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Animalic Chypre Musk Review

Papillon Salome

October 9, 2015
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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.

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Charenton Macerations Christopher Street

October 6, 2015
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I don’t know what it is about these small, indie perfumers in America these days, but they are somehow taking what is a traditionally European structure – the classic citrus cologne ‘smell’ – and beating us at our own game. Not only beating us, but sailing past us with a cheeky wave and a grin. The opening notes of Charenton Macerations Christopher Street are a sort of turbo-charged version of the citrus, herbs, and aromatics one smells in the (all too brief) top notes of European eaux de colognes such as Eau de Guerlain and Acqua di Parma. In Christopher Street, the bergamot, lime, and bitter oranges come at you like a huge wall of sound, fizzing and snapping at you like electrical wires cut loose in a storm. It’s explosively sour, like those lemon and lime sweets you bought as a kid and sucked until they corroded the lining of your mouth. Truly exciting stuff and a memorable opening.

The roiling citrus and aromatics here are like a skin on the fragrance, always present, but fitted tightly over a dark, damp undergrowth of woods, patchouli, leather, tobacco, and moss. There is something slightly mineralic, grey, or metallic in the center of the fragrance – possibly the listed incense. Mostly, though, what I sense is the pleasantly moldy patchouli and a sort of spicy, sweaty thin leather accent. The musky and leather in the base turns the dry down of Christopher Street is a long, protracted affair that feels pleasantly solid, like a good, old-fashioned fougere or leather bellwether. In fact, fans of the modern version of Bel Ami (me among them), with its transparent, spicy clove leather smell might like Christopher Street an awful lot. I don’t find it to be very animalic, though – just pleasantly skin musky in the way that some masculines smell on male skin by the end of a long, hard day. An intimate, lived-in skin smell.

But Christopher Street smells infinitely crisper and more modern than a mere pastiche of the masculine fougere genre. It is as if a small part of a traditional men’s fougere or leather fragrance has been folded up and hidden inside the structure of a citrus cologne. I like and admire it a lot, and think it really stands out as an achievement in independent perfumery.

Animalic Barbershop Herbal Honey Masculine Musk Spice Spicy Floral Tobacco Tonka Woods

O’Driu Peety

October 6, 2015
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O’Driu Peety, hmmm.

This fragrance famously comes 49ml to the bottle, with the final 1ml to be topped up using a drop or two of one’s own urine. I only had a small sample vial, though. I gave it my best shot, logistics not being my strong point and all, but there I was, crouched furtively over the small vial when the horrid thought occurred to me: WHAT IF THE PERSON WHO GAVE ME THE SAMPLE ALREADY PEED IN IT?

I thought quickly – who had given me the sample? Ah, that’s right – Colin Maillard from Basenotes. So off I waddled to my computer, my panties around my knees, and past the living room, where my husband looked up from his newspaper and called out mildly, “Everything alright, dear?”

Colin had not, it turns out, adulterated the sample. I was free to pee. But in the end, I chose not to. I’d like to say it was logistics, but really, I am a wuss.

So what does Peety smell like?

Surprising (to me). I don’t know why but I had expected something comforting and stodgy, like a piece of marmalade pudding with custard on a cold day. It’s something about the listed notes that made me think that – tobacco, tonka, honey, oranges. I had been imagining Tobacco Vanille mixed with a little bit of Absolue Pour Le Soir and rounded off with a touch of Feve Delicieuse (or Pure Havane).

No such thing – this is the opposite of comfort. This is startling. Uncomfortable even. In a good, on-the-edge-of-your-seat way.

The first whiff corresponded with the notions of tobacco comfort I’d nurtured: a deep waft of whiskey and tobacco and even hay, and there I was with a grin on my face and getting ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

But then in rode this wave of licorice-like herbs and citrus fruits, all drenched in this dark, bitter honey with a deep piss-like nuance to it. Bitter oranges and lemons might indeed explain some of the sharpness, but here the citrus is not fresh. It smells like a cross between a bunch of dried herbs and a lemon, like lemongrass or singed lime peel. The herb-citrus mélange covers the fragrance with a deep medicinal gloom that seems almost black to me, like viewing a pile of luridly-hued fruits under a thick brown preserving glaze in a museum bell jar.

The sharp atmosphere that this almost toxic stew of pissy-honey, civet, medicinal clove, herbs, and preserved lemons creates forms the central character of Peety – and it never quite leaves. But that is what is fascinating to me. It reminds me of something caustic you’d use to lance a boil or dress a war wound.

Actually, this sort of barbershoppy, herb-strewn, musky character is something I associate with a certain style in Italian perfumery. I have experienced the same herbs-and-citrus-on-steroids openings in many of the other O’Driu’s, including Eva Kant, and in Bogue’s Maai and Ker. There is a sort of hyper-masculine, but self-conscious retro barbershop style at play here, as if these perfumers are trying to re-imagine the traditional Italian barbershops and apothecaries they might remember from their childhood.

The style is specifically Italian to me, and although I didn’t grow up in Italy, I did live there, and I recognize the atmosphere of those old, dusty places where traditional healing remedies, tisanes, and unguents sit right next to little white boxes full of Swiss-precise modern medicines. The whole of Italy is kind of like that; this weird and charming mix of traditional superstition and ultra-modern moral mores. So when I say that parts of Peety remind me of those Ricola honey-anise throat pastilles you see at every cash register in Italy, I don’t mean that it literally smells like that but that there is a memory association there for me.

Later on, a musky tobacco accord emerges, rich and glowing. The end result, on my skin anyway, is a sort of “old leather” aroma redolent with male musk and warm, stubbly cheeks (the type on a man’s face, one hastens to add). The aura of rich male skin and musk is bolstered by a warm, almost sick-smelling castoreum, and while there is never sweetness, there is a feeling of sharp edges being rounded off and sanded down – a sleepy warmth.

Funnily enough, it is only in the very later stages, when the bitter herbs and spices have banked down a bit, that I can smell the flowers – a rose and jasmine combination that smells both sultry and medicinal. Joined with the cozy ambroxan or amber-cashmere material in the background, there is an effect there that is quite similar to Andy Tauer’s Le Maroc Pour Elle (although this is not as sweet). The dry, papery (and hyper-masculine-smelling) tobacco accord in the dry-down is a real delight. It is not fruity or sweet like other tobaccos – this is dry and leathery. Persistence is extraordinary – I could smell this on my face cloth for four days afterwards.

A fascinating experience, this perfume, and just one of those things you feel richer for having experienced. Very few moments of wide-eyed delight come about for me these days, so hats off to Angelo Pregoni for Peety.

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L’Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine

June 30, 2015
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I thought I had the measure of this the minute I put it on. Aha, I said to myself, ok, Bois Farine, I understand you completely. You are less a perfume than the collected smells of a health food store: crushed peanut shells, sawdust, wood shavings, bags of whole-wheat flour, quinoa, big jars of tahini, and chunks of halva lined up in the cooler section. Dust, oil, flour. It’s all there.An olfactory joke, sure, but a wry, knowing one.

Clever.

But wait. The journey isn’t over yet. We may have started in the health food store, but the scenery is whizzing past us now, to primary school and the delicious smells of the art supply closet. I can smell the cheap almond glue smell of heliotropin, and it reminds me both of salty playdough, warm vanilla, and the standard-issue, non-toxic glue they let kids use.

There is finally a dry, warm vanilla – dusty, like the smell of realms of paper in the closet. I smell the blue-white milk, tepid and fatty, already put out in cups lined up behind the teacher’s desk, ready for our snack time, collecting dust as the school room clock’s long hand inches inexorably slowly towards 11am and freedom.

I see now why so many people find this a comforting scent. It starts out as an olfactory joke and ends up as a fucking time machine.

It’s like watching Cinema Paradiso and holding out until the last scene where they play all the cut reels and then ending up howling on the floor. Bois Farine, you are such an asshole.

Masculine Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur

June 29, 2015
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Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is a big ole sex musk with a leer on its face. Luca Turin says it’s more flashy than good, and I’d agree, but then again, I don’t think Musc Ravageur takes itself all that seriously to begin with. It’s a musk with bedroom eyes and an Adam’s apple.

The more I wear it, the more I think of it as the male equivalent of Shalimar. It’s a big-boned oriental at heart, a crude, deconstructed version of the older versions of Shalimar extrait – all rude body musks, thick vanilla, and butter-like tonka. Objectionably rich, and quite pungent in parts.

Even the top notes of Musc Ravageur share a certain barbershoppy feel with Shalimar: in Musc Ravageur, it’s lavender and cloves, and in Shalimar, it’s something like herbes de Provence (thyme?). Perhaps that’s why so many men find the opening challenging – the pungent spices, dirty musk, and sweet vanilla churning their stomachs in a way they can’t handle.

But I’m a Shalimar girl all the way, baby, so this is familiar territory for me. People either hate the opening and love the dry down, or wish that the rough opening would last all the way through – me, I love every part of Musc Ravageur from front to end.

It smells like someone rubbed a vanilla-glazed Cinnabon across the sweaty perineum of a man who hadn’t washed for a few days. Hot, sweet, a bit dirty (in a good way). The combination of the rich, sweet vanilla, tonka, and sandalwood in the base is to die for, no matter where you stand on the exact dirtiness of the musk at the start.

I used to think that it was too loud and too dirty for a lady to be wearing outside the house. But then I realized that the Shalimar extrait I wear is pretty dirty and I wear that out of the house all the time. I think I bought into the hype about this being a disgusting, filthy, old-man kind of smell. Now, I just think it’s a fabulous gourmand musk/oriental that’s both sexy and comfortable.

Vulgar? Yeah. Hell yeah! And so what! A bit of vulgarity never hurt nobody.

Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum

June 29, 2015
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Aha! I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Maurice Roucel takes Musc Ravageur out of the bedroom and into the nursery, refashioning it as Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum.

It’s an amazing accomplishment when you think about it – it shares the same basic DNA as Musc Ravageur, and even smells somewhat similar – and yet the feel of one is a hundred million miles away from the other.

If Musc Ravageur is lying spread-eagled in the boudoir, spilling out of its red lace teddy and trying to disguise its Adam’s apple, Helmut Lang EDP is the tender gripe-water exhalation from a baby sleeping in its cradle. (The only teddy here being the one clutched in fat little baby fingers).

The opening of Helmut Lang EDP always reminds me pleasantly of nightly bath time rituals with my children: the Chicco calendula and lavender baby wash I use, the smell of plush cotton baby towels fresh from the drier, and the innocent smell of the skin at the nape of their necks, which I cannot resist nuzzling.

Few people talk about the sheer sensuality of children these days for risk of being misunderstood – but parents of small children will understand when I say that there is no greater sensual pleasure than the smell and touch of small children. It’s why parents can’t resist nuzzling and sniffing their kids. We are drawn helplessly to their velvety skin and their specific, milky smell.

Helmut Lang EDP smells milky and warm and fresh and innocent to me. It opens with the baby breath of heliotrope, neroli, and pretty orange blossoms. Later, it strikes me that the musk and vanilla is on the knife’s edge of being not-so-innocent after all. Maybe it’s even a little dirty. But not dirty in the Musc Ravageur fun, sex way. Just not as squeaky clean as you might expect from its opening. I don’t find it sexy, though (due to the nursery associations). Just touchingly human in scale, which is nice too.

Helmut Lang EDP is quite modern, airy, and stream-lined, a further departure from the butch oriental category wherein I mentally place Musc Ravageur. But I really should stop comparing them – leaving aside the obvious Maurice Roucel DNA they share – Helmut Lang EDP simply occupies a different place and function in my wardrobe, and I like them both on their own terms.

Amber Maurice Roucel Musk Review The Discard Pile

Le Labo Labdanum 18

June 29, 2015
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Maurice Roucel, you old roué! I think I’ve figured out your game. You made a beautiful musk-vanilla-amber template in the lab one day, and you thought to yourself, “Maurice, old boy, this ain’t half bad! I can get at least three good fragrances out of this.” You dialed up the rude bits on the template to arrive at Musc Ravageur, and you sanitized it with cotton and heliotrope and doll’s head plastic to come up with Helmut Lang EDP.

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

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