Forests, as David Lynch once said, are full of mystery. They never fully reveal their depths. And some perfumes…..
Source: THE FOREST
Forests, as David Lynch once said, are full of mystery. They never fully reveal their depths. And some perfumes…..
Source: THE FOREST
Guest post by Robin
I’d written off Annick Goutal’s Nuit Étoilée about thirty seconds after I tipped a few drops of the 1ml sample onto my wrist, let it dry, and sniffed it. Quickly. Dismissively. Happily.
I’ve been trying to do that lately. I have too many perfumes. I’ve already spent too much. I will die with probably two or three hundred bottles, good ones, expensive ones, that are all still mostly full. (I have already written the note. It is in a drawer. When I die, please give my perfumes to my niece Nadia . . . Otherwise, I haven’t even thought of writing a will.) I can’t bear the thought of whoever empties my house of worldly possessions throwing out those venerable old beauties. I do not need another love, another Must Have. If anything, I should start saving my twenties for a bottle of Superstitious, the new Dominique Ropion creation from Malle slated to be released early next year. I’m pretty sure I’m going to want that one. But I do get curious, and I do receive samples. And if it’s not love at first sniff, out it goes.
So it was with considerable relief that I gave Nuit Etoilée the quick thumbs down. It wasn’t much of a stretch. A toothpaste-y mint note up front, a discordant immortelle behind it, some weird tonka-bean-like sweetness and a murky forest-floor/pine-fresh-cleaning-solvent undercurrent that instantly made me queasy. I wasn’t looking for ways to adore it, but Annick Goutal had made it easy to dump the rest of the vial on my neck (I’m Irish; I don’t like waste) and toss the glass into the recycling.
So off I went to my dear Ric’s for a morning coffee. He’s used to me by now. I grab the steaming cup from his hand, offer up my neck. “What do you think of THIS stuff?” It’s a routine he’s endured every day since we fell in love, two and a half years ago now, with responses that are predictably and endearingly short and sweet; Ric was quite happy with the scent of soap and water before he met me, and he’d be fine with soap and water now. There are four standard verdicts ranging from a tepid yea to an adamant nay: “That’s quite nice”; “It’ll work”; “Room for improvement”; and “NO,” with a snap back of the head. (To his credit – Ric really does have an excellent nose, although he’d deny it – the latter is saved for the vilest mainstream dreck loaded with ethyl maltol and throat-closing white patchoulis. He is surprisingly tolerant of aldehydes, nitro-musks, civet and castoreum.) Of all the fragrances I’ve thrust under his semi-willing nose, he’s liked maybe a handful. Most have been Guerlains, frequently from the Jean-Paul era: Champs-Elysées (actually Olivier Cresp’s), Jardins de Bagatelle, et al. Good taste, he has. This particular “What do you think of THIS stuff?” was said with a hint of I know already you’re not going to like it, but please humour me anyway, my long-suffering Love.
“Mmm,” exhaled that dear man. “That’s actually really nice.”
Reader, I bought a bottle.
Ric is a man of few words, and though I pressed him, he wasn’t willing to provide a flowery review. He liked it, he liked it a great deal in fact, and that was that. When my bottle of Nuit Etoilée arrived in the mail last week – the eau de toilette, by the way; I hear the eau de parfum is a little less green, a little more ambery – I was able to give it a second chance. I see what he sees in it. It has that same breezy, Jean-Paul Guerlain femininity. It’s fresh. It’s . . . pretty. There’s a fair bit going on. There’s a sharp orange note that works well against the oily greens. I wore it, and it lasted nicely. Projection was above average. I still could, if I tried, find that same initial reaction to it; the toothpaste-y mint was there, and the pine-scented cleaning solution, and the immortelle in all its odd-ball glory and the clunky tonka. But you know, it didn’t really matter. And it doesn’t matter. Ric likes it, and I love Ric. He is amazingly tolerant of all the perfumes I foist on him that make his nostril hairs burn and his stomach clench. It feels good to set aside my own prejudices and predilections and opinions – God knows I have enough for a dozen strong-willed women – and bring a sweet man a little happiness and pleasure. And sometimes, a fragrance doesn’t get any better than that.
Although most of our physical and emotional energy has recently been sucked up by the demands of the school new term on top of the exhausting (but marvellous) complications of making a sumptuous and ridiculous comedy horror movie up in Tokyo, there are still times when a relaxed and quieter weekend here in Kamakura are what the doctor ordered. The other weekend was just that: a Saturday spent just pottering about at home, and the Sunday a walk down into the small but ancient capital of which we are so fortunate to be residents.
I had noticed a small bottle of scent that I had somehow become oblivious to. I suppose there are so many perfumes just lying around in various nooks and corners of the house that I sometimes just overlook them. This one, though, I didn’t even realize I had: an extrait sample bottle of Hové Parfumeur’s Pirates’ Gold, that I had received, along with Spanish Moss (now where has that one got to?) when I bought the delightful Vetiver and Plage d’été from that glorious shop in New Orleans back on New Years Eve, 2015.
That city still haunts us and we want to return. This time, in summer perhaps, to drench up the heat and the atmosphere even more – I don’t mind how sweltering it gets; it couldn’t be any hotter or more humid than Japan is in August and we can both handle it fine – there was just something about that place; so spirit-filled and weird, that I think we both have ‘Southern Gothic’ now permanently infiltrated as part of our psychic bloodstream.
I had just been reading Daphne DuMaurier’s page turner Jamaica Inn (1936), a surprisingly violent but very exciting thriller set in Cornwall about pirates and all manner of plundering, murdering and generally fiendish devil-doing, and so the sudden sighting of Pirates’ Gold, a small bottle standing on some furniture in the piano room, seemed opportune. Prising open the lid (I don’t think I had ever smelled it, even though it had been there for over a year) I was greeted with a warm, dense, rich and golden smell of aldehydes and spice; of leather and old-fashioned hunk papa and thought to myself yes, this refulgent specimen might make a very nice Sunday afternoon scent for the D – I’ll get him to try it when we go out.
And he did. It was glorious on him, (he now keeps the little bottle tucked inside the change pocket of his wallet, which was scented by me with pure patchouli oil and gets people swooning when it is opened; you can see pupils slightly dilating when he gets his money out to pay), especially when then pared, later, with a dose of vintage Amouage Gold Man, a bottle of which is available at a Kamakura antiques shop I frequent for 20,000 yen (about 200 dollars, but she says that it would have originally cost about 100,000; this is a boxed set with soap in the almost ridicuously adorned gold Arabic bottle) and which she allowed us to spray on Duncan even though I wasn’t planning to actually buy it. I think I have bought enough things from her now that she knows that I can be trusted and that when it comes to perfume, I am the real deal.
We went to a Turkish restaurant. The food in Japan, whatever you eat, is always high quality. Whether you are an aficionado of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine or not ( and I am not, on the whole, I like about half of it), whatever you eat is delicious, fresh and aeons better than anything you can get back home or in the majority of other countries. The French bread is as good as that in Paris, the Chinese food unbelievable, even cheap, basic Japanese eateries incredibly well made and good value, and this is why eating out here in this country is always such a pleasure. The simple fact is that a mediocre establishment just won’t get any customers (as food is basically life here in this culture, to an extent that annoys me if I am truthful), and so to survive, you have to be good and incontrovertibly oishii (delicious).
And so it was. But what was stimulating my senses far more than the delectable beef in yoghurt and tomato sauce that I was eating along with some very fresh and piquant meze was the smell, from across the table, of Duncan’s combined gold. Amouage is an aldehydic, floral, and very animalic sandalwood, resplendent and regal, that wasn’t quite his actual cup of tea for its rosy, almost ruinous sourness, but which I can tell you from my end where I was sitting, smelled very erotic (was it the civet, the rock rose, the glorious dryness of the blend, whose tenacity was getting on his nerves, particularly when mingling with the male repleteness of the Pirate?) I don’t know. But what I do know was that it made me realize quite profoundly how little perfume is consciously and intelligently used these days as a purposeful object of desire: that a well chosen scent selection can be a genuinely seductive swirl of odours that discombulate the senses and scythe effortlessly through the resistance of the rational; that the inhalation of a beautifully made perfume emanating from the body of a human being can root you in a moment of sensory perception that has nothing to do with politics or logic or the everyday and for a few seconds at least can plunge you into something that feels like eternity.
The texture and the heft, the dense thickness of these scents with their varying layers of wood and ambered perception then got me dreaming back to Mexico City. We went there about ten years ago before attending a friend’s wedding down south in Guadalajara, and I still remember the joy, after the endless journey from Japan, of waking up in such an unfamiliar – and for a British person living in Japan – very exotic location, in our hotel room, and the pleasure of unpacking and taking out the new perfumes I had brought with me. All perfume lovers know this feeling. Yes, you have your essential fragrances with you in your suitcase that you know you will wear sooner or later, once you are a few days into your vacation. But what a thrill to arrive in a brand new place and after your first shower of that day to apply something you have never even tried before, a heady collaboration of sense and temporality as the perfume fuses with the sensations you are experiencing as you head out the door and let the new environment just wash over you. I remember on that sun-filled August morning I was wearing Yerabate by Lorenzo Villoresi, a lovely hay-like green aromatic citrus that was perfect with my morning coffee, but then as the evening wore on I took out from my pocket the vial of Habanita parfum that I had got from Les Senteurs on Elizabeth Street, London, and which I had saved until this sunset moment, and wore like a cloak.
The experience of both Golds on Duncan somehow suddenly caterpulted me back to this first wearing of Habanita as we recklessly explored all neighbourhoods of Mexico City, later that evening and night, heedless as to which parts might be more dangerous than others ( if this was even true) my tobacco-fused vetiver vanilla, dark and a little bit dastardly, the perfect accompaniment. And on that Sunday in Kamakura, as we sat in the Turkish restaurant by a window overlooking the main town square, my smell brain had strangely brought it back to life so completely I found that I was craving it (anyone else out there love Habanita?): that elegant fusion of smoky, sinewy richness that was so ripe, and alluring, in that new and thrilling Latin context.
In my view, perfume does not need to be just this tame, thoughtless afterthought that it is for the majority of people who just wear any old cheap commercial rubbish that has no spirit or tangible greatness. It can flood the sky and the air all around you, be the colour that cradles your brain and your day as you three dimensionalize what you are living with sight, and sound, and the memory of smell. With perfumes this sensual and rich, created by knowing perfumers who have perfected their art and filled their languid liquids with intelligence, sensuality and poetry, it can be an anchor.
‘Les Eaux Primordiales’ is a series of new perfumes created by 28 year-old perfumer Arnaud Poulin. Intellectual in inspiration, with a very French emphasis on philosophy, culture and the abstract, the key concept behind the brand is apparently ‘atemporality in movement’, the Cinquième Sens-trained perfumer basing his creations on the foundations of the traditional ‘Great Perfumery’ while seeking to ‘redefine contemporary classics with the use and reinvention of sometimes forgotten olfactory families.’ In essence, all six scents are well made and attractive, with enough personality to perhaps achieve Monsieur Poulin’s goal of creating emotions ‘able to make body and soul come closer to each other, to be an imaginary addition to one’s persona, to create a world of one’s own’.
Notes: Italian Orris, bergamot, carrot seed, sage, ‘solar jasmine’, violet, sandalwood, cedar, tonka bean, labdanum, patchouli, white musk.
‘Duality between two materials: a flower and a precious-metal. The smell of a time when ladies would use perfume and powder. Our iris comes from Italy and diffuses smells of makeup powder, violet, and also, dust’.
From the above description you might imagine that Iris Palladium is a feminine, maquillaged iris along the lines of Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre or even Chanel’s girlish, lipstick-smeared Misia, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, I find this staid and savoury iris to be more akin to Armani Privé’s La Femme Bleue (though without that perfume’s inherent mystery).
I do love iris, particularly when it is on the more melancholy tip: Hermès Hiris, Iris Silver Mist, Le Labo Iris 39 and N0 19 immediately spring to mind, but I can also enjoy a more sawdusty, mellow, almost salty orris number like Iris Palladium. Androgynous, subtle but diffusive, this makes an intriguing skin scent that would draw people to you even if it is perhaps lacking the wow factor that would make me want to buy it. For the fiercest iris aficionados, though, those who want to have an orris for every shade along the irisian PH spectrum, this new take on the powdery, dusty classic is certainly worth sampling.
Notes: lavender, violet, blackcurrant, blackberry, fir balsam, hedione, musk
‘The name comes from the mechanical universe, perpetual movement. By definition, a moment has a beginning and an end, therefore Moment Perpétuel is the idea of an infinite moment, infinite joy, and why not, infinite love’.
Ahem. That is quite the spiel to introduce what is essentially a fruity lavender, but fortunately, the opening of this perfume is rather joyous: a very beautiful, and original, high quality, French lavender top note tinted with violet, and aureoled quite inspirationally with a beautifully optimistic, fresh, and bucolic note of blackcurrant and blackberry – a purple fusion of happiness that really works. Both I and my other half immediately took to this one, and I insisted that he go out into town later to do some shopping wearing it to see how it progressed. It smelled lovely. An hour or two after he had come back home though I kept wondering where the smell of Gucci Envy was coming from, or if he had sprayed something similiar in the bathroom. It was a smell I was quite enjoying – fresh, clean, green, soapy – as I do like Envy, that stilettoed green classic from the nineties that was inexplicably, along with Rush, discontinued (coincidentally, we had just got a miniature Envy For Men the other day from a recycle shop – lord that stuff is sexy, a virile ginger swooner, I had forgotten) and I was actually planning to do a review, soon, of both. Nice though that scent might be, however, it was a strange ending – and one that he smells quite strongly of this morning – for a scent that began with a totally unconnected, and very natural smelling, burst of provencal lavender. A curious scent, then, this ‘perpetual moment’ and something of a schizo, but one I can imagine one of us, if the right multiple-personality mood should suddenly take hold, probably wearing again.
NOTES: pink pepper, rose berries, cumin, elemi resin, cypriol, guaiac wood, ginger, thyme, rosemary, smoked woods, incense, labdanum, vanilla and amber
Unfortunately, I detest the synthetically enhanced wood trend in current perfumery to the extent that I can’t be rational or objective. I can’t even test this sort of fragrance on my skin, nor even stand to have the room I am in smelling of it either if I were to spray some on a card (seriously), but fortunately, for the sake of perfume fairness, my best friend in Japan, Junko, can. She is the opposite of me, and thus the recipient of any and all boisés I might receive in the post. Perfumes that I would immediately simply want to throw out of the window usually without getting to know how they actually develop on the skin because I really just can’t stand that rasping, harsh dessication for even a moment, I get to experience (and even quite enjoy, bizarrely) on her. She is my ‘wood model’, if you like, and in this way I have been able to get different perspectives on such intense unalloyed woodies as Sacred Woods By Kilian and Bois d’Hiver by Ex Nihilo, a scent she has become so obsessed with she is now in London, as we speak, trying to find it. She would probably also like Particules Imprévisibles (and I will of course give my sample bottle to her), so named because it is ‘absolutely unpredictable, the numerous spicy and woody raw materials giving it the peculiar property to react to every skin in a unique manner’. I like how Junko’s skin reacts with these more traditionally masculine accords – such smells make her fierce and stubborn independence in such a simultaneously girly and sexist place as Japan even more manifest – and this dry, warm, spicy, almost YSL M7-like blend (not at all original; we have all smelled this kind of thing many, many times before) would probably smell great on her brown leather jacket when we meet up for our occasional, tête à tête conversations over wine and Japanese food, and I smell her subtle, but noticeable, incense- like dryness (dignified, magnetic) – from where I sit across the table.
NOTES: Lemon, lavender, evernyl, geranium, Aldehyde C12 MNA, vetiver, oud, patchouli, white musk, amber woods
Speaking of gender and masculinity, Champ d’Influence, a classically butch kind of perfume if ever there was one, is a ‘homage to my grandfather, a childhood olfactory memory. Each morning before school, my parents would drop me to my grandparents’ house. There, my grandfather, while being a farmer, still took the time each morning to soap his face, then to apply a traditional shaving cream with a vintage shaving brush, finishing that routine with an aftershave balm. I’ve always wanted to recreate this precise and peculiar fresh smell: this fougère base with lemon notes, lavender, geranium and vetiver, so typical of the odours emanating from a barbershop. A very manly fragrance that still appeals to a lot of women’.
I would agree. I do know women who still like the smell of Brut, the suave, hunk-chested, smooth-cheeked precursor of this kind of fragrance. It’s a classical formula that works very well if you like that sort of thing (and I sort of do: on the right man – one with a good sense of humour who doesn’t take himself too seriously, it can be quite sexy), even if Mr Poulain tries too hard, perhaps, to bridge the gap between the past and the present with a harsh note in the base accord that brings to mind more metallic, aggressive fougères such as Diesel Life Fuel. With similarities, also, to YSL Rive Gauche Pour Homme (the best of this type of new skool/ old school fougere, in my view) Champ D’Influence is a very effective scent – generously replete and full (though some might say a bit too full of itself) that will probably have a certain type of woman or man who is genetically programmed to go for the big bulge kind of guy champing at the bit; getting all riled up and horny and bothered and ready to ransack him thoroughly, though personally, I think I would much rather be chatted up in a bar by someone wearing Iris Palladium.You could probably expect better conversation.
NOTES: Grapefruit, bergamot, rhubarb, hedione, violet, tobacco, nutmeg, benzoin, amber woods, vetiver.
‘The paradox between abstract and reason. This perfume is the definition of it. Vetiver is usually heavily used for masculine fragrances. Here, this material is twisted with an acidulous rhubarb note which reminds me of the delicious rhubarb pies my mother used to make. Also, some greener and more fruity notes evoking passion fruits and a hint of mangoes. Finally, a benzoin and tobacco base to infuse leather and amber tones’.
I must admit that I don’t quite get what the perfumer is going on about here: ‘the paradox between abstract and reason’ nor, his assertion that this fairly typical contemporary vetiver is the ‘very definition’ (quite an immodest claim to make, actually) of anything whatsoever. The perfume is quite nice though: fresh, sharp, almost sour, the citrus and rhubarb mingling nicely with the rounded vetiver note that works in harmony with the other softer and more balsamic ingredients, although in truth this accord is already very familiar to me in perfumes such as Aedes De Venustas – which is also based around rhubarb and vetiver, and fresh, fruity vetivers such as Atelier Cologne’s Vetiver Fatal. If I were going for a vetiver of this type ( I occasionally do when I feel like hiding myself), I would probably plump instead for Vetiver Moloko by Ex Nihilo (another recent Parisian start up), which includes a Bulgarian rose and cypress note in the heart and takes this overdone fragrance type to slightly more restrained and rarified tenure.
MEMOIRE DU FUTUR
NOTES: Italian bergamot, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, carnation, violet, tonka, violet, hyraceum
Arnaud Poulain’s ethos for his brand – a blend of the brand new and the classical – is probably best encapsulated in the ideas around this curiously unfashionable blend:
‘In order to invent the future, a prerequisite is to master the past. For this perfume, I wanted to recreate and do justice to the great fragrances created between 1920 and 1940. A floral perfume revolving around a chypre base. A perfume with some of the most noble and traditional perfumery elements while still being completely contemporary, by combining them with modern ingredients’.
Possibly the least successful of this sextet, I would have to say that Mémoire Du Future, for me personally, fails in its mission. This scaled down skeletal attempt to bring le grand parfum back to life is far too dominated by simplistic and overpowering aldehydes that drown out any other naturals that might be in the blend and remind me of the dirt cheap, roll-on oil perfumes you find at Arab and Indian markets masquerading as Chanel No 5. Granted, the base is quite sexy and animalic (because of the hyraceum, or African Stone, a potent animalic ingredient blended possibly with some vanilla), reminding me of the original, eponymous perfume by Moschino – that naughty, buttery oriental that had no class really, despite its Milanese credentials, yet sure smelled big-thighed down n’ dirty when it ripped off its fur coat later on in the evening – but it’s hard to realistically compare this with the more orchestral, deep and fully rendered classiques of the Golden Age, alluring and curvaceous though it may be.
LES EAUX PRIMORDIALES: VERDICT
Quite nice. All six of these are competently made with a solid savoir faire, and you would probably be quite happy to work with people wearing these perfumes at the office. Admittedly, worn at high dosage, Champ D’Influence, Mémoire Du Futur and Particules Imprévisibles might occasionally be discovered groping and shagging frenetically in a three-way session behind the photocopier, unable, by 3pm to resist their surging impulses, bored at their desks and turned on hopelessly by their ruggedly pre-ordained sexual tropes; while Iris Palladium – assured, warm, enigmatic; Abstraction Raisonnée – fashionable but unforthcoming, and Moment Perpetuel – clean, soapy, ‘lovely’, if smiling a bit too incessantly, you wouldn’t mind at all sharing some desk space with and having a late morning meeting over coffee. You would get used to them. Their perfumes would blend with their personalities. Their scents most definitely become them and they would not offend. At least not most of the time. Still, as you daydreamed from the window, thinking of your perfume collection back home, you would still sometimes find yourself, as the working day progressed , smiling to yourself knowingly, eyes closed as you smelled your wrists- defiantly, surreptitiously – when no one else was looking.
It is exam season in Japan, or as the locals call it, ‘exam hell’: students and teachers cramming and exhausting themselves into high schools and universities; an impressive, if sadomasochistic, demonstration of Japanese will power and conformity. Some of my colleagues have been working straight since the beginning of November and yes I mean straight: with the exception of January 1st, some of them have been coming into school every day, for at least twelve hours, for about six weeks. This is illegal, but the pressure is so high to get the results that they can really not do otherwise.
And there I am, with my three week holiday at Christmas and New Year, waltzing in to do my bit come the first week of January, but even a month of it has left this indolent foreigner feeling frazzled and debilitated: I came home on Friday night feeling teary and depleted; a husk with his juice sucked out, porous sensitivies over-flooded with tense, heightened Japanese voices. Knowing I would have to be going in on Saturday morning as well for a whole day of examination interviews, I decided just to collapse in to bed…
But perhaps just a touch of perfume beforehand, something new, before I turn out the lights to let my mind veer…….?..something from those little boxes of samples I had not yet tried that might subdue my humming synapses..?
I semi-randomly alight on something called Cocoa Sandalwood, apply it wearily to the back of my hand.
suddenly a towering forest of sequoia trees flashes up before my eyes. I can feel them, smell the cool of them, the bark, the dappling light between their trunks, as they soar up into the sky that is blue, and the air that is clear, miles and miles of them out in the Californian country – a synaesthestic mirage that makes my soul briefly snap into place again on a disconnected plane and I find myself wanting to go back down into it all again, back down from the shimmering skyline treetops and back into the forested depths, this time to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the mysterious redwoods behind which you disappear, somewhere in the heart of deep green………….
All of which I realize might sound rather exaggerated and forced, but which I did actually experience on Friday night, lying on my futon as something loosened its grip on my psyche and a gentle, alternative universe released me….
I have been finding this recently with natural perfumes. There is something in the essences themselves, the plants’ ‘life force’ if you like, that speaks, that stimulates my nervous system in a very different way to other perfume ( which is perhaps more purely aesthetic). Where I was expecting to just find the usual sandalwood (one of my least favourite notes in perfume as I have always found it so fatty, unmysterious, and splayed somehow), the perfumer (Laurie Erickson) surprised me with a creation that temporarily took me out of myself.
The sequoias I saw originated, I imagine, in the significant dose of Cedar Virginia that opens the perfume, giving the richer, more oozy New Caledonian sandalwood a solid backbone through which a slow, warm sap of cocoa absolute, cinnamon bark, coffee, rose, clove, vanilla and ginger rises slowly, the sandalwood gradually thickening in generosity, expanding and revealing its wise depths. Soothing, comforting, with an excellent equilibrium between savoury and sweet, the perfume helped me to sleep.
This was my first try of a Sonoma Scent Studio perfume and I am officially intrigued. Cocoa Sandalwood is a very high quality scent, rich and full of energy and soul, and though I would never wear it myself as sandalwood so emphatically does not reflect me somehow (in the way vetiver, patchouli or even cedarwood do for example), for those looking for an enveloping, woody perfume I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
Chestnuts, or ‘kuri’ in Japanese, are a winter staple in Japan. In Tokyo, and in most cities and towns in fact, there are chestnut vendors who trawl the streets at night with their tinny transistors wailing the traditional Edo period ‘chestnut song’ among the cold, steaming red neon: the nuts, in their shells, fragrant, unpeeled, and roasting hot as you grab a quick late night snack before the last train home.
Marrons glacés, Mont-Blancs (with which I now have something of an obsession, when combined with a piping hot cup of caffe latte on a cold rainy day in winter) and anything chestnutty in fact, are very popular here( they are also traditionally eaten pickled): the tiny, shrivelled, squirrel brains both nutritious and unique in texture, and aroma, and flavour.
But although I was always familiar with the famous Christmas time song by Nat King Cole, as a person who grew up in England, I am almost embarrassed to say that I had never tasted one before I came to this country. In my family at least, they were never part of our lives. I think the only chestnuts I ever knew were those we used for playing ‘conkers’ at school; the gorgeous, friendly plonk as those spiky green bonnets fell to the grass with their moist, white, inner encasings…. I used to love collecting them, and shining them, and in fact probably just kept them more as treasures on my bedside table than I did smashing other kids’, but I am sure I never ate one (though I did have a strange thing for acorns, but I’ll save that for another time..)
Castaña (Spanish for chestnut), is one of the few perfumes that have a distinctly nutty aroma, and the first I know of to feature the chestnut. Cloon Keen is a perfumer and candlemaker based in Galway, and though it is rather clichéd of me to say so, to me there is, undeniably, a distinctly ‘Irish eyes are smiling’ aspect to the scent. It is warm, benevolent; optimistic in-woolly jumper (and generous figure): a person you trust and like, flitting and fussing about the kitchen, taking care of you with a loving smile and a twinkle.
Beginning with a creamy, rich and edible chestnut over sweetened, cherished vetiver, the perfume progresses to milkier, more sandalwoody tones. While the top accord features a lemon-floral note (cassia and jasmine), the scent remains buttery (yet clean and appealing) throughout its duration on the skin. I find it quite a simple scent, probably too much so in some ways ( and I have never been a fan of the ambroxan-like note embedded in the white musk base), but despite these slight misgivings that is only a question of personal taste: I know many people enjoy those warm, musky strokes and I would very happily smell it on another person, as Castaña is just one of those scents that is uncomplicated and lovely, very easy to wear on a daily basis without even noticing it until it becomes your smell. It is also quite inexpensive, which is a boon in the niche market of today where buying a scent really can really put you out of pocket.
Castaña is slightly reminiscent of another scent, actually, another vetiver/nut combination, almost as though Hermès Vetiver Tonka (with its gorgeous heart note of hazelnut – see my review), had, in his second year at Cambridge, come back for the Christmas and New Year holiday; all geared up, flighty and full of literary pretensions, to then be brought gently back down to earth by his loving; less educated; but more more emotionally open, mother.
A person’s reaction to any art form is always highly subjective, and this is especially true of perfume: one man’s Poison really is another man’s cat piss.
And after reading perfume collective Cafleurebon’s recent review of Byredo’s tarry Black Saffron I was amazed : the talk of soft black violets, dewy crystal roses, and soft, enveloping wisps of Hindi saffron stigmas bore almost no resemblance to my personal experience of this fragrance, which, while cleverly put together and in some ways obviously attractive, feels to me more like an assault.
I adore saffron, and have an involuntary reflex action whenever I open my little jar of fragrant ochre strands in the kitchen (usually when I make my signature pasta dish of crab and salmon in a white wine saffron tomato and white cabbage sauce): a cross between a groan and a sigh, a slightly flushed sensation in the chest. That this substance is an aphrodisiac is something I don’t need to be told: I know it as a personally felt physiological experience, and it is for this reason that the precious spice, derived from the flowers of the Persian crocus, has been esteemed for millennia as a sexual stimulant.
In perfume, the only saffron I have ever really come across as a leading note is in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Safran Troublant, whose beginning I do find troublingly attractive, but whose end ( a synthetic, creamy sandalwood), I dislike; Ormonde Jayne’s rosy, saffrontastic Taïf; and as a component in several perfumes I have by Montale, including the peachy-saffron floral strangeness of Velvet Flowers, which I have a bottle of, and sometimes enjoy wearing when in a freaky mood. At the Paris Montale boutique in the Place Vendôme, when I went there several years ago, there was even a pure saffron scent – just saffron, concentrated – to be layered; tinting the skin a peculiar, culinary orange-yellow.
But Black Saffron, a fragrance by popular Swedish outfit Byredo (a perfume house I essentially cannot abide), has none of the willowing desert eros of these saffron ribbons threading calescent air, or emerging, salivatingly, in the top or heart notes of a scent. Rather, the nifty, urban composition weds a saffronish block of thick, industrialised, dense woods to an intense mix of leather, cashmeran, and vetiver, with an outspoken middle note of raspberry-flavoured pipe tobacco and, at the fore, a piercing, brain-drilling, citrus note of Asian Pomelo (a kind of Chinese grapefruit).
The effect, when you first smell the scent, is very pungent. Though the raspberry-laced tobacco idea has been done before in Tom Ford’s appealing Tuscan Leather, the sensuous addition of black saffron and the penetrating citrus and juniper top note here takes the scent into interesting, if difficult, territory. The juicy bitterness of the pomelo fruit enfolded into the light-devouring woody central theme sees the notes blocked together, with an uncomfortable intensity, as though you were creosoting a fence with tar, while simultaneously sucking on a blood orange and a framboise cigar, poisoning your mouth, and nose, blood, and possibly your brain, in the process.
This dry yet viscid mouthfeel of Black Saffron has a rich homefurnishings qualität, the pleasurable suffocation of top-level, shining teak tables fresh from furniture polish, and for that reason I initially tried a few squirts as a room spray in my genkan, or entrance, thinking it might work quite nicely in that context. But within seconds, in an Indian peek-a-boo game of nuclear sillage, the scent, with the ability to move through walls with the silent stealth of a Kashmiri insurrectionist, had filled up my kitchen: a billowing, conscious-dimming, black cloud of orange-rind-drenched mahogany. Or should I say agony.
Needless to say, this is not something I would be able to wear myself.
Nevertheless, I can imagine that Black Saffron will have been quite a big hit for Byredo. Despite what I have written above, it does smell good, in the sense that it is well constructed, direct, and smells contemporary. It would accompany an expensively dressed city hipster perfectly, turning heads in the process.
With a scent trail this strong, that is a guarantee.