Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

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Total Reviews: 503

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
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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

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
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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

Je Reviens by Worth

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

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

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

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

Oud by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

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

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

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

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

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

Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

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

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

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

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

Unusual? Yes.

Edgy? Not in the least.

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

The Soft Lawn by Imaginary Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sublime by Jean Patou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from scenthurdle.com
21st June, 2016