A Verdian Opacity

Green fragrances as I’ve had occasion to remark before are not easy to wear.  This probably explains why it is that they have a very uneven track record with the public.  Something there is that doesn’t love a Green, and that something is human skin.

Skin is pink or beige or brown or bronze or black, but it seems to sense instinctively that it is not malachite or lime and shouldn’t smell like it is.  If you’re grass camouflaged, you’re amphibian or reptilian or possibly not in the animal kingdom at all, but something wandering about on roots, which is an inherently creepy idea.  Seriously, if you don’t think so, try reading Kingsley Amis’s ghost story, The Green Man.

The best efforts at marrying green-ness to skin usually harness it to some aspect of opacity, of woodiness or floweriness that takes the edge off it.  Chanel no19 works that slight of hand with galbanum, subsequently palmed for vetiver;  Ivoire did it with an emerald bouquet but sawed that initial note in half and left a largely chypre base behind and intact.   They start green but they don’t finish the show green, because their audience might turn green in the process.

Which ones work? I can only think of two recent perfumes that strike me as wearable and willow at once.  They are Maison Martin Margiela’s Untitled and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Celadon.

Here’s the thing. That water color effect you may have smelled in the work of say, Mark Buxton, where one layer of scent is overlaid with a thin wash of another, is not in them.  They don’t strive for transparency they strive for opacity.

The Margiela starts off green but turns direction and trades the chartreuse in for some burnt umber in the form of immortelle.  I could be wrong about this, but that distinctive dry fuzzy note seems all present and accounted for there.  It’s quite original.  I mean, there hasn’t been such a combination before that I can think of.  Because of the originality, I’d caution impulse buyers.  Try it first.  Immortelle can be a difficult note over time, so be sure that it suits your skin. ( I find looking at the notes that there is no immortelle listed, instead, cedarwood, boxwood, and incense, so my nose was snookered, and I stand corrected.)

The second fragrance is less original but I think more interesting in some ways.  Celadon.  Rarely can a perfume have been more perfectly named.  It is exactly that, and like Untitled, it is opaque.

Ms. Hurwitz describes it as a velvet green, and she’s right.  It does have a soft nap to it, and it is also remarkable for holding its lime/sage note all during its evaporation.  This perfume is palest jade from opening to close and if you think about it, is also carefully engineered.  It’s kind of like a suspension bridge, because it maintains its arc across a wide expanse of time, if not of water.  This makes it a piece of fumic virtuosity.  It is probably based on Gobin Daude’s Seve Exquis.  (The vanished Gobin Daudes are a sore spot for me because I didn’t have the presence of mind to buy them when they were available.)

Still, Ms. Hurwitz did us all a service by composing her variation. If I wore those pale greens, I’d probably wear Celadon. But, like Kermit, I realize that it is not easy being green, and so never try.

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