I went to Sniffapalooza last Saturday, and it was an irrepressible, loud and crowded, fragrant cacophony with perfumophiles everywhere smelling the niche, the rare, the new, on an endless number of scent strips. It was in a word, wonderful, and I got to meet perfume lovers from all over the place, and notably, to see the lovely Meg of Parfumieren who was floating around all day buoyed by an unseen river of scents, as in her element as a naiad, also her friends, the indefatigable JC, and the incredibly lucky Glynis and Patty who both won bespoke perfumes at lunch, during which I would have been green, but I was too full.
Also I met the chic and pretty Ari of Scents of Self up all the way from Baltimore to attend, and debating what to buy with her gift certificate for Bergdorf’s (I’d have been envious again, but again, I was already toting enough perfume to re-float the Titanic). I even met one charming reader who subscribed to my blog. Needless to say, I was thrilled!
But I was also somewhat over stimulated. All the talk and the bright lights and the jewel box ambiance of Bergdorf’s made me a trifle tired and inclined chairwards, that is as soon as I could find a chair, which I eventually did, in the tiny alcove that is the NYC home of JAR right off that beauty floor at Bergdorf’s, I sat down in it for a long time.
JAR, I should explain, is the acronym for Joel Arthur Rosenthal, and his usual business is jewelry. His exquisite designs often feature a delicate use of diamond pave work, so that rippling petals, and spindly fronds, and zebra heads come to a second vivid life on the velvet of the jeweler’s box. Some are hard to credit, they are so artfully contrived, and make you look twice, as beauty always does, to make sure you saw what your optic nerves just relayed to your brain.
But JAR also is in the business of perfume if in a highly idiosyncratic way. This boutique in Bergdorf’s is painted in a porphyry color, porphyry being that reddish/purplish stone that the Romans knew how to work and then the Renaissance artists rediscovered for about five minutes, and now no one does any more – that color. It serves as a pretty good metaphor for JAR which is all about elusiveness. The perfumes are smelled in little glass jars with lids. Inside each is suede soaked with the perfume and you put your nose inside and ask yourself what is this?
Sometimes, as with Ferme Tes Yeux what this is, actually, is odd. But I like oddity, being an oddity myself, and there is not one conventional perfume in the JAR lineup. I suppose the closest you could find is Jarling or Diamond Water, a white floral and a modern (at a guess) aldehydic floral respectively, but even these have a distinctive, high use of natural ingredients to my nose, and a resulting complexity that is rare in modern perfumes.
No less a connoisseur than Patty of Perfume Posse considers their Jardenia to be one of the very best gardenia perfumes ever composed, and without her expertise, I’d say the same regarding carnations and Golconda. There are two versions of that, the old which is available and being sold now, and a more recent re-orchestration which manages to convey the smell of the carnation living on the stem. The first version is richer, deeper and closer to say, old Bellodgia, which I have.
My surprise love was the fragrance simply known as Bolt of Lightning. It has a design of one on the bottle instead of a name, and that same bolt is painted on the ceiling of the little boutique. It is so dark and yet so light in the initial notes that you tend to go back and smell your skin over and over. It’s the same effect as the JAR jewels. It’s just that, instead of asking yourself if you really saw that, you ask yourself if you really smelled that? What is it? It’s floral and earthy, it has something like petrichor in it, and something like jasmine, and it is simply wonderful, and very peculiar.
As a treat, the gentleman who worked there brought out a tray of the earrings that are all of the JAR collection they currently have in New York. They were clip-ons made of gold and colored aluminum, so light that you scarcely felt them on your ear: golden geranium leaves, violets in purple and crimson, cascades of white sweet pea petals so realistic you felt you’d clipped living flowers to your ear.
The price of admission to a world this rarefied and this lovely is high. But there is hope for us mortals. JAR will be having a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this next spring-or so the man in charge of the boutique said. I wouldn’t miss out, it may be the only chance many of us ever get to see Rosenthal’s work in one place. As for the scents, they can be had for about $500.
But I did warn you, tickets to fairy land don’t come cheap.