Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Gentleman is a Hep Cat - Annette Neuffer's "Hepster"

Cab Calloway | Source:

"Your sound is beautiful - dark and warm," Wynton Marsalis said of Annette Neuffer's trumpet playing. Neuffer is not only an accomplished jazz musician and singer, but also a perfumer. As is typical of the indie scene that has emerged through the possibilities of web-based marketing, she is self-taught, having developed her art from a deep interest in commercial fragrances that lead her onto the path of experimentation and ultimately natural perfumery - less from any dogmatic stance, than from increasingly losing interest in working with synthetics. She has cultivated an impressive portfolio of fragrances at this point and "dark and warm" seem characteristic of her travels in scent as much as in sound - there is a certain emphasis on orientals featuring the deep balsamic, resinous materials of that genre blended with luciously warm florals, spices, as well as gourmandy notes: Arabica, Maroquin, Mellis, the duo of scents under the heading per fumum and the quartet dedicated to Avicenna, the great Persian scholar, as well as several others speak of her fascination with the Middle Eastern roots of perfumery. But her 2016 release Hepster walks a different, greener path.When I asked her about the background of this composition Annette explained that when she started making perfumes, she was doing so mainly for herself and was also lacking male guinea pigs as her significant other doesn't dig fragrance (WHAT???). Now that her line is in the world she realized she didn't have an explicit masculine (with the exception of "For Him" specifically created for a friend) and when she came across a high quality supergreen mastix absolute the idea for Hepster was born.
If you liked the black metal of Josh Lobb's Norne, you must try this sophisticated jazz bottled by Annette Neuffer | Source:

Hepster was a term coined by Cab Calloway in naming his ca. 1938 Hepster's Dictionary of the slang used among the black jazz musicians of Harlem, who were hep cats and hip to the jive (this vocabulary was adopted in various parts by the post-war Beats, Hippies - dig? - Funksters and ultimately Hip Hoppers - "yo, break it up"). So, the name suggests this is a fragrance for cool cats who "creep out like the shadow," i.e. come on in a suave, sophisticated manner and as you can see in the above photo, a hep cat like Mr. Calloway wasn't always running around in a flamboyant zoot suit but also came across as quite the dapper gentleman, when he pleased. I am not someone deeply immersed in the world of jazz (that would have been my Dad), but its imagined smell, to me, is one of the thick air of night clubs, suffused by cigarettes, perfume and alcohol. Hepster, on the other hand, very much stands in the dignified tradition of English and Italian gentlemen's scents of the aromatic chypresque kind featuring citrus notes, herbs, a touch of florals, green notes and a "dark and warm" woody-spicy-resinous base. When I was grasping for analogies while trying to figure out this beautiful creation I thought of Blenheim Bouquet or Crown Perfumery's Town & Country with their straightforward citrus-herb-pine axis. But Neuffer's composition is far more complex and dense and the use of mint, pepper, juniper, nutmeg and balsamic materials inevitably reminded me of Lorenzo Villoresi's mid-90s italo-orientals such as Piper Nigrum and Spezie. "Blenheim Bouquet reformulated by Villoresi" became my shorthand attempt at contextualizing Hepster - but not to be misunderstood, this is a fully, indeed highly original work (because, for one, Lorenzo never did try his hand at a Blenheim). And there is quite some jazz in it, after all.

Hepster comes on with a burst of sax, trumpet and drums. The citrus accord is green and complex - it is not, thankfully, the clear and smooth smell of organic bathroom cleaner or washing up liquid - the dreaded lemon pledge effect! Rather, it has a textured surface resulting from the complexity of bergamot and lime and the impact of herbaceous notes - the gravelly juniper and nutmeg, the judiciously employed mint, that adds edge, but never becomes blatant here, and the ethereal treble of black pepper. And then there's a lifted, transparent vibrancy and gently animalic quality running through this which reminded me of the brilliant effect of genuine civet in classic fragrances - is it the magic of the hyraceum? Alas, this is the kind of masterful citrus complexity that characterized miracles such as the beautiful Signoricci II (vintage), delivering the olfactory equivalent of Arabic calligraphy behind the purported simplicity of a citric-fresh cologne. Such intricacy is what makes a fragrance gentlemanly: a refined, unobtrusive elegance that never vulgarly displays and yet ineluctably suggests a deep structure of erudition, integrity, sincerity. It is the complexity of technical mastery hidden behind the deeply moving rendition of a plaintive melody performed with seeming ease.  And it doesn't end there. Very soon you are met by the heart notes and the balsamic base that provides, literally, a well-contoured body to the opening accords, adding further depth, and which corresponds beautifully to the warmth of one's own body (this is a great scent to apply while one is still steaming from the shower, the naturals just really come alive). 
Mastic Trees on Chios, Greece | Source:

The green character of Hepster announced by citrus and herbs is confirmed by mastic and pine, which provide a decidely Mediterranean flair and add a refreshing boldness to the refinement ofthe topnotes. I only know mastic tears from Greek cuisine and have never smelled the absolute, but imagine it to be a very deep, balsamic green on its own that here blends wonderfully with the woody-green pine note (which features a new material from Robertet, Bois de Landes). The floral notes - iris, néroli and rose geranium - are masterfully tucked into the heart to envelop the powerful greens in soft creaminess, a wonderful example of harmonic contrast that the old English gent's scents used to pull off so well. At this point I wish Hepster would just continue forever, but then, it is what it is because it is a natural perfume. Only synthetic modulators and fixatives could extend this pleasure and I wouldn't want to pay the price of altering what is an aesthetically complete experience. My skin doesn't hold fragrance too well, but I do get a good ninety minutes of this phase, before it begins calming into a gentle ballad performed at the late-night bar by a laid-back jazz quartet. What you have for the next five to six hours is a calm, green woody-balsamic skin scent that makes you want to sniff yourself constantly. It's ultra-classic: incense, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, oakmoss and hyraceum (with the green notes lingering on), but I cannot emphasize strongly enough the difference between a blend of these actual ingredients and a scent pyramid that lists them to describe ambroxan, santalol, iso-e-super and other synthetics. While these have their place in perfumery within limits, an all natural base accord is something very beautiful and special, all the more when it's so well crafted, and everyone should get to smell it as some point in their olfactory voyage. Nothing sticks out here in a coarse manner, it is a smooth pleasure cruise into the Aegean sunset. Speaking of which: if I wanted to match this perfume with a person, it would have to be Patrick Leigh Fermor, the brilliant Anglo-Irish gentleman-adventurer who travelled this part of the world so extensively and wrote so beautifully about it. He embodied and old world education and refinement that yet was cosmopolitan and eager to search out and engage with new places and people and this spirit of tradition and open-minded curiosity, the encounter of northern and south-eastern Europe no less characterizes the beautiful Hepster.

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