Turtle Vetiver Front by Isabelle Doyen: The Essence of Black and White (and a draw)
Drinking wine spodee-o-dee with Ti-Jean Kerouac and his Beat poet friends. Hanging out in bone-and-rags elegance with Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Rubbing elbows with William Burroughs and Lydia Lunch and John Lurie at the Mudd Clubb.
Somehow, it’s always New York, and it’s always black and white, as smudgy as a picture by Robert Frank or an old-style newspaper with the ink coming off on your fingers, or a piece of carbon paper ripped off a typewriter. And it’s always about connection; friends.
You can never entirely dissociate a scent from the urge that produced it; the story behind it acts as its lyrics; an extra layer of resonance worked into the accords. The Turtle Series initiated by Isabelle Doyen for Les Nez is not only a scent collection, but also an exercise in community. Connections between artists is what Turtle, “an anarchic salon”, is all about; since Isabelle’s friendship with Michael H. Shamberg, the initiator of Turtle, is what inspired the series. Shamberg produced Summer Cannibals (1996), a Patti Smith video by the photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank; Frank, in turn, directed the seminal underground movie Pull my Daisy (1959), adapted from his friend Jack Kerouac’s play Beat Generation. Hence the above references to New York from the 50s to the early 80s.
Turtle Vetiver is also a conceptual work-in-progress: a series of limited-edition fragrances, starting with practically raw vetiver oil then tweaking the scent by tiny, almost unnoticeable increments, until it morphs into something entirely different over the years.
If Doyen chose vetiver as a starting point for Exercise 1, it is because she considers it to be practically a complete perfume by itself, but also because it reflected Shamberg’s angular elegance. But it makes even more sense when you consider that it is extracted from a rhizome, i.e. a vegetal network that has neither roots nor hierarchy (and is therefore “anarchic”), just like the Turtle Salon on the web.
The new Exercise, Front Turtle (to be followed by Back Turtle), is directly inspired by Robert Frank’s photographs and more specifically, their urban, gritty blacks and whites. Black: vetiver’s smoky and flinty facets, boosted until the latter achieves an ink and carbon paper quality. White: an incongruous “coconut” lactone, off-handedly slapped on the vetiver. Gray: a drop of real ambergris tincture for radiance and a lick of Evernyl, one of Doyen’s favorite materials which, she writes in an anthology published by Élisabeth de Feydeau, “smells like supra-terrestrial lichen”. An artist friend who has made Turtle Vetiver her signature scent, and was offered preview decants of the two new versions – again,Turtle is about connecting people – says she reaches more readily for Front Turtle, which she finds easier to wear.
Front Turtle should be sold any day now on Les Nez’s website. Meanwhile, I will be glad to share a sample of Front Turtle with one of you from my own preview decant: just drop a comment to participate in the draw.
I am a writer and translator based in Ottawa, as well as the perfume editor for Citizen K and a writer for NEZ, the olfactive magazine. My book The Perfume Lover, A Personal History of Scent is published by Harper Collins (UK), St. Martin's Press (USA) and Penguin (Canada). The perfume linked to the book,Séville à l'aube, was composed by Bertrand Duchaufour for L'Artisan Parfumeur.