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Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir

18th September 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

9th September 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

30th June 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

29th June 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

29th June 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

25th June 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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