If the vast forests of America’s Pacific Northwest were all condensed and concentrated down into a green-black wine, it would still be only a fraction of the tale told by Norne, the famous fragrance from Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse. Norne is an incredibly atmospheric scent that conjured up a host of disparate images in my mind: the terroir of expensive aged, red wines; lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest; and a dark, verdant world straight out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings where goblins, hobbits, elves, and Orcs battle it out amidst a verdant darkness.
Norne was originally released back in 2012 as an eau de parfum, then later reformulated and made an extrait or pure parfum. Slumberhouse describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:
Sunnesette claret embere stains the skie a lustre frigid blush, valel kidelene snowing stars to drope like feathers at a pineneedle floor; lofty wintrus seafrost aerate procede a causatume caesura of incandescence midnight mane, shone crilliant coruscate flitterous & blusterous frore gale of December’s lurid boreale breath[.]
[Notes:] fogcaked needle, lichen, fern, moss, hemlock, incense
A few words about that description and note list might be helpful. First, the note list clearly omits the pine that is explicitly mentioned in the description, but also fir. As for the copy text itself, I have little idea what it really means beyond the most basic imagery, but it always amuses me as some sort of mash-up of High Chaucer and Robert Frost. Still, the key thing is that the note list is a bit sparse. For example, other than the missing fir, there is no doubt in my mind that Norne contains a heaping amount of patchouli since my skin noticeably reflected its earthy, spicy, tobacco, and camphorously green sides. Spices are not mentioned either but I think they’re definitely in there, particularly clove.
The second important thing to know about Norne is that it is 100% all-natural. There are none of the aromachemicals that Josh Lobb sometimes employs in his creations. In fact, Norne consists purely and solely of natural absolutes, a form that is far stronger than mere essential oils. Judging again by what is on my skin, one of those absolutes, the oakmoss, has been used in its darkest form and in particularly lavish quantities as well.
Many Slumberhouse fragrances are bold, dense stories of a particular place and time. At first glance, the story seems to be told in broad brushstrokes, swathes on a canvas that create a largely linear picture, but the compelling parts always lie in the details. One could easily reduce Norne to nothing more than a dark, earthy, green and foresty scent, but it would miss a lot of what sets it apart: namely, the details which contribute to the profound geographic atmospherics, to that sense of a place at a moment in time. Many the beloved early Slumberhouse creations did the same thing: Sova was a farm that brewed hops amidst the sunshine of the bucolic countryside; Jeke was an autumnal tobacco campfire; and Pear + Olive was an orchard in spring. Even the newest release, Kiste, encapsulates a particular region and mood: the plantations of the American South in late summer when people sip sweet tea on the veranda while eating honeyed peaches and smoking tobacco. Each of those fragrances layered characteristics innate to their surroundings to create a very intense sense of time and place.
Norne might do that even better than its siblings, but you need to pay attention. Blink and you might miss its many subtle glimmers, undertones, and flourishes which build up one upon the other to create a constantly shifting kaleidoscope. So although one can easily reduce Norne down to its core as a “Pacific Northwest pine-fir forest in winter,” I think its details actually make it more interesting than that. And it is a story best told in ways other than my usual method of breaking down the details of a fragrance as they appear over the hours. For Norne, concepts, story-telling, and imagery somehow seem more appropriate.
I think that is particularly true for the first 90 minutes to 2 hours when Norne displays its greatest range of nuances, triggering a series of mini-movies in my mind. From the minute I applied the dark green-black liquid to my arm and it began to percolate its aromas, I was transported to a place beyond the Pacific Northwest forests of its inspiration. This was a fantasy world where the overarching, broad, dense canopy of pine and fir hid a far more captivating microcosm below.
In this Norne, goblins, elves, dwarves, and hobbits called Licorice, Patchouli, Tobacco, Smoke, Clove, and Leather live in huts built from peat, earth, and pine logs, their roofs littered with pine needles and sticky with sap from the giant, thousand year-old pine trees that surround every dwelling. The trees reach up to the stars, almost blocking out the light, their tips wreathed with mist and fog. At the furthest periphery of the kingdom, the boundaries are drawn with a solid wall of firs, standing like sentinels on watch, cool, aromatic, blue, and bearing the scent of winter. The ground at their feet is littered with cones and wet leaves but it’s also loamy, wet, and dark, exuding an earthy aroma that has surprising strength.
Yet, few elements can compete with the moss that roams the land like a feral beast. This is not the purported “oakmoss” of modern fragrances, that wan, gasping wallflower lying on its deathbed with its lifeblood drained by IFRA/EU vampires. This isn’t even the rich, plush, full-bodied, oakmoss of Roja Dove’s most expensive fragrances. This is the incredibly high-grade, dense oakmoss absolute that I experienced during AbdesSalaam Attar’s perfume course. The quality rendered it like nothing I’d ever encountered, an almost viscous sludge of darkness that smelt of concentrated black licorice, leather, raw tobacco juice, and black earth. Forget images of fluffy, emerald-green moss growing like a soft, plush carpet because this is a whole other beast and absolutely nothing like what one typically encounters in conventional, blended perfumes or chypres.
Norne’s oakmoss is like something straight out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit. It is an Orc. This oakmoss is a ferocious creature with teeth, one whose rhino-like skin might as well be leather that’s been slathered with a thick paste of black licorice, tobacco juice, and earth.
The oakmoss Orc is not alone. Its saddle is made from thick coils of patchouli, smelling spicy, brown, but also camphorous green and as earthy as the rest. A heaping mix of that signature Slumberhouse spice accord is strewn on top, wafting its usual potpourri aroma, though this one feels like it has far more cloves than some of Josh Lobb’s other creations. (Jeke comes to mind.)
The cumulative effect of this Tolkien-esque brew made me think time and again of something rather unexpected: wine. To be precise, terroir, that oenological term referring to the way (good) wines incorporate the region and the habitat, and even the innate particulars of very ground in which the vines grow. Some hardcore experts (and I am hardly one of them) can taste a particular wine blindly and single out its region based on the characteristics that it reflects.
Norne reminds me of an Old Vines Zinfandel powerhouse red, not only because of its concentrated nature, its chewy heft, and its bold intensity, but also because it manifests a lot of the aromas of such wines. The spice, smoke, licorice, leather, earth, and feeling almost of gnarled woody roots are all here, lurking under the pine-and-fir canopy. Call me crazy, but there was even a distinct toasted nuttiness to Norne’s bouquet in the first two hours of one test, almost like toasted hazelnuts that had been burnt at the edges. One has to sniff up close to detect it but it’s there nonetheless, one more little flourish and curlicue that is Norne’s own version of “terroir.”
Norne’s first two hours are dominated by the main triptych of the oakmoss Orc, the pine-fir forest, and the patchouli, but change is on the way. At the start of the 3rd hour, the fragrance turns significantly darker as though a blackness had fallen over the land. It’s a smokiness that almost rises to the level of a textural issue because it feels incredibly raspy to my nose, and this is where I start to struggle with the scent. The blackness is tarry in a way that makes me think of Los Angeles’ La Brea tar pits, and it apparently stems from the pine absolute. I don’t like it. Its mangly, coarse smokiness is prickly in feel, irritating the back of my throat like sharp needles stabbed into a pincushion, and it jolts me with a crash out of my Tolkien fantasy and thoughts of terroir.
The pine tar smoke grows more pronounced as the hours pass and reaches a crescendo at the start of the 6th hour. Norne is now more black than it is green, and the oakmoss’ licorice aroma vies with the pine smoke for dominion. The oakmoss’ leather side crowds around the edges, egging on the wrestling duo as they duke it out. The sense of actual moss has ebbed away, so overshadowed by the blacker, darker notes as to be essentially choked to death. The patchouli meets the same fate, but the clove potpourri mix is as strong as ever, enfolded into the air around the smoky pine.
Norne remains largely the same from this point until its end. It’s a dark, spicy, licorice-y, leathery, and smoky fragrance centered entirely on the various competing facets of its two players, the oakmoss and the pine. The only major change is to the heft and power of the fragrance. From the summit of a Tolkienesque battle, it suddenly turns quiet around the 6th hour, coating the skin with less vehemence, though the actual scent bouquet itself is still forceful when I smell my arm up close. In its final hours, Norne is nothing more than a blur of pine-ish, smoky darkness with a vestige of black licorice lurking underneath.
Norne had good longevity, initially strong sillage that took a long time to turn soft but, like most extraits, rather soft projection. Using several wide, generous smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with 3-4 inches of projection and roughly 6 inches of sillage. I had actually expected much more in both categories, but Norne seems to pack its punch (and it’s most definitely a punch) into its aromas when smelt up close. There, it’s immensely powerful, with a dense weight and body that is completely opaque in feel. Even when the scent trail and projection begin to drop at the start of the 3rd hour, the individual notes continue to bear the heft of a hammer. That is true even when Norne becomes a skin scent roughly 6.5 hours into its evolution. Up close, the scent is still incredibly strong, and it remains that way until the middle of the 8th hour when Norne becomes properly soft or intimate. In total, the fragrance lasted just under 14 hours. I was surprised by that, and had thought that Norne’s darkness and intensity would make it outlast Kiste and some of the other Slumberhouses on me. That was not the case. As a side note, when I used a lesser amount equal to 1 spray from a bottle, Kiste became a skin scent on me at the end of the 4th hour and lasted roughly 10.5 hours.
There are a ton of reviews and thoughts on Norne out there, but the fragrance is so well-known at this point that I’d be wasting your time if I followed my usual practice of sharing comparative quotes and analysis. So, I’ll just provide links to Fragrantica and Basenotes for anyone who would like to read more. There are a number of comments on Luckyscent as well. Regardless of site, the majority of opinions are positive, often by a landslide. For example, out of 45 reviews on Basenotes, a mere 2 are negative. 37 are positive and 6 are neutral. 2 out of 45 should tell you something about how much this fragrance is loved and why it is such a cult-hit.
On a more technical basis, I wanted to briefly digress into the colour and texture of Norne’s liquid. It has a dark green hue that is best demonstrated via a photo of Norne in its original eau de parfum bottle. That is still the case today, so don’t let the image of the newer bottle shown on the Slumberhouse or Luckyscent websites lead you to think that the juice is a mustard-yellow shade. It’s not. It’s a dark olive-green. The reason I’m telling you this is to warn you away from spraying Norne near light-coloured fabric. Even when smeared on my skin via a vial, the liquid left a green-ish hue, almost like a very old bruise, though it didn’t last all that long. Finally, my arm was sticky to the touch when I applied the equivalent of 2 sprays, and that stickiness remained for almost 4 hours. In short, I would advise you to exercise a bit of care in how or where you apply the fragrance.
I admire Norne enormously and I clearly love parts of it, but it is not a scent I could wear. The simple reason is that it doesn’t feel like me. I would feel as though I were dressing up in someone else’s clothes, or playacting in a pastiche of the Incredible Hulk’s green suit and a lumberjack. And I’m the last person whom anyone would describe as “rugged” or “outdoorsy.” I was once forced on a long hike up a mountain near Sweden’s Arctic circle, then into an axe-throwing competition (don’t ask), and my friends howled with laughter at my glazed expression and at attire that they said was better suited to the Hotel Costes. This whole Pacific forest, rugged, outdoorsy, nature thing is simply not who I am. Initially, during the absolutely superb first two hours, I thought that I could manage Norne as an occasional meditative scent, a transportative gateway into another world, and thereby something that I’d enjoy as a small decant. But my idiosyncratic personal sensitivity to the smokiness during the middle stage onwards is a problem I can’t overcome. I want so much to love Norne as everyone else does, to wear it and be transported to my fantasy world of goblins, Orcs, pine and moss, but it just isn’t possible, alas.
Be that as it may, I strongly recommend Norne to three groups of people: those of you who actually are the rugged, outdoorsy sort; those who adore hardcore pine/fir forest bouquets and would like the added benefit of having Orc-like oakmoss as a foundation; and anyone who love intensely dark, smoky, green scents with major heft, density, and weight. If you fall into any of those categories, I hope you’ll try Norne for yourself. It’s incredibly well-done, and the sort of bold, take-no-prisoners scent that really stands out.
Wow! You are a great writer! This is so beautiful and imaginative! I adore Jeke, it is my only experience with Slumberhouse. I need to add Norne and Kiste to my next sample list!
Thank you, my dear, that’s enormously sweet of you. I only write well when I really like something. LOL. 😀 😀 Otherwise, the writing is utterly flat, prosaic, and workmanlike just to get the job done. Fragrances like Norne make it easy to have inspiration because it embodies what a really good fragrance is all about ultimately: creating a transportative, evocative journey through scent. Bottom-line, I’m so glad you’re going to try it! Whether or not it actually ends up working for you, I think Norne is definitely one of those fragrances that one should just try at some point.
Love Norne! There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said, but this is on my list to pick up a FB at some point. I haven’t found a truer forest scent, and I’m picky in this genre. If you can get past the disturbing colour, and the fact there’s no subtlety, it’s quite the most realistic and transporting forest experience, short of a week in the Pacific Northwest backcountry. Love it 🙂
Heh, I think the colour is actually very cool, at least in the bottle. It’s so different, you know? As for the scent itself, its authenticity is really well-done, and I’m not surprised you’re enamoured of it.
Oh, this is such a wonderful review, Norne is definitely my favorite from Sluberhouse (I know, I’m predictable lol) and totally agree about the Tolkien’s Forest entirely, what a fantastic description. I can only wear it occasionally because of certain parts of the drydown, but very much enjoy it when I’m in the right mood.
Yes, I definitely thought of you when wearing it, my dear. What parts of the drydown are a bit of an issue? The smokiness? Something else?
I’ve tried all of slumber house that I could get my hands on. Current and discontinued. I have been impressed and more importantly, moved, by all of them. Even those, like Norne, that ultimately were not me, as you say K, or where parts of a scent either became unidimensional, too dense, or shifted in uncomfortable ways. Every one of his creations are worth trying imo. And that’s amazing. Incidentally, I had Flou on today 🙂
I completely agree, every one of his creations is definitely worth trying!
You had me there for a minute. The first couple of paragraphs and I thought “She likes it. Hey, Mikey!” Then bam!
I figured you might have a problem with it and you did. I love Norne and Jeke. Actually I like most of Slumberhouse, except for Pear + Olive, which made me very queasy, and Sådanne, which I am on the fence about. Best wishes to you in this new year.
I do like it, admire it, and respect it. I just can’t wear it for various reasons. There is a difference. As for Pear + Olive, the original version made me very queasy as well. So does Sadanne when I apply a lot of it because that just seems to make the fragrance turn quite skewy on my skin.
Beautiful writing Kafka. Unfortunately for me Norne wasn’t much about the Pacific Northwest but just about licorice. Disappointed because I was expecting so much more. All the glowing reviews of the Pacific Northwest. Kiste is my favourite out of Slumberhouse though. I’ll stick to that.
Axe throwing?? I thought you raced Reindeer with Laplanders. 😀
P.S. Having read all these comments about Norne, I’m going to give it another try; maybe my nose was having a bad day.
There is a lot of licorice from the oakmoss on my skin, too, Don. At times, especially towards the end, it’s more than what I enjoy, but it’s kept in check during the fantastic opening phase. I think it’s a good idea to give Norne another try, as you mentioned in your second comment. Perhaps you can play with quantities to see if that impacts the strength of the licorice note?
I’ll definitely give it another testing, especially since my sense of smell and ability to pick out/detect notes has greatly evolved since joining the blog! Thank you K 🙂
I’m also looking forward to trying Norne in this bitter cold. I know my partner liked it so if he loves it this time, he may get a bottle for Valentine’s day; that is if he behaves until then. lol
Heh, I was actually trying to sound as neutral as possible, but the signs were pretty clear, imo. All of you should known the moment you saw the words “ISO E Super,” followed by numerous, numerous mentions of the word “synthetic.” The comments about the shapeless and blurry nature of the scent, and the mention of a rancid undertone at one point should have made things quite clear, while the talk of sugared musk should have been the final point of confirmation. When have I ever said any of those things as a positive?!! 😀 😛 lol
So, no Stockholm Syndrome for me. 😀
Ah, yes! Slumberhouse Norne, one of the most amazing scents you can offer to the non-initiated to quickly explain just why you collect or keep on searching. At least from my experience.
And what a beautifully written review, dear K, as always (we are all so spoiled by you by now); so glad you liked it as well. As for the wearability, one of the ways to pull it off: have a beard and wait for freezing temperatures. 🙂
It’s so wonderful to see you again, Bruno. Happy 2016! I hope it’s a great year for you. And thank you for your kind words on the review. As for waiting for freezing temperatures to make Norne wearable, I’m in the wrong place. I’ve wore t-shirts for the last two days. lol. And I don’t think a beard would suit me well. 😉 😀 😀
Now, Slumberhouse is my favorite house and I love Norne rather a lot! I own the extrait in the older glass marble bottle. I don’t really get any oakmoss or patchouli, on me it is all about the conifer resins and a little bit of incense. It is a slightly different formulation than the current one though. And it’s always difficult to compare Slumberhouse experiences anyway because yeah, batch variations… In addition to my bottle I have had four samples too over the years and they have all been different. The oldest edp sample was the darkest green, really sticky and staining and extremely heavy on the conifer absolutes. The newer samples have been progressively more olive green in color, not as sticky and have had more incense and other things than conifers going on.
Anyway. As I said, I am a huge fan of Norne! It is impressively uncompromising and stunningly evokative! For me it evokes an old Scandinavian forest, a folklore forest inhabited by huldrefolk, trolls and all manner of other mythological creatures. So, yeah, Norne is awesome stuff! But really I seldom wear it as is, the incense makes it just a bit too dry for me. I do like layering it with something sweeter though! Norne + AG Sables is absolutely stunning! And Norne + Zahd is amazing too!
First, welcome to the blog, La Domna. Second, your old version of Norne sounds wonderful! But you’re right that fragrance has been softened from its very original, first form, and that there are batch variations since. But even now, I think Norne evokes the trolls and other mythological creatures that you mentioned, as you probably gathered from my review. As you said, it’s stunningly evocative, and I bet it works beautifully as a layering scent. Norne +Zahd sounds particularly intriguing. 🙂
Norne + Zahd is really evocative of the Red Riding Hood fairy tale! 😀 Norne is the wolf and the deep dark forest while Zahd is the girl and the contents of her basket. In addition to what each scent adds to the mix, the combination also brings out some gourmand bakery type notes that neither scent has on their own. So yeah… cake, sweet wine and the Norne forest!
Wonderful evocative review! I think Josh Lobb’s work is stupendous and am so happy that you’ve this well even if it’s not “you.”
I have Norne, as you may remember. I love it. It’s a little *too* natural for my tastes but when I need a pure hit of The Forest, nothing save walking in the deep woods and sitting in a bed of pine needles will do.
I do remember your love for Norne. Was that the one where the bottle sprayer mechanism got clogged up, and Josh Lobb sent you a replacement or something? I thought that was great! As for being a little “too natural” at times for your tastes, someone here mentioned some very intriguing layering combinations, so perhaps you can try something similar? Mix Norne with one of your ambers or perhaps Kilian’s Intoxicated that I know you liked. You might even try it with a rose to see what that does because rose, moss, and pine might work well together.
Lovely. I haven’t tried Norne yet but have sampled quite a few Slumberhouse scents and really like them. I like big and bold so it’s no surprise. I want a bottle of Kiste and Jeke, oh and maybe Sova too. I’d probably love Norne as well. Your description makes it sound so magical.
I hope you get to try it. Let me know what you think when you do!
I loved this review because I’m a huge Tolkein fan. I think I’m going to try a very small sample at some point, just to experience those first three hours that you described. I’ll start scrubbing once the smoke and/or licorice start barging in.
I’m not crazy about pine as a note, but I sure might go crazy for an ancient pine-fir forest.
Your tastes are slowly, gradually, turning a little darker and you’re even managing vetiver in some fragrances now, so perhaps you’ll enjoy Norne’s first few hours. I personally don’t see the fragrance as being very you when taken as a whole from start to finish, but you’ll have to let me know what you think.
Enchanting review. I will not smell this any time soon, many American houses are not available here. In the meantime I have OJ’s Woman for forest purposes, well loved, and fortunately for me no ISO super allergies so far (but I have an inkling it just may be a matter of perfumista years under the belt before aromachemicals start to be an issue).
Today I am wearing Voulez Vous Coucher from a sample that just arrived, and funnily enough my husband said I smelled gorgeous, accompanied by ‘the look’ ;-). However, on my skin, the rose is just too pronounced for it to be love. I will try it again on a different day, but I’m afraid I am as sensitive to rose as you are to Iso! It just turns so quickly into something metallic on me.
Sorry for the delayed reply, my dear, but your comment got buried under a lot of others across various posts. With regard to Kilian’s Voulez-Vous, I don’t think I ever knew you had issues with rose or that you disliked it so. You know, I’ve heard a few people say that roses turn “metallic” on their skin, so you’re not alone in that regard. It doesn’t turn that way on me but I don’t like roses in perfumery either, as you probably know. I will remember from here on out that you are another no-rose person and I will make sure I don’t recommend any fragrances that contain a large amount of it. Good information to know, my dear, so thank you for sharing! 😀
Thank you for your reply dear Kafka! I find it such a shame that Voulez Vous didn’t work for me, as it sure did work for my husband, it would be nice to have a scent he really loves on me. I still hope to find a rose I can live with, and among other notes I don’t mind her, but mostly it is just thorns on me…
Poor Angela Merkel is having a bout of bad itching, we had her on a course of hydrocortisone hoping for it to break the trigger, and she stopped whilst being on it, but now we have waned her off it is is back with a vengeance. How is dear Z. doing? And more importantly, how are you? Any sleep at all? All my best wishes!
Haha, your husband giving you “The Look” made me laugh so much when I read it in your earlier comment, and I find it hilarious to see a reference to it again here. It’s such a shame that a fragrance with such an effect doesn’t actually suit you yourself, in terms of how YOU like to smell, but we clearly need to find you some romantic florals to trigger “The Look” again… 😛 😀
As for poor Madame Merkel, is Apoquel an option that you might consider? http://www.thedrakecenter.com/blogs/tags/apoquel/itchy-dog-new-drug-apoquel-may-help It’s what I’m using for The Holy German Emperor, but I’ve had to cut back a bit on the dosage or frequency because I think it led to hair loss and hair thinning. Still, I know a number of people who swear by Apoquel as a life-saver for their allergic, itchy, or skin sensitive dogs, and I know it stopped Z’s gnawing on his feet.
In terms of His Highness generally, he’s doing okay but the amount of hair loss we experienced about 2 months ago totally freaked me out. (And it was no longer the bottom undercoat but the actual hairs on top!) I think it was due to primarily to his Fistula med being amplified by the Apoquel, at least at the combined dosages he was getting back then. Giving the Apoquel every other day has helped with the hair loss, but now he’s back to nibbling on his feet on the days when he’s not getting the pill. In addition, one of these medications is making him chubbier than I’d like, even though he gets very little food and I’m hyper-sensitive to his weight because of the pressure that it puts on his hips.
In short, it’s a constant juggling experiment. I’m a little tired of worrying about him and I just wish he’d have fewer issues, but I’ll put up with all of it and more so long as he seems happy. And he does seem happy! *knock on wood* 😀 So that’s all that really matters in the end. 🙂 A big hug to you and an even bigger one to Aylah!
Though I’ve never had a chance to try it yet, I’ve been curious about Norne for a very long time (I love pine notes and Fille en Aiguilles was the fragrance that ‘converted’ me to perfume). But now you say it reminds you of Middle-earth forests? As a long-time, slighly obsessive fan of Tolkien, I just *have* to find a decant now.
Great! That’s just what I like to hear. Come back and let me know how it struck you when you get the chance to try it, okay?
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