When love is not madness, it is not love
There are really only a handful of Houses that I can honestly say I look forward to each of their launches with anticipation and excitement, knowing instinctually I will be fascinated, enamoured and intrigued. I count Mona di Orio, Arquiste, Vero Profumo, Slumberhouse, Gabriella Chieffo Profumi, Masque Fragranze, Hermès, HYLNDS, Papillion Perfumes, Laboratorio Olfattivo, MDCI Parfums among them. There are others, but I am rarely deceived by work from the aforementioned; the work is exemplary, emotive, built from superlative materials and composed by men and women for whom olfaction is more than just notes, accords and formulae, it is art with skin as canvas and our sense of smell as the discerning, clamouring audience.
|Foxy's Authors & Bookmarks...|
To the list above I must add Imaginary Authors, founded by the lovely Josh Meyer, out of Portland Oregon whose olfactive fictions and innovative bottled storytelling has been delighting the Foxy paws off me since Josh’s unique library launched in 2012. I have seven of his singular creations in my collection: the mulchy fog & strawberries of Cape Heartache, the asphalt & sunlit cigarette trails of The Cobra and the Canary, Memoirs of a Trespasser, all dense oaky vanilla and claustrophobic myrrh, the arid, fig-laced sadness of Yesterday Haze, the chilly Narnia wardrobe oddity of Air of Despair, City on Fire, a thick swirling scent of cade and heat-burst berries and Bull’s Blood, a Hemmingway-esque tribute to doomed lurid love, torn roses and blood-soaked corridas.
I have samples of the rest of the line and to be honest, bar one, L’Orchidée Terrible, I have loved them all, even the ones I may have earlier struggled with like The Soft Lawn and Mosaic, I now find I like more and more. My senses have undergone quite a process of readjustment in the last two years for one reason and another and I have reassessed a number of lines I own. Small nuances and themes I missed or didn’t interpret the first time round have surfaced or perhaps become more apparent. With various bouts of illness and subsequent treatments and recovery I have noticed intriguing and sometimes exasperating alterations to my olfactory receptors. It is something I have to live with. It does make for vivid inhalation.
I notice that L’Orchidée Terrible has been dropped from the Imaginary Authors shop page, so I am assuming Josh has dropped it from his roster. I know he reformulated it, so that may have been an issue too, but it was the only one in the line up I struggled with. I think the aldehydes and whatever Josh was using to create his satin note were just too raw, the blending made my head fizz.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Imaginary Authors concept, it is beautifully simple, Josh creates wonderfully imagined precise fictions, memoirs and biographies complete with synopses, author biogs and photos that he and Creative Director Ashod Simonian cull from old year books, vintage ‘fitness’ magazines and other esoteric sources. These artistic fictions are then edited alongside the juices to carefully curate a collection of retro-styled distinctly emotive aromatic bottled books. There are lovely influences at play in the literary inspirations, writers like Willa Cather, Jack London, Salinger, Tennessee Williams, Femimore Cooper, Carson McCullers, Henry James, Strindberg, Cocteau, Hemmingway, little pieces here and there, places, moods, nods etc echo through the library. It is never overstated or heavy-handed, it is not pastiche (well maybe a little…). It is more suggestion, playful, subversive storytelling, taken just that little further, but done with such brio and fun.
A key component of all great perfumery is storytelling. Everyone loves a story, something that draws and binds them to a scent, making the juice more human and approachable. After years of working in the industry I know all too well how tenuous a lot of this stuff is, how fake and cynical. Prices continue to rise across all high street, niche, indie and luxury couture scent and now more than ever, storytelling has become a vital part of any perfume house’s weaponry. It is just how it is rolled out that makes the difference. Consumers are much more savvy now; social media allows myriad forms of access to instant info on new launches, Houses, brands, noses and materials. Any story told that does not hold water or reeks of cynicism will be torn down and mocked mercilessly. As buyers and lovers of scent we are aware of course that we are part of an inherently dramatic, moneyed, romanticised process and therefore will allow a certain amount of chicanery and dramatic licence to pass by unhindered. If the advertising/storytelling is wise, witty, original, genuinely sensual and emotive, likewise we will listen, watch, inhale and perhaps be seduced. After all, it is a boom business this scented thing, so the stories being told all over the word in words, line and photographs must be doing their olfactive job rather well. In Josh’s case, the storytelling is blatant and obsessively creative, asking us to trust him as a writer of perfumes, to follow his scented plots and lose ourselves in his imaginary worlds. It is a fabulous ask, and one of evocative encounters and detailed dramas.
Each fragrance is an adventure with protagonists, suggestive moods and a storyline proactively but not overtly redolent of the notes and accords that Josh has utilised to create the structure and ambience of his perfumes. It is without doubt a bold undertaking and automatically sets a certain characterisation and mise-en-scène to the proceedings, but Josh is exceedingly clever and able to work back and forth between his imagined suggestions and allowing his audience to use those ideas to create a perfect balance of perceived and expected.
As I said, the fragrances have a brief tight synopsis, an author and a concise list of notes. The name of the book is the name of the perfume so when you wear it you are in effect wearing the olfactive text, the plot and characters; you become part of the story. One of the things I personally enjoy about Josh’s work is that I find it quite difficult not to think about the details of the scent I’m wearing, the characters, locales, dramatic milieu and happenings that he describes for each publication. You can of course choose to ignore all of this and just enjoy the scent, but I guarantee you’ll find it very hard to do so. Josh and his team have gone to wonderful detailed lengths to create these perfumes, why would you buy them if you weren’t intrigued by his storytelling? It is at the very heart of what he does.
|Yesterday Haze - Imaginary Authors|
2014’s Yesterday Haze was such a beautiful entry into the series, a bone-dry fig scent with walnut bitters, cream tonka and orchard dust, one of those Mayeresque abstracted accords that evokes so much. They are dotted throughout his line. Bull’s blood, limestone, burnt matches, mountain fog, warm sand, fresh tennis balls and clay court; wonderfully chosen reveries to arouse and kick start the imagination. Yesterday Haze is by Leonora Blumberg, author of a previous Mayer tome, Violet Disguise. Set in the dust-swept Californian San Jaoquin Valley a farmer’s wife decides she can longer live with deception and plans to tell her husband about her long time affair with one of his employees, a crop-duster pilot.
“The memory of him is a rifle in my mouth,” Blumberg writes, “and the scent of fig its trigger.”
It is this powerful, concise capture of suggested olfactive emotion that encapsulates Josh’s approach to this work. The stories are always beautifully engaging; some more than others, much like any reading material. But when you wear the scents and begin to discern the materials unfolding in reactions to characters and plotlines you realise how invested you are and actually emotional some of these Imaginary Scents fragrances are. The dry expanse of fig, walnut and that weird melancholy orchard dust accord in Yesterday Haze reek of arid days, a woman lost in weary repetitive thoughts as she stands in the scant shade of a seared plum orchard shielding her eyes to watch the sky for the drone or trail of a distant plane.
It was a rare fig scent that took me by surprise and I love its subdued, rather melancholy arc. Fig scents are generally brighter and more summery in tone, mingled with orange, neroli, cedar, leaf motifs and milkier notes to suggest the ripening fruit. Yesterday Haze does none of this, in fact is suggests to me a fading fig, left to decay perhaps on that farmhouse table, alternatively catching light and shadow. All of this strangeness, this attention to emotive oddness, aroma effects and how you feel as the scents settles is due to the precise care and attention Josh entrusts to his perfumes and also to how we might interact with them.
My other favourite from the line is a very odd scent called The Cobra and the Canary, inspired by a road trip of spiralling desolation by James Spundt. Twenty three year old Neal Orris (Cassidy + Iris…) is led to a hidden 1964 Shelby Cobra Roadster by a tip from a clairvoyant. The car was his dead father’s secret obsession and concealed in a barn in Connecticut. Neal picks up his best friend Ike from a dead end job and together they embark on a road trip littered with pseudonyms, pretences, fresh-faced debutantes, run-down motels, azure pools and endless smoking. It is book of road trip as avenue of life; choices, mistakes, love, sex, ennui and death. What starts out as a game of two kids driving through life, playing fast and loose with identities and truth becomes decadence and darkness. I took a tracksuit top out of the wardrobe to wear the other day, I hadn’t worn it for three weeks and it was still saturated in the weird ashen tarmac spike of The Cobra and the Canary. It is a very tenacious scent; it embeds and holds on for dear careening life. The only way I can describe its fade is citric concrete dusted with remnants of cold ashtray. Each time I wear the fragrance I think of Neal and Ike lost somewhere on their trip of broken discoveries. The notes reinforce this notion of dislocation and costly freedom.
|Strawberries, fog, mulch and mould...|
The intensely atmospheric foggy mulch of wild strawberries and damp mossy trees in Cape Heartache, a companion scent/book by Philip Sava to his throaty, druidic oak-smoked vanilla Memoirs of a Trespasser. The lichen moist, Douglas fir redolence of Cape Heartache are inspired by an imagined story of a 1880s homesteader and his love for a woman who was a descendent of the local Nehelam Indian tribe. It really is an astonishing scent; I never fail to be amazed by it; the collision of sweet, oxidising alpine berries and a creeping sense of green weather. It rolls off the skin and page like pale morning fog.
This ability to meld vivid flashes of realism with fairytale abstraction is why I love Josh’s work so much, there really is nothing else quite like out there. His cheeky conceit of fictional guidance and artfully crafted textual suggestion imbues the whole enterprise with enigma, beauty and balls to be honest.
The fragrances look amazing too, I love a graphic concept. Josh’s friend Ashod Simonian is Creative Director of Imaginary Authors and has been responsible for shaping the very distinctive visual style of the brand. The two guys have worked hard to conceive a framework house style that the library of fragrances will fit into. It is a shifting mix of graphics motifs associated with the perfumes mixed with authors’ biog pics and textual excerpts lifted from their work. The colour palette is muted, 50s Americana in style, some Scandinavian and 60s British Penguin design touches thrown into the mix. The mingling of classic book cover design and ad agency insouciance is wise and effective.
|New Imaginary Authors packaging|
Ashod wraps a generic 50ml bottle in elegant graphic designs; often-simple visual interpretations of key elements of the synopsis, reduced to stylised symbols. They are bold, impactful and have a visual language very much of their own. Up until quite recently, Josh didn’t box his fragrances, now with the launch of Slow Explosions, we have Imaginary Authors packaging for the first time across the line and it all looks beautiful, almost industrial, like something manufactured for say use in workshops for storing pins and screws in.
|An Air of Despair - Imaginary Authors|
Last year’s limited edition release An Air of Despair had a beautiful label on a smaller 30ml bottle; pure white gloss and gold with a raised golden crown above three gilded tears. Striking and in keeping with the bright cold, cedar and saffron ghostliness of the juice inside. It is an example to other more ostentatious brands that you can facilitate intensity in your flacon and brand in elegant and simple ways by using modish, eye-catching semiotics and neatly executed retro graphics. It is a sharp way to interact with your target audience, using a relatively customised standard bottle and keeping the price point down. It is this sense of luxurious independence, always present in all aspects of Josh’s work that makes being part of his world enjoyable.
I didn’t get around to reviewing 2015’s Every Storm a Serenade so I’m looking at it now alongside Josh’s delicious new publication Slow Explosions that in some ways revisits and deepens that potent saffron riff he wrapped around bleached cedar and Narnia-cold musks in An Air of Despair. They work well as a diptych, one recounted in tones of blue and cloudy grey-bice, the other told in told in exuberant golds, rust-rose and sunset.
These are two of the best things Josh has done I think. I’ve taken my time wearing them over and over, reading the nuances and sophistication of notes on my skin. I hesitate to say they are more mature complex works because that implies his earlier oeuvre is somehow slightly less finished or assembled. However Every Storm and Slow Explosions do feel more rounded and detailed, plush and gripping. I found myself quite addicted to both for different reasons, the weird apple-reverb in Slow Explosions, mingled with leather and a hugely tannic saffron note is seriously good scent. Whilst Josh’s take on a marine theme in Every Storm is typically idiosyncratic, I found it beautifully bleak and mournful, his calone carefully calibrated to whisper over spruce and eucalyptus, singing lullabies to whales. One plays with external journeys to places and revelations, the other with the chilled winter heart we carry inside, unable to burn when love eludes us.
|Every Storm a Serenade - Imaginary Authors|
Every Storm a Serenade was launched in 2015 and is on paper a classic marine scent; some calone, ambergris and one of Josh’s winsome abstractions, Baltic Sea mist. The odiferous libretto is by Niels Bjerregaard, born in 1965 and from his judiciously chosen author’s biog pic, he is a man of intense kindly gaze, but serious as if a little trapped by his writer’s gift.
‘I patter on the typewriter all day, but the letters on the page are like raindrops on a window. I fear I may be losing my mind.’
From ‘Every Storm a Serenade’ by Niels Bjerregaard
The synopsis Josh suggests is one of frozen longing, lust loss, frustration and spiralling writer’s angst set against the moody, shifting land and seascapes of Denmark’s west coast in winter. The main protagonist, Stina, a burgeoning writer, decides to go to her mother’s summerhouse on the Danish coast off-season. Her two-day (and one sensual night) trip overlap with a somewhat stereotypical but nonetheless sexy and brawny fisherman called Ulu. The memories of this one night of sexual passion with a man of the sea began to overwhelm and obsess Stina as her concentration on her book falls apart. Her fevered state of longing is poured into countless unsent letters that form the basis of Every Storm a Serenade, Stina imagining the very weather and elements themselves singing and performing for her, swirling works of love, crashing symphonies of desire.
|Danish cabin designed |
by Lenschow & Pihlman(detail)
Every Storm opens cold, like morning fog on grey stone. The effluvial scent made me think immediately of the similar low muggy textures of Cape Heartache. In that the fog lay over wild, bruised strawberries and damp mossy trees. In Every Storm there is a bruised chalkiness to the initial very striking and all too familiar blast of Calone (methylbenzodioxepinone) the aromachemical discovered by Pfizer in 1996 that triggered the ozone/marine trend that swept through fragrance in the 1990s. It is also know as watermelon ketone and when used deftly and married to perfect materials, this fresh cut melon facet inhales in parallel with the more overtly perceived clean, saline-kissed breeze that perfumers craved. I used to be very dismissive of marine scents mainly because I overdosed on them in my teens but the fact of the matter remains that two of them, L’Eau D’Issey and Acqua di Gio still smell beautiful and timeless. It is Alberto Morillas’ 1996 Acqua di Gio Pour Homme that swept through my olfactory memory when I first smelled Every Storm… Aqua di Gio was inspired by Armani’s memories of Pantellerie a secretive Italian island in the Sicilian strait. Oddly it is the ravishing backdrop of A Bigger Splash, the new film by Luca Guadagnino, starring ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton that I have just finished watching and loved to pieces.
|Eau d'Issey & Acqua di Gio|
The key to Acqua di Gio for me is the jasmine in the top, a creamy blasted white floral note that Morillas loves and oily aromatic rosemary a note to be used with caution or else it smells too acrid and overly soapy. The soft, beachy laid-back groove of the Calone-soaked assembly still smells amazing despite a few tweaks over the years. Guys just smell sexy in it; the women’s version just overbalances the pineapple accord. It is still beautiful but once I know that enzymic tropical note is there, I can’t get past it. 2015 and 2016 has seen some rather special contemporary revivals of the marine theme; Luca Maffei’s exquisite fine-grained Acquasala for Gabriella Profumi, David Maruitte’s atmospheric and divisive 2013 Salina for Laboratorio Olfattivo, full of pine needles and wet lavender and Cécile Zarokian’s Curacao Bay, one of the Fath’s Essentials I discussed in a recent post that marries gorgeous marine notes with blackcurrant, frangipani and a huge splash of tangerine. Oddly Alberto Morillas made two of the worst offerings last year for Penhaligon’s London with the tedious and virtually un-wearable Blasted Heath and Bloom duo that reeked of cheap chlorine aromachemicals and downmarket car freshener aesthetics.
Josh has stripped away any sense of sweetness and created a marine fragrance that lies down on the skin like pale haunted rain, clinging to maudlin panes. I love the subtle rub of eucalyptus that comes through very quickly adding a note of winter chest infections, over the counter inhalants and nasal congestion. The minty, terpenic leaf is a powerful winter associative and works perfectly with the ghostly forest of spruce conjoured up by the body of the scent. The inclusion of ambergris might lead some people to think that Every Storm will be oriental and aurous. Here however, it plays much closer in symbolic spirit to a sense of the sea and the cetaceous origin of ambergris as a bilatory excretion/ejection from the sperm whale. It then starts an extraordinary journey of osmosis with seawater, salt, sunshine to become the bizarre waxen, substance washed up on beaches or bobbing on oceans that when purified and cleansed has such a beatific and transformative (needles to say haute-luxe) effect of perfume as note, fixative and olfactive CGI.
|Danish cabin designed |
by Lenschow & Pihlman
There is a pale brackenish miasma to the composition that never entirely leaves, the grey amber effect floating across the surface of Every Storm much like its waxy namesake journeying across the oceans, staining the juice with a malleable yet undeniable presence. This fragrance has strange moments linked I guess to Josh’s capture of water-haunted angst off the storm-wracked winter coasts of Denmark. As a writer I think one is always tempted to see all manifestations of weather and climate as sympathetic backdrop to inner turmoil. It’s a writer’s trick as old as time itself, the externalising of the writer’s spirit writ large and elementally across skies, land and seascapes. Words, letters and symbols as rain, sleet, snow, wind and hail; the page as weather-torn sky. Every Storm’s protagonist Stina is elemental, her muse compromised and interrupted by thoughts of that single passionate night with Ulu the fisherman, himself a symbol for the unattainable standards she seeks in herself and own work or her reason for neglecting it. Ultimately her unsent correspondence about her fraught emotional state that will become a novel about the frustrations of writing.
I like the latent chill and suggested desolation in Every Storm. When I first sprayed it I got goosebumps; it made me think of empty rain-soaked gardens, moss covered stones and eroded ornaments slick with bright running water, trees and leaves weeping in damp air. The very precise image Josh suggests of Stina bound to a winter cabin room, harassed by a typewriter and blank or ruined pages as the rain falls relentlessly outside is a potent and deeply atmospheric one. Storm outside, storm inside. White paper, white sea. Tears, rain. Winter weather, writer’s block.
|Alarm call |
I was writing on Every Storm while preparing for major surgery over in Glasgow on the west coast as the waiting times in Edinburgh were lengthy. The Golden Jubilee is a strange, hospital, originally built as a private venture at the cost of £180 million in 1994 on the site of the William Beardmore naval works on the north bank of the River Clyde at Dalmuir. It was transferred into the hands of the NHS in 2002 and has been incredibly successful in selective disciplines, particularly orthopaedics. There is a luxury hotel attached to the hospital used now for medical conferences that was originally used to house the relatives of private patients using the facility. It was Arab money that paid for the facility and the ultra private nature and exclusivity of the place is still evident in the single wards, soundproofing and obsession with security.
|Hospital room view|
The views over the Clyde were beautiful and the surrounding environs shockingly quiet. The place was immaculate; every part of it has an eerie, overtly clinical texture. Before my operation I wandered the achingly spotless corridors and hardly saw a soul. I had to be retained overnight after the procedure, issues with recovery and I was moved to a quiet, single room, overlooking the still silent river and beech trees. The damp weather and moisture-laden air coming through the window were a blessing after the fuggy claustrophobia of crowded pre-op, cannulas and chatty recovery.
A fluke of corridor light shining through the disposable sea-blue pleated curtains meant that my entire private room seemed to be underwater. Drowsing on copious opiates and listening to Max Richter’s eight-hour classical Sleep album, I could discern heavy rain drumming off the glass and the insistent ticking of the wall clock. I sprayed a generous amount of Every Storm on my skin and in the air around me and lay back in the poignant embrace of Richter’s ambience. This melancholy perfume of Calone-suffused desolation is a hermetic thing, but utterly compelling nonetheless. The top has such a bold nostalgic dazzle, a wave-crash of marine distillate that fades to a skin-close telling of rubbed, green gelid fade. The trees surrounding Stina’s cabin stare down into the abyss of the sea. Every Storm is a scent about a night alone, lost in one’s disjointed, primal thoughts as weather and page seemingly conspire to thwart artistic flow. Of course, it’s imagined fiction and Stina triumphs through the surrendering of herself to the will of the storm. I kept wandering in and out of drugged sleep, in my oceanic room, cellos and murmured low vocals in my head, intercut with rain, catching soft pieces of musky green and marine skin. Like night-swimming.
|Slow Explosions - Imaginary Authors|
Slow Explosions, launched this summer is a very different style of fragrance from the chilly, Baltic cling of Every Storm a Serenade, essentially a very beautiful slo-mo study of saffron against a vividly rendered backdrop of apple-scented fireworks, a perceived side-effect it seems of the CO2 saffron material Josh has used in the formula. Whatever the objective, intended or otherwise, the slowness or more studied aspect of this perfume allows us a closer elucidation of saffron on skin. This follows on from Josh’s radiant and more furred treatment in 2015’s limited edition An Air of Despair, where the saffron was sublimated with bone white cedar and musks.
I think too the slowing down of experience in life is referenced here too. Ensuring moments are not missed, people, experiences and conversations are absorbed. You might perhaps rest more often, detour and alter your days, find yourself in places that unsettle and thrill simultaneously. As with all Imaginary Authors scents, Slow Explosions has its story, starting in 1980, written by Gwen K. Vroomen, described as a self-proclaimed ‘journey out of darkness’, begins with Gwen trapped in a boring job going to her local corner bar and at the urging of the barman hurling a dart at a map of the world pinned to the wall. The dart hits Goa, somewhere she has never heard of on the other side of the world. Three months later, Gwen is celebrating Vishu, Hindu New Year in Kerala as the sky fills with fireworks, her life irrevocably changed forever by that throw of the dart and her decision to follow it. The dusty moped rides, river floats, night markets, tea plantations; Gwen has been ‘…resuscitated by colour, redeemed by the unknown.’
|Saffron... the golden spice..|
Saffron is a much beloved Foxy fragrance note in scent, be it moulded and metallic to resemble gold in 888 by Antoine Lie for Comme des Garçons or buttered and basmati-echoed like the scrumptious and neglected Safran Troublant by Olivia Giacobetti for L’Artisan Parfumeur. It was a beautiful surprise in Jean-Claude Ellena’s recent Eau de Néroli Dorée for Hermès, adding the gilded dorée to the neroli; suffusing his vibrant, Provençal orange and bigarade with the most delicious shimmering weather of pollen-soft spice. It is the golden spice of biryanis, staining the rice and mixing with rosewater and the nuttiness of the rice. I have always been fascinated by its strangeness, its origins, the painstaking hand-harvesting of the individual crocus stamens. This delicate crackling jewel that imparts such immense beauty to food and scent is one of the world’s most expensive spices and rightly so. I search for it in scent; when it works it can be dazzling, such a curious aroma, the biting metallic sweetness, tempered as it is here in Slow Explosions by a rather compulsive sulphuric apple-toned halo that lingers like gun smoke after a crime.
Slow Explosions takes place in Kerala at Vishu, the traditional Keralan New Year that takes place in the second week of April and marked by lights and fireworks. The Vishu feast or Sadya is built around a combination of sour, salty, sweet and bitter items. A key element to Vishu is the Vishukkani or ‘The first thing seen on the day of Vishu after waking up’. Essentially it is a display of auspicious objects such as coins, konna blooms, areca nuts, holy texts etc lit by the warm ambient glow of nilavilakku or oil lamps. Everything illuminated by quiet votive lamps or the dazzle of firecrackers and skyrockets. As someone who has cooked a lot over the years, roasting and grinding my own spices, creating my own masala blends, Kerala means spice trade to me and has indeed been trading since 3000BCE in black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, coconut and coir.
India has long had a literary traditional of transfiguring characters through landscape. Women like Adele Quested in the Marabar Caves in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Daphne Manners in Paul Scott’s masterly Raj Quartet. Right through to the endless stream of gap year students and do-gooders that clutter the Goan beaches. Gwen in many ways is just another part of this fraught, dazzled lineage, searching for a sense of self amid a cacophony of night markets, poverty, freedom, culture shock and never-ending western naiveté. The fragrance itself is a mix of romance and harsh realism, slum air and blooming exoticism.
The rose absolute is as bitter as death when it first appears, scowling and caped like an avenging angel amid the weird smoked apple fumes. The leather note that comes on pretty strong at the beginning is internal, that unfinished pelty drag under finger inside something, not the smooth, smiling, butter-soft exterior. There is something a little bloody in the mix, an echo of Josh’s Bull’s Blood, not quite the full crimson splash but still enough of a hint of spicy sanguineous assimilation. I LOVED An Air of Despair last year and even bought a back up bottle, knowing it was a limited edition. The saffron in that was potent enough, but chilled, cold and dressy, worn like an icy crown as you wandered a snowy landscape. I get the pacing of saffron in Slow Explosions, a more measured and detailed resolution of the atmospheric spice as a note of fiction; it smells beautiful, wide and openly ochre, lit through with night sparks and cordite. But it’s the lush, reaching combo of sooty rose and urgent leather that actually demand your attention. A generous lick of genuinely recognisable benzoin lacquers up the main theme, reinforcing the animalic drift of the leather tone.
|Smoke wreathed apple....|
I go through phases of obsessively drinking Hazer Baba, an instant granulated version of Turkish elma çay or apple tea I buy from a particular Arab grocers on the student side of town. I’m fascinated by its granulation/just add water thing, but Hazer Baba also has an amazingly pungent aroma when you open the box, a mix of sweet and dried sulphured apple rings, honeyed sugar and a peculiar burnt aroma I sense in Slow Explosions as the apple note expands off the skin. It’s hard to avoid comparisons with Bertrand Duchaufour’s Traversée du Bosphore in the later stages of Josh’s fragrance. The rose and leather dance a similar slow waltz; petals become skin and skin falls like autumn soft blooms. Bertrand used a pretty acerbic lather note in Traversée du Bosphore to suggest the tannic, urinous whiff of Istanbul’s many historical tanneries. It is quite a fleshy, scraped note that rolls around my olfactive consciousness as I inhale the shattered explosion of singed apple and supple, market leather that Josh has woven through Gwen’s lovely drama of Slow Explosions.
Like many of the Imaginary Authors offerings, Slow Explosions, is both an imagined and aromatic journey, protagonists setting off on voyages, road trips, pilgrimages and familial explorations. An Air of Despair, The Cobra and the Canary, Bulls Blood and Falling into the Sea all examine life on the edge, moving through transformative experience. Gwen K. Vroomen’s onomatopoeic movement from random dart choice map coordinate to celebratory rose-tinted fireworks in Kerala three months later is some sense of movement.
‘I was lost, aimless and depressed. Now I am only two of these things.’ From ‘Slow Explosions’ by Gwen K. Vroomen
I wonder which two? I would like to think Gwen under the shrieking crack and coloured pop of the Keralan lightshow is perhaps still lost and a little aimless, guided to Kerala by dart and whim, but her depression massaged, lifted and illuminated by rose, saffron and exploding colour, resuscitating her joie de vivre and setting fire to something inside her old mundane life. There are so many clichés associated with young milk-faced Americans finding themselves in faraway places, seeking personal epiphanies in places that more often than not profoundly alter them in ways they could never even began to imagine. Gwen’s journey ‘out of darkness’ ends in symbolic flowers of fiery light. For others, trial by country, poverty, illness, kindness, light, darkness, debt, corruption, theft, bravery and brutal self-awareness is a longer more damaging journey with a multitude of hidden scars.
|Apora night market|
Slow Explosions is a fiction of risk, Gwen taking a huge leap of faith into an uncertain Keralan future to find herself lit by Vishu glow and fireworks 1000s of miles from home, face radiant with collective experience. As per usual with Josh, there is one of his abstracted notes listed alongside the others, this time it is Apora Night Market, in reference to the regular Goan Saturday market/shindigs that take place in the evenings from 6pm onwards to tale full advantage of the cool night air. Selling everything from apples, leather goods and street food to beauty products, t-shirts and ornaments; there are also stages for musicians to perform, the whole atmosphere being one of vibrant colour, creativity and commerce. You have to imagine in your own head the aroma of this place and how that might translate into an accord for scent. For me it’s simply an imagined odour of ambient drifting spice, tea, smoke, leather and the cooling night sweat of visitors. I love the rose and leather dance that rises and falls throughout the mix, wrapped in that pungent apple and saffron, rolling, smoke over cured fruit over carmine bloom. There is a particular weightlessness to Slow Explosions, a country of abandoned formality, reflective perhaps of Gwen’s desire to shed an old life under the crackle of and joyous pop of New Year Fireworks.
Once again with Josh’s work, it the elegant simplicity of his suggested narrative, his aromatic nudges along the way, the odyssey of Gwen from dart to fireworks; these things make wearing Slow Explosions such an addictive pleasure. If you read reviews which I rarely do to be honest, you will notice how comprehensively divisive the reactions to the Imaginary Authors library is. A lot of it is snobbery. There are some incredibly supportive and passionate wearers of Josh’s work out there and really, only the haters and blowhards write the pointless vitriol anyway. I don’t care and I’m sure that Josh doesn’t really either to be honest. His olfactive fictions and innovative artistic perfumes have a devoted following by people who read, wear and understand his work for what it is, consummate scented storytelling for adventurous, intrigued and romantic souls.
The not judging books by their covers is an old adage but a pertinent one in terms of the artistry of Imaginary Authors perfumery stock. Josh beckons us to judge, choose, wonder and wear on carefully selected words, notes, atmospheric concise synopses and of course Ashod Simonian’s compellingly designed graphic art. The collection is now beautifully boxed. It seems odd, but normally the 50ml sprays arrive as they are with their matching bookmark and some samples. I love the Slow Explosions design, a simple mix of three key elements: stylised firework roundels, three (Keralan) peaks and a hand reaching in wonder for both. All this on a creamy saffron ground and a block of dark red to suggest that beautiful rose absolute. The line is now being expanded to include stylish 14ml travel atomisers, designed in the same chic, graphic way as the rest of the collection.
Every Storm a Serenade and Slow Explosions are both beautiful and ambitious additions to the Imaginary Authors canon. While they feel more complex in terms of style and emotional content to some of the earlier formulae they still manage to continue that playful sense of olfactive prose and carefully planned authorship that Josh has made a serious feature of his work since day one. He has never gotten lazy with his concept over the years either, the details, humour, precision, references and odiferous editorship remain remarkably inventive and sharp.
We wear the fragrances and walk in the light and drama of his personages, seeing the world albeit briefly through their eyes, their days, nights and odours. This suspension of belief is not too much to ask for when the materials and aromas are this delicious and the charms of our guide this seductive.
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