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Aromatic Celebrity Incense Review Vetiver Woods

Sarah Jessica Parker Stash  

November 14, 2016

I read somewhere that Sarah Jessica Parker wanted her new perfume to smell like contraband, hence the name Stash. But the first image that jumped to mind when I heard it was the abbreviation of “mustache” and the association has stuck. The mustache association turns out to suit the perfume perfectly – it’s as sexy and androgynous as a pretty girl dressed in drag for the night, fake mustache included.

Stash starts off as dry as a bone, with a bitter, peppery cedar dressed up with a sinus-clearing sage note. There’s a faintly watery-milky green note floating around in there that reminds me somewhat of the green violets in Santal 33 and the minty fig leaf in Santal Massoia, but the green note doesn’t direct any of the focus away from the dry, masculine woods. Add in some frankincense and what emerges is a creature in the same mold as Kyoto by Comme des Garcons – a stripped-down, minimalist cedar-incense with a tinge of something green and resinous.

My feelings about this are mixed. On the one hand, I think that Sarah Jessica Parker has succeeded in making a fragrance that is as anonymous and androgynous as Santal 33 and Kyoto – perfect for that low-key sexy vibe that Manhattanites go nuts for. It shares that same intimate, but at the same time oddly room-filling woody radiance that makes people wonder if you’re wearing perfume or if it’s just your skin and clothes that smell so good. The sage note, in particular, gives that witchy impression of a good, cleansing smoke-out to drive away djinns.

But the flip side of that premise is that Stash is a perfume that smells better at a distance than up close, on the skin. It’s a more of a scent of an ambiance – a gift to other people in your vicinity – than a pleasure for your own nose. None of the elements here truly work for me – I am unenthused about the bitterish cedar (mostly because in recent years, cedar has come to be synonymous with Iso E Super and Cedramber, even when the real stuff has been used, as here) and the dry sage, vetiver, and pepper make me think of dreary generic masculines.

I will give it this: somewhere in Stash’s development, all the dry, woody elements coalesce into a sweet, creamy finish that reads – at a distance – as sandalwood. Sometimes, days later, I catch a whiff of it on my sweaters and I fall in love with it. So I spray it again and am disgruntled, all over again, by the weak, bitter cedar and watery green notes that I find so bony and unsatisfying. Fast forward a few hours, and I am entranced by the creamy cloud that now surrounds my person. I smell warm, approachable, and ready for a hug.

In the end, I also struggle a bit with how to evaluate Stash fairly. It’s like talking about the smart kid who’s eons ahead of his classmates in Grade 1, but bump him ahead to Grade 3, and he struggles a bit. Stash is clearly head and shoulders above other celebrity perfumes – it is cool, sexy, androgynous, and not at all sugary or dumb. Bumping it up into the niche category, among whose brethren Stash really should be evaluated, and I find that it still holds up pretty nicely against similar stuff like Santal 33, Santal Massoia, Kyoto, and Tam Dao. It doesn’t stand out in that company. But it doesn’t fall too far behind either.

I’ve been wearing it a lot. It’s a perfect little thing for autumn – slip it on, forget all about it, and go kick over some leaves.

Price-wise, Stash is a much better deal than any of those androgynous, woody-incense perfumes in the niche category, and so I recommend it thoroughly to people who are into this type of scent but who want to achieve the same effect with less money. I paid €32 for a 30ml bottle, shipped over to me free from the UK Superdrug. I just found out that you can buy it in Boots, but you pay €45 for 30ml. God, people in the Republic of Ireland get completely shafted on price – better buy direct from the UK, if you can.

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.

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Creed Angelique Encens

May 26, 2016

A few days ago, I received a mysterious package in the post which continued four largish samples of what even I recognized as rare Creeds – Cuir de Russie, Angelique Encens, Bayrhum Vetiver, and Verveine Narcisse. Spotting the name of the sender, I realized what must have happened – a friend who was kind enough to send me some samples of rare Ensar Oud oils had obviously sent my ouds off to someone else, and I had received instead these Creeds. Somewhere, right now, in Northern Europe, some poor guy is peering at three tiny vials of a brown sticky substance and wondering if the Creeds are so old that they’ve dried up (possible).

Don’t worry, I told my panicked friend, I will send these samples off to yer man. It will be like one of those hostage situations: I release the Creeds if he releases the ouds, etc. I won’t even spray them, I said, obviously lying through my teeth.

I don’t know if Creed Angelique Encens is really that special, but it is so exactly to my tastes that I can’t help but think of it as a masterpiece. Creamy woods, smoky vanilla, resins, smoke, brushed with tender florals and kissed into being by baby angels. Ok, I exaggerate. It’s perhaps not the Second Coming. But it’s pretty damn close to perfection to my mind.

I’m not terribly into straight-up, liturgical incenses like Cardinal, LAVS, or Avignon. I find them initially compelling, but quickly too literal for my liking. My time at Mass was spent daydreaming of it ending, so I am not in any particular hurry to hurry back there in my olfactory memory. Of course, paradoxically, like most everyone else, I find the smell of frankincense and myrrh burning on a censer to be a wonderful smell – raw and primal; spiritually-uplifting even. I just don’t want to wear High Mass on my skin.

The three types of incense that I do like better in perfumery are (a) the thick, dark resin bombs like Sahara Noir and Balsamo della Mecca that evoke something ancient and primal, but not exactly churchy, (b) florals with incense that read as sultry but not High Mass-like, such as Exultat, Sacrebleue Intense, and Chanel No. 22, and, lastly, (c) ambery woody scents with a light touch of incense that are the equivalent of a comfort blanket.

Angelique Encens falls squarely into this third category. When I first put it on – not that I tested this more than five times, by the way, seven at the very most – I get a very clear image in my head of sparkling amber crystals forming on my skin, like salt on bare shoulders after a long day at the beach. The angelica lends the amber crystals a unique herbal, green-stalk-like tone. I am reminded slightly of Iris Oriental, if only for this brief impression of amber crystals forming on the skin, which is something I clearly visualize when wearing the Parfumerie Generale scent too.

The salty brightness and herbalcy of the opening dissipates rather quickly, clearing the way for a woody, creamy amber with hints of powdery incense. This begins to swell and bloom on the skin, growing fuller with every minute instead of thinning out, as one might reasonably expect. In a way, Angelique Encens is constructed in a manner that is completely opposite to most modern scents, which create shock and awe with their massive saturation of aromas in the first few minutes, only to collapse into a lethargic, pale base one hour in. Angelique Encens, on the other hand, grows into its beauty. It fluffs out, like an angora sweater laid to dry in front of an open fire.

No, unlike most modern fragrances, the start really is just the amouse bouche for the most amazing dinner that features no actual dinner per se but the most sensational dessert stretched out over ten courses. What Creed pulled off here was to turn crème brulee into a fragrance, infuse it with smoke, and sprinkle it with the same blue-purple flowers that make the dry downs of L’Heure Bleue, Shem El Nessim, and Farnesiana linger so long in the mind’s eye – heliotrope, violets, a touch of iris perhaps. It is not technically a floriental, though – it has the same elegant woody, ambery feel of Bois d’Armenie and Ambre 114. An incense floriental woody, maybe?

It’s the drydown of my dreams, and one they so rarely make these days. Achieved through what means, I cannot say exactly, but there is surely a very good vanilla absolute here, one that leans more towards smoke than to dessert, ambergris, flowers, and the type of creamy sandalwood you thought was already all bought up by Chanel for Bois des Iles. I also detect – surely – a fat cushion of benzoin further fluffing out the amber, vanilla, and creamy sandalwood.

Nothing too unusual, you’d think, nothing to see here, let’s move along, alright? Except it turns out to have the same full-bodied, voluptuous, soul-stirring beauty as vintage Shalimar or a less rosy Bois des Iles. So here I am, powerless to heed its siren call.

You’d think I’d have learned by now, but no. As it happens, I would be perfectly content to exclusively wear – for the rest of my life – fragrances that are just an inch to the left of Shalimar, one shade darker or lighter than L’Heure Bleue, a fragment of Bois des Iles. My tastes are Catholic, but not Catholic enough.

Angelique Encens is soul food to me. But lusting after it is like going back to the buffet knowing that I’m too stuffed to eat another bite. Technically, I don’t need it. I know it’s going to make me fat. But I sure do want it.

 

via GIPHY

Chypre Floral Woods

Jean Patou “1000”

May 21, 2016

One year, at Christmas, my father gave my mother a beautiful embroidered dressing gown for her Christmas present. I remember this for two reasons. First, it was the first (and only) time I ever remember my father giving mum something quite so obviously expensive. Second, even at age 12, I knew my mum wasn’t going to like it. A woman of plain and sensible tastes, she has a strong distaste for luxury, so I expected her to murmur her polite thanks and disappear it later under the stairs, which is where all unwanted items in our house went to die.

Detail-of-Anne-of-Cleves--007

But she loved it. I’ll never forget the look of sheer pleasure came over her face as she stroked the material – a rich black velvet with an overlying brocade of silver, gold, and vermilion threads all wound up together tightly in an intricate Chinese design. As of the lily hadn’t been gilded enough, there was a huge cream ermine muff around the collar. Either my father had – for the first time in his life – guessed exactly what it was that would make her glow like that, or she had seen it somewhere and requested it. I’ve never asked, but I’m sure it’s the latter.

Every time she wore that dressing gown, it struck me as an act of perversity, somehow. That although lovely, she was working against the natural grain of her taste in wearing something so over the top.

Jean Patou “1000” works against the grain too. What’s the grain these days anyway? Well, the fashion for simple, clear florals that ring out as clear and sweet as a bell, for one. And the muffled, beige tonality of what I think of as the Narciso Rodriguez musk family – all pleasant, all background music.

Wearing something like Jean Patou “1000” is self-consciously anti-trend, deliberately eccentric, like a teenage girl wearing a tweed hunting cape to stand out in the crowd. Or like my mum, every time she put on that ridiculous dressing gown. She looked like a fucking pimp, but…… it did look fabulous.

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Legend has it that it took Patou 10 years to make “1000” and a 1,000 attempts before being released, hence the name. The perfumer credited with “1000”, Jean Kerléo, joined Patou in 1968, by which time the perfume had been in development already for 6 years. It must have been a difficult task for Kerléo to pick up on another perfumer’s brief. I also imagine that by that stage, “1000” was the elephant in the room at Patou, with people coming in every now and then to poke the monster and paste something else onto the formula.

Maybe by the time Kerléo got to it, “1000” was just sitting there, a big, bloated sack of expensive ingredients so ludicrously rich and complex that it was impossible to edit for clarity. Maybe the best he could do was give it a coherent beginning, middle, and end – a structure that held it all together. I also kind of like to think that some board member at Patou just said, “F&*k it. Just release the damn thing already.”

“1000” is a dry floral chypre, which doesn’t really tell you anything these days. It boasts whole acreages of roses and jasmine from Grasse, as well as fields’ worth of osmanthus in China that Patou allegedly had to buy in order to secure enough osmanthus for the formula. But far from being the orgasmic cornucopia of flowers you might expect – hot and glowing like the nuclear Ubar, let’s say – the effect here is muted and shady, as if all the flowers cancel each other out leaving only the sense of their richness rising to the surface like oil on water.

The one note that signs clearly, to my nose, is the violet leaf. Fresh and metallic, this shimmers so brightly in the top of the composition that I couldn’t stop thinking about Fahrenheit and Cuir Pleine Fleur. Interspersed with starched-white-shirt aldehydes and a bitter, crushed-herbs effect (trampled artemisia?), the violet leaf opening is striking, and yes, completely out of step with the trends in modern perfumery.

In the heart, an orchestra of expensive flowers – rose, jasmine, powdery iris, osmanthus – raise their voice to the ceiling as one, but the effect remains soft, sottovoce. There is a vague hint of apricots and suede from the osmanthus, dusky soap from the iris, a thrilling flicker of indoles from the jasmine. But not one flower makes a break for it. Chanel No. 5 and Arpege strike me as much the same, a chorus of dark florals and powder and ambery fruits swirled together so that no one note is distinct.

A faint prickle of civet licks around the edges of the florals, spiking the composition with the warm glow of animal, like raw honey or stale saliva from licked skin. The tainted florals now merge with a golden, mossy drydown that features plenty of oakmoss, 70’s style patchouli, labdanum, and Mysore sandalwood. Interestingly, the oakmoss adds depth and shade, but no bitterness – it’s as if the herbal bitters and violet leaf had played enough of that role at the start.

The drydown is textured – creamy, but also earthy, mossy, woody, with enough lingering civet-licked florals for light relief. It’s at this stage I can see the familiar relationship with the far sweeter and more single-minded floral of Joy, as well as with other dry woody chypres such as La Perla. I don’t, however, see the connection to Mitsouko, as so many people seem to.

I can see why people might find this a bit too much. It’s overly complex and it’s hilariously out of step with the times. Every time I wear it, I feel I should come equipped with a map, a pencil, and a Venn diagram just to try and figure out what’s going on. It’s not even me, in particular. But the more I wear it, the more I like it, especially if I stop scrutinizing it and just let its monumental effect wash over me. It’s a question of letting my taste the time to adjust to a new shape, that’s all. Just like I eventually came to like that pimp dressing gown.

Oud Smoke Woods

By Kilian Pure Oud

May 5, 2016

By Kilian Pure Oud is the racehorse of the Western oud-based fragrances; all sinew and nerve, and not an inch of fat to spare. Kilian could have easily named this Oud Noir or Dark Oud, because Pure Oud really does convey the inky, matte darkness of a moonless night sky.

It smells like a black leather jacket tinctured into a pool of black tar and then vaporized into a mist of gasoline.

Pure Oud draws a line around itself and stays within it. Real oud oil has a smell that spills messily out over every line you’ve drawn for yourself; the brazenly-named Pure Oud (it is purely synthetic) is self-contained. But they do share a common denominator – both smell other-worldly and somewhat stark.

For me, it is the Western-based oud fragrance that comes closest to mimicking the smell of real oud oil. Not a sour, fermented-smelling Hindi or Assam oud oil, but one of those aged, dry oud oils where you can pick out hints of leather, dried fruit, melting plastic lunch boxes, and smoke.

Caveat: Pure Oud is a minimalist take on a maximalist smell, i.e., it does not approach the complexity or range of aromas of real oud oil. Nothing this obviously synthetic can come close to copying something so rudely natural.

But the experience of using oud oils and attars is not interchangeable with or comparable to using traditional fragrance; one is a quiet, more private experience geared toward internal contemplation; the other is a projection of oneself to the wider world. We shouldn’t keep holding up one against the other in a race for authenticity. Prefer instead that benchmark of Guy Robert’s: Does it smell good? And yes, Pure Oud does smell good – very good indeed.

I find Pure Oud to be very quiet, but long-lasting. Sometimes, to turn up the volume a bit, I re-spray during the day, twice, or even three times. This way, it builds up on the skin in layers of translucent ink – leather upon rubber upon gasoline, until it finally pushes off the skin in a sulky swirl of woodsmoke.

Incense Iris Leather Smoke Woods

L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha

April 16, 2016

I’ve struggled with L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha for a long time, and even now, three, four years on, I admit that I’m perhaps only halfway towards understanding this brilliant and sometimes frustrating fragrance. Part of my old problem with Dzongkha is that it smells so little like perfume that I am always wrestling with the question “What the fuck am I smelling right now?” Because, depending on the day, the hour, it’s always something different.

I don’t know what I’m smelling, so my mind defaults to the nearest recognizable object.

Most of the time, Dzongkha smells like the steamy aromas caught in the wool of my sweater when making chicken stock – pepper, chicken fat, bones, celery, salt. It smells intensely savory, almost salty, metallic, and most definitely vegetal. On other days, I spray it on, and it is obviously, immediately a very rooty iris, smelling of nothing so much as potato starch or hospital disinfectant. Other times, my nose shortcuts to a glass of whiskey or to the smell of a wet newspaper, its ink running down my fingers, about to disintegrate into mush.

But then again, sometimes the smell of paper is dry and rustling. Sometimes, there is a fiercely pungent boot polish note, as iridescent and blue-black as a bluebottle’s shell. Sometimes, the iris shows me a petrichor side, similar to the flat mineralic smell of drying rocks and tarmac after a rain shower that features so heavily in Apres L’Ondee.

In the background, there is always a strain of green tea leaves, dry-roasted over a campfire, a waft of incense, and a totally puerile-smelling, soapy overlay of fruit and flowers, faint and smudged like the waxy, wet residue of the bottom of a bar of cheap hotel soap left to fester in a dish. There is a purple cheapness to the floralcy here, a cleaning product whose scent nobody has given much thought to other than the brief to contain a smell that is “like a flower” and “opposite to poo”. The first few times I tried Dzongkha, I remember being shocked at the florid, purple floral smell more than any of the weirder stuff.

At some point in Dzongkha’s development, a rubbery, dry leather note emerges and takes center stage, and it puffs on in this mode for the rest of the duration, sweetening and softening quite a bit along the way. It even starts to smell, well, nice. Slightly more like perfume and slightly less than the collected smells of a household.

People are fond of saying that Dzongkha is like Timbuktu but with iris added, but I don’t really get that. For me, Timbuktu is a deceptively simple smoky woods and incense fragrance, with all its magic and power tied up in its uncluttered nature. I wear it to reset my clock when I am feeling upset or out of balance – I find it calming and far more spiritual than any of the acclaimed church incenses out there.

Dzongkha, on the other hand, packs an awful lot of weird stuff into one tight space, and is clearly a Hieronymus Bosch to Timbuktu’s naïve art. When I wear Dzongkha, it distracts me. My mind is agitated, feverishly trying to mentally place all of the odd little flourishes in this library of smells I carry around in my brain. Whether this proves to be stimulating or just plain annoying depends on what kind of day I’m having. So you better believe I think twice before spraying this on.

But still, I spray this on. It’s interesting – it’s art.

There was a thread recently on Basenotes that posed the question of whether L’Artisan Parfumeur was going out of fashion, and there were a fair few people who wrote in to say that, yes, the house was irrelevant and that most if not all of its perfumes could happily disappear off the face of the earth for all they cared.

Well, get a load of you, you bitches. Before you all slope off looking for the most chemically-powered hard leather bombs with which to blow your smell receptors out or the latest , achingly-cool melting glass bottles that won’t stand up full of liquid that smells like fish eggs, or toner ink, or glue, or whatever niche decides is new and shocking these days, take a moment to remember the Grandmaster Flash of them all, the weird-before-it-was-cool-to-be-weird Dzongkha. And maybe don’t be so quick to dismiss an entire house with quite the back catalog of conversation starters and pot stirrers.

You can’t even throw that tried-and-tested (and true) complaint about L’Artisan Parfumeur’s fragrances – weak longevity – at the head of Dzongkha. It is not quietly radiant as Timbuktu, it is just as strong and as dense as a brick. This stuff lasts 10-11 hours easily. Of course, whether you’ll want it to or not is another matter….

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Caron Nuit de Noel

March 3, 2016

Modern niche perfumery makes it easy for us. It must be like playing charades with the world’s slowest child. They supply us with all the visual and background cues and then sit back and do a slow clap when we get it. Ambre Russe? Mention vodka in the press materials and in one sniff we are mentally whisked away to boozy Cossacks, samovars, fur, and gold-gilded palaces. De Profundis? Give an essentially cheery floral perfume a gloomy name and a depressive back-story, and suddenly everyone makes the connection to death and funerals.

If we weren’t supplied so readily with these cues, would we make those connections? Probably not. But let’s admit that the back-story is half the fun of it. We are only human after all – we want everything we do to have meaning. Even if it’s only our perfume.

Smell Caron Nuit de Noel in vintage parfum form, though, and everything you know about narrative is upended. It is a Wagnerian opera-sized perfume and we not handed so much as a leaflet. Oh yes, I forgot, they did give us that name – Nuit de Noel. But it doesn’t smell like Christmas, so that doesn’t help.

But this – this – this is what perfume smelled like once upon a time. A dense, powdered thing of mystery that doesn’t really give a shit if you manage to unlock its layers or not. It’s so analog in a digital world that it makes me laugh.

Nuit de Noel doesn’t really have traditional topnotes. In fact, it’s a fragrance best worn for its basenotes, and is therefore the complete opposite to how perfumes are made these days – stuffed with amazing topnotes that last just long enough to get you over to the till to pay your money and petering out into one big fat nothing three hours later. Nuit de Noel, on the other hand, plunges you right into the second cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen and just trusts that you know enough German to get by. In a way, I appreciate that approach – by giving me very few cues, it expects me to have enough intelligence to figure it out on my own.

I’m still not sure I’ve figured Nuit de Noel out, though. I ain’t that smart. But I like the challenge. The top notes are intense, like a wall of sound coming straight at you. Dense and unwieldy, it smells like bitter powder and polished old woods with a streak of green moss running through it. There is also a huge dose of the typically Caron carnation/clove accord, which I find bitter-leathery and spicy in equal measure. The overall impression I get is of being wrapped in an old fur coat – it’s both old-fashioned and luxurious.

I don’t get any of the Christmas associations, but there is a stage of its development where I sense both the mealy, fluffy meat of roasted chestnuts and a sweet, liquor-like rose. Perhaps it’s that hint of rich fruited breads and baked goods that lead some to make the connection to Christmas. The green, mossy chypre notes also create a crisp, cold-air feeling, placing this perfume in the context of snow. Aside from the notes, there is a certain glow to this perfume – a radiant warmth like candlelight.

As time goes on, a licorice-like note creeps in, cloaking the fragrance in a velvety, sweet darkness. Think soft black licorice, not the challenging Danish stuff that tastes like salt. This note is a feature of the famous Mousse de Saxe, said to contain a heavy mixture of anise (or fennel seed), vanillin, geranium, and isobutyl quinoline (smoky, tough leather notes).

The Mousse de Saxe makes up a huge proportion of Nuit de Noel, and lends it its decisively dark green, mossy, smoky, and sweet flavor profile. A pre-packaged base, Mousse de Saxe is no longer made by Caron to the original recipe, although to their credit, they try to recreate it in order to keep their current parfums rich and full-bodied. But to my nose, there is a rich, dark, and melting softness to vintage Nuit de Noel (reminiscent of marrons glaces, as some have pointed out) that is just not there in the modern Carons.

The leather, powder, and geranium facets of the base connect Nuit de Noel to other hard-to-categorize fragrances like Habanita and Vol de Nuit. Part chypre, part oriental, all three of these fragrances are soft, boneless straddlers of several categories at once and contain a mystery of their very own that is difficult to unpack, to analyze. Mysterious and cool-toned, they leave behind a lingering impression of green moss, face powder, leather, and half-smoked cigarettes. The most slatternly women you could imagine, and the ones I most want to know.

Smelling Nuit de Noel parfum now a melancholic experience, though. Vol de Nuit and Habanita are still in good shape. But with oakmoss being severely restricted these days, the Caron bases can never smell as complex as they once did, and so when I smell my sample of vintage Nuit de Noel parfum, I realize that I’m essentially smelling the air from a time capsule.

 

 

Gourmand Immortelle Sandalwood Woods

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau

December 18, 2015

Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau smells – at first – like the air in a food product preparation lab, where the air swirls with all kinds of flavor molecules added to enhance our perception of what we’re actually eating.

I don’t think Jeux de Peau is foody per se (because it is not something that tempts me to eat it), but I do think it relies heavily on food aromachemical notes to produce it overall effect. I smell cylotene, a molecule that tastes of slightly burned maple syrup, bread, and coffee beans and is often added to real maple syrup to enhance the flavor/smell, and pyrazines, synthesized molecules responsible for the very intense smell of coffee, chocolate, woods, and bread brought to burning point under intense heat.

Like other pyrazine-rich perfumes, such as Aomassai, Un Bois Vanille, and Eau Noire, the effect in Jeux de Peau is intensely aromatic to the point where it can smell somewhat overcooked, or burned to a crisp, and like those other perfumes, a licorice or anise note has been added to underscore the deep “black” nuances.

The butyric undertone to the sandalwood is taken to the limits here, so it smells both richly oily and more than a little rancid, like a butter dish left out to fester under a hot lamp. When the toasted bread notes meet the buttery oilslick, the effect is unhealthy in that doughy, yeasty way that always reminds me of when a businessman slips off his loafers on a plane – that steamy odor of slightly-cooked feet pervading a closed-in space, always the same regardless of how spotless his socks, shoes, or feet actually are. The opening of Jeux de Peau forces that same unwanted intimacy on me, and I fight through it, gnashing my teeth until the intensity dissipates somewhat.

In the heart, the overly rich, stale butter notes are cut with a dash of salt, which I think is coming from a very herbal licorice or anise note, and the grassy, spicy tones of immortelle. The savory notes are perfectly balanced here by a delicious and delicate apricot jam accord (osmanthus flower), as well as the gentler milk tones coming out from the sandalwood. The sandalwood in this is just incredible – sweet and salty, richly, brownly aromatic, like an ancient elephant figurine carved from Mysore sandalwood held up to a fire to bring out the aroma hidden deep within its fibers.

Burned toast and butter, you say?

No, Jeux de Peau smells more complex than toast and butter. It also smells a lot less natural. The combined effect is a blur of intense flavor impressions that attract and repel at the same rate. I think it is high art. I am just not convinced that I want to wear it.

Amber Animalic Resins Review Smoke Spice Tobacco Woods

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.

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.

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