It was soon after he released the first fragrance under his Charenton Macerations line, Christopher Street, that I met Owner and Creative Director Douglas Bender. Like a demented version of Oliver Twist I was already asking him what was next. Mr. Bender has no shortage of inspirations and on that day over a year ago he said quietly to me the next release would be based on “street art”. That was something I knew I would be very interested in and my wait is over as that perfume has just been released, Asphalt Rainbow.
Flower Thrower by Banksy- On a wall in Jerusalem 2003
The evolution from graffiti to street art has been a gradual thing but there have been a few inflection points where it has been seen as creativity over vandalism. There are two artists, among many, who have helped the public also share that opinion; Shepard Fairey and Banksy. Mr. Fairey would go from creating a stencil of wrestler Andre the Giant with the words “Obey” underneath to designing Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s campaign poster with the word “Hope”. Banksy is the name of a British artist who has never been seen. He has traveled all over the world placing his work on different walls. He spent October of 2013 in New York City putting up a piece a day. His entire career, and a commentary on street art itself, can be seen in the brilliant 2010 documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. To be successful the street artist has to work in the middle of the night without getting caught by the authorities. It leads to a furtiveness but it also can lead to something with incredible visceral impact. The piece above by Banksy called “Flower Thrower” was placed on a wall in Jerusalem as a commentary on the ongoing conflict there.
I don’t know if Mr. Bender is a fan of Banksy, or not, but after smelling Asphalt Rainbow I was very strongly reminded of that Banksy piece. (For the actuual street art inspiration here is Mr. Bender's blog post on it) Working with perfumer Cecile Hua, Mr. Bender has created a rose disguised as a spray paint can Molotov Cocktail. They fashion a rose perfume which explodes across a concrete face and instead of burning alcohol it is replaced with the smell of the urban landscape. It has the same primal impact as a provocative piece of street art as something as pretty as a rose can be laid over something distinctly artificial and create a different form of beauty.
Asphalt Rainbow opens with the rose right out front. The early moments are a pretty, soft rose but then Ms. Hua lights the fuse. Fairly quickly the rose begins to fray as galbanum and cistus pry apart the rose with slashes of green. An odd vibrant saffron provides a Day-Glo aspect as other florals, most prominently magnolia, try to put the rose back together. Then like a magic trick each day I wore this Mr. Bender and Ms. Hua found an accord which captures that slightly sweet smell of aerosol paint as it leaves the nozzle. This is the transformative moment in Asphalt Rainbow as it plows headlong into a concrete wall. Mr. Bender gave me a preview of this accord and as I told him at the time he showed it to me it smells like a vast field of concrete in the morning, just when you would discover a new piece on a local wall. Patchouli and amber go extremely well with this, grounding Asphalt Rainbow in something a little more tractable for most wearers.
Asphalt Rainbow has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am very impressed with the effort Mr. Bender and Ms. Hua have put in getting just the right vibe for this. There were so many ways this could have gone poorly and they managed to avoid all of them. Asphalt Rainbow is a more experimental fragrance than Christopher Street was. As a result it is going to be too unusual for some. For those who want a very different take on rose as if it was a piece of street art, you should grab a piece of Asphalt Rainbow.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.