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June 2015

Review The Discard Pile Woods

Diptyque Tam Dao

29th June 2015

Diptyque Tam Dao is one of those perfumes that always get cited in top ten lists of sandalwood perfumes, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, I bought it. Semi-blindly, I should add, because I was in a great rush. I did smell it briefly. But after having read about it for a full year before I got the chance to test it, I was at that stage so convinced that this was the calming woody perfume I was searching for, that it almost didn’t matter if I liked the brief sniff I had of it or not. I was determined to have it.

Of course, by the time I got it home and had time to think, I realized the truth. And the truth is that Tam Dao (the EDT version at least) is a perfectly nice cedar woods perfume, but it is not the grand Mysore sandalwood I’d read myself into believing. It’s more the plank section at the hardware store than anything else, and while this is indeed a very nice smell, it is also rather ordinary. I was looking for a spiritual revelation – a sandalwood dream – and I got builder’s crack. Oh well.

Review Woods

April Aromatics Precious Woods

29th June 2015

April Aromatics Precious Woods is a wonderful woods perfume. Although natural perfumes can sometimes be rather squat and muddy, this has an impressive scope to it. There are several layers at work, and surprisingly I can smell them all quite clearly at different stages of the perfume’s progression from top to bottom.

The top notes are pretty dark and oily – pungent almost, with fir balsam, pine, and the full-on lactic sourness of sandalwood. It’s not pretty. Actually, it’s so dense it almost feels like the top notes of something like Norne by Slumberhouse (not in terms of smell, but a general sense of notes crowding in on you too thickly). Each time I wear my sample of Precious Woods, I have to admit I have to brace myself through the opening.

Soon, though, I get my reward for being patient. Through the camphoraceous murk comes a wisp of incense smoke, weaving through and cutting the density, and paring back the oily balsams until you see the real object standing there unobscured – a rich, clean cedar. For much of the middle section of Precious Woods, there is an almost equal dance between cedar and incense. It smells richly spiced, slightly smoky, but clean and satisfying – never too oriental or ‘decorated’.

The best bit, by far, is the dry, creamy brown sandalwood that rises up from the base. Oh my God, it’s so good. It has that spiced gingerbread sweetness that I catch in scents where really high quality sandalwood has been used, like in Neela Vermeire’s first three fragrances or vintage Bois des Iles. I tolerate the opening of Precious Woods, thoroughly enjoy the heart notes, but I luxuriate and stretch my toes out in the base.

It’s more than worth the journey it takes to get there. It’s a really expensive choice, Precious Woods, but the richness, the surprisingly well-worked-out development, and the delicious sandalwood in the base make this a strong ‘maybe’ option for me. Highly recommended!

Review Woods

Creed Spice and Wood

29th June 2015

Creed Spice and Wood opens on a peppery note of clean cedar that also reads as quite boozy to my nose, at least in the first few minutes. I have sometimes noticed that the combination of pepper (especially pink pepper) and cedar can produce a sort of boozy effect, because it’s something I’ve also picked up in Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille and even Ambre Nuit by Dior Privee to a certain extent. Either way, it strikes a precarious balance between vinegar-pure alcohol and a deeper, sweeter booze note.

The booze note burns off quickly, leaving a clean, simple cedar note. On top of the cedar, I notice a fresh green apple note, and what I thought was something sharp like violet leaf – but it turns out that this is angelica. The overall impression is of a classic cologne, fresh and almost sporty, like Cool Water, over a warm cedar skeleton. It is pleasantly clean and natural smelling, basically one of those things you could throw on and know that you smell discreetly good.

But to me, it lacks any purpose beyond its overall pleasantness – it is not distinctive enough to make me want to pay for a full bottle of it, or even a decant, and it seems a bit too shapeless to hold up under scrutiny for a whole day’s wear. It is quite weak and short-lived, which strikes me as unfair when you consider the price.

On the other hand, its genial, undemanding woody loveliness does have a time and place. Perhaps if nobody had told me the price of this, I would have enjoyed my sample more. As it is, this is a good, discreet woods scent that would suit someone who has the money to pay for it and prefers, in general, the watery, natural-smelling colognes that Creed does so well. Me, I prefer heavier, less fresh stuff, and I am not really your average Creed customer anyway, so keep my prejudice in mind!

Review The Discard Pile Uncategorized Woods

Parfumerie Generale Cedre Sandaraque

29th June 2015

Parfumerie Generale Cedre Sandaraque is a half-singed, half-syrupy woods perfume that recalls the gourmand-woody approach used in both Aomassai and Coze, but in my opinion, without the genius of either. It starts off strong but later develops this odd flour and praline note that’s too foody to be elegant. The blast of raw cedar and berries at the start is a wild ride, alright, but as with many Parfumerie Generale fragrances I find myself wishing that the striking opening half hour could be sustained just a little more. The creeping sweetness and the raw wheat flour note makes for a leaden, lumbering heart, and then it limps into a sickly-sweet and almost fruited amber base. A bit stomach-churning, to be honest.

Masculine Review Woods

Comme des Garcons Hinoki

29th June 2015

Comme des Garcons Hinoki is very relaxing and outdoorsy. Hinoki wood smells very much like cedar to me, except with a slight tinge of lemon or bergamot somewhere in the mix, and a huge dollop of camphor. The camphoraceous aspects of the Hinoki wood add this fresh, green, almost wet feel to the perfume and sometimes smells even a little bit industrial at times, like glue or paint – although, let’s be honest, glue and wet paint also smell bloody fantastic, so no complaints here.

In general, the slight smoky-incense feel to Hinoki makes this a true sister scent to Kyoto, also by Comme des Garcons, and who knows, it may have been the basic template for Kyoto. Either way, both these scents share a green, slightly camphoric, woody incense character and are both equally diffuse and translucent in texture. Elegant to the bone, minimalist, stylish, and grounding – these are two of my favorites for when you need to carry the great redwoods of Oregon around in your personal headspace (ok, wrong wood type but you know what I mean!).

Chypre Immortelle Iris Masculine Review Woods

Etat Libre d’Orange Afternoon of a Faun

29th June 2015

Etat Libre d’Orange Afternoon of a Faun is NOT an oriental, powdery, spicy leather as the notes might suggest. Nope, this one muscles its way into the green chypre category with an overall vibe halfway between a drenched forest and a bowl full of crushed iris roots. It’s described as an aromatic, spicy scent on Fragrantica and as an incense-leather oriental here, but actually, it comes off as a scorched-earth chypre.

It shouldn’t work. But the contrast of wet, bitter green iris and the dry woods is all kinds of addictive.

I love the way it takes me on a ride every time I put it on. It reminds me somewhat of a vintage No. 19 pure parfum I had from the 1950’s which had turned badly – it shares something of that singed woods and burned coffee smell the parfum had. But in contrast, Afternoon of a Faun smells really good to me.

Right away, the strangeness of the immortelle note is apparent. It adds a sticky, savory syrup note, like sugared hay boiled down in whiskey. This has the effect of injecting the chilly green halls of No. 19 with streaks of autumnal warmth. So, for once, you have a damp, mossy chypre that smells….warm, human, sunny almost. It makes this an exceedingly comfortable wear without sacrificing an ounce of its stylish swagger, like a pair of fabulous, wide-cut slacks that are both comfortable and capable of making you look like Marlene Dietrich.

I love, love, love the textures at play in Afternoon of a Faun too. The opening is sort of damp and glazed, like the patina from old wood that you’ve just loving rubbed with oil. The immortelle adds a spicy, vegetal syrupy feel, and orris butter a creamy, rooty smell and texture. It is sweet, but also dry and slightly spicy, like good old wood.

In the dry down, the most amazing transformation in texture takes place – it sheds any sticky or wet feel it may have add, and becomes dry and smoky, like ash smoldering in the grate. At this stage, the immortelle smells like slightly burned coffee, which is a wonderfully dry, aromatic smell that I really enjoy.

In fact, I feel comfortable characterizing this as a dry, smoky iris perfume with a significant green/woody aspect to it. It smells like a real chypre too, even without oakmoss, so hats off to the folks at ELDO for proving that you can still produce a fantastic perfume that smells like the real deal rather than a sad sack imitation of what once was.

Chypre Immortelle Review

Amouage Beloved Woman

29th June 2015

Amouage Beloved Woman is beautifully done. But what strikes me most about it is that it is clearly Amouage’s homage to that great classic, Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir, just as surely as Jubilation 25 is a homage to classic French fruity chypres such as Rochas Femme or Diorella.

Beloved Woman opens up with a bitter, powdered clove, lavender, and sage combination that smells as aromatic and as talc-like as one of those quaint gentlemen’s colognes you might find at Penhaglion’s, or indeed a modern interpretation of a Dandy perfume, such as Histoires de Parfums’ 1876. There is a certain spicy, resinous, talc-like feel that links all these fragrances in my mind.

But more than anything, the rose, the hay-like chamomile, the sage all sing a tune that is familiar to me from my lovely, pagan, mother earth Aromatics Elixir. AE is earthier, dirty with patchouli, and far more ‘deep down in the forest’ than Beloved. Beloved is a fine lady, and AE is a hippy mom. But the essential bone structure is there. One was like the other in a different life, and all that.

The rose note in Beloved is pretty remarkable. Hidden behind the aromatic powder of the opening, you might miss it at first, but then it swells in intensity, rising up from a crumble of dusty potpourri rose petals to become a big, juicy rose fluffed out by moisture. The rose lingers for a while in a pool of boozy, hay-like immortelle, for a combination that is simultaneously syrupy and dry, sweet and savory. The immortelle adds a lovely ‘baked grass’ note to the florals and makes it feel less rarified than the start.

The dry down of Beloved is more pedestrian and standard-Amouage-oriental fare than its ‘Classic French’ opening and heart. After the herbal chypre dressing gown is dropped to her ankles, Beloved lurches off into a dry, resinous base made up of cedar, a heavily spiced musk, and a fairly bitter olibanum (Frankincense). This part’s a bit of a snooze after the impressive first half, but it’s still an Amouage base, so you know things weren’t done on the cheap or stuffed full of nasty, cheap woody ambers.

Beloved is unquestionably a beautiful, almost intoxicating perfume, but I won’t be spending any money on it. For one, it is over-priced, even within the usual standards for an Amouage fragrance, and for my money, Aromatics Elixir performs a similar trick of making the wearer feel womanly, powerful, and in control of her own fate, but at almost ten times less the cost of one bottle of Beloved. That said, there is an uneasy beauty about it that moves me, and I put it down to the bitter-liquorish, golden afternoon note of immortelle, casting its warmth over the cool, forest-like tones of the rest of the fragrance.

Masculine Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur

29th June 2015

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is a big ole sex musk with a leer on its face. Luca Turin says it’s more flashy than good, and I’d agree, but then again, I don’t think Musc Ravageur takes itself all that seriously to begin with. It’s a musk with bedroom eyes and an Adam’s apple.

The more I wear it, the more I think of it as the male equivalent of Shalimar. It’s a big-boned oriental at heart, a crude, deconstructed version of the older versions of Shalimar extrait – all rude body musks, thick vanilla, and butter-like tonka. Objectionably rich, and quite pungent in parts.

Even the top notes of Musc Ravageur share a certain barbershoppy feel with Shalimar: in Musc Ravageur, it’s lavender and cloves, and in Shalimar, it’s something like herbes de Provence (thyme?). Perhaps that’s why so many men find the opening challenging – the pungent spices, dirty musk, and sweet vanilla churning their stomachs in a way they can’t handle.

But I’m a Shalimar girl all the way, baby, so this is familiar territory for me. People either hate the opening and love the dry down, or wish that the rough opening would last all the way through – me, I love every part of Musc Ravageur from front to end.

It smells like someone rubbed a vanilla-glazed Cinnabon across the sweaty perineum of a man who hadn’t washed for a few days. Hot, sweet, a bit dirty (in a good way). The combination of the rich, sweet vanilla, tonka, and sandalwood in the base is to die for, no matter where you stand on the exact dirtiness of the musk at the start.

I used to think that it was too loud and too dirty for a lady to be wearing outside the house. But then I realized that the Shalimar extrait I wear is pretty dirty and I wear that out of the house all the time. I think I bought into the hype about this being a disgusting, filthy, old-man kind of smell. Now, I just think it’s a fabulous gourmand musk/oriental that’s both sexy and comfortable.

Vulgar? Yeah. Hell yeah! And so what! A bit of vulgarity never hurt nobody.

Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum

29th June 2015

Aha! I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Maurice Roucel takes Musc Ravageur out of the bedroom and into the nursery, refashioning it as Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum.

It’s an amazing accomplishment when you think about it – it shares the same basic DNA as Musc Ravageur, and even smells somewhat similar – and yet the feel of one is a hundred million miles away from the other.

If Musc Ravageur is lying spread-eagled in the boudoir, spilling out of its red lace teddy and trying to disguise its Adam’s apple, Helmut Lang EDP is the tender gripe-water exhalation from a baby sleeping in its cradle. (The only teddy here being the one clutched in fat little baby fingers).

The opening of Helmut Lang EDP always reminds me pleasantly of nightly bath time rituals with my children: the Chicco calendula and lavender baby wash I use, the smell of plush cotton baby towels fresh from the drier, and the innocent smell of the skin at the nape of their necks, which I cannot resist nuzzling.

Few people talk about the sheer sensuality of children these days for risk of being misunderstood – but parents of small children will understand when I say that there is no greater sensual pleasure than the smell and touch of small children. It’s why parents can’t resist nuzzling and sniffing their kids. We are drawn helplessly to their velvety skin and their specific, milky smell.

Helmut Lang EDP smells milky and warm and fresh and innocent to me. It opens with the baby breath of heliotrope, neroli, and pretty orange blossoms. Later, it strikes me that the musk and vanilla is on the knife’s edge of being not-so-innocent after all. Maybe it’s even a little dirty. But not dirty in the Musc Ravageur fun, sex way. Just not as squeaky clean as you might expect from its opening. I don’t find it sexy, though (due to the nursery associations). Just touchingly human in scale, which is nice too.

Helmut Lang EDP is quite modern, airy, and stream-lined, a further departure from the butch oriental category wherein I mentally place Musc Ravageur. But I really should stop comparing them – leaving aside the obvious Maurice Roucel DNA they share – Helmut Lang EDP simply occupies a different place and function in my wardrobe, and I like them both on their own terms.

Amber Maurice Roucel Musk Review The Discard Pile

Le Labo Labdanum 18

29th June 2015

Maurice Roucel, you old roué! I think I’ve figured out your game. You made a beautiful musk-vanilla-amber template in the lab one day, and you thought to yourself, “Maurice, old boy, this ain’t half bad! I can get at least three good fragrances out of this.” You dialed up the rude bits on the template to arrive at Musc Ravageur, and you sanitized it with cotton and heliotrope and doll’s head plastic to come up with Helmut Lang EDP.

Le Labo comes a knocking, and you decide, you know what – let’s see if we can’t wring a last drop of juice from this old sponge. We’ll name it after an ingredient that isn’t noticeably in it, let’s say labdanum, so as to give those contrary hipster mofos at Le Labo their jollies. Add a pinch of cinnamon, a touch of powder, and my standard musky-ambery-vanilla, and BAM! Everybody’s happy.

Well, not me, Maurice, not me. The last imprint of the well-used template is too faint to leave much of an impression. It’s a midget in a hall of giants. Civet, leather – castoreum? Pfff, please. Shalimar has more underpantsy funk than this. The trouble is, of course, that Le Labo Labdanum 18 can only cower in the shadow of its more outgoing big brother, Musc Ravageur, and its more distinctive, characterful little sister, Helmut Lang EDP. And if I want a powdery musk-amber-patchouli scent that smells like skin, I always have the soured-fur delights of L’Ombre Fauve to fall back on. Desolee.

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