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Carta Moena 12|69: A Review

April 13, 2018

 

If you’ve ever been disappointed in a fragrance that’s been advertized as smelling like tea and then goes on to smell nothing like it, then put Carta Moena 12|69 on your to-test list pronto. Utilizing a little-used essential oil called moena alcanfor, which is distilled from the leaves, bark, and branches of the moena tree native to Amazonian Peru, this fragrance smells truly and honestly of tea. Specifically, it knits together the aroma of a really earthy Pu-Erh tea with the tannic, catch-in-your-throat quality of cold, slightly over-brewed black tea.

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Arquiste Ella: A Review

April 9, 2018

When I first tried Arquiste Ella, in a niche boutique in Bordeaux last autumn, I thought, well, at least I can put this one out of my mind. I had been interested in the 1970’s retro marketing drive behind it and its sexy-sleazy disco bomb reputation, but on the skin, it just felt unresolved and murky.

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Areej Le Doré Oud Zen v. Oud Piccante v. Russian Oud

February 11, 2018

 

Let’s do a little side-by-side with the Areej Le Doré ouds, shall we? It will be kind of like when Basenoters start threads pitting one fragrance against another, like prize bulls, only hopefully not as cutthroat. My reviews will be purely impressionistic – short on helpful detail and long on the images that jump to mind when I wear them, so if you’re in the market for a quick take, read on. If you’re looking for something more detailed, look anywhere else. If that’s not a fair warning, then I don’t know what is…

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Animalic Musk Review Tobacco

Marlou (50mls) d’Ambiguïté: A Review

October 26, 2017

When I published an article on deer musk on Basenotes a while back, I expected a fair bit of pushback, but apart from one of my interviewees (JK DeLapp) getting kicked out of the International Perfume Foundation for participating in the article, nothing too dramatic happened. I did, however, receive an irate email from a man who has been importing and working with deer musk for decades, and who summarily issued me with a list of everything I’d got wrong.

 

And actually, that’s fine. While Basenotes is not exactly a peer-reviewed journal, it’s important that anything I leave out there on the Internet for all to see is as factually correct as possible.  I replied, thanking him, and assuring him that the glaring mistakes and inaccuracies would be corrected (and they were).

 

But there was one point on which I refused to budge – not because he wasn’t technically right, but because correcting it would have gone against a common English language usage, and that just seemed too esoteric to me.

 

Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that the word “musk” can only be applied to the raw material that comes from a musk deer’s pod, and not to similar material from any other animal species. In other words, it is incorrect to call, as I did in the article, the stuff that comes from a musk rat or the cape hyrax as “musk”, when only musk deer produce the substance known as musk. But, as I argued in my email to him, that would be going against the 99% of the human population who, when faced with anything remotely animalic will use the word “musky” to describe it. Just the way it is, baby.

 

So, despite the fact that there’s no deer musk in Marlou’s new fragrance, (50mls) d’Ambiguïté, it is most certainly musky. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and Marlou has stuffed every other musky-smelling substance they could find in here to arrive at a result that smells quite like deer musk. The notes list provided by the brand mentions costus (a musky-smelling botanical extract) and castoreum (beaver anal secrete), but I think they left out hyraceum (calcified urine of the cape hyrax), which to my nose plays a pivotal role in the composition. Also, there is cumin, which in large doses smells like musky armpit odor.

 

A feature (if not a problem) with most “musky” fragrances – damn it, that guy has got me using inverted commas around the word now – is that the animalic substances they use to create a musky effect are all so emphatic and distinctive that it’s difficult to avoid a certain sense of familiarity. If I were to draw a Venn diagram of the most famous animalic fragrances, the piece of paper would be almost obscured by the number of overlapping circles. In other words, try to describe Muscs Khoublai Khan (Serge Lutens) without referencing Kiehl’s Original Musk, Salome (Papillon) without referencing Femme (Rochas) or Musc Tonkin (Parfum d’Empire), or the costus-loaded Arabian Horse (Parfumerie Generale) without referencing the costus-loaded L’Air de Rien (Miller Harris). It’s not easy, right?

 

For that reason, two things occur to me the minute I spray Marlou (50mls) d’Ambiguïté on: first, I say “wow!”, and second, I know this scent. The fact that it’s so familiar to me doesn’t matter because it’s also incredibly good – it just means that I drive myself crazy until I can identify what’s so familiar about it.

 

(50mls) d’Ambiguïté opens with a boozy note before sliding into a slightly flattened wool accord, oily and matted – like being hugged by a wet sheep who’s had a bit too much to drink. The brand mentions metal and pink pepper, but honestly, I don’t pick up on anything peppery at all; this goes straight to a warm costus and beeswax accord. I’m not usually a great fan of costus with its “wet dog” and oily scalp nuances, but it’s been done so incredibly well here that I don’t mind. It feels grimily intimate, but not greasy. The costus element makes me think of L’Air de Rien, but this is far less sweet and ambery. In fact, it has a savory or even salty aspect that recalls the celery seed and matted beard hair feel of Montecristo (Masque Fragranze). Interestingly, if you pay attention in the drydown phase, there’s also a dry, almost chocolaty tobacco leaf nuance that’s quite similar to the castoreum-driven tobacco/tea leaf notes in Bond T (Sammarco), itself quite animalic.

 

See? I can’t go one paragraph into describing (50mls) d’Ambiguïté without calling other scents into it. The hefty dose of B.O.-ish cumin is managed well here, as is the urinous hyraceum – both notes recall Salome (Papillon) quite strongly, but the treatment here is much softer, woodier, and more seamlessly worked into the fabric of the scent. It is, in short, less shocking than Salome, and far less confrontational. Still, (50mls) d’Ambiguïté is much dirtier than L’Animal Sauvage (Marlou), which in comparison appears now almost pretty and sugared in its kittenish demeanor. Compared to hardcore scents such as Salome, though, the new Marlou is firmly intermediate level.

 

I find (50mls) d’Ambiguïté to be pretty linear, apart from when the hyraceum increases in strength 2 hours in and that dry tobacco-ish tone from the castoreum develops in the far drydown – so if you like what you smell when you spray it on, you’ll likely be happy all the way through. There is a slightly briny, savory feel to the woolly, lanolin-like oiliness of the central accord, but although ylang is listed, I wonder if it could be something a little meatier, like the salted ham of an Easter lily? Either way, there’s really nothing floral or spicy or metallic about this fragrance: it’s musk, musk, muskity musk through and through. (Disclaimer: Although it’s not, you understand, actually musk.)

Animalic Masculine Review Smoke Tobacco

Slumberhouse Jeke

October 7, 2015

I hated Slumberhouse Jeke the first time around, but Josh Lobb (of Slumberhouse) sent me a few generous samples of it with an order of Sova – and what can I say. I needs a bottle.

Not that a couple of 2ml samples wouldn’t do me for a full year, in all honesty. Jeke is massively strong and that hoary old saying “A dab will do ya” actually applies in full here. Actually, perhaps half a dab, because more might kill you.

Jeke is a huge, HUGE tobacco fragrance.

The opening notes are strangely boozy and sweet, like sticking your nose into a glass of single malt whiskey that has sugar around the rim. There is also something leathery and dirty (as in animalic) in the opening that I really liked, which I am putting down to the labdanum, which my nose tends to perceive in the opening, even if it has to yank it up all the way from the base.

Now, sweet burning tar and shitloads of smoke. Good God, I have a passion for phenols that would have surprised me when I first tested this. I love smoke and tar and ash and the nose-clearing oily fug of burning pine forests. I love Le Labo Patchouli 24, Cuir6 by Pekji, Arso by Profumum, Memoir Man by Amouage, and Black by Comme des Garcons. And I love Jeke – perhaps the biggest smoke monster of them all.

For much of its life, Jeke pours out this thick, never-ending stream of smoke that feels like being directly upwind of an out-of-control campfire. It smells like beef cooked to ashes on an open fire, and also like being stuck directly behind one of those maintenance vehicles pumping out hot tarmacadam onto the road.

To me, this is the type of smoke that references black rubber tires on fire rather than the smoke from lit tobacco. This is not the cherry-scented idea of tobacco you get in Chergui and Tobacco Vanille. Here and there through the smoke, I think I can catch glimpses of a plummy, fruity tobacco, but they are so brief that they do not provide my nose with much relief. Also, just when I think my nose has gotten a handle on the plummy tobacco leaves, someone whips them away from me, stuffs them into a pipe, lights it and blows smoke rings into my face. The smoke – you get the idea – overpowers every note that has potential to be distracting and brings you right back to the central accord. There is no relief.

If you are like me, an ex-smoker and miss the smell of smoke, you will love this. It is both sweet and acrid, like that.

If you were to take apart the smoke note and look at it in detail, you would see that the smoke is the black tar and rubber kind you get in Lapsang Souchang tea. In fact, if you have ever drunk this tea, it smells like this – only quieter. I do drink Lapsang Souchang tea myself, and I recognize how this tea accord was used to build the smoky black rubber smell in Bvlgari Black, which I have been wearing since my teenage years, but here the note has been pushed so far that it distorts the quiet smokiness of the tea and makes it quite ugly. Ugly-beautiful – just my kind of ugly, and my kind of beautiful.

After the smoky middle section, a sweetish amber and benzoin comes in to soften the deal. There is a deep vanilla note that I didn’t get the first time around, but now know to search for it. It forms the low, beating heart of the far dry-down. Sometimes I put it on at night and then wake up in a fug of oily, smoky vanilla. Pure heaven.

Before the vanilla arrives, though (I am getting ahead of myself here), there are hints of amber, resins, powder, wet hay, smooth leather and maybe, just maybe some more hints of those lovely, plummy tobacco leaves (unlit) that I thought I glimpsed in the heart. There is something fermented, comforting and “round” about the last part of the scent, and I enjoy it very much.

Older and wiser, I love this scent from top to bottom now, the ugly bits included.

Green Floral Hay Herbal Honey Scent Memory Tobacco Tonka Vanilla

Slumberhouse Sova

October 7, 2015

For those of you who don’t know what Slumberhouse Sova smells like, it smells like this: boozy hops, pipe tobacco, sweet green resins, piles of damp hay laid out to dry in the sun, broom, honey smeared over everything, licorice,  vanilla, amber, dirt, cocoa butter, beeswax, and the pure, warm animal growl of castoreum. It smells like a rural fantasy of a childhood spent rolling around in a hayfield, lazy bees humming in the background, backlit against a haze of smoke and sugar.

What I like about Sova is that Josh Lobb seems to have set out to capture the entirety of a farm during baling season, complete with the not-so-picturesque parts. As anyone who has grown up doing farm work will know, there are a host of smells involved, and not all of them pleasant. I have baled hay – back-breaking work, by the way, with or without a machine. I have mucked out horse stables. I have even stuck my hands deep within the nether regions of sheep to pull a lamb out. Nowhere are you more intensely aware of the circle of life than on a farm.

The opening, which I have come to understand as typical for a Slumberhouse, is deeply tarry, black, and sticky. But upfront, I get a load of hay absolute mixed in with the tar, so there is an immediate sense of sunshine piercing through the upper notes. It smells simultaneously of freshly-poured asphalt, hay, trampled grass, rubber tires, something green and resiny, waxy and honeyed.

Someone I know mentioned he saw a similarity with Dior’s Eau Noire, and I have to say that I agree, to a certain extent.  Both have an almost shockingly tarry, dense, aromatic note, like the burning smell you get when you spill coffee or sugar on a boiling hot stove. It is almost too roasted, too intense, too “black” a smell. But Sova is more immediately sweet, a deep, honeyed stickiness coming from, I think, tonka beans or the vanilla.

The hot asphalt smell reminds me of nothing so much as those pools of poured tar on holes in the road that would always soften and almost liquefy somewhat in the heat of summer. In Ireland, growing up, there was maybe one day in the year that was ever hot enough to make the road tar all gooey like that, but that would be the smell that defined the whole summer for me, somehow – kind of like a child only ever remembers summers being sunny when he or she was a child. It also recalls the smell of heated tires and running tractors, farm implements lying around on a hot day – quasi-industrial smells mingling with the sweet smell of hay that has been cut and is now drying out in the fields. Also, I get a raft of sweet, grassy notes that are fresher than the hay note, which I presume are the clover and broom notes.

Reversing what I’ve experienced with Slumberhouse perfumes, Sova does not grow drier and more sparse, but indeed, darker, more syrupy, and somehow more “stewed” in texture. It is a very wet hay type of smell, which to my nose, is incredibly pleasing and sensual. The smell is almost like the gingerbread, dry, fruity, wet-dry smell of tobacco leaves laid out to dry in the sunshine. It also picks up a dried fruits feel, not a million miles away from the intense fruitcake feel of a Serge Lutens, specifically something like Arabie.

As the scent progresses, the tar notes, the heated asphalt and running farm vehicles smell –all shift to the back and let the stewed hay and dried fruits accord take center stage. Towards the last stages of Sova, I sense the tar notes get drier, until they manifest more as a smoke note, adding to the fierce pleasure I get from smelling this. On repeated wearings, I pick up even more smoke in the background, almost ash-like, and a sweet type of burning incense smell. The castoreum and vanilla in the base gives it this wonderfully warm and dirty feel, somewhat reminiscent of the deep warmth of Chypre Palatin – except in Sova, it is the warm dirtiness of a haybarn, not the inside of a musty castle.

Something about hay and grass notes bring me straight back to summer days, to my youth, to the simple pleasures of hard physical work, and the rewards of sensory delights of rolling around in cut hay. It seems that Josh Lobb intended for this fragrance to be experienced as a sort of nostalgic, rural childhood fantasy scent, because the re-launch of Sova on the Slumberhouse website is accompanied by this delightful little quote from Montague, which accurately sums up its nostalgic effect: “All the glorious trials of youth dear boy. When I was a lad I’d rocket off on my tandem with Wrigglesworth and ride and ride. Find some old barn and fall asleep with the sweet perfume of hay on our lips.”

Sova is a pure parfum and made from hellishly expensive ingredients, some of which apparently cost over $1,000 per ounce, such as fossilized amber, pure broom, sweet clover, and Tahitian Vanilla. I’m told that the reason Sova was discontinued originally was due to the expense and difficulty of getting hold of all of the expensive materials needed to make it. The further I get in this hobby of mine, the more I want to pare back to just a few bottles that are worth owning, no matter how expensive, rather than a whole cupboard full of lesser scents. Sova is one of those scents worth ten of what I already have.

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Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods

October 7, 2015

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.

Review Scent Memory Tobacco

Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea

October 7, 2015

What I love about Sonoma Scent Studio Tabac Aurea is that the perfumer – Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio – has had the confidence to showcase all the wonderful complexities of the material itself without clogging it up with other notes. And tobacco is one lily that doesn’t need to be gilded. The textures of the tobacco leaf range from leathery to wet mulch, and the notes can comprise dried fruits, leather, wood, clove, cinnamon, apples, plums, paper, and gingerbread. Tabac Aurea showcases all of these different textures and notes, and the total effect is as if the perfumer held a dried tobacco leaf up against the sunlight, slowly turned it around in her hands, and captured each of its changing colors and smells in one small bottle.

Tobacco is a deeply evocative smell for me. I lived for 16 years in the Balkans, where there is a century’s long tradition of smallholders growing tobacco and curing it in the sun before selling it to the local tobacco company, NDKP. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the nineties, coupled with NATO sanctions and the rise of cigarette smuggling meant that local farmers switched to other crops. But now, farmers are once again growing tobacco in Montenegro. They grow a kind called Oriental Tobacco, a small-leaved, hardy type of tobacco that is cured in the hot Balkan sun for up to a month. Intensely aromatic, the smell of the leaves curing in the sun spills out from the fields and into the air around you. There is one such field near a shopping center, and when I walked by there, I loved watching people get hit with the aroma – inevitably they stop, inhale deeply, and stagger away as if high.

Tabac Aurea captures this smell exactly. The smell of tobacco leaves curing in the sunshine is extraordinarily complex and multi-faceted. At first, it smells like a big, thick handful of shredded, wet tobacco leaves that have been steeped in booze of some sort. The effect is rich, but also tannic enough to suck the moisture out of your mouth. The confident spicing, along with a slight dried fruits and candied peel tone, creates an effect that is close to the taste of those medieval types of sweets and cakes, such as panforte, parkin, or gingerbread. These medieval treats would have had a touch of dry honey to them, otherwise, no sugar would have been used.

Throughout the day – and this is a serious, all-day fragrance – you begin to notice the tobacco smell dries out considerably, taking on a leathery and slightly grungy tone that I attribute to the labdanum resin that Laurie has used to round the fragrance out. However, the overall richness of the fragrance never abates – this is one thick, rich smell that stays dense and heavy all the way to the end. This makes it a fragrance one must commit to 100% before putting it on for the day, but if you love the smell of tobacco, then this one is a must. I put it on and it keeps me warm as I go off out into the autumnal sunshine to kick some leaves around.

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