(image source unknown)
I’m late to the table with the Hiram Green line but I’m catching up in ‘binge watching’ style. I’m trying the four perfumes Green released over a four years span for his eponymous line, but I’m working in reverse, starting with 2016’s Dilettante.
I wrote to Green with some questions about his work and his responses give insight into his methods and his intent. He says he owned a small perfume shop in London, focussing on the nascent artisan perfume movement. Green shrugged off the naysayers who told him, “…that it was not possible to make entirely natural perfumes.” In 2016 there are more ways to learn natural perfumery: classes, workshops, publications and even a new emphasis on mentorship. But in the early ‘00s Green would have been left largely to his own initiative. His explanation for pursuing natural perfumery was simple, but his rationale is nuanced.
“… I found once I immersed myself into the world of natural fragrant materials that it took over and became a passion… There is both a simplicity and complexity that exists with many natural fragrant materials. They are not necessarily easy to work with and have some drawbacks. For example, perfume projection and staying power are often less then what most consumers are used to.”
Immersion and passion. But also perseverance. “It was about ten years of blending before I felt comfortable to introduce my first fragrance made from exclusively natural ingredients.“ Even knowing Green’s determination in pursuing his goals I’m struck by how focussed the line is. Green launched his brand with one perfume, Moon Bloom, and has since fleshed out the line with a new release each year. It’s a refreshing change to the insta-line shock-and-awe approach and suits Green’s somewhat late start in perfumery. “I still feel very much like a beginner. Maybe this feeling will never go away…. I am continually looking forward to the challenges of creating the next fragrance.”
The assumption behind many indie brands is that a well turned-out line should have a broad range of styles. This generally leads to slot-filling, an unfortunate and unsuccessful tactic. Green takes a different tack. His four perfumes might look similar on paper—resinous florals of one type or another—but they vary considerably. Moon Bloom is a narcotic floral portrait, Shangri-La is dark fruity-floral chypre, Voyage is a resinous vanillic-floral. Green uses floral notes to investigate traditional genres that are ‘natural’ at their core, such as the chypre (bergamot, labdanum, moss) and the amber/oriental (resin, spice, flower). The perfumes are coherent as a collection, but their differences are quite noticeable, especially when the perfumes are compared side-to-side. The four perfumes have a similar aesthetic, but not a shared set of notes, or a house accord. For a set of four floral perfumes, there is surprisingly little overlap among them and I can easily imagine the brand’s customer buying more than one perfume.
Dilettante struck me instantly as a shrewd feel-good perfume. The joy and pleasure are direct and instantaneous, but the heart and basenotes follow with meticulous attention to dynamics and have some unexpected changes. The combination of spontaneity and precision hints at a methodical but inspired approach to composition. Dilettante ostensibly creates an idealized orange tree: flower, fruit, leaves, twigs and all. If it were just a pretty, plein-air exercise, it might reinforce the ‘perfume-lite’ bias against natural perfumery. Fortunately, there’s more to it. The fruity, green and floral notes fly at you and the perfume is unabashedly lovely, but it rotates through a range of other tones. Honeyed, woody, smokey, astringent facets undergird the heartnotes. The sweaty orange blossom salts the honey and adds a measured gourmand touch that lasts through the drydown.
Dilettante creates a very particular olfactory image (hallucination?) each time I wear it. It has the earthy/floral aroma of masa, the alkalized corn used to make sopes and tortillas. Fresh masa smells surprisingly floral, sweaty and honeyed in the same way that Dilettante does. This vegetal-floral tone enhances the animalism of the resinous base. Less animal ass than sweaty human neck. The far drydown of Dilettante is notable for two things. The first, that it exists at all. Few natural perfumes have the endurance to survive 12+ hours. The second is complexity. Dilettante’s honeyed drydown is as intricate as its singing topnotes but is richer and deeper.
(image, Blond Nude with Orange, Blue Couch, 1925. John French Sloan.
Green seems unwilling to claim the title of artist, which I don’t imagine is false modesty, simply a way of side-stepping the circular discussion of what is art and who is an artist.
“I shy away from calling my fragrances works of art. There are too many perfume brands today claiming to have created works of art. In truth, just like me, they are creating commercial products for people to buy.”
I’ll stick my neck out and say that this work, which explores concepts and materials, takes an aesthetic standpoint and reflects a coherent set of ideas, is art. I’d recommend the Hiram Green line for anyone interested in natural perfumes. More to the point, I’d recommend it to anyone simply looking for first-rate perfumery.