Welcome to Part 3 (Gourmand) of my series on DSH Perfumes, the American indie perfume brand helmed by the talented and prolific Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For those of you joining me just now, let me recap a little.
Jovoy Remember Me is one of, if not the best chai scents I’ve ever smelled. I think it works because its perfumer, Cécile Zarokian, has attained a perfect balance between lush, spiced milkiness and bitter, inedible things like citrus rind, rubber, and suede.
When I make chai, which is similar to Karak, the popular drink in Qatar that directly inspired Cécile to make this scent, minus the condensed milk, I sometimes chop small mint leaves to go into the pan with the ginger, black pepper, and cardamom – the premise being that if the pepper burns my tongue, the mint will put out the fire. A filament of something similarly fresh in Remember Me holds the steamy milkiness of the chai in check. In Remember Me, this tart greenery comes from the peppery-lemony cardamom and bergamot rind. The total effect is of something hot meeting something cooling, like when you first stir the milk into the pan of boiling tea, cloves, and ginger.
Milkiness is a risky thing in perfumery. Too much and it teeters precariously on the edge between creamy and stale, like butter left out on the counter overnight. To date, the only milky scents I’ve liked are ones where (i) the milkiness is a by-product of another material like sandalwood, fig, or rice, or (ii) the milky note has been countered by something bitter or brusque, like smoke, wood, or rubber. Fragrances belonging to the first group would include Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s), Sandalo (Etro), and Philosykos (Diptyque), and fragrances belonging to the second would include Palo Santo (Carner Barcelona) and Leder 6 (J.F. Schwarzlose).
Remember Me belongs to the second group, in that its milk note is deliberately placed there (rather than a by-product of another material) and is effectively counterparted by a rubber-suede note and a leisurely woody drydown. This peach eraser note is actually frangipani, recognizable to anyone who owns or wears Ormonde Jayne’s wonderful Frangipani, which uses a similar, if not identical, frangipani material. The frangipani is refreshingly un-sweet and un-floral, in other words. Picture the rubbery peach tea of Frangipani by Ormonde Jayne morphing slowly into the rich condensed milk leather of Leder 6, and that’s Remember Me.
The tug between milky and spicy-hot in Remember Me eventually reminds me of another delightful scent, and one that’s widely available in department stores: Noir Extreme by Tom Ford. Although Remember Me is far more tightly focused, both scents share a ‘scoop of vanilla ice-cream in Mexican Coca-Cola’ vibe (similar to Chanel Egoiste and Roja Dove Enigma, where the combination of tobacco, spices, and a boozy, creamy element like sandalwood or vanilla creates a Coca Cola note). There’s a point in Noir Extreme where the kulfi note runs too close to the sickliness of condensed milk for comfort, so it’s something I could get tired of very easily. But Remember Me steers clear of this pitfall, its rubbery suede and woody notes working overtime to course-correct the milkiness.
Remember Me is a mostly linear affair, which is great if you like the central accord (as I do) and probably torture if you don’t. In other words, test first. It is also incredibly rich and potent, lasting a good 10 hours before showing signs of fading, so it would work superbly as a scent for when you know you are going to be out all day, in crisp, cold weather, and you’re the type of person who loves burying their nose in a scarf or jumper to get a sustaining whiff every now and then.
I can see Remember Me working well for anyone, including men, who like those big, complicated semi-gourmand fragrances that are popular these days, like El Born by Carner Barcelona. But if you’re like me and have a special fetish for chai, then you need to seek this out pronto. It is richer and stronger than Omnia (Bvlgari), more natural-smelling than Paithani (Penhaligon’s), and not as challenging as Chai (Baruti).
Let’s do a little side-by-side with the Areej Le Doré ouds, shall we? It will be kind of like when Basenoters start threads pitting one fragrance against another, like prize bulls, only hopefully not as cutthroat. My reviews will be purely impressionistic – short on helpful detail and long on the images that jump to mind when I wear them, so if you’re in the market for a quick take, read on. If you’re looking for something more detailed, look anywhere else. If that’s not a fair warning, then I don’t know what is…
Rising Phoenix Perfumery Bushido Attar is an attar made exclusively for The World in Scents, a Princeton-based purveyor of fine attars and pure oud oils, and its name translates to “the way of the Samurai”. The idea for this particular attar came from the ancient Japanese practice among royalty, Samurai warriors, and the nobility of scenting their kimonos, robes, and sword sheaths with a blend of tsubaki, an oil made from camellia flower petals, and choji, clove oil.
In October 2004, a man called Chris Anderson wrote a very influential article for Wired magazine called “The Long Tail”. In it, he explained how a little-known statistics term, called the long tail, actually explained a lot about success in the business world. The basic premise is that the market for products not widely available in bricks n’ mortar stores is as big, if not bigger, than the market for products that are carried in stores.
When I wrote a review of Peety by O’Driu a few years ago, I struggled to put into words a certain accord that I noticed in the sort of neo-retro (is that even a word?) Italian perfumery espoused by ateliers like O’Driu itself, and Bogue. The word I used was Ricola drops, which are those funny herbal cough sweets you buy at the counter of any bar or corner shop in Italy, the ones that taste of honey mixed with anise, licorice, and a whole kitchen garden’s worth of herbs.
Bruno Fazzolari Feu Secret opens with the balsamic, fruity tang of fir balsam, jammy and bitter in equal measure. Underscored with the earthy tang of turmeric, the coniferous notes feel unfamiliar, because the combination smells simultaneously earthy, green, sweet and waxy, like a piece of fruit dropped into a bag of powdered herbs.
My first impression of Francesca Bianchi’s Under My Skin was that of a milky sandalwood over something vegetal and spicy, like a dish of Chinese greens simmered with lots of black pepper and fenugreek. But like Santal de Mysore, which it resembles in some parts, Under My Skin reads like two different perfumes – one when sniffed closely on the skin, and the other sniffed as an aura or a trail of scent on the air.
This review has taken me many attempts to get right. I’ve written and re-written it more times than I like to admit. I think the reason for my hesitation is that I am bowled over by Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma but not sure whether it’s because it’s really that good or because I am just genetically programmed to find sweet things irresistible (Irish women like me lay down fat automatically on the first signs of cold weather, like a sheep preparing for winter).
Oh hell, enough with the equivocating – Ummagumma smells amazing. It is so palpably delicious and soul-warming that the first time I smelled it, I had to fight myself from tipping the rest of the vial down my throat.
The topnotes are all about that bitter hit of pure chocolate one gets when drink a mug of 80% single plantation cocoa: molten, dark and almost iron-rich. There’s a generous pour of cream, courtesy of sandalwood, and a smattering of barky spice for grit – saffron, cinnamon, and what smells to me like clove but is just as likely to be carnation. The sultriness of the dark chocolate accord is quite similar to that of Slumberhouse Ore, albeit much sweeter thanks to the eventual star of the show, which is amber.
Yes, it’s not the spicy chocolate accord that takes top billing here: it’s the caramelized whisky amber that sits just beneath the cocoa and quickly burrows its way to the top, from where it dominates proceedings. Compared to the bittersweet cocoa top, the amber is honey-sweet, with a boozy edge that makes me think of the Irish whiskey notes in both Tobacco Oud and Amber Absolute. As a result, the amber sports a burned sugar char at the edges that makes me salivate
The amber booms on with its incensey sparkle, but neither the cocoa nor the spice disappears entirely; they lurk in the background, lending a fudgy, bittersweet depth to the main chassis. The scent is quite sweet, let’s be clear, but I find the same sort of balance here as in Ambre Narguile, where the syrup of amber and dried fruit is tempered by tobacco leaf. In Ummagumma, the tonka bean shows off its prickly, herbal coumarin side more than its lush cherry or almond facet, resulting in faint curlicues of smoky tobacco leaf and leather wafting through the amber, lifting and airing it out a little.
Foodie? Yes, most definitely. But don’t infer too much from my mention of Ambre Narguile above, as the scents are really nothing alike, with Ummagumma lacking, in particular, the cinnamon-apple fruitiness of the Hermessence. If anything, Ummagumma’s smooth amber makes me think more of Tobacco Oud with its whiskey-ish, honeyed, and leathery undertones, or a sweeter Ore by Slumberhouse. And although it’s a gourmand-leaning fragrance, there’s enough dry tobacco in Ummagumma to tilt it ever so slightly in the direction of Bond-T. The cedar in the base is faintly sweaty and smoky, with a vegetal edge that helps to cut through the richness as effectively as an Alka Seltzer after a rich meal.
Every artisan perfumer has a signature. But Ummagumma doesn’t really smell like a Bruno Fazzolari fragrance, apart from a certain groovy 1970’s aesthetic that runs through his other scents and also makes an appearance here (the Pink Floyd-related name, the chocolate incense, the textural “mood” feel of brown corduroy jeans, etc). On balance, though, Ummagumma is not as overtly retro in feel as either Au Delà or Seyrig. Neither is it futuristic or stark, as in Lampblack.
Most of my surprise, I guess, stems from seeing such a straightforwardly delicious gourmand coming out of the Bruno Fazzolari stable. Because “straightforward”and “delicious” didn’t seem to be words in Fazzolari’s vocabulary in 2016 when he collaborated with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue to make the “Frankenstein” gourmand, Cadavre Exquis, a fragrance that is as stomach-churning as it is intriguing. Cadavre Exquis smells like a bar of dark chocolate that’s been dragged through fir trees, fruit rot, the ashes of a campfire, and road kill. It smells like camphor and ass (curry-immortelle). Definitely not something anyone would want to eat, even if it smells like food.
I actually like Cadavre Exquis quite a bit, mainly because it nails the essentially animalic characteristics of a bar of evilly-dark chocolate, which, if anyone has ever melted one down will know, smells like warm blood, iron filings, raisins, and something like dried sweat. Cadavre Exquis has the unique quality of making me want to smell it, over and over again, despite the fact that it nauseates me. Which I think makes it at the very least a very interesting fragrance, if not a masterpiece (depending on the definition one uses). But while it’s addictive to smell, I’d never wear it.
Readers may be either disappointed or relieved to know that Ummagumma is nothing like Cadavre Exquis. On the one hand, Ummagumma is not as memorable or as progressive as Cadavre Exquis, but neither is it as divisive. Its gourmandise is sophisticated rather than off-kilter.
How you judge Ummagumma will depend greatly on where you come down on the split between wearability and art. Yet more people will evaluate it purely based on their knowledge of Bruno Fazzolari’s back catalog, including Cadavre Exquis, and find it lacking in edge. But if I were to smell Ummagumma blind, although I wouldn’t peg it as coming from the hands of Bruno Fazzolari, I’d still want to own it and wear it because it’s one of the most straightforwardly delicious things I’ve smelled all year. And I mean those words as a compliment.
Notes: saffron, carnation, chocolate, tobacco, leather, labdanum, sandalwood, cedar, incense, tonka, vanilla