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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DSH Perfumes revisits the Secrets of Egypt collection – and adds another treasure

By Donna

A few years ago Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes created a stunning collection of fragrances for the Denver Art Museum's King Tut exhibit. She researched ancient techniques and formulae to bring historic perfumes to life. Now she has reworked three of these perfumes to modernize them, and they are being presented as the “New Kingdom” collection; instead of being exacting reconstructions of antique fragrances, which was impressive enough, they are streamlined and clarified using a mixture of botanical and synthetic materials to bring them into line with the rest of her repertoire. (Wisely, she left my beloved 1,000 Lilies, also know as Susinon, alone; as far as I am concerned, it was already perfect.) The three reformulated scents, Antiu, Keni, and Megaleion, have been joined by a new member of the group, Iridum, an interpretation of iris.

I wondered if the fabulous Antiu would still be as good, but I need not have worried; the sharp snap of galbanum married with bitter cherry/almond still works its magic, and the reformulation has extended the initial effect of the two contrasting notes so that they can be enjoyed over a longer span of time. The opening's short life was my only complaint about the original, so I am very happy that the new formula has made it more balanced. It is less dense and “chewy“ and more transparent than the original but none the worse for that. Fans of green scents should really try Antiu. You can't get any greener than galbanum, and once this has settled in and the bitter almond moves into the background, it reminds me a lot of what Balmain's Vent Vert used to smell like, and that is very good indeed.

Keni was a sweetly spicy-woody perfume with a slightly medicinal air about in its first incarnation. It has now lost the medicinal part and is more of a recognizable modern scent, but it retains the fascinating mineral and leather effect in the drydown of the original. It also has a pleasing green aspect that is softer than Antiu's. I still can't figure out exactly what is in it, just like the first time around, but I actually like this version even better. It dries down to a delicious skin incense that makes me want to devour my own arm. Its longevity is good enough so that you may not get much else done if compulsive arm-sniffing is the effect it has on you.

The relatively somber Megaleion is a musky incense and agarwood fragrance that still retains its “vintage” chypre” vibe from before, and it's still marvelous. It's not quite as skewed to the masculine side as the original; in fact, it has been softened just enough to make it more approachable for anyone to wear, and is no longer as austere as it once was. As an example of an ancient art it was beautiful, and now it is equally so but it will probably appeal to a broader audience. Something about it still reminds me of classic perfumes from the more recent past, and that's just as good as Egypt if you ask me.

I must confess that I have never been an “iris person” when it comes to perfume - that is, not until I tried Dawn's Cyprian from her Perfumed Court collection. This charming recreation of an old French wig powder and hair pomade recipe made me realize what I was missing. I was always disappointed that iris fragrances did not smell like the iris flower – they were always too rooty, carroty, earthy or spicy, which did not match up with my love of the delicate scents of iris blossoms. With Cyprian I came to appreciate iris for what it is, not what I wished it could be. Iridum is a woody and refined interpretation of iris, and I found it to be just as delightful to wear as Cyprian even though it is very different in style. It is gentle enough that it has a somewhat floral effect, and not too dry, with just a hint of the “cinnamon red hots” kick found in abundance in some iris fragrances such as the formidable Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens – I can't wear that alien beast, but Iridum is another story. Instead of being haughty and intimidating, it is easy and welcoming, with a warm heart embedded in its cool beauty, and does not have the chilly aloofness that the Lutens does. Iridum can take its place among the pantheon of excellent and highly wearable iris perfumes, as elegant as the rest of the breed, and also among those that made me a convert to this style of fragrance – and yes, an iris person at last.

Image credit: Blue iris from via Creative Commons license; special effects mine.
Disclosure: I received samples of these fragrances from DSH Perfumes for testing.

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