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Areej Le Doré: Translating Attar Perfumery into Extrait Form

May 13, 2017

Guys, if you want to smell something truly great, then buy the Areej Le Doré sample set. Costing $40 for samples of three beautiful perfumes that contain real oud oil, santalum album sandalwood, and genuine deer musk, it’s a small price to have your mind blown and eyes opened as to what can be achieved when superlative raw materials meet a talent for composition.

 

Fear not: Areej le Doré is not one of those brands set up in the West to take advantage of the current fashion for haute-luxe Arabian perfumery. It is, in fact, a natural extension of FeelOud, an outfit based in the Far East that has been artisan-distilling wild oud oils for several years now. Led by Russian Adam, a name that will be familiar to real oud oil fans all over the world, FeelOud focuses on producing quite wild, almost feral-smelling oud oils in the old school manner, with little concession made to  who take their oud oil smooth and with a bit of sugar.

 

FeelOud recently diversified into the area of sandalwood oil, recently producing a superb santalum album oil distilled from the buried rootstock of old santalum album trees (long since felled and harvested), the age of which is estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. The resulting oil, called Sandal 100k, sold out in 24 hours when it was put up on the FeelOud site. It’s beautiful; I give a description of it further on.

 

First, a bit of background on this mysterious-sounding Russian Adam chap. I’ve been sampling Adam’s wares for quite a few years now, at first buying from his Book of Oud store when he was still based in the UK, and then testing a wide cross-section of oud oils produced by FeelOud, which he set up when he moved to the Far East to be an artisan oud distiller.

 

In his trajectory, Adam is following in the footsteps of people like Taha Syed of Agar Aura and Ensar of Ensar Oud, both of whom also relocated from comfortable, middle-class environments in the West (Canada and America, respectively) to the steamy, flea-ridden jungles of the Far East so they could distill wild oud oil on the ground. It’s the only way to do it if you want to ensure a good result, but by all accounts, it is an often times hard life, fraught with frustration and danger. I don’t envy these oud artisans, but I sure as hell respect them for what they do.

 

But now, onto Areej Le Doré. The name itself appears to be a blending of the Arabic name for a girl, Areej, which means “the fragrance from under an orange tree”, and the French phrase for “the golden one”. The ethos behind the brand is to create fragrances that are luxurious explorations of the raw materials with which Adam frequently comes into contact as an artisan. In terms of business strategy, there is a clear evolution here from distilling raw materials (oud and sandalwood) to developing value-added products that blend the raw materials in a complex, abstract composition.

 

And having tested all three perfumes extensively over the last few weeks, I can tell you that these are not some ham-fisted throwing together of a few essential oils – there is evidently a real skill for composition at work here. Each of the perfumes feel “finished” and refined to a high technical degree. In fact, in terms of overall positioning, I would place Areej Le Doré perfumes alongside the first three perfumes by Parfums Dusita, perfumes that are similarly priced and beautifully blended to the same high polish. Dusita is phenomenally successful, and deservedly so: now I wish the same sort of brand trajectory for Areej Le Doré.

 

The Areej Le Doré fragrances are as follows: Siberian Musk, Ottoman Empire, and Oud Zen. They are all technically extraits de parfum, but I would define them more as rich, dense attars translated to spray form through the addition of some indentured alcohol. Also thinning out the attar format are hydrosols distilled by Russian Adam himself – a hydrosol being the water left over after hydro-distillation of some fragrant material like rose or oud wood, and after the essential oils have been separated from the distilling water. After having been passed several times through the fragrant material, the hydrosol is itself highly fragrant and useful in perfumery.

 

Siberian Musk is the one I tried first, and it resulted in the sort of jaw-dropping-to-the-floor awe that happens very rarely in the life of this particular perfume writer. After a bright citrus and pine start, the scent settles quickly into a full-fat, clotted-cream musk redolent of rosy beeswax, apricots, orange blossom, and the salty intimacy of a post-coital embrace.

 

The musk component manages to be seriously filthy but in a refined way, with a buttery floral purr that typifies a French sort of polish. I have smelled quite a few samples of genuine deer musk before, including a 20-year-old Himalayan musk so frighteningly feral that I thought a herd of sweaty goats had taken up residence in my nostrils. This is not that. The musk here is authentically sensual and animal-like, but it comes across as a creamy, rounded smell, not sharply urinous or sweaty. Texture-wise, it has the silky density of yellow fat skimmed off the top of raw milk. Think Muscs Khoublai Khan crossed with the decaying roses and adiposal wax of Rose de Nuit, backlit by the subtle glow of resin, orange blossom, and citrus peel. The contrast between the fresh notes and the fatty, un-fresh musk is perfectly pitched.

 

As the scent progresses, the musk deepens and smolders, like a Persian cat stretching in the sun. Sultan Pasha once described the smell of deer musk to me as saccharine sweet, almost cloying, a smell that clings to the hairs of your nostrils for hours after you’ve smelled it. I sense the same clinging depth of the musk here, and there is a faintly sugared quality to the florals that help the impression along. But it is never cloying (and I agree with Sultan that some deer musks – depending on their geographical provenance, age, and level of heat used during the tincturing process – can be almost claustrophobically sweet).

 

Let me be clear: the musk used here is genuine deer musk, a raw material never used in commercial perfumery these days. Apart from the various legal and ethical concerns, there is the problem of sourcing the darned stuff: perhaps 99% of all deer musk goes straight into the hungry gaping hole that is Chinese medicine, with the remaining 1% trickling down as crumbs to the poor man’s table of perfumery. In terms of perfumery, therefore, only small-batch, artisanal attar makers and perfumers can viably access and use real deer musk. Furthermore, within the artisan attar making community itself, only a few are open about their use of the material.

 

I am writing an article about the issue of musk, which will be published later on this year, but for the moment I will say that Adam’s use of Siberian deer musk here is both ethically and legally fine, because it comes from legal hunting in Siberia, sanctioned and controlled by the Russian Government through seasonal licenses and hunting lotteries. Every part of the deer is used – the meat, the hooves, the skin, everything – and the hunting helps support the incomes of local hunting families.

 

In other words, don’t be afraid that by buying this perfume you might be contributing to illegal hunting or unethical trading practices. Yes, the musk deer still dies to give up his musk – but he is not dying specifically because of the perfume sector. (You might want to start asking the Chinese medical sector some hard questions, though.)

 

The second perfume, Ottoman Empire, is also stunning, but in a different way. Although I suppose technically it is a rose-oud, containing as it does real Assam oud oil and expensive rose absolutes from Afghanistan, India, and Bulgaria, it does not really come across as a typical rose-oud. Instead, it reads more as a buttery rose chypre with a dark, mossy drydown that reminds me of the hippy, retro floriental style of Neil Morris, especially his Rose of Kali, which is a rose slowly left to molder and wither in a damp church basement. In other words, there’s a fair bit of myrrh here. There is also the chocolate-rich dustiness of closed-up spaces and old books, which makes me think of the 70’s style of the original Norma Kamali perfume (not Incense, the namesake perfume itself).

 

The rose oils used in Ottoman Empire are beautiful, and display a wide range of nuances ranging from the fruity apricot hue of the Afghani rose to the sour earwax quality of the Bulgarian. In the context of the blend, the roses are largely subdued by the resins and oakmoss in the base, but their essentially rosy character burns brightly through the blend, like a heat lamp under layers of parchment.  The oakmoss used here, by the way, is real and unneutered: firstly, because it is Indian oakmoss (charila), a lacy oakmoss-like material covering trees in the forests of the Himalayas, and secondly, because, well, Adam is not based in Europe and doesn’t have to be IFRA-compliant.

 

In summary, then, Ottoman Empire is a waxy, mossy rose chypre crossed with souk perfumery (oud and spices) crossed again with a certain hippy, 1970’s style as espoused by certain American indie perfumers. If I’ve made that sound confusing, then don’t worry – the perfume makes perfect sense on the skin. Wear it and see for yourself.

 

The third and last perfume is Oud Zen. People who are a bit wary about the oud note need not worry; the Indian oud oil is authentic (and smells authentic) but it is not nearly as animalic or as feral as uncut Hindi oils can be, when worn neat on the skin. Instead, right from the start, the leathery, sourish smoke of the Indian oud is folded into sweet, smoky woods and vetiver that together smell rather like the saltwater taffy of labdanum. The Hindi oud oil is also moderated by the fresher, more sparkling aspects of a Papuan oud, a variety that often displays surprisingly hints of green tea, mango, and flowers.

 

The main impression is woody, smoky, and leathery, with the Hindi elements of fermentation slowly fading away in the heart, leaving a trail of cool, ashy woods. I suppose it is a traditionally masculine perfume, but I think any woman who wants to could certainly rock it.

 

Interestingly, just as I think the perfume has given up its last breath, it revives and puffs out its chest in a death display of feral honey, vetiver, and dry leather, a combination very much in the vein of Vero Profumo’s Onda Voile d’Extrait or the far reaches of vintage Habanita when the powdery florals have burned off. An extraordinary finish, and one that gets me spraying again and again, just to arrive at the same destination.

 

Lastly, a word about Sandal 100k, FeelOud’s first venture into sandalwood distilling. Sandal 100k was distilled by Russian Adam himself using wood from the buried roots of old santalum album trees that had long been harvested and cleared from land in Indonesia. Forgotten about, the rootstock of these noble old trees lay in the ground until the locals figured out there was precious oil in them there roots!

 

To make the oil, the roots of old trees, all aged around 100 years, are dug up, cleaned off, and left to dry out. Then the roots are broken down into small shards, and finally into a sawdust-type mixture which is put in the distilling pot. The wood was sent from Indonesia to Russian Adam in Thailand, which is where he distilled it himself.

 

To all extents and purposes, the root stock has the same value as heartwood from 100-year old santalum album trees: experts have determined that the age of the santalum album species chosen for distilling is more important to the aroma profile than where the tree actually grows. Therefore, while this oil is not Mysore because the tree (and its roots) was not harvested in the Mysore region of India, it is an incredible santalum album oil because of the age of the heartwood from which it was distilled.

 

Sandal 100k smells bright, greenish, and terpene-rich at the offset, with all the nutty, savory sourness characteristic of santalum album perched just behind it. The slight green bitterness dies back quickly, allowing the salty, buttery sides of the oil to emerge. For the first part of the ride, I’d place this oil in the aromatic, fresh category of santalum album, but as time goes on, the oil gathers force and bursts into full being as the perfect sandalwood – rich, nutty, creamy, salty-sweet, and almost meaty in terms of body. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I urge people to buy it when the second batch of oil is ready for sale. Since my personal ne-plus-ultra of sandalwood oil, Ensar’s 1984 Mysore, is no longer available, this is the next best thing.

Aldehydes Dominique Ropion Jasmine Rose Vetiver

Superstitious by Dominique Ropion for Frederic Malle

May 7, 2017

Superstitious is like a woman that walks into a party wearing a gold lame dress that plunges to her navel. Like everyone else in the room, you think she’s gorgeous, but you’re not sure if she’s really your kind of people. I’m not sure I understand her yet, so I’m going to circle this interesting creature a little bit longer while I try to figure her out.

 

People are citing all manner of classic perfumes as reference: Arpege, Gold, even Portrait of a Lady. But none of those references help me place her in my mental pantheon of smells. Superstitious strikes me as more a modern cyborg than something classical or referential. And it certainly has nothing to do with Portrait of a Lady. Actually, I find it comes at me from slightly beyond my frame of reference, and thus my footing is unsure.

 

Something that takes me aback is the astringency of the opening: it’s as metallic and bitter as a mouthful of pennies, sluiced with the acid of unripe fruit. Sensation-wise, it reminds me of biting into a persimmon that’s two weeks away from becoming perfect, ripping all moisture from my mouth.

 

I’m starting to understand that not aldehydes smell or feel the same. Some feel loose and creamy, like those at the top of Chanel No. 22 – the fizz of a can of Fanta mixed into a pot of Pond’s Cold Cream. Some feel tight and lemony, like Tauer’s Noontide Petals. The aldehydes of Superstitious, on the other hand, are extremely fine-grained and waxy, like a bar of green soap put through a microplane grater and blown up your nose. It reminds me somewhat of the opening to Seyrig by Bruno Fazzolari. The onslaught is aggressive, and slightly mean.

 

What’s amazing about this fragrance – and I say this even before figuring out whether I like it or not – is how the clean, chemical bite of the aldehydes have been balanced out by the dirty, botanical impression of flowers. Even in the first onslaught of the perfume’s harsh, soapy green fuzz, you can smell the slightly unclean jasmine – wilting and browning, as if about to drop off a vine and into your lap. This produces an effect that is half synthetic, half naturalistic. You can almost imagine the perfumer muttering to himself as he works out the formula, “a little bit from the lab, and now a little bit from the garden”.

 

The quality of the florals is amazing – there is a Turkish rose, jasmine from Grasse, and a hint of dry peach skin a la Mitsouko in the later stages. But put aside expectations of sweetness, or even density. Even with the late addition of the peach, things stay dry, leathery, and slightly sour, like the inside of the strap of your watch after a long hot day, or the taste of a very dry, metallic white wine on the back of the tongue.

 

Which is a way of saying that although all signs point to lushness, this is not a particularly lush perfume. Being a longtime fan of Alber Elbaz and his work for Lanvin, I had expectations of something with as many dangerous curves as his midnight blue and flesh-colored dresses for this house in the 2008-2009 period. Alber himself is round; is it weird that I was expecting a perfume with his name on it to be round too? But Superstitious turns out to be as chicly angular as one of his models.

 

The drydown is a slightly smoky, raspy base of vetiver and woods that somehow reads to my nose as incense. It is slightly sweeter, or at least, less tart in the far reaches of the scent, and I find it comforting.

 

Superstitious is a very interesting, beautiful, and somewhat challenging perfume. It is perhaps easier to admire than to love, because a certain bitchiness inherent in its character suggests that this is a perfume that might not love you back. But despite a certain lack of easy access here, I really do like Superstitious, not least because it turns my expectations on their head. Expecting lush and sweet, I get angular and tart. Expecting classic, I get modern. Most of all, I admire the perfume’s sublime balance between its metallic, chemical shimmer and its unclean, slightly earthy flowers and fruit – and it’s this last aspect that might move me towards an eventual purchase. Some day.

Chypre Oriental Review Rose Sandalwood Smoke Spicy Floral Vanilla Woods

Caron Nuit de Noel

March 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Oud Rose Saffron

By Kilian Rose Oud

January 10, 2016

Rose, oud, saffron, gaiac wood, cardamom……yes, it’s the typical line-up for your average rose-oud fragrance. I’ll excuse you if you’re not getting too excited – I know I wasn’t. But I find myself haunted by my sample of By Kilian Rose Oud, long after it’s gone, and I’ll tell you why. It’s one of the easiest rose-oud fragrances to wear, as well as the most serenely beautiful. It has none of the exciting harshness of the oud accord used in most other Western oud fragrances, and is all the better for it. Think of the most beautiful supermodel you’ve ever laid eyes on – but one who nonetheless fails to either move you or turn you on – and that’s Rose Oud by Kilian.

The secret to the success of Rose Oud is this: all the major elements (the rose, the oud, the gaiac wood, and the saffron) do not possess a strong character of their own but instead melt together to form a small black velvet pocket into which you find your hand fits perfectly.

So the green, slightly sour wet rose at the start gains a dulcet depth from the subtle oud, growing sweeter, jammier, and fuller as time goes on. The oud provides the dark backdrop without muscling its way into the composition in that bullying way oud tends to have. The saffron casts only a fine patina of sweet gold dust rather than its usual iodine-y leather scream. It’s a very subtle, smooth fragrance  – almost ephemeral. When I think the show has ended, eight hours on, I am surprised to find that golden, almost pudding-like saffron emerge on my skin, and a pleasantly sour tinge of oud.

Calice Becker knows her roses. Boy, she knows her roses, and Rose Oud is a rose done right. The eventual jamminess and “wetness” of the rose here mimics the pulpy lushness of the flower at the start of Liaisons Dangereuses (also by Calice Becker), but without that peach shampoo thing that Liaisons Dangereuses slithers into towards the end.

The oud, by the way, is synthetic but has the virtue of not smelling like it, so carefully woven into the fabric of the fragrance has it been. Yet more proof that it is more the skill of the perfumer (and to be fair, the art direction, for which we can thank Kilian Hennessey himself) than the raw materials that matters in terms of the final result.

Rose Oud is a beautiful, delicate piece of work whose subtleties could easily go unnoticed if you weren’t paying attention. It is by far one of my favorite rose-oud fragrances, and despite the cost, I have a feeling that I will own a (refill) bottle of this someday, even if I have to sell off some of my (many) other oud fragrances to afford it. I have finally reached the stage where I am content to do away with five or six inferior bottles of perfume to get my hands on just one bottle of something that satisfies and pleases from every angle.

Rose Oud may not be the most exciting or unusual rose oud on the market – many think it is pretty but mundane – but I think it’s one of the best-smelling rose-ouds around, perhaps only bettered by Tom Ford’s wonderful Noir de Noir or Guerlain’s Rose Nacree du Desert.

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.

Amber Oriental Oud Rose

Estee Lauder Amber Mystique

November 16, 2015

I’ve had a sample of Estee Lauder Amber Mystique for ages now but my hand would always pass over it, my mind doing the kind of internal eye-rolling that nonetheless is visible from outer space and makes me (I suspect) quite an irritating person.  The preconceptions I nurtured so smugly were: (i) this is Estee Lauder making a cheap grab for their slice of the oud craze driving the market – totally predictable and utterly depressing, (ii) the bottle is just f^&*($g awful, (iii) it would be just another syrupy, loud oriental amber along the lines of Ameer al Oudh, or 24 Gold, or (iv) that it would be stuffed with cheap woody ambers that scream “Power” and “Projection” to the bros and “outstaying its welcome” to me.

Thankfully, although I am still convinced of numbers (i) and (ii), my fears about the scent itself were completely unjustified. This is a sweet, soft oriental blend of rose, amber, incense, honey, some fruit, and a touch of (non-rubbery, non-medicinal) oud. It is not synthetically-extended in the rear with potent woody ambers. In fact, the sillage is polite and sweetly diaphanous rather than bullying or insistent.

I like it a lot. It would make a great starter oriental for those looking to dip their toe into the water, and for those who do not like the rather over-powered, syrupy, or harsh examples of the Arabian cheapy genre. It opens with a tiny berry and plum note, and what smells to me like a subtle oud wood note, but these get swallowed up pretty quickly into a powdery, sweet amber. It is sweetly balsamic and slightly-honeyed – never throat-catchingly resinous or sharp.

There is, later, an attractively whiskey-ish tone to the amber that develops, giving it some dimension. I also smell a slight buttery tone that could be a facet of the amber or of the leather – either way, it reminds me of the only part of the amber accord in Opus VI that I really like, which is that buttery, almond-like undertone from the periploca flower. In Amber Mystique, you really feel the presence of the rose, and I would say that overall, this is a rosy amber (or an ambery rose), like Dior Privee’s Ambre Nuit, albeit without the salty ambergris tint. If you like Kalemat or Calligraphy Rose, then you’ll enjoy this too (although those other two perfumes are better, in my opinion).

If I had to point out a little niggle, I’d say that it lacks the sub-woofer boom that makes ambery orientals so (traditionally) satisfying. Everything unfolds in a little shallow pool of bliss, the ripples spreading out on the skin, but there are no hidden depths here.

In the United States, this appears to be sold on eBay for $30-40 for the 100ml size, but in Europe, we are still seeing prices of €80-110. I am surprised at the difference, but maybe the American market is just better at finding the correct value of things.

Personally, I would put the real value of Amber Mystique at around the same level of Spellbound or Sensuous Noir. It smells great but is neither groundbreakingly unique nor as attention-grabbing as Estee Lauder would like us to believe, and therefore the “exclusive” tone of the marketing and pricing makes little sense. But if you live in America and see this on eBay for peanuts, grab it! Especially if you don’t already own an example in this genre – Arabian-style oud/amber EDPs – and would like to start off on an easy rung.

Gourmand Oriental Oud Resins Review Rose Spice

Amouage Epic Woman

September 18, 2015

Anybody here remember Opal Fruits? The tagline was: “Made to make your mouth water” – and sure enough whenever an ad for those tangy, sherbet-y little suckers came on TV, my mouth would begin pumping out saliva. Like Pavlov’s dog.

Well, I just have to glance at my dark green bottle of Amouage Epic Woman for my mouth to start to water. Like pickles, umeboshi, and sourpatch gummies, there is an almost physical pleasure to be had in a wincingly tart flavor. It is a credit to Amouage that Epic Woman contains so many piquant green notes and still manages to be so inviting. It smells like something pickled in brine! And yet sweet!

Every part of Epic Woman is as satisfying to me as a good meal – the lip-smacking savor of kimchi leading into a meaty, smoked rose and finally a few spoonfuls of thin crème anglaise, just enough to sweeten the tongue.

Many people say that Epic Woman belongs to the same oriental woody perfume family as Chanel’s Bois des Iles, Molinard Habanita, and even Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles. But I always get the feeling that putting those perfumes in the same sentence as something like Epic Woman is like saying tomatoes = strawberries because they are both fruits. Needless to say, Epic Woman is neither a tomato nor a strawberry. Clearly, it’s a salted plum.

I’m always trying to figure out where Epic Woman fits in the general scheme of things. No doubt about it, it is an oriental perfume. However, it lacks the plush sweetness and creamy roundness of most other orientals. After much thought, I’ve come to realize that the head space it occupies (for me, at least) is the same as for Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais and YSL’s vintage Nu EDP – smoky incense perfumes with a phenomenally sour streak of flavor running through them that prickle the saliva glands. In case you haven’t picked up on my feeling about this sourness – it’s good! I love it actually. It’s the tart streak in these perfumes that stops them from melting into the characterless vanilla-amber-sandalwood sludge that sometimes plagues the category.

Epic Woman balances the hot and the sour and the sweet as masterfully as a delicate Chinese dish – the heat from the black pepper and cinnamon, the green pickling spices (caraway), and the soft-but-oh-so-vinegary oud are the major players here. But there is also a diffuse sweetness, coming off the pink rose that blooms behind the sour opening notes and what feels like a mixture of powdered cinnamon and vanilla. I can’t say that I smell black tea, but maybe I’m just not picking out the tea tannins when placed up against a smoky guaic wood, incense, and other woody notes.

The vanilla in the base is extremely subtle – a thimbleful of creme anglaise rather than an ice-cream sundae – and spiked with just enough sugar added to round out the sourness of the oud wood. The sourness and the delicate spices surrounding the rose persist all through the perfume, though, and keep me smacking my lips.

In short, this is a perfume to be savored like a good Chinese sweet and sour dish, or the snap of a cold dill pickle straight from the jar when you’re starving. It is a wholly appetizing perfume – almost gourmand in the pleasure it affords me.

Rose Woods

Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule

September 18, 2015

The more I wear Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule, the more I fall in love. I find it more interesting than beautiful, though. For a perfume that lists so many comforting notes – cocoa, rose petals, sandalwood, and so on – Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens avoids falling into the trap of being overly comfortable or plush. What I mean is that it is full of accords that pull and push against each other, creating an interesting tension that keeps you on your toes for much of the ride.

The opening is dense to the point of sensory overload. It takes some getting used to, but once it clicks, it becomes as addictive as a drug. There is a strong boozy cocoa note interacting so violently with a jammy red rose that it almost conjures up a phantom note of coffee – aromatic, dark, rich. The first few times I tried it, the opening always seemed too intense for my tastes – too syrupy, too aromatic, too something…..but then I found myself going back for more, like a moth to a flame.

After the opening, the push and pull begins. The sour, lactic tang of the sandalwood clashes with the syrupy sweetness of the rose; the bitter dustiness of the dark cocoa stands off against the oiliness of the wood; these contrasting notes and textures rub up against each and then pull apart again in the most interesting ways possible. It is full of these little tensions, some of which are still unresolved by the time we get to the creamy, woodsy base.

I think that Santal Majuscule, like Chanel’s gorgeous Bois des Iles, is an artistic reconstruction of the Mysore sandalwood smell without using the real thing itself. It uses the different textures and angles of the rose, cocoa, and woody notes to stand in for the varied range of tones you get in real Mysore sandalwood – rosy, woody, syrupy, dusty, milky, sour, sweet, and oily. At the base, there is a wonderful creamy woodiness, relieved only by a touch of fruity rose, reminding me nothing so much as one of those delicate, creamy Indian puddings that taste oddly floral with rosewater and saffron.

It works on almost every level. My one complaint is that most of the exciting intensity is packed into the first two or three hours of the scent, with the long drydown a more pedestrian affair of creamy, rosy woods. I find the beginning of Santal Majuscule so addictive that I have to stop myself from spraying it over and over again every few hours to replay it. Gorgeous, compelling stuff nonetheless, and one I will be wearing a lot of this autumn.

Floral Oriental Oriental Patchouli Resins Rose White Floral

Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015

I’ve been wearing my sample of Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer for the last six nights running and it’s about to run dry – but I’m still not sure I have a handle on it.

I know what I expected – a thick, balmy floral oriental with a head-shop vibe. And for the most part, that’s what I get. But damn, this thing is mercurial. It never reads the same way twice on my skin. Over the six times I’ve tested this so far, I’ve picked up on (variously): unburned incense cones, amber cubes, floor disinfectant, indolic jasmine, antiseptic lavender, shoe polish, mandarin oranges, gasoline, sweet gooey amber, rubber, candy, tuberose, leather, orange blossoms, and, once, the dry, sweet smell of a paper grocery bag.

It’s totally weird. It is slutty and deep and weird. I think I love it. But maybe I hate it though. I’m a bit all over the place with this all-over-the-place perfume.

Part of my confusion comes from the fact that Le Maroc is the least “Andy Tauer” Andy Tauer perfume I’ve ever smelled.  Although it does feature a fizzing Indian incense-and-rose pairing that recalls the Coca Cola twang of Incense Rose, it has nothing of the crystalline, hot-arid feel that runs through his others like a watermark. Andy Tauer perfumes are passionate, but also highly curated. You get the impression that every nuance is fine-tuned with the precision of a Swiss clock.

Le Maroc Pour Elle is not Swiss clock-precise. It is messy as hell, like a five year old child who’s smeared her mother’s red lipstick all over her mouth.

It begins with a clash. A syrupy, medicinal lavender note immediately butts heads with the howling shoe-polish stink of a serious jasmine overload.  Hyper-clean lavender versus a carnal jasmine – no contest. The animal fur stink of jasmine, once the petroleum fumes die down, is just gorgeous. It melts down into a waxy note that doesn’t smell truly of rose but of something sweet, soft, and pink. I know there’s scads of high quality rose oil in this, but the incense and the jasmine twist its delicate smell into a form I don’t recognize. I suspect the rose is just there to soften the jutting hips of the jasmine so that the overall effect is sweetly, thickly lush.

On other occasions, I have picked up a rather pungent, sharp orange blossom note, which, when combined with the honey and the flowers, creates a softly urinous aroma that does indeed recall the orange blossom, honey, and civet of Bal a Versailles (as Luca Turin so aptly pointed out in The Guide).

I even got a strong tuberose note once or twice – at first clipped and green, then creamy, and slightly rubbery. How talented Andy Tauer is, to combine rose and jasmine absolutes and do it in such a way that they conjure up the vivid, breathing form of other flowers. This is the part of the perfume that feels classically French to me – that weave of expensive-smelling flowers and female skank.

But most of the perfume feels like an attar to me. It is a dark brown perfume, and stains the skin. Every time I wear my sample, I feel like I should be anointing myself with it carefully, like I would a concentrated perfume oil or pure parfum, applying it in minute drops to my wrists instead of spraying it. I feel it sink into my skin and become part of my natural scent, mixing with my own skin oils and musk.

The backing tape to it all is a fizzing, cheap Indian incense smell, almost identical to the smell of unburned incense cones and amber cubes. A deep brown, 1970’s style patchouli adds just the right amount of head shop grunginess to rough up the florals and ground them a little. Combined with the mandarin oil, it’s like having a tiny drop of Karma (by Lush) wrapped up in the heart of the perfume, surrounded by expensive rose and jasmine absolutes. Le Maroc swings between smelling ultra-expensive and French to cheap and hippy-ish and back again. I’m confused (and intrigued).

The mixture of expensive, attar-like oils and cheap, low-quality incense is oddly intoxicating. That’s not a criticism, by the way – the appearance of a cheap note propped up against a sea of expensive, luxe notes is an effective way to draw attention to the expensive stuff, kind of like a bas relief effect. I’ve noticed this cheap-expensive combination in other perfumes such as Noir de Noir (a cheap rosewater note against expensive dark chocolate) and Traversee du Bosphore (a painfully artificial apple and pomegranate syrup accord that’s counteracted by lush lokum and suede).

I’m starting to see the kind of person who wears this perfume and wears it right. In my mind’s eye, I see a woman in a dirndl skirt and a baby tied at her voluminous hip, wandering through a health food store, picking up incense sticks, smelling them, and dabbing all sorts of essential oils on her skin. She has laughter lines on her suntanned face and a smile that makes men melt. Her smoker’s laugh contains some kind of sexmagic. No doubt about it, Le Maroc is a zaftig perfume, a husky thing with child-bearing hips and a crude sensuality about it.

I am not quite sure I have the sexual confidence to pull this off, even if I do have the child-bearing hips thing down flat. Still, I can’t get this weird, sensual, earthy, head-twisting perfume out of my head, and that spells trouble.

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