Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Eau Sauvage Parfum (original) by Christian Dior

I’m a great fan of Eau Sauvage. I don’t have a recent bottle and am not sure what shape the current model is in. Mine is from 2001-2002, I’d guess. It’s floral, it’s pretty, it’s old-school fresh. It’s bright and inherently shiny.

There’s now Eau Sauvage Parfum, the Black Swan. It’s the dense, shadowy, witching-hour sibling of the original. Others have said they don’t smell any Eau Sauvage in the ESP, and although I understand why they say that, I do. A trace of the original is there, but the expansiveness is replaced by aloofness. Instead of the buoyant floral sillage of Eau Sauvage, ESP’s wake skates away from you like a demonstration of inertia. You stay put as she slides away from you saying. “You, sit. I’ll take care of this.”

I had a strong sense of déjà vu on sniffing ESP, and a few minutes into trying it, I knew why. Eau Sauvage Parfum smells remarkably similar to Parfums de Nicolai’s Vie de Chateau Intense, nearly Calandre/Rive Gauche similar. In my review of Vie de Chateau last year I mentioned the original Eau Sauvage, writing, “compare the first sniff of each side by side!” I don’t see this similarity as plagiarism, just as I didn’t mean to imply that Vie de Chateau was a copy of the original Eau Sauvage. More likely it’s kismet and a similar outcome from talented people investigating a similar set of ideas. I’d go so far as to say that Eau Sauvage Parfum is one of the best, most thoroughly executed mainstream releases I’ve smelled in years. It is definitive, it smells exceptionally good, and it demonstrates a classical perfume’s virtues of coherence and development. Taking Eau Sauvage, an icon, as a starting place, thinking broadly and in the end giving us a smart gem of a perfume---this is what I want from a flanker.

I’ve seen ESP called a vetiver fragrance, a myrrh fragrance. I find that the notes of hay & tobacco, the moist warmth/coolness fairly shout coumarin. Just as the swan is both ends of the spectrum in one entity, Eau Sauvage Parfum (like Vie de Chateau) comes off as a fougère/chypres hybrid taking the best form each genre.

Nice touch, the dark bottle. Brilliant magnetic cap
28th May, 2012 (last edited: 14th July, 2012)

Fleur Poudrée de Musc by Les Néréides

The name, the quaint bottle, the label (you really have to see the label.) It all tells you that this will be a powder-puff of a perfume designed for the sort of woman who tiptoes through her life as if La Sylphide and Giselle were living role models. The label even has a pair of symmetrical putti fluttering about carrying the name of the perfume on a banner you might find at the renaissance fair.

Don’t let the preciousness fool you, the topnotes make the opening of Luten’s Muscs Kublai Khan seem like a fresh rose on a pillow. Have you ever undressed somebody after a long day of winter sport, all those layers amplifying the scent of skin that’s sweated then dried multiple times? Remember that scent, then imagine some powder on top. That’s Fleur Poudrée.

Fleur Poudrée has all the sweet waxiness that the ‘skin musks’ have, but it also lays out a foul/powdery dichotomy that says proudly, “Embrace the unwholesomeness!” The flowers and musky berry-sweetness only serve to fill in the narrow middle between the boulder-like bookends of powder and funk.

Fleur Poudrée captures utterly what I love about musk-based perfumes. It tells you we’re animals and we in fact want to sniff each other. But it also tells you that much of what we learn from infancy onward, starting with ritual cleansings/circumcision/initiation ceremonies, is to keep others at arm’s length. The ‘personal space’ bit actually just means you stink and I stink and if human stink bothers you, you’ll never actually find a solution.

Fleur Poudrée exaggerates the carnal at the same time that it amplifies the classic defense against our own odor: powder. It’s the torrid disguised as the proper. Unless you’re in on the joke, Fleur Poudrée must be unsettling.
22nd May, 2012 (last edited: 28th June, 2012)

Armani Privé Cuir Améthyste by Giorgio Armani

Criticism of Cuir Amethyste appears to have taken two routes. 1) It’s luxurious and lush and I love it. 2) It’s synthetic and cheap and I don’t like it. I’ll take one from column A and one from column B. It does have a roughness that suggests that the details weren’t as important as both the distinctiveness and in-your-faceness. And from the flower to the fruit to the leather/vinyl/plastic notes (the “cuir”, I guess) there is chemical twang that most would instinctively call synthetic. The topnotes of CA always give me the same gestalt: grape/violet/ink. A sort of Bois de Violette on meth.

So, yes, from column A I’ll take the chemo-freak factor, but from column B I’ll take the, “I like it!”

What’s compelling though is the disjointed narrative it gives you. The stages of CA over time don’t line up. The topnotes shouldn’t logically lead to the heartnotes, and you end up in a drydown that leaves you wondering how you got there. Some of the notes, the flavors, last from start to finish---sweet yet juiceless fruit; powdery, woody floral; plastic-ink.---but the tone is all over the map. The topnotes are high-pitched yet dense, the heart is powdery and resinous-sweet, the base is fairly woody but with some of that inky sweetness remaining. Moving from one phase to the next is less confusing than just nonsensical. Any moment of the fragrance can be likeable, but to the wearer, who’s there for the whole ride, in feels incorrect. Not distressing or off-putting, just objectively incorrect like a misspelling.

But wrong can be more fun than right, so I’m coming down in favor of incorrectness. Is it that the perfumer tried for leather and then got ink? Is it that Armani just had to have “cuir” in the title? Was Almairac looking for that cool inky effect as in Comme des Garcons 2 Woman? (If so, he got it.) Since so many perfumes get it right I take it that leather isn’t a terribly difficult note to achieve in perfumery. So I choose to believe that the perfumer was aiming for a fun, fake, fantasy leather along the lines of Etat Libre’s Vierges et Toreros or Parfumerie Generale’s Psychotrope. This perfume should be presented as a well-executed oddball. Cuir Amethyste is more of a fun perfume than serious one and seems out of place in the Armani world of grim luxury. The name, the packaging, the imagery all suggest numb sparsity, high fashion’s proxy for serenity. Put this stuff in something like Juicy Couture’s spangle bottle, call it, “Violet Vinyl”, charge ¼ the price (you’d make your profit on volume) and it’d sell like mad.
21st May, 2012 (last edited: 08th July, 2012)
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Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture

This used to be one of the department store guilty pleasures for me. Made me feel like I was slumming it with a little girly, trashy fun. Good god, I can’t believe I fell for the marketing. From the colors to the images to the bottle itself, Juicy Couture is a virtual koan on low-echelon luxury marketing. Another instance of a blind-spot I’ve trained myself to have with perfume marketing: trashy bottle, trashy marketing must equal a bad perfume. Forget that it looks oddly mid-1980s Madonna-aspirational. Forget that it’s from a company called without wit or sarcasm Juicy Couture. Just smell it.

Juicy Couture is a well-considered tuberose that while nominally a fruity floral, is in fact an interestingly clean musky tuberose. Somehow using this musk to lacquer a potent, sweet, pretty tuberose makes it interesting. I can’t think of another interesting tuberose perfume that doesn’t highlight at least one of the more objectionable parts of the flower (Fracas’s indoles, Tubereuse Criminelle’s gasoline, A Travers le Miroir’s mothballs.) Nicely polished ‘pretty’should be the perfume equivalent of the classic noncommittal non-descriptor: nice. But this stuff is wonderful.

Tuberose, without the baggage of its grimy undercurrents, reads as almost tropical in the topnotes. The fruit, you might call it bubble gum but I’ll call it tutti-frutti, doesn’t really last that long, but while it’s there gives hints of the fruity sweet flowers like ylang ylang and honeysuckle. Less fruit than flowers that imply their own sweetness. After the top fades, though, Juicy Couture pares down to a clean, musky tuberose. The musk has an acetone-sweet edge that gives the tuberose a spin far different from the rubbery, camphorous notes you’d find in a ‘dirty’ tuberose. If I heard the description of a fruity yet antiseptic tuberose I’d generally be pessimistic. The topnotes are a bit of well-constructed if programmatic frilly fun, but the heartnotes are quietly persuasive. There’s not a lot of progression from this point through drydown, but it holds up very nicely and keeps its balance with apparent ease.
04th May, 2012 (last edited: 28th June, 2012)

Angel Garden Of Stars : Rose Angel by Thierry Mugler

I haven’t tried the other Angel jardin fragrances, but this seems like the logical, if not sensible one of the group. Rose in place of a shouting white floral should make for a loud and expansive, but not quite as jarring version of angel. Rose has a natural ‘in’ to patch as the tart wine like and peppery rose elements join nicely with the earthy patch elements. The blasting white floral just bounces off the patch in Angel, creating the discord and imbalance.

Others have said that the drydowns of all the jardins are the same---more or less that of Angel. Because there is less cotton candy in La Rose, and at least a remnant of the rose remains in place until drydown to match the patch, the drydown isn’t simply overtaken by the ‘Angel’ side of La Rose. Somehow, La Rose has Angels’s ridiculousness, its silliness but not its sense of mania teetering toward peril.

I dog many Angel imitators for not understanding the inherent conflict in Angel that makes it a brilliant perfume. They tend to copy the surface and miss the point by miles. The ride La Rose takes you on is loud and fabulous like Angel’s, but not as risky, and therefore should not work. But it does. It’s a smart spin on Angel, and not a copy of patchouli/candy/flowers with no real intention, my complaint against the Angel imitators.

People are very attuned to the tone of laughter. Angel original has that uncomfortable, inappropriate laugh of someone at a cocktail party that makes everyone unconsciously take a nervous step away. It’s the laugh of someone who breaks unspoken social form because she’s unbalanced in a way that sort of scares you. It doesn’t relax inhibitions and bring a group together, it raises hackles and all the pre-arranged ‘time to leave’ cues start passing back and forth between couples.

La Rose’s laugh is like that end-of-the week drink or joint among friends. You kick back and let your hair down. A lot of giggling, a little laughing til you cry.
04th May, 2012 (last edited: 09th June, 2012)

Intrigant Patchouli 08 by Parfumerie Generale

I wanted to like this perfume so much. It seems to be one that captures the perfumery equivalent of that perfect combination of high and low art that every other form has examples of, and the innermost sanctum of the cognoscenti recognize intuitively. Think Warhol during the 60s in NYC. Perfumeries Generale has to my mind a well-earned reputation as a line of distinction with decidedly less bullshit than most niche firms. Smart, always interesting, willing to make an attempt and fail, but usually succeeding. So there’s the high art. Hippy patchouli: there’s the low art.

All the fumies love it, and give the blogging equivalent of a knowing nod when using it as a reference point. I get one big, gorgeous nose-full of hyper-patchouli, and then can’t smell it at all. Believe me, I know it’s there from the comments of those around me when I’ve tried it. Apparently it’s a patch bomb to most noses, where to mine it’s effectively a glass of water.

So this is my low self-esteem perfume. The one that captures the best of all worlds in perfumery and tells the world you’ve got smarts and taste. And I’m left scratching my head.
04th May, 2012

Cuir Pleine Fleur / Fine Leather by Heeley

Gorgeous floral woodyleather. The flowers smell dried, and the scent is birch-cool. To tell the truth, because this smells as much like camphorous cool birch wood as smoky birch tar, it is as much woody floral as floral leather. Butch, animalic, overpowering? Not by any means. This is in the same vein as Lancome’s Cuir, but less sweet, less syrupy.

Cuir Pleine Fleur is a gorgeous scent with a lovely set of contradictions that keeps my interest through its restrained, but long-lasting drydown. Translucent but quite direct, flowers (and aldehydes?) tell you it will grow powdery, but it grows dusty, focusing attention on the dried flower quality. It feels like it will get cozier after the topnotes, warmer and more of a skin scent. Fortunately it doesn’t and its coolness (spectacular in a dry, warm climate, btw) maintains that piercing quality even when faint. ‘Brisk’ scents often start with a refreshing tone , but usually lose it after the topnotes. It’s easy to find a scent you like that melts into your skin and is sensed both those around you as a warm ambiance. Cool in every sense of the word, Cuir Pleine Fleur, without the usual citric, lavender or spiced notes perfumers rely on for a bracing topnote, stays wonderfully crisp.

Certain smells to me are associated with purely sensory pleasure removed from sex and its attendant psychology. Have you ever just rolled around in a pile of autumn leaves in New England? The scent, the blanketing sound, the feel of crispness without sharpness, the remnants of the red and yellow colors in the drying leaves. It’s a synesthetic experience I can still bring to mind 30 years later. For whatever reason, Cuir Pleine Fleur is a small taste of that sort of experience. The sensibility is convincing, disarming , really, without seeming lavish. You don’t make something like that unintentionally or lazily. Exquisitely composed.
04th May, 2012

Patchouli Leaves by Montale

The earthy aspect of patchouli, and the warm stone-scent aspects of cistus labdanum are the thread that joins these two key players in Patchouli Leaves. Sweetness isn’t hidden, but certainly isn’t pushed to the front. I find the patch that is there exactly the viscous, hippy patch that I was looking for. But it’s perfectly matched by amber, vanilla, and musk, which might make it sound candy sweet, but it isn't. They serve to add a rounded, cushioned feel. The whole fragrance reads like patchouli on a stack of pillows.
03rd May, 2012 (last edited: 22nd July, 2012)

Private Collection - Psychotrope by Parfumerie Generale

Psychotrope makes me think of two things. The first is dousing myself with Donna Karan Gold while sucking on a mouthful of Jolly Rancher candies. The second is that creating something disturbing while coloring within the lines is an artistic challenge. 1970s punk was easy. Find the easily offended, then offend, then gloat. But when you try to keep the garrulousness while staying within the mainstream you can wind up with something along the lines of the American Idol “Rocker.” It’s an image of rock in the same sense that The Sound of Music is an image of the Second World War.

Psychotrope does veer close to the mainstream. The question is there: could this be any other department store perfume, just sold in niche venues? A mistake? Laziness? Good questions. I find the leather/flower misdirection very much along the lines of Etat Libre’s Vierges et Toreros. Not so much flower as sci-fi candied fruit vinyl.

Psychotrope successfully sends a shiver through the mainstream for those attuned to its particular frequency. It’s deceptively close to normal. It’s like Dior’s Dune in that what registers as perfectly normal flips to the jarringly alien when you look at it askance. The camouflage of normalcy falls away and Psychotrope becomes frightening.
03rd May, 2012

Muschio Nobile by Nobile 1942

I’ve finally found the musk I can’t smell. I can smell a vague hint of powdery/flowery for about 1-2 minutes, then nothing at all.
01st May, 2012

Vetiver by Guerlain

(Note: The Vetiver referred to below is the horizontal(ish) striped frosted glass bottle. The ‘90s’ bottle. )

Guerlain avoided the Vetiver Trap and chose to make the vetiver root conform to perfumery, not vice versa. Vetiver is a demanding note, and some of the producers of vetiver perfumes of the past 20 years have elected to make it the heart and soul of their perfumes. While there are so many obvious angles of vetiver to emphasize (woody, rootlike, oily, smoky, earthen) they are so imposing that using vetiver in any sufficient quantity in a composition pushes everything else out of its way. A byproduct of the primacy of a note is the same conceptual problem as the solifor in perfumery: why create a representation of vetiver in a perfume when we could wear vetiver essential oil itself?

To focus on a tobacco note seems an obvious way to fall into this trap and wind up with a musty, earthy density. But Guerlain’s Vetiver uses a tart grapefruity bergamot along with licorice and what (I swear to god) seems like aldehydes to make the tobacco bloom, giving Vetiver an effervescent upper register. The real trick is that from the top through the basenotes Vetiver has a dry gin-like almost hissy pervasiveness that is far more durable that this range of notes typically is. The cool quality doesn’t actually feel mentholated or camphorous, but rather sheer and glassy, suggesting that it is cool to the touch.

Coolness seems to have become pronounced over the various reformulations. I know that many are saddened by reformulation. I seem to remember the Guerlain Vetiver a French friend wore in the late 80s and early 90s focused more on the dense, oily vetiver note itself. I know the lightening of a fragrance as a result of reformulation is generally panned, but this cooler, more gin-like Vetiver 1) gives me a wonderful sense of sang-froid in my warm climate and, 2) lifts the register of the tobacco note, making it effectively floral. The lightening doesn’t have to do with dilution, but an increased emphasis on the tenor range of notes.

Prettier than it was, and still pitch-perfect, I find the current Vetiver de Guerlain more appealing than ever, and exceptionally successful in its manipulation of a difficult botanical note. The current Vetiver, more than earlier versions, uses its eponymous note in the same manner that Chanel No 5 makes a floral perfume with jasmine: it makes a balanced abstraction that smells of vetiver but does not smell like vetiver.

(I’ve been wearing reformulated Guerlain Vetiver in the old-is-new-again rectangular bottle with the silver cap. My overview of it is that it’s nicely made, smells more like the ‘original’ and smells more like vetiver root but less like tobacco and aldehydes. I prefer my ‘90s’ Vetiver for its abstraction, but I might be in the minority. My only strike against the new is that it fades rather quickly, something I don’t remember any previous version doing.)
20th March, 2012 (last edited: 14th July, 2012)

Mitsouko Eau de Parfum by Guerlain

Mitsouko’s most charming quality is that it suggests an aging face. Remember back in the day when people aged visibly? Qualities like patience, endurance, maybe even wisdom suggested that there was a reward to having come out on the other side of youth and middle-age. Of having gained something. There is something deserving, and in the best cases, generous to be found in an old face. Something implicitly handsome and attractive.

Perhaps for worse, but, with hope, for the better, I’m aging. Mitsouko suits me more as time passes. I imagine there’s the lucky young person who can wear Mitsouko with aplomb, but I like to hope that wearing Mitsouko with that powerful grace of age is one of the better things in life that awaits me.

19th March, 2012 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Private Collection - L'Ombre Fauve by Parfumerie Generale

This perfume’s richness and sexiness comes from such a basic composition that its novelty is startling. How can it possibly have taken this long for somebody to put patchouli, amber and musk, components joined since the invention of perfumery, in just this combination? After wearing l’Ombre Fauve for five minutes I found myself in a perfume fugue state on the verge of Something Big. I came to the conclusion that this triad had a simple perfection to it. “Of course! It’s obvious.” Mind you I’m not a perfumer and hadn’t the least idea what I was blathering about, but it seemed important at the time. The l’Ombre Fauve trip reminded me of a friend who while on acid felt that he’d gone to the core of some deep truth, didn’t want to lose it and so wrote it down. He woke up the next morning with a note in his own handwriting saying: “Don’t forget to mow the lawn.” Wow, words to contemplate. Had I been that deep?

The patchouli, amber and musk, along with incense and spices, fit together so perfectly and with such a convincing logic that you can virtually hear the ‘click’ as they lock into place. Where some fundamental accords thrive more on the contrast of the elements than cooperation (the chypre, the fougère) this accord is of a piece and forms a honeyed, waxy, sweet-tart skin raunchiness that is so palpable you feel that you can grab a hold of it.

I know people may find l’Ombre Fauve objectionable or rank in the way that some find Muscs Koublai Khan unpleasant. I love both, and l’Ombre Fauve is one of the most sensuous perfumes I’ve smelled in ages. I can’t stop wearing it.

If this helps to steer you toward or away from l’Ombre Fauve, I love the smell of the jasmine and orange blossom that’s in the air now where I live. It’s intoxicating. But I love the smell of my dogs’ fur and my boyfriends skin as much if not more.
19th March, 2012 (last edited: 24th July, 2012)
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Casmir by Chopard

I see Casmir (1991) as the amphibious step where evolution took a creature from the oriental sea to the terra firma of the gourmand. The vanilla is comfortably inedible and the peachy/apricot fruit, when magnified by benzoin and patchouli grows unsettlingly inedible. It's the scent of overripe fruit or spoiled jam or a syrupy liqueur. The unresolved dessert that had hidden at the background of big amber orientals for years took two steps forward and gave us the fairly ugly but certainly interesting Casmir.
21st February, 2012 (last edited: 04th March, 2013)

Sagamore by Lancôme

The crossroads of the masculine chypre, where the chypre meets the traditionally male virtues of perfumery doesn't create anything revolutionary but it does give us some brilliant and eminently wearable perfumes. Here's how it works. The chypre is a genre defined by structure: bergamot, cistus, oakmoss. It's the organic chemistry of perfumery: a staggering number of possibilities, an enormous range of outcomes. Masculines fragrances (fragrances made for and marketed to men) are a genre defined by sensibility, specifically timidity. Masculine perfumes are generally Less Than. Perfumer Bernard Chant, known for having created two of the most bad-assed chypres in history, Grès Cabochard and Clinique Aromatics Elixir, describes the tendency. “Men, for a long time, have been afraid to use something too different. They will accept only small departures, small new steps.” 1 Broad strokes here, but fragrances for men are typically diminished versions of women's perfumes, whether in concept, composition or both. An unintended consequence though is that in a thoughtfully considered masculine chypre, Less Than can also mean deliberation, nuance and careful editing.

Take the implicit chiaroscuro of the chypre--its ability to hold opposing ideas in check without blurring or blending. Ask it to speak more conversationally than the dramatic, loud feminine chypres (eg. Estee Lauder's Azuree, Scherrer's Scherrer, Miss Dior.) The result is nuanced fragrances that center on juxtaposition but not outright conflict. Carthusia Numero Uno (sharp but smooth.) Guerlain's Coriolan (handsome and pretty.) Hermes's Equipage (cozy but aloof.) Perhaps the best examples of this 'taming' effect can be seen in the Lauder men's/women's versions of the same fragrance. Aramis 900, an herbal, rose chypre is a quieter, scaled-back version of Clinique's Aromatic Elixir. Similarly, Aramis's Devin is a smoother, less jagged take on Lauder's Alliage. In most cases, diminishing a fragrance to make it palatable to a masculine ego would make me cynical, but I'm upbeat about these chypres. They seem more tailored than butchered. The tailoring imparts a quiet richness that doesn't so much say manly as gentlemanly.

At the top of the chypre heap has always been Chanel's Pour Monsieur. It's held out as the most calibrated, least adorned chypre. Bright but shadowy, citrus/mossy at the start, ambery/sweet and warm later in the day. It reads as strong in that it has a bold, simple overall shape but it has minimal sillage and therefore doesn't seem forceful. It's the pitch-perfect hybrid of clarity from the chypre and the deliberately short reach of the masculine. My only problem with Pour Monsieur is it appears to have suffered at the hands of IFRA induced reformulation. It seems faded. It's like the eau de cologne version of an extrait. At its best it comes off as a tease.

There are plenty of other great men’s chypres available. De Nicolai’s New York bridges the chypre and oriental genres, winding up with the best of each. [Caveat: I’ve just smelled a current bottle, a whispy orange cologne. If it is a true example of the current NY, it is a fatal reformulation.] Aramis by Aramis and Caron’s Yatagan match a chypre base to bold elements like leather, woods and herbs. Etro has the quietly odd yet endearing Palais Jamais, a rubbery, smoky chypre that uses birch tar and bergamot to conjure Earl Grey tea. The cologne-style chypres for men, similar in construction to Chanel pour Monsieur, tend to find an easy balance of the two genres: bright and citrusy (cologne) and skin-scent muskiness (chypre). This appears to have been an ideal of the French mid-20th century masculines, evidenced by Monsieur de Givenchy, Eau d’Hermès and the underestimated Rochas Moustche. All three have a more contemporary English counterpart, Miller Harris’s Terre de Bois, which could be seen as a nouveau chypre with a vetiver base.

And then there’s Lancome's Sagamore. My current favorite men's chypre. Lavender gives Sagamore a sort of fougère camouflage that it sheds in the topnotes. After that it shows the best of the masculine/chypre hybrid. It balances glassy sharpness with quiet. It's distinguished and identifiable, but keeps very close to the skin. It has a sharp floral-herbal edge that gives a cool soapiness. Sagamore shows a complexity, an armful notes of fairly equal intensity and density. It's not muddled, it's complex and deliberate. Its winning quality is an unfussy ambiguity. It was reissued as the only masculine in Lancome's La Collection line. Where Pour Monsieur's lightness is the unfortunate result of reformulation, Sagamore's quiet is intentional and suits the cool, crystalline quality. Sagamore is the anti-dandy and exemplifies the best of the classic gentlemanly chypres. For the man who wants to wear an exquisite fragrance while still following the masculine maxims of discretion/valor and speak softly/big stick, try Sagamore. It’s discontinued but still available if you search.

It's as if backdoor was written into male gender software and the masculine chypre is accepted along with the worst of the blanched aquatics, loud/bland aromatic fougère and limp woodies. However it’s avoided the gender censor, the masculine chypre lineage has managed to survive to the present and proves that masculine fragrance has more to add to the world than fresh, sport and cool.

1Bernard Chant, The Challenge of Creativity (a lecture given to the British Society of Perfumers, 11/11/82
21st February, 2012 (last edited: 02nd March, 2013)

Parfum de Peau by Montana

Parfum de Peau is an animalic rose chypre that wears its animal differently than other growly rose chypres. It's not so much a leather scent as a live skin scent. The scent of sweaty skin gives PdP a tannic quality. If you focus on just the rose, PdP is very similar to other big 80s monster roses and rose chypres. But the stinging slap of ripe skin is bolstered by the tart green feel of unripened fruit and together they create a deliberate imbalance. The acrid skin and the young fruit highlight the electric feel of the rose and PdP charges at you like it wants to eat you.
21st February, 2012

Rose d'Homme by Les Parfums de Rosine

I don't find the rose until fairly far into this perfume. Rose d'Homme is a dusty sort of scent that moves from a lavender citrus through a white floral to a comfortably non-descript powdery woodiness via a snippy aldehydic feel. It's like a survey of the non-rose notes that you might find accompanying a rose, but there’s no rose. Not yet. Then out of god knows where, at the end of the ride it coalesces into a musky dried rose. Neat trick and worth the wait since all the sights along the way are so enjoyable. What had read as dusty at the start seems quietly powdery by the time the rose forms. In the end, R d'H gives the impression of a smiling, quietly ironic dandy.
21st February, 2012

Ambre Gris by Pierre Balmain

In its favor, Ambre Gris tells you all about itself up front. It's plainspoken, there are no surprises and it doesn't take much concentration. Against it, AG has the feel not so much of synthetic perfumery as fake food. It's a twinkie instead of shortcake. It's margarine and cornstarch syrup on your pancakes.

That said, I kind of like it. There's something about it that's just off, not quite right. It's like the background hum of industrial fluorescent lighting that recedes in your mind to a dull hum until you turn it off and realize that what you perceived as a quiet hum or buzz was in fact low-volume disharmony. In filtering it you had just unconsciously redefined it so as to tolerate it. Honestly though, I do like AG a bit. But here's how: one spritz. One spritz is comfortable. Two is queasy. Three is so far over the line that, in the manner of the instant conditioning that you experience vomiting a particular food that you then never want to eat again, you'll never want to smell it again.
21st February, 2012

Agent Provocateur by Agent Provocateur

Agent Provocateur is a rose chypre in the 1970s-1980s style. It is gravelly like many rose chypres, but it seems to have a less gigantic rose than that of Lauder's Knowing and Rabanne's La Nuit for instance. AP's rose is rich, but comparatively low-wattage. It joins the patchouli in harmonious fashion and gives AP its oriental style lushness. The different rose changes the tone of AP. It is expansive and takes over the conversation as the genre tends to, but once it does it doesn’t free-associate senselessly and endlessly in 1980s cocaine-nightclub fashion (Montana’s Parfum de Peau for example.) AP is as big as the others of the genre, just not as overpowering.

I know many dig AP for its vaunted used-drawers nastiness, but I just get that mineral scent of soil that patchouli can lend to rose. Smells like a garden, really.
21st February, 2012

Encre Noire by Lalique

Encre Noire is a nicely composed vetiver that I don't wear any more. It has balance and treats the vetiver honestly, focusing on the woody/cedar tones. It has a well-defined linear feel. You know, it's the sort of linear fragrance that rotates through its range of notes rather than simply having one tone, only louder at the beginning.

But I don't wear it. Along with a few other perfumes from its general era it has come to read as a treatise on Iso-E Super. So many perfumes started seeming like they shared the same trajectory, the same qualities or tones. Suspicious, I bought some Iso-E Super. Bingo. Mystery solved.

It wouldn't be so bad if these perfumes simply had a note or range of notes in common. The problem is that Iso-E Super is known more for its qualities and the olfactory textures it imparts rather than how it smells (although there's that, too.) Worst case scenario for Encre Noire is that I just don't want to wear it any more. A better case for me, but possibly worse for the producers, are those perfumes that I had admired but would no longer consider buying. Examples: l'Artisan's Timbuktu or Ormonde Jayne Woman. Somewhere in between are the fragrances that I never wanted but now recognize as simply belonging to the Iso-E Super genre, eg. Terre d'Hermes.

The above perfumes do all share that woody, turpentine/cedar scent of Iso-E Super, but it is the pervasiveness, that seeping quality, the almost ultrasonic background tone that turns me off. The code-word for this characteristic in perfume criticism is "radiant" and I now cringe when I read the word.

I own a few a few other Iso-E Super-heavy scents (Lutens's Feminite du Bois, CDG's 2 Man) and enjoy them, so it can't be just the aromachemical alone that bothers me. Perhaps a particular use of it. Poor Encre Noire. It's certainly not the worst use of Iso-E Super, maybe just one of the more egregious, and likely just the last straw.
21st February, 2012

Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia by Estée Lauder

The gardenia at the opening of this perfume smells remarkably like the real deal. In the topnotes, the gardenia and the tuberose circle each other at a short distance, but each remains distinct. The topnotes, though, have one of the shortest half-lives ever found in perfumery. Very soon, a blended white floral with a large tannic note becomes dominant. The white floral is smartly non-specific. It remains unidentifiable, but gives a rounded, creamy quality that harkens back to the gardenia of the topnotes. I can’t quite make out whether the tannic quality and the creamy aspect of the floral balance or oppose each other, but I suspect that this duality is what holds together the almost ghostly frame of the gardenia illusion that lasts into the drydown.

What started as an olfactorealistic gardenia note in the opening becomes an abstract distillation of a few of the elements that were apparently used to compose the gardenia note. There is a creaminess that suggest texture and the feel of umami that suggest a taste. We witness that taking apart of the gardenia that we’re given at the outset. The gardenia doesn’t fall apart, it is stripped before our eyes (noses.) The perfume transitions from a rather forceful prettiness to a tight-lipped handsomeness. An amazing exercise, and a compelling scent.
05th November, 2011

Lime, Basil & Mandarin by Jo Malone

I only smelled this for the first time recently. It has such a pretty opening and it seems like it might simply be a long-lasting take on the eau de cologne. The heart turns out to be fairly short-lived, but the basenotes, while quiet, are quite durable. The base hints at vetiver, patchouli and iris, having a dry, dusty feel. It seems a bit like dried citrus rind, the perfect ending to the citrus-dominant start.
05th November, 2011

Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

The first time I tried Bois de Violette I kicked myself for having bought Feminité du Bois a few months earlier. You know that shitty feeling of having bought the good, and then finding the better? I quickly came to the conclusion, though, that I prefer Feminité for most purposes and would choose it over BdV if I were to have just one. BdV brings into relief a feeling about Feminité that I could never quite get my nose around. Feminité’s boozyish combination of fruit, wood and flower expresses itself with a dried-fruit resinousness that I find nowhere except in the SL Feminité and Bois perfumes. Without using any of the classic perfume resins/oils (benzoin, olibanum, myrrh, spikenard, peru balsam, cistus labdanum) Feminité synthesizes a flower/fruit/wood that has the same stickiness and chewy quality that we associate with botanical resins.

Bois de Violette, while gorgeous, removes the stickiness of Feminité in order to focus on the highs of the added violet. The result is that it speaks in a higher, perhaps prettier register, but loses some of the implicit harmony of Feminité’s middle register.

The Feminité / BdV dilemma fleshes out an understanding that I’ve been coming to. I’ve always preferred the range of the viola to that of the violin. In the small bit that I’ve experienced of opera, I’m instantly drawn to the mezzo soprano rather than the soprano. The majority are drawn to the most prominent, the one that shines the brightest, the highest in the hierarchy. But just listen to Marilyn Horne singing Rossini and you’ll understand why I’ve come to prefer Feminité du Bois to Bois de Violette.
05th November, 2011

Prada Candy by Prada

Caveat: While I love drag queens, I tend not to like dessert-like gourmands. Just not my thing.

Prada’s Candy is in many respects a super-gourmand. It’s cotton-candyish, it’s caramellic, it’s vanillic, and it gains sweetness as it goes. Much seems to have come out of Prada’s PR about the benzoin and therefore the oriental genre. Yes, there’s benzoin, but the name of the perfume tells you about the perfume’s true affiliation: the dessert/gourmand category.

I see people referring to Candy as complex, the complexity implying a big, successful outcome. I find Candy more of a kitchen sink gourmand. It’s a busting-at-the-seems stuffed perfume. It hits the prominent notes of the big players in the gourmand game from the past few years.

But if you’re trying to capture Candy by describing its scent, you run the risk of giving a description that might apply to any other dessert perfume. Here’s how I see it: If you liken a sweet gourmand perfume to a straight, femme women, then Candy is the glam drag queen. The femme gives a certain portrayal of gender. The drag queen and Candy both take that same femininity as a starting place, then turn up the volume until the distortion sets in.
04th November, 2011 (last edited: 05th April, 2012)

Missoni (2006 version) by Missoni

There are any number of expressions that convey incongruity. For rhetorical use, the oxymoron (eg. deafening silence.) The unintentional, often humorous contradiction in terms (eg. compassionate conservative.) The misplaced modifier (“I bought a doll for my sister with a plastic head.”)

A non sequitur though is less a mistake than a peek into somebody’s thought process. A good non sequitur gets at that wonderful, riotous feeling of a mind racing faster than the ability to communicate. My favorite was someone saying, “I like ice cream! Can you swim?!”

There are perfume equivalents that exemplify the distinctions. Contradiction in terms: Britney Spears’s unquestioningly conforming Curious. Oxymoron: Lalique’s blindingly bright Encre Noir pour Elle. Misplaced modifier: Chanel Bleue’s shrill saccharine note.

Then there’s Missoni, the non sequitur that points to a mind just buzzing with invention. It’s a chocolatey floral. A starched, crisp, sweet fruity. A savory wood. We sometimes say “synthetic” to connote “bad” but will say that synthesis is an accomplishment. Roucel trashes the negative connotation and makes the distinction meaningless. Missoni is simultaneously exuberant and harmonious, composed yet somehow spontaneous. It succeeds conceptually, merging and twisting perfume genres while still managing to be strikingly beautiful to wear.
03rd November, 2011 (last edited: 05th April, 2012)

FlowerbyKenzo by Kenzo

An aldehydic, musky floral typically has an implicit sweetness. An interesting perfume will play against type and either downplay or compensate for the sweetness. Flower learned compensation and a sort of misdirection from White Linen, which it smells like, and Tommy girl, with which it shares a conceptual similarity.

White Linen’s trick is to redirect the composition’s sweetness with a peppery rose that doesn’t so much diminish the sweetness as steer it toward sweet/tart. From Tommy Girl, Flower learns the lesson of astringency. Sour, as opposed to bitter, is a hard effect to pull off in perfumery. In Flower, the sweet, powdery melon-like tone is highlighted by a slightly vinegary note just as actual melon would be by a splash of lemon juice.
03rd November, 2011

Samsara by Guerlain

Perfumery lore has it that Samsara contained 30% sandalwood oil when launched. It’s also part of perfumery’s body of common knowledge that Samsara’s sandalwood is long gone. Apparently early iterations of Samsara used this botanical sandalwood as well as botanical jasmine and had a wonderful vanilla note. There was certainly more to the composition than that, but these 3 elements defined Samsara’s shape.

Sandalwood has effectively been removed from the perfumer’s palette, and in Samsara’s case, it’s been replaced by polysantol (more from perfumery lore), a powerful synthetic. Perhaps a lush, botanically derived jasmine might have been overmatched by the polysantol, but it appears that a jasmine-analogue of equal volume and shrillness to the synthetic sandalwood is employed as well. I imagine the vanilla in the early Samsara versions would have complemented the creamy tartness of true sandalwood. In the current Samsara the shriek of the polysantol combined with the vanilla gives us a new, sick-making gourmand note: butterscotch vomit.

Samsara is for me what Secretions Magnifiques is to its detractors.

When powerful aromachemicals are used in largely synthetic perfumes, imbalanced accords and compositions carry greater risks. For better or for worse, when aromachemicals are particularly strong, their effects are a leveraged increase in punch, sillage, durability. If the accords made with theses strong chemicals are imbalanced (read: unappealing) the negatives will be leveraged as well. Whereas a haphazard mix of botanicals will likely read as muddy, Samsara’s polysantol-based composition is both horrifying in its gear-grinding volume and nauseating. Samsara creates a perfume sub-genre: the rancid gourmand.
26th October, 2011 (last edited: 04th March, 2013)

Mauboussin Pour Homme by Mauboussin

Mauboussin Homme seems to be another of the fragrances that vary substantially between edp and edt concentrations. This sort of difference is a common enough in women’s perfumes, but having two concentrations at all is uncommon in men’s fragrances, nonetheless two concentrations that vary qualitatively from each other. I have the edp.

My overall conclusion is that I’ve found another contested ground between Luca Turin and myself, the first being his boredom with and my love for a glaring mixed-white floral. The second is lavender. Caron pour un Homme is one of the few fragrances I truly dislike, yet is in Turin’s 5-star category. He found Mauboussin Homme somewhere between tired and tedious, if I may paraphrase. I have to say his beau frère characterization is clever, but I don’t find MH to be the unpleasant relative.

MH connects the minty-medicinal feel of lavender to the camphorous cool of patchouli by highlighting both with culinary herbs. Both the lavender and the patchouli are long-lasting and the feel that their pairing produces last through the drydown. As to the notes listed for drydown, vanilla? sandalwood? Not so much. But there does appear to be a musk that keeps a Cliff Notes version of the topnotes, condensed and with lower wattage sillage, intact through drydown.

The concept that keeps MH interesting and lively is the contrast presented by lavender, whose very name literally speaks of its cleanliness, and patchouli, which on a certain level smells like fancy dirt. Clean/dirty. MMmmm.
17th October, 2011

Bleu de Chanel Eau de Toilette by Chanel

It’s not inevitable that a Big Seller will be bad. It’s not wrong to design a perfume intended to find a large middle of the consumer market. I don’t have a problem with the notion of Bleu. Bleu’s approach, evidenced by the fresh-citrus-woody genre chosen and the advertising is to attempt the big, new masculine that straight men will be comfortable with, straight women will like on them, and gay men will consider (the television ads are apparently deliberately homophilic.) And given Drakkar Noir’s history, Bleu could very well have the lesbian demographic in hand as well.

But marketing isn’t the problem. The fragrance is. It’s loosely handsome, offers decent but not bothersome projection and stays within the fresh/woody né eau de cologne range that generally shouldn’t offend. But there is a shrill sweetness, more aspartame than sugar or fruit, that becomes dominant as the topnotes fade and lasts through drydown. To my nose it’s disproportionate, a miscalculation.

The best way I can describe it is by diet soda analogy. Artificial sweetener in a cold, fresh Diet Coke is just fine. In a room temperature, flat Diet Coke, you wouldn’t touch it. (If you were uncertain, Bleu is the warm, flat soda in this analogy.)
01st October, 2011 (last edited: 05th April, 2012)

Love In White by Creed

I had to try Love in White at some point. Given the Turin review in The Guide, I couldn’t resist. The review gives LiW the George Bush style benefit of low expectations. I was half expecting the devil in a bottle. Balance the low expectations from The Guide with the stratospheric expectations set by the Creed press mythology (yacht, 5 year world search, exotic ingredients…) and LiW could only wind up a head-scratcher. Turns out it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot actually.

Floral blend, sweet synthetic woods. Loud, but otherwise not particularly remarkable for either its heights or its horrors. There’s something about a sweet yet acrid linear floral, though, that suggests personal product scenting. Shampoo or conditioner or the like. LiW seems designed along the lines of a hygienic or grooming product.

LiW wins by driving down the middle of the road and avoiding both high and low expectations.
01st October, 2011 (last edited: 02nd October, 2011)