Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Vanille Insensťe by Atelier Cologne

vanille edc

Non-cuddly vanilla. More woody than spicy or dessert-like. Papery, actually. Citrus notes at the top tell you that the vanilla won't be either warm or sweet. Ambery and smoky notes are accents rather than dominant notes and let the vanilla keep its crisp edge.

The Atelier line purports to reinvent the cologne genre. Without much sillage, strength or endurance Vanille Insensee doesn't step far out of the range of dynamics of the eau de cologne, but the composition certainly isn't the classic citrus edc. It has similarities to l'Artisan Parfumeur Vanille Havane, Serge Lutens Bois de Vanille and Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Intense. Atelier's vanilla shares the coolness of the other vanillas, but is airier, less radiant and more matte. It's the unlikely goldilocks between the contemporary woody vanilla and the classic eau de cologne and a successful refashioning of the edc genre.

24th September, 2013

Bleecker Street by Bond No. 9

someone left the cake out in the rain

Pairings. Combinations. Fusion. Synthesis. There are plenty of words to describe how two ideas, objects or properties can be put together. Broad strokes, there are three outcomes: Blend, eg. citrus fruit and leaf in an eau de cologne; Complement, as in the rose/patchouli pairing of 1970s-1980s chypres; and, Synergy, the classic example being the new quality that arises from the pairing of lavender and coumarin in the fougŤre.

Three positive outcomes, that is. Outcome number is dissonance. We have lots of words for this one, too. Discord, strife, cacophony, incongruity. There isnít the comparable olfactory term for the aural disharmony, so Iíll propose one. Bleecker, after the perfume that inexplicably combined gourmand and aquatic notes. Was it hubris? Was it nepotism? I can think of a number of scenarios that might have lead to this perfume, but they all center on original sin. Bleecker St. isnít bad for the tinkering that might have gone on in the editing bay. Someone had to have been given a long leash not to have been stopped early on in the making of this perfume. The flaw in Bleecker St. isnít one of measure or imbalance, itís conceptual.

29th August, 2013

Joy by Jean Patou

I've written and mentioned this a few times recently, so I suppose I'm trying to prove a point to myself: I donít view my life as a narrative. I suppose this is one reason that, although I'm very emotional about perfume, I'm not terribly romantic about it. To call memory a reflection of experience gives memory too much weight. The reflected image suggests a more clarity than memory can offer. Memory is more a filter than a reflection. The perceived jump from experience to memory is quick, yet in that instant so much editing occurs that I canít call memory anything other than fiction.

When I think of Jean Patou Joy, I think of my mother. When she was a girl, her brother brought her a bottle when he returned from from France and the 2nd World War. She kept it until I suppose we all lost track of it somewhere in the past dozen years. I remember that she wore it very occasionally and that otherwise it sat in a box in a drawer. I loved the scent of that Joy. I imagine I loved it more than my mother did, yet the perfume and the story were both hers.

I have my own vintage bottle of Eau de Joy and despite the fictions of memory, reformulation of perfume, and all the years, I still think of my mother when I open the bottle. This sort of memory is more pensive than visceral yet it's very important to me. I suppose you never know where you'll to find the big 'Rosebud' moments in your memory, and I never thought the bottle of Joy would sweep me up and carry me away. But I'll tell you where the moment found me.

My mother is living with very advanced dementia. She hasn't been able to speak to me in years. Early in her dementia I used to talk with her by phone as often as I could, though we lived on opposites coasts of the US. Most of these phone discussions were about nothing in particular but only as she grew unable to carry on these conversations did I realize how important those small ways of keeping in touch were.

Clearing out some papers last week I found a couple of folded sheets of paper that for god knows what reason I printed out years ago. The contents of these papers were a compilation of four or five emails back and forth between me and my mother where she was asking me about a recipe for tofu that my husband David had. I laughed out loud and knew that Marguerite would have, too. What could be more ridiculous than a decade-old string of emails about tofu? But here she was. I heard her voice, her laugh. I remembered.

So my lesson about memory and how wonderfully little control I have over it is to wear the perfume and relish the emails.
27th August, 2013 (last edited: 24th January, 2017)
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Patchouli 24 by Le Labo

A review of le Labo Patchouli 24, a salute to Bvgari Black and, I suppose, a fan letter to Anick Mťnardo.

If I find a genre of perfume that I like, I embrace it. I stock up. With Patchouli 24, Iíve cornered the market on the smokey-leather-tea-patchouli-resinous-vanilla genre. I already own two others in the category: Bvlgari Black and Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories.

When comparing apples to apples, the small differences carry great weight, and decision making is easy. I wear all three perfumes regularly and never have the least difficulty choosing which one to wear on any given day.

Lonestar, Black and Patch 24 share a number of notes and in fact could look similar on paper. But notes and verbal descriptors have little to do with the experience of wearing these perfumes. Lonestar takes a sense of intention and deliberation to wear and when the stars align wearing Lonestar pays dividends. Bvlgari Black, less rough than Lonestar and more tailored than Patchouli 24, is the star of the three. Lonestar is rugged and Patchouli 24 is dense, but both perfumes result from the blending of their notes. (There was a television ad in the late 1970s for a dog treat that coined the repulsive phrase, ďcrun-chewyĒ thereby solving, I suppose, a millenia-long dilemma in the canine world) By this logic the term for Patch 24 and Lonestar's synergy would be ďam-birch-tar-y.Ē

But Black's motivation isn't blend. The notes don't sacrifice their identities to the perfume. Black thrives on difference. The constituent parts complement each other but keep their boundaries intact. Mťnardo's model of abstraction, shown in both Patchouli 24 and Black, favors execution over allusion and portrayal. It doesn't create a harmony that smooths the lines between notes. The pleasure I feel wearing Black is like the reassurance of perfectly milled locks and keys. Weighted movement without friction and the satisfying click' of perfect engineering.

I group these three perfumes together not simply for the notes they contain or the leather sub-genre they create. The line that runs through them is an unexpected sweetness. Blackís sweetness is the charm that results from amber, rubber and powder. Inedible, delectable. In Lonestarís the sharp edge of tar, blanched white florals and and uncut vanilla extract takes you 9/10 of the way to the satisfaction of sweetness and makes you complete the picture for yourself . Patchouli 24ís sweetness is the key to its affability. It triggers perceptions of lushness and the sense of having satisfied a craving, but it never once falls into gourmand territory. This sweetness is the reassurance of safety in a perfume that asks you to be comfortable in threatening territory. It lets you sit at the center of the perfume without fear of either falling into the gourmand trap or of being bitten by the big, bad, tarry wolf.

27th August, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Urban Musk by Tom Ford


What is an urban musk? And, importantly for fashionistas, who prioritize urban above all else, what would a rural musk or a suburban musk smell like. Accordingly, cow shit and hell?

Urban musk smells to me like Kiehl's Musk Number One that has been watered down both in fact and in concept. It smells like a bland, slightly berry-like musk that has been accented with a drop of an animalic musk then diluted by a non-descript sweet floral.

When the Ford Privťe line offers a deliberately simple product, such as Azure Lime, or a new take on a familiar piece, such as Lavender Palmís take on lavender, I'll cut them some slack. When their product is a shoddy take on a simple product available at 1/10 the cost, I say fuck 'em. Don't buy it.

from scent
27th August, 2013

Jasmine Musk by Tom Ford


Is someone kidding me? This perfume smells like talking with a teenage girl wearing a cheap fruity floral (any one---you choose. ) as she chews bubblegum that she's had in her mouth for half an hour so that it has the best of both saliva and flavoring.

Bubblegum breath meets bubblegum perfume for 200+ dollars.


27th August, 2013

Amyris Homme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

pink & blue

The gender pairing in perfumery always bothers me.

(product) pour homme

(product) pour femme

My general complaints revolve around mistaking the arbitrary for the essential. Dresses/trousers. Pink/blue. Princess ballerina/andro-jock. Itís all bad fiction to me. Must an idea be tailored in different ways for men and women to understand it? Please donít feel the need to do it on my account.

Or is it just marketing?

Take a perfume brief. Make two versions of it. Sell one to men and one to women. Is it just a jaded practicality thatís intrinsic to marketing?

Amyris Homme plays with the same set of ideas as Amyris Femme and can be considered its counterpart. They both juggle fruity and woody tones and they both play delicately with convention. Apparently, both the gyno and andro versions are based on torchwood or amyris, some botanical thingamabob that very few people would know of. I suppose itís the aÁai berry of perfumey.

Homme is interesting for the way it manages to be sweet and sour at the same time. It feels sugared, not so much a flavor as a degree of sweetness. The sweetness seems like an attempt to compensate for an inherent tartness in the same way that sweet-tea in the American South is so heavily sugared that the tannin of the tea is undetectable.

Like its girly counterpart, the boy Amyris uses fruity, watery, woody scents that are almost melon-like and yet creamy in tone. They come within a hairís width of a conventional sensibility. It is this nearness to normalcy that makes the two so fascinating. Are they subversive? Are they conventional, giving you what you recognize, but one centimeter beyond what youíve already experienced? I canít quite tell.

from scent

27th August, 2013

Washington Square by Bond No. 9

my old neck

I find it hard to get excited testing a new Bond no 9 perfume since I know it's going to be a perfume in a star bottle, and on the label will be a New York city name. With the exception of the giveaway names, such as Chelsea flowers, a floral, New York Musc, a musk, or New York Amber, an amber, the name and the perfume have no relation whatsoever. Chinatown is a beautiful contemporary take on a classic French genre of perfume. Nuit de Noho is a misguided derivation of Angel. Little Italy smells like diluted orange cleanser/solvent. So Washington Square, where I lived in the 1980s and never saw a rose outside of a perfume shop, smells like bergamot, tarragon and rose.

The ridiculous marketing conceit of the perfume line aside, Washington Square ainít bad. In reverse chronological sequence, Washington Square winds up a capital-m Musk, small-w woody Rose perfume. On its way to this soft, sweet yet fairly loud finale, Washington Square shows off a brisker, stronger and more aggressive rose in the middle notes. The topnotes are in fact the most interesting part of the perfume, with a brassy bergamot topnote surrounded by a sharp, cool green touch from tarragon and geranium. Where you might expect the astringent green top notes to lead into a fairly sharp rose, and despite a touted leather note, the rose itself smells sweet.

I imagine a lot of people would enjoy the basenotes of this perfume, but for me the soft landing into the marshmallowy basenotes (Is it Amber? Is it patchouli? Is it musk?) is a letdown.

Still, high marks for a long-lasting perfume that shows a deliberate progression.

from scent
27th August, 2013

New York Musk by Bond No. 9

a day in the life

Wonderful start! New York Musc opens smelling like you would imagine a dry cleaned cactus. Prickly, and dry, giving a tactile impression like the tacky feel of drying varnish. It has a beautifully constructed synthetic musk; not cuddly, not sweet, but also not like detergent. It feels deliberate and even insubordinate. This isnít your mamaís musk. It's got that New York nonchalant fuck-you tone.

But then there's a strange, slow turning-of-the-screw progression away from dry-cleaner into a juicy-fruit gum, exceedingly sweet, soft musk. During these trapped-in-Jello middle notes, I feel like I'm wearing an hours-long bellyflop.

The third act, in what feels like a minor triumph simply because it's rising from the fruit (cocktail) cellar, New York Musk ends on a nondescript patchouli musk tone. Unfortunately, and this is an intrinsic problem to a musk that you donít like, the ending feels like an olfactory, nightmarish version of the ending of the Beetles song, "A Day in the Life". Thereís no deliberate ending. Eventually you just pick up your head and think, thank god, itís over.

from scent
27th August, 2013

Orange Sanguine by Atelier Cologne

the shadow knows

Why is orange so difficult to give a leading role in perfumery? Bergamot, a specific bitter orange oil, is one of the most ubiquitous elements in perfumery, but orange, as in juice, as in peel one and eat it, tends to miss the mark. Orange Sanguine smells like an orange oil cleaning product. That is, until the orange note fades. Then it smells like super sparkly laundry powder.

5-6 hours after application, just before it fades away, there is a faintly musky orange whisper that is pleasant but vague.

27th August, 2013

Aoud Cuir D'Arabie by Montale

the mouse that didn't

The irresistible force, the immovable object. The rock and the hard place. He-man and She-ra. Leather and oud are the bad-boy/bad-girl notes of perfumery. They've both been considered vulgar, impolite and slutty. They're the enfants terribles of pretty perfumery. It makes perfect sense that they'd be taken up by niche perfumists as icons.

So, Oud Cuir d'Arabie should be a clash of titans in a bottle, right? After a spectacularly rocking 5-10 minute opening we have the answer. No.

However it comes about ( * ) this perfume goes from waving its arms and yelling at you to quietly turning its back on you so quickly that you have try it again and again to make sure your sense of smell isn't out of whack. I suppose the leather and the oud simply cede the fight to each other and maintain a quiet detente of dry, vaguely tarry woods. It's not an unpleasant ending to a perfume, but in this case, quiet means lackluster. Also, 5 minutes of excitement followed by 8 hours of uneventful drydown isn't my idea of the top to basenotes approach of classical perfumery.

* three points of comparison to capture the hurrah-to-hush effect:

1) The paradoxical effect, as in medicine. A medication given as stimulant causes sedation.

2) The dosage effect, as in medicine. For instance, a medication at one dose may cause dilation of blood vessels and lead to decreased blood pressure. The same med at a higher dose causes constriction of the vessels and increases the blood pressure.

3) The exaustion effect, as when two evenly matched television drag queens square off in a battle of wits and drama. It's all nails and spittle until they tire and their hair falls flat.
from scent
09th August, 2013

Ylang 49 by Le Labo


Le Labo, in their ongoing conflation of ingredient lists and titles, have made a great contribution to the reinvention of the chypre. It's easy to misunderstand the chypre, focussing on the surface or its list of ingredients (bergamot, oakmoss, labdanum) rather than its complexity and balanced tension.

Trying to create a new chypre by replacing banned ingredients with less oppressive ones that smell the same is a strategy that aromachemical producers would love to employ. They would love to create the new captive molecule that re-creates all the beauty of oakmoss without any of its drawbacks. Le Labo take a more interesting approach. Ylang 49 doesn't attempt to fill in the missing pieces of the original formula. It tinkers with the dynamic qualities of a chypre and recreates the sensibility with different constituent parts. It has an aggressive opening on par with the haughty start of a stark chypre. It subverts the middle-notes a bit. A tropical twist, a sort of ylang/gardenia note, allows humid florals to coexist with a dry woodiness that eventually winds up a cigarette-voiced basenote on the patchouli/benzoin axis. Ylang 49 retains the scratchy, purring quality of a floral chypre and keeps all the peculiarities and unresolved tensions I associate with a floral chypre.

The floral chypre informed classical perfumery's working proposition that flowers are equally fetching and ferocious. Historically, beginning somewhere in the late 1980s, the credo of the fruity floral crushed floral complexity in a stampede. This credo holds that flowers should merely be simple, loud and match the sickly punch of fruity half of the fru-flo. Ylang 49, chypre or not, reminds us of the power of the flower.

from scent

07th August, 2013

Louanges Profanes 19 by Parfumerie Generale

by comparison we suffer

When I think about perfume I tend to rely on literary or verbal devices. By literary I don't mean particularly lofty in nature, I just mean that we use tricks of the tongue and the pen to get at perfume. I'll use visual allusions, fictions of memory, description and tidbits of narrative. The trouble is that all that words offer is comparison. The device I lean most heavily on is metaphor. 'Perfume X is like a night on the town in Elizabeth, New Jersey.' 'Post-reformulation, chypre Y is a child who's lost her teddy bear.'

Relying on words to think about perfume has two effects. The first is a that by seeking connections, it fosters imagination and creative thought. The second is a demonstration of how few tools of analysis for scent our current vocabulary supplies. My problem with metaphor, though, is that it's as much a weak translation as it is true metaphor. The process goes like this: Smell a perfume. Pause, for 10 seconds to two weeks. Piece together words to tell a story. I question whether this method can result in anything greater than the merely clever. You'll hear very talented perfumers talk about story telling and narrative and its importance in perfumery. We perfume users, though, should question this sort of romanticism. Do perfumers who rely on story tell us stories, or do they use story as a device, a sort of imagery that aids them in designing perfume? Can a perfume truly tell a single reproduceable story, not just a subjective olfactory experience, to multiple wearers?

Sometimes smelling a scent or fragrance will lead to a sort of sensory hallucination, that blanketing state you feel when smelling a certain perfume, typically one that you haven't smelled in a while. But this is largely a function of memory, and our understanding of the association between sense and memory muddy if not simply incorrect. Every now and then, though, a perfume will launch you into a seemingly more direct sensory experience. The experience doesn't trigger or rely on memory, it feels new.

Smelling Parfumerie Gťnťrale Louanges Profanes for the first time gave this sort of experience. It gave me a feeling of viscosity. A fluid consistency that isn't thick, chewy, creamy or even watery. It suggested a fluid I had never experienced before. On that had a thick/thin, lubricant viscosity like silicone along with a sweetness that hovered between liquor, elixir and sap. It made me focus on the qualities of sweetness, like the way that glycerin has no smell, but is sweet when you touch it to your tongue, or the way honeysuckle nectar smells and tastes the same.

To categorize, Louanges Profanes is a floriental, an orange blossom/amber, to be specific. But this is an instance where breaking the perfume down into its scent descriptors isn't particularly useful, because doing so doesnít capture the experience of the perfume, it just tells you whatís in it. The sensation of fluidity and slickness eventually fades as what seemed liquid starts to dry. The perfume continues to suggest states of matter. Louanges Profanes feels like it dries into a set piece, and gives the nose equivalent of drying brushstrokes. Like those deliberate, voluminous stabs of paint you would find in one of the Mulberry Tree paintings by van Gogh. The paint and the perfume both retained an appearance of fluidity as they dried, capturing the appearance of movement and action.

On that note of bad visual comparison, the end.

04th August, 2013
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Weil de Weil by Weil

Weil de Weil is a green floral chypre. In 1971 when it released it might have been called typical. Unlike today, there was an abundance of green floral and green chypre fragrances. From the perspective of 2013, this school of green florals having died on the vine, Weil de Weil could be considered quintessential, a classic.

Weil de Weil is a wonderful day to day fragrance, and tells us much about the sensibility of the perfumery of its time. Like Ivoire de Balmain, which came later, it has the sensibility of old-school department stores in that it was easily accessible, simple to buy, simple to wear. It's from an era when even drugstore fragrances had an expectation of quality.

Weil de Weil comes from an interesting school of fragrance history. The people who made, sold and wore these perfumes had no idea that the big 80s were coming their way. They were the logical extensions of the pointed floral chypre fragrances of the late 50s and early 60s. But they also came after the start of mainstream experience of the youth cultural revolution of the 60s. From the perspective of stylistic convention, the early-mid 1960s might as well have been the late 1950s. But these green girls survived their time without flipping their wigs: Chanel 19, Weil de Weil, YSL Rive Gauche, Paco Rabanne Metal. They took a fairly mannered genre and taught it to loosen up.

If the chypres of the 40s and 50s reflected the fashion of their time (think of the influence of Diorís New Look and Miss Dior) this era put the chypres in bell-bottoms and sandals. The age of aquarius chypre ranged from the prettiness of Estťe Lauder Private Collection to the aggressiveness of Clinique Aromatics Elixir. These new-mainstream Guťrilleres debuted after the summer of love, heads clear, eyes open and looking squarely at the Viet Nam War and the protest against it. It's easy to frame the conventional awareness of the time as regressive, ŗ la Trish Nixon, but this was also an expansive, revolutionary time for the civil rights of everyday women. Weil de Weil is one of the green florals that captures the combination of exploration and acceleration of the early 1970s.

I appreciate niche perfumery, and I tolerate the exclusive lines of many designer perfumers but I regret the need for both. The categorical distinction between high and low in perfumery is one of the less desirable outcomes of the notion of the perfumer as artist-director-entrepreneur. I miss the days not only of great perfumes coming from department stores and the like, but the expectation that these venues would produce quality perfume.

I miss the accessibility, the lack of exclusivity, the sense of common purpose, that these everyday, empowering green fragrances gave us.</div>
31st July, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

Azure Lime by Tom Ford

the simple things

If you think of Azure Lime as an Eau de Cologne, it makes sense. By concentration, it is an eau de parfum, but by taxonomy it is an edc. Whether an edc should cost this much will be a function of your budget.

Lime is such a tight note. It is so specific and so concise. Citrus notes tend to be sharp, reading as fresh and bracing, but lime is narrower than other citrus notes. There is no lead-in and no denouement. Azure Lime takes advantage of this sharpness. The topnotes are a blast of lime and turpentine, like a face-scrunching reduction of gin and lime. The lime note (wonderfully!) doesnít grow softer. Despite the flowers, musk and spice notes that eventually join it, the lime itself never submits.

In a classic edc, floral and spice notes broaden the chief citrus note (typically lemon or bergamot) and musks soften it. In what feels like a reversal, the lime bends the other notes to its will. The floral note (jasmine?) dries as soon as it appears and the musk note gives the lime more backbone than padding, lending a woody feel to the composition.

Azure Lime stays dry and cool from top to bottom, ending on a quiet, dusty note. A woody/spicy, cardamom/cedar scent stays attached to the lime so that even into the basenotes, the fragrance has a juniper/gin sting.

Azure Lime wears like and eau de cologne and should be splashed with abandon for full effect. It captures a very specific notion of luxury, one that I have to say I find appealing: the $10 dose of cologne. It is the anti-bling of perfumery. Forget the rare, the exotic, the over-the-top. This is the luxe of the simple done well.

from scent

27th June, 2013

Santal Blush by Tom Ford


I smelled australian sandalwood essential oil earlier today and it smelled like curdled cedar. Incidentally, it also smelled a lot like Santal Blush.

Iíd blush, too.

from scent

27th June, 2013

Vraie Blonde by Etat Libre d'Orange


Iíve mentioned before that Etat Libre díOrangeís schtick is easy to dispense with because itís so ridiculous. I love the perfume that ELDO make, and I support the notion that perfumery needs to be shaken up. The grade-school boyishness, though, is self-defeating. The first thing I do with a bottle from ELDO is to put away the little text/illustration insert that "explains" the perfume. ĎIs she a real blond? Only nudity will reveal the truth.í Itís what would come out of creative writing class for horny 13 year-old boys.

But the perfume!

Vraie Blonde is often compared to Chanel 5 and it should be. Not for any similarity of scent, but for the fact that they are similarly abstract. Vraie Blonde is a myrrh fragrance in the way that Chanel 5 is a floral fragrance. It doesnít smell like any one thing but experiencing it, I catch images of butter cookies, peach skin, muscat grapes, porridge, closets, make-up, and baby skin. Itís all over the map in the best sense.

Vraie Blonde doesnít smell like anything else Iíve smelled. It doesnít suggest or allude to any other scent. Itís a fairly new territory for me and gives me a new olfactory image to attach meaning, emotion, value to.

Let me step away from the perfume itself for a moment. This experience of encountering the new and assimilating it by attaching concepts and meanings to it is how I (we) deal with the unknown. The unknown is necessarily abstract because I canít perceive it. In identifying something new, I categorize it, attach descriptors to it, compare it to other ideas and experiences and eventually start to get a handle on it. I name it. To some degree, this is what I do with all perfumes, or more broadly, with all scents. For all my talk, there is no proper language to scent because, other than for perfumers, the olfactory is a read-only medium. Itís the nature of the biz, man. Here is my rationale for seeing all perfumery as abstract by definition.

Back to Vraie Blonde. Itís just lovely. Itís blanketing and dense. Though others describe it as bubbly and champagne-like, the classic aldehydic descriptors, I find it quite the opposite. Itís enveloping. It draws you into it. Itís seductive. It reminds me in feeling, if not in scent, of Robert Piguetís Baghari, another smoldering aldehydic perfume. Vraie Blonde sits at the exact point between activity and passivity and waits for you to tip it one way or the other.

from scent

27th June, 2013

The Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d'Orange


The perfume-tells-a-story bit isnít my bag. Why do we try so hard to push narrative onto non-literal experiences? As much as I love to write about perfume, the writing is utterly after the fact of the experience. Just let me smell my perfume and experience the state.

The poem, the music the ballet, the myth. Genug shoin! Afternoon of a Faun perfume doesnít suggest fauns or any of the notions that a faun represents in mythology. But story aside, it is a brilliant perfume.

There have been a number of strategies to recreate or suggest the chypre accord without the bio-hazard oakmoss. Chanel 31 Rue Cambon bends a floral amber into the shape of a chypre. Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Cheri makes patchouli, a common chypre component, a stand-in for rather than a partner to oakmoss. de Nicolaiís Vie de Chateau Intense plays with the hay-like scent of coumarin to create a fougere/chypre hybrid. But Ralf Schwieger does a clever turn with Afternoon of a Faun.

Using immortelle, which I wouldnít otherwise think to associate with oakmoss, he plays up the sandpapery, dusty feel of oakmoss giving us the tone and the shape of the chypre without explicitly trying to smell like one. The composition has a clear bergamot note, and an ambery benzoin if not cistus labdanum itself, so the rest of the chypre elements are in play. But immortelle, when matched with incense and myrrh implies that state between smokiness and resin that moss creates. Imagine that perfume notes are elements on the periodic table. Schwieger goes directly up one level to find the element that shares the same chemical properties as our element oakmoss and makes a new compound.

Rather then suggesting a chypre (31 Rue Cambon) or using chypre-like elements (treemoss and the new synthetics) Schwieger gives us a parallel universe chypre, and I for one couldnít be happier. This could easily be a signature scent for someone searching for perfume monogamy.

from scent

27th June, 2013

Arabian Wood by Tom Ford


Arabian? This smells Arabian in the manner of a Penhaligon's fragrance, that is to say, British.

First and foremost, can we dispense with "Arabian" unless weíre referring to horses or history? I assume Tom Ford uses the word because itís Fashion Fantastical. Ariabian, you know, like A Thousand and One Nights. Itís the orientalism of early 20th century perfumery all over again. Stale, offensive exoticism. Also, the imagery and allusion is just cheesy. Makes the line seem like a spin on The House of Creed. Replace the tassels and epaulets with glossy pseudo-mod and you still have the same thing: hot air and cuff links.

The perfume is nice, though. I can't say that I smell lavender per se, but I do smell the soapy, herb-on-hay sweetness of a fougere. At the same time there is a dry bitter green angle, like a tight-assed chypre. Maybe galbanum dressed up as lavender and took its place in the fougere. This tinderbox-dry woodiness balances the moist feel of the fougere, but in the end the fougere wins, and a fairly dark, minor chord similar to that of Rive Gauche pour Homme's basenotes lasts until you wash it off.

Arabian Wood is a fine old-school barbershop fougere. Simplicity is a virtue in the classic aromatic fougere. Messing around too much with the basic formula diminishes the stride of the old boy. Ford have added enough to make it stand on its own, but havenít muddied the waters. The name is a bit of misdirection, but the perfume is straightforward and handsome in a classic, soapy, manly fashion. Women, give it a try.


24th June, 2013

Champaca Absolute by Tom Ford


Opens with a moist white floral note that suggests humid doldrums. The volume hints that the perfume will be a big, mixed white floral, and it is. It's just not the expectable jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose trip. It's not 'dirty' in the sense of sweat and body odor that the above flowers tend to have, but does have an umami quality that keeps it from reading as too spic and span. This savory tone serves the same purpose as BO in tuberose and the others. Itís a basic compositional strategy in both the kitchen and the perfume lab. Use the contrasting note that highlights the sultriness of the floral, the lemon juice that brings out the sweetness of melon, the MSG that brightens your processed foods.

Champaca flower has a creamy sweetness thatís cut with a whiff of tea. In shape, it reminds me of camellia. Champaca Absolute underlines the creamy floral with ambery lushness and gives it the feel of party-girl floriental. There's a big push-pull to the top notes, as the floral tone is very expansive, but the creaminess pulls it back a bit.

The top notes are actually fairly simple, but they transition into a more complex set of heart notes that add a spiciness and give dimension to the flower. It feels a little more woody than oriental at this point. It moves from an apparent simplicity to a more nuanced complexity and is very satisfying to wear. The heart notes are fairly long-lasting, and gorgeous. Floral, spicy, woody, creamy. Very luxurious overall.

The basenotes take a bit of a turn and spiced creaminess grows more vanillic, making me think there was an attempt to end on a sandalwood note. Unfortunately earthiness and the milkiness don't mix well and the ending, for all the world, smells to me like cupcakes made with a mushroom butter cream icing. The slow transition is off-putting, giving me the feeling of smelling milk curdle.

Interesting ride, but not the ending I'd hoped for.

(A thought. There is a similarity in Champaca Absoluteís amber/magnolia accord to Givenchyís Insense. These two perfumes have little in common otherwise. Perhaps this amber/champaca pairing could lead to other interesting perfumes.)

from scent

24th June, 2013

Neroli Portofino by Tom Ford

the price question

The price discussion. I face it with all the Fords as well as many other costly perfumes. Will you pay, for example, $250 for a quality perfume when there are other comparable perfumes at a fraction of the cost? There is a market for costly perfumes, and if people are willing to spend big bucks, more power to them. So I don't forget the cost of the Ford line, but I try also to consider the perfumes independent of price. I'll admit, it's an odd little dance in my head.

Neroli Portofino is a pretty neroli cologne. "Pretty" is really tossing it a bone. It's certainly not ravishing, it's nothing new, and it doesn't seem like a particularly fine iteration of what it purports to be: a lasting, concentrated Eau de Cologne (edc) made with the finest materials to be found.

For a cologne to be successful, it must offer one of two things: faultless quality or an interesting variation. Cologne is certainly nothing new, and because of the simplicity of its componentry (search for the recipe and you'll find it easily) it's not hard to find excellent and inexpensive versions. Interesting alternative colognes are not hard to find either. Examples: CdG Vettiveru, Atelier Cologneís Rose Anonyme and Trefle Pur, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Cologne pour le Soir.

A neroli cologne isnít new, so Ford isnít attempting the inventive variation. As for quality, Neroli Portofino falls a bit flat to my nose. The emphasis on bright florals, with a grounding in a sweet musk, gives a fairly two-dimensional impression of neroli. EDC is meant to be a brief, invigorating experience. Neroli Portofino abides by the former principle, but neglects the latter. Neroli Portofino misses the point that cologneís success comes from simplicity, not refinement. Refinement looks like overbreeding when the mark is missed, and Neroli reads like the shivering, overgroomed teacup poodle of the edc set. (For a different take on a neroli cologne at 1/5 the price, try Comme des Garcons Anbar.)

The ad photos for Neroli Portofino capture what find least appealing about Ford-world. It purports to be racy and shocking. To me it reads as contrived and tired. Over-styled, sexless nudity might capture the Ford esthetic for his fans, but it just looks like those ridiculous laughy-smily Bijan ads from the 80s-90s to me.

from scent

24th June, 2013

Cafť Rose by Tom Ford

delta dawn

This is the Rose of the twisted Garden? Antoine Lie, líenfant terrible, was the perfumer? Maybe Iíve gotten high on the fumes the smoldering rose chypres of the 70s-80s, but twisted or noir this ainít.

Woody roses are easy in concept. There is a logical fit and a mutual enhancement. Because rose provides its own top, middle and base, the pairing with woods is logical. Patchouli, incense, sandlewood: Cafe Rose has them all. Amber, another expected match with rose, rounds out the mix.

Antoine Lie has visited this idea with colleague Antoine Maisondieu in Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection for Etat Libre díOrange. Rossy plays with a dark rose and woods, also, but uses spice and chocolate as well as tones of metal, dust and blood. Unfortunately, Cafe Rose is best captured in what it is not. Not outstanding, not inspiring, not polarizing (not a good sign) and to my mind, given the competition in the niche market, not worth the price.

Cafe Rose isnít a particularly ambitious perfume. The only sense of noir it conveys is, ĎHey. Itís dark in here. Whereís the light switch?í The concept isnít new and the execution is uneventful. It conveys a feeling of the satisfaction of connecting the dots. The components are in place, the bits all connect; therefore the perfume is good. To its credit, the perfume doesnít fall apart or become unbalanced. If you like the opening, youíll likely enjoy the rest of the perfume. But the bar just seems to be set low, and the risk-averse Cafe Rose favors balance over richness, competence over inspiration.

from scent

24th June, 2013

Lavender Palm by Tom Ford

coffee talk

I love black coffee, but Iíd rather not drink coffee at all than to drink it with sugar. My preference has led me to have my own category of coffee, which is defined by a lack of sweetener.

Lavender Palm is the sweetened coffee of lavender to my nose. Itís a creamy, sweet lavender, nothing like the resinous, woody, incense lavender of my favorite lavender, Parfums de Nicolai pour Homme. But as with coffee, who the fuck cares what I think?

Lavender Palm is distinct, coherent and inventive. The shape of the perfume holds green herbal facets, sweet creaminess, and the nutty-woody notes without becoming unbalanced or falling to pieces. The composition holds the lavender in the center, but keeps it from overpowering the other notes, something a sharp lavender often does. If you can get past paying hundreds of dollars for a lavender fragrance, Lavender Palm is one of the better options.


03rd June, 2013

Jasmin Rouge by Tom Ford


The jasmine has probably received the solifor treatment more than any flower in perfumery save the rose. There are plenty of types available and at the full range of price points. Serge LutensĎs solifloriental A la Nuit and leather solifor Sarrasins. Badgely Mischkaís fruity soliflor Fleurs de Nuit. Muglerís chemo-soliflor Alien. Etat Libreís woody soliflor Jasmin et Cigarette. Green, indolic, sweet, doughy, sweaty, pretty, naughty? There is such a wide range of tones that by highlighting or downplaying specific notes, a perfume may take any number of turns. That said, jasmine solifores tend generally tend toward the crass.
Jasmine Rouge is not more tactless than, say, A la Nuit, which is my favorite jasmine soliflor, largely for its hearty embrace of crassness. Jasmine Rouge has an effusive opening, with a kaleidoscopic cycle jumping around from green to sweet to tart-indolic to spicy-floral at any given moment. It even has a bit of the yeastiness that jasmines and tuberoses sometimes have. Itís not unattractive by any means, but jasmine topnotes seldom are. Others have noted that it falls apart by the basenotes, and I disagree. It does become less distinctive over time, and a bland sweetness smothers the other topnotes, but it manages to keep a sketch of its overall shape.
Would you pay $250-500 for a a beautiful perfume that you love? Tough question. Would you pay it for a tolerable one?
Counterintuitively, distinctiveness is a risk in a luxury design product. Recognizability has as much greater value, and is typically found sitting in the middle of the road. Jasmine Rouge winds up feeling more like a place holder in a perfume line than than a perfume that someone had a great desire to make. It captures an inherent obstacle to launching a line rather than releasing a perfume. How inspired will a perfume be if its goal it to fit a category and fill a slot? Itís a question that comes up with each perfume in the Tom Ford Private Blend line.
from scent
03rd June, 2013

Jonquille de Nuit by Tom Ford

mix and match

Itís not hard to separate the Ford sales pitch from the perfumes. The pitch is so bare, so hungry. ĎTom Ford has everything that could be desired. Donít you wish you were Tom?!í I wonít go further into the reading of the marketing, since I believe I just captured it in its entirety.

But one bit of marketing that catches me with Jonquille de Nuit is the mix-and-match bit. Whether in the press or in person, the perfumes are sold as spectacular on their own, but also amazing in combination. I think the pairing the Bloomingdales sales associate was telling me about today was Neroli Portofino and Arabian Wood. Interesting as a cultural notion, I suppose, but really? Really?? I thought the assemble-your-own esthetic was considered fairly dime-store and ran out of steam at about the sophistication level of the Jo Malone line. But then I tried Jonquille de Nuit.

Jonquille de Nuit isnít a narcissus solifor, but it does seem to paint a the notion of a particular spring floral tone, albeit a very jasmine-like one to my nose. Iíve read others whoíve have called it indolic, dirty. Tom calls it "de Nuit" and in the TF world that means dinner jackets and gowns, or oiled bodies---nothing in between. But to me itís springtime sunshine. It has that bursting at the cell wall acceleration of Spring flowers that suggests water, oiliness, flow, viscosity, rigid stems, crisp flower and dirt all at once. The topnotes are not terribly complex, but Jonquille de Nuit is balanced and buoyant. As the topnotes fade, though, it gets plucked petal by petal and lands on Ďhe loves me notí with a recognizably floral note, but one that is thinner, flatter and sweeter than the opening Spring still-life. Here, I suppose, is the flower of the mix and match premise.

If these perfumes are to be combined willy-nilly to form Ďpersonalizedí fragrances, they must be fairly simplistic in construction or the outcome would be a pile-up. So although Jonquille de Nuit appears to aim for a deliberate simplicity that might lend itself to the indiscriminate combining of perfumes, I donít really buy it.


31st May, 2013

Italian Cypress by Tom Ford

truth in advertising

In a wonderfully straightforward manner, Italian Cypress does in fact smell like the cypress tree. It manages to capture the entirety of the tree: the green stiff briskness of evergreen, the pine-like moisture of the wood, the soil and air and sunshine. Itís unabashedly What It Is. It reminds me of Caron Yataghan, Paco Rabanne pour Homme in genre and character. The linking of herbal, woody and balsamic notes is effortless. This baby has nothing to do with the muscled, depilated, excessively groomed, self-conscious male fragrances of the 21st-century. It's animated, sweaty, and spits on sidewalks. Itís uninhibited in a way that might not fit easily into a social media framework.

Current men's perfumery is still saddled with vestiges of 1990s apologia. It supports aspiration, the desire to fit in, the pathology of conspicuousness. I tend to think of Tom Ford brand style, from my cursory views of it since the 1990s, as aspiring to uniformity and a bland, unexcitingluxury. A world where the White Party is an ideal, and the best manicure wins. It's as if he took the worst from my people, the clonishness and used it with neither irony nor higher purpose. All anonymity and no identity.

But credit where itís due. Italian Cypress is a beautifully rough ride. Itís expansive and brash, but completely charming. Italian Cypress captures that 1970s good-old-bad-old days feel perfectly.

from cent

31st May, 2013

White Suede by Tom Ford

White? Suede?

White suede starts out with a nose-hair singeing chemical suede scent that seems like a shoddy copy of Heeley's cool-to-the-touch Cuir Pleine Fleur. Itís not half-hearted, or Ďnot-quiteí, it smells defective. The jarring topnotes give me a bit of fight or flight reaction, and I have to make certain not to shit myself.

In perfumery the notion of suede is usually conjured with references to tea, dried leaves, birch, violet and the like. And, while true that Ďleatherí notes might more precisely be called Ďtanneryí notes, the chemistry involved in White Suede is undisguised. White Suede grows quieter, but never less shrill and gives the nerve-wracking sensation of a siren passing you, fading in the distance, but always sounding too sharp in pitch.

By chemical I mean unnatural. "Natural" is the verbal equivalent of zero in mathematics. Strictly defined, imaginary, entirely conceptual. In common usage "natural" is falsely fundamental. We use it with a wink and a nod and make a point of never defining it and hoping nobody else will either. It carries enormous significance, principally judgement--good and worthy--but has no meaning in fact. I find it hard to use the word in a sentence.

But 'unnatural' is another bird entirely. Itís campy but not blatantly humorous. It comes to have much more meaning than 'natural' because it's like saying, 'all that crap over there--the things you stuff inelegantly into that word "natural"? It's not that.' 'Natural' is a consensual fiction that we don't dare pry into. 'Unnatural' in perfumery means that you canít hide the chemical origin with a botanical Ďnoteí. ("Watch out, girl. That chemical flower note will torch your ass!") Again, judgement is implied, but camp saves day because, though you use the word, the implicit irony means you don't believe the literal meaning of it.

So, White Suede is as unnatural and chemical as they come. It's a reminder that an imbalanced perfume made with mostly aromachemicals has a higher risk of flying out of control than one made of mostly botanicals. White Suede isn't the person humming a vague ditty out of tune. It's the forgotten, full, screaming tea kettle that you hope will soon run dry and burn the house down.

30th May, 2013

Cologne pour le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Traditional Eaux de Cologne are designed to take advantage of the volitile qualities of citrus materials. The basic structure of composition is concise and most Colognes smell alike. Cologne is associated with its characteristic smells: hesperidic notes (citrus fruit, leaves, woods) herbs, florals, musk. Kurkdijan reinvents the Cologne by throwing away the recipe and looking more closely at the dynamics.

He reconstructs the Eau de Cologne not on hesperidic notes, but on benzoin and rose, materials you might expect to find weighing down the classic oriental. He pares down rose and benzoin, making them lighter than air yet true to character. By focusing on the qualities and timeframe of the experience, Kurkdijan remains true to the sensibility of the Cologne, but gives us something new.

In traditional Cologne the topnotes have a half life measured in minutes. Kurkdijan extends the topnotes of Cologne pour le Soir, giving them a less rushed pace and fragrance unfolds with a confident stride. The spiced resinous drydown is a logical conclusion to the fragrance yet feels as novel as the topnotes. At the start of the fragrance Kurkdijan reconsiders the Cologne but in the end, Cologne pour le Soir reinvents the Oriental. It has a subtle intensity and sidesteps both the weight of the traditional oriental and the ringing 'radiance' of the modern woody amber. Cologne pour le Soir highlights Kurkdijan's talent for incorporating new olfactory configurations into his fragrances without fanfare. He avoids gimmickry, instead focussing on the overall integrity of his fragrances. Despite its conceptual basis, Cologne pour le Soir feels effortless. Kurkdijan done the heavy lifting and we can kick back and enjoy the ride.

28th May, 2013 (last edited: 27th January, 2017)

Coeur de Vťtiver Sacrť by L'Artisan Parfumeur

a vetiver by any other name

Coeur de Vetiver Sacre is a Vetiver fragrance the way an avocado is a fruit: technically. But not so much characteristically.

I've seen other fumies compare Vetiver Sacre to other vetivers, from Maitre Parfumeur's Route du Vetiver to Chanel's Sycomore . If replication of a pure vetiver note is your standard, Vetiver Sacre bombs. But so would Guerlain Vetiver, the standard bearer of the genre. Let's open the windows a bit and air out our vetiver criteria.

Vetiver Sacre lays a musky sheen over a dry, balanced fruity tone. I don't know shit about the nuts and bolts of composition, so I'll talk about notes rather than ingredients. This tone feels like the middle ground of musky sweetness and a fictional dry wood. The fruit is neither sweet nor tart, or better still, is equally sweet and tart and suggests the crispness of a green apple at the same time that it calls to mind a sweet honeydew melon. A black pepper notes acts just as it would in a fruit dish you would eat. It gives you a little bit of a slap and separates the woody and sweet notes that might otherwise form a monotonous tone. Smart move. This is the sort a linear fragrance that has a deliberate but diaphanous harmony that surrounds you. If the composition lacks a dynamic to offset the encompassing harmony, your sensory filters would eventually isolate it and turn it off like background noise. The peppery note is the thin line that provides just the separation needed to keep this fragrance from falling into the hypnotic fugue perfume producers love to call radiance. Perfumer Karin Vichon Spehner appears to have tamed the woody amber.

An avocado doesn't spring readily to mind when I think "fruit". But you can't make guacamole with raspberries. Not only does Vetiver Sacre 'pass' for a Vetiver fragrance, it has its own particular place on my Vetiver shelf.

27th May, 2013

Oud Wood by Tom Ford

Oud tends to be the gorilla in the room in a fragrance. Oud being both potent and distinctive, the challenge is how to make an oud-centric perfume fundamentally different than any other. This is a problem for all perfume producers, not just Tom Ford. Oud is the It-Girl still, and here lies the other problem. The oud trend has been going on for long enough that its moment is getting a little long in the tooth. The smart niche companies that were touting oud for the past 4-5 years are moving on, but the high end designer lines (Dior,Versace, Armani) and the niche lines (Killian, Kurkdjian) missed the memo. My point is not at all that the perfumes are bad, but that seeing the trend as a function of marketing, the glass house of exclusivity and taste is looking a little fragile. All the $200-$500 exclusive ouds are competing with each other, but theyíre also competing with much less expensive, well-made oud perfumes also available. Exclusivity is a fiction that style-merchants are constantly busting their asses to maintain, and the market is famously fickle. My bet is that the oud star is falling. (see photo)

A large part of the above scenario is price. Rare Vietnamese oud, ancient Cambodian treasured oud... Youíve never heard anyone refer to rare ethylmaltol, and for good reason. Where is all this oud coming from? Oud isnít quite ambergris, whose formation is measured in decades to centuries, but you donít plant it one season and harvest it the next. As with every other quality of smell that we refer to in perfume, oud, the note, and oud, the material are not the same thing. A product that is much more expensive than its direct competitors (a $400 by Killian perfume v. a $100 Parfumerie Generale perfume) require a certain justification, and whether the company is Chanel or Whole Foods, the rare sourcing of botanical components is the contemporary grail of sophistication among the consumer. Ivory, gems, elephant skin, milk fed veal. The exclusivity of Empire has given way to exclusivity AND ethics. ĎPlease donít spill your acai martini on my ipe wood floor and cause a stain. Though itís sustainably grown, Iíve spent years monitoring the webcast of the organic, high altitude farm where I commissioned its growth. Donít put me through THAT again.Ē

And here we have oud. All the sophistication of ambergris, none of the ethical indecision. Weíre perfect prey for the oud-mongers.

Tom Fordís Oud Wood starts out much like many other eponymous oud perfumes Iíve smelled, but from the very outset has a quality of softened edges and rounded tones. [Caveat: I donít have much of a nose or mind for dissecting the notes in oud, although Iíve smelled many oud perfumes. Iíve even had the opportunity, thanks to a friend sharing his stash, of doing a comparison sniffing of a number of quality pieces of Vietnamese and Cambodian oud wood whose very specific provenances were know by the person who collected them.]

This is a perfume that makes me question the difference between modulating something very particular and strong (oud), and going mainstream. At all points in Oud Woodís progression it reads as within normal limits, not low and not high. Within normal limits: is that the goal? If so, itís achieved. This fragrance would appeal to a large population, perfume fans and otherwise. Normally I would deride a goal of normalcy-above-all-else, but Oud Wood is wonderfully constructed, and despite the oud name, is a principally woody fragrance that modulates sweetness, smokiness, firmness and softness. Itís blended but specific, and smells like an imagined wood in the way that an abstract floral fragrance like Heeleyís Ophelia or the classic Patou Joy suggests an idealized flower.

Does Oud Wood have all the brutal smokiness, bitterness, and slap-in-the-face often associated with oud? No, but I find this modulated quality refreshing given the Ďmy oudís bigger than your oudí competitiveness that characterized some oud fragrances released around the time of Oud Wood (2007). Perfumer Richard Herpin pushes oud more to the center of the stage than this, but applies moderation deliberately to the composition and gives us the subtle but forthright Oud Wood.

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