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Hiram Green Dilettante

July 8, 2016

I’ve been very run down recently, both in body and spirit. I have a nasty eye infection that has caused my left eye to swell up like a baboon’s arse, and although I have always been rather plain, this sudden lurch towards outright ugliness has thrown me into a deep funk. (I would like to be all “Little Women” about this, but it turns out I have no depth of character, only a succession of shallow pools).

But there are two bright spots in my gloom. Well, three if you count my children, but since they are so unreliable in their light-bestowing capacity, I won’t. The first was the totally unexpected gift by a friend of a small Le Rouge Lipstick by Givenchy included in a transatlantic perfume swap. I loved the perfumes, of course, but I was delighted by the rouge. With my face looking like a freshly-peeled potato, the swipe of labia-pink lipstick was exactly what the doctor ordered for my looks and overall mood. I might look like the back of a van, but my lips are on point.

The second bright spot was a small vial of Hiram Green’s new fragrance, Dilettante, which he had thoughtfully sent me with a note explaining that this was a fruity-floral  scent, “fresh, sweet and ideal for the summer months.” This description, plus the fact that the scent was orange blossom-focused, made me feel even grumpier. Surely when you’re down, you need something that matches the blackness of your soul, not the keys to Disneyland.

But I was wrong – Dilettante is not only very lovely, but is a perfume that deals in pure joy. I am doling out my sample in small drops because I take my orange blossom in therapeutic doses, like pure vitamin C on the tongue. Dilettante is a tonic; a shot in the arm. I kind of feel like Madonna.

The first few moments of the fragrance are like getting a full hit on a whole orange tree – the green, waxy leaves, the bitter rind, the pulp, and the bark. I can’t adequately describe all the different shades of green I smell in the opening of Dilettante, but it’s kind of like driving in Ireland on a summer’s day and catching a glimpse of the colors of the fields and trees, with their gold-green, pollen-green, grey-green, jungle-green, rapeseed-green and so on whirling gently into one verdant ribbon streaming at the sideline of your vision.

It’s quite oily and heavy at the start, as if all the natural oils and absolutes are fighting each other for dominance, but it also manages to feel green and fresh. It is strongly aromatic, and I sense the presence of lavender as well as the petigrain.

After a few minutes, the intensely green, orangey topnotes settle down and the more floral orange blossom begins to bloom. But I have to thank Hiram Green with all my heart here, because the naturally syrupy sweetness of the orange blossom is cut with those sharp green notes, making it the one orange blossom-focused fragrance that I think I could wear on a regular basis rather than just doling it out like Echinacea.

Dilettante grows ever more floral as time goes by, eventually settling into a pale green wax heart that smells like pure neroli oils being mixed by hand into molten beeswax, or the cushioned air of an upscale massage parlor. There may be some jasmine, but I mainly smell beeswax, neroli, orange oil, and the slight caramelized edge of lavender. I don’t find it particularly indolic, but rather waxy, gentle, and floral-aromatic in a muted way.

For a natural perfume, the longevity and sillage as impressive. I found this to be the case also with Voyage and Shangri-La. But better yet, the base is not just some lazy fading out into green soapy vagueness as with most other orange blossom scents, but contains a little surprise animal kick to reward those willing to hang around for it – a salty, skanky “licked-skin” note that is very sensual.

Although I have no idea what Hiram Green used for the base, I suspect it is either a vegetal musk derived from ambrette seed or a tincture of real ambergris. There was a beached whale recently in the Netherlands, and although it was the Indian company Ajmal that bought the huge chunk of ambergris hacked out of its gut for an undisclosed figure, I’d like to think that someone slipped Mr. Green, who himself lives in the Netherlands, a small chunk of ambergris to tinker with.

Dilettante is not at all, as the name implies, trite. It is a sunny, orangey fragrance first and foremost but there is shading here that adds complexity. And the way that animalic, musky base slides in at the end – well, that shows that the perfumer is no amateur.

On the other hand, I’d imagine that this is the first Hiram Green fragrance that would appeal to a broader, more commercial market, because it is an easy-to-enjoy citrusy fragrance that lasts a long time and just smells so darned, uncomplicatedly good. You don’t need to know much about fragrance to enjoy Dilettante, unlike perhaps with his previous perfumes where it might help to have some experience with chypres, tuberose soliflores, or complex orientals. Dilettante requires no learning curve. It is a true elixir of vitamin C for people with troubled souls and sore, weeping eyes.

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.

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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.

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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.

Floral Jasmine

Jasmines in Rome, Part II: Parfums de Nicolai Number One Intense

May 17, 2016

On my second day in Rome, there I was having lunch with my husband in one of our favorite restaurants in Trastevere, La Scala, when lo and behold, a friend of mine happened to walk past with her partner! After dragging them in and making them taste all our food, we discovered that neither Ana nor George were enjoying Rome very much. They thought it too gritty, too dirty, and the people a little gruff. They’d even had bad pizza the night before, which in Italy is like turning up to an orgy and finding everyone already engaged. I’d imagine.

My husband, being a lover of Rome, felt that all they needed was a little bit of good pizza to start seeing Rome in a good light. Me, I suggested perfume. There happened to be, I suggested innocently, a little niche perfume store just down the road, would the men mind waiting….?

The men did indeed mind waiting, a fact they made clear in very loud, complaining tones of voices that we, however, could no longer hear, because we had long since disappeared into the cozy gloom of Roma Store. Looking back at them through the window, I saw that they had adopted the centuries-old stance of men waiting on women – dazed, slightly defeated, and weighed down by shopping bags.

So Ana and I proceeded to smell all of the perfumes in the shop. We both wanted to test Map of the Heart v4, said to be Feu d’Issey smell-alike and an artistic achievement in its own right. We thought it smelled a bit like fruity, milky vomit, and on my skin in particular, there appeared a slight biscuity undertone, like standing really, really close to someone who’d just eaten a packet of McVities digestives.

Spotting a big bottle of Parfums de Nicolai Number One Intense, I grabbed it and sprayed it on the back of my arm. I was immediately transported. This was a Chypre, Goddammit. A real-life, honest-to-goodness Chypre with a capital C. In the middle of all these cool, trendy, somewhat “out there” niche perfumes, this perfume felt like the air was splitting open to reveal a third dimension, allowing me to slip into a dark, cool forest, its atmosphere sodden with the inky, bitter smell of oakmoss absolute and thick with jasmine.

“Smell this,” I urged Ana, excited and grinning like a love-struck fool, “Now this is a real chypre, right?” Ana smelled my arm, and made a little face. “A little bit too polite,” she said, “A real ladies-who-lunch kind of scent. Not sensual enough for me.” She also noted that it was more about tuberose than jasmine, and that it also smelled a little like Odalisque, which she owns. And she is correct, of course, on both scores. But I can’t explain it – right there, at that moment, this unassuming little thing – a De Nicolai! – was the most exciting thing in the shop for me.

When I got back to the apartment that night, I looked up the reviews, and to my surprise, they backed Ana up on the general tone of the fragrance – a nice, somewhat staid white floral in the classical French manner. Patricia de Nicolai had won the Mouillette d’Or for Best International Perfume Creator in 1989 with Number One.

But I insisted – no, no, I smell oakmoss! This is surely a floral chypre. A sexy, jasmine-soaked chypre with a dark, womanly feel to it. I convinced myself that I needed it in my life and that I’d be the only person on earth to divine the true sexual, earth mother, Goddess-like nature of this perfume that everyone else thought was boring. I would walk the streets leaving a trail of devastated men in my wake. So, after a month of humming and hawing I ordered a small bottle of it directly from Parfums de Nicolai.

Yeah, so….I was wrong.

This is not sexy. It’s also, as Fragrantica and Basenotes correctly identified, not a chypre but a white floral. There is a smidgen of oakmoss absolute in the formula, but it’s not enough, no, not nearly enough, to spread a much-needed dark, velvety layer of forest under the feet of the sumptuous white florals.

And without the chypre bitterness, this is truly all about a big block of white flowers – orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose – bleeding into each other and smoothing out any of the individual, interesting identifiers of each flower. There are no fruity indoles from the jasmine, no buttery, mentholated weirdness from the tuberose, and no honeyed orange notes from the orange blossom.

It’s, well, it’s “Nights in White Satin” (“I looooovvveee yeeeewwwwww”) and shoulder pads and big hair, and it’s also, clearly, Giorgio.

downloadA friend of mine wears this, but she is a young, hot, sexy girl who has hordes of men panting after her. I think that in order to wear something as old-fashioned as Number One, you have to either wear it with irony, or you have to be beautiful enough yourself to subvert the essential staidness of the fragrance.

But I’m mostly too tired to be ironic, and I’m not cool or sexy enough to make it ripe. I guess I’ll have to reserve it for those special occasions when I want to clear an elevator and make people hate perfume all over again.

Floral Jasmine White Floral

Jasmines in Rome: Part I – Santa Maria Novella Gelsomino

May 4, 2016

I was in Rome for a few days in early April this year. Not having been anywhere without my kids since January 2013, I had to be restrained from running through the streets naked, crying “FREEEEDDDOOOMMM” in my best William Wallace voice.

It was a trip for once not centered on the furtive pursuit of perfume – the sudden sideways lunge into a perfume shop with an urgent, pleading “I’ll just be in here for a minute” being a well-known feature of rare family trips to cities that might conceivably stock a range of perfume that extends beyond Tommy Hilfiger and Beyonce.

I had promised my long-suffering husband that there would be no perfume. That we would be doing nothing for those four days but walking, eating long, uninterrupted lunches, drinking a cup of coffee without having to reheat it, and having real conversations for four days. I was looking forward to it. It was going to be a blast, you know? All that walking. All that conversing.

And yet, and yet…..perfume conspired to find me.

Did you know that the center of Rome smells like horses? And therefore, like jasmine?

Near the Spanish Steps, rows of mangy-looking beasts are lined up, waiting to drag hot and irritated tourists around the city. There they stand, in deep misery, flicking flies off their rumps with their tails and dumping great big piles of shit all over the cobblestones.

Get near them and the air positively throbs with the smell of hot horseflesh, the heavy miasma of sweated-in dander from their mane, and the inky, dark, quasi-indolic smell of their poo. Add to that the smell of worn leather from their harnesses, and you have a swirling, foetid maze of scent that is similar in many ways to the dirtier facets of a good Sambac jasmine.

Apparently, the indoles present in jasmine mimic the molecular structure of the indoles in horse poo and in the scent of their mane and tail (sweat, indoles, dander). Many people find Sarassins by Serge Lutens to share a common note with a horse’s mane, but the more I wear Sarassins, the cleaner and fruiter I find it, especially once the shocking indoles at the start are dispensed with. Its soft, fruity, musky tail is no longer one I’m obsessed with.

Still, I hadn’t expected to find my perfectly horsey jasmine bliss in a bottle in the Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.

I had conspired to “wander” casually by the Rome Santa Maria Novella location with my husband (having, of course, plotted my route via Google Maps several months in advance). “Oh look!” I exclaimed, as innocently as I could, “A cute little pharmacy! Let’s see if they have any Compeed.”

The Gelsomino was the one that grabbed me by the throat. I didn’t like it much at first, because it smelled like jasmine essential oils always smell to me – exuberant, fruity, and always (despite the price) slightly coarse or cheap. There were elements of grape jam, melting plastic, fuel fumes, purple bubblegum for kids – a full-throated, smeary Italian jasmine that’s all fur coat and no knickers.

My husband said it smelled like cheap soap, specifically the smell of jasmine soap that someone has used to try and cover up a bad smell in the bathroom.

But I was beginning to be intoxicated by its healthy vulgarity, its I-do-not-give-a-shit insouciance, so I drenched myself even further, giving myself a real whore’s bath right there in front of the slightly shocked Japanese girl whose job it was to carefully remove the bottles I requested to smell from the massive wooden armoire where they were stored.

Let me tell you, this is a perfume that comes into its own when you walk it around a hot city for six or seven hours. It was unseasonably hot in Rome – already 27, 28 degrees Celsius in early April. As the day wore on, I got progressively grimier, and so did Gelsomino. Now it smelled truly dirty, slightly sour, like human skin trapped under the sweaty plastic wristband on a cheap watch, or the scent of the leather strap on your handbag after it’s been rubbing against your bare shoulder bone on a hot summer’s day.

To me, it smelled exactly like those horses near the Spanish Steps did – worn-down, sweaty, sour, truly jasmine-like. A sort of Sarassins in reverse, with all of the fruity, innocent lushness and musky, soapy feel up top, and a sour horsey stink in the tail.

My husband sniffed it towards the end, and shook his head. It smells like hay and horse poo and leather now, doesn’t it, I marveled. No, he said, you are wrong. It smells like stale piss. Please don’t buy that one. Please.

The next day, when I bought it, I consoled my husband by telling him I had bought the smallest bottle possible. “Look,” I said, holding up the teeny tiny bottle for him to see, “Only 8ml.” Oh that’s ok then, said my husband, relieved and kind of proud I had taken his feelings into consideration.

(It was the super-powerful, super-long-lasting Triple Extract).

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.

Aldehydes Barbershop Floral Independent Perfumery

Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig

November 3, 2015

All of Bruno Fazzolari’s perfumes are interesting. Some are interesting and beautiful (Au Dela) and some are interesting and edgy (Room 237). Seyrig is interesting and repellent.

It’s a total head trip, this perfume. It transports me on a whoosh of hairspray aldehydes to a bathroom in the 1970’s, where a man in Stetsons is combing his sideburns and sweet talking his own reflection, the bathroom mirror fogging up with the soapy fumes of his bath water and the copious amounts of Aqua Velva he’s just emptied onto himself.

There are other smells in this bathroom too. His wife has been in recently, the memory of a violent application of hairspray lingering with its chemical aftertaste, and his daughter with her precious lilac soaps taken out, used, and then carefully reinserted in their plastic wrapping, the gentle floral aroma floating through the bathroom fog and bringing a maudlin smile to Daddy’s face.

Under that, the clean-dirty stink that Luca Turin called “other people’s bathrooms”, this one’s aggressively sanitized atmosphere not only failing to eliminate the odors of the man’s morning ablutions but serving to accentuate them, the way that a can of air freshener will always make a stink worse. The chemically clean fizz of the bright blue urinal cake dropped hurriedly down the bog offends in its hyper-cleanliness, smelled as it must be against the gloomy backdrop of human waste.

Seyrig is a huge aldehydic floral. But these are not the creamy, pretty aldehydes of the old Chanels. Seyrig’s aldehydes – deliberately chemical, astringent, fused with herbs and flowers – mirror the style of certain Italian perfumers such as Angelo Pregoni (O’Driu) and Antonio Gardoni (Bogue) who use aldehydes in a knowing, ironic kind of way, as a sort of inverted commas on a trip down memory lane peopled by fantastic Big Bitch aldehydes from Arpege all the way to No. 22. These guys make aldehydes butch, not bitch. Subversive and ugly, they come out of the bottle swinging at you with all the pent-up fury of a Travis Bickle.

With Seyrig, Bruno Fazzolari layers these hostile aldehydes over a pretty red mandarin, some fey rose de mai, and a soapy syringa note, hardly notes possessed of the strength of character needed to stand up to the assault. A musky base brings up the rear, in every sense of the word. It’s not dirty per se, but it does bring a feeling of something unclean. The florals are besides the point here – they float prettily through the perfume – but do little else. The main impression is of a bathroom aggressively cleaned with Cillit Bang and Toilet Duck but with the lingering undertow of the collected smells – pleasant and unpleasant – that we humans leave behind.

I absolutely hate it. Every minute it was on my skin was a trial. But I have to hand it to the perfumer – it’s a perfume that painted a crystal clear image in my head, and given that most perfumes leave only a blurred, vague impression, that’s really saying something. In fact, in terms of transportative immediacy, its power is matched only by something like L’Air du Desert Marocain. Just don’t make me wear it, please.

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