Ever since Aimee Guerlain decided in 1889 that lavender and a whiff of unwashed bottom would make a good pairing in Jicky, nobody has dared making lavender truly sexy again, with the possible exception of Vero Kern in her Kiki Eau de parfum which marries lavender to a scrumptious, creamy caramel note and the fizzy sulphurous tinge of passion fruit. Yet where Kiki is flirtatious, Jicky is unapologetically animal and so Jicky is still leading the sexy race more than 120 years since its inception. But enter Bogue Profumo MEM and we might be talking a serious contender to the sexy lavender crown. One a lot more flamboyant and exciting than Monsieur/Madame Jicky and somehow, in spite of its vintage nods especially in the base where things get classically musky and animalic, one that is perhaps better suited to modern tastes. Don’t let that ring the alarm bells, making you thing that MEM is one those anorexic, easily legible, usually soliflore type fragrances that ladies who lunch like to buy from their shiny, luxurious department stores. No, MEM is big, complex to the point of insanity and completely baffling. But it also smells new and original, which Jicky with its dirty vanilla powder and French boudoir vibe doesn’t anymore. I don’t know why perfumer Antonio Gardoni picked lavender as his next “knock-them-dead-and-drag-them-to-the-love-making-den” type of fragrance as we all know lavender isn’t exactly carnal pleasures material but he probably loves a challenge as most of us do from time to time. I also don’t know what particularly was his inspiration for creating this scent. Did he simply want to showcase the multifaceted beauty of plain ol’ humble lavender? Did he have a certain lavender related memory he wanted to translate into scent? Maybe MEM equals memory, who knows? I’ve never tried to find out. Sometimes I like to leave mystery alone. Lucian Blaga, a Romanian poet said “I do not crush the world’s wonders corolla, nor do I kill with reason the mystery I meet in flowers, in eyes, on lips, in graves.” Life and creation are mysteries which probably are never going to be fully deciphered and so is MEM to my nose. I can hardly grasp what is going on inside it. One thing is for certain, there’s lots going on. I mean let’s all take a look at the notes list: petitgrain, mandarin, grapefruit, lavender (several types), ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, white champaca, rose damascene, jasmine grandiflorum, bourbon geranium, vanilla, peppermint, laurel, siam benzoin, rosewood, sandalwood, Himalayan cedarwood, labdanum, ambergris, musk, castoreum, civet, amber. Enough to get your head spinning before you even take a sniff. At a first glance it looks like a chypre structure: bright, juicy citrus-aromatic beginning, voluptuous, rounded floral heart and a woodsy-animalistic base. But when you actually spray the perfume almost nothing is recognisable anymore. All the components are sort of skewed into a novel direction, a very peculiar kind of smell, although not exactly abstract either. In fact, the sense of modernity comes from the very naturalistic first impression, something which would appeal to the current customers who are always impressed by terms like pure, wholesome, unprocessed, organic. MEM was a completely blind buy for me, inspired by Claire Vukcevic’s brilliant and mouth watering short review on her blog Take one thing off. So when the bottle arrived I’m sure you can imagine the trepidation with which I pressed the spray nozzle. Mouth agape, sensations were flooding my brain in rapid succession and it was difficult to keep track. MEM starts with a citrus blast but not as you know it. This is so amped up it almost smells like a petrol station, and the lavender wave, leaves, earth and roots included, follows like a ferrocious purple tsunami. Funk is never too far away in Antonio Gardoni’s creations and for the briefest of time I can smell something somewhat bleachy metallic the kind of thing I tend to always associate with ambergris and semen. So there’s a powerful male impression at this point, but very soon the fragrance softens with a very interesting sweetness which is not vanilla or honey type but rather like malt molasses. The mix of lavender, malty sweetness, and a dry, waxed, rubbery type of floralcy gives birth to a very strange animal indeed : lavender beer. To me it feels like I’m taking a bath with my lover, in one of those free standing big tubs filled to the brim with fancy craft beer, lavender bunches and exotic flowers. It’s propped right in the middle of a half wild garden and the sun is almost falling down towards the sunset line. Huge cabbage head roses are trembling over the heavy porcelain rim and his beautiful eyes are hoovering above me like two blue-green moons. We laugh relentlessly, we touch and we lick, and it’s as if we’re lost in an alternate world, never to be found again. It’s surreal and amazing and I don’t want for this dream to end. And it doesn’t because MEM lasts forever and a day if you let it. The progression is extremely slow after the fast moving beginning, and all the better for it. That means I can enjoy the crazy lavender beer stage for hours on end, before the musky, sweetly animalic base takes over with its leathery castoreum inflections and snuggly amber.
Honestly, MEM is a mess. Maybe it could have done with a more streamlined approach, to enhance its modernist feel and allow for a clearer representation of the key ingredient. But you know what? That’s nonsense. I love this wonderfully alive mess, with its baroque, incredibly ornate structure yet hippie, louche attitude. Exciting, fun, and above all so sexy it hurts. It will change the way you view lavender forever. I wonder if lavender beer was something Mr. Gardoni purposefully had in his mind or if it was just a happy accident. Either way, chapeau! Even if it took such a convoluted, complex route. Good things aren’t always simple. In life or perfume.
*image: my own