Feu Secret is an exploration of orris, a tricky material to describe in notes. Combined with other components in a composition it has an olfactory range of that lands it squarely in the woody-floral category. Of course orris butter can also make a perfume powdery, metallic, papery, chocolatey or yeasty depending on the angle of approach so to speak. It fixes fragrant materials so that even highly volatile topnotes coast a little bit further into the heart of a perfume.
The woody floral genre has a long history of dowdiness. To most people it is the brown tweed suit of fragrance. Practical, sturdy, steady. Pedigreed but dull. Fazzolari updates the genre and reinvigorates it. He modulates a central iris/violet accord with an astringent cedarwood and an unexpected mix of herbs and aromatics. I struggle to identify the specific aromatic materials, but I recognize their properties. Warm, chilly, piquant, bitter. The hot and cold aromatics temper the orris. They divert the iris note from its anticipated trajectory and allow Feu Secret to break from the tradition of staid woody florals.
The topnotes lead with a papery, chilled iris. This cool characterization of iris is recognizable, but Feu Secret doesn’t follow a predictable course. Chanel 19’s acetone, Iris Silver Mist’s frozen carrot and Masque Milano l’Attesa’s cardboard all lean in this direction. Fazzolari’s twist is to play up the common ground of iris and violet notes, painting a spectrum from platinum violet leaf through cyanotic grey iris root to a pale mauve violet flower. In the heartnotes the frost thaws and releases a sweaty note reminiscent of both skin and dough. It’s a transitional olfactory image, but one that gives Feu Secret an intimate feel. By drydown the pairing of orris and cedar create a warm unctuousness similar to creamy sandalwood.
Secret Fire is a term borrowed from alchemy, an ancient practice that summons images of wizards feverishly trying to turn base materials into gold. But alchemy was in fact an organized system that attempted to reconcile the physical world and the unseen forces that acted on it. Think of it as chemistry with a dash of physics and a huge helping of magical thinking. Secret Fire was the much coveted ability of alchemists to harness a material’s hidden animating properties and transform it to their will. Alchemists famously chased a ‘universal solvent’ called Azoth that divided materials into their fundamental elements and allowed them to be manipulated by alchemists who possessed the Secret Fire.
Fazzolari’s universal solvent is orris butter. He uses it to reveal fundamental properties and break down the other materials into the classical elements of alchemy. Turmeric ignites and becomes fire. Eucalyptus is a cool plunge into water. Pink Pepper takes flight and dissolves into air while cedar’s roots clutch the soil and become earth. Fazzolari tames the elements and creates a perfume of measured contrasts. His perfumes have a thoughtful, deliberate quality, but Feu Secret gives a glimpse further. In the 21st century artists are the closest thing we have to alchemists and their secret fire is their ability to transform us with their work. Fazzolari reminds us, as the Gichtel painting above states: “L’Element du feu reside dans le coeur.” (The element fire lives in the heart.)
(image, Androgynous Azoth by by Johann Georg Gichtel [1638-1710] )
Sample provided by Bruno Fazzolari.