Friday, February 24, 2012
Honey, I Stunk the Kids: Byredo M/Mink
Even among the fragrances I love, there are those I put on once in a while and like a little less than I usually do, but Byredo M/Mink never fails to to satisfy. It took me about six months to a year after I first heard about it to get my hands on some, and I expected to be disappointed, or at least only mildly enthused. I wasn't prepared to admire it as much as I do, but the reaction was instantaneously favorable. M/Mink pushes all the right buttons for me.
A wonderfully strange mix of honey, incense, and aldehydes, M/Mink is one of those fragrances people on the perfume forums warn you to give time to mellow out on your skin. They complain about the top notes and advise patience, promising a more bearable result as your reward. I've never really understood this line of thought, because generally when I like a fragrance two hours later I liked it two hours before. M/Mink, especially, smells pretty linear to me. And in fact that first spritz is maybe the best part of all, if only because it never fails to give me a little shock of pleasure.
Honey I guess is a love/hate element in perfume. The most legendary use that comes to mind, or at least the most polarizing, is in Serge Lutens' now discontinued Miel de Bois, where the stuff is so overloaded you feel you've wandered into a neglected public restroom. More recently, honey was used more subtly in Aromatics Elixir Perfumer's Reserve, its acrid bitterness made plush by jasmine, rose, and orange blossom. Honey, or something like it, was a staple in a lot of the 80s fragrances I love - Ted Lapidus Creation, YSL Kouros, Rumba, and Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle come to mind, though not all of them list it - often mixed with so much tuberose that where one begins and the other ends is anyone's guess.
M/Mink has an entirely different approach. Rather than emphasize honey's drippy, dense qualities, it shoots it through with aldehydes. Givaudin describes Adoxal, the aldehyde listed in M/Mink's published pyramid, as "fresh, marine, powerful, floral," adding that it blends well with floral notes but, more to the point here, "can also be seen as having a typical 'fresh linen' odour which makes it very useful for detergent perfumes."
I would call M/Mink minimalistic. Others have called it unfinished. But it's only unfinished to me in the way an Agnes Martin painting would be. That fresh linen quality, contrasted with honey and frankincense, registers alternately as animalic and inky, justifying the name. There's something like hot steam and iron in M/Mink. It's both balsamic and breezy, unwashed and clean. Only a minimalistic composition, a bold juxtaposition, could achieve such a strange but harmonious contrast, by turns stark and full bodied. An underlying waxiness is maybe the best part to me, because it somehow seems incompatible with the overall blend, and yet right at home.
It's harder and harder to achieve such startling, or refreshing, results in modern perfumery. Most perfumes seem trapped in the losing battle to recreate the big picture past of classic perfumery with increasingly thinned out materials meant to mimic the opulence of the things they replace. M/Mink does an about face, showing I think that the road ahead might be less, artfully judged, rather than more, artlessly combined.
(Pictured above: an untitled painting by Agnes Martin, circa 1997)