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quinta-feira, 31 de dezembro de 2015

The Myriad Muses in Myrrh 3: My Myrrh Perfume Reviews

The Myriad Muses in Myrrh 3: My Myrrh Perfume Reviews

by: Elena Vosnaki

Myrrh was a risky bet for Serge Lutens back in 1995 when he launched La Myrrhe. I remember the facts distinctly because it was my very first bell jar acquisition. The sacred, resinous goo was known more for being part of the gifts to baby Jesus than for its illustrious history in perfumery where it had made only cryptic appearances. Egyptologists and the greater clan of archaeologists knew about its use in embalming of course. A material for embalming coming out of your perfume bottle and emblazoned on the label too: La Myrrhe. Possibly off-putting? And yet, by the pricking of my thumbs, this mystical potion this way comes. And I was sold.
La Myrrhe instantly impressed me as the most spiritual fragrance I had tested at the purple seraglio that Serge built in homage to scents of another era. It contained the soapy and bright (like linen washed by the rays of the sun, as if absolved by the soil of sin) notes which I recalled from my mother's Chanel No.5 eau de cologne. It was also vivaciously sweet with an underlay of bitterness; as if white marzipan paste was really made of some mysterious fruit that is half mandarin and half sour cherry and it felt both chewy and unyielding at the same time.
People usually identify the scent of incense with mysticism and this has some evident association backing it up; after all incense is burned all around the world for religious processions and celebrations as well as for praying. What's more, with hippies and New Age, incense has become supremely popular as the default scent for regrouping and meditation. Of course I'm using the term "incense" rather narrowly here (since there are several kinds of incense blends) to denote mostly frankincense. And it makes sense: frankincense is a pure smell with shades of pine and citrus and it's logical that we associate it with purity and cleanliness. But what about myrrh...that bitter demon of a smell?
Frankincense is met at church as the censer spreads the fragrant smoke in the congregation. Myrrh is met at asketaria; monastic places of anchorites who end up their days exuding the smell of sanctity...or so witnesses say.
The word "demon" (δαίμων) means spirit or divine power replete with knowledge in classical Greek mythology; at least up to the Neo-Platonics. Hence Socrates's famous claim of "being true to his inner demonium" and Diotema's lesson to him in Plato's Symposium that "love is a greater demon". Is myrrh therefore a demon? An entity between material (mortal) and spirit (divine knowledge)?
Myrrh is indeed someplace between the two; its very nature bears this duality. On the one side a numbing of the senses; a narcotic hedone that lulls the pain. On the other a scourging bitterness that reminds us of the pain of life. Two isomers that share the same structure arranged in different ways; two faces of Janus.
Lutens and his perfumer sidekick Christopher Sheldrake were therefore the first to showcase the Janus-like nature of myrrh for all its worth in their epoch making creation. Experiencing La Myrrhe takes multiple uses. I very much doubt I was fully aware of the complexity and irony built into it when zooming on the reddish liquid and paying for it that momentous time back. It must have been pure instinct or the patron saint of perfumery St. Magdalene who guided my young hand.
When it came to Keiko Mecheri's Myrrhe et Merveilles however, the thrill of the unexpected was fractured into a thousand pieces. La Myrrhe had it for lunch. For a long time I felt that the Mecheri line followed the Lutensian opus a bit too closely for comfort; it felt like glorified duping and if one is going that way why not admit it... I thought. But thankfully testing and retesting for the purposes of really getting an education on myrrh, I saw the error of my ways and finally came to appreciate this Mecheri fragrance for what it is: a luxurious and somewhat aloof soapy myrrh; one which showcases the element quite well.
If you squeeze your eyes a bit and look at it that way, Myrrhe et Merveilles might start giving you impressions of classic Opium. It's only a slice of its hot iron hiss on a white starched shirt but it's plenty. The floral heart is rather spicy like carnations and almond blossoms smothered in musk. The musk is so prominent that the compoisition feels silken. Powdery almost. The "merveilles" (i.e. wonders) manifest themselves through the details, but they're enough to differentiate it from its mystical predecessor.
But it is the third perfume with dominant myrrh that makes for the sharp contrast.Myrrhe Ardente (perfervid myrrh) by Annick Goutal had a totally different approach than either Lutens or Mecheri. There was no attempt of dressing an apocryphal smell into classic tailoring to render it wearable by a modern sensibility. On the contrary, the element of myrrh was taken as a significant nod to the sweeping genre of Orientalism that marked the late 19th century and which almost singlehandedly - if we count Guerlain and Houbigant as those influenced by it -  gave us modern perfumery.
Camille Goutal then and her perfumer Isabelle Doyen began with a beautiful thesis proposition in 2007: how would oriental bath rituals of the harems (as seen in paintings by Ingres and the rest of the masters of the times) translate into scents? The sensuous Les Orientalistes line was born; initially a line of three fragrances for women or men which included Ambre FeticheMyrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant. By the next year, another addition to the line increased the number by one: Musc Nomade; a vegetal musk which I count among my most favorites, built on ambrette seed.
They're all sensual fumes, molding themselves into the idea we have of the Orient and it seems to me (only a casual observation which might be proven wrong) that people seem to prefer either the opulent Ambre or the densely smoky Encens out of the quartet. My own preference lies to the outsiders.
The sacred side of myrrh is not part of the concept. Rather the lulling sensuality of its opiate-like escapism is at heart. The Goutal fragrance implores us to look upon myrrh with eyes sooted with the blackest black of the lamp which burns lighting up the harem and to adorn our body with oils which speak of a thousand caravans carrying mysterious cargo across the Middle East. It makes me think of Loti; not Plato. The sweet facets brought out by the addition of benzoin and beeswax bring out a sticky "cola" note which is not at all at odds with the natural shade of the essential oil of myrrh. The gentle smokiness rendered by the earthy woody notes of vetiver is a welcome reminder that we're dealing with something that harkens back to the roots of perfumery; "through smoke".
Maybe I like to feel protective towards the unsung. Myrrhe Ardente deserves a wider audience.

Pic credits from top to bottom: - Tumblr - - Wikimedia Commons

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