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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 

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Iris Ghalia by Ensar Oud

17th August 2022

 

 

Iris Ghalia by Ensar Oud makes for an unconventional iris but a reassuringly traditional Ghaliyah*.  It takes the gin-and-ice ethereality of orris and dispassionately sets it up to either thrive or fail against an onslaught by grungiest, most uncouth cast of characters ever licked up from a zoo floor – castoreum from the anal glands of a beaver, warm-scalpy costus root, calcified urine scraped off a rock (hyraceum), and saliva-ish musk grains scooped out of the undercarriage of some poor unsuspecting Tibetan deer.  And that’s before we even talk about the marshwater skank of natural ambergris.

 

Yeah, it was never going to be a fair fight.  If you have any experience at all, then you go into Iris Ghalia knowing that it is only a matter of time before quivering silver bloom of the iris is subsumed by the powerful animalics.

 

But the perfumer has sought to stack the deck a little in favor of the iris by flanking it with a sharp, fresh accord that is one third citrus peel, one third plant juice, and one third piano rosin.  Therefore, you get that first dopamine hit of warm, plush iris (smelling divinely of antique wood furniture, old books, and closed-up mansions) and just as the sugary deer musk bubbles up to nip at its heels, your nose flashes on the shrill, metallic greenery of violet leaf and the funky cat pee fruitiness of blackcurrant leaf.  Together these notes form a citric-resinous barricade around the iris, allowing it to stand up and assert itself just a little longer.

 

Iris Ghalia also benefits by being a spray and not an attar or an oily distillate, because a note as ephemeral as iris needs its own space (think a whole castle rather than a room).  For a while, the notes teeter, achieving a precarious balance between something very classical and something very grunge-indie-artisanal.

 

Of course, in the end, it is inevitable that the warm animalic notes begin to tighten around the trembling neck of the iris like a dirty fur stole.  The musks, which start out smelling as sweet and as dusty as powdered sugar sifted over a hot wolf, grow ever staler by the minute, a time-lapse video of animal fur collapsing into decay over the course of a week.

 

All this might prove heavy going indeed were it not for the persistent effervescence of a bright Coca Cola note running like ambient noise in the background.  I suspect that some combination of the iris and the powdery musks is what’s conjuring this effect.  But at times it also smells like all those minor aspects of benzoin – brown sugar, crackling brown paper, camphor, mint gum, and yes, Coca Cola – that only ever come out when benzoin is left alone to do its own thing rather than called in to serve as a member of the fantasy amber trope or as a rough stand in for vanilla.  No benzoin listed, by the way.  Pure conjecture on my part.  

  

Anyway, no matter how it’s configured, the contrast works.  And it seems to be a series of contrasts, rather than just one thing.   Notes-wise, you have something quite funky and animalic (scalpy) – the musks, the ambergris, and so on – jutting right up against something quite ethereal or even effervescent – the iris, benzoin, the powdered sugar of the Tibetan deer musk.  But there is also a textural contrast between the greasy/leathery and the dusty/sparkling.   In terms of ‘taste’, the contrast between the intensely sugariness of the musks and the sourness of the funky, leathery castoreum in the tailbone is clearly no afterthought either.  (Flanked by the saliva-ish musks, I find the murkiness of the castoreum to be very similar to the bases of other Ensar Oud scents, most notably Chypre Sultan, but the innovation here is all in that Coca Cola effervescence).    

 

All in all, a novel idea.  The sharp, greyish, concrete-like violet leaf (think Kerbside Violet by Lush) shoring up the elegant woodiness of the iris, the powdered sugar musks, the swelling chorus of animal gland secrete, just licked skin, and that miles-deep, bubbly Coca Cola sweetness.  Could I pull it off on the regular?  Probably not – it feels too much like hard work at times, and it is incredibly heavy.  Yet I found Iris Ghalia a tremendously exciting scent to wear.

 

*Ghaliyah, meaning ‘most precious’ or ‘most fragrant’ depending on the source, is a common type of mukhallat in the Middle East.  These were once all-natural affairs containing real ambergris, musks, oud, and spices, offered primarily to royal princes and members of the ruling class.  

 

 

Source of sample: Ensar Oud very kindly sent me a sample free of charge for review purposes (I paid a small customs fee).  I freely acknowledge that I am in a privileged position, as a fragrance writer, to receive free samples of the most expensive or rarest fragrances in the world.  The hope is that I perform some sort of service for the reader by reviewing them.

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Dorothea Bartek on Unsplash 

 

Amber Animalic Iris Leather Masculine Review

Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Generale

8th August 2022

 

The secret to Cuir d’Iris is that it is simultaneously sooty and wet.  Bone-dry cedarwood and iris kick up dust eddies as stale as the air from a newly-fired radiator.  Floating in this thick miasma is the scent of the milking shed, successive days of cow juice coagulating slowly on the concrete floor, soured slightly by the sun.  Wisps of charcoal or soot add a grainy dimension that might be interpreted as smoke of some sort.

 

Add to this Pierre Guillaume’s signature amber-musk combo that smells uniquely intimate, like the sweet, yeasty folds of skin under a baby’s neck or the two-day scalp of a loved one, and you have yourself a result that stands less with the Cuir de Russies and the Knize Tens of the world, and more with the L’Air de Riens.  And yet, step back, and this is still clearly leather – freshly cured, curdy, a bit raw and thin.

 

But leather is just skin after all.  And human skin is still animal skin.  In the series ‘Hannibal’, his therapist tells him that while she admires its construction, what he is wearing is a well-constructed person suit, suggesting that his humanity is something one can slip into (or out of) as easily as one would a pair of dress pants.  Cuir d’Iris, with its organic, lived-in human-ness, is the ultimate parfum de peau.  Robots and psychopaths, take note.     

 

 

Source of sample:  I bought my own bottle of Cuir d’Iris in 2015.  Many thanks to Danny C. who safeguarded it in London for two whole years before my brother was able to go pick it up.  

 

Cover Image:  Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash  

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Hera by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

22nd May 2022

 

 

Two fragrances do not an evolution make, I’m aware.  But I can’t help feeling that Spell 125 and now Hera mark a departure for perfumer Liz Moores, away from perfumes that either reference classical styles (Dryad – a green chypre in the fashion of Vol de Nuit, Bengale Rouge – a spicier, more balsamic take on Shalimar or Emeraude) or espouse a particular trope like leathery incense (Anubis) or rose (Tobacco Rose).  Rather, Her and Spell 125 seem to be a bold move towards abstraction, wherein the perfumes are much more than a good smell – they are an expression of an idea.

 

Take the complete lack of literalism in Hera, for example.  You look at the notes and the description, and you think, ah, ok, a wedding bouquet perfume.  Lush, creamy white and yellow florals spilling over a whale-boned corset of puffy marshmallow musk.  Romantic, serene and beautiful in that conventionally feminine manner expected of brides.  But you don’t actually get any of that from Hera.

 

The first surprise is an atomic cloud of spicy violet-iris powder, a diffusive ballooning of molecules powered by what feels to me like aldehydes but is actually ambrette, a natural musk derived from the musk mallow plant.  The apple peel and grappa facets of the ambrette sharpen the violet sensation of the opening and feathers the whole thing into an ethereal mist.  But in no way does this smell pretty or candied or like face powder.  No dainty bridal pastilles here, no Siree.

 

There is also – immediately – the tarry benzene edge of Extra or First Ylang, announcing the first of the floral absolutes that don’t really smell like their usual floral representations in perfumery.  Ylang is always painted as banana-ish or custard-like, but in truth, the natural stuff (essential oil) often has this surprisingly creosote-like smokiness that most often gets smothered by perfumers with sandalwood or vanilla, in the hope of squishing it into a more banana custard shape.  Here, the ylang is uncut and unsweet.  And it definitely doesn’t smell like banana custard. 

 

The surprisingly true ylang in Hera is soon joined by a spicy Sambac jasmine – again, not the creamy, sweet white jasmine of conventional perfumery, but more the authentically leathery-sour twang of Sambac absolute.  The florals do not smell lush, sweet or traditionally feminine.  In fact, Hera does not even smell particularly floral.

 

The central surprise of Hera – its abstraction – is the way in which this tug of war between potent floral absolutes takes place inside this smoky cloud of iris-mimosa-violet powder, stacked one on top of another like a matryoshka doll.  It is an incredible feat of construction that turns florals as heavy as jasmine, orange blossom, and ylang into a fizzy, violet-colored ether.

 

With time, another layer of the matryoshka reveals itself as a murky accord that smells like tobacco but is probably ambergris.  This lends the perfume an aura of salty, powdered skin, like the glow on healthy young skin after mild exertion.  Momentarily, the interaction between the purplish dry-ice florals and damp, tobacco-ish ambergris produces an impression of Caron’s Aimez-Moi (which itself smells like a pouch of moist, tobacco leaves dotted with anise and dried violets).  But this impression is fleeting.

 

Hera feels spicy but remains utterly air-filled and diffuse, as if someone has tried and failed to plug cinnamon sticks and clove buds into an ever shifting dust cloud of wood molecules.  There is also something like myrrh, with its dusty, minty-latexy bitterness.  But Hera never gets bogged down in the thick, sweet thickness of resins, thus neatly sidestepping any effort to pigeonhole it as an incense.  Yet, the spices and the myrrh do give Hera a hint of what I imagine medieval candy might have smelled like, a sort of salty-herbal-fizzing concoction that, when ingested, banishes all evil.    

 

The perfume seems to deepen, but the overall sense of its construction – a complex whirligig of chewy florals and tobacco inside a bright, acidic haze of floral high C notes – remains consistent.  I picture Hera almost synesthesically, a violet-greige cloud of molecules that spark off each other like electricity.

 

It is an abstract experience, similar to the hard-to-define Spell 125 or even Seyrig (Bruno Fazzolari), but that’s not to say that Hera doesn’t also meet the original brief, which was to honor Liz Moores’ daughter, Jasmine, on her wedding day.  Indeed, Hera feels fizzy and bright and sensuous.  It smells optimistic.  

 

What Hera absolutely is not is a re-tread all the tired tropes of traditional bridal perfumery, so if you’re expecting something conventionally feminine or sweet, then park your expectations at the door.  Hera feels made for a lifetime of marriage – interesting, complex, wistful, packed with all the bittersweet moments of a relationships that morphs over time – rather than for one single shiny, glittery, picture-perfect day.  And in my opinion, it is all the better for it.  

 

Source of sample:  Sent free of charge to me by Liz Moores, with no expectation of a review, let alone a positive one. 

 

Cover image:  Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash  

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The Attar Guide: Floral Reviews (J-L)

8th December 2021

 

 

 

Jakarta (Abdul Karim Al Faransi/Maison Anthony Marmin)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jakarta certainly gives ManRose (Etro) a run for its money in the ‘we have kraftwerked a rose scent that men won’t have a problem wearing’ stakes (though one might argue that Le Labo Rose 90210 and Egoïste got there first).  Yet for such an essentially austere rose leather, Jakarta starts out in a surprisingly lush, velvety place.  So much so, in fact, that it evokes red rose petals strewn on white silk sheets, two glasses of Burgundy breathing on the nightstand for ‘after’. 

 

The initial bout of heavy breathing is great – bosomy and intentional.  Past the velvety opening, however, a fistful of iodine-ish saffron elbows its way in, roughing up the texture of the rose and steering it into cooler-blooded territory. Underneath the rose and saffron, the wet, brown smell of wood rot soaks through the silk sheets, adding a sense of decayed grandeur.  This all moves the dial towards masculine.

 

Midway through, a sharp metallic green accent develops – the blue-green sheen of geranium leaf perhaps – paring the rose into a shiv.  It remains rich, but it is very much now a spiky green rose rather than a lush, berried one.  Vetiver, though not terribly evident as a note in and of itself (grassy, rooty), is the main building block of the refined grey-green leather accord that steadies the base.  Men may well prefer the scent when it settles into this track, but I mourn the departure of that slightly trashy rose.

 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with such a pungent, green lavender note that you immediately see the familial relationship to pine needles, rosemary, and (to a certain degree) wild mint.  Rapidly, though, the sharpness is softened by tonka and a very natural-smelling gardenia, rich in the gouty cream cheese and coconut nuances so characteristic of this flower.

 

Towards the heart – if an attar can be said to have a heart in the traditional sense – there appears a mysterious diesel note, hot and almost rubbery in feel.  This usually signifies the presence of jasmine absolute, but none is listed in the notes, so it could be a boot polish facet of the gardenia or tuberose.

 

Sultan Pasha used Ensar Oud’s Bois De Borneo in this mukhallat, a pure Borneo oud oil that is very green and forest-like in aroma.  Jardin d’Borneo also makes use of a little-known material called katrafay.  Steam-distilled from the bark of Cedrolopsis grevei, a bush tree native to Madagascar, katrafay is an essential oil with a complex aroma profile ranging from grass to turmeric and full-fat cream.  Its main role in Jardin d’Borneo seems to be to modulate the edges of the sharper, more aromatic notes of lavender, pine, and rosemary.  It also introduces a soft, long-lasting green creamy note.

 

Intertwined with the dark green jungle feel of the mukhallat is a misting of soapy vapors from a bathroom where finely-milled French goat milk soap has just been used.  This gives rise to a scent profile not terribly far removed from those pungently green and nutty-milky florals of the 1950s, such as Dioressence.  

 

In its original form, Dioressence was a sultry, heavy green chypre famously made up of two halves – an animalic ambergris and civet base mixed with soapy green florals with a minor milky, fruity facet.  The fact that Jardin d’Borneo – a modern mukhallat – successfully recreates much of the feel of vintage Dioressence speaks to Sultan Pasha’s passion for the now mostly forgotten glories of classic perfumery, as well as to a talent for curation.

 

In style, therefore, Jardin d’Borneo is a very French affair, with a Gaugin-esque nudge towards the jungly undergrowth of the Polynesian Islands.  Jardin d’Borneo is used as a base for three other attars in Sultan Pasha’s range, specifically Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia, Tuberose and White Ginger Lily.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo opens with a rich, fruity gardenia note, which initially smells rather like fermenting green apples and wood varnish, before picking up the humus-rich soil and cream facets so revered by fragrance lovers.  Most gardenia fans know how rare it is to find a true rendition of gardenia in modern perfumery.  Because it can only be solvent-extracted rather than distilled in the regular fashion, it is not possible to produce gardenia absolute in amounts big enough to satisfy the volume demands of commercial perfumery and is therefore extremely expensive (at the time of writing, 1ml of gardenia absolute costs almost €37).  Fortunately, because artisanal mukhallat perfumery deals with tiny amounts of raw materials and small batches, it can use gardenia in more than holistic quantities. Another advantage to wearing attars and mukhallats!

 

Sultan Pasha has framed his costly gardenia enfleurage with materials that set off its beauty like a gemstone, chief among them the verdant nuttiness of vetiver and a rubbery, fuel-like tuberose.   The gardenia ‘fullness’ achieved here makes it a must-sample for all gardenia lovers – it is rich but not sickly, and creamy without any off-putting moldy cheese notes.  Texturally, it tends towards the oiliness of solvent.  The gardenia accord is set atop the Jardin d’Borneo fougère base, a fertile tangle of vetiver root, oud from the island of Borneo (which produces oud oil with a very clean, green, almost minty profile), lavender, galbanum, and tonka bean.

 

The entire Jardin d’Borneo series is excellent, but it is Jardin d’Borneo Gardenia that best exemplifies the advantage of attars or mukhallats over Western-style eau de parfums or spray perfumes in general – namely the ability to use and showcase rare or costly raw materials, such as gardenia, jasmine, oud oil, ambergris, and deer musk, that cannot be used in modern commercial perfumery for reasons of cost or scalability. 

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

White floral haters need not fear – Jardin d’Borneo Tuberose  is not a Fracas-style tuberose, with enough butter and sugar to set your teeth on edge.  Rather, it combines a phenomenally bitter, camphoraceous tuberose absolute with the jungly notes of the rare Bois de Borneo oud from Ensar Oud and gives it a five o’ clock shadow with a needle prick’s worth of skunk.

 

Yes, you read that correctly – skunk.  At a time when modern niche perfumers seem to be in a perpetual race to out-skank each other in their use of castoreum, musk, and civet, Sultan Pasha has upped the ante by using a minute amount of perhaps one of the stinkiest secretions of all – the foul stench of Pepe Le Pew.  It is a bold move but, honestly, the note has been used with such subtlety that it is more of an undercurrent than a groundswell.   

 

The tuberose absolute is earthy, fungal, and almost moldy in aroma profile, which adds a morose ‘Morrisey-esque’ cast to proceedings.  Misanthropes and Heathcliff types wandering the moors at night, hold tight because your soul mate attar has been revealed.  

 

But like a sulky Goth teenager being handed a puppy, the mukhallat eventually shrugs off the dark, camphoraceous, and bitter elements of the tuberose absolute to reveal a shy smile of creamy gardenia, lush white tuberose petals, and slightly milky-fruity elements – the original Jardin d’Borneo attar used in the base.  In short, Jardin d’Borneo starts off on the Yorkshire moors and winds up in the lush, tropical jungles of Polynesia.  Not a bad trajectory at all.

 

 

 

Jardin d’Borneo White Ginger Lily (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

By far my favorite of the Jardin d’Borneo series, the White Ginger Lily variant takes a rough, minty Sambac jasmine and floats it in a pool of crisp aqueous notes (white ginger lily and lotus), creating a floral accord that is both mouth-wateringly rich and translucent.  

 

White ginger lily has a vein of piquant spice anchoring its meaty, salty creaminess, a characteristic that pairs very well with the pelvic thrust of the Sambac jasmine.  The topnotes are intoxicating – an exotic mix of the fleshy floral warmth of a living flower and the green chill of flowers taken from a florist’s fridge.

 

These florals hover weightlessly over the fougère base accord used in all the Jardin d’Borneo variants, ripe with the rubbery bleu cheese tones of gardenia and rugged with coumarin, lavender, vetiver, oud, and civet.  The steamy jungle character of the base gains its sharp, minty freshness from the Borneo-style oud used here, as well as its vaporous, rainforest-like juiciness.

 

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar (Agarscents Bazaar)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Jardin de Shalimar is a stinky, old-fashioned floral musk that will strike a chord for lovers of Joy (Patou), Ubar (Amouage), and My Sin (Lanvin).  Although an unofficial notes list found on Fragrantica states that it contains two different types of rose, jasmine, orris, violet, narcissus, lotus, saffron, and bakula (fragrant, honeyed flowers from the Garland Tree native to Western India), the real notes list is clearly far more complex.

 

Jardin de Shalimar begins with a slightly abstract explosion of flowers with a texture so murky that it is difficult to discern individual notes.  Certainly, there is rose and jasmine, but also, I think, some champaca, magnolia, and kewra.  The feel is not French, but nor is it Middle-Eastern.  In fact, everything about this sumptuous floral reads as Indian.  If I were to smell this blind, I would swear that this is a traditional Indian attar like hina musk or shamama.

 

Jardin de Shalimar opens with the scent of flowers, herbs, and aromatics caught in the web of a traditional Indian amber, tinged with the catch-in-your-throat iodine quality of saffron.  These Indian ambers are never sweet, vanillic, or resinous in the Arabic mold; instead, they are herbal and astringent.  The saffron and roses, particularly prominent in the opening phase, give the blend a spicy, resinous feel.

 

Later, the sweet, piercing tones of the lotus flower emerge, and on its heels, the musky apple peel of champaca flower and the high-pitched fruitiness of kewra.  These materials may not have been used in the composition at all, but the total effect is so close to my experience with traditional Indian attars that I presume that more Indian ingredients have been used than are listed.  The spicy, rich, and dense (but un-sweet) wave of florals is blanketed by an animalic surround sound system featuring ambergris, Kasturi deer musk, and agarwood.  The agarwood is only present, to my nose, in tiny amounts, but it is enough to mimics the bitter-dirty-smoky effect of Atlas cedarwood.

 

Together, these materials give the scent a musky texture that is directly reminiscent of animalic florals such as Joy and Ubar.  It is as rich and as warm as a vintage fur coat, and just as naughty.  Jardin de Shalimar certainly will not be anything new to people familiar with complex Indian floral attars, but for those who mourn the passing of an age where floral perfumes contained nitro musks or real animalics, then Jardin de Shalimar might provide a secret little thrill.

 

 

 

Jareth (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Ethereal lilac fougere [sic] and gleaming leather with ti leaf, tonka absolute, white musk, and oudh. 

 

 

Jareth is probably the first BPAL that I would recommend to anyone skeptical of BPAL and its 105,000 perfume-strong catalog, because it is living proof that diamonds can and do exist under a slump heap of coal.  Featuring a cluster of damp, dewy lilacs and citrusy, green tea notes over a gentle leather accord, Jareth is technically a floral fougère.  However, nothing about it reads as old-fashioned or masculine or cologne-ish.

 

Its leather accord is one of my favorite kinds – buttery, soft, and creamy, with tons of vanilla, tonka bean, and velvety white musks turning the whole thing into a freshly-laundered plush toy.  There is a violet-like tinge to the lilacs that, combined with the cedarwood and suede, calls to mind a glorious mash-up of several Serge Lutens fragrances, most notably Bois de Violette and Boxeuses.

 

The oud note emits no exotic sound but, rather, a pale cedarwood accent that adds gravitas to the musky vanilla drydown.  The floral tea and citrus notes shimmer brightly throughout, keeping the general tone of the scent light and rendering it suitable for wear even during the stickiest of weather.  A creamy, purple-tinged floral fougère softened with buttery musks and leather, Jareth is an unqualified success.  

 

 

 

Jasmina (April Aromatics)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmina in oil format presents in much the same way as Jasmina in eau de parfum.  This is probably due to the fact that the original composition itself is rather straight-forward, relying on its top-notch naturals to do all the talking.  The notes list reads as jasmine, ylang, and grapefruit, and indeed, that is really what you get.  But thanks to the complexity and ‘ripeness’ of the raw materials used, the perfume never comes off as shallow.

 

The jasmine oil, in particular, is stunning.  Its rubbery, inky purpleness is almost something you can taste at the back of your tongue.  The jasmine is natural and untrimmed – the full bush, so to speak – so in addition to the velvety lushness of the flower, we also get hints of gasoline, rubber tubing, dirt, mint, leather, and melting plastic.  Lovers of natural jasmine will immediately (and correctly) rank this up there with the other great natural jasmines of the world, including Tawaf from La Via del Profumo and Jasmin T from Bruno Acampora.

 

The differences between the oil and eau de parfum are slight but emerge more distinctly when worn side by side.  The eau de parfum accentuates the grapefruit note, its urinous character adding even more raunch to the dirty, indolic jasmine. The oil, on the other hand, is grapefruit-neutral.  The effect of the grapefruit-jasmine pairing in the eau de parfum runs close to the powdered, heady jasmine-civet combination in Joy (Patou).  Because the citrus note is sharply emphasized in the eau de parfum, its texture is more effervescent. The oil is more subdued in comparison.

 

On balance, the eau de parfum version is dirtier and lustier.  The eau de parfum starts off brighter and more urinous than the oil, but its jasmine component is fleshier and therefore sexier.  The eau de parfum is a jasmine-forward floral with a rich, perfumey backdrop, while the oil is a jasmine soliflore that, after a petrol-and-rubber opening (borrowed from the ylang), settles into something very pristine and freshly-scrubbed.  Choose, therefore, according to how you take your jasmine.

 

 

 

Jasmine (Amouage)

Type: traditional distilled attar

 

 

Amouage’s Jasmine attar showcases the simple but affecting beauty of Sambac jasmine, with its fresh, green, and slightly minty or camphoraceous character.  It is sweet, yes, but not tooth-achingly so, and mercifully avoids the unpleasantly saccharine or bubblegum nuances of other jasmine-based attars.  Its freshness lends a subtle charm, and it is easy to be beguiled, even if you are not a jasmine fiend.

 

A mild criticism is that Jasmine does not sustain this rich greenness for long and soon devolves into a faintly musky, soapy white floral accord that feels a little too clean and generic.  However, if you are a fan of Sambac jasmine soliflores such as Jasmin Full by Montale, then you owe it to yourself to track this down.  It is also useful as a baseline for establishing what natural jasmine smells like.

 

 

 

Jasmin T (Bruno Acampora)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Jasmin T opens with a punch of raw, indolic jasmine that threatens to set your nose hairs alight.  It is powerful and bold, with an undertone of something feral, like flower petals putrefying in vase water.  This element of rot adds to the authenticity of the jasmine.  The smells of nature, when presented in their uncut form, are rarely pretty in a conventional sense.

 

Soon after the violent unfurling of the jasmine, a potent ylang slides into its DMs to accentuate its benzyl acetate qualities.  Benzyl acetate is the naturally-occurring aromachemical in both ylang and jasmine responsible for that grapey-fuel-banana topnote.  It smells like the gasses pouring off a rapidly decomposing banana in a brown paper bag, combined with the green, animalic scent of banana stem.  It also has hallucinogenic properties, similar to the effect of breathing in paint solvent.  Initially, the combination of the jasmine and ylang is so vaporous that you feel it might ignite if you struck a match.

 

Gradually, however, green notes move in to aerate the pungent ripeness.  These notes are stemmy and aqueous, possessed of a vegetal bitterness that cuts through the compressed floral accords, lifting and separately them.  This intervention calms the jasmine and renders it quietly sleek and lush, a tamed version of the panther that came before. The drydown smells musky in an indeterminate manner, perhaps a natural extension of natural jasmine oil, but also possibly a reformulation. (My current bottle of Jasmin T is heavier on the soapy white musk basenotes than previous iterations). 

 

Overall, Jasmin T presents a raw, true picture of jasmine.  It is a powerful smell rather than a pretty one.  The perfume equivalent of eating clean food, it is hard to imagine going back to commercial representations of jasmine after smelling this tour de force.  

 

 

 

Junos (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Junos headlines with an orris root note of stunning beauty.  It smells raw, rooty, and exactly like the color silver.  High-pitched and almost ureic in its intensity, the animalic, ‘wet newspaper’ aspects of iris are further emphasized with pepper, vetiver, and a licorice-root myrrh.  Everything here sings in the same high, metallic-peppery-rooty register.  It is both weird and weirdly beautiful.

 

Despite the essential delicacy of the material, a pure iris note can be as powerful as a train whistle – just smell Iris Silver Mist to grasp its sinister intensity.  The cold, metallic earthiness of the iris is eventually tempered somewhat by a sweet frangipani and the powdery cinnamon of benzoin, but its silvery rootiness persists in floating high above all the other notes.

 

The listed oud does not register at all on my skin, nor does the patchouli beyond a certain brown leafiness flitting around the edges of that remarkable iris.  With an iris so pure and evilly intense, they are beside the point anyway.  Though quite a deal ‘rougher’ around the edges than any of the Sultan Pasha takes on this noble rhizome, Junos is still a must-try for the truly hardcore orris lovers out there.  

 

 

Juriah (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: Mukhallat

 

Juriah is a rose-oud mukhallat so thick and so ropey that wearing it feels like placing your hands flat against a man’s densely-muscled chest and feeling the tectonic plates of muscle and tendon shift and grind under the smooth skin.  There is not an inch of fat on this thing.  Just the perfect dance between a Hindi oud oil that feels like it has just been milked from an animal’s bile duct – biting, feral, but rich and slippery – and the heady bloom of the finest Taifi rose oil, with its green, peppered-steak fizz.

 

The aged Hindi oud, in combination with the more mellow, fruity tones of the Cambodi oud and a silty ambergris give the mukhallat a salty, feline purr, like the sensation of wearing a vintage fur over bare skin.  The lush, honeyed drip-drip-drip of Turkish rose smooths over the edges a bit, but really, you are never allowed to take your eyes off that central tandem of Taifi rose and oud.

 

The musky leather drydown – some feature of the osmanthus perhaps – is a delight, as are the small floral and incensey touches that serve to soften the arrogant thrust of the rose and oud, without taking anything away from their grandeur.  You can tell that synthetic musks have been added to roll the whole thundering wagon forward on the tracks, but their effect is not to broadcast or project (the rose and oud are themselves immensely strong) but rather to feather out any hard edges into a soft, musky haze.  This has the effect of making the mukhallat more ambiguous in shape, more abstract.

 

Sultan Pasha himself calls Juriah his magnum opus, and I agree, except to add that perhaps Juriah shares that particular throne with the incredible Aurum D’Angkhor.   Juriah is the archetypal rose-oud mukhallat but built with the finest raw materials in the world.  Clearly a manifesto of sorts. 

 

 

 

Karnal Flower for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

 

If you did not already own Carnal Flower – even a wee drip of it – you might be forgiven for believing that this is a reasonable substitute.  But a side-by-side wearing reveals all the usual problems inherent to dupes, namely too basic a structure, an inability to capture more complex or unusual notes, and a thinner body.

 

Karnal Flower makes a lunge for the throat with a bouquet of creamy, coconutty tuberose, but in doing so entirely misses what makes the original so special, which is the bitter green bite of the eucalyptus.  The original smells memorably of a privet hedge.  The dupe, not so much. 

 

Carnal Flower is almost transcendent in its stemmy green beauty – botanical, naturalistic, and emotive.  Its notes are ripped from nature.  The dupe is your bog standard tuberose with a semi-tropical, tinned fruit edge that recalls the solar cheerfulness of monoï.   Furthermore, in its simple, creamy prettiness, the tuberose note nudges the dupe into Michael by Michael Kors territory.  Michael is a beautiful perfume in its own right, but its beauty is conventional and a little staid.  The dupe therefore misses all the verdant excitement of the original.

 

 

 

Kinmokusei (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Real osmanthus absolute, when smelled in isolation of anything else, is ridiculously pungent at first, with a cheesy, overripe note that runs close to the funk of a Hindi oud oil, minus the woodiness.  Kinmokusei, which contains a large amount of osmanthus absolute, unfolds in much the same way.  The barnyard facets of the osmanthus are up front here, underlined by a dark Kasturi musk.  This has the effect of rendering the flower animal.

 

The apricot and leather notes so characteristic of osmanthus begin to emerge from the funk, and are immediately enhanced by the fruity, almost jammy undertones of the Trat oud oil.  Matching the funk of the flower with the funk of the musk is clever, as is matching the fruitiness of the flower with the fruitiness of a particularly fruity type of oud oil.  Like all great cheese and wine pairings, one taste enhances the other.  In Kinmokusei, everything pulls in the same direction, all with the intent of emphasizing the naturally rich ‘roundness’ of osmanthus.

 

After a few hours, there appears a doughy whiff of doll’s head rubber, which combines with the osmanthus to produce a cherry cough medicine note.  A similar medicinal syrup nuance is present in Diptyque’s Kimonanthe, so one might reasonably assume that this is a feature of osmanthus, or perhaps more accurately, of a Japanese-styled treatment of osmanthus.  The cherry cough drop accord eventually disappears into a most pleasant ‘wheat porridge’ base that signals the presence of jasmine and sandalwood – half wood pulp, half granola.

 

 

 

Lady Portraits for Women (Perfume Parlour)

Type: dupe, concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Dupe for: Parfums Editions de Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

 

The dupe opens with an objectionably sweaty mélange of eucalyptus, fir balsam, mint, and pine, all cruelly obscuring a shy rose.  It veers close to disgusting.  Not only do the opening notes rehash the original’s opening notes in the most crude and ham-fisted manner possible, but it does so on the cheap.  The balance between the camphoraceous, the rosy, and the earthy is completely out of whack.  The original, while definitely camphoraceous, never plunges so completely into bitter-minty balsam like the dupe does.

 

Eventually, this unhappy marriage of sweat, fir balsam, and eucalyptus dies back a little, making it smell less like the sick room of someone with a personal hygiene problem and more like something one might eventually be able to wear without grimacing.  The rose manages to push through the veil of bilious green, revealing itself to be the same jammy Turkish rose note used in the original.  However, while this nudges the dupe closer to the original, the vital component of smoky incense is missing.

 

The dupe doesn’t even come close to aping the bold beauty of the original.  Portrait of a Lady is a demanding, often cantankerous perfume, but its balance between the chilly raspberry, rose, biting camphor, and earthy patchouli is perfectly judged.  Not so the dupe, which is unbalanced to the point of ugliness.

 

The original is a full-bodied creature to whom one must commit body and soul before donning, like a pair of red vinyl stripper heels.  But if you are going to commit, even if it is only one or two days out of the year, then make sure that you don’t cheat yourself out of the original.  Beg, borrow, or steal a sample, and save it for those rare days when only Portrait of a Lady will do.

 

 

 

La Luna (Sultan Pasha Attars)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Luna opens with a benzene-pumped white floral note that could be anything really – tuberose, gardenia, or orange flower – but reads to my nose as predominantly ylang ylang.  Texturally, there is an interesting bitter greenness that slices through the hot rubber, lending relief.  Once the pungency of the pure floral absolutes has abated somewhat, the primary floral note emerges as jasmine – a leathery Arabian sambac rather than the sweet, purplish Grandiflora variant.

 

The floral panoply becomes smokier as time wears on, like a well-heeled woman who has puffed her way through a pack of Marlboro while wearing a fur coat drenched in Amarige.  Despite those references, La Luna is, on balance, a masculine white floral.  Any man who can wear the Jardin series or Al Hareem Blanc could also pull this off.  In temperament, it is somewhat analogous to Jasmin et Cigarette (État Libre d’Orange), albeit less ashy and with a richer white floral support in the place of its singular, minty jasmine.

 

 

 

Lamia (BPAL)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

Company description: Deadly elegance: pale orchid, lily of the valley, vanilla amber, black currant, white peach, champaca, coconut, honeysuckle, Arabian myrrh, Burmese vetiver, and oude [sic].

 

 

Lamia opens with a burst of creamy tropical flowers – most likely tiaré – with an underbelly of tinned peach slices and coconut custard.  The headiness of the florals is underscored by a rich orchid-vanilla accord, but also lightened with a touch of something stemmy and watery-green (perhaps muguet).  An assertive vetiver note contributes a cool, rooty grassiness.  A pleasantly muted opening, therefore, to what could have otherwise been a sun-tan-and-flip-flops kind of thing.

 

Further on, a rubbery, juicy peach skin facet appears, swelling and rubbing up against the florals to flesh out the center.  The faintly sour woods and resins in the base darken the peach, causing it to dry out into dusty fruit leather.  This smells like dried apricots in a brown paper bag, which in turn makes me think of osmanthus.

 

There is no obvious oud note here, so those with nervous dispositions need not fear.  Bear in mind that oud and osmanthus in their purest forms do share a ripe, almost cheesey fruitiness that tilts towards leather and goat curd.  However, the ‘cheese’ connection does not seem to have been played up enormously here, so all one really smells is peach or apricot skin that has started to dry and curl at the edges.  In the drydown, a whiff of smoked coconut husk appears.  It may even be an attempt at gardenia.

 

In short, Lamia is an unusually nuanced take on the tropical BWF (Big White Floral) genre, its accords of fruit rot, rubber, and smoke more suggestive of peach skin and leather than of suntan or monoï oil.  

 

 

 

La Peregrina (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

La Peregrina pairs the lush sweetness of tuberose with the earthiness of oud, deer musk, and sandalwood.  Three elements rise to the nose right away – the sweetness of a pure tuberose ruh, the ambery heft of labdanum resin, and the mossy tones of the oud-musk tandem.  The message it communicates is less flower than a wad of salted butter caramel rubbed into the wet, hummus-rich soil of a tropical rainforest.  It smells magnificently fertile.

 

The earthy ‘brownness’ of three different kinds of oud tamps down bolshy honk of the tuberose, while a shot of styrax resin teases out the rubbery smokiness inherent to the flower.  This is a tuberose that men could pull off without much difficulty.  The buttery facets of tuberose are matched and then exaggerated by a toffee-ish labdanum.  La Peregrina’s sweet-and-salty caramel glaze is dotted with wisps of smoke and white flower petals, which provide for a lighter final flourish, or at least one that won’t choke you out entirely.

 

 

 

Lavana (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lavana opens with a citrusy lilt – grapefruit or lime perhaps – that evokes a face turned to the sun.  When a fresh, peachy osmanthus note merges with the citrus notes, I am (quite happily) reminded of the cheap and cheerful body sprays I would take with me on holidays to Greece as a teenager.  

 

Ambergris is present in this blend, but it is most likely a dab of the white stuff that has little scent of its own beyond a salty, shimmering sparkle that extends and magnifies the other materials until they glow like hot rocks in the sun.  There is certainly none of the earthy funk of marine silt or horse stalls that I associate with darker, more pungent grades of ambergris.

 

Oud? Patchouli?  I smell neither, but that is fine with me.  Nothing dark can spoil the sunny, peachy radiance of this blend.  There is a touch of rubbery ylang, but ylang is tropical and therefore allowed with us on the beach.  Pass the sun cream, please! 

 

 

 

Lissome (Mellifluence)

Type: mukhallat

 

 

Lissome’s opening is pure floral delight – thousands of bright frangipani petals, with their juicy peach scent, tumbling over jasmine, rose, and violet for an effect that feels you are being showered with flowers at an elaborate Indian wedding.  It is bright, but soft and creamy.

 

There is a slightly musky edge to the flowers as it dries down, thanks to the Indian ambrette seed.  The ambrette also adds a note of green apple peel that jives well with the tender, apricotty feel of the frangipani.  Purely feminine, Lissome is creamy enough to provide comfort in winter but fruity enough to refresh when the barometer rises.  In overall tone and effect, it reminds me slightly of Ormonde Jayne’s Frangipani, only slightly less dewy.

 

 

 

lostinflowers (Strangelove NYC)

Type: concentrated perfume oil

 

 

lostinflowers smells like a carpet of exotic flowers smeared over the floor of a cow barn.  It smells entirely Indian to my nose, like one of those traditional Indian attars of champaca flower, hina (henna), and gardenia, where the flowers smell at first like leather or fuel before they loosen up and their more floral attributes begin to emerge.

 

lostinflowers is slightly dirty in feel, although it is difficult to tell if that it is because of the hint of oud or because Indian attars can be quite pungent in and of themselves.  It is equal parts ‘sweaty sex on a bed of matted flower petals’ and ‘the buttery purity of magnolia’.  It smells of honey, pollen, fruit, indole, and just enough inner thigh to pin your ears back.

 

The red champaca oil (known as joy oil in India) leads the charge, imbuing the scent with a rich, juicy floral note that will feel exotic to most Western noses.  There’s a musky, body odor-ish shadow to champaca lurking behind its juicy fruit exterior, further emphasized by a dry, throaty saffron and henna.

 

The real star in lostinflowers is not the champaca, however.  It is the gardenia.  A rare (and probably ruinously expensive) gardenia enfleurage deserves star billing for this scent, because its saline, bleu-cheese creaminess is ultimately what expands to saturate the air until it is practically all you smell.  Salty, pungent flowers dissolving in a pool of warm, melted butter.

 

lostinflowers is an intense but beautiful experience that pushes a range of tropical or semi-tropical flowers through an Indian attar sieve. It is not particularly beginner-friendly, but for those who love the rudeness and weirdness and resolute non-perfumey-ness of strong floral absolutes, it is a must-smell.

 

 

 

 

About Me:  A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes.  (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world).  Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery.   Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud.  But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay.  In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.

 

Source of samples: I purchased samples from Perfume Parlour, Bruno Acampora, Amouage, Maison Anthony Marmin, Agarscents Bazaar, BPAL, and Mellifluence. The samples from Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge by the brand.  My sample of lostinflowers came from Luckyscent as part of a paid copywriting job.  

 

 

Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized.  But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button.  Thank you! 

 

Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.

Hay Iris Leather Musk Patchouli Review Spicy Floral Violet

Le Labo Iris 39: A Review (Sort of)

15th October 2021

 

I have yet to come across a review that captures what Le Labo Iris 39 smells like to me, so I’m going to take a run at it myself.  Despite the advertised violets and iris, Iris 39 doesn’t smell sunlit, or powdery, or even floral in the traditional sense.  To me, it smells utterly abstract, a nigh-on impenetrable wedge of industrial cement and toner ink mixed with mud-caked flower bulbs, fuzzed up at the edges with a carbolic soap (patchouli-musk) accord that wears on you like a rain-soaked wool sweater.

 

I’ve noticed that the earlier Le Labo perfumes – Patchouli 24, Oud 27, Santal 33, Iris 39 – all feature this interesting tension between something natural-smelling and something ‘pleasantly chemical’, i.e., the vaporous head-spin of industrial materials like hot glue, ink, magazine paper, or burning rubber.  Perhaps this is what makes these perfumes so distinctive.  Later Le Labo output (The Noir 29, Tonka 25, Another 13) shoot for the same complexity but lean too hard on harsh woody ambers, Ambroxan, etc., thereby landing on the ‘bad chemical’ mat rather than the ‘good chemical’ one.  You know what I mean, right? A good chemical smell to me is the honest honk of fresh newspaper ink or spilled petrol or the school supply closet.  A million miles away from those powerful woody ambers like Amber Extreme or Norlimbanol that are (over) used in perfumery these days to make a scent enormously radiant or long-lasting.

 

So there you have it. Part of Iris 39 that makes me feel like a hippy who’s spent the afternoon planting out tubers in a wet garden, while the other makes me feel like I’m getting a semi-high from hanging around the office printer while they’re changing the cartridges.  Mostly, though, I think it’s just one of those thick, murky ‘soups’ of a perfume that are vaguely resistant to analysis, like Mitsouko (Guerlain) or Kintsugi (Masque Milano) – perfumes that are simultaneously harsh and organic.  Wearing Iris 39 gives me a physical jolt akin to being so hungry for the first bite of something that, even before it’s fully tasted, your mouth waters so suddenly it’s almost painful. 

 

Source of sample: Various samples, decants, and finally a full bottle, all of which I purchased myself.

 

Image:    Photo by Darklabs India on Unsplash  

 

    

Amber Animalic Fruity Scents Green Independent Perfumery Iris Leather Review Ylang ylang

Luxe, Calme, Volupté by Francesca Bianchi

16th September 2021

I was going to start this review by saying that despite having studied French literature in college, my only experience with Baudelaire was with his poem Les Fleurs du Mal, but then I Googled to see where the phrase Luxe, Calme, et Volupté was from and saw that it’s actually from Les Fleurs du Mal, so not only is my Arts degree as useless as everyone said it would be but obviously Baudelaire’s chef d’oeuvre had slipped in one ear and out the next without encountering any resistance in between.

Anyway, having now smelled Luxe, Calme, Volupté by Francesca Bianchi, I’m relatively confident that it’s named not for anything from the poem but for the Matisse painting that takes one of its lines for its name. If you can’t be bothered to look the painting up, just know that it features several supine female figures in beside a river, painted in a style that would later become known as fauvism – daubs of unnatural colours laid down in dots and dashes that makes the figures appear almost normal (representative of real figures) from afar but disjointed and unrecognizable up close.

The perfume resembles the painting a bit in that it’s a very effective mixture of the soft and the harsh, or maybe more accurately, the fine and the gaudy. I feel like it’s obligatory, when reviewing a Francesca Bianchi fragrance, to mention the animalic, mica-dry iris accord that runs through her work like a recessive gene. But I’m thinking now that that’s an over simplification of what she actually does. Because what really strikes me about Luxe, Calme, Volupté is its balancing act between the slutty gaudiness of tropical fruit-and-ylang notes and the stern ashiness of the galbanum. It must have been a tough one to get right.

At first, it smells bitter and dusty, the galbanum and iris drawing a brief Heure Exquise-shaped hole in the air, but shot through with a neon orange ribbon of something luridly fruity, almost overblown, like a papaya or passionfruit. Galbanum, when it has shaken off all its wet, green bitterness, withers to a nubbin of ash. So Luxe, Calme, Volupté smells rather like someone spilled a can of Lilt on the ashes of a burned-out fire a week ago and it’s now living a second life as a string of fruit leather. This ashy-fruit-amber thing is something I’ve smelled before, namely in Nur by SoOud, which was later recycled into Soleil de Jeddah by SHL 777, neither of which were as half as good as this.

But here’s the fauvism of it all – from a distance of, say, a foot or two, the perfume just smells like a tropical fruit amber sliced through with sharp, rustling greenery. It’s loud, it’s effective, and most of all, it’s cohesive. Up close, however, the gaudy daubs of colour break apart into particles of ash, leather, and vetiver, too abstract for you to really say what you’re smelling apart from something intensely, intoxicatingly fragrant.

In a way, Luxe, Calme, Volupté is a mash-up of Lost in Heaven (powdery, civety flowers) and The Black Knight (tangy, mineral-rich leather) but with its parts rearranged and stuck back together with gobs of galbanum, a resin that can’t seem to decide whether it’s a cool, dewy blade of grass or a dry green leather bitch. The best is, in my opinion, yet to come, however, because it all dries down into a wierdly addictive basenote that I can only describe as bowl of creamy banana custard made by someone with a a smoker’s cough. For me, this is the best thing Francesca Bianchi has made since Under My Skin.

Source of sample: PR sample sent by Francesca Bianchi.

Cover Image: Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Ambrette Animalic Independent Perfumery Iris Leather Musk Review Suede

Flesh by Pekji

29th July 2021

I blame my workload for a lot of life stuff that just doesn’t get done, including, inter alia, regular exercise, parenting that extends to more than rubbing their little heads fondly as I pass them in the corridor, emailing people back, and, at the bottom of the list, reviewing perfume. But in the case of the new Pekji samples, which – full disclaimer – were sent to me by Omer Pekji, who also happens to be a personal friend, I have to admit it was less my workload and more my fear of trying anything that’s even a little out there, artistically-speaking, that kept these samples boxed up and unsniffed in my drawer for the past three months.

I mean, come on. It’s Omer Pekji. The chances of there being samples in there that smell like petrol mixed with jasmine (Eau Mer), incense smeared in sheep dung (Holy Shit), or horse blankets soaked in urine (Zeybek) rubbing shoulders with more safe-for-life options like exotic roses (Ruh) or cozy ambers (Battaniye) are going to be high. And since I now spend the first eight hours of the day unscented, the choice of what to wear in the evening becomes a little more high stakes. It’s what I’m stuck with all night.

A quick glance at the notes for Flesh – ambrette, iris, musks – makes me feel that this would be a safe first choice. A powdery skin scent akin to Blanc Poudre (Heeley), perhaps, or one of those metallic, crisp musks that flit between clean and not-so-clean without raising eyebrows. Holy cow was I wrong.

The first sniff is misleadingly angelic. A nuclear mushroom cloud of iris and ambrette seed – conveying messages of ice-cold vodka, steel, potatoes, toner fluid, and grey suede – blooms immediately to the nose. It smells almost unbearably pure and high-pitched, walking the line between ‘expensive naturals’ and ‘factory-strength chemicals’ so expertly that I’m not sure which one I’m smelling. It’s big and rough but pure and beautiful. It is at this point that I decide that Flesh is the bathroom gin version of Iris Silver Mist (Serge Lutens).

But hold up. Because like a bad trip, Flesh goes to weird places very quickly. In the space of five minutes, it loses the high-bred pearlescent glow of the iris, and starts to smell more like a soft furnishings factory when they’re soldering the non-slip plastic backing onto the carpets. The reek of hot glue guns, latex, paint thinner, leather chaps, rubber, and roiling pans of solvents fills the air insistently. Weirdly, it does still smell like suede. But it is so powerful now that the mere act of breathing makes my head spin. It’s as close to sniffing glue as you’ll get as an adult. Wear this to a kink shop in Berlin and you’ll be very popular.

As the civet starts to layer in, the industrial suede carpet gets progressively grimier. Not quite to the point that it feels like it’s been smeared in scat – though normally quite sharp and acidic, the civet here is soft and earthy – but the suede is definitely moving from a clean, modern factory setting to an abandoned warehouse where piles of raw hide are stacked to the ceiling. Here’s where I start to see past the skin (suede) through to the flesh of Flesh, a whiff of meat clinging to the underbelly of just-cured leather skins. Like the closest relatives I could think of, Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Generale and New Sibet by Slumberhouse, it’s hyper-clean while also being redolent of the curdled-milk-fat funk of a milking shed. And yet, at its core, Flesh still smells like an expensive, vegetally-musky iris suede.

Flesh is a disjointing experience that exemplifies the outer edges of what most people would think of niche, where mad hatters like Omer Pekji are still thinking, imagining, and experimenting. It’s worth seeking stuff like this out, not necessarily to smell good but to take a reading of what’s fermenting out there and then head back on into your comfort zone with some new perspective. I don’t think I’ve smelled an iris suede that shifts so convincingly between industrial and expensive, pure and sullied, and robotic and fleshy as Flesh. And I’m not sure I want to ever again, either.

Cover Image: Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Source of Sample: Press sample from the Pekji brand.

Ambergris Ambrette House Exploration Independent Perfumery Iris Leather Oud Review Smoke Vetiver

Neandertal: Them, Us, Light, Dark

8th March 2021

The indie perfume brand Neandertal boasts some of the most achingly cool bottles I’ve ever seen, one of the hottest talents on the indie perfumery scene (Euan McCall), and several glowing Luca Turin reviews – and yet, surprisingly little hype. I’m going to hazard a guess that, for some, ‘achingly cool’ + bottles that look like ice sculptures = intimidating.

That includes me, by the way. I am the least cool person in the room at any given time, so it’s likely I’d have continued to ignore Neandertal to infinity and beyond were it not for the fact that I recently purchased some samples of Euan McCall’s work (for his eponymous brand) and wanted to compare/contrast against his work for another brand to get a fuller picture of his style. When a perfume contact who does some PR for Neandertal (Brooke) offered to send me samples of the line, I figured it was kismet. 

I’m really glad I got to smell these. All of them were interesting – unique even – and none of them were the paint-by-numbers type of jobbie we’ve come to expect from the more upmarket niche brands. One was marred by a heavy hand with nose-burning aromachems, but even that was redeemed by a beautiful and unusual central section. Matching the bottles, the perfumes draw on the jolie laide nature of raw, elemental things – metal, earth, leather, salt. The effect is often jarring, and sometimes (one senses accidentally rather than deliberately) even pleasant. But we all need a little intellectual roughage in our diets, don’t we? 

 

Them

 

Oh, the grappa and Fairy washing up liquid sting of pure orris root tincture! I love how, when used in more generous quantities than the standard dribble tapped out with a fingernail into niche perfumes to justify an obscene price tag (Floretiiiiinnnnne irisssssss), this buttery but bleachy rhizome always manages to bring in the desaturated cool grey-pink colour canvas of Scandinavia – even if what the perfumer had been going for was Italian sunshine or Russian leather. Orris will out. Luckily, we have a Northern European perfumer (Euan McCall, a Scot) going for a cool, foggy interpretation of orris root, so the Scandi colour palette works just fine.

 

Orris root is an interesting material because, to me, it is a mixture of high and low, which means that it smells in equal parts like a fine leather glove and like the rooty sting of moonshine brewed by a Polish potato farmer. An elevated root cellar smell. Part of the reason that Them works because the perfumer understands this element of the material and surrounds it with other high-low accents. So, we have a green, scratchy salt note rubbing up against an ambrette material that feels luxuriously cloudy (a drop of Pernod in water), and a vaporous leather note slowly losing its initially screechy, toxic edge as it is folded into a much finer, softer ‘cuir’ along the same lines as Cuir d’Ange (Hermès) or Cuir X (La Parfumerie Moderne).  

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It is also an outdoors-to-indoors kind of perfume. It starts in the cool, foggy outdoors (Iris Silver Mist territory even) before slowly switching the scene to a posh art gallery full of spot-lit ‘found art’ sourced from nature, like long, silvery hunks of hollowed-out driftwood, polished stone, dried seaweed, salt, leather – the type of beach-cast objets that a collector might pay thousands for. There’s an awkward moment in the transition that smells a little bit sweaty or BO-ish, but it’s brief enough for me to pass it off as my imagination (or perhaps a momentary concentration of something evil in the iris material used).   The small flashes of furry warmth and leather underbelly briefly bring to mind Slumberhouse Sibet, but no, Them is green, salty, and almost aqueous in a way Sibet is not.  

 

  

Us

 

Us is one of those atmospheric indie scents that are more like exhibitions than perfume – experiments not really designed to survive beyond the walls of the lab but to be held up, admired, and put back down again. It smells like boot polish, tanning agents, and the soot-streaked insides of a kipper smoking house. And also like wet eucalyptus branches thrown onto an open fire in a sauna. While I admire the phantasmagoric summoning of the La Brea tar pits, I’m not sure that something this extreme is for wearing.

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In the drydown, it calms down enough for me to spot the relationship to the hoary old seagrass vetiver (burnt, whiskey-ish) of Vetiver by Annick Goutal Vetiver or Arso by Profumum, but I would rather wear the Goutal than a version that’s been amped up by a factor of ten. I just don’t have the stomach for this kind of stuff anymore. If you’re just getting into niche or indie, however, and you are chasing down all the ‘burning tire’ scent experiences you can find, then Us is gripping stuff indeed.

 

 

Light

 

Light is a jarring but ultimately thought-provoking fragrance. There is an opening blast of some aromachemical so vile and toxic I can feel it at the back of my throat, and for a moment or two, before this thing rights itself, I have to fight the urge to scrub it off my skin. I suspect a noxious brew of Ambroxan and the milky-metallic shriek of violet leaf, with a pronounced ‘curdled milk’ effect.

 

However – and you know that the ‘however’ has to be a good one in order for me to get past the teenage body spray thing at the start – Light surprises me by settling into a weird but interesting accord that I can only describe as a tart but creamy ‘rhubarb and custard’ floral that gets me in its headlights and refuses to let go. Yes, I understand that nothing in the notes list would explain this. Yes, it is possible that I’m going crazy. I have worn Light several times now, and each time I grimace my way through the opening (hairspray! licked metal spoons! teenager deo!) and each time I wind up in the rhubarb and custard place.

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And if it only stayed there, I would be enthusiastic. However, after an hour or two, the scent begins a slow fade into a chemical marshmallow drydown with an unpleasantly dusty ‘wheaten’ undertone – a sort of stale, chocolate-less smores accord – which reminds me a bit of that Godawful Rouge Smoking by Parfums BDK (which is cherry cough medicine + pleather + bubblegum + stale, wheat-dusted marshmallow) and of Sangre Dulce by Strangers Parfumerie, which is actually pretty good. I’m not keen on this indie ‘protein bar’ accord, to be honest, so this is a mark against it. But that weird salty-floral-creamy rhubarby midsection – oh man. What I’d do for a flanker that excerpted that part.

 

 

Dark

 

 

Aptly named, Dark is one of those oily, industrial-smelling concoctions that get you thinking both of (a) the fuel spills, rubber, tarpaulin, and black oil of a car repair shop, and (b) the oily black infestation at the cire of a freshly-felled agarwood tree, i.e., the natural and unnatural intertwined so densely that one is undistinguishable from the other. It smells dank and oddly savory (umami), perhaps due to the seaweed note, which is more reminiscent of miso paste than of salt. Unlike Light, Dark is, well, the smell of closed-up spaces, of rot, of time v. infection.

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Though unusual, its grungy industrial bent is not entirely unique – there are elements of what I am smelling here in both Nooud by Baruti and Black No. 1 by House of Matriarch. But in the drydown, Dark takes a very different turn, and this is where the paths diverge. The scent sees itself out on a long tail of pure, blinding metal. You know the metallic scent of orange juice that’s been spilled and left to dry? This is precisely that, minus any scent of orange. I don’t know if this is saffron, coriander, rose oxide, violet leaf, or some other metallic material, but the flash of metal provides a link to Light that I find interesting. Dark mixed with Light, by the way, provides for a compelling experience – the tart, metallic rhubarb and (salted) custard sparks against the oily, savory dankness of Dark’s oudy leather to yield a scent that feels as bright as an over-exposed photo and as grungy as mold.  

 

 

Source of samples: Samples of the Neanderthal line were kindly sent to me by Brooke, who does some PR on social media for the brand. I disclose where my samples came from so that you (the reader) can decide for yourself whether my review is unbiased or not.

 

Cover Image: Photo by Frank Eiffert on Unsplash

Aromatic Citrus Cult of Raw Materials Floral Fougere Fruity Scents Green Floral Hay House Exploration Iris Lavender Neroli Orange Blossom Review Rose Tonka Tuberose White Floral

Les Indémodables Part II: Iris Perle, Fougère Émeraude, Rose de Jamal, and Chypre Azural

1st March 2021

 

Iris Perle

 

Username checks out. In its totality, Iris Perle is an opalescent soap bubble of freshly peeled mandarin over soapy-waxy-fatty mimosa clasped in a child’s slightly sweaty paw, but studied closely over a day, it breaks down into two distinct phases. The first is reminiscent of what I think of as the typically Italian take on iris, i.e., slightly bitter, powdery, and freshly-laundered, rather than floral. This is clearly built around a ‘grey’ workaday iris material (rather than orris root) dressed up with lots of mandarin peel and the sharp, vegetal greenness of violet leaf, which lends a subtle leather accent. It’s not a million miles off the Acqua di Parma or Prada Infusion d’Iris line DNA. But more expensive-smelling. So, like Satori Iris Homme

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The mimosa, shy creature that it is, is slow to unfurl, but eventually we get glimpses of that “is it a flower? Is it school glue? Is it a cucumber?” oddness that makes this flower so charming. It smells high-toned and bleachy, which gives it only a glancing similarity to the treatment of mimosa in Une Fleur de Cassie (Malle) (Une Fleur de Cassie possesses a grungy, garbagey tone that Iris Perle does not), and absolutely no connection at all to the throatier, almond gateau takes on mimosa like Farnesiana (Caron). In fact, as time goes on, it is the subtly aquatic cucumber aspects of mimosa that come to the fore, joining with the violet leaf to form a pale (wispy) melony leather accord that splits the difference between Diorella (Dior) and Le Parfum de Thérèse (Malle). Verdict: Nice, though not required reading if you have either Diorella or Le Parfum de Thérèse.   

 

 

Fougère Émeraude

 

I left Fougère Émeraude for last because (a) I have extremely narrow parameters for the type of tuberose I am willing to wear (see here for evidence of just how anal I get about it), and (b) I usually find fougères too masculine and bitter-smelling for me to pull off. But I’m pleasantly surprised! Fougère Émeraude manages to find my sweet spot on both the note (tuberose) and the style (fougère) and does so with such panache that I’m genuinely excited to wear it. It might even be – gasp – my favorite of the entire Les Indémodables sample set.

 

Let’s start with its treatment of tuberose. Fougère Émeraude captures all the toothpasty, camphoraceous ‘box hedge’ greenness I love in Carnal Flower and sidesteps entirely the lurid butter-bubblegum loudness that I abhor in Fracas. The tuberose smells dewy, crisp, and freshly-watered, not wilted or overblown. What I appreciate in particular is that, before the tuberose can start to droop and start smelling of its naturally fleshy, semi-decaying self, the note is quickly flanked by a softly powdery ‘fern’ accord made up of lavender, mimosa, tonka, and amber, so what you end up smelling is tuberose that’s been modulated and softened from all angles – a creamy, powdery floral accord with tuberose in the mix, rather than a full-on, straight-ahead tuberose.

 

The fougère element of the scent also plays squarely in the modern fougère sandbox, meaning that it leans on creamy tonka, powdery lavender, and soft floral notes rather than on the rather brusque aromatic sting of leaves, twigs, and bitter-minty oakmoss for its structure, thus making it perfectly easy for a women (certainly this woman) to wear.

 

The green, floral creaminess of Fougère Émeraude, particularly in its drydown, reminds me a little of the drydown of Chypre Palatin (Parfums MDCI), albeit without that scent’s lush, dense-as-a-brick castoreum-oakmoss-labdanum accord that makes it both sweetly creamy and subtly animalic. But where Chypre Palatin is a special occasion scent, Fougère Émeraude’s lightness of texture and (comparative) freshness makes for an altogether more casual wear, and thus is perfectly suited for an everyday ‘reach’.

 

Rose de Jamal

 

I don’t know who the Jamal in Rose de Jamal is, but I suspect he’s the guy they hired to sneak into the Kannauj attar factory at night and spoil an otherwise nice, fresh green rose distillation with an over-enthusiastic pour of whatever woody aromachemical they use in Rose 31 (Le Labo).

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I can’t blame Jamal. The shortage of real sandalwood oil, coupled with the rise in India of a middle class of young men and women who largely prefer to smell fresh and modern in dupes of Dior Sauvage and Gucci Flora than of anything their parents or grandparents might have worn, i.e., attars and ruhs wrung from Mother India’s abundant flowers, herbs, and aromatics, has pretty much taken the traditional attar factories of Kannauj out at the knees.

 

Rose de Jamal smells like the stuff churned out these days by attar houses that have accepted reality and switched to producing oil-based freshies and designer dupes in their labs (no deg and bhapka here), their backrooms filled with gallon containers of modern aromachemicals rather than precious rose oils, sandalwood, or choyas. So, like I said, I don’t blame Jamal. He’s just out there, trying to survive, you know? I do blame Antoine Lie, however. I love Antoine Lie’s work in general, so I’m not too sure what went wrong here, unless it was a deliberate cash grab for the market share currently dominated by Rose 31 (Le Labo). Rose de Jamal smells like the beginnings of a decent rose accord – minty, powdery, but also jammy –  quickly smothered by a brutal cloud of chemical ‘radiance’ that seems to last for days on fabric and on the skin.

 

Chypre Azural

 

What Acqua Viva (Profumum Roma) does for lemons, Chypre Azural does for oranges – a superbly naturalistic whole-of-tree citrus accord (leaves, fruit, pith, wood) sustained for an abnormally long time without resorting to any (obvious to me anyway) aromachemical support system. It’s basically my dream orange cologne-style fragrance – Hermes Concentré d’Orange – retrofitted to last more than ten minutes. And as long as you set your expectation dial at ‘long-lasting eau de cologne freshie’ level, Chypre Azural doesn’t disappoint. If you come to it looking for a genuine chypre with all its twists and turns, however – well. Chypre Azural is a lot of things (all of which are an orange) but a chypre it is not.

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Aside from the midsection, where a rather soapy neroli-musk accord sets in, Chypre Azural is resolutely linear. If you want to smell of orange pith from morning to night, then this will thrill you. For me, personally? Smelling of citrus this bright is fantastic in the early morning hours but all kinds of inappropriate by dinnertime. My seven-year-old daughter, Mila, crawled into bed with me in the middle of the night after a nightmare, and after wriggling into ‘space pod now attached to mother ship’ position, she sniffed me and said, “Why does your neck smell like oranges? It’s the middle of the night!” Exactly.     

 

Source of Samples: I purchased the Les Indémodables sample set here.  

Cover Image: Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash