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Bruno Fazzolari Ummagumma: A Review

December 1, 2017

This review has taken me many attempts to get right. I’ve written and re-written it more times than I like to admit. I think the reason for my hesitation is that I am bowled over by Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma but not sure whether it’s because it’s really that good or because I am just genetically programmed to find sweet things irresistible (Irish women like me lay down fat automatically on the first signs of cold weather, like a sheep preparing for winter).

 

Oh hell, enough with the equivocating – Ummagumma smells amazing. It is so palpably delicious and soul-warming that the first time I smelled it, I had to fight myself from tipping the rest of the vial down my throat.

 

The topnotes are all about that bitter hit of pure chocolate one gets when drink a mug of 80% single plantation cocoa: molten, dark and almost iron-rich. There’s a generous pour of cream, courtesy of sandalwood, and a smattering of barky spice for grit – saffron, cinnamon, and what smells to me like clove but is just as likely to be carnation. The sultriness of the dark chocolate accord is quite similar to that of Slumberhouse Ore, albeit much sweeter thanks to the eventual star of the show, which is amber.

 

Yes, it’s not the spicy chocolate accord that takes top billing here: it’s the caramelized whisky amber that sits just beneath the cocoa and quickly burrows its way to the top, from where it dominates proceedings. Compared to the bittersweet cocoa top, the amber is honey-sweet, with a boozy edge that makes me think of the Irish whiskey notes in both Tobacco Oud and Amber Absolute. As a result, the amber sports a burned sugar char at the edges that makes me salivate

 

The amber booms on with its incensey sparkle, but neither the cocoa nor the spice disappears entirely; they lurk in the background, lending a fudgy, bittersweet depth to the main chassis. The scent is quite sweet, let’s be clear, but I find the same sort of balance here as in Ambre Narguile, where the syrup of amber and dried fruit is tempered by tobacco leaf. In Ummagumma, the tonka bean shows off its prickly, herbal coumarin side more than its lush cherry or almond facet, resulting in faint curlicues of smoky tobacco leaf and leather wafting through the amber, lifting and airing it out a little.

 

Foodie? Yes, most definitely. But don’t infer too much from my mention of Ambre Narguile above, as the scents are really nothing alike, with Ummagumma lacking, in particular, the cinnamon-apple fruitiness of the Hermessence. If anything, Ummagumma’s smooth amber makes me think more of Tobacco Oud with its whiskey-ish, honeyed, and leathery undertones, or a sweeter Ore by Slumberhouse. And although it’s a gourmand-leaning fragrance, there’s enough dry tobacco in Ummagumma to tilt it ever so slightly in the direction of Bond-T. The cedar in the base is faintly sweaty and smoky, with a vegetal edge that helps to cut through the richness as effectively as an Alka Seltzer after a rich meal.

 

Every artisan perfumer has a signature. But Ummagumma doesn’t really smell like a Bruno Fazzolari fragrance, apart from a certain groovy 1970’s aesthetic that runs through his other scents and also makes an appearance here (the Pink Floyd-related name, the chocolate incense, the textural “mood” feel of brown corduroy jeans, etc). On balance, though, Ummagumma is not as overtly retro in feel as either Au Delà or Seyrig. Neither is it futuristic or stark, as in Lampblack.

 

Most of my surprise, I guess, stems from seeing such a straightforwardly delicious gourmand coming out of the Bruno Fazzolari stable. Because “straightforward”and “delicious” didn’t seem to be words in Fazzolari’s vocabulary in 2016 when he collaborated with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue to make the “Frankenstein” gourmand, Cadavre Exquis, a fragrance that is as stomach-churning as it is intriguing. Cadavre Exquis smells like a bar of dark chocolate that’s been dragged through fir trees, fruit rot, the ashes of a campfire, and road kill. It smells like camphor and ass (curry-immortelle). Definitely not something anyone would want to eat, even if it smells like food.

 

I actually like Cadavre Exquis quite a bit, mainly because it nails the essentially animalic characteristics of a bar of evilly-dark chocolate, which, if anyone has ever melted one down will know, smells like warm blood, iron filings, raisins, and something like dried sweat. Cadavre Exquis has the unique quality of making me want to smell it, over and over again, despite the fact that it nauseates me. Which I think makes it at the very least a very interesting fragrance, if not a masterpiece (depending on the definition one uses). But while it’s addictive to smell, I’d never wear it.

 

Readers may be either disappointed or relieved to know that Ummagumma is nothing like Cadavre Exquis. On the one hand, Ummagumma is not as memorable or as progressive as Cadavre Exquis, but neither is it as divisive. Its gourmandise is sophisticated rather than off-kilter.

How you judge Ummagumma will depend greatly on where you come down on the split between wearability and art. Yet more people will evaluate it purely based on their knowledge of Bruno Fazzolari’s back catalog, including Cadavre Exquis, and find it lacking in edge.  But if I were to smell Ummagumma blind, although I wouldn’t peg it as coming from the hands of Bruno Fazzolari, I’d still want to own it and wear it because it’s one of the most straightforwardly delicious things I’ve smelled all year. And I mean those words as a compliment.

 

Notes: saffron, carnation, chocolate, tobacco, leather, labdanum, sandalwood, cedar, incense, tonka, vanilla

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.

Floral Oriental Review The Discard Pile

Maison Francis Kurkdijan Baccarat Rouge 540

February 21, 2016

Oh dear. This is rather unfortunate.

I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdijan as a man and as a perfumer. I own quite a few of his perfumes (Absolue pour le Soir, Eau Noire, Cologne Pour Le Soir), and greedily covet others that I don’t (his original Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, Enlevement au Serail). I’m hard pressed to think of a composition of his that I can’t at least appreciate, even if I don’t want to own it myself.

Baccarat Rouge 540 is an exception. Unfortunately, it manages to be the perfect storm of all the notes I hate, all of them converging at once to screw with my head. And it sticks to my skin like glue (ain’t that the way it goes).

The top notes are pleasant, barely – a brief succulence in the form of oranges, saffron, and marigold that combines in such a way as to suggest a ripe red berry. For a moment, I am also reminded of the radiant freshness of his original Oud, a metallic brightness of spilled orange juice and yellow saffron powder. The jasmine here smells fresh, like a green-scent breeze moving through a line of cottons hung out to dry, and is reminiscent in its crispness of both Eau Sauvage and  Kurkdijan’s own Aqua Vitae – safe to say that rather than jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, this note is probably Hedione, a wonderful aromachemical that expands the lungs with a radiant, green jasmine sensation.

Unfortunately, the fruity floral top notes get swallowed up almost immediately by the powerful basenotes – and when I say powerful, I mean overwhelming. There is a potent cedar here that reads as wet, pungent, almost musky with that sour edge I dislike in the note, and when it buts up against the sweet, juicy top notes, the result is like throwing a thick pear juice onto a bed of ashes. This unsettling accord (fruit juice thrown into dirty ashes) is also what I experience from Soleil de Jeddeh by Stephane Humbert Lucas 777, another fragrance I’m struggling to get my head around.

The musky, sour cedar is quickly joined by one of the most obnoxious notes in all perfumery (for me personally), fir balsam. This note might make others think of Christmas, but to me, it always makes me think of sweat. Each of the five times I tried Baccarat Rouge 540, it dried down to this thin but obnoxious smell of dried runner’s sweat – I know it’s the fir balsam because I’ve experienced this once before, with Annick Goutal’s otherwise very lovely Encens Flamboyant. Pure sweat. It’s a hard association to shake.

The saltiness from the Ambroxan or ambergris note (whatever it is) doesn’t help much either. Its salty mineral smell brings a pleasant outsdoorsiness, yes, but it also brings forward that sensation of feeling your skin crackle with dried sea salt, sweat, and sun tightness after falling asleep on the beach after a swim. Pleasant in perfumes such as Eau des Merveilles, but joined with the wet, musky cedar and the sweaty fir balsam of Baccarat Rouge 540, it’s simply one drop of sweat too much. Some will find this salt-sweat note very sensual, sexy even – but it just makes me want to go take a shower.

Fougere Leather Masculine Musk Patchouli Review Vetiver

Charenton Macerations Christopher Street

October 6, 2015

I don’t know what it is about these small, indie perfumers in America these days, but they are somehow taking what is a traditionally European structure – the classic citrus cologne ‘smell’ – and beating us at our own game. Not only beating us, but sailing past us with a cheeky wave and a grin. The opening notes of Charenton Macerations Christopher Street are a sort of turbo-charged version of the citrus, herbs, and aromatics one smells in the (all too brief) top notes of European eaux de colognes such as Eau de Guerlain and Acqua di Parma. In Christopher Street, the bergamot, lime, and bitter oranges come at you like a huge wall of sound, fizzing and snapping at you like electrical wires cut loose in a storm. It’s explosively sour, like those lemon and lime sweets you bought as a kid and sucked until they corroded the lining of your mouth. Truly exciting stuff and a memorable opening.

The roiling citrus and aromatics here are like a skin on the fragrance, always present, but fitted tightly over a dark, damp undergrowth of woods, patchouli, leather, tobacco, and moss. There is something slightly mineralic, grey, or metallic in the center of the fragrance – possibly the listed incense. Mostly, though, what I sense is the pleasantly moldy patchouli and a sort of spicy, sweaty thin leather accent. The musky and leather in the base turns the dry down of Christopher Street is a long, protracted affair that feels pleasantly solid, like a good, old-fashioned fougere or leather bellwether. In fact, fans of the modern version of Bel Ami (me among them), with its transparent, spicy clove leather smell might like Christopher Street an awful lot. I don’t find it to be very animalic, though – just pleasantly skin musky in the way that some masculines smell on male skin by the end of a long, hard day. An intimate, lived-in skin smell.

But Christopher Street smells infinitely crisper and more modern than a mere pastiche of the masculine fougere genre. It is as if a small part of a traditional men’s fougere or leather fragrance has been folded up and hidden inside the structure of a citrus cologne. I like and admire it a lot, and think it really stands out as an achievement in independent perfumery.

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