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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Primordial Scents Project 2012: Floating on Air

By Donna

The Primordial Scents Project spearheaded by Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals is even more ambitious than last year’s wonderful Summer of Patchouli Love. I was very happy that Monica asked me to participate once again in a whirlwind group event. Unlike the patchouli project, this is not a competition per se; the perfumes are not being blind-tested or ranked by the reviewers. We are all just giving our impressions of the perfumers’ “elemental” fragrances, each inspired by Air, Water, Earth, Fire or Spirit. The hard part was deciding which ones to focus on, since the writers had to choose only one or two elements. I chose Air, the subject of this installment and the one for which I wrote an introductory post on Perfume Pharmer, and Fire, which will follow later. Please go to this page for a list of all participating perfumers and bloggers!

This project will be unfolding over the summer of 2012. The concept is about going back to basics in the most literal sense, making perfumes in the spirit of the building blocks of the Universe and life itself, in order to celebrate and pay homage to the unity of where we all come from, and using fragrance as language and the jumping off point for thinking about this subject. What could be more primitive in the best sense of the word, more primal, than the wordless communication of scent? Sometimes there are no words; this is about going deeper. I will attempt to do justice to them, but they are still only words….

I will begin, appropriately enough, with First Breath by perfumer Suzy Larsen of Naked Leaf Perfumes. It opens with a most delicious fresh, sweet lime and mandarin note that I wished would go on forever. Of course it cannot, but an echo of it does linger on very pleasantly throughout the course of its development. This fragrance was inspired by midwifery and birth, because that first breath of air is so momentous, the beginning of life itself and that burst of lime is the embodiment of the drama of that pivotal moment. As it develops, it turns into a soft, sweet herbal (sage, armoise, clary sage) and floral (rose, jasmine, lavender) scent that is essentially the idealized aroma of a newborn baby’s head (or a kitten’s belly, that works too) as a mélange of floral notes and vanilla takes over from the zesty opening. It smells of all things tender and fragile and reminds us that our highest calling as humans is to protect that which is defenseless, whether it is a newborn baby, a blue whale or an entire rainforest. I had not sampled any of Suzy’s fragrances before this, but I am impressed with First Breath.

Next up is Djin by Michael Storer Fragrances. I am already an admirer of this man’s work, especially his gorgeous Stephanie, but this is a real departure, cool and austere yet somehow troubling, like the tension in the summer air before a thunderstorm. I have smelled so-called ozonic perfumes before but this really does smell like it, cool and warm all at once, with a curiously grey and effervescent mineral quality that I can’t stop craving. I wore it several times to make sure the ozone component did not go wrong on my skin as it usually does, but this fragrance holds together very well, and I have to think that the aroma chemicals used to create the ozone effect must not be the usual suspects. It reminds me a little bit of one of my favorite “weird” fragrances, the strange and wonderful Memory & Desire No. 1 by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, which also has ozone but is very wet and chilly, a windblown fragrance of wet pavement and dripping branches. In Djin, the rain has not yet begun but the hot dust-laden air is heavy with the threat of it. Wear this when you are feeling restless and daring and in an “anything goes” mood; it is the olfactory equivalent of heat lightning.

Even more ethereal than Djin is Spirit of Air by Neil Morris Fragrances, which starts out in sunlit brightness and morphs into a delicate honeyed effect. It brings to mind the expression “dancing on the breeze” so delicate is it, and it made me smile with delight as soon as I put it on. Neil’s work is known for its breadth of style and originality and this is no exception. I could wish it lasted longer, but that’s the nature of the wind, it never hangs around for long. Wearing it is like standing in front of a fan that is blowing the best-smelling air imaginable, but it is elusive as it caresses your skin with its ethereal floral accords. I could chase it around all day hoping for just a passing hint of its scent. Linden, muguet and plum blossom make for an impossibly romantic fragrance in the purest sense of the word, and it could just as easily have been called Daydream; it reminds me of when I was a kid and I would lie in the grass on a carefree summer evening and watch the cloud pictures for hours at a time. Neil has captured innocence in a bottle with Spirit of Air, an innocence that we can all revisit if we stop all the “shoulds” for a while and just be.

Then there is Honey by Laurie Stern of Velvet and Sweet Pea Purrfumery. Its aroma is not as straightforward as the name would suggest; it does not smell anything like the mainstream fragrances that are meant to smell of honey. To me this is an odor of fertility, as the yellow pollen collected by the heavily laden bees drifts on the warm air. I enjoy honey scents very much and this one is pure bliss. I think this must be what the bees themselves experience, up close and personal; the aroma of pollen, the ultimate in life-giving essence, and the heavy sweetness of the nectar that draws them to the blossoms in the first place. Is there anything more primordial than the symbiosis of bee and flower? I think of how they evolved in symmetry with each other, with flowers finding ever more elaborate ways to reward their pollinators for spreading the flowers’ genes around, and scent, along with color, is one of the most successful strategies that also happens to mesmerize humans. It makes one realize that we are not really in charge of things here on this planet. The intense and fecund smell of Honey, including the deep essence of beeswax, is a reminder of this elemental relationship.

Amanda Feeley of Escentual Alchemy contributed the evocatively named Moon Valley, which began with the curiously cold effect of banked ashes in a fireplace to my nose, which was fascinating since the listed notes describe a sensual floral perfume of jasmine, lilac, carnation and tuberose enriched with peach, not a dying fire. They arrive soon enough, those blossoms, in all their heavy sensuality and a tableau formed in my mind as I experienced its unfolding. Only the ceiling fan, with maybe a breath or two coming in through the gauzy drapes, moves this kind of languid air. The wearer of the perfume is in repose on a rumpled chaise longue, her bodice loosened as she listens to Billie Holiday songs on an old record player. Outside the moon is full but a haze surrounds it and the night is all but still. She looks at the little ormolu clock on her dresser and realizes that it is nearly time for that man of hers to come home, and she has seduction on her mind. She smiles secretly as she dabs her new perfume between her breasts and on the back of her neck where the damp tendrils of her hair are curling from the humid torpor of late summer. This will be a night to remember…

There is one more perfume in this group but it’s not strictly an Air scent; natural perfumer Lyn Ayre of Coeur d’Esprit Natural Perfumes created a fragrance to encompass all the elements to symbolize that everything is interconnected and called it Ele-Metal Alchemy. It begins with the sharp metallic bite of galbanum, like tasting cold copper, and then explodes into a mélange of sensations including animalic notes of hyraceum and real ambergris, tincture of seaweed, shells and sea grass, resinous frankincense, balsam, pine and cedar, citrus peel and neroli, leafy essences of hay, mango leaf and mint, all embellished with gorgeous floral absolutes of lotus, frangipani and jasmine. Its initial impression for me after the opening was earthiness, but the sweetness of citrus and flowers kept darting in and out of the deeper notes like elves playing hide-and-seek in a forest. Just when I thought it had settled into the drydown something else popped out and surprised me. The long list of notes might lead you to think that it’s overdone, but it really works, and I found it to be both wearable and mesmerizing as all its components gradually coalesced into a handsome, austere chypre style scent with a “retro” style animalic character that somehow encompasses all the elements while remaining very coherent. Hats off to Lyn Ayre for this tour de force of a fragrance -or should I say force of nature?

In the next chapter on the Primordial Scents I will be exploring the Fire perfumes, so please check back, and please read all about what other writers have to say about this series via the Primordial Scents Project page link, as it will be updated as new blog posts are published.

Image credits:

The Primordial Scents Project logo courtesy of Monica Miller, art by Jessica Perlstein.
“Cobble Hill” (1931) by Maxfield Parrish via
Seated Female Nude on a Chaise-longue by Edgar Degas via
Disclosure: All perfume samples were sent to me and the other participating bloggers by Monica Miller for testing and review.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such delightful words Donna! I've re-read your post about 4 times. I liked the pictures you chose to accompany each perfume.

I really love these collective projects that Monica puts together, because it's a great way to peek inside each participants space. Thank you so much!

11:48 AM EDT  
Anonymous Lyn Ayre said...

Donna, thank you so much for your review of Ele-Metal Alchemy. You really 'got' what I was going for - hints at all of the elements with an underlying earthiness to anchor it all. I used accords to depict the elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether, which accounts for the number of essences used for this perfume (30) and since three is the number for Spirit, it worked out beautifully. I appreciate your kind words.
Warmly, Lyn

1:34 PM EDT  
Blogger mariandelvecchio said...

Admirable ...

5:37 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Amanda, thank you! As you can tell, I was very much inspired by your Air perfume. :-)

11:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Lyn, I thought your fragrance was really wonderful. As a big-time chypre fan I am always intrigued by variations on he theme!

11:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Suzy Larsen said...

Donna, I am so touched and thankful for your sweet words. I especially liked what you said about First Breath reminding us that "our highest calling as humans is to protect that which is defenseless." I'm so thrilled my perfume can creates that feeling for you and I hope many others. I'm so appreciative of this review!
Regards, Suzy

9:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Laurie Stern said...

Thank you Donna! I love what you wrote about the wondrous symbiotic relationship of bees and flowers. It's evolved for millions of years and is astounding. I used flowers that bees pollinate and honey and propolis from my own hives, and I'm happy you enjoyed it!

Velvet & Sweet Pea's Purrfumery

10:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Justine Crane said...


11:49 AM EDT  

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