Perfumery gets away with a lot. It can tell you quite a bit if you’re listening, but because it can’t be pinned down to any literal meaning, it appears entirely subjective. It’s the ongoing problem of scent and language. Because we can’t express clearly to others what we smell, we confuse the personal for the subjective. Scent doesn’t convey a repeatable, specific meaning in the way a visual image does. Show 10 people a photo of a cat, ask, “What is this?” and they’ll all answer either a cat or an image of a cat. Representation is easy with the visual. It gets harder with the olfactory. Wave a fragrant rose under 10 noses and ask the same question and you might get a majority of “Rose” answers. Try the same with perfume and who knows what the responses will be.
Vero Kern creates the tools to look a little closer. The three versions of her fragrances–extrait, voile d’extrait, eau de parfum–are not just different concentrations. They are different points of view. Kern states that the purpose of the voile d’extrait is to combine the potency and shape of the extrait with the lift and expansiveness of the edp. In investigating an idea over the course of three versions of the perfume, Kern does in one shot what Edmond Roudnitska did over his career with Eau Sauvage, Diorella and Parfum de Thérèse. Both perfumers explore an idea or set of principals over the course of a number of perfumes.
Branding is apparently a necessary evil, and Kern’s approach is both old-school and effective. Not the the marketing blunderbuss of Chanel or the LVMH subsidiaries. Not the dancing-as-fast-as-I-can dissembling of Creed PR. Not the bell-curve mediocrity you get when design and marketing are so close as to be indistinguishable (Maison Francis Kurkdjian). Vero Profumo’s strategy appears to be this: make a concise and well-edited line of exceptional products, package them beautifully, let the artist speak.
The three versions of her perfumes aren’t an attempt to gain a larger demographic foothold and they aren’t the product of focus group tinkering. They are the expression of fully explored creative concepts. Each model stands on its own, but smelling the different versions feels like an exploration. Perfumery tends to have a very limited view of the relationship of perfumes in a line. A line is formed by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks ( ie., serial releases) and then copying what does stick ( ie., flankers) Kern’s approach borrows from other art forms and, while each of her perfumes is a complete work, it can also be understood as an episode, a movement, an act, a part of a series or triptych.
.rozy highlights perfume’s capacity to explore aesthetics. Despite marketing that tells you that a perfume is ‘about’ yachting, privilege, hipness or cupcakes, or that a perfume will make you sexier, what perfume in fact offers is the chance to explore the world from a particular sensory angle. Kern’s work shines when it’s viewed conceptually. For all its complexity and density, .rozy has clarity and it wins me over for its beauty and its integrity. Kern doesn’t try to convince you, she offers you excellent perfume and asks you to consider it. No bullshit. No yachting, no promise of heightening my allure.
.rozy is thick with ideas. Large dynamic qualities sit next to subtleties. Acute angles and body-shaped curves intersect. While there are references (Knize Ten and Jean Desprez’s Bal à Versailles, Anna Magnani’s performance in The Rose Tatoo) they aren’t overstated. They are enhancements to your experience. The punctuation and spelling of the name tell you that rose is involved, but that it is a qualified rose, ‘not your mother’s’ rose. Rose is nested so far into leather notes that I only notice it out of the corner of my eye. Even the leather is a moving target, ranging from rubber to dust to honey. .rozy isn’t the expected woody, balsamic, syrupy or ambered rose. It’s hardly a rose perfume at all. It’s more of an Easter-egg hunt for the rose that you’re told is hidden somewhere. Expectation of a rose might take you into this perfume, but the leathery tar is what sticks to you. .rozy has a long arc over the course of a day, though. Where you first feel caught in a tar pit, by the end of the day you find yourself lounging in a honey pot. Were you captured? Did you choose to stay? Did you submit?
Were you seduced? I was.
.rozy is a serious perfume and requires backbone to wear. Wearing .rozy is like going to the ballet or the opera. Anyone can buy a ticket, but the audience who are taught the language and history of the form appreciates it differently. The same goes for .rozy. Anyone could wear it, but perfumists will just squeal over it.
(Image source unknown.)