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

Friday 24 January 2014

Auto Seduction - The Scent of Interiors: ‘Italian Leather’ (& A Little Irish…) by Memo Fragrances

Memo is a discreet and luxurious brand, a word of mouth success, the scents suggested carefully to like-minded connoisseurs, skin savoured in pleasured appreciation. There is something rarified and apart about the alluring strangeness of the oeuvre. The fragrances feel expensive, finished, honed and polished, notes open like choral mouths, rolling and blossoming across welcome skin.

I have loved the brand quietly for years, wearing Siwa constantly and sometimes the heady holographic charms of Lalibela. Siwa’s plasticky warm blend of cereals, whiskey lactones, cinnamon leaf, popcorn, narcissus and vanilla wears like silicone on my skin. I smell like an replicant. I loved it from the very first moment I tried it and have never tired of its alien melted beauty. Lalibela is another one of my obsessive rose scents. It takes it name from Lalibela, a sacred place in Ethiopia where it is said angels came down to build twelve churches, all hewn from solid rock. The fragrance reeks of transcendental rose, joyous and fevered. Orchid and jasmine hold to the skin white-hot intensity as the rose seems to smoulder, ably abetted by really rich labdanum, tobacco, vanilla and frankincense notes. Everything smells offered up, sacrificial and sacred.

Memo (short for memory)is Clara and John Molloy. He is Irish, raised around horses in Tipperary, she is Andalusian, but raised in Paris. They are based now in Geneva after many years in Paris. They met apparently on a ski lift, suspended between earth and sky. I like this image of love blossoming mid-air, rootless, under a nurturing vault of blue.

John Molloy is the businessman, with a background at LVMH and L’Oréal. Beautiful Clara is the dreamer, explorer and creative director. In the 90’s she worked in editing and the world of magazine supplements and then in 2007 decided to write a book entitled 22 Perfumers where she interviewed many of the worlds most influential noses. This infected her with the perfume bug. So together with talented IFF nose Aliénor Massenet, one of the 22 perfumers, globe-trotting Clara set out to create a unique body of olfactive work inspired by her journeys. As the motto of the brand says… ‘The journey is the destination’. This is something many perfume noses forget in their scramble for our dollar; the inherent joy in travelling with a scent, living the notes, seeing places, smelling trees, mountains, rivers, feeling the sun and rain on skin, sand and snow underfoot. 

The fragrances romance and distill experience. There is subtlety and beauty expressed in formulae of great tenderness and complexity. Each of the Memo fragrances is a reflection of a specific place and Clara’s reaction to it, filtered through the persuasive perfumed lens of Massenet. Clara uses scrapbooks as she travels to record her thoughts and experiences, noting sensations and emotions linked to places. It was this attention to traveling detail that first attracted me to Memo fragrances. I had read an article in a French magazine about the creation of Siwa, the scent-sation of an oasis night, described by Clara Molloy as feeling like a sort of cover, fur, something comforting. And it’s true I wear to to bed or when I am sad, it cradles me.

This fascinated me, this attempt to translate an emotional response to a time and place into notes, facets and accords. It is very hard to do with any degree of grace and harmony. Fragrances of this ilk are often sledgehammer subtle, deliberately using dull unimaginative scent, spice, floral combinations to suggest building blocks not the overall picture. What Clara Molloy and Aliénor Massenet have done is provide a series of poignantly charged scentscapes that allows us to see the world through olfactory constructs and personal vision.

The original Memo collection was entitled Les Echappées, meaning escapes or more colloquially – getaways, suggesting each of the scents opened a door to the possibility of evasion, of not to Inlé, Siwa, Granada, Luxor etc, at least one might imagine or inhale a perception of it.

The range is quite varied with stylised twists in florals, chyprés, creamy orientals and spiky strange citrus notes. Two ouds, Shams Oud and Luxor Oud have been added recently and while I understand the desire to have a oud scent in collections, these two oddly cold and unleavened scents barely raise a flicker of emotion in me. Perhaps I am just over the oud thing, I am terribly bored of it, the only one I have never tired of is Bertrand Duchoufour’s sticky, dirtysexy date-tinted Al Oudh for L’Artisan Parfumeur.(My dear friend Mr E seems to suit this salacious thing so much I feel I can no longer wear it, he has made it so much his own!)

Inlé has shimmering grace and beauty, lying on the skin with steadfast delicacy. The fine rendering of osmanthus is balanced so gently with maté, jasmine and sweet vernal grass, it seems to hang in the mind like morning mist. I was very taken with Manoa, rich and golden, befitting a scent inspired by the Inca legend of El Dorado, with a fabulous oppoponax thread, tied to ginger and vanilla. Quartier Latin, Memo’s love letter to the near mythical heart of artistic Paris is a real surprise. I have smelt it before but forgotten how it dances off the skin with such recondite allure. Hypnotic tonka and woods segue blissfully into amber and a provocative clove note.  This perfume shouldn’t really work, at times it barely hangs together, but damn it smells so free and sexy.

Two leather scents have joined the collection and mark the beginning of a new direction or mini-œuvre subtitled Cuirs Nomades, Nomadic Leathers. The first, Irish Leather, was released last. The wild running horse in the striking campaign was a rather large clue to the fragrance’s inspiration – John Molloy and his beloved Irish heritage.

One of the most interesting aspects of leather as object is its general classlessness. From humble country farm harnesses to the elitist accouterments of upper class traditional hunting; leather travels, telling many quixotic stories. The finish, quality, treatment and handling will impart olfaction and personality. Irish Leather smells very personal to me, marking quite a shift in direction and one I think that is beautifully achieved. The leather effect has been created using amongst things styrax, iris concrete and musks.The result smells alive and verdant.

The Echappées collection does have olfactive motifs running through it, fetish notes and facets that lend the Memo fragrances a distinctive character. These include myrrh, liatrix or deer-tongue and a very plush and luxurious vanilla bean note. There is an sense of simple luxury, the idea that one could achieve tremendous sensual perfection by utilising just a few of the finest possible materials.

There are echoes of this luxury, these signature scent markers in Irish Leather, but it is a very different beast, blood beating beneath skin. As I mentioned earlier, this scent is for John Molloy and his equine heritage, playing with an inspirational idea of horse riding through green, wild Irish countryside. Hooves kicking up clods of loamy earth, insects feeding, grasses crushed and the horse heart thundering in its noble chest. Using notes of green mate, clary sage, juniper, sweet vernal grass over the alchemical leather and amber base, Irish Leather smells wild and oddly smothering at the same time. I smell a weird hot soapiness as the top notes ease off mixed with a medicinal acuity from a rather bleak birch note rising from the base. It goes very odd on my skin, the leather exudes a sweatiness which on my friend Murray smelt really very sexy, on me smelt out of place and metallic. I really admire the assembly of this scent though, the vegetation meets steed effect is brave and very well executed.

When I wrote my piece on Maggie Magnan’s beautiful Galway-based Cloon Keen Atelier fragrance ‘Castana’, I was very aware of the subtle and delicate handling of the Irishness of the brand. Living in Scotland’s capital city I am more than aware of the pitfalls of cultural stereotyping. Edinburgh is dotted about with tartan at most times of the year, some good, most of it bad. The main shopping thoroughfare Princes Street is scarred with ugly pop-up shops flogging the most awful variety of tartan souvenirs while blaring distorted bagpipe music out into the city’s air. Ambassadors like 21st Kilts run by the cheeky and talented Howie Nicholsby and Anta founded by Annie and Lachlan Stewart are mixing things up a little, marrying tradition with modern living and wearability. So I am always a little concerned by fragrances with distinctive cultural references, it can often be shorthand for lazy perfumery.

What I liked so much in Irish Leather was the careful handling of a near mythic Ireland, just on the right side of misty holiday brochure manipulation but robust enough to imagine the horse beneath the thigh, hot and alive. Taking on leather thematics through scents is quite an undertaking actually, it’s a volatile subjective note. One man’s leather is another’s sweat and avoidance. Leather is intriguing due to the endless possibilities in interpretation. Softness, colour, texture, suede, smoky animalic, white and futuristic. Horse, riding crop, carriage, car, fetish. So much scope for inventive perfumery.

I have three favourite leather scents, two modern, one classic vintage - Bertrand Duchaufour’s masterly Cuir de Nacre for Ann Gerard, all white supple leather with styrax and iris, Dzing! By Olivia Giacobetti for L’Artisan Parfumeur, a Lynchian roar in the carnival night and Chanel’s Cuir de Russie (extrait) still one of the most sublime and emotive perfumes of all time. My good friend Mr E very kindly gave me a bottle that I treasure like my own blood. It is a stoppered bottle and applying the tinted juice to my wrists is a ritual that slows time.

This year saw the launch of the second fragrance in the Cuir Nomades series called Italian Leather. This was love at first whipcrack. A leather milkshake was my first impression, I almost laughed out loud. So much vanilla bean, very disconcerting. Then the pieces start to coalesce and my goodness this is truly fantastic scent-making. I could have sworn I heard my skin thank me for applying it! So different in style from the green heat and aromatic umber tones of Irish Leather. This luxuriant gourmand take on the leather note is utterly joyful, rich and rounded, sensual and virile. The most striking aspect is the sweetness, as if a beloved pair of driving gloves have been treated with vanilla absolute and massaged and loved to exhaustion. I have often scented my own gloves in the past with vanilla or ylang essential oils, working drops of precious unguent into the leather and then manipulating the gloves as I wear them. Last year Mr E drenched his black (serial killer) gloves in the most fabulous tobacco-like jasmine oil from Neal’s Yard. The scent was intoxicating, a little disturbing at times but nonetheless quite the winter silage.

This weird dizzying gourmand opening to Italian Leather is quite startling. The leather note sits in the top too so unfolds on the skin with tremendous warmth and golden charm. I sense an urgency in the scent too, an exhilaration, something which comes from the adroit way a delicious rubbed tomato leaf note has been worked into the mix. Blended with clary sage, cistus, loamy galbanum and orris the leather feels so opulent and Euro-riche. The base is tolu and myrhh, oppoponax, benzoin, more leather and musks all rolling back and forth like melted chocolate in a rhythmic heated bowl.

I am not generally a fan of tomato leaf in perfumes, Sisley’s Eau de Campagne is a scent I really dislike, the note is toxic and high and goes straight for my migraines. Annick Goutal’s Fovaril from 1981 was very French in design, airy and swamped in good taste. Penhaligon’s re-orchestration of Esprit de Roi by Bertrand Duchaufour is excellent however, one of the rare times the brands has managed to create a sense of something genuinely unique in a fragrance. It stands head and shoulders above any of the other Anthology or archive scents the house has released over the past number of years. Esprit de Roi uses mint and raspberry leaf to compliment the tomato note and then wraps everything kin jasmine and woods. The scent reeks of overgrown greenhouses and ephemeral summer gardens. 

So I am again surprised by this witty rendering of tomato leaf in Memo’s Italian Leather. It is the savory counterpart to the incredibly rich vanilla note that gives the scent so much staying power and robustness. The verdancy balances the vanillic sweetness beautifully, using the sugared drift to gently coat the more alluvial elements of the juice. There is a strong sense of ribald fun in this most sensual of fragrances, of abandonment, naughtiness and freedom. The Memo PR blurb hints at cars driving through the Italian countryside and I think this is pretty apt.

I imagine a vintage Italian sports car, top down, spattered with dust tearing through lush abundant countryside, vineyards, olive trees, the heated air tossed with the scent of leaves, car interiors and heady alluring scent. The girl or boy in the passenger seat is a random pouting stranger, laughter lost to the wind. The city is disappearing in the mirrors, hot and crowded. Summer has burnished the sky and the blue is almost blinding. Eighties electronica fills the air, loud and insistently emotional, ice cold contrast to the flickering desires on the rise as the car grips hairpin bends and toys with edges. The steering wheel is scarlet leather, worn and twisted with grip and concentration, stiches frayed a little like the gloves holding the wheel. For a divine moment, everything merges together; the luxurious scent of hide, a flood of emerald flora, earth and land, skin, perfume, laughter, the promise of sex and warm bronzed skin. This is Memo’s Italian Leather, a journey of textures, emotion and memory. Resolutely epicurean, this a fragrance for all lovers of skin, skin dressed in the finest perfumes and little else in fact. 

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