There is a wonderful and very kind fragrance fairy out there who has sent me samples of the entire Volume 2 collection of Gorilla Perfumes! This is wonderful because it means that I can really experience these fragrances and give them time to tell me their stories.
The more Gorilla Perfumes I try, the more I am coming to realise that they are up to something quite special as a brand. They really are ‘fragrance without fear’. Each has a very distinctive voice and there is no apology made if what they have to say is not to everyone’s taste. They are perfumes that demand not only to be sniffed but to be seen, the air becomes coloured around you when you wear a Gorilla scent. I have also noticed that my response to these fragrances is far more visceral than intellectual. It may still have a lot to do with my history with Lush but it is also more than that. It is as if the scent is reminiscent of some collective knowledge that I know without knowing, if I could just shake the dust from the part of my brain that remembers unconscious thoughts, I might know it better.
I have read a lot of responses to Gorilla Perfumes and there is a unanimous agreement that the scents make you feel….. How they make you feel is completely personal because after all there is nothing so subjective as scent. In the world of fragrance writing and reviewing, a perfume is observed, deconstructed, analysed, then pieced back together again with an opinion hung around it’s neck. With scent built around a traditional structure it is easy to take it apart and objectify each component and it’s relationship with the others. Gorilla perfumes (to my poorly educated nose anyway) seem to have a much more straight forward layered structure, but what is incredible is their demand for a reaction. Whatever perfume from the range you are trying, it hits you in the gut and provokes an emotional response before your mind has had a chance to start assessing the actual smell.
There is always something slightly twisted in Gorilla Perfumes, I am often surprised by the weird little kicks I come across and I can hear the perfume chuckling “ah ha! Thought I’d be gentle on you ay? Well tough shit have some of that!” Then in comes some odd note or sensation. In ‘Flowers Barrow’ it was the unrelenting powder, in ‘The Sun’ the sticky orange squash, in ‘Euphoria’ the uncontrollable desire for sleep. ‘Furze’ has it’s own little quirks, which I shall tell you about if you read on…
When I was growing up, I knew the dark green prickly shrub of this story as broom, or gorse. It grew in abundance on the windy bluffs of the Cotswold hills and in the early spring it would provide one of the first splashes of colour on the dun coloured landscape. I remember loving it’s name and imagining witches creeping about on the hills at night, harvesting the hardy green branches to fly home on in the moonlight. I also remember being told as a teenager that if you dried broom leaves you could smoke them and get high. I never tried to do this mum, honest.
Broom, or furze as we shall refer to it from now on, is one of those ancient plants that isn’t much to look at but was highly regarded in folklore for it’s magical properties. It was representative of light, banishing the lurking winter gloom with it’s burst of yellow petals. Given as a gift, furze was a symbol of good luck, unless you gave it to someone you were romantically involved with, in which case it meant that you were angry with them. Above all it was believed to be powerfully protective. Planted around the perimeter of your house it created a barrier which no bad spirit could cross. Burning furze wood and blooms helped to prepare and protect you during conflict.
I don’t remember furze flowers having a particular smell, however it is interesting that for some people they smell very distinctly of coconut. This must be the case for Simon Constantine, who created the ‘Furze’ fragrance. On the Gorilla Perfume website it is described as
“Warm Vanilla like a honeyed Caramel snuggle and Coconut cuddles and kisses leaving you smelling mouthwatering and delicious… swoon!”
Interesting. A potently protective, ancient scrub being represented using phrases like ‘coconut and caramel snuggles’? Those mind benders at Gorilla are at it again. The story of the scent is steeped in folklore and Simon’s feeling of protection for his family by the furze growing in his garden, yet it’s description is about as fluffy and insubstantial as you can get. I cannot wait to get ‘Furze’ on my skin and let it whisper it’s own story to me….
A recipe for protection.
This recipe much be made on a bright morning, preferably with the sun’s rays falling onto your work surface. Firstly, wash your hands with warm water and your finest mimosa scented soap. Then gather your ingredients together and light the stove, placing two copper saucepans on to warm gently.
·Take a large wooden bowl and into it tip the flour and sugar. Sift them together using your fingers.
·Into one of the pans pour your coconut milk and drop two vanilla pods in to infuse. Don’t be stingy with the vanilla, add three pods if the protection you need is strong. Leave it to heat through, stirring occasionally.
·Into the other pan place a knob of unsalted farmhouse butter and melt until it is golden and liquid. Pour the butter into the wooden bowl with the flour and sugar, then combine into crumbs using your fingers.
·Remove the coconut milk from the hob and gently stir in the yeast, then scoop out the pods and set them aside to dry. Do not dispose of them, you will need them again later. Pour the vanilla infused coconut liquid into the wooden bowl to gradually to form a dough.
·Once a sticky dough is formed, transfer it to a flour and sugar dusted wooden surface and begin to knead, all the while filling your mind with positive, protective thoughts. Envisage the colour yellow filling the room all around you and try to stay as relaxed as you can.
·When the dough is ready, wash your wooden bowl with the mimosa soap and return the dough to it. Cover it with a yellow cloth and set it in the warm sun to rise for an hour. During this time, go out and collect five sprigs of flowering furze from the garden. Separate the flowers from two of the sprigs but keep the other three intact.
·Return to the kitchen and uncover your dough, which should now have doubled in size. As you deflate it and begin to knead again, imagine your enemy’s power diminishing and your own power becoming stronger.
·Separate your dough into seven and roll them to create little buns. Cross each bun with a star, dust with more vanilla sugar and place in the oven to bake. Stay in the kitchen, and as the bread begins to rise and the smell mingles with the sunshine, imagine yourself as a strong and happy person, free from any worries or ill wishes.
·Prepare a box lined with white tissue paper and sprinkle some of the furze flowers into it. When the little buns have cooled, stud them with more flowers, place them in the box and tie it with a yellow ribbon.
·Send this box of sweetness to your enemy with all the positivity you can muster. Take the remaining furze sprigs and fashion them into a bunch with your vanilla pods, secure it with more yellow ribbon and hang it above your front door. Whenever you pass beneath this posy, say thank you for your continued happiness and protection from evil.
I believe that ‘Furze’ needs a much stronger identity than the one that is offered for it. Yes it is buttery and coconutty and delicious, but it is not a frivolous confection for little girls, it is a serious, adult-sized dish of delight and magic, to be handled with respect.
‘Furze’ begins with a clean, soapy mimosa that is quickly chased by coconut. At first the coconut is also very clean and soapy, creamy like lather. As it begins to warm on my skin the vanilla slowly oozes out and the coconut becomes buttery and sumptuous.
The mimosa is still very much present and when combined with the now unctuous, creamy butter it has an effect akin to not rinsing the washing up liquid from your glass properly then drinking milk from it. This is one of those strange little kicks that is always present in Gorilla Perfume, unsettling your nose so you can’t get comfortable with the scent too quickly.
I am pleasantly surprised at the character of the coconut in this perfume. I was expecting either a floral coconut combination, which I have experienced in products from Lush and was sad to find smelt a little bit sicky, or I was expecting more of a raw cocoa butter thing to happen, rich and chocolatey and nutty/earthy. Neither of these is present however. This coconut is delicious macaroon, slightly dry and sweet but also, when combined with generous lashings of custardy vanilla, becomes creamy smooth and melting.
There is a definite butter note present too, melting, unsalted butter. I can almost smell the greasiness of it before a caramel swirl brings it back from the brink. And always present, those clean soapy bubbles, floating high up in the fragrance, continually pulling me up out of the vat of custard. This is what I mean when I say that this is a grown up perfume. It is not simply sickly sweet and gloopy. That shiny, floral lightness helps to keep ‘Furze’ interesting and sophisticated. It is an adult gourmand rather than an ice cream sundae.
Another interesting facet of this perfume is that it has heights. Usually my experience of perfumes as they develop is that they get deeper. Darker base notes start to dominate as the sparkle at the top fades. In ‘Furze’, the deepest note is the vanilla, which gets warmer and combined with the coconut becomes creamy. There might be the tiniest hint of sandalwood but it certainly doesn’t show it’s true colours here. It’s the soapy froth on the top that doesn’t fade. It develops a slight green sharpness and holds itself entirely separate from the sweet custard tart below it. Very evocative of a furze bush, with it’s sharp thorns forming a protective guard over the creamy yellow flowers. If that was intentional on Simon’s part then it is an extremely clever piece of perfumery.
‘Furze’ is a very comforting fragrance. I love that the coconut and vanilla stay true, hours into the dry down. There is no complex shift where the perfume morphs into another shape, no nasty surprises lurking in the background. I could probably find words to criticize it’s simplicity and if ‘Furze’ didn’t have such a strong identity already I would say that it’s lack of depth diminished the resonance of the scent. However, ‘Furze’ is meant to envelop you in the softest woollen shawl and keep you safe from harm. It is sweet sunshine and simple happiness. There is no place for shadows here. To avoid the childish connotations of being safe and protected, ‘Furze’ reminds you that it has thorns with that sharp, twisted soap top note that only recedes at the very end, into a clean vanilla haze.
It really is rather beautiful. Bewildering, yet again, but lovelier for it.
I wonder how many people really ‘get’ Gorilla Perfume. It takes me a while to understand these scents and discover their true natures. The descriptions and hype surrounding them do not always ring true to me. I really do love the visual identity of the brand, created by the mad genius that is Plastic Crimewave, but it paints a very strong picture of the perfumes as graffiti scrawls on the pristine wall of modern cosmetics. This is going to put some of those classic ‘haute perfumerie’ fans off instantly. It would be very interesting to see what people’s response to these fragrances would be if the perfume and the brand was presented in more sophisticated packaging. I suspect it would be quite different. For those Lush customers popping in on a Saturday to buy bath bombs, I can imagine Gorilla being just too weird to consider.
Gorilla really does epitomise ‘niche perfume’. It has a very strong, forthright identity but I feel that sometimes (especially in the case of ‘Furze’), some of the beauty is diminished by the brand’s shouty persona. There is only a very small stage for it to stand on and perform and I would love to be at the Edinburgh Fringe right now, to see how they are doing it. Art and scent and performance is a heady trio. I hope that once you are embraced within the arms of the giant purple gorilla, it will whisper it’s more delicate secrets to you with due reverence.