One of my favorite books is Eric Hansen’s “Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo”. In the book Mr. Hansen describes his eight months of crossing the large Island of Borneo back and forth. Throughout the book his experiences with the indigenous Penan people who were his companions on his trek through the dense rainforest added a wonderfully distinct contrast to the modern civilized way of life. After reading the book I worried that the pace of modern expansion would destroy the more primitive civilization that was happily flourishing without the rest of the world interfering. Mr. Hansen painted a vivid portrait of his surroundings and often I felt I could feel the humidity and smell the jungle, which of course I couldn’t.
Perfumer Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume Co. has also been inspired by Borneo for her latest release Samarinda. Samarinda is the capital city of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan. Borneo also contains two Malaysian states, Sabah and Sarawak along with the tiny sovereign state of Brunei. The slow creep of deforestation described in 1988 by Mr. Hansen has continued apace and Ms. Ethier is donating 5% of all proceeds to the World Wildlife Fund for the protection of the indigenous and endangered species in Borneo.
Choya Distillation Vessels
Samarinda continues a trend in Ms. Ethier’s perfumery begun with 2012’s Moss Gown and continued with last year’s Branch & Vine. She has dramatically expanded her palette of notes to work with and during that expansion she is taking thoughtful time with each of these unusual notes to bring out the best in them. For Samarinda the unusual note is Choya Nakh which is the smell of roasted seashells. If you’ve ever walked a beach which has a lot of shells drying in the heat of the day you know what this smells like. It can be overwhelming and in less assured hands it would have thrown everything out of balance. Ms. Ethier knows what effect she wants and spent a year on Samarinda perfecting it.
Samarinda opens right away with a lush intensity as a full juicy orange, sheer piquant pink peppercorn, and a cardamom made rawer by the pink peppercorn so it is less smooth and more unrefined. This is how we enter Ms. Ethier’s trek into Borneo. A combination of heliotrope, carnation, and orange blossom advance the tropical vibe but there was a hint of sun scorched earth underneath and that must be from the coffee note listed. I can’t distinctly pick it out but it is the only thing that could be responsible for it. This is the smell of tropical flower garden but it also carried a bit of humid weight as well. It is high noon in the rainforest heady and beautiful. The base is where the Choya Nakh comes in as we leave the jungle behind and walk towards the ocean. The floral part of the jungle is over our shoulder, not gone just diminished. Now a scotch leather layover and rum ether add a bit of boozy diffusion while vanilla and a tincture of jasmine rice add a soupcon of ethnic food to everything. Underneath all of this is the Choya Nakh as an exotic underpinning precisely balanced with everything else. It is the signature note to tie this entire olfactory journey together.
Samarinda has all-day longevity and average sillage.
Ms. Ethier is becoming one of those perfumers for whom I can’t wait to see what is next. There is a dedication on her part to composing with the outliers in the pantheon of notes. Like playing with the less used colors in a big box of Crayola crayons. What she is slowly gathering is a signature style combining exploration and artistry into completely unique fragrances. Samarinda is as good, and maybe better, than Moss Gown; time will tell. What I do know is I will go anywhere with my nose that Ms. Ethier wants to lead me.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Providence Perfume Co.