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

Monday 23 March 2015

Hues of Redolent Philtre: The Illuminated Palette of Hans Hendley.

Grandma my sleep is narrow
Bid you bring me some strong drink
Strain out the pulps and set them close outside
For when my belly
For when my little belly speaks..

From Belispeak by Purity Ring

The olfactory landscape of Hans Hendley is that of luminescent hinterland: edges, lines, washed walls, torn metal sheeting and sun drenched roadways burnt around the carefully balanced edges. His flowers are sunlit in vintage opalescent glass. Gardens are overgrown, closed in and secretive, tucked away behind graffiti-tagged fences. The mix of urbanity and wilderness dream is beguiling and partly real, an echo of Hans’ wandering childhood and his present roaming of New York’s looming urban enormity.

Photography by Hans Hendley 
(Reproduced by kind permission of HH)

He has a large artful portfolio of photographs smeared through with glare and echoing mournful vignette. He was worked devotedly in lomotography with its foggy attributes of cross processing, spontaneity and shoot now think later artistic ethos. Hans’ lomo work is a soothing assembly of saturated stills, pulled from a film-set of a mind, places and atmospheres stylised to relentlessly pursue a deeply personal view of Hans-life. He worked in a lomotography store in NY for a while, passing on his skills to others and honing his visual acuity. His Flickr page is quite different in style, calm and studied, images of elegant air, cut with colour-blocked architecture, gardens and composed lines. Any people inhabiting the spaces are immobile, vacant, at rest.

Lomotography by Hans Hendley
(Images reproduced by kind permission of HH)

Hans has a BFA in Photography from the University of North Texas School of Visual Arts, a subject he actively pursued after an reasonably unconventional upbringing in North Texas. Born in Dallas, his parents re-located to wilder climes and young Hans was kinda home-schooled by devoutly craft-loving inventive and artistically inclined parents. This kind of free-wheeling nurturing of a young person’s psyche will allow for a more far-reaching connection to surrounding elements be they sounds, scents, textures, images or a sensual coalescence of them all.

I was raised abroad for the early part of my childhood in the Middle East and West Africa by parents who believed passionately in travel, experience and exposure to everything, good or bad. Home-schooled for years, my imagination was glutted with history, archaeology, poetry, classic literature, ancient mythologies, Arthurian legend and a bizarre obsession with Aztec death rites. You learn skewed methods and eclectic fact, have passions for the obscure and arcane. Words and emotion matter, either demonstrating or masking them.

Hans has said in interviews that he always harboured secret perfumery desires, mixing leaves, bark and petals as so many do when they are young. I sense though, with Hans, there was probably a more determined searching for effect and result. If you look at his perfumery with an artistic eye, there is a chromatic bent and innate sense of pared down structure and composition similar to that of his photography. Pigmentation and saturation sit happily alongside olfactive effect and Han’s dense and wondrous capture of light, berry, smoke, resin, petal, sheath, pod and bloom.

His perfume house is joyously simple, hand-crafted, hand-poured and labelled and yet the edges and selvedge seem hidden. His website is an exercise is minimalism, with carefully chosen words used to precisely capture emotions regarding his work, persuading us to listen and crave the odours. Auric is described as ‘Rush. Honeyed Bloom. Bitersweet Radiance’ and Gia as ‘Silk Road. Manifest Destiny. Opulent Plume.’ Massively simple but achingly decorative phrasing. This skeletal presentation works, it creates honest enigma, an oxymoron of sorts, but one that is rare in perfumery. You want to sample, blind buy even, tempted by simple poignant phrasing. At the same time, Hans' workings remain veiled, at a remove.

Images by Hans Hendley
(reproduced by kind permission of HH)

There is no denying Hans considers his work a personal art form. He communicates this through his images and presentation of bottles, juice and working practices, be it cutting labels, filtering, decanting or just capturing sunlight blazing through his multi-coloured formulae. Everything is carefully considered before presentation. I like his sense of control. It’s how I am too. He has set up a very simple website platform with minimal fuss and frou-frou. As a business launch it works because the scents shine. He stands back. Sometimes a little modesty is a good thing; you can step into the light later.

Images by Hans Hendley
(Reproduced by kind permission of HH)

There is both restraint and labyrinth in Hans’ odours, a melding of old-fashioned alchemy and modern perfumed reflection. His natural perfumed pages glow with olfactive calligraphy, illuminated with petals, leaves, buds coiled and reaching over thorns, mulch, herbs and fuming stalk. I do smell glimmers and echoes of Gorilla, D.S.& Durga, Aftel, Slumberhouse and OLO Fragrance in the medicinal apothecary raw materials but also softer smears of Caron, Guerlain in his handling of boudoir resins, rose and vanilla. So much oddity and mystery for one so early in his scented career.  

His perfumes celebrate the careful craft of assembly and Hans’ perception of the sensual world. His raising, eye, vision and photographic leanings have created a perfumed skill of acute precision. His palette may be restrictive but it vibrates with intent. There is glow from the hinterland.

Hans very kindly sent me samples in the post from New York, via Paris (he was worried about delivery and piggybacked a friend as courier..). I was kinda wowed by the sexy/casual way he arranged the sample cards in artfully torn parcel paper (did he know how much I LOVE the look of buff, crumpled parcel paper…?), sealed and tucked it inside a heavy duty plastic zip bag. Each stage of the unfolding resembled an art project. There had been tiny leakage onto the tumble of cards, smears of green, rust and autumnal serum. The mingle of low smell was beautiful and alluring.

I was gifted Fume, Bourbon, Rosenthal, Auric, Tama, Gia and something rather special entitled Jade, an arresting minted pea-green scent Hans has been working on. It’s an imminent launch; he wanted to make a fresh formula with no citrus. Anyway, more on that later. All of these odours have a powerful, alchemical draw to them, they feel private and a little runic. There is sensuality and raw calling, subtle enchantment and good old-fashioned limpid olfaction. As with so much artisan, home-brewed scent, gender is fluid, the sex of scent flowing freely in out of Han’s handsome array.

Glittering Hendley Juice
(Image reproduced by kind permission of HH)

As always with any collection, some speak to me louder than others. None of them bored me per se but I found myself musing over some more than others, captured by elements of base notes or trailing the juices on my skin to re-in hale the heady rush of pungent opening salvoes.

Fume is Han’s haunted forest, smoked, tenaciously brutal with conifer resins, vetiver, oakmoss and the delicious loamy tread of galbanum. I smell a hit of Slumberhouse’s satanic Norne in the tainted edges, but the vetiver is sweet enough to hold its own against the medicinal slide of malachite coppice brooding. The murk and shade of Fume is beautiful, nuanced and balanced enough to allow variation of tonality in the drydown. On card, the lingering of Fume is amazingly long, with a drawn-out fermented fruitiness I think is sadly impossible to produce on skin. I want to revisit Fume this winter as the icy cold sets in and terrorises Edinburgh; I’m not sure its quite the right weather just now for me to fully appreciate it. It’s a slow-burn aroma, you need time for the mossy smoke to go from chilled to heat to open up the nuances. You could of course just fuck in it.. this would be incredible sex-scent. Just saying.

Fact. The Fox is obsessed with vanilla. So I had to kinda hold myself back from hurtling at Bourbon, knowing it was rich in woozy vanilla, benzoin and tonka, three of my favourite notes in scent. It was one of the vials that had oozed onto card in transit, so there was a delicious, Guerlinade-type aroma wafting up from the samples. I love the sweet booziness of expert vanilla perfumery. I’ve mentioned it before, but my signature scent for years now has been the sadly discontinued Vanille Absolument by L’Artisan Parfumeur, created by Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. It reeks of heady, swooning, rum soaked vanilla with tobacco and narcotic narcissus absolute. For me it is the benchmark vanilla. Interestingly, Hans has used cognac oil to influence his composition; this umber-toned effect saturates the bourbon vanilla, resins and bittersweet whiff of animalic sugar in the slightly unstable base. Bourbon is sexy vanilla, rich and clandestine, the way I like it, wearing close to skin, yet occasionally throwing off subtle tendrils of vintage Guerlain-esque charm. The more is wear it, the more I recognise echoes of Jicky and L’Heure Bleue in the fatty, animalic rendering of the final stages. Intentional or not, the echoes are there, buried in the genetic code of expertly handled vanilla.   

Rosenthal was one of my immediate loves. It’s a dirty rose, wreathed in claret-tinted smoke and a patchouli note that Hans has enhanced with the fennel chew of angelica. Juniper in the top chills the rose a little, almost like dew on petal. I love my rose perfumes, my collection is filled with rosaceous compositions. Rosenthal has a curious feeling of darkness about it, there is no lustrous celebration of queenly bloom, instead we have a moody complex rose, married to a unctuous sandalwood wash in the base. There is a momentary rush of Nahéma in the ashen spill of opening bloom, that terrific shattering of colour and reformation that the Guérlain composition pulls off with startling sensual violence. Hans interprets this French high drama in a lower US indie key, but Rosenthal is still a lingering essay in rose from bud to falling extinguished petal.

Auric is crushed and smeared vintage Caron, a peppered leather sweetness that underpins a raw bouquet of jasmine, orange blossom, ylang ylang and rose. This lovely mix of flowers and chocolatey timber is the scent of homespun weddings, intimate gatherings of close friends and family over worn wooden tables set with wild and reaching seasonal flowers./Blooms and stems in jam jars, old botanical glass, apothecary ware; the air embroidered with honeyed, leafy joy. The scent of table linen, a mingle of perfumes, the bride’s beloved orange blossom woven into tumbled hair. For a moment, a sudden rush of powdered antiquity floods Auric as the floral heart liquefies, creating the Coup de Fouet Caron echo I mentioned earlier. Auric is at its most beautiful in the twilight stages, the notes ghosted on skin. The petitgrain in the top is a little too strident for my liking, but necessary perhaps to announce and mask the joyful pungency that ensues.

I will admit to not liking Tama very much at all at first, this has more to do with my love/hate relationship with frankincense rather than Hans’ actual composition. I go through tortuous phases with sacred, glassy olibanum; it is one of those aromas that gnaws at me, worries my senses. I am in no way a lapsed Catholic, despite desperately wanting to be one during my wanton obsession with all things Brideshead Revisited (that hasn’t quite departed btw…) so I can’t lay claim to memories of mass and tortured faith. I did spend some student years in Paris and occupied a lot of my time with crumbling neighbourhood churches, the more isolated and cold the better. Part of me though associates frankincense with the sandy heat and searing stillness of my Arabian childhood. Many of the objects we owned had the reek of resins and spice, woods impregnated with balms and unguents. To me these odours of faith and offering, frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, oppoponax etc have the weight of shifting melancholia. As it so is with Tama, the blend smells sacrificial, unsettling. The arid expanse of textured resin over a glittering mirage of amber and barely flickering agarwood smells like sombre fuel. It has grown on me with repeated applications, but for now frankincense and I will continue to glower in the dark at each other, musing over rapprochement.  

On paper Gia reads like a recipe for a pungent siren to decorate herself with before setting off to hunt a mate to fuck and devour. A huge oppoponax note brazenly struts out of the bottle, trailing ginger and rose otto behind like a train of ragged drama Ginger is generally a note I prefer in cake and biscuits, I find it tediously overpowering in scent. Hans has managed however to harness its naturally juicy sweetness to counterpoint the crimson commotion of the rose. The skin adaption of Gia is dramatic, more verdant, more foody oddly, the vanilla bean tincture reminds me of Japanese azuki bean cakes. The settling is one of sharp clovey powder with a touch of vegetal hangover from the oppoponax. Hans has used an orris root CO2 extraction and ambrette to dust a particular kind of chalkiness through the mix. The overall sensation is one of abandoned rooms, rococo boudoir tables coated in dust, a vase of dead roses placed near a shaded window. Gia is fascinating to wear, at once dirty and soft, masculine and feminine, Hans has thought carefully about the sensual ambiguity and impact of the blend, realising I think that this is scent for night time, beds and skin on skin on sheets.

Finally to Jade, a unique and rather dazzling interpretation of green. I worked for some time with the National Museums of Scotland, specifically with Chinese, Japanese and Korean fine art. One of my tasks in a week of accessing objects was to check over the collection of jades we had in storage. There were magnificent pieces on display but as with all such institutions; tip and iceberg. That intense, eye-straining afternoon in the chilly cellars, poring over drawer after drawer of jade was extraordinary. I was simply astonished by the dazzling array of tonality and texture of green, white, blue stone lying in the shadows. The flecking, striations, veins and cloudy details were so beautiful. Jade of course compels touch, the surface cold and oddly greasy. Some pieces feel like skin, others like petals of flowers.

Whenever I hear the word jade.. my mind floats back over these trays of multihued nephrite and jadeite pieces. I’ve said before how wary of mint I am in scent, it took the magnificent Russian Tea by Masque Milano last year to demonstrate how a full-bodied mint effect could be blended with virtuosity into a complex and arresting formula. I realised Jade wasn’t on the Hendley Perfume site and contacted Hans. It’s new, something he has been working on for a while, an ambitious desire to create a fresh dynamic scent with no citrus notes involved. He has also used spearmint, which is very difficult to handle I think as it often lends fragrances a distinctly chewing gum aroma if you’re not too careful.  

Jade is Hans’ beauteous ode to geranium, an often overlooked note in perfume as a pure, spot-lit note. It is used as a supporting note for its leafy texture and perfumed atmospherics. It has a beautiful affinity with rose, lavender, bergamot and pepper. Dominique Ropion’s Geranium pour Monsieur for Editions Frédéric Malle is pretty much the benchmark geranium scent in terms of the masculine soapier aspects of the application. Ropion used rhodinal, a highly aromatic concentrate facet extracted from Chinese geranium. A massive dose of ambroxan whitens the formula, allowing the layers of green to filter carefully over the skin. For a softer, more comforting, garden-inspired take on geranium there is Geranium Oderata, released in 2014 by Diptyque. It is a pungent, creamy scent, rubbed and sensual, with a lovely trail of leaf and stem. I personally have a weakness for Miller Harris’ Geranium Bourbon with is mucky rush of peppered rose and vanillic musky base. It was particularly addictive in its solid format, smeared and bloodily waxen as the battered tins wore down.

Jade is much sharper and more alert than these, a snapped pea-pod green, cut though with a delicious lemon bay note replacing the usual citrus effects. Some star anise and violet add an unusual relationship in the middle of the scent, a sensual disharmony allowing the resinous benzoin time to warm up and provide a robust spiky base for the more ephemeral myrtle and sap verdancy. It is to Hans’s credit that the geranium note he has obviously worked so hard to personify lasts as long as it does on skin; the spearmint is pretty full on and bolshy. But the two notes play together with beautiful ease and comfort, there is little sense of deliberation and coerced effect. Jade could easily have been a wan, vegetal Gorilla rip off, but Hans’ steady hand and respect for his bright materials has produced a rather unexpected portrait of mint-tinted brightness.

Hans Hendley

I have been anointing myself in Hans’s illuminated palette throughout the writing of this piece. For a debut artisan perfumer, he packs quite the olfactory punch. His precise manipulation of outstanding and glittering materials works beautifully alongside his obvious predilection for delicacy and allure. His lovely photographic eye has served him well, translating aromatically into a series of tonally shifting odours that belie their relatively constrained origins. You can smell the circumspect methodology of filtering, cutting, blending and maceration in the formulae. The juice smells personal. This is important, this batch-made potency, delivered to our skins with love and fervour. I’m so glad to have discovered Hendley Perfumes and Hans, the lovely guy behind them. They’re made in small amounts and sell fast, such is the nature of his work and the scale for now of this operation. But if you are interested in scent and the way in which materials, ideas and imagination are assembled with sweet and intimate care you need to sample Hans’ fragrances for yourself. His world is filtered with wonderful, life affirming chromatics.   

For further information on the world of Hans Hendley, please click on the link below:

©The Silver Fox

23 March 2015

Disclosure – Samples kindly sent by Hans Hendley. Thank you. 

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