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

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Ravishing Jasmine/Indulgent Chai – ‘Untitled #1 & #2’ by Magnetic Scent

I started writing this, propped up in bed, lights dimmed, early autumnal rain morse-coding against my pitifully thin Edinburgh windows. I was warm though, under layers of comforters and a tartan blanket. There was silence, the air radiant with a halo of efflorescent jasmine hum filling the room. If it had a noise it would be crackling softly like the mutter of embers. There is that odour I always get with jasmine of rubbered plasticity, freshly cleaned fridges, and plugs. I love the naughtiness of indoles blurring a murky line between decay and desire. The raw power of jasmine has a compelling sullied undertone, a fragile odour of defilement. This disturbing attraction lies just below the dazzling surfaces of floral luminosity.

I was wearing Untitled#1 by Magnetic Scent, an artisan fragrance house based in Amsterdam. Three fragrances – Untitled#2, Tindrer and Indigo were launched in 2012. Untitled#1 was launched earlier this year. It is one of the most dramatic lung-filling jasmines I have ever put on skin. It has taken Spyros Drosopolous, the nose and artistic visionary behind Magnetic Scent over 300 mods to get his portrait of jasmine just the way he wants it. It is 50% jasmine, with a high dose of real absolutes and the rest painstakingly created from other floral and aromachemical sources. The effect is simply outstanding. The two sides of the jasmine face each like white armoured queens looking deep into mirrors, each knowing the other is there and somehow understanding the tensions held in opposite indolic worlds. For there is an unease between the real and imagined jasmines and this is needed, the slight shuddering and friction creates fire and the perfume ignites across the skin like dawn racing across needy land.

I wasn’t sure at all, smelling Untitled#1 for the first time. And I love my floral odours: roses, lilies, tuberose, jasmine and orange blossom. The counterpointing of purity and decay, indoles and sap, white creamy beauty and the slow decent into bruised collapse. I love the embedded benzyl salicylates and the skin-sullying joy of wearing huge white florals. The problem is always one of quality. Stinting on the quality of the jasmine absolutes or the technologies used to enhance and wrap the core themes and the perfume will cause the juice to collapse in on itself, smelling cheap and starchy, the promised fleshiness fading like so much mist.

Jasmine fragrances vary so much in style. Some smell sweet and heady, like cocktails sipped under evening zephyr-brushed trees. Others are rich and creamy, like ripe décolleté, spilling out of couture dresses. Others have a hint of ash running through them, some are white and clean like angelic wings, bright and just a little too dazzling to be real. I like my jasmine scents to perturb, entrap and seduce. Sometimes repel a little, just enough to make you realise you have huge jasmine shaped holes in your life and must cram them full with handfuls of petals until your heart bursts from the unbearable beauty of it.

Spyros Drosopolous

Spyros Drosopolous came to perfume rather late and is entirely self-taught. He was already a doctor with a PhD in Sleep and Memory Consolidation as the fragrance bug took hold. He was 33 when he took his first perfume workshop and continued to study the sciences while using the olfactive and creative freedom of his aroma training to explore a more artistic side to his nature. I like the idea of the two sides of Spyros’ nature coming together in his rich and imaginative scents. There is a distinctly cerebral quality to his olfactive work: observation, minutiae, scrupulous development and attention to detail. Then is the dreamer, the perfumer reaching in every direction for inspiration, indulging his senses and desires, playing with concepts and pushing and tweaking as much as his scientific persona will allow. The mix is fascinating and has produced so far, four very singular fragrances, linked by serious intent and scented marksmanship.

The four scents in the collection are Indigo, Tindrer, Untitled#2 and now Untitled#1. Each one has a very idiosyncratic vibe, a little bit Boho, a touch of dressed up street style, a hint of madness but most of all, great beauty. They vary in tone from icy green and gourmand to urban heat and incandescent floral. They are housed in complex cardboard packaging, inspired by transformer coils, another nod to personal magnetism and sparks. I like the boxes, there is nothing else like out there, and they look and feel like sculpture. They are however a little fiddly to use and I ended up placing them on the shelf simply as objects and keeping the bottles out. 

The juices have a singular resonance to them, a mix of homemade alchemical aromas and otherworldly love and devotion. If you hold the bottles up to the light, residue swirls in the mix. They feel dense, made. Each flacon is numbered, adding a further touch of individuality. This approach to perfumery is hard to sustain in the cutthroat world of olfactory completion. Niche houses can be awfully hard on each other. It’s a small pool and like droughts in Africa, when the pools shrink it can get very deadly. It’s dressed up as stylish admiration but it can be vicious. When small houses go under, few tears are shed.

Spyros has taken his time. Each of his four fragrances to date has patience and erudition written all over them. Arguably it’s a quirky arthouse brand, a little hip, a little OTT and oblique in its blurb. But you need to remember how small some of these niche houses are. They need to feel alive and if you visit Amsterdam, where Magnetic Scent is based, things make more sense. The city has the most amazing vibe and it gives you an insight into the originality of the brand.

I adore Amsterdam; it is the only city that could possibly tempt me away from my beloved Edinburgh. It feels alive and buzzing, there is a genuine passion for art and culture that rolls right across the senses. The melting pot of cultures and styles has created a city with a strangely schizophrenic ambience at times and there are unsettling signs of intolerance and political ambivalence. But this is mixed in with youthful exuberance and love of life. The sex and drugs thing is superficial and touristic. I loved the contemporary art scene, the architecture, and the surprising calm of the streets at night as we wandered the canals and sat and watched partying boats go by. There is darkness too, the shadow of Occupation and the Nazi liquidation of Dutch Jews. The city has absorbed all this and evolved. The necessary requisites of light and shade, the chiaroscuro of a city, reflecting the work of the Master, Rembrandt Van Rijn. Amsterdam is a city in love with light and shadow. So much history and ornateness, trading glories and pageantry in a city of reflections, incandescence and bicycles.

Amsterdam shopping is eclectic and rewarding, The Nine Streets area is packed with elegant little boutiques selling everything from specialty cheese and English trilbys to vintage prom wear and fetish catsuits. I found kite shops, candy cane shops, fragrant bookshops selling elegant and rare art monographs. There is Skins of course, the niche perfume store at Runstraat 11. They stock amongst other things A Lab on Fire, Byredo, Odin, Ys Uzac, Malle, Juliette has a Gun and Atelier Cologne. I bought some Keiko Meicheri and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier when I went. The service was cool and professional, the staff discreetly passionate.

A lot of this is present in the DNA of Magnetic Scent. Spyros has blended the spirit of his environment with his obvious technical skills and imagination to create a brand that to me is pretty unique. I haven’t smelt scents this dense and cinematic for a while. They disarm you.

I want to look at the two Untitled scents, 1 & 2. They are my favourites. Very different but linked by intensity, precision of ingredients and longevity. They feel almost 3D in the way they open on the skin. For a moment notes form a quite intense sense of reality. You imagine caressing waxen petals, rubbing spices between the fingers, brewing milky chai and leaning in to inhale the aromas.

Untitled#2 is a dusty, atmospheric gourmand, inspired by a classic chai accord - tea and milk flavoured with spices such as cinnamon, clove, pepper, ginger, fennel, star anise and cardamom. Sugar, usually Demerara or some form of brown or unrefined sugar is generally used to sweeten the blend. Assam is the most popular tea of choice due to its robustness of flavour and ability to hold its own against other ingredients. Chai blends have become a mainstay in cafe culture now, all permutations are possible, there are even powdered and teabags versions now.

Spyros has used this aromatic and comforting accord as his starting block, almost like his Guerlinade, rich and mysterious, unknown. He has added rose, cocoa and vanilla to the mix, exponentially increasing the gourmand facets of the scent but also strangely drying the fragrance out. Everything smells powdered grassy and oddly woody, as if stored in antique oak cabinets, absorbing the scent of grain and knot.

I worked in an upmarket deli in my early twenties. It was with a great group of people, but it was a god-awful job. Terrible pay and crippling hours. The food/health and safety abuse that went on behind the scenes was often horrifying. (To this day, coleslaw still makes me shudder violently.) It was often however an olfactory wonderland, from fresh crisp bread (Russian rye, Cholla and crackling baguettes), to hot quiches, oily bitter coffee, deli meats and pungent cheeses. My favourite part of the job was refilling the shop floor jars of herbs and spices from the wholesale bags in the basement storeroom. This room was double-locked and kept cold and dry. As soon you opened the door, there was the most sensational rush of odours – autumnal, sweet, dirty, piquant, earthy, milky, oily, leafy and anisic. The various containers had become imbued over the years with the hues and odours of their contents. Lifting or unscrewing the lids was always remarkable, waves of spices and herbs, a cacophony of aromas. It felt like being underground in sort of natural underground larder, buried deep under a tangle of tree roots. Some smells were more vivid than others – the van Gogh stain of turmeric, the smoky powdered cough of dried ginger, pungent sweaty asafetida, the sensual balsamic comfort of tightly wrapped vanilla bundles. And my favourite, cardamom, the Queen of Spices, oily and bitter with a whiff of serpentine green smoke.

This memory explodes when I spray Untitled#2. There is a smell of age and staining, things past their sell by dates, rubbed things, powdered things, sweet decay and the warm inhalation of old cupboards. Infusing this with rose, cocoa and vanilla has created something hypnotic and immensely comforting. It has all the hallmarks of a gourmand, yet for some reason, its blazing intensity persists in persuading me it is something else altogether – a store cupboard oriental. The wood of drawers and shelves permeated with years of spilled storage. The mix could have been very sweet and overtly gimmicky, veering dangerously close to actual chai mix. But Spyros’s handling of the notes, in particular the spice to milk and cocoa ratio has created an airiness that makes Untitled#2 moreish and so unusual. It has amazing longevity and projection, broadcasting its strange desiccated enchantment from the body like a spice merchant’s mating call.

Untitled#1 was unleashed in June this year, and I am being deliberate in my use of the word unleashed. This is jasmine as weapon. It growls and flashes out of the bottle, wrapping its indolic heat and innuendo across your skin. It is almost too much to bear. Almost. But then you just let yourself go and nothing else seems to matter.

Two years of jasmine work by Spyros has produced a perfume of staggering oddity. Beautiful yes. But the kind of strange fractured beauty you have to be around for a while, in order to see how the pieces fit together. Untitled#1 has flaws, the cigarette note, common in many quality jasmine scents, perhaps breaks across the composition a little too suddenly for my liking and there is a little discordancy in the lower notes of galangal and the cocoa. But somehow, this doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, if anything they serve to highlight the grace and allure of the jasmine theme.

I have worn a lot of jasmine scents over the years as I explored my love affair with the sensual and erotic side of white flowers. I love my lilies of course, ylang too, the holiday smoothness of orange blossom and the skin-licking carnality of tuberose. I used to love Jasmin et Cigarette by Etat Libre d’Orange which obviously played skin games with the tobacco aspect of jasmine. Using apricot and hay, tobacco, tonka and turmeric over a huge jasmine absolute note ELd'O re-imagined the 20s garçonne, smoking in bars, her beauty wreathed in illicit smoke, her lipstick barely visible beneath a veil of butterflies and webs made from the finest black lace. But then I had on one of those weird olfactory blinders. I had a really brutal migraine while wearing it; full blown aura, shimmering walls and photophobia. I didn’t wear it for a while, but whenever I tried to even sniff it, I broke out in a sweat and the memory of that terrible migraine just came back in a sickening rush. I had to give it away in the end. I could smell it waiting for me on the shelf.

Indoles are a naturally occurring chemical in some white flowers like gardenia, jasmine, lilies and are responsible for the cigaretty/ashtray scent. Natural jasmine extract contains about 2.5% of indoles. In its purest form the smell is more akin to camphor, the smell of mothballs. Penhaligon’s Lily & Spice that I wore for years walked a very fine olfactory line between campheraceous old wardrobe intensity and the trance-like beauty of the Madonna Lily. Wrapping the composition in vanilla, saffron and benzoin only highlighted the tremulous edge that indoles have in scent. There is lots of chat about fecal odours and decaying flesh giving of the same aromas. Indoles smell like many things to me; ripe banana, custard, pannacotta, warm rubber, suntan lotion, plastic, hot garden furniture, honey and popcorn. It just depends on the flower. While some of this is unsettling to our senses, many of us are drawn to them like lovesick moths to candle flames.

As I mentioned earlier, Untitled#1 underwent a reported 300 mods to reach a stage where Spyros was happy with it. The formula is 50% jasmine, a high percentage of it jasmine sambac absolute, the rest is a cleverly constructed mirror created from other blooms and aromachemicals. Jasmine is €5000 a kilo these days, extremely precious and needs to be treated as such. There is great tenderness at work in Untitled#1; the jasmine could have been unbearably pungent and all pervasive. Adding notes to balance and compliment such a powerful personality is tricky, you have to tread carefully, think things through. It is a question of reflections and veneers, notes that will enhance the beauty of the jasmine without interrupting the lustre.

The other notes include absinthe oil, ginger lily (CO2 extraction), galangal and cocoa absolute. This is a little list of additions, rather minimalist, a still life almost. I am intrigued by the absinthe and cocoa, two quite opposite notes – the absinthe icy cold and spiky, like walking through gorse and cocoa, dark, bitter and dry, with echoes of sweetness somewhere in the future. Insightful alchemy, these two elements hold the jasmine, support its enormous miasmic volume. There is a tempering of intent. As the fragrance hits the skin and the jasmine literally explodes off the flesh like solar flares, the other notes rein in the potential garishness and harshness, adding subtlety and glow, control and great harmony to a tremendous essay in floral reach.

I have been wearing so much of it; many items of my clothing retain soft echoes of folded ashtray and heady nighttime thoughts. No matter how often I wear this during the day, it darkens the air around me; this level of succulence belongs to the night. Worn during the day, I feel filthy, which is perhaps no bad thing. But oh at night it releases me. Men don’t wear enough florals in my opinion. Too scared to break with convention. Those guys I know that that do are fabulous (mostly straight!) creatures, radiating a certain animalic je ne sais quoi Boys in flowers… girls in leathers and incense. A little mix of scented androgyny makes the world go round.

The last jasmine I really admired was the original Bulgari Jasmin Noir from 2008. It had impeccable taste and managed to balance out the jasmine sambac with really good licquorice and almond notes. Tonka and gardenia fleshed out the darkness. Bulgari used IFF perfumers Carlos Benaim and Sophie Labbe to swirl a little inkiness into the mix and play with dualities. I loved wearing it. It had a weird drag king element, Kristen McMenamy’s ashen beauty in a Tom Ford velvet tux.

The Chantecaille Jasmin used to be lovely, all buttery and flambéed bananas with stardust. It had delicious, butterfly soft notes of mimosa and magnolia with a whisper of oakmoss for stability and warmth. The notes seemed simple enough but Sylvie Chantecaille’s trademark use of floral botanicals in her delicately fragrant skincare served her well in her perfumes. (Her golden almond-tinted Frangipane was amazing too). Sadly though, there has been reformulation, a huge price hike and a ghastly re-design of what was a very elegant bottle. The really moreish tropical, end-of-evening holiday aromas have been ironed out and replaced by something hissy and cheap in the top. It feels like the purity or strength of the jasmine absolute has been compromised or reduced. Whatever has occurred, it is a harsher less pretty scent. Like a beautiful face ruined by heroin and booze.

Magnetic Scents Untitled#1 is a ravishing beauty, reveling in its magnificence. The jasmine untainted by corruption or compromise. The poise and arrogance of the note is breathtaking. The jasmine knows no bounds. The clever marriage of absolutes and sympathetic echo create a wonderfully harmonious and thrumming balance within the fragrance. This in turn allows a resonant and satisfying development of notes on skin. A journey of subtle vintage cigarettes, vanillic blossom, honeyed woods, powdered skin, mothballs, broken stems and creamy summer petals, dripping with dew. Each time I wear it, I wonder whether or not I might die from the pleasure of it.

For more information on Magnetic Scent, please click on the link below:

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