Sandalwood is one of the key building blocks of modern perfumery. Its presence has caused several reactions. One is the overharvesting of the precious sandalwood of Mysore in India. This was what perfumers used in the early decades and over time it was taken down to small amounts left. It is now presided over, so it doesn’t return to that state. Nature and perfumery abhor a vacuum which means the perfume oil producers asked their chemists for synthetic alternatives. Along with that there were sustainable sources in Australia. In all these cases there was a seeming attempt to accentuate the creamy and sweet character of sandalwood. Which moved it further away from what it was trying to emulate.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
I have a tiny sample of actual Mysore sandalwood oil along with a few treasured vintage perfumes which feature the ingredient. None of those are creamy or sweet. Mysore sandalwood has a much more austere effect. It always reminds me of an ashy coating being removed to expose raw wood underneath. There is an acrid undercurrent in Mysore sandalwood which is what has been engineered out via chemical synthesis. Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea wants to be a perfume which explores what Mysore sandalwood used to mean in perfumery.
Creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and perfumer Fredrik Dalman were inspired by the capitol of the ancient land of Nabataea, Petra. The city was made of sandstone buildings which were more varied than that sounds because there were different colored varieties to be used in the area. If you need a pop culture reference it is the city where the last act of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place. This transfers to a sandalwood centric perfume as M. Dalman creates a layered effect around his keynote.
This layering is in effect from the first second. M. Dalman uses a mixture of the species of sandalwood from Mysore, santalum album, which has been sustainably grown in Australia. It is supported by some actual Indian sandalwood. This is as close to Mysore sandalwood as we’re going to get in the present day. M. Dalman blends his sources into something which is only tiny shades different than my sample of the authentic source. M. Dalman first calls forth black pepper and coffee to interact with the sandalwood. There is a distinct bitterness to santalum album both notes explore that. The black coffee does it in a richly caffeinated perspective while the pepper picks up on that “ashy” quality I perceive. It moves in the heart to a duo of odd choices in apricot and black currant leaf. There is a kind of urine-like tone to santalum album; the black currant leaf shares that together they find a more pleasant harmonic as the green leaves find more of a presence. The apricot is a fruity contrast. The base accord moves to more traditional ground of opoponax providing a resinous partner to the sandalwood.
Santal Nabataea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is an economic principal called “regression towards the mean”. It means that as the price of something moves further and further to an extreme eventually it finds its way back to the place where it started. As I wore Santal Nabataea it felt like Messrs. Sogtoen and Dalman were providing a perfume equivalent. Santal Nabataea is a regression toward the Mysore.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When Mona di Orio passed away at the beginning of December 2011 it was reasonable to expect her style of perfume construction would pass with her. Sure, there were probably a couple of fragrances finished at the time of her death but if you had asked me if I’d be talking about Mme di Orio six years later; my reply would’ve been, “unlikely”. It is because of one person that the conversation has continued until today; Jeroen Oude Sogtoen.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
M. Sogtoen was Mme di Orio’s partner. When she was gone he refused to let her perfume brand and her chiaroscuro aesthetic go with her. He would release the last of her creations but he would also look to continue the brand. It took him a bit of time to find the new in-house perfumer Fredrik Dalman. That he was the right choice was confirmed by his first perfume for the brand Bohea Boheme. Much of the time I wear that it feels like a perfume which had to have been started by Mme di Orio for M. Dalman to finish. It isn’t. Which makes M. Dalman’s work more impressive. For this year there have been two new releases. For Suede de Suede, M. Dalman displayed more of his signature by taking his leather accord and modifying it throughout. When I first sniffed the other release, Dojima, I again felt the spirit of Mme di Orio as channeled by M. Dalman.
Dojima’s name comes from the Rice Exchange in 17th Century Japan. Dojima wanted to capture the powder version of the grain, which it does, but then M. Dalman in a Monaesque fashion shades that powder into something darker as the light fades and the shadows come out to play.
Dojima opens with that delicate rice powder floating like a cloud above it all. This is seemingly fragile accord only to see it stand up to the other notes which begin to appear. First, is a combination of clary sage and nutmeg as they provide a bit of fleeting duskiness. The rice powder becomes a bit more of a familiar powder as the iris creates a more typical powder accord. This all heads towards a base of sandalwood warmed with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds and labdanum.
Dojima has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Dojima is a seemingly fragile construct which always seems on the edge of being overrun by one ingredient or another. To M. Dalman’s credit it never happens. These notes interweave themselves through the powdery nature early on and along with the sandalwood towards the end. I was reminded of the Japanese art of origami where a beautiful piece of paper is transformed into an animal by a series of folds. Dojima is an example of taking a powdery heart and folding in deeper notes to create origami shadows.
Disclosure: this review is based on a press sample supplied by Mona di Orio.
Leather perfumes are some of the most interesting perfumes I try. One reason is that every perfumer must construct their own leather accord. There is no leather essential oil to take down off the shelf. Nope, each artist must create their own recipe which they can then tweak for every effect leather can have. Refined and silky on one end of the spectrum to raw and animalic at the other end. Choose your ingredients correctly and they can be adjusted to create anything along that continuum. Every time a perfumer takes on a leather focused perfume I look forward to acquainting myself with their version. Perfumer Fredrik Dalman decided to give me two visions of his leather accord within one perfume; Mona di Orio Suede de Suede.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
M. Dalman has been handpicked by Mona di Orio owner and creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen as the in-house perfumer to continue Mme di Orio’s legacy. Some of the greatest perfumes of this century were created by Mme di Orio therefore M. Dalman has a weighty responsibility to live up to. M. Sogtoen has accepted his job as protector of the realm, as it were, which makes his choice of M. Dalman as in-house perfumer apt. I have believed M. Dalman understands the concept of “Monaesque”. Suede de Suede is one of two new releases. It is the one where I see M. Dalman on display and Mme di Orio is much more a directing influence. The other, Dojima is the opposite way which I’ll discuss in a future review of that.
The name Suede de Suede seems like a purposeful duplication purporting leather of leather. This is not exactly what I experienced. Instead it was one kind of leather early on which became eclipsed by a different one later. This goes back to how M. Dalman constructs his leather accord. He can go from the refined end of the spectrum to the raw end of the spectrum all in one fragrance.
Suede de Suede opens with the suede leather accord on display. Early on a clever mixture of fruit and spice provide an interesting enhancement and contrast. The fruit is called a cloudberry which provides a sweet berry effect which complements those facets of refined leather. Sichuan pepper is there to remind you of the raw place where this refined leather came from. Osmanthus provides a floral counterpart along with a limpid green nature courtesy of strawberry leaves. This is the beginning of the metamorphosis of the suede back to rawhide. Patchouli coats it in a dark earthy haze removing the outer edges of the suede. It takes the use of castoreum and some other musks to fully eclipse the genteel and bring out the animal which is where Suede de Suede finishes.
Suede de Suede has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Suede de Suede felt like a leather eclipse on my skin as the very bright and refined suede eventually gets covered up by the rawer nature of leather in its unrefined state. Because this is so dependent on M. Dalman’s leather accord this is probably the most personal Mona di Orio fragrance he has made. Mme di Orio is here as well with her love of olfactive shadow play because no bigger shadow is created than when something eclipses another.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Mona di Orio.
As I am no doubt sure most who have read my perfume writing over the years know; when I find a perfumer who connects with me I’m a bit possessive. My love of perfume comes from its ability to connect with me on multiple levels not just that it smells good. So when a perfumer manages to consistently deliver perfumes which take me to this multi-layered state of engagement I consider them mine. Which means their perfumes are always going to be sought out by me. One of those perfumers was Mona di Orio. Mme di Orio was a perfumer who took me places few other perfumers did when I wore her creations. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2011. Since that time her partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen has worked very hard to keep her vision and aesthetic alive. Over the last two years he has had to do the very difficult task of be the creative director and to find perfumers who could live up to having their creation in a bottle which had Mona di Orio on it.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
While the loss of Mme di Orio was enormous it has allowed M. Sogtoen to take some time to understand what it was about her creations that made them distinctive. Which in turn has allowed him to take some time in choosing the perfumers to take on the task. The first new fragrance was released fifteen months ago. Myrrh Casati was the opening statement in defining what makes a perfume “Monaesque”. Now the second release Bohea Boheme seeks to define that phrase even further.
M. Sogtoen chose perfumer Fredrik Dalman to work with this time. By choosing younger perfumers without a huge portfolio to their name it probably makes it easier for M. Sogtoen not to have to push against an already developed style. Especially if you are asking them to design in a style of another perfumer. Bohea Boheme goes a long way towards refining the concept of “Monaesque”.
If Bohea Boheme was just a play of lighter notes off of darker notes it would have some of the shadow/light duality Mme di Orio was known for. I also think it would come off like a band at the local bar doing cover versions of popular radio songs. It is recognizable but somehow not as good. M. Sogtoen has eschewed that approach with both of these recent releases. With Bohea Boheme I would say this is the most shadowy of any Mona di Orio brand perfume. The light here is only in specific points and it does little to banish the darkness.
Bohea Boheme is inspired by a tea from the Wuyi Mountains in China. Bohea Tea is a variety of the well-known oolong but permeated with the smoke of pine. It was this variety of tea which was tossed overboard during the Boston Tea Party. The reason for smoking the tea with pine was to dry out the leaves so they wouldn’t get moldy on the long sea voyage from China to Europe or further. What was a necessity in the 18th century has become a desired characteristic today. At my local tea shop I smelled some newly arrived Bohea Tea and the pine is noticeable but it is far from omnipresent. Bohea Boheme is much more interested in bringing that pine forward to really interact with the tea.
Bohea Boheme opens on an accord that most will recognize instantly as bergamot and oolong forma a faux- Earl Grey tea accord. M. Dalman puckishly adds some juniper berry to intimate the gin which might also be present nearby. If there is a single raw material I think Mme di Orio used with the utmost skill I would say it was osmanthus. M. Dalman takes osmanthus as the nucleus of the heart accord. He quite cleverly uses chamomile, a familiar tea scent on its own, to continue the tea theme. The osmanthus arises on the vapors of the tea bringing with it cardamom and iris. These notes damp down the apricot quality of osmanthus in favor of its botanical leather character. Throughout the days I wore this I found this accord very reminiscent of the smell of a freshly brewing pot of tea on a leather covered desk. In the base a very extroverted pine comes out and instead of gently perfuming the tea it moves it off to the side. M. Dalman uses not just the typical balsamic notes but adds in boxwood and sandalwood to further achieve his desired effect of smoky pine. Very late on vanilla helps soften the smoke with a tempering sweetness.
Bohea Boheme has 16-18 hour longevity but almost zero sillage; it is very much a skin scent.
It seems with each new release M. Sogtoen is going to attempt to define a style of perfume creation which can be connected to Mme di Orio. Bohea Boheme is Monaesque Act 2.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Mona di Orio.
If an artist is staying true to their vision and not allowing outside factors in I believe that will lead to a creation that will be polarizing to those who experience it. It is why as success happens it is often too difficult for that artist to not hear the catcalls and sometimes try to alter their vision to appeal. Then there are the very rare examples of those who just don’t let the noise into their aesthetic. There are many in the perfume world who I think have not allowed the detractors to gain sway. One of them was perfumer Mona di Orio.
Mona di Orio
Mme di Orio passed away in 2011 in what I consider to be the peak of her career. I first became aware of her back in 2007 upon the release of her fourth perfume Oiro. There would be three more perfumes in her initial collection. Every one of them did not attempt to be liked by everyone. Instead as a whole the initial collection was a grand statement on Mme di Orio’s desire to work in alternating phases of light and shadow. Using notes that explode in brilliance only to be subsumed by deep animalic shadow this was her signature style. Starting in 2010 she began her Le Nombres d’Or collection and it is here where her star really began to glow incandescently. An unfortunate side effect was the original collection was discontinued. Mme di Orio’s partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen had always promised the perfume community, even before her death, they would return someday. That day has come and I wanted to make sure that those who might not be familiar with these perfumes don’t miss them. The return will be a slow affair and for 2014 Lux and Nuit Noire are the first to return.
Lux means light in Latin and the top notes of Lux burn like a supernova of intense citrus. Mme di Orio uses lemon, petitgrain, and litsea cubeba. The last note may be unfamiliar to some but it comes from a shrub of the evergreen family and the fruit it produces delivers a textured lemon essential oil. Mme di Orio could have used somewhat less of this but this truly provides olfactory lux as all three notes combine. I always detect a bit of the evergreen floating around underneath and it just might be my imagination but if it is there it would be the litsea providing it. Now here is where these works are not for everyone Lux performs a dramatic pivot as even the brightest light doesn’t banish all shadows and a very animalic musk encased in labdanum, cedar, and sandalwood escape the luminescence. The entire tone changes and it will either enchant you or drive you crazy. I like the tonal shift and I particularly like the woody musky accord. After all of this turmoil Mme di Orio comforts with a soft ambery vanilla late in the development.
Nuit Noire follows much of the same architecture but instead of extreme brilliance the light here is a floral bouquet of white flowers as tuberose and orange blossom form the floral nucleus. Early on it is a mélange of spice which provides the context. Very early it is a green cardamom and ginger. These particularly play off the slightly camphoraceous facets of tuberose. Clove and cinnamon provide some spiced heat. Then a truly filthy musk arrives and it is this which will make or break one’s enjoyment of Nuit Noire. This musk does not come in on cat’s feet it stomps in with combat boots. What is fascinating is the tuberose doesn’t back down and a fascinating tension between the narcotic white flower and the feral musk collide. This kind of dissonance is an acquired taste to be sure but if it is your taste it just doesn’t get better than this. Unlike Lux Mme di Orio doesn’t look for comfort as she doubles down on the animalic with a raw leather accord as, along with the musk, it kicks the tuberose to the curb.
Lux and Nuit Noire both have 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you are only familiar with Mme di Orio from the Le Nombres d’Or Collection, and like them, I urge you to sample these and all of the others as they are re-released. If you have never tried Mme di Orio’s perfumes before these are a great place to see if her vision matches yours.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of Lux and Nuit Noire I own and samples of the new 2014 re-releases I received at Pitti Fragranze. The perfumes are identical with no discernable difference.
How does one continue when tragedy strikes? How does one carry on in the name of a creative spirit lost to us? In December of 2011 perfumer Mona di Orio passed away suddenly. In the years since there have been new releases of perfumes she had finished before her passing. Mona di Orio the brand was now at a crossroads; become a legacy brand re-releasing the previous perfumes made by Mme di Orio or move forward with new perfumes that capture Mme di Orio’s signature aesthetic of light and shadow. Creative Director and partner of Mme di Orio, Jeroen Oude Sogtoen has decided to do both. Two of Mme di Orio’s early releases Lux and Nuit Noire are now being re-launched. Concurrently M. Sogtoen has decided to ask perfumer Melanie Leroux to take the brand forward and they have created the new release Myrrh Casati.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
A key component to moving forward is to create perfumes in the style of Mme di Orio. They have chosen to coin a phrase to define this, Monaesque. The definition in the press release is, “It is the harmonious nature between light and dark notes, the olfactory chiaroscuro, which distinguishes each scent as Monaesque. The melody of the notes reveal an orchestrated arc of the claire obscure, unconventional, richly faceted, and completely original.” With M. Sogtoen to oversee the new perfumes to come and having worked so closely with Mme di Orio there could be no better person to make sure these principles are upheld.
La Marchesa Luisa Casati by Giovanni Boldini
Marchesa Luisa Casati is the inspiration for Myrrh Casati. Marchesa Casati was known for arriving at fetes with her leashed cheetahs or wearing live snakes as accessories. Her style would inspire fashion designers John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. Now it was time for her to inspire a fragrance. Perfumer Melanie Leroux would construct a fragrance around the sweet intensity of myrrh but she adds her version of olfactory cheetahs and snakes with licorice and saffron playing a prominent role.
Myrrh Casati opens on a duet of red berries and pink pepper. This sets a bit of the spicy shadow over the bright fruit to lead into the appearance of the myrrh. Myrrh is one of my favorite incense notes as it carries the darkness of frankincense but with an inherent sweetness which makes it more opulent. When used well it can form a kinetic core to a fragrance. Mme Leroux does a good job of allowing it to form a foundation early on. Then she swirls in three notes which make Myrrh Casati for me. First a bit of green cardamom adds contrast. Saffron adds that exotic spicy quality unique to it. Finally, licorice makes an appearance in rich herbal strands. This is the heart of Myrrjh Casati and all of this blends together fantastically. As we move towards the end Mme Leroux adds in some more incense and benzoin to bolster the myyrh so it can stand up to the patchouli, nagarmotha, and guaiac. These last three notes form a sort of faux oud accord. It is never as pushy as real oud would be it is a lighter hint of oud and it goes well at the end of Myrrh Casati.
Myrrh Casati has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If you are going to carry on a tradition as rich as that Mme di Orio left behind then you need to make a strong statement. Myrrh Casati is that statement of intent to carry on the aesthetic Mme di Orio honed and refined over so many years. M. Sogtoen and Mme Leroux have provided with Myrrh Casati the definition of what it means to be Monaesque.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Mona di Orio at Pitti Fragranze.