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

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Soulfood For Dreamers:‘Le Mat’ & ‘Sogno Reale’ by Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima

For Jakub. Thank u. x.

I have said it before in previous blog pieces, but so much intriguing and personal niche olfaction has come out of Italy in recent years.

Nu_Be, Rubini, Bogue, Masque Fragranze, Laboratorio Olfattivo, Blood Concept and Gabriella Chieffo to name just a few. Small independent perfume brands seem to thrive, due partly I think to the long-standing Italian commitment to artisan skills and quality, already perceived perhaps in other areas such as glass, leather, lace, couture, shoemaking, saddlery, chocolate and epicurean goods. Italy has a passionate culture of slow shopping, an appreciation of smaller retailers supplying more specific goods rather than just concentrating purchases in one place. This has created in the Italian psyche a way of savouring quality, service and individuality along with the actual product being incrementally valued as it passes between client and artisan. There is immense obsessive pride in detail, provenance, materials and service.

While this all seems rather obvious, this deliberately appreciative approach to careful, selective buying is anything but that. Slow shopping is about the perception of what has gone into the assembly of what you are buying as you wander the boutiques and small stores as part of a daily or weekly routine. Part of the luxurious pleasure is buying from vendors who know their trade, be it bread, cheese, wine, cured meats, coffee, fish, skincare, honey and of course perfume. One of the unique aspects to artisanal scent is often the opportunity to see or hear the makers or artistic directors behind the scents wax lyrical about their inspirations. There tends to be a palpably intimate artistry by some of these makers that drives them into the tricky and judgemental arena of perfumery.

Some of my favourite fragrances of recent years have come out of this fertile Italian crucible of craftsmanship and thought-provoking artistry. However, the focus is always on the quality of the materials, the singularity of the experience and the passion of the maker and brand. These include Gabriella Chieffo’s emotive Ragu, created by the über-gifted Luca Maffei that blew me away when I first encounterd it; I have never smelled anything quite like its sweet, dry mix of herbaceous memory and languid simmering sauce-scent. A celebration of home, family, sisterhood and odd familiarity, Ragu is outstanding perfumery.

Luca Maffei for Gabriella Cheiffo

Ahhhh, then there is Bogue, dark, complex Bogue, deeply charismatic aromas conjured out of some aromatic vintage abyss by the handsome Antonio Gardoni. Maai is a potion of animalic porno power, skulking on skin like demon fever. So powerful and sexy as it incrementally builds over the skin. Maai is a scent I treasure like heirloom gold.

Maai by Bogue 

Blood Concept has worryingly re-branded recently, following a deal with Intertrade and I can’t say I like the new look of the bottles or the new names at all. But nothing will alter my admiration for RED+MA, Antoine Lie’s creepy metallic masterpiece made for Antonio Zuddas and Giovanni Castelli's brand in 2012. The collision of blood and ice cold oxides is genius if a little queasy. It is an unsettling scent with genuine edge and febrile confrontation. I would not have it any other way.

Blood Concept B 

At Masque Fragranze Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedischi have created an operatic library of original olfactive works showcasing the talents of Cécile Zarokian, Delphine Thierry, Julien Rasquinet, Meo Fuscini and Cristiano Canali. Cécile’s Tango is shockingly good, sticky-sweet, a rush of golden animalic desire, thrashed with indolic jasmine and a daubed, graffiti rose. Their dirty narcotic narcissus, Romanza, launching in early 2016 (fingers and toes crossed) is just sublime perfumery, dangerous addictive juice that will astound. It is only the second scent by Cristiano Canali, after his idiosyncratic and addictive debut Fundamental for Rubini. I’m going to be reviewing this soon, I’m kinda late to it, but it’s a perfume that has crept up on me and possessed me. A really unique Soave grape note, beeswax, spices, maquis, iris and a very eccentric velvet brothel accord make Fundamental smell like nothing else.

Russian Tea
Julian Rasquinet for Masque Fragranze

Nu_be are a beautifully sleek and enigmatic brand, exquisite packaging by Francesca Gotti housing spatial modernistic olfaction inspired by the periodic table, stardust and skin. Carbon by Françoise Caron is my favourite, the scent of a thousand frozen pencils. Sulphur by Antoine Lie is eerie stuff as well, sexy ink, poisonous shadows on skin.

Françoise Caron for Nu_be

My list wouldn’t be complete without Robert Drago’s quiet and sensuous house Laboratorio Olfattivo, a truly beautiful and vastly underrated niche house based in Rome. Quiet white packaging, elegant glassware and deliciously understated scents by talented noses including Marie Duchene, David Muruitte, Rosine Courage and Enrico Buccella. My favourites are the muffled sueded iris landscape of Daimiris by Pierre Guillaume and Patchouliful, a full-bodied fuck-me woodsy floral explosion of patchouli by Cécile Zarokian. Her use of iris and frangipane dusted with cinnamon is sublime.

Pierre Guillaume for Laboratorio Olfattivo

This list of some of my collected and choice Italian niche favourites (and it is by no means exhaustive..) goes to highlight the diversity of olfactory commitment and artistry coming out of Italy. To this list I must now add Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima launched in 2012 by Brand owner and Artistic Director Stefania Squeglia.

Stefania Squeglia

There are seven Mendittorosa fragrances; a trio – Alfa, Id and Omega; a duo – North and South, Le Mat and most recently the magnificent Sogno Reale. The name Mendittorosa is suggestive more than anything, a constructed word from the imagination of Stefania hybridising Mediterranean and rose perhaps, two highly evocative images for anyone interested in scent, travel and love. The intriguing subtitle - Odori d’Anima, scents of the souls, refers to Stefania’s profound belief in the importance of the soul, caring, feeding it and I suppose scenting in it a leftfield kind of way. Her criss-crossing in and out of philosophies, tarot and faith has instilled a firmly held belief that finding the right perfume for your soul can fill a void or provide a piece of a puzzle that may have been missing. I’m not sure I buy into this; I’m a wickedly cynical creature with too much shadow, bitterness and fatalism to really do this concept justice. I don’t do New Age and introspection. And the soul…hmmm. Each to their own though and Stefania has woven her personal creed and sparkling ideas into a range of rather intriguing and for the most part fascinating fragrances. 

My Mendittorosa sample pack.. 

Stefania is not the perfumer, her background is in event management but she always wanted to use her creativity to make scent. The perfumes themselves are made by the talented duo of Amélie Bourgeois and Ann-Sophie Behaghel of FLAIR, based at 41 Rue Delong in Paris. As well as Mendittorosa, Amélie and Ann-Sophie have created Rouge Assassin for Jovoy, Paradis Perdue and Nevermore for Frapin, Atramental, Blomma Cult and Electric Wood for Room 2015 and Les Humeurs for Les Liquides Imaginaires amongst others. However the essence, design and overall ambience of the brand is pure Stefania. You can feel it in the unique way the juices have been interpreted by Flair, echoing Stefania’s preoccupations with faith, fate and soul maintenance. Using a rather eccentric and personal palette of materials to create a range of perfumes that have oddity, familiarity mingled with shards and whispers of he unexpected. Lava, bread, nuts and sea urchin entwine with herbs, flowers, woods and creamy, dreamy musks.

The Mendittorosa world is one of fantasy and indulgent assembly mingled with a genuine awareness of place, personal ambition and desires. There is exuberance and introspection, mystery and transparency. Not everything in the line works for me, sometimes I feel the understandable adherence to thematics and Stefania’s heartfelt passions has suffocated elements of the olfactory exuberance that might otherwise have been unleashed. Some of the perfumes have an underlying echo I find a tad disappointing. Alfa & Omega despite subtle differences do smell quite similar and lack coherence as they settle, falling apart too easily in the later soft boudoir stages. I liked the lacteous saffron veil laid down in Alfa, it smelled alien and alone which I rather liked, but this seemed oddly dissonant with the glassy jasmine. Omega on the other hand slightly overdoes the cumin feral growl as it opens, tainting the indolic white floral bloom at the heart of the scent. A grind of nutmeg is odd, it just about works and indicates this might have been a much more powerful offering if the cumin had been tempered with a little more care.

North is intriguing enough, promising paper (children’s drawings to be more precise…), a mix of Nordic tones and dry crisp tonality; the brisk ozonic marriage of cedar and black pepper is very seductive at first but vanishes too soon. A pity as the odd promise of snow on skin is lovely. It is an interesting attempt to do something different with the somewhat predictable and readily recognisable ozonic or aquatic style. Playing it toward northern European climes, frozen lakes, whiffs of Tundra is rather delightful and there are moments on the skin when the chill of clear winter skies, cold forest wood and bright floral fun come through with reserved elegance.

There are always compositions in collections that one doesn’t gel with, it is the nature of them, and there are usually snippets and glimpses of style, polish and decoration in dislike that still intrigue. Despite finding things in a few of the Mendittorosa line that didn’t blow me way, I also found some truly beautiful pieces that drew me back over and over.  

Ingrid Bergman in 'Stromboli'
Directed by Roberto Rossellini, 1950

Id is a stand out scent, inspired by Iddu (meaning ‘him’), in the vernacular used by Sicilians to describe Stromboli, one of Italy’s three active volcanoes, located off the northern coast of Sicily that has been erupting for over two thousand years. The sweet, campheraceous note of the beautifully named Ravensara lends a subtle mystical inhalation of slate green as the more chthonic base notes of ghostly birch, oud and cinnamon rise. There is just enough iris in the heart of the scent to register a cold ashen drift on the skin. It’s strangely transparent, in the vein of some the Bertrand Duchaufour L’Artisan Parfumeur compositions and echoes some of the work that Bourgeois and Behaghel have done for Frapin and Evody. It is a defiantly odd scent, curiously hushed for a work of olfaction inspired by such a famous rumbling and angry volcano. While not exactly original, it is actually quite hard to say why Id is so attractive on the skin. I smell a metallic violet note in the mix and this I like, it seems toasted, a tad irradiated, powder and verdancy mingling over the sunken dark base.

Le Mat

My two favourites though are the plush, Caronesque Le Mat and the perfumed fruits de la mer contradictions and surrealism of Sogno Reale. These two are the jewels in Stefania’s rambunctious collection of olfactory eccentricity. Le Mat is the French name for The Fool in Tarot Card Major Arcana; indeed the packaging for Le Mat is decorated in a classic old style interpretation of the Le Mat from the Tarot of Marseilles genre of design. The Fool is an odd and enigmatic card in Tarot lore; it is the only unnumbered card and seems unencumbered by the often-queasy fatalism and dubious romanticism that affects the other cards. I am no Tarot expert and hardly the right person to really hold forth on such things; I believe we make our own fate and live our days towards it as best we can. But I have met many people who have put their faith in the choosing and turning of these divisive decks, so who I am to judge? The Fool is a journeyman to many, setting out perhaps ill prepared, afraid, perhaps over-confident. There is a scent of change, a buzz of optimism as situations shifts, faces changes, love grows. We may always have the right spiritual equipment for the tasks at hand, but we have intent and belief.

Le Mat - Tarot designs

It is an alluring name and idea for a scent. Stefania was interested less in the future-telling aspects of Tarot, more the complex set of symbols and multiple meanings layered into the cards and their depictions. Dolce & Gabbana released a line of oddly out of character editions in 2009 called D&G Anthology. There were nine in total, (including Le Fou 21…), all with Tarot inspired names – L’Imperatrice 3, Le Bateleur 1 and my favourite La Roue de la Fortune 10, a love/hate candy-tinted cyber bouquet of jasmine, tuberose ands gardenia with really weird flashes of canned pineapple, coconut milk and Skittles. On the trashy side perhaps, but something about the way the notes were blended made La Roue de La Fortune intensely stickysexy to wear.

Le Mat

Le Mat is of course a very different creature, balsamic, warm, thrilling and sensual. Vaguely oriental in tone, with it meaty base notes but to me it smells like a clever and haunting nod to the Mousse-de-Saxe-based beauties of classic Caron, the house founded in 1904 by Ernest Daltroff. I know that so many of the great Carons have been wrecked by reformulation; I have been lucky enough the years to wear some original juice: Nuit de Noel, Poivre, Bellodgia, En Avion and my beloved obsessive Tabac Blond. In pure extrait form, it is unbearably sublime, a scent of leathered, lipsticked time, swathed in the nostalgic haze of movie tobacco and sexual desire. As soon as I first inhaled Le Mat off my skin, I knew it echoed for my memories of these damaged Caron odours. Many of the great Caron classics contain a lot of the same materials, motifs if you like. Carnation, rose, black pepper, oppoponax, sandalwood, jasmine and clove. These are muttered like an incantation over that secretive Mousse de Saxe base and then subtle yet recognisable notes such as mimosa, vanilla, vetiver, amber, licquorice and violet might be added to create another riff on the luxurious Caron quintessence.

This is my impression of Le Mat, others may feel differently. But the boozy spirited opening is wonderful; a full-bodied welcome that remains beautifully languid throughout the development of this tightly controlled composition. Despite the relative restraint in the number of ingredients, I am reminded of Jean-Claude Ellena’s comments about why use 100 notes when 10 will suffice. This is very true of Le Mat, the economy of Bourgeois and Behaghel’s palette only emphasises how elegant and refined the components are. Fragrantica have it down as an oriental floral, this is a general catch all for anything with patchouli, woods and rose in. I’m not sure if its deliberate, but I think perhaps Le Mat is a nod to the Caron carnation-flushed chyprés. Technically a true chypré should have oakmoss and labdanum in the formulation, neither of which occurs in Le Mat. However the potent rise of carnation and geranium, spiked with pepper and sweet clove over the carefully considered triptych of patchouli, cashmeran and anisic immortelle do create a flickering homage, a warm-hearted neo-chypré. The base triptych I mentioned above do an interesting job of suggesting the dry, tinder-like formality of oakmoss and labdanum whilst forging their own rummy, umber-toned identity. It wears beautifully on my skin, stretches out and makes me feel special. I like it most at night on my own, with the light down low; it glows like fading embers.

Gold sea urchin earring

It was Sogno Reale that really caught my imagination with Mendittorosa originally; it was the one scent I really wanted to try. I am not generally a fan of sea-scents, ozonics etc, but the proffered notes of abstracted sea urchin (a marine iodine accord), lemon; volcanic frankincense and hyraceum were just too alluring to pass on. Also… the urchin-topped flacon is so Cronenberg. I have recently developed an obsessive passion for Jean-Claude Ellena’s extraordinary Epice Marine, his Hermessence collaboration with Breton chef Olivier Roellinger. In a previous blog piece on Le Jardin deMonsieur Li I described Ellena’s olfactory masala of Sichuan spice, Algenone, hints of Bruichladdich whisky and roasted cumin as salivating and compulsive and aqua/animalic spice-porn. The collision of simmering sweat and thalassic imaginings is pretty outrageous and not for everyone; the savoury saline rush is fabulously divisive. The other aquatic preoccupying me is another Luca Maffei composition, the understated Acquasala, also made for Gabriella Chieffo. Luca is one of the most interesting young perfumers in the business right now and Acquasala was delightfully transparent with a pliable cloudy feel of soft salt and fine sand. I will be honest, I didn’t really like it as first, then one day, after a day of my beloved Ragu, I retried the sample I had and my skin seemed to react differently, radiating a more powerful coastal fluency than the linear boredom I had originally remembered.

Luca Maffei for Gabriella Chieffo

Sogno Reale, a scent literally dreamed into existence by Stefania and Amélie Bourgeois is pitched as a marine leather.. an odd yet compelling description, the styrax and growly hyraceum feel like a glistening abstracted carapace. Sogno Reale is a striking and curious arrangement of effects that in all honesty should not really work or smell as beguiling as they do. But somehow the roof notes of squeezed lemon and macabre medical iodine have been executed with such verve that the other notes fall into perfect olfactory synchronicity. The pissy elegance of hyraceum of African Stone as it is sometimes called is a perverse favourite of mine and the dirty traces used in Sogno Reale work to strengthen and echo the weird hospital introduction.

Ring - sea urchin shell & silver 

As it settles, the pharmacy swabbiness eases off after a distinctly potent oceanic start. The scent smells of startled electrified air. This becomes less pronounced as the slumbering patchouli raises itself and comes out to play. The rum note is subtle, more of a rum-soaked cask effect than boozy fumes and the suggested tuberose in the heart of the composition is gently dreamlike, a flicker of quiet indole in the sea urchin’s daydream.

Sogno Reale

It is always a huge pleasure when a fragrance you want to like so much turns out to exceed your expectations. But this has turned out to be the case with this kooky and poetic scent. It smells mysterious and unexpected. Reading any of the descriptions does not really prepare you for the curiosity of its gauzy ozonic games. It is a bizarre mix of Italian sea-food platter, awash with salt and iodine, shells, claws, rock and sand mingled with a fantasy of mer-people crowned in diadems of polished urchin shells in dazzling aqua shades. Stefania’s passionate dream made scenic reality is seriously expert juice, combining abstraction, ambition, olfactive imagination and a touch of madness.

Le Mat and Sogno Reale are beautiful fragrances and deserve a wider audience than they seem to have at present. They are extrait strength and have lovely osmosis on skin. I have enjoyed exploring the line and finding two exceptionally good and very different fragrances was surprising and enjoyable. Stefania has set out to create a collection of profoundly personal perfumes that connect not just to skin and senses, but to our souls. Perfume as soulfood. Whether or not you buy into this depends on how much you believe fragrances can affect/alter how we feel on a much deeper level than perhaps we are used to. All I will say is that two of the Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima perfumes wowed me with their heartfelt creativity, eccentricity and gentle non-conformity. 

For more information on Mendittorosa please click on the link below:

©TheSilverFox 01December2015

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