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Chypre Leather Review The Discard Pile

Robert Piguet Bandit

July 3, 2016
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Every time I try Robert Piguet Bandit, I wonder why I don’t love it. I should love it – I love chypres, I love leathers, and I love the idea of a perfume so bad-ass you can almost visualize its resting bitch face.

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing to distract from Bandit’s core brutality. Chypres are bitter, leather is bitter – leather chypres are therefore doubly bitter. Tabac Blond takes you almost to the edge but drifts into a sweet, smoky amber drydown that softens the landing. Habanita covers it up with flowers and face powder. Jolie Madame has the sweet sparkle of violets.

Bandit apologizes for nothing, and covers nothing up. It’s a tough, bitter, raw-edged leather that winds up in ash and sweat. The flowers that are there are putridly creamy in a stomach-turning way, and the civet forces your head into its crotch.

Putting it on is like fighting your way into a tight black leather jacket that crackles with hostility as you try to make it bend. Once on, there is a raw, salty meat smell that crawls up at your nose from the seams of the jacket, as if bits of cow flesh still cling to the underside. I was always disappointed that Lady Gaga’s first fragrance didn’t smell like I imagined her dripping meat dress to smell – but Bandit does.

But that’s not what turns my stomach. What gets me each and every time is the jarring clash between the raw, salted-meat leather notes and the creamy floral side. The florals are calorific, full-fat renderings of themselves – a rubbery tuberose, a petrol-like jasmine – mashed into a cream cheese texture that when it rubs up against the dark, dry leather causes my gorge to rise. The civet plays a key role here, of course, both heightening the pitch of the brutal leather accord and giving the florals a slutty growl.

To my surprise, it’s the smoky ashes of the dreaded galbanum that rescue Bandit for me – cutting through the overly rich florals and brutal, salted leather, the ash weaves in and out and draws my attention to a campfire in the distance, a successful (and much appreciated) piece of misdirection. Every time I get to this part of the dry down, I wonder if it’s worth at least getting a decant.

On the plus side, Bandit is distinctive, bold, and full of character. It is also ageless. In its cleaned-up, reformulated state, the current Bandit EDP is firmly modern in its minimalism. There is nothing in it that pegs it to any one year, let alone a year as far back as 1944. As Teutonically ergonomic as an Olympian swimmer’s waxed chest, it feels like it could have been debuted in the same year as Rien (Etat Libre d’Orange), even though 62 years separate the two.

On the other hand, Bandit is a fragrance whose high proportion of green notes makes it vulnerable to the ravages of time. In two samples I’ve had (vintage and concentration unknown to me), the green elements – the moss, hyacinth, artemisia? – seemed to have wilted like lettuce in strong sun. The resulting vegetal, decaying mulch does nothing for me, not because it is unpleasant per se, but because part of me associates that wilted green note with perfumes I find dated. I won’t name names, but basically anything with coriander, peach, gardenia, and sometimes that 70’s way of treating patchouli.

In the end, though, Bandit is just a curiosity for me, and a placeholder – it smells much better and richer than the brown-grey drudgery of the current Cabochard and less herbally-up-its-own-ass as Miss Balmain, but not nearly as good as Jolie Madame, whose rush of violets makes me smile. Habanita and Tabac Blond are its sisters-in-arms, equally at home with a sneer and a cigarette dangling out of their mouths, but I would take them – any of them – over Bandit. I just don’t have the personality required for such naked aggression.

Amber Floral Oriental The Discard Pile

Teo Cabanel Alahine

February 24, 2016
By Tim Green from Bradford - facepalm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37859921

Do you ever give perfumes a last ditch chance after dismissing them one or maybe two times before? I am drawn to certain perfumes, over and over again, not because I love them but because everybody else loves them and so I find myself second guessing my own judgment.

After all, there are plenty of perfumes that I’ve dismissed too easily to then turn around and love hard on them six or twelve months down the line, so it’s certainly not out of the question that it’s just me, and not the perfume.

But sometimes – just sometimes – it is the perfume.

I’ve owned Teo Cabanel Alahine three times. The first was a generous sample from a kind Basenoter. I remember liking it well enough, but being utterly puzzled as to the mass adoration it inspired out there in the stinkoverse. I passed the sample on. But when Teo Cabanel was having a change-of-bottle sale, I began to sweat it, wondering if I’d been too hasty to judge Alahine, and thus, doubting myself, I bought a much-reduced bottle.

Opening the bottle and spraying liberally, I once again thought: What is the big fuss about?

I just didn’t get it.

To be fair, I loved the huge, beautifully baroque-scaled opening. Still do. For the glorious thirty to fifty minutes that Alahine blooms on my skin, I swear to forsake all other ambers and pledge my undying love to this one. It reminds me a bit of the big diva perfumes of the eighties, like Joop – the kind of stuff you wear to knock out the competition on the dance floor. Gorgeous chewy labdanum and powdery sweet benzoin heaped high and covered with syrupy, fleshy indolic flowers like jasmine and orange flower, big buttery yellow ylang, supported by whiff of dirty patch and musk…..but then, POOF! Gone.

Yep, within the space of barely an hour, Alahine completely falls off the ledge. It is a bit shocking, to be honest. The dry down goes on for a bit, in that traditional, slightly boring way most ambers do, along the benzoin-labdanum axis. But all the action has already happened – look behind you and you might catch a glimpse of it in the rear-view mirror. Wearing Alahine is a bit like having the sexiest, most drop dead gorgeous man sit next to you at a bar and then discovering that he has no conversation.

I sold my bottle for a song. But someone on the Facebook forum where I sold it said something that I never forgot. He said, “You’ll regret selling Alahine. It’s one of the most beautiful perfumes ever made.” And thus started the second, even longer cycle of regret over Alahine. The minute I posted the parcel off at the post office I began to long to have it back in my possession.

And now it is. A dear friend and I agreed to a swap a few days ago – I got her small bottle of Alahine (she has a huge back-up bottle) and I sent her an equivalent amount of Coromandel. So, now, almost 18 months on from having sold my bottle, what do I think of Alahine?

S’alright.

Still very pretty, still woefully weak, etc. I don’t care about the longevity issues anymore, to be honest. My friend and I discussed this, and we agreed that we both have so much perfume now that hourly reapplications are the way to go with Alahine.

But now I think I was right in my initial judgment. I find Alahine to be a little bit old-fashioned. Not retro, just old-fashioned. And while it’s very nice, it’s hardly the second coming of Christ that some reviews make it out to be. I also still think it smells a little like Joop.

Not a big disaster – I’ll sell or swap this bottle of Alahine. But I won’t be longing for it ever again. But if you ever see me wondering out loud if I’ve made a mistake, feel free to slap me.

via GIPHY

Floral Oriental Review The Discard Pile

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Baccarat Rouge 540

February 21, 2016
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Oh dear. This is rather unfortunate.

I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdijan as a man and as a perfumer. I own quite a few of his perfumes (Absolue pour le Soir, Eau Noire, Cologne Pour Le Soir), and greedily covet others that I don’t (his original Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, Enlevement au Serail). I’m hard pressed to think of a composition of his that I can’t at least appreciate, even if I don’t want to own it myself.

Baccarat Rouge 540 is an exception. Unfortunately, it manages to be the perfect storm of all the notes I hate, all of them converging at once to screw with my head. And it sticks to my skin like glue (ain’t that the way it goes).

The top notes are pleasant, barely – a brief succulence in the form of oranges, saffron, and marigold that combines in such a way as to suggest a ripe red berry. For a moment, I am also reminded of the radiant freshness of his original Oud, a metallic brightness of spilled orange juice and yellow saffron powder. The jasmine here smells fresh, like a green-scent breeze moving through a line of cottons hung out to dry, and is reminiscent in its crispness of both Eau Sauvage and  Kurkdijan’s own Aqua Vitae – safe to say that rather than jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, this note is probably Hedione, a wonderful aromachemical that expands the lungs with a radiant, green jasmine sensation.

Unfortunately, the fruity floral top notes get swallowed up almost immediately by the powerful basenotes – and when I say powerful, I mean overwhelming. There is a potent cedar here that reads as wet, pungent, almost musky with that sour edge I dislike in the note, and when it buts up against the sweet, juicy top notes, the result is like throwing a thick pear juice onto a bed of ashes. This unsettling accord (fruit juice thrown into dirty ashes) is also what I experience from Soleil de Jeddeh by Stephane Humbert Lucas 777, another fragrance I’m struggling to get my head around.

The musky, sour cedar is quickly joined by one of the most obnoxious notes in all perfumery (for me personally), fir balsam. This note might make others think of Christmas, but to me, it always makes me think of sweat. Each of the five times I tried Baccarat Rouge 540, it dried down to this thin but obnoxious smell of dried runner’s sweat – I know it’s the fir balsam because I’ve experienced this once before, with Annick Goutal’s otherwise very lovely Encens Flamboyant. Pure sweat. It’s a hard association to shake.

The saltiness from the Ambroxan or ambergris note (whatever it is) doesn’t help much either. Its salty mineral smell brings a pleasant outsdoorsiness, yes, but it also brings forward that sensation of feeling your skin crackle with dried sea salt, sweat, and sun tightness after falling asleep on the beach after a swim. Pleasant in perfumes such as Eau des Merveilles, but joined with the wet, musky cedar and the sweaty fir balsam of Baccarat Rouge 540, it’s simply one drop of sweat too much. Some will find this salt-sweat note very sensual, sexy even – but it just makes me want to go take a shower.

Myrrh Oriental Review The Discard Pile

Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati

February 19, 2016
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Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati is somewhat of a disappointment. Mona’s style was always rich, thick, dirty, lush, and as dense as a brick wall – it’s what her fans loved about her. I don’t see her style in this perfume. Myrrh Casati is the first Mona di Orio fragrance to be composed by someone other than Mona herself, following her tragic death in 2011. And you can tell.

Myrrh Casati, while very nice and wearable, does not have any of the special Mona di Orio signatures that could be traced from one perfume to another like a vein on a lover’s arm. It lacks the almost overbearingly rich, dirty, creamy woodiness of Vanille and Oud, the dry-ice, almond-like musks from Ambre, Violette Fumee, and Musc, and the harsh animalism of Nuit Noire and Cuir. Without these little olfactory clues that she tucked so deftly into the sleeves of her work, I am lost. Myrrh Casati could be the work of anyone.

If her other perfumes are rich tapestries, then Myrrh Casati is a silk gauze. It is beautiful but simple to the point of being spare. The opening is particularly striking. A dark, dry spice note fuses with a warm, cinnamon-tinted Siam benzoin and sharp black pepper to form a gorgeous aroma of tarry coca-cola. There is also an arresting black rubber feel to the opening, arising from the use of saffron, or perhaps plain old saffraleine, and it is a smooth complement to the licorice.

But any opening richness or darkness quickly attenuates. Within minutes, I am left with a rather bare bones resin scent with a faint but noticeable minty smoke note from either the myrrh or the licorice. I’m a myrrh lover and a big Mona di Orio fan, but this one leaves me wanting more.

Leather Review The Discard Pile

Naomi Goodsir Cuir Velours  

June 30, 2015
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There is always something a little off-balance to me in Naomi Goodsir’s fragrances. Not artistically off-balance – but something sticking out like a sore thumb and throwing the whole thing off.

While I admire the daring of Bois d’Ascese, I find the crackling dry woodsmoke to be overwhelming. It drowns out the creamy, spiky elemi in thick billows of black soot, and makes it very difficult to perceive anything else that’s going on with the scent until the far drydown, when it becomes a 50-50 mix of great-quality frankincense and woodsmoke. Then I can enjoy its mysterious, austere smokiness on my scarf for days afterwards. But up until the dry down, I am choking through a fog of unremittingly bleak, black smoke.

Or du Serail has a beautiful, honeyed tobacco leaf at its core. But unfortunately, it gets drowned in a fruity, sticky mess of mango, rum, coconut, and ylang, giving somewhat of an impression of a day-old tropical fruit cocktail left out in the sun to develop a ‘bloom’. It is also unbearably sweet. Ambre Narguile does the fruit-cake-and-honey tobacco thing so much better that I wonder why anybody felt this was necessary. And to be honest, if I wanted a complex, syrupy tobacco fragrance then Histoires de Parfums’ masterpiece 1740 satisfies me on all levels.

Or du Serail is an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ kind of scent where everything is thrown at tobacco in the hope that something sticks. Don’t get me wrong – it is pleasant to wear and technically ‘yummy’ in that round, sweet, bland way of another of Duchaufour’s misses, Havana Vanille. But as in Havana Vanille, Or du Serail contains unpleasantly sour, discordant off-notes like mould on a piece of bread, or rot beginning to set in on a piece of fruit. Or du Serail makes a lunge for that fine line between edible and inedible, and just misses the mark.

Somehow, I had high hopes for Cuir Velours. I love fruit-suede fragrances like Visa and Daim Blonde, and am slowly coming around to the idea of Traversee du Bosphore. Indeed, there is something in the fruity, syrupy heart of Cuir Velours that reminds me of the cherry-pomegranate-apple syrup in Traversee du Bosphore, and also something of that pink-grey powdered suede with a thick dusting of icing sugar on top. To say that Cuir Velours has something of a lokum feel to it would perhaps be going too far. But there’s a familial connection, and it’s interesting to me.

Maybe 75% of Cuir Velours is attractive to me – in particular that hushed, plushy suede and spiced fruit compote note. The immortelle is nicely folded in, and I can only pick up that strange, savory syrup note in the heart of the fragrance, where it adds a necessary point of interest.

But two things throw Cuir Velours way off track – the overwhelming sweetness and the burnt-woods aromachemical lurking underneath, which is most definitely Norlimbanol. Believe me, I know my enemy well. And it is he. To me, it sticks out like a sore thumb and I don’t understand why a perfumer would think it necessary to use such a brutal material in what is essentially a plush-toy sort of fragrance. Another Naomi Goodsir fragrance written off for the sake of one element that just doesn’t work for me.

 

 

 

Attars & CPOs The Discard Pile White Floral

Amouage Afrah

June 29, 2015
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Amouage Afrah smells like a three-way clash between the heavy, fruity, musky aroma of champaca flowers, a licorice-like basil note, and the marine bilge unpleasantness of either ambergris or civet. The opening is heady and almost indolic/stinky with champaca, but the basil gives it a nice ‘black’ salted licorice lift. I give this attar points for originality, though. I have never smelled anything like it, and indeed, it does not smell like any of the other Amouage attars I have tried. It strikes as less oriental and more European in focus, perhaps. I kind of see where they were going with it.

I just find the civety stink of ambergris to not mesh well with the other notes. There is this heavy aroma of someone who doesn’t have very good hygiene, or who simply has produces bad body odor due to some medical condition like glucose over-production. Worse yet, it is specifically the ‘second day’ smell imprint of their body and hair and discarded skins cells that lies about on the sheets of your bed for days after they’ve gone. Not a winner in my book, I’m afraid.

Review The Discard Pile Woods

Diptyque Tam Dao

June 29, 2015
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Diptyque Tam Dao is one of those perfumes that always get cited in top ten lists of sandalwood perfumes, and so, when the opportunity presented itself, I bought it. Semi-blindly, I should add, because I was in a great rush. I did smell it briefly. But after having read about it for a full year before I got the chance to test it, I was at that stage so convinced that this was the calming woody perfume I was searching for, that it almost didn’t matter if I liked the brief sniff I had of it or not. I was determined to have it.

Of course, by the time I got it home and had time to think, I realized the truth. And the truth is that Tam Dao (the EDT version at least) is a perfectly nice cedar woods perfume, but it is not the grand Mysore sandalwood I’d read myself into believing. It’s more the plank section at the hardware store than anything else, and while this is indeed a very nice smell, it is also rather ordinary. I was looking for a spiritual revelation – a sandalwood dream – and I got builder’s crack. Oh well.

Review The Discard Pile Uncategorized Woods

Parfumerie Generale Cedre Sandaraque

June 29, 2015
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Parfumerie Generale Cedre Sandaraque is a half-singed, half-syrupy woods perfume that recalls the gourmand-woody approach used in both Aomassai and Coze, but in my opinion, without the genius of either. It starts off strong but later develops this odd flour and praline note that’s too foody to be elegant. The blast of raw cedar and berries at the start is a wild ride, alright, but as with many Parfumerie Generale fragrances I find myself wishing that the striking opening half hour could be sustained just a little more. The creeping sweetness and the raw wheat flour note makes for a leaden, lumbering heart, and then it limps into a sickly-sweet and almost fruited amber base. A bit stomach-churning, to be honest.

Amber Maurice Roucel Musk Review The Discard Pile

Le Labo Labdanum 18

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

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

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

Scent Memory The Discard Pile White Floral

Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile

June 29, 2015
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Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile follows the same pattern set down for Iris Nobile, which is to say: citrus + white flowers + light musk/woods base. Instead of iris, we have magnolia, which in real life smells like bright lemon notes, mixed with sweet whipping cream. In the Balkans, where I live, every yard has one single magnolia tree, planted there as a sign of welcome. Or at least to say “We will pause before taking out the shotgun.”

Magnolia Nobile dials up the citrus notes of the flower, and so the opening positively fizzes with snappy lemon and sweet orange peel. I like the opening a lot – the cream of the magnolia petals needs to be cut somehow, and this does the job. In fact, I wish the uplifting freshness could hang around a little longer. I’m not so keen on the creamy aspect of the flower that forms the heart.

To me, magnolia always smells a little too sweet and soapy. Unfortunately, in this particular example, it reminds me of an Impulse body spray I used when I was 19. Or a hand-soap, or a shampoo – I wish I could recall exactly. Either way, the smell association is there. Magnolia Nobile ends up smelling – to me – like a banal soap or shower gel or body spray that I used to buy in Marks and Spencers on Fridays with the money from my student grant that I hadn’t spent on booze and cigarettes. Boring and juvenile, therefore, to a nose that is at least two decades past that awkward stage.