One of the things I truly appreciate is when there is a long-term marriage of creative director and perfumer. It is not the usual state of affairs for a fragrance brand as the majority of them have a number of different perfumers they work with. What I like about the more monogamous fragrant relationship is there is a real sense of evolution as you move along with the brand. I was thinking about that as I tried the new Memo Paris African Leather.
Memo Paris started as a brand in 2007 with four releases. Co-owner Clara Molloy provided the creative direction and her partner in perfume for the last eight years has been perfumer Alienor Massenet. I wouldn’t discover the line until a few years later. One of the first Memo perfumes I owned was Moon Dance a perfume described as “an imaginary safari on the moon”. In that first collection from 2007 there was a perfume called Lalibela which was inspired by the Ethiopian city of the same name. In both of these cases these were the early versions of leather and Africa from the line. As Mme Molloy and Mme Massenet returned to these grander inspirations for African Leather there is very clear evidence of how much they have grown together as a creative team as African Leather is perhaps the best perfume in the entire Memo Paris line.
This time the safari is more literal as African Leather is reminiscent of the smell of wide open savannahs stretching to the horizon. Lalibela used incense and tobacco to create the exotic; African Leather uses a fantastic trio of spice notes to convey the same impression. Put together it just feels like the culmination of a fruitful creative partnership resulting in a fantastic fragrance.
One of the things which really allows African Leather to stand out is that Mme Massenet employs molecular distillations of the natural materials. These versions allow for a specific fraction of the entire essential oil to be isolated resulting in a different scent profile. This effect is used nicely by Mme Massenet as she employs each ingredient for the desired effect.
African Leather opens with a trio of spices; cardamom, saffron, and cumin. They provide a warm breeze as if the mid-day wind is sweeping the smell of the open plains to your nose. I wasn’t able to find out the source of the saffron Mme Massenet used here but it has one of the more pronounced combinations of warmth and shimmer I think I have noticed in saffron in a perfume. It floats above the entire perfume for almost all of its development giving this interesting textural quality. The heart is the molecular distillation of geranium where the greener facets have been stripped away by the process leaving the floral aspects. I have often called geranium a “green rose”. This fraction puts the lie to that description as once the green is removed, via a physical process, the floral is much more expansive. It needs to be because the leather accord is what makes up the other half of the heart. This is that animalic smell that feels alive. Like just over that hill there is a herd of wildebeest that your nose picks up before your eyes do. The base is another example of molecular distillation as patchouli with its earthy qualities enhanced is mixed with vetiver with its greener grassier qualities upgraded. This is the smell of grass and sun-baked earth. It is the savannah come to life. Mme Massenet finishes it with a mixture of white musks which manage to uplift the saffron back into my conscience again.
African Leather has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
African Leather is easily one of my favorite new perfumes of 2015. If it isn’t my favorite Memo fragrance it is pretty close. A little more time and perspective is required for that I suspect. Every time I wore this I can feel the evolution of the collaborative effort between these two extraordinary artists. African Leather is an example of how familiarity breeds excellence.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample from Memo.