Early 1900s Apothecary Flat Bottles : 20th Century Vintage Industrial Style
With hundreds of new perfumes launched each year, a new scent has to have something more going for it than mere novelty to attract my attention, since my interest in new perfumes is really just a sideline to my obsession with vintage perfumes, but I was immediately intrigued by Apoteker Tepe, a thoughtful, independent line of perfumes created by Holladay Penick Saltz, an art school graduate, researcher, and critic of digital culture who decided to launch a line of perfumes in 2014. You can watch her giving an independent TED talk on scent memories and the importance of seeking out scents that are not “industrial processed smells” here– Saltz Tedx Talk.
Apoteker Tepe began in New York City, but Saltz has recently relocated to New Orleans, and I hope that the Crescent City will prove to be fertile ground for her and her perfumery (It should: Hove’ and Bourbon French, two old school, independent perfumeries have each been going strong there for about a hundred years). If you live in the Continental US or Canada, a set of six 1.5 spray samples of Pale Fire, After the Flood, Karasu, The Holy Mountain, The Peradam, and Anabasis in EDP formulation, can be ordered directly through Saltz’ website, apotokertepe.com. (Saltz directs international customers to stockists who can ship abroad.) My samples arrived promptly, packaged with a beautifully printed “reference card” listing all of their notes and space for testing. In this post, I will be reviewing three Apoteker Tepe perfumes in this post. I’ve tested each of them several times on skin.
Karasu is a potent and long-lived incense perfume launched in 2016. I see that Karasu tengu are powerful spirits in Japanese mythology, but Karasu is more Catholic church than Japanese temple incense to my nose, closer to Comme des Garcons’ Avignon rather than its Kyoto. Karasu is a strong olibanum scent on me, probably based on a modern distilled frankincense resin or something similar, but I do pick up some nuances of cypress as well. Although I do enjoy incense notes, in the end, I find Karasu to be too linear, too much olibanum from beginning to end (and into the next day). I prefer incense balanced with spice or floral notes, so I feel this way about many incense perfumes, but for many others, Karasu might be just the deeply meditative fume they have been seeking.
After the Flood
Inspired by a Rimbaud poem but also, according to Saltz, an evocation of post-Katrina New Orleans, After the Flood is a grey-toned, elegiac and surprisingly astringent “contemporary aquatic” that appeared in 2015. It is certainly a blessing that the perfume makes no attempt to suggest the horrifically fetid air of New Orleans after the storm, a scent that permeates the memories of the Katrina survivors within my extended family. After the Flood opens with a blast of alcohol and then segues into a papery galbanum note. I also perceive a subtle vegetal note, perhaps dry moss or violet leaves, or this might well be the mushroom note cited by the perfumer. I wouldn’t have come up with mushrooms on my own, but I get it, it’s the smell of clean mushrooms, with nothing particularly fungal about them.. About fifteen minutes in, I was dismayed to perceive the dreaded cucumber-y calone rising up from my skin, but luckily it remained a subtle background note. After the Flood also contains a sharp, almost medicinal suggestion of concrete sidewalks baking in the sun, which softens into vetiver. In time, this unusual aquatic becomes somewhat smokier and warmer while remaining an essentially transparent scent.
I’ll conclude with Anabasis, which is an all-too rare modern green perfume. If you love vintage greens as I do, you know that green perfumes have been comparatively rare lately. My benchmark green is vintage Piguet Vent Vert (1947), in Cellier’s uncompromising original formulation, so most modern pale, watery, and–horribile dictu!—sugar-y green perfumes do not work for me. Anabasis is a deep vegetal green along the lines of Jean Claude Ellena’s wonderful Eau du Campagne (1974) for Sisley but rather than a Mediterranean vegetable garden, full of the strong scent of tomato leaves in the sun, Anabasis smells like a contemporary herb garden, full of with celery, mint, and sharp salad greens. It opens with a delightfully tart and bitter grapefuit. I like Anabasis very much, and I am eager to try it in the oil concentration as well.
Saltz states on her website, with welcome forthrightness, that her perfumes are “roughly 40-60% natural in the common interpretation of the term,” and in her perfumes, I smell carefully curated, often uncommon ingredients that combine high quality natural and aromachemicals (which may of course be synthetically produced natural molecules). Since I am not a purist, I actually prefer mixed perfume compositions such as Anabasis, Karasu, and After the Flood. All three are unusual, natural-smelling perfumes with excellent longevity, and they are well worth investigating.