Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dior Sauvage: The Black Hole of Perfumery

"But anything natural which has not been absorbed into utility by passing through the cleansing channels of conceptual order-the screech of  stylus on slate which sets the teeth on edge, the haut-goût which brings to mind filth and corruption, the sweat which appears on the brow of the diligent - whatever is not quite  assimilated, or infringes the commands in which the progress of centuries has been sedimented, is felt as  intrusive and arouses a compulsive aversion."

"That is why smell, as  both  the  perception  and  the perceived - which  are one  in  the act of olfaction - is more expressive than other senses. When we see we remain who we are, when we smell we are absorbed entirely. In civilization, there­fore, smell  is regarded as a disgrace, a sign of the lower social orders, less­er races, and baser animals. The civilized person is allowed to give way to such desires only if the prohibition is suspended by rationalization in the service of practical purposes, real or apparent. One is allowed to indulge the outlawed drive if acting with the unquestionable aim of expunging it." 

Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, "Elements of Anti-Semitism," Dialectic of Enlightenment. Philosophical Fragments (first published 1949)

"I believe this is a very nice clean soapy scent. It may not conjure images of exotic far off places or rare ingredients from such places but it makes you feel enveloped by a squeaky clean aroma. [...] This is so nice and comforting and not cheap smelling. Great when you're in great looking casual clothing."

"Sauvage is an odd scent; it’s both generic and discordant at the same time. [...] It’s clearly a low-budget affair, yet it’s technically accomplished; it riffs on several mainstream cliches, then smashes them awkwardly together; it’s discordant and somewhat ugly, yet it’s primed for mass-consumption.

Reviews of Dior Sauvage on Basenotes,

Something went unnoticed upon the release of Dior Sauvage in 2015. It marked and absolute end point of creative perfumery, a singularity of algorithm-driven commodification free from human interference, from culture, thus. It transcends aesthetic judgment, because that is not its domain. It smells, but it is not perfume. It is the signature scent of the self-disciplining neoliberal worker-drone, the expunging of smell by smell as described by Adorno and Horkheimer in the Dialectics of the Enlightenment (amusing to think they might have had Moustache by Rochas in mind, that urinous masterpiece worthy of Marcel Duchamp [double pun there]).

That so many people like it (in the way you like stuff on facebook, i.e. without any desire for exploration, reflexivity, depth) is no less a commentary on our civilization than the election of Donald Trump. Small fissures and fractures in overlooked places can also be telling.So what to do, when you encounter such an anti-matter miasma, a 21st century version of the plague? You do what they did back then, wear olfactory medicine - I suggest Ma'ai by Bogue.          

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Natural Gourmand for Gourmets: Chocolat Irisé by Annette Neuffer

How you perceive, classify and evaluate scents fundamentally depends your broader socio-cultural and personal biographical scent socialization. There is no doubt my high sensitivity towards monomolecular synthetic aromachemicals is owed to the abscence of most functional perfumery in our household: for decades we have only used unfragranced detergents, cleaners etc. and only naturally fragranced cosmetics and soaps. As a result I perceive much of the world and people around me as regular synth-bombs reeking of dihydromyrcenol, calone, ambroxan, ethylvanillin etc., all of which they seem hardly even to register. At such moments I sympathize with perfume prohibition in the workplace, though that will not eliminate the fascinating phenomenon of long-unwashed clothes still exuding „april-fresh“ wafts of fabric softener scent. Many of my fellow citizens, children and adults alike, seem completely desensitized when it comes to this olfactory overkill, while at the same time finding the natural smell of a body to be completely inacceptable and "unhygienic." I ask myself sometimes: what should be the consequence of the fact that all humans are principally entirely and intuitively capable of differentiating between monomolecular and complex natural scents, between phenethyl alcohol and rose oil? Considering, as a legendary Slow Food experiment showed, that children not exposed to unprocessed foods tended to prefer the synthetic aroma of strawberry yoghurt to the challenging complexity of a real strawberry, a sign of gustatory and olfactory impoverishment, of a brutal sensory limitation to engaging the complexity and sensory reality of the world. This is not so much an immediate health issue, but one of aesthetics and of aisthesis (humans as sensorily perceiving bodies) ; it raises fundamental questions about the nature of our being-in-the-world. Perhaps it is time to consider the question of naturals and synthetics (a difficult differentiation, but if you prefer: complex naturally sourced scents and monomolecules) in perfumery from this vantage point, rather than the misleading debate about allergies (which are just as likely to be caused by natural oils with hundreds of secondary and tertiary components than by synthetics).

Soooo....As Chocolat Irisé has once more proven to me, the fact that I detest with a passion the great majority of gourmand perfumes has nothing at all to do with the genre as such, but with its consistent cultivation of artificiality grounded in massive monomolecular overdosing. A good crème brulée can only be made with real vanilla pods, not vanillin flavouring, and a good gourmand requires a high percentage of natural oils with a complex olfactory spectrum. Sure, Jacques Guerlain's Shalimar contained vanillin, but it also brimmed with tonka, iris, 30% (!) bergamot, as well as jasmine, rose, birch tar, patchouli, sandalwood and more and more and more. The beauty of unobtrusive complexity!

And so we come to Annette Neuffers take on the oriental gourmand, Shalimar naturelle en cacao, so to say. The absence of synthetics and the quality of the natural raw materials means that balance and complexity reign sovereign here; the perfumer's talent ensures that the chocloate-vanilla soufflé does not collapse into olfactory porridge; and the all-natural compositon prevents outré displays of sillage and intensity. It is, in sum, wonderful. The opening is powerfully citric-floral, I get stronger „orangey“ impressions from the tangerine over the tart bergamot and more white-floral aspects than rose (which, however, rises a bit later). Cocoa notes come into play very quickly and prompt associations of old fashioned hot chocolate made from the real thing rather than industrial powder. A wonderful olfactory baldachin of floral notes unfolds supported by the cocoa-vanilla scaffold, with the gentle iris building a bridge between florality and vanilla sweetness. The smokey earthiness of patchouli also gently holds hands with that aspect of the oh so multifaceted vanilla, the rest of the base remains softly at the back. Close to the skin you can cherish the lusciously complex exotic pod that our culture has so unjustly turned into a signifier of blandness. The whole composition settles down after about half an hour to a wonderfully woven skin scent with a gentle aura - gentle in no way connoting feminine here, but really a unisex quality. I actually feel it is the nose-searing loudness of synthetic gourmands tha project a sort of misguided hyper-femininity of the worst sort.

Chocolat Irisé is true to its name, a beautiful, classy, but easily worn pleasure scent recommended to all lovers of Guerlinade and traditional hot chocolate, friends of natural sweetness and spice, and those who have wondered why the can't handle gourmands, even though they love a fine dessert.