Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

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Total Reviews: 432

Eaux Sanguines : Dom Rosa by Les Liquides Imaginaires

If someone asked me for a perfume that personified the difference between niche and designer these days, I might point them in the direction of Dom Rosa. This is a perfume that would never have made it past the first round of focus groups in the designer market – it’s weird, not sweet at all, and a little rough in execution.

But it presents an interesting idea and will appeal to a very small slice of consumers who will have no problem in shelling out €160 for a bottle of perfume. And that’s all this perfume really needs to do anyway – pivot (like a politician) to that small group of people. Niche is the long tail of perfume economics. All you need is a small number of people willing to invest big bucks in a risky but brave perfume “idea” and the concept pays off.

Ok, so how does the perfume itself smell? Shocking, at first (which is part of the point). A phenomenally bitter, green rose dipped in battery acid and joined to a sulfurous grapefruit/pomelo accord, shot up your nose on a explosion of soapy aldehydes. Yes, the topnotes really do evoke the sensation of tipping a glass of champagne down your neck. It’s exciting and striking, if not conventionally pleasing to the nose. The metallic and acidulated elements add a sense of unease.

Bubbling under, well, the bubbly, is a contrasting accord of dark, tarry notes – a sticky, dirty clove in particular, but also frankincense in its unlit, waxy, and somewhat coldly animalic form. Smoky but sour gaiac wood and cedar bring up the rear. It’s nothing too new or original, but when the sour, fizzing topnotes meet the sticky, clove-y notes underneath, there is a real clash between light and dark, citrusy (fresh) and resinous (sticky, unfresh, dark). The clash is what makes the perfume dissonant, and therefore interesting.

Like so many long tail niche perfumes, Dom Rosa works better as an abstract idea than a personal perfume, but there will be a small and fervent group of admirers who disagree violently with me. Those are the people buying perfume like this, and to be honest, for oddball-nutjob-weirdo niche perfumes like this to exist, someone has to. So hats off to them. Those are the same people who made Tubereuse Criminelle, M/Mink, and Maai possible.
06th March, 2016

Nuit de Noël by Caron

Modern niche perfumery makes it easy for us. It must be like playing charades with the world’s slowest child. They supply us with all the visual and background cues and then sit back and do a slow clap when we get it. Ambre Russe? Mention vodka in the press materials and in one sniff we are mentally whisked away to boozy Cossacks, samovars, fur, and gold-gilded palaces. De Profundis? Give an essentially cheery floral perfume a gloomy name and a depressive back-story, and suddenly everyone makes the connection to death and funerals.

If we weren’t supplied so readily with these cues, would we make those connections? Probably not. But let’s admit that the back-story is half the fun of it. We are only human after all – we want everything we do to have meaning. Even if it’s only our perfume.

Smell Caron Nuit de Noel in vintage parfum form, though, and everything you know about narrative is upended. It is a Wagnerian opera-sized perfume and we not handed so much as a leaflet. Oh yes, I forgot, they did give us that name – Nuit de Noel. But it doesn’t smell like Christmas, so that doesn’t help.

But this is what perfume smelled like once upon a time. A dense, powdered thing of mystery that doesn’t really give a shit if you manage to unlock its layers or not. It’s so analog in a digital world that it makes me laugh.

Nuit de Noel doesn’t really have traditional topnotes. In fact, it’s a fragrance best worn for its basenotes, and is therefore the complete opposite to how perfumes are made these days - stuffed with amazing topnotes that last just long enough to get you over to the till to pay your money and petering out into one big fat nothing three hours later. Nuit de Noel, on the other hand, plunges you right into the second cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen and just trusts that you know enough German to get by. In a way, I appreciate that approach – by giving me very few cues, it expects me to have enough intelligence to figure it out on my own.

I’m still not sure I’ve figured Nuit de Noel out, though. I ain’t that smart. But I like the challenge. The top notes are intense, like a wall of sound coming straight at you. Dense and unwieldy, it smells like bitter powder and polished old woods with a streak of green moss running through it. There is also a huge dose of the typically Caron carnation/clove accord, which I find bitter-leathery and spicy in equal measure. The overall impression I get is of being wrapped in an old fur coat – it’s both old-fashioned and luxurious.

I don’t get any of the Christmas associations, but there is a stage of its development where I sense both the mealy, fluffy meat of roasted chestnuts and a sweet, liquor-like rose. Perhaps it’s that hint of rich fruited breads and baked goods that lead some to make the connection to Christmas. The green, mossy chypre notes also create a crisp, cold-air feeling, placing this perfume in the context of snow. Aside from the notes, there is a certain glow to this perfume - a radiant warmth like candlelight.

As time goes on, a licorice-like note creeps in, cloaking the fragrance in a velvety, sweet darkness. Think soft black licorice, not the challenging Danish stuff that tastes like salt. This note is a feature of the famous Mousse de Saxe, said to contain a heavy mixture of anise (or fennel seed), vanillin, geranium, and isobutyl quinoline (smoky, tough leather notes).

The Mousse de Saxe makes up a huge proportion of Nuit de Noel, and lends it its decisively dark green, mossy, smoky, and sweet flavor profile. A pre-packaged base, Mousse de Saxe is no longer made by Caron to the original recipe, although to their credit, they try to recreate it in order to keep their current parfums rich and full-bodied. But to my nose, there is a rich, dark, and melting softness to vintage Nuit de Noel (reminiscent of marrons glaces, as some have pointed out) that is just not there in the modern Carons.

The leather, powder, and geranium facets of the base connect Nuit de Noel to other hard-to-categorize fragrances like Habanita and Vol de Nuit. Part chypre, part oriental, all three of these fragrances are soft, boneless straddlers of several categories at once and contain a mystery of their very own that is difficult to unpack, to analyze. Mysterious and cool-toned, they leave behind a lingering impression of green moss, face powder, leather, and half-smoked cigarettes. The most slatternly women you could imagine, and the ones I most want to know.

Smelling Nuit de Noel parfum now a melancholic experience, though. Vol de Nuit and Habanita are still in good shape. But with oakmoss being severely restricted these days, the Caron bases can never smell as complex as they once did, and so when I smell my sample of vintage Nuit de Noel parfum, I realize that I’m essentially smelling the air from a time capsule.
03rd March, 2016

Chypre 21 by Heeley

Is Chypre 21 a chypre? Absolutely not – at least not to my nose. But it is a beautiful, sheer ozonic fragrance, and one that I would happily wear in summer.

The opening notes of fresh, watery violet leaf and citruses remind me somewhat of Cuir Pleine Fleur – briefly – before being washed down in a crispy, bright ozonic breeze with a fair bit of sea salt in it.

In a recent interview with James Heeley, I read that he used algae notes to replace the oakmoss in this fragrance. The algae notes are indeed quite noticeable here and the final result is something more in the direction of his wonderful Sel Marin than a true chypre.

It smells exactly like that wonderful aroma you breathe in when you are collecting clean laundry from the line – a blast of “clean”, yes, of course, but also the smell of outdoors air, and the salt-laden breeze from a nearby sea. There is something so linen-fresh and ozonic about this that I’m reminded not only of Sel Marin but of some of Francis Kurkdijan’s “white shirt” fragrances such as Cologne Pour Le Matin, Acqua Vitae, and so on. You know the type.

Chypre 21 goes on in this lovely Eau Sauvage-cum-Sel Marin-cum-Acqua Vitae kind of track for a while. It is never less than crisp and clean. A slight woody undertone develops, bringing in some clean patchouli and a hint of rose. The notes list oakmoss too, but I don’t smell its rugged bitterness in the composition at all. Finally, saffraleine offers its leathery, rubbery flavor to the composition, anchoring it slightly at the base.

But saffraleine does not and cannot replace either fixative powers of moss or the sweet, smoky heft of labdanum. So, despite the name, I must admit that Chypre 21 is not a chypre to my nose. It is beautiful, though. As long as you go into Chypre 21 expecting a citrusy, slightly woody ozonic fragrance and not a chypre, you will not be disappointed.
03rd March, 2016
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Opus III by Amouage

One day, I was coming out of the Book Centre and he was coming out – both of us with our respective friends, and both of us in our Catholic school uniforms. As we passed each other, our eyes met, and I swear to God, we both turned full circle to take a good long look at each other.

I had never before done anything so brazen in my life. We both walked backwards to keep staring at each other as our respective groups pulled apart, and if a movie crew had been there to catch the moment, it would have gone down in history as the most romantic moment in my shabby little life. I was 16.

Back at our respective schools after lunch – boys and girls attend separate schools in Ireland – we both busied ourselves with the business of asking around. Who is this person? What do we know of their people? Their pedigree?

The intelligence on him came quickly back – nobody to bother about. I had a certain amount of capital to expend, being reasonably attractive, popular, and brainy, whereas he was an unknown quantity, and certainly not popular.

Didn’t matter – I had to have him. It also didn't matter that it ended badly, two years down the line. I will never forget the romance of that moment. The first and only time I've ever fallen in love on the spot.

Amouage Opus III gives me a similar feeling. I don’t know how it happened, but there’s been a coup de foudre. Our eyes met and I did a full twirl on my heels. So I now send out feelers into the community – is this a worthy one? The early reports are not encouraging. Nice, they say, but save your money. You can do better.

If I were to distill a whole Internet’s worth of reviews of Opus III into two phrases, it would be “overly complex” and “nothing special or notice worthy.” I don’t argue those points – in many ways, Opus III is both overly complex and not at all groundbreaking or original. But – and it’s a big but – it has a lilting, slow-moving beauty to it that spins my heart off like a leaf on an eddy. It’s like being at a crazy party and discovering at the last minute that it’s really the big, silent farmer in the corner that you want to go home with. Opus III has a solid heft that makes me want to curl up inside it.

Reducing it to a category, I’d say that Opus III is a massive violet floriental. But as others have pointed out, the combination of notes is so complex that it’s hard to pick out individual notes. The best I can do is point to the various phases that the fragrance moves through, managed through a series of small, barely perceptible shifts and transitions.

Violet is the moving force here and is present in each permutation. First, we have the violet-hay-earth opening, where the bitter, dirt-covered hay of broom is balanced out by a wet, candied violet accord that comes off like Apres L’Ondee on steroids.

Welling up behind this dewy, bittersweet opening is a bank of mimosa flowers with their fluffy yellow, bitter almond scent. When the mimosa meets the violet, the fragrance shifts from wet hay-violets to a dusty pollen note that makes one think of the yellow dust that covers your fingers when you crumple a buttercup or some other cheerful yellow wildflower.

There is also a dusty heliotrope note here that makes me think of Farnesiana or L’Heure Bleue, but this lacks almost completely the fruity and pastry-like tones of those fragrances. There is a similar weight here, though, like a piece of blue velvet folded over many times.

A tiny accord is hidden here and I catch glimpses of it only sometimes – a dove-grey iris note that colludes with the violets to produce a faint (very faint!) cosmetic undertone. Not exactly lipstick, not exactly powder, but something a little bit frilly.

Under the earth-hay violets and the meadow-pollen violets and the iris-violets, there is another violet combination brewing, and it turns out to be the definitive one – violets and ylang. Ylang introduces a fruity, plasticky edge with a banana-like note to the mix, and when it merges with the violet note, its creamy banana custard voluptuousness becomes corrupted with a strange boot polish note. Could be tar, could be nail polish remover like some reviews mention – I don’t know. But it is a little strange, and more than a little addicting. It’s what draws me back to my sample time and time again, like a druggie.

The spicy orange blossom and jasmine are secondary players here, but they too form their own little pairing with the violets, and add a slight indolic languor to the violets’ dewy, childlike presentation.

Opus III winds up in familiar Amouage territory – a daub of frankincense, dry woods, amber – and while the base is not wildly new or exciting, what it does do is provide a dry, un-sweet landing for the rich floral combinations swirling around the violets. The base is what makes Opus III perfectly unisex, and takes it further away from the two fragrances to which Opus III is most commonly compared, namely L’Heure Bleue and Insolence EDP, which are far more obviously feminine.

Having mentioned the Guerlains, I must mention that I find Opus III to be far more satisfying than either of those fragrances, and more beautiful. I love the rich, earthy hay of the broom, the yellow pollen feel from the mimosa, and the unctuous creamy ylang. It combines – to my nose – the best of L’Heure Bleue, Samsara, and Insolence, and cuts away the fat and the excess fruitiness of those scents.

Opus III smells wholly natural and of this earth – and although it lasts a long time, is longevity is due to a certain richness and heft of fragrance oils rather than muscular woody synthetics. It wears on the skin like a rich, comfortable old velvet cloak.

I rather love it – can you tell? This fragrance moves me. But like any coup de foudre, I’m suspicious of the strength of my feelings. Practically everyone notes that Opus III is not an unusual or extraordinary fragrance in any way. Does that mean that my tastes are pedestrian? Am I a bit of a pleb? Well, probably, and more than just a bit. I can’t quite bring myself to care, though. I want to wear this, and so by God I will.

Hey Opus III! Yeah, you, the hefty farmer with the big red face in the corner! Get your coat – you’ve pulled! Let’s hope this doesn’t end too badly. My judgment in these matters is famously terrible.
01st March, 2016

Phoenicia by Heeley

This is a very subtle, dark, and masculine take on the oud theme that chooses to make the oud note part of the general bone structure of the fragrance rather than the star. Despite the dried fruit, oud, and incense notes, this is more a dry, smoky woods fragrance than an imaginary trip down the Levantine coast – more Timbuktu than Jubilation XXV or Al Oudh, say.

The Heeley signature of refinement and grace is evident here. This will greatly appeal to anyone who prefers the delicacy of small, well-made objects to blingy costume jewelry. It’s not a statement oud – it is a private pleasure to be absorbed and enjoyed in the small space between your breastbone and your shirt. From the dark, feline oud oil note at the start to the polished woods, leather, and crisp smoke background, nothing about Phoenicia is gaudy or loud.

Phoenicia reminds me of an old wooden casket that once held dried fruit and bunches of vetiver root wrapped up in paper, the aged smell of which has infiltrated the brown patina on the casket and exists more as a memory of scent in the grain of the wood than a direct, “present” note. A work of incredible subtlety, I would wear this everywhere without having to think twice about whether it’s appropriate or not – this kind of thing will always be right, like Cary Grant.
01st March, 2016

Oud Velvet Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Oud Velvet Mood differs from its brethren in the Oud Moods series by virtue of a striking copahu balm note, smelling of cinnamon bark, rare metals, medicine, and sweet rubber all at once. The texture of the fragrance is balmier than Oud Cashmere Mood, which is comparatively smokier and (it has to be said) more interesting all round. But what I love about Oud Velvet Mood is that it is unafraid to present an oud oil note that is authentically Indian in profile: creamy, nutty, and very, very sheep-cheesey.

Yes, Hindi or Syoufi oud haters need not apply. It fairly explodes out of the bottle, this rudely unapologetic aroma, ripe and falling apart at the edges – and proceeds to stand there proudly, completely alone on a ledge, with no sweet rose at all to soften the blunt force trauma of it all. I happen to love the sheer unloveliness of animalic oud oil, but I will admit that to the uninitiated, there will appear to be some disturbing mind associations that come up, like oil, rubber, cheese, tires, melting plastic, and the like. In this respect, Oud Velvet Mood has a similar oud note to that of Oud Cashmere Mood – but it is perhaps easier to swallow in Oud Cashmere Mood because it comes neatly wrapped up in smoky labdanum. Here, everything else seems pared back, minimized, to allow the full glory of the oud to shine through.

Apart from the cinnamon-medicine accent from copahu balm, what’s very notable in this fragrance is the use of saffron. Here the gold-metallic, dusty leather facets of saffron have been harnessed, and it adds an overall tone of brightness to the composition that brings Oud Velvet Mood further away from the dark smokiness of Oud Cashmere Oud and closer to the sunshiney, yolk-yellow smile of the original Oud. This was a surprising development, and one that I was able to confirm only by wearing it side by side with Oud Cashmere Mood and then again with the original Oud.

So, if you want an oud fragrance that is halfway between the bright, sweet, saffron-dominated original Oud and the dark, smoky, industrial Oud Cashmere Mood, then Oud Velvet Mood might be what you’re looking for. Personally, though, I love the original Oud and Cashmere Mood far more than this. I’m at a loss to say why, but there it is.
01st March, 2016

Royal Oud by Creed

I freely admit that I don’t enjoy the top notes of Royal Oud. I am sensitive to cedar for some reason, and Royal Oud presents such a massive overload of it that I can feel something tightening behind my eyes. To me, cedar can smell very sour and musky and just plain “wrong”, and unfortunately Royal Oud places it in such a way that I can’t inch my way around its bulk. So I just sit it out for a while, waiting for the cedar rush to subside and my butt cheeks to unclench. It’s a process.

Don’t take it personally, Creed fans – cedar manages to torpedo many other perfectly good fragrances for me as well. Spiritueuse Double Vanille is just one I can think of off the top of my head.

Once the cedar haze dies back a bit, I am able to discern some very nice notes coming to the fore, such as a green herbal note that smells very crisp and refreshing (the angelica?), a pleasingly green resin tone (galbanum), and something that reminds me of wood rubbed with either mint, lime, or eucalyptus. Still, the heart remains very woody, and almost sour/musky with its green underpinnings, and I perhaps don’t enjoy it as much as I think I should be at this stage.

Where I really dig Royal Oud is in the drydown, where it becomes a creamy, powdery sandalwood blend with a slight hint of Indian oud. This supplies all the creamy sweetness I was missing in the cedar top half, and it performs at such a pleasing, low-level hum all day that I completely forget about all that initial unpleasantness. The creamy, powdery woods in the base are lifted by a salty tonality from a smooth musk and perhaps a touch of ambergris, obtained with royal warrant from whales from all the best waters in the world.

Royal Oud is obviously well-made, and is a good choice if you’re the type of person who vests more importance with the basenotes of a fragrance than the top notes (and that would be me, more or less). I personally don’t think I could get past the cedar, but I’d recommend this fragrance to anyone who wants a well-made, woody, slightly conservative fragrance that doesn’t focus too much on the oud.
01st March, 2016

Romanza by Masque

Romanza is neither easy to describe nor easy to wear, which is not to say it's not brilliant (it is). It features narcissus, but instead of wrapping it in sunshiney beeswax (Ostara) or sweetening it with rose (Lumiere Noire Pour Femme), Romanza plays up all its ugly, bitter facets, resulting in a fragrance that is a real punch in the gut. Do you want to be challenged, confronted, and swept off your feet? Well, Romanza may be just the ticket.

I don't really see the connection to Oscar Wilde or Dorian Grey here. To me, this is more Wuthering Heights, a book that always wounds me with its sheer savagery. In particular, I think of when Cathy outlines the difference in her love for Linton and her love for Healthcliff thus: "My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary."

The chartreuse green opening reminds me not of absinthe but of vermouth in all its adult bitterness. It makes me shiver. I feel flooded with foreboding, like breaking a thermometer on the floor and watching the little balls of mercury scatter into every nook and cranny.

The narcissus rides up from under this slick of silvery moonshine, grabs me by the scruff of my neck, and mashes my nose down into a handful of crushed jonquils, paper whites, daffodils - whatever you call them. It's a live, crawling mass of green stems and pollen-dusted stamens. The balance of beauty and decay is just perfect here; the crushed narcissus smells like life itself, but death and corruption are already eating away at the edges.

The first part of Romanza, in particular, is intoxicating, like being bent back and properly tongue-kissed by Snow White's evil stepmother. It's arousing, but the inside of her mouth tastes bitter and too late I realize that it's poison. I end up writhing on the ground as she looks on, smiling that creepy smile of hers. Narcissus has never smelled so sinister to me before. If Ostara is a sunlit meadow, all yellows and golds, then Romanza is the midnight witching hour, a dark green velvet cloak drawn tightly around it.

The wild, ugly side of narcissus, that dark green poison facet, is supported and surrounded by three very important accords. First, a drop of either civet or a very good ambergris-like material (not Ambroxan) adds a warm, salty funk that shifts between halitosis and the natural stink of a clean beach at low tide. Orange blossom adds a honeyed indolic breeze. And when vetiver root introduces a marshy skin note, this foetid mash changes the crystalline nature of the vermouth-and-stems opening to something altogether murkier.

The second important supporting player is a pairing of violet leaf and hyacinth. Violet leaf has an astringent green, metallic character that serves the function of a knife, sharpening the outlines of the narcissus. Hyacinth adds a watery note. The overall effect of the violet leaf and hyacinth tandem is that of crushed flowers, stems, and pollen dust floating in slightly stale vase water. Oddly, the violet leaf develops a mint-like note towards the end, reminding me somewhat of the wild, green-minty forest floor feel I get from Chypre Mousse. Now I imagine Narcissus himself, lured to the lake by the cruel Nemesis, leaning down to kiss his own reflection in the water.

Finally, the most important supporting player – to my nose at least – is a damp hay and jasmine mix. The hay is probably not a distinct note but rather another facet of narcissus that I am picking up on, as narcissus can sometimes give off aromas of dry hay, jasmine, and hyacinth. The hay note in Romanza smells like hay that has recently been urinated on by horses – and having smelled this on a daily basis for years, I can tell you that this aroma is in no way unpleasant. In fact, it smells like honey, chamomile tea, warm horse, and that friendly, sun-baked smell of clean hay, all mixed together.

This part of Romanza reminds me very much of two other fragrances that are nonetheless completely unrelated to either each other or indeed to Romanza. The first is Sarrasins, where in the dry down I also pick up on a dry, sun-baked hay or chamomile tea aroma. It might be a facet of Sambac jasmine, which is the type of jasmine used in both Sarrasins and Romanza. The second fragrance that this dry hay/jasmine aspect reminds me of is Cuir Pleine Fleur. When I spray Cuir Pleine Fleur heavily on myself - so heavily that it drips down my arms and off my fingertips - this normally polite, pastel-colored leather fragrance takes on a ferociously animalic character, and smells exactly like warm, fresh pissy hay (the rotting flesh facets of hawthorn also adding to the warm, animalic impression).

Romanza is, all in all, a strange, intoxicating, and ultimately somewhat oppressive fragrance. I like that it showcases the duality inherent in cheerful flowers such as the humble daffodil or paper white – they smell bright and beautiful at first, but as soon as you pick them, they’ve started to die and wilt, their poisonous green plant juice staining your hands and flooding your mouth with metallic bitterness.

Anybody who likes narcissus or "corrupted" florals like Une Fleur de Cassie, Amoureuse, or Amaranthine should give Romanza a try. Narcissus oil has a calming effect on the central nervous system, but is so rich that over-exposure to it can cause fainting and dizziness, or even toxicity. That effect seems very much in keeping with the Victorian theme to the fragrance, with that idea of something that is both alluring and dangerous at the same time, like Narcissus’ reflection in the pool, self-obsession, vanity, the desire to stay young forever, and so on….

Oh see now, I’ve managed to work my way round to Dorian Grey after all.
26th February, 2016

Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Oh dear. This is rather unfortunate.

I have huge respect for Francis Kurkdijan as a man and as a perfumer. I own quite a few of his perfumes (Absolue pour le Soir, Eau Noire, Cologne Pour Le Soir), and greedily covet others that I don’t (his original Oud, Oud Cashmere Mood, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, Enlevement au Serail). I’m hard pressed to think of a composition of his that I can’t at least appreciate, even if I don’t want to own it myself.

Baccarat Rouge 540 is an exception. Unfortunately, it manages to be the perfect storm of all the notes I hate, all of them converging at once to screw with my head. And it sticks to my skin like glue (ain't that the way it goes).

The top notes are pleasant, barely – a brief succulence in the form of oranges, saffron, and marigold that combines in such a way as to suggest a ripe red berry. For a moment, I am also reminded of the radiant freshness of his original Oud, a metallic brightness of spilled orange juice and yellow saffron powder. The jasmine here smells fresh, like a green-scent breeze moving through a line of cottons hung out to dry, and is reminiscent in its crispness of both Eau Sauvage and Kurkdijan’s own Aqua Vitae – safe to say that rather than jasmine sambac or grandiflorum, this note is probably Hedione, a wonderful aromachemical that expands the lungs with a radiant, green jasmine sensation.

Unfortunately, the fruity floral top notes get swallowed up almost immediately by the powerful basenotes – and when I say powerful, I mean overwhelming. There is a potent cedar here that reads as wet, pungent, almost musky with that sour edge I dislike in the note, and when it buts up against the sweet, juicy top notes, the result is like throwing a thick pear juice onto a bed of ashes. This unsettling accord (fruit juice thrown into dirty ashes) is also what I experience from Soleil de Jeddeh by Stephane Humbert Lucas 777, another fragrance I’m struggling to get my head around.

The musky, sour cedar is quickly joined by one of the most obnoxious notes in all perfumery (for me personally), fir balsam. This note might make others think of Christmas, but to me, it always makes me think of sweat. Each of the five times I tried Baccarat Rouge 540, it dried down to this thin but obnoxious smell of dried runner’s sweat – I know it’s the fir balsam because I’ve experienced this once before, with Annick Goutal’s otherwise very lovely Encens Flamboyant. Pure sweat. It’s a hard association to shake.

The saltiness from the Ambroxan or ambergris note (whatever it is) doesn’t help much either. Its salty mineral smell brings a pleasant outsdoorsiness, yes, but it also brings forward that sensation of feeling your skin crackle with dried sea salt, sweat, and sun tightness after falling asleep on the beach after a swim. Pleasant in perfumes such as Eau des Merveilles, but joined with the wet, musky cedar and the sweaty fir balsam of Baccarat Rouge 540, it’s simply one drop of sweat too much. Some will find this salt-sweat note very sensual, sexy even - but it just makes me want to go take a shower.
21st February, 2016

Monogram Collection : Myrrh Casati by Mona di Orio

Myrrh Casati is somewhat of a disappointment. Mona’s style was always rich, thick, dirty, lush, and as dense as a brick wall – it’s what her fans loved about her. I don’t see her style in this perfume. Myrrh Casati is the first Mona di Orio fragrance to be composed by someone other than Mona herself, following her tragic death in 2011. And you can tell.

Myrrh Casati, while very nice and wearable, does not have any of the special Mona di Orio signatures that could be traced from one perfume to another like a vein on a lover’s arm.

It lacks the almost overbearingly rich, dirty, creamy woodiness of Vanille and Oud, the dry-ice, almond-like musks from Ambre, Violette Fumee, and Musc, and the harsh animalism of Nuit Noire and Cuir. Without these little olfactory clues that she tucked so deftly into the sleeves of her work, I am lost. Myrrh Casati could be the work of anyone.

If her other perfumes are rich tapestries, then Myrrh Casati is a silk gauze. It is beautiful but simple to the point of being spare. The opening is particularly striking. A dark, dry spice note fuses with a warm, cinnamon-tinted Siam benzoin and sharp black pepper to form a gorgeous aroma of tarry coca-cola. There is also an arresting black rubber feel to the opening, arising from the use of saffron, or perhaps plain old saffraleine, and it is a smooth complement to the licorice.

But any opening richness or darkness quickly attenuates. Within minutes, I am left with a rather bare bones resin scent with a faint but noticeable minty smoke note from either the myrrh or the licorice. I’m a myrrh lover and a big Mona di Orio fan, but this one leaves me wanting more.
19th February, 2016

Jicky Eau de Parfum by Guerlain

Oh, Jicky! I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come around to your charms, but here I am. As androgynous and timeless as a pair of blue jeans, Guerlain Jicky was born in 1889 which makes it the oldest perfume in the world that’s still in production today.

There is shock value to Jicky, even today. That clash of the citrus/aromatics (the bergamot and lavender) with the creamy civet-tonka feels all kinds of wrong at first, to the point you wonder what the hell the perfumer was thinking. But Guerlain built its reputation on such sly dissonance, the clashing of fronts in a perfume to cause tension. As with Shalimar, there’s a typical cycle of repulsion, then attraction, repulsion again, and then finally, a sort of an incredulous addiction to the stuff. Jicky is habit-forming.

I’ve always had a bit of Jicky around, in various forms – the EDT, the PDT, and samples of the parfum in particular. But Jicky famously differs from concentration to concentration - even more so than the other Guerlain classics - so it’s taken me until now to find the exact formula of Jicky to make me fall in love. I recently got a hold of a sample of the current EDP, and bam! That was my Eureka moment with Jicky.

In a way, Jicky benefited from my neglect over the years. I tend to overthink the Guerlain classics, worrying about their details and nuances based on concentration, age, and back story, which results in me thinking of them rather more as homework than perfume to wear and enjoy every day. All my early energy went into studying Chamade, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Nahema, and L’Heure Bleue – and I strained so hard to understand those weighty volumes that any emotional connection I made to the perfume was difficult; arrived at under duress. Still to this day, I cannot wear any of those perfumes (except Shalimar) without a heavy sense of respect and almost dread. I know the experience is going to be rewarding, but they are almost never immediately satisfying.

Jicky, on the other hand, I never bothered to subject to this rigorous type of inspection. I don’t know why, but perhaps it’s because I had read, early on in my journey, that Jicky was just a simple sketch of a perfume waiting to be made into Shalimar. So I just didn’t bother with it.

But not bothering with it doesn’t mean I didn’t wear it! I wore Jicky, oh yes, I did. I worked my way through sizeable decants of the EDT (sparkling, herbaceous, full of sprightly mischief, but with the civet bluntly exposed, creating a sharply vomitous aroma that I never truly warmed to), the vintage PDT (less civet, funnily enough, and a more classical lavender fougere feel to it which made it perfect for casual beach wear), and a few samples of the modern pure parfum (round, sensual, civet-heavy, truly more oriental in feel than fougere). I enjoyed my small bits of Jicky without ever once feeling to need to own a full bottle of it.

That is, until I discovered Jicky EDP. Jicky in EDP format is the perfect version for me, and I realized very quickly that I would need a whole bottle of it. There is far more civet in the EDP than in the EDT, but it is far better folded into the creamy vanilla and herbs, so it smells both richer and more animalic. The pure parfum dials up the civet a notch further, but I am more comfortable with the civet levels in the EDP: enough to call itself a real presence but not so heavy as to hunt me around the room.

The lively, sparkling fougere feel of the EDT is preserved in the EDP (not lost, like in the pure parfum) but is much punchier and emphatic. The tonka in the base is far creamier and heavier than in the EDT, although the pure parfum is the creamiest of the lot, with a smooth, thick oriental base that is surprisingly close to vintage Shalimar extrait. I call it for the EDP, though, based on value and on the matter of balance between the fougere and animalic elements.

So there it is. Since I’ve gotten my bottle of Jicky, I’ve been wearing it almost every day. It is humble and naturally good-looking, like a well-cut pair of blue jeans. I find it as satisfying as Shalimar but far more versatile and androgynous. It’s funny, but the Guerlains I’ve ignored the most, like Jicky and Apres L’Ondee, are the ones I ultimately find the most rewarding to wear when I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.
15th February, 2016

Dans tes Bras by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

I admit that I was rooting for Dans Tes Bras to be a winner even before I’d smelled it, because it’s considered the edgiest entry in a brand that focuses on giving us the most super rich, but straight-forward versions of single notes or styles. I kind of like the idea of the quirky one in the bunch being a soul match for me. I had smelled it briefly on a trip to Brussels and in a flurry of twenty other fragrances all competing for nose space, its pale, violet-tinged reticence intrigued me. But when I ordered a sample to investigate further, I discovered certain problems with it.

First of all, the weirdness of the fragrance – which comes from the interplay of the loudly synthetic elements (cashmeran, a woody-ambery sandalwood amplifier like ebanol or javanol) and natural-smelling green and floral elements (violets, heliotrope, I think mint or something aqueous) – does not go nearly far enough to catch my attention. It's weird, but not weird enough.

I’ve been playing around a lot lately with M/Mink, and although I’m not sure I like it enough to buy it, I find that the line between industrial and natural in that scent constantly shifts around, so all my attention is bound up in trying to unwrap the elements from each other. Dans Tes Bras, in comparison, has a little oddness to it, yes, but doesn't carry it forward in any compelling way. Once you’ve identified the elements at work to produce that salty, green, musky tinge it carries, the fragrance has nothing left to show you. It doesn’t help that it becomes ever more synthetic in feel as the day wears on, developing a soapy, shrill accent that runs perilously close to Windex or windscreen wiper fluid.

Now, I don’t mind references to industrial or bathroom products if they’re paired to really natural, earthy notes in a conscious effort to ground them – the bleach and toner ink played against dry patchouli and honey in M/Mink, for example. In Dans Tes Bras, though, the functional product notes are too unadorned, and I don’t find it pleasant to catch whiffs of Windex as I’m moving around the house. As a busy mum whose fragrances often encounter cruel treatment at the hands of washing up liquid, hand-soap, and latex gloves, I’d rather not cultivate that aura deliberately.

The clincher in the deal, though, was Dans Tes Bras’ eventual resemblance to Dries Van Noten, in particular that nutty, sawdusty sandalwood in combination with the “poured concrete” fuzziness of cashmeran. Dans Tes Bras is saltier and more floral, and Dries Van Noten more vanillic, milky, but ultimately they share that same cashmere-blanket level of blandness that I just cannot appreciate. My apathy comes partly from the fact that it all melds into one pale mass, with nothing differentiating one note from another, other than an abstract impression of something salty, like licking minerals off a sunny rock. In the end, it smells pleasant but banal, like the scent of eye drops or miscellar water squirted onto a cotton wool ball.

To sum up for you lazy bastards who didn’t make through all of that (TL:DR), Dans Tes Bras is not weird enough to be interesting, and not beautiful enough to lust after for beauty’s sake.
13th February, 2016

Ambre Fétiche by Annick Goutal

I like Ambre Fetiche, but I have to admit that the opening smells more like a byproduct of the petroleum industry than a perfume. Something plasticky and greasy in the top notes suggests Vaseline to me, or perhaps pleather. I don’t find this unpleasant, merely a little unsettling, especially when mixed with the sickly, biscuity undertone of the amber underneath.

The mental image: a prostitute at the Bunny Ranch, Nevada, at 2:30 in the afternoon, a big dollop of lubricant making a snail’s trail down the inside of her left thigh while a man in Stetsons huffs and puffs on top of her. The man's breath smells like biscuit crumbs - he hasn't washed his teeth. Bored, she turns her head to admire her new white pleather knee-highs, up around her ears now and close enough for inspection. Squeak-squeak goes the pleather with every thrust.

Biscuits, syrup, Vaseline, pleather. Stale cigarette smoke mingling with the powerfully sweet Victoria’s Secret Amber Romance body lotion she applied that morning.

The texture of the perfume is both dry-harsh and syrupy-sweet, resulting in an interesting pulling apart motion in the fabric, like honey rubbed against the grain of a plank of wood. The syrupy white amber is thickly poured, but clashes against the parched powder of benzoin. The resin sticks in my craw and the syrup cloys. It’s too intense, this feeling. The only other perfume that mimics this effect is Byredo’s 1996.

The discordant harmony of the birch tar, the amber, and the iris produces something of a similar push-pull feeling within me: I like it, and then I like it not. Each time I wear this fragrance, it’s like plucking out petals and never knowing whether you’re going to end up. Sometimes, I find the thought of the ride quite exciting. Sometimes, the thought of it exhausts me. Either way, like the Bunny Girl's client, it always lasts way longer than I want it to.
13th February, 2016
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Lonestar Memories by Tauer

Lonestar Memories features an almost overpowering smoky leather note at the beginning, like a leather jacket tossed onto a campfire. Its black, rubbery thrust might seem too monolithic were it not for the minty geranium leaf and an orangey myrrh shooting though it, letting down the density of the smoke to an acceptable level. The opening is thrilling and evocative, but there’s no beating around the bush here - it’s wild enough to scare the horses.

But Lonestar Memories isn’t a perfume built purely on the shock value of its topnotes. The smoke note here is rich, full, and rubbed with sage, so despite the general industrial bent to the leather note (tar, creosote, tarpaulins, motor engine oil), there is a refreshing whiff of the great outdoors too. It’s a macho, dry perfume built on a HUMONGOUS scale, as broad in scope as a prairie. A fragrance for dreamers and wanderers.

For me, Lonestar Memories only really hits its stride when it enters the dry down. The smoke note settles, and becomes just one more layer in the rich leather, a tiny prickle of birch tar there to remind us that this is no ladies’ glove type of leather. There is real beauty in the quality of the myrrh here. It is soapy, antiseptic and slightly bitter in that black, oily way that myrrh oil is, so one gets the pleasant impression of having washed one’s hands with coal tar soap. If you are someone like me who grew up with that soap, then this stage will be a real rush to the head. It also has a licorice-like facet to it.

Teamed with the smoky but now smooth leather, and a gummy floral note (jasmine?), the myrrh provides a shot of almost bitter soapiness that reads as very necessary against the white, creamy amber in the background. The opening is riveting, but the delicious, long dry down is what keeps me coming back for more.

Would I buy a bottle? Probably not. Not because I don’t think it is beautiful or striking, because I do, but because it is such a strongly “environmental” fragrance, by which I mean that it conjures up an entire slice of Americana – a prairie, a dust bowl, a tire shop with oily mechanics – and so I feel it doesn’t really fit in with the type of life I lead.

But I treasure my sample of it. Now, rather than wearing it on my skin, I prefer to soak a blotter in Lonestar Memories and place it into my jeans pocket or underneath the desk lamp in my office so that I can enjoy its rich, smoky, cowboy-chaps scent all day long without the commitment of skin time. Perfect.
08th February, 2016

Voyage by Hiram Green

Voyage has an opening that is both strange and familiar to me. It features a sour (but also candied) citrus note dusted so thickly with the powder of a saffron-like spice that it doesn’t register as fresh or sharp the way hesperidic notes normally do. The effect is of a golden sun shining through a dust cloud of vanilla and spice, with something bright lurking underneath.

Sometimes I spray this on and I get a hint of the tannic peach skin, moss, and spices from Shangri La, and it’s like unwrapping a tiny sliver of chypre hidden in the folds of a dusty, oriental brocade. Sometimes I get no fruit, but a rubbery suede. It is murky and intimate, like the smell of a moist wrist directly under a rubber watch.

Very beautiful and very familiar. Where do I know this scent from?

Immediately, I race off through the library of smells in my brain to see if I can place it, but it remains frustratingly out of reach. I don’t think it is a perfume that I’m remembering so much as a chord in a larger orchestra of smell. Or maybe it’s the whole orchestra of a smell funneled through one chord, I don’t know.

The best I can do is say that the opening has an interesting dissonance to it that reminds of the older Guerlains – Jicky perhaps most of all, with its stomach-churning clash of cymbals between the fresh, clean lavender and the rich, civet-soaked vanilla crème. But there is also the dark rye bourbon bitterness of Mitsouko’s cooked peach skin. Voyage is much simpler and more direct than these perfumes, of course, but it shares with them the impression of a ribbon of bright gold slicing through plush velvet darkness.

The dry down only confirms the familiarity (and the appeal) of this style of retro perfumery – it is a warm, luscious vanilla-amber, heavily laced with what seems to me to be a heavy dose of heliotrope and perhaps orange blossom, although these notes are not listed. It has something of the spicy, floral vanilla feel of L’Heure Bleue, albeit less pastry-like in tone and tending towards the more resinous, cinnamon-inflected Tolu or Peru balsams. I have to admit that I do not pick up on much of the patchouli – to my nose, if it’s there, then it is only there to add shade and earth to the vanillic dry down.

In a way, Voyage reminds me of Ciel de Gum, by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, not for any similarity in the way they smell necessarily, but for the retro manner in which they present the vanilla note - not clean or sweet, but fudgy with spice, civet and indolic flowers. There is a close, intimate feel to vanillas like this that recall human skin to skin contact. Voyage, Ciel de Gum, Opus 1144 (UNUM), and even Musc Ravaguer all hark back to that Guerlain-like clash between a bright, aromatic side (lavender, bergamot, cloves, cinnamon) and a dark, velvety side ( vanilla, musks, indolic flowers, and civet).

It’s this clash what makes Jicky, L’Heure Bleue, and Shalimar such masterpieces even today – at first so repellent and odd that wonder what kind of drugs the perfumer was taking, and then everything suddenly “works” in the perfume and you think it’s great - addicting almost. Hiram Green’s Voyage has that clash down nicely, and this is why it works. I love this perfume because it gives me a taste of what I love about the classics but in a stripped-down, more legible format that doesn't make me feel as if I am wearing an entire history of grand perfume on my back. Which is sometimes what I want.
02nd February, 2016 (last edited: 08th February, 2016)

Olympia Music Hall by Histoires de Parfums

This is such a weird little perfume. I don't hear much about it, so I'm guessing it's rather a round-peg-in-a-square-hole kind of fragrance for the line - too abstract to describe in three words or less to rushed customers, but not weird enough for perfumistas to latch onto and champion as an example of the fifth art, or whatever nth art perfumery is supposed to be. I mean, it's weird, but it's not M/Mink weird or Humiecki & Graf weird.

They’ve changed it now, but the picture for suede on Fragrantica used to be a pile of three or four suede carpets, folded back so that you could see their rubber backing. I always found that image hilarious in its honesty. My guess is that this image was far too Proletarian for perfumers, who would far rather we imagine the suede notes in their perfumes to look like the softest grey suede cushions in an upmarket hotel on Cap d’Antibes rather than a carpet salesroom in Leeds (I imagine Roja Dove writing in anguish, “Please, mon cher monsieur Knezevic, it hurts my eyes so…..”).

Anyway, Histoires de Parfums Olympia Music Hall makes me laugh because it smells very much like the rubber backing to the suede carpets in the original Fragrantica image – and I like these little moments of intellectual honesty I glimpse in perfumes here and there. Olympia Music Hall is not afraid to call a suede carpet a suede carpet. And I’m sure that it would cause Roja Dove’s nostrils to flare.

Suede perfumes are mostly abstract affairs, for me – kind of like leather, but without the ISQ bitterness, and kind of like cashmere, but without the bonelessness. I suppose if I were to try to define the difference between leather and suede, I’d say there are rubbed out lines to suede that aren't present in the tougher, clearer leather note. Olympia Music Hall takes the softness of suede and gives it the rubber backing of a suede carpet.

I’m sorry – I’m not adequately describing how sexy this is. I wouldn’t blame you, with all the talk of suede carpets and rubber (unless of course that does sound sexy to you). But Olympia Hall is deeply odd, and therefore strangely sexy. It’s an offbeat little mixture.

That saffron-led rubber and suede accord forms the beating heart of the fragrance, but I’ve left out the sparkling citrus notes at the top and the weird mélange of soapy, almost twee florals (peony, freesia, and lilac) which manage to massage this thing into something both abstract and likeable. Kind of like the soapy, hand wash-like peony note in Dzghonka adds to its sense of mystery rather than making it seem schoolmarmish and old-fashioned.

And there’s a hefty dose of something animalic here too – not just the skin-like suede notes, but a rather sweaty, carnal musk and a dank patchouli, all very suggestive and torrid. The base relies on an opulent frankincense that manages not to smell Church-y or smoky, but rather like the waxy, cold, and rather soapy smell of the unlit, raw resin.

If smelling like rubber, suede, snuffed-out candles, cold wax, handsoap, unlit resins, and the posy of flowers held for too long in the sweaty hands of an Austrian milkmaid sounds good to you, then give the totally odd but not objectionably weird Olympia Music Hall a fighting chance.
30th January, 2016

Rose de Petra by Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777

Dammit. Why do I have to love the ones that cost so much? My family always laughs at me because I will go into shops and unerringly laying my hand on the most expensive item in stock, despite not having any money to pay for it. Rose de Petra is no exception then. It is both exquisite and far beyond my wallet. Rose de Petra, I would have preferred not to have known you!

Rose de Petra is a nutty, spicy oriental rose that manages to be simultaneously rich and light. The opening reveals a dry, ancient wood note, like a carved box one might find at the back of a bric-a-brac store, slightly musty now with years of neglect but still releasing a warm, woody scent when rubbed. I am astounded to learn that there is no oud note in this blend, because to my nose, this aged, cracked wood scent reminds me of certain aged oud oils I have smelled – both expensive ones and the rather cheap Mukhallat Malaki attar by Swiss Arabian.

Inside the box, a pile of green cardamom pods, freshly cracked open with their hot-green peppery aroma bouncing up to sear the nostrils. The rose comes on shyly, smelling at first of a rose candy wrapped in plastic, but then opens up into a warm roseate mist, filling the air with the sweet, creamy odor of freshly cut roses, fruit, and spices. This rose is not bright, but dusky, and shaded in interesting places.

In texture and weight, it reminds me slightly of Betrand Duchaufour’s work for The Different Company on Oud Shamash – it has that same sheer, diffuse feel to it, as if all the heaviest scent particles are suspended in a fine mist that hovers around your skin. It is a pleasure to put on a fragrance that you fear is going to be just another heavy, oriental rose jacked up with spices and then find it wearing like a fine silk shawl.

In summary, Rose de Petra is a mysterious, dusty rose with a backdrop of ancient woods, subtle fruit, and green spices that feels far more nuanced than the rather mundane notes list might suggest. I would put it on a par with Mohur for the effortless ease with which it rises above the tired oriental rose category in which it is placed and for its ability to surprise you with its subtlety and beauty.
30th January, 2016

Rose Anonyme by Atelier Cologne

I like the idea behind this one – make a rose-oud that has a cologne-like transparency and fly it by people as an option for summer. But something about this does not sit right with me. The heavy dose of patchouli in the opening turns into powdered, stale chocolate dust as soon it hits the sour green rose, and together they remind me of a neglected square of chocolate abandoned at the bottom of a handbag, gone white around the edges and covered with lint.

The high-pitched fervor of the rose is underlined in the most unpleasant way by a tinny, chemical oud, and the ginger adds a vague cleaning liquid feel to the stew. It’s at least distinctive, this first half, but the fragrance quickly dwindles down into a screechy white musk, which when combined with the green papyrus and metallic ginger comes off smelling like a generic men’s cologne. The whole thing comes off as unbalanced, too – weirdly strong at the start, and whispering towards the end. Not a fan.
30th January, 2016

Attar de Roses by Keiko Mecheri

Attar de Roses flies out of the bottle as a fresh, pretty blend of three different rose oils, from the Taif, Shiraz and Anciennes varietals. It fleshes out over time to become a full, velvety rose with fruity and creamy facets, but never loses its essential bright pink character.

Sometimes rose – for all that I love the note – seems to come with a huge set of problems that a perfumer has to “resolve” in the fragrance for me to truly enjoy it. For example, some rose oils really accentuate the sharp, leafy geranium-like properties of the rose and some the acid-yellow tang of citronella. Some roses turn sour. Some turn to talcum powder and remind me of Grandma.

You see? Problems, problems everywhere! I mostly enjoy rose chypres, rose-ouds, and rose-patchouli blends because I prefer my roses to be “managed” against a backdrop of darker notes rather than shining on their own out there, with all their faults exposed. But lately, I’ve been on a pure rose kick, or at least a half-assed attempt to find a pure rose fragrance (more or less pure, anyway) that resolves all the problems with rose in one fell swoop.

Attar de Roses is almost that platonic ideal….but not quite. To its credit, it manages to present only the most attractive, less searing aspects of the rose – there are no sharp edges, no citronella candles burning, and no metallic or burned berry notes. The perfumer has managed all of those potential problems away, but paradoxically, what I’m left with is a smooth, pink rose scent that has been neutered of all its interesting bits. I am such a contrary person. Can you put back all the faults now, please? I take it all back.

Supposedly, this fragrance has an animalic amber and leather dry down, but if it’s there, it’s subtle. Something like, let’s say, Jicky, would eat Attar de Roses for breakfast. Rather, I would characterize the dry down as being very like powdered Turkish Delight (lokhoum) in the style of Keiko Mecheri’s famous lokhoum perfumes, with a slightly jammy, sweet fruit center. It also reminds me a little of lipstick scents such as Drole de Rose and Lipstick Rose, with its waxy, pink prettiness.

Would I wear Attar de Roses? Most certainly – it is one of the most straight-forwardly gorgeous rose scents I have ever smelled, and if a bottle of it dropped in my lap, I would use it most happily. Purely from a sampling perspective, I find its pale beauty a bit boring after a while – but it rates higher for me than a lot of the other “pure” rose fragrances I’ve been trying lately.
30th January, 2016

Rose Flash by Tauerville

The Tauerville project is very interesting because it’s an acknowledgment by a perfumer that sometimes we are just looking for a rough and dirty fix on an ingredient - a whistled tune rather than a full scale opera. Rose Flash is a forceful exposition of an idea of rose as an edible, attar-like confection, made to satisfy a base hunger that more delicate or more complex rose creations cannot.

And actually, Rose Flash scratches a very specific itch for me. I have long been looking for a perfume that matches the jammy rosiness of Rose Jam shower gel from Lush, a limited edition shower gel that I eke out drop by drop until Lush takes pity on me and puts it back in the shops again before Christmas. This it it. Pure and simple.

Comparing a perfume to a shower gel doesn’t sound like I’m paying Andy Tauer much of a compliment, but I can’t tell you how difficult it is to find a perfume that gets that candied rose jam note just right. It has to be like how I like my men – thick, loud, and rich.

What I’m looking for is velvety rose petals cooked down into a syrupy rose confection that might tempt you into drizzling it over a bowl of ice-cream, but still retaining a bit of an edge, that rose sharpened by tangy berries and lemon. I want a slight creaminess too, to sand down any glimpses of metal or citric acid, but not vanilla, because I don’t want the intensity of the jamminess to be diluted or made milky. Amber resins will do – I imagine a red rose glowing hotly through a clear lump of clear yellow amber, complete with trapped flies.

Jo Malone’s Velvet Rose & Oud comes close, but the oud intrudes. Tauer’s own Une Rose Vermeille gets the fruity jam note right but winds up as sweet soap flakes on my skin. By Kilian Rose Oud is a Kulfi-like confection but does not hit my jam sweet spot (it hits all my other spots, though). Oud Satin Mood has a very jammy rose, but although I love it, even I have to admit that it is altogether too sweet in the dry down.

No, for me, Rose Flash is the baby bear of rose jam perfumes. Its beauty comes from its forceful simplicity and directness – a luscious rose jam, sharp with red berries, glowing like neon-lit jewels against a woody, resinous backdrop. It goes on thick and oily, gleaming on the skin like an attar. At first, there is a rather intense green, citron peel edge to it, which I attribute to the citronal aspects of rosa damascena (Turkish rose), but this is soon soothed by the creamy, candy-like qualities of the rose oil. Rose Flash is utterly satisfying in that physical way that makes my mouth water. There is something about it that makes me want to bite into it.

Simple and direct it might be, but for my money, Rose Flash is a lot more satisfying than many high-priced rose-centric perfumes floating around the niche-o-sphere right now. I see a full bottle in my future. Between this and the Rose Jam shower gel, how anyone will not want to eat me is beyond me.
30th January, 2016

Daim Blond by Serge Lutens

Daim Blond is a simple pleasure done right. It is a dry, dusty suede lightly decorated with the scent of apricots – not the juicy, sweet flesh of ripe apricots but the desiccated husk of skin when shriveled up to almost nothing. Iris provides the bitter, gray powder, and osmanthus the delicate tannin of apricots and black tea.

It is not in the least bit animalic but there is a lightly musky undertone that conjures up a ghostly image of female skin. When I wear Daim Blond, I imagine Newland Archer peeling back the fine-grained Italian leather glove from Countess Olenska’s wrist and pressing his mouth to her quivering flesh. She’s on the cusp of allowing herself to be ruined. It’s a moment of sensuality written on a such a tiny scale so as not to register to anyone but them, but somehow the restrained, pulled-in nature of the moment and its capacity to unleash the hounds of hell is far sexier than anything more explicit.

Daim Blond smells like a woman's wrist and the tipping point of desire.
17th January, 2016

Oud Silk Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

Oud Silk Mood is the only weak link in the truly excellent Oud Moods series and the only one I can’t wear without wanting to scrub it off. I’ve tried several times now to locate the soul of this fragrance but I think I’m about ready to call off the search party.

A signature of the Oud Mood series is the use of unconventional (and kind of ugly or confrontational) accords suggestive of metal, architecture, dust, rubber, or smoke to upholster the rich Laotian oud Kurkdijan uses, but whereas in Velvet and Cashmere Oud Mood these odd notes imbue the perfumes with a funny sort of humanity, in Oud Silk Mood, the quasi-industrial note of photo-developing chemicals just bathes an already sharp, sour rose in an acid bath that does it no good at all.

The acidulated rose and the oud compete with each other for the title of “most sour”, while chamomile lops in a hefty dose of herbaceous bitterness, making things worse. Underneath it all, papyrus adds a dry, papery crackle that really does create a silk-like texture – not the softness of silk but the rustling sound it makes when you rub it between your fingers. High-pitched and brittle, it feels like the fragrance would snap if you could fold it over.

Worse than the drone-strike of sour, though, is the chemical hangover every time I wear it. I don’t know if it’s synthetic oud or another woody ambery material, but whatever it is proves to bother my nose for hours on end, even when I think I’ve washed it off. In its unabashedly synthetic character, Oud Silk Mood is too similar to the lower-priced niche options for me to recommend it, and too inferior to the original Oud or even the Cashmere, Satin, and Velvet options for me to ever consider buying even a decant or further sample.
17th January, 2016

Ta'if by Ormonde Jayne

Ta’if is one of those fragrances where I seem to be experiencing something completely different to everyone else. People use the words “rich”, “dark”, and “exotic” to describe it and suggest a texture as heavy as velvet – close to Lyric Woman or Portrait of a Lady even – whereas all I experience is a sheer peppery floral layered over a musky, dried-fruit base. Even the praline/date note is sheer and sort of dry.

I don’t even experience the rose in this as straight-up rose but as a big, blowsy peach and orange blossom chiffonade, with only brief flashes here and there of something that might be interpreted as a tart, green rose swimming in the murk. The peachy, powdery feel of the fragrance makes me think of something cheap and functional I used to use when I was a teenager - the Impulse O2 body spray perhaps, or a deodorant spray, I don’t know. So each wearing of Ta’if comes with a huge helping of nostalgia and wistfulness that clouds my judgment of the fragrance itself.

The dry down is a slightly powdery musk with a streak of dates running through it – a very pretty end, and also quite a deliberately “perfumey” one, I think. It doesn’t tilt you too literally in the direction of any one particular note, but bathes you in a pink-tinged miasma of musk, fruit, orange blossoms, and caramel that reminds me of some of the prettier dry downs in designer perfumery, such as Coco Mademoiselle, or Elie Saab.

So, not the rose of my dreams, or even a rose at all (to my nose), but it sure wins on the account of being a winningly pretty peach and white floral. Its popularity goes to show that you can market what is basically a designer perfume to people at niche prices if the marketing is pitched right and if its appeal is broad enough (for which read, a universally-appealing charm).
17th January, 2016

Cologne Intense Collection : Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone

Velvet Rose & Oud is utterly brilliant. I always feel that the traditional pairing of rose with oud never goes quite far enough to modulate the underlying sourness of oud, especially if the traditional Bulgarian rose is used, because there is always that faintly tart, green-lemon edge to Bulgarian roses that inches it too close to the sourness of the oud.

But this fragrance corrects that imbalance by adding a nutty, milky praline note to the mix that “cooks” the rose down into a dark spoon-sweet accord. So what you essentially get is a sort of strawberry and rose jam over dry, smoky oud wood. It’s dark, delicious, jam-sweet, and what’s more utterly comfortable to wear, lacking as it is in any of the attending harsh dryness or bitterness from the oud. It is actually quite close in smell and texture to Lush’s wonderful Rose Jam shower gel, but with the added mystery of oud and a true dark “flavor” missing in many fragrances that tout themselves as “noir” or “black”.

Two things might bother some people. First off, this might be too sweet for some – if you know the wonderful Oud Satin Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, then be aware that it is in the same general ballpark as that, albeit a teeny tiny bit less sweet (and less complex overall). Second, once the intensity of the rose jam accord dies down, the fragrance gets a little thin and reedy, laying bare the bones of what appears to be the same synthetic oud material used in most Western oud scents, including the Montales – so if you’re not a fan of that oud note or find it too synthetic, then be aware that it does come out to play towards the end.

Also, although I don’t usually care about stuff like this, longevity and projection follow the Jo Malone pattern in that they drop off dramatically after the first few hours. In that sense, the complexity and texture of the extended dry down in Oud Satin Mood would indicate that the price difference between these two scents is justified. But when all is said and done, I do love this fragrance and I’d happily forget all these little quibbles for the sake of the glorious first few hours.
17th January, 2016

Elisabethan Rose by Penhaligon's

I brazenly prized open the plastic box protecting this at Tk Maxx the other day, risking life and limb in front of one seriously pissed-off TK Maxx lady to see what exactly justified the princely sum of €69.99 when all the other perfumes were going for €40 or less, including some of the Penhaligon ones. Boy was the look on that lady’s face sour.

Not as sour, however, as Elisabethan Rose.

The one good thing I can say about the rose in this is that it does not disappoint you by turning sour later on in the development, because this one goes on sour, stays sour, and ends sour. It is at least consistent.

There are not enough descriptors in the world to convey how bad I find this to be. It’s soapy, fusty and very tea-rose-ish in the way that those straight-up rose scents from Yardley and The Perfumer’s Workshop are. Very old-fashioned and chokingly powdery. My personal vision of hell includes being chained to the bed, sprayed dripping wet in this, and being made to watch golf for hours on end.
13th January, 2016

Eau Rose by Diptyque

It has taken me a few years to try another Diptyque rose after my horrendous brush with the truly awful L’Ombre Dans L’Eau, but being the trooper I am, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and reached out my hand for the tester bottle of Eau Rose in Space NK on a recent trip to Dublin.

Actually, let me be completely honest with you here – I did not spray it on myself. My two-year-old daughter volunteered. You should have seen her manfully rolling up her sleeves and offering her teeny, tiny wrists to me, looking the other way, and murmuring “Do what you must, Mother.” (I swear this happened).

And you know what, Eau Rose is really nice! We both liked it a lot. It smells like small, pink roses freshly picked and strewn over a bowl of water – it’s very fresh, sweet (without being jammy or saccharine), and unlikely to offend anyone. What I appreciated about Eau Rose in particular is that it maintains its perky, full-figured character all the way through and never turns sour. I hate sourness in a rose – or excessive greenness.

The litchi and blackcurrant add a juicy fruitiness that tickles the tongue, and the geranium a hint of cool minty leafiness that plays nicely against the sweet, pink rosiness. In the dry down, there’s a quiet (white) honey and musk combo forming a cushion under the fruity rose, and it all feels quite natural and solid. I can’t tell you exactly how long it lasted because at some point my daughter’s wrists became smeared in seagull poo. Don’t ask.

Although a little too simple for my tastes, Eau Rose would be an excellent starter rose for anyone (well, honestly probably just those of the female persuasion) who wants a true rose without any greenery, woods, oud, or heavy gourmand notes to sully its purity. I suspect that it would also be brilliant for layering.
13th January, 2016

Rose en Noir by Miller Harris

Noir my arse. It’s about as noir as I am, which considering I come from a race of people who are a shade of duck egg blue in winter, is not very.

Still, it’s a very pretty fragrance, this Rose en Noir, with its bright herbal top and prickly petigrain leading into a moderately peppery rose. The coriander adds a slightly soapy accent to the rose (but stops short of making it metallic or sharp), and violet leaf adds a watery, green feel to the background noise. I get discreet wafts of tobacco leaf here and there – at one point briefly turning ever so slightly smoky (nice!) – but it’s not really the main focus.

It is not a dark scent, nor is it animalic. You’d think that the use of black pepper and coriander puts you in the same general area as Rose Poivree and Une Fille de Berlin, but Rose en Noir is nowhere near as dramatic as these. It’s a bright but soft herbal tobacco-rose composition that doesn’t come down too heavy on any one note, so the overall impression is of lightness and sparkle.

But what could be seen as restraint or discretion in the use of notes actually turns out to be the undoing of the scent – everything is so muted and pale that it fails to rise above mere prettiness. It is very easy to wear, but so quiet that one tends to forget you’re wearing it after an hour or two. I suspect that Rose en Noir was tailor made to appeal to casual browsers in Liberty’s in London, women for whom fragrance is likely a pleasant afterthought rather than the all-consuming passion it is for me – the dark-sounding name will look cool on the dressing table and the scent itself won’t scare the horses. I’m clearly not the target audience here, and you know what, that’s totally cool.
13th January, 2016

L'Ombre dans L'Eau Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

In January, 2013, alone in a small niche perfumery in Rome and armed with birthday money, which is free money, I made my first niche perfume purchases, among them L’Ombre Dans L’Eau. I ended up selling all but one of those bottles (I kept Borneo 1834), and the first on the chopping block was L’Ombre Dans L’Eau. I always have a moment of hesitation before selling on a perfume, but not this time.

I had, of course, made the rookie mistake of falling in love with the fresh, green topnotes and not waiting for the dry down to arrive before getting my wallet out. The top notes are great though, if you’re into very vivid, naturalistic garden settings – this one is like walking through a lush, wet tomato patch, snapping the leaves as you go. The blackcurrant leaf note is particularly mouth-watering.

But what I discovered when I got home was a luridly pink, neon-lit rose that screeched and screeched in my ear until my last nerve snapped. I read somewhere that people think it would make a better room spray than a personal perfume, so before selling it, I gave it one last spritz around the bedroom. But that just made the room smell of L’Ombre Dans L’Eau, so no, that didn’t work.

Recently, someone sent me a sample in a swap, and I decided to see if my feelings about it have changed. Nope. It’s still pretty awful – that loud pink disco rose waiting in hiding behind the beautiful opening, poised to explode all over the pain receptors in my brain – Jesus, someone get this off of me, please.
13th January, 2016

Cuir X by La Parfumerie Moderne

I have a hankering for Cuir X that I just can’t shake. I’m on my third sample of it and the crush is still going strong. But like any crush, ask me to explain it and I can’t.

I mean, if pushed, I’d say it’s a beautiful modulated suede, its hints of rubbery saffraleine perfectly matched by a hint of smoke and a smooth, almost edible note that lands halfway between violet and plum, even though there’s no flowers or fruit in it. It has a modernist structure to it, meaning that it’s been streamlined to survive in space, free of any weighty flowers, powder, amber or resins. If I were to visualize it as a person, it would be Michael Fassbender’s character in Prometheus, David, a sleek android with a ferocious intellect and a perfectly smooth, whip-thin physique. Like David, Cuir X is a dove grey suede glove fitted tightly onto an industrial bone structure.

It’s probably nothing new under the sun. But desire is irrational. I can only tell you that Cuir X wears like a slick of smoked single cream on my skin. It’s sexy. I want to eat myself when I’m wearing it.

But it costs €160. And for that type of investment, it had better be a long-term thing and not just a crush. I wouldn’t buy a horse or marry a man without first looking at his teeth, lifting his forelocks, and doing a thorough inspection of his undercarriage, so I’m going to do the same due diligence with Cuir X.

I mean, who’s to say that my desire for Cuir X isn’t just a flash in the pan? After all, I own many suede or “fine cuir” fragrances and at some point or another, I thought that I couldn’t live without them either. I don’t want to engage in anymore suede bed-hopping. I want a long-term commitment.

So. I’m going to test and re-test all the suede perfumes I own or once tested and wrote off, and if I still love Cuir X above all the others, I will buy it. That is a promise to myself. First of my list is a re-test of Parfum d’Empire’s Cuir Ottoman by the same perfumer (Marc-Antoine Corticchiato) – I had originally written it off, but if so many people say that Cuir X is basically a modernized snippet of Cuir Ottoman, then I owe it to myself and my wallet to give it another try (seeing as it’s about €40 cheaper).

A friend said that it is 96.5% similar to Cuir de Lancome at the top (which, honestly, it is) but then diverges towards the heart. I can confirm this - despite a similar top note, Cuir de Lancome is more floral and has a soft powder to it that Cuir X does not. But there are other suede perfumes. And lots of time. I have patience and an Excel spreadsheet.

Crushes are unreliable and desire can ebb away as quickly as it comes. Let’s see which way this goes.
12th January, 2016

Rose Oud by By Kilian

Rose, oud, saffron, gaiac wood, cardamom……yes, it’s the typical line-up for your average rose-oud fragrance. I’ll excuse you if you’re not getting too excited – I know I wasn’t. But I find myself haunted by my sample of By Kilian Rose Oud, long after it’s gone, and I’ll tell you why. It’s one of the easiest rose-oud fragrances to wear, as well as the most serenely beautiful. It has none of the exciting harshness of the oud accord used in most other Western oud fragrances, and is all the better for it. Think of the most beautiful supermodel you’ve ever laid eyes on - but one who nonetheless fails to either move you or turn you on - and that’s Rose Oud by Kilian.

The secret to the success of Rose Oud is this: all the major elements (the rose, the oud, the gaiac wood, and the saffron) do not possess a strong character of their own but instead melt together to form a small black velvet pocket into which you find your hand fits perfectly.

So the green, slightly sour wet rose at the start gains a dulcet depth from the subtle oud, growing sweeter, jammier, and fuller as time goes on. The oud provides the dark backdrop without muscling its way into the composition in that bullying way oud tends to have. The saffron casts only a fine patina of sweet gold dust rather than its usual iodine-y leather scream. It’s a very subtle, smooth fragrance - almost ephemeral. When I think the show has ended, eight hours on, I am surprised to find that golden, almost pudding-like saffron emerge on my skin, and a pleasantly sour tinge of oud.

Calice Becker knows her roses. Boy, she knows her roses, and Rose Oud is a rose done right. The eventual jamminess and “wetness” of the rose here mimics the pulpy lushness of the flower at the start of Liaisons Dangereuses (also by Calice Becker), but without that peach shampoo thing that Liaisons Dangereuses slithers into towards the end.

The oud, by the way, is synthetic but has the virtue of not smelling like it, so carefully woven into the fabric of the fragrance has it been. Yet more proof that it is more the skill of the perfumer (and to be fair, the art direction, for which we can thank Kilian Hennessey himself) than the raw materials that matters in terms of the final result.

Rose Oud is a beautiful, delicate piece of work whose subtleties could easily go unnoticed if you weren’t paying attention. It is by far one of my favorite rose-oud fragrances, and despite the cost, I have a feeling that I will own a (refill) bottle of this someday, even if I have to sell off some of my (many) other oud fragrances to afford it. I have finally reached the stage where I am content to do away with five or six inferior bottles of perfume to get my hands on just one bottle of something that satisfies and pleases from every angle.

Rose Oud may not be the most exciting or unusual rose oud on the market – many think it is pretty but mundane – but I think it’s one of the best-smelling rose-ouds around, perhaps only bettered by Tom Ford’s wonderful Noir de Noir or Guerlain’s Rose Nacree du Desert.
10th January, 2016