Category Archives: Musk

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

Carpets; tapestries: RAJA MUSK and BLACK ROSE by ILLUMINUM (2011)

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When I lived in North London I used to go to a very eccentric cafe called The Raj. Up some flights of the stairs in the Highgate Village was what seemed to be some kind of dilapidated, walled-in gypsy rose caravan, where Sunday breakfasts could be had at a snail’s pace as the dust motes of the years travelled slowly in the light, and cosy Londoners nursed their hangovers with the full English Monty and their thick newspaper supplements.  Albums proceeding on the  record player in the corner gave a pleasing aspect of homely, teenage bedroom reality: the stylus would come to a halt amid the sound of chaos from the kitchen, the crackle on the loping grooves of the vinyl only adding to the atmosphere. You let the  click.    click  fade into the general ambience of coffee mugs and trays being carried back and forth into the kitchen where a hodgepodge of spices (cumin and sage especially) was thrown into the often bizarre, haphazard creations.

 

 

 

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It was a really lovely place, and I have no idea if it still exists. But I imagine it would : the place was a real local favourite, despite or because of the thick-carpeted scruffiness and the sense that the proprietors were making everything up as they went along. Those egg-cracked red velvet curtains that you imagine had never been washed.

 

Illuminum’s Black Rose is like the rich, textured, olfactory version of this place. A London-exotic, hippyish tapestry: of lentils, mystics, and dusty old pot pourri; a thick, woody rose perfume combining rose otto, Taïf roses and Moroccan rose essence with a big dash of cumin, saffron, and black pepper. Dark, dry Mysore sandalwood (the perfume’s heart), and Somali golden frankincense form the foundation on which this rests, all amounting to a generous and androgynous scent that I find very appealing. It is the kind of perfume you wish your university professor had worn, sat benevolently in her study in a thick-knit cardigan; or some neighbour whose door you sometimes knock on to borrow a bag of herb tea, to sit and chat with over Vashti Bunyan.

 

 

What is so good about the scent is the lack of jarring edges. All has been blended as if in an Arab alembic; fused together, tarry and benevolent as a unguent. As time goes by it just gets better, deeper, has even more aura….

 

 

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The only complaint I have about Black Rose is that it should, instead, have been called Raja Musk. Somehow this would have been the perfect name for the scent, given it even more mystique.  The actual Raja Musk is an inconsequential take on the modern laundry type of fragrance, in the manner of CK Be, and has nothing to do with what you might expect from such a scent (I was yearning for something diffident, Indian). Instead, shiny, synthetic top notes (” pear blossom “, ” red currant” ) and muguetty, Zanussi musks uneasily mingle in a soapsud formula that is very expensive, and ‘clean’, but which wouldn’t be out of place in a Gap store.

 

 

 

No: in my mind, Raja Musk is my fusty, good-hearted, old-friend-in-the-making Black Rose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shall we meet each other there next Sunday?

 

 

12 Comments

October 21, 2012 · 7:24 pm

THE DANDY

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Charles Baudelaire categorized the dandy as a man who has ‘no profession other than elegance….no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own person. The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption…. he must live and sleep before a mirror….’

Yet the true dandy was no mere clothes horse. In cultivating a skeptical reserve with his direct opposition to the unthinking bourgeoisie, these beautifully coddled individualists were following a code which ‘in certain respects comes close to spirituality and stoicism’.

 

Dandyism was also not limited to the male of the species. There was, of course, Beau Brummel, but there was also Marlene Dietrich. And then Cora Pearl, the ‘quaintrelle’ (woman-dandy) courtesan, whose extravagant income was apparently sufficient to allow her to dance nude on carpets of orchids, bathe before her dinner guests in silver tubs of champagne, probably mildly bored as she did so.

 

Naturally then, the true perfumed dandy wears perfume for the beauty of the perfume alone; trends and petty concerns over seduction are of no concern. He might therefore wear any perfume in the pantheon; the flowers, the musks, the powders; she might pick a scent from the roaring masculines, a brisk citrus aftershave, and carry it off beautifully. This notwithstanding, the more established image of the powdered, exquisite gentle man or woman and her peacock consorts is served pretty well by some of the following scents and their decadent, nonchalant, graceful ambiguity.

 

“I wish to be a living work of art.’

 

(Marchesa Luisa Casati, renowned quaintrelle).

 

 

ACIER ALUMINIUM / CREED (1973)

James Craven at Les Senteurs told me that there’s a small but steady band of ‘epicureans’ who come to his shop for this obscurity from Creed, a most eccentric seventies’ concoction that is the perfumed equivalent of the decadent’s unlaundered nightshirt. A curious, metallic-noted orange blossom begins; then, ochred-acacia leaves of Autumn; musky, yellowing powders: leather: and a corrupt (but subtlely: this creature has taste) end of civet-hinged musks.

 

POIS DE SENTEURS DE CHEZ MOI / CARON (1927)

 

A collection of old-fashioned flowers for the modern dandizette; she or he who wants to spoil themselves in musky, forlorn sweet-peas, those fragrant flowers scaling trellises in summertime. ‘The sweet peas from my garden’ are powdery, rosy, infused with heavy, trembling lilacs.

 

 

EAU DE QUININE / GEO F TRUMPER (1898)

Trumper is the ultimate emporium for the London gent (really, you have to go), and this, to me, is one of their crowning glories. Echoes of the Empire and tropical malaria cures are conjured up by the curative sounding name, and the scent – a gorgeous, luminous and powdery thing laced with rosemary – is odd and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SIRA DES INDES / JEAN PATOU (2006)

A warm, overripe breeze. A foetid satiety, and a perfume perfect for the bronzed, sybaritic woman who wants nothing more than to lie down flat on her sunlounger with her gin. One can’t help but think of Sylvia Miles in Morrisey & Warhol’s Heat.

 

A pronounced banana-leaf top note conveys the sense of the tropics: full bananas, unswaying in the dead, still air: champaca flowers with their drowsy torpor, and an apricot-hued osmanthus over a salivated sandalwood/civet, these listless ingredients adding up to the most ennui-imbued scent I have ever smelled. Sira des Indes is smooth yet enticing, almost angry; and devastating on a woman over forty who just doesn’t give a shit.

 

 

 

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PARFUM D’HERMES / HERMES (1984)

Recast as Rouge (which see), Parfum d’Hermès, which has the same basic structure, just dirtier, can still be found in various corners of the world, and I know an antiques shop near my school that has a 400ml bottle that no Japanese person would ever touch (I will, eventually). I know they wouldn’t buy it because the rude animalics here are so blatant that all the flowers, spices in the world just can’t hide its intent. It smells of a dirty mouth covering yours; a Sadeian perfume that would work shockingly well on one of his followers, female or male.

 

CARNATION / MONA DI ORIO (2006)

Mona di Orio, the perfumer behind Carnation (pronunciation: in the French manner – meaning ‘complexion’ not the flower) seemed to be seeking here the smell of a virgin’s face after a day in the sun – easy prey, perhaps, for the creatures above from Parfum d’Hermès (or Pasolini’s Salò). It is a weird smell at first, something paint-like and sour in among the dirty blooms (wallflower, geranium, jasmine, tinted with musks and styrax), but progresses to a heavenly maiden’s cheek, white; the thick, healthy skin just ready to pinch.

 

HAMMAM BOUQUET / PENHALIGONS (1872)

The maiden’s male counterpart is Hammam Bouquet; fresh from the Turkish baths with a blush on his face.

Hammam is musky, powdery and pink, with rose otto, orris and lavender over the more manly exhalations of civet and musk. Once the boy gets his breath back, he dons his white powdered wig, his cape, and rushes back earnestly to the Old Bailey.

 

 

FRENCH CAN CAN / CARON (1936)

One of the lesser known perfumes from the illustrious stable of Caron (surely one of the Dandy’s favourite parfumeurs…)is French Can Can, made especially for the post-war American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line between coquettish and coarse without descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kick out from under the tulle. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, musk and amber.

Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can-can – and with the slogan ‘Dancers: powder, dusty lace’ presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff) ‘No: greying crinoline’.

 

 

 

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POT POURRI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828)

Only the dandy would wear a perfume called Pot Pourri. Bizarrely, this has recently become a massive hit with the art crowd in Tokyo (the brand’s reputed naturalness is popular with the refined eco-conscious). It is unusual, androgynous and beautiful: spiced roses, herbs, berries and grasses from the fields of Florence, fermented in Tuscan terracotta urns with darker, interior notes of resins and balsam. The result (medicinal, meditative, aromatic) is very individual; very…..dandy.

 

 

 

What else should be placed in the Dandy’s wardrobe?

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Filed under Flowers, Herbal, Musk, Orientals, Perfume Reviews, Powder

My musky stench…………….. Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan (1998)

 

Musk.

 

Musky.

 

 

When you consider these words and how they are used; as euphemistic substitutes – ‘the musky smell of his/her …..(supply word)’ in erotic fiction, the etymological origins of the word (muska – testicle in Sanskrit), it is clear what the intentions of most musks will be. Whether of the dirty, natural type, extracted from the gland of a Siberian deer; or the modern, more wholesome ‘white’, synthetic, variety, it is certain that for various reasons, musks flick some primal switch….

 

 

 

 

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They never come up in conversation.

 

And even when you are alone, it is difficult to admit to the pleasure that some smells give: those tinged with disgust, revulsion, even shame.

 

 

 

 

An example: I was recently sitting on the train, nursing a beer one evening after work: my shoes (cheap leather, and rather old) having, earlier on in the day, got soaked in a summer rainstorm. Any carefully constructed soapy-clean odours I had achieved for the uptight Japanese work place that morning were, suddenly, quite overpowered, now, by a sweet, rancid scent: a sour, sweaty, animal that rose up; was starting to embarrass me; yet was strangely, and undeniably, turning me on. A weird, autoerotic reaction to something dirty, prohibited…..from another zone, beyond and disconnected to the polite.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unlike most perfume houses, Serge Lutens –  that elusive, most enigmatic purveyor of the orient –  usually only gives out solid wax samples of its perfumes, rather than the more usual liquid vials. And when you dab the little round disc of scented wax that is Muscs Khoublai Khan solid on your skin, you are immediately assailed with a plush orchestration of animalics (musk, ambergris, civet and castoreum); hints of Moroccan rose, ambrette and cumin (the smell of unwashed armpits) in a strangely gentle, but regally filthy,  blend of perfect proportion. If you are anything like me, let yourself go with it, you will feel the sap  rising. It is an uneasy scent, to be sure, but the perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, has erred just enough on the side of propriety, I would say, to make it fit for society.

 

 

But wax samples focus on a generic sweep of a scent, a mellowed olfactory vista that doesn’t prepare you for the shock of the actual liquid. At the beautiful shop at the Palais Royal one pale, wintery Paris morning, I had been sampling the sumptuous range of bell jar bottles with great pleasure, trying desperately hard to decide which ones I wanted to take home with me.  Unstoppering the Khoublai Khan I almost retched. Then recoiled a few steps – to the amusement of the assistant, who had probably witnessed this reaction countless times before.

 

 

But we all have our taboos: for me, the sweaty crotch of this perfume is fine: a sour, musky heart like lovingly, carelessly unwashed jeans. But damp animal fur, a vivid stink of sheep, plus a hint of disgracefully fresh seminal fluid was too much. For me. At least.

 

 

 

The addicted do say you get used to, then come to love,  this musk in all its instinct; its animalic splendour.

 

I doubt I would, but at least the scent lives up to its name: hairy, Mongolian warriors after days on the steppes, curled up on sheep skins in their warm, thermally reeking, yurts.

 

 

 

 

 

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39 Comments

Filed under Musk, Perfume Reviews