In a shop in Louisville, Kentucky is the first store dedicated to the art and creativity of the American independent perfumer. It is called, appropriately, American Perfumer. Owner Dave Kern has curated a collection of the best this sector has to offer. He believes, as I do, that a consumer who is exposed to what is offered will see the difference.
American Perfumer in Louisville, Kentucky
One of those differences is these perfumers create from a sincere place within. This is not focus group driven fragrance. This is emotionally creative artistic perfume. It means each perfumer brings something unique to their brand. One of the ways Mr. Kern wanted to stand out was to offer exclusive limited editions by the perfumers of the brands which were on his shelves. The first one was reviewed yesterday, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for American Perfumer Colorado. For the second limited edition Mr. Kern asked Maria McElroy, the perfumer behind aroma M and House of Cherry Bomb. Mr. Kern chose these two perfumers because, “I knew they’d make beautiful, interesting work and get it done on time. That said, in every way, they exceeded my expectations.”
Mr. Kern kickstarted the creative process by asking Ms. McElroy “if she had any scent-memories from growing up in Utah”. A simple brief which doesn’t match the complex perfume which has sprung from it. In the notes which Ms. McElroy included with my sample she remembered car trips across the Mojave Desert while she was “reciting Jack Kerouac lines”. This would be crossed with a more recent trip to Marrakech where the Brooklynite Ms. McElroy is now reconnected with the child in the backseat as she gazed out upon the Sahara Desert nearly half a world away. That is the inspiration for Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Flower.
While in Marrakech she would source small amounts of different oils which is what she uses in Desert Flower. This creates an incredibly unique fragrance. It is part of what American independent perfumery stands for. Artists who will create something exquisite in a small batch which might never be replicated.
For those who have read my reviews of Ms. McElroy’s aroma M perfumes she has a way of connecting with my storytelling urge to create a fiction around her perfumes. Something like Desert Flower was always going to cause that urge to come to the foreground again. In this case I imagine a hiker reaching Monument Valley after having crossed Utah from Colorado.
The hiker was thinking of the Navajo guide who showed him to the campsite for the night. As he explained the ground rules for camping, he made sure he had my attention when he said, “This is the place where Yikaisdaha (The Milky Way) aligns with the Earth. It is where the Heavens and Earth meet.” The hiker had just finished stowing his cooking materials after dinner. He gazed out across the desert floor towards the rock formations known as The Mittens. The sun crossed the floor lighting up the red rocks with the final rays of the day. The hiker noticed there were some desert flowers blooming in the twilight their scent released as the sun disappeared. It always impressed the hiker how much the few flowers which thrived in the desert could fill the air with their perfume. The strong woods of the desert provided a sonorous bass line. As the evening progressed and the hiker watched the span of Yikaisdaha slowly lower itself towards the floor of the desert a deep inky black scent overtook the night. That was the last thought of the hiker until the sun woke him the next morning. The only surety he had it was real was the lone desert flower greeting the day. He wondered what Arizona would smell like.
Ms. McElroy creates a perfume which captures the moment when night first falls in the desert and cereus flowers, among many others, turn the world into a floral wonderland. The use of authentic Arabian oils adds unbelievable nuance throughout.
Desert Flower opens with a dense mixture of floral ingredients. This is a gigantic floral accord which could have gotten out of control. Ms. McElroy keeps that from happening by using honey to form a soft sticky embrace of the florals. This by itself would be amazing but there is one last accord to be added; an oud-tinted chypre. Ms. McElroy excels at using precious materials. This chypre accord wherein she inserts genuine oud oil is remarkable. It adds an exotic twist to an already excellent chypre accord. The best chypres feel like they are inky scents; the inclusion of the oud alters it in a way I wanted more of.
Desert Flower has 12-14 hour longevity and it is a pure parfum concentration which means minimal sillage.
If you are a lover of full-bodied floral perfumes Desert Flower is a rare jewel made up of rare ingredients. It is something which you will regret missing if this sounds like your kind of perfume. It is my kind of perfume where Ms. McElroy takes the soul of memory transforming it into perfumed art.
I’ll finish with a quote from “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, “As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point at me and say, “Pass here you’re on the road to heaven.”
Mr. Kern, in overseeing his first two limited editions for American Perfumer, has taken us from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Colorado to Maria McElroy’s Utah-inspired Desert Flower. Thus laying down the first two miles on “the road to heaven” with the heart and soul of American perfumery.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by Maria McElroy.