Salty-sweet, finely balanced, and genuinely pleasant, Sel de Vétiver is one of my personal vetiver favorites. Citrus-vetiver combinations are usually not really my thing – I much prefer earthy and smoky interpretations of vetiver (like Sycomore, Route du Vétiver, or Villoresi’s Vetiver). To my nose, the cologne-style citrusy/green ones tend to come off as somewhat dusty and largely unengaging. However, Sel de Vétiver combines the very best of the two styles, featuring a beautiful earthy-dark vetiver under a zesty grapefruit-bergamot opening. Compositionally, Sel de Vétiver is quite simple, relying boldly on its fine-quality ingredients, and it presents a nice and clearly discernible development: a grapefruit-dominated opening, slightly sweetened with cardamom, giving way to a more floral and slightly bitter phase where the vetiver begins to take over, before the composition ends with a wonderful salty and strongly vetiver-centered base. The vetiver note is very distinct and prominent, and it mixes extraordinarily well with the bitter flowers (mostly geranium), the spicy freshness, and the sea salt. The combination is creative and it really works: Sel de Vétiver successfully manages to tilt its genre just enough to feel both innovative and conventional at the same time. Highly recommended.
An impressive and luxurious sweet oriental, Coromandel is another major accomplishment in Chanel’s outstanding Les Exclusifs series. The outcome of patchouli, white chocolate, vanilla, and balsamic resins elegantly arranged on a highly complex floral background with a bit of smoke and woods, Coromandel is warm, opulent, and very fulfilling.
While it is undeniably a wonderful and captivating fragrance, it is also an example of pure exoticism and confused references: the sheer complexity and sensuousness accentuate a stereotypical fantasy of far-away fragrant places. For one thing, it escapes me what patchouli and white chocolate have so intimately to do with the colonial name for the South-Eastern coast of India (something centering on sandalwood or vetiver instead might perhaps have been less idiosyncratic). The Chanel ad copy does very little to clear the confusion, mysteriously expounding the fragrance to be in fact a “homage to the exquisite Chinese lacquer screens” that used to make Coco Chanel “almost faint with happiness.” China? Patchouli and chocolate?!
So a Chinese-inspired India-named perfume masterfully combining warm and spicy ingredients from across the (postcolonial) world manages, quite illustratively, to reproduce and sublimate classic European notions of an exotic hedonistic Orient, all “spirited,” “voluptuous,” indeed prone to elicit joyful fits of unconsciousness, but with no clear geographical fixity, let alone sense and reason. Coromandel is somewhere else, out there, far away, in certain voluptuous parts existing mainly in romantic corners of the European mind. Coromandel is an eminent example of quirky-confused European chinoiserie, anno 2007 - and a wonderful fragrance.
26th December, 2015 (last edited: 27th December, 2015)
Uber-intense (many would say overwhelming) Ambra Mediterranea is both beautiful and brutal, and it takes no prisoners: this is full-throttle ambergris, only for hardy enthusiasts. Ambra Mediterranea is deliberately excessive, sort of a comfort scent in overdrive: a veritable explosion of smooth balmy sweetness, tropical spices and gorgeous amber opulence. The name makes little sense: I don't see anything “Mediterranean” about it. This fragrance is eminently oriental, a thick and pervasive ambery sweetness wonderfully backed up and rounded off by a delicious mix of sticky resins (tolu, benzoin), vanilla, incense, a bit of musk and patchouli, a dash of coriander and maybe a drop or two of citrus. Ambra Mediterranea is disarming and decadent, mysterious and unapologetically maximalist. Apply with extreme caution - a bottle of this stuff will last you forever. Very highly recommended.
The butch and wayward member of Dior’s exclusive Collection Privée, Leather Oud is a full-force demonstration of its two eponymous notes mixed up with a skanky selection from the dirty drawers of perfumery: lots of civet, birch tar, and beeswax. To smooth out this veritable pile of dirtiness, the central notes are grounded in a very complex mix of spices (mainly cardamom), some flowers, and just about every oriental mainstay you can think of: amber, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, you name it. It is a lot to take in, and clearly this fragrance could easily have been just an obnoxious disaster. Luckily, however, Leather Oud has enough Dior finesse and luxurious finish to avoid going into total overdrive, and especially the opening works wonderfully, playfully and elegantly suggesting the oncoming full richness of this animalic brew. Nevertheless, once the intriguing opening has passed, Leather Oud presents little further development; the main motif just hammers on and on for hours on end with a tedious take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Although I am generally drawn to animalic and skanky scents and appreciate the intention, Leather Oud does not really click with me. Its lack of development and new facets to discover eventually bores and annoys me, and I find it no match for better fragrances like Muscs Koublaï Khän, Absolue pour le Soir, or Musc Ravageur to make you smell really good in that bad way.
A wonderfully uplifting experience, Chanel’s masterful Eau de Cologne is simply a very brief burst of supremely beautiful citrus freshness on a light musky base with a few, hardly detectable, spices thrown in. Very simple, green, and elegant. The opening delivers a sparkling citrus from a mix of very high-quality essentials oils: aromatic bergamot and sour-fresh lemon along with notes of floral-green neroli and petitgrain to add balance and soften the acidity. A difficult problem with classic and classic-style eaux de cologne is how to ground the fleeting citrus freshness in a base that in itself does not turn “dusty” or dull in comparison. Where many others might add herbs or other more sturdy aromatics, Chanel’s Eau de Cologne solves the problem masterfully with a lightly spiced musk. The result is a flawless, luxurious, and inspired eau de cologne.
As most previous reviewers have pointed out (often with noticeable irritation), this fragrance disappears very quickly. Given its price point, genre, short longevity and very limited projection, this cologne may well sound redundant and overly decadent. It is not; as far as classic-style citrus colognes are concerned, it really doesn’t get any better than this, and using more is the way to go. This is probably the only case where the 200 ml Les Exclusifs bottle makes perfect practical sense: apply generously, and you simply cannot go wrong with this one.
This outstanding exotic composition is basically an exercise in fragrant seeds (lots of cumin and coriander) enlivened by a touch of flowers and citrus and resting on an extremely well-executed oriental base of amber, vetiver, and woods. L’Air du Désert Marocain works seamlessly, is highly gratifying, and manages to contain all the characteristics of a great and compelling fragrance: a striking and distinctive opening, smooth transition between phases, a gorgeous drydown, exceptional longevity and tenacity, and enough details and subtleties to charm and intrigue you. Here is one hyped-up fragrance that truly deserves its passionate and devoted following. A number of previous reviewers express concerns about wearability, however I don’t share them: this is not a particularly difficult perfume to wear, as long as you don’t mind sticking out just a little bit from the general aquatic-sporty mainstream. Go easy on the trigger, though: this one is very strong, and a little will go a long way. Very highly recommended.
An opulent and very satisfying sandalwood fragrance, Santal Noble is another great Maître Parfumeur and Gantier accomplishment. Together with Ambre Précieux and Route du Vétiver, it makes up something like a “Great Trio” in Jean Laporte’s original 1988 lineup, those three remaining to this day the crown jewels of this house. Santal Noble is all about sandalwood, highlighting the rough and woody aspects of the note over its more conventionally accentuated creamy or balsamic sides. During its development, the sandalwood finds itself elegantly backed up by a large assortment of supporting notes like amber, spices, and incense, as well as a distinctive touch of coffee, making this an impressive and truly gratifying woody oriental. Like most other fragrances in MPG’s “Parfums du Levant” series, Santal Noble makes an audacious statement: it is baroque, grand, even monumental, yet, amazingly, it is also very easy to wear and never gets heavy or cloying. Well executed, masterfully blended, and one of the best sandalwoods out there.
Broodingly austere, Palais Jamais is the fascinating outcome of citrus, jasmine, and green tea with a solid mossy-herbal base. This is a very bitter fragrance, and I have seen it aptly described as “intellectual”. Certainly, this is not a warm ingratiating scent, it has a very different character: chilly, restrained, and perhaps not immediately accessible at first encounter. But do not dismiss it: in due course, Palais Jamais turns out to be very rewarding, almost soothing, delivering a fresh and uplifting green bitterness as addictive as it is completely unique. Quite formal and without much development, Palais Jamais exudes confidence and calm dignity. Very interesting, easily wearable. and one of the best Etros.
Fascinating and very sophisticated, Muscs Koublaï Khän is a supremely balanced exercise in animalic notes and oriental associations. Vast amounts of “furry” ingredients (civet, musc, and ambrette seeds) conjoin to create a gorgeous illusion of relaxed physicality, living bodies, and warm skin. A light ambery sweetness and a pinch of rose support the main theme with perhaps a tiny dose of the Lutens hallmark spiciness. All in all, a beautiful, very relaxing, and supremely confident fragrance.
Muscs Koublaï Khän has spawned a lot of heated discussion, controversy, and hysterical reactions – one might easily get the impression that this is some kind of ironic postmodern attempt to create something outrageous for the sake of that alone. That would be wrong; this is not État Libre d’Orange’s deconstructed bodies and avant-garde secretions. Muscs Koublaï Khän is essentially a contemporary reinterpretation of classic approaches to animalics in the finest French tradition. There is nothing ironic here. This is simply a magnificent civet-musc perfume with some wonderfully complex nuances and a charming carefree classiness. Exquisite.
A pleasant spicy-sweet oriental, Ambre Soie opens with a blast but quickly fades to a whisper. Like most other Armani Privés, it starts off as very heavy and complex, but (unlike the others) this one seems to almost wear itself out in its initial full-force scream, all too soon turning back on itself to, surprisingly quickly, almost disappear. The scent itself is pleasant enough – a gorgeous amber with spices (cloves, pepper), a fair bit of patchouli, a dusty cocoa-like element, and a very interesting anise note. However, I get considerably more chocolate than amber from this, and it is precisely the anise and its dynamic interference with the main theme that finally saves Ambre Soie from becoming simply cloying and too much. Overall development is limited and remarkably linear. The result is a good safe scent with an interesting composition and very easy wearability.
In many ways, I consider it one of the best Armani Privés primarily because it manages to avoid becoming too oppressively heavy and pompous, an unfortunate problem that I think haunts too many fragrances in that particular line. However, given its steep price point and limited development and longevity, I find Ambre Soie ultimately rather uninspiring and quite far away from the truly great ambers out there (like Ambre Préciuex, Ambra Mediterranea, Ambre Fétiche, Ambre Nuit, Ambre Russe, etc.).
Note: This review is based on the original 50 ml version in the wooden box packaging, not the current 100 ml glass bottle. I am not aware if any reformulations were introduced along with the packaging redesign.
The ur-leather of masculine leathers, Knize Ten is about as dense as it is immovably solid. A spicy woody-floral leather, this fragrance represents some the best aspects of early 20th century European perfumery: a distinctiveness that transcends the sum of individual ingredients, compositional complexity, frivolous dirty-animalic elegance, and a confident no-nonsense linearity. I do not quite share the industrial or construction worker associations of many other reviewers; to me, this is a smart 1920s Viennese dandy in a fuming sports car. Ninety-year-old Knize Ten is undeniably old-school, but remains fascinating, very wearable, and with enough substance to justify the remarkable surge of enthusiasm it has experienced in recent years. Good stuff!
This is pure joy, and everything an amber fragrance should be. Ambre Préciuex is deep, smooth, voluptuous, and incredibly comfortable to wear, and it carries all the characteristic Laporte/Maître Parfumeur et Gantier features: baroque opulence, conceptual clarity, and impeccable craftsmanship. Not a very complex composition, Ambre Précieux is all about ambergris and vanilla, lightly supported by, primarily, labdanum and tolu balsam. Unsurprisingly then, it is extremely sweet, resinous, balmy, and even slightly powdery. Certainly heavy, but never cloying or oppressive, radiant gorgeous Ambre Précieux is the quintessential “maximalist” fragrance, and, despite having been around for more than a quarter of a century by now, still one of the very best ambers out there (very comfortably in the same league as more recent reference ambers like Ambra Mediterranea, Ambre Russe, Ambre Nuit, etc.) A fascinating fragrance, Ambre Précieux is truly monumental and supremely enjoyable.
Named after the year and provenance of the first South-East Asian patchouli to be introduced in Paris, Bornéo 1834 is a beautifully deep and earthy exercise on a warm tropical theme. After a sharp and intriguingly camphorous very brief opening, a glorious full-bodied patchouli soon emerges along with a distinctively dusty, almost powdery, cacao note. A typical Lutens feature, the underlying base consists primarily of sweet resins and various warm spices. After the rapid transformations in its initial phase, Bornéo 1834's subsequent development is very linear indeed, the patchouli-resins combination yielding a luxuriously deep and earthy sweetness that is both fulfilling and comforting, not to mention very long-lasting. In many ways a simple composition with a very clear and elegantly executed tropical theme, Bornéo 1834 is one of those truly great patchouli fragrances that you have to experience. Very highly recommended!
Very true to its name, this one is certainly vetiver through and through, the very dark and earthy kind for real vetiver lovers. Intensely rooty and almost bitter, that note dominates everything in this fascinating composition. Off-set primarily by a prominent rosewood and austere green notes of celery, patchouli, and a typical Villoresi potpourri of wild herbs (here, mostly sage), the insistent vetiver remains the single central focus throughout. The overall effect is one of damp fertile soil shaded by thick tropical vegetation. There is very little development or variation, except maybe for the steady expansion of the monumental vetiver which intensifies even further in the later stages.
Villoresi’s Vetiver is undeniably a wonderful and very worthwhile fragrance, but its almost fundamentalist reliance on the darker aspects of vetiver also makes it very linear and, before long, quite monotonous. For that reason, it is not the easiest wear and probably only for true vetiver fans. But if you really like vetiver, this one is a must-try.
A smooth semi-floral vetiver scent with balanced notes of pepper, citrus, and woods, Vétiver Extraordinaire is undeniably a piece of high-quality craftsmanship. Nevertheless, it unfortunately fails to excite me very much. Moving from a pleasant citrus-dominated opening, it soon reaches middle and final stages primarily featuring vetiver and pepper supported by sandalwood, some musk and a discrete assortment of various resins. The over-all impression is balanced, old-school, and, frankly, quite unengaging.
According to the Malle house, Vétiver Extraordinaire contains an extremely large amount of vetiver oil, and, certainly, the vetiver comes through clearly enough, especially in the mid-stage. However and quite importantly, it is a stylized and prettified vetiver, tamed and stripped of its beautiful characteristic rooty-earthy qualities, which means that the scent – to my nose – never quite achieves the raw edge and distinctive character that one could reasonably expect from a scent purportedly sporting vast quantities of vetiver oil. The combination of vetiver, citrus, and aromatic woods places Vétiver Extraordinaire securely in the very large group of traditional-style fresh vetivers including scents like Guerlain’s Vétiver, Vettiveru, Original Vetiver, Grey Vetiver and Lubin’s Le Vétyver. I personally much prefer smokier and earthier interpretations of the note, and I somehow find it difficult to truly enjoy these fresh citrusy ones. However, no matter how indifferent I happen to feel about Vétiver Extraordinaire, lots of people clearly love it, and it is by no means a bad or uninteresting vetiver fragrance. It just doesn’t move me.
A classic still going strong more than six decades after the release of Roudnitska’s original formulation, current-version Eau d’Hermès is an elegant floral citrus cologne with woody elements and a pronounced spiciness. Opening with a delightful blast of bergamot, the complex composition soon unfolds in a double track; on the one side, a smooth profusion of warm exotic spices: I pick up mostly cardamom, the infamous cumin, some cinnamon, and a hint of tonka bean. Concurrently, on the other side, an intriguing bitter floweriness of primarily jasmine and geranium. Underpinning the structure is a discrete, very slightly leathery, base of sandalwood and conifers.
Despite its reputation for being extremely dirty and animalic, Eau d’Hermès is actually rather well-behaved and sort of playfully controlled, even civilized in a classic dandified sense. Confident and luxurious, the scent sits close to the skin, suggestively projecting spicy-sweet impressions of physicality and carefree decadence. To me, Eau d’Hermès is old-fashioned in the very best (and most wearable) sense – a remarkably “happy” and delightful relic of a very different age. Highly recommended.
A fascinating and beautiful fragrance, Route du Vétiver is a prime example of Jean Laporte and Maître Parfumeur et Gantier at their best and most creative: an opulent baroque composition, masterful execution, and astonishing conceptual clarity. Not a very complex theme: a moist, almost moldy, and very distinctive vetiver note intermingling with the juicy bitterness of ripe blackcurrant and jasmine over a slightly creamy wood base. The effect is dazzling and highly evocative: impressions of damp leaves and soiled roots, like a walk along muddy roads through misty fields and dusty-green forests. Exquisite.
Juxtaposing spicy-sweet tonka bean, hazelnut and caramel with salty vetiver and traces of dried tobacco, Vétiver Tonka is above everything else a very successful fragrance experiment. Unlike many other Hermès releases by Jean-Claude Ellena, Vétiver Tonka is full-bodied and substantial, representing the most worthwhile example of the overall compositional theme of the Hermèssence range, namely that of “meetings” between otherwise seldomly mixed principal ingredients. This theme shines brighter and more directly in Vétiver Tonka than in most of its Hermèssence peers.
Gently rounded with syrup, caramel, and notes of hazelnut and almonds, a veritable blast of the vanilla-like sweetness of tonka beans dominates the opening phase. Then, slowly, the spicy-nutty sweetness recedes to form the background for a long and gorgeous vetiver-centered drydown. The vetiver here is one of the most rewarding interpretations of the note I have come across - rooty, sharp, salty, vivacious - and masterfully set off by the civilizing function of the spicy-sweet elements. This fascinating integration of contrasts and oppositions gives Vétiver Tonka real character and intriguing edge. Vétiver Tonka is a truly unique and very enjoyable fragrance.
A dark, gorgeous, and insanely powerful woody-sweet patchouli with prominent notes of fenugreek and warm resins. The opening is monumental and the best part of Luxe: Patchouli – velvety smooth, almost like a thick-flowing herbal balsam of spicy fenugreek that slowly gives way to supporting layers of patchouli, opoponax, and a complex combination of wood notes. The dry-down, however, is less intriguing, extremely tenacious and eventually grows a bit too staid, lacking the vibrant dynamics and fulfilling aromatic richness so characteristic of the opening.
Luxe: Patchouli is an all-dark, decadent and incredibly rich scent, decidedly modern and with that quirky woody-synthetic Comme des Garçons twist. It is also extremely expensive, and although I greatly admire the opening, the rather uninspiring drydown keeps this scent from quite qualifying as one of the very best patchoulis (such as Coromandel, Dior’s Patchouli Impérial, Bornéo 1834, and Mazzolari’s Patchouli). It is, however, undeniably impressive, original and quite unique. About as far away as you can get from the sensible and down-to-earth, Luxe: Patchouli is a statement of character, attitude, and mysterious charm. You cannot wear this and hide.
Note: This review is based on the original 2007 eau de parfum, not the 2013 eau de toilette version.
Quiet lavender meets fleeting licorice
An innovative and attractive combination of savory and aromatic elements, Brin de Réglisse juxtaposes a grassy hay-like lavender base with dynamic top notes of black licorice. Despite the name, the main ingredient here is the lavender which has been modified to become very clean and smooth, containing none of lavender’s distinct herbal or medicinal aspects. Although beautiful as a stylized representation of the natural note, the lavender in Brin de Réglisse has been so excessively tamed and civilized that most of its character is gone, making it too anonymous and transparent to create a truly lasting impression, especially as it meets little constructive opposition from its licorice counterpart. While delicious and very natural-smelling, the licorice note is present, literally, for only a few minutes and dissolves far too quickly, leaving the lavender alone and overly docile with its natural teeth and claws removed.
While Brin de Réglisse is undeniably elegant and conceptually intriguing, it is also too soft-spoken and insubstantial, especially as a very expensive and exclusive Hermèssence fragrance. It performs like an eau de cologne and would be far more at home in the excellent (and significantly cheaper) Hermès cologne selection, relaunched in a pale violet bottle and renamed "Eau de Lavande Stylisée". Given its unsatisfactory performance and unjustifiable price point for what it is, I have to rate Brin de Réglisse below four stars. While I enjoy the fragrance and find it both very pleasant and easy to wear, I’m slightly bothered with the way it whimsically tries to trade character and substance for intangible hints, suggestions, and mannerism.
Birds singing in the sycamore tree...
An incredibly elegant and sophisticated smoky vetiver, Sycomore represents a pinnacle of confident refinement in this remarkably crowded fragrance category. Sycomore is a very dry scent, woody and hay-like, but it features little of the earthy or harsh aspects of vetiver, opting instead for a brighter and more uplifting experience. With intriguing subtlety, it achieves a very fine balance between heavy smoke, woods, dry grass and roots on the one hand and an ethereal spicy-green leafiness and lightness on the other. Its apparent simplicity and spontaneous elegance notwithstanding, Sycomore is actually a very complex fragrance seamlessly mixing vetiver roots, creamy sandalwood and dried tobacco with greens, spices and the Chanel hallmark aldehydes, the latter adding air and lightness to the composition and inscribing Sycomore securely into both the Chanel heritage and the Exclusifs collection. The result is a very distinct and versatile fragrance, impeccably formal and cool yet curiously edgy and charismatic, integrating the best of classic perfume tradition with the more poetic side of postmodern niche quirkiness. "Stars shining bright above you…"
Addictively smooth spicy lavender
One of my long-time personal favorites, Eau Noire is a superior spicy/powdery lavender oriental. It is also extremely complex and multifaceted, far from discreet and very distinctive.
It features a raw and pungent, quite herbal, opening that soon gives way to a wonderfully smooth mid phase. Here, lurking under a heap of exotic spices – most notably licorice/immortelle, vanilla and a hint of coffee – the lavender note remains far from obvious. In fact, it’s quite hard to detect it the first many times you wear Eau Noire as rather than taking center stage, the lavender blends effortlessly with the herbal opening and the warm spicy accompaniment.
The drydown is again balanced, smooth and very powdery. Although I often have a problem with powdery fragrances, this one is totally different: I thoroughly enjoy Eau Noire every time I wear it. Everything is executed in a supremely elegant and balanced way – which is not to say that this is in any way a subtle or intimate fragrance. On the contrary, it might take a while to get used to and truly appreciate (some clearly never will), and you are likely to get noticed wearing this.
Eau Noire is a luxuriously deep and delicious scent, warm, comforting, and incredibly enjoyable. A full 5 stars!
Note: This review is based on the original 2004 version in the Hedi Slimane cologne trio.
A fluorescent candy store
A very sweet rose and patchouli scent with a little bit of everything from the spice cabinet thrown in, most prominently a hearty dose of cinnamon, cumin, and a few herb twigs, as well. I find it really sugary and soda-sparkling, but what appears at first to be an artful, unjustifiably sinister baudelairesque name ("black light") soon turns out quite fitting, after all: Lumière Noire transports us to some sort of dark psychedelic candy store where displays of rosy cotton candy, vanilla-flavored fizzy drinks, and brightly colored sticky candies lie eerily illuminated in ultraviolet light, flourescing weirdly and dreamily in exaggerated phosphorous pastels. Soon, however, a resolute patchouli-centered base shows up to partly dispel the candy store vibe, seemingly trying (in my opinion, unsuccessfully) to pull Lumière Noire towards a safer and classier place for itself before it’s all over. While I recognize the quality and conceptual originality in this fragrance, I cannot muster very much genuine enthusiasm for Lumière Noire. I find it far over the top and, as it were, insufficiently illuminating in all its rosewater-sprinkled spicy-sweet artfulness.
Welcome to the jungle
Tropically damp and wonderfully earthy, Etro’s Patchouly blends heavy patchouli with herbs and flowers (artemisia, geranium), woods, and citrus, including a ripe fruity orange note in the opening stage. The overall impression is dark, exotic, slightly camphorous, and very distinctly patchouli. The structure is quite linear with powerful sillage but surprisingly limited longevity. Like so many patchoulis, Etro’s interpretation tends toward the somewhat formal or serious, sort of a brooding antithesis to lighthearted citrus colognes or optimistic clean aquatics, but it is neither overly challenging nor particularly difficult to wear. For the same reason, I think Patchouly would make a great and very worthwhile introduction to earthy patchouli-centered fragrances. Although it is more superficial and synthetic-smelling than the true heavyweights in this genre (like Coromandel, Patchouli Impérial, Bornéo 1834, or Mazzolari’s Patchouli), Etro’s Patchouly remains a very rewarding earthy oriental executed with enough substance and charming eccentricity to warrant a warm and enthusiastic recommendation.
Intriguing history, forgettable scent
This is supposedly the real thing, based on Johann-Maria Farina’s original eau de cologne recipe from the turn of the 18th century and still sold from the old production facilities in downtown Cologne. There is of course no way of knowing exactly what Farina’s fabled concoction smelled like back then, and one can only assume that some ingredients must have changed or been modified somewhat over the last 300 years, but the sheer weight of cultural history behind this fragrance certainly lends it considerable charm and interest, not least due to the sharp contrast it presents to the ubiquitous mass market products of today’s disenchanted mainstream fragrance industry.
In its current shape and formulation, however, Farina’s Kölnisch Wasser has little more than its intriguing part in European cultural history to truly recommend it. It opens quite pleasantly with a fresh burst of citrus – bergamot, lemons, limes – that quickly yield to a largely uninspiring floral-herbal base. Although it has good longevity for a traditional citrus-centered cologne, there is really very little going on, and overall, Kölnisch Wasser makes for a quite forgettable olfactory experience. I imagine that it must originally have been received as a bit of a fragrance revolution, and the subsequent success of the eau de cologne genre seems to testify to the impact it made on European fragrance culture. It is difficult, however, to approach it as anything truly extraordinary today, thoroughly accustomed as we are to simple flowery citrus colognes. Given the amount of magnificent competitors in this genre (the Guerlain eaux, Eau Sauvage, Chanel’s Eau de Cologne, Villoresi’s Colonia, etc.), Farina’s Kölnisch Wasser is not something you need to go very far out of your way to acquire. Although the initial citrus blast is delightful, I consider Kölnisch Wasser far more intriguing as an object of history than, as originally intended, a distinctive personal fragrance.
A very smoky and woody incense fragrance with peppery undertones. Forget about the name, this is a frankincense/resins exercise, and, as many others have noted, you will not find vetiver here (I suppose it may be one of the "46" ingredients, but to my nose it never manages to even peek out from behind those very heavy incense curtains). Vetiver 46 is quite pleasant and (like most Le Labos) very long-lived, it is remarkably linear and shows virtually no development, and, at the end of the day, it really comes down to whether or not you like straightforward smoky-spicy woods and incense. It is very much on the heavy side, but in a comfortably smooth and deep way, and the spices do a good job of compensating for Vetiver 46’s linearity, keeping it vibrant and dynamic. This is a good, persistent, and very "direct" no-nonsense fragrance – look elsewhere for subtlety or intriguing detail. But sometimes "direct" is the way to go, and I find Vetiver 46 very successful as a solid masculine spicy-woody incense. In that sense it is both honest and consistent, although its name belies its character.
Something old, something new
Almost brutally dry and austere, yet remarkably fulfilling and a real pleasure to wear. Without a trace of sweetness or any hesperidic/fruity notes, Eau de Gentiane Blanche blends the dry bitterness of gentiana (an alpine flower used mostly for flavoring traditional liquors) with a dose of powdery iris and a fair bit of musk that comes through as the scent develops, very successfully achieving an overall effect of noble tranquility, clarity, and depth.
With its olfactory lightness, transparency, and precision, Gentiane Blanche carries all the hallmarks of Jean-Claude Ellena's distinctive style of perfumery. Added to that, it represents one of the most important attempts in recent years to creatively rethink the eau de cologne genre on its own terms, creating a whole new approach to freshness (here as something earthy-green, dry, and bitter), while staying true to the core requirements of the old genre: few and high-quality ingredients, basic freshness, limited longevity, and a seemingly very simple composition.
Gentiane Blanche is essentially a modern minimalist response to a grand tradition and a classic form. And it works! I find it supremely calm, confident, and classy.
A good example of a fragrance that starts out great only to turn less and less appealing as it develops. In Rose 31, all the good stuff is concentrated in the excellent top notes featuring a beautiful "dirty" rose intriguingly supported by a hearty dose of cumin. However, this compelling start quickly transforms into an unpleasantly sour, almost vinegary, spicy-woody base as insipid as it is intensely persistent.
Unlike many other previous reviewers, I find the rose theme quite distinct here with the rose note present in all stages as the main point of reference. Unfortunately, however, in the long run the opening is neither interesting nor substantial enough to adequately compensate for the disagreeable base. I can therefore only give this a neutral rating, despite its very good start.
An excellent smoky-woody vetiver with earthy elements and a well-balanced bitterness. Encre Noire is dark and damp, even musty, but at the same time its musky base manages to keep it somewhat polished and not overly dirty. All in all extremely pleasant and convincing, although lacking the elaborate sophistication of Sycomore and the radical depth of Route du Vétiver or Villoresi's Vetiver.
Encre Noire is a classy confident choice and one of the most rewarding vetivers in its price range. Highly recommended!
This is a very interesting and pleasant fragrance, certainly unconventional but still a lot less challenging than some of the later releases from this house (like Tea, the Guerillas, the Synthetic Series or even the 2011 Eau de Parfum). The opening is quite fresh and features a very enjoyable vegetal-green peppery note that strikes me vaguely as anise, fennel, licorice, or something like that (I can't say exactly what it is...) and which remains the main theme beneath all the airy framework throughout its later stages. There is nothing jarring or difficult about Odeur 53 and it is really quite softspoken and entirely unisex.
In many ways it reminds me of some of Jean-Claude Ellena's more recent experiments with fresh citrus-free colognes at Hermès (Eau de Gentiane Blanche, Brin de Réglisse) although Odeur 53 has a much more industrial/mechanical feel and relies far less on identifiable "classical" ingredients. It is more conceptually abstract and much less an attempt to reinterpret classical genres. The way I see it, its unconventionality lies primarily in its brilliant use of the ozonic notes so extremely prevalent in late 1990s fragrances to achieve a peculiar and very unique "electrical freshness." Odeur 53 has an abstract, almost reposeful, quality to it that still feels entirely modern, urban, and new. And it is a rare successful example of how a fragrance can be very different and undeniably modern without being either loud or simply disagreeable to most people.
Odeur 53 is very well conceived and executed, extremely versatile and very easy to wear - not to mention excellent value for money in that huge 200ml bottle.