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.
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.
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.
The ultimate in sweet nothings. Maison Francis Kurkdijan Aqua Vitae is a fresh, summery fragrance that sparkles with zesty citrus, a green, crisp jasmine, and a whisper of tonka. There are massive amounts of hedione in this – about 50%, according to Kurkdijan himself – and this is what creates that green, crispy effect overlaying the citruses at the start.
Despite the dry, woody flavor contributed by the Iso E Super here, the effect is not overly chemical or harsh, which is to Kurkdijan’s credit. Kurkdijan is nothing if not a skilled perfumer and knows how to dose these synthetics just right. Other perfumers should learn from him. The effect is total radiance and luminosity, kind of like the effect achieved in Timbuktu.
It’s nice, but emphatically not for me. It is far too light to make more than a brief impression, and slides off the skin (and out of mind) in a couple of hours.
The first time I tried Amouage Journey Man, I was bowled over by the opening – a massive fist of dark tobacco leaves, bullied on both sides by a phenomenally bitter bergamot and a mean, biting Sichuan pepper note. It’s an almost opaque wall of smell coming at you – strong and bitter and tannic, like chewing on the Lapsang Souchong tea leaves left in your cup. It dries down into a slightly less bitter tannery leather, but overall the impression is ALL MALE.
There’s also an odd but memorable second act to this, coming in right after the tobacco opening, where it smells like a huge handful of damp earth. I don’t mean it smells like patchouli or vetiver (it’s neither moldy nor grassy), but literally like a flinty, mineral damp soil that you’d imagine worms crawling through. Really weird – am I the only one picking up on this? The soil note or accord is quite realistic.
The more I wear my sample, though, the less impressed I am. The opening is very distinctive, but the perfume gets pretty thin and boring towards the end. Plus, something about it reminds me of the old-fashioned fougeres that men wore in the 1970’s, all leather and ferns and tobacco and dry woods. No cream or sugar please! It seems to me that when the
It seems to me that when the fougere was born, the notes that defined masculinity – that old-fashioned, hairy-chested masculinity I mean – were also locked down. So from that moment on, perfumes that featured any one of those notes up front and center, without providing anything to soften them (like vanilla or sugar or amber), spell out “men only” to me.
I know that Journey Man is technically a woody-spicy perfume, but it reads as an all-male fougere to my brain, and I can’t handle it. If Journey Man was a person, it would be hairy-chested 70’s idol such as Sean Connery, or better yet, Burt Reynolds, lying back in bed and fingering his gold medallion.
Impressive, but not for me.
I have to commend Rose Cut by Ann Gerard – its progression is really something. It manages somehow to lurch from a sickly sweet rum-and-aldehydes opening to a parched, mineralic dust in 2.5 hours flat. Has to be some kind of record for going from bad to worse.
The opening notes are a depressing microcosm of ‘niche’ – raspberry jam, rubber, rum, a pile of sugar crystals and the unnaturally white spackle of aldehydes. There’s an interesting rose note in there somewhere, but it comes and goes, and its pale little flutter gets covered up by a purple soap note and what smells like me to be mint. Something herbal and hotel-soapy anyway. It might be the peony. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the note that makes me struggle a bit with Dzongkha (although I respect Dzongkha and I keep trying with it).
It’s the base that I really dislike, though. It flattens out into a grey, mineralic powder that seems to emphasise the very worst aspects of benzoin, specifically that kind of bitter, resinous, catch-in-your-throat facet of bezoin. I’m less keen on that side of benzoin than on the vanilla and lemon cream side.
The oakmoss wood absolute, or whatever they’re calling the substitute for real oakmoss, is not a real replacement at all. So here we have the dry, salty woodiness of oakmoss but without the entrancing, deep inky sludge facets of the real deal. Again, like with the benzoin, this perfume is emphasising all the least attractive facets of the base materials and discarding the parts that make them smell interesting. In my opinion. (Anyone who watches the Good Wife will get that reference).
Honestly, the base just smells like hot, salt-encrusted rocks you find down at the seaside – all air-dried salt, minerals, and general grey stoniness. The patchouli is too pale and polite and cleaned-up to make any kind of impact. The rose has done a disappearing act. It has been “cut”. I keep catching a smell of rubber too – what IS that?