Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

Advertisement
Total Reviews: 432

Soliflore Gardenia by Dame Perfumery

Gardenia from Dame Perfumery is a no-go for me, I’m afraid. I admit I’ve never smelled a gardenia in real life, but if it smells like this, then keep it far away from me. I am quite willing to recognize that this is very true to life, given that all the other Dame Perfumery soliflores are remarkably true to their source material. But tell me, does gardenia really smell like moldy butter, melted candy canes, and plastic? Because this is what Gardenia smells like.

Upon spraying it, I was immediately assaulted by the stench of butter that has developed black spots, and forgive me if this reference strikes you as being overly specific, but it is a clear olfactory memory from my time living in Belgrade in 2001.

Back then, the country was just opening up after years of NATO sanctions and obviously German producers were dumping all their stock on us cheaply. I would buy Meggle butter from the supermarket, and maybe 7 times out of 10, there would be black spots on it. If you have ever smelled butter that has gotten to this stage, then you’ll know that it is one of the worst smells in the world. Sometimes, the black spots would be slow to emerge and you’d eat some of it, and immediately your mouth knew that, shit, this was black spot butter.

Later, it developed into a creamy candy-like smell that my five year old son identified as “sweeties”. He thought it was pleasant and asked me to buy it. I guess he never smelled black spot butter – his father and I had only begin dating when black spot butter was a part of our lives, otherwise he never would have asked me. I have bought a fair few perfumes on his request (Un Bois Vanille, Etro Heliotrope) but I’m afraid I can’t indulge him here. Even the memory of it is making me dry-retch.
05th December, 2016

Soliflore Narcissus by Dame Perfumery

I think Narcissus is the clear standout in the Dame Perfumery soliflores I have thus far tested, although they are all very true to their source materials. Narcissus smells extremely dirty when first sprayed, like a men’s bathroom that had been hastily (badly) cleaned with cheap disinfectant, a nuance that runs very true to the flower’s fetid, inky barnyardy smell in nature.

But given a few minutes to settle, the sillage blooms with all the nicer aspects of narcissus itself – the yellow, oily pollen, the stemmy green aroma, the pale sweet powder, honey, grass – a heart-warming mixture of green and yellow hues, a ripped-from-nature smell that was both rudely animalic and elegant.

Wearing Narcissus allows me to recognize just how important a role narcissus plays in the grander compositions of Chamade and Le Temps d’Un Fete. It also confirmed that Romanza by Masque is stuffed to bursting with the stuff. Excellent work, and it makes me want to explore even more of Dame Perfumery's soliflores. A strange fact about this fragrance, though – it smells much nicer in one’s sillage than close up, on the skin, where it retains that dirty bathroom facet.
05th December, 2016

Elixir des Merveilles by Hermès

God, Elixir des Merveilles is such a weird perfume. The first time I tried it, I remember thinking – this right here is why people hate perfume. It was overly rich, sweet, muddy, with all the elements jumbled together in that overdone blur that defines “Rich Bitch” perfumes to me. The second time I tried it, I thought “I should learn how to read labels better” because I’d been aiming for the Ambre bottle.

Third time round, something clicked for me and I began to like it. Now I have odd, sudden cravings for it. I think it’s because I was finally able to figure out its structure. There are two sides to Elixir des Merveilles – the syrupy orange peels dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt on one side, and on the other, a massively butch clutch of resins and moss. It’s basically a super-gourmand grafted onto a super hairy-balled aftershave.

Both sides are as oversized as clown shoes. The oranges dipped in caramel and chocolate are sweet to the point of being grotesque. One minute you think it’s gorgeous, the next you think, Christ, this stuff is absolutely gross. The sprinkling of what feels like celery salt over the treacly mass is probably one step too far. I swing between feeling repulsed to wanting more. The countermanding element is rather chypre-like: a brusque, musky cedar, smoky balsams and resins, moss. It’s really quite dry, bitter, and smoky.

The exaggerated forms of the two parts give the perfume a cartoonish Jessica Rabbit shape. It’s like watching an overloaded plane trying to take off or Kim Kardashian walk across the road in a tight skirt. You half fear it’s going to topple over any minute. But somehow the whole thing seems to hang together and work quite well. It’s a great winter gourmand, and the oranges and resins make me think of Christmas and oddly, Theorema.

Just don’t put this on if you’re not in the right mood for it, because it sticks like glue and seems to grow grander by the minute. At times, I find it enveloping and rich – just right for a cold winter’s day. But at other times, it begins to wear me down. When my hand glides over the small bottle of it that I bought, I have to think twice before putting it on.
05th December, 2016
Advertisement — Reviews continue below

Vento nel Vento by Bois 1920

One of the most satisfying fragrances I’ve worn in a while. Like Dior’s Mitzah, Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute, the recent Contre Bombarde 32, and Bois 1920’s own Real Patchouly, Vento nel Vento blurs the lines between amber, incense, spices, and woods, making it rather difficult to pin down. Which is exactly what I like about it.

Listen, this is not ground-breaking stuff. But it is a good kitchen-sink of a thing that’s absolutely perfect for when you feel like wearing something oriental-ish without condemning yourself to a full day of enough straight-up amber to put you in a sugar coma or, worse, a monastic incense that feels like a hair shirt by dinnertime. This gives you everything rolled into one – amber, resin, smoke, spice, sugar, patchouli – boom! And you’re done.

The opening is all about balmy, dark frankincense paired and smoky labdanum resin, lifted by a thyme or rosemary note that makes me want to bite my arm. The herb is phenolic, like smoke rising off a tar pit, making me think of the burning thyme note at the top of Interlude Man. I don’t get any of the listed peony or pink pepper notes, thank God. I bat those things away like flies on my burger.

Although it is not sweet at this point, the smoke and herbs are balanced out by a smooth, round element that I can’t define exactly but adds a toothsome, edible quality. Perhaps it is the lemony cream of the elemi resin. But it almost reads like soft black licorice vines, the mild ones perched precisely between sweet and salty and whose major selling point is their satisfying yield as you bite into them. Vento nel Vento gives good chew.

The slightly tarry, smoky labdanum stretches out into the heart, and as the thyme and frankincense taper off, it is joined by a smooth amber and patchouli. It’s at this stage that I’m most reminded of Mitzah and Real Patchouly, because they share something of this honeyed, labdanum-driven amber accord, its golden clarity given depth by the bittersweet, earthy patchouli.

There is a small touch of oud in the heart, enough to give it an interesting sourness that smacks of wood chips and herbs soaked in water before distilling. The oud note is very subtle and natural-smelling here – no harsh, synthetic off notes at all. Indeed, one of the things I appreciate the most about Vento ne Vento is just how natural it smells to me.

Another thing I appreciate is its round, creamy feel. Often incensey ambers or ambery incenses ruin the effect by having one element stick out too much, such as a too-sharp herbal note or an overload of vanilla. In Vento nel Vento, the whole is perfectly round, smooth, and integrated. It is complex, but so perfectly blended that no one note catches at your skin like a forgotten clothes pin.

Vento nel Vento starts off with immense volume (sillage) but does a surprisingly gentle fade-out so that it becomes very quiet after 3-4 hours. In the base, a beautifully salty-sweet ambergris note starts to glow from underneath the pool of creamy sandalwood, contributing a musky, salted caramel glaze to the finish. It is subtle – not so much the smell of ambergris tincture itself with its usual marine and earthy funk, rather the effect of white ambergris, which has little scent of its own. White ambergris, the finest grade, acts instead as a magnifying glass held up to the other notes in the composition. Here, it adds a sensual, skin-like glow that animates the resins, amber, and sandalwood like blowing onto hot coals.

For what it’s worth, every time I’ve worn my sample of Vento nel Vento, it has garnered the most compliments I have ever received outside of Bottega Veneta EDP. Not only from my family, but from complete strangers on the street, staff at my daughter’s nursery, and even a policeman! Go buy it if you have the money – it’s a limited edition of only 1,920 bottles, so when it’s gone, it’s gone.
17th November, 2016

Arbolé Arbolé by Hiram Green

Hiram Green’s new fragrance, Arbolé Arbolé, is his best work yet and the one that I would race out to buy in a heartbeat. Featuring woods and patchouli this time, Arbolé Arbolé, is the perfect autumnal riposte to Green’s entry for Spring, the bright and sunlit Dilettante.

There is a wonderfully soft, smutty quality to the patchouli used here – it’s quite clearly patchouli, but there are no headshop undertones, and it is not camphoraceous, green, or oily. Instead, it has a pleasantly stale, waxy chocolate softness that recalls vintage make-up, heavy silks taken out of storage in cedar trunks, and huge beeswax candles dripping over everything.

There is no beeswax in Arbolé Arbolé, though. Hiram Green does not use any products of animal origin in his all-natural perfumes, be it beeswax or ambergris. However, there is no denying that there is a homeopathic “waxy” thread running through most of Hiram Green’s perfumes, a sort of cosmetic, floral wax tonality that smudges the corners of the other notes and gives the perfumes a slightly retro, vintage glamour. His perfumes wear as if lit from within by candlelight.

If you’re used to modern woody fragrances, with their piercing synthetics blowing them up into bombastic stadium-fillers, then Arbolé Arbolé will ask you to adjust your television set. Natural perfumery is where the nose goes to take refuge from the eternal parade of modern woody ambers. Arbolé Arbolé takes cedar, patchouli, and sandalwood and melts them down into a silky wood smoothie.

All of the individual characteristics of the raw materials – the cedar, patchouli, sandalwood – have been rubbed off and sanded down until only a smooth, integrated woodiness remains. There is none of the normal bitter muskiness of cedar, none of the raw, earthy, or leafy facets of patchouli, and the sandalwood registers only as a unifying texture of creamy butter.

There is a faintly smutty, sexy quality to this perfume that appeals enormously. There is no musk used here, for obvious reasons, but there is nonetheless a vegetal muskiness that smudges the outlines of the different woods used, almost like ambrette but with none of the green apple peel rosiness that goes along with it. Arbolé Arbolé also shares the same soft, warm “musky cocoa powder” sexiness with Mazzolari Lei and Parfumerie Generale L’Ombre Fauve, both of which also blur the lines between patchouli, musk, and ambery-vanilla aromas so smoothly that the nose doesn’t immediately recognize one or the other.

However, those are both perfumes that mix naturals and synthetics, so they may not be the best point of comparison. In the sphere of natural perfumery, I think that Arbolé Arbolé has a similar feel to some of Neil Morris’ work in America, especially the slightly grungy, waxy (and surprisingly vintage-smelling) patchouli used to great effect in Prowl. Arbolé Arbolé is smoother and more refined; lighter in texture. Fans of Loree Rodkin’s Gothic I might also want to check out Arbolé Arbolé because it shares something of that waxy vanilla-patch vibe.

Arbolé Arbolé takes its name from a famous Lorca poem where young suitors try to persuade a young girl picking olives to go off with them (but she refuses). In my mind, while wearing the perfume, I can see the golden brown colors Lorca describes when talking about the darkening afternoon light:

When the afternoon had turned
dark brown, with scattered light,
a young man passed by, wearing
roses and myrtle of the moon.

Arbolé Arbolé has incredible sillage and tenacity on my skin for a natural, and yet it never feels muddy or thick. It is a linear but thoroughly warm and sensual experience for me, with only slight transitions in the body of the fragrance from waxy wood smoothie to faintly powdery vanilla. It is sweet in a natural, woody way, and the powdery touch at the end is not excessive. Personally, I absolutely love it.
16th November, 2016

Plein - Jeu III-V by Sauf

Plein Jeu III-V (no way I’m remembering that without an index card) was supposedly inspired by a flight of angels, and in many ways is the clearest link to LAVS, because it employs the same peppery, slightly soapy incense accord.

Plein Jeu makes great use of aromatics and citrus, with the contrast between the hot ginger, zingy citruses, and cold, waxy/green frankincense providing a lively, interesting start. There is jasmine in the heart, of the cool, fresh variety, but the note doesn’t really hold its own against the peppery, oily frankincense that dominates.

It is nicely smoky, pure, ethereal, and there is a slight creaminess that links it clearly to the other two in the collection: Contre Bombarde is ambery-creamy, Voix Humaine is floral-creamy, and Plein Jeu is black peppery-creamy.

By running so close to the sacred church frankincense theme, however, Plein Jeu risks being muddled up in the same category with other, perhaps greater peppery, cold church incense fragrances such as Avignon, Bois d’Encens, and even LAVs.
14th November, 2016

Voix Humaine 8 by Sauf

Voix Humaine 8, inspired by an organ stop called Vox Humana that imitates a human voice, layers a very bare-bones incense accord with a host of creamy, sweet white flowers, chief among them orange blossom.

I don’t care much for the rather skeletal, modern Iso E Super incense accord here, but the chemical taste in my mouth recedes when the sugar, milky floral accords are drip fed into the composition. There’s a very pleasant meringue-like airiness to the florals here, like rice grains puffed up to double their size in hot milk and sugar.

It’s an interesting fragrance because it’s basically a pared-down Buxton or Schoen-type incense exoskeleton layered with a sweet, sugar white floral like By Kilian Love. Ultimately, it turns a little too soapy and clean on me to enjoy fully but I appreciate the attempt to land a white floral incense without immediately calling to mind Chanel No. 22 or Passage d’Enfer.
14th November, 2016

Contre Bombarde 32 by Sauf

Of the SAUF trio, Contre Bombarde 32 is the clear standout and my personal favorite. I see this fragrance as an improvement over LAVS, which although soaring and celestial, was too soapy and cold for my taste. It also had a hollowed-out feel to it that made it slightly depressing to wear.

Contre Bombarde 32, a name that just trips off the tongue, takes the beautiful incense from LAVS and layers it with an immense, sugared amber with burned sugar edges and sweet, dirty old church pew wood, giving it a far more satisfying, chewy texture that fills the mouth.

The opening is quite bitter and green, zinging with unburned, lemony elemi resin, bitter orange, and a brusque, sourish cedar, but quickly it becomes creamy with amber, sugar, and resin-rubbed woods. Think LAVS crossed with Amber Absolute crossed with the unctuous gourmandise of Rosarium by Angela Ciampagna and you can begin to imagine what a toothsome experience this is.
14th November, 2016

Stash by Sarah Jessica Parker

I read somewhere that Sarah Jessica Parker wanted her new perfume to smell like contraband, hence the name Stash. But the first image that jumped to mind when I heard it was the abbreviation of “mustache” and the association has stuck. The mustache association turns out to suit the perfume perfectly – it’s as sexy and androgynous as a pretty girl dressed in drag for the night, fake mustache included.

Stash starts off as dry as a bone, with a bitter, peppery cedar dressed up with a sinus-clearing sage note. There’s a faintly watery-milky green note floating around in there that reminds me somewhat of the green violets in Santal 33 and the minty fig leaf in Santal Massoia, but the green note doesn’t direct any of the focus away from the dry, masculine woods. Add in some frankincense and what emerges is a creature in the same mold as Kyoto by Comme des Garcons – a stripped-down, minimalist cedar-incense with a tinge of something green and resinous.

My feelings about this are mixed. On the one hand, I think that Parker has succeeded in making a fragrance that is as anonymous and androgynous as Santal 33 and Kyoto – perfect for that low-key sexy vibe that Manhattanites go nuts for. It shares that same intimate, but at the same time oddly room-filling woody radiance that makes people wonder if you’re wearing perfume or if it’s just your skin and clothes that smell so good. The sage note, in particular, gives that witchy impression of a good, cleansing smoke-out to drive away djinns.

But the flip side of that premise is that Stash is a perfume that smells better at a distance than up close, on the skin. It’s a more of a scent of an ambiance - a gift to other people in your vicinity – than a pleasure for your own nose. None of the elements here truly work for me – I am unenthused about the bitterish cedar (mostly because in recent years, cedar has come to be synonymous with Iso E Super and Cedramber, even when the real stuff has been used, as here) and the dry sage, vetiver, and pepper make me think of dreary generic masculines.

I will give it this: somewhere in Stash’s development, all the dry, woody elements coalesce into a sweet, creamy finish that reads – at a distance – as sandalwood. Sometimes, days later, I catch a whiff of it on my sweaters and I fall in love with it. So I spray it again and am disgruntled, all over again, by the weak, bitter cedar and watery green notes that I find so bony and unsatisfying. Fast forward a few hours, and I am entranced by the creamy cloud that now surrounds my person. I smell warm, approachable, and ready for a hug.

In the end, I also struggle a bit with how to evaluate Stash fairly. It’s like talking about the smart kid who’s eons ahead of his classmates in Grade 1, but bump him ahead to Grade 3, and he struggles a bit. Stash is clearly head and shoulders above other celebrity perfumes – it is cool, sexy, androgynous, and not at all sugary or dumb. Bumping it up into the niche category, among whose brethren Stash really should be evaluated, and I find that it still holds up pretty nicely against similar stuff like Santal 33, Santal Massoia, Kyoto, and Tam Dao. It doesn’t stand out in that company. But it doesn’t fall too far behind either.

I've been wearing it a lot. It's a perfect little thing for autumn - slip it on, forget all about it, and go kick over some leaves.

Price-wise, Stash is a much better deal than any of those androgynous, woody-incense perfumes in the niche category, and so I recommend it thoroughly to people who are into this type of scent but who want to achieve the same effect with less money. I paid €32 for a 30ml bottle, shipped over to me free from the UK Superdrug. I just found out that you can buy it in Boots, but you pay €45 for 30ml. God, people in the Republic of Ireland get completely shafted on price – better buy direct from the UK, if you can.
14th November, 2016

Au Coeur du Desért by Tauer

Au Coeur du Desert is the extrait version of L’Air du Desert Marocain. But certain nuances have been dialed up and some down, so that while it is recognizable as a twin to the original, it is definitely a fraternal rather than identical twin. Those who love L’Air will love Au Coeur too; but maybe those who found L’Air too demanding to wear may find a version that suits them better in Au Coeur.

The petitgrain in the topnotes has been turned up a pitch and extended far into the heart. This drenches the scent in a bracing, citrusy sourness that momentarily reads as very masculine, petitgrain being a popular feature of fresh, lemony aftershaves. The citrus is so bright and piercing that it throws the other notes into deep shade, making the cedarwood and patchouli seem darker. If L'Air du Desert Marocain was the red-gold of the desert sands and the harsh glare of the sun, then Au Coeur is a melting chocolate brown, the color of the long shadows of a log cabin lit only by the fire.

The spice notes are searingly dry – cumin and coriander seeds dry roasting in a cast iron pan over an open fire. The coriander in particular seems to have a very dirty edge, and teamed with that bright sour petitgrain, there is a brief impression of a lemon rolled in dirt. This sudden maleness, a slight undertone of male funk, was always present in L’Air du Desert Marocain, though. The spicy funk survives in Au Coeur intact.

The tinder-dry, papery Atlas cedar has been strengthened, and there is also more patchouli, but it the dry, clean type of patchouli (possibly even patchouli coeur, an extraction of patchouli that takes the clean, dry part and discards the damp, chocolatey facets). I am also convinced that there is an iris-leather accord hiding in the heart, because there is something of Lonesome Rider’s bright, dusty leather here.

All this creates that familiar feeling of being surrounded by smoking, papery cedar trees. Except whereas L’Air du Desert Marocain puts you outside in the desert with the smell of cedar trees on the hot air, Au Coeur conjures up an inside space: a log cabin with a crackling fire, every piece of furniture made with dry, aromatic cedarwood.

The greater focus on the woods (cedar and patchouli) means that I would call Au Coeur de Desert a dry, aromatic, spicy woods fragrance rather than the dry, aromatic, spicy amber-incense fragrance that is L’Air du Desert Marocain. To my nose, the ambroxan has been turned down a bit in the extrait, so instead of the dry, sweet n' salty crackle of ambergris, the smoky cedarwood and spices simply fade out, getting softer and slightly sweeter with time.

The increased dosage of certain materials – the patchouli, the cedar, possibly iris – has the effect of rendering the texture of Au Coeur denser and slightly moister than its big brother. By no means would I call Au Coeur creamy, but it is certainly less parched.

Of course, this has an effect on the overall feel of the fragrance. Where L’Air du Desert Marocain is airy and scaled to cathedral proportions, Au Coeur has less air between its molecules and is confined to a smaller, cozier head space. It wears more closely to the body and although its longevity is truly stupendous, it speaks with an indoor voice. The same dry heat connects them both, but their expression of that heat is different.

It must have been a helluva thing, creating a flanker to an acknowledged masterpiece of perfumery. It would have to land exactly on that sliver-thin wedge of the wheel between the magic that made the original so great and something new to chew on. I think Au Coeur du Desert more than succeeds. I don’t think it will convert the haters, but it will surely give those of us on the fence a little push. Warmer, plusher, and more intimate in tone, if anything, Au Coeur will bring more women into the fold.
06th November, 2016

03. Apr. 1968 by Rundholz Parfums

I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Rundholz 03.Apr.1968, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me since I also fell hard for al02 by biehl parfumkunstwerke, by the same perfumer, Arturetto Landi. This is obviously a perfumer who likes to balance out bitter resins with mulled wine and stewed fruits. I bet he is the kind of man who would never take his morning espresso without something dolce on the side, an amaretto or a ricciarello perhaps. My kind of man, in other words.

What Landi has done with 03.Apr.1968 is to take the minimalist structure of church incense and flesh it out with a gaudy array of rich, bitter, and tooth-rottingly sweet flavors. It smells like a fat wodge of Christmas cake doused in brandy and set to burn on a priest’s censer alongside a hulking lump of frankincense. Underneath these smoky, soiled-fruit aromas, there is an enticing whiff of heliotrope, a huge purple chunk of marzipan charred at the edges. Smoke fights with burned sugar, and we all win.

The fruit, in particular, is what makes this incense smell unholy, so unclean. It is supposedly lychee, but really it could be any fruit – apples, raisins, dates - because the fruit is so close to collapse that all you can smell are the high-pitched alcohol fumes of decay that belong exclusively to fruit. Joined with a phenomenally dry, dirty frankincense that flits queasily between clove and bay leaf, the fruit is anything but wholesome.

Luca Turin was the first to point out that the appeal of Amouage’s Lyric Woman lay in its “plangent, overripe note, the exhalation of forgotten fruit in a sealed room.” The rotting fruit note achieves a similar effect for 03.Apr.1968, at first coming off as a little stomach-churning, but then working to moisten and plump up the bitter, austere incense.

Many people have compared 03.Apr.1968 to the late, great Norma Kamali Incense, and yes, there is most certainly a kinship. The frankincense used here is similarly dry and almost stale, lacking all the fresh lemony/pine-like nuances usually associated with frankincense. Reacting with the fruit, booze, and sugar, the frankincense takes on the spicy bitterness I associate with copal resin, which along with smoky labdanum is what gives Norma Kamali its unique character.

But in truth, 03.Apr.1968 occupies the same general category of incense as Norma Kamali rather than smelling exactly like it. They are both fatty and overstuffed, the very opposite of the crisply tailored haikus of Comme des Garcons. They are both rather dirty and unwholesome – the type of thing to wear to a bacchanalia rather than to church. But nothing really smells like Norma Kamali Incense. And that’s as it should be. However, for my money, the puffy, burned sugar heliotrope touch makes 03.Apr.1968 makes for an easier wear.

Well, easier, but by no means easy. It’s a huge, potent fragrance that takes commitment to wear, and even then I would only attempt it when the barometer goes below 10 degrees Celsius. Only three notes are listed: frankincense, lychee, and heliotrope, but the overall effect is so rich and multi-dimensional that I wonder if that’s really the notes list or if the perfumer is so skilled that he was able to wrangle a wealth of detail out of these raw materials. Either way, 03.Apr.1968 has jumped straight to the top of the very short list of incense-dominant fragrances that I truly love.
06th November, 2016

Baptême du Feu by Serge Lutens

It’s the final moments before the band appears on stage. I’m right at the front and I can feel the tension in the air as the crowd pulsates restlessly behind me. We’ve all been waiting too long and now it feels like something is about to happen. I taste metal in my mouth. The air crackles with the peppery smell of dry ice. Through it all, I can smell the aftershave of the man next to me and I wonder if he’s wearing Insensé, because it’s sharp but also floral. I don’t know whether I feel threatened or excited.

This is what Baptême du Feu smells like to me.

Technically, my nose tells me it’s a curl of orange peel smoking on a Bunsen burner, overlaid with a dry, grey haze of gunpowder. But the atmosphere the perfume creates is more than the sum of its parts. There’s a dry, throat-catching quality to the pepper and ginger that feels like it might burn your lungs if you inhale too deeply. There is both ash and metal floating in this strange mixture, like the aftermath of an industrial accident.

The gunpowder calls to mind bonfires, fairgrounds, and dark clubs vibrating with sexual promise and danger. It’s a gun or a round of fireworks freshly discharged, and the tense moment right after when people don’t know how to react.

In a way, Bapteme du Feu reminds me a bit of 540 Baccarat Rouge, if only in its strange, sweet-peppery supersonic radiance that is actually very hard to define in words. 540 Baccarat Rouge is supposed to smell like crushed rubies, and successful or not (I say not), it does manage to put across something of that very abstract idea.

Bapteme du Feu is similarly abstract. Whether it succeeds or not depends less on its technical construction and more on the feeling it is able to summon up inside of each individual wearer. It’s a half of a perfume, then, just lying there waiting to be picked up and made into something whole by you supplying the other half of the equation: your imagination. In me, it conjures up a memory of a club or the excitement I felt when standing in the center of a press of bodies, dry ice flowing around me. This vision is half me, half the perfume.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere captured so vividly in the topnotes does not hold together for very long. The fragrance starts to fade out into a very sweet, almost candied note, exposing a standard chemical exoskeleton, the usual base I’d expect from a designer perfume, not a niche one (although I’m getting used to that too).

On the upside, it’s nowhere near the level of Iso E Super or Ambroxan pain I suffer in stuff like Sauvage or even Lutens’ own L’Orpheline. It’s comfortably worked in, whatever it is. I just think that it’s too plain a material – this radiance-giving molecule – to carry a perfume like this all the way.

I’m not sure that Bapteme du Feu is quite the return to form that people were hoping for from Oncle Serge, but it’s as strange and as atmospheric as some of his earlier work such as Mandarin Mandarine and La Myrrhe. Running counter to what many people expect from a Lutens, it has no syrupy, dried-fruit sweetness at all. It is as bone dry as Chene or Gris Clair, with a side of burnt orange peel. Despite the ginger note, there is no relation to 5 O’ Clock Au Gingembre beyond a sharp, citrusy aftershave-like nuance I pick up in both.

I recommend at least a sample to see if your imagination provides the spark that lights this particular tube of gunpowder. I think it’s an interesting, slightly challenging perfume that doesn’t go out of its way to be sweet or playful or even particularly pleasing. And in the face of so many dull and commercially pretty fragrances out there, this makes Bapteme du Feu a Good Thing indeed.
28th October, 2016

L'Attesa by Masque

Luca Turin thinks that L’Attesa, the newest fragrance from Masque, composed by Luca Maffei, is the best iris fragrance on the market today. It allows, he says, the normally ephemeral iris butter to shine without being bullied by other, stronger notes, but doesn’t denature it so totally as to render it pale and bloodless.

For what it's worth, I agree. L’Attesa pulls off a remarkable balancing act. The iris butter is fleetingly rooty at the top, reminiscent of the iris in Iris Silver Mist, but with a buttery, floral aspect that rids the iris of any raw potato alcohol facets that many people (myself included) find so challenging in the Serge Lutens.

It develops into a rounded, slightly powdery, slightly doughy iris note that denotes pure luxury. In terms of purity, I could mention Irisss by Xerjoff, but since L’Attesa lacks the moist carrot/violet nuance of Irisss, I don’t quite think that’s it. Irisss has a cool, creamy sweetness to it; L'Attesa is tart and almost beery.

The beery note would be the “champagne” listed in the notes, which comes off as both sour and strangely inviting, like yeasty gasses emanating from bread dough on its second proving.

It effervesces around the iris, making it as buoyant as a raspberry in a glass of bubbly. The lifting effect of the champagne accord would make me think there could also be aldehydes at work here but for the fact there is no hint of soapiness or anything metallic. Still, that tart, sour lift to the iris butter is amazing. It lends a sort of exuberance to the opening, a sense of excitement that recalls the “pulling the tab on a soda” effect of Iris Poudre, but without that scent’s slightly rough, chemical-woody undertow.

To my nose, though, the bergamot in L’Attesa plays almost as important a role as the iris and the yeast accord. The bergamot oil used here has a glossy, citric bitterness that cuts through the buttery texture of the iris and turns the dial on its color wheel from somber grey to a greenish-yellow. It sets the tone for the entire fragrance; bright, sharp, tart.

It also makes me think of the Chanel irises, notably 31 Rue Cambon, with its icy, bergamot-drenched iris, and No. 18, with its olive-green, Vermouth-like one. Additionally, the No. 18 has a distinct bread-like note, as does L’Attesa. Don’t take this to mean that they smell alike, because they don’t – just that there are parallels here between the classic Chanel treatment of iris and the Masque one.

The base - well, it's hardly the point of the fragrance. L'Attesa fades out in a genteel fashion, simply growing more ghostly as the day goes on. There is a vaguely woody-leathery feel to the bottom of this, but it's ephemeral and hazy, and I'm not really getting the full flavor of the oakmoss and the sandalwood that's listed. But I think that goes back to the dilemma that Luca Turin mentioned in relation to perfumers working with iris, in that it's difficult to choose notes to go with the iris that won't drown out its wispy delicacy. So L'Attesa bows out gracefully, like an actress who knows that two encores are more than enough; it would be greedy to ask for more.

All in all, I think L’Attesa is stunning, and if you’re an iris lover, you won’t want to miss out on it. It features a remarkably pure, buttery iris that leans more towards that luxurious, new-Bugatti leather smell than towards violets, lipstick, root vegetables, or face powder, but it’s also far from an iris soliflore, with a significant presence of bergamot, neroli, and that “champagne” accord. Refined and easy to wear, I think this is far less challenging to wear than my personal favorite from Masque, Romanza, and could be signature scent worthy for the avid iris lover.
28th October, 2016
Advertisement — Reviews continue below

Égoïste / L'Égoïste by Chanel

My husband came to me the other day and told me that he’d seen Burberry Touch for Men for €20 at a local pharmacy and was thinking of getting it. I held my hand up in the universal sign language of “Lemme Stop You There”, remembering the last time he bought perfume on his own (Dior Sauvage, oh the horror, the HORROR), and glumly handed him over a big bottle of Egoiste. “You wear men’s perfumes?” he asked me, confused.

Yes, husband. Yes, I do. When perfumes are as good as Egoiste, women will purloin them and claim them as their own. He doesn’t even know about my Dior Homme Intense habit yet.

Anyway, the great thing about my act of supreme generosity is that Egoiste now lives in our downstairs loo, where it gets splashed on with gay abandon onto the husband, me (whenever I go in there), and my two children upon whom I use it as a body spray. The very act of bringing it out into the light has meant that we are all currently luxuriating in the fabulousity of Egoiste.

Egoiste opens with a tight little nubbin of spice, its mandarin orange oil, cinnamon, rose, and lemon notes swirling together to form an effervescent coca-cola accord that never fails to lift the spirits. Sometimes the rose becomes very big, sometimes I barely notice it, as I think it knits itself into the smooth rosewood and tobacco very cleverly.

The new version is definitely weaker and thinner than how I remember it smelling in the late 1990’s, when I recall it being a big hit with several boyfriends. To my nose, the tobacco has been amped up, and it is the crumbling, dusty sort that can smell a little like earth and dried leaves – similar to the tobacco note in Journey Man.

Thank God, though, that the sandalwood in the drydown is still the rich, sweet, spicy gingerbread sandalwood that I love so much in Bois des Iles and Mona di Orio Vanille. Before I moved from Montenegro to Ireland last summer, I sent all my perfumes on ahead of me (strapped to donkeys, over the Alps), and I found I missed my sandalwoods the most. My Egoiste is therefore a bottle I bought in Montenegro a week before I left, procured solely to give me comfort during that tumultuous time of my life, and I clung to it despite the sweltering 40 degree heat. Of course, reunited with my perfumes back in Ireland, I kind of forgot about Egoiste. Until now.

Longevity is ok – about 4 hours and definitely not as strong or as rich as the older versions. It’s perfect for men AND WOMEN who love big, spicy woods perfumes with a coca cola twang and a creamy drydown. For me, it’s pure cold weather comfort in a bottle.
28th October, 2016

Immortelle de Corse by L'Occitane

I’m a big immortelle fan, to the extent that I grow it in my garden and own decants or samples of pretty much every perfume iteration of the note. To me, it smells in turn of delicious hay, tea, leather, maple syrup, honey, booze, curry, and sometimes dried grass. It is not a simple, one-dimensional smell, so that’s why I think it’s not redundant to own more than one fragrance that features it.

Initially, Immortelle de Corse smells like whiskey mixed with Acacia honey. The rich booziness that rolls off the topnotes remind me somewhat of the Scottish whiskey note in Like This, which also features immortelle, but with less smoke and gingerbread, and more of a simple, liquid honey.

There is a maple syrup-like chewiness to the honey that’s pitched halfway between amber and burned sugar, but the accord never comes off as heavy or sickly. Immortelle can be slightly cloying, but here the potential clinginess of the maple-honey note has been cut with notes of black tea, which introduce air and smoke.

There is also a dry, powdery iris evident in the drydown, which joins with the delicious smell of sun-baked hay and benzoin to make you think of lazy harvest afternoons, smoking on a shady veranda and looking contentedly at all the haystacks you’ve just built. Basically, it’s a cornucopia of harvest smells – wine must, honey, booze, hay, and tea.

Longevity is great – about 6 hours on me, when it fades into a leafy, curried warmth that is pure immortelle. The kind of person I see enjoying this would be a fan of other autumn harvest fumes such as Botrytis, Volutes, and 1270.
28th October, 2016

Opus X by Amouage

Slumbering my way down the line of modern Amouage releases, I tripped over Opus X and was jolted awake. Not rose, I thought, but rhubarb and custard sweets, with a green note so acid that it could strip the enamel from my teeth and the protective lining from my tongue. Amazing – superb! A metallic, oxidized rose that will either slit you or crumble away into dried blood flakes.

The convoluted Amouage back story makes sense this time – a 1681 violin maker loses his wife in childbirth, and sobbing, he rubs her blood into the rosin of the violin he is making so as to allow some part of her to live on forever. The story, told in the 1998 film, “Red Violin,” has the violin passing from generation to generation, causing sorrow wherever it goes.

The perfume contains four rose oils and accords – cabbage rose, a “bloody rose” accord, rosebud, and rose oxide – perhaps representing the different emotions the violin has paid witness to over the years. Most startling is that rose oxide note, which drenches the heart in a noxious, metallic bitterness that smells like heartbreak and spilled blood. The fragrance turns on a geranium axis, its peculiar blue-green rosiness providing a petroleum-on-a-puddle gleam that snaps your head to attention. There is possibly some oud in this, but I can really only smell the metallic rose and green leaves.

And it’s oddly familiar, in a comforting way. It is perhaps the rusty blood and geranium sheen from Rossy de Palma (Etat Libre d'Orange), or the faint rhubarb-and-custard creaminess from Tocade (Rochas) – maybe even a bit of that bitterness of the rose oxide from Dom Rosa (Les Liquides Imaginaires). All these fragrances share an ability to needle you and rub your tongue raw with sharp, metallic accents while beguiling you with a softer, milkier side that makes you forgive it its jarring sharpness. The overall effect is truly very striking.

It’s brave of Amouage (and Christopher Chong) to put out another rose-centric fragrance so close to the orbit of the almighty Lyric Woman. But Opus X is so different from Lyric’s smoky, rubied orientalism that these two roses might pass each other by in a dark alley one night, blissfully unaware that they are of the same species. It’s also amazing to me that Amouage found a new angle on the rose-oud theme, even if I don’t really get the oud component here (no loss, believe me).

Opus X is so unlike what I expect from Amouage, actually, and I suspect that most people would struggle to fit Opus X into their expectations and picture of Amouage. Maybe that’s why Opus X has flown so low under the radar. Well, it’s on mine now.
03rd October, 2016

Bois de Paradis by Delrae

Have you ever built a fragrance up in your head for ages before even smelling it? I do that a lot. The town where I live sells nothing fancier that Beyonce Heat, so I am completely dependent on the Internet.

So, I read. 95% of the pleasure I get from perfume is reading other people writing about it. Words set off a moving train of vivid images in my head, and if a person is a talented writer, they can bring a perfume to life for me in a way that just smelling the damn thing simply will not do.

These images and dreams of a perfume can slosh around my head for years until I actually smell it. Can you imagine the utter joy when the images I’ve filed away in my mental library actually lines up with how the perfume smells? Unfortunately, Parfums DelRae Bois de Paradis doesn’t quite live up to the movie reel in my head.

There is just something a little too insistent, too overwrought about Bois de Paradis. It bowls me over….then sticks in my craw. Each time I put it on, I think of the immortal lines of Hotel California - this could be heaven, or this could be hell.

The problem: In the middle of a pool of rich, luscious florals, fruits, and woods, a strident tone eventually juts out and catches my skin on its jagged edges. It’s like running your hand down a gleaming wooden banister and finding one tiny splinter. It gets in the way of what I signed up for.

What I signed up for: A luscious rose-berry syrup, heavily spiced but suspended in a golden elixir, so delicious I want to drink it. Fresh blackberries and dried currants swimming in some kind of quaint alcohol, like mead or mulled wine and draped in the same golden, autumnal haze that I associate with other rich, honeyed harvest scents such as Botrytis and 1270 by Frapin. This, right here, is my bailiwick. Mah wheelhouse.

The splinter: The syrup boils over and becomes pure resin. The woods funnel into pine sap, with a helping of mint, blackcurrant leaf, and camphor, introducing an “aftershave”-like aftertaste. These notes interfere with a creamy-dry, rosy sandalwood in the base. I want to shove aside the throat-catching resin, pine needles, and mint, and enjoy my sandalwood unfettered. It won’t allow me. (If I wanted pine needles and mint, I would wear Nuit Etoilee).

Despite the odds stacked in its favor at the start, it is not a buy for me. But I am grateful to have been given the chance to try it. DelRae stuff is almost impossible to find in Europe.
03rd October, 2016

Grand Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Grand Soir depresses the hell out of me. Not because it’s a bad perfume (it’s not), but because it’s a Golden Retriever of a perfume and I was hoping for another one of Kurkdijan’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks like Eau Noire or Absolue Pour Le Soir.

But let me be clear. I don’t dislike Grand Soir because it’s not Absolue Pour Le Soir or Eau Noire. I dislike it because not only is it not daring or original along the lines of those perfumes, but it’s not even as pleasant-smelling or cushy as something like Ciel de Gum. It's just doesn't smell great. To my nose, it's yet amber stuffed with potent woody-ambers like Norlimbanol or Timbersilk. And I expect better - far better - from a house such as Maison Francis Kurkdijan.

The rough synth edge on Grand Soir is unpleasant and harsh/burnt to my nose, pulling it surprisingly far away from the plush, velvety “night in Paris” effect that MFK was going for. Admittedly, I may be more sensitive to the presence of synthy woody ambers than most people. But, honestly, it ruins the experience for me entirely.

Apart from the disappointingly, soullessly chemical side taste to Grand Soir, there is a fundamental lack of balance here. Playing to the trend for modern fougeres, there is a bright, resinous lavender in the topnotes that feels natural and refreshingly unsweetened, but once the aromatics melt away, there is nothing left for the nose to play with beyond a waxy, honeyed amber powered with the burnt, chemical smokiness of that woody amber. There’s no counterpointing.

Both Absolute Pour Le Soir and Cologne Pour Le Soir have effective counterparts to the sweetness of the honey and amber; APLS has an almost bitter, smoky depth to it thanks to the incense, and CPLS has a touch of rosy sourness. Grand Soir has only the short-lived aromatic of the lavender, and that synthy woody-amber thing going on; without any other contrasting notes, it develops into a rather flat play-dough amber. Tonka, benzoin, and vanilla add body and sweetness, but with three materials that smell largely like, well, vanilla, there is no counterpointing ballast with which to balance the fragrance.

Ultimately, Grand Soir is as painful for me to wear as Serge Lutens’ L’Orpheline and Amouage’s Opus VI, both of which come off as bare-boned chemical skeletons draped in something smoky and something unctuously sweet.

03rd October, 2016

David Yurman Limited Edition by David Yurman

I’ve had to re-test this fragrance several times, because in the very short time it takes for my mind to wander off, the scent performs such a 180 on my skin that I keep wondering what perfume I actually have on.

The second part is so completely removed from the first that it’s like wearing two different perfumes. If you’re not sniffing your arm like a hawk and focusing intensely, you might miss the transition completely and wonder what the hell just happened to the dark rose fragrance you originally put on. Because what I end up with is a smooth, boot-polish leather that feels texturally very close to Tuscan Leather.

And I know I didn’t start out with Tuscan Leather. David Yurman Limited Edition starts off on a beautifully rose note, roughly hewn and set in a dry smoky haze of oud and spices. It feels slightly green and herbal. That rose is really excellent quality. I can tell that the oud is the standard synthetic variant out of either Firmenich or Givaudan, but the rose smells like a really high quality Taif rose oil. It is bright, sharp, and lemony – almost harsh at first, but then loosening out into something sweeter.

Quite quickly. I lose the moist, fleshy parts of the rose, but what remains of the rose oil are the germanium-green and lemony-sharp facets, leaving their high-pitched, oily traces on all the other notes.



The base – which comes on very fast and surprised me every time – is a dusty vetiver leather with a fruity, boot-polish note lent by the raspberry. The combination comes off as dry and slightly musky and is very close to the way Tuscan Leather smells in its far drydown.

The raspberry note doesn’t smell like a fresh raspberry, but adds this strange, solvent-like tone to the leather. I have noticed this plasticky, boot-polish like effect of the raspberry note in two fragrances thus far: Tuscan Leather and Impossible Iris (Ramon Monegal). It is very appealing, because it adds a modern edge to the musky, sawdusty leather accord.

I like this perfume very much, and I’m given to understand that it’s not that expensive either. It is extrait-strength, so it is long-lasting. Unusually for an extrait, it projects quite powerfully too.

Many quote this as a great rose-oud-leather fragrance for men, and I agree. In fact, it’s a creditable alternative to Portrait of a Lady or Tuscan Leather if you’re on a budget. It might also do the trick for fans of Atelier Cologne’s Oud Sapphir. I’m not saying it rivals their quality, but for the price, it gives you a smoky, oudy rose over leather that lasts all day. For most, that will do the job.

26th September, 2016

Oud Wood by Tom Ford

I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the fact that Oud Wood smells a lot like Dzongkha. Specifically, the oily, rubbery cardamom that adds a green, celery-seed-like note to the composition in both fragrances, setting their character dial at once to the savory (as opposed to sweet).

It’s interesting to me the way the different facets of the fragrance – the green spice of the cardamom, the smooth woods, and the oily/industrial facets – add up to a smell that is recognizably “oudy” without ever really smelling like oud when you smell it up close, on the wrist. Once you draw your head back, the disparate parts seem to coalesce into one amalgamated flow of fresh, green oily oud wood.

It smells wonderful – smooth, integrated wooden parts with a rich fleshiness or milkiness to the base. It smells impersonal, too, like a much-admired building in an award-winning industrial complex. It doesn’t have a soul, so it’s easy to make it one’s own. There is something creepy about it, and yet also mesmerizing, like that video that’s been doing the rounds lately with the papier mache, robot-controlled faces biting and licking at each other.

It strikes me easily as masculine but not in a butch way that would preclude me from wearing it. Actually, I guess it is truly genderless, or rather, sexless – as sexless as a Ken doll. I love its creepy, putty-like texture. It’s almost off-puttingly smooth.

My husband liked this sample. It smells expensive and luxurious, he noted. I should mention that my husband loves pure oud oil, and because I test a lot of it, he is familiar with many different oud profiles and has come to love the fiercely animalic ones.

These are his comments: “I really like this. But that’s not oud. It is very safe-smelling. I would recommend it to people who wear suits. Real oud oil smells crazy, wild. It doesn’t have limits. This fragrance does have limits. I suppose that’s what makes it perfect for the workplace.”
26th September, 2016

Tasmeem by Rasasi

Tasmeem Man doesn’t start out too promisingly, with a sweet, powdery floral musk that feels utterly generic and faceless. But I know that some Arabian cheapies (both oils and EDPs) need some time to settle before revealing their true character, and this was the case with Tasmeem Man.

Eventually the scent smoothes out into a sweet, powdery tonka-based scent, with a trace of rose and vanilla. I thought I also picked up a bit of cumin, which my husband confirmed when smelling it blind.

I quite liked Tasmeem Man, and it is excellent value. Tonka is a trendy note in modern masculine designer scents, so it reminded me quite a bit of other men’s fragrances, in particular, the tonka-heavy Midnight in Paris. However, there is something pretty cheap and generic about it that puts me off. It is partially the source material – there is often something a little cheap-smelling about the almond aspect of tonka and/or coumarin, to my nose at least. I also find it excessively sweet and powdery (with a hint of sweaty armpit lurking beneath).
26th September, 2016

Tabac Rouge / Turkish Blend by Phaedon

Many people prefer Tabac Rouge over Tobacco Vanille because it is much lighter, has ginger instead of clove, and more honey than heavy vanilla. Oh, and the price, of course – although not massively cheap, Tabac Rouge costs far less than Tobacco Vanille.

I agree that Tabac Rouge smells like Tobacco Vanille. But as with Meharees (Musc Ravageur clone) and Dolcelixir (Ambre Narguile clone) and yes, even Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (SDV clone), the resemblance is skin-deep really, based on a superficial reading of the notes. The biggest difference between these clones and their source material is texture and weight. And a whole world of difference can be found in the small detail of texture and weight.

Tabac Rouge catches all the notes of Tobacco Vanille, but in a kind of “skim-reading” type of way. The difference is, like I said, in the small matter of texture and weight. Tabac Rouge has the texture of hot, clear tea. A sparkling ginger note is an improvement over the (frankly) awful, metallic clove note in TV, but that contributes further to the feeling of spicy, lively winter tisane rather than the thick duvet feeling I get from TV. It is as sweet as TV, but derives its sweetness from honey rather than from dried fruit. (Honey is yet another element that makes me think of tea).

I think that it smells great, though, and I would certainly buy this. It would suit warmer weather than Tobacco Vanille, due to its relative sheerness, and for this reason alone, it is by far the more versatile fragrance of the two.
26th September, 2016

Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford

Tobacco Vanille is luxuriously, ludicrously rich and heavy – it smells like you are wearing an overstuffed armchair, upholstered with the most expensive materials known to man. It is famously sweet, but its sweetness derives from delicious dried fruits, prunes, and bitter chocolate, all aspects of the rich tobacco absolute used.

People complain about the vanilla, saying that it smells like a holiday candle. Hey! Point me in the direction of a candle that smells as good as Tobacco Vanille and I will buy the shit out of that. Until that happens, shut up. Tobacco Vanille is a thick scent for days when it is so cold you want to never leave the house. There is no better smell to catch for days and days on the label of your heaviest winter coat. I wear it once every 365 days, which is more than enough for one person.
26th September, 2016

New Haarlem by Bond No. 9

New Haarlem is probably one of Bond No. 9’s most iconic fragrances, along with Chinatown (on the female side). It’s a grotesque, “extreme” gourmand that pushes the envelope with a set of roasted, burned, and syrupy notes that walk the line between cloying/intense and appetizing/comforting.

I like extreme gourmands a lot – they are impolite and they don’t pussyfoot around with the idea of food as fragrance. They don’t make any apologies. Done right, they are both satisfying and cartoonishly awful in equal measure. In this category, I place Jeux de Peau, Cadavre Exquise, A*Men, and yep – New Haarlem.

To my nose, New Haarlem smells like roasted black coffee beans over a soapy, aromatic lavender cologne. The lavender here has the same sun-roasted, “garrigue” effect I notice in Eau Noire, that intensely woody, aromatic aroma of crushed lavender buds which is what creates the roasted coffee impression.

It is certainly a very dark and woody coffee smell - very attractive and distinctive. I can’t think of anything else that smells as close to real coffee as this does. I pick up on a creamy vanilla sweetness later on, but I can’t say that I perceive any syrupy notes at all. And I certainly don’t pick up the famous pancake accord.

To my nose, this is all coffee, intensely black and roasted at first, then smoothing out into sweet, milky coffee in the drydown, draped over a soapy, aromatic barbershop fougere. It strikes me as incredibly masculine. I like it very much, but find it too butch for me to pull off comfortably.

My husband, on the other hand, had a completely different experience. That is to say, it smelled the same on his skin as it did on mine, but his understanding of New Haarlem jives far more closely with the majority opinion of the scent on Basenotes and elsewhere. Without telling him what the fragrance notes were, I sprayed it on him and asked him to tell me what it smelled like. This is what he said:

“Nuts, specifically pecans, and that Danish pastry you like with the pecans. There is a lot of syrup here. Yes, it smells exactly like the bakery where I get the croissants and pecan Danish for you guys at the weekend. It is like wearing a pastry. This is far too sweet. I could maybe like this if I were feeling hungry and wanted to smell something a little sweet. But I wouldn’t wear this, really. It’s way too sweet.”



26th September, 2016

Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain

SDV is a nice, slightly boozy vanilla perfume that has a luxurious, golden sparkle to it. I used to own a full bottle of it, until I realized that it bored the living daylights out of me every time I wore it, so I sold it. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s beautifully done. But it is simply not interesting, or dark, or boozy enough to hold my attention.

The opening of SDV is pretty arresting – a sugary, sparkling rum brought into being by the meeting of pink pepper, vanilla, and woods. But then there is a long period of time when the sourish, pickled tones of the cedar predominate on my skin, and I don’t enjoy that. In its final stages, a warm golden vanilla-custard glow is set free about my person and I admit that it smells wonderful. But so does Shalimar. And I am not crazy enough about straight-up vanilla to spend $300 on what turns out to be the vanilla component of a more evolved (and cheaper) fragrance.


Recognizing the limits of my need, I sold my bottle of SDV and have contented myself ever since with two types of vanilla fragrances – first, the type you buy in vats and hose yourself down in (until dripping wet) before you go to bed, or for layering purposes (these include Molinard Vanille and Cologne des Missions), and second, the type of vanilla fragrances that do something more interesting with vanilla.

In the latter category, I love Eau Duelle for its fresh black tea and frankincense angle, Vanille Tonka for its lime and carnation smokiness, Mona di Orio Vanille for a dark, woody vanilla sodden with booze, and occasionally, Bois de Vanille, which is mostly licorice allsorts on me. Oh, and Shalimar. But Shalimar is more than just vanilla.
26th September, 2016

Perry Ellis Oud : Black Vanilla Absolute by Perry Ellis

Does it smell like SDV? Sort of. But only in the way that Gisele’s sisters look like Gisele – i.e., there’s a family resemblance but one is reminded instantly of how one minute variation in jaw length or height of cheekbones makes all the difference between “attractive” and “drop-dead, mouth-watering, hubba-hubba, Girl from Ipanema beauteousness”. I apologize if that sounds callow. But does it help if I explain that, to me at least, the beauty of SDV, like that of Gisele, is overrated?

For all its strengths and weaknesses, Perry Ellis Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is a credible approximation of what is to (to me) a pretty nice but unremarkable fragrance. Thus, it follows that Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is nice but unremarkable.

The opening note is one of pure alcohol. When it settles, a nice, plain vanilla note with a soft booziness comes into view. It is difficult for me to pick up anything more complex than that, because it is very soft and low key, with little to no projection. It does, however, lack the dynamic sparkle of SDV’s opening, and the vanilla here comes across more as a sort of plain vanilla fudge texture. In fact, the vanilla in Oud Black Vanilla Absolute strikes me as being the same type as in Havana Vanille or Vanille Absoluement, whatever it’s called these days. A sort of undifferentiated blob of vanilla bread pudding.

10 minutes in, and a dusty, medicinal “oud” note appears. The oud note is a bit harsh and abrasive, and reads to my nose more like a woody ambery aromachemical than synthetic oud. Even Montale’s oud note, which although rubbery and sour, is still recognized by the nose as an oudy “type” of smell. The oud note here smells burned and chemically woody. It smells like something out of the base of Sauvage, except nowhere near as brutal. If this note is what people are picking up on as “dark” and “smoky”, then I feel sorry for you. You need to try a better class of perfume.

This perfume lacks the density and heft I want in a straight-up vanilla. To be fair, so does SDV. (Tihota is by far and away the best straight-up vanilla on the market, but you have to really love vanilla to spend $$$ on 50mls of it).

Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is ultimately a very flat, plain vanilla fudge perfume with a male designer perfume base that smells a bit generic and hollow. The woody ambery aromachemical they are calling oud is nowhere near the quality of even the standard Montale oud note, and to me reads as a bit abrasive.

Thank God for small mercies, though – this is not one of those overly potent Norlimbanol bombs that seem to plague the male fragrance market these days. It is, on the contrary, very, very quiet, lying flatly on the skin and refusing to project more than 1cm off the skin. Weak sauce.

26th September, 2016

Aventus by Creed

I was curious about Aventus because I wondered if it was possible to evaluate the fragrance without pre-scorn or bias, and if indeed I liked it, would I be able to say so? Alternately, if I disliked it or was lukewarm, could I say that too without having to tone down my words?

I dislike Aventus on principle – the hype, the crude jokes, etc. But the fragrance itself is pretty nice.

The opening is immediately appealing – a fresh, fruity note identifiable as pineapple but not tropical in any way. I am able to identify the style as the Creed house style, which comes across as watery, green, fresh, and sparkling in a slightly metallic but pleasant way. I think that many of the Creed Royal Exclusives such as Aventus and Spice and Wood play with the trope of fresh fruit (apple, pineapple) joined to a light, clean cedary base. It is crisp, aqueous, and pleasant to wear.

The base is smoky in a lightly-charred-woods kind of way, owing to a restrained hand with birch tar and cedar or oak wood. It smells slightly synthetic, but in a way that seems deliberate and therefore forms part of the fragrance’s charm, as in CdG Black.

As it dries down even further, it becomes sharper and more generic, with a “male aftershave”-y character. I could see my brothers wearing this. It’s clean and inoffensively masculine, so I can see why this would be a popular, safe choice for the office.

Pineapple over birch tar – it doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, Aventus manages to come across as more than a sum of its parts. Like Narciso Rodriguez for Her EDT or L’Instant, the fragrance might seem nothing special when you pick it apart or smell it on a paper strip. But when you spray it and wear it over the course of a day, it forms a sort of force field of attractiveness around you that cannot be explained away by the notes. You smell great and other people think you smell great too.

It's pretty soulless and generic-smelling. But it does its job of making a man seem clean, fresh, and ready to mate with.

26th September, 2016

No. 5 L'Eau by Chanel

I’ve been wondering what the difference between Eau Premiere and the new L’Eau might be – after all, Eau Premiere was launched to do exactly the same job as L’Eau, which was to update Chanel No. 5 for a younger generation. I thought that Eau Premiere had cornered that task with aplomb – it is a sparkling floral lemonade to No. 5’s heavy satin. I absolutely love Eau Premiere. Like many other women of a similar age, it is MY Chanel No. 5. So how is L’Eau different?

In a way, it’s even younger and more sparkly than Eau Premiere. Perhaps Chanel is moving past me and down the line towards 16-year-olds? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to imagine that Eau Premiere has anything to repulse a very young woman.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but L’Eau does go one step further than Eau Premiere to cast off the onerous mantle of its grandmother, No. 5. The aldehydes, although already toned down greatly in Eau Premiere, have been almost completely done away with here, leaving the bright lemon and mandarin to provide enough lift and sparkle to carry the opening.

It is a beautiful, joyful opening – clean, scintillating, with the fresh twang of freshly peeled citrus fruits. It has the same washed-and-scrubbed radiance to it as Eau Premiere (thanks to hedione, an aromachemical that gives the jasmine in scents such as Eau Suavage, Chypre 21, and Eau Premiere its green, radiant, ozonic lift). And it is not weighed down by the creamy soap of the original. Even Eau Premiere has a tiny bit of soapy sparkle from its small portion of aldehydes.

The rest of L’Eau feels similar to Eau Premiere – it has the same creamy, abstract swirl of iris, rose, jasmine, and ylang – but being a cologne rather than a perfume, it whips past its floral heart rather quickly and doesn’t linger there.

The florals feel as bright and as synthetically “plastic” as in Eau Premiere and the original No. 5, but that has always been part of No. 5’s appeal to the modern girl, who wants to perhaps smell more of an expensive French perfume than of a rose in a vase. We want to attract more than bees, after all.

The base is a bit problematic for me, being mostly a white musk that lends a clean, diffuse texture. It’s not bad quality, or anything like that – this is not a cheap laundry musk. But its bland muskiness seems to swallow up the brightness of the citrus and the twang of the florals, meaning sometimes I can smell nothing at all past 45 minutes and sometimes I can smell vague traces of it in the morning after applying at night. In general, I’d venture a guess that the longevity of L’Eau might depend on individual sensitivity to white musk.

Still, very nice work by Chanel on this one. I feel certain that I will pick up a bottle of this next summer, and use it in much the same way that I use Eau Premiere, i.e., as a replacement for a summery eau de cologne (I much prefer a proper perfume over an eau de cologne any day, no matter how hot it is).

No. 5 L’Eau is a wonderful update on the Chanel No. 5 model. It retains the classical beauty of a Greek statue, yet is beautifully bright, radiant, fruity and crisp – a sort of pencil sketch of the real thing that still manages to satisfy all the pleasure-firing synapses in the brain.
26th September, 2016

L'Envol by Cartier

I am still not sure if L’Envol is just plain great or if it stands out simply because it’s swimming in a sea of male designer dreck. Mostly I think I am just relieved that a designer is finally giving men a fragrance that has obviously very high quality raw materials, and has a coherent beginning, middle, and end.

Also, it is joyfully clean of the harsh woody-ambery aromachemicals that get hurriedly stuffed into male designer perfumes these days to boost its power and projection. Give me natural-smelling and quiet over screaming power top any day. Please.

Of course, this was done by Mathilde Laurent, who has authored all the perfumes in the beautiful, uber-pricey and exclusive Les Heures collection for Cartier. So we should assume that a designer fragrance would contain some of her hallmarks, such as rendering a striking idea in a classical, easy-to-catch manner but not strictly commercial per se.

L’Envol does contain these hallmarks. It is quite smooth, blond, and easy to wear, but features a bite in its tail that surprised me and struck me as gutsy for a commercial male designer. Putting aside all the talk of honey and powdery patchouli (of which there is a lot, in a subtle, sheer way), what really struck me about L’Envol was the strong violet leaf presence it has.

It is not obvious straight away, but in the base there is a HUGE violet leaf note, which joined to the slightly musky tobacco-like feel of the patchouli, made me think of both Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley and “1000” by Patou. By association, therefore, there is a slight Fahrenheit vibe to L’Envol – not really similar but inexorably linked through that sharp, green “petrol”-like violet leaf note.

The base notes really stick out for me here because in comparison to the relatively light and airy topnotes and middle notes, it is quite heavy – thick, earthy, tobacco-like, with that slightly pungent violet leaf exerting its pleasantly bitter presence.

Moving backwards from the base upwards, the general tone is one of gentle, powdered translucence. The honey note is cleverly layered with a silvery iris for space and air, and thus doesn’t read as heavy, boozy or animalic. At the top, I thought I smelled a very good quality bergamot oil, because it opened on a bitterness I associate with citrus. However, bergamot is not listed, so I must assume that the bracing, bitter freshness comes from the violet leaf or some unlisted fruit note.

In the middle, the (clean) patchouli and the honey formed a pleasant sort of ‘honey tea’ note - a translucent chamomile tea with a spoonful of honey. It is very subtle, refined, slightly powdery, and not too sweet.

The power of the scent really belongs to that base, though. Does nobody else smell the violet leaf and tobacco-ish tone to this at all? It might be just me, but I sense a massive violet leaf presence here. Anyway, I think L’Envol is a fabulous male designer release and worth checking out for fans of violet leaf in perfumery, such as Cuir Pleine Fleur and “1000”.

26th September, 2016

Angel Muse by Thierry Mugler

Honestly, I think I’m in love. A softer and more wearable version of Angel, Muse manages to drown out the high-octane Maltol shriek of its predecessor with a velvety blanket of hazelnut cream.

Edible? Yes – it smells like gianduja, that silky marriage of ground hazelnuts and chocolate they make in Turin. There is also a berryish undertone in the first few minutes, as well as a hint of citrus (chocolate orange anyone?). But it’s not trashy. The edible component doesn’t make me think of fairground food like candy floss and red berry Kool Aid. With the teeth-gnashing sweetness of the sugar molecules tamped down and an addition of nutty, grassy vetiver, it smells less like food that the original Angel.

Well, ok, it does still smell of food. But there is something perfumey and inedible in there that brings it back from the edge, like a posh truffle mashed underfoot into the warm, sweet grass of a polo pitch.

I have often noticed that vetiver can smell like ground hazelnuts, most particularly in Vetiver Tonka, Sycomore, and even Onda. It adds a savory, mealy element that feels warming, adding a special thickness and body to a composition. That effect is noticeable here, and matched to the soft chocolate of the patchouli, the inevitable result is that of a creamy, nutty chocolate truffle (gianduja). Unlike the original Angel, Muse holds on to the briny element of vetiver, which makes it seem more nutty/savory than sugary.

It is still recognizably Angel. More so in its overall feel than precise arrangement of notes, but it definitely retains that sweet, room-filling bombast for which Angel is famous. But whereas I can’t bear Angel, I could see myself wearing this version on a regular basis. The sour harshness of the patchouli and the screechy Maltol of the original have been sanded away, and replaced with creamy, nutty, chocolatey softness. And that suits me.

It’s got va-va-voom sillage and presence, but on balance, it’s probably a little quieter than the original. It’s still more sillage than I’m used to, though – I’m beginning to realize that Thierry Mugler perfumes are just built on a bigger scale than most other designers and even niche. They are the pointy Madonna bras of the perfume world.

Whenever I’ve sampled this perfume, people have noticed. I can’t go anywhere without my husband, my mother, the crèche workers, the supermarket ladies, and so on, all commenting on how good I smell. I am unused to people commenting on my perfume or taking much notice of me. But I could get used to it! Sexy, warm, and edible….Angel Muse is a success in my book.

26th September, 2016