One of the perfume lines I was most excited to discover this year is Masque Fragranze. The buzz around it, the wonderful reviews made the waiting even harder, but now that I finally have samples of Tango, Montecristo and Russian Tea, the waiting is over. I can take the tops off those little vials, spray and let the scents tell their stories.
And I sprayed and waited to be moved, and waited and sniffed furiously at my skin, gathering the molecules up my nose, into the brain, but my soul didn’t want to react. And not because the fragrances are not good, in fact quite the opposite. Intelligent and very well blended, perfect images of perfect storylines, shiny and modern, the epitome of cool, but all I felt like saying was “It’s not you, is me”, the common excuse of anybody wanting to extricate themselves out of an unwanted display of affection. And indeed, how else can I justify not loving this perfumes?It must be my twisted little psyche, that even surprises myself at times reacting positively to stuff I never thought I’d like, and being perfectly cold toward things that seemed to send all the right signals.
And the Masque Fragranze brand certainly did send all the right signals: interesting concept (the whole line is composed like an opera, out of different acts and tableaus, each perfume created to be the same as a theater masque, helping the wearer to get into a specific role or atmosphere), talented perfumers, beautiful, elegant packaging,va lot of positive, even glowing reviews in the blogosphere.
I remember well the day I tried them for the first time: a crisp, sunny afternoon, rays of sunshine streaming brightly through branches and trees in the lovely park in which I sometimes like to go for walks on my work break. It had been a stressful and agitated morning, and I needed to get away from the crowds and have a few moments to myself. The perfect time to try the perfumes I’d been dreaming about for months.
First one to hit my skin was Tango. A burst of bergamot and hot spices (cumin and black pepper) landed softly on my forearm and all of a sudden I was transported to a stuffy dance room, full of warm and sweaty bodies moving along to the irresistible rythm. An undulating curl of hypnotic jasmine wrapped in powdery amber and sweet benzoin begins to make way through the spices wave. There’s also a subtle animalic, leathery undercurrent which adds to the unabashed sexiness.
It is a strong and heady perfume, dense, tightly woven and it makes me feel a bit light headed and woozy. I’ve never had my drink spiked, but this is how I imagine the symptoms to be. Everything spins around in a whirlwind of colors and sensations, and all of a sudden a stranger pulls you in the middle of the dancers, trying to make you feel the sensual beat of the music. It could be fun and yet all you want is to escape the stifling heat, the pressing bodies, the loud music and the smells permeating every bit of air left.
Perfumer Cécile Zarokian does a wonderful job capturing the image of an adventurous night out in town, but to me this is a bit much. I feel overwhelmed and nauseous, like traveling on a double decker bus while tipsy and tired, the whiffs of over applied perfume intensifying the queasiness.
Nevertheless is a great scent for an evening on the prowl, assertive and a little bit vulgar in an unsmiling and slightly dangerous kind of way.
Bergamot, black pepper, cardamom
Sambac jasmine abs, Damascena rose oil, cumin, patchouli
Vanilla bean, tonka bean, melilot abs, amber accord, leather accord, benzoin, muscs
After the dizzying dance steps of Tango, I gingerly approached Montecristo, fearful of its ultra beast reputation. I shouldn’t have worried. Its animalness is cozy and golden. It starts confidently with an intense and aromatic tobacco note, bound by a bright, herbal green layer that at the same time smells rich and boozy. After a few minutes the scent mellows and gets rounder and muskier. There’s the slightest touch of something fecal in the depths of the perfume (presumably is the hyraceum). Wisps of ashy smoke wrap around the heart of the fragrance, that pulsates on the same vibe for hours. It gets a bit sweeter and more leathery in the drydown, and I definitely enjoy it a lot more than Tango. It wears comfortably and nuanced and it has that most pleasurable quality of melding with the skin.
I remember reading the story of the Count of Montecristo but I don’t remember all of the books details. Although the perfume is meant to evoke a large room, wooden floors, massive fireplace and soft leather sofa included, with the added bonus of rolled cigars and smooth rum on the table, I have a different, rougher image in my mind. A bearded Montecristo running wildly through a dark forest, panting and crushing herbs and twigs underfoot, rushing towards freedom, away from the terrible dungeon in the depths of which he was lost to the world for 15 years. He’s tired and dirty but his unbreakable will moves him forward, towards the secret cave in which he knows he’ll find a treasure. He reaches it at nightfall when the summer air is sweet and fragrant and crawls inside, finally allowing himself to stop. After a few minutes his eyes adjust to the darkness and start seeing the outline of the shapes around him. Wooden chests filled with coins and jewels. In a corner a small basket with a bottle of aged rum, cigars and some flint pieces. It’s all the treasure he needs for now. He quickly gathers a little bit of wood and then he strikes the flint against his steel knife to start the sparks that will light the warming fire he longs for. Within a few minutes the fire crackles soothingly, the rum relaxes his limbs and the tobacco calms his mind. The man falls asleep on a thick and worn leather throw, knowing his future once again belongs to him.
Montecristo was composed by the talented Delphine Thierry and is my favorite from the three Masque Fragranze I’ve tried, but I don’t think I could commit to a full bottle, as I find it’s very masculine in nature.
Cabreuva, Ambrette Seeds, Rum
Tobacco Leaves, Celery Seeds, Cistus, Benzoin
Golden Stone, Styrax Gum, Gaiac Wood, Cedar Wood, Patchouli
Now, Russian Tea. I have to confess, I’ve never had the pleasure of drinking tea made in a samovar, or drinking tea the Russian way. As far as I know mint is not a feature of the traditional black, smoky tea that seems to be favored by Russians. But it is an important ingredient in this perfume. It imparts a sense of freshness and transparency to the pervasive smoke. A hint of fruity sweetness from the raspberry, balancing the slightly bitter, acidic tea aroma. There’s not much I could say about this fragrance. I really don’t like it. It smells like limpid smoke, it’s too aqueous, too spartan, too purist. I hoped for a bit of (okay, for a lot of) opulence and luxuriousness. This is too austere for my taste. Instead of having tea at a large rosewood table covered in silks and laces, in the middle of which preside an intricately engraved silver samovar, fine porcelains filled with lemon and raspberry cakes, jugs of fresh cream and glassy cubes of sugar, I’m having a steaming cuppa from a cracked mug in the middle of Siberia. I’m grateful for the hot liquid, but I still dream of that handsome house on the most elegant street of Sankt Petersburg, with its sensuous abundance.
This Russian Tea is so severe it brings tears to my eyes. Or maybe it’s just the acrid smoke. Or maybe is just “Baby, it’s not you, it’s me”.
This perfume is the work of Julien Rasquinet, the promising young perfumer behind the Naomi Goodsir line.
Russian Tea notes:
Mint, Black Pepper, Raspberry
Black Tea, Magnolia, Everlasting Flower
Leather accord, Incense, Birchwood, Cistus-Labdanum
Overall, the three Masque Fragranze creations I’ve tried are solid, well made, possibly even amazing on the right person. But there is a sense of cold modernity to them, even in Montecristo, a sort of glossy hardness that puts me off. And in spite of the brand’s claim of creating perfumes with a soul, soul is the very thing I feel it’s missing. I suppose some stuff is just too cool for me.