Legend has it that when the young Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu finally heard the first chord of Tristan and Isolde at the Paris premiere of Wagner’s opera, he promptly fainted and had to be carried out on a stretcher, thereby missing the rest. Only a robust constitution saved me from doing the same when I first smelled Miyako. Or to be exact, while assessing a 3ml sample labeled with only a number, sent to me by the Institute of Olfactory Arts in my capacity as judge selecting finalists for the Art and Olfaction awards. At least Lekeu had the consolation of knowing what had laid him low. I did not, and patience is not my strong suit. When all the judging was over, I obtained advance notice of the finalists a few days before they were announced at Esxence, and was told that this mysterious fragrance was among them.
I looked into it online and found that the only fragrance whose description matched the smell was Miyako, by the Malaysian firm Auphorie. To confirm my hunch I asked them for samples. To their credit, knowing that I was a judge but unaware that the judging was over, they sent me everything except Miyako so as not to influence me. Now that the finalists are known, I have finally received a fresh sample of the stuff. When it arrived at my work address, I got a message from the lab telling me that a wonderful-smelling envelope was waiting for me. I opened it with some trepidation, sprayed Miyako on the back of my hand and can now reveal that this was the fragrance that started me blogging again.
Miyako is primarily a superb osmanthus, a material I first fell in love with when I first encountered it in Shiseido’s Nombre Noir (1982). Osmanthus spans a wide range of smell characters ranging from apricots to leather. Like narcissus, it is almost a perfume all by itself. This, perhaps counterintuitively, is not particularly helpful in fragrance composition, because other notes in the mix tend to obscure the message, as if our mind could figure out what came in one piece and what was added. The brilliance of Miyako is that it manages to extend osmanthus at both ends. Like a great Sauternes, it balances tremendous weight and sweetness with fierce acidity up top, likely the yuzu listed among the materials. Nombre Noir did a similar thing using powerful tangy-rosy damascones. In the middle and bottom, some woody notes, including a sandalwood described by TS as huge (not so to me), and a wonderful, warm note of candied peanuts.
All the above is mere incidental folderol which in no way accounts for the uncanny emotion of Miyako. For some mysterious reason I recomposed all the cheerful citrus, apricots, peanuts, woods and leather into a tragic tableau and perceived it as a luscious, radiant rose surrounded by a dour, airless, almost musty note of underground spaces. This is one of the most affecting accords I have ever smelled, an Orphic descent into the Underworld conveyed without words or music. It is simply astounding that a self-taught perfumer would not only find this Tristan Chord of perfumery, but also be able to write the rest of the score. Unlike so many artisan fragrances that are full of charm but sadly fugacious, this one carries on majestically, expanding at first into a rutilant tutti and ending mf on woods. There was so far only one -ko among my all-time favorites, the one composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1919. This makes two.