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The Perfumes of Anatole Lebreton

December 31, 2015

Recently I had the great experience of testing all four perfumes in the sample kit offered by Anatole Lebreton. You can order the sample set here for €6.50 delivered within Europe (which is a great deal!). Here are my thoughts:

Bois Lumiere

Bois Lumiere begins with a green, slightly wet honey – a bit dirty, as if it’s just passed from the arse-end of a bee onto your skin. But that slightly awkward phase passes quickly, transitioning smoothly into a soft, dry haze of a scent – a sort of paean to lazy summer days spent lying amongst the tall meadow grasses, making daisy chains with your children. Tender and melancholic, Bois Lumiere pairs a sour-ish honey with sun-bleached woods and a dry immortelle note that smells more like dried hay than the usual maple syrup. What is interesting is that these slightly green-gold hay notes get submerged into a thick pool of beeswax, the whole scent turning on a dime from dry grass one moment to molten wax the next.

The notes make it sound like it’s heavy – but it’s not. It’s a luminous, almost transparent wear, with a scent close to the feel and smell of the steam coming off a cup of chamomile tea. In fact, when I sniffed this blind, I thought the immortelle was actually chamomile – there is a dried hay aroma to both. There is a charming rustic feel to Bois Lumiere, a sort of idealized picture of a day out in the country. I find this to be a characteristic of the four Anatole Lebreton perfumes I’ve tested – they all paint a very specific landscape or scene, using childlike brush strokes in the faux-naïve style to bring out primitive emotions and memories in the wearer. They’re real heart-tuggers, these perfumes.

Since it is a honey scent, is it animalistic? Well, yes, but only in the sense that the honey we eat at breakfast still has the heavy scent of the bee about it. Bois Lumiere is suggestive in the same way as the rose-honey-wax notes in Cologne Pour Le Soir are: not smelling of either urine or sex, but of the sweet and sour aroma of silk stockings slowly peeled from heated flesh, complete with the enticing scent of clean female fur at the end of a long day. That Bois Lumiere ends up in the same flurry of the warm vanillic resin of benzoin is another line drawn to the wonderful Cologne Pour Le Soir. Is there room for another slightly sour, slightly animalic honey-beeswax-benzoin perfume in my life? Maybe, just maybe…..

L’Eau de Merzhin

L’Eau de Merzhin is the standout of the Lebreton line, in my opinion. The opening has all the dewy, wet, greenness of real-life plants and grasses, as well as the unpretentious cheerfulness of meadow flowers like daffodils, mimosa, and wood violets. It is an opening thick with pollen and crawling with life.

It also strikes me that this could be the inverse of Bois Lumiere, in that L’Eau de Merzhin starts off in the damp undergrowth of a meadow at dawn and Bois Lumiere is the same meadow at high noon, complete with the honeyed smell of sun-baked hay. The opening is almost hallucinogenic in its dripping-wet, juicy ripeness, and I’m reminded of the breath-taking beauty of other famous floral openings, such as De Profundis and Ostara. Despite myself, I am moved, oh, I am moved! I am such a sap for openings like this.

L’Eau de Merzhin loses most of this stemmy verdancy when it transitions into the heart, which seems (to me) to share a common accord with Bois Lumiere, specifically that steamy chamomile tea or sun-baked hay aspect. But where the hay in Bois Lumiere is wrapped up in a sweet, molten beeswax and syrupy, grassy immortelle, giving it a sort of golden, lazy afternoon sort of atmosphere, the hay or chamomile tea aspect here is greener and more herbal. I sense the juicy, snapped-stalk touch of angelica here. Heading off into the drydown, the galbanum adds its pine-like coolness, as well as a touch of lime peel.

It’s great. Something about the midsection gives me pause for thought, though, as it reminds me strongly of the mossy, slightly soapy neroli-inflected musk in the dry down of Acqua di Parma’s Colonia Assoluta, even though there don’t seem to be any notes connecting the two. Perhaps there is some unlisted white musk in this, or even some neroli, who knows? Anyway, the mind association, however tenuously or incorrectly made, happens to be a pleasant one, as I’ve owned and loved Colonia Assoluta in the past. I would actually consider getting a bottle of L’Eau de Merzhin in the summer as a replacement for my Assoluta – I think it would work brilliantly, me horsing around with the kids on the beach, and smelling like salty hay, wet green grasses, and moss.

Despite what I’ve said about the greenness of this fragrance, though, the prevailing feel in the dry down is that of a sweet, grassy creaminess – there’s no sharp green sting in the tail here, just an utterly comfortable wear that happens to evoke a dew-wet meadow and the shadows of a forest edging it.

Incarnata

Incarnata is supposed to evoke the scent of a vintage lipstick, and for a few moments it does, with the quasi-stale mien of cosmetic wax created by that clash of sweet violet (or rose) and stern, grey orris root we’ve seen before in every cosmetic scent from Misia to Lipstick Rose. The only difference is that Incarnata ramps this lipstick accord to the nth degree, and it’s rather fun feeling like you’re being pressed up against a wall by a giant tube seething with violet ionones and iris rhizomes. It’s a lipstick on steroids, yo.

The heart is something I’m not so keen on. If this lipstick was a person, the middle section would be that awkward teen phase, complete with angry outbursts and the occasional bout of violence. Basically, Incarnata sidesteps the pillow-soft landing normally used in lipstick scents and instead pairs a rather black, aggressive myrrh with a sharp raspberry leaf note and a green-ish amber, fusing them into a sharp, almost mint-like green resinousness that slices through the cloud of lipstick prettiness like a shark fin.

The resin adds vigour and backbone to what might otherwise be (eventually) a very bland cosmetics accord. It’s bright and fresh, which is not something you can normally say about myrrh or amber. But on the other hand, the slight mint and vetiver undertones are simply unpleasant to my nose – there is something too jutting about the combination. I am left feeling like I am wearing a smear of old lipstick, cut with the brackish, stale vase water from a bunch of mint that someone left out on the kitchen windowsill for too long. I feel a bit cheated – I came into this expecting lipstick and a bed stuffed with rose petals and white musk with which to break my fall, but instead I’ve cut my foot on a broken bottle.

The drydown is a return to the lipsticky waxiness of the start, but now dialed down to a hush and supported by a very fine, iris-tinted suede (or suedois) base. It is creamy and slightly sweet, with only trace amounts of the green amber, resinous myrrh, and sharp raspberry notes still apparent here and there.

Still, though – that awkward midsection…hmmmm. Given my fondness for lipstick fragrances, it’s possible that I could train myself away from my aversion to the heart notes. But it gives me pause for thought. I think Incarnata is a scary, massive lipstick up front, which is what I like about it, but it loses the plot after the topnotes fade away. Half the point about lipstick fragrances is that they’re supposed to be taken at face value – they are fun, beautiful in a simple, girlish way, and we are not supposed to try and make a more worthy scent out of them. Incarnata tries to inject a dose of salt and resin and beardy intellectualism into my beloved lipstick wax and it just ain’t happening. It’s a good fragrance alright, maybe too ambitious for the genre it’s shooting for. Ultimately, it’s just not to my personal taste.

L’Eau Scandaleuse

Wow – what a massive opening! L’Eau Scandaleuse barrels out of the bottle like an enraged bull, all gasoline-soaked tarpaulins and leather chaps a la Knize Ten, its power coming from a turbo-charged tuberose that smells like smoked, charred rubber. Fuel, rubber, leather, smoke – it’s all there, upfront, ready to knock you off your feet. It’s an impressive opening, making me think briefly of the opening to Lonestar Memories with its orangey creosote note and rubber-tire-on-a-fire accord.

But like with Lonestar Memories, L’Eau Scandaleuse loses all its interesting, smoky, ugly rubber bits – the bits that make it interesting – very quickly, collapsing into a pleasant orange blossom-driven leather with a musky tuberose support. I want more drama! More smoke! And for longer! Maybe I should just bite the bullet and buy Knize Ten or Lonestar Memories.

Later on, L’Eau Scandaleuse reminds me strongly of Tubereuse 3 by Histoires de Parfums, which I own and like, but have to be in the mood for. The rubbery leather chypre under-dressing continues to be interesting to me, because the rubber cuts the creaminess of the tuberose and the soapiness of the orange flower. To me, this small kernel of leather smells very much like the stiff brown coat leather (with mossy, coriander-leaf undertones) in my vintage Jolie Madame and Miss Balmain – that leaf-mulchy, murky brown-grey-green type of leather accord that feels stout and old-fashioned. It’s very 1970’s actually, and I like it. But – ack! Do you spot a common refrain here? L’Eau Scandaleuse reminds me too much of perfume that I already know and love. It’s beautiful but lacks the stinging slap of the new.

All in all, four very solid, even beautiful perfumes by Anatole Lebreton, with a classicizing bent and a respect for quality materials that is very evident. Everyone should test these, especially if you are someone who has seen what other non-classically trained perfumers have had to say in the past few years, such as Liz Moores of Papillon, and Hiram Green, and are excited to see what another talented, passionate perfume maker can add to that conversation.

Gourmand Immortelle Sandalwood Woods

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau

December 18, 2015

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau smells – at first – like the air in a food product preparation lab, where the air swirls with all kinds of flavor molecules added to enhance our perception of what we’re actually eating.

I don’t think Jeux de Peau is foody per se (because it is not something that tempts me to eat it), but I do think it relies heavily on food aromachemical notes to produce it overall effect. I smell cylotene, a molecule that tastes of slightly burned maple syrup, bread, and coffee beans and is often added to real maple syrup to enhance the flavor/smell, and pyrazines, synthesized molecules responsible for the very intense smell of coffee, chocolate, woods, and bread brought to burning point under intense heat.

Like other pyrazine-rich perfumes, such as Aomassai, Un Bois Vanille, and Eau Noire, the effect in Jeux de Peau is intensely aromatic to the point where it can smell somewhat overcooked, or burned to a crisp, and like those other perfumes, a licorice or anise note has been added to underscore the deep “black” nuances.

The butyric undertone to the sandalwood is taken to the limits here, so it smells both richly oily and more than a little rancid, like a butter dish left out to fester under a hot lamp. When the toasted bread notes meet the buttery oilslick, the effect is unhealthy in that doughy, yeasty way that always reminds me of when a businessman slips off his loafers on a plane – that steamy odor of slightly-cooked feet pervading a closed-in space, always the same regardless of how spotless his socks, shoes, or feet actually are. The opening of Jeux de Peau forces that same unwanted intimacy on me, and I fight through it, gnashing my teeth until the intensity dissipates somewhat.

In the heart, the overly rich, stale butter notes are cut with a dash of salt, which I think is coming from a very herbal licorice or anise note, and the grassy, spicy tones of immortelle. The savory notes are perfectly balanced here by a delicious and delicate apricot jam accord (osmanthus flower), as well as the gentler milk tones coming out from the sandalwood. The sandalwood in this is just incredible – sweet and salty, richly, brownly aromatic, like an ancient elephant figurine carved from Mysore sandalwood held up to a fire to bring out the aroma hidden deep within its fibers.

Burned toast and butter, you say?

No, Jeux de Peau smells more complex than toast and butter. It also smells a lot less natural. The combined effect is a blur of intense flavor impressions that attract and repel at the same rate. I think it is high art. I am just not convinced that I want to wear it.

Gourmand Herbal Immortelle Masculine Review Spice Vanilla

Dior Privee Eau Noire

October 7, 2015

Dior Privee Eau Noire is a fascinating fragrance, and one of great balance and refinement. It opens up on an almost shockingly bitter, aromatic note, like the burning smell you get when you spill coffee or sugar on a boiling hot stove. Actually, the more I wear this, the more I’ve realized that this ‘burned coffee’ note is actually lavender, which makes sense both coffee and lavender smell piercingly resinous, woody, and ‘roasted’ as if exposed to high heat for too long. It’s pretty genius of Francis Kurkdijan to pair two highly aromatic notes like this – they play off each other so that your nose smells sun-roasted lavender one moment and burned coffee grounds the next.

It is almost too “black” a smell at first. There is a coffee roasting business near my building, and in the early hours of the morning, the owner turns on the roasting machine and starts processing the coffee beans. The smell fills the entire neighborhood. But like with all good, aromatic smells, like herbs or coffee, when you take it too far, like way past burning point, the effect is almost exactly half way between nauseating and attractive. Eau Noire has that effect going on for the first half hour. I am torn between repulsion and attraction, but either way, I can’t stop smelling my wrist.

The dry down is sublime, though, no two ways about it. I can only describe it as an arid, burning cedar smell, giving the impression of dry and hot all at once, like when someone throws water on the stones in a Swedish sauna. It is so parched in effect that it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. The dry, papery vanilla is a delight too – the more I wear it, the more it smells like fresh newspaper pages to me.

So here we have all the elements needed for total relaxation – a good cup of steaming black coffee, a touch of immortelle to provide that interesting salt-sweet twang of Scandinavian licorice, the smell of a sauna heating up, and a good fresh newspaper waiting for you to read. What more could a person want?

Fougere Gourmand Immortelle Review Tonka

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir

September 18, 2015

It’s no coincidence that Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir and Dior Privee Eau Noire are the only two lavender-forward fragrances I can stomach – they are both gourmand takes on the theme.

Eau Noire features a dark roasted coffee/licorice note set against a sun-roasted lavender, and plays off of the aromatic qualities of both. Fourreau Noir goes for contrast: the sharp smoke of the lavender rounded out and softened by a bready, almond-like tonka bean.

The overall effect, for me, is of a lavender-studded cake dripping with a lurid purple sugar glaze, left to smolder a touch too long in the oven and tasting like smoke from the grill.  The deep, almost honeyed tobacco in the dry-down has an intimate, musky skin-like effect that is quite sensual (although not sexy).

As others have stated – this is not a wholly original scent. It mixes known elements from the Serge Lutens line up, most notably the electric-fire-smoked lavender from Gris Clair, the cozy hay/tobacco from the tonka-heavy Chergui, and (to me at least) the slightly urinous combination of tobacco and honey of Fumerie Turque.

But I don’t care – original or not, this is a thick, satisfying fragrance that swings between fougere and gourmand, male and female, and smoke and cream. I don’t mind scents that are extrapolations of others as long as the end result is good. And Fourreau Noir is more than good – it’s great.

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.

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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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