Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Rêve en Cuir by Indult

Some notes are easier than others. Not to create, but to accept at face value. Vanilla is one. People recognize 'vanilla', whether it's a vanilla bean or ethyl vanillin. Synthetic vanilla aromachemicals are used because they smell ‘like’ vanilla.

Leather requires a little more imagination. There are more links in the chain of associations that lead to the scent of leather. It’s not even strictly leather that we smell, it’s the combination of the hides and the chemicals of the tanning process. The scent of leather is not one particular thing, but a range of tones in the spectrum of leather.

However a material is derived, if it smells ‘like’ vanilla, it can be considered vanilla. Perfume composition relies on an olfactory algebra: let x = vanilla. Leather presents a more interesting premise to the perfumer. After a connection from A through Z is made, our neurology doesn’t perceive the steps in a chain of associations, just the connection of A and Z. Whether we see the links or not, they are there for the perfumer to play with, making leather a playground of abstraction. Witness the birch tar leathers from early in the early 20th century, the inky synthetic leathers that followed and the range of floral and plastic leathers that came along as compositional rules loosened.

The goal of creating a leather perfume isn’t emulation of leather, though perfume marketing has historically spun piles of bullshit about leather opera gloves, black leather corsets and the innards of Birkin bags. Leather is the inspiration, not the goal. There are as many strategies to composing a leather perfume as there are sub-genres. See: Vierges et Toreros’s lucite leather. S-Ex’s subliminal musky leather. Azurée’s sizzling citrus leather. Bel Ami’s gasoline leather. Cuir de Russie’s iris leather. Cuir d’Ange’s herbal-soapy leather.

Reve en Cuir’s approach isn’t novel but it is effective. It creates a hissy topnote similar to the violet-leaf gasoline of Dior Fahrenheit and its predecessor, Bel Ami. The topnotes sharpen, coalescing into a cool, sweet, clove-like heart. Reve en Cuir’s richness comes from intricacy and what it lacks in projection it makes up for in evolution and duration. It balances richness with precision editing and, though it smells like no particular leather object, it is perfectly coherent. Exemplary of Kurkdjian’s best work, it isn’t radical but it is inventive and intelligible.

17th May, 2015

Coromandel Eau de Toilette by Chanel

A house like Chanel has to play a few different angles at once if they want to sell their products. With Cormandel they tie together a few different narratives that target a number of key demographics simultaneously. It’s an odd dance that Coromandel performs seamlessly.

Coromandel is a Hippy Patchouli and it’s an Old Lady Perfume. It’s for the old guard and the debutantes. It’s stuffy and it’s boho chic. And it does it all without compromise. It starts with an explosion of citrus, flowers and bucketsful of bright, cold patchouli. There’s not a doubt in the world that Coromandel is a Patchouli Perfume, but it’s a clever one. It's similar in concept to Guerlain Shalimar. It plays patchouli in just the way that Shalimar plays vanilla. In each perfume, the material is the undisputed center of the composition, but not a solo act. Neither uses the material like a flower in a soliflor or a single-note hippy shop oil. Still, if you miss the vanilla in Shalimar or the patchouli in Coromandel, Jacques Guerlain and Jacques Polge have miscalculated.

If you don’t like the scent of patchouli there’s little likelihood that that you’ll warm to Coromandel. But if you take the plunge you’ll find every aspect of patchouli is played to maximum effect. I’ve been looking for a Patchouli-patchouli perfume. You know, a perfume that is earthy, icy, green, powdery, camphorous and potent. The whole package. But it must be a perfume, not some headshop oil or sledgehammer perfume without thoughtful composition. Coromandel is precisely what I’ve been looking for. It’s a spectacular combination of all the facets of patchouli without compromise. The patchouli is fleshed out with incense, amber, vanilla and god knows what else, but it never feels heavy or overburdened. Oh, it’s enormous. It verges on rococo, but it works without ever teetering and has an unrestrained charm that is the key to its wide appeal.

Old ladies, hippies, spoiled rich kids and fumies can all come together on this one.


17th May, 2015

Lampblack by Bruno Fazzolari

There is nothing new in Lampblack. Then again newness is overrated in perfumery. 'Unconventionality' is code—camouflage for a lack of nuance and uninventive composition. Niche perfumery is the boy, novelty is the wolf.

Better than novelty, Lampblack has a point of view. Consideration and creativity are more valuable than gimmickry, and let’s call Lampblack what it is. It is a perfume that uses known materials and compositional tools. But it manipulates otherwise recognizable facets of the materials to offer a new perspective. It is a thoughtful piece of work.

Bruno Fazzolari is a visual artist who has chosen perfumery as another medium for the investigation of ideas. His crossover to perfumery disproves the axiom that the medium is the message. It also points out that artistry and technical training are not the same thing, a point that vocational schools such as Givaudan and ISIPCA may or may not recognize.

There is considerable buzz around Fazzolari’s perfumes, Lampblack in particular. The problem with buzz it that there’s always the next new thing to capture it. Fuck the buzz and forget the flavor of the month, but try Lampblack if you have the chance. It is remarkable not for the hype, but its thoughtfulness and exploration of ideas.
17th May, 2015
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Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez

Notes are a fairy tale in perfumery. Believe them as you would believe in the Sugar Plum Fairy or Tom Cruise. They’re ‘real’ but not actual. Aurélien Guichard doesn’t refute the notion of notes but he rephrases them. He separates aromas (floral, green, fruity, musky) from the other tones that the nose perceives (roundness, velvet, opacity.)

Slicing and dicing notes is nothing new in contemporary perfumery. Notes and materials have long been picked apart and shuffled around. Deconstruction and recontextualization are the classic two-step of post-modern art, a relic that perfumery has taken and run with. The next step, the rebuilding, the creation of a new picture is harder to achieve and is largely missing in contemporary perfumery.

Narciso is abstraction in its fullest. The separation and identification of the parts is thoughtful, but Narciso reconceptualizes perfume more credibly than you’d expect find in a designer fragrance. Guichard manipulates his materials so that the broad qualities, not the notes themselves predominate. There is not so much a clear magnolia note as there is a sultry luster. It is less specifically woody than it has the feel of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Materials and notes aside, Narciso smells balanced and synthetic in the artistic sense. It doesn’t attempt to recreate aspects of “nature” as in the solifor and it has none of the smugness that can accompany avant-nichery. It’s a perfume made with an eye on aesthetics and ideals. Its indelible trait is an ambience, a spherical quality that feels like an additional dimension has been added to musk. The tone is both pervasive and subliminal. It surrounds you but it subverts the whistly, woody-amber persistence of many contemporary woody-musky perfumes. It is less radiant than evenly distributed. There are no seams showing, no bumps in the ride. If I could read a perfume formula, I suspect this one would have some sort of dimensional trickery like an Escher drawing. Impossibility made probable by screwing carefully with perspective.

Narciso’s commitment to aesthetics feels almost Greco-Roman in its classicism. Like many classical works, Narciso has a designed imperfection, a distraction that keeps you from falling into a beauty-trance. Narciso’s blemish is its whiff of paint. Sniffed from the right angle, Narciso has the wonderful smell of a fresh can of exterior paint. It might seem odd at a cursory sniff, but it is perfectly placed and enhances the overall purr of the musk.

17th May, 2015

Musc Ravageur by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

L de Lolita defined my fear of the gourmand genre. Thick scents of chocolate dessert are coupled with musks and ambers, both of which are known for their fixative properties. Amber 'fixes' the gourmand quality of L de Lolita the way concrete shoes 'set' in a mafia fable before you're thrown in the river.

Wearing L de Lolita could well be a Catholic-school lesson on the sin of gluttony and the threats of eternal hell. The anticipation draws you close, the titilation makes you give in, the satisfaction is the pleasure you've been denied. Then you continue to eat, unable to control yourself, long past the point of nausea and revulsion. Jaques Guerlain gave a seminar on the line between plenty and excess when he took Shalimar close to crème brulée, but then pulled back. The value of gourmand notes is in the suggestion or the temptation, not in the pudding. L de Lolita demonstrates the lesson by failing it and falling into the more-is-better trap.

So if L de Lolita (2006) is a sin against god, does Musc Ravageur (2000) have a more original sin?

I experienced Roucel's trio out of sequence. I first smelled Labdanum 18 (2006), then L de Lolita (2006) and finally Musc Ravageur (2000). I hadn't known that the same perfumer made all three, nor had I known that the two 2006 perfumes were derived from Musc Ravageur. Now I understand who's who, or better, who's the flanker.

Musc Ravageur is the template. The other two variations were made by turning up and down the volume of specific notes of the original. Labdanum 18 skips the aromatic topnotes but overdoses the sweet vanilla and powdery musk. Without the loud aromatic topnotes of Musc Ravageur, Labdanum18 feels listless by comparison, yet is famously le Labo's best seller. If Labdanum was made by subtraction, L de Lolita relies on the addition of chocolate and maple syrup to distinguish itself. The classic vanilla 'oriental' is given the chocolate-steroid treatment and the bergamot topnote of Musc Ravageur is twisted into a candied orange. Piling a maple syrup/imortelle/fenugreek note on top of the chocolate makes L de Lolita a Frankenstein-Gourmand and poster-child for the excesses of gourmand perfumery.

L de Lolita is so egregious that having smelled it a number of times seven years ago it tainted my experience of Musc Ravageur. This week I wore Musc Ravageur for the first time. I wore it three days in a row, haunted by the anticipation of recognition that wouldn't come. While distracted, the flashback to L de Lolita struck me in the gut and having made the connection, there's no turning back.

How might I have experienced Musc Ravageur if I hadn't first been affected by L de Lolita? We all arrive to a perfume with our bags packed, but the recycling of ideas across different lines without marketing the subsequent perfumes as flankers muddies the waters. Maybe I've been damaged by the Lolita perfume association and have made the jump to Nabokov's Lolita. With its effusive barbershop masculine reference and smarmy musky-amber sweetness Musc Ravageur reads like the perfume a stereotypical dirty old man would wear.

(Please don't take my 'kitchen sink' quibble with Musc Ravaguer as a blanket criticism. I'm all for excess in perfumery generally and in Roucel's work specifically. He's used it to great success in Guerlain Insolence, Hermès 24, Faubourg, Missoni by Missoni and Gucci Envy.)

17th May, 2015

La Petite Robe Noire Couture by Guerlain

Guerlain have long followed the rule that it's better to be good than to be first. Or at least it's better to be the last one standing. Coty Chypre created the genre that defined perfumery in the 20th century. Mitsouko copied the formula, improved it and is now the standard-bearer. Shalimar came on the heels of Coty Emeraude and a number of other huge vanillic/balsamic ambers that were popular at the time. It then surpassed them and became the model of the genre. Coty l'Origan, then Guerlain l'Heure Bleue. Caron En Avion, then Guerlain Vol de Nuit. Even on the men's side, Guerlain's eponymous Vetiver followed Carven's by four years.

The Fruitchouli genre is a somewhat restrained take on the egregious gourmands of late 1990s. The Fruitchouli's emphasis on berry notes makes it technically gourmand in nature, but it is Gourmand 2.0. The questionable goal of smelling like a cupcake was toppled and 'hints of (fill-in-the-blank) berry' became the marketing catch-phrase. In 2009, late in the game, Guerlain entered the fray with La Petite Robe Noire eau de toilette. The reference Fruitchoulis by this time were already dead and gone. Badgely Mischka by Badgely Mischka was discontinued and Miss Dior Chérie had been thoroughly reformulated, flanked and renamed to the point of anonymity. Guerlain went the shell-game route of Miss Dior Chérie, quickly replacing its first version by Delphine Jelk with a similar version by Thierry Wasser, then releasing an eau de parfum. Then came the stream of flankers, each distinguished by a slightly different silhouette of a little black dress on the bottle. Most buyers don't actually know which perfume they actually have.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture is the stand-out of the lot. It is unmistakably a Fruitchouli, but rather than simply following the reduction of the genre (sweetness + berry flavor = perfume) that has become the norm, it benefits from Guerlain's years of twisting patisserie into perfume. It shows its Guerlain DNA in an almost campy exaggeration of its predecessors. Mitsouko's plum is prim next to La Petite Robe Noire Couture's sweet berry cobbler, but the likeness is there. La Petite Robe Noire Couture's dark sweetness is a less restrained play on L'Heure Bleue's bittersweet version of the floral oriental.

La Petite Robe Noire Couture's real precedent, though, is Guerlain Insolence. Insolence was derided as a trite sweet floral that watered down the reputation of the brand. Guerlain's smart move was to beat the criticism by going further over the top, creating Insolence Eau de Parfum. It was a monstrous, laughing fuck-you of a perfume that made critics of the original appear out of step and fussy. If La Petite Robe is considered just the next post-LVMH nail in Guerlain's coffin (also said of l'Instant, Insolence, Idylle, Shalimar Parfum Initial and l'Homme Ideal) the Couture model wades further into the dogfight. The berry compote is simmered down to an even thicker consistency so that Couture's sweetness is denser than the edt's or edp's. It even steals a page directly from Insolence with a touch of a hairspray note that gives Couture a defiantly 'perfumey' quality.

You thought the original Petite Robe Noire was a little déclassé for Guerlain? Try Couture. Modesty is for pussies.

17th May, 2015

Kiste by Slumberhouse

Perfumer Josh Lobb

(The below is 18 hours after wearing and sleeping in Kiste. I usually wait a bit to write about a perfume, but not today.)

There is an entire wing of niche perfumery whose strategy is to reverse-engineer Slumberhouse perfumes and then try to replicate their results. This is a losing strategy for any number of reasons, principally for the cheapness of disregarding process and wanting an end product without the requisite start and middle.

Slumberhouse perfumes can be difficult, conceptually and practically. Ore isn’t an easy ‘daily wear’ and Jeke would make a demanding signature fragrance. Slumberhouse perfumes take backbone to wear and I inwardly gird my loins when I put on Sova or Sadanne. They aren’t simple or easy.

If perfumer Josh Lobb’s goal is to play with our expectations as much as our desires, he’s succeded. Kiste isn't simple, but it is effortless. I can surmise the work that must have gone into making this perfume but I don’t feel it.

I’m listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as I write. The groundedness, the keenness of their talent, the complexities of their success in their era. It’s all there in the music, but listening to it is a breeze. I don’t listen to this music because I don’t want a challenge. I listen to it to remind myself that life is good.

Peach, sweet-tea, bourbon, tobacco, hay. The Southern connection might be in the notes, but it's also in the pace of the experience. Kiste is a sippin' whiskey of a perfume. Potent but smooth, satisfying from start to finish.

Ease is not a lack of ambition. Kiste is the reflection of a mid-career artist stretching his legs. It covers a lot of ground in a golden, lustrous range of late afternoon tones. The allusions to fruit, honey, old-fashioned ‘miracle elixirs’, tobacco and liquor swirl around you. There is a lot of movement in the first few hours of Kiste, but it fine-tunes into a goldilocks 'just right' drydown that is less sweet and more medicinal than the top and heartnotes lead me to expect. Complexity reads as intricacy rather than complication.

17th May, 2015

Vétiver Extraordinaire by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Vetiver root has been used in perfumery since day one, but the eponymous masculine Vetivers fixate on it with a particular reverence. Vetiver isn’t simply the masculine equivalent of the feminine white floral. It’s become a ceremonial totem of male toiletry, ranking with the fougère as a masculine olfactory reference. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Big Three (Carven, Guerlain, Givenchy) boosted vetiver from a fixative and a basenote material to the center of the discussion.

The Maculine Vetiver became safe harbor in the 1960s-1970s when the underpinnings of masculinity were up for discussion. More vetiver fragrances than you can shake a stick at followed. Some kept close to the scent of the vetiver root itself (eg. Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Route du Vetiver, Etro Vetiver, Lalique Encre Noire) while others strayed a bit further, riffing on a particular quality of the root (Annick Goutal Vetiver’s salty iodine, Serge Lutens’s chocolate Vetiver Oriental, ELDO Fat Electrician’s plastic and vinyl.)

Vetiver Extraordinaire falls into the conservative camp of Vetiver perfumes and The Big Three are its specific predecessors. All four are sweeping, classical perfumes that balance broad splashes and nuanced choices. Malle and Ropion are too well-versed in composition and history not to have understood the importance of the Big Three, but they chose to rival them rather than to imitate them. Malle also takes advantage of the of the fetishism surrounding the material, and fumies dutifully cite the 25% of vetiver oil used in the composition.

Ropion’s approach is to take vetiver to finishing school. After the dazzling citrus punch of the first sniff, he employs a swirling floral topnote to accentuate vetiver’s inherent thumping bass range. The liveliness of the topenotes have hints of lipstick and makeup and Vetiver Extraordinaire barely skirts the scandalous 'Old Lady Perfume' territory. The topnotes are ‘perfumey’ and remind me that Ropion known for his over-the-top perfumey feminine florals (Givenchy Amarige and Ysatis, Malle’s own Carnal Flower). Vetiver Extraordinaire eventually settles into a more traditionally masculine woody range, albeit with a dandy flourish.

Vetiver Extraordinaire captures the sensibility of the Frédéric Malle line perfectly. It is a superlative contemporary spin on a traditional form. Though not nearly as ubiquitous, Vetiver Extraordinaire rivals Guerlain Vetiver as the standard-bearer of the genre among vetiver enthusiasts.

17th May, 2015

Rozy Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

Perfumery gets away with a lot. It can tell you quite a bit if you're listening, but because it can't be pinned down to any literal meaning, it appears entirely subjective. It's the ongoing problem of scent and language. Because we can’t express clearly to others what we smell, we confuse the personal for the subjective. Scent doesn't convey a repeatable, specific meaning in the way a visual image does. Show 10 people a photo of a cat, ask, "What is this?" and they'll all answer either a cat or an image of a cat. Representation is easy with the visual. It gets harder with the olfactory. Wave a fragrant rose under 10 noses and ask the same question and you might get a majority of "Rose" answers. Try the same with perfume and who knows what the responses will be.

Vero Kern creates the tools to look a little closer. The three versions of her fragrances--extrait, voile d'extrait, eau de parfum--are not just different concentrations. They are different points of view. Kern states that the purpose of the voile d'extrait is to combine the potency and shape of the extrait with the lift and expansiveness of the edp. In investigating an idea over the course of three versions of the perfume, Kern does in one shot what Edmond Roudnitska did over his career with Eau Sauvage, Diorella and Parfum de Thérèse. Both perfumers explore an idea or set of principals over the course of a number of perfumes.

Branding is apparently a necessary evil, and Kern's approach is both old-school and effective. Not the the marketing blunderbuss of Chanel or the LVMH subsidiaries. Not the dancing-as-fast-as-I-can dissembling of Creed PR. Not the bell-curve mediocrity you get when design and marketing are so close as to be indistinguishable (Maison Francis Kurkdjian). Vero Profumo’s strategy appears to be this: make a concise and well-edited line of exceptional products, package them beautifully, let the artist speak.

The three versions of her perfumes aren't an attempt to gain a larger demographic foothold and they aren't the product of focus group tinkering. They are the expression of fully explored creative concepts. Each model stands on its own, but smelling the different versions feels like an exploration. Perfumery tends to have a very limited view of the relationship of perfumes in a line. A line is formed by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks ( ie., serial releases) and then copying what does stick ( ie., flankers) Kern's approach borrows from other art forms and, while each of her perfumes is a complete work, it can also be understood as an episode, a movement, an act, a part of a series or triptych.

.rozy highlights perfume’s capacity to explore aesthetics. Despite marketing that tells you that a perfume is 'about' yachting, privilege, hipness or cupcakes, or that a perfume will make you sexier, what perfume in fact offers is the chance to explore the world from a particular sensory angle. Kern's work shines when it's viewed conceptually. For all its complexity and density, .rozy has clarity and it wins me over for its beauty and its integrity. Kern doesn't try to convince you, she offers you excellent perfume and asks you to consider it. No bullshit. No yachting, no promise of heightening my allure.

.rozy is thick with ideas. Large dynamic qualities sit next to subtleties. Acute angles and body-shaped curves intersect. While there are references (Knize Ten and Jean Desprez’s Bal à Versailles, Anna Magnani’s performance in The Rose Tatoo) they aren’t overstated. They are enhancements to your experience. The punctuation and spelling of the name tell you that rose is involved, but that it is a qualified rose, 'not your mother's' rose. Rose is nested so far into leather notes that I only notice it out of the corner of my eye. Even the leather is a moving target, ranging from rubber to dust to honey. .rozy isn't the expected woody, balsamic, syrupy or ambered rose. It's hardly a rose perfume at all. It's more of an Easter-egg hunt for the rose that you're told is hidden somewhere. Expectation of a rose might take you into this perfume, but the leathery tar is what sticks to you. .rozy has a long arc over the course of a day, though. Where you first feel caught in a tar pit, by the end of the day you find yourself lounging in a honey pot. Were you captured? Did you choose to stay? Did you submit?

Were you seduced? I was.

.rozy is a serious perfume and requires backbone to wear. Wearing .rozy is like going to the ballet or the opera. Anyone can buy a ticket, but the audience who are taught the language and history of the form appreciates it differently. The same goes for .rozy. Anyone could wear it, but perfumists will just squeal over it.

17th May, 2015

Kiki Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

The ability to break perfume down into notes and ingredients is highly valued among perfume fans. It is understood to indicate a discerning nose and is often used to distinguish the cognoscenti from the overwashed masses. Unfortunately, it is unduly valued and can impede enjoyment and a better understanding of perfume for the wearer. This misconception is one of the side-effects of the secrecy of the perfume industry. What perfume wearers know about the inner workings of perfume composition and production amounts to few odd bits of information and the mythology that a little knowledge tends to foster. One tidbit is that an important, if elementary, skill in composing perfume is identifying and deconstructing scents. We mistakenly assume that the skills needed to make perfume are the same ones needed to appreciate and understand it.
A knowledge of frequency, pigments and aromachemicals does not equate to a better or more meaningful experience in appreciating painting, music or perfumery. Perfumery can be read, but calls for critical thinking and self-reflection. The vocabulary of aroma is helpful, but not necessary.


Reading Kiki tells you about the perfume and by extension the perfumer. Kiki reinforces what I suspected on wearing Kern's Rozy and Onda: Kern is a classicist but not necessarily a traditionalist. All three perfumes demonstrate a measured use of the vocabulary and techniques of quintessential western perfumery. Kiki is an essay on lavender and makes allusions to 19th century icons such as Houbigant Fougère Royale and Guerlain Jicky without being either derivative or strictly traditional. Kern says she used a lavender with a high percentage of coumarin, so the shape of a fougère is implied. The inedible soapiness of a fougère is nowhere to be found, though. Instead, a tease of caramel connotes candy-sweetness with a dry powderiness balancing the confection so that Kiki never lands in the gourmand camp. In fact, Kiki is reminiscent of early "oriental" perfumes. Where Shalimar contrasts a tart, rich bergamot with vanilla, Kiki matches bergamot and musky caramel, a compositional juxtaposition that again leans toward the classical.

The best of early 20th century perfumery was daring and pushed the expectation of what perfumery could accomplish. In this one sense, Kern can be considered traditional. More broadly, though, she uses classical methods to experiment and to explore rather than to follow. Kiki takes the expected, lavender, and gives us something novel and gorgeous.

Unearthing originality while using known forms and techniques is rare and for the less deliberate artist might never happen. Kern's combination of classicism and unconventionality pays dividends. Her perfumes are unorthodox and exquisite. Her perfumes may not appeal to all, but polarization is a consequence of deliberation and vision in art and I doubt that Kern is looking for her work to be considered broad entertainment. Call it bias or call it alignment of artist and audience, but I both admire and adore Kiki. I'm smitten.

17th May, 2015

Mito Voile d'Extrait by Vero Profumo

Mito’s topnotes are pure Spring. It's all white dresses, espadrilles and birds singing.

Yeah, right.

Don't let the green breeze fool you. Look closely and Spring's annual rebirth gets messy. The birth and life bit isn't placid, it's explosive. Green is to plants what blood is to us: vitality. And like blood, green can connote both life and violence. Mito Voile d’Extrait reads like a dramatic production. Think of Mito as Kern's Right of Spring.

The acceleration of the perfume's opening is almost overwhelming but the topnotes settle into a legible green that ranges from sharp citrus to peppery grassiness. A world of green grows up around you and becomes the mise en scène for the unfolding of the rest of the perfume. The brightness of the topnotes is balanced by mossiness and the white flowers of the heart complete the picture. Creamy magnolia, breathy jasmine. Where green connotes vitality and growth, the white flower's allure is its decadence, its hint of decay. From the moment a flower opens, it moves slowly toward its death. The threshold between ripeness and rot is a fine one and Mito teeters on the line.

Over the course of the heartnotes Mito keeps the green backdrop but shifts the focus to the white flowers, magnolia in particular. Moss connects the top and heartnotes and lends a bit of saltiness to balance the floral sweetness. It gives the heart a rich, slightly rough texture and magnifies magnolia's inherent sultriness. The heartnotes are intricate but hardy and seem to rise up from my wrists almost unpredictably.

I've made the point before that perfumer Vero Kern is more a classicist than a traditionalist and I'll stick by that. But in the case of Mito she manages to be both. Here she works in the tradition of perfumers such as Edmond Roudnitska and Germaine Cellier referring to both Dior Diorella and Balmain Vent Vert. Like Diorella, Mito has a decadent heart and a louche tone but it also plays with a chilled floral contrast as Cellier did in Vent Vert. Roudnitska and Cellier shook the perfumery of their times by the shoulders. Their works were as subversive as they were sublime. Cellier put the coded language of butch/femme lesbianism into her perfumes. Roudnitska re-created the scent of a delicate little flower in his seminal Diorissimo and in doing so defied convention and rewrote the rules for composition.

So, Cellier was profane and Roudnitska was radical. Where does that leave Kern? It's too early in her career as a perfumer to characterize her body of work, but Mito is a hybrid pinnacle of the green and floral chypre sub-genres, a field that includes works such as YSL Y, Guerlain Parure, Chanel 19 & Cristalle, Estée Lauder Private Collection and Parfum de Nicolai Odalisque. It is both meaningful and delectable and just as in Cellier's Vent Vert and Roudnitska's Diorissimo, art and desire go hand in hand.

The most satisfying artistic traditions step outside of their forms and their genres and Mito reaches outside perfumery. Kern has said that the inspiration for Mito was the sumptuous gardens at Villa d'Este, a 16-17th century fountain and garden extravaganza in Tivoli, Italy. Like the gardens, Mito is the result botany and artifice and feels like rococo drag next to the 'just the topnotes, ma'am’ perfumery you’d find in fashion mag inserts. As Kern also demonstrates in Rubj and Rozy sumptuousness is not a sin


Mito is a perfume that I could wear forever and still be surprised by. Disposability is built into most contemporary perfumery by design. Even the idea of a signature fragrance means the perfume you might wear for a spell before you flush it in lieu of the next one. Mito reminds me why many people in the early and mid-20th-century had one perfume that they bonded to for life. I've said that I could wear Diorella forever, but reformulation has nixed that prospect. Thank god I've found Mito. Now I know which bottle to grab if the house is on fire.

17th May, 2015

Onda Parfum Extrait by Vero Profumo

Aesthetics might be shared but beauty is experienced personally. Discussions of aesthetics often lead to unanswerable questions on the nature of attraction, absolutes and subjectivity.

Onda's contribution to the debate is to show where the discussion takes place. Wearing Onda shows you that beauty is experienced at the limits. Simple ease and comfort might be found without much effort, but satisfaction and the greater pleasures don’t land in your lap. They require your engagement and determination. The cliché, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ takes the burden off the object and places it in the mind of the witness. Onda refutes the passivity of the 'beholder' making the experience not just looking, but craving. Onda fuses beauty with desire. The question shifts from, "What is Beauty?" to Beauty slapping you in the face, smiling and asking, "So, what are you going to do about it?" Onda's question of beauty come in the form of a dare.

The mirror image of beauty isn't ugliness, it is fear and Onda gives you desire and fear in equal helpings. Fear as much as beauty balances on the precipice of activity and passivity. In considering fear you find the seeds for the broader questions of agency and fate. Is a fear of heights a fear of falling or jumping?

Onda interrogates beauty in a similar manner and beauty is revealed to be neither pretty nor polite. It is sinister and seductive. It is gorgeous. It comes at you forcefully whether you're ready or not. Onda favors destructive beauty and the heights that challenging work inspires. Beauty can cut, but it can also transform you. It is up to you whether or not to take the risk.

I wear Onda EDP often, but have recently been introduced to the Extrait de Parfum, which is a slightly different breed of cat. A little less alarming, a good bit more seductive. The differences are noticeable in the projection. The EDP uses passionfruit to light the fuse on the hot, salty, earthy heart of Onda. The EDP lunges at you with a sense of momentum and feels constantly expanding as if an exercise in olfactory physics. The Extrait moves more fluidly. It surrounds you and seeps into you. It's harder to pinpoint its source even though you know where you dabbed it. It is extremely rich and elaborate. The Extrait is darker than the EDP and its complexity makes it denser, though not heavier. It is even more alluring than the EDP and cuts me deeper. The Extrait is more a chypre than the EDP and while it has all the magnetism of the classical chypres, it is neither retro in style nor reminiscent in tone.

Kern uses three concentrations (Eau de Parfum, Voile d’Extrait and Extrait de Parfum) to explore the range of ideas that she presents in each of her perfumes. They share common ground, but they offer different perspectives. In Onda, the EDP and the Extrait both play with the notion of wildness and the whimsy of trying to tame it, the capriciousness of control. Onda EDP gives its animal a long leash and provokes a feeling of recklessness, excitement. The animal in the Extrait appears more tame and on the surface the Extrait seems less less audacious than the EDP. But here is the the Extrait’s threat: It might be quitely purring at the moment, but how tame can a wild animal really be? When will the confidence of your safety shatter? The EDP urges impulsiveness. The Extrait feels dangerous.

There is an etiquette in corporate perfumery that dictates that perfume shouldn’t challenge the consumer for fear of alienating even one potential buyer. The rule is reversed in niche perfumery. It’s a spin on neo-punk: a show of outrageousness or non-conformity but no attempt to alter the status quo.

Kern looks past these constraints and makes perfume that both challenges the wearer and disrupts convention. She reserves the right to provoke. Her work doesn’t simply express a range of aesthetics, it engineers aesthetics to poke at the questions of beauty, desire and self. The questions aren't easy, and neither are Kern's answers, but they are rewarding and satisfying.

Wear Onda. I dare you.

17th May, 2015

Onda Eau de Parfum by Vero Profumo

Monsters frighten us for the way they tell us about ourselves. Don't doubt it, Onda is a monster. Vero Kern plucks specific and unexpected descriptors from each of her component pieces. Vetiver (salt lick), passionfruit (floral rot), ginger (sand-paper), honey (musky sharpness),woods (dust). Using these disparate pieces Kern composes a perfectly poised perfume that I could never have dreamed of. It's not simply coherent, implying that the the odd bits have been smoothed over. It's right, as if it reveals something important that I hadn't considered. It should look like Frankenstein's monster; torso from one body, head from another, limbs from a few others. We should notice the ill-fit and coarse seems. It should be awkward if not uncomfortable. But it is in fact perfect.

So, with my biases hanging out and my eyes a little glazed, Onda.

I turn to the artist not to reassure me of what I already know or believe, but for the unexpected. Wearing Onda gives me a detachment from normalcy that I could just kiss. It's hallucinatory. It's the scent of an angel, who, on getting up after a hard fall, adjusts his powdered wig and his jockstrap with delicately gloved hands before digging through the soil to harvest pickled citrus fruit. Fantasy and synesthesia in a bottle.

Abstraction is a tool for reducing components to the properties that the artist find most important. Kern recognizes properties that another artist might not. For all the outrageousness of this composition, it feels comfortable, like the way that a vivid dream can have a bizarre narrative while feeling perfectly normal. While Onda brings to mind a trippy angel it also also simply smells like skin and motion. There's an expression that pops into my head unsummoned when I wear Onda. "The sins of the flesh." This expression, like Kern's perfume, ties together desire, fear, exposure and release into one experience. To pay Kern a high complement, her perfume is gorgeously, magnificently queer. Kern shows the difference between prettiness and beauty and prettiness starts to seem beside the point.

17th May, 2015
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Rozy Parfum Extrait by Vero Profumo

Vero Kern is known for using three versions of a perfume in order to express a concept in its entirety. The three concentrations are exceptionally detailed and finished, yet considered together, they allow you to contemplate more fully the meaning of the perfume. Each fragrance is a fully executed idea and the choice is yours to select the ‘Goldilocks’ version, the one that’s just right.

Kern defies the trend in perfumery of rehashing an idea with serial iterations of a perfume. It might seem a fine point, but it is important in understanding Kern’s work: the three concentrations of her perfumes are not flankers or sequals. Each piece stands alone, yet together they provide different perspectives and propose an ongoing discussion. They are akin to triptychs in the visual arts.

Rozy Eau de Parfum drapes honeyed fruit notes and smooth leather on the balancing point of the rose. It is both sultry and contemplative, triggering my imagination of the ambrosia of Greek mythology. The Voile d’Extrait, on the other hand, makes the EDP feel positively introspective. It is a universe of rose and leather micosconds after the Big Bang. It expands in all directions and accelerates your senses. Both concentrations expound on similar notes but send them on very different journeys.

The extrait or pure perfume concentration has traditionally been considered the ultimate version of a perfume (eg. Chanel 5, Jean Patou Joy, Guerlain Mitsouko). Kern is known for her extraits and they demonstrate her thorough understanding of classical perfumery. Like the best traditional pure perfumes, her extraits balance a stronger concentration of materials with a plusher sensibility. Some contemporary pure perfumes mistake strength for volume and come off as simply loud. Kern’s extraits are powerful, but they focus on width and texture. They are three-dimensional yet spectral. They are simultaneously particular and elusive, more dreamlike than her other concentrations.

After the carnal EDP and the bombastic Voile d’Extrait, Rozy Extrait is the brilliant resolution to the Rozy story. The three share the same DNA, but the Extrait reconfigures the features of its siblings. It’s a face I recognize, but couldn’t have imagined on my own. Rozy Extrait is a refined and effortlessly powerful perfume. Where the EDP is leisurely and the Voile d’Extrait races, the Extrait demonstrates poise, that balance between movement and stillness, not stasis but self-possession. You don't consider gravity until you try to overcome it. Rozy Extrait exerts a similar force but with a lipsticked smile. The rose is dark and the leather is heavy but Rozy floats obligingly around you like your own personal atmosphere.

Like the Extrait version of Onda, Rozy Extrait feels as though there is a threat below its calm surface. It is alluring. It is tantalizing. Each time I wear it, I can resist for all of a minute before I give in. Vero Kern gives us a surprise with Rozy Extrait and reminds me why I turn to the artist for what I couldn’t have imagined myself.

17th May, 2015

Vanilla Flash by Tauerville

The Tauerville line is perfumer Andy Tauer’s attempt to simplify. Not to make simple perfumes, but to streamline the process of conceiving, marketing, distributing and selling perfume.

The line is sold through the Tauerville website and from select dealers. Packaging is uncomplicated and handsome and the 30 ml bottles and 10 ml roll-ons are ideal sizes. Each perfume and size is available singly or in reasonable quantities at a 50% discount so that small retailers can sell the line with a minimum of risk. The streamlining of the process has a two-fold benefit for the consumer: pricing is low and it frees Tauer up from his role as a business owner to focus on his role as perfumer.

There are plenty of perfume lines that have a spare, clean visual styles. Tauerville goes deeper and puts simplicity to work not as a style but as a practical means of getting the perfume into your hands. It’s not spare in the sense of a modernist aesthetic; presentationally sparse, conceptually fussy. Rather it’s candid and unprententious. The excitement is in the perfume, not the box it comes in.

The Tauerville concept is sly. It presents itself as simple: less lather, lower cost, no purple prose. (Good lord, is this crazy man selling perfume and not lifestyle?) It’s also apparent, though, that a lot of consideration went into Tauerville. It’s the confident result of a conviction that perfume is more important than hype. It’s a refreshing alternative to an increasingly baroque, portly niche market.

It’s actually a bit subversive. Niche perfumery has come to reflect an amped-up ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ notion of luxury that makes 1980s style seem reserved. Tauerville’s lack of ostentation is a welcome provocation to the hyperbolic status quo.

As for the perfume, it too benefits from the distillation process. Vanilla Flash feels immediate and specific. Tauer says on the Tauerville site that his inspiration for Vanilla Flash was, “…the quest to come up with a vanilla that I will wear.” When I think about it, what better scale is there for an artist to measure his work than himself? Vanilla Flash is personal not for the fact that it reveals secrets about the perfumer’s character. It's what he would wear, it suits him and therefore I assume is a reflection of his desires. Tauer’s methodology fills in a piece of the puzzle of how perfume creates meaning.

Oh, notes. Not really my thing to talk about perfume in notes, but I suppose the name is an invitation to the discussion. The vanilla/spice/tobacco notes are precise yet blended. Unsweetened and unsentimental, as if they have been finely sifted together. Tobacco leaf has a floral quality and links Vanilla Flash to the woody floral genre. Patchouli and vanilla are paired in perfumes often. They combine to give a lasting aromatic quality that lets a perfume keep a melodic tone of voice into drydown. Vanilla Flash plays on the pairing, but articulates it differently. There is a cool, camphorous quality to Vanilla Flash that I imagine comes from patchouli. (If not, a cool spice?) It prevents the perfume from straying the warm/busomy range that most vanilla perfumes inhabit by reflex.

To rephrase an old chestnut: cold hands, cool heartnotes. Skin is warm. Your perfume doesn’t have to be.

17th May, 2015

Room 237 by Bruno Fazzolari

Searing woods, rough ouds, tarry incenses. The overtly tough perfumes get most of the attention in the discussion of ‘challenging’ perfumes. Grim, dense, basenote-heavy perfumes are assumed to be threatening. Within the perfume fraternity they land somewhere between a hazing ritual and a hot-pepper eating contest. They have an aura of intimidation and tests of manhood, but conceptually they are as menacing as someone jumping out at you and yelling, “BOO!"

Room 237's challenge is less overt. It's not a dare, it's a threat.

The perfume's name is a reference to a specific scene and set from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The scene is horrifying for the way it creates suspense, for the way evil is revealed. It doesn't confront you. It invites you, it lures you. It's banal and common and you only become aware of it because you are becoming part of it. Whether you knew it or not, sin surrounds you and always has. Having peeled back the curtain and seeing the evil, there's no turning back.

It's a great spin on the tree of knowledge myth. Temptation, the internalization of evil, the fall from grace. So how can a perfume be 'about' these concepts? Room 237 works with discord smartly and delicately. The scent does evoke bathroom rituals. It suggests an enclosed space, moist air, human skin. It even borrows the form of the musky eau de cologne that often completes the bathing ritual. Perfumes have used materials like musks and costus to depict cleanliness against a backdrop of human animalism (eg. Eau d’Hermès, YSL Kouros, Miller Harris l’Air de Rien.)

Room 237 tweaks the juxtaposition, suggesting not a steamy bath, but the lingering moments after, where condensation on cold porcelain and plastic refute the humanity of the scenario. Cleansing and grooming should leave one at the height of freshness, so why is the setting so disturbing? Why does warm skin shiver? Is it a chill or the touch of something wicked? The incongruities, the inappropriateness might be at the far corner of your attention, just past the periphery, but you can sense them and they're not going away.

Sinister and just a bit seductive.

17th May, 2015

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta

Perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac made some of the most memorable and influential perfumes of the 1970s-1990s.

Yves Saint Laurent’s era-defining Opium (1977) smothered the oriental genre in spice, making the previous big-girls like Shalimar and Youth Dew seem quaint. In the 1980s Sieuzac skipped the match, but piled on the gasoline to redefine leather with the twin brutes Hermès Bel Ami (1986) and Christian Dior Fahrenheit (1988). As if to stuff the genie that he released with Opium back into the bottle, in 1991 he composed Christian Dior Dune, an eerie beauty that gives me a shiver every time I put it on. It has the jarring capacity to make opposing qualities fit together that renders it both off-putting and seductive. In retrospect, Dune is the the perfume that sat aloof and alone at the cusp of the 80s and 90s. It managed simultaneously to refer to the disproportionate scale of 1980s perfumery yet usher in the sense of concession and atonement of the perfumes of the early 1990s.

In 1977 Sieuzac also made Oscar for Oscar de la Renta. Though it won the 1978 Women’s Fragrance of the Year Fifi Award it was overshadowed by its its own sibling Opium, which crushed everything in its trajectory. Compared to Opium, whose name and scent suggest the unquestioning pursuit of pleasure (ahhh…the 70s), Oscar’s terse mixed floral tone might well have coined the phrase ‘old lady perfume.’ Oscar is a sharp, starched white floriental perfume that leans more toward the dry sting of carnation and the remoteness of gardenia than the lushness of jasmine or tuberose. Opium’s relationship to tradition was to break from it by surpassing it. Oscar could not have been more different in its aspiration. It was in the lineage of Caron Bellodgia, Dior Dioressence and Guerlain l’Heure Bleue—perfumes that might not have been intended to be distant, but came to be seen as remote standard-bearers. In fact Oscar shares l’Heure Bleue’s classic bittersweetness with a similar midpoint between glacé resinousness and acrid powder. It is a potent, almost forceful fragrance but its tone was so conservative compared to its contemporaries that wearing it gives the sensation of falling backward, stepping away from the accelerating dynamic of the late 1970s.

I doubt that a lot of people in the late 70s wore both Opium and Oscar. They capture the two sides of what would very soon come to be called America’s “culture war.” Sieuzac deserves great credit for straddling this nascent divide and creating two exceptional compositions in the process. It cannot have happened inadvertently. Oscar suited the de la Renta brand’s goal of dressing the ladies-who-lunch, the women who aspired to the society-set. Opium captured the Yves Saint Laurent brand’s desire for a new chic: the androgyny, the Studio 54 vibe, the casual affluence.

Perfume’s language is an openly debated question in 2015. Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s perfumes from 1977 comment subtly but precisely on this issues of the day and are a record of how perfumery speaks and can be read. It’s unfortunate that in 1977 the work of the perfumer wasn’t publicly attributed to him. Within the next two decades that closet door would start to open. Better late than never, my hat is off to Jean-Louis Sieuzac.

(Based on an excellently preserved bottle of eau de toilette from the early 1980s.)

17th May, 2015

Cologne Reloaded by Bogue Profumo

Cologne Reloaded is made with perfume materials from the 1940s that found their way into the hands of perfumer and architect Antonio Gardoni. It is derived from a concentrated eau de cologne base called "Colonia della Esperis”. The base included instructions for reconstitution to various concentrations, each of which Gardoni prepared in his investigation of the materials.

The discussion of Cologne Reloaded focuses quickly on the materials. Due to regulation and ethical considerations many historical materials are no longer used. As found objects from a remote past, though, these extant materials are free from contemporary censure and can be appreciated for their aesthetic value. They are an unearthed treasure, a time-capsule. The question is what to do with them?

cologne reloadedHow should we view a cultural artifact separated from its era and lineage? In the case of the perfume base, you have the object as well as clear instructions for how it was used during its time. How do you interpret it in the present? Should they be preserved? Studied? Revived and prepared per the instructions? The answer to these questions leads from the materials to the perfumer.

Mixed-media work is not uncommon. With Cologne Reloaded, though, the form isn't an intermedia hybrid. The artist is.

Architecture has a language for adapting the past to the present/future and changing a structure’s meaning. Adaptation requires analysis of the original form and reimagining it while reflecting on the unexpected and unintended. An architect who is also a perfumer is in an interesting position to answer the questions posed by these materials from the past.

The rediscovered essences were the starting place for the composition that eventually became Cologne Reloaded. Employing an eau de parfum concentration for a composition intended as an eau de cologne increases the potency but also risks a loss of clarity. Rather than avoid the issue of intensity, Gardoni chose to highlight it, adding materials that emphasize the forcefulness of the perfume by opening it up and making it more expansive. The topnotes in particular vibrate as if they are barely contained and Cologne Reloaded lunges out of the bottle. It has many of the signifiers of old-school perfumery including an expansive hesperidic opening that recalls an eau de cologne and a barber-shoppy hum nicked from the classic fougère. It borrows the twisted logic of the mid 20th century chypre and starts with a pouncing animalic quality yet finishes with a dense, powdery tone. Despite the references to the past, Cologne Reloaded is neither nostalgic nor dated.

Some of the source materials came in the form of pre-mixed bases. The inherent complication of a base is that a perfumer can add to it but not subtract from it. Strong choices and editing become difficult to balance. Gardoni is adept and succeeds in making a perfume with a large dynamic range but no gaps or sharp edges. It bridges genres as easily as it bridges eras. Gardoni makes a compelling argument in favor of tradition, showing it to be a strength rather than a burden. He takes advantage of a traditional approach without falling into the traps of a conservative method. Cologne Reloaded is neither a repetition of the past nor a refuge from innovation. It is contemporary in structure if not style. At a time when restrictions on materials often foster nostalgia and regret, Gardoni uses vintage materials to ground his work firmly in the present.

Production of Cologne Reloaded was restricted by a limited supply of the perfume base. Colonia della Esperis presented the classic zero-sum game: its supply is finite and cannot be reproduced. The dilemma becomes preservation versus meaningful use. Should it be reconstituted per instructions? Is it a museum-piece for display? Should we genuflect when we refer to it? Is there another option?

Gardoni’s solution is to investigate the materials and to recognize what they offer. Colonia della Esperis could no longer be produced today, but current aromachemicals allows for the creation of perfume that couldn't have been imagined in the 1940s. Gardoni demonstrates that the value of tradition is not the repetition of customs or the replication of historical objects. It is the evolution of ideas.

Colonia della Esperis and Cologne Reloaded highlight perfume’s impermanence and its predicament as both an object and an experience. The perfumes are gone and I mourn their loss, but Antonio Gardoni remains, a prospect that leaves me upbeat about the future of perfumery.

17th May, 2015

Muguet 2015 by Guerlain

Each May Guerlain release a Muguet eau de toilette. It is a spin on the French tradition of giving and receiving small bouquets of lily-of-the-valley on May 1. The original Guerlain Muguet was composed by Jacques Guerlain in 1908 and a new perfume of the same name was composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1998. Since 2006 (except 2010) Guerlain release the latter version for a single day each May 1 with the slogan, “Un jour, un parfum.” (One day, one perfume.) A new bottle is designed for each year and the perfume has a limited, though highly hyped release.


Dior Diorissimo has been acknowledged as the reference lily-of-the-valley perfume. In 1956 perfumer Edmond Roudnitska launched Diorissimo to great acclaim and it quickly became the reference soliflor of the latter half of the 20th century. Restrictions on the materials used to create the original Diorissimo have lead to a reformulation that no longer resembles the early version. It is a loud, tall perfume that lacks the nuance and proportion of the early version.

Diorissimo's persistence reflects the brand's desire to maintain its stylistic heritage. Dior want their affluent customers to feel that they are tapping into a pedigreed history and the luxe-life fairy tale needs both a splashy present and a conservative past. Diorissimo, Dioressence, Diorama, Diorling and Diorella, are a link to the era of Christian Dior himself and Dior would no sooner give up production of Diorissimo than they would give away the Dior name. Diorissimo still serves as a reference perfume. Unfortunately it is the examplar of a genre that has fallen from grace, gutted by restrictions on materials.

Yet both Guerlain and Dior persist. Dior's strategy of serving up an inferior perfume under the name of an icon comes off as cynical. Guerlain are no more noble in their marketing of heritage than Dior, yet their annual effort to shine a light on this tragic category, the muguet soliflor, is more an act of hope than an admission of defeat. Oh, the Guelain's Muget 2015 that I've smelled is no more elevated than the current Diorissimo. In fact, they smell quite similar and Guerlain's Muguet is ridiculously expensive, but it reads as an attempt to keep a candle burning until this sad genre can be resuscitated by the future perfumer who solves the compositional dilemma.

Where Dior might have thrown in the towel, Guerlain keep the fight alive. Vive la resistance!

17th May, 2015

K de Krizia by Krizia

Discovering a chypre from the early 1980s that you've never tried is dicey. While it's new to me, it's by no means a new perfume, and has lived, loved and likely been reformulated a number of times, probably fatally. Hand a new fumie a current bottle of Diorella, she'll sniff and then look at you and say, "This is the shit you've all been talking about?" And she'd be right to ask. The current stuff isn't anything to rave about, or really even discuss.

There's a whole generation of fumies for whom the the tragedy of reformulation means that their Miss Dior Chérie (or whatever it's called at this point) has been tampered with and their Badgely Mischka has been unceremoniously discontinued.

IFRA (International Fragrance Association) regulations diminish the perfumer’s palette. However you come down on the ethics, evidence and outcomes of their restrictions, the IFRA hinders perfumers and has taken perfumes away from those who relish them.

I can't find information on how to date this particular perfume, but I believe I have a vintish K de Krizia. There's a bit of a dry fruit feeling upfront, and an appropriate amount of Amber in the far dry down, but all the way along this baby is a soaring floral chypre. What seem like aldehydes provide the lift off, but once at altitude it's the cold flowers that give buoyancy. I don't know the ratio of oakmoss to treemoss to [insert mossy analogue], and god only knows what has been done to modulate the other toxic aromachemicals like bergamot, labdanum, but my K de Krizia passes all the functional tests of a chypre. It's dry like a good martini, it's florals are buttery yet sharp in tone. It's like taking a long drag on a cigarette. Now THAT to me is a chypre.

K reminds me a bit of the mid-2000s Miss Dior. God knows how many variations of Miss Dior are out there, but the floral tone to the two is similar. K has less of the patchouli overdose, but in both perfumes the petals aren't so much dried as freeze dried. They bite back a bit when you sniff your wrists. Your gift at the end of the day of a wearing of K is a starched soapy climax that seems as thought it might be hissing at you.
19th June, 2014 (last edited: 24th January, 2017)

Jules by Christian Dior

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

One force that presses the issue is the restriction of materials and the dreaded reformulation. The chypre genre has become vintage by extinction due to the limited use of oakmoss. That is, pre-reformulation chypres become vintage the day after reformulation. Coumarin, the sine qua non of the fougère, is restricted as well. The chypre was bled to death over time. Has the same happened to the fougère?

So here's the question: Does Jules still exist? Vintage Jules took advantage of everything the aromatic fougère offered. It was gregarious and handsome. It hit the balance point between cleanliness and funk that made you want to throw your arms around your fellow humans and smell them. It had the soap/musk mash-up typical of the genre, but added a bouquet garni and a smile. Vintage Jules reminds me why I grew up loving the smell of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and easily fell in with Yves Saint Laurent Kouros as a young when it was released. The aromatic fougère reaches out for you. It reminds you why the term inspiration carries multiple meanings. It is optimistic by nature.

The current iteration suffers from everything we kvetch about with reformulation: thinner, pale, less long-lasting. There are plenty of well-maneuvered reformulations, but when a particularly strapping version of a titanic genre is made small, I have to question whether it's better simply left to die.
19th June, 2014 (last edited: 24th January, 2017)

Dioressence by Christian Dior

2013–I’ve seen some discussions online about the merits and pathologies of vintage perfume collecting. I’m live-and-let-live on this one. If it feels good, do it. But how far will you go for vintage? Me, not far. Of course my consolation prize is all of contemporary perfumery, so I’m not panicking.

But sometimes you can’t say no, yes? I’ve come across an old/new bottle of Dioressence edt from the ‘90s-‘00s. Dioressence the Tease, the Trap. Purported to have made the progression from old school, animalic grande dame to complete rubbish. To believe the stories, the vintage is the Grail, and the later reformulations weren’t worth pissing on.

So what vintage had I found? Fuck if I know, but it’s interesting. It’s not the monster that I suspect the original formulation was. But is it trash? Not at all. It’s a powdery, spicy oriental-chypre that’s built for human scale. Prim and upright but also tart and musky. More than a bit sweaty, actually. Dioressence has that come-hither yet stand-offish quality that old-school powdery perfumes conveyed so well.

2016— I’ve just found a wrapped and sealed bottle of pre-1980 Dioressence eau de toilette. This is the original version, composed by Guy Robert. It existed in its original formulation from 1969 to 1979 when it was reformulated by Max Gavarry. The bottle I found in 2013 was Gavarry’s.

Gavarry’s reformulation resembles the Robert original in that are both powdery, woody-floral chyprientals in a perfume-genre multi-culti sort of way. Gavarry’s started with a tart, funk-and-powder dynamic and spiciness in lieu of the animalic quality of the original but the drydown failed to keep up. It was tame in comparison to raspy balsamic drydowns found in other ‘70s-style oriental/chypre hybrids like Rochas Mystère and Lancome Magie Noire (both 1978) and Lancome’s Sikkim (1971.) Though both models of Dioressence cover a lot of the same territory, the evolution of the Robert version favors the classic oakmoss/amber drydown of a chypre and therefore seems more coherent. Its path is more logical than Gavarry’s which has its finger in a few too many pies.

From the perspective of 2016 both versions seem dated, but in 1979 I imagine the ‘new model’ read as more contemporary than the original Dioressence. As animal-sourced materials were fell out of favor, rich, spicy notes were used to give perfumes depth and richness. The Gavarry reboot fits in with the Cinnabar/Opium/Ispahan spiced-eggnog perfumes of the late ’70s. The original Dioressence was based at least to some extent on Miss Dior, a floral-animalic chypre from 1947, and would have seemed unstylish and outdated by 1979. Gavarry’s version made sense for its time, but from the angle of 2016, the original has the glamour of the coveted mid-century chypres. The Gavarry is like a ‘70s movie sequel by comparison. Less authenticky.

Dior continued to change Dioressence over the years, the name being the only continuity to the original. Quite unfortunately, Dioressence’s lasting contribution of perfume history is that it started Dior’s trend of continual, unacknowledged reformulation. Look no further than the bottomless pit of Dior Homme and Miss Dior Chérie reformulations. Actually, look further. The unambitious reformulations of Dior’s classics like Diorissimo, Diorling and Dorama—‘Les Créatures de Monsieur Dior’ I believe they’re called—are the logical and regrettable outcome of the repeated tinkering with Dioressence over the years.
19th June, 2014 (last edited: 21st June, 2016)

Jubilation XXV by Amouage

The founding concept of Amouage is the hybrid that results from a meeting of cultures. Eastern materials and sensibilities, Western methods and composition. Omani direction, European perfumers. Combining cultures shifts power and transforms identity. It's not easy and although the outcomes can’t be predicted, some consequences can be expected: assumptions will be exposed, borders will be redrawn, mores will be dissected, and the full ramifications will play out over a timeframe of generations.

Notions of beauty reflect cultural ideals and changes can be examined as bellwethers of larger societal change. Early hybrid models of beauty, such as Amouage Gold (1983), might appeal to one generation, seeming opulent and dramatic, yet not meet the needs of the next-generation. To them the style might be objectionable, ie. offensively orientalist or melodramatic.

To a younger perfume wearer or someone new to all perfume, the original Gold Woman looks like the perfume equivalent of The King and I, dated, out of step, presumptuous. Jubilation XXV reflects more of the contemporary school of multiculturalism. It exposes differences rather than smoothing them over. Each perfume is a reflection of the perfumer’s sensibilities and artistic approaches. Guy Robert, who composed Gold, is a classicist, and therefore a traditionalist. Gold is considered both Robert’s crowning achievement and the realization of Amouage’s goal of ‘the finest, damn the expense.’ The fact that the apotheosis of French perfumery came from Oman might have shocked at the time, but can be seen as a best-foot-forward approach sometimes taken at a meeting of polite strangers. 

Bertrand Duchaufour, perfumer of Jubilation XXV (2004) is more of a postmodernist, and is known for breaking down form in order to rebuild it into the vision he prefers. There is a logical through line from his previous work to Jubilation XXV. From his work for Comme des Garçons, where he stripped wood down to its essence, to his use of fruit as spice, to his fascination with frankincense, there is a direct line from his seminal Timbuktu to Jubilation XXV. I don’t mean to imply that by having come after Gold, Timbuktu is the product of a more enlightened sensibility. The multi-culti world-arts philosophy that Timbuktu’s post-modernism refers to is starting to look a bit long in the tooth in retrospect.

From Shalimar to Opium to Ambre Sultan the perfume industry is so steeped in cheap 20th century Euro-orientalism, that its cultural bigotry, often couched as fantasy, often passes unnoticed today. Gold and Timbukto are styles of a cultural myopia that is common to the perfume industry despite long-standing criticism. (Don’t get me started on by Kilian’s full-blown orientalist new lines. It makes the 1920s French Oriental fantasy perfumes seem positively PC.)

So, here's the thing. Does any of this after-the-fact interpretation matter? My point is that it matters if you bring yourself to it. If you give it your attention, an art object, a perfume, can be read. It deserves examination and deliberation. Consideration and pleasure are two non-mutually exclusive sides to perfume use. Why not take both?

Here’s the real fun, though: what if your experience of a perfume doesn't fall in line with the reading? Which side is true? Critical thinking and the pleasurable use of perfume are both parts of the art of perfumery. But the two aspects collide for me. Gold does have that King-and-I feel to it, that old-school western colonial flavor. It's a flavor I would kindly call distasteful, and more likely call historically naive and ignorant. Yet despite my better angels, I love Gold. It is sumptuous, it is decadent. I love to spray it on and embrace the extravagance! Does this make me a hypocrite? My cold, poststructuralist soul tells me that Jubilation XXV should win my heart, that I should refuse the the thoughtless chauvinism of Gold. But in spite of my appreciation, I actually don't like Jubilation XXV. On anesthetic level, it's not pleasurable or satisfying. On the compositional level, it feels as if Duchaufour tried to shoehorn the entirety of an Arabic sensibility into a bottle of Timbuktu.

Perfume discussions very infrequently play out as an argument of gut versus intellect. Why not? The uncommonness interests me. There is a contemporary assumption that perfumery is not, cannot be, an intellectual practice, neither for the perfumer nor the wearer. This presumption is false and goes unquestioned because we’re not taught to think about or discuss perfume. The Gold versus Jubilation XXV argument tells me that there's much more that can be unearthed from perfumery than we imagine. If an art-form works rigorously with aesthetics, intention and expression, as perfumery does, then it holds that our discussion should rise above opinion and preference.

Let’s be thoughtful about perfume.

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Ysatis by Givenchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Bel Ami by Hermès

In retrospect, Hermès Bel Ami marks the midway point between the dry woods of Chanel Antaeus and the gasoline slap of Dior Fahrenheit. The connection is leather, which both the Chanel and the Dior hint at, but the Hermès wraps itself in.

An intermediate species can by definition only be identified after the fact. So, here we are, after the fact, and Bel Ami deserves its niche, its genre. The woody petro-cuir.

Chanel Antaeus is classified as a woody fragrance. But it hasn’t been given the typical Chanel face-lift of aldehydes, iris and velvet (Bois des Iles, Cuir de Russie). Antaeus is woody by virtue of the range of its notes, not for any affiliation with nature. This is a wood product in the same way that turpentine is. Where most woody perfumes emulate botanical woods, Antaeus reminds me of touching my tongue to a frozen chain-link fence at an outdoor skating rink.  Antaeus feels chilled by virtue of an extreme dryness that conjures freeze-drying. Dior Fahrenheit matches Antaeus dryness with a cool hiss. The chill is the feeling left behind on your skin as gasoline evaporates, leaving only a brisk whiff as memory.

I recently came across two bottles of vintage Bel Ami, the cocktail shaker model.  They were boxed testers that had been well stored and were perfectly preserved.  I never smelled it at the time of its release but I wish I had. The combination of botanical and proudly synthetic notes make Bel Ami a large-scale fairy-tale of a perfume. No Disney back-pedal for a G rating, though. Bel Ami is an olfactory history in the school of historical oral history. Fairy tales were principally a means of reinforcing the super-ego, were deliberately frightening and worked by reinforcing irrational thought. Fairy tales told you, “don’t go outside the boundaries of tribe and kin, or monsters will destroy you.” Less specific, but equally promissory of harm, Bel Ami taunts with a smile: ”Go ahead. Fuck with me.”  

Bel Ami plays with a gasoline note that Fahrenheit would eventually take to maximum expression. The top notes are a big opening and grab your attention, settling pretty quickly into the heart. The leather note in Bel Ami is irresistable. The wood and the gasoline notes set the tone for the fragrance and the leather is dry and crackly-stiff. It has the quality of an imagined leather object like a leather blanket.  I've never heard of one, but I'd love to have one.

I've never tried the current model of Bel Ami, and I'm leery too.  Vintage Bel Ami reminds me of everything that I loved about the early men's power fragrances.  Vintage Bel Ami is not the shaved steroid gym queen of this millennium.  It precedes the contempo-masculine poodle-tailored facial hair , and it certainly precedes topiary pubic styling.  Bel Ami has honest-to-goodness chest hair, the kind you want to run your fingers through.

Fucking hot.

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Fleur du Mâle by Jean Paul Gaultier

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Voyageur by Jean Patou

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Giorgio by Giorgio Beverly Hills

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Malabar by Crown Perfumery

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Mouchoir de Monsieur by Guerlain

Maybe it's some weird human drive for finding distinction, maybe it's simply the result of having more perfumes than I could ever imagine wearing in a lifetime, but I find myself focussing on the qualitative differences of some very similar perfumes. Guerlain Habit Rouge eau de toilette and eau de parfum. The same for Guerlain Insolence. Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois, Bois de Violette and Bois et Fruits. I’ve found themes that I like and now I'm looking for the variations.

I've gone backwards historically, starting with the Sheldrake/Bourdon perfumes for Lutens and going back to the ones that started the trend: Guerlain’s Jicky (1889) and Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904). The contrasts between Jicky and Mouchoir play out as the differences in temperament you might find between twins. These perfumes differ in degrees of expansiveness, but have more similarity than difference. But when resemblance is taken for granted, the differences jump out at you.

(A note about formulation. I have the eau de toilette of Jicky from 2005, and a brand-new bottle of Mouchoir, also eau de toilette.)

Both perfumes have a rich, almost tactile quality but Jicky also has a cat’s poise, an active balance that might shift one way or the other on a whim. Jicky’s play of lavender and vanilla seems to sparkle, suggesting something fluid and always in motion. Oh, Jicky has its raunch. The civet note is neither subtle nor hidden, but it's playfully lewd. Jicky seems very aware of its shifty personality, and may play any side at one time or another to charm you. Mouchoir speaks with the same voice as Jicky, but is more reserved. To use a word that I wish had never fallen out of use, Mouchoir is melancholic. Where you can take the entirety of Jicky in in a single breath, Mouchoir takes a bit more commitment. The effort pays dividends, though, and wearing Mouchoir rewards you with a sense of groundedness and presence.

Is Jicky simply a less uptight version of Mouchoir? Or is Mouchoir a more introspective version of its impulsive elder brother? To look at the two more specifically as perfumes, Jicky leans more toward the oriental genre. It is thicker and more voluptuous. It's dessert qualities are right on the tip of its tongue when it kisses you. Mouchoir, particularly in its basenotes, has the austerity of a chypre, emphasizing dryness over dessert. Accordingly, it's basenotes growl where Jicky’s purr.

Only the most sensitive nose around you will likely spot the difference in these perfumes from one day to the next. Deciding which to where is far more important to you than to anyone around you. And here is the delight of these twins. Choosing the right one and feeling the satisfaction as I apply it feels like setting loose the butterfly effect on my day.

19th June, 2014 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)