Narth’s Musings: Whom do you love? And what do they smell like?

No, I am not talking about a personal lover – rather which celebrity, musician, scientist or astronaut do you admire, and what do they smell like?

My favourite musician is John Grant, an American polyglot artist and amazing lyricist living in Reyjavikk, Iceland. I’ve seen him twice in Melbourne, and the intimacy and joy of his performance has moved me to tears. When I first discovered John Grant, it was akin to the experience of being shocked that you could fall in love again. What could this fabulous, creative man wear as fragrance? I had to know! He has said his favourite scent in the world is Russian Olive trees, referencing them in his song Pale Green Ghosts. His lyrics often paint strong psychological pictures using the minutiae of everyday life. From a listener’s perspective he feels simple moments deeply and revels in overthinking for the pure pleasure of it. He must like perfume I told myself, he MUST!

John Grant

I have David Nyholm to thank (deeply) for granting my wish to know. He started a wonderful fangroup for John Grant that has been lovely to read, and he came through for me with John’s current favourite fragrances.

He “especially loves” Hermés Eau d’Orange Verte and also loves Jo Malone Lime Basil. In the 80’s, he was a Kouros man (weren’t we all?), but I’d imagine he applies it with a lighter hand these days. And, for extra excitement, the niche horse in the pack is the Icelandic house Fischer‘s fragrance No. 23. Fischer was started by the singer Jónsi of the band Sigur Ros.

Have any of you tried the perfume house Fischer? Because the descriptions are wonderful, “a beached whale about to explode”, yes please! This is the first I’ve heard of them.

I was very chuffed to learn what my favourite musician wears as scent, and I’ll be splashing on the Eau d’Orange Verte in the future when I’m having a John Grant listening session.

Interviewers often ask people their favourite music, food or place to visit, but it’s a rarity for someone to be asked about their scent. Of course, if we in perfume land were journalists that’s the question we would lead with. I imagine myself, suddenly famous, letting the Guardian know that they simply must ask me about my perfume which is at least as vital a question as what books are at my bedside. “Oh yes, it’s Penhalgion’s Sartorial, it is one of my most beloved fragrances…”

Do you have someone you admire whose scent you know? Is there someone you’ve always wondered about?

 

Image: my own

Saturday Question: Do You Share Your Hobbies?

Undina: I know that you all are extremely attentive and would not have missed it, but just in case you’re reading it really early in the morning, late at night or just while being preoccupied with something else, I’m bringing to your attention that today your host is Narth.

 

Saturday Question on Undina's Looking Glass

 

Saturday Question #36:

Do You Share Your Hobbies?

Treat this question as wide or as narrow as you wish – you can answer concentrating on our shared perfume hobby only or tell us about any other hobbies, loves and likes – be that books, knitting, streamed shows or philately.

My Answer

I’ve always had rather solitary hobbies, pursuits that I happily potter around with at home, no other people required. Thanks to the internet even the most obscure hobby has its own community, but I do sometimes wish for friends in the real world that like what I like. I’ve always felt uncomfortable pushing my hobbies on people, a product of a childhood dominated by the megalomaniac interests of others. I don’t want to be that person pressing a book into your hands saying you simply MUST read this, it’s SO good! The pressure, ugh. I remember well when a friend went through a Bollywood phase and talked incessantly of Bollywood movies, Bollywood actors, Bollywood gossip… I had never seen any Bollywood but that didn’t stop this from being the most interesting topic of conversation in her opinion. This comes to mind every time I mention watching K-Dramas, I can’t bring myself to say: “and this one is really great, I think you’d like it”. I am very uncomfortable putting myself forward in that manner, having silently nodded along to other people’s oblivious flights of fandom. Yes, I do realize there is a middle ground that should be aimed for, and maybe someday I’ll get around to that!

Perfume though… I am good at sharing perfume. If someone loves a scent I’m wearing or fondly talks of a specific note, I will be rushing home to fill a decant. I’ve got a Liquides Imaginaires decant in my bag ready for when I see someone who loved Buveur de Vent last time I was wearing it. I’m careful not to go overboard in talking about perfume, no need to educate people unless they want to know specifics. What I love is the sharing of perfume, of being a generous benefactor of smells, of surprising people with incense or rose or, once, cardamom after hearing they love it. I used to give people entire bottles, not at great expense but because at that time I had an abundance of fragrances picked up second hand for a few dollars. But that can be seen as an excessive gift, as in many people’s minds perfume is a luxury item. So even though that hulking great bottle of Tresor only cost me 5 bucks, and I was never going to wear it, sometimes it’s too much to give an acquaintance (true story). So now I limit myself to passing on a decant. I like the hard case metallic ones that look like a lipstick. “For your purse” I can say, pressing it into their hands, and it feels just right.

 

Atomizers in a cup

 

Do You Share Your Hobbies?

Narth’s Musings: Perfume’s Power

I’m sure we’ve all talked about this before, but it’s been on my mind of late: negative scent associations that mean a perfume will never work for us. Sometimes it’s obvious, a person we found difficult drenched themselves in a scent, and now we don’t care for it. But often it’s a more subtle and layered experience.

The sight of the black Lanvin Arpege bottle with its gold embossed mother and child will always make me feel a combination of guilt, sadness and anxiety. My mother wore Arpege, and this bottle has an almost claustrophobic effect on me. I prefer my perfume to be, at its very worst, dreadfully dull. I do not like it when perfume triggers a horrible flashback of feelings, a sudden reminder that yes, you have these feelings, and here they are in a big feeling vomit, enjoy! Many years ago, I bought a bottle of Lanvin Arpege after convincing myself I would redeem it, and it would be only about good associations. Sadly, the mother and child motif was too much, and when I finally swapped it away, I was relieved. I think if you had a great relationship with your mom, and she wore this scent the bottle would be the sweetest thing! Maybe you can’t bottle maternal love, but for myself personally Lanvin Arpege mockingly bottles the absence of it. I do not have a rational relationship with this perfume.

Another Odor Horribilis for me is anything with a whiff of campfire. I like my smoke scents to smell like an ashtray left rotting under the couch in a sharehouse. The moment we trek out into the woods with a bonfire burning I shut down hard. Having lived through several bushfires and known beautiful folk who didn’t make it, I absolutely cannot abide this smell, this burning, burning smell. It will never be a scent of pleasure again. I do remember a time in my childhood when it was one of those “best smells ever” and all about camping, singing and eating too much sugar… But that’s another Narth. There is a Naomi Goodsir fragrance I’ve never tried because of the bonfire note. As the SA was enthusiastically listing the notes, I said “NO” rather too firmly and then sheepishly mentioned bushfires. She immediately understood, and we moved on to something happily floral.

Perfume is powerful stuff. I’ve had several long perfume breaks where I stopped thinking about it at all, but negative associations would still throw themselves at me against my will. Smell, the sense most people value the least, has been busy building a personal history with us all our lives.

I’d love to hear your own associations, if you want to share, of scents you would rather not revisit.

Bushfire Smoke AZ

Photo by me, during our long summer of bushfire smoke. This was reality for many weeks and the smell filled the house.

Eau de Lockdown

Since this post isn’t a review, I didn’t want to add the author’s name to the title, but still I bring it to your attention that this post is written by Narth. (Undina)

* * *

I write to you in hard lockdown. My state of Victoria has declared both a State of Emergency and a State of Disaster. If you find the double declaration confusing don’t worry, so does everyone. Double states of badness are upon us! We have a curfew and cannot travel more than 5 km (3 miles) from our house. Everything is shut. The post office has called for volunteers. The children are completely glazed over and exhausted from doing schooling online for months and I’m sure it is even worse for the teachers. We’ve been in varying stages of this new normal for 6 months now. Mental health seems to be a tug of war between trying to throw ourselves into new interests and claim and reclaim who we were during the before times. “Don’t try this at home kids!” is an expression that no longer has any relevance to anyone.

My perfume love is just as battered and bewildered as the rest of me. I’ve always said, “I wear perfume for myself, not for other people”, but now that there literally are no other people (!!!) I’ve seen that this is only a half truth. I wear perfume as a tool for interacting with other people, for moving through public spaces, for deciding who I am that day. I always knew this, but I am suddenly painfully aware that my identity for a day, an evening, has been a core reason for my wearing perfume. It isn’t just that sillage is irrelevant, it’s that choosing who I will be today is irrelevant because every day is the same. A lifelong introvert, I never realized just how much time I spent with others until suddenly I am alone. All my whining in the before times that “I wish I could have just one day to myself” has come back to haunt me.

In the beginning of this lockdown I went a bit mad with the online purchasing. It was easy to rationalize a blind buy bottle, after all I wasn’t eating out anymore, and I was saving a fortune in train fares. A steady flow of books, perfume and wine in the post was surely good for me, I wanted something to look forward to! I was even buying “Mystery” wine because I felt like I needed a surprise to counter the tedium of sameness. Thank goodness there were no Mystery perfume offers, which would have been even worse than some of my blind buys I suspect. While waiting for the highly delayed post, I began hardcore going through my samples, I was going to catalog and take notes on them all, I was going to wear multiple samples a day for science! This kept me occupied for all of a week and then, suddenly, I was over it. I spent a month wearing only a handful of favourites, regretting blind buys and wondering if I could exist on Penhalgion’s Sartorial and one random rose scent for the rest of my life. In between these quite obsessive phases were long weeks when I forgot perfume existed despite my desk being covered in it.

This is a post with no conclusion. My current resolve is to sell some of my mistakes and to try and bring balance to the Force, not just in perfume but in my other interests. Reading ten hours a day or power watching K-dramas until 2am is also a little unbalanced. In the beginning we were all okay about that, these were strange times and we encouraged each other to just do that thing, that thing that felt good. But the strange times are now the new norm. Where to from here, fragrance my friend? I have plans to start matching my perfume to books and tv shows as a kind of substitute for happily overthinking what to wear to the pub for Trivia night. I’ve worn Mugler‘s Alien to every sci fi movie I’ve ever been to since it came out 15 years ago, so these plans are not without precedent but… perhaps without a (sillage) audience they feel a little forced. I need my perfume mojo back, friends!

Perfume Samples

Photo is of everything that was on my desk! Some of it was in a box and some of it was not…

Review by Narth: Penhalgion’s Belgravia Chypre

I hoped that after a while everybody gets used to seeing posts written by my guest-cum-co-bloggers Narth and Portia, but a couple of times recently when Narths posts were mistaken for mine, I decided for a while to add her name to the titles (and Portia is doing something along the line already) – at least until everyone learns to check the By line (Undina).

* * *

I’ve always been someone who likes strong flavours. If a flavour must be delicate, it should be a work of art to make up for its delicacy. I was raised on robustness; mega garlic and onions, chillies, the darkest of pumpernickels. Food was praised in my childhood for how much of a flavour bomb it was. I didn’t eat sliced white bread until I was at least 15 as this was regarded as poison by one parent and pointless by the other. Why would you eat this when you could eat rye with caraway? Don’t people realize white flour is stripped of all its nutrients?

The last time I was travelling, I had a revelation as I sat in the hostel kitchen and ate my free breakfast. A slice of white toast, spread with margarine (an abomination) and some thin, sugary strawberry jam. At home I would have used butter, and my jam would have been either an expensive brand or, more likely, made by myself and intensely flavourful. Here, drinking some over stewed black coffee and munching away at this testament to blandness, I shocked myself by appreciating the very blandness itself. It wasn’t about beautiful simplicity in food, it was a sudden shift in my thinking from an almost religious belief that all food had to be purposefully wonderful. Now you could say this enjoyment of blandness was a byproduct of travelling, we all know that the McDonald’s breakfast you have at 5am in the airport is the best McDonald’s breakfast you’ll ever have. But it was more than that, and since returning home I’ve found myself enjoying food in a different way. Perhaps, the last snobbery of my upbringing has finally dropped off, or maybe I’m just a lame-o hipster. And of course, I’m still overthinking everything, but that’s what perfume people do. So, has this played out in perfume for me? Not as readily as with food, but there have been a few times my hostel breakfast has come to mind as I enjoy a scent.

Penhaligon’s Belgravia Chypre, a limited edition now making rounds of the discounters, has at its very heart a strange staleness. It’s pretty, clean and patchouli minty. A thin rose, it smells like old musk sticks left in the bottom of a paper bag. Musk sticks for the non-Antipodeans are pink, musk flavoured sweets that people are either delighted by or grimace at the sight of. Found in the corner shops for a few cents each, many an Australian childhood included buying this cheap candy and eating it out of little paper bags. Musk is a strange thing to use as a flavour if you haven’t grown up with it. In my perfume swapping days, I would often include some Musk flavoured Lifesavers as the “extras” in an overseas swap because it is such a surprising thing to try if you’ve never had it before. Belgravia Chypre dries down to a stale paper bag infused with the flattest of musks, and I absolutely love it. It’s become my favourite evening simple scent, when I want to wind down. It often makes me laugh because of that not very good musk note, and I would not wish it any other way. I think they were going for a sheer musk, but if they had achieved that, it would have lost all its personality for me and been just another musky rose.

Do you have any scents you appreciate for their failure to be exceptional?

 

Penhaligon's Belgravia Chypre

 

Penhalgion’s Belgravia Chypre (Fabrice Pellegrin, 2018)

Top Notes: Raspberry, Pink Pepper
Middle Notes: May Rose, Mate
Base Notes: Patchouli, Cistus labdanum

 

Image: my own

Zoologist Bee

Have you ever had a perfume note that was never center stage enough for you? A supporting note that warms, cools or brightens the star of the fragrance. You talk about how much you love the inclusion of that note, how wonderfully it is used! But the more you wear it the more you think: why can’t this note be the star? Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! In Zoologist Bee the main player is honey sodden beeswax, and all the floral attributes serve only to praise and fete the delightful waxiness.

I’ve found beeswax to be an elusive note in fragrance, I can remember only a few times being absolutely delighted by its presence. BPAL and Arcana perfume oils have scents with a beeswax note, but even while smearing on a generous amount of oil, I’ve always wanted it to be more intense. Penhalgion’s Sartorial has a waxy note designed to evoke the wax blocks used with thread by tailors, and I’ve huffed my arm trying to focus on those waxy, wonderful moments. I’ve found many honey perfumes are just sweetness without the wax, which doesn’t work for me. If you eat really excellent cold pressed honey, that wax note will be there.

When I was a child, my Dad would often bring home honeycomb, and I’d sit at the table spooning up great gobs of it, chewing away at the wax until only a tiny bit was left. Sometimes there was even a bee in the honeycomb! It was a far cry from squeezy bottles shaped like bears full of sugar syrup. Zoologist Bee is truly all about the bee and his creations. The floral notes capture that mouthwatering moment you try some fresh from the hive honey and marvel at how many flavours you can taste in it. Orange blossom, pollen, a resinous goodness, honey is a work of art. I’m honestly astonished to find all these beautiful tastes so vividly portrayed in this scent.

 

Zoologist Bee

 

Zoologist Bee (Cristiano Canali, 2019)

Top Notes: Orange, Ginger Syrup, Royal Jelly Accord

Middle Notes: Broom, Heliotrope, Mimosa, Orange Flower

Base Notes: Benzoin, Labdanum, Musks, Sandalwood, Tonka, Vanilla

Bee is quite linear. Potency gradually softening is the extent of the journey. And potent it is, no delicate wafting breeze here. This is a wonderful thing when beeswax is often only a bit player in a vanillic drydown. Is it too sweet? Is excellent honey too sweet? There’s your answer. It’s too sweet because it’s supposed to be. The only thing holding me back from acquiring a bottle is that I have yet to try Hiram Green‘s Slow Dive, another true beeswax and honey scent according to reviews. I’ve sniffed it once, and I suspect it is richer, while Bee is simpler. Both are very appealing, but I probably do not need two intensive honey and beeswax scents. I’m looking forward to our lockdown being over, someday, and being able to take myself off to the perfume shop and have a Slow Dive sniff.

And here’s an odd tidbit about Zoologist Bee. I have accidentally eaten some of this fragrance, and it tastes just like it smells! I honestly think you could make this into a liqueur or a gelato flavouring. This is not the first time I’ve accidentally eaten perfume, and usually it is a vile experience, so I was quite surprised.

 

Image: my own

Mancera Red Tobacco

TOBACCO. We’re not supposed to like it any more because it kills you. Perfume is one of the few places where you can say “tobacco,” and people swoon and discuss exactly what kind of tobacco it is. Pipe, cigar, a fresh rollie (that’s one for the Australian readers). I suspect that in one more generation these nuances will have to be explained as real life associations with tobacco become a thing of the past. That’s an interesting shift for perfumery. Many people are attracted to tobacco in perfume because of warm memories of a father or grandfather; the smell of their jacket, a well fed visit, a dog long passed at your feet.

The cost of cigarettes in Australia is nearly 40.00 for a pack of 30. The government raises the tax on all tobacco products 12.5% every year and the traditional “pack a day” smoker’s habit is a thing of the past. Teenagers no long stand around in clumps puffing away, their parents have long quit, and the scent of tobacco is something you will have to seek out, not have blown second hand all over you. This is, of course, a good thing. Though future perfumers may not be seeking to recreate their own memories, they will still be using tobacco in perfumery because tobacco is delicious.

I have always loved the smell. My dad had a pipe and cigar phase, and I was fascinated by both of them. Once, he let me puff his cigar. It was gross, but the blue smoke and the smell were fascinating. Pipe tobacco was even better . The enjoyment and study of tobacco in all its varying nuances and styles is a close cousin to perfume. While we may appreciate the smell of wine, it’s not designed to fill the air with its aroma the way tobacco and fragrance are. And so, in search of beauty without nicotine I’ve always put my hand up to try a fragrance with tobacco as a note. Most of the time I’ve found it elusive. Smothered by oud, reduced to being a sweet note for vetiver, serving only to brighten a leather and then fade. Shrill. An abstract painting titled Tobakkō. Nothing has ever smelled like burying your face into a fresh tobacco pouch until Mancera Red Tobacco. It has other things going on, but the tobacco note is rich and true, lasting from first spray to drydown.

 

Mancera Red Tobacco

 

Mancera Red Tobacco 2017

Top Notes: Saffron, Cinnamon, Incense, Nutmeg, White peach, Green apple, Nepalese oud

Middle Notes: Patchouli, Jasmine

Base Notes: Tobacco, Amber, Woody notes, Vetiver, Vanilla, White Musk

Red Tobacco is almost a gourmand: it’s so sweet, it makes me think “tobacco milkshake”. This may sound unappealing, but it’s an addictive scent, like tobacco itself. There is a brief fruity phase I’m not keen on, but that doesn’t last long. Saffron and patchouli are wonders here, macerated together like the filling of an exotic pastry. The cinnamon is an absolute joy paired with tobacco. I find myself fantasizing about cinnamon flavoured tobacco and tobacco flavoured spice mixes. And through it all the pungent, warm, appealing scent of a freshly opened pouch of tobacco dominates. Red Tobacco is not for the timid, it lasts all day, and I recommend you have just a wee spritz until your brain gets used to the potency. If you love it, you will love it deeply and be inhaling yourself for hours.

Oh, and yes, it goes very well with a nice whiskey!

 

Image: my own

Lush’s Gorilla Perfumes Tank Battle

How do we assign value to art? Is the value of a piece changed by the value of who offers an opinion on it?

Lush’s Gorilla Perfumes Tank Battle set out to tell a story of how a famous artist’s words imparted value to an outsider’s art. The art itself was the same before, during and after this event. What interested me in this story was that the perfume Tank Battle experienced the same transformation.

Tank Battle was inspired by the battle of Tachowa Covington to keep his home, a literal water tank. Mr. Covington had been living in an abandoned water tank above a Los Angeles highway for seven years, after arduously cleaning the rust inside and painting it. The exterior of the tank was an industrial piece of oversized scrap, left to crumble into the hillside. Dirty, overgrown and difficult to access, no one would have noticed it … until they went inside. Mr. Covington spent his seven years creating a lived-in art installation, packed with found objects plastered together into a bohemian masterpiece. Paintings, sketches and lyrics covered the walls. Every available space was something Mr. Covington had created. He might still be living there, but once he invited enough people and their cameras inside, the eyes of the local government fell upon him. The tank would have to go, living there violated all manner of bylaws, and Mr. Covington would have to leave. As Mr. Covington was not a man of means or influence, there seemed no way to halt the inevitable. Mr. Covington’s art was considered to have no real value and was irrelevant to those seeking the removal of the tank. And then everything changed. The famous and mysterious artist Banksy noticed the tank and decided to use the exterior as a canvas. “This looks like an elephant”, he wrote on the tank, simple words, boldly printed. Banksy’s fame and the monetary value of his works meant removing the tank needed to be discussed. There was a reprieve for a time, but eventually the tank was taken intact to be sold, valued for its exterior alone. The interior art was hauled away under duress by Mr. Covington, moved to a cave, a shed and eventually a tent to be damaged and lost by the weather.

* * *

Lush first launched their perfumes in 2003. They have their own lore and history and many devoted followers. There are perfume people who began their lifelong love of scent with Lush, moving from the soaps to the fragrances and then out into the world of perfume. But for many people Lush is a messy, adolescent looking shop and Lush’s perfumes are not on their radar. Lush, the soap people? If the perfumes smell like the shop, they must be terrible! Tank Battle was not on my radar until the eminent Luca Turin raved about it in Perfumes, The Guide, giving it 4 stars. And suddenly there it was, a remarkable scent. Mr. Turin opined over “the idea of pure brilliance” of combining geosomin and labdanum. And suddenly Tank Battle is being discussed not as a cheap indie scent you might enjoy but as an excellent fragrance.

This is a lot of waffle for a perfume review with not a single mention of what the perfume smells like. It really is quite unique. There’s a not too sweet bubblegum vapour that infuses it, incense, a bit of motor oil and fresh earth. It’s delicious and fantastical! If you were disappointed in Etat de Libre Orange‘s Encens et Bubblegum, this one might fill that need you didn’t know you had until you read the words “Encens et Bubblegum”. It’s a better blended, more vivid scent, and the drydown is very comforting. I would call it an incense gourmand, taking its place next to so many delicious vanillas that play with darker themes. If you’d like to read more about the fate of Tachowa Covington and his tank, this article will fill you in.

 

Lush Tank Battle

 

Tank Battle (2016)

Labdanum, Patchouli, Clove

These are the only notes given, I think a small sniff will show otherwise!

 

Image: my own (Photo taken in Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia, famous for its graffiti and found art. Here a googly eye discarded beer can cheer up the winter day.)

Liquides Imaginaires Desert Suave

For a long time, I had paid no attention to the brand Liquides Imaginaires. There are so many new houses and they don’t all catch my eye. But one day a friendly sales assistant pointed them out in response to my looking at “masculine” scents. I told her I was not impressed by the bottles: I found their pillar likeness oddly off-putting. She was quick to explain that the perfumer was an architect,  the shape of the bottles was representative of fundamental principles of … I’m not really sure what. I have tried to research this architect angle but came up empty-handed. Though I felt zero attraction to the brand, I went home with a handful of samples; and now I own two bottles of Liquides Imaginaires because, damn, they were all varying degrees of excellent. But let me continue with my carping…

The name Desert Suave is so terrible to me I wince at the thought of someone asking what I’m wearing. It reads like google translate had its way with an excellent name in another language. If this had been a bottle covered in graffiti and maybe an animal paste-up (that’s a graffiti term for all you cool cats), then the name would have been ironic. But no, the pillars of serious architectural posturing are not being ironic. Let me assure you though that Desert Suave does smell like the fantasy oasis of the ad copy, perhaps the one Camel cigarettes wanted you to imagine, and it IS very suave. I’m pretty sure Lawrence of Arabia’s corner shop smells exactly like this. Desert Suave is overwhelmingly dates and dried fruit soaked in syrups and orange blossom water. It’s not particularly sweet because this is a not a dessert, it’s the raw ingredients of a dessert and perhaps some truly excellent naan. Cardamom is wonderfully present, as well as wafts of saffron. Apparently, Desert Suave has a toasted sesame seed note that I almost imagine I can smell.

Liquides Imaginaires Desert Suave

This is a very rich scent. Rich is such a beautiful perfume word, don’t you think? It’s different then “dense” or “luxurious” or “multi-layered”. There is not a lot of progression in Desert Suave, but 12 hours later I’m left with a sweet balsam that is most pleasing. I enjoy how literal this scent is, though it is going for a souk vibe, it is highly focused and never becomes just another oriental. There’s no oud or patchouli, just luminous warm resins, dates and dried fruit. If they had upped the cumin, it would have been skank heaven, but I found the cumin almost undetectable. Perhaps they could release a cumin soaked flanker, Desert Siren, so I could again be traumatized by the name but love everything inside the bottle.

I’ve been very happy with this house, and I’m going to continue exploring it, bottle dorkiness be damned!

Liquides Imaginaires Desert Suave (Quentin Bisch and Nisrine Grillie, 2018)

Top Notes: Indian cardamom, Italian mandarin, clove, cumin, black pepper, saffron
Middle Notes: African orange blossom, rose, geranium, date
Base Notes: Spanish cistus, toasted sesame seed, atlas cedarwood, musk

Image: my own

Ofactive Studio Flashback in New York OR Narth’s Time Traveling Adventure

City scents! I think we’ve all felt the attraction. Could this scent transport me to my beloved Marrakesh? Will it be the ultimate armchair travel to exotic places? I have my olfactory associations, whether real or imagined, but I’ve often been disappointed.

I laughed out loud when I tried Santa Maria Novella‘s Alba di Seoul. Perhaps the outskirts of Seoul smelled like this in the Joseon era, all conifers and freshness but Seoul smells absolutely nothing like that today. Does Kyoto really smell like sakura? No, because most varieties of cherry blossom have no scent, and those that do are very faint. But we now have a sakura note in perfume which oft times is just left of peony with a dash of jam. You can bet any fragrance with Kyoto in the name will either be an incense or a light, pretty thing featuring “sakura”, that magical Japanese word.

The first time I saw Olfactive Studio’s Flashback in New York, I was excited. I grew up in New York, and having left it a long time ago, the word “flashback” captures the impact of my olfactory memories perfectly. They’ve faded over the years, but there are some odd smells that make me intensely nostalgic. Bus fumes is one. I associate the smell with the Port Authority bus terminal, a dark and greasy cave of a place choking in diesel. The smell of bus fumes still makes me wildly happy and full of anticipation of traveling. I rarely smell buses where I live now, so these memories have never been replaced with new ones.

Olfactive Studio pairs each scent with a photograph. The photo for Flashback in New York is of the Chrysler building in a blizzard, very atmospheric, but with one sniff the scent flashed me right back to New York City in the high days of summer, a much more pungent season. Flashback in New York smells like fruity garbage, exhaust and the skunky weed that filled the air before the young ones turned marijuana into an art form. The cumin phase is nicely sweaty and I can almost feel the sooty sheen on my face again. My city of Melbourne, Australia does not smell like any of these things. I have not been back to New York City in many years, perhaps it smells very differently today.  I found Flashback in New York wonderfully evocative, a whole bunch of crazy memories flooded me (oh excuse me, flashbacked me) and continue to do so every time I wear it. I went through a sample, and I knew if I didn’t have a bottle I would dearly miss it. It’s the clearest olfactory place memory connected to perfume I’ve ever experienced.

Olfactive Studio Flashback in New York

I’m sure some of you are wondering why you would wear perfume described as fruity garbage and weed. Let me assure you they are my very personal notes, my memories. For you Flashback in New York might smell like clary sage and leather, smoke and saffron and a dose of cumin. The clary sage is dry, herbaceous and tweaks Flashback in New York into something quite interesting. Unlike many of the Olfactive Studio fragrances, this scent has good lasting power. Just like New York, it will make an impression.

Tell me about your favourite city perfumes, which ones really speak of the city to you!

Olfactive Studio Flashback in New York (Jerome Epinette, 2018)

Top Notes: cumin, clary sage, white linen, saffron
Middle Notes: violet, Tuscan leather, jasmine
Base Notes: birch smoke, papyrus, vetiver, tonka bean

Photos of New York City taken by teenage Narth