This was a year where I wanted and found a number of perfume experiences that plunged into romanticism, ornamental decorativeness and grace. I’ve been craving dimensional, rich, deep perfumes that would transport me into the power of the materials and associations around them. Even give a sense of participating in the symbolic worlds the olfactory materials have worn themselves, bestowed on them by wearers over time.
Sonorous incense, delicate powders, creamy and luxurious musks, incandescent florals, bright honeyed herbs and grasses, and all their associations to times of day, times of year, the weather, luxury, nature and decadence. To live within such perfumes’ atmosphere for a time, is like entering an alternate and deeper reality, as it can seem sometimes when carried away by a poem or by travel far away to another beautiful country.
Lately I have wanted to be able to fall into and rest inside a perfume composition almost narrative in its ability to invite me into its well developed character.
One of the best things about the indieperfumers is that they do everything themselves, from beginning to end. This means truly everything, from the concept of the perfume, the choosing of the ingredients, the final execution, the packaging and finally the orchestrating of the customer interaction, which is often as personal as can be. They can take an inspiration or vision to the ultimate end as envisioned by their own tastes and predilections.
This year there were a number of perfumes that broke far away from the understated, the “clean”, the stereotypically “young” light sugared gourmand scents that we’ve become accustomed to, that were created in response to market research as shaped by identity branding for a more mass market and so everywhere for some time now.
In the alternative world of the indieperfumers, there has been movement and reach into other forms of worldly beauty. Warmth, both in bright and dark deep versions, romanticism, pointed references to the traditions of the past, the highly decorative and ornamental, the lush, and all-out passionate and sensual forms of perfume expressions. They made perfumes that are Not Safe For Work.
Here are my favorites from this direction of this past year – they make real in olfactory terms the experience of stepping into a 19th century French, Russian or English novel steered by the imperatives of fate and romance:
Amber Rouge – by Aroma M – the spicy base of Geisha Rouge heated by an amber accord with the kind of warmth that relaxes the mind and body into an enveloping sensuality. An intoxicating hot amber heightened by spices and toned by precious balsam and myrrh and other precious ingredients.
Which brings me to Immortal Mine, a real gothic bombshell of a perfume, by Aroma M’s Maria Mcelroy and Alexis Karl for the Clarimonde Project. They combined their perfume personalities and instigated each other to go into the depths of the darkest, warmest, most mysterious and enigmatic dark violet/blood-red of a perfume, like a silk velvet heart infused with every aromatic trick in the book, like vintage Opium crossed with deeper resins and ouds, yet cooled with a distant note of mint jumbled into the fragrant hay you fall into as you swoon away. Absolute madness. I believe this one will become more generally available in the coming new year, samples may now be obtained online.
Secret Garden by Aftelier – to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of distilled nature as it is encapsulated here is strengthening to the body and soul. The florals are edged with the gold of vintage animalic notes that ground them and bind them to the skin like honeyed nectar poured over a bowl of jasmine roses and raspberries. There are subtle layers to the interplay of many notes, mediated by blue lotus which is always the essence of peace and calm for me, detailed by unusual herbs peeking through (deertongue). This is a true rich tapestry of a perfume.
Which reminds me of Aftelier Haute Clair, a bright creamy floral, full of honeysuckle and sweet grass, ylang ylang, vetiver and vanilla, and it sings out with uninhibited joy. Like liquid golden light captured in perfume form, each detail is picked out in this magic hour it creates around you as it rises up around you.
I was carried away by Wildflowers by Aftelier, the essence of summer itself, a mood elevator in solid perfume form that captures the sun within the mille fleurs, and the feeling of freedom in the air itself as wafted up by a thousand flowers. A romantic landscape painted in the form of a perfume.
There’s the almost unbelievably prolific and also beautiful work of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. This year, her Paradise Lost, also of the Clarimonde Perfume project, encapsulated for me all the essential elements of her best qualities as a perfumer. Which are, in short, refinement with relentless dedication to corporeal beauty and physicality. I believe I finally discovered the equivalent in artistic description so I can explain the DSH form of beauty – it is similar to that of the ballet, beauty in discipline, ethereality, strength, and elegant grace. Paradise Lost enwreathes the wearer in another dimension of violet coolness alternating with soothing earthy depths fixed in candle wax. Individual notes reach out and touch your face over the course of wear in an almost magical way, like being visited by different beings.
DSH has a traditional seasonal character to her perfumes. In May it’s all about the lily of the valley, in Winter spices are crossed with the soft white smoke of a musk burned as incense. I recently received Caravan Spice, this year’s DSH Holiday fragrance (a new one every December) - oakmoss, clove, patchouli, vanilla, frankincense and jasmine. This perfume holds so close to the skin as to seem like your own skin adds a form of musk itself to the perfume’s composition. It comes in many forms, among which are as a perfume and as a body oil, which I think would be ultimately luxurious, especially to fall asleep with in winter. There is always for me a feel of clarity to all the DSH perfumes, a lightness and limpidity, like seeing the world through crystal lenses.
The Patchouli Summer of Love conducted by Monica Miller the Perfume Pharmer was an extraordinary project that rehabilitated a beautiful material unfairly categorized by less than optimal materials over-marketed at one time and then over identified with a certain era. Monica maintains a wild open field in her projects and all directions are welcome and celebrated, resulting in a creative explosion that celebrated a material with deep lines reaching into the deeper past and now back into the present.
Her own version, Patchouli No. 9 aka Rags and Feathers is a citrus tea and chocolate mixed into a potent dark summer hay with the tang of sea shells. Rich waves of chestnut brown patchouli cloak the skin while it continues to shine through as a gentle transparent note as part of the perfume. It is intimacy itself.
My top three choices of the 13 were Liz Zorn's River Walk, Shelly Waddington's Go Ask Alice, and Rodney Hughes' Royal Water, each a patchouli like you've never tried before, rich, dimensional, refined and romantic.
Neil Morris has been making heartbreakingly beautiful perfumes for years, based on varied personal experiences and topics, and I am not so sure as to the release date of this one, but it came to me this year and so I count it as such – A Rose is a Rose is like the spirit of the rose itself, almost a headspace quality of a true rose out in the open air, but, with a darker edge to it too that clings to the skin tenaciously and pulls you into the heart of a red red rose. I also love his atmospheric perfumes such as Storm and Drifting and I see many of his perfumes as elements that could be layered and orchestrated and calibrated to the winds of mood as needs must.
All of these perfumes connected me to nature beauty and sensuality through the sense of smell, with the most graceful sensitivity and nuance.
I look forward to the new year, and I think that there will be more perfumes along these lines. A romantic style of perfume in the true sense of the word, passionate, soaking us to the skin in nature, ornamental with a modern sense of fluidity and down to earth sensuality. I keep thinking of a new version of the values of the Baroque and Rococo and the Enlightenment.
The waterfall of sense impressions in which such perfumes immerse an attentive wearer are among the exquisite beauties of this physical life. I hope I am right to believe that the more people know of them and take the opportunity to sample them the more they will fall in love as I have.
Above images: Blond curtain - Nicolette Brunklaus (Dutch, b. 1959)
from a show on the influence of the Rococo on modern design in The Netherlands.
Ostrich and Luna Moth fans;
Fur and Feather - a fractal by Sharon Apted
Arabesque - from Tales of the Arabesque