I fell in love with Mona di Orio’s scents quite some time ago when a lovely internet friend in the Netherlands sent me some samples, including a large decant of Oiro, her richly brocaded jasmine and sunlight glitterball. I now own three – Lux, Carnation, Nuit Noire. Two I bought on a shopping trip with Louise, after we discovered that both Liberty and Les Senteurs had the London exclusive on her fragrances. Love how that works. Both the buying more than you should (naughty temptress Louise) and the non-exclusivity of exclusives.
All of di Orio’s scents, up until now, have struck me as startling – not necessarily difficult to wear, but tricky, opulent numbers which take you in unusual and unexpected directions. You either enjoy the nasal hairpin bends or feel nausea at the journey.
Lux for example revs up its engine in a Willy Wonka styled lemon grove where much of the acidity has been removed to leave a rich sweetness, apparently child-friendly, a parade of praise for a candied version of that brightest of yellow fruits. It’s almost too much sugar, too much dazzle, that sensation of losing the roof of your mouth, stripped by sherbet. But suddenly it darkens and instead you’re into the woods and, after an hour or so, swept up in a play of chiaroscuro between the brightness of the beginning and the musty murk of the dominating cistus in the drydown. I adore the drydown, even if sometimes the opening is too fruity-perky for me. It’s like moving from a technicolor musical to a Goya black painting. Is this artisanal clumsiness or great skill? I’m inclined to think of it as the latter, though I’m not sure most people would agree with me.
I could quite easily go on and on about her other three releases – the voluptuous fleshiness of Carnation that is automatically a Rubens, prone; Nuit Noire and its evocation of decay in the act of desire, a sensual still life where the first white flowering of mould blossoms on the shadowed edges of the orange – but I’m here to write about her latest release, and her fifth, Amyitis.
Here’s the usual schtick from Mona di Orio’s eponymous website:
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built to please the Queen Amyitis. The feeling of being in balance with yourself and nature, unburdened and peaceful, inspired Mona to create this fresh green fragrance. Like a walk in a magical garden where the colours and the perfumes are sublimated.
Topnotes: Caraway, savory, capsicum, green leaves
Heartnotes: Iris, Violet, Gaiac wood, Cedar of Virginia
Basenotes: Saffron, Opoponax, Moss, Amber
There’s a clear distinction here between this release and her four others, marked out in those two words, fresh and green. Indeed, its release in the last month of winter works like an early glimpse of Persephone before she’s final released by tricksy old Hades. Can I just praise the packaging of these perfumes before I talk about the scent? Boxes and bottles, both wonderful. Grey birchwood, champagney fancy stuff (dumbo here removed the muselet on his first bottle cos he though he needed to in order to open it…). The sprayer doesn’t quite match up in that it’s very delicate in delivery, but given the potency of the first four – and the price! – that’s probably no bad thing.
So, what’s Amyitis like? I’ve been spending the last four days in its company and unlike her others, it aims to seduce by whispering rather than glowing or exposing flesh. There is a signature element at play however: though this is in the direction of light layers, there’s still an element of weight here, as though the freshness is concealing something denser. Though quite what that denser something is, I’ve yet to define.
To some degree, the notes play out as described, including a violet peekaboo midway through. It’s one perfume you can sniff and either recognise the note list as truthful or convince yourself that it is. All stand out as if marked by their own individual highlighter pen. The opening is bright, clearly green, verging on almost fruity and, though in the territory of Eau de Campagne, it’s without the bucolic and agricultural airs of the Sisley scent. Instead, there’s a limpid aqueous feel to the composition, but no trace of calone as far as I can tell; it never moves towards metallic chilll. I read cucumber mentioned in a Dutch article, but this remains far, far in the background for me.
The caraway does something interesting (and I think Luca Turin writes about this in his book) by heading towards mint, though not quite getting there, before returning to its almost anise and bitter dry spice aroma. A commenter at PoL pointed out a plastic quality that bloomed on her skin early on, and I see what she means. Somewhat like Eau d’Italie, this verges towards latex ten or so minutes in, the way in which some plant sap can smell more synthetic than natural. It doesn’t last, and perhaps signals the entrance of an unlisted note.
And then, to me, the rest of the perfume, until the final moments, is dominated by the unmentioned element – a vetiver, or something working as though it is vetiver. The same friend who originally sent me the di Orios pointed out a link to Lutens’ Vetiver Oriental, which I initially, and foolishly, dismissed. But it’s clearly there. Whereas the Palais Royal perfume flirts with gourmand notes to make vetiver strangely drinkable, like a coca cola of roots and greenery, Amyitis is more austere and cerebral, but the interplay between iris and the root gives it that same unusual and striking edge.
Eight hours in, I’m left with a mossy whisper on my hand, a reminder of the outside world where I spent all of the weekend before the weather turned to cold once more. This is a summer scent no doubt. I hope it’ll bloom slightly more with heat. Though green scents aren’t my thing, it’s exceptionally well executed. I’ll have to wait to see if it steals my heart. The others took it immediately; this one might burn slowly to find a way in. Roll on spring.