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)

10 comments:

Nina Z said...

Obviously I need to try this fragrance now, but what I really loved about this review was your conclusion, a spot-on analysis of the current state of perfumes:

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.

mals86 said...

WELL. You just ain't gonna let me get my pout on, will you, Brian?

Thanks for the reminder that leaving your head stuck in the past is unhealthy, and at the very least, promises dissatisfaction with the present.

I will say, though, that the future of perfumery bodes extremely ill for us floral lovers, with the thinning in particular of floral accords. You just can't build a good floral out of only aromachems, no matter how good the aromachems are. Everything at the mall seems so... shrieky... to me these days, and I can't imagine it getting any better. I'm not opposed to "modern, bold, stark" perfumes in theory - but they're not very much to my taste.

Is this adapt-or-die?

brian said...

Hey Mals. Believe me, I'm crying with you. It's a good thing my tastes vary wildly though because I agree, those modern florals are a sad sack bunch. Every time a blog starts raving about a new floral that works, by which I guess they mean it recaptures some of that...grandeur?...that you and I and others crave, I think, oh boy, methinks it's going to be screechy. The mall, I agree, is a pretty bewildering place these days.

I'm still curious about Plum, which I know you fancy.

brian said...

Thanks, Nina!

Perfumeshrine said...

It's the most idiosyncratic in the Byredo line, isn't it? The inky feel is what I get most myself.

Had to laugh at your line: "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."

Yeah, count me in as well :-)

brian said...

I think it is, perfumeshrine, yes. Many of their fragrances please me, and while the general lukewarm reception of Byredo isn't something I agree with, I do agree that M/Mink is like a bright light among their selection. There's really nothing like it.

For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me, with my sense of smell. Why was it that things just smell basically as good or as bad on me from first pray to dry down? Some do definitely fall apart, but nothing that wasn't barely interesting to begin with!

Katie Puckrik said...

I'm wearing M/Mink now, and after smelling it on and off over the past couple of years, today was the first time I tuned into the honey! Before then I was always gagging on what I smelled as "fruity bleach". But now I'm digging, not gagging, and it's my recognizing the honey that made the difference. I adore the perineal honey funk of Kouros and JPG Fleur du Male, as well. I keep pestering the Malle people to have Fred commission a honey perfume, because I think they'd do an amazing job.

Brian said...

Pester away. I'd get in line for some of that. I guess we're even, missing the honey. I was trying to describe what makes Fleur du Male a different sort of orange blossom to a friend a few weeks ago, and it never occurred to me, for some reason, that there's all that honey in it. Duh. I wonder what a Malle honeyed thing would smell like, and who would do it.

Katie Puckrik said...

Oh yeah...Fleur du Male's thick, sick honey. It has that same powdery hum Kouros does, to my nose. For the putative Malle honey fume, I'd nominate Dominique Ropion on the strength of his Une Fleur de Cassie nastiness. Of course, I swoon over his Portrait of a Lady, Carnal Flower and Geranium pour Homme. I think he's the man for the job.

Brian said...

He gets my vote.