Certain pieces of ambient music provide an oasis of muted abstraction, where the ear rests, is soothed by amorphous tones, and is fulfilled. Royal Bain de Caron is ambient for my nose. It is pastel-hued, walks in on a cloud and settles on the skin like softest of down.
Its main accord evokes a nostalgic, bygone ages mood, while being striking in its novelty. It’s a light-as-a-marshmallow floral (lilac in this instance) caressed by kitten-soft suede (an effect created mainly by the resins and sandalwood in the composition). Marshmallow, old-fashioned ‘cream’ soap, the scent of a powder compact, these are all evoked but with that gentle resins and woods base, and the infusion of a similarly restrained vanilla and the beautiful skin-like Caron musk. It has substance to it without heaviness.
Wears light and soft, so more of a ‘just for myself’ scent than something for an occasion. I was captured on my first encounter with it and wear it as a comfort scent on busy days. As it is difficult to overdo, I can spray as little or as much as I like without a second thought.
Hatria takes a traditional rose-patchouli-woods combination and spins it off into an airy and diffusive, almost aquatic direction. A neat trick, as the rose is dripping syrup and is the main player here, the spices (can’t really smell the saffron mentioned) a mere murmur, and the woods are likewise subdued. So somehow, despite the bombast of that rose and the density of ingredients, one’s nose is still tricked into perceiving this as lighter than it actually is.
But such shadow-dancing aside, what is left? I find the presentation of the rose to be so two-bit and of the cheapo attar variety, and the breath of oud so utterly devoid of mystery, that I offer praise that there’s a halfway decent sandal note lurking in the mix. All in all, a ho-hum offering which slightly tweaks the overfamiliar.
Sometimes in cold weather, I’ll do a minute or two of exercise before applying perfume – just to get my skin warm enough to be receptive. With Eva Kant I wouldn’t need to bother – it’s a perfume that somehow feels massaged in rather than sprayed on.
A resins and spice combination which has the pleasing moreishness of a skilfully made milky desert (something Indian maybe with lots of ground cardamom and just a touch of ginger), it feels comfortable, relaxed and at home on my skin. Gentle myrrh and dusty vanilla are also prominent in the central theme and they blend right in. A rather traditional citrus and lavender combo injects air and space through the opening stages, while not detracting from the after-dinner feel, and a hint of something like raw, split wood adds a pleasing contrast. The wood changes subtly, getting waxier and more prominent over the course of the wear, but doesn’t unbalance the other elements.
While Eva Kant is a fine thing, I find it (like its projection and longevity) a touch too measured, inspiring little by way of passion. An occasional visit will do me.
Why whisper when you can roar is Montale’s credo, and Aoud Flowers is no exception. So sharp, the opening made me sneeze, this one combines tart florals (geranium and rose with a twist of bergamot according to the notes) with the kind of frankensynthetic oud that could have escaped from MFK’s ‘moods’ debut trio. Indeed, Aoud Flowers feels synthetic from top to bottom, with a big doze of woowoo musks coming on like an industrial blower. It’s a testament to the power of all the other components that the oud actually feels like a supporting player here. With wear, accents of pepper and lavender (in the ‘gale of freshness’ Arabic mode) reveal themselves. Undoubtedly megabutch, undoubtedly synthetic, it still exerts a degree of fascination that catches my nose’s attention.
To begin: a heady, decadent, sensual rose that is in the bejewelled tradition of Nahema, except that this one is quieter in terms of projection. The rose is intensely honeyed and sultry, darkened and deepened by jasmine and tuberose – blooms whose scents gather intensity as darkness falls. It is backed by a crimson sunset of an amber and traces of old sandal. This is a perfume that glows; and it is smooth as pouring cream.
I can imagine this may be headache territory for some, but if you can bear its honeyed opulence (remember it is measured in its projection) Notte a Taif is a languid journey into the inner recesses of some scented palace arrayed in the finest taste. At the end of the final corridor reigns not the rose but the waxen tuberose, a floral note that usually scares me but here so dreamy and tender, that I am glad of the hours spent in its company.
An assured and pretty amazing floral oriental at the friendlier end of niche pricing.
Oh no, another one of those nose-piercing horrors of dry wood/oud notes coupled with an ‘aquatic’ haze, this is like a ‘sport’ version of one of Arabian Oud’s more mainstream offerings. Fortunately the dry wood aromachemical is used with discretion and doesn’t shout all else into silence. A touch of geranium and something that gives the impression of lavender (not listed in the long list of notes) do little to dispel the gloom cast by the enormous fake smile on this one’s face.
With wear it did soften, but I still couldn’t see the point.
I was captivated by the smooth, creamy and warm scent of the Méharées soap bar and, encouraged by the hosannas ringing on the internot, ordered a bottle of the Acqua di Profumo as a fairly safe bet. This latter is a jaw-dropping disappointment. Whereas the soap combined the dry warmth of myrrh with a silken touch of spice, the perfume attempts a sweet myrrh rendition which goes from candied orange with the most jarring synthetic screech (of the pan-scrubber variety) to an indigestible, sloppy sweet amber in the deep drydown.
The background noise on this one is deafening. I knew things were not going to plan when this opened with a blast of ‘fresh’ notes (sugary faux citruses mainly, with perhaps a smidge of lavender thrown in), instead of the grand desert caravan theme proposed by the myrrh, spices and dates which are supposedly at the heart of this creation.
Obviously this is a glorious creation for many but blind buyer beware, the perfume variant has none of the restrained luxuriousness evident in the scenting of the soap, and I for one found it quite hideous. I can’t do any Musc Ravageur comparisons as I haven’t tried MR yet.
In an ideal world this would be the perfume that would unite those who love tuberose and those who can’t stand it in a blissed-out reverie.
Dismiss the carnal clichés usually associated with this flower that carries the warmth and languor of a tropical night within its blooms. This is more about beauty for its own sake rather than sex. A milky, coconut-inflected creation that purrs with contentment, Le Beau Parfum is one of those strange creatures, presenting tropical heat in a calm, cool, measured style. I wore it on a stinking hot day riding packed subway trains and it performed wonderfully, enclosing me in a dreamy bubble rather than turning into a head- bludgeoning harpy.
The opening jasmine combining with the hint of silky coconut made me think this was another not-quite-there gardenia recreation. But then when it settled around the smooth tuberose that is the star, it truly came into its own.
I spoke of a perfect world at the start. In the real world, it’s quite likely that some tuberosephobes will go: ‘Yawn, another tuberose’, perhaps missing out on its seamless refinement. Meanwhile some tuberose fans will perhaps be left wanting for more of the trademark sultriness that they no doubt adore in their favourites.
But if one measure of beauty is that it gives the impression that it should always have existed, then this perfume is truly ‘beau’ and worth seeking out. Considering it’s a Printemps exclusive, its impressive that Francis Kurkdjian hauled this out of his top drawer.
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.