Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

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Total Reviews: 455

Eau de Néroli Doré by Hermès

For an established luxury goods producer, the trick to remaining relevant is to promise both the past and the future. The authenticity of heritage and a bright future of previously unimaginable luxury. This two-step is nothing new for Hermès. Their products are exceptional specimens of craft, but their true artistry lies in manipulating perception.

The brand’s Eau de Cologne series shares the standard Hermès bottle with the Hermessence perfumes but come in in bright, lollipop colors, a carefree alternative to the austere pastels of the Hermessence line. They are ‘note-driven’, just like the Hermessence line. (Grapefruit, narcissus, rhubarb for the colognes versus osmanthus, massoïa and paprika for the high-end.) They are effectively a ‘mini-Hermessence’ line.

Hermès tend very carefully to the symbolism of their products. The language surrounding the products might seem nonchalant but the meaning is specific and the intention is unmistakable. When Hermès launch a product, nothing is left to chance. From images of the product to the text describing it to press events, every detail is deliberate. Hermès know how to manipulate the echo chamber effect of the fashion world with an almost scientific precision. Whisper the stories in just the right places and through unquestioning repetition, they become legend.

The concept of Eau de Néroli Doré is not a new one. This strategy, Finery At All Costs, is an unsubtle one in the first place but Hermès have pulled out all the stops. Their claim of using one half of Tunisia and Morocco’s annual neroli production is an undisguised demonstration of both power and crassness. Hermès are apparently capable of putting the northern portion of a continent on hold in order to suit their product design. (And in doing so, hand you a flawless example of post colonial arrogance wrapped up with a bow.)

No theater works without an audience and here Hermès rely on the privilege that they foster in their consumers. Part one of the strategy is the scale of the act: A multinational claim on a material. Part two is the intent, which is to invite its customers to relish the frivolousness. International economies are bent to your whim. So what that an equally good eau de cologne could have been made with less sensationally-sourced, inexpensive materials? You deserve finery at all costs.

Hermès’s sentimental account of a young Jean-Claude Ellena’s learning to distill orange blossom is an attempt to give Eau de Néroli Doré a sincerity, a human scale. In classic cake-and-eat-it-too fashion, Hermès want to alter the economy of nations, but they also want to project a wide-eyed artisanal purity. For all the spin surrounding Eau de Néroli Doré, it can’t beat the perfume truism that any cologne is pretty much as good as any other cologne. It has an olfactory ‘aftertaste’ that undermines the touted neroli. It smells briefly aromatherapeutic and then like a bottle of cologne smashed on sidewalk cement.
21st June, 2016

Portrait of a Lady by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

The rose and patchouli pairing is such a good fit that it seems like proof of fate. It’s been the basis for a range of leathery, ambery, woody and mossy perfumes spanning woody-floral, chypre and oriental genres. The Malle PR boasts that Ropion used surpassing doses of rose essence and patchouli coeur, a fractionated patchouli. Fractionated naturals are botanical materials that have been separated into their constituent parts by chemical and physical processes, especially molecular distillation, and edited to remove undesirable traits.

Around the time of Portrait’s launch more and more of these ‘tidied up’ botanicals were becoming available. Well understood materials like vetiver, cedar and patchouli saw their challenging attributes reduced or removed, leaving frictionless, blissful versions of the materials. They were sanded, polished and lacquered. Aroma materials manufacturers were pushing their hot new high-tech, stripped-down botanicals. They were an easy sell. They used a version of the best-of-all-worlds tactic to sidestep the endless botanical vs synthetic debate. They are ‘natural’ and therefore good but they have also been made better through chemistry and are therefore contemporary.

Used thoughtfully, fractionated botanicals allowed a measured, precise tailoring of olfactory effects. Unfortunately they also made their way into some simplistic compositions that smelled like ‘easy listening’ perfumes. The niche and mainstream markets of the time were top-heavy with a glut of radiant, synth-woody fragrances. Many perfume buyers had become accustomed to judging the quality of a perfume by how closely it approximated the properties of woody amber materials. These scrubbed versions of botanical materials matched the tone created by woody ambers. An entire fumie cohort was conditioned to respond to the ‘clarity’ of the new generation of fractionated botanicals.

Distillation of materials is not new to perfumery by any means. The recent emphasis on fractionating well-understood botanical aroma-materials stems from the attempt to dissect IFRA-designated toxic materials such as lavender, lemon and the notoriously virulent tea leaf and remove their noxious bits. Think of a fraction as a potent material that has undergone an exorcism.

***

Rose and patchouli have complementary facets that fit like a lock and key and have strong synergy. The camphorous chill of patchouli acts like an astringent to rose, keeping it from settling into the dull beauty that an uninspired rose perfume can have. Rose’s berry notes become wine-like and boozy when paired with patchouli. Resinous materials give rose a honeyed drawl and musk keeps the bloom on the rose. Camphor, berry notes, musk and amber are the olfactory attributes emphasized in coeur de vetiver and Ropion uses them along with incense, benzoin and god only knows what else to create the durable accords that allow Portrait of a Lady to last for days. It is classically Ropion in that rich natural materials and potent synthetics are focussed on the same goal: coherence. The perfume’s sillage and forcefulness hint at potent synthetics. Happily, though, the ear-ringing, gut-churning feeling I associate with over-reliance on particular synthetics to give radiance and endurance is nowhere to be found. Portrait of a Lady showcases Ropion’s exceptional capacity to calibrate synthetics toward specific compositional ends while avoiding their side-effects.

Since 2010 when it was released, Portrait of a Lady has come to stand toe-to-toe with an equally imposing patch-rose, Aromatics Elixir. While AE dominates the mossy/chypre side of the rose-patch hoards, The Lady has become the standard against which woody and oriental side of the rose family is compared. Rose-oud as well. It’s a perfume that begs to be described in superlatives and worn with abandon.
21st June, 2016

Une Fleur de Cassie by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Ropion knows how to make monster florals. Ysatis, Amarige, Alien. Jarring and disturbing to some, ravishing to others. (Count me in the disturbed category.) The key is in the synth-natural play of Ropion’s aesthetic. Take Amarige and Alien (co-authored with Laurent Bruyère). They are considered versions of the soliflor yet to my nose they are so unequivocally chemical in tone as to be science-fiction. Ropion’s mainstream florals are so exaggerated, so counterbalanced with potent synthetics that they can seem brittle. They might pay lip service to flowers, but their magnitude and mathematical sense of proportion mark them as artificial. The hyperbole of the accords will read as graceful to some and as frightening to others. If a flower is like a folk song, Ropion’s florals are Farinelli singing to Louis XV at Versailles.

Ropion puts his ability to leverage floral tones to excellent use in Une Fleur de Cassie. It lacks the stiffness of Ysatis and the shrillness of Amarige but is equally, and proudly, as synthetic as either of the two. The name name might lead you to believe it’s an attempt at a soliflor, but the mix of an odd botanical note like cassie/mimosa with heavy synthetics makes Une Fleur de Cassie a cyborg of a perfume. It pairs scents of mud and metal, cinnamon and slate, almond and glue. The the bold use of seemingly disparate tones gives Une Fleur de Cassie a deep saturation. The balance of large strokes and detail allows it to be as large as Ysatis’s bouquet but far less overdressed.

Une Fleur de Cassie showcases Ropion’s strength at calculating olfactory effects to the umpteenth decimal point. It is a remarkably intricate and precise perfume but the complexity doesn’t lead to obscurity. You don’t need a vocabulary of notes to read Une Fleur de Cassie. The legibility is in the clarity and accuracy of the olfactory aesthetics, not in the list of notes. To lean further into the opera analogy, Une Fleur de Cassie offers a satisfying experience whether you’ve read the libretto or not.

For some perfumers working with a prestigious niche house is the opportunity to branch out from the obligatory mainstream sensibilities of their day jobs. For Ropion its a chance to hunker down and dig more deeply into a genre he’s known for. Frédéric Malle’s approach to art direction is to give the perfumer the resources to pursue his own direction and then to engage in a discussion during the perfume’s creation. It is a measured approach, one that favors a thoughtful composition over an outrageous one. Une Fleur de Cassie’s success is likely due to both Malle’s and Ropion’s input and was one of the perfumes that put the Malle brand at the center of attention when the line launched in 2000.
21st June, 2016
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Dans Tes Bras by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle launched in 2000 with a rock-star lineup of perfumers, including Maurice Roucel, who composed the culty Musc Ravageur for the brand. Art direction and commissioning independent perfumers was nothing new in 2000. In fact, it was the founding model of niche perfumery. Early examples Diptyques (1961), l’Artisan Parfumeurs (1976), Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (1988) were still going strong. The Serge Lutens brand (1992) had attained permanent revolution and were the leader in experimentation.

Hip and trendy were taken, so Frédéric Malle took a different approach with his line. The strategy of the initial roster of FM perfumes was to emphasize quality and distinction. Perfumers were apparently given the edict and the budget to create perfumes of impeccable caliber and taste. Same principle as Amouage, different sensibility. The nine perfumes in the initial launch wore their perfumers on the label, reflecting Malle’s belief in the artist as well as his line’s concept of authorship and publishing. The art direction focussed on the perfumers’ signature styles. Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant had her characteristic water-color dynamics. Angelique Sous la Pluie demonstrated Jean-Claude Ellena’s expertise with transparent tones. Edouard Flechier’s Lys Méditerranée fits his history of oversized narcotic florals. And so on.

Malle and Roucel were an ideal pair. Malle directed perfumers to work within their sweet spots and Roucel had a history of exploring a compositional motif over the course of years. Musc Ravageur was a tailored version of Alain Delon Lyra, a Roucel fragrance from 1996. Roucel would go on to create le Labo Labdanum 18, Helmut Lang EDP/EDC and Missoni by Missoni, variations on the same aromatic/musk/vanilla-chocolate theme.

Roucel and Malle collaborated again with Dans Tes Bras. Roucel had made violet the principle note of his hairspray-fantasy, Guerlain Insolence in 2006. He punched up the violet and the volume in the 2008 Insolence EDP. Dans Tes Bras, a violet perfume of a very different cut, was released the same year. If Insolence candied violet, Dans tes Bras fermented it. If you can imagine scent-scape of violets and toadstools growing out of vinegar-soaked concrete you’ll catch the shape of the perfume. It’s a doughy floral musk with notes of soil, salt, spice and sour skin. Our nose/brains are conditioned to try to sort scents. Materials that emulate botanicals are assessed for how ‘natural’ they smell while identifiably synthetic qualities aren’t expected to feign realism. Dans tes Bras flips the expected and uses floral notes like heliotrope and violet that smell for lack of a better word, unnatural. With an apparent overdose of cashmeran, the synthetic side of the perfume smells remarkably like something you know, namely concrete sidewalk drying after a rain .

Most Malle perfumes land in identifiable categories, the result of deliberately chasing the ‘best in class’ distinction that the Malle line aspires to. The risk is that many of the line’s perfumes can be seen as simply extra-fine versions of department store perfumes. Dans tes Bras, not so much. In a line that leans heavily towards florals it is the least conventional of the lot.

The Malle line seemed like it was headed for a soft landing even before Estée Lauder purchased the brand in 2014. Eau de Magnolia, Cologne Indelible and Monsieur were a citric floral-chypre, a concentrated eau de cologne and a Soli-patch. Finished and tony but a bit dull. I assume that each perfume in the Malle line will be looked at very closely by the Lauder accountants. If there is a thinning of the line, florals in particular, will Dans tes Bras make the cut?
21st June, 2016

Cadavre Exquis by Bruno Fazzolari

Cadavre Exquis is a gourmand perfume from two perfumers known for exploring ‘classy’ genres like animalic chypres and aldehydic florals. It was made following the rules of a surrealist parlor game called exquisite corpse. In an exquisite corpse the participants take turns adding words or images, or in this case accords and materials, until the project is complete. The final product might be nothing that the participants imagined. The corpse is rigged to favor unpredictability and can give rise to some wonderfully bizarre results.

Perfumers Bruno Fazzolari and Antonio Gardoni’s hybrid backgrounds—the former is a visual artist, the latter an architect—establish the creative landscape where the collaboration can take place. There isn’t a roadmap for this sort of creative alliance, so Gardoni and Fazzolari had the freedom to make it up as they went. The exquisite corpse model provided a framework for the process to unfold but what defined the scope of the project was the choice to make a gourmand perfume. Genre was the gauntlet each perfumer threw at the other.

The perfume may be a gourmand, but it’s a dry one. The decision to go big must have been made early in the process because the perfume is very well finished and doesn’t appear rushed. Gourmand qualities are reinforced by not-quite-gourmand notes giving the perfume an edible/inedible balance. There’s chocolate, but there’s also patchouli, which has a strong cocoa aspect. Creamy vanilla is balanced with vanillic-woody tones that stop just short of pure dessert. The cool quality—is it herbal like licorice or camphorous like mothballs? Both? The juggling of gourmand notes generates gluttonous hallucinations: An orange that drips maple syrup when you peel it. Frozen butterscotch. A mint chocolate brownie that turns to dust as you bring it to your mouth.

Fazzolari and Gardoni didn’t just dare each other, they challenge us, the audience. The gourmand genre is derided by the indie/artisan fumie crowd, the ostensible audience for Cadavre Exquis and the perfumers play with our biases. C’mon, you know what you think of gourmand perfumes. They’re tacky. They’re beneath us. They’re tired. I doubt that it’s a favorite genre of Gardoni or Fazzolari either, but here’s the point of the perfume: risk.

A dicey process, a ballsy choice of genre, a potentially incredulous audience. This is perfumery without a safety net. There are more risks than just the creative: cost, time/labor, the creative capital, reputation. But if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing big and Cadavre Exquis is an enormous perfume that makes no attempt to tone down the ostentatiousness of the genre. It’s rightly been called a monster, but it’s not the Frankenstein version we’ve been led to expect. It’s glaring, conspicuous, undeniable. It’s frightening not because it’s ugly, but because of its candied beauty. It overloads us with recognizably beautiful features until it crosses a threshold and becomes as hideous as it is beautiful. It’s a showgirl.

Cadavre Exquis is more than two perfumers branching out into gourmand territory. It gets at the heart of the relationship between artisan perfumers and their audiences. Forget the product for a moment, do you support the process? Is it enough to buy Fazzolari’s Monserrat or Gardoni’s Maai? They are exceptional perfumes—exciting, beautiful, thoughtful—and buying them supports the artists. But Cadavre Exquis asks us to go further. It’s the put-up-or-shut-up slap to the face. I’ve whined for years about the shitty perfumes that result from low aspiration, demographic targeting, least common denominators, focus groups and flankers. Gardoni and Fazzolari are calling us out: if we want exceptional perfumes are we willing to support unconventional, experimental work? Are we willing to support the artists? Do we trust the artists?

My answer is yes. Beauty is easy, so I’m chasing the monster instead. I bought the corpse and while I appreciate its unconventional aesthetics more with each wearing, I love the ideas that it contains.
21st June, 2016

Rose Privée by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Stéphanie Bakouche’s sensational Invasion Barbare for Parfums MDCI is a hard act to follow, and it’s worth considering that early-career success is not without its downside. The expectation following a Luca Turin 5-star rating of a first perfume is stratospheric. Rose Privée is Backouche’s second perfume, released a full ten years after Invasion Barbare and co-authored by Bertrand Duchaufour, cited by l’Artisan as Bakouche’s mentor. In the intervening years she’s been at the heart of the l’Artisan Parfumeur line, first as a Trainer and then as a Fragrance Development Manager and Perfumer.

The opening of Rose Privée is pure color. Pink rose, silver-green violet, white and pink grapefruit, green basil. But mostly pink, as in pretty. Not as unabashedly pretty as Drole de Rose or as self-possessed as Safran Troublant, Olivia Giacobetti’s two roses for l’Artisan, but Rose Privée is charming and fits the l’Artisan aesthetic. Rose and violet, a classic ‘makeup’ pairing, hint at lipstick but Rose Privée is far from the plumped and ready-for-battle lips of Incarnata‘s cold violet.

The rose of the topnotes is brief but bright, creating an olfactory effect similar to a cinematic lens flare followed by a hazed washout. The eau de parfum fades to violet via lilac, all the while suggesting a range of watercolor pinks and purples. The topnotes are gentle but as they meld into a sweeter, sharper lilac-magnolia accord, the rose seems more fragile than soft. The directness of the synthetic tone easily outpaces any attempt at a full-fleshed natural appearance, which is not necessarily a failure in a perfume. But for one that puts “Rose” in klieg lights and sells itself as a rose de mai, the transition from the topnotes to the musky-berry heartnotes has the feeling of deflation. Streamlined, abstract tones take precedence over verisimilitude to rose and the topnotes blow away in the breeze. Post-rose, the perfume is linear.

The ‘basenotes’ are a better indicator of the perfume’s intention. A calibrated woody-musky shape forms the skeleton of the fragrance. It recalls a softer version of the the finish Duchaufour has applied to many of his woody-florals like Dzongkha or Sienne d’Hiver, but without his signature incense. The odd thing, though, is that unlike the radiance and durability that the Duchaufour treatment usually gives a perfume, evanescence is Rose Privée’s chief trait. The whole experience of the eau de parfum lasts about 2 hours, after which it’s gone without a trace.

If you’re looking for a long-lasting or thorny rose, Rose Privée won’t suit you. But worn as a buoyant, floral version of an eau de cologne, it fits the bill. The rose de mai burns off like the citrus of an eau de cologne and the musky sweetness floats until it fades.
21st June, 2016

Sova by Slumberhouse

Slumberhouse perfumer Josh Lobb has said that he doesn’t work with topnotes. Most of his perfumes smell layered, as if materials with similar consistencies or densities were creating a ‘wall of scent.’ Materials meet each other head to head on a level playing field. The democracy of materials urges you to find your own understanding of the perfumes without being steered along a particular course. By contrast, a traditional top/heart/base has a momentum that guides your attention more explicitly. If you favor traditional perfume, Sova might seem as if it lacks movement. On the other hand, if you prefer the ‘wall of scent’ approach, a traditional pyramidal structure could seem programatic, like a theme-park ride that, for all its thrills and drama, is still a passive experience.

I have no horse in this race and think that both approaches can be effective. The issue is how successfully a perfume accomplishes its goals. Sova is an excellent example of Lobb’s method. It has no topnotes per se and questions the premise that a perfume without a top-to-bottom structure is “linear”, that is to say, static. By asking the wearer to participate in order to make sense of the perfume, Lobb’s perfumes tip the balance from observation to interpretation. The perfume is less an artifact and more the entry point to an adventure.

Sova appears gourmand at first sniff and aromas come into focus as flavors. The herbal moistness of tobacco and hay. A bitter honeycomb made from hops and clover. Cold/hot spices like clove and allspice.

If I try to chase down the specific gourmand facets, they take me somewhere vaguely inedible–woods, bitter herbs, resins. Sova’s imagery is elusive if you squint too hard to bring it into focus. To paraphrase a new age expression that used to make me apoplectic, Let Go and Let Sova. The imagery works best as a gestalt, not zooming in on the flavors, but the picture that the flavors suggest. I have a sample of the discontinued Slumberhouse Baque (also 2012), which has a similar profile to Sova. The similarity of aromas is there, but Sova suggests baked goods while Baque suggests booze.

Lobb riffs on an approach that Christopher Sheldrake honed to precision in woody Serge Lutens perfumes like Arabie, Chergui and Five O’Clock au Gingembre. Framing woods with resins and spices brings out roasted tones. Sova is far less sweet than these Lutens though, as if Lobb paraphrased the Godfather cannoli meme: Leave the syrup. Take the woods.

Sova reminds me of the most delicious part of gingerbread, the scorched edges where sweetness gives way to smokiness. Lutens might have built a gingerbread house. Slumberhouse burns it down.
21st June, 2016

Je Reviens by Worth

I wore Je Reviens on and off in the early ’80s. I’m sure it read as dowdy and anachronistic, especially on a twenty year old, but I’d never smelled anything quite like it and was taken by its plastic, synthetic beauty. I knew a few floral aldehydes and loved Arpège, Joy and No 5 but I knew nothing about the history of perfume. It would never have occurred to me to consider perfume as the product of an era, though I was aware that my other perfumes, Antaeus and Kouros, were newer.

What struck me about Je Reviens was that I could break it down and identify some of its qualities. Not notes, but descriptors. The other perfumes I knew existed as complete entities. I could no more easily dissect Joy than I could take apart a marble bust and show you its constituent parts. But I could read Je Reviens. I didn’t have a vocabulary for it, but I could tell that it juxtaposed its elements differently. It was powdery and buttery at the same time. I’m sure the cobalt bottle influenced me, but Je Reviens smelled both blue and yellow without ever mixing to become green. The different qualities fit together but didn’t blend like the bouquets in Arpège and Joy. I found abstraction in perfumery at the same time that I was discovering my proclivity for abstraction in other art forms. I started to think of perfume as a composition.

I still smell Je Reviens the same way, but I have more context for it. The contrasting qualities still sit next to each other without blending, but now I chalk it up to a particular use of aromachemicals, most likely vintage musks and a famously heavy dose of benzyl salicylate. It still reads as floral, but now I see it as densely woody with a stemmy, watery crispness and a background hint of smoke.

Je Reviens was released in 1932 and was a precursor to the the green florals and chypres of the ’50s as well as the the metallic ’60s-‘ 70s green florals. Although it comes from the ’30s it has a 1950s sensibility. The delineation of the notes the suits the rigid artifice and cocktail party mentality of the mid ’50s. It is a floral speedball seen through a blur of martinis and amphetamines. The plasticky aromachemicals amp the florals and give a gloss that slurs the speech just a touch.
21st June, 2016

Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Oud perfumes are the new “orientals”. Like their early 20th century predecessors, their fantasy/reality ratio is sky-high. They are less overtly culturally offensive, but in terms of authenticity, they are just as much a bill of goods.

Francis Kurkdjian avoided the pitfall of attempting to mimic Arabic style. Instead, he treated oud like any other centerpiece note in western traditional perfumery. His Oud has some of the characteristic scent of oud materials, particularly the band-aid note, but the setting is unexpected. Rather than pairing oud with rose, syrup or smoke, Kurkdjian made a sort of woody-floral with a soft oud note. (Though the brand’s list of notes doesn’t include florals.)

Kurkdjian approaches oud as a material rather than a genre. He seems to have given it the same scrutiny he might ambroxan or rosewood, breaking it down into its constituent notes and evaluating the olfactory dynamics, seeing how it interacts with other materials. Some of oud’s traits are underscored, others are played down. By treating it to classical western perfume analysis and technique, Kurkdjian assimilated oud.

In skipping the Arabian fantasy, he avoids the stereotypes of the material. Of the hundreds of oud perfumes to hit the market in the past 5-10 years, not many stray from a narrow interpretation of the material. Kurkdjian took a measured approach and demonstrated his signature talent for composing a perfume that is somewhat unusual but not at all strange. It smells deliciously of shoe polish + lipstick + floor wax. It is cool to the touch and reserved. Kurkdjian aligned oud with patchouli, a material with some similar characteristics, to create a new style of woody-floral perfume. Oud and patchouli are both woody materials that range from pitchy highs to durable, resinous bass ranges. Patchouli’s camphorous chill matches oud’s rubber band-aid note and both share a dusty, woody feel. They don’t smell alike, but the behave similarly.

Classical perfumery has always had a loving appreciation of ‘off’ notes. The most effective materials of traditional perfumery tended to have a stark, asymmetric beauty at their core. Modulating them created a well-proportioned aesthetic that captured the interest and the imagination. Oud is well suited for a similar use—it is idiosyncratic and quintessentially jolie-laide. Kurkdjian didn’t disguise oud, but he did make it his own and proposed a new, western style of oud perfume.
21st June, 2016

Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Kurkdjian excels at creating well turned-out perfumes. Smooth, seamless perfumes with lovely olfactory shapes and pleasant profiles. Of course, he also makes Cologne and Absolue pour le Soir, two of the dirtiest roses available, so he’s not limited to olfactory pleasantry. Still, most of the Maison Francis Kurkdjian perfumes have a mannered quality. Where various perfume lines promise Arabian fantasy or minimalism or narrative, MFK offers the comfort of normalcy. Only better. MFK gives us the mainstream, but with a perfection that negates the inherent dullness found in middle of the road.

Take the Amyrises. They are luxe versions of what you might find on the department store fragrance counters at any given moment—they are designed to be. They might not draw your attention at a distance, but up close the fit looks just too good to be off-the-rack. They balance a prim detachment with a wink to let you know that there’s more here than just an idealized designer perfume.

Baccarat shares the refined, muted quality of the Amyrises but not their designer style. It is more abstract and uncluttered. The polish, the precious-metal glow that many of Kurkdjian’s perfumes have is there, but the shape is less conventional. It riffs on a mainstream sensibility, but less so than the Amyrises.

The opening of the perfume matches the the nearly-fruity scent of fir to a juicy orange but cuts the sweetness with a mineral edge. The saltiness and a cotton-candy note circle each other, yet Baccarat 540 skips the lingering caramel predictability of the current run of praline perfumes. The specific notes seem to recede over time as large olfactory images come into focus. A marine/ambergris shape gives a balanced, synthetic profile to the heartnotes. The sweet/nutty pairing holds together through the drydown giving a cozy coherence from top to bottom.

Unusual? Yes.

Edgy? Not in the least.

Interesting? Try it and see.
21st June, 2016

The Soft Lawn by Imaginary Authors

I am suspicious—make that incredulous—of storytelling in perfumery. The minute the exposition or the plot commences, I tune out. Perfume evokes ideas and states, and reflects trains of thought that no other art-form can. Trying to make perfumes tell stories reminds me of those tiny dogs in circus acts, dressed in clown-like costumes, jumping up and down on their hind legs.

So why do I enjoy the perfume fictions of Imaginary Authors so much? Maybe it’s because they get at stories through imaginations of memory. Perhaps the stories are simply imagistic and evocative. The stories are a stepping-off point into the perfumes rather than a scented repetition of the plot and have a nostalgic quality– part pulp melodrama, part noir detective movie. They riff on very specific references and provide instant entry into the stories. A City on Fire is a deadpan, urban graphic novel. Bull’s Blood is a Hemingway-gestalt of ex-pat thrill-seeking and machismo. The Cobra and the Canary is equal parts On the Road and Thelma and Louise.

In the Imaginary Authors line, stories and perfumes are closely aligned, but Meyer smartly puts some breathing room between them. The plots have the pattern of conflict and consequence found in fables and use symbolism like campfire stories. They are synopses of archetypal stories and we recognize their meaning instantly even if the plots themselves are new to us.

The Soft Lawn is particularly ripe with suggestion. It imagines a prequel to JD Salinger’s own story of a young author’s successful first novel whose protagonist is a disaffected private school brat. The 1920s dashing, tennis-playing author of the fictional novel, Claude leCoq, is a play on 1920s dashing tennis player René Lacoste (Le Crocodile.)

The perfume itself recreates the image of a 1920s tennis club through scent. Green grass and leaves, old-fashioned rubber-soled tennis shoes, tennis balls and starched tennis whites. The note that ties it together is linden blossom. Its green-lemon side could garnish a post-match gin and tonic while its laundry powder musky side maintains the image of dazzling white tennis trousers and skirts. The Soft Lawn is the scent of a location, a scenario, a setting. It gives equal weight to the living (grass, flowers) and the inanimate (tennis balls and cotton fabric) and wears like an olfactory snapshot of post WW I New England WASP culture. Like an antiquated photo that captured a moment but has faded, The Soft Lawn starts strong and eventually ebbs to a faint but coherent reflection of its topnotes. It stays in your nose the way the echoing sounds of tennis balls being struck in the distance stays in your ear. The rhythm can be a pleasant background when your thoughts are elsewhere, but at others times the the clarity of the sound/scent captures your attention with its satisfying simplicity.

Despite the story surrounding the perfume, The Soft Lawn is evocative, not narrative. It doesn’t repeat the story you’ve already read. It creates an olfactory setting and puts you in a frame of mind to write yourself into the story, making you the author.
21st June, 2016

Sublime by Jean Patou

Somewhere in the ’90s the chypre fell off the radar. Blame the IFRA, blame Angel (also 1992), blame whoever you like. It went quietly from the pinnacle of chic to over-the-hill faster than you can say ‘mousse de chêne.’

Why and how to restrict perfume materials is a popular if confusing debate today, but in the 70s-90s the discussion of the hazards of aromachemicals and botanicals took place behind closed-doors. The general public didn’t know what went into perfumes in the first place or who made them, so discussions about restricting oakmoss or refining bergamot had little significance. They did have a stifling effect on perfume composition, though it might not have been readily apparent in 1992.

Chypre perfumes tend to have a strong presence and it’s easy to characterize the eras of the chypre. The ur-chypre by Coty and the seminal chypre by Guerlain, Mitsouko. The animalic chypres of the ’40s (eg. Miss Dior). The moonlit floral chypres of the ’50s (Jolie Madame.) The aldehydic and green chypres of the ’60s (Calèche and YSL Y ), the liberated chypres of the ’70s (Aromatics Elixir and Diorella) and the roaring rose chypres of the ’80s (La Nuit and Parfum de Peau).

But the chypre seemed to lose its identity in the ’90s. It was seen as both suffocating and passé when compared to the self-effacing new style of ’90s perfumes and their notes of air, water, light and apology. After the loud florals and orientals of the ’80s, modernity in perfume came to be synonymous with minimalism and the chypre became synonymous with old-fashioned. Traditional perfumes became outmoded and ‘classical’ perfumery started to seem like bad Hollywood Regency–stylistically overburdened yet without the saving grace of true kitsch.

The 1990s chypre-style, if there was one, played with the chypre’s affinity for fruit notes. YSL Yvresse (Champagne) 1992, Nina Ricci Deci Delà 1994 and Cartier So Pretty 1995 split the difference between the chypre and sweet fruity-florals of the day. Hybrids such as these aim for the best of both worlds. The risk is that they lack synergy and simply combine notes and materials from each genre. These three were famously successful but have been discontinued, I suppose pointing out another risk: that even a successful hybrid might not be popular enough to stay afloat.

Sublime has a finger in so many different pies that the term hybrid doesn’t quite capture it. Chypre? Oriental? Woody Floral? Yes, and then some. I think of it as a Resinous Woody Chypre. Cop-out? Sure, but it fits. It’s also fruity, floral and powdery. Powder over woods creates a sweet-tart dynamic similar to the vetiver-vanilla dissonance of Habanita, but in Sublime it is quieter, less stark. Mandarin and ylang ylang give Sublime a lusher feel than the expectable bergamot/white floral found in many chypres. It follows a long arc and the drydown takes its time arriving. Atypical for a ’90s perfume, the basenotes are the most complex part of the perfume. Resinous woods define the drydown–vetiver, patchouli, and especially sandalwood–but amber, musk and civet keep the woods from growing sharp. The pillow-soft drydown is classically proportioned and has the diaphanous depth of traditional woody orientals like Vol de Nuit and Bois des Isles.

Unfortunately it’s no surprise that Sublime sputtered and stalled. It wasn’t bad–not by a longshot–but it was seen as irrelevant when held to the growingly detached, hygienic aesthetic that would come to define the 1990s. Viewed on its own merits, Sublime is a history lesson on the genre by one of the 20th century’s strongest classicists and historians, Jean Kerléo. It is also urges speculation as to where the chypre genre might have gone if materials restriction hadn’t hobbled it.

Whether you like traditional chypres or not, if you’d like a tour through the history of French perfumery in a single bottle, try vintage Sublime. It illustrates the techniques and ideals of a century of perfumery and who better to conduct the tour than Kerléo, founder of Osmothèque?

from scenthurdle.com
21st June, 2016

Lumière Noire pour Femme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Maison Francis Kurkdjian provides a number of entry points to the brand. It offers traditional products (perfume, papier d’Armenie, candles, body creams) and less expected ones (fabric softener, soap bubbles.) There is a deliberateness to much of the line that challenges the trend-chasing and slot-filling approach of many brands. His vision of a contemporary sensibility derives from an understanding of traditional methods and principles. The design of the brand is like Kurkdjian’s perfumes themselves: modern and classical, composed yet stylish, lavish but concise.

Kurkdjian has mentioned Guerlain as a model for his house but the line’s day-to-evening approach brings Hermès to mind. Hermès offers a fashionable cocoon from an unstylish world. My level skepticism of ‘lifestyle’ branding is stratospheric, but I’m persuaded by MFK.

MFK offers the daydream of a pleasantly scented life but manages to avoid Hermès’s pose of bored affluence. Laundry soap alludes to soap operas and the fiction of the bored housewife. Scented bubbles suggest designer-dressed children and an infusion of finery into the most remote corners of one’s life. The perfumes, though, hint at something more. Most perfume marketing matches a fantasy of inventiveness and distinction to tame, predictable perfumes, but MFK does the reverse. MFK’s subtle subversiveness is in the perfume, not the image. Absolue pour le Soir and Cologne pour le Soir are wolves in sheep’s marketing. The Amyrises satirize mainstream designer perfumes by creating idealized versions of them. The Lumières Noires poke at our nostalgia for the good-old days of the chypre. I might be able to resist the Maison’s sensibility but I fall for the perfumes.

Rose and patchouli aren’t an unexpected combination by any means and their pairing is a motif Kurkdjian has explored over the years, both in his own line and in commission work such as Rose Barbare for Guerlain and Lady Vengeance for Juliette Has a Gun. Coaxing something new out of well-worn materials is one of Kurkdjian’s strengths and Lumière Noire pour Femme demonstrates his knack for reshaping traditional forms and classical techniques to find a novel idea. He shifts the picture and rearranges olfactory clues. Pairing the refined floral and earthy patchouli is a well-understood method for adding richness to perfumes. Kurkdjian recreates the tone in an unexpected way with a clean patchouli and a dirty flower: narcissus. The dynamics are recognizable, but the reframing shifts the perspective and creates a new view.

Lumière Noire pour Femme highlights Kurkdjian’s ability to make perfumes that balance composure and abandon. Grain de Musc called Lumière Noire pour Femme a “bodice-ripper” yet it is also mink-smooth and lusciously lipsticky. It is composed at a glance but uninhibited on closer inspection. It hints at indecency but is never indelicate.

Kurkdjian’s style of subversion is highly mannered. He covers new ideas under a blanket of propriety. The precision of Lumière Noire pour Femme’s composition leaves no seems showing and reveals Kurkdjian’s strategy for subversion. No disruption, no distortion. More a seduction.
21st June, 2016
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Cuiron by Helmut Lang

I don’t know the original Cuiron, but the consensus is that the new version is very close to the original. Not 100%, but the shape and the intent are the same. Cuiron’s reissue was hotly awaited but following the curse-of-threes in perfume releases it was somewhat overshadowed by its siblings Helmut Lang EDP and EDC.

The timing of the reissue was awkward. As a 2014 version of a 2002 perfume, it’s neither new nor vintage, so it arrives with two strikes against it. One, it’s a reformulation and, two, even if the restoration is flawless, it’s not old enough to be retro, just out of fashion.

I imagine that even when it was first released Cuiron was neither fish nor fowl. Ostensibly leather but actually more woody than anything else. Largely synthetic but not unapologetically so like many other millennial niche perfumes (eg. Comme des Garçons, l’Artisan Parfumeurs, Etat Libre d’Orange). Minimal but a little fussy. From the perspective of 2014 the neither/nor bit is magnified, giving Cuiron a house-of-mirrors quality that makes it seem endlessly referential.

To wit: Cuiron shares the hissy, gasoline topnotes of a few power-masculines that preceded it, namely Hermès Bel Ami and Dior Fahrenheit. Even Chanel Antaeus for that matter. It manages to find the neutral territory between the plush of Knize Ten and the starkness of ELDO Rien. Cuiron’s synth-woodiness narrowly misses the over-reliance on Iso-E Super that many of the era fell prey to, yet it hints at the freeze-dried hollowness of the norlimbanol beasts that would follow. Cuiron’s shiny, metallic topnotes are oddly reminiscent of Guerlain Coriolan, linking it to the generation of lost masculines like Paco Rabanne Ténéré, Givenchy Insensé and Jacomo Anthracite. It’s freaky how many other perfumes Cuiron brings to mind.

It’s arguable that Cuiron lacks individuality or identity. It’s not as specific as some other leather perfumes but it fits the straightforwardness of the Lang aesthetic. For those attuned to the quiet detail of the brand’s signature minimalism Cuiron was probably fairly loud but it was less bombastic than the power-fragrances and brassy fougères that preceded it.

The reissued Cuiron doesn’t suffer from reformulation, but expectation gets the better of it. The original edition gathered a cult following, especially after it was discontinued. In 2002 Cuiron would have been the star of a rising niche wave. In 2014 Cuiron faced more competition and a more informed perfume consumer. It will be interesting to see how Cuiron survives in this new setting.

from scenthurdle.com
20th June, 2016

Romanza by Masque

Romanza plays Spring as the season of bittersweetness, with fresh, young stems, flowers and leaves all crushed together. Narcissus perfumes are a rarity yet Romanza bears a resemblance to Parfums de Nicolai le Temps d’une Fete. Both perfumes set narcissus’s green reediness in a woody, resinous setting, albeit with different orchestration. Romanza’s absinthe topnote performs a role similar to le Temps’s chalky galbanum, ushering in a grassy, green-floral range centered on narcissus. In the heartnotes the two perfumes diverge, though both transition from flowers to woods. Imagine Romanza’s basenotes as sitting an octave or two below le Temps.

I have no idea if Masque Milano even knew of le Temps d’une Fete, but if they are taking on de Nicolai, they’re running directly into the fire. Le Temps d’Une Fete is one of Patricia de Nicolai’s strongest works, a Green Floral that has earned a place next to the other heavy hitters of the genre like Guerlain Chamade, Chanel 19 and VeroProfumo Mito. Romanza’s passing similarity in shape to le Temps is less important than the difference in its intent. Le Temps’s fresh-scrubbed freshness is pure sunlight next to Romanza’s midnight narcissus.

Romanza is based on the attraction of opposites. Bitter angelica accentuates narcissus’s sweet vitality and from the very topnotes Romanza is filled with shadow and texture. The amber drydown has a growl that does not go gentle anywhere. Narcissus might be the image of spring, but the scent is the furthest thing from the stereotype of Spring prettiness. It’s mucky, muddy and messy. Romanza doesn’t hide narcissus’s chaotic side. It liberates it, offering a beautifully defiant take on Spring. The romantic fiction of the season is a birds-cooing, hand-in-hand cartoon of courtship. Romanza reminds us that Spring is brief and there’s no time for subtlety. It dispenses with the niceties and reaches a hand down the front of your pants while it looks you dead in the eye.

Masque Milano’s framing of their perfumes as literary, operatic and episodic is well thought out and has led to a sumptuous style of perfumery. The perfumes are detailed and specific and I don’t question the producer’s/perfumer’s process, but plot and narrative aren’t a requirement to enjoy the perfume. Shear the story from Romanza and you’re left with an exceptional perfume with a detailed, calibrated aesthetic. Romanza is a provocative perfume from a young perfumer and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for future work from Christiano Canali.

from scenthurdle.com
20th June, 2016

Incarnata by Anatole Lebreton

Perfumes that smell like lipstick have a special appeal. For some they are nostalgic, for others they are a femme fetish. When combined, violet, iris root and rose replicate the swirl of freshly applied lipstick. Musks, vanilla, sweet woods and resins bridge the florals to the cold, powdery waxiness that defines lipstick’s olfactory ‘feel.’

A lipstick ‘note’ has been common to many perfumes since the early 2000s when new, less expensive iris materials came online, even sneaking its way into masculine and ‘unisex’ perfumes like Dior Homme and Histoire de Parfums 1889. Previously, lipstick scents had been the province of girly florals like Yves St. Laurent Paris and l’Artisan Parfumeurs Drole de Rose.

Incarnata follows in the line of a few other lipstick perfumes, namely ELDO Putain des Palaces, Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose and Chanel Misia, but it doesn’t copy them. Incarnata reaches past scent and finds the cold, creamy texture of lipstick. Compared to Incarnata, most ‘lipstick’ perfumes come off as basic variations on the mixed floral. Incarnata is lipsticky from stem to stern, even in the basenotes, by which point most lipstick fragrances struggle to maintain the freshly applied appearance that they had out of the bottle. Floral notes have been used to mask the scent of wax and cosmetic cream. They keep lipstick from smelling like crayons. Incarnata doesn’t mask anything. It smells like a complete vintage dressing table set with lipstick, face powder and cold cream.

The scent of lipstick brings to mind a particular range of color. Putain and Lipstick Rose land squarely in the pink/red spectrum. Even perfumes with a minor lipstick note, such as Guerlain Nahema and Chanel 18 tend to have traces of the same hues. Incarnata takes Chanel Misia’s grey-pink a step further with a cyanotic grey tone that implies a cool temperature as well as a cool palate. The papery iris topnote segues believably into the suede heart and waxy base and give Incarnata its frosty edge.

A friend’s grandmother had an endearing habit of touching up her lipstick as she’d head out the door. She’d flash us a girlishly conspiratorial look through the mirror as if she were tossing down a big sip of a martini and say, “Can’t face the world without lipstick now, can we?” She would have loved Incarnata.

from scenthurdle.com
20th June, 2016

Anubis by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

The genre of woody/smoky perfumes is having a moment these days. Unfortunately, many of these perfumes start with a disadvantage. A glut of aromachemicals hastily produced to fill the oud-gap that manufacturers are trying to convince us exists has lead to perfumes overdosed with ear-splitting synth-oud bases. Characteristics of these perfumes include density, a lack of topnotes, longevity and minimal evolution. Their motto is a variation on the advice, “walk softly and carry a big stick.” They urge you to carry a big stick and bludgeon everyone in your wake. It’s a genre that conceptually and olfactorily turns me off.

My mistake was to lump too many perfumes into this category, the case in point being Anubis. I bundled the fumes made principally of synth-oud base and the ones smartly calibrated to achieve a smoky darkness into the same category. Based on my dislike for many of the perfumes that comprise the genre I neglected to distinguish good from bad. I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

This all happened in own head, of course. I have written about the traps of mistaking opinion for consideration and I should take my own advice. Fortunately, with the exception of Hard Leather, I kept my thoughts to myself. I lumped Anubis in with Orto Parisi Stercus, Naomi Goodsir Bois d’Ascèse, Masque Milano Montecristo and LM Parfums Hard Leather, four perfumes, two of which are dense but balanced, two of which I find grossly out of whack and make my ears ring. I will leave it for you to decide which is which.

It’s Salome that made me see Anubis in a different light. That and a long hike on a warm day.

If you heat up the bad examples of the Grim Genre (or The Heavy Smokers, my two nicknames for the genre) you’ll burn off the lighter materials and be left with the synth-oud skeleton in short order. I’ve tried them on some hot, sweaty days and in the end I was left smelling like shit. Literally. I recently basted myself in Anubis and went for a hike in the desert. The gasoline-jasmine bloomed, the incense was shot through with a smoky breeze and the drydown made me want to lick myself. While dense and smoky, Anubis is also ambery, leathery and nuanced. Quite the opposite of the grim synth-ouds, Anubis is built for skin. The floral connection to Salome helped me see Anubis in a different light and I did another Anubis-hike the next day. A little Anubis goes a long way and a less concentrated dose (ie. sprayed from a distance) helps the layers unfold more evenly. It’s less smoky but more resinous this way. The gasoline-floral quality, my favorite aspect of Anubis, rises more clearly to the surface.

Whether I was right or wrong in my initial take on Anubis is something for me to keep in mind, but the bigger point is that a well considered perfume can make you work for your pleasure. Taking a risk, targeting a small audience, polarizing your audience. Ambiguity. Marketing theory might tell you that these are guidelines for failure. I disagree entirely and apparently, thank god, so does Liz Moores.

Moores took the risk of making a perfume that polarizes her potential buyers. But she also created a perfume that I came back to over the period of a year or so. In the end, she won me over.
20th June, 2016

Hard Leather by LM Parfums

The trend toward dense, smoky-woody perfumes is not particularly new. Nasomatto Black Afgano was an early example and many perfumes followed its blueprint closely. The trend has been given new life by the abundance of synth-oud accords. Hard Leather smells like a hopped-up version of the oud accords I’ve smelled many recent perfumes. Imbalance and the extrait concentration suggest that quantity was used to define quality. Early niche models of the smoky, tarry, vanillic perfumes such as Lonestar Memories or Patchouli 24 are as strong as Hard Leather but are rich and nuanced.

The durable, dry, woody aromachems that I assume form the shape of Hard Leather are forceful and need a judicious hand to prevent them from becoming the bull in the perfume shop. It’s fair to say that while Hard Leather is as potent as it claims, it is also unbalanced. Heavy synthetics overpower any other materials that don’t shout and the perfume’s chief characteristic is disproportion.

The name says it all. Not about the perfume but about the fantasy the LM Parfums wants you to buy into. Hard Leather strikes a butch pose similar to the spectacle of masculinity you’d see in professional wrestling. The difference is that professional wrestling has a campiness that allows it to be melodrama and comedy at the same time. Hard Leather has the gravity but lacks the irony.
20th June, 2016

2nd Cumming by Alan Cumming

I’m not certain how Cumming (2004) and 2nd Cumming (2010) are related. Obviously, the second followed the first. Beyond that, reformulation? Sequel? The CB I Hate Perfume website states that 2nd Cumming is, “exactly the same as the original Cumming” yet provided Brosius and actor Alan Cumming the opportunity to, “…do the scent the way [they] had originally intended.”

I don’t find this bit of obscurity vague or misleading. The ambiguity is appropriate. They smell like the exact same scent, but not. Perhaps the clue is in the subtitle of 2nd Cumming: Once More with Feeling!

The two fragrances are extremely legible. They seem more abstract than the list of notes (cigar, whiskey, Douglas fir, Scottish heather, peat…) implies, but they are sharply defined. I do get the suggestion of peat and its olfactory quality of being both wet and dry at the same time. ‘Peaty’ when describing Scotch, suggests the smoke and tar of a peat fire. Peat moss itself is more like the scent of rain after a dry spell. The two Cummings build on this quality and have the scent of a storm moving in–static electricity, dust and twitchiness. The start of a rainstorm scratches at all your senses simultaneously and gives a sense of imminence. This is where Cumming resides. It sits at the tip of your nose the way the way a inaccessible memory sits at the tip of your tongue.

From the perspective of 2016, the Cummings feel like a commentary on the woody tones that were a trend at the time the first model was released. That’s not to say that they seem dated or era-specific per se. They are more inventive and precise than the dull woody-amber trends of the time. Their olfactory profiles suggest the guilty pleasure of commercial scents that we often deny liking: plastic packaging, dry-cleaning chemicals, petroleum byproducts. This is much more fun than cigars and drinks.

The greatest difference between the two versions is in the drydown. The original smells metallic and the scent overall fades to a whisper fairly quickly. 2nd Cumming’s drydown is warmer and a bit leathery. Surprisingly given its water base, it has much more longevity than the original. They are both well-sculpted scents but it is an open question whether they are perfumes. I don’t mean this as derogatory. I assume that this discussion would be welcome in a line called I Hate Perfume. The catch here is that the term scent, when contrasted with perfume, usually implies a lack of artistry. The Cummings twist the distinction into meaninglessness and make environmental scents that you wear. They don’t read as room spray applied to the body. They just perform differently on the body than ‘straight’ perfume does.

The cheeky double entendre of 2nd might bother some, but it reminds me of a college professor who started our class one day by writing on the board, “Christianity is a cultural mediation of homosexuality.” For the students who winced, they should have remembered to leave their delicate sensibilities at the door of a class called “The History of Sex.” For those squeamish about trying this perfume, you’d would do well to remember both the name of the perfume and the company.
20th June, 2016

Cumming by Alan Cumming

I’m not certain how Cumming (2004) and 2nd Cumming (2010) are related. Obviously, the second followed the first. Beyond that, reformulation? Sequel? The CB I Hate Perfume website states that 2nd Cumming is, “exactly the same as the original Cumming” yet provided Brosius and actor Alan Cumming the opportunity to, “…do the scent the way [they] had originally intended.”

I don’t find this bit of obscurity vague or misleading. The ambiguity is appropriate. They smell like the exact same scent, but not. Perhaps the clue is in the subtitle of 2nd Cumming: Once More with Feeling!

The two fragrances are extremely legible. They seem more abstract than the list of notes (cigar, whiskey, Douglas fir, Scottish heather, peat…) implies, but they are sharply defined. I do get the suggestion of peat and its olfactory quality of being both wet and dry at the same time. ‘Peaty’ when describing Scotch, suggests the smoke and tar of a peat fire. Peat moss itself is more like the scent of rain after a dry spell. The two Cummings build on this quality and have the scent of a storm moving in–static electricity, dust and twitchiness. The start of a rainstorm scratches at all your senses simultaneously and gives a sense of imminence. This is where Cumming resides. It sits at the tip of your nose the way the way a inaccessible memory sits at the tip of your tongue.

From the perspective of 2016, the Cummings feel like a commentary on the woody tones that were a trend at the time the first model was released. That’s not to say that they seem dated or era-specific per se. They are more inventive and precise than the dull woody-amber trends of the time. Their olfactory profiles suggest the guilty pleasure of commercial scents that we often deny liking: plastic packaging, dry-cleaning chemicals, petroleum byproducts. This is much more fun than cigars and drinks.

The greatest difference between the two versions is in the drydown. The original smells metallic and the scent overall fades to a whisper fairly quickly. 2nd Cumming’s drydown is warmer and a bit leathery. Surprisingly given its water base, it has much more longevity than the original. They are both well-sculpted scents but it is an open question whether they are perfumes. I don’t mean this as derogatory. I assume that this discussion would be welcome in a line called I Hate Perfume. The catch here is that the term scent, when contrasted with perfume, usually implies a lack of artistry. The Cummings twist the distinction into meaninglessness and make environmental scents that you wear. They don’t read as room spray applied to the body. They just perform differently on the body than ‘straight’ perfume does.

The cheeky double entendre of 2nd might bother some, but it reminds me of a college professor who started our class one day by writing on the board, “Christianity is a cultural mediation of homosexuality.” For the students who winced, they should have remembered to leave their delicate sensibilities at the door of a class called “The History of Sex.” For those squeamish about trying this perfume, you’d would do well to remember both the name of the perfume and the company.
20th June, 2016

Khôl de Bahreïn by Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777

A gourmand-cosmetic perfume might not sound like the ideal hybrid fragrance, but Khol de Bahrein is convincing. It is a candied floriental of middle-eastern extraction with iris, violet and heliotropin dipped in amber and incense. The range of resins and flowers is calibrated to create an image of sweets ranging from dragées to nougat and pistachio baclava to orange blossom cakes.

The amber-incense heart is melodic and lightly smoky, less a campfire, more the burnt edges of a cake. Heliotropin’s marzipan aroma hints at vanilla around every corner but you never come eye to eye with it. The buttery aspects of the flowers become embedded in the resin so that scent and texture become linked. The contrasting tones converge elegantly and create a perfume that has a distinctive ‘feel’ for lack of a better word, powdery and oily at the same time like the feeling of pollen on your fingers.

Khol de Bahrein is thick and matte yet light, like the powder of a compact that can be applied lightly or heavily for different effect. The list of notes is like the ingredients in a recipe. They tell you about flavors, or in this case aromas, but give little indications about the texture of the end product. The long arc could allow it to be mistaken for a linear perfume, but on close inspection there is a slow, steady progression, an olfactory inertia that gives the perfume an optimistic and luxurious sense of endless heartnotes. The fugue-like progression of candied notes brings Khol close to loukoum, but it cleverly avoids the cloying sweetness or fly-in-amber inescapability of the loukoum perfumes.

Khol de Bahrein could be compared to Shalimar. It has iris and vanillic amber but it lacks Shalimar’s harp-strumming melodrama and heavy velvet stage curtains. A better comparison is Jicky, little less dense than Shalimar but still forceful. Kohl de Bahrein avoids Jicky’s overt animalism but the sweet leather base gives it a comparable shadowy quality. Like Jacques Guerlain, Stephane Humbert Lucas defines the oriental perfume as a near-gourmand experience.

from scenthurdle.com
23rd February, 2016 (last edited: 20th June, 2016)

I Love Dior by Christian Dior

I Love Dior is my latest $12 Ebay purchase. I haven’t received it yet, but the bottle, the name, the zeitgeist give me more than enough to start writing.

In 2003, French Fries became “Freedom Fries” when a US member of Congress proposed excising France from the American consciousness for the perceived betrayal of opposing the invasion of Iraq. I think there was “Freedom Toast” as well.

8260699.i_love_diorI imagine that the Dior perfume, released in 2002, was in the works before 9/11, but I don’t know when the name, image, marketing came into play. The bottle is the generic bottle that Dior were using for Diorella, Diorissimo, Dioressence at the time. LVMH would eventually use the bottle as a bridge from the classics to… whatever perfumes like Dior Me, Dior Me Not and Dior Star and Forever and Ever Dior were. The I Love Dior box and bottle sported a grainy close-up of denim and a decal with, “I (Heart) Dior.”

I suppose I Heart Dior was one of the perfumes hoping to bandwagon on the success of YSL Baby Doll’s nouveau feminism. Still, it’s hard not to see I Heart Dior as a dumbed down version of j’Adore (translation: I heart) for Americans. j’Adore was enormously popular and accessible and I Heart Dior reads as an unnecessary dilution of an already least-common denominator.

Given the timing of its release, I Heart Dior turned out to be Dior’s prequel to Freedom Fries.

from scenthurdle.com
23rd February, 2016 (last edited: 20th June, 2016)

Enjoy by Jean Patou

Enjoy was the sequel to a trio of perfumes from 2001 that launched Jean-Michel Duriez as in-house perfumer at Jean Patou. Pan Ame, Hip and Nacre were all fruity-florals centered on a pear note. Of the three, I’ve only smelled Pan Ame, which was clearly a precursor to Enjoy. 2001 was a tough year to re-launch a traditional house and reframe it as modern and accessible. I doubt it helped that the three perfumes were all in the same genre and shared the same uncommon note of pear. I imagine it was an attempt to create a signature house accord in one fell swoop. An unsuccessful attempt—all were fairly quickly discontinued.

Enjoy was an early version of the so-called “nouvelles-chypres” of the time like Miss Dior Chérie (2005) and Narciso for Her (2004). These perfumes substituted a musky patchouli base for the verboten oakmoss of the traditional chypre. The style now seems dated and era-specific, but Enjoy was one of the more successful iterations of the style.

Enjoy builds on Pan Ame’s unripe pear, grounding it in a clean patchouli base. The grainy pear note is balanced by crunchy blackcurrant on one side and an acetone musk on the other. The floral notes, jasmine and rose, have a high-piched synthetic tone that give a tinny quality to the heartnotes. The kicker is an unripe banana note that falls in line with the blackcurrant, tracing a starchy green line through the duration of the perfume. It’s a note that Duriez would set in a tropical floral, creamy woody setting in 2006’s Sira des Indes.

Compared to the syrupy fruity-florals of its time, Enjoy was considered a bit unsmiling and tight-assed. Even from the perspective of 2016, it seems a bit prim, if balanced. There is a sweetness to the perfume, especially in the drydown, but it has a saccharine quality that keeps the fruit from having a three-dimensionality. Enjoy doesn’t hide its artificiality. It molds the high-pitched florals and grainy fruits into a crystalline configuration that suits the perfume’s sharp edges.

Duriez authored the fabled Yohji Essential and Yohji Homme at the end of the 1990s, the same time he made Un Amour de Patou and Patou For Ever. Yohji Yamamoto’s perfumes were made by Jean Patou and his work for both houses were the launch pad for his taking on the in-house post at Patou that Jean Kerléo was to relinquish in 1999.

All of Duriez’s perfumes for Patou have all been discontinued, wiping the Patou pears from the market. Coincidentally, this means that none of the perfumes from Proctor and Gamble’s ownership of Patou (2001-2011) remain in the line-up. After Duriez left Patou, the company took a different direction under perfumer Thomas Fontaine and owner Designer Parfums Limited, recomposing nine Patou perfumes originally released from the 1920s-1980s. The current line-up consists of this Heritage Collection, the seminal Joy, and two perfumes from the Kerléo era, 1000 and Sublime. However it came about, the Patou brand turned away from creating new perfumes and made itself into a museum. It is an open question what direction the brand will take in the future.
23rd February, 2016

Rose Amazone by Hermès

Rose Amazone shows how well Jean-Claude Ellena’s trademarked transparency/minimalism fits into mainstream taste. Not a dig, just an observation. It makes sense, too. Many ongoing trends in perfumery stem his more mainstream perfumes: Bvlgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, Cartier Déclaration, Hermès Terre d’Hermès and Kelly Calèche. He’s one of the most influential perfumers of his time

Ellena’s approach to flanking the original Amazone is to place it somewhere between his connoisseur-admired Hermessence line and his more mainstream work. Smart move. A flanker is first and foremost a sales tactic, and Hermès’ strategy is to revive a few classics by sprucing them up and borrowing on their name recognition (Vetiver Bel Ami, Geranium Equipage). Ellena must maintain the sanctity of Hermès taste while shooting for a big sell. It’s a balance he’s had to maintain in all the Hermès perfumes he’s composed and he’s proven how well he can do it.

Amazone was an early fruity-floral that matched a dowdy woody-floral with unsweetened fruit/berry note. It’s a cautious an inch away from “old-lady” perfume, not a fruity-floral slushie of the’90s-‘00s. It is a dry, woody, green perfume with a potent black-currant note that ties the flowers to the fruit, namely, raspberry.

Rose Amazone takes the tartness and the fruit up a notch with a sweet rose and a grapfruit twist. It’s a beautiful compositional effect. The sweetness is in the flower, not the fruit, and the perfume avoids any syrupy cocktail-y comparisons This is a fruity-floral for those who who managed to steer clear of the fruity-florals of the gourmand/dessert era. It’s also an alternative for those who liked tart-fruity chypres such as Cristalle, Diorlella and Y but are on the bemused side of the chypre-reformulation debate and want to steer clear of the whole mess of it.

Rose Amazone keeps a skosh of the original’s green-floral reediness and it matches the tartness of the grapefruit note beautifully. It doesn’t have any of the mossiness of Amazone’s drydown. In fact, the drydown has a sweet, lucid, nearly metallic muskiness that leaves the base the most contemporary part of the perfume. The opening of the perfume is tribute to the original, but over time, Rose Amazone walks further away from its predecessor. The drydown is deliberately the least distinctive part of the ride. It takes you further into the house of Hermès and closes the door behind you. It is a rosy-sweet, muskier version of the airy-woody drydown of the Hermessence line. It is balanced and straightforward, like the graceful entry that ends a complicated dive.
23rd February, 2016

Petit Fracas by Robert Piguet

The range of opinions on the reformulation of classic perfumes usually alternates between a sighing, “It wain’t what it used to be, kid.” and a howling, “They’ve RUINED it!” By all accounts, Guichard is credited with saving the Piguet perfumes by reformulation and maintaining the outstanding quality of the Germaine Cellier icons. Quite a coup. So, who better to design the flanker to the original than the man who keeps Fracas in its current shape?

In the mid 2000s, Guichard reformulated and relaunched the icons of the Piguet line: Visa, Baghari, Futur and Calypso. Fracas and Bandit had been reformulated in 1998 or so and already defined the Piguet line. The butch-femme pair reflected the lesbian aesthetic of Cellier’s time, barely coded for mainstream consumption. Guichard’s reformulations are the best in the business and his original work for Gucci, Davidoff, Issey Miyake, Kenzo, Mugler, Hilfigger, Versace and many others places him at the top of his profession.

After his initial work at Piguet, in the period from 2011-2013 he added 15 new perfumes to the brand. Exceedingly prolific, especially when you consider that in that same period he produced 26 additional perfumes for other brands. (per Now Smell This.) Of these perfumes he made for Piguet only one is a flanker: Petit Fracas. The others are all-new perfumes. I was very intrigued to see what Guichard, a technical expert at reformulating Cellier’s work, would make of a flanker.

Guichard kept the theatrical uber-femme spirit of the original but sets it in a more contemporary vernacular. It keeps the hyper-femininity of Fracas but makes a baby-doll version of it. From the sweet slap of the topnotes through the cocoa dusted drydown, there is always a recognizeable shape of Fracas. Rather than riff on the original’s themes (pretty much just killer hothouse flowers) he embeds a hologram of the original in the heart of L’il baby Fracas. The buttery tuberose, the doughy iris, the grape-like orange blossom still form the center of the perfume, but Petit Fracas substitutes the faint peach of the original for a potent pear note and an almost plastic musk. Pear and cocoa? The notes update the composition, but the perfume doesn’t aim for trendy. Rather than simply updating Fracas with newer materials and accords, Guichard fits the odd assembly of pieces together into something novel.

Guichard smartly avoids simply plucking a perfume out of its era and modernizing it. Petit Fracas is a great tribute to the original perfume and perfumer. In a way, Guichard makes the mirror image of Fracas, a notoriously feral flower. He substitutes the erotic role role of the vamp from the original with a baby-doll’s exaggerated sense of spectacle (think Coutney Love, who incidentally wears Fracas) Despite the olfactory differences of the two perfumes, they both engage in lipsticky feminine role playing.

Now give me Petit Bandit, please.
23rd February, 2016

Émeraude by Coty

Post-modern choreographer David Gordon gave a lecture at my university in the early 1980s. His advice to young choreographers was to steal. Steal anything, steal often. Acknowledge the source material or don’t. Take what you steal and do whatever you care to with it. His point was that there is no such thing as a new idea, and if there were, so what? Citation of sources, intellectual property rights and plagiarism are irrelevant—-ideas are shared. Granted, Gordon was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, whose dissection of traditional forms had a strong element of sabotage to it. Still, the notion is interesting.

So, did Jacques Guerlain steal from François Coty’s Emeraude when he created Shalimar?

Emeraude preceded Shalimar by 4 years. There are strong similarities in their olfactory profiles. Bergamot topnotes and floral heartnotes enveloped in vanillic-amber bases would come to define the historical “oriental” genre. Sweet, resinous, nearly-gourmand qualities made both perfumes rich and heady but the durable musky, powdery base kept them from becoming desserts. Due to the preponderance of durable, resinous materials (benzoin, labdanum, vanilla, tonka, oppopanax, sandalwood) the perfumes of this era and genre have a long arc that plays out over hours and days. I think of these perfumes as speaking with a drawl.

If these two perfumes were competitors over the years, Shalimar is the clear winner. It has been kept in excellent trim by Guerlain and is a mainstay of the brand. Guerlain have quoted (and flanked) Shalimar many times over the years, but the references have been thoughtful, if not always well-received (see: Shalimar Parfum Initial). Emeraude, poor dear, left the building sometime during the Coty brand’s slow fall from grace after the company was bought by Pfizer in1963. Emeraude, along with l’Origan, l’Aimant, la Rose Jacqueminot and the other seminal early perfumes composed by Fançois Coty were notoriously gutted by cheap reformulation. They became the ‘old and in the way’ models you had to pick past to get to Coty Wild Musk, Stetson and Aspen at the local drug store.

I’ve smelled a few vintage versions and concentrations of Emeraude over the years and while there are differences, they are largely the same perfume. I’m currently sniffing a bottle of the Eau de Toilette Concentrée from the ‘60s. The materials that define the ‘oriental’ genre have distinctive, recognizable scent profiles. Bergamot’s tartness counterbalances a warm, ambery vanilla base, creating a particular dynamic. The unfolding of the topnotes into the heart is quite similar in both but over time the perfumes diverge. Shalimar becomes both sweeter and more animalic. Emeraude veers away from its initial sweetness and leans into the rubbery aspect of amber materials to provide a more leathery drydown The nitro musks that were in use at the time gave amber perfumes a strolling pace. They added endurance to perfumes, but more importantly they added depth and dimensionality. They kept olfactory tones distinct and allowed perfumes made from hundreds of materials to resist becoming porridge. Emeraude smells tart, powdery and leathery at the same time. Smoothness is balanced by angularity, making the perfume interesting from top to bottom.

So who robbed whom? I understand linking Shalimar to the Coty perfume, not only for their olfactory similarities, but for the cliché orientalism that both brands perpetuated. (* Again, Shalimar wins.) Primarily, though, Shalimar is a riff on Guerlain’s benchmark citrus-over-coumarin/musk perfume from 1889, Jicky. Jacques Guerlain simply stole from his younger self. Shalimar has unmistakable similarities to Emeraude, which came first, but it’s likely that Emeraude cribbed from perfumes that preceded it.

The abundance of fairly similar oriental perfumes doesn’t point to mass larceny. It’s a valuable demonstration of how olfactory vocabularies develop and are shared. And even if it were stealing, David Gordon says it’s OK.
23rd February, 2016

L by Lolita Lempicka

Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur is the classic ‘whole lotta everything’ perfume. It’s an Aromatic Fougiental with gourmand tendencies. It doesn’t blend categories. It lumps them all together in the same bottle. Keeping the different genres at arms length from each other is a remarkable technical accomplishment. Unfortunately, it also leaves Musc Ravageur open to love/hate criticism. Fougère fans will find too much sweetness. Those hoping for a warm amber will find the aromatic elements jarring. It’s not gourmand enough for others.

I don’t know if perfumer Maurice Roucel had plans to spin off a set of flankers by overdosing particular notes, but Musc Ravaguer is an ideal starting place. Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum glides past the aromatics and amps up the musk. Le Labo Labdanum 18 makes a marshmallow of a perfume by emphasizing vanilla and removing much of Musc Ravageur’s kitchen sink.

L de Lolita doesn’t so much overdose a particular note as accentuate the ties to the gourmand genre. The perfume makes its point with patchouli. The camphorous side of the material replicates the aromatic top of Musc Ravageur, but by skipping the lavender L de Lolita skirts fougère references. Patchouli’s chocolate side combines with a maple syrup note (immortelle) to create a dessert feel. Juxtaposing patchouli’s contrastingly cool and warm sides while adding skosh of cotton candy gives Lolita a passing resemblance to Thierry Mugler Angel. Angel’s trick, though, is its inherent dissonance. It suggests food and poison in the same sniff. Lolita is far less conflicted than Angel and lands squarely in the desert camp, ultimately smelling like a German Chocolate cupcake.

L de Lolita misses the point of Angel. Angel balances food and toxin in a 50-50 mix. It draws you close with cotton candy and then blasts you with camphor just as you get intimate. It’s a classic tease. L de Lolita distorts the ratio. 90% cupcake draws you in but the 10% poison isn’t enough to push you away. It’s classic nausea.

There is something technically fascinating yet conceptually crass about L de Lolita. For all the expertise that that may have gone into manipulating genres and layering notes just so, the experience it asks the wearer to have is trite. L de Lolita creeps too far into the laziness of the gourmand genre. The experience it offers is, “Hey. Wanna smell sort of like a cupcake?”
23rd February, 2016

My Insolence by Guerlain

Do you remember how much people kvetched about Insolence when it was released? It was The Death of Guerlain. There had been similar raining-cats-and-dogs wailing about a few other post-LVMH Guerlains: Champs Elysées, l’Instant, the entire Aqua Allegoria line. (Guerlain has in fact survived long enough to hear similar complaints about Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial and La Petite Robe Noire.) Guerlain responded by creating two flankers to serve as concession speeches to the Insolence campaign. The two took completely different tacks.

My Insolence came first. It acquiesced. It apologized for Insolence’s garishness. It tacitly confessed and asked forgiveness. Edges were smoothed. The fruit got sweeter. The nail polish note was restrained. The tonka/vanillic base was warmer and more comfortable.

Insolence Eau de Parfum was the defiant, ‘you haven’t seen the last of me!’ version. It kept the hairspray, exaggerated the candied violet, grew monstrously large. It called the critics out for being dainty.

My heart is with Insolence Eau de Parfum for its fuck-you tone, but My Insolence isn’t bad. It might have been built for the buyer who thought Insolence required too much effort, but it was also an alternative for the Britney Spears Fantasy wearer who was looking to get classy with some brand affiliation.

Guerlain aimed for greater accessibility. My Insolence is less sharp than the original. There’s less hairspray, less violet, more berry. It’s fluffier, lighter in every sense. A sweet gourmand lemon note levels out the pitchiness of the original. Think lemon mousse or limoncello instead of Aquanet and you’ll catch the difference between the topnotes of Insolence and My Insolence.

Insolence was intended to be a big seller as the Calvin Klein style name indicates. My Insolence pursued the same goal, in this case by aiming to be more of a crowd pleaser. Just as my expectations of a wide-release action movie are different than what I hope for in a ‘serious’ documentary, my expectation for My Insolence isn’t stratospheric. The fruity-floral is the perfume equivalent of the romantic comedy and My Insolence is a solid if programatic offering within a compromised genre.
23rd February, 2016

Himalaya by Scriabin in the Himalayas

Synesthesia has made a mark on perfumery thanks to artists like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Bruno Fazzolari. They experience scent as color. Their work in perfumery ranges from depiction of their experience (Chroma) to more abstract exploration. The audience can speculate as to what synesthesia ‘feels’ like, but the work doesn’t induce a synesthetic experience. The early 20th century Russian composer Alexander Scriabin apparently wanted the audience to experience the phenomenon more directly. Though it never came together during his lifetime, a days-long performance that incorporated music, dance, aroma and light took place at an elevation of 11,800 feet at the Thikse Buddhist Monastery in the Ladakh, India in June of 2015. “Mysterium” was a symbolist approach to the Vedic principle of divine energy animating and linking all aspects of being. The people present for the event were considered celebrants as much as audience members.

Michel Rounitska composed a number of scents that were integrated into the performance. He also composed Himalaya, a perfume tribute to the Mysterium project. The perfume conjures a cold, arid climate. The chilly, metallic olibanum is aerated with ozonic materials to create a sensation of cool winds. It has light, sweet vanillic tone that is balanced by a yogurty tartness. A floral quality floats in the air but never lands. It enhances the incense but stays in the background. An almost fruity aspect appears when the sweetness inherent in olibanum is brought out. Frankincense is the clear center of Himalaya. All other notes circle it and point to it but they never take center stage.

Scriabin’s piece has some of the early 20th century exoticism that flirts with fetishizing the foreign. I’m thankful that Roudnitska chose not to take an orientalist approach to the perfume. He chose a material that is appropriate to the setting (frankincense) and then used it to express an introspective, contemplative attitude.

Intermedia events might seem like a contemporary topic, but Scriabin beat us to the punch by about 100 years. Whether creating a performance that explicitly incorporates all the senses will lead to a synesthetic experience for the audience is an open question. Hallucinogens might help.
23rd February, 2016

Eau Fraîche by Christian Dior

Roudnitska was best known for his fruity chypres such as Femme, Diorama, Diorella to name a few. He was a classicist and one way he approached the chypre was to filter it through other genres, namely the fougère and the Eau de Cologne. The fougère placed bright aromatics on top of a mossy/woody base and the Eau de Cologne draped hesperidic lightness over musk. The chypre’s high-low construction works from a similar principle and all three genres play with olfactory chiaroscuro.

After mixing fruity and mossy tones in Femme, Roudnitska dug further into the hybrid form with Rochas Moustache and Eau d’Hermès. Moustache, composed with his wife Thérèse, joined the fougère with the chypre giving Moustache a ‘missing link’ feel. Focussing on the similarities of the two genres, the Roudnitskas placed a lime and bergamot topnote on a soapy base to created a perfume that smells like each of the genres, depending on your angle of approach.

Eau d’Hermès laid the groundwork for the next logical hybrid, the one that would be the focus of much of his future career, the Chypre/Eau de Cologne hybrid. Eau d’Hermès’s leathery, armpit of a drydown was one of Roudnitska’s warning shots to the world of perfumery. Fresh is nice, but flesh wins the day.

Eau Fraiche, a somewhat ironic name, is another early example of the tendency. The momentum of animalic notes surpasses the delicacy of citric notes. Eau Fraiche bridged the the edc to the chypre, creating a unicorn: the durable cologne. Even in the era of Tonkin and nitro musks, eaux de cologne were fleeting. Combining the edc with a mossy base kept the shape of cologne but gave it longer legs. It combined two historically unisex forms to create a perfume that suited anyone who wore it.

Eau Fraiche was produced in once concentration: eau de cologne. It had the easy-to-love smile of cologne and the fitted quality of the chypre. It was charming and chic. It was optimistic and suited the post-war desire for a return to normalcy. I can easily imagine the 1950s Paris streets smelling of Eau Fraiche.

Eau Sauvage, Diorella and Parfum de Thérèse are all variations on Eau Fraiche’s basic accord of flowers, fruit and a mossy base. Eau Sauvage’s glistening topnotes, often cited as the first substantial use of hedione, can be found almost in their entirety in Eau Fraiche, created thirteen years earlier.

I can’t help but refer to Femme when I look at any perfume by Roudnitska. It was a seminal work and an early indication of his talent and ambition. With limited resources and during the nightmare of the Nazi occupation of France Roudnitska created Femme and went head to head with Mitsouko, the reference chypre for the prior 25 years. It’s hard not to admire his chutzpah. Femme exploded a debate that had already been present in perfumery for years: dirty vs. clean. Roudnitska may not have had the final word on the discussion but he advanced the argument further than any perfumer before or since.
23rd February, 2016