Decent patchouli. There's also a grassy, piquant vetiver in there doing a lot of the heavy lifting as well. A pinch of lemongrass adds brightness at first, before a sour bergamot takes over and adds that touch of mold you get in some patchouli perfumes. There's also a bit of that "woody amber" aromachemical that smells kind of like ammonia, which I generally detest but isn't too awful here, though I question what it could possibly be contributing that couldn't have been achieved with birch tar or saffron or some less-cheap dark component. After a few hours, a slight chocolate undertone arrives once the bergamot fades.
All in all, I prefer dirty, earthy, woody patchoulis more than this sour mouldering kind, but the use of vetiver is clever. All in all, a neutral rating. Anything with that ammonia smell is automatically disqualified from getting a thumbs up.
There's a lot about Forbidden Valley that led me to expect it to be terrible. It's a homemade essential oil perfume from a now-defunct wican witchy-themed hippie company and it's a tribute to large women's cleavage with some truly questionable verbiage attached. But it's forced me to admit that I was stereotyping, because it's really well put together.
It goes on with a confusing blast of essential oils that very quickly coheres into a smell somewhat like those herbal artisan colas you see at hipster restaurants. But there's also a mulchy green undertone and an unsweet woody quality that keeps it from smelling candied or immature. Given time, the herbal cola morphs into dark boozy cherry over deep greens, and eventually fades to a resinous vanilla.
True to its promise, while it smells good up close on my arm, it smells GREAT under my shirt (despite my lack of cleavage). Something about it melts into my body odors and becomes wonderfully warm and inviting. I consider myself schooled - never underestimate someone based on hippie stereotypes!
At this point, Mirus is probably one of the lesser known of the California indie perfumers, but the brand is making a name for itself with complex, original perfumes like Citrea.
So what does it smell like? It goes on with blast of eucalyptus and frankincense brightened with orange. This opening is pleasant, if a bit CDG, but it quickly veers into more creative territory as a slug of licorice becomes the focus. The orange fades to a sour bergamot, which works with the incense and woods to keep the licorice from smelling candied or edible. It's a combination that works way better than it sounds - the sour licorice with deep green, mulchy resin underneath is wonderful.
Given time, it all melts together into a base smell that I can best describe as beach dirt - a combination of woody mulch and salt air. This stage is quite perfect as well.
All in all, I'd encourage fans of creative woody perfumes to seek out samples of the Mirus line. Driftwood, another of their scents, has gotten a lot of love, and their newest (as of this writing) Ceremony, just won Best Artisan Fragrance at The Art And Olfaction Awards in Italy. Go Bay Area!
On me, Via Camerelle starts off with citrus (lemony bergamot?) fused with lavender and a pinch of taragon. It reminds me of something you'd smell from an old-school British line like Geo F. Trumper, staid and polite to a point of dated dullness, but not half bad. Unfortunately, it dries down to a bleachy ammonia aquatic base that takes something that could have been dull but ok and makes it quite bad. Don't bother...
This is an interesting smell. It's very 90's. Back then, there was this popular style that was very chemical and fresh, relying on a common green "marine" smell. This sort of fresh chemical marine haze accounts for an awful lot of Vers Le Sud. Under the chemical haze is mostly coconut and nondescript artificial flowers and fruit, with a hint of tarragon to give a figgy nuance and a smudge of aquatic ammonia.
The end result is sort of beachy or tropical, but 80% just fresh and chemical. Its hyper-artificial freshness and weird chemical warmth and likeability remind me of L'eau de Issey, or at least a tropical version of it.
Honestly, I don't really like perfumes like this - they're just so dated and artificial, but Vers La Sud is still very wearable and well balanced and I think many people would rather enjoy it. So I'm voting neutral.
Green tea essence mixed with a pinch of citrus and lightly spiced with mace, supported with honey. This is similar to, but much better than Barney's clunky Route De The. Elizabeth W gets the mix better, never smelling so much like green tea essence that it ends up like cheap spa products, and using the mace to balance out the citrus perfectly. That being said, this is fairly simple. It's utterly pleasant and would likely make a fantastic room diffuser or candle scent, but despite its well achieved balance, it's just not as compelling as I'd like a proper perfume to be. It smells like the unexpectedly pleasant scent they'd use in the bathroom at an expensive Thai restaurant, but not really a full-on perfume.
I've been putting off writing a review of POAL for ages, because I've had difficulty putting into words what makes it special, and also why I don't care much for it.
In terms of smell, at its core, it's a fruitchouli, that mix of berries and rose and patchouli that comes together to smell like rich flowery fruity jam. It throws in some saffron to give it a leathery oud feel, and goes further by adding some sandalwood in tribute to a classic sandalwood/rose attar.
What makes it special is twofold. First, while most perfumes of this type use cheap fake rose (because it's easy to get away with hiding it behind all the strong ingredients), POAL uses a large amount of upfront real rose, which is the main reason this is considered the best of the genre. Second, as explained wonderfully in jtd's review, there's a high-performance sheen to POAL that's remarkable. Rose usually fades in a couple of hours, but somehow POAL's rose shines brightly and unwaveringly for days. The whole perfume has nuclear longevity thanks to a combination of masterful chemistry and a high budget, which is simply unmatched elsewhere.
Given all this, I have no choice but to give POAL a thumbs up, but I just don't like it that much. The top-of-its-class longevity actually makes it kind of boring to me - I would have enjoyed a slow descent from rose to sandalwood, but instead it just sits there, glowing brightly with its changes happening too slowly to be appreciated. Also, I just don't like fruitchoulis very much, so even the best isn't going to win me over.
Anyway, thumbs up, of course. This is one of those perfumes you should know.
I'm having a hard time figuring out how to describe Figa. It's almost like someone took a huge harvest of flower petals and fresh fruit and cooked it down into a thick, syrupy molasses that's so densely complicated that individual notes are almost meaningless to describe the rich, jammy smell. It's nice, though - what could have been a mess is actually quite endearing here, hinting at figs and berries, but also jasmine and blossoms.
The thick syrup of fruits and flowers melts down over a rather dark undertone, reminiscent of mentholated pine or dark kitchen herbs, but much more abstract. Given time, the fruit mix fades to mostly grape, while the dark base fades to mostly that "woody amber" aquatic base that I never like. Despite relying on my least favorite base note ever, I'm still giving Figa a thumbs up because I've really enjoyed the thick syrupy abstract richness of it all.
For the record, this is by the brand Sororia Botanic Perfume, listed here as Sororia Organics.
There's something my perfume friends and I refer to as "that natural perfume smell", a complicated mix of spices and resins and floral essential oils, with all their undertones melting together into a weird smell that's sort of like a pet store, all fish food and hamster cages. Playa Cocoa largely smells like this, albeit more resinous orange and less flowery and woody than most. I don't smell any cocoa - I'm guessing that it's contributing sweetness, but it's lost in the essential oil smell.
All in all, I've smelled much worse from indie essential oil perfumers, and Playa Cocoa has a sweetness that natural perfume fans will likely enjoy, but this just isn't what I enjoy.
This is an interesting mix of wet-smelling florals (I'm assuming some sort of lotus) with a shot of mentholated brightness that reminds me of Vick's Vap-O-Rub. I can see what this was going for - the way that tuberoses and some other florals get minty and camphorous as the die - but I'm just not a big fan of natural watery florals and I'm just not sure this really hits the mark the way I had hoped. There's also a seashell undertone here that I find distracting.
So, while I don't really care for Gardénia Devin, I should mention that perfumer Ragna Rostad-Ruffner is a friend of the San Francisco perfume community and a wonderful person and that I utterly adore her Dharma Rose and would suggest searching that out...
Very true to its name, Green No. 9 is a shot of green. I smell mostly verbena, leafy grassy green with a lemon brightness. There's some black pepper for lift and there's also a bit of a green kitchen herb smell, which smells to me like bay leaves.
I believe this is an oil perfume, and it's composed mostly of topnotes, so it only lasts a couple of hours before fading to a quiet lemon smudge, but this is the kind of refreshing bright smell that I enjoy reapplying over the course of the day, so I won't mark it down, though longevity fanatics should probably look elsewhere. Nice!
A charming mix of chicory coffee and pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, mace) over musky cocoa and nondescript woods. There's a quiet green hum in the background (maybe galbanum? vetiver?), as well as that natural perfume smell you get in essential oils mixtures (a hint of pet shop and sea shells). Eventually, it dries down to sarsaparilla and, by the end of the day, a quiet spiced vanilla. No upfront greens to speak of, though.
I often find natural essential oil perfumes frustrating because of the pet store undertones, but they're subtle and not very distracting here, and I'm quite enjoying the spices and hints at coffee, so thumbs up!
Yup, this is a quinoline bomb, so it smells like Tuscan Leather, but Golden Boy replaces Tom Ford's signature cherry cough syrup topnote with lettuce-tinged vetiver. It's a great combination, and only gets better as the quinoline fades into birch tar.
No points for originality, but this smells much more expensive than it is, and the mix of vetiver and leather is pulled off well.
I still remember buying a copy of GQ as a teenager and rubbing the little strip of Bijan for Men on myself, obsessed with what seemed at the time like the most luxurious thing I'd ever experienced. Decades later, when I started collecting scents, I had to pick up a bottle.
Knowing what I know now, and with a more refined concept of luxury, I still find Bijan weirdly compelling. It's from such a different time and different mindset, a carefully crafted exercise in rough unpleasantness as an expression of 80's macho masculinity. Nothing here smells good, in a technical sense. The chypre topnotes are sharp and medicinal, like an unpleasant mentholated lemon eucalyptus cough drop, while herbs are soaked in gasoline fumes, and a rough hawthorn gives a scratchy abrasiveness to the heart. Meanwhile, the powerhouse chypre base comes off like a pile of oily, soiled, mouldering rags.
All that being said, it's still a fascinating smell. There isn't a mistake in here - it's just a scent from a time that valued abrasive unpleasantness as a desirable masculine trait. As a perfectly crafted time capsule, and as a nostalgic personal favorite, I have no choice but to give Bijan a thumbs up, but with a warning that younger folks or fans of more pleasant retro sscents probably won't like it much.
A rather basic-smelling chemical stew that's mostly warm, fuzzy strawberry shampoo with a hint of mint on top, along with some salt and "marine" chemicals. It's not terrible, just vigilantly common, as if this were the result of a good perfumer being asked to create something that smells like a LOT of other, more popular perfumes. While I don't have any specific recommendations, I'd suggest that, with a quick trip to Ross or TJ Maxx, you could smell like this for much less money.
For all intents and purposes, this is a loud "fruitchouli" - jammy sweet raspberry patchouli with violets and roses on top - with a slug of saffron on it to simulate oud. It actually works surprisingly well, as the sharp, leathery saffron goes a long way to add interest to what would otherwise be a fairly basic mainstream perfume. Many hours in, it goes inky and ends up as a quiet smudge of oud.
In terms of scents like this, I think you could do better with Portrait Of A Lady or others that place more emphasis on the quality of the flowers and less on the candied fruit, but this is still worthy of a thumbs up for saffron lovers.
I'll join the chorus in praise of Oud Royal as one of the best westernized ouds. It seems to be built on that polite Givaudan oud, so it's smoky and a bit rubbery without being off-putting. It's mixed with saffron and quinoline for a leathery feel, while opoponax adds a green sharpness and clary sage gives a quiet "niche" masculinity and sweetness, while most of the leftover space is filled in with charred woods. Nice.
Devilscent #3 reminds me of what you'd get if you combined a bay rum with the charred forest base used in the other Devilscent perfumes. It's a good combination - the bay, sage, and clove feel right at home in a campfire/burnt incense setting, and the sugar sweetness you get in a proper bay rum acts here as an effective balance against the darker elements.
There's also something strongly animalic in here - you know how sometimes hiking through a forest, all the fallen trees and rotting dirt combine to kind of smell like poo? It's THAT kind of animalic, which I'm guessing is a trick done by mixing civet and incense. If it sounds gross, it sort of is, but it's such a naturalistic smell that it's more compelling and literal than anything offputting. Definitely recommended for fans of bay rums and niche woods.
An interesting take on the sandalwood genre, Santal Sacré reminds me more of those sandalwood soaps sold in Chinese or Indian stores than a traditional western sandalwood perfume.
It's a fairly standard slightly buttery lumberyard sandalwood smell, flanked with exotic spices like star anise and allspice and ginseng, along with soapy Nag Champa and hints of dried apricots. The overall effect is quite nice, though there's something about the concentration that, no matter how much I apply, it always fades down to a quiet hum very quickly, smelling nice up close, like I've freshly washed with sandalwood soap, but without projecting like a normal perfume.
Despite the performance issue with the sillage, it's a wonderful smell, so I'm still voting thumbs up.
Ostensibly, Dev #4 is based on the same charred wood and incense base as the rest of the Devilscent series, but with a kick of butterscotchy whiskey on top (my favorite part), melding with menthol, eucalyptus, and some sort of artificial fruity sweetness to give the illusion of cough drops melting in a forest campfire, drenched with blue raspberry Slurpee.
To be honest, this is probably my least favorite of the Devilscent collection. While #1 used sweet bubblegummy jasmine played against the smoky woods to great effect, I find the sweet mentholated faux fruit in #4 distracting and unbalanced, adding a sort of chaotic weirdness instead of providing what I'm assuming was the intended juxtaposition against all the darker elements. I can see how this was supposed to be a sort of yin/yang, but I feel like the two sides melt together into an unintended third thing that's not as good as the sum of its parts.
All that being said, this is definitely interesting sniffing and I'll gladly take chaotic weirdness over just another stupid mainstream cliche. Worth a sniff.
A big glob of cheap fake vanilla frosting pretending to be amber and oud. It's essentially a less complex Pink Sugar until about an hour in, when little tendrils of lumber wood and butterscotch manage to just barely peek through the heaping mounds of toxic cheap vanilla. There's a lingering ambrox drydown that's passable but not worth wading through all the marshmallowy gloop for. Even without the misleading name and the higher price based on its designation as an oud perfume, this isn't even particularly good as a marshmallow gourmand. Don't bother.
I've had an interesting time getting to know Rien Intense Incense. It mostly smells like quinoline, that leather chemical made most famous by Tom Ford's Tuscan Leather, but matched with incense. But not the creamy frankincense I expected, but instead very green and mulchy, like opoponax or galbanum. There's also a quiet sparkle of lemon champagne alhedydes, and something in there gives it an unexpected sweetness. In a way, it reminds me of a terrible accident at a Home Depot, a caustic puddle of paint and chemical fertilizer and rat poison and burnt wood, spritzed with a pinch of Chanel No 5. If that sounds terrible, it kind of is, but it's also utterly compelling.
The first time I wore Intense Incense, I loved it. The unique combination of smells had me completely enthralled. Unfortunately, the following times, I was out in public more and started being bothered by how strong and sharp and frankly, just weird it smelled. This simply isn't a perfume for non-perfume people, and it's got nuclear strength, so there's no hiding from it.
In all, I just have to give it a thumbs up for creativity, but I would never go through more than a little sample of this.
It looks like I'm going to be the grouch who doesn't like L'Autre Oud that much. It wears on me like it's mostly a mix of saffron and that aquatic "woody amber" base you smell everywhere. It comes off quite smoky and leathery (I'm guessing pine tar), and has a quiet floral hum. There's no oud in sight, which is irksome but forgivable in this day and age where most oud perfumes smell like saffron instead, but I just can't forgive that cheap "woody amber" base, even if it's used with a deft hand here.
If you want something similar but better, I'd suggest walking 10 feet from the Lancôme counter to the Sisley counter and trying their Soir d'Orient, which has the same basic appeal and structure, but is better orchestrated and doesn't rely on that cheap base.
As Epapsiou has previously stated, this very much has the feel of Comme des Garcons, that Mark Buxton-esque mix of woods and smoky incense. Devilscent #2 adds in sweet red cinnamon and clove for depth.
Most perfumes in the woody incense genre often rely on a lot of chemicals like Iso E Super and artificial woody smells, meaning that many of them smell "woody" without smelling like actual woods. Devilscent #2, however, has the familiar touchstones of the genre, but seems to be made up of actual wood and incense smells, so it has a depth and realism often lacking in its counterparts, though it comes at the cost of lesser longevity - I only get a few hours. But definitely worth a sniff.
I first heard of Olympic Orchids when perfumer Ellen Covey, a Basenotes member, donated a sample pack of her early works to a sample pass. She started off trying to recreate the smells of specific orchids using natural oils and the results were endearingly amateurish, to put it politely, but fun sniffing nonetheless.
Years later, I met her at the first San Francisco Fragrance Salon, where she was debuting her Devilscent collection, a collaboration with an author, inspired by a goth romance novel about the devil as a charming but dangerous seducer (hence the names of the perfumes). Stylistically, the collection was a 180-degree turn away from her early work, and while it was unfamiliar territory, we talked about how she seemed to have a serious talent for making really brilliant dark, deep woody perfumes. It was great smelling her grow as a perfumer and find her footing in a genre where she really excels, and I've enjoyed following her work over the years and seeing her grow from just another Basenotes member dreaming of making her own scents into one of the most important indie perfume artists working today.
All that said, what does Devilscent #1 smell like? Well, it's like the ashy soot lining a fire pit the morning after a campfire, mixed with the smell of the surrounding forest, topped off with a big glob of bubble gum. If this sounds ridiculous, it is, but it totally works. Given time, it all melts together into a wonderfully complex smell that's sort of like a charcoal oud with elements of cedar and incense, but with an alluring sweetness that draws you close, while a hidden, slightly disturbing animalic growl hides in the depths. As such, it's a perfect scent metaphor for the idea of a dark, alluring devil that seduces with sweetness, but has a barely hidden treacherous animal quality that's both scary and sexy.
As such, I really like Devilscent #1 on many levels - it's a great woody perfume, a fantastic example of Ellen Covey's growth as a perfumer, and a work of high art and seasoned metaphor. Highly recommended.
Snuggle fabric softener scented with vague artificial flowers and vague artificial apple, drying down to Snuggle fabric softener scented with vague artificial green chemicals and vague artificial salt.
I find Hermes as a brand quite interesting, as they basically seek out top artisans worldwide and commission them to make their products. The result is exceptionally well crafted goods and clothes that are very expensive, aimed at very educated luxury consumers. Anyone who would spend $10,000 on porcelain dinnerware or $5,000 on a jacket knows their porcelain or their tailoring and appreciates what they're getting from Hermes.
But the perfume market that Hermes is in doesn't work that way. People who walk in to Sephora or Nordstrom to buy a $80 perfume simply aren't as educated in luxury goods as the people who buy Hermes's other products, which put their perfumer in a rough spot where he either has to put out cutting edge luxury perfumes that the mass market won't understand and buy, or else dumb himself down and make perfumes that aren't the epitome of their craft.
And I think that's where Monsieur Li comes in - this is trying exceptionally hard not to offend or challenge anyone, so I'm afraid it's trying too hard to be a crowdpleaser posing as a work of art. I understand that's just the way business works, but that doesn't mean I have to love Le Jardin de Monsieur Li. I'm afraid it's just a "meh", nothing terrible but nothing amazing either.
I've quite enjoyed getting to know Myrrhe Impériale. I smell mostly frankincense mixed with smoky, leathery pine tar, with a pinch of vinegar to simulate myrrh. There's also a quiet hum of maple syrup immortelle mixing with vanilla, which fuses with the creaminess of the incense to add warmth and depth to the drydown.
The result, in total, reminds me of the smell of waffles mixing with a campfire, which sounds silly but actually works remarkably well. Thumbs up!
Robert Piguet's Oud is one of those impossibly complicated perfumes that seems to smell different every time I sniff it. It's almost like three perfumes layered on one another. First, there's a fruity floral with upfront cherry over jammy patchouli and flowers. Then, there's a bitter green chypre with lots of galbanum and grassy patchouli. Then, there's also an oud perfume, with the oud largely represented as a gross sort of industrial smell over frankincense and chemical-treated mulch and lumber, replete with a bleachy "woody amber" base.
If you put all of these disparate elements together, you get Piguet's Oud. If it sounds like a recipe that can't possibly work, it kind of doesn't, but it's not anywhere near as bad as it sounds like it should be. So I'm left with a dilemma. Do I give points for making something so ridiculously over-complicated actually mostly work? Or do I deduct points for crowding so much needless complexity into a perfume when what was really called for was keen editing?
In the end, I'm just going to split the difference and vote neutral.
As a scent fanatic in Northern California, I've long been obsessed with the smell of the coast around Big Sur or Pacifica, where you can drive with huge forests of redwoods, cypress, and eucalyptus on one side and the waves of the Pacific on the other. The mix of woods and sea air is intoxicating and I've long searched for a perfume that recreates it.
Orca is the closest thing I've smelled to this phenomenon in a bottle. Ostensibly, it smells like different kinds of cedar essential oils mixed with eucalyptus and some bright herbs and maybe frankincense for depth. From what I read, it's real, expensive beach-gathered ambergris that gives Orca that impossible-to-recreate smell of the ocean - it's not that weird fishy undertone you get in some natural perfumes, nor is it the eggy herbaceous salt of calone. Instead, it's the impossibly complex smell of the actual ocean, and it's used brilliantly in Orca.
It's that signature combination of chamomile, honey, and cedar that creates that pipe tobacco humidor smell. It's just magic and despite being copied hundreds of times over by now, it arguably smells most at home in Tobacco Vanille, flanked with spicy cloves and sugar-frosted vanilla and a big glob of ash.
Honestly, in the ongoing battle of tobacco and vanilla perfumes, while Tobacco Vanille is the Godfather who sets the standard, I personally prefer Kilian's Back To Black, which places more focus on the honey and pushes the marshmallowy vanilla to the background. But despite my personal preferences (I'd much rather smell like honey than marshmallows), Tobacco Vanille still deserves a hearty thumbs up.