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Tauer Perfumes Attar AT: A Review

November 20, 2017

I hadn’t understood how big a role that cultural misappropriation, or rather the perception of cultural misappropriation, played in the evaluation of attars until I read a comment on a Basenotes interview I did with JK DeLapp of Rising Phoenix Perfumery, which read as follows: “Looking forward to trying it and appreciate the perspective on Attars, but also giving the side-eye to another American appropriating an other’s work and culture and claiming he knows better and can do better.”

 

Funny gif aside, he is making the point that only people of Eastern culture (Indian, Far East, of the Islamic or Hindi faiths, etc.) truly understand how to make an attar, and that Westerners doing it is either a cynical cash grab or a case of cultural misappropriation.

 

This comment, whether founded or not, raises the crucial question of how attar perfumery is perceived in the West. I have noticed a certain awestruck tendency towards attars by Westerners, a kind of mass reverence for the genre, as if all attars and oils hitting our shores were uniformly possessed the magic of the Orient simply because they originated there. This is rubbish, of course.

 

First of all, speaking as someone who has tested hundreds of attars and mukhallats from almost every major brand from Amouage to Surrati, I can tell you that there is as much dreck coming out of the East as there is from the West. I’d estimate the percentage of truly sublime attars or mukhallats at about 5-10% of the mass, which is roughly equal to the hit rate in Western perfumery. Unfortunately, because these oils carry mysterious names, come in a little gold bottle, and are from an exotic-sounding house like Rasasi or Al Haramain, the consumer is psychologically primed to find them amazing even if they’re aren’t. Even Amouage has attars that are dull, nasty, or just plain unimpressive.

 

Second, it’s not the where (the East) that counts, it’s the who. The best quality attars out there are not being made by the big Gulf or Indian brands in the East but by small-batch artisans with a mostly Western background and upbringing. Sultan Pasha, Ensar of Ensar Oud, JK DeLapp, Al Shareef Oudh, Russian Adam, Dominique Dubrana, and now Andy Tauer – these are all people who, no matter whether they are Muslim or not, are Western by birth, location, or background.

 

I mention this because although some people seem to think it is the exclusive preserve of Easterners to make attars, these days it is actually mostly Westerners that take the care to distill oils in the old manner, hand-blend and macerate formulas, and source the purest raw materials. I like to think that they are taking a certain Western propensity towards precision, authenticity, and attention to detail to bear on an old tradition of perfumery.

 

And now Andy Tauer, himself an artisan in the genre of Western perfumery, has joined this elite group. In a way, it’s a natural fit: Tauer already mixes everything for his perfumes by hand (in a similar fashion to blending an attar) and as a longstanding user of resins, sandalwood, and jasmine, he would have all the necessary contacts in the Middle East to source the materials needed for this.

 

Attar AT is excellent work. It succeeds both as an attar and as an atmospheric set piece in the Tauer manner; it contains exotic raw materials but somehow conjures up more of that tough old Americana (cowboy boots, pilgrims, vast open spaces of the American plains) than it does the East. It opens up as an extract of pure boot leather, with a dense wall of fuel-like jasmine, birch tar, and castoreum-driven leather hitting the nose all at once.

 

But despite the tarry creosote-like tone and the fact that Tauer has used materials like this before, mainly in Lonestar Memories and L’Air du Desert Marocain, Attar AT does not make me think of his other perfumes. The leather, although smoky, is smooth and dark, and, crucially, completely free of competing notes like amber or citrus. There is no Tauerade. It is powerful and concentrated at first, but soon becomes very quiet and almost linear. A rubbery jasmine appears just past the opening notes, relieving, albeit briefly, the almost matte darkness of the leather accord.

 

As an aside, it’s funny how noses differ: my husband smelled this and immediately said that there was jasmine in this, as well as a little bit of oud. I, on the other hand, can only smell the jasmine briefly (it is similar to the phenolic jasmine used in the topnotes of Anubis by Papillon, for reference), and the impression of oudiness is only a background one, playing second fiddle to the leather. However, at a distance and at certain points of the attar’s development, it has something of the leathery, fermented smokiness that I associate with oud oil. In general, I think it’s fair to say that Attar AT genuinely has an oud-like tone to it at times, but that it in no way dominates.

 

Perception of sweetness seems to be subjective, but I’d peg Attar AT as being un-sweet, which is not to say that it is piercingly dry or sour. It is more a question of lacking sweetness in the form of amber or a syrupy floral note; if you know the sappy, sooty darkness of perfumes such as Heeley’s Phoenicia or Le Labo Patchouli 24, then you will know what I mean – an unsentimental, un-sweet darkness that nonetheless possesses so much texture and energy that it never tires the nose. Dusty, dark woods in the base only confirm this impression. There is no creamy sandalwood or welcoming amber in the drydown to placate the sweet tooth, only a continuation of the main accord of dark, smoky birch tar leather.

 

As an attar, Attar AT starts off very strong and dense, but soon loosens up into something much softer and quieter. It wears close to the body and doesn’t project much. However, longevity is excellent. So far, so standard for an attar. But people will want to know if there is anything of Tauer’s synthetic signature in Attar AT: my take is that it doesn’t feel synthetic to my nose at all, but be aware that birch tar in high concentration can have a bitter, metallic sharpness to it that some noses may interpret as synthetic. The only hint of something unnatural comes when you try to wash it off, and then (only then) something synthetic does linger on the piece of skin you’ve just washed.

 

Masculine? Yes. I’d even go so far as to say that this is super-macho, especially during the first couple of hours when the leather is blazing streaks across the sky. Attar AT is more evocative (for me) of the landscapes of the American West than of the deserts of the East; something about it celebrates the good-natured but tough manliness of the men who had to conquer large stretches of the American West on horseback, hungry and alone. This is a theme that seems to course through much of Andy’s work.

 

Having said that, there are plenty of women who like this sort of dry, unemotional scent, and I count myself as one of them. Overall, this is a great *masculine* attar for a very reasonable price, and also yet another addition to the attar genre that proves that you don’t have to be Muslim or be located in the East to make an attar that smells authentically, genuinely good.

 

Notes:  animalic leather, birch tar, Java vetiver, dark dry woods, sandalwood, hints of Jasmine, cistus, and castoreum

Incense Independent Perfumery Leather Oriental Patchouli Resins Review Sandalwood Scent Memory Smoke

Couteau de Poche – Fumabat: A Review

October 25, 2017

 

Couteau de Poche means pocket knife in French, a name you’d think has little connection to an American niche perfume brand until you realize they’re based in Brooklyn and suddenly it all makes sense. The brand’s first perfume, Fumabat, costs a hefty $160 for 50mls, which I’m only paying if it’s served to me in a mason jar by a trustafarian with a man bun.

 

No, no, forgive my good-natured joshing: I’ve only recently let go of my outrage, you see, of having to pay $18 for a spinach frittata the size of an ash tray in Williamsburg earlier this month – it’s not that I don’t understand that the price is the new normal, for both the area and the artisanal side of the niche perfume market.

 

Regular fragrance fans would find that expensive, but for the trendy young hipster with a job, Fumabat is probably justified as a one-off investment into something that will make them feel unique and offbeat. What we in the fragrance community tend to forget is that while we often buy more than one fragrance per month, there’s a whole market of people out there who don’t buy more than one fragrance per year. And since we’re talking about a high value segment of the market – young professionals with a strong need for differentiation and individuality – as a brand it makes sense to hit them up hard on that one transaction.

 

Working through on that logic, does it follow that because Fumabat is not aimed at me, I won’t find it special or noteworthy?

 

Actually, I think Fumabat is pretty striking, although probably not in the way the brand intended. You can read the notes list at the end of this short review if you like, but despite everything pointing to a smoky incense oriental along the same lines as Black Afgano or Sombre Negra, Fumabat actually smells like vintage Opium, specifically the last droplets of vintage parfum that’s evaporated over time until only a smear of brown sludge is left in the vial. Now, what on earth could be going on in this modern, urban, hipster-y perfume to give off such a pronounced retro flavor?

 

Well, let’s break it down. When first applied, the topnotes smells pleasantly of stale but minty furniture lacquer on old furniture or decorative Chinese fans that have been left to fester in a damp, closed-up room for decades. The slightly airless, varnishy smell make me think of certain aged oud oils at first, but then I realize that the notes are triggering a scent memory that goes further back, to my childhood. It takes me a while to pick apart the associations: there is the handsome smell of soap bars kept in clothing drawers, incense sticks, little sandalwood elephants, patchouli oil, and winter coats with last year’s woodsmoke still embedded in the wool.

 

Slowly, I follow the train of thought to my stepmother, a half-Danish, half-Macedonian woman with a gypsy spirit and a talent for making every abode smell like her within minutes of arriving. Her name is Snežana, or Snow White, and for me, the smell of vintage Opium is the closest thing in perfume form that matches the exotic-but-homely maelstrom of aroma that accompanies her. She smells of sandalwood, soap, colorful wool, and incense sticks, and so does Opium.

 

In Fumabat, the direct link is found in its soapy pine and varnishy incense notes, but also quite strongly in the spicy, powdery carnation note that gives Fumabat (and Opium) its balsamic warmth. Actually, from a technical standpoint, it’s possible that the heavy patchouli and oakmoss in the drydown places Fumabat closer to scents such as Paloma Picasso or Norma Kamali Perfume (original) than Opium, but let’s not quibble. The fact is that the strangely vintage “grande dame” perfume vibe will surely strike a familiar chord for anyone that wears or collects the classic patch or spicy sandalwood bombs of the 1970’s.

 

Oddly, as the perfume hits the base, it shakes off the corduroy-brown glaze of the 1970’s, and stepping out from behind its bushy sideburns, reveals itself to be the smoky frankincense scent I thought it was always going to be, based on the notes. With a dry, sooty Somalian frankincense as matte as charcoal, it reminds me very much of Comme des Garcons’ Black, right down to the licorice twist. Lovely, smoky, satisfying stuff….albeit with zero connection to anything that had gone before.

 

On a more basic level, Fumabat is a great WTF perfume. You know, one of those madcap, slightly screwy perfumes that play mind games with you, making you wonder if you’ve got your frame of reference right. As a writer, these moments of self-doubt and “lost-ness” are essential to stop myself from crawling too far up my own arse. It’s possible that I return to this a few months down the line and realize that it’s not even that interesting, let alone good, but at least this review will be here to remind me that Fumabat got me going today.

 

Either way, Fumabat hit right at my emotional gut and connected, which was unexpected, considering the source. I’ll be back in Brooklyn in January, hopefully, so perhaps I’ll swallow the awful indignity of being awkward and un-cool in achingly hip Brooklyn and head round to their place to see them in situ. Let’s just hope they don’t read this poor excuse of a review and block the door.

 

Notes: green tea, galbanum, mint absolute, Bulgarian black pine, carnation, Somalian frankincense, vetiver root, leather, oakmoss, patchouli

Leather

Tom Ford Ombre Leather 16

September 9, 2016

Tom Ford Ombre Leather 16 was launched by Tom Ford to coincide with his A/W 2016 collection, which he debuted on 7th September at New York Fashion Week as an innovative direct-to-market collection (the clothes were available to purchase already the next day, as opposed to the 6 months it usually takes for a collection to hit stores). It’s an interesting concept, releasing a fragrance to drop at exactly the same day as a clothes collection, but then Tom Ford has always been interested in the total look of everything designed under his name.

There is a sleek, potent, almost sexualized glamour to everything Tom Ford puts his hand to. His clothes, perfume, makeup, and even his movie sets all relate perfectly to each other, united by an unchanging dedication to a particular aesthetic that embodies his personal taste. It’s true American luxe – slightly pushy, monochrome stuff that convinces on the richness of the materials alone.

His Ombre Leather 16 is no exception. This is American Haute Luxe at its finest, a rich but dry leather with a smooth ombré effect not unlike the brown-on-brown tones of the set of his movie, A Single Man, where the tonal shifts between mahogany and chocolate and sepia are barely perceptible to the naked eye but still manage to convey the happy meeting of taste and wealth. The fragrance is also, like the movie, ever so slightly soulless.

The leather note is similar to that of Tuscan Leather but here is given a darker, drier treatment – there is no raspberry sweetness and the musky, sueded finish of Tuscan Leather has been swapped out for a very streamlined, almost buttery texture. It slides as seamlessly onto the skin as a handmade shoe slides onto a foot.

Opening on a potent blast of leather, it momentarily skates close to chemical/tanning pungency but thankfully banks back in time. It develops into a rich, sturdy leather that speaks of fantastic wealth, like the interior of a Jaguar or the mingling aromas in a bespoke leather shop on Saville Row. For this reason, I find Ombre Leather 16 to be far more refined and more formal than Tuscan Leather, which seems outdoorsy and rugged in comparison.

Ombre Leather 16 also seems to deftly sidestep all the common faults people pick with leather scents – there is no powder, no excessive floralcy, and crucially for a lot of men out there, it does not in any way resemble the lipsticky, dusty insides of a lady’s handbag.  But neither is this a big, butch leather a la Peau d’Espagne or Rien. It is a masculine, stern, be-suited thing, to be sure, but this is a leather that stays firmly in the boardroom and well away from both fuel-soaked garage and prairie.

All the other listed notes (patchouli, violet leaf, jasmine, white moss, cardamom) are there to pull together towards creating that sumptuous but dry leather accord, and are not incredibly distinct in and of themselves. Towards the start, I can pick out a slightly fresh, watery herbal accent, which I assume is the violet leaf, but the effect is more of a dark, smooth leather that’s been rubbed with something green to put a high shine on it than a note that sings strongly on its own.

Certainly, I can smell a clean, saline moss in the far dry down and shadowy patchouli, but they blend so completely with the leather accord that I see them for what they really are: overlapping building blocks used to create that ombré effect . I thought I picked up on an ambery resin there in the background, which might account for the slight uptick in sweetness in the base of an otherwise dry (unsweet) fragrance, but none is listed.

Longevity is phenomenal – easily 12-18 hours, and projection is pretty good too. It’s a little quieter overall than Tuscan Leather, which makes sense as the character of Ombre Leather 16 is dark, dry, and refined “luxe” as opposed to the more outgoing and cheerful Tuscan Leather.

Let’s just put it this way, – when worn side by side, Ombre Leather 16 is wearing a Saville Row suit while Tuscan Leather is wearing dock shoes and lederhosen. There’s a time and a place for both, but while I appreciate Tuscan Leather, I think Ombre Leather 16 is far better. It’s the 2.0 version.

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.

Incense Iris Leather Smoke Woods

L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha

April 16, 2016

I’ve struggled with L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha for a long time, and even now, three, four years on, I admit that I’m perhaps only halfway towards understanding this brilliant and sometimes frustrating fragrance. Part of my old problem with Dzongkha is that it smells so little like perfume that I am always wrestling with the question “What the fuck am I smelling right now?” Because, depending on the day, the hour, it’s always something different.

I don’t know what I’m smelling, so my mind defaults to the nearest recognizable object.

Most of the time, Dzongkha smells like the steamy aromas caught in the wool of my sweater when making chicken stock – pepper, chicken fat, bones, celery, salt. It smells intensely savory, almost salty, metallic, and most definitely vegetal. On other days, I spray it on, and it is obviously, immediately a very rooty iris, smelling of nothing so much as potato starch or hospital disinfectant. Other times, my nose shortcuts to a glass of whiskey or to the smell of a wet newspaper, its ink running down my fingers, about to disintegrate into mush.

But then again, sometimes the smell of paper is dry and rustling. Sometimes, there is a fiercely pungent boot polish note, as iridescent and blue-black as a bluebottle’s shell. Sometimes, the iris shows me a petrichor side, similar to the flat mineralic smell of drying rocks and tarmac after a rain shower that features so heavily in Apres L’Ondee.

In the background, there is always a strain of green tea leaves, dry-roasted over a campfire, a waft of incense, and a totally puerile-smelling, soapy overlay of fruit and flowers, faint and smudged like the waxy, wet residue of the bottom of a bar of cheap hotel soap left to fester in a dish. There is a purple cheapness to the floralcy here, a cleaning product whose scent nobody has given much thought to other than the brief to contain a smell that is “like a flower” and “opposite to poo”. The first few times I tried Dzongkha, I remember being shocked at the florid, purple floral smell more than any of the weirder stuff.

At some point in Dzongkha’s development, a rubbery, dry leather note emerges and takes center stage, and it puffs on in this mode for the rest of the duration, sweetening and softening quite a bit along the way. It even starts to smell, well, nice. Slightly more like perfume and slightly less than the collected smells of a household.

People are fond of saying that Dzongkha is like Timbuktu but with iris added, but I don’t really get that. For me, Timbuktu is a deceptively simple smoky woods and incense fragrance, with all its magic and power tied up in its uncluttered nature. I wear it to reset my clock when I am feeling upset or out of balance – I find it calming and far more spiritual than any of the acclaimed church incenses out there.

Dzongkha, on the other hand, packs an awful lot of weird stuff into one tight space, and is clearly a Hieronymus Bosch to Timbuktu’s naïve art. When I wear Dzongkha, it distracts me. My mind is agitated, feverishly trying to mentally place all of the odd little flourishes in this library of smells I carry around in my brain. Whether this proves to be stimulating or just plain annoying depends on what kind of day I’m having. So you better believe I think twice before spraying this on.

But still, I spray this on. It’s interesting – it’s art.

There was a thread recently on Basenotes that posed the question of whether L’Artisan Parfumeur was going out of fashion, and there were a fair few people who wrote in to say that, yes, the house was irrelevant and that most if not all of its perfumes could happily disappear off the face of the earth for all they cared.

Well, get a load of you, you bitches. Before you all slope off looking for the most chemically-powered hard leather bombs with which to blow your smell receptors out or the latest , achingly-cool melting glass bottles that won’t stand up full of liquid that smells like fish eggs, or toner ink, or glue, or whatever niche decides is new and shocking these days, take a moment to remember the Grandmaster Flash of them all, the weird-before-it-was-cool-to-be-weird Dzongkha. And maybe don’t be so quick to dismiss an entire house with quite the back catalog of conversation starters and pot stirrers.

You can’t even throw that tried-and-tested (and true) complaint about L’Artisan Parfumeur’s fragrances – weak longevity – at the head of Dzongkha. It is not quietly radiant as Timbuktu, it is just as strong and as dense as a brick. This stuff lasts 10-11 hours easily. Of course, whether you’ll want it to or not is another matter….

Amber Iris Leather Review

Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche

February 13, 2016

I like Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche, but I have to admit that the opening smells more like a byproduct of the petroleum industry than a perfume. Something plasticky and greasy in the top notes suggests Vaseline to me, or perhaps pleather. I don’t find this unpleasant, merely a little unsettling, especially when mixed with the sickly, biscuity undertone of the amber underneath.

The mental image: a prostitute at the Bunny Ranch, Nevada, at 2:30 in the afternoon, a big dollop of lubricant making a snail’s trail down the inside of her left thigh while a man in Stetsons huffs and puffs on top of her. The man’s breath smells like biscuit crumbs – he hasn’t washed his teeth. Bored, she turns her head to admire her new white pleather knee-highs, up around her ears now and close enough for inspection. Squeak-squeak goes the pleather with every thrust.

Biscuits, syrup, Vaseline, pleather. Stale cigarette smoke mingling with the powerfully sweet Victoria’s Secret Amber Romance body lotion she applied that morning.

The texture of the perfume is both dry-harsh and syrupy-sweet, resulting in an interesting pulling apart motion in the fabric, like honey rubbed against the grain of a plank of wood. The syrupy white amber is thickly poured, but clashes against the parched powder of benzoin. The resin sticks in my craw and the syrup cloys. It’s too intense, this feeling. The only other perfume that mimics this effect is Byredo’s 1996.

The discordant harmony of the birch tar, the amber, and the iris produces something of a similar push-pull feeling within me: I like it, and then I like it not. Each time I wear this fragrance, it’s like plucking out petals and never knowing whether you’re going to end up. Sometimes, I find the thought of the ride quite exciting. Sometimes, the thought of it exhausts me. Either way, like the Bunny Girl’s client, it always lasts way longer than I want it to.

Amber Floral Oriental Independent Perfumery Leather Oriental Resins Suede

Hiram Green Voyage

February 2, 2016

Hiram Green Voyage has an opening that is both strange and familiar to me. It features a sour (but also candied) citrus note dusted so thickly with the powder of a saffron-like spice that it doesn’t register as fresh or sharp the way hesperidic notes normally do. The effect is of a golden sun shining through a dust cloud of vanilla and spice, with something bright lurking underneath.

Sometimes I spray this on and I get a hint of the tannic peach skin, moss, and spices from Shangri La, and it’s like unwrapping a tiny sliver of chypre hidden in the folds of a dusty, oriental brocade. Sometimes I get no fruit, but a rubbery suede. It is murky and intimate, like the smell of a moist wrist directly under a rubber watch.

Very beautiful and very familiar. Where do I know this scent from?

Immediately, I race off through the library of smells in my brain to see if I can place it, but it remains frustratingly out of reach. I don’t think it is a perfume that I’m remembering so much as a chord in a larger orchestra of smell. Or maybe it’s the whole orchestra of a smell funneled through one chord, I don’t know.

The best I can do is say that the opening has an interesting dissonance to it that reminds of the older Guerlains – Jicky perhaps most of all, with its stomach-churning clash of cymbals between the fresh, clean lavender and the rich, civet-soaked vanilla crème. But there is also the dark rye bourbon bitterness of Mitsouko’s cooked peach skin. Voyage is much simpler and more direct than these perfumes, of course, but it shares with them the impression of a ribbon of bright gold slicing through plush velvet darkness.

The dry down only confirms the familiarity (and the appeal) of this style of retro perfumery – it is a warm, luscious vanilla-amber, heavily laced with what seems to me to be a heavy dose of heliotrope and perhaps orange blossom, although these notes are not listed. It has something of the spicy, floral vanilla feel of L’Heure Bleue, albeit less pastry-like in tone and more tending towards the more resinous, cinnamon-inflected Tolu or Peru balsams. I have to admit that I do not pick up on much of the patchouli – to my nose, if it’s there, then it is only there to add shade and earth to the vanillic dry down.

In a way, Voyage reminds me of Ciel de Gum, by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, not for any similarity in the way they smell necessarily, but for the retro manner in which they present the vanilla note – not clean or sweet, but fudgy with spice, civet and indolic flowers. There is a close, intimate feel to vanillas like this that recall human skin to skin contact. Voyage, Ciel de Gum, Opus 1144 (UNUM), and even Musc Ravaguer all hark back to that Guerlain-like clash between a bright, aromatic side (lavender, bergamot, cloves, cinnamon) and a dark, velvety side ( vanilla, musks, indolic flowers, and civet).

It’s this clash what makes Jicky, L’Heure Bleue, and Shalimar such masterpieces even today – at first so repellent and odd that wonder what kind of drugs the perfumer was taking, and then everything suddenly “works” in the perfume and you think it’s great – addicting almost. Hiram Green’s Voyage has that clash down nicely, and this is why it works. I love this perfume because it gives me a taste of what I love about the classics but in a stripped-down, more legible format that doesn’t make me feel as if I am wearing an entire history of grand perfume on my back. Which is sometimes what I want.

Iris Leather Suede

Serge Lutens Daim Blond

January 17, 2016

Serge Lutens Daim Blond is a simple pleasure done right. It is a dry, dusty suede lightly decorated with the scent of apricots – not the juicy, sweet flesh of ripe apricots but the desiccated husk of skin when shriveled up to almost nothing. Iris provides the bitter, gray powder, and osmanthus the delicate tannin of apricots and black tea.

It is not in the least bit animalic but there is a lightly musky undertone that conjures up a ghostly image of female skin. When I wear Daim Blond, I imagine Newland Archer peeling back the fine-grained Italian leather glove from Countess Olenska’s wrist and pressing his mouth to her quivering flesh. She’s on the cusp of allowing herself to be ruined. It’s a moment of sensuality written on a such a tiny scale so as not to register to anyone but them, but somehow the restrained, pulled-in nature of the moment and its capacity to unleash the hounds of hell is far sexier than anything more explicit.

Daim Blond smells like a woman’s wrist and the tipping point of desire.

Gourmand Iris Leather Rose Suede

L’Artisan Parfumeur Traversee du Bosphore

December 4, 2015

The first time I tried Traversee du Bosphore, I almost laughed out loud at how bad it was. There is a lurid, cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher note up top pitched halfway between children’s cough syrup and the clear pink goo you find at the bottom of a supermarket pie. I felt cheated. I had been promised a mystical Duchaufour-ian trawl through the back streets of Istanbul and what I got was cheap sweeties that even sugar-crazed five year olds might reject if they came spewing out of a piñata.

The notes say apple and pomegranate, two ingredients heavily used in Turkish and Balkan cuisine. But I am used to my mother-in-law’s wild pomegranate syrup, which is tart and sweet and tannic all at once, and I couldn’t see the connection to the more single-cell syrup I was smelling.

The dry down, on the other hand, was more interesting to me – a fat, pink suede cushion thickly dusted with icing sugar and trembling under the weight of rose petals. But every time I tried it, I had to clench my teeth through the artificial syrup opening. The main problem was that the opening notes felt cheap to me, and jarred against the uber expensive pink suede cube waiting for me in the dry down.

Then it struck me – what am I talking about? Lokum is cheap. It’s cheap to make, cheap to consume, and it tastes a bit cheap too. That’s practically the whole point of lokum. I used to live in the Balkans, and at meetings in Bosnia, Serbia, or Montenegro, someone would invariably pull out a tin of hilariously cheap lokum and you’d find yourself mindlessly chomping through two or three cubes of vaguely rose-flavored gelatin with the coffee – always more of a texture than a taste – careless of the post-lokum sugar headache that loomed over your medulla lungata like a nuclear cloud. Good stuff! Good times.

Knowing that lokum costs pennies is part of its hokey charm, I guess. It’s like coffee, good bread, and chocolate – small things that cost very little and yet provide so much pleasure to our daily lives. And this (essential) cheapness is key to appreciating Traversee du Bosphore. Enough with the mythologizing of Eastern sweetmeats, this perfume seems to be saying – lokum is made from boiled up horses’ hooves, and let’s not all pretend that it’s something fancier than it is.

I no longer live in the Balkans, so when I feel a bit nostalgic for the cheap rosewater taste of the local lokum, Traversee du Bosphore will have to stand in. Now that I have this scent pegged – a cheap and cheerful lokum suede – I can enjoy it without worrying about the cheap notes, which are, after all, exactly as they should be.

Gourmand Leather Masculine Rose Vanilla

Guerlain Habit Rouge Dress Code

November 22, 2015

What a beautiful opening – delicate and sweet, a cloud of bergamot, rose, and vanilla dust just hanging in the air like a rose-gold halo. And in it, I instantly recognized the ghost of Shalimar.

Well, actually, that’s not exactly true. If Habit Rouge is the male equivalent of Shalimar, then its flanker, Habit Rouge Dress Code is the male equivalent of (a mash-up of) two of the Shalimar flankers – specifically the Parfum Initial L’Eau and the Parfum Initial EDP. The Shalimar flankers strip Shalimar of its leather, smoke, incense, and dirty bergamot, and use her bone structure to turn out streamlined, sweet versions flushed with sweet lemonade, red berries, and that smooth pink patchouli that modern girls love so much. Likewise, Habit Rouge Dress Code takes the rose-leather combination of the original Habit Rouge EDT, strips it of its fresh lemon-and-herb-strewn opening, and fluffs it out with sweet notes that modern tastes love, like praline, caramel, and tonka.

But I don’t just mean that Dress Code smells like the conceptual twin of the Shalimar flankers, I really mean to say that it lifts entire sections from these fragrances. Dress Code has the same hazy but effervescent citrus-rose combo from the opening of the L’Eau, giving off the delightful effect of a huge pitcher of limeade dotted with pink rose petals. Later on, when the sweet praline and caramel come in, it starts to smell a lot like the dry down of the Parfum Initial EDP (minus the iris and berries). The overall feel is pink, balmy, and slightly resinous, so there is obviously a lot of the Guerlainade here too. In fact, at certain points, it reminds me of a sweeter, less complex version of Cologne du 68, which itself is basically an essay on the famous Guerlainade, with anise and angelica stalks added on top.

Two notes take Dress Code away from being a mere pastiche of these other fragrances, though. First, a warm nutmeg note provides a brown, spicy aura that is very striking. It acts upon the vanilla and caramel to produce a sweet, nutty effect very similar to that in Black Flower Mexican Vanilla. Second is a rather strident citronella-like note, probably from the geraniol or citronellol compounds in the rose oil used here. Both the nutmeg and the citronella notes die way back in the dry down.

Dress Code is extremely well-done, and is a striking example of a modern gourmand take on a classic. It will suit modern male tastes, I am sure, as it is extremely sweet and has that praline note that people like so much these days. But for me, it runs into “too sweet” territory, and to be honest, I can’t stand the boatloads of caramel poured into this – it has that syrupy “catch” at the back of my throat that put me off ever buying Parfum Initial EDP. The opening is beautiful, and I’ll admit that within five minutes of applying, I was scouring the net to see where I could find it. But on reflection, I only find the opening alluring because it reminds me of the one Shalimar flanker that I really rate (and own), which is the Parfum Initial L’Eau.

By the way, not that it matters, but if I were smelling this blind, I would swear that Dress Code was a feminine release. It’s a good example of how the line between feminine and masculine fragrances is really a thin one these days, and that it essentially doesn’t matter at all – if you’re a woman and this smells good to you, just wear it.

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