The first thing Johanna Venables, founder and perfumer of NOT Perfumes, tells you about her creations is a warning. When you do NOT, keep in mind that:
“The Extracts are very concentrated and forbidden to wear on the skin due to the inclusion of possibly dangerous or irritating materials. Instead, it’s suggested they are used on a handkerchief, in a pomander or an aroma locket.
Some customers are tempted to wear them on the skin and report doing so, but they are very naughty people and do it entirely at their own risk.”
This warning is not just another marketing trick, trying to make you desire the forbidden fruit. It’s a piece of information necessary for you to make an informed decision. NOT Perfumes rely heavily on naturals, and although all things do come from nature in this or that form, we are all aware of the fact that perfume ingredients of natural origin are more restricted nowadays than man-made materials (hence the prices, too). Johanna also sometimes collects and extracts materials on her own.
Unconventional, radically honest, authentic, and ethical: she does it her way. The warning is necessary because NOT perfumes come from Sweden but aren’t IFRA-compliant. Johanna voluntarily ignores the regulatory limitations, in the name of olfactory art and the need to express herself freely, to fulfill her vision.
Authenticity, creative freedom, ethical approach, great smelling fragrances? Isn’t that what you want from niche perfumes? Aren’t the artisan and indie perfumers supposed to be the salt of the earth?
I’m not saying that an IFRA/non-IFRA orientation of a brand guarantees the creation of a darn good perfume on either end of the spectrum: savvy perfumers can and do make great fragrances while respecting all ingredient regulations, and you can also have all the (ethically sourced) banned materials in the world at your disposal, and still have an average, mass-pleasing end product.
I believe that having or lacking creativity is a far more important differencing factor and that trying to please everyone is far more dangerous for a brand (or a person) than any and all possible restrictions. I believe in the duality of everything: any remedy is also a poison, “good” things can turn lethal in “bad” hands, everything has either creative or destructive potential (like nuclear fission)… Regarding perfumes – just give me the freedom of informed choice, please. And great, unique, soul-moving fragrances!
If we are discussing the duality of all things here, I also must mention the visual identity of the brand. Ouroboros it is:
(Ouroboros definition: tail devourer, one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. )
How befitting! This tail-eating snake is also present in Norde mythology, but it stems from the times of ancient Egypt. The ancient snake represents the cyclic character of Nature, creation out of destruction, an eternal cycle of renewal. Used in alchemy, it symbolizes the main aim: “individual self-perfection through physical transmutation and spiritual transcendence”. If you take a closer look at this painting by John William Waterhouse – “The magic circle”, you will notice that this Wicca is wearing a snake around her neck -an Ouroboros.
If all perfumes are also Chemistry, then some perfumes are Al-Chemistry and Art-Chemistry! And pure magic…
With “giving form to formless and expressing the wordless”, NOT Perfumes was officially launched in 2018. The brands’ no-nonsense approach became quickly recognized and praised by many fine perfume lovers, resulting in quickly sold-out limited edition batches! Since this is a small, “honest artisan niche” brand, no two editions are alike, every batch depends on materials acquired, and there’s no bulletproof guarantee of continuation for certain special releases.
I remember she told me when we met and discussed limited editions, unique batches, and everything related, that her perfumes won’t disappear anyway.
The Osmotheque approached Johanna when she’d just started with NOT on Instagram, even before the official launch! They now safeguard her “regulars”!
On the other hand, I’m not surprised at all: Johanna has been making her fragrant magic ever since the early teenage years, for some 30 years. Her first paid perfume creation order occurred in 1993, and her first contact with “The Industry” happened in 2017.
NOT Perfumes has 5 fragrances in the Extracts collection: Orm, Nadir, Vaan, Ashka, and Swaha.
Johanna plans to include a limited edition Soma in the collection very soon as well. I recently received a sample of Ingen too, and she also told me that she plans to add it to the “regular” collection in the future, maybe not in the exact formulation as now.
The presentation follows the concept: the name of the fragrance is not typed on the sample or bottle, you can either visit NOT website and match each symbol with the name or just wear it, whatever its name is. This is, again, Johanna’s approach: she believes that the scent comes first and that you shouldn’t be influenced by its name or packaging.
To make things easier for you, I attached a symbol under each name, and call me naughty but I wore them all on my skin:
Inspired by Vikings sailing eastward (“marketing nonsense, as Johanna calls these descriptions), Orm opens like an early morning in a forest overlooking the cold, foggy northern sea. Whiffs of wind coming from the sea mingle with the breath of trees surrounding you and the moist earth upon which you are standing. You become one with the forest, sea, and wind, rising above the mist, flying, traveling to lands strange and afar. Waves of warmth hug your skin, softly glowing woods and hay dipped in honey. I like its slow development, changes in rhythm, and strength sustained. It felt like observing strong muscles moving underneath soft, golden glowing, naked skin.
Notes: Wild Mint, Birch, Pine Needles, Pepper, Seaweed, Yarrow, Fir Balsam, Cedar, Honey, Ambergris, Driftwood, Hay, Leather, Musk
The Black Star. Hues, shades, and nuances of black. It opens with a very interesting approach to camphor, making it almost addictive, maybe because it’s layered with cardamom, adding a spicy-sweet feel but also making it feel like well-worn, soft leather. Darker shades of black move in later on, bringing more animalic ruffle, and yet nothing is too much or too obvious. Surprisingly unusual and uncommon, yet very easy to wear. Definitely, one of my favorites, if I must choose any.
Notes: Camphor, Cardamom, Ink, Patchouli, Leather, Myrrh, Castoreum, Tar, Vanilla
An impulse. The creative, wondering, questioning, the untamable force unleashed. Lust for life, claiming your right to live it as you choose to do so (this is not a Not “marketing nonsense”, this is what Vaan felt to me). It doesn’t open softly at all, Vaan pulls you in right from the beginning with a finely constructed invitation made of the most beautiful bergamot dipped in spices, bursting and sparkling, so invigorating. Enter caramelized roses, crumbling in a vivid movement over smoke and lust, and a pack of tamed wild animals. You all already know by now how picky I am about vanillas and sweetness in perfumes in general, but what Vaan does to vanilla is really good, it feels slightly burned and reduced. On my skin, Vaan is quite animalic and dark in the drydown. It is VANilla ANimalis after all…
Notes: Bergamot, Cinnamon, Cloves, Neroli, Pink Pepper, Coriander, Cistus, Rose, Benzoin, Labdanum, Vanilla, Civet, Castoreum, Opoponax
Ashes to ashes, and from ashes smoke rises through which you walk, like in a thriller. It opens with fresh gunpowder dust and minced golden tobacco, and however dark this may sound, it is actually inviting, strangely refreshing. While I was wearing it, I kept thinking about how beautiful this composition is, and how it makes me somehow deeply emotionally moved, tender even. It becomes calmer in time, you’ll probably feel more “campfire”, but what I enjoyed most was the way an introvert rose peeked through curtains drenched with oud smoke and stained with cade tar.
Notes: Black Pepper, Gun Powder, Guiac, Tobacco, Galbanum, Olibanum, Rose, Cade, Oud, Coffin Wood, Birch Tar, Ashes
The fire of life, a good fire, the one that makes you feel primordially powerful. A thick brew of herbal bitterness, spicy warmth, and immortelle-colored sweetness. Olibanum is thick and dark-colored, terpenic, burning slowly on fire. It gets more animalic in later stages of development, with a vegetal feel, feeling like a purring black cat sitting next to a fire stove. As fire crackles on, smoke rises above glowing coals in the fire, in a cozy and relaxing manner. I would say it’s ideal for cold weather, it warmed me up on -6C.
Notes: Olibanum, Cardamom, Long Pepper, Ghee, Ginger, Immortelle, Cinnamon, Turmeric, Deodar, Caramel, Methi, Myrrh, Labdanum, Ambrette, Goat Hair, Hyracheum, Embers
A deep, dark beauty focusing on thick layers of white-petalled gardenia flowers – what a contrast!
A gardenia blooming among mushrooms under a yellowish full moon, in a garden where shadows soften edges of reality, where dreams drift like strains of fog carrying dainty buds across the surface of a deep lake. Jasmine flowers are circling around thick and silky-sweet decaying gardenias that shine like silvery, pulsing stars among herbaceous greenery. You feel scents of moist earth and damp wood inside an enchanted forest where long-haired nymphs are hiding, leaving behind a trail of honey-sweet, balsamic opoponax smoothened by soft sandalwood dust. The most unusual, intoxicating gardenia I’ve ever encountered. Highly addictive. Strangely beautiful, and compelling.
Notes: Champignons, Basil, Jasmine Sambac, Gardenia, Jasmine Grandiflorum, Ylang Ylang, Indian Rose, Lotus Absolute, Opoponax, Deadwood, Sandalwood, Spikenard, Vetiver, Geosmin.
“Orris with the softness of silk and leather, the iridescent lustre of pearls, the warmth of human skin.”
One that I expected the most from, and it didn’t let me down. A smooth, silky orris, buttery and thick in the opening, with a translucent glow coming from its depths. Leather accord is reminiscent of finest Italian-made suede, soft, but with a finely ragged side to it. It almost feels like it’s breathing, having a life of its own, turning more and more towards becoming a refined, pearly skin scent with musky undertones and warm, woody roots of costus. I love it and was intensely drawn to it from the first moment, I sincerely wish that it becomes a formal addition to the collection as soon as possible! This is not a wild one. Ingen is smart, luxurious and very elegant.
Not Perfumes are available as 15 ml flacons in parfum concentration and are sold exclusively through NOT website. Test before you buy, and make an informed decision like a responsible adult 😀
Stay tuned! I’ll definitely do more NOT.
The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl, Not Perfumes; Karolina Olson Halgund, Ramiro Folz.
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