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Epona by Papillon Artisan Perfumes: A Review

15th July 2024


Epona is pure gorgeousness.  Though I do have an equestrian background myself, horsey perfumes can be a little bit too on the nose with the mane accord – Arabian Horse by Pierre Guillaume, Corpus Equus by Naomi Goodsir, for example – for people sans horsey background to really enjoy.  Epona sidesteps the trap of literalness by being a fully-fledged perfume built around an agrestic scene rather than a hammer hitting the pony button over and over again.  Let me put it another way – this is a horsey perfume for someone whose idea of horse heaven is more Chanel’s genteelly-saddle-soapy Cuir de Russie or a horse seen through the soft glow of a Tiffany lamp than the actual animal itself. 

The opening, for example.  With its rush of astringent violet and iris ionones, you are plunged into a forest glade with spring flowers and roots pushing up through the frozen soil.  Rather than sweet, it smells chalky, like stamens and roots split open, diffused in a cloud of wood or floral esters that make my head swim as effectively as waving a newly opened bottle of grappa under my nose.  Emotionally remote flowers in cold storage, plus the beginnings of something mossy and brown-ish that makes me think of Jolie Madame or Miss Balmain (Balmain).  On reflection, this makes sense to me because there is something about Balmain perfumes, especially in extrait form, that smells modern and old at the same time.

Past the chilled ionone rush of the topnotes, there develops a sweet, slightly smoky-grassy note that I first felt was hay, but am confident now is incense, and specifically an unlit stick of nag champa.  This dusty-powdery accord comes in so closely behind the chalky violet-iris opening that it momentarily confuses the direction of the perfume – you begin to wonder, is this an austere Miss Balmain-ish thing or are we going in the direction of a New Age momma?  I got my son to smell my arm, and he said immediately, old church.

And for a while there, Epona does smell ‘old’ in a really good way, like the wood in an old church, dusty old clothes in a trunk to explore, and so on.  What I appreciate about Epona, though, is that this is just one stage in its development, because just when I begin to wonder where the horse in this picture is, the perfume begins its slow slide into the outdoors, all sun-warned hay, narcissus, alfalfa, woodruff, a light starchy leather, and the softly ‘rude’ aromas suggestive of, first, a pasture, and then, finally, a horse.  But only the vaguest suggestion of a horse.

The trajectory from cool to warm is so smooth, you barely register what’s happening.  Though mostly a pastoralist aroma-scope, the warm, boozy aura makes me think of a childhood spent walking into rooms where the adults are or were drinking glasses of a slightly smoky Irish whiskey.  Perhaps it is the ionones creating a familiar sweet, newspaper-whiskey tonality (subliminally Dzongkha-ish in my memory palace), but either way, it is extremely pleasant.

So extremely pleasant, in fact, that I can’t stop imagining that Epona – in this phase at least – smells like the Caronade the way I remember it, fully loaded with Mousse de Saxe and those complex, brandy-ish De Laire amber bases.  Now, it is no small feat to pull off an approximation of an older Caron extrait (En Avion and Nuit de Noel are the ones that jump to mind here), and I have no idea if that’s even something Liz Moores was aiming for, but that is exactly what I feel I am smelling here – a complex, mossy-smoky-sweet leathery floral that is half spice and half face power.


Of course, nothing this beautiful lasts forever, but I enjoy the hell out of this Caronade phase until it trails off into a persistent honey note that smells like a pissy narcissus material to me, not a million miles from the drydown of Tabac Tabou (Parfums d’Empire).

This is by far my favourite of the Papillon perfumes.


Source of Sample: Gratis sample sent to me for review by Liz Moores.


Cover Image:  Photo by Bozhin Karaivanov on Unsplash


All Natural Independent Perfumery Review Rose Single note exploration

Three Roses by Annette Neuffer

11th July 2024


The only possible reason why Annette Neuffer is not discussed in the same breadth as other talented, self-made European perfumers (Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Antonio Gardoni, etc.) is because, unlike these, she has been unable to professionalize her operations or achieve economies of scale in her production so that her perfumes are priced at a point where regular perfume wearers can buy them. 


In Europe, at least, there is great respect for Annette’s style, and a rather robust grey market in swapping samples and full bottles of her work.  But not even a glowing review from Luca Turin in the Guide 2018 wasn’t enough to shoot the brand into the indie stratosphere currently occupied by Teone Reinthal, Manuel Cross, Clandestine Laboratories, Zoologist, Tauer, and so on.


Which is a shame because it proves that a certain measure of market exposure and self-promotion is what gets some perfumes talked about, therefore keeping them ‘alive’ in the mind’s eye, while others, none the less important or beautiful a creation, risk trailing off into the darkness of the void.  This is why it’s important for people to write about Annette and people like Annette.  I don’t claim that my words have any impact – blogs have been dying for years now, and this one is no exception.  But as the lights start to go out on this ship, there is a certain sense of freedom in realizing that I can write about anything that strikes my fancy, with no regard for what might be current or ‘hot’, because nobody is watching.  


And what I want to write about today is Annette Neuffer, because unless she suddenly starts sending free bottles of perfumes out to YouTube and Instagram perfume ‘influencers’, her work will remain largely unknown to all but those who deliberately seek her out.  Her perfumes are as worthy of the intense fandom discussions that swirl around around Teone Reinthal or Zoologist.  A jazz musician living in Freising, Germany, she works completely in naturals, but with a deftness of touch that made even Luca Turin – famously a critic of all natural perfumers – marvel. 


I don’t like everything she makes, but even those I don’t like, I find myself thinking about and trying to understand how they work.  Enter clumsy yet obligatory metaphor about jazz; though I don’t understand jazz and its weird, cacophonic ‘non-structure’, I enjoy it at a subliminal level once I stop trying to analyze it.  I think that’s probably the key to Annette Neuffer’s work too.


First up, three roses.


Honeysuckle Rose is a fat but wilting white flower, a vine of jasmine or tuberose curling in on itself, buried in swathes of beeswax and furniture polish.  It smells like sweet tea and nectar and female skin putrefying in a Southern heat so intense that you can almost see the beads of moisture popping up.  I smelled a honeysuckle bush once in the South of France and was shocked by how fleshy and sultry it actually is, in contrast to its rather innocent reputation. 


This perfume smells like honeysuckle in the air – heady, rudely floral, honeyed – but powdery and slightly dank on the skin, like a cup of over-stewed tea.  The oily cedar-like notes of a dank rosewood add to the impression of a flower floating in a gong bath, a flash of something white and delicate in the Vantablack gloom. 


It is only later, once the bitterness of the tea and woods has subsided, that Honeysuckle Rose reveals its final, true form – a sunny orange blossom busily licking the sticky grunge of beeswax and rosewood off its fur.  The contrast between light and dark is startling, like a bar of the whitest goat’s milk soap carved from a block of resin.  A trace of warm, dark honey lingers underneath this, like licked skin, recalling some of Vero Kern’s perfumes (Rozy in particular, with its attractively stale, louche rose breath). 



Rosa Alba is based around a rare, white Bulgarian rose varietal named, well, Rosa Alba (rose of the dawn).  It has simple but powerful beauty of a freshly picked rose from a wet garden, with its alluring mixture of lemon zest, geranium leaf, and finally, a trembling, jellied, pink rosewater loukhoum nuance tucked deep into the tightest folds near the heart. 


A resinous, powdery (slightly sour) sandalwood is the only other element here, lending the fragrance the feel of a traditional Indian attar.  This is the immense, timeless beauty of a flower stuffed inside the flimsiest of shells.  And though arguably a direct copy of nature, you’d have to be a marble statue not to be moved by a smell like this.



Avicenna White Rose & Oud is my personal favorite of Annette Neuffer’s takes on rose, perhaps because it turns such a (by now) familiar paradigm on its head.  The marriage of rose and oud is a natural one, the gentle, bright sweetness of rose tempering the sour, moody darkness of oud, and as such is a popular trope in perfumery.  But even a template this good gets old after a while. 


What I love about White Rose & Oud is that it reimagines the rose-oud pairing in the context of a witch’s apothecary in the Middle Ages, giving it new angles I hadn’t considered before.  The opening is a pungent herbal lemonade that has dried to crystals on a mantelpiece somewhere, before being swept into a pestle and mortar with a bunch of dusty culinary herbs and ground to a fine powder.  But before you think, wow, this is super sour and harsh and I don’t like it, in rolls an intoxicating lush, Turkish delight rose that softens all the sharp edges.  The interplay of that rosy loukhoum against the tart, almost brackish oud – which you realize is what the deeply sour herbaciousness in the topnotes was camouflaging – is brilliant. 


The umami, wheaten sandalwood in the basenotes interacts with the oud and other woody notes to create an accord so dry and 3D and aromatic that it feels like watching plumes of barkhoor smoke hanging heavy in the air or hot benzine shimmering in the thick air at the fuel court.  


But while recognizably (finally) a rose-oud scent, White Rose & Oud never feels exotic in a tokenistic manner, perhaps due to its persistent streak of antiseptic sourness – that medieval apothecary vibe – that runs through it from top to bottom.  I like to think that Bernard Chant would have liked the witchy 1970s feel of this, even if he didn’t quite get the whole rose-oud reference the way modern perfume wearers do. 


Source of sample:  I bought a sample set directly from Annette Neuffer’s website back in (I think) 2017 or 2018.  


Cover Image: Photo by Christina Deravedisian on Unsplash







Lattafa: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh

10th June 2024


When you move to Africa after a whole life spent in Europe, you quickly begin to grasp the economies of scale (and lack of trade tariffs) that made your nine euro litre of olive oil or four euro bottle of Pantene conditioner possible.  In Africa, the rule of thumb is that everything that is imported is eye-wateringly expensive, while everything homegrown, like avocadoes, shea butter, and Uber drivers, can be had for pennies. 


Interestingly, however, Middle-Eastern perfume, though technically imported, is as cheap as a bag of mangoes.  This is because the import-export relationships set up by the large Saudi or Emirati-owned corporations catering to the significant Muslim population in East Africa (Carrefour is franchised, for example, by the Emirati firm Majid al Futtaim) allow Middle-Eastern perfumes to ride into this region on the same economies-of-scale train that travels the length and breadth of the European trade bloc. 


All this to say, while I ration my single block of Parmesan cheese for months at a time, shaving it off in razor-thin slices onto my pasta as if it were a Goddamn white truffle, I have not been so parsimonious with the ole Lattafas.  Now, fine perfume this is not.  It is big, it is bold, and it more often than not is knocking off something way more expensive.  But.  But.  There is something to be said for sinking your whole self into the sensory pleasure that is perfume for the price of one whole tube of CeraVe moisturizer. 


Let’s take a good, long look at everything I’ve smelled, what I’ve gifted to others, and what I decided to buy for myself over the past year, because not even cheapies should be immune to critical inspection.  I mean, sooner or later, three or four Lattafas add up to a whole bottle of olive oil, so one must draw a line somewhere.   


The Good

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Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash


Lattafa Nasheet


Ostensibly a dupe of Nishane’s Ani, I find that Nasheet to be the better scent experience.  It resolves several problems I have with Ani.  First, while I love the green, almost pungent pop of ginger root and citrus of Ani’s topnotes, I find it meanders into a brief but mawkish ‘designer store aroma’ phase that I don’t love, before eventually re-righting itself into a creamy, resinous amberilla (half amber, half vanilla).  Of course, that bit is as heavy as a brick wrapped in a duvet, so sometimes Ani’s drydown feels right-sized but sometimes it feels like trying to lift weights under water.


Nasheet’s innovation is that it feels like 60% of Ani on a good day.  I can breathe in and around it.  It carries the spice – more cardamom than ginger, meaning it is both fresher and less powdery – further into the amberilla accord, laying it out over the golden sweetness like a lace veil made of zesty black pepper.  A beautiful orange peel note haunts the structure, more the scent of an orange peeled three hours ago in a nearby room than the volatile juiciness of a fresh one. 


The glittery, sandy amberilla in the drydown is a spackling of mica on the skin, as diffuse as starlight.   People call Ani a vanilla, which I don’t quite understand – if you add enough hard, crunchy resin to vanilla, what you end up with is amber.  (I am conceding to the daub of vanilla that lurks within this amber accord by calling it an amberilla).


People also say that Nasheet is weak and disappears within two hours, but all that tells me is that a whole generation of noses have been permanently altered by over-exposure to brutish aromachemicals chosen for their extreme radiance, Amberwood, Norlimbanol, and Ambroxan among them.  I feel sad for them, but also honor bound to point out when their poor, deformed noses are simply wrong – Nasheet hangs around all day long.   It is discreet, yes, but present enough for colleagues to comment on my scent trail after an 11-hour day at the office.   For those of you old enough to remember when perfumes lived and died on their own merit rather than limp on for eons via the easy-won brutality of modern woody ambers, listen to what I am telling you.  Nasheet is endlessly pleasant without a trace of those modern poisons.  And at twenty odd euros, I consider that a win.  



Musamam White Intense


Of all my recent acquisitions – and this one I bought blind – Musamam White Intense is the most baffling.   I bought it because all the descriptions I could fine online were for a creamy but fresh coconut-sandalwood scent.   The only lactones I love are the ones that exist in nature, i.e., milky notes wrenched from peach skin, fig leaf sap, or sandalwood, rather than from an off-the-shelf aromachemical labelled ‘milk’ or ‘gelato’, so the naturally blond-on-blond idea of Musamam White Intense appealed greatly to me.   But smelled blind, I would have pegged this more as the lime peel and rubbery, peachy undertones common to some frangipani materials, over a tart, pale lumberyard-ish wood that might be sandalwood but that could also be hinoki or oak, given its vague, slightly featureless woodiness (I guess I was right about the blond).  While it’s true, technically, that there is a tiny bit of milkiness and a nuance one might conceivably define as coconutty if you squint hard enough, the character of this scent is mostly sour, silvery woods washed in a mineral stream with citrus rind.


Despite the gap between expectation and reality, I quite like Musamam White Intense and wear it the most out of all my recent acquisitions.  Or, maybe it’s not so much that I like it but that I have yet to figure out what it smells like to me.   It continuously evades my grasp, which frustrates me.   It might be the rare case of a Lattafa that is abstract and therefore complex, or it might be that what this scent is going for is something like the scent of driftwood on a winter’s beach, in which case it nails the brief.   Spun as a citrusy, woody ‘ambergris’ beachcomber scent, I get it.   I can see that.   Try to sell me Musamam White Intense as a creamy-milky-coconut thing, though, and I start to believe that most of the people reviewing it are either full of shit or are aping the review below them out of fear that what they are smelling must be ‘wrong’. 



Bade’e Al Oud Amethyst 


The neighborhood where I live is roughly 50% Muslim, 50% Christian, so I see my fair share of ladies wearing everything from the hijab and a relaxed niqab to the full-on burqa.   They all seem to be wearing either Yara or Amethyst, billowing regally from beneath their voluminous folds.   I was at a drag race rally (not sure if this is the right name for it) around Eid-al-Fitr in April, which I enjoyed intensely not because of the car racing but more for the deeply exotic scents mingling in the warm air – the hot rubber and asphalt from the screeching tires, the spicy, cuminy sweat of unwashed men’s shirts, and the intensely jammy rose and jasmine loudness of the combined perfumes steaming in thick roils off my niqabi ladies.   


Amethyst captures everything of this event – the smoky, rubbery petrol fumes, the rich roses, the Turkish delight rosewater flavour, the Arabian jasmine – and even if it does immediately smell a little synthetic, it smells so fabulously out there and regal that you can’t help you be wowed.  The thing that makes me pause – and the reason I haven’t bought a bottle yet – is that the drydown is a little sour and ashy, like me after a night in the pub.   Still thinking about it, though. 




Kalemat on steroids.  It smells exactly like warm treacle tart, which is made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup and breadcrumbs pressed gently into an all-butter, short-crust pie shell, but over a rubbery, slightly sour oud wood note that, although more joss stick than actual oud, is surprisingly effective at balancing out that syrupy sweetness.  At its heart, it’s an amber, but I always feel that it is much more than that, and that the best I can do is to say it is warm dry wood meets nag champa meets toasty resin and a syrup facet that might be fruit or grain derived, but it doesn’t matter because it is both homespun and slightly exotic in a generic manner.   I love it.  


Khamrah Qahwah  


People say that if you have Khamrah then owning Khamrah Qahwah is redundant – I strongly disagree. Khamrah Qahwah is a substantially better perfume.  The addition of the bitter coffee grounds and fresh, almost green-lemony cardamom notes turn a dull, date-heavy dessert into something far more aromatic and rich in contrast.


The synthetic sawcut drone of the Ambroxan and the cheap, greasy coconut hairspray nuance of the original is muffled under the thick layer of warm, messy ambers and spices, and only ever bothers me when I’ve been swimming and the pool chemicals have peeled all this back to reveal the ugly synthetic skeleton.  In general, though, this is smooth, rich, and a warm, nutty ‘brown’ scent on me, a sort of Lutensian-lite, easy listening shortcut to orientalia.  I like that it reminds me of living in Brcko, where older Bosnian Muslim ladies taught me how to suck down the thickly matted Turkish coffee through a single cardamom pod clasped between my upper and lower front teeth.  Khamrah Qahwah is similar in that it’s gently, not rudely, exotic. 


Ana Abyedh Poudrée  


Ana Abyedh Poudrée is a creamy, fluffy musk with enough rose and other florals to make it feel chewy, like a soft, white nougat wrapped in edible sugar paper.  Loaded with what feels like cashmeran as well as several type of white musk molecules, it achieves a doughy cream-on-cream effect that I personally find irresistible.  It is somewhat similar to Teint de Neige by Lorenzo Villoresi, but a little sharper and without the overwhelming density of powder that the Villoresi scent famously brings.  The powder aspect of Ana Abyedh Poudrée is at first milky, like a doughnut soaked in tres leches, then super dry – almost tinder box dry – like the trail left by an incense stick or ash in the air after burning Palo Santo.  It is this shifting contract between sharp and soft, doughy and dry, milky and powdery, that I find so appealing.  It may not be everyone’s idea of an ideal white musk, but it comes close to mine. 



Liam Grey


Though famously a dupe of Gris Charnel, I love this as a perfume in its own right – it is a bright, citrusy green fig leaf brewed in rubbery black tea, with the masculine prickle of cardamom and a cooling veil of icy iris milk straight from the fridge.  Both aromatic and creamy, I feel like a lighter version of myself when I wear it.  Slightly woodier than the original Gris Charnel and sweeter than Gris Charnel Extrait, it straddles a happy middle ground that is not so one or the other than you feel guilty for wearing a dupe. 


Further, unlike Gris Charnel Extrait, which unspools into a messy, synthy woodsy affair upon reaching the four hour mark, Liam Grey holds on to its smooth quality until the bitter end.  It smells like the milky masala chai I drink from a local coffee house.   Perfumes like Liam Grey make me think someone at Lattafa has realized that not everything they turn out have to have that rubbery synth edge for a perfume to be beautiful and long-lasting.   I would never spend BDK prices of a bottle of Gris Charnel, partially because I already own a scent in the same genre (Remember Me by Jovoy) and partially because I think only Caron has the right to charge over 300 euros for a genuine extrait (though I wouldn’t pay Caron prices for the state of Caron output these days).  But I was and am happy to take a 25 euro gamble on a bottle of Liam.  For me, it is a ridiculously high return on investment for a scent that gives me everything that the original does.  



Ishq Al Shuyukh Gold


Ishq Al Shuyukh Gold is a thick welterweight of a perfume – a doorstopper actually – featuring a meaty, red, drippingly iodic saffron leather boot left to fester and ooze and impregnate a bowl of the heaviest vanilla cream imaginable.  The pungency of the saffron is immense, with its burnt tire and bitter, metallic medicine aspects out on full display, all adding up to a rich, rubbery leather note that seems too raw and bloody to be put in the front window, but you feel the economic pressure to rush it out anyway. 


The thick, custardy vanilla lapping at its raw, meaty edges is a dopamine rush that you can hear thundering at you a mile away, like the hot oatmeal pouring down the hill towards the villagers in The Girl and the Porridge Pot story.  It is so dairy rich.  Though a bit rough and scary at the start, the beauty of this scent is in the drydown, when everything smells like soft, buttery, but still a bit leathery, like a vanilla pod removed from its bath of cream and split open easily with the merest touch of pressure from your fingernail. 


It is very similar to Vanagloria, without the fresh pineapple weirdness, which I guess makes it similar to YSL Babycat and Rosendo Mateu #5, but if I could get the 135 euros back that I spent on Vanagloria (Laboratorio Olfattivo), my favourite of this genre, and put 35 euros down on Ishq instead, then I would.  Since they all traverse the same basic trajectory from a thick, tight knot of sticky resins, leather, and saffron to a smoother, more relaxed ‘black vanilla cream’ suede aroma, there is not much point in owning more than one of these exemplars.  However, I am happy with keeping a bottle of Ishq in Africa and a bottle of Vanagloria in Europe.  Separated by continents and whole economic markets, they each occupy a different plane of existence, like similarly sized planets in solar systems millions of light years away from one another. 


The Bad

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Photo by Niklas Kickl on Unsplash




I bought Qaa’ed for my husband in 2021 and all four of us have rued the day I did ever since.  Taken in (and not for the last time, I bet) by all the mentions on Fragrantica of warm gingerbread or cardamom cookies, and conveniently ignoring all the reviews that mentioned how it smelled like a loud men’s aftershave, I imported it at some expense from Indian eBay, from whence it was dispatched – it seemed to me, given the seven weeks it took to arrive – on the back of manatees and elephants. 


Exotic back story and all, you might say my expectations were high.  One spray was enough to reveal the gravity of my mistake.  Give it some time to ‘macerate’ they said, and that synthetic-smelling roar will die down to reveal the glories of a highly spiced, leathery, caramelized woody scent.  Reader, it’s been three full years since this thing got shoved to the back of the sock drawer, and having pulled it out again just now, it is with a heavy heart that I inform you that Qaa’ed needs a full 36 months of aging to smell a mere 10% better than it did when you first opened the bottle. 


Rather than tell you what’s ok about this scent (a short list indeed, and includes the bottle), I am going to tell you about what’s wrong with it.   First of all, the combination of treacly, syrupy sweet notes over those brash ‘burnt wood’ aromachemicals make it smell like any generic designer scent that markets itself as ‘smoky’ or ‘oriental’ these days – anything that comes in a black bottle, basically – and is unfortunately close to the chemical marshmallow BBQ stench of By the Fireplace.   The cardamom and other spice notes barely register against the burnt but radiant woody amber, so the gingerbread cookies remain trapped in your hopes and dreams rather than making it out there on your arm.   Lastly, its spicy masculine leather notes take it beyond the outer limits of my personal gender stretchiness – I would no more wear this than I would Brut or Old Spice (but obviously, I am not you, so you do you). 


Lastly – and yes, I know I already promised that the last point was ‘lastly’ but since my hatred of this knows no bounds, I shall continue – it contains a sulfurous chemical that smells like boiled cabbage or broccoli farts, which means it’s giving a little Hard Leather, another monstrosity, this time of the Norlimbanol sort.  



Bade’e Al Oud Honor and Glory


A garish, synthetic-smelling nightmare of a fragrance that pairs a strung-out pineapple note over a depressingly Ambroxinated amber for a result that would be obnoxious in an Axe spray, let alone a personal fragrance.  It brays sporty blue masculine in big neon letters, even though the billing is all crème brulée and lush, tropical, juicy pineapple. 


And you know, I am not sure what it was about that description that made it sound so attractive to me in the first place. Possibly the worst thing you could find at the bottom of a bowl of crème brulée are chunks of pineapple. I mean, have you seen what too much pineapple does to your tongue?  Just imagine what it will do to the soft, wobbly custard.  Curdle city, baby, 


Anyway, all I can smell is the dreadful screech of whatever woody amber they have stuffed into this thing, but I am sure that the people who hate this scent will blame it for being ‘too spicy’.  Spicy, my ass.  Spice is pleasantly nose-tickling, even at its most aromatic or fiery (chili, black pepper) and cannot be held responsible for the almost physically painful nostril sand-blasting effect of nasty, loud aromachemicals. 


Someone, somewhere will bleat plaintively, but what about the turmeric?  To which I say, what about the turmeric?  Turmeric is the face flannel of Spices.  Sure, it can boast of its brilliant ochre dyeing properties and its anti-inflammatory effects, but let’s get real, sensory-wise, it smells like licking the surface of your child’s first attempt at an un-Kilned bowl at a pottery class.  It’s an off-brand saffron, or an even cheaper henna, with a dusty, astringent medicine feel.  It is not going to set your tongue or nose on fire.  No, that’ll be the Amberwood or whatever aromachemical accounts for Honor and Glory’s special flavor of screech.  I see this scent clearly, and unfortunately, it is ug-leeee



Bade’e Al Oud Oud for Glory


My father wears this, which surprises me, because his favorite perfumes are fresh, woody-citrusy vetivers – think Timbuktu, Terre d’Hermès, Eau Sauvage, and Quercus.  I asked him about it, and he said that he only wears it at night when watching TV, so that he is not disturbing anyone but himself.  ‘It’s a bit loud, alright,’ he admitted sheepishly.  A bit loud?  The Krakatoa Eruption was probably quieter.  It is one of those perfumes that I have difficulty perceiving individual notes, obscured as they are by a noxious cloud of greyish, fuzzy Cilit Bang-like chemicals that bloom suddenly and violently, like the blast wave of an atomic bomb.  People say they can smell leather, oud, and patchouli in this – I cannot.  All I smell is harsh.     


Khaltaat Al Arabia Royal Blends


This is another one of Lattafa’s super potent, Amberwood-powered spice bombs aimed squarely at being the loudest bish in the room.  The tech bros will love this one, because like Bade’e Al Oud Honor and Glory, Soleil de Jeddah Mango Kiss, and Erba Pura, it is yet another attempt to make fruit butch.  Now, I don’t know why fruit has to be turned inside out with woody ambers so strident they will strip sebum from your pores at a distance of five meters for them to be macho enough for the bros to wear, but pleasant they are not. 


I feel the same way about Royal Blends as I do Erba Pura, which is to say, puzzled at what the pear or apple ever did to anyone to deserve being dipped into Windex and rolled around in cigarette ash until there’s enough grit on it to pass as manly.   Men, why can’t your mangoes and apples just be soft, juicy, and sunny?  Let fruit be fruit, not a cigar, or a glass of whiskey, or the whole darned library, or whatever other masculine trope they are throwing at the genre these days.   I can smell Royal Blends on my clothes after two wash cycles, which is never a good sign, but God knows, maybe that’s what men want.  I don’t know.  



The Meh

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Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash




From the few glowing reviews I’d seen on YouTube for this, I gather that people are hyping this one to the rafters almost entirely because it is by a ‘name perfumer’ – Quentin Bisch in this case – rather than the usual anonymous perfumer toiling behind the curtains at Lattafa HQ.  I don’t have a problem with perfumers being named because the company shelled out big bucks to get them in, but I do have a problem with everyone assuming that the perfume is going to be amazing just because there is a ‘famous’ perfumer behind it.


The truth – and to be honest, this is something that most vloggers specializing in Middle Eastern cheapies or the pay-to-play, social influencer-paying brands like Parfums de Marley won’t realize – is that for every perfumer with one great perfume to their name, there will be fifty more perfumes in their portfolio that just keep the lights on for a brand somewhere or that came 4th or 5th in an in-house competition brief and were idling on a shelf (or notebook) for a few years until there was a chance to up-cycle it elsewhere.  Quentin Bisch is no exception – he did Angel Muse, which I love, and Ganymede, which many people rate highly, with perhaps the latter being his sole claim to an original, groundbreaking piece of work.  But on a day to day basis, what he is really good at is producing slightly generic-smelling, always syrupy sweet modern compositions that turn out to be commercial hit makers for companies like Gaultier and Parfums de Marley. 


My guess is that much of the praise for Teriaq, therefore, comes from the name recognition of a perfumer associated with some of the most rip-roaringly popular feminine perfumes of the last ten years, like Delina (Parfums de Marly), all of the Le Belle perfumes (Gaultier), Fleur Narcotique (Ex Nihilo), and so on.  The man turns everything he touches to gold, commercially speaking.  Teriaq itself is an example of a perfumer phoning it in for a brand where they think nobody will notice, least of all the genre’s rather uncritical audience, for whom a bottle of perfume need only cost 30 euros for it to be proclaimed a work of genius. 


Anyway, for what it’s worth, Teriaq smells like a mixture of Le Belle (Gaultier) and Pink Sugar (Aquolina), all burnt sugar caramel thickness, but with a lingeringly bitter, green edge that makes me think of immortelle and specifically of Afternoon of a Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange).  There is also a prominent cis-jasmone-heavy material in here that smells like heady jasmine mixed with celery leaf, something that not everyone is going to like, but again, reminding me of the slight bitterness of the myrrh in perfumes like Alien Essence Absolue (Mugler) and indeed of La Belle Le Parfum (Gaultier), the latter penned by Bisch. 


I would describe all this as a rough, green-brown syrupy smell that can’t decide whether it’s the corduroy and pipe vibe of a men’s immortelle chypre along the lines of Afternoon of a Faun or a femme caramel/burnt sugar tonka bomb with a lot of DNA in common with the thick, musky floral sugars of most of the Gaultier and Mugler feminine line up.  For this reason, I think it borders on unwearable, which makes it interesting to see all of the reviews of people struggling to reconcile the lore of the famous perfumer with the over-sweetened, vegetal glop that is being served up here.  It is not a bad perfume, but it is not a good one either.   





The hint of red berry combining with the vanilla gives the topnotes a sweet, anisic character, but with a cheap edge, like those Licorice Allsorts sweets that are a clear anise gel inside and covered with tiny fruity pebbles on the outside.  What strikes me about Nebras from that point onwards is how nice but unremarkable it is.  A sugary vanilla with a faintly dusty edge that might be cocoa but might also be practically anything else, the fruit and anise accents leaving only a trace of a black licorice gumminess.  I almost admire its roundness and lack of edge, but even I  – having bought a whole bottle of it – cannot pretend it is anything but a banal little Vanilla Fields body spray type of thing. 


And actually, this is how I’m using Nebras, as a gentle layer of something vanilla-ish, set at the indoor voice levels of a scented body lotion, under sharper, bustier perfumes that need their edges smoothing out a little.  I realize, of course, that I could achieve the same objective with the Yves Rocher Bourbon Vanilla body lotion, but that is super expensive and hard to find in Africa, so Nebras it is.  



Ansaam Gold


I have never smelled Oriana by Parfums de Marly, after which this is supposedly modelled, but I can confirm that Ansaam Gold is in the same wheelhouse as Love, Don’t be Shy by Kilian, the OG of this particular scent DNA (very little being genuinely original in perfumery).   If you like that sweet, orange blossom-scented marshmallow fluff kind of scent, then Ansaam Gold is precisely that and there is no real need to buy a niche variant for $200-300 more.  I was going to add ‘unless you’re actively trying to avoid the garish-looking bottle of the Lattafa’ when I remembered that the Parfums de Marly bottles are equal in the eyesore stakes.


I don’t personally aspire to smelling like a fluffy, orange-y marshmallow but Ansaam Gold is not bad either.  It is just a little too cute and girlish for it to be something I reach for more than once a year.  I will say, however, that there is a powdery, woody nag champa note in here that is missing in the By Kilian scent, and that this is a marked improvement, as it tamps down the syrupy sweetness of that childish orange blossom note to a bearable degree.   



Art of Arabia I


A very simple, fresh citrus scent with a touch of astringent black tea.  The tannins and silvery, woody blast of bergamot lightly mark the scent out as masculine, though as there is nothing so particularly butch about it – no oakmoss, lavender, or coumarin – that a woman couldn’t pull it off.   It doesn’t feel overly synthetic, even though it hovers close to the functional category.  I just don’t find it very compelling.  I bought a 20ml bottle of it for my son and though he likes it well enough, I think its main attraction to him is as a quick sprucer-upper in lieu of a shower.    





I bought this for my son as part of his Christmas presents last year because he is 13 and gets all his perfume recommendations from Tik Tok (oh, the indignity).  Angel’s Share by Kilian is hugely hyped on that channel and people suggested this as a dupe.  Now, Khamrah is not a dupe of Angel’s Share and we were both smart enough to know it was the near identical bottle that created this impression rather than the scent itself, but ‘similar vibes’ was all he wanted.


Still, expectations properly tempered and all, we were both a little disappointed in Khamrah.  It is sweet to an unpleasant extreme, like dried fruit macerated in sugar syrup for three months and then poured over one of those potent, spiky ambers that have more to do with Amberwood or Iso E Super than actual resin.  The combination of sweet and synthy comes off as slightly cheapened – a feature emphasized by an ghostly coconut Glade note that haunts the drydown – and based on how little my son wears or talks about it,  I can tell he also doesn’t think it measures up to the hype.   


Perhaps I poisoned the well a little by giving him a travel bottle of Ambre Narguilé by Hermes while we were waiting for the Khamrah to arrive, because what else is Angel’s Share but a poor copy of Ambre Narguilé?  I knew when his pupils expanded as he took his first sniff that Khamrah never stood a chance.    




This is THE mall scent in East Africa.  Ladies of all ages from pre-teen to matron seem to be wearing it.  Having tried it multiple times, I can only guess that the desire to smell clean, fluffy, and feminine is universal among women who view perfume as an extension of their grooming ritual and not as the wild, yearning carpet ride into the belly of my imagination as I do.  Seen through this lens, one could do much worse than Yara.  It is a warm fruity-floral suffused with a rosy, marshmallowy musk that has no sharp corners to it at all and no delineation between one note and the next.


Some reviews say this smells like fluffy strawberry milk, the appeal of which I do understand, but this is very much a case of wishful thinking.  I think the general idea here is good – pillowy, soft, clean – but either spring for something that goes full hog on it, like Teint de Neige, or spend the Yara money on the equally cheap but far more beautiful and fluffier Ana Abjedh Poudrée.  



Oud Mood


Despite the name, this is not similar to Oud Satin Mood, nor is it supposed to be.  Rather, it is a jammy, synthy rose-oud that would be unbearable to me were it not for the odd little shifts in its trajectory that keep me entertained.  It starts out as a jammy rose with the regular Lattafa oud – a vile, rubbery synth that smells like tries covered in caramel and signed with a blowtorch – before suddenly shifting into a wet, sheepy labdanum that feels shockingly moldy. 


But before I can begin to pigeonhole this, it morphs again, this time into what I can only describe as a dollop of strawberry-flavored marshmallow fluff.  This odd accent, making its oddly late entry, develops into the most delicious scent of doll head I have ever smelled.  It is the kind of scent I follow strange women into crowds for, trying to find out what it is.  I don’t know why I love this incredibly sweet, dopey smell so much, the only explanation that makes sense to this Mitsouko-wearing, middle-aged woman being that it triggers a Proustian flashback to me playing with My Little Pony when I was a kid.  This accord acts like a sugar high, complete with post-ingestion self-loathing and shame. 


The last twist is that somewhere in the drydown it flips 180 degrees from a syrupy, dollhead-esque rose-oud into a gritty, benzoin-based amber that smells like speckles of brown sugar on a pie crust.  It takes me a few wears until I realize that they have shoehorned the dregs of Raghba into the bones of this scent, making everything else stand atop its sturdy legs. 


Listen, I don’t think Oud Mood is a particularly well-designed perfume. Neither is it objectively ‘good’ under any lens you might examine it under.  It is loud and scratchy and obnoxious as heck for a solid 70% of its development trajectory.  But I’m keeping it around on the off chance that some day, I myself am feeling loud and scratchy and obnoxious and need a fragrance that can stand shoulder to shoulder with me.   



Source of Samples:  I bought my bottles from various sources, among them Notino, eBay, Perfumes Wallet, Middle Eastern Perfumes Kenya, and the Arabic perfume stand in my local mall in Nairobi.  A few samples were included with my orders for free, and several more I smelled at the mall without buying.  I don’t receive PR from Lattafa. 


Cover Image:  Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash 




Floral Iris Jasmine Review Vanilla

Vanille des Afriques by Ormonde Jayne: A Review

2nd April 2024


Vanille des Afriques is essentially a reformulation of Vanille d’Iris to adhere to IFRA regulations but with the addition of a bourbon and a Madagascan vanilla absolute to replace the Tahitian vanilla of the original.  In other words, if you liked Vanille d’Iris, then chances are you will like this too.  Personally, though I liked the original Vanille d’Iris well enough, it came at a time when I was searching for more drama in my vanilla.  This time around, I can better appreciate its gently monochromatic beauty.   With its starched orris against the clean, rubbery magnolia and oceans of musky vanilla cream, it is perhaps the whitest thing in Africa right now other than me.  


White doesn’t mean boring, though.  There is a creamy-sour lime or bergamot tinge to the pop of orris in the topnotes that lends the perfume a pleasant bitterness, similar to the topnotes of Infusion d’Iris Absolue (Prada).  Carrot seed adds a bright, almost savory muskiness that reminds me somewhat of the creamy vegetal vibe of Evernia (soft-stemmed greens cooked for hours in Irish butter into a gray-green sludge).  The florals that move underneath are, in typical Ormonde Jayne style, sheer but strangely robust – the rubbery, apricot-skin tartness of osmanthus makes itself known first, but the lemony ‘cold cream’ aspect of magnolia is also evident. 


Just don’t come to Vanille des Afriques looking for drama.  Despite the double dose of vanilla, it is neither ‘delicious’ nor indeed particularly vanilla-ish.  Despite the listed jasmine and the ‘Afrique’ in the name, this is no bold, exotic creation in the manner of L’Elephant (Kenzo), African Leather (Memo), or Afrika Olifant (Nishane).   It is not florid or tropical or spicy.  Rather, it is as luxuriantly bland and soothing as a wodge of ugali, the thick white maize meal used as a spongey foil to goat stews and steamed kales here in East Africa.  And therein lies its beauty – sometimes life itself is so spicy that you just want a cooling starch upon which to rest your weary head.  And Vanille des Afriques is a beautiful example of this olfactory pillow.             


Source of sample:  PR sample provided courtesy of Ormonde Jayne, with no obligation to provide a review.


Cover Image:  Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

Ambergris Animalic Aromatic Chocolate Chypre Civet Collection Cult of Raw Materials Floral Oriental Fruity Chypre Hay Honey House Exploration Incense Independent Perfumery Iris Jasmine Leather Musk Osmanthus Oud Patchouli Review Rose Saffron Sandalwood Smoke Spice Tuberose Violet White Floral Woods Ylang ylang

The Musk Collection by Areej Le Doré: Reviews

20th March 2024

I can’t help feeling sad that ‘regular’ people who just love a good, well-constructed perfume rather than obsessing on one or two of their constituent raw materials will likely never get to smell the Musk series from Areej Le Doré.  Except for one, none of the perfumes in this collection are terribly animalic, all of them use exquisite materials like real sandalwood, oud, and jasmine, and most of them smell like whole, actualized perfumes rather than the sum of their parts.  But then, the people who love perfumes for the entirety of their composition or for the personalized soundtrack they provide to the mundanity of the everyday are upset enough that the 2014 Dior Addict or the 2009 Hermes Hiris are no longer available, so can you imagine their feelings about perfumes that sell out and become unobtanium in the space of a weeks, if not days? 


Perhaps it is best that only the oud heads and sandalwood obsessives that lurk in dark corners of the Internet get to smell these.  Most Areej Le Doré perfumes smell like proper perfumery bases bought in from somewhere, dressed in a careful arrangement of natural oils and essences that the perfumer has sourced or distilled himself – incredibly silky-funky ouds that smell of wood rot but also of hay and mint, the powdered goodness of well-resinated sandalwood, buttery white flowers, or the citric, briny spackle of white ambergris.  Sounds amazing, right?  And it is.  But what the perfume-wearing GenPop want is for a beloved perfume to smell reliably the same from one day to the next, and ideally, from one bottle to the next.  The naturals used in Areej Le Dore perfumes are too mercurial and unreproducible to guarantee that level of security.


Take Crème de la Crème, for example.  My favorite of this series and the easiest to wear, it has nonetheless never smelled the same way on me the three times I have donned it.   The first wear induced rare feelings of euphoria, because it reminded me of a soft, vintage floral perfume – L’Air du Temps perhaps – worn down to a barely-there skin scent clinging to the baby hairs at a woman’s neck.  Soft yet strong, like a photo I recently saw of Jean Harlow one day before her death from kidney failure, her delicate yet bloated frame held firmly in place by her co-stars Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon, who seemed to sense she was near collapse. 


This version of  Crème de la Crème was sweet, clove-ish, dried-rose-petalish, shot through with the citrusy brightness of ambergris and bathed in the dusty but resinous sweetness of sandalwood.  There was a absinthe-like note floating around in there too, reminding me of the cloudy, bittersweet herbaciousness of Douce Amère (Serge Lutens).  The final aftertaste, however, was of the delicate Indian attar-like floral sandalwood of Alamut by Lorenzo Villoresi, only airy and astringent where the Villoresi is sodden with sweet milk.


The second and third wearing immediately revealed the minty-camphoric sting of a clean island oud – like a Borneo, but in reality, an oud from the Philippines – sweeping in the medicinal radiance of hospital-grade antiseptic fluid.  How had I missed this the first time around?  Now I could smell the sharpness of lime leaf as well as the familiar richness of the sandalwood, which in its second outing smelled like a century old sandalwood elephant ground down into dust for zukoh incense.  Reddish wood, all powder on the surface but with globules of calcified amber rolling around like a bag of marbles underneath. This is immediately recognizable as real-deal Indian sandalwood, its tart, yoghurty nuances darting in and out of the sweet richness, coating your tongue with the kind of roundness and balance you really don’t get with sandalwood synthetics.


Roundness doesn’t mean sweet or feminine, though.  The slightly mossy bitterness at the center of ambergris gives the sandalwood a fern-like character, making me think of those big, old fashioned fougères, redolent of shaving soap, oil of cloves, and bay rhum.  The sweet-sour-soapy finish of the sandalwood reminds me a lot of Jicky, but also by extension, Musk Lave, except that in Crème de la Crème, there is a faint spicy-floral breeze that nudges it into the realm of the Caron carnation (Bellodgia or Poivre).


Third time around, like the second time, but with more pronounced soapy-leathery-amber notes that made me think of the floral, oiled galoshes of Knize Ten Golden Edition, the plasticky ylang of Chanel No. 5 eau de parfum, and of Pears soap.  This is not unpleasant, just surprising.  Perhaps it is the creamy, dusty airiness of Crème de la Crème that makes it so quixotic and mutable.  Like one of those shifting sand pictures that changes every time you shake the frame, it softly accommodates whatever fantasy or feeling you project onto it.



Cuirtis opens with the most divine, almost mouthwatering accord of sweet, cuminy bread, a fruity dill, aromatics, and a peach-skin osmanthus.  This may sound odd, but I love the effect.  I think the word I’m looking for here is hawthorn.  There is a familiar chord here that stirs up some good scent memories for me, one I can only really identify as being broadly ‘peak L’Artisan Parfumeur’ in tone – a touch of the dry, smoky (but also fruity) nagamortha of Timbuktu, some of the complicated whiskey-vetiver-old orris soap of Dzongkha, and even a touch of the sweet, armpitty doughnut of Al Oudh, perfumes that have fallen slightly out of fashion or have been discontinued but still remain part of my personal perfume hall of greats.


The dry, smoky birch tar, when it bursts through this almost watery-fruity-aromatic dillweed layer, does indeed smell like a fine cuir, but not one produced by Chanel or Dior.  Rather, I smell a lot of Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal) here, with its parched, leathery benzoin simplicity – also characterized by a strong birch tar note, by the way – as well as a sliver of the melony smoke of Breath of God by Lush and some of the watery, metallic violet leaf and hay dandiness of the late, great Cuir Pleine Fleur (Heeley). 


Thus far, this review has been one long run-on sentence of other perfume references, but I am not suggesting that Cuirtis is overly referential.  Indeed, it is very much its own animal.  But whenever I bump into a smell that jolts me back in time to 2014 when I was happily discovering the perfume greats on my own, I scramble to triangulate the references in my perfume mind palace so that I can settle on the source of the big feelings I am feeling.  Though ultimately I can’t identify what single element is triggering me in Cuirtis, I rather love for its own good self.  It is incredibly aromatic, herbal tincture-like, but also sweet, smoky, and dry, all at once.



Royal Barn is clearly named as a sop to Russian Adam’s die-hard animalics fans who egg him on to dirtier and dirtier things with each collection.  I suspect they would prefer for him not only to edge up to the great, steaming piles of horse shit in this putative barn but to plunge his hands in and start smearing it all over the stalls.  But the name’s a con.  This is the animalic floral oriental-chypre of the collection, and as such, is only dirty in the way Bal a Versailles (Jean Desprez) is dirty, meaning that underpinning the morass of rich, creamy florals, fungal oud, greenish rose, and spiky woods is a lascivious schmear of honeyed civet, there to add that unmistakably ‘French’ je ne sais quoi of soiled panties.


At first, everything is as dense as a brick of floral absolutes and waxes mashed together, and it feels rather wet and slurry-like in texture.  Then two things happen simultaneously.  First, the perfume dries up, with a leathery tone that reminds me of castoreum, but may just be the hay absolute sucking all the moisture out of the barn.  Second, the fruitiness of the champaca-rose tandem and the crisp, green-white juiciness of palmarosa somehow make a break for it, peeking out from behind the barn wall.  The contrast between the leathery, dry (austere) civet and hay layer and the fruity, creamy, almost girlish pop of peach and egg yolk yellow florals is amazing.


Now, real talk – does this really smell like a barn?  Well, civet – the real stuff, as used here – can be terribly sharp, honey-ish in its high-toned shriek, and foul even when its floral nuances are detected.  However, when used judiciously in a perfume, it just adds this hot, whorish glow to the florals that magnifies their impact.  Royal Barn is much drier, muskier, and ten times more pungent than Civet de Nuit but they share a similarly fuzzy, under-panted warmth.  If this is a barn, then it’s a clean one, ripe with animal but not fetid with neglect.


Regular perfume-wearing folk will want to know where it falls on the skank-o-meter.  It is less animalic than La Nuit (Paco Rabanne) and Salome (Papillon), but more animalic than Bal a Versailles (Jean Deprez) and vintage Gold Man (Amouage).  I would put this on par with Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent), but this is far more floral, so imagine Ubar (Amouage) with a drop of Kouros mixed in.   



Paradise Soil reminds me very much of a certain era in perfume making – not so long ago – when everyone was flipping out about these huge, dirty florid fragrances that were slightly crazy in their construction, smashing together untrammeled Big White (or Yellow) Florals with thick musks and enough nag champa and patchouli to stop a hippie in their tracks.  I’m talking stuff like Manoumalia (Le Nez), Daphne (Comme des Garcons), Tubéreuse III (Animale) by Histoires de Parfum, Le Maroc Pour Elle (Tauer), Mauboussin, etc.  If you love that style of fragrance, then you’ll love this too.  Paradise Soil smells like if tuberose was a dog and that dog rolled around in muck and is begging with his eyes to get back in the house but you just cannot be mad at him.


Huge armfuls of damp jasmine, ylang, and tuberose are mashed into the humid black earth of a tropical jungle onto which all the petals drop, decaying over time to make a rich mass of soil organic content, except that half the soil is made up of pulverized Pan di Stelle cookies.  So, florals and chocolate, yes, but not truffled, and despite the saffron, not vegetal.  More dry chocolate biscuit in the Montale Chocolate Greedy manner than the melted dark chocolate of Noir de Noir.


My only complaint about Paradise Soil is that the florals – especially the tuberose, which I feel is the pushiest flower in this particular bouquet – become too sharp and insistent in their sweetness, the sort that is so intense that it almost tastes bitter on the back of your tongue.  There is a distinct bubblegum tone as well, which when added into all the muddy sweetness going on here tips it into what I call Nights in White Satin territory.  Skirting uncomfortably close to the overall sledgehammer effect of Giorgio and Amarige, I can’t really love it past this point.  It feels like wearing fur and two inches of panstick foundation on a hot day.


And unfortunately, the underlying oud notes are not strong or woody enough to claw this back into neutral for me.  Paradise Soil is somewhat in the vein of Ambre de Coco or the other chocolate-oud explorations of the house (Russian Oud possibly being the most famous), but this is a far sharper, more white floral-forward version.  Still – I think fans of the big, satiny floral-incense extravaganzas of the late 1990s would absolutely love this.



Forbidden Flower is not a flower and ‘forbidden’ is all wrong too because that is a word that promises something naughty but nice.  This is not nice.  Vibe: Industrial waste but make it grape-flavored. 


I have worn Forbidden Flower on the skin exactly one time and that was still once too many.  I am smelling it now again from a paper strip in the hope that I can figure out – in a more rational manner – what exactly it is about this thing that makes it so traumatizing.  I mean, technically, I know it must be the skunk.  But why.  Why, Adam.


This is a deeply disturbing scent.  In the opening notes, the aroma of fruity green leaves and milkweed mixes with the inorganic fumes of acetone, mouthwash, mercury, and what I can only describe as the liquid from a leaky battery.  The fumes are so potent that I feel light-headed and more than a bit high.  It smells both like the school supplies closet (solvents, paper, magic markers) and a long-abandoned farmstead with metal farm machinery rusting away between the weeds and ditches that a family of wild cats or indeed skunks have marked repeatedly as their personal pissing patch. 


This mix of organic and inorganic stinks is deeply original but unpleasant, in a similar vein to M/Mink by Byredo (which Forbidden Flower does not resemble at all except in its metallic weirdness).   It eventually dries down to a rubbery, latexy accord technically assembled by a doughy benzoin, patchouli, and cedar but the blackest myrrh in all but name.   This sort of thing – vaguely similar to Narcotico (Meo Fusciuni), But Not Today (Filippo Sorcinelli) and Vierges et Toreros (Etat Libre d’Orange) in that they are all dark, bloody-metallic takes on the cedar/patchouli leather theme  – is just stomach turning to me, even if at an intellectual level I admit that it is original and high concept. 


I started this collection review by saying how sorry I was that normal frag heads never get to sample these perfumes, but in the case of Forbidden Flower, I think it is for the best.




Source of samples:  Samples sent to me free of charge for review by Russian Adam.


Cover Image:  Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash


Gourmand Lists Round-Ups

A Week’s Worth of Italian Dessert Fragrances

5th February 2024


I was back in Rome recently for a strategic retreat and thought it might be interesting to wear an Italian dessert fragrance every day to mark the occasion.  Caveat: I have incredibly narrow parameters for the gourmand category in general (I have no desire to smell like food) but I get even more exacting when it comes to Italian dessert fragrances.  I have a serious weakness for Italian desserts and cookies – the pasticche di mandorle, the lemony torta della nonna, the apricot crostate, pistachio gelato, the unctuous crema gialla spilling out of fat cornetti, the teeny tiny cups of espresso made for fairies, even those powdery little pan di stelle – but am rarely if ever convinced by the perfume form. 


But I like to think of this pernickety-ness as quintessentially Italian itself, as anyone who has ever tried to order a cappuccino after 12 noon or ask for their carbonara to be made with cream in Italy will tell you.  The fact that standards exist for food in Italy and are enforced by everyone up and down the food chain from the farmer to the waiter and the old guys at the next table is one of the biggest joys of my life.  We should all care more about what the quality and ‘rightness’ of goes in our gullet, and correspondingly, on our skin.  



La Danza delle Libellule by Nobile 1942


Crisp red apple whisked into the fluffiest of white musks.  I can see why people love this.  It renders apple pie in an admirably light, fresh form.  My only problems with this are two.  First, the apple note never smells less than a synthetic recreation of apple, in the same way that apple-scented shampoo or body lotion does. The accord is undeniably pleasant but you are never less than aware that this is not a smell derived from nature.  And this awareness is what breaks the fourth wall.


Second, I am of the opinion that if you are going to render apple pie in perfume form, then at least some of that vanilla and cinnamon had better show their face.  Here, though I do understand the brief was for the perfume to be as airy as a dance of butterflies, it is the foamy ocean of white musk molecules that dominates, making it feel a little like that first chug from a glass of water into which you’ve just dropped an Alka-Seltzer tablet, i.e., somehow both powdery and wet.  Again, it is pleasant and eminently wearable, but there are no real points of interest.  Possibly the worst thing one can say about a perfume is that it is not memorable, and La Danza delle Libellule just hits that line for me.



Lira by Xerjoff 


Lira is quite similar to Indult’s Tihota in the double eiderdown thickness of its vanilla-musk, but with the lovely bright zestiness of blood orange up top and an intense caramel accord threaded through the basenotes.  Normally, I find this sort of thing overwhelming, but the hint of licorice and flash of orange give the vanilla and caramel a much needed twang.  It’s like crema gialla and Campari!  Delightfully lush and enveloping, sweet but not syrupy, no jarring synthetic bits to annoy me – this is Italian gourmandise done right.  I would buy the biggest bottle if I knew I’d wear it regularly, but because I suspect Lira would be an occasional treat only and not a true workhorse in my collection, I am content to keep on buying samples of it.  (Think I am on sample number five at this point.)  



Noir Tropical by Maria Candida Gentile


Every time I wear Noir Tropical, my husband remarks – rather unkindly, I must say – that I am wearing ‘that keks i mleko’ perfume again, referring to the mush of baby rusks (disturbingly called Plasma) dissolved into hot milk that is the cure to all ills in the Balkans.  I made the mistake of buying a mini bottle of this blind with my birthday voucher from the Maria Candida Gentile site simply because a perfume friend of mine with impeccable taste adores Noir Tropical, so I decided to take the risk. 


Unfortunately, there is nothing noir or tropical or even particularly special about Noir Tropical.  It smells like high quality vanilla paste, with its woody, cocoa-ish and even slightly boozy aspects.  But the perfume is never more than a background note in its own composition.  Wearing it is like sitting in the theatre, waiting for the curtains to open and reveal the main act, but all you hear or see is the dim rustle of activity somewhere behind the curtain.  Incredibly disappointing, especially for an indie perfume, where you pay (usually a lot) extra for something that deviates from the same old, same old. 


I keep spraying this on myself, soaking my skin, mostly to get rid of it, but also because I want to understand if I can suddenly unlock the secret door in the perfume that will lead me through to the promised land of my original expectations.  But I am down to the last drops in my mini bottle and am none the wiser.  A plain, dull-ish vanilla milk n’ cookies scent is all Noir Tropical ever gives me and has ever given me.  



Vanagloria by Laboratorio Olfattive 


Front-loaded with enough iodine (saffron) and pineapple to cripple an elephant, Vanagloria makes a weird first impression – metallic, fruity, acid, and terpenic, like a burning tire onto which someone’s lobbed some opened cans of Del Monte pineapple pieces.  And just under that, a ripe banana custard-like vanilla, like something you’d make out of a packet, but also really thick and expensive-smelling.  Ribbons of smoke from just-lit frankincense add a slightly ashy-woody darkness, deepening the chiaroscuro effect. 


It takes some time for all of this to settle, but when it does, what you get is a luxuriously creamy vanilla-incense accord that accurately reflects the aromas gathered in a dried vanilla bean pod – the slightly burnt-smelling woodiness, the booziness, the leathery dryness, the faint thick sweetness of it that floats in the distance.  I smelled it first in Romastore, in Trastevere, in January 2022, and was appalled at its ‘crude oil’ start.  But later, when it dried down, it became an obsession for me, far more compelling to me than any of the other more popular perfumes I’d gone there to try, like Gris Charnel by BDK Parfums.  I bought a bottle the next day and it’s become one of my favourite vanilla perfumes, a group that by itself is very, very small.  



Devotion by Dolce & Gabbana


Devotion is a happy, greasy little monger clearly riffing off the Lira model but lacking the budget (or perhaps ambition) to smell anywhere near as luxe.  Featuring a bright, harsh citrus top strewn over a humongous, popcorny vanilla, it smells admirably cheerful and Italian – big, BIG flavors and maxi pad thickness galore.  It smells a little like a girl’s first holiday to the sun with her girlfriends, all suntan oiled-legs and vanilla deo.  Pretty irresistible actually.


That is, however, until a stale ‘fry oil’ note creeps into the rich, buttery mass of vanilla.  I can live with popcorny vanillas if they don’t develop a smell too much like that burnt butter aromachemical everyone seems to use for lactonic notes.  But this almost savory, fried foods element is not in the least bit appealing.  It smells like the end of the girls’ holiday, where they’ve gone to a chipper straight from the airport, the scent of their vanilla body sprays and monoi mixing with the greasy smells pouring out of the vents and rising up from their hot sausage rolls.  And boy, does this perfume linger.        



Dambrosia by Profumum 


The opening of Dambrosia is wince-making: strident pear-scented Windex.  I never would have bought a travel size of this perfume had I not smelled it on a colleague every Thursday at our pre-pandemic coffee and cornetto mornings, when the perfume, applied early that morning, was just now hitting its warm, figgy sandalwood stage.  You could always identify her position in the room from the ribbons of expansive, voluptuous sandalwood that trailed after her like streaks of buttercup yellow.  


I bought a travel bottle but was dismayed at the harsh detergent opening when I got it onto my own skin.  And to this day, that opening is something I simply endure until the perfume finally hits its stride.  But when Dambrosia finally turns into that winter-weight fig and oily, peanutty sandalwood that radiates ten meters in each direction, I invariably forgive it its ugly start.  It is never less than edible at this point, never less than slightly artificial either, but I love its vulgar loudness.  It suits the pushy but gritty glamour you see on Via del Corso, with its furred-up baby strollers, small dogs dressed in designer clothes, and flashy cars weaving around the gaggles of excited tourists and tired-looking Romans just trying to make it home.   




Bianco Latte by Giardini di Toscana


Bianco Latte has whipped up one of those Internet-based hype storms that never last but still manage to pull an extraordinary number of people into its wake while it’s happening.  So, of course, I was curious to smell it.  Having smelled it, I can only ask why are some y’all so basic?  Why train your taste up – and possibly stop there – on sugary vanilla bombs like this that are only 1.5 steps removed from Pink Sugar or a vanilla candle you can pick up at Aldi? 


Adding to the meh-ness of it all is a sour lactonic note that smells like curdled milk to me but may possibly smell like caramel to others.  It is also offensively sweet and devoid of nuance.  I can never really distinguish between stuff like this, Pink Sugar, and Billy Eilish No. 1 – milky-sweet, monotone, full of simple sugar molecules, a bit burnt or artificial-smelling at times – but Bianco Latte comes with a price tag to match its hype, so I am even less willing to go easy on it. 


None of us should be spending $150 for perfume that smells like it cost 50 cents to produce.  Bianco Latte is built on synthetic vanilla and lactonic notes that you buy off the shelf in bulk from the fragrance and flavour factories, and not some super expensive vanilla extract squeezed from freshly picked vanilla pods on a Madagascan plantation.  It’s built cheap and it smells cheap.  If Bianco Latte were turned into an actual dessert, 10 out of 10 Italians would send it right back to the kitchen.  Think about that for a second.  Let’s have higher standards for what we spray on our skin.      



Milano Caffe by Abdes Salaam Attar


I once lived half an hour outside Milan and spent many a happy afternoon wiling away the time in a café with a doppio or five.  Drink enough espresso and there comes a point at which it acts upon your organism like a drug, speeding up your heart rate, and giving you an intense ‘high’.  Nowadays, I edge towards that point via the pathetic wateriness of cafetière coffee.  But Milano Caffe whips me right back to the intoxicating smell of the Milan coffee shop when I was still woman enough to take my coffee in concentrate.


Forget the rosy-cream-amber version of coffee presented in Café Rose (Tom Ford) or Intense Café (Montale).  Milano Caffe is all about the dark, dusty bitterness of coffee beans, with the ferrous, animalic twang common to both coffee and chocolate.  The smell is woody-barky rather than creamy, and rather austere.


In keeping with the authenticity of its coffee accord, Milano Caffe is shorn of extraneous detail.  Those raised on the generosity of mugs of coffee might be a little dismayed at Milano Caffe’s lack of lushness or its refusal to tilt towards even a drop of cream or sugar.  Rather, it packs an ocean of flavor into a tea-spoonful of liquid. The espresso expression itself is quite brief, but the mirage of coffee-ness is carried over and extended through the scent by linking the woodiness of espresso to the woodiness of the iris, opoponax, and cedar basenotes.  Caffe Milano is an interesting scent, and not nearly as gourmand as it sounds.  I find it elegant, dark, and a tiny bit fierce.



Ruby by Bruno Acampora 


As if chocolate wasn’t sexy enough, Barry Callebaut decided to develop and patent a naturally pink-colored chocolate in 2014, and I was in Rome when it finally hit the market in 2018-2019.  Suddenly pink chocolate (named ‘Ruby’) was everywhere, from flowy fountains of gloopy pink chocolate in Eataly to special edition Japanese KitKats.  And in 2019, Bruno Acampora was the first fragrance brand was the first to translate pink chocolate’s unique flavor profile – tart-sweet berries, a yoghurty aftertaste – into perfume form.  


God, how I wish they hadn’t.  Ruby by Bruno Acampora smells fruity-sour, which would be somewhat bearable had they not tagged on a milk powder element that smells as foul as baby powder or, indeed, how Hershey’s Kisses taste to Europeans.  That slightly vomitous aspect, a flavor profile that is nostalgic to American tastes, due to milk powder being subbed in for milk during World War II and never being subbed back out again, is deeply disturbing to me in a perfume.  Ruby chocolate itself doesn’t taste that great, but the perfume is infinitely worse.   



Madeleine by Masque Milano Fragranze


Madeline is an interesting take on the classic Mont Blanc dessert – a domed mound of pureed, sweetened chestnut paste topped with whipped cream.  It pairs the intense sugariness of marrons glacés with the solar milkiness of tuberose, and then rounds it off with a very bready cumin to suggest the savory mealiness of the unsweetened chestnut flesh fresh out of its cooked shell.  The cumin also creates a peanutty, floury, almost wheaten aspect that is really quite appealing – similar to the ‘crunchy granola’ raw foods store vibe of Bois Farine by L’Artisan Parfumeur. 


The result is much airier and fresher than a Mont Blanc, and even though the white flowers and cumin lend the perfume a pinch of ripe, human-smelling sultriness, it is all somewhat hazy and milky, like a celestial bread pudding.  I would place Madeline somewhere in an axis connecting Bois Farine with Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s, another fresh but sultry, slightly BO-ish floral gourmand, and even Castaña by Cloon Keen Atelier, which is not even a gourmand (it’s a dusty, earthy vetiver) but still manages to conjure up the smell of chestnuts roasting on those perforated metal drums in Rome.  Given that I own those perfumes, I think that Madeline might be a redundancy in my collection.  But it is lovely.    



Sources of Samples:  I either bought samples, bottles, or travel sizes of the perfumes featured in this article, or sampled them at niche and department stores in Rome.  I do not do paid reviews and all opinions are my own.  


Cover Image:  Photo by Sarah Elizabeth on Unsplash 





Honey Review Spice Tea Woods

Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens

17th January 2024


Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre, I love ya, even if you are a B side in the Lutensian catalogue.  Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens were probably going for zest rather than realism when they placed that piercing bergamot note over the candied ginger, but for a moment, it smells like freshly peeled ginger root.  Intentional or not, this gives the scent a fresh, sporty masculine start quite at odds with the biscuit-like powderiness of the drydown.  Get past the initial whomp of aftershave, though, and this is as soft and inviting as one of those squishy modular couches. 


Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is remarkably free of the dried fruit ambers and incense Serge Lutens perfumes are known for.  You half go into it expecting fruitcake, but it is nothing more than a fug of powdered spice lingering in the air after pulling a fresh batch of Speculoos biscuits from the oven.  It is slightly edible but not really what I’d call a gourmand, being more wood and dust and spice than dessert.   I don’t miss the lack of Lutensian sturm-und-drang here, either.  Sometimes, life calls for a scent that avoids pushing any of your buttons, and this is as reassuringly, blandly nice as baby rusks or Jennifer Garner. 


The tea note is, as always, a figment of our collective imagination, placed there by the interaction between the acerbic citrus, the mild heat of the ginger, and the milk powder heart.  Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is often compared to Tea for Two, but interestingly, it is the L’Artisan Parfumeur that is bigger, bolder, and more pungently spiced.  Sometimes I wonder if Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake simply turned up at the lab that day, said ‘Christ, I don’t feel like anything too weird or heavy right now, do you?’ and then churned out a gingerbread tea scent that is delightfully non-descript and yet just happens to cure all manner of evil.   


Source of Sample:   I bought my bottle five years ago from Les Galleries Lafayette in Orleans. 


Cover Image:  Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash 

Aromatic Barbershop Independent Perfumery Masculine Sandalwood Woods

Il Dieci X by Bogue: A Review

12th January 2024


Il Dieci X by Bogue had a very short run of 50 bottles produced in 2019, so perhaps it doesn’t even make sense for me to write about it.  But I have to say, if you’re like me and curious about what a sandalwood from Antonio Gardoni might smell like, then this review might surprise you.  First, because the scent’s linearity and simplicity are not properties normally associated with Bogue’s Italian apothecary style.   Second, because if you assumed, like me, that the extreme limits placed on production pointed to the use of a very vintage Mysore santalum album oil, then you’d be, like me, dead wrong. 


Instead, Gardoni seems to have made the decision to produce a turbo-charged version of the citrusy, sour-yoghurty, and pine-like facets of Australian sandalwood (santalum spiccatum), when he then drapes over a traditional barbershop fougere structure.  I respect this decision, even if this means that I would have to morph into a 60-year-old wet shaver for Il Dieci to be to my personal taste.


Objectively speaking, though, this is one heck of a handsome masculine.  The topnotes smell like a silvery shard of wood stripped from a young tree, rubbed with citrus peel and mint for extra sting, while the basenotes smell gently powdery and clean, like the scent of your hands after washing vigorously with sandalwood soap.  And in between, there is that astringent, but not unpleasant aroma of a freshly shaved male cheek, complete with hot towels, shaving cream, and the hiss of steam. 


I think my father would have loved this.  Oh, don’t worry – he’s still with us.  But given that this doesn’t feature – to my nose anyway – anything particularly rare or exclusive, I don’t understand why Il Dieci is not.   


Source of sample:   Very kindly sent to me by Antonio Gardoni for review. 


Cover Image:  Photo by Adam Sherez on Unsplash 

Herbal Honey Independent Perfumery Review Spice Vetiver

Onda Voile d’Extrait by Vero Profumo: A Review

11th January 2024


I always thought of Onda by Vero Profumo as a difficult perfume, but now, at a distance of a decade, I understand that I was just not grown enough for it.  Though I first smelled – and liked – the parfum in Campo Marzio 70 in Rome, my mistake was ordering a sample of the eau de parfum, not knowing that the formulations were very different.  The putrid-smelling passion fruit note, the pissiness, and the fungal brown wetness of it all repulsed me.  I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing let alone loving it. 


When I referenced its urinous aspects, laterally, in a review of Maai (Bogue Profumo) for a now-defunct blog, Vero herself took offense and, as the kids say, put me on blast publicly for having a scat fetish.  (Yes, I had to look that up too.  No, I don’t recommend doing a Google image search.)


Wearing the Voile de Parfum, an extenuation of the original parfum, now, I still think that the dark, mealy honey-vetiver dankness of Onda gives a little freshly cleaned bathroom stall, but in an unctuous way that also makes me think of brown velvet and the dull, chocolate-y glow of Tiffany lamps.  There is no repulsion.  It turns out that it was me all along that was the problem, not Onda.  And when I was ready to grow the F up, Onda was there, waiting for me. 


Still, Onda is by no means for the uninitiated.  Salty, wet, and a bit furry, it is a perfume that smells of feral cats in a den hidden in the undergrowth, albeit a world removed from the agrestic ‘smells’ turned out by indie perfumers to simulate an environment or an animal that lives there.  Onda is a wild-reared, 100% grass-fed, organic experience that just happens to be chypre-shaped.  There is no sense of it having been born, just of it arriving in the world fully formed – a creature with native intelligence.    


There are no perfumes that smell like Onda, but the medicinal (and medieval) dustiness of the mace note remind me of other ‘brown-grey’, shadowy, and sepulchral things like Djedi (Guerlain) and Marescialla (Santa Maria Novella).  The ‘artisanal’ apothecary vibe reminds me a lot of both Maai and MEM (Bogue Profumo), as well as the turgid funk of several O’Driu perfumes, including Ladamo.  Still, even in this company, Onda stands out as being impenetrable and a little disturbing.  


But then, the greatest perfumes in the world all have something impenetrable or disturbing about them, don’t they?  Mitsouko is a prickly creature, sometimes smelling of peaches and wood, sometimes of formaldehyde.  The clove and honey notes in Comme des Garcons Parfum are sharp and unlovely at first, reminiscent of a sweaty crotch.  L’Air de Rien carries with it the distinct whiff of unwashed scalp.  Yet these are perfumes worth spending time with and trying to unlock, because behind that door lies greatness.  Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to only smell amazing.  For most people, perfume is an extension of their grooming ritual.  You can enjoy beauty without worrying about whether or not it has a dark side.  But if you believe that perfume is art, then it stands to reason that your perfume should transmit a message that goes above and beyond a good ‘smell’.   And love it or hate it, Onda is a great example of perfume as art. 


Source of sample:  I have owned the parfum and the Voile de Parfum of Onda since 2015.   


Cover image:  Photo by Bram Azink on Unsplash 

Ambrette Iris Leather Musk Spice Spicy Floral Suede Vetiver

Heaven Can Wait by Frederic Malle: A Review

10th January 2024


I can’t decide if Heaven Can Wait by Jean-Claude Ellena for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is really that good or if I am just happy to get some relief from the heady amber, booze, and tobacco molecules that thicken the air on the high street at Christmas.  


The juxtaposition between cold, rooty iris and warm clove is charming.  Its texture?  Also a delight.  Despite a notes list that promises a battering ram, Heaven Can Wait has all the heft of a lace handkerchief.  Initially, it reminds me of the delicate, gripe-water musks of L’Eau d’Hiver and the thin, hawthorn-ish suede of Cuir d’Ange, with a faint brush of Superstitious‘ green-copper acid over top.  The plum is more plum skin (umami, bitter) than fruit and the magnolia doesn’t add any of its usual honeyed lemon cream.   More Parisian greige than Dior’s Gris Dior itself, this is weightless elegance at its best. 


But elegance alone is not enough to sell me.  I have plenty of elegant perfumes, including Cuir d’Ange, Chanel No. 18, Iris Silver Mist, and a dab of Poivre extrait, all of which are references I would call upon to describe this scent.   What makes Heaven Can Wait special is its weirdness, which you only catch glimpses of as it rounds the corner on the drydown. 


It is down there that something extremely dry and gippy ‘catches’ at the corners of the scent, threatening to unspool the thin silk.  The freshly-poured cement aspect of cashmeran, perhaps, or the raw, parnsippy character of the orris lingering long after the topnotes have burned off.  The earthiness of the carrot seed is a contributing factor, for sure.  But I suspect that there is also a fair amount of (unlisted) benzoin here, as this is a material that smells – to me at least – like the doughy-but-dusty aroma of potato flour just as you begin to add water to it.   


To be less arcane, Heaven Can Wait kind of ends up smelling like the art room at your old secondary school, the air thick with the smell of pigments ready to be mixed into white paint, paste glue, plaster of Paris, and so on.  An alluringly odd mix of the organic and inorganic, chemical and vegetable.   I’ve seen the stupid ‘sexy’ advertizing images that were released with the perfume but I think the brand missed a trick by not leaning into its whole ‘Parisian high society lady slumming it in art school’ vibe.  


Even the clove note is a quirky.  Unsniffed, you might expect it to smell ‘red hot’ and sweaty-metallic like Eau Lente or the original Comme des Garcons EDP, or alternatively, like the frothy, frilly carnation accord from Caron’s Bellodgia.   However, the clove in Heaven Can Wait is unmistakably that of an old-fashioned clove rock.  Now, I think this is funny – borderline adorable –  though others might not, given the almost $300+ price tag.  But if you think about it, it is this clove rock note, mixed with the scent of art room pigments, that serves to keep the perfume feeling clean and modern, rather than ‘retro’.  And this is a a good thing.  After all, if we want perfumes like this to find a younger audience who might otherwise be looking at something like Angel’s Share, a clove that is candied rather than sweaty or Miss Havisham-ish is probably the right move.   


Source of sample:  A SA at House of Fraser, Belfast, was kind enough to give me a carded sample after she saw me empty half a bottle onto myself. 


Cover image:  Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash