When was the last time you truly stopped to think about your fragrance collection, even if it consists of one bottle? Do you ever give an extra thought to the ingredients, the places from which those ingredients are sourced or the materials they come from? What about your reasons for choosing your fragrance? Are those reasons driven by trends, aspirations or memories?
Last year, to commemorate National Fragrance Day, I wrote about Chanel No. 19 Poudré and you may read that post here. How ironical that while writing that post, I was able to solve a bit of a scent mystery. So, in celebration of this year’s National Fragrance Day, I’ve chosen to write about the most complex fragrance in my collection at the moment, Salome from Papillon Artisan Perfumes. But before I get into the details, let’s scan a bit of Papillon Artisan Perfumes backstory. It’s a British brand founded by Liz Moores in 2011. Incredibly, Moores is a self-taught perfumer. Her experience as a massage therapist who blended oils to accompany treatments for her clients served as a springboard into the complex world of fragrance. I believe most great inventions begin with a challenge to oneself, whether out of a personal need or a need that one identifies. And so, Moores knew that she would eventually go on to create her own fragrance, but not before she spent some years increasing her understanding of chemistry, raw materials and essential oils among other things. The learning curve was so exceedingly steep, she even enlisted her children to help with her learning. Eventually, after numerous mods (versions), she released Anubis, her first fragrance.
Then came Salome in 2015. Like so many superb products I stumble across, Salome became known to me when I was searching for a new fragrance that was ‘different’. Drawn in by the reviews, even the less than shining ones, I caved, and not long after it was part of my collection. But here’s where the screeching breaks come in. After my shower that first morning after receiving it, I excitedly sprayed some on. A few beats later, I was sniffing the top of my chest because I could not figure out the scent hitting my nose. I was so alarmed that I contemplated a second shower to get the scent off. Another day, the same result. I went back to the description of the fragrance, I re-read reviews, found new ones to compare it to, then I even went on to do specific reading about fragrance components in an attempt to better understand what I was smelling.
I then decided to leave the bottle out in my bathroom rather than stow it away in a drawer as ‘experts’ suggest. A bit of a stand-off between Salome and I ensued. I looked at it each day when I would go to shower, then slowly picked it up again. It was like re-doing maths problems when I was in school, paying close attention to the variables, the workings and hopefully coming up with the correct answer. I’d never approached a fragrance this way, as most are fairly easy to come to grips with and understand. Salome made me work to understand her and so here are my findings.
Salome begins with musk and a bit of funk, but also mixed into that are faint notes of the scent of old books pressed against warm florals. It’s very warm, this scent. The first layer also stays together to emit its notes cohesively rather than in a disjointed way. Comparatively, some fragrances open with a single note that to me, ‘pricks’ at the nose and then needs time to unify with the other notes in its composition. But not Salome, as it’s cohesiveness becomes evident fairly quickly.
Salome continues to unfurl with more florals and tobacco, giving it greater scope while intensifying its intrigue. Officially, some of the other accords in Salome include Turkish rose, jasmine, oakmoss, cumin and patchouli. But what brings the funk factor into the composition is the inclusion of animalics.
In fragrance making, animalics tend to be used in formulas that are more primal, sensual, murky and brash. I’d even venture to say that fragrances made with animalics are an acquired taste. Plus, such compositions were more popular in decades past. Increasingly, perfumers have begun to rely on synthetic animalics, as EU laws and conservation efforts have greatly restricted the availability of these raw materials in their natural form.
And so, the animalics in Salome include castoreum, civet and hyraceum. Castoreum was traditionally taken from the secretions of beavers. Civet is an animal native to certain parts of the world such as India, Africa and Southern Europe whose secretions are used in perfumery, while Hyraceum is taken from the secretions of the Rock Hyrax, an animal that is part of the badger family. These secretions lend some of the muskiness, sweatiness and primal aspects to the fragrance.
Salome is also bracketed against notes of leather, citrus, and wood-panelled rooms that have absorbed the scents of people at a fancy party, where lots of scotch and cigars may have been had. Yet, as odd as that may seem or sound, the complexity of this fragrance is precisely what makes it so enrapturing. This is not a fragrance you give as a gift unless specifically requested. Instead, it is a fragrance you suggest to someone, as long as you know that someone is not a conformist. I would be remiss if I neglect to mention that literature, the Bible and the dramatic arts have all had their way with the character Salome. History records her first appearance around 30 b.c.e. (before the common era). In the Bible, Salome is recorded as King Herod’s sister, while in literature and arts she appears in Oscar Wilde’s play entitled Salomé. For Liz Moores, the inspiration for this fragrance came from a photograph of a dancer from the 1920’s, in a way lengthening the thread connecting all the incarnations of Salome throughout history.
For me, Salome represents a bolder, more evocative induction into fragrance. It’s not a composition that I fell for easily. But over time the more I wore it, held it to my nose, spritzed it on my wrist on a random Tuesday, wore it to bed and woke up the next day with its notes still intact and unfolding on my skin, I happily submitted to it, to the secret closet within this fragrance. It’s a closet filled with florals, musks, citrus, leather, tobacco and sweaty skin. Salome is unusual and intoxicating, it requires some patience and complete openness to a dash of adventure that happens to be in a bottle.