Perfumer Hiram Green
A justifiable complaint against much of natural perfumery is that the compositions can be muddied and vague. Blending botanicals, even when using isolates, can be tricky. Compositions with a limited number of components keep the materials’ personalities front and and center but don’t compel them reveal anything new. When too many materials are used the composition loses precision and an important range of dynamics. Some botanical pairings have an inherent synergy and create appealing accords, most of which have been well explored in aromatherapy. They rise to a certain level of prettiness but don’t often have the dynamic olfactory range or abstraction of perfumery.
In the hands of most perfumers botanical work is the folk music of perfumery. It’s better with fewer performers. No how many additional acoustic guitars and voices (or essential oils) you add to the chorus, the ideal tops out at a small number and actually loses something when more is added. Mandy Aftel, whose perfumes are my source material for learning about natural perfumery (hell, why not start at the top?) is the exception that proves the rule. Her perfumes manage to juggle focus and complexity smartly.
Another exception is Hiram Green. If botanical perfumery is folk music, Green is Dylan-gone-electric. There is none of the indeterminacy of so much botanical work. Blend is not blur and Arbolé Arbolé shows the value of using multiple materials from the same category—IF you can keep them from crossing paths.
I tend not to go very far into a discussion of notes and materials, but it’s appropriate in this case for two reasons: 1) Though I assume isolates, fractions and other botanically derived substances are used, when Green mentions patchouli, sandalwood and cedar at his site, I believe he means the actual botanicals. 2) The materials are identifiable to the nose but work together to make novel olfactory shapes.
Green allows his materials to overlap, but not to run onto each other. Though all are considered woody materials patchouli, cedar and sandalwood have very different profiles. In Arbolé Arbolé the woods are mediated by vanillic tones, from the heliotrope/puttied-almond range to the sweet-hay scent of coumarin. Patchouli, technically a grass, has cool, earthy qualities and lends Arbolé Arbolé a definitive green hue. Likewise, sandalwood covers a lot of ground. Its resinous dusty qualities become a matte powder when joined with the almondy vanilla. Cedar has a harder silhouette than patchouli and sandalwood. It gives the perfume backbone and stability. The astringency of cedar latches onto the yogurty facet of sandalwood and gives the perfume a firm tartness, as if it has a twist of some imaginary citrus fruit. Together, the woods form apparently simple shapes that belie complex olfactory patterns. Medicinal. Waxy. Powdered. Acidic. Honeyed. Rubbery. Lipsticky. It has a similarly cozy, dissonant effect as Molinard Habanita, with scents-textures a fraction of an inch from contradicting each other. The woods form a braid, making a pattern together, but keeping separate tracks from start to finish.
Green borrows the title of Spanish poet/playright Federico García Lorca’s poem Arbolé Arbolé and the comparison is fitting. Lorca’s surrealism was grounded in the symbolic nature of his vocabulary. He gave great significance to simple acts and objects. Green’s use of materials carries a weighted feel, as if they too are somehow loaded. I mentioned the complaint against botanical perfumery that it can produce hazy perfumes that lack a center. I should balance that with another legitimate complaint, this time against synthetic perfumery. Over-reliance on aromachemicals initially used as adjuncts to woody materials has lead to the opposite problem. Cheap, easily accessible foghorns like Norlimbanol, Kephalis, Cedramber and Ambroxan have made woody perfumes synonymous with headaches and hangovers. To find a definitively woody perfume without these unsettling characteristics is a pleasure.
A test of natural perfumes is to evaluate them without the word “natural.” Taken as a perfume of any kind, Arbolé Arbolé is inventive and extremely engaging. Here Green does to woods what he did with flowers in the first perfume in his line, Moon Bloom. He takes the definitive members of an olfactory genres, in Moon Bloom’s case white florals, and coaxes a varied chorus out if them. Moon Bloom focussed more on harmony and smoothness. Arbolé Arbolé leans into contrasts with purpose and seems more assured. Just three to four years after the launch of the line, Arbolé Arbolé is the work of a more mature artist. The way Green manages differences in his chosen materials and doesn’t smooth over interesting olfactory collisions tells me that he’s deliberately challenging himself. And succeeding.
Sampled from a bottle I purchased.
(Image, vintage post card.)