Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

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Total Reviews: 432

L'Ete en Douce / Extrait de Songes by L'Artisan Parfumeur

L’Ete en Douce by L’Artisan Parfumeur takes the linden blossom away from the honeyed/hay-like properties of the tree and along a cleaner, more linen-fresh direction. While this might sound boring, especially to those who fear “laundry-fresh” or chemically-clean musks, let me assure you that this is far more interesting than it at first appears.

Here the linden note seems to be paired with an ambrette seed-driven musk, which to my nose can sometimes smell like bread flour or Grappa when paired with iris and rose (Chanel No. 18), green apple peel or hard pear liquor (I Miss Violet), or bread-like cumin when paired with other types of musks (Musc Nomade).

Here, though, when paired with the green, leafy linden note, the ambrette musk displays a watery, vegetal nuance, like dill or cucumbers. It is this striking gripe water note that connects L’Ete en Douce, in my mind at least (if in no one else’s) to the baby’s breath-like innocence of L’Eau d’Hiver, first, but even more so to Santal Massoia by Hermes Hermessence, 10 Corso Como, Bois Farine also by L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Santal 33 by Le Labo. In those other fragrances, the gripe water note floats up from the dill-like, sweetish properties of sandalwood mixing with milky or lactonic accords on the one hand, and the dusty/sawdust-like textures that come from cedar and other woods.

In L’Ete en Douce, the watery cucumber or dill-like note merges with the green, leafy linden and a puffy white musk to create something more like a fluffy white towel straight out of the drier. It smells clean, cool, slightly aquatic, and indeterminably green. I like it very much, because there is something childlike and innocent about it. It must be the gripe-water angle – somehow Victorian in smell, like old-fashioned British nannies and the like.

It’s also very much in line with the Helmut Lang EDP, although that is far creamier and more openly sensual. In fact, L’Ete en Douce and the Helmut Lang EDP are the only instances where I consider it acceptable to smell like a freshly laundered soft toy.

Is it true to the smell of linden? Not so much, in my opinion. But it’s a good example of a perfume that uses linden in a prominent role but manages to steer it to a non-linear, non-literal interpretation.
16th May, 2016

Tilleul by D'Orsay

Tilleul by D’Orsay comes very close to replicating the smell of linden I smelled in Provence one day, with its honeyed sweetness balancing out a fresh, hay-like note. Some people are bothered by the watermelon note they see listed for this, but I swear the watermelon is only there to infuse the drier, more herbal side of the linden with a sweet, “red” pulp or juice.

Simple, beautiful, and somewhat affecting, I’d seriously consider a bottle of this for summer. Many point out a remarkable similarity to Annick Goutal’s Eau de Ciel, but I’ve never smelled that one and I believe it is not as easy to find as the D’Orsay scent.
16th May, 2016

Désarmant by La Parfumerie Moderne

Perhaps one of the best lilac fragrances I have had the pleasure of smelling. It is every bit as disarming as the name suggests.

The story behind the scent is a tiny vial of perfume that the founder of La Parfumerie Moderne, Philippe Neirinck, came across one day in the Royal Picardy Hotel in Le Touquet when he was a small boy, in the 60’s. The smell of this unmarked vial of perfume haunted him until he met Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the perfumer behind Parfum d’Empire, and commissioned him to create the perfume he still smelled in his head.

Who knows what the mystery perfume was, or if it even contained lilac? Philippe seems to think so, since this is a lilac-focused perfume. I have another theory….but first to Desarmant.

The opening of Desarmant smells like the fruity, wet-paint undertones of true lilac blossoms – a gorgeous, full smell that reminds one that flowers can smell both of themselves, authentically, and also of household things like latex paint, sticky tape, rubber tubing (hello tuberose!) and lemon Pledge (hello every single Taif rose!). It is a true-to-life lilac note, so outrageously so that I laugh out loud.

But this isn’t some one-trick-pony. Desarmant takes that wet-paint lilac note and mills it through a kaleidoscope of other notes that somehow just add to the beauty of the lilac without detracting from it – oranges, black tea leaves, apricot, a faint lipstick wax note, apple peels, and a liquorish note, like apricot schnapps. It somehow reminds me of the exuberance of I Miss Violet in all its fruity, tannic, over-the-top fun. Both are fragrances that make me feel like I could tip back my head and drink them; they seem delicious to me. It might be the osmanthus note that I find so compelling in both.

The heart section of Desarmant is all about building a dark, slightly sharp suede layer to ground and anchor those flighty floral notes up top. The austere leather note – styrax perhaps – reminds me of another fragrance from La Parfumerie Moderne, namely Cuir X, which is something I’ve developed a mild obsession with. The slightly bitter suede is needed here, for gravitas.

Desarmant evolves even further in the basenotes, morphing into a heavy floral musk with a hint of something animalic like ambergris or civet. It is slightly green-inflected now, as if there is sun-dried hay mixed into the musk. It is at this stage that I am surprised to draw a clear parallel between the drydown of Joy Eau de Parfum and Desarmant – they are practically twins, with their sharp, slightly nostalgic floral musk and complex textures.

The Patous, especially 1000 and Joy, as well as the old Dioressence, all share a certain green, pungent floralcy, almost old-fashioned/grandmotherly, that hides a rip-roaringly animalic streak in their tail. That this duality is present to a degree in the drydown of Desarmant makes me wonder if the perfume that Philippe Neirinck smelled all those years ago was, in fact, Joy? Or perhaps it was 1000, with its dusty, greenish osmanthus note, casting its vintage-era, peachy glow over the other florals.
16th May, 2016
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Opardu by Puredistance

Opardu is not a lilac soliflore by any means, but it comes closer to my idea of an ideal lilac than most lilac perfumes, which is to say, something that captures the heady, almost fetid aroma of lilac blossoms when they are overripe and hanging heavily from the trees. Strangely enough, the floral richness I love in lilac is not coming from the lilac note itself that has been used here – a strangely soapy, old-fashioned lilac – but rather the sumptuous, sensual textures and aroma molecules it borrows from the tuberose and gardenia.

The opening is green, fresh, and dewy – pure lilac blossoms as their buds begin to open on the tree, therefore more woody twigs and leaves than actual bloom. As the essential soapiness of the lilac (in perfumery at least) rises to the top, there is a heavenly intervention from below by tuberose and gardenia (mostly gardenia, actually, to my nose). There is a single-cream-strained-through-peanut-shells quality to the gardenia that infuse the chaste lilac with a milky sensuality, followed with a salt-lick chaser. It has the type of serene beauty that gives me a lump in my throat.

Although I am far more of a floral oriental girl at heart, there is something about well-done, dewy florals approaching scary levels of verisimilitude that moves me. These are florals that I mostly prefer to smell from vials, though, as opposed to wearing, as I find soliflores to be exhausting. There is something about their single-minded truthfulness that I find too literal to support for more than an hour or so.

But Opardu is not a soliflore – it is a floral concerto with the strings, bass, and wind all pulling in the same direction. And yet, like Ostara by Penhaligon’s, its large range of different floral notes somehow, magically, mysteriously coalesce into the scent of a single bloom – here, in Opardu, the scent of a lilac bloom captured at the bud stage but then carried through a shortened olfactory life cycle to full-out, sensuous flowering, thanks to the subtle nudging by the gardenia. Creamy and cool, it would suit a young lady who is very beautiful but also modest. If you know someone like that, buy it for her!
16th May, 2016

En Passant by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

One of the things I miss most about Montenegro is the smell of the lilac trees and bushes that covered every spare inch of green in our city block neighborhood. The scent they released into the air was at first fresh, green, and Spring-like, but as the weather got hotter, the blooms would start to collapse, filling the air with a thick swarm of indoles – from innocence to decay in a matter of weeks. I loved this, it felt like the lilacs were sending out scented weather updates to us as we walked beneath them; “Hey, it’s Spring!” and then “Get ready, the heat is a-coming!” turning finally to “Damn, it’s hot out here for a lilac….”

En Passant by Olivia Giacobetti for Frederic Malle captures the fresh, watery scent of lilac blossoms in their first blooming. A well-placed cucumber note floods the lilac blossoms with rainwater, giving it almost the same petrichor effect as in Après L’Ondee, but somehow skips the gentle melancholy that the violets and iris give that fragrance. This is a happy, innocent kind of perfume, one to wear while out picking spring flowers with one’s children on a blustery spring day.

However, its paleness can get a little tiresome after a while, and the cucumber-lilac pairing sometimes gives off a hint of plastic sheeting. It’s a well-done lilac, but if I were going for a lilac soliflore, this wouldn’t satisfy me 100%, and if I were looking for a sheer, light scent from the expensive Malle range, I’d choose the beautiful L’Eau d’Hiver.
16th May, 2016

Arabian Nights - Pure Oud by By Kilian

Pure Oud is the racehorse of the Western oud-based fragrances; all sinew and nerve, and not an inch of fat to spare. Kilian could have easily named this Oud Noir or Dark Oud, because Pure Oud really does convey the inky, matte darkness of a moonless night sky.

It smells like a black leather jacket tinctured into a pool of black tar and then vaporized into a mist of gasoline.

Pure Oud draws a line around itself and stays within it. Real oud oil has a smell that spills messily out over every line you’ve drawn for yourself; the brazenly-named Pure Oud (it is purely synthetic) is self-contained. But they do share a common denominator – both smell other-worldly and somewhat stark.

For me, it is the Western-based oud fragrance that comes closest to mimicking the smell of real oud oil. Not a sour, fermented-smelling Hindi or Assam oud oil, but one of those aged, dry oud oils where you can pick out hints of leather, dried fruit, melting plastic lunch boxes, and smoke.

Caveat: Pure Oud is a minimalist take on a maximalist smell, i.e., it does not approach the complexity or range of aromas of real oud oil. Nothing this obviously synthetic can come close to copying something so rudely natural.

But the experience of using oud oils and attars is not interchangeable with or comparable to using traditional fragrance; one is a quiet, more private experience geared toward internal contemplation; the other is a projection of oneself to the wider world. We shouldn’t keep holding up one against the other in a race for authenticity. Prefer instead that benchmark of Guy Robert’s: Does it smell good? And yes, Pure Oud does smell good – very good indeed.

I find Pure Oud to be very quiet, but long-lasting. Sometimes, to turn up the volume a bit, I re-spray during the day, twice, or even three times. This way, it builds up on the skin in layers of translucent ink – leather upon rubber upon gasoline, until it finally pushes off the skin in a sulky swirl of woodsmoke.
05th May, 2016

Gelsomino by Santa Maria Novella

I was in Rome for a few days in early April this year.I had promised my long-suffering husband that there would be no perfume. That we would be doing nothing for those four days but walking, eating long, uninterrupted lunches, drinking a cup of coffee without having to reheat it, and having real conversations for four days. I was looking forward to it. It was going to be a blast, you know? All that walking. All that conversing.

And yet, and yet…..perfume conspired to find me.

Did you know that the center of Rome smells like horses? And therefore, like jasmine?

Near the Spanish Steps, rows of mangy-looking beasts are lined up, waiting to drag hot and irritated tourists around the city. There they stand, in deep misery, flicking flies off their rumps with their tails and dumping great big piles of shit all over the cobblestones.

Get near them and the air positively throbs with the smell of hot horseflesh, the heavy miasma of sweated-in dander from their mane, and the inky, dark, quasi-indolic smell of their poo. Add to that the smell of worn leather from their harnesses, and you have a swirling, foetid maze of scent that is similar in many ways to the dirtier facets of a good Sambac jasmine.

Still, I hadn’t expected to find my perfectly horsey jasmine bliss in a bottle in the Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella.

I had conspired to “wander” casually by the Rome Santa Maria Novella location with my husband (having, of course, plotted my route via Google Maps several months in advance). “Oh look!” I exclaimed, as innocently as I could, “A cute little pharmacy! Let’s see if they have any Compeed.”

The Gelsomino was the one that grabbed me by the throat. I didn’t like it much at first, because it smelled like jasmine essential oils always smell to me - exuberant, fruity, and always (despite the price) slightly coarse or cheap. There were elements of grape jam, melting plastic, fuel fumes, purple bubblegum for kids - a full-throated, smeary Italian jasmine that’s all fur coat and no knickers.

My husband said it smelled like cheap soap, specifically the smell of jasmine soap that someone has used to try and cover up a bad smell in the bathroom.

But I was beginning to be intoxicated by its healthy vulgarity, its I-do-not-give-a-shit insouciance, so I drenched myself even further, giving myself a real whore’s bath right there in front of the slightly shocked Japanese girl whose job it was to carefully remove the bottles I requested to smell from the massive wooden armoire where they were stored.

Let me tell you, this is a perfume that comes into its own when you walk it around a hot city for six or seven hours. It was unseasonably hot in Rome – already 27, 28 degrees Celsius in early April. As the day wore on, I got progressively grimier, and so did Gelsomino. Now it smelled truly dirty, slightly sour, like human skin trapped under the sweaty plastic wristband on a cheap watch, or the scent of the leather strap on your handbag after it’s been rubbing against your bare shoulder bone on a hot summer’s day.

My husband sniffed it towards the end, and shook his head. It smells like hay and horse poo and leather now, doesn’t it, I marveled. No, he said, you are wrong. It smells like stale piss. Please don’t buy that one. Please.

The next day, when I bought it, I consoled my husband by telling him I had bought the smallest bottle possible. “Look,” I said, holding up the teeny tiny bottle for him to see, “Only 8ml.” Oh that’s ok then, said my husband, relieved and kind of proud I had taken his feelings into consideration.

(It was the super-powerful, super-long-lasting Triple Extract).
04th May, 2016

Equistrius by Parfum d'Empire

Equistrius is a soft, musky delight – an iris perfume that allows its normally recalcitrant, aloof self to be cajoled into a supine position on a chaise longue and be fed chocolate bon bons all day. The violet note is dewy and sweet and oh my God, right there, up top, with the rice powder note, ready to force the pleasure receptors in your brain wide open. Time and time again, I’m reminded why Marc-Antoine Corticchiato is one of the best perfumers around. Equistrius is iris made into supple pleasure.

Almost immediately, the violet and the iris and the rice powder become wrapped up in a baby blanket of rich, perfumey musk from the ambrette seed, with tiny hints of bread-cumin, hay, and apple peel flitting around the edges.

But mostly, the ambrette musk is a textural thing, causing a fuzzy wool-like aura to grow around the iris and violet. The individual notes become less and less distinct in the heart as they get subsumed completely by the musk, and if there’s one complaint I have about this fragrance, it’s that the “perfumey” character it assumes has a tendency to obscure the beauty and brilliance of the iris and the violet. This dwindling away into abstraction makes me want to re-spray over and over again just to relive that beautiful, bold beginning.

In theory, I’d love a big bottle of this. But the attenuation of character and definition over the course of the scent’s life gives me serious pause for thought.
18th April, 2016

Iris by Santa Maria Novella

A very pretty violet fragrance.
18th April, 2016

Bois d'Argent by Christian Dior

Aptly named, Bois d’Argent is a creamy, smoky woods scent with a streak of silvery iris running through it. The iris is here only to cut through the heaviness of the other notes – a piece of levain mixed into a heavy bread dough – so most of its lovely grey rootiness or butter tones are lost in the fray. However, without the soulful lift of the iris note, I think this composition would be a heavy, sodden mess – a dense genoise rather than angel food.

Bois d’Argent is primarily a sticky myrrh scent to my nose. Myrrh is a tricky material to work with in a perfume. Myrrh oil can be very bitter, mushroomy, and “black” in its favor profile, although I suspect that the perfumers went more for the myrrh resin smell here, which is smokier, woodier, and sweeter.

Here, as in other similar fragrances such as Bois d’Iris (The Different Company) and Myrrhe Ardente (Annick Goutal), the myrrh is paired with a sweet honey and vanilla to tone down the bitterness of the oil, and a smoky, resinous woods base to play up the resinous, smoky notes of the resin itself. There is also a faintly licorice-like note here, a note that is frequently matched to the anisic qualities of myrrh oil.

There is a sticky, “crunchy” texture to this fragrance that I also note in Myrrhe Ardente, like crunching on honey candies, the small ones you sometimes get with coffee in Italian bars – they look and taste sweetly creamy, but shatter into shards when you crush them in your teeth. And as with the candies in question, there is a tendency to cloy.

For this reason, I find Bois d’Argent striking but eventually exhausting to wear. The silvery iris and woods opening is beautiful, but the sweet vanilla in the base is far too syrupy, and the myrrh just continues droning on in its monologue for hours and hours. I can say practically the same thing for Bois d’Iris and Myrrhe Ardente. There are times when these fragrances work on me, but something in them eventually cloys and wears down not only my nose but my spirits too.
18th April, 2016

1889 Moulin Rouge by Histoires de Parfums

When I want to smell like make-up, I want to go full on Priscilla Queen of the Desert, thank you very much, and Moulin Rouge is what gives me my Cecil B. DeMille moment. I was locked in with Moulin Rouge early on and I don’t think my need to smell like lipstick is so all-encompassing that I need to look further afield. This is perhaps the real reason why the classy, serious Misia and the fey Lipstick Rose never stood a chance with me.

1889 Moulin Rouge has the edge purely because it’s obviously a fine-boned actress with a large, camp gay man fighting to get out.

The lipstick note at the beginning is almost putridly stale. Kind of like discovering a years-old Chanel lipstick at the arse end of some forgotten handbag and deciding, for old times’ sake, to give it a lash, only to spend the next four hours trying to wipe the stale, waxy, decaying stench off your lips with a face cloth.

This is almost as bad as eating that graying, whitish chocolate you find down the back of the couch one night when tidying away after the kids. But you know what I mean. I hope. It’s an almost attractive kind of staleness. I love it, because it’s so mega disgusting and mega delicious at the same time.

There is a boozy, overripe plum note, or pear, but some stone fruit anyway, collapsing and decaying unnoticed inside the leather bag along with the stale lipstick, and this gives off an interesting scent of booze as smelled on someone’s breath, a few hours after they’ve had a drink. It is almost sickly sweet, but in a good way. The iris continues throughout to be the defining element in the mix, though, casting its noble, rooty dust all over the stage and throwing lipstick shapes up on the spackled mirror in the dressing room.

Patchouli adds a shade of darkness and gloom in the basenotes, and I can completely see the vision of the dark dance theatre and the lonely Moulin Rouge dancers that Gerard Ghislain wanted us to see when wearing this fragrance. But this is far from a serious or dark scent. It’s very fun, retro, tongue-in-cheek fragrance, and one that calls for stockings with the line down the back of the legs, black patent Mary Janes, about an inch’s worth of Caron face powder, and Chanel’s Gabrielle red.

Oh, and if you have small children? Totally worth buying this fragrance just to hurry along those olfactory memories they’re already busy making in their tiny heads – kiss them goodnight while wearing this and they’ll remember that you smelled like perfume, face powder, and illicit booze just like any good mother does.
18th April, 2016

Iris Oriental / Iris Taïzo 14 by Parfumerie Generale

More oriental than iris, Iris Oriental wraps a rooty, ammoniac iris up in a thick blanket of resins, woods, spices, and a syrupy, souk-like amber, making for an iris that, although built for comfort and not speed, is far from sophomoric.

The treatment of iris here is quite novel. It is only really evident as a note in and of itself in the first hour or so, when it displays a high-toned, almost acid yellow fruity brightness that sings in the same register as bergamot. So when the slightly metallic iris root note begins to bleed into the lower layers of honey, amber, smoky resins, and woods, it’s hardly any wonder that my mind flicks sideways to Shalimar. In fact, I credit Iris Oriental for making me understand, finally, just how important the iris note is in Shalimar. But Iris Oriental is not derivative or copycat; it references some of the building blocks of Shalimar but is its own creature. So much so that if you weren’t a devotee of Shalimar like me, the connections might not even enter your head.

In maintaining such a careful balance between dry woods, spicy cardamom, smoky resins, wet honey, and powdery-fruity iris, Iris Oriental tends towards fuzzy abstraction instead of clarity. On cloudy, windy days when the grey threatens to swallow me up, Iris Oriental is a soft, honeyed thing made of spun sugar and gold to wear upon my person, like a protective amulet.
18th April, 2016

Misia Eau de Toilette by Chanel

Misia had established its lipstick credentials early on, so by the time I got around to smelling it – I was in no particular hurry – I was fully expecting the pretty. And I did get the pretty. But I hadn’t been expecting the rather serious, somber orris root that tumbled out with the sweet, fruity violets and powdery rose. In truth, the iris note in Misia owes more to the sinister, root-vegetable iris in Iris Silver Mist than to the powdery face-powder of Lipstick Rose.

It was a surprise at first, but then I came to realize that Chanel would never put out a scent in the Les Exclusifs range that was all fluff and no brains – the grey-toned, rooty iris was put here to bestow gravitas. I mean, if you wanted all pink, girly fun, well, you can go to Frederic Malle (Lipstick Rose) or L’Artisan Parfumeur (Drole de Rose). This is Chanel, darling. Severe good taste must always win out over fun and fripperies.

Technically, Misia is beautiful. But it leaves me cold. I think it’s because in trying to breach the gap between the kitchy, self-indulgent fun of a proper lipstick scent and the grown-up, impeccable good taste of the Chanel iris, Misia kind of forgets to establish a clear identity of its own.

For me, it makes up part of that 10ml club I’ve got going in a box in my study – basically a box full of decants that will never make it to full bottle status. I spray Misia on, I like it, and then I completely forget about it. This is strange because I experience an emotional reaction to many of the Les Exclusifs, and I love both iris and violet. But I have to go with my gut here: Misia is good but not great. And in the pool of existing Les Exclusifs, this one is swimming in the shallow end.
18th April, 2016
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17/17 Irisss by Xerjoff

A very kind friend sent me a sample of Irisss to test when she found out that I still hadn’t been able to track down a sample. She felt that no iris quest would be complete without smelling it, and having smelled it, I agree completely. For an iris lover, this is compulsory sniffing. The price, however, means that it is outside the realms of the possible for most of us mortals, so smelling it might just be a recipe for self-inflicted heartbreak.

Irisss is by far the best pure iris fragrance I have ever smelled, and I feel depressed even writing that, not because it isn’t true but because I’d hate to admit that price might actually correlate to quality when it comes to matters of pure iris root. It matches the iris in Iris Silver Mist for its stunning, crystal-cut purity, but paces well ahead of the Serge Lutens in terms of sheer naturalness and beauty. Irisss is like ISM with all the sinister, synthetic elements removed, and is therefore both less of an artistic statement and much, much easier to wear on a regular basis.

It is very difficult to describe the progression of Irisss, so I won’t try apart from saying that it reads very much like what I’d imagine a tincture of dried iris roots might smell like in isolation – cold, rooty, creamy, buttery – a distillation of the color of freshly-fallen snow or a pail of cream from a cow in an alpine meadow.

I care not a jot for the other notes – don’t care, won’t care – and it seems like they are merely window dressing for that incredible iris butter anyway. There is a bright snap of bergamot up top and a vaguely musky, powdery, almost vanillic dry down that feels luxurious but not intrusive. The very definition of “liquid good taste” as Chandler Burr once referred to iris.
18th April, 2016

Dzongkha by L'Artisan Parfumeur

I’ve struggled with Dzongkha for a long time, and even now, three, four years on, I admit that I’m perhaps only halfway towards understanding this brilliant and sometimes frustrating fragrance. Part of my old problem with Dzongkha is that it smells so little like perfume that I am always wrestling with the question “What the fuck am I smelling right now?” Because, depending on the day, the hour, it’s always something different.

I don’t know what I’m smelling, so my mind defaults to the nearest recognizable object.

Most of the time, Dzongkha smells like the steamy aromas caught in the wool of my sweater when making chicken stock – pepper, chicken fat, bones, celery, salt. It smells intensely savory, almost salty, metallic, and most definitely vegetal. On other days, I spray it on, and it is obviously, immediately a very rooty iris, smelling of nothing so much as potato starch or hospital disinfectant. Other times, my nose shortcuts to a glass of whiskey or to the smell of a wet newspaper, its ink running down my fingers, about to disintegrate into mush.

But then again, sometimes the smell of paper is dry and rustling. Sometimes, there is a fiercely pungent boot polish note, as iridescent and blue-black as a bluebottle’s shell. Sometimes, the iris shows me a petrichor side, similar to the flat mineralic smell of drying rocks and tarmac after a rain shower that features so heavily in Apres L’Ondee.

In the background, there is always a strain of green tea leaves, dry-roasted over a campfire, a waft of incense, and a totally puerile-smelling, soapy overlay of fruit and flowers, faint and smudged like the waxy, wet residue of the bottom of a bar of cheap hotel soap left to fester in a dish. There is a purple cheapness to the floralcy here, a cleaning product whose scent nobody has given much thought to other than the brief to contain a smell that is "like a flower" and "opposite to poo". The first few times I tried Dzongkha, I remember being shocked at the florid, purple floral smell more than any of the weirder stuff.

At some point in Dzongkha’s development, a rubbery, dry leather note emerges and takes center stage, and it puffs on in this mode for the rest of the duration, sweetening and softening quite a bit along the way. It even starts to smell, well, nice. Slightly more like perfume and slightly less than the collected smells of a household.

People are fond of saying that Dzongkha is like Timbuktu but with iris added, but I don’t really get that. For me, Timbuktu is a deceptively simple smoky woods and incense fragrance, with all its magic and power tied up in its uncluttered nature. I wear it to reset my clock when I am feeling upset or out of balance – I find it calming and far more spiritual than any of the acclaimed church incenses out there.

Dzongkha, on the other hand, packs an awful lot of weird stuff into one tight space, and is clearly a Hieronymus Bosch to Timbuktu’s naïve art. When I wear Dzongkha, it distracts me. My mind is agitated, feverishly trying to mentally place all of the odd little flourishes in this library of smells I carry around in my brain. Whether this proves to be stimulating or just plain annoying depends on what kind of day I’m having. So you better believe I think twice before spraying this on.

But still, I spray this on. It’s interesting – it’s art.

There was a thread recently here on Basenotes that posed the question of whether L’Artisan Parfumeur was going out of fashion, and there were a fair few people who wrote in to say that, yes, the house was irrelevant and that most if not all of its perfumes could happily disappear off the face of the earth for all they cared.

Well, get a load of you, you bitches. Before you all slope off looking for the most chemically-powered hard leather bombs with which to blow your smell receptors out or the latest , achingly-cool melting glass bottles that won’t stand up full of liquid that smells like fish eggs, or toner ink, or glue, or whatever niche decides is new and shocking these days, take a moment to remember the Grandmaster Flash of them all, the weird-before-it-was-cool-to-be-weird Dzongkha. And maybe don’t be so quick to dismiss an entire house with quite the back catalog of conversation starters and pot stirrers.

You can't even throw that tried-and-tested (and true) complaint about L'Artisan Parfumeur's fragrances - weak longevity - at the head of Dzongkha. It is not quietly radiant as Timbuktu, it is just as strong and as dense as a brick. This stuff lasts 10-11 hours easily. Of course, whether you'll want it to or not is another matter....
16th April, 2016

Shooting Stars : Ibitira by Xerjoff

I haven’t been able to get my hands yet on a sample of XerJoff’s Irisss, said to be one of the world’s greatest iris fragrances. But then I remember reading an opinion of someone on Basenotes that Ibitira by the same brand, while although not entirely focused on iris, was, in his opinion, a far better fragrance all round, and I remembered that I had a tiny sample of it somewhere. After much searching, I found it – a meager 05.ml, but enough surely to give it a good wearing.

Oh but I enjoyed every single second of that wearing! Ibitira is a beautiful, rather Italian take on the iris-rose-jasmine combination popularized in the French classics such as Chanel No. 5. And truth be told, I prefer the Italian take. Ibitira takes out the central section of florals, shaves off the aldehydes, and adds some Italian sunshine in the form of lemons, bergamot, and fresh green violet leaves. Polished floral luxury, but serene and smiling. Real Italian-style joie de vivre! Or more accurately, gioia di vivere?

The Florentine iris really shines here – no powder, just an electric shock of bitter rootiness, like green leather or the sound of two silver spoons clashing against each other. For a second, it reminds me of the citrusy, fresh iris in Prada Infusion d’Iris. It powers through on that iris identity for a good few hours before sliding in to rest in a huge pink rose note and a greenish jasmine.

I really like that the fragrance retains a cool, classical feel while also smelling utterly, clearly, incontrovertibly of the separate flowers that went into it – this is not the golden abstraction of Joy or Chanel No. 5. There is, however, a similar almond feel to the white musk in the base – it’s something I experience a bit in the No. 5 pure parfum but even more heavily in the EDP. I would wonder if there is heliotrope in Ibitira because of the almond-like undertone, but I don’t see it listed and I don’t think that Chanel really uses heliotrope (to the extent that Guerlain does, at least).

The base takes a turn towards orientalism, and for me, something of the silvery sheen of the iris is lost in the bustle. A dryish, powdery amber moves in, and combined with the almond-like tones in the heart, I am reminded of the beautiful Mona di Orio Musc, which also combines heliotrope, rose, and iris with white musk, creating an almost crunchy, dry ice effect in the drydown.

Despite the gradual attenuation of the iris, though, this is a stunning iris fragrance and one that I feel honored to have been able to test. I’d recommend it to anyone for whom budget is not a concern. In summary, a robust, smiling, Italian version of a classic iris fragrance for those who love classic French perfumes but feel them too somber for a joyful occasion.
26th March, 2016

Iris de Nuit by Heeley

If there is anything to come out of this iris quest I’ve been on lately, it’s that I really love Iris de Nuit. Pairing a fresh, carroty iris to a greenish violet, this fragrance manages to evoke both a rain-soaked English garden and the clean lines of the Chrysler building.

It’s also one of those rare fragrances that clearly emits a color like other fragrances emit a sound or an image. If you’re someone who experiences scents in a synesthetic way, then you must try this fragrance and tell me if you agree.

There is a wistful tone to this fragrance that reminds me somewhat of Après L’Ondee with its similarly doleful air. But although it shares some of its faintly anisic, herbal qualities, Iris de Nuit feels very much of this century – modern, streamlined, bound to this earth - not cut adrift in a permanent fugue state.

Iris de Nuit is a clean, transparent fragrance, but the ambrette seed adds a vegetal, muskiness that blurs the sharp edges of the violets and iris until it takes on a slightly “fur”-like texture. Angelica root imparts the green, mouth-sucking astringency of green rhubarb stalks, less of a smell than a crisp, herbal “taste” I can read with the back of my tongue. In the base, there is a slight herbal saltiness from ambergris and a haunting woodiness.

But the details hardly matter – you can’t dissect such haunting loveliness. Every note in this fragrance knits in so tightly with the others that one gets just an overall impression of a series of overlapping tints and tones – duck-egg blue fading into violet and then night blue, like being inside a cubist’s art installation or just standing on a dusty road somewhere watching darkness fall.
26th March, 2016

Impossible Iris by Ramon Monegal

A unique take on iris – beautiful and slightly strange. Have you ever eaten a raspberry crème brulee? By some weird quirk of culinary alchemy, the vanilla custard and the raspberry transmute each other into something completely different from their normal selves – the custard loses its bland sweetness and takes on the sharp fruitiness of the berry, while the berry has its raspberry identity completely sanded down, leaving only a bright, citric fleshiness in its place. The end result tastes nothing like custard or raspberry, but is a completely new taste born from their union.

Something similar happens in Impossible Iris. The custardy, plasticky ylang and the bright, sour raspberry mix with a cool, powdered suede iris, and the result smells nothing like either one of the original ingredients to the pot.

True, there is a distinctly moist fruit note, but it is more the blue-green shimmer of a wet raspberry leaf than the vulva-pink flesh of the berry itself. The ylang divests itself of its usual steamy, banana-like nuances, and combined with the rooty tones of the iris, blows up the hairspray and plastic hairnet side of its personality.

The iris, slicked in these juices, takes on a aerosol tone, like the fresh emission from a can of suede boot cleaner or furniture polish. Somehow, it emerges from the fruit, mimosa, and ylang as a wholly new creature, wobbly on its legs, but utterly beautiful.
26th March, 2016

Iris Poudre by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Despite the name, Iris Poudre is neither very powdery nor very iris-heavy. Boy, it’s beautiful, though. Wearing it feels like a celebration. It envelops the wearer in a white, balmy, creamy cloud of aldehydes and sweet flower petals, with subtle hints of a cool, floral iris glinting like pearls threaded into layers of white tulle. When I wear it, I feel like I’m ten again, digging through my mother’s clothes and playing dress-up with her costume jewelry.

The sweetness, almost like honey or amber, hiding behind the skirts of Iris Poudre always takes me by surprise. It is a sugared cream wave that gathers force and builds behind the thin wall of glittering aldehydes, and when it breaks, together they create that balmy, pearlescent cloud of scent particles that moves with your body like a shoal of tiny silver fish.

And yet, inside the lift of aldehydes, I sense something chemically abrasive and woody that tugs against the creamy, bland perfection of the scent. It’s not unpleasant, and in fact, it makes the scent all the more interesting to me. It is not, as I first thought, the natural sharpness of soap, but rather the pressurized air just released from pulling a tab on a can of soda (after shaking) – that same unbridled, expectant air of “something is about to happen” that I get from Chanel No. 22 and Baghari, both scents to which Iris Poudre may be compared.

The chemical sharpness of aldehydes in general, therefore, there to give the same boost to a fragrance that the propellers of a plane does, and tasting as much of metal and forced air as champagne. I can live with that. Actually, I really like this edge of modernity, that glancing dash of metal in a fragrance that is otherwise all about soapy, old-fashioned glamour. It makes it as abstract and as modern as that other supersonic, aldehydic floral, Chanel No. 5. But I would far prefer to wear Iris Poudre.
26th March, 2016

La Pausa / 28 La Pausa Eau de Toilette by Chanel

I absolutely love 28 La Pausa. It features an iris note that’s every bit as pure as the one in Iris Silver Mist, but nowhere near as cloak-and-daggery. 28 La Pausa is like a fresh breeze off a line of linens on a summer’s day.

Bolstered on top by a touch of green citrus and below with a dab of creamy, peppery woods, iris is really the star of the show here. There is something to be said for just letting a fantastic raw material shine, and this is the approach Chanel has chosen here. Although the iris is sheer and ethereal, there is a slightly buttery, round tone to it that minimizes any attending severity.

I love 28 La Pausa for its purity and its gentleness, but I curse it for its longevity. It lasts all of two-three hours on my skin. For this reason, and this reason alone, 28 La Pausa is a perfume that I mentally rank alongside the great Apres L’Ondee. Do I really want to spend that type of money to wring out a pitiful two hours of scent, no matter how beautiful and emotionally affecting that scent might be?

On some days, my answer is a resounding yes. On other days, I am more sensible. My wallet is safe. Mind you, that moment of (uncommon) financial wisdom is like 28 La Pausa – strictly temporary in nature.
20th March, 2016

Iris Cendré by Naomi Goodsir

Yet another iris that wants to have me for breakfast. Iris Cendre opens on a friendly citrus note that flitters off almost immediately before pulling back the curtain to reveal an orris butter accord that is almost as pure as in Iris Silver Mist. Pungent and waxy, there is something thrilling in the opacity of the iris here, and one almost feels pressed to the wall with it. Basted in an iris paste, so to speak.

The dense forcefulness of the note is emphasized by an almost unpleasantly smoky, sour cedar wood, creating an overall effect of a steel fist inside a cast-iron glove. It is not a soft opening - it is…… unforgiving. It is the Pale Rider on his horse, throwing all sorts of shapes. Why does iris cut me so deep? What did I ever do to it?

I don’t dispute the quality (or the amount) of good orris butter or iris in this fragrance. Whether you enjoy it will depend, I suspect, on how evilly rooty you like your irises. If you love Iris Silver Mist or 28 La Pausa, then you will love Iris Cendre.

But for me, the best parts of Iris Cendre are the odd little touches here and there that remind me of non-perfumey materials such as that waxy-lanolin slip to the iris in the opening notes, the steel wool fuzziness of the cedar (even though I don’t particularly enjoy the smell of it), and the rubbery, weirdly smooth-to-the-touch texture I associate with silly putty and freshly-poured latex paint.

There is also some tobacco and leather in the basenotes, but honestly, I don’t experience them as dramatically as other people seem to. To my nose, the tobacco is more of a subtle whiff of cigarette rolling papers that have just been emptied of their tobacco than the leaf itself, and in that respect, it reminds me of the also almost non-existent “smoky tobacco” that is reputed to be in Mona di Orio’s Violette Fumee. It also calls to mind the unlit, slightly ashy tobacco note from Jasmin et Cigarette, which is a fragrance I’ve come to like more and more over the years.

I suppose I should be commending the house of Naomi Goodsir for their restraint in not overloading the fragrance with smoke notes like they did in Bois d’Ascese. But a touch more smoke would have been welcome here – not only can this butch iris more than stand its own ground against it but the second half of the perfume really needs the supporting ballast. After the blazing iris beginning, Iris Cendre collapses into a faint whisper of a fragrance.
20th March, 2016

Bas de Soie by Serge Lutens

Bas de Soie is a very pleasant surprise. I think I’ve been putting off smelling it because I am not terribly fond of hyacinth as a note in perfumes, tending as it does to contribute a pale green, chalky texture to everything it touches. Well, at least that’s what I think what happened with Chamade and Nahema.

But the iris in this is of the soft, powdery sort you find in Guerlain face powders, and tames the sharp vegetal edges of the hyacinth in a most charming way. There is still that slightly gippy texture to it that recalls hairspray or white shirts with far too much starch sprayed onto them, but this loosens up quite a bit as the day goes on, the scent gaining a silky, powdery sweetness that I wouldn’t have guessed at early on.

The whole thing comes off as a lightly soapy, green iris perfume that just begs to be worn when you’re wishing spring forward a bit. A big green-yellow powder puff of a scent. Along the same general lines as Chamade, L’Heure Exquise, and Le Temps d’Une Fete, I think it would appeal to people looking for a softer, more floral rendition of iris – something with a bit of botanical warmth in its bones. Impossible to wear this perfume and not think that spring has sprung.
20th March, 2016

Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens

This is not perfume.

It is either art or a form of water boarding, but it’s not a perfume.

Iris Silver Mist teeters on a tightrope between aching beauty and ugly brutality for much of its duration. The first blast out of the gate is of the purest iris root note I have ever smelled – it an exhalation of pure luxury.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the buttery iris root note is whipped away and replaced with a wall of poisonous aromas that lunges for your throat and just keeps coming.

I can almost taste the smell on the back of my tongue – mud, earth, metal, roots, dry ice pumped from a machine at a festival. The mix of aromas is unsettling and quite brutal, a cold stew of raw potatoes soaking in ice cold water, rotting carrot tops, and something that recalls the acrid fug of alcohol fumes that comes off a hot Poitín still.

There is also the high-toned acid sting of fresh urine about it – like that of a baby’s nappy but devoid of any of the warm, sweet-sour honey and hay overtones that makes baby pee such a friendly smell. The urine aroma here is cold and denatured, ureic acid grown in a sterile lab. This is not of human origin.

This striking stink is, of course, iris – pure iris rhizomes pushed to the limit by Maurice Roucel, who, under the urging of Serge Lutens to make it more, more, MORE iris, dumped a little-used iris nitrile called Irival into the mix. Iris fragrances are usually icy, polite, and suggestive or either lipstick or the lining of an Hermes purse.

Iris Silver Mist is the bared teeth of a dog. It snarls.

It’s not at all nice to wear, at least not in the first hour, but it stirs my soul in a way that more pleasant, wearable perfumes do not. The drydown is a soft iris suede with dabs of creamy woods and a soft breath of spice. Not distinctive at all, and actually kind of weak, but we still have the memory of that opening to drop our jaw to the ground.

Iris Silver Mist makes me think of uncomfortable scenarios – teenagers facing the wall at the end of the Blair Witch Project, the tops of those dark pine trees swaying in the wind in Twin Peaks every time Coop entered the Red Room in the Black Lodge, the guy in nothing but y-fronts and a WW2 gas mask striding across a corn field at the end of episode 3 of True Detective…..

Think of basically anything that has ever chilled your soul, and that’s Iris Silver Mist.

It is a work of art. Art in a gimp mask, yes – but still, art.
20th March, 2016

Terre d'Iris by Miller Harris

Terre d’Iris is one of the more interesting iris perfumes I’ve ever smelled. Instead of going down the lipstick/cosmetic route, or the cool violet route, or the green-citrusy route, it plants the iris note down in a an Italian kitchen’s worth of bitter oranges, sage, rosemary, basil, moss, and God knows what else, and expects it to fight its way out.

It does, eventually, and emerges as an earthy but also quite plasticky iris note that acts as a civilizing force on the rowdier members of the assembly. It is a mesmerizing and energizing first act.

There is something called African Orange Flower in this, which I’m assuming is plain old orange blossom. Interestingly enough, aside from producing a slight soapy note from contact with the iris, it also melds with the bitter orange and rose to form a milky peach note. The plasticky iris note combined with this big, lactonic peach-rose combo turns the whole thing into something that smells uncannily like Gucci Rush.

I kid you not. I wore this for days on end, trying to figure out why I was getting flashbacks to being drunk in dark, sweaty discotheques. When I finally figured out that the ghost of Rush had been resurrected in the most unlikely of guises (a naturalistic, kitchen-garden iris), I was able to put this perfume to one side and move on.

I am constantly surprised to find the ghosts of my old perfume loves in expensive niche perfumery – Joop! Woman in Teo Cabanel’s Alahine, Kenzo Pour Homme in Histoires de Parfums’ Rosam (it’s the aquatic feel), and now Gucci Rush in Terre d’Iris. These are not smellalikes, of course – it’s just an accident of nature, a freak occurrence in an art where it must be nigh on impossible to create something that does not reference, at least in part, an accord that has been used before.

But the association is enough to make me want to put that perfume away. Because, as I’m sure Lyn Harris herself would understand, it’s one thing to be out strolling in a sunny Mediterranean kitchen garden, and another thing entirely to be reminded of all the bad decisions you made while armed with nothing but a bottle of peach vodka and your best Wonderbra.
13th March, 2016

Iris Nazarena by Aedes de Venustas

When Iris Nazarena was released, in 2013, the perfumer, Ralf Schweiger explained that he “had to find a point of difference with Chanel N°19,” presumably because N°19 is viewed as one of the key reference points in the iris genre.

That remark puzzles me because I don’t think any of the iris perfumes released since N°19 have had to struggle to distance themselves from it – no perfume really smells like it, either then or now. Furthermore, N°19 always struck me more as a green floral than an iris soliflore – the galbanum, to me, is as important a player as the iris (if not more). The vintage EDT had a wonderful, crisp leather in the dry down that is sadly missing in today’s version.

Iris Nazarena is definitely a modern iris, if that’s what the perfumer meant by finding a point of difference with the Chanel. It is, despite the plethora of notes, as sleek and as streamlined as a Barcelona chair. It is cool to the touch, like a piece of steel. Not bitchy, like N°19 – just completely controlled. If N°19 is Joan Crawford towering over you with a wire hanger, then Iris Nazarena is Claire Underwood lifting her chin coolly against a barrage of insults.

What I like most particularly about Iris Nazarena is the way that the perfumer slyly adjusts the color and texture wheel throughout the life of the fragrance, changing it from cold grey steel (iris roots, clean and ethereal) to dusty suede flushed with hot pink (juniper berries, the green apple peel of ambrette, rose) to white dust (incense, smoky woods) and finally to a crisp wintergreen glove (vetiver, camphor).

Iris is the significant driver behind the total smell – but the iris picks up something every other element it meets along the way. Apart from the opening, where it stands alone, cold, crisp, and slightly earthy, the iris is woven so tightly into the carpet of notes that it becomes part of the musky, sourish cedar that swells up behind the topnotes and merges its cool dryness completely with the ashy incense.

It is slightly smoky, dry, woodsy - reminding in some parts of the way Sycomore and Timbuktu wear on my skin. I admire its dry elegance but don’t connect emotionally to its beauty – it strikes me as overly mannered and remote.

At one point, though, I think that I could really get into this. This is the point at which the juniper berries and apple peel aromas of the ambrette-rose combination start to flush the cool grey of the iris with the warmth of fruit, alcohol, and bread. Suffused with this hot, rosy glow, the scent picks up the sensual muskiness of clean human skin and begins to feel a bit more unbuttoned. A cool, raspberry leaf-like note – or a touch of camphor from the juniper – sharpens the glow and brings it into high definition. Everything is pulling together at this point, and I am on board.

But the dial is soon turned back down again, draining the rosy warmth from the iris, and fusing it to a sourish leather base constructed with a salty, marshy vetiver. But don’t mind me – I have a particular sensitivity to both cedar and vetiver, and here we have both of them in full force. It’s not for me personally, but I bow down to its chilly, changeable beauty. I think this would be perfection on a man’s skin.
13th March, 2016

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum Absolue by Prada

Where the original is watery, cool, and crisp/bitter, the Absolue is rich, sweet, and warm. The iris is much more evident to my nose in the Absolue version than in the original – it is rooty, thick, and almost bready.

If you can imagine a braided Easter bread stuffed with butter, eggs, and sugar, fresh out of the oven and cut open, then the iris here has a similar sweet doughiness.

I can think of only two other iris-centric fragrances where the iris gives off a sweet, yeasty/bready aroma, one being the current Mitsouko EDP and the other being Chanel No. 18. It is an enchanting, addictive aroma, and one that draws me further into the fragrance.

There is nothing fresh, green, or watery about the Absolue version. The sweet oriental base - vanillic-ambery resins (benzoin, oppoponax), a nicely “aged” vanilla, and some tonka bean - wafts up at you throughout the life of the scent, turning the iris note into a silky, buttery thing of sheer luxury. If the original is a wisp of chiffon, then the Absolue is a warm cashmere wrap. Yes, I did it - I just invoked The Great Big Cliche of perfume writing. But it applies here, so I'm going to be lazy and just leave it there.

This is my new "professional" scent for those days when I know I have meetings with clients. I like to try and strike a compromise on my fragrance choice while meeting a client - it has to be demure and classy enough not to distract the client, but also beautiful enough to keep me happy and relaxed. This does the job very well, and so it joins my usual line-up of 31 Rue Cambon by Chanel and Cuir Pleine Fleur by James Heeley.

Neither the original Infusion nor the Absolue last very long on me, but since I favor rich, oriental perfumes over fresh, citrusy ones (as a rule), I much prefer the Absolue. The quality of that iris is just outstanding, as is that warm, sweet resin base. I would wear the Absolue on cooler days and the original Infusion d’Iris on hot, summer days, or after hot showers.
07th March, 2016

Infusion d'Iris by Prada

I have a bottle of Infusion d’Iris and although I’m not 100% in love with it, I can’t quite bring myself to sell it because it plays a very useful part in my fragrance wardrobe.

Specifically, I use it after a cold shower on a hot day, when its chilly, citrusy scent provides a most welcome cooling sensation on my skin.

Then again, since moving from Montenegro to Ireland, I'm not entirely sure I will ever be hot ever again. Or indeed, warm.

Infusion d'Iris opens with tart citrus and thin, almost austere woods, reminding me more of a cup of chilled green tea than a true iris fragrance. Then the iris shows up midway through, a pale grey root infusion, like the water in which iris roots have been soaking. It smells clean and slightly soapy, like the scented air in the bathroom after a good soak in the bath with Epsom salts.

Later on, there is a hint of leather – a thin, discreet leather note – and a vetiver that shows off its cool, minty side. Gossamer-fine in texture, there is a pleasing bitterness to it that reminds me of similarly chilly and crisp colognes, like Cologne Blanche by Dior, which I also like very much. Both display a cooling, “white” character, like a metallic white wine quaffed straight from the fridge and so cold it makes your teeth chatter.

Infusion d’Iris is just effortlessly classy, and it will never be out of my summer wardrobe. Function over form on this one, for me.
07th March, 2016

Rose Privée by L'Artisan Parfumeur

A fresh, pretty English rose scrubbed clean of anything waxy, dark, or animalic. It has a citrusy start, and then launches into a pink pompon of a rose, supported by a basil note that makes it feel like an English kitchen garden. The basil veers dangerously close to mint, which is why I say English garden instead of Italian garden.

There are other florals here too – magnolia, carnation, and lilac – but the effect is a muddled, gentle floral blend rather than something distinct. All I get in the base is a very faint lick of something vaguely chypre-like (must be the hay) and some white musk. I have no idea why this perfume exists. It’s not bad, but I just…..I don’t know why I’m even talking about it. This is not a review, but a question mark.
06th March, 2016

Rose Ishtar by Rania J

I quite like Rania J’s perfumes, especially Ambre Loup and Oud Assam. But I think Rose Ishtar is a misfire. On my skin, it is a green, sour rose (watery) swamped by a greasy layer of tonka bean paste. The rose tries to break through, but it is mostly held back by this sweet, lumpy-oily tonka, obscuring it like a thick blanket on a muggy day.

There is a cheap almond smell to the tonka, a certain underlying shoddiness inherent perhaps in the tonka bean or coumarin itself, and it reminds me most unfortunately of almond-scented room sprays or candles. In fact, I don’t get much rose through much of the scent’s progression, except for hour 18 when the grease breaks and the rose pops out like a spurt of pus from a zit.
06th March, 2016

Isparta 26 by Parfumerie Generale

The roses that are harvested in Isparta are hardy little things, growing out of the stony soil and rocks on the sparse hills around the city of Isparta in Turkey. Picked before dawn so that the buds are not fully opened, the scent of their petals when distilled is said to be especially intense and spicy.

Indeed, the aroma of these roses is so rich and piquant that one gets the impression of red rubies glowing hotly in the dark. The peppery fullness of the rose notes is fleshed out with a bright, cold, tart berry accord – raspberries and blackcurrants – adding a succulence and depth that is simply mouth-watering.

The berries remind me a bit of Portrait of a Lady, in particular in the way that they are used to temper and manage the fruity side of the rose oil, but the effect here, while just as “chilly,” is not as camphoraceously green as in Portrait of a Lady. The rose-berry accord in Isparta is juicier and sweeter, like a bunch of berries, rose petals, and geranium leaves jellied in aspic.

Soon, though, a dark, dry, hulking base rises like the damp to swallow the rose and berry jelly. There is one ferociously strong patchouli oil at play here - the louche, dank sort worn by guys with sideburns and a pool cue under their arm – and a dry, salty oakmoss. The patchouli represents the black mountain ground and the oakmoss the flinty, saline rocks and moss that choke the earth on those hostile steppes, forcing the Isparta rose to rise up against all odds.

I can see why people think there is oud in this, even though there is not. Like Portrait of a Lady, the combination of smoke, woods, patchouli, and incense suggests a thick sourness that makes one think of oud.

This is a beautiful, heavy, potent rose-patchouli perfume with a salty, mossy chypre drydown. I see nothing wrong with it, unless you already have Portrait of a Lady, which although not completely alike are most definitely plumbing the same thematic ground (dark, smoky rose oriental). But for those of you who find Portrait of a Lady too much, then Isparta might be a perfect choice, as it is softer and smoother all round.

Longevity is phenomenal. But can I say something about longevity here? What good is longevity if what you’re smelling on hour 38 is a washed-out, standard Ambroxan, with all of the really good, rich, or interesting notes falling away within the first six hours?

This is the case both with Isparta and Portrait of a Lady (and indeed a good many super-charged woody ambery fragrances these days). Fragrance is as subject to the law of diminishing returns as sex, cigarettes, and binge-watching episodes of The House of Cards – amazing to a certain point, but diminishing in satisfaction with every additional unit. In other words, the first hour of sex, of the TV series, of the perfume, that first cigarette – those are the best. But then chafing or boredom sets in. Is it not better to have a really enjoyable 3-4 hours than a mediocre, even miserable experience at hour 38?
06th March, 2016