Perfume Reviews

Reviews by jtd

Total Reviews: 503

Lys Fume by Tom Ford

pictures of lily

The name Lys Fume is only half correct. The lily is there, the smoke is not. No complaint, though. This is a handsome and well composed floriental. Lily is the centerpiece but other elements that fly in and out of this perfume include other flowers, fruit, plastic, spices, India ink and resins. A soliflor this ainít.

Itís been compared to Donna Karen's Gold, and the comparison is appropriate. Gold is a lily floral amber that alternatingly purrs and growls. The smoky, ambery base notes start to rumble up through the topnotes almost immediately after you spray it on. Lys Fume is less overtly louche than Gold, but is sweeter in both scent and personality. In Gold, Amber is the accompanying score to the flower, but it can feel like a Phantom of the Opera theater organ taking over the room. This is how Gold plays with contrasts (growl) as well as the common threads (purr) between the lily and the amber. Lys Fume has amber, but it doesnít ride it like a parade float as Gold does. Amber serves the end goal of the composition, it doesnít take over. It joins the other elements to give a rich, plastic-smelling feel that holds the balance of the sweetness and the spiciness just so. The base is spiced but not spicy.

Lys Fume unfolds at a leisurely pace, and the extended heart notes are similar in character to the plastic floral notes of Vierges et Toreros. The plastic sheen in Vierges suggests shrink-wrapping. Lys Fumeís plastic smells like India ink and seems to be a fortunate side effect of the wonderfully 'off' note that form the scent of ylang ylang. The composition is balanced, and notes like plastic and ink don't stand out anymore than do spices and florals. Is this plastic note a Maisondieu family secret? Antoine employed it to striking effect in Vierges et Toreros. Here, perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu integrates the plastic note in such a way that it could be the base note for a whole new generation of floral Oriental perfumes. Delicate, but not at all sheer. Strong, but effortless.

Often in perfumery, 'distinctive' is code for odd and undesirable. Lys Fume is distinctive in that it is striking and memorable. It has just the sort of beauty that I look for in a perfume. It draws you in not merely because it's pretty, but because it has some thought to it and is equally interesting and beautiful. The inky plastic keeps the Lily note aloft. Sillage is low, endurance is good. But Lys Fume gets its highest marks for integrity and coherence of overall shape from top to bottom.

from scenthurdle

24th May, 2013

Bois d'AscŤse by Naomi Goodsir

niche hits the wall

The spice cabinet has been neglected in perfumery.  I imagine this has to do with perfume producers not wanting to be pinned down by the literal, the prosaic, the kitchen.  From the consumer perspective, I donít know if there is much of a market for culinary spice perfumery, but the need is probably met by aromatherapeutic products.  I know that there are others spicy/bakery/culinary perfumes: Tauerís Eau díEpices, Lutens Five OíClock au Gingembre, líArtisanís Tea for Two, but Iíve never tried them.  
I do see a train of thought that goes from Lauderís Cinnabar/Diorís Opium to Serge Lutensís Arabie to Un Crime Exotique, though.  For each of these, the spice is in the syrup.  A syrupy quality in perfume usually implies an overt sweetness.  Generally, in terms of nose feel, syrup = sweetness + viscosity + flavor.  The flavor might be vanilla, maple, cinnamon, cardammom.  The Ďflavorí is the spice.  Crime Exotique skips the implied syrup (Cinnabar) and the overt syrup (Arabie) and takes the spice in a different direction.  The touch of syrup that Crime Exotique gives you is firmly grounded in clove, one of the few cold spices.  The chilly blast of clove in the topnotes of the perfume surround you at first but subside by about 80% fairly quickly.   The syrup goes the way of the clove hurricane, and Crime is soon revealed as a woody perfume.  When not drowned in sweetness, spices like clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, even ginger are shown to be characteristically woody in scent.
Un Crime Exotique takes the wood and runs with it.  What appeared to be syrup is actually more of a resinous quality that the perfume builds on to make a rich woody floral. The perfume settles into a cool vanillic range that maintains the drying, antiseptic character of the clove, but links it to a floral quality.  Parfumerie Generale list osmanthus among the notes.  
Un Crime does flirt with the gift-shop candle vibe, but is just nuanced enough to escape.  The opening notes of the perfume are a refrigerated blast where clove overpowers virtually all the other notes.  The heart is evenly balanced, and the spicy, woody and floral notes move around one another respectfully.  Drydown gets a bit grey, non-descript.  It smells like a muffled  version of Lutens Un Bois Vanilleís cool, woody vanilla.  A little blurred, but not bad at all.
from scent
20th May, 2013

LP No.9 for Men by Penhaligon's

...say nothing at all

I got two blind buys on the same day. Annick Goutal Mon Parfum Cherie par Camille reinforces the blind buy.  If I were to mistake my lucky randomness for logic I would never have to smell another perfume before buying again, because itís brilliant.  Penhaligonís Love Potion no 9 makes me want to repent for my sin of blind-buying, and Iím not even a Christian.  A 50 mL bottle was $25 at a discount store, so not an enormous loss. Still, foolish.


As much as I promote gender non-specificity in perfume use, there is a vocabulary of contemporary perfume that is gendered. LP falls into the Ďmaleí category. It brings to mind a sneering prick.  It smells of masculine narcissism, conformity and unrecognized low self-esteem. I hate this perfume. Itís the nightmarish mirror-image of a specific era of the fougere: the musky, floral fougere that became extinct with the advent of Cool Water.  Rememeber Paco Rabanne Tenere?  Givenchy Xeryus?  LP is the cloying, unbalanced version of this style. Spicy musky, in Tenere and Xeryus, is turned to a rising nausea in LP no 9. Just say no.


Blind buying: will it be winning the lottery, as was the case with the Goutal, or the penance for transgression, as in the Penhaligonís?  As my boyfriend captures the essence of karma with his southern charm, ďGod donít like ugly.Ē I suppose I deserve to be punished for my bad choice.



19th May, 2013
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Fourreau Noir by Serge Lutens


Fourreau Noir makes me consider the possibilities of copying and repetition.  Part of a series, variation on a theme? Uninventive, deliberate, derivative?  Sequel, flanker, gender counterpart, homage?  


However itís come about, Fourreau Noir smells remarkably similar to Chergui.  A little less raspy and a bit cooler and herbal from the lavender.  Itís syrupy, sweet and woody.  Itís a spin on the coumarin accord of Chergui,  a range that Sheldrake and Lutens do very well.   Sadly, it holds no surprise here, but then again, Iím not a great fan of Chergui. 

Worse luck, Fourreau Noir has a large helping of the same masculine contemporary notes linking Ďfreshnessí (I canít quite use that word without qualifier) and wood that Chergui has.  This capitulation is what turned Chergui for me, and it does the same to Fourreau Noir.  It fact, this is where the similarity of the two is to be found.  Sheldrake and Lutens manage to make many distinctive perfumes in what might seem a small range of spicy syrup (see Arabie, Cedre, Cuir Mauresque).  But in both Chergui and here in Fourreau Noir, the perfume makers cede the middle ground to convention and, despite Fourreau Noirís lavender, which could be a logical entree to the world of the contempo-homo (my stage name for the state of current perfumery for men), Fourreau Noir winds up fairly faceless and undistinguished like Chergui.


Clearly, Iím not hiding my preferences, but to take a step back, how are we to view Fourreau Noir?  Lutens donít group it with Chergui in their ďSudden SweetnessĒ series where Chergui is found, but the composition is similar.  The generous thing to do would be to paint the two as a Bernard Chant/Estee Lauder gender pairing such as Azuree/Aramis or Aromatics Elixir /Aramis 900.  Less generous would be to call Fourreau Noir a retread.  

19th May, 2013

Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur

I've been thinking about how we consider perfumery not just an art but an art form. Many would agree that perfumery is an art, in that it involves creativity and beauty. But fewer would consider it more broadly an art form, having recognizable trends and aesthetic criteria. We havenít been taught to view perfumery as a form that fosters critical thinking.

A confusing point is that terms such as genre, school, trend and movement tend to be used interchangeably when discussing the categorization of perfume. It's worth making some distinctions for the sake of understanding perfumery as a specific art form.

Trends are easy to identify and discuss. Trends are simply grouped occurrences identified after the fact. Even trends that we speak of in the present exist as patterns that have already occured before we identify them. The trend of the fruity floral, the trend of ethylmaltol use, the trend in the 1920s-1930s of referring to balsamic, resinous perfumes as "oriental".

We refer to schools loosely as either 1) using a specific style, or 2) broadly making a distinction between traditional and non-traditional approaches. As an example of the former, Jean Claude Ellena belongs to the minimalist school of perfumery. In the latter, Patricia de Nicolai, belonging to a familial and aesthetic lineage, works within the classical school of perfumery.

In perfumery, genre describes compositional forms. Chypre, fougŤre, eau de cologne. These are forms that are defined by their components, and are more like chemical families than artistic genres in this respect.

Chandler Burr, a fragrance critic and Curator of the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design is a proponent of viewing perfumery by artistic movement, ie. romaticism, surrealism, etc.. His work goes a long way toward placing perfumery in the mind of the public as an art form, but there is an inherent incongruity in placing the nomenclature of sensory form (the visual or the written) on another (the olfactory). Still, historical movements such as modernism or post-modernism affect many forms of creative thinking and can be used to advance arguments and discussion. Perhaps there are movements in the history of perfumery inherent specifically to the olfactory that will be recognized in the future.

Schools and movements often have credos, manifestos, statements of intent or the like. It is arguable that there is little distinction between such statements in the past and current marketing and PR, but aside from a few cheeky derivations such as Etat Libre díOrangeís ďLe parfum est mort. Vive le parfum!Ē (Perfume is dead. Long live perfume!) perfumery doesnít stake a conceptual claim and then illuminate it.

So, Dzing (1999). I tend to dislike narrative in art, and even more in the explanation of daily life. It seems so pat, so tedious. Narrative is often touted as a way of making sense out of confusion, but I find it more often seeks to create an expectation that the participant will fulfill, incorrectly or not, in order to have the safety of a conclusion rather than an ambiguity or a question. Dzing appeals to me for the fact that it presents the circus by systematically breaking down an image to its constituent parts, then rearranging a few of them as clues that suggest a scenario. There is an association between the olfactory elements of Dzing and the circus. Dzing smacks of a sweet treat to eat. Thereís the hint of straw and sawdust covering the ground, the implication of being confined within a tented space with other people and even animals. Dzing doesnít beat you over the head with its message like a Spielberg film. It leads you to a suggestion. I doubt that without being told about the circus imagery many would sniff Dzing and say, ďCircus!Ē But as a well designed piece of art, whether you take the circus image and run with it or simply appreciate the perfume more abstractly, it conveys aesthetic intention. To suggest with a perfume an experience that is ridiculous if not surreal in the first place is a brilliant concept and I applaud the perfumer Olivia Giacobetti for pulling it off so effectively.

Niche perfumery seems to me to have moved away from the creative and the conceptual toward the merely luxurious. Dzing reminds that I first came to niche as a way to find quality and innovation that was lacking in the larger commercial market. I donít look to niche to comfort me with beauty that may or may not be provided any longer by Caron, Chanel or Guerlain. Almost 15 years after its release, Dzing is still the unbeaten the high-water mark of niche as a statement of defiance to the restraints of commercial perfumery. Who needs a countertop full of plush pieces of oud perfume finery that cost north of $300? I donít.

La niche est morte. Vive la niche!

17th May, 2013 (last edited: 18th May, 2015)

L'Eau du Navigateur by L'Artisan Parfumeur

into the woods

I read that Luca Turin called l'Eau du Navigateur (1982) dated. He'd know better than I. I never smelled before 2013. Still, there is a distinction between dated, meaning era-specific, and tired, even if 'dated' has a negative connotation. Navigateur might be dated today, 32 years after its release, but it's held up well. To be innovative in 1982 and still smell good in 2013? Sounds successful.

As a point of comparison Pink Sugar is both era-specific and tired, and was hardly innovative at the time of its release. There are worse things than dated. Does this make Navigateur the male equivalent of old lady perfume? I can live with that.

I understand the classifications of the era: loud, spicy, woody as in Antaeus/Quorum/Krizia Uomo; basso fougere like Drakkar Noir and Azzaro pour Homme. I don't see Navigateur as just a crude precursor of more refined hybrids from the more discriminating 1990s. Rather, the ship landed on the shores of a new  "oriental" with coffee in lieu of vanilla.  One that  predated the Serge Lutens new woody "oriental" from later in the decade.  


Coffee bridges culinary spice to resin via woodiness, just as vanilla does. And while Navigateur might also have heralded the gourmand era, its focus is the roasted coffee bean. No cotton candy, no frappuccino. 

We twist ourselves into knots to imagine that without oakmoss and coumarin the chypre and the fougere are still alive; witness the original Miss Dior Cherie, already redacted by Dior, and Penhaligon's Sartorial. If we want to view perfumery historically, I vote for acknowledging and embracing the extant, significant perfumes such as Navigateur. Learn from it and enjoy it while it's here. Who knows when the IFRA will limit coffee use?



17th May, 2013

Un Matin d'Orage Eau de Toilette by Annick Goutal

mushroom floral

Gardenia, like lily-of-the-valley, needs to be built from the ground up in perfumery.  As fragrant as the flower is, it doesnít yield a gardenia essential oil.  Building a flower that combines elements of green, creamy, and umami is hard enough. Then to make it dewy should be a nightmare. Maybe it was for Isabel Doyen. But we don't see the sweat, just the smooth end product


Un Matin díOrage does smell a bit like a gardenia, just enough to make the allusion.  This isn't a gardenia soliflor by any means.  The success is not just in the likeness to the scent but in the odd balance of forcefulness and frailty the gardenia flower suggests.


Using the ghost-gardenia as a launching pad, the image of a forest floor at dawn actually comes true.  Because the gardenia's scent suggests both soil and plant it is the ideal basis for this olfactory image. The watery notes have an ambient feel: misty, dewy, even muddy. Very nice work.


I found an unlikely kindred spirit to Matin d'Orage in PG's Psychotrope.  Matin's sweet-forest has a water-color version of Parfumerie Generale Psychotropeís electric Jolly Rancher & leather accord.  Both perfumes leave me with a very clear olfactory memory. I can call both of them to mind very easily.


from scent

17th May, 2013

Monsieur de Givenchy by Givenchy

citrus chypre

The Monsieur is one of a crew of wonderful masculine citrus chypres from the mid-20th century--Rochas Moustache, Chanel pour Monsieur, YSL pour Homme.)  This genre smells like the middle ground between the feminine green chypre of the 1960s-1970s (Private Collection, Scherrer de Scherrer, Weil de Weil) and Eau de Cologne.  Bear in mind I know the more current formulations of these citrus chypres, which according to many are ghosts of their earlier iterations.  Myself, I turn to the above green chypres if Iím looking for ballsiness and volume.  I like the current menís citrus chypres for their subtlety and personal scale.  I like this genre for wearing like Eau de Cologne with endurance.   For this use, the Monsieur is perfect.  (I have the les Mythiques formulation.)


The big dog on this block is Chanel pour Monsieur.  At any time since its release itís been considered the best menís chypre on the market.  Many call it the best menís chypre of all time.  I only know a recent formulation, and while pretty, itís so short lived, and fades to such a spectral version of itself that I have to consider it effectively discontinued.


OK, obeisance and eulogy to Chanel done, on to Monsieur de Givenchy.  The Monsieur is a long-lasting but light perfume that balances the simple composition, restraint and allure that leads to that rare outcome in masculine perfumery: quiet but unashamed beauty.  Iíve found many who see MdG as the most damaged by reformulations of this genre.  Perhaps for their purposes it is, but I find it enjoyable in the way that it accomplishes all the goals of the citrus chypre genre.  Itís dry/bitter and austere.  It reflects your skin.   It combines an herbal citrus blend (pepper/lemon/bergamot) with a waxy musky quality that is distinctive yet easy-going.  The floral notes give some depth.  It starts rosy and eases into a low-key white floral tone that eventually settle into a carnation note that remains through drydown.  Carnation?  Or was that the pepper from the start?  This little twist shows that for as unfussy as this genre is, the Monsieur wears an Iíve-got-a-secret smile from start to finish.


To some, this is a faded gentleman.  To me, a charmer.


from scent

16th May, 2013

Breath of God by B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful


Gorilla Perfumeís Breath of God gets the sweet/savory balance that has become one of the go-to references on see-it-not-taste-it TV food competition shows.  The sweet/salty comment has become part of our expertise-without-in-fact-experience vocabulary. Itís a function of our pop quest for unearned authenticity that is the logical outcome of distressed denim.  Other such food show comments have to do with  Ďa little more acidityí,  better mouth feel, or the benefits of sous vide preparation. Reality TV has left us spring-loaded with such vocabulary. We really are fucking ridiculous.


But Breath of God gets kudos. Prada Candy, with it's talk of benzoin, would convince us that it is a salted caramel, and therefore stakes a claim to salty/sweet sophistication.  Breath of God reaches for more and gives us an oyster and melon raw bar, completing the triangle with mint. It's ingenious, and makes a refreshing sense.


The drawback is that although the accord is appealing and distinctive, the execution is murky. Similar to other Gorilla fragrances (also Tokyo Milk fragrances) there is an unfortunate blurring of notes. A bit more separation would give a more dynamic quality. Breath of God suffers from the aromatherapy conundrum.  Just as in mixing essential oils, it's easy to have a blurring rather than a synergy.  A solution might be to use it as scenting for personal care products.  Another Lush/Gorilla product, Dirty, is better in Lush's hair paste than as a stand-alone perfume.


Lush doesn't compete with Tom Ford, by Killian, or Guerlain. It's more like the Etat Libre díOrange alternative to the Body Shop.  Breath of God could use what my grandmother called Ďa friendly handí to spruce up its composition, but it is a brilliant perfume in its inventiveness.  It is attractive and distinctive. It's memorable. It wears well and doesn't fall apart.  It would be easy to dismiss it as quirky if you don't look closely.  Give it a bit of consideration, and it'll change your point of view.


from scent

16th May, 2013

Antaeus by Chanel

Chanel Antaeus was the first perfume of my own. I donít remember who gave it to me, but I didnít choose it myself. Looking back, my touchstones in perfume were Patou Joy, Lanvin Arpege, Dior Eau Sauvage and Paco Rabanne pour Homme. The first two my mother had, and introduced me to classical perfumery. I would sniff them out of the bottle and relish them. I was, maybe, 8 years old. 9? I knew nothing about perfume, but somehow they got me thinking. They got me to see beyond the expected and the routine in the same way that Frank Zappaís music eventually broadened my teenage sense of what rock could be. The Dior and the Paco Rabanne were ambient scents. Men wore them in the 1960s-1970s of my youth and I remember smelling them. Eau Sauvage seemed like a lemon drop to me. It was tart but brisk like snow water. Paco Rabanne was ubiquitous and the scent of it today still brings back the 70s

I was fortunate to have such a superior group of fragrances to learn from. Pre-internet, pre-blog I had a limited set of guides: desire, inquisitiveness, well-made perfumes. On reflection, these are still my guides.

My start with perfume was solitary and reflective. Perfume taught me to appreciate states of beauty and contemplation. I lacked a vocabulary and a perfume guru, and, even at a young age, I wasnít very narrative-driven. Perfume has never been about story per se. Perfume was my subject. The rest of my life, education and experience taught me how to know my subject. I didnít hide my fascination with perfume, but I didnít share it either. I guess itís no surprise that I write anonymously. But with Antaeus, I went public.

I loved Antaeus. It was unlike anything I knew. Also, Iíd never smelled it on anyone else, so it suited my solo perfume trip. It was visceral, and demanding and each time I put it on, it stopped me in my tracks. I first wore it in snowy weather, and it highlighted the cold woods of New England winter. Arpege and Joy were nothing like Antaeus, but they had prepared me. Unlike smelling Eau Sauvage in passing or lingering over a bottle of Joy, wearing Antaeus was a deliberate and public act. (I wasnít modest in my dosing.) If the first period of my perfume fascination was reflective, act 2 was expansive.

[Sidebar: I think my questioning of marketing started early as well, with Antaeus as my primer. I already knew the myth of Herakles and Antaeus before Chanel. I thought the notion of associating a perfume with a character who symbolized cheating and the mundane and was odd until I realized that marketing wanted nothing more than a superficial image (hottie in a toga) and a link to the lofty/cultural (pretension). My thoughts on marketing, like marketing itself, may have evolved, but they havenít really changed.]

The 80s had so much to offer: power fragrances and volume, self-absorption without introspection . I took Antaeus to college where I met and fell for Kouros and Coco. I know, very au courant, very bisexual chic. But thank god I kept my classical roots and embraced old-lady perfumes, in this case, Chanel 5 and Worth Je Reviens.

The end the formative years.
14th May, 2013

Knize Ten by Knize

As a homo, I don't really go in for the classic masculine thing. Itís just not queer enough. Iím more of a Ďcafeteriaí male. Whether I measure up or not, Iíll take what I like from masculinity and leave the rest. Femininity as well, for that matter. Gentlemanly, yes. Boorish, no. Sports, no, but also Broadway musicals, no. It gets confusing, yes?

But Knize Ten is pretty and strapping in equal measure. If this is what it is to be a man, sign me up.

Iíve finally found a socially acknowledged manly fragrance that Iíll buy into without reservation. (Well, current masculinity is bound to look a bit like dandy-drag on me, but at least it's not such bad theater as the whole-hog Ralph Lauren anglo-psychodrama.)

14th May, 2013

Datura Noir by Serge Lutens


If I squint exceedingly hard, I can sometimes make out an individual part of Datura Noir. Almond, tonka, tuberose.

Simply focussing shows me some combinations. Oh, that was that creamy-coconut/green-tuberose sort of tuberose. Hhmmm. That almond was a bitter-almond/cherry-sweetness pastry gestalt. Nice. The drydown isnít so much hazy as a vanilla/tonka/musky sweetness rolled loosely together. Lovely.

But Datura Noir is best seen through a unfocussed, half-hypnotized stare. It slides you into the true experience of this perfume. Datura Noir is a perfectly placed suggestion. Itís an impression of imagined summertimes, warm breezes and sweet-talk. Itís a steady, unyielding persuasion. Youíre not so much seduced as you simply give way to the undertow. And when you do, it gives you that dreamlike sensation of standing beside yourself, experiencing something and observing yourself experiencing something. Itís as if youíre able to cast a spell on yourself.

Tripping. Lucid Dreaming. Depersonalization. Hypnagogia. Call it what you like.

Datura Noir. Cheaper than hallucinogenics, fewer negative side-effects than religion.
14th May, 2013

Songes Eau de Toilette by Annick Goutal

The mixed floral is a very particular exercise. For many, the term perfume implies floral, though for the connoisseur a mixed floral might be a clichť. Given the icons, Joy, No. 5, Amouage Gold, anything less than outstanding doesn't measure up. And given the ubiquity of floral scented functional products any floral perfume with less than a certain degree of sophistication or intention will be considered cheap. Forget the fact that any perfumer considering the challenge is haunted by the two classics: 'smells like soap', and unintended complement of appearing 'like an old lady'.

Songes focuses on the qualities of floral fragrances rather than storytelling. It is identifiably fruity, white, tropical. And while some call it a floral oriental, I consider it a woody floral. The house of the Goutal know florals, and their line shows a wide range of floral perfumery. In Songes they perfect the woody sub-genre. It's not just a floral that eventually dries down to woody basenotes. From the focused sweetness of the opening notes through the ambery-sweet, woody tones Songes remains taut and crisp without feeling uptight. It's fitted, and in this respect can be both sexy and formal simultaneously. Composure is Songe's defining attribute, and from its heady top to it smiling tightlipped base it never takes a wrong turn.

While smelling nothing like one, Songes is a sort of ripening banana in reverse. Expansive, bombastic, even dizzying at the start. A bit more subtle, starched, equally satisfying in the end.
10th February, 2013
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Chergui by Serge Lutens


Chergui is apparently one of the best sellers in the Lutens line. When I test it and read the list of notes, I'm a believer more or less. I can make out the notes I'm told are there. Yes, there is hay, tobacco, musk. But lord know I've nearly derailed going too far into the madness of a 'list of notes'.

'Notes' are in fact suggestions. But what lies behind a set of notes is an intent. Does the list of notes describe? (Is "oud" a botanically derived essence? Is it an aromachemical? Is the distinction important except dogmatically for the wearer and practically for the perfumer?) Or do notes try to convince, that is, lie? Somehow, despite the recognizeability of the notes, I'm not convinced by Chergui. Testing, on blotter and on skin, I say yes to the notes but no to the whole package. It doesn't suggest a Moroccan wind, as the fable goes. Notes aside, Chergui shares the sensibility of many mainstream men's fragrances of the past 10-15 years. The strategy, for want of a better word, is Creedian. Sell it as nich-y, but aim for the height of the bell curve.

I don't mind the strategy. As I've mentioned about the current Guerlain line-up, the big sellers in a line should better the odds that the lower-selling oddball that I love will remain in the line. Either that, or the take-away for the perfumer is that the bell curve is a sales strategy and every perfume should should be a best seller. I try to be optomistic.
25th January, 2013

Daim Blond by Serge Lutens

Daim blond

I love leather perfumes, but apparently don't understand the leather note. The 'leather' note in perfumery doesn't have any relationship to leather for me. Not in Bandit. Not in Rien. Not in Knize Ten. I understand the components, the aromachemicals used in leather perfumes. I even understand the taxonomy and historical role of leather scents in perfumery. It's just that 'leather'doesn't smell like leather to me. Do you think 'leather'at the start of the 20th century was just the 'aquatic' of the end of the century? Was it just marketing to the aromachemicals that that were coming into play at the time?

Given this blind spot in my nose, the perfume that differentiates suede from leather should leave me confused. But I love Daim Blond. It is distinguished and identifiable, but swings through my mind triggering all sorts of associations. A less jammy Robert Piguet Visa (contemporary version.) Sharp and cold like Chanel 19. Powdery-fine like PG Cuir d'Iris. It also fits perfectly into the Lutens line. What Bois de Violette does to its predecessor Feminite du Bois, Daim Blond does to Arabie. Less dense, more crystalline, higher-pitched.

So I forget leather and remember the chilled, sweet cardamom dessert broth my boyfriend and I used to love at a favorite restaurant 20 years ago. Daim Blond's cold, precise spiciness keeps the fruitiness on a short leash. It balances sharpness and powdery sweetness through drydown.
25th January, 2013

Comme des GarÁons 2 Man by Comme des GarÁons

Iso E super has gotten a bad rap in the past few years. What started out as a simple aromachemical in the early 1970s has become the monster responsible for a monotonous (monolfactive?) genre of perfumes that has brought shame to the word woody. Drama, huh? Donít blame the chemical,though. Blame the system.

There is an era specific (late 1980s - mid-1990s) group of perfumes, perfumers and houses that used iso-E Super as a panacea for problems of longevity and richness in perfume composition. Reliance on iso E Super led to a system like the 1980s Chelsea gay male clone conundrum. That is to say, an identifiable visual (or olfactory) and fashion style that broadcast anonymity and identity simultaneously. Context is the icing that finishes the cake. The person being considered, along with cultural clues (20th and 8th in NYC) and the context of the viewer (trolling Rawhide for action) go a long way to answering the question: Is that man a straight marine or a hardcore homo?

Both situations (the queers and the perfumes) led to a similar problem. For the Chelea fags, what if you didnít look like a Ken-doll to start with? Altering themselves to fit the clone mold, a lot of urban fags I knew wound up ghettoized in a world that they felt shunned them. Perfumers wound up not simply using Iso-E Super as an adjective in their compositions, they began to envision compositions that were answers to the question, ďWhat would Iso-E Super be just perfect for?!Ē They sought to create the ideal radiant, spicy woody perfume, and in the end made perfumes that just smelled of Iso-E Super. A bunch of clones. Rather than using the aromachemical as a floralizer, intensifier or optimizer (how the chemical is marketed by producers) this genre treats Iso-E Super as the end goal, and uses other bits and pieces to bring it out. The first Iso-E Super homage is interesting, and might be a commentary of sorts. The second and third show that this aromachemical can be a bull in a perfume shop. After that it's either creative complacency, laziness or a rut.

CDG Man 2 is one of the better iterations of what I'll call iso-style perfumes. (Others are Encre Noir, Ormande Woman, Terre d'Hermes, Feminite du Bois and Poivre Scaramandre.) Itís a riff on incense and other balsams, woody, but managing to be waxy and oily as well, suggesting essential oils and balms. It captures the acrid sear of smoking incense but also has the pine-like woody cleanliness of olibanum essential oil. 2 Man gets at a number of incenseís facets simultaneously in a way that neither burned incense nor incense oil could on their own. The drydown, much softer than the opening, is soothing.

When you read the following words or phrases in perfume marketing or criticism, beware. They often serve as code for iso-style. †Radiant, sheer, tenacious, velvety, woody, plush, atmospheric. When you see notes of cedar, incense, pepper and the classic "rare woods", think twice.†Iso-E style perfumes are fine as long as you know what youíre in for, and if that is what youíre looking for, you CDG 2 Man is worth a try.
25th December, 2012

Amber Oud by By Kilian

I love sweets, but there are times I would trade one of those stylized, mouthwatering desserts made from the kitchen full of component parts for a perfect croissant.

Plug-in whatever other $300+ perfume for the dessert, Amber Oud is the croissant. Forget that it costs the price of a ticket to Paris to get said ideal croissant, Amber Oud is the perfect combination, the ideal calibration of amber and oud (big amber, little oud) that makes me want to sniff myself all day. A croissant is the product of superb quality simple ingredients, understanding of the role of the ingredients and skill. All the bad croissants in the world tell you that simple doesn't mean easy. Ditto for AO. The problem is the price and my lust for more perfume. If I could afford Amber Oud I first have to make the Odyssey across the following dessert courses:

Histoires de Parfum: 1804, Petroleum and Noir Patchouli
Parfumerie Generale: Cuir díIris, Felania and Tubereuse Couture
Andy Tauer: Loretta, Carillon pour un Ange and líAir du Dťsert Marocain
The entire line of les Nereides

None of these choices is slumming it. It's not as though I'd be taking a loaf of Wonder Bread instead of the croissant.

Set against this competition AO wouldn't stand a chance.
11th December, 2012

Vanille Absolument / Havana Vanille by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Bertrand Duchafour is the poster child for the perfumer-as-auteur movement. †Contrary to the old school of perfumery, he speaks publicly about his work, is identified by perfume producers as the composer of the work and has identifiable styles. He is commonly discussed as an artist and creator, still a fairly new phenomenon. When his work is discussed, you often see words such as translucent, sheer, radiant, weightless. †I only know a small fraction of his work, but I'm interested in the meaning of this weightless quality.†

Duchaufour takes elements that we recognize (incense, orange blossom, vanilla, and rose for example) then separates the 'flavor' of the scent from other material qualities that our noses identify as weight, viscosity, density. Removing what reads to the nose as mass or palpability from identifiable aromas gives fascinating results. The perfumes aren't less complex or thinner than traditional perfumes. They are not simply diminished. They become twisted in a manner that implicitly makes us question the works until we've come to some understanding of them. Timbuktu feels not so much like an incense fragrance, but an answer the question, is light a wave or a particle? Timbuktu's radiance says wave.† Vanille Absolument doesn't change vanilla itself, it alters the context and gives us a vanilla pod in zero-G. †Can the flavor of Turkish Delight be separated from its material manifestation and placed as a permanent watermark on a perfume? (Yes, Traversťe du Bosphore)

Duchaufour's work, more than any in the past 20 years of perfumery, takes us back to one of the original questions posed by modern perfumery, starting with the coumadin in Fougere Royale: †how do you define synthetic and natural? †In the late 19th century the answers might have seemed clearer, though no less interesting. Duchaufour's take is not to argue for a distinction, but to focus on our beliefs, based on the interpretation of our senses, of what feels natural or synthetic. †He gives us the tools to recalibrate our instinct, to retrain our 'gut' and smell the world differently if we choose to. In doing so, we, the subject, are changed. We are not 'natural' in that our instinct, our inborn ability to sense a more fundamental reality than our 5 senses reveal, is shown to be mutable and therefore subjective. Instinct is revealed as a hunch that we tend to believe is absolute. Duchaufour liberates instinct from the fairy-tale realm of natural and un-natural and shows us how to make better use of our intuition and insights. And we get to smell nice along the way. Take that, Secretions Magnifiques.

Easy shot at Etat Libre, another house that does a great job of challenging our views, but intentional. Punk, as a genre or sensibility, tends to come from the ring-and-run school of art. Duchaufourís example shows a few more interesting things about perfumery and art. His making of spectacular perfumes is artistry per se, but to make us question the supposition of our beliefs about fragrance and ourselves while at the same time giving us gorgeous perfumes to wear? Bravo! And by welcoming the wearer to question societal beliefs, Duchaufour makes perfume wearers comrades in arts, an important piece in the definition of perfume artistry.

(Iím not very well informed on the Uzbek perfume issue, so I wonít comment. The question of the ethics of the Ďindependent contractorí or Ďhired guní in perfumery does raise interesting questions, though.)
10th December, 2012 (last edited: 11th December, 2012)

Riverside Drive by Bond No. 9

Riverside Drive is a thoughtfully composed, buoyant, green/lavender aquatic men's fragrance. †It's a descendent of Cool Water, but it's not one of the cheap imitators hurled at the market since about a minute after Cool Water hit in 1988. †In its favor, Riverside Drive is more a reflection on Cool Water than an imitation. †It tones down the 'aquatic', turns up the green, and leads to a very well-balanced drydown. †The drydown, in fact, is what I think an armful of the Creeds of the last 20 years have strived for and missed. Poised, comfortable, stable. The drydown of these Cool Water wannabes, including the Creeds, is usually described as: †(synonym for nice) + "but, well, you know" + ( antonym of nice). Riverside Drive's drydown is likeable. †Actually, it's enviable. Coherent, harmonious, firm yet without aberrant sillage. †

Against it, it's a thoughtful version a hackneyed genre. †How much better than the worst,†is the best grilled American cheese and white bread sandwich ever made? †I appreciate Riverside Drive for its composition, but am not interested in it. Who needs another descendant of Cool Water? (... asks the man with a closet full of green chypres. Spoiler alert: glass houses.) †But I do feel it is important to acknowledge quality work however it comes across your desk. †Not my bag, but outstanding.†
10th December, 2012 (last edited: 11th December, 2012)

1969 Parfum de Rťvolte by Histoires de Parfums

I was born in 1964 and the year 1969 seems like arcadia to me, a time I was too young to understand and appreciate. As a decade, as a phenomenon, the 1960s has come to represent many things, from naivetť to revolution, but I assume in this case 1969 refers to the expansiveness, freedom-seeking and questioning of authority that flowed forth after the 1967 Summer of Love. †You know, the hippy thing. ("Parfume de Rťvolte") To my nose, though, 1969 seems far more contemporary. It takes the fruity floral to school, demonstrating that even a genre as threadbare as the contemporary fruity floral can be beautiful and complex in the right hands. †Where the hoard of trashy fruitchoulis are glaring, as if highlighted by mercury vapor street lights, 1969 is professionally lit and ready for the camera. Hoard? Whatís the collective noun for fruitchoulis? A host? A murder? A gaggle? A cast? Letís appropriate from the collective noun for the no-longer-used maidens. A rage of fruitchoulis.

1969 has a combination of softness, urgency and definition that gives a depth of tone that I would expect in a classic chypre but am startled by in a fruitchouli. †It balances intensity and austerity as a chypre would (think YSLís Y) but still has a bit of that puppy energy of a fruitchouli. Quite sexy, really.
02nd December, 2012

1889 Moulin Rouge by Histoires de Parfums

Histoires de Parfumsís conceit of historical and literary themes is schtick. But whatís wrong with a bit of schtick? Trying to convey more than Ďlifestyleí is a pleasant change in perfume PR. The need to mention both the year and the event the to tells you that the themes are not intended to be obvious. Iím instinctively leery of marketing, but HdP do take a stand against the the flanker mentality. After all how would they manage it? ď1889, FevrierĒ followed by ď1889, NovembreĒ? I applaud the effort. Itís not merely a name trick, either. The HdP line is varied yet identifiable, and so far doesnít seem to fill genre-slots with perfume placeholders. And it certainly keeps us away from (identifiable name), (identifiable name) liqueur de parfums, (identifiable name) les cuirs de parfums, (identifiable name) sunessence eau legere du bois blond avec les fruit du cosmos, etc.

1889 refers to the Moulin Rouge and would assumedly be boisterous, huge and have little self-restraint. I thought it would be the glam-rocker of the bunch. (That would be 1804.) At the risk of mixing eras, Iíd imagined, a sort of Ďwhat happens in the Moulin Rouge stays in the Moulin Rouge.í On the contrary, 1889 turns out to be a rather quiet and contemplative perfume.

It starts out smelling like the inside of a purse that has a ripe pear in it. †As others have mentioned it is a lipsticky, face-powdery iris fragrance but it also has a sweet, fruity side. Iíve seen prune, plum, tangerine listed as notes, but it smells like pear to me. It simmers down pretty quickly and in the end it's fairly reserved and stays close to the skin reminding me a bit of the iris-hyacinth accord found in Lutensís Bas de Soie. Cool, matte, muted. Moulin Rouge? More like a red herring.
02nd December, 2012

1804 George Sand by Histoires de Parfums

1804 is a tropical fantasy of a perfume. Speaking for my people, pasty white folks, tropical is something we can refer to but can never really pull off. We just weren't meant to. And though I shout to the heavens that taste is arbitrary, nuance can be the difference between a sunburnt, drunken conga line listing to "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and a quiet hand-in-hand evening walk in the sand. †

Imagine one of the huge white floral perfumes on tropical vacation: Joy sunbathing in Moorea or Amouage Gold diving in Tahiti. Keep the volume and the sillage, but dial back the uptight. 1804 is a spicy floriental in the grand manner. The allusion may be to tropical scents, but this bad girl is a classic French perfume in her bones. ††As such, 1804 has exceptional form, but since the implied tone of lushness and leisure takes precedence over structure, form gives way to expression. †Form as seen in a 'classical' †white floral fragrance seems like artifice. Intent and composition are fused in 1804 and it achieves that balletic ambition of surpassing technique and simply moving. †

1804 is a spectacular application of classical technique and should put the corner-cutting school of perfumery on notice.†

02nd December, 2012

Futur by Robert Piguet

Futur was marketed as avant-garde at its release in the late 1960s, an era known for its conviction that the future was more about style than science. In the 60s, the future was in fact the 1960s with sleeker fashion, poses and objets (rayguns and cocktail glasses). Smelled in the present, the revived Futur can be considered a bit retro not because it smells tired, but because the green floral didnít so much evolve as (with a few exceptions) become extinct. Futurís points of direct comparison are this handful of extant green florals from the 1960s-1970s: Chamade, Metal, Silences, Weil de Weil, No 19, Alliage and especially Private Collection. (Iím not going to stare into the abyss of attempting to distinguish the green floral from the green chypre.) Niche perfumery has produced a few examples of the style since the late 1960s, but mainstream perfumery has more or less dropped it.

The green floral might appear out of step with current trends in mainstream perfumery, but Robert Piguet are smart to include it in their line. It is comparable in archival tone to Fracas and Bandit, and like these two, smartly encapsulates a genre. Additionally, as a well composed melodious floral it fits in with more recent releases from Piguet such as Douglas Hannant and Petit Fracas. It is also composed by Arelien Guichard, the perfumer responsible for the recent spate of new RP releases (Casbah, Mademoiselle Piguet, etc.).

Futur is a beautiful green floral. It reminds me that green florals can capture beauty, complexity, and intrigue in ways that mixed white florals aspire to and fruity forals donít even attempt. Green florals are alluring, and Futur is no exception. It has a bright-eyed composure and doesnít come off as heavily coiffed and made up as Private Collection and Chamade do. Itís not as stagey as Metal. Informal, but not slack Futur has a simple chic to it. It shows an astute abstraction in the composition that makes it one of the black-box perfumes. You can see into it whatever you please, and as a result, it works in most any context.
30th November, 2012

Angel: Liqueur de Parfum by Thierry Mugler

I generally find the Mugler annual variations on a theme somewhere between a stab in the dark and a Hail Mary pass. Every now and then, though, the monkey will type something other than gibberish.

Angel Liqueur de Parfum finds just the set of notes that modulates Angel's tone of voice without altering what it has to say. Clearly boozier, itís also more grounded and harmonic than the original Alien. The range between the higher, bright/loud notes and the dirt from the patchouli has a bit more padding to it. Itís still on high volume, but itís modulated differently and makes you wince a bit less on first spray.

Angel's thrill comes from its energized contrasts. Angel Liqueur de Parfum keeps all the contrasts in place, but loosens the binding on the corset a bit. The mania is gone, but the exuberance is still there. Where Angel feels like it's perpetually on tiptoe and at peak inhalation, Angel Liqueur de Parfum exhales and stands at ease.
30th November, 2012

Alien: Les Parfums de Cuir by Thierry Mugler

Angel les Parfum de Cuir & Alien les Parfum de Cuir

While I loved Angel Liqueur, I found the Mugler annual thematic releases uninteresting except for the apparent belief that branding is more important than perfume. It might make the magic of marketing synergy easier to achieve, but slapping a new flavor across an entire line seems at least cynical and more likely haphazard. I suppose, though, that every now and again a match has to occur. It also makes sense that Angel, with its fingers in so many different genres (gourmand, oriental, floral) is more likely than Alien, Womanity or Mugler Cologne to be fertile soil where the flavor of the year can plant itself.

Angel les Parfum de Cuir can hold the leather note without it seeming entirely out of place, but the leather does nothing to enhance Angel. It muddies Angelís distinctive qualities, but it doesn't negate them. Sort of, meh. Not exactly the Angel battle cry.

Alien les Parfum de Cuir matches a dulled leather notes to the radioactive jasmine of the original Alien, giving us a real head scratcher. There are no interesting commonalities and no juxtapositions to exploit. Until the leather note fades, when it is ultimately crushed under the weight of chemo floral oppression, Alien Cuir just seems like a mismatch, more of a smell that a scent.

Mugler's Cuirs are by definition formulaic and lack inspiration. They seem to come from the same thinking that give us, "Ugghhh. Itís November again. What should this year's holiday office party theme be? "
30th November, 2012

Angel: Les Parfums de Cuir by Thierry Mugler

Angel les Parfum de Cuir & Alien les Parfum de Cuir

While I loved Angel Liqueur, I found the Mugler annual thematic releases uninteresting except for the apparent belief that branding is more important than perfume. It might make the magic of marketing synergy easier to achieve, but slapping a new flavor across an entire line seems at least cynical and more likely haphazard. I suppose, though, that every now and again a match has to occur. It also makes sense that Angel, with its fingers in so many different genres (gourmand, oriental, floral) is more likely than Alien, Womanity or Mugler Cologne to be fertile soil where the flavor of the year can plant itself.

Angel les Parfum de Cuir can hold the leather note without it seeming entirely out of place, but the leather does nothing to enhance Angel. It muddies Angelís distinctive qualities, but it doesn't negate them. Sort of, meh. Not exactly the Angel battle cry.

Alien les Parfum de Cuir matches a dulled leather notes to the radioactive jasmine of the original Alien, giving us a real head scratcher. There are no interesting commonalities and no juxtapositions to exploit. Until the leather note fades, when it is ultimately crushed under the weight of chemo floral oppression, Alien Cuir just seems like a mismatch, more of a smell that a scent.

Mugler's Cuirs are by definition formulaic and lack inspiration. They seem to come from the same thinking that give us, "Ugghhh. Itís November again. What should this year's holiday office party theme be? "
30th November, 2012

Rose Anonyme by Atelier Cologne

The proposition of crossing the bright effusive tenor-like quality of an eau de cologne (the genre, not the dilution) with the concentration of an eau de parfum is a wonderful idea, but is not particularly new. Previous attempts have tried to make the classical edc notes (citrus, herbs, etc.) last all day. The only success from this approach that occurs to me is the typically male, cologne-like chypres from mid-20th century France such as Chanelís Pour Monsieur, Monsieur Givenchy, Rochasís Moustache and Eau díHermes. Rose Anonyme twists the challenge and brings the sentiment of an edc to new accords. Rose Anonyme comes off fresh-faced and pretty like a cologne, but has the patience of an EDP. It's simplicity is easy to wear, but it is far from simpleminded.

Skipping the solely citrus focus of an EDC, RA instead plays on a number of facets of Rose scents. The lighter, brighter aspect of rose, initially highlighted by bergamot, give way to a loud, rosy pink peony quality, and eventually to a dusky rosewood like feel. This is all filtered through a reedy incense and a metallic musk. I think the "ginger" note is a red herring, redirecting our focus so that we read the synthetic quality of the musk as something more botanical. Not exactly Nature Boy, I say wear your synthetic proudly. This is a wonderful and inventive perfume. Don't bother feeding me the nature trip.

Not just beautiful to wear, RA is that refreshing reminder that there are new ideas to be explored in perfumery.
30th November, 2012

Visa by Robert Piguet

Visa puts a slightly different touch on the fruity perfume. Itís a stewed stone fruit mix. Plummy/peachy/apricot-like. Itís also got a taste of indeterminate spice along the clove/cardammom/nutmeg axis. Spices that would go well with stone fruit, incidentally. Itís not bright by a long shot, but neither is it heavy or impenetrable. Though dark and concentrated, it remains notably fruity; not boozy, not syrupy, not leathery to my nose (despite many reviews Iíve read), and not Ďradiantí in the grand Iso-E Super manner.

The drydown loses some of the wattage the fruit has at the start, but comes to have a hushed nectar-sweetness similar in olfactory hue to the woody/aromatic scent a piece of unfinished rosewood has.

If youíre looking for a fruity perfume that doesnít convey ditziness or guilelessness, try Visa.
30th November, 2012

Cozť 02 by Parfumerie Generale

Coze offers both that fresh, moist feel of a close-fitted evergreen forest canopy and the dry, herbal tone of a dry forest floor. With its hemp foundation, though, the other side of this combination of notes is an over-baked hash brownie. A delight either way.
30th November, 2012

Carolina Herrera by Carolina Herrera

People who lived large and loud in the 1980s will tell you that the bigness of the era was a reflection of exuberance and the sense of endless potential. It wasnít. It was mostly just un-nuanced and noisy.

Enter Carolina Herrera, the perfume, not the person. Itís a childís stick-drawing of a tuberose blown up to billboard size, shaken with a shot of over-concentrated sugar-free grape kool-aid. Both monstrous and shrill, it was overconfident where it should have been self-conscious. Classically 80s in style, Carolina Herrera reminds me how tedious and draining those conversations with people on blow were.
30th November, 2012

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