There are considerable, crucial moments in perfume writing and consideration that it begins to change and shape the way you think about scent. A shift towards the most critical is what has shaped my writing on the blog, and in order to achieve that a breadth of perspective is demanded.
Examination is rightly followed by questioning, and it brings me great enjoyment tackling the groundworks of the ethics of a perfume reviewer. Models of communication highlight the relationship between the sender and the receiver. In terms of perfume, the model is of perfumer and reviewer/wearer, respectively. This model at its most simple introduces a rudimentary yet worthwhile question: who creates the meaning? At first glance, it is easy to suggest that it is the perfumer who forms concept and pens it into perfume, and yet with adequate retrospection it is plain that my role is not at all diminished in light of this – I too interpret and publicise on Olfactics.
What do we make of both of these accounts? Is there a traceable relationship between the two? I am hesitant to suggest that the process is synergistic, for the simple reason that the relationship between the perfumer and the reviewer is a two-way relationship: a set of two separate and independent relationships (a dualism of sorts). I am also hesitant to suggest that it is solely a one-way street, because I am still able to derive some meaning, uniform or not, without any reference to the perfumer’s concept (and I suspect most perfumer’s do what they think is right and best, discounting market testing, of course).
Perhaps most controversial is the ensuing assertion: meaning is constructed and imposed onto fragrance. This indeed shifts away from my argument that there exists an objective thing-in-itself reality to scent, but I do believe this can still coexist. I have no intention to dimish (largely) my advancements that aldehydes function as components that make the internal space of a perfume appear less dense, or that sage as a note offers a sexy fresh purity typical of herbal notes. But I do think the narrative of perfume is constructed, and the grand qualities found within perfume (isolation, desiccation, anticipation…etc) need to be revealed.
What is the consequence of this? As stated, it is a comment on the ethics of reviewers and their practices. Does this mean that there are better reviewers than others? Controversial, but yes. Considering the foundational underpinnings is my approach, then delineating from first principles offers the most objective and transparent view I can provide (aside from all there is molecular).
I want this personal question to cause a shift. I want to make you think beyond the perfume, and to do that, you have to look within the very core of the perfume.
Photo by Fort and Manlé
Where does the excellent Maduro fit into this discussion? In two ways.
Firstly, Maduro is absolute niche through its independent production; done for the sake of itself. Fort & Manlé delivers philosophy plainly: individualistic first and foremost, for and from themselves, and personal attempts at perfection. This is refreshing.
In the discussion of independent perfumery with reference to the relationship between perfumer and reviewer, it is a general rule that the constructed meaning is imposed by the perfumer(s), and not by some external influence: popular tastes, marketing tests, appeals to money-making techniques, the list goes on. This contrasts mass-market perfumery, as it loses the perfumer’s transparency, and slots the additional static of marketing between the perfumer and the consumer. Marketing must mirror the precision of the perfumer, and the perfumer must meet the brief or the meaning becomes cloudy. Which nose is responsible for L’Air du Desert Marocain? Easy. But which nose is responsible for Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir? Whilst both excellent, in my view the narrative of L’Air is far clearer.
Secondly, it is impossible not to speak of the actual relationship between perfumer and reviewer, and Maduro is a most delightful example.
My take is clean: an extravagant, maximalist take on the woody style through fruit and herbs. Building an exuberant swirl atop of a solid tobacco-amber-wood base gives Maduro a top-down quality with an anticipatory energy surging from the fresh, radiant tenacity of anisic sweet basil, apple and apple skin, and a murmur of pineapple. What is unmissable is the velvety cool yet hot saltiness of something liquorice-like, combined with a slight leafy ivy green. That tension pulls and sustains the focus of the top note for a period of time that is most unusual for a woody scent, shimmering and oscillating above the rest of the composition without ever becoming uncomfortable.
Whilst not immediately present, tobacco is indeed the most important accord of this fragrance. It is the result of a buildup. Within the heart and base of the composition comes a smoky stickiness that manages to wrap the fruit and the herbal, warm-air quality of liquorice. This is particularly complimentary with a honey accord (amber, cinnamon, beeswax, vanilla) – texturally on the same page as the liquorice, both receptive to smoky tones.
It is I, the reviewer, that places the intense emphasis on the illusionary note of liquorice. And it is my mind that links it to Ambre Narguile and Or du Serail (for their sweet ambery tobacco accords), and Brin de Reglisse and Lolita Lempicka, then extending these associations to lavender perfumes with both minty-fresh and caramelised facets, because caramelised is important in this consideration, and cigar tobacco gives off a roasted sun-drenched quality.
And yet it is perfumer’s Fort and Manlé who drive an emphasis of their Turkish heritage that construct onto the fragrance their own rich ethos: an intoxicating grandeur of the old world seen through deliberate and careful measures. So beyond the cigar, I get the hookah pipe charged with persistent fruitiness, gossamer amber smoke, and a smoky honeyed bittersweetness.
In sum, the nature of meaning in perfume is a tricky one, and will forever require as broad of a perspective as possible to maximise the effectiveness of the reviewer and the effectiveness of a fragrance. Something crucial to always consider.
Subjective rating: 4.5/5
Objective rating: 4/5
2 thoughts on “Meaning in Fragrance: Maduro by Fort & Manlé”
Your exploration of this relationship is charming, Liam… have you read much Derrida?
Thanks for reading and your comment. I have done a decent chunk of Derrida. A undertook a unit in deconstructionism and postmodernism in my final year of high school – and I think that sparked my interest that followed into university. A do a lot of work in critical analysis – incl. techniques in exegesis, constructivism… along with healthy helpings of philosophy. The modern scholar Krippendorff I find to be very influential. Cheers. -L