All of the creations of Parfums Dusita are inspired by the poetry of the perfumer’s late father, poet Montri Umavijani, but the latest – his namesake, Montri, is the first to encapsulate the essence of the man himself as she remembers him. A dry, hot-spiced rose amber oud, with deep woody and tobacco/leather accents, Montri is a sensual, retro-masculine with a floral warmth that is immediately both uplifting and grounding; one for gregarious and sultry summer nights, but also nuzzling winter evenings with a spot of whiskey and a hint of comfortable solitude.
I was very fortunate a couple of weekends ago to attend my first Zoom presentation with Dusita founder Pissara Umavijani and a whole host of other internet Perfume People, though it being Paris time and Tokyo time simultaneously meant that it was three in the morning here after a long week, and I wasn’t quite at my most alert or presentable/sociable. Instead, I lurked in the backdrop, invisible, not making any direct questions, just watching the proceedings intently by myself and listening to the interesting story behind the perfume, as well as experiencing the novel approach to guiding us all through the olfactory structure: all participants had received in advance in the mail small bottles of the fragrance’s central accords: spice, floral, and oud as well as the finished perfume itself, and were invited to sample each one individually. We were requested to wait until the event before smelling everything – I am not telling you whether or not I complied – after which we would discover, step by step, how the different strata of the scent elided together as a whole. It was a fascinating way to be drawn into a new scent.
Before this, Pissara talked a lot about her father, a man yearning for new possibilities in human consciousness and wanting to transcend the common boundaries. We learned about how he would wander the streets of Paris, always with notebook in hand for the moment inspiration struck, picking up bottles of Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue (he really loved and appreciated Guerlain), a solitary man who wrote all of his poetry in English, adding both a layer of universality but also a certain (intentional) personal distance from his own beloved Thailand while doing so in order to find inner freedom. The perfumer’s affection for Montri’s work, and his character as a whole came through radiantly during the talk; it is difficult to imagine a more genuinely energetic and passionate individual – I have to admit I was quite smitten; P’s smile is dazzling and comes clearly through the airwaves even to a bleary-eyed weirdo hiding in the darkness of his kitchen in Japan; a laughter and natural animatedness that simply cannot be faked; the positivity she gives off thoroughly contagious. This aura is also very much infused in the new perfume, which follows her previous gloom-busting perfume, Anamcara, a (for me headache-inducingly overcheerful densely sparkling citrus wood), and its prior release, the brilliant Cavatina, a florally futuristic tribute to Diorissimo that I have slowly taken a real shine to over the last two years and sometimes wear when I feel like something springish and flowery to the max. I love it.
Like the darker, yuzu tinged Moonlight in Chiangmai, and the far more esoteric and dreamy Pavillon D’Or (still the most poetic of this house’s releases), Montri finds its place in the less feminine and ‘fresh’ taxonomy of Dusita’s thirteen perfumes. It is also the first to be overtly spicy: in fact, the array of spices and herbs used (saffron, nutmeg, oregano, cinnamon and coriander, with a dash of dried fruit) literally raises my body temperature when I wear it – there is a physically heating quality to this accord, which when sampled by itself, is quite reminiscent of vintage Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan and its evocations of pungent souk ; several participants exclaimed, in fact (there were a lot of exclamation marks) that they would happily wear this as a perfume all by itself (I would too) as it is so appealing. Intended as a tribute to Mr Umavijani’s calling as a ‘philosopher, observer, and traveller passionate about ideas, times and places’ the blend of notes melds readily with the deeper base Palao oud accord that forms the main theme of the perfume, which ‘evokes images of a library with wooden shelves, old books, and chairs with leather cushions; also a homage to Thai culture, its traditional fragrant ingredient’, the classic ‘hunkpapa’ tobacco facets taking me almost back to the intricate baroque of men’s eighties perfumery such as the always compelling Ungaro III. While the floral accord, a rose, orris and jasmine sambac is nice but less magnetizing to me than the others, by itself, quickly subsumed in the dry heat of the other ingredients, the rich Damask rose here fuses naturally with the oud beneath, creating a natural opulence. Personally, I think I might have imagined a more ‘haunting’ quality in a perfume with this theme – the final notes extended, perhaps, with some labdanum, musk…..the personification of the beloved in scent – the sandalwood, cedarwood and tonka here sturdy and reliable rather than emotionally affecting, but at the same time there is undeniably a real sense of energy, strength and optimism in this perfume: what it says about Ms Umavijani’s father only she and her mother (apparently more lighthearted and capricious) know, but as a work in itself, I don’t think it is necessary to know the backstory behind the perfume’s creation in order to enjoy it. It works on its own merits.
“The pen is me
And I am the pen:
The pen gets lost
To become part of the thing
I cannot recall.”
– Montri Umavijani
Speaking of fathers, today is my own father’s 80th birthday.
It is always fascinating to me to hear about the details of all the variegated human relationships, how they differ, the nuances and ins and outs of emotional connections and the uniqueness of blood relations in families; no story the same, no matter what the country or societal background; each link, and its psychological impact, always a story unto itself. As is evident with the Dusita origin story, our fathers have a great influence on us, the special dynamics of mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter, often curiously distinct.
While Pissara Umavijani seems to almost venerate her father, as an artist and poet as well as the man who encouraged her to follow her own artistic inclinations and intuitions when growing up, the Gemini (him) / Sagittarius (me) antagonisms of my dad and I make our own relationship very different. As a non-conformist, rebellious, more academic and left-leaning, possibly pretentious ‘aesthete’ who yearns for nothing except a poetic, cinematic, transcendent existence, vs much more of a ‘realist’ – my dad spent his entire career in the automobile industry – we are like chalk and cheese in many ways, our irreconcilable political differences a perpetual thorn in the side for me (it’s better just to not talk about it), his own more straightforward, down to earth and blunt financial pragmatism quite different to my airy fairy refusal to ever properly plug into ‘reality’. He was undeniably often too aggressive when we were growing up, which left its own mark, but at the same time, his garrulousness and sociability (the man can literally talk to absolutely anyone without even a trace of self-consciousness, something my mother and I sometimes find mortifying when he goes up to complete strangers and starts chatting, but which is actually a wonderful gift and which by osmosis has helped me as a teacher and communicator), as well as his undeniably hilarious spontaneous wit and storytelling (fabrication spinning that even Donald Trump would envy), are typically Geminian : often quite brilliant ‘out of thin air’ tales that are spun from his own mind and the ether.
In this sense, then, there are some similarities between our two trajectories. While Pissara Umavijani’s father, Montri Umavijani, a poet, presumably enraptured the young girl in Thailand with his spare and beautiful poetry, my dad would also have us regularly spellbound on weekend mornings in the parental bed as my brother and I lay sprawling and transfixed, weaving stories that left you silent and completely captivated. It was the same for our cousins, who adored having him as their babysitter or the fun-to-be-with uncle who could always come up with a mysterious narrative or surrealistic yarn at the drop of a hat; in my childhood he was quite the force to be reckoned with.
If we frequently clashed,
“How can you not understand this maths problem? It’s so bloody easy”
: “How can you fail junior high school English: your own language “
-and even physically fought (I can see us wrestling breathlessly in the hallway just before my mother came home from work one day), for me as a child, what was wonderful in spite of all of this needless aggro was the fact that they never tried to change me: I always felt encouraged. And loved. My dad has always got your back; loyal, behind you and would defend you to the death (really not something to be sniffed at: there are so many cold, distant, even downright cruel parents out there). True, in an effort to forge some father-son extra-curricular bonding, he occasionally tried to take me to car shows and airforce regatta (the utter tedium! the ugliness! ), and to one memorable football match where I sat in the stadium in the freezing cold rain reading a book, repelled by the stench of hot Bovril beef extract I had been given in a plastic cup and just willing it all to end as soon as possible so that we could go home, but in fact, they never insisted. Instead, I was allowed to go and dance to Tchaikovsky and Abba in my room without ever being teased for it; could lounge among the flowers for hours reading fairy tales to my heart’s content; my most precious memory of my father in my life so far probably being the time when I was crying in my bed at night, as a child, disconsolate at the fact that I was ‘different’ and imploring to know the reason why I had been created like this, and getting nothing but compassion and approval :
” So many gardeners are men, son, and love flowers; you have nothing to worry about”.
This was an extremely tender moment for me; and something I remember as very precious.
Complex, multilayered, mercurial, loving, my father is an important influence in my life, and I have more of him in me that any of us in the family fully realize. Mutual exasperation aside, I have inherited his spontaneity, reckless sense of adventure and a fierce desire to see the world (just like his own father, who was a seaman in the navy); his ability to keep going forward and retain his (exterior) optimism despite a lot of quite difficult obstacles being thrown his way throughout his life, which I have always found very admirable, truly impressive (after knee surgery he and my mother went to Cuba and he won second prize in a Havana hotel’s dancing competition as a fantastic middle finger to presumed decrepitude), and just as Mr Montri Umavijani is undoubtedly, wherever he may be now, very proud of his daughter for being who she is and creating what she has with Dusita – a person following her instincts and thrusting herself into an entirely new world in Paris to make perfumes in honour of his poetry, I hope that my own father, in his own way, feels similarly about me.
Happy Birthday dad