A frequent conversation I have when I tell people I write a perfume blog is, “what is there to write about?” My first answer is I think perfume is art when done by creative people who share that intent. I tell them that what you find at the mall tends to be the commercial form of olfactory art. What really inspires my love of perfume is when the members of independent perfumery go for a visionary aspiration of olfactory art. There are not a lot of brands which regularly have this as a raison d’etre.
One creative director who passionately believes this is Stefania Squeglia. I have had the opportunity to be able to sit with her a couple of times. The depth of her commitment to making perfume which inspires thought about what perfume can be shines throughout her brand, Mendittorosa. It is especially prevalent in the Talismans collection. The latest release Sirio is a gorgeous example of capturing an early spring night gazing at the stars.
Sig. ra Squeglia has worked with perfumer Amelie Bourgeois on almost all the Talismans. For this most visionary of perfumery the creative director needs a perfumer who can translate an inventive brief into an equally original perfume. It is what has allowed this collection to examine the edges of what we consider perfume.
For Sirio, Sig. ra Squeglia wanted to capture the connection between the terrestrial Garden of Eden and the universe of stars above. What I experience is what happens when I step out at midnight on a moonless night in the early part of April. There is a chill to the air forming an icy crystallinity around the early plants which have just started to grow. Above are the glittering pinpoints of starlight so clearly seen they must be miles instead of light years away. Sirio captures the connection between terrestrial and extraterrestrial.
The keynote to the opening moments is something I always associate with early spring, rhubarb. As one of the earliest crops to harvest it is the harbinger of more to come. Rhubarb has become more of a perfume staple in the past few years. Here Mme Bourgeois gives it a high enough concentration, so it is the predominant scent. She then cleverly captures that chilly night with the addition of crisp apple and white musks. They come together to form that climactic iciness effect. It feels like there is frost on the spear of rhubarb. The white musks then add an expansiveness which begins to form as floral notes of rose and peony along with the sweet fruit of plum coat the chilled rhubarb. This is an enchanting accord as it feels like our garden milieu has left the earth in a transport bubble. Once we attain the stars a base accord of cashmeran and amberwood add a synthetic woodiness which also retains the expansiveness. It is here where we float in space looking back towards the garden we left.
Sirio has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Italian independent perfumery seems to have more than its share of members who think perfume as art is something worth pursuing. Sig. ra Squeglia made that decision from the moment she founded Mendittorosa. Five years later she can still take me from the garden to the stars.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Mendittorosa.
A few years ago, I went to the museum to see one of the more macabre exhibitions I have attended. From the moment archeologists began to excavate the city of Pompeii covered under the ash of the volcano Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD they discovered the bodies were preserved in a protective shell of ash. If they cautiously poured plaster inside that delicate framework they could create something solid from the ashes. To see the results of this work gathered in exhibition is to see a snapshot of death. Besides that, there was much to discover from these plaster casts which continues to the present day. Just a couple years ago they used 3-D techniques to determine the people of Pompeii were remarkably healthy some of them with “perfect teeth”. I remember having it inhabit my thoughts for days afterward thinking how death becomes an historical document through the shape of ashes. I was reminded of these thoughts by Mendittorosa Talismans Osang.
The creative director Stefania Squeglia grew up in Naples with Vesuvius able to be seen on the horizon. The name Osang comes from the annual San Gennaro festival in the city during which the dried blood of the saint is presented to the public. If it liquifies all will be well but if it stays dried….well Vesuvius is waiting. This is in keeping with the Talismans collection where the perfumes are inspired by artifacts which ward off the bad things in life.
Sig.ra Squeglia has created a very personal fragrance to the point that she does not reveal the perfumer she worked with on it. Osang is what she promises it to be except instead of it liquefying into the blood of San Gennaro Osang comes closer to representing the ashes portended by the blood staying dried. It leads to some very odd choices of ingredients which successfully accomplish the effect of a sky full of ashes.
The keynote to Osang is a fenugreek extraction being used in overdose. It appears right away and in the first moments it is sort of a watery vegetal effect which strengthens rapidly into a urine-like pungency. That effect is enhanced by using honey which also can feel urinous. The other note in the early going which provides the breath of fire is Szechuan pepper. This ingredient has been used a lot over the last couple of years but the use here comes closest to mimicking the real thing. It imparts a heat while also adding a kind of choking mustiness. This all transitions into a set of resins and balms in the base accord. Benzoin, styrax, incense, and peru balsam combine to form its own sort of ashy burn. Sandalwood seemingly provides some comfort, until oud joins it, charring even that short respite.
Osang has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I admire Sig.ra Squeglia’s dedication to her vision. Osang is an expertly constructed piece of perfumed art which achieves its stated goals. On that level it succeeds. On the level of “do I smell good?” it is more problematic. Because of the nature of the perfume I found it wasn’t comforting but that it put me on edge the days I wore it. Even smelling it on a strip to remind myself of it while writing this I can feel it provoking some of those feelings again. Which leads to a greater question about the art of perfumery. I think Osang is as good as it gets in realizing its artistic ambitions. It is just not something I would want to wear often. It is similar to my visit to the exhibition of the Pompeii plaster casts; the shape of ashes are disturbing but you can’t look away. Osang is great art within a delicate shell of ashes and death.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Medittorosa.
Mirrors are reflections of reality. Spend too much time lost in them and you will become a narcissist. Then there are those mirrors found in the fun house at the carnival. These surfaces distort reality. The distortion allows for new perspectives on that which you have seen in a normal way. I am more likely to have to be dragged out of the fun house than I am from the dresser. I like distorted reality. I like the way it causes me to think about non-reality. In perfumery it can be dangerous to create fragrances which distort reality too severely. It is a task for only the clearest eyed of creative directors. One of those is Stefania Squeglia of Mendittorosa.
Sig.ra Squeglia has shown her adventurous nature throughout the collection but it is in the three perfumes which make up the Talismans series where it reaches its apotheosis. On the website it describes the fragrances which make up Talismans as, “a concept of scents with strong message and vision”. Sig.ra Squeglia has done that. The most recent addition to the Talismans, Nettuno, is another example.
Sig.ra Squeglia continues working with perfumer Amelie Bourgeois with whom she has collaborated on all of the Mendittorosa fragrances to date. I imagine for Mme Bourgeois this partnership is freeing in its own way allowing her to push her own boundaries.
Nettuno is inspired by Marco Pesatori’s poem Il Volo di Nettuno (Neptune’s Flight). There is a part of the larger poem that I think captures the stylism behind Mendittorosa as a brand:
Through age-old planets
With an idea
That has no more ideas
It is that which Nettuno captures the sense of vast interplanetary distances filled with the chill of deep space.
Model Tresor Prijs
Nettuno opens with a cold water accord of cyclamen providing the aqueous underpinning for pink pepper and blue ginger. Blue ginger has a very pronounced pine needle scent profile. The pink pepper brings out the subtler peppery facets within this ingredient. Mme Bourgeois then creates what she calls a “complex rose accord”. I would call it a very metallic rose. I have always liked this kind of distorted reflection of rose as it feels trapped within a mirror. A very soft powdery iris provides the figurative tail of a comet as we zoom through it to find a leather accord on the other side. In Sogno Reale Mme Bourgeois’ leather accord was made more primitive. In Nettuno it is made more transparent. It feels like it is an illusion of outer space. Finally, Mme Bourgeois tunes an array of white musks into a version of icy Neptune as we have arrived in orbit; the chill settling in.
Nettuno has 16-18 hour longevity and average suillage.
I am, so far, a fan of the kind of perfume Sig.ra Squeglia is producing. These are made for the adventurous perfume lover. One who, like me, revels in seeing the world slightly distorted like a fun house mirror. Mendittorosa is slowly and surely filling up a perfumed fun house full of delightfully quirky visions. Nettuno is the latest installation.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of Nettuno from Mendittorosa at Esxence 2016.