When I wrote a review of Peety by O’Driu a few years ago, I struggled to put into words a certain accord that I noticed in the sort of neo-retro (is that even a word?) Italian perfumery espoused by ateliers like O’Driu itself, and Bogue. The word I used was Ricola drops, which are those funny herbal cough sweets you buy at the counter of any bar or corner shop in Italy, the ones that taste of honey mixed with anise, licorice, and a whole kitchen garden’s worth of herbs.
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.
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.
Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati is somewhat of a disappointment. Mona’s style was always rich, thick, dirty, lush, and as dense as a brick wall – it’s what her fans loved about her. I don’t see her style in this perfume. Myrrh Casati is the first Mona di Orio fragrance to be composed by someone other than Mona herself, following her tragic death in 2011. And you can tell.
Myrrh Casati, while very nice and wearable, does not have any of the special Mona di Orio signatures that could be traced from one perfume to another like a vein on a lover’s arm. It lacks the almost overbearingly rich, dirty, creamy woodiness of Vanille and Oud, the dry-ice, almond-like musks from Ambre, Violette Fumee, and Musc, and the harsh animalism of Nuit Noire and Cuir. Without these little olfactory clues that she tucked so deftly into the sleeves of her work, I am lost. Myrrh Casati could be the work of anyone.
If her other perfumes are rich tapestries, then Myrrh Casati is a silk gauze. It is beautiful but simple to the point of being spare. The opening is particularly striking. A dark, dry spice note fuses with a warm, cinnamon-tinted Siam benzoin and sharp black pepper to form a gorgeous aroma of tarry coca-cola. There is also an arresting black rubber feel to the opening, arising from the use of saffron, or perhaps plain old saffraleine, and it is a smooth complement to the licorice.
But any opening richness or darkness quickly attenuates. Within minutes, I am left with a rather bare bones resin scent with a faint but noticeable minty smoke note from either the myrrh or the licorice. I’m a myrrh lover and a big Mona di Orio fan, but this one leaves me wanting more.
Ah, Guerlain Shalimar, the ur-Oriental. Sitting down to write a review of Shalimar kind of feels like looking up at the top of Mount Everest and wondering how the hell even to begin the ascent. It seems to cover (in one single bottle) a lot of the themes and notes people go looking for in separate perfumes – you want vanilla, it’s the textbook example, you want smoke and incense, well you got that too, you want amber, it is the mother of all modern ambers, you want animalics and leather, ditto. If you also happen to be the type of person who is interested in freaky notes, like baby diaper, burning tires, tar, and slightly rancid butter, then, why yes, Shalimar also has you covered.
It’s not an easy perfume to love right off the bat. Don’t get me wrong, Shalimar is easy to love, but the actual falling in love bit is not immediate. It took me ten days of wearing it before I could even tolerate it, let alone love it, but I got there and in end, it clicked for me, and that was it. Pure love. The everlasting kind. Whenever I see someone saying, oh I just don’t get Shalimar, or oh Shalimar hates my skin, you know what I am thinking? You’re just not trying hard enough. Put your back into it. If you can’t commit a week or ten days out of your life to understanding Shalimar, then not only are you cheating yourself out of experiencing one of the best perfumes ever made, you are also missing the opportunity to “get” most orientals that came after Shalimar.
For, once you unlock Shalimar, you start to see that Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan is just a snapshot of a portion of Shalimar (principally the amber and herbes de provence) blown up 150% and turned sideways. Etro’s Shaal Nur is an abbreviated essay on the incense and opoponax in Shalimar. Mono di Orio’s excellent Vanille is a modern take on the woodsy vanilla of Shalimar. You can spot echoes of Shalimar in Chypre Palatin (vanilla and animalics), Fate Woman (bergamot and powder) and Bulgari Black (vanilla, rubber, smoke). Whether perfumers are aware of it or not, most of today’s grand orientals refer at least in part back to the ur-Mother Oriental herself.
Forgive my wittering on. For all of that, Shalimar smells absolutely wonderful, grand, lush, smoky, sexy, comforting, and warm. The opening, as I’ve mentioned, is jarring to the nth degree, especially if you’re not used to it. I don’t know whether it’s the particularly stinky grade of Bergamot that Guerlain use, or the way it clashes with the vanilla, but the top notes smell curdled and rancid, like when you pour lemonade into cream. The vanilla itself smells tarry and burned, like rubber tires piled high and set on fire. Somehow, somewhere underneath all of that, there appears a slightly horrifying note of soiled diapers, or at least baby powder that has been caked into the creases of a baby’s bottom. It smells sort of unclean, and is pungent enough to singe your nose hairs off.
Here’s the odd thing – after you get used to Shalimar, you start to actively crave the weird opening. When you begin to go “Mmmmmmm” rather than holding your breath, this is a sign that you’ve crossed the line. Welcome! It’s like a Shibboleth for hard-core fans of Shalimar – we’re all over here at the other side of the line, and everyone else is pressing their noses to the glass, shaking their heads and saying, “I think you have Stockholm Syndrome”
After the “horrific” first half hour (for which you may want to refrain from sniffing your wrists if you are smelling it for the first time), it is an easy ride from there on in. Sweet, smoky vanilla poured on top of a long, golden, powdery amber, with accents of leather, smoking resins, and animalic musks. It has this neat trick of smelling comforting/familiar and yet ultra-sexual at the same time. It lasts all day and, in my humble opinion, is just fantastic in whatever concentration and vintage you wear. Yes, the vintage parfum is the deepest and smokiest, but we can’t always be wearing that (for reasons of finances as well as time and place), so it’s good to know that Shalimar is still recognizably the same Shalimar in the weakest EDC as it is in the parfum – thinner, yes, but still, you wouldn’t mistake her for anybody else. For me, it is true love, and a top five perfume forever. It is like my second skin.
Men – step away from the A*Men and your L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme Eau Extreme, and pick up a bottle of this little beauty instead. This is sexy stuff. Sammarco Bond-T is just the type of release you hope to see coming out of indie perfumers on their first outing – a smart re-thinking of common tropes, in this case the hyper-masculine patchouli-cocoa-tonka bean combo.
This one does everything right. It pairs a brown, dusty cocoa note with a dirty, castoreum-driven leather – and manages to come off as its own beast. Although it shares similarities of tone with Serge Lutens’ wonderful Borneo 1834, there is none of Borneo’s oriental richness. Rather, underneath the cocoa-patchouli skin of Bond-T there beats a heart of what smells like a wad of fruity, slightly fermented tobacco leaves and grimy leather. It smells rich and tannic, and just off-putting enough to stop it from being fully gourmand.
Further on, the scent dries out, and I start to wonder if it’s tobacco I smell, or instead black China tea. It is astonishing – at this stage, the perfume really does smell as if I put my nose into a tin of the blackest tea leaves from China – those utterly matt black, loose-leaf ones. Tea leaves do have some of the bone-dry, tannic qualities I get from tobacco leaves – and a sort of leathery, smoked flavor.
Of course, there is no tobacco or tea or even leather listed as notes in Bond-T. All those notes have been conjured up by the leathery castoreum, and maybe even the osmanthus, which in China is commonly used as a flavoring for tea. Either way, I really like this dry, leathery tobacco smell, and find it similar to the effect that Tabac Aurea from Sonoma Scent Studio achieves – a full arc of notes ranging from wet and fruity/fermented to bone-dry, tannic, and almost dirty.
At the end, a nice surprise – the tonka and vanilla smooth out the earthy patch notes, leveling it off into an incredible “malted chocolate powder” sort of aroma. At this point, it smells more like Ovaltine than a full-on chocolate patch. Longevity is pretty great, too.
I don’t hesitate to say that although a woman (including this woman) would have no trouble in wearing Bond-T should she wish, it is a very masculine take on the cocoa-patch quasi-gourmand theme. I like it on my own skin – but I can’t help thinking that this would be very sexy on a man’s skin.
It could be summed up a little lazily as a cross between Borneo 1834 and Tabac Aurea (with a teeny bit of Mona di Orio’s Cuir thrown in for good measure), but I think I will just say that men who have been looking at stuff like Dior Privee’s Feve Delicieuse, A*Men (original), A*Men Pure Havane, and LIDGE might want to consider this as a great alternative in the patchouli-tonka-cocoa field.