2014 will be a year of change for perfumer Christopher Brosius and his CB I Hate Perfume brand. The biggest change is a change of location; still in Brooklyn and a little further east. Mr. Brosius has been busy getting everything back together in the new shop but not so busy that there isn’t something new to try.
The first releases of 2014 are a collection of six soliflores called Rare Flowers. Mr. Brosius says about the collection, on his website, “In all fairness, I cannot claim responsibility for these fragrances. Nature provided these gems. I merely polished and set them.” The concept is each one is a single floral absolute which has been isolated by enfleurage or solvent-extraction. Both of these processes are lengthy efforts requiring patience and skill to pull off. What has ended up in each bottle is a soliflore which allows the wearer rare insight into the floral notes they might think they know so well. For me the most illuminating experience came from three of them: Narcissus, Jasmine Sambac, and Tuberose. These are among my favorite floral notes and the opportunity to try them on their own opened my nose to nuances I hadn’t previously been aware of.
Narcissus is probably second only to violet as my personal favorite floral fragrance. Narcissus is the keynote of many of my very favorite perfumes and this was the Rare Flower I was most excited to try. What I smelled at first was damp earth. I almost thought someone had switched bottles with Mr. Brosius’ Dirt he did for Demeter. This was not what I expected. The soft green quality that seemed to come next was what I expected as it is that quality of narcissus I like so much when part of a perfume. By itself the green is more astringent but the softness is apparent the longer it stayed on my skin. It eventually matures into its full floralcy and that is the narcissus I am most familiar with.
Jasmine Sambac is a very familiar, and ubiquitous note, in perfumery. I personally like it when it is at its most natural with the “dirty” smelling indoles allowed to contrast with the sweetness of the bloom. This Rare Flower is all that I just described as the skanky indoles swagger off my skin before the beautiful floral quality catches up. But instead of the freshness taking over a natural balance is struck and both co-exist in a twitchy harmony. Jasmine Sambac was the most like wearing a perfume as there was a real sense of development to this on the days I wore it.
If when I say “Tuberose” your answer is “Eek!” it is not surprising because it is the keynote of some of the bawdiest white floral perfumes on the market. When I smelled the Rare Flower Tuberose I think I expected this olfactory explosion but I got exactly the opposite. Tuberose comes off so very restrained in this form. I have always thrilled to the mentholated quality tuberose has in those perfumes where it is featured and in this soliflore that quality is here but it carries a fragility to it that was wholly unexpected. The same goes for the rest of the experience as Tuberose as a Rare Flower is much more of a wallflower requiring you to come draw her out to discover her pleasures.
The experience of smelling the Rare Flowers collection reminded me of the old MTV show “Unplugged” where an artist would perform their songs acoustically stripping away all of the sound effects and leaving the listener to consider the real heartbeat of the music. In the case of Narcissus, Jasmine Sambac, and especially Tuberose I have listened to their heartbeat through an olfactory stethoscope. It will make me consider them differently the next time I encounter them in the body of a fragrance.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples from CB I Hate Perfume.
Editor’s Note: for those in the New York City area the Grand Opening of the new CB I Hate Perfume Studio will take place Saturday April 26, 2014 from 2-6PM at 318 Maujer St, Brooklyn, NY. If you go to the new studio everything will be 10% off that day, only in store.