It’s difficult to figure out what Strangelove NYC is, as a brand. If you were to go by appearances alone – the fashionably minimalistic, almost text-free website, the $260 perfume necklaces with 1.25mls of perfume oil, the fact that Helena Christiansen is the brand’s spokesperson – you’d be forgiven for writing these off as perfumes for New York socialites, designed to look banging on the glossy, bronzed neck of a supermodel as she poses for a photo to go with her ITC Top Shelf interview.
But you’d be wrong.
Three factors are working against the achingly trendy image that the brand’s own marketing is putting out. First, the perfumer behind the line is Christophe Laudamiel, a man who when confronted with a straight line instinctively starts to zig zag wildly across the page like a wild hoss.
With a background in chemistry and a feverishly inventive mind, Laudamiel is behind some of the weirdest and most transgressive perfumes in recent history. A good example is “Le Coffret” for Thierry Mugler, a series of oddball perfumes based on Patrick Süskind’s book “Perfume, The Story of a Murderer”, which included the scent of a 13 year-old virgin (Virgin No. 1) and the smell of sweat, semen, and misery (Human Existence). He also made S-Ex for S-Perfume, Scent for Theo Fennell, and all of the Humiecki & Graef fragrances. Everything he makes is at least thought-provoking, if not downright provocative. An odd fit, therefore, with what appears, on the surface, to be a glossy lifestyle brand, right?
Second, Strangelove NYC was founded in 2013 by Elizabeth Gaynes, who also founded Gaia One, an organization that works to change the way raw materials are sourced for perfumery. The organization is currently working with Givaudan, the giant fragrance & flavor company, and with the owners of a 600-acre plantation on the island of Borneo to grow a variety of organic crops, including agarwood, for the extraction of high quality essential oils. This means that Strangelove has direct access to some of the most superb naturals in the world, as well as to all the best captives developed by Givaudan. Imagine working with a palette like that! No wonder Christophe Laudamiel said yes.
Third, and most importantly – the Strangelove NYC perfumes are fantastic. They didn’t have to be, given their positioning in the market, i.e., far away from the crowds of real perfume lovers who, given their price, would rake them over the coals and inspect their every molecule. But they are. Chalk it up to the seriousness of the brand’s owner, Elizabeth Gaynes, who has a real commitment to sourcing the best quality raw materials, as well as to the seriousness of its mad scientist perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel, one of the very few working perfumers today that Luca Turin still talks about with awe.
The perfumes, of which there are only four, are available in both eau de parfum and perfume oil format. I tested 3 out of the 4 oils, and am waiting on a sample of the 4th.
Silence The Sea, which is, oh Jesus, referred to as silencethesea on most sites, so let’s go with that, is an ambergris-based scent. I wish I’d been able to test this before writing my 2016 article on ambergris for Basenotes, because it would have immediately joined the ranks of the ambergris perfumes “to try before you die” I’d appended to it.
Although there are other notes or materials, to my nose, this smells as close to a pure ambergris tincture as it’s possible to get in niche perfumery. Ambergris can smell very differently from piece to piece, grade to grade, etc., but the ambergris in silencethesea smells like a deserted beach in winter. Specifically, it has a dry, oceanic smell, like the smell of stones and rocks left to dry in the sun after the tide has gone out. Dry salt, minerals, a general greyness, and the stony loneliness of inanimate objects on a beach with no people around to witness it.
Silencethesea smells completely organic to me, elemental, and a bit wild. It has the type of aroma that one finds utterly normal in nature but does not expect to find in a personal perfume, and thus, it feels shocking. It is raw and slightly intimate. There is no warmth to the aroma, apart from the vague funkiness inherent to ambergris that reminds us that this is a substance that originated in the intestine of an animal. Wearing it is like wearing no perfume at all, because it smells more like the cold air in one’s skin and hair after a long, solitary walk on a windswept beach than a perfume. This is not a perfume for community or cuddling or clubbing. It is for the pleasures of solitude.
Melt My Heart, or meltmyheart, is quite the departure from silencethesea in that it is inviting, warm, coy, and immediately expressive. It wears its heart on its sleeve, all billowing gusts of melting dark chocolate and buttery, bready orris, shouting eat me, eat me, eat me. It is so chocolatey at first that I want to laugh and eat my fingers at the same time. There is something very innocent about the way this smells; it’s so big!
The silvery bitterness of orris exerts a sobering influence on the chocolate but doesn’t truly hold its own until about five hours in, when I notice that the scent has turned from pure melted chocolate into a chocolate brown suede jacket. Towards the end, a hilariously greasy, coconutty sandalwood elbows its way onto the stage and proudly holds court there, combining with the chocolate to remind me, slightly queasily, of a mix between rancid butter and a stale Bounty Bar. It’s almost embarrassingly good.
Dead of Night, or rather deadofnight, is the oud in the line. Apparently, all of the Strangelove NYC fragrances have oud in them, but deadofnight is the only one that features it in a starring role. In fact, barring lostinflowers, which I haven’t yet smelled, the oud is not evident anywhere except for deadofnight, where it is slap bang in the center of the composition. Those with no experience of real oud oils might need a minute here to gird their loins, because this right here is the real stuff. None of the cheesy, soupy barnyard funk of real oud has been toned down or mitigated, so the initial onslaught is truly animalic.
But give it time to settle and the scent soon reveals a butter-soft rendition of leather that will have you crooning. What I appreciate in this fragrance is that it manages to be both dark and fresh at the same time, the watery greenness of violet leaf lifting the oud out of its brown gloom, aerating it a little, polishing it up for polite company.
There’s a smidge of rose and amber to soften the impact of the oud, but in general, this is not a sweet or floral fragrance. It employs an almost single-minded focus on exploring and bringing out the complexities of the oud, particularly its green, suede, and soft leather facets. Like all of the Strangelove NYC fragrances, it is linear, focusing on a simple exposition of top notch raw materials. I said once in a review of Tabac Aurea by Sonoma Scent Studio that the total effect was “as if the perfumer held a dried tobacco leaf up against the sunlight, slowly turned it around in her hands, and captured each of its changing colors and smells in one small bottle”, and that’s how I feel the materials have been treated here, for Strangelove NYC.
Luckyscent will be carrying these soon, so if you’re into the natural smells of ambergris, oud, floral absolutes, and so on, presented in simple ways that don’t muck them about too much, and can ignore the fact that these might have been created more for people who breathe in a more rarefied air than we do, then it’s worth your while to order a sample or two. They’re really very good.