Reviews by jtd

    Showing 1 to 30 of 394.

    Invasion Barbare / SB by MDCI

    Perfumer Stéphanie Bakouche, 2007

    I'm all for dismissing gender entirely in perfume.  Or at least fucking with it.  It’s been noted that men and women relate differently to their fragrances if they wear only one ("The One").  For women it's The Signature Perfume.  For men it's merely Old Faithful.  The implication is that women are notable for their desire to be noticed, to stand out while men are simply creatures of habit;  that women want a screamer like Dior Poison and men will wear only [insert brand] eau de cologne. This set of assumptions is both limiting and false.  Still, Old Faithful does point to an odd set of circumstances that has lead to some outstanding men's fragrances. (See The Masculine Chypre.)

    There are loads of women's perfumes that I can imagine as The One.  Clinique Aromatics Elixir.  Lauder Private Collection. Robert Piguet Futur. Cuir de Lancome.  Amouage Jubilation 25.  Parfums de Nicolai Odalisque.  There are also all the Edmond Roudnitska unisex perfumes (unisex by public acclamation if not by marketing): Dior Eau Sauvage, Diorella, Frederic Malle Parfum de Thérèse. These perfumes, while gorgeous and complex, are conceptually easy for women to wear.  

    The One for men, and there are surprisingly many of them, have a more complicated set of goals to fulfill. They need to meet the needs of the male ego.  They must balance individuality with group affiliation and the need to be noticed with the inability to ask for help.  They balance the complications and fragility of masculinity on the fulcrum of beauty. (See Masculine Fragrances for Men.)

    The relationship of The One to beauty is complex for men. The fragrance must be attractive from all angles, from start to finish yet not imply femininity or homosexuality.   And despite my vocabulary, it must never be referred to as either perfume or beautiful.  (Cologne and handsome will suffice.)  Its beauty must be recognized instantaneously yet appreciated over the course of years.  These perfumes tend to become classics over the years even if they were initially unconventional.  They lead the way.  Examples are Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel, Aramis by Aramis (granted, a version of the 'feminine'  Gres Cabochard), Old Spice, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Caron Pour un Homme, Chanel Antaeus. Many if not most of the 20th century French men's chypres (Chanel, Givenchy, Rochas...) and fougères (Hermes, Azzaro, Paco Rabanne...) make the grade. 

    To my mind there are really only three.  They are flawless, unmatched and I would happily wear any of them forever.  Guerlain Vetiver, Knize Ten, Andy Tauer l'Air du Desert Marocain. Well, make that four. I’ve been wearing  Parfum MDCI Invasion Barbare.

    Invasion Barbare's apparent simplicity belies it's breathtaking beauty. It alludes to other genres, the fougère, the oriental, even the woody floral, but smells original.  Its grapefruit and bergamot notes harmonize with lavender and give lift.  The cedar and violet leaf notes add a pitched, quietly hissy quality.  A daily-wear perfume in addition to its other tasks, must also be comfortable, a quality typically associated with warmth and a roundedness.  Invasion Barbare nixes this expectation and stays crisp 12 hours later.   

    An odd aromatherapeutic property of lavender is that it is both stimulating and sedative.  Invasion Barbare functions similarly and suits all the tones and moods of a day.  It is graceful.  Is there really any other criterion for a perfume you’d wear every day?

    19th June, 2014


    Fou d'Absinthe by L'Artisan Parfumeur

    I should admit up front that I have a bias toward Olivia Giacobetti's work.  I don't think of her as strictly a formalist by any means, but she uses technique as the springboard to surpass form.  Her perfumes take you a certain distance into the recognizable, spin you around and then leave you to your own devices.

    e.g.  Safran Troublant gives you a confectionery rose with a surprising hint of saffron. Just when you're at the point of reconciling these ideas, you're adrift. By the time you're in the heart notes you've left behind food and flower and find yourself accompanied by something else entirely, something you've never witnessed before.  Similarly, by the time you make out the lily and the incense in Passage d'Enfer, they've given way to a third presence, again something completely new.

    Fou d'Absinthe takes an identifiable trope, the fougère, pays full respect to it, and then dispenses with it.  The first sniffs of the perfume paint the picture of the fougère in full. Soapy, herbal, expansive.  It has the broad strokes, large gestures and great strides of the classic aromatic fougères. It sits comfortably with Azzaro pour Homme, YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme and especially Paco Rabanne pour Homme. 

    Into the heart notes, though, the form dissolves, though the perfume remains perfectly coherent. It seems appropriate that the genre that set the course for abstraction in perfumery gets taken apart, deconstructed. The ur-Fougère, Houbigant Fougère Royale, was a result of the thinking employed in other abstract arts: reduction of ideas to definitive characteristics, representation without depiction or narrative. Giacobetti again takes form, in this case the whopping fougère genre, tries it on for a bit and then moves on. I don't get a sense of irony in her method. It's more the joy of finding new beauty in well-worn form.

    Fou d'Absinthe also happens to smell spectacular. You don't need to scrutinize it.  Like wearing an exceptional piece of jewelry, you can contemplate it or you can simply take pleasure in wearing it. The combination of simple beauty and depth of idea is characteristic of Giacobetti's work and is the outcome of her use of form as a means of inspiration and not an end goal.  

    If you're ever confronted with the question of whether perfumery is art, try the side-door and look to the perfumer. Is there any doubt that Giacobetti is an artist?

    19th June, 2014


    Fleur du Male by Jean Paul Gaultier

    Looking back, Francis Kurkdjian’s Jean Paul Gaultier Fleur du Male marks a time when Kurkdjian was pivoting his career from work for designer labels and the more rarified niche lines to his own line. Fleur du Male was released in 2007. 2009 saw the first perfumes from Maison Francis Kurkdjian.

    Designer, but with a twist, Fleur du Male Fleur du Male matches and surpasses the Gaultier brand which had beaten its enfant terrible schtick to death and by this time had become its own catch phrase. Kurkdjian breaths new life into a tired marque and gives Gaultier a perfume that speaks to his base while also attracting new buyers. Technically a flanker, Fleur was released 12 years after le Male, also by Kurkdjian for Gaultier. Matching the Gaultier sensibility, Fleur du Male is an effusive fragrance that speaks with waving hands and superlatives. Any lack of enthusiasm I have for the Gaultier’s brand in general, is sidelined by Fleur du Male. Daring and lovely, it’s a strong statement that breaths some beauty back into a dull mainstream masculine market.

    The fougère makes it masculine, the huge orange blossom note makes it fey, the locker room sensibility makes it gay. It feels boisterous and affable, typical of the fougere genre. The enormous floral flourish ties in with a sweaty, steamy locker room vibe. The result is a fragrance tailored to the gym queen sensibility of the 1990s and early millennium. It feels as if it was intended to target a middle-aged gay set who remember the 1990s nostalgically as a time when gyms were the new bars, steroids surpassed poppers and the cruising took place in the showers showers more than the dimly lit bars of the previous decades.

    The perfume bottle is recognizable from le Male and both are derived from the Schiaparelli Shocking bottle (1937 ). It is a sort of trophy, a nude Oscar, a robotically idealized male form in white. It's a nod to the clone look/life that fits hand-in-glove with gym queen-dom. It gives the impressions of some sort of fetish, in all senses of the word, at the same time that it looks like an insertable sex toy. Where it's easy to dismiss the cheap eroticism of the le Male bottle, the same shape has a new meaning in Fleur du Male. The white marble-like bottle, a young male nude in a standing pose, is a salute to the kouros. The perfume it contains, a musky, orange blossom fougère, is a nod to YSL Kouros, its predecessor. Nice touch.

    Fleur du Male hints at some of Francis Kurkdjian's later work for his own line where woody, spicy and floral notes were used to bend traditional forms to convey more contemporary tastes. The allure of recognizable classical perfumery draws the wearer closer and then comes the twist, the surprise. It's a smart, successful use of the 'change from within' strategy, a that trend continues in Kurkdjian's own line.

    19th June, 2014


    Mûre et Musc Extrême by L'Artisan Parfumeur

    The fruity floral isn't my bag. There are a few exceptions to this habit, notably the intoxicating Badgley Mischka. I'm not starved for fruit, though. Eau de Cologne, which starts and ends with hesperedic notes, is by definition fruity, and it's hard to dislike eau de cologne. Otherwise there are three ways that I like fruit in my perfume.

    1) The fruity chypre. Granted, chypres contain bergamot, a fruit in its own right. But in many of the great chypres of the 20th century it is the fruit that gives the genre such an enormous range of moods. It gives Rochas Femme its come-hither gaze, Diorella its hint of afternoon trysts, Chanel Cristalle its remoteness, and Prescriptives Calyx its brimming elation.  The chypre’s moss gives the fruit a long shadow, and the world settles in to a slower, more deliberate, more poised state.  

    2) The woody, fruity perfumes like the Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake Bois series (eg. Feminite du Bois, Bois et Fruit, Bois de Violette) and Keiko Mecheri Oliban. Dry woods/resins such as cedar and frankincense and sweet/tart fruit notes like plum and peach complement each other and have a raspy harmony.  These perfumes purr and hum.  They surround you and whisper in your ear.  Christopher Sheldrake using woody amber aromachemicals revived this form in the 1980s and made a reference point for much of current perfumery.

    3) The fruity musks. Some musks have have a berry-sweetness to them, and many fruits have  a strong musky quality, especially when they're at the cusp of ripeness and rot. The fruit/musk pairing in perfumery feels preordained. Fruits provide a ‘flavor’ and musks add a roundness, backlighting.  In the same way that butter and cream add both richness and ‘mouth feel’ to food, the fruity musks add a set of scents and  olfactory qualities that might be called ‘nose-feel’.  

    So, Mure et Muscs Extreme. It is definitively fruity (blackberry) but the fruit never appears out of proportion or sickly-sweet. An astringency, a greenness runs right down the center of Mure et Musc Extreme.  It highlights the sweetness and roundness of the perfume.  It’s strong and can’t be missed, but it just highlight the berry/musk accord.  The musk is the pillow on which the fruit sits, and since the fruit and musk notes are of equal duration, Mure et Muscs lands somewhere between a top-to-bottom traditional accord and a linear one. It changes from start to finish, but most of the changes are an ongoing modulation of the original set of notes.  Different notes step forward at different times, and Mure et Musc demonstrates the best of the linear fragrance.

    19th June, 2014


    Jules by Christian Dior

    What does “vintage” mean in perfumery? It doesn’t have the same meaning as wine, where the noun ‘vintage’ refers to a specific year. We use ‘vintage’ as an adjective to connote quality and a timeframe. The time implied is somewhere in the past. Anywhere in the past, as long as it isn’t still current. The intimation, aside from connoisseurship is, is that the better/best version of a perfume is no longer made. The current model is defective.

    One force that presses the issue is restriction/reformulation. The chypre genre has become vintage by extinction due to the restricted use of oakmoss. Any given chypre becomes vintage the day after the fatal reformulation. The coumarin that allows for the the fougère genre is restricted.  Has the genre gone the way of the chypre?  Obsolescence as a result of die back?

    So is the fougère necessarily vintage?

    Fuck if I know, but have you ever smelled Dior Jules?  It's spectacular. It reminds me why I grew up loving the smell of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and easily fell in with Yves Saint Laurent Kouros as a young man. The fougère reaches out for you. It reminds you why the term inspiration carries multiple meanings. It is optimistic by nature.

    Jules takes advantage of everything the genre offers. It is gregarious. It is broad. It is handsome. It hits the balance point between cleanliness and funk that makes you want to throw your arms around your fellow humans and smell them. It has the soapiness/muskiness balance that makes the genre so agile, but adds a bouquet garni and a smile.

    So here's the question:  does Jules still exist?  I have a decant from a friend who bought it in Paris a few years ago. It's unavailable in the USA where I live. I believe it always has been. Is it "vintage"?  Has it gone the way of the chypre and the passenger pigeon?  

    The chypre was bled to death over time. Is the same happening to the fougère?  

    19th June, 2014


    Ma Griffe by Carven

    Pursuing vintage perfume has its difficulties. Date? Formulation? Provenance? Concentration? At the heart of the matter is a question that can be asked of every perfume, whether vintage or current. It's a variation on the 'does one ever swim in the same river twice' chestnut: does one ever smell the same perfume twice?  Is my new bottle of Mitsouko the same perfume as my last bottle? Is Mitsouko Mitsouko? It's a high-school philosophy survey course sort of dilemma.

    The problem with vintage perfume has to do with expectation. What do you expect from your ebay perfume purchase?  If it is a greater authenticity than a contemporary bottle offers you, be prepared to smell the disappointment.

    Ma Griffe is my instructor on the topic. I've smelled 3 vintage versions made in the 1970s to 1990s and they all smell largely the same to me. Powdery and buttery, green but vague. Weak, indistinct, uninteresting.

    This is the powerhouse green locomotive from 1947?  The legend that paved the way for the commanding green chypres of the mid-late 20th century? Of course it isn't. I'll never really know what the old girl smelled like in her heyday. I wasn't there in 1947, and to smell a bottle of Ma Griffe in 2014 that might have been produced in the 1970s can't compare. If you're chasing the authentic experience, like a junkie chasing that first high, it’ll feel like a hint of a memory. Like a dream at the tip of your mind's tongue.

    So what to do?  Consensus is that the current Ma Griffe is rubbish and vintage is unreliable at best. Buying vintage doesn't usually give you the option of sampling or testing a perfume in advance of purchase. It's a stab in the dark.

    So Ma Griffe is dead to me. It is the plight of perfumery and the perfume lover that over the course of time even iconic, seminal fragrances will go away. We blame IFRA compliance for reformulation, but forget to consider that the loss of past perfumes is inherent in the form. I enjoy the discussion of perfumery and the language that it prompts us to create. As for Ma Griffe, I'll have to be content with viewing from the sidelines of the debate. I'll never smell the perfume.

    Still, it's worth it to have the discussion, don't you think?

    19th June, 2014


    Envy for Men by Gucci

    I've dogged Tom Ford's perfumes. I'm not a great fan of his eponymous perfume line, but on smelling Gucci Envy for Men, something clicked.  The Gucci perfumes of the Ford era were a first rate line of designer perfumes and are a testament to the value of art direction.

    Gucci Rush is a pitch-perfect modern example of the pursuit of beauty in classical perfumery. It's gorgeous, it stops you in your tracks, it makes you think.  

    I have a love-hate relationship with Gucci Envy, but then again I hold ambiguity in very high regard. A perfume that polarizes opinions points to a strong artistic voice. One that splits an individual’s own opinions is ingenious.  

    Gucci pour Homme I (Michel Almairac, 2003) was a thoughtful, beautiful perfume released at a time of big perfume ad campaigns followed by even bigger yawns. I doubt that a Gucci perfume was launched without a high degree of gloss, but in this case the proof was in the pudding. In fact, whether GpH I started the trend of beautiful woody incense perfumes for men, it certainly became the leader of the trend mainstream market.

    Gucci Eau de Parfum and Gucci Eau de Parfum II reflect a brilliant strategy of letting the blandness of the market serve as a backdrop. Seen against a group-think market of women’s perfumes in the 1990s, they stand out both for ingenuity and for their beauty.

    Gucci Eau de Parfum is a strikingly simple floral Oriental writ large that rose above the monochromatic mob of syrupy gourmands. It offered an old-school animalic quality to women who had been lead to believe that the height of beauty was to smell like a cupcake, sprinkles and all.

    Gucci Eau de Parfum II was a subversive little beauty that infiltrated the fruity-floral genre, skipping the spoonful of sugar in favor of a tart woodiness. Gucci edp II has none of the frivolity and triteness typically associated with the genre. Its pokerface and assuredness give it a character more like a classic woody such as Jean Patou 1000.

    Envy for Men didn't bust down any walls, and unless quality comes as a surprise to you, it doesn't shock. It's the spicy, woody, resinous perfume equivalent of a Russian male choir. A large range is covered, but the rumbling bass is what I remember. A lot has been made of its nutmeg and ginger notes being its defining attributes, but like Givenchy Insénsé, whose floral notes have been touted as the reason for the perfume's failure to breech the men's market, the note isn't the coup de grace. Beauty is.

    Many men fear unadulterated, or better, unmodulated beauty, and despite its nominal set of 'masculine' notes (lavender, cedar, incense, amber...) Envy for Men is luxuriously beautiful. It's like many of the Amouage masculines such as Gold Man (1983) and Dia pour Homme (2002) where the goal is explicitly for a man to smell beautiful. The litany of questions that often curtail men actually wearing a perfume are irrelevant. (Is it an 'office scent'? Does it broadcast easy identification with your cohort? Could it be perceived as feminine?). If you look closely, Envy for Men easily passes masculine muster, and should assuage the fear behind these questions. It should simply have been seen as a handsome, distinctive entry into the market. But men's deep-seated fear of appearing beautiful trumps the rest, and, despite something of a cult following, Envy for men has gone the way of much of the other Ford era Guccis. It's been discontinued.

    Perfume fans follow the work of individual perfumers. Why not branch out a bit and follow the work of the art director? If the perfumer can be likened to the director in film, the art director is somewhere between the film producer (eg. Serge Lutens) and the art curator (eg. Frédéric Malle.) Larger-scale commercial perfumery relies on a consensus model that defines creativity very narrowly.

    The Gucci line of the Ford era is similar to the Estée Lauder perfumes made during Lauder’s time. The ridiculous lie of the Lauder line during Estee Lauder's lifetime was that she made each of her perfumes herself. Lauder was known for producing a spectacular line that didn’t shy away from polarizing opinion. Azurée, Knowing, Aliage, Estée. And her perfumes for men, principally in the Aramis line, are still the best compilation of masculine fragrances from a large commercial cosmetic/perfume producer. If she had openly proclaimed herself as an art director of the line, she'd have beaten Lutens and Malle to the punch by decades.

    If you're interested in looking at perfume from the perspective of the art director instead of the perfumer or an entire line, take a look at the Gucci perfumes by Tom Ford. Some are discontinued, and some are still in production, but they're all fairly easy to find.

    19th June, 2014


    Giorgio by Giorgio Beverly Hills

    I don't quite understand the big perfumes of the 1980s. At heart, they carried a mixed message. They are unavoidable: large, loud, instantly recognizable, distressingly unmistakable.  They are written in bold print and are meant to stand out.  The problem is that they were also used as identifiers to signal inclusion in a group, or rather, to announce the wearer’s identification as a type. They are tribal.  So while their use of olfactory dynamics makes them all about standing out, the intention of their use is all about signaling affiliation, not distinction.

    As with Dior Poison (1985) and YSL Opium (1977), even 30 years after the fact, we refer not so much to the perfume Giorgio (1981) as to the type of woman who wore it.  The perfume was part of the package: big hair, shoulder pads, geometric make up. Aspiration. Grandiosity. Remember this was the era of a television show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

    The Perfume itself is remarkable for its superlative qualities: volume, radioactive sillage, endurance, unwarranted certitude. It could more aptly have been called No Exit.  It captured the quality of bigger-is-better that defined the 1980s.  It is legendary: it was the first scent-strip ever used in a magazine. It is mythical: Giorgio was banned from restaurants.  It surpassed even its high wattage rivals. Where Cacharel Loulou (1987) was boisterous, YSL Opium was smothering, and Dior Poison was simply too loud, Giorgio was crass.

    Vintage bottles are easy to find. It was mass-produced for decades and made from aromachemicals with industrial half-lives. It is the plastic of perfumery. It can't be recycled, and it will never degrade.  

    Absolutely worth sniffing, even if just for the history lesson.

    19th June, 2014


    Vent Vert (new) by Pierre Balmain

    I can understand why the classic green floral seems dated to some. The grassy green floral is the product of an era. Each decade, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s had its own take on the genre, yet they are remarkably of a piece. I won’t attempt to distinguish between the green florals and many of the green chypres, as the similarities are greater than the differences. Also I’ve driven myself to distraction trying to separate the chypre from the floral among the reformulations of perfumes such as Estée Lauder Private Collection (1973), Jacomo Silences (1978) and Ma Griffe (1947). Green Florals connote a conciseness, a togetherness, a sense of preparedness and self-assurance that suited the femininity of each of those decades.

    In the 1940s/early 1950s, a complicated era for American women whose social and private roles changed drastically from the World War II period to the Cold War period, the briskness and confidence of the green floral spoke to an inner steeliness that some women might have felt obliged to disguise. 1947 was a pivotal year, arguably giving birth to the genre that would come to define the next few decades: Cellier’s Vent Vert, Miss Dior and Ma Griffe (two green floral chypres) Green Water by Jaques Fath and Balenciaga’s green-pitched violet aldehydic floral, le Dix. The 1950s produced some seminal green floral perfumes: Jolie Madame (1953) Diorissimo (1956). In the 1960s, the green floral spans the primness of the Guerlain patron in her Chamade (1969) to the stylish Robert Piguet Futur (1960) customer to the nascent free spirit in Guy Laroche Fidji (1966).

    The 1970s was both the pinnacle and the denouement of the green floral. It ranged from inexpensive but quality drugstore perfumes such as Revlon Charlie (1973), Coty Smitty (1976) and Prince Matchabelli Cachet (1973) to the more soigné department store perfumes such as Estée Lauder Private Collection & Aliage (1972), Weil de Weil (1971), Chanel 19 (1971), Paco Rabanne Metal (1979). The green floral, formerly seen and appreciated for its steel and it's stature, came to seem quaint next to the monster Orientals and steroid florals of the early 1980s.

    Seen from 2014, the genre has atrophied and what remains are the extant versions of perfumes launched before 1980 and a few less widely available greenies like Parfums de Nicolai’s splendid Le Temps d’Une Fete (2007), Serge Luten’s underestimated Bas de Soie (2010) and Annick Goutal’s Ninfeo Mio (2010.)

    Vent Vert (1947) put a chill on the green floral. Whatever the original by Germaine Cellier might have been, the 1991 edition I have by Calice Becker is rich and glass-like, full but also hard to the touch. It seems equally floral and grassy, with all elements circling the sharpness of galbanum, the principle element of the fragrance. There is a wonderful convergence of notes—pepperiness, sappiness, cut grass, muguet and crushed leaves—that support a crisp rose that is the only hint warmth to be found in the perfume. Having read much about the original version by Cellier but never having smelled it, I would say that Becker’s version matches the descriptions of the original, but due to restrictions of ingredients and without access to the bases Cellier is known to have used, can’t be identical. Becker’s apparent streamlining of the composition shows judicious editing and some bold choices, and her Vent Vert is invigorating and distinctive.

    Some other interesting discussions of the green meanies:


    19th June, 2014


    Le Parfum Denis Durand by Micallef

    Top notes: boozy, aromatic dypso. Very pretty.

    Spicy, rosy, ambery, pissy, metallic honey. Waxy. 

    Rich, broad floriental of the old school.  Not thin and screechy like Boucheron. 

    Huge fucking perfume.  Fashionably crass. 

    Surprisingly covered by the perfume blogosphere.  How’s that happen? Appeal to bloggers as marketing?

    19th June, 2014


    Vétiver Dry by Carven

    Carven make one of the better known vetiver fragrances. It’s been around since 1957 and has stood shoulder to shoulder over the years with the other ‘classic’ vetivers that followed on its heels, namely Guerlain Vetiver (1961), Givenchy Vetyver (1959). Reformulations aside, these are Paris’s masculine Big Three of from the era.

    In 1988 Carven released a new fragrance called Vetiver Dry.  The name of the perfume denotes 1980s-styled overachieving sensibility. Vetiver itself, the botanical substance, is as dry as a bone, and typically keeps most vetiver compositions at the far end of the spectrum of dryness. The name, though. It's just two words, but they suggest something out of whack. Is it overachievement? Is its competitiveness? Is it simply a misunderstanding of the material? Maybe it's an ironic tautology, as in water is wet.

    Unfortunately, smelling the perfume doesn't answer any of the questions. Vetiver Dry, despite the name, is an aromatic fougère. Oh, there's some vetiver in there. More’s the pity, though. Vetiver and the fougère accord don't enhance each other, the point reinforced by the dearth of vetiver fougères available. 

    The top notes are recognizable and are characteristically herbal/soapy in the fougère manner. But where the other late 80s aromatic Fougères seem bright, sharp, inventive, Vetiver Dry seems muddy and blurred. Whether or not it is the vetiver that muddies the perfume, Vetiver Dry feels like it was composed with a dull pencil.  

    There’s a struggle within this bottle, and it makes for a confusing progression. Conflicting notes vie for precedence, and the topnotes, though blurry, are strong. The dry-down is murky, suggestion the conflict of notes ends in an unsatisfying draw. But to reach drydown, there’s no avoiding the heart notes, which are more unpleasant than vague, with a scent of rising dough that makes me want to open a window. 

    There is a reason perfume wearers who ‘layer’ perfumes have never suggested the combination of Drakkar Noir and Bois de Farine. Vetiver Dry serves as the cautionary tale.

    19th June, 2014


    Crown Rose by Crown Perfumery

    Crown Perfumery’s Crown Rose (1873) is a pretty tea-rose perfume. Tea-rose perfumes tend to fall on the quaint side of pretty rather than the stunning side of gorgeousness. Crown Rose messes with you a bit, though, and subverts your expectation. The top-notes tell you that it will be a simple, sundress of a rose soliflor. Your first hint that your first impression might have been wrong is a rising tartness, almost a sourness that quickly dispenses with the dewiness of the simple rose top-note.

    Crown Perfumery is not longer. Clive Cristian closed the line kit and caboodle not long after he bought it in 1999. I’ve tried two others in the line, Malabar and Eau de Russe. I never imagined that Crown Rose would be the most intriguing of the bunch.

    The odd thing about Crown Rose, the wonderful thing about Crown Rose, is that where it seems that it will be a simple tea-rose perfume (Roze-Lite ™) it’s in fact a meditation on sandalwood. I don’t know the exact vintage of my bottle of Crown Rose, but it’s old enough to have been made with a large helping of sandalwood. Sandalwood easily passes the jolie-laide test. Yes, it’s creamy, rosy, sweet, thick. But it’s also curdled, sour, sweatband at times even foul-smelling. I can see both why it was a perfumer’s dream and why so many perfumes, like Samsara, let the sandalwood speak for itself. The sandalwood here is particularly tart, possibly due to age and a diminishment of the top-nots of the sandalwood itself. But I think there’s more to it. There’s a cleverness to this perfume that gets hidden by our assumption that the tea rose is like the dumb blonde and that we’ve fallen for the Marilyn Monroe screen image. If we accept that Monroe was the characters she played, if we accept that Crown Rose is for the ditzy, the joke is on us.

    We tend to look at classic perfume houses with excessive reverence. Add to this case British class consciousness and it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the the bottle and the story: the Creed Syndrome. Crown Perfumery is just fucking with us. Bravo! Crown Rose takes a particularly pungent, acidulated sandalwood, one with more yogurt and sweat than candied sweetness, and then to use it to underline a rose note that 50% of people, on smelling, would simply say, “oh, how pretty!”

    I very well might be falling for Crown Perfumery’s hidden shallows. But there’s nothing that smells ‘off’ in this perfume and sandalwood, especially in quantity, is a famously long-lasting fixative. Crown Rose skirts another inherent problem in tea-rose. Tea-rose soliflor perfumes tend to make up for the directness of their intention with sillage and a volume that can make them tiring even with brief exposure. In Crown Rose, the rose that had seemed like an over-flattering portrait very quickly starts to become sinister, as if, though the portrait was finished years ago, just now the proportion is starting to change, to warp.

    Jadedness is not often cited as a virtue, but there is something wonderful about the loss of illusion. Seen from 2014, this perfume is like a mash-up of Doris Day’s version of “I feel Pretty” and Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You.”


    19th June, 2014


    Malabar by Crown Perfumery

    Crown Perfumery Malabar is a perfume originally composed in 1919. Crown Perfume is now defunct, having been bought and unceremoniously dropped by Clive Christian. Apparently, he just wanted the crown image/bottle. I find it a little tough to draw a bead on Malabar not for its old-fashioned tone, but because what I sniff today might have nothing to do with the original version. Also, I know virtually nothing about 20th century English perfumery.

    I was expecting something explicitly floral. Rosy, sweet, comfortable. My thought was that this would be a perfume to suit a prim, well turned-out English girl of some one of the British upper classes. But then again, 1919. WW I. Spanish flu. Perhaps not the most optimistic of years. But as it turns out, Malabar ignored my expectation. It’s a woody-floral, more precicely a woody-floriental. It doesn’t have the heady, voluptuousness that I associate with French perfumery’s approach to florals in the 20th century. Malabar is more, ‘Hhhmmm… interesting’ than it is come-hither. Malabar has the virtue of drawing attention to the person, not the perfume.

    And here is precisely where Malabar seems old-fashioned. It uses beauty to express aesthetics, not to entice. It doesn’t lead with sex. Being interesting or compelling are not attributes targeted either by the focus group or the perfume brief. Not enough exclamation points and capital letters. Hard to capture in a sound bite.

    Qualitatively, Malabar strikes an almost dissonant set of top notes. It’s not dissimilar to two often maligned perfume: Estée by Estée Lauder and Jean Patou 1000. They’re called old-lady perfume, bug-spray. Classic Woody-florals have a sharpness that appeals to me. And the best woody florals are built for the long hall. The top notes are often sharp and astringent. The top notes aren’t so much dry as tacky, like drying paint. The Patou and the Lauder both have this quality. But in the heart-notes and dry down all three have a particular characteristic of aloofness. When talking about a person, aloofness implies a standing back, not participating. But it also suggests observation, consideration, reflection. The allure of the woody floral is that it takes you in close enough to the wearer to wonder and to be intrigued. These perfumes strike at a very specific range, close, but not too close and suggest a distinction often missed—the difference between allure and tease. Malabar, 1000 & Estée don’t play with you. They aren’t coy. They’re complex.

    Volume, sillage, duration. Theses are a perfume’s tools. They are the settings, the control panel. A ‘pretty’ perfume doesn’t leave you wondering. A bouncing floral bouquet shows you happiness in all its shine, even if the strain of happiness shows through. Most fruity florals tell you at 30 paces exactly what they tell you when you’re standing next to them. It’s the smiley face of perfumery. The neo-aquatics of the Cool Water school also tell you the same thing at a distance that they do up-close. Masculine, normal. It is un-nuanced and quite deliberately so. The person who wears this wants no mistake to be made about his gender or his place in the pack.

    As far as nuance, revelation and affiliation go, the masculine aquatic couldn’t be more different than the classic woody-floral. The woody-floral eschews notions such as the immutable first impression, or the hand-in-hand notion that expectability is a virtue and ambiguity is a sin. Ambiguity isn’t uncertainty and mystery isn’t simply something you don’t know.

    19th June, 2014


    Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels

    I tend to talk about the fougère as a stern, towering perfume and it often is. But Tsar reminds me of how soft the genre can be. Despite its ridiculous name, and blocky pseudo-Deco bottle, it's one of the cozier fougères. Lavender and coumarin don’t crash against each other quite so much as in many fougères. Lavender is always prominent, and the overall tone is much more floral and herbal than most fougères. It has precise harmonic range. Imagine taking a slice out of the enormous range of Azzaro pour Homme, which goes from subterranean to stratospheric. Take that of that range and then zoom in close. Fill-in the colors, more matte and rosy, less metallic than Azzaro, and you find Tsar’s specificity.

    If the fougère fragrances of the 70s and 80s implied masculinity, Tsar suggested an easygoing, smiling guy who was comfortable with his manliness, feeling nether the need to amp it up nor to justify it. It’s hard not to associate this bunch with pick up lines and and amateurish performance of straight guy-hood. It has an odd theatricality like the stilted men's western casual wear of the time. Tsar fits the guy of the time who looked great in a suit, but look even better with his shirt sleeves rolled up.

    In terms of tone and dynamics, Tsar lands somewhere between Azzaro pour Homme and Paco Rabanne pour Homme, which preceded it, and Jacomo Anthracite and Yves St. Laurent Jazz which followed. It is part of the cohort of fougères that were swept aside by the Cool Water tsunami.

    19th June, 2014


    Dioressence by Christian Dior

    I've seen some discussions online among perfumer writers about the merits and pathologies of vintage perfume collecting.    I'm kinda live and let live on this one.  If it feels good do it.   If you accept that well-kept perfumes can last quite a while, then what's the harm in having a little vintage?  I've had pretty good luck, myself.  I found a bottle of Miss Dior eau de toilette from the late 70s, early 1980s on eBay once. For whatever reason, no one bid on it and I bought it for $8. It was in its original packaging, sealed and in perfect condition.  I have a couple of 1960-1970s bottles of Lanvin Arpège that I bought for sentimental reasons.  As to be expected, the top notes are faded, but they are all sensational.    

    But how far will you go for vintage?  Me, not far.  Of course my consolation prize is all of contemporary perfumery, so I’m not panicking. 

    But sometimes you can't say no, yes?  I just came across a sealed boxed bottle of Dioressence of indeterminate vintage, but probably late 90s early millennium.  Dioressence the Tease, the Trap.  Known to have made the progression from old school, animalic grande dame to complete rubbish.  To believe the stories, the vintage is the Grail, and the later reformulations weren't worth pissing on.  

    So what vintage had I found?  Fuck if I know, but it's interesting. It's not the monster that I suspect the original formulation was. But is it trash? No, actually. It’s a powdery, sweaty chypre, that's built for human scale.   The topnotes are definitive grandma perfume * and have that come-hither-yet-stand-offishness that only an old-school powdery perfume can convey.  The powder is the key.  Up top it's prim and upright.  By drydown, it folds into a  muskiness, making a tartness that smells like perspiration.  In the end, it's something like the drydown of Chanel Pour Monsieur sprayed on after a long run.  MMmmm...

    *  No jibe here, and no irony.  I just value grandma differently, I suppose.  Grandma, who wore all the 'perfumey' 'powdery'  nose-scrunching perfumes back in the day, knew better than we do.  Credit where it's due.  I applaud grandma. 

    19th June, 2014


    New York Patchouli by Bond No. 9

    Thanks to a tiny beauty supply store near me that stocks the line, I've had the chance to sample many of the perfumes in the Bond no 9 line at my leisure over the past few years. Having done so, I feel safe saying that I don't like the Bond no 9 line very much.

    The first perfume I tried from the line was Chinatown. I bought it, love it and wear it to this day.  Exceptional perfume.  Since Chinatown, I've tried many others. Silver Factory is interesting (same perfumer, Aurélien Guichard). A portion of the line is innocuous and costs a lot. The bulk smell bad and cost a lot.

    New York Patchouli falls somewhere between the latter two categories.  Top notes, innocuous. A hint of butterscotch, a large dose of root beer a bit of patchouli.  Heart notes and dry down, a slender helping of Bond-ade, the house note and a heat mirage-like shimmer of cream soda. The Oriental is certainly nothing new in perfumery. The more recent gourmand/Oriental is similarly not untried.  New York Patchouli is nothing new in perfumery, but specifically is nothing innovative in a line composed mostly of gourmand/Orientals. In this case, NY Patch skips the earthy, cold, dusty aspects of patchouli and focus on its upper register, which coincides with Bond's 'house' note. 

    Name aside, Bond-ade is the key note in New York Patchoulu. I've written about Bond-ade in previous Bond reviews. To summarize, it is a woody-amber-based lingering note somewhere between gourmand and resinous. It combines a shrillness with vertigo and is difficult to tolerate in sustained exposure. New York Patchouli has a smaller portion of this note than many others in the line.  It smells more like fruity hairspray than motion-sickness. 

    Christ. I just read that last sentence. While writing it, in my head I was trying to say something nice about this perfume. Apparently I don’t have the wherewithal.

    I'll leave it at that.

    19th June, 2014


    Globe by Rochas

    Globe is one of the lost boys from the 90s. Guerlain Heritage (the only one of the bunch still in production), Jacomo Anthracite, Givenchy Insense, Paco Rabanne Tenere.  Diverse trends led to the perfumes of the 90s. The fougères from the 70s, the power frags from the 80s, the remapping of the terrain by Davidoff Cool Water. The fragrances themselves have a range of olfactory qualities and don’t smell alike, but they are a cohort, and they were launched into similar markets. There are a plenty of opinions as to why this set of fragrances didn't take hold, and an equal number of opinions as to the meaning of their failures. 

    Assuming all of the above forces and trends, let's just take a look at the perfume.

    Globe didn't jump out at me the first time I wore it. I certainly have fallen for perfumes at first sniff (Insense, 1969, Egoiste, Liaisons Dangereuses.) These perfumes back up their promises with the goods. If what you're selling is (capital-B) Beauty, you better be ravishing. I've had to work on some of the more meaningful perfumes.  (Aromatics Elixir, Cristalle, Vol De Nuit.). Not every perfume offers the same thing, and my love or value of a perfume isn't be based strictly on the first impression.  In fact, it's the challenging perfumes that bring me back.  Uncertainty can be delicious. 

    The perfume that Globe brought to mind when I first tried it, is Baldessarini, a perfume I don’t particularly like. I find Baldessarini a ‘sweet nothing’. All I get from it is a lingering sweetness. There were some vague perfumes coming out at this time, with blurred qualities. Vaguely sweet. Vaguely fresh. Vaguely water-like.  Some conquered this era and were able to pursue minimalism. Case in point is Jean-Claude Ellena, currently the in-house perfumer for Hermes, whom many cite as the creator of Globe.  (Wikipedia and Now Smell This.  Fragrantica and Basenotes cite Nicolas Mamounas, the perfumer who created Byzance, Mystere and others for Rochas, as the perfumer who composed Globe.) Many perfume houses misunderstood the impetus for minimalism and instead created wan, pale, diluted perfumes.  

    I missed the point when I looked at Globe through the lens of Baldessarini. With Globe, Rochas offered not so much minimalism as subtlety. Globe is a sweet floral chypre, with a medicinal tone that ties the balsams to a peppery carnation, offering not so much an exact scent as a feeling of chilled sweetness.   It suggests the apprehensiveness of an overcast day. Will the cover break, or will it rain? Globe smells like glare and the palor of light through clouds, and connotes weather in the same way that Hermes Equipage does. Equipage is more crisp and incisive, but both share a coolness that I associate with a cool season or climate. Also Like Equipage, Globe has grown on me and I’ve come to appreciate its virtues over the years. I wonder how Globe would fare if it were released today.

    Why Globe was discontinued is an open question. Luca Turin groups Globe with the 'lost boys' I mention above, suggesting that they were too good or too pure to survive an era that called for cleansing and reparation from its men's fragrances. I won't disagree. Shame, though. Globe would have been a great alternative to so many of the sport/fresh/aqua fragrances of the 1990s. It rang a few of the proper bells, being chilled and smooth, but didn't come with the mark of being a Cool Water clone. 

    19th June, 2014


    Voyageur by Jean Patou

    Jean Kerléo, co-founder of l’Osmothèque, creator of the exquisite Patou 1000, must have dreaded having to make an aquatic men’s fragrance in 1995. What he created is at least an interesting comment on life post-Cool Water.

    Even in 1995 the release of an aquatic fragrance would have been met with tedium and low expectation. It was 7 years after the release of Cool Water, and while there had been hundreds of imitators, Cool Water was still king. In fact Cool Water created another slot to be filled in the roster of every perfume house. A new genre had been created! Each one needed an aquatic/calone/fougère fragrance in their line-up, and the challenge was to create one that met the expectations of the market and at the same time reflected your brand. Tough for Patou. Aqua-Joy anyone? Sublime Water?

    The crux of this dilemma is creating something to reflect your brand while at the same time appealing to the broad masculine market. This genre, the fruity masculine aquatics, had a cultish aspect to it and straying from the known was tacitly discouraged. Once a certain safe island of perfume is reached by men, change is considered a threat to self image.

    Kerléo’s solution? So far as I can tell, what Jean Kerléo did was to create a pleasant, recognizable citric aquatic top note, then fold it into a mossy, woody base. The result is a perfume that had recognizability in the form of a pan-masculine aquatic note, but had a warmer dry down than Cool Water's chilly metallic vibe.  It seems like a slapdash approach, a little of this, a little of that, stir and spritz. But I must say that this is the most appealing of the aquatics I've smelled. The top note is an aquatic collage, but it doesn't appear to have been made by rote, and has a tangy citric astringency in lieu of a clanging metal note. 

    The overall effect is that Kerléo has managed to make a demi-chypre out of Cool Water DNA. While Voyageur doesn't have quite the classic ambery dry down of a chypre, the top note of grapefruit stands in for bergamot and a large helping of oakmoss does the rest.  

    How tragic that the solution to this ongoing problem was a material that was being curtailed out by regulation.  Voyageur was doomed from the start.

    19th June, 2014


    Karma by Gorilla Perfume [Lush]

    Most of us can state the first part of the law of inertia. It’s one of the few bits of science that pierces pop-culture. But then again, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    A body at rest…. A body in motion. The caveat is what we tend to forget to mention. Rest/motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Karma is that unbalanced force. Not quite a black hole, it absorbs most anything thrown its way. Orange oil and patchouli oil merge into a leveraged super-resin with an unnatural density and the nightmarish power of 1970s TV-style quicksand. ‘Don’t move! It’ll only hasten your demise!’

    We characterize, and sometimes even name perfumes after the statement swe attribute to them. Caron n’Aimez que moi says, ‘I have borderline personality disorder.’ Chanel 19 announces, ‘approach cautiously.’ Badgely Mischka says, ‘come in for a cocktail, darling.’

    Karma says, with all the intention such an expression can convey, ‘Hey.’ Karma is the stupor that stoners mistake for a zen moment of enlightenment.

    Fine in moderation. This is the one in the Lush line that should have been labeled “Inhale.”


    19th June, 2014


    Ginger Musk by Montale

    Triple-distilled shallac.  Top notes hit high-Z effortlessly, as my chattering teeth can attest.  Useful as a negative stimulus for obedience training of dogs. 

    Once dry down occurs, wearing Ginger Musk is like doing découpage with someone chewing bubblegum.    

    Caveat emptor.  

    Not for use on skin.

    19th June, 2014


    Manhattan by Bond No. 9

    Bond # 9 have set of ‘bad penny’ notes. They are identifiers and if they were pleasant, they’d be considered signature notes, like Guerlinade. But this set of ‘house notes’ is unpleasant They seem to fall within a gourmand, oriental, woody ambery range. They have an unsettling quality of hitting a point in your head, toward the back of your sinuses, that feels like a crossroads of the central nervous system. This tone, this confluence of notes manages to assault your physical senses, your mind and your soul simultaneously. To borrow very loosely from ayurveda, it's an affront aimed at your higher chakras.

    I won’t entirely rule out preference in this case. I do dislike this particular range of neo-gourmandery, but the problem runs deeper. Reliance on the same set of aromachemicals that have a broad common denominator of volume, pervasiveness, legibility/recognition, and force starts to look lazy. As if someone stumbled on a quick fix and is now using it in every situation possible for maximum profit. This tone is less a signature or an olfactory emblem and more of a tendency run amuck, a habit that’s both unrecognized and unbroken. Bond may just have run into a problem that I imagine afflicts many of the bourgeois customers they court: they haven’t ever heard the criticism they need. Nobody ever tells them no.

    OK. I’ve read Bond and their customers. Easy shot, easy target. Ridiculously so, actually. Makes picking on Creed seem the work of a trained assassin.

    But the perfume, Manhattan, and the others that fall into this range (Coney Island, New York Musk, Sag Harbor, Nuits de Noho) are flawed. Reliance on this tone and range of notes, let’s call it Bond-ade, or Band-aid if you prefer, has lead to a line of perfumes that all smell the same in the way that all muzak sounds the same. Manhattan has the impenetrable sweetness of a combined musk/fruit/amber/oiliness that, when combined with “spicy notes” (ie a chemo tuning fork held to your head)drive the chakra spear home.

    The dull, lingering sweetness of the drydown comes as a reprieve after the direct attack of the topnotes.

    19th June, 2014


    Sag Harbor by Bond No. 9

    I’ve sampled more than a dozen of the Bond no 9 perfumes, and I’ve smelled another 10 or so more in passing. There is a sameness to their mixed floral perfumes that concerns me. They smell the same, yes. That’s the subjective part. But I recognize that I dislike their sweetened-floral fragrances in general, and I must question how this colors my judgement. Dislike aside, to look at a prolific perfume line, patterns develop, and while Bond do make some traditional, innocuous mixed florals of no particular note (Chelsea Flowers, Park Avenue, Madison Soirée) they also have a stock style that they are apparently under a spell to release every third perfume or so. This style is the hazy, musky, boozy, lingering-sweet floral.

    Examples: Fire Island, NY Musk, Bleecker St., Nuit de Noho, Lexington Ave, NY Amber,

    Some of these perfumes are less ‘floral’ than others, but the floral screech is the seasoning that allows the pancake-syrupness to shine. These perfumes ride on an overwrought, thick, lingering sweetness that requires any other note to shriek at top-volume to be heard. Which brings us to the peony in Sad Harbor. The peony note in perfumery is famously uncouth and abrasive. When paired with a base that requires a shouting match in the first place, peony shows itself not to be a pleasant note.

    The name works, though. Sad Harbor evokes the collapsed end of a Hamptoms-climber drinks party. Flotsam and wounded vanity strewn around cocktail tables scented with abandoned, spilt fruity cocktails. Hits of salt air and sick.

    I take back everything I’ve said about perfume being a weak tool to evoke a complex narrative.


    19th June, 2014


    Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella

    A bit of a tease, this one.  The gasoline/leather top notes  give the expectation of a true gas-pump fantasy. But along with gasoline’s scent, Nostalgia has gasoline’s volatility.  Still, the crackly woody drydown of Nostalgia is a wonderful scent in its own right, top notes or not. And for those of you who like woody fragrances but don't want a warm, harmonious feeling, Nostalgia remains fairly cool, carrying the chill of evaporation that gasoline has on your skin.

    Two thoughts. One, this is an interesting option for those still mourning the loss of Fahrenheit’s original formulation. Two, Nostalgia points out that in the language of perfumery, gasoline is a woody note.

    19th June, 2014


    Passerelle by Tommi Sooni

    Have you ever watched a streetcorner card hustler working the crowd playing three card monte?  It used to be big in New York in the 80s. It’s a spin on the shell-game. It’s a classic short-con.  It's only three cards, right? No one's hands can move that fast, right? And those other nice-looking people win, right? (Ringers—the other part of the con.) It was endless fun watching the tourists fall for it.

    Passerelle is three-card monte with flowers. Granted, in perfumery flowers aren’t actually flowers, they’re ‘floral notes’. That’s the long-con of perfumery. The jasmine starts watery and sweet and the honeysuckle is a temperate climate’s closest thing to a tropical sensibility.  Then the floral notes cycle through tones: sweet, then leafy, then rosy crisp, then cold and vegetal. It’s the floral three card monte.

    The heart notes begin when when a growing mimosa notes kicks in. Perhaps this notes was hidden underneath the shuffling of the headnotes, but I don’t smell the mimosa for the first 10 minutes or so of Passerelle. Maybe it’s simply the catch-me-if-you-can nature of mimosa. I often have a hard time identifying mimosa in a perfume. It seems to have an ambiguous quality, like a statement followed by a retraction. Sweet, but not entirely. Waxy, but not really. Powdery, almost.

    Unfortunately, the mischievous quality of the start of the perfume burns itself out pretty quickly and the Puck-like start of the perfume seems like a ruse. The perfume becomes undistinguished in the particular way that a mixed florals can grow faceless. A touch of green remains, but it is too sweet, suggesting that the freshness of the opening of the perfume was too much effort to maintain, and Passerelle threw in the towel.

    19th June, 2014


    Lys du Desert by Decennial

    I smelled Lys du Désert when it was first released and not long after I first sampled Orange Star.  The similarities seemed apparent. The salty, umami ambergris note in Orange Star radiates from Lys du Désert as well. The two also share a mid-range sweetness, not sugary, not resinous. Mmmmm… Candied Skin™. The real point of comparison, though, is the mood. Both have a tidal quality, ebbing and flowing almost imperceptibly.

    The first scent of each is thick and enveloping. It's blanketing, and fills your nose and upper respiratory tract the way a drop of oil on paper infuses and becomes part of the paper’s structure. Both Lys and Orange Star play a bit of hide and seek. They seem to disappear or fade about 15 minutes after I apply them.   Soon, whiffs of the perfume return, strong in scent but elusive in location. Is it still on my wrist? Is it just behind me? Is it somewhere else in the room?   Or has it, as with the oil on paper, somehow become a part of my respiratory tract and my sense of it is internal?

    The other shoe dropped for me when I smelled Lys du Désert again after having tried Noontide Petals. Lys du Désert is the bridge from Orange Star to Noontide Petals, and makes perfect sense.  Imagine the musky rose of Noontide Petals without aldehyde ‘wings’.  Without the lift from the aldehydes, Lys du Désert doesn't sing with quite the angelic range (read: castrati soprani) of Noontide Petals. Not one whit less beautiful, desert Lily is more of an Earth Angel.

    LuckyScent were lucky indeed to get this fragrance. I don’t mean any disrespect in pointing out the similarities of these perfumes. Art deserves to be discussed in terms of an artist’s body of work, and a perfume resembling its immediate predecessor as well as the one that would eventually follow it is the sign of a creative mind bubbling away.  And though Andy Tauer doesn’t seem the type to spike the ball after a touchdown, three winners in a row is nothing to sneeze at.

    I’m not a perfumer, and I’m not versed in the construction of perfume. I can’t speak to the simplicity or complexity of the construction of any of these perfumes. But as a perfume wearer, I recognize that the the legibility of these perfumes enhances the experience of wearing them. Clarity and intelligibility don’t often equate with effortlessness, and the chance to see how an artist works with ideas he’s honed to their essentials is a pleasure. 

    19th June, 2014


    Ysatis by Givenchy

    Givenchy Ysatis (1984) gives me some new thoughts on scent and memory. It comes from an era when I rarely wore perfume, and didn't pay attention to the state-of-the-art at all.  Still, I remembered it instantly when I found a perfectly preserved vintage specimen recently.

    Ysatis is more nuanced than Dior Poison, less car-alarmish than Givenchy Amarige, less cartoonish than Boucheron by Boucheron. There's no doubt it's cut from the same cloth, though. It's a classic 80s signature fragrance.  In the 80s, an era noted for valuing assimilation and aspiration, a signature fragrance wasn't one that made you stand apart, it was one that loudly signaled your inclusion with a group, or affiliation with a type. No one of these fragrances was fatal, but together, they were nightmarish. (note: At this time I lived in New York City, a city of public transportation and confined spaces.) They made me appreciate the ridiculous slogan of the era: Just Say No.

    So, memory.  I remember associating this perfume with the go-go sensibility of the 80s. It was a time of gross misproportion, of ill-judged dynamics.  The perfume and fashion of the era might have been set-dressing, but their were indicative, and Ysatis demonstrates the inappropriateness.

    Example:  shoulder pads aren't my style, but I can understand their use in suits jackets dresses. In the 80s, shoulder pads were used in short sleeve T-shirts. Imagine a T-shirt so poorly fitted that the bulk of the voluminous fabric hanging about your waist must be tucked into your high waisted jeans. Slapping some packaging material into the shoulders of this T-shirt does nothing to mitigate its inattention to the human form. In fact, it highlights it. The person who wore this T-shirt/jeans combination wore Poison in elevators. Wore Cacharel Lulu to brunch.  Wore clouds of YSL Paris on the RR. Wore Amarige to the gym. You get the picture.

    Ysatis shares the era's sin of volume, but it utterly typifies another great miscalculation of the time, which is the overuse of formality.  The market of smart sportswear had yet to be unearthed in the 1980s. The choice was often torn Levi's or a hideous dress, and the hideous dress usually won. A variation of an old bromide was reinvented for the 1980s: If it things worth doing it's worth doing... with ruffles, with chintz, with gris gris, with cheap adornment.  "Jewelry" was stated,"costume" was implied.

    Seen from later eras, Ysatis could be considered tasteful version of the big 80s perfumes. But what is the value of a slightly more tasteful monster?  It’s like someone kicking you hard in the balls, but not as hard as he could have. Dominique Ropion is a master of the highly calibrated floral perfume. But for current use, Ysatis lacks the camp of Opium, Poison, Giorgio. They are dated and caricaturish, but they’re fun.  Ysatis, Ropion's tailored monster, is so busy sucking in her cheeks and posing she doesn't crack a smile.  

    19th June, 2014


    V for Women by Clive Christian

    Clive Christian V is a patchouli-chypre.  One approach to make up for the lost moss at the heart of the classical chypre is to overdose the patchouli.  It's an approach that's been done before the IFRA ever sank their claws into oakmoss.  Witness the undisputed champion Clinique Aromatics Elixir.

    It's simple, really.  The cost/quality imbalance in perfumery is laid bare.  Consider the following list of the same idea done better and costing much less:

    Clinique Aromatics Elixir
    Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Chérie
    Aramis A 900
    Histoire de Parfum Noir Patchouli
    État Libre d'Orange l'Après-Midi d’une Faune
    Le Labo Ylang 49 (well, somewhat less.)

    Of course, as none of the above smell like Aromatics Elixir sprayed into a pissy diaper, they all have a leg up on Clive Christian V.

    I'm beginning to regret all the times I said how odd it is that no one's ever really followed in the footsteps of Aromatics Elixir---that nobody’s really tried to imitate it.  Bad imitation on my wrist, I'll watch my tongue in the future.

    19th June, 2014


    Calypso by Robert Piguet

    Calypso has its finger in quite a few pies.  The aquatic note makes you think you're going down one road, but the floral quality says otherwise. Then there's the salty, smoky quality and a smooth suede notes. Oh, don't forget the powder.  

    Calypso is awkward and I can’t quite tell if it works.

    The disparate notes don’t read as a complex formula. They’re awkward and make you think that the perfumer might have been indecisive about composing Calypso. The fragrance it most reminds me of is Gorilla Perfumes Breath of God, although I also catch a whiff of Parfumerie Générale Psychotrope's Jolly-Rancher-on -acid note. Calypso is arguably more worked out than Breath of God, but it’s also less interesting.

    Quirky but mannered, Calypso feels like a conversation with someone who's accent you can't quite pin down. It leaves me with the suspicion of an dodged question, as if the perfume is resolved but I'm not quite.

    19th June, 2014


    Notes by Robert Piguet

    A scenario popped into my head the moment I smelled Notes. Aurélien Guichard made a flanker of Jean Paul Gautier le Male called le Male Terrible. Piguet’s Notes could very easily have been his first draft, returned by the client for being too similar to the original.

    I haven't smelled all of the new Robert Piguet line, but having both Calypso and Notes in the same line seems a mistake. Although they don't smell particularly alike, the similarity of their construction is close enough that they fill the same slot, and neither is a stellar perfume.  Calypso is a 21st-century Cool Water and Notes is a spin on Jean Paul Gautier’s le Male.

    The new Robert Piguet line seems intended for a younger, less perfume-experienced buyer than their Futur and  Fracas buyers. Oddly for Aurélien Guichard, a technical master with a particular proficiency in balancing linear and traditional forms, Notes and Calypso both come off as rather monophonic. It's possible that the perfumer aimed low and hit lower still, hoping for the perfume equivalent of a catchy pop song, but winding up with a jingle.

    19th June, 2014


    Dia Man by Amouage

    Amouage Dia Man (Dia), poor dear, suffers from the Middle Child Syndrome. Dia sits in the long shadow of older Amouage brother, Gold Man, and can't match his egregious, universally adored younger sibling Jubilation XXV.  And what's with the names?  Dia? Day Among such names as Gold, Honor, Epic, Beloved. You might as well have named Dia Bob.

    The smart money, though, will look past the names, the hype  and Amouage’s own trepidation. With the substantially quieter Dias, Man and Woman, Amouage wanted to take a step back from the apparent grandness of the Gold twins.  The middle child might get lost and become invisible to the outside eye, but for a child with a strong sense of self and a good degree of introspection, this scenario could be perfect.  This fictitious child is Dia.  Dia has a composure that is ideal for those who appreciate beauty over finery and values refinements over attention seeking.

    Dia is spicy, woody, ambery and just two shades away from grim.   Many of the Amouage men's fragrances are statement perfume's. They announce your arrival. Gold, Ciel, Epic. I'm thrilled to see such unrepentant beauty in masculine fragrances, but as a daily wear, they can be ball busters.  Dia is perhaps the perfect daily wear perfume if you wear perfume as a gift to your own soul. Dia works it's magic over time, reminding you that pleasure should be neither postponed nor uncommon. I’d love to try Dia reality-gameshow style as a test of character. Put a sample of men in a room with all the masculine Amouages and ask them to pick the one that they would wear as a signature perfume. Introduce me to the men who choose Dia.

    19th June, 2014

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