I waited and waited for Naja. Two long years to be more precise. Rumours about Vero Kern working on a tobacco fragrance surfaced on social media and perfume groups around 2015. Naja was launched in March, at this year’s Esxence. I haven’t attended the fair. Naja was the only perfume there I was truly interested in and I was hoping to get in possession of a sample somehow, without traveling. And Valerie aka Cookie Queen from Australian Perfume Junkies fulfilled my wish with her infinite grace and down to earth attitude. Thank you, Valerie. How does it feel to smell a perfume you’ve been imagining and waiting for two years? In Naja’s case it still feels surprising, even now after wearing it for a few times. Sometimes life teaches you to brace yourself, fasten the armour, tighten the knots and pull up the moat bridge, but Naja always finds a way inside my fortress. It disarms me completely, in the most unexpectedly gentle manner. For a fragrance inspired by Cobra, as a spiritual symbol of the inherent contradictions backing human existence and existence in general (life and death, order and chaos, construction and destruction), Naja is astonishingly luminous and calm. Of course there are subtle tensions at work, beneath the surface, like a whale bone corset underneath an impossibly frothy, vaporous gown, but the overall impression is of grace, balance and serenity.
Vero teased us with a certain kind of Naja imagery from the very start: gold snake bangles coiling around delicate wrists, cobra pendants glistening against dark skin, shamans with unwavering gaze looking back from black and white photographs, the humid thickness of the jungle, botanical drawings of the tobacco plant, mustard green sand dunes and a whole load of shadows. An esoteric, somewhat disquieting mood but to me at least, Naja is almost anything but. And yet, thinking about it, it could definitely veer into a darker direction depending on the viewing angle. For a tobacco fragrance, Naja is surely more cheerful than most but for a linden blossoms scent it is more mercurial than the few others I’ve smelled. It is quite easy to change perspective as this is a perfectly blended perfume and the transitions are seamless and at the same time distinctive. No jarring change of gears or abrupt braking make for a beautifully smooth experience within an ever changing notes landscape.
Naja starts uplifting and bracing with a refreshing, salubrious melange of citric notes, bergamot and lime to be more precise, and a floral-iodine element, which smells green, medicinal and spicy. It’s the purification before the ritual like dipping the fingers in holy water or burning smudge sticks for clearing the evil spirits away. Once the intensity of the citrus notes burns off, the tranquil sensuality of the magic ritual itself gains momentum, and various elements are puffing in and out of focus, like smoke rings out of a pipe. The honeyed sweetness of linden blossoms, underscored by a smidgen of neroli is the main star player to my nose, but there’s no denying the textures are complex and hypnotic. Naja feels simultaneously dry and wet, salty and sweet, powdery and oily, solid and airy. The drydown is soft with a skin-like warmth and a very delicate leathery feel. Naja’s tobacco note is one of the most elegant I’ve ever encountered: it’s a golden, smooth dustiness, sometimes subtle, almost hidden, and sometimes fronting the show. The combination of notes in Naja is very well judged, it’s as if the next note picks up from where the other one left, citrus notes echoed in the zesty, green neroli edge, neroli sweetness amplified by the honeyed character of lime blossoms, the powdery pollen of the linden blooms carried through in the dusty tobacco trail, tobacco’s sweet, spicy leathery feel boosted by the osmanthus sueded apricot skin. Cutting through the sweetness there’s this watery, vaguely salty note which made my brain scream ambergris, but it must be instead a very cleverly manipulated melon. Naja smells good, interesting and modern and it is by far the best linden blossoms perfume I have ever encountered. I’ve always loved the scent of blooming lime trees, they are very common where I grew up and their perfume is an infallible reminder of summer holidays as a kid, holidays which were spent mostly in my grandmother’s courtyard, helping around with the gardening and other chores but more often than not sneaking inside the older house which my grandparents were then using only as a storage place. There, in one of the rooms, the one which received most sunlight, lime blossoms were spread on newspapers on a big table and on the floor so they could dry. We didn’t have real tea back then. It was almost impossible to find, so we would use various perfumed, medicinal plants to brew herbal teas: peppermint, chamomile and especially linden. I loved it. The fragrant steam raising in my face was the equivalent of Sunday morning happiness. And the room where the blooms were drying smelled almost exactly like Naja. All the elements were there: the honey-like sweetness, the dusty, warm air, the lassitude of the summer afternoons. You know that countryside silence which is not exactly silence, because you can still hear insects buzzing, the chickens’ occasional clucking or a lazy laughter somewhere in the distance? If Naja would be a soundtrack this how it would sound like: comforting, healing, meditative and restoring. As I was wearing Naja today, laying on the grass with my eyes closed, time and distance were no more. I could have just as easily been back in the linden blossoms room, 8 years old and falling asleep on a sunlit square of the wooden floor.
*Image used belongs to my childhood friend Andreea, a very talented writer and photographer in her spare time. If you read Romanian you can hop over to her travel blog http://aradeanca.com/ and if not you can still feast your eyes on her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/aradeanca/