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Amber

Amber Oriental Oud Rose

Estee Lauder Amber Mystique

November 16, 2015

I’ve had a sample of Estee Lauder Amber Mystique for ages now but my hand would always pass over it, my mind doing the kind of internal eye-rolling that nonetheless is visible from outer space and makes me (I suspect) quite an irritating person.  The preconceptions I nurtured so smugly were: (i) this is Estee Lauder making a cheap grab for their slice of the oud craze driving the market – totally predictable and utterly depressing, (ii) the bottle is just f^&*($g awful, (iii) it would be just another syrupy, loud oriental amber along the lines of Ameer al Oudh, or 24 Gold, or (iv) that it would be stuffed with cheap woody ambers that scream “Power” and “Projection” to the bros and “outstaying its welcome” to me.

Thankfully, although I am still convinced of numbers (i) and (ii), my fears about the scent itself were completely unjustified. This is a sweet, soft oriental blend of rose, amber, incense, honey, some fruit, and a touch of (non-rubbery, non-medicinal) oud. It is not synthetically-extended in the rear with potent woody ambers. In fact, the sillage is polite and sweetly diaphanous rather than bullying or insistent.

I like it a lot. It would make a great starter oriental for those looking to dip their toe into the water, and for those who do not like the rather over-powered, syrupy, or harsh examples of the Arabian cheapy genre. It opens with a tiny berry and plum note, and what smells to me like a subtle oud wood note, but these get swallowed up pretty quickly into a powdery, sweet amber. It is sweetly balsamic and slightly-honeyed – never throat-catchingly resinous or sharp.

There is, later, an attractively whiskey-ish tone to the amber that develops, giving it some dimension. I also smell a slight buttery tone that could be a facet of the amber or of the leather – either way, it reminds me of the only part of the amber accord in Opus VI that I really like, which is that buttery, almond-like undertone from the periploca flower. In Amber Mystique, you really feel the presence of the rose, and I would say that overall, this is a rosy amber (or an ambery rose), like Dior Privee’s Ambre Nuit, albeit without the salty ambergris tint. If you like Kalemat or Calligraphy Rose, then you’ll enjoy this too (although those other two perfumes are better, in my opinion).

If I had to point out a little niggle, I’d say that it lacks the sub-woofer boom that makes ambery orientals so (traditionally) satisfying. Everything unfolds in a little shallow pool of bliss, the ripples spreading out on the skin, but there are no hidden depths here.

In the United States, this appears to be sold on eBay for $30-40 for the 100ml size, but in Europe, we are still seeing prices of €80-110. I am surprised at the difference, but maybe the American market is just better at finding the correct value of things.

Personally, I would put the real value of Amber Mystique at around the same level of Spellbound or Sensuous Noir. It smells great but is neither groundbreakingly unique nor as attention-grabbing as Estee Lauder would like us to believe, and therefore the “exclusive” tone of the marketing and pricing makes little sense. But if you live in America and see this on eBay for peanuts, grab it! Especially if you don’t already own an example in this genre – Arabian-style oud/amber EDPs – and would like to start off on an easy rung.

Amber Floral Oriental Review Smoke Vanilla

Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme

October 20, 2015

Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme is a big-boned, 90’s style floral vanilla very much in the style of Givenchy’s Organza Indecence and the original, pre-reformulation Dior Addict. In fact, this smells so like those perfumes that the cynic in me is tempted to think that savvy Tom Ford was browsing eBay one day, happened to see what everyone was willing to pay for even partial bottles of the original Addict and Indecence, and a little light bulb went off in his head.

So, how did he do?

Well, let’s say that it’s neither the masterpiece nor the mediocre piece of crap that Tom Ford fans or detractors would have you believe. Actually, it’s a very competent piece of designer work that aims for a particular target and totally lands it.

For women yearning for the va-va-VOOM of 90’s vanilla powerhouses built with Jessica Rabbit-style curves, this will be your jam.

Noir Pour Femme opens with a bitter orange and stale milk chocolate accord, briefly recalling a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and then slides into a heavy, plasticky vanilla that owes all of its cues to the orchid flower and none to the vanilla bean. It’s sort of Black Orchid-lite at this point, minus the repellent tuber and cucumber notes. The vanilla is musky and floral, and it might fold over under the weight of its own voluptuousness but for the waft of bad-gal cigarette and the sour tang of fresh ginger root acting in consort to cut the cream.

The trajectory from opening notes to the base is rather short, but I’m not blaming Tom Ford for doing what every other designer is doing, which is to frontload all the rich notes and leave the heart and base to deflate like a balloon (the attenuation happening just after you’ve already handed over the credit card, of course). The base here is a typical ambery, woody oriental affair – nothing too exceptional but (to give credit where credit is due) nothing even vaguely synthetic-smelling in that Iso E Super or potent woody amber aromachemical way.

The whole shebang is a Greatest Hits tour of some of the high points from Tom Ford’s own stable of scents (the plummy ginger from Plum Japonais, the vanilla from Tobacco Vanille, the heavy, musky orchid from Black Orchid, and the bitter orange from Sahara Noir) as well as from the powerhouse vanillas from the 90’s (the orange vanilla from Organza Indecence, and the boozy, smoky floral vanilla from Addict).

There’s also a distinctly sleazy, morning-after-the-night-before quality to Noir Pour Femme. If you’ve ever yearned for the days when you stumble home from a nightclub at 6 in the morning, lipstick smeared and your lips stained with cheap wine, smelling like last night’s smoke and wearing some random man’s black leather jacket, the Noir Pour Femme is for you. Or even if you still do that. I’m not judging.

Noir Pour Femme is going to be a massive hit. There does seem to have been a cult-like yearning for a heavy, va-va-voom floral vanilla in the style of  Organza Indecence and Dior Addict – and Noir Pour Femme totally fills this gap. Tom Ford put his cool commercial goggles on and engineered something to fit a straight man’s list of desires – curves, vanilla, softness, sweetness, muskiness, and so on. Expect this to turn up on every list of fragrances made from now on that men find utterly irresistible and sexy on women.

Amber Animalic Resins Review Smoke Spice Tobacco Woods

Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods

October 7, 2015

Anything by Sonoma Scent Studio is as rare as a hen’s tooth over here in Europe (distribution problems) so when I got the chance to buy a decant of Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods untested, I just had to go for it. I rarely buy blind anymore, but I’m a committed fan of anything Laurie Erickson does, so I knew that the risk factor was low.

In the end, I think I’m going to have to ask one of my U.S. friends for a big (and perhaps illegal?) favor, because 4mls of this dark elixir is just not going to be enough. I need more. How much more? Technically, let’s say it has to be enough to stop those feelings of helpless rage and sorrow every time I see the level in that decant bottle dip any further.

Winter Woods goes on with a whomp-whomp of a hot, dirty castoreum note married to the cool, sticky, almost mentholated smell of fir balsam. Immediately, you are plunged deep into a dark woods at night, all around you silence and the sticky emanations of sap and balsam and gum from the trees. There is an animal panting softly nearby – you don’t see him, but you can smell his fur and his breath.

But it is warm and safe there in the woods. As a warm, cinnamon-flecked amber rises from the base and melds with the animalics and the woods, the scent becomes bathed in a toffee-colored light. There is sweetness and spice here. It smells like Christmas, and of the pleasure of breathing in icy cold air when you are wrapped up, all warm and cozy.

In the heart, a touch of birch tar adds a smoky, “blackened” Russian leather accent, and this has the effect of fusing the heavy, sweet amber with a waft of sweet incense smoke. It’s as if someone has opened a valve of SSS’s own Incense Pure in the middle of the woods – a dry, smoky outdoors incense for a pagan ceremony perhaps. I also sense some dry tobacco leaves here, reminiscent of Tabac Aurea, another SSS classic.

I love the way that the heavy layers of the fragrance – amber, woods, animalics, labdanum, and incense smoke – have been knitted together to form one big angora wool sweater of a scent. It is heavy, but smooth, and a total pleasure to wear. If I could get my hands on it, I would buy a big bottle of it in a heartbeat.

Amber Patchouli Spicy Floral White Floral Woods

Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir

September 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber Masculine Resins Review Spice

L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber Maurice Roucel Musk Review The Discard Pile

Le Labo Labdanum 18

June 29, 2015

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

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

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

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