Humiecki & Graef Blask, 2011

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Perfumers Christoph Hornetz and Christophe Laudamiel.

Blask is a perfume about trust, or so Humiecki & Graef tell us. I tried Blask ‘blind’. I knew nothing about the notes, nothing about the concept. ‘Trust’ became an issue straight away. Blask leads with a set of olfactory premises that are far from the norm and require trust, if not a bit of faith.

It’s often said of an unsuccessful perfume that it “falls apart.” The topnotes provide a coherent image and create a sense of anticipation that falls away as the perfume isn’t able to live up to the expectation that it put forward. Topnotes are meant to give an introduction to a perfume–an impression of what your next 8-12 hours have in store. Traditional and contemporary perfumery differ in method and even in intention, but each is fundamentally a presentational form. The first spritz is the reveal, like the curtain rising on a stage. The perfume will change over time, but the opening frames it and gives you the information you need to start to make sense of it.

If the wearer’s expectations and labels don’t match those of the perfumer, the challenge for the wearer is to reframe the perfume. Christoph Hornetz and Christophe Laudamiel give ample opportunity frame and reframe Blask. If fact, if you don’t rethink the perfume as it develops, you’ll get left behind.

Blask is a potently imagistic perfume. It moves back and forth from abstraction to depiction. The images are initially blatantly evocative, then less fixed, then specific again. The topnotes have such a jarring sense of freshness-covering-foulness that it gives me a whiplash of incongruous images:

  • Mint gum covering sulfurous bad breath.
  • The scent of carpet cleanser (volatile, plasticky chemicals combined with a jarring masking fragrance) sprayed where the dog has just shit on the carpet.
  • The imagined scent of those freakish restaurant displays that attempt to stop time by vacuum-sealing whole plates of food in a dense, clear plastic. Visually at peak freshness, conceptually nighmarish.

In a traditional fragrance, as the topnotes fade away the heartnotes are revealed. They’ve been there all along, but your attention has been misdirected in the way a magician distracts you from what’s happening right under your nose. Blask skips the magic. The heartnotes, for want of a better term, are the second act of the play with an entirely new set and decor. The clean/dirty dichotomy is nowhere to be found and Blask has a lived-in quality that smells like the imagined middle ground between incense and red wine dregs. I feel like someone who applied a different perfume at the start of the day has just stepped into my shoes and I’m picking up the perfume’s monologue mid-stream. I catch myself, as if I’ve tuned out during a conversation and listen closely to piece together what I’ve missed.

The scent-scape of Act II is completely different than the surreal first act. It’s an olfactory image of last night’s dinner: A nearly empty red wine glass. The matte woody feel of a cutting board that’s drying after cutting some fresh herb or another. A box of unburned incense sitting close by the stove. Like the first, the second act is a fiction, but a more comforting and recognizable one.

The shift from the middle of the perfume to its long-lasting drydown is nothing like the theatrical black-out that signals the change between acts. The wine gradually fades and the herbal wood grows soapy and cool. The slow pace of the changes fosters contemplation. It gives an appropriate ending to a perfume that’s made you question your own perceptions.

Blask defies both traditional top/heart/base and linear constructions and, despite references to images that would typically be disagreeable, is unexpectedly pleasing to wear. It smiles happily at you while it gives you the middle finger, urging you let go of expectation and enjoy the ride. It makes you work for your pleasure but the pay-off is both a satisfaction and an understanding of perfume’s potential reshape your assumptions. Wearing it isn’t so much confusing as absurd, like hearing a dog speak to you. If trust is the premise of Blask, the question it asks specifically is can you trust your own senses?

(image by Joe Sartore)

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