M/Mink by Byredo
A while ago, I wrote an article for Basenotes on the top ten niche fragrances that every beginner should sample. I got one comment from a guy that I must repeat here because it is (a) very funny, and (b) kind of indicative of how people perceive my, or other people’s taste. The comment read as follows:
“I don’t agree with the entirety of this list. It is not well-rounded at all. It seems this amazing writer has a fetish for burning rubber, smoking resins or charred flesh/leather with squirt of stale urine. I’m pretty sure there are some amazing niche fragrances that are on the more comforting, clean, snuggly, socially appropriate and less “trying so hard to smell like I don’t try (or shower) at all.”
The commenter then goes on to suggest a list of alternatives, some of which I personally love and wear myself, but eventually he loses me when he suggests Montale’s Chocolate Greedy, in response to which I turn away and discreetly barf into my hat.
The point is, I am constantly surprised to learn that so many people think my taste is edgy. My taste is the opposite of edgy. I once bought a set of that Ephemera Sound perfumes – you know, the ones that smell like burned-out electrical sockets and plastic sheeting – and sold it on as quickly as was decent. I don’t ever want to smell Secretions Magnifiques, not out of intellectual curiosity, not even as an exercise to expand my olfactory knowledge, and definitely not by accident.
But I like M/Mink.
I had smelled it once before, in Rome in 2013, just when I was beginning to get into fragrances and I really liked it. Two years on, reacquainting myself with it in Senteurs d’Aillheurs in Belgium, I found it extraordinary – a salt-encrusted, honey-lacquered door in an abandoned building in a post-industrial city. If perfume has a color, this is a sort of matte buff-nude-tan thing. There’s a fair amount of anchovy paste in this, too – a metallic saltiness that is really quite objectionable, but very arresting.
Reviews for M/Mink tend to paint it as either genius or the most disgusting smell in the world (up there with Secretions Magnifiques), but this is a perfume that depends on the specific set of olfactory memories we all carry around in our heads. So where many people pick up on a horrendous stench of fruity bleach in the topnotes, I smell only the clean, fishy stink of calligraphy ink and toner fluid from the school supplies closet.
The high-toned, metallic bleach/ink note is followed by a denatured patchouli, by which I mean patchouli that has been leached of its damp, earthy nuances and made into a dry, unsweet dust, casting a glum, matte brown, stale-cocoa powder like shade over the whole thing.
Incense too, but this is not the ecclesiastical smoke that cleanses the soul during mass – this is the cold, dead air creeping among the vestments and flagstones in the sacristy.
Rather like Messe de Minuit, another perfume that smells like dead, inert air in a sacristy, it reminds me of my Catholic childhood. Not of high mass, but of the ordinary, day-to-day dealings I would have had in the church, which was located across from my school and played a huge role in our lives. This part of M/Mink reminds me being in and out of the sacristy before doing a reading for Sunday mass, or helping the priest fold away his amice. It smells like creeping mold, dust, inert air. The likeable stench of centuries-old church things.
What creates this mold effect? It must be the combination of metallic incense with that dry, matte-brown patchouli dust, and unsweet honey and beeswax. I don’t know though. It’s a mysterious alchemy, how all of these alive, moving elements combine to produce a smell that is so stale, so centuries-dead.
Because it smells like ink and mold and toner fluid, I’ve come to think of M/Mink as a writer’s perfume, and so for me it belongs in the same “box” as Sycomore (with its cool, ashy vetiver) and Comme des Garcons 2 Woman, which also smells like ink – savory and metallic. Of course, I recognize that M/Mink is more challenging than these other two. But they are linked by a certain aloofness, a remote intellectual feel to them.
After dithering about it for ages, I decided to bite the bullet and buy it. I bought the last bottle that Essenza Nobile had in stock, which I think means that it’s been axed from the Byredo line-up. I hummed and hawed because part of me cringes to think that I may be like that Basenotes commenter suggests, a hardcore fetishist who automatically likes everything that has a “squirt of stale urine” in it.
But then, I remembered – I don’t like this perfume because it’s disgusting or challenging or out-there. I like it because it smells like ink and sacristy mold and anchovy paste and dead air. These are things I like, so I like M/Mink too. It’s as simple as that.
Teint de Neige by Lorenzo Villoresi
Holy powder, Batman!
The name “Teint de Neige” translates not to the color of snow, as everyone previously thought, but to a snow-white complexion (it’s the extra ‘e’ missing at the end of Teint that makes all the difference). But whatever – the scent itself is both reminiscent of the color of snow and of the snow-white complexion that one might achieve with a mountain of face powder.
I can’t think of anything so diametrically opposed to M/Mink than Teint de Neige, but I love them both. M/Mink is a fragrance with a hollowed-out core where its heart should be – it is enticingly, excitingly dead, inert. Teint de Neige takes a party balloon full of baby powder, rose, heliotrope, ylang, and white musk, runs up to you, bursts the balloon all over your face and then runs away again, laughing like a maniac. Now tell me which one of those is more heartless?
Wearing Teint de Neige is an experience. You must submit in advance to being smothered with an avalanche of powder, or else you will struggle to fight your way from underneath it all, and you will clutch your throat and gasp for air. Think of it as having claustrophobia and knowing you have to take an elevator twenty flights up to visit your sick father. It’s a social contract between you and the elevator – a case of “I’ll agree not to scream if you agree not to hurt me too badly.”
Now, if you submit to Teint de Neige, you’ll see its shy, babyish beauty hiding under all of that powder. Stretch your legs out under its fluffy blanket of powdered almonds and rose petals, luxuriate in its incredibly fine, plush-toy texture, like the underbelly of a toy rabbit.
It’s a major psychological regression, you see, this perfume. You put this on because you yearn for the comforts of what you view as a simpler time, when your mother took care of everything and your only concern was finding Sesame Street on the 4-channel TV. Or you’re the kind of girl who dresses up in vintage tea dresses and housecoats from the 1940s, and powder your face with Yardley talc because you believe that all the good times were had in the past, and you’ve missed out on it all and you’re sad about that.
I totally see the nostalgic, slightly self-indulgent appeal of Teint de Neige. I understand the urge to travel backwards, to gloss over the past and look at things through rose-colored glasses. Life always looks much easier in retrospect. I used to date a guy from Sarajevo when I lived in Bosnia, and he – believe it or not – was nostalgic for how it used to be during the siege. He and his friends used to chance death moving from one person’s basement to the next, and the sense of togetherness and fun was incredible. I know his family regularly boiled grass for supper because that’s all there was to eat. But I still understood what he was nostalgic for. He was mourning a way of life that had disappeared once the war ended and they had their freedom again.
Teint de Neige is a beautiful memory of the past, wrapped up safely in a bubble of powder and innocence, and like any beautiful memory, there’s a sort of blind spot in our thinking faculties when we enter that bubble. But that’s ok. As long as I can admit to myself that I deliberately want to smell like a freshly-powdered baby or a heavily made-up 40s starlet sitting in a dancehall waiting for her beau, I should be fine. I submit myself to Teint de Neige, but knowingly, and with self-irony.
Cover Photo Credit: Photo taken by Sascha Goldberger, viewable at www.sachagoldberger.com