A fine perfume friend gifted me with a sample set of the new Humiecki & Graef fragrances, including the original Skarb, which was released last fall with the instant-fame-achieving news that it was a conceptualization of how men cry. In my elegantly constructed sample set — a box with sample vials in individual niches — the enclosed booklet instructs us that H&G “is a warm and exciting emotional homeland in a virtual and global world. Five rare fragrances mirror memories and emotions in incomparable ways, characterized by all facets of life and subtly but formatively integrated.”
There is further adulation of and inspiration by the creators´ grandmothers, which I´m not going to mock, because how sweet is that? The grandmothers were “the inspiration for the name of the label,” and the line bears their names; the creators of the line are Sebastian Fischenich and Tobias Muksch.
“Helena and Katharina embodied security and love, experience and the courage to face life for their grandchildren and they inspired confidence. The designers dedicated their perfume label to their sense of family… In partnership with one of the most renowned noses´ in the perfume business, Christophe Laudamiel, they created this homage to emotions.”
Skarb, “a fragrance about melancholia, inspired by a deep Slavic soul,” contains lovage, musk, barley, incense, myrrh, chamomile, absinthe. This one came out awhile ago, and reviews of this were varied. I think it´s … sort of delicious. It´s weird, and there´s a metallic tinge and a hint of bodily essences up front that kind of calls up Laudamiel´s Mugler coffret for Perfume, for those of you lucky enough to get a sniff. (Longtime readers may recall I got my hand slapped in Vienna for poking around in it, but how could I resist?) At the risk of worrying you that I´ve drunk the H&G Kool-Aid, there is something tender about this fragrance, although I´m not sure I´d go so far as melancholy. Its oddest moments are the top notes, when it´s watery (those Slavic tears?) and I worried some giant aquatic accord was going to bubble up and make me cry in horror. Instead it becomes more incense-laden, and along with the hay-note of the chamomile and the sharpness of the absinthe, it´s like some herbal tisane made by weeping angels. (Oooh, I´m ready for a job at H&G!) It´s … equally of the head and heart, if that makes any sense. It feels a little too calculated to be truly emotional for me. I have nothing that smells remotely like this. I´d definitely wear it. It´s light; you could spray this all over and not kill anyone, it lasted forever on my hand, a little flattened but still interesting. Worth exploring if minimalist weird-yet-wearable scents like Comme des Garcons 2 do it for you. Unisex.
Geste, “a fragrance about intensity” that was “inspired by a mature woman who loves an adolescent” with “the pureness of white shirts and the sweetness of fresh bread and the mystery of a mature love.” Wouldn´t you love to know what grandma was up to that inspired that story? Notes: soft amber, musky soft violet petals, soft fir resin. Okay … in my opinion (shared by my kind friend who gave it to me) this has Laudamiel´s fingerprints all over it. This has that not-quite-nice musk, eau de humanity. If you multiplied it by 100 and bottled it, you´d have the execrable (to my nose) Miller Harris L´air de Rien, which I have always found less about the proverbial English mansion than its nearby village with the stinking peasants and animal pens. But this!! This is naughty and wrong. This is Rien meets Guerlain´s Apres l´Ondee, powdery violets and tumbles in the back bedroom in twilight. I can´t smell the fir. I am not entirely sure if (or where) I would wear it, but it´s wonderfully strange. Gets skankier by the hour. Two-hour update: Probably over my line, but (depending how you feel about Rien) maybe not over yours.
Multiple Rouge is missing from my sample set, fortunately or unfortunately, because it sounded the silliest note-wise. “A fragrance about extreme folly and fun,” with notes of cinnamon bark, frozen orange, green pineapple, immortelle, Vietnamese cilantro, green violet, peach kernel, freshness of ozonic red berries. Hmmmm. Maybe I would like to smell it, it´s got immortelle. But I can´t, so let´s move on to…
Eau Radieuse, “a fragrance about desire, a futuristic remake of an Eau de Cologne,” notes of green banana skin, fresh mandarin peel, fresh Italian lemon, mint leaves, rhubarb juice, bamboo sape (sic) accord. Oh.my.god. That´s so cool. Live-moment blogging here – this totally provokes my synesthesia. The exact smell of green bananas at the market, followed by mandarin (so juicy and tart!!! my mouth waters)… yep, here comes the lemon … minty lemon!!! I die, I die!! It´s a perfumer´s elaborate joke, how do they do that? … yup, we have rhubarb! And then – voila! This awesome sap accord. Not “sap” like any sort of normal traditional perfumery. It´s sap glopped on top of the fruit-stall lineup. I´m not sure it´s cologne, or even proper perfume in any traditional sense. But it is absolutely the kind of scent that, were I to pass someone wearing it, I would throw myself in front of them and demand, what are you wearing?!?! Also, it´s really, really strong and minty at the same time. Seriously, it´s like mint drops for the nose, in a good way. A nasal palate cleanser. But it displays its true cologne-ness only by fading away within the hour, preparing us for…
Askew, “a fragrance about fury, inspired by the deconstruction and destruction of the classical perfume for me, full of fire and explosion, energy and virility.” Notes of birch tar, cardamom, soft leather, ginger, grapefruit, vetiver, Egyptian mimosa. Sniffing the atomizer before spraying, I was a little afraid – it had that marine/male essence smell. On the skin the first note is a powerful, smoldering tarry leather. It´s wonderful, and just as I was starting to think, well, this smells a bit like … the citrus and ginger appear, and can I tell you what a winning combination that is? It´s a wonderful role reversal, with the citrus functioning as the cheerful, effervescently sweet moderator rather than its ubiquitous role in modern mall perfumery of tarting up some toothache-sweet confection. The birchtar softens into a gentle leather (along the lines of L´Artisan´s Bottega Veneta leather) pretty quickly – it´s there, but if you´re looking for something butch and smoky you won´t find it here. The cardamom and vetiver are very faint on my skin, while the mimosa adds a fairly significant floral aspect to the scent before it fades down into a lovely vetiver/leather. This does a fun transformation from a “masculine” to a “feminine”, and back to masculine, although really anyone could wear it.
All of these are of that high-art-concept school of perfumery that either appeals or annoys, depending. For a line that bases its fragrances on feelings and emotions (desire, melancholia, etc.) there is a concomitant sense of thought put into these – and not the kind of thought that boils down to: let´s make something on trend so we can sell the hell out of it. I did my share of eye-rolling when I first read their marketing materials. On the other hand, they appear to be reaching toward an end result that I haven´t seen (or smelled) a hundred times before, and on that score they succeeded. The fragrances hang together nicely as a group in their unisex quirkiness, and not one of them smelled familiar.
Of all of these, Skarb is probably the most conventional, although still interesting. Geste is the most over-the-top, and Radieuse is the most fun. Askew would probably appeal most to fans of things like Bulgari Black, which I admire rather than love.
Skarb is currently available at Luckyscent, and I can only assume the others will follow eventually. The company´s website is www.humieckiandgraef.com
Skarb bottle image from luckyscent. Each scent has the same-shaped bottle but varies in the cap (porcelain, plastic, metal, wood) and the color tape.