Tobacco & Tulle Demi-Absolute (Soivohle)

Aromatherapists seem most comfortable working with aerial essences-- oils derived from leaf, stem, flower, bark, bud, berry, rind, and seed, all the visible portions of the plant which grow in the full light of the sun. Perfumers, on the other hand, traffic in dark, hidden, decadent, unwholesome properties. Earthy, dirty, secretive roots; oils of murky provenance; resins which trickle from the wounded plant like blood; heartwood whose harvest demands the death of the tree. And don't even get me started on animalics! Many a nice vegan aromatherapist has foresworn all dealings with such foul substances as musk, civet, castoreum, ambergris, or hyraceum... But by god, these things make a difference. They lend depth, definition, mystery, and sex to what would otherwise just be an offshoot of herbal medicine.

Liz Zorn is a natural perfumer who does not shy away from the dark side. All those who believe that Serge Lutens' Muscs Koublaï Khän is the sine qua non of animalic experiences have clearly never crossed paths with Tobacco & Tulle, her seamless ode to unseemly smells. True, MKK is a zoo in a bottle. But T&T trumps its fabled raunch with a single word: hyraceum.

Like most other animalics, hyraceum is a product of a bodily function one doesn't discuss at the dinner table. Being a creature of deeply ingrained habits, the African rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) deposits its waste in the same spot visited by thousands of its own kind over the centuries. The accumulated mixture of urine, feces, and pheromones eventually petrifies in the equatorial air, acquiring (as does ambergris floating on the open sea) a peculiar olfactory resonance. By itself, hyraceum smells (to put it mildly) ripe-- half verdure, half manure, wholly unsettling. But its ability to complement, boost, and integrate all other scents -- animal, vegetal, floral, oceanic, indolic, skatolic -- is magical. It burnishes smooth all that it touches.

In Tobacco & Tulle, one finds a strange and potentially contradictory mixture of masculine (leather, tobacco, cumin) and feminine (tuberose, cassis, jasmine) mulling about over a modern chypre base. Playing hide-and-go-seek in the shadows are those fey ambassadors of marine biology, ambergris and choya nakh (roasted clamshell absolute, blood-rich and iodinic). It would all be a hot mess but for hyraceum. Dazzling and disturbing, this liaison dangereuse works the room, gets everyone talking, steers those who should meet together and keeps those who would clash apart-- all with an air of benevolence that radiates to every corner. (Have you ever seen a hyrax? That little critter wears a permanent smile-- and now it's clear why. It's the host with the mostest.)

Let an unlikely test subject declare the ultimate verdict. As I wrote today to Liz Zorn:
This morning I adorned myself with two spritzes of Tobacco & Tulle, after which something quite extraordinary occurred. Our new cat Hiro -- a two-year old male Tuxedo, recently rescued from the mean streets and still in the "getting-to-know-you" stage -- opened first one eye, then the other, then sat straight up with a look of intense interest. I allowed him to sniff my wrist, and he started purring lustily. I went to sit at the computer; he followed me, jumped straight up onto my lap, turned belly-up in my arms like a blissful infant, and gazed lovingly into my eyes. What a powerful and unforgettable bonding moment! A loving friend may be the key to sweet Hiro's heart... but I truly believe that a touch of T&T's hyraceum unlocked the door.
Many thanks, indeed. I am one smitten kitten.

Scent Elements: Orange, orange fraction, bergamot, jasmine absolute, tobacco absolute, tuberose absolute, rose absolute, spices, nutmeg, cassis, cumin, ambrette, guaiacwood, oakmoss, choya nakh, rectified birch tar, valerian, almond, orris butter, vanilla, hyraceum, musk, ambergris