Category Archives: Antiperfume

PSYCHOLOGIES: : : : : : : : MEMENTO MORI by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2016)

 

 

 

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Perfumer Mandy Aftel has a very unique and unusual signature. And it is often also a very carnal one. From the sex-in-vats-of-chocolate of the suggestively edible Cacao; the lust-behind-the-sand dunes nude bacchanalia of Cuir Gardenia;  the frank and beautiful filth of Aoud Luban – one of the first perfumes to almost make me blush, in truth –  to the hirsute, ungodly Kama Sutra of her disturbing and fantastical Wild Roses – a night garden of essences and physical pleasure that leaves no erotic stone unturned (yet all, cleverly concealed beneath a calm, rosaceous veneer of garden stems and rose flowers), Aftel seems to revel in antagonizing us into realizing, self-consciously, that we are all animals and beasts of the flesh, at heart.

 

 

Her scents are rarely simple. Nor, on occasion, even approachable. There is a weirdness: a sharp, tangy, bodiedness to many of her perfumes, wherein flowers and spices and all manner of olfactory materials are boiled down and blended and given a succour of intensity that while giving you a frisson of physical reaction, also can make you feel  unhinged: a whole new vocabulary of odours that provokes you into thinking and reassessing what perfume even is (I think of Tango, here, for instance: that deeply perturbing scent of roasted seashells and resins that is unlike anything ever produced in perfumery before, or since).

 

 

With Memento Mori, Aftelier’s newest (and perhaps most ‘difficult’) release yet, Mandy Aftel really cuts to the chase. While ostensibly masked, or rather preluded, with some hints of rounded, soft and musky rose accords in the opening, as though they had been stripped of all dew, and green, and leaves, to leave the fig-leafed body beneath in its natural state, this perfume goes too far for me personally in what I consider wearable, even acceptable, in a perfume. In going with the concept of capturing the smell of a lover’s skin, hair, the desire to memorialize the smell of the loved and deceased, the perfumer does quite successfully, once the composition settles in and harmonizes on the skin, definitely get close to that sensation of warm, unwashed, and I have to say dirty, human skin, of a particular human skin, and one perhaps known only to the perfumer, but the important  question is: who really who wants to smell of this skin? Is this the olfactive equivalent of The Tooth Fairy, the serial killer who dons other people’s skins in the horrifying Silence Of The Lambs? In transferring another’s epidermis to our own, like the surgeon in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant La Piel Que Habito/ The Skin I Live in, Aftel is definitely doing something radical and along these sense-shaking lines.

 

 

 

Similar provocations already exist in perfumery: I think of Ombre Fauve by Parfumerie Generale and its strange, haunted smells of sexual obsession: Miller Harris’s alarming (and for me, personally disgusting) L’Air De Rien, in which the singer wanted to embody the perfume with the smell of her brother’s hair; L’Antimatière, by Les Nez, which smells, if you sniff closely enough, of the aura of unwashed sheets and faint, unclean skin, and Serge Lutens’ original, undoctored Muscs Khoublai Khan, which smelled to me quite simply just of sheep, and seminal fluid.

 

 

I suppose what is stimulating for me personally about these perfumes –  particularly Memento Mori, which goes even further than any of the scents described above in delving into sheer intimacy, is what they might say about me personally. While other reviewers talk of the snug, comforting aspect of such perfumes, of nuzzling into their humming, human embrace as the day wears on and they lose themselves in their calming, skinful realness, in my case I always find that I am basically just repulsed. Though the final notes of this particular perfume do certainly coalesce into a warm, sweet, and intense addiction (the way that real, bodily, smells are sometimes, ones you can’t stop smelling, even when you simultaneously hate them), a base accord here that is almost reminiscent, at times, of ultra-animalic perfumes such as Paco Rabanne’s iconic La Nuit, I find that such smells are, in truth, why I wear perfume – and hope that others will do too – in the first place. To me, perfume is something that combines, that fuses, with the wearer’s skin, not destroying its natural odour, the way that so many unpleasant contemporary chemical perfumes now do, but embellishing it, harmonising it, flattering it, beautifying it : in experiencing that perfume later, it is already a kind of memento mori, a way of remembering that person, even hours after you have initially encountered it. When someone is gone, and you smell the scent that they were wearing, unconsciously you smell their bodily smell along with it, it evokes their physical presence. Perfumes with animalic notes in them, in their base, are particularly adept at giving this reaction, particularly when they remain subliminal,  and not at the very fore, or core, of the fragrance.

 

 

 

But here, Mandy Aftel intrepidly eschews such prescribed formulae of perfume making and goes straight for the flesh-and-blood jugular. Beginning with an almost sweet, muttonish oil smell, like sweating, breathing, pecorino cheese encased in roses, soon the civet, and the ambergris, and the aged patchouli come up through the peau like the blood, sweat and tears of essence of a particular human – not one that I know – and whose intimacy I am not sure that I even want to. She/he might indeed be very tender, loving, intelligent, sensual, but having this person’s intensity of smell on my own skin feels almost like an intrusion. Memento Mori thus reveals perhaps more about my own inclinations and phobias than I would perhaps like to reveal, and it is in this regard – that a perfume can make you question your own levels of prudishiness, of fear of mingling with another, of your hatred of the smell of human hair, of your wanting the people around you to be freshly showered but still being utterly fascinated by every single smell that they give off even if they are not (am I in fact the maniac Grenouille, from Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’?) that I find this curious creation most compelling.

 

 

 

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Filed under Antiperfume, Flowers, Musk, Psychodrama

THE YLANG YLANG TERRORIST

 

 

Ylang-Ylang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The other day I came home with two small bottles of very good ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils, and, as you do, I decided to terrorize my perfume collection .

 

 

 

The tampering/contaminating/ disrespecting of a perfumer’s formula is something that that probably fills most real perfume lovers with horror. And, ultimately, when I look at my own triumphs and misdemeanours and weigh the whole thing up, I would have to agree. The formulae are the way that they are for a reason, the creation of a perfumer who has tinkered, and weighed up, and mulled over the details until he or she has liked what she sees and gives the green light.

 

 

 

 

This I know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if you disagree, though?

 

 

 

Or if you have perfumes lying around that you never really use and probably never will, because there just is something about them that gets on your wick, that is never quite right, or enough, or they have gone off?

 

 

In such cases, why not give a bit of perfume terrorism a whirl? See what happens? A bit of instinctive alchemy.

 

 

You have got nothing to lose, really, and it is certainly a whole lot better than the real thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The majority of the creations in my collection I would obviously never even dream of touching (all the usual suspects that you hear me going on about, particularly when they are in prime and pristine condition). And yet. I can sometimes find myself lifting up certain sacred holy cows and thinking, fuck it, why not. This old Mitsouko parfum is bugging me with its fustiness. I way preferred that nice eau de toilette that I had with all that bergamot.

 

 

……. .. . . . .

 

 

 

 

 

Here we go then, some lovely bergamot……..yes, that will do nicely; one drop of ylang ylang and some lemon and we will wait until tomorrow……

(verdict: yes, quite good, I will actually wear it now – I am loving the velvety sharpness of the citruses versus the moss, though in absolute truth I have altered the base a bit too much and she resents me).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What other perfumes?

 

 

 

 

There have been quite a lot over the years, I must confess (has anyone else done such a thing, incidentally? Am I alone in my crazed audacity? Am I some kind of parfumeur manqué, who instead of wrecking other people’s work should concentrate on his own? have you also, behind closed doors and wrapped shut curtains, also performed midnight raids on portions of your perfume collections?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From time to time, I must admit though, when the mood strikes me, I do have to say that I bit of ‘personal remixing’ can be kind of fun.

 

The nervous anticipation of it all, to see if the experiment has gone awry, or if you are delighted when you wake up and smell it in the morning and it has worked….

 

 

 

 

 

Here then: a list of some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head (there are way more, I know there are, and I am sure that they will come up in conversation).

 

 

The ones that worked, and the ones that really didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

SERGE LUTENS BORNEO I840 :   This I have written about extensively before, my adding fine quality patchouli to the scent to deepen that note. In total I have probably had about four bottles of this perfume and it is the only way that I can wear it. If I get another one at any point (it is no longer sold in Tokyo) then I will do the same. Without that extra patchouli it was just a tad too soft. With it, it becomes mine.

 

 

SLIGHTLY DEGRADED CARON INFINI :   Two or so drops of great quality ylang ylang oil and BOOM she has turned into Madame Rochas. Initially I get a real brrmrmrmrmththgfhghg of perfume pleasure as the aldehydes and wood all spring into the action from the presence of the new floral invader and the whole thing smells gorgeous (it has just lost its identity, which to the holder of that identity is something of a problem).

 

Great to have by the bedside, though, and it does smell better than how it did before (just a faded old sad little aldehyde). I think you probably do hear the slight tones of regret though, lingering in my voice.

 

 

 

SERGE LUTENS GRIS CLAIR

 

 

Now this is a weird one. My mum was given a whole tester bottle free of this when she bought two other Lutens for me one Christmas, and though I quite liked it, and like it, kind of, on Duncan, I always wanted way more lavender in the top and less of that slightly irritating synthetic incense note that roars carbonically through the whole and dominates the composition.

 

 

Thus, over time:  a whole plethora of lavender oils, Mexican high altitude, Bulgarian, French (for some reason, Lutens perfumes dissolve the essential oils you might put into them perfectly, not going cloudy or off coloured like some perfumes do), and I have to say I way prefer it.

 

What we have now is a very natural lavender perfume that heals the senses, is fresh and exciting, yet maintains just enough of that original base note once the essential oils have evaporated to make it still an actual perfume. Christopher Sheldrake and his impresario would surely be shaking in their immaculately tailored boots, but they don’t have to smell it. This one is also on my bedside table.

 

 

SERGE LUTENS DATURA NOIR

 

 

NOOOOOOOOOOOO I hear you cry..but yes. As I wrote in my review of this, there is something just too imbalanced and precarious about the weird combination of top notes that I never felt worked. Just three drops of ylang ylang oil into about 40 ml of eau de parfum and wow she has grown at least three cup sizes. I mean Datura Noir was hardly Burt Reynolds to begin with, but now we have some serious cleavage.

 

 

 

And yet I prefer it. The ylang ylang smooths out the composition, makes it work from the very first go, yet dries down to the vanillic coconut Mata Hari that I was hoping she would be from the offset.

 

 

VOL DE NUIT VINTAGE EAU DE TOILETTE PLUS NEROLI

 

I know I know.

 

No, you stupid boy, you can’t wreck things like this. Just because there is some neroli in the listed notes doesn’t mean it is going to work. And it doesn’t.

 

 

I have regretted it ever since (though it was off to begin with so there wasn’t really anything to lose). Even so………

 

 

 

VINTAGE LAGERFELD CHLOE + YLANG YLANG

 

 

 

Yes.

 

 

Yes.

 

 

YES.

 

 

 

What smelled old and only slightly Chloë-ish ( I have great memories of this from when I was a teenager and so really cherish having a ‘live’ bottle in the house) has suddenly become CHLOE again.

 

With just two drops of ylang ylang oil it has been reborn (ylang ylang is famously used to lift all notes in perfumes to begin with, and seriously, it really works here. If you do have an old perfume that is tired and listless, you might want to try it as an experiment. In this one beautiful occasion, CHLOE IS BACK).

 

 

 

CK ONE + DOLCE & GABBANA POUR HOMME ‘COCKTAIL EXPERIMENT’

 

 

I know, what the hell was I thinking. MIXING TWO FULLY FLEDGED, AND UTTERLY INCOMPATIBLE PERFUMES TOGETHER. But I had come to hate both, and thought if I mixed them, I might get something new…..

 

 

LESSON: EPIC FAIL OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.

 

 

AS FOUL SMELLING AND REACTIVE AS AN EMETIC.

 

 

PUKE INDUCING, AND POURED DOWN THE DRAIN.

 

 

 

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA VETIVER

 

 

All my vetiver experiments have been dismal failures, I don’t know why. They just end up too tarry and viscous. And my beef with this Santa Maria Novella  was always that old fashioned musk in the base that I just can’t abide, and even when smothered in roots from the vales of Java it was never going to be anything different. Again, I just threw the whole lot out.

 

 

An expensive waste of money, this one.

 

 

 

DIORELLA + LEMON

 

 

I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.

 

 

 

 

In truth, vintage Diorella is a perfume that I adore, like everybody else, but what to do with one that has lost its top notes?

 

 

 

A dose of high quality lemon oil, shall we?

 

 

 

The jury is still out on this one. Obviously, you don’t mess with Edmond Roudnitska, and I do have a very intact parfum that I wear once a while on an early summer’s afternoon that I wouldn’t touch in a million years, but I also quite like my Limonella as well. Call me a presumptuous upstart, but I don’t mind this one at all.

 

 

 

THE PERFUMES OF HARRY LEHMANN

 

 

I can’t quite believe that I haven’t yet written about Harry Lehmann, because it is the most wonderful perfume house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, that makes ridiculously good valued perfumes that you get from urns, à la Caron, and they are really quite nice.

 

 

 

I bought several bottles of scent there (as would you: the containers are pleasing, and they are almost laughably cheap). Reseda is a delightful green N°I9 alternative, Eau De Berlin is just sexy as hell in a crisp fougère, Geo F Trumper Eucris/ Drakkar Noir kind of way but far more elegant (I would never touch that one); and there were several that I bought but that I can’t quite remember the names of (Duncan and the cat are asleep upstairs so I can’t go and raid the back of the cabinets to check). There was a lovely spiced cologne, though, that I bought a huge, beautiful bottle of, a scent that was a bit like L’Occitane’s exquisite Eau Giroflée/Eau Des Quatre Voleurs and surely enough, though it was nice, I was surreptiously adding nutmeg (one of my favourite smells) and clove in carefully graded amounts (for me anyway) until I got what I wanted.

 

 

This worked WONDERS, though I say it myself. The essential nature of the scent was left unchanged, it was just boosted by the ingredients that it was crying out to have added, and I am itching to do exactly the same experiment again.

 

 

 

Spices are precarious though. I love Duncan in nutmeg so much that I even added a whole load of essential to a miniature I had of Cacharel Pour Homme, the most nutmeg-prominent men’s scent to begin with, and although he smelled as though he were ready to dive into a Spanish rice pudding, I kind of liked it on him actually ( but was worried that it might sensitize and burn the skin.)

 

 

 

Likewise, a nice big vintage bottle that I have of Floris Malmaison, now sadly discontinued, I have also, I must confess,  had the nerve to spice up (just a bit) as well.

 

 

 

I wanted it a touch spicier. I adore cloves. And so cloves were added, a really nice essential oil, just to get that extra kick, especially now that eugenol has been tightly controlled by the fascist perfumed powers that be and we can never really have a proper spiced carnation again (and this one was thumbs up for sure ,as well). Coming home the other night I also added ylang ylang, because I just though well what the hell, why not?

 

 

 

 

Result?   Gorgeous. The ylang ylang lifts the whole perfume, which now has a really lovely bite, and yet it still softens and dies pleasingly down to a great carnation that lingers like a pillow on the skin .

 

 

 

 

(The recent edition of Malmaison was nothing like this, incidentally: it was sold down the river, conservatized, made palatable for the dull. A carnation should be fiery and florid and poetic, and unafraid. And, anyway, as you probably know, this was the signature scent of Oscar Wilde all those years ago and I and sure that he would understand.)

 

 

 

 

He wore it, in its original, audacious incarnation, as the scented accompaniment to all those musings. And he certainly wasn’t at all afraid of a little teasing, and a little rule bending, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ps. Forgot to mention Gianfranco Ferre + jasmine sambac absolute.

 

 

 

DELIGHTFUL.

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Filed under Antiperfume, Bitch, Bric-a-brac

Invisible jasmine: WHERE WE ARE THERE IS NO HERE by CB I Hate Perfume (2012)

The Criterion Collection essay on Jean Cocteau’s final film, The Testament of Orpheus (1960), the inspiration behind this peculiar new scent by Brooklyn based CB I Hate Perfume, states that the plotless, surrealist film is ‘simply a machine for creating meaning’. The same might be said of Christopher Brosius, with his willfully abstruse desire to create a ‘perfume with no smell’ (but still with, ironically, a price tag).

Before we cry the cynical emperor’s new clothes, though, it is worth looking closer. While I can’t say that I really like this fragrance, it is most definitely quite interesting. Brosius has taken the basic classic template of natural jasmine + sandalwood essential oils, used in all the traditional Indian attars, as well as being the main theme of Guerlains’ 1989 great foghorn Samsara (which could literally be smelled from great distances: I distinctly remember a friend’s mother descending the staircase back in the day and being astonished that I could smell her well in advance of her coming into view) and almost stripped them of their singing voices by locking them within two powerfully effacing synthetic accords, ISO E Super Hedione and a special accord of ‘invisible musk.’

The effect is rather like Lady Gaga arriving at the American Music Awards, encased in her giant, acrylic translucent egg – life, a heart, beating somewhere within, hidden from view by a carapace of lab-created ectoplasm. Mysterious, perhaps, but also rather silly.

‘It is completely intangible, and almost undetectable. Yet it has great presence and allure. Like the ghost of a flower, it touches the subconscious of those who wear it – and those who encounter it’. So goes the press release for Where We Are There Is No Here, and to a large extent it is spot on. When the harsh, IKEA-like top notes dissipate (probably the brash combo of the very detectable, high quality sandalwood and the synthetics that bring to mind cheap wooden cabinets fresh out of polyurethane), there is a very real tenderness at the heart; an embodied character, possibly female, approaching, looming, receding, with a breath of unwashed body and hair. Touching, almost unpleasantly invasive, despite its attenuation. A person you feel you already know, somehow; an un-perfume, a ready made, artificial sheath of identity. Slowly the jasmines (Egyptian, Indian), make their floral presences felt and the scent begins to make some kind of sense with its air of down to earth familiarity, of a life in the process of being lived.

At the same time though, the scent, is emphatically not, as claimed by the company, ‘the world of poetry. The world of the imagination and of the surreal’. While inventive, and strangely persistent, I find it utterly lacking in any kind of beauty. Perhaps I am simply behind the times, however, stranded in some Elysian fields where perfumes simply smell good. Maybe such heavily elaborated concepts are the future, and Christopher is not just a practitioner of pretentious fashions, but of art. As Cocteau himself said,

‘Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly’.

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Filed under Antiperfume, Flowers, Jasmine, Perfume Reviews

DEATH IN A GARAGE: SYNTHETIC SERIES by COMME DES GARCONS

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TAR

A perfume of self-hatred.

For those in any way S+M inclined, or have a gimp, leather, or torture fetish, and have spent a lifetime searching for a corresponding scent, look no further.

This perfume is tar, this is rubber; your face pounded into asphalt and the apparatus waiting; for a night of complex, breathless and painful autoasphyxiation.

I myself wouldn’t touch this in any circumstances, but as a concept, from bottle to scent, and as a just about wearable anti-perfume, it is the best of its type.

Just spray it on the PVC and wait.

 

Notes: town gas, vapours of bitumen, opoponax, grilled cigarettes, pyrogenics.

 

 

GARAGE

 

But you took it too far. Those exhaust fumes, the car oil, the vehicle grease for lube…

And then the rafters. Even you knew there were limits. And so your quest for a very particular kind of gratification ended in tears. Especially for your bewildered relatives, who found you hanging, smeared in diesel; naked, and pitiful.

 

Notes: vetiver acetate, plastic florals, car seat leather, kerosene.

 

 

DRY CLEAN

 

And so they went to work. Through your drawers, your pockets, your bedroom, as they carved up your loot. And from your daytime clothes, your presentable office work wear, were salvaged some more respectable garments. Which went to the dry cleaners and were treated duly with death-smelling chemicals to de-accentuate the memory of the same.

 

But you weren’t there for any of this, so it really doesn’t matter.

 

Probably the foulest perfume I have ever smelled: one that could literally make me vomit.

 

A product that dries out the oesophagus: shudders your innards.

 

 

Notes: ozone, nail polish, bay leaf, metallic incense, dissolvent vapours.

 

(not one for brides)

39 Comments

April 2, 2012 · 9:09 pm

Antiperfume – An Introduction

“ I hate perfume. Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape…an opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing. People who smell like everyone else disgust me.”

– From the CB I Hate Perfume manifesto, 1992.

I love perfume. But I can readily understand why there are many who don’t. Leaving aside issues of environmentalism, chemical sensitivity, and the invasion of private space – how dare you force me to smell what I might not want to? – there is the nature of the scents themselves, which, since the beginning of commercial perfumery, have taken a target demographic, forged a concept, and, through consumer testing, moulded easily digestible, recognizable (and irritating) accords for the masses. As such, what you’ve had essentially is invisible designer branding – olfactory Louis Vuitton (or Topshop) handbags that you smell wherever you go.

In this age of blogo-Facebook individualism, it was clear that the revolution would eventually have to happen even in the invisible world of scent. And it has. Two central figures have featured in this: Christopher Brosius, who started the legendary Demeter Fragrance Library, and then went on to create the cult favourite CB I Hate Perfume line; and Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons, a brand with some of the most iconoclastic contemporary perfumes on its roster. Others have since followed in their wake, and there is now a whole subculture of underground perfumers making scents with no limits to the imagination. It is an exciting time.

But what is ‘antiperfume?’ If the ideal of perfume is to make you smell good, is antiperfume’s to smell bad? Sometimes it would seem so. But they can also be freeing, funny, and refreshing. There is an almost punk-like anarchism at work here, with such deliberately provocative names as Earthworm, Crayon, Pruning Shears and Dust (the list goes on) by Demeter: Wild Hunt and In The Library by I Hate Perfume; and Dry Cleaning, Tar, and Garage by Comme Des Garcons (which even has a Guerilla Series, suggesting an actual attack on perfume.)

The war cry of Paris outfit Etat Libre D’Orange, who supposedly give their perfumers complete creative freedom, and also published a manifesto, is ‘Perfume is dead! Long live perfume!’ and the results of their labours can be found scattered throughout the perfumed universe. Among them are Charogne (carcass), Secrétions Magnifiques, and Putain des Palaces (Hotel Slut). But are they good smells? It is all a matter of taste. Comme Des Garcons’ Odeur 53, the first widely released antiperfume with its notes of photocopiers, burnt rubber and ‘freshness of oxygen’, is a popular example of this type. I personally think it is vile. It did, however, smell completely new when it was released and that was the whole point.

If you have never found a perfume to your liking, are drawn to the idea of a kind of scented dada, or just see yourself as something of an olfacto-warrior, you might find something distinctive here. You do, however, sometimes have to see beyond the futuristic bravura and hype: the concepts may excite, but more often than not, the scents themselves are more bourgeois, aromatically speaking, than the blurb would have you believe.

Ultimately, the new perfumers are simply trying to expand the parameters of what perfume is: no perfumer will release something he thinks doesn’t smell good. Christopher B, in the second, deliberately contradictory stanza of his manifesto, writes:

“I love perfume. Perfume is a signpost to our true selves: a different journey for the brave to travel. Perfume is an art that shows us who we can be if we dare – an invisible portrait of who we are.’

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