A chypre Valkyrie called Maai descends from vintage Valhalla, riding a growling black panther called Hyrax down a thick spiral of smoky black resins into the drab modern world, infusing it with oakmoss from times gone by. Roses and jasmine are intertwined in her hair, their scent mingling with the fierce musk of the castoreum leather armour that shields her. As Maai sings Valhalla’s anthem about vintage chypres, oakmoss blooms around her like a force-field, growing more and more powerful, touching everything in her path. The cloud of green is stained with black from smoky styrax and leather, and with yellow from a urinous stream of civet left in the panther’s wake. It is so powerful that it blows the flowers from her hair, creating a vortex of jasmine and rose deep within the green. As she approaches Earth, Maai’s cloud sweeps up soft, earthy vegetation and humus from the ground below her, unearthing a deep core of labdanum amber whose warmth softens her warrior cries. Her panther roars along with her, baring his teeth in a feral song and raising his leg to mark his territory with a steady stream of animalic skank. Yet, in the end, both are tamed by the Earth’s golden heart, which coats their bodies, defuses their power, and transforms the feral panther into a labdanum steed with only a hint of musky leather. This is the tale of Maai, a Valkyrie from a bygone age, and her return to Earth.
Maai is a fragrance from Bogue Profumo (hereinafter just “Bogue“), an Italian artisanal perfume house founded by Antonio Gardoni. Mr. Gardoni is an architect whose background influences his approach to perfumery, as he explains on his website:
From the infusion in alcohol of resins, woods, roots and metals I create some of the solvents I use to dissolve rare and high quality raw ingredients found in my trips. From steam distillation I extract the essential oils to create odors and fragrances.
I work at night when the light doesn’t adulterate the chemicals and when the smells of the day disappear to leave space to new experiments of shadows.
I create contemporary fragrances with ancient techniques and modern intuitions.
From architecture and design I learned how to build by layers and to think by subtraction. My perfumes are rooms to discover with their mood, texture, light and color.
Bogue’s website page for Maai has no description or note list, only the fact that it was released early in 2014. There isn’t even a photo of the bottle or any mention of the perfume’s concentration, though I think Maai has the feel of an extrait in terms of its richness and strength. The website may say nothing, but there are some clues on the internet as to what the perfume contains. According to a Basenotes commentator, “Deadidol,” who has spoken with Mr. Gardoni, as well as what’s listed on Fragrantica, Maai seems to include:
Aldehydes, tuberose, rose, jasmine, possibly ylang-ylang, musk, civet, castoreum, hyraceum [also known as hyrax], resins, and labdanum amber.
Maai explodes upon my skin like a vintage chypre powerhouse from the 1980s, and anyone who has reads this blog regularly will know that I mean that as the ultimate compliment. It is a burst of sharply animalic, old-school mossiness infused with abstract floralcy that lies atop a layer of rich, musky, velvety, and very leathered castoreum.
It is sprinkled with a delicate veil of fatty aldehydes that actually seem to sparkle like golden bubbles. I’m surprised at how perfect they are, and how well modulated. As many readers know, I’m not usually a fan of the note, especially in heavy quantities, because I can’t abide soapiness in fragrances. Here, however, there is nothing akin to the terrors of Chanel No. 5, YSL‘s Rive Gauche, or the nightmare of my youth, Van Cleef & Arpels‘ legendary aldehyde bomb, First. (The latter’s name alone continues to send a bone-deep shudder down my spine, all these decades later.) Instead, the molecules here truly feel fatty, buttery, and, simultaneously, sparkling. They don’t evoke images of being drowned in a tidal wave of soap like those other scents, but of dancing motes of golden light beaming off a crystal chandelier. Something about them is the perfect grace note to cap the dark green cavern of mosses and feral, leathery animalics that form the cornerstone of Maai.
And what a cornerstone it is. My God, this fragrance… this fragrance! You know the old Thomas Dolby song, “She blinded me with science”? Well, Maai blinds me first with a Mike Tyson-like punch of pre-IFRA/EU mossiness, then finishes me off with an uppercut of beautifully ferocious civet, castoreum, hyrax, and resins. It’s killer, and knocks me out cold with awe.
First, let’s take the moss. Every fiber of Maai’s being feels imbued with massive quantities of the real stuff, supplemented perhaps by a pinch of galbanum. The greenness isn’t the purely fusty, mineralized, musty grey sort of moss found in colder, vintage leather-chypres, but it’s also a far cry from the softer, sweeter, brighter sort embodied by patchouli in so many modern neo-chypres. This feels like hardcore mousse de chene — and I have absolutely no idea how Mr. Gardoni passed IFRA compliance tests unless he took out the offending molecule (atranol) in the same sort of very expensive process used by Bertrand Duchaufour in MDCI‘s glorious Chypre Palatin. Whatever method Mr. Gardoni used, though, may all the gods bless him. I haven’t smelled something with this combination of feral, green-black-brown, animalic splendour since the 1980s or my vintage bottles from that era.
The vast cavern of green is drenched with multi-faceted, animalic aromas that roar like a feral panther. It’s all due to the combination of urinous civet and hyrax, with the leathery muskiness of castoreum. In essence, it amounts to a feline pissiness more than anything barnyard. It most definitely isn’t at the furthest extreme on the spectrum, which would be “fecal.” Not on my skin, though I’ve read that some poor souls were much less fortunate and experienced animalic poop. Given that hyraceum is, in essence, the fossilized excrement from the urine of an adorable, fluffy, little desert rodent called Hyrax, I’m not completely surprised. For me, however, the end result when combined with the castoreum and civet is a strong, potent mix of musky leather soaked in Kouros-style urinous notes.
Yet, to my surprise, the combination is actually softer than what I had expected. As a point of comparison, the civet/hyrax notes are much milder than that in Masque Milano‘s Montecristo, but a hair stronger than what’s in Serge Lutens‘ Musc Koublai Khan (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “MKK“). I personally find the latter to be more fuzzy and soft, as animalics go, but I know some people strongly disagree. Obviously, it’s going to come down to one’s personal yardsticks and definitions, along with skin chemistry. I can tell you that if MKK wasn’t your cup of tea and if Montecristo gives you the vapors, you should probably avoid Bogue’s Maai like the plague because its core essence can essentially be summed up by this photo:
Swirling around that core are the florals. For the most part, the rose and jasmine are fully subsumed into Maai’s overall cloud, creating the impression of something flowery but not always giving a clear or sharply delineated note. Sometimes, it translates as “sweet jasmine,” other times as “rose,” but the notes are generally muted behind the large blanket of moss and animalics. One thing I’d like to say is that I never once detected any tuberose on my skin. I experience ylang-ylang instead, albeit indirectly, as Maai definitely develops a tell-tale velvety creaminess like that which is provided by the flower. But tuberose haters should not worry too much; those who did encounter the note never felt as though they were wearing Fracas or hardcore soliflores centered around the notorious flower.
Roughly 20 minutes into its development, Maai warms up, turning sweeter, smoother, and much deeper. It’s a seamless blend of multi-faceted greenness, animalic musk, urinous leather, roses, jasmine, and basic vintage splendour. and it really is splendid, you know. An utterly mesmerizing mix of sophisticated elegance with a male panther’s growl and a come-hither flutter of the eyelashes, as both a man and a woman open a few buttons to expose musky skin. None of it feels either overtly feminine or particularly raunchy, but there is a skankiness that far exceeds the more restrained undertones of something like vintage Mitsouko.
Actually, in some ways, the closer Guerlain analogy might be 1970s Shalimar, as Maai has a thick streak of darkness that grows stronger by the minute. I am convinced that there must be smoky, leathery styrax resin mixed in with the castoreum. Here, it evokes images of a river, turgid and swollen, that spills over the mossy embankments, staining the verdant greenness with a primordial ooze that smokes, slithers, and reeks balsamic darkness. Accompanying it is labdanum which awakens at the end of the first hour and casts a growing haze of warmth upon the mosses and animalics.
The whole thing is very impressive, and really feels like what Mr. Gardoni states on its website: a layering, one upon the other, building up to a crescendo. By itself, the mossy base would have been enjoyable, even amazing in terms of its IFRA/EU boundary pushing, but insufficient to make Maai feel quite so unique. The addition of civet would have yielded a nod, but not much more. However, layering civet, castoreum, labdanum, probably hyrax, and smoky styrax with all that stunning mossiness really elevates the whole thing to operatic levels. I frequently say that I prefer my fragrances to be like The Ride of the Valkyries with Wagnerian resonance, and Maai qualifies on every level. It has the glamourous beauty and diva intensity of the iconic Maria Callas, but this Brunhilde is immolating herself on a chypre pyre coated with feral leatheriness and balsamic darkness.
Maai has the forcefulness of a warrior goddess even in terms of her sillage. A truly tiny amount, roughly 2 very small smears or the equivalent of a single spritz from a bottle, yielded a powerful, intense cloud that initially radiated 5 inches off my skin. Yet, oddly, it actually seemed to mushroom and balloon in strength, growing to well in excess of a foot in terms of its tendrils that rose up, snaking repeatedly snaked around me with fiercely animalic waves, even when I didn’t move. None of it feels opaque, visually, but Maai is a powerhouse in a way that would make my beloved, vintage Opium blink.
In point of fact, Maai actually smells similar to two other fragrances from the past. First and foremost, one of my all-time vintage favorites, the little-known Montana by Claude Montana which was subsequently renamed as Montana Parfum de Peau. It was a 1980s leather-chypre with rose, jasmine, civet, and much more, a sadly under-appreciated gem that horrified some people with its skankiness. I took out my old bottle to do a side-by-side comparison, and there are differences. Montana is sweeter, more overtly floral, with a stronger rose component, less substantial mossiness, and only a feral meow. While there is a skanky, civet-infused leathered base, none of it is quite as intensely urinous as Maai.
This is where the second fragrance comes in: vintage Kouros. The YSL legend contained costus root which added that aggressive touch of a ripe, human body mixed with the notorious “urinal cakes” element. Here, in Maai, the former is thankfully not present, while the latter has been much more restrained. Yet, the hyrax in Maai definitely evokes Kouros in full ’80s splendour, glistening on a bare chest with at least five good sprays. In short, if Montana Parfum de Peau had an affair with Kouros back in the 1980s, their love child would be modern Maai.
At the start of the second hour, Maai begins the slow transition to its eventual drydown phase. A golden, vegetal quality appears, with a tiny undertone of earthiness as well. It isn’t like mushrooms, but more akin to the humus that you’d find in a garden or on a forest floor. It’s a soft, textural note that is perhaps best summed up as a vegetal butteriness. It merges with the growing wave of labdanum to create something like a Photoshop filter that smooths out all the other elements, blending them together in a soft, golden light. The only thing it can’t defuse is that animalic, urinous growl which sometimes feels as though it has increased into a sonic boom.
From this point onwards, Maai turns into a chypre blur, a seamless bouquet of rose, jasmine, mosses, musky castoreum leather, urinous civet-hyrax, and vegetal butteriness, all atop a foundation of smoky, treacly, blackened resins and amber. By the end of the third hour, the blurriness grows greater, and the notes lose all shape except for the animalism. The resinous styrax in the base fades substantially, the leatheriness weakens, and the mosses feel lighter. The flowers are wholly abstract. Increasingly, the perfume is as well, and feels like a soft green-gold cocoon.
Even the monster sillage softens. Maai drops to about 2 inches above the skin, through tendrils continue to shoot out whenever I move, radiating out to a large distance in a way that quite surprised me. The best way I can describe it is that the core of the perfume has shrunk to a soft, hazy kernel, but Maai still emanates a large aura in terms of its skankier notes, particularly the castoreum.
Maai’s extremely long drydown phase begins at the start of the 4th hour. The labdanum surges forth from the base, adding one more layer of softness in the form of golden warmth, and diffusing the mossy greenness even more. When the 6th hour rolls around, Maai is a hazy mix of castoreum, amber, and oakmoss dominated by animalic, musky leatheriness in a soft cocoon of amber. A few hours later, the visuals turn purely to brown and gold, as the amber takes over completely. In its final hours, Maai is merely skanky amber that coats the skin with musky warmth.
All in all, Maai consistently lasted over 10 hours on me with only the smallest amounts. I experienced 11.75 hours with a few tiny smears, and roughly 13.5 hours with a slightly larger quantity. I didn’t have a ton of the scent to play with, and was initially unsure as to Maai’s strength, so I didn’t really risk spraying it and felt safer dabbing. I cannot imagine how forceful, intense, or long-standing the fragrance might be when applied from a regular bottle. Four sprays of this, and they may smell you on Deep Space Nine. But what is impressive is how even a little bit of Maai goes a long, long way — in terms of sillage as much as longevity. As noted earlier, the initial projection is huge. The silage generally dropped to about an inch above my skin at the start of the 6th hour, where it remained for quite a while. Maai generally turned into a pure skin scent on me around the end of the 8th hour, something which is rare for me with modern fragrances.
There is a lot of love for Maai in perfume-land. On Basenotes, there is a long thread with many positive reviews, some of which verge on the adoring. My favorite one comes from “Alfarom,” who essentially opens his analysis with a stunned “F*** ME SIDEWAYS!” (Emphasis in the original.) I had to laugh, and did so out loud, because I completely shared his reaction. It’s that oakmoss, all that endless oakmoss combined with the vintage feel and the skank. His review reads, in part, as follows:
F*** ME SIDEWAYS!
WOW! I mean, really, WOW!
I liked Bogue [… but] I’ve never really grown to *love* them. […] Well, with Maai he pushed on the accelerator and delivered something that moves in masterpieces territories.
A big, animalic, old school chypre that says *F*** IFRA* from top to bottom. I’ve no idea about the strength but this is so potent and concentrated that feels like an extrait. Still too early to go with a proper note breakdown but think about Onda, Jubilation 25 (the feminine), some of the best chypres from the past and O’Driù all of them at the same time. Honestly, mind-blowing. […][¶]
If you dig Vero Profumo’s style, you absolutely need Maaj because Gardoni is a solid candidate to become the new *Vero Kern*.
Note: I do apologize for the language but this stuff got me excited to the point I crossed the border of Tourette syndrome.
One poster is much more ambivalent. For “Hedonist222,” Maai was not only “absolutely fecal,” but seemed like a scent where all the focus was on skankiness, to the detriment of the other notes. His thoughts are below (with apologies for the liberty I’ve taken in putting a series of single sentences into formatted paragraphs for the purpose of easy blog reading):
I’ve worn this twice from an official sample spray. It felt like he saw that a lot of people were craving poop. Just flat out fecal perfumeness. So he said ok. I’ll give you guys fecal. It’s pretty fecal. No doubt about it. But what else? It felt like it was going in circles.
I kept waiting for it to develop. Normally, perfumes like Maai have my name written all over them. But Maai felt like the majority of perfume skill effort was directed into achieving skank. AND it does. And I love skank.
But it felt there was more than fecal notes but not enough stand out & announce their presence. Like for example in vintage Route du Vetiver or Norma Incense. They each revolve around a single note with apt supportive notes. In Maai, I know they’re there. But I can barely make out what they are or what purpose they serve.
Maai isn’t a bad perfume. It’s more of a soliskank. I have high quality essential oils of castoreum, hyraceum & civet from Abdessalam of profumo.it. Maai smells like them with very little else in terms of supporting notes ore accords. […] I love skank but I like my skank to have a pronounced accord along with it. If you want a skank dominated perfume that only needs 4 sprays to last a good 8 hours, then Maai will suit you very well. […]
It’s going to be an issue of skin chemistry, as other Basenoters state that they didn’t experience any fecal qualities. Nor did Fragrance Daily‘s Claire Vukcevic whose very positive review goes out of its way to make that point clear. Like “Alfarom,” she too found similarities to Vero Kern’s work, but she found Maai to be more approachable than something like Onda, even with the tuberose note that she usually finds difficult. Her review is wonderfully detailed, and I encourage you to read it in full, but here are small portions:
Maai is an aldehydic, animalic floral musk built on tuberose, musks, and resins. Without using vintage materials, Antonio has managed to close the gap between the grand old perfumery traditions of Chanel circa 1940 and the modern schools of perfumery that exist in today’s scaredy cat, post-IFRA world. And as someone who loves the vintage Chanels and Guerlains, Maai is speaking my language. […]
I didn’t know that something could smell so clean and so dirty all at once. […][¶] But fear not, this is not the fecal type of dirtiness you get in Serge Lutens’ Muscs Khoublai Khan‘s opening or the sulphurous wall of funk you get in Masque’s Montecristo. To my (admittedly amateurish) nose, the kind of animalics we are talking about here is the high-pitched civet-y tone of old school wonders such as Jean Desprez’ Bal a Versailles, or even Molinard’s Habanita. […][¶]
But for me, much of the dirtiness here comes from the interplay of musks and honey. There may also be a bit of unlisted ginger or vetiver, because I can smell a direct line between the first half of Maai and scents such as Onda (honey, vetiver, leather, ginger) by Vero Profumo, and Molinard’s Habanita (powder, honey, leather). […][¶]
Maai goes on to shed that initial harshness, revealing glimpses of a green-tinged tuberose in the background, and an absolutely beautiful resinous, mossy backbone. The tuberose here is not the fleshy, indolic flower of my nightmares a la Fracas by Robert Piguet, but rather a crisp, watery flower that is sensed rather than seen directly. […] I have noticed the same treatment of the rose in Noir Patchouli by Histoires de Parfums, the shape of which you can only just make out by squinting through the haze of leather and patchouli. […] Again, the chypres I have mentioned here all share the same kind of leathery, mossy, animalic drydown that I get in Maai. [snip]
I encourage you to read her review in full, but for now, I’ll move on to Mark Behnke at Colognoisseur who loved Maai even more. He categorizes it as “Retro Nouveau” in style, and writes, in part:
Maai takes the animalic themes Sig. Gardoni explored in Cologne Reloaded and creates a fascinating musky base upon which to build the rest of his new fragrance. This is what I was speaking of in the previous paragraph; there isn’t just castoreum in this base he adds in civet and hyraceum along with a bunch of other musks. All together this has an incredible depth and texture it feels as if Maai has a pounding heartbeat. It also isn’t for the faint of heart. One other aspect I really enjoy with this is when these animalic notes reach this level of concentration they also carry a honey-like sweetness which rides along on the crest like a surfer riding a monster wave.
The modern aspect Sig. Gardoni applies to Maai is by using the same technique he used in Eau d’E and taking a well-known floral and finding a more contemporary read on that note. For Maai the note is tuberose and the choice Sig. Gardoni takes is to use a deeply green tuberose as the co-focal point. What this does is provide an indolic foil to the animalic base while also producing a nascent white flower character. The tuberose never explodes into its show stopping floralcy. Sig. Gardoni captures the tuberose just shy of it bursting to life and it is a mannered tuberose but there is a suppressed energy lurking behind. This is the buzz of potential reined in as the tuberose stays poised on a precipice without falling into empty space.
There are a slug of soapy aldehydes in the top notes before the tuberose begins to impose its presence. Labdanum contains the tuberose by amplifying the green early on. A bit of rose and jasmine help to remind you there is a flower here in the heart. The indoles, from the tuberose, are the perfect bridge to the beginning of the animalic base. Sig. Gardoni swirls in a few different resins which add details like olfactory grace notes.
I rather wish I had encountered the tuberose that Mr. Behnke describes so beautifully here, as it is my absolute favorite flower. (In general, even apart from perfumery). At least my perfume-consuming skin gave me the same huge longevity and sillage that he experienced: “Maai has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.” And I fully agree with him that the perfume not only feels like something unearthed from deep within an old cabinet (in the best way possible), but that Maai is “as good as modern independent perfumery gets.”
Nevertheless, I strongly caution that Maai is not for everyone. Even apart from the wonderfully ferocious animalics and the risk of them turning fecal on your skin, there is another issue. Maai is not for the faint of heart, but most definitely not for anyone who doesn’t love both vintage powerhouses or super heavy, intense, opulent scents. Even for me, it sometimes felt like the fragrance was wearing me, instead of the other way around. It wasn’t a constant thought but, still, I cannot recall the last time I felt that way. Normally, my response to powerhouses is, “Thank God! More, more, more!” Here, I can’t quite pinpoint the reason for my slight hesitation, but it’s not due to Maai’s boldness nor its richness. Perhaps Maai felt a little too Wagnerian at times; the Valkyrie at full-throttle strength or Wotan, the King of the Gods, rumbling away.
My conclusion is that Maai is really best reserved for truly special occasions, preferably of a highly sophisticated gala nature or for moments seeking hardcore seduction. It is either full tuxedos or nakedness — I really can’t see anything in-between. Maai is simply not a scent that you can just toss on without thinking and go, not an easy fragrance with a versatile functionality. Its highly complex nature demands both your attention and your engagement. It will settle for nothing less. And that is one of the many reasons why Maai is not a fragrance to risk buying blindly, not unless you already know that hardcore animalics, vintage chypres, and opulent powerhouses are your style.
At the end of the day, all I can say is that I think Maai is a masterpiece, and one of the best fragrances of the year. It feels like a gloriously defiant middle finger to IFRA/EU regulations, and may Wotan bless Mr. Gardoni for it. Amazing, simply amazing.