When I heard that Giovanni Sammarco had shown mods of a yet-to-be-announced violet perfume called Naias at Pitti to a couple of friends, I began to salivate. Then, after wiping the drool from my keyboard, I asked for a sample. (More likely, I begged).
For the past year or so, violets have been a sort of secret passion of mine, and I’ve been collecting samples and even small bottles of some of what I see as the standouts in the genre. Opus III for a grand, oriental violet, Stephen Jones for weird crunchy space rocks, vintage Jolie Madame for leather, Insolence for trashy charm, Aimez Moi for kittenish cheer, Bois de Violette for candied darkness, and McQueen for grungy face powder. But each violet added to the collection shrinks the space left for others – could Naias really bring something new to the table?
In a way, Naias is not what I was expecting. The way it has been described to me was as a violet oriental done in a classical manner. But while the blast of cold, rooty iris paired to a juicy violet at the start does feel very classical, Naias immediately shakes off that association and takes on a boot polish gloss that makes it feel very modern. Even a little twisted. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the opening.
Naias opens on a note of green, fruity violet joined to an austere iris that is familiar to me from the opening of Iris Silver Mist and that tiny bit of Misia where the angular iris claws it way out of the girly violet face powder. Make no mistake – the iris note is intensely rooty, with the hiss of raw potatoes soaking in vodka. But there is no powder, no coldness. Together, the violet and the iris form a rich, fruity accord that seems to pulsate in one long liquid line.
The opening, though, seems to whip by the nose in a matter of seconds, and it probably took you longer to read my description of the opening than to smell it. I’ve had to re-spray several times now to scribble down my impressions.
The second act is the “meat” of the show and its defining characteristic, which I’d describe as the iris-violet duo plunged into a dark, fruity patina of black boot polish or some kind of solvent. (Underneath this, there is something syrupy, chewy, like violet-flavored cough syrup dried up into a small dot). When I first wore Naias, I thought immediately of the possibility of raspberry ketones being in the mix somewhere, because to the best of my knowledge, that raspberry-iris pairing is what creates the same, striking boot polish note in both Impossible Iris(Ramon Monegal) and David Yurman Limited Edition.
As it turns out, I was close but not close enough. Naias apparently contains trace amounts of an IFF material called Montaverdi, otherwise known as green cyclopropionate, which in small doses gives off nuances of green, watery pear and apple. Pear, in perfumes, often smells quite close to the fumes off nail polish removers or those old-fashioned pear drops they used to sell in newsagents.
But it’s also possible that some of that raspberry nail polish tone is coming from the high doses of alpha ionones in this fragrance. In perfumery, violet is something of a fantasy note. It is possible to extract the natural essence of a violet flower but the yield is so small and expensive that it would be completely non-viable to use in perfumery. Instead, perfumers use ketone compounds called ionones to reproduce various green, fruity, and sweet facets of the violet. Giovanni tells me that he searched for a long time to find a ionone alpha that was 94% pure – usually 70% purity is as high as you can get.
Alpha ionones smell like fruity violet petals with a side of raspberry, and also, in high concentration can sometimes “block off” parts of the scent to your smell receptors. Wearing Naias, I observed both these effects. I smell both the shiny, raspberry-slicked boot polish or solvent note. But for a while, that’s also all I can smell. I can’t pick up any detail beyond that overall impression, at least during the middle section of the fragrance. That’s not a complaint, by the way – I happen to find this type of effect as compulsively sniffable as the glue and solvents in my old school supply closet.
The dry down, when the powerful alpha ionones fade in intensity and begin to allow the other notes to come through, reveals a rich, plush, ambery-woody texture that is not a million miles away from that of Ormonde Jayne Woman. Although Woman is far greener and spikier, there is that same crackle of sweet amber, moss, and woods that recall a fairytale forest “with the call of a faraway candy house,” as Tania Sanchez so memorably described OJ Woman in the Guide. While I think the heart of Naias is the most artistically striking part of the composition, the base is more pleasing. It gives off a dusty, rich, dark green velvet impression, a length of cloth interwoven with gold (amber) and purple (violet) threads.
Looking back at this review I see that it’s more of a science manual than a real review. I guess you can tell that Naias is still something I’m trying to puzzle out in my mind and as such, I haven’t relaxed enough with it yet to just lie back and enjoy it.
Having said that, I find its progression from classical (rooty iris-violet pairing) to hyper modern (boot polish) to fairytale, gothic fantasy forest to be very interesting. It might be too early to call, but I think that Naias is to violet as Romanza is to narcissus or L’Attesa is to iris, i.e., a way of holding up a traditional perfumery ingredient to the light, turning it over and over in your hands, and figuring out all the ways you can deconstruct it and then reconstruct it so that it takes on a new shape, while also retaining its original ability to please. Masque, Bogue, and Sammarco – deconstructing classicism? Who knows, but these Italian perfumers have certainly come up with some new and interesting twists on classical formats these past two-three years, haven’t they?
Naias will be released possibly around March, 2017.
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