Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, floating and being engulfed in a cloud that glows with pearlescent luster like opals mixed with mother-of-pearl. Unlike most clouds, this one hovers low on the ground, a few feet above the swaying tips of a field of lavender, some in bloom, some tightly budded and tipped with green. They ripple in the warm summer’s wind, a wind that carries the scent of the orchard mere inches away where orange and grapefruit trees grow like citrus sentinels watching over the aromatic field of purple. With every gust, the branches shake their flowers in a shower of white petals, their scent mingling in the air with that of the lavender. The trees hang heavy with fruits that are fresh, bright, and only recently ripened; the juices which seep out from time to time are sweet, but not sticky or jammy, and they, too, join the scented swirl within the opalescent cloud.
On the other side of the lavender is a river. Its banks are emerald with grassy vetiver, red with rose bushes, and white with jasmine that drips a golden honeyed nectar, but its waters are swirls of brown from malted beer and caramel from ambered resins. A small nook of cedar and spicy sandalwood trees lies just beyond, their roots growing amidst more grass, vetiver, and lavender.
The cloud hovers above it all, absorbing every inch and whiff of this dream landscape within the weightless structure that cocoons your body and surrounds your senses. Strong notes vie with alchemical technical transformations to create a bevy of olfactory phantasms that are simultaneously there and that are not, both real and illusory, but all of them work together to create a scent that is more than its individual parts, a scent that I find a lot of the times to be more atmospheric than actual “perfume.”
MEM by Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Perfumes is an unusual fragrance as a result. When I wear it, it is frequently more of a feel and an experience than a set of concrete notes. This is true whether I sniff MEM during its first two hours which hold the greatest complexity and, therefore, the greatest magic for me, or during its less detailed, complex later stages when the scent often turns wholly abstract, a hazy impressionistic tableau of nature created through tiny, almost invisible brush strokes of the perfumer’s palette, like Monet in his later years painting Giverny or Turner trying to capture the essence of light.
From a review perspective, this makes MEM a difficult fragrance to analyse in my usual way because it’s so fluid and doesn’t have a concrete, distinct, and tripartite pyramid structure that develops with any consistency. The story I’ve told up above conveys one aspect of things, but it’s not the only one because MEM is a shape-shifter. I shall do my best to analyse more specifics and its development down below, but much of the first quarter of this review will be spent discussing MEM’s notes, parts, and feel, as well as Mr. Gardoni’s technique in creating such an olfactory dream scape.
Petitgrain, mandarin, grapefruit, lavender (4 different species), ylang ylang, lily of the valley, white champaca, jasmine grandiflorum, rose damascena, bourbon geranium, vanilla, peppermint, laurel, Siam benzoin, rosewood, sandalwood, Himalayan cedarwood, labdanum, ambergris, musk, castoreum, civet, amber.
I think that there may actually be 5 types of lavender in MEM, but the critical thing to know is that these are apparently rather unusual or different varietals that have each been subjected to different types of distillation methods in order to extract very unusual facets that one doesn’t normally find with the typical lavender oils. I think they’re fantastic — and I say that as someone who has had a strong lavender phobia and hatred since childhood. I spent a part of it in Cannes, which is close to Grasse with its endless lavender fields, resulting in awful Provencal lavender sachets assaulting one’s nostrils from every nook and cranny in the area, wafting their dried, abrasive, pungent harshness and granny-like dustiness. But I’m not the only lavender hater, I know a number of my readers are, too, so let me say that, on my skin, MEM’s varietals don’t smell like the fusty, musty, heavily medicinal sort that may have put you off as well. According to Roja Dove‘s book, The Essence of Perfume, the horrifying type found in Provence or other parts of the Mediterranean is frequently Lavender intermedia, also known as Lavandin, or “Bastard Lavender,” the latter being a completely suitable name, in my biased opinion, for its vileness.
MEM’s lavender varietals are not only of a higher caliber and quality, but they have also been subjected to a different sort of distillation process than basic lavenders in order to bring out their less common facets. The result is quite unexpected, in my opinion, and on my skin, with aromas that are simultaneously green, floral, green-white floral, sappy, sometimes even fruity, occasionally piney, and with rather indescribable aromatics that feel wholly naturalistic, like the accumulation of aromas from the great outdoors.
This brings me to the important issue of how MEM was before, in an earlier “mod” that went out to quite a few Bogue fans back in March or April. Mr. Gardoni is always very generous in sharing his creative process with his audience, even if it’s midway through the developmental process, and he kindly sent me and several other people I know a “mod” (a perfumer’s term for “modification” or version) for MEM at that time. Some of you reading this review now may well have tried that version, so I think it’s critical to explain that the final version of MEM, the one sold now in stores, doesn’t smell at all like what I tried back in March or April. Mr. Gardoni has kindly given me permission to talk about the mod and the changes in this review.
The long story short is that I was not… enthused… about MEM as it was then, but I love this finalized version. To me, and on my skin, the April “mod” was primarily a gourmand and a fruity floral over an animalic and highly synthetic woody-leather base. A veritable geyser of excessively gooey ethyl maltol caramel and burnt sugar burst out right from the very start, next to equally forceful accords of pink bubblegum, goopy grape-scented jasmine, decayed fruits macerating in boozy malt, and a positively thick slab of red-berried fruity molasses and sticky orange marmalade, all layered over an intense base of leathery, wood-smoke blackness, ISO E, sour civety urinousness, muskiness, and chypre-ish vetiver mossiness. One friend of mine who tried the April Mod told me he found it smelt a lot like Parfumerie Generale‘s hyper sweet, fruity leather scent, Cuir Venenum, which should tell you something about just how different MEM’s feel and fragrance profile was back then as compared to the story I’ve recounted at the start of this post.
The one thing that I did love about the April version was the multi-faceted lavender accord with all of its ghostly whiffs of non-lavendery things. And I was simply transfixed by how it combined with the green elements to somehow, magically, alchemically, recreate the illusion of other things — like tuberose’s liquidy, green white floralcy or gardenia’s cream-coated petals — even though there actually was no gardenia or tuberose in MEM, not then, not now. Not one drop. When Mr. Gardoni told me that these ghosts stemmed from the 5 types of lavender combined with the other notes (like, for example, vetiver, hexenal, and milky, coconuty aldehyde C18), I was astonished.
Those wonderful ghosts remain in MEM’s finalized version, but, on my skin, I find that every part of the April formula has been altered. Some of the previously bombastic accords have been cut in terms of quantity or heavily weakened, while others (like, for example, the 5 lavenders) have been heightened. In the case of the ISO E (which shot up my nose like piercing needles and eventually gave me temporary hyposmia to parts of the scent), it’s been removed entirely. All of MEM’s proportions feel tweaked to me, both individually and in relative ratio to each other. On my skin and in my opinion, the cumulative effect is different in scent, balance, weight, and vibe, and the improvements are apparent from the very first sniff.
Mr. Gardoni told me that the final fragrance actually contains 86 ingredients, and that he applied a technique of “micro-balancing mini quantities of almost ‘invisible’ elements” to create notes, “ghosts,” and suggestions that are “hard to pin down.” To me, this not only sums up and explains (the final) MEM’s character, but it also explains why I find it so beautiful. In the old days of perfumery, fragrances typically had note lists with 25, 30, or more elements, not the 5 or 6 that you see with some Montale, MFK, or Jean-Claude Ellena creations. The old legends brimmed with nuance, layers, and depth, frequently resulting in an olfactory experience that flowed fluidly in kaleidoscopic fashion, revealing tiny new facets with every wearing, changing its shape and feel from one moment to the next, but all of it dancing on the wind with endless complexity. The finalized MEM is similar, except it has so many “almost ‘invisible’ elements” that it’s much harder to pin down than some of the old Guerlains or Diors ever were, and it’s more of an emotive, atmospheric experience than a conventional set of notes.
I’ll do my best to describe MEM and its development on my skin, but please keep in mind that this fragrance is not only a will o’ the wisp but also a shape-shifter on me, particularly during its middle and late phases. Thankfully, its first 90 minutes are the most concrete, the easiest to parse, and the most consistent, so let’s give this a try.
MEM typically opens on my skin with the refreshingly zinginess of yellow grapefruit that is bursting out its skin, its crisp juices fused with the incredibly aromatic oil from its bitter rind. They fall atop a patchwork quilt of vetiver that smells like the freshest grass, newly mowed to release every ounce of its crisp scent, and lavender.
The latter defies easy description. It smells like: aromatic freshness, lavender ice cream, green fruitiness, herbaceous greenness, bitter green sap, and crushed green stems. At times, there is something medicinal about it, but it’s in an oddly fruity, sweet-sour, citrusy and earthy way. (I’m not sure if those aromas actually stem from something beyond the lavender, as you will see further down below.) Layered within the lavender, there is even a white-green floralcy that, somehow, inexplicably, bears ghostly hints of “tuberose.” Buried deeper within it is a milkiness that is simultaneously grassy, floral, aldehydic, and coconut-y. When combined with everything else, the floral “milk” somehow manages an alchemical trick of mimicking some of gardenia’s facets on my skin, although it is merely the tiniest elusive whisper that pops up only to dart away out of reach.
This is only the start. Sweet and bitter oranges appear and, like the grapefruit, show off their various facets, from the bitter fragrancy of their freshly grated rinds to their summer juices. A few of the oranges have been peeled, their skins lightly caramelized with sugar (ethyl maltol), while others have been fermented and macerated within a surprisingly hoppy and grassy beer-like accord. Imagine, for example, one of the Belgian ales or IPAs which have orange and/or grapefruit added in, and you’d have an idea of what I mean.
However, and I cannot repeat this enough, on my skin, none of MEM’s parts are blatant, in your face, and permanent, and everything is folded into a larger picture, whether it is malty beer with its hops or the white florals and the zingy brightness of yellow grapefruit. When one of MEM’s parts reveals itself, it’s usually for a limited time and when I sniff my arm up close.
Even then, many of these accords tend to flit about, dancing in the wind, one moment here, the next darting away to let another element ripple in the air. So, while the vetiver’s crisp grasses sway in the wind, tiny puffs of wood smoke appear on the horizon, smelling mostly of cedar but, once in a blue moon, if I really concentrate, also bearing the spicier, warmer qualities of sandalwood. Somewhere, just out of sight and smell, there are tantalizing whispers, mere suggestions in the weightless cloud that envelops you: jasmine that seeps a honey-like goldenness; roses wafting lemony and jammy berries; a rosy but piquant and leafy geranium; a pinch of benzoin caramel praline, and a sliver of dark leather.
Roughly 10 minutes in, the citrus brigade begins to ebb away, at least momentarily, its zing and bracing crispness giving way to a stronger floralcy. There is the bridal romanticism of fresh, clean, jasmine grandiflorum absolute trailed by the fruitier and honeyed refrains of jasmine sambac absolute, both tied together by a subtle creaminess that may be a drop of ylang doused in the milky aldehyde C18. The malty, hoppy “beer” disappears, replaced by a naturalistic cleanness and freshness that I simply lack the words to describe. It’s more than any mere side effect from the lavenders, the grasses, or the aldehyde; it’s like an invisible sensory accumulation, all the atmospheric notes that you encounter upon a garden walk.
I give up trying to describe the rest of the incredibly complex opening bouquet on my skin. Mr. Gardoni’s 86 ingredients are like the daintiest of brushstrokes, sometimes invisible to the naked eye (or nose), and perceptible only in terms of their larger feel and indirect impact. MEM’s utterly gorgeous first 90 minutes are dancing sunbeams mixed with dancing moon beams, will o’ the wisps, and spirits of the meadow, each taking turns to dart up to you, wrap their vapors around your body, and brush your cheek with butterfly kisses before darting away.
Beautiful scented ghosts call from the shadows, tantalizing your imagination but lying just out of finger’s reach, making you wonder if you really heard or smelled them properly, or if they were a trick of the mind. Everything ripples and weaves in the air, opalescent, shimmering vapors whose greatest gift is in how they make you feel as a whole, a beautiful serenity that cloaks you, energizes you, soothes you, and ultimately, simply feels like a part of you, a natural second-skin, albeit one with a certain je ne sais quoi refinement.
Not everything works for me all the time, because some notes or accords are harder than others due to personal taste issues. For example, when the aldehydes take their turn on center stage after the 90-minute mark, I’m not crazy about how they flatten all the interesting bits and pieces, rendering the bouquet into an unexpected blur. It’s too far clean for me, and it’s also too abstract as well. The aldehydes lie like a thick blanket of whiteness atop everything, obscuring their character.
As best as I can determine from what’s under that blanket, MEM is now woodier, bears an indeterminate floralcy and greenness, and has only the merest touch of fruitiness. Most of the time, MEM simply smells like aldehyde-suffused grasses mixed with woodiness that is vaguely cedar-ish. While the aldehydes are not soapy, per se, they are much too much like clean white musk for my personal tastes. That said, even if this stage is not my favourite, there are some moderately appealing aspects to the bouquet when I sniff the soft vapors from a distance instead of close up. There is a naturalistic cleanliness to the scent that makes me feel not as though I’m wearing perfume but, rather, a crisp white cotton shirt and clean clothes which simply happen to have blades of grass all over them.
MEM never stays in one place for long on my skin. Roughly 2.75 hours in, the orange blossoms and grapefruit reappear, joining the soft abstract woods as a layer within the aldehydic and grassy cloud. In the base, caramel-tinged benzoin resin begins to run next to the first proper stirrings of smoky, woody leather. Ghostly flutters of fresh lavender, crushed vetiver stems, and jasmine honey flitter about the background. The arrival of other notes slowly weakens the aldehydes’ grip, chipping away at that muffling, obscuring blanket, and gradually, inch by inch, adding subtle layers to the scent.
About 3.5 hours in, everything changes again. MEM turns overtly floral, as rose, lily of the valley (muguet), orange blossoms, and jasmine dance merrily on center stage under a cloud of soft aldehydes laced with a handful of grass. The cumulative effect reminds me of the floral-aldehydic style of Chanel mixed with Dior-ish greenness, all rendered in tiny brush strokes, resulting in a dreamscape where every note is akin to a puffy, light cloud. The aldehydes are merely a light, well-blended touch now; the woods, smoke, and leather have vanished; and there is nary a sign of any civet or animalics in sight. (In fact, MEM is never animalic or civety on my skin at any point whatsoever.) There is nothing aromatic about the scent now, either. However, in the middle of the 5th hour, the lavender returns, bearing a green-white floral sweetness that, once again, whispers of “tuberose” and gardenia ghosts on my skin.
The kaleidoscope keeps shifting and realigning, and small ripples grow into larger ones. When the 6th hour rolls around, the aldehydes vanish and MEM turns into a fruity white floral licked by lashings of honey and lightly caramelic sweetness, all sprinkled liberally with fresh, clean lavender and a pinch of spicy sandalwood. At the end of the 7th hour and start of the 8th, the kaleidoscope’s levers move again, and MEM wafts lavender, rose, soft aldehydes, and a multi-faceted mix of greenness, ranging from grass to crushed stems, mint, herbs, and a subtle woody, earthy, mossiness. The benzoin seems to have sunk into the base once more but, yet again, there is that ghostly whisper of “tuberose” on my skin, a trick of the mind resulting from the alchemical magic of various notes combining together. Another trick of the mind seems to be a slightly incense-like (?) note that pops up once in a blue moon in the background before quickly darting away.
It’s a completely different story when MEM’s long drydown begins, roughly towards the end of the 10th hour. All traces of aromatics, fruity florals, white florals, and greenness disappear as the warm, fully oriental base notes rise up and take dominion. Fluffy golden ambers run wild next to benzoin praline, beautifully spicy and creamy sandalwood, and tonka that has a slight powderiness. From time to time, tiny curlicues of smoke puff up from the resins (and/or sandalwood). Once in a rare blue moon, if I put nose right on my arm and concentrate hard, there seems to be a suggestion of musky darkness that is possibly, potentially, maybe, a little leathery, but it’s so elusive amidst the golden haze that it’s difficult to be certain. For the most part, MEM is now simply a golden aura, a haze of sweet, ambered sunlit warmth worthy of one of Turner’s sunsets. It’s beautiful, inviting, cozy, and snuggalicious, a gossamer silken cloud that coats the skin like fine cashmere.
And it lasts seemingly forever! On my skin, MEM typically lasts 22 to 24 hours, and that wonderful drydown is a good 12 hours of it. Mr. Gardoni kindly provided me with a small decant and, since its atomizer hole is on the larger side, my application numbers are the same as if I sprayed from an actual bottle. I consistently applied 2 sprays in my tests. With that amount, MEM always opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and a scent trail of about 4 to 5 inches. It was a weaving, dancing trail that felt as light as air, but strong close up. MEM has a weightless, airy strength to it that feels lighter, softer, and quieter than past Bogue creations, even Mr. Gardoni’s Aeon 001, but I think that’s rather in line with the whole cloud-like atmospherics and dreamy feel of the scent. The projection drops roughly 75 minutes in to somewhere between 1.5 and 2 inches, while the sillage feels like a soft cloud that envelops one with roughly 4 inches in radius. About 2.25 hours in, MEM’s projection hovers 0.5 to 1 inches above the skin, and the sillage turns into more discreet vapors. Things remain that way until roughly the 7th hour when MEM finally turns into a skin scent, although it’s easy to detect up close when I bring my nose to my arm up to the 14th or 15th hour. At that point, I have to nuzzle the skin. MEM turns into skin-hugging sheath from that point until its end.
While I love MEM, I have the feeling that it will be a polarizing Love it/Hate it fragrance for a few reasons. First, I think people’s reactions to it will depend heavily on what notes or accords their skin amplifies, and how they feel about those notes, as well as the extent to which MEM changes on their skin, and how many layers appear throughout the journey. Second, MEM is not the easiest of fragrances to figure out or categorize. Third, people who go into it expecting one thing — like a purely lavender scent or a fougère — may be discombobulated to suddenly find themselves wearing a completely different genre of perfumery. Fourth, people who have loved Bogue’s vintage-skewing creations (MAAI, Gardelia, the now-discontinued Cologne Reloaded) may have mixed feelings about the rather different aesthetic or style on display here.
On the other hand, name me one Bogue creation that doesn’t challenge its wearer? This is not a brand for those who want uncomplicated, simplistic, or typical fragrances. In fact, I would argue that one of the very best things about the Bogue line is how much the fragrances differ from the usual thing out there, and how they force you to interact with, analyse, and come to grips with what you’re wearing. For me, personally, MEM is a substantially easier and more approachable scent than some prior Bogues, like the sometimes ferocious (but utterly gorgeous) MAAI, the difficult O/E (which, frankly, I didn’t like one whit), or the “Frankenstein” gourmand oriental, Cadavre Exquis, whose immense foodie and sweet aspects sometimes left me blinking or reeling.
MEM has no reviews on its Basenotes entry page thus far, but there are a handful of comments on Fragrantica and, as expected, opinions are completely split. One person loved it, finding it to be a civety fragrance with a vintage feel; another experienced no animalics but everything from the lavender to the florals, herbs, and amber; and a third person hated MEM, found nothing vintage about it, called it “weird,” and described it as “lavender, mint, a nice malty beer” on the one side, but “chocolate ice cream topped with ketchup and green mold” on the other. There is the same lack of consensus and split in opinion with the two reviews on Luckyscent at this time: one is a 3-star rating, expressing disappointment with the scent and with the singularity of its lavender; the other is a 5-star rave, calling it the best release from Mr. Gardoni yet, with perfectly balanced aldehydes, citrus, petitgrain, florals, and musk. I’m trying to keep my reviews on the shorter side, so I’ll let you read the varied accounts on your own if you’re interested.
There is an important point to draw from all this: the scent descriptions are so varied from one person to the next (and that includes me and my review) that it sounds as though each person is experiencing and describing something different. That, in turn, underscores my point from a few minutes ago that MEM is both a chameleon and that reactions are going to depend heavily on what appears on your skin (and the notes that you love/hate). If 10 people tried MEM and there were 6, 7, 8, or even 10 completely different scent experiences, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.
My suggestion is to test MEM first before buying it and, when you do, to be patient. Keep in mind not only the fact that it can be a shape-shifter, but also that the micro-dosing technique means that a number of its layers and notes can be quite subtle at times. What appears on the surface is not always what is folded in below. Ultimately, though, I think that individual skin differences are going to determine what you smell, how much is visible, and what is emphasized.
MEM won’t be for everyone, but I thought it was wonderful and I recommend giving it a test sniff for yourself if you love any of the central themes or descriptions provided here. For me, it’s a huge thumbs up. Hopefully, some of you will feel the same way.
Disclosure: My small decant of MEM was kindly provided by Mr. Gardoni. That did not impact this review. My opinions are my own.