Fougère Nakh (Soivohle)

Most people live their lives in a state of unconsciousness until awakened by a certain sound. If they are crooked, the sound sets them straight. If they're confused, the sound sorts them out. If off-course, the sound reorients them. They will know it when they hear it, because afterward they'll feel more whole, more themselves somehow.

For many, the sound is made by nature: the rumble of thunder, the sough of wind over prairie. For others, it's produced by hand: a flute, a drum, an electric guitar. But for those like me, the one sacred sound is the human voice. No other compass compares.

For twenty years, his has been the voice of my due north. Other voices, siren-like, have lured me off-course, led me toward the rocks, or beached me high and dry. Never his; not once. I hear it and remember instantly who I am, where I am, what to do. We will never meet, and that's all right. It is enough that he let the sound out, and that my ears were open to hear it.

I've always thought that if I were in the same hundred square feet as him, my first instinct would be to leave. Really. Just clear out. Make space. Slip reverently and unobtrusively through the nearest doorway like a silent geisha . Not because he frightens me. But he gives so much of himself already, what more of him do I need? And conversely, what use would he have for my ballast? Even unspoken, my emotions would agitate the very ether-- and to disturb his hard-won peace is the absolute last thing I'd wish to do. So through the door or out the window I'd go. Good night, and good luck.

Back when I devised some fantasy bespoke scents for a few of my heroes, I felt almost too bashful to include Ed Vedder-- yet I knew exactly which tones from the olfactive scale would play his song. Music may be the medium in which he creates, but ocean is the medium in which this lifelong surfer truly lives. It's here that he instinctively retreats between albums and tours, conceivably to catch his breath if only so that he can expend it again at full strength, calling like a muezzin to the faithful. My written notes for his composition -- ambergris, kombu, sea salt, oakmoss, vetiver, organic tobacco -- read like a clumsy poem in tribute to smoke-on-the-water.

But before I could write about it, I actually WORE it-- and it was so much better than anything my inadequate imagination had dreamt.

I first managed to procure a scant milliliter of Fougère Nakh as part of a manufacturer's sample lot from The Perfumed Court. After wearing it once, I think I would have been willing to spend a year's budget on the same amount and pass on all the rest. But Fougère Nakh is already extinct: a deep sea creature long retreated to the briny depths of perfumedom. Relegated to Zorn's 'retirement' list this past March, it exists only in legend now, like one of those draconic denizens of old maritime charts, the sort who defiantly spout plumes of water skyward wherever ships are too fearful to travel.

Yet such creatures have an uncanny habit of surfacing when least expected... and most needed.

Such was the case one June evening in 2012. Sitting slumped in my computer chair, I browsed on over to the Soivohle blog... and straightened up as if electrocuted. Liz had posted news of a house-cleaning sale, and one of the "disappearing fast" items was her very last stock of Fougère Nakh. Without even thinking, I fumbled zombie-like in my purse for my wallet. Before there was any time to reflect on what I was doing, I made an impulse purchase so swift and decisive my pulse rate stayed in the upper registers for about an hour.

A few days later, I'd begun to worry. I still hadn't gotten any sort of confirmation from Soivohle and had started to question everything from my memory (had it all been a fever dream?) to my internet connection (did it somehow fizzle out on me at the crucial moment?). Finally I broke down and called the customer service phone number listed on the Soivohle site. What happened next went something like this:

Liz Zorn (answering her own phone like any normal person): Hello; Liz Zorn.

Me: (after five-second stunned pause): Like hell you are.

That's a fib; I said nothing of the sort. But to be honest, I was so flustered, I'm not really sure what came out of my mouth. For what seemed like nine years, I wibbled foolishly on and on whilst Ms. Zorn listened with remarkable forbearance to this phone call from Fangirl Bedlam. (She must get them all the time.) She confirmed that my order had indeed shipped, explained that an email glitch had most likely swallowed my invoice, and pledged to send me another copy of it. I thanked her, hung up, and immediately started kicking myself. Stupidstupidstupid!

On the bright side, the intense heat generated by my continuing blush of embarrassment amplifies Fougère Nakh's marvelous scent threefold. True to both halves of its name, it combines the herbal austerity of the classic men's fougère with the novelty of choya nakh-- an accord achieved by roasting clam shells over a wood fire until they blacken and exude a dark oily absolute. This essence encompasses a dark, curiously biological tang like that of blood or iodine, a rich accumulation of smoke that calls to mind paleolithic cave fires, and the eternal hiss and pound of heavy ocean surf. If ever a scent existed for selkies and mermen, it would be choya nakh. Fougère Nakh employs it to intoxicating effect. Anoint yourself with this holy oil, and feel strands of sargasso reach up to wind around your limbs, drawing you down to the darkest and riskiest of depths, where visions exist only for the brave.

Yet not all is danger here. Fougère Nakh is straightforward and stark, but its beauty does not lack mercy. There is so much raw nature in its character that even when it most overwhelms, it still brings a pang to the heart-- a sense of continuity, as when one surveys a magnificent landscape and still is able to imagine being an intrinsic part of it.

Like Vedder's voice, it slips into my bloodstream with native ease. Who am I to deny it?

I'm open. Come on in.

Scent Elements: Lavender, patchouli, tonka bean, choya nakh, spices