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Areej Le Doré Exclusive Attar Collection: Thoughts and Reviews

10th January 2023

 

 

Thoughts

 

As of 2023, anyone stumbling onto Areej Le Doré for the first time might be a bit confused about what the house does and what it stands for.  After all, there are regular perfumes but also mukhallats (oils), a series of attars commissioned from traditional attar makers, and now, a series of attars that the brand has distilled or mixed itself.  A newcomer would be forgiven for wondering if Russian Adam is a perfumer, a distiller, an educator, or a patron of traditional attar wallahs.

 

In fact, he wears all of those hats, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes separately.  His evolution from the small, two-person ‘Book of Oud’ oil outfit in London (circa 2013) to the artisan oud distillery of FeelOud (circa 2015) to the luxury French-inspired, but Eastern materials-based operation of Areej Le Doré (circa 2016) is a trajectory worthy of study and admiration.

 

For the perfume enthusiast, though, it is worth taking a moment to unpack the context of any new Areej Le Doré ‘drop’.  The original spray-based perfumes released by the brand in collections of four or five perfumes each year (which normally follow the pattern of an oud, a musk, an ambergris, and a floral) were where most of the brand’s fan base came on board, and where most of the support still pools.  These annual collections see Russian Adam in full-on compositional mode, mixing his own distillations and those of others into precise formulas of bases and accords for a result that reads as perfumey as a Guerlain. 

 

But 2022 saw Russian Adam launch a passion project that was both a stylistic and commercial departure, namely, a series of traditionally distilled Indian attars (which he did not make himself but entrusted to an experienced attar distiller), quickly followed by a set of spray-based perfumes that used traditional Indian attar perfumery as a springboard into something more conventionally perfume-like.

 

The traditional Indian attars (thoughts and reviews here) were Russian Adam with his educator hat on and his perfumer hat off.  Deeply passionate about Indian attar perfumery, he wanted to give his followers (yes, I use the term ‘followers’ deliberately) a set of benchmarks for what a rose (gulab) or jasmine (motia) smells like when distilled into sandalwood in the old Indian manner.  Pure, linear, and delicate, these attars were less perfumes than they were a teaching moment.  If you smelled anything complex in them, it was more because the raw materials themselves are naturally complex than any compositional skill (since traditional attars are distilled rather than composed).  These attars were intended to serve as a primer on the building blocks of ancient Eastern perfumery for the attar-based spray perfumes to follow.  But they were also a gentle reminder to attar enthusiasts that a rose gulab produced laboriously and painstakingly in a deg and bhapka is absolutely not the same thing as the ‘rose gulab’ you can get off IndiaMart for $8 a liter.

 

The spray-based perfumes produced as part of the History of Attar collection (reviews here) were not so much an extension of the Indian attars as they were riffs on a theme.  Here, Russian Adam put his perfumer hat back on and took the more complex Indian distilled attars like shamama and majmua – involving multiple co-distillations, add-ins of choyas and macerations – as the starting point for an artistic exploration that, while still remaining true to the essence of traditional Indian perfumery, were far more in line with the perfumeyness of Areej Le Doré’s core annual collections to date.

 

It is difficult to get a read on how successful a collection is based on online critical reception alone, but if the Basenotes thread is anything to go by, the History of Attar collection was not popular with the core group of enthusiasts who onboarded the Areej Le Doré train for its Siberian Musk and Russian Oud-type output.  Which is not that surprising, really.  If your buy-in to a brand is big, rich, Arabian-style compositions, then there is bound to be some whiplash if one year your supplier brings out a product based on Indian simplicity and purity instead.  On the face of things, we all want the artisan perfumers we support to be free to pursue their artistic passions and vision.  But where the money from one collection fuels the purchase, sourcing, and commissioning of rare raw materials and distillations for the next, the stakes are high indeed.  When a product veers this close to being bespoke, you have to listen to what your customers want, or they take themselves and their wallets off to find another altar of rare essences to worship at.

 

Personally, I think the History of Attar spray-based fragrance collection was one of the brand’s best and most accomplished.  This may be partially due to the fact that I already loved and had studied traditional Indian attars, so understood what it was that Russian Adam was trying to do.  But even from the perspective of a bog-standard fragrance reviewer, Ambre de Coco, Al Majmua, and Beauty and the Beast were not only an incredibly artistic re-imagining of age-old Indian attar perfumery themes but improvements on earlier perfumes in terms of clarity and intentionality.  For example, though I liked Antiquity, I found it impressive due more to the quality of the Cambodi oud oil that had been used rather than for its composition.  Ambre de Coco, which shares something of the same nutty-smutty-smeary texture of yaks in a barn, uses shamama co-distillations of over 50-60 plant-based materials, deer musks, and cocoa to arrive at a picture of warm fur.  It is more complete, a fuller fleshing out of a similar vision, yet conveyed in a less ‘muddy’ or cluttered frame.  I believe that, in time, history will judge this collection more clear-sightedly and it will settle favorably into the deep lines of our experience with Areej Le Doré.

 

So, where does the Exclusive Attar collection fall against this backdrop?  In terms of simplicity and intent, this may be viewed as an extension of the History of Attar attar collection but nudged strongly in the direction of a mukhallat-based style of perfumery by focusing on raw materials more commonly found in Middle Eastern or Arabian perfumery, such as Taifi rose, deer musk, and ambergris.  This is Russian Adam in distiller mode[1], inching back to the interests and preferences of his core fan base but still working in a style that is as minimalistic as the Indian attars.  Wait for the next core collection if you were not a fan of the History of Attar collection or if you prefer the brand’s core collections of spray-based perfumes.  The Exclusive Attar collection is for aesthetes for whom hours of contemplation of the simple beauty of vintage musks or aged ambergris muddled together in a thimbleful of vintage sandalwood is the point of the exercise.

 

To wit, the perfumes in this collection are all rather soft and linear, relying on the inherent complexity of the raw materials to do all the heavy lifting rather than the composition itself.  In other words, if any of these ever come across as perfumey or strong, it is due to some innate characteristic of the material used rather than any conscious arrangement.   This collection would also work for people who just love natural, aged Indian sandalwood because the twenty-year-old sandalwood these attars are mixed into is insanely rich (sometimes even taking over the blend entirely).  But even if you are a big fan of Middle Eastern mukhallats and already own a few examples of the genres explored here, the reasonable price point for high quality stuff like chocolatey vintage musks, sparkling white ambergris, and aged sandalwood oil makes the Exclusive Attar collection a pretty good investment.

 

 

 

Reviews

 

Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko on Unsplash

 

Musk de Taif

 

Beautiful and moving in its simplicity – a gentle blur of Taif roses folded into cushiony musks and creamy sandalwood. It reminds me a lot of Rose TRO by Amouage, which follows a similar model (roses + creamy woods), but with the zestier, more peppery Taif rose from Saudi Arabia rather than with the Turkish rose otto used in the Amouage.  To a newcomer or to anyone with zero perfume experience at all, this will simply smell like the exotic, Eastern ideal of a rosy attar we all hold vaguely in our heads without thinking too much about it.  The aroma here is a classically pleasing one.  The bright, lemony green and black pepper nuances of the Taif rose send sparks flying against the creamy background, which in turn softens the sharp, fiery edges of the rose.  The deer musks here are more of a textural agent than a major contributor to the scent profile – they feather the outer lines of the rose and woods into one fluffy, amorphous mass.    

 

 

 

Civet Bomb

 

Photo by Timo Volz on Unsplash

 

Not only are animalic aromas are not a monolith but how you process them will vary according to individual experience with animalic smells in general.  Smells come to all of us filtered through our childhood memories, mental associations, and biases.   For example, because I worked on a farm, most deer musk smells warm and round and alive to me, even though the animal from whence it came is long dead.  Castoreum always smells dry to the point of being parched, which is why I like it less.  For a long time, I found some force-aged Hindi oils to smell like bile and billy goat, an association I had to work hard to get past.

 

But civet?  The most difficult of all for me, but of course, because these perceptions are so individual, perhaps maybe not difficult at all for someone else.  To me, civet smells really sharp, leathery, and foul, perhaps a bit floral in dilution.  The word that usually comes to mind for me when smelling civet paste is ‘unholy’.

 

But while those properties are definitely present in Civet Bomb, two things save it for me.  First, the civet paste has been co-distilled with rose, meaning that the sharpness of its funk has been softened somewhat.  Second, the co-distillation has accentuated the geraniol content of the rose, so there is this minty-camphoraceous greenness floating over the civet paste note that lifts it and freshens its breath.  Sharpness is exchanged for a lively bitterness, and this is a good trade off.

 

Be forewarned that the animalic quality of civet paste is still very much in evidence, but its inherent foulness comes more from the ‘staleness’ of well-rotted leather or wood or old radiators rather than from the anal secretion of a civet cat.  As with all of these attars, Civet Bomb ends up wrapped in a thick blanket of that buttery old sandalwood Russian Adam is using here.  In the far drydown – if attars can be said to have a proper drydown at all – the lingering civet and sandalwood aroma reminds me of the handsome maleness of Jicky or Mouchoir de Monsieur in their far reaches, albeit much simpler and less mossy-herbal.  

 

 

 

Royal Musk

 

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

 

Like Hemmingway’s writing, Royal Musk boasts a structure that is straight-forward and devoid of frills, yet still manages to wring an imagined wealth of feeling and depth from the one or two elements it contains.   Made from stirring a tincture of a deer musk pod so old and dried out that all the urinous, sharper edges have long disappeared into that old, deep, buttery Indian Government sandalwood oil that the house is using, this is the rare musk-based attar that might be described as delicious.

 

The opening notes are raisiny, with dried fruit mingling with dark chocolate (or actually cocoa) for a slight panforte impression.  There are no animalic notes whatsoever, yet you can tell that it is deer musk, mostly because of the hint of plastic around the topnotes and its subtly furry, velvety texture, but also because if you are patient and quiet enough, you can also smell a hint of booziness from the tincture.  This is really very nice – dark and sensuous, with that cocoa-and-dried-fruit aspect that makes me think of the pleasures of deep winter, like drowsing under a blanket with a cat or watching the light flicker in the coals of a dying fire.   

 

 

 

Royal Amber

 

Photo by Kendall Scott on Unsplash

 

Here, the intensely buttery, savory vintage sandalwood oil initially overwhelms the composition, for once much stronger than the element with which it is paired, here, a piece of white ambergris from the West of Ireland ground to a fine powder.  Sandalwood is usually the quiet portion of an attar, carrying the other natural essences and adding only a depth and warmth that would otherwise be missing.  Here, however, as well as in the other attars, the age of the sandalwood oil used means that its santalols have deepened into this rich, buttery, concentrated essence of wood that asserts its own character and quite forcefully too.  It smells sweet and savory at once and feels as thickly resinous as an amber accord.  As a sandalwood fan, I am not complaining.  However, part of me does wonder if using a younger, less venerable quality of sandalwood would have allowed the other materials, such as this delicate ambergris, to shine through more clearly.

 

The tart, rubbery ping of the wood esters at the tippy top of the sandalwood oil interact with something briny in the ambergris to create an opening that smells momentarily iodic, like those dark iron syrups you take to correct anemia.  Then the rich, sweet sandalwood notes settle in and start spreading their warmth.  For the longest time, I can’t smell the ambergris.  Until you take your nose and attention off it, and then return, and yes, there it is.

 

Smelling white ambergris – the oldest, most aged specimen of ambergris that has been cured for decades in the ocean and under the sun – is a notoriously peekaboo experience.  There is a faint smattering of nuances so ephemeral and fleeting that they tend to exist like flashes of light at the outer edges of your field of smell-o-vision, making you doubt your own nose.  Here, it smells subtly of sweet, sun-dried minerals and salt on female skin and old newspapers and also a little of morning breath.  The darker you go with ambergris, the marshier the mammalian funk.  In Royal Amber, the only truly animalic part of the experience is the hint of halitosis that sometimes appears and sometimes does not, so mostly what you smell here is the sweet, bright, dusty minerals, mica, and salt-encrusted skin.

 

Ambergris is not amber resin, of course, but the resinousness of that buttery sandalwood does ultimately create an amber-like impression.  The powdery salinity of the ambergris gently strafes the ‘amberiness’ of the drydown, lifting and aerating what might otherwise have been very heavy.  A note about the powderiness here, as powder is a trigger word for some.  It is subtle but perceptible, like the gilded baby powder of Shalimar’s ambery drydown, but not as dense as Teint de Neige.  The slight brininess of the ambergris also offsets the powder somewhat, leavening as deftly as it does the buttered sandalwood.

 

Overall, though, this is a subtle, soft scent that is far simpler than my description suggests.  But I do find it gentle kaleidoscope of nuances entrancing.  It is a private sort of experience on its own; as a layering agent, I imagine that it would act like a bellows on a dying fire, breathing new life and dimension into whatever scent you wear on top.  The more perfume-like equivalent to Royal Amber might be Yeti Ambergris Attar 2012 by Rising Phoenix Perfumery.

 

 

 

Zam Zam

 

Photo by Vera De on Unsplash

 

Although this attar is said to be the most complex and perfumey of the entire collection, I personally don’t perceive it as such.  Zam Zam features a fiercely medicinal saffron distillation mixed into the vintage sandalwood used throughout the collection, and oddly, I find that the two materials bring out the worst in each other.  The high-toned wood esters fizzing at the top of the sandalwood accentuate the iodine-like properties of the saffron, so what I mostly smell is a slightly pitchy, medicinal accord that is too astringent to allow me to relax into the experience.  Once the vaporousness of the topnotes settle, the sandalwood heart notes bank everything down in a fine, brown layer of woody warmth, which in turn allows the saffron to play more of its traditional ‘exoticizing’ role for the sweet, buttery amber-woods.  I don’t smell anything particularly floral.  The saffron, a ferociously strong material, is able to keep a vein of something metallic coursing through the creaminess from top to toe, like a flash of electricity.  I find it Zam Zam striking, but angular and again, simpler than its billing suggests.

 

 

 

  

[1] To be precise, Russian Adam made two of the collection’s attars (Civet Comb and Zam Zam) by distilling the materials into the sandalwood oil carrier, while the other three attars (Musk de Taif, Royal Amber, and Royal Musk) were composed by macerating materials in oil and mixing these macerations into tinctures and sandalwood oil to complete the compositions.

 

 

Source of Sample:  Sent to me for free by the brand for review. 

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash 

Amber Ambergris Animalic Aromatic Balsamic Chocolate Independent Perfumery Review Smoke Spice Tobacco Tonka

Sundowner by Tauer Perfumes: A Review

14th December 2022

 

Sundowner is interesting because, despite the much advertized chocolate and orange notes, it gets the salivary glands working without being foody.  The first blast is a foghorn of amber, spices, booze, and veiny pipe tobacco, but there is an undertow of medicinal sourness that smells like wood chips left to ferment in a rusty barrel.  The Tauer signature is strong, namely the rubbery smoke reminiscent of freshly creosote-ed fences, the brash salty amber, the piercing cinnamon, all set against a watery floral note that might be rose.  There are, at least initially, some parallels to PHI Une Rose de Kandahar, minus the fruity apricot conserve, and to the muscular expansiveness of L’Air du Desert Marocain.   

 

But the more I wear it, the more I think Sundowner does something special.  In draping the front end with all this almost fermented, grungy funk, Tauer sets the stage for the tobacco note to emerge through a new curtain rather than the usual one of dried fruit, gingerbread, and vanilla.   And, as it turns out, sour is better than sweet when it comes to carving out the true scent of tobacco leaf because Sundowner features one of the best, most true to life renditions of tobacco that I have ever smelled.  It is briny, rich, tart, and sweet all at once.  How this was accomplished, I neither know nor care.  When you find the spirit of tobacco bottled, you just buy it and let it take you on a magic carpet ride every time.

 

 

Source of Sample: I first sampled this in Bertozzini in Rome when I was back for a month in March this year. I bought a full bottle in November from ParfuMarija in Dublin.  

 

Cover Image:   Photo by Ilya Chunin on Unsplash         

Aromatic Chocolate Green Herbal Iris Leather Masculine Review Smoke Spice Spicy Floral Suede Vanilla Woods

Iris Malikhân by Maison Crivelli

22nd August 2022

 

 

Iris Malikhân is immediately two things.  It is a leather bundle charred in the grate, so smoky and bitter it short circuits to the word ‘chemical’ in my mind.   But equally, it is a thick iris-vanilla cream that fills the room with a haunting sweetness.

 

It took me ages to figure out that second is causally linked to the first.  Unwrap the scorched, blackened skin of the leather bundle, blowing on your fingers for relief, and you reveal the slightly singed, chalky orris roots that lie within, the violence of the char the catalyst to releasing those cocoa-thickened vanilla spores.

 

For six months, I have struggled mightily with the burnt part of Iris Malikhân.  I believed that it was just like any number of other sweetened iris-suede scents out there – Dior Homme Intense (Dior), Bois d’Iris (Van Cleef & Arpels), Vanille d’Iris (Ormonde Jayne) and so on – just not as good or at least more ‘on trend’ in its use of those intrusive liquid smoke aromachemicals that brands like Maison Martin Margiela, seem to be so fond of.  

 

Funnily enough, it was all those upvotes on Fragrantica for Iris Malikhân smelling like Dior Homme Intense that made me revisit the perfume and try to reframe it for myself.  Because that comparison definitely doesn’t tell the full story.  I’ve smelled Dior Homme knockoffs before (like D600 by Carner Barcelona) and there is more artistry and kink in this one’s little finger than in all of those.  The weird Pastis-like note of artemisia or mastic upfront makes this clear.

 

The moment I was able to mentally reclassify the harshness of the opening accord as part and parcel of a leather tanning process – which in and of itself involves chemicals – was when the clouds cleared and Iris Malikhân clicked for me.   Whereas before I was gritting my teeth through one part to get to the other, I now experience the fragrance as a whole, where the tanning chemical front end is key to unlocking and releasing the full fatness of that licorice crème anglaise, infusing it with a hint of anise, bitter chocolate, and woodsmoke.   If I squint, I just about get leather.   Heck, I can sometimes make out the shape of the purported orris root.  But like Dior Homme Intense, Iris Malikhân is so much more than a sum of its parts.

 

 

Source of sample:  Provided free of charge by the brand for copywriting purposes.      

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Linus Sandvide on Unsplash 

Aldehydes Ambergris Animalic Attars & CPOs Chocolate Civet Cult of Raw Materials Floral Honey Independent Perfumery Jasmine Leather Musk Oakmoss Review Tobacco Ylang ylang

Civet de Nuit by Areej Le Doré X Sultan Pasha 

28th April 2022

 

 

When reviewing a collaboration between two well-known figures in the indie-artisan scene, especially two friends with ten years of cross-pollination of ideas between them, the question becomes whether to review the fragrance for the small band of fans of people already intimately familiar with the styles of both Russian Adam and Sultan Pasha respectively, or for the broader group of people who just want to know what the perfume smells like.  Because I think the hardcore indie fans of both brands are well catered to by Basenotes threads here and here, I write this review for anyone who wandered in off the Google high street.  

 

Civet de Nuit is a retro-style floral musk featuring antique civet and a powdery oakmoss and amber drydown.  It is something of a Picasso, cycling through different color periods.  The opening is its Blue Period, a plush, anisic eddy of old-school florals inside the wistful heliotrope-and-violet powder room of L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain), albeit one reimagined through the lens of a dense indie musk – all licked skin, honeyed, damp cocoa powder.

 

In its heart, Civet de Nuit slides into a Yellow Period, dominated by an animalic acacia honey, sandalwood, and ylang combination.  Fans of Montaigne (Caron) will especially like this part.  The ylang in Civet de Nuit does not particularly of banana itself or of banana custard, but more like the animalic, fuel-like gassiness of a banana stem degrading in a brown paper bag.  It is simultaneously sharp and doughy.

 

In its very last stretches, Civet de Nuit enters its Brown Period, where the florals desiccate to a musty, leathery oakmoss (withered brown dust) that recalls the far drydown of both Bal à Versailles (Jean Desprez) and Miss Balmain (Balmain), an indeterminate ‘brown’ woodiness, glimpses here and there of amber resin, and a stale, saliva-ish accord that might be tobacco (but is rather similar to the brackish honey note present in Onda by Vero Profumo).   

 

The civet in Civet de Nuit is actually very subtle, reading more like a powdery deer musk than the jutting floral sharpness of civet paste.  It is likely that, being vintage civet, it has mellowed over time and lost all its urinousness.  Civet de Nuit is a complex fragrance that cycles through multiple stages on the skin, with the last occurring a full 24 hours after the first spray.

 

Honestly, though I think Civet de Nuit smells amazing, I find it hard to categorize because it seems never to smell the same on me twice.  I’m sure that after this review is published, I’ll wear it again and kick myself for missing something really important.  On my first test, I felt sure I had this pegged as a doughy floral honey scent, with the same burnt, yeasty cocoa effect as Sultan Pasha’s own Mielfleurs.   It smelled to me like all parts of honey production – propolis, pollen, chestnut honey, the bee’s arse, the wildflowers in the meadow, the wooden frame.  A hint of Slowdive (Hiram Green), perhaps?  Yet – and this is the head scratcher – there is no honey listed anywhere.  

 

On my first wearing, I also noticed something of the ‘corn masa’ nuance of Seville à L’Aube (L’Artisan Parfumeur) and the floral cream-of-wheat effect of Dries Van Noten (Frederic Malle), Feromone Donna (Abdes Salaam Attar), and Pheromone 4 (Agarscents Bazaar), produced by a combination of a white floral like orange blossom or jasmine with ambergris or sandalwood.  I love this malty, wheaten effect.  It smells granular and salty, like a knob of Irish butter set to melt in a bowl of hot porridge.    

 

On my second test, the powder came out to play in a way it hadn’t previously.  In particular, a thick Nag Champa indie-style musk.  I’d made sure to wear Mielfleurs (Sultan Pasha Attars) on one hand and Civet de Nuit on the other, to see if the floral honey comparison was right.  But while they certainly land in a similar place (crusty artisanal honey, left to stale pleasantly on the skin), the Mielfleurs attar was immediately smoky, thick, and chocolatey, while Civet de Nuit was a diffuse haze of floral powders and stick incense lifting off the skin.  I think I am only able to smell the sparkling lift effect of Civet de Nuit’s aldehydes when placed next to something with no aldehydes at all.  On this test, I thought Civet de Nuit felt particularly gauzy and gentle.

 

On my third test, I wore Civet de Nuit on one hand and vintage Bal à Versailles parfum on the other.  Though they are both retro civety florals, they are completely different fragrances for 80% of the ride.  Whereas Civet de Nuit had felt aldehyded and powdery on previous tests, side by side with Bal à Versailles, it becomes clear that its aldehydes are a mere spritz compared to the fierce Coca Cola-like effervescence of the Jean Desprez perfume.  While both perfumes feature civet as a headlining note, Civet de Nuit cloaks it in a velvety glaze of dark cocoa and a caramel amber sheen, weighing it down in that thick artisanal musk, and setting the temperature dial to an Evening in Paris.  By comparison, Bal à Versailles, despite the 30 years it has on Civet de Nuit, smells like that Fragonard painting of the girl on the swing with her slipper flying off – a sherbety fizz of bright florals, civet, and soap.  Interestingly, however, in the far drydown, Civet de Nuit and Bal à Versailles do seem to converge.  There is a slightly astringent, leathery ‘Miss Balmain’-esque oakmoss element to both, although at times it also smells like a dusty, rubbery myrrh.     

 

Only on my third wearing was I able to identify Civet de Nuit as having a clearly ylang character.  Ylang can be difficult to control in a fragrance because of its assertively fruity-sour nature and gassy, benzene-like properties.  One drop too many and you get something too mature, too 1980s.  Ylang can age a scent backwards like no other.  Here, it is slightly banana-ish (again, more gaseous decaying banana stem than banana custard) but quite a lot of its bitter, leathery nuances have also been left in.  Not a tropical take, therefore, but more along the lines of how Thierry Wasser used ylang in his Mitsouko reformulation of 2017-2018, lending a discreet cuir de Russie accent.  Nonetheless, the ylang does give Civet de Nuit that slightly bitter, perfumeyness that constitutes its retro floral character.  

 

Russian Adam and Sultan Pasha both have identifiable signatures that run through their work – powdery, pungent floral musks in Russian Adam’s case and funky honey-tobacco accords in Sultan Pasha’s – and both signatures are present in Civet de Nuit.  But I hadn’t realized until I tested Civet de Nuit just how similar their styles actually are.  Civet de Nuit fits seamlessly into the Sultan Pasha Attar stable beside Sohan d’Iris and Mielfleurs, both of which lean on an animalic floral honey for their pulse.  But it fits just as seamlessly into Areej Le Doré canon, right beside the musky, Nag Champa floral stylings of Koh-I-Noor and the delicious, powdery funk of War and Peace.

 

On balance, though, Civet de Nuit is far lighter and less bombastically-styled than any of these forbears on either side of the aisle. Elegant and almost soft, I highly recommend it to anyone who not only loves retro florals but the furred weight of the real musks, sandalwood, and oakmoss used in the artisanal indie perfumer scene these days.   

 

 

Source of Sample: A 10ml bottle of Civet de Nuit was sent to me free of charge by the brand for review (I paid customs). This did not affect my review.

 

Cover Image: Photo my own.  Please do not use or replicate without my permission.

 

 

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Sticky Fingers by Francesca Bianchi

19th August 2020

The more I wear Sticky Fingers by Francesca Bianchi, the more I’m convinced it is the Bengale Rouge of the Bianchi line, by which I mean a deliciously thicc n’ fuzzy oriental that’s characterful without being challenging – the much-loved woolly sweater your hand reaches for over the stark, uncompromising Ann Demeulemeester gilet you bought in a factory sale but could never figure out where the arm holes were. The thing these perfumes have in common is their sense of familiarity – they remind you (vaguely) of scents you already know and love. They wear like old friends even if you’ve just been introduced.

Just like Bengale Rouge is a more ‘people-pleasing’ option for people who would never wear Salome, Sticky Fingers is the perfect ‘out’ for people who want to own a Bianchi but find Sex and The Sea or The Lover’s Tale too heavy on the harsh orris-leather accord that has become the Bianchi calling card. That’s not to say that there’s none of Francesca in this perfume, because women with strong personalities always spill over into their art. You’d know, for example, that Sticky Fingers is a Bianchi creation as surely as you can tell Bengale Rouge is a Liz Moores one.

But Sticky Fingers is not going to ruffle any feathers. It is a cosy, feel-good diorama of Francesca Bianchi’s back catalogue with most of the hard edges sanded down and its already duvet-thick volume fluffed up by a mille-feuille of chocolatey patchouli, resins, amber, tonka bean, and vanilla.  

My own sticky fingers hover over the ‘buy’ button on Sticky Fingers mostly for the last two thirds of its life, which is when it turns into that combination of smells perfume lovers know as ‘sweater mélange’ – that sweet, lived-in aroma of a fabric like wool or coat collar or seatbelt exhaling, like a sigh, the breath of multiple perfumes last worn God knows when. Or that lovely and as-individual-as-a-fingerprint nuclear cloud that rushes up at you when you open a box of your favorite perfumes or cosmetics.

To wit, Sticky Fingers smells like the heady, third-day fug imprinted on my bathrobe after several days of wearing some of Francesca Bianchi’s other perfumes; especially The Dark Side with its honeyed resins, The Lover’s Tale with its sharp leather, and Lost in Heaven for its simultaneously urinous and sherbety civet-iris accord that is practically the Bianchi DNA. Yet Sticky Fingers is much softer and gauzier than any of these. It’s like all of these perfumes mingling together and blown in at you through an air vent from another room.  

Digging down into the detail, there are muffled echoes of something of the choco-wheat-cereal notes from indie perfumes of the last few years (like Ummagumma by Bruno Fazzolari, Café Cacao by En Voyage, or Amber Chocolate by Abdes Salaam Attar), but also a spicy tobacco gingerbread (Tan d’Epices), and a thick ‘white’ note like sandalwood creamed with benzoin (Santal Blush perhaps). I sprayed some Ta’if (Ormonde Jayne) over the tail end of Sticky Fingers once and could have sworn to the presence of smoky, caramelized marshmallow (Amber Absolute by Tom Ford). To be clear, Sticky Fingers doesn’t smell like any one of these perfumes. It’s just a delicious, jumbled up funk of rich woody or resinous orientals that have been worn at some point in the past two or three weeks, and have left an indelible, if undefined, impression.

In essence, Sticky Fingers is a patchouli perfume. But through a glass darkly. Think of the patchouli as the soloist leading the charge in a huge orchestra, drawing in supporting riffs from the strings and the bass until the music swells up from a hundred different sources, creating an incredibly rich, harmonious sound that fills all the air pockets in the room. The patchouli starts out solo, a musty, stale, and fruity rendition of pure earth. But almost immediately it calls in the high notes of the string section, in the form of those acidulated orris-leather tones of the Bianchi DNA, and to counter that, the bass tones of grainy tobacco leaf, shredded into tiny pieces and soaked in a glass of cold, floral-anisic Chinese tea. This combination of notes and ‘sounds’ has the effect of roughing up the patchouli, turning it into a hessian cloth accord of earth, stewed tea, and tobacco, back-lit by the yellow streak of ureic civet-iris that runs through Bianchi’s work like battery acid.  

This opening act is attention-catching but, focused on two or three accords that ride bullishly over everything else, it feels like we are all waiting this part out until the quieter, richer sound of the rest of the orchestra can spot an opening and rise to fill it. Eventually this happens, a whole chorus of dusty spices and sandblasted resins and micas ‘blooming’ in unison, softening the sharp edges of the Bianchi iris and blurring the outline of the patchouli. If I like the scent thus far, then I start to love it now, just as the central accord thickens up like a custard with the addition of tonka, sandalwood, vanilla, and tons of sparkly resin. This is when the perfume becomes a comforting ‘sweater mélange’.

The older the get, the more I enjoy scents that envelop me in a billowing cloud of warm, toasty goodness powered by the natural expansiveness of their resins, flowers, or sandalwood, as opposed to the fake radiance of Ambroxan or the forced volume achieved by over-spraying.  The most naturally ‘wafty’ fragrances in my arsenal are the big balsamic orientals like L’Heure Bleue parfum (Guerlain), Opus 1144 (UNUM), Bengale Rouge (Papillon), Coromandel (Chanel), Farnesiana (Caron), and Taklamakan (777 SHL), which wear like a delicious ‘gold-brown’ scent cloud that moves with me, like Pig-Pen from Peanuts. Sticky Fingers – welcome to the fold.

Source of Sample: Free with my purchase of Under My Skin from the Francesca Bianchi website.

Photo by Dmitriy Frantsev on Unsplash

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Eris Parfums Mxxx.

7th February 2020

Mxxx. by Eris Parfums is an almost embarrassingly sexual scent – the result, I imagine, of an experiment to cross breed the silvery, driftwood aroma of a far-off beach bonfire with the boudoir-ish scent of smoked butter, incense ash, and the baritone subwoofer of 88% cocoa powder.

I really liked the original Mx., which, with its creamy-spicy-woody character (à la Cadjméré by Parfumerie Generale), was a bright and casual affair. The innovation here, with Mxxx., is that Barbara Hermann and her perfumer for Eris Parfums, Antoine Lie, decided to up the stakes by adding a large dose of 7% natural ambergris tincture, cacao from Trinidad, and hyraceum tincture to the formula. The difference this has made to the bones of the perfume is striking. It’s not just that the natural ambergris has made the perfume warmer, siltier, more animalic – which it has – but that the furniture has been rearranged in a way that makes me think it’s another room entirely.

Each time I wear Mxxx., it overwrites my memory of the original a little bit more. I remember the original smelling like sandalwood, if sandalwood was made of pine, milk, hazelnuts, and chocolate oranges – sexy in a tousled, white cotton t-shirt kind of way. Mx. was firmly unisex, or just ever so slightly feminine-leaning, and clearly a perfume for daylight hours.

Mxxx., by contrast, is a smeary creature of the night and more emphatically masculine. The bright chocolate-orange sandalwood of the original has been replaced with a smoky butter note, which is held in place by an quasi-fecal cedarwood with bitter, chocolatey undertones.

In its total effect, Mxxx. still smells like sandalwood to me, but a much earthier, more aromatic version than the milky ‘saffron orange’ sweetness of the original. The butter-cacao undertone here is unctuous but roughened with a kitten’s lick of grey sea salt that catches at your throat and stops the scent from smelling overtly gourmand. The incense, subtle spices, and the musky cedarwood give the scent a dry, gauzy texture, like ash from a wood fire blown into the air.   

Animalic? Technically, yes, I suppose it is. But Mxxx. isn’t one of those fragrances that sacrifices smoothness or wearability at the altar of animalic authenticity. I think we’ve all smelled scents where castoreum smells like the pissiest, driest, most urine-soaked piece of leather imaginable, or where their natural ambergris smells alarmingly like halitosis, horse dander, and low-tide harbor. While I admire those kind of scents for pushing boundaries, and for testing our tolerance for the unabridged ‘realness’ of animal secretions at their rawest, they sure as hell can be a trial to wear.

Give me something like Mxxx. any day. It smells great, and sexy in a skin-like kind of way, but never like something that’s playing a game of chicken with me. It really isn’t any more challenging or animalic than, say, the full-bodied, all-original-woods-and-civet-intact lasciviousness of 1980s-1990s perfume, like Samsara (Guerlain) or Ubar (Amouage) or Creed’s fantastic Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie (not that Mxxx. smells like these, particularly; I’m just referring to a similar ‘generosity’ in their proportions of thick, pongy-sandalwoody-French-perfumeyness).   

The smoked butter note is, for me, the primary animalic element. It smells a bit fatty and skin-like, at first, before the smoke and ashy woods arrive to dry it all out. The smoke here is subtle, rising in curlicues up from the bottom of the scent, and sifting its way lazily through the salty, melty cocoa-butter of the topnotes. This is not the strong smoke of cade or birch tar, but rather the rubbery, sweet smoke of the tire leather in (vintage) Bvlgari Black.

It’s a genuinely sexy perfume, this minxy Mxxx., but not in an immediately obvious way – far more Hot Priest from Fleabag, let’s say, than the knowingly calculated (and boringly obvious) head-tilt of George Clooney.

Source of sample: Barbara Hermann very kindly sent me a sample to test (with no obligation to write about it), for which I am very grateful.  I believe that wearing it has increased my sexual attractiveness by about 156%, but I work with scientists, so I should say that there’s no real evidence to support that figure outside of my own imagining.

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

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DSH Perfumes Series: Gourmand

21st September 2018

 

Welcome to Part 3 (Gourmand) of my series on DSH Perfumes, the American indie perfume brand helmed by the talented and prolific Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For those of you joining me just now, let me recap a little.

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Areej Le Doré Oud Zen v. Oud Piccante v. Russian Oud

11th February 2018

 

Let’s do a little side-by-side with the Areej Le Doré ouds, shall we? It will be kind of like when Basenoters start threads pitting one fragrance against another, like prize bulls, only hopefully not as cutthroat. My reviews will be purely impressionistic – short on helpful detail and long on the images that jump to mind when I wear them, so if you’re in the market for a quick take, read on. If you’re looking for something more detailed, look anywhere else. If that’s not a fair warning, then I don’t know what is…

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Strangelove NYC: silencethesea, meltmyheart, & deadofnight

5th February 2018

 It’s difficult to figure out what Strangelove NYC is, as a brand. If you were to go by appearances alone – the fashionably minimalistic, almost text-free website, the $260 perfume necklaces with 1.25mls of perfume oil, the fact that Helena Christiansen is the brand’s spokesperson – you’d be forgiven for writing these off as perfumes for New York socialites, designed to look banging on the glossy, bronzed neck of a supermodel as she poses for a photo to go with her ITC Top Shelf interview.

 

But you’d be wrong.

 

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