The alluring beauty of tobacco, leather, honey, suede, florals, spice, smoke, fruits, and cream are given captivating movement in Naja, the long-anticipated new release from Vero Kern of Vero Profumo. The notes move like circular eddies in rippling water or like a sinuous snake weaving its way across the desert sand, because this is superbly crafted scent. It is also one of my favourite things created by Ms. Kern.
Naja is an eau de parfum that was officially launched at Esxence in March, although it didn’t really hit stores until earlier this month. The fragrance took several years to make, was released to commemorate the brand’s ten-year anniversary, and is a limited-edition scent with only 650 bottles issued. The Vero Profumo website has no entry page for Naja, but I’ve read that its name is taken from the ancient Sanskrit word, “Nāga,” which refers to a deity or entity that takes the form of a great snake. A Fragrantica interview with Ms. Kern provides more information. There, she shared her love for Caron‘s Tabac Blond but said that, with Naja, she sought to explore the themes of “tobacco as a medicinal plant and shamanism[.]” She also talked about the symbolic meaning of the scent:
Naja is an ode to the healing powers of the tobacco plant and to the cosmic serpent of the shamans. This scent connects nature and culture in a symbolic way, through ancient Shamanistic knowledge, to create a unique fragrance experience that fascinates and touches the soul.
Osmanthus absolute, melon, linden blossom [also known as lime blossom], tobacco, honey.
Naja isn’t an easy fragrance for me to describe because I had different experiences depending on whether I applied one spray from the bottle or two. I loved the Naja that appeared with one spray, its twists and turns, its circular unusual development, and its plethora of nuances. With the larger application, however, the scent was significantly and noticeably simpler; there was minimal note delineation and nuance; and Naja had a largely linear development. The reason for the difference, in my opinion, is that two sprays amplified the linden blossom’s powderiness on my skin to such an extent that it blanketed everything, flattening the clarity and vibrancy of some notes, while completely wiping out and erasing the subtler nuances of others. It’s a question of skin chemistry, no doubt, but the divergences were more than a question of insignificant degrees, in my opinion, so I’ll give you both versions, starting with a detailed description of the Naja version that I loved, and then a briefer account of the simpler version.
NAJA WITH ONE SPRAY FROM A BOTTLE:
Naja opens on my skin smelling fresh, clean, sweet, citrusy, floral, and lightly powdered. There is a fantastic cantaloupe note that is creamy, liquidy, sweet, and fruity in a delicately watery way. I’m a big fan of cantaloupe or melon notes in fragrances, and I’ve noticed that several types provide a wonderfully airy, fresh, frothy lightness to a scent which is almost aldehydic in its effect except there is nothing soapy, sharp, or waxy about it. Instead, it’s a lovely naturalistic cleanness, freshness, and delicate sweetness, just as it is here. The melon is quickly overshadowed, however, by the linden blossoms which smell like floral limes, floral lemons, and lightly powdered, sweet citrusy pollen. A third note, honey, peeks out from behind it, and it’s as light as everything else. Instead of smelling sticky, dark, or animalic (as honey can sometimes be), this is as delicate as a light agave nectar. On top of that, it’s merely the faintest brush stroke, a whisper of honey that simply accentuate the sense of sweet floral pollen from the linden blossom.
Moments later, the tobacco weaves its way into the mix, and it’s quite different from the typical tobacco note that one encounters in perfumery. It’s actually got the most unusual or paradoxical character because it is simultaneously: deep but diaphanous and airy; dark and strong but delicate; powdery and creamy. It’s an unmistakable central force in the bouquet, confidently placed front and center, and, yet, it also feels at this point as though it’s woven behind a lacy fabric of the other elements. It smells a lot like Habanita‘s old-fashioned cigarette paper recreation of tobacco under the cover of powdered floralcy, but it also smells like tobacco-infused suede and tobacco turned into the frothiest bubbles.
It’s a riveting paradox in aroma, texture, body, and even its role vis-à-vis the other notes. Like the snake for which Naja has been named, the tobacco undulates, weaving around you, sometimes staring you right in the eyes, sometimes circling around behind the linden blossom. This is not at all a blustery tobacco bulldozer but a highly refined tobacco that sometimes plays peek-a-boo.
What impresses me is truly masterful way in which its facets are so perfectly, utterly enhanced by the other elements. The linden’s pollinated powderiness, the osmanthus’ creamy suede-like smoothness, the citrusy fresh floralcy woven in with a light touch of honeyed sweetness, and the subtle whispers of fruited creaminess and freshness — they all work beautifully to accentuate the tobacco’s innate characteristics while also turning it into something different than the typical fruity or honeyed pipe tobacco that one encounters in perfumery. There is such a pitch-perfect balance to the various notes, such a delicacy in how they work both individually and together that it demonstrates enormous technical skill and the care which was taken in crafting Naja.
The judicious and brilliant technicality of Naja manifests itself in other ways as well. The osmanthus appears about 10 minutes into the fragrance’s development, and smells like apricot-tinged suede. It almost more of a tactile texture than anything else at this point. If I smell my arm up close and really, really focus, there is a suggestion of leather deep, deep below, and it’s a remarkably buttery floral leather that has been mixed with creamy suede.
I know everyone talks about snakes when they talk about Naja but, for me, the feel of the scent in the opening 30 minutes conjures up another creature. The notes, both individually and the way they operate collectively, are perhaps more like a spider that weaves its web with silken filaments, filaments which look like gossamer lace but which have the strength to hold the weight of something much larger and heavier. And, like the spider in old folk tales, Naja lures you into its web and quickly hold you firm in its scented embrace.
There are so many things that I admire about Naja: its paradoxes; the brilliant pitch-perfect balance of contrasts; the way it is undeniably bold but restrained and soft at the same time; it’s utterly addictive and gorgeous stage after the 3rd hour (more on that later); and the way it is sometimes a textural experience as much as an olfactory one. Something about the way the materials have been handled or treated makes Naja feel in its opening hours like both a silken sheath and the thickest suede — only this is tobacco suede, apricot suede, and leather suede, all joined together with tobacco cream, then dusted with floral lime/linden blossom powder, and a few delicate spritzes of creamy cantaloupe and honey water.
The thing that I cannot get over (and that impresses me most of all) is Naja’s circular nature. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a fragrance whose development is as cyclical and circular as this one, and that makes it extremely difficult for me to describe its development in my usual fashion. I can’t dissect or analyse how the notes progress from one hour to the next because there isn’t the typical downward movement through the pyramid. Naja is a fragrance with enormous longevity and, during its 16-hour life span (with one spray!), there are long periods of time that could indeed be described as “stages,” but the specifics of everything within each of those periods and how the fragrance smells varies enormously from one moment to the next because the notes seem to move in a circular fashion. In fact, even some of the “stages” seem to circle back in scent and time, as you will see below.
So, it’s extremely difficult for me to delineate how Naja smells during its first 3 hours beyond the initial basics that I’ve outlined above. The notes ripple in the air, constantly waxing and waning in which ones are emphasized from one minute to the next. Whether it is the powder, tobacco, floralcy or suede, they take turns moving, much like a wave that hits the shore before ebbing away to let the next wave move forward. One minute, Naja is extremely, extremely powdery, although it is in the Habanita way of tobacco cigarette paper and sweetened tobacco floral powder. Twenty minutes later, the powderiness fades and all you’re aware of is a buttery tobacco suede that’s been delicately glazed with just the merest coating of apricots (from the osmanthus) and a hint of citrus (from the linden). Thirty minutes after that, a different wave hits the shore and Naja is now all honeyed tobacco cream, minimally dusted with sweet linden blossom pollen. Then, before you know it, you’re suddenly wearing a tobacco scent layered with smokier, woodier, and leathery elements, and infused with flecks of spice, dried fruits, and something quite resinous in feel. Just when you’ve adjusted to that unexpected, sudden appearance of leather, spice, and woodiness, Naja decides to circle back again to its powdery, floral-centric Habanita bouquet. It’s a kaleidoscope that keeps shifting to take on different shapes, re-assembling itself in 3, 4, maybe 5 different permutations for a picture that looks facially simple and basic but which is actually quite complicated below the surface. Have I mentioned Ms. Kern’s brilliant technical skill yet?
Ghosts add to the range of Naja’s subtle nuances, whispers of other elements not mentioned in the note list. Sometimes, they are tiny, elusive, and short-lived: the rustling of dark spices (star anise? nutmeg? both?); a hint of toasted nuttiness; the suggestion of green-hued woodiness. Sometimes, the note is strong, persistent and feels almost solid enough to touch, like the ghost of Onda EDP that appears during the second hour. It’s the smell of Onda’s salty, mossy, musky, and honey-coated vetiver, except here it’s tamer, not animalic, softer, diaphanous, and lurks in the shadows behind the tobacco. For 20-30 minutes, the ghost teases me on the scent trail but just when I feel certain that it’s no longer a trick of the mind, it disappears.
It’s the same story with other notes. Tiny vapors of something smoky take the place of the “Onda vetiver,” but every time I sniff my arm up close to determine if the smoke a side effect of the tobacco, comes from the osmanthus absolute’s leathery side, or if it’s actually a secret pinch of birch tar layered with the tobacco, the note seems to completely dissolve. One minute, it’s there, the next, it’s not. The melon goes through something similar. When it does appear, it’s always more noticeable when I smell Naja from a distance and on the scent trail, rather than up close, but the cantaloupe never stays in one place for long. Throughout Naja’s development, it pops up on the sidelines or in the background for tiny, brief periods of time, maybe 5 minutes or 10 at the most, and then vanishes, only to come back hours later at the most unexpected times. As I said before, everything in Naja seems to move in circular fashion, like circles in the sand, lapped by different waves hitting the shore, everything ebbing and flowing.
The tobacco is the one great constant, the one central chord that runs through them all, but its own character changes just as much. I’ve already described some of its forms — suede-like, powdery, creamy, honeyed, airy lace, papery, or floral — but it morphs into something new in the 3rd hour, which is roughly when Naja’s fantastic second stage begins. The tobacco’s new incarnation is purer, rawer, darker, slightly resinous and medicinal, and infused with both smoke and leather. Instead of smelling like the powdery cigarette paper tobacco in Habanita or a possible apricot suede cousin to Daim Blond, this is now a fused tobacco-leather accord similar to the one in the vintage version of Caron‘s Tabac Blond. (The review linked there is for the heavily revised modern formulation.) It’s a bouquet of silky smooth, highly refined “leather” that’s been inlaid with tobacco, dark muskiness, the sotto voce purr of something amorphously animalic (castoreum?), and ghostly whispers of spices, woods, and warm, balsamic resins.
This is my favourite Naja cycle or stage. It’s sexy, but also polished. More than anything, though, I find it incredibly inviting and unexpectedly comforting as well. It draws me in again and again, partially because it just smells so damn good, and partially because the OCD side of me is fixating on pinning down its ghostly whispers. Am I imagining the delightful nuance of something chocolate-y lurking deep underneath? Just what is that spiciness, and where does it come from? Why do I keep thinking that there must be patchouli layered within? Gosh, that smokiness is absolutely perfect, but am I crazy for thinking that it’s coalescing into birch leather, or is this simply another illusion?
By the 4th hour, I’d bet money that the brief official note list for Naja is far from the full picture. Surely, Naja’s tobacco is being accentuated by tiny amounts of patchouli, birch tar, benzoin, some castoreum, and possibly a spice blend? There simply cannot be a mere 4 notes in this scent. I’m certain that list is merely a nutshell, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Naja actually contained 10-12 raw materials, at a minimum, even if some of them are in trace amounts. But wherever all these aromas are coming from, the sum-total effect is simply wonderful, particularly next to the honey which pops up once again. The powder and cantaloupe have vanished (for now). The linden blossom is merely a sweetened but highly abstract, faceless floralcy which fuses with the osmanthus’ apricots to serve as quiet handmaidens to the star of the show: that beautifully rich, spicy, smoky, musky, supple, and practically silky tobacco leather. I can’t stop sniffing my arm. Absolutely beautiful.
Naja continues to shift and weave as it develops. In its third stage, which lasts from the 5th hour to the 9th, the fragrance goes through a different form of cyclical movement than it did in its first stage. In a concise nutshell, the tobacco-leather first transitions into an osmanthus-driven floral tobacco with boozy and resinous underpinnings, then into a heavily powdered, Habanita-like osmanthus floral with mere wisps of tobacco buried within, before finally ending up as tobacco suede. It’s almost a full circle back to the beginning, except this tobacco suede is now also spicy and woody as well.
That’s the broad overview, but let’s get to the olfactory specifics. The 3rd stage begins shortly after the start of the 5th hour with Naja turning more intensely floral as the osmanthus wrestles with the tobacco-leather for supremacy. Sometimes, it wins, sometimes the tobacco-leather comes out on top; the balance of notes keeps veering back and forth. During this time, boozy undercurrents suddenly appear, along with a heightened degree of muskiness, spiciness, and toffee’d sticky, balsamic, labdanum-like resins.
By the end of the 5th hour and start of the 6th, the powder not only returns but, this time, it smells like floral talcum or baby powder. It’s not an aroma I like. In fact, the way Habanita takes on an intense baby powder aroma on my skin during its middle to late stages is one big reason why I dislike that scent. Here, with Naja, the baby powder is initially muted and mostly subsumed within the osmanthus’ floralcy. However, as time passes, it grows steadily stronger. By the 7th hour, its strength makes Naja strongly resemble those difficult later periods in Habanita, except this is an osmanthus version of a baby powder, tobacco-infused floral. It’s the one stage of Naja that I don’t like, and it lasts a little over 90 minutes on my skin from beginning to end.
Thankfully, as Naja begins its 8th hour, it begins to slowly circle back to the beginning. The bouquet turns more judiciously powdered and now smells like the earlier creamy tobacco suede, except this time the suede is infused with darker leather, woodiness, smoke, and a quieter, softer floralcy that skews more towards the lime blossom side than the osmanthus one.
However, the star of the show at this point is unquestionably the tobacco suede. It smells, simultaneously: sweet, dry, creamy, woody, smoky, softly leathered, and lightly spiced with an aroma that strongly resembles nutmeg and gingerbread. I’ve been told by a number of readers who have lived in tobacco regions of North or South Carolina that tobacco plants frequently have a gingerbread-like aroma when dried, and really high-quality tobacco absolute can waft a wide variety of scent nuances, but, once again, I’d bet that there is more in Naja than the 4 or 5 things in its official note list. This is a fragrance with more layers than an onion, and I mean that both as a compliment and as a really good thing.
Naja’s next stage begins roughly in the middle of the 9th hour, and it’s my second favourite part of the scent: pure silken fluff, painted in shades of cream, gold, amber, and brown. There are clouds of creaminess that are not tonka-ish or vanillic, per se, but not purely suede-like or textural either. Layered over them is a thick blanket of resinous, ambered, golden warmth, burnished with the ochre hues of vaguely tobacco-ish gingerbread, spice, and benzoin. Trails of smoky darkness smudge the edges alongside cognac-coloured ones of something faintly boozy. The lightest pinch of powdery sweetness dances through the warm, thick air. It’s an utterly addictive mix of sweet, dry, spicy, smoky, and resinous notes given a pillowy textural that sometimes feels almost tactile in its fluffiness. I can’t explain it properly, and it may have something to do with the creaminess from the suede.
The truly inexplicable thing, however, is that all these weighted olfactory impressions are, paradoxically, as light as air, a mere silken sheath that lacquers the skin closely. Golden, pillowy, gingerbread-spiced, suede air — it doesn’t make sense but that’s what it feels like when I sniff my arm. The drydown is so cozy, comforting, soft, and easy that it calls to mind repeatedly the image of someone curling up in a chair by the fire, wearing a silky cashmere robe over their naked body while they sip hot chocolate, watch the dance of golden light and soft shadows from the flames, and listen to the soothing sound of rain gently falling in the distance. That’s both the image which comes to my mind and how Naja feels to me when I sniff it during this stage — and I love every bit of it.
Naja changes again when its drydown begins roughly 90-minutes later, towards the end of the 11th hour. The scent turns woody and the powderiness returns. Basically, it’s a simple bouquet of vaguely tobacco-ish, gingerbread-ish woodiness that is lightly dusted with sweetened powder. In its final hours, there is only dry-sweet powderiness.
Naja had outstanding longevity, soft projection, and initially bold but airy sillage that took a while to turn discreet. With one spray from the bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3-4 inches of projection. The sillage wasn’t so much a trail as a soft, diffuse cloud and it extended about 6 inches in radius. Up close, Naja was very strong in scent, but airy in body and almost weightless in feel. After 2 hours, the projection dropped to about 2 inches, and the sillage was about 4 inches. Roughly 5.75 hours in, Naja hovered right above the skin, perhaps 0.5 inches, and the sillage was discreet except, every so often, it would suddenly balloon out around me, even when I wasn’t moving, before receding back down again. Naja stayed this way for a few hours, only turning into a skin scent at the end of the 8th hour, although it was easy to detect up close without much effort until the 11th hour. In total, Naja lasted a little over 16 hours with one spray from a bottle.
NAJA WITH TWO SPRAYS FROM A BOTTLE:
Naja is a similar but also quite different scent on my skin when I apply a larger quantity of scent. For most of the first 6 hours, it’s mostly a strongly powdered Habanita-style, osmanthus-centric floral with fluctuating degrees of wispy tobacco quietly infused within. During the first 20 minutes, there are a few drops of melon and a subtle citrus note from the linden blossom, but they don’t last long. Everything is muffled over, if not suffocated, by thick swaddling blanket of powderiness which grows stronger with every passing hour.
The development and nuances are microscopic during this time. As in Version 1, there is a passing suggestion of Onda’s vetiver during the second hour, but it is an elusive whisper without the prior delineation and strength. By the third hour, when the powder is quite forceful indeed, there is a certain sharpness to the bouquet as well as an undercurrent of something medicinal and tarry from the tobacco. Those undercurrents heighten the resemblance to Habanita even further, in my opinion, except there is only osmanthus instead of a variety of flowers. Sometimes, Naja’s osmanthus turns abstract, sometimes it’s quite clear, but its primary companion is always the powder, not the tobacco.
This version of Naja never develops the utterly gorgeous tobacco-leather-resin-spice bouquet that appeared in the third hour when I used one spray but, instead, skips ahead to the floral-tobacco suede stage at the end of the 6th hour. It’s at this point that the powder finally (finally!) chills out and weakens, although it often feels subsumed within the suede. Tendrils of smoke and woodiness lick the edges, there are passing suggestions of honey and spiciness, but the main focus is now quite different than it was in the earlier hours.
What’s interesting is how the balance of notes continuously shifts in its emphasis from the 7th hour until almost the 14th. Naja continuously veers between several related but different scent profiles:
- lightly spiced, smoky tobacco suede laced with osmanthus and woodiness;
- a tobacco fragrance that is powdery, spicy, surprisingly medicinal, and increasingly woody in nature;
- a lightly powdered woody floral that is often abstract in feel, but occasionally osmanthus-driven; or
- a strongly powdered osmanthus scent with tiny tendrils of woody, spicy tobacco subsumed deep within.
When the drydown begins at the end of the 14th hour and the start of the 15th, Naja is a simple, amorphous mix of powdery woodiness with faint undercurrents of gingerbread-ish spiciness, smokiness, and abstract floralcy lurking below. In its final hours, all that’s left is dry-sweet powderiness with a hint of woodiness about it.
Naja’s sillage and projection didn’t differ substantially or monumentally when I used two sprays instead of one, and there was only a small bump in the size of the scent cloud during the first 4 hours, but the overall longevity shot up quite a bit. With two sprays, Naja lasted just short of 22 hours on me.
OTHER REVIEWS & OVERALL CONCLUSIONS:
This has been quite a long piece and with a lot of information, so I’ll only briefly discuss other reviews and let you read them for yourself later if you’re interested. Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur loved Naja, calling it the most fascinating of Ms. Kern’s fragrances to date, “full of contradictions and capitulations.” Like me, he had a different experience every time he tried it: “Different notes were on top at different times with the tobacco being the only constant. It makes Naja as hypnotizing as that swaying cobra drawing you in with its unceasing movement.”
Claire Vukcevic writing for her blog, Take One Thing Off, also loved Naja. For her, it was:
A creamy, blond tobacco floral sluiced with the iodine-like astringency of melon rind […] underpinned by a bitter, doughy suede note fleshed out with the apricot skin of osmanthus flower. Pulled in two directions, sometimes it feels airy and dusty, other times, thick and chewy. [¶] There is also a sharp spice to Naja that is immensely appealing, something hot, slightly smoky, and carnation-like, but although I can understand the references to Tabac Blond and Habanita, Naja is far stranger and more modern than either – in other words, a creature of its own time. […][¶]
What I love the most about Naja is its surprising sturdiness, its sense of substance. In each of my wearings, I visualized Naja as a dense square of osmanthus-tobacco lokhoum, striated with saltwater and dusted with an inch-deep layer of green pollen. [….]
Fragrantica doesn’t have many comments at the time of this post. There are only two if you ignore the one from Bloom Perfumery — a Vero Profumo retailer and, therefore, not likely to be objective — but only one of the two citizen reviewers actually wore the scent on their skin. “Madonnatella” thought Naja was an “exceptional” perfume that one could easily categorize as a floral more than a leather. She wrote, in part:
it has the supertenacity of the “80s monstres sacrées”, the depth of the dusitas, a very subtle leathery note different as in french leather but just as refined and the complexity and in-your-faceness of the other vero.kerns. it has a power as also frailty and adorable sweetness (osmanthus, tobacco, melon). […] this is an exceptional perfume making the most of the osmanthus and linden and with the tobacco builds up a soft leathertone. but one could just as easily call this a floral perfume.
On Naja’s Basenotes entry page, there is only a single review thus far and it’s a very positive one from “Tymanski.” He writes:
i gotta say that expectations were not only met, but exceeded by the snake! the 2 standout issues for me in these early days of wearing are that a) it has the ballsiest osmanthus ever (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and b) it really smells like no other vero. the leather ‘accord’ is there but not exactly leather. its powder ‘accord’ is not really powdery. etc. etc. it is extremely potent, with nuclear longevity and promises to reveal much that lurks within. pricey but the quality is there in spades….
These varied accounts of Naja’s main focus and my own two different experiences should tell you that it’s quite a shape-shifter, not just from one wearing to the next but also in terms of how it develops within each wearing. I don’t know how it will appear on your skin, but Naja is quite likely to span a variety of different scent profiles from floral to floral tobacco, tobacco leather, or floral suede with fluctuating degrees of powder, spice, fruitiness, woodiness, and leatheriness throughout.
I absolutely loved Naja with one spray, despite or in spite of the more hardcore powder/ Habanita portions. I liked Naja with two sprays, but had a harder time. It wasn’t simply the enormous increase in powderiness on my skin which, for my tastes, was too much. Nor was it the fact the powder either suffocated or completely eradicated many of the detailed nuances that I had loved in version one, resulting in a simpler and more linear scent. It was those two things combined with a certain sharpness in the overall bouquet, a slightly biting quality that was also medicinal, dusty, and a little tarry in feel. Naja was still an enjoyable fragrance with some lovely bits, but it didn’t blow me away and leave me sniffing my arm almost incredulously at times the way I did with version 1. It’s purely a matter of subjective personal taste, based both on note preferences and the sort of fragrance genre that one gravitates to the most, because both versions of Naja are beautifully and meticulously crafted fragrances of a high caliber.
My suggestion to you if you try Naja is to play with the quantity applications, experiment with both spraying and dabbing if you can, and also give it more than one wearing. I’m not the only person who experienced slightly different scent profiles each time they tried the fragrance.
Even if you don’t normally like a certain genre of perfumery like, say, tobacco, leather, or powdery florals, you might want to give Naja a sniff anyway if you like at least one of its central elements because there is no way of guessing which one will dominate on your skin.
Finally, don’t conclude from all these descriptions that Naja is a purely feminine scent simply because it includes floralcy and powder. By the same token, don’t conclude that it is a masculine scent because it has leather and tobacco. There are men and women alike who love Naja. How you interpret its gender vibe or category will depend on the notes which your skin amplifies and how you feel about them, but I happen to think that Naja is unisex.
All in all, Naja is a brilliantly crafted fragrance, and it’s one of the standouts of 2017 thus far for me. I shall wear it with only one spray and with delight.
Disclosure: Naja was kindly provided by Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.