Slumberhouse perfumer Josh Lobb has said that he doesn’t work with topnotes. Most of his perfumes smell layered, as if materials with similar consistencies or densities were creating a ‘wall of scent.’ Materials meet each other head to head on a level playing field. The democracy of materials urges you to find your own understanding of the perfumes without being steered along a particular course. By contrast, a traditional top/heart/base has a momentum that guides your attention more explicitly. If you favor traditional perfume, Sova might seem as if it lacks movement. On the other hand, if you prefer the ‘wall of scent’ approach, a traditional pyramidal structure could seem programatic, like a theme-park ride that, for all its thrills and drama, is still a passive experience.
I have no horse in this race and think that both approaches can be effective. The issue is how successfully a perfume accomplishes its goals. Sova is an excellent example of Lobb’s method. It has no topnotes per se and questions the premise that a perfume without a top-to-bottom structure is “linear”, that is to say, static. By asking the wearer to participate in order to make sense of the perfume, Lobb’s perfumes tip the balance from observation to interpretation. The perfume is less an artifact and more the entry point to an adventure.
Sova appears gourmand at first sniff and aromas come into focus as flavors. The herbal moistness of tobacco and hay. A bitter honeycomb made from hops and clover. Cold/hot spices like clove and allspice.
If I try to chase down the specific gourmand facets, they take me somewhere vaguely inedible–woods, bitter herbs, resins. Sova’s imagery is elusive if you squint too hard to bring it into focus. To paraphrase a new age expression that used to make me apoplectic, Let Go and Let Sova. The imagery works best as a gestalt, not zooming in on the flavors, but the picture that the flavors suggest. I have a sample of the discontinued Slumberhouse Baque (also 2012), which has a similar profile to Sova. The similarity of aromas is there, but Sova suggests baked goods while Baque suggests booze.
Lobb riffs on an approach that Christopher Sheldrake honed to precision in woody Serge Lutens perfumes like Arabie, Chergui and Five O’Clock au Gingembre. Framing woods with resins and spices brings out roasted tones. Sova is far less sweet than these Lutens though, as if Lobb paraphrased the Godfather cannoli meme: Leave the syrup. Take the woods.
Sova reminds me of the most delicious part of gingerbread, the scorched edges where sweetness gives way to smokiness. Lutens might have built a gingerbread house. Slumberhouse burns it down.
(image from pandawhale.com)