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quinta-feira, 11 de fevereiro de 2016

Scented Snippets New Fragrance Review and Interview: John Biebel and the January Scent Project / Smolderose

by: Ida Meister

“Finally, a result came about that fulfilled the needs - smoky, green, red, rosy, amber, milk-like, nutty and fading off into some dark berries, green and wood.” ~ John Biebel

“From the very beginning of this project, I knew that there was a strong visual component to my ideas (this is what happens when a painter works with smells), and because of my connections with music, it made perfect sense to put together something with sound and film. I was fortunate to work with Joe Mordecai of Brooklyn, New York to bring together these ideas into a short but potent 18 seconds of sound and image. His film work was extremely important to this project. Nothing beats people around you who share your particular vision, and Joe took the sound and images to an entirely new level. The Smolderose promotional film for January Scent Project put a distinct voice to this scent that has so far remained voiceless. Now, it sings.” ~ The January Scent Project
When it comes to John Biebel of our Fragrantica family of writers, it's personal.
John is not only a cherished colleague, he is a dear friend, a family-member-by-choice who is loved and admired by my husband, our grown sons [My particular love name for him is Janusz, The True Biebs.]. 
The man I trust with my confidences who sits in our kitchen and eats whatever I've dreamed up for him: drinks coffee, tea, beer, wine, spends hours sniffing and discussing.
He is a polymath, a complex human being with many facets: John's a fine artist, for one, who attended Cooper Union and graduated with a BFA in Painting and Photography. He is also a musician, fascinated with exotic instruments [most recently, ones from Istanbul] who has recorded any number of eclectic strains. He writes evocatively and is a fabulous interviewer; John possesses a perpetually inquisitive mind which never sits still. He's quite a cook as well and is fascinated with film [another aspect of his visual-spatial orientation]. He can knit the hell out of anything. Travel on a shoestring budget.
John Biebel Painting
"Love as a Dream with Bird and Hand" 9.5 x 9.5 inches, ink and gesso on wood, 2016, John Biebel
In short, here is a man intensely curious about everything which crosses his path – and perfume is no exception.
So when he came to dine with us awhile back, it was even more special: Lucy Raubertas of Indieperfume in Brooklyn had come to spend the weekend here in Boston, and I'd been cooking and baking like a fiend. Most of the family was present. After dinner, John reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a small cylindrical bottle: Smolderose, a recent mod.
He passed it around, and everyone tried it on their skin. Smoky [very!], rosy, lovely, but unfinished somehow. A really good beginning. I suggested pulling back on the cade and birch tar [it's such a tenacious, tricky thing] and adding perhaps a touch of benzoin in the base; Lucy was thinking heliotrope or cashmeran, to gentle the composition a bit.
Everyone agreed that we liked it and that it was unusual...
Fast forward: I received a package in the mail, a fait accompli. Exquisite graphics [no surprises there], thoughtful packaging including business card, mouillette, and rollerball bottle. It looked like John was really serious about this, and that here was the end result. Beautifully, carefully executed.
January Scent Project Package

I asked John if he would allow me to review it here on Fragrantica, to interview him; happily for me, he agreed. Somehow, though, the timing didn't quite feel right. I had a significant backlog of prospective work [what ever changes?!] to attend to, and the holidays were rapidly approaching.
The article had to wait.
The Interview
I: How long have you been experimenting? 
J: “I'm a little embarrassed, but...I started fooling around in my 20's; it was an utter disaster. I turned my back on it, and remained 'fearful of rosemary' for about 15 years! I think I overdosed on it.
Recently, though – I'd say about 2 years or so, with the last year being pretty intense, working a few times a week, every week after work – I revisited my passion.
I started by investigating how perfumes are made. I need to refer to you here, because a major part of the process has been exposure to certain perfumes; being exposed to elements in them was an enormous learning process.”
I: How did you go about building up materials?
J: “I started looking up sources to deconstruct perfumes online. The Good Scents Company had a lot of information about scent profiles for essential oils and other substances. I noticed a particular triangulation in the process: being exposed to the scent/thinking about it/researching websites that sell and obtaining materials. When I received samples, I experienced the sense of recognizing an old friend – or complete surprise, as in “What is this???”
John Biebel Lab Perfume
I: What literature, sources did you utilize in your research?
J: “When I went looking, there really wasn't a lot out there, and that was a surprise.The Art of Perfumery by Septimus Piesse [1857] was a great resource; really chatty, you know? A lot of 'tricks of the trade', revealing stuff you weren't supposed to talk about, trade secrets. How people were passing rose geranium off as rose oil, for example. 
I found that people reveal information slowly and carefully.
I searched on Amazon, and found British literature, in particular The Chemistry of Fragrance by David Pybus: it's a group of essays published in 1999, but many essays are older. It gets into early testing – what components do the following things? There is a lot of science, things like evaporation rates, molecular reactions, and the importance of natural substances. The realization that you can attempt to make something smell like a natural, but it will never quite approach it.
For those of us who can't learn formally, this is the process; I can't stress the importance of exposure enough. It's the fulcrum, shared knowledge, experience. Otherwise, it's like creating in a desert.”
I: John, how did the January Project come about?  What's the significance of the name?
January Scent Project Blog
J: “It's a funny anecdote. I went to a public high school with a very good art department. I was in a design class, and the teacher assigned us one project for the first half of the year: we were to produce a calendar, and each student would pick a month and create a silkscreen. The calendars would be sold, and the proceeds would go to help fund the program.
Each month had its own importance, challenges built in. No one wanted January.
I chose it because January is the beginning, the start of something: it sets the stage /tone, it's a blank slate. I represented the month as a woman stepping out into the New Year, a sort of debutante.
January began to translate into a music project. I changed the word January into Japanese: Ichigatsu.
I guess there's a lot of consistency in my ideas."
I: What perfume influences would you cite? 'Aha' moments which marked a milestone?
J: “There were a lot of scents you introduced me to, but two in particular. JAR Bolt of Lightning – so green tuberosey -  gave me a sense of how the alchemical comes into play beyond the elements themselves, heavenly. Challenging to understand.
The other was the whole world of Dior Eau Noire with its lavender/immortelle, an intense learning experience! 
My earlier exploration into the whole Orientalist Series from Annick Goutal was really accessible, a gateway drug for me. The idea of darker, ambery scents, the world of resins, Biblical scents, the earthiness of them [of myrrh!] which had felt like they were reserved for the Church, you know?”
John Biebel
I: What particular perfumers are influential?
J: [Laughs. It's late and he still has work to do after our interview]
“Well, there's that perfumer from Molton Brown, Jennifer Jambon. She's young, but herNavigation Through Scent series is really good, gateway scents which are accessible but with an exotic feel. It's a hard thing to do, both wearable and fascinating, admirable! 
In a way, it's about the intense relationship withSerge Lutens and the collaboration they embarked upon. I admire their incredible consistency; they created a family -  the crazy aunts, obedient children, dead relatives! A similar base, perhaps – whatever it is, it works incredibly well.
Jacques Polge created a number of Chanel Exclusives, just beautiful: Beige,Coromandel, poetic perfumes. They come at a strange time, new perfumes like traditional perfumes with a lovely layer of dust on top – genius.
Charna Ethier is a very free, daring inventive spirit. She has an intuitive sense of perfume, things seem to come to her. Really wearable; she's great with top notes, too. Her own fruit tinctures really add a sparkle.”
I asked John about his much earlier mods which I'd smelled when he first started sharing them.
I: What about a few years ago? You were really into citrus/patchouli then! Litsea cubeba – you were wild about it.
J: “I save everything, all of them! I have a vast box of little vials and catalog meticulously. Certain times, my nose shifts in interest. I go back and smell my older work. I keep re-referencing and revisiting them.
One of the dangers of working alone is being seduced by complexity, the chauvinistic idea [and I imagine that more men would react this way than women] that 'the more complex it is, the better it is'.
If there is too much going on, then simplify. Pay homage to simpler ideas.”
Smolderose Bottles
I: Why did you choose an oil format for your first perfume? The ability to mail it more widely? The intimacy?
J: The choice of oil was part of the process. I see it as a learning curve. Let me be clear: this is all part of a learning process. I am not a traditionally trained perfumer.
Oil allowed me to blend more quickly and mature the fragrance much faster. The very nature of the smell is suited to oil, and I liked the idea of fractionated coconut oil, something good for the skin. I liked the idea of something to tuck behind the ear, the wrist.”
I: Well, we're back to something I asked you when you started: are you ready to meet the prospective supply/ demand if this takes off?
J: “I think so! I have a supplier for everything and a backup plan, materials!”
[I hope that I've captured something of John's personality, thought process here, through his own words.]
Notes: mandarin, citronella, rosa bourbonia absolute, rose geranium, angelica, labdanum, castoreum, cade, blond tobacco, birch tar, agarwood, cashmeran, coriander, honey, patchouli, black pepper, benzoin, vanilla, and galbanum
Rose Petals Smolderose January Scent Project
John became enamored of cade, that resinous end product of burnt juniper wood.
[I smile. I first encountered oil of cade while working with psoriasis and other skin diseases over 40 years ago; it was so potent that the odor lingered even after donning 3 pairs of rubber gloves, I might add. It took me years to get over that very immediate olfactory association.]
John venerates the rose as well, and I share that. All her faces, facets, so much choice.
The name Smolderose is just brilliant. It breathes life into a different spin on smoky rose.
Heaven knows, there are more rose/oud combinations than one can shake a stick at.
When John first revealed Smolderose to us, it felt too medicinal, a bit rough [not that there is anything wrong with that, if that's what you're aiming for] around the edges; the cade and birch tar were a bit overgrown in the garden, much the way mint will choke a rosebush. He's modified that. 
The spiciness of coriander, black pepper and angelica [with its spicy/rhizomal/green smoky undertone] prove an excellent foil for the tangy citrus topnotes and the rich honeyed rose/rose geranium; galbanum's voice is immensely green and resinous, but it speaks softly here. Animalics growl sociably underneath it all, with many favorites – honey, castoreum, labdanum. Smoky aspects are amplified by blond tobacco and oud, softened by vanilla, patchouli, cashmeran and benzoin.
What does this mean?
How does it translate?
For me, Smolderose is a Hookah Perfume, a perfume for the seraglio.
I want my legion of eunuchs bearing fans, abundant silken cushions in riotous hues, and female companions bathing in precious attars -  after which we are liberally massaged with all the perfumed unguents of Arabia.
Smolderose Rose and Smoke January Scent Project
Conversely, I want to be an intimate group of Moroccan men in a cafe, smoking hookah and drinking small cups of potent Arabic coffee; spending the larger part of an evening regaling one another with storytelling into the wee hours.
Intimacy, camaraderie spied through a veil of spicy, honeyed floral embers. 
The caravanserai awaits.
This is Smolderose.
I'd like to thank John Biebel for his infinite patience and good humor.
And for allowing me to be his Fragrantica interviewer <3
[P.S.: Despite our friendship, good jus is just that. Several friends create perfumes which do not appeal to me in this manner; it's a fact of life. Nothing can possibly suit everyone.]

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