I dismissed the first three fragrances from Andrea Maack as derivative and uninspiring. The next two, Coal and Silk, were marginally better, but they didn't possess sufficiently distinct personalities to move me to write about them. However, for her latest release, the Icelandic artist has rolled up her sleeves, reached right into the core of the earth and pulled out a startling piece of work.
Coven is deadly. From the moment it pushes the sun behind a cloud and casts a murky shadow upon all its surroundings, you know it intends to grip you tightly in its spell. Iridescent vines entwine themselves around your arms, releasing their green sap as they twist and snap. Muddy earth - patchouli in disguise or the 'soil tincture' cited on the press release? - creeps up your legs, encasing you in its firmness. Shavings of tree bark descend onto your hair, sidling up to your body's intimacy with their sweaty woodiness. Fireworks of pepper erupt from the soil, mingling with the dewy moistness of the air. And somewhere, right next to you but forever out of sight, a meandering stream of luminosity traces a path towards the conclusion of this potent incantation.
My enthusiasm notwithstanding, there is, of course, every possibility that Coven is as derivative as Maack's other scents. As I've said before, one, lone critic isn't capable of keeping track of all fragrance releases, which means it's possible that work viewed as original by some folks is a re-hash of material which they happen not to have sniffed. There are certainly several aspects of Coven's personality which remind me of classic 80s masculines; more than once, its woody greenness cast my mind back to the original formulation of Cacharel Pour Homme. But I was happy to be convinced that its forbidding presentation of the natural world brings something novel to perfumery. What's more, it makes a powerful feminist statement, which comes as an unexpected pleasure at a time when so many social forces - not least, mainstream perfumery - are threatening to undermine the work of equality activists. As is well known, many so-called witches burnt at the stake were, in fact, wise women who had alarmed the male-dominated establishment with their individuality and were consequently deemed too threatening to be allowed to live. They became victims of their own bravery. Not unlike the work of Vero Kern, Coven embraces the complex femininity these figures represent: it combines fierce assertiveness with a fearless submission to all the most enticing excesses of sensuality. Coherent, engrossing and deliciously frightening, it's a hex to be worn with pride.
[Sadly, Maack chooses not to reveal who makes her scents - something of a growing trend in certain sectors of niche. I confess I'm very curious to discover the identity of the person behind this intriguing creation. Perhaps the passage of time will shed some light on the subject. Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Andrea Maack in 2014.]