Browsing Category

Spice

Aromatic Gourmand Oriental Sandalwood Spice Woods

Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore

December 8, 2016
acting-1715465_1280

When I first smelled Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, I said to myself, as long as Serge Lutens keeps making this fragrance, I will be happy. If all my other bottles were to be destroyed in a fire, I’d be ok with just this one. Hyperbole? Probably. Just trying to get across how much I love it.

 

What I value most about it is its dichotomy. It is both wet and dry, and intensely so at the same time. At first, the wet elements come to the nose – a big, spicy red butter curry with blisteringly hot black peppercorns crushed to release their oil, and something green, frondy, and aromatic, perhaps dill or fresh fenugreek. There is a tamarind sourness to it but it is also intensely sweet, as if cubes of salted caramel have been set on top to slowly sweat down into pools of butter.

 

I don’t understand when people say a perfume smells like a curry like that’s a bad thing? I can think of no better smell than this. My mouth waters at the host of hot spices and aromatics. I slaver like Pavlov’s dog every time I go near the stopper.

 

Talking of the stopper, sniffing Santal de Mysore from the bottle gives me a jolt of recognition every time, because it smells like real Mysore sandalwood. But on the skin, this impression disappears, as the big building blocks of flavors and spices jostle each other for position. Drawing your nose back from your arm, you notice these clumps of notes magically coalescing into a true Mysore aroma – deep brown, buttery, arid, resinous. Salted butter dried and made into a red dust. Put your nose back to that spot on your wrist, and the Mysore impression falls apart again. This is a fragrance that plays peek-a-boo with its wearer, and it’s mesmerizing.

 

The wet, creamy curry accord hangs around, but it flips on a switch to dry, aromatic sandalwood dust when you’re not looking. Look again and it switches back to wet and spicy. When I catch glimpses of the dry, dusty facet, it smells like zukoh, a powdered sweet incense that combines camphor, cloves, and sandalwood. The drydown is pure magic, the curry notes fading away to a caramelized sandalwood incense aroma, with hints of honey and amber rounding out the dry woodiness.

 

Why do I find Santal de Mysore such a gorgeous, satisfying wear? Because it’s not a straightforward representation of sandalwood like Tam Dao or Wonderwood. It takes you to a fantasy Mysore sandalwood destination by way of the Silk Road, weaving through curry spices, aromatic oils, and incense sticks as we go. It’s also a scent that makes your perceptions of it turn on a dime: wet then arid, savory then sweet, creamy then dusty, spicy then herbal and green. Sandalwood in a House of Mirrors – its basic shape remains the same but what we see each time we look is different.

Gourmand Herbal Immortelle Masculine Review Spice Vanilla

Dior Privee Eau Noire

October 7, 2015
9B04FA8VN6

Dior Privee Eau Noire is a fascinating fragrance, and one of great balance and refinement. It opens up on an almost shockingly bitter, aromatic note, like the burning smell you get when you spill coffee or sugar on a boiling hot stove. Actually, the more I wear this, the more I’ve realized that this ‘burned coffee’ note is actually lavender, which makes sense both coffee and lavender smell piercingly resinous, woody, and ‘roasted’ as if exposed to high heat for too long. It’s pretty genius of Francis Kurkdijan to pair two highly aromatic notes like this – they play off each other so that your nose smells sun-roasted lavender one moment and burned coffee grounds the next.

It is almost too “black” a smell at first. There is a coffee roasting business near my building, and in the early hours of the morning, the owner turns on the roasting machine and starts processing the coffee beans. The smell fills the entire neighborhood. But like with all good, aromatic smells, like herbs or coffee, when you take it too far, like way past burning point, the effect is almost exactly half way between nauseating and attractive. Eau Noire has that effect going on for the first half hour. I am torn between repulsion and attraction, but either way, I can’t stop smelling my wrist.

The dry down is sublime, though, no two ways about it. I can only describe it as an arid, burning cedar smell, giving the impression of dry and hot all at once, like when someone throws water on the stones in a Swedish sauna. It is so parched in effect that it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. The dry, papery vanilla is a delight too – the more I wear it, the more it smells like fresh newspaper pages to me.

So here we have all the elements needed for total relaxation – a good cup of steaming black coffee, a touch of immortelle to provide that interesting salt-sweet twang of Scandinavian licorice, the smell of a sauna heating up, and a good fresh newspaper waiting for you to read. What more could a person want?

Amber Animalic Resins Review Smoke Spice Tobacco Woods

Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods

October 7, 2015
photo-1440882616325-43e474ece3d0_1600x1060

Anything by Sonoma Scent Studio is as rare as a hen’s tooth over here in Europe (distribution problems) so when I got the chance to buy a decant of Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods untested, I just had to go for it. I rarely buy blind anymore, but I’m a committed fan of anything Laurie Erickson does, so I knew that the risk factor was low.

In the end, I think I’m going to have to ask one of my U.S. friends for a big (and perhaps illegal?) favor, because 4mls of this dark elixir is just not going to be enough. I need more. How much more? Technically, let’s say it has to be enough to stop those feelings of helpless rage and sorrow every time I see the level in that decant bottle dip any further.

Winter Woods goes on with a whomp-whomp of a hot, dirty castoreum note married to the cool, sticky, almost mentholated smell of fir balsam. Immediately, you are plunged deep into a dark woods at night, all around you silence and the sticky emanations of sap and balsam and gum from the trees. There is an animal panting softly nearby – you don’t see him, but you can smell his fur and his breath.

But it is warm and safe there in the woods. As a warm, cinnamon-flecked amber rises from the base and melds with the animalics and the woods, the scent becomes bathed in a toffee-colored light. There is sweetness and spice here. It smells like Christmas, and of the pleasure of breathing in icy cold air when you are wrapped up, all warm and cozy.

In the heart, a touch of birch tar adds a smoky, “blackened” Russian leather accent, and this has the effect of fusing the heavy, sweet amber with a waft of sweet incense smoke. It’s as if someone has opened a valve of SSS’s own Incense Pure in the middle of the woods – a dry, smoky outdoors incense for a pagan ceremony perhaps. I also sense some dry tobacco leaves here, reminiscent of Tabac Aurea, another SSS classic.

I love the way that the heavy layers of the fragrance – amber, woods, animalics, labdanum, and incense smoke – have been knitted together to form one big angora wool sweater of a scent. It is heavy, but smooth, and a total pleasure to wear. If I could get my hands on it, I would buy a big bottle of it in a heartbeat.

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

O’Driu Peety

October 6, 2015
28K9MKXUOD_1472x1050

O’Driu Peety, hmmm.

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

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

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

So what does Peety smell like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incense Scent Memory Smoke Spice

Comme des Garcons Black

September 18, 2015
smoke-600079_1920

I left Ireland for Bosnia when I was 22, without so much as a backwards glance. Over the following 16 years when people asked me if I missed home, I would always be startled and say yes – automatically – but it wasn’t quite true. I just never thought of home as being anywhere other than wherever I was right then.

I never realized that the gene for “home” was carried deep within my DNA until one dark night when I stepped out of a snow-stalled car into the deserted crossroads of a tiny village in Bosnia and was hit in the solar plexus by a waft of smoke from a coal fire.

Not just one – dozens of coal fires. All sending plumes of sweet-smelling smoke into the black, starless sky. In my mind’s eye, I could see walls covered with centuries of soot, men huddling round the heart smoking cigarettes, and the fingers of women putting more coal on the fire.

My mother’s fingers, black with soot. In that moment, every cell in my body ached to be back home, watching the familiar sight of her white fingers gingerly placing another coal on the flames, egged on by her always-cold children. Was she sitting beside her fire now, thinking of her first child, wondering if she was cold?

Comme des Garcons Black is the smell of home to me. It smells of coal dust, sweet woodsmoke, frankincense, dry cedar logs, licorice, and finally, in its dying moments, a salt-encrusted leather belt. Not of these things directly but of these things burned on a fire and sent out into the crisp, cold air of a Northern night sky as a single curl of smoke. Every time I spray it on, I experience a joy like that of launching into a sudden run.

If I were being picky, I’d say that the projection and longevity and projection of Black leave much to be desired. But I’m content with this in a quasi eau de cologne format. I’d be afraid that any attempt to make Black stronger would compress all the air out of its airy weightlessness. I like that Black takes the form of coal dust mites, shifting as you move; acting as your own personal force field.

I’ve long been looking for a smoky, woodsy birch tar fragrance that hits this exact spot – the coal-fire-in-Bosnia spot. I love Le Labo Patchouli 24 for coming close, but the vanilla syrup makes me pause, and Bois d’Ascese is far too dense and acrid. Memoir Man does smoky, charred woods and Frankincense beautifully, but it has a somber, sulky feel that might prove difficult. Black, to me, is what you might get if you were to put all these perfumes through a Photoshop filter and apply a filter to reduce the density by 70%. Black does indeed smell truly “black” but it’s more a sheer wash of color rather than a thick daub of oil.

I love it. It’s the first Comme des Garcons perfume for which I’ve been able to locate a heartbeat. I admire their modernist approach but something in their stripped-down aesthetic usually leaves me cold. Here there’s both an emotional core and a minimalism that’s entirely in keeping with the house signature. Maybe the heart bit is all me, but I do feel there’s something warm and human about Black.

Gourmand Oriental Oud Resins Review Rose Spice

Amouage Epic Woman

September 18, 2015
lampions-796640_1280

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber Masculine Resins Review Spice

L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015
photo-1437532437759-a0ce0535dfed_1600x1067

There’s nothing in this world that smells quite like L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer, except for, well, the actual air above the desert that inspired it, I suppose. Trying to describe how it smells is almost as challenging as wearing it.

The best way I can put it is this: it smells like someone went out to the desert, collected a pile of rough, ancient amber resin, boulders, fallen meteorites, and minerals, sandblasted them all down to a fine dust, loaded it up into a canon and shot it into space. Now imagine you are floating above the earth’s ozone layer, just where the daylight of earth fades into the deep navy of outer space, and you breathe in this space dust. L’Air du Desert Marocain smells like this. Not directly of the sandblasted materials themselves but of the thin, dry, almost electric air surrounding the particles.

Then, later on, it smells of hot, arid paper, with its cedar and vanilla-resin notes.

You are standing in a paper factory. The air conditioning machines are short-circuiting and are blowing the stacks of A4 printer paper off the tables and into the air. The employees look up in dismay – their work for the day, thousands and thousands of sheets of paper floating around their heads! But they breathe in deeply, unable to resist the peculiar pleasure there is to be had in huffing the smell of newly-minted paper and the slightly sweet, dry smell of drying chemicals and lignin it leaves on the air around them.

L’Air du Desert Marocain is a masterpiece of modern perfumery, and perhaps the first perfume I’d recommend to anybody wishing to experience what perfume beyond the shelves of their local Sephora can be. It is an evocative, beautiful travelogue perfume that’s scaled to Laurence of Arabia proportions.

As a personal perfume, though, I find it to be kind of difficult to wear on a regular basis. Its dry spices and resins are so monolithic and all-encompassing – so full of its own personality – that it doesn’t allow me to impose any of my own.

There’s also a sweaty moment in the perfume that always sneaks up on me unawares – the cumin and coriander, I guess. It smells specifically of a male sweat. It’s not unpleasant, just startling. Timbuktu has a similar, ghostly apparition in its development, a lurch so sudden towards the smell of a male (or a male aftershave) that I keep looking around the room to make sure that I am, in fact, still alone.

But I own this beauty, oh yes I do. Sometimes, I just take the bottle cap and huff it throughout the day, like a junkie in withdrawal doling out teaspoons from a bottle of cough syrup. Other days, I commit myself 100% to its mood-shifting, transporting character and put six to eight sprays of it on, all the time knowing that this is all I will smell of for the next 48 hours. Either way, there’s  no middle way with a perfume as uncompromising as L’Air du Desert Marocain.

Fruity Scents Gourmand Patchouli Review Rose Spice

Histoires de Parfums 1969

June 30, 2015
peach-698592

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

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

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

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