The test of a feel-good perfume is versatility. Wear a light dose or douse yourself. Keep it at wrist distance or huff it like poppers. Warm weather, cold weather. Dress it up or go casual. The better feel-good fragrances hover closer to the center of a set of olfactory dynamics rather than at the extremes. It’s what makes them versatile and appealing over time. The question is how to make the middle ground interesting.
Amber perfumes have a pitfall: the resinous materials they’re built from smell really good. Labdanum, olibanum, tonka, vanilla and sandalwood are considered stand-alone perfumes. The risk, the trap really, is highlighting materials at the expense of composition. Old-school oriental perfumes avoided the hazard by making complex, larger than life scents. Unfortunately, their lavish style makes them a bit rococo for modern use and their orientalist origins weigh them down even more than their dense base notes do. The costume, play-acting cheesiness of orientalism can seem both mannered and childish to the contemporary sensibility. Modern indie amber perfumes have the opposite challenge. They run the same risk as the stoner amber oils of the hippy era from which they derive: oversimplification.
Fazzolari finds a balance point somewhere between the two positions and Ummagumma avoids chinoiserie at one end and oversimplification at the other. While it’s clear he looks closely at his materials—his palette—it seems that the materials don’t so much drive the composition as provide the medium for Fazzolari to illustrate an idea, in this case how to integrate the classic oriental and the indie amber.
Two examples: First, the way that the creamy, vanillic tones are nested deep in resins is old-school, but by avoiding the rest of the classic oriental’s luggage—the aromatic topnotes, the warm floral bouquet, the heavily accessorized style—Ummagumma taps into the richness of vintage orientals while easily side-stepping the melodrama. Second, the perfume’s chocolate is unmistakably gourmand and the note is a nod to the contemporary style of gourmand ambers, but there’s a twist. Many modern amber perfumes have discovered the easy link between dessert notes and resinous materials but relying on lazy combinations gives the perfumes a passive quality. The accords might be pleasant but they just lay there. Ummagumma builds a chain of associations and makes the chocolate more than a candy treat at the center of the perfume. Chocolate suggests cocoa, which in turn hints at powder. The bitter powder fuses with the sweet resins and an unexpected dry carnation note to give a hint of animalism that that makes it seem neither traditional nor trendy.
Ummagumma is new territory for Fazzolari. (sort of *) It’s a gourmand amber and it’s unlike anything else in his line. Most of Fazzolari’s perfumes play with their genres, often using volatile and aromatic topnotes to situate themselves in their genres and then fucking with your expectations once you start to get settled. Fazzolari is able to hold seeming contradictions in place without easy resolutions. He takes advantage of the vibrancy that come from contrasting dynamics, but leaves the debate open, giving the perfumes a touch of friction that makes them so interesting over time. Ummagumma stands between the classic oriental and the indie amber without conceding to either. It’s the sort of nuance that distinguishes Fazzolari’s work from many of his indie contemporaries and keeps me coming back to his perfumes.
* Ummagumma has definite ties to Cadavre Exquis, a perfume created by Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni. They used gourmand and resinous accords to create jarring effects. In tone, Cadavre Exquis is miles from the mellow Ummagumma. Comparing the two brings up a question for another day: What happens when you use a similar set of notes to express completely different ideas?
Fazzolari has made prints and posters that highlight color dynamics he senses in his perfumes. They bring attention to his synesthetic abilities. I’m uncertain precisely what the visual and olfactory images that he creates mean to him as a synesthete (part of the fun of viewing them), but for the perfume audience the visual images ride beside the perfumes more than they inform us about them. With Ummagumma’s print Fazzolari connects the visual and the olfactory differently. The images juxtapose abstract, geometric design with symbols that reference ’60s psychedelia. It has an image-within-image infinity view straight out of the cover of the Pink Floyd album from which it takes its name. An intentionally misleading hint at a hippy amber perfume? Looking at trippy ’60s imagery in the 21st century with a straight face is difficult, and it seems as though Fazzolari might agree. The print is beautiful and interesting to investigate, but keeps a distance from its source material. I look at and think with a laugh, ‘Deep Shit.”
But when I give it little more thought, you know what? It is deep shit. Recognizable symbolic images from a visual artist known largely for his abstraction? A strictly black-and-white color palette from a scent-color synesthete? I think Fazzolari is pushing his audience with his visual imagery in the same way he pushed the oriental/amber genre with his perfume.
Perfume samples and copy of Ummagumma print from Bruno Fazzolari.
top image: Reflections of the Past, Tom Hussey. below: Ummagumma, Bruno Fazzolari.