You don’t see too many fur coats on the streets in New York these days. I have to say I’m glad having always been happier with fur on the original animal than on humans, but I’m not quite of the same mind on the subject of animalic notes in perfume.
They seem to be making something of a comeback in the world of niche and natural perfumes and I’m happy about this development. Some of the newer animalic ingredients are not cruel- ones derived from goat hair for instance or sea shells, or are botanicals like angelica, cumin or helichrysum which smell furry or musky but are actually plant derived.
Jean Claude Ellena in The Diary of a Nose, pointed out that the old animalics had been produced by some African tribes and that the banning of them had increased the tribes’ poverty. This may well be so, and it is also true that the man made animalic notes often don’t have the same resonance in the nose. They can be harsh, and in the case of some musk molecules, tiresomely familiar- to the point of being cliches.
I myself would like to see the return of the animalic fragrance and wonder how it could best be integrated into today’s world? After all a person isn’t a ferret-well usually not unless you find yourself working overtime for them unpaid- and can’t be made to smell just like one. Literal interpretations are therefore out.
In the older generation of animalic perfume such as Bal a Versailles, the layers of leather over civet and woods produced an effect of warmth, and a flowery humanity. The perfume was a scent for a woman and not a fairy princess. Old Bal a Versailles was like smelling the whole woman if you hugged her: her fur, her skin, her hair and the flowers she had in her corsage, the soap she’d used that morning. Bal a Versailles was the universe of a woman. As the French would say, Bal was a “Histoire de Femme”. These days the perfumer might want to create the whole person, and the musks and skins scents would have their place in the composition.
Mandy Aftel does this sort of fragrance very well in such perfumes as Secret Garden, or even more strikingly, Cuir de Gardenia, both of which celebrate the complex human, both the animal and the cerebral sides.
. Vero Kern’s Onda ( for my sample I’m indebted to Vanessa of Bonkers about Perfume) is so animalic by contrast, that I cannot look at it any other way. I’m assuming that the Onda in question is edp and is mostly vetiver, nutmeg, coriander and ginger. Oddly I catch almost no ginger, normally a strong presence, though the other notes and in particular the vetiver, are definite. This is an animalic made up of plant parts like some sort of Archimoboldo painting of a creature. Vetiver, ginger and nutmeg weave together to produce a facsimile of furriness. Do wild boars smell like this? The combination takes a long time to curl up on skin. I like the hairy underside of Vetiver, and in fact wear the rubbery, root hairs and all de Nicolai Vetyver, but Onda ups the magnification till vetiver and coriander are all you smell here. Onda is original but strikes me as having more of a future as a base than as a separate perfume.
In general this seems to be the sticking point about animalics: they are hard to dose. Given half a chance a tiny amount in a batch of macerating perfume seems to multiply through a formula as though it were a micro organism and not an ingredient. I noticed this effect in Charna Ethier’s Samarinda for Providence Perfumes, and again in Shelley Waddington’s Makeda, but they are learning all the time and soon there will be a new perfume with all the lasting power of Bal, and all the impact of Joy. I will be wanting my olfactory fur coat by then.