Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

Total Reviews: 432

Cadjméré 18 by Parfumerie Generale

This year, we spent our summer holidays in Copenhagen. And apart from serious wardrobe envy that had me fighting the urge to tackle every Danish woman to the ground and steal her clothes (and bicycle), I also discovered the Danish art of hygge.

Pronounced “heuuurgah”, as if trying to dislodge a hairball from one's throat, hygge translates loosely to “coziness,” a concept that the Danes take very seriously indeed. This involves snuggling under cashmere blankets, lighting candles, drinking hot chocolate around a blazing fire, lounging around on sheepskin rugs, and, well, resting your face against the furry belly of a sleeping kitten. Basically, anything that gives you comfort and ease. The best explanation I found was in an article that defined it as “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.”

Well, hell, sign me up! I'm in serious need of a hygge.

As it turns out, hygge (for me) turns out to be walking with my family in a nearby pine forest called The Raven, a nature reserve that backs onto Curracloe beach. Used for the D-Day landing scenes at the start of Saving Private Ryan and more recently, Brooklyn, this beach and its adjoining forest is the kind of place you go when you need to filter out all the "annoying or emotionally overwhelming" things in your life. So, last Sunday when I went there, I decided to "up the hygge" and go with a fragrance that is all about cozy, lived-in comfort.

I chose Cadjmere. Cadjmere is a perfect embodiment of hygge. Two words: creamy pine! Actually, it calls to mind that brilliant phrase coined by the ladies over at Now Smell This, namely “wood pudding”, which is basically any scent that captures the same feeling of comfort you get when you slip into your pajamas at the end of a long day.

While Cadjmere definitely qualifies as sweet and creamy, what comes through for me in the first half is mainly green, aromatic woods with only a faint undertone of milkiness. The cypress and rosewood notes are incredibly natural and bright-smelling, and I’m reminded once again that Pierre Guillaume is the master of all things woods-related.

It opens with a combination of aromatic cypress wood, rosewood, and mandarin orange that smells briefly like orange-scented milk chocolate before smoothing out into a milky pine-like smell. It evokes the feeling of being in deep forest, the aroma of raw wood bleeding milky sap into the air, and crushed pine needles underfoot.

After a while, Cadjmere loses its bright, spiky greenness and becomes fuzzier, as if someone reached into a picture and smudged out all the hard lines with their thumb. Finally, in the base, a sweet, musky sandalwood expands to fill the air pockets left by the sharp, aromatic woods, becoming ever sweeter and creamier with the addition of vanilla.

There is something very evocative, very eighties about the sandalwood accord here, reminding me of the trail of heavy, coconutty sandalwood perfumes on the sweaters of friends as we prepared to go out to a disco. I don’t know whether it’s a memory of a specific perfume or simply a collection of different smell memories - hairspray, cheap perfume, lipstick, teenage girl musk, lava lamps, and so on. But I kind of like it, although I can see why some might find it too sweet and perfumey.

Cadjmere might not be as arresting or as dramatic as Coze, as sensual as L’Ombre Fauve, or as tasty as Aomassai, but it lands right in the hygge-seeking part of my soul and sticks. I might not love it forever, but it’s just what I need right now, as I pull on my hiking boots to take the kids out blackberry-picking in The Raven. It's a cashmere sweater between washes, a light female musk and three-day old sandalwood perfume clinging to its fibers, wafting up to greet you like an old friend. Totally hygge, I'm telling you.
18th September, 2016

Galop d'Hermès by Hermès

I was recently lucky enough to snag a sample of the new Galop d’Hermes in an Hermes boutique in Copenhagen. Well, I say lucky, but what I really mean is that I stomped my little feet until I got one, because I was buying a whole bottle of Osmanthe Yunnan at full retail so you better believe I wasn’t leaving without some loot. I got a chance to fondle the bottle too. I’m not sure what the string is for (hanging it up with your gym wash bag maybe?), but it’s Hermes and it’s shaped like a stirrup, so who am I to quibble.

Galop d’Hermes opens bright and mouth-puckeringly tart, a saffraleine leather glossed to a high shine with rose and cassis. It’s hard not to swoon, to be honest, because the immediately appetizing mixture of velvety rose petals, saffron, and orange swells to fill the nose and make your mouth water. Syrupy and rich, the opening is almost gourmand to my nose, but then a wave of urinous blackcurrant crests and washes over the composition, adding a welcome astringency.

Don’t be too alarmed by my use of the word “urinous” here – both cassis and grapefruit share a compound that is also present in urine, but if you don’t perceive any “cat pee” note in fragrances such as Aqua Allergoria Pamplelune, then you should be fine with this. I think that this is the only element in Galop that might be considered shocking or animalic, the way the perfume makes that blackcurrant note teeter between pee and unripe fruit. To my nose, rhubarb has a similar effect.

Likewise, despite equestrian-based marketing, there is really nothing horsey or animalic about the leather note, which is the smooth, vegetal leather used in other Hermes fragrances such as Kelly Caleche.

But the texture here is less angular. The sleekness of leather fuzzes up even more as times goes on, gaining a dusky wooliness that really works against the tart cassis.

What surprises me is that the lush, velvety rose I smelled in the opening disappears quite quickly, morphing into a rose-tinted baked apple – a quince basically. I bake with quinces, and the scent matches the taste: a rosy, perfumey apple with a mealy texture. When a slice or two is slipped into an ordinary apple tart, they turn a fabulous shade of blush pink.

Longevity is pretty good – I get about 6-8 hours. Projection is quiet, though, which is hardly surprising, given it’s an extrait. I can see this working for posh girls and boys who know their way around a tack room or two. It’s as refined as the JC Ellena scents for Hermes but has just enough of that Christine Nagel richness of touch to push more towards glamorous equestrian ball territory than sheer daytime wear.
14th September, 2016

Ombré Leather 16 by Tom Ford

There is a sleek, potent, almost sexualized glamour to everything Tom Ford puts his hand to. His clothes, perfume, makeup, and even his movie sets all relate perfectly to each other, united by an unchanging dedication to a particular aesthetic that embodies his personal taste. It’s true American luxe – slightly pushy, monochrome stuff that convinces on the richness of the materials alone.

His Ombre Leather 16 is no exception. This is American Haute Luxe at its finest, a rich but dry leather with a smooth ombré effect not unlike the brown-on-brown tones of the set of his movie, A Single Man, where the tonal shifts between mahogany and chocolate and sepia are barely perceptible to the naked eye but still manage to convey the happy meeting of taste and wealth. The fragrance is also, like the movie, ever so slightly soulless.

The leather note is similar to that of Tuscan Leather but here is given a darker, drier treatment – there is no raspberry sweetness and the musky, sueded finish of Tuscan Leather has been swapped out for a very streamlined, almost buttery texture. It slides as seamlessly onto the skin as a handmade shoe slides onto a foot.

Opening on a potent blast of leather, it momentarily skates close to chemical/tanning pungency but thankfully banks back in time. It develops into a rich, sturdy leather that speaks of fantastic wealth, like the interior of a Jaguar or the mingling aromas in a bespoke leather shop on Saville Row. For this reason, I find Ombre Leather 16 to be far more refined and more formal than Tuscan Leather, which seems outdoorsy and rugged in comparison.

Ombre Leather 16 also seems to deftly sidestep all the common faults people pick with leather scents – there is no powder, no excessive floralcy, and crucially for a lot of men out there, it does not in any way resemble the lipsticky, dusty insides of a lady’s handbag. But neither is this a big, butch leather a la Peau d’Espagne or Rien. It is a masculine, stern, be-suited thing, to be sure, but this is a leather that stays firmly in the boardroom and well away from both fuel-soaked garage and prairie.

All the other listed notes (patchouli, violet leaf, jasmine, white moss, cardamom) are there to pull together towards creating that sumptuous but dry leather accord, and are not incredibly distinct in and of themselves. Towards the start, I can pick out a slightly fresh, watery herbal accent, which I assume is the violet leaf, but the effect is more of a dark, smooth leather that’s been rubbed with something green to put a high shine on it than a note that sings strongly on its own.

Certainly, I can smell a clean, saline moss in the far dry down and shadowy patchouli, but they blend so completely with the leather accord that I see them for what they really are: overlapping building blocks used to create that ombré effect . I thought I picked up on an ambery resin there in the background, which might account for the slight uptick in sweetness in the base of an otherwise dry (unsweet) fragrance, but none is listed.

Longevity is phenomenal – easily 12-18 hours, and projection is pretty good too. It’s a little quieter overall than Tuscan Leather, which makes sense as the character of Ombre Leather 16 is dark, dry, and refined “luxe” as opposed to the more outgoing and cheerful Tuscan Leather.

Let’s just put it this way, – when worn side by side, Ombre Leather 16 is wearing a Saville Row suit while Tuscan Leather is wearing dock shoes and lederhosen. There’s a time and a place for both, but while I appreciate Tuscan Leather, I think Ombre Leather 16 is far better. It’s the 2.0 version.
09th September, 2016
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Cologne du 68 by Guerlain

Very few people talk about Cologne du 68, and I think I know why. For one, it’s not as widely distributed as the other “summer” Guerlains like the Eau de Cologne series, and when it was first launched, it was sold in large jugs of 480mls, then in 250ml flagons, and finally in a limited series run of 100ml bottles – all of them overpriced for an eau de cologne concentration. The sales assistants also clearly didn’t know how to sell this to customers – I don’t blame them – and there were reports of SAs telling customers to buy now “because when it’s gone, it’s really gone.”

Funnily enough, almost a decade later, Cologne du 68 is still around. Now sold only in the 100ml bottles, it costs a more reasonable €60-€80 a bottle, compared to the €150+ it was selling for eight years ago. And it has very little to do with the almost identically named Le Parfum du 68, which was released in 2013 (sometimes I think that the Guerlain SA’s go home at night, put their kids to bed, and, gnashing their teeth, open to page 507 of the Guerlain manual in an attempt to keep things straight in their heads).

But also, part of the reason people don’t talk about Cologne du 68 that much is because it is so difficult to classify. It’s an eau de cologne, but is far more complex than the simple stuff like the 4711 you keep in your fridge to cool down with. With 68 different notes vying for your attention, the best anyone can do is point to the few notes they do pick up, and of course, this means that some people perceive it as mostly vanilla, and others as crisp and herbal. Overall note impressions and the “feel” of a perfume, as conveyed by others, is a very useful barometer for how you think a fragrance will smell. But in this case, it’s pretty useless because we are all picking up something different.

So, trust me when I say that, although I can’t describe it precisely, Cologne du 68 is really gorgeous and everyone should give it a try. I see it as the traditional Guerlain triad of aromatics (herbs, citrus), vanilla, and resins/gums – the Guerlinade, in short – exploded and decorated upon until you have these different layers floating off and then colliding together again, as if anchored at the ankle by a central axis of Guerlain DNA.

The first layer is a fantastic collection of green, juicy citrus notes such as bergamot, mandarin, orange, clementines, and petigrain, interspersed with a very stemmy, green note, like crushed basil leaves mixed with violet leaf. It is bright, but not sour or dry. Then the flavor I pick out most strongly is from the aromatics group, when a wistful “blue” waft of lavender and anise moves in. In fact, insofar as I could use a word, any word, to pinpoint what direction Cologne du 68 travels in, I would use the word “anisic”.

But it’s worth noting that these layers are not experienced consecutively, the way I am describing them – rather, they occur in waves that overlap and merge with each other. So, when I am filling my lungs with the juicy, green, superbly tart opening, already my nose is aware of a creamy floral vanilla swishing in and around the citrus and aromatics. I can pick up a smooth, buttery magnolia, with its hint of cream and citrus, as well as sweet pink roses and a fluffy, almond-like heliotrope, all submerged in that Guerlain vanilla. I can see why people think it’s a lot like the L’Instant series previously released by Guerlain – it features that bright citrus/aromatic topnote and lavender heart of L’Instant Pour Homme, and that vanilla-sodden magnolia of L’Instant for Women. (Cologne du 68 is more complex, though).

Further on into the wear, and the Guerlain gums and resins poke up through the creamy floralcy and herbal “blue” tint, most strongly the sticky, vanillic, somewhat cinnamon-dusted resinoid of benzoin, which gives the vanilla a dry, dusty feel. Myrrh is also present, adding to the anisic feel of the blend. It is softly smoky, but also, I have to say, quite incredibly sweet.

There is a praline-like effect here that reminds me very much of both Myrrhe Ardente by Annick Goutal (which is, however, far sticker and denser than Cologne du 68) and Shalimar Parfum Initial, where there is a syrupy, densely sweet praline note to sweeten the iris and patchouli. In Cologne du 68, the praline note reacts with the dusty benzoin and vanilla to produce a similarly throat-catching, overly sweet-sharp effect. Whatever it is that causes this effect, it makes Cologne du 68 kind of hard work to wear and enjoy in the drydown – at least for me. Each time I wear it, the drydown brings to mind a clump of hard, golden benzoin and myrrh resins crystallizing on my skin.

But the first half of Cologne du 68 is a pure delight. It is complicated, yes, perhaps overly so – and has definitely been badly marketed by Guerlain, but anyone who isn’t particularly interested in the traditional summer eau de cologne format should put this on their sample list. It’s one of those perfumes, like 34 Boulevard St. Germain, that people always say are too complex for their own good, but actually turn out to be such pleasant things to wear that you find them creeping up into your everyday rotation despite your own (critical) misgivings.
01st September, 2016

Boy Chanel by Chanel

Boy Chanel is a pleasant surprise. I had successfully ignored all information about it because I’m not very interested in the fougere theme beyond my beloved Jicky and because I haven’t been too impressed by the newer releases in Les Exclusifs line, such as 1932 or Jersey.

But faced with the bathtub-sized bottle of it at Dublin airport the other day, I decided to give myself a good dousing – five sprays to each arm, and five more to the neck and chest area. I don’t mind being unbearable to my fellow travelers – I’m already travelling with two pretty awful mini humans so I figure it can’t get much worse. But actually, it turns out that Boy Chanel never really builds to any great density when over sprayed, and even if it did, I can think of far worse aromas to be broadcasting in a closed cabin 30,000 ft in the air.

Texture-wise, Boy Chanel is like watercolor on silk – a series of muted aromatics and flowers laid delicately one on top of another, their transparency rigorously maintained. The lavender is a single, lilac-tinted theme running through the composition but there are also hints of fluffy heliotrope and palidly rosy geranium.

Immediately, the connections to other fougeres strike me. Boy Chanel is Pour Un Homme (Caron) embellished with florals and done on a better budget; it is also Jicky (Guerlain) filtered through a sieve to remove the civet, and that rough, vomitous clash of bergamot and cream. Later on, in its tonka or coumarin phase, Boy Chanel is even a faded outline of Fourreau Noir, like a photocopy done when the ink was running low. If the Lutens is a dense lavender doughnut, then Boy Chanel is a high-end gelato delicately aromatized with dried lavender.

I don’t think that Boy Chanel is really a fougere, though. After all, a fougere should technically have moss, coumarin, and lavender for it to qualify, and there is no moss to be found here. Then again, there is no moss in Jicky either. Maybe it’s the dark, dirty feel to Jicky that qualifies it as a fougere? I don’t have the answer. Anyway, Boy Chanel is bright and sunny, not dark, bitter, or mossy – there are no forest ferns here.

What Boy Chanel does have in spades is the creamy, sweet, and somewhat boozy almond undertone I associate with tonka bean. Coumarin is listed, not tonka bean, but I get all of the spicy-sweet, vanillic tones of the tonka bean and none of the dry, aromatic, grassy aroma of coumarin. In fact, Boy Chanel is quite tonka-ish in general, leading me to wonder if Chanel is trying to appeal to the common denominator of modern male consumer, that is, a preference for sweet tonka bases over the bitter, mossy bases that used to be in style? I am thinking here of how popular fragrances such as Feve Delicieuse (Dior), Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme (Chanel), and Midnight in Paris (Van Cleef & Arpels) and so on.

As it hits the base (which it does in a very short period of time, by the way), Boy Chanel gets even sweeter and creamier with the addition of a powdery sandalwood, vanilla, and more delectable almond-like chewiness in the form of heliotrope. I am surprised at how sweet it is, actually. For a fougere, it approaches Coromandel levels of sweetness. But texture-wise, Boy Chanel is not at all baroque or opaque – it retains a luminous translucency from head to toe. The sandalwood in particular is more of the single cream type you find in ETRO Sandalo (although far, far better quality) than the fatty, over-egged feel to something like Samsara.

Overall, Boy Chanel is fresh, aromatic, and creamy-sweet, making it something that women can wear as easily as men. It doesn’t make a grab for originality or boldness, but is extremely pleasant to wear.

It is long-lasting but never loud. No matter how much I sprayed, I could never rev its engine out of the cruise control its engineers designed it for. Surprisingly, I think that’s what I love about it. It’s just the kind of thing you need when everything else is going to shit and you have to be able to count on at least one thing in your life that won’t screw things up even further. This is it - pleasant to smell, effortlessly chic, and impossible to overdose on.
01st September, 2016 (last edited: 31st August, 2016)

Donna Karan Signature by Donna Karan

Of all the Donna Karan reissues I own, Signature feels like the most “me”. This surprises me because I would have thought it would be Black Cashmere, based on my tastes and preferences – but Black Cashmere, while indeed beautiful, just feels like a sheerer version of other perfumes I own, like Idole de Lubin, and its sisters, Chaos and Wenge.

Signature, on the other hand, doesn’t smell like any other perfume I know. But if it doesn’t smell like any other perfume, it does recall the smell of an entire decade – specifically, the 90's. Whenever I wear it, I get images of MAC's Spice lipliner, bottles of Dewberry and White Musk from The Body Shop, and black bodies that fasten down at the crotch (also invented by Donna Karan, I believe).

Signature has the same sort of deliberately low-key, stripped-down effect espoused by scents such as CK One or L'Eau d'Issey, where you could almost smell them reacting against the excess of "Working Girl" chypres of the eighties (Knowing and Paloma Picasso) and the density of power orientals like Coco and Opium. If there was a new shape in the air, it was Signature in its architectural "phallus" bottle designed to jut into the air like a New York skyscraper. Donna Karan said she wanted her signature fragrance to smell of red suede, Casablanca lilies, and the nape of her husband’s neck (the great, late Stephan Weiss, a designer who also designed the original “Swan” bottle). To me, despite the plethora of notes, it smells as sleek and as streamlined as Kate Moss naked on that couch for Calvin Klein.

Signature is basically a fruity-floral built on a sturdy oriental suede base. But it's not in the least bit girly or frivolous. The opening notes give you a taste of a furry umeboshi plum and an overload of Egyptian jasmine which skips through a gasoline-tinged moment to settle on a fruity smell pitched uncomfortably close to red grape-flavored bubblegum. Jasmine often smells like fuel and bubblegum to me, and this is a very smooth interpretation of that type of jasmine. I could do with more roughness, more of that raspy indole I love so much in my other jasmines - something to catch against all that rubbery smoothness. But the 90's aesthetic was all about reducing a look to clean lines, and it's the case here too - nothing is allowed in to break up the smoothness of that line.

A mid-section of creamy Casblanca lilies and roses comes in to soften the “purple” fruit and jasmine accords in the opening, and there’s a point at which the whole mixture smells quite soapy and muted. It's an awkward moment, but it's rescued by what feels like a quite dark, oily patchouli, slightly smokey resins, and the lightly sugary wenge woods that Donna Karan seems to favor in all her fragrances. There is also tonka and amber (as befits any oriental worth its salt) but for me, the fragrance never loses that oily jasmine and fruit suede character with which it set out. And that’s a good thing – there are far too many sugary amber and tonka bases out there masquerading as complete niche perfumes these days. This isn’t one of them.

The dry down is my favorite part of the fragrance, and luckily it goes on forever, so I get to enjoy it in full – a satiny smooth suede replete with dark, smoky woods and that sexy patchouli. Surprisingly for an oriental suede, there doesn’t seem to be any vanilla, so I’d argue that men could wear this as well. Overall, this is a very grown-up kind of oriental, the kind that you need a little life experience for it to fit to your skin. And if you remember the 90's, then this is very much of its time and worth sampling for that alone.

14th July, 2016 (last edited: 13th July, 2016)

Dilettante by Hiram Green

I’ve been very run down recently, both in body and spirit. I have a nasty eye infection that has caused my left eye to swell up like a baboon’s arse, and although I have always been rather plain, this sudden lurch towards outright ugliness has thrown me into a deep funk. (I would like to be all “Little Women” about this, but it turns out I have no depth of character, only a succession of shallow pools).

But there are two bright spots in my gloom. Well, three if you count my children, but since they are so unreliable in their light-bestowing capacity, I won’t. The first was the totally unexpected gift by a friend of a small Le Rouge Lipstick by Givenchy included in a transatlantic perfume swap. I loved the perfumes, of course, but I was delighted by the rouge. With my face looking like a freshly-peeled potato, the swipe of labia-pink lipstick was exactly what the doctor ordered for my looks and overall mood. I might look like the back of a van, but my lips are on point.

The second bright spot was a small vial of Hiram Green’s new fragrance, Dilettante, which he had thoughtfully sent me with a note explaining that this was a fruity-floral scent, “fresh, sweet and ideal for the summer months.” This description, plus the fact that the scent was orange blossom-focused, made me feel even grumpier. Surely when you’re down, you need something that matches the blackness of your soul, not the keys to Disneyland.

But I was wrong – Dilettante is not only very lovely, but is a perfume that deals in pure joy. I am doling out my sample in small drops because I take my orange blossom in therapeutic doses, like pure vitamin C on the tongue. Dilettante is a tonic; a shot in the arm. I kind of feel like Madonna.

The first few moments of the fragrance are like getting a full hit on a whole orange tree – the green, waxy leaves, the bitter rind, the pulp, and the bark. I can’t adequately describe all the different shades of green I smell in the opening of Dilettante, but it’s kind of like driving in Ireland on a summer’s day and catching a glimpse of the colors of the fields and trees, with their gold-green, pollen-green, grey-green, jungle-green, rapeseed-green and so on whirling gently into one verdant ribbon streaming at the sideline of your vision.

It’s quite oily and heavy at the start, as if all the natural oils and absolutes are fighting each other for dominance, but it also manages to feel green and fresh. It is strongly aromatic, and I sense the presence of lavender as well as the petigrain.

After a few minutes, the intensely green, orangey topnotes settle down and the more floral orange blossom begins to bloom. But I have to thank Hiram Green with all my heart here, because the naturally syrupy sweetness of the orange blossom is cut with those sharp green notes, making it the one orange blossom-focused fragrance that I think I could wear on a regular basis rather than just doling it out like Echinacea.

Dilettante grows ever more floral as time goes by, eventually settling into a pale green wax heart that smells like pure neroli oils being mixed by hand into molten beeswax, or the cushioned air of an upscale massage parlor. There may be some jasmine, but I mainly smell beeswax, neroli, orange oil, and the slight caramelized edge of lavender. I don’t find it particularly indolic, but rather waxy, gentle, and floral-aromatic in a muted way.

For a natural perfume, the longevity and sillage as impressive. I found this to be the case also with Voyage and Shangri-La. But better yet, the base is not just some lazy fading out into green soapy vagueness as with most other orange blossom scents, but contains a little surprise animal kick to reward those willing to hang around for it – a salty, skanky “licked-skin” note that is very sensual.

Although I have no idea what Hiram Green used for the base, I suspect it is either a vegetal musk derived from ambrette seed or a tincture of real ambergris. There was a beached whale recently in the Netherlands, and although it was the Indian company Ajmal that bought the huge chunk of ambergris hacked out of its gut for an undisclosed figure, I’d like to think that someone slipped Mr. Green, who himself lives in the Netherlands, a small chunk of ambergris to tinker with.

Dilettante is not at all, as the name implies, trite. It is a sunny, orangey fragrance first and foremost but there is shading here that adds complexity. And the way that animalic, musky base slides in at the end – well, that shows that the perfumer is no amateur.

On the other hand, I’d imagine that this is the first Hiram Green fragrance that would appeal to a broader, more commercial market, because it is an easy-to-enjoy citrusy fragrance that lasts a long time and just smells so darned, uncomplicatedly good. You don’t need to know much about fragrance to enjoy Dilettante, unlike perhaps with his previous perfumes where it might help to have some experience with chypres, tuberose soliflores, or complex orientals. Dilettante requires no learning curve. It is a true elixir of vitamin C for people with troubled souls and sore, weeping eyes.
08th July, 2016

al02 by Biehl Parfumkunstwerke

When I was 17, my parents made me go to an intensive exam preparation psychologist who tested me over the course of a long (very long) weekend to determine which would be the best course of study for me in college. Most kids, you see, know where they’re headed before their final exams, known as the Leaving Certificate in Ireland, but all I wanted to do was to lie on my bed, eat chocolate, and read magazines. Unfortunately there are no college courses in Ireland for that.

At the end of the weekend, the psychologist called in my parents and solemnly said, “It is clear to me that your child has a natural talent for mathematics”, at which point my parents burst out laughing and I looked behind me to see which of my three brothers had followed us in there.

Because, you see, I am hopeless with numbers. Words I can do, but my eyes see numbers and they slide over them like water off a tin roof. It took me until the age of 15 to learn how to read a clock, and to be honest, I still have to focus really hard to tell the time. When my son asks me what two plus nine makes, I have to count it out on my fingers. There is nothing more terrifying to me than having to calculate a tip.

Which is why I have successfully ignored the biehl parfumkunstwerke line for so long. Well that, and the fact that the name is all in lowercase letters, which is a piece of wankery if I ever saw it. But all those letters and numbers after the letters? No. My brain can’t find traction. It’s not confined to biehl parfumkunstwerke either – I managed to ignore the Parfums MDCI line until they stopped numbering their perfumes and started giving them real names.

I’ll admit that I was curious about AL02, though, because several people whose taste I trust spoke about it in glowing terms. But I would never have ordered a sample of it myself, because of the numbers thing. Then, about a week ago, I received a sample of it from a very generous seller on Praise be – it was meant to be. Despite my aversion to numbers, I have been wearing this sample for the last week and have fallen completely in love with it.

If one were to go purely based on the notes list, it might be called a floriental. But to my nose, despite the florals listed in the heart – jasmine, rose, and so on – this is a spicy, dark fruit oriental that sits halfway between the piney mulled wine of Bois de Paradis (Parfums Delrae) and the plummy, perfumey amber of Coco (Chanel).

The opening makes me feel drunk with pleasure, combining the hallucinogenic aromas of a pan of plums, pears, apricots, and raisins simmering in a tannin-heavy red wine with the dusty, bark-y flavor of cinnamon sticks and cloves. It would almost be a gourmand except for the resinous, dusty incense and woody notes shifting beneath the stewed fruits. AL02 (even writing that causes me psychic pain) is also not at all sweet – it has that interesting dichotomy that dried figs or prunes have, a sort of intense jamminess or stickiness combined with a bitter, leathery edge that makes it possible to eat more than one of them at a time without feeling sick.

A nice surprise sits in wait for me in the base, although it takes hours to get there – a creamy, almost smoky combination of vanilla and incense, with what feels to me like a touch of ambergris. With traces of mulled wine and dried fruit still lingering over the oriental base, AL02 feels like a perfume from the past, by which I mean solid in its structure, rich, and well made from every angle. In fact, it’s almost classical in nature, something that took me by surprise in a line that I had assumed was all Iso E Super and beardy intellectuals sitting around in chic bars dipping their hipster beards into their small-batch beer. Turns out that the problem was all with me and my assumptions – I had come down with a major case of inverted snobbery.

I guess this means I will have to explore more of biehl parfumkunstwerke, and even learn how to pronounce it without sounding like I am saying a very bad word indeed.
06th July, 2016

Bandit by Robert Piguet

Every time I try Bandit, I wonder why I don’t love it. I should love it – I love chypres, I love leathers, and I love the idea of a perfume so bad-ass you can almost visualize its resting bitch face.

Maybe it’s because there’s nothing to distract from Bandit’s core brutality. Chypres are bitter, leather is bitter – leather chypres are therefore doubly bitter. Tabac Blond takes you almost to the edge but drifts into a sweet, smoky amber drydown that softens the landing. Habanita covers it up with flowers and face powder. Jolie Madame has the sweet sparkle of violets.

Bandit apologizes for nothing, and covers nothing up. It’s a tough, bitter, raw-edged leather that winds up in ash and sweat. The flowers that are there are putridly creamy in a stomach-turning way, and the civet forces your head into its crotch.

Putting it on is like fighting your way into a tight black leather jacket that crackles with hostility as you try to make it bend. Once on, there is a raw, salty meat smell that crawls up at your nose from the seams of the jacket, as if bits of cow flesh still cling to the underside. I was always disappointed that Lady Gaga’s first fragrance didn’t smell like I imagined her dripping meat dress to smell – but Bandit does.

But that’s not what turns my stomach. What gets me each and every time is the jarring clash between the raw, salted-meat leather notes and the creamy floral side. The florals are calorific, full-fat renderings of themselves – a rubbery tuberose, a petrol-like jasmine – mashed into a cream cheese texture that when it rubs up against the dark, dry leather causes my gorge to rise. The civet plays a key role here, of course, both heightening the pitch of the brutal leather accord and giving the florals a slutty growl.

To my surprise, it’s the smoky ashes of the dreaded galbanum that rescue Bandit for me – cutting through the overly rich florals and brutal, salted leather, the ash weaves in and out and draws my attention to a campfire in the distance, a successful (and much appreciated) piece of misdirection. Every time I get to this part of the dry down, I wonder if it’s worth at least getting a decant.

On the plus side, Bandit is distinctive, bold, and full of character. It is also ageless. In its cleaned-up, reformulated state, the current Bandit EDP is firmly modern in its minimalism. There is nothing in it that pegs it to any one year, let alone a year as far back as 1944. As Teutonically ergonomic as an Olympian swimmer’s waxed chest, it feels like it could have been debuted in the same year as Rien (Etat Libre d’Orange), even though 62 years separate the two.

On the other hand, Bandit is a fragrance whose high proportion of green notes makes it vulnerable to the ravages of time. In two samples I’ve had (vintage and concentration unknown to me), the green elements – the moss, hyacinth, artemisia? – seemed to have wilted like lettuce in strong sun. The resulting vegetal, decaying mulch does nothing for me, not because it is unpleasant per se, but because part of me associates that wilted green note with perfumes I find dated. I won’t name names, but basically anything with coriander, peach, gardenia, and sometimes that 70’s way of treating patchouli.

In the end, though, Bandit is just a curiosity for me, and a placeholder – it smells much better and richer than the brown-grey drudgery of the current Cabochard and less herbally-up-its-own-ass as Miss Balmain, but not nearly as good as Jolie Madame, whose rush of violets makes me smile. Habanita and Tabac Blond are its sisters-in-arms, equally at home with a sneer and a cigarette dangling out of their mouths, but I would take them – any of them – over Bandit. I just don’t have the personality required for such naked aggression.
03rd July, 2016

Sycomore Eau de Toilette by Chanel

I’m a freelance writer-slash-odd-jobber, which means that I write articles and blog posts about all sorts of things, like retinoic acid, how to sell your own home without a real estate agent, and the top ten things you can learn about social media dominance from Don Draper. Seriously. Those are all articles I have written. You will not find me half as ridiculous as I find myself, believe me.

Freelance writing is soul-destroying work for the most part, because most clients don’t value writing and they are always pissed off that they have to pay someone to do it. Plus, nobody feels bad about being mean or rude to a freelance writer. The one thing I do like about it, though, is that you get to learn things you didn’t know before.

For example, I recently started work translating the content of a vaping website from German into English. Now, I know nothing about vaporizers and vaping, but after translating the advantages of several models as avoiding the risk of burning “your precious plant material”, I began to be curious as to the nature of this precious plant material they kept referring to. I have my head so stuck in the fragrance clouds, I kind of thought precious plant material meant a rare variety of vetiver root or something.

Well, turns out it’s not vetiver!

You know, it’s funny, but ever since I found this out, I get a powerful urge to smoke a little something something when I’m translating this website’s content. And then I get the munchies. It’s not good either for my concentration or my waistline, this job. It’s been a long time since I’ve, um, indulged in this particular activity and I don’t know why it’s come upon me. But what can I say? Ich habe hunger, as they put it in German.

Sycomore also sparks a kind of hunger in me for all the unhealthy, unwise things. It’s not in the least bit sweet or gourmand. But like all very, very dry things – salted plums, vermouth, etc – Sycomore makes my mouth water. It’s an involuntary reflex – monkey smell, monkey do.

Sycomore opens as cool, damp green woods and then segues quickly into a dry, smoky vetiver that smells to me very much like the smoke from a joint. It smells sweet and grassy and oh so good. Damn, now I wish I were 18 again, living in digs and with absolutely none of the respect for law enforcement I now have.

The pot note jives nicely with the juniper berry, creating what I think of as the “gin-and-tonic” note. If No. 18 reminds me of a martini, complete with bitter vermouth and juicy olives – pitched high enough to suck your mouth dry, then Sycomore definitely smells like gin and tonic, infused with smoke from a joint.

Damn, now I want a cocktail.

My mouth waters when I wear Sycomore. Yes, yes – it is cool, crisp, and as elegant as everyone says. But don’t confuse clarity (or linearity) with simple-mindedness – Sycomore has a rich, velvety depth to it. Peel back the smoke and the woods, and you find a creamy sandalwood, which merges with the nutty vetiver to create the fine-grained, melting texture of the finest torta gianduia you’ve ever tasted.

Damn, now I want cake.

Luca Turin, in his review of Sycomore in The Guide, said that, “If putting it on does not make you shiver with pleasure, see a doctor.” I think that sentence perfectly captures the sheer sensory, tactile, gustatory pleasure of wearing Sycomore – the same satisfaction you get from a good cocktail. Or cake. Or…you know.
04th June, 2016

Ciel De Gum by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

The (heinously expensive) decant that I bought yielded exactly three sprays before it dried up, being made of (heinously cheap) plastic. But it’s enough to tell that I’d crawl over hot coals to get some more.

Ciel de Gum is a very smooth floral oriental revolving around a civet-soaked, ambery vanilla that smells about 70% the way towards Jicky, with the remaining 30% tipping its hat towards the self-consciously rich leathery indolic floral of Oud Osmanthus.

It's nothing too challenging or artistically "out there" but it has a pleasantly fat, nostalgic feel to it that renders it instantly legible to fans of big, civety, plush florientals. Didn't Luca Turin refer to Shalimar in terms of red velvet and the lights of the Eiffel Tower? Well, Ciel de Gum is plenty red velvet and Eiffel Tower.

A smooth, rich mass of ambery vanilla dosed heavily with cinnamon and civet lies at the heart of Ciel de Gum. A thread of indolic, naughty jasmine floats up through the scent but does not define it – even Samsara has more of a jasmine presence than this. It is as if the darker, dirtier facets of jasmine have been plucked out especially for Ciel de Gum - a light seasoning of jasmine over a custard, not a flavoring.

The floral-civet mix settles slowly over a bed of smooth, ambery resins and vanilla, mixing with pepper and cinnamon to create a slight Musc Ravageur vibe. There is a golden, fuzzy aura to this fragrance – very heavy, but smooth, opulent, and gilded like the light from a Tiffany lamp in a dark study. Surely something to look forward to at the end of a long hard day.

If you, like me, have a weakness for slightly dirty, ambery floral orientals with a lit-from-within, yolk-yellow luminosity, then buy with confidence. Ciel de Gum rides proudly in the same car as Jicky, Shalimar, Jasmin de Nuit, Oud Osmanthus, and Musc Ravageur.

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but for me personally, it doesn’t have to – it’s already pushing all of the right “Claire” buttons. Needless to say, it has jumped to the top of my wish list, and in terms of the Francis Kurkdijan stable, I think it is up with his personal best, i.e., Absolue Pour Le Soir, Oud, Cologne Pour Le Soir.
04th June, 2016

Grandiflora Madagascan Jasmine by Grandiflora

Grandiflora Madagascan Jasmine by Michel Roudnitska for the florists “Grandiflora” in Australia is a bit of a revelation. It’s a jasmine soliflore but instead of taking the more common grandiflora or sambac types as the starting point, it takes the varietal of Stephanotis floribunda, or the so-called Madagascan jasmine.

This is the type of jasmine that Australians like to use in their bridal bouquets and headdresses because it performs exceedingly well in conditions of extreme light and heat. In terms of aroma profile, Madagascan jasmine is not as sweet as other varieties and features instead a clear, green stemminess that plays so well against the heady, creamy smell of the waxy petals themselves. In order to best replicate the smell of the plant, Michel Roudnitska was sent a plant of his own, and he studied it over a period of months.

And wow, is the end result beautiful. I don't normally like fresh, green leaves but this is done so well. It is sort of euphoria-inducing, which is embarrassing to say, but the aroma of crushed, watery green stems is true to life in a way that is familiar to me. One whiff of this divine elixir and I could be lying in a meadow with my children, absent-mindedly helping them to snap off dandelion and daffodil stalks.

It also has the coolly elegant crispness of freshly cut flowers from a florist – you know, that heavenly, intense scent released by the stems as you chop them down to fit your vase. Here you can smell the dew, the sappy sweetness of plant juice, and the slightly soapier green of the leaves – mixed in with the headier pull of the white flowers themselves.

What is most impressive is the way that Roudnitska has sustained the freshness of the green stem accord while the scent itself cycles through creamy, (slightly) indolic), fruity, and back to creamy. Ít gives you all the advantages of a good jasmine without any of the attending sweetness or bublegummy facets. The green nuance really is handled well - it reads almost like the cool, green watery tone of hyacinth or narcissus without any of their floral or earthy characteristics.

For people looking for dirty jasmines, well, I’d try this one anyway, if only because it’s a perfume of outstanding natural beauty. And while it leans to the fresh rather than indolic side, jasmine is naturally a little bit dirty-sexy-money anyway, and this shines through a little. There are times when I thought this verged on the edge of soapiness but each time it pulled back. For me, this perfume sets the bar on what a soliflore can and should be aiming for – not simply verisimilitude, but the type of wide-bellied beauty that moves you, despite yourself.
31st May, 2016

À la Nuit by Serge Lutens

Technically, this is the jasmine to end all jasmines. And it really is beautiful. The first 15 minutes in particular are like burying your nose in a bridal wreath. And for those 15 minutes, I breathe it in and I think, “Life can’t possibly get any better than this smell, right here.”

It contains all the rich, life-giving aspects I love so much about jasmine – the memory of heat, fleshiness, jammy sweetness, and toe-curling, inky dirtiness all wrapped up in the petals of one gorgeous flower. Impossible to wear this perfume and not feel as happy as a cat stretching under the hot midday sun.

It’s almost too much of a good thing, like gazing directly at the sun, or looking at a photo of Claudia Schiffer in a magazine, a woman about whom Karl Lagerfeld made the remark that it was impossible to take a bad photo of, but whose placid, milch-cow beauty always leaves my eyes a little glazed and my imagination a little drowsy. A La Nuit has, in its utter single-mindedness of intent, a sort of stultifying effect on my senses – it induces me to languor and little else.

But whatever – I could live with its slightly boring grandeur if only for those narcotizing 15 minutes. I don’t mind re-spraying. The greater problem is, however, that A La Nuit does not last very long on my skin. I suspect that I am anosmic to the type of musk used in the base because past those glorious, slightly stupefying 15 minutes, all I get is a white blur of something amorphously perfumey.
31st May, 2016
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Fleurs d'Oranger by Serge Lutens

Fleurs d’Oranger by Serge Lutens is a perfume that I’d consider as a real benchmark for orange blossom in perfumery. I do not like orange blossom at all as a note, but I have a sneaking fondness for how it’s done in FdO – at first juicy-sweet and dripping with honey, and later on, its sweetness reined in by quite a nice dose of cumin.

If it were not for the cumin (and the sultry tuberose in the base), Fleurs d’Oranger might come off as most orange blossoms do on my skin – far too sweet, bubblegum-like, and juvenile. The cumin gives the happy-go-lucky, sunny orange blossom an adult, sexy edge, a shot of much-needed sweaty armpit, let’s say.

However, I hear the reformulated version took away all the cumin and left behind a simple orange blossom. My decant was the pre-reform version; when I went to retrieve it to send it to a friend as part of a swap recently, I noticed that the bottle had smashed and the contents leaked out all over the box. I felt kind of sad, because although I didn’t like it enough to keep it, I did like its sunny, sexy, slutty goodness every now and then as a mood-enhancing drug.
31st May, 2016

Sa Majesté la Rose by Serge Lutens

Confession: I don’t actually like soliflores. I mean, I don’t like to wear them. I like sniffing them from a sample and I consider them useful to have around as a reference, but wearing them simply wears me down. Soliflores say one thing, and one thing only. I admire the single-mindedness of their message, but as the day goes on, it grates. Flowers must be part of a more complex composition for me to wear them.

I will say this, though, and my apologies if this sounds like a contradiction – there is nothing like a good soliflore to move me to tears. The smell of a Bourbon rose, a tuberose bloom, or newly opened jasmine flowers are so astoundingly beautiful in nature that any successful attempt at recreating their smell in perfume has a similar effect on my senses and emotions.

Sa Majeste La Rose by Serge Lutens is one such perfume. It harnesses the blowsy scent of dripping wet, yellow and pink tea roses in a bottle. The smell is somehow “fat” without being overly rich or exotic – this is definitely not the rich, red rose of Persia and Turkey but the waxy, nostalgic domestic roses growing in damp gardens all over Ireland. Ever stick your nose into one of those overblown, loose roses after a shower? Sa Majeste replicates that smell with precision.

I love its superb literalism for all of five minutes, and after that it is torture. Roses like these have a greenish, cat-pee acidity to them even in nature, and here in Sa Majeste it is a pitch that rises higher and higher as the day wears on.
31st May, 2016

Tabacco Toscano by Santa Maria Novella

Tobacco Toscano is a sexy, sheer tobacco-honey fragrance with a rubber twang that recalls Bvlgari Black stripped of its green edges. It also strongly recalls the sweet, bready musk and vanillic paper/cardboard notes of Dzing! but features none of that scent’s elephant dung.

But most of all, Tobacco Tuscano has a distinctly Tobacco Vanille vibe. The advantage of Tobacco Toscano, though, is that it has none of the dried-fruit heft of Tobacco Vanille, and as such can be worn with gay abandon during the hot summer months. For devotees of sweet tobacco orientals, surely this is reason enough to rush out the door, your credit card at the ready.

The main building block for the fragrance is loose leaf tobacco leaves that have been soaked in pure vanilla extract and then dusted in honey powder. There is a faint aromatic, leafy undertone in the opening notes that conjures up a rustic stroll through the countryside, but the dry down is more urban and stream-lined; a honeyed, tobacco and vanilla combination that smells so good you might want to lick yourself.

It’s really nothing new under the sun, but it’s a really nice, summer-ready version of old favorites, so I’m all over this one like butter on hot bread.
21st May, 2016

Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella

Nostalgia is supposed to smell like an Italian racing car on the track, complete with gasoline fumes, rubber seating, and all. During the fleeting topnotes, Nostalgia pulls this off in spectacular fashion with a pure petrol note that would put the current version of Fahrenheit to shame, followed quickly by a shot of sweet car-seat rubber and leather.

The smoke and fuel dissipate rather quickly, however, leaving behind a sweet, rubbery, vanillic tailbone that smells rather too close to Bvlgari Black to justify the price. The scent is nicely woody and quietly masculine.

Beyond the arresting opening, I don’t think Nostalgia is particularly challenging, so I see this as a great option for men (or indeed women) who might be looking to dip their toes into niche but not go too far into weird/ugly/difficult territory. This is just different enough to provide good fun and shock value, but sweet, woody, and generically aftershave-like in the drydown to reassure novices and big ole scaredy cats.
21st May, 2016

Peau d'Espagne / Spanish Leather by Santa Maria Novella

Peau d’Espagne (Spanish Leather) is a brash, dark leather fragrance that drills home its point without losing the plot somewhere over amberland or vanillaville.

Unlike cuirs de Russie (Russian leathers), leather fragrances classified as peau d’espagne (Spanish leather) types do not rely primarily on birch tar for their smoky, leathery effect, but instead recreate it through the use of a complex locking system of various dry herbs, flowers (carnation), and dusty woods.

The Peau d’Espagne type of leather came about from the process of curing the leather for fine ladies’ gloves with a sweet-smelling mixture of flowers and botanical essences, which of course masked the terrible stench of uncured leather.

Peau d’Espagne is the oldest, and finest, surviving representative of this type of leather, and although it does contain a small amount of rectified birch tar, its total effect owes more to its complex floral construction than to birch tar. Although it plainly skews masculine, I think this could be phenomenally sexy on the right woman – a bad-ass perhaps, or if playing against type, a quiet, feminine girl who wants her aura to read as unexpectedly kinky.

The leather note is strong and dry, a piece of raw cowhide waiting to be tanned in a vat of dyes. But though it is dark, it is also fresh with an underbelly of green herbs, camphor, and even a touch of mint flooding the gloom with slivers of light.

The florals lend their effect rather than a distinct aroma of their own - the carnation note gives a flourish of clove-scented powder to the leather, and the violet leaf a sharp, green, almost metallic edge.

There is a touch of birch tar here, too, and although I wouldn’t really call this a phenolic fragrance, there is a distinct whiff of tar pits. But think sweet tar, like that in Patchouli 24 or the sweet, rubbery florals behind the tough saddle leather in Lonestar Memories.

As with a few other Santa Maria Novella fragrances, there is a distinctly antiseptic note floating through the heart here, almost like TCP or germolene. This adds a pleasantly medicinal touch, and replicates somewhat the balance achieved in something like Tubereuse Criminelle between the floral, creamy side and the harsh, wintergreen aspect. It is this antiseptic mouthwash note that brings together all the other elements – the leather, the herbs, the carnation, the tar.

A striking, if rather rough leather fragrance in a tradition of Peau d’Espagne that is no longer in fashion.
21st May, 2016

Angeli di Firenze / Angels of Florence by Santa Maria Novella

Angeli di Firenze (Angels of Florence) is a sweet, soapy floral mélange of jasmine and rose that creates a golden aura around the wearer. Angeli di Firenze spikes the buttery, floral heart with a juicy apple shampoo note, giving it a fun, youthful vibe that I quite like.

My positive reaction to Angeli, in fairness, is probably due to a nice memory it conjures up for me than the actual smell itself. Specifically, Angeli reminds me strongly of J’Adore by Dior, immediately taking me back to my days of living in Belgrade, when I exclusively wore that scent.

My job at the time was to travel around the Balkans – Kosovo, Macedonia, Southern Serbia, and so on, often on local buses – trying to sweet talk donors into giving us more money, a job I was really terrible at. I was only really at the office in Belgrade once or twice a week before heading off on my lonely travails, but I remember that I never felt welcome there, or part of the team.

However, the receptionist at the front desk, a beautiful Serb girl with the highest heels I have ever seen on anyone, would always take the time to stop me and say, “You smell sooooo beautiful”.

The day I handed in my notice, I walked up to the receptionist, handed her the rest of my big bottle of J’Adore, kissed her and told her that she had made my life in Belgrade bearable. I remember that her eyes filled up with tears, which embarrassed me because I suddenly understood I could have made her this happy earlier. Why hadn’t I just handed over the bottle to her the first time she complimented me on it? I never wore J’Adore again.
21st May, 2016

Muschio Oro / Gold Musk by Santa Maria Novella

Muschio Oro translates roughly to Gold Musk, which sounds rather Italian Gigolo-ish (or at least it does to me). It is an extremely soapy white musk with a bright, sharp edge to it, like a sheer wash of sulfates. I suspect the presence of aldehydes, although they are not listed.

It is not unpleasant, but there are far better white musks out there (including SMN’s own Muschio, the original) unless you are deliberately seeking to replicate a fond memory involving anti-bacterial soap. For people who want to smell aggressively clean and shower-fresh at all times, I suspect this fragrance (and Fresia) would be their idea of heaven.
21st May, 2016

Lavanda Imperiale / Imperial Lavender by Santa Maria Novella

Lavanda Imperiale is a very high-quality, true-to-life lavender cologne, smelling very much like when you rub or crush fresh lavender between your finger and thumb to release their aromatic oils. Whether you’ll like Lavanda Imperiale depends on how much you like lavender, of course, but also on how pure you like the note to be presented in perfumes.

Lavanda Imperiale is a fresh, unadorned lavender, with nothing but a hit of green citrus to keep things clean. It is properly pungent, classic, and simple. Personally, I prefer my lavender to be plush and orientalized, as in Fourreau Noir, but for those who like it straight, this is a great option.
21st May, 2016

Patchouli by Santa Maria Novella

I thought Etro's Patchouly was the most straight-ahead patchouli on earth until I smelled this. Side by side, the Etro emerges as slightly floral and herbal, whereas SMN Patchouli is just raw earth.

Patchouli is a Holy Grail for patchouli lovers everywhere. Raw and direct, it smells at first like fresh, loamy soil and rising damp. Later, it dries out a bit and takes on the gold-brown richness of an autumnal landscape, as if a tincture of crisp fallen maple leaves has been drip-fed into the brew.

But whereas it gains in richness, it does not end up mired in an oriental base of sweet amber or vanilla, as so many patchouli fragrances do – this one is raw-edged, honest, pure, and totally to the point. It makes no apologies for being patchouli.

Patchouli also has a green, leafy bitterness to it and a slightly antiseptic undercurrent, but far from being off-putting, these elements cut through the brown gloom and pushes air into the room. The aroma is a thick one, but it wears surprisingly sheerly on the skin.

I think it’s an incredibly sexy, earthy fragrance, because it makes a feature out of its own severity. Think of every stern schoolmistress you ever feared and ended up crushing on, and that’s Santa Maria Novella Patchouli.
21st May, 2016

Fresia by Santa Maria Novella

Fresia, Italian for freesia, does not truly smell of freesia at all but of a creamy bar of Camay soap. There is definitely an appeal in clean, warm, soapy floral perfumes, as evidenced by the popularity of the reformulated Ivoire de Balmain (French white soap) and Infusion d’Iris Homme (Irish Spring soap) – people just love the idea of smelling like they’ve just emerged, Venus-on-a-shell-like, from a bath.

There is a faint idea here of nostalgia for childhood bathing rituals, perhaps, folded piles of laundry, or the idealized vision of cuddling up with a loved one in front of the fire and having him nuzzle into your clean, freshly-scrubbed skin. Fresia is highly recommended, therefore, to girls (or indeed boys) who believe that cleanliness really is close to Godliness.
21st May, 2016

Melograno by Santa Maria Novella

Melograno (Pomegranate) is by far and away the bestselling fragrance in the Santa Maria Novella line-up, a fact that surprises me every time I smell it. It’s not so much that it’s an odd fragrance (although it is) but that it’s extremely hard to pin down.

If you read the reviews for Melograno, you will see that it seems to be a different fragrance from one wearer to the next – to some, it is a green chypre along the lines of Givenchy III, to others it is the edgier twin of the grandest aldehydic monster ever created, Chanel No. 22, and to yet others, it is nothing more than detergent soap made into a fragrance. The one thing that everybody agrees upon is that it doesn’t smell like pomegranates.

Perhaps Melograno is successful because it is so dependent on the individual skin chemistry and scent memories of each wearer, and is therefore the olfactory equivalent of a mood ring. Mood rings were popular for a reason – we all like to feel that the end result is reflective of our individual personalities and chemistry. In that case, Melograno is the ultimate bespoke fragrance – it smells like a mixture of scent, your skin, and a complex bundle of memories and mind associations that are purely your own.

For what it’s worth, to me it smells like a mixture of aldehydes, green flowers, luxury soap, and church incense, with a faint but stirring note of urinal puck running through the base. Why this odd mish mash of elements should work is beyond me, but without doubt, the end result is resolutely appealing. What it will smell on you, and whether you’ll like it, is anyone’s guess.
21st May, 2016

Fieno / Hay by Santa Maria Novella

Fieno/Hay opens on a very fresh, green note that combines the smell of unripe hay with sweet clover and meadow grasses. It is refreshing, but not tart or stridently-green – rather, more honeyed and floral in character.

As it develops, Fieno takes on a boozy almond-like note, leading me to believe that coumarin is the main material used here. But Fieno leans on the more honeyed, powdery aspects of hay than its dry, sun-baked aromatic side. Its boozy almond undertone and sweet hay notes make me think of Chergui, a powdery, sweet-hay oriental, more than aromatic fougeres such as Azzaro Pour Homme or Jicky. There is also something about the powdered marron glace dry down here that puts Fieno clearly in the oriental category, although given its green start, it would be fair to call it a fresh oriental.

A silky white musk, with perhaps a trace of heliotrope, finishes Fieno off on a wisp of powder and lends the fragrance a nostalgic feel. Simple, but elegant, I find myself haunted by my sample of this long after it’s gone – and it’s one I’m considering adding to my collection.
21st May, 2016

Santa Maria Novella Profumo by Santa Maria Novella

Acqua di Colonia, also informally called the Queen’s Cologne, is a very nice, natural eau de cologne that features a bright, sour bergamot note that gives you the feeling of being drenched in ice-cold water on a hot summer’s day. The bergamot smells like a greener, more bitter lemon, with some of the intense scent of the dark green leaves and rind thrown in for good measure.

Like any good cologne (Acqua di Parma Colonia, Cologne Sologne, Neroli Portofino, 4711, etc.), the purpose is to refresh, not to last or to perform as a proper perfume. And indeed, if you’re in the market for a summer cologne, this is an excellent option – natural-smelling, one of the purest bergamot notes in the business, and not badly priced per ml. Once the brief, volatile citrus notes have died away, what’s left is a creamy, slightly soapy neroli note, green but with a touch of orange blossom dancing around the edges. It is far from complex, but as with all eaux de cologne, sometimes simple is best.
21st May, 2016

1000 by Jean Patou

One year, at Christmas, my father gave my mother a beautiful embroidered dressing gown for her Christmas present. I remember this for two reasons. First, it was the first (and only) time I ever remember my father giving mum something quite so obviously expensive. Second, even at age 12, I knew my mum wasn’t going to like it. A woman of plain and sensible tastes, she has a strong distaste for luxury, so I expected her to murmur her polite thanks and disappear it later under the stairs, which is where all unwanted items in our house went to die.

But she loved it. I’ll never forget the look of sheer pleasure came over her face as she stroked the material – a rich black velvet with an overlying brocade of silver, gold, and vermilion threads all wound up together tightly in an intricate Chinese design. As of the lily hadn’t been gilded enough, there was a huge cream ermine muff around the collar. Either my father had – for the first time in his life – guessed exactly what it was that would make her glow like that, or she had seen it somewhere and requested it. I’ve never asked, but I’m sure it’s the latter.

Every time she wore that dressing gown, it struck me as an act of perversity, somehow. That although lovely, she was working against the natural grain of her taste in wearing something so over the top.

Jean Patou “1000” works against the grain too. What’s the grain these days anyway? Well, the fashion for simple, clear florals that ring out as clear and sweet as a bell, for one. And the muffled, beige tonality of what I think of as the Narciso Rodriguez musk family – all pleasant, all background music.

Wearing something like Jean Patou “1000” is self-consciously anti-trend, deliberately eccentric, like a teenage girl wearing a tweed hunting cape to stand out in the crowd. Or like my mum, every time she put on that ridiculous dressing gown. She looked like a fucking pimp, but...... it did look fabulous.

Legend has it that it took Patou 10 years to make “1000” and a 1,000 attempts before being released, hence the name.
Maybe by the time Kerléo got to it, "1000" was just sitting there, a big, bloated sack of expensive ingredients so ludicrously rich and complex that it was impossible to edit for clarity. Maybe the best he could do was give it a coherent beginning, middle, and end – a structure that held it all together. I also kind of like to think that some board member at Patou just said, “F&*k it. Just release the damn thing already.”

"1000" is a dry floral chypre, which doesn’t really tell you anything these days. It boasts whole acreages of roses and jasmine from Grasse, as well as fields’ worth of osmanthus in China that Patou allegedly had to buy in order to secure enough osmanthus for the formula. But far from being the orgasmic cornucopia of flowers you might expect – hot and glowing like the nuclear Ubar, let’s say – the effect here is muted and shady, as if all the flowers cancel each other out leaving only the sense of their richness rising to the surface like oil on water.

The one note that signs clearly, to my nose, is the violet leaf. Fresh and metallic, this shimmers so brightly in the top of the composition that I couldn’t stop thinking about Fahrenheit and Cuir Pleine Fleur. Interspersed with starched-white-shirt aldehydes and a bitter, crushed-herbs effect (trampled artemisia?), the violet leaf opening is striking, and yes, completely out of step with the trends in modern perfumery.

In the heart, an orchestra of expensive flowers – rose, jasmine, powdery iris, osmanthus – raise their voice to the ceiling as one, but the effect remains soft, sottovoce. There is a vague hint of apricots and suede from the osmanthus, dusky soap from the iris, a thrilling flicker of indoles from the jasmine. But not one flower makes a break for it. Chanel No. 5 and Arpege strike me as much the same, a chorus of dark florals and powder and ambery fruits swirled together so that no one note is distinct.

A faint prickle of civet licks around the edges of the florals, spiking the composition with the warm glow of animal, like raw honey or stale saliva from licked skin. The tainted florals now merge with a golden, mossy drydown that features plenty of oakmoss, 70’s style patchouli, labdanum, and Mysore sandalwood. Interestingly, the oakmoss adds depth and shade, but no bitterness – it’s as if the herbal bitters and violet leaf had played enough of that role at the start.

The drydown is textured – creamy, but also earthy, mossy, woody, with enough lingering civet-licked florals for light relief. It’s at this stage I can see the familiar relationship with the far sweeter and more single-minded floral of Joy, as well as with other dry woody chypres such as La Perla. I don't, however, see the connection to Mitsouko, as so many people seem to.

I can see why people might find this a bit too much. It’s overly complex and it’s hilariously out of step with the times. Every time I wear it, I feel I should come equipped with a map, a pencil, and a Venn diagram just to try and figure out what’s going on. It’s not even me, in particular. But the more I wear it, the more I like it, especially if I stop scrutinizing it and just let its monumental effect wash over me. It’s a question of letting my taste the time to adjust to a new shape, that’s all. Just like I eventually came to like that pimp dressing gown.
21st May, 2016

Number One by Nicolaï

On my second day in Rome, there I was having lunch with my husband in one of our favorite restaurants in Trastevere, La Scala, when lo and behold, a friend of mine happened to walk past with her partner! After dragging them in and making them taste all our food, we discovered that neither Ana nor George were enjoying Rome very much. They thought it too gritty, too dirty, and the people a little gruff. They’d even had bad pizza the night before, which in Italy is like turning up to an orgy and finding everyone already engaged. I’d imagine.

My husband, being a lover of Rome, felt that all they needed was a little bit of good pizza to start seeing Rome in a good light. Me, I suggested perfume. There happened to be, I suggested innocently, a little niche perfume store just down the road, would the men mind waiting….?

The men did indeed mind waiting, a fact they made clear in very loud, complaining tones of voices that we, however, could no longer hear, because we had long since disappeared into the cozy gloom of Roma Store. Looking back at them through the window, I saw that they had adopted the centuries-old stance of men waiting on women – dazed, slightly defeated, and weighed down by shopping bags.

So Ana and I proceeded to smell all of the perfumes in the shop. We both wanted to test Map of the Heart v4, said to be Feu d’Issey smell-alike and an artistic achievement in its own right. We thought it smelled a bit like fruity, milky vomit, and on my skin in particular, there appeared a slight biscuity undertone, like standing really, really close to someone who’d just eaten a packet of McVities digestives.

Spotting a big bottle of Parfums de Nicolai Number One Intense, I grabbed it and sprayed it on the back of my arm. I was immediately transported. This was a Chypre, Goddammit. A real-life, honest-to-goodness Chypre with a capital C. In the middle of all these cool, trendy, somewhat “out there” niche perfumes, this perfume felt like the air was splitting open to reveal a third dimension, allowing me to slip into a dark, cool forest, its atmosphere sodden with the inky, bitter smell of oakmoss absolute and thick with jasmine.

“Smell this,” I urged Ana, excited and grinning like a love-struck fool, “Now this is a real chypre, right?” Ana smelled my arm, and made a little face. “A little bit too polite,” she said, “A real ladies-who-lunch kind of scent. Not sensual enough for me.” She also noted that it was more about tuberose than jasmine, and that it also smelled a little like Odalisque, which she owns. And she is correct, of course, on both scores. But I can’t explain it – right there, at that moment, this unassuming little thing – a De Nicolai! – was the most exciting thing in the shop for me.

When I got back to the apartment that night, I looked up the reviews, and to my surprise, they backed Ana up on the general tone of the fragrance – a nice, somewhat staid white floral in the classical French manner. Patricia de Nicolai had won the Mouillette d'Or for Best International Perfume Creator in 1989 with Number One.

But I insisted – no, no, I smell oakmoss! This is surely a floral chypre. A sexy, jasmine-soaked chypre with a dark, womanly feel to it. I convinced myself that I needed it in my life and that I’d be the only person on earth to divine the true sexual, earth mother, Goddess-like nature of this perfume that everyone else thought was boring. I would walk the streets leaving a trail of devastated men in my wake. So, after a month of humming and hawing I ordered a small bottle of it directly from Parfums de Nicolai.

Yeah, so….I was wrong.

This is not sexy. It’s also, as Fragrantica and Basenotes correctly identified, not a chypre but a white floral. There is a smidgen of oakmoss absolute in the formula, but it’s not enough, no, not nearly enough, to spread a much-needed dark, velvety layer of forest under the feet of the sumptuous white florals.

And without the chypre bitterness, this is truly all about a big block of white flowers – orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose – bleeding into each other and smoothing out any of the individual, interesting identifiers of each flower. There are no fruity indoles from the jasmine, no buttery, mentholated weirdness from the tuberose, and no honeyed orange notes from the orange blossom.

It’s, well, it’s “Nights in White Satin” (“I looooovvveee yeeeewwwwww”) and shoulder pads and big hair, and it’s also, clearly, Giorgio.

A friend of mine wears this, but she is a young, hot, sexy girl who has hordes of men panting after her. I think that in order to wear something as old-fashioned as Number One, you have to either wear it with irony, or you have to be beautiful enough yourself to subvert the essential staidness of the fragrance.

But I’m mostly too tired to be ironic and not cool or sexy enough to make it ripe. I guess I’ll have to reserve it for those special occasions when I want to clear an elevator and make people hate perfume all over again.
17th May, 2016 (last edited: 21st May, 2016)

Teint de Neige by Lorenzo Villoresi

Holy powder, Batman!

The name “Teint de Neige” translates not to the color of snow, as everyone previously thought, but to a snow-white complexion (it’s the extra ‘e’ missing at the end of Teint that makes all the difference). But whatever – the scent itself is both reminiscent of the color of snow and of the snow-white complexion that one might achieve with a mountain of face powder.

Teint de Neige takes a party balloon full of baby powder, rose, heliotrope, ylang, and white musk, runs up to you, bursts the balloon all over your face and then runs away again, laughing like a maniac.

Wearing Teint de Neige is an experience. You must submit in advance to being smothered with an avalanche of powder, or else you will struggle to fight your way from underneath it all, and you will clutch your throat and gasp for air. Think of it as having claustrophobia and knowing you have to take an elevator twenty flights up to visit your sick father. It’s a social contract between you and the elevator – a case of “I’ll agree not to scream if you agree not to hurt me too badly.”

Now, if you submit to Teint de Neige, you’ll see its shy, babyish beauty hiding under all of that powder. Stretch your legs out under its fluffy blanket of powdered almonds and rose petals, luxuriate in its incredibly fine, plush-toy texture, like the underbelly of a toy rabbit.

It’s a major psychological regression, you see, this perfume. You put this on because you yearn for the comforts of what you view as a simpler time, when your mother took care of everything and your only concern was finding Sesame Street on the 4-channel TV. Or you’re the kind of girl who dresses up in vintage tea dresses and housecoats from the 1940s, and powder your face with Yardley talc because you believe that all the good times were had in the past, and you’ve missed out on it all and you’re sad about that.

I totally see the nostalgic, slightly self-indulgent appeal of Teint de Neige. I understand the urge to travel backwards, to gloss over the past and look at things through rose-colored glasses. Life always looks much easier in retrospect. I used to date a guy from Sarajevo when I lived in Bosnia, and he – believe it or not – was nostalgic for how it used to be during the siege. He and his friends used to chance death moving from one person’s basement to the next, and the sense of togetherness and fun was incredible. I know his family regularly boiled grass for supper because that’s all there was to eat. But I still understood what he was nostalgic for. He was mourning a way of life that had disappeared once the war ended and they had their freedom again.

Teint de Neige is a beautiful memory of the past, wrapped up safely in a bubble of powder and innocence, and like any beautiful memory, there’s a sort of blind spot in our thinking faculties when we enter that bubble. But that’s ok. As long as I can admit to myself that I deliberately want to smell like a freshly-powdered baby or a heavily made-up 40s starlet sitting in a dancehall waiting for her beau, I should be fine. I submit myself to Teint de Neige, but knowingly, and with self-irony.
16th May, 2016

M/Mink by Byredo

A while ago, I wrote an article for Basenotes on the top ten niche fragrances that every beginner should sample. I got one comment from a guy that I must repeat here because it is (a) very funny, and (b) kind of indicative of wrong people can get my, or other people’s taste. The comment read as follows:

“I don't agree with the entirety of this list. It is not well-rounded at all. It seems this writer has a fetish for burning rubber, smoking resins or charred flesh/leather with squirt of stale urine. I'm pretty sure there are some amazing niche fragrances that are on the more comforting, clean, snuggly, socially appropriate and less "trying so hard to smell like I don't try (or shower) at all.”

Well, touché.

The commenter then goes on to suggest a list of alternatives, some of which I personally love and wear myself, but eventually he loses me when he suggests Montale’s Chocolate Greedy, in response to which I turn away and discreetly barf into my hat.

The point is, I am constantly surprised to learn that so many people think my taste is edgy. My taste is the opposite of edgy. I once bought a set of that Ephemera Sound perfumes – you know, the ones that smell like burned-out electrical sockets and plastic sheeting – and sold it on as quickly as was decent. I don’t ever want to smell Secretions Magnifiques, not out of intellectual curiosity, not even as an exercise to expand my olfactory knowledge, and definitely not by accident.

But I like M/Mink.

I had smelled it once before, in Rome in 2013, just when I was beginning to get into fragrances and I really liked it. Two years on, reacquainting myself with it in Senteurs d’Aillheurs in Belgium, I found it extraordinary – a salt-encrusted, honey-lacquered door in an abandoned building in a post-industrial city. If perfume has a color, this is a sort of matte buff-nude-tan thing. There’s a fair amount of anchovy paste in this, too – a metallic saltiness that is really quite objectionable, but very arresting.

Reviews for M/Mink tend to paint it as either genius or the most disgusting smell in the world (up there with Secretions Magnifiques), but this is a perfume that depends on the specific set of olfactory memories we all carry around in our heads. So where many people pick up on a horrendous stench of fruity bleach in the topnotes, I smell only the clean, fishy stink of calligraphy ink and toner fluid from the school supplies closet.

The high-toned, metallic bleach/ink note is followed by a denatured patchouli, by which I mean patchouli that has been leached of its damp, earthy nuances and made into a dry, unsweet dust, casting a glum, matte brown, stale-cocoa powder like shade over the whole thing.

Incense too, but this is not the ecclesiastical smoke that cleanses the soul during mass – this is the cold, dead air creeping among the vestments and flagstones in the sacristy.

Rather like Messe de Minuit, another perfume that smells like dead, inert air in a sacristy, it reminds me of my Catholic childhood. Not of high mass, but of the ordinary, day-to-day dealings I would have had in the church, which was located across from my school and played a huge role in our lives. This part of M/Mink reminds me being in and out of the sacristy before doing a reading for Sunday mass, or helping the priest fold away his amice. It smells like creeping mold, dust, inert air. The likeable stench of centuries-old church things.

What creates this mold effect? It must be the combination of metallic incense with that dry, matte-brown patchouli dust, and unsweet honey and beeswax. I don’t know though. It’s a mysterious alchemy, how all of these alive, moving elements combine to produce a smell that is so stale, so centuries-dead.

Because it smells like ink and mold and toner fluid, I’ve come to think of M/Mink as a writer’s perfume, and so for me it belongs in the same “box” as Sycomore (with its cool, ashy vetiver) and Comme des Garcons 2 Woman, which also smells like ink – savory and metallic. Of course, I recognize that M/Mink is more challenging than these other two. But they are linked by a certain aloofness, a remote intellectual feel to them.

After dithering about it for ages, I decided to bite the bullet and buy it. I bought the last bottle that Essenza Nobile had in stock, which I think means that it’s been axed from the Byredo line-up. I hummed and hawed because part of me cringes to think that I may be like that Basenotes commenter suggests, a hardcore fetishist who automatically likes everything that has a “squirt of stale urine” in it.

But then, I remembered – I don’t like this perfume because it’s disgusting or challenging or out-there. I like it because it smells like ink and sacristy mold and anchovy paste and dead air. These are things I like, so I like M/Mink too. It’s as simple as that.
16th May, 2016