Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Wild Gardener

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Total Reviews: 175

Eau de Coty by Coty

For his first job in perfumery, François Coty was put to work to knock up a cologne for a small Paris pharmacy where he was employed as lab assistant. His boss was eventually so impressed with the results that he sent young François off to train at Chiris, a prestigious oils house in Grasse.

Years later, when he came to think about composing his own Eau de Cologne, Coty was already a master perfumer with ground breaking works such as La Rose Jacqueminot, L'Origan and Chypre under his belt. Coty was evidently not content to follow convention and present just another citrus eau to the market, he wanted to strike out in a new direction, and in composing his cologne he brought to it the same level of care and creativity as he had lavished on his celebrated perfumes.

To see what it was Coty produced that was so different from the competition I am going to compare Eau de Coty (1920) with three other venerable colognes that were around at the time and are still available today: 4711 (1792), Roger & Gallet Extra Vielle (1806) and Guerlain's Eau de Cologne du Coq (1894). Even though its impossible to know what the original formulae smelled like (vintage samples are extremely rare and anyway colognes are highly susceptible to decay) its still possible to compare Eau de Coty with the modern versions of the others.

Broadly summarising them, this is how they stack up. 4711 is largely bland sweet powder with a slight citrus tang; Extra Vielle is a pithy citrus of moderate strength over a pale and powdery bland body, and it has a little floral and some pronounced bitterness; and Eau de Cologne du Coq is a delightful sparkly citrus accord with a pinch of herbes de provence, set to sweet powder and florals. This 'good cologne with a drop of Jicky in it' as Luca Turin calls it is definitely the best of the three. In fact the Guerlain's finely wrought citrus head is better than that of the Coty but its base is inconsequential.

Eau de Coty on the other hand keeps its crackling mossy lemon and citrus verbena head largely intact as it transitions into a lovely floral heart not shy of expression. This then fades into the most ravishing sweet brown woody and long lasting base.

One of the strengths of Eau de Coty comes from the quality of its neroli oil, which to quote Wikipedia is sweet honeyed and somewhat metallic with green and spicy facets, and it is these notes which form the core of the profile. Add to this some jasmin absolute, an herbaceous verbena accord and top grade Sicilian lemon with mossy overtones, and you have - broadly speaking, the top half of Eau de Coty.

The real brilliance of Coty, however, was to pair this with a fully worked out base. By this bold move he took a good citrus cologne and turned it into a (more or less) fully worked out perfume structure with a wonderfully satisfying drydown. The base gives the composition the stability of an Eau de Toilette, and truly impressive longevity (several days on paper) while the second half still manages to release the odd whiff of citrus from time to time. This makes the structure logically coherent, but it pays the price for this intransigence - the crisp lemon citrus can feel a little bit out of place against the warm round notes of the base. Like certain other of Coty's works the quality is impeccable but it somehow lacks that final degree of perfection.



Before Coty, even great perfumers like Aime Guerlain were essentially rewriting their own versions of the Eau de Cologne. Each of the iterations referred to here was an improvement on the last but none of them sought to change the fresh and fleeting structure of the cologne. The reason for this reluctance was historical.

In an 18th century book the Manuel de Beauté, Louise d'Alcq asserted that the Eau de Cologne was 'universally accepted' (by polite society). "It bothers nobody" she wrote "its perfume pleases everyone" [quoted from Le Roman des Guerlain by perfumery historian Elisabeth de Feydeau]. The social convention of the time was that cologne was held to be the sillage of the chaste woman while patchouli marked the odour of the courtesan. It was in defiance of this, by then, rather dated idea that Coty dared to combine the wholesome citrus cologne with the dark animalic perfumes of the night. Until then, ne'er the twain had met and he evidently felt the time was right for a rapprochement.

Even though he became a powerful industrialist and one of the richest men in France, Coty always remained something of an outsider [François Coty by Ghislaine Sicard-Picchiottino, Albiana Press]. He seems to have shown an equally scant regard for received perfumery wisdom as high French society had for the arriviste; low born Corsican, merchant in a world of Old Money.

But Coty was self assured and forceful, as well as being a naturally gifted perfumer. The cologne form had ossified, it hadn't really changed since the days of Jean-Marie Farina and Coty was going to shake it up by showing how it could be developed after its initial burst of citrus. To this end he forged a beautiful base of vetiver, patchouli, vanillin, woods, moss, eugenol, and probably elemi resin (along with who knows what else) to complement the citrus and floral accords of the first half.

The resulting composition was Eau de Coty - the first Cologne de Toilette. With its revolutionary dark Perfume base it went way beyond the purview of any previous citrus composition. Not only is it revolutionary its also very beautiful. The further Eau de Coty goes into the depths of its resonant brown base the more ravishing it becomes; a veritable masterclass in base construction.


The innovative form of Eau de Coty, lemon centred citrus on a demerara vetiver base, turned up years later in Lubin's excellent Eau Neauve and the vintage version is a good substitute for those who would like to know what the Coty smells like.

Eau de Coty's influence spreads much further and wider than straight up copies however. It can also be felt in the many fresh cologne type flankers that appear in the summer. More significantly many original compositions have developed Coty's idea further. A few of the more notable examples are CK One, Pleasures for Men, Declaration Cologne and to a lesser extent 1881 for Men.

It is very sad that Coty's brilliantly original composition is no longer known and enjoyed today but it couldn't be made now - the amount of moss would disbar it from production.

This is not only a great perfume, it is historically important too. It represents the birth of a new chapter in the history of perfumery - the point where the Eau de Cologne hybridised into the Cologne de Toilette, which would later give rise to the modern Fresh Eau de Toilette genre. Every fresh summer flanker is genealogically a distant descendant of Coty's visionary work.

As the product of salutary colognes first encounter with the dark seductive perfume, Eau de Coty is Perfumery's missing link.

*****
13th June, 2017

CK All by Calvin Klein

The brisk opening fanfare starts you off with a twang. Not too sharp and not too loud, its a well worked accord of grapefruit and rhubarb that really brings the nose alive.

Its a great introduction, but after no time at all the head starts to break down over the pale and very musky floral heart, and then later a sweet and powdery woody amber follows on.

To be fair the second stage isn't bad but material quality and radiance are both poor. There's a definite chemical aura hanging around for much of the time, and after the initial blast is over it gets pretty quiet pretty quick.

The main criticism is the structure. The profile starts off on a twangy but modulated freshness that's been polished till it shines, but then after than, nothing happens! It goes from bright to bland, with no attempt at development. Most of the interest lies in that first five minutes at the start.

As one wag noted, it isn't so much CK All as CyniK-All.

**/*
29th May, 2017 (last edited: 30th May, 2017)

Yuzu Man by Caron

Powdery sweet citrus with a bitter green balsamic-woody support. OK as far as that goes (which isn't far), but the chemical and lime note of dihydromyrcenol simply ruins it.

Man deserves better than this type of strangulated minimalism.

*
26th May, 2017
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Shalimar Souffle de Parfum by Guerlain

Presumably, by Souffle, Guerlain were passing a wry comment on the airbrushing they gave to auntie Shalimar's bumps and wrinkles in order to come up with just another bland sweet oriental.

Its actually not bad, but me I prefer character and body to skin deep perfection.

***
23rd May, 2017

Climat by Lancôme

Climat (1967) just goes to show that copying a good perfume idea is nothing new.

The difference between then and now however, is that today, Carven would release this darker and sweeter version of their famous classic as Ma Griffe - Le Flanker or some such thing, and they wouldn't wait twenty years to do it...

***
18th May, 2017 (last edited: 24th May, 2017)

Eau de Fraîcheur by Weil

From the choppy verbena, zesty citrus and dark bergamot start Eau de Fraîcheur quickly retreats into a comparatively dense base of sweet rosy sandalwood. Not a bad accord but alone it lacks definition; a bit like listening to Mozart's aria for soprano 'Se l'augellin s'en fugge' when the treble stops working.

***
15th May, 2017

Eau de Vetyver by Yves Rocher

Yves Richer is like a mainstream version of Body Shop and, as you would expect from such an outfit, its perfumes are pretty middle of the road.

Consequently it comes as no surprise to find that theirs was not a raw vetiver. It was a highly embellished vetiver with a veritable panoply of modifiers wrapped around the core: liquorice, with a dark oily smokiness lurking in the background, and sweet powder, and then lemon, bergamot and coriander facets - which lead the supporting cast, and these are followed by spicy, green and woody undertones; this will not be a virtuoso performance by vetiver but a chorus line of voices all singing in harmony. The result is very pleasant, if a little baroque, especially when incense, a rose bouquet, sandalwood, coumarin and finally labdanum emerge to pile up more and more layers on top of the rather shy vetiver.

This makes for a dark and slightly difficult pleasure; which dresses up sweet, spicy, incense, woody and earthy elements within an anise liquorice shell, and so, at the end of the day, it doesn't have a great deal to do with vetiver. Like a vetiver showroom dummy hung with a whole load of garments; the body is vetiver shaped, but there's not much of it on view.

I have criticised its supposed lack of integrity as a Vetiver, but Eau de Vetyver was nevertheless still very fine. Moreish on the nose, and soft centred - but not without a certain dark challenge. Which may or may not - depending on your taste, include the spicy nutmeg accord directly lifted from Cacharel pour L'Homme that came out the year before.

It was an easy and approachable vetiver, and enjoyable, and its a pity its no longer around. Too classic, and classy, for todays market I fear.

****
14th May, 2017

Graffiti by Roberto Capucci

Harsh oily cardboard rose chypre that wants to be No.22.

**
06th May, 2017 (last edited: 07th May, 2017)

Hummer by Hummer

If the passing era of classical modern perfumery has been characterised by rich naturals blended with synthetics for power and stability, Hummer can only be regarded as postmodern because there is little or nothing natural about it.

The allergen list on the box includes linalool (lavender isolate), geraniol (geranium) and coumarin (tonka) which looks like a fougère, but what stands out most is the abrasive 'pimento' molecule that takes on the traditional role of oakmoss.

Hummer is built mainly around recessive lavender isolates and cardamom which are no match for the power of the highly invasive pimento. It also has support from camphoraceous notes, a very weak dry amber and a (synthetic) green foliage accord that for some reason contains what smells like mushroom.

This abrasive mix continues in an almost linear and very persistent fashion, probably because of the powerful aromachemicals at work. If it had been made of better stuff this could have been an interesting attempt at a new type of postmodern fougère, but the material quality is so derisory, and its so overwhelmingly harsh that the effect is nothing short of repellant.

Something this bad cannot be considered as any meaningful solution to the disappearance of oakmoss in the new era of post natural perfumery. This is nothing but a cynical parody done on the cheap.

I suppose that, being a novel fougère, Hummer should technically be regarded as a successor to Jicky. Perish the thought.

*
02nd May, 2017

Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein

Masculine but sensitive, enveloping but not heavy, Obsession for Men opens with a dry balsam and tree resin accord that graduates into a sweet spicy oriental with mild fougère accents along the way.

This is the perfume equivalent of an 80's soft rock ballad. (Check out Waiting for a Girl like You by Foreigner for a musical version of the dreamy and emotive oriental paradigm. It came out five years before but is still relevant.)

More than just a comfort blanket, OfM somehow tapped into the spirit of the times. And when perfumer Bob Slattery got a FiFi for it that was well deserved I reckon.

****
26th April, 2017

Mary Quant by Mary Quant

Astonishing vinegar and brown paper rose on musky powder; like listening to Kraftwerk's The Model (once) followed by a long stretch of pink noise.

**
20th April, 2017 (last edited: 23rd April, 2017)

Babe by Fabergé

Being aimed at a younger, if not actually adolescent audience than the traditional wife and mother market, (the original ad campaign for Babe featured the twenty-something grand daughter of Ernest Hemingway), this formula is significant for being a sort of half way house between the classic feminine, and the soon to emerge youth orientated style exemplified by Anaïs Anaïs (1978). The path subsequently followed by these developments leads straight to the fruity floral feminines we know today.

The standout aspect of Babe, besides its dubious patronising name, is the high quality of materials used; in particular, the light but unctuous petally rose at the heart of the composition. The naturalistic feel it gives is what makes the piece so attractive.

Babe opens with a coriander note that imparts an unusually masculine edge to the rather scrappy opening phrase. Its aromatic - herbaceous - spicy influence adds a bitter-sweet quality to the faintly aldehydic, lovely and delicate pink rose bouquet that emerges to take centre stage. This has a sweetly soft pink charm which is sufficient all by itself but is later accented with a hyacinth note that maintains freshness as the coriander fades. Once things are established there is no real evolution and no drydown to speak of. The heart phase, which is grounded on a discrete lipstick and cosmetics base has enough tenacity by itself to last an evening.

The feeling is light, and optimistic, but not vacuous; a go ahead take on the (by then) conservative aldehydic rose - jasmin Grande Tradition typified by No.5. Babe doesn't present any of the usual challenge that the hard feel of aldehydes can bring.

Material quality is good, construction is adequate, and the fresh treatment of traditional themes (aldehydic floral and rose bouquet) is progressive, especially the inclusion of coriander in the development phase. It shows Fabergé had a willingness to move with the times. While old fashioned Opium was knocking 'em dead in the boudoir, Babe was boogying on down in the disco.

****
19th April, 2017

Oh Là Là by Azzaro

There is a message on the box of this 'delicious lively oriental' which reads

"Oh lala" is so beautiful;
it reminds me of you
and I love it as I love you.

In reality this scent (perfume being too grand a term for it) is an over sweet and dull woody gourmand with as much interest as raspberry ice cream - without the raspberry.

This is dumb one dimensional stuff, and about as sincere as Monsieur Azzaro's sickening little homily to the unfortunate buyer - who's just been hooked by their sweet tooth into handing over real money for fake fume.

Plain vanilla, no la la.

**
09th April, 2017 (last edited: 10th April, 2017)
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Jacomo de Jacomo Original by Jacomo

If you're not looking for an old fashioned, sophisticated, spicy brown fougère at rock bottom price you've come to the wrong place.

****
06th April, 2017

Black by Bulgari

A dark and flat expanse of black rubber. This minimalist car tyre and iris combo with a vanilla praline undercurrent is very original; its also not easy to tell that its actually based on tea.

The merit of Black is that its not at all comforting or compliment seeking, quite the opposite; its provocative, and in this way more like a work of modern art than a simple olfactory ornament.

Works like this are a major step forward towards a modernist style of perfumery, but that still leaves us ninety years behind the plastic arts...

****
27th March, 2017

La Nuit de L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent

On the positive side, the drydown to this is nice, a simple sweet powdery cardamom. The downside is that its a very sweet, and fruity, powdery cardamom that comes with a chemical note like hairspray and cold ash.

Happily the bum note mostly fades away, but thats only to leave a type of mediocre sweet woody masculine that would be ideal cover for those who smoke and have a taste for red energy drinks.

It should have been called La Nuit de l'Adolescent.

***
20th March, 2017 (last edited: 28th March, 2017)

Cravache by Robert Piguet

The word cravache means several things in French: its a riding crop, and as a verb it means to slog away at something thats tedious and hard work; both meanings apply here.

There is a smack of incense at the top, but this by itself is not enough to gee up a determinedly staid profile of woody bergamot and lavender, its dowdy brown-orange colouring in desperate need of the brightness that citrus's would bring.

Its difficult to make out, but more than that Cravache is also poorly structured. There's nothing to connect its amorphous woody mass with the the flying whiplash poised overhead; again, a place for citrus - and conventionally - aromatics could have been found here.

À la cravache means to drive flat out, but this is a freeze frame not a movie. Its like something you might come across in an old print of a stagecoach going full tilt across the page, the coachman forever whipping on his horses but never making contact with their hides, their legs never moving and the wheels not going round; Cravache is linear, static.

The last meaning is to be ruthless - like the critic excoriating a perfume completely undeserving of its risqué name, there being nothing even remotely snappy - never mind sadistic - about this dowdy juice that lacks character and coherence and ultimately goes nowhere.

**
13th March, 2017 (last edited: 14th March, 2017)

Citrus & Wood by Yardley

Poor man's Terre d'Hermès.

***
04th March, 2017 (last edited: 26th March, 2017)

Palo Santo by Carner Barcelona

A quiet and somewhat gauche duo of sweet milky caramel and difficult dry woods.

The opening flourish of disinfectant and acid fruity syrup hints at interesting things to come but sadly these fade out far too soon. This leaves the field open to a vaguely unsettling and unpalatable dry woody iris set against a thick and creamy comfort-food caramel.

The obvious tension in this repulsion / attraction gourmand theme has potential to be developed but the challenge is ducked. What could have been a meditation on the complexities of taste and eating issues gets lost as the edgy appetite sapping wood is swamped by an excess of sweet caramel.

There's a mildly surprising twist that leads to a drydown of orange inflected woods, which is ok, but between the first act and the finalé of this teenage Samsara there lies a long boring interlude and a missed opportunity.

***
02nd March, 2017 (last edited: 18th March, 2017)

Wanted by Azzaro

Fruity apple shampoo, gingery syrup and spiky woody amber, all rolled up into another one of those shouty things for youths. Not the worst of them by any means but not really wanted by me.

**
26th February, 2017

Nuit Etoilée by Annick Goutal

Goutal's fruity, rooty, earthy purple Mandragore theme turned inside out.

Low key, and a poor performer, but still better than the first attempt.

***
18th February, 2017

L'Interdit (original) by Givenchy

In 1953 Audrey Hepburn asked her close friend and couturier Hubert de Givenchy to help her commission a scent for her exclusive personal use. He was by this time au fait with the world of perfumery and he passed the job over to the author of L'Air du Temps. The perfume was duly composed for Hepburn and when it was done L'Interdit, the Forbidden One was hers and hers alone. However, four years later Givenchy wanted to launch his own perfume collection and when his first juice Le De was ready he put L'Interdit on the market at same time. As he explained, 'with two horses in the stable there is more chance of coming in first'. Like many other couturiers his dresses were not selling anymore.


The original formula is an aldehydic floral bouquet, with a flourish of juniper and herbal notes in the head, fruity and spicy notes folded into the floral heart, and a biscuit undercurrent which later comes through supported by an oily-feeling vetiver sandal and amber base.

Its a simple construction that settles into a light, uplifting creamy yellow floral decorated with subtle ornamental flourishes. Although L'Interdit is an aldehydic in the hard and smooth eggshell manner of Blue Grass (1934) or Je Reviens (1932), it has a softer and more sympathetic floral theme than those other two. Where their lesser ornamentation and more straightforward articulation gives them a more functional and domestic feel - with metal polish notes for example, L'Interdit's sweet florals express more of a feminine feel than the 1930's iterations.

L'Interdit also has a certain amount in common with that comparatively ebullient floral aldehydic at the other end of the spectrum - Chanel No.5. With more clearly expressed ornamental themes and much more discrete florals the Givenchy is far less abstract, and outgoing, than the 1921 Chanel classic. When these two are put head to head its possible to see just how quiet L'Interdit is, just like Hepburn herself was in real life.

Somewhere between these two floral aldehydic tropes of homely domesticity and modernist abstraction, L'Interdit feels like an uncertain negotiation between private and public spheres, a bit like the sitation an introvert film star might find herself in when she walks onto the set.

***
16th February, 2017

Les Notes de Lanvin : Oud & Rose by Lanvin

That well known rule of perfumery Luca Turin's Iron Law - which states that in every trio of perfumes one of them shall be naff - has been broken by Les Notes de Lanvin.

The superior quality* of Oud & Rose when compared to the others in the series suggests that a second rule may be at work here; a harder-wrought, more demanding, Platinum Law of Perfumery which states that only one of the trio can be good.

*(I should perhaps qualify this opinion by saying that Vetyver Blanc, while being no two-dimensional lash up, smells chemically pungent and ill conceived and I never wear it; and after an hour's skin test the third placed Orange Amber never even made it home with me - even at the discount price it was offered at...)

It is really false modesty on the part of Interparfums to imply that their Notes de Lanvin collection is just that - a collection of notes - as though they were simple two-tone colognes, just like those of 4711.

The name Oud & Rose, while accurate, doesn't really do justice to the scent; it feels like a fully worked out Eau de Toilette - which is exactly what it is : a rose water nougat, decorated with strawberry and iris-rasperry notes, surrounded by lighter modulations of citrus, orange flower, banana and green notes. And of course there is the usual Western style sticking plaster oud. There are also some screechy synthetics - which the oud cannot totally disguise and which can sometimes get a bit intrusive.

This bitter-sweet and powdery rose oud starts off well enough, but the complexity soon fades and then later the quality. It's like the money (or the time) ran out before work on the second half was finished. Enough effort seemingly went into the project for one good fume, but not a trilogy. The two underperformers should therefore have been dropped and this one worked up into something special. As a fully finished, high quality stand alone it might have still been on the market today.

***/*
14th February, 2017

French Line by Révillon

Dark fruit and woods without the powder and civet; a less sophisticated version of Antaeus.

***
10th February, 2017

Aramis 900 by Aramis

If you've ever felt like wearing Aromatics Elixir but found it just too much, this might be what you're after.

A900 is a cleaned up, smoothed out version of Aromatics with a lot of the bombast stripped away. Its a much quieter, positively modest version that has nothing like the same staying power - which makes it easier to carry off than its monumental sibling but its also a lot less fun: a bit like Ride of the Valkyries played by brass band when you were hoping for the Berlin Philharmonic.

***
03rd February, 2017 (last edited: 10th February, 2017)

Black by Comme des Garçons

After the peppery - anisic - boozy rush of the intro it could be possible to talk about the many nuances there are in Black, but this would probably be misleading because they're really no more than a sideshow.

Black doesn't take long to settle into its groove of burnt cedarwood and rubber with a sweet marshmallow undertone. The cedarwood is the principle actor here, and its also a basenote - and we'll see why this is important later on.

Cedar is paired with a smoky note - which may well come from cade oil and birch tar, but the woody core also smells like it contains an empyratic grade of cedarwood oil (which the amateur can buy in head shops in the UK) and this oil has a remarkably similar smell of blackened wood and rubber to that which is found in Black.

The best part is this early main phase where the rubbery and smoky notes add a frisson of danger, but the rubber soon fades away (which is characteristic of the head shop oil) and leaves only the smoke clinging on. The smoke then merges with rising incense and bitter powdery iris notes, which do nothing to change the direction of the scent, or its desiccated texture. These secondary notes are essentially replacements for the more interesting modifiers that preceded them.

For a while Black is driven by a contrast of bitter smoke and sweet fruity notes, but as they fade out and the internal dynamics unwind it loses a lot of its mystique, and once this transition point is reached the profile doesn't change that much anymore. All thats left is a slow and linear decline of the incense, smoky and sweet notes from around the burnt cedar which, eventually, is left standing on its own with just a whiff of licorice.

The licorice is a nice touch but its still not enough to stop the smell of charred wood from getting pretty boring by the end; and by the end we're talking days, not hours; and remember - its been there right from the start, almost...


At first the idea of burnt smoky wood and black rubber seemed bold and inventive, but with more exposure to it I've changed my mind. Black starts off well but it gets tedious - it far outstays its welcome.

***
29th January, 2017 (last edited: 08th April, 2017)

Miss Dior Originale (previously Miss Dior) by Christian Dior

The original 1947 Miss Dior in the black and white hound's tooth check was a brown leather chypre and this olfactory hue immediately sets it apart from its great congener and wartime rival Bandit. If Bandit (1944) is the scent of a black leather handbag filled with odds and ends - the scented accoutrements of a hard bitten madame in Occupied Montparnasse, Miss Dior can be the scent of the perfumed saddle of Epona - Celtic goddess of horses who, in Apuleius's bawdy and picaresque novel The Golden Ass, has a shrine in a stable adorned with roses.

I choose this archaic metaphor because it is - today, like Miss Dior - out of its time. There has been a slippage in our olfactory social conventions over the past seventy years and Miss Dior is a perfect example of how things have changed in a lifetime.

Leather chypre was once an odour that denoted femininity. Admittedly this was an embattled post WWII femininity struggling with destruction, shortage and widowhood, but at the time leather chypre was a very popular genre for women's scent. Because of changes that have happened in society since then, Miss Dior came to smell no longer feminine in the way it had; the effects of war ceased to touch people in the same way that they used to and women were no longer survivors who had to learn to appear (and smell) resilient in the face of catastrophe. Consequently, this tough but big hearted floral has, by today's olfactory standards, slipped much closer to the gender boundary - it smells to our noses much less feminine than it originally did. What it signifies today is much less clear cut, but still no less beautiful than it was back in the aftermath of World War Two. Let's take a look at what its saying.

Brown leather chypre, with a humid undertone of stable yard and horse. There's a liquid crystalline citrus accord with the tang removed, and a spicy pepper clove and coriander overtone, with a base of resins balms, vetiver moss and patchouli. As it unfolds the spicy leather softens to reveal a lovely rose-jasmin and lily heart, surrounded by iris, neroli, lavender, tuberose and a green accord.

It was robust and yet subtle, with the grace of a chestnut thoroughbred mare. But Miss Dior was no pushover; she was - despite the soft pink heart - a commanding floral chypre with presence.

In their excellent book Perfumery, Calkin & Jellinek declared Miss Dior to be 'an extraordinary balancing act between contrasting materials, [and] one of the most admired perfumes among perfumers [at the time].

By today's sensibilities, Miss Dior doesn't read like a feminine. But the prominent floral centrepiece means it doesn't smell masculine either. The closest comparison to extant perfumery would probably be Aramis - wearing his floral heart very much on his sleeve; and this illustrates the problem that the original formula of Miss Dior posed for the contemporary perfume market - it didn't meet the needs of women of today.

After the war ended in 1945, confidence returned and people's tastes rebounded towards something lighter and more optimistic. Perfume buyers no longer wanted olfactory leather armour to protect their vulnerable emotions, and perfumery was not slow to respond. Only a year after Miss Dior came out, a new perfume appeared that was to become one of the cornerstones of modern perfumery - L'Air du Temps, an abstract gardenia and carnation bouquet - not a chypre.

Miss Dior managed to cling on right up until the seventies, but gradually the chypre went out of style and was all but abandoned as a feminine trope, to be replaced by florals, orientals and more recently gourmands as the default signifiers of femininity.

Nowadays, women want (or are told they want) something less confrontational, more consumable. Because of what had become by the eighties the complete loss of its cultural relevance, Miss Dior had to be completely overhauled if it was to survive as a commercial product.

As a result, this one time market leader and critically acclaimed masterpiece was axed and completely reformulated; it had to fall in line with current demands or fall by the wayside. Consequently, what was once the reference brown leather chypre, and one of the greatest perfumes of all time is no more: what goes by that name today is nothing but a bunch of fruity florals.

*****
23rd January, 2017

Bandit by Robert Piguet

In todays world of fruity saccharin bombs, it seems inconceivable that such a remorseless leather chypre as this, adorned with citrus, spice and the barest minimum of florals could ever have been created as a feminine.

Black patent leather emerging from a shimmering rainbow sillage, Bandit remains - despite reformulation - an enduring and protean masterpiece, created from under the boot heel of Nazi occupation by that greatest of iconoclasts Germain Cellier.

*****
16th January, 2017 (last edited: 10th March, 2017)

Midnight Oud by Juliette Has a Gun

The principle notes are oud - saffron - rose : but none of them are really 'real'. A dearth of natural oils makes Midnight Oud feel pretty synthetic; but thats not to say that synthetic is bad - on the contrary, the syrupy-plasticky background sets the fake oud off to good effect.

Its a clean type of oud with no smoky or animal notes but instead you get a smidge of rubber at the start, possibly from the dry bitter saffron substitute. The 'saffron' pairs up with the oud for most of its course, and there's a shy rose accord which mingles in the background with a red cocktail of fruity molecules; this is where the plasticky syrup texture comes in. There's a complement of woody notes and powder which lend a slight hint of naturality to proceedings, but having said that, powder isn't a natural aroma - its just simply one that we mostly all recognise, and so in fact the only natural smell in Midnight Oud is a minor undertone of wood.

Even though 'real' smells are in the minority the profile still doesn't take off into the realms of science fiction, but, by Western standards the red brown, hard bitter woody-oily note combined with the disinfectant twang of 'oud' is pretty out there none the less.

Considering the financial constraints - $15,000 a kilo for oud oil, $1,500 for saffron - (top prices on Alibaba), it should be no surprise that Midnight Oud (like all commercial 'oud's) is a synthetic reconstruction.

But, whether this perfume smells like 'real' oud and saffron or not is really besides the point. Midnight Oud - like Joy, No.5, J'Adore and all other modern perfumes employ interpretations of natural smells (or other perfumes) and not reproductions of them; ie they don't claim to be - or aim to be - copies of flowers, wood, fruit etc, and we shouldn't regard oud as any different to jasmin or rose in this respect. One hardly ever smells pure jasmin or real rose in a (modern conventional) perfume, they are always augmented by isolates and synthetics - and for a host of good reasons, not only price. Therefore, even the best made of modern perfumes must - by their very nature - be, and smell, artificial.

Because Midnight Oud is Romano Ricci's interpretation of the old Arabian construct of oud - saffron - rose, it is doubly artificial. It uses synthetic materials to achieve an interpretation of an exogenous style; its not a genuine Arabian perfume, but an 'Arabian style' perfume made in Europe - big difference.

Modern perfume does not, and indeed should not smell nature identical (be a straight up representation of flowers etc). It is, and should smell like, an interpretation; an artistic (or crafty) re-presentation of 'flowers', filtered through an individual's personal vision.

And what of this interpretation of oud using an imitation of Oud? The question, to my mind, is not "does it smell like oud?" but does it smell any good?

Well, no it doesn't really - and yes it really does.

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11th January, 2017 (last edited: 12th January, 2017)

Peau d'Ailleurs by Starck

You've maybe heard about Guerilla Gardening - where people reconnect with the land by growing plants in wasted urban spaces. Well, Peau d'Ailleurs is the smell of an imaginary guerilla garden : a beetroot pushing through the black mineral dirt in a crack of concrete, watered by a stagnant puddle, splattered with citrus milkshake :- welcome to Guerilla Perfumery!

Don't give up yet though, its not all about trash and decay... Running through Peau d'Ailleurs - like a seam of muted gold - is a subtle, musky, creamy lemon floral.

Peau d'Ailleurs is a fabulous challenge - like a tightrope walk through the wasteland; musky lemon on one side, ditchwater on the other.

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24th December, 2016 (last edited: 28th March, 2017)