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Monday, September 10, 2012

The Primordial Scents Project 2012: Dance Into the Fire

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, for which I wrote an introductory post on Perfume Pharmer, and Fire, which is the subject of this installment. You can find my Air scents reviews here. 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….

The Fire scents are an outstanding group of great diversity and character. I was amazed at the range of these fragrances. Some of them are based on traditional ideas of fire, heat, smoke etc. and other take off in entirely unexpected directions. One of the most unusual is Loreena by Marian del Vecchio, whose work I had not tried before. Loreena was inspired by one of my very favorite singers, Loreena McKennitt and her song “All Souls Night” which speaks of the pagan ritual of lighting fires to mark the passage of the souls of the dead. The song is heart pounding and tumultuous, and the perfume is darkly disturbing, like a shivery cold night warmed only by a windblown bonfire. It has a heart of mystery – literally, because there is something different in here I just can’t identify, but it is very compelling and I could not stop obsessing over it. A coolness pervades it, so you might wonder what it has to do with fire, but if you listen closely, you can discern the swirling flames. It’s more about wildness and pagan emotion than actual fire, a state of unrest and primal emotion, a stirring of the blood. The only floral in this fragrance is lavender, all else being resins, gums, spices, grasses and woods – galbanum, clary sage, cinnamon, clove, vetiver cedar, frankincense, hyraceum, tonka bean, vanilla, ambrette seed, opopanax and labdanum. This is old-school perfumery in the truest sense and I think it’s wonderful.

Upon first smelling the marvelous Kiss of Agnayi by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes my first thought was “ancient.” It feels like opening an old treasure chest filled with precious things and it has a quality like a smoothly polished river stone, which just becomes more beautiful as it becomes worn with time. Given Ms. McElroy’s talent with traditional Japanese perfumery techniques as demonstrated in her Aroma M line, it’s easy to figure out why this is so well done. (Kiss of Agnayi also reminded me a little bit of some of the big Oriental spice box fragrances such as Opium and Cinnabar, but in a much more subtle way. It does not club you over the head like those powerhouse types.) The notes were not released but I detected clove, cinnamon, Indian-style sandalwood incense à la the Sixties, woods, patchouli and something wonderfully animalic in the base, perhaps hyraceum? Somehow, it smells as though these aromas are emanating from vintage fabric, perhaps fragile old gowns or kimonos that were put away for safekeeping, or a velvet opera cape still redolent of the rich fragrances worn for many special occasions. I don’t know how this was accomplished but it’s a lovely effect, and the Fire theme is kept alive by the constant presence of clove and cinnamon radiating just enough heat.

In contrast, Shelley Waddington’s Chang Chang from En Voyage Perfumes could not be more modern or brilliantly dazzling; it is described as a solar scent and it certainly is a full-on homage to the power of the Sun. It is almost guaranteed to lift a bad mood, it’s so bright and open and just so darned happy, wearing it is like listening to that Sheryl Crow song “Soak Up The Sun.” Blood orange, marigold, sweet crème, solar notes, summer florals, fruity musk, patchouli, and sandalwood form the glowing orb that is Chang Chang. In mainstream perfumery, this general effect is usually achieved using harsh synthetics that overpower the senses. No such problem exists here as it opens with juicy orange, explodes with the exuberant solar notes and then segues into the sweetness of the heart. This is an ideal summer scent that shares some perfume “DNA” with 2011’s fantastic Vents Ardents, carefree and purely pleasurable. My only caution would be against giving in to the temptation to use a dozen or more spritzes a time, it’s so good. Longevity is very good so you won’t really need to use that much to soak up this sunny day in a bottle.

Speaking of the sun, Afternoon Slant by Dabney Rose is a gentle tribute to its warmth and light, a graceful meditation on a sleepy summer day. The opening of this fragrance is one of the prettiest things I have ever smelled and I only wish it lasted longer. If I had a full bottle of it, I would be spaying it every five minutes just to get the sensation. The perfumer did not release a list of the notes, but I got citrus and rose in the opening with fruity tea and grassy notes emerging as it developed, reminding me of sun tea made in big glass jars and allowed to steep for hours. It gradually becomes a cozy comfort scent, sweet like new mown hay, and ends up smelling like warm skin, as if the wearer had fallen asleep in a sunny window along with the cat. It could just as easily have been named “Afternoon Nap.” Like all Dabney Rose creations, it is all-natural and made with her own floral essences using enfleurage and distillation techniques, and organic grape alcohol imparts another pleasing dimension to the fragrance.

Incendere is all about incense but unlike so many other incense perfumes it is virtually without sweetness, which lets the fine quality of the raw materials shine through. Cinnamon adds a simmering heat upon opening but it becomes more austere as time passes. From all corners of the globe come the most ancient of essences collected by perfumer Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts; Omani frankincense, Somalian myrrh, sandalwood cinnamon from Sri Lanka, Brazilian Tolu balsam, Moroccan cistus and a touch of Japanese Kyara aloeswood and oud. An incense freak could not ask for more. Many people are used to incense perfumes that are also sweet, vanillic and ambery, and this might take some adjustment – it did for me since I do like a bit of sweetness to my incense. It is very well balanced fragrance with no one element being too dominant and it has an elegance all its own, while still being about as “elemental” as possible with its back-to-basics approach to incense. Do not miss this one if incense and dry woods are your favorites.

It’s hot hot hot, it’s Caliente by Jane Cate of A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes. With a name like that you might expect something sharp with a kick, but it’s not so at all; it’s rich, indolent honey scent with an animalic base and a subtly spicy thread running through it. This one is a s-l-o-w burner and all the better for it. It is effortless seduction, just a sidelong glance as it casts its spell. It is in the vein of some of the old classics like Fabergé’s Tigress or Coty’s L’Origan the way it once was, a high-calorie Oriental that is nevertheless not a gourmand. It’s hard to believe that this effect was achieved with all-natural materials – I could swear there are some of those great old nitro musks in this juice giving it that seductive shimmer, and I am impressed that this effect was achieved without those long gone materials. I love honey scents so a new one is always welcome, and this is a new twist on the genre that is well worth adding to your collection. The base notes include amber, vanilla and the perfumer’s own custom tincture of tonka bean. The heart is a blend of iris and jasmine while the top notes are bergamot and petitgrain. So if you long for a rich retro Oriental floral but don’t want to take a chance on an old vintage bottle, check out Caliente.

Who knew that a Fire scent could be a white floral? Leave it to Juan M. Perez and his gorgeous Flor Azteca from The Exotic Island Perfumer. Mr. Perez has a special talent with tropical florals; his Nectar des Îles from 2011 was a masterful treatment of the genre and Flor Azteca, while it is worlds away in style, still manages to display the central note of tuberose to best advantage. You might think you have experienced all that tuberose has to offer but you would be wrong; this masterful perfume takes it in a completely new direction. It is a tribute to the tuberose flower’s native Mexico, surrounded by dense, dark chocolatl (The Aztec word for chocolate), datura blossom, warm ginger, Massoia bark, tonka bean, black copal (a tree resin used an ancient ceremonial incense), smoky woods and something new – an amazing mineral note of steaming hot stone, a nod to Mesoamerica’s famous cinder cone volcanoes. This fragrance works both as a rich white floral and as a delicious gourmand, and it’s hard to decide what I like the most about it. How about everything? The perfumer used the finest available tuberose absolute in this composition, and it shows; all the best aspects of the flower are showcased with none of the “chemical white floral” character of lesser mainstream scents that are allegedly made of tuberose. The chocolate and spice notes were made for each other and they mesh perfectly with the heady florals. When I sampled Nectar des Îles last year I predicted that this perfumer was a rising star whose work deserved a wider audience, and it looks like I was right.

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, special color effects by Donna. Sleeping cat on the beach from Flamenco dancer painting by renatadomagalska from

Disclosure: All perfume samples were sent to me and the other participating bloggers by Monica Miller for testing and review



Anonymous Anonymous said...

None of the jumps are working. Not fair to get me so excited and then not let me jump,
Portia xx

4:29 AM EDT  
Anonymous Monica said...

Fabulous descriptions Donna! Thank you so much for your kind attention and stellar nose!! Here's the link to the FIRE sample set and other elements;

9:46 AM EDT  
Blogger mariandelvecchio said...

Precisely, Donna.
A composition based on old-school in perfumery. Thank you!

11:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks everyone! Sorry for the missing links, hopefully they will be fixed soon.

10:14 PM EDT  
Blogger janelc said...

Thank you Donna for such a wonderful review of my Caliente Perfume. Slow burn makes passion come alive, dont' you think?
Thanks again, Jane

11:47 PM EDT  
Anonymous Suzy Larsen said...

I am so fortunate to have the sample set of Fire perfumes. I love them all and after reading your beautiful words I can go back and enjoy them all again through different eyes, your eyes...I should say your nose.

10:32 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks Jane, I could not agree more!

11:58 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks Suzy, aren't they just marvelous?

11:59 PM EDT  

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