Some landscapes are easy to enjoy, but almost impossible to describe. They offer many pleasures, yet they defy attempts to capture their charms in words. They may not even be especially beautiful. Indeed, their allure may lie not so much in their appearance but in their very refusal to be deciphered. It is these rare, beguiling territories which are brought to mind by the output of Slumberhouse. A relatively unknown brand based in Oregon, it has clearly decided to make a virtue of secrecy and media shyness: internet searches yield little info about its founders, which, of course, means that the shadow of mystery cast over its oddly-named creations is particularly inky.
Jeke (2008) is perhaps most representative of the label's scenic style. At the risk of pushing the panoramic analogy too far, I'd describe it as an extremely wide fragrance, a sweeping prospect of peaty, earthy browns painted in the broadest of brush strokes. It arrives with an assertive whiff of coffee, a forest's worth of woods and a thumping wallop of malted heat. But then it becomes weird. Alarmingly weird. The wood appears to turn into steam. The earth turns into thick glue and catches fire. A leather note appears and promptly changes into lava. And then the whole thing morphs into a giant espresso machine steaming and thundering straight into the apocalypse.
Sova (2012) is a Sri Lankan curry house jostling for attention with a licorice stand at a funfair. Woods, glues and coffees pop up here too, but in this weighty creation, they're placed alongside greener, mossier facets, with coconut trees blazing in the background. Think of a pumped-up A*Men wearing a leather jacket borrowed from Dior's Eau Noire and you might begin to get a sense of the potency of this beast.
Ore (2009) is a flinty, hazelnutty, rooty, sugary, powdery dose of oddness which threatens to take leave of its senses at any moment and hurl itself over the side of the nearest precipice. And Norne (2012)... well, Norne is perhaps the most difficult of the quartet to commit to prose. Like some kind of Herba Fresca possessed of scary bionic implants, it presents a pine-like vista so green, so terpenic and so vast, it's enough to induce agoraphobia in the most outdoorsy of souls. I can't think of any other fragrance which pushes the breathtaking sharpness of fir, eucalyptus and mint to such confrontational extremes. Norne reportedly contains nothing but natural absolutes - not even essential oils - which explains why wearing it makes you grasp both the majesty of the natural world and your insignificance in it.
The enormity of the four scents is such that it threatens to induce a form of 'can't see the wood for the trees' olfactory blindness. There's very little about the fragrances that's subtle: they bellow their message from the moment they're unleashed and they continue to re-assert their presence with next-to-no consideration for discretion or politeness. But their girth is part of their charm, as is their fearlessness. What's more, with their surreal juxtapositions and fantastical contrasts, they provide more ammunition to those trying to prove that scent-making is more than a craft. On the strength of this disconcerting quartet from Slumberhouse, perfumery must be an artform, simply because it makes us imagine the impossible.
[Reviews based on samples of extrait provided by Slumberhouse in 2013.]