Perfumer Mark Buxton, famous for his iconic creations for Comme Des Garçons and other houses, released an eponymous collection of scents last year comprising five striking, idiosyncratic creations that, surprisingly, despite their innovations, don’t seem to have been much written about.
I quite like them. Each perfume in this collection is pared down, simple, but plush and striking, and although the names of the perfumes might put us in mind of horror films, the morbid, and the ridiculous creations of Black Phoenix Lab, with their constant allusions to the satanic, the scents themselves are anything but. Rather, I find the perfumes to be more like stark, modern, scented novelties: a blast of rhubarb here, of ginger or elderberry there, or of quince, Buxton choosing to overdose on one or two ingredients in each fragrance, an effect that draws and locks you in or leaves you cold depending on your reaction to that particular facet.
Although I tend to prefer more nuanced, extended perfumed stories on the whole, where head notes and heart lead slowly and inexorably to base in a constant play of shifting back scenery and fragments of emotion, sometimes you want something fresh and arresting, and these unfussed creations fit that bill nicely, scents to spray on nonchantly (as you know they are going to work out on the town); quickly check your hair and face, and go out that door to your appointment in the city.
Sleeping With Ghosts (” a fantasy of extreme tenderness”), my own favourite in the collection, may sound daunting and gothic but like all the Mark Buxtons, the name is misleading (or at least playfully titillating): what you might imagine to be an incensey, ghoulish scent in fact a very fruity and vanillic thing that while linear and monothematic, is touching. It is a composition dominated by a sweet, spectral vanilla suggesting poigant memories; a lover’s body that has graced your sheets but has now gone, leaving nothing but the sensation that they are still there… just traces. These are the ghosts that the perfumer seems to be alluding to; those feelings of infatuation, happiness and spontaneity that love and reminiscence evoke, and a sense of yearning for those feelings again come springtime.
If vanilla is custard yellow, this is pink ivory white: pitched higher on the musical scale, creamily fruit-tinged; an insidious, addictive smell that dominates the scent, fused with barely perceptible touches of vetiver leather. The beginning of the perfume is the stage I like the best though, as it is all about the vivacious smells of tagetes, peony flowers and, notably, a very bright and deliciously juicy quince, an unusual note in a perfume and one that works perfectly over the softer notes in the base (which I find less compelling). I keep wanting to rewind back to that salivated beginning.
Rhubarb is another delectable fruit, with its tart, summery tang, and though it is gradually becoming more popular as an ingredient in perfume (especially as used by Jean Claude Ellena in perfumes such as Rose Ikebana, and by Duchaufour in the latest Aedes de Venustas) it has never been used as extravagantly as it has in the curious Devil In Disguise (“the divine wind of danger”).
A gorgeously flamboyant note of rhubarb leaves and neroli is used in this upfront scent, which was apparently inspired by the experience of sitting at a café in Italy and being tantalized, and turned on, by the smell of a woman sitting somewhere out of sight, as Buxton sat with his coffee and dreamed of recreating this feeling in a perfume. The frisson of fruit and carnality works beautifully, though the contrast (some might say the friction) between that mouthwatering opening and the splayed realities of the musky, sandalwood base are something of an acquired taste.
I can imagine this perfume being extraordinarily erotic on the person that can pull it off, actually (go on….) but for me personally the scent’s bridge between head and base could have been fleshed out more. Having said that, the directness and brisk transparence of this formula are a large part of its appeal.
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Once in a while you smell a scent that gives you an unexpected boost of serotonin; a bottled mood-enhancer. Many of the best perfumes are melancholic; you sigh wistfully as vistas and memories open up in your soul and you indulge your inner self; or else they are occasionally pure seduction and you swoon and loll your eyes like a loon. There aren’t that many scents, however, that just make you happy.
Black Angel, which tells the story of the moment when a stunningly beautiful woman suddenly appeared through the dry iced smoke to Mark Buxton in a nightclub, has one of the most immediately uplifting and optimistic top accords I have smelled in years (a racy jasmine and mandarin-infused ginger), capturing, perfectly, the feeling of a night to come; cuba libre in hand – that intoxicating sense of summery anticipation.
Duncan took to it immediately, with its limey disco pulse and internal good-time engines, and has worn it several times out to great effect. The base of the scent is perhaps more generic (a styrax/patchouli/amber accord), merely pleasant where the top is so captivating, but on the whole this perfume works beautifully (I am not sure whether my reaction to that gingery goodness in the head notes is some subjective memory that it re-evokes – possibly a deodorant I loved when I was seventeen?), but it is certainly somehow familiar.
Duncan’s reaction to it, however, shows that ultimately it is the perfume itself (which feels intrinsically heartfelt with its fun, upfront integrity) that is objectively good, much like the other scents in this collection (Wood & Absinthe, a good quality, quite haunting vetiver, and Sexual Healing, an osmanthus/elderberry leather (yes you read that correctly) that I am less keen on but which is certainly interesting).
For a change of scene, and an immediate, and easy blast of the positive, these nice little perfumes work a treat.