This is going to be interesting. As I begin to write I am stealing myself to put this perfume on. I feel I need to work up to it. Look out all of you who aren’t into emotional ramblings, for this essay is about to become one.
I will find it impossible to review ‘Flowers Barrow’ without wreathing myself in the past. Too much has gone before, I cannot find my objectivity.
I should explain. I used to work for Lush and towards the end of my time there Gorilla Perfume made it’s eccentric re-entrance. Mark and Simon Constantine, the beautiful minds behind the brand, wanted to take a great, artistic step away from Lush and fragrance the world with a more diverse and eclectic collection of perfumes. I was around for the first launch but then the time came for us to part ways. So as Gorilla has evolved and developed I have experienced it from a customer perspective. Which is quiet a different trip.
When you work for a company like Lush you are literally dunked head first into a steaming vat of creativity, colour, scent and sensation. During working hours you exist in a super saturated, neon world which will insist on coming home with you at the end of the day. It is a full throttle, palpitating fairground of a job and you ride the scented bumper cars in your sleep. Then you have to get back on the next morning. And the next, and the next. Christmas starts in August. New products have parties thrown for them, campaigns involve wearing orange Guantanamo Bay style pants over your clothes and trying to stop angry pro-hunt supporters from trashing your shop. It is as unrelenting as a monkey with a pair of cymbals, grinning manically and chattering away about essential oils.
The company is inspirational, their ethos admirable/brilliant/crazy, the products ingenious. The job? Shattering. The shop? An emotional sink hole. There are a lot of opportunities glimmering away within the company because it is so big, but grasping them is like trying to catch a tiny fish in a vast ocean. Attempting to chase a swift, rainbow tailed unicorn on a child’s tricycle. I was pedaling so fast, running on empty the entire time and by the end every single one of my fuses was blown. I was left feeling exhausted, ridiculous and unsure of who I was or what I was doing. The mad-eyed, anxious person in the mirror was rather worrying, both to myself and to my nearest and dearest. There was nothing left for me to give, I’d lost all passion for the job so I decided it was time to go. There were relieved sighs all round, some farewell drinks and then off it sped, that relentless, perfumed machine, with not even a backward glance. I was left gasping in it’s wake.
For a while afterwards if I walked past the shop the smell would induce a near panic attack. My heart would start to race and the adrenalin would flood through my body in a most unnerving way. I was a bit of a mess for a while, I think I just burned out and it took some time to get myself back together again.
So…. That was cathartic. Thanks for bearing with me.
A few years on and I have some perspective, I’m much happier and it’s time to re-acquaint myself with Gorilla’s latest batch of weirdness. I think I can keep the anxiety levels to a minimum but all the same I’ve decided to forgo the intense experience of having the perfumes shown to me in store. I might not have all the knowledge of the sales assistants anymore but I know the performance and I’d prefer to make up my mind in my own time, in my own space. It would have been fun to visit the Gorilla tour bus, had it come down to Devon, but alas not. So mail order it is.
I decided on ‘Flowers Barrow’ after reading an excellent review by The Silver Fox. I was also very interested in the imagery and history surrounding the fragrance.
“Heed the sages, walk back in thyme
The air is filled with memories. Sprawling brambles and nettles have seized domain of these Roman ruins. Voices of roaming spirits whisper to each other around the fallen stones. Below the sea sings “Come, come, hush, hush” to the eternal, inevitable rhythm of her tides… “
This conjures some pretty potent imagery and I was hoping to experience some sort of past life stirring, a connection with the pagan roots of the ancient site that inspired the perfume. Herein lies a conundrum. The picture had already been painted in vivid strokes, I had already imagined this scent to fit it’s description. Earthy, musty, crushed greenery with the tang of salt in the air, aromatic with herbs and sweetly bitter blackcurrant. So when I first breathed in the real thing, I found it to be so resolutely not what I’d imagined that I didn’t know where to go with it. It was rather like being given ice cream when I’d asked for tomato soup.
I have spent quite a while wearing ‘Flowers Barrow’, wasted quite a lot of words trying to make my experience of it somehow fit with it’s description. Maybe if I had been introduced to this fragrance from inside the company, been on the training course to better understand Simon’s choices. Maybe if I had allowed myself to be sold this fragrance by an undoubtably knowledgeable assistant…. but there will be lots of people buying this fragrance in the same way that I did, online. It is therefore perhaps more appropriate to review it cold, or so to speak. I’ve realised that I am just not going to fit this square peg of a perfume into its pre-prepared round hole. Scent is extremely personal and each individual will experience it differently. So I have decided to give ‘Flowers Barrow’ a different personification.
There is a house at the crossroads. An ancient cottage that leans shabbily beneath the spreading branches of the grandfather oak tree. People come here to leave their wishes tied to the massive trunk, bound around with red string and fluttering scraps. The cottage has high garden walls and over them drifts the sweetest smell of wild roses.
Sometimes, when wishes aren’t enough and a loved one is sick, someone will be brave enough to fearfully push open the wooden gate and step into the garden. Mumbling an incantation against evil, for these are a superstitious folk, the person creeps down the path between the rose bushes, stepping into a heady mist of scented petals. There are blackcurrant bushes heavy with berries, a cat watching from beneath the shady leaves. As the person approaches the cottage a trill of bird song erupts from the thatch. Little brown house sparrows dart in and out from under the eaves, the wall stained grey and white with droppings.
The air is dry, it has not rained for a month and the scent of the garden and it’s inhabitant’s is palpable. The front door of the cottage stands ajar but it is dark within. The person can just make out bunches of dried herbs hanging from the beams and the glint of a copper cauldron sitting in the hearth. Another cat slinks out from the gloom and lifts it’s tail against the lintel to mark its territory. A witches familiar perhaps? Fear mounting in his stomach, the person turns to shuffle down the path and away from the strangeness of the garden.
On the lightest of breezes drifts the sound of singing. It comes from the side of the house. The person peeps around the corner stones and sees a woman, bending to fill her basket with the plentiful herbs that grow all around her. Sage, thyme, rosemary, camomile. There are vegetables too, carrot tops grow bushily in neat rows and red tomatoes sag from their willow frames. It is a beautiful kitchen garden. The woman herself is statuesque and broad shouldered, strong hands dusting dried earth from her skirts. Her skin is scrubbed pink and clean. There is a baby tied to her breast with a long piece of linen and another child sits in the dusty pathway, eating a pile of blackcurrants.
A mother then. Not an old crone. This eases the person’s fear. The woman looks up then and smiles, opening her arms in a welcoming gesture…. “Come to me” she says, “I will heal all”.
‘Flowers Barrow’ certainly is a mother earth of a fragrance, with it’s wonderful herbatiousness and sweet, milk powder ending. I found I had to go through some oddness to get there though, the initial power of it made me recoil. It was a bit like having a ton of dry pink petals dumped on top of me. I have noticed that quite a few Gorilla perfumes have this initial knockout effect, which can temporarily stun your senses.
This is a natural perfume and as such is startlingly real in it’s delivery. There seems to be nothing man made to subdue the behaviour of the different notes. At first they all clamour together in one great floral punch. It is also unbelievably sweet, which I wasn’t ready for. Not gourmand in the slightest, just cloying, throat tightening sweetness. After this comes the blackcurrant. At first it is a relief to detect this fruity, green leaf and I was expecting it to quench the initial dryness with dark juices. But it very quickly turns pissy, like hiding under the bushes in the park as a child, unaware that you are sitting in a cat’s toilet until your mother drags you out.
It is at this point that I consider scrubbing ‘Flowers Barrow’ from my skin. The overwhelming sweet floral dryness is making me angry and I feel an olfactory headache starting. However, when my husband walks past and tells me I smell lovely it is enough to stop my mad dash for soap and water. I should give it some more time.
Another 10 minutes and ‘Flowers Barrow’ is changing, softening, sprouting lovely herbs. The overall feel of the fragrance is still dry but now there is just enough savoury thyme and sage to balance the sweet rose and camomile. There is also a suggestion of fresh milk, although I cannot pin point where it comes from.
It is hard to reconcile the beginning assault of this perfume with its soft and gentle ending. By the evening I felt ever so comforted and soothed. I smelt like I’d taken a healing bath with herbs and petals floating in the water, then dried myself with the softest white towel. It was lovely. But to struggle through the opening stages to get to this point might be a little too much like hard work.
I would definitely agree with Gorilla that ‘Flowers Barrow’ is ancient and powerful. I wish that the herbs revealed themselves earlier in the development to cut through the sweet camomile, rose and geranium. The blackcurrant is only pleasant at the very end, when it is bearly detectable as a slight fruitiness.
With several re-applications I have noticed that this is quite a trippy perfume. It wreathes you in fumes and starts to twist your mind a little. I am wearing the tiniest amount dabbed on the insides of my elbows and I emanate ‘Flowers Barrow’ through the whole house. I don’t know how I would feel about wearing this fragrance out until I’d given it time to settle down. I wouldn’t want to induce visions-or sickness- in the people standing around me.
I knew that I probably wasn’t going to fall in love with Gorilla Perfumes wholeheartedly. Mark and Simon Constantine have a very recognisable signature and I find the fragrances more interesting as pieces of art rather than wearable perfumes. It is also the case that any scent with that particular signature is going to induce a spike of anxiety in me, even years on. Call me sensitive but I think that when you incorporate a constant, strong smell into an already stressful working environment, things can only become more stressful. My senses were being bombarded constantly until I became raw from it.
So, ‘Flowers Barrow’, thank you for the ride. It’s been interesting. I’m still not sure what to make of you. I’m glad that I had a chance to experience you from the other side of the counter, but I think you are just a bit much for me. I am still delicate from years of olfactory overload. It’s not your fault, continue to sing your sweet herbal song and I’m sure many others will fall under your spell. Standing at the crossroads under the grandfather oak, I do not have a wish to weave into the branches. I will take another road.