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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.

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.

Floral Jasmine White Floral

Jasmines in Rome: Part I – Santa Maria Novella Gelsomino

May 4, 2016

I was in Rome for a few days in early April this year. Not having been anywhere without my kids since January 2013, I had to be restrained from running through the streets naked, crying “FREEEEDDDOOOMMM” in my best William Wallace voice.

It was a trip for once not centered on the furtive pursuit of perfume – the sudden sideways lunge into a perfume shop with an urgent, pleading “I’ll just be in here for a minute” being a well-known feature of rare family trips to cities that might conceivably stock a range of perfume that extends beyond Tommy Hilfiger and Beyonce.

I had promised my long-suffering husband that there would be no perfume. That we would be doing nothing for those four days but walking, eating long, uninterrupted lunches, drinking a cup of coffee without having to reheat it, and having real conversations for four days. I was looking forward to it. It was going to be a blast, you know? All that walking. All that conversing.

And yet, and yet…..perfume conspired to find me.

Did you know that the center of Rome smells like horses? And therefore, like jasmine?

Near the Spanish Steps, rows of mangy-looking beasts are lined up, waiting to drag hot and irritated tourists around the city. There they stand, in deep misery, flicking flies off their rumps with their tails and dumping great big piles of shit all over the cobblestones.

Get near them and the air positively throbs with the smell of hot horseflesh, the heavy miasma of sweated-in dander from their mane, and the inky, dark, quasi-indolic smell of their poo. Add to that the smell of worn leather from their harnesses, and you have a swirling, foetid maze of scent that is similar in many ways to the dirtier facets of a good Sambac jasmine.

Apparently, the indoles present in jasmine mimic the molecular structure of the indoles in horse poo and in the scent of their mane and tail (sweat, indoles, dander). Many people find Sarassins by Serge Lutens to share a common note with a horse’s mane, but the more I wear Sarassins, the cleaner and fruiter I find it, especially once the shocking indoles at the start are dispensed with. Its soft, fruity, musky tail is no longer one I’m obsessed with.

Still, I hadn’t expected to find my perfectly horsey jasmine bliss in a bottle in the Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.

I had conspired to “wander” casually by the Rome Santa Maria Novella location with my husband (having, of course, plotted my route via Google Maps several months in advance). “Oh look!” I exclaimed, as innocently as I could, “A cute little pharmacy! Let’s see if they have any Compeed.”

The Gelsomino was the one that grabbed me by the throat. I didn’t like it much at first, because it smelled like jasmine essential oils always smell to me – exuberant, fruity, and always (despite the price) slightly coarse or cheap. There were elements of grape jam, melting plastic, fuel fumes, purple bubblegum for kids – a full-throated, smeary Italian jasmine that’s all fur coat and no knickers.

My husband said it smelled like cheap soap, specifically the smell of jasmine soap that someone has used to try and cover up a bad smell in the bathroom.

But I was beginning to be intoxicated by its healthy vulgarity, its I-do-not-give-a-shit insouciance, so I drenched myself even further, giving myself a real whore’s bath right there in front of the slightly shocked Japanese girl whose job it was to carefully remove the bottles I requested to smell from the massive wooden armoire where they were stored.

Let me tell you, this is a perfume that comes into its own when you walk it around a hot city for six or seven hours. It was unseasonably hot in Rome – already 27, 28 degrees Celsius in early April. As the day wore on, I got progressively grimier, and so did Gelsomino. Now it smelled truly dirty, slightly sour, like human skin trapped under the sweaty plastic wristband on a cheap watch, or the scent of the leather strap on your handbag after it’s been rubbing against your bare shoulder bone on a hot summer’s day.

To me, it smelled exactly like those horses near the Spanish Steps did – worn-down, sweaty, sour, truly jasmine-like. A sort of Sarassins in reverse, with all of the fruity, innocent lushness and musky, soapy feel up top, and a sour horsey stink in the tail.

My husband sniffed it towards the end, and shook his head. It smells like hay and horse poo and leather now, doesn’t it, I marveled. No, he said, you are wrong. It smells like stale piss. Please don’t buy that one. Please.

The next day, when I bought it, I consoled my husband by telling him I had bought the smallest bottle possible. “Look,” I said, holding up the teeny tiny bottle for him to see, “Only 8ml.” Oh that’s ok then, said my husband, relieved and kind of proud I had taken his feelings into consideration.

(It was the super-powerful, super-long-lasting Triple Extract).

Oriental Review Saffron Spicy Floral White Floral Woods

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue

October 7, 2015

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was originally asked by a fan on Makeupalley.com to recreate her favorite perfume, Safran Troublant, because she had heard it was being discontinued (it wasn’t) and was distraught. Cimabue is not a faithful rendition of Safran Troublant, but instead a loving tribute that ends up taking the delicate saffron-infused rice-pudding-and-cream accord of the original inspiration and spinning it off into a far more complex, oriental result.

A creamy, dessert-saffron takes center stage here. But a significant clove, ginger, orange, and cinnamon combination lends it a spicy pomander feel that makes my mind wander more in the direction of Pan d’Epices and other European Christmas treats, rather than in the direction of delicate, dusty-floral Indian milk puddings.

There is rose too, and whole ladlefuls of a dark, molten honey – not sweet, but rather bitter and grown-up, like the slight edge of bitterness on a candied peel or a raisin that rescues a taste from being too sugary. There is a charming medieval feel, overall, like a rich golden tapestry hanging on a banquet hall or the taste and smell of those sticky (but dry) honey and almond cakes studded with nuts, cloves, and dried orange peel that are still popular in Siena and Pisa today, such as panforte and ricciarelli.

Cimabue is no simple gourmand, though. It’s a fully-fledged oriental. It’s as if the simple, gourmandy custard of Safran Troublant got dipped into the clove-studded orange and booze of Chanel’s Coco, rubbed in the spicy velvet of Opium, and rolled around in the ambery dust of Fendi’s Theorema, and emerged twelve hours later all the better and wiser for it. It’s the pomander-cross-spice gourmand I had hoped Noir Epices by Frederic Malle would be (but wasn’t). And best of all, it features my favorite note – saffron – in perhaps by favorite guise, that of a sweet, creamy, exotic dessert saffron.

I own two bottles of Safran Troublant, because I love it mindlessly and wear it as a simple comfort scent. But Cimabue is a step forward in the perfume evolutionary chain, and as a piece of art, I prefer it.

Cimabue, by the way, was the Italian artist famous for breaking with the flat Italo-Byzantine style of painting icons and frescos in pre-Renaissance Italy by introducing more naturalistic, true-to-life proportions of figures and shading. And I like to think that the name of this fragrance was deliberate. Because Cimabue takes the basic model of Safran Troublant, animates it subtly with shadows and highlights, and renders it in living, breathing, 3-dimensional form.

It doesn’t make me love Safran Troublant any less, but it is only when I wear its more evolved descendant that I become aware of the progenitor’s serene flatness.

Amber Patchouli Spicy Floral White Floral Woods

Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir

September 18, 2015

Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir is one of the best things that a woman can buy off the shelves of the local department store these days, it really is. Hats off to Estee Lauder!

What they’ve achieved here is the marriage of an almost niche-smelling top half – pine needles, red pepper, a rose that smells more like a plum pudding than a rose, and a dark, chewy patchouli – to a whipped honey-vanilla crème base that caters to the sweet tooth of today’s young women, reared on a diet of sugar bombs and fruitchoulis.

The sillage is swoon-worthy. Every time I spray this on at my local drugstore, I float around for half an hour almost drunk on the fumes of this piney, fruity rose plum pudding-smelling thing. I’d tell you it smells a bit like a cross between Serge Lutens La Fille en Anguilles and Tom Ford Black Orchid, except I wouldn’t want you to run in the other direction – this is far more subtle and “mainstream” than that.

Soon, however, the arresting piney, rosy plum of the top notes begins to slide into a creamy mélange of spiced lily, ambery vanilla, and jasmine, and while this is enjoyable, it all becomes a little too sweet for my taste. Thankfully, somewhere in the base there is a slightly raspy, dry honey that mixes with powdery benzoin to stave off the unrelenting sweetness, and the scent pulls back into “bearable” territory for me.

Overall, I see this as a perfect scent for young women who wants to smell a little bit sexy and mysterious when out on the town, but who doesn’t want any of the weirdness or boldness associated with niche scents. And this serves the purpose nicely – it is sexy, dark-ish (in a polite way), and sweet enough to make a guy want to nibble on your ear lobe or follow your scent trail through a crowd to its source.

The main downfall of this scent – if there is one – is that its trajectory from topnotes to basenotes is disappointingly brief. It all plays out in a matter of hours, and although the basenotes linger, all the drama of the scent is soon gone. Perhaps even that stalwart of the department store Estee Lauder has begun to front-load its fragrances to get customers to pull the trigger before they realize the thing quickly runs out of steam. It’s a depressing thought.

A beautiful surprise, though, in the last moments – a snuffed-out candle note, smoky and paper-dry. This is perhaps the last gift of the benzoin, I don’t know. But it feels like the fingers of someone pinching out the flame of the scent and putting it to bed. It’s a nice touch. It keeps me coming back for more, despite the glaring construction issues.

Floral Oriental Oriental Patchouli Resins Rose White Floral

Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer

September 9, 2015

I’ve been wearing my sample of Le Maroc Pour Elle by Andy Tauer for the last six nights running and it’s about to run dry – but I’m still not sure I have a handle on it.

I know what I expected – a thick, balmy floral oriental with a head-shop vibe. And for the most part, that’s what I get. But damn, this thing is mercurial. It never reads the same way twice on my skin. Over the six times I’ve tested this so far, I’ve picked up on (variously): unburned incense cones, amber cubes, floor disinfectant, indolic jasmine, antiseptic lavender, shoe polish, mandarin oranges, gasoline, sweet gooey amber, rubber, candy, tuberose, leather, orange blossoms, and, once, the dry, sweet smell of a paper grocery bag.

It’s totally weird. It is slutty and deep and weird. I think I love it. But maybe I hate it though. I’m a bit all over the place with this all-over-the-place perfume.

Part of my confusion comes from the fact that Le Maroc is the least “Andy Tauer” Andy Tauer perfume I’ve ever smelled.  Although it does feature a fizzing Indian incense-and-rose pairing that recalls the Coca Cola twang of Incense Rose, it has nothing of the crystalline, hot-arid feel that runs through his others like a watermark. Andy Tauer perfumes are passionate, but also highly curated. You get the impression that every nuance is fine-tuned with the precision of a Swiss clock.

Le Maroc Pour Elle is not Swiss clock-precise. It is messy as hell, like a five year old child who’s smeared her mother’s red lipstick all over her mouth.

It begins with a clash. A syrupy, medicinal lavender note immediately butts heads with the howling shoe-polish stink of a serious jasmine overload.  Hyper-clean lavender versus a carnal jasmine – no contest. The animal fur stink of jasmine, once the petroleum fumes die down, is just gorgeous. It melts down into a waxy note that doesn’t smell truly of rose but of something sweet, soft, and pink. I know there’s scads of high quality rose oil in this, but the incense and the jasmine twist its delicate smell into a form I don’t recognize. I suspect the rose is just there to soften the jutting hips of the jasmine so that the overall effect is sweetly, thickly lush.

On other occasions, I have picked up a rather pungent, sharp orange blossom note, which, when combined with the honey and the flowers, creates a softly urinous aroma that does indeed recall the orange blossom, honey, and civet of Bal a Versailles (as Luca Turin so aptly pointed out in The Guide).

I even got a strong tuberose note once or twice – at first clipped and green, then creamy, and slightly rubbery. How talented Andy Tauer is, to combine rose and jasmine absolutes and do it in such a way that they conjure up the vivid, breathing form of other flowers. This is the part of the perfume that feels classically French to me – that weave of expensive-smelling flowers and female skank.

But most of the perfume feels like an attar to me. It is a dark brown perfume, and stains the skin. Every time I wear my sample, I feel like I should be anointing myself with it carefully, like I would a concentrated perfume oil or pure parfum, applying it in minute drops to my wrists instead of spraying it. I feel it sink into my skin and become part of my natural scent, mixing with my own skin oils and musk.

The backing tape to it all is a fizzing, cheap Indian incense smell, almost identical to the smell of unburned incense cones and amber cubes. A deep brown, 1970’s style patchouli adds just the right amount of head shop grunginess to rough up the florals and ground them a little. Combined with the mandarin oil, it’s like having a tiny drop of Karma (by Lush) wrapped up in the heart of the perfume, surrounded by expensive rose and jasmine absolutes. Le Maroc swings between smelling ultra-expensive and French to cheap and hippy-ish and back again. I’m confused (and intrigued).

The mixture of expensive, attar-like oils and cheap, low-quality incense is oddly intoxicating. That’s not a criticism, by the way – the appearance of a cheap note propped up against a sea of expensive, luxe notes is an effective way to draw attention to the expensive stuff, kind of like a bas relief effect. I’ve noticed this cheap-expensive combination in other perfumes such as Noir de Noir (a cheap rosewater note against expensive dark chocolate) and Traversee du Bosphore (a painfully artificial apple and pomegranate syrup accord that’s counteracted by lush lokum and suede).

I’m starting to see the kind of person who wears this perfume and wears it right. In my mind’s eye, I see a woman in a dirndl skirt and a baby tied at her voluminous hip, wandering through a health food store, picking up incense sticks, smelling them, and dabbing all sorts of essential oils on her skin. She has laughter lines on her suntanned face and a smile that makes men melt. Her smoker’s laugh contains some kind of sexmagic. No doubt about it, Le Maroc is a zaftig perfume, a husky thing with child-bearing hips and a crude sensuality about it.

I am not quite sure I have the sexual confidence to pull this off, even if I do have the child-bearing hips thing down flat. Still, I can’t get this weird, sensual, earthy, head-twisting perfume out of my head, and that spells trouble.

Chypre Review Summer White Floral

Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela

June 30, 2015

I felt something give in me when I smelled Bruno Fazzolari Au Dela for the first time. Something about it bypasses the thinking part of my brain and goes straight to the heart. I know that sounds very Barbara Cartland, and I do apologize, but when you smell as many perfumes as I do, you learn not to ignore those rare times that you are moved by a perfume. And Au Delà moves me.

It is partly to do with memory. Loaded with moss, coriander, and neroli, the opening recalls the ‘summer tennis’ fourgeres favored by my father – I am thinking of Eau Sauvage in particular. There is a dry, herbal touch of hay, I imagine, and a whole lifetime of summers unfolds in my mind’s eye. The neroli smells bright and smoky, like singed lemon peel. But the fresh, aromatic start turns out to be a diversion, and while your imagination is busy batting tennis balls, the real cast of notes is moving quietly onto the stage.

Because what Au Delà really is is a white floral. Normally, I can’t stand white florals. To me, they are like a massive slab of Triple Crème Brie left in the heat of the afternoon sun to ooze across the cheese plate – a little bit is nice, but the thought of more leaves me nauseous. Worse than the unchecked richness, for me, is the lack of bone structure. White florals just….collapse… all over your personal space, like a blowsy blonde barfly ten years past her prime.

But what Bruno Fazzolari has achieved with Au Delà is to create a white floral with a backbone and a clear sense of purpose. Although the jasmine and orange blossoms are as honeyed and indolic as you might imagine, they manage to float above the base in a green, crisp haze that satisfies without making you feel sick. The dark, saline amber and moss in the base give it a chypre feel, and bring it within touching distance of the 1950’s revivalist style of 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel), Promesse de L’Aube and Enlevement au Serail (Parfums MDCI). It is every bit as ravishingly beautiful as these perfumes.

However, Au Delà differs from these great ‘new’ chypres by virtue of being more botanical in its focus, and far less abstract – in other words, the jasmine in Au Delà is recognizable as jasmine, the neroli as neroli, and so on. Au Delà also has a warmer, more ‘human’ feel to it than any of the aforementioned perfumes, in large part due to the skin-salt finish of the ambery base. It is an uncluttered perfume with a direct message.

And in its simplicity lies the key to its snappy elegance. One of my favorite quotes from Paul Coehlo is as follows: “Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: the simpler and more sober the posture, the more beautiful it will be.” This might as well have been written about Au Delà and the perfumer’s intent as anything else in life. A modern floral masterpiece, in my opinion, and joins Une Fleur de Cassie as one of my favorite floral perfumes ever.

Attars & CPOs The Discard Pile White Floral

Amouage Afrah

June 29, 2015

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.

Scent Memory The Discard Pile White Floral

Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile

June 29, 2015

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.

Review Summer White Floral

Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

June 25, 2015

My sample of Carnal Flower by Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle sat in my sample box, unloved and untested, for a whole year. I kind of fear tuberose, you see. It brings back unwelcome associations for me between the sleek, buttery smell of tuberose blooms in vases and rich ladies who lunch in hotels.

I used to work in one such hotel – Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare Strand (Irish people will know it). Don’t get me wrong – the hotel was, and still is, a great place and the owners are wonderful. But never was I so aware of my lowly socio-economic status as when I stepped through the revolving doors into the tuberose-scented air of that hotel.

Over time, the smell of tuberose became linked in my mind with rich people, carpets so deep your heels sink into them, and the indefinable smell of wealth in the air. My prejudice is wholly my own, of course – it only means that I have an inferiority complex. But I am careful about tuberose because I am only human and don’t want to deliberately trigger those feelings.

I needn’t have worried about Carnal Flower. It’s less of the ‘wealthy hotel air’ smell of hothouse tuberoses and more botanical, earthy, natural in feel – like walking through a swampy field of tuberose stalks. It is a smell rooted in nature and not in something man-made.

The opening notes are luridly green and camphoraceous, and every time I get a mental image of the waxy leaves of a privet hedge and the stalks of the tuberose being crushed and offered to me to smell. The freshness is a surprise, every time, and it moves me. Slightly bitter, sappy, and evergreen, I wish it could last forever; it’s that intoxicating to my senses.

Eventually, the opening dies back and a creamy tuberose is revealed. To my relief, it is not the butter-and-candy disco flower of my worst nightmares (hello Fracas!), but a cool and restrained take on the infamous bloom. It is creamy, yes, but not overblown.

Hints of coconut and white musk round out the floral element. Although I like the opening more, I also quite like this last phase, especially in the heat, because the tuberose and coconut give off a natural, salty beach feel.

Despite the marketing and the name, I don’t find Carnal Flower to be sexy in the slightest. In my opinion, it is simply a tuberose presented in the most botanical, natural way possible. I think Carnal Flower does a brilliant job of showcasing the headiness of the flower as it appears in nature, and not in a hothouse environment, and for that alone, I will always love it. Will I need a whole bottle of it? Nah. But a vial of it to smell every now and then would be nice.

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