Monday, May 3, 2010

A Study in Contradiction: Four by Liz Zorn

It has occurred to me in recent months that I really should spend more time with the real niche fragrances. I tend to shy away from them for personal use, because I have yet to meet a “natural” perfume that lasts more than an hour on my skin, and they’re expensive. Thick, scent-gulping skin requiring constant reapplication and big-bucks outlay usually don’t mix in my (check)book, but whatever -- there are always samples. I had read about Liz Zorn’s Soivohle perfumes on other blogs, and was intrigued. 
Zorn is an artist who seems to work in every discipline; a painter, musician, writer, perfumer. That’s one of her paintings. It’s a word-image piece, and to my eye looks nothing like what I’d expect from a natural perfumer: it’s rough, full of texture, monochromatic and primitive. The image looks like it was scratched on a cave’s wall with a piece of burnt firewood, as the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira were. What did I expect, flowers?
Well, um, yeah. Because “SOIVOHLE” is an acronym: “sending out inspired vibrations of healthy loving energy” and if that’s not new-age wackadoodle I don’t know what is. Then I look at the painting, and some of her other work (references below) which have a directness that is almost brutal. There have to be some interesting contradictions here.
I chose four samples from her line, hoping they’d be representative. 
The first one I tried was “Grand Canyon.” It reminds me a bit of an Andy Tauer fragrance , with the generous use of resin, particularly myrrh. The notes list orange flower, but it’s well-hidden. The fragrance is a little sweeter on my skin than on paper, but it’s not a sweet scent, at all. This is an imagined Grand Canyon. The real one smells like piƱon pine, wood smoke and dust. What I smell here is bergamot, with the slight bitterness of citrus rind, and the herbs and woods and, later, the vanilla. Notes from the website are orange flower, citrus, herbs, myrrh, black pepper, laurel, vanilla and woods. A great unisex, it’s one of the “Signature Naturals” line, and is priced at $50 for 4.5 mls (parfum).
“Lilac Heliotrope,” a new offering from the “Moderne” (naturals and synthetics) line, was not my favorite of these. I didn’t grow up in a region where lilacs are common, so have no scent-memory attached to them; as a result, lilac smells like soap to me. That’s just a personal preference. If you like lilac, my guess is that you’d love this. The heliotrope anchors the lilac with its characteristic sweet heaviness, and although my sample was the EDT, it seems to be lasting as well as the stronger ones on my skin. My guess, without knowing Zorn’s entire line, is that this scent is a nod to accessibility; this is reinforced by the more reasonable price of $65 for 12 mls (EDT strength). Official notes are white and purple lilac, orchid, “hint of” rose, mosses, musk and benzoin.
“Cordovan Rose,” also from the Moderne line, opens dark, dark red -- like one of the “black” rose cultivars (actually more of a deep burgundy color) you can buy now. Truth is, I smell very little rose in here. This is another Tauer-like fragrance, heavy on the base notes of “woods” and “spice.” It’s not a leather in the way we usually speak of leather, either: not fleshy-aromatic, or tobaccolike. It’s much woodier. The notes list “full ripe plums” as well. Plums are a difficult fruit. I’d say this “plum” is more like the fruit’s skin, dark and dense, although it’s not unpleasantly so. I would readily recommend this as a true unisex rose, a rare thing! Half an ounce of the EDP is listed on the website at $50.
And now we come to “Love Speaks Primeval.” Does it ever. 
This is the one I’d most associate with Zorn’s paintings. I’m just going to say it: it opens with the strongest cat pee note I’ve ever smelled, but that just lasts seconds, and then it begins to mess with the mind. This is a concept scent. Can we tawk here? It is the muskiest, most realistic, most shocking well-used-knickers perfume I’ve ever tried, ev-ah. And, faithful readers, you know I love the skank, and am not easily shocked. But: Oh my heavens! Where are my smelling salts?
Wait a few minutes. It’s great. Better than the real thing. It’s called a “natural floral chypre” on the website (um, right) with notes of "rose-dominant," violet, pink lotus, jasmine, labdanum, patchouli and “soft warm woods.” This rocket ride is what a niche perfume should be. Perfume strength, from the “Signature Natural” line, it’s priced accordingly, at $70 for 4.5 mls, $180 for half an ounce.
The trip from “Lilacs Heliotrope” to “Love Speaks Primeval” is as contradictory as Zorn’s paintings are to the visual art I’d expect from a natural perfumer. (Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s a stereotype and should be beneath me.) But I enjoy contradictions. 
Btw, the samples they send out aren’t what I’d call generous. But they’re big enough so I can decant some of each -- enough to try -- for one interested reader. Leave me a comment. I’ll pick one winner at random, to receive these four scents. Deadline is Monday, May 17th, midnight U.S. Eastern Daylight time.
Reference: interviews and representations of Zorn’s visual art are here and here.
The photo of the Liz Zorn painting “Brevity” comes from a 2003 article in “The Tear,” referenced above.

Full disclosure time: I bought these samples from the Soivohle website.


Tamara said...

Good morning!

I am indeed interested in the samples you offer.
I'm trying to build up some sort of sample collection because I have none and would greatly appreciate the start. I'm a fan of your blog and read it every morning with my coffee, it's what I look forward too when my girls go off to school :) Thank you for that.

flittersniffer said...

I never knew SOIVOHLE was an acronym, and it did sound on the New Agey side of things which some of these natural perfume houses (eg Ajne) seem to be! Now Ajne scents are natural and last for ages on me - indeed they don't really get into their stride till about 2 hours - they are just limbering up prior to that.

I agree completely about plum being a difficult note, while "smelling a bit like Andy Tauer" is also usually a red flag to me, unless it is "smelling specifically like L'Air du Desert Marocain", for I don't get on with any of the others.

The primeval one sounds like a rollercoaster that every perfumista should try as part of her education, so I guess I wouldn't mind entering the draw for that alone!

Nancy said...

Thanks for this review. I had no idea SOIVOHLE was an acronym. But I do have memories associated with lilac so for sure I'd love to be in the draw. Thank you too for the offering.

Krista Janicki said...

Hell yeah I'd like to try them!

Norma said...

Oooh I would love to try these, especially Love Speaks Primeval! I'm a little scared of the well-used-knickers, but also .... intrigued.

How do you pronounce SOIVOHLE? I am always worried I'll sound like a rube.

Elizabeth said...

Yep, Love Speaks Primeval is a skanky one! Accordingly, it was love at first sniff for me. I bought a FB pretty much right away. It is hard to find places to wear it, so it's a stay-at-home scent for me, but I feel so good when I wear it. I have tried two of those, so you don't need to enter me, just wanted to jump in!

womo531 said...

I would love to try these as well~ What's a gal to do when there are just too many out there to try!

Ines said...

I don't know much about Soivohle, just enough to recognize the name, but it sounds interesting (even though a bit expensive as you say to try all those natural niche lines).
I would like to enter for a chance to sample these. :)

~x~ said...

pick me.

Olfacta said...

Hello everybody and especially decloakers!

I actually have no idea how to pronounce "Soivohle." I've only seen it written, never heard it spoken. Your guess(es) are as good as mine. Maybe "Swah-vo-le?"

Thanks for responding!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to try these, as I've never tried a "natural" scent before and have read varying reactions to them on the blogs. (And I've never been averse to "used knickers" fragrances!).

Rappleyea said...

What interesting reviews! I've only tried her Ginger Meade, which read strongly of Windex on my skin, but then it was one of those strange things that I kept sniffing compulsively.

No need to put me in the draw as a kind friend sent me a baggie full of Soivohle samples. Now you've made me want to try all of them!

Anonymous said...

I'll give it a go. I have NO experience of this perfumer. But they sound like they have the courage of their conviction. i admire that!

ScentScelf said...

I can tell you that I had quite the ride on Love Speaks Primeval. I wrote about it...suffice to say that it took the animalic path that leads to happiness, as far as I am concerned. The mouth starts to form "no," the word that comes out is "yes."

I think Cordovan Rose could be an interesting masculine, also. Grand Canyon is kind of an experience scent; I don't attach it to gender so much.

Haven't tried Lilac Heliotrope...yet...interesting to hear your impressions.

What longevity did you end up getting out of these? I generally find the Zorns to be quite reasonable in their lasting power...some even more so than mainstream edp's.

ScentScelf said...

(P.S. No need to enter me in your draw...very generous of you to share...)

La Bonne Vivante said...

I'd love so much to try these! Please enter me in the draw!

queen_cupcake said...

Please enter me in the drawing. I had heard of Liz Zorn but was intimidated by the prices. I guess I have the same skepticism you had about natural perfumes not lasting very long. Now that I know what "SOIVOHLE" stands for, I am definitely more interested in her and her arts.

sean's jo said...

I have read a lot about Liz Zorn's fragrances but have never been open to the new age aspect and price of all natural. Sounds like it might be time to try. Thanks for the review and the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Please enter me too. I have a few tiny Soivohles from her, "I'm about to change the formulation or discontinue this one." They're intriguing. I'd love to try these. I also have very good lilac memories: my grandparents' yard had a bush, and it was also a treat to be over there at just the right time of year to smell it!
I didn't know Soivohle is an acronym either!
Laura M

Doc Elly said...

Sample addict that I am, I would love to try these, especially Love Speaks Primeval. I don't have any of them.

I agree that the pronunciation should be "Swah-vo-le", regardless of whatever illogical instructions may be on Liz Zorn's website.

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