After much dilly-dallying deciding what to do to celebrate the blog’s one year anniversary, I had finally reached a decision. I had decided to celebrate perfumery unconstrained by the commercial and reflect back at the very essence of perfume – scent.
I can often be led astray by perfume fairytales and fictions, and in reflection there is no better way to experience scent then through independent perfumers and perfumeries. Thus begins a series of reviews and blog articles on lesser known ‘indie’ sections of the scenting sphere.
I have personally met the boys at Criminal Elements, and they are indeed very much fun and very down to earth. What takes me by surprise is their generosity and their palpable idea of care and brand management. They are open to advice, and have opened themselves up for me to carefully scrutinise their creations. It’s a great honour and thank you for the pleasure. -Liam
Criminal Elements was conceived in August 2014 in the midst of a brief, Australian winter. I had just bought my first house in the tiny backwater town of Beulah, Vicoria, popluation 200ish. I had been an avid perfume junkie and hobbiest perfumer for a decade or so, but never considered taking it any further.
Then something pretty unexpected happened. I met a boy. In a tiny, redneck town of 200 people I met the guy I love. A recent transplant from Adelaide named Corey Newcombe. Burned out from city life and an insane degree in organic chemistry; he was looking to escape. He bought an old bus, gutted it, turned it into a livable dwelling and bought an empty block of land in town and lived on it for nearly a year, growing his own food, collecting his own rainwater, and letting his hair grow long and skin bronze in the sun.
We met at a community garden meeting, (oh so romantic), and quickly got about the business of falling madly in love. Fast forward a year or so and we realised that with Corey’s amazing powers of chemistry, spreadsheeting, maths and all those other associated dark arts combined with my stupid amount of experience with buying, smelling and making my own perfumes we might just be able to get something off the ground, and thus Criminal Elements was born!
We hand-make, hand-package and hand-label everything we sell. We make the fragrances we wish existed for us, and hope others will find a place for them in their lives too. We specialise in the weird, the wonderful, and slightly misaligned labels.
I believe we’re part of a growing number of independent perfumeries eschewing the trappings of high-end, high-brow, high-priced perfumery and the associated wank that comes along with it. We strive to push boundaries and envelopes and buttons.
We fully expect the vast majority of folks to find our fragrances unbearable – we’re not especially interested in ‘pretty’.
Scents, just like experiences, can be anything from exhausting to exhilarating to overwhelming to downright confusing. If we can push people’s olfactory senses in these directions then I feel like we’re doing our job. -Aelfrik Spektor
Hollow by Criminal Elements
Hollow reminds me of condensation forming on a cold metal pipe hidden beneath the undergrowth. The earth is damp, and smells of soil lightly rained on. As tall boots trod across the wet landscape, crushing the loose berries and lichen, the aromatics rise revealing their subtle complexities.
Follow throughout the discordant opening as each part folds over each other on the skin, as fresh notes of blackcurrant and the fruity grassy quality of juniper berry, with its undertones of camphor and pine meld with the heavier heart of cedar, vetiver and oak moss – recalling the chypre structure reinterpreted in a cold and damp context. At the very base of Hollow lies a sharp fragility, a featherlike earthiness achieved through a transparent cyclamen note, alloyed with a soil tincture and violet leaf accord, replicating a thirsty cracked earth quenched with musty rain water. Beautifully bizarre, it is the most confronting of the lineup.
Anther by Criminal Elements
The idea of dust having a smell fascinates me. The dust effect here reminds me of taking something vivid, warm and powerful and subjecting it to a translucent filter. The cuir oriental structure has turned to powder, with wholesome notes of cocoa, nutmeg, and bitter orange underpinned with patchouli to create a particularly delicious characteristic redolent of chocolate, cocoa powders, and the spicy overloading of chai tea. However, pull back from this very quickly, and experience a suede note with fruity complexities, namely apricot and phenolic raspberries. The trace elements of civet here work wonders, warming the amber inflected middle notes. Absolutely magnificent.
Hearth by Criminal Elements
‘Smokey bushfire / honied woods’
As the smoke gets into your eyes, it reveals a spicy bundle of woods. Agarwood, cedar, cade, and cypriol all maintain unique levels of woody nuance, perhaps altogether recreating the idea of burned redgum. I find at the top a glorious honey note, smooth and lacquered, that channels the organic of the bush. Finally, there’s a fascinating counterpoint of a particular greenness with a smoked vegetal quality. This accord, which I suspect is a combination of balsamics and palmarosa (which until now, I have not experienced), drives the composition forward, relentlessly, like a merciless bushfire. With this fragrance, I can picture the burning afternoon summer sky as the day comes to a conclusion. Secretly romantically inclined, the honied woods is terrific.
Sepal by Criminal Elements
There is something prominently old school with Sepal, with a succulent citrus top note structure compounded with highly aromatic florals. To ensure this doesn’t go astray, proportionate quantities of animalics and musks (civet, musk, ambergris) seasoned with clove avoid the floral gone haywire paradigm.
Juicy clementine and mandarin mix create a revivified orange-toned citrus accord, with pleasant (but not blinding) flecks of mimosa, magnolia, and predominately orange blossom. The magnolia helps to maintain the citruses throughout, with a waxy quality creating an impression of classic eau de cologne with a generous dosage of orange blossom that works spectacularly with clove. From a distance, this recalls something of an oriental creation. True to the description, if this fragrance had a texture, it would be something furry. Classically firm.
Pyrus by Criminal Elements
As a principle now, my goto apple scent is L’Artisan’s Traversee du Bosphore. In Pyrus, I imagine the juicy qualities of an apple (found in the L’Artisan) with the texturally mushy qualities of a soft brown pear. Season this with a touch of smoked salt (an accord found from the salt note and the use of oud in the base), and voila, deliciousness in the scented medium.
However, there’s an appropriate dryness against this juicy quality, and I draw the conclusion that the lavender in the top note adds that mildly malted, sun-dried, and aromatic rough edge bolstered with an anisic, herb de provence compliment. Pyrus sets itself as a Mediterranean fantasy as the Provencal flecks of the lavender meet the Riviera charm through dank driftwood. Oxymoronically dry and wet.
Glimmer by Criminal Elements
‘Salted ginger coconut’
I have a real disliking of gourmands, so I am forced to try particularly harder to give an objective point of view. I find a strong impression of coconut, which I gather forms the idea of warmed milk. The milk reveals itself to a delicate rose and a sappy greenness sprinkled in spiced sugar (nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves). The muted culinary spice I detect is a ginger note that is inseparable to the lactic notes, traveling like strict parallel lines. I tip my head to the boys at Criminal Elements for making a fragrance in similar style of Luten’s Un Bois Vanille, that is, nothing directly stomach churning, but still very appetising. There is a distinct layered quality that rises from skin to nose, which for me hints at this perhaps being the most well balanced fragrance in the current lineup. Like any other basic culinary principle, this is a fragrance of contrasted balance: spicy and sweet. A warm hug.