I fought tooth and nail to get my hands on a vintage-ish bottle of Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise, and each time I wear it, I am less and less convinced that the juice was worth the squeeze. Yes, the sandalwood in the drydown is gloriously real, yes, the rose is a powdery delight, and yes, the iris is the starchiest, whitest Irish linen tablecloth you ever did touch. But given the ocean of sharp, musky green soap you have to wade through to get to them, I wonder if I’d have been better off investing in another bottle of 1980s Samsara. Until I remember that I’m not terribly fond of that one either.
I have no real criticism to levy at Heure Exquise in particular. Viewed under any even halfway objective lens, it is a beautiful fragrance. It is just that my soul remains unstirred by green, aldehydic fragrances that draw on galbanum for their emotive power.
My problem, however, is that I am also drawn to the evocative descriptions of the scent’s retro, womanly charm whenever it is reviewed. I project myself onto these descriptions, imagining myself to be the type of woman – elegant, fastened-up, but undeniably sensual – for whom Heure Exquise seems to have been created.
But not only am I not that woman, once on the skin, Heure Exquise and its ilk (yes, the whole genre) smells dated to me. Chanel No. 19, Annick Goutal Heure Exquise, Chanel Cristalle, Ormonde Jayne Tiare, Guerlain Chamade, Lancôme Climat, Amouage Gold Woman – all behemoths of classic female ‘power top’ perfumery – are scents that I respect but cannot bring myself to love. On the rare occasion that I do wear them, any attempt to mold them to my own personality falls flat and I am left feeling slightly judged (by my own perfume!) for doing unladylike stuff in its presence, like answering emails in my underwear or balancing a bowl of peanuts on my belly as I flick through Netflix.
Still, with Heure Exquise, the am-I-a-dirty-girl-or-am-I-not vibe gives me pause for thought. Past that atmosphere-rip-tear of a virulently green, dry (gaspingly so) galbanum resin, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to Chanel No. 19, Heure Exquise settles into the almost civety-floral aroma of a bar of Chanel No. 5 soap that’s cracking and grey at the edges, making it seem not entirely impossible that this particular lady who lunches may not have changed her underwear in recent memory. I’m not saying that it’s animalic but there is something a little poopy or yeasty about that musk-sandalwood tandem.
And it is precisely this quality of Heure Exquise that makes me cling to my half used bottle. I appreciate a bit of ladylike smut holding its corner against the hospital corners of floral aldehydes (the horsey, slightly grimy undercurrent in both Vega and Cuir de Russie, for example, is exactly why I love those fragrances). But while Heure Exquise is probably the epitome of the classic, feminine power scent and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Mitsouko and No. 19, I am never 100% myself in it and for that reason, it has got to go.
Source of sample: I bought two bottles of vintage-ish Heure Exquise from the Parfumo Souk in 2021 – the second one only because the first was confiscated en route to me by Dutch customs. I should have taken this as a sign from the universe that this perfume and I are ill-matched. But of course I didn’t.
I don’t mind the soft projection or poor longevity of Cittá di Kyoto, but what I can’t forgive is its vagueness. It is mostly iris – that rooty, plaster-of-Paris iris material that Santa Maria Novella uses – over a blob of bitter, musky cedar, but it is dry enough for people to imagine they smell Japanese incense, sweet enough for people to think they smell fruit, and softly hawthorn-ish enough to make people think of Daim Blond.
However, nothing ever tilts too firmly in one direction or another, so you get this diaphanous, blown out blur of root and wood and petal refuses to commit to even one of those ideas. It flip flops between one thing and another so quickly that it could get elected to local government at least. Some people find this charming. I find it irritating, just as I do that dreamy, opaque way old Irish people have of answering every question with a half-laughed ‘ah sure, now, you know yourself’ when in fact, no, we don’t know, which is why we asked the question in the first place, you muppet.
I suspect that were it not for the evocative name or the inspiration, nobody would peg it as smelling particularly like Japanese incense or the woody air of an onsen in the forest, and so on and so forth. Indeed, in the hands of any other brand, it might even be called – gasp – unfinished. I bought a bottle, and not even blindly, simply because I had successfully mind-swindled myself into hearing the rustle of silk screens and bamboo mats.
But repeated wear just erodes the fantasy of Cittá di Kyoto a bit more each time. I can squint my eyes all I like but no amount of mental acrobatics is going to turn that damp, bitter blob of cedar into the airy, silvery-green hinoki of my imagination, nor is that dry iris and hint of smoke ever going to transform into a wisp of coreless Shoyeido incense, which itself smells far more characterfully of cloves, benzoin, and aloeswood that anything suggested by this milquetoast of a perfume.
Every spring since 2015, I have dutifully taken the frosted bottle out of the cupboard, dusted it off, and hoped that this would be the moment when it reveals its true beauty to me. And in truth, I don’t hate it. It is not a bad fragrance, objectively. But life is just too short for such low-impact fragrance.
Source of Sample: Oh, don’t I just I’d just bought a sample. I bought a whole bottle of the darned thing.
Neither of these 2016 Ormonde Jayne releases – Jardin d’Ombre and Ambre Royal – are my kind of thing, even though there are interesting and even beautiful moments in both of them. But I’m beginning to wonder if 2016 marked some kind of strategic shift for Ormonde Jayne as a brand, away from the more characterful – and some might say challenging – compositions and towards a simpler, broader aesthetic that panders to a more mainstream taste?
Because, from this point onwards, that fascinating Ormonde Jayne interplay between piquant, peppery citrus notes and opulent woody, floral, or resinous drydown seems to be, if not missing, then certainly thinner – a mission drift of the kind that you notice only if you look closely enough. I notice, in the post-2016 Ormonde Jayne output, a flattening out on the complexity front, as well as a tendency to hoist them into the air with a sticky-sweet aromachemical volume far outpacing even the boost of the Iso E Super for which the brand is well known.
It’s fine, it’s fine – there are high points and successes even within this ‘slide’, if that is what it is, (the Love Collection was more lovely than not, and the 2016 release of Rose Gold was a triumph, even if it was followed by the insipid, more department-store-ish White Gold in 2017). And I will continue to think of, and rate, Ormonde Jayne as highly as I do Chanel, Hermès, and Mona di Orio when it comes to their consistency in turning out solidly-built, classically luxurious perfume. Ormonde Jayne is and always will be a top tier house for me. But, speaking as a serious Ormonde Jayne fan and owner of about six of their fragrances, if the La Route de la Soie collection marks where the brand is headed, then I will lock myself in with my pre-2016 Ormonde Jayne perfumes and try to pretend that the house ended its run there.
Neither Jardin d’Ombre nor Ambre Royal are all that bad but compared to the perfumes in the core collection and in the Four Corners collection, they’re not that great either. They could be said to mark the beginning of the shift in Ormonde Jayne direction towards the common denominator of popular taste for Ambroxan-driven ambers and florals, and from this perspective, they are interesting to study. Would I wear them myself? No, probably because nowadays, I tend to rank new perfumes – flurries of interest or even what I think might be ‘like’ or ‘love’ – against the gold standard of Nawab of Oudh, and when it comes down to it, I would always prefer to save for that bottle of Nawab of Oudh.
It’s impossible to tell from the notes list, but Jardin d’Ombre
is not a rich, velvety floriental but rather a sheer and uplifting Eau
de Lancôme medley of lime and bergamot strung out over gauzy white flowers
(Hedione-assisted) and a whoosh of what feels like aldehydes. There’s a tannic ‘linen’
note in the midst of the scent’s Big Lift which makes me wonder if there was a
microtrend afoot for this sort of sourish, diaphanous white floral in 2016; the
way Jardin d’Ombre is set up strongly recalls the cold champagne-and-copper-pennies
fizz of Superstitious (Frederic Malle), also 2016.
Truth be told, these soapy aldehyded florals with their sharp elbows and chilly demeanor – Climat, Arpège, etc. – are not really my thing; I need a bit of warmth and sweetness (Gold Woman by Amouage and Ella by Arquiste are as close as I am willing to get). But I do love the cold, aerated feel of Jardin d’ Ombre at first; it smells like a freshly-laundered bedsheet whipped by gusts of mountain air, the scent of the lemon or jasmine-scented water still clinging to the fabric. There’s also a brief but enchanting moment where it smells a bit like a freshly-opened sheaf of printing paper.
Unfortunately, the sourish, papery freshness I enjoy so much fades away within the hour, leaving in its place a sullen clutch of gummy ‘white flowers’ and an amber accord so sticky that I feel like I’ve just peeled open one of my husband’s white shirts taken wet from the machine to discover that it’s gone through the wash wrapped around one of the children’s abandoned, half-sucked lollipops (flavor undetermined). Funnily enough, the gummy white flower/amber-Ambroxan accord that Jardin d’Ombre dries down to happens to be the point from which the next fragrance I’m reviewing – Ambre Royal – starts out.
This is a stretch, so bear with me – but is it possible that
Ambre Royal is Ormonde Jayne’s riposte to Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat
Rouge 540? Both follow a basic formula of something candied joined to a spacey,
metallic Ambrox overload that sends the whole thing shooting off into space.
Both are sweet (in an acceptably masculine manner) and enormously radiant. Both
fragrances affect me in an almost physical sense. Some portions leave me nose
blind, while other portions drive an Ambrox-shaped ice pick into the most
tender and vulnerable part of my brain. I can’t wear either of them for an
extended length of time without wanting to boil my skin off to make it stop,
but I did anyway, because reviews based on a quick sniff rather than a full day’s
wear are only 10% of the story.
On my skin, Ambre Royal smells absolutely awful at first. I am assaulted by the
scent of boiled sweets melted down and smeared over salty fishing tackle – a
queasy mélange of Maltol, shiny lab musks, the sweaty, aftershavey radiance of
Ambrox, and the bone-dry, faux-cedar crackle of Iso E Super. Smells like the
essence of Man on steroids. But the Sporty Modern Man edition, because it sure
But listen, this is Ormonde Jayne, and they are never just going to leave this
accord hanging around all on its own like that. So, the ugliness of the initial
chords gets gentled down in a bed of powdery musks, amber, myrrh, and
(real-smelling) cedarwood that smells like an expensive wooden box full of
antique amber resin.
The amber is not rich, but light, expansive, and nicely salty. In fact, it reminds me of the black licorice-inflected almond play-dough (tonka bean and myrrh) of Alien Absolue, minus the overt jasmine notes. I warm up to Ambre Royal at precisely the point at which I stop smelling aftershave and start smelling the anisic custard accord I love so much in the Mugler, though the Ormonde Jayne take on the theme has been lighted and aerated so much that it bears only a distant relationship to Alien Absolue’s gouty bullishness. I don’t know what kind of black magic has been employed to massage something so brutal into the shape of luxuriousness, but that’s Ormonde Jayne for you. I just wish we’d been treated to the smooth stuff from the get-go rather than having to sweat through the unpleasantly metallic ambery goop at the start.
Before I posted this review, I checked the fragrance again, this time spraying on paper – and what a revelation! Ambre Royal behaves very differently on paper than on my skin. Paper slows its roll. I’m treated to a drawn-out procession of some pretty wonderful notes that had whizzed right by me the last few times. I smell anise, red and purple berries, licorice vines, velvety musks, gin and tonic, gripe water, and a sort of creamy, candied white musk-custard accord that reminded me immediately of the amazing Musc Nomade (Annick Goutal), shot through with the cedary aftershave notes of Ambrox and Iso E Super, which are now subdued under the indolent weight of silky amber notes. Quite a different experience. If it weren’t socially unacceptable to wear perfume via paper strips taped to one’s pulse points, that’s totally how I’d handle Ambre Royal.
Source of Samples: Ormonde Jayne as PR samples in 2016-2017 (ish). This review was not required by the brand.
The topnotes of Serge Lutens Serge Noire‘s smoky, dried fruit incense draw me in every single Goddamn time, like a mermaid’s song. And then I am dashed cruelly against the rocks that are this scent’s downfall – the unmistakably oniony sweat of unwashed (male) armpits.
Ask me how I know. No, really. I first smelled this when I was visiting Mont San Michel with my family when I was seven. The children had sat down in a grumpy, sun-beaten heap on the doorstop of the nth church, refusing to indulge our parents any further in their unquenchable thirst for the various religious icons and tchotchkes of French medieval churches, which seemed to us to be identical to the ones we had back home, only a little older and grimier.
From our vantage point, we got to study the interiors of everyone’s nostrils, skirts, and armpits. People passed over us; we were ignored, perhaps not even seen. A middle-aged man stopped under the mantel and leaned against the cool wall for a moment to gather himself, and in that moment, I understood that dried sweat could smell like onions and black pepper and celery – the makings of a mirepoix, practically – when suspended in droplets in the thicket of a man’s armpit hair.
The onion sweat accord can be parsed out later as clove, cumin, black pepper, and incense. While I love clove in stuff like Eau Lente (Diptyque) and the Eau de Parfum by Commes des Garcons, I admit that it can come off as sweaty and metallic to an almost objectionable degree. But the operational word is almost. There’s always something in those fragrances to reign it in – herbaceous oppoponax, a bit of honey, some sandalwood. In Serge Noire, the clove business simply goes too far. It sidles up to the breaking point of human endurance and then waltzes brazenly past it, lurching unchecked into pure onion sweat territory whence it cannot be redeemed.
I keep trying it, hoping I am wrong or that my perception will loosen up, allowing me to glimpse the true beauty of this scent as others describe it. But as of May 2020, and upon my 14th attempt, I have to admit defeat.
Source of sample: Purchased over and over again from Notino.uk to no avail, because I do not and will never ‘get’ this scent.
Cover Photo By photographer Jens Karlsson, Creative Director at Your Majesty, NYC, available here via Stockpholio.net
My favorite type of art is naïve art, which is a style of painting that looks like a 5-year old child did it with his chubby, untrained fingers – great big blocks of color and form jostled together in a way that, while rough, carries an immediate emotional impact. I like the hand-made-ness of the style, even if it at times it can come off as a little self-conscious or knowing.
I presage my review of Lush Cardamom Coffee with this by way of explaining why I continue to blind buy Lush perfumes, even though 70% of them don’t work out for me. I’m just hopelessly attracted to the aesthetic of all those naturals smooshed together like squirts of red and blue gouache, and to the air of childlike glee that lurks at the corners of all Lush products.
Unfortunately, this sort of naïve style, while attractive, has downsides when it comes to perfume. Lush perfumes are filled to the brim with expensive naturals, but the result is often just too much of everything – too strong, unrefined, too massively clumsy, like a garishly painted elephant careening around a china shop: a Duplo compared to the Lego of a niche or a designer perfume. Still, I love the lack of pretension in the style, and its cheerful, colorful sense of fun, which I why I continue to buy them.
Cardamom Coffee sounds like an excellent proposition on paper. The first question anyone will have is: does it smell like coffee? The answer is that, yes, it does. But your second and more important question should be: what kind of coffee? Because Cardamom Coffee smells like the bitter mass of coffee grounds left in the machine when the barista turns it up too high and burns the hell out of it. Want to smell like that? Yeah, me neither.
How you like your coffee to smell will very much define your relationship with any of the coffee-based fragrances around. Some smell milky, some smell like caramel and hazelnut creamer has been added, some smell resinous or green, some smell like the wooden insides of the coffee shop rather than the coffee itself, and some, including Cardamom Coffee smell burned (they might call it roasted) to the point of bitterness. This last one is the one that nauseates me.
That’s not to say that there are no pleasant aspects to the fragrance, because there are, and I enjoy those parts very much. The cardamom note is excellent here, turning from a lemony, peppery freshness to a metallic greenness and finally to a gently soapiness, all aspects exerting a steadying hand on the bitter roar of burnt coffee grounds.
There are points at which I can even smell what Lush must have been aiming for, which is the exotic scent of drinking Turkish coffee through a pod of green cardamom held between your teeth, as many Arabs and Persians do. When I lived in a North-Eastern town in Bosnia, I was always charmed to see how Muslim women drank their coffee – some with a cracked cardamom pod, some with a sugar cube, some even with an orange peel, held gently between their upper and lower teeth while they sipped the coffee, aromatizing it.
Still, the burned coffee ground aspect in Coffee Cardamom is so potent that it tends to overwhelm the more pleasant notes. Packed densely into this compressed brick of aroma, there are nuances of dirty rubber, fuel, and singed electrical wires. As the fragrance develops (or rather, begins to fade out, since I can’t say that there is much development here), it begins to smell like the dry honk of air sucked in by burning tires. It retains that faintly foodie edge of coffee grounds, however, so the stomach continues to churn a little.
It gets better. Always, by the time the base comes around, I feel as if I could forgive Coffee Cardamom its bitter start. It eases out into a dusty, balsamic chocolate accord enlivened with juicy Coca Cola note, which is probably the cardamom, its characteristic sparkle nudging its way out of the dense darkness of the burned chocolate-coffee mass.
Hints of another Lush perfume, All Good Things, emerge in the drydown, with its charming mix of crystallized sugar, charred woods, toasted newspaper, and something dirty, like a B.O note. Finally, in its last grasp, it becomes a sparkling vanilla scent, with a touch of Barbie doll maltol to see things out on a friendly note. How weird, and how unbalanced, though, this nose-dive from bitter, burned coffee grounds to Pink Sugar. No, Coffee Cardamom doesn’t work for me, but I can’t say that I’ll learn my lesson and stop buying Lush perfumes. The strike rate is low, but the 30% that do work for me really work for me, if you know what I mean.
Every time I try Robert Piguet Bandit, I wonder why I don’t love it. I should love it – I love chypres, I love leathers, and I love the idea of a perfume so bad-ass you can almost visualize its resting bitch face.
Maybe it’s because there’s nothing to distract from Bandit’s core brutality. Chypres are bitter, leather is bitter – leather chypres are therefore doubly bitter. Tabac Blond takes you almost to the edge but drifts into a sweet, smoky amber drydown that softens the landing. Habanita covers it up with flowers and face powder. Jolie Madame has the sweet sparkle of violets.
Bandit apologizes for nothing, and covers nothing up. It’s a tough, bitter, raw-edged leather that winds up in ash and sweat. The flowers that are there are putridly creamy in a stomach-turning way, and the civet forces your head into its crotch.
Putting it on is like fighting your way into a tight black leather jacket that crackles with hostility as you try to make it bend. Once on, there is a raw, salty meat smell that crawls up at your nose from the seams of the jacket, as if bits of cow flesh still cling to the underside. I was always disappointed that Lady Gaga’s first fragrance didn’t smell like I imagined her dripping meat dress to smell – but Bandit does.
But that’s not what turns my stomach. What gets me each and every time is the jarring clash between the raw, salted-meat leather notes and the creamy floral side. The florals are calorific, full-fat renderings of themselves – a rubbery tuberose, a petrol-like jasmine – mashed into a cream cheese texture that when it rubs up against the dark, dry leather causes my gorge to rise. The civet plays a key role here, of course, both heightening the pitch of the brutal leather accord and giving the florals a slutty growl.
To my surprise, it’s the smoky ashes of the dreaded galbanum that rescue Bandit for me – cutting through the overly rich florals and brutal, salted leather, the ash weaves in and out and draws my attention to a campfire in the distance, a successful (and much appreciated) piece of misdirection. Every time I get to this part of the dry down, I wonder if it’s worth at least getting a decant.
On the plus side, Bandit is distinctive, bold, and full of character. It is also ageless. In its cleaned-up, reformulated state, the current Bandit EDP is firmly modern in its minimalism. There is nothing in it that pegs it to any one year, let alone a year as far back as 1944. As Teutonically ergonomic as an Olympian swimmer’s waxed chest, it feels like it could have been debuted in the same year as Rien (Etat Libre d’Orange), even though 62 years separate the two.
On the other hand, Bandit is a fragrance whose high proportion of green notes makes it vulnerable to the ravages of time. In two samples I’ve had (vintage and concentration unknown to me), the green elements – the moss, hyacinth, artemisia? – seemed to have wilted like lettuce in strong sun. The resulting vegetal, decaying mulch does nothing for me, not because it is unpleasant per se, but because part of me associates that wilted green note with perfumes I find dated. I won’t name names, but basically anything with coriander, peach, gardenia, and sometimes that 70’s way of treating patchouli.
In the end, though, Bandit is just a curiosity for me, and a placeholder – it smells much better and richer than the brown-grey drudgery of the current Cabochard and less herbally-up-its-own-ass as Miss Balmain, but not nearly as good as Jolie Madame, whose rush of violets makes me smile. Habanita and Tabac Blond are its sisters-in-arms, equally at home with a sneer and a cigarette dangling out of their mouths, but I would take them – any of them – over Bandit. I just don’t have the personality required for such naked aggression.
Do you ever give perfumes a last ditch chance after dismissing them one or maybe two times before? I am drawn to certain perfumes, over and over again, not because I love them but because everybody else loves them and so I find myself second guessing my own judgment.
After all, there are plenty of perfumes that I’ve dismissed too easily to then turn around and love hard on them six or twelve months down the line, so it’s certainly not out of the question that it’s just me, and not the perfume.
But sometimes – just sometimes – it is the perfume.
I’ve owned Teo Cabanel Alahine three times. The first was a generous sample from a kind Basenoter. I remember liking it well enough, but being utterly puzzled as to the mass adoration it inspired out there in the stinkoverse. I passed the sample on. But when Teo Cabanel was having a change-of-bottle sale, I began to sweat it, wondering if I’d been too hasty to judge Alahine, and thus, doubting myself, I bought a much-reduced bottle.
Opening the bottle and spraying liberally, I once again thought: What is the big fuss about?
I just didn’t get it.
To be fair, I loved the huge, beautifully baroque-scaled opening. Still do. For the glorious thirty to fifty minutes that Alahine blooms on my skin, I swear to forsake all other ambers and pledge my undying love to this one. It reminds me a bit of the big diva perfumes of the eighties, like Joop – the kind of stuff you wear to knock out the competition on the dance floor. Gorgeous chewy labdanum and powdery sweet benzoin heaped high and covered with syrupy, fleshy indolic flowers like jasmine and orange flower, big buttery yellow ylang, supported by whiff of dirty patch and musk…..but then, POOF! Gone.
Yep, within the space of barely an hour, Alahine completely falls off the ledge. It is a bit shocking, to be honest. The dry down goes on for a bit, in that traditional, slightly boring way most ambers do, along the benzoin-labdanum axis. But all the action has already happened – look behind you and you might catch a glimpse of it in the rear-view mirror. Wearing Alahine is a bit like having the sexiest, most drop dead gorgeous man sit next to you at a bar and then discovering that he has no conversation.
I sold my bottle for a song. But someone on the Facebook forum where I sold it said something that I never forgot. He said, “You’ll regret selling Alahine. It’s one of the most beautiful perfumes ever made.” And thus started the second, even longer cycle of regret over Alahine. The minute I posted the parcel off at the post office I began to long to have it back in my possession.
And now it is. A dear friend and I agreed to a swap a few days ago – I got her small bottle of Alahine (she has a huge back-up bottle) and I sent her an equivalent amount of Coromandel. So, now, almost 18 months on from having sold my bottle, what do I think of Alahine?
Still very pretty, still woefully weak, etc. I don’t care about the longevity issues anymore, to be honest. My friend and I discussed this, and we agreed that we both have so much perfume now that hourly reapplications are the way to go with Alahine.
But now I think I was right in my initial judgment. I find Alahine to be a little bit old-fashioned. Not retro, just old-fashioned. And while it’s very nice, it’s hardly the second coming of Christ that some reviews make it out to be. I also still think it smells a little like Joop.
Not a big disaster – I’ll sell or swap this bottle of Alahine. But I won’t be longing for it ever again. But if you ever see me wondering out loud if I’ve made a mistake, feel free to slap me.
I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdijan as a man and as a perfumer. I own quite a few of his perfumes (Absolue pour le Soir, Eau Noire, Cologne Pour Le Soir), and greedily covet others that I don’t (his original Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, Enlevement au Serail). I’m hard pressed to think of a composition of his that I can’t at least appreciate, even if I don’t want to own it myself.
Baccarat Rouge 540 is an exception. Unfortunately, it manages to be the perfect storm of all the notes I hate, all of them converging at once to screw with my head. And it sticks to my skin like glue (ain’t that the way it goes).
The top notes are pleasant, barely – a brief succulence in the form of oranges, saffron, and marigold that combines in such a way as to suggest a ripe red berry. For a moment, I am also reminded of the radiant freshness of his original Oud, a metallic brightness of spilled orange juice and yellow saffron powder. The jasmine here smells fresh, like a green-scent breeze moving through a line of cottons hung out to dry, and is reminiscent in its crispness of both Eau Sauvage and Kurkdijan’s own Aqua Vitae – safe to say that rather than jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, this note is probably Hedione, a wonderful aromachemical that expands the lungs with a radiant, green jasmine sensation.
Unfortunately, the fruity floral top notes get swallowed up almost immediately by the powerful basenotes – and when I say powerful, I mean overwhelming. There is a potent cedar here that reads as wet, pungent, almost musky with that sour edge I dislike in the note, and when it buts up against the sweet, juicy top notes, the result is like throwing a thick pear juice onto a bed of ashes. This unsettling accord (fruit juice thrown into dirty ashes) is also what I experience from Soleil de Jeddeh by Stephane Humbert Lucas 777, another fragrance I’m struggling to get my head around.
The musky, sour cedar is quickly joined by one of the most obnoxious notes in all perfumery (for me personally), fir balsam. This note might make others think of Christmas, but to me, it always makes me think of sweat. Each of the five times I tried Baccarat Rouge 540, it dried down to this thin but obnoxious smell of dried runner’s sweat – I know it’s the fir balsam because I’ve experienced this once before, with Annick Goutal’s otherwise very lovely Encens Flamboyant. Pure sweat. It’s a hard association to shake.
The saltiness from the Ambroxan or ambergris note (whatever it is) doesn’t help much either. Its salty mineral smell brings a pleasant outsdoorsiness, yes, but it also brings forward that sensation of feeling your skin crackle with dried sea salt, sweat, and sun tightness after falling asleep on the beach after a swim. Pleasant in perfumes such as Eau des Merveilles, but joined with the wet, musky cedar and the sweaty fir balsam of Baccarat Rouge 540, it’s simply one drop of sweat too much. Some will find this salt-sweat note very sensual, sexy even – but it just makes me want to go take a shower.
Mona di Orio Myrrh Casati is somewhat of a disappointment. Mona’s style was always rich, thick, dirty, lush, and as dense as a brick wall – it’s what her fans loved about her. I don’t see her style in this perfume. Myrrh Casati is the first Mona di Orio fragrance to be composed by someone other than Mona herself, following her tragic death in 2011. And you can tell.
Myrrh Casati, while very nice and wearable, does not have any of the special Mona di Orio signatures that could be traced from one perfume to another like a vein on a lover’s arm. It lacks the almost overbearingly rich, dirty, creamy woodiness of Vanille and Oud, the dry-ice, almond-like musks from Ambre, Violette Fumee, and Musc, and the harsh animalism of Nuit Noire and Cuir. Without these little olfactory clues that she tucked so deftly into the sleeves of her work, I am lost. Myrrh Casati could be the work of anyone.
If her other perfumes are rich tapestries, then Myrrh Casati is a silk gauze. It is beautiful but simple to the point of being spare. The opening is particularly striking. A dark, dry spice note fuses with a warm, cinnamon-tinted Siam benzoin and sharp black pepper to form a gorgeous aroma of tarry coca-cola. There is also an arresting black rubber feel to the opening, arising from the use of saffron, or perhaps plain old saffraleine, and it is a smooth complement to the licorice.
But any opening richness or darkness quickly attenuates. Within minutes, I am left with a rather bare bones resin scent with a faint but noticeable minty smoke note from either the myrrh or the licorice. I’m a myrrh lover and a big Mona di Orio fan, but this one leaves me wanting more.
There is always something a little off-balance to me in Naomi Goodsir’s fragrances. Not artistically off-balance – but something sticking out like a sore thumb and throwing the whole thing off.
While I admire the daring of Bois d’Ascese, I find the crackling dry woodsmoke to be overwhelming. It drowns out the creamy, spiky elemi in thick billows of black soot, and makes it very difficult to perceive anything else that’s going on with the scent until the far drydown, when it becomes a 50-50 mix of great-quality frankincense and woodsmoke. Then I can enjoy its mysterious, austere smokiness on my scarf for days afterwards. But up until the dry down, I am choking through a fog of unremittingly bleak, black smoke.
Or du Serail has a beautiful, honeyed tobacco leaf at its core. But unfortunately, it gets drowned in a fruity, sticky mess of mango, rum, coconut, and ylang, giving somewhat of an impression of a day-old tropical fruit cocktail left out in the sun to develop a ‘bloom’. It is also unbearably sweet. Ambre Narguile does the fruit-cake-and-honey tobacco thing so much better that I wonder why anybody felt this was necessary. And to be honest, if I wanted a complex, syrupy tobacco fragrance then Histoires de Parfums’ masterpiece 1740 satisfies me on all levels.
Or du Serail is an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ kind of scent where everything is thrown at tobacco in the hope that something sticks. Don’t get me wrong – it is pleasant to wear and technically ‘yummy’ in that round, sweet, bland way of another of Duchaufour’s misses, Havana Vanille. But as in Havana Vanille, Or du Serail contains unpleasantly sour, discordant off-notes like mould on a piece of bread, or rot beginning to set in on a piece of fruit. Or du Serail makes a lunge for that fine line between edible and inedible, and just misses the mark.
Somehow, I had high hopes for Cuir Velours. I love fruit-suede fragrances like Visa and Daim Blonde, and am slowly coming around to the idea of Traversee du Bosphore. Indeed, there is something in the fruity, syrupy heart of Cuir Velours that reminds me of the cherry-pomegranate-apple syrup in Traversee du Bosphore, and also something of that pink-grey powdered suede with a thick dusting of icing sugar on top. To say that Cuir Velours has something of a lokum feel to it would perhaps be going too far. But there’s a familial connection, and it’s interesting to me.
Maybe 75% of Cuir Velours is attractive to me – in particular that hushed, plushy suede and spiced fruit compote note. The immortelle is nicely folded in, and I can only pick up that strange, savory syrup note in the heart of the fragrance, where it adds a necessary point of interest.
But two things throw Cuir Velours way off track – the overwhelming sweetness and the burnt-woods aromachemical lurking underneath, which is most definitely Norlimbanol. Believe me, I know my enemy well. And it is he. To me, it sticks out like a sore thumb and I don’t understand why a perfumer would think it necessary to use such a brutal material in what is essentially a plush-toy sort of fragrance. Another Naomi Goodsir fragrance written off for the sake of one element that just doesn’t work for me.