Incense Independent Perfumery Resins Review Round-Ups Smoke White Floral Woods

The SAUF triptych of incenses

October 29, 2016
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Filippo Sorcinelli created quite the stir with his first three fragrances, launched under the brand of UNUM, namely Opus 1144, LAVS, and Rosa Nigra (I never smelled his later two, Symphonie-Passion and Ennui-Noir). I loved and bought Opus 1144, but I find it kind of difficult to wear. Truth be told, I rather regret the purchase. That’s neither here nor there, of course.

Now he’s launched a second brand (why?) called SAUF and a collection of fragrances inspired by the fusion of organ music and church incense associated with High Mass. Specifically, each of the scents in the collection refers to individual organ stops or the wood of the Grand Orgue of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which Sorcinelli, as tailor to the pope and a fervent organist himself, was allowed the rare honor of photographing and studying.

I have no doubt that Filippo Sorcinelli is sincerely an artist. What I mean is that he’s quite clearly not one of those niche con artists who throw words like “art” and “spirituality” around and charge us $290 for the honor. No, look at Filippo Sorcinelli’s social media feed, his comfort with nudity, and his rambling, incoherent interviews and you come to the conclusion that the guy is clearly a genuine artist, because only artists are ok with sounding this batshit crazy.

His first instinct when launching the SAUF trio at Pitti this year was to organize an organ concert in a local Basilica with a famous soprano, Laura Catrani. The event was called “Vox in Organo – sound and olfactory improvisations”. This is someone who bleeds, sweats, and excretes art out of every pore and he wants us all to understand it, participate in it. I really like that.

But what of his perfumes? Of course, there’s never any guarantee that because someone excels at one art they will be equally adept in another. I doubt that he himself is the perfumer for the brand, because I see no formal training as a perfumer listed anywhere. But in general, whoever is doing the perfumes for both UNUM and SAUF (and if this is truly Filippo Sorcinelli himself, then I apologize), they know what they are doing. There’s not a bad one in the bunch. In fact, if I had the money, I would buy all three of the UNUM perfumes I have tried, plus the SAUF trio, before I’d buy similarly priced fragrances such as the Tom Ford exclusive line, because they are all rich, competent, even beautiful, and unlike the Tom Fords, possess a soul.

Of the SAUF trio, Contre Bombarde 32 is the clear standout and my personal favorite. I see this fragrance as an improvement over LAVS, which although soaring and celestial, was too soapy and cold for my taste. It also had a hollowed-out feel to it that made it slightly depressing to wear. Contre Bombarde 32, a name that just trips off the tongue, takes the beautiful incense from LAVS and layers it with an immense, sugared amber with burned sugar edges and sweet, dirty old church pew wood, giving it a far more satisfying, chewy texture that fills the mouth. The opening is quite bitter and green, zinging with unburned, lemony elemi resin, bitter orange, and a brusque, sourish cedar, but quickly it becomes creamy with amber, sugar, and resin-rubbed woods. Think LAVS crossed with Amber Absolute crossed with the unctuous gourmandise of Rosarium by Angela Ciampagna and you can begin to imagine what a toothsome experience this is.

Voix Humaine 8, inspired by an organ stop called Vox Humana that imitates a human voice, layers a very bare-bones incense accord with a host of creamy, sweet white flowers, chief among them orange blossom. I don’t care much for the rather skeletal, modern Iso E Super incense accord here, but the chemical taste in my mouth recedes when the sugar, milky floral accords are drip fed into the composition. There’s a very pleasant meringue-like airiness to the florals here, like rice grains puffed up to double their size in hot milk and sugar. It’s an interesting fragrance because it’s basically a pared-down Buxton or Schoen-type incense exoskeleton layered with a sweet, sugar white floral like By Kilian Love. Ultimately, it turns a little too soapy and clean on me to enjoy fully but I appreciate the attempt to land a white floral incense without immediately calling to mind Chanel No. 22 or Passage d’Enfer.

Plein Jeu III-V (no way I’m remembering that without an index card) was supposedly inspired by a flight of angels, and in many ways is the clearest link to LAVS, because it employs the same peppery, slightly soapy incense accord. Plein Jeu makes great use of aromatics and citrus, with the contrast between the hot ginger, zingy citruses, and cold, waxy/green frankincense providing a lively, interesting start. There is jasmine in the heart, of the cool, fresh variety, but the note doesn’t really hold its own against the peppery, oily frankincense that dominates. It is nicely smoky, pure, ethereal, and there is a slight creaminess that links it clearly to the other two in the collection: Contre Bombarde is ambery-creamy, Voix Humaine is floral-creamy, and Plein Jeu is black peppery-creamy. By running so close to the sacred church frankincense theme, however, Plein Jeu risks being muddled up in the same category with other, perhaps greater peppery, cold church incense fragrances such as Avignon, Bois d’Encens, and even LAVs.

Verdict – not that anyone does or should care about my opinion – the new SAUF trio is a beautifully done set of creamy incenses, each playing on a slightly different variation (or to use the music analogy, different chords). Incense freaks should run, not walk to sample these. I think they are extremely well-made and soulful. I’d buy Contre Bombarde in a heartbeat.

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12 Comments

  • Reply Tara C October 30, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Thanks for the reviews, I hadn’t heard anything about this new line. Hopefully Twisted Lily will bring them in, I am an incense fiend and enjoyed the first three.

    • Reply Claire November 1, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      Hi Tara, actually a friend of mine pointed out that they were available on nose.fr for 95 euros (for 50mls of extrait), which is pretty decent. I might shell out for Contre Bombarde myself actually. I will check to see if they ship outside of the EU! :-) Not to enable you or anything…

  • Reply Robert VB November 7, 2016 at 7:23 am

    Well Contre Bombard 32 sounds amazing… So much so I pulled the trigger on a blind buy.I recently purchased LAVS which I adore and I also am crazy for ambers.They constitute a large portion of my collection so there is a good chance I’ll love this.Plus I follow all your reviews which I thoroughly enjoy and we are close to being scent twins so I’m waiting with bated breath …just in time for Winter 😉 I tried to order it from. Nose.fr but they don’t ship outside the EU.I was able to order it from the Italian perfumery NEOS1911 which does ship to me here in the US.On a side note apparently LAVS has already been reformulated .The new version is in an all black bottle and the original in a black and gold bottle.I was able to get the original version.So for those that want the original , better stock up now…

    • Reply Claire November 14, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Hey Rob! So what do you think, has your bottle arrived yet? The more I wear it, the more I like it. The price is not too bad, either, compared to the original line although I hope that the shipping to the US didn’t kill you :-) I know about LAVS being reformulated – I have no idea why they would do that, to be honest. You can still get the original if you phone perfumeries yourself personally (Premiere Avenue and Luckyscent would be my first stops). But I have to say, I get along much better with ambery, less austere incenses like Contre Bombarde, so I am not really in mourning for LAVS like others might be! Please, let me know if you like Contre Bombarde!

      • Reply Robert VanBuren November 16, 2016 at 7:27 am

        Hi Claire! I received Contre Bombarde from Italy pretty quickly, in only 5 days :) I love it and the more I wear it the more I love it.I can definitely see the relation to LAVS but as you’ve described this is dressed up nicely in an attractive gourmand outfit. The first blast which is quite austere and bitter reminds me a bit of Blue Amber by Montale. It soon begins to settle and I can detect the skeletal structure of LAVS peeking through but soon enough the gourmand guests begin to show up at the table. Even though it does become more ambery/gourmand it still retains a bit of the bracing austerity of LAVS. It reminds me a bit of Ambra Mediterranea by Profumi del Forte. Have you tried that one? They share a creamy incense structure but Ambra Mediterranea weaves a muted Ylang Ylang note in and is considerably more powerful.All in all Contre Bombarde is a very good work and is quite reasonably priced .Shipping wasn’t too bad either so I’m thrilled with my purchase.I’m moving the Ambers into heavy rotation now so I’m always game to try a new one.I recently purchased Olympic Amber from Olympic Orchid perfumes which is a nice Arabic souk style amber.On a side note I also purchased Tropic of Capricorn from the same house.It’s an all natural perfume containing a humid veneer of decaying tropical blossoms and a whopping dose of Hyrax.It was composed in honor of the Henry Miller novel of the same name in which he writes“the dark fecundity of nature, … a night so frighteningly silent, utterly incomprehensible and eloquent at the same time”(fragrantica) Boy does it ever capture that description! Other Ambers I love are Ambre Loup by Rania J, Ambra Aurea a labdanum bomb from Profumum Roma and Winter Woods from Sonoma Scent Studio.I often layer the ambers and incense perfumes with Arabic CPO’s such as Amber Jewels from ASQ and Royal Amber from Arabian Oud.Well thanks again for the review and enjoy your Contre Bombarde! If you know of any other Amber/incense perfumes I should try please let me know :)

        • Reply Claire November 16, 2016 at 12:33 pm

          Rob, wow! First of all, I am so glad that the purchase worked out for you so well. Second, I think we may be scent twins! You have described some of my favorite ambers and incenses. I too am a BIG fan of Ambre Loup and Winter Woods, and I think that the amber oils from ASAQ (Epyal Amber, Amber Jewels, etc.) are standouts not only in their class (ambergris-amber) but also among the big Emirati and Indian attar companies. ASAQ ambers are just incredible, and all of them use authentic ambergris oil too. I am writing an article on ambergris for Basenotes and at the end I include a long list of the best ambergris attars and perfumes I’ve come across – keep your eye out for it. I love the way you write about perfume – it’s incredible. Best, Claire :-)

  • Reply Robert VanBuren November 18, 2016 at 4:41 am

    Thank you for the kind words Claire. Your writing is equally mesmerizing :) You’re right ,the ASAQ attars in general and especially the ambers are unparalleled . Sadly it seems that the entire ASAQ line has been reformulated ostensibly to fall in line with IFRA regulations.I became suspicious after a few reorders did not match my original bottles in odor and strength.Even the color was different.The nice gentleman I deal with for ASAQ oils was suspicious as well so he had a number of them, new vs old, run through a MS/GC and sure enough there are MAJOR differences with the new oils.Only a few ingredients matched with most of the newer oils containing mostly diluents .Even the so called high end pure ouds! This seemed to have happened in early 2015. So treasure what you have for I fear the outstanding ASAQ ambers are gone forever :( . On a more positive note I’m currently happily marinating in Contre Bombarde 32. It continues to reveal subtle nuances and is a real prismatic scent. I just can’t get enough of ambers right now and I look forwards to you Basenotes artice :)

    • Reply Claire November 22, 2016 at 12:32 pm

      Ah thanks Rob :-) Appreciate that. Was it Mark from This World in Scents that did the MS/GC testing for you? Yep, he is pretty annoyed at the reformulations that appear to have taken place at ASAQ during 2015. I tested their stuff in 2014, and had I know that reformulations were on the horizon, then I would have snapped some of them up for sure. But…I didn’t. I do have a tola of the Sweet Amber Blue, the ambergris attar (not pure, but still, truly excellent), gifted to me by a wonderful and generous Basenoter by the name of Mixerscent, who has incredible taste in both incense and attars. He too is dismayed by the ASAQ reformulations. I will have to insert a disclaimer in both the attar guide and this ambergris article about the danger of stock not matching the intensity or depth of older samples.

  • Reply Brian Zwolinski December 8, 2016 at 2:01 am

    Hi Claire,

    I just have to let you know how hysterical, and true, your evaluation of Filippo Sorcinelli of Unum/Sauf was! When I got to the part about how only a true artist would be okay sounding that “batshit crazy” had me rolling on the floor! I too have scoped his personal site, as well as the UNUM one , and recognize the consummate artist in him as well. And there was one more conclusive proof: I had picked up a bottle of ‘Ennui Noir’ when if first came out (after using the final drops of my sample) and decided to shoot UNUM a ‘congrats’ on the awesome new release email that contained a bit of a complaint about the interior of the box it sat in not adequately accommodating the bottle itself, which was wrapped separately in a piece of bubble-wrap, and sort of floated around the interior of the box!? Honestly, I couldn’t figure it out. How could an oversight like this pass by whoever is doing the final quality-control inspection? WTF? was my feeling once I brooded on it for a little while. How could this be allowed to leave the factory? I’m in sales myself, and just didn’t get it. I slept on it, and when I woke up the next morning and checked my email, I found an email from Filippo himself! I wish I had saved it, but I accidentally deleted it. He went on and on in awkward-sounding english about how I shouldn’t be focusing on the packaging and how he would truly be upset if I was disappointed in the product inside the bottle. I guess it speaks to his true artists sense of self and his belief in his work, and when I read your “batshit crazy” comment, it all made sense: he is the real deal! I am awaiting my own bottle of ‘Contre bombarde 32’ as well and can’t wait to experience it! Thanks Claire for all your incredible reviews! -Brian Z.

    • Reply Claire December 8, 2016 at 11:57 am

      Hi Brian, thanks for the big laugh, which I needed sorely this morning! Ha ha, on the one hand, I am sorry you weren’t happy with the packaging, but on the other….pure comedy gold! I tend to forgive “bat-shit crazy” artists anything because they are so genuinely into it for the art side of things, and that makes them such a refreshing change from the more business-minded approach of most niche and mainstream houses. I also get the impression that people like Sorcinelli don’t really care if their fragrances are well-received critically or commercially, which frees them up to do whatever they like. I really respect that! Let me know what you think of Contre Bombarde 32 when you get it – I have been wearing the HECK out of my bottle since I bought it. But I have to warn you that you may feel compelled to send another email to Filippo, as the bottle, while very cool-looking, has a bit of a fit problem: the cap sort of wobbles and to uncap it, you have to really yank hard, which with wood always make you think you’re going to break something :-) Anyway, thanks a million for sharing that funny anecdote with me, it made me laugh so hard :-) Please let me know about CB 32 when you get it!!! Best, Claire

      • Reply Brian Zwolinski December 15, 2016 at 11:12 pm

        Hey Claire,

        I received my bottle of Contre Bombarde 32 the other day, and absolutely love it! It strikes me as a perfectly balanced combination of LAVS and Opus 1144. To my surprise/relief, my particular bottle doesn’t exhibit the lackluster opening and closing performance you spoke of! lol Seriously, I feel kind of guilty about my bottle!? But, again, perfection from the maestro! Although I will not be sparring with Filippo anytime soon, I will thankfully be experiencing this awesome new release! Tomorrow will be my first full day of wearing it, and I look forward to the experience to test all the metrics fully for the day! The bottle sits in front of me as I type (and is snatched by my 4 year old every two seconds(maniac), and is quite the impressive sight! I wish it were more in-your-face like LAVS, but I guess it makes sense that an organ stop is not supposed to project like an electric guitar amp.; but it is winning me over more and more as I sit with it and inhale the calming soft silence. Dare I say again: Bravo Filippo! Bravo! -Brian Z.

        Claire,

        • Reply Claire December 19, 2016 at 11:09 am

          Hi Brian! Oh wow, I am delighted that you are loving Contre Bombarde 32 (although slightly disappointed that this means you won’t be sparring with Filippo and then coming back to tell us about it :-). A mix of LAVS and Opus 1144 is an excellent analogy, and now that you mention it, absolutely spot on – it’s a happy compromise between the stern incense of the first and the floral amber of the second. I am wearing it an awful lot myself. It is such an easy thing to wear, and pleasurable too, throughout the day. I hear you on the 4 year old grabbing the bottle – I’ve had the same problem myself! Thank God those things are made of wood and pretty unbreakable (thus far…..knock on wood, or the CB 32 bottle). Bravo Filippo indeed! Happy holidays, Brian! Best, Claire

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