Royal Oui: Thoughts on the Brave New (Natural) Perfumes

Anya's Garden Royal Lotus

My first reaction to a perfume is always my most profound.  It is for this reason that I cherish the first sniff, and guard its moment jealously, like a miser.

Sniffing Anya McCoy’s new Royal Lotus – [to steal Chandler Burr’s lovable video womanity moment] – “Did. Not. Disappoint.”

Au contraire.  I was so moved, I did the following.  I laughed out loud.  I sat back in my chair.  I held the vial in the air, shaking it slightly.  And I uttered these words.

“Holy crap!  Why in the hell didn’t Creed make THIS?”

Thus began one of my greatest moments of perfume criticism, at which time I rediscovered the completely obvious.

Now – let me begin by telling you the truth.  Royal Lotus is not perfect.  But then again, neither is Creed’s Royal Oud, which is currently fetching $300 for a 75-mL bottle.  But it is the lovely, intertwined nature of the perfections and imperfections of these two scents which led me to a great, if rather obvious truth about perfumery.  And it is – happily – the exact message of the Natural Perfumers Guild Brave New Scents project.  It may not have been Anya McCoy’s deliberate and personal intention to say to me what she did in perfume, but she did anyway.

But let’s start with the other fragrance fit for a king.  Or a prince and a duchess.

CREED's Royal Oud

The opening of Creed’s Royal Oud is, to those who have studied Creed with their nose, an enigma.  Unlike the intricately constructed, symphonic introductions that we have come to expect from Creed, Royal Oud starts off with an opaque oud that blots out everything in its path.  It’s like a Bach concerto where, as the conductor raises her baton, the entire trombone section stands up and plays the long-winded finale to a jazz piece.  It’s so ridiculous, you look at the lovely Creed sales associate with upturned eyes and say to yourself “God – please don’t let me laugh.”

But as you stand there hoping desperately that Creed will somehow regain sanity in perfume, it does.  The brass section  loses wind, the sonic assault on the senses dies down gently, and you are left in a state of thrilled vigilance and total enchantment, as spicy strings and windy woods fill the void with mysterious and lovely calls to each other – all of this wrapped in the warm matrix of something terribly novel in a Creed.  Emerging from oudy chaos – there you go – beauty.

Royal Lotus, on the other hand, hits you with the wondrous beauty before you even settle into your chair.  A different melange than the Creed, it’s all natural, and it’s all good.  You are hit with a wall of natural – but that wall is covered in a priceless, ancient mosaic of citrus, floral, and sandalwood notes.  By the time you realize you’ve been hit by it, Creed’s Ferrari-beautiful Bois du Portugal is in the rear-view mirror of Anya’s organic farm truck, changing it’s synthetic oil on the side of the road.

Of course, such magical moments can’t possibly last – that’s simply not the nature of perfume.  Eventually, Royal Lotus is merely good, and no longer stupendous.  The complex naturals simply cannot remain synchronized at such a thrilling level.

And that is where realization began for me.  That is when I understood that Royal Oud and Royal Lotus really suffer the same blessing, and the same curse – the majestic yet unwieldy regular expressions of fragrant information which are natural fragrances in the hands of the perfumer.  Written by the hand of God, we mortals struggle to make sense of them, but when we do – beauty – if only for a while.  Thankfully, Anya changed the name of her fragrance from Purple Lotus, or I might never have realized the obvious truth that the similarity of these two royal perfumes goes far beyond their names.

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Creed takes a lot of heat for showboating its natural content, as well as for occasionally abandoning it.  State your core competency too much, and people call it bragging.  Move away from it, and people call you a traitor and a fraud.  Sometimes I feel like Creed can’t win for losing.  But I’ve been on a designer perfume binge lately, and thanks to that, the fog has been lifted from my eyes.  Losing my official Creed fanboy status, I can now honestly say that said house of fragrance has done its damnedest to fight against the synthetic aroma chemical tide.

When I realized, thanks to JaimeB’s blog over on Basenotes, that most modern perfumes only put 2% of the budget into the fragrance itself, I was perfectly ready to forgive Creed for every guerrilla marketing sin it has committed.  It’s now obvious to me that Creed has fought off the need to engage mega-bucks modern marketing, by selling its soul to those who would substitute a cult of personality, bought more cheaply under the table.  The fact that it has worked so well – at this point – strikes me less as indicative of Creed’s evil genius, and more as a sign of their desperate good luck.

So where was I?

Ah, yes.  Brave New Scents.

Brave New Scents - a project of the Natural Perfumers Guild

While Creed can’t be a member of the Natural Perfumers Guild for obvious reasons, perfume content makes strange bedfellows.  And where we are all joined is, quite simply, in Aldous Huxley’s poem which has been showcased as part of the Brave New Scents project.

I want God, I want poetry,
I want danger, I want freedom,
I want goodness, I want sin
.

Honestly, I want all of these in perfume, just as I want them in everything else.

The world has many futures.  The beauty of intelligence, inherent in information itself, is that it explores those futures and charts some kind of Lagrangian path through them.  We envision both utopias and dystopias, but the best part is that not only is there is a bit of both in each other – intuition tells us that there seems to be some kind of optimum.

Reflecting on Huxley’s words, and imagining a world without nature in fragrance, it’s pretty clear that things get worse.  Lots worse.  Imagine a world without nature itself, or even just nature diminished, and you’re never in a sweet spot as far as ‘topias.  Even our Hollywood intuition tells us that we don’t get to item 1 of 6 on Huxley’s bucket list without letting nature in the door.

They say that nature abhors a vacuum, but I’ll take it further.  The multiverse abhors a vacuum of nature.  Throw natural fragrance under the bus, because you’ve thrown nature under the bus, and you deserve to die in the smog.

Our nose is telling us something terribly primitive, yet profoundly cutting-edge.  The best path to the future is the one that smells good.

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I want God’s universe, with the writing of His hand in nature.

I want the poetry of men and women, written with God’s fragrant ink.

I want the danger of aroma chemicals – their otherworldly scents telling us that our minds are reading the poetry of God’s other worlds.

I want freedom – for the perfumer to create, and for all to enjoy.

I want goodness – that we all may be free to discover, judge, and enjoy for ourselves.

I want sin – because we are not God, and we learn the most from our errors.

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