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Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Cimabue

7th October 2015

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was originally asked by a fan on Makeupalley.com to recreate her favorite perfume, Safran Troublant, because she had heard it was being discontinued (it wasn’t) and was distraught. Cimabue is not a faithful rendition of Safran Troublant, but instead a loving tribute that ends up taking the delicate saffron-infused rice-pudding-and-cream accord of the original inspiration and spinning it off into a far more complex, oriental result.

A creamy, dessert-saffron takes center stage here. But a significant clove, ginger, orange, and cinnamon combination lends it a spicy pomander feel that makes my mind wander more in the direction of Pan d’Epices and other European Christmas treats, rather than in the direction of delicate, dusty-floral Indian milk puddings.

There is rose too, and whole ladlefuls of a dark, molten honey – not sweet, but rather bitter and grown-up, like the slight edge of bitterness on a candied peel or a raisin that rescues a taste from being too sugary. There is a charming medieval feel, overall, like a rich golden tapestry hanging on a banquet hall or the taste and smell of those sticky (but dry) honey and almond cakes studded with nuts, cloves, and dried orange peel that are still popular in Siena and Pisa today, such as panforte and ricciarelli.

Cimabue is no simple gourmand, though. It’s a fully-fledged oriental. It’s as if the simple, gourmandy custard of Safran Troublant got dipped into the clove-studded orange and booze of Chanel’s Coco, rubbed in the spicy velvet of Opium, and rolled around in the ambery dust of Fendi’s Theorema, and emerged twelve hours later all the better and wiser for it. It’s the pomander-cross-spice gourmand I had hoped Noir Epices by Frederic Malle would be (but wasn’t). And best of all, it features my favorite note – saffron – in perhaps by favorite guise, that of a sweet, creamy, exotic dessert saffron.

I own two bottles of Safran Troublant, because I love it mindlessly and wear it as a simple comfort scent. But Cimabue is a step forward in the perfume evolutionary chain, and as a piece of art, I prefer it.

Cimabue, by the way, was the Italian artist famous for breaking with the flat Italo-Byzantine style of painting icons and frescos in pre-Renaissance Italy by introducing more naturalistic, true-to-life proportions of figures and shading. And I like to think that the name of this fragrance was deliberate. Because Cimabue takes the basic model of Safran Troublant, animates it subtly with shadows and highlights, and renders it in living, breathing, 3-dimensional form.

It doesn’t make me love Safran Troublant any less, but it is only when I wear its more evolved descendant that I become aware of the progenitor’s serene flatness.

Masculine Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur

29th June 2015

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur is a big ole sex musk with a leer on its face. Luca Turin says it’s more flashy than good, and I’d agree, but then again, I don’t think Musc Ravageur takes itself all that seriously to begin with. It’s a musk with bedroom eyes and an Adam’s apple.

The more I wear it, the more I think of it as the male equivalent of Shalimar. It’s a big-boned oriental at heart, a crude, deconstructed version of the older versions of Shalimar extrait – all rude body musks, thick vanilla, and butter-like tonka. Objectionably rich, and quite pungent in parts.

Even the top notes of Musc Ravageur share a certain barbershoppy feel with Shalimar: in Musc Ravageur, it’s lavender and cloves, and in Shalimar, it’s something like herbes de Provence (thyme?). Perhaps that’s why so many men find the opening challenging – the pungent spices, dirty musk, and sweet vanilla churning their stomachs in a way they can’t handle.

But I’m a Shalimar girl all the way, baby, so this is familiar territory for me. People either hate the opening and love the dry down, or wish that the rough opening would last all the way through – me, I love every part of Musc Ravageur from front to end.

It smells like someone rubbed a vanilla-glazed Cinnabon across the sweaty perineum of a man who hadn’t washed for a few days. Hot, sweet, a bit dirty (in a good way). The combination of the rich, sweet vanilla, tonka, and sandalwood in the base is to die for, no matter where you stand on the exact dirtiness of the musk at the start.

I used to think that it was too loud and too dirty for a lady to be wearing outside the house. But then I realized that the Shalimar extrait I wear is pretty dirty and I wear that out of the house all the time. I think I bought into the hype about this being a disgusting, filthy, old-man kind of smell. Now, I just think it’s a fabulous gourmand musk/oriental that’s both sexy and comfortable.

Vulgar? Yeah. Hell yeah! And so what! A bit of vulgarity never hurt nobody.

Maurice Roucel Musk Review

Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum

29th June 2015

Aha! I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Maurice Roucel takes Musc Ravageur out of the bedroom and into the nursery, refashioning it as Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum.

It’s an amazing accomplishment when you think about it – it shares the same basic DNA as Musc Ravageur, and even smells somewhat similar – and yet the feel of one is a hundred million miles away from the other.

If Musc Ravageur is lying spread-eagled in the boudoir, spilling out of its red lace teddy and trying to disguise its Adam’s apple, Helmut Lang EDP is the tender gripe-water exhalation from a baby sleeping in its cradle. (The only teddy here being the one clutched in fat little baby fingers).

The opening of Helmut Lang EDP always reminds me pleasantly of nightly bath time rituals with my children: the Chicco calendula and lavender baby wash I use, the smell of plush cotton baby towels fresh from the drier, and the innocent smell of the skin at the nape of their necks, which I cannot resist nuzzling.

Few people talk about the sheer sensuality of children these days for risk of being misunderstood – but parents of small children will understand when I say that there is no greater sensual pleasure than the smell and touch of small children. It’s why parents can’t resist nuzzling and sniffing their kids. We are drawn helplessly to their velvety skin and their specific, milky smell.

Helmut Lang EDP smells milky and warm and fresh and innocent to me. It opens with the baby breath of heliotrope, neroli, and pretty orange blossoms. Later, it strikes me that the musk and vanilla is on the knife’s edge of being not-so-innocent after all. Maybe it’s even a little dirty. But not dirty in the Musc Ravageur fun, sex way. Just not as squeaky clean as you might expect from its opening. I don’t find it sexy, though (due to the nursery associations). Just touchingly human in scale, which is nice too.

Helmut Lang EDP is quite modern, airy, and stream-lined, a further departure from the butch oriental category wherein I mentally place Musc Ravageur. But I really should stop comparing them – leaving aside the obvious Maurice Roucel DNA they share – Helmut Lang EDP simply occupies a different place and function in my wardrobe, and I like them both on their own terms.

Amber Maurice Roucel Musk Review The Discard Pile

Le Labo Labdanum 18

29th June 2015

Maurice Roucel, you old roué! I think I’ve figured out your game. You made a beautiful musk-vanilla-amber template in the lab one day, and you thought to yourself, “Maurice, old boy, this ain’t half bad! I can get at least three good fragrances out of this.” You dialed up the rude bits on the template to arrive at Musc Ravageur, and you sanitized it with cotton and heliotrope and doll’s head plastic to come up with Helmut Lang EDP.

Le Labo comes a knocking, and you decide, you know what – let’s see if we can’t wring a last drop of juice from this old sponge. We’ll name it after an ingredient that isn’t noticeably in it, let’s say labdanum, so as to give those contrary hipster mofos at Le Labo their jollies. Add a pinch of cinnamon, a touch of powder, and my standard musky-ambery-vanilla, and BAM! Everybody’s happy.

Well, not me, Maurice, not me. The last imprint of the well-used template is too faint to leave much of an impression. It’s a midget in a hall of giants. Civet, leather – castoreum? Pfff, please. Shalimar has more underpantsy funk than this. The trouble is, of course, that Le Labo Labdanum 18 can only cower in the shadow of its more outgoing big brother, Musc Ravageur, and its more distinctive, characterful little sister, Helmut Lang EDP. And if I want a powdery musk-amber-patchouli scent that smells like skin, I always have the soured-fur delights of L’Ombre Fauve to fall back on. Desolee.

Review Summer White Floral

Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

25th June 2015

My sample of Carnal Flower by Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle sat in my sample box, unloved and untested, for a whole year. I kind of fear tuberose, you see. It brings back unwelcome associations for me between the sleek, buttery smell of tuberose blooms in vases and rich ladies who lunch in hotels.

I used to work in one such hotel – Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare Strand (Irish people will know it). Don’t get me wrong – the hotel was, and still is, a great place and the owners are wonderful. But never was I so aware of my lowly socio-economic status as when I stepped through the revolving doors into the tuberose-scented air of that hotel.

Over time, the smell of tuberose became linked in my mind with rich people, carpets so deep your heels sink into them, and the indefinable smell of wealth in the air. My prejudice is wholly my own, of course – it only means that I have an inferiority complex. But I am careful about tuberose because I am only human and don’t want to deliberately trigger those feelings.

I needn’t have worried about Carnal Flower. It’s less of the ‘wealthy hotel air’ smell of hothouse tuberoses and more botanical, earthy, natural in feel – like walking through a swampy field of tuberose stalks. It is a smell rooted in nature and not in something man-made.

The opening notes are luridly green and camphoraceous, and every time I get a mental image of the waxy leaves of a privet hedge and the stalks of the tuberose being crushed and offered to me to smell. The freshness is a surprise, every time, and it moves me. Slightly bitter, sappy, and evergreen, I wish it could last forever; it’s that intoxicating to my senses.

Eventually, the opening dies back and a creamy tuberose is revealed. To my relief, it is not the butter-and-candy disco flower of my worst nightmares (hello Fracas!), but a cool and restrained take on the infamous bloom. It is creamy, yes, but not overblown.

Hints of coconut and white musk round out the floral element. Although I like the opening more, I also quite like this last phase, especially in the heat, because the tuberose and coconut give off a natural, salty beach feel.

Despite the marketing and the name, I don’t find Carnal Flower to be sexy in the slightest. In my opinion, it is simply a tuberose presented in the most botanical, natural way possible. I think Carnal Flower does a brilliant job of showcasing the headiness of the flower as it appears in nature, and not in a hothouse environment, and for that alone, I will always love it. Will I need a whole bottle of it? Nah. But a vial of it to smell every now and then would be nice.

Green Floral Summer

Vero Profumo Mito Voile D’Extrait

25th June 2015

Addictively green! Actually, green and acid yellow, because along with the garden’s worth of green leaves and a tree’s worth of dry, resinous galbanum shoe-horned into the opening notes of Vero Profumo’s Mito Voile d’Extrait, there is also a hyper-lemon or bergamot accord in there that feels like a million citruses pressed into action all at once. The bitter rind, the juice, the pulp – it’s all here, upfront.

And immediately, in the midst of all this green-and-yellow madness, a creamy white flower starts unfolding its petals, explosively, in a hurry to show off its pushy beauty. Magnolia? Maybe jasmine. Surely, at first it is magnolia – a creamy, non-indolic smell that smells like a magnolia freshly plucked from the tree, complete with the slightly poisonous smell of the green juice of the just-ripped leaves and stems.

It’s beautiful and heady, and yes, supremely botanical in feel. Mito feels like a dense, packed green thing at first, but it has development. It unfurls. The green, citrus ‘roid-rage’ opening unfurls to reveal a magnolia, and the magnolia parts its petals to reveal a very Diorella-esque note of overripe peach or melon. No fruit is listed, but I smell a sticky fruit of some sort.

This ‘rotting fruit’ core is the part of Mito that takes it from a merely botanical wonder of citrus and greens that might have been done by Annick Goutal (only 100 times stronger) to something more complicated, something closer to the slightly decaying, salt-grass-and-fruit chypres that form the bedrock of French summer-chic perfumery, specifically Le Parfum de Therese, Diorella, Cristalle, and even Femme.

Wearing Mito is an all-in experience. You get the lush grandeur of an Italian garden, the resinous greens, the citrus, and creamy white flowers. But you also get the gassy fruit and underlying decay. The extreme dry down of Mito is a surprise – on my skin, it’s all jasmine, with nothing green or botanical or chypre left to provide ballast. I find myself re-spraying to re-live the amazing opening and heart. That’s the part that I find exciting. I’ve gone through two samples, though, and am currently Mito-less. Damn it.

This makes the “maybe” list. Does the joy I feel in the opening notes justify the expense? Hmmmm. We will see.

Fruity Chypre Review

Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese

25th June 2015

My father used to tell this joke. He would ask me and my brothers (all aged ten and downwards) if we knew what the term ‘savoir-faire’ meant. No, we would say – what?

A man is busy making love to his best friend’s wife one day. In walks her husband. He takes one look and says politely, “Oh, so sorry to interrupt you. Please do carry on,” and leaves. Is that savoir-faire?, Dad would ask us. We would nod, awestruck at the husband’s cool, unruffled response.

No, it is not, Dad would say. If the man is able to continue his lovemaking after the interruption, then that is real savoir-faire.

(It occurs to me now that perhaps this was not the most appropriate joke to tell young children.)

I’ve been wearing Le Parfum de Therese for several days now, and let me tell you – this is a perfume with savoir-faire. Everything in this perfume is pulling in exactly the right direction at the same time, and with a whole host of tricky elements to manage – melon ripe with incipient rot, sour tangerine, salty plums, grassy vetiver, and leather – it is no small feat. Le Parfum de Therese pulls it off with aplomb.

Everything falls right into place here – click, click, click is the sound you hear as each of the elements take up their assigned place. The bitter tangerine dropping in beside the ripe melon, ready to tame its excessive sweetness. The bite of the black pepper anchoring the boozy purple plum. The texture fizzing with a twang and a snap, but also smoldering with ripe fruit, rose, and leather. Dewy fruit is balanced by an almost meaty, savory feel. The jasmine smells thick and heavy, and yet the perfume as a whole never loses that watery, citrusy, green-yellow timbre that brings it close in feel to both Diorella and Eau Sauvage by Dior.

What these wonderful perfumes all have in common is, of course, the perfumer – Edmond Roudnitska. Considered to be one of the greatest perfumers that ever lived, Edmond Roudnitska developed a famous chord based on the pairing of jasmine, citrus, moss, and slightly overripe fruit, and he deployed this chord with great effect both in Diorella (citrus and rotting fruit) and Eau Sauvage (fresher, mossier, more citrusy). The genius of this chord was to suggest summer freshness and incipient decay in one breath. I prefer Le Parfum de Therese to Diorella because it strikes me as deeper and more carnal, and also because I don’t want to waste any tears on tracking down a good vintage bottle of the stuff. Eau Sauvage is truly excellent – a benchmark in its genre and still fabulous in its current form today – but it has belonged to my father since forever, and it’s his version of savoir-faire, not mine.

With its plum notes and slight leather feel, Le Parfum de Therese reminds me of a restrained, cool, and fresh take on the sultry Femme by Rochas, also by Roudnitska. Femme takes the jasmine-plum-leather chord, strips it of any freshness, and sets it to vibrate at sex levels. Femme is basically a rich, luridly-hued pile of plums, peaches and peach skin, dusted in warming spice and set against a backdrop of lacquered woods, leather, and damp moss. There is a fair amount of cumin or civet in it, too. Femme is much raunchier than Le Parfum de Therese, but also much cruder in execution, as befits its intent to seduce.

Le Parfum de Therese clearly contains the Roudnitska DNA and therefore belongs to this ‘stable’ of scents – fruity leather chypres with varying degrees of lemony freshness, innocence, and plummy carnality. I think I like Le Parfum de Therese the best out of this group, though, precisely because it strikes me as the perfect middle ground between Eau Sauvage (high on citrus, low on carnality) and Femme (low on citrus, high on carnality).

Most alluring to me in Le Parfum de Therese is the slight smell of salt grass wafting through the perfume. It brings to mind a woman reclining on the reeds of a salt marsh after a tryst with an illicit lover. Le Parfum de Therese is the smell of her nape as she drowsily pulls her loose hair up into its habitual bun – salty droplets of moisture that have gathered there during intimacy, as well bits of crushed grass, flowers, and the imprint of her lover’s plum-stained mouth. In a few moments, she will button up her white silk blouse and become again the respectable, bourgeois French wife and mother that she always is. But right now, she is a woman come undone – her body loose and relaxed with love.

And this is a perfume that famously speaks to love. Roudnitska composed it for his beloved wife, Therese, in the 1950s, and she was the only person in the world allowed to wear it. After his death, Therese allowed Frederic Malle to take the formula and make it into a commercial perfume for all of us to enjoy. At first, l wondered if I could ever feel comfortable wearing a perfume made for another woman – it might feel like I am intruding on a private expression of love between a woman and her husband.

But then, my sample of this came to me from my friend and wonderful writer, Conor, more widely known as Jtd, whose husband had bought it for him as a present for his fiftieth birthday. It touches me that he sent me something that is part of his love story with his husband. So maybe Le Parfum de Therese is just an exquisite expression of love that we can all share, and continue to hand down from generation to generation, irrespective of gender, sexuality, age, or race. I like the thought of that. Perfume as a hope chest.

On, and needless to say, there is something very French about Le Parfum de Therese. Something about the balance between sweet, salty, sour, fresh, prim, and carnal that reads as both deliberate, and a happy accident of nature. It is sophisticated and yet effortless. In fact, if Le Parfum de Therese was a person, she would be the man who is able to continue making love to his mistress after her husband has interrupted them mid-coitus. The very definition of savoir-faire.

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