Hello perfume/d friends! Studio Series 4 is making its way into your mailboxes, which also means it's time for another edition of Studio Wafts, the quarterly essay I write about all my olfactive shenanigans, beset with occasional existential screams of terror that our world has utterly lost its entire mind... those then solved with ramblings about how scent restores our primaility and helps us continue to resist and prepares us to fight.
If you post pictures of your sets, don't forget to hashtag them #PerfumeNerd. :)
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Of course, a real resistance to fascism is love — love for nature, love for our friends, and the overwhelming sense that our lives have greater meanings than military war budgets and patriarchy and Kendall Jenner's recent discovery of cereal and milk. And resistance likely includes fighting, but by now we all know that we must fight for what we love lest it die; it is the human condition.
What does this call-to-arms have to do with sandalwood and jasmine? When I started this project about a year-and-a-half ago, I had just broken up, for the fourth time, with an emotionally crippled and manipulative man, and resolved to "do something beautiful" in the studio to counteract his insanity. This was one of the sponsoring ideas behind creating a perfume with true Santalum album oil, which costs upwards of $600/ounce. To counteract insanity, add more (but different) insanity. (Also, if this country goes up in true flames I want to smell better than the oligarchs when I run toward them and let out my war cry.)
Fast-forward about six months to the decision point where a second focal note needed to come into play, and that chronologically sets one in a Los Angeles where the weather is nice, the short daytime skies are cerulean blue, and the faint hints of nighttime jasmine are discernible in the air, illusion or no, because when you find yourself under a brilliant dusk on a roof and in love with Los Angeles, you begin to smell this city for the mirage it can be and the oasis it is. And you begin to embrace those both equally.
It helps to mention a few points: 1. I once virulently hated this city when I lived on the Westside, with its insane Silicon Beach fauxness and grueling road-rage lifestyle; 2. I left for the desert, came back after a year, and moved downtown on a street with a methadone clinic at its corner — home to probably the realest of the real Angelenos, none of whom care about tech and all of whom care about resistance and survival and unsurprisingly trying to preserve a sense of beauty despite being down and out, all of which helps change your perspective about this place called El Lay; 3. And, it came to pass that a friend and I started falling for each other, or perhaps we chose to allow ourselves to fall for each other (finally), and when you feel those feels, well everything feels, and Los Angeles suddenly feels like here.
Chatting with him one day, about odors, I asked this very not-perfume dude of mine whether he liked any particular odor more than another, and he said: "Not really ... except maybe sandalwood. I really love the smell of sandalwood."
Resist and fight, friends.
So, the Sandal/Sambac project has turned into a meta-essay of all that. Of sandalwood, of jasmine, and of Los Angeles and choosing satisfaction. Of happiness in the face of fascism. Of bluer skies.
Sandal 4 demonstrates the introduction of synthetic woody chemicals that help with fixation and diffusion, and attempts to counteract some sweetness from the jasmine, coriander, and galangal.
Sandal 5 introduces aldehydes, to add volume and sparkle and strangeness.
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Let me tell you what I am truly at war with in the studio: citrus oils.
I've mentioned before that I think citrus perfumes are the hardest to tackle, because, at best, you can get maybe an hour of performance out of citrus oils. But wood ain't easy, either. I'm at war with that, too. Wood chemicals (and wood oils by that nature) get maybe 3-4 hours performance, realistically.
In the previous edition of Studio Wafts, I noted this question was my driving concept for this project: What is the most minimal perfume structure I can construct that will still support a rich chorus of top notes and perform?
I didn't realize it until I gave one of these iterations to a friend for feedback and she commented on how it reminded her of a "softie" or an anti-perfume / no-perfume perfume. Well, maybe I've made an anti-softie, or a not no-perfume perfume. It's supposed to smell, people. It's minimal, yes, but it's more about ... something else.
Meta-argumentation aside, I cannot decide yet whether the wood/yuzu project — with its hefty doses of cedar and yuzu underpinned with myrrh, galbanum, and mandarin — is not strong enough or perfectly quiet. When I wear it, I keep imagining myself stuck in a cubicle of (anti-)bliss, an empty office building visually reminiscent of the scenes in Fassbinder's A Year with 13 Moons, but with less ultraviolence.
And since this "softie" trend seems to be about "ultra"-ness, maybe I'm in the right space?
Wood 4 introduces facets of petitgrain, an essential oil made from the leaves and twigs of citrus trees, a key component to lifting the citrus notes into air.
Wood 5 demonstrates minute quantities of synthetic musks used to help bring longevity to the yuzu.
Wood 6 introduces a wild barrage of tree oils (cypresses and junipers) to further silence urban noise with a phalanx of timber. This could be finished soon.
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I didn't set out to make a forest-y perfume with the Chypre project (having just finished Io I wanted to step away from that for a bit), but according to artist Oliver Leach (Hi Bakkooooooooonnn), I hit might have hit that realm:
And though the Wood/Citrus project is loaded with wood, I do view it more about the concept of cut wood/timber, the denuding of a place rather than being-in-a-forest. (And In a Year is a lot about denuding.) But this is beloved oakmoss! and it expresses all of that mossy-greenish-peaty-moist-humic stuff that we associate with a forest.
Chypres, a classic perfume theme pinned, traditionally, on oakmoss, begamot, and labdanum, is a workhorse theme. It is a plinth for much beauty in the perfume world.
If there is a running theme in my perfume work right now, it is a sense of combating dystopia and hopelessness. To me, one of the many dystopic events underway right now is the giveaway of federally protected lands — national preserves and forests, particularly — to oil and mining interests.
But, as I hinted toward in Studio Series 1.5 with the "experimental" vial, and as I've addressed here, I'm also interested in the negative themes of odor that perfume often works against. This is all to say that the Chypre Project, which is going to likely be a long-term (+1 more year) effort, of which you are experiencing very early phases, is perhaps to become a Dystopia Project. An edge of beauty beside an edge of naked despair.
I will leave you to explore Chypre 2 and Chypre 3 without protracted comment. Each vial contains one thematic shift with no more than three strokes of similar color added in each theme. (I'll follow-up for subscribers with reveals in the next Waft.)
Imagine away, friends, though we need not smell or look too far away for the darkness.
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As always, thank you for your continued praise and participation with this independent studio. Your vocal support is truly appreciated.