My wife and I are hagiographers. Having both grown up immersed in Orthodoxy, we have come to appreciate the depiction of saints and angels in history through the ecclesiastic icons of the Byzantine age - and we are now painting them ourselves, using time-honoured materials and preserving ancient tools and techniques. Hagiography is an art form which has entire schools dedicated to its methodology and teachings. It is no surprise then, that our noses were twitching with anticipation when we learned of the fragrance named ICON launched by British firm LUSH under their Gorilla Perfumes guise. Co-founder of Lush Handmade Cosmetics, Mark Constantine is the perfumer behind this particular scent... just one of 21 creations in their current perfume portfolio.
Icon is a standout scent to me, because I am familiar with its inspiration. And I feel it does justice. Anyone who has ever stepped inside an orthodox church or monastery dating from the 15th century can't help but feel overwhelmed. Centuries-old wood carvings and ornamentation embellish every shadowy corner, where the air is thick with the perfume of old wood and precious resins smoking in concealed censers. The air shimmers with amber light as even the tiniest of flames from beeswax candles that have been lit in prayer, pick out the exquisite icons from the gloom. Icon (the perfume) seems to embrace much of this... there is a strong sense of chairoscuro in its composition, where dappled lights and deep shadows butt against one another. The perfume is relatively uncomplicated... and I might say "naive", but this is to it's merit - the Byzantine painting style is also often unsophisticated. Whilst an icon may be beautifully ornate and inspire awe, these were first painted in an age where perspective was still unheard of; and where natural biological proportions were as yet unexplored.
Icon deftly interprets the aroma of gold and old wood... its opening of sharp bergamot, mandarin and neroli create a glinting metallic accord. It is crisp, radiant and somewhat fragile... like the impossibly thin gold leaf that is used to glorify depictions of the saints... gold sheets that will turn to powder at the slightest touch, or be whisked away to cartwheel on the air with just a whisper of breath. Resinous myrrh lends a slightly bitter quality, but also summons images of smoke-filled churches where the valuable stones are burnt over coal discs. An aromatic base of sandalwood imbues the perfume with a sense of antiquity, representing wooden pews and ornately carved arches. Icon triumphs with its contradictory facets of golden radiance and dusky solemnity.
Mark Constantine has noted that he'd like to revisit Icon and tweak it some more, but I would prefer he leave it be. I celebrate its naivety as much as I celebrate its gloriousness.
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