- In a Station of the Metro -
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
- Ezra Pound -
Michael Storer not only accepted the challenge of interpreting Ezra Pound's "Metro" haiku in a perfume, he returned the challenge by creating exactly one bottle of Poem and sending it to me. I was astonished and delighted, and I was very, very scared. I'm not very confident of my ability to pick out notes in a blend, and I had no idea what he'd used or what approach he'd taken. He left me to my intuition with just a few clues:
"I took this on purely as an artistic challenge, which I enjoy in perfume making. It ended up being much subtler than my fragrances usually do. But it seems right like this. I don't know if it would be wearable or not, but I feel it's right for Pound's poem. You'll see what you think..."
The day it arrived, I carried it around the house like a sacred chalice, simultaneously buoyed by the fact of having a unique perfume made by an outstanding perfumer and terrified by the responsibility of interpreting it accurately. I so wanted to be worthy of the honor. Finally, I looked down at the bottle glowing in the afternoon light and did the only thing I could: I passed the buck.
Actually I didn't quite pass it, I shared it. My husband, Jason, has been thoroughly involved in this project (as the editor's editor, among other things) and he was anxiously looking forward to this scent. We opened the package together even though I was the one who held it up like The Ring To Rule Them All the minute it emerged from the confines of its packing materials. He has a sense of humor about my sense of drama and once I was done pretending to be Gollum with the Precious, we sat down and tried it on ourselves.
My first impression was of saltwater and black olives. Ripe, glossy black olives and sea spray. Then the beginning of a thunderstorm near the ocean. Even though I wanted to be in the Metro and find an anchor for the fragrance there, Poem wouldn't let me inside. I was outdoors, suddenly transported to France--but not to Paris and not underground.
I was standing on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic in a little village in Bretagne, where I once spent a week in a stone cottage by the ocean. The beaches there are rocky and weedy and full of branches and strange bits of glass and the remnants of all the things humans throw into the ocean. What this fragrance brought back to me is the experience of standing on that cliff, with the smell of salt and the herbs and wildflowers growing along the path to the ridge; the bicycle that I used to ride into the village and the smell of the villagers waiting in line for fresh bread at the tiny bakery; overcast skies at sunset with spectacular colors of purple and coral and the blue-gray ocean beneath me. And the black rocks, crusted with salt; the moss and the slick branches moving up and down the sand in time with the waves. And yet, a moment or two of concrete, asphalt, shale and tar, and then back to the cliff in the moment the skies clear after a brief summer shower.
By the time I realized I'd been involved in this vision I knew that I would never have any idea what this fragrance was made of, because the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. It is the quality of sunlight illuminating the dark, wet rocks and branches that most closely brings Michael's Poem into the realm of Ezra Pound's famous haiku. And then, when I took it to work and shared it with a few friends, their reactions were intriguing. One detected "hot asphalt after a rain shower" and another said "I can smell the sunlight. I know that sounds crazy, but I can actually smell the sunlight." And when I asked "Don't you smell olives?" she shook her head, no. Just the wide-open outdoors and wind whipping through the open field.
I wrote Michael (who is a generous and kind correspondent) to explain my experience, and his response included few further clues:
I have very similar memories of France... spending time in the
countryside as well as in Paris. I think I told you I was a photo model
for a lot of years and worked all over Europe. What a supreme time of
my life it was.
I can still smell the Metro after quite a few years... you know that unforgettable smell that means Paris.
I chose to concentrate rather on the freshness one feels on a drizzly day
coming out of that warm and human-filled place and discovering bracing
air and a slice of countryside in one of the wet trees which line the
boulevards. A spark of nature in that hectic place. A twenty second
pause where time stands still as in zen meditation.
can see why my eau de parfum brings to mind the sea for you. It's in
the wet, earthy and slightly dirty moss-like notes that I was
attempting to capture for my concept of the "black bough." I share your
love of both the seaside and countryside in France as well as in it's
romantic City of Lights.
I can still smell the Metro after quite a few years... you know that unforgettable smell that means Paris.
I chose to concentrate rather on the freshness one feels on a drizzly day coming out of that warm and human-filled place and discovering bracing air and a slice of countryside in one of the wet trees which line the boulevards. A spark of nature in that hectic place. A twenty second pause where time stands still as in zen meditation.
I can see why my eau de parfum brings to mind the sea for you. It's in the wet, earthy and slightly dirty moss-like notes that I was attempting to capture for my concept of the "black bough." I share your love of both the seaside and countryside in France as well as in it's romantic City of Lights.
I also am compelled to give my thoughts on the perfume with reference to where it takes me, but for me it's not to the blue-grey tides of northern France. Its probably just my association with that place, but those beaches with their smooth black rocks just seem too dark of a locale for Michael Storer's wonderful fragrance. It is hard for me not to think of sunnier climates when smelling this unique and bright scent on our skins. At first I thought it had a touch of my childhood image of coastal California in it: blue sky, boardwalks, and the sand-pollinated wildflowers breezing along Route 1. Then I realized that this one-dimensional California of mine was an insufficient comparison. Michael Storer's fragrance seems sturdier, more rugged than that. So I thought about natural hot springs in New Mexico and Colorado that I have visited. I felt I was getting warmer; in the best of these places there are canyons of salty sweetness that this scent calls up.
I am not a "nose," and I do not have a great grasp of the range of perfume compositions, but Michael Storer's contribution to this project has an unusual olive tone that seems to totally explode any notion of a gender to this fragrance. Genderless perfumes are a dime a dozen these days, but still there seems to be something interesting in the way this innovative note refuses to play with our preconceived ideas about who it belongs to. But the real accomplishment is the way that the salty olive does not clash with the sparse, but sweet, floral array that seems to come out in warm waves. Michael Storer's contribution to this project is far from a one-note scent.
I must confess that when I was asked to write about this fragrance I was a little worried. I have a rather dark image of where Pound's poem takes place, but this scent for me contains unmistakable sunlight. So it was with a degree of relief that I read Michael's description of where he located the inspiration of the fragrance: outside the Metro amid the green. I can easily identify with the image he describes because coming up out of the Metro, any metro, offers an immediate delight. I don't know why, but when I think of climbing the subway stairs into the open air, I think of seeing leafy branches above me. It makes me feel as if I'm emerging from the root systems of the earth, from underground. And that kind of emergence into the air lends itself to the contemplative moment he describes. There we are all boughs and petals.
But still I wonder: why olive? Why the light composition of
flowers that never seems the same twice? These are the satisfying
mysteries of a unique and compelling scent that I wish everybody the
chance to experience. Whatever the questions, the fragrance is clearly
the result of a ripe vision from a seasoned visionary. It is
Michael is not only a gifted self-taught perfumer in his own right, he is also immensely helpful to others, as evidenced by his frequent contributions to the Perfume Making Yahoo group. In an excellent interview with Jenny Van Veenen of the Perfume Making blog, Michael discusses his engagement with the muses of art, music, and science, with charming openness. On the artist's need to create, he says:
I guess I have a strong need to share what's inside me with the world. To bring something of beauty, of value. Something positive and something good about which I can say, "I did that." Just like everyone, I guess, I have a need to be excellent at something, to shine. ... Perfume manufacture captivates me because it challenges all my skills of visual design in conceptualizing and packaging. Also, the process of creating a fragrance is a lot like painting to me. Instead of a palette of colors you have an endless palette of smells to remember and to work with.
At his website, www.michaelstorer.com, complete sample sets of all Michael's fragrances can be ordered, including my very favorite, Kadota, a delicious, juicy, and sensuous fig that will be the focus of a future article on Memory & Desire. Also highly recommended are: Stephanie, an extremely realistic, voluptuous gardenia scent that lasts forever; as well as the strange, mysterious Monk, a gothic apparition whose originality far exceeds my powers of description. It's a must-try.
Of course, our lucky grand giveaway winner will be the recipient of a sample of Michael Storer's Poem, but since we have been given so much, we want to give as much of it back to our readers as we can bear to part with. A second March 31 drawing will be held to determine the winners of ten samples of Poem, this unique eau de parfum from an extraordinary perfumer. We wish we could share it with each of you, and hope that our impressions of Poem have given you a little glimpse into the extraordinary talents of this warm and gracious man.
"Photo of Michael Storer provided by the perfumer and used with his permission. Photo of shale-covered beach in Bretagne by Coppermine Gallery. "Metro Sign, Paris, France" by Neil Emmerson via Allposters.com
Comments are encouraged! Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31.