The Perfumery: Imaginary Authors' O, Unknown!

Posted by Will Carius on

I am, on occasion, struck by two peculiarly common phenomena in the shaving world: the number of lawyers who go on to become soapmakers, and the number of wet shavers who go on to become perfumers. To maintain clarity of topic, it's the second group that's of particular interest today, and I can think of at least three such folks who've made that jump in recent years. O, Unknown!, the subject of today's review, was composed by Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors, perhaps the archetypal shaver-cum (shut up)-fragrance artist, and is, in my view, his best work to date.

Image of Imaginary Authors perfume bottle against a lifestyle background.

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For those unfamiliar, Imaginary Authors is premised on the idea of creating authors and books that don't exist to match the fragrances that Josh produces in his California lab. I've always considered the concept to be somewhat convoluted, but, as arguably the patron saint of convoluted ideas, I can't say that I've ever been turned away by that fact. However, until the release of O, Unknown!, while I respected Josh and his work, I had never smelled anything wrought by his hand that particularly wowed me. But then the instant fragrance hit the market and forced me to reconsider that position.

O, Unknown! is, first and foremost, an orris (iris) butter fragrance. This butter specification is important: orris absolute, a related material made from the same plant, is dry, rooty, and chocolatey, but a quality orris butter is soft, creamy, buttery, and thoroughly enchanting. On its own, it can conjure images of lipstick; orris butter was used as a moisturizing agent in lipsticks made before 1925 or so, and the aroma became so associated with the product that manufacturers added synthetic orris butter fragrance to their lipsticks for decades after the genuine article became too expensive to include.

Here, the buttery opening is absolutely lovely. Rich, creamy, fatty, and powdery, it brings to mind images of fur coats and dazzling glitter, Lucille Ball dressed in mink as she attends Ricky's performance on Friday night. The butter is counterpointed with one of the most unique uses of tea in all of perfumery: my understanding is that the lapsang souchong tincture used in O, Unknown! is made by Josh in-house, aged for months before being incorporated into the raw concentrate. I get the distinct impression that there's more to the tea accord than just the natural raw material, though; lapsang is generally smoky and earthy, and, while there's a very light smokiness to the fragrance, like a beautiful woman's cigarette passing by on Fifth Avenue, this is not a smoke scent in any capacity, and the rich earthiness of tea speaks forth in velvety tones without any hint of gravel or phlegm. Beneath this smooth, resonant introduction, the sweetness of balsam steps forward as support, filling in the gaps and giving the impression of round, full structure, utterly without the offensive, jagged edges so common in modern mass-market fragrance.

The overall effect can be regarded in two different ways: the first, perhaps more vivid impression is that of buttered toast and tea on a rainy morning, a calm, genteel Saturday breakfast while one reads the paper and prepares for a day of leisure. Nothing interferes with the ritual, nothing intrudes from the outside world; this is a fragrance that gives an impression of peaceful serenity, a quiet, happy place.

The second impression, one of personal experience, is that O, Unknown! smells like the highest quality leather. Some years ago, I purchased a Schott pebbled-leather jacket, something special that I had wanted for many years. It was, and still is, possessed of a rich, faintly smoky aroma, and smells absolutely fantastic. O, Unknown!, while not identical to this jacket, is similar enough that I feel as though I'm wearing one of my prized possessions every time I spray it on. It's a sensation that I get from no other fragrance, which is likely why I own two bottles and will continue to buy it for as long as its in production.


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  • Thank-you Will for sending me down another rabbit hole.
    Kudo’s to Imaginary Authors for offering a sampler set. 8 testers before I indulge.
    Insightful post, let the sampling begin.

    Jonathan on
  • Is iris butter what made night music sing? I’ve been praying that you’d lost a few tubs behind the couch and they’d be for sale when you found them…

    Jeris Manning on

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