Primeval Forces of Perfume

In Quantum Demonology, there is a term for what the protagonist calls…primeval forces, a phrase that refers to those musical epiphanies that are above superstardom and even above musical gods on an altogether different plane of existence. The ones she can’t live without, ever. The ones who never leave her iPod playlists. Ever.

But I have them in perfume terms, too. And a recent Skype conversation with one of them brought the concept up again. Which made me think, something this particular august personage does quite well. So what creates such paragons of fragrant epiphanies – what does it take to elevate illustrious perfumers and creative directors into my nosebleed stratosphere? Who are they? And why do they loom so important – on my person, in my cabinet, in my perfume subconscious? Read on, and I’ll tell you.

Understand that once upon a time, although I used – and likely abused – a wide range of perfumes starting at age 14, I did not always have such a visceral, emotional connection with perfumes. I operated on the time-honored French principle of “Ça sent beau”… “It smells…good!”, and so long as it worked on my mood, my manner or my nefarious plans, often horizontal, then all was well, until…

Until I began reading about perfume on a scale I never had before. In those days, it was olfaction by proxy, since I couldn’t afford any, but at least I could educate myself, and so I did, right up to the moment I read about a certain Paris-based perfume house, whose perfumes were described as ‘bottled emotions’. For whatever reasons, that idea stuck in my receptive mind. How did you…bottle emotion? And which ones? What did they smell like? Would they be different than the ones I already knew and loved, if no longer owned?

If I only knew what I know now.

Since becoming a perfume blogger in earnest, I’ve discovered that emotions could indeed be bottled – good, bad, even horror! (Secretions Magnifiques, here’s looking at you!). My tastes have evolved to such an extent that I love all sorts of perfumes – greens, chypres, opulent Orientals, knock ‘em dead florals, woods, gourmands, ouds…you name them, I’ll love them. There’s still room for improvement – musk is a note I struggle with – but I’m all for…fragrant transport to …elsewhere and otherwise, to new horizons and time travel, too!

Primeval Forces, however, elevate themselves above the rest. These creations are the ones I will wear without fail and with total surrender, the ones that suck me into a vortex of wonder, the ones I never hope to be without again, the ones that define not just this perfume writer, but this woman – and this soul. Which takes a lot more than simply…smelling good!

1) In every peerless work of art, so say the discerning, there is a hint of..strange, some oddity that catches the eye, the ear, or the nose. True beauty will always be unusual, always make you pause and take another look, another sniff, another snag that catches on the cogwheels of your imagination and sends it down a new and unexplored path. So that whiff of…strange that compels you to breathe deeper, that stops you cold and fires your imagination, would be my first criterion.

2) Every artistic creation – or collaboration, and some of my Primeval Forces are – contains some detectable droplet of the minds that conceived it. You could say that there’s an invisible ribbon in these bottles that goes straight from the creator(s) to that secret, bedrock location in my soul that was waiting for this reminder to shoot towards the light of awareness. I have to sense the heartbeat(s) behind it, which could explain why I tend to gravitate towards the niche and independent lines these days. They rarely disappoint me.

3) All my Primeval Forces excel at transport and the unexpected…they surprise me, they show me wonders, they make me cry, they take me places I’ve never known before, and as they do, my world is somehow larger, richer and far more colorful for it. Some kind of seismic perspective shift occurs, and how I define ‘perfume’ will never be the same.

4) Last, but not least…inspiration! When the time comes to sift through my impressions and turn them into expression, do I find myself tearing my hair out, grappling with metaphor and simile, trying to say something new, trying to expand – if not explode – my limitations as a writer? If that’s the case, I know I’m on to something spectacular. The less control I have over my own creative process, the better the end result. The perfumes that remove that illusory ‘control’ and just write my review for me – these are the ones I know I won’t be able to live without!

5) Each of these houses and perfumers march to their very own and distinctive beat. This means they can be as ground-breaking and as creative as they please, and so they are. Each has their own style and signature, and each of them make only their own rules.

So here they are – my fragrant Primeval Forces. There is no hierarchy here, no order of preference – these perfumers and houses are all laws unto themselves, continuing to take my breath away and explaining in liquid and essence, why I love to live and live to sniff!

Parfums Serge Lutens/Serge Lutens & Christopher Sheldrake

When I first read about Serge Lutens perfumes, I had this cold chill of intuition…there was something there, some secrets I needed to know. Not many understand quite so well the compelling beauty of strange and spectacular, of redefining by deconstructing. When I finally had the opportunity to try them, my world view changed…forever. I’ve been amazed ever since and I remain amazed every time I wear a Lutens, for familiarity does not take away that thrill of discovery and epiphany. I haven’t loved all of them, and in a few cases not at all, but of those I fell for – nearly twenty at last count! – I’ll love them for as long as I live.

Aftelier Perfumes/Mandy Aftel

Encountering the marvels of Mandy Aftel was one of the happiest ‘coincidences’ of my life. Mandy’s perfumes are nearly impossible to categorize, which qualifies her right there, but that’s only where she begins to pull those rabbits out of her hat. Strangely beautiful, beautifully strange, earthy, shockingly sensuous and opulent or ethereal as dancing moonbeams, she always surprises me and never compromises on her artistic vision. I have yet to encounter an Aftelier that hasn’t blown me away. They compel me and inspire me and fortify me in ways very few other perfumes do, so much that I usually have one drop of an Aftelier somewhere on me regardless of whatever else I wear, just because it’s the final cross on this T!

DSH Perfumes/Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Right when I thought I was fast becoming my own living anachronism, mourning the death of Immortal Green Chypres, along came hope in a bottle in the form of a sample sent by Lucy of Indieperfumes. That sample was Vert pour Madame, and repercussions could be detected as far away as Buenos Aires at least. Dawn’s epic range and vision don’t stop there. Her knowledge of perfumes through history is unparalleled, her recreations and her own creations are…peerless, and just as Mandy, she knows just how to pull the rug from under my feet and expectations and swipe me sideways in all the best ways. I’ve yet to meet a DSH creation I couldn’t instantly fall for with a vengeance. As indeed I have! She’s simply…THAT…great!

Amouage Perfumes

Luxury in this day and age has become such an overused, over-hyped word. Ridiculously overpriced, average perfumes sold on pretentious PR copy are not how I define it. My perfume budget is so low, it’s a joke, yet I’m not laughing. I was laughing the day I caught myself ordering two fated (and outrageously expensive) samples of Amouage with the thought that I would be impervious to the hype, I would simply let these two speak for themselves, and despite many warnings from the Greek chorus of my fellow perfume bloggers (who knew precisely what I was in for), I was convinced Amouage couldn’t possibly be that stupendous. Famous last words, for heaven help me – they are. Every single one of them! Since the arrival of Creative Director Christopher Chong, Amouage has made perfumes so plush, unique and persuasive (if not addictive!), that all I can do is shrug at my own bloody-mindedness and surrender to their charms. In the case of Amouage, I’m so easy, it’s ridiculous. Or I am!

Opus Oils/Kedra Hart

Opus Oils, to my line of thinking, should be a smash success if there were any justice in this world. Because Kedra Hart makes perfume – always in danger of being just a little precious and high-minded – f-u-n. That might make you think they couldn’t be complex, tell stories, or take your breath away. Not so. Look past the tongue-in-cheek vintage-inspired copy (not that I’m complaining) and you will find perfumes as stellar as any others on my Primeval list, as rich and as surprising and evolving. As I work my way through my samples of Kedra’s creations, my FB wish list is getting ever longer. That they are all so easy to wear and to love can take away the fact that they are so masterfully constructed, with a sleight-of-hand that makes the very difficult look so very artless – always the sign of a true, dedicated, epically talented artist!

Neil Morris Fragrances/Neil Morris

Neil is a recent addition to my Primeval list, although I’ve been aware of him for quite some time. My introduction to Neil’s art was through a Vault collection perfume, and it literally wiped me off the floor in a swoon. But distracted as I am by all the details of my quotidian life, even I can feel that cold chill brush of intuition that sings… “Here we go – again!” For since that fatal discovery, thank all the perfume Gods!, Neil and his titanic talents have joined the Devilscent Project, and what a revelation they both have been! No neophyte to the Dark Arts of perfumery, he has reduced me to tears with his mods, because…by golly, he gets it! All of it – the light, the dark, the joy and the tragedy of my story. Our common fragrant journey has only just begun, but I am so grateful to have such a talent to explore,l and so privileged to have so many wonders to anticipate.

Olympic Orchids/Ellen Covey

If my (mis)education as a perfumoholic began with reading perfume blogs and evolved with the discovery of Serge Lutens, then it was surely cemented (or I was doomed!) when I discovered Olympic Orchids. Ellen Covey and her scents – orchid-inspired and otherwise – have done so very much to educate me and astonish me as well as delight me. She was my first indie perfumer, and has since been a perpetual surprise. Her orchid perfumes are spot-on, true to life and utterly spectacular (just ask the head gardener of the Orchid House at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen, when I came to visit as the cattleyas bloomed, perfumes in tow), and the rest of her range is no less magnificent. But then – since this is the trouble we both like to make when we can! – we cooked up the Devilscent Project…and neither of us will ever quite be the same. The four Devils she conjured – and the synchronicity of their creation in her perfumes and my words – have shifted some major ground in my world, which has yet another reason for never quite… being the same!

Maria McElroy & Alexis Karl, Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume

Trouble always awaits when you’re sent eight samples of a new line and you can’t say one bad thing about any of them, only that you want…one of everything, pronto! This happened last summer when I was introduced to Aroma M and the lovely Maria McElroy, but little did I know the epiphanies that awaited when she joined forces with her Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes partner Alexis Karl of Scents by Alexis fame for the Clarimonde Project and their Immortal Mine, nor what I would be inspired to write because of it. (There’s another kind of novel in that story/review just begging to be written!). These two have the kind of spectacular creative synergy between them I can only marvel at, marvel and be grateful I’m privileged to write about it. Coming soon are my reviews of their contributions for the Devilscent Project, and if perfumes are perilous – as I’ve always fervently believed – then this Devil and this Lilith, Queen of the Succubi – are surely proscribed by a top-secret Papal bull!

Neela Vermeire Creations/Neela Vermeire & Bertrand Duchaufour

Even in niche perfumery, there’s no shortage of hype – or launches. I’m well aware of all the lines I have yet to discover, or the one I’m dying to. So it takes more than PR machinery, a luxury label and ditto price tag to convince this perfume writer. It takes…that ribbon, that soul connection, that Aha! moment. When everyone started talking in hyper-excited tones about a new trio of perfumes unlike anything at all else around the time of the Elements NY exhibition, a line inspired by memories of that storied sub-continent of dreams that is India, my nose pricked up. When my sample set arrived on a gray day of forever goodbyes, I wondered whether it might be a sign of new beginnings. It was. For the trilogy and evolving stories that swirl and eddy within Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling are indeed those singular, vivid and personal narratives in perfume we all say we want to sniff and all too rarely do. All three reached out, grabbed my heart in fated, fabled, fragrant hugs and wouldn’t let me go. Their intricate, many-faceted wonders are there to stay!

Tauer Perfumes/Andy Tauer

When it comes to Andy Tauer, I usually joke I want to parade him down Fifth Avenue in a sedan chair with an adoring crowd throwing rose petals. I doubt this would ever happen – or even that the very modest Andy would stand for it! – but it says something of the impact he has – or the seismic potential of his perfumes. They are sometimes challenging and always unusual, and have done so much to reinvent my own perfume vernacular, no matter what the context or the materials. Whether rose – and no one does roses quite like Andy – incense, lavender or amber, or just the olfactory bomb that is Orange Star, I’ve had to really push my words to describe them and the places they took me to, and that, too is another kind of genius and another unique talent for which I can never thank him enough!

Primeval Forces are personal epiphanies, the ones you can’t live without and wouldn’t want to try. The ones you can find on yourself when all you want to do is feel that sigh of perfection in a world that all too often is anything but.

Do you have Primeval Forces, too?

Shut up, Gertrude!

– Or…not all roses are created equal!

Among my collection of books and cookbooks is a book, ostensibly a cookbook but actually very much more. It contains not only a plethora of outrageous recipes that would have health fanatics screaming for their heart fibrillators, but also anecdotes from two extraordinary lives in extraordinary times, two lives that openly dared to fly in the face of convention – and sometimes propriety – and as such became inspirations for me as well.

The book is ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’, part cookbook of questionable virtues, part extraordinary testimony to the lives and times of two fabled iconoclasts of the early 20th century – Alice B. Toklas, partner, helpmeet, and frontline editor, and Gertrude Stein, art collector, literary salon hostess and resident genius.

Like all relationships viewed with the rose-tinted glasses of reminiscence and in hindsight, the reality of Alice and Gertrude was much more complex and far more extraordinary than the book would suggest – they were both raised at the tail end of the Victorian age, after all – but what’s really telling in our own iconoclastic age is that today, we remember Gertrude for two things, one of which I don’t consider relevant at all and the other for a simple throwaway poem that came to define her in popular culture. Gertrude Stein was considered a literary superstar in her day, but now, say the name (if it registers at all!) Gertrude Stein, and unless you’re well-versed in art history, famous American ex-patriots or impenetrable poetry, this is what you’ll think:

 ‘A rose … is a rose…is a rose’.

An entire lifetime of literary output, and you’re remembered for five words. As they say…

You don’t get to choose what you’re famous for.

This is when I say…shut up, Gertrude! As dedicated gardeners, flower lovers, perfumers and perfumoholics are very well aware, entire olfactory universes lie waiting for discovery within those velvety petals, and with the exception of those scentless blooms sold at florists these days, there’s no such thing as just…a rose.

Roses occur in nature in every hue except blue, green and black, and depending on the variety, exude a unique, multifaceted perfume that can be…lemony, tea-like, musky, greenly fresh, narcotic, spicy and fiery, earthy and warm – and these are just the living flowers, mind, well before they’re turned into concrete and absolute and essential oil in their infinite varieties, all of which will reflect the qualities of the roses themselves. Rose is also attributed to the goddess Aphrodite – no accident, since the scent of roses can be very erotic, quelle surprise!

I’ve been thinking about roses and wearing rose-centered perfumes a lot lately. Rose has a stimulating, uplifting effect on my overall mood, and during a very frantic March, I needed all the help I could get…

Gertrude may have considered rose as just another ‘flower’, for which I’ll forgive her since she was an Aquarius, yet I have other plans for your delectation…here are my personal favorite perfumed Odes to the Rose in no particular order of preference, which each prove that even Shakespeare got it wrong on roses. By any other name they might well smell as sweet, but they would not be those multiverses of perfume and poetry contained within the velvet folds and musical tones…of rose.

The Maharani of RoseNeela Vermeire Créations Mohur

We perfume bloggers live for those moments of olfactory epiphany when suddenly, a seismic shift occurs in our amygdalas and our noses blow our minds. This happened to me when I was given the opportunity to discover a brand-new line that is currently taking the perfume world by storm – Neela Vermeire Crèations. I knew Neela had collaborated for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour, I had read the reviews. I thought I knew from roses. I was delighted to be proved so very, very wrong. For Mohur, Neela’s tribute to both the glorious Mogul empire and the British Raj, is nothing less than a Maharani – a Great Queen – of roses. Spicy and fiery, earthy and decadent, with more rosy-floral facets than any diamond can boast, it’s an outrageously spectacular rose perfume, opulent yet also as ethereal as a fervent wish on a full moon. It’s one of the most magnificent roses I’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff and to wear. As I have and I do and I indeed will for as long as I can ever love a rose…

The Wildest HeartLiz Zorn’s Sinti

Liz Zorn, indie perfumer extraordinaire, was unknown to me when I received a decant of her heart-stopping tribute to rose centifolia, Sinti. Sinti is not your usual rose perfume cliché, there’s nothing in the slightest that will remind you of rose soap or Eau de Granny. For one thing, this rose is wild at heart, wild and untamed and blooming unseen in a secret Saharan desert oasis, as green as nature itself and as surprising as a sudden beam of sunlight on that instant shock of …rose. It is bitter and a bit thorny, with its herbal bite of sage and galbanum that blooms into a fevered dream of one feral flower, easily unisex, easily worn, and all too easy to love, even though it never can be tamed.

A Rosy Dance on Moss Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges

Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges took no time at all to pirouette its way into my rosy heart – it was love at first sniff! Ballets Rouges is by bounds and leaps a green, silky opening that segues into a pas-de-ballet of roses so real, I’ve had people turn to look for the bouquet when I’ve worn this. Yet rose is not the whole story in this perfume, for down below beats a heart of green and a pulse of chypre with a ribbon of oakmoss so dark and luscious, this diehard chypre fan is reduced to molten jelly in gratitude that there are still perfumers who love oakmoss and roses as we do. Put the two together in this peerless pas-de-deux as Ellen Covey did, and even I can dance en point forever more those perfect, mossy, rosy steps.

Iconoclast RoseEtat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy di Palma L’Eau de Protection

If anyone knows how to do celebuscents (that hated category) flawlessly, it would be Etat Libre d’Orange. Their tribute to Rossy di Palma, the feisty, fiery actress Pedro Almodovar so adores, is a thorny, spiky, emerald-green and crimson red tattoo rose that obeys no laws but its own, which is every reason to adore it just as much as Rossy herself. From that bright, green opening bite to the dark patchouli pulse below, Rossy the rose perfume is the quintessential Rossy…unusual, unsettling and beautiful in its defiance of all those tired, trite rose tropes. This is a rose that shows its thorns plain as day and glows its crimson-lipped beauty as soon as you come closer. If you dare.

The Mozart of RoseEnvoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge

When perfumer Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes worked with master distiller Dabney Rose, they danced a tandem that made precisely the rose perfume no one else would dare – the very essence of a classical rose perfume wrapped in a burgundy promise of perfection. L’Emblem Rouge is a thick, lavish, Oriental rose, spicy, green, and darkly romantic. It dances its own Mozart minuet on your skin with its burst of orange and spice, violet and orris, and all its pleasures proves as you muse that Mozart may be music, and rose may be a flower, but that doesn’t make L’Emblem Rouge any less a marvel – or Mozart any less a genius!

The Rosy RevolutionsTauer PerfumesUne Rose Chyprée & Incense Rosé

I’ve said it before in several locations and I’ll happily say it again – I personally consider Andy Tauer a perfumer of such stellar magnitude, I think he should be paraded down Fifth Avenue and carpet-bombed with rose petals by an adoring crowd, except I suspect he’ll have turned them into Un Rose Vermeillé (which I have yet to try) or something else equally spectacular before the parade reaches East 81st Street. The man knows his roses, knows them as only a truly dedicated rose lover can, and has done audacious things to roses that only prove how little Gertrude – or Shakespeare – knew of roses. When I recently was given a chance to name a bunch of samples to try, these two jumped off my keyboard and into the email before I could even blink. Certain things – and certain perfumes – you just…have this hunch about, although in this case, it was more of a neon blinking billboard. Une Rose Chyprée is a rose of reinventions and revolution, dark and light, depth and sweetness, no one element taking a backseat to the other. It’s Rose, Oh, Yes! But Wait! There’s So Much More! A breath of oakmoss, a kiss of vanilla, a whole library of everything rose and fire and all its splendors, too! Incense Rosé is yet another sleight-of-hand rabbit from Andy’s hat – again, not a rose, and not an incense and not like anything else your imagination could dream but something otherwise and elsewhere…from the blinding sunshine brought of its orange/citrus open to the smoky-tinged labdanum and frankincense drydown, if you’re curious what else can possibly be said about roses…look no further. I can guarantee you one thing only – you will be surprised! And roses will forevermore never be the same…

So Gertrude…hush. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can still feel your crotchety ghost breathing down my back as I type, said with a sneer and a hint of that grande dame you also were:

“Well, obviously, I had other, more important things to contemplate than roses!”

But stop a moment and think…about a rose, and know that by any other name, it’s very much more than sweet…

Original image of Gertrude Stein, Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1913, from indicommons.org. ‘Gertrude en rose’ version – me.

With big thank you hugs to the Great Facilitators: Shelley Waddington, Ellen Covey, Anthony of NKDMan, Nick of Les Senteurs and the incredible Neela Vermeire.

Heartsongs for a Heritage

  – a review of Neela Vermeire Créations

Far away from where I type these words lies a land that has fired and inspired Western minds for over two thousand years. A land so vast, so diverse, so rich, so teeming with life and history it seems to exist somewhere in the Occidental mind between legend and reality, in time and yet somehow above it, only fitting after all for a culture that also gave the world the concept of ‘the eternal now’. Conquering armies have marched across its plains and deserts, through its jungles and mountains in search of its riches and spices, writers and adventurers took its ideas and concepts back to an incredulous Europe, who thought they surely exaggerated, only those Europeans who did come found the stories they were told, the books they had read were far too simple to even begin to describe the world-within-this-world that was, that is and that always has been…

India.

For all I know myself about ancient history and even India’s history, for all my future plans to visit Kerala and Tamil Nadu just to start, for all my favorite Indian-born writers, I’m yet another gobsmacked European trying to wrap my mind around all it was and even is today. When I first began sketching out ideas for my review, I did a brainstorming association exercise first, writing down every adjective or noun that came to mind with the one noun that was India. I counted fifty-five before I had to actually think about the next one, such is the scale of its scope on my imagination.

When the perfumosphere first began to exude rumors of the new niche brand Neela Vermeire Creations shortly before Elements NY, which is where I first read of them on The CandyPerfumeBoy, those first intimations of intrigue and wafts of (imagined) wonders pricked at my relentless curiosity and my nose began to dream in an instant of all this trio of perfumes could evoke and all they might contain.

When Indian-born Neela Vermeire, who is trained in social sciences and has worked as a lawyer, decided to create her own tributes to her Indian childhood, she worked for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour to pay homage to three aspects of India – the ancient past of the Vedic era of legend, lore and faith with Trayee – the glorious era of the Moghal Empire and the British Raj with Mohur – and the modern, exuberant India of today with Bombay Bling.

Just as friends who traveled to India have said time after time … ‘It was nothing like I thought it would be’, they turned out to be nothing like anything my paltry imagination could conjure.

Trayee is a tribute to the Vedic era, that time of legend contained in the Vedas, in the many stories of the Mahabharata and the tales of that far distant beginning when the world began, the sacred texts of the Vedas with their hymns, their prayers and their songs. Trayee is the perfume of spirit and devotion, the scent of Indian temples with their spices and their prayers ascending to the Gods in a cloud of color and all the holy fragrances of faith. It starts with a bright, uplifting opening of ginger and cinnamon, with an underlying pine-lemon slightly animalic undertone I suspect is the blackcurrant, but as it evolves a wisp of sacred incense, cardamom and jasmine sambac (one of my most favorite notes) peek out and dance their own devotion on my skin and I become my own cliché – transported elsewhere and otherwise to where that seamless blend of spice and wood, oudh and oakmoss somehow manage to weave my many fragmented selves into a prayer all my own. Like not a few Duchaufour creations I’ve tried, the list of notes – complex as they are – read several shades of ‘how-is-this-possible?’, but the evolution is flawless – from that first heady rush of spice all the way through to the rich, earthy, woody drydown breathing its many shades of ‘divine’. I would characterize Trayee as a uniquely transcendental perfume, transporting me to where ritual may be complicated yet true faith is very simple, and for truly evoking that sense of sanctity and history, a perfumed prayer all its own, and those are as rare as unicorns and as precious as any Indian rubies!

Notes for Trayee: Top: Blue ginger from Madagascar, elemi oil, cinnamon bark, ganja effects, blackcurrant absolute, basil Heart: Jasmine sambac absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, cardamom absolute, clove, saffron, sandalwood Base: Javanese vetiver, Haitian vetiver, incense, Mysore sandalwood oil, patchouli, myrrh, vanilla, cedar, amber notes, oudh palao from Laos, oakmoss 

Mohur – named for the most valuable gold coin India made until 1918 –  is another facet to the many-hued jewel that is India, a tribute to the glorious, opulent era of the Moghul Empire and the British Raj and to one woman in particular who shaped the Moghul era like perhaps no woman before or since. Her name became Nur Jahan, meaning ‘The Light of the World’, and when she arrived at the court of the Emperor Shah Jahangar in 1607 as a widow, it took no time at all for him to decide that she should become his wife number twenty, and still less when – so their many love stories go – he never touched wives 1 through 19 ever again. Noor Jahan ruled as the unquestioned power behind the throne for over twenty years before a palace revolt exiled her. She devoted the remainder of her days to the art of perfume making.

I can well imagine, if Mohur is anything to go by, that it could have been one of the very perfumes Nur Jahan could have made for herself, or – as I think the intention was here – to create the quintessence of …rose, but not just any rose. Just as Trayee, it begins with a spicy, fiery kick, this time of cardamom and coriander, intimations of musky ambrette and carrot and that incandescent black pepper and before you know it, that fatal, flawless beauty, a veritable Maharani of rose unfurls in slow-motion beneath your nose, defying every rosy perfume cliché you think you know to define something larger than life yet as intricate as any inlaid jewels on a marble Moghul-era façade, with a suggestion of richly tooled leather and a gossamer-fine embroidered veil of violet and orris. A veil that slowly slips to the floor to reveal all this rose’s darkest secrets of wood and oud in sparkling shades of light and dark, patchouli and amber, before it vanishes in a rosy dream with a last sweet sigh of goodbye and vanilla, benzoin and tonka bean. I grasp at the words here, desperately thumbing through thesaurus and dictionary trying to find some description that does it justice, before I realize I’ve written it already.

A Maharani…of rose.

Notes for Mohur: Top: Cardamom absolute, coriander seed oil, ambrette seed, carrot, black pepper, elemi oil Heart: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan rose absolute, 11% rose accords, jasmine accord, orris, aubepin flower, almond milk notes, violet flower and orris, leather vitessence Base: Sandalwood, amber, white woods, patchouli, oudh palao from Laos, Siam benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean

It’s all too easy to overlook the modern India when you’re sideswiped by 5000+ years of history and heritage. Yet modern India doesn’t live in the past or for the future but in the ever-evolving ‘now’ with all the endless exuberance and energy a young population can bring. This is Neela’s wink to the India of today, with the over-the-top glamour of Bollywood dream factories to the streets of south Mumbai and the hectic, glitzy nightclubs where beautiful Bollywood film stars dance the night away with instant stock market millionaires. I came to discover during my research, for instance, that there is a very ritzy nightclub in Mumbai called…Bling!

If you read the notes and reach for the smelling salts or your running shoes to run a mile the other way, dear reader, let me say this is not your deathly ubiquitous fruity-floral generic joke, this is instead a bubbly, happy, day-glo colored perfumed dream that zaps you awake in all the best, most joyous ways, so effervescent, you won’t dare a peep of protest but simply surrender, just as I did, to that intriguing tropical blend of green mango and lychee, with the blackcurrant, cardamom, cistus and cumin adding their own sultry midnight heat. As it develops, the florals – a heady, glorious mix of floral notes that include jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, tuberose, frangipani and gardenia – bloom and sing and dance, and it’s all you can do not to dance a little Busby Berkeley/Bollywood number of your own. Just…roll with it, feel as young and as carefree as you dare, dance the night away and watch the sun rise along with your hopes and your optimism, sense all the colors of life on your skin bloom. A plush drydown of patchouli and tobacco and sandalwood will set you gently down again and make you think in possibilities you thought were too old and jaded to envision – but you weren’t! Life is the eternal ‘now’. Live it!

Notes for Bombay Bling: Top: Mango, lychee, blackcurrant, cardamom, cumin, cistus, rose accord, Turkish rose Heart:  jasmine sambac absolute, Madagascar ylang ylang, white floral accord of tuberose, frangipani, gardenia Base: Patchouli, tobacco, white woods, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla

As a perfume writer, I’m no stranger to the hyperbole of press releases and sometimes hysterically overwrought copy not even I could cook up. I tear my hair out every time I try to express the intangible and describe the perfumes I have the supreme luck to experience. Many have been marvels. Some have made their own way into my perfume cabinet and into my heartstrings and because I’m a hapless if hopeful romantic – in spite of all my life has taught me – there they remain, arguing amongst themselves like the harem of any Moghul emperor… ‘which one will her Majesty pick today?’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’

This can make anyone a little – or more than a little… jaded. With thousands of new releases a year, with the constant clamor of ‘New!’ ‘Astounding!’ and hyper-luxurious price tags, there’s no lack of wafting wolves out to eat my money or feed my fragrant addictions.

Yet the kind of fragrant transport, the storied genies, the ghosts of a distant past and all the dimensions of teeming, swirling, dancing multitudes of color and life and spice contained in just three sample vials from a brand new line have utterly, completely taken my breath and certainly my words away. I could have said – as my friend Olfactoria once famously did: ‘Great juice! Go buy it!’

Instead, I will say that  each of these extraordinary jeweled juices that travel through time and place have a heartbeat of heritage and an exuberant future ahead.

Life is the eternal ‘now’. Live it!

Neela Vermeire Creations is available at Luckyscent, Jovoy Paris, Parfümerie Osswald in Zürich, Sündhaft München, and directly from Neela Vermeire’s website, where sample sets are also sold.

Images: Vedic artwork of the Shiva in his aspect as Dakshinamurthy, guru and teacher of all knowledge & the Next and Last Incarnation of Lord Vishnu from vedic-art.weebly.com

Image of Nur Jahan: exoticindia.fr

The garden of Diwan-i-Am, Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh from gordonbrentingram.ca

Indian Bride, worldstylo.blogspot.com

Photo of the Mumbai skyline known as ‘The Queen’s Necklace’, classygal.wordpress.com

Disclosure: Samples were sent to me for review by Neela Vermeire

A Fearful Symmetry


– A review of Penhaligon’s ‘Amaranthine’

A Bengal tiger is pacing on my desk as I type this, eyeing me with a bit of feline disdain and a slight twitch of tail. Hairy Krishna and Janice Divacat are convinced this tiger is, as they see it, the cat’s meow. I caught Krishna, the more adventurous of the two, getting so close he could sniff and breathe in this strange and wondrous creature, only to jump away with a sudden sneeze and a shake of his head. Not even he could quite grasp the concept of this …entity. Janice, on the other hand, just sat herself down and gazed at it adoringly.

If Hairy Krishna has issues, then who am I to argue since I have them, too. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it either, and I asked for it, after all.

The tiger is Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s, and while I have often been unsettled and occasionally knocked sideways by a perfume, rarely have I been quite so unnerved and unsettled as I am over this one. So alien in the best sense of the word to so many of my perfume sensibilities and so compelling that no matter how hard I try, I can’t stay away. In the past two days, I’ve walked by my desk and that lovely Penhaligon’s tissue paper, and right as I’m about to go on to do something else, that tiger twitches its tail and stops me in my tracks. I. Just. Have. To. Sniff. Again.

This can’t be good. Yet it is. Sinfully good!

Amaranthine is very much a jungle beast, a tropical tiger, burning bright through the first heady rush of banana tree leaf, green tea, coriander oil and cardamom. It is…odd, the same way a note like davana can be odd for being so compelling, with a definite chai vibe and a milky cardamom. So?

What if I told you that this is a Bertrand Duchaufour creation, and we all know M. Duchaufour likes to have a few aces up his devious sleeve. When I get comfortable with Amaranthine, when I’m about to be lulled into a sweet chai-with-cardamom rush, as smooth and luminous as the gold border on a silk sari, this tiger chooses to show its teeth, and before you know what hits you, you are hoist on a stunning petard of heady blooms, a tropical sword that teeters on the brink of too-much, too-heady, too…hot to handle.

This is where that tiger twitches its tail and shows its claws, when it gets dirty and borderline over-ripe and definitely sexy. Nothing in this humid, flower sword says ‘come-hither’ so much as it says ‘let-me-devour-you’, and I road-tested this on a susceptible quarry, solely in the interests of scientific research, you understand.

Tiger, tiger, burning, bright. I was reminded of a painting by one of my favorite illustrators called ‘The Transformation of Angarred’, of a woman who sees her reflection in a pool, and she’s already half-leopard.

That would be Amaranthine. Strange, haunting, compelling, bordering on dirty, teetering on too much, but it’s not over until the tiger growls, although this tiger never does. Instead, it lies down, sated, and begins to lick its paws, and – who knew? – purr. You can tell me that tigers don’t purr. I won’t believe you, because that’s exactly what Amaranthine does…dries down to a sweet, cuddly, musky, creamy sandalwood that has, to paraphrase Christopher Marlowe, all its pleasures proved and all its dangers braved and all its fearful symmetry is simply a trick of the light, a glimpse of danger and sensual anticipation. Even so, it’s still a pussycat underneath.

The amaranth flower, with its vibrant purple-red hue, was once described by Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’:

“Immortal amaranth, a flower which once
In paradise, fast by the tree of life,
Began to bloom; but soon for man’s offence
To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows…”

If ever I could imagine such a flower, blooming by the tree of life, this would be it. Just make sure this tiger growls first, or you will never hear it purr…

Notes according to Penhaligon’s:
Top notes: Green tea, white freesia, banana tree leaf, coriander seed oil, cardamom absolute
Heart notes: Rose, carnation, clove oil, orange blossom, ylang ylang, Egyptian jasmine absolute
Base notes: Musk, vanilla, sandalwood, condensed milk, tonka bean

Amaranthine is available from the Penhaligon’s website and also from First in Fragrance.

Disclosure: Sample graciously provided by Nicky of Penhaligon’s Ltd. for review, and although she was kind enough to send me two samples, one of them was quickly purloined by a now former colleague..;-)

Painting: ‘The Transformation of Angarred’, by Kinuko Y. Craft