Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

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Total Reviews: 478

Dior Dior by Christian Dior

The ’70s was the decade of the sequel and the greatest hits album. It’s as if the late ’60s had used up the cultural capacity for new ideas and reiteration was the new innovation. As the name implies, Dior Dior favored repetition over novelty.

All members of Edmond Roudnitska’s citrus chypre family trace their roots to the voluptuous stone fruit chypres Femme and Diorama, but Dior Dior is better viewed against the other citrus chypres: Moustache, Eau Fraîche, Eau d’Hermès, le Parfum de Thérèse. Roudnitska investigated the fruity chypre, pulling a hint of decay from the common ground of overripe fruit and mature flowers.

Dior Dior owes much to the two perfumes that directly preceded it. You can smell whole pieces of Eau Sauvage and Diorella while wearing Dior Dior. The fruit is fresher than Diorella’s half-decayed melon and despite a hefty dose of moss, Dior Dior is more straight-laced than Eau Sauvage. The lemon/aldehyde pairing recreates Eau Sauvage’s mouth-watering lemon-drop but overall Dior Dior resembles Diorella. It shares Diorella’s general shape, but squeezes it into a girdle to suppress any errant curves.

With a brighter fruit note and cleaner florals Dior Dior comes off as more prim than its siblings. Compared to Diorella’s sultriness and easy virtue, and Eau Sauvage’s cruisy Playboy After Dark vibe, Dior Dior is a prig. The hint of skank tempers Dior Dior’s coloratura topnotes, but only *just*. If Diorella reflected a chic, offbeat style, Dior Dior suited a debutante. First impressions matter. The lemony shine and choir of aldehydes create a peppy, Anita Bryant/Up-With-People cheerfulness that seems at odds with the turned-fruit styles of chypre that Roudnitska developed over the years.

‘Cultural’ tone aside, Dior Dior is an excellent example of Roudnitska’s pursuit of simplicity. In his discussion of the art of perfumery he espoused the belief that richness doesn’t require complexity. His sumptuous perfumes were apparently the result of succinct formulae. Generating plush perfumes from concise composition might appear counterintuitive, but Roudnitska proved his point. His perfumes couldn’t rightly be called minimalist but they all have a feeling of perfect balance. Elements that don’t contribute to a perfume’s central goal have been edited out and the central olfactory ideas are diamond-like. In this respect, Dior Dior is classic Roudnitska.

from scenthurdle.com
25th March, 2017

Macaque by Zoologist Perfumes

Victor Wong has used a model of art direction to build the Zoologist Perfumes line. As the brand’s owner and artistic director Wong commissions work from independent perfumers and collaborates with them to shape the perfumes. I’m interested in commissioned work because it allows an artist to step outside of herself to try on a new persona/style. The work can shift expectations and find a new audience.

Wong has used this approach to create a consistent but broad aesthetic for his brand. The line has expanded to include a number of genres, but the potent eau de parfum concentration of the perfumes, excellent presentation and cheeky anthropomorphic animal themes give the line coherence. Sarah McCartney is the author of the 4160 Tuesdays line of perfumes. She approached approached Wong, upending the pattern of the director pursuing nose, and then set herself a particular challenge by choosing a green perfume as her topic. Macaque is the second green woody perfume in the line after Paul Kiler’s Panda. Third if you count Chris Bartlett’s Beaver, which is a musky green floral. (Fourth if you count the reformulated Beaver.)

Cedar and frankincense reinforce galbanum’s balsamic olfactory profile and give Macaque backbone. The core of the perfume holds a coherent shape from start to finish, giving the more volatile aromas a chance to run their course at their own pace. McCartney makes the connection between wood and fruit via sap. Unripe fruit tends to be chalky and starchy, qualities often used to describe galbanum. At the cusp of ripeness, fruit is effectively resinous. McCartney takes advantage of this particular aspect of fruit to generate woody fruit notes. Her approach short-circuits the expected associations of green perfumes with springtime breezes, chirping birds and butterflies.

Macaque is painted in broad strokes and generates deliberate juxtapositions. The ‘sap accord’ defines the perfume and gives it a bittersweet balance. McCartney does some of sleight of hand in the drydown, recreating the balance with a different accord. For most of the perfume it is the mash-up of fruit and galbanum that produces bitterseetness but in the basenotes, fruit is replaced by a sweet muskiness. The slight dissonance of sweetness and bitter inkiness extends through the life of the perfume. It’s a clever use of a soft musk, avoiding the bland ‘soft landing’ white musks give to many contemporary perfumes.

Galbanum is such a particular and forceful scent that many perfumes that use it become penned in by it. It defined the vivid green perfumes of the 1960s-’70s and has unfortunately acquired a retro vibe. McCartney dives headlong into the material and implicitly begs comparison to some heavy hitters of the past, like Chamade, Chanel 19, Aliage and Safari. It’s a gutsy move and one that pays off by focussing our attention away from the bright floral stylings of these older perfumes and toward a more dusky, vegetal interpretation. McCartney succeeds in shaking off associations with the past and places Macaque solidly in the present.

from scenthurdle.com
01st March, 2017

Terre d'Hermès Parfum by Hermès

I first tried Terre d’Hermès in the eau de toilette concentration. It is radiant in the contemporary manner, not forceful, but persistent. The eau de toilette’s slightly sour edge gives the impression of two voices singing together, one sharp and one flat. The notes don’t balance each other and they don’t cancel each other out. They sit uneasily next to each other.

Terre d’Hermès is linear, but has a single, wide accord that seems to surround you. It is radiant like many other contemporary linear masculines (a famously heavy percentage of Iso-E Super), but it seems to encompass you rather than emanate from you. The parfum is smoother and differently calibrated than the edt. It cushions the tartness of the edt, making it less curdled than tart. There is nothing superfluous, yet there’s no feeling of starkness.

The artistry, consideration and likely enormous amount of editing that went into the making of Terre d’Hermès are evident. Apply any binary set of descriptors to Terre d’Hermès and you’ll find it sits dead center, equidistant from the poles. I imagine an inordinate amount of effort went into placing Terre d’Hermès smack in the middle of the road. It suggests nothing. It refers to nothing. It asks nothing. It is devoid of character.

Forget Prada. The Devil wears Hermès.
07th February, 2017
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Canoé by Dana

The fougère has been a yardstick of masculine perfumery since Houbigant released Fougère Royale in 1882. It is a slow moving genre that has sauntered from decade to decade with periodic touchups. The principle accord of lavender and coumarin can support a wide range of alterations. With a few compositional tweeks fougères have ranged from mossy or aromatic to oriental and aquatic hybrids.

The genre was created by the French, idolized by the British and democratized by Americans. Though Canoe was composed in the 1930s (actual release dates vary) in France, it came to epitomize a populist American style of a fragrance. Until the mossy fougères of the 1960s and aromatic fougères of the 1970s, oily-powdery musky lavenders were the masculine paradigm. The accord was ubiquitous, scenting a range of men's grooming products, becoming the scent of the masculine 'safe zone': the barbershop. (Paradoxically, a heliotrope-inflected version of this accord scented the baby powder of the era as well. Was the American man infantilized or were babies inculcated into the culture of masculinity?) Canoe's vanillic musk bears only a passing resemblance to the fougères of the present. On the other hand, it has much in common with sweet, powdery musks like Helmut Lang edp/edc, le Labo Labdanum 18, Kiehls Musk no 1 and even S-Perfumes S-ex.

Compared to previous fougères Canoe dialed down aromatics and woods and emphasized musky vanillic tones, making it as much an oriental as a fougère. A tart geranium accent steers the perfume away from custard, just as Jicky's dusting of culinary herbs does. Canoe ventures so far from 'pastry' vanilla that it lands in the infamous 'plastic doll head' territory. To the modern nose, geranium gives Canoe a dated feel, but it also cuts the softness and prevents a marshmallow effect. By drydown geranium loses its sticky, green sharpness. What remains is a lingering tartness and a slight rosy hue.

Jean Carles composed Canoe as well as its 1955 sibling Dana Ambush, a fougère marketed to women. The two were the sold as masculine and feminine bookends, though they are enough alike that the gender assignments seem arbitrary. Perhaps Carles took inspiration from Guerlain Jicky, which was launched as a masculine fragrance but became unisex by popular acclamation.

Since Paul Parquet's Houbigant Fougère Royale, each generation has had a version of the genre. There is an unbroken line off fougères nearly 150 long and no other perfume style has the old boy's historical momentum. Penhaligon's and Yardley preceded Canoe, which paved the way for Brut, British Sterling and Grey Flannel. Canoe is still produced, but lacks the roundness of earlier formulations. Fortunately, Canoe has been in production for so many years that large quantities are available on the cheap at ebay. The durable vintage musks and high alcohol content (eau de cologne concentration) preserve older bottles very well.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Arabian Horse 3.1 by Parfumerie Generale

The name fits. From the very opening Arabian Horse creates a setting that evokes equestrian affairs. It smells like farms, barns and steeplechases. The topnotes are strong and urgent, but the stables-and-tack mis-en-scène is just exposition and dramatic build-up. The heartnotes are the reveal. The pacing of the perfume reminds me of the actual experience of approaching a horse. At a distance I think what sublime animals horses are. Then, each time, as I get close I'm taken aback. Fuck, they're huge. Same with Arabian Horse. As the perfume sweeps into the heart, there you are with the horse and, fuck, it's huge.

The waxy animalic sweetness is offset by a bitter green-tinged floral that gives a raunchy touch. Narcissus flowers are earthy and have a hay-like aroma. Narcissus absolute (I smelled it just once) is even more fecund than the flower. It smells of hay, yes, but it also smells of horseshit, not a bad scent by any means. Think of horseshit as filtered hay. Narcissus is one of those perfectly balanced, good-with-the-bad materials. It also has one of the most animalic facets you'll find in a botanical, which lends a credulity to the perfume's image. Still, it's only one part of the picture. The thickly layered musks have a trippy, arpeggiated circus-calliope feel. Together with the narcissus they creates an aggresive tone, balanced but mobile. More suspended or poised than settled.

The horse angle is brilliant. The scents of leather and wood play with an equestrian-lifestyle fantasy. Polished saddles and stirrups, form fitted johdpurs that sound a crisp crack when struck by a crop. It's the subdued kink that I imagine Guerlain want you to long for every time you see an Habit Rouge ad. If you're into an equestrian fantasy scene, this is the scentscape of your kink. Down on all fours with bridle and bit, mucking out the stables. Catherine the Great would have dug this stuff. But the perfume can be taken in another way. For those of us too effete to have such vivid drama, Arabian Horse is also a well-layered woody-floral chypre with a solid dose of leather. It even has a background whiff of the flotsam found at the bottom of a purse. Arabian Horse hits the same spot for me as Jean Kerleo's brilliant 1000 for Jean Patou--tightly composed yet animalic.

I didn't follow the release of Guillaume's remixed perfumes * and when I first smelled Arabian Horse (3.1) I didn't know it was a reworking of Cuir Venenum, one of my favorite perfumes by Guillaume. Both perfumes create atypical leather notes and use them to build imagistic, suggestive perfumes. They don't so much smell alike as pursue their compositional goals similarly.

* Cozé Verde 2.1
Le Musc et La Peau 4.1
Vetiver Matale 6.1
Grand Siècle Intense 7.1
Bouquet Massai 10.1
Indian Wood 11.1

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Cologne à la Russe by Institut Tres Bien

Institut Très Bien is dedicated to the Eau de Cologne. In 2005 the brand launched three fragrances by perfumer Pierre Bourdon, each a spin classic cologne: Cologne à la Française, Cologne à l'Italienne, Cologe à la Russe. They were not revolutionary and they weren't intended to be. They were, however, excellent. Multiple releases often have one solid perfume and an abundance of wishful thinking. Institut Très Bien bucked the trend and released three outstanding colognes.

They are all balanced hesperidic-floral Eaux de Cologne and differ in small but significant ways. l'Italienne highlighted the leafy, woody character of cologne and was more bracing and dry than the other two. La Française was a pitch-perfect, mouthwateringly good cologne. It was an impressive move to make the simplest of the three simply impeccable. La Russe was the cleverest of the bunch. It used a sweet and resinous base to give the cologne both a more stable shape and longer lasting basenotes. Over the years perfumers have worked every angle of the Eau de Cologne formula to make it last longer than the Warholian 15 minutes. La Russe grafts a musky, vanillic accord to the cologne structure. The tradeoff is that Russian is less effervescent than the other fragrances, though still citric. The payoff is a more resolute structure and a greater endurance than either La Française or l'Italienne. The base's hint of powdered leather makes it seem like a less animalic descendant of Eau d'Hermes.

A decade later in 2015, Institut Très Bien added a second trio to their line: Les Colognes Fines (as opposed to simply "Les Colognes"). Where each of the Colognes emphasized one particular aspect of the classic Eau de Cologne, the Colognes Fines, as their specific names reveal, supplemented cologne with an additional note. Each fragrance has a direct predecessor in the 2005 Colognes. They don't smell alike per se but they are similar in concept. To the brand's credit, they don't seem to have employed the flanker strategy of taking a stock base and simply added different 'flavors' to it. Instead, each cologne is reshaped in light of its new note. The notes themselves (rose, violet leaf, tuberose) are quite apparent, particularly in the top notes, and deserve to be spotlighted in the perfumes' names.

Rose de Mai is the simplest and most fetching of the lot. It lines up with La Française's direct approach, eschewing novelty for quality. The rose is musky and a touch sweet, giving the cologne a soft pink/purple glow. Citric top notes pick up rose's lemony grace notes, but fortunately aren't overly zesty. Rose folds into the rest the composition with a subtle spiced-floral inflection. If ITB had continued with the international theme of the 2005 Colognes, Rose de Mai's vaseline-lens garden rose would win this fragrance the title of Cologne à l'Anglaise. It is the least challenging in the trio, but when I first tried the three together with a friend who has a very discerning nose, he named it the winner of the bunch both for its prettiness and its balance. Each of the Colognes Fines are given nicknames at the ITB site and Rose de Mai's is fitting: La Delicate (delicate)

Violette de Parme (L'Inattendue-unexpected) is the most contradictory of the three. It's not that the accords don't work, but it varies the most between the strip and skin. On paper, it is clearly defined at all times and is the sharpest of the three. The top note is a deliciously old-fashioned candied violet. Cut from the 19th century to the 1970s: the metallic-green heart is reminiscent of the hissy 'functional' violet leaf of Grey Flannel. The transition is unexpected but logical. The pastille topnote and the urinal puck heartnote are both functions of violet leaf aromachemicals. Of the three, Violette de Parme best transposes the bracing, invigorating nature of classic Eau de Cologne to a new structure. The chilled soapy basenote is a nimble end to the interesting journey, a bit like sticking the landing after a pyrotechnic vault in gymnastics. Oddly, for the cologne with the clearest play on paper, on skin the dynamics don't come through nearly as strongly. Same shape, blurrier focus.

In Rose de Mai and Violette de Parme, the added notes energize the cologne structure and lights it up. Tuberose Absolue swallows the Eau de Cologne whole. Its label is "La Flamboyante." (Do I need to translate?) Imagine a contest between classic Eau de Cologne and Amarige. Who do you think wins? Imbalance is tuberose's not-so-secret weapon and the perfume gets high marks for taking a risk and succeeding. The cologne framework does soften the impact and highlights the soft rubbery side of the flower. It buoys the tuberose giving a hazy chiffon blur similarly to the way the lemony topnotes of magnolia aerate flower. In a contest of endurance, tuberose beats any other note in the Cologne. The basenote is 90% tuberose, but having been filtered through cycle of the Cologne it is less strident than the beautifully jarring topnote.

Adding individual key notes to an underlying Eau de Cologne structure goes back to the violet, heliotrope and lilac Eaux of the late 19th century. More recently, Atelier Cologne built a brand on a version of the tactic. But a better comparison for the ITB Colognes Fines are the Hermès colognes such as Gentiane Blanche, Mandarine Ambrée and Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Like those from Hermès, the ITB colognes lean more toward refinement than simplicity. All six fragrances in the line are presented in eau de parfum concentration. (At the launch of Rose/Violette/Tuberose, the original trio received free upgrades from edc to edp.) Don't let the concentration fool you---all three are colognes at heart and give a concise, brief showing on the skin. I wrote my characterizations of each of the Colognes Fines before I saw the nicknames at the ITB site. My observations lined up with the brand's descriptions, not indicating any particular observational skill on my part. Rather, it points to the clarity of the design and how well the fragrances translate their intent to scent.

Apparently in 2009 Institut Très Bien closed, though not permanently. At some point, the brand was revived and 2016 marks an expansion. The increasing frenzy of perfume releases makes me wary and I'll admit to an inward wince when I saw that Institut Très Bien were to double the number of products in their line in one shot. But then again, maintaining a line of three product during the most cynical years of perfume ambition and expansion is laudable. The brand clearly stand behind their product and The Colognes Fines do nothing to diminish the brand's integrity.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Cologne à l'Italienne by Institut Tres Bien

Institut Très Bien is dedicated to the Eau de Cologne. In 2005 the brand launched three fragrances by perfumer Pierre Bourdon, each a spin classic cologne: Cologne à la Française, Cologne à l'Italienne, Cologe à la Russe. They were not revolutionary and they weren't intended to be. They were, however, excellent. Multiple releases often have one solid perfume and an abundance of wishful thinking. Institut Très Bien bucked the trend and released three outstanding colognes.

They are all balanced hesperidic-floral Eaux de Cologne and differ in small but significant ways. l'Italienne highlighted the leafy, woody character of cologne and was more bracing and dry than the other two. La Française was a pitch-perfect, mouthwateringly good cologne. It was an impressive move to make the simplest of the three simply impeccable. La Russe was the cleverest of the bunch. It used a sweet and resinous base to give the cologne both a more stable shape and longer lasting basenotes. Over the years perfumers have worked every angle of the Eau de Cologne formula to make it last longer than the Warholian 15 minutes. La Russe grafts a musky, vanillic accord to the cologne structure. The tradeoff is that Russian is less effervescent than the other fragrances, though still citric. The payoff is a more resolute structure and a greater endurance than either La Française or l'Italienne. The base's hint of powdered leather makes it seem like a less animalic descendant of Eau d'Hermes.

A decade later in 2015, Institut Très Bien added a second trio to their line: Les Colognes Fines (as opposed to simply "Les Colognes"). Where each of the Colognes emphasized one particular aspect of the classic Eau de Cologne, the Colognes Fines, as their specific names reveal, supplemented cologne with an additional note. Each fragrance has a direct predecessor in the 2005 Colognes. They don't smell alike per se but they are similar in concept. To the brand's credit, they don't seem to have employed the flanker strategy of taking a stock base and simply added different 'flavors' to it. Instead, each cologne is reshaped in light of its new note. The notes themselves (rose, violet leaf, tuberose) are quite apparent, particularly in the top notes, and deserve to be spotlighted in the perfumes' names.

Rose de Mai is the simplest and most fetching of the lot. It lines up with La Française's direct approach, eschewing novelty for quality. The rose is musky and a touch sweet, giving the cologne a soft pink/purple glow. Citric top notes pick up rose's lemony grace notes, but fortunately aren't overly zesty. Rose folds into the rest the composition with a subtle spiced-floral inflection. If ITB had continued with the international theme of the 2005 Colognes, Rose de Mai's vaseline-lens garden rose would win this fragrance the title of Cologne à l'Anglaise. It is the least challenging in the trio, but when I first tried the three together with a friend who has a very discerning nose, he named it the winner of the bunch both for its prettiness and its balance. Each of the Colognes Fines are given nicknames at the ITB site and Rose de Mai's is fitting: La Delicate (delicate)

Violette de Parme (L'Inattendue-unexpected) is the most contradictory of the three. It's not that the accords don't work, but it varies the most between the strip and skin. On paper, it is clearly defined at all times and is the sharpest of the three. The top note is a deliciously old-fashioned candied violet. Cut from the 19th century to the 1970s: the metallic-green heart is reminiscent of the hissy 'functional' violet leaf of Grey Flannel. The transition is unexpected but logical. The pastille topnote and the urinal puck heartnote are both functions of violet leaf aromachemicals. Of the three, Violette de Parme best transposes the bracing, invigorating nature of classic Eau de Cologne to a new structure. The chilled soapy basenote is a nimble end to the interesting journey, a bit like sticking the landing after a pyrotechnic vault in gymnastics. Oddly, for the cologne with the clearest play on paper, on skin the dynamics don't come through nearly as strongly. Same shape, blurrier focus.

In Rose de Mai and Violette de Parme, the added notes energize the cologne structure and lights it up. Tuberose Absolue swallows the Eau de Cologne whole. Its label is "La Flamboyante." (Do I need to translate?) Imagine a contest between classic Eau de Cologne and Amarige. Who do you think wins? Imbalance is tuberose's not-so-secret weapon and the perfume gets high marks for taking a risk and succeeding. The cologne framework does soften the impact and highlights the soft rubbery side of the flower. It buoys the tuberose giving a hazy chiffon blur similarly to the way the lemony topnotes of magnolia aerate flower. In a contest of endurance, tuberose beats any other note in the Cologne. The basenote is 90% tuberose, but having been filtered through cycle of the Cologne it is less strident than the beautifully jarring topnote.

Adding individual key notes to an underlying Eau de Cologne structure goes back to the violet, heliotrope and lilac Eaux of the late 19th century. More recently, Atelier Cologne built a brand on a version of the tactic. But a better comparison for the ITB Colognes Fines are the Hermès colognes such as Gentiane Blanche, Mandarine Ambrée and Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Like those from Hermès, the ITB colognes lean more toward refinement than simplicity. All six fragrances in the line are presented in eau de parfum concentration. (At the launch of Rose/Violette/Tuberose, the original trio received free upgrades from edc to edp.) Don't let the concentration fool you---all three are colognes at heart and give a concise, brief showing on the skin. I wrote my characterizations of each of the Colognes Fines before I saw the nicknames at the ITB site. My observations lined up with the brand's descriptions, not indicating any particular observational skill on my part. Rather, it points to the clarity of the design and how well the fragrances translate their intent to scent.

Apparently in 2009 Institut Très Bien closed, though not permanently. At some point, the brand was revived and 2016 marks an expansion. The increasing frenzy of perfume releases makes me wary and I'll admit to an inward wince when I saw that Institut Très Bien were to double the number of products in their line in one shot. But then again, maintaining a line of three product during the most cynical years of perfume ambition and expansion is laudable. The brand clearly stand behind their product and The Colognes Fines do nothing to diminish the brand's integrity.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Cologne à la Française by Institut Tres Bien

Institut Très Bien is dedicated to the Eau de Cologne. In 2005 the brand launched three fragrances by perfumer Pierre Bourdon, each a spin classic cologne: Cologne à la Française, Cologne à l'Italienne, Cologe à la Russe. They were not revolutionary and they weren't intended to be. They were, however, excellent. Multiple releases often have one solid perfume and an abundance of wishful thinking. Institut Très Bien bucked the trend and released three outstanding colognes.

They are all balanced hesperidic-floral Eaux de Cologne and differ in small but significant ways. l'Italienne highlighted the leafy, woody character of cologne and was more bracing and dry than the other two. La Française was a pitch-perfect, mouthwateringly good cologne. It was an impressive move to make the simplest of the three simply impeccable. La Russe was the cleverest of the bunch. It used a sweet and resinous base to give the cologne both a more stable shape and longer lasting basenotes. Over the years perfumers have worked every angle of the Eau de Cologne formula to make it last longer than the Warholian 15 minutes. La Russe grafts a musky, vanillic accord to the cologne structure. The tradeoff is that Russian is less effervescent than the other fragrances, though still citric. The payoff is a more resolute structure and a greater endurance than either La Française or l'Italienne. The base's hint of powdered leather makes it seem like a less animalic descendant of Eau d'Hermes.

A decade later in 2015, Institut Très Bien added a second trio to their line: Les Colognes Fines (as opposed to simply "Les Colognes"). Where each of the Colognes emphasized one particular aspect of the classic Eau de Cologne, the Colognes Fines, as their specific names reveal, supplemented cologne with an additional note. Each fragrance has a direct predecessor in the 2005 Colognes. They don't smell alike per se but they are similar in concept. To the brand's credit, they don't seem to have employed the flanker strategy of taking a stock base and simply added different 'flavors' to it. Instead, each cologne is reshaped in light of its new note. The notes themselves (rose, violet leaf, tuberose) are quite apparent, particularly in the top notes, and deserve to be spotlighted in the perfumes' names.

Rose de Mai is the simplest and most fetching of the lot. It lines up with La Française's direct approach, eschewing novelty for quality. The rose is musky and a touch sweet, giving the cologne a soft pink/purple glow. Citric top notes pick up rose's lemony grace notes, but fortunately aren't overly zesty. Rose folds into the rest the composition with a subtle spiced-floral inflection. If ITB had continued with the international theme of the 2005 Colognes, Rose de Mai's vaseline-lens garden rose would win this fragrance the title of Cologne à l'Anglaise. It is the least challenging in the trio, but when I first tried the three together with a friend who has a very discerning nose, he named it the winner of the bunch both for its prettiness and its balance. Each of the Colognes Fines are given nicknames at the ITB site and Rose de Mai's is fitting: La Delicate (delicate)

Violette de Parme (L'Inattendue-unexpected) is the most contradictory of the three. It's not that the accords don't work, but it varies the most between the strip and skin. On paper, it is clearly defined at all times and is the sharpest of the three. The top note is a deliciously old-fashioned candied violet. Cut from the 19th century to the 1970s: the metallic-green heart is reminiscent of the hissy 'functional' violet leaf of Grey Flannel. The transition is unexpected but logical. The pastille topnote and the urinal puck heartnote are both functions of violet leaf aromachemicals. Of the three, Violette de Parme best transposes the bracing, invigorating nature of classic Eau de Cologne to a new structure. The chilled soapy basenote is a nimble end to the interesting journey, a bit like sticking the landing after a pyrotechnic vault in gymnastics. Oddly, for the cologne with the clearest play on paper, on skin the dynamics don't come through nearly as strongly. Same shape, blurrier focus.

In Rose de Mai and Violette de Parme, the added notes energize the cologne structure and lights it up. Tuberose Absolue swallows the Eau de Cologne whole. Its label is "La Flamboyante." (Do I need to translate?) Imagine a contest between classic Eau de Cologne and Amarige. Who do you think wins? Imbalance is tuberose's not-so-secret weapon and the perfume gets high marks for taking a risk and succeeding. The cologne framework does soften the impact and highlights the soft rubbery side of the flower. It buoys the tuberose giving a hazy chiffon blur similarly to the way the lemony topnotes of magnolia aerate flower. In a contest of endurance, tuberose beats any other note in the Cologne. The basenote is 90% tuberose, but having been filtered through cycle of the Cologne it is less strident than the beautifully jarring topnote.

Adding individual key notes to an underlying Eau de Cologne structure goes back to the violet, heliotrope and lilac Eaux of the late 19th century. More recently, Atelier Cologne built a brand on a version of the tactic. But a better comparison for the ITB Colognes Fines are the Hermès colognes such as Gentiane Blanche, Mandarine Ambrée and Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Like those from Hermès, the ITB colognes lean more toward refinement than simplicity. All six fragrances in the line are presented in eau de parfum concentration. (At the launch of Rose/Violette/Tuberose, the original trio received free upgrades from edc to edp.) Don't let the concentration fool you---all three are colognes at heart and give a concise, brief showing on the skin. I wrote my characterizations of each of the Colognes Fines before I saw the nicknames at the ITB site. My observations lined up with the brand's descriptions, not indicating any particular observational skill on my part. Rather, it points to the clarity of the design and how well the fragrances translate their intent to scent.

Apparently in 2009 Institut Très Bien closed, though not permanently. At some point, the brand was revived and 2016 marks an expansion. The increasing frenzy of perfume releases makes me wary and I'll admit to an inward wince when I saw that Institut Très Bien were to double the number of products in their line in one shot. But then again, maintaining a line of three product during the most cynical years of perfume ambition and expansion is laudable. The brand clearly stand behind their product and The Colognes Fines do nothing to diminish the brand's integrity.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Arbolé Arbolé by Hiram Green

A justifiable complaint against much of natural perfumery is that the compositions can be muddied and vague. Blending botanicals, even when using isolates, can be tricky. Compositions with a limited number of components keep the materials' personalities front and and center but don't compel them reveal anything new. When too many materials are used the composition loses precision and an important range of dynamics. Some botanical pairings have an inherent synergy and create appealing accords, most of which have been well explored in aromatherapy. They rise to a certain level of prettiness but don't often have the dynamic olfactory range or abstraction of perfumery.

In the hands of most perfumers botanical work is the folk music of perfumery. It's better with fewer performers. No how many additional acoustic guitars and voices (or essential oils) you add to the chorus, the ideal tops out at a small number and actually loses something when more is added. Mandy Aftel, whose perfumes are my source material for learning about natural perfumery (hell, why not start at the top?) is the exception that proves the rule. Her perfumes manage to juggle focus and complexity smartly.

Another exception is Hiram Green. If botanical perfumery is folk music, Green is Dylan-gone-electric. There is none of the indeterminacy of so much botanical work. Blend is not blur and Arbolé Arbolé shows the value of using multiple materials from the same category---IF you can keep them from crossing paths.

I tend not to go very far into a discussion of notes and materials, but it's appropriate in this case for two reasons: 1) Though I assume isolates, fractions and other botanically derived substances are used, when Green mentions patchouli, sandalwood and cedar at his site, I believe he means the actual botanicals. 2) The materials are identifiable to the nose but work together to make novel olfactory shapes.

Green allows his materials to overlap, but not to run onto each other. Though all are considered woody materials patchouli, cedar and sandalwood have very different profiles. In Arbolé Arbolé the woods are mediated by vanillic tones, from the heliotrope/puttied-almond range to the sweet-hay scent of coumarin. Patchouli, technically a grass, has cool, earthy qualities and lends Arbolé Arbolé a definitive green hue. Likewise, sandalwood covers a lot of ground. Its resinous dusty qualities become a matte powder when joined with the almondy vanilla. Cedar has a harder silhouette than patchouli and sandalwood. It gives the perfume backbone and stability. The astringency of cedar latches onto the yogurty facet of sandalwood and gives the perfume a firm tartness, as if it has a twist of some imaginary citrus fruit. Together, the woods form apparently simple shapes that belie complex olfactory patterns. Medicinal. Waxy. Powdered. Acidic. Honeyed. Rubbery. Lipsticky. It has a similarly cozy, dissonant effect as Molinard Habanita, with scents-textures a fraction of an inch from contradicting each other. The woods form a braid, making a pattern together, but keeping separate tracks from start to finish.

Green borrows the title of Spanish poet/playright Federico García Lorca's poem Arbolé Arbolé and the comparison is fitting. Lorca's surrealism was grounded in the symbolic nature of his vocabulary. He gave great significance to simple acts and objects. Green's use of materials carries a weighted feel, as if they too are somehow loaded. I mentioned the complaint against botanical perfumery that it can produce hazy perfumes that lack a center. I should balance that with another legitimate complaint, this time against synthetic perfumery. Over-reliance on aromachemicals initially used as adjuncts to woody materials has lead to the opposite problem. Cheap, easily accessible foghorns like Norlimbanol, Kephalis, Cedramber and Ambroxan have made woody perfumes synonymous with headaches and hangovers. To find a definitively woody perfume without these unsettling characteristics is a pleasure.

A test of natural perfumes is to evaluate them without the word "natural." Taken as a perfume of any kind, Arbolé Arbolé is inventive and extremely engaging. Here Green does to woods what he did with flowers in the first perfume in his line, Moon Bloom. He takes the definitive members of an olfactory genres, in Moon Bloom's case white florals, and coaxes a varied chorus out if them. Moon Bloom focussed more on harmony and smoothness. Arbolé Arbolé leans into contrasts with purpose and seems more assured. Just three to four years after the launch of the line, Arbolé Arbolé is the work of a more mature artist. The way Green manages differences in his chosen materials and doesn't smooth over interesting olfactory collisions tells me that he's deliberately challenging himself. And succeeding.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Memento Mori by Aftelier

Mandy Aftel produced two new perfumes in 2016. Memento Mori, as the name implies, is a contemplation of mortality and consequence. Amber Tapestry is the salve for a wounded spirit. Given the conflict and vitriolic tenor of American politics in 2016, the two perfumes are poignant bookends to the year.

Did Aftel create Memento Mori and Amber Tapestry as commentary on the state of political strife? Doubtful. But do they suit the times? Do they offer an opportunity to make sense of them? For me they do.

Memento mori are images of death. As reminders of impermanence and mortality they are reassuring to some, terrifying to others. Perfumery is a durational art form and transience is inherent. What better form for a memento mori than a perfume?

Aftel creates a memento mori very different from the either the classical skull symbolism of portraiture/still life or the bizarre staged Victorian postmortem photographs. The former is cliché and the latter is gruesome to the modern eye, but both ask the viewer to consider mortality by looking at death. Aftel's perfume focuses on the nature of relationships and the brevity of life by making us think about skin, the shell that contains us, the handle that we use to hold onto each other. Skin is durable and fragile, beautiful yet commonplace. It is an outward sign to others (and to ourselves in the mirror) of the passage of time, aging and death.

Aftel presents skin in its entirety. Memento Mori ranges from the musky sweetness of a baby's softness to the seductive floral quality of mature, knowing flesh. It has acrid flashes---the skin of effort and struggle---but is grounded in the buttery intimacy of commingled bodies. The sense of skin pervades every bit of Memento Mori but it is still a perfume. It has all the attributes and aesthetics of perfumery and doesn't try to create a false authenticity by overemphasizing realism. I struggle for the right word to capture Memento Mori's representation to skin. Depiction? Portrayal? Tribute? I'll stick with adjectives. It is loving and honest.

Fragrance's language is elusive. It has to do with tone, not facts. Even if you can't put words to the qualities you find in a perfume, you can hear what it has to say. Creating a memento mori through fragrance is an ideal use of the olfactory medium and makes such sense that I catch myself nodding yes as I bring my nose to my wrist. Memento Mori has the distillation that I attribute to an artist's thorough understanding of her process.

The last part of daily yoga practice is an extended savasana, or corpse pose. It's an opportunity to think about your eventual death as you compose yourself and conclude your practice. I had a yoga teacher who used to say without a trace of irony, "OK. Now lie down and die." This is how I experience Aftel's perfume. The concept of the perfume is deep, but the experience is accessible. It's a balance that suits the subject perfectly.

*

Amber Tapestry is a big, cruisy floriental that fits late 2016 to a T. It satisfies my need for beauty as a rational response to the emotional and cognitive dissonance of the American election year. Tapestry is an apt metaphor for the perfume. A jasmine/resin accord is the weft that holds all the other notes woven through it. The putty-like density of heliotropin matches the hum of cinnamon to create a matte finish that allows the gasoline edges of the jasmine to ignite.

A choreographer I used to work with had a wonderful, looping bit of material that we used to dance because it felt so good. It was juicy and lush, with suspension and release that you could manipulate with all sorts of satisfying dynamics. It was called The Feel-Good Phrase. Amber Tapestry has the same sensibility. Engagement, pleasure and satisfaction. No small things these days.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Amber Tapestry by Aftelier

Mandy Aftel produced two new perfumes in 2016. Memento Mori, as the name implies, is a contemplation of mortality and consequence. Amber Tapestry is the salve for a wounded spirit. Given the conflict and vitriolic tenor of American politics in 2016, the two perfumes are poignant bookends to the year.

Did Aftel create Memento Mori and Amber Tapestry as commentary on the state of political strife? Doubtful. But do they suit the times? Do they offer an opportunity to make sense of them? For me they do.

Memento mori are images of death. As reminders of impermanence and mortality they are reassuring to some, terrifying to others. Perfumery is a durational art form and transience is inherent. What better form for a memento mori than a perfume?

Aftel creates a memento mori very different from the either the classical skull symbolism of portraiture/still life or the bizarre staged Victorian postmortem photographs. The former is cliché and the latter is gruesome to the modern eye, but both ask the viewer to consider mortality by looking at death. Aftel's perfume focuses on the nature of relationships and the brevity of life by making us think about skin, the shell that contains us, the handle that we use to hold onto each other. Skin is durable and fragile, beautiful yet commonplace. It is an outward sign to others (and to ourselves in the mirror) of the passage of time, aging and death.

Aftel presents skin in its entirety. Memento Mori ranges from the musky sweetness of a baby's softness to the seductive floral quality of mature, knowing flesh. It has acrid flashes---the skin of effort and struggle---but is grounded in the buttery intimacy of commingled bodies. The sense of skin pervades every bit of Memento Mori but it is still a perfume. It has all the attributes and aesthetics of perfumery and doesn't try to create a false authenticity by overemphasizing realism. I struggle for the right word to capture Memento Mori's representation to skin. Depiction? Portrayal? Tribute? I'll stick with adjectives. It is loving and honest.

Fragrance's language is elusive. It has to do with tone, not facts. Even if you can't put words to the qualities you find in a perfume, you can hear what it has to say. Creating a memento mori through fragrance is an ideal use of the olfactory medium and makes such sense that I catch myself nodding yes as I bring my nose to my wrist. Memento Mori has the distillation that I attribute to an artist's thorough understanding of her process.

The last part of daily yoga practice is an extended savasana, or corpse pose. It's an opportunity to think about your eventual death as you compose yourself and conclude your practice. I had a yoga teacher who used to say without a trace of irony, "OK. Now lie down and die." This is how I experience Aftel's perfume. The concept of the perfume is deep, but the experience is accessible. It's a balance that suits the subject perfectly.

*

Amber Tapestry is a big, cruisy floriental that fits late 2016 to a T. It satisfies my need for beauty as a rational response to the emotional and cognitive dissonance of the American election year. Tapestry is an apt metaphor for the perfume. A jasmine/resin accord is the weft that holds all the other notes woven through it. The putty-like density of heliotropin matches the hum of cinnamon to create a matte finish that allows the gasoline edges of the jasmine to ignite.

A choreographer I used to work with had a wonderful, looping bit of material that we used to dance because it felt so good. It was juicy and lush, with suspension and release that you could manipulate with all sorts of satisfying dynamics. It was called The Feel-Good Phrase. Amber Tapestry has the same sensibility. Engagement, pleasure and satisfaction. No small things these days.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Gia by Hendley Perfumes

The roaring 1920s and the disco 1970s were both known for hedonism. Fashion and style were considered reflections of character and self-expression kicked caution to the curb. Whether in speakeasies or Studio 54, theatricality and acting out were considered paramount to self-realization. Bathtub gin or blow. Flappers or disco queens. If it feels good, do it. Economic crashes and their return to grim social repentance might have been in the wind, but in the meanwhile, more, more, more. Let it all hang out.

The perfumes of the '20s were a varied lot, but a common thread was an exuberance that spoke to pleasing oneself and fuck all. Perfumes were lurid and animalic---inescapable to intimates and passers-by alike. The same spirit held for the perfumes of the '70s but animalic materials were coming under fire and replacements were needed to maintain the grandiosity of the style. Spicy, balsamic materials became the vogue. They were a practical replacement for animal-sourced materials and were as inescapable as their predecessors, if not more. You found them loud and intrusive? Too bad. Self-expression was a threat to The Man and shaking up the stiffs was de riguer in a decade that bridged hippies to punks. Like the '20s it was play-acting, just with different costume, hair and makeup.

Gia's lineage can be traced equally to the animalic Weil Zibeline and Lanvin My Sin of the '20s and the spicy Opium and Cinnabar from the late '70s. It holds both styles in the same hand, leaving the other hand free to grab hold of the present. Gia appears to move back in time when you apply it, starting with a nod to the spiced '70s orientals. The dense ginger/clove/vanilla topnote blankets you but manages to steer clear of the spice-cupboard 'eggnog' effect that afflicted some perfumes of the time. '70s reference aside, a potent metallic musky vibration marks Gia as contemporary. It is the sort of deliberately synthetic musky tone that might hint at animalism, but only obliquely. It cautions you that despite deliberate allusions to the past, retro role-playing isn't in the cards.

The drydown is an amalgam of everything that preceded it. Remnants of the spiced topnotes shade the perfume with tawny hues and the musky metallic tone simmers down from the buzz of sucking on an alkaline battery to a tangy aftertaste. Gia's long arc and snug drydown bring it in line with the old-school castoreum/deer musk/civet-laced perfumes whose ferocious openings reclined into seductive basenotes. In the basenotes, Gia dims the lights and turns up the music to create an after-hours vibe. Hendley seems to have deliberately avoided the bell-ringing effect common to spiced balsamic perfumes, where they start and end with the same rich note, simply growing quieter over time. The challenge of reinventing the mechanics of full-fleshed, long-arc, top-to-base progressions has been taken up successfully by a number of artisan perfumers. (Eg. Antonio Gardoni's Maai and Gardelia, Liz Moores's Salome, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Chinchilla and Hiram Green's Arbolé Arbolé.) In Gia's case, the evolution is detailed and beautifully worked out to unfold over the course of 12-24 hours.

Gia has a delicious sweet/spiced skin tone that puts gourmand perfumes to shame and makes the trend of lily-white musk drydowns seem laughably unsophisticated. You know those vaguely lascivious expressions like, 'I could just eat you with a spoon'? Expect to hear them when you wear this perfume. The long drydown gives you more than enough time to become hypnotized by your own scent. Gia mimics the enviable qualities of perfumes made with actual animalic materials---it both becomes a part of your skin, and resides just above it, giving a butter-and-honey glow to your personal space.

I wonder how Hendley's work in photography influences his ability to manipulate olfactory images. The references to perfumes of the '20s and '70s function like an overlay of images, commenting on previous decades without reenacting them. This passionate but unsentimental glance at the past gives Gia a sophisticated backstory but a modern appearance.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Bourbon by Hendley Perfumes

We're approaching a bubble. Or we're already in one---bubbles are notoriously identified after the fact. The Perfume Bubble has all the features of previous speculative bubbles, from the Dutch Tulip Crisis in the 17th century to the Housing Market Crash of 2008. It even follows the five stages:

1) Displacement, or New Paradigm. (Independent Perfumery)
2) Boom. (Groovy Early Niche and the Celebrity Perfumer)
3) Euphoria. (The Rise of Luxury Perfumery)
4) Profit taking. (The Whores are at the Gate)
5) Panic. (You Can Smell the Fear)

Look around you. Grossly inflated prices, escalating new releases, more new luxo-lines than you can shake a stick at. When the bubble bursts who among us will be saved? Economically, the most adaptable survive, and while large companies might have deeper pockets, my money is on the small indies surviving. Scalability is key to living past a bubble and artisanal perfumers, whose scale is the single perfumer, might stand a better chance than others.

So how did we reach stage 4.5 so fast? The seeds were planted early in independent perfumery, where new perfume brands responded to the perceived poor condition of the state of the perfume market. They focussed on quality, favoring novelty over reiterating traditional forms. It makes sense that the perfumes that drove creativity at this time were the oddballs, the beautiful freaks. Professionally-trained perfumers who chafed at the limits of their days jobs were free to test new ideas in the new niche houses. Fairly quickly the old guard learned the lessons from the indies and threw a lot of money at new, pricier alt-niche lines, often hiring the same perfumers. Ellena reinvented Hermès. Roger invented Roja. Chanel created les Exclusifs. Guerlain, launched the new blah-blah line. Dior, likewise. Tom Ford, ditto. Less experimentation, more lavish olfactory symbolism.

Artisanal perfumery signals a return to fundamentals, though I don't mean to imply that it is either reactionary or prosaic. No single impulse drives independent perfumery. Small-scale work is an alternative to the noisy world of commercial perfumery, not protest against it. As for why artisanal work takes the shape it does, after early-niche experimentation played the 'unconventional' card, outrageousness started to seem easy. The high-end commercial lines went the other direction, filling surprisingly uninventive compositions with oud, molecular derivations of rare botanicals, and horseshit. If there is a goldilocks center to be found, artisanal perfumery might point the way.

Hendley is trained in photography. One risk of crossover work is that technical training in one form won't translate to another. Despite a strong conceptual framework, will the artist's 'new' form have an amateur appearance on a technical level compared to the form that he was trained in? Compared to the professionally trained perfumer?

In Hendley's case, creativity translates, though not literally. I'm new to the line, having tried only four of the perfumes recently: Rosenthal, Amora, Jade and Bourbon. I don't know Hendley's photography, but his perfumes are clearly not simply an extension of visual work---they don't translate photography to scent. They do offer a coherent approach and well-finished, well-edited perfumes. Of the four, three explore a resinous range of tones without too much overlap. Amora is fruity-resinous, Rosenthal is a balsamic rose and Bourbon explores vanilla. The fourth, Jade, offers a new angle on the maligned "fresh" category. It has a buoyant, aromatic quality without leaning on citrus and herbs or the dreaded ozonic and aquatic notes.

Why turn to the artisanal artist for a new take on a known idea? The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. I'm not usually drawn to vanilla-centric perfumes. Vanilla brings out my conservative tendencies, I suppose, and Jicky and Shalimar cover my vanilla needs. But Bourbon is the vanilla I never knew I needed. It's is more than just a simple vanilla perfume and the furthest thing from the ditzy stereotype of the nom-nom vanilla. It avoids the traps of gourmanderie and humdrum orientals, and, like Hendley's Rosenthal, finds plenty of new twists in a well-worn trope.

The single word bourbon tells you about the two sides of the perfume. Vanilla from Réunion (formerly Isle de Bourbon) and Bourbon whiskey find common cause in wood. Unsweetened vanilla has smoky and woody facets and whisky is a reflection of the charred cask in which it ages. Bourbon (the perfume) smells like a sip of whiskey or brandy feels--potent and invigorating. Smooth and rough at the same time.

The perfume makes great use of its extrait concentration. It strides out of the bottle and covers a lot of ground very quickly. It has moderate throw, but if you're within range, it is deadly handsome. The opening is djinn-in-the-bottle alluring and the tweedy drydown still manages to growl 12 hours down the road. It doesn't coast into coziness as vanilla perfumes can. The liquor gives it a speakeasy quality and the drydown speaks in shady Lauren Bacall tones.

The early indies responded to a market of dull, unsatisfying perfumes by taking unconventional approaches. The current luxe market again offers uninteresting perfumes, now at stratospheric prices. Crossover perfumers still can and do question convention (Cognoscenti Warm Carrot, Cadavre Exquis) but Hendley's Bourbon doesn't shock. Its inventiveness is in the half turns and subtle juxtapositions that undercut expectation of a well known note/material.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017
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Rosenthal by Hendley Perfumes

Rosenthal is an interesting challenge. It's a new perfumer's entry into a well-travelled genre. It's a big, boozy rose, in the same broad woody rose category as the rose chypres, florientals and woody florals. Artisanal perfumery brings a new perspective to the table. Small-batch extractions of materials, inventive methods and 'outside the box' approaches ignore the boundaries of mainstream technique and can lead to novel perfumes.

One of the drawbacks, though, is the reinvention of the wheel. Self-taught perfumers run the risk of stumbling across compositional frameworks, that, while new to them, have been explored in detail by professionally trained perfumers. The risk becomes even greater with a genre that includes icons like like Amouge Lyric Woman, Portrait of a Lady, Aromatics Elixir and Nahéma. 'By comparison we suffer' and all.

Fortunately, Rosenthal avoids the pitfalls and Hendley threads the needle nimbly. The patch/rose accord is a touchstone in perfumery. Hendley plays with it smartly and doesn't try to bend it into something unrecognizable. Instead, he touches it up with cool, woody/herbal details and extracts a broad range of shades from the accord, from dark berries to flinty metallic flashes. A bready note (iris?) matches the doughy quality of the sandalwood drydown and provides a long arc from topnotes to the milky sweet drydown.

Finding inventive angles on a well-studied accord might be expected from a seasoned perfumer, but it's particularly encouraging from a new perfumer. Perhaps artistic cross-training has something to do with it. I've read that Hendley is a photographer by education and practice. He joins a growing set of artisanal perfumers who've taken their practice in other art-forms and applied it to perfumery. This hybrid-artist trend in independent perfumery is one of the most exciting developments in the field and Hendley joins Antonio Gardoni, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Bruno Fazzolari, Dannielle Sergent in bringing new ideas to perfumery through the side-door.

(from scenthurdle.com)

24th January, 2017

Parfum Privé by Aftelier

The vocabulary of luxury emphasizes its value as an indicator over its significance as an experience. Handbags, wristwatches, cars and the like. Lavishness as social weaponry. This dogmatic perspective on luxury is nothing new. In fact, I only bring it up because Aftel's ambergris-based Parfum Privé brings the focus of luxury back to experience, to pleasure.

Underlining the most extravagant floral essences, indolic orange blossom and the delicate peach-tea of osmanthus, ambergris gives the perfume a sumptuousness, an easy opulence. Ambergris is the Beluga caviar of perfume. Exotic, lush, rare, legendary. Like Beluga, ambergris's scarcity makes it costly. Both are symbols of affluence, but unlike Beluga, Ambergris isn't an acquired taste. At least not in Mandy Aftel's hands.

I understand the subjectivity of beauty but Parfum Privé feels universally sultry and lush. I cannot imagine someone finding it anything but appealing. Ambergris and Aftel are a perfect match. She presents perfume as modern alchemy and ambergris is one of the mystical fragrant materials. It famously stops the clock on more volatile materials. Aftel uses it to extends the life of the florals and give the perfume a lankiness, a drawl that seems to slow time. The perfume is hypersaturated, the theoretical 110%.

Today is the first day of Daylight Saving Time, a trick of the clock that grants a 25th hour to this special day. I have time and I'm in no rush. Parfum Privé is a perfect fit to the day.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

New Sibet by Slumberhouse

Like other Slumberhouse perfumes, New Sibet feels deliberate. As if the perfume I'm smelling is the thousandth mod. The one that got the dynamics, tones and balances just the way the perfumer intended. The attention to detail is apparent, but most Slumberhouse perfumes favor ecstatic imbalance over caution. New Sibet is focussed and edited differently, though, and it's quite a change from the recent sweet, syrupy directness of Kiste and Sadanne.

Still, it's not a return to the good-old/bad-old viscous Slumber-style that many have been publicly hankering for. Better yet, it's something new. New Sibet is an unexpected iris. It balances the notoriously finicky note and succeeds in creating a distinctive, durable iris root. It turns iris root's signature powder to dust and ash, keeping the focus on a grey horizon. Iris's leathery/paper side gives the perfume a stiff, upright posture.

Independent and artisanal perfumers have been re-examining traditional forms. Chypres, animalics, fougères. If Lobb has been deciphering vintage genres, his approach is the furthest thing from recreating an old-school sensibility. New Sibet doesn't reach for a vintage, nostalgic vibe but it does have the tailored rigidity of the classic floral/animalic chypres and the snubbed-cigarette severity of the old leather chypres. The olfactory qualities are there, but the haughtiness, the 'grand-dame' character of those retired chypres don't apply.

Lobb famously doesn't work with topnotes, but with New Sibet he plays with the evolution of the perfume and materials in a new way. The opening set of notes reduces over the course of an hour or so--like a striptease--revealing the core of the perfume. The notes then continue to rotate through different configurations through the drydown. Different facets appear and recede, emphasizing different angles of the central woody floral. Spice, resin, animalic tones, sweetness. This changing geometry of notes is a style Lobb has explored over the course of his career but in New Sibet he polishes the technique even further.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Vanilla Smoke by Aftelier

'Vanilla' is a crossover note found in both natural and mainstream perfumery. But notes aren't necessarily materials. 'Vanilla' notes in contemporary dessert-style gourmands and orientals likely have as much actual vanilla in them as the 'vanilla snow' flavor at my local frozen yogurt joint does.

Synthetic vanilla materials have been around since the days of early modern perfumery when aromachemicals were created to replace natural materials. Chemistry was king and the scientists of the time sought to create cheaper, easily produced versions of rare and costly botanical and animalic materials. They focused on a few particular characteristics of natural materials, slimming down rich and nuanced materials to a few easily recognized traits. Then they turned up the volume.

Coumarin, heliotropin, nitro musks and ionones did the same for tonka, mimosa, deer musk grains and violet. The goal was mimicry, but the tactic was bait-and-switch or 'tromp la nez'. The nose becomes trained by what it is exposed to and vanillin, not vanilla, became the olfactory baseline. The unfortunate side-effect is that actual vanilla, viewed through this lens, becomes unrecognizable. Rather than seeming rich and nuanced it comes off as imprecise or murky because it isn't the comfort-food we expected it to be.

Most gourmand perfumes offers the same self-negating experience as elevator music: easy recognition followed by reflexively tuning them out. The volume of the perfumes might be hard to ignore, but their monotony makes them easy to screen out.

Vanilla Smoke is harder to ignore and much more interesting to consider closely. It is the antithesis of the contemporary gourmand. Rather than bake the cakes and puddings we're accustomed to, perfumer Mandy Aftel gives us a complex, sinister vanilla. A layer of smoky tea picks up on vanilla's leathery facets and steers vanilla away from either the musky plush of the oriental (Shalimar, Youth Dew, Musc Ravageur) or the slush of the gourmand.

From the first sniff, it's apparent that Vanilla Smoke will avoid any custard clichés. The bright topnote that highlights the leathery dryness comes from citrus, an ostensibly 'foody' material. Aftel's site lists yellow mandarin and I assume the note and the material are synonymous. Guerlain Shalimar, the classic vanilla oriental, places a bright bergamot note on vanilla, but uses it to enhance the culinary appeal. Aftel's use of culinary materials to create non-gourmand aroma profiles is a clever turn and gives Vanilla Smoke a Cheshire Cat smile.

After the shimmer of the topnotes, Vanilla Smoke hovers at skin level, the ideal altitude for its tarry leather to play out. If it were more expansive, or had a longer trail the balance might be lost. The basenote nature of vanilla gives Vanilla Smoke better endurance than might be expected in an all-natural perfume. The spiced resinousness and subtle sweetness of vanilla play out in an evolving shape over the course of the day.

A natural vanilla perfume that smells like rubber, smoke and darkness throws into question the simplistic, sweet desserts we've been fed. Aftel doesn't simply reframe vanilla or dress it out differently. She creates the opportunity for the wearer to rediscover vanilla.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Néroli Outrenoir by Guerlain

Hermès and Guerlain have both introduced new neroli perfumes into their line-ups this year. Hermès's golden neroli Cologne (Eau de Néroli Doré) suited a summer launch and brought to mind sun, tanned skin and escapism. Guerlain skipped the gold and went for the black.

"Outrenoir" (translated as ultra-black or beyond black) is a painting method practiced by Pierre Soulages. Textured, dense black paint absorbs and refracts the light that strikes it. Black is the mirror that reveals color, even if it doesn't directly reflect it. Name aside, there's not a hint of darkness to Néroli Outrenoir. The top has a sweet, resinous touch that's a hair's breadth away from gourmand. Sweet but not saccharine. A lightly vanilla-smoked tea note matches the neroli and makes a neo-Earl Grey tea accord that is more floral and higher pitched than the traditional bergamot-tea pairing.

The vanillic-smoke gives the tea presence, but it runs quiet for a foreground note. It gives the fragrance an aromatic lift and bridges the orange flower to the woodiness of petitgrain. It's a prominent component of the perfume's central accord, but noir it ain't. Apparently beyond black lies pastel.

Neroli Outrenoir creates a luminous if soft-focus hesperidic image. Neroli, bergamot and petitgrain are the flower, fruit and leaves that create the portrait of citrus tree. It's not a particularly new trick. This citric mix combined with the soft musk is not far from the recipe for Eau de Cologne, and Guerlain's own Eau Impériale has a prominent neroli note. It's not a Cologne per se, but if I were told that Neroli Outrenoir was an Aqua Allegoria, I wouldn't hesitate to believe it. It's a version of the two-note accord that the Aqua Allegorias have mastered. Simple, pretty and non-threatening in equal measure.

The resinous touch at the beginning of Wasser's Néroli Outrenoir could have been used to create a bit of shadow. Instead it segues seamlessly into the recognizable framework of a white musk base (Guerlain list ambrette seed.) The gentle haze does suit the perfume's soft touch, but it reads like a slo-mo landing on soft pillows. It reassures you that any challenge or threat (or exuberance or inspiration) that might have been found in the topnotes has been redacted and you can rest your head easy. It reads as a concession.

This dénouement-style of drydown has become Guerlain's feminine marker. Witness the line of perfumes from l'Instant and Idylle through the Shalimar Parfums Initiales and the Robes Noires. It is the feminine counterpart to the masculine 'boisée sec' style found in the Guerlain Hommes and Idéals. Guerlain's uniform, conservative rectangular bottle for the boys and dated, fussy bee bottles for the girls are a regrettable acquiescence to a reactionary, proscriptive understanding of gender. But they are at least a candid outward indication of what's been going in inside the bottles for a while.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Dilettante by Hiram Green

The assumption behind many indie brands is that a well turned-out line should have a broad range of styles. This generally leads to slot-filling, an unfortunate and unsuccessful tactic. Green takes a different tack. His four perfumes might look similar on paper---resinous florals of one type or another---but they vary considerably. Moon Bloom is a narcotic floral portrait, Shangri-La is dark fruity-floral chypre, Voyage is a resinous vanillic-floral. Green uses floral notes to investigate traditional genres that are ‘natural’ at their core, such as the chypre (bergamot, labdanum, moss) and the amber/oriental (resin, spice, flower). The perfumes are coherent as a collection, but their differences are quite noticeable, especially when the perfumes are compared side-to-side. The four perfumes have a similar aesthetic, but not a shared set of notes, or a house accord. For a set of four floral perfumes, there is surprisingly little overlap among them and I can easily imagine the brand’s customer buying more than one perfume.

Dilettante struck me instantly as a shrewd feel-good perfume. The joy and pleasure are direct and instantaneous, but the heart and basenotes follow with meticulous attention to dynamics and have some unexpected changes. The combination of spontaneity and precision hints at a methodical but inspired approach to composition. Dilettante ostensibly creates an idealized orange tree: flower, fruit, leaves, twigs and all. If it were just a pretty, plein-air exercise, it might reinforce the ‘perfume-lite’ bias against natural perfumery. Fortunately, there’s more to it. The fruity, green and floral notes fly at you and the perfume is unabashedly lovely, but it rotates through a range of other tones. Honeyed, woody, smokey, astringent facets undergird the heartnotes. The sweaty orange blossom salts the honey and adds a measured gourmand touch that lasts through the drydown.

Dilettante creates a very particular olfactory image (hallucination?) each time I wear it. It has the earthy/floral aroma of masa, the alkalized corn used to make sopes and tortillas. Fresh masa smells surprisingly floral, sweaty and honeyed in the same way that Dilettante does. This vegetal-floral tone enhances the animalism of the resinous base. Less animal ass than sweaty human neck. The far drydown of Dilettante is notable for two things. The first, that it exists at all. Few natural perfumes have the endurance to survive 12+ hours. The second is complexity. Dilettante’s honeyed drydown is as intricate as its singing topnotes but is richer and deeper.

I’d recommend the Hiram Green line for anyone interested in natural perfumes. More to the point, I’d recommend it to anyone simply looking for first-rate perfumery.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Tobacco Rose by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

Rose's complex olfactory make-up gives it flexibility but expectation can get in the way of an easy range of motion. The person looking for a sunshiny soliflor won't necessarily dig an earthy rose/patchouli or a mossy rose chypre. And there are assumptions to navigate. Dewy roses imply innocence and boozy roses seduce. A garden rose is Elizabeth Bennet but a candied rose is Lolita. A misjudged tone creates the wrong impression and drama ensues. The stakes are high with a symbolically loaded flower.

So what sort of rose should we expect from a fetching English perfumer nestled in the countryside? A blushing rose? A sundress and parasol number? Remember before you answer: this is the perfumer who would a year later give us Salome, the fire-breathing jasmine.

Bucking any expectation of gentility, Tobacco Rose lives large. The top notes come bounding out of the bottle and create an exaggerated flower. It is oversized but proportionate enough to avoid caricature. Tobacco Rose is a dypso amber-rose with a green streak though the center to keep it steady. The splash of acidity brings out the jammy balsamic heart and introduces the bit of tension that keeps the honeyed ambery base in line. Creating a floral perfume is a particular type of fiction and Tobacco Rose tells a great story.

The aromas of rose and fresh tobacco go hand in hand. The lemony aspects of rose match the sappy bitterness of tobacco and create a lush woody floral accord, as in Sophia Grojsman's Beautiful for Estée Lauder. * Liz Moores says she looked closely at various tobacco absolutes but opted to build her own accord. She uses hay, rose geranium and a touch of galbanum to recreates the live, sultry scent of fresh tobacco leaves. Tobacco matches the bright, leafy rose of the topnotes and folds smoothly into the waxy balsamic base.

Tobacco Rose isn't retro in the least, but neither is it 'modern' in the sleek, streamlined sense of the word. It is the successor to the big rose chypres of the 1980s, all of which have had their wingspans clipped and their confidence shaken by the IFRA. When I wear Tobacco Rose, I feel like I'm letting out a breath I've been holding since the the '80s rose chypres began their long goodbye. Moores seems too well-versed in perfume history not to have at least considered Tobacco Rose's relationship to these bad-assed chypres.

Moores hit the ground running in 2014 with a bold perspective on classical perfumery's Big Three Flowers. Anubis's gasoline-jasmine was ferocious and Angélique's melancholic iris was introspective. Tobacco Rose strikes a different tone--as bombastic as Anubis, but less threatening. It shares Angélique's lushness but forgoes the moodiness. It's the most approachable fragrance of the trio but doesn't settle for less. It aims for pleasure and hits its target dead-on.


* I'm from a small part of Connecticut called the Tobacco Valley. The summer air near the fields was filled the scent of tobacco growing under shade-cloth in the fields and curing in the barn. It was green and sappy but also woody and floral. It's a pervasive sweet scent with only a passing resemblance to dried smoking tobacco.

from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Monserrat by Bruno Fazzolari

Monserrat is an easy wear, but not an easy read. It is unashamedly a fruity-floral, particularly in the topnotes, which have a sunshiny, Doris Day vibe. Of course this is where a chill strikes me. Doris Days always scared the shit out of me. That blond, chirpy, starched-crinoline celluloid image was unnervingly untroubled. It's as if she cast no shadow.

Fazzolari makes a great case for the fruity-floral. It's not an intrinsically faulty genre, just one that's been saddled with the low aspirations of the perfume industry. An obvious approach to tempering the genre would be to make a slightly less sweet version, but Monserrat, for all its vivacity and buoyancy, is hardly obvious. A juicy, sweet/tart grapefruit lights up the composition and gives the touch of acidity that cuts any risk of syrup, but Monserrat is flagrantly sweet. The fruity topnotes end in a sugar-sweet violet tea.

Fazzolari lists osmanthus as a note, and the aromatic profile is there, but Monserrat seems to model osmanthus's form more than its scent per se. Osmanthus is its own fruity-floral perfume. The flowers have a recognizably peachy sweetness underlined by a woody tea note that aerates the scent and keeps it from cloying. Monserrat has a similar inclination, but the fruit and flowers are modulated by the scent of carrot seed, a very particular note that is woody, dusty, putty-like and matte. Carrot seed reins in the luster of the fruit and the flowers and creates a finely grained olfactory texture. This texture matches the 'fantasy note' of setting plaster that Fazzolari cites. Carrot seed neutralizes the reach of the flowers and create a push-pull balance in Monserrat. The balance is not the stationary point between two objects, but the active grapple between opposing forces.

Monserrat's breezy demeanor only partially disguises a shady undercurrent. Up top, Monserrrat is a day at the beach, but below is the undertow. This touch of menace puts Monserrat in line with two other Fazzolari perfumes, Lamblack and Room 237. All three hide something vaguely unsettling behind a facade of normalcy. Call it what you like--subtext, camouflage, lure--but each one carries a hint of danger. Monserrat is beautiful. Gorgeous, really. But it is also chilling, haunting. Lamblack is the dark and Room 237 is the fear of the dark. Monserrat is the fear in a handful of dust.

(from scenthurdle.com)
24th January, 2017

Oudh Infini by Parfums Dusita

The oud/flowers pairing works in the same fashion that the classic leather/flowers combination does. They amplify each other’s most ambitious attributes. Floral notes take a whip to leather and leather notes give flowers a cold flame. Look at Germaine Cellier’s Miss Balmain or Parfumerie Générale’s Cuir d’Iris. Oud Infini has a similar dynamic. Oud’s sweet rot brings out the decadence of the floral notes and an overt animalism underlines the whole sweaty scene. A lush sandalwood note gives Oud Infini a charismatic drawl that suits the growling animalism perfectly.

The perfume industry has been performing back-bends to get back the prohibited materials that built the business. Guerlain have stripped oakmoss of a single toxic molecule to keep Mitsouko alive as s/he approaches 100. Caches of 80 year old deer musk pods are being unearthed for guilt-free use. Beavers are rufied rather than killed to collect castoreum. Sandalwood has been resurrected. You feel safe that nothing was tortured and the environment wasn’t wounded for your pleasure.

But there still room for a little ‘I wanna be evil’ role-play. Who cares if some civet cats were culled or that using Mysore sandalwood is right up there with wearing sealskin. I deserve the real deal. I Want The Authenticity. Usually we have to follow a vintage fetish to scratch this particular itch but Oud Infini gives us that good-old, bad-old vibe of the 1920s animalic perfumes in a more modern setting. It resists nostalgia by using the contemporary vernacular of oud. The animalism and the luscious sandalwood provide the subliminal touch that brings the fantasy to life.

The fact is that I have no idea what materials perfumer Pissara Umavijani has used to make Oud Infini. Real oud, ‘genuine’ animalics? Mysore sandalwood? I don’t actually care. Fantasy has long been a selling point in perfumery. Mostly it’s a schlocky story used to sell you a perfume: cheap orientalism, Town-and-Country aspiration, sex. Oud Infini doesn’t sell you a back-story. It creates a perfume packed with references to the materials of the golden era of perfumery. It smells lush and decadent. It feels predatory. It creates the set for the drama and invites you to enact it yourself.

from scenthurdle.com
04th July, 2016

Ambush (original) by Dana

Ambush is a bit of a gender-fuck. It was a perfume for women, based on a perfume first designed for women but then marketed to men, Dana Canoe. Both were composed by perfumer Jean Carles.

Canoe was a fougère initially marketed to women. It turned out that Canoe fit the masculine barbershop style that was taking shape in the USA between the World Wars, so it was repurposed for men, who bought it in droves from 1932 to the present. There’s no record that it was reformulated at the time, just repackaged.

Canoe fits the classic American take on the fougère. It was launched at the end of the Depression and though it was initially produced in France, WW II brought production to the USA, where it became a huge success. It was herbal and floral like the classic fougère but less angular, more harmonious. It emphasized the musky-sweet side of the fougère formula with an oily-powdery quality and would come to define the barbershop sensibility. It became the definitive American fougère.

After the Depression and WW II, American gender lines were drawn in bold and the fougère landed squarely on the masculine side. It became masculinity coded in scent. Carles pulled off an interesting trick in designing Ambush as a women’s perfume. He took a men’s ‘grooming’ scent, touched it up with notes from women’s cosmetics, and called it feminine. Madison Avenue knew how to sell gender with an underlying threat of ridicule, so hygienic/grooming products were marketed with strong gender markers. Carles’s repurposing of the fougère for feminine use should have shown the gender line to be akin to the Emperor’s Clothes. But who in 1955 America would have been tactless enough to point this out?

Ambush’s compositional trick was a heliotrope accord. Heliotropin was a well know material and its vanillic-almond range of tones could be shifted one way and another depending on the context. It gave a matte quality to floral perfumes and a marzipan note to vanilla-orientals. It was also a common component of cosmetics at the time. In Ambush it gives a plasticene quality that fits both the sweet, musky base of the perfume and the aesthetics of the era. It lends Ambush a stiff, molded character appropriate to mid- century fashion and design style, leaving Ambush the furthest thing from a ‘skin scent’. No Jean Carles formula was ever simple and heliotrope is one note among many in Ambush, but it’s a pivotal component. It creates a distance between Ambush and Canoe at the same time that it harmonizes with the fougère accord. It marked the fougère as feminine.

The marketing for Ambush was centered on the suggestive name of the fragrance. It equated gender and sexuality, a largely unquestioned pairing in the mid-’50s. It phrased femininity as predatory heterosexuality. Men were objects to be stalked and taken down. The ads over the years riffed on images of coy women hiding behind palm fronds, peacock feathers, spider webs, etc. with copy such as, “A Romance in Every Bottle. Ambush…The Tender Trap.” and “Take Him Completely by Surprise.” Stereotype? Camp? Yes. There’s even a bit of homoeroticism. An ‘ambush’ implies deception. The unseen man of the ads is caught unawares, taken from behind as it were. Was the predator a woman in wearing Ambush or a man in Canoe? Which would he prefer?

Dana perfumes changed ownership more times than you can shake a stick at, leaving the lasting impression that Dana was a drug store brand pulled out for father’s/mother’s day-Christmas gift packs. The last bit of gender irony is that the company that currently owns Dana (but no longer produces Ambush) is Patriarch Partners, a company named and owned by a woman.
04th July, 2016

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

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