Thursday, October 30, 2008

Velvet Mushrooms in Honey

A downright cold day in New York and a taste of seasonal affective disorder occasioned some thoughts on pain in fragrance and, by extension, ugliness. Not to come off as waspish but, as in the evaluation of a fine cellared wine approaching maturity and its tertiary aromas, the “complexity” of certain fine perfumes may be too much for some people. In fact, a good many people would object to having to think too much about a perfume. (I don’t exactly blame them; they want to smell good and attract.) But the paradox of ugliness in perfume is that often the smeller (as opposed to the smellee) finds something more alluring in a difficult accord than in the umpteenth strawberry daiquiri accord. He or she darts in and out for maximum exposure, at first keeping their questions to themselves, until finally asking what the smellee is wearing. Certainly some quotidian floral may be there, but something unknown inheres as well, precipitating the rare attractiveness of the nameless. A perfume can become like the tomb in a bucolique by Poussin, on which are engraved the words “Et in Arcadia Ego.”

Of late, two gems of perfumery come to mind, both of them less than two years old: Onda (Vero Profumo) and Velvet Gardenia (Tom Ford Private Blend). Each intrigues the nose with an off-putting note or accord of notes. Onda’s funk (and its charm) comes from animalic touches; Velvet Gardenia’s from the fungal note so true to living gardenia blossoms. Both have a common bedfellow in phenylacetic acid, hero of the soon-to-be-discontinued Miel de Bois (Serge Lutens), a honeyed note that “if pushed up a notch,” as Grain de Musc notes, “would smell like piss.”

In Velvet Gardenia, David Apel of Givaudan grappled with the age-old problem of the white floral bouquet, a perfume genre capable of genius or utter cretinage. He left the unsavory facets of tuberose in the composition, the sweet mustiness of a flower blown and beginning along the arc of decomposition. He painted his backgrounds in dark shades of incense and labdanum. The overall effect is unsettling but stunning.

Happy All Hallows


Blogger Perfumeshrine said...

If there is an Arcadian flower, gardenia must be it (tuberose probably too, come to think of it). Well said.
Happy all Hallows to you too and working on the tag, promise :-)

October 31, 2008 at 3:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodness it's happened again! Intrigued by LT's review I took myself off to Selfridges to sniff VG and immediately recognised the lovely mushroom note. My exclamations over it were met with a blank stare from the SA and the comment "no, it doesn't have mushroom as a listed note." I understand that I said but didn't she think there was a cool undergrowth type smell in there, like mushrooms? "I'll go and smell them when I'm next in the supermarket". I thought it was a shame that she didn't already have the smell of fungus freshly picked in her smellcabulary. Great review of a wonderful scent, thank you. Donanicola

October 31, 2008 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

E., I couldn't agree more. Gardenias are an amazing blend of sex, beauty and death. Perfect for these days when we contemplate the finale of harvestide and the earth's apparent death.

October 31, 2008 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

D., I love our synchronicity. 90% of the SAs need very basic olfactory instruction.

October 31, 2008 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

C., I know we share an interest in complex, almost bordering-on-ugly/dirty scents... I remember placing my review of Velvet Gardenia under the heading "the corruption of white flowers"... In both case (Onda and VG), the earthy, decomposing soil dimension is perfectly suited to the witching hour.

November 3, 2008 at 12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Superb picture!

November 3, 2008 at 6:49 AM  
Blogger indieperfumes said...

Something I saw on the tuberose, an article you might enjoy. Apparently thought to increase emotional depth in the wearer. Lots of lore. Apparently very easy to grow. We might try them in our window boxes this spring.

November 3, 2008 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger the oblitterati said...

Sadly I'm one of the philistines put off by tuberose and gardenia, but I adore the scent of mushrooms as well as many of their fungal cousins. I was curious if your respect for the scent of decay extended to overtly mushroom evoking scents like CB I hate Perfume's Wild Hunt...

November 3, 2008 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

D., We most certainly do have that interest in common, trying to turn the tide (try as we might) against the transparently clean school of perfumery. I find as my nose becomes attuned to nuances in the smells that surround me, I crave bordering-on-ugly compositions and big-boned aldehydic things. In a word, complexity and cojones.

November 3, 2008 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Lucy, Danke sehr for the link! Lovely times with you at the Botanic Garden on Sunday. Let's plan a day in Williamsburg and visit Christopher at his gallery.

November 3, 2008 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Oblitterati- I have always wanted to love Wild Hunt -- I love its idea -- but the thing itself fails to seduce me. It is certainly novel and very true to the 'sous bois' accord that CB creates with moss and dirt and chanterelles.

November 3, 2008 at 7:59 PM  

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