This fruit and floral chypre manages to be both perfectly composed and yet strangely wild and free, like a haphazard flower arrangement following the Japanese aesthetic of wabisabi, which values the paradoxical qualities of imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion.
Top Notes: Bergamot, galbanum, orange blossom
Heart notes: Jasmine, rose, narcissus, violet, orris root, mimosa, hyacinth, carnation
Base notes: Sandalwood, cedar, oakmoss, amber, musk
Its initial sparkling fruit and flower notes slide into a rich, plummy, plushness of soft wood (cedar and sandalwood) and warmth (orris root, musk, amber). I almost can't tell you what I like more — Zen as it's coming my way, in my first flush of falling in love with its sharp flowery/fruity sparkle, or as it nuzzles up close to me, after I understand it and we spend some time together in its woodsy, ambery state.
Zen recalls Nombre Noir — or should I say, since that otherworldy damascone-rich anomoly was made in the '80s — Nombre Noir recalls Zen. But NN took the perfectly blended fruit, flowers and woodsy spice of Zen and plugged it all into an electrical socket so that those notes flashed from a neon sign. Zen sends a definitely subtler, more understated, (more hippie?) vibe. It was created in the '60s, after all. (And compare Zen's floral design etched black bottle with the computer language font used for Nombre Noir.)
Zen Buddhism was just coming to the US when Zen hit the shelves. Is the name just a gimmick? I don't think so. This intelligent and generous perfume is not merely affixed with the name "Zen," but also expresses its quiet philosophy. By paying attention, or being mindful of the nature of its perfume notes, its composition elevates those notes without distorting them. Bright, fruity, floral, spicy, warm, ambery — I am dazzled by how much this perfume says in a whisper. Its drydown does not ignore what came before it, but marvelously carries the colors of those notes until they all resolve into a soft revery — like a camera's soft-focus image of a garden.
A Zen bouquet would find harmony in the disparate shapes, colors and sizes of flowers, letting each flower be what it is, while allowing its beauty to be offset by the completely different, yet perfectly imperfect, flower next to it. Because of the interesting color combination, the simplicity, and the ineffable sense that love went into its arrangement, it would achieve the quality of wabi ("quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegant to the object") and sabi: ("beauty or serenity that comes with age" or wear).
Zen, the perfume, recalls enough of nature and its subtlety to have that quality of fragility so rare in aesthetic objects. Decadent and reserved, riotous and quiet, voluptuous and austere, this perfume exemplifies the way that the wabisabi aesthetic so dear to Zen Buddhist practice can make simple things seem grand, seemingly nonsensical Koans speak volumes, or the mere calling attention to nature more of an art statement than a self-conscious art construction.
Zen a quiet masterpiece.
(A big thanks to my friend Brie M. for grabbing this off of her mother's forgotten perfume shelf! This EDT appears to have been a free gift with purchase; I can't wait to see what the EDP is like.)