When I was 17, my parents made me go to an intensive exam preparation psychologist who tested me over the course of a long (very long) weekend to determine which would be the best course of study for me in college. Most kids, you see, know where they’re headed before their final exams, known as the Leaving Certificate in Ireland, but all I wanted to do was to lie on my bed, eat chocolate, and read magazines. Unfortunately, there are no college courses in Ireland for that.
At the end of the weekend, the psychologist called in my parents and solemnly said, “It is clear to me that your child has a natural talent for mathematics”, at which point my parents burst out laughing and I looked behind me to see which of my three brothers had followed us in there.
Because, you see, I am hopeless with numbers. Words I can do, but my eyes see numbers and they slide over them like water off a tin roof. It took me until the age of 15 to learn how to read a clock, and to be honest, I still have to focus really hard to tell the time. When my son asks me what two plus nine makes, I have to count it out on my fingers. There is nothing more terrifying to me than having to calculate a tip.
Which is why I have successfully ignored the biehl parfumkunstwerke line for so long. Well that, and the fact that the name is all in lowercase letters, which is a piece of wankery if I ever saw it. But all those letters and numbers after the letters? No. My brain can’t find traction. It’s not confined to biehl parfumkunstwerke either – I managed to ignore the Parfums MDCI line until they stopped numbering their perfumes and started giving them real names.
I’ll admit that I was curious about AL02, though, because several people whose taste I trust spoke about it in glowing terms. But I would never have ordered a sample of it myself, because of the numbers thing. Then, about a week ago, I received a sample of it from a very generous seller on Parfumo.de. Praise be – it was meant to be. Despite my aversion to numbers, I have been wearing this sample for the last week and have fallen completely in love with it.
If one were to go purely based on the notes list, it might be called a floriental. But to my nose, despite the florals listed in the heart – jasmine, rose, and so on – this is a spicy, dark fruit oriental that sits halfway between the piney mulled wine of Bois de Paradis (Parfums Delrae) and the plummy, perfumey amber of Coco (Chanel).
The opening makes me feel drunk with pleasure. It’s like inhaling the hallucinogenic aromas of a pan of plums, pears, apricots, and raisins simmering in a tannin-heavy red wine with cinnamon sticks and cloves. It would almost be a gourmand except for the resinous, dusty incense and woody notes shifting beneath the stewed fruits. AL02 (even writing that causes me psychic pain) is also not at all sweet – it has that interesting dichotomy that dried figs or prunes have, a sort of intense jamminess or stickiness combined with a bitter, leathery edge that makes it possible to eat more than one of them at a time without feeling sick.
A nice surprise sits in wait for me in the base, although it takes hours to get there – a creamy, almost smoky combination of vanilla and incense, with what feels to me like a touch of ambergris. With traces of mulled wine and dried fruit still lingering over the oriental base, AL02 feels like a perfume from the past, by which I mean solid in its structure, rich, and well made from every angle. In fact, it’s almost classical in nature, something that took me by surprise in a line that I had assumed was all Iso E Super and beardy intellectuals sitting around in chic bars dipping their hipster beards into their small-batch beer. Turns out that the problem was all with me and my assumptions – I had come down with a major case of inverted snobbery.
I guess this means I will have to explore more of biehl parfumkunstwerke, and even learn how to pronounce it without sounding like I am saying a very bad word indeed.