COME HEALING: ANCIENT RESINS (for Leonard Cohen), by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2012)

‘Ah, the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread.

” I never even knew how much I wanted you” she said.

 His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete.                

 ” O baby I have come too late”. She knelt beside his feet.’

 

           –    ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (1977)

 

 

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Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, is currently undergoing a period of late-career renaissance, having recently completed a world tour that received ecstatic, rave reviews verging on religious reverence, a number one album (“Old Ideas”), and virtual canonisation, in the anti-establishment, as the author and singer of some of the most penetrating, uncompromising lyrics in music.

I have a couple of Cohen albums myself, and there are a fair few songs of his I love, including “Who By Fire”, ” Suzanne” and ” Famous Blue Raincoat”, but I would not quite describe myself as a disciple.  The mournful strummings of Cohen’s guitar, which always create such dark cavernous spaces in any room you care to listen to his songs in; his plaintive, sonorous voice, seem almost too painful for me sometimes, as though the man (like his English counterpart, Nick Drake) had, through trial by fire, stumbled upon the secrets of the universe, or at the very least pierced through to the essence of the sad, if joyous, realities of what make us human. I cannot listen to such philosophically wry, morose music on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

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“Ancient Resins” is a bespoke fragranced body oil made by natural perfumer Mandy Aftel for Leonard Cohen, and he is said to wear it now every day. I find the idea of Mr Cohen (” a lazy bastard living in a suit ” as he refers to himself on one of his new songs) wearing this dignified, but tender, perfume under his  shirts, very beautiful – a perfume made for a famous person that for once makes sense.

 

 

 

 

 

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“She used to wear her hair like you except when she was sleeping.

And then she’d weave it on a loom, of smoke and gold and breathing….” 

 

(“Winter Lady”, 1967)

Like many perfume enthusiasts, I have relished my copy of Mandy Aftel’s “Essence and Alchemy”-  a passionate treatise on natural perfumery – for many years, and found it inspiring. Though almost all of my own experiments with perfume creation using essential oil blends have ended in failure (I always get overexcited and put too much of something in, restraint and balance never being my forte), the book is an in-depth look at each aromatic material from historical, cultural and olfactory perspectives, and reading it deepens your understanding of the fundamentals of perfume. At the same time, as I mentioned the other day in my review of Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc, the scents that this independent perfumer creates often go beyond the standard apothecary preparations found at the aromatherapist’s and into the realms of true artistry, a challenge without full use of the perfumer’s palette of synthetics. While some of the perfumes by the house may lack a certain transparence, they make up for it with an emotive sense of richness, life and spirit that feels very real. Alive.

If Leonard Cohen were ever going to be made a perfume (the words ‘celebrity fragrance’ seem so cheap and crass in the context of this review I am tempted to go back and erase them), you can be sure it was not going to be a pink, fruity floral. But neither could it have been some crass, acrid masculine, despite the old seducer’s reputation. No: it would have to speak, have soul and an air of wisdom, and so Aftel has gone for a blend of Biblical essences that manage to be spiritually reflective without the undue po-faced austerity of many recent incense fragrances; a sensual composition of balms and base notes of resins with a singular heart of organic frankincense. I imagine you could wear Ancient Resins either as a subtle body perfume, or else use it to soften and augment other scents, to add a gentler haze to the dark, otherworldy invocations that certain incense perfumes can bring.

In ‘The Calculus Of Fixation’, Aftel writes that “base notes are the deepest, most mysterious, and oldest, of all perfume ingredients. Every ancient culture used them – indeed, for centuries they were the essence of perfume, so when you work with them, you literally have ancient history in your hands”. She also describes these base notes as “thorny and difficult”, words that I can imagine could also be attributed to Leonard Cohen….

“Thick, unformed, gunky, base notes are a reminder of the unconcious – of all that is shadowed, thick, obscure, but fixed and defining about us – and the inertia and resistance that guard it”……. a perfume then, formed of notes that perhaps attempt to capture the unyielding nature of The Bird On A Wire, who, may have tried, in his own many ways ‘ to be free ‘ but who, like the rest of us, is ultimately tied to the limitations of his own being.

 

 

 

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” You strike my side by accident as you go down for your gold”,

sings Cohen in “Avalanche” (1971), religious imagery that alludes, perhaps, to the crucifixion, but which also unwittingly links to the ingredients used in Ancient Resins. Much of the singer’s work deals with suffering and absolution, and there is thus something very fitting about the use of ingredients such as frankincense, elemi, and benzoin that are obtained by wounding the trees in the process of extraction, in the deserts of the Yemen, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, where the workers make incisions in the barks of the trees, and wait for them to pathologically exude their ‘tears’: thick, vital unguents from incised bark that are beautiful-smelling essences with restorative, curative elements, used historically to embalm and preserve the dead in ancient funeral rites, but also to regenerate the tissue of the living. The oils used in this perfume are all skin-cell stimulators, which makes their use in a body oil preparation ideal.

Ancient Resins is a very uncomplicated scent. But it is soothing, and it is warming. While the frankincense works as a light, protecting veil over the deeper resins, the principle note for me in this perfume is not that mystical oil, but rather benzoin, an essential oil I am very drawn to with its balsamic, vanillic smell and its drying, healing properties. It is linked here to an essence I have never smelled before, Balm Of Gilead, a ‘miracle cure’ mentioned in the Old Testament and in various medical texts over the centuries, an essential oil extracted from poplar trees, and seemingly quite a medicinal smell that gives Ancient Resins a hint of bronchial expectorant –  a linctus sanctus, if you like, that, for this writer, with his vulnerable lungs that are susceptible to pneumonia and the like, is very comforting.

 

 

 

” O gather up the brokenness, and bring it to me now..

  The fragrance of those promises you never dared to vow.

  The splinters that you carry, the cross you left behind.

  Come healing of the body. Come healing of the mind”.

 

“Come Healing” , 2012 )

 

 

 

 

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45 Comments

Filed under Benzoin, Frankincense, Perfume Reviews

45 responses to “COME HEALING: ANCIENT RESINS (for Leonard Cohen), by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2012)

  1. ninakane1

    DIVINE REVIEW!!! I have adored Leonard Cohen since the age of four, where I listened to Suzanne played by lovely hippies in a tiny student flat in Lancaster, and thought the backing singers were angels.Saw him live a few years ago, and he was one of the most generous, warm and humourous performers one could ever hope to see live onstage. Sexy, witty, deeply wise, unafraid to be poetic, deep, mournful, and with huge love and passion for life, people, honesty and survival. A grand old man ever-young at heart. Long may he reign!!! And I now have ‘Travelling lady, stay awhile until the night is over….’ on the brain (gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous). Neil Chapman, I thank you for this Monday morning bliss. And I will try the perfume too! xxx

    • ginzaintherain

      How delightful what you write here. I love it. Glad to have been of service. It is a very good thing to have as it is all natural and healthful, while having aesthetic worth as well.

      The concert sounds amazing (and I love your story of the angels…)

      Which songs were the best? I am envious.

      x

  2. Jordan River

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.
    Leonard Cohen

    Ancient Resins will be resonating from my skin soon. Thank you for posting.

  3. brie

    Agreed with Nina…BRILLIANT review on what sounds like a divine way to scent the skin!
    Have been fascinated with Biblical oils for many years now..have you ever tried spikenard?
    And although my blends are quite amateurish I have learned that if you let them sit (whilst gently shaking the bottle on a daily basis) for several weeks the oils eventually do this wonderful pas de deux that transforms what initially seemed quite atrocious into something quite lovely!
    btw, I am working on a blend for you (vanilla, pachouli,frankincense, vetiver,cocoa,lavender,frangipani and almond).

    • ginzaintherain

      My god, how wonderful. I am lucky to have come into contact with such lovely people. I suppose I am just so….over the top and extreme. I can never wait. And shake, and let them sit..I think it is a real skill that I don’t believe I possess.

      You are lucky that you have that talent.

      • brie

        Ha! ha! Not sure that I would call what I do talent but my blends are always made with the best of intentions and I like to use the oils that I know have healing properties (as most of them do in one way or another).
        And your over the top extremism is what makes you so adorable!
        Enjoy the day!
        PS must let me know when package no 1 arrives!

      • ginzaintherain

        I most certainly will. I can’t wait. I told you I was genuinely more excited and intrigued by your blends (and Sonoma Studios) than most of the perfumes. Why is this?

      • arline

        This is exactly where I am. I have made a coriander bomb, and I am about to be sick, as I type this. Coriander is I don’t usually use, and I learned that only one drop at a time with this one is crucial.

        Another is jasmine. Im trying to make friends with that one.

      • I guess it depends on the jasmine. Sambac is gorgeous.

      • I guess it depends on the jasmine. Sambac is gorgeous.

    • ginzaintherain

      I was smelling spikenard earlier funnily enough while waiting to meet a friend to go and see Life Of Pi, but found myself more drawn to the oddness of Rosalina….

      • brie

        spikenard is ridiculously potent…in my earliest experiments with e.o.s I made this unholy concoction of spikenard, agarwood, myhrr,frankincense, UNDILUTED!!!!!-it was the only “fragrance” I had ever wanted to literally scrape off of my bony little arm!
        Yet I let it marinate for a few weeks, then used it judicously as a base with a heavy dose of numerous citrus essences and it turned out so well that I had to gift it to a friend who actually liked it!

      • ginzaintherain

        It sounds divine. I like those heavy Biblical numbers.

      • brie

        Don’t expect too much from my blends when you receive them! But I am hoping that you will LOVE the Sonoma Scent Studio perfumes as much as I do (will be getting more with my FB of Cocoa Sandalwood so expect more samples coming your way!). I will also be curious as to how you feel about the 8 Pacificas I sent you in package 1 and package 2 (Tibetan Mountain Temple, Wakiki Pikaki, Tuscan Blood Orange, Mediterranean Fig, Island Vanilla, Hawaiian Ruby Guava, Avalon Juniper and Egyptian Bergamot Rose). The frugal person in me loves them all as they are my salvation in having to buy fragrance for four ‘fume monsters living in my house!

      • ginzaintherain

        Well, since I reviewed the vanilla I realize that I had written it off too soon; it is really growing on me and it is obviously good quality. If it is inexpensive as well then the line is really something. Can’t wait to smell them, especially the guava!

      • arline

        I did get a sample of sambac from Eden Botanicals, and it is really beautiful. I think that my problem with jasmine, has just been my heavy hand, when it comes to blending.

        I hope to cultivate some patience when it comes to the blending process, and can definitely follow Brie’s example.

      • Well I am sure you are better than me. I ALWAYS get overexcited and overdo it. I have made a couple of decent things in my life, but have spent, and wasted, so many essential oils I should have been tried at Nuremberg.

    • Good for you, Brie! I didn’t know you blended your own! Very exciting 🙂 We’ll make a top-notch chef out of you yet!

  4. brie

    They are indeed quite inexpensive so much so that when my son Colin sprayed almost half of his bottle of Pacifica Sandalwood in the bathroom to “freshen it up” I did NOT pitch a fit as I would have had it been any other perfume!

  5. When I first heard about this, I was immediately intrigued. Thank you so much for the lovely review. It made me remember how much I like Leonard Cohen. Cueing up music now 🙂 What a wonderful muse for a perfumer!

  6. ginzaintherain

    (and then wake up like Lazarus for your morning brew…..)

  7. Thanks so much Neil for your gorgeous and deeply thoughtful review of Ancient Resins – it is quite gratifying to have my work be so well understood!
    Mandy

  8. Tora

    Nina said many things that I would say also about Leonard and your review. Once again, you have turned the key in my heart.

    • Thank you.

      I am not sure if it is good or not me reblogging things, but you know when I wrote certain pieces there was hardly anyone reading them and I felt that my instincts and efforts had gone to waste. So sometimes I just thing F it and repost them. Glad it was worth doing.

  9. I like that you reblog some whilst adding more. It’s lovely to reread them, and it enables new bloggers to join the conversations!x

    • Thanks Nina. We want you back in full swinging splendour when you are up to it.

      The Perfumed Dandy was writing about Youth Dew yesterday: would love to hear what you felt about that monster parfum I sent you, as if Cruella De Vil had been doused in a vat of cola concentrate.

  10. Lilybelle

    What a wonderful review! I have had it for breakfast this morning with my tea, the first leisurely moment I’ve had lately. Thank you! I am probably the last fragrance lover who hasn’t read Mandy Aftel’s book, but I have it on my kindle. I’ve been saving it for some quiet time (please, Lord!). Now all I want to do is retreat with my kindle, a book of Leonard Cohen’s verse and a cd, and a box of essential oils. 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Mandy Aftel’s book is really good, I think, as it adds new ways of thinking to essential oils and aromatherapy. I have read, and memorized, tons of information about essential oils over the years (Julia Lawless, Valnet, Tisserand etc), but only this book seems to bridge the link between aromatherapy and perfume. She really gets into the depths of each essence, and her passion is infectious.

  11. e.l.f.

    recently received a sample of this one….gorgeous and perfect for meditation practice…..

  12. jennyredhen

    There is perfume available in Australia and NZ which is a blend of 12 essential Oils:
    Oil of Bergamot, Patchouli, Nutmeg, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Cedarwood, Lavender, Balsam of Benzoin and Tolu, Gum of Frankincense, Bay Oil and Essence of Oakmoss

    Its called Meditation Balm The Fragrance is Unforgettable…. I also play around with it a bit and have added more patchouli orange and lavender when it starts to run out .. Can wait to try Ancient resins though if I can find it here.. thanks for the review.. ps I like that you re blog previous articles.. I dint get a chance to read them all and also a lot of them need to be read again and again.

  13. jennyredhen

    Which Mandy Aftel book are you talking about here?? I want to read it and she seems to have written a few. why dont you put all your blog posts into a book Neil I am sure it would sell well. there arent many books about perfumes.

    • I really want to write a book, strongly. I actually have a literary agent in London as well…

      As for Mandy, the books I am mentioning are Essence and Alchemy and Fragrance.

      • jennyredhen

        you could do a collection of your articles printed in a sequence which makes sense to you.. Many popular books have been presented this way.

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