Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Invasion Barbare / SB by MDCI

Perfumer Stéphanie Bakouche, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

An odd aromatherapeutic property of lavender is that it is both stimulating and sedative.  Invasion Barbare functions similarly and suits all the tones and moods of a day.  It is graceful.  Is there really any other criterion for a perfume you’d wear every day?
19th June, 2014

Fou d'Absinthe by L'Artisan Parfumeur

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

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

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

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

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

If you're ever confronted with the question of whether perfumery is art, try the side-door and look to the perfumer. Is there any doubt that Giacobetti is an artist?
19th June, 2014

Mûre et Musc Extrême by L'Artisan Parfumeur

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

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

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

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

So, Mure et Muscs Extreme. It is definitively fruity (blackberry) but the fruit never appears out of proportion or sickly-sweet. An astringency, a greenness runs right down the center of Mure et Musc Extreme.  It highlights the sweetness and roundness of the perfume.  It’s strong and can’t be missed, but it just highlight the berry/musk accord.  The musk is the pillow on which the fruit sits, and since the fruit and musk notes are of equal duration, Mure et Muscs lands somewhere between a top-to-bottom traditional accord and a linear one. It changes from start to finish, but most of the changes are an ongoing modulation of the original set of notes.  Different notes step forward at different times, and Mure et Musc demonstrates the best of the linear fragrance.
19th June, 2014
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Ma Griffe (original) by Carven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, it's worth it to have the discussion, don't you think?
19th June, 2014

Envy for Men by Gucci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you're interested in looking at perfume from the perspective of the art director instead of the perfumer or an entire line, take a look at the Gucci perfumes by Tom Ford. Some are discontinued, and some are still in production, but they're all fairly easy to find.
19th June, 2014

Vent Vert (new) by Pierre Balmain

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

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

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

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

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

Some other interesting discussions of the green meanies:

19th June, 2014

Le Parfum Denis Durand by Micallef

Top notes: boozy, aromatic dypso. Very pretty.

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

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

Huge fucking perfume.  Fashionably crass. 

Surprisingly covered by the perfume blogosphere.  How’s that happen? Appeal to bloggers as marketing?
19th June, 2014

Vétiver Dry by Carven

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

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

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

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

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

There is a reason perfume wearers who ‘layer’ perfumes have never suggested the combination of Drakkar Noir and Bois de Farine. Vetiver Dry serves as the cautionary tale.
19th June, 2014

Crown Rose by Crown Perfumery

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014

Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels

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

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

In terms of tone and dynamics, Tsar lands somewhere between Azzaro pour Homme and Paco Rabanne pour Homme, which preceded it, and Jacomo Anthracite and Yves St. Laurent Jazz which followed. It is part of the cohort of fougères that were swept aside by the Cool Water tsunami.
19th June, 2014

New York Patchouli by Bond No. 9

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

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

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

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

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

I'll leave it at that.
19th June, 2014

Globe by Rochas

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

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

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

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

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

Why Globe was discontinued is an open question. Luca Turin groups Globe with the 'lost boys' I mention above, suggesting that they were too good or too pure to survive an era that called for cleansing and reparation from its men's fragrances. I won't disagree. Shame, though. Globe would have been a great alternative to so many of the sport/fresh/aqua fragrances of the 1990s. It rang a few of the proper bells, being chilled and smooth, but didn't come with the mark of being a Cool Water clone. 
19th June, 2014

Karma by Gorilla Perfume [Lush]

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014
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Ginger Musk by Montale

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

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

Caveat emptor.  

Not for use on skin.
19th June, 2014

Manhattan by Bond No. 9

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

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

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

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

The dull, lingering sweetness of the drydown comes as a reprieve after the direct attack of the topnotes.
19th June, 2014

Sag Harbor by Bond No. 9

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

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

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

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

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

19th June, 2014

Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella

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

Two thoughts. One, this is an interesting option for those still mourning the loss of Fahrenheit’s original formulation. Two, Nostalgia points out that in the language of perfumery, gasoline is a woody note.
19th June, 2014

Passerelle by Tommi Sooni

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

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

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

Unfortunately, the mischievous quality of the start of the perfume burns itself out pretty quickly and the Puck-like start of the perfume seems like a ruse. The perfume becomes undistinguished in the particular way that a mixed florals can grow faceless. A touch of green remains, but it is too sweet, suggesting that the freshness of the opening of the perfume was too much effort to maintain, and Passerelle threw in the towel.
19th June, 2014

Lys du Desert by Decennial

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

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

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

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

I’m not a perfumer, and I’m not versed in the construction of perfume. I can’t speak to the simplicity or complexity of the construction of any of these perfumes. But as a perfume wearer, I recognize that the the legibility of these perfumes enhances the experience of wearing them. Clarity and intelligibility don’t often equate with effortlessness, and the chance to see how an artist works with ideas he’s honed to their essentials is a pleasure. 
19th June, 2014

V for Women by Clive Christian

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

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

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

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

I'm beginning to regret all the times I said how odd it is that no one's ever really followed in the footsteps of Aromatics Elixir---that nobody’s really tried to imitate it.  Bad imitation on my wrist, I'll watch my tongue in the future.
19th June, 2014

Calypso by Robert Piguet

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

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

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

Quirky but mannered, Calypso feels like a conversation with someone who's accent you can't quite pin down. It leaves me with the suspicion of an dodged question, as if the perfume is resolved but I'm not quite.
19th June, 2014

Notes by Robert Piguet

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

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

The new Robert Piguet line seems intended for a younger, less perfume-experienced buyer than their Futur and  Fracas buyers. Oddly for Aurélien Guichard, a technical master with a particular proficiency in balancing linear and traditional forms, Notes and Calypso both come off as rather monophonic. It's possible that the perfumer aimed low and hit lower still, hoping for the perfume equivalent of a catchy pop song, but winding up with a jingle.
19th June, 2014

Dia Man by Amouage

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

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

Dia is spicy, woody, ambery and just two shades away from grim.   Many of the Amouage men's fragrances are statement perfume's. They announce your arrival. Gold, Ciel, Epic. I'm thrilled to see such unrepentant beauty in masculine fragrances, but as a daily wear, they can be ball busters.  Dia is perhaps the perfect daily wear perfume if you wear perfume as a gift to your own soul. Dia works it's magic over time, reminding you that pleasure should be neither postponed nor uncommon. I’d love to try Dia reality-gameshow style as a test of character. Put a sample of men in a room with all the masculine Amouages and ask them to pick the one that they would wear as a signature perfume. Introduce me to the men who choose Dia.
19th June, 2014

Miss Balmain by Pierre Balmain

Miss B's charm comes from a slapdash composition and that succeeds.  It conveys an honestly straightforward approach, and the result is a charming perfume with character.

Forget any discussions of buttery Italian leather, sophisticated Russian leather, discrete French glove leather.  Miss B is A stiff coat leather with a note of cheap compact-powder florals. Both ranges of notes, the leather and the compact, tell you to take it or leave it.  There's something wonderfully practical about this perfume. It doesn't suggest that you contemplate it in search of meaning, intent or mood. It has that sort of checklist femininity: hair, makeup, purse, dress, shoes. Walk out the house, never give it another thought. For some people this approach could be a a pile-up of mismatches.

For the right person though this approach can read as Just Right, and demonstrate a strong sense of self possession.  Miss Balmain is for a person who likes its dichotomy of notes and is smart enough to recognize it connotes an easy execution of gender more than a belabored performance of it. For the person wearing Miss Balmain, perfume isn't a giveaway of your personality or desires, it's merely a fragrance that s/he likes to wear. Try too read further into it and you'll be barking up the wrong tree.
19th June, 2014

Xeryus by Givenchy

Two fascinating moments in perfumery happened within a few years of each other. They are the “road not taken” moments. When Thierry Mugler’s Angel hit the scene, women’s perfumery was changed irrevocably. Florals, chypres, traditional orientals were instantly ancien régime. It was a classic paradigm shift, an overthrow of the old order. The floral survived by evolving into Fruity Florals, Orientals were diminished and became Gourmands, Chypres, god help us all, became outlaws and now are effectively black market commodities.

The specifics of how the men’s market changed in the 1980s differ in some respects from the changes in the feminine market, but the parallels and simultaneity of the changes make the similarities more important than the differences. Davidoff Cool Water was the masculine counterpart to Angel.

To say the aromatic fougère was supplanted by the aquatic fougère doesn’t sound like much, but the the newer, more tailored aromatic fougères had just started to surpass the dominance of the 70s big boys like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and Azzaro Pour Homme. It was the greatest height of the fougère since the release of Fougère Royale in 1882. Musky fougères (YSL Kouros, Paco Rabanne Ténéré, Dior Jules) floral fougères (Caron’s Troisième Homme, Xeryus) spiced fougères (YSL Jazz, Jacomo Anthracite, Laroche Drakkar Noir) were taking the genre in exciting new directions. The fougère is structurally tied to both the oriental (tonka, balsam) and the chypre (oakmoss and coumarin tethering more effusive floral and spiced notes). It is an inherently rich genre and many perfumers were using the fougère structure to find new ideas. It’s worth considering that Michael Edward’s, the most authoritative figure in the nomenclature of perfumery, placed the fougère at the center of the wheel he created as a visual analogy for categorizing perfumes. It is the ur-perfume.

There were still a few great aromatic fougères produced, such as Partick by Patrick of Ireland (1999) a fougère in the chypre direction, and YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003), but for the most part, after the advent of of Cool Water (1988) the aquatic fougère ruled with an iron fist. Dyhydromyrcenol made for the creation of fougères that would have the volume of the best fougère from the 1970s, but lacked the complexity and therefore matched the feminine counterparts that were becoming ever louder, ever simpler fruity florals and candied gourmands. Feminism’s effect on perfumery changed or waned, depending on your perspective, and the empowered feminines like Aromtics Elixir, Scherrer de Scherrer, Dior Diorella, YSL Rive Gauche became ‘Old Lady Perfumes’. Hypergender became a stylistic norm, and countless straight couples could be spotted on the town: her, with hair three feet high and rising dosed with Poison or Angel; him with slicked back hair drenched in Cool Water.

I am sad over the loss of the pre-1988 aromatic fougère. It was just about to take off into some great places. Let’s not forget that these perfume were also the basic blue-print for the 1980’s mens’ power frag. Take a fougère, exchange the lavender for some more spicy elements, and freeze-dry the wood. Voila! Krizia Uomo, Chanel Antaeus, Patou pour Homme. Sometimes the player of a group known for largesse is the one to go for. Scherrer de Scherrer, a chypre that could give Aromatics Elixir a black eye is my go to green/leather chypre. Xeryus has some of that well-dressed thug appeal, seeming more like a perfume for Craig’s Bond than Moore’s. Or perhaps Dench’s M.

Xeryus is becoming on you in the way it allows to you swagger a bit. It lends authority. It’s a remarkably detailed perfume that tells you not to sweat the details. It has a vaguely threatening edge at the same time it lets you be a pretty boy. Great combo of attributes. Definitely a perfume to play with.
19th June, 2014

Gucci Eau de Parfum by Gucci

I don't think this perfume is made any longer, but I have a pile of carded samples that I bought years ago for $.25 apiece at some old perfume shop. I always liked it in that dirty pleasure sort of way, relishing that cheap thrill of mild sleaziness of enjoying a cheap perfume. 

Trying this perfume again after a few years I realize my mistake. I found these samples at some mistakenly low-price and the made amateurish mistakes of equating cheap with Cheap.   This is a beautiful, simple floriental, one that eschews the genre’s typical diva-ish complexity in favor of simple, well-chosen broad strokes. I smell it as if it is under an olfactory magnifying glass. It's laid out like paint-by-numbers canvas that only has the colors orange flower, cumin and amber filled in. The artist stepped back, realized less might be more and left if in its simple state of beauty.  Perhaps more mainstream perfumers should try this pre-editing, because Gucci EDP smell a little rough at the edges and just right.

This simple structure makes a tightly knit perfume that remains coherent through drydown.  Smelling it years later, it seems like a fragrance that could be released today as a masculine woody floral.  
19th June, 2014

Kinski by Escentric Molecules

Apparently every now and then I need a reminder of how foolish I can be.   My most recent was buying Kinski.

I've always liked Comme de Garçons 2 Man. It's one of the two or three Iso-E super heavy perfumes that I like.   I also love Parfumerie Générale Cozé: hash brownies, who could say no?  Kinski reads as derivative, having stolen the framework of CdG Man 2 as well as pulling a little petty theft of Cozé's space cake note. What Kinski brings to the table is a note of what I'll call drunk-sick.  

The experience of wearing Kinski is like that of having had an enormous hash brownie washed down with a large glass of cheap rum. I ride the headnotes like the bed-spins, surfing the undulating queasiness.

To be honest, I can’t rightly say that Kinski is bad. Many seem to love it.  It's just not my cup of tea. And after having made the egregious decision to purchase it when I find it sick making, I can hardly point fingers.  But thank goodness for the spice of life and all. A fumie friend now has it and is making far better use than my bed spins and dry heaves. 
19th June, 2014

Bois et Fruits by Serge Lutens

The truth of Bois et Fruits, and the other spin-offs of Féminité du Bois as well, is hidden in plain sight in their names.  Bois de/et (insert note). Variation, exploration, overdosage. The truth of the matter is, they are flankers.  The upside is that they demonstrate that a flanker isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The first thing a flanker must do is to prove that it's different enough from the original to have a name of its own, and Bois et Fruits does.  The name also implies that the fruit hasn't fallen far from the tree.  If you expect a juicier more flavorful richer perfume than Féminité du Bois, think again.  Bois et Fruit IS fruitier than Féminité du Bois, but it is also darker and dryer. Despite the added plums, Bois et Fruit less overtly flavorful than Féminité du Bois. For want of a better word, Bois et Fruit is dusty. But the dustiness is very appealing. The connection between the fruit and the wood is quite different than you find it in Féminité du Bois. Féminité du Bois is know for its singing quality, its radiance. It sings in the key of Iso E, but it does so beautifully. Bois et Fruit doesn't have its predecessors angelic radiance and is all the better for it. It plays closer to the skin, taking advantage of its relative opacity and matte finish. 

This perfume highlights a point I find in Lutens's other perfumes.   Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake seems to make distinctions in tone with the fruit, not the wood.  To look at Féminité du Bois, Bois de Violette and Arabie, the woody tone among the three is quite similar. But in Féminité du Bois the fruit is boozy. In Bois de Violette it is crystalized. In Arabie it is stewed. In Bois et Fruits the fruit is dried and preserved, somehow suggesting a stillness and a poise that the others don’t have. The experience is less taxing, and you’ll find Fruits less likely to wear you than any of the above.

Bois et Fruits is similar to Féminité du Bois and Bois de Violette. (I’ve never smelled Bois et Muscs or Bois Oriental, the other Féminité du Bois spin-offs.)  Still, the differences are worth noting.  The dryness and the darkness make for a less lingering perfume than Féminité du Bois. I could much more easily wear Bois et Fruits every day. After smelling Bois et Fruits, wearing FbB makes me feel like my ears are ringing.   Féminité du Bois's famous radiance often makes it feel like it's creeping up on you every time you turn around. Bois et Fruit is quieter but deeper and ultimately more subtle than Féminité du Bois. 
19th June, 2014

Oud by Robert Piguet

Long in the tooth. Flogging a dead horse. Stick a fork in it. Something wicked this way comes.

There are so many expressions hint at the sense of ennui/dread I feel at the thought of a new oud perfume. Niche designers are releasing two or three at a time (The Different Company, by Kilian, Francis Kurkdjian. Even Patricia de Nicolai!)  Designer and celebrity fragrances are scrambling late to the table. (Chanel Bleueoud, Madonna Truth, Dare or Oud, Dior J'Oud, Estée Lauder Youth D’Oud, Paris Hilton So Oud! So Hot!)  It would be revolting if it weren't so tired.

It was with particular angst that I saw one of my favorite perfumers, Aurélien Guichard (whom my autocorrect calls, “Brilliant Shark” when I dictate) had made the latest oud perfume. And for Robert Piguet, no less. Guichard captures the Persephone-syndrome afflicting contemporary perfumers better than most.  Part of the year trapped in Hades (Davidoff, Mugler) and half a year on free on earth (Robert Piguet.) From a company with a track record of enticing, suggestive one word titles (Bandit, Fracas, Visa, Futur) comes an uninspired monosyllabic title. Oud. Almost rhymes with turd. Expectations, low; hopes, nil. 

Outcome? Surprising. Pleasantly so. To all the nichy perfumers trying to find the new compositional trampoline that will allow them to jump this shark, and for all the hacks who are simply pouring buckets of Oud Note ™ into their their stock of Flanker Base ™ come look close. Guichard did what he does best and treated oud like any other tool on his palette. That is to say, he executed classical perfumery.

I'm not sure I'll ever love Oud, as I don't particularly love oud, but christ, I appreciate this perfume.  By classical perfumery, I mean applying deliberate compositional techniques to oud in order to create a rich, perfume that demonstrates artistic principles such as proportionality, intent and aesthetics. This is what Bernard Chant did with patchouli in Aromatics Elixir and Germaine Cellier did with galbanum and isoquinilone in Bandit. What Jaques Guerlain did with vanilla.

I've read a number of reviewers who say that Oud contains next to no oud. However the fragrance was composed, Guichard enhances oud’s properties and plays to its strengths. The band-aid note isn't hidden, it's amplified and made sweaty with a heavy dose of myrrh. The odd facet I've smelled in oud wood itself, the chalky/resiny/prickly/parched quality isn't smoothed over, it’s developed. It becomes the principal characteristic of this perfume from the almost disagreeable top notes to the more settled bass notes.

Oud has a distinct, pronounced character, and fits in more with Piguet's relic perfumes than it does the new young dudes in the line like Mademoiselle Piguet and Petit Fracas, also by Guichard. There’s nothing diminutive in Oud. It has the forget-me-not quality of Baghari, but none of its charm.   Like Bandit and Fracas, it has a caged-animal quality that suggests a fragile safety. Despite an occasionally calm appearance, they aren’t tamed.  They're held captive.   It carries the same unsolvable mixed message as a person who comes on to you and then snubs you when you pursue the apparent invitation. I think Germain Cellier would have loved Guichard’s Oud.

Oud possesses another quality that often gets confused with age.  Vent Vert, Cabochard, Youth Dew.  Nahema, Poison, Lou Lou. Even Angel. These classical perfumes aren't successful due to their age. They succeed because of the deliberate approaches that technically proficient artists used to produce the new ideas that they express. They are remembered not for the fact that they are old, but because they are fucking beautiful. Oud and Guichard join the above-mentioned perfumes and perfumers in the tradition of using a formal approach to create a new idea.

(Small note.  More than most perfumes, one spray is sufficient.  Two, uncomfortable.  Three, traumatic.)
19th June, 2014

Lyric Woman by Amouage

Rose is a flower in the same way that sandalwood is a wood, and vanilla is the spice.  Each is so definitive of its category, that it supersedes the classification. Due to this star quality rose tends to be difficult to hide.  The only reason this predicament isn't a problem is that as a rule, nobody wants to hide the rose. 

But if you are a perfumer, there is another nagging problem with the rose: the beauty dilemma. The scent of rose is beautiful. So what?  What do you do with the rose?  After the the soliflor, the rose chypre, the bouquet, the amber-rose, the rose-oud, the thorny rose--what do you do?  Lyric Woman finds a new role for rose. It's not just the rose with a different costume and a new score. Rose isn't the star. In Lyric, rose is the narrator. 

Lyric has an awful lot packed into it, yet it doesn't come off as overburdened. The Rose serves to temper the experience from the fireworks of bergamot in the topnotes through the spicy heart, to the resinous-rose finale. The rose mediates the huge cast of other notes, and the perfume feels lighter than you would expect.  No less potent, simply not so demanding.  The basenotes are a pleasant surprise. The rose-frankincense pairing apparent from the very start of the perfume remains to the end, but there's a savory, nutty quality as well that suggests sandalwood or saffron. Exciting ride, soft landing.

From a perfume producer from a land of a multi-millennial tradition of rose-incense pairings come this little twist. We've seen all the ingredients before, but it's a new recipe. 
18th June, 2014