There is a maxim that art should provoke a reaction. Some artists think provocation equates to confrontation. Some artists will work with materials not thought of as beautiful and somehow find grace within. Other artists will seek to provoke, like a long con, by working their way into your consciousness and refusing to leave. The very best will attempt to do all of this. When it comes to perfume there are very few artists that pull this trifecta off repeatedly. One of them is Stephane Humbert Lucas. His latest release is called Mortal Skin which manages to confront, confound, and compel.
Mortal Skin is not being released under the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 brand. When speaking with him at Esxence he told me he wanted to distinguish the two lines from each other. Mortal Skin does not feel like a 777 fragrance. It reminds me most of his previous work for Nez a Nez. In those perfumes M. Lucas helped compose olfactory stories layered and nuanced that rewarded repeat wearings with new discoveries. I have found Mortal Skin to have the same effect. I have had a sample since Esxence and it has been one of my favorite perfumes to wear of 2015. One of the reasons for that is I still don’t think I’ve discovered all there is to enjoy and I’ve worn this a lot. In a career of very imaginative creations Mortal Skin might be the best.
Stephane Humbert Lucas (Photo: Robert Greco)
Mortal Skin is meant to evoke a snake slowly drawing you into its gaze before striking. The top notes are mesmerizing as M. Lucas starts with a black ink accord which is coupled with smoky frankincense. It takes the acrid slightly unpleasant ink smell and by wrapping it in resinous fumes transforms it from unpleasant into an incense accord which smells like few others. The ink accentuates those hard metallic edges found in fine frankincense. The smoke floats over it all. The frankincense and ink give way to a breeze of cardamom which carries into the heart. Myrrh provides resinous warmth to contrast the chill of iris. Opoponax and davana provide depth and texture. This all leads to a base which speaks of the decay of death and the fragility of life. A woody triptych of birch, sandalwood, and cedar provide a strong framework within which M. Lucas adds in ambergris and labdanum. This is the smell of the ocean and the soaring sentinel trees. It is joined by civet and musk in high concentration so that the ambergris and labdanum are struggling at all times to be noticed over the animalic decay. This final stage is what is so compelling to me. There are times life wins as the woods and ambergris manage to make themselves more apparent. There are days entropy wins and the civet and musk rise up to remind me everything falls apart.
Mortal Skin has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I imagine it is apparent that Mortal Skin is one of my favorite perfumes of 2015. I would say it is the most artistic perfume M. Lucas has ever released. This is not the kind of perfume meant to wear easily while running errands. This is a perfume to wear with a friend with whom you want to have a meaningful encounter. The answer to “What are you wearing?” might lead to some interesting places. If you are a fan of the 777 perfumes allow M. Lucas to take you to a different mind space I think you’ll enjoy the new direction. I know it is a place I plan on returning to often because it is at its most basic, great olfactory art.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.
Header photo by Robert Greco via Sagma Corp. Facebook Page.