Vero Profumo Naja, 2017

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Perfumer Vero Kern.

If you want to get to the bottom of one of Vero Kern’s perfumes, look for the conflict. Then get ready for a ride because the resolutions are action-packed. And here’s a hint: look at the flowers.

As others have noted, Kern’s approach to perfumery is fundamentally French. It’s less apparent in the style of her perfumes than it is in the method of composition and the way she addresses her materials. Take her flowers: Mito’s counterbalance of sultry white and fresh green florals catch a precise moment of Spring. Rubj’s ferocious white bouquet shocks and Kiki’s intricate lavender seduces. Kern’s technique is equally delicate and demanding and the results are dramatic, almost theatrical.

I suspect there’s more to Naja’s flowers than simply osmanthus and linden, but this unorthodox pairing is the soul of the perfume and Kern has set herself a terrific challenge. Linden blossom and osmanthus have little in common and there’s no simple way to reconcile them. This is Naja’s conflict. If there is a snake to be found in this perfume, it’s coiled at the center of this odd bouquet, ready to strike.

Linden blossom maps out a large sweaty terrain of moist hay, brined citrus and smudged wax. The aroma has weight and momentum and feels as if it is perpetually spilling outside its boundaries. It smells like cut grass, pickles and honeycomb. It is the scent of a roll in the hay.

Osmanthus on the other hand is all chiffon and poise. It is the scent of a pastel echo. Rosy, peachy, daydreamy. Osmanthus is no less vital than linden blossom but it has cool, subtle facets. It presents itself in three-quarter profile with a blushed cheek and eyes averted.

Putting the two together should land somewhere between a bad-fitting suit and car crash, but Kern uses the incongruity of the two flowers to her advantage. Their dissimilarity creates a broad palette of olfactory tones and allows for curious connections of notes. Linden blossom’s hay note runs parallel to tobacco and osmanthus’s delicate sweetness leans toward suede, two important elements of Naja. The combination of linden’s salty flavor and osmanthus’s sweet rosewater open a side door to a range of fruity tones from lime to melon to apricot. It’s a big wet kiss of a perfume—it can be a little dizzying, in fact—but there’s nothing extraneous. It is the concise middle ground between passion and logic.

There has been a lot of discussion about Kern’s vintage references. How Naja begs comparison to Molinard Habanita and Caron Tabac Blond. Kern is confident in her work and I don’t think she shies away from these discussions, but I have a slightly different view of their meaning. There has been a trend, largely stemming from the artisanal perfume movement, toward reinventing older genres, the chypre and the fougère in particular. The impetus seems to be the resurrection of styles that have been damaged by restrictions on materials. The longing that fuels the trend can sometimes make it sentimental. It certainly makes it conservative.

I don’t think that this is what Kern is doing.

I’ve worn quite a few vintage Guerlain and Dior perfumes recently. I imagined it as zero-balancing my nose and reacquainting myself with my baseline. Alternating Naja with Diorella and Diorissimo, Vol de Nuit and Jicky I’m struck by how fundamentally modern Naja is. Classicism and nostalgia are completely different impulses, and Naja isn’t nostalgic in the least. Despite historical references, Kern seems quite comfortable in 2017 and isn’t gazing dreamily to the past.

Kern is an unabashed classicist and her line reflects her understanding of historical French perfumery. Naja represents Kern’s re-examining of her motivations and principles. It marks 10 years since she launched her line and has been in the works for a couple of years. The perfume’s inherent tension creates both clear lines and undercurrents that give it a sense of modernity and mystery. It feels significant. Kern’s perfumes entertain complicated notions of beauty and are the furthest thing from ‘feel good’ fragrances. Rather, they inspire great feeling. They are meant to please, but even more so I think they are intended to intrigue.

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A note: My bottle of Naja was given to me by Vero. There’s reason to be suspicious of the quid-pro-quo of perfume writers requesting or even insisting on products from perfumers. But it’s important to note that my writing isn’t very widely seen and Vero would have little to gain from a favorable review from me.

I’d also like to give some context. Others have noted Vero’s savvy online presence—-a part of the marketing of her brand. What might be missed, though, is how much she digs the discussion. Vero and I have had an ongoing conversation about perfume and art for the past few years. Not PR—-a discussion between two people. I recognize how fortunate I am to have relationship with an artist I admire and I value both the discussion and the friendship that has grown out of it.

(image source unknown)

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8 Comments

  1. MaggieToo says:

    I recently saw this Nabokov quote in a signature line on Basenotes. Replace “work of fiction” with “perfume” and it illustrates for me the breadth of artistic gaze you always bring to your exploration of fragrances. It’s a broad view that I very much appreciate in all your writing; you always manage to tilt my outlook a bit when I read your reviews.

    “For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.” — Vladimir Nabokov

    1. jtd says:

      Tilting toward aesthetic bliss might be my new life’s goal. Thanks for bringing this Nabokov quotation to my attention. The notion of art as a norm is inspiring.

  2. bgirlrhapsody says:

    My bottle is scheduled to arrive in exactly 11 minutes. This is quite possibly the best prep I could have hoped for. <3

    1. jtd says:

      Oooohh… that excitement of the first sniff! Interested to see what you think.

  3. cookie queen says:

    Excellent piece. 🐍❤️

    1. jtd says:

      Thanks, CQ. ✌️

  4. rprichpot says:

    Fabulous writing, as always. I really love and admire your reviews. I will need to sample this one.

    1. jtd says:

      Thanks for reading. If you get the chance, give Naja a try. It’s fascinating.

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