Sandalwood is one of the key building blocks of modern perfumery. Its presence has caused several reactions. One is the overharvesting of the precious sandalwood of Mysore in India. This was what perfumers used in the early decades and over time it was taken down to small amounts left. It is now presided over, so it doesn’t return to that state. Nature and perfumery abhor a vacuum which means the perfume oil producers asked their chemists for synthetic alternatives. Along with that there were sustainable sources in Australia. In all these cases there was a seeming attempt to accentuate the creamy and sweet character of sandalwood. Which moved it further away from what it was trying to emulate.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
I have a tiny sample of actual Mysore sandalwood oil along with a few treasured vintage perfumes which feature the ingredient. None of those are creamy or sweet. Mysore sandalwood has a much more austere effect. It always reminds me of an ashy coating being removed to expose raw wood underneath. There is an acrid undercurrent in Mysore sandalwood which is what has been engineered out via chemical synthesis. Mona di Orio Santal Nabataea wants to be a perfume which explores what Mysore sandalwood used to mean in perfumery.
Creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen and perfumer Fredrik Dalman were inspired by the capitol of the ancient land of Nabataea, Petra. The city was made of sandstone buildings which were more varied than that sounds because there were different colored varieties to be used in the area. If you need a pop culture reference it is the city where the last act of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” takes place. This transfers to a sandalwood centric perfume as M. Dalman creates a layered effect around his keynote.
This layering is in effect from the first second. M. Dalman uses a mixture of the species of sandalwood from Mysore, santalum album, which has been sustainably grown in Australia. It is supported by some actual Indian sandalwood. This is as close to Mysore sandalwood as we’re going to get in the present day. M. Dalman blends his sources into something which is only tiny shades different than my sample of the authentic source. M. Dalman first calls forth black pepper and coffee to interact with the sandalwood. There is a distinct bitterness to santalum album both notes explore that. The black coffee does it in a richly caffeinated perspective while the pepper picks up on that “ashy” quality I perceive. It moves in the heart to a duo of odd choices in apricot and black currant leaf. There is a kind of urine-like tone to santalum album; the black currant leaf shares that together they find a more pleasant harmonic as the green leaves find more of a presence. The apricot is a fruity contrast. The base accord moves to more traditional ground of opoponax providing a resinous partner to the sandalwood.
Santal Nabataea has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
There is an economic principal called “regression towards the mean”. It means that as the price of something moves further and further to an extreme eventually it finds its way back to the place where it started. As I wore Santal Nabataea it felt like Messrs. Sogtoen and Dalman were providing a perfume equivalent. Santal Nabataea is a regression toward the Mysore.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
When Mona di Orio passed away at the beginning of December 2011 it was reasonable to expect her style of perfume construction would pass with her. Sure, there were probably a couple of fragrances finished at the time of her death but if you had asked me if I’d be talking about Mme di Orio six years later; my reply would’ve been, “unlikely”. It is because of one person that the conversation has continued until today; Jeroen Oude Sogtoen.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
M. Sogtoen was Mme di Orio’s partner. When she was gone he refused to let her perfume brand and her chiaroscuro aesthetic go with her. He would release the last of her creations but he would also look to continue the brand. It took him a bit of time to find the new in-house perfumer Fredrik Dalman. That he was the right choice was confirmed by his first perfume for the brand Bohea Boheme. Much of the time I wear that it feels like a perfume which had to have been started by Mme di Orio for M. Dalman to finish. It isn’t. Which makes M. Dalman’s work more impressive. For this year there have been two new releases. For Suede de Suede, M. Dalman displayed more of his signature by taking his leather accord and modifying it throughout. When I first sniffed the other release, Dojima, I again felt the spirit of Mme di Orio as channeled by M. Dalman.
Dojima’s name comes from the Rice Exchange in 17th Century Japan. Dojima wanted to capture the powder version of the grain, which it does, but then M. Dalman in a Monaesque fashion shades that powder into something darker as the light fades and the shadows come out to play.
Dojima opens with that delicate rice powder floating like a cloud above it all. This is seemingly fragile accord only to see it stand up to the other notes which begin to appear. First, is a combination of clary sage and nutmeg as they provide a bit of fleeting duskiness. The rice powder becomes a bit more of a familiar powder as the iris creates a more typical powder accord. This all heads towards a base of sandalwood warmed with the botanical musk of ambrette seeds and labdanum.
Dojima has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Dojima is a seemingly fragile construct which always seems on the edge of being overrun by one ingredient or another. To M. Dalman’s credit it never happens. These notes interweave themselves through the powdery nature early on and along with the sandalwood towards the end. I was reminded of the Japanese art of origami where a beautiful piece of paper is transformed into an animal by a series of folds. Dojima is an example of taking a powdery heart and folding in deeper notes to create origami shadows.
Disclosure: this review is based on a press sample supplied by Mona di Orio.
Leather perfumes are some of the most interesting perfumes I try. One reason is that every perfumer must construct their own leather accord. There is no leather essential oil to take down off the shelf. Nope, each artist must create their own recipe which they can then tweak for every effect leather can have. Refined and silky on one end of the spectrum to raw and animalic at the other end. Choose your ingredients correctly and they can be adjusted to create anything along that continuum. Every time a perfumer takes on a leather focused perfume I look forward to acquainting myself with their version. Perfumer Fredrik Dalman decided to give me two visions of his leather accord within one perfume; Mona di Orio Suede de Suede.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
M. Dalman has been handpicked by Mona di Orio owner and creative director Jeroen Oude Sogtoen as the in-house perfumer to continue Mme di Orio’s legacy. Some of the greatest perfumes of this century were created by Mme di Orio therefore M. Dalman has a weighty responsibility to live up to. M. Sogtoen has accepted his job as protector of the realm, as it were, which makes his choice of M. Dalman as in-house perfumer apt. I have believed M. Dalman understands the concept of “Monaesque”. Suede de Suede is one of two new releases. It is the one where I see M. Dalman on display and Mme di Orio is much more a directing influence. The other, Dojima is the opposite way which I’ll discuss in a future review of that.
The name Suede de Suede seems like a purposeful duplication purporting leather of leather. This is not exactly what I experienced. Instead it was one kind of leather early on which became eclipsed by a different one later. This goes back to how M. Dalman constructs his leather accord. He can go from the refined end of the spectrum to the raw end of the spectrum all in one fragrance.
Suede de Suede opens with the suede leather accord on display. Early on a clever mixture of fruit and spice provide an interesting enhancement and contrast. The fruit is called a cloudberry which provides a sweet berry effect which complements those facets of refined leather. Sichuan pepper is there to remind you of the raw place where this refined leather came from. Osmanthus provides a floral counterpart along with a limpid green nature courtesy of strawberry leaves. This is the beginning of the metamorphosis of the suede back to rawhide. Patchouli coats it in a dark earthy haze removing the outer edges of the suede. It takes the use of castoreum and some other musks to fully eclipse the genteel and bring out the animal which is where Suede de Suede finishes.
Suede de Suede has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Suede de Suede felt like a leather eclipse on my skin as the very bright and refined suede eventually gets covered up by the rawer nature of leather in its unrefined state. Because this is so dependent on M. Dalman’s leather accord this is probably the most personal Mona di Orio fragrance he has made. Mme di Orio is here as well with her love of olfactive shadow play because no bigger shadow is created than when something eclipses another.
Disclosure: This review was based on a press sample provided by Mona di Orio.
As I am no doubt sure most who have read my perfume writing over the years know; when I find a perfumer who connects with me I’m a bit possessive. My love of perfume comes from its ability to connect with me on multiple levels not just that it smells good. So when a perfumer manages to consistently deliver perfumes which take me to this multi-layered state of engagement I consider them mine. Which means their perfumes are always going to be sought out by me. One of those perfumers was Mona di Orio. Mme di Orio was a perfumer who took me places few other perfumers did when I wore her creations. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2011. Since that time her partner Jeroen Oude Sogtoen has worked very hard to keep her vision and aesthetic alive. Over the last two years he has had to do the very difficult task of be the creative director and to find perfumers who could live up to having their creation in a bottle which had Mona di Orio on it.
Jeroen Oude Sogtoen
While the loss of Mme di Orio was enormous it has allowed M. Sogtoen to take some time to understand what it was about her creations that made them distinctive. Which in turn has allowed him to take some time in choosing the perfumers to take on the task. The first new fragrance was released fifteen months ago. Myrrh Casati was the opening statement in defining what makes a perfume “Monaesque”. Now the second release Bohea Boheme seeks to define that phrase even further.
M. Sogtoen chose perfumer Fredrik Dalman to work with this time. By choosing younger perfumers without a huge portfolio to their name it probably makes it easier for M. Sogtoen not to have to push against an already developed style. Especially if you are asking them to design in a style of another perfumer. Bohea Boheme goes a long way towards refining the concept of “Monaesque”.
If Bohea Boheme was just a play of lighter notes off of darker notes it would have some of the shadow/light duality Mme di Orio was known for. I also think it would come off like a band at the local bar doing cover versions of popular radio songs. It is recognizable but somehow not as good. M. Sogtoen has eschewed that approach with both of these recent releases. With Bohea Boheme I would say this is the most shadowy of any Mona di Orio brand perfume. The light here is only in specific points and it does little to banish the darkness.
Bohea Boheme is inspired by a tea from the Wuyi Mountains in China. Bohea Tea is a variety of the well-known oolong but permeated with the smoke of pine. It was this variety of tea which was tossed overboard during the Boston Tea Party. The reason for smoking the tea with pine was to dry out the leaves so they wouldn’t get moldy on the long sea voyage from China to Europe or further. What was a necessity in the 18th century has become a desired characteristic today. At my local tea shop I smelled some newly arrived Bohea Tea and the pine is noticeable but it is far from omnipresent. Bohea Boheme is much more interested in bringing that pine forward to really interact with the tea.
Bohea Boheme opens on an accord that most will recognize instantly as bergamot and oolong forma a faux- Earl Grey tea accord. M. Dalman puckishly adds some juniper berry to intimate the gin which might also be present nearby. If there is a single raw material I think Mme di Orio used with the utmost skill I would say it was osmanthus. M. Dalman takes osmanthus as the nucleus of the heart accord. He quite cleverly uses chamomile, a familiar tea scent on its own, to continue the tea theme. The osmanthus arises on the vapors of the tea bringing with it cardamom and iris. These notes damp down the apricot quality of osmanthus in favor of its botanical leather character. Throughout the days I wore this I found this accord very reminiscent of the smell of a freshly brewing pot of tea on a leather covered desk. In the base a very extroverted pine comes out and instead of gently perfuming the tea it moves it off to the side. M. Dalman uses not just the typical balsamic notes but adds in boxwood and sandalwood to further achieve his desired effect of smoky pine. Very late on vanilla helps soften the smoke with a tempering sweetness.
Bohea Boheme has 16-18 hour longevity but almost zero sillage; it is very much a skin scent.
It seems with each new release M. Sogtoen is going to attempt to define a style of perfume creation which can be connected to Mme di Orio. Bohea Boheme is Monaesque Act 2.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Mona di Orio.