Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

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Total Reviews: 433

Violet Moss by SP Parfums Sven Pritzkoleit

I have been testing all the perfumes by Sven Pritzkoleit, and I think that although few are actually wearable, they are very bold, new, and have something to say.

They are all a bit harsh at first, and all of them work more as separate accords just smashed together rather than a real, complete perfume, but some of them just nail it.

In particular, Violet Moss, which smells like our family holidays to France when the boat would dock in Cherbourg, the aroma of raw petrol on dank harbor water mingling with the foreignness of the air, and the Grey Flannel-type colognes worn by my father’s French colleagues, his fellow customs officers.

There is a strong waft of cigarette smoke darting through the structure too, calling to mind fond olfactory memories of the near-constant stream of smoke from Gitanes and Gauloises on the dock, which only ever added to the exotic, exciting air of newness that greeted us on the other side of the water. If this smell had a name, it was “freedom” and “not Ireland.” Violet Moss represents such a specific smell memory for me that I can barely judge it as a perfume.

29th August, 2017

Grimoire by Anatole Lebreton

I respect and admire Anatole Lebreton’s work, but Grimoire in particular stands out at being special. Not everyone will like it, and I think it’s fair to say that the perfume has a cool, remote air that means it must select you, not the other way around.

Setting out to smell like the thick dust that rises off a book of spells (a grimoire, in French) when closed shut, it combines a set of ashy resin notes with the earthy red-brown dampness of cumin.

It’s a riff on the idea of Gris Clair but better, more successful because the dust tamps down the screech of lavender and makes it feel genuinely restful. It’s also monastically, ascetically dry. But the scent manages to capture dryness without filling the scent with the usual nose-scrapingly dry aromachemicals, for which I’m genuinely grateful.

As a side-note, I’ve recently smelled a couple of perfumes that seek to recreate the feeling or smell of dry, hot dust from a desert. L’Air du Desert Marocain, of course, was the trail blazer in this area, but it’s been followed by two equally costly niche fragrances, namely, Sheiduna by Puredistance and Taklamakan by SHL 777. These two perfumes demonstrate the risk and rewards associated with using the new generation of potently dry, woody-ambery aromachemicals: Sheiduna fails miserably, becoming a white, massively radiant ball of pain to those sensitive to scratchy aromachemicals, and Taklamakan succeeds completely, emitting a low pulse of warm, ambery “sand” and dry patchouli aromas that smell toasted, dry, and yet utterly comfortable to wear and to smell.

In Grimoire, the dryness feels cool and almost ashy. It gains an element of warmth, however, from the rather generous dose of cumin featured in this scent. The cumin adds a nice human touch to the cool dustiness of the lavender and incense, like the sweet, damp, oniony sweat under the arms of an ancient gardener tending a Mediterranean herb garden.

The aromatic, simmering heat of the spice and the elemi makes the base of the scent feel hot to the touch, a nice contrast to the cool dryness of the top half. Grimoire is surprisingly easy to wear, and has a natural elegance to it that doesn’t labor any particular point. Have you ever seen the photos of the Italian men coming and going from the Pitti men’s fashion shows in September? This scent is the living embodiment of that.

29th August, 2017

Dryad by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

Basically a reworking of vintage Vol de Nuit parfum for modern times, and yes, I understand the impact of my comparison here.

To many, Vol de Nuit is the zenith of the art of Guerlain, but to me, it speaks of home. The heart of Dryad reproduces almost exactly the same damp, green narcissus and jonquil accord found in Vol de Nuit (and actually, come to think of it, also the original Miss Dior), and there is a similar support in the form of oakmoss, tarragon, galbanum, and vetiver.

But the sage note spins it in a slightly naughty, “witchy” direction. It smells like dark green velvet, with a bluebottle anisic sheen from the tarragon to keep things lively.

Liz Moores calls this a green chypre-oriental, which of course is the same category to which Vol de Nuit belongs. But it diverges in the base. Dryad features none of the sweet, ambery notes found in Vol de Nuit, switching instead to a dry, rubbery galbanum resin that gives off the feel of sage and hay thrown on a bonfire and left to smoke out. It is also not powdery, but it does exhibit the kind of “cut grass” and “lime peel” dustiness that galbanum has.

Supposedly, there’s quite a lot of costus root in this, but thankfully, I can’t smell it. (I’ve never smelled a treatment of costus that didn’t end up smelling like unwashed hair). In fact, I don’t pick up on anything animalic here at all, which is fine with me, because all the focus is kept on those burningly pure green notes. It’s all resin and grass and sage, no soft landing in the form of amber or vanilla. There is something crystalline and focused about it.

Green perfumes are not overly represented in my wardrobe, but I would buy this in a hot second. Dryad has joined the small but exclusive group of green perfumes I truly love, which include Vol de Nuit (Guerlain), Mito (Vero Kern), Romanza (Masque), Vie de Chateau Intense (De Nicolai), Ormonde Jayne Woman, and Sycomore (Chanel).

29th August, 2017
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Naja by Vero Profumo

A creamy, blond tobacco floral sluiced with the iodine-like astringency of melon rind. Naja reminds me of Le Parfum de Therese and Diorella, not in the way it smells, particularly, but because they all take dense, saturated materials and pass them through a sieve of something salty and aqueous, giving them a luminescence that is particularly French. The dense tobacco of Naja is leavened by this salty, wet fruit note, and underpinned by a bitter, doughy suede note fleshed out with the apricot skin of osmanthus flower. Pulled in two directions, sometimes it feels airy and dusty, other times, thick and chewy.

There is also a sharp spice to Naja that is immensely appealing, something hot, slightly smoky, and carnation-like, but although I can understand the references to Tabac Blond and Habanita, Naja is far stranger and more modern than either – in other words, a creature of its own time.

I sense a dusty, pollen-ish honey texture here too, unsweet and slightly floral, which I conclude is coming from the lime blossom. I don’t know if the effect is deliberate or not, but it is this slightly bitter, dusty honey that links Naja to both Onda and Rozy.

To my nose, there is none of the citric brightness of lime that others seem to be picking up, just the slightly green floral tang of linden honey and that salty, wet fruit note that is too blurry to define as either a melon, an apple, or anything else specific.

What I love the most about Naja is its surprising sturdiness, its sense of substance. In each of my wearings, I visualized Naja as a dense square of osmanthus-tobacco lokhoum, striated with saltwater and dusted with an inch-deep layer of green pollen.

Like MEM, Naja is an El Bulli meal full of little trade-offs between texture and taste that will prick your saliva buds and fire up all five of your senses. And like its creator, Naja is as elegant and fierce as a single slash of Russian Red across an otherwise unmade-up face.

29th August, 2017

MEM by Bogue Profumo

This is the perfume that made me want to start writing again about perfume, if only to spread the word about how brilliant it is and how everyone who invests in perfume as art should buy a bottle. I got a sample from Luckyscent and spent the next few days struggling to understand it enough to write about it.

My basic description would be dirty lavender marmalade: Jicky dragged through the quinoa section of the health food store, covered in earth, incense, and floor wax, and lifted up into the air with the malty fizz of champagne. All of this nestled in a burned-sugar floral accord that smells a bit like tuberose but isn’t tuberose, a complex series of smoke and mirrors designed to lead your nose out of its depth.

Unusually for a modern perfume – although this isn’t really a modern perfume – MEM reveals its true complexity in the base, where a silty, musky ambergris lights up all the other elements like a blowtorch. Antonio used real animalics for the base, and it shows. The perfume is complex, beautiful, and abstract, far more so than even Maai. By far one of the most exciting perfumes I’ve put on my skin lately.

29th August, 2017

Superstitious by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Superstitious is like a woman that walks into a party wearing a gold lame dress that plunges to her navel. Like everyone else in the room, you think she’s gorgeous, but you’re not sure if she’s really your kind of people. I’m not sure I understand her yet, so I’m going to circle this interesting creature a little bit longer while I try to figure her out.

People are citing all manner of classic perfumes as reference: Arpege, Gold, even Portrait of a Lady. But none of those references help me place her in my mental pantheon of smells. Superstitious strikes me as more a modern cyborg than something classical or referential. And it certainly has nothing to do with Portrait of a Lady. Actually, I find it comes at me from slightly beyond my frame of reference, and thus my footing is unsure.

Something that takes me aback is the astringency of the opening: it’s as metallic and bitter as a mouthful of pennies, sluiced with the acid of unripe fruit. Sensation-wise, it reminds me of biting into a persimmon that’s two weeks away from becoming perfect, ripping all moisture from my mouth.

I’m starting to understand that not aldehydes smell or feel the same. Some feel loose and creamy, like those at the top of Chanel No. 22 – the fizz of a can of Fanta mixed into a pot of Pond’s Cold Cream. Some feel tight and lemony, like Tauer’s Noontide Petals. The aldehydes of Superstitious, on the other hand, are extremely fine-grained and waxy, like a bar of green soap put through a microplane grater and blown up your nose. It reminds me somewhat of the opening to Seyrig by Bruno Fazzolari. The onslaught is aggressive, and slightly mean.

What’s amazing about this fragrance – and I say this even before figuring out whether I like it or not – is how the clean, chemical bite of the aldehydes have been balanced out by the dirty, botanical impression of flowers. Even in the first onslaught of the perfume’s harsh, soapy green fuzz, you can smell the slightly unclean jasmine – wilting and browning, as if about to drop off a vine and into your lap. This produces an effect that is half synthetic, half naturalistic. You can almost imagine the perfumer muttering to himself as he works out the formula, “a little bit from the lab, and now a little bit from the garden”.

The quality of the florals is amazing – there is a Turkish rose, jasmine from Grasse, and a hint of dry peach skin a la Mitsouko in the later stages. But put aside expectations of sweetness, or even density. Even with the late addition of the peach, things stay dry, leathery, and slightly sour, like the inside of the strap of your watch after a long hot day, or the taste of a very dry, metallic white wine on the back of the tongue.

Which is a way of saying that although all signs point to lushness, this is not a particularly lush perfume. Being a longtime fan of Alber Elbaz and his work for Lanvin, I had expectations of something with as many dangerous curves as his midnight blue and flesh-colored dresses for this house in the 2008-2009 period. Alber himself is round; is it weird that I was expecting a perfume with his name on it to be round too? But Superstitious turns out to be as chicly angular as one of his models.

The drydown is a slightly smoky, raspy base of vetiver and woods that somehow reads to my nose as incense. It is slightly sweeter, or at least, less tart in the far reaches of the scent, and I find it comforting.

Superstitious is a very interesting, beautiful, and somewhat challenging perfume. It is perhaps easier to admire than to love, because a certain bitchiness inherent in its character suggests that this is a perfume that might not love you back.

But despite a certain lack of easy access here, I really do like Superstitious, not least because it turns my expectations on their head. Expecting lush and sweet, I get angular and tart. Expecting classic, I get modern. Most of all, I admire the perfume’s sublime balance between its metallic, chemical shimmer and its unclean, slightly earthy flowers and fruit – and it’s this last aspect that might move me towards an eventual purchase. Some day.

29th August, 2017

Oud Zen by Areej le Doré

People who are a bit wary about the oud note need not worry about Oud Zen. Although the Indian oud oil is authentic (and smells authentic) but it is not nearly as animalic or as feral as uncut Hindi oils can be, when worn neat on the skin.

Instead, right from the start, the leathery, sourish smoke of the Indian oud is folded into sweet, smoky woods and vetiver that together smell rather like the saltwater taffy of labdanum. The Hindi oud oil is also moderated by the fresher, more sparkling aspects of a Papuan oud, a variety that often displays surprisingly hints of green tea, mango, and flowers.

The main impression is woody, smoky, and leathery, with the Hindi elements of fermentation slowly fading away in the heart, leaving a trail of cool, ashy woods. I suppose it is a traditionally masculine perfume, but I think any woman who wants to could certainly rock it.

Interestingly, just as I think the perfume has given up its last breath, it revives and puffs out its chest in a death display of feral honey, vetiver, and dry leather, a combination very much in the vein of Vero Profumo’s Onda Voile d’Extrait or the far reaches of vintage Habanita when the powdery florals have burned off. An extraordinary finish, and one that gets me spraying again and again, just to arrive at the same destination.

29th August, 2017

Ottoman Empire by Areej le Doré

Ottoman Empire is as stunning as Siberian Musk, but in a different way. Although I suppose technically it is a rose-oud, containing as it does real Assam oud oil and expensive rose absolutes from Afghanistan, India, and Bulgaria, it does not really come across as a typical rose-oud.

Instead, it reads more as a buttery rose chypre with a dark, mossy drydown that reminds me of the hippy, retro floriental style of Neil Morris, especially his Rose of Kali, which is a rose slowly left to molder and wither in a damp church basement. In other words, there’s a fair bit of myrrh here. There is also the chocolate-rich dustiness of closed-up spaces and old books, which makes me think of the 70’s style of the original Norma Kamali perfume (not Incense, the namesake perfume itself).

The rose oils used in Ottoman Empire are beautiful, and display a wide range of nuances ranging from the fruity apricot hue of the Afghani rose to the sour earwax quality of the Bulgarian. In the context of the blend, the roses are largely subdued by the resins and oakmoss in the base, but their essentially rosy character burns brightly through the blend, like a heat lamp under layers of parchment.

The oakmoss used here, by the way, is real and unneutered: firstly, because it is Indian oakmoss (charila), a lacy oakmoss-like material covering trees in the forests of the Himalayas, and secondly, because, well, Adam is not based in Europe and doesn’t have to be IFRA-compliant.

In summary, then, Ottoman Empire is a waxy, mossy rose chypre crossed with souk perfumery (oud and spices) crossed again with a certain hippy, 1970’s style as espoused by certain American indie perfumers. If I’ve made that sound confusing, then don’t worry – the perfume makes perfect sense on the skin. Wear it and see for yourself.

29th August, 2017

Siberian Musk by Areej le Doré

Siberian Musk was the first of the Areej Le Dore samples I tried, and it resulted in the sort of jaw-dropping-to-the-floor awe that happens very rarely in the life of this particular perfume writer.

After a bright citrus and pine start, the scent settles quickly into a full-fat, clotted-cream musk redolent of rosy beeswax, apricots, orange blossom, and the salty intimacy of a post-coital embrace.

The musk component manages to be seriously filthy but in a refined way, with a buttery floral purr that typifies a French sort of polish. I have smelled quite a few samples of genuine deer musk before, including a 20-year-old Himalayan musk so frighteningly feral that I thought a herd of sweaty goats had taken up residence in my nostrils. This is not that.

The musk here is authentically sensual and animal-like, but it comes across as a creamy, rounded smell, not sharply urinous or sweaty. Texture-wise, it has the silky density of yellow fat skimmed off the top of raw milk. Think Muscs Khoublai Khan crossed with the decaying roses and adiposal wax of Rose de Nuit, backlit by the subtle glow of resin, orange blossom, and citrus peel. The contrast between the fresh notes and the fatty, un-fresh musk is perfectly pitched.

As the scent progresses, the musk deepens and smolders, like a Persian cat stretching in the sun. Sultan Pasha once described the smell of deer musk to me as saccharine sweet, almost cloying, a smell that clings to the hairs of your nostrils for hours after you’ve smelled it. I sense the same clinging depth of the musk here, and there is a faintly sugared quality to the florals that help the impression along. But it is never cloying (and I agree with Sultan that some deer musks – depending on their geographical provenance, age, and level of heat used during the tincturing process – can be almost claustrophobically sweet).

29th August, 2017

Messe de Minuit by Etro

I’m always surprised when people describe Messe de Minuit as a gloomy fragrance, but that’s probably because I own the most recent iteration, by now long denuded of all the “damp cellar” nihilism that originally scared the bejeezus out of buyers.

What’s it like now? Well, imagine a gloomy Italian cathedral with the flood lights suddenly turned on and the doors thrown open to let the fresh air in. It’s an incredibly cheerful smell – bitter orange peel and lemons mixed with the lime-peel and pine brightness of unlit frankincense.

The older version, of which I only had a tiny sample, was quite different. There, in the drydown, the dour, fungal dampness of myrrh mixed with a powdery, spicy benzoin to produce an aroma that recalled very strongly the scent of mildewy paper and the slightly metallic, inert air of a closed-up sacristy.

An incredibly evocative smell, I can see why ETRO might have wanted to tone it down for their customer base – not everyone wants to wear the smell of books whose pages are sodden and green with rising damp. There is the unsettling suggestion of familial neglect about it. Pity, though, because I rather like perfumes that sacrifice wearability and overall pleasantness for the gut-punch of effect.

29th August, 2017

Miskatonic University by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

BPAL says this perfume oil smells like a “venerable New England university, whose vast library holds many rare, diabolical and obscure arcane works, including one of the few surviving legitimate copies of the Necronomicon.”

I have no idea what a Necronomicon is, nor do I intend to look it up. But in general, I think this perfume is a good example of what books smell like when their pages absorb environmental odors, sucking them in and then exhaling them over the course of decades every time the book is opened by another student.

Whoever opened this particular book was obviously drinking an illicit Irish coffee at the time, and spilled a little on the pages – sweet, creamy coffee with a hit of whisky, mingling with the musty vanillin dryness of the pages of the book.

Like many indie perfume oils, this one nails the creative brief in that it captures the exact scent of an imagined scenario; but whether you’ll find it pleasant to wear is another thing altogether. There is, for me, something cloying and queasy-making about such a literal Irish coffee note, and the initial effect is like being breathed on by someone with coffee breath. It’s almost too intimate a smell.

I like it much more later on when the coffee dies down a bit and allows the dustier, woodier notes to come through: it really does smell like the pages of a book in a house where coffee is being prepared. The paper note is enticingly musty and sweet, with a faintly soggy cardboard edge that reminds me of Holy Communion wafers. In a good way.

29th August, 2017

Santal 33 by Le Labo

Famously the “signature scent” of thousands of young professionals and hipsters in certain areas of New York city, Santal 33 by Le Labo has become a bit of a design cliché as of late – the olfactory equivalent of the Barcelona chair or the man bun. But just because everyone is wearing it doesn’t make it a bad fragrance. In fact, it’s pretty great, especially if you park your expectations at the door.

For one thing, despite the name, I find this to be a predominantly leather-focused scent, with a salty, green cucumberish quality that is almost aquatic. It opens with a powerful blast of chemical violet, sea salt, leather, and that aqueous herbal element, making me think each time of salty vetivers like Fleur de Sel by Miller Harris and Sea Foam by Art de Parfum.

But focusing too closely on the individual elements is of little use here, because the total effect is so forceful that you just have to give yourself over for the ride. Santal 33 is intensely masculine: full of raw, oily leather and balsam, it makes me think of a lifestyle concept store – one of those cavernous, white empty studio spaces where they place a tangle of parched white driftwood in one corner and a lone leather couch in the other.

Much later on, in the far drydown, there is the green aroma of dried coconut husks, raw and brusquely woody, and it is only then I see the reference to (Australian) sandalwood. But, in general, this is dry and woody-leathery, not lactonic or sweet.

Whenever I wear Santal 33, I am reminded of that craze for “shabby chic” that was so popular for most of the last ten years, because there is something very deliberately “antiqued” about the scent, like a modern wooden chair exposed to salty sea air to force-age it, whitewashed, and then distressed to give it the patina of age. It’s totally faux – but somehow the “fauxness” of it all becomes part of the appeal.

It reminds me of books, too. In particular in the raw, harsh chemical breeze of salt and Iso E Super whitewashing the grain of the scent, which ultimately comes off as a combination of freshly-tanned leather and newly-printed paper. It is an industrial book smell, one that belongs more to an Amazon warehouse or a newspaper printing room than a library or old book store.

But it’s also totally hipster and lifestyle-ish, with a high-gloss finish that is somewhat at odds with the raw, salty leather underneath. One of my favorite reviewers, Diamondflame, said it best when he called Santal 33 “a cross between the scent of a freshly printed lifestyle magazine and the interiors of a luxury leather goods shop.”

29th August, 2017

Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Dzing! is a perfume I came to very late. For the longest time, I thought it was a clumsy slamming together of two different perfumes: a fecal Cuir de Russie-type leather on top, a Bvlgari Black rubber-vanilla on the bottom – something that, if you already owned either of those perfumes, was a bit redundant.

But with time, I’ve come to appreciate and even love Dzing! as an animal in its own right. There is an abstraction to Dzing! that isn’t present in either the Chanel or the Bvlgari, a sort of sweet, musky haze that rearranges the furniture of the scent each time, rendering the familiar unfamiliar.

Sometimes Dzing! wears as a sweet, bready musk with a tinge of caramel apples; other times, it smells of saddle soap and soft horse shit. On occasion, I smell the sensual scent of grimy skin trapped under a rubber watch strap, as well as Rich Tea biscuits, soggy cardboard, and Communion wafers.

If books are themselves an amalgamation of complex, abstract aromas and molecules, then Dzing! is just that in scent form. Like a book, Dzing! is predominantly sweet and vanillic (biscuity), but there is the unmistakable whiff of something that reminds you of its ruder animal origins – the fecal smell of just cured leather bindings, perhaps, or the moistly grimy finger imprints of previous readers. Delicious, if you can stand the sheer second-hand intimacy of the smell.

29th August, 2017
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Tolu by Ormonde Jayne

Despite not being wowed at first sniff, I have come around to the pleasures of Tolu. It has a bitter, spicy broom note that slices through the golden, balsamic sweetness of amber to create something that is both fresh and heavy, like a flourless chocolate torte that dissolves into fennel dust on the tongue. The kind of thing that invites you to take a second slice, even in summer. I can see this working as a sort of upmarket Dune.
29th August, 2017

Tiare by Ormonde Jayne

For a while, my interest in Ormonde Jayne stopped with OJ Woman, a perfume I'd struggled with for years before finally falling in love with it. A client gave me the Ormonde Jayne sample set, and upon trying and not particularly clicking with the most popular ones,Tolu and Ta’if, I didn’t bother trying the rest.

That was, until one day last summer, I fished around in my sample box looking for something crisp and green to go well with a planned walk in a nearby castle grounds with my children, and stumbled upon Tiare.

Its lack of anything truly tiare-like or tropical puzzled me at first. But I will always remember marveling at the champagne-like quality of the lime and green notes fizzing gently around the oily but fresh white flower petals. The damp, mossy drydown proved to be a perfect reflection of the elegance of the castle lake and grounds. There is something pinned-up and Victorian in its mien - not entirely me, but rather someone I aspire to be. It was the first sample from the Ormonde Jayne sample set that I drained completely.

Then, this summer, sweating our way through the forests and fields of the Sologne and Loiret, I decided that, really, nothing was more French or more crisply elegant than Tiare, and I knew eventually that I might have to buy a bottle. Reading Ebenas' wonderful impressions of it didn't help with the itch. I succumbed to a flash sale and here I am, proud possessor of a totally unnecessary 120mls of the stuff.

Like Cristalle, it might not suit the damp, cool conditions back home in Ireland, but I wear it anyway. It perhaps is a better fit for the Dream-Me, the one who lives in France, getting fat and happy on the simple pleasures of good bread, cheese, and wine.

29th August, 2017

Orris Noir by Ormonde Jayne

Orris Noir was another unexpected love for me from the Ormonde jayne line. I’ll be honest, I fell in love with Tsarina from the mega exclusive Four Corners of the Earth line first, but found Orris Noir to be a more than adequate substitute for the wheaten, smooth-as-a-pebble creaminess of the costlier Tsarina.

Orris Noir is a fantastic advertisement for the Ormonde Jayne style of building a fragrance, in that it is composed of many different layers, all of them as light as air, which when laid one on top of another become a dense, velvety mass.

To me, this scent has three or four distinct things going on: the first is a doughy iris as dense as a ball of bread dough studded with boozy dried fruit, second is a creamy, anisic myrrh with the same sticky, almost crystallized texture as found in other myrrh scents such as Bois d’Argent and Myrrhe Ardente, the third a smoky, dry incense that suffuses the perfume with a woody radiance (probably the Iso E Super and the Chinese cedar), and last but not least, a bright jasmine that fizzes as sweetly as a glass of freshly-poured Coca Cola. Somehow, all of these elements hang together as naturally and as lightly as a silk shawl.

29th August, 2017

Black Gold by Ormonde Jayne

Black Gold is perfectly in line with the Ormonde Jayne house style, which is to say that it seems to be made up of hundreds of different layers of tulle and yet has the tensile density of velvet.

It has to be said, Black Gold is every bit as stunning as its gold-plated billing makes it out to be. Even the most grudging of Basenoters were impressed. One spray is enough to know that you’re in the presence of something quite special indeed.

The opening feels familiar, yet turbo-charged with something. The sherbet-like fizz of mandarin, lemon, and mandarin is intoxicating, and the touches of clary sage and juniper berry familiar to anyone who loves Tolu.

Immediately after the initial “Ormonde Jayne” blaze of citrus, pepper, and herbs, the true character of the scent reveals itself; a confident duet between a particularly arid, aromatic sandalwood (one can almost visualize the reddish dust of felled heartwood in Mysore) and a hot, dusty carnation, these two accords whipping each other into a vortex of scent.

The texture is key here, fuzzy and misty, like a cloud of aldehydes or dust particles whipped up by a storm or the pale, fine fizz on a glass of sparkling rosé. The quality of the sandalwood is indeed most excellent, displaying as it does the peculiar character split between dry and milky of real santalum album.

Although there are no piney terpenes here, the hallmark of inferior santalum spicatum from Australia, the sandalwood used in this fragrance is not at all sweet or unctuously creamy. In fact, coupled with the herbs and the spicy carnation, something about it strikes me as gentlemanly, in the same way that the sandalwood in Santal Noble is. Later on, these same woods appear rubbed down by nuggets of creamy amber resin, their toffee-like sweetness filling out all the gaps in the wood and giving the scent a deep, velvety warmth.

However, there is also a very dry, peppery oud note in the drydown, which brings the fragrance closer in feel to Ormonde Man than to Tolu, which was perhaps the direction in which Black Gold had been drifting. The oud adds a certain….something. It is not exactly animalic, but something a little dark and salty, tending towards carnal. This could be a touch of Ambroxan or real ambergris, or, of course, it could also simply be the listed oud coupled with the vegetal musk of ambrette. Either way, the ending is as shimmering and as translucent as the rest of the scent – it floats off the skin like cloud, never heavy or sullen.

Worth the price? Most definitely. Personally, I’d buy it in a heartbeat if it was priced at the same level as the regular line, but it’s not within my budget and therefore I have no plans (or should that be ambitions?) to own it. But for those who can stretch to it, I’d say buy it – without reservation. There’s plenty of haute luxe perfumes around these days at that price level anyway, but an Ormonde Jayne is a classically-built Rolls Royce compared to a flashy Lamborghini, and therefore, for my money, as close to a sure bet as you can get. Solid, elegant, beautiful: those are the three words I’d pick to describe Black Gold.

29th August, 2017

Bal d'Afrique by Byredo

I keep trying to write about Byredo’s Bal d’Afrique but it’s hard because it keeps coming out more as an apology for liking it than an actual review.

Anything that seems to receive universal approval fills me with suspicion and the desire to avoid it at all costs. Ugg boots sure look comfortable but I’d gnaw my leg off with a dull incisor rather than put one on. The very notion that so many women fantasize about George Clooney makes him as attractive to me as a used tissue. I very nearly un-coupled my husband when he bought our son a fidget spinner.

In a brand full of crowd-pleasing fragrances, Bal D’Afrique is probably the most crowd-pleasing-est of them all. People love this fragrance.

And damn it, I love this fragrance too. It’s kind of hard not to. I like to think of it as a sparkly, sunlit version of Vetiver Tonka, made all giggly with forest fruit, violets, and lemon. It is one of those perfumes that seems to be all things to all people. Some describe it as musky, cedary violets, some as a creamy lemon scent, and some as a fruity, nutty vetiver. And truth be told, it’s all of those things, and more.

Nothing about Bal D’Afrique stands out and that feels like a deliberate decision. Nudged more firmly in one direction or another, it could easily have been pegged as a vetiver fragrance, a woody violet, a fruity floral, even a foodie amber. But Bal D’Afrique contains a touch of everything and doesn’t press down too hard on one particular note, so it ends up playing like a low-key medley of tunes you hear in a cocktail lounge – wonderfully pleasing but sparkling at a low enough wattage so as not to distract from conversation.

Bal D’Afrique sparkles as hard as a glass of champagne and twirls around on its heels like a five-year old. It’s sweet and tangy and bright and creamy. It’s a veritable piñata of aromas – poke it with a stick and no matter what comes out, you know it comes wrapped in bright paper and will make even the crustiest bugger smile.

Because Bal D’Afrique is so popular, I struggle to respect it, but Basenotes statistics don’t lie: I have used this scent far more than any other this summer, using up an entire travel spray of it over the course of about 4 weeks. It has a strange, amorphous quality to it that doesn’t pin it to any one mood or occasion, instead flowing easily in and around my other perfumes, filling up the gaps with its easy-going personality.

Now that I don’t have any left, I miss it. I find myself thinking about it at off hours of the day. It’s probably just a passing infatuation, so I’ll try to wait it out. Trouble is, despite me thinking, meh, this isn’t really that unique, I can’t think of a single perfume that could take its place.

29th August, 2017

Issara by Parfums Dusita

Issara is the most immediately likeable and wearable of the initial Dusita trio. For a fougere, it is surprisingly lush and sweet, deftly side-stepping the beardy, Brut-ish machismo of most of this year’s fougere revivals (I’m looking at you, Le Barbier de Tangers) and aligning itself with softer takes on the theme, such as Chanel’s Boy. The topnotes sparkle like sunlight on fresh snow – friendly, crisp pine mingling with mint and sage, faintly sugared with tonka bean and a starchy white musk. There is a beautifully fresh, green “salt” note here, reminiscent of beach grasses and sand dunes.

I only have two issues here, really – first, that the musky, tonka-ish drydown is rather synthetic in feel, in comparison to the more natural Oudh Infini and Melodie de l’Amour (I suspect a touch too much of either Ambroxan or Iso E Super), and second, fougeres used to be the unpretentious backbone of the male grooming world, so I’m not sure if putting it in extrait form or pricing it at €295 for 50mls isn’t missing the point somewhat. Issara is a very good fougere, but for that type of money I’d rather buy a 200ml vat of Chanel’s Boy and just splash it on with gay abandon.
16th December, 2016

Mélodie de L'Amour by Parfums Dusita

Mélodie de L'Amour is, to my nose, a powerful statement on jasmine, the filthy kind that drapes the insides of your nostrils in the matte black ink of pure indole. Very little to differentiate here at first between the flat wall of scatole that rises off a fresh turd and a jasmine decaying right off the vine, which is how all jasmines would be if I had my way. Boy, it fairly pins my ears back. There is the faint breath of rotting fruit to add moistness to the dank, flat tonality here, a peach or pear perhaps, with an undertone of acrylic paint or turps.

Later, it develops a green, rubbery, creamy cheese odor that I assume is gardenia, but it is successfully managed by that wall of jasmine and never approaches the rancid horror of Dame Perfumery’s Gardenia soliflore, which smells like black spots on butter taste in my mouth. Mélodie de L'Amour is the rare instance of a floral that smells more like an animal than a plant, joining the ranks of other bloodsucking florals such as Manoumalia, Rubj, and Une Fleur de Cassie, perfumes I never know if they going to wear me, eat me, or f&*k me.

16th December, 2016

Oudh Infini by Parfums Dusita

Oudh Infini has far more of the animal, furred warmth of a pack animal than a tree or resin, so at first my nose thinks it smells heavy deer musk, not oud oil. But then I’m reminded that there are a couple of pure oud oils out there that mimic the characteristics of deer musk, such as Ensar Oud’s Yunnan 2003 oil, which has a furry thickness to it that makes me think I can just reach out my fingers and touch the warm animal in front of me.

It is a brave act, you know, to launch a commercial perfume that smells like this. Those of you who have grown up on farms will not be shocked – neither will people who wear pure oud.

But the rest of you? Prepare your nostrils, for Oudh Infini smells intensely of warm sheep, packed ten deep into a shed in winter, the warm (tallow fat) smell of their oily wool mixing with their shit-smeared backsides and the soiled straw beneath. I pick up a faint hint of roses, faded and sour like the emanation from a vase of roses in a locked room. It is not pleasant, it is not pretty, but it has impact.

Past the ferociously animalic, barnyardy opening, creamy sandalwood and vanilla turn the oud into a crottin of goat’s cheese. It’s refined and gentle – as I mentioned once to purecaramel, like dung strained through a silk stocking.

Oudh Infini does an excellent job of sketching out what one would smell in a real oud oil – evolving slowly from barnyard, feces, pack animals to runny cheese and flowers and herbs. It lacks perhaps only the more complex depth of camphor, smoke, sap, and woods that form the backbone of pure oud oil, but all the other markers are there.

However, and this is a big however, I am having trouble placing Oudh Infini in a hypothetical wardrobe. I love pure oud oil but I also love fragrance compositions that present me with a different, more artistic impression of oud. My trouble with Oudh Infini is that it smells too close to the real oud oil experience for it to succeed purely as an artistic interpretation of the oud theme.

In other words, if I want something that smells like real oud oil, why not (for reasons of cost and others) just go for oud oil? Naturally, personal preferences in terms of how we prefer to wear perfume come into it, but if you are thinking of a real oud oil experience, then there is little else as magical as an essential oil (oud oil) that can give the nose all the complexity of wood, fruit, flowers, dung, soil, and ozone without any help from a fragrance laboratory.

If I want to wear a proper perfume based on oud, I’d go for more ambitious, complex perfumes such as Oud Shamash or Oud Osmanthus. They don’t smell as authentic oudy as Oudh Infini but verisimilitude is not what I’m seeking when I wear oud-based perfumes. I want the smoke and mirrors.

16th December, 2016

Noir Epices by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

We’ve been enjoying an amazing autumn here in Ireland. Lucky enough to live in the most sheltered spot on this rain-sodden island, we spent most of October and November trawling the long, golden beaches and kicking over the leaves in castle parks. The sun never stopped shining, temperatures barely dipped below 15 degrees, and we were all in such a damn good mood. Then one day, driving back from a jaunt to Kilkenny, I made the fatal mistake of saying to my husband, “And imagine – the kids haven’t been sick even once!”

Jesus.

Naturally, there hasn’t been a dry tissue in the house since. There’s been the flu, chest infections, and a torn cornea that necessitated an emergency hospital visit and a hefty bill (no health insurance). More familiar with hospital waiting rooms than I’d care to be, I have developed a perfume strategy that helps a bit. I wear powerfully radiant, antiseptic fumes that march ahead of me, wiping whole rooms down with Dettol before I enter, and whisper “Do not fuck with me” to receptionists.

Yeah, so, I’m wearing a lot of Noir Epices. It is a difficult, somewhat prickly perfume - a sort of stripped-down, Vorsprung Durch Technik version of Coco. Re-engineered to remove all the sweetness and ballasting amber; it’s the perfume equivalent of whittling a comfy sofa into a Philippe Starck chair.

In the opening notes, a hot pink rose stumbles onto the scene, flushed and boozy, washed down with the metallic sheen of geranium leaf. It is intensely beautiful to me at first because I get the impression of fullness – the bitter greenness of the geranium balanced by the rose, and the dry, peppery spices are backed up by rich woods. Singed orange peel and clove burn through spices, florals, and woods, purifying the unclean air around me and excoriating the flesh around open wounds. Noir Epices is the answer to the plague.

I feel fierce when I wear this, but eventually the very things that make me feel protected wear me down. Wearing Noir Epices is like putting a pure vitamin C serum on your face – the burning feels good because you know that it is active, but at the same time, the discomfort is real. Noir Epices has all the trappings of a rich spice oriental - the acidity of spilled orange juice, dry pomander woods, black pepper, an excitable rose – but completely lacks the underpinnings. There is no amber, vanilla, or creamy, hefty woods to round this out in the base, and while I understand that its appeal comes from this woody weightlessness, I would wish for a kinder, more forgiving ending. Noir Epices is a stern judge of character.

Longevity and sillage are outstanding, 7 hours at the least. I recommend Noir Epices to anyone in need of a magic potion to ward off illnesses, and to fans of spicy, dry orange-rose pomander fragrances such as Coco and Maharanih.
16th December, 2016

La Fumée / La Fumée Classic by Miller Harris

It’s funny how sometimes it’s the fragrances you love and wear the most are the ones you never bother to write about. I’m on my second bottle of this elegant woods and resins concoction, and yet now when I sit down to put pen to paper, I realize I’ve never really analyzed the notes. La Fumée performs quietly in the background of your day, like smoke from incense or oud embedded in the fabric of your clothes. It starts off on a greenish frankincense note, like crushed pine needles, pepper, and lemons, and that fresh, masculine vibe continues for much of the scent.

Wafting in and out of the composition is a light smoke note from a combination of the cade and birch tar, but there is also a dry labdanum in the mix, performing its teetering act between tinder-dry paper that’s about to catch fire and liquid tar. Creamy sandalwood takes over from the piney, terpenic facets of the frankincense, nudging the scent into a faintly sweet-and-sour sweat direction. But none of that describes how easy this scent is to wear, or how pleasurable in its humming-in-the-background way. Whereas other resin scents hit you over the head, this one wears like an elegant, transparent veil that exists only at the corner of your field of vision. It’s small but perfectly formed.
08th December, 2016

Patchouli 24 by Le Labo

It’s true that Patchouli 24 smells like smoking tar pits and the aftermath of a chemical fire in a tire factory, but that doesn’t fully explain why it’s sexy.

I remember the first time I wore this. I had been swimming in a city pool with my husband and young son, and my skin still smelled of chlorine when I sprayed it on. Somehow, the combination of pool chemicals with the burned, smoky “electrical fire” facet of Patchouli 24 and the thin, poisonously sweet slick of vanillin pooled at the base of the scent made me smell like a total badass, like Lisbeth from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, chasing a bad guy down on her motorcycle. Even though I was wearing jeans at the time, one spritz and I felt like I was dressed in a black rubber cat suit and heavy black eye liner.

Patchouli 24 makes me feel like I always thought Piquet’s Bandit would make me feel but didn’t – powerful, but also female. There is a salty-sweet “glazed ham” quality to the smoke note here that just sends me over the top. The dreaded fir balsam (or could it be vetiver?) sweat note makes an unwelcome appearance in the far drydown, but idly enough it’s not the deal breaker it is to me in other scents such as Baccarat Rouge 545 or Encens Flamboyant. The only reason I don’t wear it more often than I do is because every time I am in the car with my family, my husband stops the car to check for an electrical shortage or fire of some sort.
08th December, 2016

Oud for Love by The Different Company

Oud for Love is supposedly the feminine counterpart to The Different Company’s Oud Shamash, which I also love, but to my nose, both of these fragrances are completely unisex. Oud for Love is as beautiful as Oud Shamash, if that’s possible, but takes the (supposedly real, Laotian) oud note in a different, more gourmand direction than the smoke and woods of Oud Shamash. Here, the sour oud oil note is wrapped up in a gentle wheaten note, a hot breath of bread or cake coming from a baker’s oven. The cumin, saffron, heliotrope, and whiskey notes are probably what conspire to create this impression, a thread of sweet grains or powdered malt linking them all.

There is spice, too, in the heart, and an earthy, creamy ylang note. But the lingering impression is of gently caramelized, milky, breadiness that buffets the medicinal twang of the oud to perfection, bringing to mind long ancient wooden tables spread with sweetmeats, honey, and freshly-baked bread in drafty banquet halls in medieval castles. Still, the balance tilts more towards woods than food, and it is only very subtly sweet, in the way that bread and milk and whiskey are contain a natural, round sweetness of their own. Highly recommended to people who find most oud compositions to be too harsh, sour, or medicinal – this is an oud that’s been breastfed and wrapped up in a cashmere shawl.
08th December, 2016

Santal de Mysore by Serge Lutens

When I first smelled Santal de Mysore, I said to myself, as long as Serge Lutens keeps making this fragrance, I will be happy. If all my other bottles were to be destroyed in a fire, I’d be ok with just this one. Hyperbole? Probably. Just trying to get across how much I love it.

What I value most about it is its dichotomy. It is both wet and dry, and intensely so at the same time. At first, the wet elements come to the nose – a big, spicy red butter curry with blisteringly hot black peppercorns crushed to release their oil, and something green, frondy, and aromatic, perhaps dill or fresh fenugreek. There is a tamarind sourness to it but it is also very sweet, as if cubes of salted caramel have been set on top to slowly sweat down into pools of butter.

I don’t understand when people say a perfume smells like a curry like that’s a bad thing? I can think of no better smell than this. My mouth waters at the host of hot spices and aromatics. I slaver like Pavlov’s dog every time I go near the stopper.

Talking of the stopper, sniffing Santal de Mysore from the bottle gives me a jolt of recognition every time, because it smells like real Mysore sandalwood. But on the skin, this impression disappears, as the big building blocks of flavors and spices jostle each other for position. Drawing your nose back from your arm, you notice these clumps of notes magically coalescing into a true Mysore aroma – deep brown, buttery, arid, resinous. Salted butter dried and made into a red dust. Put your nose back to that spot on your wrist, and the Mysore impression falls apart again. This is a fragrance that plays peek-a-boo with its wearer, and it’s mesmerizing.

The wet, creamy curry accord hangs around, but it flips on a switch to dry, aromatic sandalwood dust when you’re not looking. Look again and it switches back to wet and spicy. When I catch glimpses of the dry, dusty facet, it smells like zukoh, a powdered sweet incense that combines camphor, cloves, and sandalwood. The drydown is pure magic, the curry notes fading away to a caramelized sandalwood incense aroma, with hints of honey and amber rounding out the dry woodiness.

Why do I find Santal de Mysore such a gorgeous, satisfying wear? Because it’s not a straightforward representation of sandalwood like Tam Dao or Wonderwood. It takes you to a fantasy Mysore sandalwood destination by way of the Silk Road, weaving through curry spices, aromatic oils, and incense sticks as we go. It’s also a scent that makes your perceptions of it turn on a dime: wet then arid, savory then sweet, creamy then dusty, spicy then herbal and green. Sandalwood in a House of Mirrors – its basic shape remains the same but what we see each time we look is different.
08th December, 2016

Oud Luban by Aftelier

I like to think that when he died, Leonard Cohen was laid naked in a white shroud, anointed from head to toe in Ancient Resins, and then burned on a pyre that floats off down the Ganges. But recently, I learned that Cohen loved more than one of Mandy Aftel’s creations. In fact, Cohen wouldn't go out without a drop of her Oud Luban on his person.

Learning that made me reassess my imagining of Leonard Cohen as a gloomy, depressive poet, anointed with the biblical-smelling Ancient Resins. Because Oud Luban is an oud fragrance that takes what Luca Turin mentioned as an “inherent brown study grimness” characteristic of the material and shoots it through with a light-strobing blood orange note that makes it feel like liquid late-afternoon sunshine.

Superior, Hojari-grade frankincense from the Dhofar desert in Oman adds a bright, terpenic freshness that sidles up to the citrus and supports it – think crushed pine needles, with their juicy, lemony, green scent on your fingers after you touch them. And all this against a very smoky, leathery oud oil that is darkness personified. A superb, natural-smelling, joyful balancing of dark and light, Oud Luban displays a sort of switching-on-of-the-Christmas-lights effect.

I don’t think I have ever smelled a perfume that works oud quite like this. The smoky, growly undertones of real oud are there alright – no mistaking this for a synthetic variant – but its usual tendency to spread its gravel-voiced gloominess over everything has been reined in by the bright, citrusy resin elements. I think of it as humorous and hopeful.

And maybe this humorous, fey thing is a truer portrait of Leonard Cohen than my historic, mental imagining of his character. My dad recently told me a story he had read somewhere, of Leonard Cohen at a party. He just sat down on his own, picked up a guitar and started to strum, quietly humming the words to one of his famous songs. Bit by bit, women, young and old, began to kneel down at either side of him, listening intently. One of his friends whispered to him, Leonard, did you notice that you’re surrounded by women. Without looking up from his guitar and strumming away, he whispered back, “Works every time”.
05th December, 2016

Ancient Resins by Aftelier

Ancient Resins by Aftelier was developed by perfumer Mandy Aftel in cooperation with, and expressly for, the great Leonard Cohen himself. It smells exactly what you’d think a Zen guy like Leonard Cohen would like – a warm treble base of resins that balances the bitter, cleansing properties of something that might be used in a Shamanic ritual with the dusty smell of wood, paper, and rosin breaking down in old record stores or bookshops.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to analyze this beautiful oil too much – just let it wash over you in a peaceful wave, just like Cohen’s music – because it is, at heart, just a collection of resinous basenotes. And yet, the total effect is uplifting in a way that belies the simplicity of the blend.

Balm of Gilead is a note that jumps out at me, though, for its unusual biblical associations. Looking it up, it seems that the name refers (in religious history) to a balsam that was used as a spiritual balm to weary souls in Talmudic, Old Testament, and Muslim/Arabic history. Sources differ over what species of tree actually produced this balsam, although it seems to be either from mastic (green, herbal-smelling), pine, or terebinth /turpentine trees.

Although the opening notes of the oil are indeed very pine-like, I assume that this comes from the terpenes naturally present in the frankincense, because Mandy After clarifies that the Balm of Gilead note in Ancient Resins comes from poplar buds, from the Populus species of tree. These trees produce a nicely balmy scent on the white undersides of their leaves, and are used to produce the modern-day versions of the Balm of Gilead – basically, a wound- and spirit-healing balm.

And Ancient Resins is healing. It is healing and calming and restorative. I can see why Leonard Cohen reportedly wore this every day of his life. I was, coincidentally, wearing Ancient Resins in my hair when I heard that he had passed away. I had been using it almost every day since I received a generous sample of it, because the American elections had just taken place and I was feeling stressed out. Ancient Resins seems to have the power to right everywhere that is wrong in the world, just like Cohen’s music. A knitting together of things that have been fractured.
05th December, 2016

Soliflore Tuberose by Dame Perfumery

After my scarring experience with Gardenia, I was almost wincing the thought of having to try Tuberose, the last Dame Perfumery decant included in my swap with my American friend. Thankfully, Tuberose smells just like the tuberose used in Tubereuse Criminelle, which is to say, beautiful and slightly ugly and a bit weird (in a good way). It goes on smelling like spilled fuel, rubber, camphor, and Listerine – you know, tuberose. It’s just tuberose, doing its tuberose thang. You either like it or you don’t, but this is a good, straight-forward rendition for the purists out there that can’t hack the oddness of Tubereuse Criminelle, the smoky tobacco of Tubereuse 3 Animale, or the hallucinogenic green freshness of Carnal Flower. Me, I will stick to the more evolved stuff. I got bored of this quite quickly.
05th December, 2016

Soliflore Mimosa by Dame Perfumery

I lived in a country that held a mimosa festival every year, with parades and little girls wearing head garlands of mimosas threaded together – so I know what mimosa smells like.

Honestly, mimosa smells a bit odd at first. The perfume, Mimosa, is very true to the bloom in that it comes out of the bottle smelling like a golden, clear vegetable oil, slightly flat and oily to the nose. Within this oil aroma, there are small puffs of something quite like heliotrope – almond-like, puffy, sweet, reminiscent of Johnson’s Baby Oil, only not as “purple” or “cherry pie”-like. There are also whiffs of glue, the kind you give your kids to use for art projects. All in all, a very odd but childishly appealing aroma. Not terribly floral, but very true to life.

Later on, a powdery “yellow” pollen tonality develops, which in turn ushers in a sweet, translucent cucumber note. From this point onwards, the scent of Mimosa is mostly about that cucumber and pollen combination, which suits me just fine. I like this aspect of mimosa. The second part reminds me very much of Jo Malone’s Mimosa & Cardamom, which in turn reminds me a bit of the milky cucumber/dill/gripe water side of Le Labo Santal 33. But if you want to experience mimosa on its own, then this soliflore – Mimosa - is an excellent point of reference.
05th December, 2016