All Neil Morris fragrances smell like they come already pre-aged in brown apothecary bottles, lifted from the dusty shelves of the local Salvation Army store. Evocative, rich, and hippy-ish, they act as sealed time capsules of a specific mood or place that, notwithstanding the exoticism of the inspiration, always manage to smell comfortingly familiar.
Neil Morris Rose of Kali, for example, takes its inspiration from India, but it smells like a memory of something far closer to home. There is a mix of dank chocolate, rose, and fruit that smells less like the cited pear (although there is a solvent-like nuance) and more like strawberries, with the result that the topnotes of the perfume smell like those dusty fondant-filled chocolates that nobody chooses in the selection box.
It’s worth mentioning here that the chocolate material used here, probably some kind of cocoa absolute, smells exactly like the one used by most of the American indie oil sector, such as BPAL, Solstice Scents, Sixteen92, and Alkemia. This material always manages to smell slightly fecal up top, and then like stale chocolate drinking powder over incense cones. It’s a note I’ve gotten used to, or should I say resigned to, but it does have a tendency to smell more like dusty old cupboards than the fine, dark chocolate of our (collective) dreams.
Still, I am inordinately fond of how this dusty, cheap chocolate, the rose, and the myrrh interact here, because once the strawberry fondant chocolate stage is done, we move onto the more serious part of the scent, which is all about the smell of second hand clothes, books, incense sticks, and gloomy old church basements.
The myrrh note here is the dourest and most authentic I’ve smelled outside of a dab of vintage Messe de Minuit I once owned. Moldy devotional statues all the way, baby. In fact, it paints an eerily accurate picture of the smell of my church, complete with its mustard-yellow carpets, sacred hearts, and huge, dripping beeswax candles. Unchanged since its construction in the early 1970’s, my church smells like the encapsulation of a certain era in Irish Catholicism; now I’ve found a perfume to match.
But outside of the ecclesiastical references, Rose of Kali also smells pleasantly of the local thrift stores I would spend hours trawling through as a teenager. Where I grew up, not only was there no shame in dressing from the charity shops, it was actually kind of a badge of honor. Dressing in the dusty old corduroy jackets and velvet drain pipes of what we fondly referred to in Ireland as “auld fellas”, my little tribe was well ahead of Macklemore. These shops always smelled the same – inert air, cheap incense, dust, records, lava lamps, and carpets stapled hastily onto bare concrete. Just wonderful.
That sounds like it might be a very specific and personal scent memory, but I’d be willing to bet that most of us have one of these places firmly rooted in our memory bank somewhere, just waiting to be reactivated by Rose of Kali.
Because Rose of Kali evokes such vivid memories for me, it has the power to make me feel happy and sad at the same time – happiness at the unexpected walk down memory lane; sadness for the sense of innocence lost. But this carries a different problem: how does one carry off such an emotionally evocative perfume? The answer is, of course, that one can’t – it’s too personal, too talismanic. That’s why, despite my admiration and even maybe yearning, Rose of Kali will only ever be a sample for me.