Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Ubar Woman by Amouage

Look at the cast of any of the Bravo housewives at a post-season reunion. Consider the degree of wardrobe, hair, make-up and custom-spanx before your eyes. What is the difference between this execution of gender and drag? Physiological sex distinctions seem minor. The issue is the extremity of the presentation.  If what you see on those reunion shows isn't drag, I'm not sure what is. 

Smack in the center of the above gender question lies Ubar. Again, the issue is the extremity of the presentation. Ubar doesn't care a whit about what your crotch might hide. Ubar is all eyelashes, nails and bling. Drag or television-femininity, the similarity is hypergender and the differences are unimportant. 

(Is it me, or does Andy Cohen not come off like a court eunuch sitting in the midst of all that regalia?)
18th June, 2014

Fleurissimo by Creed

By rights, I should hate this perfume. It's a fairly spineless, pillowy mixed floral.  It smells more like a rose face cream from the 1960s than a perfume.  It's not just a perfume that I should dislike, it's exemplary of a genre that I do dislike.

But the fun of a genre that you dismiss is that it creeps up on you and jumps you from behind every now and again.  I despise romantic comedies, straight and queer alike.  Still, every few years I’ll watch The Philadelphia Story.

Fleurissimo is my Philadelphia Story of the soft pink floral genre, the genre I dismiss without consideration.  In its favor, though I might call Fleurissimo spineless, it starts with a balanced, diaphanous tone that, if you like this sort of thing, ain't half bad. It grows rosy and fuzzy yet never falls apart. Eventually, and smartly, a tartness enters the picture, and saves the perfume from landing on the fainting couch as a bad period-piece.  

Like The Philadelphia Story Fleurissimo surpasses its genre and asks the jaded audience member to reconsider both the baby and the bath water.
18th June, 2014

Iris 39 by Le Labo

Iris 39 gives a new perspective on the iris perfume. It twists the cool, rooty, powdery sharpness of the iris into a new shape. Where iris root tends toward the powdery in most perfumes, in Iris 39 it’s a cold, tingling, green, papery dust.  It comes off as dry but tacky like rosin.  Iris 39 keeps the conciseness of iris. The definitive quality of the iris. If iris root were a manner of speaking it would read as follows:

Declarative statement. (“Declarative statement, pause, full stop”)

The directness of the iris can read as cold (Chanel 19), sinister (Iris Silver Mist), unapproachable (Maitre’s Iris Bleu Gris) or chaste (Atelier Cologne Silver Iris). It’s a mistake to read standing apart as insult. Iris 39 bridges this gap in communication and keeps the objective tone of iris root, while easing the personal space restrictions

The heart and basenotes don't venture far from the topnotes.  I 39's changes are noticeable not so much as movement as a shifting of gears.  You can drive 50mph in 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th gear. The experience is different in each gear. It’s neither classically three-tiered nor linear. It stays in place, but it moves. It keeps an appealing sharpness throughout. Most descriptions of an iris perfume's drydown capture the result and how it came about.  'Softening to powderiness.'  'Fading to a whisper.'  On the contrary, I 39's basenotes are not about diminishing , but enduring.  I 39 remains dry but adherent. Prickly. 

Often I'm left questioning a le Labo name until I give up and accept that the named note may not be the star of the perfume. I 39 is different. It is a definitive iris, released at a time of seemingly thousands of other iris perfumes. It is simply an exceptional and gorgeous one.  
18th June, 2014
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Acqua Fiorentina by Creed

Hybrid vigor
In any hybrid you're looking for the best of both worlds. I have a labradoodle, a dod bred for service. The goal of the breeding is to combine the intelligence and trainability of the poodle with the human affiliation and low-key temperament of the labradors retriever. The risk of the mix is getting the reverse and having a high-strung, stupid dog.
The eponymous perfume hybrids shout their goal to the heavens: Fruity floral. Rose chypre. Floral leather. Aromatic fougère. Floriental. Acqua Fiorentina makes me wonder if there is an antonym to synergy. Is there a word for the whole being less than the sum of the parts?

Tools for self-destruction
The disparity between the reality of the worse Creed perfumes and the particularly vapid style of their marketing hyperbole is a sort of performance piece. The inequality is charged enough that as in a fairy tale, it simply comes to life.

From the Creed Aqua Fiorentina webpage (version, The Encore 2012):

Description - Sixth-generation master perfumer Olivier Creed re-introduces a fresh new blend of the beloved fragrance. He adds a lively touch of Diamond Jubilee Apple to mark sixty years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, along with beautiful Renaissance rose, Calabrian lemon, plum and white carnation. This encore offers a fresh harmonious scent that will delight her for any occasion.

Classification - Fruitful / Fresh

Characteristics - A long-awaited scent richly deserved by Creed’s loyal clientele who lavished praise on the original blend.

Top note: Lightly sweet greengage plum, often used in cuisine as a dessert plum, Diamond Jubilee Apples and pruneau are the opening notes.
Middle note: Renaissance roses, white carnations, Florentine pear, Sicilian bergamot and Calabrian lemons are a fine serenade of fruits and blooms.
Base note: Virginia cedar and Indian sandalwood are a heart-charming close, with a lively hint of white grapefruit.

Creed's own excessive protestations tell you more about the nightmare of Acqua Fiorentina than I could ever hope to.  

I used to think the greatest job in the world would be to be a voice actor for the Simpsons. 20+ years of Hollywood pay coupled with anonymity. What could be better? Now I think sitting around with friends, smoking piles of weed, writing Creed press and pissing yourself laughing would be the greatest job in the world. (I assume that that's how the job must be done.)

I leave you to the serenade of fruits and blooms. Buon appetito. 

18th June, 2014

Fire Island by Bond No. 9

Fire Island by Bond no 9 has an implicit goal: to emulate a memory of euro-sun tan lotion. It succeeds. It’s funny that this scent memory can be generalized. Fire Island doesn’t smell like any particular brand of sun tan lotion, but on smelling it, I instantly recognized the qualities that make up the lotion notion.

For those too young to remember the days of fostering skin cancer skin cancer by laying in the sun and baking, Fire Island is a creamy, musky sweet floral of no particular consequence. But for us old folks, Fire Island is the second-hand smoke of the perfume industry. Aaahhhh, the good-old, bad-old days.

An interesting scent, full of allusions and triggers from a smart perfumer, Michael

18th June, 2014

West Side by Bond No. 9

I know a couple of Michel Almairac’s roses. Voleur de Rose for l’Artisan Parfumeur and the inexpensive but spectacular Cabaret for Grès. Voleur is a beautifully simple-to-wear patchouli rose with and earthy/fruity bent. Cabaret is a long-lasting musky rose/incense and one of the best perfumes available for about 25 bucks. Clearly, the perfumer knows his way around a rose garden.

If you like West Side, it is a richer, more complex perfume than either of the above two. If you’re not fond of it, it’s just more complicated. West Side doesn’t have the transparency of Cabaret or the succinctness of Voleur, but it is a well considered take on the gourmand-floral. West Side is built on a woody rose/vanilla core that gets pulled this way and that by a number of modifiers, making it a difficult perfume to categorize. Peony pulls the rose in a loud, frazzled direction. A sweet milkiness, I assume a sandalwood analogue, pulls the rose in a woody/creamy direction. Vanilla takes the rose toward the gourmand, but it’s not a Willy Wonka over-the-top dessert frenzy. It smells a bit like a rich, creamy porridge with rosewater. If the ‘neither/nor’ thing bothers you, West Side might not be your cup of tea. But if you like the idea of a perfume that presents a different face to different perspectives, give it a go.

West side isn’t my bag, but I can dig it, baby. It’s nicely composed, it wears very well over time and has an unhurried, zaftig sensibility. It’s dense and cozy, more a ‘come hither’ fragrance than a sillage monster.

18th June, 2014

Plum Japonais by Tom Ford

Fortunately, you don't spritz on a marketing campaign. You spritz perfume. Set aside the nouvelle orientalism of the Ford 'Atelier d'Orient' collection. But do smell Plum Japonais if you get the chance.

More than most fruits, the plum is about the relationship of the skin and the flesh of the fruit. A thin, intensely acidic skin layer is the first taste of the plum as you pierce the skin with your teeth, but the rush of sweet flesh overwhelms the tartness quickly as you continue to bite. In your mouth, the experience reverses and the sweetness washes away as the meat of the fruit gets swallowed, leaving the skin and its sharpness. Tart, sweet, tart. Each bite is a little opera.

The salty, acidic slap of the pickled umeboshi plum is one of my favorite tastes. The experience is huge and invigorating. It’s the gustatory equivalent of jumping out of a sauna and into the snow. Plum Japonais plays with these fluctuating facets of the plum and makes a woody-plum perfume that is both bold and nuanced. Plum could be a thorny note, given that Edmond Roudnitska claimed the plum as his own with the brilliant Rochas Femme. The reformulation of Femme, with cumin standing in for no longer available animalic elements, kept the plum alive and in the chypre territory. Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake used the plum as the starting place for a wholely new fruited-wood amber genre. Feminité du Bois and its successors have claimed the rights to a plum-cedar empire. Any perfumer hoping to make a principally plum-scented fragrance cannot help but see some big shoes.

Perfumer Yann Vasnier takes the plum into new territory with Plum Japonais. The previous pairings, plum/moss in Femme and plum/cedar in Feminité du Bois, were enormously successful and so is Vanier’s. He matches plum with a fir note, making a sweet and syrupy perfume that doesn’t fall into the gourmand trap. I’ve seen oud, spices and all sorts of things listed in the notes for Plum Japonais, but the overall effect is a sweet, cool woody tone similar to that in Fille en Aiguilles. (Take that, Sheldrake!) In both cases you can embrace the sweetness without reservation and never fear falling into a dessert. Even with notes of cardamom and cinnamon, the perfume still leans more toward the Christmas tree than the dessert table.

Vasnier creates a dynamic similar to the tart-sweetness of eating a plum by focussing on the tensions between spiced sweetness and cold balsamic resinousness. And he manages to do it without stealing from either Roudnitska or Sheldrake. This alone is remarkable. Plum Japonais has an unrestrained opening that is appropriate for a fruity fragrance, but settles comfortably into a dusty wooded-fruit balance that remains strong but close to the skin. The drydown is spectacular, more poised than tempting, and is would be a great treat to reconsider on your wrist at the end of a long day.

(I'm just being introduced to perfumer Yann Vasnier's work and am enjoying it tremendously. Can't wait to try more.)

18th June, 2014

Fleur de Chine by Tom Ford

Tom Ford knows Asia better than I do, but I can't help but see his new ‘Atelier‘ collection as reflecting a white guy asian fascination. I can't imagine a Tom Ford product release without a fairytale marketing strategy, and Fleur de Chine and the others in this collection (Plum Japonais, Rive d’Ambre, and Shangai Lily) don’t disappoint.  The fairy tale is an unexamined take on the ‘mysterious orient / dragon lady / inscrutable east’. It relies on well-know imagery. It is based on irrational fear and defensiveness. It is rich with generations of bigotry. Effectively, it’s precision-built for the fashion industry. The trigger is in the name of the perfume. Say Shanghai Lily 3 times in a row while looking into a mirror and it just comes to life.

A wonderful thing about stereotypes is that they are timeless.  Ford's oriental bit is straight out of 1920s European Orientalism.  Not updating a stereotype to contemporary standards is a way of distancing one's self from the prejudice originally associated with the stereotypes and innoculating one's self against accusations of xenophobia and racial predjudice. That is, referring to old stereotypes is unlike actively engaging in stereotyping. It is historical. Literary. Post-modern. Post-colonial.

If only wishing could make it so. 

Take-away # 1 is never look to fashion for a history lesson. Take-away # 2 should be apparent even to the fashion-minded. Smugly using anachronistic Asian references from the late-colonial sensibilility (the Ford line is called the "Atelier d'Orient" collection) doesn't do a thing toward defusing the racism of such language. It simply relies on exotic side of racism. The mystery, the exoticism.  Oooohh... The fetish. It would be more offensive if it weren't so tired. 

The perfume:

Interesting for the fact that it starts like insecticide, and then grows creamy. A fascinating technical trick, I’m sure, but ‘creamy’ in this case is synonymous with ‘vague’. This olfactory pairing is much more clearly expressed in Calvin Klein Truth, a discontinued perfume available cheap online.

18th June, 2014

Safran Troublant by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Olivia Giacobetti has a way of combining disparate elements to make something that while surprising is never shocking.  Unexpected, but perfectly coherent when you think about it.  The sweet and salty hay of Dzing! The smoked-lily soap of Passage d’Enfer.

It’s a delicious way of changing our reality.  The trick is neither fantastical nor over-the-top. She gives us something that doesn't really exist, but easily could since it makes perfect sense. In Safran Troublant, she doesn't give us a talking bear or a winged horse. She gives us a rose/saffron marshmallow. Not only is this imaginable, it starts to convinces me that I might actually have eaten one of these marshmallow at some time or other.  The perfume is so persuasive that I question myself.  Is the perfume a memory or an imagination?  Giacobetti speculates so effectively that I question the experience, but she does it so deftly that ultimately I don't care.  It's as if I'm day-dreaming.  My mind eases a bit and I become more mindful and less perplexed.      

Some perfumes call to mind comparisons to the visual arts.  The portraiture of the soliflor. The fruity-floral as a still-life image. The abstract expressionism of Timbuktu.  Giacobetti breaks into the written word with her perfume. Safran Troublant is literary fiction.  It is the perfect short story.  I don’t know of any other perfumer who does this.

18th June, 2014

La Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens

The Serge Lutens line is known for the heavy and the heady.  Apart from the nouvelle orientals, Féminité du Bois, Bois de Violette, and the others in the Bois series, there are two styles that capture a large portion of the line. Perfumes like Ambre Sultan, Cuir Mauresque, and Chergui fall into a range of amber, wood and resins that makes them dense and dark. They are unavoidable, and blanketing.

The other side of the Lutens coin is the heady, expansive perfumes.  This category has two parts. First, the ultrasonics. These are like angels, mostly above our range of perception, but with their feet dangling just enough that we can sense them.  La Myrrh, Iris Silver Mist, and Sa Majesté la Rose are three ultrasonics.  Three stylistically different perfumes, one shared acoustical range.  Part two are the ferocious florals. Tubereuse Criminelle, Fleur d'Oranger, A la Nuit: the flower as sociopath. They'd just as soon kill you as go fishing. I'm a sucker for these.

So how to categorize La Fille de Berlin?  If the extremity of the above genres is your sole gauge, then La Fille fails.  But if you want a companion, a perfume you can confide in, La Fille is just the thing. It is beautiful and easy to wear, but striking nonetheless.  The top and heart notes, all rose and spice, reminds me of the succulence of fresh strawberries with a bit of balsamic vinegar.  Two tastes, both complex but instantly recognizable; one fresh, one aged.   Each is the perfect enhancements to the other.

These complementary pairings, whether the balsamic berries, or the pepper-spiced rose, suggest impossibly perfect combinations like youth with wisdom make for a perfume that would be ideal to wear every day. The paragon every-day perfume will not spring from focus group and should not be a set of least common denominators. It should be the best of both worlds, and la Fille de Berlin is.

Many perfumes in the Lutens line smack of the special occasion.  Going to a show, looking to get laid, visiting a special place. Berlin stands apart from these one-off perfumes, but isn't without precedent.  Gris Clair, Bas de Soie, Daim Blond. These are stylish beauties that could be worn every day. Noticeable and exceptionally composed, but more likely to accentuate the attractiveness of the wearer than to stand out as a Gorgeous Perfume. 

La Fille de Berlin is a stellar example an ideal everyday fragrance.  It is flattering, suggests confidence and intelligence, and indicates an appreciation of classical beauty.  

Sign me up.

18th June, 2014

M/Mink by Byredo

M/mink gives you two choices.  Read the story and believe the myth, or smell the perfume.   I'd recommend smelling perfume.  It's wonderful.

The story goes that, in lieu of a traditional brief, the perfumer was asked to translate a block of solid ink into a perfume. I’m cynical enough to believe that this sort of premise is intended more for its ex post facto story value than for any actual artistic impetus. The block of ink might have been a motivating factor in the conceptualization of mink, but it is a fallacy to believe that the perfume continues to be 'about' ink. For the wearer, the ink bit is just a back-story.  After the fact, such stories actually make a perfume appear contrived or a producer pretentious, and to get hooked into this sort of narrative even before you’ve smelled the perfume is limiting for the wearer.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Mink. I simply disagree with everything I've ever read about it starting with the PR from Byredo. I don't find it linear. I don't think it's an assault on the senses. I don't find it anything like Sécrétions Magnifiques. It does share a cool, object-like quality with Comme des Garçon 2 Woman. While it does have a matte sweetness to it that suggests an inky quality, this is just one of its many abstract attributes. Like Bvlgari Black by Annick Menardo, M/mink is a successful creation of a new, beautiful scent that neither imitates a botanical scent, nor attempts to to offer you a recognizeable fragrance.

18th June, 2014

Amoureuse by Delrae

I grew up with a specific flaw in my understanding of history. It has to do with over-valuing the present. It's like a child's understanding of history and can be described as a misunderstanding of the expression, "There's no time like the present."  American exceptionalism leads to a hubris of the moment where the exceptional is always manifest in the present and therefore every moment is the best ever. It’s exhausting.

As a result of this skewed view, my bias is to regard contemporary trends as separate from history.  Cultural trends are a break from tradition, a break from history, not a continuity. I struggle with the notion of tradition and am guilty of an over reliance on expressions such as 'old school' to mean anything prior to my using the expression. The present isn’t an outcome of the past, it’s the launching pad for the future.

Amoureuse is my lesson in continuity.  It's become easy to refer to certain perfumes as traditional, old lady perfumes, retro… and therefore value style over composition and intention. That is to say, a perfume is characterized and then dismissed based on it's superficial qualities. It would be wrong to dismiss Amoureuse as outmoded. It’s not ‘old-school.’ It’s successful for the same reasons that the better perfumes from, say, the mid-20th century were so good.  Classical technique isn’t a stab in the dark. It is a methodical and successful means of achieving an artistic goal.  Amoureuse is a contemporary example of classical work, something that, even as I write it, appears strange to my American sensibility.

Amoureuse points out an important distinction between style and intent. Post post-modernism, it’s easy to see belonging to a particular artistic school (ie. minimalism, expressionism) or the use of a certain form as a matter of style. A brief that calls for a simple or accessible perfume doesn’t imply minimalism. It describes the desired end product. Minimalism, like all artistic school, is a doctrine, or a working set of principals that links concept, method and product. By way of example, a new fruity floral perfume might have a simplistic goal (eg. a sweet berry perfume with notes of rose) but might lead to a complex formula. On the other hand, Jean-Claude Ellena, as a minimallist, makes perfumes such as Terre d’Hermès and Jardin sur le Nil by distilling concept and formula to as few working parts as necessary to express his ideas.

Tradition and classicism have specific meanings depending on the particular form of art. The canons, techniques and pedagogy of perfume-making can appear vague due to the historical secrecy of the perfume industry. Behind the obscurity of the profession, though, the practices of perfumery are codified and precise. Regarding perfumery, “traditional” and “classical” are more or less synonymous. They refer to the lineage of late 19th and 20th century perfumery, more specifically deriving from the French lineage. 

Amoureuse is a gorgeously lush perfume, and is about as minimal as a Bernini sculpture or a Transformers movie.  Applying traditional compositional methods to an unconventional mix of notes (Lily, cardamom, tangerine) gives an unexpectedly tropical bent to the flowers. A spiced lily with a creamy citric base underlines the ripeness of tuberose and jasmine and gives the perfume a languid, heady feel. It's similar to the lay-in-and-be-seranaded-by-the-sirens quality of Patricia de Nicolai's other-worldly Odalisque. Histoires de Parfums 1804 shares Amoureuse’s sensibility of a prim French person on vacation in the Pacific tropics.

These three perfumes demonstrate the value of a trained, classical approach. Assured technique, a slightly unorthodox mix of materials and a creative mind lead to something new and fresh.

One way to create something new in perfumery is to take a new aromachemical or a new technology and to build a perfume around it. Advances in science have always made for changes in perfumery, from coumarin and vanillin to nitro musks and ethylmaltol. When the impetus is not a new chemical but a new idea, the perfume is a particular thrill. Amoureuse isn’t earth-shaking, and it doesn’t rewrite the rules of perfumery. But it is a joy and a pleasure that is perfectly suited to the personal scope of perfumery.

18th June, 2014

Coney Island by Bond No. 9

There is something in the composition of perfumes from many houses that makes them identifiable. It’s not universal, but you can recognize a classic Guerlain when you come across it. Similarly, Caron, Estée Lauder, Montale, Amouage. It might be a similarity of style, it might be recognizeable notes. How many times have you heard people comment on the Guerlinade base, or that Andy Tauer’s perfumes having a similar drydown?

There are many reasons for using a common base. For some houses, Guerlain, de Nikolai, Amouage it’s the result of deliberate concept, or school of composition. In some other houses, it feels a bit more insular, the the range of perfumes in a line is smaller. Look at Montale, Juliet Has a Gun, Maison Francis Kurkdjian. I can’t really determine, and therefore try not to judge, whether the similarities among the line are intentional or not. A line might want to leave a calling card as it were. Recognition is the first step and branding, and most up-and-coming houses seek brand identifiability.

Christ, did Bond no Nine choose the wrong smell to identify their line.

Coney comes two years after it's direct predecessor, Bleecker Street, and in the same year as it's soul sibling in the Creed line, Virgin Island Water. Bleecker Street was a spectacular failure, attempting to merge the aquatic and gourmand trends in the same perfume. Not looking for nuanced composition, it simply thought it could get 200% fragrance in one bottle. Fulfilling multiple axioms in one fell swoop, bond No 9 is doomed to repeat the worst of their history. And while I'm not sure who got fooled first with Bleecker St and then again with Coney Island, to paraphrase W, I won't get fooled again.

The common thread to Bleecker, Coney and Virgin Island is the concentration of artificial flavors and qualities. Synthetic aromachemicals have made contemporary perfumery possible. But if quality is ignored, the synthetic/'natural' dichotomy isn't even worth discussing. In more careful hands, the aquatic/gourmand proposition might work. All I mean to say is that for a successful joining of disparate elements, more is required that pouring them into the same bottle, which is fundamentally what was done in Coney Island.

As if attempting to create a hyper-flavored 100% calorie free superfood, Bond squeeze the rancid quality of fat replacements, such as pure 'butter flavor', and the musk-buoyed motion sickness of fake piña colada mix (is there any other kind of piña colada mix?) into one lingering sick feel. You know story of the drunk vomiting person saying it was the last martini that did it, implying that puking had nothing to do with the eight that preceded it? Coney Island is the legendary ninth Martini.

I don't understand these perfumes, and facetiousness aside, they present me with a question to consider. I've read reviews at Basenotes and Fragrantica, and apparently there are people who like Coney Island. Is there any scent that is universally revolting? I don't find Secretions Magnifiques completely unappealing, but most find it universally repulsive.

Coney Island does inadvertently bring up an important point in perfumery and criticism. I don't like the smell of Virgin Bleecker Island, but preferences and opinions aren’t the whole point. I started this website in order to separate myself from public sites that tend to make the consideration of perfumes just a weighing in of opinion. In all subjective matters, opinions will be formed. Should opinion be the last stop in the discussion? My conclusion that Bleecker St, Coney Island and Virgin Island Water are similarly flawed compositionally and unsuccessful in their aims, isn't simply a loud way of saying that I don't like them. It's a critique of an aesthetic product.

18th June, 2014
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Noir Patchouli by Histoires de Parfums

I was turned onto Noir Patchouli by my friend Steve at ScentBar who knows that I love Aromatics Elixir. With no other intro than a laugh and a smile he said, “You have to try this.” As I smelled it and he saw the recognition light me up, he just said, “Right?!”

Absolutely right.

I’ve always had a question. Why has no one copied Aromatics Elixir? Why has no one tried to imitate it? Aromatics Elixir is a huge patchouli rose-chypre. It’s a tribute to patchouli, but you would never mistake it for something that you would find in a head shop. It juuuusst barely reins in the patchouli. Bernard Chant went as far down the patch path as he could go when he composed Aromatics Elixir. Fortunatley, he didn’t balance patchouli with lighter notes. He matched it with thick balsams, woody notes and a dark, dense rose. One of the few things he didn’t add was syrup, so contemporary perfume wearers will need to find a new Rosetta stone to translate it to fruitchouli-speak.

Noir Patchouli is a great homage to the old gal. It doesn't have the rose or the moss, but it is the same loving take on patchouli. Bernard Chant recognized that patchouli doesn't need to be cut or cajoled. It simply needs the right context and proper lighting. In the same way that Bernard Chant let patchouli speak its own mind, Gérald Ghislain of Histoires de Parfums hands the mic over to patchouli. Noir Patchouli is as deliberate as Aromatics Elixir, but it replaces AE's forcefulness with partial transparency. Where AE is earthy, Noir Patchouli is smoky. Noir Patchouli is almost as heavy as AE, but it’s not nearly so dense. AE has an bitterness that reads as herbal. Noir Patchouli comes off like a spirit, not quite whiskey, not quite brandy. This liquor-like tone is what brings the smokiness, the camphorous sweetness together.

Noir Patchouli comes off as very composed and self-assured. Or maybe that’s how simply how I feel when I smell it.

If Noir Patchouli had come out earlier, it would have been the perfect solution for the wearers of Givenchy Gentleman who were fucked when a car-wreck of a reformulation deprived them of their fix. Noir Patchouli holds its own in a competition among niche patchoulis. In fact, it beats most of them. It has a straightforwardness that ‘clean’ patch lovers would like, but the gravitas that most patch enthusiasts seek.

If you’re looking for a real twisted scene, get together with some fumie friends and try back to back to back samplings of Aromatics Elixir, Aramis A900, Aromatics Elixir Perfumer’s Reserve and Noir Patchouli. If you get out of the room alive you’ll have some stories to tell.

18th June, 2014

Truth or Dare by Madonna

Madonna's schtick has been to tie her name and brand to concepts that are just new enough to be recognizable and exciting, but unformed enough that she can take them without most people knowing that she didn’t invent them. She's not the spark of innovation, she's the gallon of gasoline poured on it.

Madonna flack would have you believe that Truth or Dare is a tribute to classical perfumery. All it took was one word: Fracas. Nest this word in the yarn about the perfume that Madonna's mother used to wear and the story just writes itself. It edifies Madonna's current reformulation as Contempo-Classic British Lady, and connotes a tasteful lineage.

Despite the attempt to link it to Fracas via the use of tuberose, Truth or Dare is an archetypal mall perfume, and its arc from Big Launch to Sephora’s Latest to Internet Bargain had to have been part of the strategy. Madonna aims high hoping that we won't notice the low quality. An appropriate frame of reference for what Truth or Dare might have been is Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture. Juicy Couture dazzles you with its spangle, makes you drop your expectations to the floor and then startles you with a gorgeous perfume. The horror here, and what should haunt perfume producers but apparently doesn't, is that quality come as a surprise.

Sadly, Truth or Dare doesn't surprise. At least not at first. A certain period of the heart notes has an eye-opening touch of Sécrétions Magnifiques. If this was intentional, bravo! But then again, the question: did Madge just 'appropriate' Sécrétions Magnifiques's polluted port-of-call note from Etat Libre d'Orange as she did voguing from the 1980s Harlem Ball culture?

Madonna: bandit or semantic genius?
15th December, 2013 (last edited: 19th June, 2014)

Mulholland by Keiko Mecheri

There is something quietly appealing about a line that is 'niche' not in order simply to appear indie or hip. There is a sense in the Mecheri line that the artistic director (Mecheri) and perfumer (Vasnier) wanted enough space to work with the ideas that interested them, whether this meant creating something previously unknown, or making a classic idea your own. It implies stable egos and hard work.

With Mulholland, Mecheri fulfills a goal that many have pursued: the alchemy of the long- lasting eau de cologne. Her initial wager in creating the Mulholland is to the eschew the 'natural.' To makes a durable cologne, Mecheri fabricates musky, metallic citrus notes and idealized woods. In the place of an eau de cologne's lightness there is a sense of agility, and where a cologne burns brightly but briefly, Mulholland instead has an inherent sparkle that doesn't burn off. If my description is confusing, the perfume is not. It just works.

Mulholland has a methodically artificial tone with beautiful counterbalances and interesting juxtapositions. And here is where we get to the perfect choice of name: Mulholland. I live in LA, in the Valley. Less than a mile from Mulholland Drive, in fact. Mulholland is the winding road at the top of the hill that separates the Hollywood/Beverly Hills/Bel Air/Brentwood from the San Fernando Valley. It has a heavy mid-century vibe and is surrounded by the mass-produced mid-century modernist houses that have a particular place in sunny southern Cali mythology. These houses along Mulholland are decked out in a Plastic Modern/Hollywood Regency style that make a nice fit to the modern, plastic mood of Mecheri's Mulholland. From the first sniff, Mulholland forgoes the desire to appear strictly botanical. Instead, it strives to be appealing and interesting to the nose. It succeeds.
02nd November, 2013 (last edited: 08th June, 2017)

Les Zazous by Keiko Mecheri

Wearing Les Zazous is like seeing Paris and then being content at home on the farm because you've internalized the fabulousness that I suppose Paris is meant to offer. Keiko Mecheri celebrates the exoticism of the known and elevates lavender to a place in perfumery typically reserved for incense, labdanum and the other great botanical resins. She focusses our attention on lavender's woody-resinous-floral aspects instead of its cool cleanliness. In a manner similar to the fougère where coumarin transforms lavender into something unexpected, Mecheri uses woods and woody spices to mold lavender into a nouveau power frag like the masculine beasts of the 1980s. It's a wonderful trick and while it makes me liken les Zazous to a number of other perfumes (to follow) it makes for a distinctive, but instantly comfortable fragrance.

Les Zazous notably steers clear of the aquatacism and sweet aromatics common to many contempo macho fragrances. It is a classic woody floral to my nose, with rose and lavender combining to form a lovely dusty-powdery density. The sweet resinous woods are tied to the florals by a honeyed tobacco note. Tobacco makes an excellent bridge between floral and woody tones (as in Lauder's Beautiful and ELDO's Jasmin et Cigarettes) and Mecheri plays it flawlessly.

This is a masculine fragrance in the same way that Guerlain Habit Rouge, Lancome Sagamore and de Nicolai's New York and Pour Homme are masculine fragrances. They manage to pass some boyish test of apparent masculinity while never relinquishing an ounce of prettiness. They are tempered by their tests of gender and have a matter of fact beauty.

This fragrance does make me reflect on others, but it doesn't suffer by comparison. If you can see A Taste of Heaven (by Kilian) as a concise lavender and Caron Troisièmme Homme as a more intricate play on the note, think of Les Zazous as running a little further afield, but in the same direction. Combining lavender with incense and tobacco and vanilla gives the perfume a wide harmonious range that feels intrinsically at ease. It is large and gregarious, but neither loud nor rude. Perfumer Yann Vasnier has translated his style of voluminous florals for masculine use. Les Zazous feels (and I mean this as a sincere compliment) like a lavender version of the original early 1980s Chanel Antaeus.

I love the allusion to the Algerian dancers, but my masculine point of comparison for Les Zazous is a stout club chair. The comfort doesn't come from any pliability of the materials, it's the result of firmness and proper angles. The same goes for les Zazous. It's got spine and shape and it's as pretty as all getout.

02nd November, 2013 (last edited: 18th June, 2014)

Liaisons Dangereuses by By Kilian

Rose is a difficult flower in perfumery.  It is both common and beautiful, two facets that can be difficult to reconcile.  A wild rose bush is simple and pretty, yet a formal rose garden can seem conventional and staid in a way that makes rococo architecture seem light and breezy.  Consider also that the rose is the most symbolically overburdened flower in history, and you’ll realize the rose is anything but easy. And then, the inherent conundrum of the solifor: is it worthwhile to attempts to re-create the scent of the rose?  

So, what to do with the Rose?  Do you dress it to the nines, gilding the lily, so to speak?  Did you give it the sexy librarian trick, tying up it's hair, putting on clunky glasses, and just letting a little bit of slip show through on the stepstool?  Should you play it like a fresh scrubbed youth, all heart-aching freshness and promise?

In perfumery, the Rose speaks with many voices. From the screaming queen (see Guerlain Nahema) to the seductive vampire of Rossy de Palma, to the boys' choir of Noontide Petals. I love rose chypres for the combination of rose’s growl and the huskiness of the chypre base.  It’s an inherently sexy form.   Patchouli-roses combine the woody aspects of the two elements, leaving a perfect balance of crudeness and chic.  Musky, ambery  and vanillic roses demonstrate the opulence and exuberance of the floriental.

Liaisons Dangereuses is one of my favorite roses for its simplicity. It is gorgeous and direct, neither pristine nor unapproachable.  It has that simple desirability of a perfectly honed object or piece of clothing. Not easy, but perfectly simple. A well-worn saddle, a perfectly fitted shift dress, form-fitting jeans, old work gloves.   No adornment necessary. The beauty is implicit and complete.

High-priced perfume lines are generally known for their most opulent, their grandest perfumes.  Look closely, though, and you’ll fine that some of the best fragrances put out by luxe, niche, high-end, exclusive… firms are the simplest.  I could happily toss the whole Tom Ford grand-poobah line, but Azure Lime is perhaps the perfect eau de cologne if you can afford to spend so readily.  Francis Kurkdjian’s Cologne pour le Soir is the most beautiful and simple reinvention of the cologne concept.  by Kilian line has two simple, wonderful perfumes:  A Taste of Heaven’s acerbic lavender and Liaisons Dangereuses. (I'm a fan of perfumer Calice Becker's work, and her work for this line is well-edited and smart. Could we rename the line by Becker?)

In this post-bling era simple, precise luxury might be harder to come by than shallow extravagance, but Liaisons Dangereuses demonstrates that it’s worth the search.

02nd November, 2013 (last edited: 18th June, 2014)

Royal Vintage by Martine Micallef

As a consumer group, we tend not to be very thoughtful with the reconsideration of old ideas. Theres a large bin called retro, and we throw used-up trends into it, repurpose them and then buy/sell them to each other. Bell-bottoms, skinny jeans, goatees and handlebars, macho tattoos, bow-ties. As for fashion, I can’t quite decide which is worse, the ill-considered use of jeggings or the deliberate exploitation of the bell-bottom.

But M. Micallef takes a more considered view of the men’s power frag from the 1980s in Royal Vintage. The long-lasting memory of the power frag is unfortunately the stereotype. Huge, loud, clumsy, uncouth, and dreadfully lacking in subtlety and self-reflection. The power frag was the logical outcome of the fougère having been turned from a classic into a muscle-car. What the fougère always had going for it was the weight of history. Suavaliere, unbuttoned guys from the 1970s could delve as far into polyester and disco as they chose, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and Azzaro Pour Homme had their backs. Their cologne tied them back to a tradition of masculinity and propriety. The fougère got bigger and louder and brasher and memories of propriety went the way of the 60s business suit and pre-Camelot hat.

Chanel Antaeus, Bogart One Man Show, Krizia Uomo, Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Patou pour Homme. These newer, even-louder, brutes called the fougère’s bluff and and went for broke. Envision the the fougère as a portly Harley Davidson balanced on a slim kickstand. The kickstand, the premise, the lavender, the last bit of gentlemanliness was effortlessly kicked away, and the hog fell dead to the ground.

The 80s became the age of the ten-octave woody delinquent that came to be known as the Power Frag, as in power fragrance. As in power tie. As in power lunch. As in power dressing. The 1980s was the 1970s with more volume, more cocaine, higher aspirations and not even a vestige of conscience.

Why would we want to look back to that era at all? Very good question. But you know what? The power frags were on to something. The better iterations, especially the original Antaeus and Dior Fahrenheit were spectacular. Arguably, what men’s fragrances did in the 1980s is what the better women’s fragrances did in the 1920s, which is to let their balls hang out. The key tones were woods and spices (and in Fahrenheit’s case, gasoline) Botanical, chemical? Who cared? Many of these fragrances were under-edited, and volume concerns (the era of the broken car alarm and hair-metal) were minimal. The power frag can be distilled to two attributes: woofer-busting spiced woods, and a degree of dryness that makes a classic chypre seem positively sweet.

M. Micallef learned these lessons well. They both adhere to them and break them consciously, all the while knowing what the rules of the game are.

I was a young adult during the power frag era, turning 20 the first week of 1982. I embraced and embrace the power frag. Done well, it’s a sight to see. But I still flinch inwardly on smelling one on someone else. They became associated with a particular flavor of man from the era. His defining characteristics are vanity, extroversion, greed, anti-intellectualism, distain and bigotry. He is captured perfectly in the phrase (not my own) the Dicky Boy.

M Micallef deserve praise for rescuing the power frag. They have managed to cleave the Dicky Boy from the Power Frag and we all benefit. Vintage Royal is parched-dry, covers the full choral range and even beats its chest a little bit. And it is as pretty as Antaeus was. Antaeus’s secret was a tailored loudness. Vintage Royal similarly comes at you voice raised to the heavens, but it has perfect pitch, and it has a lovely invigorating quality. The woods and the spices match perfectly, and there is even a hint of the high-pitched octane of Fahrenheit. In classic power frag fashion, the drydown of Vintage Royal has a smoldering feel. The composition is predicated on so many long lasting wood and spice tones that the drydown, while coherent, feels like a summary of the opening. Same shape, same range, though not quite all the voices, but with an added smile. The best of the power frags had a little smirk to them, an attribute the Cool Water set stole and exaggerated to clownishness. Vintage Royal plays it just right.
02nd November, 2013

Fat Electrician by Etat Libre d'Orange

I can feel the woody amber with my nose, and there is an acetone, shellac, sour plastic quality that I smell as the volatility of the note pulls it away from me.

And then I don’t really smell anything.

Great name, perplexing olfactory experience. It comes and goes in 5 minutes. A discrete, tidy performance that leaves me in a chin-scratching state.

I feel like I should applaud.
02nd November, 2013

Noontide Petals by Tauer

The aldehydic floral perfume is iconic. Jean Patou Joy is remembered by many as the greatest perfume of the 20th century, and Chanel No 5 is the definition of perfume to generations. The mythology of the aldehyde is somewhere between urban legend and factoid thanks to No 5: someone dumped buckets of aldehydes into a floral base and the baby Jesus was born.

But the floral aldehyde does have its risks. At one end of the spectrum is the punch in the face, Estée Lauder Lauder White Linen, and at the other, the limp handshake, Guerlain Chant d'Aromes. Granted, this leaves a large middle ground for success, but in that middle ground is another risk: the nondescript perfume. Throngs of faceless perfumes led entire generations to think of aldehydic perfumes as soapy and nondescript.

But look at the successful perfumes. The aldehyde serves as an important modifier, but because it seems to work differently in each perfume, it comes off as a wildcard to the perfume wearer. To Van Cleef and Arpels First, it gives backbone. It allows the perfume to hold together green, animalic and bright white tones without flying apart. In Robert Piguet Baghari, the aldehyde gives that electric shock, like someone's just grabbed your ass. To No 5, aldehydes lend a specificity, an unspeakable clarity. It's hard to put words to it, but you'd never mistake No 5 for anything else.

It Noontide Petals, the rush of aldehydes at the opening of the fragrance gives a tremendous feeling of acceleration. In one nose-full you're carried straight to the center of the fragrance. Once you’re up to speed, you recognize parts of the aldehyde package. The sparkle, the pristine quality, the smile. In Noontide Petals, the aldehyde does exactly what it was intended to do. It focuses your attention on the flowers. The buoyancy of the aldehyde makes the rose appear hyperrealistic at first, but with time I realize the aldehyde and the flowers are balanced just so. They merge and just as they become indistinguishable, the base of the perfume surfaces. The expansive quality of the aldehydes reverses and the resinous basenotes turn inward and suggest reflection.

Starting by moving outward before ultimately looking inward, Noontide Petals reminds me of the premise of Erev Yom Kippur. Before seeking forgiveness from god you must ask for forgiveness of your fellows. And here is aldehyde's specific gift to this perfume: Noontide Petals is a study in thoughtfulness. It shows that tenderness is grounded and deliberate. It’s an attribute, not a lack of deficits.

24th September, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Passage d'Enfer by L'Artisan Parfumeur

I've recently found my way to Giacobetti’s work, and I am fascinated. I still want to investigate her fig and flower perfumes, but having experienced Dzing! Passage d’Enfer, Safran Troublant and Fou d’Absinthe, I'm sold.

I love the scents of the perfumes that I've tried, but I am drawn to her for her artistic approach. Dzing! captures my desire for a considered use of abstraction toward specific ends. Abstraction isn’t throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. It is a specific and complex means of revealing attributes of an idea or thing, and has only as much randomness to it as any other means of composing work does. Passage d’Enfer shows that thoughtful juxtaposition highlights the frame of reference, and bends contexts to create new and unimagined possibilities. Juxtaposition is never simply about the two ideas placed next to each other. It’s about the space between them, the artist and the audience and what they together make of it all. (Please see above photo.)

While there certainly is more to the composition, Passage d’Enfer combines incense and lily and comes up with something both interesting and unexpected. While I can still make out the two components, my attention is mostly drawn to a third, new quality. It is creamy, soapy, spectral. It suggests an atmosphere like fog, which can't be experienced in inches but must be taken in in yards, over terrain. It has a comfortable density to the touch that feels like it would absorb sound. It has a giving property and maybe even a forgiving nature.

I know I'm reading a lot into this perfume. But that's what I want to do with perfume. And in order to do so I choose well-considered perfumes, ones rich with ideas. I've always loved the T.S. Eliot expression, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” It tells me about subject, object, the things between them, and intent. By the same token a smart, qualified perfumer can show a willing and informed perfume wearer the world in a bottle.

24th September, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Fille en Aiguilles by Serge Lutens

I’m from a small town in Connecticut. Not, Suburban-New-York-Connecticut. New-England-Connecticut. In my 1960s-1970s, the New England countryside was a place of wonder and democracy. The woods were a frame of mind as much as they were a location.

Though I never thought of anything local as particularly exotic, pine was the scent of local magic. Pine was the scent of outdoors and the change of seasons. It was omnipresent and always welcome.

Fille en Aiguille’s pine is bittersweet for me. It is 30% sense memory and 70% longing.

I now live in Southern California in a climate that I struggle with every day for nine months out of the year. Its climate is almost universally loved, but is unbearable to me and anathema to my pale Celtic body and spirit, a reality that is inexplicable to those around me. Fille doesn't offer me a solution to my dilemma. It doesn't give me relief from the heat or an alternative to the deathly brightness. It triggers memory, remembrance, beauty from an an arcadian past. It reminds me of the magic. And if there's magic, there's hope.

But mostly there's just longing.
24th September, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

New York Amber by Bond No. 9


I would prefer that higher end perfume producers be more honest about their higher prices. For god's sake, just say that certain perfumes cost more because people will pay more for them. Bond no 9 present their merchandise as luxury items and therefore charge expectable luxury rates for them. They don't claim materials culled from rare exotic sources as, say, Creed do. They don't tout the perfumer-as-attraction like l'Artisan Parfumeurs. Naming perfumes after neighborhoods of the affluent isn’t quite the implied vision of the Lutens line.

For Bond it’s just the 50/50% of derivation and catch-up. Actually, it's a bit of whack-a-mole:

  • Take another shot at the contempo-floral? Bam! Central Park South.
  • It's hot out, so let's push another cologne clone. Wham! Little Italy.
  • Chasing the Angel fame? Pow! Nuit de Noho.
  • Need an entry in the male aquatic market? Ka-Bam! Wall Street.
  • Fuck! Everyone else has an oud! Fire somebody and get me NY Oud!

In Amber's case, it's: need an oud-rose floriental to keep up with the nichier niche lines? Blammo! Amber.

Amber is a whole lotta' everything! It's an oriental that minored in gourmandise. It's rich and overstuffed. Unfortunately it's also from the pile-on-the-diamante school that produced Boucheron de Boucheron, a monster chemo-floriental that typified the 1980s.

Amber doesn't have a cutesie NYC name and it should. How about "NYC Climber: Over-Leveraged"?

24th September, 2013

Orange Star by Tauer

amber orange

I've written about a couple of orange perfumes recently. (Bond no 9 Little Italy and Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine) Neither one of them was satisfying, and both did orange an injustice. Come to think of it, I do know another solution to the orange problem perfumery. Robert Piguet Baghari seems to keep a shadowy, candied orange alive forever but this kind of magic seems to have a Faustian quality to it, so I'll leave it be.

I think Andy Tauer has found a solution to the orange dilemma.

The two perfumes that failed the orange tried to treat it like a lemon and make Eau de Cologne out of it. Citrus is bright, and citrus olfactory notes are volatile. Focusing on the lightness but trying to make it last feels a bit desperate, like the search for an eternal appearance of youth. I call this the red shoes approach. Keep dancing and maybe you'll convince yourself of eternal youth.

Tauer’s solution seems more realistic but no more prosaic, and likely more repeatable to anybody who would care to investigate (ie. imitate). He neither candies the orange, nor tries to make a cologne out of it. He preserves it. In stretching out the life of the orange, Orange Star trades some of the fruit’s tartness for a luscious hint of salt, but in finding endurance it also appears to have concentrated the flavor. Playing with depth and thickness instead of sweetness, Tauer fastens citrus to amber, and finds a middle ground that is both refined and lasting. With amber’s inherent lushness Orange Star glows more than it shines. Perhaps it has less wattage than a short-lived cologne, but it also has a lithe, like sun-kissed-skin quality that makes it both playful and kinda' hot. I’d love to smell this on someone else.

24th September, 2013

Rochas Femme (new) by Rochas

survived reformulation

Rochas Femme would be interesting if only for the fact that it is a great battle-axe of perfumery. It originated during a time of rations and war, it has survived a number of formulations, and it's survived trend and fashion, no mean thing. But Femme is interesting other reasons. It is an early work of the the noted 20th-century perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, and it is an early and stellar example of the dark fruity chypre, one of the best styles of 20th-century perfumery.

From castoreum to methyl ionone (the chemical Roudnitska apparently made use of when he found it in a factory during WW II) to oakmoss, Femme has had its ingredient list maimed over the decades. I can’t say how much the current model resembles the original, which was apparently quite a dark delicacy. But what I own is a parfum de toilette in a one ounce round bottle (the "Byzance" bottle) that may or may not be from the 1990s. I've also had a few carded samples from an old perfume shop of what was labeled eau de parfum. They smell similar enough to my nose. I suspect Femme's saving grace has been it's dark, boozy plum note. It is enhanced by a cumin note that I believe was ostensibly added to replace animalic elements as they became unavailable. Here Femme is luckier than many of the other animalic perfumes to have been reformulated. The woody cumin works fits the darkness of the fruit. Used strictly as a spurious animalic, a cumin note is generally unsuccessful. Reformulations that use this sort of crude bait and switch are one of the reasons reformulation is so demonized.

Look at the great mid-20th century chypres, with their great lung-buckets full of oakmoss and other toxins. If you line up Miss Dior, Ma Griffe, Miss Balmain and Jolie Madame the vintage and current models, it's hard to see the modern bottles as anything other than a fall from greatness. Femme and the other fruity chypres of the time appear to have enough grit and chutzpah to survive the criminalization of oakmoss. To my nose Femme as well as Guerlain Mitsouko and the underestimated Y by YSL, are in better shape currently than the others mentioned above.

A well-done reformulation certainly helps, but Femme's other advantage is context. Forget the old chypres, Femme could be seen today as a smart, boozy version of the generally vapid fruity floral. Femme fits right in line with Badgley Mischka by Badgely Mischka.

Femme isn't what she used to be, but who among us is? I hope I can find a context in which I'll still shine as she does at her age. She's a tough old broad and I'm still honored to wear la Vieille Femme.

24th September, 2013

Hindu Grass by Nasomatto


Hindu Grass is designed perfectly for the extrait concentration. It's based on a camphorous, thick patchouli. The patchouli is manipulated to have a very strong presence close to the skin but not leave much of a wake. There's not a doubt in the world that this is a patchouli perfume, but it is very well edited. Potent, but not overbearing. Unmistakeable, but not without subtlety. This is exactly where the extrait concentration is killer. It’s a personal message and you must be close enough to look the wearer in the eye to understand her true intent. It's camphorous without smelling like mothballs. It's cool and soil-like without seeming dirty.

A brilliant modulation of the classic hippie patch. It reads like the hippie chick returning to the fold and going straight. She's seen Paris, and the country club set knows it.

from scent

24th September, 2013

Epic Man by Amouage

5 course dinner

Any meal with more than two courses isn't about satisfying hunger, it's about having an experience. I, an American, am fond of the three-course meal, experience-lite. I see the value in a multi-course meal, but I won't go so far as to have a ten-course Titanic dinner, or a twenty one-course Versailles bacchanalia. To my mind, a classic five-course dinner is the height of luxury.

Amouage have been known to imitate French style. God knows they have made a few ten-course perfumes. Epic man is their five course meal. It is the perfect middle ground between opulent and edited.

Even the choral top notes tell you that there is an emphasis on bass: amber, frankincense, oud, tea. Tea? In a smart twist, Amouage do in fact include a tea-like note in Epic Man. It's the perfect modifier to the five course perfume, it enhances the smoky and aromatic qualities of the other basenotes without adding additional weight, or, stretching the analogy, a few more courses.

I tend to berate Amouage for their tedious male/female perfume releases, and I think they deserve it. Please, let’s spare perfume the his/hers baggage. Perfume at its abstract heart defies gender, and in specific, Epic Man raises gender neutrality to a peak by combining fine ingredients and the best of both eastern and western traditions in the service of simply making a beautiful fragrance. The resulting hybrid treats gender as it does ethnic culture. It acknowledges it at the same time that it refuses to be encumbered by it. Epic Man is a reminder to ignore the marketing and smell the perfume. If we must have a gender pairing, Epic Man should more likely be paired with Jubilation 25 for women. Both are the perfect examples Amouage’s stated mission to pair eastern materials and sensibilities with classical French perfumery. It's no wonder that Epic Man smells first and foremost like success.

from scent
24th September, 2013

Knize Two by Knize


Western fashion adheres to gender dictates, and attire been the greatest prop in the theater of gender. Men dress in one manner; women, another. Current standards tend to emphasize a hyper-gendered presentation of self through dress and grooming. Women in the self-confinement of higher heels than ever. Men packaged in increasingly conservative, less adorned trousers-shirt-jacket combinations. And it’s all so coded! Every detail is meant to convey a particular, trivial meaning.

Knize Two comes from an era that favored individuality over clonish-ness and group-style. (Christ, I miss the 70s.) It is also produced by a bespoke fashion firm that has its roots in an era and an esthetic that, while it catered to a masculine tradition, emphasized beauty.

Women, feel free to raid my medicine chest and grab my bottle, but I am ecstatic to see such a pretty perfume sold to men! Knize Two doesn’t simply happen to be fetching, it plays up the exact features that we define as pretty. It is a sharp floral with an expressive wake. Is noticeable and it speaks of intention. It doesn’t call attention to itself dandy-style like a fougère, which shouts to the world, "I engage vigorously in hygiene!" Knize Two is noticeable as a floral aldehyde is noticeable. It says, "I stopped, considered and took a moment to put on a lovely perfume."

Knize Two is a gorgeous exception to the rule a masculine floral is doomed to failure.

from scent

24th September, 2013

Noël au Balcon by Etat Libre d'Orange

est-ce que le parfum est mort?

Etat Libre d’Orange are known stylistically for their cheeky tone and snarky perfumes. As a brand, they poke a stick at contemporary notions of bland luxury. Branding tailors images to implant in the public mind and then builds a series of associations. But branding also takes into account the self-reference of the branded. We perfume consumers should be watchful and consider how a brand presents and refers to itself. ELDO’s motto, "Le parfum est mort. Vive le Parfum!" (Perfume is dead. Long live perfume!) tells you to expect irreverence and insouciance. ELDO’s topics, or so they tell us, are prostitution, intimate bodily fluids, Sex Pistols, carrion, cross-dressing, yadda, yadda... Depending on your perspective, you might find the brand anarchic or dilettante. My approach in considering their perfume is simply to disregard everything but the perfume and myself.

So in honor of Etat Libre’s revolutionary tone, I present my own motto for perfume criticism: "Fuck the PR. Smell the perfume!"

I should admit up front that I'm a great fan of many of ELDO’s perfumes, and think the house has a much better than average success for their perfumes. The most successful of their perfumes succeed for the fact that they are beautiful examples of classical genres of perfume. Jasmin et Cigarettes is a gorgeous, husky-voiced woody floral. Rien, a perfectly balanced stark leather. Vraie Blonde, a concise, inventive take on the floral oriental. Fat Electrician and Nombril Immense are clean and beautifully edited takes on the contemporary vetiver and patchouli. Afternoon of a Faun is one of the best nouvelles chypres.

ELDO posit themselves as very current, very contemporary, apart from the mainstream, and on promotional level they are. But their dirty little secret is that they are more traditional than they appear. I think they are neither misguided nor cynical. I simply find that their public representation underestimates the degree to which they are a part of an artistic tradition. ELDO remind me of the 1960s Catholic ‘folk mass.’ Post Vatican II, there was all sorts of fiddling with the window displays in the Catholic Church. This is the sort of redirection that ELDO do: change the set dressing a bit, leave the dogma in place.

Noel au Balcon is a wonderful example. It's sold as a cheeky near-gourmand perfume. It's presented as a considered offering to a thoughtless genre. Perhaps this angle might work on a perfume wearer who is young and ahistorical enough to see the contemporary gourmand genre as classical. I'm old enough to see Noel au Balcon for what it is: a traditional spicy oriental perfume in the grand manner. Resinous and rich, it's filled with vanilla, amber, benzoin, spices. Read any description of Tabu, Emeraude or Shalimar written before the era of the contemporary gourmand and what you’ll find could be a description of Noel au Balcon. The term oriental itself, when applied to perfume, is a throwback. It’s a vestige of the colonial exoticism of Western European of the early 20th century. 100 years ago ‘gourmand’ could just as easily have been the name for these perfumes. Instead, the marketing of the day keyed into the paternalist style of the racism of the era (Quel Exotique!) and promoted orientalism in perfumery.

So, if you’re an upstart line, and don’t want to be identified as making Shalimar for youngsters, what do you do? It’s telling that ELDO avoid the obvious choice in the first place: making an identifiably "modern" perfume. Image-manipulation is shown to be as important them them as it is to any mainstream perfumer. Making a wonderful, but quite conventional, in fact old-fashioned perfume, but selling it as ‘the new thing‘ rather than making a ‘contempo-gourmand’ in the first place exposes the real strategy and reveals the old boys at Etat Libre to be closet conservatives. They would rather change the marketing than change the perfume. I’ll repeat, because this is the critical point in seeing through ELDO’s smoke. It’s more important to make a beautiful perfume, following generations of trial to perfect the genre, than it is to make something new. Even within ELDO’s own line Noel seems staid. Compared to Like This, a more up-to-date gourmand that erases the line between sweet and savory in perfume, Noel might as well be a 40-year-old bottle of taboo.

Of course, ELDO would want to hide all this from you! It defeats the entire premise of, "le parfum est mort." The key is then, how do you sell it? ELDO’s approach here is hardly new either: Titties. A clever turn of phrase (a full balcony in French refers to a hefty bosom) and surprisingly unclever image (just titties) are the red herring that keeps you from comparing Noel to Shalimar and helps you to swallow the fairy tale, to drink the kool-aid.

If you believe ELDO’s mission statement and anarchic posturing, then they have inadvertently done what Maison Francis Kurkdjian contrive to do, which is to create a traditional French perfume house from the ground up. I happen to think that ELDO, for all their niche-y posing, are simply an excellent perfume house.

I'm not saying screw the brand. I'm saying screw the branding. Ignore ELDO’s marketing, but smell their perfume. It’s wonderful.


24th September, 2013