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Maison Nicolas de Barry: Part II (Les Parfums Naturels, Oud Collection)

November 15, 2017

Part II of my little series on Maison Nicolas de Barry focuses on the brand’s all natural and oud lines, called respectively Les Parfums Naturels and the Oud Collection. (Part I, on Les Parfums Historiques, is here). Introduced in the past few years to reflect Nicolas’ increasing interest in all natural perfumery and the perfumery of the East, these perfumes contain raw materials that Nicolas de Barry has sourced or tinctured himself, including a 25-year old lump of ambergris, rose oil from Grasse, ylang oil from Jean-Paul Guerlain’s private plantation on Mayotte, and a pure oud oil (Aquilaria subintegra) from Thailand.

 

The perfumes are formulated at 15% pure perfume oil and scaled up to make 150ml bottles of eau de parfum. None of the perfumes in the naturals and oud collection are inexpensive, ranging from €480 to €920 for the natural line, and from €920 to €1,140 for the oud collection, but two things soften the blow a bit: first, the fact that each bottle contains approximately 22mls of pure, natural (and expensive) essences like pure oud oil or sandalwood, and second, samples or should I say mini bottles are available at €52 for 7ml. Not cheap, but definitely a more feasible way for those curious about natural and oud perfumery to dip their toes into the water and see if this style of perfumery suits them.

 

Having tested quite a few of these natural and oud-based perfumes, I’d rank the Maison Nicolas de Barry perfumes alongside those of Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, in California, and Dominique Dubrana (Abdes Salaam al Attar) of La Via del Profumo. There is a similar passion for natural raw materials going on here, and the perfumes are similar in terms of texture, both being soft, gauzy, but also sometimes pungent depending on the intrinsic properties of the raw material being used. The perfumes are also similarly soft in terms of projection and lasting power, naturals often fading quickly on the skin due to the absence of synthetic musks or woody ambers to keep them locked in place.

 

The main distinction between these all-natural brands comes in the form of artistic intent and compositional styles: Mandy Aftel’s work places naturals in the context of a more abstract, perfumey vision (atmospheric and emotional rather than soliflores, etc.), whereas the work of both Nicolas de Barry, in his naturals and oud collections, and Abdes Salaam al Attar  is more attar-orientated. Both specialize in simple natural arrangements of materials and more complex ones, but the underlying aim is always to exalt the beauty of the raw materials used.

Here below are reviews of the naturals and oud collection that I tested.

 

Ylang de Mayotte

 

Ylang de Mayotte is my favorite out of the natural samples provided to me by Nicolas de Barry. Sourced from the 100% natural, small-batch production of ylang on the private plantation of Jean-Paul Guerlain on the island of Mayotte, this particular oil showcases all of the good aspects of ylang and none of the more disturbing properties. I have a personal weakness for ylang, but it’s a difficult material to work with because it is enormously potent and can overpower a composition. Depending on the grade used, ylang can be a brash, grapey, fuel-like bully of a smell that mows down any other note that’s unlucky enough to get in its way.

 

My favorite treatments of ylang, including this one focus on the delicate “egg custard” properties of ylang that align it quite naturally with vanilla and sandalwood. Ylang de Mayotte smells like a powdered length of buttery yellow silk, a subtle pattern of fresh mint leaf picked out here and there.  It is delicately fruity, but not in the harsh, benzene-laden way of some ylang oils, rather like a sliver of apricot skin dropped into a milky banana custard halfway through the cooking. It’s rich but subtle, with small gourmand flourishes that make it quite delicious – a quivering, fine-boned tropical panna cotta dotted with slivers of apricot, almonds, peaches, and mint.

 

Ylang de Mayotte is somewhat comparable to Tasnim by La Via del Profumo in that they are both 100% natural, artisanal productions and both present the soft, custardy side of ylang. But Tasnim is more oriental in evolution (smokier, woodier, and more ambery) while Ylang de Mayotte doesn’t deviate from the central ylang note and has a clear, pure shampoo-like smell. Both allow the soft, sweet almond-like tones of the ylang to emerge in the late drydown, a pleasure for anyone who loves this complex oil.

 

In terms of price, Ylang de Mayotte is twice the price of Tasnim per ml, so perhaps only the true ylang enthusiast would be able to justify a purchase. But both are beautiful, both present the very best sides of the difficult ylang, and both are all-natural; a preference for faithfulness to the central material versus a preference for a more evolved composition are the only parameters (beyond budget) that matter here.

 

 

Santal d’Australie

 

Santal d’Australie focuses on the native Australian species of sandalwood oil (santalum spiccatum), both an ordinary grade and an organic, high quality s. spiccatum extract with higher santalol content from Mount Romance in Australia. I have to admit that when I saw the name, I had been hoping that there was also going to be some of that very expensive santalum album oil from the newish plantations in Northern Australia, because I recently smelled some in a sandalwood attar made by Al Shareef Oudh that was excellent. But Santal d’Australie focuses entirely on the s. spiccatum, an oil I’m not overly keen on because of its fresh, piney, and sometimes harsh facets.

 

True to form, Santal d’Australie opens with the citric, camphoraceous slap of Australian sandalwood, which, if you haven’t smelled it before, smells like a freshly split pine log covered in lime peel and lemon juice, with a faint backdrop of soured milk or cheese curds. It’s not unpleasant; in fact, I like its good-natured, silvery freshness, but anyone expecting the creamy, arid sweetness specific to Indian sandalwood might be disappointed. The citric/fresh impression is helped along by a very limey bergamot in the topnotes.

 

The drydown is very nice, developing into a richer, curdier version of the opening notes but with a tinge of browned butter and incense. The freshness prevails in the form of a sour lime leaf facet, but it is softer than in the opening, and fleshed out by the apricot skin richness of osmanthus. The presence of the osmanthus gives the sandalwood a background of fruity suede that works very well in adding curves to the angular sandalwood. Osmanthus also has tannic properties, and this comes out more in the far drydown, with a pronounced black tea leaf bitterness that works nicely against the cottage cheese curdiness of the sandalwood.  Fresh and green, Santal d’Australie reminds me quite a bit of FeelOud’s Sandal 100k, but scaled up to eau de parfum format to allow for generous application.

 

 

Oud du Siam

 

Oud du Siam straddles the categories of naturals and the oud collection: it features in both, priced at the higher end of the naturals collection, and at the lower end of the oud collection (which features Oud du Siam as the main starting point for each oud perfume). Oud du Siam is made with 100% natural, pure oud oil from Thailand, specifically oil from a well-regarded species in the oud world, Aquilaria subintegra.

 

I guess the most important thing to know about Oud du Siam is that, although it seems to have a fairly simple composition of oud oil and sandalwood, it smells more like a more complex, oriental perfume than a pure oud or an attar (bucking the trend somewhat for this brand). There is something about the way the fresh, citrusy sandalwood reacts with the oud oil that creates an interesting brocade of citrus on golden amber resin, leather, and smoke that ends up resembling an all-natural Shalimar or Habit Rouge.

 

Oud du Siam is immediately likeable and not at all pungent or animalic. The oud oil comes across as a handsome, brown leather accord, like a lawyer’s briefcase rubbed in medicinal salve. Slowly, the oud wood materializes in a haze of smoke, nuggets of golden honey popping like fireworks in the dark, as if amber resins were knotted into the grain of the agarwood from which the oil was distilled. It is subtly smoky, in the same leathery, resinous way as Shalimar or Habit Rouge, and just as easy to wear.

 

Make no mistake about it – there is clearly natural oud oil used here, and its character comes through quite clearly. But it’s not nearly as pungent, fecal, or as difficult as some oud oils, and therefore would be a fantastic entry point for a beginner or for people who prefer to take their oud oil tamed and corralled in mixed compositions, such as the Fragrance du Bois perfumes. Towards the end, the perfume does a very interesting thing: it becomes brighter and more citrusy (lime leaf) with time, instead of the reverse. This is the point where the oud hands the reins over to the handsome, silvery Australian sandalwood, which pumps a stream of aromatic citrus and coniferous notes through the tail end of the fragrance.

 

Oud du Siam et sa Tubéreuse des Indes

 

With Oud du Siam et sa Tubéreuse des Indes, we are now firmly in the Oud Collection, although it is also all-natural and therefore could technically belong to both categories. This is a perfume that trusts the complexity of its starring raw material, here natural tuberose, to put on a show for the crowd, and it does, pirouetting gracefully from a minty, camphoraceous topnote to a salty, buttery cheese note reminiscent of gardenia, and finally ending in a creamy but rooty pool on the ground, like parsnips pulled from the wet earth, creamed, salted and peppered. The tuberose in Oud du Siam et sa Tubéreuse des Indes is fleshy and sensual, but never syrupy a la Fracas; rather, it is earthy and savory, with a distinctly rubbery texture.

 

The medicinal facets of tuberose – hospital tubing, camphor, and acetone – are accentuated by the oud, which bathes the florals in a smoky, sour haze of smoke. There is a very appealing “rotted” facet to the tuberose petals and the oud, as if both had been soaked in water for a few days, their edges beginning to blacken and disintegrate. This slight edge of fermentation adds tremendous depth to the fragrance, as well as a sort of wildness.

 

There are some parallels to Jardin de Borneo Tuberose by Sultan Pasha, which combines a very bitter, camphoraceous tuberose absolute with the dark green jungle notes of the rare Bois de Borneo oud from Ensar Oud, as well as a needle prick’s worth of skunk. Jardin de Borneo Tuberose is more herbaceous, bitter, and complex than Oud du Siam et sa Tubéreuse des Indes, but I love both for daring to combine two of perfumery’s most characterful materials and not allow one get swallowed up by the other.

 

Oud du Siam et son Jasmin des Indes

 

Oud du Siam et son Jasmin des Indes features the jasmine most commonly grown in India, which is the Grandiflora variant – sweet, pure, buttery floral bliss in a classical manner (also the variety grown in Grasse) as opposed to the mintier, but coarser and sexier sambac jasmine. The jasmine here is quite high-pitched at first, with the natural fuel-like or spilled gasoline topnote caused by the benzyl acetate molecule in jasmine. It is slightly grapey, but also tarry and spicy, with the same sort of fizzy coca-cola backdrop as seen in Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company).

 

The cinnamon and coca-cola effervescence is one facet; the strangely sweet, plasticky texture is another. The jasmine smells both floral (sweet, full, buttery) and non-floral (plastic, rubber, fuel), which lines up perfectly with my experience of naturals. Less flower, more the scent on your lips after you’ve blown up 50 purple balloons for a child’s party. The smoky woodiness of the oud here plays perfectly with the smoky phenols of the jasmine; even more so than the tuberose, these are natural bed partners.

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Parfums Dusita Erawan, Fleur de Lalita, La Douceur de Siam, Le Sillage Blanc

November 12, 2017

Recently, I was lucky enough to have been sent travel sprays of the new perfumes in Parfum Dusita‘s line-up – thanks to the generosity of Pissara Umavijani. I understand that all Dusita perfumes will soon be available in the more perfumista- and budget-friendly option of these 7.5ml travel sprays, a move I can’t applaud enough. Here are my thoughts on the new perfumes.

 

Erawan

Erawan blends the rich, vanillic hay-like properties of liatris odoratissima (deertongue) with a nutty crown of vetiver, moss, and clary sage for a result that has the same sweet, pappy aroma of freshly-poured putty and earthy, uncooked grains.

 

This effect is startling: nutritious without being foodie. Several non-perfumey ideas jump to mind, including freshly mown grass, warm hay, the horse feed we would give horses after a race (oats with Guinness and a boozy, fermented edge), and the smell of the brown soda bread mix prepared every morning in farmhouses up and down this country, which contains bran flakes, wholewheat flour, baking soda, salt, and milk.

 

Suddenly, though, after a period of lingering in the cereals aisle, Erawan rips open one side to let a crisp, pond water muguet out of hiding, a move that surprises me since I am used to the cut glass green floral notes like narcissus and muguet appearing at the top of a perfume. The coumarin facets of the liatris emerge more strongly in the drydown, giving the scent the more recognizable character of lightly toasted tobacco leaves, dry hay, honey, beer hops, and dusty vanilla.

 

With the green floral notes and the coumarin, I am reminded slightly of a less pissy Tabac Tabou, whereas the beginning posses more of the nutty, quinoa flour feel of Bois Farine (L’Artisan Parfumeur). These are just distant points of reference, though, because to my nose, Erawan is thoroughly original to the point of being kind of weird. And that’s a compliment.

 

I’d recommend Erawan to fans of rustic “countryside” fragrances that smell like the great outdoors than a classic French perfume (although that is exactly what Erawan is) – scents such as Fieno and Tobacco Toscano (Santa Maria Novella), Cuir Pleine Fleur (Heeley), Sova (Slumberhouse), and Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire).

 

 

Le Sillage Blanc

 

Le Sillage Blanc features the same grey-green, matte, slightly oily galbanum leather that stars in both Cabochard (Cabochard) and Bandit (Robert Piguet), but to my taste, Le Sillage Blanc is an improvement on both because while it is quite dry and bitter, it is absent the stomach-churning raw meat aspect that makes Bandit unbearable (to me) and the somehow lifeless, non-moving torpor of the Cabochard. Le Sillage Blanc is slightly sweeter and smokier than its antecedents, as if the leather is trying to crack a smile while dangling a cigarette at the corner of its mouth.

 

Still, there is a certain brown-grey grimness to this genre in general – a certain lack of juiciness and sap that marks them out as unforgiving of human frailty. I think one needs to be Parisian, whippet-thin, and an elegant chain smoker to find this one perfectly comfortable. But in those circumstances, yes, I can see how it might read as sexy.

 

Fleur de Lalita

 

Fleur de Lalita is simply phenomenal. My favorite out of the new Dusita perfumes had initially been La Douceur de Siam, but then I tried Fleur de Lalita and have been mainlining it like a junkie ever since. There is something about this perfume that excites me, and I think that it’s because it manages the same perfect balance of crisp, crunchy green “leafy” notes and warm, milky-sweet tropical florals as in Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s) and Sira des Indes (Patou), but mixes in the deeply animalic galbanum-musk pairing that makes L’Heure Exquise (Annick Goutal) so enduringly beautiful.

 

I am not a big fan of galbanum, but here in Fleur de Lalita, the galbanum sidesteps the lime leaf and cut green pepper freshness of the resin and goes instead for that cigarette smoke-inflected, murky, animalic dankness that we can glimpse lurking in the depths of L’Heure Exquise and maybe even No. 19 EDP (Chanel). The animalic aspects of galbanum are cleverly emphasized with natural ambergris, which gives the body of the scent a salty, musky funk that hangs around for a good while (the last time I saw galbanum and ambergris work together so well was in Ella by Arquiste).

 

None of which might be apparent when you first spray this on, of course, because Fleur de Lalita is a ladylike endeavor and will only reveal her undergarments when you insist on looking. The first part of the scent, therefore, really focuses on the milky, banana-leaf sweetness of tropical ylang, jasmine, and lily; if you loved the sultry, cumin-spiked crème brulée of Amaranthine, like I do, then the opening hour or so will have your eyes rolling back in your head.

 

But the sharp, wet greenness of muguet reins in the supine creaminess of the florals to the perfect degree, ensuring that the scent never tips too far one way or another into sharpness or dessert. It’s like a rice pudding stirred with a snapped-off piece of agave, cold from the fridge and beginning to drip droplets of clear nectar.

 

Fleur de Lalita is the perfect balance of the green and crunchy with the sweet and milky, all underscored with the most beautifully musky, animalic galbanum-sandalwood seen this side of L’Heure Exquise – back when the Annick Goutal still had real Mysore sandalwood in it. I’d hesitate to try and define this, because it is a very complex fragrance and straddles (I think) several different categories, but perhaps this might worj: a tropical milky floral a là Songes, Sira des Indes, or Amaranthine crossed with a woody, animalic galbanum fragrance a là L’Heure Exquise or even Bandit. That might not seem like it would smell all that great, but it truly does.

 

La Douceur de Siam

 

Kafkaesque has, as per usual, described this fragrance to perfection – his/her degree of accuracy and eloquence is unmatched in perfume criticism. As I am not the best at describing notes or the progression of a fragrance, perhaps it is best to first read Kafka’s review to find out what La Douceur de Siam actually smells like, before returning to my flightier, impressionistic impressions.

 

You back? Great. Notes aside, La Douceur de Siam is, for me, the perfect rendering of that moment in Snow White when the little birds are helping Snow White to clean up the cottage of the seven dwarves by dropping fresh flowers into a vase and hanging shirts up on the line. It also reminds me of that orgasmic moment in the Herbal Essences ad when the girl throws back her head in ecstasy as soon as a dollop of that clear pink gel hits her hair.

 

Wearing La Douceur de Siam gives me the same feeling of childlike joy as those scenes suggest – when I first tried it, the first thought that jumped to my mind was how grateful I was that florals like this are still being made, by which I mean juicy, clear, uncluttered, and happiness-inducing without being too self-conscious about it.

 

The first stage of La Douceur de Siam strongly features the minty bubblegum aspects of ylang, against a backdrop of a tropical, fruity custard of frangipani, magnolia, and champaca. It might prove almost too pretty were it not for the overdose of benzoin or some other resin up front that gives the texture a strangely raw, doughy feel, like a bowl of potato flour moistened with a few drops of water. This central accord is lifted at the corners by small flourishes of green tea, banana, wet violet leaf, and cinnamon, like those little Disney birds lifting the corners of a tablecloth.

 

The scent goes on in this fruity, floral track for a while, getting sweeter as time goes on, while all the time avoiding that metallic, tinned-fruit aspect that dogs most tropical florals. Interestingly, the champaca begins to take over at some point, imbuing La Douceur de Siam with the rich, steamy rice and green tea character of champaca flower. Champaca is often strangely musky to my nose, like a curl of green apple peel dipped into a resinous cream, but here the clean, fruity facets of the flower dominate.

 

Thanks mostly to the strong presence of the champaca, the scent takes on a pleasant soapiness. This is not the thick, opaque soapiness of, say, Ivoire (Balmain) or even Noa (Cacherel), but the clear, fruity soapiness of shampoos like Herbal Essences or Garnier Fructis. Fun fact: champaca blossom gave rise to the word “shampoo” by way of the Sanskrit word for champaca, “champo”, which means “to massage”.  Champaca oil was traditionally used throughout Asia to fragrance all kinds of hygiene products such as soap and shampoo.

 

Later on, I notice a creamy vanilla and sandalwood duo coming in and settling all the floral notes. This is a truly delicious part of the fragrance, making me think of both dry book paper and a creamy chai sprinkled with dark cocoa and flakes of coconut.

 

A silky, jammy rose emerges strongly at the end, and combined with the lingering traces of the fruity, tropical shampoo notes conspires to make me think of Liasons Dangereuses (By Kilian), another fragrance that conjures up the vision of a clear shampoo with droplets of pear and peach nectar suspended in the gel, popping and bursting juicily against one’s head when massaged in.

 

They are not smellalikes, but in both these perfumes, there are mouthwatering gourmand notes like rose jam, dark chocolate shavings, cinnamon, and coconut flakes that work perfectly against the canvas of sharp, green-fruity shampoo. These are the kind of perfumes that make me think of showering with Lush Rose Jam or Garnier Fructis (the original), aromas so appetizing that you instinctively want to open your mouth and swallow some, just to see if the taste matches up.

 

The only drawback I see to such out-and-out gorgeousness is the lightness of the perfume – it settles rather too quickly into that papery cinnamon rose-ambergris-sandalwood base, losing the crispy green juiciness of the tropical flowers. But while it lasts, there is little to match the beauty of that floral bouquet, which I find intensely moving in its purity and gentleness.

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Maison Nicolas de Barry: Part I (Les Parfums Historiques)

November 9, 2017

Maison Nicolas de Barry has been around since 2003, but has garnered relatively little praise or attention. I wonder why that is? I’ve enjoyed every single perfume I’ve tried from this brand, and find some of their natural perfumes to be stunning. In an era where natural and attar-themed perfumes for a Western audience is gaining traction (Sultan Pasha Attars, Areej Le Dore, Rising Phoenix Perfumery etc.), the perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry should be a slam dunk. And yet….crickets.

 

I don’t think that the price is the barrier. Their historical EDPs, while not cheap, are not terribly unreasonable at €149 for 100mls. The naturals and oud collection perfumes are indeed very expensive (between €600 and €1,140 for 150mls), but there are 7ml mini bottles to be purchased at a reasonable cost of between €29 and €52. I know plenty of perfumistas who wouldn’t mind paying that, especially those who care about high quality naturals, pure ouds, and sandalwood oil. The people who love Siberian Musk by Areej Le Dore, or Nan-Kun by Sultan Pasha, or Bushido attar by Rising Phoenix Perfumery, or the latest sandalwood oil by FeelOud do not hesitate to drop in excess of $500 on even a small quantity of these perfumes.

 

But scarcely anyone in the perfume blogosphere mentions Maison Nicolas de Barry. The few blog mentions or reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes seem polite but slightly puzzled or underwhelmed. Having tested a diverse selection of their offerings, there is absolutely no question regarding the high quality of the materials and compositions.

 

I do believe, however, that the way the brand has positioned itself might have caused some confusion or misunderstanding. In brief, while most brands have one driving force behind their establishment, Maison Nicolas de Barry has two, and pursues both – sometimes on dual tracks, and sometimes simultaneously within the same collection.

 

Every niche parfum house has an avowed driving force – a raison d’être – behind their existence, be it to explore the beauty of synthetic molecules (Nomenclature), translate Italian and Mediterranean music and art into fragrance (Sospiro), or bring the magic of the Orient to Western noses in a digestible, French format (Amouage). I think it’s possible that Maison de Barry has gone ignored and misunderstood because, although the brand says it is mostly focused on recreating the historical perfumes of the past, many of the perfumes themselves smell much more like attars or natural perfumes.

 

The stated mission of Maison Nicolas de Barry is to recreate the perfumes that might have been worn by historical figures important to European social and cultural history, such as Empress Sissi, King Louis XV, and Georges Sand. But the perfumer and owner of Maison Nicolas de Barry – Nicolas de Barry himself – is clearly far more passionate about natural perfumery and the attar perfumery of both India and the Middle-East than any other type of perfume. He has personally visited the center of attar making, in Kannauj, India, to watch distillers and attar makers at work. He also travels around the world, visiting ylang plantations, jasmine farms, oud distillers, and sandalwood projects, sourcing his materials there and bringing them back to Paris with him, where he works them into his perfumes. He has even written a beautiful book on Indian attar making, called L’Inde des Parfums.

 

So, although Nicolas started off with a range of conventional niche perfumes – the historical ones – he has since focused more and more on his ranges of all-natural perfumes, raw materials, and (real) oud compositions. In other words, the soul of the brand “Maison Nicolas de Barry” is actually more about natural perfumery and attar/oil perfumery translated to a Western format than, strictly speaking, historical reconstructions (although there are some of those in the line too).

 

The only problem that this presents is that the split purpose might confuse customers (and even fragrance bloggers). The first impression any customer will get of the brand is the historical reconstruction angle, with the attar and naturals focus emerging only when you delve deeper into the descriptions and background on the site. Hence, a disconnect between that the brand itself suggests you’re going to smell, and what you actually smell.

 

The recreation, or reimagining, of les parfums historiques is not a new or unusual theme in perfumery, of course, as brands such as Parfum d’Empire, Histoires de Parfum, Rance, Creed, and even Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier demonstrate. But because these niche brands either got there first or are more popular, they managed to set the expectation for a parfum historique as thus: abstract, modern, niche constructions that behave like any other Western niche fragrance. Since the compositions of Maison Nicolas de Barry are at once far more streamlined and more naturals-focused, it’s possible that they appear simplistic or muddy to someone expecting the 3D mixed media richness of an Ambre Russe by Parfum d’Empire or even the Samsara stylings of Guerlain.

 

So, let’s re-set expectations here. The perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry are great when viewed through the lens of a parfum historique, but superlative when viewed as their rightful form, i.e., naturals, pure ouds, and attar scaled up into a sprayable EDP format.

 

Understanding that the perfumes of Maison Nicolas de Barry are basically scaled-up attars and naturals in the guise of les parfum historiques is crucial to understanding the perfumes themselves. I remember receiving a tiny vial of Mumtaz-I Mahal from a perfume friend in 2014: it had leaked and filled the wrapping of the parcel with one of the most intensely beautiful smells I had ever experienced – sandalwood and rose. Strangely enough, when I applied what was left of the perfume to my skin, I found it to be less complex than the scent it left in the air: a sweet rose over an austere sandalwood. I much preferred the smell of the spilled perfume to the perfume itself as a wearing experience.

 

Looking back at this now, I think I understand that Mumtaz-I Mahal was teaching me my first lessons about attar perfumery in general, which are that:

 

  • attar perfumery is quite simple compared to complex, French or Western perfumery, focusing as it does on exalting the spiritual beauty of just one or two naturals rather than on an abstract, perfumey vision,

 

  • when a blend is this simple and composed almost entirely of naturals, the properties of the 1-2 naturals chosen for the blend are very important – there is nothing to disguise the inherently green sharpness of Ta’if rose oil or the soured milk tones of Australian sandalwood, and so on. And finally, that;

 

  • since attar perfumery was created more as a way of scenting the air for others, in a display of Muslim and Hindi generosity of spirit to fellow worshippers, than for one’s own personal pleasure, the trail of scent left behind by an attar is often more pleasing than the scent smelled up close on one’s own skin.

 

Since I’ve already waffled on quite a bit, I’m going to split this article into two parts, the first dealing with the conventional parfums historiques produced by Maison Nicolas de Barry (samples of which can be found here), the second part dealing with the all-natural perfumes and oud collection of the house (samples of which can be found here).

 

The first part, below, contains reviews of a cross-selection of samples from the historical perfumes range. Some of these perfumes behave like most conventional Western niche perfumes (abstract, complex, perfumey), albeit with a strong naturals focus, while others behave as pure attars diluted with alcohol to scale them up into EDP format.

 

L’Eau de Louis XV (Le Bien-Aimé)

 

L’Eau de Louis XV (Le Bien-Aimé) – le bien-aimé meaning beloved or well-loved – is a scented tribute to King Louis XV. It is one of the most sublime and natural-smelling neroli fragrances I’ve had the pleasure of smelling. Unlike most neroli fragrances, there is no slow descent into soapiness; L’Eau de Louis XV retains a juicy, fresh bitterness that’s akin to biting into a winter orange and getting a mouthful of peel, waxy green leaf, and a bit of the woody bark too. It is both bright and salubrious. There is a floral poudrée heart of rose, violet, tuberose, and other flowers for support, as well as a dark, unsweet amber accord, but these are merely there to hold the orange and neroli aloft.

 

Am I imagining the slightly animalic muskiness that closes in around the neroli topnotes after the first few minutes? Probably. But something about this fragrance makes me think of the steamy, soapy floral odors escaping from the King’s boudoir during his morning bath, with the underlying funk of a sleepy and as of yet unwashed body warm from his bed. Without doubt, this should be the bellwether for neroli scents. It smells natural, uplifting, fresh, and bitter in all the right places. Bien aimé indeed…

 

La Reine Margot (La Scandaleuse)

 

It’s odd that jasmine is technically a white floral when its smell is so purple. In La Reine Margot, the natural jasmine really shines through – round and creamily sweet but not as bright, high-pitched, or as sunlit as the synthetic variants. In fact, it has a curiously dusky, subdued hue, as if the flower has been covered in heavy velvet. There is also a slightly muddy, plasticky tone that I associate with natural jasmine. It smells almost exactly like a natural jasmine ruh I’ve smelled before, while doing research for the Indian attar portion of my book.

 

The star is the natural jasmine, but it is backed by a powdery, spicy amber and what reads to my nose as creamy pheromone. What I mean by this is that it features the same “cream of wheat” smell that I’ve picked up in two pheromone-based fragrances, the all-natural Feromone Donna by La Via del Profumo and Pheromone 4, an attar produced by Agarscents Bazaar. Feromone Donna features a similar although not identical notes list to Pheromone 4: jasmine, civet, ambergris, tuberose, and vanilla.  Like Pheromone 4, these materials come together to form a floral creaminess that is part cream of wheat, part white chocolate.

 

In La Reine Margot, there is something of a similar effect, with the jasmine interacting with either an animalic musk or ambergris in the base to produce a creamy floral porridge effect. It is perhaps more accurate to view this as a natural jasmine soliflore filtered through the sheen of a milky sandalwood oriental like Dries Van Noten for Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. I find this to be a very sensual, natural-feeling jasmine perfume that – unlike many other jasmine-musk combinations – never tapers off into that leathery sourness one smells beneath the wrist band of a rubber watch at the end of the day. It remains soft, pure, and creamy all the way through.

 

 

L’Impératrice Sissi (L’Indomptable)

 

L’Indomptable means indomitable, a person who cannot be subdued or defeated, and this describes perfectly both the character of Empress Sissi and the fragrance itself. Sissi is a cheeky little scent. It comes so over-stuffed with violet pastilles, gummy bears, face powder, cherry syrup, and doll head plastic that you’d think that it would be insufferable to anyone over the age of 12, and for a while, it is. But then a thick, raw lump of benzoin and the uncooked pallor of a very potato-y iris emerge, interjecting the saving grace of ugliness into the pretty.

 

Sissi is extreme in all respects – a sort of cosmetics violet-iris accord set on fire and sent rolling down the hill to flatten everybody in its wake. People who like the part-syrupy, part-powdery excesses of Guerlain’s Insolence, Incarnata by Anatole Lebreton, or Ombre Mercure by Terry de Gunsberg will probably love this lipstick-on-steroids perfume too. I don’t love it, myself, but I certainly enjoy wearing it more than I should. In fact, it’s become something of a guilty pleasure. There’s a fluffy marshmallow crème accord in the drydown that gives as much pleasure and comfort as a giant, fluffy onesie. I’d imagine. Not that I own one or anything.

 

L’Eau de George Sand

 

I find it fascinating that both Maison Nicolas de Barry and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier have historical fragrances in honor of George Sand and Queen Margot. Both houses chose jasmine as the principal material for their Queen Margot fragrances, although the MPG version is more of an animalic orange blossom than a true jasmine, and the Maison Nicolas de Barry version stars a very dark, natural jasmine accord.

 

For George Sand, both houses focus on the dried-up remnants of a perfume vial carried by Sand herself, which seemed to be made up of patchouli, roses, and amber. But while MPG takes the basic historical formula in a spicy, ambery oriental direction, the Maison Nicolas de Barry focuses on the dark, chypric elements. Think Amouage Beloved, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and Noir Patchouli by Histoires de Parfum, rather than Cinnabar or Or Noir.

 

L’Eau de George Sand establishes its chypre credentials immediately upon application, putting forth a mossy, abstract bitterness that recalls dried plums, polished wood, and violin resin. It is also immediately powdery in a sumptuously floral way, and I’m sure that I can smell the bones of Acqua di Parma Profumo here, itself a cleaner, more powdery version of Mitsouko. However, there is also a plush animalic feel lurking under the topnotes, which could be either a grubby musk or labdanum. The contrast between the bright, elegant sharpness of the flowers and the murky skin-like feel of an animal is quietly disarming.

 

It is only towards the heart that I sense the darkness of patchouli moving in. But from there on out, this is a herbal, earthy patchouli chypre with a healthy dose of powdery rose. It is dark and somber in feel, while also elegant in that inimitable French manner. Lovers of Aromatics Elixir, Beloved, Noir Patchouli, or even Profumo should give this a try. It does everything they do albeit in a quieter and more natural way.

 

Mumtaz-I Mahal

 

This was the perfume that sparked my initial interest in Maison Nicolas de Barry back in 2014, but I could reconcile neither my actual wearing experience nor the middling reviews with the incredible, unforgettable scent that had spilled on the package and permeated my sample box. In much the same way that I love the collected smells of all my perfumes on my winter coat collar or when I open up my perfume drawer more than the scent of any one single perfume on the skin, Mumtaz-I Mahal smells better in the ambience than on the skin.

 

On the skin, it is a very simple fragrance, just a Turkish rose backed by a smidge of sandalwood. The rose is very high quality – truffled, velvety, rich, and slightly jammy around the edges – but for all intents and purposes, it’s a rose soliflore, and that has to be what you’re looking for when you buy or sample Mumtaz-I Mahal. I think of it as the rose note from Aramis Calligraphy Rose cut free of all the spices, smoke, and resins of the Aramis.

It grows a little more citrusy and fresh towards the base when it meets the sandalwood, but in general, the rose tends more towards the softly jammy and truffled rather than sharp or green. Beautiful rose, beautiful materials…but perhaps better smelled in the secondary wake of someone else than as a personal perfume.

 

Shah Jahan

 

Shah Jahan is, of course, the natural companion to Mumtaz-I Mahal and supposedly the masculine counterpart. It is unisex, in truth, like all of the perfumes produced under Maison Nicolas de Barry. Inspired by the traditional attars produced in Kannauj and offered as gifts to the ruling emperors and princes of the Persiatic Mughal dynasty in India, Sha Jahan is far more complex than Mumtaz-I Mahal, with a tart, rhubarb-like rose on top of sandalwood, a vegetal amber attar base, and a touch of pure oud for exotic Arabian flair.

 

Shah Jahan has a fresh, silvery mien to it that speaks to homely Indian green herbs; compared to its female counterpart, it is angular and sugar-free. A woody, oudy sourness lurks at the corners, drawing the bright rose and herbs into the shadows somewhat, but mainly providing depth. It is spicy, sharp, and quite traditionally Indian in feel. Indian ambers are not creamy or vanillic, tending instead towards tart and spicy.

 

Oddly enough, the raw materials behave in this EDP format in much the same way as they would in an oil-based attar, meaning that the rose, which normally fades out over time in conventional fragrances due to the volatility of its geraniol and citronal molecules, re-emerges towards the end of the perfume, bathing the taut oud and woods in a rosy glow, that, while never sweet, softens the austerity of the blend. Think of this one as a rose-oud accord wrapped up in the clothing of a traditional Indian attar, which in turn is disguised in the form of a conventional eau de parfum. Superb.

Review Round-Ups Thoughts

Cire Trudon Fragrances: The First 5

October 23, 2017

If you’d told me that I’d be considering investing €95+ in a coffret of perfumes from candle maker Cire Trudon, I’d have been skeptical. It’s not that I doubt a company more known for its candles would be capable of producing good perfumes – after all, Diptyque has managed it – but based on personal experience, any time 5 or more niche perfumes are released at the same time by a brand, it usually features one or more of the following problems:

  • The perfumes are a paint-by-numbers rundown of popular niche themes – there will be an oud, a leather, a rose, and so on, every single perfume feeling like a retread of a perfume I already own
  • There will be one stand-out perfume, the basket into which all the eggs have been placed, which means that you get stuck with 4 or 5 “also rans”, or fillers
  • Lack of thought put into the execution or skipping corners on quality in order to rush all perfumes to market at once

 

But none of these problems appear here. Cire Trudon hired really good perfumers, among them Lyn Harris and Antoine Lie, and obviously told them to take their time. And although the perfumes are not bold or experimental, they are more abstract than the perfumes in the main Diptyque line (Tam Dao et al).

 

I won’t belabor the Diptyque comparisons too much, because they’ve been in the fragrance game for decades now and that would be unfair; but I will point out that the Cire Trudon exhibits a very Diptyque-ian naturalness of feel (despite being, like Diptyque, mixed media perfumes). I think that last point will be important for people who find modern woody ambers to be too overbearing.

 

Furthermore, a huge point in Cire Trudon’s favor: they have issued these fragrances both as standalone scents and as a coffret of 5 travel sprays of 10ml each, thus making the range perfumista-friendly. It’s a smart move, and I’m willing to guess that this, coupled with the wave of positive reviews that have been emerging for the perfumes, will give this launch a nice boost in an extremely crowded market. Not many fragrance friends I know would pay full retail on a €180 bottle of scent, especially from a new-to-fragrance company: it’s too much of a risk and we all already own way too much perfume. But 5 bottles of only 10ml each for €95? Now that’s a different proposition. That gives us perfume whores the variety we crave, in quantities we actually have a hope of consuming within our lifetime, and at a price that is not too much to swallow.

 

There is no redundancy in the Trudon line at all, no thematic or note overlap that might stall a purchase. My only hesitation comes as a result of a certain tendency towards linearity in the perfumes, as well as slight familial resemblances to other perfumes I already own. However, I’ve smelled enough perfumes to know that many of these similarities are just a happy accident of arranging similar notes or materials together in a composition. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of niche perfumes that are ghostly (and probably entirely accidental) doppelgangers of others.

 

In some cases, this accidental similarity works in the perfume’s favor. For example, my favorite of the coffret, Olim, composed by Lyn Harris, is a clear descendant of the Shalimar/Jicky family. I have long accepted that I am the kind of person who buys not only Shalimar but its every relative, including Fate Woman, Angelique Encens, Opus 1144, and Musc Ravageur, regardless of the obnoxious overlapping that this incurs in my modest wardrobe. So, I was always going to love this. And I do.

 

Olim first most closely resembles Jicky in its clashing, slightly sour combination of fresh lavender and creamy, powdery benzoin. But there is also a distinct resemblance to Opus 1144 in its sparkling, fizzy bergamot sweetened into a lemony sherbet by the elemi resin. Its candied lemon-and-lime opening might take some time to get used to, but lovers of Refresher Bars will find it familiar.

 

Olim has a beautifully resinous drydown, full of earthy myrrh and fat, powdery benzoin, and is quite hotly spiced with clove. It feels compositionally similar to Jicky, Shalimar, and Opus 1144 in its play of brightness (sherbet, lemon, bergamot, lavender) over darkness (the earthy myrrh and benzoin). In its final blaze of spice on the skin, it strikes me that it is also similar to one of Lyn Harris’ own compositions, Fleur Oriental, which puts its own spin on the golden, balsamic Shalimar model with a spark of dry, hot carnation.

 

I can see myself slipping Olim quite easily into a “Shalimar” day, where I typically start off with a spritz of Fleur Oriental, then move onto Iris Oriental or Opus 1144, finally finishing off with the PDT or parfum version of Shalimar. I love deliberately blurring of the lines between these perfumes and finishing the day in an expansive aura of glittering benzoin, myrrh, vanilla, bergamot, and herbs, one pasted on top of another. I’m MacGyvering what I have to make an über-Shalimar, and it smells incredible.

 

Lyn Harris also composed II, pronounced (and sometimes written as) Deux. II is a fresh, green aromatic fragrance that clearly revolves around the use of fig leaf, although it is not listed. Fig leaf in perfumery smells resinous, fresh, and more like freshly-peeled lime peel aspect of galbanum than the milky, sappy smell of cut fig wood: Diptyque’s Philosykos, for example, focuses far more on the milky, coconutty facets of the entire tree rather than just the green leaf itself. Deux far more closely resembles the sharp, citrusy greenness of Annick Goutal’s Ninfeo Mio, a perfume I once owned but quickly swapped away because of the throat-catching sourness of its cassis drydown.

 

II (Deux) sidesteps the urinous, sharp tones of the cassis problem in Ninfeo Mio, and bolsters the juicy greenness of the fig leaf with a lot of what smells to me like tomato leaf. Either way, II is a perfume that smells pleasantly of a kitchen garden after a gentle shower: dewy, crisp, and green by way of snapped stalks and crushed bean pods. I like II in particular because it is vegetal without being harsh or sour. The base of the scent, mostly Ambroxan, feels like a gust of salty air from outside, and simply aerates the greenery without leaving a bitter chemical aftertaste. Tastefully done.

 

It’s difficult to make a church incense scent that stands out in a field crowded with giants: Avignon, LAVS, Cardinal, Bois d’Encens, and Casbah tower over the genre, and all newcomers are inevitably measured against them. I am not terribly fond of church incense genre, a lesson learned only after buying a few of those above-listed stalwarts, but then again, I suspect that most Catholics have something of a quixotic relationship with the aroma of lit resin. Having said that, I far prefer Mortel above most in the genre, and it is for these specific reasons:

 

  • It feels completely natural on my skin. Even in the much-lauded Bois d’Encens, the peppery Iso E Super bothers me, and a recent entrant, Mandala by Masque Fragrance, was loaded with such a large dose of a potent woody amber that it defeated my nose in an hour. When I see “meditative” in the description of a fragrance, I equate that with peacefulness and naturalness: unfortunately, many brands equate it with the soaring reach of woody ambers or IES, and thus disturb my sense of peace.

 

  • Rather than being soapy, cold, or “spiritually elevating”, Mortel is warm and full in feel. The brand calls Mortel “erotic” but I interpret this more as a sort of grounding, animal-like feel that comes from the dusty labdanum that plays the starring role in the scent; it smells like resin combed directly combed out of a goat’s hair. Golden, warm, balsamic, dusty, spicy – these are the words I’d use to describe labdanum, and these words also define the feel of the fragrance.

 

  • Although the fragrance includes frankincense, the topnotes of Mortel do not smells fresh, pine-like, or peppery, as in many frankincense-dominated fragrances. Instead, it plunges straight for the warmer myrrh and labdanum in the heart. I think that many church incenses use frankincense and elemi to impart a certain airy, cathedral-filling brightness to the topnotes, in an attempt to make us feel spiritually elevated. Mortel, lacking this hauteur, is more down to earth and less reverential in tone, which of course makes it far easier to wear for a church-o-phobe like me.

 

  • I have no idea why I’ve taken to bullet-pointing this review, but like they say on Countdown, I’ve started so I’ll finish: Mortel pleases me because it gives me the smokiness of resin without the stone coldness of a church pew. If you like the idea of a very warm, natural-smelling incense fragrance that will make you feel meditative and restful without making you feel like you’re in church, then do give Mortel a try.

 

I love a good smoky fragrance, but it’s hard to get right. Le Labo Patchouli 24 satisfies me on almost every level, but its marshy, vetiver-led drydown sometimes turns to runner’s sweat on my skin, so I have to think carefully before putting it on. I love the sweet, glazed-ham smokiness of Fireside Intense by Sonoma Scent Studio, but sometimes I think I can taste a rather nasty aromachemical up front, like a shot of liquid smoke one puts in BBQ sauce (I can live with it, though). Bois d’Ascese by Naomi Goodsir is too much for me, an unrelenting plume of opacity.

 

Revolution really gets the smoke right, and as far as I can tell, it’s because there’s a clever balance between black, dry smoke (licorice root, charcoal, soot), green, herbal smoke (cade oil, papyrus, pine), and white, creamy smoke (mainly elemi). Creamy might sound like an odd word to use, but it really does strike me that way. Elemi smells lemony and bright, but also creamy and vaguely floral, in some compositions. It also smells like the white ash that’s left after a piece of resin burns away completely.

 

This balance of elements means that while Revolution smells green and coniferous, it also smells like ash rubbed into butter. I can see where the gunsmoke reference comes in – a bright, dry pepper note fizzes on top, giving the composition a sense of excitement and movement, but it’s quite subtle (not unlike the way pepper is used in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Amour Nocturne to suggest gunpowder). I appreciate Revolution because it’s both atmospheric and wearable, which is not as easy as it sounds. Consider the set piece that is Memo’s Russian Leather for a more heavy-handed treatment of the same theme.

 

Bruma is perhaps my least favorite of the bunch, but I’m struggling to say why. Perhaps it’s because of the dissonance between the ad copy the brand provides and my actual experience of the scent. It’s worth noting the original brand copy here, so as to be as clear as possible:

 

Bruma contains a distinguished, almost animal-like sensuality. In the night, a feminine rider draws inner strength from the elements that surround her: her horse and the depth of the forest at night seem to give her a magnetic and carnal aura. Bruma (“solstice” in Latin) is intrinsically tied to the sun. And to royalty. An icy solstice, Bruma feeds on the moon and the forest to evoke the inner metamorphosis of a character in contact with the nature surrounding her.” (Source: Fragrantica)

 

To me, that kind of language implies something more dramatic and forceful than what actually transpires. Bruma is a very pretty violet and iris cosmetic powder scent layered over a fruity apple suede base, not a million miles removed from what you’d get if you were to spray Chanel’s Misia on top of I Miss Violet by The Different Company or even Traversee du Bosphore by L’Artisan Parfumeur. They all share a delicious “I could drink this as liqueur” quality.

 

There is, however, an oddly ashy, peppery core to Bruma that does not appear in the other fragrances I mentioned, and for a time, I was close to defining this as Tuscan Leather-lite (there is a similarly sawdusty texture that links the two). But this ashen portion of the scent melts away quite quickly, leaving the deliciously fruity violet suede in its place. The drydown has a nutty, chewy lokhoum flavor to it that I truly enjoy: picture a violet lozenge of Turkish delight dusted in powdered sugar.

 

It’s a good fragrance, but I feel like I am missing a trick when I compare my experience with the brand copy. I felt the same way about Times Square by Masque Fragranze, which I enjoy as a syrupy apricot and lipstick scent, but completely fail to grasp the more exciting garbagey or sinful hooker stuff referenced in the descriptions. Both are kind of less than advertized, like when you see a trailer for a movie that looks great, and then you go and see the movies and realize that the trailer had all the exciting bits.

 

That’s a minor gripe, though, because there’s not a bad one in the bunch. A very well-thought-out debut by Cire Trudon, therefore, and its wallet-friendly coffret deserves to be very popular at Christmas or for gifting to oneself as a little treat. I personally find many occasions for rewarding myself, like, say, finishing a review or an article, so having finished this blog piece, excuse me while I go hover my cursor over the buy button on that nifty little coffret. Yes, I have too much perfume. But no, I can never have enough perfume.

Round-Ups Thoughts

Some Excellent New Perfumes: Not Reviews, Just Smelling Notes

April 14, 2017

I haven’t been writing about perfume lately – at least in public. I’ve been writing a book on attars, researching raw materials, writing product descriptions for various perfume sites, and hosting an Aftelier Parfums thread over on Basenotes, but in terms of actual perfume reviews, nada. Maybe at some point, I’ll feel like writing about why I stopped, but not right now.

Not publishing reviews doesn’t mean I have stopped writing or wearing perfume, though. Apart from writing a book, I also write product descriptions for sites such as Luckyscent and Essenza Nobile, so I am lucky enough to smell many of the new releases.

But remove the pressure of blogging and something wonderful happens: you simply wear perfume for the pleasure of wearing it rather than holding it at arm’s length. I can feel some of the original joy I felt in perfume flooding back into me, and it feels, tentatively, like a blessing. Wearing a perfume to evaluate it for a review forces you to step outside of your own enjoyment and consider more objection questions such as structure, longevity, and the situation in which you might wear it. Shedding these criteria feels like taking off tight pants at the end of a long day.

Wearing perfume for myself for a few months has taught me a lot about the way I use, collect, and wear perfume. I no longer want to smell all the new releases right now. I don’t feel the same pressing need to own every single violet fragrance ever made, for, you know, “comparison purposes”. I have become immune to the shiny new gobs of faux-luxe seem to hit the perfume scene every week, clogging up my critical drains and obscuring the view of the really, really good perfume.

My collection instinct has also changed, shifting from “I must smell all the perfume in this category” (which, by the way, also made me buy all the perfume in that category) to “I will buy only the ones worth owning.” My wardrobe is stuffed to the brim with good-but-not-exceptional perfumes – bottles and decants – that I mainly bought with the purpose of educating my nose, building a reference library of smells, and ultimately, writing a review for this blog or elsewhere. That doesn’t feel like a good plan to me anymore, because not least because it runs counter to the blog’s original manifesto of paring things down to only the best and buying less schtuff, but because I really can’t afford to smell all the perfume in the world.

In the interests of doing what I originally set up this blog to do, which was to separate the wheat from the chaff, and pare my collection down to only the truly excellent examples in each category, I will tell you about the perfumes I have smelled in the last 4 months of radio silence that have been truly special in some way. I often smell between 50 and 75 perfumes, samples, and attars over the course of any given month, both in the guise of writing the attar book and writing for perfume sites, and over time, these are the ones that floated to the top, like cream.

In the past, I might have dropped in a quick review and then moved on to the next thing, but the absence of blogging pressure has meant that I could simply return to them over and over again at my own leisure. A perfume is judged in the context of all the other perfume you’ve smelled, and these are the ones that, for me, stand out as exceptional.

 

Bogue MEM: This is the perfume that made me want to write again in public – not to return to blogging, really, but simply to spread the word about how brilliant it is and how everyone who invests in perfume as art should buy a bottle. I got a sample from Luckyscent and spent the next few days struggling to understand it enough to write about it.

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My basic description would be dirty lavender marmalade: Jicky dragged through the quinoa section of the health food store, covered in earth, incense, and floor wax, and lifted up into the air with the malty fizz of champagne. All of this nestled in a burned-sugar floral accord that smells a bit like tuberose but isn’t tuberose, a complex series of smoke and mirrors designed to lead your nose out of its depth.

Unusually for a modern perfume – although this isn’t really a modern perfume – MEM reveals its true complexity in the base, where a silty, musky ambergris lights up all the other elements like a blowtorch. Antonio used real animalics for the base, and it shows. The perfume is complex, beautiful, and abstract, far more so than even Maai. By far one of the most exciting perfumes I’ve put on my skin lately.

Notes (deep breath now): petitgrain, mandarin, grapefruit, 4 different types of lavender, ylang ylang, lily of the valley, white champaca, jasmine grandiflorum, rose damascena, bourbon geranium, vanilla, peppermint, laurel, Siam benzoin, rosewood, sandalwood (santalum album), Himalayan cedarwood, labdanum, aldehydes, ethyl maltol, ambergris, musk, castoreum, civet, amber

 

Naja by Vero Profumo: A creamy, blond tobacco floral sluiced with the iodine-like astringency of melon rind. Naja reminds me of Le Parfum de Therese and Diorella, not in the way it smells, particularly, but because they all take dense, saturated materials and pass them through a sieve of something salty and aqueous, giving them a luminescence that is particularly French. The dense tobacco of Naja is leavened by this salty, wet fruit note, and underpinned by a bitter, doughy suede note fleshed out with the apricot skin of osmanthus flower. Pulled in two directions, sometimes it feels airy and dusty, other times, thick and chewy.

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There is also a sharp spice to Naja that is immensely appealing, something hot, slightly smoky, and carnation-like, but although I can understand the references to Tabac Blond and Habanita, Naja is far stranger and more modern than either – in other words, a creature of its own time.

I sense a dusty, pollen-ish honey texture here too, unsweet and slightly floral, which I conclude is coming from the lime blossom. I don’t know if the effect is deliberate or not, but it is this slightly bitter, dusty honey that links Naja to both Onda and Rozy.

To my nose, there is none of the citric brightness of lime that others seem to be picking up, just the slightly green floral tang of linden honey and that salty, wet fruit note that is too blurry to define as either a melon, an apple, or anything else specific. What I love the most about Naja is its surprising sturdiness, its sense of substance. In each of my wearings, I visualized Naja as a dense square of osmanthus-tobacco lokhoum, striated with saltwater and dusted with an inch-deep layer of green pollen.

Like MEM, Naja is an El Bulli meal full of little trade-offs between texture and taste that will prick your saliva buds and fire up all five of your senses. And like its creator, Naja is as elegant and fierce as a single slash of Russian Red across an otherwise unmade-up face.

Notes: tobacco, osmanthus, lime (linden) blossom, melon

 

Dryad by Papillon Perfumes:   Basically a reworking of vintage Vol de Nuit parfum for modern times, and yes, I understand the impact of my comparison here. To many, Vol de Nuit is the zenith of the art of Guerlain, but to me, it speaks of home. The heart of Dryad reproduces almost exactly the same damp, green narcissus and jonquil accord found in Vol de Nuit (and actually, come to think of it, also the original Miss Dior), and there is a similar support in the form of oakmoss, tarragon, galbanum, and vetiver. But the sage note spins it in a slightly naughty, “witchy” direction. It smells like dark green velvet, with a bluebottle anisic sheen from the tarragon to keep things lively.

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Liz Moores calls this a green chypre-oriental, which of course is the same category to which Vol de Nuit belongs. But it diverges in the base. Dryad features none of the sweet, ambery notes found in Vol de Nuit, switching instead to a dry, rubbery galbanum resin that gives off the feel of sage and hay thrown on a bonfire and left to smoke out. It is also not powdery, but it does exhibit the kind of “cut grass” and “lime peel” dustiness that galbanum has.

Supposedly, there’s quite a lot of costus root in this, but thankfully, I can’t smell it. (I’ve never smelled a treatment of costus that didn’t end up smelling like unwashed hair). In fact, I don’t pick up on anything animalic here at all, which is fine with me, because all the focus is kept on those burningly pure green notes. It’s all resin and grass and sage, no soft landing in the form of amber or vanilla. There is something crystalline and focused about it.

Green perfumes are not overly represented in my wardrobe, but I would buy this in a hot second. Dryad has joined the small but exclusive group of green perfumes I truly love, which include Vol de Nuit (Guerlain), Mito (Vero Kern), Romanza (Masque), Vie de Chateau Intense (De Nicolai), Ormonde Jayne Woman, and Sycomore (Chanel).

Notes: narcissus, jonquil, oakmoss, galbanum, labdanum, clary sage, vetiver bourbon, apricot, costus, deer tongue, cedrat, benzoin, tarragon

 

Vetiver Blanc by Sultan Pasha Attars: I am not a huge fan of vetiver, but wow, Vetiver Blanc is sexy. Straight out of the bottle, it is a creamy emulsion of grass and tropical flowers, with a texture close to coconut cream or butter. The gardenia and tuberose absolutes give up their softer, low-register facets but none of their strident, candied, or rubbery undertones, so the blend stays smoothly earthy, like damp, hummus-rich earth covered with tropical blossoms that have fallen from nearby bushes.

But it’s unmistakably green. The galbanum and the vetiver in Vetiver Blanc run a smoky, rooty thread through the attar, tethering it to the greenery of the jungles and preventing the scent from floating away aimlessly into a pool of pikake island bliss. There is sensuality, but it is reigned in. Which, of course, is what makes this even sexier.

Another welcome surprise: ambergris. The composition of Vetiver Blanc contains 35% real ambergris, procured on the West Coast of Ireland and tinctured by Sultan Pasha himself. It is white ambergris, the highest grade of all, which does not produce much of a scent of its own beyond a certain sweet, sparkling, seawater minerality.

The role that the white ambergris plays in this composition is vital – it causes all the other notes and materials to glow hotly, as if lit by some internal heat source. The effect in this attar is a gauzy halo of buttery white florals and creamy green grasses and resins, all pulsing outwards in concentric circles of scent waves that fill the room and (almost) one’s own mouth.

I find this incredibly beautiful, sexy, and warm; the perfect white floral for white floral avoiders and the perfect vetiver for the vetiver-averse. It rivals both Songes and Manoumalia for their damp, fecund, “tropical island” sensuality, which, if you know those perfumes at all, is really saying something.

 

Grimoire by Anatole Lebreton: I respect and admire Anatole Lebreton’s work, but Grimoire in particular stands out at being special. Not everyone will like it, and I think it’s fair to say that the perfume has a cool, remote air that means it must select you, not the other way around. Setting out to smell like the thick dust that rises off a book of spells (a grimoire, in French) when closed shut, it combines a set of ashy resin notes with the earthy red-brown dampness of cumin.

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It’s a riff on the idea of Gris Clair but better, more successful because the dust tamps down the screech of lavender and makes it feel genuinely restful. It’s also monastically, ascetically dry. But the scent manages to capture dryness without filling the scent with the usual nose-scrapingly dry aromachemicals, for which I’m genuinely grateful.

As a side-note, I’ve recently smelled a couple of perfumes that seek to recreate the feeling or smell of dry, hot dust from a desert. L’Air du Desert Marocain, of course, was the trail blazer in this area, but it’s been followed by two equally costly niche fragrances, namely, Sheiduna by Puredistance and Taklamakan by SHL 777. These two perfumes demonstrate the risk and rewards associated with using the new generation of potently dry, woody-ambery aromachemicals: Sheiduna fails miserably, becoming a white, massively radiant ball of pain to those sensitive to scratchy aromachemicals, and Taklamakan succeeds completely, emitting a low pulse of warm, ambery “sand” and dry patchouli aromas that smell toasted, dry, and yet utterly comfortable to wear and to smell.

In Grimoire, the dryness feels cool and almost ashy. It gains an element of warmth, however, from the rather generous dose of cumin featured in this scent. The cumin adds a nice human touch to the cool dustiness of the lavender and incense, like the sweet, damp, oniony sweat under the arms of an ancient gardener tending a Mediterranean herb garden. The aromatic, simmering heat of the spice and the elemi makes the base of the scent feel hot to the touch, a nice contrast to the cool dryness of the top half. Grimoire is surprisingly easy to wear, and has a natural elegance to it that doesn’t labor any particular point. Have you ever seen the photos of the Italian men coming and going from the Pitti men’s fashion shows in September? This scent is the living embodiment of that.

Notes: bergamot, patchouli, musk, basil, moss, atlas cedar, lavender, elemi, olibanum and cumin

 

Al’Ghaliyah by Kyara Zen: Al’Ghaliyah, meaning “the most valuable”, is one of the very few rose-oud mukhallats out there that successfully manages to achieve perfect balance between the elements in the blend – a rich, perfumey oud that smells like liquid calf leather, a winey rose with no sourness or sharp corners, and what smells to me like a golden nectar of apricots, peaches, plums, and osmanthus soaking into all the other notes.

It’s important to note that all the elements reach the nose at once, cresting over each over continuously like the swell of a wave. The bright rose has been modulated to run straight through the blend like a piece of thread, so even in the basenotes you can sense its rich, red presence glowing like pulp through the oud and musk. I am unsure whether the succulent fruit notes are wafting out of the oud or the rose, but there is a cornucopia of winey, autumnal fruits to savor here. The fruit notes fade away gently, leaving the rich rose to proceed on its own.

According to Kyara Zen’s Instagram feed, it appears that genuine deer musk grains were macerated and then added to the final blend. If that is true, then it is a clever vehicle to demonstrate to people that natural deer musk does not smell as dirty or as fecal as its recreations sometimes make it out to be. Rather, it is unobtrusively musky, with all the pleasing warmth of a clean, furred animal.

Overall, I am astonished by the richness and depth of this mukhallat, and applaud the skill of the perfumer who managed to corral two or three of the most commonly-used raw materials in attar perfumery and shape them into a form that smells, well, if not new exactly, then at least a 100 times better than other iterations of the same materials. The attar equivalent of a piece of opulent, gold-threaded brocade, Al’Ghaliyah truly one of the most beautiful oils I have smelled on my attar journey. If it ever becomes available again, I will be buying it.

 

L’Animal Sauvage by Marlou: The minute I smelled this, I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from ordering it. The opening notes contain something of the almost fecal furriness of Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Khan, but tempered with fresh, sugary orange blossoms, there’s also a thread of milky innocence running through it.

Actually, it straddles the divide between dirty and clean as successfully as Kiehl’s Original Musk, which it somewhat resembles, but the luxe factor is higher in L’Animal Sauvage. I’d add only that, on subsequent wears, I’ve noticed it is even softer and milkier than it at first appeared to me, making it a good contender for a summer musk. I don’t think that I will buy this, not because it’s not gorgeous (it is), but because I’m not buying much perfume these days. Still, it makes me happy indeed that people are still making fragrances like this.

 

Violet Moss by SP Parfums: I have been testing all the perfumes by Sven Pritzkoleit, and I think that although few are actually wearable, they are very bold, new, and have something to say. They are all a bit harsh at first, and all of them work more as separate accords just smashed together rather than a real, complete perfume, but some of them just nail it. In particular, Violet Moss, which smells like our family holidays to France when the boat would dock in Cherbourg, the aroma of raw petrol on dank harbor water mingling with the foreignness of the air, and the Grey Flannel-type colognes worn by my father’s French colleagues, his fellow customs officers.

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There is a strong waft of cigarette smoke darting through the structure too, calling to mind fond olfactory memories of the near-constant stream of smoke from Gitanes and Gauloises on the dock, which only ever added to the exotic, exciting air of newness that greeted us on the other side of the water. If this smell had a name, it was “freedom” and “not Ireland.” Violet Moss represents such a specific smell memory for me that I can barely judge it as a perfume.

Sunmilkflowers is also interesting, a totally weird, nearly repulsive mixture of bitter, green notes and milky caramel, creating a striking duel of fresh-green and sickly-lactonic notes. Challenging stuff, but again, a perfume I am glad to have smelled.

Incense Independent Perfumery Resins Review Round-Ups Smoke White Floral Woods

The SAUF triptych of incenses

October 29, 2016

Filippo Sorcinelli created quite the stir with his first three fragrances, launched under the brand of UNUM, namely Opus 1144, LAVS, and Rosa Nigra (I never smelled his later two, Symphonie-Passion and Ennui-Noir). I loved and bought Opus 1144, but I find it kind of difficult to wear. Truth be told, I rather regret the purchase. That’s neither here nor there, of course.

Now he’s launched a second brand (why?) called SAUF and a collection of fragrances inspired by the fusion of organ music and church incense associated with High Mass. Specifically, each of the scents in the collection refers to individual organ stops or the wood of the Grand Orgue of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which Sorcinelli, as tailor to the pope and a fervent organist himself, was allowed the rare honor of photographing and studying.

I have no doubt that Filippo Sorcinelli is sincerely an artist. What I mean is that he’s quite clearly not one of those niche con artists who throw words like “art” and “spirituality” around and charge us $290 for the honor. No, look at Filippo Sorcinelli’s social media feed, his comfort with nudity, and his rambling, incoherent interviews and you come to the conclusion that the guy is clearly a genuine artist, because only artists are ok with sounding this batshit crazy.

His first instinct when launching the SAUF trio at Pitti this year was to organize an organ concert in a local Basilica with a famous soprano, Laura Catrani. The event was called “Vox in Organo – sound and olfactory improvisations”. This is someone who bleeds, sweats, and excretes art out of every pore and he wants us all to understand it, participate in it. I really like that.

But what of his perfumes? Of course, there’s never any guarantee that because someone excels at one art they will be equally adept in another. I doubt that he himself is the perfumer for the brand, because I see no formal training as a perfumer listed anywhere. But in general, whoever is doing the perfumes for both UNUM and SAUF (and if this is truly Filippo Sorcinelli himself, then I apologize), they know what they are doing. There’s not a bad one in the bunch. In fact, if I had the money, I would buy all three of the UNUM perfumes I have tried, plus the SAUF trio, before I’d buy similarly priced fragrances such as the Tom Ford exclusive line, because they are all rich, competent, even beautiful, and unlike the Tom Fords, possess a soul.

Of the SAUF trio, Contre Bombarde 32 is the clear standout and my personal favorite. I see this fragrance as an improvement over LAVS, which although soaring and celestial, was too soapy and cold for my taste. It also had a hollowed-out feel to it that made it slightly depressing to wear. Contre Bombarde 32, a name that just trips off the tongue, takes the beautiful incense from LAVS and layers it with an immense, sugared amber with burned sugar edges and sweet, dirty old church pew wood, giving it a far more satisfying, chewy texture that fills the mouth. The opening is quite bitter and green, zinging with unburned, lemony elemi resin, bitter orange, and a brusque, sourish cedar, but quickly it becomes creamy with amber, sugar, and resin-rubbed woods. Think LAVS crossed with Amber Absolute crossed with the unctuous gourmandise of Rosarium by Angela Ciampagna and you can begin to imagine what a toothsome experience this is.

Voix Humaine 8, inspired by an organ stop called Vox Humana that imitates a human voice, layers a very bare-bones incense accord with a host of creamy, sweet white flowers, chief among them orange blossom. I don’t care much for the rather skeletal, modern Iso E Super incense accord here, but the chemical taste in my mouth recedes when the sugar, milky floral accords are drip fed into the composition. There’s a very pleasant meringue-like airiness to the florals here, like rice grains puffed up to double their size in hot milk and sugar. It’s an interesting fragrance because it’s basically a pared-down Buxton or Schoen-type incense exoskeleton layered with a sweet, sugar white floral like By Kilian Love. Ultimately, it turns a little too soapy and clean on me to enjoy fully but I appreciate the attempt to land a white floral incense without immediately calling to mind Chanel No. 22 or Passage d’Enfer.

Plein Jeu III-V (no way I’m remembering that without an index card) was supposedly inspired by a flight of angels, and in many ways is the clearest link to LAVS, because it employs the same peppery, slightly soapy incense accord. Plein Jeu makes great use of aromatics and citrus, with the contrast between the hot ginger, zingy citruses, and cold, waxy/green frankincense providing a lively, interesting start. There is jasmine in the heart, of the cool, fresh variety, but the note doesn’t really hold its own against the peppery, oily frankincense that dominates. It is nicely smoky, pure, ethereal, and there is a slight creaminess that links it clearly to the other two in the collection: Contre Bombarde is ambery-creamy, Voix Humaine is floral-creamy, and Plein Jeu is black peppery-creamy. By running so close to the sacred church frankincense theme, however, Plein Jeu risks being muddled up in the same category with other, perhaps greater peppery, cold church incense fragrances such as Avignon, Bois d’Encens, and even LAVs.

Verdict – not that anyone does or should care about my opinion – the new SAUF trio is a beautifully done set of creamy incenses, each playing on a slightly different variation (or to use the music analogy, different chords). Incense freaks should run, not walk to sample these. I think they are extremely well-made and soulful. I’d buy Contre Bombarde in a heartbeat.

Designer Lists Review Round-Ups

Resurgence of Designer Perfumes? Angel Muse, L’Envol, & No. 5 L’Eau

September 26, 2016

Is it just me or are you noticing a slight resurgence in designer perfumes? Lately, I’ve been testing designers that are not only good but excellent, and not only excellent but beating niche releases in the same category. I’m no statistician but a recent sniffing expedition to Dublin left me more impressed with the designers than the niche.

In particular, these:

 

Angel Muse (Thierry Mugler)

 

Honestly, I think I’m in love. A softer and more wearable version of Angel, Muse manages to drown out the high-octane Maltol shriek of its predecessor with a velvety blanket of hazelnut cream.

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Edible? Yes – it smells like gianduja, that silky marriage of ground hazelnuts and chocolate they make in Turin. There is also a berryish undertone in the first few minutes, as well as a hint of citrus (chocolate orange anyone?). But it’s not trashy. The edible component doesn’t make me think of fairground food like candy floss and red berry Kool Aid. With the teeth-gnashing sweetness of the sugar molecules tamped down and an addition of nutty, grassy vetiver, it smells less like food that the original Angel.

 

Well, ok, it does still smell of food. But there is something perfumey and inedible in there that brings it back from the edge, like a posh truffle mashed underfoot into the warm, sweet grass of a polo pitch.

 

I have often noticed that vetiver can smell like ground hazelnuts, most particularly in Vetiver Tonka, Sycomore, and even Onda. It adds a savory, mealy element that feels warming, adding a special thickness and body to a composition. That effect is noticeable here, and matched to the soft chocolate of the patchouli, the inevitable result is that of a creamy, nutty chocolate truffle (gianduja). Unlike the original Angel, Muse holds on to the briny element of vetiver, which makes it seem more nutty/savory than sugary.

 

It is still recognizably Angel. More so in its overall feel than precise arrangement of notes, but it definitely retains that sweet, room-filling bombast for which Angel is famous. But whereas I can’t bear Angel, I could see myself wearing this version on a regular basis. The sour harshness of the patchouli and the screechy Maltol of the original have been sanded away, and replaced with creamy, nutty, chocolatey softness. And that suits me.

 

It’s got va-va-voom sillage and presence, but on balance, it’s probably a little quieter than the original. It’s still more sillage than I’m used to, though – I’m beginning to realize that Thierry Mugler perfumes are just built on a bigger scale than most other designers and even niche. They are the pointy Madonna bras of the perfume world.

 

Whenever I’ve sampled this perfume, people have noticed. I can’t go anywhere without my husband, my mother, the crèche workers, the supermarket ladies, and so on, all commenting on how good I smell. I am unused to people commenting on my perfume or taking much notice of me. But I could get used to it! Sexy, warm, and edible….Angel Muse is a success in my book.

 

L’Envol (Cartier)

 

I am still not sure if L’Envol is just plain great or if it stands out simply because it’s swimming in a sea of male designer dreck. Mostly I think I am just relieved that a designer is finally giving men a fragrance that has obviously very high quality raw materials, and has a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Also, it is joyfully clean of the harsh woody-ambery aromachemicals that get hurriedly stuffed into male designer perfumes these days to boost its power and projection. Give me natural-smelling and quiet over screaming power top any day. Please.

 

Of course, this was done by Mathilde Laurent, who has authored all the perfumes in the beautiful, uber-pricey and exclusive Les Heures collection for Cartier. So we should assume that a designer fragrance would contain some of her hallmarks, such as rendering a striking idea in a classical, easy-to-catch manner but not strictly commercial per se.

 

L’Envol does contain these hallmarks. It is quite smooth, blond, and easy to wear, but features a bite in its tail that surprised me and struck me as gutsy for a commercial male designer. Putting aside all the talk of honey and powdery patchouli (of which there is a lot, in a subtle, sheer way), what really struck me about L’Envol was the strong violet leaf presence it has.

 

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It is not obvious straight away, but in the base there is a HUGE violet leaf note, which joined to the slightly musky tobacco-like feel of the patchouli, made me think of both Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley and “1000” by Patou. By association, therefore, there is a slight Fahrenheit vibe to L’Envol – not really similar but inexorably linked through that sharp, green “petrol”-like violet leaf note. The base notes really stick out for me here because in comparison to the relatively light and airy topnotes and middle notes, it is quite heavy – thick, earthy, tobacco-like, with that slightly pungent violet leaf exerting its pleasantly bitter presence.

 

Moving backwards from the base upwards, the general tone is one of gentle, powdered translucence. The honey note is cleverly layered with a silvery iris for space and air, and thus doesn’t read as heavy, boozy or animalic. At the top, I thought I smelled a very good quality bergamot oil, because it opened on a bitterness I associate with citrus. However, bergamot is not listed, so I must assume that the bracing, bitter freshness comes from the violet leaf or some unlisted fruit note. In the middle, the (clean) patchouli and the honey formed a pleasant sort of ‘honey tea’ note – a translucent chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey. It is very subtle, refined, slightly powdery, and not too sweet.

 

The power of the scent really belongs to that base, though. Does nobody else smell the violet leaf and tobacco-ish tone to this at all? It might be just me, but I sense a massive violet leaf presence here. Anyway, I think L’Envol is a fabulous male designer release and worth checking out for fans of violet leaf in perfumery, such as Cuir Pleine Fleur and “1000”.

 

Chanel No. 5 L’Eau

 

I’ve been wondering what the difference between Eau Premiere and the new L’Eau might be – after all, Eau Premiere was launched to do exactly the same job as L’Eau, which was to update Chanel No. 5 for a younger generation. I thought that Eau Premiere had cornered that task with aplomb – it is a sparkling floral lemonade to No. 5’s heavy satin. I absolutely love Eau Premiere. Like many other women of a similar age, it is MY Chanel No. 5. So how is L’Eau different?

 

In a way, it’s even younger and more sparkly than Eau Premiere. Perhaps Chanel is moving past me and down the line towards 16-year-olds? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to imagine that Eau Premiere has anything to repulse a very young woman.

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I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but L’Eau does go one step further than Eau Premiere to cast off the onerous mantle of its grandmother, No. 5. The aldehydes, although already toned down greatly in Eau Premiere, have been almost completely done away with here, leaving the bright lemon and mandarin to provide enough lift and sparkle to carry the opening. It is a beautiful, joyful opening – clean, scintillating, with the fresh twang of freshly peeled citrus fruits. It has the same washed-and-scrubbed radiance to it as Eau Premiere (thanks to hedione, an aromachemical that gives the jasmine in scents such as Eau Suavage, Chypre 21, and Eau Premiere its green, radiant, ozonic lift). And it is not weighed down by the creamy soap of the original. Even Eau Premiere has a tiny bit of soapy sparkle from its small portion of aldehydes.

 

The rest of L’Eau feels similar to Eau Premiere – it has the same creamy, abstract swirl of iris, rose, jasmine, and ylang – but being a cologne rather than a perfume, it whips past its floral heart rather quickly and doesn’t linger there. The florals feel as bright and as synthetically “plastic” as in Eau Premiere and the original No. 5, but that has always been part of No. 5’s appeal to the modern girl, who wants to perhaps smell more of an expensive French perfume than of a rose in a vase. We want to attract more than bees, after all.

 

The base is a bit problematic for me, being mostly a white musk that lends a clean, diffuse texture. It’s not bad quality, or anything like that – this is not a cheap laundry musk. But its bland muskiness seems to swallow up the brightness of the citrus and the twang of the florals, meaning sometimes I can smell nothing at all past 45 minutes and sometimes I can smell vague traces of it in the morning after applying at night. In general, I’d venture a guess that the longevity of L’Eau might depend on individual sensitivity to white musk.

 

Still, very nice work by Chanel on this one. I feel certain that I will pick up a bottle of this next summer, and use it in much the same way that I use Eau Premiere, i.e., as a replacement for a summery eau de cologne (I much prefer a proper perfume over an eau de cologne any day, no matter how hot it is).

 

No. 5 L’Eau is a wonderful update on the Chanel No. 5 model. It retains the classical beauty of a Greek statue, yet is beautifully bright, radiant, fruity and crisp – a sort of pencil sketch of the real thing that still manages to satisfy all the pleasure-firing synapses in the brain.

Lists Masculine Round-Ups

My Take on 7 Basenotes Hype Monsters + GIVEAWAY + Discount Code!

September 21, 2016

Today I’m looking at some of the fragrances that have been hyped up on the Male Fragrance Discussion (MFD) board at Basenotes over the last couple of years.

 

Hype is a weather system onto itself; little eddies swirling around a particular perfume suddenly escalate into tornados. And like any weather system, it follows a distinct pattern – someone makes a claim that X which costs $ smells just like Y which costs $$$, or that X is a panty-dropper or surefire compliment-getter, excitement gathers around the product, it sells out quickly, followed by mass deflation (scornful reviews, naysayers) punctuated by little upticks in popularity thanks to the impassioned pleas of the true believers.

 

Hey, no judgment! It’s hard not to get swept up by mass enthusiasm. I have been carried away by a swirling hype river many a time myself, although my weakness tends to be new, experimental niche perfumes. Roughly 50% of these hype monsters have worked out for me – the other half languish in the depths of my perfume collection, hidden away so that I don’t have to face my own stupidity every time I open the closet.

 

Generally, most of the excitement involved in hyped fragrances comes from buying them blind. Either the fragrances are super exclusive and hard to sample (the experimental niche ones), so we should just bite the bullet and go in blind, right? or are so cheap or readily available that it makes more financial sense to buy the whole damn bottle.

 

There’s a sort of fool’s honor in buying the whole bottle blind.

 

But buying a whole bottle blind based on hype does one of two things to your judgment: (i) either you feel you have to muster up enough enthusiasm for the fragrance because you bought 100mls of it and thus give an effusive, less than honest review, sullenly willing others on to make the same mistake you did, or (ii) you feel intense, bitter disappointment at having spent $45 on something you’ll never wear, so you invest far too much time and energy into railing against the “hype” you feel is responsible for you having opened your wallet in the first place.

 

Hype is not to blame – we are. We are the ones who opened our wallets.

 

If someone likes a fragrance enough to want to talk about it and share the love, that’s not hype – that’s just enthusiasm. And it’s unfair to say that people who love a particular fragrance want to “hype” it. Because that implies shilling and you’d have to be a particularly miserable human being to believe that everyone who talks passionately about a fragrance has a financial stake in it. Sure, shills exist. But they’re pretty easy to spot and ignore.

 

I view hype more as an irresistible social phenomenon that appeals to our basic need to belong to a group (of people, of passions). Because, hot damn, when you see a group of people being enthusiastic and “blown away”, don’t you want to feel that way too? I know I do.

 

Feeling strongly about something is always more of a blast than feeling apathetic or “meh” about something. It means you’re alive and you still have hope. Because if you’re anything like me, the best perfume in the world is the one you haven’t smelled yet, the one just around the next corner. It’s what drives us on!

 

So, Basenotes MFD hype monsters. Over the years, I’ve noticed certain fragrances being the subject of hype – some small, slow hype builds, others fast little flurries that build into the aforementioned tornados. Some, like Aventus, have become such huge, lumbering megaliths of hype that they’ve succeeded in getting themselves banned to a sub-forum.

 

When I was recently given the chance by the lovely Greg Hartill of the UK decanting and sampling site, https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/, to pick a few samples from the site and review them, I decided to choose a selection of fragrances that have received some amount of hype on the MFD. He sent me generous decants of each of the seven fragrances I picked, and they were delivered to me within a couple of business days. I am hosting a GIVEAWAY of these samples, so look at terms and conditions at the end of this post!

 

Some of these fragrances are niche, some are designer. They are all masculine fragrances, and range from the very expensive to the very cheap. Some of these fragrances received the hype they did because they are similar to another famous fragrance but are cheaper. Some are hyped because they are astonishingly good for the money, and some are hyped because they take a common theme but do it so well and distinctively that they are hard to replicate with another, cheaper fragrance.

 

Men are always saying that they want a woman’s view on how a fragrance smells, right? Well, here’s my opinion on some of these Basenotes hype monsters. I tested all of these fragrances on myself and my husband, and sometimes my young son, who has a very good nose, was asked for his opinion too. So, here we have it, a 360 evaluation!

 

Aventus (Creed)

 

Aventus has become a bit of a joke in the fragrance community. Well, not the fragrance itself, to be fair. But its reputation as a panty-dropper and compliment-getter has turned it into a punch line for tired jokes about getting unsuspecting women to sleep with you – the fragrance equivalent of a roofie. Hype around Aventus is insane. And it is so acutely irritating to normal, rational people that it’s been forevermore banished to a dark corner of the Basenotes MFD where no-one ever visits unless you’re one of the converted.

 

via GIPHY

 

I was curious about Aventus because I wondered if it was possible to evaluate the fragrance without pre-scorn or bias, and if indeed I liked it, would I be able to say so? Alternately, if I disliked it or was lukewarm, could I say that too without having to tone down my words?

 

I dislike Aventus on principle – the hype, the crude jokes, etc. But the fragrance itself is pretty nice.

 

The opening is immediately appealing – a fresh, fruity note identifiable as pineapple but not tropical in any way. I am able to identify the style as the Creed house style, which comes across as watery, green, fresh, and sparkling in a slightly metallic but pleasant way. I think that many of the Creed Royal Exclusives such as Aventus and Spice and Wood play with the trope of fresh fruit (apple, pineapple) joined to a light, clean cedary base. It is crisp, aqueous, and pleasant to wear.

 

The base is smoky in a lightly-charred-woods kind of way, owing to a restrained hand with birch tar and cedar or oak wood. It smells slightly synthetic, but in a way that seems deliberate and therefore forms part of the fragrance’s charm, as in CdG Black.

 

As it dries down even further, it becomes sharper and more generic, with a “male aftershave”-y character. I could see my brothers wearing this. It’s clean and inoffensively masculine, so I can see why this would be a popular, safe choice for the office.

 

Pineapple over birch tar – it doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, Aventus manages to come across as more than a sum of its parts. Like Narciso Rodriguez for Her EDT or L’Instant, the fragrance might seem nothing special when you pick it apart or smell it on a paper strip. But when you spray it and wear it over the course of a day, it forms a sort of force field of attractiveness around you that cannot be explained away by the notes. You smell great and other people think you smell great too. It’s pretty soulless and generic-smelling. But it does its job of making a man seem clean, fresh, and ready to mate with.

 

My husband tested Aventus several times, but couldn’t find a single thing to say about it, apart from the fact that it was “ok”.

 

Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (Perry Ellis)

 

The hype on this one has been crazy. It went from selling at $35 to being hawked on eBay for $300 when the manufacturers ran out of stock. I imagine that the Perry Ellis people are as shocked as everyone else. It is possible that they thought they were making a pleasantly soft, wearable vanilla fragrance that men could wear. But one comment on Basenotes about a supposed similarity to Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille and a massive hype storm brewed up in no time at all.

 

At the time of writing, it’s been reintroduced and sold in the $65-$80 range, and everyone who missed out on it the first time round are buying it and finding out for themselves how wide that gap between expectations and reality really is.

 

Does it smell like SDV? Sort of. But only in the way that Gisele’s sisters look like Gisele – i.e., there’s a family resemblance but one is reminded instantly of how one minute variation in jaw length or height of cheekbones makes all the difference between “attractive” and “drop-dead, mouth-watering, hubba-hubba, Girl from Ipanema beauteousness”. I apologize if that sounds callow. But does it help if I explain that, to me at least, the beauty of SDV, like that of Gisele, is overrated?

 

SDV is a nice, slightly boozy vanilla perfume that has a luxurious, golden sparkle to it. I used to own a full bottle of it, until I realized that it bored the living daylights out of me every time I wore it, so I sold it. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s beautifully done. But it is simply not interesting, or dark, or boozy enough to hold my attention.

 

The opening of SDV is pretty arresting – a sugary, sparkling rum brought into being by the meeting of pink pepper, vanilla, and woods. But then there is a long period of time when the sourish, pickled tones of the cedar predominate on my skin, and I don’t enjoy that. In its final stages, a warm golden vanilla-custard glow is set free about my person and I admit that it smells wonderful. But so does Shalimar. And I am not crazy enough about straight-up vanilla to spend $300 on what turns out to be the vanilla component of a more evolved (and cheaper) fragrance.

 

Recognizing the limits of my need, I sold my bottle of SDV and have contented myself ever since with two types of vanilla fragrances – first, the type you buy in vats and hose yourself down in (until dripping wet) before you go to bed, or for layering purposes (these include Molinard Vanille and Cologne des Missions), and second, the type of vanilla fragrances that do something more interesting with vanilla.

 

In the latter category, I love Eau Duelle for its fresh black tea and frankincense angle, Vanille Tonka for its lime and carnation smokiness, Mona di Orio Vanille for a dark, woody vanilla sodden with booze, and occasionally, Bois de Vanille, which is mostly licorice allsorts on me. Oh, and Shalimar. But Shalimar is more than just vanilla.

 

Apologies for the lengthy preamble. But I want you to be clear on where I stand on SDV before I get into discussing a possible dupe for it. For all its strengths and weaknesses, Perry Ellis Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is a credible approximation of what is to (to me) a pretty nice but unremarkable fragrance. Thus, it follows that Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is nice but unremarkable.

 

The opening note is one of pure alcohol. When it settles, a nice, plain vanilla note with a soft booziness comes into view. It is difficult for me to pick up anything more complex than that, because it is very soft and low key, with little to no projection. It does, however, lack the dynamic sparkle of SDV’s opening, and the vanilla here comes across more as a sort of plain vanilla fudge texture. In fact, the vanilla in Oud Black Vanilla Absolute strikes me as being the same type as in Havana Vanille or Vanille Absoluement, whatever it’s called these days. A sort of undifferentiated blob of vanilla bread pudding.

 

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10 minutes in, and a dusty, medicinal “oud” note appears. The oud note is a bit harsh and abrasive, and reads to my nose more like a woody ambery aromachemical than synthetic oud. Even Montale’s oud note, which although rubbery and sour, is still recognized by the nose as an oudy “type” of smell. The oud note here smells burned and chemically woody. It smells like something out of the base of Sauvage, except nowhere near as brutal. If this note is what people are picking up on as “dark” and “smoky”, then I feel sorry for you. You need to try a better class of perfume.

 

This perfume lacks the density and heft I want in a straight-up vanilla. To be fair, so does SDV. (Tihota is by far and away the best straight-up vanilla on the market, but you have to really love vanilla to spend $$$ on 50mls of it).

 

Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is ultimately a very flat, plain vanilla fudge perfume with a male designer perfume base that smells a bit generic and hollow. The woody ambery aromachemical they are calling oud is nowhere near the quality of even the standard Montale oud note, and to me reads as a bit abrasive. Thank God for small mercies, though – this is not one of those overly potent Norlimbanol bombs that seem to plague the male fragrance market these days. It is, on the contrary, very, very quiet, lying flatly on the skin and refusing to project more than 1cm off the skin. Weak sauce.

 

Men, you can do better for vanilla, I promise you. Just don’t get swept up in the hype for this. Look further afield. Eau Duelle is piney and fresh, a vanilla you can wear without worrying about the fact you are a man wearing a vanilla perfume – and it doesn’t cost as much as the Perry Ellis, ironically. The EDP version smells as good as the SDV, vanilla-wise. But fresher, greener.

 

Cologne des Missions is a better dupe for SDV, if that’s what you’re specifically looking for. It’s a better capture of the sugary, smoky sparkle of the SDV opening than the Perry Ellis, although the drydown is not as creamy and as silky as the SDV. But for a more translucent, cologne-style version of SDV, you really can’t get much better than Cologne des Missions. Instead of the synthetic oud note in the Perry Ellis, you get myrrh and benzoin, which together smell woodier, smokier, and more natural than any fake oud. It’s made by nuns in a convent, for heaven’s sake!

 

My husband didn’t like this one either. He said that vanilla makes him think of baking sugar cookies and he finds that smell too simple and sugary to be interesting, either on me or on himself. Keep in mind that he’s a health nut, and sneaking a bar of chocolate in our house is a complicated operation involving small children distracting their father while I try to open the fridge as silently as I can.

 

New Haarlem (Bond No. 9)

 

New Haarlem is probably one of Bond No. 9’s most iconic fragrances, along with Chinatown (on the female side). It’s a grotesque, “extreme” gourmand that pushes the envelope with a set of roasted, burned, and syrupy notes that walk the line between cloying/intense and appetizing/comforting.

 

I like extreme gourmands a lot – they are impolite and they don’t pussyfoot around with the idea of food as fragrance. They don’t make any apologies. Done right, they are both satisfying and cartoonishly awful in equal measure. In this category, I place Jeux de Peau, Cadavre Exquise, A*Men, and yep – New Haarlem.

 

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My family and I perceived New Haarlem in quite different ways – in fact, it was the one fragrance where our opinions diverged so much so that I feel it necessary to note. To my nose, New Haarlem smells like roasted black coffee beans over a soapy, aromatic lavender cologne. The lavender here has the same sun-roasted, “garrigue” effect I notice in Eau Noire, that intensely woody, aromatic aroma of crushed lavender buds which is what creates the roasted coffee impression.

 

It is certainly a very dark and woody coffee smell – very attractive and distinctive. I can’t think of anything else that smells as close to real coffee as this does. I pick up on a creamy vanilla sweetness later on, but I can’t say that I perceive any syrupy notes at all. And I certainly don’t pick up the famous pancake accord.

 

To my nose, this is all coffee, intensely black and roasted at first, then smoothing out into sweet, milky coffee in the drydown, draped over a soapy, aromatic barbershop fougere. It strikes me as incredibly masculine. I like it very much, but find it too butch for me to pull off comfortably.

 

My husband, on the other hand, had a completely different experience. That is to say, it smelled the same on his skin as it did on mine, but his understanding of New Haarlem jives far more closely with the majority opinion of the scent on Basenotes and elsewhere. Without telling him what the fragrance notes were, I sprayed it on him and asked him to tell me what it smelled like. This is what he said:

 

“Nuts, specifically pecans, and that Danish pastry you like with the pecans. There is a lot of syrup here. Yes, it smells exactly like the bakery where I get the croissants and pecan Danish for you guys at the weekend. It is like wearing a pastry. This is far too sweet. I could maybe like this if I were feeling hungry and wanted to smell something a little sweet. But I wouldn’t wear this, really. It’s way too sweet.”

 

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For the record, my son wasn’t privy to this conversation. He sniffed his dad and pronounced it “sweeties and woods”, which I believe puts his reading of New Haarlem at the halfway point between my “woody coffee” and his father’s “pecans and syrup” readings. Keep in mind that he is five.

 

Tabac Rouge (Phaedon)

 

Tabac Rouge has picked up a lot of hype as a substitute for Tobacco Vanille over the years, but on the whole, it’s stayed at the level of hype “eddy” rather than hype “tornado”. I’ve mentally arranged it on the same shelf as scents such as Meharees and Dolcelixir – versions of more famous, expensive fragrances that some will always insist are superior to their source inspiration for some reason or another (“Meharees completely removes that awful clove note from Musc Ravaguer” etc.).

 

Likewise, many people prefer Tabac Rouge over Tobacco Vanille because it is much lighter, has ginger instead of clove, and more honey than heavy vanilla. Oh, and the price, of course – although not massively cheap, Tabac Rouge costs far less than Tobacco Vanille.

 

I agree that Tabac Rouge smells like Tobacco Vanille. But as with Meharees (Musc Ravageur clone) and Dolcelixir (Ambre Narguile clone) and yes, even Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (SDV clone), the resemblance is skin-deep really, based on a superficial reading of the notes. The biggest difference between these clones and their source material is texture and weight. And a whole world of difference can be found in the small detail of texture and weight.

 

Tobacco Vanille is luxuriously, ludicrously rich and heavy – it smells like you are wearing an overstuffed armchair, upholstered with the most expensive materials known to man. It is famously sweet, but its sweetness derives from delicious dried fruits, prunes, and bitter chocolate, all aspects of the rich tobacco absolute used.

 

People complain about the vanilla, saying that it smells like a holiday candle. Hey! Point me in the direction of a candle that smells as good as Tobacco Vanille and I will buy the shit out of that. Until that happens, shut up. Tobacco Vanille is a thick scent for days when it is so cold you want to never leave the house. There is no better smell to catch for days and days on the label of your heaviest winter coat. I wear it once every 365 days, which is more than enough for one person.

 

Tabac Rouge catches all the notes of Tobacco Vanille, but in a kind of “skim-reading” type of way. The difference is, like I said, in the small matter of texture and weight. Tabac Rouge has the texture of hot, clear tea. A sparkling ginger note is an improvement over the (frankly) awful, metallic clove note in TV, but that contributes further to the feeling of spicy, lively winter tisane rather than the thick duvet feeling I get from TV. It is as sweet as TV, but derives its sweetness from honey rather than from dried fruit. (Honey is yet another element that makes me think of tea).

 

I think that it smells great, though, and I would certainly buy this. It would suit warmer weather than Tobacco Vanille, due to its relative sheerness, and for this reason alone, it is by far the more versatile fragrance of the two.

 

Tea for Two is also in the same general area as Tabac Rouge, especially in terms of that honeyed tobacco “tisane” translucence, but Tea for Two is far smokier and ashier than Tabac Rouge. Out of all these variants, Tabac Rouge is perhaps the easiest to wear and the most versatile, especially in warmer weather. However, I still think I would spring for Tobacco Toscano for a sweet summer/spring tobacco fragrance, before Tabac Rouge.

 

My husband liked Tabac Rouge better than all the other non-oudy samples. He smelled the honey straight away. “It reminds me of M Komplex, a thick medicinal unguent you eat to boost your immune system. It has propolis, pollen, royal jelly, honey, maybe ginseng, and a few other things I can’t remember. It smells good – but sweet and medicinal at the same time. So yes, basically it smells like every substance that comes from a bee, mixed together.”

 

Rasasi Tasmeem Man

 

I’m in the middle of writing a guide to attars and oud oils, and Rasasi is a house that has started to impress me, for its quality to price ratio. I’d never tried their EDPs, though, so when I saw Tasmeem Man getting a lot of attention on the Basenotes MFD lately, I took note of the name.

 

Tasmeem Man doesn’t start out too promisingly, with a sweet, powdery floral musk that feels utterly generic and faceless. But I know that some Arabian cheapies (both oils and EDPs) need some time to settle before revealing their true character, and this was the case with Tasmeem Man. Eventually the scent smoothes out into a sweet, powdery tonka-based scent, with a trace of rose and vanilla. I thought I also picked up a bit of cumin, which my husband confirmed when smelling it blind (his comments are below).

 

I quite liked Tasmeem Man, and it is excellent value. Tonka is a trendy note in modern masculine designer scents, so it reminded me quite a bit of other men’s fragrances, in particular, the tonka-heavy Midnight in Paris. However, there is something pretty cheap and generic about it that puts me off. It is partially the source material – there is often something a little cheap-smelling about the almond aspect of tonka and/or coumarin, to my nose at least. I also find it excessively sweet and powdery (with a hint of sweaty armpit lurking beneath).

 

via GIPHY

 

My husband’s comments: “Oh my GOD, there’s cumin in this, isn’t there? It smells like a**. It’s very sweet. I’m surprised that this is a man’s fragrance.” Well, he said much ruder things than that, but I’ve toned it down.

 

Tom Ford Oud Wood

 

I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the fact that Oud Wood smells a lot like Dzongkha. Specifically, the oily, rubbery cardamom that adds a green, celery-seed-like note to the composition in both fragrances, setting their character dial at once to the savory (as opposed to sweet).

 

It’s interesting to me the way the different facets of the fragrance – the green spice of the cardamom, the smooth woods, and the oily/industrial facets – add up to a smell that is recognizably “oudy” without ever really smelling like oud when you smell it up close, on the wrist. Once you draw your head back, the disparate parts seem to coalesce into one amalgamated flow of fresh, green oily oud wood.

 

It smells wonderful – smooth, integrated wooden parts with a rich fleshiness or milkiness to the base. It smells impersonal, too, like a much-admired building in an award-winning industrial complex. It doesn’t have a soul, so it’s easy to make it one’s own. There is something creepy about it, and yet also mesmerizing, like that video that’s been doing the rounds lately with the papier mache, robot-controlled faces biting and licking at each other.

 

via GIPHY

 

It strikes me easily as masculine but not in a butch way that would preclude me from wearing it. Actually, I guess it is truly genderless, or rather, sexless – as sexless as a Ken doll. I love its creepy, putty-like texture. It’s almost off-puttingly smooth.

 

My husband liked this sample the best out of the whole line-up. It smells expensive and luxurious, he noted. I should mention that my husband loves pure oud oil, and because I test a lot of it, he is familiar with many different oud profiles and has come to love the fiercely animalic ones.

 

These are his comments: “I really like this. But that’s not oud. It is very safe-smelling. I would recommend it to people who wear suits. Real oud oil smells crazy, wild. It doesn’t have limits. This fragrance does have limits. I suppose that’s what makes it perfect for the workplace.”

 

David Yurman Limited Edition (David Yurman)

 

I’ve had to re-test this fragrance several times, because in the very short time it takes for my mind to wander off, the scent performs such a 180 on my skin that I keep wondering what perfume I actually have on. The second part is so completely removed from the first that it’s like wearing two different perfumes. If you’re not sniffing your arm like a hawk and focusing intensely, you might miss the transition completely and wonder what the hell just happened to the dark rose fragrance you originally put on. Because what I end up with is a smooth, boot-polish leather that feels texturally very close to Tuscan Leather.

 

And I know I didn’t start out with Tuscan Leather. David Yurman Limited Edition starts off on a beautifully rose note, roughly hewn and set in a dry smoky haze of oud and spices. It feels slightly green and herbal. That rose is really excellent quality. I can tell that the oud is the standard synthetic variant out of either Firmenich or Givaudan, but the rose smells like a really high quality Taif rose oil. It is bright, sharp, and lemony – almost harsh at first, but then loosening out into something sweeter.

 

Quite quickly. I lose the moist, fleshy parts of the rose, but what remains of the rose oil are the germanium-green and lemony-sharp facets, leaving their high-pitched, oily traces on all the other notes.

 

The base – which comes on very fast and surprised me every time – is a dusty vetiver leather with a fruity, boot-polish note lent by the raspberry. The combination comes off as dry and slightly musky and is very close to the way Tuscan Leather smells in its far drydown.

 

The raspberry note doesn’t smell like a fresh raspberry, but adds this strange, solvent-like tone to the leather. I have noticed this plasticky, boot-polish like effect of the raspberry note in two fragrances thus far: Tuscan Leather and Impossible Iris (Ramon Monegal). It is very appealing, because it adds a modern edge to the musky, sawdusty leather accord.

 

I like this perfume very much, and I’m given to understand that it’s not that expensive either. It is extrait-strength, so it is long-lasting. Unusually for an extrait, it projects quite powerfully too. Many quote this as a great rose-oud-leather fragrance for men, and I agree. In fact, it’s a creditable alternative to Portrait of a Lady or Tuscan Leather if you’re on a budget. It might also do the trick for fans of Atelier Cologne’s Oud Sapphir. I’m not saying it rivals their quality, but for the price, it gives you a smoky, oudy rose over leather that lasts all day. For most, that will do the job.

 

My husband said that this one was just ok.

 

GIVEAWAY!

 

I will ship the remaining samples I have of each of these 7 scents to someone ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! Terms & Conditions are as follows:

 

  • Leave a comment telling me if you ever got caught up in hype, bought something blind, and how you (honestly) felt about the perfume when you got it! The funniest, most inspiring, or most painful-sounding answer will win
  • To enter, leave your comment either here on my blog, on my Facebook posting of this (Take One Thing Off Facebook page), on a Basenotes thread I will open up for this, or in any Facebook fragrance groups! All comments count.
  • Anyone asking me the batch code of the Aventus sample will be taken out and shot automatically disqualified.
  • I will choose the winner on Friday, 30th September, 2016.

 

 

DISCOUNT!

 

The lovely Greg Hartill of https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/ is offering a 10% discount to anyone using the special code HYPE10. Officially, it’s UK-only deliveries because of the draconian shipping regulations, but I believe if you contact him at info@fragrancesamplesuk.com, he might be able to work something out with you. He says he is actually starting to ship a lot of stuff abroad, even though the site doesn’t specifically state it.

Round-Ups

12 Santa Maria Novella Fragrances – Round-Up

May 19, 2016
PARFUMARIJA-1

Photo rights: Parfumarija, all rights reserved

I am pretty excited right now, because 16 fragrances from the Santa Maria Novella range will be carried at Parfumarija, Ireland’s only niche perfume store. What’s the big deal about that? Well, Santa Maria Novella doesn’t allow perfume stores to carry their range until staff go to Florence to participate in training, and even after that, the stores are not allowed to sell the products online. You either have to go to Parfumarija to buy these perfumes in store, or you phone in with an order.

This might seem rather old-fashioned in this day and age, where you can order everything bar live Panda bears from China online. But Santa Maria Novella is not ashamed to be old-fashioned. In fact, it’s a selling point of their whole line – a collection of hand-made perfumes, soaps, and toothpastes made using the same production methods it has always used since it was founded in 1221.

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Photo: ItalyMagazine.com

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Dominican friars established the pharmacy in 1221, about a year after their order had arrived in Florence, and used the herbs and flowers grown in the monastic gardens to make balms, soaps, medicinal ointments, pomades, and colognes for the order’s infirmary. Word spread about the delicacy and purity of the monks’ preparations and public demand for the products grew. In 1612, the pharmacy started selling their products to the public, and they continue to do so today. Their perfumes all have a certain rustic, ye-olde-pharmacy character to them, and I find this very charming and refreshing.

Parfumarija will have a post up on their site soon with a pictorial of their training and the production processes at Santa Maria Novella, but in the meantime, I wanted to give you a brief rundown of 12 of the 16 eaux de cologne that are going to be carried at Parfumarija. If any of these pique your interest, I have included details on how to order from Parfumarija at the bottom of the post.

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Acqua di Colonia, also informally called the Queen’s Cologne, is a very nice, natural eau de cologne that features a bright, sour bergamot note that gives you the feeling of being drenched in ice-cold water on a hot summer’s day. The bergamot smells like a greener, more bitter lemon, with some of the intense scent of the dark green leaves and rind thrown in for good measure.

Like any good cologne (Acqua di Parma Colonia, Cologne Sologne, Neroli Portofino, 4711, etc.), the purpose is to refresh, not to last or to perform as a proper perfume. And indeed, if you’re in the market for a summer cologne, this is an excellent option – natural-smelling, one of the purest bergamot notes in the business, and not badly priced per ml. Once the brief, volatile citrus notes have died away, what’s left is a creamy, slightly soapy neroli note, green but with a touch of orange blossom dancing around the edges. It is far from complex, but as with all eaux de cologne, sometimes simple is best.

 

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Fieno/Hay opens on a very fresh, green note that combines the smell of unripe hay with sweet clover and meadow grasses. It is refreshing, but not tart or stridently-green – rather, more honeyed and floral in character.

As it develops, Fieno takes on a boozy almond-like note, leading me to believe that coumarin is the main material used here. Coumarin is the fragrantly sweet compound extracted from the tonka bean that plays an especially important role in fougeres, where its sweet, hay-like tones are required to offset the bitterness of moss and soften the aromatic sharpness of lavender.

But Fieno leans on the more honeyed, powdery aspects of hay than its dry, sun-baked aromatic side. Its boozy almond undertone and sweet hay notes make me think of Chergui, a powdery, sweet-hay oriental, more than aromatic fougeres such as Azzaro Pour Homme or Jicky. There is also something about the powdered marron glace dry down here that puts Fieno clearly in the oriental category, although given its green start, it would be fair to call it a fresh oriental.

A silky white musk, with perhaps a trace of heliotrope, finishes Fieno off on a wisp of powder and lends the fragrance a nostalgic feel.  Simple, but elegant, I find myself haunted by my sample of this long after it’s gone – and it’s one I’m considering adding to my collection.

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Melograno (Pomegranate) is by far and away the bestselling fragrance in the Santa Maria Novella line-up, a fact that surprises me every time I smell it. It’s not so much that it’s an odd fragrance (although it is) but that it’s extremely hard to pin down.

If you read the reviews for Melograno, you will see that it seems to be a different fragrance from one wearer to the next – to some, it is a green chypre along the lines of Givenchy III, to others it is the edgier twin of the grandest aldehydic monster ever created, Chanel No. 22, and to yet others, it is nothing more than detergent soap made into a fragrance. The one thing that everybody agrees upon is that it doesn’t smell like pomegranates.

Perhaps Melograno is successful because it is so dependent on the individual skin chemistry and scent memories of each wearer, and is therefore the olfactory equivalent of a mood ring. Mood rings were popular for a reason – we all like to feel that the end result is reflective of our individual personalities and chemistry. In that case, Melograno is the ultimate bespoke fragrance – it smells like a mixture of scent, your skin, and a complex bundle of memories and mind associations that are purely your own.

For what it’s worth, to me it smells like a mixture of aldehydes, green flowers, luxury soap, and church incense, with a faint but stirring note of urinal puck running through the base. Why this odd mish mash of elements should work is beyond me, but without doubt, the end result is resolutely appealing. What it will smell on you, and whether you’ll like it, is anyone’s guess.

 

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Fresia, which is Italian for freesia, does not truly smell of freesia at all but of a creamy bar of Camay soap. There is definitely an appeal in clean, warm, soapy floral perfumes, as evidenced by the popularity of the reformulated Ivoire de Balmain (French white soap) and Infusion d’Iris Homme (Irish Spring soap) – people just love the idea of smelling like they’ve just emerged, Venus-on-a-shell-like, from a bath. There is a faint idea here of nostalgia for childhood bathing rituals, perhaps, folded piles of laundry, or the idealized vision of cuddling up with a loved one in front of the fire and having him nuzzle into your clean, freshly-scrubbed skin. Fresia is highly recommended, therefore, to girls (or indeed boys) who believe that cleanliness really is close to Godliness.


Patchouli is a Holy Grail for patchouli lovers everywhere. Raw and direct, it smells at first like fresh, loamy soil and rising damp. Later, it dries out a bit and takes on the gold-brown richness of an autumnal landscape, asground-984068_640 if a tincture of crisp fallen maple leaves has been drip-fed into the brew. But whereas it gains in richness, it does not end up mired in an oriental base of sweet amber or vanilla, as so many patchouli fragrances do – this one is raw-edged, honest, pure, and totally to the point. It makes no apologies for being patchouli.

Patchouli also has a green, leafy bitterness to it and a slightly antiseptic undercurrent, but far from being off-putting, these elements cut through the brown gloom and pushes air into the room. The aroma is a thick one, but it wears surprisingly sheerly on the skin. I think it’s an incredibly sexy, earthy fragrance, because it makes a feature out of its own severity. Think of every stern schoolmistress you ever feared and ended up crushing on, and that’s Santa Maria Novella Patchouli.

 

 

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Lavanda Imperiale is a very high-quality, true-to-life lavender cologne, smelling very much like when you rub or crush fresh lavender between your finger and thumb to release their aromatic oils. Whether you’ll like Lavanda Imperiale depends on how much you like lavender, of course, but also on how pure you like the note to be presented in perfumes.

Lavanda Imperiale is a fresh, unadorned lavender, with nothing but a hit of green citrus to keep things clean. It is properly pungent, classic, and simple. Personally, I prefer my lavender to be plush and orientalized, as in Fourreau Noir, but for those who like it straight, this is a great option.

 

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Muschio Oro translates roughly to Gold Musk, which sounds rather Italian Gigolo-ish (or at least it does to me). It is an extremely soapy white musk with a bright, sharp edge to it, like a sheer wash of sulfates. I suspect the presence of aldehydes, although they are not listed. It is not unpleasant, but there are far better white musks out there (including SMN’s own Muschio, the original) unless you are deliberately seeking to replicate a fond memory involving anti-bacterial soap. For people who want to smell aggressively clean and shower-fresh at all times, I suspect this fragrance (and Fresia) would be their idea of heaven.

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Angeli di Firenze (Angels of Florence) is a sweet, soapy floral mélange of jasmine and rose that creates a golden aura around the wearer. Angeli di Firenze spikes the buttery, floral heart with a juicy apple shampoo note, giving it a fun, youthful vibe that I quite like.

My positive reaction to Angeli, in fairness, is probably due to a nice memory it conjures up for me than the actual smell itself. Specifically, Angeli reminds me strongly of J’Adore by Dior, immediately taking me back to my days of living in Belgrade, when I exclusively wore that scent.

My job at the time was to travel around the Balkans – Kosovo, Macedonia, Southern Serbia, and so on, often on local buses – trying to sweet talk donors into giving us more money, a job I was really terrible at. I was only really at the office in Belgrade once or twice a week before heading off on my lonely travails, but I remember that I never felt welcome there, or part of the team. However, the receptionist at the front desk, a beautiful Serb girl with the highest heels I have ever seen on anyone, would always take the time to stop me and say, “You smell sooooo beautiful”.

The day I handed in my notice, I walked up to the receptionist, handed her the rest of my big bottle of J’Adore, kissed her and told her that she had made my life in Belgrade bearable. I remember that her eyes filled up with tears, which embarrassed me because I suddenly understood I could have made her this happy earlier. Why hadn’t I just handed over the bottle to her the first time she complimented me on it? I never wore J’Adore again.

 

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Peau d’Espagne (Spanish Leather) is a brash, dark leather fragrance that drills home its point without losing the plot somewhere over amberland or vanillaville. Unlike cuirs de Russie (Russian leathers), leather fragrances classified as peau d’espagne (Spanish leather) types do not rely primarily on birch tar for their smoky, leathery effect, but instead recreate it through the use of a complex locking system of various dry herbs, flowers (carnation), and dusty woods. The Peau d’Espagne type of leather came about from the process of curing the leather for fine ladies’ gloves with a sweet-smelling mixture of flowers and botanical essences, which of course masked the terrible stench of uncured leather.

Peau d’Espagne is the oldest, and finest, surviving representative of this type of leather, and although it does contain a small amount of rectified birch tar, its total effect owes more to its complex floral construction than to birch tar. Although it plainly skews masculine, I think this could be phenomenally sexy on the right woman – a badass perhaps, or if playing against type, a quiet, feminine girl who wants her aura to read as unexpectedly kinky.

The leather note is strong and dry, a piece of raw cowhide waiting to be tanned in a vat of dyes. But though it is dark, it is also fresh with an underbelly of green herbs, camphor, and even a touch of mint flooding the gloom with slivers of light. The florals lend their effect rather than a distinct aroma of their own – the carnation note gives a flourish of clove-scented powder to the leather, and the violet leaf a sharp, green, almost metallic edge.  There is a touch of birch tar here, too, and although I wouldn’t really call this a phenolic fragrance, there is a distinct whiff of tar pits. But think sweet tar, like that in Patchouli 24 or the sweet, rubbery florals behind the tough saddle leather in Lonestar Memories.

As with a few other Santa Maria Novella fragrances, there is a distinctly antiseptic note floating through the heart here, almost like TCP or germolene. This adds a pleasantly medicinal touch, and replicates somewhat the balance achieved in something like Tubereuse Criminelle between the floral, creamy side and the harsh, wintergreen aspect. It is this antiseptic mouthwash note that brings together all the other elements – the leather, the herbs, the carnation, the tar. A striking, if rather rough leather fragrance in a tradition of Peau d’Espagne that is no longer in fashion.

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Calicantus is Italian for calycanthus, a little-known shrub whose aroma I’ve only ever encountered once before, in Maria Candida Gentile’s wonderful Hanbury, where it interacted with the orange blossom to produce a strawberry or blackberry wine backdrop to the scent – most unusual and pleasing.

I can’t say to what degree calycanthus has been used in Calicantus, but to my nose it reads as an abstract, spicy floral chypre, with a woody, soapy, antiseptic base borrowed from Melograno and a blended floral heart consisting of rose, jasmine, and ylang. At the start, there is a burst of something green and almost animalic, narcissus perhaps, which gives way to soapy orange blossom and sweet fruity notes. The clearest leading characteristic of Calicantus, however, is its powdery, bitter, spicy carnation note which gives the fragrance a very Caron-like complexity and old-world glamour that is largely missing from the simpler perfumes in the Santa Maria Novella line-up.

I like this one a lot, and would recommend it to lovers of both Melograno and the older, powdery green and yellow florals in the Santa Maria Novella line-up such as Gaggia and Ginestra. Fans of the clove-like carnation notes in the current Tabac Blond by Caron, and powdery, old-school floral chypres should also check this out. It risks being over-shadowed by its more attention-grabbing siblings, but it would be a shame to overlook this quietly complex little beauty.

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Nostalgia is supposed to smell like an Italian racing car on the track, complete with gasoline fumes, rubber seating, and all. During the fleeting topnotes, Nostalgia pulls this off in spectacular fashion with a pure petrol note that would put the current version of Fahrenheit to shame, followed quickly by a shot of sweet car-seat rubber and leather.

The smoke and fuel dissipate rather quickly, however, leaving behind a sweet, rubbery, vanillic tailbone that smells rather too close to Bvlgari Black to justify the price. The scent is nicely woody and quietly masculine. Beyond the arresting opening, I don’t think Nostalgia is particularly challenging, so I see this as a great option for men (or indeed women) who might be looking to dip their toes into niche but not go too far into weird/ugly/difficult territory. This is just different enough to provide good fun and shock value, but sweet, woody, and generically aftershave-like in the drydown to reassure novices and big ole scaredy cats.

 

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Gelsomino is a marvelous jasmine fragrance with, from what I can tell, real jasmine absolutes used (both Grandiflora and Sambac). Real jasmine essential oil is so expensive to produce (it costs over €4,000 a pound) that it is very rarely used in commercial perfumery, and more often, a variety of synthetic jasmine is used. These jasmine replacers cost just over €3 a pound, depending on the sort used, and some of them are really good, so you can see why they are used in commercial perfumery.

But I believe that Gelsomino has a good deal of the real stuff. The cologne version is fresher and greener; the triple extract is darker and jammier – but both dry down to a sourish, animalic base that may surprise you if you’re not expecting it. It’s one of my favorites, as you can see from my review here.

 

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Tobacco Toscano is a sexy, sheer tobacco-honey fragrance with a rubber twang that recalls Bvlgari Black stripped of its green edges. It also strongly recalls the sweet, bready musk and vanillic paper/cardboard notes of Dzing! but features none of that scent’s elephant dung. But most of all, Tobacco Tuscano has a distinctly Tobacco Vanille vibe. The advantage of Tobacco Toscano is that it has none of the dried-fruit heft of Tobacco Vanille, and as such can be worn with gay abandon during the hot summer months. For devotees of sweet tobacco orientals, surely this is reason enough to rush out the door, your credit card at the ready.

The main building block for the fragrance is loose leaf tobacco leaves that have been soaked in pure vanilla extract and then dusted in honey powder. There is a faint aromatic, leafy undertone in the opening notes that conjures up a rustic stroll through the countryside, but the dry down is more urban and stream-lined; a honeyed, tobacco and vanilla combination that smells so good you might want to lick yourself. It’s really nothing new under the sun, but it’s a really nice, summer-ready version of old favorites, so I’m all over this one like butter on hot bread.

If any of these fragrances appeal, call in to see Marija, Freddie, or Sigita at Parfumarija, located at 25 Westbury Mall
Dublin 2, Ireland, or phone in an order by calling +353 1 671 0255. Alternatively, you can drop them an e-mail at info@parfumarija.com.

 

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