Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Turning Japanese and a filthy anomaly: Bogue Profumo MAAI review

'On guard!' ~ Source: Wikipedia
It is seven years this week since I was struck down by sudden onset perfume mania, and began tentatively buying samples of designer fragrances on eBay: DKNY Cashmere Mist was amongst my very first purchases, as the name sounded fuzzy and romantic. I quickly formed a preference for light and feminine scents, eschewing - nay, running a mile from! - the few diva perfumes I inadvertently stumbled across. The tuberose fright wig that is Givenchy Amarige was one early traumatic encounter, Caron Narcisse Noir another. I soon developed a twin aversion for bombastic florals and animalic notes. I gave myself the Basenotes handle, 'VM I hate civet', and was known 'on the scene' for my sanitised and lily-livered tastes. The only exception to that was my sneaking - and ongoing - affection for Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles, whose flouncy underskirts were steeped in this unsavoury secretion.

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

Source: luckyscent

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:


Asali said...

Interesting, you make it sound like I should make an effort to seek this one out after all.
Normally I'd try and wait until 'the new hype-perfume' which ever it is, reaches me by itself, after having been disappointed numerous times by the new black. And talking of hype; how can it be that hype tend to always include some of ones most feared notes, in this case tuberose?
But if you say you can stand the tuberose, perhaps I can too? What'd ya think, ma evil scent twin?
And may I say, lovely with a good old fashioned brilliant review from you too :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I do let most of the new releases wash over me, but I guess I was curious to see if this was 'too much' all round, or whether I had become more adventurous of late. I don't have the best nose, but I would say tuberose is only detectable here by a sort of ghostly camphor note plus a kind of general 'oomph' / 'welly' it lends to the composition. I think you might find it an interesting ride, though I could take or leave the first three hours, to be truthful. Normally I do like to enjoy a perfume from the off, but I might make an exception here for the honeyed slide into depravity! Thanks for your kind comment - it takes a remarkable scent to jolt me into writing anything approaching a review these days. ;)

Unknown said...

I think I want to try this one badly.

Ines said...

Hmm, I like the sound of MAAI and I admit (blushingly), all the reviews so far have passed by me, except for yours.
I love the idea of the portable diffuser, although mask on a stick sounded better. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

I think there's a good chance you'd enjoy some if not all of it. There's such a lot going on here.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

Oh funny that mine is the first review of MAAI you've encountered. I thought I had 'wound down' a lot from the news in the blogosphere, hehe. ;)

I was glad to identify the purpose of the stick mask. It doesn't seem to be talked about in the reviews - or maybe those are the ones I missed!

Tara said...

Fab review! I'm lucky Liz also sent me a sample so as soon as my cold clears up I will be all over it. Now I know you got on with it, I am very hopeful.

Can I ask why you'd wear the skanky phase rather than the forest floor phase in company as I would have assumed it'd be the other way around?

Loved "more bad ass than big ass"!

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

You rock. I loved the review Vanessa. So good.
Portia xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I suppose because I am just not really drawn to the forest floor phase myself - it is arguably a bit masculine and not what my 'civilian' friends might consider to be suitably 'perfumey'. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hey Portia,

Glad you liked it - you are too kind! xx

Thinkingmagpie said...

I've got to try. Badass tuberose? How can I not?

I didn't realise "Maai" was "間合い". I should have known it since my grandfather was a Kendo master.

This might sound stupid but the one reason I haven't tried any of the Bogue line is because of their logo. That bug. It looks like, and I'm sure it is, a shield bug - in other name, a stink bug. I have so many bad experiences with this horrible stinky bug... If I never encounter them again in my life, I would be a happy magpie.

Vanessa said...

Hi Yuki,

Badass peek-a-boo tuberose - catch it if you can... How exciting about your grandfather being a Kendo master. I don't think Blogger likes Japanese script, mind. ;)

I can understand how you might find the bug logo a bit offputting. I didn't mention it in my post but I am not that keen on the look of it either. Makes me think of those insects they put inside amber for some reason. How are you with jewellery, as a magpie? Characteristically lacking in restraint, I would assume? ;)

Sun Fontaine said...

Hi Vanessa!

Well, I'll admit - this sounds a bit too intense for me. I don't think I've even tried anything vaguely animalic, so I don't really know, but I'm not sure if it's something that I'm ready for at this stage.

But! It was fun reading about it through your eyes. :) Thank you for that!

Suzanne said...

Similar to Ines, I was unaware of the piles of reviews and hype for this perfume - yours is only the second review I've seen for it, the first being Kafkaesque's. I'm not surprised that she loves it, as I know her tastes as well as yours, and I think I would quite love it, too. But you, Ms. Musson??? Oh my my!!! :D

Here's hoping you come over to the dark side more often. Wonderful review - I loved your descriptions!

Thinkingmagpie said...

I'm a sucker for jewellery, especially silver and pretty gems. I'm a magpie through and through. I also love making them. I'll show you my creations one day. :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sun Mi,

When I was at your stage in perfume exploration, I would definitely have given this scent a wide berth, as I say. Funny how a liking for animalics has snuck up on me over the years!

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your lovely comment and interesting that you hadn't come across more reviews of MAAI - I did see Kafka's post, and the one by Michael on OT. Then Sheila Eggenberger included it in her best of 2014 and I have discovered other reviews since, some on blogs that were completely off my radar!

Kafka is something of an 'evil scent twin', as you may imagine, so I am as flabbergasted as the next man to have been reeled in by MAAI in this way - or its latter stages at any rate...;)

Gil said...

I have never heard of this brand or scent before, but after reading your description of its top notes I am taken. Too many popular masculines these days (at least the designer varieties) are a combination of spicy and citrusy, but this vegetal, earthy combination sounds perfect. Thank you for sharing!

Blacknall Allen said...

"The fright wig that is Amarige" Oh yes, I needed a good laugh this morning!

Maai has been topping the lists lately, and I think it sounds like Joy backwards ( bouquet then wham bam thank you Ma'am.This begins animalic and then presents the bouquet) Perhaps that is the more modern approach to romance ;-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Gil,

Nice to hear from you! I know what you mean about masculine scents being in a bit of a spicy / citrusy rut, and this really does break the mould by comparison. By smelling of (leaf) mould, no less!

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

I also laughed out loud at your concept of 'Joy backwards' - you are spot on that the bouquet emerges later rather than sooner. Also enjoyed your take on modern romance, haha. I would say that MAAI begins more earthy in the literal sense rather than animalic, but it's a 'nice' point. ;)

Undina said...

Vanessa, what a great review! I'm positive I'll hate this perfume with a passion :)

I didn't realize that Amarige had tuberose (I knew this perfume long before I started looking for notes). That would explain why I could never get used to it! :) I tried. I had a mini-bottle of it, I read that it was supposed to be a sexy perfume (back then I was still reading glossy magazine's opinions on perfumes), I made myself wear it several times... Since I do not have this mini-bottle any longer (full or empty - which means I didn't use it up), I most likely finally gave up and gave it away.

Vanessa said...

I would love to see them too!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Haha, well do let me know if you cross paths - or swords! - with MAAI...

Your comment prompted me to check the note list for Amarige and there is in fact no mention of tuberose, even though I really thought that was the cause of its monstrous plasticky effect. Unless there is a little bit lurking in there undeclared which is disproportionately alarming - that happens to me sometimes - or used to do eg with civet! ;)

Aha - I had a look at Luca Turin's review, as I know he didn't care for it either, giving it one star. His short description of Amarige is 'killer tuberose' and he goes on to speak of its 'soapy-green tobacco-tuberose accord' and how it is 'truly loathsome' and that people should only wear it at home, with the windows taped shut! So that is interesting - and odd that it doesn't feature at all in the notes then. It does seem to explain our recoil from this one.