Narkiss, First Round

The Narkiss creation journey started as early as 2007, with a name, and a sketch based on the natural raw materials that W.A. Poucher lists in his 2nd volume of "Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps". These were composed much later (in 2011) into 2 mods that I refer to as "First Round" - because they both represent the same concept, and are in fact a continuation of each other. In fact, I didn't even bother making them in separate bottles*.

This round was all about exploring narcissus absolute, which I had in only extremely limited quantity, and just have fun with it. It was created in what I like to call "intuitive approach": just following my nose, and working with the essences that seems most fitting for make this precious extract truly shine. Perhaps it's not purely intuitive, because I did have a list of per-selected notes to choose from.  But still, many of them were screened out purely based on what my nose and my heart were telling me in the process.

To start with, I didn't really have a concept in mind, besides that of wanting to work with narcissus absolute, and calling the perfume "Narkiss". I wanted to bring out the richness of this essence, and worked with notes that were some of the most elusive and unique on my palette: costus root, Africa stone, galbanum absolute, absolute from oak wood barrels, and last but not least - Jonquille (which extends the narcissus, being very closely related both botanically and in odour profile). 

While the perfume ended up quite minimalist in the number of raw materials (12), the mood of this perfume is anything but minimal. It has a richness to it that really made me think of a candle-lit flower. A little waxy and golden, honeyed and glowing like beeswax candle; but also very richly floral and seductive, like a dim-lit bouquet in a vase. Romantic, but also mysteriously melancholy.

In my fear of destroying what I've created, I didn't add any top notes to my composition. And I also didn't touch it and didn't get back to it till several years later.

* This is something I often do - when I know that the mod is just a beginning of something else. This is also a good way to save space in my overstuffed archives of experimental scents, and also saves on the time of re-blending the first portion, only to be adding more things to it that I already know are lacking in the first formula. It may not be scientific, but it works for me.

Narcissus Absolute

Narkiss Blue BG by Dror Miler
Narkiss Blue BG, a photo by Dror Miler on Flickr. 
There is no denying it. The relationship between narcissus absolute and the living flower is nil. Void. Nada.

If it wasn't for the name, there would be nothing in it to suggest the intoxicating perfume that linger in the air in mid-winter in the Mediterranean region. When a Narcissus tazetta* is around and in bloom, you can't miss it. The humble little bulb plant often hides between thorny bushes but the scent cannot conceal itself. Little pillars carrying bright shining stars that seem to have a face and a character of their own. The flowers radiate a most audacious, heady, refreshing, intoxicating and inviting aroma.

On sunny winter weekend, after a night of showers, we would jump in the puddles and the scent of narcissus flowers will stop us on their tracks. We'd look around for the source of this lovely scent (and after a year or two in the village, noticed they will usually show up in the same place - which is only logical for an endangered bulb plant). But once coming closer - there is a certain point when you're too close, and the scent is almost repulsive, reminiscent of ripe corpses and feces abandoned in some ancient battlefield.

The absolute of narcissus, while certainly haunting, as a different story. It has a certain voluptuous darkness about it, yet is also honeyed, greenish and soft. Narcissus being related to tuberose, it is no surprise to find relationship there - tuberose-like character but not nearly as dominant. Not quite powerful as to bring to mind any of the dark tales of doom associated with this flower in Greek mythology. Like its tuberose cousin, it is heady yet waxy and smooth, green and also slightly buttery and powdery. There is also an underlying sweetness reminiscent of dry hay-laden meadows and wet soils it brings to mind the surroundings of a Mediterranean winter landscape rather than the aroma of the flower itself. 

Coming back to the lab this morning for round 3 of my narcissus perfume, I'm now compelled to tell the story of the winter meadow, rather than a standalone flower perfume or a soliflore. I wanted version .03 (created on 03.03.2014) to feel like that haunted moment when you spot a rainbow in the cloud. The realization that some mushroom have grown overnight after the rain, within arm reach of where the narcissus flowers are hiding.

* The cultivated plant Narcissus Poeticus is also used for extraction. So the variations in scent also are due to the variations between these particular species, not only the extraction method or the locale.

Studying Narcissus

Narcissus by naruo0720
Narcissus, a photo by naruo0720 on Flickr.

Studying narcissus absolute leads to interesting conclusions... The absolute is very different from the fresh flower, which grows wild from bulbs in the Mediterranean region. Wild narcissus blooms in the coldest days of the winter, so living in the Northern Hemisphere, where daffodils and narcissus are associated with spring took a while to get used to for me...

Growing up in the little village in northern Israel, there was nothing more delightful than spotting narcissus flowers while puddle hopping. We would just follow our noses and find them hiding among thorny bushes with their delicate yolk centre and crisp white petals. But the closer you get - the stinkier, more indolic, animalic and revolting the scent is... Kind of like a narcissistic person - which is charismatic and attractive until you get to know them better and realize how much they stink!

The closest thing I smelled in terms of raw materials to living narcissus was a sample of para-cresyl acetate that my friend Laurie Erickson sent me a while back. The absolute, however, smells nothing like it at all, and brings very surprising notes and complexity that makes it a very intriguing raw material, which I would have happily used more often if it wasn't for its extremely prohibitive cost. It also makes me steer clear of the cliches for narcissus (i.e.: the young mythical lad staring at himself in the pond until drowning in his own superficial beauty...), and look at it in a new angle, that is more sensory and less cerebral.

Opening with surprisingly green, herbaceous notes, narcissus absolute (from Narcissus Poeticus) possesses creamy floralcy reminiscent of tuberose absolute, but layered with far more greenery reminiscent of mint, hay and tomato leaf absolute. There's something dirty and slightly repulsive about it - almost like a heap of rotting garden weeds. The dryout is reminiscent of hay, and is a tad powdery. Still bears a strong resemblance to tomato leaf absolute but softer.

In Arctander's words (p. 433): "The odor of narcissus absolute is strongly foliage-green, very sweet-herbaceous over a fainr, but quite persistent floral undertone". Arctander also distinguishes between two varieties of narcissus absolutes that are produced - "des plaines" from the Grasse area, which is "orange-colored, very viscous, and has a floral-sweet, mild and rich, but not very powerful odor"; and the "des montagnes" variety, which comes mainly from Esterel in Southern France and is "greenish-brown, viscous liquid of green and somewhat earthy type. The undertone is sweet and balsamic-spicy, reminiscent of carnation and hyacinth, but still carrying a strong, green-foliage note". It's hard for me to tell which specimen is the sample that I'm holding, as usually the location relates only to country, not exact region or city (and in this case - both varieties are from the south of France). If to guess by the appearance alone of the oil, it could very likely be the "des plaines" as it has an orange colour; but to judge by the smell - it fits the description of the "des montagnes", and is very tenacious.

Another type of narcissus is jonquil absolute - a cultivated variety (Narcissus Jonquilla) which is more rare and even more expensive than narcissus, and its scent is sweeter and more floral (tuberose-like) and honeyed with hay and green undertones very similar to that of the narcissus absolute, or as Arctander describes it "... heavy, honeylike, deep-sweet floral odor with a strong green undertone and a somewhat bitter, very tenacious dryout note. The odor bears great similarity to the fragrance of longoza and tuberose, and a remote resemblance to hyacinth".

I feel I will need to spend more time with this both of these absolutes to fully grasp their depth and complexities. They are by no means pretty or easy to work with. But that's exactly what I find intriguing and fascinating about them. And I've been deriving immense pleasure blending with them and bringing forward their animalic and floral characteristics while embracing their foliage and earthy aspects. Essences with such complexity and dichotomy unleash my imagination and take me to unexpected places.

Boutique Exclusives

Boronia, originally uploaded by Helen Boronia McHugh.

Recent increases in rare floral essences prices have forced me to do something I don't like doing, but have to: increase the price on selected perfumes from my collection. I don't like the snobbish attitude this may imply, but if I want to be able to continue buying the materials to make these perfumes, logic forces me to follow what the numbers request.

The perfumes subject to the increase are those containing precious essences such as boronia, broom (the latter has increased its price significantly this year, and is now about $500 per ounce) and jonquille. Also, the ones that I will probably not be able to get for a long time if at all - such as ambergris and East Indian sandalwood (I have enough in stock to make Gigi for a whilte).

The price for the following perfumes are exclusive to Ayala Moriel's boutique as they can only be produced on a small scale. Their price have been increased to $160 per 9ml flacon:
l'Écume des Jours
And of course, Sahleb and the upcoming (2009) perfume The Purple Dress will bear the same price, reflecting the high concentration of rare essences that goes into their disctinc scent (orris with 15% irone and ambrette seed in Sahleb and red & golden champaca in The Purple Dress).
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