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Fallintostars by Strangelove NYC: A Review

27th November 2019

Fallintostars by Strangelove NYC is clever because it pairs the 15th century smell of Hindi oud – the dank, rotting, wet wood smell of animal hides piled high in a medieval dungeon – with the 21st century radiance of a modern amber. For the first half hour, the dissonance is dizzying. The oud is so authentically filthy that I feel like I’m being pressed up against a wall by an lout with a shiv and bad intentions. It’s as funky as a plate of fruit and cheese furred over with mold, wrapped in a length of freshly-tanned leather, and buried in a pile of steaming, matted straw.

But just when you fear you’re slipping wholesale into slurry, you notice the bright, peppery overlay of something radiant and electric, like sparks popping off a shorted wire. This accord calls to mind the aromachemically fresh, smoky black tea opening of Russian Tea (Masque Milano Fragranze) more than the pink pepper the notes tell me this is likely to be. The distance between the light and the dark is perfectly judged. It’s more of a whoosh than a lift. It smells exciting – sexy even. I’m tempted to douse myself in it and force strange men to come sniff my neck, even though, technically, this hard, peppery smell is more masculine-leaning than otherwise.

But wait, because we haven’t really talked about the amber yet. Poor Christophe Laudamiel – I bet that after the category-defining glory that is Amber Absolute (Tom Ford) he’s afraid to touch labdanum for fear of either never reaching those heights again or being accused of repeating himself. But then again, this is Christophe Laudamiel we’re talking about – a man who, as I’ve said before, when confronted with a straight line instinctively starts to zig zag wildly across the page like a wild hoss. He seems to create restlessly in one forward motion, refusing to circle back to even his most hallowed of halls.

So, no, this is not the benzoin-thickened incense amber of Amber Absolute, but (unexpectedly) the bright, hard sparkle of a champagne-and-vodka amber in the style of pre-reform Ambre Russe (Parfum d’Empire). Like a shot of those clear gold liquors served in the Alps after dinner, I’m not sure which I want to do more – drink it or apply it to a wound. It smells…well, excuse my language, but fucking amazing. How does a perfumer get amber to smell as rich as leather but as transparent as jelly?

My nose fails me when it comes to the other notes. I don’t get any of the green, hay-like barnyardiness of narcissus (unless it’s giving the dirty straw notes in the Hindi oud some welly) or indeed any of the gentler, more jasmine-like nuances of the jonquil variety, and there’s nary a hint of rose. I don’t perceive the benzoin at all, which is strange because even if I can’t smell it, I can usually feel it thickening the texture of the basenotes into a flurry of papery dust.

What I smell in Fallintostars is really an act in three parts: Hindi oud, followed by champagne-and-vodka amber, and finally a huge honking myrrh not listed anywhere. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Christophe has managed to work the inky, astringent tones of saffron and hina attar (henna) with his feverish fingers into the shape of a rubbery, mushroomy myrrh. It’s also possible that it’s just myrrh.

Anyway, what I like about this perfume is that it transcends its raw materials to make you think about the way it is composed. The modern, near slavish adoration at the foot of complex-smelling naturals such as Hindi oud or rose or labdanum often results in muddy, brown-tinged accords that speak more to their own worthiness than to joy, especially in the indie sector. In Fallintostars, Christophe Laudamiel takes heavy hitters like Hindi oud and makes it smell like bottled fireflies. And that is alchemy, pure and simple.

Disclosure: A sample of Fallintostars was sent to me by Strangelove NYC for review. My opinions are my own.

Image by Alina Zakovyrko from Pixabay

Amber Gourmand Honey Independent Perfumery Review

Zoologist Bee

12th November 2019

Have you ever been walking along the street and suddenly feel so good that you burst into a run? Zoologist Bee is that for me – a burst of positivity that settles on you like a blessing you don’t remember asking for. The perfume doesn’t seem to be particularly complicated, but the trick it performs is by no means simple; effortlessness, or at least the impression of it, always requires an invisible-to-the-naked-nose system of levers and pulleys operating under the surface. Perfumes exuding this sense of almost child-like glee are rare. I can count on one hand the number of fragrances so exuberantly good-smelling that you feel you’re the world’s Secret Santa. Kalemat is one; so is Shaal Nur. Now Zoologist Bee joins their ranks.

I’m torn as to how best describe the pleasantness of the balance between bitter and sweet achieved in the opening – it’s the smoky, brown sugar-tinged bitterness of molten honeycomb (cinder toffee) just before the baking powder is added, but at the same time, there’s a jellied, clear coldness that calms the roil before it reaches burning point. This note, or rather texture, could be the royal jelly that appears in the notes. But the way I perceive the royal jelly note in Bee changes with each wearing. Sometimes, it feels as gelatinous as the cubes of grass jelly you get in bubble tea, at others, it smells more like rooibos tea that’s been boiled with a spoon of honey and allowed to cool on a window sill, i.e., a mixture of something tannic and something coldly sweet.

Whether it’s jelly or cold tea, the important thing is that this accord lends an impression of clarity, or transparency to the perfume. The rundown of notes doesn’t matter here because, as with any honey perfume, it’s as important to state what Bee is not as what it is. So, Bee is not treacly or syrupy or heavy. It’s not so sweet that it smells pungent or sharp. It is hugely radiant, but not unpleasantly scratchy or ‘fake’, by which I mean that it doesn’t smell like it’s been overloaded with those annoying woody ambers stuffed into most perfumes laying claim to the word ‘radiant’.

Bee is not – crucially, for me at least – animalic. I adore pissy honey perfumes like Absolue Pour Le Soir, but I have to be mentally ready for them. I don’t like when the saliva-ish staleness of honey reveals itself only in the far drydown, because it’s like an uninvited guest who, no matter how charming or brilliant they turn out to be, grate purely because their presence was unsolicited. I’d describe Bee a clear, radiantly ambery floral honey, tilting more towards amber than floral. There’s a doughy, fluffy sweetness in its underskirts that I take to be heliotrope, but the floral notes are largely indistinguishable, muffled as they are by the thick, white-ish beeswax note. There’s orange in the notes list, but I don’t smell any citrus at all, and if there’s anything green or fresh in the bitterness of the opening, then I’ve missed it entirely.

Bee is clearly honey from the start. No mistaking it for anything else. My children absolutely loved the scent and keep sticking their noses into my arm; my husband sniffed it and said, rather grimly, ‘yes, that’s honey alright.’ So, make no mistake – you need to like the essential honey-ness of honey to like Bee. Zoologist Bee is not the perfume for you, for example, if you like your honey notes abstract or folded into the weft where, as one note among many, it can do the least damage.

For me, honey is as problematic a note as coffee, chocolate, and caramel notes. In the context of a perfume, these solinotes almost always present more as a series of problems to be resolved (too bitter, too burnt, too urinous, too pungent, etc.) than the purer sensory pleasure they are capable of giving in the mouth.  So, it’s really something for me to say that Bee is probably the only honey or beeswax-centric fragrance that I can see myself committing to without having to make a series of unhappy compromises with my own self.

For example, I like Honey Oud by Floris but am in two minds over that vaguely synthy wood in the basenotes that only I seem to be able to smell. I enjoy the grapey, musty honey of Botrytis by Ginestet, but only when I can smell the rot – about 70% of the time I wear it, it reads as a slightly dull, fruity amber. With its smoky-sweet cinder toffee amber, my memory of Immortelle de Corse by L’Occitane comes closest of all to Bee, but of course, it’s been discontinued so my memory might be serving me up false positives. But what anybody reading this review really wants to know is this: how does Bee compare to the last honey-focused runaway success on the niche/indie scene, namely Hiram Green’s Slowdive?

Slowdive is much richer, thicker, and more complex than Bee, with the herbs, florals, and tobacco almost as important to the whole smell as the honey and beeswax. On the other hand, Slowdive is far too heavy and syrupy for me to wear casually. I can’t just throw it on – I’d have to suit up for it. Compared to Slowdive, Zoologist Bee is simpler, more user-friendly in a big-boned, good-natured, ambery way. Bee and Slowdive are connected by way of their indie or smaller niche ‘feel’ (both have more in common with those rustic, ‘honest’ indie honeys such as Golden Cattleya by Olympic Orchids than with, say, Oajan by Parfums de Marly or Honey by Kim Kardashian West). But while Slowdive has that unmistakably hand-crafted, all-natural feel to it, Bee has the more polished, high-spec finish you get with mixed media perfumes, positioning it as slightly more niche than artisanal.

With its expansive ambery radiance, Bee moves one step closer to what most people outside the tight inner circle of perfume nerds would consider ‘yummy’ and gorgeous and easy to wear. And I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing – Zoologist Bee made it to my ‘to buy’ list the minute I smelled it. Anything that smells this good just begs to be bought and worn, not endlessly agonized over.   

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Amber Floral Incense Independent Perfumery Review Spicy Floral

Hiram Green Voyage 2019: A Review

8th November 2019

Hiram Green Voyage 2019, huh. I remember little of the original Voyage other than (a) I liked it a lot – or at least enough to spend €25 on obtaining a precious 5ml decant, which I promptly misplaced, and (b) I spent a lot of time agonizing over it, trying to dissect what made the perfume tick.

And apparently, I got it all wrong. Hiram’s description of swapping out the suede of the original Voyage for lotus in the 2019 version was the first time I realized that the original Voyage was supposed to be suede. My review did pick out a slight peach skin note, similar to that of Hiram Green’s own Shangri La or Guerlain Mitsouko. But it never jumped out at me so strongly that I felt obliged to point at it and call it suedey, suedey McSuederton.

Re-reading my review of the original now, it appears I thought Voyage was structured around that familiar Guerlainesque clash between a bright, aromatic side (lavender, bergamot, cloves, cinnamon) and a dark, velvety side ( vanilla, indolic flowers). The dry down was a warm, luscious vanilla-amber, heavily laced with heliotrope and perhaps jasmine or orange blossom. I recall finding it pleasantly spicy and resinous, that prickly contrast between bright, aromatic citrus notes and warm amber never quite fading. Very loosely, it called to (my) mind the spiced pastry notes of L’Heure Bleue, the aromatic-vanilla of Jicky, and the slightly civety jasmine-tonka-amber of Ciel de Gum (Maison Francis Kurkdjian) and Musc Ravageur (Frederic Malle). No suede, though.  

But even when I get things completely arse-ways, Hiram Green is a true gentleman. He wrote to me after another review to say, in that mild-mannered way of his, that he was always surprised about how his fragrances were interpreted by writers and bloggers. From this I take that he’s bemused by, but accepts, the wildly differing takes on his work and the lack of causal relationship between our perception of what’s in the fragrance and what’s actually in the fragrance.

I’m conscious of how odd and discomfiting it must be for a perfumer to send their work to people like me in full knowledge that we are either going to smell stuff that isn’t there or miss big, important parts of the perfume that they might have labored and agonized over for months on end. This is surely is not a game for control freaks or for people who like to ‘explain’ their work constantly until people get it ‘right’ (hey, I’m sure we all know people like that, right?).  

Anyway, Hiram is probably going to read this and raise an impeccably well-groomed eyebrow, because, despite his assertion that Voyage 2019 is a lighter, fresher, slightly more tropical take on the original, with lotus taking the place of suede, I find it to be neither fresh nor tropical. And it’s about as light as a brick. Although I’ve mislaid my decant of the original and my memories of it are entirely re-built from my review, I’d still say that the overall ‘feel’ of Voyage 2019 is quite different from the original, despite both being structured around a warm amber and vanilla base.

First off, there’s an exuberantly fruity (berried) bubblegum note up top, not present in the original, that reminds me of various BPAL and Arcana ‘red’ musk accords. After that, Voyage 2019 mostly heads straight for the comfort of a deliciously fudgy amber-vanilla accord common to both but skips over the overtly floral or aromatic ‘spiky’ notes from the original completely; as such, Voyage 2019 does not have the same contrast between citrusy-aromatic and vanilla-amber of the original.  The ‘lotus’ note is interesting to me, because rather than smelling particularly floral (think: crisp, fresh, botanical, juicy, etc.), it smells golden, honeyed, soft, powdery, and somewhat resinous. Dusted over the vanilla-amber accord, the lotus doesn’t give Voyage freshness or lightness but instead creates a medicinal ‘nag champa’ character.  

Lotus flowers are revered in Buddhist and Hindi culture, because they are considered to be a direct route to spirituality, so the Indian nag champa reference seems appropriate. This smells like an Indian-style amber to me, with a doughy-powdery joss stick heart. In the far drydown, I’d swear to a bit of benzoin, its spicy ‘Communion wafer’ dustiness dovetailing with the powdery sweetness of the nag champa.  

I like Voyage 2019 more than the original, mostly because it feels simpler and more direct – a big down comforter of Indian incense and amber to keep me going in winter. Its appeal is immediate and, despite smelling briefly exotic, devoid of the twisty-turny mysteriousness of the original that taxed my analytical bandwidth.

But I am also super impressed that Hiram was able to capture the more unfloral parts of lotus, the sacred flower of India. Both the pink and white lotus varieties (from the true lotus family of Nelumbo nucifera) are ruinously expensive to produce, requiring 250,000 flowers to make just 1 kilogram of lotus concrete, which in turn yields only 250 grams of absolute after washing. I mention this to emphasize just how costly lotus absolute is, and how rarely seen on today’s market, especially outside of India itself (I have smelled a white lotus absolute but cannot attest as to its authenticity).

Because of its cost and doubts over authenticity, very few people outside attar makers and artisans working with small quantities of exquisite raw materials – like Hiram Green – will have smelled white or pink lotus absolute. You’ll probably hear talk about the lotus note in Voyage 2019 smelling aquatic, light, and crisp, because that’s what the definition on Fragrantica says. But a better source of information is Chris McMahon of White Lotus Aromatics. He describes pink lotus absolute as a “rich, sweet, floral, fruity-leathery aroma with a powdery-spicy undertone” and white lotus absolute as a “sweet, powdery, spicy,  delicate floral bouquet with an animalic, dry fruity undertone”[1]. Both those descriptions match up better with how the lotus comes across in Voyage 2019 – rich, sweet, powdery – than the Fragrantica description of aqueous or Hiram’s own description of it giving Voyage a “lighter and more tropical feel.” And honestly, I like Voyage 2019 better for how it actually smells (to me! disclaimer!) than how I’m told it’s supposed to smell.  

Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash


[1] https://www.whitelotusaromatics.com/product/lotus-white-absolute

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Papillon Artisan Perfumes Bengale Rouge

8th July 2019

 

I have an opiate opoponax problem. It started with an unexpected capitulation to the Red Hot charms of Eau Lente, segued into a sudden and slavish devotion to Jicky, and culminated in a shameful episode a few weeks ago, when I found myself outside a train station at 7.30 a.m. palming a wad of cash to a shady eBay guy for a brown paper bag containing two smeary half-bottles of Carthusia’s Ligea La Sirena.

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DSH Perfumes Series: Gourmand

21st September 2018

 

Welcome to Part 3 (Gourmand) of my series on DSH Perfumes, the American indie perfume brand helmed by the talented and prolific Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For those of you joining me just now, let me recap a little.

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Amber Chocolate Gourmand Incense Review Saffron Sandalwood Smoke Spice Tonka Vanilla Woods

Bruno Fazzolari Ummagumma: A Review

1st December 2017

This review has taken me many attempts to get right. I’ve written and re-written it more times than I like to admit. I think the reason for my hesitation is that I am bowled over by Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma but not sure whether it’s because it’s really that good or because I am just genetically programmed to find sweet things irresistible (Irish women like me lay down fat automatically on the first signs of cold weather, like a sheep preparing for winter).

 

Oh hell, enough with the equivocating – Ummagumma smells amazing. It is so palpably delicious and soul-warming that the first time I smelled it, I had to fight myself from tipping the rest of the vial down my throat.

 

The topnotes are all about that bitter hit of pure chocolate one gets when drink a mug of 80% single plantation cocoa: molten, dark and almost iron-rich. There’s a generous pour of cream, courtesy of sandalwood, and a smattering of barky spice for grit – saffron, cinnamon, and what smells to me like clove but is just as likely to be carnation. The sultriness of the dark chocolate accord is quite similar to that of Slumberhouse Ore, albeit much sweeter thanks to the eventual star of the show, which is amber.

 

Yes, it’s not the spicy chocolate accord that takes top billing here: it’s the caramelized whisky amber that sits just beneath the cocoa and quickly burrows its way to the top, from where it dominates proceedings. Compared to the bittersweet cocoa top, the amber is honey-sweet, with a boozy edge that makes me think of the Irish whiskey notes in both Tobacco Oud and Amber Absolute. As a result, the amber sports a burned sugar char at the edges that makes me salivate

 

The amber booms on with its incensey sparkle, but neither the cocoa nor the spice disappears entirely; they lurk in the background, lending a fudgy, bittersweet depth to the main chassis. The scent is quite sweet, let’s be clear, but I find the same sort of balance here as in Ambre Narguile, where the syrup of amber and dried fruit is tempered by tobacco leaf. In Ummagumma, the tonka bean shows off its prickly, herbal coumarin side more than its lush cherry or almond facet, resulting in faint curlicues of smoky tobacco leaf and leather wafting through the amber, lifting and airing it out a little.

 

Foodie? Yes, most definitely. But don’t infer too much from my mention of Ambre Narguile above, as the scents are really nothing alike, with Ummagumma lacking, in particular, the cinnamon-apple fruitiness of the Hermessence. If anything, Ummagumma’s smooth amber makes me think more of Tobacco Oud with its whiskey-ish, honeyed, and leathery undertones, or a sweeter Ore by Slumberhouse. And although it’s a gourmand-leaning fragrance, there’s enough dry tobacco in Ummagumma to tilt it ever so slightly in the direction of Bond-T. The cedar in the base is faintly sweaty and smoky, with a vegetal edge that helps to cut through the richness as effectively as an Alka Seltzer after a rich meal.

 

Every artisan perfumer has a signature. But Ummagumma doesn’t really smell like a Bruno Fazzolari fragrance, apart from a certain groovy 1970’s aesthetic that runs through his other scents and also makes an appearance here (the Pink Floyd-related name, the chocolate incense, the textural “mood” feel of brown corduroy jeans, etc). On balance, though, Ummagumma is not as overtly retro in feel as either Au Delà or Seyrig. Neither is it futuristic or stark, as in Lampblack.

 

Most of my surprise, I guess, stems from seeing such a straightforwardly delicious gourmand coming out of the Bruno Fazzolari stable. Because “straightforward”and “delicious” didn’t seem to be words in Fazzolari’s vocabulary in 2016 when he collaborated with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue to make the “Frankenstein” gourmand, Cadavre Exquis, a fragrance that is as stomach-churning as it is intriguing. Cadavre Exquis smells like a bar of dark chocolate that’s been dragged through fir trees, fruit rot, the ashes of a campfire, and road kill. It smells like camphor and ass (curry-immortelle). Definitely not something anyone would want to eat, even if it smells like food.

 

I actually like Cadavre Exquis quite a bit, mainly because it nails the essentially animalic characteristics of a bar of evilly-dark chocolate, which, if anyone has ever melted one down will know, smells like warm blood, iron filings, raisins, and something like dried sweat. Cadavre Exquis has the unique quality of making me want to smell it, over and over again, despite the fact that it nauseates me. Which I think makes it at the very least a very interesting fragrance, if not a masterpiece (depending on the definition one uses). But while it’s addictive to smell, I’d never wear it.

 

Readers may be either disappointed or relieved to know that Ummagumma is nothing like Cadavre Exquis. On the one hand, Ummagumma is not as memorable or as progressive as Cadavre Exquis, but neither is it as divisive. Its gourmandise is sophisticated rather than off-kilter.

How you judge Ummagumma will depend greatly on where you come down on the split between wearability and art. Yet more people will evaluate it purely based on their knowledge of Bruno Fazzolari’s back catalog, including Cadavre Exquis, and find it lacking in edge.  But if I were to smell Ummagumma blind, although I wouldn’t peg it as coming from the hands of Bruno Fazzolari, I’d still want to own it and wear it because it’s one of the most straightforwardly delicious things I’ve smelled all year. And I mean those words as a compliment.

 

Notes: saffron, carnation, chocolate, tobacco, leather, labdanum, sandalwood, cedar, incense, tonka, vanilla

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Zoologist Camel: A Review

17th October 2017

There’s a famous delicatessen in Milan by the name of Peck. Established in 1883, it’s a Mecca for food enthusiasts, its shelves stocked with the finest cured meats, cheeses, wines, and truffles of Italy. When I lived nearby, I would often take the train down to Milan at the weekend, and walk through the store, drinking in the unami-rich air. I remember in particular huge glass jars of mostarda – neon-colored orbs of fruit preserved in a clear mustard seed pickling juice. When the afternoon light caught them at the right angle, they glowed like the gaudiest of paste jewelry: emerald, yellow, and orange.

 

The guys behind the counter would goad me into taking a little with my prosciutto and salami snack, and they’d laugh as I gingerly nibbled at the edges, the virgin blandness of an Irish diet having ill-equipped me to deal with the gush of hot, sour, sweet, and savory flavors on my tongue. When I first tried Arabie by Serge Lutens, its dried fruits over a sour asafetida base reminded me immediately of my trips to Peck. But although the association charmed me, Arabie proved too syrup-saturated for regular wear, so I passed it by.

 

I’ll admit that when I read the notes for Zoologist Camel, I thought we were looking at a re-tread of Arabie. But while the dried fruits and dates in the topnotes give a rush of sweetness, Camel is far more sour and savory than it is sweet, and thus reminds me more authentically of Peck and its mostarda than does Arabie.

 

I think that Victor Wong, as a creative director, is not afraid of a little earthy sourness in the perfumes he commissions. In a sea of sweet niche releases designed to appeal to a mass sweet tooth, he doesn’t mind going sugar-free every now and then. And I like that about him.

 

Perhaps his bravery with salty-savory flavors comes from an inherent love of unami or the sweet-salty-sour balance in Chinese culinary tradition. I will always remember Victor’s review of M/ Mink for his blog, Sillyage, where he discusses the link between M/Mink’s bleachy opening notes and the smell of Chinese calligraphy ink and dried shellfish. It was the first review of M/Mink that ever made sense to me, because he was able to place it in the context of non-traditionally perfumey things like salt, iodine, and fish. Through his words, I came to understand and finally love that perfume.

 

Camel has a streak of kimchi running through the dried fruit, amber, and orange blossom, which stops the perfume from tipping into a syrupy cliché of Arabian perfumery. Forget the ad copy about deserts and camels. There is a brief hit of booze, dried fruit, and rose up front, but the frankincense here is limey and tart, and there’s a layer of sealing wax over everything to mute the fervent glow of the fruit. It is rich, but astringent, like a vin jaune from the Alps.

 

The sourness is given an extra boost in its rather classically French (or so it seems to me) heart of civety jasmine over a pillow of powdery musks. The jasmine is greenish and as fizzy as a vitamin tablet dropped into a glass of water, later developing the leathery profile of sambac jasmine. There is something here that resembles the moist skin under a wristwatch after a long day in the sun. The griminess of the jasmine stands shoulder to shoulder with its gritty, soapy cleanliness, giving the perfume an almost aldehydic buzz.

 

This tart, soapy, tightly-woven stage of Camel makes me think that Malle’s Superstitious (2016) must indeed have been quite influential on the perfumery scene. There are clear parallels between the Malle and Camel, especially in the acidulated jasmine, the slight raunchiness (without warmth), and its general angularity. Jardin d’Ombre by Ormonde Jayne, which came out in October 2016, the same month as Superstitious, also strikes me as a variation on the theme. In all three perfumes, one might read the notes and think “warmth” or “sweetness”, but the actual scent in each case is of the opposite of lush: astringent, cool-blooded, and definitely more French than oriental in tone.

 

I admire Superstitious greatly but prefer to gaze upon it from a distance, like watching Joan Crawford rehearse from the safety of a locked wardrobe. Camel, with its pert charm, has fewer pretensions to greatness and is therefore much more approachable. Despite the orientalism of its composition and ad copy, Camel avoids every cliché inherent to the genre, particularly the cheap rosy feel of most modern oriental releases. Its soapy (but dirty) jasmine, musk, and civet combo imbues what might otherwise have been a heavy “souk” amber with weightlessness, as well as a certain French je ne sais quoi.

 

As long as you’re ok with a little salty-sour funk, Camel might be the modern twist on an oriental you’re missing in your collection. Camel is predominantly French in character, but there is perhaps also something a little Chinese or even Peck-ian in its balance between sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and unami.

 

Notes: dried fruits, frankincense, palm date, rose, amber, cedar, cinnamon, incense, jasmine, myrrh, orange blossom, civet, musk, sandalwood, oud, tonka, vanilla, vetiver

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Maison Francis Kurkdijan Grand Soir

1st October 2016

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.

 

 

 

 

Amber Animalic Floral Oriental Jasmine Review

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Ciel de Gum

4th June 2016

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Ciel de Gum is, like Baccarat Rouge 540, a perfume that used to have the prestige of exclusivity or scarcity attached to it. In the case of Baccarat Rouge 540, it had been housed in a fancy bottle that nobody could afford and subsequently nobody smelled. Ciel de Gum, on the other hand, was a Maison Francis Kurkdijan exclusive for the Moscow department store, G.U.M. Over the course of the last year, the decision was made to bring both of these limited-distribution releases into wider distribution.

I wonder sometimes if these “exclusivity” decisions actually pay off – do enough people smell them, buy them, wear them to make them commercially viable?

Francis Kurkdijan is, of course, in the enviable position of being able to decide to change the distribution strategy from exclusivity to mass market, because not only did he compose Ciel de Gum but he also owns all the rights to it as it is produced under his house. Few other perfumers get a say in how exclusively or inclusively the perfumes they compose are marketed. And Francis Kurkdijan is commercially savvy – he has to be, as he is financially responsible for the success or otherwise of a Maison Francis Kurkdijan perfume. So I’m guessing that such decisions are purely commercial in basis. But part of me would like to think that, as a perfumer, he is proud of Ciel de Gum and just wants more people to be able to smell it.

Well I, for one, am grateful to have been able to smell it. The (heinously expensive) decant that I bought yielded exactly three sprays before it dried up, being made of (heinously cheap) plastic. But it’s enough to tell that I’d crawl over hot coals to get some more.

Ciel de Gum is a very smooth floral oriental revolving around a civet-soaked, ambery vanilla that smells about 70% the way towards Jicky, with the remaining 30% tipping its hat towards the self-consciously rich leathery indolic floral of Oud Osmanthus. It’s nothing too challenging or artistically “out there” but it has a pleasantly fat, nostalgic feel to it that renders it instantly legible to fans of big, civety, plush florientals. Didn’t Luca Turin refer to Shalimar in terms of red velvet and the lights of the Eiffel Tower? Well, Ciel de Gum is plenty red velvet and Eiffel Tower.

A smooth, rich mass of ambery vanilla dosed heavily with cinnamon and civet lies at the heart of Ciel de Gum. A thread of indolic, naughty jasmine floats up through the scent but does not define it – even Samsara has more of a jasmine presence than this. It is as if the darker, dirtier facets of jasmine have been plucked out especially for Ciel de Gum – a light seasoning of jasmine over a custard, not a flavoring.

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The floral-civet mix settles slowly over a bed of smooth, ambery resins and vanilla, mixing with pepper and cinnamon to create a slight Musc Ravageur vibe. There is a golden, fuzzy aura to this fragrance – very heavy, but smooth, opulent, and gilded like the light from a Tiffany lamp in a dark study. Surely something to look forward to at the end of a long hard day.

If you, like me, have a weakness for slightly dirty, ambery floral orientals with a lit-from-within, yolk-yellow luminosity, then buy with confidence. Ciel de Gum rides proudly in the same car as Jicky, Shalimar, Jasmin de Nuit, Oud Osmanthus, and Musc Ravageur. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but for me personally, it doesn’t have to – it’s already pushing all of the right “Claire” buttons. Needless to say, it has jumped to the top of my wish list, and in terms of the Francis Kurkdijan stable, I think it is up with his personal best, i.e., Absolue Pour Le Soir, Oud, Cologne Pour Le Soir.

Amber Floral Oriental Incense Resins Review Sandalwood Vanilla Woods

Creed Angelique Encens

26th May 2016

A few days ago, I received a mysterious package in the post which continued four largish samples of what even I recognized as rare Creeds – Cuir de Russie, Angelique Encens, Bayrhum Vetiver, and Verveine Narcisse. Spotting the name of the sender, I realized what must have happened – a friend who was kind enough to send me some samples of rare Ensar Oud oils had obviously sent my ouds off to someone else, and I had received instead these Creeds. Somewhere, right now, in Northern Europe, some poor guy is peering at three tiny vials of a brown sticky substance and wondering if the Creeds are so old that they’ve dried up (possible).

Don’t worry, I told my panicked friend, I will send these samples off to yer man. It will be like one of those hostage situations: I release the Creeds if he releases the ouds, etc. I won’t even spray them, I said, obviously lying through my teeth.

I don’t know if Creed Angelique Encens is really that special, but it is so exactly to my tastes that I can’t help but think of it as a masterpiece. Creamy woods, smoky vanilla, resins, smoke, brushed with tender florals and kissed into being by baby angels. Ok, I exaggerate. It’s perhaps not the Second Coming. But it’s pretty damn close to perfection to my mind.

I’m not terribly into straight-up, liturgical incenses like Cardinal, LAVS, or Avignon. I find them initially compelling, but quickly too literal for my liking. My time at Mass was spent daydreaming of it ending, so I am not in any particular hurry to hurry back there in my olfactory memory. Of course, paradoxically, like most everyone else, I find the smell of frankincense and myrrh burning on a censer to be a wonderful smell – raw and primal; spiritually-uplifting even. I just don’t want to wear High Mass on my skin.

The three types of incense that I do like better in perfumery are (a) the thick, dark resin bombs like Sahara Noir and Balsamo della Mecca that evoke something ancient and primal, but not exactly churchy, (b) florals with incense that read as sultry but not High Mass-like, such as Exultat, Sacrebleue Intense, and Chanel No. 22, and, lastly, (c) ambery woody scents with a light touch of incense that are the equivalent of a comfort blanket.

Angelique Encens falls squarely into this third category. When I first put it on – not that I tested this more than five times, by the way, seven at the very most – I get a very clear image in my head of sparkling amber crystals forming on my skin, like salt on bare shoulders after a long day at the beach. The angelica lends the amber crystals a unique herbal, green-stalk-like tone. I am reminded slightly of Iris Oriental, if only for this brief impression of amber crystals forming on the skin, which is something I clearly visualize when wearing the Parfumerie Generale scent too.

The salty brightness and herbalcy of the opening dissipates rather quickly, clearing the way for a woody, creamy amber with hints of powdery incense. This begins to swell and bloom on the skin, growing fuller with every minute instead of thinning out, as one might reasonably expect. In a way, Angelique Encens is constructed in a manner that is completely opposite to most modern scents, which create shock and awe with their massive saturation of aromas in the first few minutes, only to collapse into a lethargic, pale base one hour in. Angelique Encens, on the other hand, grows into its beauty. It fluffs out, like an angora sweater laid to dry in front of an open fire.

No, unlike most modern fragrances, the start really is just the amouse bouche for the most amazing dinner that features no actual dinner per se but the most sensational dessert stretched out over ten courses. What Creed pulled off here was to turn crème brulee into a fragrance, infuse it with smoke, and sprinkle it with the same blue-purple flowers that make the dry downs of L’Heure Bleue, Shem El Nessim, and Farnesiana linger so long in the mind’s eye – heliotrope, violets, a touch of iris perhaps. It is not technically a floriental, though – it has the same elegant woody, ambery feel of Bois d’Armenie and Ambre 114. An incense floriental woody, maybe?

It’s the drydown of my dreams, and one they so rarely make these days. Achieved through what means, I cannot say exactly, but there is surely a very good vanilla absolute here, one that leans more towards smoke than to dessert, ambergris, flowers, and the type of creamy sandalwood you thought was already all bought up by Chanel for Bois des Iles. I also detect – surely – a fat cushion of benzoin further fluffing out the amber, vanilla, and creamy sandalwood.

Nothing too unusual, you’d think, nothing to see here, let’s move along, alright? Except it turns out to have the same full-bodied, voluptuous, soul-stirring beauty as vintage Shalimar or a less rosy Bois des Iles. So here I am, powerless to heed its siren call.

You’d think I’d have learned by now, but no. As it happens, I would be perfectly content to exclusively wear – for the rest of my life – fragrances that are just an inch to the left of Shalimar, one shade darker or lighter than L’Heure Bleue, a fragment of Bois des Iles. My tastes are Catholic, but not Catholic enough.

Angelique Encens is soul food to me. But lusting after it is like going back to the buffet knowing that I’m too stuffed to eat another bite. Technically, I don’t need it. I know it’s going to make me fat. But I sure do want it.

 

via GIPHY

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