I think one of the things I find so appealing about independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is the breadth of her designs. She has spent so much time recently making collections inspired by the Denver Art Museum or being inspired by previous vintage perfumes it can become easy to overlook that when she composes based on her own imagination the results are equally fascinating. Two of her most recent releases Albino and Zeitgeist 55 show off her ability to work in abstracts or to give us a tour through her history as a perfumer with a specific accord.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz
Albino has the subtitle “A Study in White”. There are many synesthetes who see fragrance concurrently with specific colors. I am not blessed with that ability. Even so Ms. Hurwitz was able to take me along with her vision as I found Albino to be an olfactory white out. what surprised me most was that two very traditionally green notes in rhubarb and basil actually were the ingredients which drained the color leaving something quite mesmerizing as my senses tried to find a foothold somewhere. In an e-mail I asked Ms. Hurwitz about the rhubarb and basil providing that effect and she replied, “The rhubarb is essential to giving the 'pithy' feel to the grapefruit pith accord and the basil along with an anisic nuance for me feel very white or clear or something like that…without color. Albino is going into abstraction territory where, for me, I just start evaluating the smells based on the synesthetic experience of 'color- or no color' and texture. The basil gave an effect that felt as 'no color' in the contact of the other ingredients and helped the tradition from the pithy top to the creamy texture in the dry down. I also noticed that with the albino raspberry accord, the basil kept the sweetness in check while allowing some of the strange tangy-ness to stay.”
Albino opens with that albino raspberry accord which provides a berry-like tartness. This rapidly gets matched with the grapefruit pith accord which is not rind with a hint of acrid quality or full on pulp with the juiciness. It is an austere grapefruit accord. This is why the basil cuts the sweetness of the albino raspberry and the rhubarb picks up the subtle sulphurous facets of the grapefruit pith. It drags both of them back to more neutral ground. The final amount of white comes in the presence of white oak and white cognac in the base. This gives a volatile alcoholic quality matched with a sturdy desiccated woodiness. I found Albino to perfectly evoke the featureless depth a pure white field portends; even for this color blind perfume lover. Albino has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
One of the interesting facts about Ms. Hurwitz is her beginnings took place in a DIY perfume shop she co-owned with Sarah Horowitz-Thran. There is a fanciful part of my imagination that sees that little shop on Newbury St. as one of the birthplaces of independent American perfumery. For the new release Zeitgeist 55 Ms. Hurwitz reaches all the way back to those early days as she combines three distinct leather accords together. I wanted her to comment on all three accords and she replied, “I used an early 'black leather' accord that was a best seller for me back in my Boston days and on my site in the late '90's. It's a pure motorcycle leather accord that I made even deeper with the addition of aged oak moss. I also created a suede note using suederal tempered with costus and woods; the costus also gives that great sebum effect, so you get something smooth and elegant with some human kinds of sweat / bedhead / salty skin. For the more traditional leather nuances I made another accord from birch tar, castoreum, and musks (animalics in particular) to include that 'tanned hides' take on leather. Overall, I was really trying to find the places where all of these nuanced leather smells came together and could 'segue' in to one another; the motorcycle leather, the tanned hide / horse riding leather/ the dry but supple feel of suede mixed with human smells…in the most elegant way, of course. 🙂 I wanted to make a definite statement on leather — and give a nod to the feeling of the 1950's and touch upon that undercurrent of sexuality, youth culture, and a new 'freedom' that icons like Marlon Brando and James Dean signify.”
Zeitgeist 55 starts with that smell of the black leather jacket, lovingly taken care of and fully broken in. It has a badass devil-may-care effect. It decides to go for a walk (swagger?) into the tack room where the smell of saddles takes over with the birch tar and animalic leather accord. This is the tanned leather accord. As you pick the saddle off the wall you pull out a pair of suede leather riding gloves. These are the gloves you’ve worn so many times your personal smell infuses the supple refined smell of the hide. I have to comment as Ms. Hurwitz related above the use of costus adds that smell of humanity underneath it all. It ties all three leather accord together delightfully. Zeitgeist 55 has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’ll conclude my reviews tomorrow with the two inspired by two of the greatest perfumes ever made.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by DSH Perfumes.