Pears and olives. That unlikely combination is the essence of one of the most unusual fragrances I’ve tested in a while, the Pear + Olive fragrance from Slumberhouse, a niche, indie perfume brand out of Portland, Oregon. The company describes itself as follows:
Slumberhouse is a boutique cologne label in the heart of Portland, OR; created and inspired by urban and street culture, art, film and music – especially the new school of hiphop and graffiti artists. We are a group of young gents who march to our own beat, embracing an absolute disregard for other brands, trends and marketing cliches. Slumberhouse represents an unequivocal love for the art of fragrance making.
It’s a fascinating background, matched by the equally fascinating candour and genuine commitment shown by one of the founders, Josh Lobb, who now seems to be the sole force behind the brand as well as its perfume creator/nose. In his personal blog on the website, the 31-year old Mr. Lobb reveals his personal struggle with keeping costs down while using the best, absolute ingredients; his realisation that he was barely breaking even with many scents; and his personal journey in making some of the Slumberhouse fragrances. In one very revealing entry, he revealed the inspiration, notes, nuances and essence of Pear + Olive, his fourth perfume:
As I slowly made sense of my notes on how to construct this unique pairing, I knew the pear would not be the sweet and tart variety, instead a composition of vegetal/ethereal pear skin with subtle hints of dew, coupled with the rounded sweetness of pressed olive tincture (think of olive oil with its personality turned up to 10), an almost fatty oiled fresh balsam green scent that would add heft to the skeleton of pear.
[¶] The harmony between these two was so satisfying to me that I found myself wanting to end the perfume here, but with patience I began to place other elements with subtle precision: soft shades of herbal sweetness from Roman chamomile, the bitter booziness of grape tissue from French white cognac oil, the wet & earthy hues of zdravets crowned with the rich, velvety green gem of the very rare aglaia absolute. A chord of massoia bark & calamus absolute was created to provide a trace of cream.
The final product is a very personal labor of love. I smell it and am instantly back in the orchard experiencing the things that matter. A scent to serve as a reminder that the constrictions of daily routines are optional and that happiness and freedom are always yours for the taking.
Pear + Olive is classified on Fragrantica as a “floral fruity” perfume. The most complete set of notes comes from Josh Lobb’s blog entry (linked above) for the perfume:
Notes: pear, cognac, chamomile, aglaia, olive, zdravets, massoia bark and calamus
I’m unfamiliar with a good portion of these notes, so I thought I’d share the results of my internet investigations to help you better understand the perfume. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, zdravets is geranium oil from Bulgaria or Cyprus. Massoia is a tree native to New Guinea which Fragrantica says has “[m]ilky-smelling wood note, famously used in Santal Massoia in the boutique line of Hermes, the Hermessences. […] The bark of the tree is aromatic and has a pleasant sweet, coconut-like flavor.” Calamus is apparently a type of grass that originated in India and the root of which has a “refreshing, soft spicy scent” that “resembles cinnamon.”
Lastly, aglaia is a flowering shrub in the mahogany family that is commonly known as the “Chinese Perfume Tree.” It is said to have a “sweet smell,” but it was hard to find an explanation of what exactly that entailed. Then, I stumbled upon a poster on a gardening website, Dave’s Garden, who described it as follows:
To my nose, the fragrance is not as heady or spectacular as a gardenia or a jasmine, but it is so pure, clean and lemony-floral-spicy-tea sweet that it seems to refresh and brighten the atmosphere of any room it is placed in. It is truly one of my all-time favorite smells since there are never any “off notes” and it floats lightly yet unobtrusively on the surrounding air.
The opening of Pear + Olive on my skin was something truly special. Spectacular, in fact. There was a dewy, wet pear note that feels simultaneously watery-fresh and, also, the most concentrated essence of the fruit’s sweet nectar. This is such a photo-realistic pear note that you expect a plate of it to magically appear before your eyes, filled with fruit that is ripe but not over-ripe, fresh and firm, and so delicately sweet that it almost feels a little like a honey-dew melon. The fresh fruit is almost dewy, as if splattered with some condensation from the fridge. It’s never too sweet, and is the furthest thing from cloying.
There is a creaminess to the succulent, mouth-watering smell, along with hints of chamomile tea and coconut. It is honestly so perplexing — in the best way possible — because Pear + Olive sometimes feels like a ripe pear; a firm, green pear hanging off a tree branch; and the white, creamy pulp of a sliced pear, all in one go. The absolutely beautiful balancing act achieved here cannot be praised enough. This is the sweetest nectar you can imagine and, yet, in those opening moments, the perfume itself isn’t actually gooey sweet. Instead, it is the very essence of freshness. At the same time, Pear + Olive is also wonderfully soothing with a relaxing milkiness and creaminess atop the mildest base of delicate white woods. There is also a faintly floral aspect — beyond that sometimes associated with chamomile tea — that daintily tiptoes around the edges.
And then, there is the olive note. It fascinates me in this opening stage. It’s not actual olives, per se, but the most delicate, expensive, first-cold-pressed olive oil from Calabria. In the very opening seconds of the perfume on your skin, you can actually smell the unctuousness of the oil. Yet, there is something more than that as well. In one of the many places I lived during my nomadic existence, there was a large olive tree with its small, green fruit. On occasion, you could smell the fragrant, almost herbal aroma of the leaves. Here, with Pear + Olive, that same note appears very quietly, amidst the more predominant oil note.
As the minutes pass, other notes become more apparent. I’m not usually a tea drinker, but something about the chamomile undertone to the perfume in the opening is incredibly relaxing. Pear + Olive sometimes has the feel of a very expensive, luxurious artisanal oil that is given to soothe you. The chamomile note starts to become stronger, undercutting much of that fresh sweetness from the pear. At the same time, the coconut accord (presumably from the Massoia tree bark) starts to appear. It’s nothing like suntan oil but, rather, more like coconut milk. It’s creamy, but too milky at this stage to be truly heavy or buttery.
The whole thing most definitely evokes Mr. Lobb’s inspiration and personal experiences of sitting in a pear orchid in the summer. As he wrote on the Slumberhouse blog, he spent months
enjoying the expanse of a private pear orchard along the northern Oregon coast – relaxing in the spring sun with homemade wine and piles of books. This was my first experience truly immersing myself into a perfume project, keeping fragments of pear meat and shaved pear skin along with glass tinctures of olive. I spent these days almost exclusively outside (many nights too), forgetting the familiar and absorbing the simplicity of what life really is – with good friends, ukeleles and a garden with multiple fountains.
At the one hour mark, the perfume starts to change. It turns into a floral, woody, musk perfume. That spectacular pear note fades dramatically and recedes to the background, to be replaced by heaping dollops of olive oil, now-heavy coconut, and strong chamomile. The floral note (from what I presume is the aglaia) also becomes apparent, but it’s an unusual smell that, visually, feels very yellow. It’s not like gardenia, nor like mimosa, but seems a little between both of them. The coconut has also become stronger, verging a little on the unctuous, heavy side for my personal tastes. The whole thing sits atop a woody foundation that is faintly musky. The wood note is, simultaneously, creamy white and, oddly, quite liqueured. Pear + Olive is supposed to have cognac in it, and it definitely feels as though it’s flickering through the wood undertones.
At the one hour mark, I start to struggle with the perfume. Coconut is a note with which I have some difficulties if it is too thick. More to the point, anyone who has read this blog for a while knows I also have a hard time with very sweet perfumes — and Pear + Olive turns sweeter by the minute. In fact, after a few hours, it turns into what may be one of the sweetest perfumes that I’ve tried in a long, long time. The combination of the gooey, thick coconut, the chamomile, the cognac, and that increasingly heavy feel makes Pear + Olive far too unctuous for me. It’s so rich and sweet that, for me personally, it was cloying.
The sweetness recedes by a small fraction at the start of the third hour, but the perfume is still too sweet, unctuous and gooey for me. I miss that pear note so, so much with its dewy freshness, lightness and delicacy. As the hours pass, Pear + Olive turns into a very abstract, amorphous floral, woody, coconut musk with milkiness, creaminess and flickering hints of chamomile. Sometime around the eighth hour, there is a surprising feel of vanilla, combined with powder, that appears. Almost a sort of Guerlainade accord, if you will.
The perfume remains that way for many more hours until, finally, its final traces fade away well over 15 hours later. I had heard that Slumberhouse perfumes had crazy longevity and, obviously, Pear + Olive is pure parfum, but still! The duration of the scent on my perfume-consuming skin was something quite amazing. In terms of sillage, the perfume is very strong, and will have quite a big projection if you apply too much. It won’t necessarily fell your co-worker across the room, but it does create a small perfume cloud around you. I would advise you not to apply a lot if you work in a conservative office environment, but those who appreciate sillage should be happy.
All in all, the perfume was not for me. My personal tastes and the notes I struggle with mean that it was far too unctuous and sweet for me. However — and this is a big however — I cannot begin to express my utter appreciation, awe and respect for the achievement that is Pear + Olive. To the perfumer, I give a huge, massive “Bravo!” First, it is an incredibly different, original scent made from such unusual ingredients and in such a sophisticated manner that I’m quite awed it comes from a self-taught perfumer who is only 31. Second, there is an intentional purity to the scent that is clearly intended to evoke the beauty of more innocent, simple pleasures. It really does conjure up Mr. Lobb’s experiences in that orchard, sipping wine, playing the ukelele or reading poetry. There is almost a Zen aspect to it all that I find both intellectual and impressive.
Third, for all that Pear + Olive may seem like a simple scent, there is an underlying complexity behind its creation, plan and thought. CafleureBon thought that depth made Josh Lobb put many other perfumers to shame, leading one of its main editors to rank Pear + Olive as the second best perfume of 2012:
For most of the year this was going to be my best of 2012. Josh Lobb, the man behind slumberhouse, put almost every other perfume out there to shame. Pear + Olive is as intricate a creation as you can find. The delicate complexity takes my breath away with its fragility. More than anything on my entire list if there is only one perfume you should seek out Pear + Olive is that fragrance.
I personally wouldn’t rank Pear + Olive as the second best perfume of the last year (and I certainly don’t agree with his #1 choice of Musc Tonkin by Parfum d’Empires, or much else on his top 5 list), but I do agree with parts of the statement. Pear + Olive is creative and original as hell! And its pear opening is utterly spectacular! The perfume may not morph this way and that, but it’s not intended to. It’s true to the creator’s vision. He meant to create a very Zen feeling, and a mood of simple, relaxing serenity. For many, I think he will have succeeded brilliantly at that.
Lastly, (and I apologise for the length of this review), perhaps the most impressive thing about Pear + Olive is the confidence with which such unusual ingredients have been crafted so elegantly and seamlessly. There is enormous imagination and creativity at work here. There is also a very clear attempt to use the richest ingredients possible to create a luxurious experience that is intentionally different. Slumberhouse’s name has the tag-line or sub-text of “Strange and Unique Fragrances,” and it definitely applies to Pear + Olive in a really positive way.
So, while the perfume may not be to my personal tastes, I strongly urge those of you who like very sweet scents and/or fruity florals to give it a try. In fact, I think anyone who wants to try something different should give it a sniff, simply because of how original, creative and unusual it is. This is out-of-the-box thinking that really should be encouraged. In short, Slumberhouse is clearly one to watch. I am truly intrigued to see what they will try next and can only repeat, Bravo!