Sometimes one needs to adjust one’s expectations in order to appreciate a thing for what it is. In the case of By Kilian’s Musk Oud, the first thing that one needs to do is forget its misleading name – neither musk nor oud define this fragrance. I’ll plump for Afternoon Reverie instead which conveys something of its lazy, pleasing mood.
Now that that’s out of the way, what do we have? A most beguiling opening for sure, marked by lovely zesty citrus (lemony but not sharp), an almost maternal cardamom note and languid layers of the most refined and gentle smoke. These elements are handled so well, there’s nothing that catches or jars, and with such an unforced sense of luxuriousness that they put me in mind of some of the better Amouages. Indeed as the rose reveals itself, inflected with the citrus and cardamom, thoughts of Lyric are not too far away. However this rose is slightly shyer, taking its place among the other players rather than elbowing its way to the front.
The backing consists mainly of some mould-tinged patchouli, wormwood and an array of aromatic woods – but it’s subtle, surprisingly lifting up rather than bedding down the gently spiced main theme.
I find it a fine, living, breathing thing, an impressive achievement which overcame the scepticism with which I often regard By Kilian offerings.
L’eau MiXte demonstrates that the key to successfully showcasing citrus notes lies in the cast assembled to push from behind. This entry to Patricia Nicolaï’s Eau Fraiche range is rightly celebrated for its complexity and solid construction – managed without sacrificing the effortless nature of a good summery citrus.
Here we have a sparkling bergamot and lemon combo (with grapefruit and blackcurrant bud accents) which is supported by a rich green and sweet floral accord in the mode of Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau, with a further layer of dry vetiver and moss coming up behind. And yet the focus stays on the citrus, which is natural and light and bears a big smile. When the citrus fades after a few hours, one is left with a floral perfume which seems complete in its own right.
In Magnifico Laura Tonatto delivers a green fig, sap flowing from where it has been plucked, with a generous twist of zesty lemon – crisp, summery and energizing. Lavender is a perky backing player. Perfumes this light and lively are often not taken seriously as they have no grand statement to make, but the sureness of touch here is unmistakeable.
Whereas the composition is a refreshing delight, I’m a little underwhelmed by the projection which could have been more upfront. As this has summer written all over it, I need to try it when the mercury rises to see whether it holds its own better then.
A perfume all real life Julias can safely stay away from – an ineffectual vegetal floral (rather than the fruity floral suggested by the notes) that carries a distinct whiff of the water in a vase of flowers that has been standing for a week.
There is a good tart rhubarb recreation in the mix and something peppery, but the florals are just dull and blurred and the fruit notes almost imperceptible. The nose perceives this as highly synthetic, which was surely not the intention.
Montale is often slammed for producing far too many new ouds that are just slight variations of each other. Looking at some of the notes in this – rose, oud, saffron – it would be easy to leap to the conclusion that the house is at it again.
But Aoud Amber Rose is surprisingly different in Montale’s line up, being quite a stark and angular creation. The rose scent here is desiccated, like a jar of dried out rose petals, the oud and other woods are also dry as a bone but without the norlimbanol overdose horror, there are whip flashes of pungent leather, and the whole is presented under an overarching layer of saltiness, like dried sweat.
Does it work? Most certainly. But it’s not a crowd-pleaser, that’s for sure, it’s far too severe for that. It’s the imagined smell of a sadistic governess or housemaster – and has that kind of ‘wrong’ eroticism about it. This is how it smells to myself, but the trail is a much more approachable wine-soaked rose, so I don’t run the risk of coming across as Cruella to acquaintances.
Among the loveliest presentations of the narcissus note – stripped off fat and languor, and invested with a brisk, green energy and impeccable style. Le Temps d’une Fête wears so light and airy, it’s astonishing it can stay true to the rich, beguiling complexity of the narcissus at its heart, but it does. And what a narcissus: nectar-laden (yet kept on edge by the big dose of galbanum), deep and true, and alive with change.
An unfussy wonder combining classicism and vivacity, that demonstrates just what Patricia Nicolaï is capable of when she is on form. Spring starts right here.
Minya’s debut Hedonist was a grower for me – a perfume that I was initially not completely convinced by but which drew me slowly under its spell with each subsequent wearing. So my hopes were raised by the follow up – three perfumes released simultaneously, of which Eau de Hongrie promised an evocation of the delicious Tokaji Aszu wine.
I mention Hedonist for a reason, as Eau de Hongrie is definitely its more honeyed but also plainer and lighter sibling. The honey is so upfront that the chorus of backing notes are far receded behind it. It is no doubt a lovely honey – deep but not cloying, frisky on the palate, but the mystery of a creation like Hedonist is missing. There are touches of a delicate sweet booziness (saying it’s a recreation of Tokaji is a stretch, though) and meaty immortelle. The tarter tones, which made Hedonist the strange jewel that it is, are also present but so timid they are almost an afterthought.
All in all, the result is a perfume which, while pleasing enough in terms of its smell, has little tonal variation. That it is so obviously derivative – it could be a lighter flanker of Hedonist – doesn’t help much either.
A perfume so wrapped in sheets of ‘clean’ and ‘fresh’ needs to be working pretty hard to stand out from the drugstore dreck clogging up those categories. But Bosque, a creation of great transparency and crispness, wins through; a perfectly unisex (or rather sexless) scent, sheer and cool that could lighten many a summer day.
After a blink-and-you-miss it dab of saffron at the start, a succulent soda-pop grapefruit/citrus takes over, nothing bitter or catpissy about it; fortunately it doesn’t smell overly chemical either. This citrus accord stays for the duration joined by gentle grassy greens, sweet meadow florals and soapy musks in a light, bright confection that is easy on the nose.
It ain’t utterly radiant however; the main drawbacks being the softness of its trail, and the suggestion of a certain good-for-you antiseptic quality at times.
The jackal-headed god of the afterlife now prowls the perfumery counter. There is something close and closed about Anubis’s opening phase which with the rich use of resins and incense could be reminiscent of the mummy’s tomb – where the cloth-bound body lies anointed with precious unguents, with perfumed smoke rising from every corner, small flames flickering across the walls.
At its core, Anubis is a leather, but it is a curious one, brushed with sweetish human skin-like odours and smoke, and permeated with an enticing butteriness. It’s a suede, but not of the new and untouched variety, this one is stained and aged. There is something furry circling around it, breathing impatiently. The most daring of Papillon’s debut trio, and perhaps the most successful.
And it has a trick up its sleeve in the late stages – like after 6-7 hours into the wear. A burnished amber creeps up on padded foot, millimetre by millimetre, until it is suddenly staring you right in the eyes.
‘And now for my latest trick...’ In Ys Uzac’s case it is showcasing the fault line between warm, ‘serious’ notes – immortelle, leather, vanilla – and cool, lightweight ones – shiso, grass, fresh herbs. This perfume could just as easily have been called Fracture. It’s an appealing idea, after all the vast majority of modern art is striving to create something lasting from disjuncture and dislocation to echo our broken times.
The overall scent is somewhat disorienting to begin with but jolie laide; it calls to the wearer in its pitch-separated voice. The fresh and warm elements are held in pretty equal balance with the starring roles going to the immortelle and the shiso. Eventually of course the more powerful elements win out and the drydown is mainly a tasty immortelle-tobacco affair with more than a hint of licorice.
But the strength of the thing is another matter – why are so many of Ys Uzac’s releases so watered down?
Formerly called Acqua di Colonia Imperiale, this offering now goes by the name Acqua di Colonia del Ponte. Regardless, this is a well-turned out, bittersweet, quite soapy, herbal cologne, which juxtaposes bright and bouncy lavender against the more grown up notes of artemisia, tarragon and sage, while pretty much leaving out the citrus punch bowl. The notes are a bit blurred round the edges, but nevertheless form a satisfying whole.
Uncomplicated, but pleasing, especially at L’Erbolario prices, give this a go if you enjoy old-fashioned gentlemen’s colognes with all-day staying power.
Journey Man is Mister Smoothy Suave. He can give the wrong impression of being a bit too slick, but he’s got heart and is genuine in his smooth, suave way.
Given the notes list one could have forgiven Journey Man for being a brooding beast, instead Amouage have bottled something with a decidedly sunny disposition.
The opening is holy smoke – Amouage’s signature gorgeous silvery incense here paired with cypriol. This merges with elegant jasmine-like florals and a blend of pepper and cardamom; it’s like what one imagines the vapours curling up from jasmine tea should smell like instead of the insipid dishcloth aroma one usually gets. The smoke is handled exceedingly well; it’s warm and yet somehow has a cut-glass quality. The moreish jasmine-spice blend perked up with a dash of citrus is beautifully placed within it – the whole gives a polished, classic and, most importantly, cheerful impression. When the tobacco emerges it is imbued with a tonka sweetness that has ‘good grooming’ written all over it – this is no burly bruiser.
As notes shift during the evolution Journey Man keeps its balance. For example, in the deep drydown a bitter wormwoody aspect with bags of character comes to the fore with the smoke still swirling – and yet Journey Man remains bright and inviting. Wake up the next morning and that smoky incense has been joined by the herbal tang of juniper – unobtrusively there all along but making a late play for the limelight.
In its later stages there is a resemblance to a rounder version of Fate Man, without the scrape of dry wood and salt.
It’s rich, bracing and emerges fully formed – it is so easy to wear some perfumistas are liable to complain!
In my mental ranking it falls behind some of the truly unique, heartstopping perfumes that Amouage have given us, but is still very, very good.
This is the damp undergrowth – mucky, mossy, peaty, crawling with fungi. The crease-of-clammy-thigh scent of mushrooms is an oddity but curiously moreish once one’s nose gets attuned. This from the Oriza website is quite close to the experience: ‘After the first rainfall in September nature exudes scents of humus, peat and wetland.’ Sombre and autumnal, it has been known to make some feel more alive.
For me, sometimes Chypre-Mousse has a medicinal quality about it, smelling like a cabinet of old tinctures. But at other times I perceive a rum truffle richness to it (the peat) coupled with the smell of grandma’s lipsticks – an appetizing-yet-likely-poisonous combination.
I don’t know how close this is to its original 1914 incarnation, but there is a resolutely aged feel about it. I haven’t come across anything else quite like it, which is reason enough to urge perfume lovers to give it a try. For all the green and herbal notes crammed into it, it remains resolutely autumnal, almost sepulchral.
A few hours in Chypre-Mousse begins to open up and a hitherto hidden sweetness emerges, giving it a marvellous projection. The mint that didn’t quite fit with the earthy notes, suddenly feels right at home. The gloom lifts somewhat and we now have a creation that has emerged from its chrysalis. This last stage is less variegated than what went before, but it remains seemingly stuffed with moss.
The joys of Lace Garden are in its opening, where one is introduced to that contradiction in terms – the delicate white floral. Here we have tuberose, ylang, jasmine, shimmering in the breeze with all the lightness associated with a spring flowers rather than the usual tropical torpor. The scent comes wrapped in a lovely sappy milkiness (unlike the suntan lotion and double cream that often accompanies tuberose). So far so good.
What follows is less interesting. As Lace Garden settles, it also deflates, becoming mainly a persistent tuberose with little tonal differentiation. This is such a crowded field, one wonders why Cabanel bothered.
Mmmm sexy, minty-fresh breath. Mint-prominent perfumes cannot avoid bringing up associations with toothpaste – and this is no exception. But Métaboles is executed with such surety that it’s the freshness that catches the attention and entices it, rather than the memory of a dental chore. Gauzy and almost aquatic (but in an appealing way), this has touches of pepper and licorice which lend it interest without detracting from its bracing feel.
Sadly the projection is dismal, landing this firmly in the ‘just not worth it’ category.
A cross-dressing (or rather cross-marketed) perfume, this one is sold as a ‘feminine’ with marketing copy that goes: ‘The reflection in the mirror is familiar but it’s not her own. ...Disguised as the kingdom’s beloved prince she will finally escape.’ The best example of this tendency remains the uberbutch Bandit.
Such considerations aside, what we have is an intensely peppered woody perfume that is rich and involving. There’s a lovely oud note full of tannery leather nuances, bolstered by a full orchestra’s worth of sympathetic notes: cedar, cypriol, frankincense, sandalwood, guaiac are all listed, though it’s the first three that my nose picks out. The pepper is the lighter, fresher, fruitier pink pepper that gives a bracing slap to begin with, but slowly recedes, and then morphs into something resembling its black cousin.
If the woods theme is saturated and rich, the contrasting notes are airy, just flecks in the overall impression: mainly some citrus and rosiness, though there is Tola’s usual shopping list of notes to consult.
An appealing offering but one that drops significantly in projection after just a few hours. I’m convinced that if I try enough Montales, I’ll hit on one that smells similar enough.
Promesse de l’Aube is solidly in the classical French abstract perfumery tradition – so much so that you may as well scrap the notes list for how much it will help you get your nose into this one. The two adjectives that come to my mind most are golden (in a yellow, pale, dawn mode, a quality of its dreamy abstraction) and peachy (as in a vintage cosmetics peach with powdery aldehydes to spare). It’s a billowing, bright, gauzy creation like a starlet’s chiffon scarf fluttering in the breeze in Cannes – but with the bite of something inkily vegetal and a dab of chlorine in its opening hours which goes a bit against the grain. Promesse de l’Aube stands apart from the tides of poor quality, vaguely fruity fragrances that have so denuded perfumery’s landscape.
Not quite a marvel – its demure personality is not a positive – but good in a hazily peachy manner. Whether that’s enough at this price point, I’m not convinced. I found the late drydown quite undistinguished.
A civet-heavy perfume that’s also delicious? Laura Tonatto pulls off this trick as if it were all in a day’s work.
The civet in Oropuro is immediately recognizable as the note familiar from the bases of numerous complex vintage perfumes, but here it is paired with an airy, sweet vanilla. There is a similar juxtaposition of the musks (arguably the main theme of this creation) with a warm, animalic musk note set up with the cleaner, fresher musks that pervade modern perfumery.
The end result is a creamy and sensual creation that brings animalic notes into civilized company; it isn’t heavy or overbearing, but an assured update of some of perfumery’s more neglected classic notes.
It may not be something to wear at the office but one could wear it to a party without coming across as being on the prowl. Indeed, the mood it creates suggests evening wear. Drops significantly in volume after about a couple of hours which, depending on your taste, may be either a good or bad thing in this instance.
May now be discontinued as there is no mention of it on Tonatto’s website at the time of writing.
All washed up on a tropical beach with nowhere to go. With Juste un Rêve Patricia Nicolai delivers a fruitified tropical floral (more a queered ylang than a tuberose/jasmine to my nose) with suntan lotion creaminess. So far so dreamy, except the central floral accord is somewhat chewy and rubbery, and the projection is pants. I’ll dream another dream.
The Viking-sounding name* notwithstanding, Hoggar brandishes no sword. Instead it is so squarely in the noughties’ ‘masculine’ mainstream it hurts. The formula goes: overwhelm with talcy sweetness and call it tonka, give it a squeeze of citrus to remind peeps of the sting of aftershaves, round off with sugared ‘woods’ – et voila! So popular is it that even Guerlain muscled in on the act recently with its ideal bloke, though that chappie had chewed on a few almonds to appear a bit more interesting.
Alas, poor Hoggar, thou may be inoffensive, nay though wagst puppy dog tails most eagerly, but thou be lacking sorely in cojones.
* Hoggar is actually a mountain region in central Sahara.
A bit of a misnomer this one, as the first thing one is likely to think of when wearing it is probably not going to be iris – at least not in the various incarnations I have come across it from downright rooty to suede soft to metallic and distant. Hedonist Iris doesn’t even give you a sprinkle of powder or the slightest smear of creamy butteriness.
What one does get is an easygoing spray-and-go kind of perfume that is loaded up with clean musks and has nice sour-sweet notes of blackcurrant and bergamot to brighten it. The only nod to something deeper is a touch of cocoa but that recedes quickly. Hedonist Iris is cool and easy to wear, and gives a convincing impression of a summer-oriented designer offering. Shame about the reticent iris.
But the greater shame is a couple of hours in when the poverty of its materials becomes glaringly evident, and it starts smelling like that off-putting fug of chemical musks that linger in mainstream perfume shops. What a disgraceful climb-down from the heights of the original Hedonist – in fact it is hard to believe that this is from the same perfumer.
What on earth is going on with Viktoria Minya? After wowing many with the complex syrup-fest of Hedonist, it’s almost as if she’s out of ideas already. Her Eau de Hongrie was completely derivative, a lighter, less textured version of Hedonist, and then there’s this – a banal, bath gel pink rose ringed with ‘clean’ musks. If one is going to make a virtue of simplicity, one has got to have something a bit striking to convey, but this is just glorified rose water posing as high-end niche.
There’s an odd opening effect where you have the rose and something alcoholic (declared as a white wine note) emerging side by side like that Clash track off Sandinista! in which one speaker plays one thing and the other something else. Fun, but it doesn’t last long as the alcohol is a fleeting impression.
Of course, Hedonist Rose isn’t terrible – a light, clean rose just can’t be in my book – but the poverty of ambition is scary. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention some clove and wood interest in the later stages – too little, too late.
Bewitching! A herbal amber that is elegant and greatly comforting at the same time. It has the appeal of a freshly risen loaf: one feels permission is given to feast and one feels at home.
The opening is not quite so inviting – I suspect there are a high proportion of naturals used in this formula and they give off an ‘Olympic Orchids in the essential oils shop’ kind of feel. But wait about fifteen minutes and the blend turns quite magical: rounded, suffused with warmth and a delicate, non-cloying sweetness spiked with hints of ginger and citrus. Davana gives it a voluptuous plumpness, supported by patchouli’s dark depth chord and guaiac’s meatiness.
There are no herbs in the listed notes and yet an air of herbal uplift hangs over this complex creation, first a suggestion of artemisia which gives way to a more non-specific tonic impression. Too many ambers collapse under their own weight, but this Carmen moves step by step towards greater energy and vibrancy. A beautiful, cool weather, special occasion perfume.
This one throws a mighty tantrum with an angry blast of cumin before regaining its composure and heading off, cool as custard, to the soirée. Seconds after that seriously niche overdose of cumin, an aldehydic, transparent rose in the classic French manner begins to expand and push the cumin into its place – which is a little corner marked ‘animal’. This tension resolved, Rose 31 gains a formal poise, the rose staying light and floaty, the woody base (quite generic to my nose) adding pleasing warmth, and the spice contained to a level that won’t trouble civilization.
Just when I was thinking that though it’s a thoroughly decent perfume, it somehow lacked the sheen that one expects from this high end and that I’d probably be just as happy with a cheaper designer aldehydic rose, there was a further twist. The soirée a success, this rose decided to give its feet a break and take a back seat, and let a rich combination of sweetly spiced woods take over. This late stage is enticing, almost creamy, and confirmation that Rose 31 is earning its keep.
Heliotrope is a delicate, high melancholy air. Why this should be when its odour profile of a floral vanilla, cherry pie and anise melange ought to bring joy beats me. But a wallow in introspective melancholy has its own pleasures.
This heliotrope is very, very blanc indeed; so blanc it is almost featureless. This is a bit puzzling considering it is surrounded by such sympathetic notes here – almond, iris, mimosa, musk, rice powder, tonka – all ideal partners for its limp little hand. However the overall effect is quite inert and much too subdued; this is a body lotion scent posing as perfume. It’s not quite as powdery as the notes might suggest (for people who fear such things), instead this is a heliotrope wafted up on airy musks.
I think the chief success of Héliotrope Blanc is its realization of the cherry-almond aspect in the heart phase; apart from that it just seems dull, underpowered and monochrome. Perhaps heliotrope connoisseurs will find hidden subtleties that escape me. I found myself bathing in the stuff with little to show for it.
A bright apricot-osmanthus led white floral in the after-shower splash mould. Cheerful and transparent, it is far too weak to be taken seriously at Ys-Uzac prices.
The depth suggested by the volley of declared notes is not evident in what the nose smells. But what it does, it does quite well: the composition remains airy and natural throughout and the floral take on apricot is a delight. Would be a perfect fit, say, in the Roger & Gallet line-up.
A decent entry into the rather small club of ‘dry forest’ perfumes, Arizona gives the wearer a wonderful opening blast of the great outdoors with the inviting scent of conifers – their green needles, their resins, their wax – and the twigs and parched earth of the forest floor.
This is a cologne strength offering (unlike most others in the Olympic Orchids line), so needs liberal application. Has an unsettling mid-phase where soapy lavender tries to tame something that deserves to remain wild and free. Fortunately it morphs into something more anisic that blows better in the breeze.
Uncomplicated, perhaps simple, but satisfying nonetheless.
I must wade upstream here and say this is merely competent. It is not the sweaty cumin or the jaded leather that trouble me, it’s the flatness of the composition – Songe feels thick and sticky, like it has been spread on my skin like a perfumed depilatory wax. I prefer livelier perfumes. For all its naughty notes, it doesn’t feel carnal, just tired.
The early stages have a hefty glug of the sweets, almost as if Wasser’s hand slipped while he was pouring out the tonka or whatever it is to blame. Fortunately that recedes but one is left with a heavily spiced leather, which refuses to budge from its torpor. Even the myrrh, my personal catnip, suffers from the spicing and soaks it up. The scent of the thing is quite pleasant as it doesn’t have huge projection or intensity, but it’s so all of a piece there’s no danger of it bothering my wallet.
Oh, to be so fondly embraced! I wish it weren’t so (due to its completely unreasonable price), but to wear Irisss is to feel loved. I surrender.
Xerjoff have pulled something almost immaculate out of the hat.
To me this is iris perfected, the buttery, creamy, powdery, soapy, utterly luxurious gorgeousness of it played up, and the rooty and earthy elements given a backseat (despite additional bolstering by a carrot seed note). The supporting notes are handled with a deftness bordering on magic. Just a hint of bergamot to give freshness and a slight tang, so there’s no fear of this turning into a marshmallow. A soft, rounded, airy, floral accord, that accents the iris butter’s creamy beauty without distracting. Similarly the woody notes are barely there, providing hidden scaffolding.
Irisss wears light, light, light, but is there, there, there. It sets me afloat.
It drops off a bit by the 4-5 hour mark and loses some definition, resembling a subdued relative of Teint de Neige.
In the beginning, Opus VIII invites you to bask in its warmth. A cleaned up, properly-presented jasmine-led white floral with a hint of something aquatic hovering round the edges, coupled with a radiant balsamic aspect. Admittedly, the idea isn’t particularly complicated but it does have a degree of novelty and is executed with the typical Amouage richness.
The rest of the Opus line has more edge, to say nothing of peculiarity – this one is rather simple and friendly by contrast. It’s also on the demure side, with reasonable rather than blaring projection to start with and a rather disappointing tail-off in the later stages.
After initially having come under its spell, I must admit to a lessening of my affection with greater familiarity. As it is mostly linear after the top fades, I think this contributes to a waning of interest; also the balsams get a bit malty during the wear which does the overall impression no favours.