It is me, or is palo santo the new oud? I feel like I am seeing it everywhere, and I must say, I like it. And I especially like it in Age of Earth’s all natural perfume offering, Ritual. I discovered this local company at a pop-up hosted by Shop People here in Portland, and was able to test the full line of Age of Earth’s perfumes and incense. Roxanne, the creator of these beautifully scented products, was a pleasure to chat with, and informed me that while her perfumes are very high in natural essences, Ritual is the only one that is 100% all natural. I delved into all of her perfumes with an open mind, but ultimately it was Ritual that pulled me into its tranquil realm.
BlundaAromatics in Los Angeles is an exquisite olefactorium/ artisan enclave/ scent school/ alchemical collaboration run by Persephenie Schnyder. Blunda’s website describes its store hours as Saturday: 11-5, Monday – Friday: By Appointment or Chance. It truly was a magnificent accord of chance, serendipity, a dash of divine intervention, and a dear college friend that dispatched me to Blunda a couple of Saturdays ago to experience natural perfumery in the flesh and to hear Ayala Sender describe her Ezra Pound haiku-inspired scent Hanami.
As I slipped out of the blazing SoCal sun and into Blunda(a Swedish word meaning “to close one’s eyes”), I was greeted warmly by Persephenie herself and an ethereal enclave packed with natural perfume devotees. The walls were replete with sculptures, art, and shelves — shelves teeming with delicate glass vials of essential oils and jars of all sizes containing exotic substances; Ayala refers to this as a perfume organ.
The desserts Ayala and Persephenie prepared for our motley crew were other word-ly. Neatly stacked rows of sakura mochi (Japanese rice pastries filled with Azuki bean paste and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves) greeted us along withAyala’sperfumed teas, fresh and tiny tea sandwiches with cucumber, watercress, minted radishes, carrots, ginger and cream cheese, and wickedly delicious marble-sized handmade perfumed White Potion and Guilt chocolate truffles. As I tried to control my primal instinct to hoard and/or devour, I wondered how have I missed this genius; this cool lounge-like sliver of smell-hounds in LA? This brilliant speak-easy of taste, intelligentsia, and performance scent-art? Thank chance and the prodding of Trish for this revelation!
GENUFLECTIONS BY A NEW NOSE
Ayala’s presentation was a wonderful introduction to natural and organic fragrance for the botanically naïve. After describing her personal inspiration for Hanami and reciting the rich Ezra Pound lyrics that inspired the perfume and Heather Ettlinger’s poetic perfume project:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ayala began by passing around scent strips dipped in her base notes of Vetiver, Tonka Bean, Cassie, Siamwood, Vanilla CO2, Copaiba Balsam and Bakul Attar. (For photos, check out her own SmellyBlog post here). As we passed and considered each note through the group, it felt surprisingly beautiful, holy and communal. There with Persephenie’s perfume organ as a back drop, we exchanged musical nose notes in quiet revelry.
Breaking Hanami down note by note seemed especially appropriate given the deconstructive nature of the tradition up-ending haiku written by Pound. With its unpredictable metrics (the musical notes/cadence of a poem), the poem shifts between hard clip urban consonants and noun images, and the gorgeous seductive nature of soft dark s’es and sh’s, p‘s and b‘s. Ayala’s base ensemble captures this brilliantly.
Cassie, as she explained, is a type of mimosa used in tanning leather and appropriately, it speaks with a musty earthen, even industrial and honeyed depth. Vetiver, a simple grass root with an incredibly rich and complicated wet woods and marshland scent, bowled me over. Vanilla CO2, she used because it is shearer than Vanilla and has a half milky half watery sense. Ayala identified these choices as a desire to pull a deep metallic, dark and dusty –even gloomy — smell. The final woodsy, metallurgical accord is spectacular.
Then Ayala moved to the heart notes allowing us to appreciate the individual notes of Pink Lotus, Magnolia, Tuberose, Violet Leaf, and Oleander, before providing the scent strip fan of the Sakura Accord in its entirety. Again this process, especially for a novice like me, was extraordinary. There is something truly mystical and transformative to sit (or stand) in a jam-packed room and reverently pass these deep, dark woodsy and floral scents among one another. And finally, for Hanami’s top notes, she purposefully steered away from citrus and turned instead towards earthy-wooden florals — Cabreuva, Frangipani, Mimosa and Rosewood.
There is a hard softness in the core underpinnings of this perfume that beautifully echoes the elegiac quality of the poem itself. This heavy metal base creates the perfect enduring and quixotic caesura (pause) in one’s mind, a kind of olfactoric undertow. The floral tip opens up a deep and resonant space for that urban anonymity, the alienation and intimacy of modern living, to transpire in all its crushed complexity. It is a lot like that final image Ezra Pound leaves us with – Ayala’s final fragrance looms like the enduring apparition of our lives, of our faces, anonymous, mysterious, individual, as petals on that wet, black bough. Ayala’s composition is not just a perfume, Hanami (and Ettlinger’s entire poetry project) should be installed in MOCA or MOMA, as an art experience. It is a stunning and sublime fragrance.
Much to our collective joy, Ayala brought several of her other signature perfumes with her as well as small samples of her entire collection. I was immediately taken with Bon Zai, another Japanese-derived scent. It is minimalist, woodsy, and the Juniper is fabulous. Juniper! Juniper! Fete D’Hiver I found bewitching as well, although totally different from Bon Zai. It is described as “Spicy roses with incense and amber dries down to a powdery snow on fluffy fur” on the website, and this really says it all. Now to start saving up so that I may purchase all THREE.
Please come back to Scent Hive on Tuesday for Part II of Scents & Serendipity, Ayala & Persephenie
Hanami is available at Blunda Aromatics.
Written by guest contributer ~duVergne Robert Gaines: a neophyte to the odor order, is a professional feminist and occasional poet. She lives in Los Angeles near the La Brea tar pits with her partner David Riley Shackelford and their two cat children, Trotsky and MadX.