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Independent Perfumery Iris Review Sandalwood Spice Spicy Floral Woods

Slumberhouse LANZ: A Review

October 16, 2017

LANZ is a good example of what Luca Turin refers to as skin physics, namely the way in which moisture added to or subtracted from the skin can alter the way a perfume develops.

 

When I first tried LANZ, I was in New York, and it was the last gasp of an Indian summer – temperatures in the high twenties (Celsius) and humidity at 95%. Under those conditions, LANZ smelled rather like a ghost of vintage Chanel Coco, meaning Perfume with a capital P – a thickly knotted clutch of bittersweet balsam, prunol, spice, and sandalwood studded with amber resin. On my moist skin, LANZ glowed like a slice of pain d’epices over a heat lamp.

 

There was also a spermy topnote, thanks to an extremely rooty iris material; this is most evident up top, but it reoccurs (more gently) throughout the drydown of the perfume. Don’t be alarmed, though! The spermy note is more surprising than unpleasant: cold, bleachy, and floral in a foamy way, as if someone had eaten a meal of elderflowers, meadowsweet, and cow parsley before ejaculating politely on one’ outstretched arm. The contrast between the cold, spermy iris and the glowing warmth of the rest of the scent is arresting – metal slashing through red velvet.

 

It is this chilly iris note that establishes a relationship between LANZ and New Sibet, although LANZ is warm and New Sibet is cold. It also places LANZ firmly in the new generation of Slumberhouse perfumes, characterized by a more classical, more “watercolor” direction than the darker, denser oil-painted olfactory landscapes of earlier works such as Norne and Sova.

 

At home in gloomy Ireland, LANZ reveals itself to be far drier, woodier, and less full on “spice oriental” than in New York. Although the chilly sperm impression is as strong as ever in the topnotes, the cooler weather has allowed me to pick up more of a connection to Ore than to New Sibet. It is not by any means a smell-alike, but there are two points of intersection that I can see.

 

First is an opening full of waxy dark chocolate, cognac, and balsamic (almost buttery) woods – briefly close in feel to the Carmex lip balm texture of the cocoa/woods in Ore. Second, a movement towards the end when LANZ dries out into a very smoky, lacquered wood, which although in LANZ is due to oud, is not entirely unlike the oiled and dusty guaiac wood in Ore. There is something about the balsamic, waxy texture of the woods that connects them.

 

Of course, aside from these two (small) points of intersection, LANZ is a very different scent. Past the initial blast of rooty iris and boozy cognac-cocoa notes, LANZ develops into a dark balsamic wood scent glazed with a spiced, plummy lacquer. The fruit note could be raisin or prune or even the dusty skin of a plum – but crucially, something only distantly suggestive of fruit and not redolent of its juices, sugars, or pulp.

 

In fact, this fruity wood lacquer smells quite like Cambodian oud to my nose, a type of oud oil characterized by its juicy fig, berry, and plum notes. This becomes more evident in the drydown, as the scent dries out, taking on the dusty, “old furniture” notes exuded by some aged Cambodi ouds. In the end, LANZ smells comfortably nostalgic and familiar, like standing in an ancient Chinese apothecary or a disused storage facility, the air thick with the aroma of old wood, charcoal dust, decades-old varnish, paper, and medicinal salves. A while ago, someone wrote to me asking whether I knew of an oud mukhallat that smelled like a Chinese store – I suggested Abdul Samad Al Qurashi’s Heritage Blend and Swiss Arabian’s Mukhallat Malaki. But LANZ could quite easily join that list.

 

With each wear, LANZ increasingly feels less like leather and more like a waxed jacket. It reminds me of my old Barbour jacket, bought in a thrift shop and immediately an integral part of my Pony Club youth, largely spent tumbling off horses and straight into dances without so much as a cursory wash behind the ears. LANZ smells like my memory of this jacket: old skin cells, perfume, girlish sweat, and pheromones caught like flies in the thick wax coating of its collar.

 

LANZ also reminds me vaguely of 1980’s sandalwood perfumes, although I’d be hard pressed to name any of them – the kind that feature a type of sandalwood that, while probably genuine Mysore, would never strike a sandalwood purist as having a typical sandalwood oil smell; in other words, spicy and balsamic, rather than blond, pure, or nutty-creamy.

 

Although something in LANZ still reminds me of 1970’s and 1980’s woody, spice orientals like Opium or Coco, it has a more homemade feel to it that marks it out as both more modern and more natural. Scents like Samsara and Coco boosted the quiet voice of their naturals with massive doses of sandalwood synthetics, Prunol, and damascones: it is unlikely that LANZ contains any of these and thus is far quieter. It is also not at all sweet, and, although rich, it is a predominantly dry scent. It is wonderful to be able to smell the real sandalwood here, cutting loose every now and then from the spice and balsam to float up lazily towards the nose. Texture-wise, LANZ nails the defining characteristic of real sandalwood oil in that it is both delicately dusty and lactonic.

 

I find LANZ both original and easy to wear. It being much lighter than other Slumberhouse scents means that I’m not signing a letter of commitment when I reach for it. It doesn’t move me as deeply as New Sibet and Sova, but the time and place for such perfumes is quite limited anyway. So, yes, LANZ is less of an experience and more of a personal scent, but this suits me just fine. LANZ is an easy wear – bold, satisfying, slightly grimy, but beautiful in quite a classical, fine-boned way. For me, one of the highlights of the year, and there have been many in 2017.

Review Saffron Sandalwood Spice Woods

Eris Parfums Mx

October 1, 2017

I’ve never had the opportunity to explore any of the Eris Parfums fragrances, but based on my experience with the newest release, Mx, I’d be very interested to smell the others. If Mx is anything to go by, these are properly-built perfumes, not your average paint-by-numbers niche.

 

Naturally, one might expect this of someone like Barbara Herman at the helm; her blog Yesterday’s Perfume and subsequent book Scent and Subversion were loving tributes to the vintage perfumes of the past. It stands to reason that someone so interested in the construction of classics such as Joy and Chanel No. 5 would take proper care to ensure that her own perfumes are thoughtfully constructed, warm, solid.

 

And so it is with Eris Parfums Mx. This is a big, creamy-but-aromatic sandalwood oriental built in the mold of something like Samsara (without the plasticky white flowers), Santal Noble (minus the coffee), or Cadjmere (without the fuzziness), and it smells as good at the end as it does in the first hour.

 

The name Mx comes from the brand’s belief that perfumes should not be gendered and that everyone signing a form should have the choice of what prefix to write: not Mrs., Mr., Miss, or even Ms., but Mx, signaling to officialdom that one’s gender is really none of anyone’s business.

 

Although Mx is not a gourmand fragrance, there is something about the topnotes that smells incredibly moreish, like a delicate Indian saffron-and-rose-petal pudding dusted in coconut. The saffron is very soft and orangey, and I also smell a lot of cocoa powder, its faint bitterness interacting nicely with the creamier notes. The oily, dark Ethiopian frankincense smells almost anisic, or licorice-like, more like myrrh than frankincense.

 

Given that the whole idea behind Mx is its gender fluidity, the sweet, creamy components of the perfume are immediately balanced out by a brusque, more aromatic side. This comes in the form of Australian sandalwood, its sturdy, dry character emphasized by a musky cedarwood. Australian sandalwood can be sour and piney, but not here – in Mx, it is merely handsome in a rough-hewn way, the perfect counterbalance to the creamy orange and spice.  Some aspects of this creamy-aromatic dichotomy remind me very much of Cadjmere by Parfumerie Generale, but Mx is far more complex.

 

There are no flowers here, nothing powdery or dated: simply that ancient lure of the dry and creamy push-pull of sandalwood. If men are handsome and women are pretty, then we might call Mx good-looking and leave it at that. Gender-wise, there is truly nothing here to tug it in one direction or the other.

 

A second sandalwood phase occurs when the vetiver moves in, characterized by a grassy, hazelnut texture that’s (again) both dry and creamy. There’s a beguiling Petit Beurre accord here too, wheaten and buttery, the sort of thing that makes me feel that a perfume is nutritious somehow. That pale gold wheat-nut-grain texturization is reminiscent of other milky sandalwoods such as Bois Farine (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and Castaña (Cloon Keen Atelier). In my opinion, there cannot be enough perfumes in the world that do exactly this. I feel nourished just by wearing it.

 

Eris Parfums calls this perfume “a luscious woody animalic for all genders” and I agree with everything but the animalic part. It is a warm, inviting perfume, but the castoreum in the base just adds body to the leathery notes supplied by the birch tar. There is no dirtiness, no civet, no musk notes. It is more a woody gourmand than animalic; a touch more cinnamon or clove, for example, would push Mx into Musc Ravageur territory (itself a rich doughnut oriental rather than a true musk).

 

The smoky, woody, leathery base disturbed me at first, because it had a faint “steel wire” aspect to it that I associate with the powerful (sandblasting) woody-leathery aromachemicals used in so many niche fragrances. But with subsequent testing, I realized that my nose is so over-exposed to these woody ambers that my brain sometimes shortcuts to them even when natural materials are used (cedar, birch tar, certain amber accords).

 

In short, Mx is durable and long-lasting; but it genuinely doesn’t seem to get there on the back of those chemical power tools Luca Turin talks about. Its warmth and expansiveness is all hard-earned, achieved thanks to a properly designed beginning, middle, and end. It might seem redundant to mention that, except to people who’ve smelled enough niche to know that (a) ain’t nothing new under the sun, and (b) solid construction is not a given. Mx is fantastic work and well worth investing in if you love rugged sandalwood orientals and can’t hack the white florals or ylang in Samsara. Or, indeed, if you just love beautiful, well-made perfumes.

Fougere Lavender Review Sandalwood Tonka

Boy Chanel by Chanel

August 31, 2016

Boy Chanel by Chanel is a pleasant surprise. I had successfully ignored all information about it because I’m not very interested in the fougere theme beyond my beloved Jicky and because I haven’t been too impressed by the newer releases in Les Exclusifs line, such as 1932 or Jersey.

 

But faced with the bathtub-sized bottle of it at Dublin airport the other day, I decided to give myself a good dousing – five sprays to each arm, and five more to the neck and chest area. I don’t mind being unbearable to my fellow travelers – I’m already travelling with two pretty awful mini humans so I figure it can’t get much worse. But actually, it turns out that Boy Chanel never really builds to any great density when over sprayed, and even if it did, I can think of far worse aromas to be broadcasting in a closed cabin 30,000 ft in the air.

 

Texture-wise, Boy Chanel is like watercolor on silk – a series of muted aromatics and flowers laid delicately one on top of another, their transparency rigorously maintained. The lavender is a single, lilac-tinted theme running through the composition but there are also hints of fluffy heliotrope and palidly rosy geranium.

 

Immediately, the connections to other fougeres strike me. Boy Chanel is Pour Un Homme (Caron) embellished with florals and done on a better budget – Jicky (Guerlain) filtered through a sieve to remove the civet, and that rough, vomitous clash of bergamot and cream. Later on, in its tonka or coumarin phase, Boy Chanel is even a faded outline of Fourreau Noir, like a photocopy done when the ink was running low. If the Lutens is a dense lavender doughnut, then Boy Chanel is a high-end gelato delicately aromatized with dried lavender.

 

I don’t think that Boy Chanel is really a fougere, though. After all, a fougere should technically have moss, coumarin, and lavender for it to qualify, and there is no moss to be found here. Then again, there is no moss in Jicky either. Maybe it’s the dark, dirty feel to Jicky that qualifies it as a fougere? I don’t have the answer. Anyway, Boy Chanel is bright and sunny, not dark, bitter, or mossy – there are no forest ferns here.

 

What Boy Chanel does have in spades is the creamy, sweet, and somewhat boozy almond undertone I associate with tonka bean. Coumarin is listed, not tonka bean, but I get all of the spicy-sweet, vanillic tones of the tonka bean and none of the dry, aromatic, grassy aroma of coumarin. In fact, Boy Chanel is quite tonka-ish in general, leading me to wonder if Chanel is trying to appeal to the common denominator of modern male consumer, that is, a preference for sweet tonka bases over the bitter, mossy bases that used to be in style? I am thinking here of how popular fragrances such as Feve Delicieuse (Dior), Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme (Chanel), and Midnight in Paris (Van Cleef & Arpels) and so on.

 

As it hits the base (which it does in a very short period of time, by the way), Boy Chanel gets even sweeter and creamier with the addition of a powdery sandalwood, vanilla, and more delectable almond-like chewiness in the form of heliotrope. I am surprised at how sweet it is, actually. For a fougere, it approaches Coromandel levels of sweetness. But texture-wise, Boy Chanel is not at all baroque or opaque – it retains a luminous translucency from head to toe. The sandalwood in particular is more of the single cream type you find in ETRO Sandalo (although far, far better quality) than the fatty, over-egged feel to something like Samsara.

 

Overall, Boy Chanel is fresh, aromatic, and creamy-sweet, making it something that women can wear as easily as men. It doesn’t make a grab for originality or boldness, but is extremely pleasant to wear. It is long-lasting but never loud. No matter how much I sprayed, I could never rev its engine out of the cruise control its engineers designed it for. Surprisingly, I think that’s what I like  best about it. It’s just the kind of thing you need when everything else is going to shit and you have to be able to count on at least one thing in your life that won’t screw things up even further. This is it – pleasant to smell, effortlessly chic, and impossible to overdose on.

Amber Animalic Floral Oriental Jasmine Review

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Ciel de Gum

June 4, 2016

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Ciel de Gum is, like Baccarat Rouge 540, a perfume that used to have the prestige of exclusivity or scarcity attached to it. In the case of Baccarat Rouge 540, it had been housed in a fancy bottle that nobody could afford and subsequently nobody smelled. Ciel de Gum, on the other hand, was a Maison Francis Kurkdijan exclusive for the Moscow department store, G.U.M. Over the course of the last year, the decision was made to bring both of these limited-distribution releases into wider distribution.

I wonder sometimes if these “exclusivity” decisions actually pay off – do enough people smell them, buy them, wear them to make them commercially viable?

Francis Kurkdijan is, of course, in the enviable position of being able to decide to change the distribution strategy from exclusivity to mass market, because not only did he compose Ciel de Gum but he also owns all the rights to it as it is produced under his house. Few other perfumers get a say in how exclusively or inclusively the perfumes they compose are marketed. And Francis Kurkdijan is commercially savvy – he has to be, as he is financially responsible for the success or otherwise of a Maison Francis Kurkdijan perfume. So I’m guessing that such decisions are purely commercial in basis. But part of me would like to think that, as a perfumer, he is proud of Ciel de Gum and just wants more people to be able to smell it.

Well I, for one, am grateful to have been able to smell it. The (heinously expensive) decant that I bought yielded exactly three sprays before it dried up, being made of (heinously cheap) plastic. But it’s enough to tell that I’d crawl over hot coals to get some more.

Ciel de Gum is a very smooth floral oriental revolving around a civet-soaked, ambery vanilla that smells about 70% the way towards Jicky, with the remaining 30% tipping its hat towards the self-consciously rich leathery indolic floral of Oud Osmanthus. It’s nothing too challenging or artistically “out there” but it has a pleasantly fat, nostalgic feel to it that renders it instantly legible to fans of big, civety, plush florientals. Didn’t Luca Turin refer to Shalimar in terms of red velvet and the lights of the Eiffel Tower? Well, Ciel de Gum is plenty red velvet and Eiffel Tower.

A smooth, rich mass of ambery vanilla dosed heavily with cinnamon and civet lies at the heart of Ciel de Gum. A thread of indolic, naughty jasmine floats up through the scent but does not define it – even Samsara has more of a jasmine presence than this. It is as if the darker, dirtier facets of jasmine have been plucked out especially for Ciel de Gum – a light seasoning of jasmine over a custard, not a flavoring.

sleeping-89197_640

The floral-civet mix settles slowly over a bed of smooth, ambery resins and vanilla, mixing with pepper and cinnamon to create a slight Musc Ravageur vibe. There is a golden, fuzzy aura to this fragrance – very heavy, but smooth, opulent, and gilded like the light from a Tiffany lamp in a dark study. Surely something to look forward to at the end of a long hard day.

If you, like me, have a weakness for slightly dirty, ambery floral orientals with a lit-from-within, yolk-yellow luminosity, then buy with confidence. Ciel de Gum rides proudly in the same car as Jicky, Shalimar, Jasmin de Nuit, Oud Osmanthus, and Musc Ravageur. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but for me personally, it doesn’t have to – it’s already pushing all of the right “Claire” buttons. Needless to say, it has jumped to the top of my wish list, and in terms of the Francis Kurkdijan stable, I think it is up with his personal best, i.e., Absolue Pour Le Soir, Oud, Cologne Pour Le Soir.

Amber Floral Oriental Incense Resins Review Sandalwood Vanilla Woods

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

Iris Review

Prada Infusion d’Iris & Absolue

March 7, 2016

Prada Infusion d’Iris

Robert James Smith
miuenski via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I have a bottle of Infusion d’Iris and although I’m not 100% in love with it, I can’t quite bring myself to sell it because it plays a very useful part in my fragrance wardrobe.

Specifically, I use it after a cold shower on a hot day, when its chilly, citrusy scent provides a most welcome cooling sensation on my skin.

Then again, since moving from Montenegro to Ireland, I’m not entirely sure I will ever be hot ever again. Or indeed, warm.

Infusion d’Iris opens with tart citrus and thin, almost austere woods, reminding me more of a cup of chilled green tea than a true iris fragrance. Then the iris shows up midway through, a pale grey root infusion, like the water in which iris roots have been soaking. It smells clean and slightly soapy, like the scented air in the bathroom after a good soak in the bath with Epsom salts.

Later on, there is a hint of leather – a thin, discreet leather note – and a vetiver that shows off its cool, minty side. Gossamer-fine in texture, there is a pleasing bitterness to it that reminds me of similarly chilly and crisp colognes, like Cologne Blanche by Dior, which I also like very much. Both display a cooling, “white” character, like a metallic white wine quaffed straight from the fridge and so cold it makes your teeth chatter.

Infusion d’Iris is just effortlessly classy, and it will never be out of my summer wardrobe. Function over form on this one, for me.

 

Prada Infusion d’Iris Absolue

And her kind eyes shall lead me to the end.
Nick Kenrick. via Foter.com / CC BY

Where the original is watery, cool, and crisp/bitter, the Absolue is rich, sweet, and warm. The iris is much more evident to my nose in the Absolue version than in the original – it is rooty, thick, and almost bready.

If you can imagine a braided Easter bread stuffed with butter, eggs, and sugar, fresh out of the oven and cut open, then the iris here has a similar sweet doughiness.

I can think of only two other iris-centric fragrances where the iris gives off a sweet, yeasty/bready aroma, one being the current Mitsouko EDP and the other being Chanel No. 18. It is an enchanting, addictive aroma, and one that draws me further into the fragrance.

There is nothing fresh, green, or watery about the Absolue version. The sweet oriental base – vanillic-ambery resins (benzoin, oppoponax), a nicely “aged” vanilla, and some tonka bean – wafts up at you throughout the life of the scent, turning the iris note into a silky, buttery thing of sheer luxury. If the original is a wisp of chiffon, then the Absolue is a warm cashmere wrap. Yes, I did it – I just invoked The Great Big Cliche of perfume writing. But it applies here, so I’m going to be lazy and just leave it there.

This is my new “professional” scent for those days when I know I have meetings with clients. I like to try and strike a compromise on my fragrance choice while meeting a client – it has to be demure and classy enough not to distract the client, but also beautiful enough to keep me happy and relaxed. This does the job very well, and so it joins my usual line-up of 31 Rue Cambon by Chanel and Cuir Pleine Fleur by James Heeley.

Neither the original Infusion nor the Absolue last very long on me, but since I favor rich, oriental perfumes over fresh, citrusy ones (as a rule), I much prefer the Absolue. The quality of that iris is just outstanding, as is that warm, sweet resin base. I would wear the Absolue on cooler days and the original Infusion d’Iris on hot, summer days, or after hot showers.

Chypre Oriental Review Rose Sandalwood Smoke Spicy Floral Vanilla Woods

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.

 

 

Floral Oriental Hay Incense Review Violet

Amouage Opus III

March 1, 2016

One day, I was coming out of the Book Centre and he was coming out – both of us with our respective friends, and both of us in our Catholic school uniforms. As we passed each other, our eyes met, and I swear to God, we both turned full circle to take a good long look at each other.

I had never before done anything so brazen in my life. We both walked backwards to keep staring at each other as our respective groups pulled apart, and if a movie crew had been there to catch the moment, it would have gone down in history as the most romantic moment in my shabby little life. I was 16. Back at our respective schools after lunch – boys and girls attend separate schools in Ireland – we both busied ourselves with the business of asking around. Who is this person? What do we know of their people? Their pedigree?

The intelligence on him came quickly back – nobody to bother about. I had a certain amount of capital to expend, being reasonably attractive, popular, and brainy, whereas he was an unknown quantity, and certainly not popular.

Didn’t matter – I had to have him. It also didn’t matter that it ended badly, two years down the line. I will never forget the romance of that moment. The first and only time I’ve ever fallen in love on the spot.

Amouage Opus III gives me a similar feeling. I don’t know how it happened, but there’s been a coup de foudre. Our eyes met and I did a full twirl on my heels. So I now send out feelers into the community – is this a worthy one? The early reports are not encouraging. Nice, they say, but save your money. You can do better.

If I were to distill a whole Internet’s worth of reviews of Opus III into two phrases, it would be “overly complex” and “nothing special or notice worthy.” I don’t argue those points – in many ways, Opus III is both overly complex and not at all groundbreaking or original. But – and it’s a big but – it has a lilting, slow-moving beauty to it that spins my heart off like a leaf on an eddy. It’s like being at a crazy party and discovering at the last minute that it’s really the big, silent farmer in the corner that you want to go home with. Opus III has a solid heft that makes me want to curl up inside it.

Reducing it to a category, I’d say that Opus III is a massive violet floriental. But as others have pointed out, the combination of notes is so complex that it’s hard to pick out individual notes. The best I can do is point to the various phases that the fragrance moves through, managed through a series of small, barely perceptible shifts and transitions.

Violet is the moving force here and is present in each permutation. First, we have the violet-hay-earth opening, where the bitter, dirt-covered hay of broom is balanced out by a wet, candied violet accord that comes off like Apres L’Ondee on steroids.

Welling up behind this dewy, bittersweet opening is a bank of mimosa flowers with their fluffy yellow, bitter almond scent. When the mimosa meets the violet, the fragrance shifts from wet hay-violets to a dusty pollen note that makes one think of the yellow dust that covers your fingers when you crumple a buttercup or some other cheerful yellow wildflower.

There is also a dusty heliotrope note here that makes me think of Farnesiana or L’Heure Bleue, but this lacks almost completely the fruity and pastry-like tones of those fragrances. There is a similar weight here, though, like a piece of blue velvet folded over many times.

A tiny accord is hidden here and I catch glimpses of it only sometimes – a dove-grey iris note that colludes with the violets to produce a faint (very faint!) cosmetic undertone. Not exactly lipstick, not exactly powder, but something a little bit frilly.

Under the earth-hay violets and the meadow-pollen violets and the iris-violets, there is another violet combination brewing, and it turns out to be the definitive one – violets and ylang. Ylang introduces a fruity, plasticky edge with a banana-like note to the mix, and when it merges with the violet note, its creamy banana custard voluptuousness becomes corrupted with a strange boot polish note. Could be tar, could be nail polish remover like some reviews mention – I don’t know. But it is a little strange, and more than a little addicting. It’s what draws me back to my sample time and time again, like a druggie.

The spicy orange blossom and jasmine are secondary players here, but they too form their own little pairing with the violets, and add a slight indolic languor to the violets’ dewy, childlike presentation.

Opus III winds up in familiar Amouage territory – a daub of frankincense, dry woods, amber – and while the base is not wildly new or exciting, what it does do is provide a dry, un-sweet landing for the rich floral combinations swirling around the violets. The base is what makes Opus III perfectly unisex, and takes it further away from the two fragrances to which Opus III is most commonly compared, namely L’Heure Bleue and Insolence EDP, which are far more obviously feminine.

Having mentioned the Guerlains, I must mention that I find Opus III to be far more satisfying than either of those fragrances, and more beautiful. I love the rich, earthy hay of the broom, the yellow pollen feel from the mimosa, and the unctuous creamy ylang. It combines – to my nose – the best of L’Heure Bleue, Samsara, and Insolence, and cuts away the fat and the excess fruitiness of those scents.

Opus III smells wholly natural and of this earth – and although it lasts a long time, is longevity is due to a certain richness and heft of fragrance oils rather than muscular woody synthetics. It wears on the skin like a rich, comfortable old velvet cloak.

I rather love it – can you tell? This fragrance moves me. But like any coup de foudre, I’m suspicious of the strength of my feelings. Practically everyone notes that Opus III is not an unusual or extraordinary fragrance in any way. Does that mean that my tastes are pedestrian? Am I a bit of a pleb? Well, probably, and more than just a bit. I can’t quite bring myself to care, though. I want to wear this, and so by God I will.

Hey Opus III! Yeah, you, the hefty farmer with the big red face in the corner! Get your coat – you’ve pulled! Let’s hope this doesn’t end too badly. My judgment in these matters is famously terrible.

Aromatic Fougere Lavender Review Tonka

Guerlain Jicky

February 15, 2016

Oh, Jicky! I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come around to your charms, but here I am. As androgynous and timeless as a pair of blue jeans, Guerlain Jicky was born in 1889 which makes it the oldest perfume in the world that’s still in production today. At its heart, it’s an aromatic fougere – that classic (and masculine) marriage of lavender, tonka, and oakmoss. But Jicky doesn’t contain oakmoss, so it’s a two-legged fougere, and all the more charming for it.

What Jicky does have, instead, is a big dollop of civet, which gives it its very naughty character. There is shock value to Jicky, even today. That clash of the citrus/aromatics (the bergamot and lavender) with the creamy civet-tonka feels all kinds of wrong at first, to the point you wonder what the hell the perfumer was thinking. But Guerlain built its reputation on such sly dissonance, the clashing of fronts in a perfume to cause tension. As with Shalimar, there’s a typical cycle of repulsion, then attraction, repulsion again, and then finally, a sort of an incredulous addiction to the stuff. Jicky is habit-forming.

I’ve always had a bit of Jicky around, in various forms – the EDT, the PDT, and samples of the parfum in particular. But Jicky famously differs from concentration to concentration – even more so than the other Guerlain classics – so it’s taken me until now to find the exact formula of Jicky to make me fall in love. While researching fougeres for my Basenotes article on the top ten male designer fragrances that every beginner should sample, I got a hold of a sample of the current EDP, and bam! That was my Eureka moment with Jicky.

In a way, Jicky benefited from my neglect over the years. I tend to overthink the Guerlain classics, worrying about their details and nuances based on concentration, age, and back story, which results in me thinking of them rather more as homework than perfume to wear and enjoy every day. All my early energy went into studying Chamade, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Nahema, and L’Heure Bleue – and I strained so hard to understand those weighty volumes that any emotional connection I made to the perfume was difficult; arrived at under duress. Still to this day, I cannot wear any of those perfumes (except Shalimar) without a heavy sense of respect and almost dread. I know the experience is going to be rewarding, but they are almost never immediately satisfying.

Jicky, on the other hand, I never bothered to subject to this rigorous type of inspection. I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s because I had read, early on in my journey, that Jicky was just a simple sketch of a perfume waiting to be made into Shalimar. So I just didn’t bother with it.

But not bothering with it doesn’t mean I didn’t wear it! I wore Jicky, oh yes, I did. I worked my way through sizeable decants of the EDT (sparkling, herbaceous, full of sprightly mischief, but with the civet bluntly exposed, creating a sharply vomitous aroma that I never truly warmed to), the vintage PDT (less civet, funnily enough, and a more classical lavender fougere feel to it which made it perfect for casual beach wear), and a few samples of the modern pure parfum (round, sensual, civet-heavy, truly more oriental in feel than fougere). I enjoyed my small bits of Jicky without ever once feeling to need to own a full bottle of it.

That is, until I discovered Jicky EDP. Jicky in EDP format is the perfect version for me, and I realized very quickly that I would need a whole bottle of it. There is far more civet in the EDP than in the EDT, but it is far better folded into the creamy vanilla and herbs, so it smells both richer and more animalic. The pure parfum dials up the civet a notch further, but I am more comfortable with the civet levels in the EDP: enough to call itself a real presence but not so heavy as to hunt me around the room.

The lively, sparkling fougere feel of the EDT is preserved in the EDP (not lost, like in the pure parfum) but is much punchier and emphatic. The tonka in the base is far creamier and heavier than in the EDT, although the pure parfum is the creamiest of the lot, with a smooth, thick oriental base that is surprisingly close to vintage Shalimar extrait. I call it for the EDP, though, based on value and on the matter of balance between the fougere and animalic elements.

So there it is. Since I’ve gotten my bottle of Jicky, I’ve been wearing it almost every day. It is humble and naturally good-looking, like a well-cut pair of blue jeans. I find it as satisfying as Shalimar but far more versatile and androgynous. It’s funny, but the Guerlains I’ve ignored the most, like Jicky and Apres L’Ondee, are the ones I ultimately find the most rewarding to wear when I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.

Amber Floral Oriental Independent Perfumery Leather Oriental Resins Suede

Hiram Green Voyage

February 2, 2016

Hiram Green Voyage has an opening that is both strange and familiar to me. It features a sour (but also candied) citrus note dusted so thickly with the powder of a saffron-like spice that it doesn’t register as fresh or sharp the way hesperidic notes normally do. The effect is of a golden sun shining through a dust cloud of vanilla and spice, with something bright lurking underneath.

Sometimes I spray this on and I get a hint of the tannic peach skin, moss, and spices from Shangri La, and it’s like unwrapping a tiny sliver of chypre hidden in the folds of a dusty, oriental brocade. Sometimes I get no fruit, but a rubbery suede. It is murky and intimate, like the smell of a moist wrist directly under a rubber watch.

Very beautiful and very familiar. Where do I know this scent from?

Immediately, I race off through the library of smells in my brain to see if I can place it, but it remains frustratingly out of reach. I don’t think it is a perfume that I’m remembering so much as a chord in a larger orchestra of smell. Or maybe it’s the whole orchestra of a smell funneled through one chord, I don’t know.

The best I can do is say that the opening has an interesting dissonance to it that reminds of the older Guerlains – Jicky perhaps most of all, with its stomach-churning clash of cymbals between the fresh, clean lavender and the rich, civet-soaked vanilla crème. But there is also the dark rye bourbon bitterness of Mitsouko’s cooked peach skin. Voyage is much simpler and more direct than these perfumes, of course, but it shares with them the impression of a ribbon of bright gold slicing through plush velvet darkness.

The dry down only confirms the familiarity (and the appeal) of this style of retro perfumery – it is a warm, luscious vanilla-amber, heavily laced with what seems to me to be a heavy dose of heliotrope and perhaps orange blossom, although these notes are not listed. It has something of the spicy, floral vanilla feel of L’Heure Bleue, albeit less pastry-like in tone and more tending towards the more resinous, cinnamon-inflected Tolu or Peru balsams. I have to admit that I do not pick up on much of the patchouli – to my nose, if it’s there, then it is only there to add shade and earth to the vanillic dry down.

In a way, Voyage reminds me of Ciel de Gum, by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, not for any similarity in the way they smell necessarily, but for the retro manner in which they present the vanilla note – not clean or sweet, but fudgy with spice, civet and indolic flowers. There is a close, intimate feel to vanillas like this that recall human skin to skin contact. Voyage, Ciel de Gum, Opus 1144 (UNUM), and even Musc Ravaguer all hark back to that Guerlain-like clash between a bright, aromatic side (lavender, bergamot, cloves, cinnamon) and a dark, velvety side ( vanilla, musks, indolic flowers, and civet).

It’s this clash what makes Jicky, L’Heure Bleue, and Shalimar such masterpieces even today – at first so repellent and odd that wonder what kind of drugs the perfumer was taking, and then everything suddenly “works” in the perfume and you think it’s great – addicting almost. Hiram Green’s Voyage has that clash down nicely, and this is why it works. I love this perfume because it gives me a taste of what I love about the classics but in a stripped-down, more legible format that doesn’t make me feel as if I am wearing an entire history of grand perfume on my back. Which is sometimes what I want.

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