The Ominous Valentine



Strange to say, especially ahead of Valentine’s Day, I am not a chocoholic.  That craving is so widespread that it is hardly worth asking people if they like chocolate any more-almost everybody does.

I can take or leave most chocolate, however one place where I do actually like the component is in perfume, partially because chocolate introduces heavy notes so well, and brings floral formulas back to earth.  Some chocolate notes go further still becoming the harbingers of shadowy exoticism, even the macabre.  One of my recent purchases celebrates the chocolate note in  just such a sinister way.Neil Morris’ Rose of Kali is largely an oriental perfume. The chocolate he uses is a good bitter chocolate, only marginally sweet and introduces the roses beatifully.  If you have ever bought  small tins of chocolate nibs and stuck your nose into them, this is what Rose of Kali reminds you of-at first.

The beginning of this chocolate and rose perfume is supposed to smell of pear, and perhaps does but although I have worn RoK for a couple of months, I seldom pick up on the pear.  Rather what I find is that the top and the heart of this fragrance are full of roses.  The roses are at first soft, lighter red, and have a few leaves with them.  Perhaps this is the pear, and then the chocolate re-enters the fragrance bringing even more roses, like an absent minded lover.

220px-Marlowe-Portrait-1585The heart of rose of Kali is pure red rose, it is one of the best rose soliflores I know. That probably sounds curious because this is not technically a rose soliflore, but at the core, RoK feels like one, centering on a rose so intensely crimson that the scent’s best rivaled by Une Rose the monster red bloom from the Federic Malle line with Karanal vibrating at its velvet center. Here the Karanol is unnecessary, bitter chocolate performs the same function..

When I think of this perfume I can’t think of India, nor yet of Kali, I think of Christopher Marlowe, which is odd since Elizabethan England did not consume chocolate yet. There are so many shades of red in this fragrance running the gamut from flame to a dried blood brown and were so many in that doomed playwright’s life, all the way from his finances to his end, that Christopher Marlowe’s career was steeped in the color, a study in crimson, if not scarlet just like Rose of Kali.  Anyone who has seen “Shakespeare in Love” has gotten a garbled version of Marlowe’s end at a tavern in Deptford, in a fight reputedly over “the reckoning” meaning the bill. It has never been clear if Marlowe was in fact murdered, or for what reasons.

He may have been an agent in the service of Elizabeth I’s spymaster Walsingham, but what poetry he wrote, and how he inspired his contemporary Shakespeare!

Elizabethan embroidery from pinterest

Elizabethan embroidery from pinterest

It’s this fitfully lit world of Elizabethan England that Rose of Kali reminds me of, a darkness long forgotten in our overly illuminated times. The crimson background of the perfume is  slashed with a gray green herbal note, over a very dark velvety doublet of labdanum and patchouli,  embroidered with agarwood, myrrh, incense and benzoin.This complex trail is handled with unusual delicacy making Rose of Kali one of the most intricate pieces of perfumery I’ve smelled in a while, particularly at its final evaporation.

What is the transition between all this darkness and all the lavish blood red rosiness of the heart?  Why chocolate of course, because chocolate can be just as sinister as you like and here Neil Morris had the good sense to let familiar Theobroma cacao do all the work of connecting the world of perception and the world of memory.  I love to wear this stuff eat chocolate, and drink  a fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon.  Maybe that’s what we’ll do this Valentine’s Day, while watching Dr, Faustus!

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6 thoughts on “The Ominous Valentine

  1. You make Rose of Kali sound very tempting. I’ll think of it when I watch “Wolf Hall” unfolding, blood red and fateful.

  2. Oh there you go! Wolf Hall would be a perfect scent to go along with Rose of Kali.
    I hadn’t thought of it but it’s exactly right 🙂

  3. Well, Blacknall Allen, I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful review of my Rose Of Kali! Your superb writing is as transporting as I intend my perfumes to be! After reading this I decided that my SoE is going to be RoK. I summoned this perfume from a memory of a trip to India I took way back in the late 70’s. I came across a shrine to the Goddess Kali, complete with pungently fragrant red roses, incense and a sweet , dark note I couldn’t identify but smelled a lot like burning chocolate. But I can also respect your Elizabethan England point. I can totally see that connection! So, much gratitude once again!


    1. No doubt if I’d been to India, which is a privilege I’ve yet to enjoy, I would get the olfactory allusion. But funnily enough this does just make me think of Elizabethan London. I guess that is a pretty good time and place to think about!

      P.S. I’m wearing it tonight and it’s gorgeous.

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