In these times of brash crassness, not only politically and culturally, but also within perfume, it is nice to come across a new line of scents with a sense of detachment. A fullness of essence, but also an undeniable, quiet dignity.
The initial five fragrances in Lyn Harris’s new collection comprise two light hearted and exuberant creations (Heliotrope, which I reviewed recently, and the zingingly and refreshingly green Cologne, which I am definitely going to wear soon when Spring fully awakens), and three others – Rose, Leather, and Velvet, that all vibrate at lower, more reflective – even depressive – oscillations.
I must confess that I am tired of rose. This is not the fault of the flower or the aroma itself, but of the sheer avalanche of chemical, synthetic pink pepper ‘peony’ bouquets over the last few years that sicken me to my stomach. They have ruined one of my favourite essential oils, very nearly ( I can still enjoy the scent of a good rose otto, just about ), but it has been a two pronged assault: either the Salvatore Ferragamo Stella Mcartney Paul Smith Valentino plastic bride horror, or on the other, the fake oudh/ rose pseudo oriental harem that provokes equal levels of olfactory lassitude.
Perfumer H’s rose is not a scent I would personally wear either, but I do like it. Rather than a shrill soprano, this is a fulsome contralto: liquid and aromatic, the rose at the heart and within the perfume calling to you with magnetically soft fougere accents beneath – gentle, uncliched patchouli; black pepper, carrot seed and smooth, delicate musk – a beautiful woman in a trench coat, perhaps, at twilight, on some secret assignation.
Again, Perfumer H takes the route less travelled with Leather, avoiding the standard bitter hide quinoline of most cuirs or leathers and giving us in its stead a melancholically grey suede – frowning but good hearted – on a bleak, winter afternoon. Smelling this scent I was immediately reminded of the Arab perfumery I visited many years ago in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town, years before the whole oudh craze began, when I experienced so many new kinds of smells that it was as if I had landed on a new planet.
Besides the Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese oudhs that were so pungent and animalic I could hardly comprehend my nostrils, there were also other incensed, medicinal, clay-like scents on display in that fascinating purveyor of perfumes that transfixed me completely even though I didn’t quite know how to process or make sense of them. Perfumer H’s leather is no way near as ‘difficult’ from a western perspective, but it does very much remind of some of those perfumes, with their tendrils of Catholicism woven into the Islamic textures. There is a very cool (in all senses) aspect in this perfume, with iris, and Earl Grey tea accents layering the soft kid leather of the heart. It is a sophisticated scent, suave and seductive, but with just the right level of disengagement to make you want to find out more.
Duncan was wearing Velvet when we spent an afternoon in Jimbocho two Sundays ago – the place you can see in these non sequitur photos. This scent has a quite classical feel to it – masculine but refined, a woody aromatic chypre with an orris/spice and oakmoss, frankincense/ patchouli undertow, that leaves a nuzzling, prickly sillage in its wake – more like the tangible rasp of tweed to me than the smoothness of velvet, but it is certainly an excellent modern update of a bygone format. Gentlemanly – letting you read between the lines and slowly feel out its personality. Thoughtful. Sensual. But prudent.
According to the house of Caron, the yatagan was a Turkish saber once used by the fierce, proud horsemen of the Ottoman empire, with a ‘curved and finely sharpened blade’, its very name hinting unambiguously at the unmerciful, sheath-laden phallus and its inexorable, compulsory conquests.
A virile journey: a battle in the sour-thighed, chest-rugged stakes with a similarly resolute fragrance, Piver’s classic Cuir de Russie. Both flowerless, dry, rugged creatures, expertly constructed to throw up jaw-clenched, fist ready accents as the accords develop within their worn, leathery hearts and they prepare to slay their (knee-buckling, pliant, and often extraordinarily willing), victims.
Yatagan is severe: dry, spicy, with precious woods, artemisia, styrax, and a good, healthy dose of sweaty leather. It is a pine forest: our frowning Saracen alone, in battle garb, listening to the trees and the smell of the soil.
In the distance are snow-capped mountains.
The Turk, growling, quite sure of himself, is a more ferocious stalwart than his Russian counterpart, and we watch him prowl his terrain; alert, ever-ready to wield his not inconsiderable weapon.
Later, when finally reaching home, exhausted, there is a lingering of smoke and incense as his wife pulls off his damp clothes by the fiery light of the hearth and she administers, lovingly, a sweet and sincere kiss to his rough and weathered cheeks.
Cuir de Russie is the smell of a proud cossack’s boots: animalic, manly, and polished, as he rides out across the steppes in his attempt to slay the Turk. While similar in theme, the cossack is more swarthy, rugged and sour, has more tobacco, a wide, salacious splendour of dry leather. More convivial too: there is humour in this vodka-swigging man: refinement even, though never ostentation….
CUIR OTTOMAN / PARFUM D’EMPIRE
As sensual and smooth as brand new suede, this is a great leather. The beginning, freshly raw and animalic, might be offputting for some, like just-skinned hides being dried in the sun. But this uninhibited, free introduction is then tamed: with gentle woods, iris, and a proud, clean leather that dries down to a superb, suave, finish.
SPANISH LEATHER / GEO F TRUMPER
Antique teddy. Brideshead. Anthony Andrews.
Soft, soapy; gentle. Leather. Hints of sensuality. A touch half-hearted, perhaps, although my friend’s daughter proclaimed, upon smelling it in the shop, that ‘it does, really, smell exactly like Spain and the air there!’
ROYAL ENGLISH LEATHER/ CREED
Diffusive, warm and powdery; a heliotropic, gorgeous, air-filling suede caress. A scent that thoroughly envelops you in elegance yet is totally seductive.
If you like L’Heure Bleue but can’t quite take all the marzipan, Royal English Leather makes a beautiful, distinctive, alternative.
When high school boys in Japan gather after school in ‘family restaurants’ such as Gusto and Jonathan’s, inexpensive eateries with one main attraction – limitless soft-drinks and beverages of all kinds available at the ‘drink bar’ – one familiar pubescent rite is to egg each other on to create the most bizarre and unpalatable mixes possible by chucking, in one big plastic glass, some orange juice, some milk; a healthy dose of tabasco; some coke, some cocoa, some miso soup, some apple and mint tea, some salt and pepper and ketchup for good measure….then of course getting some poor designated sod to try and down it in one…
Interlude, a perfume for women by those seasoned purveyors of Franco-Arabic good taste Amouage, is a similarly baffling experiment in chaos, seemingly a case of bunging everything in the blender, pressing play, and seeing what happens.
This is, in fact, the stated theme of the scent, by the way, the ‘interlude’ in question being the moment when the fragmentary moments of madness surrounding you coalesce and you suddenly find yourself; rise up like a pillar of calm selfness from the swirling, anchovy mixed-pizza of worldy mobocracy : fragrant, smooth and serene.
My first initially astonished impressions of Interlude Woman were of peculiar, dusty old sweet figs and a rather prominent (and somewhat nauseating) kermit-green kiwi, whizzing about sherbetly on a melon-leather carousel…………….bizarre and with a very distinctive air of quease…..
* * *
One commentator on the Fragrantica website nailed it more succinctly:
“Sometimes a scent comes along that can be summed up with three letters, and Interlude is one of them………
W T F
She then amusingly goes on to describe it as smelling of ‘moldy basement, over-ripe cheese and bad air freshener’, while another person smells ‘roach motels’, and yet another that she could ‘vomit from this smell of deep choking smoke…..‘
What were Amouage thinking? Perhaps we should let creative director Christopher Chong elucidate:
” The Interlude moment is a reflection of all the trials and tribulations one overcomes to attain personal satisfaction and achievement….”
mmmmmm…. but must perfume be so masochistic?
* * *
Interlude is certainly not an easy ride. The perfume is in fact so complex that it emerges almost as a Rorschach test of individual interpretation: there are so many notes in this ‘air of disorder’ that everyone will smell different things. I myself got no cockroaches or cheese: for me it was all about this unhinged oudh-wood depth straddled disgracefully by Queen Kiwi, but if this review is leaving you confused perhaps the perfume would be more readily imagined olfactively if we ogle the notes…..
kiwi (by far the most prominent note in this scent)
immortelle (maple syrup, burnished copper, burnt licorice………)
(in the top…….)
and then, in the heart and base, swarthier, more Amouagey bloops of
oudh (this is, ultimately a ‘fruit oudh’)
leather (quite prominent)
jasmine (bleurrgh! jasmine and kiwi!)
orange blossom, rose
……in other words, notes that do not form a naturally harmonious posse; more a team of unknowns who must club together to make this thing work like an episode of Survivor.
Thankfully though, the notes do actually begin to elide and collaborate with each other, and after the intial mess (and it is a mess) subsides, and you begin to transcend your ‘chaos’, a vision of a suave and contained, rich, stylish person gradually materializes: enigmatic and attractive – the kiwi-agar-chypre concept finally coalsceing into a well-dressed, mysterious and tasteful red-blooded woman.
This lingering end accord in Interlude is quite beautiful actually ( I stupidly put some on just before going to bed, regretting it immensely at first, but found myself gradually snuzzling up to my wrist as it settled into its curious, intelligent, oudhy night-flight groove, a veil of middle-eastern intrigue that was pulling me in to its story….)
It is undoubtedly very original, and if someone walked past you of an evening wafting Interlude you would certainly prick up your ears (having sat with a nose peg in her basement squinting and puffing for an hour before leaving the house..) and, having eventually understood where all the woody, fruited vom of the beginning was leading to, I started to rewind the scent gradually in my mind, comprehending more what the perfumer must have been intending all along. Ah. I see. It is leading to this…
In some ways, for this reason alone, Interlude can be seen as a very brave attempt at breaking new ground, as it is a well known fact that top accords are the key factor in most people’s purchases of a perfume: for the average attention-deficited consumer it all hangs on those first few minutes, and this perhaps accounts for the fact that the lovely people at Harrods’ Amouage counter looked so sheepish and oh- no- here- we- go- again when I first sprayed this perfume on in August – then mimed a polite, thin-slipped smile in response. They knew that first impressions, in this perfume’s case especially, can be disastrous….
A very rare find, my eyes almost popped out on stalks of amazement when I saw Diorling standing there impassively and forlorn, neglected by perfume-blind passersby at the Sunday Shinagawa flea market. Didn’t the seller standing obliviously at his stand know that bids for this perfume start at extortionate prices on e-bay? Did he not know that some perfumistas would be clawing each other’s eyes out to get their hands on a bottle of this rare and rarified creature?..
The feeling of discovering these long forgotten treasures is, as you know, one of the most constantly nerve-crackling moments of my life. One that never fails to send my red blood cells, anaemic from a week of too much reality, writhing and thickening with adrenaline. Perfume REVIVES me, like a vampire right after a feed.
In the past, during my expeditions among the various recycle shops and fleamarkets here, I have come across countless vintage Carons; a Guerlain Ode extrait; oodles of Chanel parfums, and things I had never even known the existence of, such as Quiproquo de Grès (a lemon-leaf reinterpretation of Cabochard) and the exquisite Michelle by Balenziaga ,my avaricious thrill of clutching my Diorling (‘Mine! Mine!! ! MINE !!’! !) being childishly tempered, only slightly, upon then finding that the perfume had, at Roja Dove’s request, been made available again at the Harrod’s Haute Parfumerie, along with the legendary Diorama. It was thus not quite as precious or as exclusive a find as I initially thought. However, debate has raged over how tame the recent Dior reformulations have been: this edition is definitely the original, dirty-elegant dissipation from 1963. And while the top notes may have deteriorated slightly ( I am not getting much of the muguet/rose said to be in the blend), you would hardly know it; you would also hardly imagine it to be designed for a woman. Like Cabochard, this type of chypre is a category of scent that in dry down is irrevocably bi-sexed: suave, nonplussed and wordly on a man as it is on a woman.
A shrewd creature dressed in tweed and satin and wearing Diorling could have a room in the palm of their hand.
Luca Turin once wrote of ‘parfums fatigués’, those sly, ironic scents with hints of overripe melon and a whiff of decay; scents that reek, basically, of decadence, even death. Diorella (1972) is one such scent – a brilliant mix of fresh/stale; clean/dirty, at once citric and animalic. Dior somehow mastered this type of scent better than anyone else, Guerlain included – that regally supercilious Parisian paradox of chic and fromage. Even the angelic Diorissimo has that corrupted aspect somewhere in the heart of its innocence; that depth and knowing. These scents have such style: a true, fuck-you grace that can be almost daunting. And Diorling is of course possessed of similarly exquisite taste; restrained, low-registered, composed, but, if required, quite ready to pounce. I see it on the incestuous matriarch of Visconti’s ‘The Damned’, contemptuously lowering her lacquered eyelids, her half-forgotten, ever-present cigarette……. invincible, magnificent. That is, before her destruction at the hands (and body) of her son, played with malevolent disdain by the beautiful, and ice-hearted Helmut Berger.
The cruel vulnerability of a scent that tries to reason with your emotions even while dominating them. The laconic orange blossom; peach-tinted flowers layering a subtlely spiced, wood-bedded scent laced with tobacco and patchouli that then softens to a complex, secretive series of moments (who was the Japanese woman that owned this perfume? Why did she discard such a treasure at a flea market?); gives nothing away, titillates you with visions of times forever gone.
Or, SWARTHY Madame as I like to call her, as there is nothing ‘pretty’, petite or eye-lashed about this scent, coming as it does from a time (the late fifties) when women’s perfumes could be quite genuinely risqué and ripe, moving under surface, acceptable presences of civility.
I have never smelled this extrait as originally intended ( ie. on a woman), much as I would love to (WHY DON’T PEOPLE SMELL MORE INTERESTING?!!!!!!!!) but I can quite happily tell you that Jolie Madame, in vintage parfum, can also smell quite wonderful on the right man’s skin, if he can take the dense, rich tuberose and jonquil absolutes, percolating down rich, and dirty with leather (I, of course, can).
This gorgeously viscous floral accord, unusually accentuated with coriander and artemisia, remains throughout the long duration of the perfume, but is not the main theme, which is in fact an extraordinarily earthy blend of cedar, beaver, patchouli, leather, musk and civet.
Quite ‘PERVY Madame’, in other words.
Complemented by the rich floral entrance, particularly a thick, syrupy violet that floats on top of the perfume like a slick, Jolie Madame makes for a very intriguing scent : an aphrodisiac liqueur, utterly uncontemporary, but in my view all the better for it. Unusual, unforgettable, it is a perfume meant for warm spring days, a lumberjack shirt, and no deodorant.