I hadn't planned to write about Maai. Highly praised, this recreation of a classical chypre by Italian artisan house bogue appeared in many of the Best of 2014 reviews I had read. From the descriptions and the notes it looked like a winner, and I was fairly disappointed that it didn't work for me. But as I rarely write negative reviews, I simply made a few remarks to perfume friends and moved on to sampling something else. And then a few days ago, while dusting the bookshelf in the bedroom my eyes fell on the Anselm Kiefer catalogue of last year's grandious exhibition at the Royal Academy.
And I then remembered that I had initially intended to use one of his paintings as a starting point for a review about Chypre Palatin by MDCI perfumes. These days I have the memory of a small sized rodent/goldfish/fly so that post never happened, but then a train of associations started and it lead me back to Maai.
But first, let me be a bit tedious and express my thought about Anselm Kiefer: Considered as one of the most important living artists, his ouevre is steeped deeply in German culture/history. His use of Nazi iconography and his, let's say, tendency for the bombast makes him a difficult choice. There are references to the war, mythicism, blood and soil, Wagner, death and decay, and a dark forest or a bleak field are never far away. Many of his paintings have taglines and scribbled notes on them, leaving you under no doubt that here is an artist who has something to say! Bedeutungsschwanger - we call that in German - pregnant with meaning.
I realise that it seems that I'm not exactly selling him here, but I do actually adore his work. His canvasses are gigantic in size, and often oddly decorative in a graphic/reduced palette sort of way. I feel a resonance and strong sense of connection when I see them in real life. I also feel incredibly German, and I'm unsure what to make of that. The exhibition at London's Royal Academy was eerily beautiful and evocative. But would I want to live with one of his works? Never mind the questions of affordability, practicality and insurance - the answer is: No. His art radiates a heaviness and intensity that I would find troubling and irritating around my personal space.
I would very much prefer to be surrounded by the works of other, less angst ridden Germans, Gerhard Richter and especially Sigmar Polke spring to mind. The latter was given a massive retrospective at Tate Modern at the same time than the Kiefer was on. Polke made fun of the world and himself ( yes, Germans do have a sense of humour...) via his art and although he didn't shy away from difficult subjects, he handled them in a way I find much more palatable.
So all this to tell you why I didn't like a perfume? Well, sort of. When I tried Maai again I knew it would make an even better match for Kiefer's forests and fields. Composed like a back to front version of Chypre Palatin, this one offers no comfort. The forest it evokes is not a place I'd like to be any time soon. It might lure me in with all this cold freshness but I'm aware that there is something hidden. A troll, using this particular aftershave to cover his scent before he has me for breakfast. The oakmoss/musc phase lasts forever on my skin and when the perfume eventually develops into something a bit more floral and soft I am almost exhausted. This is intense, retro and BIG perfumery. And like Kiefer's paintings, I very much admire the way it's done. My skin feels just too small to wear it.
For more perfume focused reviews of Maai I point you towards:
If you google the words "Ragu recipe" and read everything that comes up at least 4 pages in, you will find yourself puzzled and probably slightly frustrated. While for many of us a ragu, or Italian meat sauce, is the ultimate comfort food, the steps leading to this simple pleasure are slippery, because EVERYONE has an opinion and they all differ. What type of meat, wine, or no wine, red or white, stock or no stock, milk???, passata or puree, how much celery, and how many bloody hours does it need to simmer?
People swear that theirs is the one and only, handed down from a long line of ancestors since the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, found in barely legible recipe books hidden away from Barbaric hordes during the siege of Rome.... you get the gist. And then there are the modern preachers of innovative cooking, like Heston Blumenthal and his molecular disciples. They ask you to use sous-vides here, and dried ice over there, to pulverise your meat and to explode your toms, just for the fun of it.
Needless to say that in this household we have our own, ultimate version. Developed over a few years, tweaked to perfection. Our perfection, that is. Because the beauty of a ragu is that it makes you feel at home, save and at ease with the world. Whatever is needed to achieve your personal meat sauce heaven is allowed. (Having said that, the idea of putting milk in it is of course just plain weird!)
Interestingly, not many perfumes actively seek out to smell of savoury dishes. All the gourmand scents I know cater to the sweet toothed amongst us and there is a fair amount of fragrant love for alcoholic beverages, but a scent that smells of cooking is a rare thing, indeed. It therefore takes some guts to call your creation "Italian meat sauce" and Ragu by Gabriella Chieffo, certainly is an unusual scent, not just for the name.
My visual interpretation of Ragu, by Gabriella Chieffo
Ragu opens with a burst of orange and pink pepper. And quite some burst it is. Fresh, tingly and aromatic. And then the perfume seductively asks you if you want some more pepper with it, grinding the mill before you even had a chance to answer. Now it's the black variety - strong, direct, and not taking any prisoners. At this stage the fragrance feels dry, sharp and even a bit grainy, be aware that if you don't like pepper you will not enjoy this ride. After an hour or so on my skin, other spices come to play, mainly nutmeg and cloves, and their deeper, sweeter aromas give the perfume now a gentler and more feminine touch. It mellows, presenting itself in a different texture now, far creamier, and rounder. I cannot really detect any tomato notes in the perfume, but there is a fleshier, juicier aspect to this stage of the scent and it more and more feels like a good ragu sauce has just come together. The final phase of the perfume involves leather and woody notes and a slowly simmering solidity takes over the earlier bursts and bubbles. In terms of colour it wasn't easy to pin down, Ragu delights more in its textural aspects, but I've decided to stay with mostly red and earthy hues to emphasise the warmth the fragrance offered me. Nice. Very nice, and more than a bit more-ish.
I am just back from 2 weeks in Thailand and the cold weather is really biting. Post holidays blues - here we come... But I won't bother you with Cry me a river tears about feeling the lack of light, warmth and sand, don't worry. Instead, I'm trying to concentrate on the good things about being back in London, and those are: the cats, good friends, and perfume. Not that I didn't bring decants and samples to keep me entertained, far from it, but wearing perfume when it's hot and humid didn't come very high on my daily routine list. While we stayed in the northern city of Chiang Mai with temperatures in the high 20's, pleasant enough and even cooler in the evenings, I did manage to apply perfume and even a bit make up, but over the course of 2 weeks and a location change to the island of Koh Phangan, standards did slip very quickly. When you shower 3 or 4 times a day perfume really isn't all that practical, and in the evening strong DEED overpowered any other scents.
But there is a scent that I have worn on and off during all our trips to Thailand so far and a bottle of it will never be amiss in the suitcase: Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir. First sniffed and bought before boarding a plane to Bangkok at Heathrow airport, then worn in Chiang Mai (yes, we like the city a bit and go there almost every year) it has become my go to perfume for Thailand. There isn't anything in it that justifies that. No lemongrass, lime, hot tarmac, sticky rice, ylang ylang, fish sauce, sea salt, coconut, orchid, ginger or chili notes. PN has spice and freshness, but they're firmly rooted in the Northern hemisphere. Objectively, that is. For me, it's the fragrance of Thailand simply by association and conditioning and a spritz can transport me back there in an instant. I have never bothered to read up the notes for it, and now I couldn't possibly tell you what it smells of, which is, I suppose, a bit weird on a blog about perfume.
As for the colours: They have to be taken from a holiday snap, of course.
Thai squid boats representing Pomegranate Noir by Jo Malone