Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

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Total Reviews: 432

Thirty-three by Ex Idolo

33 gets its name from the Chinese oud oil used in the fragrance, which was aged for 33 years before its release in 2013. Mind you, since I’m finally trying out my sample of this in 2016, I think that means that I am wearing 36. Nevermind - this is basically Montale’s Black Aoud done with very high quality rose oil and (supposedly) real oud oil instead of a synthetic replacer. To my nose, it is also much stronger than Black Aoud and lacks the soapy, musky dry down that always proves to be such a letdown in Black Aoud. If you love the Montale, then you will love this – it’s a definite upgrade. Personally, I am over this exact type of sourish, high-pitched rose-oud combo that has proved to be such a popular shorthand for that special, exotic Arabic “flavor”.

33 is incredibly strong, and is possessed of an oud note that smells like the real thing – rubbery, woody, balsamic, but with slight bile or fecal aspects that might be off-putting to the uninitiated (but who, these days, is uninitiated into this style of rose-oud?). It is joined by a really earthy, almost fungal patchouli – properly “damp cellar” in tone and effect. More than animalic, though, this oud and patchouli duet proves to be sharply medicinal and hyper-clean, like hospital corridors washed down with disinfectant.

You have to really like this style of oud to like this fragrance – and don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy it. But only once in a blue moon, these days, because, honestly, I am so over the sourness of this combo. It’s not a comfortable wear for me – not anymore. I feel like I am constantly bracing myself when I put it on.

The rose note is excellent in 33. It emerges like a boss following the piercing oud note in the topnotes, and from there on in only grows in sweetness and jamminess, serving to sand down the corners of that rubber/medicine-like oud. In the second half of the fragrance, the oud note disappears and the rose takes over, rendering it in all intents and purposes a strong rose perfume with some dark patchouli/oud inferences.

I’m not saying 33 is not a good fragrance – perhaps it is even a very good rendition of the tired rose-oud category, and it for sure is miles better than the famous Montale example. But from a personal perspective, I am done with this kind of fragrance. I already own Rose Gold Oudh, White Aoud, Midnight Oud, and Red Aoud, and that really is more than enough for me (actually for anyone) in this category.
09th January, 2016

Mohur by Neela Vermeire

I appreciate Mohur more for what it is not than for what it is. It is not, despite being comprised of 11% pure rose oils, a massive oriental rose fragrance (I love that category, but it’s been done to death). Despite containing oud, it is not your run-of-the-mill rose oud accord (ditto). It is not, despite the novel-length note list of every Indian dessert ingredient ever, a heavy Indian dessert-like fragrance weighed down with vanilla, rosewater, saffron, and spices. Mohur takes every expectation you have and turns it upside down.

What Mohur is, in fact, is a handful of red rose petals strewn on the surface of a glass of cold almond milk into which have been stirred grated carrots, black pepper, and cardamom. There is a cold restraint to the fragrance that elevates it from mere prettiness to true beauty.

Not one of my four samplings were the same as the other – it is a strange, mercurial perfume that beats to its own drum. The rich abundance of notes seem to strain against a muslin cloth, drip feeding into the fragrance you experience on the skin and seemingly on a time-release mechanism, allowing the wearer to enjoy a progression of note impressions in a leisurely manner. There is light and air between the many notes. Thus Mohur achieves a remarkable balance between richness and clarity.

Straight onto the skin, I smell an austere oud note and a sourish leather, underpinned by a green cardamom note. Behind the sharpness of the opening accord, I sense some fruit and rose petals beginning to take shape. At first, the rose smells like the dried rose petals stirred into black tea that you can buy from Marriage Freres. Then, oddly, for about half an hour, I can’t smell a thing – nada, zip, niente. It’s as if all the opening notes have sharply withdrawn, leaving only a haunting impression of something enticingly boozy and sour on the skin.

Then, without warning, the fragrance seems to rev back up again, like a rusty old engine! Now underpinning the tart fruitiness of the emerging rose is the fuzzy, almost raw feel of a green almond freshly peeled from its shell and pressed to release its fragrant milk. The red rose petals lose their tea-like dryness and bloom into wet, jammy rose petals plucked straight from the flower. The sticky rose combines with the milky almond notes to produce something almost edible in its deliciousness. But the jam and milk notes are spread out on a foundation of earth and roots (carrots), powdery chalk (benzoin), and wood (sandalwood and cedar), so it never quite tilts into yummy gourmand territory.

The intense (but filtered, shaded) whirligig of spice and rose notes never really settles, even in the base – it just keeps on shifting through a kaleidoscope of impressions. At times, the base reads to me like a dusty, rose-tinted talcum powder – the combination of now dried rose petals and benzoin. In other tests, I got a full-throated, creamy sandalwood that tilted its sweetness towards a weighty vanilla crème, again, nuanced by rose but never dominated by it.

Mohur is simply beautiful – elegant but not staid, and full of little twists and turns that captures my interest in every wearing. Does it make my wish list? Yes, and I would buy it immediately if it were not for the times that I pick up on the baby talc accord in the dry down – it is a note that I can appreciate but do not love. I would like, however, to spend more time getting to know Mohur and her little twists and turns, so I might invest in the Neela Vermeire discovery set.
09th January, 2016

Lipstick Rose by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

A beautiful swirl of jammy violet ionones, rose, and iris whipped up into the classic scent of a high-end waxy lipstick – what’s not to like? It aims for a lighthearted cheerfulness and stays there, not changing or progressing much in its lifetime on the skin, save for a brief flash of sharp, soapy grapefruit that (mercifully) drops back once the topnotes have dissipated.

Powdery and waxy at the same time, Lipstick Rose is a rush of pure nostalgia for any woman who has ever been kissed by a lipstick-wearing mother on her way out to a party. That’s why I forgive Lipstick Rose for its relatively simple prettiness and static presence on my skin – it’s a price I am more than willing to pay to go back in time to when I was a little girl and used to stomp around in my mother’s shoes. Lipstick Rose has that happy, innocent creaminess of surreptitiously-opened lipsticks, cold creams, and lotions, holding if not the scent but the ghostly transfer of the presence of the person whose approval I most desired and craved. When I wear my sample of Lipstick Rose, I look at life through rose-tinted glasses.

Lipstick Rose is undoubtedly the queen of lipstick scents – and more enjoyable to me than Misia – but I doubt it will ever be part of my collection. You see, my lipstick nostalgia basket is already full – occupied by a half bottle of the divine Histoires de Parfums Moulin Rouge, which, although it does not have the delightful, powdered rose of Lipstick Rose, does have a slightly naughty, shady character to it that suits me more.
09th January, 2016
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Jeux de Peau by Serge Lutens

Jeux de Peau smells – at first – like the air in a food product preparation lab, where the air swirls with all kinds of flavor molecules added to enhance our perception of what we’re actually eating.

I don’t think Jeux de Peau is foody per se (because it is not something that tempts me to eat it), but I do think it relies heavily on food aromachemical notes to produce it overall effect. I smell cylotene, a molecule that tastes of slightly burned maple syrup, bread, and coffee beans and is often added to real maple syrup to enhance the flavor/smell, and pyrazines, synthesized molecules responsible for the very intense smell of coffee, chocolate, woods, and bread brought to burning point under intense heat.

Like other pyrazine-rich perfumes, such as Aomassai, Un Bois Vanille, and Eau Noire, the effect in Jeux de Peau is intensely aromatic to the point where it can smell somewhat overcooked, or burned to a crisp, and like those other perfumes, a licorice or anise note has been added to underscore the deep “black” nuances.

The butyric undertone to the sandalwood is taken to the limits here, so it smells both richly oily and more than a little rancid, like a butter dish left out to fester under a hot lamp. When the toasted bread notes meet the buttery oilslick, the effect is unhealthy in that doughy, yeasty way that always reminds me of when a businessman slips off his loafers on a plane – that steamy odor of slightly-cooked feet pervading a closed-in space, always the same regardless of how spotless his socks, shoes, or feet actually are. The opening of Jeux de Peau forces that same unwanted intimacy on me, and I fight through it, gnashing my teeth until the intensity dissipates somewhat.

In the heart, the overly rich, stale butter notes are cut with a dash of salt, which I think is coming from a very herbal licorice or anise note, and the grassy, spicy tones of immortelle. The savory notes are perfectly balanced here by a delicious and delicate apricot jam accord (osmanthus flower), as well as the gentler milk tones coming out from the sandalwood. The sandalwood in this is just incredible – sweet and salty, richly, brownly aromatic, like an ancient elephant figurine carved from Mysore sandalwood held up to a fire to bring out the aroma hidden deep within its fibers.

Burned toast and butter, you say?

No, Jeux de Peau smells more complex than toast and butter. It also smells a lot less natural. The combined effect is a blur of intense flavor impressions that attract and repel at the same rate. I think it is high art. I am just not convinced that I want to wear it.
18th December, 2015

Oud Assam by Rania J

Oud Assam smells (to me) like real Indian oud oil tinctured in perfumer’s alcohol, bracketed by a simple bitter orange note on top and a fresh, mossy note on the bottom. This pared-back approach allows all the complexities of the Indian oud used to come out and show themselves – the leather, the woods, the funk, the cheese, the rot, and the sour tang of moldy earth. It’s pretty close to being an oudiflore.

The extent to which you’ll find the oud in Oud Assam dirty depends on your level of experience with real oud. If you’re used to the Montale type of oud (plasticky, band-aid-y, rubbery, or even paint-thinner-ish), then Rania J.’s version might have you running for the hills screaming “Cow dung! Blue cheese!” If you’re coming at this from the perspective of Oud Palao, Leather Oud, and Oud Ispahan, which are all based on the aroma of smoking oud wood chips (rather than the oil), then this will also be quite a departure. But if you’ve smelled real oud oil, and especially Indian (Hindi) oud, then you’ll sniff Oud Assam and say to yourself, “Damn, but they sure put the real stuff in here.”

Describing the smell of Indian oud to someone who isn’t familiar with the aroma is tricky. It’s like trying to explain the flavor profile of blue cheese aged for twenty years in a mountain cave in the Andes to a guy who’s only ever tasted Kraft singles. It’s not only a question of vocabulary but of where the person is coming from, culture and experience-wise. Objectively speaking, anything with a more complex flavor profile can be said to be superior – but it doesn’t mean that your personal taste will agree.

Real oud is a complex material made up of over 500 different flavor compounds and, famously, can vary from region to region, tree to tree, distiller to distiller, etc. Like cheese or wine, it’s not just that your taste might vary from mine, but it’s that the product itself might vary from one year to the next, from one tola to the next…it’s a frustrating business. But if you want to know what Indian oud smells like, and you don’t have either the money or time to go down the oud oil route (and I wouldn’t blame you), you’d be as well off to go for an option that is shelf-stable, quality and batch-controlled, and easy on the wallet, such as Oud Assam.

Oud Assam is a very good representation of what Indian oud smells like. To me, Indian oud initially smells hot, sour, and slightly bilious, like the taste in the back of your throat after you’ve just thrown up. Some describe it as fecal. Are you still with me? Heh. But underneath the initial sour dung/vomit stench, there is brown leather, woods, smoke, oil spills, fruit, earth, rot, flowers, and resins, all packed one on top of each other, going ten thousand miles deep. If you like the salt-sweet-sour-savory flavor profiles of Parmesan cheese, miso paste, bleu cheese, wine, fois gras, and er, breastmilk (yes, really!), then you will likely love Indian oud too.

I would still recommend Oud Assam to the uninitiated, because the animalic aspects of the oud oil die away pretty quickly, and what you’re left with (within the space of, let’s say, half an hour) is the deep brown leathery, woodsy, Unami-rich depth that real oud fans find so utterly addictive.

And real oud really is like an addiction – it might seem repellent at first, but there is something so complex and interesting about how “packed” the aroma is that you will find your nose being drawn to your wrist over and over again, despite yourself. I have an Ajmal oud oil blend that smells like the arse end of a sheep. It’s too much for me. But my husband absolutely loves it. He says, “Now that is perfume. Throw out all your other stuff because this is the only thing that smells good to me”. My five-year-old son smelled it and reared his head back with a big “Euuuurgh” but couldn’t stop going back to his father’s wrist and sniffing it.

Rania J.’s version is excellent because it puts the real thing up front and center, so that you can’t miss it, and allows it to shine without the distraction of too many other notes, like the ubiquitous rose. The only thing stopping me immediately springing for a bottle is the vetiver in the base – I’m not a huge fan of vetiver at the best of times, and this version of it has that faintly marshy, rooty runner’s sweat angle I don’t appreciate. The non-vetiver-averse won’t have a problem with it, though, as I’m sure that it will appear as very subtle to them.

If you like Oud Assam, with its fresh, almost green-herbal take on the genuine article, then I suggest you also try Dahn al Aoud Anteeque by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi and Mukhallat Dahn al Oud Moattaq by Ajmal (the EDP version). What all three have in common is that (i) they are rare examples of spray/EDPs that contain (varying) amounts of real, honest-to-goodness oud oil, (ii) they are all quite fresh, herbal-leathery takes on the note, rather than the usual rose, amber, or sweet vanilla, making them excellent choices for summer, and (iii) they are all slightly masculine-leaning in the gender spectrum.
04th December, 2015

Traversée du Bosphore by L'Artisan Parfumeur

The first time I tried Traversee du Bosphore, I almost laughed out loud at how bad it was. There is a lurid, cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher note up top pitched halfway between children's cough syrup and the clear pink goo you find at the bottom of a supermarket pie. I felt cheated. I had been promised a mystical Duchaufour-ian trawl through the back streets of Istanbul and what I got was cheap sweeties that even sugar-crazed five year olds might reject if they came spewing out of a piñata.

The notes say apple and pomegranate, two ingredients heavily used in Turkish and Balkan cuisine. But I am used to my mother-in-law’s wild pomegranate syrup, which is tart and sweet and tannic all at once, and I couldn’t see the connection to the more single-cell syrup I was smelling.

The dry down, on the other hand, was more interesting to me – a fat, pink suede cushion thickly dusted with icing sugar and trembling under the weight of rose petals. But every time I tried it, I had to clench my teeth through the artificial syrup opening. The main problem was that the opening notes felt cheap to me, and jarred against the uber expensive pink suede cube waiting for me in the dry down.

Then it struck me – what am I talking about? Lokum is cheap. It’s cheap to make, cheap to consume, and it tastes a bit cheap too. That’s practically the whole point of lokum. I used to live in the Balkans, and at meetings in Bosnia, Serbia, or Montenegro, someone would invariably pull out a tin of hilariously cheap lokum and you’d find yourself mindlessly chomping through two or three cubes of vaguely rose-flavored gelatin with the coffee – always more of a texture than a taste – careless of the post-lokum sugar headache that loomed over your medulla lungata like a nuclear cloud. Good stuff! Good times.

Knowing that lokum costs pennies is part of its hokey charm, I guess. It’s like coffee, good bread, and chocolate - small things that cost very little and yet provide so much pleasure to our daily lives. And this (essential) cheapness is key to appreciating Traversee du Bosphore. Enough with the mythologizing of Eastern sweetmeats, this perfume seems to be saying – lokum is made from boiled up horses’ hooves, and let’s not all pretend that it’s something fancier than it is.

I no longer live in the Balkans, so when I feel a bit nostalgic for the cheap rosewater taste of the local lokum, Traversee du Bosphore will have to stand in. Now that I have this scent pegged – a cheap and cheerful lokum suede – I can enjoy it without worrying about the cheap notes, which are, after all, exactly as they should be.
04th December, 2015

De Profundis by Serge Lutens

From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord!

Despite the chilling despair of Psalm 130 from which the title De Profundis (“From the Depths”) was taken, and the gloomy death poem that Oncle Serge sent out with it, there is nothing melancholic or funereal about De Profundis the perfume. That’s the problem with back-story in perfume – one association from the perfumer and our mind rushes to meet it, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Oncle Serge hadn’t mentioned death, nobody would be talking about this perfume using words such as death, sadness, melancholy, or funerals. But he did, and they do…

Actually, De Profundis is a rather classical piece of work, its chilly, wet green floral opening recalling in particular the muguet dampness of vintage Diorissimo and the hyacinth dewiness of Chamade. The opening notes are vivid and naturalistic – they made me gasp! You get the impression of a clump of flowers being ripped from the earth and being held up to your nose to inhale them, dripping wet roots, crushed stalks, stamens, clinging earth, dewy petals and all.

What flowers? Hard to tell, only that there is a wet, green, stemmy feel to them all – I sense the bitterness of crushed dandelion stalks, tulip bulbs, lily of the valley (the sweet, slightly soapy “white” scent of the flowers), sharp hyacinth, and later on, the fruity sweetness of violet petals. I don't know what chrysanthemums smell like, but perhaps they smell like a mixture of all these flowers. I find it to be a joyful, cheerful opening – akin to spring flowers pushing their way through the frozen earth and snow and into the sun.

Yes, the opening is great – wet, green, a bit wild, and definitely earthy. I am not really into purely floral fragrances, but I have to admit that more often than not it is the vivid, naturalistic florals that move me almost to tears – De Profundis achieved this, as did Ostara, En Passant, Sa Majeste La Rose, and Carnal Flower. There is something about the purity of the flowers in these perfumes - I get the same rush of emotion smelling them as I do smelling the flowers in nature. It is perhaps a long-buried spiritual drive within me, something that says, look here, look what nature created for you – look, smell! These perfumes move me because they replicate a tiny piece of that awe I get from nature and capture it in a bottle.

Ah, there I go, despite myself, talking about God and nature, etc., etc. Oncle Serge’s marketing for De Profundis must have worked on me after all.

Anyway, after a thrilling opening, De Profundis starts to deflate under the weight of its own gorgeousness. Floral notes of such dewy, crystalline beauty are very hard to keep aloft – they wilt as quickly as the real flowers do. Even as you are enjoying the savage, wet greenery of the start, the perfume starts to desiccate and shrink back onto itself, like the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East shriveling under the house that Dorothy dropped on her. An ocean of white musk rises to take the burden of the florals on its shoulders, and one hour in, only hot breathing on your white-musked-up skin will revive the ghost of the stupendous green flowers you were smelling before.

It’s such a shame! The same thing happens with Ostara, but that has a much better, creamier dry down that makes the experience more satisfying from beginning to end.

Nevermind. We live in an era where perfumers have to reformulate and take short cuts, and I suspect that this is the sort of gutting that has happened to De Profundis. I don’t mind re-spraying to get that initial burst of beauty, because it really is an opening that deserves to be relived over and over again.

To me, the opening of De Profundis spells out a message of hope – that alive things may emerge from the depths (“De Profundis”) of the black, cold earth after a long, hard winter. That life may begin again.

Despite myself, then, I am making the connection to Psalm 130. Of course, De Profundis is also the name of the letter that Oscar Wilde wrote in an agony of despair and rage to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”), while in prison on charges of moral indecency (Lord Alfred Douglas being the same person who put him there). Tired and nervous from two years in jail under the ever-watchful eyes of cruel guards, Wilde wrote this letter page by page a month before his release, handing each page off at the end of the day because he wasn’t allowed to have books or papers with him in his room.

His letter is full of anger, hatred, and blame (for both himself and Bosie) but ultimately it seeks to lay out the terms for forgiveness. Just like Psalm 130, where the supplicant begs for God’s mercy to lift him out of the depths of his misery, so too is Wilde’s letter a plea to be allowed emerge once again into the light. I like to think that Wilde was able, one day, just outside his barred window, to smell the spring flowers pushing through scads of icy earth, and that he too sensed that there was hope for new life to crawl out of the depths.
01st December, 2015

Habit Rouge Dress Code by Guerlain

What a beautiful opening – delicate and sweet, a cloud of bergamot, rose, and vanilla dust just hanging in the air like a rose-gold halo. And in it, I instantly recognized the ghost of Shalimar.

Well, actually, that’s not true. If Habit Rouge is the male equivalent of Shalimar, then its flanker, Habit Rouge Dress Code is the male equivalent of (a mash-up of) two of the Shalimar flankers – specifically the Parfum Initial L’Eau and the Parfum Initial EDP. The Shalimar flankers stripped Shalimar of its leather, smoke, incense, and dirty bergamot, and used her structure to turn out streamlined, sweet versions flushed with sweet lemonade, fruit berries, and that smooth pink patchouli that modern girls love so much. Likewise, Habit Rouge Dress Code takes the rose-leather combination of the original Habit Rouge EDT, strips it of its fresh lemon-and-herb-strewn opening, and fluffs it out with sweet notes that modern tastes love, like praline, caramel, and tonka.

But I don’t just mean that Dress Code smells like the conceptual twin of the Shalimar flankers, I really mean to say that it lifts entire sections from these fragrances. Dress Code has the hazy but effervescent citrus-rose combo from the opening of the L’Eau, giving off the delightful effect of a huge pitcher of limeade dotted with pink rose petals. Later on, when the sweet praline and caramel come in, it starts to smell a lot like the dry down of the Parfum Initial EDP (minus the iris and berries). The overall feel is pink, balmy, and slightly resinous, so there is obviously a lot of the Guerlainade here too. In fact, at certain points, it reminds me of a sweeter, less complex version of Cologne du 68, which itself is basically an essay on the famous Guerlainade, with anise and angelica stalks added on top.

Two notes take Dress Code away from being a mere pastiche of these other fragrances, though. First, a warm nutmeg note provides a brown, spicy aura that is very striking. It acts upon the vanilla and caramel to produce a sweet, nutty effect very similar to that in Black Flower Mexican Vanilla. Second is a rather strident citronella-like note, probably arising from the geraniol or citronellol compounds in the rose oil used here. Both the nutmeg and the citronella notes die way back in the dry down.

Dress Code is extremely well-done, and is a striking example of a modern gourmand take on a classic. It will suit modern male tastes, I am sure, as it is extremely sweet and has that praline note that people like so much these days. But for me, it runs into “too sweet” territory, and to be honest, I can’t stand the boatloads of caramel poured into this – it has that syrupy “catch” at the back of my throat that put me off ever buying Parfum Initial EDP. The opening is beautiful, and I’ll admit that within five minutes of applying, I was scouring the net to see where I could find it. But on reflection, I only find the opening alluring because it reminds me of the one Shalimar flanker that I really rate (and own), which is the Parfum Initial L’Eau.

By the way, not that it matters, but if I were smelling this blind, I would swear that Dress Code was a feminine release. It’s a good example of how the line between feminine and masculine fragrances is really a thin one these days, and that it essentially doesn’t matter at all – if you’re a woman and this smells good to you, just wear it.
22nd November, 2015

Ariel by Sammarco

A serious blast of violets opens this perfume, but if you’re thinking powdery girly perfume, you’d be wrong – Ariel ties the violets into a weirdly oily spice note at the start (probably the ginger-mandarin combination), rendering the opening effect unsettling and anti-classical. It feels like a new way of treating violets to me, and about a hundred times more interesting than the tired lipstick trope seen in countless violet perfumes from Misia onwards. The spiced, oily floral effect extends into the heart, but Ariel eventually loses the violet and dovetails into a sweet, creamy sandalwood base that recalls Samsara but without the synthetic sonic boom that accompanies it. It ends up being a little too sweet for my taste, but I have to say I like this version of Samsara much better than the current version out there at the moment.
16th November, 2015

Alter by Sammarco

Although I really rate Bond-T and Vitrum, Alter is possibly my favorite from the Sammarco line-up. It presents an incredibly indolic, almost raw-feeling jasmine, and underlines its inherent funk with a sizeable amount of civet. But here’s the thing – none of this comes off as imbalanced or shrill. The potentially screechy combination of jasmine and civet is smoothed out by a rich, earthy myrrh, noted by perfumers for its use in compositions to lend a rich, deep smoothness, much like the use of butter in a cake. The smell of the myrrh is noticeable to my nose, with that earthy bitterness and fungal density you get in myrrh oil, and it acts as an effective grounding foil to the fluffy, almond-blossom-scented mimosa present in the topnotes.

The topnotes also have an almost gasoline or rubber twang to them, pointing to the massive amount of raw jasmine sambac used. For much of the time wearing Alter, I was convinced that the jasmine was actually tuberose, so prominent was the buttery rubber note. The civet in the base creates a oddly leather-like feel, and lends the composition a lived-in, masculine feel. This is one white floral that guys could wear with total confidence. All of Sammarco perfume samples lasted a long time on my skin, and Alter was no exception – about 16 hours in and I could smell the leathery civet and the super-indolic jasmine.
16th November, 2015

Vitrum by Sammarco

In my testing round of Sammarco samples, I had put Vitrum off until last, because I despise vetiver as a note and most vetiver soliflores (soliroots? Solidirax?) end up smelling like runner’s sweat to me. But I eat my vetiver-hating hat. It shows off the great skill of Giovanni Sammarco, I believe, that he is able to present all of the nice aspects of vetiver (the smoke, the woodiness, the greenness) without slipping in any of the nasty aspects (most notably that dank, sour “folded-away-when-wet-gym-clothes” funk).

This is pure woodsmoke to me – a sort of lank green-black tendril of smoke from an open fire, simultaneously airy and solid. Dry as a bone, this would work brilliantly for anyone who hates the saltmarshy, sweaty, rooty side of vetiver (like me), for anyone who loves the sooty smoke notes in Comme des Garcons Black and Amouage Memoir Man. To my surprise and delight, two big thumbs up for this utterly wearable vetiver.
16th November, 2015

Amber Mystique by Estée Lauder

I’ve had a sample of this for ages now but my hand would always pass over it, my mind doing the kind of internal eye-rolling that nonetheless is visible from outer space and makes me (I suspect) quite an irritating person. The preconceptions I nurtured so smugly were: (i) this is Estee Lauder making a cheap grab for their slice of the oud craze driving the market – totally predictable and utterly depressing, (ii) the bottle is just f^&*($g awful, (iii) it would be just another syrupy, loud oriental amber along the lines of Ameer al Oudh, or 24 Gold, or (iv) that it would be stuffed with cheap woody ambers that scream “Power” and “Projection” to the bros and “outstaying its welcome” to me.

Thankfully, although I am still convinced of numbers (i) and (ii), my fears about the scent itself were completely unjustified. This is a sweet, soft oriental blend of rose, amber, incense, honey, some fruit, and a touch of (non-rubbery, non-medicinal) oud. It is not synthetically-extended in the rear with potent woody ambers. In fact, the sillage is polite and sweetly diaphanous rather than bullying or insistent.

I like it a lot. It would make a great starter oriental for those looking to dip their toe into the water, and for those who do not like the rather over-powered, syrupy, or harsh examples of the Arabian cheapy genre. It opens with a tiny berry and plum note, and what smells to me like a subtle oud wood note, but these get swallowed up pretty quickly into a powdery, sweet amber. It is sweetly balsamic and slightly-honeyed - never throat-catchingly resinous or sharp.

There is, later, an attractively whiskey-ish tone to the amber that develops, giving it some dimension. I also smell a slight buttery tone that could be a facet of the amber or of the leather – either way, it reminds me of the only part of the amber accord in Opus VI that I really like, which is that buttery, almond-like undertone from the periploca flower. In Amber Mystique, you really feel the presence of the rose, and I would say that overall, this is a rosy amber (or an ambery rose), like Dior Privee’s Ambre Nuit, albeit without the salty ambergris tint. If you like Kalemat or Calligraphy Rose, then you'll enjoy this too (although those other two perfumes are better, in my opinion).

If I had to point out a little niggle, I'd say that it lacks the sub-woofer boom that makes ambery orientals so (traditionally) satisfying. Everything unfolds in a little shallow pool of bliss, the ripples spreading out on the skin, but there are no hidden depths here.

In the United States, this appears to be sold on eBay for $30-40 for the 100ml size, but in Europe, we are still seeing prices of €80-110. I am surprised at the difference, but maybe the American market is just better at finding the correct value of things.

Personally, I would put the real value of Amber Mystique at around the same level of Spellbound or Sensuous Noir. It smells great but is neither groundbreakingly unique nor as attention-grabbing as Estee Lauder would like us to believe, and therefore the “exclusive” tone of the marketing and pricing makes little sense. But if you live in America and see this on eBay for peanuts, grab it! Especially if you don’t already own an example in this genre – Arabian-style oud/amber EDPs – and would like to start off on an easy rung.
16th November, 2015

Tilda Swinton Like This by Etat Libre d'Orange

A slow burn, this perfume. I’ve had a sample of it for a year, and despite many tests, it’s only recently that Like This has truly gelled for me. A “meh” to “yeah” progression, I guess. Although I smelled everything I was supposed to – the pumpkin, the ginger, the tangerines, the immortelle, the whiskey - the lines between the notes in Like This always seemed blurred and fuzzy, like everything melted down into a big pot of pumpkin soup.

Then I realized two things. First, that there is a sort of charm to having all the notes gleam in an orange and gold register. It's a deliberate choice, not a mistake. The soft ochres and burnt siennas of the notes are there to provide a tight, muted symphony of voices all in the same range rather than to feature the depths and heights of a full Wagnerian opera.

Confining the perfume to such a limited palette forces it to find the common threads and unite them. I think that the unifying thread in Like This, underneath the samey sludge of orange-ochre-gold tonalities, is a dry sort of sweetness. Ginger root is both hot and sweet, pumpkin is both waxy-starchy and vegetally sweet, tangerines are citrusy and sweet, whiskey is smoky and sweet, and immortelle is salty and sweet. Like This is a blanket knitted from the sweetness of these orange notes, leaving the secondary characteristics to bubble up underneath.

So now when I wear Like This, my mind is at last able to peel back the thick, sweet orange wool and make out the shapes and movements of things below: burned toffee, a smoky, peaty Scottish whiskey, the gentle curried warmth of immortelle, maple syrup, hot ginger root, woody cinnamon bark, and a pleasantly waxy lipstick note (or vintage cosmetic powder). It’s like letting your eyes adjust to pitch black and then seeing everything slowly take shape through the gloom.

You know where else I went wrong with Like This, originally? I made the mistake of trying to make the scent fit the face of Tilda Swinton. It wasn't even Etat Libre d'Orange's fault, as I am usually the first to completely ignore their background concepts and focus on the scent. I admit that I looked at the Face, and the Face was Tilda Swinton, and from that moment on, I had a fixed idea in my mind of what Like This would smell like. It would smell exciting, bold, and unconventional, I decided, with a sly dash of wit, just like Tilda Swinton herself. It would smell like something with complicated domestic arrangements and feminism and dogs and children underfoot.

But Like This doesn't contain any of this drama. It is warm, sunny, and somewhat uncomplicated. I struggled to understand how someone as, well, different as Tilda Swinton could ever put her name to something so homely. Furthermore, I had come to Like This through Rossy de Palma (Eau de Protection), whose metallic blood-rose-ginger sharpness was an almost perfect psychic match to the odd, lustful, passionate, and uncompromising characters that the real Rossy de Palma plays in Pedro Almodovar’s films.

But I now understand that for all of her non-conforming, unconventional way of living, Tilda Swinton is probably much like the rest of us: when tired from travel, all we want is home – the people we love (whoever they may be), our children, cats and dogs, and our own bed.

I’m happy wearing this now, pottering around the house with the children on a Saturday morning, dressed in pajamas and with absolutely no intention of putting on normal clothes until the school run on Monday morning. The minute I gave up any idea of Like This being strange or dramatic or fierce was the minute I started to enjoy it for its own sake. I still think it smells a bit like curried pumpkin soup, but I’m ok with that, because as my kids will tell you, mothers should always smell a little bit like soup anyway.
06th November, 2015
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Oud Shamash by The Different Company

A big thank you to Drseid for putting this fragrance on my radar. It's amazing.

Actually, I wish I didn’t like this so much. It’s beyond my budget (like, totally beyond my budget). But even worse, smelling this, I got that sickening feeling you get when you invest $$$$ in an iPhone4 just two days before the iPhone5 launches. Damn that Betrand Duchaufour if he hasn’t improved upon about three or four of his previous perfumes with Oud Shamash. And sure enough, I own some of those early models…

Something about the combination of the fruity incense smell (davana) and the dry woods reminds me of Timbuktu or even of Jubilation XXV, both also by Duchaufour. There’s also a toasty, slightly sugared “bread” aroma here that reminds of the dry-toasted cumin seeds in Al Oudh (Duchaufour again).

But Oud Shamash does not have the stark stillness of Timbuktu, the armpitty, disturbingly sugary funk of Al Oudh, or the glowing, ruby-red orientalism of Jubilation XXV – rather, it has the dusty, faded brilliance of a complex brocade that has been folded up and stored in a wooden casket for two centuries. It’s a ghost.

And strangely, it’s a perfume that takes shape only on the skin – not on paper. Like a paraglider, it lifts straight up into the air from a flat position. In that sense, Oud Shamash shares something of the character of Bois d’Armenie, Spirituese Double Vanille, and Volutes – they all smell kind of like a woody, fruity rubbing alcohol at first, and then seem to almost rise and swell from the skin in great big layers of fuzzy woods, spice, and powder. None of the Guerlain exclusives ever impressed me at first spray, but within minutes, what seems to be a single layer of aromas start to knit together and fluff up into many interlocking layers like a piece of puff pastry exposed to fierce heat.

Oud Shamash does this. The first spray brings on an avalanche of aromas, all welded together in one dense layer – all I manage to pick out at this early stage is boozy pink pepper, a leather (or saffron) note, rose, woods, and the alcoholic smell of a fruit on the point of collapse. Within minutes, though, it fluffs up into a spiced haze of sweet-and-sour woods, dry spice, and vanilla that hangs around the body like a red-brown dust cloud. The transformation – the lift – is breathtaking.

The oud in Oud Shamash is magnificent. It is lightly sour, woody, and a bit powdery, but not in the slightest bit animalic. Only a handful of Western “oud” perfumes succeed in working oud into the picture without blowing up the frame entirely - and in my opinion, only Betrand Duchaufour, Francis Kurkdijan, and (in admittedly one example) the late Mona di Orio have managed the trick. These perfumers how to work with oud, cajoling it, polishing it, presenting it in a variety of different ways that show off the material’s aquiline brutality without allowing it to dominate the other notes.

The oud in Oud Shamash is fused with sandalwood, patchouli, and saffron, and sent out into the air on a wisp of woodsmoke.It’s a pleasure to wear, and perhaps the best thing I’ve worn recently. But that price – gack, I’m no match for it.
04th November, 2015

Seyrig by Bruno Fazzolari

All of Bruno Fazzolari’s perfumes are interesting. Some are interesting and beautiful (Au Dela) and some are interesting and edgy (Room 237). Seyrig is interesting and repellent.

It’s a total head trip, this perfume. It transports me on a whoosh of hairspray aldehydes to a bathroom in the 1970’s, where a man in Stetsons is combing his sideburns and sweet talking his own reflection, the bathroom mirror fogging up with the soapy fumes of his bath water and the copious amounts of Aqua Velva he’s just emptied onto himself.

There are other smells in this bathroom too. His wife has been in recently, the memory of a violent application of hairspray lingering with its chemical aftertaste, and his daughter with her precious lilac soaps taken out, used, and then carefully reinserted in their plastic wrapping, the gentle floral aroma floating through the bathroom fog and bringing a maudlin smile to Daddy’s face.

Under that, the clean-dirty stink that Luca Turin called “other people’s bathrooms”, this one’s aggressively sanitized atmosphere not only failing to eliminate the odors of the man’s morning ablutions but serving to accentuate them, the way that a can of air freshener will always make a stink worse. The chemically clean fizz of the bright blue urinal cake dropped hurriedly down the bog offends in its hyper-cleanliness, smelled as it must be against the gloomy backdrop of human waste.

Seyrig is a huge aldehydic floral. But these are not the creamy, pretty aldehydes of the old Chanels. Seyrig’s aldehydes – deliberately chemical, astringent, fused with herbs and flowers – mirror the style of certain Italian perfumers such as Angelo Pregoni (O’Driu) and Antonio Gardoni (Bogue) who use aldehydes in a knowing, ironic kind of way, as a sort of inverted commas on a trip down memory lane peopled by fantastic Big Bitch aldehydes from Arpege all the way to No. 22. These guys make aldehydes butch, not bitch. Subversive and ugly, they come out of the bottle swinging at you with all the pent-up fury of a Travis Bickle.

With Seyrig, Bruno Fazzolari layers these hostile aldehydes over a pretty red mandarin, some fey rose de mai, and a soapy syringa note, hardly notes possessed of the strength of character needed to stand up to the assault. A musky base brings up the rear, in every sense of the word. It’s not dirty per se, but it does bring a feeling of something unclean. The florals are besides the point here – they float prettily through the perfume – but do little else. The main impression is of a bathroom aggressively cleaned with Cillit Bang and Toilet Duck but with the lingering undertow of the collected smells – pleasant and unpleasant – that we humans leave behind.

I absolutely hate it. Every minute it was on my skin was a trial. But I have to hand it to the perfumer – it’s a perfume that painted a crystal clear image in my head, and given that most perfumes leave only a blurred, vague impression, that’s really saying something. In fact, in terms of transportative immediacy, its power is matched only by something like L’Air du Desert Marocain. Just don’t make me wear it, please.
03rd November, 2015

Tom Ford Noir pour Femme by Tom Ford

Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme is a big-boned, 90’s style floral vanilla very much in the style of Givenchy’s Organza Indecence and the original, pre-reformulation Dior Addict. In fact, this smells so like those perfumes that the cynic in me is tempted to think that savvy Tom Ford was browsing eBay one day, happened to see what everyone was willing to pay for even partial bottles of the original Addict and Indecence, and a little light bulb went off in his head.

So, how did he do?

Well, let’s say that it’s neither the masterpiece nor the mediocre piece of crap that Tom Ford fans or detractors would have you believe. Actually, it’s a very competent piece of designer work that aims for a particular target and totally lands it.

For women yearning for the va-va-VOOM of 90’s vanilla powerhouses built with Jessica Rabbit-style curves, this will be your jam.

Noir Pour Femme opens with a bitter orange and stale milk chocolate accord, briefly recalling a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and then slides into a heavy, plasticky vanilla that owes all of its cues to the orchid flower and none to the vanilla bean. It’s sort of Black Orchid-lite at this point, minus the repellent tuber and cucumber notes. The vanilla is musky and floral, and it might fold over under the weight of its own voluptuousness but for the waft of bad-gal cigarette and the sour tang of fresh ginger root acting in consort to cut the cream.

The trajectory from opening notes to the base is rather short, but I’m not blaming Tom Ford for doing what every other designer is doing, which is to frontload all the rich notes and leave the heart and base to deflate like a balloon (the attenuation happening just after you’ve already handed over the credit card, of course). The base here is a typical ambery, woody oriental affair – nothing too exceptional but (to give credit where credit is due) nothing even vaguely synthetic-smelling in that Iso E Super or potent woody amber aromachemical way.

The whole shebang is a Greatest Hits tour of some of the high points from Tom Ford’s own stable of scents (the plummy ginger from Plum Japonais, the vanilla from Tobacco Vanille, the heavy, musky orchid from Black Orchid, and the bitter orange from Sahara Noir) as well as from the powerhouse vanillas from the 90’s (the orange vanilla from Organza Indecence, and the boozy, smoky floral vanilla from Addict).

There’s also a distinctly sleazy, morning-after-the-night-before quality to Noir Pour Femme. If you’ve ever yearned for the days when you stumble home from a nightclub at 6 in the morning, lipstick smeared and your lips stained with cheap wine, smelling like last night’s smoke and wearing some random man’s black leather jacket, the Noir Pour Femme is for you. Or even if you still do that. I’m not judging.

Noir Pour Femme is going to be a massive hit. There does seem to have been a cult-like yearning for a heavy, va-va-voom floral vanilla in the style of Organza Indecence and Dior Addict – and Noir Pour Femme totally fills this gap. Tom Ford put his cool commercial goggles on and engineered something to fit a straight man’s list of desires – curves, vanilla, softness, sweetness, muskiness, and so on. Expect this to turn up on every list of fragrances made from now on that men find utterly irresistible and sexy on women.
20th October, 2015

Salome by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

Wearing Salome is like listening to Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice and wondering why the opening bars sound so familiar. You know you’ve heard it before, but even while your brain is scrambling to retrieve the reference, you’re enjoying the hell out of the song.

Half the pleasure comes from that feeling of “I know this tune…. don’t I?”

The thrill of the new is over-rated anyway. A friend of mine once said that the older he got, the more ok he was with buying multiple variations of a fragrance he loved. In other words, as long as it was a fantastic rendition of something he already loved, he didn’t mind if it was original or not.

The realization that Vanilla Ice simply (shop) lifted entire sections from Queen’s Under Pressure doesn’t stop me from loving Ice Ice Baby. It is its own creature, even though it plays off a chord that is deeply familiar.

Salome is a tour of the greatest hits of the fragrance skankiverse, sampling riffs from well-loved songs such as vintage Bal a Versailes, Musc Tonkin, Femme, and Theo Fennel Scent, and spinning them off into something that, while not new or wildly original, is an utter pleasure to wear. And it is such a beautiful and accomplished riff on those fragrances that one might be tempted to replace some or all of them with just Salome.

It is a ludicrously dense, packed fragrance. A super-saturated supernova of a scent with layers and layers of heavy musks, fur, flowers, spice, and sweat.Let me try to unpack the layers.

Right away, I smell a layer of vintage Bal a Versailles floating on top – honeyed orange blossoms, tobacco-leather, and a refined urine note (possibly civet). Salome’s take on Bal a Versailles is – dare I say it – an improvement on the original, because it completely removes that odd, cheap note I like to call “Plasticized Air” that always pokes out at me from Bal a Versailles. The sleaziness I always pick up from orange blossom slots in perfectly here with the cumin.

And wow, Salome is also super-cuminy. This layer strongly recalls Rochas Femme – not the softer, muskier vintage version, but the modern version which fairly shrieks with cumin, put there to give Femme back the sex curves it lost when all manner of nitro musks were banned. The cumin gives Salome a crude sexuality, reminiscent of a musky, female crotch – not unwashed crotch, just, um,….. heated, shall we say. If you’re someone who thinks that Amouage’s Jubilation 25 (the woman’s version) or Al Oudh smell like the armpits of a New York cab driver, then avoid Salome at all costs.

Under all this, there are heavy, animalic musks providing a sort of subwoofer effect, amplifying and fluffing up the other notes. I can easily identify two of my favorite musks here.

First to reach my nose (and then fade away very quickly) is a rich, furry musk strongly reminiscent of Muscs Khoublai Khan. This is mostly the effect of a rich, warm castoreum soaked in rose oil, but the similarity is impressive. MKK and Salome share this unique effect of the musk almost taking up a physical presence in front of your nose – like the swelling scent of damp hair or a damp fur coat being dried off in front of an old-fashioned electric bar heater. I can’t quite explain it, but the musk here has a tactile quality quite like sticking your nose above an agora sweater and feeling the static pulling the fine angora hairs towards your nostrils.

Underneath the short-lived MKK-style musk is the almost painfully animalic musk from Musc Tonkin – one so utterly redolent of the fur and animal fat of a marine animal that it comes off as faintly briny. Thankfully, though, it never quite approaches that metallic edge that Musc Tonkin has (which fascinates me but also repels me in equal measure). But that salty, fatty animal aspect of Musc Tonkin’s musk is present in Salome to a large degree. It accounts for the scent’s overall savory profile (as opposed to sweet).

More than anything, though, Salome reminds me of the female-sweat-soaked, musky Scent by Theo Fennell. In fact, what unites Salome, Theo Fennell Scent, and to a lesser degree, Musc Tonkin (in my mind) is the mental image I have of a group of ladies visiting each other in a formal front room in the early 1900s. It is a picture of repressed Victoriana – a room almost suffocating under the weight of dying flowers in vases, a certain “closed in” feel of an over-heated room, and stiff, rustling garments that haven’t been washed or aired recently.

And just below the surface, a massive wall of scent roiling off damp, heated womanflesh too long cooped up in restrictive brassieres and corsets. Although the room is heavily perfumed with roses and jasmine, there is something unhealthy and morbid about the atmosphere.

It’s just the type of perverseness I find sexy.

Overall, Salome has a very vintage vibe to it. If one were to subtract the brash cumin and one of the saltier animal secretions, then it would take up a more recognizably French, classical form. Underneath all the animal howling and beating of the breast, Salome is a chypre and as such has a dark, abstract structure to it that stops the dirtier elements from being a total pork fest. In its last gasps, Salome takes on the 1970’s feel of La Nuit by Paco Rabanne with its dank honey and moss tones.

Salome might be a remix rather than an original, but it reminds me that, in terms of sheer enjoyment, remixes can sometimes surpass or replace the original.
09th October, 2015

Winter Woods by Sonoma Scent Studio

Anything by Sonoma Scent Studio is as rare as a hen’s tooth over here in Europe (distribution problems) so when I got the chance to buy a decant of Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods untested, I just had to go for it. I rarely buy blind anymore, but I’m a committed fan of anything Laurie Erickson does, so I knew that the risk factor was low.

In the end, I think I’m going to have to ask one of my U.S. friends for a big (and perhaps illegal?) favor, because 4mls of this dark elixir is just not going to be enough. I need more. How much more? Technically, let’s say it has to be enough to stop those feelings of helpless rage and sorrow every time I see the level in that decant bottle dip any further.

Winter Woods goes on with a whomp-whomp of a hot, dirty castoreum note married to the cool, sticky, almost mentholated smell of fir balsam. Immediately, you are plunged deep into a dark woods at night, all around you silence and the sticky emanations of sap and balsam and gum from the trees. There is an animal panting softly nearby – you don’t see him, but you can smell his fur and his breath.

But it is warm and safe there in the woods. As a warm, cinnamon-flecked amber rises from the base and melds with the animalics and the woods, the scent becomes bathed in a toffee-colored light. There is sweetness and spice here. It smells like Christmas, and of the pleasure of breathing in icy cold air when you are wrapped up, all warm and cozy.

In the heart, a touch of birch tar adds a smoky, “blackened” Russian leather accent, and this has the effect of fusing the heavy, sweet amber with a waft of sweet incense smoke. It’s as if someone has opened a valve of SSS’s own Incense Pure in the middle of the woods – a dry, smoky outdoors incense for a pagan ceremony perhaps. I also sense some dry tobacco leaves here, reminiscent of Tabac Aurea, another SSS classic.

I love the way that the heavy layers of the fragrance – amber, woods, animalics, labdanum, and incense smoke – have been knitted together to form one big angora wool sweater of a scent. It is heavy, but smooth, and a total pleasure to wear. If I could get my hands on it, I would buy a big bottle of it in a heartbeat.
07th October, 2015

Parfums des Beaux Arts Cimabue by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was originally asked by a fan on Makeupalley.com to recreate her favorite perfume, Safran Troublant, because she had heard it was being discontinued (it wasn’t) and was distraught.

Cimabue is not a faithful rendition of Safran Troublant, but instead a loving tribute that ends up taking the delicate saffron-infused rice-pudding-and-cream accord of the original inspiration and spinning it off into a far more complex, oriental result.

A creamy, dessert-saffron takes center stage here. But a significant clove, ginger, orange, and cinnamon combination lends it a spicy pomander feel that makes my mind wander more in the direction of Pan d’Epices and other European Christmas treats, rather than in the direction of delicate, dusty-floral Indian milk puddings.

There is rose too, and whole ladlefuls of a dark, molten honey – not sweet, but rather bitter and grown-up, like the slight edge of bitterness on a candied peel or a raisin that rescues a taste from being too sugary. There is a charming medieval feel, overall, like a rich golden tapestry hanging on a banquet hall or the taste and smell of those sticky (but dry) honey and almond cakes studded with nuts, cloves, and dried orange peel that are still popular in Siena and Pisa today, such as panforte and ricciarelli.

Cimabue is no simple gourmand, though. It’s a fully-fledged oriental. It’s as if the simple, gourmandy custard of Safran Troublant got dipped into the clove-studded orange and booze of Chanel’s Coco, rubbed in the spicy velvet of Opium, and rolled around in the ambery dust of Fendi’s Theorema, and emerged twelve hours later all the better and wiser for it. It’s the pomander-cross-spice gourmand I had hoped Noir Epices by Frederic Malle would be (but wasn’t). And best of all, it features my favorite note – saffron – in perhaps by favorite guise, that of a sweet, creamy, exotic dessert saffron.

I own two bottles of Safran Troublant, because I love it mindlessly and wear it as a simple comfort scent. But Cimabue is a step forward in the perfume evolutionary chain, and as a piece of art, I prefer it.

Cimabue, by the way, was the Italian artist famous for breaking with the flat Italo-Byzantine style of painting icons and frescos in pre-Renaissance Italy by introducing more naturalistic, true-to-life proportions of figures and shading. And I like to think that the name of this fragrance was deliberate. Because Cimabue takes the basic model of Safran Troublant, animates it subtly with shadows and highlights, and renders it in living, breathing, 3-dimensional form.

It doesn’t make me love Safran Troublant any less, but it is only when I wear its more evolved descendant that I become aware of the progenitor’s serene flatness.
07th October, 2015

Peety by O'Driù

This fragrance famously comes 49ml to the bottle, with the final 1ml to be topped up using a drop or two of one’s own urine. I only had a small sample vial, though. I gave it my best shot, logistics not being my strong point and all, but there I was, crouched furtively over the small vial when the horrid thought occurred to me: WHAT IF THE PERSON WHO GAVE ME THE SAMPLE ALREADY PEED IN IT?

I thought quickly – who had given me the sample? Ah, that’s right – Colin Maillard. So off I waddled to my computer, my panties around my knees, and past the living room, where my husband looked up from his newspaper and called out mildly, “Everything alright, dear?”

Colin had not, it turns out, adulterated the sample. I was free to pee. But in the end, I chose not to. I’d like to say it was logistics, but really, I am a wuss.

So what does Peety smell like?

Surprising (to me). I don’t know why but I had expected something comforting and stodgy, like a piece of marmalade pudding with custard on a cold day. It’s something about the listed notes that made me think that – tobacco, tonka, honey, oranges. I had been imagining Tobacco Vanille mixed with a little bit of Absolue Pour Le Soir and rounded off with a touch of Feve Delicieuse (or Pure Havane).

No such thing – this is the opposite of comfort. This is startling. Uncomfortable even. In a good, on-the-edge-of-your-seat way.

The first whiff corresponded with the notions of tobacco comfort I’d nurtured: a deep waft of whiskey and tobacco and even hay, and there I was with a grin on my face and getting ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

But then in rode this wave of licorice-like herbs and citrus fruits, all drenched in this dark, bitter honey with a deep piss-like nuance to it. Bitter oranges and lemons might indeed explain some of the sharpness, but here the citrus is not fresh. It smells like a cross between a bunch of dried herbs and a lemon, like lemongrass or singed lime peel. The herb-citrus mélange covers the fragrance with a deep medicinal gloom that seems almost black to me, like viewing a pile of luridly-hued fruits under a thick brown preserving glaze in a museum bell jar.

The sharp atmosphere that this almost toxic stew of pissy-honey, civet, medicinal clove, herbs, and preserved lemons creates forms the central character of Peety – and it never quite leaves. But that is what is fascinating to me. It reminds me of something caustic you’d use to lance a boil or dress a war wound.

Actually, this sort of barbershoppy, herb-strewn, musky character is something I associate with a certain style in Italian perfumery. I have experienced the same herbs-and-citrus-on-steroids openings in many of the other O’Driu’s, including Eva Kant, and in Bogue’s Maai and Ker. There is a sort of hyper-masculine, but self-conscious retro barbershop style at play here, as if these perfumers are trying to re-imagine the traditional Italian barbershops and apothecaries they might remember from their childhood.

The style is specifically Italian to me, and although I didn’t grow up in Italy, I did live there, and I recognize the atmosphere of those old, dusty places where traditional healing remedies, tisanes, and unguents sit right next to little white boxes full of Swiss-precise modern medicines. The whole of Italy is kind of like that; this weird and charming mix of traditional superstition and ultra-modern moral mores. So when I say that parts of Peety remind me of those Ricola honey-anise throat pastilles you see at every cash register in Italy, I don’t mean that it literally smells like that but that there is a memory association there for me.

Later on, a musky tobacco accord emerges, rich and glowing. The end result, on my skin anyway, is a sort of “old leather” aroma redolent with male musk and warm, stubbly cheeks (the type on a man’s face, one hastens to add). The aura of rich male skin and musk is bolstered by a warm, almost sick-smelling castoreum, and while there is never sweetness, there is a feeling of sharp edges being rounded off and sanded down – a sleepy warmth.

Funnily enough, it is only in the very later stages, when the bitter herbs and spices have banked down a bit, that I can smell the flowers – a rose and jasmine combination that smells both sultry and medicinal. Joined with the cozy ambroxan or amber-cashmere material in the background, there is an effect there that is quite similar to Andy Tauer’s Le Maroc Pour Elle (although this is not as sweet). The dry, papery (and hyper-masculine-smelling) tobacco accord in the dry-down is a real delight. It is not fruity or sweet like other tobaccos – this is dry and leathery. Persistence is extraordinary – I could smell this on my face cloth for four days afterwards.

A fascinating experience, this perfume, and just one of those things you feel richer for having experienced. Very few moments of wide-eyed delight come about for me these days, so hats off to Angelo Pregoni for Peety.
07th October, 2015

Shangri La by Hiram Green

Oh me, oh my, you make me cry, you’re such a good-looking woman….

Can chypres be sexy? I never thought so until I fell in love with Femme. Femme is sexy with a capital S. I love both versions of Femme – the vintage one with the musky plums and oakmoss, and the current version, all sharp and woody and armpit-cuminy. But I thought that Femme was an outlier. Chypres are just too upright and stiff-backed to be sexy in that low-down, guttural-growl kind of way.

Enter Shangri-La by the British indie perfumer, Hiram Green. I admire Mr. Green’s approach to making perfume. He does it slow, releasing only two perfumes in two years – and he does it right. Named for the fictional land described in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’, Shangri La is his second fragrance, released in 2014 after Moon Bloom, his extremely well-received tuberose soliflore in 2013.

Shangri-La, at the risk of being painfully literal here, is indeed a Shangri-La for the chypre lover. It restores my faith in the belief that modern perfumery can still turn out perfumes that rival the old greats from the past, and perhaps even surpass them now and then. Shangri-La does not surpass Femme or Mitsouko for me, but it was and is a beautiful surprise that evokes strong emotion in me.

It is also pretty sexy, in a carefully-contained way.

It opens with the traditional chypre sally – a bitter, bracing bergamot – except here it feels more lemony and sparkling than the Mitsouko bergamot, which has an aged, darkened feel to it no matter the iteration or vintage. A wave of champagne-like bergamot, then, to usher in a velvet heart of peach, rose, and iris, held aloft by a bed of what smells like real oakmoss.

The peach and spices develop into a sticky compote that darkens and thickens with time – part jammy fruit, part leathery peach skin. It smells delicious – not fully gourmand thanks to the bitter facets of the iris, bergamot, lemon, and moss – but also not as forbidding and dusty as Mitsouko.

Beyond the peach and the lemon, Shangri-La is actually all about the jasmine for me. I wore it to bed one night and woke up in the middle of the night surrounded by the unmistakable, creamy scent of night-flowering jasmine petals.

Bubbling just underneath the skin of this peach and jasmine combo is something enticingly dirty-sexy and musky. Could it be a touch of castoreum, perhaps, or a not-so-clean musk? The mystery note is not explained, although I am sure it is not civet, because the dirtiness is warm and round, not sharp or urinous. Possibly it’s the jasmine, although I don’t think the more indolic Sambac jasmine has been used here – there’s a smooth fruitiness that suggests jasmine grandiflorum.

Either way, the overall effect is of a deep, sensual fruity-floral chypre that does indeed feel like a true chypre from top to bottom, but also has a welcome sexiness to it that would make me want to wear it in more relaxed situations than would normally call for a more uptight chypre.

It’s on my hit list, for sure.
07th October, 2015

Volutes Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

When I went to Italy to work as a teaching assistant on my gap year, I discovered just how far I could stretch a Lira. The only white wine of drinkable quality I could find within my measly budget was Orvieto Classico, which was roughly the equivalent of €2 back then. Thin, slightly metallic, but oddly quaffable, I found I could live with it.

Now, even though I am no longer a poor student, I wouldn’t be without it. My brother, who is an insufferable wine snob, loves to pick up a bottle of Orvieto Classico from my fridge, run his finger down it with disdain, and mutter, “Jesus, I can’t believe you’re still drinking this shite.”

It’s NOT shite. I am fiercely fond of it.

It’s not a memorable wine, true. But drinking Orvieto Classico is comforting in its familiarity. Pleasant background noise for when you don’t want anything too taxing. Like putting your car into cruise control on a long stretch of straight road.

Like Orvieto Classico, Volutes EDT by Diptyque is not particularly memorable or brilliant, but it sure goes down easy. Like a handful of other perfumes that I don’t think of as masterpieces but still find utterly, almost mind-numbingly pleasant and therefore very wearable – Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Bois d’Armenie, and more recently, Feve Delicieuse, for example – I manage to race through massive quantities of it. It was after my bath a few nights ago that I reached for my bottle of Volutes EDT and realized there was only about 5mls left in the bottle. I had drained 45mls of it in less than six weeks.

Laugh all you like – but in perfumista terms, that practically puts Volutes in the same category as a functional grooming product like a body spray or a liquid hand soap. How did it come to this?

Well, Volutes is mindlessly pretty. It requires absolutely no intellectual input on my part. With a wardrobe stuffed with challenging, amazing, difficult, tempestuous perfumes, Volutes stands out not because it “stands out” but rather because it doesn’t. It’s the battered leather jacket in your wardrobe that you just can’t bear to part with, and reach for over your fancier coats even though it’s falling to pieces. Love isn’t rational. It may not even be love – it may be simply a reflex.

I was thoroughly unimpressed the first time I tried Volutes – a pale, powdered honey and iris thing with a lingering whiff of blond cigarette rolling tobacco. I got nothing of the promised drama of the published notes, such as saffron, hay, and immortelle – hell, it wasn’t even smoky. I always go into a perfume named for or inspired by smoking with an expectation of, you know, smoke. But when I stopped looking for the sturm und drang in Volutes, I found myself appreciating it for its blurred prettiness.

Now when I wear Volutes, I pick up more notes: a cool, starchy iris, warm honey, blond tobacco, a hint of rubbery leather from the saffron (only at the start), and some nebulous resins in the base. These notes all smell quite blurred and perfumey to me, in the same way that baby powder smells like rose, chamomile, and heliotrope all swirled together but never distinctly of themselves.

Volutes sits on the skin like a creamy balm at first, but as time goes on, dries to a texture like fine, powdered sugar. This is not a sweet scent, however. The iris exerts its influence here from top to bottom, reflected in that cold, vegetal starchiness. The tobacco, although not smoky, adds body to the iris and makes it slightly more “of this earth” than irises tend to be.

It is not exotic, but it is even-tempered. I wear buckets of it, carelessly sprayed around my person until it drips, like honey, from the tips of my fingers. I let it run in rivers down to my belly button. No matter how much I spray, Volutes remains this utterly pleasant, low key piece of background music to my day. It’s a fragrance on cruise control.

And you know what, I wear Volutes far more than I do my more artistically-accomplished perfumes. Maybe it’s true what my brother says and I am just a total Pleb. But sometimes, like with Orvieto Classico, you just have to go with what’s familiar and cozy because sometimes it would just kill you not to.
01st October, 2015

Aomassaï 10 by Parfumerie Generale

I smelled Aomassaï several times when I was just beginning my fragrance hobby and I didn’t like it.

It took for me to start experimenting with both cooking in the kitchen – wasting whole pans of sugar in an effort to produce a good caramel – and burning frankincense on a small burner at home for me to understand, and then appreciate, and then finally love the smell of things approaching smoking point when subjected to high heat.

Aomassaï finds that common thread between hazelnuts, orange peel, caramel, and vanilla sugar – the smoky, dark bitterness they all share when approaching smoking point – and emphasizes it with equally dark elements such as wenge wood, resins, and black, soft licorice.

It could have been a treacly mess, a sop to the modern taste for simple syrup in the gourmand category, but Aomassaï is never too sweet. Instead, the foodie elements are subjected to intense heat and distorted beyond what is commonly accepted as “nice” smelling. It is sweet and bitter in equal measure. Furthermore, the smoking resins, grassy vetiver, hay, and dark wenge woods tether the sweet notes and prevent them from becoming cloying.

Barely anybody mentions the vanilla in Aomassaï. I had used maybe a full quarter of my bottle before I realized that it has the most beautiful vanilla in the dry-down. Once I had mentally subtracted all of the burned caramel and incense and nutty notes, I finally noticed it, and the sense of revelation was like finally spotting the image in a Magic Eye painting. Now it’s almost my favorite part of Aomassaï, that deep, dark vanilla. It is both smoking hot and paper dry.

Whenever anyone is asking for recommendations for fragrances that smell like coffee, Aomassaï is always the first one that jumps to mind. But I recommended it once (I think on a Facebook group) and the general reaction was confusion: surely, they all said politely, there is no coffee in Aomassaï. Well, perhaps not. But I still smell coffee.

Specifically, to me, it smells like someone peeling an orange in a coffee shop fragrant with the aroma of burned coffee grounds and old newspapers strewn everywhere on dark, rickety wooden tables. In my mind’s eye, this coffee place is intimately dark and cozy. It’s not the kind of place you’d wander into casually. You’d have to mean it. But once you’re there, you’re one of the regulars.

Although they are very different scents and perhaps nobody except me sees the connection, but I think that Aomassaï has much in common with both Serge Lutens’ Un Bois Vanille and Dior Privee Eau Noire. They all share strong licorice/anise notes, have dark wood notes that could be loosely interpreted as burnt coffee grounds, a smoky atmosphere, and a dry, papery vanilla in the far dry-down. And as it so happens, all three of these fragrances exemplify exactly the type of gourmand approach I appreciate – inedible but still incredibly appetizing.
30th September, 2015

Bond-T by Sammarco

Men – step away from the A*Men and your L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme Eau Extreme, and pick up a bottle of this little beauty instead. This is sexy stuff. Bond-T by Sammarco is just the type of release you hope to see coming out of indie perfumers on their first outing – a smart re-thinking of common tropes, in this case the hyper-masculine patchouli-cocoa-tonka bean combo.

This one does everything right. It pairs a brown, dusty cocoa note with a dirty, castoreum-driven leather – and manages to come off as its own beast. Although it shares similarities of tone with Serge Lutens’ wonderful Borneo 1834, there is none of Borneo’s oriental richness. Rather, underneath the cocoa-patchouli skin of Bond-T there beats a heart of what smells like a wad of fruity, slightly fermented tobacco leaves and grimy leather. It smells rich and tannic, and just off-putting enough to stop it from being fully gourmand.

Further on, the scent dries out, and I start to wonder if it’s tobacco I smell, or instead black China tea. It is astonishing – at this stage, the perfume really does smell as if I put my nose into a tin of the blackest tea leaves from China – those utterly matt black, loose-leaf ones. Tea leaves do have some of the bone-dry, tannic qualities I get from tobacco leaves – and a sort of leathery, smoked flavor.

Of course, there is no tobacco or tea or even leather listed as notes in Bond-T. All those notes have been conjured up by the leathery castoreum, and maybe even the osmanthus, which in China is commonly used as a flavoring for tea. Either way, I really like this dry, leathery tobacco smell, and find it similar to the effect that Tabac Aurea from Sonoma Scent Studio achieves – a full arc of notes ranging from wet and fruity/fermented to bone-dry, tannic, and almost dirty.

At the end, a nice surprise – the tonka and vanilla smooth out the earthy patch notes, leveling it off into an incredible “malted chocolate powder” sort of aroma. At this point, it smells more like Ovaltine than a full-on chocolate patch. Longevity is pretty great, too.

I don’t hesitate to say that although a woman (including this woman) would have no trouble in wearing Bond-T should she wish, it is a very masculine take on the cocoa-patch quasi-gourmand theme. I like it on my own skin – but I can’t help thinking that this would be very sexy on a man’s skin.

It could be summed up a little lazily as a cross between Borneo 1834 and Tabac Aurea (with a teeny bit of Mona di Orio’s Cuir thrown in for good measure), but I think I will just say that men who have been looking at stuff like Dior Privee’s Feve Delicieuse, A*Men (original), A*Men Pure Havane, and LIDGE might want to consider this as a great alternative in the patchouli-tonka-cocoa field.
28th September, 2015

Sensuous Noir by Estée Lauder

Sensuous Noir is one of the best things that a woman can buy off the shelves of the local department store these days, it really is. Hats off to Estee Lauder!

What they’ve achieved here is the marriage of an almost niche-smelling top half – pine needles, red pepper, a rose that smells more like a plum pudding than a rose, and a dark, chewy patchouli – to a whipped honey-vanilla crème base that caters to the sweet tooth of today’s young women, reared on a diet of sugar bombs and fruitchoulis.

The sillage is swoon-worthy. Every time I spray this on at my local drugstore, I float around for half an hour almost drunk on the fumes of this piney, fruity rose plum pudding-smelling thing. I’d tell you it smells a bit like a cross between Serge Lutens La Fille en Anguilles and Tom Ford Black Orchid, except I wouldn’t want you to run in the other direction – this is far more subtle and “mainstream” than that.

Soon, however, the arresting piney, rosy plum of the top notes begins to slide into a creamy mélange of spiced lily, ambery vanilla, and jasmine, and while this is enjoyable, it all becomes a little too sweet for my taste. Thankfully, somewhere in the base there is a slightly raspy, dry honey that mixes with powdery benzoin to stave off the unrelenting sweetness, and the scent pulls back into “bearable” territory for me.

Overall, I see this as a perfect scent for young women who wants to smell a little bit sexy and mysterious when out on the town, but who doesn't want any of the weirdness or boldness associated with niche scents. And this serves the purpose nicely - it is sexy, dark-ish (in a polite way), and sweet enough to make a guy want to nibble on your ear lobe or follow your scent trail through a crowd to its source.

The main downfall of this scent – if there is one – is that its trajectory from topnotes to basenotes is disappointingly brief. It all plays out in a matter of hours, and although the basenotes linger, all the drama of the scent is soon gone. Perhaps even that stalwart of the department store Estee Lauder has begun to front-load its fragrances to get customers to pull the trigger before they realize the thing quickly runs out of steam. It’s a depressing thought.

A beautiful surprise, though, in the last moments – a snuffed-out candle note, smoky and paper-dry. This is perhaps the last gift of the benzoin, I don’t know. But it feels like the fingers of someone pinching out the flame of the scent and putting it to bed. It’s a nice touch. It keeps me coming back for more, despite the glaring construction issues.
18th September, 2015

Fourreau Noir by Serge Lutens

It’s no coincidence that Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir and Dior Privee Eau Noire are the only two lavender-forward fragrances I can stomach – they are both gourmand takes on the theme.

Eau Noire features a dark roasted coffee/licorice note set against a sun-roasted lavender, and plays off of the aromatic qualities of both. Fourreau Noir goes for contrast: the sharp smoke of the lavender rounded out and softened by a bready, almond-like tonka bean.

The overall effect, for me, is of a lavender-studded cake dripping with a lurid purple sugar glaze, left to smolder a touch too long in the oven and tasting like smoke from the grill. The deep, almost honeyed tobacco in the dry-down has an intimate, musky skin-like effect that is quite sensual (although not sexy).

As others have stated – this is not a wholly original scent. It mixes known elements from the Serge Lutens line up, most notably the electric-fire-smoked lavender from Gris Clair, the cozy hay/tobacco from the tonka-heavy Chergui, and (to me at least) the slightly urinous combination of tobacco and honey of Fumerie Turque.

But I don’t care – original or not, this is a thick, satisfying fragrance that swings between fougere and gourmand, male and female, and smoke and cream. I don’t mind scents that are extrapolations of others as long as the end result is good. And Fourreau Noir is more than good - it’s great.
18th September, 2015

Habanita by Molinard

Habanita is a giant in a field of gnats.

But man, it took me ages to understand it, let alone enjoy it. At first, I was repulsed. It smelled harsh to me. Indistinct and muddy – like a fistful of wet, mulched leaves. There was a sticky grey -brown cast to it that lent it a slightly glum feel. Who the hell wants to smell like this, I thought to myself.

But something kept making me want to wear it, and now, with time, I’ve come to love it. And I don’t mean love it from a distance. No, I actually wear Habanita once a week. Coming from a gal with as many perfumes as I have, that should tell you something.

I think I’ve got a handle on what makes Habanita tick now.

At the heart of Habanita lies a soft, worn leather note that recalls the smell of the inside lapel of a well-loved leather jacket. It is an intimate smell, a beat-up leather mixed with twenty years of human skin rubbing up against it. It’s not a leather with aspirations to luxury, like Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, or leaning towards unbearably animalic, like Montale’s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie. It’s just a low-down, rough-copy leather, a smell with history, and aware of its humble beginnings as a liquid used to perfume cigarettes.

The leather note at the center reminds me somewhat of Onda by Vero Profumo. They don’t smell alike, really, when taken as a whole. But the more I wear Habanita, the more I understand that Onda is the core of Habanita extracted, shaken clean of the powder, tonka, and the flowers, and reshaped as a gaspingly harsh leather chypre. The core accord in both is a grainy, grimy leather with a slightly unclean, carnal feel – a half-urinous, half-honeyed tobacco-like smell. There is also a whiff of floor disinfectant. Whereas this is what had repulsed me to begin with, I now find this very sexy. It’s a lived-in, intimate kind of smell. This combination of honey and tobacco or vetiver that works for me in a few of my other favorite fragrances as well, such as Serge Lutens’ Fumerie Turque and Jardins D’Ecrivains’ George.

There’s a lot more going on in Habanita than in Onda, though. Whereas Onda is all about that fierce, dry honey-vetiver-leather, Habanita wraps it all up in a thick blanket of baby-powder florals (rose, heliotrope, and jasmine) and submerges it in a base of sandalwood and vanilla. I also get a buttery almond-like smell akin to the cherry tobacco smell of an unlit pipe, so perhaps there is tonka in there too (I’m convinced there is).

But despite the complex list of notes, I have to say that Habanita maintains its rather singular identity all the way through. It never smells overtly floral (although there are tons of flowers) or incense-y (although it has resins). Even the vanilla and the vetiver don’t smell like vanilla and vetiver – they meld so completely with the honey, flowers, woods, and resins that their separate identities are consumed. What they give birth to is a new form – that nutty, dry leather core of Habanita.

I own three versions of it – the modern Eau de Parfum (inexpensive), the vintage Eau de Toilette (costs a fortune and is increasingly difficult to find), and the vintage-ish pure parfum (discontinued, I believe). They are all three essentially the same when it comes to the core accord that makes Habanita "Habanita", although there are some slight differences.

The modern EDP is plush, deep, and more intensely powdered than the vintage EDT, and has a gummy, lemon-green mastic note at the start that is missing from the other versions. The vintage EDT has a sharp petigrain note at the start and more of a spicy, clove-y character, but it dries down to the basic scent profile as is found in the EDP.

The pure parfum goes straight to the leather-tobacco core of Habanita without any of the harsh, wild green opening notes of the other two versions – it is altogether quieter and more buttery. It is also the version with the most smoke, which I enjoy very much. All three versions last on my skin for an eternity. But I wouldn’t necessarily feel that you have to hunt down the pure parfum or the vintage EDT unless you were really a hardcore Habanita whore like me. The modern EDP is a rare instance where a beloved classic was not only preserved but also maybe a little improved. Plus – and when do you ever get to say this about a favorite perfume – it is democratically priced.
18th September, 2015

Epic Woman by Amouage

Anybody here remember Opal Fruits? The tagline was: “Made to make your mouth water” – and sure enough whenever an ad for those tangy, sherbet-y little suckers came on TV, my mouth would begin pumping out saliva. Like Pavlov’s dog.

Well, I just have to glance at my dark green bottle of Amouage Epic Woman for my mouth to start to water. Like pickles, umeboshi, and sourpatch gummies, there is an almost physical pleasure to be had in a wincingly tart flavor. It is a credit to Amouage that Epic Woman contains so many piquant green notes and still manages to be so inviting. It smells like something pickled in brine! And yet sweet!

Every part of Epic Woman is as satisfying to me as a good meal – the lip-smacking savor of kimchi leading into a meaty, smoked rose and finally a few spoonfuls of thin crème anglaise, just enough to sweeten the tongue.

Many people say that Epic Woman belongs to the same oriental woody perfume family as Chanel’s Bois des Iles, Molinard Habanita, and even Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles. But I always get the feeling that putting those perfumes in the same sentence as something like Epic Woman is like saying tomatoes = strawberries because they are both fruits. Needless to say, Epic Woman is neither a tomato nor a strawberry. Clearly, it’s a salted plum.

I’m always trying to figure out where Epic Woman fits in the general scheme of things. No doubt about it, it is an oriental perfume. However, it lacks the plush sweetness and creamy roundness of most other orientals. After much thought, I’ve come to realize that the head space it occupies (for me, at least) is the same as for Tom Ford’s Plum Japonais and YSL’s vintage Nu EDP – smoky incense perfumes with a phenomenally sour streak of flavor running through them that prickle the saliva glands. In case you haven’t picked up on my feeling about this sourness – it’s good! I love it actually. It’s the tart streak in these perfumes that stops them from melting into the characterless vanilla-amber-sandalwood sludge that sometimes plagues the category.

Epic Woman balances the hot and the sour and the sweet as masterfully as a delicate Chinese dish – the heat from the black pepper and cinnamon, the green pickling spices (caraway), and the soft-but-oh-so-vinegary oud are the major players here. But there is also a diffuse sweetness, coming off the pink rose that blooms behind the sour opening notes and what feels like a mixture of powdered cinnamon and vanilla. I can’t say that I smell black tea, but maybe I’m just not picking out the tea tannins when placed up against a smoky guaic wood, incense, and other woody notes.

The vanilla in the base is extremely subtle – a thimbleful of creme anglaise rather than an ice-cream sundae – and spiked with just enough sugar added to round out the sourness of the oud wood. The sourness and the delicate spices surrounding the rose persist all through the perfume, though, and keep me smacking my lips.

In short, this is a perfume to be savored like a good Chinese sweet and sour dish, or the snap of a cold dill pickle straight from the jar when you’re starving. It is a wholly appetizing perfume – almost gourmand in the pleasure it affords me.
16th September, 2015

Le Maroc pour Elle by Tauer

I’ve been wearing my sample of Andy Tauer’s Le Maroc Pour Elle for the last six nights running and it’s about to run dry – but I’m still not sure I have a handle on it.

I know what I expected – a thick, balmy floral oriental with a head-shop vibe. And for the most part, that’s what I get. But damn, this thing is mercurial. It never reads the same way twice on my skin. Over the six times I’ve tested this so far, I’ve picked up on (variously): unburned incense cones, amber cubes, floor disinfectant, indolic jasmine, antiseptic lavender, shoe polish, mandarin oranges, gasoline, sweet gooey amber, rubber, candy, tuberose, leather, orange blossoms, and, once, the dry, sweet smell of a paper grocery bag.

It’s totally weird. It is slutty and deep and weird. I think I love it. But maybe I hate it though. I’m a bit all over the place with this all-over-the-place perfume.

Part of my confusion comes from the fact that Le Maroc is the least “Andy Tauer” Andy Tauer perfume I’ve ever smelled. Although it does feature a fizzing Indian incense-and-rose pairing that recalls the Coca Cola twang of Incense Rose, it has nothing of the crystalline, hot-arid feel that runs through his others like a watermark. Andy Tauer perfumes are passionate, but also highly curated. You get the impression that every nuance is fine-tuned with the precision of a Swiss clock.

Le Maroc Pour Elle is not Swiss clock-precise. It is messy as hell, like a five year old child who’s smeared her mother’s red lipstick all over her mouth.

It begins with a clash. A syrupy, medicinal lavender note immediately butts heads with the howling shoe-polish stink of a serious jasmine overload. Hyper-clean lavender versus a carnal jasmine – no contest. The animal fur stink of jasmine, once the petroleum fumes die down, is just gorgeous. It melts down into a waxy note that doesn’t smell truly of rose but of something sweet, soft, and pink. I know there’s scads of high quality rose oil in this, but the incense and the jasmine twist its delicate smell into a form I don’t recognize. I suspect the rose is just there to soften the jutting hips of the jasmine so that the overall effect is sweetly, thickly lush.

On other occasions, I have picked up a rather pungent, sharp orange blossom note, which, when combined with the honey and the flowers, creates a softly urinous aroma that does indeed recall the orange blossom, honey, and civet of Bal a Versailles (as Luca Turin so aptly pointed out in The Guide).

I even got a strong tuberose note once or twice – at first clipped and green, then creamy, and slightly rubbery. How talented Andy Tauer is, to combine rose and jasmine absolutes and do it in such a way that they conjure up the vivid, breathing form of other flowers. This is the part of the perfume that feels classically French to me – that weave of expensive-smelling flowers and female skank.

But most of the perfume feels like an attar to me. It is a dark brown perfume, and stains the skin. Every time I wear my sample, I feel like I should be anointing myself with it carefully, like I would a concentrated perfume oil or pure parfum, applying it in minute drops to my wrists instead of spraying it. I feel it sink into my skin and become part of my natural scent, mixing with my own skin oils and musk.

The backing tape to it all is a fizzing, cheap Indian incense smell, almost identical to the smell of unburned incense cones and amber cubes. A deep brown, 1970’s style patchouli adds just the right amount of head shop grunginess to rough up the florals and ground them a little. Combined with the mandarin oil, it’s like having a tiny drop of Karma (by Lush) wrapped up in the heart of the perfume, surrounded by expensive rose and jasmine absolutes. Le Maroc swings between smelling ultra-expensive and French to cheap and hippy-ish and back again. I’m confused (and intrigued).

The mixture of expensive, attar-like oils and cheap, low-quality incense is oddly intoxicating. That’s not a criticism, by the way – the appearance of a cheap note propped up against a sea of expensive, luxe notes is an effective way to draw attention to the expensive stuff, kind of like a bas relief effect. I’ve noticed this cheap-expensive combination in other perfumes such as Noir de Noir (a cheap rosewater note against expensive dark chocolate) and Traversee du Bosphore (a painfully artificial apple and pomegranate syrup accord that’s counteracted by lush lokum and suede).

I’m starting to see the kind of person who wears this perfume and wears it right. In my mind’s eye, I see a woman in a dirndl skirt and a baby tied at her voluminous hip, wandering through a health food store, picking up incense sticks, smelling them, and dabbing all sorts of essential oils on her skin. She has laughter lines on her suntanned face and a smile that makes men melt. Her smoker’s laugh contains some kind of sexmagic. No doubt about it, Le Maroc is a zaftig perfume, a husky thing with child-bearing hips and a crude sensuality about it.

I am not quite sure I have the sexual confidence to pull this off, even if I do have the child-bearing hips thing down flat. Still, I can’t get this weird, sensual, earthy, head-twisting perfume out of my head, and that spells trouble.
09th September, 2015

L'Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer

There’s nothing in this world that smells quite like Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain, except for, well, the actual air above the desert that inspired it, I suppose. Trying to describe how it smells is almost as challenging as wearing it.

The best way I can put it is this: it smells like someone went out to the desert, collected a pile of rough, ancient amber resin, boulders, fallen meteorites, and minerals, sandblasted them all down to a fine dust, loaded it up into a canon and shot it into space. Now imagine you are floating above the earth’s ozone layer, just where the daylight of earth fades into the deep navy of outer space, and you breathe in this space dust. L’Air du Desert Marocain smells like this. Not directly of the sandblasted materials themselves but of the thin, dry, almost electric air surrounding the particles.

Then, later on, it smells of hot, arid paper, with its cedar and vanilla-resin notes.

You are standing in a paper factory. The air conditioning machines are short-circuiting and are blowing the stacks of A4 printer paper off the tables and into the air. The employees look up in dismay – their work for the day, thousands and thousands of sheets of paper floating around their heads! But they breathe in deeply, unable to resist the peculiar pleasure there is to be had in huffing the smell of newly-minted paper and the slightly sweet, dry smell of drying chemicals and lignin it leaves on the air around them.

L’Air du Desert Marocain is a masterpiece of modern perfumery, and perhaps the first perfume I’d recommend to anybody wishing to experience what perfume beyond the shelves of their local Sephora can be. It is an evocative, beautiful travelogue perfume that’s scaled to Laurence of Arabia proportions.

As a personal perfume, though, I find it to be kind of difficult to wear on a regular basis. Its dry spices and resins are so monolithic and all-encompassing - so full of its own personality - that it doesn’t allow me to impose any of my own.

There’s also a sweaty moment in the perfume that always sneaks up on me unawares – the cumin and coriander, I guess. It smells specifically of a male sweat. It’s not unpleasant, just startling. Timbuktu has a similar, ghostly apparition in its development, a lurch so sudden towards the smell of a male (or a male aftershave) that I keep looking around the room to make sure that I am, in fact, still alone.

But I own this beauty, oh yes I do. Sometimes, I just take the bottle cap and huff it throughout the day, like a junkie in withdrawal doling out teaspoons from a bottle of cough syrup. Other days, I commit myself 100% to its mood-shifting, transporting character and put six to eight sprays of it on, all the time knowing that this is all I will smell of for the next 48 hours. Either way, there’s no middle way with a perfume as uncompromising as L’Air du Desert Marocain.
09th September, 2015