A landscape architect and garden writer by trade, Way Off Scenter is a long-established and prolific reviewer of fragrances for the Basenotes web site, first as “Vibert” and then as “Off Scenter.” He has been reviewing under his current moniker since returning from a two-year’s absence at Basenotes. Click here for more reviews by Way Off Scenter.
MAAI: A Remembrance of Things Past
MAAI is an enormous, unapologetic animalic chypre scent composed in a style that hearkens back to the tropes of post-WWII perfumery. Perfumers like Edmond Roudnitska, Germaine Cellier, and Ernest Daltroff used to compose scents of this ilk for such firms as Hermès, Piguet, and Caron. Now MAAI stands as a glorious anomaly and a tribute to an art of classical perfumery that seems at times to be languishing.
Imagine, if you will, Cellier’s Fracas bedding down with Opium and Serge Lutens’s Muscs Koublaï Khan on a mattress filled with oakmoss (real, I’m told!) and you’ll have some sense of MAAI’s overall structure. The composition feels like three massive blocks laid down over a chypre foundation. First to emerge is a pungent animalic component (the Muscs Koublaï Khan part), rife with civet and castoreum, and not all that far removed from the animalic accords in Roudnitska’s original Madame Rochas or Daltroff’s vintage Narcisse Noir. Next up is a sensuous tuberose-centered white flower accord, smoother and quieter than Fracas, but still decadently creamy and substantial. Last out of the starting gate is an intensely spicy amber oriental, seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, bergamot, and plenty of labdanum. (Opium, anybody?) The two last-mentioned notes blend with the potent oakmoss to establish MAAI’s profoundly rich chypre accord. The result is simply magnificent, and seems certain to cruise to the head of my “Best Release of 2014” list. (Not that there’s much competition.)
Once the elaborate tripartite structure is established, the components slowly rotate through olfactory space, yielding an ever-shifting sequence fragrance perspectives. Projection and sillage are both copious, especially for the first four to six hours of wear. After that, MAAI very slowly distills itself down to a marvelously warm and decadent labdanum and oakmoss skin scent, in a drydown that remains detectable for at least a day after application. Though the description might put some men off – what with that tuberose – MAAI strikes me as a thoroughly unisex composition. In fact, my wife says she has a hard time imagining it on a woman. At any rate, I heartily recommend that anyone with a serious interest in fragrance sample this great big, indulgent and uncompromising chypre. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
Rating: a shocking 9.5-10/10