Perfume Reviews

Reviews by rogalal

Total Reviews: 943

Nirvana Rose by Elizabeth and James

Much more wood than rose. The top is pretty in a full-on goth sort of way, with jammy rich rose played against pitch black saffron. The jam quality is presumably the result of patchouli in the background, while a dash of clove mixes with a touch of kitchen spices to add depth to the darkness.

Given a few minutes, the star of the show turns out to be a mix of sawdusty sandalwood and oak. The saffron goes leathery, while the rose mix ends up smelling vaguely like wine dregs, so the whole thing ends up smelling like an old oak wine barrel wrapped in leather sitting in a lumberyard. This mix is exceptionally well done, and takes what could have been just another saffron rose and elevates it considerably.

Hours in, when the rose is long gone and the leathery saffron fades, I'm left with mostly sandalwood, sprinkled with lingering kitchen herbs. This drydown reminds me of Santal Noble, with its legendary "opulent sawdust" smell.

I'm honestly quite impressed with Nirvana Rose. This is an original take on a complex concept that could easily sell in the $300 niche range, and I'm impressed as well with the way it fully embodies a gothic artistic space, taking it beyond just smelling good. My pick for the thing to sniff if you find yourself overwhelmed at Sephora...
28th March, 2018

Aqua Velva Ice Blue by Williams

An iconic smell, though perhaps a bit less than Brut, Aqua Velva's superior drugstore rival. Ice Blue goes on bright with a splash of mint, wintergreen, and nutmeg over hyper-sharp violet leaf, with a pinch of cinnamon or mace for just a touch of warmth in the background. It's simultaneously nostril-searing and deadening, a sort of sharpness overload, all high pitches with no meat or base.

That being said, I like Aqua Velva. It's a nostalgic smell that I find satisfying despite its shortcomings. Thumbs up for the memories.
27th March, 2018

L'Heure de Nuit by Guerlain

L'Huere Bleue is one of my favorite perfumes, so I ignored L'Heure de Nuit for years knowing a mere flanker could never dethrone my queen. But, after giving it a proper chance, it has won me over.

Nuit isn't as bafflingly complex as Bleue, though they share the same doughy core - that complicated mix of stuff that smells simultaneously like almonds, bread, grease paint, old makeup, and spices. While Bleue gains a lot of mystery from topnotes shrouded in powder, Nuit is more straightforward with a mix of violets, grape, and Guerlain's signature cherry, all of which melt together well with the clove aspect of the heartnotes, giving a spicy sweet fruitiness juxtaposed with the spiced dough. This change from powder to fruit does make for easier wearing (my only real complaint about L'Heure Bleue is that the powder billows ridiculously with more than the lightest application).

I ended up splurging on a bottle - only time will tell which I'll end up reaching for the most. While I feel like I might be sacrificing a touch of nuance for wearability, I think the depth is still there, especially witnessing the varied descriptions in these reviews, implying that there's a lot of hidden detail to smell even in this new version.
27th March, 2018
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Black Collection : Moss by Commodity

Echoing everyone else, there's no moss here. Instead, it's a mix of neroli and vetiver clearly inspired by Mugler Cologne or Creed's Original Vetiver. It's nicely done - I always enjoy the way this combination combines into something piquant and vibrantly green, somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Moss adds to this a juicy, pulpy orange on top that adds to the appeal. The drydown is unremarkable, just a long slow fade of the topnotes without a proper base, which is technically acceptable because both vetiver and neroli last forever, but it's artistically disappointing, like a lost opportunity to do something clever.

In all, I'm voting thumbs up because this is a combination I enjoy, and I like the addition of the pulpy orange, but with the caveat that I'm disappointed by the drydown and lack of originality, as well as the misleading name.
27th March, 2018

Le Vetyver by Lubin

There was a point in Basenotes history when this was consistently mentioned as one of the "important" vetivers alongside Guerlain and Sycomore and such, though its star seems to have dimmed a bit over the years. It's a shame, as this is a really nice vetiver that's true enough to the note to deserve its place at the table, while still being unique enough to stand out from the pack in its own way.

Of course, it smells like a proper vetiver, grassy and green and lemony with that signature iodine sharpness played against nutmeggy sweetness. It calls to mind candied lettuce and celery soda, as well as sparkling tonic water. In a way that's hard to describe, it also has a "pretty" undertone that implies flowers without being particularly floral.

In terms of placement, I'd say Le Vetyver lives halfway between Guerlain's Vetiver (astringent purist vetiver chypre) and their Vetiver Pour Elle (flowery sweet candied lettuce), incorporating the best of both while the soda freshness gives it additional character. Definitely worth a sniff for vetiver fans.
15th March, 2018

Brut by Fabergé

So I've been writing these reviews for over ten years now and it's taken me this long to review Brut. I guess it's just that Brut needs more than just a summary of its notes. It's an iconic smell, in the strongest sense of the term, right in there with mom's apple pie or Thanksgiving dinner or the smell of a Christmas tree. It's written into our consciousness and our collective memory in a way that no other perfume is (except for maybe Chanel No 5).

So what does it smell like? A fusion of mint and violet leaf melting into a lavender/tonka fougere, sweet with mace and neroli, balanced with a pinch of fusty bergamot. But really, the notes don't matter because it smells like Brut. It smells like Grandpa visiting for the holidays. It smells like your dad taking your mom out for dinner and bowling. It smells like you putting on a splash of your dad's cologne when you're dressing up for your first homecoming dance. It smells like gross 70's singles bars, and it also smells like family and love.

If you haven't smelled Brut lately, please give it a sniff.
15th March, 2018

Bucoliques de Provence by L'Artisan Parfumeur

A pleasant mix of lavender and tonka, sweetened with pie spices and deepened with iris, with just a hint of funk underneath to reference classic fougeres.

It took me a few wears to really appreciate Bucoliques - it has a chemical effusiveness that seems simultaneously thin and loud which kept me at arm's length for a while. And it's just not insistent, content to be pleasant without loudly claiming its own brilliance, so it's easy to overlook.

But after a while, it caught me on just the right day and the cloud of sweet spices and lavender over the suede-wrapped iris felt absolutely perfect hovering around me in the first warmth of early Spring and it won me over.
15th March, 2018

Lui by Guerlain

An interesting combination of vanilla and greens. Lui has a lot of the dna of L'Instant Pour Homme, notably the mix of vanilla and vetiver and Guerlain's signature sweet pea note. But then it's also got a lot of ethyl maltol, that candied toasted nut cigar smell, as well as a shot of papery tobacco leaf. The end result is nice, the mix of greens and that roasted smell over the marshmallowy vanilla works better than I'd have expected - this could have been a Pink Sugar nightmare, but the greens go a long way to prevent that and land Lui in specifically Guerlain territory. That being said, I'd still pick L'Instant over this, and I think Cologne du 68 does what Lui (and L'Instant, for that matter) does with much more panache and complexity.
15th March, 2018

24 Old Bond Street Triple Extract by Atkinsons

This basically smells like a better-than-average men's designer release. It's your standard mainstream men's scent: metallic lavender, herbal in a very chemical way, sweet, ammonia-drenched, dark, and synthetically leathery. This is essentially that, but with the herbs ratcheted up a bit, so it hints at an Aramis-style powerhouse underneath the modern synthetics, while mercifully avoiding stereotypical grape topnotes, which is probably the best thing about it. If this were more readily available and considerably less expensive, I could imagine this as a crowdpleaser, though it's far from what I enjoy personally.

I'm not getting the longevity issues others are - on me this is comparable to your average mall EDT. But I'd have a hard time really recommending this, as it does little to distinguish itself from a very large pack of cheaper men's scents.
28th February, 2018

Rose in Wonderland by Atkinsons

A nice tea rose with citric brightness on top, made rather fruity with that Calyx peach that's in pretty much every unremarkable fruity floral. There's a dewy green quality to everything, which morphs into a light haze of vetiver a few hours in. There's no detectable base to speak of - the whole thing just stays fruity rose the whole day through, simply fading slowly away.

In all, I've smelled much worse, but I've also smelled better. Rose In Wonderland never smells cheap or fake, but also never manages to smell very luxurious. I'll just vote neutral...
28th February, 2018

Amber Empire by Atkinsons

Ambers, as a class of perfumes, usually smell pretty similar, or at least tend to fall into a few common recipes. As such, I appreciate that Amber Empire is trying to smell like an amber, but in a unique way.

So what does it smell like? It's kind of hard to describe. One one hand, it has classic 60's amber elements - a mix of peach aldehydes and powdery benzoin that calls to mind a classic "oriental" vibe. On the other hand, there's a very modern mix of marshmallowy vanilla, nutty caramelized Pink Sugar ethyl maltol, and pink pepper. As such, there's a unique push/pull of classic and modern that gives Amber Empire most of its appeal. But there's also a weird salty emptiness that I think may be real beach ambergris, which ostensibly adds luxury, but I'm afraid actually kind of blurs things and ultimately takes away from my enjoyment of the perfume.

In the end, something about Amber Empire makes it feels oddly salty and weak, like the deep end-of-day drydown of a better, more complex perfume instead of a complete work in and of itself. Not bad in theory, but ultimately a bit unsatisfying in practicality.
27th February, 2018

Oud Save The Queen by Atkinsons

This is probably one of the best amber ouds I've smelled. The amber is rich and complex, based on the familiar mix of resins and vanilla, but also peachy and floral. It's a bit old-fashioned with its powdery benzoin, but also modernized with sandalwood.

But the amber always shares the spotlight with darker elements. There's a pitch-black mix of saffron and birch tar, along with leathery quinoline, as well as just a pinch of oud.

It's the way the different elements of the amber and leather facets intertwine over the course of the day that keeps Oud Save The Queen so interesting. It never smells the same - sometimes I'm fascinated by the fusion of benzoin and oud, other times it's the green resinous quality of galbanum mixing with the quinoline. By the base, it's the quizzical way the leathery, piney birch tar is sweetened by vanilla and darkened by oud.

My only real complaint is a light touch of cheap "woody amber" aquatic chemicals, but they're relegated to the distant background, so they're not bothering me enough to put me off. Overall, a good showing for Atkinsons.
25th February, 2018

Kuan Yin by Essentially Me

Complex. I smell osmanthus, though it's the natural kind that smells like tea, rather than the peach we've been led to expect in chemical perfumes. It's got a lemony brightness, and an indistinct round floral quality. The violet leaf comes off as metallic, combining with something (maybe the lotus?) to smell quite plasticky. Everything else comes together smell like a sweet fruity crush (the Indian fruit syrup, not the soda).

So yeah: sweet sticky fruit syrup, but really plasticky, with hints of tea and lemon. But there's so much happening and evolving that it seems to smell different every time I sniff it - sometimes openly unpleasant, and other times quite fun. One minute, I'm thinking "thumbs down", the next minute "thumbs up." I guess I'll just average it out and vote neutral...
15th February, 2018
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Trade Wind by Essentially Me

Trade Wind's opening blast is fantastic - the minty violet leaf of Brut, the galbanum of Chanel No 19, and the vetiver/neroli mix of Mugler Cologne all come together over sharp, resinous orange. It's a glorious, though sadly short-lived cacophony. This all quickly settles into round, tea-ish coriander, highly sharpened with mint, over an essential oil background smell that skews green and citric orange. It's a nice natural perfume - the way the bright mint tames the essential oil smell is clever - though despite including a lot of my favorite perfume tropes, it didn't win me over.
15th February, 2018

Amber by Essentially Me

Amber goes on resinous, with a particularly piney note (maybe opoponax?) at the forefront. There isn't the upfront vanilla that makes mixes like this smell typically "amber", so it instead comes off as quite dry and almost herbal. Given a little time, a nice, sawdusty sandalwood comes in and starts to create the illusion of amber, though everything stays much more woody and dry than your typical amber perfume.

I'm usually a fan of natural amber scents (it seems to be the genre of perfume that works best when made with essential oils instead of chemicals) and Essentially Me's is no exception. I like that the dry woodiness makes it stand out as different in a crowded field, though at least a little creamy richness would have upped the luxury factor and improved the base and longevity.
15th February, 2018

Fauve by Essentially Me

Here in Berkeley, there used to be a store down the street from me that sold essential oils and teas. Fauve mostly smells to me like that store. Or, to be more specific, it smells like that store, with extra lavender at first, then that store plus extra pine. Hours in, at its deepest base, it's a surprisingly gorgeous mossy musky affair that I really wish I didn't have to sit through hours of muddled essential oil smell to get to. The wonderful base belies that Essentially Me is capable of better work than this - I just feel like Fauve could have been improved by using a few less ingredients.
14th February, 2018

Fucking Fabulous by Tom Ford

Based on in the name alone, I expected some sort of loud fruity floral mess, so I was quite surprised by Fabulous's subtle charm.

At its core, FF is a luscious pudding of iris, lightly animalic 70's soapy musk, vaguely woodsy vanilla, and rich ambrox. It's topped with leathery almond at first, quite sweet and with the iris in the forefront. Given time, the almond fades to clary sage, though it's more of an indirect green aspect to the smell than anything specifically "sage". The whole thing slides from sweet to savory over the course of the day, as the salty ambrox eventually takes the lead away from the iris.

I've really enjoyed wearing this and would consider a full bottle. It's a clever take on iris, but may also appeal to fans of Chanel's Cuir de Russie, in that the almond and ambrox make FF smell like a very modern take on a classic iris/musk perfume.
13th February, 2018

La Joupe by Essentially Me

A few samples in, I'm noticing that there seems to be a standard mix of sweet, fruity, flowery spices that Essentially Me uses as the supporting structure for a lot of their perfumes. The perfumes tell different stories, but the stories are often painted on the same basic canvas, and some work better over the house's background than others.

La Joupe mixes that sweet spicy background with, ostensibly, tuberose and orange blossom, but I don't really smell them - instead, they seem to impart a floral effusiveness to the background layer. Meanwhile, there's a currant note that adds a considerable amount of cat pee to everything. La Joupe is at its best about a half hour in, once the pee clears, but at least to me, even at its peak, there's an unmistakable aura of "decent but unremarkable natural perfume" that I feel is a little bit harsh to say, especially considering that I've smelled MUCH worse, but it's just not dynamic or direct enough to win me over.
02nd February, 2018

Tangos by Essentially Me

There's an awful lot of ingredients here, but to my nose they mostly melt together into a pleasant smell that's simultaneously fruity and round, but herbal and sharp, with a deep floral effusiveness. If you've ever bought soap at one of those Himalayan or Indian import markets, the kind that just smell pleasantly "exotic", the core of Tangos reminds me of that.

However, on top of that, given a while to push through, there's a smell like someone carefully recreated Brut aftershave using natural herbs.

Honestly, I'm not really enjoying Tangos, and I can't figure out why. The combination is pleasant, and clearly made with care, and I'm impressed that someone pulled this off with just essential oils.
There's just so much happening all at once (which I usually admire), but on a gut level, I'm just not feeling it as a matter of personal taste. Oh well...
02nd February, 2018

Classique by Essentially Me

I've enjoyed some of the other Essentially Me perfumes, but Classique isn't working for me. It has that muddy quality you get with some natural perfumes, where a few too many ingredients come together to just smell like a big stew of essential oils. I have to give it credit though - many natural perfumes like this settle into an unfortunate fishy odor, which Classique avoids. That being said, there's something in here with a strong undertone of cat urine, so I'll have to pass on this one...
01st February, 2018

Souk by Essentially Me

I think Souk is quite well done. There's a lot going on, but the primary smell seems to be a mix of coriander (smelling like fruity spiced tea) and rose, topped with lemon for brightness and with spices in the background. This all seems to melt together into a complex stew that smells better than the sum of its parts.

There's cumin in here, which I generally don't like, but it's perfectly executed in Souk, to the point where it provides a quiet animalic counterpoint to all the prettiness, which lends a nice air of depth to the composition. Given time, a base of woods comes in, mixing with the cumin to add an extra layer of depth.

I often don't really enjoy natural perfumes, but this is nicely done. Thumbs up!
01st February, 2018

Chypre by Essentially Me

Interesting... It's like a grassy green chypre smell with a huge gob of sweaty cumin on top. Given time, the chypre elements all melt together into a quiet hum of essential oil smell, while what appears to be lemon verbena fuses with the omnipresent cumin.

The basic feel and recipe of this remind me of Diorella, with its vegetal green chypre and cumin, but it's like a blocky reinterpretation. If Diorella is a hazy impressionist painting of a grassy, mossy French countryside, then Chypre is the same scene painted in big blocks of color with the subtle shading largely removed. Big greens and yellows and big loud cumin - it's not without its charm, but ultimately I'm not a cumin fan and, at least in this case, I prefer hazy impressionist complexity over this lo-fi version.
30th January, 2018

X for Men by Clive Christian

X For Men is one of my absolute favorite smells in perfumery. That being said, it suffers from a rather drastic design flaw.

Its smell is complex, blended in such a way that individual notes are hard to pinpoint, except for cardamom, which is the primary smell. I smell a pinch of ginger, but it's more of a "lift" than a direct smell. And there's a familiar mix of clove and cinnamon, but they combine with the cardamom to just smell spicy and masculine instead of like Christmas potpourri or Spicebomb. There's iris, but it comes across as a luxurious richness rather than a specific smell. And there's what I'm guessing is clary sage and coriander, giving additional spiciness as well as the effect of fruity tea.

The whole thing is enchanting. Soft of like tea, sort of spicy, sort of green, sort of fruity, sort of like chai (but not really), and bright but grounded in a luxurious richness.

The problem is that it has no base. Theoretically, it's a temperamental ambergris and some sort of skin musk, but it's pretty much undetectable, so X basically just lasts a few hours and then disappears. I'm so deeply in love with the topnotes that I don't mind, but I wouldn't be doing my job as a critic if I didn't point out that short longevity and missing basenotes in a perfume of this price will likely be an issue for many people.
30th January, 2018

Black Amber by Agonist

Sometimes, it feels like the Agonist brand is struggling to find its place in the market. First, with the $1300 art bottles, then the cheaper regular bottles, then they drastically reformulated all their perfumes as completely different natural perfumes but kept the old names, so you never really know what you're going to get.

Judging by smell alone, my sample of Black Amber is the natural perfume version. It's nice, but definitely has a bit of that essential oil perfume smell, a sort of fishy cedar chip odor hovering in the background. Aside from that, it smells peppery on top and then like a complicated mulchy smell in the heart, almost like someone tried to recreate the smell of a pine forest using resins instead of pine. In the realm of natural perfumes, I've certainly smelled worse, but this just isn't "clicking" for me, which is a shame considering that ambers are one of the few perfume families that can smell absolutely wonderful made from natural oils, but they just haven't done that here.
30th January, 2018

Amber Oud by Nicolaï

If you approach Amber Oud expecting an amber oud perfume, you'll likely be disappointed, but taken on its own terms, it's quite nice.

It's a complex smell, but to me it comes down to two main themes. First, there's an old school amber perfume, the peachy butterscotch 60's kind, with a big aminalic poopy undertone. I thought of Bal A Versailles upon first spray. Second, there's a New-Haarlem-eque lavender/coffee/creme caramel gourmand.

The combination works. The thought of a poopy gourmand seems scary, but Musc Ravageur has proven that it's a winning formula, and it works here as well. And the peachy amber elements combine effortlessly with the lavender and caramel, while the woody quality of the roasted coffee gives a good balance and keeps everything from getting too sweet. In comparison to the deluge of mediocre coffee/caramel perfumes to hit the shelves lately, this is definitely quite a bit better.

Nice work, though calling this an oud seems unnecessary.
28th January, 2018

Musc Tonkin by Parfum d'Empire

A rather exotic grand tour through pretty much every possible kind of musk. It kicks off with galaxolide, the sexy 70's musk made famous by Jovan, with all of its powdery floral entrapments amplified by pinches of soapy white musk and whatever that plasticky musk is that reminds people of the smell of a rubber doll. There's also a well-tempered hint of civet poop underneath - just enough to give the perfect growl to the proceedings without ever crossing over into crass vulgarity.

Given time, the focus slides from the ornamented galaxolide to a deep suede, still flanked by musks, and with a pinch of cumin to provide that "growl" as the civet fades.

This is exceptionally well done. I'm kind of awestruck that they managed to combine so many complex musks so flawlessly. If you're a musk fan, you should add this to your must-try list, and I also think it would appeal to fans of more animalic leathers like Chanel's Cuir de Russie. It should be said that this will probably terrify people who don't like musks or lightly fecal perfumes, but for the initiated, this is wonderful.
28th January, 2018

B683 by Marc-Antoine Barrois

I really like about 90% of B683. It's a complicated smell that's really hard to describe. It's like a combination of wet concrete and suede and leathery saffron, with an amber undertone, but that also has elements of an old-school powdery floral 70's musk and peachy iris. It kind of smells like the sort of combination that the best indie perfumers are creating now, but it has a designer sheen that's hard to describe, like a combination of ginger and aldehydes that gives it a spectacular "lift" that these sort of perfumes rarely have. It's really about the precarious balance between light and dark. Though it doesn't smell like 10 Corso Como, I think it has a similar appeal, in that it takes really rough, dark elements and somehow whips them into something simultaneously luxurious and effused with light.

Unfortunately, there's a problem. Apparently, a lot of that designer sheen was coming from a cheap-smelling aquatic "woody amber" basenote, which is what B683 eventually dries down to in the base.

So, here I am. I utterly detest that Axe-esque cheap base, but this is probably the best use of it I've ever encountered. So, I'm forced to downgrade to a neutral rating, but with high hopes for future Marc-Antoine Barrois releases...
28th January, 2018

parfums*PARFUMS Series 2 Red: Harissa by Comme des Garçons

When I first started collecting perfumes, I bought a lot of clove-heavy perfumes, because I loved the note, even if I didn't really realize it at the time. Now, with age, I still love a good clove note, but I'm a lot pickier.

Given that, I have an old bottle of Harissa that I almost never wear. In the early 00's, it felt so fresh and exciting, but now, fifteen years later, with its novelty and sheen long worn off, it's not really that great.

So what does it smell like? Cheap Christmas potpourri. It's that mix of clove and cinnamon candy with a pinch of citrus and mint for lift. To be more specific, it smells like Big Red gum or Red Hots candy mixed with a candy cane, sitting next to a big bowl of cheap Christmas potpourri. For a brief moment, there's a touch of bell pepper hiding behind everything else, acting as a quick nod to the harissa name, but this never smells like spicy red pepper paste, and what it DOES smell like is pretty pedestrian.

There's a saying in the art world, especially now that a lot of really questionable new art is selling for so much money: "Let's see how good it looks in 15 years." And I think Harissa doesn't really pass that test, no matter how much I loved it when it was new...
27th January, 2018

Oriento by Jeroboam

On me, Oriento is mostly a saffron perfume, but ornamented interestingly. There's the supporting cast you'd expect with saffron - a pinch of rose for depth, quinoline and pine tar for leather, and a swirl of oud for exoticism. But there's also a fruity sweetness that makes Oriento stand out a bit from the pack of luxury oud perfumes - It's a bit like apple, but more candied and floral, so it smells more to me like a mix of peony and lychee. It's clever - the saffron is clearly saffron in all its leathery glory, but the whole thing is candied. My only real nitpick is a pinch of that "woody amber" aquatic basenote hovering deep in the background, but it's not enough to really put me off. Nice!
23rd January, 2018

Onyx Pearl by Agonist

Oh gawd no! This kicks off ultra-mainstream with that lame Axe body spray top with the mix of grape candy and Windex, with a bit of artificial oud hiding beneath. Given time, as the grape fades, you get a bit of clary sage in its place, still engulfed in a buzzing fusion of ammonia and fake oud.

This is a really generic men's mall scent pretending to be a $1300 art perfume. Just say no...
20th January, 2018