‘Somehow, that dark corner out there
will never cease to fill me
of the forest that was,
sending in one whiff after another
the enticing aroma
of ripe guava
in the heart of the night.’
(‘At The Hotel’ by Montri Umavijani, 1991)
The story of Pissara Umavijani is a seductive narrative of almost fairytale proportions, blending oriental perfume traditions with classic French majesty, dreams, poetry, and dislocation. The story is one of devout daughterly love and most vitally of all, joyfully alive at the centre of this perfumed scenario is Pissara herself, a startlingly beautiful Thai woman who it seems can charm leaves from trees, flowers from frozen ground, smiles from a jaded world, awards from peers and lovestruck words from a myriad of keyboard scribes.
2016 was a very auspicious year for Pissara and her trio of debut scents from Parfums Dusita. Oudh Infini, Issara and Mélodie de L’Amour originally launched in March 2016 at Jovoy, 4 Rue de Castiglione, Paris at the haute luxe perfume showroom and boutique owned and run by the wonderful François Hénin. Jovoy are Pissara’s distributer and interestingly in a previous life François worked across Asia sourcing essential oils and raw materials for the perfumery industry so I can imagine he must have been deeply impressed by the creamy beauty and lavish standards of Pissara’s olfactive materials. Two more perfumes Sillage Blanc and La Douceur de Siam are new for 2017, taking her line to a quintet of maddeningly lovely quality. Her recent feted appearance at Esxence 2017 in Milan and the universally positive reaction to her line only confirmed to the world what so many of us already knew, that Pissara is someone determined to do things her own way and that way is humble, harmonious and generous.
|Oudh Infini, Issara & |
Mélodie de L'Amour
Pissara is Dusita; she embodies the spirit of the materials, the provenance and emotional content of the line. She is the light behind the fragrances, the one who dreamed the original concepts, working with a Grasse-based team to hone and realise her profoundly personal vison. You only have to listen to the various video snippets of her on social media or read interviews to comprehend how deeply entwined she is with her perfumed stories. A few gossips have sniped about whether or not she is the actual nose, but she undoubtedly is the creator, her heart, soul and heritage flow out in and out of these extraordinary compositions. The original thoughts, concepts and incarnations of Parfums Dusita are Pissara Umavijani. They are her powerful, travelled and nurtured hymns of filial love and this alone makes them real enough. How much polishing, assistance etc has gone on I’m not sure is really relevant. She uses a excellent source of high-end materials in Grasse; this counts hugely toward the final result of the work and at the end of the day, the five perfumes are gorgeously conceived, with love and extraordinary technical skill. The result as so many reviews have pointed out are perfumes of uncommon beauty and emotional content, reflecting a woman of gentle nature, wisdom and generosity of spirit who has set out to use olfaction like music or poetry, to pay obeisance to a loved one.
|Pissara Umavijani |
of Parfums Dusita
The Dusita perfumes are Pissara’s olfactory homage to her beloved father Montri Umavijani, a much-revered Thai poet whose precise and evocative cadences x-ray love, commitment, the details of life, devotion and the eternal rumination of the ties that bind. She has chosen to use the ephemeral medium of perfumery to communicate her feelings but also to suggest much deeper and wider resonances of heritage, culture, identity and complexities of devotion.
The fragrances are love letters to a beloved father, rich with expression and respect using exquisite materials, forged from Pissara’s Siamese heritage and her love of classical French perfumery. The mix is both intoxicating and haunting; the undeniable haute luxe quality of the materials hums and glows like glittering fire. While the perfumes are dazzling in flowering execution, they have a sense of otherness, a seductive awareness of self. While the notes and accords bloom and settle, a voice talks softly of love in a room, the words just out of reach, but you are aware nonetheless they are meant for you.
As my essays take time to collate I often have weeks and months to really live in the fragrances I’m writing on, immersing myself in every aspect of their personalities. This is important to me; I don’t choose lightly the work I cover, it needs to catch something within me, ignite a flame, cast a flurry of associative words and thoughts across the flickering screens of my senses. Each time I have returned to Pissara’s symphonic aromas I find myself lost again to their beauty. Whilst there are recognisble olfactive tropes within the collection, they have been rendered with such distinctive and considered brio as to be liquid art. Patience is required to absorb the nuanced flavours and slow dance of notes and dynamically entwined structures.
|Duista samples, Background art:|
She, Serene by Vichit Nongnual
Above all though, it is important never to forget that while each one of these Parfums Dusita fragrances holds its own, it is as a gathering of poetic ambrosia that they truly dazzle. Pissara envisaged them as an anthology of scented poems, offered up as aromatic, sacred vapour to her father, molecules as words, accords as verse. Like so much poetry, the perfumes invite re-reading and reinterpretation. I found that each time I returned to Oudh Infini or La Douceur de Siam, my skin and nose had different things to say.
Pissara wanted a perfumed narrative not only to reflect her love and respect for her poet father but also to echo her own movement in life, travelling with her mother, a philosophy teacher, from Thailand to Paris and the influence that both cultures has had over her and her journey to Dusita. A profoundly personal mix of Siamese heritage, French culture and haute Parfumerie traditions. She was raised in Bangkok and moved to Paris in 2011, already with perfumes on her mind. They really coalesced when she found a Grasse-based perfumer who encouraged and supported her ideas and helped the formulae blossom.
|A young Pissara with her mother on the left|
& Montri on the right...
I watched an absorbing series recently on the BBC about the flora and fauna of Thailand and the intrinsic way this has been woven into the Buddhist belief system practised by over ninety per cent of the population. I now think this plays an interesting and emotive part in Pissara’s Dusita collection. Thai Buddhism is quite unique, imported originally from Sri Lanka, mingling over centuries with the country’s own entrenched and animist folk religion, which incorporates the use of talismans and charms to invocate gods and spirits. Now I am no Buddhist scholar, so you will have to forgive any doctrinal faux pas but Dharma or Buddhist teachings ask us to live ethically and not cause harm to others. The key to happiness comes from within, through personal practice not through personal enjoyment. A seemingly simple message that should be glaringly easy to live by, but how many of us do?
While I was watching the documentary I marvelled at the deep-rooted and astonishing harmony of man, petal, tree, root, bird, insect and animal life in Thailand. So much mutual respect for cellular existence. I knew it was very much a part of Thai culture but seeing it played out in respect and love for elephants, ants, flowers, crops and sacred trees was immensely moving. It is often referred to as a religion of nature.
‘There is no spot on the ground where men had not died and therefore every part of nature will be endowed with a spirit, these will be the spirits of the trees, the mountains and the weather.’
Pissara’s collection feels rooted in her Thai heritage and the powerful spiritual respect the Thai people have for all living things. Marrying this to a determined longing to respect her father and his poignant words has coalesced into an aromatic assembly of intensely poetic juice. A number of people have told me they have connected to Pissara’s work in a way they haven’t connected to perfumes before; they seem to have an emotional resonance rare for contemporary perfume. I find them immensely beautiful, sometimes overwhelmingly so; they have affecting and subtle moods created by memory, attention to detail and those high quality materials delivering a persuasive and immersive experience.
Dusita is an old Siamese word for paradise, a concept important to Pissara’s father Montri in his travels and poetry and now to Pissara herself in the exploration of scented self in her collection. Each of the perfumes has a distinctive character, built around particular materials and yet as a collection, like family members, there is DNA and genetics at play with echoes of each other flickering through the reflective facets. As individuals they are persuasively, magically lovely, but as a collection they are outstanding. It is unusual for a debut collection to have this kind of artistic cohesion and thematic elegance. This is reflective of Pissara herself and her glowing kindness and the obvious passion and emotion imbued into each formula. The collaborative process that has allowed her to assemble her ideas and hone her unique vision has only served to enhance the delicacy of her work.
The initial shock of Issara is the sweet shudder of terpenic pine that explodes off the skin when you first spray it. This is mingled with a clinging animalic sage that makes the opening salvo of this, Pissara’s first-born scent feel like wrenching open the windows in a moss-clad cabin in a glittering night wood. The darkness is inhaled as it floods over the moist, crumbling sill, traces of towering tree and star-lit soil in the damp air.
It is described politely as an aromatic fougère. I’m not entirely convinced by that. This is not to do Issara a disservice, it is sensational perfumery, but all these Dusita fragrances seem to do their own gentle daring thing. They may lean towards styles for those who desire such easy classifications but the bravura execution of notes and accords in Pissara’s work suggests a more inherently abstract approach to olfactive tapestry. After all, as it is with all art, one must be fully versed in the rules in order to break and re-write them.
As that beautiful overture settles the true hypnotic nature of Issara manifests itself into a compelling blend of tobacco, vanillic coumarin and almost briny vetiver that for a glorious still moment conjure up an image of umber tobacco leaves edges edged in salt crystals. I felt if I licked my skin I would taste a mix of fleur de sel and cigarettes. The tobacco note is quite vivid, oscillating between finger-damp henna and air-dried blond leaves then deepening into a mantis-green hay note that rolls back up over the opening pine needles and hangs sinuously like a sweet stolen fag break in quiet forest air.
There is delicious quietude in Issara; the basenotes of musk, oakmoss and ambergris provide an earthy bed for the perfume to root itself in. The ambergris is a noticeable presence, a narcotic, oceanic, coaxing thing, acting as fixative and olfactive CGI, laying down a gauzy filter of waxen oddity over these later stages. I would hesitate to call Issara a tobacco fragrance, despite the strong presence of the leaf in the formula; it is too simplistic a description. It is not really a question of copying the heady inhale of perfumery tobacco, beautiful though it is, Issara is more concerned with herbal wanderings, a tranquil afternoon of emotions in the trailed imaginings of smoke dreams. As if entering rooms or spaces to catch mixed traces of someone gone before and thinking… I know that scent…I know that skin…
I love the gentle haunt of fruit as Issara finally begins to fall away. This takes an age; Pissara’s materials have beautifully contoured longevity on skin, thanks to their quality and assembly. Issara is so well blended, communicating its allure so well that you are drawn over and over to inhale its curved life and demise on your flesh. It is quite impossible to resist.
|Pissara & Montri|
The final moments are molecules of vintage memorial lying in an old empty cigar box found tucked away in an attic cupboard. Once opened, it is discovered to be full of old photographs of a man and his daughter, poems he has written, flowers she has pressed. An odour of paper, petals, wood and distant tobacco rises, words float like smoke and memories fall like tears. Issara is a magical anamnesis scent that begins in a night forest of pine trees exuding sad odour into the darkness and ends in this box of recollection, love and treasured images imbued with ghosted smoke.
‘My feeling for you is like a flower blooming in a empty room.’
Each of Pissara’s compositions is prefaced by a poetic excerpt of her father’s work. She very kindly sent me an edition of Montri’s poetry, which I have by the bed and dip into all the time. It is an anthology of poetic observation, Montri’s autobiography in a way, noting his delicate musings and perceptions on life’s sights, sounds, time, love and mortality. There is a tranquillity and ease to his writing underpinned by a melancholic yearning for peace and personal completion. The quote above is one that Pissara has used to introduce Mélodie De L’Amour, her shockingly beautiful showcase floral. While this charismatic indolic scent may seem like the lush definition of swooning tropical floral, as it starts to project its potent petal-form radiation it is in fact quite strange.
Everything stops for a moment when you first inhale it off skin, molecules, eyes in the forest, sap on the bark, drops of nectar on pistils and stamens, pollen on insect wing. It is a fever dream of flowers exalted by the erotic tension of oozing honey and overripe peach, not the coy fuzziness of Guerlain, but the trail of dropped juice on a lover’s skin in the heat of the night and the tongue that follows.
The opening of Mélodie De L’Amour is a startling proem of indoles, those marvellous knife-edge sexy-faecal molecules radiated by certain narcotic white blooms and one of the loveliest I have experienced in years. Up there with that jade wasabi flash in Olfactive Studio’s Panorama, the smashed yeasty champagne recklessness in Masque Milano’s L’Attesa and that brutal dancefloor biker jacket assault of Dragon Tattoo by covert Swiss house Ys Uzac. What ties these scents together is singular scene setting that actually follows through with imaginative and compelling olfactive development.
The head notes dispense with any of the obvious herbal or citric enhancements instead offering up a resolutely opulent and narcotic bestowal. Such a powerful yet exquisitely gauged duo of gardenia and succulent tuberose. They are augmented by an elegantly realised hay note and a molten amber ooze of feral honey that reeks of bee fur, wing and saturated drones.
The night blooming Indian Jasmine rolls quite suddenly off flesh with an unctuous lick of custard and cigarettes, reaching out from that huge shock of indoles. The hit is so acute it feels as if you have tripped some cached aromatic wire. Many contemporary perfumers pay lip service to white floral motifs, using them as mere decoration and a ground for other themes and events. For a few like Francis Kurkdjian, Dominique Ropion, Cécile Zarokian, Cristiano Canali and Rodrigo Flores-Roux the white flower is so much more: thread, cloth and story. They know how to reinvent the bloom, burn light through a multitude of imagined petals, guide us through rooms of drifting pallidity. There are flashes of those irresistible porno indoles in Mélodie de L’Amour but also the revered and sacred stillness of lilies, the rubbered frisson of ylang and the haunting fall of jasmine as evening drops like sadness.
It is always tempting just to push the florality for a more grandiose tropical experience, but by doing so the individual personas of these distinctive blooms just merge and vanish into one another. Pissara has not shied away from the defiant sensual intimations of the jasmine, gardenia and tuberose in Mélodie De L’Amour; she has understood that in order to accept their dangerous eroticism one must bow down and submit to their dangerous beauty. Two keynotes in this campaign of deference are the peach and broom or gorse. Broom or genet absolute is a gorgeous fragrance material with naturally occurring hay, chlorophyll and vanillic tobacco facets. I was a big fan of Furze, a dreamy, comforting broom and ice-creamy vanilla scent from the second edition of Gorilla/Lush scents in 2013. In Furze Simon Constantine used coconut and neroli to suggest sunshine on the xanthous flowers. Pissara’s broom is paler, caressed by hay and rose, echoing that delicious honey at the top and also the unsettling ashtray vibe of night jasmine in the heart.
by Montri Umavijani
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw peach listed in the materials; I’ve smelled a number of faux Mitsouko things in the past few years, whether or not they were intended to be or not, it is a problem for anything that uses a quality peach effect, such is the legacy of the Guerlain masterpiece. Just because you have formulae laced with gamma-decalactone does not imply you have a natural successor to Mitsouko. There have been very few exceptions to this, talented perfumers using that potentially strange furred flesh vs. juice dynamic of peaches to create something unique. Mandy Aftel’s astonishing Palimpsest that I reviewed earlier this year combined peach, honey, tobacco and her precious feral Firetree essence to such a beautiful addictive effect I will love it forever. The peach/apricot facet of Palimpsest glows like a candle at a night window. The other one is Foxglove, the dry, carroty iris-peach combo created by David Moltz for HYLNDS, the Celtic mist and myth inspired line that runs parallel to his DS&Durga collection. Both fragrances expertly use an overused effect to offset and exalt a palette of carefully calibrated and evocative materials.
In Mélodie de L’Amour the peach feels overripe and quietly disturbing. As if you entered a room and found a blushing furred fruit before you on a old wooden table; you know the colour is just too rubicund, the flesh will give too much if pressed, the skin will split and juice ooze and flow like blood over the scarred surface of the table. This note of abstracted ripe peach adds a plush drip of fairytale decadence to Pissara’s mix, the suggested odour of pulpy fruit only serving to enhance the eroticism of indolic expanse gestured by that artfully arranged triptych of gardenia, tuberose and dizzying night jasmine.
Basenotes of cedar and musks are slightly nondescript but nonetheless add a snug milkiness to the scent, but Mélodie de l’Amour is heartfelt to its very core. It is a powerful message of floral love. The poetic quote Pissara has chosen to preface this scent is simple and elegant.
‘My feeling for you is like a flower blooming in an empty room’.
Yet if this scent is the flower blooming in that empty room, the love is utterly overwhelming. Some will celebrate and revel in the hedonistic excess; others will drown in the reality and be swept away. It is unusual in that initially it increases in intensity very suddenly, the indolic floral flood rising so rapidly like so much white erotic music you feel dazzled and silenced, your personal sky stops scrolling and for a frozen moment, petals fall in a shimmering room of memory. The mouillette I scented with Mélodie de L’Amour stood in its clip like a tiny white gesturing arm and stubbornly held its fragrance for over seven days. I had it perched by my bedside and as I woke from fractured sleep I caught molecular whiffs in the air of fading blooms.
Be warned, Mélodie de l’Amour is outrageously floral, yet as a man wearing it, I felt only wonderment at its beauty and construction. I loved its radiance and flattering flirtation. I think it smells at its most beautiful at mellow night on tired skin, loved skin, skin held close and worshipped.
Note: As I was editing this on the night of Saturday 6th May, Pissara won an Art & Olfaction Award for best Artisan Perfume for Mélodie de L’Amour at the ceremony held in Berlin. So huge congratulations to her and Parfums Dusita. I love this image below taken by Michael Haußmann at The Art & Olfaction Awards in Berlin of Pissara with her glowing golden pear award snapped with the lovely Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes on the left, a former A&O winner for Bat and Tomi Tagscherer on the right, the CEO and Founder of J.F.Schwarzlose who won in the Independent Category in Berlin for Altruist.
On paper, Oud Infini with its blend of Laotian oud, rose de mai and vanilla appears overtly déja-vu, a dance of simple steps, but factor in dancing partners of exceptional quality like Mysore sandalwood, sparkling Tunisian orange blossom and Siamese benzoin and the dance becomes more dangerous, edgy and craven. Pissara’s powerful interpretation smells like nothing else and actually brought me to a complete halt in my day when I first smelled it. It feels like walking the same route every day and then one day noticing a building you’ve never seen before, something simple and elegant, constructed from stone and metal with large expanses of glass. It’s morning and as the sun hits it you are awestruck by the play of light and simplicity of structure. Why haven’t you noticed this building before? Is it new? Was it always there and you just didn’t bother to see it?
This is how I felt on sniffing Oud Infini; it made me re-see oud, the essence and way of it, the facets of it radiating their usual effects and habits but in a different olfactive light. Instead of walking past it indifferent and potentially asnomic, I was caught by difference, quality and Pissara’s ability to weave personal history alongside the luxurious Laotian oud and other materials she has used.
|Laotian Oud wood|
It goes without saying that Oud scents are ubiquitous these days, every fragrance house from the haute-est luxe names to high street favourites like Dior and YSL have oud perfumes among their collections. Partly because the sexy, skanky fumes are sold as glamourous personifications of today’s burnished metrosexuals but also blatantly to appeal to the ever-increasing numbers of mega-rich Arab clients that swell western cities looking for the latest interpretations of oud mixed with European olfactive tropes. It is the scent of the Middle East; I was born in Bahrain and travelled in Iran, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as a child. It is a scent that jolts me shockingly. I remember it being burned in houses I visited, clothes smelled of sweet smoke and a family friend had incredible hair scented with oud, frankincense and cinnamon.
When it started appearing so vociferously as a perfume note, I found it odd, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it to be honest, I guess because personally it tripped switches. Tom Ford is the glossy, porno-lite airport king of oud. Tiresome though his repetitive Private Blend line is now, there is no denying the impact he has had on bringing oud into a pretty mainstream vocabulary, even with the outrageous price tag. M7, the scent he conjoured up for YSL back in 2002 as Creative Director, (the juice itself created by Alberto Morillas and Jacques Cavallier) was ground-breaking in its use of hirsute woods, spices and a fabulously calibrated and integrated oud heart. I wore it obsessively for a while and then just fell out of love, keeping a full bottle in the dark like an imprisoned lover. The rebooted M7 Oud Absolu in 2011 was disappointing, harsh, splintering apart too quickly with none of that warm, sensual club surround heat that the original had. YSL it seemed had been spooked by the looming shadow of M7’s progenitor and failed to retain any of the original’s lovely, sexual mystique and genuine masculine eroticism in favour of a bland market-pleasing facsimile.
Oud is now a stand-alone clan of scents such is its diffusive impact. There exists every permutation of oud possible: leathered, gourmand, oriental, chypré, floral, aquatic… Brands seem intent on treating oud like a cocktail mixer, adding it to anything and seeing what happens. You only have to take a glance at a Montale’s list of Oud-themed scents to see the range that one house is offering. Pine, lime, honey, chocolate, saffron, vanilla and mango… nothing escapes the relentless oud trend. The business is now by necessity awash with synth ouds, some good, some screeching and migrainous. The real deal is sensational, not always well handled mind you. The Sultan Pasha attars are superb examples of how to set oud in a traditional yet sleek and resonant, respectful ways. Kafka has written beautifully in minute detail on this line, so do check out the number of reviews posted on the collection and you will learn something. The oud used throughout the Sultan Pasha line comes from Ensar Oud, one of the world’s leading suppliers, who specialise in creating luxurious and high impact blends of the finest quality oud.
A major problem for the industry is that the oud is a naturally occurring virus in the Aquilaria tree and takes many years to naturally infect the heart of the wood, creating the distinctive dark oud/agarwood effect. Stocks are harvested so brutally, the prices of oud have become exorbitant in key places such as Cambodia and Laos.
Up until now I have worn and loved two (M7 accepted as a historical document), Al Oudh from L’Artisan Parfumeur by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour and Francis Kurkdjian’s original Oud from his eponymous line. Both fill me with immense joy when I wear them. I am not a massive oud fan as I mentioned earlier, but occasionally as these two did, something about the setting of oud moved me hugely and my skin fell abruptly in love. Betrand’s Al Oudh is pretty mucky, the oud mixed with dried sticky fruit, cumin and a sweat-stained leather note that is massively sexy. When I first smelled it I was like, jeez are you kidding me? Nope. Then two hours later I was like …right give me a bottle, right now. Now. Anybody?
My affair with the Kurkdjian Oud was more subtle, slow and drawn out. I have said in previous posts that as much as I admire the technique and elegance of his own line (and undoubtedly Lumière Noire Pour Femme is an outstanding scent…) at the end of the day I prefer his white floral work for brands like Lanvin, Elie Saab, Burberry, Carven and Indult. They seem more ephemeral and abstract; it seems working within these high gloss briefs somehow forces a control of vision that produces honed, crystalline work. His FK fragrances are lovely, but overpriced and the recent acquisition by LVMH speaks volumes about the intended market for the line. When I first tried the Oud in Liberty with an FK sales girl in a wonderful sampling session of the line it was that rich, plummy velveteen Lumière Noire that impressed me the most. I bought that but on the flight back to Edinburgh the Oud on my skin was softly persistent and nudged away at my senses in the droning darkness of the aircraft cabin.
The perfume equivalent of vicuna wool scarves, ultra soft and just that little bit obscene in its luxury, FK’s Oud floated through my mind until I submitted and purchased a bottle, running through it at an alarming rate. My wardrobe oozed a warm tenderness for months, fibres saturated with FK’s generous techniques. But generally speaking I avert my senses from the oud side of things, they are rarely that impressive and the market is drowning in sub-standard copies of Tom Ford and Amouage. The last original interpretation I tried was the truly faecal Oud Ankaa from Ys Uzac created by maverick musical nose Vincent Micotti, oh lordy…just one barnyard too far for this fragile Fox but what an oud. It smells ill and dangerous, utterly overwhelming. Like the opening of an unsealed tomb and death rolling out. The pungency is extraordinary. I actually dislike it intensely, it creeps me out and hypnotises me at the same time, but there is no denying the quality of the oud and the originality of the formula.
‘Dawn in the sky: a tiny stream of gold glows and explodes, imperceptivity, until it covers the whole sky and turns itself into silver.’
Then there is Pissara’s Oud Infini. I had a massive olfactory memory shock with this, so beautiful when I realised what it was. This is oud as art, retrospection and devilment. I love all the Dusita perfumes but this oud, this oud seems destined to haunt me. At first as always with anything oudy I struggle, that black-hearted dying wood appals me, but then the decay and dirty death corrupts me, digging deeply into my brain. I was wearing it obsessively and when I wasn’t I could smell it.
Oud Infini opens with a dazzling swirl of Oud Palao mixed with a plush Rose de Mai that smells crimson and heady. Indolic Tunisian orange blossom adds a strange patisserie facet to this as it begins. This is a risky trio to open any scent with, but the quality of the materials and confidence in blending succeeds beautifully. The three materials are gatekeepers for the temple-soft Siamese (Thai) benzoin and soulful Mysore sandalwood that swell a remarkable heart. Like roses, vetiver, vanilla etc ouds smell different depending where they are grown globally; climate, terroir if you like, imparts flavour and character. Laos in southeastern Asian, bordering Myanmar and Thailand produces a very distinctive oud, a little macabre, pungently aromatic material with a desiccated, catacomb quality that develops alongside a seemingly contradictory creamy vanillic tone and speckles of citric wood. Geographically it is a perfect oud for Pissara to use, its complex aroma profile and ambiguous dirty/beautiful persona make it an alluring and haunting choice.
The niggling memory suddenly came to me as I walking along the Water of Leith in the late afternoon. A sudden recollection of rosewood, metal foil work, a studded skin of eroded brass pins belonging to two Omani marriage chests my parents bought in Bahrain in 1968/69 where I was born. They are robustly made from rose wood now almost tar black in places. Spirals and lines of brass studs green with verdigris patina cover the boxes like animal scales. They both have huge locking mechanisms designed to alert you if anyone tried to break into the kists if you were travelling. After my parents’ divorce and the heart-breaking sale of the family home, my mother kept one and gave the other kist to my brother, my apartment is too small for them, they are imposing pieces of furniture.
|Family Omani wedding kist|
It is the heritage odour of these amazing chests that suddenly resonated with Pissara’s Oud Infini. When you lift the creaking lids you inhale gusts of dry rosewood, dust, oxidising brass, brittle iron hinges and memories of textiles, books and assorted antique objets that my mother has stored in them over the years. This strong note of metallic, cindered wood, sweet rosewood and the malachite creaminess of the brass decay is how I connected to this funky oud.
|Family Omani wedding kist|
The longevity of the formula is impressive not just because the notes are big and pungent but because they have been woven together with thoughtful process and intent. That eerie Oud Palao opens the perfume and leads you like a flickering spirit guide through a terrain of uncommon beauty. Oud Infini feels the most spiritual of the five Dusita perfumes; I’m not sure exactly why I think this, just an instinctual vibe I get each time I wear it. There is an impression of votive duty and sanctuary in the evaporation curve and fuming. It is a perfume of grace and meditative power.
‘The twilight hour comes:
Even my grief
Is swept away by
The anonymity of life.’
La Douceur De Siam is one of two 2017 launches from Pissara and Dusita, the other one being Le Sillage Blanc. It is a scent of sensational subtle dissonance; three beautiful blooms, Rose de Mai, Champaca and a sensual frangipani ring out like glass bells in a moss-covered temple.
These heavenly flowers are wrapped in a distinctive chai carnation effect created by Thai Chalood bark, a vanillic dry spice accord conjured up from Siamese oud; it smells remarkable and serves as the perfect counterpoint to that trio of glowing blooms. Despite what you might expect from rose, Champaca and frangipani, La Douceur De Siam is in fact the most reverential and muted of the Dusita quintet, with a contemplative and emotive personality that suggests veiled priestesses carrying armfuls of white flowers through a misted green forest morning, voices singing barely audible hymns of devotion as they walk ancient pathways.
I’m besotted with this carnation/Chalood bark combo and its luminously dry cinnamon and clove feel on skin; it just works so well with the lunar ambience of the creamy frangipani. It is a note I always register in perfume and samples, but rarely does it smell this good. I used to wear Chantecaille’s Frangipane, the frangipani mixed with jasmine, amber, vanilla and a lovely raft of musks. It had a rich amandine, custard feel. Then it was reformulated and all the loveliness was destroyed. It smelled like someone playing celebrity dress up and no one being able to tell who they are.
|Thai frangipani blossom|
In La Douceur de Siam, the frangipani note is unctuous and sweet yet also a little raw-edged and disturbing, not quite the overtly tropical slick it can be and all the better for it. Tumbling it with the boudoir invitation of rose de mai and anisic Soave nuances of Champaca makes for skin of lush private hedonism. This really is the essence of La Douceur; tenderness, quietude, a murmuring of blooms held superbly in check by an adroitly positioned vanilla accord that while sweet enough to echo the solar aspect of the white flowers, it has the kindness to impart a caramel smokiness to this immaculately rendered floral essay.
I wore this one day in Edinburgh when we had an aberrational spike in temps and the heat did make a difference to my skin perception of La Douceur De Siam. Nothing drastic, I just noticed a few things I hadn’t picked up on before. The sweaty flush on my skin as I lay half in, half out of the sun in the botanic gardens really amplified the Mysore sandalwood and that fabulous Chalood bark accord a lot, rolling them up over the blooms carrying traces of the strangely granular ambergris from the base. I noticed this in the list of materials but didn’t perceive it much at first in my initial wearings, it just waxed and waned in the perfume’s later stages but on heated prickly skin the ambergris seemed to crystallise like salt on the surface of my humid senses.
For me personally the key aspect of La Douceur De Siam despite that initial show-stopping triptych of rose de mai, Champaca and frangipani is the carnation facet. As it settles, the Chalood bark accord provides this much-maligned olfactive floral character with peppered aromatic fumes and a dusted woodiness I find beautiful to wear. The formulation of persuasive carnation perfumes seems a dying art; consumers perhaps perceiving it as an old-fashioned note or even worse associating the complex aromas possible in scent with the sad decline in the public’s perception of this once revered flower. I’ve worked in places over the years where they were banned from floral displays, considered too vulgar for public view. I have always loved the true perfume of spicy scented carnation varieties, the weirdly damp, clovey, nutmeg buzz is unique and after a while they smell like porcelain feels, delicate and aloof.
In the past I’ve adored Caron’s (vintage) Bellodgia and Evelyn Boulanger’s rather warped facsimile Red: Carnation for Commes des Garçons from 2001. A special place in my foxy heart is reserved for Mona di Orio’s 2006 Carnation, a parfum d’art built from styrax, bourbon geranium, violet, amber and jasmine. No actual carnation per se. Yet Mona created a profound held illusion of a bruised pink carnation the colour of an evening sky and it made me weep for its beauty. In La Douceur de Siam the carnation is a little crushed and wild, a scented corsage for a punk prom, the odour that radiates softly of peppered sweet night.
‘Light fell on us
A discreet light
Making its paved way
Through the chill and dusty air
As I reading your love’
I have saved Le Sillage Blanc, the final devastating part of Pissara’s quintet until last, I wasn‘t really sure why until I returned to the first set of notes I wrote late one night during a bout of insomnia.
…Unlike other full-throttle verdant chypré scents – LSB smells fiercely personal + arid – opening with a blast of what 2 to my night-warped nose smells like fresh paint, - claustrophobic jade on walls of a long corridor leading eventually into a forest lit by lanterns…
Re-reading these words and inhaling once again that shock opening of Le Sillage Blanc off my inside arm I find it overwhelming, not in a big molecular way but emotionally; perhaps because I have saved it till last and I have spent so much time in Pissara’s poetic personal world.
The start is a sudden golden thing; I don’t think I was quite ready for it. I have been reading Montri’s poems nearly every day, there are so many to choose from, and I’d like to think that perhaps I have by now some small measure of his relentless poetic minutiae. I like to imagine that reading the book of poems Pissara so kindly sent me is akin to spending time in his company listening to him tell you of travelling details and hushed observations that escape so many of us. The role of poets is to interpret the complexities of ourselves, our roles within worlds and the gamut of emotions that inevitably arise as we live, love and hate. They are granted second sight to see beyond veils that blind so many of us. I’m not making any similar perceptive claims for perfumery, but Pissara set up Parfums Dusita both to honour the memory of her poet father and celebrate various states of love. It’s not a huge stretch to feel that perhaps she has inherited her father’s insight and sensibilities.
|La Douceur de Siam & |
Le Sillage Blanc
Of the Dusita quintet there is a an unabashed masculine lushness to Le Sillage Blanc, a genuine sense of glorious passing man who perhaps lives in dreams as a lost father or embellished lover. A pungent duet of nectarous orange blossom and soapy waxen neroli at the top feels like a shaft of dazzling morning light cutting through the motes of hovering dust and gentle shadows in a private study as the sun eases past heavy curtains.
|Foxy montage of curtain & smoke|
Underpinning this vibrant duo is a steadfast and serious green tobacco leaf that smells caramalised around the edges and romantically scorched. But it is potent enough to cast an impression of haze amid that glorious overture. It is quite the scene-setting start, this sunlit room, tendrils of memory-tobacco, a scent of burnished leather from a ruined chesterfield chair near the window and the unmistakable odour of wet earth, pollen and mulch in Pissara’s choice of galbanum and patchouli rolling in on the morning air amid the molten sun. Wormwood (artemisia) and ambrette seed add a bittersweet and musky dimension to this portrait of time and place.
The more time I spent in the atmospheric company of Le Sillage Blanc, I realised that for me it derives a huge sense of its power from the fact it feels like a portrait either consciously or subconsciously of Montri Umavijani, a fantasy if you like of smoke-wreathed scribe and poet in a leather-tinted room creating impeccable words in strange weathers. The notes of Le Sillage Blanc and their blending echo a legacy of literature, bindings, thumbed pages, the romanticism of empty rooms, the urgent impact of homecoming and how light in its many guises both illuminates our lives and exposes clandestine flaws.
It has been much noted on the net and in other reviews how much reverence Pissara has for Germaine Cellier’s legendary Bandit created for a collection by couturier Robert Piguet in 1944 inspired by robbers and pirates. Piguet sent models down the runway brandishing mock guns, knives and cutlasses. Cellier was noted for used pre-made bases in her famous formulae such as Fracas, also for Piguet and Jolie Madame and Vent Vert for Balmain. This has always made the actual recreation and content of her work both contentious and mysterious. What is not a mystery though is how revolutionary and influential Bandit was to become, along with Caron’s Tabac Blond (1919) and Diorling in 1965 giving women fragrances with a certain butch ambiguity that subverted gender and declared thrilling olfactory war on stereotypes. The key to Bandit is the high level of iso-butyl-quinoline, an inky sexual substance that gives the perfume it’s flayed, green rawness. I have the molecule inked on my arm in homage to Bandit’s visceral thrill.
|Vintage Bandit advertising|
Pissara has spoken about how influential smelling the perfume was in her life and how the dangerous beauty of it has become part of her Dusita journey. If you look at the notes of the original Bandit and Pissara’s Le Sillage Blanc side by side, there are a lot of similarities but the IFRA restrictions on oakmoss and those Cellier bases mean that Pissara’s version is exquisite homage and elegant memory-echo rather than over-reaching pastiche. Both have galbanum, neroli, orange, leather, oakmoss, artemisia, musk and patchouli. The main difference is the distinctive lack of floral arrangements in Le Sillage Blanc; Bandit has ylang, jasmine, rose, carnation and tuberose weighed against the bitter leather accord. This I think creates a glint of angled virility in Le Sillage Blanc that smells incredibly sexy.
Montri has been never far from Pissara’s mind as she set about the long and emotional task of creating the Parfums Dusita line and while her noted love of Cellier’s celebrated rebelsex classic Bandit has definitely affected her it is really only a part of her complex memories of Montri, her childhood, travel, photography, friends, love, Paris, Thailand and its unique flora, climate and traditions. This olfactory tapestry is scented with Pissara’s unerring sensitivity in creating resonant odours that speak movingly of accumulated memory.
|Samples & the beautiful |
anthology of Montri's poems...
Le Sillage Blanc is such a representation of the lost chypré style perfume, I swooned uncharacteristically over the arrangement of the English leather accord, oakmoss and galbanum all swathed in the light of that wonderful neroli/orange blossom lighting. I am not usually a huge chypré fan at all, they are my mother’s genre, not that I think they are traditionally old lady or anything, my mother is far from conventional, but the classics of the genus rarely suit me. I grew up amid the dry green buzzing hazes of Paloma, Miss Dior and Dioressence – Opium was her oriental exception – brutally tailored masterpieces that remind me still of hairspray, singed grass and green and black tweed. It is a bold scent style and one I admire at arm’s length.
Recent years have seen the restrictions coerce inventive and artistic perfumers into creating olfactory works of near chypré brilliance. They may not be Bandit, but they are spiritual equals. Antonio Gardoni’s lavishly dirty Maai for Bogue is a wondrous thing, shuddering sexy and demanding of the senses. I feel in the presence of something truly feral and thrillingly alive when I wear it. Last year, Rodrigo Flores-Roux produced two astonishing perfumes, EL and ELLA for his close friend and collaborator Carlos Huber at Arquiste inspired by the decadent, glistening poolside disco life of 70s Acapulco. ELLA for women is a savagely narcotic white floral with a masterly undertone of cigarette smoke and tanned skin. Oh lord, it is so beautiful, you can almost hear the Giorgio Moroder and smell the chlorine in the sunlit Helmut Newton pool.
|Foxy chypré montage...|
Hiram Green’s second perfume Shangri-La is a gorgeous peach-toned chypré with deliciously bright floral notes that smell both cinematically now and vintage at the same time. Onda by Vero Kern is one of my favourite perfumes of all time and is a warped modern reflection of the chypré; filthy fruit musks courtesy of passion fruit and an uneasy sense of post-coital linger about the mix of spices, ylang-ylang and honey. More brothel chypré than anything aristocratic or bourgeois. Liz Moore’s imminent launch Dryad will add a dark, pagan chypré style scent into her collection; I’m reviewing this soon so less is Moore right now. So the chypré can be done, it just needs skill and a fuck-off dose of artistic bravery.
Pissara’s interpretation of the green-leathered chypré is soaked in memory as are all her perfumes, but Le Sillage Blanc is a little different in that it really asks of you time and commitment to allow its beauty to deepen and reveal itself. After about an hour or so it loses the initial sense of early sunlit animation and becomes harder, more aloof. As I was wearing it and thinking of verdant things I realised it glowed in my mind like a facetted emerald in the night, lying on honeyed warm skin. If you look carefully into beautiful high-end emerald stones, it is akin to staring into mysterious eyes. Le Sillage Blanc may be a green scent but not the chthonic hidebound kiss of tweed-woven emotion, but eventually amid the memories and homage it is something more elusive and glinted.
I set out writing this essay with Issara as my chosen Dusita scent, I was head over heels for it; but I didn’t foresee my disturbing love for Le Sillage Blanc, a near obsessive preoccupation for the perfume details and the constant shift and change on my skin, inciting me to confusion, love and irritation. During a weeklong turbulence with the perfume I spent nights drifting off to sleep, inner arms lacquered in the complex Sillage… Sporadically I struggle with shards of broken sleep and I kept waking and catching sweet, green forested pieces of skin, shades of dusky ambrette and the dying embers of patchouli. In the mornings I could still smell the graceful vestiges of the perfume’s woody shadows. I am obsessed by it; the kind of obsession you have with a beautiful stranger you see only once on a train but just cannot forget.
I have taken a lot of time to write this essay on Parfums Dusita and Pissara Umavijani; it has felt like a special piece of prose for me. I love all the writing I do because I do it for selfish, personal and luxuriant reasons; the odours move me and I am compelled to write. There are some houses though, Vero Profumo, Arquiste, Menditterosa and Talismans, Mona di Orio, Masque Milano, Imaginary Authors and Slumberhouse to name a few that seem to stir words and images deep in the foxy brain and spark fevered dream prose.
I’m not a reviewer per se and therefore have no real pressure to always have essays completed for deadlines or launch dates; sometimes I work with brands to publish at certain times by mutual agreement, but these are personal arrangements borne out of hard earned relationships with artistic directors, noses and trusted PR folk. I usually focus on one perfume in a collection and mention others in the line for context, so it is quite an undertaking to take on a detailed overview like this and as it turns out, this is now the longest piece I have written. That accolade used to belong to another brand biography, that of Carlos Huber’s inventive Arquiste line. Mind you, if you add my original piece to my essay on their glorious sea-soaked myrrh fest Nanban and last year’s pungently sexy 70’s Acapulco disco juices EL and ELLA my wordage on Arquiste is pretty considerable.
I know some people don’t care all that much for my long detailed style of writing; I don’t care in return. I know a lot of you do care however, you tell me so. You message and e-mail me, leave comments, tell me in person if I meet you. In this clickbait age as our attention span is eroded by a relentless and aggressive ad-based social media, tempting us from page to page, tab to tab, skimming, barely registering information, I feel it is somehow important to remind people that slow reading matters. Some of my foxy followers like to print off the blog pieces and read them from paper. I love this; I write all my notes, research and first drafts longhand in numbered notebooks with a Lamy fountain pen and then I also do the first set of edits on print outs with red pens, highlighters and pencil. It makes the editing process more real and forces me to concentrate more closely on what I have created, picking up on contrary repetition, garbled syntax and over poetic nonsense.
|Pissara at Esxence with her creations...|
So, five months in the writing. I was struck immediately by the emotional ambience and structural beauty of Pissara’s work. It is hard to separate her from the compositions and to be honest from a writing point of view I don’t think I care to. This remarkably erudite, generous, worldly and beautiful woman has produced a complex and emotionally resonant assembly of perfumes that thread together elements vital to her and her affecting journey from Siamese Bangkok childhood to where she is now. Thailand to Paris, the deeply felt loss of her poet father Montri, her Siamese heritage, the surround of Thai Buddhist doctrines, love of literature and the written word, travel, the sensuality of nature; these things flicker like so many watchfires along Pissara’s personal migration.
The perfumes are described as celebrating varied states of love, but they are infinitely more profound than that. By setting out to create a legacy of love in olfactory form for her beloved father, inspired by her memories of him and the poems he left behind, Pissara has composed her own distinctive balmy and compelling estate of scented recollections. Parfums Dusita is a heart-breaking and glorious demonstration of Pissara Umavijani as daughter and creative being whose radiant talents glow like fire in the night of a dark emerald forest.
For more information on Parfums Dusita, please click on the link below:
©TheSilverFox 12 May 2017