2/1/15

Ocean Rain (Mario Valentino)



Do you believe in the paranormal? Recently I tallied up the number of international miles I've traveled in my lifetime, and found the number to be 76,864. That's about three trips around the circumference of Earth, plus two thousand miles. It's a modest number, but the cosmos take notice; you can't go that far without something from much further going for you. At some point a person slips briefly but unwittingly into another dimension, and is marked by The Energies. Mankind has done this dance for tens of thousands of years, and sometimes we are the ones who leave traces of ourselves behind, which cyclically attach to those in our wake.

I think about this whenever I wear Ocean Rain, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Ocean Rain confirms it. This fragrance is exceptionally rare, not because it is discontinued for more than two decades, but because it is more than just a perfume. First, and if you didn't already know, it is the last fragrance composed by Edmond Roudnitska, who was one of the greatest perfumers to ever live. Mario Valentino, a small Italian luxury brand, pulled Mr. Roudnitska out of retirement at the sprightly age of ninety to compose their one and only masculine, and judging from the result, I'd say they got more than they bargained for.

This is one of the few reviews that I've had to rewrite before publication. It was written twice, with the first draft belaboring a more pedestrian point about the fragrance - its unusual timing in a post-eighties marketplace that hovered between total acceptance of transparent dihydromyrcenol and hedione aquatics, and stubborn loyalty to opaque woody fougerientals in the Red for Men, Balenciaga PH, Heritage, Globe, and Anthracite axis - but there's something far more interesting to talk about here. This perfume makes me wonder if Roudnitska made a pact with some mysterious cosmic force to leave his love for perfumery, essentially a piece of his heart, in the chemical formula. If so, it would have been the one and only natural material in the composition, for the rest smells entirely synthetic, yet irresistibly beautiful.

There is an extra little touch of magic in Ocean Rain, which the H&R cites as being a "fresh chypre." To me it seems more like an "oriental aquatic," which only further enhances its rareness. The amber at its core is unparalleled. It smells of a profound knowledge and wisdom accumulated over decades of work, years and years of tinkering away at how best to convey smooth woods, indolic florals, overripe fruits, and dry green Earth. Ocean Rain is perhaps the only assignment that would have been fitting for Mr. Roudnitska at that point in his life, the task of creating something entirely new and pure, while drawing on all that came before it.

Yes, it smells of petrichor on a clean beach, but the impression I get is of a passionate moment in the sand with a woman, many decades earlier, a memory embedded in scent. Ocean Rain conveys beach, sun, and water, but also sweaty skin, the taste of someone's mouth, an inhalation of soft, sweet, floral perfume on a faceless woman's breast, and that familiar, faintly metallic exhilaration of air and white noise that fills the lungs during the little death. Pretty spooky. It's pointless to break this fragrance down into notes and accords. It is, always and all at once, the whole picture, an olfactory paradox. It's a deeply personal experience, encoded in a flawless design. Despite his being long gone, I'm able to see snatches of what Roudnitska saw, smell what he smelled, down to the iron in his blood, and experience in full an exact personal moment that is not my own, but now mine.

I encourage you to seek this fragrance out if you haven't already done so, and experience how a perfume can be possessed by its maker, a man who understood that his final vision's longevity would be best preserved by cheap synthetics that may never turn. Ocean Rain is a masterpiece. There has never been anything like it before, nor will there ever be anything like it again.


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