Neela Vermeire's eponymous brand has reached the perfumery equivalent of the difficult second album. Her three debut scents (all composed by Bertrand Duchaufour... ever heard of him?) made such a tremendous impact in Niche-ville that her follow up was always bound to be a tricky prospect. Would it continue in the same vein as the original trio or would it strike out in a new direction? Well, Ashoka is officially unveiled in Florence today and I'm pleased to say that it shows signs of some very astute thinking on Vermeire's part.
Love them or loathe them (and most people seem to have opted for the former), you can't deny that Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling are large. Filled to the brim with materials of near-overpowering opulence, they waste no time trying to convince the wearer that they come from a brand determined to muscle its way onto the market with firmness and conviction. Indeed, Trayee in particular is so beguiling and complex that quite a few committed scentusiasts claimed they weren't yet ready to rise to the challenges with which it presented them.
Very wisely, Ashoka doesn't try to compete. It feels at home in the NVC brand (there's a convincingly Indian vibe running through every moment of its development) but it leaves the volume knob to its siblings, preferring to focus on a subdued, smouldering burn. Designed to reflect the emperor Ashoka's own transformation from warrior to peace-loving Buddhist, it moves from whip-smacking leather to contemplative sandalwood (neat trick, Bertrand!), via a scenic route which takes in a cluster of figs, a distant field of jasmine and an expanse of fir trees. The scent's press release also mentions notes of, amongst others, water hyacinth, parsley leaf and heliotrope, and whilst I have no doubt that these must be present to some degree, they're never permitted to amount to more than a gilt-edged mirage in the background, highlighting the attributes of the central players.
This is where the astute thinking comes in: without compromising the richness with which she wishes her brand to be associated, Vermeire has orchestrated a more accessible, entry-level-style piece of work. It's a move she can afford to make: now that she's achieved her initial splash, she can tone things down a little. And when you want to come across as both discreet and sophisticated, few materials do the job as well as sandalwood, hence Ashoka's haunting, meditative drydown. Funnily enough, Frederic Malle recently adopted a similar approach when he followed up Portrait Of A Lady with the skin-hugging sandalwood of his Dries Van Noten scent. I gather the latter hasn't been quite as runaway a hit as some may have wished, but I sincerely hope that Ashoka gets a warmer reception. It certainly deserves to do well, even if its success eventually causes people to move on and seek out the more complicated tunes played by its predecessors.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Neela Vermeire Créations in 2013.]