrus note at the top which whiffs of oddly glittering lemon, glistening
as if built from facets of vivid hand-blown glass. Inspired directly by the
famed gardens of the Renaissance Villa
D’Este in Tivoli near Rome, Mito
uses the classical perfumery paring of hyacinth and galbanum to create a leafy
littered base for the majesty of Mito
to shade and sparkle over. There is freshness echoing the hundreds of fountains
in the Villa’s legendary gardens and subtle formality to the sparkling chypré
structure reflecting the elegant and precise design of the villa itself.
Mito has rightly been lauded and awarded prizes. It
is very different in tone from the other three fragrances and is perhaps the
most accessible of Vero’s scents for the more cautious. Oddly, not for me
however. I normally loathe and I mean really loathe hyacinth in fragrances.
It’s a bloom that can me make me screaming from houses and gardens if I smell
them. The sickly sliding bulby odour makes me very unwell and can often trigger
migraines. But this is Vero’s take on hyacinth and Vero’s unique interpretation
of the chypré canon. I will persevere.
an undeniable zing and sense of effervescent emerald strolling as Mito develops, but this being Vero I
cant help imagining an assignation in mind, an Hermès
scarf crushed under a hand as bodies kiss under the shade of snowy magnolia
blossom. This is the scent for Tilda’s Emma Recchi in I am Love, Luca Guadagnino’s sweeping epic about the infiltration
of the Italian bourgeoisie by the truthfulness of love and desire. It is one of
the most devastating portrayals of found love and conventions abandoned I have
seen. It actually shocked me on first viewing, the emotions tore me apart. I
defy anyone to watch the final fifteen minutes and not weep until they drown.
The more I wear Mito, I have a
feeling it will bring me my own I am Love
moment. And that is both worrying and ridiculously exciting.
is Onda that pulls me repeatedly into
its powerful orbit.
Kiki is apparently Vero’s favourite and my number
two. I have a secret fetish for lavender I think. It’s tricky to use in fresh
and modern ways. For so many people it is pillow mist, old lady sachets, essential
oil for insomnia and fluffy pots by the door. In the alchemical hands of a
genuine perfume talent lavender can be moulded into something epicurean and
compulsive. Fragrances like Caron’s ancient Pour
un Homme, Kurkdjian’s Eau Noire for
Dior and Shay & Blue’s smoky Suffolk
Lavender are all intriguing examples of the erotic subtexts of lavender. If
I had to pick my favourite use of lavender in recent years it would be the way
Betrand Duchaufour wove it into the fabric of Séville à L’Aube to help self-confessed perfume slut Denyse
Beaulieu turn an erotic memory into a intoxicating set of dirty and soft
thoughts painted with beeswax, orange blossom, incense and the late inclusion
into the formula of Luisieri lavender, a species native to Séville with less flower matter on the stalk. The
oil extracted is darker in tone, more bitter and animalic than the more
familiar brighter mauve-mood scent consumers might be used too. Séville à L’Aube is profoundly inviting and an untold pleasure
to wear, creating scent waves of haunting waxen dirtiness that seems to
effortlessly draw people in. He had to really push Denyse Beaulieu on the
addition of lavender to the formula, as it was a note she generally dislikes in
scent. However the olfactory arguing was worth it. The lavender sweetens the
composition and compliments the beeswax and orange blossom magnificently.
Rubj is bordello majesty. Lush and dirty, skin
lolling on faded red ottomans, orchids on tables filling the air with their
white druggy odours. Girls come and go, masks and stockings, bow ties and
barely fastened corsets move up and down flower-festooned stairs. The air is
forever Rubj. It is the carnivorous
triptych of tuberose, cumin and orange blossom that radiates out of this scent
with such amimalic force. One can almost imagine petals with teeth nuzzling
your cheek before tasting blood.
Image from L'Apollinade, Souvenirs de la Maison Close
of passion fruit, a fetish Vero note is very clever. (Trivia - Passion fruit get their name from the Latin genus name passiflora because many of the species’
flowers reminded early Christian missionaries of the Crown of Thorns Christ
wore on the cross). They are an odd fruit, more a collection of seeds in brightly
scented amniotic goo. Nothing smells quite like passion fruit, sherbetty,
acidic, ripe and vaguely sexual, a little
down there. I love them, ranked with guava and papaya in my tropical fruit
top three. Added to the indolic whammy of tuberose and orange blossom, things can
get very carnal.
addition of oakmoss and bergamot throw a chypré curveball through the mix,
echoing Mitsouko in its original
civet-reeking heyday. Sexy sexy scent making. I do feel you need a huge staircase
to slowly descend and a room full of impossibly attractive men waiting at the
bottom to do it justice. It is a statement scent. Saying that however, the best
I have I have smelt it so far is on my friend Mr E. he smells utterly debauched
in it. Under whiffs of his trademark Sobranies, Rubj smells stretched out and dangerously come-hither, like a
glittering indole-strewn road to hell.
currently working with roses for a perfume to appear next year. Part of the joy
of loving her work is the wait and the imagining. I adore roses and cannot wait
to inhale her unique and iconoclastic take on the folded, secretive velveteen
is a relatively capsule collection of fragrances, Vero Kern has made an
almighty impact on the senses. Her work is not just that of a perfumer although
she has in many ways re-defined a way of working with precious materials that
punctures the molecular aridity of modern perfumery. She has also managed to
avoid the pitfalls of some niche perfumers creating ‘by hand’ as it were. That weird olfactive sensation of notes sitting next to one another, yes there is an
overall effect, but there is not harmony, no smoothness of line. It’s what I think
of sometimes as cottage industry
perfumery, it has its place and can sometimes produce beautiful work, but it
lacks finesse and mellifluousness.
very much part of her work too, a woman bursting with life and style,
passionate and private, with a unique and generous outlook on life. I think it is
in this homogenous day and age rare to encounter perfume and creators like Vero
Kern. So many people like to think they are eccentric and out there blurring boundaries
in the artistic hinterlands. The truth is more mundane; they are repeating an age-old
cycle of hipster boho existence that owes more to television, old movies and arch posturing
than it does to real talent. You have to have existed to create. Life is
shockingly wasted on the young.
Vero’s perfumes remind us of demi-monde days and
nights, she allows us to re-imagine ourselves cast in the skin of others,
reveling in our senses, drawing others to us like glittering flames in distant
hypnotic windows. This is art. Bravo Vero - Sorcière, sirène et force
lumineuse des arts parfumés.
For more information on Vero and her work and joie de vivre! please click on the link below...