|'On guard!' ~ Source: Wikipedia|
Fast forward seven years and the 'Best of 2014' posts are all in - I didn't compile one myself, for the reasons explained in my New Year stocktaking post. One of the recurring names that lodged in my mind was MAAI by Antonio Gardoni, the founder and perfumer of the Italian house, Bogue Profumo. There was a real buzz around this scent, and arguably it doesn't need any further comment from me, as the reviews are already 3-4 pages deep in Google. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn't have got as far as seeking MAAI out, but Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery kindly offered to send me a sample of MAAI and its predecessor Cologne Reloaded. She has a bottle, and is as taken with it as so many in the blogging community.
|Source: Bogue Profumo|
I'll be honest, based on my cursory reading of reviews, I was a little apprehensive about trying MAAI, fearing that it would be an animalic horror - I noted that the photos of Antonio Gardoni mostly show him wearing a little (fencing?) mask on a stick. I took this as an omen that protective clothing - over the nose at the very least - might be in order. Looking back, it may have been a reference to the Japanese derivation of the name: MAAI is a martial arts term meaning 'engagement distance' ie the distance between you and the attack surface of your opponent. Hmm, I thought, it all ties in - both the (shouty!) capitalised name of the fragrance and its associated imagery were telling me to approach this one with caution...***
But I needn't have worried. Which is not to say that MAAI is not a challenging, epically singular scent that packs an animalic punch when it gets into its stride, but it was precisely that part that was strangely to my liking. As with Bal a Versailles, MAAI is another bonkers filthy anomaly.
But let me try it yet again and take it from the top. Here are the notes from Luckyscent:
Notes: tuberose, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, civet, castoreum, hyraceum, dried fruits, sandalwood, oakmoss
On first spraying MAAI on skin, I get a jumbled impression of a citrus-herbal - quite masculine leaning - cologne, which gets progressively mossier and sort of dank undergrowth-y over time. There is a pronounced earthy aspect, as in soil, I mean - the 'earthy' / raunchy notes come later! I even thought I detected a fleeting hint of spearmint. Notwithstanding the extensive list of heady florals, I would never call MAAI a floral perfume at this point. There is a cool sensation to the opening, as though a breeze was whipping across a freshly dug grave in a forest glade. In terms of airiness, I was immediately reminded of Le Labo's Ylang 49, albeit that is floral from the off and nowhere near as mossy, though it has oakmoss in it.
And whereas Cologne Reloaded was composed almost entirely from vintage materials - following a tip off, Gardoni acquired a collection of bottles from the 1940s that were gathering dust in an old pharmaceutical laboratory - MAAI is a modern construct, though with a high proportion of natural ingredients. That said, it is a modern spin on an old school genre: the animalic chypre, but one that is way more herbal than you might expect. And as I say, the dirty quality remains firmly of the 'wipe your feet' / 'great outdoors' variety for some time to come...
In an interview with Basenotes, Gardoni explains the starting point for MAAI:
"When I started MAAI I wanted to do an oriental incense perfume with a lot of smoke and sandalwood sawdust; parallel to that I was trying to grow a better relationship between me and what I always considered a difficult flower, tuberose."
|Tuberose looking deceptively easy ~ Source: Swaminathan / Wikimedia Commons|
Now that is interesting, not only because I also have a tricky relationship with tuberose, but because tuberose can present itself in intriguing, non-obviously floral ways. Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle has that strong camphoraceous note to it, for example, and MAAI's take on tuberose has more in common with that scent than Amarige or Giorgio Beverly Hills, say(!). Tuberose can sometimes just be hunkered down in the background of a composition - more 'badass' than 'big ass' (as with the likes of Giorgio). So yes, the tuberose is certainly playing peek-a-boo at best, but I don't mind that.
And then, 2-3 hours in, a (to my nose) non-specific floral bouquet finally pokes through the damp ground, and it is only now that I actively start to enjoy MAAI. This soon segues into the honeyed, creamy, animalic drydown which is my favourite part of the scent's development. This reminds me of a similar (but briefer) stage in Rozy edp. It is faintly floral but more about the honey and plushly soft filth. Tangy (ylang-ylangy?) and faintly urinous in places, but not objectionably so. Oh MAAI! Whoever would have thought it?! The animalic facet is also evocative of Bal de Versailles, though Bal lacks the juicy, honeyed facet I'd say. The civet in Bal de Versailles is soft and diffuse - and unmistakably fecal, as here - but is more of a bass hum. There are also echoes of retro chypres such as La Perla, Paloma Picasso and L'Arte di Gucci. However, La Perla has more of a plasticky, soapy quality, while the other two are in a deeper register and are heavier hitters generally - the front end of MAAI is cleaner and more breezy than those two, but is murkier and mossier than La Perla.
|You can't see my spectacular overbite! ~ Source: wikipedia|
Eyeballing the list again, what a veritable menagerie of animalic notes that is! Musky secretions of the civet cat and the badger (castoreum) are teamed with hyraceum, the petrified and rock-like excrement (composed of both urine and feces!) of the Cape Hyrax, a little creature akin to the guinea pig to the untrained eye. Hold the snot and sweat, why don't you? The mucky melange should be way too much, yet I am lapping it up, nasally speaking. I don't think I would wear MAAI in company when it is cycling through its forest floor phase, but I would be curious to get friends' opinion on the deliciously skanky stage - even if it is only to be told to go away.
Oh, and out of curiosity, I used one of those Internet pronunciation apps to see how to pronounce MAAI correctly - with three consecutive vowels it wasn't immediately apparent to me - and the answer is 'Muh-eye'.
***Editor's note: further research has uncovered the fact that that mask on a stick is in fact an ingenious portable aroma diffuser designed to scent whole rooms!
Also, I had quite forgotten that the song that inspired the title of this post is rather fittingly by a band called The Vapors. There is even a bit of light fencing in this video: