Two fragrances do not an evolution make, I’m aware. But I can’t help feeling that Spell 125 and now Hera mark a departure for perfumer Liz Moores, away from perfumes that either reference classical styles (Dryad – a green chypre in the fashion of Vol de Nuit, Bengale Rouge – a spicier, more balsamic take on Shalimar or Emeraude) or espouse a particular trope like leathery incense (Anubis) or rose (Tobacco Rose). Rather, Her and Spell 125 seem to be a bold move towards abstraction, wherein the perfumes are much more than a good smell – they are an expression of an idea.
Take the complete lack of literalism in Hera, for example. You look at the notes and the description, and you think, ah, ok, a wedding bouquet perfume. Lush, creamy white and yellow florals spilling over a whale-boned corset of puffy marshmallow musk. Romantic, serene and beautiful in that conventionally feminine manner expected of brides. But you don’t actually get any of that from Hera.
The first surprise is an atomic cloud of spicy violet-iris powder, a diffusive ballooning of molecules powered by what feels to me like aldehydes but is actually ambrette, a natural musk derived from the musk mallow plant. The apple peel and grappa facets of the ambrette sharpen the violet sensation of the opening and feathers the whole thing into an ethereal mist. But in no way does this smell pretty or candied or like face powder. No dainty bridal pastilles here, no Siree.
There is also – immediately – the tarry benzene edge of Extra or First Ylang, announcing the first of the floral absolutes that don’t really smell like their usual floral representations in perfumery. Ylang is always painted as banana-ish or custard-like, but in truth, the natural stuff (essential oil) often has this surprisingly creosote-like smokiness that most often gets smothered by perfumers with sandalwood or vanilla, in the hope of squishing it into a more banana custard shape. Here, the ylang is uncut and unsweet. And it definitely doesn’t smell like banana custard.
The surprisingly true ylang in Hera is soon joined by a spicy Sambac jasmine – again, not the creamy, sweet white jasmine of conventional perfumery, but more the authentically leathery-sour twang of Sambac absolute. The florals do not smell lush, sweet or traditionally feminine. In fact, Hera does not even smell particularly floral.
The central surprise of Hera – its abstraction – is the way in which this tug of war between potent floral absolutes takes place inside this smoky cloud of iris-mimosa-violet powder, stacked one on top of another like a matryoshka doll. It is an incredible feat of construction that turns florals as heavy as jasmine, orange blossom, and ylang into a fizzy, violet-colored ether.
With time, another layer of the matryoshka reveals itself as a murky accord that smells like tobacco but is probably ambergris. This lends the perfume an aura of salty, powdered skin, like the glow on healthy young skin after mild exertion. Momentarily, the interaction between the purplish dry-ice florals and damp, tobacco-ish ambergris produces an impression of Caron’s Aimez-Moi (which itself smells like a pouch of moist, tobacco leaves dotted with anise and dried violets). But this impression is fleeting.
Hera feels spicy but remains utterly air-filled and diffuse, as if someone has tried and failed to plug cinnamon sticks and clove buds into an ever shifting dust cloud of wood molecules. There is also something like myrrh, with its dusty, minty-latexy bitterness. But Hera never gets bogged down in the thick, sweet thickness of resins, thus neatly sidestepping any effort to pigeonhole it as an incense. Yet, the spices and the myrrh do give Hera a hint of what I imagine medieval candy might have smelled like, a sort of salty-herbal-fizzing concoction that, when ingested, banishes all evil.
The perfume seems to deepen, but the overall sense of its construction – a complex whirligig of chewy florals and tobacco inside a bright, acidic haze of floral high C notes – remains consistent. I picture Hera almost synesthesically, a violet-greige cloud of molecules that spark off each other like electricity.
It is an abstract experience, similar to the hard-to-define Spell 125 or even Seyrig (Bruno Fazzolari), but that’s not to say that Hera doesn’t also meet the original brief, which was to honor Liz Moores’ daughter, Jasmine, on her wedding day. Indeed, Hera feels fizzy and bright and sensuous. It smells optimistic.
What Hera absolutely is not is a re-tread all the tired tropes of traditional bridal perfumery, so if you’re expecting something conventionally feminine or sweet, then park your expectations at the door. Hera feels made for a lifetime of marriage – interesting, complex, wistful, packed with all the bittersweet moments of a relationships that morphs over time – rather than for one single shiny, glittery, picture-perfect day. And in my opinion, it is all the better for it.
Source of sample: Sent free of charge to me by Liz Moores, with no expectation of a review, let alone a positive one.
Cover image: Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash