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

Tuesday 16 September 2014

A Handful of Dust in Autumn – ‘Yesterday Haze’ by Imaginary Authors

The land wants me to come back
To a handful of dust in autumn,
To a raindrop
In the palm of my hand
In spring.
The land wants me to come back
To a broken song in October
To a snowbird on the wing.
The land wants me back.

Langston Hughes – ‘Dust Bowl’

My love affair with the scented fictions of Josh Meyer continues as he releases another volume in his page-turning collection of seductive creations. I first blogged on his wonderful niche brand in January this year in a piece called Strawberries and Asphalt, examining in detail two of my favourites, Cape Heartache and The Cobra & The Canary that I acquired for the Foxy library. Now I have Yesterday Haze to swoon over. It arrived carefully wrapped in the most beautiful Imaginary Authors packaging that made me reluctant to open the parcel. It is this attention to detail that makes me love Josh and his brand so much, the unique bottle designs by his friend Ashod Simonian with their distinctive illustrative finishes and the bookmarks he sends out with samples and purchases detailing the notes of the fragrances, book synopses and mini-biogs for his imaginary authors.

Josh’s concept of creating a line of fragrances based on fictional fictions as it were is pretty inspired let’s be honest. I said in my earlier piece it could have been a horribly self-conscious exercise in hipster vanity, but a sense of humour, genuine talent and a gorgeous sense of literary olfaction have allowed the Imaginary Authors line to become beautiful expressions of scented plot and characterisation. I love the idea that a new scent might be a newly discovered work by one of Josh’s intriguing authors. Memoirs of a Trespasser and Cape Heartache are both purported works by Philip Sava (1867-1923). And while both these scents are quite different in texture and effect - Memoirs of a Trespasser is a dense mulchy vanilla and Cape Heartache is a foggy forest of strawberry mist – the similarities are subtle yet striking. As authors often have signature styles that inform their work, these two fragrances share a playful woodsman tone, an atmospheric dichotomy of sweet and manly, something that really shouldn’t work but does. Almost like the kissing boys of Brokeback, the tough, harsh mountain life tempered by hot skin and forbidden desire against a backdrop of desolate sweetness.

Yesterday Haze is the follow up to Violet Disguise by Lenora Blumberg, another one of Josh’s imagined authors:

‘A Californian through and through, Blumberg’s early stories invoke the innocence of picnics in the park, days whiled away picking plums in the orchard, and warm nights cruising canyon roads with the top down. After Violet Disguise was adapted for the screen Blumberg spent several years consorting with Hollywood’s elite but abandoned the glitz for a quiet life on a plum orchard in the Ojai Valley.’

Great scent setting for a bizarre scent, an oddly sensual violet, with a lurking whiff of androgyny and menace. It was one of my favourites from the collection and I nearly bought it..and probably should have done. The plum note has been rendered with a strange dry transparency, on the cusp of smoky but not quite. Violets and me go way back, weird and awkward; I kinda like the vintage creepiness they donate to scent, that mix of shattered doll and antique floral lace. But at the same time I can never quite shake the sensation I might smell like Norman Bates’ mother.

This is what I wrote about it in my January post:

‘..Rum, dried fruits, violet, amber and wait for it… evening air and The Month of May. How could I possibly resist? It’s a sumptuous aromatic fruity thing with a whimsical chypré feel to the central section. The violet is plush and leathery, with a hint of night. Beautifully constructed, it fades away into a mauve dawn with grace and discretion, never outstaying its welcome.’

I’d remove the word whimsical now I think, revisiting Violet Disguise again. It’s more direct than I recall. But mauve dawn still captures for me how this compelling mix of flower and powdered isolation feels on my skin. It is more bruised and ephemeral than I remember in the distant chill of January and the plum note is a little more reserved and disconcerting, but it still smells convincingly lovely. Anything containing ionones will trigger nostalgia; it’s an odd phenomena.. 

In the UK we have a talcy confectionary called Parma Violet made by a Derbyshire-based company called Swizzel Matlow; fizzy and tinted with anthocyanin, they are a familiar if shuddering part of many people’s childhood. Oddly it is this crumbled, chalky sweet lavender coloured candy that seems dredged like fine dust through Violet Disguise. The more I wear this scent, and I’ve been wearing it a lot recently, I have realised that the vintage floral riff is in fact the disguise, the mask under which a more forsaken and isolated theme plays out. The plum and woods are lit with synthetic amber while the rum is a brazen companion to notes of such seeming discretion.

Lenora’s personal story of fading glitz and glamour, from necessary fame to a gentle decline amid fruit trees and dusky orchard nights is well served by Josh’s clever and rather poignant floral cri de coeur. Violet Disguise will be eventually be added to my collection of Imaginary Authors, I like its resolute androgyny and ability to surprise and disconcert me. Fruit notes are a fraught concept for me in scent, plums, prunes, apples, pears etc.. these things can often be sweetly suffocating but perversely moreish. I want to like them, but my skins hurls them back acidic and unloved. The fruits have to be dried and leathered or boozy eau de vie simulacrums. As I drifted off to sleep the other night, my wrists anointed with Violet Disguise, I imagined perhaps the name might refer to Lenora’s reclusive fictional self, biographically tucked away in balmy orchards, walking amid the redolent gnarled harvest, wrapped in shades of violet, mauve, amethyst and wine.

This wistful dream-projection has stayed with me for days and is testament I think to the atmospheric impact and concept of Josh and his carefully wrought authorial sway. 

Josh’s highly anticipated new addition to his library Yesterday Haze is dreamy and disconcerting too; a weird nutty, figgy abstraction of scent. It seems simple, linear, quiet and yet as it settles onto skin it opens into a perfume of generosity and secrets.

I’ve said it before, but I really don’t care for fig fragrances. In recent years they have become almost a sub-genre of their own in niche, the sweet, woody oozing scent of holidays and jammy Mediterranean pastries. There are really only two benchmark fig scents. One is Diptyque’s cult bestseller Philosykos, created in 1996 by Olivia Giacobetti; a near perfect portrait of the fig tree, rich with cedar and a milky coconut note to suggest the ripening fruit. The other is Premier Figuier by L’Artisan Parfumeur, also created by Olivia Giacobetti back in 1994. A richer milkier take on the fig note, Premier Figuier feels almost decadent in its fruity excess. An Extrème version, pulled back on the fruits and delineated the tree, leaves, soil and sun. It smells like lying on the ground under the shade of the fig tree, staring up at the sun through the branches as a slight breeze moves the scent of green fruit and sap in warm air.

There have been a few other fig scents of note including the curiously cold cedar-kissed Marc Jacobs Men (his original classic scent in the lovely heavyweight rectangular bottle), Jovoy’s patchouli rich L’Abre de Connaissance and finally Jean-Claude Ellena’s lush and immersive Un Jardin En Méditeranée. I will admit to loving Figues et Garçons by the now sadly deceased Nez à Nez niche house, with incredible scents by Stephane Humbert Lucas. It reeked of vanillic paint and figgy acetone. Most odd and not a particularly easy scent, but one I admired and found fascinating to wear.  

I’m not entirely sure why fig and I don’t get on; working in a boutique years ago with someone who wore WAY too much Philosykos every day didn’t really help. I think as well, the milky, oozing edge to a lot of fig scents (usually some sort of coconut lactone), an attempt to capture the ripe, lacteous fruit on the heavy French branch appals my senses, affecting my ability to see beyond this hyped and rather clichéd hipster fruit. However, I was more than prepared to trust Josh with a take on fig, I just could not imagine him doing anything even remotely conventional or predictable with it. Also he had to build it into his imagined fiction for Lenora’s Yesterday Haze, something it turned out he could do with his customary skill and savoir-faire.     

I guess fig counts as gourmand, an edible foodie note. It usually smells pretty sweet in scent, vaguely tropical or Mediterranean, the jammier, solar aspects of the fruit offset by sharper, woodier notes and stem facets, mint, grass and ozonics. The notes for Yesterday Haze include fig, walnut bitters, whipped cream, iris and tonka bean, tree bark and of course let’s not forget the orchard dust. Josh has been taken to task by a couple of bloggers and some casual reviewers for his use of synthetics. There would be very little fragrance without them. Used correctly, with imagination and obviously within IFRA guidelines, aromachemical effects are the CGI and fireworks of perfumery, creating illusion, scentscapes, olfactive dazzle and most importantly structure and support for naturals and absolutes. Marrying the two sides is very challenging. Creating scents purely from 100% natural materials is incredibly demanding and made fraught by IFRA’s detailed list of minute material controls. So many all-natural fragrances lack lift and complex harmony due to the volatility and weight of the materials used. A rare jewel is the Richard Lüscher Britos collection of Natural Terroir Perfumes, launched earlier this year. Exceptionally high quality ingredients painstakingly applied to particular terroir areas of the world. I blogged in July on 14˚S 48˚E, a Madagascan fiction of ylang and vanilla by Vero Kern.

Josh has always used all the tools of his trade with wit and verve, naturals, synthetics etc, assembled to write or inscribe aromatically his literary inspired formulae. I sense a collage sensibility, an ability to gather influences, images, words and motifs in his head. These are in some cases literally cut out, copied and sourced for authorial headshots, PR blurb and excerpts from his fictional works. Then on a deeper, more subliminal level the montage of notions and imaginings are translated into fragrance notes, accords and structures. This can of course all go horribly wrong in the execution and roll out, but Josh has a firm editorial grip on his fragrances allowing a certain odour of thematics to radiate through the line, while creating juice that is fun, benevolent and often quite moving. There is something about the depth and impact of occasional notes that seems to haze off the skin and trigger memories, textures and actual 3D place. I know this is the much-discussed point of perfumery in general, but Imaginary Authors is a rather addictive universe, with page-turning, skin lavishing attraction.

Browsing through the generous array of samples that Josh sent me along with order of Yesterday Haze, I am struck again by the ambition of Josh’s perfumed elegance. Yes there is eccentricity, artiness and whiff of hipster (Portland….) however; the perfumes themselves have been assembled with love and a genuine desire to communicate something beyond the generic bottle/carton combo. Now I know that some people just don’t get on with Imaginary Authors and that’s fine. As with most things in life, we all have our own specific tastes. But I know an awful lot of people like me who love Josh’s olfactive fictions and find moments of contemplative and humorous beauty amid the bulls blood, limestone, tennis balls, asphalt, wild strawberries, warm sand and satin. We can write ourselves into Josh’s perceptive aromas.

Now we have Josh’s new perfume based on Lenora Blumberg’s second fiction, Yesterday Haze, set in the San Joaquin Valley. It tells the story of a farmer’s wife who has been unfaithful to her husband for decades and then decides to tell him. Her lover is a crop duster pilot who also happens to work for her husband. There is even a quote from this complex imagined work… ‘Just as sunsets are more beautiful on hazy days… so too are the memories of yesterday.’

I was very intrigued by the promise of this scent, mainly because of the looming confrontation of my figgy nemesis but also because I sensed that perhaps this perfume would be somehow different, a more mature and pared down arrangement than previous juice. There is an inherent theatricality and coded campiness to Josh’s line, an archness that is necessary to balance any accusations of pretention. But the uncluttered synopsis for Yesterday Haze suggested in advance a more melancholy honed formulation, a fragrance without the edge of Technicolor exuberance that tinted the previous releases.

There is no doubt Josh is having ridiculous amounts of fun with his Imaginary Authors line. The notes are of course always a wonderful mix of precisely chosen real materials mixed with more romanticised and oblique concept notes. Yesterday Haze is no exception, containing fig, iris, cream tonka bean, tree bark, walnut bitters & orchard dust….. yes fabulous and  nonsensical yet instantly atmospheric orchard dust.  Like the old growth and mountain in Cape Heartache, oak barrels in Memoirs of a Trespasser, tennis balls in Soft Lawn and the limestone and artesian well in Mosaic, Josh wants us to imagine beyond mere descriptions into his aromatic and beguiling world where aromachemicals and natural materials become alive, landscaped and breathing.

So could Josh could make me love fig? Yesterday Haze smells instantly familiar and somehow utterly weird. The fig is warm and distant, a dream of fig if you like, an imagined fruit somewhere, malleable and blushing, on a wooden table in the warm midday sun. I really like the walnut facet, the slightly oiled roll of kernel fresh from the shell. It reminds me a little of Fra Angelico, the obscure hazelnut liqueur that comes in a dark brown monk-shaped bottle. It does smell wonderfully creamy in a slow, vintage way, the fumes lifting off skin like the last rays of summer. When I first read abut this scent I had a vision of Lenora Blumberg’s character of the wife, wandering through dry, crackling fields, dressed in white, her face shielded from the sun by a hat she has worn since her teens. She is tied to the way of the land and her husband but her heart is pulled elsewhere. 

There is a signature I feel to Josh’s work, a scent of oddity and melancholy faded towns. Literally it is a woody, hazy, veiled amber feeling, like staring out at the garden through the protection of a screen. As it settles, Yesterday Haze becomes a woman’s lonely early evening walk in the orchard, torn between lover and spouse, the air tainted with damp fruit and shifting soil. Overhead, the soft drone of her lover’s plane buzzes the sky far far away as his day slows to an end. She looks up and catches her husband’s eye; he is standing in a brightly lit room of the old, comfortable house. He turns away and the light goes out. She knows she must tell a man she loves oddly with comfort that she loves another with passion and fire.

The fig note is peculiar in Yesterday Haze, blurred and almost out of reach. Josh has presented the fruit quite differently from other perfumers whom have always been keen to exploit the more lush, oozing, Mediterranean facets of this divisive fruit. Here it smells a little ghostly, a projected aroma-portrait symbolising for me the forbidden echo of their affair. Over-reading perhaps but that is what happens when you meld scent and evocative wordsmithery together.

Josh Meyer’s scented volumes present a particularly rich and eccentric approach to scent creation. The passion and force of imagination at work is incredible and I personally never tire of wearing his witty and charming scents on my skin. Yesterday Haze may be my favourite to date, I adore the strawberry campfire cacophony of Cape Heartache and the doomed tyreburning confrontation of The Cobra & the Canary, but right now the olfactory wistfulness and complexity of Josh & Lenora’s duplicitous drifting wife has me hooked. (And yes Josh made me like fig….)

For more info on Josh Meyer and his fragrances, click on the link below:

1 comment:

  1. Well, this was an interesting post to me on a variety of levels. I introduced my best friend to niche perfume via a fig note (In Premier Figuier no less), and am very partial to it myself. The idea of a weird, nutty, figgy abstraction of a scent intrigues me, especially one that encapsulates a ghostly echo of this particular illicit love.

    On a separate note, not only do I know Swizzel Matlow's, as all us Brits of a certain age would be sure to do, but I have had dealings with them in the course of my work. They are as traditional a British firm as you could imagine.