Natural perfumer Anya McCoy and I share a bond of geography and perfume. Ms. McCoy lives in South Florida where I grew up. The fragrance connection is obvious. Ms. McCoy is one of the people who tirelessly support the art of natural perfumery. She has been the long-time head of the Natural Perfumer’s Guild which I previously thought kept her from being as prolific as I might wish. When I received her latest creation Anya’s Garden Strange Magic I was perhaps given an alternative reason for so much time between perfumes; she doesn’t do it the easy way.
A consistent theme I take up when writing about the smaller independent perfumers is they can source and use materials a larger brand could never imagine using. Ms. McCoy has regularly sourced many of her focal points in her fragrances from a material of her own making using the traditional extraction methods like enfleurage or tinctures. That is one or two ingredients, out of many, but just that provides nuance because of the non-destructive extraction method. For Strange Magic, she decided to really go all in as 95% of the materials used are from tinctures she made herself.
I am going to give a quick primer on tincturing; if you want more I have included the link to Ms. McCoy’s story on how she tinctures here. What it is in the simplest of terms is placing a botanical material in cold alcohol and allowing it to sit at room temperature. After a few days, you remove the extracted material and recharge with new material. You keep repeating until the desired strength is achieved which can also be altered by allowing some evaporation, too. In any case this is not a process you do over a weekend, or a week, or even a month; it takes months to do correctly. Ms. McCoy explains on her website that she sees using tinctures as a more sustainable way of using natural ingredients. In theory, you can have tinctures going of everything you grow in your garden; recharging when the next set of flowers bloom.
White Champaca Tincture
Another oddity of tincturing is the color of the tincture doesn’t always match the color of the flower. On her website, she mentions the inspiration for Strange Magic began with her tincturing of white champaca flowers. As they were placed in the alcohol it didn’t stay colorless it instead turned a light shade of pink growing deeper in shade with each recharge. The picture above is from Ms. McCoy’s website. From there she decided to concoct a floral fantasia of tinctures.
What this results in is a symphony of floral notes carrying a different presence than you might normally encounter when they are used as essential oils. The first thing I noticed was how soft the entire perfume was. It is like the tincturing process removes any sharp edges. It is not that there aren’t moments of green or indoles shot throughout; it is just that they don’t blare and bully. Instead they hum at a moderate volume with a sustained presence. The other thing I noticed is Strange Magic doesn’t really have a top, heart and base pyramid; it is all there at the beginning and the end. The real magic is in seeing these very hard-won ingredients interact with each other to create a memorable floral natural perfume.
Strange Magic has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Strange Magic is a perfume only an independent perfumer could make which makes it stand out more. Ms. McCoy has become the patron saint of tincture thaumaturgy in the 21st century. I am happy to wait to see what’s next while Strange Magic tides me over.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Anya’s Garden.
As I mentioned yesterday in my review of her recreation of Randolph Parry Cologne 1859 I would like to selfishly see more frequent releases from natural perfumer Anya McCoy. As a tireless supporter of Natural Perfumery as head of the Natural Perfumers Guild there are probably just not enough hours in the day. Which is why when I do get a new perfume from her under her Anya’s Garden brand I open my sample with a lot of anticipation. In the same package she also included her new natural perfume Enticing.
For Enticing Ms. McCoy was interested in interpreting tuberose. She wanted to capture all of this particular bawdy floral. On her blog describing the background she read before composing Enticing she captures descriptions like; “dangerous pleasures”, “voluptuousness”, and my favorite “the bane and the destruction of imprudent youth”. I love tuberose for all of these qualities and usually perfumers work very hard to rein in this impudent bloom. Ms. McCoy lets slip the tuberose in all of its imprudent youth destructiveness. Her ability to work with a couple forms of the tuberose as an absolute and as her own handmade enfleurage pomade takes what would be a familiar tuberose experience and enhances it. In particular the enfleurage softens the overall effect. When I asked Ms. McCoy about that in an e-mail she replied, “The enfleurage contained some of the top notes of tuberose, and some subtle, round, middle notes, which are lost when the absolutes is made, and I wanted to incorporate them.” I agree the mix creates a more realistic effect than the absolute would have by itself. It elevates Enticing into a much darker tuberose than you might usually find.
Enticing pulls you inward with a wonderful swirl of herbal green and cool spice. Ms. McCoy combines clary sage and cardamom. The sage tilts the cardamom more towards its green facets but the citrus character still asserts itself. This entices you forward as the tuberose appears ready to provide a dangerous pleasure. Ms. McCoy’s accord of absolute and enfleurage captures all of the high pitched grace notes. What I remember of late night hours wandering among the tuberose in my youth with a romantic partner was the hint of mentholated scent which seemed to make me feel like my lungs were coated with energy. Enticing’s mix of tuberose materials re-creates that. This is like a prelude to romance as it feels sultry and seductive. Enticing further affirms this memory as Ms. McCoy goes earthy with patchouli and mushroom. The final special fillip is the use of real musk which gives the final moments of this a sensual jolt that only real musk can provide.
Enticing is in parfum strength and it lasts for 14-16 hours with very little sillage.
The current trend in mainstream perfumery is to use a cleaned-up pretty tuberose. I am bored to tears with it at this point. Enticing is testament to what tuberose is all about. It may be a destroyer of imprudent youth but it is also one of the most all-encompassing notes that exist in perfumery. In Ms. McCoy’s able hands she is able to allow her tuberose to be all that it can be.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Anya’s Garden.
Header image: Moon and tuberose photos by Anya McCoy. Reclining Lady by Raimundo Madrazo.
It has been awhile since I have received samples from natural perfumer Anya McCoy. A few weeks ago that was rectified with two new creations from Ms. McCoy. There is nobody working in the natural perfume field from whom I look forward more to seeing what she has created. She is so busy watching over the Natural Perfumers Guild that I think she doesn’t take enough time to remind us of how talented she is. Both of these new fragrances I received from her show her dedication to the history and the future of natural perfumery. I am going to review each of the new perfumes today and tomorrow.
For today I guess calling the Randolph Parry Cologne 1859 “new” is a bit of a misnomer. Ms. McCoy was contacted by the President of the New Hope (PA) Historical Society, Dr. Claire Shaw. Dr. Shaw had come across a recipe for a cologne when searching through the books at the Parry Mansion. She contacted Ms. McCoy to see if she could help decipher the recipe and perhaps recreate it. Ms. McCoy had written to me about this earlier in the process and to say I was excited to see how this would turn out is an understatement. You just have to look at the name of the blog to know how fascinated I would be in smelling a fresh version of an original cologne formulation.
As you can see in the page reproduced above from Ms. McCoy’s website the recipe has all of the classic ingredients of the early colognes. Ms. McCoy looked to those early colognes, namely Eau de Hongrie and 4711 for inspiration. She also would remark that the formula looks similar to the well-known Florida Water to those of us who have lived in South Florida. What that all means is the more herbal components are thrust forward with the lavender while the citrus takes a bit of a back seat. The one unique ingredient from the 1859 recipe that was going to be very difficult to source and use was “musk tincture”. Real musk from the glands of musk deer is tightly regulated in 2015 and she would have to go through Bruce Bolmes of SMK Fragrance who is the only licensed importer in the US. Mr. Bolmes enthusiastically signed on to the project and this allowed Ms. McCoy to be faithful to the last drop in her recreation.
Randolph Parry Cologne opens with that fresh lemon swoosh. Lavender arrives very rapidly and it provides a spindle for the herbal and spicy components to wind themselves around. Rosemary which is the classic herbal component is present. What sets Randolph Parry Cologne apart is the very prominent cinnamon and clove notes. They settle in with the rosemary and lavender to provide a slightly darker shade of cologne than you might think. Rose and neroli provide a light floral counterpoint and it is especially as the florals gain some traction that I am reminded strongly of Florida Water. The arrival of the musk tincture is what truly sets this apart. The real animalic muskiness provides an entirely unique foundation for a cologne. It has a complexity to it that you can only get from a real musk. As it provides depth and texture to the more traditional cologne components it makes this feel contemporary.
Randolph Parry Cologne has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
You might think following an old recipe would be child’s play but I think this was quite the opposite. Ms. McCoy had to use every bit of skill and experience she has to make this recreation sing with the correct harmony. In lesser hands they would’ve just slammed the ingredients together into a muddled mess. Ms. McCoy turns it into living history not only of perfumery but a way of life. If you love cologne like I do you must try this.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Anya’s Garden.
Editor’s Note: If you want to know more about the process and the history behind Ms. McCoy’s process visit this link for her blog post all about it.