Friday, 25 July 2014

Persolaise Review: Otis & Me, How You Love, Neon Graffiti and Led IV from Jazmin Saraï (Dana El Masri, 2014)

Today, in the world of book publishing, agents and editors often bemoan the fact that they no longer have the time to nurture their writers' talents: there is tremendous pressure on new authors to be a success from the moment their first title is released. If that doesn't happen, they find themselves gently pushed to the sidelines. The situation isn't entirely different in the perfume industry, which is why I don't envy anyone the task of launching a new perfume brand right now. It may be a cliche to say that the fragrance market is over-saturated, but it also happens to be true. According to Michael Edwards - the nearest we have to an official archivist - more than 1400 new scents were launched in 2013, which means not only that it's difficult for customers to keep track of what's out there, but it's equally tough for brands to attract the attention of potential buyers. One of the consequences of operating in this crowded environment is that a new perfume house has to score a palpable hit with its debut release. It has to make an impact from the word go, otherwise it runs the risk of being written off completely as a non-starter.

I mention this because I suspect that Dana El Masri is a perfumer who would benefit from being given some space to grow and develop. After having completed perfumery training in France, the Montreal resident of Arabian extraction has now launched a quartet of scents under the suitably Middle Eastern moniker Jazmin Saraï. She's come up with an over-arching concept for them - each one has been inspired by a specific song which El Masri encourages people to listen to as they try the relevant perfume - and she's also ticked the various other boxes which fledgling brands are now expected to tick as they venture into the 'real world', ie setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, writing a blog, reaching out to fragrance critics etc. But I can't quite shake off the nagging doubt that maybe she's not yet ready to set up her stall.

My reservations stem from the perfumes themselves. Let me be clear: they are incomparably superior to the majority of the dreck pumped out by the mainstream at the moment, and they even hold their own against many, serious-minded, niche brands. But I wonder if they're sufficiently assertive and distinctive to make a lasting mark in an environment where debuts are barely noticed unless they're dramatic or controversial.

Otis & Me, my favourite of the collection, certainly makes a commendable effort to rise out of the realms of the ordinary. Inspired by Otis Redding's Cigarettes & Coffee, it's a smouldering, sensual invitation to an evening filled with promise. Coffee, pepper and cardamom (something of a signature ingredient for El Masri) grow warmer and warmer as the scent develops, bolstered by a suggestion of rose in the background. A glowing ember of a scent, it maintains a steady burn right up to the final stages of its development, forming a much more convincing nocturnal version of Cartier's Déclaration than the brand's own Déclaration D'Un Soir.

I'm fond of How You Love too. Here, the musical inspiration is Sade's It's Only Love That Gets You Through, but the olfactory allegiance is to rich sandalwood jasmines such as Neela Vermeire's Trayee and, by extension, Guerlain's Samsara. El Masri's variation on the theme is more discreet, but no less affecting. Indeed, it's the relative quietness - a trademark of the collection as a whole - which is particularly noteworthy. The floral heart is complex and multi-faceted, but it never shouts. The sandalwood base is suitably milky and creamy, but it never draws undue attention to itself. And the spices at the start - mainly cardamom again - are present not to act as a fanfare, but to lead the wearer gently into the core of the construction. It's endearing work: a kiss so light, you feel its imprint for hours.

Led IV and Neon Graffiti are arguably less successful. The former (linked to Led Zeppelin's Going To California) never really presents anything more interesting than a woody, smoky facet, whereas the latter (somewhat incongruously paired with MIA's Sunshowers) doesn't convince as a zippy explosion of citrus notes. Its green aspect - the official site lists a "wet ivy accord" - is well accomplished, but even though there's a generous helping of pepper and, of course, cardamom, the whole doesn't display the energy required from scents in this genre.

Still, two out of four is hardly a poor showing. And as I implied at the start, even when El Masri's creations are less then satisfying, they display a thoughtfulness and ambition lacking in most of the dross shoved under our noses. I may not have been won over by the concept of the musical tie-up (I often think that the sources of perfumers' inspiration are best kept to themselves), but I did appreciate El Masri's attempt to reinterpret classical structures for a modern audience without resorting to the ironic, 'retro' strategy which so many others default to when they tackle a similar feat. Curiously, El Masri's chief weapon in the accomplishment of this objective is the aforementioned quietness. Unlike the output of many niche set-ups, her work is decidedly low sillage, as though determined to distance itself from its louder, brasher cousins. It is this refusal to follow the rest of the pack - coupled with the elegance of How You Love and Otis & Me - which leads me to conclude that even though I may not have enjoyed all its wares, I wish Jazmin Saraï the very best and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't turn out to be a short-lived enterprise. Dana El Masri clearly has a great deal to offer to the world of scent. I just hope the market will be patient enough to allow her to hone her craft, refine her style and fulfil the potential which she so clearly possesses.

[Reviews based on samples provided by Jazmin Saraï in 2014.]



  1. I'm a fan of Otis Redding's music so I would favour the "Cigarettes and Coffee" inspired scent on that basis alone. If there is a perfume inspired by "These Arms of Mine" as sung live at the "Whiskey A Go Go", I'll go to the head of the queue for that:-)

    Good luck to Dana El Masri and Jazmin Saraï.

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

    1. Anna, thanks for stopping by. Yes, good luck to Dana!

  2. I've enjoyed neon graffiti but I was wondering if there were any designer fragrances similar to it.

    1. Adolescentia, I'm just curious: if you've enjoyed NG, why are you looking for an alternative?


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