Monthly Archives

September 2015

Skincare

Notes to My 39-Year-Old Self on No-BS Skincare

September 27, 2015
Notes to my 39 year old self FB
  1. Stop reading women’s magazines. You knew there was something hinky about them when, at age 13, you read an article on “How to Empower Yourself” and it was right next to a piece on the ten best ways to give a man a blow-job. Also: kudos to your 13 year-old self for instinctively recognizing that alternating mouthfuls of hot tea or ice cubes and a man’s tender bits probably wasn’t such a great idea.
  1. Don’t take the recommendations of beauty editors seriously either. Their job is to sell magazines, not to be your best friend. Anyone who has a financial stake in the recommendation they make to you is highly suspect. Listening to their “advice” is like listening to a Nestle-sponsored doctor in Africa explaining to his female patients why breastfeeding is going to harm their babies and why they should use Nestle milk powder instead.
  1. But do seek out women who don’t have a financial stake in whether you buy a product or not and who have made it their life’s mission to make women feel and look better. By this I mean women like Caroline Hirons, Sally Hughes, Paul Begoun, India Knight, and Caitlin Moran.
  1. These women are what I like to call “professional separators of wheat from the chaff”. They will tell you what products work, which are rubbish, and how, in general, to be a woman who is happy with herself, her looks, and her body past the age of thirty-five.
  1. You don’t need a separate cream for the eyes. You. Just. Don’t.
  1. Being on the wrong side of 35 has some benefits. You are no longer desperately seeking perfection. It’s almost a relief to realize – finally – that you’ll never have the dewy, glowing skin of the twenty-year old models in Vogue. You’ve reached the stage where you can admire them from afar without wanting to be them or thinking you ever could be.
  1. Be happy with the way you look right now. Do the best with the materials you are working with. Focus on enhancing the good stuff. You are NOT a bag of flaws just waiting to be fixed.
  1. Any marketing campaign, advertisement, glossy magazine, or TV agony aunt who tries to suggest that you need to be “fixed” can feck off.
  1. Stop being such a whore to beauty marketing. You’re old enough to know better. Don’t buy skincare products that sound fancy but have absolutely no scientifically-proven benefit to them – like arctic snow berries, sea whelk, snail mucin, tiger semen, and the tears of a hundred small children.
  1. Paula Begoun, a well-known beauty consumer affairs expert, has been investigating the so-called “studies” cited by skincare companies to flog their latest miracle ingredient, and in 30 years has been unable to find even one study that actually proved the effectiveness of the hyped ingredient.
  1. Get off the train of Cute. You’re 39 and you have a bathroom stuffed with products you don’t use and bought because they came in pink tubes and had cute, retro images on them and sported rib-ticklingly-witty aphorisms such as “Wash that man right outta your hair” and “You sexy mother pucker.” Jesus wept, woman.
  1. Oh, and collagen and elastin? Kind of bullshit ingredients. Their molecules are too large to penetrate the upper layer of skin. They are effective moisturizing agents – but then, so is duck fat.
  1. The only effective, active ingredients that actually do anything for your skin are as follows:
  1. AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acid or Salicylic Acid) – these dissolve the glue-like bonds between around your old skin cells, slough them off, and reveal new skin cells underneath. It makes the rest of your skincare regime more effective. So, keep treating your face like John George Haigh did his women and you should be ok.
  1. Derived from vitamin A, they are proven to be one of the most powerful and effective weapons signs of ageing. Either you are lucky enough to come across a source of Retin-A, Trentinoin, Retin-A Micro, and Renova (the powerful, prescription-grade stuff) or you find a strong retinol cream or gel over the counter. I’ve been using Skinceuticals Retinol gel in the 0.5% strength, but I am desperately keen to get my hands on the stronger stuff I ordered over eBay.
  1. Don’t make a habit of buying skincare over eBay.
  1. The snake-like shedding of the skin when using potent retinoids is, like, the most satisfying thing EVER. If you’re someone who loves picking their scabs, then you’ll love this.
  1. Antioxidants like vitamin C. Find the purest grade of vitamin C in serum form in a dark dropper bottle and use it well before the sell-by date. Nothing brightens the skin like it. I also find that if I accidentally lick my upper lip in the mornings, I can still taste the bright, citric sting of it on my skin. That makes me feel like it is working?
  1. Hyaluronic acid. Not a miracle worker in the league of, let’s say, AHAs or Retin-A, but it traps moisture near the skin surface and essentially boosts the moisturizing power of your day or night cream. There’s a point in mid-winter when I need it to “un-flakerize” my skin but in general I can do without it.
  1. At night, you like to “seal in” my active ingredients (applied in the form of serums and treatments) with a lovely antioxidant face oil, such as the Trilogy Rosehip Antioxidant+ or a vitamin E oil from the health food store. Not sure that these are actively doing anything for your skin.
  1. But fancy night creams are probably doing nothing for your skin anyway – it would be a miracle if whatever active ingredients they contain can penetrate the five layers of goop you have on your face.  This is not a scientific belief, just a….. belief.
  1. Day creams don’t need to be posh or expensive, but they do need to have a good sunscreen in them. That’s their only requirement.
  1. Eat your way to good skin. That daily smoothie you’ve been forcing yourself to chug down every morning is so full of super foods and miracle seeds that it’s already cleared up the whites of your eyes. Still waiting for the effect to make it to your skin, but the initial signs are hopeful.
  1. Sugar destroys whatever collagen you’ve got left in your skin. So stop eating so much sugary crap.
  1. On the other hand, you’re a busy mum and sometimes the only thing that’s getting you through the day is the thought of that sneaky bag of Maltesers in your bedside table, to be silently dissolved in your mouth in the darkness so as not to wake the two little sleeping bodies on either side of you (or worse, alert them to the presence of chocolate in the room, thus forcing you to share them).
  1. Recognize that you are, and probably always will be, attracted by the whole South Korean skincare thing.
  1. But nurture that suspicion that South Korean skincare works best for South Korean school girls or movie stars whose skin is already preternaturally gorgeous. One is not sure that it works as well for ageing, saggy, middle-aged Irish skin that has the greyish, blueish tint of about-to-turn milk to it.
  1. It doesn’t mean you won’t try Korean skincare, though. You’re an eternally hopeful eejit that way.
  1. Yeah, but wait, no – you can’t say you’re for no-bullshit, effective-ingredients-only skincare and then dovetail off into South Korean skincare, can you? Let’s be consistent. South Koreans make products that favor natural, cruelty-free ingredients such as snail mucin, maple tree sap, bee venom, rose oil, sea kelp, pig collagen, and starfish extract. You know your skincare-bullshit-ingredient meter is tingling right now.
  1. But DAMN, THOSE PIG COLLAGEN HELLO KITTY SHEET MASKS ARE SO CUTE.
  1. The South Korean skincare issue is unresolved.

Incense Scent Memory Smoke Spice

Comme des Garcons Black

September 18, 2015
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I left Ireland for Bosnia when I was 22, without so much as a backwards glance. Over the following 16 years when people asked me if I missed home, I would always be startled and say yes – automatically – but it wasn’t quite true. I just never thought of home as being anywhere other than wherever I was right then.

I never realized that the gene for “home” was carried deep within my DNA until one dark night when I stepped out of a snow-stalled car into the deserted crossroads of a tiny village in Bosnia and was hit in the solar plexus by a waft of smoke from a coal fire.

Not just one – dozens of coal fires. All sending plumes of sweet-smelling smoke into the black, starless sky. In my mind’s eye, I could see walls covered with centuries of soot, men huddling round the heart smoking cigarettes, and the fingers of women putting more coal on the fire.

My mother’s fingers, black with soot. In that moment, every cell in my body ached to be back home, watching the familiar sight of her white fingers gingerly placing another coal on the flames, egged on by her always-cold children. Was she sitting beside her fire now, thinking of her first child, wondering if she was cold?

Comme des Garcons Black is the smell of home to me. It smells of coal dust, sweet woodsmoke, frankincense, dry cedar logs, licorice, and finally, in its dying moments, a salt-encrusted leather belt. Not of these things directly but of these things burned on a fire and sent out into the crisp, cold air of a Northern night sky as a single curl of smoke. Every time I spray it on, I experience a joy like that of launching into a sudden run.

If I were being picky, I’d say that the projection and longevity and projection of Black leave much to be desired. But I’m content with this in a quasi eau de cologne format. I’d be afraid that any attempt to make Black stronger would compress all the air out of its airy weightlessness. I like that Black takes the form of coal dust mites, shifting as you move; acting as your own personal force field.

I’ve long been looking for a smoky, woodsy birch tar fragrance that hits this exact spot – the coal-fire-in-Bosnia spot. I love Le Labo Patchouli 24 for coming close, but the vanilla syrup makes me pause, and Bois d’Ascese is far too dense and acrid. Memoir Man does smoky, charred woods and Frankincense beautifully, but it has a somber, sulky feel that might prove difficult. Black, to me, is what you might get if you were to put all these perfumes through a Photoshop filter and apply a filter to reduce the density by 70%. Black does indeed smell truly “black” but it’s more a sheer wash of color rather than a thick daub of oil.

I love it. It’s the first Comme des Garcons perfume for which I’ve been able to locate a heartbeat. I admire their modernist approach but something in their stripped-down aesthetic usually leaves me cold. Here there’s both an emotional core and a minimalism that’s entirely in keeping with the house signature. Maybe the heart bit is all me, but I do feel there’s something warm and human about Black.

Gourmand Oriental Oud Resins Review Rose Spice

Amouage Epic Woman

September 18, 2015
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Anybody here remember Opal Fruits? The tagline was: “Made to make your mouth water” – and sure enough whenever an ad for those tangy, sherbet-y little suckers came on TV, my mouth would begin pumping out saliva. Like Pavlov’s dog.

Well, I just have to glance at my dark green bottle of Amouage Epic Woman for my mouth to start to water. Like pickles, umeboshi, and sourpatch gummies, there is an almost physical pleasure to be had in a wincingly tart flavor. It is a credit to Amouage that Epic Woman contains so many piquant green notes and still manages to be so inviting. It smells like something pickled in brine! And yet sweet!

Every part of Epic Woman is as satisfying to me as a good meal – the lip-smacking savor of kimchi leading into a meaty, smoked rose and finally a few spoonfuls of thin crème anglaise, just enough to sweeten the tongue.

Many people say that Epic Woman belongs to the same oriental woody perfume family as Chanel’s Bois des Iles, Molinard Habanita, and even Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles. But I always get the feeling that putting those perfumes in the same sentence as something like Epic Woman is like saying tomatoes = strawberries because they are both fruits. Needless to say, Epic Woman is neither a tomato nor a strawberry. Clearly, it’s a salted plum.

I’m always trying to figure out where Epic Woman fits in the general scheme of things. No doubt about it, it is an oriental perfume. However, it lacks the plush sweetness and creamy roundness of most other orientals. After much thought, I’ve come to realize that the head space it occupies (for me, at least) is the same as for Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais and YSL’s vintage Nu EDP – smoky incense perfumes with a phenomenally sour streak of flavor running through them that prickle the saliva glands. In case you haven’t picked up on my feeling about this sourness – it’s good! I love it actually. It’s the tart streak in these perfumes that stops them from melting into the characterless vanilla-amber-sandalwood sludge that sometimes plagues the category.

Epic Woman balances the hot and the sour and the sweet as masterfully as a delicate Chinese dish – the heat from the black pepper and cinnamon, the green pickling spices (caraway), and the soft-but-oh-so-vinegary oud are the major players here. But there is also a diffuse sweetness, coming off the pink rose that blooms behind the sour opening notes and what feels like a mixture of powdered cinnamon and vanilla. I can’t say that I smell black tea, but maybe I’m just not picking out the tea tannins when placed up against a smoky guaic wood, incense, and other woody notes.

The vanilla in the base is extremely subtle – a thimbleful of creme anglaise rather than an ice-cream sundae – and spiked with just enough sugar added to round out the sourness of the oud wood. The sourness and the delicate spices surrounding the rose persist all through the perfume, though, and keep me smacking my lips.

In short, this is a perfume to be savored like a good Chinese sweet and sour dish, or the snap of a cold dill pickle straight from the jar when you’re starving. It is a wholly appetizing perfume – almost gourmand in the pleasure it affords me.

Rose Woods

Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule

September 18, 2015
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The more I wear Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule, the more I fall in love. I find it more interesting than beautiful, though. For a perfume that lists so many comforting notes – cocoa, rose petals, sandalwood, and so on – Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens avoids falling into the trap of being overly comfortable or plush. What I mean is that it is full of accords that pull and push against each other, creating an interesting tension that keeps you on your toes for much of the ride.

The opening is dense to the point of sensory overload. It takes some getting used to, but once it clicks, it becomes as addictive as a drug. There is a strong boozy cocoa note interacting so violently with a jammy red rose that it almost conjures up a phantom note of coffee – aromatic, dark, rich. The first few times I tried it, the opening always seemed too intense for my tastes – too syrupy, too aromatic, too something…..but then I found myself going back for more, like a moth to a flame.

After the opening, the push and pull begins. The sour, lactic tang of the sandalwood clashes with the syrupy sweetness of the rose; the bitter dustiness of the dark cocoa stands off against the oiliness of the wood; these contrasting notes and textures rub up against each and then pull apart again in the most interesting ways possible. It is full of these little tensions, some of which are still unresolved by the time we get to the creamy, woodsy base.

I think that Santal Majuscule, like Chanel’s gorgeous Bois des Iles, is an artistic reconstruction of the Mysore sandalwood smell without using the real thing itself. It uses the different textures and angles of the rose, cocoa, and woody notes to stand in for the varied range of tones you get in real Mysore sandalwood – rosy, woody, syrupy, dusty, milky, sour, sweet, and oily. At the base, there is a wonderful creamy woodiness, relieved only by a touch of fruity rose, reminding me nothing so much as one of those delicate, creamy Indian puddings that taste oddly floral with rosewater and saffron.

It works on almost every level. My one complaint is that most of the exciting intensity is packed into the first two or three hours of the scent, with the long drydown a more pedestrian affair of creamy, rosy woods. I find the beginning of Santal Majuscule so addictive that I have to stop myself from spraying it over and over again every few hours to replay it. Gorgeous, compelling stuff nonetheless, and one I will be wearing a lot of this autumn.

Amber Patchouli Spicy Floral White Floral Woods

Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir

September 18, 2015
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Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir is one of the best things that a woman can buy off the shelves of the local department store these days, it really is. Hats off to Estee Lauder!

What they’ve achieved here is the marriage of an almost niche-smelling top half – pine needles, red pepper, a rose that smells more like a plum pudding than a rose, and a dark, chewy patchouli – to a whipped honey-vanilla crème base that caters to the sweet tooth of today’s young women, reared on a diet of sugar bombs and fruitchoulis.

The sillage is swoon-worthy. Every time I spray this on at my local drugstore, I float around for half an hour almost drunk on the fumes of this piney, fruity rose plum pudding-smelling thing. I’d tell you it smells a bit like a cross between Serge Lutens La Fille en Anguilles and Tom Ford Black Orchid, except I wouldn’t want you to run in the other direction – this is far more subtle and “mainstream” than that.

Soon, however, the arresting piney, rosy plum of the top notes begins to slide into a creamy mélange of spiced lily, ambery vanilla, and jasmine, and while this is enjoyable, it all becomes a little too sweet for my taste. Thankfully, somewhere in the base there is a slightly raspy, dry honey that mixes with powdery benzoin to stave off the unrelenting sweetness, and the scent pulls back into “bearable” territory for me.

Overall, I see this as a perfect scent for young women who wants to smell a little bit sexy and mysterious when out on the town, but who doesn’t want any of the weirdness or boldness associated with niche scents. And this serves the purpose nicely – it is sexy, dark-ish (in a polite way), and sweet enough to make a guy want to nibble on your ear lobe or follow your scent trail through a crowd to its source.

The main downfall of this scent – if there is one – is that its trajectory from topnotes to basenotes is disappointingly brief. It all plays out in a matter of hours, and although the basenotes linger, all the drama of the scent is soon gone. Perhaps even that stalwart of the department store Estee Lauder has begun to front-load its fragrances to get customers to pull the trigger before they realize the thing quickly runs out of steam. It’s a depressing thought.

A beautiful surprise, though, in the last moments – a snuffed-out candle note, smoky and paper-dry. This is perhaps the last gift of the benzoin, I don’t know. But it feels like the fingers of someone pinching out the flame of the scent and putting it to bed. It’s a nice touch. It keeps me coming back for more, despite the glaring construction issues.

Chypre Floral Oriental Leather Oriental Tobacco Tonka Woods

Molinard Habanita

September 18, 2015
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Molinard Habanita is a giant in a field of gnats.

But man, it took me ages to understand it, let alone enjoy it. At first, I was repulsed. It smelled harsh to me. Indistinct and muddy – like a fistful of wet, mulched leaves. There was a sticky grey -brown cast to it that lent it a slightly glum feel. Who the hell wants to smell like this, I thought to myself.

But something kept making me want to wear it, and now, with time, I’ve come to love it. And I don’t mean love it from a distance. No, I actually wear Habanita once a week. Coming from a gal with as many perfumes as I have, that should tell you something.

I think I’ve got a handle on what makes Habanita tick now.

At the heart of Habanita lies a soft, worn leather note that recalls the smell of the inside lapel of a well-loved leather jacket. It is an intimate smell, a beat-up leather mixed with twenty years of human skin rubbing up against it. It’s not a leather with aspirations to luxury, like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, or leaning towards unbearably animalic, like Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. It’s just a low-down, rough-copy leather, a smell with history, and aware of its humble beginnings as a liquid used to perfume cigarettes.

The leather note at the center reminds me somewhat of Onda by Vero Profumo. They don’t smell alike, really, when taken as a whole. But the more I wear Habanita, the more I understand that Onda is the core of Habanita extracted, shaken clean of the powder, tonka, and the flowers, and reshaped as a gaspingly harsh leather chypre. The core accord in both is a grainy, grimy leather with a slightly unclean, carnal feel – a half-urinous, half-honeyed tobacco-like smell. There is also a whiff of floor disinfectant. Whereas this is what had repulsed me to begin with, I now find this very sexy. It’s a lived-in, intimate kind of smell. This combination of honey and tobacco or vetiver that works for me in a few of my other favorite fragrances as well, such as Serge Lutens’ Fumerie Turque and Jardins D’Ecrivains’ George.

There’s a lot more going on in Habanita than in Onda, though. Whereas Onda is all about that fierce, dry honey-vetiver-leather, Habanita wraps it all up in a thick blanket of baby-powder florals (rose, heliotrope, and jasmine) and submerges it in a base of sandalwood and vanilla. I also get a buttery almond-like smell akin to the cherry tobacco smell of an unlit pipe, so perhaps there is tonka in there too (I’m convinced there is).

But despite the complex list of notes, I have to say that Habanita maintains its rather singular identity all the way through. It never smells overtly floral (although there are tons of flowers) or incense-y (although it has resins). Even the vanilla and the vetiver don’t smell like vanilla and vetiver – they meld so completely with the honey, flowers, woods, and resins that their separate identities are completely consumed. What they give birth to is a new form – that nutty, dry leather core of Habanita.

I own three versions of it – the modern Eau de Parfum (inexpensive), the vintage Eau de Toilette (costs a fortune and is increasingly difficult to find), and the vintage-ish pure parfum (discontinued, I believe). They are all three essentially the same when it comes to the core accord that makes Habanita Habanita, although there are some slight differences.

The modern EDP is plush, deep, and more intensely powdered than the vintage EDT, and has a gummy, lemon-green mastic note at the start that is missing from the other versions. The vintage EDT has a sharp petigrain note at the start and more of a spicy, clove-y character, but it dries down to the basic scent profile as is found in the EDP.

The pure parfum goes straight to the leather-tobacco core of Habanita without any of the harsh, wild green opening notes of the other two versions – it is altogether quieter and more buttery. It is also the version with the most smoke, which I enjoy very much. All three versions last on my skin for an eternity. But I wouldn’t necessarily feel that you have to hunt down the pure parfum or the vintage EDT unless you were really a hardcore Habanita whore like me. The modern EDP is a rare instance where a beloved classic was not only preserved but also maybe a little improved. Plus – and when do you ever get to say this about a favorite perfume – it is democratically priced.

Fougere Gourmand Immortelle Review Tonka

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir

September 18, 2015
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It’s no coincidence that Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir and Dior Privee Eau Noire are the only two lavender-forward fragrances I can stomach – they are both gourmand takes on the theme.

Eau Noire features a dark roasted coffee/licorice note set against a sun-roasted lavender, and plays off of the aromatic qualities of both. Fourreau Noir goes for contrast: the sharp smoke of the lavender rounded out and softened by a bready, almond-like tonka bean.

The overall effect, for me, is of a lavender-studded cake dripping with a lurid purple sugar glaze, left to smolder a touch too long in the oven and tasting like smoke from the grill.  The deep, almost honeyed tobacco in the dry-down has an intimate, musky skin-like effect that is quite sensual (although not sexy).

As others have stated – this is not a wholly original scent. It mixes known elements from the Serge Lutens line up, most notably the electric-fire-smoked lavender from Gris Clair, the cozy hay/tobacco from the tonka-heavy Chergui, and (to me at least) the slightly urinous combination of tobacco and honey of Fumerie Turque.

But I don’t care – original or not, this is a thick, satisfying fragrance that swings between fougere and gourmand, male and female, and smoke and cream. I don’t mind scents that are extrapolations of others as long as the end result is good. And Fourreau Noir is more than good – it’s great.

Floral Oriental Oriental Patchouli Resins Rose White Floral

Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015
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I’ve been wearing my sample of Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer for the last six nights running and it’s about to run dry – but I’m still not sure I have a handle on it.

I know what I expected – a thick, balmy floral oriental with a head-shop vibe. And for the most part, that’s what I get. But damn, this thing is mercurial. It never reads the same way twice on my skin. Over the six times I’ve tested this so far, I’ve picked up on (variously): unburned incense cones, amber cubes, floor disinfectant, indolic jasmine, antiseptic lavender, shoe polish, mandarin oranges, gasoline, sweet gooey amber, rubber, candy, tuberose, leather, orange blossoms, and, once, the dry, sweet smell of a paper grocery bag.

It’s totally weird. It is slutty and deep and weird. I think I love it. But maybe I hate it though. I’m a bit all over the place with this all-over-the-place perfume.

Part of my confusion comes from the fact that Le Maroc is the least “Andy Tauer” Andy Tauer perfume I’ve ever smelled.  Although it does feature a fizzing Indian incense-and-rose pairing that recalls the Coca Cola twang of Incense Rose, it has nothing of the crystalline, hot-arid feel that runs through his others like a watermark. Andy Tauer perfumes are passionate, but also highly curated. You get the impression that every nuance is fine-tuned with the precision of a Swiss clock.

Le Maroc Pour Elle is not Swiss clock-precise. It is messy as hell, like a five year old child who’s smeared her mother’s red lipstick all over her mouth.

It begins with a clash. A syrupy, medicinal lavender note immediately butts heads with the howling shoe-polish stink of a serious jasmine overload.  Hyper-clean lavender versus a carnal jasmine – no contest. The animal fur stink of jasmine, once the petroleum fumes die down, is just gorgeous. It melts down into a waxy note that doesn’t smell truly of rose but of something sweet, soft, and pink. I know there’s scads of high quality rose oil in this, but the incense and the jasmine twist its delicate smell into a form I don’t recognize. I suspect the rose is just there to soften the jutting hips of the jasmine so that the overall effect is sweetly, thickly lush.

On other occasions, I have picked up a rather pungent, sharp orange blossom note, which, when combined with the honey and the flowers, creates a softly urinous aroma that does indeed recall the orange blossom, honey, and civet of Bal a Versailles (as Luca Turin so aptly pointed out in The Guide).

I even got a strong tuberose note once or twice – at first clipped and green, then creamy, and slightly rubbery. How talented Andy Tauer is, to combine rose and jasmine absolutes and do it in such a way that they conjure up the vivid, breathing form of other flowers. This is the part of the perfume that feels classically French to me – that weave of expensive-smelling flowers and female skank.

But most of the perfume feels like an attar to me. It is a dark brown perfume, and stains the skin. Every time I wear my sample, I feel like I should be anointing myself with it carefully, like I would a concentrated perfume oil or pure parfum, applying it in minute drops to my wrists instead of spraying it. I feel it sink into my skin and become part of my natural scent, mixing with my own skin oils and musk.

The backing tape to it all is a fizzing, cheap Indian incense smell, almost identical to the smell of unburned incense cones and amber cubes. A deep brown, 1970’s style patchouli adds just the right amount of head shop grunginess to rough up the florals and ground them a little. Combined with the mandarin oil, it’s like having a tiny drop of Karma (by Lush) wrapped up in the heart of the perfume, surrounded by expensive rose and jasmine absolutes. Le Maroc swings between smelling ultra-expensive and French to cheap and hippy-ish and back again. I’m confused (and intrigued).

The mixture of expensive, attar-like oils and cheap, low-quality incense is oddly intoxicating. That’s not a criticism, by the way – the appearance of a cheap note propped up against a sea of expensive, luxe notes is an effective way to draw attention to the expensive stuff, kind of like a bas relief effect. I’ve noticed this cheap-expensive combination in other perfumes such as Noir de Noir (a cheap rosewater note against expensive dark chocolate) and Traversee du Bosphore (a painfully artificial apple and pomegranate syrup accord that’s counteracted by lush lokum and suede).

I’m starting to see the kind of person who wears this perfume and wears it right. In my mind’s eye, I see a woman in a dirndl skirt and a baby tied at her voluminous hip, wandering through a health food store, picking up incense sticks, smelling them, and dabbing all sorts of essential oils on her skin. She has laughter lines on her suntanned face and a smile that makes men melt. Her smoker’s laugh contains some kind of sexmagic. No doubt about it, Le Maroc is a zaftig perfume, a husky thing with child-bearing hips and a crude sensuality about it.

I am not quite sure I have the sexual confidence to pull this off, even if I do have the child-bearing hips thing down flat. Still, I can’t get this weird, sensual, earthy, head-twisting perfume out of my head, and that spells trouble.

Amber Masculine Resins Review Spice

L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015
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There’s nothing in this world that smells quite like L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer, except for, well, the actual air above the desert that inspired it, I suppose. Trying to describe how it smells is almost as challenging as wearing it.

The best way I can put it is this: it smells like someone went out to the desert, collected a pile of rough, ancient amber resin, boulders, fallen meteorites, and minerals, sandblasted them all down to a fine dust, loaded it up into a canon and shot it into space. Now imagine you are floating above the earth’s ozone layer, just where the daylight of earth fades into the deep navy of outer space, and you breathe in this space dust. L’Air du Desert Marocain smells like this. Not directly of the sandblasted materials themselves but of the thin, dry, almost electric air surrounding the particles.

Then, later on, it smells of hot, arid paper, with its cedar and vanilla-resin notes.

You are standing in a paper factory. The air conditioning machines are short-circuiting and are blowing the stacks of A4 printer paper off the tables and into the air. The employees look up in dismay – their work for the day, thousands and thousands of sheets of paper floating around their heads! But they breathe in deeply, unable to resist the peculiar pleasure there is to be had in huffing the smell of newly-minted paper and the slightly sweet, dry smell of drying chemicals and lignin it leaves on the air around them.

L’Air du Desert Marocain is a masterpiece of modern perfumery, and perhaps the first perfume I’d recommend to anybody wishing to experience what perfume beyond the shelves of their local Sephora can be. It is an evocative, beautiful travelogue perfume that’s scaled to Laurence of Arabia proportions.

As a personal perfume, though, I find it to be kind of difficult to wear on a regular basis. Its dry spices and resins are so monolithic and all-encompassing – so full of its own personality – that it doesn’t allow me to impose any of my own.

There’s also a sweaty moment in the perfume that always sneaks up on me unawares – the cumin and coriander, I guess. It smells specifically of a male sweat. It’s not unpleasant, just startling. Timbuktu has a similar, ghostly apparition in its development, a lurch so sudden towards the smell of a male (or a male aftershave) that I keep looking around the room to make sure that I am, in fact, still alone.

But I own this beauty, oh yes I do. Sometimes, I just take the bottle cap and huff it throughout the day, like a junkie in withdrawal doling out teaspoons from a bottle of cough syrup. Other days, I commit myself 100% to its mood-shifting, transporting character and put six to eight sprays of it on, all the time knowing that this is all I will smell of for the next 48 hours. Either way, there’s  no middle way with a perfume as uncompromising as L’Air du Desert Marocain.