When one comes across a new niche perfume house with an incredibly strong visual identity, it is easy to jump to conclusions. I have had the misfortune of encountering a few such brands that have all the style and panache, all the engaging, intelligent blurb and enough hype to ignite a forest fire of interest in the perfumes. Sadly, the juice simply hasn’t been able to live up to the glowing picture rendered expertly by the PR company. The money has gone into the look and left very little for the product itself. At the other end of the spectrum there are extremely talented perfumers out there, creating beautiful fragrance, but with a limited budget and no commercial marketing experience the result is poor visual representation that turns the customer off before they’ve even caught a whiff of scent.
This is a particular pet peeve of mine. I have a background in Visual Communication, merchandising and sales, so I understand the need for intelligent advertising and attractive packaging. In fact I would encourage any artisan perfumer to get their brand looking good before they present it to the customer. Niche fragrance is all about luxury and pleasure, we want to feel that what we are buying is special- a little decadent and extravagant. In my piece about fragrant motivations, I’ve spoken about how sometimes I feel the importance of the ‘look’ far outweighs the actual quality of a fragrance, especially within the realms of fashion and beauty. I have been guilty of buying a fragrance because I liked the bottle in the past. Now however, I care far more about the perfume, it’s beauty and quality, the craftsmanship involved in it’s creation. It makes me very angry to see perfume houses fling huge sums of money in entirely the wrong direction because they know that with the right marketing it won’t matter how bad the perfume is, people will buy it. Where is the artistry in that?
Shay and Blue, established in 2012, are a London based perfume house with fragrance veteran Dom De Vetta at the helm. With twenty years experience working at the very top for the likes of Chanel and Jo Malone, of course the Shay and Blue ‘look’ was going to be masterfully created and styled. And it really is a stunning looking brand. Powder blue packaging with striped ribbons and delicate aqua coloured bottles with golden tops. The typography is an intelligent and subtle blend of classical and modern, the photography a masterful, still life portrait of each perfume, surrounded by it’s key ingredients and styled to ooze sophistication and cool beauty. It’s all very, very well done and I am instantly intrigued. There is also a strong suggestion of artisanal exclusivity about Shay and Blue that I rather like, that ’boutique experience’ I enjoy so much when it comes to choosing perfume. The London boutique looks stunning, with it’s black and white tiled floors and richly hued interior of smoky blues and old wood….
Of course I have warning bells sounding in my head after becoming thoroughly jaded by past experience. Could the scents ever live up to my newly inflamed expectations? The six perfumes in the line have come with high recommendations from The Silver Fox, a man who’s nose I trust but who’s taste sometimes differs from my own. I ordered samples of ‘Almond Cucumber’, ‘Atropa Belladonna’ and ‘Amber Rose’. I’ve waited nearly a month for my sinuses to clear after a horrible cold and all the while the little blue packages have perched on my dressing table and quietly whispered to me about decadence and sophistication. The build up has been rather epic and may I say, thoroughly worth it.
Of the three fragrances I have tried there has been one big surprise, one rather hedonistic joy ride and one beautiful romance. Perfumer Julie Masse is an obviously talented and exciting new perfumer with style enough to match her fragrance’s gorgeous wrappings. Together Julie Masse and Dom De Vetta have created a strong theme throughout the perfumes, one that I can only really describe metaphorically.
If Shay and Blue is a fragrance house, then the fragrances themselves are rooms, each with it’s own stunning interior and filled with the voices and personalities of it’s notes. It is a Regency style house of the type built in my home town of Cheltenham, in the Cotswolds. Regency architecture in Cheltenham has a feel that you just don’t find anywhere else. Grand facades, like pale, square monoliths set within green, leafy spaces. Large, airy rooms, high ceilings, huge windows to let in all the light. I did not grow up in a house like this but I’ve always wanted to own one. That sense of light and space runs through all three of the Shay and Blue perfumes that I have sampled, along with a wonderfully controlled yet expressive imagery that just oozes class. I would happily spend time in all of these scented rooms, and there is one that I could easily never leave. We’ll end our tour there. Let us start in the Sun Room…..
‘Amber Rose’ has been the biggest surprise for me. If you’ve heard me talk about rose you’ll know that I am beyond fussy when it comes to the queen of the flowers. I am a self confessed snob and extremely hard to please. One of my least favourites are sweet roses because although I greatly enjoy eating the sugared petals in various forms, I cannot quite cope with that scent on my skin. ‘Amber Rose’ lists May Rose from Grasse and White Amber among it’s notes, as well as a very intriguing Dulce de Leche facet that really caught my attention. I adore Dulce de Leche. On toast, in crepes, straight off the spoon, it’s butterscotch goodness never fails to pleasure me. But I don’t like sweet roses and Dulche de Leche is so sweet…..I could procrastinate forever, so I thought I should just get on and try it.
‘Amber Rose’ is like opening the door into a room painted palest faun and white. The vast windows are open and behind sheer, drifting lace the sun is setting, filtering through the delicate curtains in a blaze of radiance. On every surface stands vase upon vase of roses, pink, peach, white and apricot, creamy petals fluttering to the polished wooden floor in the summers breeze. The occasional table between the silk brocade sofas is set with a delectable feast of soft white bread, rose lemonade and a huge jar of butterscotch sauce, the spoon all ready for scooping. The air inside the room is warm from the sun’s rays and fresh from the breeze, the blooms all around are sublimely fragrant. All you have to do it settle into the cushions and enjoy your delicious supper….
The beginning few seconds of ‘Amber Rose’ is about dewy soft petals, unfurling at high speed in the growing sunlight. It feels soft and sheer but the rose isn’t ghostly, rather it has a lovely luminosity that renders the pale petals whole. When the Dulce de Leche appears it immediately takes centre stage, growing in intensity and golden butteriness with every second. Five minutes in and ‘Amber Rose’ is all about butterscotch. My mouth is watering, it is a realistic portrait which avoids nasty synthetic sweetness. For a while I wonder if the rose will ever return but after about ten minutes she drifts back in. There is what I feel to be a necessary distance between the massive dose of golden butterscotch and the delicate pink of the rose, they hold themselves very separate from each other and from this point take it in turns to be more prevalent. This is undoubtably a very sweet, gourmand rose fragrance of the sort that I don’t usually like. However, I really like ‘Amber Rose’ for a number of reasons.
Firstly, that Dulce de Leche is difficult not to love. There is such an accuracy to this accord that it never develops an uncomfortable level of sweetness. It is exactly as it is straight from the jar. Secondly, the rose and butterscotch are the only two notes that I really notice, everything else seems simply to support the main players. I enjoy this because for me, gourmand roses are usually spoiled by the appearance of some very inedible note somewhere in the development. It is akin to enjoying a glass of milk then noticing that you can still taste the washing up liquid. In ‘Amber Rose’ all the notes are scrumptiously mouthwatering, deliciously scented, rounded and smooth. There are no sour moments. Thirdly, I find no powdery lipstick quality here, this is not a vintage rose. It is a very intelligently produced sweet, dewy rose with all the sophistication of a classic, but none of the showiness. I think I actually might wear this and that is saying something!
‘Amber Rose’ has a moderate projection and stayed on my skin for about six hours. I tend to apply cautiously though, so I should imagine a few more spritzes would last far longer. But if you are looking for a perfume with some serious tenacity then you’d better follow me upstairs to the Boudoir….
‘Atropa Belladonna’ has been another extremely enjoyable experience. A richly decadent and voluptuous interpretation of berries, white blooms and vanilla that has a narcotic, hedonistic feel in it’s opening moments. Cassis, Grasse Jasmine, White Narsissus, Bourbon Vanilla and Patchouli make for quite a heady concoction.
The door of the Boudoir is made of teak, intricately engraved with garlands of flowers and swags of ripe fruit. It opens with barely a whisper as you step into the velvet darkness within. The carpet is so plush that your feet sink luxuriously into the indigo fibres, not a chink of moonlight is allowed to escape from behind curtains that would not look out of place hung in a proscenium arch. They pool in endless shadowed folds upon the floor. Candles burn intensely in the gloom, the plum coloured wax bubbling and dripping into ornate holders. The flames themselves seem to burn with a bluish hue. A subtle sparkling outlines a figure seated within the depths of the room, the flames reflect from the rubies clinging to her throat. You bring the candle closer and in it’s flickering light you catch the impression of dark tumbling hair, bare shoulders and acres of damson velvet skirts. The woman’s eyes glimmer with a sultry menace, the pupils fully dilated in a face with lips like a stain of berry juices. Whatever she wants with you, it is both terrifying and thrilling….
The opening of ‘Atropa Belladonna’ is very visual, dark juices bursting upon the skin with characteristic sweet tartness. The cassis is so dark it is almost black and dense in texture. The jasmine appears next, swirling through the deep plum and indigo. The effect is one of opening petals in the night, pollen escaping to drift on the breeze.
The perfume blossoms forth in waves, filling out and taking form. I detect a very distinct pollen note which I believe comes from the narsissus and this is what takes ‘Atropa Belladonna’ from dessert into a narcotic fuelled night of decadence and hedonism. The slightly nose tickling narsissus, the head spinning indolic quality of the jasmine, paired with the sweet/tart cassis and a developing rich vanilla is really trippy. There is also a sense of something slightly herbal in the base, the idea of incense burning without the actual scent of it. I believe this to be a very clever use of patchouli and sandalwood, supporting the slick and sweet vanilla/cassis combination and helping it to last.
The cassis note has impressive longevity and carries through the whole development of the fragrance, along with the incredibly rich and almost burnt vanilla. The trippy pollen-like narcissus subsides to allow the jasmine to fully breathe her night time secrets into the dark. Patchouli stays submerged below the surface, supporting the other notes until the final dry down, where it becomes more prominent and develops a jam like quality, next to a drier sandalwood and berry custard dessert of cassis and vanilla.
‘Atropa Belladonna’ is almost obscene in it’s sweetness at times, but it comes purely from a clever blend of cassis and vanilla and never stumbles over into artificial sugarplums. The patchouli is no where near as prevalent as it is in other gourmand patchouli fragrances like Mugler ‘Angel’ and the berry juices far more sophisticated than ‘Nina’ by Nina Ricci. There are comparisons certainly and if you love either of those fragrances then I’m sure you would adore ‘Atropa Belladonna’. I feel that it deserves special recognition for that incredible narcotic quality in it’s opening moments, so fitting considering the effects of Deadly Nightshade, from which it’s name derives. After the unspoken debauchery of the night, it’s time to freshen up. Come done into the Garden Room when you’re ready….
The third scent that I chose to sample from Shay and Blue is ‘Almond Cucumber’ and it is the one that I have fallen head over heels for. For me it is the epitome of understatement, something that I am forever searching for in perfume. With a nod to the 90’s, the era in which I was discovering scent, ‘Almond Cucumber’ was bound to woo my nostalgic sensibilities. It’s no watery blue pool though, there is light and space in this perfume that draws it firmly into the now.
Stepping through the glass doors of the garden room, the sensation is one of wonderful coolness. The walls are white, the rattan furniture bleached by the weather and the tiled floor carries a faded pattern of sage coloured flowers. Beyond the glass the garden spreads out in seemingly endless greenness, drooping willow against shiny rhododendron, rolling lawns disappearing beneath shaded boughs. This is where you come to think, to work, to refresh a tired soul. Pulling a chair up to the french doors, you sit between the flowing white linen curtains and slowly pick through a bowl of melon and cucumber, breathing in the bright air of the garden and letting your thoughts wander. The afternoon passes in dappled light and shade until finally the sun can be seen dipping below the horizon, a perfect golden orb framed with bluish cloud. Stretching, you set aside your notebook and wander out into the evening mists, dew already forming on the grass. It is deliciously cool beneath your bare feet….
‘Almond Cucumber’ is simplicity itself, a superb combination of cool and milky notes with incredible longevity. Cucumber, Winter Mimosa, Almond milk and Almond wood are the notes listed. The scent opens like freshly peeled and sliced cucumber, crushed onto a white china dish. Chasing behind comes a luscious green melon, ever so slightly sweetened but always chilled and mouthwatering. There is a nostalgic hint of a facial toner I used to use as a teenager but the effect is not astringent or alcoholic, it feels pure and succulent.
The almond, when it appears after about five minutes, is what truly makes this perfume a winner for me and sets it apart from the watery, melony musks of the past. It is freshest almond milk, white and smooth and nutty, cold from the fridge. It seems to blend seamlessly with the pale green cucumber, blitzing the slippery flesh and turning it creamy, almost frothy. There is no soap, no washing powder, just a very realistic white and green fluidity. Occasionally a little sweetness rises in the development, reminiscent of macaroons but this always subsides again under the steady misting of milk and light.
‘Almond Cucumber’ feels spacious, luminous and airy. The balance between nutty and cool is ever perfect and a certain dewy moistness presides. However, the fragrance never feels drenched and watery to me. There is also a very pretty floral quality that lends a dainty texture. Subtle in the extreme but then, that’s what I love the most.
For all it’s dainty politeness, this perfume has lasting power beyond my wildest dreams. I think that the notes really suit my skin and that helps. I wouldn’t call it a perfume of great sillage, it doesn’t project greatly but it lasts and lasts from early morning into the evening. In the closing stages it feels comforting and still so creamy, warmer now with woody shavings. ‘Almond Cucumber’ is the ultimate in cool, reserved and seamless simplicity. I adore it.
A wonderful and surprising bonus comes written on the price tag. At £30 for 30mls and £55 for 100mls, these perfumes are affordable. I honestly couldn’t believe the price. I normally just assume that the price of the fragrances I review will be close to £100 at least and I had to double check the website to be sure. There is obvious craftsmanship and high quality ingredients at work here, the structure may not be overly complex but the resulting perfumes are all worthy of praise.
Shay and blue have delivered on all fronts. The brand looks stunning and the fragrances have been a joy to write about. ‘Almond Cucumber’ will be arriving, beautifully packaged, as a full bottle on my dresser in the near future. I still have three more scents to try, the vivacious sounding ‘Blood Oranges’, the zest infused ‘Sicilian Limes’ and the very intriguing ‘Suffolk Lavender’. I’m greatly looking forward to exploring more scented rooms within the house of Shay and Blue, I hope that you will seek out these bright spaces for yourselves too.