Egypt has been a rich source of inspiration for many perfumers. From the ancient history all to the modern-day version with the Nile as centerpiece. I had thought I had seen a version of every point of inspiration that there could be. Leave it to the creative force behind Charenton Macerations, Douglas Bender, to find a new perspective for the new release Eye, Hatshepsut.
If you have never gone over to the Charenton Macerations website you should. Mr. Bender will take you on a deep-dive into the inspirations for his perfumes. The same is true for Eye, Hatshepsut. The unique perspective he takes is to offer the thesis that the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut who ruled from 1480-1458 BC was the first historical queer icon. Hatshepsut would combine the traditional male dress of pharaoh with her own evident feminine curves. Over the 22 years of her rule she did her part as ruler, she opened new trade, she vanquished her enemies on the battlefield, and added her temples to the Valley of Kings.
The traditional sacred incense called kyphi was one of the earliest versions of perfume known. Each pharaoh would have their own distinctive blend their bespoke kyphi. The 32 ingredient recipe found in the temple at Dayr-al-Bahri would not be something I would necessarily want to try. Mr. Bender was inspired to try and make a modern version of Hatshepsut’s Kyphi. He would work with perfumer Cecile Hua to bring this together.
Kyphi has a very distinct smell. I’ve smelled a couple of re-creations at different museum shows. I’ve found it to be strongly animalic with incense and patchouli at high levels as well. I walked away from those thinking I don’t want to smell like that. Mme Hua and Mr. Bender also realized kyphi needed a modern make-over. That is what Eye, Hatshepsut is all about.
To start with Eye, Hatshepsut a candle burns in the dark while smoke is trapped against the walls of the temple. A watery blue lotus floats among the warm wax and wood smoke. I was not engaged by this opening. Too often smoke obscures instead of illuminates and in the early going the smoke is too much in control. It improves immensely as the heart accord comes together around orris. Mme Hua uses a rich version of orris butter. This is the woman underneath the masculine garments. Honey, cinnamon, and a “kohl accord”. That final bit is an inky black mineralic juxtaposition against the rich rooty orris. The cinnamon and honey provide a bit of heat and sweet. The base is what I remember from traditional kyphi constructs as patchouli and incense come forward along with a whole series of animalic musks. Mme Hua keeps this much more restrained than the real thing which I found to be a good thing.
Eye, Hatshepsut has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I think Mr. Bender achieved his desired version of a kyphi moderne. I appreciate the attempt and it is much more wearable than the faithful recreations. I don’t prefer it over the other two releases from the brand but it carries an undeniable presence. While I might not want to get my pharaoh on if these notes I described are among your favorites Eye, Hatshepsut is worth seeking out.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Charenton Macerations.
It was soon after he released the first fragrance under his Charenton Macerations line, Christopher Street, that I met Owner and Creative Director Douglas Bender. Like a demented version of Oliver Twist I was already asking him what was next. Mr. Bender has no shortage of inspirations and on that day over a year ago he said quietly to me the next release would be based on “street art”. That was something I knew I would be very interested in and my wait is over as that perfume has just been released, Asphalt Rainbow.
Flower Thrower by Banksy- On a wall in Jerusalem 2003
The evolution from graffiti to street art has been a gradual thing but there have been a few inflection points where it has been seen as creativity over vandalism. There are two artists, among many, who have helped the public also share that opinion; Shepard Fairey and Banksy. Mr. Fairey would go from creating a stencil of wrestler Andre the Giant with the words “Obey” underneath to designing Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s campaign poster with the word “Hope”. Banksy is the name of a British artist who has never been seen. He has traveled all over the world placing his work on different walls. He spent October of 2013 in New York City putting up a piece a day. His entire career, and a commentary on street art itself, can be seen in the brilliant 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. To be successful the street artist has to work in the middle of the night without getting caught by the authorities. It leads to a furtiveness but it also can lead to something with incredible visceral impact. The piece above by Banksy called “Flower Thrower” was placed on a wall in Jerusalem as a commentary on the ongoing conflict there.
I don’t know if Mr. Bender is a fan of Banksy, or not, but after smelling Asphalt Rainbow I was very strongly reminded of that Banksy piece. (For the actuual street art inspiration here is Mr. Bender's blog post on it) Working with perfumer Cecile Hua, Mr. Bender has created a rose disguised as a spray paint can Molotov Cocktail. They fashion a rose perfume which explodes across a concrete face and instead of burning alcohol it is replaced with the smell of the urban landscape. It has the same primal impact as a provocative piece of street art as something as pretty as a rose can be laid over something distinctly artificial and create a different form of beauty.
Asphalt Rainbow opens with the rose right out front. The early moments are a pretty, soft rose but then Ms. Hua lights the fuse. Fairly quickly the rose begins to fray as galbanum and cistus pry apart the rose with slashes of green. An odd vibrant saffron provides a Day-Glo aspect as other florals, most prominently magnolia, try to put the rose back together. Then like a magic trick each day I wore this Mr. Bender and Ms. Hua found an accord which captures that slightly sweet smell of aerosol paint as it leaves the nozzle. This is the transformative moment in Asphalt Rainbow as it plows headlong into a concrete wall. Mr. Bender gave me a preview of this accord and as I told him at the time he showed it to me it smells like a vast field of concrete in the morning, just when you would discover a new piece on a local wall. Patchouli and amber go extremely well with this, grounding Asphalt Rainbow in something a little more tractable for most wearers.
Asphalt Rainbow has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am very impressed with the effort Mr. Bender and Ms. Hua have put in getting just the right vibe for this. There were so many ways this could have gone poorly and they managed to avoid all of them. Asphalt Rainbow is a more experimental fragrance than Christopher Street was. As a result it is going to be too unusual for some. For those who want a very different take on rose as if it was a piece of street art, you should grab a piece of Asphalt Rainbow.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.