Monday, October 6, 2008

The Memory of Smoke


A few year back, in a class I audited on Robert Motherwell, the lecturer went on and on about white space, the blank canvas, etc. Likewise, Christopher Brosius’s olfactory creations, for better or worse, have always struck me as studies in what isn’t there. But I fear I must strain the painting analogy a bit further: his fragrances remind me of paint. Or to be more exact still: they remind me of paint’s smell. Some are like tempera, others oil, yet others the smell of an old oil on canvas. (When the guards aren’t looking, I sometimes get frighteningly close.) This is not said by way of disparagement. Fire from Heaven, the third of his “primal smells” series, is breathtakingly beautiful. As beautiful indeed as an Orientalist scene of Damascus from the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Brosius, who made his name at companies like Kiehl’s and Demeter, isn’t known for the opulence his perfumes. His affectation, rather, tends to melancholy, backward glances and a certain brand of North Brooklyn nostalgie. Names like Snowed In 1973, Poor Leaf I Trod and Grandmother’s Brace populate the shelves of his humble Wythe Avenue studio; beneath them, a wealth of absolutes labeled everything from Dandelion to – my favorite – Ocean (Mediterranean). A behemoth dog of indeterminate breed patrols.

Fire from Heaven takes its cue from literary fag hag Mary Renault’s eponymous novel about Alexander the Great. Apparently, the book is filled with incense. To my nose in the perfume absolute concentration, Brosius succeeds at wedding the sweetness of opopanax to the brisk sting of cedarwood, rounding off the edges with sandalwood, styrax and labdanum. As he himself is wont to admit, this is a scent about subtlety. At first, the elements seem all scrunched together, but with time the air clears a bit. And what is left is, at intervals, dark and light, sparkling and opaque.

Fire from Heaven may not inspire divine retribution, but it will invite warm nuzzles on cool autumn nights. Some may call it an incense for the incense-neophyte or, even perhaps, the incense-lite type. This is hardly tepid praise. Some of the big perfume houses could learn something here for when the hordes tire of flamboyant frankincense and just want someone (or -thing) to keep home fires burning.

7 Comments:

Blogger federico said...

where do you get al this info from?

October 6, 2008 at 11:24 PM  
Anonymous fredricktoo said...

the behemoth dog Chris owns is a Mastiff. They are AKC recognized pure bred dogs whose history goes back to before Christ.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Mastiff

October 7, 2008 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Federico and Fredericktoo- I write critiques and impressions, not journalism by rote. I appreciate your questions and clarifications, and I am happy to now know that the perfumer's dog is a Mastiff. Cheers to you both.

October 7, 2008 at 7:17 AM  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I adore the man, and his work.
I'm sure I'd love his dog, as well.

Lucky you, to live in the same borough.....!

October 9, 2008 at 2:48 AM  
Anonymous Musette said...

What a lovely post - you had me at 'paint'. I, too, get frighteningly close sometimes, especially to really old oils. The smell of my studio, when I've just mixed up some paints and cleaned some brushes, is intoxicating.

Next time you're at CB, give C's Mastiff a kiss from my Rotties! I do so love a giant dog...

xo

October 12, 2008 at 6:42 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Musette, I used to love the smell of fingerpaints and paste when I was a schoolkid; that, of course, and the smell of my aunts when they'd enter our house in their fur coats. I think Brosius has captured so much of "those kinds of experiences" on the shelves of his studio.

October 13, 2008 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger Lucy said...

The smell of my father's oil paints, that strong linseed oil smell, is still really delicious to me. One of the reasons I used to play around with his paints behind his back...tho he never minded.

October 17, 2008 at 2:30 PM  

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