Mata Hari (DSH Perfumes)

Hindsight is a strange beast. To some features of the past, it brings sharper focus, greater clarity. To others, it brings the muddying effects of doubt. Who can really trust human perception to represent the truth?

While consolidating old blog posts, I came upon my original reviews of a group of natural fragrance samples I'd won in a raffle back in 2010. These perfumes -- Amazing by Joanne Bassett, Daphne by Adam Gottschalk, Rose of Cimarron by Elise Pearlstine, Cannabis by Alfredo Dupetit-Bernardi, and Mata Hari by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz -- represented the best of the Natural Perfumers Guild's Outlaw Perfume Project, a venture dedicated to highlighting the impact of EU/IFRA restrictions on the age-old art of perfumery. Among the samples, two -- Daphne and Mata Hari -- stood out. Their richness, beauty, and sense of being imbued with life force left me stunned; I gave both top marks and proclaimed myself thoroughly infatuated.

Three years later, my admiration of Daphne remains constant-- perhaps even intensified by the heartbreaking knowledge that multiple sclerosis has forced Adam Gottschalk to abjure the life of a perfumer, perhaps forever. As for Mata Hari, I still enjoy it. But repeated exposure to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's other works has compelled me to add a fairly stern caveat to that praise.

The first time I wore Mata Hari, I felt utterly bowled over by sensory pleasure. Such a first impression ought to herald lifelong loyalty. Mine got off to a good start, bolstered by the positive experience I'd had with Hurwitz's oud-rich Inner Sanctum. But then I tried December. And then I tried Prophecy. And then I tried Hippie Chic, Essenza dell'Ibisco, the Secrets of Egypt series, and Cimabue. Slowly, uncomfortably, I came to opine that Mata Hari -- true to her notorious namesake -- was operating under a number of aliases.

Now, it is neither uncommon nor a crime for a fragrance line to pick an alibi and stick with it. Many a scent collection revolves around a unifying theme (Hermès' Jardins) or note (Bulgari's Eaux Parfumées de Thés, Serge Lutens' Eaux des Boisées). Companies like Caron use a proprietary base because they want consumers to recognize the house signature underneath all the top-note frippery. A sole perfumer can make the same choice-- heck, some people swear that they can identify Geza Schöen's work at fifty paces thanks to all that Iso E Super he dumps in there.

But when a perfumer appears to keep producing the same scent over and over and over, consistently arriving at the same result not because of one or two overused notes but in spite of the DOZENS UPON DOZENS of notes she shoehorns into each formula, one wonders.

Mata Hari still gives me pleasure, but of a diluted, wary sort. I no longer trust her, or my own perceptions about her. I'm sure that in a blind sniff test of the DSH line, I'd be able to confidently state that one person composed all of these fragrances-- but I would not be able to tell any of them apart. Whatever shades of difference distinguish them is negligible to my nose. I would never be able to pick Mata Hari out from this lineup-- and this really, really bothers me, because it means that she is not special, not unique.

And still, I want her to be... even after all that.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, neroli, orange blossom absolute, mandarin, tarragon, sweet and blood oranges, davana, tagetes, galbanum, carrot seed, black pepper, mimosa absolute, jonquil absolute, orris butter, rose de mai absolute, damascena rose otto, sambac jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, ylang ylang, champaca absolute, osmanthus absolute, nutmeg, cinnamon leaf, cinnamon bark, clove bud, honey absolute, angelica root absolute, ambrette seed co2, benzoin, cistus, costus root, oakmoss absolute, Peru balsam, Australian sandalwood, styrax absolute, tonka bean absolute, vanilla absolute, cumin, patchouli, Java vetiver, buddahwood, Texas cedarwood, cassis absolute, myrrh gum, tabac absolute, cade.