I think people who get involved in perfume as an important part of their pleasure repertoire soon start noticing that it often also acts as a mood altering substance. At least the ones you love do. Once you start building up your physical/mental associations with different, oft-used components of scents, like labdanum (a ceremonial feeling) or jasmine (humid sweetness) or sandalwood (spaciousness and expansiveness) or tuberose (dizziness) or vetiver (warmth and dryness) you notice much more closely how they act on you. In a composition that works for you, these classics may be combined with new scent molecules, chemically created, that are like either a shade of color that is new to you, or a much heightened aspect of one you know well. It amazes me how different people can take the same, classic scents and combine them in different ways to come up with things that are so individual. I think Neil Morris compositions are grounded in a fluent personal vocabulary of perfume materials. I also sense the aspect of a person very well read in there, with many classical associations to history and literature and Nature (with a capital "N" as Van Gogh used to write it). Once you know your materials that well, you can play with them to come up with compositions that work on mood in an almost musical way.
There are ones that induce a sense of peace and others that burn up into an active and energizing atmosphere around you. There are ones that have a windy movement to them that give a sense of spaciousness.
It has taken me a long time to learn not to be completely swayed by the initial top notes or opening of a perfume, and then quickly make a snap judgment as to whether I like it or not. So many take time to unfold and reveal their real character on you. I had an initial mistrust of Coral, which seemed to me too fruity and sweet and melon-y and not my style. After ten minutes or so of pomegranate and fig though, it becomes something else, at least on me. The sandalwood, incense and musk are tripped and it opens out into a spacious and subtle, almost salty airy walk in the afternoon sun, in a peaceful settling down together of the sympathies between the sky and the ocean and the plants beside and between them. It's like the sun is shining down, and everything is fresh and clean.
Mystic Dragon is wood consumed by fire warming up and smoothing out on the skin to a buttery creaminess. That must be the chocolate note that underlies the amber, patchouli and smoke. Something to wear when you are really excited about going out at night, it makes perfect sense to me to find out that it was inspired by a Chinatown New Year's celebration.
Midnight Forest has an element that is new to me: nagarmotha, dry, woody, earthy indeed. There is an sense of the peace of a full grown woods, probably induced by the galbanum, myrrh and myrtle wood (an aromatic bay leaf scent).
I find Prowl very masculine, notwithstanding the honeysuckle and jasmine, because they are subsumed and absorbed by the black pepper and oakmoss and patchouli and civet. The amber unifies all and even so it has a cleanliness and understated quality, holding close to the skin. It would act as an enhancing transparent accessory rather than a featured performer competing for center stage. Somehow masculine scents are far better as this type of subtle/complex background, in my estimation. I think it must be the civet in the driver's seat (a re-creation I am sure) acting as a musk in the form of a clean skin scent.
Takashimaya, based on the tea house within the ultra refined Japanese Fifth Avenue store, has been well reviewed in the NY Times, so it suffices me to say that as a unisex fragrance it is that combination of restrained and sensual that works in both a casual and more formal sense, and projects a different image depending on if worn by a man or a woman. Beautiful in a solemn way on a woman, I would find it even more remarkable on a man because so unexpected in its sophistication and balance, like a glass of plum wine, drunk in the presence of incense with blooming narcissus and bamboo walls around you. The cedar note sharpens up the sense of smell like a pencil. It is exclusive to the store it is named for, and well worth a special trip just for that.
Neil Morris is as they say, ultra niche, and it takes some effort to seek his perfume out, either at Takashimaya or his website, but I promise it will be rewarding. I am glad he offers samples and a range of samples in a package. As I have said before, I wish there were some ultra sophisticated tea or coffee or wine bar that stocked his vault fragrances in NYC, so we could go there and try and choose something appropriate for the moment, in calibrated sizes. He does thankfully offer these as an affordable luxury in a one ounce size, for $70. They are true perfumes, and therefore lasting.
I am just happier knowing that there are people creatively experimenting, and discovering and expanding their own and our sensibilities through the sense of smell, and making things like these perfumes out there these days.
Above photo by me.
Lucy Raubertas, Evening Trees, 2009. I love that airy calm after the sundown breeze ends and the birds have settled down.