A few months ago, when I heard Luca Turin, the biophysicist, writer, and revered perfume reviewer speak at Los Angeles’ The Institute of Art and Olfaction, I knew I couldn’t let him walk away without extracting one scent recommendation. Turin’s picks are like smokin’ hot stock tips in my world, where calling the next great scent is as good as currency. He kindly obliged, and told me about Christophe Laudamiel’s The Zoo, a small perfumery in New York making one of the most interesting and beautiful fragrances on the market today. This perfume, Everlasting, he described as a rare marriage of beauty and technical achievement. Everlasting has no perceivable top, middle and base notes, but rather gives the impression of a wall of scent, like all parts of the orchestra playing at the same time and for the same duration. It stays sharp and in focus the entire time you’re wearing it.
Perfume is communication that unfolds in real time, much like music: it has a beginning and an end. The raw materials in fragrances have different lifespans when they come in contact with your skin. The smallest (and most volatile) molecules which slip away the quickest are called top notes and you smell them at first spritz. Medium sized molecules are listed as middle notes. And the heaviest, most stubborn molecules are base notes: bold, opaque and heavy notes that last several hours (or even days) after application. Finding a perfume that you like each and every beat is hard, but therein lies the joy and angst of buying testers and sticking your wrists in people’s faces, smelling your clothes at intervals and wondering why something that started out so heavenly now smells like pickles.
In order to craft a scent whose notes don’t change, you’d have to do one of two things, according to LA-based perfumer and educator Ashley Eden Kessler. “You can identify loads of molecules with the same tenacity,” Kessler explains, which means they’re all the same size on a chemistry level. “Or you can achieve it by the use of different materials that overlap olfactively to be perceived as a singular impression, for example a green top, a green middle, and a green base that lock together to create a green linear existence.” Other scents that remain consistent due to structural manipulation include Demeter’s fragrances, which use Headspace technology to match, in the fewest materials possible, the aroma of recognizable scents like angel food cake. There are also the single-molecule perfumes in the Escentric Molecules series: technically simple, but damned brilliant.
Laudamiel is an industry-recognized technical genius: after many high profile compositions working for a big fragrance house (Ralph Lauren, Thierry Mugler, Tom Ford, the scents for the movie Perfume, even Abercrombie and Fitch), he issued a manifesto called LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRAGRANCITÉ—well worth reading—and launched his own niche fragrance line, The Zoo. The Zoo’s website is a brazen visual experience that has the rabid editing affect of a Guy Ritchie movie. Labels of fragrances are printed with secret urls. Urgent commandments plaster the site like “wear perfume on your clothes instead of on your skin,” “If we say it, you will smell it,” and “If you are given samples don’t sell them, donate them,” all enforced by the Zoo Police™. (I’d like to note I purchased the sampler pack that included Everlasting and will be holding on to those precious testers unless someone makes a good plea in the comments.)
What does Everlasting smell like, you ask? From first spritz I smell: labdanum, caramel, brown sugar, toasted caramel, leather, cedarwood, Swiss Miss, Play-Doh and a little bit of rooty echinacea. The effect oscillates between powdery and damp, but the volume of all these elements in unison is unwavering. There is an opening that has extra sparkle, indicating that Laudamiel is using some top notes to ‘lift’ the heaviness of the base, but in a linear way.
Laudamiel describes the unisex scent as a “Chypre Dark Narcissus Sensuous.” The narcissus flower (also known as daffodil or jonquil) is often a misunderstood scent reference, with most people never having smelled a truly fragrant one, myself included. I asked Kessler to describe the real thing (since Laudamiel uses real narcissus absolute for Everlasting, sourced from his birthplace in France) and she listed “green, animalic, honey, herbaceous, tobacco, powdery, and fruity with a whiff of cat piss. F-ing fantastic and so expensive.” Resinous, ambery, mossy, and dark, this scent is unflinching in its intensity, opulent and remarkably stable. Six hours later it smells exactly like it did when I put it on.
It is larger than my personality, I thought at first. I felt like Bianca Jagger wearing this liquid decadence. But I found myself inhabiting it fluidly. Strangers stop me to ask about the scent in parking lots, hours after I’ve put it on. I had a mom at preschool pickup stick her head in my car to ask me what the beautiful smell contained inside (not the Pirate Booty crushed on the floor, I assure you). The promise of a perfume is that it will leave an olfactive mark on our own, or someone else’s emotional psyche; a scent that fuses with our own innate specialness. I’m all for minimal scents: I’ve written about them and encouraged so many friends to opt for scents that are underwritten, understated, and showcase quiet, tasteful evolutions. But Everlasting helped me digest something new about perfume, something technically-induced but utterly emotional. The exquisiteness of not backing down. It’s worth having in your arsenal.
Photo via ITG.