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

Monday 9 January 2017

Conflation of Influence & Desire: The House of Nishane

Gülü seven dikenine katlanır.

(Who loves a rose will endure the thorns)

Turkish proverb

Istanbul is a layered, complex transcontinental city, bridging Europe and Africa over the iconic Bosphorus Strait. Previously known as Byzantium and Constantinople this vital extraordinary metropolis is in many ways a historical palimpsest with culture upon culture, faith upon faith conquering, erasing, rewriting and adapting what had come before. Roman, Genoese, Byzantium, Ottoman and Islamic structures stud the city like exquisite emotive pins. As you walk, strata of histories are buried under your feet but also scattered across the city in ruined fragments of the faiths and civilisations that have been built high and low across this complicated and urgent metropolis.

Two huge suspension bridges, The Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Memmet Sultan Bridge span the strait, linking the European and Asian facets of Istanbul. A third suspension bridge, the controversial Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge opened in summer 2016, with four thundering motorway lanes and a rail line. The fertile political, religious, geographical and cultural symbolism of Istanbul has echoed down through the centuries and continues to do so, making it a city with far-reaching and emotive resonances.

The opening of the
Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge

This whole emblematic concept of linkage, erasure, absorption, borrowing, adaptation and influences is something of fundamental importance to bear in mind when it comes to the House of Nishane, a lavish new line of eighteen new extrait strength perfumes from two Istanbulites Mert Güzel and Murat Katran. The fragrances reflect this vibrancy and eclecticism, journeying across the city and its quartiers in their olfactive referencing. Echoes of the spice trades, Silk Road, tanneries, Grand Bazaar, markets, waterways, busy Bosphorus, ornate gardens, cuisine, music, art, exploration, conquerors and faith. All these elements are threaded through the elegant and pungent tapestry of scented suggestion woven by Mert, Murat and perfumers Jorge Lee and Sylvain Cara.

The Hagia Sophia
I had the beautifully boxed sample collection for a while, kindly sent to me by Mert. Initially the large number of fragrances honestly overwhelmed me. More and more niche luxury houses are doing this multiple launch thing with an eye on Russian and Middle Eastern markets in particular. I’m not entirely sure it works; it places enormous pressure on following up the initial drum-roll launch, although in Nishane’s case the duo they launched at Esxence in March this year were universally acclaimed. I like to work on four or five pieces of work at once and during the first part of this year I returned to the Nishane samples and started slowly inhaling my way through them. 

Nishane sample set

Mert kindly include the lovely hand-illustrated postcards that accompany each scent and I used these to jot down notes and impressions as the perfumes went on my skin and dried down. This was done mostly at night; it is my preferred time to write. Some of them really pack an aromatic punch and I was waking up to catch the final embers of roses, woods, leather, civet and patchouli.  

Wearing each of the extrait strength perfumes I was struck by how much personal work and emotion had gone into this line. I know Mert and Murat have done their homework and researched the logistics, efficacy and profitability of the haute niche market. Both men travel a lot, Murat through his work publishing lavish coffee table books on the luxury Turkish hotel business and Murat through his busy entrepreneurial role in the steel industry. I like a calculated gamble; it demonstrates flair and a certain macho risk-taking I find oddly alluring. This aside, the perfumes are a defiantly honed assembly of precise odours designed to showcase and entice jaded senses searching for something a little different, but still retaining an essence of the essential tourist Technicolor vibe.

Mert Güzel (L) & Murat Katran (R) of Nishane
(original image ©Aksam apped by TSF)

I admire the ambition and reach of Nishane’s rambunctious vision, collided as it is with the suggested mysteries of the Orient. But it all works I think, the mix of haute luxe materials and occasional feral gutter lows, market stalls, seascapes, secluded gardens, poetry and music by moonlight, moments of stillness broken by the pouring of spiced tea, suggestive whiffs of empire dreams, sexual liaisons behind scented doors and shifting silks. Nishane in it’s wide ranging gathering of motifs and locations provide an intriguing way to sample a city. I am aware some reviewers haven’t been as kind as they might in their thoughts on the Nishane line, but they are steadily gaining momentum and have acquired quite a devoted following. I’m not saying people have misread them or I know better, I honestly struggled with them a little bit initially, worsted by the number of the scents and by not really having a reference point. Once I started my usual background research reading, in this case on Nishane, Istanbul, history, geography, social-political structures, the cultural evolution of the city and how the perfumes have been created to capture the essence and mood of certain key places across Istanbul and beyond, the olfactive nuances began slowly to resonate and coalesce.

Istanbul spice boutique 

An aromatic picture began to form of a passionately loved labyrinthine city laid out before me in a mosaic of intense and moreish perfumery. The more I inhaled and studied the notes the more complex and yet more understandable a portrait of this vivacious city by Mert and Murat became. Turkey is currently on a holding list to become a member state of the European Union at a time when Union instability is at an all time low with economic stress in Spain and Portugal, the narrow avoidance of Grexit and Italexit and now the shock shadow of looming Brexit. It seems now reading and listening to web and radio broadcasts that the spiralling face-offs of terrorism and racism seem to be the blood-stained, poisoned threads that ties the union together rather than any true sense of trade, fiscal or cultural camaraderie.

Turkey and Istanbul have been indelibly stained by brutal acts of terrorism in recent years, a reminder to the country and elsewhere in the world of the volatility of Turkey’s political and religious present shadowed by its past. An attack during Ramadan on Atatürk Airport in June 2016 killing forty-five people was the third terrorist attack in Istanbul after a suicide bomber in the Sultanahmet district killed thirteen foreigners in January and four were killed in a bomb blast in the Beyoğlu shopping district in June in front of the Governor’s office. On 31st March in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, thirty-seven died and many more were horribly injured when a car laden with explosives went off near Atatürk Boulevard, near civilian bus stops. While many of the atrocities are claimed by ISIL, the Ankara bombing and one in March when a military convey was targeted were claimed by TAK, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a brutal nationalist militant splinter group who seek an independent breakaway state in Eastern/South-eastern Turkey. 

Aftermath of bombing in the
Beyazit district 

(Note: At the end of December the city was once again rocked by tow more terrible attacks. On the 11th December as I was writing the final words and editing this piece, news starting coming through on my Facebook feed about a car bomb and suicide bomber killing thirty-eight people, mostly policemen outside the stadium of top-division team Besiktas in Istanbul. The PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party have been unofficially blamed for the bombing despite no one actually claiming responsibility. According to reports a further 155 people were injured in the blasts, fourteen of them critically. Then on New Year’s Day an Uzbeki national called Abdulkadir Masharipov gunned down 39 revellers celebrating the turning of the year in Reina nightclub, on the shore of the Bosphorus. Now believed to have been an Isis operative, his brutal bloody night seemed deliberately aimed at created as much high profile damage and carnage as possible at what is considered to be one of Istanbul’s chicest party spots)    

It is the nature of turmoil and rendered chaos that cities either fall or rise and heal, the scars built over with resilience, cooperation and sheer bloody-mindedness. Some days it seems Istanbul is a city under siege, its own unique set of historical and religious phantasmagoria rising up to haunt its thronging streets, bazaars and modern beating rhythms. The recently attempted coup on 15th July this year to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan focussed the world’s attention on Turkey once more. It was a strange and haunted affair, sporadically bloody, spiteful and schizophrenic. The coup attempt was forced to go ahead six hours earlier than planned due to plans being compromised. Chaotic organisation and poor communication amongst the plotters led to the failure of capturing key state cable, satellite and broadcasting networks and Erdoğan was able to speak via Facetime and appear on television. The Turkish people were urged to overwhelmingly resist the uprising and wait for normality to resume. Whatever the truth, 300 people died and over 200 hundred more were injured during the attempt. A State of Emergency was declared and Erdoğan’s post coup purge was decisive and widespread, images of arrested manacled plotters beamed around the world. Order was restored.

Against this undeniably intriguing and fickle backdrop I have been wondering why I’ve never been to Istanbul. I had two opportunities and missed them both. One, years ago, living in Paris, I had an older lover who invited me to holiday with him in Turkey. Looking back I can’t remember why I said no, I was probably just being contrary. The other time was a couple of years ago, a trip cancelled due to illness. So it is still high on my list of places to go. Some cities have more trauma than others, it is what they do with the memory of the trauma that determines how the city and its multifarious tribes more on. The intricate nature of Istanbul and its heady mix of lifestyles and faiths, the continuing inevitable collisions of modernity and tradition will go on. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other faiths practiced in this stirred, cosmopolitan metropolis will rub along regardless.

Hagia Triada, Greek Orthodox Church

Diversity, tolerance, romanticism, history, pungency, landscape, semantics, drama and sensuality, a myriad of alluring influences; such is the way of Nishane. Reflecting the vibrancy of the essential Silk Road trading position of Istanbul the eighteen perfume extraits contain a beautifully handled diversity of materials both natural and synthetic that across the line produce a consistently intense and persuasive portrait of the city in all its rambunctious, multi-faceted way.

As I mentioned earlier I have been carefully inhaling the samples sent by Mert from Nishane. It resembles a vintage red pencil box with a little silk tab to pull out the long drawer of sixteen samples. Lying on top is a handwritten guide to the scents below. Handwriting and drawing is everything with Nishane, it’s a touch I really appreciate. The postcards have sketched watercolour representations of each scent on one side and keynotes on the other. It’s a simple and elegant way of communicating info, executed in a quirky accessible way. There are a few typos here and there and inconsistencies in style, but somehow this don’t really matter in the overall tone and approach that Mert and Murat have composed for Nishane, a judicious balance of luxury and heartfelt tradition.

The original Nishane colognes parfumées

The first wave of Nishane was actually a quartet of immaculate colognes parfumées in 2012 inspired by a shimmering and tailored modern Mediterranean theme. Fragrances with studied polish and zing, they were made I feel with the local market in mind but also with a nod to the traveller and executive. They have a certain haute hotel de luxe texture and ambience to them.  Eau Istanbul, Eau Classique, Golfe Arabe and Méditerranée are very different in style from the extrait collection and owe their style and stylistic parentage to an Ottoman tradition of cleansing hands with citrus colognes, usually lemon based, when entering or leaving a house. Limon Kolonyasi is something you find everywhere in Turkey, a simple, sharp, lemon cologne, poured into the hands to refresh weary skin or soaked into a handkerchief to dab the throat and back of the neck in hot weather. It can be atomised into fans in warm, clinging heat. Years ago, working shifts in a hotel I shared a flat with a beautiful Turkish girl who spritzed her ironing with bottles of the stuff her mum sent over Istanbul. It filled the tiny apartment with the hiss of starched lemons and powdered cotton.

In 2013 Mert and Murat started launching some of the first extrait perfumes including Santalové, Pasión Choco and Sultan Vetiver. Now in late 2016, with the addition of the sublime Fan Your Flames and One Hundred Ways, which debuted at Esxence in Milan this year, the collection (excluding the Colognes Parfumées) numbers eighteen. The line is divided into three collections. The Blossom Collection contains Tuberóza, Duftblüten, Vjola and Rosa Turca. The Signature Collection consists of Suède et Safran, Pachuli Kozha, Mūsīqā Oud and Afrika Olifant. The oddly monikered Miniature Art Collection contains Wūlóng Chā, Ambra Calabria, Boszporusz, Pasión Choco, Santalové, Spice Bazaar, Múnegu and Sultan Vetiver. The latest creations, Fan Your Flames and Hundred Silent Ways both take their inspiration from the poetry of 13th century mystic, poet and theologian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, better known simply as Rumi. So this duo for now has its own little poetical party.

It’s a busy line of fragrances with a wide-ranging and sophisticated infusion of influences and olfactive personas. There are weak points, which are inevitable in an ambitious collection, this size; I disliked only a couple and that was due to materials and lack of perfumed substance. A few are a little weak in their olfactive architecture and felt perhaps unfinished, more akin to sketches than final compositions. Even these however had elements within them that I found intriguing. The one thing I will say is that I am very pleased to have been able to try the entire line, sample the different styles of fragranced tropes and riffs side by side, this gave me a much more balanced view of the collection. Also being able to step back from time to time and see the separate perfumes as part of a larger more ambitious picaresque portrait of Istanbul; this was important, allowing a unique set of scented threads to flutter beautifully in the sea breeze coming off the Bosphorus. 

Foxy Nishane samples 

It’s winter here, the nights are falling darkly and the mornings are beautifully shadowed. I love this time of year, I am a wintered Narnia creature and my skin and senses truly come alive. I dislike the sun intensely and never understand the fuss; I did the travelling thing as a child and have no desire to repeat it as I grow older. I like my shadows and the fall of leaves, cold temperatures and the sorting of cashmere, merino and fur. Why else would I live in Scotland? These Nishane scents are perfectly suited to darker days and longer nights, the anthology of spices, tobacco, leather, resins, smoke, lacquered oud and dirty blooms embracing me as I wander haunted Georgian streets, the sound of Francis Couperin’s Leçons de Tenèbres echoing through my night brain.

I’ve chosen my favourite six to talk to you about, six that delighted me in terms of materials, structure, impact and emotion. I’ll mention some of the others in passing too, as elements, glints, shards, petals and impressions had great beauty too. Bear in mind too, as always with perfumes as diverse as these that everyone’s reactions will be apposite and atonal to mine and occasionally complimentary. I like collections that divide and provoke, they tend to demonstrate personal intent and force of identity. Mert and Murat have put all of themselves into Nishane, I was very aware of this when sampling the line; it created in me as such stuff does, an automatic sense of respect whether or not I liked the perfumes or not. This is someone’s work, his or her potential livelihood, business and dream. Respect does not cost much, but it is remarkable in this day and age how few people feel it isn’t necessary.

So after weeks, probably months of sampling I distilled my favourites down to Rosa Turca, Afrika Olifant, Suède et Safran, Múnegu, Pachulí Kozha and one of the latest additions to the line, the wonderful Narguile-inspired Fan Your Flames. All of these were created in collaboration with perfumer Jorge Lee except Múnegu, which was signed off by Sylvain Cara. 

Rosa Turca
A collection of Turkish perfumes must proffer a rose and this anthology would be most odd without a study of rosa damascena and Rosa Turca is a pungent study of this iconic bloom, not exactly pretty or conventionally coy but dry and glaring in places with strange soapy contours. There are whopping levels of sulking musks in the base and a sulphurous jamminess that fades verrrrrrrry slowly to a dusted gummy confectionary that makes it madness to sleep in. I’m pleased it wasn’t pretty; I sprayed it thinking…please don’t be winsome petals and dewy blooms or a glossy bridal bouquet construct. But it really isn’t, it has a feral roses unchecked in savage garden ambience to it, drawing blood to remind you that some flowers have teeth.

There is ylang in the top, side by side with rose essence and it’s this I think that boosts that sulphurous hit of indole, echoed in the heart of the mix by jasmine that seems utterly bewildered at first like a new teacher’s first day in front of a new class. They size him up and then decide to ignore him. But he persists and a mutual sense of respect is established. The roses do the initial sizing up but after a ritual back and forth between that huge rose essence top and the jammy smeared base, the subtle elegant jasmine is quietly persistent in the face of the more elemental Rosa Damascena. 

I am a shameless devotee of rose perfumes. This was not always the case, I have come to them relatively late in my olfactive interests. I have never disliked them exactly, but in the last ten years or so, I have become quite preoccupied by the nuances and beauty wrought by roses through perfumery. It is a note that works beautifully on my skin and one I find immensely atmospheric and soothing to wear; the seemingly endless permutations of rosaceous arrangements continue to intrigue and allure me. I am always happy to see perfumers and houses tackling roses in major launches; they can be exhilarating and shocking, romantic, giddy, soiled, electrified, threatening and intensely erotic. As a floral staple of perfumery, they are still however alarmingly divisive. Along with the white lily and the iris, the rose completes my divine triptych of sanctified odiferous blooms. Roses make me feel alive, they are flesh incarnate. The white lily is death, the passing over. Iris is the soul, the ghostly goodbye, ashes to sky.

This selvedge style of rose incarnate is very me; echoing my Middle Eastern childhood and wandering stops in Bahrain, Saudi, Iran, Syria and Damascus. Turkey of course has a long and enviable relationship with roses, cultivating, harvesting and distilling their beauty for all aspects of life, sacred, profane, perfumed and gourmand. The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul once had its own gulham or rose-room, a place used solely for the preparation of rosewater. We hardly use it all in cuisine in the western food canon, maybe to prettify the taste of cupcakes and macaroons or to dazzle the odd haute caketure wonder. But in the Arab culinary canon along with orange flower water it is used to flavour jams, pastries, halva, confectionary and nougat. Rose buds are often a component of ras el hanout spice blends, the flowers adding a piquant florality to the other eleven spices that might include cumin, clove, ginger, allspice and fenugreek. I add dried rose buds and rosewater to apricot compotes and freshen my face with rosewater sprays. Rosewater sprayed on to sheets and pillow linens as you iron and fold away is sheer delight. A memory from Shiraz in Iran is jars of Turkish rose petal jam, shockingly aromatic, the petals trapped like gooey butterfly wings, scooped up and eaten on warm shards of bread from the Arab baker down the street.

'Dans Mon Lit'
by Editons Frédéric Malle

I recently purchased Dans Mon Lit from Éditions Frédéric Malle, a scent for linen and bedrooms made by Bruno Jovanovich with excess of 98% rose in it. The blending is a light as air mix of Turkish rose essence and Rose Water Essential™ (by LMR Laboratories), a new way of rendering the scent of roses to perfection. It is divine indulgence, just before sleeping, to spritz pillows and sheets and fall into a bed of roses. (…and yes of course I wear it as perfume, my hair and clothes adore it..)

As I’m writing, my skin radiates Rosa Turca, the shifts of wind-caught petals and chlorophyll weather. It’s a lovely companion. Most of the roses in Turkey come from the Isparta region in the west of the country and this reminded me of one of my favourite rose perfumes of recent years and a hugely underrated one at that, PG26 Isparta by Parfumerie Générale, created as always by the sublimely talented Pierre Guillaume. Isparta is a lush and lyrical dream of tumbling roses and swooning plasticity. The tension between realism and perceived artificiality is outstanding.

by Parfumerie Générale

It comes to mind as I inhale Rosa Turca in its later stages, dark and leafy, the original soapiness faded to a minty petrol haze. Isparta has a very distinctive confectionary hit to it in places, a mix of gummy, dusted floral bloom that is genuine Turkish Delight. I have a real penchant for rose and lemon flavours side by side in a box, cut pieces of blush pink and pale topaz drenched in fine drifts of sugar. Eating the two flavours together is irresistible, producing a tangy citrus floral mouthfeel that I conversely sense in the muted embers of Rosa Turca, a rose for enquiring natures and open hearts.


 At first, Múnegu is a veritable cacophony of notes, like a traffic jam in a busy eastern city, scented with patchouli and orange, the air heated and fumy. Then slowly the formulation begins to unfurl its secrets. This is a pungent scent; a robust cardamom and cumin duo spike with a vivacious orange as Múnegu opens. It is a feature of many of the Nishane perfumes that notes jostle for attention before reaching a concord and consolidate their structures. Múnegu has a sensation of wandering through vivid, dense bazaars, lifting handfuls of spice, herb and aromatics and inhaling the potent air.

The patchouli and labdanum are beautifully rich and dry, burned to the edges of the scent with the patchouli in particular becoming increasingly more handsome as the composition warms up. The cedar in the top is lost for a while in the initial shockwave of spiced up patchouli and Christmassy orange but reasserts itself alongside the creamy inlay of ylang. Geranium instils a green soapy fougère-ness to the mix and to me this has an odd whiff of sweet cough linctus and dental mouth rinse. It’s a weird pause and kinda reflects what I meant about cacophony of notes earlier. When I first sampled Múnegu, I scribbled down on the postcard, revisiting it; I noted I had heavily underlined the phrase medicinal/dentist rinse..  I’d revise its impact; a little less medicinal perhaps, more minted and herbal, smoky green maybe from the hazy double act of tobacco absolute and ambery notes rising up from the base. This chewy, pervasive tobacco is in its various strengths and personalities a leitmotif in a number of the Nishane line and if not an actual note, then echoed in patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood and cistus. The amber has less to do with perceived voluptuousness and more to do with warmth and light.

You have to be careful with frankincense; too little and it smells lackadaisical, too much and its funereal pyre- pall can be overwhelming. I personally love the smell and burn the real thing, buying the misshapen tears from an online Catholic supplier, the stuff they burn in their censers. I find it a deeply calming smoke that focuses the mind and it flavours my cats’ fur, so they smell godly. The balance is just about right in Múnegu, the smoke spiralling opaquely from the base to gather gently with that well seasoned patchouli and ripe orange. There is a whiff of culinary gourmandise amid the notes, the mature citrus, crushed cumin and herbiness of the tobacco. Múnegu is a strange scent that at times comes close to falling apart, but manages to keep itself together by the ballsy triptych of patchouli, nutmeg and cistus. I like the oddity of it; the beauty of certain moments is offset by pockets of irregular transitions and diversions.

It lasts beautifully and it’s here that Múnegu really comes into its own, taking about a good hour for the composition to coalesce and tenderise; you realise how damn fine your skin smells, how pervasive the scent is. Any of the perceived high edges, points, shrieks, burrs and gaps between notes, all these seem to smooth away as the dominant dry patchouli, stained with orange tobacco fumes settles down for the long fade. It’s interesting that Múnegu is the only Nishane so far created by Sylvain Cara and yet it still shares the collection’s vibe of vintage and preserved modernity with tactile materials and a sense of cosmopolitan savoir faire, here reflected in a name that means Monaco, perhaps reflecting the gaudy principality’s international collision of wealth and influences. Who knows?

Pachulí Kozha

After the strong patchouli presence in Mùnegu, onto one of my strong favourites in the line Pachulí Kozha that translates as patchouli skin. It is a sensuous and savory interpretation of pogostemon cablin that chimed perfectly with my senses as soon as it hit my skin. Patchouli is a divisive note; one of the few that everyone has an opinion about. Those that claim to hate it rarely have an idea of how it truly smells in its natural state. It can small variously of cocoa, mint, truffle, freshly turned earth, sweet incense and red wine. Folk tend to associate it with biased memories of cheap, adulterated joss sticks and the room-slaying capabilities of harsh terpenic oils that are poor reflections of the warm, embracing real thing. Having worked for years in the increasingly unbearable front-line of perfume retail, clients have become increasingly more bothersome in their demands and brazenly critical of the industry. Suddenly everyone is an expert. I was always being asked for patchouli scents or to avoid fragrances with any patchouli in it. ‘I hate patchouli in anything, it has a hippie stench,’ one woman once told me. I took immense, very polite pleasure in pointing our that her beloved signature Jicky would be a sad thing indeed without the patchouli in its base. She reacted as I had shot her dog dead in front of her. But such is the entrenched way we learn and grow into our olfactive conditioning. Once set, it is very hard to recalibrate.

I have always liked patchouli perfumes, luxurious, hedonistic, raw, guttural, cheap and cheerful. I like anything on the shrubby continuum from plush and textured papal to hippie stench. When I was a student I bought my incense from Indian and Arab grocers and Church suppliers. I smoked waaaaay too much back then and must have imagined it disguised or amalgamated somehow; even now I have sharp, painful memory stabs for those nights of fumy drunken miasma sound-tracked to The Pixies and Cocteau Twins. As a note, it seems to hold you; you wear it like scented air or like the grieving Hanoverian monarch Queen Victoria, wrapped in paisley shawls impregnated with patchouli oil. I’ve worn a lot of patchouli perfumes over the years and mixed and blended my own oils too. If I had to pick favourites I would go with Patchouli Patch (2002), created by Bertrand Duchaufour and Evelyne Boulanger for L’Artisan Parfumeur and Psychédelique (2011) by Jovoy, created by Jacques Flori. I’ve gone through bottles and bottles of Patchouli Patch, it’s glorious velveteen stuff, the patchouli twisted with star anise and dark, bruised iris. Psychédelique is an enormous ambered pyre of patchouli, musks and wood story. I love the deliberate mix of vintage hippie stench and sumptuous aromatic comfort.

Pachulí Kozha falls somewhere in between these two. The hay and camomile are very distinctive from the outset and the patchouli has a fragrant brewed tisane ambience that is quite lovely. The hyacinth in the top was originally something I viewed with a narrowed eye; not a favoured Foxy note, but it’s bittersweet boldness works well alongside the shrubby rub of armoise and sunny brackishness of herbal camomile. Like many of the Nishane compositions, the head notes serve as dramatic intros, allowing the other aromatic players time to arrange themselves into positions of heartplay and drydown. Leather is listed in the recipe, but it is very soft, akin to the supple pouch that might carry the tobacco. It does intensify as the perfume develops, but never to the point where it encroaches on other notes. The honey and hay are both notes that naturally exalt the peltiness of leather while at the same time bolstering the cured, henna-like tonality of the tobacco. These Nishane scents often oscillate between cohesion and near-collapse, it is what makes them so fascinating to wear. It is beautiful to feel loved so much by a note like patchouli on your skin. 

Afrika Olifant

Afrika Olifant is the Nishane scent that has garnered a lot of love and attention from press and perfume bloggers since the House launched. It is a deeply weird scent, colliding an arid bouquet of chemical animalics, dirty smoke and macrocyclic musks like muscenone, thibetone, muscone and civetone with leathery skin, hide notes such as civet, castoreum, a biting green leather and bitter shuddering oud. No floral aspects, no citrus, no respite form the peau bête stampede intent of the composition. The word battlefield is used in the description of the scent on the Nishane website and on first impressions this is an apt metaphor as the materials seem to hurl themselves at each other with reckless abandonment. But as the churned, desiccated land settles and the dry suggested African dust clears a little, structures, effects and sensations begin to emerge. It is without a doubt the most potent of the Nishane extraits and a daring cacophony of meaty anhydrous climates.

In fact Afrika Olifant plays beautifully with the olfactive terrain of hide, the representation of pachydermal skin, elephant, hippo and rhinoceros. Suggesting dust, parched epidermis, flies, caked patterned mud and grassy dung cooking in the unforgiving heat of the African sun. The perfume is designed to create a storm of emotions, a sense of rout and scattering: the top notes of waxen, ambergris, sacred incense, myrrh and deeply inhaled labdanum resins run at you like charging wild game on a safari trails. There is little mercy in the initial assault of materials; it is filthy roar, smoke over faecal-smeared revulsion over dusted long-distance arid musks.

I like a piece of brutalist perfumery, offering up no apologies for its growling, dirty desires. I have a feeling that some of Afrika Olifant’s more outré effects may have been achieved more by accident than design, but whatever the process, the result is wonderfully POW! The macrocyclic musks anchor the formula vociferously to the skin and clothing making it a very tenacious extrait indeed. Having lived in Africa for many years when I was younger, there is definitely an abstracted dust and dung tang to the character of the scent that reminds me of the callous dry seasons that stripped the land of colour, but somehow imbued the airless skies with the odour of impatience, extinction and desiccated time.

To be honest I’m not normally the biggest fan of these kinds of porno-zoology leather scents. I don’t really see the point of them or those that love wearing them. They tend to be the kind of people who like rooms of slightly unnerved people to revolve around their animalised skin. Frankly their attitude bores me. Peau de bête = peau de frimeur. Oddly though, I feel Afrika Olifant is a slightly different proposition, sitting as it does I suppose amid a curated collection of purposeful extraits that have been built around exotic wearability, landscapes and chosen sensibilities.

The shift and movement in Afrika Olifant is sporadic and I think honestly it very much depends on your skin type and your relationship physically and emotionally with strong animalic leather scents and in this instance the brace of very particular macrocyclic musks. Even wearing it I was both horrified and impressed by the panoply of rawness and bestiality on display. I like the fact it makes you feel slightly self-conscious, perhaps revealing the beast within. You do need to be careful with application; overdosing means it will stalk you for days. You will be the literal elephant in the room.

It is a wildlife fantasia, a mix of projected gamy abstractions exalted with huge blasts of aromachemistry. It just about comes together, battered and gleefully swirling with in your face muskiness and ballsy leather effects. I’m not sure I like the start, the earthy, slightly choky bitterness of it, but the middle section, that herd of sweaty animalics lying amid churning gutsy musks; this I like. A lot. Everything fights a little; struggling for space on skin, but in doing so, makes for fascinating olfactive attire.

Suède et Safran

Suède et Safran is on the surface of it exactly what it says, an animalic melange of hide and spices. Like a couple of the other Nishane perfumes I wasn’t quite sure about how it married to skin and the oddly jarring ambrette top note that I found hard to get a handle on as the scent really crashed open on skin. It smelled harsh and dissonant as if two unhappy olfactive lovers were living in the same bottle. But again as I revisited the collection and tried the formulae on again, concentrating on themes and tropes within the overall collection I realised how fiercely I loved this rather brutal insistent scent. It echoes motifs of other Nishanes, the spicy pungency, the pelty texture of leather, and a certain musky invitation to dirty up the skin. I love a suede effect; they vary enormously, from butter soft luxury haute effect to raw tannery hides flung on the ground, barely treated but reeking of abattoir. Suède et Safran actually has elements of both, tendrils of the dusty sweaty tannery that rise up after the much sweeter, more supple saffron dusted suede accord that really dominates the top of the scent.

I was quite surprised by how sweet the opening of Suède et Safran was, it smelled like powdered confectionary sugar, slightly roasted and transparent. It wasn’t what I expected and was one of the reasons I chose this scent, this slightly saccharine edge worked so well with the somewhat enigmatic ambrette and parched ginger that Jorge has mixed in around his metallic saffron note. The familiar basmati rice facet I usually get from saffron is very subdued here, muted below the murky musks and blooming leather. The leather note itself smells pretty vegetal, as it finally settles, shedding the coy reek that emanates through the early stages of the perfume.
For a scent with suede, saffron and leather notes, Suède et Safran is not as a long lasting as I might like and actually expends its force quite early on, fading to a gentle and still very seductive echo of its lovely, vigorous outset. I’ve been slowly wandering about the city, taking pictures of things in the beautiful northern winter light that makes Edinburgh glower and glitter. Suède et Safran has been a wonderful scent to wear on skin and scarves, not overtly rude but with enough carefully calibrated animalic charm to keep you intrigued and privately sensualised.

Before I finish up with my final choice I just wanted to touch on a couple of other perfumes from the Nishane collection that while I haven’t covered them in more detail they had some really intriguing things to recommend them. Wūlóng Chā is an unusual citrus with a delicious oolong tea note, the refreshing citrus aspect provided by the usual suspects by also by litsea cubeba, sometimes known as mountain pepper, an evergreen shrub that produces a fruit yielding an astonishingly fragrant oil. It has to be handled carefully as it can totally drown compositions, but used with discretion it adds a delicious spicy bright citrus facet to formulae. It exalts the tea and fig in Wūlóng Chā, making it a delight to wear and for a citrus-toned scent, it has pretty good longevity. 

Boszporusz is the Nishane aquatic and could have been a mess; it still doesn’t quite come together, something about the base notes bother me, they seem to be far too insubstantial and barely hold the other notes aloft. The use of galbanum and a meaty sage in the top are good, everything feels green and choppy. I really liked the mix of an abrasive jasmine and gardenia duo against the seaweed accord; it felt like they were floating and being smashed apart at the same time. Salt and indoles. A nice idea. But then it kinda falls apart as the base notes don’t really hold up. I do love the delicate blueness of Boszporusz though; it has a feel of standing alone at early morning harbour railings staring out at turbulent seas as a salted mist begins to lift, dissolved by bright sun. It is surprisingly floral in the final stages, the indolic wane of the jasmine and gardenia rather poignant as the petals finally dip beneath the waves.

Vjola was another unusual perfume that caught my senses. I love the scent of violets in perfumery, I’m well aware how nostalgic and old-fashioned it is, but I’m a sucker for powder, retro boudoir ambrette, iris, and vanilla in my perfumes. A favourite scent in my collection is Violettes du Czar by the wonderful Oriza L. Legrand, the Paris-based house who have revived many old formulae from the original house’s ancien archive. I have five of their perfumes and adore them all, but the leathered, bruised pungency of Violettes du Czar is outstanding. I can’t see Vjola being a huge bestseller for Nishane, violet scents are terribly divisive, but it is very delicately made, packed full of floral notes, some more realistic than others. The mauve personality of the violet is less powdered than a lot of other similar perfumes, the dust cut back by a rather overt marigold insertion and the rise of bitter, shrubby immortelle in the base. It’s strong stuff and really embeds in the skin, but anyone who loves a violet note or a statement powdered floral should check it out.

Fan Your Flames

I love Fan your Flames; it is hugely addictive and has to my mind a slightly more polished patina to it than some of the other Nishane scents. Again, as with many of the other compositions there is attractive, intriguing dissonance; I adore the rambunctious smoky pina colada opening colliding with the wet tobacco and cedar. It is like totally opposite people in temperament and dress style finding themselves dancing next to one another in a crowded club and realising instantly there is a strange attraction and they just have to go with the chemistry wherever it takes them. It just pulls and reveals things in themselves they had not noticed before. This slightly reckless flow and acceptance of fate is something you have to live with wearing Nishane, the structures and notes are adventurous love affairs.

Now I adore the smell of coconut, especially in shower gels and body washes; in perfume not so much, it is usually cloying, ragingly artificial and reeks of 1980s Body Shop interiors and always always Malibu. There are only two exceptions I have ever come across; one is Creed’s Virgin Island Water, any potential tropical creaminess arrestingly cut through with a super-sexy and hyper-real lime note, the other is Debaser by DS&Durga, marrying delicious coconut milk to a stark dry iris and an airy fig-summer backdrop to suggest the hazy, white heat and Pixies-soundtracked youth of perfumer David Moltz.

Fan Your Flames is one of two later launches from Nishane, the other one being Hundred Silent Ways; both perfumes taking inspiration from the poetry of the thirteenth century Persian poet, mystic, jurist, theologian and scholar Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273), known simply as Rumi. This marks a shift away form the Istanbulite influence of the previous sixteen compositions, but spiritually and texturally this sensual and intriguing duo both develop and enhance the existing ethos of Mert and Murat’s artistic ambitions.

The moist, sweet tobacco centrality of Fan Your Flames is a nod to its Narguile influence, those soft bubbling pipes with their evocative flavoured fumes smoked by men throughout the Arab world. The name of the scent is pulled directly from a quote by Rumi: ‘Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames’. A message of empowerment and intense intent. We must surround ourselves with those who would keep our impulses alive. Honestly, it sounds exhausting. I’m a loner, a hermit, someone who prefers to create in private and shun any form of limelight, party, gathering, crew or assembly. All I feel for that is fear. I would rather set my feet on fire. However I understand the sentiment and have worked for people for whom this is a powerful and vital maxim, either on a professional or indeed on a private emotional one.

Hammam lightfall

The scents debuted in Milan in March 2016 and have been very well received since then. I personally found Hundred Silent Ways a little too sugared on my skin; it is very beautiful in an unctuous celebratory dessert kind of way, but it just overloaded on my skin and I couldn’t quite get it to love me. It’s a pity as the top is just gorgeous, a medley of mandarin, tuberose, orange and luscious peach seem served up in whipped cream and honey. A huge dose of vanilla oozes through the mix from top to base, lending everything a rather excessive (but somehow addictive) sense of dizzying desire. ‘I close my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways’. The Rumi quote that inspired the perfume is very apt, no words are needed to communicate love and rapture, wearing Hundred Silent Ways, your skin would dazzle a hundred rooms.

Fan Your Flames shifts gear quite quickly; that lovely coconut note is quietly toasted, singed at the edges and the rum smells aged, a quality swallow that stains the accompanying tobacco a moreish mellow earthiness. The tonka exalts the liqour adding a vanillic furriness to proceedings. The flames are never out of control, burning down houses, but flickering, hunkering down to embers. The cedar effect and general overall woodiness of the base is neither here nor there to be honest but it doesn’t really matter in the overall schematic of the scent, it just needs something to anchor its body to skin. Fan Your Flames is really all about the head and heart and their smoky boozy love affair.   

My skin really amplifies the coconut and tobacco, which pleases me immensely, the potential equatorial squeamishness of the fruit nicely counter the middle eastern wet tang of Narguile baccy. Traces of fumed coconut and dry desiccated rum linger on the skin loooooooooonng after the initial application. It is a wonderful perfume spritzed in hair and in the fibres of cashmere scarves, rising to the nose in winter weather and clinging tenaciously in the folded darkness of wardrobes and drawers. It’s had a lot of compliments since I started wearing it and I like telling people it’s called Fan Your Flames for some reason. There are strands and fumes of some of the other Nishanes in Fan Your Flames but it does everything better with plush sensuality and grace. There is still a little growl of roughness here and there, a dash of chaos in the heart notes but it embodies all the adventure, cordiality and bodyheat I love about the line.
Your opinion of Nishane will depend on how you decide to approach the collection and it is a collection, built by Mert and Murat beautifully around their dreams, aspirations, business ideas and impressions of themselves, Istanbul, Turkish perfumery and beyond. The mix of is a savvy one of layered Turkish identity, sensualism, multiculturalism, olfactive exploration and experimentation, commercial awareness, measured luxury and personal pursuit. I am aware I have taken months to wear and familiarise myself with Nishane’s unique perfumery. I have been criticised by a few people online recently for not writing enough and not responding quickly enough to new launches. Interesting. I am not that kind of writer. I am not really a reviewer as such; I don’t really sample enough to qualify as that. I’m not interested in what is new and getting to stuff before other people. There are other wonderful bloggers and writers out there doing that. The olfactive work must first and foremost fascinate me; the odours must draw words from me. I take my time because the perfumes ask it of me. Always quality. Never quantity.

I take so much time to write, it was a hard thing to do, this last year, it has been harder than ever. Almost to the point of stopping altogether. As I mentioned earlier I initially struggled with the collection a little, but Mert and Murat’s work deserves time and commitment; Nishane is an unusual proposition, asking us to look at a cartographic rendition of a city’s identity through a series of orchestrated picturesque aromas. As I said, not everything is successful and perhaps one or two are unnecessary, but there is so much vivacity and vibrant conversation flowing from the imaginative mix of aromatics and the overall joie de ville….  It is well nigh on impossible to spend any amount of time with these perfumes and not be caught by something, snagged by a part of distant Istanbul or a fragment of imagined exotic geography and lavish histories. Your mind will be replete with city love, your skin drunk on beautiful Nishane magic.

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

©TheSilverFox 09 January 2017

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