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

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Ghost Trees & Shadowed Line – ‘Sombres Dessins’ by Jovoy

'“Everything is worse...if you think something is looking at you.” Shirley Jackson

This is a ghost wood, a scent of phantom capture, a fragrance that sets out to define a certain essence and emotion of true sandalwood and yet somehow leaves us with a shimmering graphite obliqueness amid a forest of ephemeral trees that seems to recede the closer you are to them. The sandalwood effect is divine, creamy and atmospheric, conjured up by the immensely talented (..and very busy) Amélie Bourgeois inspired in part by the intense memories of Jovoy’s Creative Director François Hénin. In a former life he worked in Asia sourcing essential oils and raw materials for the industry. His encounters with the harvesting and distillation of Mysore sandalwood made a powerful impression on him. Literally; the potent scent of the aromatic oil embedding in skin and hair.  

Sandalwood carving

So the memory of sandalwood has a near mythical status for Monsieur Hénin and now the harvesting and use of these precious Santalum album forests is strictly controlled to the point of near prohibition. This means that very few people will ever really be able to experience the burnished comfort and power of true Mysore sandalwood.
They will instead have to wear one of the many admittedly excellent high quality sandalwood synthetics that are now available to perfumers. These include aromachemicals such as Ebanol (Givaudan), Polysantol (Firmenich), Firsantol (Firmenich) and Levosandol (Takasago). Each one is a singular chemical creation designed to echo, replace or replicate the odour of natural sandalwood. These are ghost simulacrums, phantom trees.

Monsieur François Hénin of Jovoy

These complex aroma materials can replicate the lacteous luminescence of sandalwood; but they also by their nature bring to bear their own ethereal constructs and chemical histoires on any formulae. The subtlety, weight and balance of materials determine the success of facsimile or failure. Sniffing these sandalwood replicates is amazing, they all have elements in common, yet are also powerfully diverse, needing other materials such as rose, ionones, heady resins, smoke and cold bold musks to harmonise with and open up their lovely possibilities. It is the chilled, milkiness of high quality sandalwood scents that appeals to me, an almost alabaster aloofness. I don’t find them particularly warm; I like a carved pallidity to my wood scents.       

Sandalwood oil is extracted by passing high temperature steam through the powdered heartwood. Sapwood produces oil too, a slightly inferior yield in terms of odour and viscosity. A more traditional method is hydro-distillation that involves soaking the powdered wood in water in a hydro-still for up to forty-eight hours and then heating it. The collected vapours are gathered away and the oil collected. CO2 extraction is now the most widely used technique. It is not reliant on heat, instead using CO2 as the solvent to break down the elements within the sandalwood. Under immense pressure the carbon dioxide dissects the material into its pertinent components. The results of all three techniques can vary in olfactory tonality, colour, depth, richness and power. The use of heated steam in distillation and hydro-distillation can actually influence and alter the molecular structure and therefore the scent of the source sandalwood. The cold technique of CO2 extraction yields a product closer in tone to the original plant and tree source, but different parts of the world produce different trees and the constituent aromachemicals locked within the varieties of woods will all manifest manifold subtleties in expert extraction.

Blending these precious natural derivatives with cutting edge aromachemistry is the complex task set down before today’s contemporary perfumers. Yet it is still surprisingly difficult to find sensual and intriguing examples in contemporary perfumery where sandalwood has been given a stage and suitable role befitting its status. 

Amélie Bourgeois

Sombre Dessins is an extrait strength parfum and the sandalwood note just sings out, glowing with molten melody. The perfumer Amélie Bourgeois has some very interesting work under her belt; she is part of a trio of dynamic women at an independent Paris-based fragrance consultancy called Flair with Ann-Sophie Behaghel and Martine Denisot. Their work includes creations for Les Liquides, Volnay, Lostmarc’h, Room 1015, the beautiful Poe-inspired Nevermore for Frapin and most importantly for me, the divine sea-urchin leathered dream of Sogno Reale and the recent hypnotic metallic rose of Nettuno by Mendittorosa Odori d’Anima, one of my favourite fragrance finds of recent years. Amélie’s Rouge Assassin, also for Jovoy is a waxen, smeared lipstick beauty, one of my favourite takes on the femme fatale lipstick boudoir genre. Her strength I think as a perfumer is vulnerability wrapped in classical structures. I love creators unafraid of femininity, soaked in softness and voluptuousness, but also with an awareness of strength and individuality.

Aokigahra Forest

What she has set out to conjure up with Sombres Dessins is something immensely strange and compelling. It has quite a presence on skin, something akin to a slippery haunting. When I bought it I was reading about a macabre, possessed place of tangled green trees and vegetation at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan called Aokigahara, the Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees. The forest is a global suicide hotspot, in 2003, 105 bodies were recovered. Most deaths are from overdoses or hanging. The place reputedly has a history of obasute; an alleged practice of abandoning unwanted and unloved elderly relatives to die amid the claustrophobic trees. 

Some of the doll 'offerings' left in the forest

The yūrei or spirits of the suicides left behind are said to roam the forest, even inhabit the very trees themselves, creating a very unusual atmosphere within the forest. A sign is now posted at the entrance to the area asking unhappy souls to consider their actions and the repercussion on family and those around them.

Obviously the area has become a tourist destination. The park itself is dotted with fascinating ice caves and spectacular if unsettling atmospherics. The mix of visitors is thrill-seekers, bone-hunters, those seeking something beyond our world, a tear in the veil perhaps. For some people there are places where the walls between our world and the spirit world are paper-thin and perhaps the voices calling from beyond can be heard more clearly.

I suppose I have always been a little morbidly preoccupied with the imagined woody dread of Aokigahara, a place that cannot fail to be infected and stained by the terrible end days of some desperate souls. A supernatural forest, charged with guarding the private wandering spirits of the damned. This haunted retention of action and intent, a gathering of observed memory is something I finds hard to shake. I wonder how the trees smell, the air as the night falls? 

Aokigahra Forest
The images are often saturated in green, moss covering surfaces like emerald smoke. Tree limbs twisted and gnarled for full Halloween effect. The truth is a devoutly quiet place more akin to a cathedral or chapel of green. The deaths have been anything but peaceful, away from loved ones, lonely, singular. Suicide is a powerful and terrifying force, unstoppable and mournfully destructive. Whispering in isolated ears it smiles sadly in shadows. Dark Designs, a sombre sense of lingering malady.

Beech turned pencils

The rendering of shadow with pencil, heavy shading, white paper almost tearing is another part of my olfactory interpretation of Sombres Dessins. Pencil is an instinctually pleasurable medium; I often find the preparatory work of artists’ final masterworks often more intrinsically fascinating than the finished oeuvre. Pencil has flow, erasure and smudge. I used to sketch in pencil a lot and still make a lot of notes in pencil actually. The peppery, dry, slippery scent is incredibly evocative. I have battered boxes full of stubby HBs, 5B and 2B, my favourite strengths; the scent on flipping open the lid is sooty and magical.

Beech trees rendered in etched glass

In my mind, a phantom forest is rendered in shimmering, shifting graphite, overlaid in bleeds of jade, verdigris and smutty lichen. Amélie Bourgeois has conjured up a very idiosyncratic olfactory experience with Sombres Dessins, I find myself quite besotted by its bready, saffron-infused intensity. It is one of a trio of recently launched extraits de parfums by Jovoy in 50ml gold-capped variations of their beautiful heavyweight bottles. These abstracted hourglass flacons are housed in decadent red faux-shagreen boxes, differing from the brand’s classic black livery. The other two scents Jus Interdit and Sans un Mot, both of which are massively beautiful, indulge classical tropes such as powdered florals, patchouli and solar accords, marrying them to radiant rose-soaked ouds, glittering fruits, carefree vanilla and poised, feral animalics. The triptych glows with a jewel-like intensity.   

Foxy's Jovoy x3 Gardez-Moi,
Sombres Dessins & Psychédélique

There are two aspects to Jovoy; François Hénin’s acquisition and re-launching of the old 1920’s vintage house, originally started by Blanche Arvoy in 1923. Blanche’s nickname was Joe, so she used that and the Voy part of her husband’s name Estaban Arvoy. The other main part is of course today’s influential Jovoy boutique at 4 Rue Castiglione in the 1st Arrondissement in Paris. The exquisitely designed store stocks a dazzling and innovative array of niche bands alongside their eponymous line including Frapin, Jul et Mad, Nasomatto, Ramon Monegal, Xerjoff, Masque Milano, MDCI, Aedes de Venustas, Indult, Tauer, Orto Parisi, Olfactive Studio and Olivier Durbano. The olfactory mix is eclectic and wise, an anthology of traditional perfumery echoes and the more innovative and daring side of the contemporary market. The one thing the fragrances have in common is Hénin’s belief and understanding of luxury, sensuality, skin and wearability.

Jovoy interiors...

The store itself is like a jewel box, the lush lacquer red and wood interior designed by Géraldine Prieur’s Rouge Absolu agency that specialises in creating distinctive chromatic dress codes for internal spaces. It is a red of vampish nails, passion, fever and provocation. This vivid setting provides a sensual and compelling ground for the retail presentation of such an eclectic array of maisons et marques.

One of Blanche Jovoy’s original fragrances, made in 1926 was Gardez-Moi that appeared originally in a cat-shaped Baccarat bottle. This title was retained and revived by Hénin in 2013 for a sensational new interpretation by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. It was my first Jovoy and arrived with enough samples to dazzle me into a love affair with the brand that is devout and sincere. The Fox loves his white florals, compositions with vintage flounce, sexual lash and creamy cinematic allure. Bertrand’s resurrected Orange Blossom and Gardenia for Penhaligon’s, both originally from 1976 but vastly reworked in 2011/10 respectively demonstrated his unerring sense of balance and floral respect for skin. Gardenia in particular, woefully under-loved by Penhaligon’s and left to languish in passé funereal styled black boxes is a masterly rendering of a difficult bloom, mixed with rhubarb and melon notes to lift, freshen and modernise the potential shriek of indolic gardenia. I like the damp mushroomy vibe that filters under the brightness, lending the overall formula a singularity often missing from most generic white floral compositions.

There are reverential echoes of his Penhaligon’s palette in Gardez-Moi, but then Bertrand seems to let rip, explode his senses and really tests our limits in terms about how we might be prepared to interpret a gardenia perfume. Gardez-Moi is scintillatingly photorealistic, a transfixing assembly of shimmering, lavish white petals, damp with dew or soft evening rain. Lily, mimosa, jasmine absolute, ylang and cyclamen wrap, boost and intoxicate the central gardenia motif. However it the use of more leftfield components such as a raspberry accord, aromatic tomato leaf, coriander in the top of the scent and a very generous dose of wicked styrax that create such an atmospheric overall ambience that make Gardez-Moi such a damned voluptuous and unexpectedly classical thing to wear. I have since added more Jovoys to my collection: Psychdélique, the mega whoomph of treacly, blasphemous patchouli and Liturgie des Heures, the dark dank crypt incense that hums of abandoned churches and turned out vampire graves. I love Private Label, Cécile Zarokian’s special dry, glowing vetiver-haunted leather scent made for François and the smudged quiet debauchery of Rouge Assassin.

Sombres Dessins

However it is Sombres Dessins that has really captured me, there is something arresting and strange in the mix of blurred brioche woodiness and lonely metallic surge of saffron that floods over the rose/osmanthus duo like an insistent creamy alto. It is eerie and supple, the suggestion of warm, aromatic basmati-tinted Mysore sandalwood flickers from bold to vaporous like golden mist in forest dusk light.

That initial glazed bread note falls away and leaves remarkably desolate graphite smears and a rose motif spattered by rum, these things seemingly scattered beneath the shadowed lines of gibbous trees. I find the movement from comfort to divergent an unsettling yet rather beautiful and demanding olfactive experience. I find myself wearing Sombres Dessins repeatedly searching for light amid the glassy holographic trees and craving the rich auric masala of saffron, sweet patchouli and supernatural frankincense. The longevity and I suppose relative claustrophobia of the scent is impressive, the notes seem compressed, oppressive even initially, but as with so many of the Jovoy compositions, it is the slow burn revelation of depth and resonance that makes this line such an addictive pleasure to indulge in.  

I can’t shake my ghost forest associations from my preoccupied wearings of Sombres Dessins, it is the way my mind works as I write, inhale and carry my scent on flesh. This fictionalised perfumed ode to the magnificence of Mysore sandalwood and François Hénin’s vibrant memories of the sandalwood trade is a mesmerising milky build of opalescent oddity and cold lacquered loneliness. The finish is hushed and weary, the sombre mood fading into the still forest air. Many fragrances over time have been referred to as melancholy; but this is truly one of them, a ghost scent of lost wood, conjuring up past love, forgotten goodbyes in a place where so many are lost to realm of wander and fateful watchfulness.   

For further information on Jovoy, please click on the link below: 

©TheSilverFox 11 May 2016

1 comment:

  1. what was that book you read on the suicide forest, pray tell???