Imaginary Authors A City on Fire, 2014

 (Image Jack Crossing)

Perfumer Josh Meyer’s Imaginary Authors line works with perfume genres in the same way that it does literary ones. Each perfume in the line is presented as the fragrance of a story. The synopses of the stories range from tongue-in-cheek to torrid pulp and create a preface to the perfumes. The perfumes themselves are framed by genre in the same way that back-cover summaries depict the novels. Bull’s Blood is a Hemingway send-up and a patchouli-rose. The Soft Lawn is a green fragrance that reimagines René Lacoste as a sympathetic East Coast WASP. The noir tone of A City on Fire’s imaginary graphic novel is wonderfully stagey and evocative and sets a tone of tragedy, romance, struggle and bleakness. The term ‘work of fiction’ implies a type of prose such as a novel or a short story. The Imaginary Authors line explodes the expression, making all aspect of the experience, from the author, to the plot to the concept of narrative itself an ongoing fiction.

True to the “fire” in its title, A City in Fire is smoky and resinous, but it is less mayhem than a meditation. Aromatic tones suggest a night air laced with wood smoke and resins—more a temple on a mountainside than urban arson. The notion of an evergreen is dissected and reconfigured. To paraphrase the line itself, juniper is reimagined. The fragrance easily sidesteps the murkiness and clunkiness that many other perfumes loaded up with leather/wood/smoke descriptors have.

The perfume’s start is forceful, but from the heart through the base smoke take a backseat to the resins. Cade is the principal note cited, and cade essential oil has the spectacular quality that all junipers have of suggesting evergreen, sap, berries and woodsmoke simultaneously.  A City on Fire shares this all-at-once quality, tempering the burn with a bit of fruit that comes out as the topnotes extinguish themselves. I’ve read notes of berry, but there is a sweet/tart feel that reminds me of plum. Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais has the mirror image of this accord: big plum, little pine. The hint of fruit in A City on Fire is the is the seasoning that makes the perfume full rather than aggressive.

My problem with many of the dense, smoky perfume in fashion now is that they fall prey to the notion that if a thing smells good, then more of it will smell better. Proportion loses the fight to exaggeration. A powerful material is most easily appreciated with enough space around it to gauge its scale and Meyer clearly saw the trees and the forest both. City on Fire’s name might connote asphyxiation by smoke inhalation, but there’s nothing toxic in the experience of wearing it.

The camp of noir mystery is a bait and switch and the story turns from a Raymond Chandler thriller into a forest fairy tale full of magic trees and scented air. Rather than witnessing the work of a pyromaniac, I find myself in a forest on a warm night. The literary fantasy set a plot in motion, but the perfume made me the author of my own storyline.