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Claire

Animalic Aromatic Floral Jasmine Oud Review Thoughts

Parfums Dusita: A Case Study, The Perfumes

December 16, 2016
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If I were writing a book on how to make it big in niche perfumery, I’d make Dusita a headlining case study. Even the most casual observer of the niche sector would tell you that Pissara Umavijani, the founder of Parfums Dusita, is probably the most astonishing success story of 2016. The niche sector is thick with the self-taught, entrepreneurs, amateur mixologists, and mainstream brands masquerading as niche, but in 2016, Pissara came out of nowhere, swept them all aside, and went straight to the top end of the market, charging between €300 and €400 for a bottle, and completely getting away with it.

 

Whether the perfumes themselves are any good is almost beside the point. Truth be told, I am more impressed with Pissara Umavijani’s business strategy than the perfumes themselves, but both are worth looking at.

 

The first thing that Umavijani did right was to align herself immediately with the right partners. The niche and artisan sector is rife with self-taught perfumers, but results are not typically the high-end, polished luxury perfumes that command Roja Dove prices. In partnering up with a very good team at one of the best fragrance labs in Grasse, she was able to ensure that the product itself was as polished as a Bvlgari jewel. And all credit due here – Umavijani is clearly an excellent creative director, taking the time to push her team to produce perfumes that are not commercially safe as Roja Dove’s perfumes, but important, artistic efforts in their own right.

 

From a commercial point of view – branding, product placement, bottle design, graphic design, copy, distribution, and so on – it is also clear that Umavijani knows what she is doing. Every single detail is haute luxe. But the most important thing that Umavijani seems to have understood is this: people need to smell the product in order to enthuse about it. 90% of success in a crowded market such as niche perfumery is simply access. Umavijani set up a very generous sampling scheme whereby for the price of postage from Paris, you would receive three large deluxe samples of each of the perfumes, housed in simple but luxurious black decant bottles.

 

The sampling scheme ensured that as many people as possible got to smell the perfumes. Since the perfumes are very good indeed, people enthused about them online, and the word spread – suddenly the name of Dusita was everywhere on the Internet. It was a canny investment, and other niche companies looking to enter the market should look to this example.

 

Companies always gripe about the expense of sampling schemes. And yes, at first glance, they are loss leaders. But Umavijani (or an advisor) had a clear vision as to the precise dividends such a sampling scheme would eventually pay out in terms of brand recognition and customer valuation. Dusita’s sampling program must have cost thousands and thousands of euros, but it was no after-thought. It was a deliberate part of the strategy to get Dusita perfumes talked about in the community, and I bet a large portion of the operational budget was devoted to it.

 

The second thing that Umavijani did right was social media marketing. Social media engagement is a very tricky thing for niche and indie perfumers, and few get it entirely right. Too much chatter with perfume fans runs the risk of cheapening a brand, and too little wins you a reputation for standoffishness. You want to be available to answer questions and do post-sales follow-up, but it is also important for a brand in the luxury segment of the niche perfume market to preserve at least a little bit of mystique.

 

Umavijani is always present on social media, always checking to see if she needs to say thank you for a nice review or answer a comment. She has aligned herself with certain influencers and prominent bloggers to help magnify and grow the brand’s presence, but has managed to make her online presence as charmingly non-commercial as possible. She is there to sell, yes, but she manages to make the seams between social media participation and selling thin enough that you don’t feel aggressively marketed to.

 

Only time will tell how authentic a voice Umavijani will prove to have on the social media networks and throughout the broader community. Authenticity always rings true: I think of perfumers such as Liz Moores, Sarah McCartney, and Andy Tauer who apart from handling all the onerous, day-to-day tasks of their businesses also engage meaningfully with their customers on social media, openly sharing the intimate details of their personal lives and their perfume business with joe schmoes like me and you. It feels like a privilege to be allowed this kind of access, but I know it can’t be easy for them either. Authenticity of voice on social media is very tough to develop and maintain. There’s a line to be walked, and it’s no joke trying to navigate one’s way to it.

 

One last word, on pricing. Many bloggers say that the only thing that matters is the perfume itself and that the price shouldn’t come into the equation. I think that price plays a very big role in how we (subconsciously or consciously) value a fragrance. Simply put, if something is cheap, we perceive its materials to be cheap. If a perfume costs almost €400, we assume that the very best materials went into it. It’s just the way our prehensile brains work, sorry.

 

Perfumers can price their products in two ways – production pricing or market pricing. In production pricing, you work backwards from the cost of the materials and man hours, and price the perfume at what it cost to produce (adding in margins for distributors, marketing, one’s own income, etc.). Andy Tauer recently provided an example of what goes into the costing his perfumes, and Laurie Erickson also published a post about the business costs involved in running an artisan perfumery.

 

On the one hand, this makes things quite clear – you know you are paying more if a precious or rare ingredient was used. On the flipside, exposing one’s own profit margins to your customers opens the door to discussions over how fairly you’ve priced your own talent.

 

Market pricing, on the other hand, prices a product at exactly what the market is willing to pay for it. A perfume priced at €400 ignores all the details and simply asks the question “Are you worth it?” If you feel that you deserve the luxury of an expensive bottle of perfume, then you will buy it. You won’t quibble about the perfumer’s margins, you know only that this perfume must be absolutely amazing because it costs almost €400.

 

People in the fragrance community talk grumpily about luxury pricing, but really, we all know that past the €80-100 mark, you are always paying for the prestige, the boasting rights, and not the actual perfume. No perfume costs more than €10 or so to make, anyway. But perfumes priced at luxury prices sell because they play into the perception that a high price means top quality.

 

Parfums Dusita didn’t play around – they went straight in at Roja Dove prices. That took some guts. But they held steady because they knew that the perfumes were good enough to stand up to the scrutiny of the few for whom the scent actually matters, and satisfy the desire for the exclusive, the pricey, and the haute luxe for the person also buying the $35,000 Rolex.

 

But Oudh Infini costs €100 more than Issara, so there’s a strange dash of production pricing mixed in there with the market pricing. The price difference is probably supposed to come across to the customer as the marker of quality for the real oud used in the fragrance. That gaping price differential makes me curious as to what they are actually using as the oud note, whereas had they priced it the same as the others, I wouldn’t have cared. But a €100 price difference? That kind of makes it my business, as a consumer. I could speculate that the oud is an expensive new oud captive developed by a laboratory like IFF or Givaudan, or real oud oil from the plantations in Laos (which I’ve been told is so plentiful and consistent in quality that it is sold in liter jars to perfume companies in France). Either way, I doubt that the cost differential actually amounts to €100 per 50mls of liquid.

 

From a market pricing perspective, though, pricing an oud-based perfume at this much more suggests to the customer that the raw materials are hellishly expensive. It’s a genius move because with a simple (and probably arbitrary) pricing adjustment, you’ve added value to the customer’s perceptions of your brand’s worth as they open their wallet.

 

Anyway, on to the perfumes themselves! They are all very good and interesting, although not half as interesting to me personally as the brand’s own stratospheric rise.

 

Oudh Infini has far more of the animal, furred warmth of a pack animal than a tree or resin, so at first my nose thinks it smells heavy deer musk, not oud oil. But then I’m reminded that there are a couple of pure oud oils out there that mimic the characteristics of deer musk, such as Ensar Oud’s Yunnan 2003 oil, which has a furry thickness to it that makes me think I can just reach out my fingers and touch the warm animal in front of me.

 

It is a brave act, you know, to launch a commercial perfume that smells like this. Those of you who have grown up on farms will not be shocked – neither will people who wear pure oud. But the rest of you? Prepare your nostrils, for Oudh Infini smells intensely of warm sheep, packed ten deep into a shed in winter, the warm (tallow fat) smell of their oily wool mixing with their shit-smeared backsides and the soiled straw beneath. I pick up a faint hint of roses, faded and sour like the emanation from a vase of roses in a locked room. It is not pleasant, it is not pretty, but it has impact.

 

Past the ferociously animalic, barnyardy opening, creamy sandalwood and vanilla turn the oud into a crottin of goat’s cheese. It’s refined and gentle – as I mentioned once to a friend, like dung strained through a silk stocking.

 

Oudh Infini does an excellent job of sketching out what one would smell in a real oud oil – evolving slowly from barnyard, feces, pack animals to runny cheese and flowers and herbs. It lacks perhaps only the more complex depth of camphor, smoke, sap, and woods that form the backbone of pure oud oil, but all the other markers are there.

 

However, and this is a big however, I am having trouble placing Oudh Infini in a hypothetical wardrobe. I love pure oud oil but I also love fragrance compositions that present me with a different, more artistic impression of oud. My trouble with Oudh Infini is that it smells too close to the real oud oil experience for it to succeed purely as an artistic interpretation of the oud theme.

 

In other words, if I want something that smells like real oud oil, why not (for reasons of cost and others) just go for oud oil? Naturally, personal preferences in terms of how we prefer to wear perfume come into it, but if you are thinking of a real oud oil experience, then there is little else as magical as an essential oil (oud oil) that can give the nose all the complexity of wood, fruit, flowers, dung, soil, and ozone without any help from a fragrance laboratory. If I want to wear a proper perfume based on oud, I’d go for more ambitious, complex perfumes such as Oud Shamash or Oud Osmanthus. They don’t smell as authentic oudy as Oudh Infini but verisimilitude is not what I’m seeking when I wear oud-based perfumes. I want the smoke and mirrors.

 

Mélodie de L’Amour is, to my nose, a powerful statement on jasmine, the filthy kind that drapes the insides of your nostrils in the matte black ink of pure indole. Very little to differentiate here at first between the flat wall of scatole that rises off a fresh turd and a jasmine decaying right off the vine, which is how all jasmines would be if I had my way. Boy, it fairly pins my ears back. There is the faint breath of rotting fruit to add moistness to the dank, flat tonality here, a peach or pear perhaps, with an undertone of acrylic paint or turps.

 

Later, it develops a green, rubbery, creamy cheese odor that I assume is gardenia, but it is successfully managed by that wall of jasmine and never approaches the rancid horror of Dame Perfumery’s Gardenia soliflore, which smells like black spots on butter taste in my mouth. Mélodie de L’Amour is the rare instance of a floral that smells more like an animal than a plant, joining the ranks of other bloodsucking florals such as Manoumalia, Rubj, and Une Fleur de Cassie, perfumes I never know if they going to wear me, eat me, or fuck me.

 

Issara is the most immediately likeable and wearable of the initial Dusita trio. For a fougere, it is surprisingly lush and sweet, deftly side-stepping the beardy, Brut-ish machismo of most of this year’s fougere revivals (I’m looking at you, Le Barbier de Tangers) and aligning itself with softer takes on the theme, such as Chanel’s Boy. The topnotes sparkle like sunlight on fresh snow – friendly, crisp pine mingling with mint and sage, faintly sugared with tonka bean and a starchy white musk. There is a beautifully fresh, green “salt” note here, reminiscent of beach grasses and sand dunes.

 

I only have two issues here, really – first, that the musky, tonka-ish drydown is rather synthetic in feel, in comparison to the more natural Oudh Infini and Melodie de l’Amour (I suspect a touch too much of either Ambroxan or Iso E Super), and second, fougeres used to be the unpretentious backbone of the male grooming world, so I’m not sure if putting it in extrait form or pricing it at €295 for 50mls isn’t missing the point somewhat. Issara is a very good fougere, but for that type of money I’d rather buy a 200ml vat of Chanel’s Boy and just splash it on with gay abandon.

Aromatic Gourmand Oriental Sandalwood Spice Woods

Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore

December 8, 2016
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When I first smelled Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, I said to myself, as long as Serge Lutens keeps making this fragrance, I will be happy. If all my other bottles were to be destroyed in a fire, I’d be ok with just this one. Hyperbole? Probably. Just trying to get across how much I love it.

 

What I value most about it is its dichotomy. It is both wet and dry, and intensely so at the same time. At first, the wet elements come to the nose – a big, spicy red butter curry with blisteringly hot black peppercorns crushed to release their oil, and something green, frondy, and aromatic, perhaps dill or fresh fenugreek. There is a tamarind sourness to it but it is also intensely sweet, as if cubes of salted caramel have been set on top to slowly sweat down into pools of butter.

 

I don’t understand when people say a perfume smells like a curry like that’s a bad thing? I can think of no better smell than this. My mouth waters at the host of hot spices and aromatics. I slaver like Pavlov’s dog every time I go near the stopper.

 

Talking of the stopper, sniffing Santal de Mysore from the bottle gives me a jolt of recognition every time, because it smells like real Mysore sandalwood. But on the skin, this impression disappears, as the big building blocks of flavors and spices jostle each other for position. Drawing your nose back from your arm, you notice these clumps of notes magically coalescing into a true Mysore aroma – deep brown, buttery, arid, resinous. Salted butter dried and made into a red dust. Put your nose back to that spot on your wrist, and the Mysore impression falls apart again. This is a fragrance that plays peek-a-boo with its wearer, and it’s mesmerizing.

 

The wet, creamy curry accord hangs around, but it flips on a switch to dry, aromatic sandalwood dust when you’re not looking. Look again and it switches back to wet and spicy. When I catch glimpses of the dry, dusty facet, it smells like zukoh, a powdered sweet incense that combines camphor, cloves, and sandalwood. The drydown is pure magic, the curry notes fading away to a caramelized sandalwood incense aroma, with hints of honey and amber rounding out the dry woodiness.

 

Why do I find Santal de Mysore such a gorgeous, satisfying wear? Because it’s not a straightforward representation of sandalwood like Tam Dao or Wonderwood. It takes you to a fantasy Mysore sandalwood destination by way of the Silk Road, weaving through curry spices, aromatic oils, and incense sticks as we go. It’s also a scent that makes your perceptions of it turn on a dime: wet then arid, savory then sweet, creamy then dusty, spicy then herbal and green. Sandalwood in a House of Mirrors – its basic shape remains the same but what we see each time we look is different.

Celebrity Incense Independent Perfumery Oud Resins Review Scent Memory Smoke

Aftelier Ancient Resins, Oud Luban, and Leonard Cohen

December 5, 2016
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“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better…”

 

Leonard Cohen was following me around Bosnia. Or rather, his voice was. My Dad was a customs officer and had to drive to the most remote border crossing points, and me, being a penniless student with little to do on my holidays, would fly out to Bosnia to spend to join him on road trips up and down the war-ravaged country.

 

This was the third time we’d stopped, the third bleak, deserted café in the wasteland of Bosnia after the war. Three different towns, three different ethnicities, three different currencies….and the only unifying factor was bloody Leonard Cohen.

 

I say “bloody Leonard Cohen” in a fond-but-exasperated way. My father, known in our family as a “Cohen pusher”, would play his records over and over again to anyone who will listen. Holidays to France, with four kids captive in the back seat of our Renault 12, were pure torture.

 

In revenge, my brothers and I would try to taunt him by staging elaborate suicide scenes, such as lying in wait in the bathroom with a razor poised at the wrist, or play dead on the couch with pills (Smarties) strewn around our lifeless bodies, croaking “We’re doing a Leonard, Dad”.

 

Never got a rise out of him.

 

Anyway, the fact that Cohen’s music was playing in each of three cafes or restaurants we stopped at that day made my father very happy indeed. And in a way, it was fitting, because in this country, as broken and divided as it was, there was always more to unite them than divide them. The coffee was the same, even though they called it by different names. They all ate those sticky, syrupy cakes made so popular by the Turks during their, um, residence in the country. And they all seemed to really like Leonard Cohen. They might have played First We Take Manhattan at the Dayton peace talks and wrapped the whole thing up quicker.

 

Cohen himself was a pretty Zen guy. I like to think the universe paid him back by giving him plenty of women, acclaim, and mass turnouts at the comeback concerts he forced to do when his manager stole all his money.

 

Ancient Resins by Aftelier was developed by perfumer Mandy Aftel in cooperation with, and expressly for, the great Leonard Cohen himself. It smells exactly what you’d think a Zen guy like Leonard Cohen would like – a warm treble base of resins that balances the bitter, cleansing properties of something that might be used in a Shamanic ritual with the dusty smell of wood, paper, and rosin breaking down in old record stores or bookshops.

 

I’m not sure it makes much sense to analyze this beautiful oil too much – just let it wash over you in a peaceful wave, just like Cohen’s music – because it is, at heart, just a collection of resinous basenotes. And yet, the total effect is uplifting in a way that belies the simplicity of the blend.

 

Balm of Gilead is a note that jumps out at me, though, for its unusual biblical associations. Looking it up, it seems that the name refers (in religious history) to a balsam that was used as a spiritual balm to weary souls in Talmudic, Old Testament, and Muslim/Arabic history. Sources differ over what species of tree actually produced this balsam, although it seems to be either from mastic (green, herbal-smelling), pine, or terebinth /turpentine trees.

 

Although the opening notes of the oil are indeed very pine-like, I assume that this comes from the terpenes naturally present in the frankincense, because Mandy After clarifies that the Balm of Gilead note in Ancient Resins comes from poplar buds, from the Populus species of tree. These trees produce a nicely balmy scent on the white undersides of their leaves, and are used to produce the modern-day versions of the Balm of Gilead – basically, a wound- and spirit-healing balm.

 

And Ancient Resins is healing. It is healing and calming and restorative. I can see why Leonard Cohen reportedly wore this every day of his life. I was, coincidentally, wearing Ancient Resins in my hair when I heard that he had passed away. I had been using it almost every day since I received a generous sample of it, because the American elections had just taken place and I was feeling stressed out. Ancient Resins seems to have the power to right everywhere that is wrong in the world, just like Cohen’s music seemed to be doing in Bosnia that day. A knitting together of things that have been fractured.

 

I like to think that when he died, Leonard Cohen was laid naked in a white shroud, anointed from head to toe in Ancient Resins, and then burned on a pyre that floats off down the Ganges. But recently, I learned that Cohen loved more than one of Mandy Aftel’s creations. In fact, Mandy Aftel told me that Cohen wouldn’t go out without a drop of her Oud Luban on his person.

 

Learning that made me reassess my imagining of Leonard Cohen as a gloomy, depressive poet, anointed with the biblical-smelling Ancient Resins. Because Oud Luban is an oud fragrance that takes what Luca Turin mentioned as an “inherent brown study grimness” characteristic of the material and shoots it through with a light-strobing blood orange note that makes it feel like liquid late-afternoon sunshine.

 

Superior, Hojari-grade frankincense from the Dhofar desert in Oman adds a bright, terpenic freshness that sidles up to the citrus and supports it – think crushed pine needles, with their juicy, lemony, green scent on your fingers after you touch them. And all this against a very smoky, leathery oud oil that is darkness personified. A superb, natural-smelling, joyful balancing of dark and light, Oud Luban displays a sort of switching-on-of-the-Christmas-lights effect. I don’t think I have ever smelled a perfume that works oud quite like this. The smoky, growly undertones of real oud are there alright – no mistaking this for a synthetic variant – but its usual tendency to spread its gravel-voiced gloominess over everything has been reined in by the bright, citrusy resin elements. I think of it as humorous and hopeful.

 

And maybe this humorous, fey thing is a truer portrait of Leonard Cohen than my historic, mental imagining of his character. My dad recently told me a story he had read somewhere, of Leonard Cohen at a party. He just sat down on his own, picked up a guitar and started to strum, quietly humming the words to one of his famous songs. Bit by bit, women, young and old, began to kneel down at either side of him, listening intently. One of his friends whispered to him, Leonard, did you notice that you’re surrounded by women. Without looking up from his guitar and strumming away, he whispered back, “Works every time”.

Independent Perfumery Patchouli Review Sandalwood Vanilla Woods

Hiram Green Arbolé Arbolé

November 16, 2016
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Hiram Green’s new fragrance, Arbolé Arbolé, is his best work yet and the one that I would race out to buy in a heartbeat. Featuring woods and patchouli this time, Arbolé Arbolé, is the perfect autumnal riposte to Green’s entry for Spring, the bright and sunlit Dilettante.

There is a wonderfully soft, smutty quality to the patchouli used here – it’s quite clearly patchouli, but there are no headshop undertones, and it is not camphoraceous, green, or oily. Instead, it has a pleasantly stale, waxy chocolate softness that recalls vintage make-up, heavy silks taken out of storage in cedar trunks, and huge beeswax candles dripping over everything.

There is no beeswax in Arbolé Arbolé, though. Hiram Green does not use any products of animal origin in his all-natural perfumes, be it beeswax or ambergris. However, there is no denying that there is a homeopathic “waxy” thread running through most of Hiram Green’s perfumes, a sort of cosmetic, floral wax tonality that smudges the corners of the other notes and gives the perfumes a slightly retro, vintage glamour. His perfumes wear as if lit from within by candlelight.

If you’re used to modern woody fragrances, with their piercing synthetics blowing them up into bombastic stadium-fillers, then Arbolé Arbolé will ask you to adjust your television set. Natural perfumery is where the nose goes to take refuge from the eternal parade of modern woody ambers. Arbolé Arbolé takes cedar, patchouli, and sandalwood and melts them down into a silky wood smoothie.

All of the individual characteristics of the raw materials – the cedar, patchouli, sandalwood – have been rubbed off and sanded down until only a smooth, integrated woodiness remains. There is none of the normal bitter muskiness of cedar, none of the raw, earthy, or leafy facets of patchouli, and the sandalwood registers only as a unifying texture of creamy butter.

There is a faintly smutty, sexy quality to this perfume that appeals enormously. There is no musk used here, for obvious reasons, but there is nonetheless a vegetal muskiness that smudges the outlines of the different woods used, almost like ambrette but with none of the green apple peel rosiness that goes along with it. Arbolé Arbolé also shares the same soft, warm “musky cocoa powder” sexiness with Mazzolari Lei and Parfumerie Generale L’Ombre Fauve, both of which also blur the lines between patchouli, musk, and ambery-vanilla aromas so smoothly that the nose doesn’t immediately recognize one or the other.

However, those are both perfumes that mix naturals and synthetics, so they may not be the best point of comparison. In the sphere of natural perfumery, I think that Arbolé Arbolé has a similar feel to some of Neil Morris’ work in America, especially the slightly grungy, waxy (and surprisingly vintage-smelling) patchouli used to great effect in Prowl. Arbolé Arbolé is smoother and more refined; lighter in texture. Fans of Loree Rodkin’s Gothic I might also want to check out Arbolé Arbolé because it shares something of that waxy vanilla-patch vibe.

Arbolé Arbolé takes its name from a famous Lorca poem where young suitors try to persuade a young girl picking olives to go off with them (but she refuses). In my mind, while wearing the perfume, I can see the golden brown colors Lorca describes when talking about the darkening afternoon light:

When the afternoon had turned
dark brown, with scattered light,
a young man passed by, wearing
roses and myrtle of the moon.

Arbolé Arbolé has incredible sillage and tenacity on my skin for a natural, and yet it never feels muddy or thick. It is a linear but thoroughly warm and sensual experience for me, with only slight transitions in the body of the fragrance from waxy wood smoothie to faintly powdery vanilla. It is sweet in a natural, woody way, and the powdery touch at the end is not excessive. Personally, I absolutely love it.

Hiram Green is running a fantastic introductory offer for the launch of Arbolé Arbolé – if you go to his website here, you will see that if you buy 50ml of Arbolé Arbolé, you get a 10ml travel size of it for free. Also, may I commend Hiram Green for selling travel sizes of all his fragrances in the first place? That’s a rare thing indeed and much appreciated by perfumistas who find it hard to get through 10ml of anything.

Aromatic Celebrity Incense Review Vetiver Woods

Sarah Jessica Parker Stash  

November 14, 2016
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I read somewhere that Sarah Jessica Parker wanted her new perfume to smell like contraband, hence the name Stash. But the first image that jumped to mind when I heard it was the abbreviation of “mustache” and the association has stuck. The mustache association turns out to suit the perfume perfectly – it’s as sexy and androgynous as a pretty girl dressed in drag for the night, fake mustache included.

Stash starts off as dry as a bone, with a bitter, peppery cedar dressed up with a sinus-clearing sage note. There’s a faintly watery-milky green note floating around in there that reminds me somewhat of the green violets in Santal 33 and the minty fig leaf in Santal Massoia, but the green note doesn’t direct any of the focus away from the dry, masculine woods. Add in some frankincense and what emerges is a creature in the same mold as Kyoto by Comme des Garcons – a stripped-down, minimalist cedar-incense with a tinge of something green and resinous.

My feelings about this are mixed. On the one hand, I think that Sarah Jessica Parker has succeeded in making a fragrance that is as anonymous and androgynous as Santal 33 and Kyoto – perfect for that low-key sexy vibe that Manhattanites go nuts for. It shares that same intimate, but at the same time oddly room-filling woody radiance that makes people wonder if you’re wearing perfume or if it’s just your skin and clothes that smell so good. The sage note, in particular, gives that witchy impression of a good, cleansing smoke-out to drive away djinns.

But the flip side of that premise is that Stash is a perfume that smells better at a distance than up close, on the skin. It’s a more of a scent of an ambiance – a gift to other people in your vicinity – than a pleasure for your own nose. None of the elements here truly work for me – I am unenthused about the bitterish cedar (mostly because in recent years, cedar has come to be synonymous with Iso E Super and Cedramber, even when the real stuff has been used, as here) and the dry sage, vetiver, and pepper make me think of dreary generic masculines.

I will give it this: somewhere in Stash’s development, all the dry, woody elements coalesce into a sweet, creamy finish that reads – at a distance – as sandalwood. Sometimes, days later, I catch a whiff of it on my sweaters and I fall in love with it. So I spray it again and am disgruntled, all over again, by the weak, bitter cedar and watery green notes that I find so bony and unsatisfying. Fast forward a few hours, and I am entranced by the creamy cloud that now surrounds my person. I smell warm, approachable, and ready for a hug.

In the end, I also struggle a bit with how to evaluate Stash fairly. It’s like talking about the smart kid who’s eons ahead of his classmates in Grade 1, but bump him ahead to Grade 3, and he struggles a bit. Stash is clearly head and shoulders above other celebrity perfumes – it is cool, sexy, androgynous, and not at all sugary or dumb. Bumping it up into the niche category, among whose brethren Stash really should be evaluated, and I find that it still holds up pretty nicely against similar stuff like Santal 33, Santal Massoia, Kyoto, and Tam Dao. It doesn’t stand out in that company. But it doesn’t fall too far behind either.

I’ve been wearing it a lot. It’s a perfect little thing for autumn – slip it on, forget all about it, and go kick over some leaves.

Price-wise, Stash is a much better deal than any of those androgynous, woody-incense perfumes in the niche category, and so I recommend it thoroughly to people who are into this type of scent but who want to achieve the same effect with less money. I paid €32 for a 30ml bottle, shipped over to me free from the UK Superdrug. I just found out that you can buy it in Boots, but you pay €45 for 30ml. God, people in the Republic of Ireland get completely shafted on price – better buy direct from the UK, if you can.

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.

Housekeeping

Winner of Samples Giveaway! Plus Discount Code Reminder

October 4, 2016
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Woot woot, T Moore from Japan, you’ve been selected as the winner of the samples giveaway hosted here! Thanks to everyone who participated – the comments made me smile, wince, and gnash my teeth. You lot are both eloquent and funny.

 

Reminder: The lovely Greg Hartill of https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/ is offering a 10% discount to anyone using the special code HYPE10. The code is valid until the end of October, 2016, so use it while you still can!

Officially, it’s UK-only deliveries because of the draconian shipping regulations, but I believe if you contact him at info@fragrancesamplesuk.com, he might be able to work something out with you. He says he is actually starting to ship a lot of stuff abroad, even though the site doesn’t specifically state it.

Amber Gourmand Honey Oriental Tonka Vanilla

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Grand Soir

October 1, 2016
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Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s Grand Soir depresses the hell out of me. Not because it’s a bad perfume (it’s not), but because it’s a Golden Retriever of a perfume and I was hoping for another one of Kurkdijan’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks like Eau Noire or Absolue Pour Le Soir.

 

I’m a fan of Francis Kurkdijan’s work, and even though I didn’t get along with one of his recent releases, Baccarat Rouge 540, I think he has one of the best batting averages in the business. And I will be forever grateful to him for making Absolue Pour Le Soir, Cologne Pour Le Soir, and recently, Ciel de Gum. His oud series (Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Oud Velvet Mood, Oud Satin Mood, and Oud Silk Mood) still stands out as daring and interesting, even in a field as crowded as the Westernized oud one.

 

But the man has to sell perfume. So every now and then he puts out a fragrance that smells like an upgrade on one of those Clean fragrances, or a plush, ambery people-pleaser (such as Ciel de Gum, which I love despite it not being ground-shakingly original). People love and people buy.

 

And everyone seems to really love Grand Soir. It’s the new golden retriever on the scene. People I know who don’t pay retail for anything have paid retail for this. The hills are alive with the magic sound of wallets clicking open. And when that happens, I sit up and pay attention. Because in this business, people often praise fragrances to high heaven but don’t actually lay down real money for it.

 

I get it. Perfume is expensive. And there is so much of it – 2,000 new releases in 2016 alone. So it makes sense to look closely at what people are actually buying, because that means much more than a glowing review. For that reason, I always check in on those “Today I Bought” threads on Basenotes, and often plan my sampling expeditions around what I see there.

 

Absolue Pour Le Soir is one of my favorite fragrances of all time, and I don’t find it challenging, but my tastes are lazy and mainstream enough that I was half-seduced by the thought of a more easier-going version of it. Even though a little voice in the back of my head kept whispering “But…..you know, Cologne Pour Le Soir.” Yes, voice, yes, I know.

 

So let me be clear. I don’t dislike Grand Soir because it’s not Absolue Pour Le Soir or Cologne Pour Le Soir. I dislike it because not only is it not daring or original along the lines of those perfumes, but it’s not even as pleasant-smelling or cushy as something like Ciel de Gum. It’s just that it doesn’t smell great. To my nose, it’s yet amber stuffed with potent woody-ambers like Norlimbanol or Timbersilk. And I expect better – far better – from a house such as Maison Francis Kurkdijan.

 

The rough synth edge on Grand Soir is unpleasant and harsh/burnt to my nose, pulling it surprisingly far away from the plush, velvety “night in Paris” effect that MFK was going for. Admittedly, I may be more sensitive to the presence of synthy woody ambers than most people. But, honestly, it ruins the experience for me entirely.

 

Apart from the disappointingly, soullessly chemical side taste to Grand Soir, there is a fundamental lack of balance here. Playing to the trend for modern fougeres, there is a bright, resinous lavender in the topnotes that feels natural and refreshingly unsweetened, but once the aromatics melt away, there is nothing left for the nose to play with beyond a waxy, honeyed amber powered with the burnt, chemical smokiness of that woody amber. There’s no counterpointing.

 

Both Absolute Pour Le Soir and Cologne Pour Le Soir have effective counterparts to the sweetness of the honey and amber; APLS has an almost bitter, smoky depth to it thanks to the incense, and CPLS has a touch of rosy sourness. Grand Soir has only the short-lived aromatic of the lavender, and that synthy woody-amber thing going on; without any other contrasting notes, it develops into a rather flat play-dough amber. Tonka, benzoin, and vanilla add body and sweetness, but with three materials that smell largely like, well, vanilla, there is no counterpointing ballast with which to balance the fragrance.

 

Ultimately, Grand Soir is as painful for me to wear as Serge Lutens’ L’Orpheline and Amouage’s Opus VI, both of which come off as bare-boned chemical skeletons draped in something smoky and something unctuously sweet.

 

Grand Soir is quite straight-forwardly commercial in intent. It makes a play for the same synthy radiance and power-boosted projection that I smell in a hundred other modern ambers, and the same dopey amber-tonka-vanilla base that offends nobody except me in its very featurelessness. The audacity of taupe. I find it depressing that it’s stuff like this that everyone opens their wallets for and not the daring stuff like Absolue Pour Le Soir and Cologne Pour Le Soir, both of which are being phased out of distribution outlets and confined to the Paris store because nobody bloody bought them.

 

Francis Kurkdijan has gone on record to say that despite all the critical acclaim that Absolue Pour Le Soir gathered, he only sold a couple bottles of it worldwide last year. Remember Eau Noire? Same thing. We all loved it – apparently nobody bought it. Perfume houses don’t discontinue brilliant, ballsy perfumes because they are mean bastards and they hate us. They pull products when they don’t sell. As perfume lovers, we just have to put our money where our mouth is, or the glorious perfumes disappear and perfumers make pedestrian perfumes that please a majority and sell to a majority.

 

I don’t blame Francis Kurkdijan for producing a Golden Retriever a la Grand Soir. I blame me and people like me for not buying all the gnarly Rhodesian Ridgebacks he was putting out before.

 

 

 

 

Designer Lists Review Round-Ups

Resurgence of Designer Perfumes? Angel Muse, L’Envol, & No. 5 L’Eau

September 26, 2016
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Is it just me or are you noticing a slight resurgence in designer perfumes? Lately, I’ve been testing designers that are not only good but excellent, and not only excellent but beating niche releases in the same category. I’m no statistician but a recent sniffing expedition to Dublin left me more impressed with the designers than the niche.

In particular, these:

 

Angel Muse (Thierry Mugler)

 

Honestly, I think I’m in love. A softer and more wearable version of Angel, Muse manages to drown out the high-octane Maltol shriek of its predecessor with a velvety blanket of hazelnut cream.

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Edible? Yes – it smells like gianduja, that silky marriage of ground hazelnuts and chocolate they make in Turin. There is also a berryish undertone in the first few minutes, as well as a hint of citrus (chocolate orange anyone?). But it’s not trashy. The edible component doesn’t make me think of fairground food like candy floss and red berry Kool Aid. With the teeth-gnashing sweetness of the sugar molecules tamped down and an addition of nutty, grassy vetiver, it smells less like food that the original Angel.

 

Well, ok, it does still smell of food. But there is something perfumey and inedible in there that brings it back from the edge, like a posh truffle mashed underfoot into the warm, sweet grass of a polo pitch.

 

I have often noticed that vetiver can smell like ground hazelnuts, most particularly in Vetiver Tonka, Sycomore, and even Onda. It adds a savory, mealy element that feels warming, adding a special thickness and body to a composition. That effect is noticeable here, and matched to the soft chocolate of the patchouli, the inevitable result is that of a creamy, nutty chocolate truffle (gianduja). Unlike the original Angel, Muse holds on to the briny element of vetiver, which makes it seem more nutty/savory than sugary.

 

It is still recognizably Angel. More so in its overall feel than precise arrangement of notes, but it definitely retains that sweet, room-filling bombast for which Angel is famous. But whereas I can’t bear Angel, I could see myself wearing this version on a regular basis. The sour harshness of the patchouli and the screechy Maltol of the original have been sanded away, and replaced with creamy, nutty, chocolatey softness. And that suits me.

 

It’s got va-va-voom sillage and presence, but on balance, it’s probably a little quieter than the original. It’s still more sillage than I’m used to, though – I’m beginning to realize that Thierry Mugler perfumes are just built on a bigger scale than most other designers and even niche. They are the pointy Madonna bras of the perfume world.

 

Whenever I’ve sampled this perfume, people have noticed. I can’t go anywhere without my husband, my mother, the crèche workers, the supermarket ladies, and so on, all commenting on how good I smell. I am unused to people commenting on my perfume or taking much notice of me. But I could get used to it! Sexy, warm, and edible….Angel Muse is a success in my book.

 

L’Envol (Cartier)

 

I am still not sure if L’Envol is just plain great or if it stands out simply because it’s swimming in a sea of male designer dreck. Mostly I think I am just relieved that a designer is finally giving men a fragrance that has obviously very high quality raw materials, and has a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Also, it is joyfully clean of the harsh woody-ambery aromachemicals that get hurriedly stuffed into male designer perfumes these days to boost its power and projection. Give me natural-smelling and quiet over screaming power top any day. Please.

 

Of course, this was done by Mathilde Laurent, who has authored all the perfumes in the beautiful, uber-pricey and exclusive Les Heures collection for Cartier. So we should assume that a designer fragrance would contain some of her hallmarks, such as rendering a striking idea in a classical, easy-to-catch manner but not strictly commercial per se.

 

L’Envol does contain these hallmarks. It is quite smooth, blond, and easy to wear, but features a bite in its tail that surprised me and struck me as gutsy for a commercial male designer. Putting aside all the talk of honey and powdery patchouli (of which there is a lot, in a subtle, sheer way), what really struck me about L’Envol was the strong violet leaf presence it has.

 

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It is not obvious straight away, but in the base there is a HUGE violet leaf note, which joined to the slightly musky tobacco-like feel of the patchouli, made me think of both Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley and “1000” by Patou. By association, therefore, there is a slight Fahrenheit vibe to L’Envol – not really similar but inexorably linked through that sharp, green “petrol”-like violet leaf note. The base notes really stick out for me here because in comparison to the relatively light and airy topnotes and middle notes, it is quite heavy – thick, earthy, tobacco-like, with that slightly pungent violet leaf exerting its pleasantly bitter presence.

 

Moving backwards from the base upwards, the general tone is one of gentle, powdered translucence. The honey note is cleverly layered with a silvery iris for space and air, and thus doesn’t read as heavy, boozy or animalic. At the top, I thought I smelled a very good quality bergamot oil, because it opened on a bitterness I associate with citrus. However, bergamot is not listed, so I must assume that the bracing, bitter freshness comes from the violet leaf or some unlisted fruit note. In the middle, the (clean) patchouli and the honey formed a pleasant sort of ‘honey tea’ note – a translucent chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey. It is very subtle, refined, slightly powdery, and not too sweet.

 

The power of the scent really belongs to that base, though. Does nobody else smell the violet leaf and tobacco-ish tone to this at all? It might be just me, but I sense a massive violet leaf presence here. Anyway, I think L’Envol is a fabulous male designer release and worth checking out for fans of violet leaf in perfumery, such as Cuir Pleine Fleur and “1000”.

 

Chanel No. 5 L’Eau

 

I’ve been wondering what the difference between Eau Premiere and the new L’Eau might be – after all, Eau Premiere was launched to do exactly the same job as L’Eau, which was to update Chanel No. 5 for a younger generation. I thought that Eau Premiere had cornered that task with aplomb – it is a sparkling floral lemonade to No. 5’s heavy satin. I absolutely love Eau Premiere. Like many other women of a similar age, it is MY Chanel No. 5. So how is L’Eau different?

 

In a way, it’s even younger and more sparkly than Eau Premiere. Perhaps Chanel is moving past me and down the line towards 16-year-olds? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to imagine that Eau Premiere has anything to repulse a very young woman.

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I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but L’Eau does go one step further than Eau Premiere to cast off the onerous mantle of its grandmother, No. 5. The aldehydes, although already toned down greatly in Eau Premiere, have been almost completely done away with here, leaving the bright lemon and mandarin to provide enough lift and sparkle to carry the opening. It is a beautiful, joyful opening – clean, scintillating, with the fresh twang of freshly peeled citrus fruits. It has the same washed-and-scrubbed radiance to it as Eau Premiere (thanks to hedione, an aromachemical that gives the jasmine in scents such as Eau Suavage, Chypre 21, and Eau Premiere its green, radiant, ozonic lift). And it is not weighed down by the creamy soap of the original. Even Eau Premiere has a tiny bit of soapy sparkle from its small portion of aldehydes.

 

The rest of L’Eau feels similar to Eau Premiere – it has the same creamy, abstract swirl of iris, rose, jasmine, and ylang – but being a cologne rather than a perfume, it whips past its floral heart rather quickly and doesn’t linger there. The florals feel as bright and as synthetically “plastic” as in Eau Premiere and the original No. 5, but that has always been part of No. 5’s appeal to the modern girl, who wants to perhaps smell more of an expensive French perfume than of a rose in a vase. We want to attract more than bees, after all.

 

The base is a bit problematic for me, being mostly a white musk that lends a clean, diffuse texture. It’s not bad quality, or anything like that – this is not a cheap laundry musk. But its bland muskiness seems to swallow up the brightness of the citrus and the twang of the florals, meaning sometimes I can smell nothing at all past 45 minutes and sometimes I can smell vague traces of it in the morning after applying at night. In general, I’d venture a guess that the longevity of L’Eau might depend on individual sensitivity to white musk.

 

Still, very nice work by Chanel on this one. I feel certain that I will pick up a bottle of this next summer, and use it in much the same way that I use Eau Premiere, i.e., as a replacement for a summery eau de cologne (I much prefer a proper perfume over an eau de cologne any day, no matter how hot it is).

 

No. 5 L’Eau is a wonderful update on the Chanel No. 5 model. It retains the classical beauty of a Greek statue, yet is beautifully bright, radiant, fruity and crisp – a sort of pencil sketch of the real thing that still manages to satisfy all the pleasure-firing synapses in the brain.

Lists Masculine Round-Ups

My Take on 7 Basenotes Hype Monsters + GIVEAWAY + Discount Code!

September 21, 2016
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Today I’m looking at some of the fragrances that have been hyped up on the Male Fragrance Discussion (MFD) board at Basenotes over the last couple of years.

 

Hype is a weather system onto itself; little eddies swirling around a particular perfume suddenly escalate into tornados. And like any weather system, it follows a distinct pattern – someone makes a claim that X which costs $ smells just like Y which costs $$$, or that X is a panty-dropper or surefire compliment-getter, excitement gathers around the product, it sells out quickly, followed by mass deflation (scornful reviews, naysayers) punctuated by little upticks in popularity thanks to the impassioned pleas of the true believers.

 

Hey, no judgment! It’s hard not to get swept up by mass enthusiasm. I have been carried away by a swirling hype river many a time myself, although my weakness tends to be new, experimental niche perfumes. Roughly 50% of these hype monsters have worked out for me – the other half languish in the depths of my perfume collection, hidden away so that I don’t have to face my own stupidity every time I open the closet.

 

Generally, most of the excitement involved in hyped fragrances comes from buying them blind. Either the fragrances are super exclusive and hard to sample (the experimental niche ones), so we should just bite the bullet and go in blind, right? or are so cheap or readily available that it makes more financial sense to buy the whole damn bottle.

 

There’s a sort of fool’s honor in buying the whole bottle blind.

 

But buying a whole bottle blind based on hype does one of two things to your judgment: (i) either you feel you have to muster up enough enthusiasm for the fragrance because you bought 100mls of it and thus give an effusive, less than honest review, sullenly willing others on to make the same mistake you did, or (ii) you feel intense, bitter disappointment at having spent $45 on something you’ll never wear, so you invest far too much time and energy into railing against the “hype” you feel is responsible for you having opened your wallet in the first place.

 

Hype is not to blame – we are. We are the ones who opened our wallets.

 

If someone likes a fragrance enough to want to talk about it and share the love, that’s not hype – that’s just enthusiasm. And it’s unfair to say that people who love a particular fragrance want to “hype” it. Because that implies shilling and you’d have to be a particularly miserable human being to believe that everyone who talks passionately about a fragrance has a financial stake in it. Sure, shills exist. But they’re pretty easy to spot and ignore.

 

I view hype more as an irresistible social phenomenon that appeals to our basic need to belong to a group (of people, of passions). Because, hot damn, when you see a group of people being enthusiastic and “blown away”, don’t you want to feel that way too? I know I do.

 

Feeling strongly about something is always more of a blast than feeling apathetic or “meh” about something. It means you’re alive and you still have hope. Because if you’re anything like me, the best perfume in the world is the one you haven’t smelled yet, the one just around the next corner. It’s what drives us on!

 

So, Basenotes MFD hype monsters. Over the years, I’ve noticed certain fragrances being the subject of hype – some small, slow hype builds, others fast little flurries that build into the aforementioned tornados. Some, like Aventus, have become such huge, lumbering megaliths of hype that they’ve succeeded in getting themselves banned to a sub-forum.

 

When I was recently given the chance by the lovely Greg Hartill of the UK decanting and sampling site, https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/, to pick a few samples from the site and review them, I decided to choose a selection of fragrances that have received some amount of hype on the MFD. He sent me generous decants of each of the seven fragrances I picked, and they were delivered to me within a couple of business days. I am hosting a GIVEAWAY of these samples, so look at terms and conditions at the end of this post!

 

Some of these fragrances are niche, some are designer. They are all masculine fragrances, and range from the very expensive to the very cheap. Some of these fragrances received the hype they did because they are similar to another famous fragrance but are cheaper. Some are hyped because they are astonishingly good for the money, and some are hyped because they take a common theme but do it so well and distinctively that they are hard to replicate with another, cheaper fragrance.

 

Men are always saying that they want a woman’s view on how a fragrance smells, right? Well, here’s my opinion on some of these Basenotes hype monsters. I tested all of these fragrances on myself and my husband, and sometimes my young son, who has a very good nose, was asked for his opinion too. So, here we have it, a 360 evaluation!

 

Aventus (Creed)

 

Aventus has become a bit of a joke in the fragrance community. Well, not the fragrance itself, to be fair. But its reputation as a panty-dropper and compliment-getter has turned it into a punch line for tired jokes about getting unsuspecting women to sleep with you – the fragrance equivalent of a roofie. Hype around Aventus is insane. And it is so acutely irritating to normal, rational people that it’s been forevermore banished to a dark corner of the Basenotes MFD where no-one ever visits unless you’re one of the converted.

 

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I was curious about Aventus because I wondered if it was possible to evaluate the fragrance without pre-scorn or bias, and if indeed I liked it, would I be able to say so? Alternately, if I disliked it or was lukewarm, could I say that too without having to tone down my words?

 

I dislike Aventus on principle – the hype, the crude jokes, etc. But the fragrance itself is pretty nice.

 

The opening is immediately appealing – a fresh, fruity note identifiable as pineapple but not tropical in any way. I am able to identify the style as the Creed house style, which comes across as watery, green, fresh, and sparkling in a slightly metallic but pleasant way. I think that many of the Creed Royal Exclusives such as Aventus and Spice and Wood play with the trope of fresh fruit (apple, pineapple) joined to a light, clean cedary base. It is crisp, aqueous, and pleasant to wear.

 

The base is smoky in a lightly-charred-woods kind of way, owing to a restrained hand with birch tar and cedar or oak wood. It smells slightly synthetic, but in a way that seems deliberate and therefore forms part of the fragrance’s charm, as in CdG Black.

 

As it dries down even further, it becomes sharper and more generic, with a “male aftershave”-y character. I could see my brothers wearing this. It’s clean and inoffensively masculine, so I can see why this would be a popular, safe choice for the office.

 

Pineapple over birch tar – it doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, Aventus manages to come across as more than a sum of its parts. Like Narciso Rodriguez for Her EDT or L’Instant, the fragrance might seem nothing special when you pick it apart or smell it on a paper strip. But when you spray it and wear it over the course of a day, it forms a sort of force field of attractiveness around you that cannot be explained away by the notes. You smell great and other people think you smell great too. It’s pretty soulless and generic-smelling. But it does its job of making a man seem clean, fresh, and ready to mate with.

 

My husband tested Aventus several times, but couldn’t find a single thing to say about it, apart from the fact that it was “ok”.

 

Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (Perry Ellis)

 

The hype on this one has been crazy. It went from selling at $35 to being hawked on eBay for $300 when the manufacturers ran out of stock. I imagine that the Perry Ellis people are as shocked as everyone else. It is possible that they thought they were making a pleasantly soft, wearable vanilla fragrance that men could wear. But one comment on Basenotes about a supposed similarity to Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille and a massive hype storm brewed up in no time at all.

 

At the time of writing, it’s been reintroduced and sold in the $65-$80 range, and everyone who missed out on it the first time round are buying it and finding out for themselves how wide that gap between expectations and reality really is.

 

Does it smell like SDV? Sort of. But only in the way that Gisele’s sisters look like Gisele – i.e., there’s a family resemblance but one is reminded instantly of how one minute variation in jaw length or height of cheekbones makes all the difference between “attractive” and “drop-dead, mouth-watering, hubba-hubba, Girl from Ipanema beauteousness”. I apologize if that sounds callow. But does it help if I explain that, to me at least, the beauty of SDV, like that of Gisele, is overrated?

 

SDV is a nice, slightly boozy vanilla perfume that has a luxurious, golden sparkle to it. I used to own a full bottle of it, until I realized that it bored the living daylights out of me every time I wore it, so I sold it. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s beautifully done. But it is simply not interesting, or dark, or boozy enough to hold my attention.

 

The opening of SDV is pretty arresting – a sugary, sparkling rum brought into being by the meeting of pink pepper, vanilla, and woods. But then there is a long period of time when the sourish, pickled tones of the cedar predominate on my skin, and I don’t enjoy that. In its final stages, a warm golden vanilla-custard glow is set free about my person and I admit that it smells wonderful. But so does Shalimar. And I am not crazy enough about straight-up vanilla to spend $300 on what turns out to be the vanilla component of a more evolved (and cheaper) fragrance.

 

Recognizing the limits of my need, I sold my bottle of SDV and have contented myself ever since with two types of vanilla fragrances – first, the type you buy in vats and hose yourself down in (until dripping wet) before you go to bed, or for layering purposes (these include Molinard Vanille and Cologne des Missions), and second, the type of vanilla fragrances that do something more interesting with vanilla.

 

In the latter category, I love Eau Duelle for its fresh black tea and frankincense angle, Vanille Tonka for its lime and carnation smokiness, Mona di Orio Vanille for a dark, woody vanilla sodden with booze, and occasionally, Bois de Vanille, which is mostly licorice allsorts on me. Oh, and Shalimar. But Shalimar is more than just vanilla.

 

Apologies for the lengthy preamble. But I want you to be clear on where I stand on SDV before I get into discussing a possible dupe for it. For all its strengths and weaknesses, Perry Ellis Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is a credible approximation of what is to (to me) a pretty nice but unremarkable fragrance. Thus, it follows that Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is nice but unremarkable.

 

The opening note is one of pure alcohol. When it settles, a nice, plain vanilla note with a soft booziness comes into view. It is difficult for me to pick up anything more complex than that, because it is very soft and low key, with little to no projection. It does, however, lack the dynamic sparkle of SDV’s opening, and the vanilla here comes across more as a sort of plain vanilla fudge texture. In fact, the vanilla in Oud Black Vanilla Absolute strikes me as being the same type as in Havana Vanille or Vanille Absoluement, whatever it’s called these days. A sort of undifferentiated blob of vanilla bread pudding.

 

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10 minutes in, and a dusty, medicinal “oud” note appears. The oud note is a bit harsh and abrasive, and reads to my nose more like a woody ambery aromachemical than synthetic oud. Even Montale’s oud note, which although rubbery and sour, is still recognized by the nose as an oudy “type” of smell. The oud note here smells burned and chemically woody. It smells like something out of the base of Sauvage, except nowhere near as brutal. If this note is what people are picking up on as “dark” and “smoky”, then I feel sorry for you. You need to try a better class of perfume.

 

This perfume lacks the density and heft I want in a straight-up vanilla. To be fair, so does SDV. (Tihota is by far and away the best straight-up vanilla on the market, but you have to really love vanilla to spend $$$ on 50mls of it).

 

Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is ultimately a very flat, plain vanilla fudge perfume with a male designer perfume base that smells a bit generic and hollow. The woody ambery aromachemical they are calling oud is nowhere near the quality of even the standard Montale oud note, and to me reads as a bit abrasive. Thank God for small mercies, though – this is not one of those overly potent Norlimbanol bombs that seem to plague the male fragrance market these days. It is, on the contrary, very, very quiet, lying flatly on the skin and refusing to project more than 1cm off the skin. Weak sauce.

 

Men, you can do better for vanilla, I promise you. Just don’t get swept up in the hype for this. Look further afield. Eau Duelle is piney and fresh, a vanilla you can wear without worrying about the fact you are a man wearing a vanilla perfume – and it doesn’t cost as much as the Perry Ellis, ironically. The EDP version smells as good as the SDV, vanilla-wise. But fresher, greener.

 

Cologne des Missions is a better dupe for SDV, if that’s what you’re specifically looking for. It’s a better capture of the sugary, smoky sparkle of the SDV opening than the Perry Ellis, although the drydown is not as creamy and as silky as the SDV. But for a more translucent, cologne-style version of SDV, you really can’t get much better than Cologne des Missions. Instead of the synthetic oud note in the Perry Ellis, you get myrrh and benzoin, which together smell woodier, smokier, and more natural than any fake oud. It’s made by nuns in a convent, for heaven’s sake!

 

My husband didn’t like this one either. He said that vanilla makes him think of baking sugar cookies and he finds that smell too simple and sugary to be interesting, either on me or on himself. Keep in mind that he’s a health nut, and sneaking a bar of chocolate in our house is a complicated operation involving small children distracting their father while I try to open the fridge as silently as I can.

 

New Haarlem (Bond No. 9)

 

New Haarlem is probably one of Bond No. 9’s most iconic fragrances, along with Chinatown (on the female side). It’s a grotesque, “extreme” gourmand that pushes the envelope with a set of roasted, burned, and syrupy notes that walk the line between cloying/intense and appetizing/comforting.

 

I like extreme gourmands a lot – they are impolite and they don’t pussyfoot around with the idea of food as fragrance. They don’t make any apologies. Done right, they are both satisfying and cartoonishly awful in equal measure. In this category, I place Jeux de Peau, Cadavre Exquise, A*Men, and yep – New Haarlem.

 

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My family and I perceived New Haarlem in quite different ways – in fact, it was the one fragrance where our opinions diverged so much so that I feel it necessary to note. To my nose, New Haarlem smells like roasted black coffee beans over a soapy, aromatic lavender cologne. The lavender here has the same sun-roasted, “garrigue” effect I notice in Eau Noire, that intensely woody, aromatic aroma of crushed lavender buds which is what creates the roasted coffee impression.

 

It is certainly a very dark and woody coffee smell – very attractive and distinctive. I can’t think of anything else that smells as close to real coffee as this does. I pick up on a creamy vanilla sweetness later on, but I can’t say that I perceive any syrupy notes at all. And I certainly don’t pick up the famous pancake accord.

 

To my nose, this is all coffee, intensely black and roasted at first, then smoothing out into sweet, milky coffee in the drydown, draped over a soapy, aromatic barbershop fougere. It strikes me as incredibly masculine. I like it very much, but find it too butch for me to pull off comfortably.

 

My husband, on the other hand, had a completely different experience. That is to say, it smelled the same on his skin as it did on mine, but his understanding of New Haarlem jives far more closely with the majority opinion of the scent on Basenotes and elsewhere. Without telling him what the fragrance notes were, I sprayed it on him and asked him to tell me what it smelled like. This is what he said:

 

“Nuts, specifically pecans, and that Danish pastry you like with the pecans. There is a lot of syrup here. Yes, it smells exactly like the bakery where I get the croissants and pecan Danish for you guys at the weekend. It is like wearing a pastry. This is far too sweet. I could maybe like this if I were feeling hungry and wanted to smell something a little sweet. But I wouldn’t wear this, really. It’s way too sweet.”

 

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For the record, my son wasn’t privy to this conversation. He sniffed his dad and pronounced it “sweeties and woods”, which I believe puts his reading of New Haarlem at the halfway point between my “woody coffee” and his father’s “pecans and syrup” readings. Keep in mind that he is five.

 

Tabac Rouge (Phaedon)

 

Tabac Rouge has picked up a lot of hype as a substitute for Tobacco Vanille over the years, but on the whole, it’s stayed at the level of hype “eddy” rather than hype “tornado”. I’ve mentally arranged it on the same shelf as scents such as Meharees and Dolcelixir – versions of more famous, expensive fragrances that some will always insist are superior to their source inspiration for some reason or another (“Meharees completely removes that awful clove note from Musc Ravaguer” etc.).

 

Likewise, many people prefer Tabac Rouge over Tobacco Vanille because it is much lighter, has ginger instead of clove, and more honey than heavy vanilla. Oh, and the price, of course – although not massively cheap, Tabac Rouge costs far less than Tobacco Vanille.

 

I agree that Tabac Rouge smells like Tobacco Vanille. But as with Meharees (Musc Ravageur clone) and Dolcelixir (Ambre Narguile clone) and yes, even Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (SDV clone), the resemblance is skin-deep really, based on a superficial reading of the notes. The biggest difference between these clones and their source material is texture and weight. And a whole world of difference can be found in the small detail of texture and weight.

 

Tobacco Vanille is luxuriously, ludicrously rich and heavy – it smells like you are wearing an overstuffed armchair, upholstered with the most expensive materials known to man. It is famously sweet, but its sweetness derives from delicious dried fruits, prunes, and bitter chocolate, all aspects of the rich tobacco absolute used.

 

People complain about the vanilla, saying that it smells like a holiday candle. Hey! Point me in the direction of a candle that smells as good as Tobacco Vanille and I will buy the shit out of that. Until that happens, shut up. Tobacco Vanille is a thick scent for days when it is so cold you want to never leave the house. There is no better smell to catch for days and days on the label of your heaviest winter coat. I wear it once every 365 days, which is more than enough for one person.

 

Tabac Rouge catches all the notes of Tobacco Vanille, but in a kind of “skim-reading” type of way. The difference is, like I said, in the small matter of texture and weight. Tabac Rouge has the texture of hot, clear tea. A sparkling ginger note is an improvement over the (frankly) awful, metallic clove note in TV, but that contributes further to the feeling of spicy, lively winter tisane rather than the thick duvet feeling I get from TV. It is as sweet as TV, but derives its sweetness from honey rather than from dried fruit. (Honey is yet another element that makes me think of tea).

 

I think that it smells great, though, and I would certainly buy this. It would suit warmer weather than Tobacco Vanille, due to its relative sheerness, and for this reason alone, it is by far the more versatile fragrance of the two.

 

Tea for Two is also in the same general area as Tabac Rouge, especially in terms of that honeyed tobacco “tisane” translucence, but Tea for Two is far smokier and ashier than Tabac Rouge. Out of all these variants, Tabac Rouge is perhaps the easiest to wear and the most versatile, especially in warmer weather. However, I still think I would spring for Tobacco Toscano for a sweet summer/spring tobacco fragrance, before Tabac Rouge.

 

My husband liked Tabac Rouge better than all the other non-oudy samples. He smelled the honey straight away. “It reminds me of M Komplex, a thick medicinal unguent you eat to boost your immune system. It has propolis, pollen, royal jelly, honey, maybe ginseng, and a few other things I can’t remember. It smells good – but sweet and medicinal at the same time. So yes, basically it smells like every substance that comes from a bee, mixed together.”

 

Rasasi Tasmeem Man

 

I’m in the middle of writing a guide to attars and oud oils, and Rasasi is a house that has started to impress me, for its quality to price ratio. I’d never tried their EDPs, though, so when I saw Tasmeem Man getting a lot of attention on the Basenotes MFD lately, I took note of the name.

 

Tasmeem Man doesn’t start out too promisingly, with a sweet, powdery floral musk that feels utterly generic and faceless. But I know that some Arabian cheapies (both oils and EDPs) need some time to settle before revealing their true character, and this was the case with Tasmeem Man. Eventually the scent smoothes out into a sweet, powdery tonka-based scent, with a trace of rose and vanilla. I thought I also picked up a bit of cumin, which my husband confirmed when smelling it blind (his comments are below).

 

I quite liked Tasmeem Man, and it is excellent value. Tonka is a trendy note in modern masculine designer scents, so it reminded me quite a bit of other men’s fragrances, in particular, the tonka-heavy Midnight in Paris. However, there is something pretty cheap and generic about it that puts me off. It is partially the source material – there is often something a little cheap-smelling about the almond aspect of tonka and/or coumarin, to my nose at least. I also find it excessively sweet and powdery (with a hint of sweaty armpit lurking beneath).

 

via GIPHY

 

My husband’s comments: “Oh my GOD, there’s cumin in this, isn’t there? It smells like a**. It’s very sweet. I’m surprised that this is a man’s fragrance.” Well, he said much ruder things than that, but I’ve toned it down.

 

Tom Ford Oud Wood

 

I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the fact that Oud Wood smells a lot like Dzongkha. Specifically, the oily, rubbery cardamom that adds a green, celery-seed-like note to the composition in both fragrances, setting their character dial at once to the savory (as opposed to sweet).

 

It’s interesting to me the way the different facets of the fragrance – the green spice of the cardamom, the smooth woods, and the oily/industrial facets – add up to a smell that is recognizably “oudy” without ever really smelling like oud when you smell it up close, on the wrist. Once you draw your head back, the disparate parts seem to coalesce into one amalgamated flow of fresh, green oily oud wood.

 

It smells wonderful – smooth, integrated wooden parts with a rich fleshiness or milkiness to the base. It smells impersonal, too, like a much-admired building in an award-winning industrial complex. It doesn’t have a soul, so it’s easy to make it one’s own. There is something creepy about it, and yet also mesmerizing, like that video that’s been doing the rounds lately with the papier mache, robot-controlled faces biting and licking at each other.

 

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It strikes me easily as masculine but not in a butch way that would preclude me from wearing it. Actually, I guess it is truly genderless, or rather, sexless – as sexless as a Ken doll. I love its creepy, putty-like texture. It’s almost off-puttingly smooth.

 

My husband liked this sample the best out of the whole line-up. It smells expensive and luxurious, he noted. I should mention that my husband loves pure oud oil, and because I test a lot of it, he is familiar with many different oud profiles and has come to love the fiercely animalic ones.

 

These are his comments: “I really like this. But that’s not oud. It is very safe-smelling. I would recommend it to people who wear suits. Real oud oil smells crazy, wild. It doesn’t have limits. This fragrance does have limits. I suppose that’s what makes it perfect for the workplace.”

 

David Yurman Limited Edition (David Yurman)

 

I’ve had to re-test this fragrance several times, because in the very short time it takes for my mind to wander off, the scent performs such a 180 on my skin that I keep wondering what perfume I actually have on. The second part is so completely removed from the first that it’s like wearing two different perfumes. If you’re not sniffing your arm like a hawk and focusing intensely, you might miss the transition completely and wonder what the hell just happened to the dark rose fragrance you originally put on. Because what I end up with is a smooth, boot-polish leather that feels texturally very close to Tuscan Leather.

 

And I know I didn’t start out with Tuscan Leather. David Yurman Limited Edition starts off on a beautifully rose note, roughly hewn and set in a dry smoky haze of oud and spices. It feels slightly green and herbal. That rose is really excellent quality. I can tell that the oud is the standard synthetic variant out of either Firmenich or Givaudan, but the rose smells like a really high quality Taif rose oil. It is bright, sharp, and lemony – almost harsh at first, but then loosening out into something sweeter.

 

Quite quickly. I lose the moist, fleshy parts of the rose, but what remains of the rose oil are the germanium-green and lemony-sharp facets, leaving their high-pitched, oily traces on all the other notes.

 

The base – which comes on very fast and surprised me every time – is a dusty vetiver leather with a fruity, boot-polish note lent by the raspberry. The combination comes off as dry and slightly musky and is very close to the way Tuscan Leather smells in its far drydown.

 

The raspberry note doesn’t smell like a fresh raspberry, but adds this strange, solvent-like tone to the leather. I have noticed this plasticky, boot-polish like effect of the raspberry note in two fragrances thus far: Tuscan Leather and Impossible Iris (Ramon Monegal). It is very appealing, because it adds a modern edge to the musky, sawdusty leather accord.

 

I like this perfume very much, and I’m given to understand that it’s not that expensive either. It is extrait-strength, so it is long-lasting. Unusually for an extrait, it projects quite powerfully too. Many quote this as a great rose-oud-leather fragrance for men, and I agree. In fact, it’s a creditable alternative to Portrait of a Lady or Tuscan Leather if you’re on a budget. It might also do the trick for fans of Atelier Cologne’s Oud Sapphir. I’m not saying it rivals their quality, but for the price, it gives you a smoky, oudy rose over leather that lasts all day. For most, that will do the job.

 

My husband said that this one was just ok.

 

GIVEAWAY!

 

I will ship the remaining samples I have of each of these 7 scents to someone ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! Terms & Conditions are as follows:

 

  • Leave a comment telling me if you ever got caught up in hype, bought something blind, and how you (honestly) felt about the perfume when you got it! The funniest, most inspiring, or most painful-sounding answer will win
  • To enter, leave your comment either here on my blog, on my Facebook posting of this (Take One Thing Off Facebook page), on a Basenotes thread I will open up for this, or in any Facebook fragrance groups! All comments count.
  • Anyone asking me the batch code of the Aventus sample will be taken out and shot automatically disqualified.
  • I will choose the winner on Friday, 30th September, 2016.

 

 

DISCOUNT!

 

The lovely Greg Hartill of https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/ is offering a 10% discount to anyone using the special code HYPE10. Officially, it’s UK-only deliveries because of the draconian shipping regulations, but I believe if you contact him at info@fragrancesamplesuk.com, he might be able to work something out with you. He says he is actually starting to ship a lot of stuff abroad, even though the site doesn’t specifically state it.