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Chypre Leather Review The Discard Pile

Robert Piguet Bandit

July 3, 2016

Every time I try Robert Piguet Bandit, I wonder why I don’t love it. I should love it – I love chypres, I love leathers, and I love the idea of a perfume so bad-ass you can almost visualize its resting bitch face.

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing to distract from Bandit’s core brutality. Chypres are bitter, leather is bitter – leather chypres are therefore doubly bitter. Tabac Blond takes you almost to the edge but drifts into a sweet, smoky amber drydown that softens the landing. Habanita covers it up with flowers and face powder. Jolie Madame has the sweet sparkle of violets.

Bandit apologizes for nothing, and covers nothing up. It’s a tough, bitter, raw-edged leather that winds up in ash and sweat. The flowers that are there are putridly creamy in a stomach-turning way, and the civet forces your head into its crotch.

Putting it on is like fighting your way into a tight black leather jacket that crackles with hostility as you try to make it bend. Once on, there is a raw, salty meat smell that crawls up at your nose from the seams of the jacket, as if bits of cow flesh still cling to the underside. I was always disappointed that Lady Gaga’s first fragrance didn’t smell like I imagined her dripping meat dress to smell – but Bandit does.

But that’s not what turns my stomach. What gets me each and every time is the jarring clash between the raw, salted-meat leather notes and the creamy floral side. The florals are calorific, full-fat renderings of themselves – a rubbery tuberose, a petrol-like jasmine – mashed into a cream cheese texture that when it rubs up against the dark, dry leather causes my gorge to rise. The civet plays a key role here, of course, both heightening the pitch of the brutal leather accord and giving the florals a slutty growl.

To my surprise, it’s the smoky ashes of the dreaded galbanum that rescue Bandit for me – cutting through the overly rich florals and brutal, salted leather, the ash weaves in and out and draws my attention to a campfire in the distance, a successful (and much appreciated) piece of misdirection. Every time I get to this part of the dry down, I wonder if it’s worth at least getting a decant.

On the plus side, Bandit is distinctive, bold, and full of character. It is also ageless. In its cleaned-up, reformulated state, the current Bandit EDP is firmly modern in its minimalism. There is nothing in it that pegs it to any one year, let alone a year as far back as 1944. As Teutonically ergonomic as an Olympian swimmer’s waxed chest, it feels like it could have been debuted in the same year as Rien (Etat Libre d’Orange), even though 62 years separate the two.

On the other hand, Bandit is a fragrance whose high proportion of green notes makes it vulnerable to the ravages of time. In two samples I’ve had (vintage and concentration unknown to me), the green elements – the moss, hyacinth, artemisia? – seemed to have wilted like lettuce in strong sun. The resulting vegetal, decaying mulch does nothing for me, not because it is unpleasant per se, but because part of me associates that wilted green note with perfumes I find dated. I won’t name names, but basically anything with coriander, peach, gardenia, and sometimes that 70’s way of treating patchouli.

In the end, though, Bandit is just a curiosity for me, and a placeholder – it smells much better and richer than the brown-grey drudgery of the current Cabochard and less herbally-up-its-own-ass as Miss Balmain, but not nearly as good as Jolie Madame, whose rush of violets makes me smile. Habanita and Tabac Blond are its sisters-in-arms, equally at home with a sneer and a cigarette dangling out of their mouths, but I would take them – any of them – over Bandit. I just don’t have the personality required for such naked aggression.

Chypre Floral Woods

Jean Patou “1000”

May 21, 2016

One year, at Christmas, my father gave my mother a beautiful embroidered dressing gown for her Christmas present. I remember this for two reasons. First, it was the first (and only) time I ever remember my father giving mum something quite so obviously expensive. Second, even at age 12, I knew my mum wasn’t going to like it. A woman of plain and sensible tastes, she has a strong distaste for luxury, so I expected her to murmur her polite thanks and disappear it later under the stairs, which is where all unwanted items in our house went to die.

Detail-of-Anne-of-Cleves--007

But she loved it. I’ll never forget the look of sheer pleasure came over her face as she stroked the material – a rich black velvet with an overlying brocade of silver, gold, and vermilion threads all wound up together tightly in an intricate Chinese design. As of the lily hadn’t been gilded enough, there was a huge cream ermine muff around the collar. Either my father had – for the first time in his life – guessed exactly what it was that would make her glow like that, or she had seen it somewhere and requested it. I’ve never asked, but I’m sure it’s the latter.

Every time she wore that dressing gown, it struck me as an act of perversity, somehow. That although lovely, she was working against the natural grain of her taste in wearing something so over the top.

Jean Patou “1000” works against the grain too. What’s the grain these days anyway? Well, the fashion for simple, clear florals that ring out as clear and sweet as a bell, for one. And the muffled, beige tonality of what I think of as the Narciso Rodriguez musk family – all pleasant, all background music.

Wearing something like Jean Patou “1000” is self-consciously anti-trend, deliberately eccentric, like a teenage girl wearing a tweed hunting cape to stand out in the crowd. Or like my mum, every time she put on that ridiculous dressing gown. She looked like a fucking pimp, but…… it did look fabulous.

ornament-600480_1280

Legend has it that it took Patou 10 years to make “1000” and a 1,000 attempts before being released, hence the name. The perfumer credited with “1000”, Jean Kerléo, joined Patou in 1968, by which time the perfume had been in development already for 6 years. It must have been a difficult task for Kerléo to pick up on another perfumer’s brief. I also imagine that by that stage, “1000” was the elephant in the room at Patou, with people coming in every now and then to poke the monster and paste something else onto the formula.

Maybe by the time Kerléo got to it, “1000” was just sitting there, a big, bloated sack of expensive ingredients so ludicrously rich and complex that it was impossible to edit for clarity. Maybe the best he could do was give it a coherent beginning, middle, and end – a structure that held it all together. I also kind of like to think that some board member at Patou just said, “F&*k it. Just release the damn thing already.”

“1000” is a dry floral chypre, which doesn’t really tell you anything these days. It boasts whole acreages of roses and jasmine from Grasse, as well as fields’ worth of osmanthus in China that Patou allegedly had to buy in order to secure enough osmanthus for the formula. But far from being the orgasmic cornucopia of flowers you might expect – hot and glowing like the nuclear Ubar, let’s say – the effect here is muted and shady, as if all the flowers cancel each other out leaving only the sense of their richness rising to the surface like oil on water.

The one note that signs clearly, to my nose, is the violet leaf. Fresh and metallic, this shimmers so brightly in the top of the composition that I couldn’t stop thinking about Fahrenheit and Cuir Pleine Fleur. Interspersed with starched-white-shirt aldehydes and a bitter, crushed-herbs effect (trampled artemisia?), the violet leaf opening is striking, and yes, completely out of step with the trends in modern perfumery.

In the heart, an orchestra of expensive flowers – rose, jasmine, powdery iris, osmanthus – raise their voice to the ceiling as one, but the effect remains soft, sottovoce. There is a vague hint of apricots and suede from the osmanthus, dusky soap from the iris, a thrilling flicker of indoles from the jasmine. But not one flower makes a break for it. Chanel No. 5 and Arpege strike me as much the same, a chorus of dark florals and powder and ambery fruits swirled together so that no one note is distinct.

A faint prickle of civet licks around the edges of the florals, spiking the composition with the warm glow of animal, like raw honey or stale saliva from licked skin. The tainted florals now merge with a golden, mossy drydown that features plenty of oakmoss, 70’s style patchouli, labdanum, and Mysore sandalwood. Interestingly, the oakmoss adds depth and shade, but no bitterness – it’s as if the herbal bitters and violet leaf had played enough of that role at the start.

The drydown is textured – creamy, but also earthy, mossy, woody, with enough lingering civet-licked florals for light relief. It’s at this stage I can see the familiar relationship with the far sweeter and more single-minded floral of Joy, as well as with other dry woody chypres such as La Perla. I don’t, however, see the connection to Mitsouko, as so many people seem to.

I can see why people might find this a bit too much. It’s overly complex and it’s hilariously out of step with the times. Every time I wear it, I feel I should come equipped with a map, a pencil, and a Venn diagram just to try and figure out what’s going on. It’s not even me, in particular. But the more I wear it, the more I like it, especially if I stop scrutinizing it and just let its monumental effect wash over me. It’s a question of letting my taste the time to adjust to a new shape, that’s all. Just like I eventually came to like that pimp dressing gown.

Chypre Oriental Review Rose Sandalwood Smoke Spicy Floral Vanilla Woods

Caron Nuit de Noel

March 3, 2016

Modern niche perfumery makes it easy for us. It must be like playing charades with the world’s slowest child. They supply us with all the visual and background cues and then sit back and do a slow clap when we get it. Ambre Russe? Mention vodka in the press materials and in one sniff we are mentally whisked away to boozy Cossacks, samovars, fur, and gold-gilded palaces. De Profundis? Give an essentially cheery floral perfume a gloomy name and a depressive back-story, and suddenly everyone makes the connection to death and funerals.

If we weren’t supplied so readily with these cues, would we make those connections? Probably not. But let’s admit that the back-story is half the fun of it. We are only human after all – we want everything we do to have meaning. Even if it’s only our perfume.

Smell Caron Nuit de Noel in vintage parfum form, though, and everything you know about narrative is upended. It is a Wagnerian opera-sized perfume and we not handed so much as a leaflet. Oh yes, I forgot, they did give us that name – Nuit de Noel. But it doesn’t smell like Christmas, so that doesn’t help.

But this – this – this is what perfume smelled like once upon a time. A dense, powdered thing of mystery that doesn’t really give a shit if you manage to unlock its layers or not. It’s so analog in a digital world that it makes me laugh.

Nuit de Noel doesn’t really have traditional topnotes. In fact, it’s a fragrance best worn for its basenotes, and is therefore the complete opposite to how perfumes are made these days – stuffed with amazing topnotes that last just long enough to get you over to the till to pay your money and petering out into one big fat nothing three hours later. Nuit de Noel, on the other hand, plunges you right into the second cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen and just trusts that you know enough German to get by. In a way, I appreciate that approach – by giving me very few cues, it expects me to have enough intelligence to figure it out on my own.

I’m still not sure I’ve figured Nuit de Noel out, though. I ain’t that smart. But I like the challenge. The top notes are intense, like a wall of sound coming straight at you. Dense and unwieldy, it smells like bitter powder and polished old woods with a streak of green moss running through it. There is also a huge dose of the typically Caron carnation/clove accord, which I find bitter-leathery and spicy in equal measure. The overall impression I get is of being wrapped in an old fur coat – it’s both old-fashioned and luxurious.

I don’t get any of the Christmas associations, but there is a stage of its development where I sense both the mealy, fluffy meat of roasted chestnuts and a sweet, liquor-like rose. Perhaps it’s that hint of rich fruited breads and baked goods that lead some to make the connection to Christmas. The green, mossy chypre notes also create a crisp, cold-air feeling, placing this perfume in the context of snow. Aside from the notes, there is a certain glow to this perfume – a radiant warmth like candlelight.

As time goes on, a licorice-like note creeps in, cloaking the fragrance in a velvety, sweet darkness. Think soft black licorice, not the challenging Danish stuff that tastes like salt. This note is a feature of the famous Mousse de Saxe, said to contain a heavy mixture of anise (or fennel seed), vanillin, geranium, and isobutyl quinoline (smoky, tough leather notes).

The Mousse de Saxe makes up a huge proportion of Nuit de Noel, and lends it its decisively dark green, mossy, smoky, and sweet flavor profile. A pre-packaged base, Mousse de Saxe is no longer made by Caron to the original recipe, although to their credit, they try to recreate it in order to keep their current parfums rich and full-bodied. But to my nose, there is a rich, dark, and melting softness to vintage Nuit de Noel (reminiscent of marrons glaces, as some have pointed out) that is just not there in the modern Carons.

The leather, powder, and geranium facets of the base connect Nuit de Noel to other hard-to-categorize fragrances like Habanita and Vol de Nuit. Part chypre, part oriental, all three of these fragrances are soft, boneless straddlers of several categories at once and contain a mystery of their very own that is difficult to unpack, to analyze. Mysterious and cool-toned, they leave behind a lingering impression of green moss, face powder, leather, and half-smoked cigarettes. The most slatternly women you could imagine, and the ones I most want to know.

Smelling Nuit de Noel parfum now a melancholic experience, though. Vol de Nuit and Habanita are still in good shape. But with oakmoss being severely restricted these days, the Caron bases can never smell as complex as they once did, and so when I smell my sample of vintage Nuit de Noel parfum, I realize that I’m essentially smelling the air from a time capsule.

 

 

Chypre Floral Gourmand Iris Patchouli Vanilla

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial

November 22, 2015

I think Guerlain did a bang up job of modernizing Shalimar for the tastes of the younger market. Personally, I love the original Shalimar, but from what I smell on young girls around my neighborhood, their tender young noses would likely wrinkle at the smell of all that smoke, leather, balsams, and dirtiness. Some perfumes need to be grown into, and Shalimar is definitely one of those. (Don’t worry, girls, she will be still there waiting, still great, when you are finally ready). In the meantime, Shalimar Parfum Initial is a very good rendition.

Shalimar Parfum Initial is essentially an add-and-subtract job that was done with taste and thought. Wasser removed the stinky grade of bergamot used in the top notes of the original and replaced it with a sunny orange/lemon combo unlikely to offend young noses. He took away all the smoky leather, balsams, and incense, and added a huge dollop of what feels to me like Angel-like notes, mainly caramel, berries, and patchouli, thus bringing Parfum Initial to the teetering brink of the modern fruitchouli epidemic, but never pushing it all the way in. Finally, he added a massive dose of iris, giving it a plush, vevelty, powdery mouthfeel that puts it in the same family as the great Dior Homme Intense. It is also vaguely reminiscent of Coco Mademoiselle and Angel, but always retains its own character. It smells a bit like Shalimar too, of course, but the overall feel is different, more gourmand, sweet, plush, and uncomplicated. For people who hated the baby powder in the original, this version will also likely provide some relief – it is not nearly as powdery as the original.

For all of that, I don’t LOVE love it. The original Shalimar simply blows this out of the water on all levels, and it is an impossible act to follow. Moreover, repeat wearings of Parfum Initial has wearied my nose to it somewhat, and there are some things in it that I’m picking up and irritating me. I find that there is an intensely sweet, almost syrupy note in there (the caramel plus berries probably) that I can almost feel in my throat. It kind of throws the perfume off balance a bit. There is nothing to balance out the sweet syrup in this, and it makes me appreciate the original even more, because at least in that, the sweetness of the vanilla is perfectly tempered by the smoke and leather. Anyway, overall the scent is gorgeous and will appeal to the younger market, and (hopefully) bring a new generation of scent lovers around to the great Shalimar when they are good and ready for her.

Animalic Chypre Musk Review

Papillon Salome

October 9, 2015

Wearing Papillon Salome is like listening to Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice and wondering why the opening bars sound so familiar. You know you’ve heard it before, but even while your brain is scrambling to retrieve the reference, you’re enjoying the hell out of the song.

Half the pleasure comes from that feeling of “I know this tune…. don’t I?”

The thrill of the new is over-rated anyway. A friend of mine once said that the older he got, the more ok he was with buying multiple variations of a fragrance he loved. In other words, as long as it was a fantastic rendition of something he already loved, he didn’t mind if it was original or not.

I completely understand this sentiment. I am only a little bit ashamed of myself for owning six or seven other fragrances that are all declensions of Shalimar in some shape or form (Shaal Nur, Fate Woman, Ambre 114, Mona di Orio Vanille, Musc Ravageur, and Opus 1144 to name a few).

The realization that Vanilla Ice simply (shop) lifted entire sections from Queen’s Under Pressure doesn’t stop me from loving Ice Ice Baby. It is its own creature, even though it plays off a chord that is deeply familiar. Both songs make me smile – Under Pressure, because it bristles with a very camp, very British sense of humor, and Ice Ice Baby, because it’s hilarious.

Salome is a tour of the greatest hits of the fragrance skankiverse, sampling riffs from well-loved songs such as vintage Bal a Versailes, Musc Tonkin, Femme, and Theo Fennel Scent, and spinning them off into something that, while not new or wildly original, is an utter pleasure to wear. And it is such a beautiful and accomplished riff on those fragrances that one might be tempted to replace some or all of them with just Salome.

It is a ludicrously dense, packed fragrance. A super-saturated supernova of a scent with layers and layers of heavy musks, fur, flowers, spice, and sweat.

Let me try to unpack the layers.

Right away, I smell a layer of vintage Bal a Versailles floating on top – honeyed orange blossoms, tobacco-leather, and a refined urine note (possibly civet). Salome’s take on Bal a Versailles is – dare I say it – an improvement on the original, because it completely removes that odd, cheap note I like to call “Plasticized Air” that always pokes out at me from Bal a Versailles. The sleaziness I always pick up from orange blossom slots in perfectly here with the cumin.

And wow, Salome is also super-cuminy. This layer strongly recalls Rochas Femme – not the softer, muskier vintage version, but the modern version which fairly shrieks with cumin, put there to give Femme back the sex curves it lost when all manner of nitro musks were banned. The cumin gives Salome a crude sexuality, reminiscent of a musky, female crotch – not unwashed crotch, just, um,….. heated, shall we say. If you’re someone who thinks that Amouage’s Jubilation 25 (the woman’s version) or Al Oudh smell like the armpits of a New York cab driver, then avoid Salome at all costs.

Under all this, there are heavy, animalic musks providing a sort of subwoofer effect, amplifying and fluffing up the other notes. I can easily identify two of my favorite musks here.

First to reach my nose (and then fade away very quickly) is a rich, furry musk strongly reminiscent of Muscs Khoublai Khan. This is mostly the effect of a rich, warm castoreum soaked in rose oil, but the similarity is impressive. MKK and Salome share this unique effect of the musk almost taking up a physical presence in front of your nose – like the swelling scent of damp hair or a damp fur coat being dried off in front of an old-fashioned electric bar heater. I can’t quite explain it, but the musk here has a tactile quality quite like sticking your nose above an agora sweater and feeling the static pulling the fine angora hairs towards your nostrils.

Underneath the short-lived MKK-style musk is the almost painfully animalic musk from Musc Tonkin – one so utterly redolent of the fur and animal fat of a marine animal that it comes off as faintly briny. Thankfully, though, it never quite approaches that metallic edge that Musc Tonkin has (which fascinates me but also repels me in equal measure). But that salty, fatty animal aspect of Musc Tonkin’s musk is present in Salome to a large degree. It accounts for the scent’s overall savory profile (as opposed to sweet).

More than anything, though, Salome reminds me of the female-sweat-soaked, musky Scent by Theo Fennell. In fact, what unites Salome, Theo Fennell Scent, and to a lesser degree, Musc Tonkin (in my mind) is the mental image I have of a group of ladies visiting each other in a formal front room in the early 1900s. It is a picture of repressed Victoriana – a room almost suffocating under the weight of dying flowers in vases, a certain “closed in” feel of an over-heated room, and stiff, rustling garments that haven’t been washed or aired recently.

And just below the surface, a massive wall of scent roiling off damp, heated womanflesh too long cooped up in restrictive brassieres and corsets. Although the room is heavily perfumed with roses and jasmine, there is something unhealthy and morbid about the atmosphere.

It’s just the type of perverseness I find sexy.

Overall, Salome has a very vintage vibe to it. If one were to subtract the brash cumin and one of the saltier animal secretions, then it would take up a more recognizably French, classical form. Underneath all the animal howling and beating of the breast, Salome is a chypre and as such has a dark, abstract structure to it that stops the dirtier elements from being a total pork fest. In its last gasps, Salome takes on the 1970’s feel of La Nuit by Paco Rabanne with its dank honey and moss tones.

Salome might be a remix rather than an original, but it reminds me that, in terms of sheer enjoyment, remixes can sometimes surpass or replace the original. I absolutely love it.

Chypre Fruity Chypre Review

Hiram Green Shangri-La

October 6, 2015

Oh me, oh my, you make me cry, you’re such a good-looking woman….

Can chypres be sexy? I never thought so until I fell in love with Femme by Rochas. Femme is sexy with a capital S. I love both versions of Femme – the vintage one with the musky plums and oakmoss, and the current version, all sharp and woody and armpit-cuminy. But I thought that Femme was an outlier. Chypres are just too upright and stiff-backed to be sexy in that low-down, guttural-growl kind of way.

Enter Shangri-La by the British indie perfumer, Hiram Green. I admire Mr. Green’s approach to making perfume. He does it slow, releasing only two perfumes in two years – and he does it right. Named for the fictional land described in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’, Shangri La is his second fragrance, released in 2014 after Moon Bloom, his extremely well-received tuberose soliflore in 2013.

Shangri-La, at the risk of being painfully literal here, is indeed a Shangri-La for the chypre lover. It restores my faith in the belief that modern perfumery can still turn out perfumes that rival the old greats from the past, and perhaps even surpass them now and then. Shangri-La does not surpass Femme or Mitsouko for me, but it was and is a beautiful surprise that evokes strong emotion in me.

It is also pretty sexy, in a carefully-contained way.

It opens with the traditional chypre sally – a bitter, bracing bergamot – except here it feels more lemony and sparkling than the Mitsouko bergamot, which has an aged, darkened feel to it no matter the iteration or vintage. A wave of champagne-like bergamot, then, to usher in a velvet heart of peach, rose, and iris, held aloft by a bed of what smells like real oakmoss. The peach and spices develop into a sticky compote that darkens and thickens with time – part jammy fruit, part leathery peach skin. It smells delicious – not fully gourmand thanks to the bitter facets of the iris, bergamot, lemon, and moss – but also not as forbidding and dusty as Mitsouko.

Beyond the peach and the lemon, Shangri-La is actually all about the jasmine for me. I wore it to bed one night and woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by the unmistakable, creamy scent of night-flowering jasmine petals.

Bubbling just underneath the skin of this peach and jasmine combo is something enticingly dirty-sexy and musky. Could it be a touch of castoreum, perhaps, or a not-so-clean musk? The mystery note is not explained, although I am sure it is not civet, because the dirtiness is warm and round, not sharp or urinous. Possibly it’s the jasmine, although I don’t think the more indolic Sambac jasmine has been used here – there’s a smooth fruitiness that suggests jasmine grandiflorum.

Either way, the overall effect is of a deep, sensual fruity-floral chypre that does indeed feel like a true chypre from top to bottom, but also has a welcome sexiness to it that would make me want to wear it in more relaxed situations than would normally call for a more uptight chypre.

It’s on my hit list, for sure.

Chypre Floral Oriental Leather Oriental Tobacco Tonka Woods

Molinard Habanita

September 18, 2015

Molinard Habanita is a giant in a field of gnats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chypre Review Summer White Floral

Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela

June 30, 2015

I felt something give in me when I smelled Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela for the first time. Something about it bypasses the thinking part of my brain and goes straight to the heart. I know that sounds very Barbara Cartland, and I do apologize, but when you smell as many perfumes as I do, you learn not to ignore those rare times that you are moved by a perfume. And Au Delà moves me.

It is partly to do with memory. Loaded with moss, coriander, and neroli, the opening recalls the ‘summer tennis’ fourgeres favored by my father – I am thinking of Eau Sauvage in particular. There is a dry, herbal touch of hay, I imagine, and a whole lifetime of summers unfolds in my mind’s eye. The neroli smells bright and smoky, like singed lemon peel. But the fresh, aromatic start turns out to be a diversion, and while your imagination is busy batting tennis balls, the real cast of notes is moving quietly onto the stage.

Because what Au Delà really is is a white floral. Normally, I can’t stand white florals. To me, they are like a massive slab of Triple Crème Brie left in the heat of the afternoon sun to ooze across the cheese plate – a little bit is nice, but the thought of more leaves me nauseous. Worse than the unchecked richness, for me, is the lack of bone structure. White florals just….collapse… all over your personal space, like a blowsy blonde barfly ten years past her prime.

But what Bruno Fazzolari has achieved with Au Delà is to create a white floral with a backbone and a clear sense of purpose. Although the jasmine and orange blossoms are as honeyed and indolic as you might imagine, they manage to float above the base in a green, crisp haze that satisfies without making you feel sick. The dark, saline amber and moss in the base give it a chypre feel, and bring it within touching distance of the 1950’s revivalist style of 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel), Promesse de L’Aube and Enlevement au Serail (Parfums MDCI). It is every bit as ravishingly beautiful as these perfumes.

However, Au Delà differs from these great ‘new’ chypres by virtue of being more botanical in its focus, and far less abstract – in other words, the jasmine in Au Delà is recognizable as jasmine, the neroli as neroli, and so on. Au Delà also has a warmer, more ‘human’ feel to it than any of the aforementioned perfumes, in large part due to the skin-salt finish of the ambery base. It is an uncluttered perfume with a direct message.

And in its simplicity lies the key to its snappy elegance. One of my favorite quotes from Paul Coehlo is as follows: “Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be.” This might as well have been written about Au Delà and the perfumer’s intent as anything else in life. A modern floral masterpiece, in my opinion, and joins Une Fleur de Cassie as one of my favorite floral perfumes ever.

Chypre Immortelle Iris Masculine Review Woods

Etat Libre d’Orange Afternoon of a Faun

June 29, 2015

Etat Libre d’Orange Afternoon of a Faun is NOT an oriental, powdery, spicy leather as the notes might suggest. Nope, this one muscles its way into the green chypre category with an overall vibe halfway between a drenched forest and a bowl full of crushed iris roots. It’s described as an aromatic, spicy scent on Fragrantica and as an incense-leather oriental here, but actually, it comes off as a scorched-earth chypre.

It shouldn’t work. But the contrast of wet, bitter green iris and the dry woods is all kinds of addictive.

I love the way it takes me on a ride every time I put it on. It reminds me somewhat of a vintage No. 19 pure parfum I had from the 1950’s which had turned badly – it shares something of that singed woods and burned coffee smell the parfum had. But in contrast, Afternoon of a Faun smells really good to me.

Right away, the strangeness of the immortelle note is apparent. It adds a sticky, savory syrup note, like sugared hay boiled down in whiskey. This has the effect of injecting the chilly green halls of No. 19 with streaks of autumnal warmth. So, for once, you have a damp, mossy chypre that smells….warm, human, sunny almost. It makes this an exceedingly comfortable wear without sacrificing an ounce of its stylish swagger, like a pair of fabulous, wide-cut slacks that are both comfortable and capable of making you look like Marlene Dietrich.

I love, love, love the textures at play in Afternoon of a Faun too. The opening is sort of damp and glazed, like the patina from old wood that you’ve just loving rubbed with oil. The immortelle adds a spicy, vegetal syrupy feel, and orris butter a creamy, rooty smell and texture. It is sweet, but also dry and slightly spicy, like good old wood.

In the dry down, the most amazing transformation in texture takes place – it sheds any sticky or wet feel it may have add, and becomes dry and smoky, like ash smoldering in the grate. At this stage, the immortelle smells like slightly burned coffee, which is a wonderfully dry, aromatic smell that I really enjoy.

In fact, I feel comfortable characterizing this as a dry, smoky iris perfume with a significant green/woody aspect to it. It smells like a real chypre too, even without oakmoss, so hats off to the folks at ELDO for proving that you can still produce a fantastic perfume that smells like the real deal rather than a sad sack imitation of what once was.

Chypre Immortelle Review

Amouage Beloved Woman

June 29, 2015

Amouage Beloved Woman is beautifully done. But what strikes me most about it is that it is clearly Amouage’s homage to that great classic, Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir, just as surely as Jubilation 25 is a homage to classic French fruity chypres such as Rochas Femme or Diorella.

Beloved Woman opens up with a bitter, powdered clove, lavender, and sage combination that smells as aromatic and as talc-like as one of those quaint gentlemen’s colognes you might find at Penhaglion’s, or indeed a modern interpretation of a Dandy perfume, such as Histoires de Parfums’ 1876. There is a certain spicy, resinous, talc-like feel that links all these fragrances in my mind.

But more than anything, the rose, the hay-like chamomile, the sage all sing a tune that is familiar to me from my lovely, pagan, mother earth Aromatics Elixir. AE is earthier, dirty with patchouli, and far more ‘deep down in the forest’ than Beloved. Beloved is a fine lady, and AE is a hippy mom. But the essential bone structure is there. One was like the other in a different life, and all that.

The rose note in Beloved is pretty remarkable. Hidden behind the aromatic powder of the opening, you might miss it at first, but then it swells in intensity, rising up from a crumble of dusty potpourri rose petals to become a big, juicy rose fluffed out by moisture. The rose lingers for a while in a pool of boozy, hay-like immortelle, for a combination that is simultaneously syrupy and dry, sweet and savory. The immortelle adds a lovely ‘baked grass’ note to the florals and makes it feel less rarified than the start.

The dry down of Beloved is more pedestrian and standard-Amouage-oriental fare than its ‘Classic French’ opening and heart. After the herbal chypre dressing gown is dropped to her ankles, Beloved lurches off into a dry, resinous base made up of cedar, a heavily spiced musk, and a fairly bitter olibanum (Frankincense). This part’s a bit of a snooze after the impressive first half, but it’s still an Amouage base, so you know things weren’t done on the cheap or stuffed full of nasty, cheap woody ambers.

Beloved is unquestionably a beautiful, almost intoxicating perfume, but I won’t be spending any money on it. For one, it is over-priced, even within the usual standards for an Amouage fragrance, and for my money, Aromatics Elixir performs a similar trick of making the wearer feel womanly, powerful, and in control of her own fate, but at almost ten times less the cost of one bottle of Beloved. That said, there is an uneasy beauty about it that moves me, and I put it down to the bitter-liquorish, golden afternoon note of immortelle, casting its warmth over the cool, forest-like tones of the rest of the fragrance.

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