To me, one of the most compelling aspects of fragrance is what an illusion the whole thing can be. Like the image that can be either a crone or a maiden depending on how you squint your eyes, a perfume can often smell like two things at once. Mikmoi Vesper is like that. Depending on the angle from which I approach it, Vesper smells like suede and rose or like a fresh crushed fig leaf. Either way, it's intriguing.
Mikmoi is a San Francisco-based indie perfumery run by nose Michael Coyle, who goes by “Mik.” Coyle studied with Mandy Aftel and Yosh Han before launching Mikmoi. (Mikmoi isn't all-natural. Coyle notes that he's self-taught with aroma chemicals.) I stumbled on Mikmoi by chance — I was dashing through a breezeway downtown and passed a tiny pharmacy I hadn’t seen before. On the shelves by the cash register were a few elegant Mikmoi bottles with caps wrapped in cords. I asked the woman working there which of the Mikmois she liked best, and she pointed to Vesper and said, “That one. I like fig.”
The slip of paper that came with my sample describes Vesper as “Sueded Incense” and adds “Cocktails trailing Bond girls. Aperitif tops notes, fig leaf, black rose and smooth suede redeemed in a myrrh and frankincense base.” The aperitif and Bond girls are lost on me (and believe me, I’ve had enough Lillet Blanc and Vesper cocktails to suss out that part of the equation). But I do smell the suede and the fig leaf — just not at the same time.
When I think “fig leaf,” I smell in Vesper the one-of-a-kind signature of crushed fig leaf: a whiff of milky green coconut and a sharp green that hints at cat pee. (This scent really comes out when fig leaves are warm. If you get the chance, try wrapping a salmon or steelhead filet with a fig leaf and then roasting or grilling it. When you unwrap the fish, you’ll smell warm coconut and pulpy stem — delicious.) A vague fruity warmth underlies the fig leaf.
When I think “suede” and sniff Vesper, suddenly a salty suede with a few green rose petals strewn on top comes to mind. The insistent tang that read as fig leaf and cat pee now becomes wet incense and cedar.
Either way, the fragrance is present but quiet and lasts about four hours before the wood and incense fade to a soft musk, then disappear completely.
“Vesper” might refer to night or to James Bond’s paramour Vesper Lynd or to the cocktail Bond invented and named after Lynd — or maybe to something else. But given Mikmoi’s specific reference to aperitifs and Bond girls, I’ll go with the cocktail. Except for the sensation of crisp and sweet and vaguely herbal, to me Vesper doesn't smell much like the cocktail. But here’s the recipe for those of you who want to find out firsthand:
Mix three parts gin, one part vodka, and a half part Lillet Blanc in a shaker full of ice. (Don’t skimp on the ice, or you’ll dilute your cocktail. With enough ice, the cocktail chills quickly enough to get the job done before the ice melts.) Strain into a deep champagne coupe and garnish with a lemon twist. Even people who profess to detest gin will like this one. Plus, this cocktail is a good reminder that not all cocktails have to be served in gigantic martini glasses — coupes work just as well, and thrift shops are loaded with gorgeous etched crystal glasses.
Mikmoi Vesper Eau de Parfum is $90 for 50 ml. For information on where to buy it, see the Mikmoi website.