As frustrated as I can get with many of the self-taught perfumers who send me their brands there are exceptions. What makes those stand out is because these artists who have essentially taught themselves how to construct perfume is they break the rules; because they weren’t told what they were. 98.5% of the rule breakers mostly serve to sharpen the reasoning for why these rules exist. The other 1.5% find new directions to explore. This group is the one which makes up our most talented independent perfumers.
One of these iconoclastic rule breakers is Holladay Saltz. She founded her brand Apoteker Tepe in 2015 with four very well thought out constructs. Ms. Saltz showed her resistance to being bound by convention throughout those releases. Now 2016 brings her first two follow-ups. Pale Fire is a good example. Ms. Saltz combines large amounts of labdanum and vanilla versus another accord of olibanum and oakmoss. The combination is volatile and wildly kinetic. That fervent energy kept me from wanting to wear it for a couple of days to review it. I have incessantly smelled the strip it is sprayed on but it is not something I wanted to wear. The other new release is called Karasu and that I did find the time to wear for a couple of days.
Karasu refers to the Japanese demons of the forest called Karasu-Tengu. They are summoned by the foolish humans who want to bind them using an incense ceremony. This is what Ms. Saltz is trying to evoke in Karasu. To do this she corrupts the incense ceremony with decay and smoke forming a desperate ritual in the woods that is not going to go well for the summoner.
Karasu opens with a version of oud from Indonesia called Gaharu Buaya. It is sort of a regular grade version of oud to its high octane cousin the purer Gaharu. Ms. Saltz choosing this as the representation of her incense is inspired because it carries an almost entropic air of collapse around it. As if right from the start the incense the supplicant is using is foreshadowing what is to come. To further enhance the deterioration Ms. Saltz takes birch tar and costus to fully warp the good intentions. The birch tar she uses is kept at a precise pitch throughout. This is the smoke of the smudge pot not the viscous contents within. Costus and its ability to push forward rot works incredibly well here. When this all comes together it is incense as scorched by olfactory brimstone. There is no surprise that what has arrived is not sunshine and light. Much later on the woods of the site of the ceremony take over as hinoki and cedar clear away the unclean act.
Karasu has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
In both of the new Apoteker Tepe releases Ms. Saltz seems to be experimenting with stark contrasts of well understood raw materials. It really comes together in Karasu to form something I was completely fascinated by. I may never be desperate enough to try and summon a demon but I surely will be summoning Karasu when I am in the mood for something unique.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.