It should come as no surprise that the owners of Aedes de Venustas, Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl, both hail from the land that gave us the Asam brothers and Ludwig II. No one did Rococo -- a mid-18th century style that’s all about curves, trompe-l’oeil, playfulness and general, glorious, Catholic over-the-top-ness – better than the Bavarians. Thus, the holy shrine of New York perfume aficionados is a lush cross of the Rococo and the Romantic; a wormhole tunneling back from the West Village into Lola Montès’s boudoir.
But though the boutique’s aesthetics is reprised in the packaging of the Aedes perfume brand, the scents themselves are made of sterner stuff. Bertrand Duchaufour’s rhubarb-skewered cloud of incense in Aedes de Venustas Eau de Parfum managed to feel both archaic and dementedly modern – he called it his “crazy accord”. Ralf Schwieger’s Iris Nazarena, while seemingly more subdued, inhabits the same time-warp.
The scent’s inspiration and namesake, depicted above, could have been plucked from the hothouses of Huysmans’s decadent Des Esseintes: a somber iris tugged between morphing into an orchid and a trompe-l’oeil insect. It grows on the ancient hills surrounding Nazareth, from which it draws its name, Iris nazarena. There’s still a German connection going on though, since its scientific name is Iris bismarckiana, bestowed in the late 19th century by the botanist Sprenger (and likely a tribute to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck)… And of course, between the creative director’s native Bavaria and the perfumer’s homeland Westphalia, the Prussian-inspired nomenclature fits in neatly. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find anything Germanic in the scent itself, birthed in New York by a Grasse-based company (Mane)…
Considering its muse, the scent could have been called Iris Gris. But for Ralf Schwieger, the first hurdle was steering clear of the N°19 template: he clears it by using a different type of greenness: star anise spans the spectrum from day-glo green to burnt umber liquorish. Ambrette shoots its limpid, iced-vodka light into the blend. Schwieger has worked in layers of pastel and charcoal strokes, the iris’s powdery texture blurring into a haze of incense over a petal-thin suede base. The effect is a texture both delicate and tough, flecked with the burnt smells of clove and oud, rooted in earth and flint.
There is already a consistency to Bradl and Gerstner’s olfactive choices, not only because incense is the thread that will run through the collection, but also because the way notes are put forward in bold, wide strokes seems to express a house style. It’ll be interesting to see whether their projects with other perfumers display that same consistency. But it seems that Aedes de Venustas is shaping up to be a real voice in niche perfumery.
Aedes de Venustas have kindly offered five samples for my readers. Just drop a comment to participate.