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: