It’s been a while since I last wrote about Abdullah’s work at Mellifluence, which was about his amazing Tsuga Musk mukhallat featured in my Basenotes article, ‘The Murky Matter of Musk‘ (1 September, 2017). Four years might have passed since then, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been dipping into Mellifluence’s wares in the meantime. Last summer, I placed an order with Mellifluence for some raw materials and mukhallats, and Abdullah generously included some samples of stuff he also wanted me to smell. I’m getting to them only now, which unfortunately means that some of the scents I talk about are now unavailable.
Because here’s the thing you need to know about Mellifluence before you invest – Abdullah works in small batches, using naturals he has sourced elsewhere, and when that material runs out, so too does the mukhallat featuring it. That means you need to work fast, with a speedy turnaround time from sample to full bottle (well, tola) purchase if you’re going to snap up the thing you love. The house style is light, clean, and delicate, which is no mean feat considering the ofttimes heaviness of some of the naturals involved. In general, Abdullah excels at work involving rose, green herbaceous notes like lavender, tuberose (which he is able to render quite masculine), oud, and vetiver.
To the best of my knowledge, Abdullah works only with naturals, because of certain sensitivities he experiences when dealing with synthetics. But worry not, while the all-natural focus does give his work a certain ‘crunchy granola’, aromatherapy-adjacent flavor, I haven’t personally experienced any of the muddiness you sometimes get with all-natural perfumery. The flip side of all this lightness and clarity is, however, a certain lack of projection and longevity. But people seeking out the authenticity of raw materials above all else are already mostly prepared for this trade-off.
The other things to be aware of are that these are mukhallats, not attars, though people (and brands who make them) tend to use the word ‘attar’ to describe any perfume in oil. Strictly speaking, however, though mukhallats and attars are both oil-based (i.e., they do not contain alcohol), attars are defined by their manner of production, which is the distillation of raw materials into sandalwood oil in the traditional ‘dheg and bhapka’ method (named for the copper piping and leather receptacle involved in the method) used in Kannuaj, India. A mukhallat, on the other hand, is the term used to describe a mix (mukhallat is simply Arabic for ‘blend’ or ‘mix’) of any already distilled essences, absolutes, attars, ruhs, and oud oil (and sometimes even synthetics, increasingly so in modern times) with a carrier oil, which used to be sandalwood oil but for reasons of both cost and availability these days is more likely to be something like moringa, jojoba, or even good old vegetable oil. For those of you who don’t care about the pedantry of this, your main takeaway should be that these are oils, and often highly concentrated ones, and therefore need to be dabbed onto the skin (or beard, if you have one) in judicious amounts. A dab will do ya.
Hellicum’s opening is both medicinal and animalic – fresh lavender and sage dipped in something lasciviously scalpy, like costus. There is also a brief flash of something sweet, like vanilla or honey, but this is gone almost immediately. Oud emerges from a mist of sinus-clearing eucalyptus or mint, and it is almost outrageous to me that a wood oil so deeply thick, so animalic, can be stretched out and massaged into something so airy. Flanked by those soft, camphoraceous herbs and pinned in place by a waxy amber accord that smells like a minty version of a Werther’s Original, the oud reads more as a light, clean leather than the stable filth that we are sometimes asked to grit our teeth through in the name of oud.
And this is precisely the kind of sleight of hand that Abdullah of Mellifluence excels in. Heavy, animalic substances tweaked until they are transformed into something clean, and delicate, qualities more suited, perhaps, for the soothing of frayed nerves than for the purposes of seduction or for projecting an image of yourself onto the world.
It is not a slight to suggest, by the way, that Hellicum, like many Mellifluence mukhallats, is more Rescue Remedy than perfume. Sometimes, that’s what life calls for. I rarely wear fragrance during the day, choosing instead to aromatherapize myself off the stress ledge by rubbing a Mellifluence mukhallat or one of his naturals onto a knuckle, or massaging some of my Francesca Bianchi Under My Skin body oil into the ends of my hair. These quiet, subtle whiffs of aroma as I type, gesticulate, or turn my head are what propel me through my workday, a friendly hand at the small of my back. Hellicum is really good at this. I especially love the hidden thicket of patchouli tucked into the tail of the scent, there to please anyone who’s been paying attention.
Spirit of Narda II
Part of the risk of falling in love with any Mellifluence mukhallat is returning to the brand’s Etsy page and realizing that it no longer exists. I hope that Abdullah finds some way to bring this back, though, because to my nose, it is one of the best things he has ever made. It reminds me of a long lost love of mine, which is the sadly discontinued Bohèmians en Voyage (Alkemia), which had a similar pastoral quality to it, like a stroll along countryside lanes, past fields of wheat and sunny hedgerows full of wild barley and small wildflowers.
The ‘Nard’ in the title refers to spikenard, or jatamansi, an intensely aromatic herb native to India not a million miles away from lavender in overall scent profile, but featuring a uniquely fatty, animalic undertone, like beef tallow or the yellow subcutaneous fat under the skin of an organically reared piece of mutton. In Spirit of Nard II, the herbaceous aspects of the spikenard are sharp and spiky, like a thistle, but there is also a milky element to the it that’s relaxing to the point of inducing sleepiness. This is bracketed by medicinal woods – an antiseptic sort of oud material, no doubt – and a soft, vegetal muskiness.
Spirit of Narda II feels complex and multi-layered, a haze wherein herbaceous, woody, milky, floral, and musky molecules advance and recede in such a crazy loop that you are never sure what it is all supposed to be, category-wise. Each time I wear it, I’m stumped. Is it an oud masquerading as a Spanish leather? A herb that’s secretly a sheep? A plant revealed by those meddling kids to be a medicine? No idea. But two things it is not are (a) available to buy, and (b) aromatherapy rather than a fully-realized perfume.
Miel Pour Femme (Almond)
This is an odd one. Not honey at all, but rather, a pale wodge of barely set beeswax poured into a polished oak mold and wrapped up in rustling layers of that edible paper they roll candy cigarettes or torrone in. It smells varnishy, waxy, and ever so slightly stale, like printer paper or Holy Communion wafers left open in a wooden chest. I suppose all this is also very much almond – not the syrupy cyanide (benzaldehyde) tones of most almond accords, but the grassy tannins of raw almond that you get in fragrances such as L’Amandière (Heeley). The overall effect has been achieved with a combination of benzoin (for that communion wafer aspect) and beeswax (for that waxy white honey aspect). The scent thickens up, over time, into a blanched, stodgy sweetness that is never as animalic or as thick as real honey, but still quite a distance away from the beeswax-paper-almond of the first half. Miel pour Femme (Almond) is fine, if a little odd. It just doesn’t set my world on fire quite as effectively as Spirit of Narda II.
Source of sample: I purchased 3mls of Miel Pour Femme (Almond) from the Mellifluence Etsy page, and 0.2ml samples of Hellicum and Spirit of Narda II were included as a gift with purchase.
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’Irisline DNA. But more expensive-smelling. So, like Satori Iris Homme.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The challenge for any reviewer in reviewing the Areej Le Doré releases is that (a) either you’re late and the perfumes you’re writing about are no longer available to buy, or (b) you’re on time for a full bottle release, but you are talking only to the group of three to six hundred people that are buying them, a tiny circle of devotees that seems to get tighter and more closed-off with each successive release from the house.
I can certainly see why many people in perfume-land might be attracted by the fantastic raw materials on offer by Areej Le Doré but turned off by the feverish fandom that has sprung up around the brand. If you’re not willing to set your timer to bumfuck o’ clock Thailand time or duke it out with the scalpers, then the whole thing can feel like the most fearsome clique from high school. And when anyone feels excluded, there is the natural tendency to grumble to yourself, “Well, if I’m not in, then I’m sure as hell out…of this hot, culty mess.”
While this is certainly not a problem for Areej Le Doré itself – selling everything you produce is the dream, after all – I wonder if the lack of new entrants into the inner circle of devotees represents a problem over the longer term. Fresh perspectives on your work are essential whether you are making a car or a perfume because they stop you from drowning in the reflecting pool of constant and uncritical adoration. They also safeguard the perfumer against the danger of becoming essentially a private label or custom outfit dancing to the whim of a small but intimidatingly vocal group of buyers, none of whom I’d particularly like to meet in a dark alley. Just kidding, just kidding (sort of).
Anyway, this review goes out to anyone who has an interest in Areej Le Doré fragrances but has, for one reason or another, avoided actually buying them, either in sample or full bottle form. This might be someone who loves natural raw materials, for example, or someone who loves and misses the rich orientals of yesteryear that boasted real sandalwood or expensive floral absolutes. Or it might be people who are into perfumes in general and have the money to invest in the really good examples, but zero stomach for the clusterfuckery around the brand itself. If that’s you, and you’re reading right now, then let me tell you that this particular Areej Le Doré collection is the one to dip your toes into, if you were reluctant before.
Here’s why I think this
collection is a good entry pointfor newcomers to Areej Le Doré.
First, the perfumes in this collection are noticeably lighter and more refined
than previous cycles, making them easier and more pleasant to wear, especially
Second, none of the perfumes in this collection are marred by the heavy, almost seedy animalic undertone that has dogged other collections. For example, I loved Plumeria de Orris from one of the previous collections, however, once the buttery orris and frangipani burned off, the fragrance was dragged under the gutters by a honeyed civet or musk that smelled disturbingly like dried saliva. Koh-i-Noor was my absolute favorite of a previous generation, but a greasy costus-laden musk gave it an old-man’s-crotch vibe that I couldn’t quite shake. But in this collection, even the musk- and oud-heavy perfumes are not overly heavy, greasy, or saliva-ish.
Third, and probably the most
important one: I think that this collection is Russian Adam’s best yet. If you
don’t know already, each Areej Le Doré collection usually contains variations on a
basic line-up of a (i) musk (usually natural deer musk-based), (ii) an oud,
(iii) a humongous mixed oriental floral, (iv) a ‘soliflore’, (v) an ambergris,
and/or (vi) a leather or sandalwood. Although there doesn’t seem to be an
ambergris-focused scent this time around, the others are all either superlative
or really good examples of their respective ‘theme’. If you love natural raw
materials like oud and sandalwood, then pull up a chair: brands like Areej Le
Doré are the last holdout for exquisite raw materials in a world that is
increasingly sanitized and lab-molecule-dependent.
Rather confusingly, Santal Galore is the kaleidoscopic floral nag champa extravaganza this time around, rather than the sandalwood you might be expecting (which is actually to be found in the equally-confusingly-named Musk Lave). My vial leaked in transit, but after smashing it open and swabbing the gooey remnants onto my skin with a Q-Tip, I can tell you that this is the one I’d crawl over hot coals to smell again. Oh God, grant me the unlimited funds to buy the few perfumes that smell as good as this. It opens with a big, creamy swirl of aromas that you imagine emanating from a Persian carpet or a well-oiled antique from a souk, soaked in multiple generations’ worth of glossy, fruity Cambodi oud oils, rosy-sandal attars, and the sweetness of smoke from decades of burning Indian Chandan sticks and barkhour.
This perfume carries that full romantic sweep of Orientalia in its bosom that Westerners like me find so irresistible but that usually come out mawkish and kind of cheap-smelling. Santal Galore deftly matches the slightly gummy-floral sweetness of nag champa with a savory cream cheese background that seems to encompass the smoked Easter Ham aroma of guaiacol and a salty-minty oakmoss. Eventually winding down to the lovely smell of a freshly-struck match, Santal Galore performs the same trick as Santal de Mysore in that it is suggestive of the spiced warmth of real sandalwood without smelling directly of it.
For my personal taste, this is the best floral/woody/musky thing that Areej Le Doré has ever done. There are no analogs in the commercial or niche world, so it’s difficult to draw comparisons that will make sense to those new to the brand. But if pushed, I would mention Le Maroc Pour Elle(Tauer Perfumes) or Daphne (Comme des Garcons) as scents that occupy the same scentoverse ideologically speaking. Less helpfully perhaps for newcomers, but more so for people who have bought into the brand since its inception, Santal Galore is roughly in the same ballpark as Ottoman Empire, with which it shares a similar nag champa floral richness, and Koh-I-Noor, for that same almost claustrophobic rush of dense, heavily-packed-in floral notes and that texture that is both creamy and powdery (although Santal Galore is not as animalic or as costus-laden). It has been a while, but there could also be a line drawn to the sharp, almost oily Flux de Fleurs, though Santal Galore is a far gentler, rounder affair.
Musk Lave has one of the best real sandalwood finishes I have smelled outside of attar and mukhallat perfumery. For fans of real sandalwood, the real treasure lies here, and not in Santal Galore. But be aware that this is the type of musky, spicy, masculine-leaning sandalwood that used to feature in high quality ‘barbershop’ fougères before Indian sandalwood became generally unavailable to commercial perfumery in the late eighties, and before entire carpets of beige, sweetish tonka bean were conscripted to fill the gap.
In other words, though it certainly smells rich and incensey, like all good sandalwood should, this sandalwood is the handsome, rugged version that smells more like good wood and bay rum spices than a creamy dessert that will send you into a stupor. The invigorating sparkle of the sandalwood is beefed up by a nice lump of labdanum, so you get the full balance of aromatic-dry and sweet-incensey that the very best examples of sandalwood possess, e.g., the Mysore 1984 by Ensar Oud, which, because it is aged, has developed that rich, incensey sonic boom ‘loudness of voice’ that would be most unusual for a pure sandalwood more freshly distilled.
Winding back to the start, Musk Lave opens with a fresh, powdery lemon and lavender accord, which would be a naturally lean kind of thing were it not for the immediate upswell of an unctuously buttery musk or tonka that adds richness, like a pat of yellow Irish butter melted over a salad. Think Jicky but with real sandalwood and musk dialled in for that naughty ‘skin musk’ feel, writing over the rather sharp, sometimes foul-smelling synthetic civet of the Guerlain. Given that Jicky is my favorite fragrance in the world, hopefully you’ll take my word for it that Musk Lave is the upgrade nobody knew was in the wings but immediately presses the install button on.
Agar de Noir (can’t you just feel Luca Turin squirming?) is the oud in the collection and is quite the departure for Russian Adam for two reasons. First, although the oud is the real deal, it does not smell like any one particular terroir or style of oud (as opposed to Antiquity, which smelled almost entirely of the beautiful Cambodi oud oil used) but rather presents as a generalized picture of ‘oudiness’ that’s been cleaned up for public consumption. So, you get the characteristic smell of damp, fermenting wood chips and the dusty scent of old wood varnish, but not the shriekingly sour hay and leather highnotes of a Hindi, or the hyper-treacly stickiness of a Trat, or the wolf-fur wooliness and ambergris-saltiness of a Chinese oud. The oud is there merely as a signpost planted in the scent to suck you deep into the shadows, where the equally dusty darkness of ground coffee is waiting, deepening the gloom.
The opening reminds me more of Borneo 1834 (Serge Lutens) than any of the other Areej Le Dore oud-dominated fragrances, due to that ‘brown’ dustiness; Oud Luwak also used coffee as a note, but it felt much more like an oud-focused affair than Agar de Noir, which feels more floral. It does share with Oud Luwak that dark, airy elegance of structure – like an expensive bar of chocolate that makes a satisfyingly clean ‘snap’ noise when you break it. The gloom of these brown notes has been lifted by the chalky brightness of violets, which create a sort of pastel-colored clearing in the Agar de Noir forest. I like the civilizing effect the violets exert on the oud: they add an unexpected foppish lightness that could be read, in some lights, as ‘dandified’. This tangy, balmy oud-and-violet accord makes what is essentially a floral leather sort of thing – like Jolie Madame (Balmain) with an oudy twist.
The second way in which I find Agar de Noir a departure is in its overall lightness of feel. The light-on-dark, violet-on-oud-leather thing is super elegant while it lasts but after two hours, the show is essentially over, save for the cinder toffee-like sweetness of the labdanum that brings up the rear.
The labdanum persists for hours beyond this, of course – it is a traditional basenote for a reason and has been the finish of choice for Russian Adam in all his oud blends after Oud Zen. But compared to Russian Oud and Oud Piccante, the labdanum absolute used here is of a much lighter weight – a judicious smear of incensey, golden toffee, but unencumbered by the sheep fat unctuousness of the labdanum in Oud Piccante or the chocolatey amberiness in Russian Oud. Personally, this ‘middle’ weight of labdanum suits me just fine; Oud Piccante is too savory-fatty for my tastes, and Russian Oud too gourmand. Agar de Noir is lighter, shorter, more attenuated, and is all the better for it. However, oud heads who want their oud to be perceptible past the third hour mark, Agar de Noir might be one sacrifice too far in the name of elegance.
For anyone not already inducted into the Areej Le Doré oud hall of fame mentioned here, just picture an oudified Jolie Madame and you’re on the right track. I think this would also be a particularly friendly oud for beginners, and because of its soft, ‘thin’ floral mien that restrains the brutishness of the oud, it may also be a better pick for women. Dark, dapper, and mysterious in a Victorian gentle-person kind of way, Agar de Noir is my pick of the Areej ouds, barring Oud Zen, which was similarly minimalist and ‘legible’.
Grandenia suggests that it might be going big on the famously creamy, mushroomy lushness of gardenia, but this is not the case. Rather, this is a tightly-wound, stiffly-starched green floral that starts out at the data point of a citrusy-piney frankincense – a resin that here smells like a freshly-stripped piece of Silver Birch – and winds up in Chandrika soap territory.
I find this pinched, freshly-scrubbed sort of floral a chore to wear, but it may appeal to people who like Antonia by Puredistance. I also want to acknowledge that this would be a good white floral for men, as it is completely devoid of the soft, candied creaminess and tinned-fruit syrupiness of most white florals. It is clipped and pure; the sort of thing to stiffen the spine. A very good wood accord develops in the base that smells more like sandalwood soap than oud or sandalwood per se. And then, finally, in the last gasps – a ghostly imprint of gardenia, with that slightly glassy, freshly-cut-mushroom quality it shares with myrrh.
Cuir de Russie is a scent to spray on fabric rather than on your skin, but I have done both to no ill effect (if you have sensitive skin, just obey the damn instructions). This is not the Chanel kind of Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather), but rather, a leather-ish note in a minor key nestled inside a massively cheesy and then baby-powdery deer musk. On the skin, the chalky, innocent pallor of violets peeks out shyly, but not to the extent where you would define the scent as floral (or feminine, or soft, or indeed any of the usual descriptors used for flowers). On fabric, it is the rude, smeary honk of deer musk that dominates, stepping firmly down on the neck of any floral note that threatens to make a break for it.
Given that Cuir de Russie has real deer musk in it, it stands to reason that it is very, very powdery and clings to the inside of the nostrils for days. If you want to know what real deer musk smells like, by the way, please read my article ‘The Murky Matter of Musk‘ here. Many people think that real musk smells foul or fecal. It does not. It does smell intimate, like the morning breath of someone you love, or a clean perineum, but it is more often than not quiet, powdery, and quite sweet, its odor clinging to skin, hair, and fabrics for many days (deer musk was one of the four great animalic fixatives of perfumery).
The musk in Cuir de Russie is somewhat similar to the musk in War and Peace, which I loved for the way its musk was so dry that it smelled like smoke from a just-fired gun (some people interpreted the dryness as baby powder). But Cuir de Russie also doesn’t have the almost pretty smuttiness of the musk in War and Peace, nor its sultry sweetness; it is more butch and a bit rough around the edges, despite the inch-thick layer of powder.
I like Cuir de Russie but wouldn’t particularly recommend it to a newcomer seeking an entry point to the brand. There’s always the danger that leather fans might roll up and expect leather (crazy, right?) and right now, before the full whack of aging and maceration, Cuir de Russie is mostly musk. Birch tar fans, of which I am one, might be disappointed at its subtlety in CdR – there is zero BBQ meat or ‘just threw a leather jacket on a campfire’ smokiness here. Cuir de Russie is primarily a very rich, powdery musk that ultimately leans a bit too hard on the intrinsic complexity of its naturals to fill in the olfactory blanks.
This is probably going to mature into something stunning, along the lines of Koh-i-Noor. But it is a high risk investment for a bottle of something whose materials might veer off into directions that not even its perfumer can predict with 100% certainty. For those signed up to the rare natural materials pledge, this is is part of the thrill; for the rest of us, contained within the unfixed, mutable nature of these raw materials is the warning that the perfume might also change for the worse.
Source of Samples: Kindly
sent to me free of charge by the brand. My opinion are my own.
Tom Ford Fougère d’Argent will prove popular with younger male consumers, because for many, it may be their first exposure to a proper fougere, i.e., one that hasn’t been tonkified or fatted up with sweeteners in the modern manner (see: Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous, Chanel Boy, and Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir). If they’re not familiar with stuff like Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Pour Homme or Azzaro Pour Homme, the bitter freshness of the Tom Ford might smell like a new shape in the air.
Only….it’s not. Fougère d’Argent is simply a re-packaging of an old idea for a new audience. The fougere has been around since 1882, which is when Houbigant launched Fougère Royale, a ‘fern-like’ fragrance for (ironically) women. In overall concept, the fougere is analogous to the chypre, in that they are both abstract, perfumery renderings of an idea rather than a smell. Fougeres aren’t rigidly configured to smell like ferns, which don’t have a scent of their own anyway, but to capture a broad range of foresty nuances from trampled herbs to bitter earth. Traditionally, they revolve around coumarin, lavender, and oakmoss, but often feature geranium, vetiver, patchouli, and often, spicy materials like clove or carnation (eugenol).
To my nose – and in fact, to most noses – there is something about classic fougeres that smells incontrovertibly masculine. Fougère d’Argent is no exception. It opens with the soapy, metallic sheen of lavender and ginger stretched over a bitter, mossy backdrop. In most modern-day versions of the fougere, like Chanel Boy, Chypre Palatin, or Fourreau Noir, this stinging ‘aftershavey’ quality that women associate with fougeres is muffled by swathes of creamy materials like sandalwood, vanilla, or tonka bean. Fougère d’Argent simply shears off these accoutrements and allows the basic bones of the fougere structure to stand proud.
Tom Ford’s approach here shows confidence. He’s a guy with his finger on the pulse of what (many) men want, so he must have picked up on the fact that the pendulum is swinging from the modern taste for sweetness back to a more old school taste for bitterness. Maybe it was the commercial success of his laudably sugar-free Vert series that convinced him the time was right for this.
Fougère d’Argent doesn’t smell at all original or exciting, but it does smell good. It’s basically a re-upholstering of Serge Lutens’ Gris Clair, the same central axis of lavender and electrical-socket-haze tonka bean dressed up a bit with the shimmering, aldehydic bitterness of Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It is not as warm or as spicy as, say, the re-issue of Houbigant’s Fougère Royale, which I greatly prefer, nor is it as creamily animalic as Chypre Palatin. Compared to other classic fougeres such as Azzaro Pour Homme, it is slightly sweeter and more synthetically radiant. But it is also nowhere near as sweet as modern fougeres (‘nugères’). In general, it reminds me of the kind of crisp, freshly-applied aftershaves I would smell on the neck of my father before he left for work each day.
But, you know, meh. This kind of fresh, clean manliness in fragrance form used to be de rigueur. Men expected it and they got it. It’s only now, in this glut of bloated niche and masstige fragrances, that they’re forced to shell out $250+ per 50ml bottle for the pleasure. I think that men deserve better than a classic idea upcycled. Fougère d’Argent is too cynical for me. It is clearly designed to catch the guy who’s either unfamiliar with sugar-free fougeres or who has been raised on Tom Ford and (rightly) sees this scent as something completely different from its stable mates. My one hope is that men smell this scent and get interested enough to use it as a jumping off point to explore the fougere category in general. At which point, they’ll inevitably come across something more interesting.
I’d love to get all worked up about the name, but as someone who says “fuck” rather a lot, I really can’t. I’m not proud of it, but in my defense, I’m Irish. In Ireland, people are so foul-mouthed that English shows such as Come Dine with Me film one season over here and then skedaddle back to the UK, their pearls clutched to their throats in shock at the ease with which everyone – everyone – from the tony middle class housewives in Howth to 4-year-old kindergarteners turn the air blue.
In October 2004, a man called Chris Anderson wrote a very influential article for Wired magazine called “The Long Tail”. In it, he explained how a little-known statistics term, called the long tail, actually explained a lot about success in the business world. The basic premise is that the market for products not widely available in bricks n’ mortar stores is as big, if not bigger, than the market for products that are carried in stores.
Boy Chanel by Chanel is a pleasant surprise. I had successfully ignored all information about it because I’m not very interested in the fougere theme beyond my beloved Jicky and because I haven’t been too impressed by the newer releases in Les Exclusifs line, such as 1932 or Jersey.
But faced with the bathtub-sized bottle of it at Dublin airport the other day, I decided to give myself a good dousing – five sprays to each arm, and five more to the neck and chest area. I don’t mind being unbearable to my fellow travelers – I’m already travelling with two pretty awful mini humans so I figure it can’t get much worse. But actually, it turns out that Boy Chanel never really builds to any great density when over sprayed, and even if it did, I can think of far worse aromas to be broadcasting in a closed cabin 30,000 ft in the air.
Texture-wise, Boy Chanel is like watercolor on silk – a series of muted aromatics and flowers laid delicately one on top of another, their transparency rigorously maintained. The lavender is a single, lilac-tinted theme running through the composition but there are also hints of fluffy heliotrope and palidly rosy geranium.
Immediately, the connections to other fougeres strike me. Boy Chanel is Pour Un Homme (Caron) embellished with florals and done on a better budget – Jicky (Guerlain) filtered through a sieve to remove the civet, and that rough, vomitous clash of bergamot and cream. Later on, in its tonka or coumarin phase, Boy Chanel is even a faded outline of Fourreau Noir, like a photocopy done when the ink was running low. If the Lutens is a dense lavender doughnut, then Boy Chanel is a high-end gelato delicately aromatized with dried lavender.
I don’t think that Boy Chanel is really a fougere, though. After all, a fougere should technically have moss, coumarin, and lavender for it to qualify, and there is no moss to be found here. Then again, there is no moss in Jicky either. Maybe it’s the dark, dirty feel to Jicky that qualifies it as a fougere? I don’t have the answer. Anyway, Boy Chanel is bright and sunny, not dark, bitter, or mossy – there are no forest ferns here.
What Boy Chanel does have in spades is the creamy, sweet, and somewhat boozy almond undertone I associate with tonka bean. Coumarin is listed, not tonka bean, but I get all of the spicy-sweet, vanillic tones of the tonka bean and none of the dry, aromatic, grassy aroma of coumarin. In fact, Boy Chanel is quite tonka-ish in general, leading me to wonder if Chanel is trying to appeal to the common denominator of modern male consumer, that is, a preference for sweet tonka bases over the bitter, mossy bases that used to be in style? I am thinking here of how popular fragrances such as Feve Delicieuse (Dior), Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme (Chanel), and Midnight in Paris (Van Cleef & Arpels) and so on.
As it hits the base (which it does in a very short period of time, by the way), Boy Chanel gets even sweeter and creamier with the addition of a powdery sandalwood, vanilla, and more delectable almond-like chewiness in the form of heliotrope. I am surprised at how sweet it is, actually. For a fougere, it approaches Coromandel levels of sweetness. But texture-wise, Boy Chanel is not at all baroque or opaque – it retains a luminous translucency from head to toe. The sandalwood in particular is more of the single cream type you find in ETRO Sandalo (although far, far better quality) than the fatty, over-egged feel to something like Samsara.
Overall, Boy Chanel is fresh, aromatic, and creamy-sweet, making it something that women can wear as easily as men. It doesn’t make a grab for originality or boldness, but is extremely pleasant to wear. It is long-lasting but never loud. No matter how much I sprayed, I could never rev its engine out of the cruise control its engineers designed it for. Surprisingly, I think that’s what I like best about it. It’s just the kind of thing you need when everything else is going to shit and you have to be able to count on at least one thing in your life that won’t screw things up even further. This is it – pleasant to smell, effortlessly chic, and impossible to overdose on.
Oh, Jicky! I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come around to your charms, but here I am. As androgynous and timeless as a pair of blue jeans, Guerlain Jicky was born in 1889 which makes it the oldest perfume in the world that’s still in production today. At its heart, it’s an aromatic fougere – that classic (and masculine) marriage of lavender, tonka, and oakmoss. But Jicky doesn’t contain oakmoss, so it’s a two-legged fougere, and all the more charming for it.
What Jicky does have, instead, is a big dollop of civet, which gives it its very naughty character. There is shock value to Jicky, even today. That clash of the citrus/aromatics (the bergamot and lavender) with the creamy civet-tonka feels all kinds of wrong at first, to the point you wonder what the hell the perfumer was thinking. But Guerlain built its reputation on such sly dissonance, the clashing of fronts in a perfume to cause tension. As with Shalimar, there’s a typical cycle of repulsion, then attraction, repulsion again, and then finally, a sort of an incredulous addiction to the stuff. Jicky is habit-forming.
I’ve always had a bit of Jicky around, in various forms – the EDT, the PDT, and samples of the parfum in particular. But Jicky famously differs from concentration to concentration – even more so than the other Guerlain classics – so it’s taken me until now to find the exact formula of Jicky to make me fall in love. While researching fougeres for my Basenotes article on the top ten male designer fragrances that every beginner should sample, I got a hold of a sample of the current EDP, and bam! That was my Eureka moment with Jicky.
In a way, Jicky benefited from my neglect over the years. I tend to overthink the Guerlain classics, worrying about their details and nuances based on concentration, age, and back story, which results in me thinking of them rather more as homework than perfume to wear and enjoy every day. All my early energy went into studying Chamade, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Nahema, and L’Heure Bleue – and I strained so hard to understand those weighty volumes that any emotional connection I made to the perfume was difficult; arrived at under duress. Still to this day, I cannot wear any of those perfumes (except Shalimar) without a heavy sense of respect and almost dread. I know the experience is going to be rewarding, but they are almost never immediately satisfying.
Jicky, on the other hand, I never bothered to subject to this rigorous type of inspection. I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s because I had read, early on in my journey, that Jicky was just a simple sketch of a perfume waiting to be made into Shalimar. So I just didn’t bother with it.
But not bothering with it doesn’t mean I didn’t wear it! I wore Jicky, oh yes, I did. I worked my way through sizeable decants of the EDT (sparkling, herbaceous, full of sprightly mischief, but with the civet bluntly exposed, creating a sharply vomitous aroma that I never truly warmed to), the vintage PDT (less civet, funnily enough, and a more classical lavender fougere feel to it which made it perfect for casual beach wear), and a few samples of the modern pure parfum (round, sensual, civet-heavy, truly more oriental in feel than fougere). I enjoyed my small bits of Jicky without ever once feeling to need to own a full bottle of it.
That is, until I discovered Jicky EDP. Jicky in EDP format is the perfect version for me, and I realized very quickly that I would need a whole bottle of it. There is far more civet in the EDP than in the EDT, but it is far better folded into the creamy vanilla and herbs, so it smells both richer and more animalic. The pure parfum dials up the civet a notch further, but I am more comfortable with the civet levels in the EDP: enough to call itself a real presence but not so heavy as to hunt me around the room.
The lively, sparkling fougere feel of the EDT is preserved in the EDP (not lost, like in the pure parfum) but is much punchier and emphatic. The tonka in the base is far creamier and heavier than in the EDT, although the pure parfum is the creamiest of the lot, with a smooth, thick oriental base that is surprisingly close to vintage Shalimar extrait. I call it for the EDP, though, based on value and on the matter of balance between the fougere and animalic elements.
So there it is. Since I’ve gotten my bottle of Jicky, I’ve been wearing it almost every day. It is humble and naturally good-looking, like a well-cut pair of blue jeans. I find it as satisfying as Shalimar but far more versatile and androgynous. It’s funny, but the Guerlains I’ve ignored the most, like Jicky and Apres L’Ondee, are the ones I ultimately find the most rewarding to wear when I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.