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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.

Fruity Scents Gourmand Patchouli Review Rose Spice

Histoires de Parfums 1969

June 30, 2015

The perfume’s name refers to the sexual revolution occurring in San Francisco in the late 1960’s, of course, but by 1969 the once idyllic hippy kingdom that was Haight-Ashbury had already started to be corrupted by hard drugs, homelessness, and unsavory criminal elements. And in a way, Histoires de Parfum 1969 Parfum de Revolte pays homage to this shift, by grafting an exuberantly sexy, brash fruit top onto a darkly spiced patchouli and musk base.

At first glance, 1969 is all about playtime. It opens with the biggest, trashiest peach note ever – as crude and as effective as a child’s painting of a peach, smeared with DayGlo pink and orange paint. Joined by a dizzying swirl of rose, chocolate, and vanilla, the peach vibrates and expands on the skin at an almost alarming rate until you feel like you are literally walking around in your own personal fantasy ice-cream sundae (one that features liberal helpings of vinyl and boiled sweets, that is). Like its close cousin, Tocade, I find it both vulgar and charming in equal measure.

Soon though, once the shock and awe of the fruit-vanilla assault dies down, darker, spicier elements enter the picture and quietly anchor the whole thing. The mid-section is a fruity rose and vanilla spiced with the green heat of cardamom pods and the woody warmth of coffee beans. The fruity, creamy roundness is still there, but it is given depth and presence by the resinous spice and woods. The base is a subtle musk and patchouli mixture, which, when mated with the vanilla, creates a creamy chocolate accord that brings it close in feel to Tom Ford’s wonderful Noir de Noir, a slightly darker chocolate-rose semi-gourmand.

I love 1969 Parfum de Revolte because it gives me both the low-rent pleasure of a Tocade-style plastic rose-vanilla and a darker, more adult finish that rescues the whole thing from tipping too far into the gourmand category. What’s more, when all analysis of this is folded up and put away, here’s what’s left – a loud, sexy catcall of a perfume that has just the right balance of fleshy vulgarity and wry sense of humor.

Review Rose

Guerlain Nahema

June 30, 2015

Guerlain Nahema is a perfume that I am struggling to wrap my head around. Part of the problem is that it smells nothing like the image I had built up in my head based on descriptors used over and over in the many reviews on this famous perfume, words like “lush”, “honeyed”, “sexy”, and “bombastic”. On my skin, it reads as a pale, vegetal rose choked back by a bush of oily green thorns and the pale green talc of hyacinth. In fact, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the spicy, resinous green floral of Chamade than to other perfumes in the fruity, oriental rose category such as Amouage’s Lyric Woman.

My first impression was not favorable. But I persisted, knowing that some of the classic Guerlains can take years of testing before truly understanding and loving the perfume. After weeks of sustained testing from my decant, I began to notice an interesting thing – Nahema comes alive as a rose only in its far sillage. I sprayed some on as a mid-course refresher during a family lunch, and my niece nearly swooned. “What do you smell?” I asked her. “Roses, big red roses, and maybe some fruit?”, she replied, “Definitely spices too. Oh, it is so beautiful!”

Ever since then, I’ve wondered if I am hunting the mystical rose in Nahema the same way I hunted for Mitsouko’s peach for a whole year – that is, in completely the wrong way, with my nose pressed anxiously against my wrist, like a detective looking so hard for a clue that he fails to notice the obvious. Perhaps Nahema’s rose just needs some room to breathe and unfold into being, on her own time. It’s funny, but I expected Nahema to be simpler than Mitsouko, which it is, but I hadn’t expected the main advertised note to be so damn elusive.

As always with Guerlain classics, the concentration and the vintage of the version one is testing tend to differ wildly. This certainly holds true for Nahema. I have a small decant of the 1980’s Parfum de Toilette and a 2ml bottle of the pure parfum (modern, I believe). The Parfum de Toilette is green, tart, and strident all the way through, and recalls Chamade more than anything else. Here and there in the PDT, I do catch whiffs of a pale, chalky rose and some fruit, but on the whole, it is not particularly inviting.

The pure parfum is much better, and presents itself as an exuberantly fruity, winey, almost decaying rose and peach or passion fruit combination. However, it lacks the bombastic punch I had been expecting of a perfume so stuffed with different varieties of rose oils that Thierry Wasser of Guerlain thinks that if IFRA caught wind of it, it would be immediately deemed a “Weapon of Mass Destruction”. Neither the pure parfum nor the PDT give me any hint of the famous red rose dripping in honey and fruit that I’d read so much about, and longed for.

Layered, the pure parfum and the Parfum de Toilette do eventually come together to provide an image of a rose – the green talc of the poisonous hyacinth suggesting the thorns, the rotting fruit and wine of the pure parfum suggesting the petals. Luca Turin said of Nahema in the Guide that it is too complex to analyze, and that the first few minutes are like “an explosion played in reverse: a hundred disparate, torn shreds of fragrance propelled by a fierce, accelerating vortex to coalesce into a perfect form that you fancy would then walk towards you, smiling as if nothing had happened.” Reading his words, I long for his experience of Nahema, because I wanted it to be mine too – but I simply can’t match it to the polite, muted, oddly sour mixed green floral I am smelling.

Masculine Review Rose Summer

Marni Eau de Parfum

June 29, 2015

I am a firm fan of the design aesthetic of Marni, the fashion house – it’s quirky, intellectual, and definitely for women who are not afraid to be individual.

So when Marni announced that they were launching their eponymous perfume in 2012, I admit I was very excited.
And even though Marni Eau de Parfum isn’t half as “out there” as the clothes, neither is it your run-of-the-mill designer scent, by which I mean it’s not drowning in sugar syrup.

Marni is yet another entry in the peppery rose-incense-woods genre, and as thus shares territory with Parfum Sacre, Paestum Rose, and Perles de Lalique. But there is an intriguing smell of paper in the dry down that I think makes this one a little special.

The perfume unfolds slowly, over the course of a day, and like the clothes, it doesn’t reveal much to you at first glance (or sniff). A peppery, citrusy rose is the first note to emerge clearly, and at this stage, the perfumes feels wet, fresh, and spicy.

But over time, the rose becomes obscured by smoky incense and woods. The perfume now feels dry, hazy, and slightly papery (the cedar, I expect). If you like roses, incense, and spice, then Marni is a great choice for summer because it’s not at all heavy. In fact, I think that if you like the modern, sheer rose and ink in Comme des Garcons’ 2 (Woman), then you’ll like this one. There are little flashes of modernism in Marni that make me think of 2 somehow.

So, in conclusion – not as genuinely innovative or interesting as the clothes, but does a fair job of encapsulating what the Marni brand is all about. It would also work brilliantly as a masculine rose for men who are not afraid to wear sheer, woody roses such as Paestum Rose, Voleur de Roses, or Perles de Lalique.

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