Fig is ubiquitous in fragrance, so much so that go round the block more than once and you might end up feeling that you have smelled just about every iteration that fig has to give. If you’re feeling jaded with this little fruit, then Ashoka by Neela Vermeire may just about be able to shake you up and out of the fig-funk.
Fig leaf, lotus, water hyacinth, osmanthus absolute, cassie absolute, jasmine sambac, iris, ylang-ylang, fig milk, myrrh, sandalwood, vetiver, leather, styrax, incense, tonka bean.
The inspiration for Ashoka works around the theme of aggression and conflict being tamed, calmed and soothed. This is present in how the scent wears, and in a really interesting way.
Ashoka begins with a dry figgy note. It is husky, desiccated, almost coconutty at times. This is immediately contrasted against watery, aquatic notes. Normally, when perfumers play things off against each other, it seems like it is to create tension in the differences between the two facets, but here something very different feels like it is happening – you can almost feel the wetter and drier elements combining to produce a new tone which is both wet and dry all at once.
The opening feels incredibly nuanced and beautifully blended, there is something a little rubbery, a bit of ripe banana, a dash of honeyed sweetness, a scrap of leather, even something which fleetingly smells like butter dropped into a hot frying pan and lush, heavy, intoxicating florals that just ooze an abundant, sexy fecundity.
When pondering how to describe the opening of this fragrance, the image that sprang to mind was that of a storm. In itself a storm isn’t really aggressive – that’s just us anthropomorphising it. The storm exists as a simple product of weather fronts. Rain and wind coincide to become the storm, but either on their own are just rain or just wind. These constituent parts together paint a picture more vivid and more emotive, they’re no longer just anything, they’re a complete storm, resplendent in its own terrible beauty. Ashoka feels like this, especially at the start. A lot of things are working together to paint a whole landscape, but even then it doesn’t feel particularly aggressive, because aggressive suggests a lack of control, a haphazard explosion of emotion. Ashoka on the other hand is detailed, nuanced, and like everything is exactly where it needed to be for the full picture to come off. If anything it’s a sort of controlled aggression. There’s mastery of the craft of perfumery in evidence here quite clearly; this level of control does not happen by chance.
There’s a swoosh shape to the way in which Ashoka wears for us. It starts off wildly detailed but dips into a much quieter and simpler phase, before it relaunches itself. It is in the middle of the wear that we find this lull in the scent. The fig doesn’t go away, but becomes much more muted, and there is a damp woody tone to accompany it. If it were a season it would be late winter, a period of contemplation before growth, the pause between courses of a meal. It gives us pause and readies us for what comes next.
The base of Ashoka revitalises the scent slowly, breathing new life into the wear. The greenness of the fig seems to reinvigorate, and that fuzzy, glaucous texture feels velvety as you breathe it in. This is joined by a smoothing milky facet that seems to lubricate everything, but rather than dampening down, the effect is calming, reassuring, soothing. Again, masterful command of the materials is shown in the way that this is executed, it feels so precise, so poised, so deliberate that there is something magnificent in observing it.
It’s easy to imagine certain notes in fragrance as being soothing, but fig would not necessarily be at the top of the list. In Ashoka though it’s as comforting as a cashmere blanket. The whole scent just makes something in this pent up, crazy fast world calm and relax. It’s like the human equivalent of those plug-in diffusers that make cats go all stoned and floppy. Only much classier and more elegant.
To return to what we said at the start about this being a different sort of fig, on close pondering and reflection the fig fruit here feels fractionated. If you don’t think about it too hard, then you might not even recognise it as fig at times. At the start the fig is almost dried, sweet, concentrated. As the scent wears, the fig becomes first rounder, plumper and then milky and smooth, before retreating almost right back to the bud stage in the final moments of the scent. This shifting use of different tones of fig feels really satisfying and makes Ashoka a fig scent which isn’t cliched and which doesn’t behave in a very obvious and predictable manner.
On a blotter, a very light and transparent smoke is noticeable towards the latter stages of a wear of the fragrance, but on skin we felt that this was a little less noticeable, although maybe one of those notes that is brought out more by some people’s own particular skin chemistry.
Ashoka is a delight in so many ways, it wears easily yet feels surprising, it’s detailed and soothing. Like all good perfumes should, Ashoka balances beautifully, and very much feels like a masterful portrait of the ancient ruler bearing the same name. We were entranced by the mastery of materials on display here, and Ashoka feels rather timeless in its beauty.
The other stuff
Ashoka is a very polite fragrance which we didn’t feel projected very far from the skin at all – perhaps to around hugging distance. It’s a very unisex scent which could easily be worn by anyone.
The longevity of Ashoka is a strange one, it seemed to last quite well, but it is possible to think that it has disappeared because it stays so close to the skin, only for a sniff of the wrist to reveal that it was indeed still there, just very quiet.
The cold seemed to inhibit Ashoka and close it down a bit, whereas the warm encouraged it to shine, and so for that reason alone we would suggest that this would be a fragrance well suited to spring and early summer months.
Ashoka is a fabulous scent to wear when you are in need of something to help you chill out and unwind. It’s so beautifully soothing that your blood pressure will automatically lower as you wear it (this isn’t true in the slightest, but that’s what it feels like it should do).
Ashoka is inspired by a legendary ruler who listened to compassion at a moment when victory was assured, he converted to Buddhism and spread this throughout ancient Asia – more information on Wikipedia.
Neela Vermeire was a perfume connoisseur before she ran a brand herself, and this love of the art form shines through in the creations she champions which are rich and multifaceted. The Neela Vermeire brand chimes classical French perfumery with an Eastern heritage to spark a range which is rich in spiced layers but elegant with it. There is none of the stuffiness or old-fashioned-ness that modernist naysayers may expect from the ‘classical French perfumery’ tag.
The fragrances in the collection of Neela Vermeire are formulated by the renowned (and prolific) perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour. Ashoka was the recipient of The Art and Olfaction Independent Award.
We’ve previously reviewed the very beautiful Pichola by Neela Vermeire as well.
Ashoka can be purchased from the Neela Vermeire web boutique where it is priced at €205 for 60ml EdP.
We were very kindly given a sample of this scent by the brand, with no-strings attached.