Sunday, 19 December 2010

We Three Kings: Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh - Gold

Three Kings Icon ©2010 Megan Ruisch

By most standards, the infant Jesus had a bit of a rough start in life, what between the lowly manger, the presence of assorted farm animals in his straw-carpeted nursery, and the constant nagging fear of becoming the next cot death statistic at the hands of Herod. But on the other hand, he did receive some excellent presents. For the three wise men who came to pay homage to this very special baby brought exotic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are more imaginative choices than the usual suspects of a Beatrix Potter mug, a silver spoon or an educational mobile. And they are all gifts that you would be happy to receive at any age, well, speaking for the perfumistas amongst us, anyway.

And so it came to pass that Krista of Scent of The Day and Joanne from Redolent of Spices invited a number of their fellow bloggers to review perfumes inspired by the three gifts of the Magi. Here is the first of my three picks - I will post the other two in the course of the week.

GOLD: Gorilla Perfume – Icon ("sacred bling")

Notes: bergamot, orange blossom, mandarin, myrrh, sandalwood

Nothwithstanding the somewhat flip introduction to the Christmas story above, I actually had a strict religious upbringing in the fold of a minor American sect. Our church was plain and unadorned, as were its lay readers who took the place of priests. We didn’t really have carols either, though I do recall one hymn that included the faintly curious line: “the Bethlehem babe - beloved, replete, by flesh embound”.

Understandably, my father felt sensorily deprived in his own church, and greatly envied the rich trappings of more mainstream faiths. In an uncharacteristic access of generosity he even bought me a colour TV, just so he could watch a live broadcast of a bishops’ convention in New Zealand while staying with me. Father didn’t get much change out of £200, but he was able to enjoy the procession of diocesan dignatories down under in all their full technicolour finery.

This craving of my father’s for ecclesiastical glitz goes way back. For on family holidays, instead of being taken to child-orientated attractions such as theme parks and zoos, as soon as we could walk my brother and I were made to traipse round old churches and monasteries instead. The most fun we ever had as kids was rewinding home cine camera footage to watch monks crossing cloisters backwards.

And from these nave-gazing holidays Father would invariably bring back cheap and gaudy religious knick-knacks, which appealed to his magpie-like eye. The two I remember most vividly are a white plastic altar with a gold chalice concealed behind an Advent-calendar-sized door, and an ornate carved triptych with paintings of Greek icons, its lavish gilt imagery contrasting with the dark wood.

Gorilla Perfume’s Icon perfectly captures the mystique and rituals of these other, very different religions of Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, with which my father had a life-long dalliance. They were the bright silk lining in the dull worsted overcoat of his main faith. Icon conjures up the familiar whiff of incense, the clunk of the censer, and above all the flashes of gold in the cool and gloomy church interiors – from the glittering brocade vestments to the gleaming chalice and the ornate paintings adorning the high altar and shadowy side chapels.

I detect three main strands to Icon: a pronounced orange note, the myrrh (I could have used it as my myrrh selection(!), and something undefinable but vaguely herby. This slightly odd combination works surprisingly well and the scent remains pretty light throughout. The orangey/herbal aspects have a bright, slightly medicinal and cleansed feeling about them, as befits a scent associated with the purgative benefits of religious rites. They also evoke images of citrus groves and scrubby Mediterranean vegetation just outside the churches, while the incense undertones summon up their dark and cavernous depths, with bewitching glimpses of secret, "sacred bling"…

Photo of Icon perfume from the Gorilla website, photo of Greek Orthodox church from

The other participating blogs are listed below - we have all chosen different scents, so every post will be a different interpretation of this theme!

Redolent of Spices

Scent of the Day



All I Am - A Redhead

Chicken Freak's Obsession

Notes from Josephine

The Perfume Chronicles

My Perfume Life

PS Having mastered my friend's MAC to write this, I will be travelling back from California from this afternoon till Tuesday morning (weather and transport modes permitting!) In addition to posting the other two parts of this joint blogging project later this week, another Bonkers Road Trip report (with scented bits!) will be along soon...


olenska said...

Hooray! It begins! :D
Great post-- my curiosity about Gorilla Perfume has been awakened, but even more, I'm touched by this deeply affectionate tribute from a daughter to her father. "(T)he bright silk lining in the dull worsted overcoat of his main faith"-- so beautiful. Thank you!

EauMG said...

Beautiful review! I'm loving the monks walking backwards :)
I have yet to try Icon. The notes you describe are very fitting for the name.
Can't wait to read your other reviews!

Unknown said...

I love the image of dark churches with flashes of gold and the smell of incense. I've never tried an orange and myrrh before, I'll have to try this. Thanks for the beautiful post.

JoanElaine said...

A touch of humour, recollections from your childhood, and perfume all add up to a wonderful review!

I love the imagery your writing creates, the the citrus groves just outside the dark churches, the "purgative benefits of religious rites"...

Looking forward to your next reviews! Icon sounds like a "must try".

Tama said...

Beautiful post! I have a bottle of the original Lush Icon, which is a real trip to the cathedral. It will be interesting to see how the Gorilla version compares.

Ines said...

A wonderful beginning to the 3 Kings week. :) Yours is the first post I read and now I'm even more eager to try the Gorilla scents.
Looking forward to the trip report. :)

Marina said...

What a great post idea! And love the phrase, "sacred bling" :)

Anonymous said...

Like Tama, I've got the original Lush "Icon" (in the opulent gold and purple bubble-bar slice in which it arrived), so I've got to obtain a new Gorilla sample and do some comparing too.

Having visited Orthodox churches, most recently in Istanbul, the lavish decorative icons are certainly eye-opening, jaw-dropping and extremely touching. Add in the scents of beeswax candles, age-old incense and cool hallowed spaces and it is quite a lot for "Icon" to convey.

Good luck with your own efforts to "traverse afar", Vanessa.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

Vanessa said...

Hi Olenska,

Thanks for your comments - it is funny what triggers childhood memories...

You should definitely give the Gorilla line a spin - they don't all work for me by any means (it's a skin thing!), but they are pretty distinctive on the whole.

Vanessa said...


Ah yes, the monks - little things pleased little minds, before the days of DVD players and Wii... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi kjanicki,

Orange and myrrh is kind of odd, I'll be the first to say, but somehow it works. And like the gold, the orange is more of a flash that weaves in and out than a full on navel!

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

Tbh Icon the scent is not really "me", but then neither were all these ecclesiastical trappings to which I was exposed as a child. Yet it conjures up a part of my family history I guess, so it seemed a fitting choice.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tama

"a real trip to the cathedral" - haha, that's the vibe all right! Hopefully you will find the Gorilla version lives up to the original, or weighs in at at least a fairly sizeable parish church. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

The Road Trip report currently consists of scribbles in a notebook, which will hopefully get knitted into the usual random travelogue in due course!

Vanessa said...

Hi Marina

Glad you liked "sacred bling" - I was hoping no one would take offence at my giving major world religions a bit of a bonkers spin...

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna

'Add in the scents of beeswax candles, age-old incense and cool hallowed spaces and it is quite a lot for "Icon" to convey.'

You are absolutely right, and I do think Icon makes a decent fist of it - though I haven't smelt the original. It veers to the lighter side vs those straight up churchy incenses like Etro Messe de Minuit or Heeley Cardinal, which is churchy incense with a hint of Cif Lemon (possibly used for cleaning the flagstones in the nave).

Oh and thanks for your ongoing solicitude during my recent travels, not least about my chocolate-less state. I did succumb to several distress purchases of M & Ms in the end.

Suzanne said...

I love how endearlingly funny and yet movingly personal your posts are. I'm a bit like your father...I like being a religious tourist, of sorts, and love to visit beautiful (and even quaint)churches and cathedrals. My favorites are the Spanish missions in Arizona; faith is something quite palpable there...a very beautiful thing to witness.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your comment! "Religious tourist" is well said, and I suppose I am a bit of a one today in terms of enjoying churches from an aesthetic point of view.

When we grew up, my brother and I used to refer to my dad jokingly as an "ecclesiastical vagabond". As with "pick 'n' mix" sweet counters, he fashioned a composite religion for himself that had a bit of this and a bit of that in it, and ended up as something considerably more jazzy than the one he started out with!

Martha said...

I love the review, and the discussion of your father.

I was just talking about my lack of tolerance for neroli, wasn't it? But now it occurs to me that incense could be just the thing to cut the happyhappyhappy! and make neroli tolerable ot me. And I've never tried a Gorilla fragrance...

Vanessa said...

Hi CF,

Yes, I think orange and incense could be a winning combo for you. Gorilla perfumes mostly lean to the pungent side - this being one of the quieter ones to my nose - but you will happily engage with intense scents as I recall. Thinking of Tubereuse Criminelle et al.

lovethescents said...

Fantastic! And what about CdG's 888 for gold too :-)

Vanessa said...

Absolutely - in fact ChickenFreak covered this one.