‘THE STORY OF PUREDISTANCE : 2002-2022’ by BIRGIT OECKHER (book review) + PURE DISTANCE M 2VQ (2022)

The new Puredistance M V2Q is the replacement model for the original cult leather M, the disappearance of which from the Magnificent 12 collection this year is bound to leave many of its fans aghast. As we learn from Birgit Oeckher (aka Olfactoria’s Travels, a much loved perfume web site that will be familiar to a great number of fragrance fanatics, myself included), in her unusual and intriguing new book release celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Dutch niche perfume Puredistance, Roja Dove, the perfumer and provider of the base oil for M, was no longer, for IFRA restriction purposes, able to provide the precise formula for this Sean Connery-as-007-inspired spiced leather aromatic. So, just like every James Bond, M, as we knew him, has been retired.

Having some insider insights into a perfume house’s mechanisms; its ethos, philosophy, olfactory evolution as well as a great deal of information on its founder, Jan Ewoud Vos – whose story and musings naturally form the majority of the text – is quite fascinating for a perfume lover, particularly one who genuinely likes many of the fragrances of the house at hand. The author has a generally understated way of writing – the biographical information sometimes rather perfunctory – though this changes as we reach the end of the book, where a passionate apotheosis bursts through the writing, which, as I put the book down after reading it in two sittings, made quite an impression on me in its very convincing portrayal of two human beings: the author and its subject – (Olfactoria was always a blend of the sublime and the amusingly honest, and here, also, it is a lot of fun to hear juicy tidbits of information on the background of perfume launches, such as the fact that the professional relationship between Mr Vos and Mr Dove, when they met in London in the latter’s ‘lair’ at the top of the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, was apparently quite ‘fraught’at times, their two very different personalities ‘clashing’); or, that while it might have been smooth sailing for some of the releases – a ‘yes, this is it!’ eureka ! moment for certain formulas, others had to be scrapped, after great expense, and started again from scratch – even switching perfumers where necessary – in order to get the desired and required effect. All of this accumulative information leads to quite a 360 degree portrait of the brand; giving a rare glimpse into its real essence.

The Puredistance lineup of twelve perfumes constitutes quite the collection twenty years into its existence, though we learn, to our dismay, that like some perfume rendition of the Hunger Games, the least popular fragrance will possibly be replaced annually by a new variant, or new perfume entirely, even if the original formula will still be available in the ‘vaults’ for lovers of that perfume, as long as stocks last and the legal rules applying to the storage of fragrances don’t affect that possibility. I am personally a particularly fan of Antonia, a green vetiver vanilla that suits me very nicely so find this fact rather alarming; I also very much enjoy the blinding white savon lilas marble statue that is Opardu (the first time I ever read one of Olfactoria’s reviews was for Opardu- she loves this scent), Number 12, which smells dazzling on D, Rubikona when I want something warm as comforting, as well as the truly exquisite Warszawa, another deep and velvety green floral with an unusual note of broom absolute that takes this dark, floral enwrapment into gorgeous and much more emotive textures (my own review of this one is used as the main description of this scent in the book, the author opting to occasionally include the opinions of other perfume writers for certain sceny descriptions in order to give more objective scope). Though the technically brilliant Antoine Lie authored the partially Bowie-inspired Warszawa – Jan Ewoud Vos’ icon, for his sheer artistry and unique expression of the self, which I was delighted to read, as a big fan myself, particularly the album that that track was taken from- I must admit that I am somewhat less attracted to this perfumer’s other very controlled, pointillistic, ultra-balanced work for Puredistance, a set of very popular perfumes that include White, Black, Gold, and the new M 2VQ; all masterfully done, exceptionally high qualiy, but, for me, too dry, perfect, lacking my required element of mystery. I completely share Kafkaesque’s horror of oud amber dominated Sheiduna (I am strangely anosmic to Pure Distance 1), but this is all just personal taste: no matter my personal opinions on each perfume, I still thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the genesis of each of these scents, how each was conceived, the reactions after it came out, the overall journey the brand has taken, all at least as much as the subcutaneous meta-text that Birgit has created here, alluding to her own sometimes complicated relationship with the brand (as well as herself, actually – she can be exasperatingly self-deprecating to the point where you just want to either shake her by the shoulders and shout ‘Snap out of it!’ Cher-style or else just give her a great big hug). We hear a lot of about the melancholy nature of Vienna, where she is from, how difficult it was to write the book because of self-doubt and procrastination (and an obviously very traumatic incident when she was still writing Olfactoria’s Travels, the negative catalyst that led to her rather sudden disappearance from the perfume blogosphere and the subsequent seclusion); this book, is thus, in many ways, like a miraculous reappearance of an old friend: a Rip Van Winkle. It is very nice to have her back, I must say, and there is hopefully more to come in the future as she states quite openly that she would like to write another book, perhaps a novel. I only hope that she doesn’t do things at a glacial Kate Bush pace, a new release perhaps every ten to twelve years or so, say; sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns and go for it. None of us live forever.

This is something that the Puredistance CEO would certainly understand, for while he clearly needs a lot of time alone to reflect and has experienced great lifestyle and philosophical change from studying Buddhism, Jan Ewoud Vos is clearly a man of energy with an individualist’s vision who refuses to compromise on his essential integrity (it is this, the apparent ‘saintliness’, that Birgit finds herself railing against in the latter part of the book, a curious combination of quasi-hagiography – which at times can become a little grating, almost deliberately, I had the impression – her natural skepticism and pessimism (her words, not mine) almost refusing to accept that this quite ‘moderate’ company – simple profit is never the ultimate goal – could actually be real. That the ethical, ‘small is beautiful’ mantra of the brand could be really true. Something stubborn, and Mitteuropa obtuse definitely comes through here, on both sides : a clash of the self-described cynic, with the unwaivering emphases of the Puredistance creator, making for an interesting inherent contradiction and overt ‘subtext’ in the book, a rebellious undercurrent; Oeckher ultimately coming to the conclusion that in the vile world that we are living in – and despite all the beauty, it really is so vile in many ways right now; so much flagrant corporate greed, selfishness, prejudice, hatred, violence, anger, shallowness; the sheer, sometimes unbearable noise of the current furious world we are inhabiting – we really do sometimes just need some refined creations of simplicity like Antonia or Warszawa to just be able to have a moment of aesthetic pleasure; stop, and just breathe. She seems to appreciate this profoundly. And that Jan Ewould Vos would decide to go for his personal history with such an idiosyncratic, even eccentric approach to his biography, is, I think, indicative of the man’s way of living itself; resolutely guided by his own instincts – as well as those of his tightly knit team, who all work from a former church – now Puredistance headquarters, in a church in Groningen, Holland – but uninterested in the standard or pre-indicated ways of doing anything (in this we share a great deal). If sometimes the central tenets of the brand’s philosophy are overemphasized throughout ‘The Story Of Puredistance’ (we get it! Puredistance is exclusive! Puredistance is elegant!), at least this is basically based upon the truth. The perfumes I have mentioned so far are all, in fact, undeniably tasteful and assured, the quality undeniable, and they are all to be found only at select perfume boutiques around the world, with a kind and personal service that is admirable (I have also been a recipient of this generosity so can vouch for it firsthand.)

Jan Ewoud Vos

Birgit Oeckher and I at Perfume Lovers London, 2014

Immersive, infuriating at times, I don’t think I have ever read anything similar.

TO BE CONTINUED

5 Comments

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5 responses to “‘THE STORY OF PUREDISTANCE : 2002-2022’ by BIRGIT OECKHER (book review) + PURE DISTANCE M 2VQ (2022)

  1. gunmetal24

    I had a similar feeling about Gold. I love most of Antoine Lie’s work (that I know off), but something about Gold makes me forget that it exists. I resampled a few times and its a beautiful uniform but I forget about it each and everytime. I can’t really remember either Black or White either but probably due to time passing. I vaguely remember finding Warszawa interesting, did not realized it was also Antoine’s work. I am contemplating no. 12 for myself, maybe if there’s ever a good promotion in the future. I am assuming the owner of the brand must be financially stable or has some other income for him to not compromise too much. There’s alot of competition out there now.

    • Definitely. Birgit makes us very aware that he comes from a privileged background – though he also has had his share of hardships – and he himself is very conscious of that as well.

  2. Patricia

    Thank you for enlightening me on a brand new subject/ perfume house. Your review was superb.
    Another new subject given me by a friend was a book Breath byJames Nestor which will apparently change one’s life……Ha…I’ll let you know!
    Cheers
    Patricia

  3. Hanamini

    Antonia and Warszawa are both in my top 10 perfumes of all time; how lovely to read this. Warszawa the Bowie track always left me feeling beautifully sad; the perfume, however, leaves me feeling warmly rich, at any time of year, and happy. Antonia is a spring companion, mostly. Rubikona strictly for winter, for me. I can’t wait to read the book; thank you for the review.

  4. matty1649

    I’ve only got a sample of Rubikona from this house.. I like it

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