I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Saturday, 13 December 2014
Samovar Dreams – ‘Russian Tea’ by Masque Milano
I first came across
Masque Milano last year, when my senses fell victim to the smouldering floral-free
vapours of Montecristo. Just when I
thought I had put all contemplations of leathered air and cigar-stained
ruination behind me, along came Delphine Thierry’s masterly composition for
Masque Milano and I fell again.
I’ve said it before,
but it bears repeating – so much fine niche is coming out of Italy just now. Blood Concept, Hilde Solani, Nu_be, Tizania
Terezni, Gabriella Chieffo, Meo Fuscini, Zeromolecole, Peccato Originale
and Antonio Gardoni’s extraordinary Bogue:
all of these differing, exciting houses, playing with science, food, sugar,
smoke, memory, sex, family, love, death and desire. So much passion and
intensity, emotion and spectacle.
To this rather
fabulous collezione of names I must add
Masque Fragranze or Masque Milano as they are better known,
co-founded in 2012 by Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, two handsome and
dynamic young chaps with diverse and fascinating backgrounds, Alessandro a Milanese
by birth and Riccardo hailing from Assisi in Perugia. As Creative Directors of
an exquisite artisan fragrance brand, the boys came to scent via a eclectic route
of electrical and management engineering, jewellery-making, leather-working and
classical guitar. This giddy mix of arts, artisan application and research led
to Alessandro the teacher meeting Riccardo the student at the Politecnico di Milano where they were
mutually impressed by one other’s obsessions, knowledge and desire to do things
a little differently – with edge, style, functionality and of course great beauty.
An orchestration of ideas and desires set them on a path to a luxurious and
precisely conceived future. They immersed themselves in the knowledge,
technique and dedicated pursuit of the scented wing beat.
First came a gilded
and precise collection of skincare in 2010 that also includes two fragrances: Petra and Dolceacqua. The other pieces include cleansing oil, body lotion,
soap, facemask and aromatic candles. The line is strikingly presented in
architectural gold and white minimal designs with the brand’s unique trademark
Deruta ceramic caps.
Then Alessandro and
Riccardo wanted to create scent on an operatic scale with soaring sensation to
move us and tell stories, guide us through moods and moments. This would be
achieved through the inherently Italianate artform of opera, constructing a
perceived four act piece of olfactory imagination composed by a personally
chosen ensemble of perfume talents. This collaborative assembly of talented
noses would compose scents for each scene. Eventually when the project is
complete, the harmonious whole will cover a diverse and complex range of
aromatic and psychological styles.
It is a very elegant
and simple idea but one fraught with potential pomposity and camp melodrama. I
am not an opera fan. Never have been, never will be. I can appreciate the
piercing harrowing range of a flawed soprano, arias delivered with fire and
controlled rage. But generally it is a medium that has always eluded me. Age
has not softened me either, I have become even less tolerant of it as I’ve got
older, most classical music generally actually. Weird really, but I digress. Masque Fragranze – An Opera of Life in Four
Acts is an ambitious undertaking, an attempt to roll out a manifold and
multi-layered assemblage of incredibly high quality and challenging scent. The
guys want us to experience the various scenes of their scented life, see how
the noses have chosen to interpret the operatic briefs.
The opera is masque,
performance, charade; acts and scenes of love, loss, life and continuance
interpreted by perfumers as masks that we might wear in our own daily
performances, moving through words, emotions, moods and time.
Act I is inspired by life experiences, the processes of existence,
- Act I, Scene I is Terralba
by Delphine Thierry.
- Act I, Scene II is Montecristo,
also signed off by Delphine Thierry.
- Act I, Scene III is Russian Tea by Julian Rasquinet.
Act II concerns the tightening of emotions, the chiaroscuro of desire.
-Act II, Scene I is Luci ed Ombre
by Meo Fuscini
Act III is about romance and the fragility of relationships.
-Act III,Scene IV by Cécile
Zarokian is Tango
Act IV is Dreams and Reveries.
The operatic gaps
are slowly being filled in, with moody set pieces as and when the boys find
inspiration and the right nose to collaborate with. I love this idea of Masque
Fragranze being a work in progress, watching and then inhaling the complex
pieces as they appear. There might always be gaps, an unfinished symphony of sorts;
this is fine too, enigma and truncation create beautiful mystery.
You can see where
they are going, using vocal and theatrical metaphor, counterpointing it with
carefully chosen and beautifully pitched musical imagery to create a scentscape
of textures, weathers and backdrops. This is akin to the rolling scene changes
and illusory techniques used in theatre to support voice and performer, in this
case, nose and perfume.
The stand-outs from
the line so far for me are Montecristo,
Tango and now the deliriously sexy RussianTea. Who would have thought ANYONE could have induced me to wear
mint? I normally abhor it in scent. I took a huge risk blind buying this, but I
had a gut feeling after reading the notes and provenance that Julien
Rasquinet’s creation would be extraordinary. I wasn’t wrong.
behind this beautiful scent is tea drinking in a café in a bookstore on the
famous Nevsky Prospekt thoroughfare in Leningrad. I assume the bookstore in
question is the famous Dom Knigi or House of the Book in the stunning Singer
Building, an arresting Art Nouveau hybrid designed by Pavel Syuzor. Now we like
to think here in Britain we know a thing or two abut tea and while this is no
doubt true to a certain degree, no-one has socialised and abstracted tea quite
like the Russians. It is the national Russian beverage, introduced to the
country in 1638. It is not necessarily just about drinking tea, but the sharing
of it, the gathering around it. The scalding liquid lubricates social
interaction and passes time; pastries, cakes and biscuits are consumed, gossip
and news is exchanged.
The heart of this is
the samovar of course, literally a ‘self-boiler’ an item we traditionally now
associate with Russia. They are used to concoct a immensely strong form of tea
called zavarka, which is then in turn
diluted into cups by very hot water from the ever boiling samovar. Sugar, honey
and jams are often spooned into the tea as sweeteners and the liquid is
sometimes slurped into saucers and slurped to cool it down. There is an old
Russian saying: Where there is tea, there
So back to our boys
in the bookstore tearoom overlooking a snowy Nevsky Prospekt, opposite the Our
Lady of Kazan Cathedral. They order the Russian
Tea Ritual which is a teapot of boiling water, black tea leaves, mint and
raspberry preserve. Now, I visited Moscow for work in early 2012 and the tea on
my hotel breakfast trays always smelled smoky and burned, it was amazing. As a
diehard drinker of builder’s tea, it took a good few days to adjust to this
dense chewy tea. I could just have asked for something more generic, but I grew
to rather enjoy this strange shock of churchy tea, watching early morning
Russian TV as the light broke over the gathering angry cars in the gridlocked
Pouring the boiling
water over the fumy leaves and finger-crushed mint will smash together a duo of
opposites: darkness and playful verdancy. This heady infusion would be further
enhanced by a spoonful of sweet raspberry jam. This visceral shock of smoked
caliginous leaf, berry and rubbed herb started the Masque Fragranze duo on an
olfactory journey toward Julien Rasquinet and Russian Tea. Interestingly Julien’s wife Irina is Russian, so the
marriage of olfactory ideas seemed a touch more perfect. In fact Russian Tea would turn out to be the
last fragrance Julien would create as an independent in his lab in Normandy. He
was offered a highflying position within IFF, based in Dubai and sadly had to
close down his Norman base.
I was expecting an
intense aromatic experience; both Montecristo
and Tango have huge opening salvos,
full of smoky, resonant promise. Tango
develops into a lacquered bouquet of cinnabar spices and sticky resins and
balms that just smells heavenly as skin heat activates the beautiful sweet
clover and tonka in the base. The dance is one of spice and flowers, the
exertion of sweat and physical heat and the veil of jasmine and hot rose. You
have to be very careful with cumin in scent, it can be horribly overpowering
and smell like old gym wear or curry leaf. In pitch perfect doses however it
sets fire to petals and dusts an earthy peppered nuance through formulae.
The thing that
really dazzles me with Tango though
is how close the formula smells to being decayed and turned. In my scented travels I sometimes come across near empty
flacons with the syrupy residue of perfumes lying stickily in the base. These
evaporated, reduced, concentrées have
strong vintage odours of creosote, face powder and sweet stale gateau. Oddly
this is what I detect in the powerful drama of Tango and I love it. It’s a tricky balance, the suggestion of
corrosion, whilst surrounding it in swathes of smouldering ambered ardour. But
Zarokian knows her stuff and had produced in Tango (Act IV, Sc III) a scent of fire and passionate generosity.
Delphine Thierry’s Montecristo is simply one of the best parfums fumés I’ve come across in a
while. It was my entry odour into the world of Masque Milano, so it set a very
high standard. I love the olfactory work of Delphine Thierry, she has a
singular atmospheric style that seems to imbue her fragrances with the romance
and intense emotional blue of Turner’s more abstract oils. I have her smeared,
unorthodox Castaña she created for
Maggie Magnan’s gorgeous Cloon Keen Atelier. A scent of chestnuts, iris and
woods that reeks of me in Paris when I was a student on time out, a little
lost, grateful for hot chestnuts on a rainy Saturday with friends. She also
made Akkad and Galaad for the resurrected Lubin line, two sensual and balmy essays
in woods, vanillas, honeyed ouds, resins and the mysteries of ambrosial smoke.
turbulence of Montecristo is its
ferocious animalism as it explodes out of the bottle. Yes, it’s a little faecal
and dirtysexy but jeez so much fragrance these days is dull and sanitised to
the point of tepid transparency. The sheer FUCK YOU of this is fantastic. It’s
the Golden Stone/African Stone aka Hyraceum that really sets fire to this boozy
bonfire of tobacco, woods and balms. Hyraceum is a rare sustainable source of
potent animalic musk/hide like effect that comes from the weird little
rock-hopping hyrax rodent things. Strangely, they are related (very distantly)
to elephants and have unique sucker style paws that allow them to clamber and
zip about on rocks successfully.
hyraxes always locate their middens in the same place and over time, this
collection of faeces and urine buries itself and essentially fossilises. Dug
up, soaked in alcohol and distilled into tinctures, Golden Stone, in small
doses can dramatically enhance the base notes and overall depth of oriental or
woody formulae. The smell is incredible. The lovely Liz Moores of Papillon
Perfumery very kindly sent me some recently, in 10% solution. Sweet Lord…it was
fricking marvellous. She said it smelled of ‘horse urine soaked shavings and fox fur’..(she knows how to get my
attention!) and indeed it did and then some. Horse mane, damp dog, but oh my..
into the skin, rubbed in, a little warmth, the animalic permutations are
I’m digressing a tad
here, but it’s important to understand how singular the rawness of Montecristo’s impact is. Blending this
visceral feral note with rum, ambrette and styrax is asking for trouble but in
the hands of a talented perfumer like Thierry, the result is one of refined
assault and abiding sensual surround.
So Russian Tea had tough competition, but
my god it delivered. The enormous mint note looms at you like a sudden vast
liner in a mist-covered ocean. I have only liked one other mentholic scent and
that was Phaedon’s über aromatic Oriental
Mint, which smells of freshly, brewed mint tea and Egyptian cigarettes. This
is a very different experience, sudden and very emotive. The mint is bitter,
shredded and violently released, the peppered facet to the exhale is brutal.
This is the moment in the ritual the boiling water hits the smoky tea and mint
leaves, exploding the conflicting odours outward. Then the raspberry, a moment
of sugared soothing, a spoon of red-berried glory sliding off a tarnished
spoon. The raspberry is wild though, with a hint of feral leaf, the smokiness
of the tea smelling of garden bonfires drifting over tangled fruit bushes.
There is a lot of
wood in Russian Tea, stoking samovar
fires or just plain birch forest, silent and silvered in the background. It is
a very Russian theme, an echo of the Siberian woods and trade routes taken by
merchants and their caravans of goods including the powerful black tea that is
the sexy centrepiece of Rasquinet’s RussianTea composition. Apparently the smokiness
associated with classic Russian tea blends has its roots in the long, slow
journeys across the Siberian steppes. The tea was obviously transported on
animals and over time, the combination of nightly watchfires and close
proximity to animal hide imbued the tea leaves with powerful, redolent aromas.
The notes list magnolia, an odd and unpredictable note in perfumery, either
utterly fake and cloying or so fleeting as be pointless. Here however it has a
ghostly presence, like a flower blooming out of season. It lends a creamy,
honeyed sweetness to the heart of a robust and unusual formula. I love the
dryness of the scent. This sounds odd, considering how rich and baroque the
fragrance seems as it develops, but it is fact remarkably austere. Each time I
spritz it on my skin, I am struck by the wit and reverence of the blending.
Rasquinet’s close collaboration with the Masque Milano boys and the brief given
to him regarding his work has produced another bravura entry in the Masque
Milano line. They haven’t really put a foot wrong yet really, each scent in
their ambitious operatic arc has been unique and gorgeous. The assemblage of
harmonious performance perfect.
Like the hot, berry
drenched, smoky beverage, Russian Tea
is ideally savoured intensely, slowly, languorously, inhaled with pleasure and
disturbance at the sheer wonder and eccentricity at such scented construction.
Returning to the
thematics of opera, this scent is a journey of small experiences written large
in olfactory fireworks. I was genuinely enthralled by the mint, tea and
raspberry triptych; it smells divinely strange and unfolds on the skin with
tremendous unorthodox beauty. Building a palpable sense of mystery into
perfumery these days is well nigh on impossible, but Riccardo and Alessandro
have achieved something rather deviant: a collection of embellished and
aesthetic perfumes that engage, astonish, arouse and seduce. Bravo boys, my
skin adores you.