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.
As another year draws to a close, it’s time to look back at the best of 2015. For me, this was an iffy year for brand new releases because there weren’t a huge number of fragrances that stood out from start to finish. The exceptions to the rule were impressive or lovely but, when I went back over all the fragrances that I covered, I found the vast majority fell woefully short.
One reason stems from the hot new trends of the year. Leather was a major compositional note in 2015 or, to be more precise, the tarry, woody, forest-fire smokiness that purports to recreate the sense of “leather.” Another hot trend seemed to be a deluge of black pepper. Neither one is appealing to me, particularly since their chemical nature was usually so intrusive as to be front-and-center. Yet, that sort of excessive darkness was, in and of itself, the most common stylistic approach, one that was frequently juxtaposed next to shapeless white florals, amorphous spiciness, or some sort of limp “freshness.” The end result was that a lot of new releases smelt far too similar for me to find them distinctive, interesting, or compelling. In addition, many of them lacked the quality to warrant the higher prices that we’ve been seeing across the board.
Every week, I get at least three or four emails from people seeking fragrance recommendations. The vast majority of them are men, but there are some women, too. Most of them are not long-time readers of the blog and have simply stumbled upon it, so they don’t know my long-time favorites that I talk about often, but a few are subscribers who seek specific suggestions. Sometimes, people start by giving me a brief idea of their tastes and/or names of prior fragrances they’ve worn. Typically, though, the information is insufficient for me to know what might really suit them, so I write back with a list of questions, trying to narrow down what notes they have issues with or love best, how they feel about sweetness or animalics, how their skin deals with longevity or projection, and what sort of power they want in both of those last two area.
What I’ve noticed is that I tend to make certain recommendations time and time again for particular genres or fragrance families. So, I thought I would share them with all of you. However, please keep in mind that these names are in response to some pretty set criteria given to me by the person in question, even though many of those factors end up being quite similar. For example, the men who like dark, bold, rich or spicy orientals all seem to want a certain sillage or “to be noticed in a crowd,” as several have put it. In contrast, most of those who want clean, crisp scents prefer for them to be on the discreet side and suitable for professional business environments. Men whose favorites are classical designer scents that fall firmly within the fougère, green, fresh, or aromatic categories (like Tuscany, Guerlain’s Vetiver, or vintage Eau Sauvage, for example) tend to want very traditional scents, even “old school” in vibe, and not something sweet, edgy, or with a twist. So, that is what I try to give them as recommendations, which means that there are a whole slew of fragrances that fall outside the category.
Gone with the Wind and Light in August, Kiste takes you straight into the heart of the American deep South. It’s the latest fragrance from Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse, released today without fanfare or advance press, and it is utterly beautiful. In fact, it is my favorite creation from Slumberhouse to date, and the first one that I would buy for myself.
Kiste is a deeply evocative fragrance, but I can’t make up my mind if it evokes Gone with the Wind or one of William Faulkner’s set pieces. The meticulously balanced composition has the genteel qualities of Tara, conjuring images of Scarlett O’Hara sipping sweet tea and eating a peach cobbler on the plantation veranda, as Rhett Butler smokes a honey-laden cheroot and takes a swig of bourbon under a honeysuckle tree.
Yet, Kiste also has an underlying ruggedness, a pronounced muskiness, and a tiny streak of masculine rawness as well, even though the fragrance is far too perfectly balanced for it to ever verge on brutish strength. Something about the mix creates a sense of underlying earthy darkness, subtle though it may be. But it’s enough to create a parallel image that is far removed from the sun-dappled sweetness of Gone with the Wind.
This other side of Kiste evokes the darker, grittier world of William Faulkner’s South (or Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana) where things are less pristine, less simple, less a land of sweet tea and peach pie. Here, the muskiness and earthiness that were such a big part of Light in August abound. The more animalistic strains of honey, the sensuous muskiness of a fleshy peach, the rawness of tobacco spittoon juice, and spiced, dark earth all strain at the leash, threatening to spill over and darken Tara’s summer light like an eclipse. In the end, they don’t. What triumphs is a creamy sweetness and golden warmth that tame the musky darkness, as though the South’s gentler side had overcome. The result is so comforting, so delicious, I feel like saying, “Bless my stars,” and “Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.”