It’s hard not to anthropomorphize perfume sometimes. In my cinema of perfume, Bogue Profumo Maai is the blue blood, pants-wearing contessa who bursts into the drawing room after a day in the stables — having parsed her time between the horses and the groom — and fires her gaze over the room. She tells one guest to sit up straighter. To another guest, she sneers, “You again.” Then she leans into a vase of tuberose and orange blossoms, and her expression transforms from harridan to angel.
Antonio Gardoni, the founder of Bogue, created Maai, and it was released in 2014. Its notes include tuberose, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, civet, castoreum, hyraceum, dried fruits, sandalwood and oakmoss. Maai intrigues and repulses me at the same time. It’s huge — full of personality — crude, yet made with beautiful materials. It has old school chypre structure and new world trust fund insolence.
After reading Luca Turin’s four-star (of five) review, I scrambled to get my hands on a decant. In his review, Turin compares smelling Maai to a front row seat at the Vienna Philharmonic after listening to two months of ring tones. I get that. Maai smells real and unapologetic. It’s big. I love his comparison, and anyone who has seen a live symphony orchestra understands the full-body delight of the first delicious minutes as you acclimate to the real thing after a steady diet of CDs.
Maai delivers an opening that blends herbal menthol notes with citrus, while the show to come roils beneath. Within moments comes the tension of soapy clean musk and virginal flowers against animalic notes that could be textbook definitions of castoreum and civet. (For those newer to fragrance, imagine the scent of feces and bad breath. For real.) It’s rude yet intriguing. When I smelled Maai’s sweet-indolic combination, it reminded me of something. Then I remembered. I’ve had a sample tube of vintage Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles extrait rolling around my desk for a while. Maai could be Bal à Versailles with hipster credentials. But Maai is painted with a trowel, not a fine-tip brush like Bal à Versailles. Oakmoss fetishists, the moss is there, but it doesn’t cloud the entire composition and is a supporting cast member rather than the star.
As Maai wears, the animalic notes fall away, leaving a clean-mossy floral scent. Eventually, that morphs into sandalwood, and Maai’s schizophrenia dissipates into a sweet-woody trail that would be welcome in any bus or café. Despite its whopper construction, Maai only lasts about four or five hours on my skin.
I’m glad I have a decant of Maai, but I don’t feel compelled to buy a full bottle. I prefer the more elegant construction of vintage Christian Dior Miss Dior or Bal à Versailles when I want a hit of animalic chypre. On the right person, though, MAAI would bring down the house. I’d love to know that person. I’m just not sure I could spend a whole evening with him.