Upon the arrival of the new Perfumes the Guide, I have been revisiting some old five-star entries from the original Guide that I didn’t entirely appreciate lo a decade ago.
L’air du Desert Marocain by Tauer Perfumes is one of those. I consider a perfume sample an assignment in my perfume education. It isn’t so much about liking or disliking, but rather understanding or not understanding. As we say in the theatre, “Does it work?” But, like a classic novel I understand to be a masterwork, I don’t always have it in me to finish the book. Marocain, historically, has been my Anna Karenina. I resolved to keep picking it up, but always put it down. I understood it’s something to behold but, reluctant as I was to admit my intellectual shortcomings, I just…didn’t get it.
Interestingly, I remember my Mom did. She understood it immediately. I stood in her kitchen, as I often do when I have new “fumies” to share, and handed her a smelling strip. Her eyes twinkled. I was surprised. I was expecting her to find it heavy, but she found it soaring. She probably finished Anna Karenina. I submit that by being born in the middle of the twentieth century, when perfumes were compositions rather than the result of executive cheapening, our parents and grandparents may naturally have better noses for more demanding perfume ingredients. Not ones to fear large doses of spices and resins, both my Mom and my Dad have a deep affection for good ol’ cheap stainy Tabu and I know better than to pry. Still, if Tabu and Marocain are related, however distantly, Marocain would be unlikely to admit it. That’s fair because I refer to Tabu as an “affectionate stonker,” a jovial perfume so huge it nearly takes physical form. I wear it only with white t-shirts and jeans as it is an accessory in and of itself, taking care to keep it away from the white t-shirt. Marocain is too chic for all that nonsense, yet still retains the “affectionate” part. Like me, my Mom hasn’t smelled Marocain in a decade either, so I’m looking forward to seeing if she still loves it as much. (I was going to order a bottle for her years ago, but then the Icelandic volcano erupted and stopped flights from Europe to the U.S. so I couldn’t get it to ship to her by her birthday. Ce la vie de parfum. )
What I did understand then, and continue to now, is that L’air du Desert Marocain is full of quality, consideration, and skill even though I could never quite land on the tune. Now, after the dust of ten years has settled, perhaps a bit on my shoulders, I hear the music. The problem is I was looking for a hook. But this perfume isn’t about the melody. It’s the harmony. There IS no tune. Marocain is a glorious suspended chord followed by a restrained but powerful resolution. The suspension comes quickly in the form of a slightly icy incense, not the head shop variety but rather the worshipful kind. As I did not grow up Catholic, no smoky censer crossing my path, and thus have no troubled sense memory for liturgical resins, I invite perfumes to take me straight to church, nay the Cathedral. L’air du Desert Marocain never goes full Basilica (we’ll save CdG Avignon for that), and that’s just fine. Incense is such a mystery. How can something that burns sometimes feel so cold? Here, the ice melts fairly quickly into something very soft, comforting, and intimate, taking us from church straight to the bedroom.
The perfumer, Andy Tauer says, “Imagine finding peace in a room, lying on the bed, exhausted from the heat of the day, with the window open, letting the cool air in which still is very dry and filled with the scents from the near desert and overlayed with the spicy scents of the streets below.”
What he doesn’t say is you’re not alone. There’s a sweetness here, but it’s not Turkish Delight, rather Afternoon if you get my meaning.
You get my meaning.
Speaking of demanding products of the 20th century, I was watching Richard Burton movies last night (Becket and Brief Encounter) as I was giving LADDM another go. Richard Burton may be a bit too cranky and craggy to be a downright metaphor for this perfume, but I’m an unabashed fan, and he provides some helpful imagery. Marocain isn’t a brooding drunk Welshman, of course. Still, there is a little bourbon here, if not on the level of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. (However, a perfume based on that film, boozy with hints of wool, honey, gunpowder, and fried chicken, would be a welcome addition to my collection.)
Like Dickie, is Marocain a brooding Scorpio? Perhaps, but it’s a quiet afternoon under a warm Desert sun and this little scorpion is napping. There are no stings here. Marocain embraces you. You drift in and out of sleep, possibly in the nude. It’s an intimate perfume but not animalic. What I’m trying to say is yes, you’re in bed but things are merely getting started. There’s a hint of cumin here, but for the conclusion to the story, see Lutens Muscs Kublai Kahn.
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
Anyway, L’Air du Desert, no? In this idea, outside Tauer’s imaginary window, the Desert is less sandy expanses and more petrified cedar forest. It makes my mouth water, not from the sugar but from the salt. This is, as is all perfume technically, a unisex, but generally the perfume buying public treats it as a masculine for whatever that’s worth (not much). I, on the other hand (as much as I plan on wearing it myself), would certainly enjoy it on a man. In particular: MY man. This perfume wants to be smelled up close and very personal. It isn’t inherently naughty. Still, like bourbon and Richard Burton movies, it is intended for grown ups.
Can I get an amen?
The price point requires a consideration of quality. Happily, Marocain is so well made that it manages to remind me of another perfume I love (Winter Woods by Sonoma Scent Studio), evoke it nearly fully formed in my brain, and make it clear that Marocain is better. Much better. That’s not a dig on Winter Woods. It’s a beautiful little respite. Marocain is a journey. The drydown feels almost timed, almost as if it has been choreographed. The incense gives way to cedar that gives way, much later, to a gorgeous vanilla, and finally to a slightly animalic note that might be the perfume, or it might be me, but the effect is to draw you ever closer.
For all the talk of Dickie and Church and Sex and Deserts and Resins and Choreography and any other mixed metaphors, here’s the thing. It smells. So. Good.
Maybe it’s time I pick up Anna Karenina again.