Part of a new range of perfumes from Molton Brown, Jennifer Jambon's Apuldre takes its name from the original, Saxon monicker of the village of Appledore in Kent. And it just so happens to be one of the most enjoyable Ye Olde English pub re-creations I’ve tried for a long time. It’s got a burning fire (think: lots of dry cedar). It’s got the bitter, almost tangy scent of yeast and hops. It’s got a pre-smoking ban whiff of tobacco. It’s even got a juniper berry note to suggest a glass of gin (or perhaps the freshness of the trees outside the Tudor window). But its trump card is violet leaf absolute, an intensely green material that almost never fails to add lightness and transparency. It helps this particular composition avoid mustiness, and although it can’t quite stop the final stages from being thin and soapy, it makes the first few hours far more compelling than I’d expected. A delightful little find.
A curious release. Subjectivity aside, it's a musky lavender in which Jacques Polge has chosen to emphasise the lemony, herbaceous aspects of Provence's ubiquitous sachet-filler whilst placing it on a vanillic, caramelised base. He's injected the requisite 'couture' feel by lifting the mix with a hint of aldehydes and he's maintained a sense of continuity with the other Exclusifs by adding a faint, yet unmistakable iris note. That's all relatively indisputable.
The effect of the composition is harder to pin down, perhaps because Polge's overall intentions aren't as clear as they might have been. Lavender is traditionally considered a male fragrance note, so its presence in a more feminine formula is meant to echo Mademoiselle C's use of jersey in women's clothes. Fair enough. But the fragrance doesn't quite see this concept through: it's too sickly sweet to make a convincing 'masculine suitable for women' and it's too blunt and crude to function as a fully-fledged, elegant feminine.
Indeed, it's this lack of subtlety that is Jersey's most embarrassing feature. It announces its presence with a disconcerting bark, it overstays its welcome (you have been warned: this stuff is tenacious) and ultimately it fails to call to mind the refinement synonymous with Chanel. It might have worked better coming from a different fragrance house (and with a lighter price tag) but context does matter and this scent's foghorn aesthetic doesn't rest easily with the likes of Coromandel, Sycomore and Cuir De Russie. Perhaps there is an effective couture perfume to be made at the site where Caron's Pour Un Homme and Prada's Candy cross paths, but I'm pretty sure this isn't it.
Gorilla Perfumes are trying to exploit mint's awkward position in our collective sensibilities with the re-release of Dirty: on the one hand, they'd like us to perceive it as a serious perfume, but on the other, they're selling it as part of a cheekily constructed range of male grooming products which includes an 'Italian shower' body spray in a Febreze-style bottle, complete with chunky pump. Has their gamble succeeded?
Well, the first few moments of the fine fragrance are a chuckle-inducing herbal blend of such monstrous proportions, a few drops are enough to convince you that you're being chased down the street by a giant sprig of tarragon. When the mint comes into play, the mental images start becoming even more surreal. (I stopped writing notes when I began picturing a dolphin giving me a wink and offering me a stick of chewing gum!) With its freshness cranked up to fascist extremes, this is a strident juice that says you WILL feel cleansed and uplifted whether you like it or not. But ultimately, it makes the same mistake as Lutens' L'Eau, allowing the top notes to outstay their welcome. It's tenacious and it does have some character, but it's also one-dimensional and predictable.
[Review based on 2011 Gorilla Perfumes re-issue.]
Le Voyou has been almost universally slated by the blogosphere and I confess that when its top notes reached my nose, I thought my assessment of it would be pretty negative too: the fragrance that Guerlain would have us believe is Le Dandy's alter ego opens with ultra-generic, synthetic, citrusy woods of the sort that endlessly clog up the men's section of perfumeries. However, a few minutes into its development, it does display a more compelling attribute. Up close, it continues to smell formulaic, but from a distance, it radiates a more powerful version of the powdery florals from Le Dandy. Although this doesn't fully redeem the whole, it does at least make it marginally more likeable and provides evidence that somewhere in its core lies a praiseworthy idea.
A gentle, discreet, well-blended take on sweet, powdery violets and pale woods. The prominence of its floral accord places it within the small category of feminine perfumes pretending to be masculine, scents such as Dior Homme which dare to go against the received wisdom of market research and choose to play the gender-bending card. One of the main reasons why Olivier Polge's creation worked was because it didn't settle for half-measures, but Le Dandy doesn't have the same boldness, uncertainly hovering somewhere between Habit Rouge and Lutens' Bois De Violette. It's pleasant and inoffensive, but also rather thin and certainly not interesting or complex enough to justify its high price tag.
This is precisely the sort of perfume for which the word 'lovely' was invented. With its central accord of a powdery, translucent rose - bolstered by a generous dose of geranium and a base of understated woods - it instantly triggers a domino chain-reaction of thoughts and words associated with springtime: sunshine, warmth, new beginnings, open smiles... they're all in there. But what also comes across is a sense of over-familiarity. The uplifting citrus of the opening recalls No 5 Eau Premiere. The wide-eyed freshness of the heart veers into the territory of Géranium Pour Monsieur. The breathy sweetness of the whole feels like a nod to Habit Rouge. Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with this: perfumes make reference to other perfumes all the time. However, great fragrances also need to have a strong sense of their own distinct identity. Betrothal is charming, cheerful and - here's that word again - quite lovely. But I just wonder if it's striking enough to be re-released into today's oversaturated market.
[Review based on 2011 re-issue.]
Try to think of a combination of the following smells... and please forgive me if you're on a diet: melting butter; crushed digestive biscuits; Monin's hazelnut syrup; warm praline; sweet almonds; vanilla shortbread; a faint suggestion of licorice; caramel; the sticky atmosphere of a patisserie... you get the idea, right? Somehow Jeux De Peau manages to be all these things: a fuzzy cloud containing every three year old's favourite scents. But its most impressive achievement is that it evokes an abstract sense of the concept of 'childhood' without allowing itself to be reduced to any one particular image; it presents an idea of bygone years rather than a specific memory of licking the remains of the cake mix out of the bowl. It is this balance that makes it so powerfully evocative: it shows you enough of the past to convince you the memories are real, but it blurs the recollections so they remain tantalisingly out of reach.
In terms of structure, it's essentially linear. At the very end - just before it allows you to wake up and leave its dreamland - it does display a sandalwood glow (reminiscent of Lutens' own Santal De Mysore) but for most of its duration, this is an unabashed 'oven gourmand', turning the pages of the Dessert section of your most beloved cookbook with playful self-assurance.
Worth trying for ballsy originality. Although it opens with a fatty honey note reminiscent of some faux-Provence bath products, it rapidly shifts to an unusual mix of cinnamon, coffee and wet cardboard hovering over a do-I-like-it-or-don't-I base of animalic amber. Curious.
With its rapid-fire burst of oud, Kanz is probably the most convincingly - or should that be stereotypically? - Arabic member of the collection, combining a strong rose accord with sandalwood, beeswax and leather. A single spray succeeded in transporting me back to idle teenage hours spent wandering around the fragrant shopping malls of Dubai, so far as I'm concerned, this juice is the real McCoy.
There are moments when Hajj grows cloying and threatens to lose balance, but its smoky apple accord provides one of the happiest representations I've ever smelt of an evening spent sharing a sheesha with friends. More importantly, it dares to prove that the sorts of perfumes we like to call 'Arabic' need not always be heavy and heady. Essentially fresh, easy-going and open-eyed, it is perhaps the fragrance which most vibrantly sums up the brand's 'Dorian Gray meets Sheherezade' motto.
After an initial chemical onslaught (think: model-making glue), Stecca becomes decidedly more natural-smelling. A mintiness emerges, followed by an edgy, green tartness, a piercing ginger and a deep earthiness. Before you know it, you're wearing a tomato on your skin, and not just the fruit, but the sap from the vines as well. It's an odd sensation, mainly because it isn't at all unpleasant. In fact, it feels much more refreshing and comfortable than spraying oneself with most of the so-called summer scents that invade department stores with depressing regularity every year. I haven't been to a fancy dress party for over two decades, but if I do ever go to one again, it shall be as a giant tomato, and I will complete the ensemble by spraying myself with this amusing little number.
The 2011 Anthology re-issue of ESP is pleasant enough, but there really isn't anything to distinguish it from the endless stream of washed-out florals that seem designed specifically to serve as gifts for those characterless nieces you see only once a year. The official notes call it a chypre and perhaps there is a drop of oakmoss somewhere in the deepest recesses of its construction, but I can't see any Mitsouko-lovers clamouring to get their hands on this one.
Bertrand Duchaufour's 2011 re-working of Esprit Du Roi revisits the fougère territory of the previous year's Sartorial, but with less cleverness and a diminished sense of fun. The intention seems to have been to build a masculine around the idea of sourness: there's a feisty grapefruit at the beginning, followed by a tangy, not entirely appealing herbaceous edge which probably comes from the raspberry leaf absolute (all rasp; no berry). This in turn causes the hay aspect of the coumarin to come out in goosebumps, which ultimately causes the temperature of the whole to plunge to sub-zero depths. If you get up close - and I mean really close - you can detect the faintest growl of an animalic base, but otherwise wearing this feels like being on the receiving end of a chilly glare from a boss with a distressing love of performance management.
Penhaligon's sole 'main range' release of 2011 is Juniper Sling, the much-hyped creation from Olivier Cresp. As its name suggests, it's based around a gin accord and sure enough, its opening does reveal a skilful blend of some of Mr Gordon's favourite ingredients: pepper (enough to make an Italian waiter weep), nutmeg, bitter citrus, cinnamon, coriander and, of course, juniper berries all come together to create a clean, likeable evocation of masculinity. Its heart doesn't last very long - which isn't surprising for a structure based heavily on the fleeting nature of pepper - and it quickly gives way to an interminable, synthetic musk drydown. But my main criticism is that it's far too safe. I'm sure Penhaligon's have a certain customer in mind for this release, but I just wish they'd decided to take him by the hand and pull him out of his comfort zone a tiny bit. He's impeccably groomed. The creases in his blue shirts are always in the right places. He wears sensible boxers which he always buys from the same shop. But last Christmas, he was given an iridescent silk tie and he hasn't worn it yet. Every now and then, he takes it out of his drawer, admires it and wonders whether he ought to choose it over his usual monochrome numbers, but he always puts it back, convinced he wouldn't be able to pull it off. If Juniper Sling had been just a touch more daring, it would have encouraged him to wear the tie with confidence. As it stands, monochrome wins.
Yuzu takes its inspiration from the East Asian (predominantly Japanese) fruit of the same name, and as you'd expect, it is a refreshing cocktail of citrus notes. Sadly, it's also quite unremarkable, combining all the usual cliches of barbershop cleanliness (soapy notes, synthetic musks etc) with a pink, syrupy pomegranate note and a watery lychee accord. It's predictable, it lacks depth and it is quite unworthy of the house that has given us three distinctive, original scents for men: Pour Un Homme, Yatagan and Le 3e Homme.
As expected, this is an unostentatious affair, but instead of featuring Jean-Claude Ellena's characteristic, glass-like transparency, it diffuses the light, as though inviting us to imagine that its roof-top idyll is concealed behind a fine mist of rain. Consequently, it isn't as sparkling as it might have been, but still offers plenty of sniff-value. There's a suggestion of fresh herbs, pears, green tomatoes and pale melons, all of which resolve themselves into a lychee and rose accord that's both comfortable and intriguing. I confess I was hoping to smell something with an urban edge - if this is a city garden, where are the exhaust fumes and the wet concrete? - but as an evocation of a tranquil space within the madding crowd, it works well.
One of 2011's more impressive mainstream releases. What’s especially fascinating is the tension it displays between the safer, more predictable aesthetic of the brand’s money-maker, Le Male, and the savagely underrated Fleur Du Male. Kokorico attempts to straddle both worlds: on the one hand, it’s an appetising woody gourmand (taking the minty top of Guerlain Homme, the tonka/cocoa heart of B*Men and the deep vanilla base of Tocade) but on the other, it doesn’t quite have the guts to eschew a yawn-inducing dose of Iso E Super and dihydromyrcenol (aka Generic Man Smell). The result is never unattractive – its polished warmth will doubtless work well as autumn tightens its grip – but it will probably disappoint those hoping for a more outré composition.
Mind you, even the most demanding of wearers will ignore many of the scent’s shortcomings each time they catch sight of the bottle. At first glance, it appears to be little more than a profile of Monsieur Gaultier’s face. But view it side-on and you notice that it also depicts the familiar male torso from the Male bottles. It’s a quirky, wonderful little bit of design which suggests that, somewhere in its development process, this had been envisaged as a much more striking perfume. The name, the flacon and the ad campaign point at a wearer who sees himself as something of a preening cockerel. The scent is much more straight-laced, but it does have the potential to serve as a stepping stone towards more unconventional fragrance choices... so if its mission is to out a few closet cockerels, then I'm happy to give it a thumbs up.
When you take it upon yourself to reinvent what's generally considered to be one of the greatest perfumes ever made - possibly the greatest oriental - the chances of pulling off a victory are infinitesimally small. Still, Wasser's effort deserves to be considered on its own merits, even if up to a point. With this in mind, I should start by stating that its juice is not pink, contrary to the horrified claims made on several blogs when news of its release was revealed. Secondly, it is housed in one of the most attractive mainstream bottles I've seen for a long time, an elegant, elongated version of the Jade Jagger design unveiled last year for Shalimar proper. So far, so good.
But what of the scent? Well, one thing's for sure: it features a much higher dose of iris notes than you'll find in Jacques Guerlain's original. So high, in fact, that you can't help making the association which most often accompanies an iris overload: carrots. Suddenly you picture Shah Jahan turning his famed gardens into a giant allotment, complete with bunnies nibbling on root vegetables. Not what you'd call an auspicious start.
Beneath the iris are recognisable elements of the original fragrance. The amber note comes through, perhaps a touch sweeter. The civet is pretty much intact. The bergamot - the quantity of which makes Jacques Guerlain's creation so distinctive - is toned down. Yes, all these factors are present, and they do complement each other to an extent, but they never lock into place with the same rightness that makes you gasp with pleasure each time you smell Shalimar.
Like its predecessor, Parfum Initial operates on several planes: its sillage radiates the smoky, ambery notes of resins; when you get closer, the animalic tones emerge; closer still and you get the powdery vanilla aspects. But again, the effect of this is to make you think Wasser has indulged in an intellectual exercise in perfume experimentation, which is rather different from creating a fragrance that speaks for itself with a bold, original voice.
It's never unpleasant, it's better than most high-street releases and it may well turn out to be fairly successful, but ultimately, Parfum Initial does not justify the need for its own existence. My only hope is that its release signals the moment when Wasser gets the burden of the past off his shoulders and faces the future with a more courageous vision of his professional aspirations.
You know the onomatopoeic 'sound effect' captions used in comic books? Well, Owari opens with a KA-POW, BANG, SHAZZAM! The top notes leap off the skin in a burst of yellow, green, pink and orange. There's fizzing grapefruit, zesty lime, tart apple and cheeky mandarin, shimmering before you like a near-palpable vision of fruity enticement that dares you not to start licking your lips. It's a cologne-like opening unlike any I've smelt for months, so optimistic, so life-embracing, so downright happy, it could probably put a smile on the face of every super villain from Doctor Doom to The Joker. Okay, he already has a pretty broad smile on his face, but you know what I mean.
It isn't surprising that after such a firework-laden first act, things calm down considerably. The citrus effervescence - which, by its nature, isn't capable of retaining its strength for very long - makes way for toned down woods and a clean, musky base, but it doesn't disappear entirely, lending its crispness all the way to the dying pangs of the drydown. In this season of warmer weather, several mainstream houses are pushing the familiar parade of 'light' flankers (think: Jean-Paul Gaultier, Calvin Klein and Issey Miyake) but they all pale in comparison to Owari. It's cheerful, carefree and bright... and as if that weren't enough, it's actually made by a company named after Thor's dad! Like I said: KA-POW!!!
Thierry Wasser hasn't had an easy ride since he pinned his bee brooch to his lapel, largely because so many people were disappointed with Idylle, but I'd like to think that his best is yet to come. This cologne - released in a flacon that makes a point of bearing his name - shows once again that when he's not being crushed by the weight of market research, he's capable of producing eminently wearable little gems. Taking his cue from what a true cologne is meant to be like - invigorating, luminous and fleeting - Wasser highlights the woods and the rosemary, takes the edge off the citrus and tones down the musks. Many consider Chanel's Les Exclusifs Eau De Cologne to be the epitome of this genre, and whilst I agree that it's an impressive piece of work, I also think it could do with being a bit more cheerful. Wasser's effort is a smile in a bottle, giving you just what you want in every spritz: an instant, uncomplicated lift.
A citrus accord so clean and safe as to be almost insipid, probably because it falls into the trap of equating 'universal' with 'lowest common denominator'. Uninspiring.
Inspired to create Forte whilst testing a batch of bergamot from a prospective supplier, Kurkdjian has bolstered the original's hesperidic notes, fleshed out the hay-and-tobacco base and livened up the contrasting sprinkle of sweetness. The result is effervescent and amiable, and whilst this isn't a gourmand scent, wearing it does at times feel like enjoying a slice of chilled lime cheesecake on a bright summer's day.
With the dry, tangy undertone of Atlas cedarwood as the eye of its storm, Leather Oud whips up a scorching shockwave of cloves, honey and parched leather to create a trail of heat so palpable, it almost literally leaves you gasping for air the first time you smell it. Needless to say, it contains an oud note as well, but not in the manner of the accords present in the output of, say, Montale. Here, it's very much tied into the overall structure of François Demachy's composition, mingling its indescribable, woody-earthy stink with the contributions of all the other materials to create an effect that is both raw and highly polished. Experience it from a distance, and you'll be impressed by its impeccable grooming. But get up close and you'll learn that what it's really got on its mind is an urgent tryst at a Moroccan tannery. In terms of bravery and divisiveness, this is unquestionably La Collection Privee's equivalent of Sycomore: it pushes the limits of the mainstream and re-energises the house of Dior. My critical reserve has been all but devoured by its seductive insistence and I'm one intoxicated step away from granting it a place on my list of all time favourites.
Karine Vinchon dessicates the top notes of vetivert with a generous dose of cedar and pepper. She chills the middle section with a callous violet note. And only in the end does she allow the eponymous ingredient to emerge as a recognisable presence, by which time it's settled into woody, vaguely tea-like territory. The link between the floral heart and the vetivert may be clever, but its effect is pretty unengaging, not to mention thin. Still, if you liked Gucci Pour Homme II - which also centred around violet - you might want to give this a try.
A sheer, gauzy floral. Conjures an image of petals preserved in a delicate Japanese jelly.
06th April, 2011 (last edited: 27th April, 2011)
Not entirely successful, but worth trying for its curious trick of combining an iftar feast with the structure of a fougère... behind a pane of stained glass.
06th April, 2011 (last edited: 07th April, 2011)
Although iris and heliotrope aren't on its official list of notes, Opus III's defining feature is the dry transparency one usually associates with those two materials (think: Après L'Ondée). They're lifted at the start by a light dose of peppery spices, whereas the presence of ylang ylang in the heart prevents them from becoming too gaunt. There is perhaps a little too much lychee sweetness at the beginning and the drydown may be wishy-washy, but the central achievement remains intact: spray some on your skin, close your eyes and imagine yourself looking through a piece of onionskin paper at a charming composition of pressed flowers. Future Opus releases would do well to follow the lead set by this elegant creation.
Absolue Pour Le Soir plays heavily on Atlas cedarwood, but only after the wearer is allowed to recover from the initial shock - and boy, do I mean shock! - of a gorgeously animalic brew of civet, frankincense, honey and cloves. There's also an ecclesiastical vibe, which may make you think you're in a rustic chapel, but you mustn't relax, because the person sitting across the aisle from you has a curiously crimson complexion and eyes with a demonic glint. Somehow, lasciviousness gets the upper hand...
Not surprisingly, what remains after this feverish physicality is the sense of an afterglow, created by a rapturous blend of sweet musks, darkened with a touch of cumin. If this is how exciting Monsieur Kurkdjian's evenings are, I can't wait for him to make Absolue Pour La Nuit.
31st March, 2011 (last edited: 10th April, 2011)
The heavenly aroma of Badedas soap bottled as a wearable perfume! Yes, it's derivative, but the chestnuts and pine combo is quite endearing.
Candle smoke, woods, rubber and spice: a thin copy of Annick Menardo's Bulgari Black, minus the depth and complexity.