Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Brooks Otterlake

Total Reviews: 120

Quorum by Antonio Puig

I own a bottle of the original Quorum, so this review pertains to the original vintage formulation.

Quorum can be best described as a dressed-up "catch-all" late 70s/early 80s masculine. It takes a bunch of classic masculine tropes and puts them in a blender and sands off any rough edges, producing something that's fairly easy to wear (albeit a bit anonymous-feeling, since it lacks a signature accord or note).
31st December, 2019

Fève Délicieuse by Christian Dior

Fève Délicieuse is precisely the kind of contemporary gourmand scent I intensely dislike. It's an exercise in tediously artificial candy-sweet decadence, without sufficiently dramatic contrast to balance it out.

Colin Maillard rightly described this as being "comparable with any low-brow drugstore gourmand scent for teenagers."
28th December, 2019

Santal Royal by Guerlain

This is a style I like (the clean-feeling floral-oud) and so I don't hate this, though it's undeniably an also-ran entry in a well-explored category.

It's hard, if not impossible, to recommend this given countless other options in this category (from low-cost options like Banana Republic Oud Mosaic on up to more upscale entries like the sublimely constructed Floris Leather Oud).
28th December, 2019
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John Varvatos by John Varvatos

There are fragrances I can only describe as "cologne"-y, which may be vague but means something reasonably clear: these scents do not evoke real-world aromas as much as they evoke the abstract idea of masculine cologne as it has become enshrined in the mainstream.

This is one such scent. It boasts a complex note list, but if those layers are really there, my nose can't really parse it. This is smooth and dark and anonymous.
27th December, 2019

Vanilla Ambrette by Thymes

I haven't tried much from Thymes, but this is very impressive. The quality of the composition is far beyond what you'd expect given the price.

This is a shimmering, translucent, slightly boozy vanilla scent that stays away from gourmand territory and instead offers gently elegant warmth.
26th December, 2019

Oddity by Rag & Bone

I haven't tried anything else from this house, but this is certainly a pleasant introduction. The tl;dr take is that Oddity an intensely dry, spicy take on a licorice and vetiver blend. It's relatively straightforward but has some nice evolution over its first hour or so of wear.

The more in-depth take is this: the Sichuan pepper and incense drive the opening, which is distantly reminiscent of, but softer than, Tom Ford Noir Anthracite (which also opens with a burst of prominent Sichuan pepper). A tasteful, calm licorice note sits in the heart and becomes more prominent as the spiciness recedes. Vetiver, softened by a dry vanilla, anchors the composition and dances with the licorice until it overtakes the composition.

The price is the hurdle here. Oddity is not exactly overpriced, but it sits at a price point where options are nearly endless (at least if you're taking discounter pricing into account). It's a nice curiosity of a scent, as the name suggests, but it's also not a best in class offering. Still, more than worth a try if you want a spicy, contemporary take on a licorice scent that doesn't lean gourmand.
20th December, 2019

Leather Oud by Floris

Perhaps because of its very limited distribution in markets like the United States, Floris remains a tragically underappreciated house. I find much to admire among the house's established lineup (the well-regarded "classic" scents like 1962, 71/72, Elite acquit themselves very well), but Leather Oud is a singularly terrific blend and ranks as one of the very best leather scents of the decade.

This Leather Oud blends floral accents around a beautiful, clean leather as oud hums along in the base. It's not altogether separate from things like Dior Oud Ispahan, but I think this is perhaps the best release in that strain; the leather note anchors the composition and provides a clear counterpoint to the florals and oud.

It's decidedly masculine, with a crispness and attention to detail befitting a house that proudly celebrates its own Britishness, but it's not aggressive (despite boasting impressive performance). This feels like a daytime leather, sunny and comforting, like you're sitting in a new leather armchair in a solarium full of white flowers.
30th November, 2019

Baldessarini Concentrée by Baldessarini

There's a nice composition somewhere in here, but it's buried by a revoltingly syrupy, fruity sweetness that just doesn't let up.
07th November, 2019

Euphoria Men Amber Gold by Calvin Klein

An intriguing, off-kilter opening that teases a surprisingly bold release from Calvin Klein gives way to something sadly blander, an inoffensive designer-grade amber that doesn't offer enough texture or character to fascinate.

It's solid fare, but it feels a bit too straight-forward and safe for its own good.
07th November, 2019

Fougère d'Argent by Tom Ford

I'm not sure exactly why this is widely viewed as a take on a "traditional" fougere, given how this scent is so brazenly and abstractly synthetic that it's borderline futuristic. As the name suggests, there's a metallic edge here, though this is essentially a warm scent, an amber cloaked in hazy, green-tinged woody notes. Not very "natural" but still distinctive and appealing.

I find this to be quite a pungent, loud fragrance, and it lasts for ages on skin. I can only assume folks are going nosedeaf to it; when my wife wears it, she loses her ability to detect it fairly quickly, but it remains very detectable to any passersby.
30th October, 2019

Montana Black Edition by Montana

Only those who love 1980s powerhouses need apply.
29th October, 2019

Encre Noire à l'Extrême by Lalique

Encre Noire was a masterpiece of biomechanical severity. Encre Noire à l'Extrême is its more wearable, pleasant cousin, giving its central inky vetiver accord some comforting warmth and richness. This is what a good flanker looks like, maintaining the DNA of the original while taking it to a different, but just as satisfactory, destination.
28th October, 2019

L'Instant de Guerlain pour Homme Extrême / Eau de Parfum by Guerlain

For me, Extrême will always be a lesser-than when weighed against the more complex, delicate original L'Instant pour Homme (EDT).

Extrême/EDP is a thick, potent cacao-and-licorice gourmand with fairly linear development. The EDT might not be as beastly, but it has very good performance nonetheless, and offers more structural panache than this comparatively more direct creation.

Extrême's best moments arise after a few hours of wear and it begins to thin out, with the licorice candy note transforming into more of a gentle spice blended in with patchouli and vanilla.
22nd October, 2019
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Zirh Ikon by Zirh

Zirh Ikon marries spicy, smoky incense and clean-feeling, soapy elements; the result is a wearable, versatile, well-layered blend that qualifies as a tasteful everyman scent with gentle performance to match.

It's hard to argue with the composition, which never puts a foot out of place (given the price, it's fairly synthetic, but well-blended nonetheless). The vetiver in here makes me think of this as more mainstream, softer-edged take on the Encre Noire series. The increasingly dominant incense and woods add some mystique to what otherwise would feel green and clean, as though a bar of Irish Spring sat in a drawer full of incense and absorbed the smoky, spicy aromas. The citrus and green elements fade to the background by the drydown, leaving a rich, resinous scent behind.

As nice as it is, it's probably a hard sell to fragheads who would be inclined to pursue scents that push elements of this composition in more dramatic (and, therefore, polarizing) directions. But a good all-arounder is, in its own way, worth celebrating, and Zirh Ikon would be good all-arounder scent for a man of any age. It's distinct and intriguing enough to work as a signature, but restrained enough to work in any situation.
14th October, 2019

Extreme Speed by Michael Kors

Michael Kors isn't exactly a name that screams "quality" to fragrance enthusiasts. If the inaugural masculine release, Michael for Men (2001), still earns some respect, it has since become one of the houses in the Estée Lauder stable that seems to have received the least investment and promotion, and new releases from the house turn up at discounters without much delay.

However, there are interesting goings on at Estée Lauder these days, and good fragrances seem to be creeping in in unexpected places (consider the surprising revival of Aramis with Tobacco Reserve and Special Blend, and then there's stuff like the bewilderingly bold MAC Shadescents line). So when I heard Extreme Speed was unexpectedly good, I wanted to give it a sniff.

The stupidly and blandly named Extreme Speed is not at all very "extreme," but it is a rather nice, removed, formal release that feels a bit like an attempt to create a "for the modern man" synthsmooth take on the Grey Flannel brief by way of Tom Ford aesthetics.

Extreme Speed opens with a blast of spice with some very prominent cardamom, which dances on top of a creamy, cool blend of woods and increasingly prominent violet. This is a dusty, dark, shadowy scent that starts cool and slightly warms as it moves into the late drydown. It's not very sweet and feels formal, so this is a mature-leaning creation.

Another way of describing Extreme Speed would be to say that Estée Lauder built a fragrance around the violet note from Tom Ford Ombré Leather 16, which was absent from the 2018 variant of Ombré Leather. This is all about that dark, dry violet note, smoothed out with woods so that it isn't syrupy or fruity (no "grape soda" vibes here). If its aromatic effects were a bit more brazen, it wouldn't be hard to imagine this as a Tom Ford release, ala Ombré Violet.

If Extreme Speed isn't exactly an attention-grabbing stunner--it's an aloof and somewhat subtle creation--it's commendably solid designer fare that offers a unified, coherent composition and a distinctive feeling. Longevity is good with discreet protection and sillage (this is office scent material).
08th October, 2019 (last edited: 10th October, 2019)

Méharées by L'Erbolario

The best thing about Méharées is that it offers that a-human-designed-and-made-this artisan feel at an affordable price. There's not a focus group in sight about this dusty, vanillic thing.

Méharées offers an essentially simple composition, nicely balanced, with notes of cinnamon and dates accenting a dusty vanilla/tonka base.

Sniffed from the sprayer it suggested a desert-themed remake of L'Occitane Eau des Baux, though that was misleading; on skin it unfolds more like a desert-themed, deeper version of Histoires de Parfums 1899 Hemingway with more depth. There's some resemblance to Chergui, too, which shares the same dusty tonka as Méharées.

Performance is gentle, verging on discreet. It hangs around but won't impress itself upon you.
05th October, 2019 (last edited: 07th October, 2019)

Lavender Extrême by Tom Ford

Lavender Extrême low point for the house of Tom Ford. Tom Ford has released scents that might qualify as more unpleasant or irritating, depending on individual tastes, but never has Tom Ford released something so blatantly cynical as this cheap-smelling, utterly boring lavender blast.

At mid-range designer prices, it wouldn't be good, but it would be innocuous. At the pricepoint it's retailing at, it's an affront.
01st October, 2019

Ombré Leather by Tom Ford

Effectively a flanker of a flanker, Ombré Leather (2018) is not the unabashed home run that the limited edition Ombré Leather 16 was. Ombré Leather 16 cannily rebuilt Tuscan Leather around a sensual, striking, dark floral heart, creating a dynamic contrast between the leather blast for which Tuscan Leather became so celebrated and a more feminine, formal-feeling supporting structure.

The 2018 release is a drier, starker, more direct affair. The central leather accord is mostly preserved and is still appealing, but the lack of complexity is a significant weakness (unless you're using it for layering purposes). Still a fair buy, though, and I find it more pleasant and balanced than the originator of the line, Tuscan Leather.
28th September, 2019

Journey Man by Amouage

The icons of the Amouage lineup, Interlude and Jubilation, were never likely to be unseated by Journey Man, an accomplished exercise in the traditional language of Western perfumery (with beautiful incense providing a slight hint of the Amouage style).

But that's not to say Journey Man isn't distinctive. I don't know that I've ever encountered another fragrance to use juniper so well, and the way it blends it together with the Sichuan pepper and tobacco and incense is, frankly, intoxicating.

Journey Man is impeccable and thrilling up until the anticlimactic tonka-y drydown, which is still pleasing but pales in comparison to what comes before it.

Still, I'd happily own a bottle of this.
21st September, 2019

Amérique by West Third Brand

West Third Brand's library of releases is impressively extensive and diverse for a relatively young, independent, artisan house, and many of them have not been thoroughly sampled and reviewed by the fragrance community, so it can be easy to overlook certain gems.

Amérique was one of the releases I did not try when I did my initial survey of the house's offerings, but I did eventually find a local boutique that carried the line and when I visited it, this was one of the bottles they had in stock. As soon as I sniffed it on skin, I knew I had to have a bottle.

Amérique paints a lovely, woody-spicy-green vision of the American frontier, like beams of light breaking between the trees of a dense forest. In this creation, perfumer Michael Loring Probst tips his hat to the fougeres and powerhouses of days of yore, but this has an impression of cleanliness that still keeps it quite contemporary.

It's an essentially straightforward ride through spicy, citrus-tinged woods, starting dark but transitioning to a slight, mellow sweetness the longer it wears on the skin. This Amérique feels a bit like how Houbigant Fougère Royale might feel if it had to be reconstructed and rebalanced without lavender.

Amérique is dignified and masculine, a little more casual than formal, but there's nothing particularly "occasional" about this very natural-feeling blend of ingredients. It's sold in EDT concentration only, but it lasts plenty long (7 or so hours), and it projects fairly well (I've often found with Third West Brand scents that they tend to get louder after initial application).
20th September, 2019

Vanille Insensée by Atelier Cologne

A thoroughly cheap-smelling synthetic vanilla mixed with some smokiness; it's both bland and off-putting.

I'm inclined to be especially harsh here because of the absurd and disgraceful pricing. This is transparently cheap, nasty stuff being sold at entry-level niche pricing.
20th September, 2019

Portraits : Roaring Radcliff by Penhaligon's

Looking over the reviews I'm surprised this didn't meet with a warmer reception. Certainly much worse sweet tobacco scents have garnered great enthusiasm. Maybe this one was just too late to the party? It does have some stiff competition.

Roaring Radcliff is by no means a best in class contender, but it's still decently composed and fairly pleasant with a nice bit of gingerbread in there (which isn't the most common note, so I appreciate it when it shows up). Your money might be better spent elsewhere but it's solid enough to get a thumbs up from me.
18th September, 2019

Back to Black, aphrodisiac by By Kilian

A sad, unfinished-feeling powdery thing. Insultingly priced, though it would be insultingly priced even if it were good.
18th September, 2019

Shadescents : My Heroine by M.A.C

When makeup brand MAC released its Shadescents line in 2016, fragheads largely talked about how it seemed like Estee Lauder was drawing on Tom Ford formulas. The Shadescents line wasn't especially popular (it wasn't widely promoted and a number of the fragrances are a touch too weird for mass-market tastes) and has recently been discontinued.

I've been impressed with the two I've tried so far. I've tried the more masculine-leaning scents, Velvet Teddy (a superior remake of Tobacco Vanille) and My Heroine.

MAC My Heroine is astonishingly close to Tom Ford Noir Anthracite (2017), that polarizing spicy-graphite masculine that also now seems to be on the verge of discontinuation. The startling resemblance makes me wonder about just how the scent development process at Estee Lauder works; if some of the scents here borrow from Tom Ford, here's a case where a Tom Ford scent actually lifted from MAC!

My Heroine is a kind of Noir Anthracite Pour Femme, except there's nothing stereotypically "Pour Femme" about it. It's intense and ashy and masculine. If you took Noir Anthracite, ditched the Sichuan pepper, and swapped the layered woods for some suede and dark tobacco, My Heroine is what you'd get. It's a bracing mix, and may be even more challenging than Noir Anthracite, which gets greener and warmer over its lifespan while My Heroine only gets increasingly dark and ashy.

The blend/ingredient quality, as with Velvet Teddy, is as good as anything in the Tom Ford Private Blend lineup, which gives you an idea of what the insane markup must be like on Private Blend releases.

Thumbs way up for this one.
16th September, 2019 (last edited: 28th September, 2019)

Shadescents : Velvet Teddy by M.A.C

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Velvet Teddy is indisputably a Tobacco Vanille descendant.

Nevertheless, Velvet Teddy is no "poor man's" imitation or "good for the money" budget fragrance. Velvet Teddy offers a thoughtfully executed reinterpretation of the TV fragrance DNA that feels uncompromised and complete on its own terms, without any evident cost-cutting, and joins Phaedon Tabac Rouge and Boclet Tobacco as Tobacco Vanille successors that improve upon it by recalibrating it.

Tabac Rouge took the Tobacco Vanille DNA in a more "damp, juicy shisha"-style direction, while the Boclet emphasized the opulent, dried fruit elements. Velvet Teddy goes a different route altogether and dials back the spiced "holiday" aspects, opting for a more floral, natural ambiance. The thick, almost waxy "Christmas candle" vibes Tobacco Vanille gives off are thankfully absent here.

Velvet Teddy scales back Tobacco Vanille's spices and thick vanilla, adding in a little iris and a heavy dose of dirty, natural honey. These are subtle changes, but they do shift the ambiance of the scent; it's still quite sweet and pungent and long-lasting, but it feels a bit more open--less plasticky--than its predecessor.

The quality is astonishing given the prices it's going for online; the only thing distinguishing Velvet Teddy in quality from Tom Ford Private Blend releases is branding. There are reports that the entire Shadescents line has been discontinued, a failed experiment in marketing more oddball, masculine-leaning scent profiles to women in a mass-market space. Get 'em while you can.
14th September, 2019

Premier Figuier by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Singularly focused on evoking its subject matter, Premier Figuier offers up a green, earthy, bitter, salty, sour take on fig that becomes increasingly milky as it sits on skin--which is to say, a very realistic take on a fig tree--without the ornamentation the fig note is so often buried under to make it less polarizing.

Premier Figuier is refreshing and subdued and intricate, with discreet presence and limited longevity (five hours or so).
14th September, 2019

Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford

This scent inspired me to begin my journey as a fragrance enthusiast, so I can't turn against it completely, but I've fallen out of love with it and would no longer recommend it. It now seems unpleasantly thick and waxy in a "scented candle"-y sort of way, with the best elements of the composition tucked away beneath the vanilla.

In 2007 it was undeniably original, a bold evolution of the gourmand tobacco that had evolved over the prior five or six years into a strong market presence. In the ensuing decade, it spawned countless descendants, many of which bested it by building compositions with more clarity and structure and intrigue.
11th September, 2019

Tom Ford Extreme by Tom Ford

The Tom Ford Signature line contains the majority of the more nuanced and complex perfumes produced by the house, somewhat by design. The Private Blend scents are designed to be layered, the Signature scents are presented as more full-bodied experiences (at least in theory; this has shifted somewhat now that the Signature line is increasingly adopting the streamlined aesthetics of the Private Blend with releases such as Ombré Leather and Métallique).

Tom Ford Extreme (2007) is one such scent, with a bewilderingly long and odd note list. It's difficult to describe its central accord, though it is distinctive. This is a deep, rich, warm, boozy fig scent with a hint of earthy bitterness running throughout. The blend of sensuality and formality (or, to phrase it another way, the blend of dirtiness and gourmand decadence) calls to mind the Givenchy-produced Michael for Men (2001), though this skews more formal and less overtly playful than that concoction. As it goes on, it turns increasingly earthy, mingling incense with a brown sugar-y gourmand feeling, with that jammy fig still detectable if you're looking for it.

As far as I'm concerned, this may be the true masterpiece of the Tom Ford house, at least in terms of compositional construction. Tom Ford Extreme has much to offer those who value intricate perfumery; it's immediately striking and rich, but the beauty lies in the nuances.

Given the undeniable quality (no compromises here) and distinctive scent profile, Tom Ford Extreme qualifies as a best-in-class "gourmand" fig scent. It's less likely to appeal to those who have come to like the house's more bombastic, streamlined releases, but for those seeking a particularly exceptional embodiment of the "formal gourmand" style that came to prominence in the 2000s, it'll likely be seen as the winner that it is.
08th September, 2019 (last edited: 08th November, 2019)

Paul Smith Rose by Paul Smith

Don't take it from me, take it from perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays:

"You cannot find a more beautiful, perfect, I think, rose fragrance than Paul Smith Rose."
08th September, 2019

HiM by Hanae Mori

A crossbreed between Gucci Pour Homme II and Spicebomb. HiM may feel a bit lower-budget than either, but is also more striking, amping up the DNA to create a mass-appealing blast that's sure to get you noticed (especially if you get the well-performing EDP).

Not the most sophisticated cheapie, but a commendable one, nevertheless.
08th September, 2019