Perfume Reviews

Reviews by ClaireV

Total Reviews: 518

Slowdive by Hiram Green

What a gorgeous and strange honey this is. Medicinal and syrupy, it begins as a river of intense aromas all knotted together so thickly that it’s difficult to make out what one is smelling. On my first wearing, I thought the opening had something of that anisic, clove-scented cherry dough that forms the medicinal heart of L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) or even Kimonanthe (Diptyque), but a second wearing told me I was wrong.

Even in the opening, this is all about a thick floral honey with a rustic, if not medieval flavor. The honey is not animalic or smoky, but waxy and opaque with a golden, late afternoon sunshine feel to it. Dotted with tufts of mint, hay, licorice, anise, and wildflower herbs, the intensity of the honey is lifted just in time, moments before the dreaded cloy. It must have been difficult to achieve the balance between syrup (density) and air (lightness), especially in an all-natural composition, but I think Hiram Green’s managed it.

You might look at the notes list for Slowdive and imagine that the tobacco, the orange flower, and the tuberose dominate the composition. This would normally be the case, given the presence of such bullish notes. But there’s a series of pleasant surprises here in how Green has restrained these more exuberant notes in favor of the more delicate floral mead/honey/herb aspect.

The tobacco, or rather, coumarin, smells more like dry hay and chamomile tea than pipe tobacco. The tuberose hands over its textural qualities of butter and rubber, but holds back on its plushier, candied side. And although the green, waxy neroli that Green uses so well in many of his fragrances is present, under the surface, it only makes itself known through a slight orange tint to the honey.

The overall impression is of a slow-moving river of honey dragging whole drifts of meadowfoam, sunburned hay, and lacey wildflowers along with it. Imagine the court of King Henry VI camping for the night in the sprawling hunting grounds of Anne Boleyn’s uncle’s castle. It’s late summer, the hay is brown in the fields, and all about there is the gentle hum of honey bees. Cook has spilled the pale, waxy honey so beloved of the bad-tempered king, and scrapes it up off the ground hastily with a knife, not realizing that it is now flecked here and there with the malty herbs strewn on the ground to cleanse the air of unhealthy odors. And in fact, Slowdive is what the king will later taste on his bread, a delicious but inedible enfleurage of flowers in honey.

The rustic, medieval feel I get from Slowdive is underlined by the beery smell of fermenting hops in the drydown. At this point, it reminds me very much of a thick face cleanser I got in Koreatown, New York, a few months ago, called Natura Republic Honey and Herb Cleansing Cream. I love the smell of this cream, because like Slowdive, it reminds me how close the natural scent of honey is to both hay and beer hops. The smell of the Irish countryside on a good day! There is also the richness of dried fruit, but again, this gives less of the Lutensian vibe one might be expecting and more of a sour dried cherry aroma, dry and unsentimental. Like flowers doused in nutritional yeast.

Despite the syrupy intensity of its opening, I would place Slowdive more towards the clean end of the honey spectrum than the carnal one. It is not, for example, as smoky as Absolue Pour Le Soir (Maison Francis Kurkdjian), as retro-fabulous as Tubéreuse III Animale (Histoires de Parfum), or as pissy-dirty as Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire), although it does share the strong rustic-rural bent of the latter. Instead, I would classify it as belonging to the same group of strong, floral, or harvest-time honeys as Golden Cattleya by Olympic Orchids and Botrytis by Ginestet. If you love thick, narcotic honey scents that balance syrupy sweetness with a herbal or floral cleanliness, then I can’t recommend Slowdive highly enough. It’s one of the best scents I’ve tried in this particular genre, and all-natural to boot.
17th August, 2020

Eiderantler by January Scent Project

Eiderantler is softness embodied, a watercolor of pale lavender and feathery green leaves. It reminds me very much of my mother’s bathroom, which smells of a natural lavender-infused oil I bought for her on Hvar, an island off the coast of Croatia famous for its fields of lavender. The oil is old, so what meets the nose first is the fatty, waxy smell of the carrier oil itself, a little stale, but not rancid. Then the smell of lavender buds come through, the same crushed-between-your-fingers lavender smell as in Selperniku, but far gentler and balmier, as if the buds have been washed down in a sweet, milky lotion.

What I like about Eiderantler is its gentleness. The potential bitterness of the ivy and the lavender has been managed so that their natural, in-built pungency is softened and spaced out, diffused into your personal space by a humidifier.
17th August, 2020

Selperniku by January Scent Project

Selperniku is a real head-scratcher. The list of notes, impressions, and ideas I have had while wearing this one goes on for several pages. I puzzle over this one in particular, wondering if my experience of sandalwood and butter (butyric) notes is so vastly different to everyone else’s so as to render my report invalid. John has nailed the limey, curdy texture of real sandalwood, but the fragrance itself does not, in fact, smell at all like sandalwood. Neither does it smell like butter, in any way, shape, or form, to me. Or salt, really.

Instead, what the fragrance seems to be doing is to take one small facet of all its constituent materials – salt, apricot, sandalwood, butter – and isolate them in the perfume, excising them from their wholeness. The result is that the nose recognizes one part of the material, but because it has been removed from its overall context, it strikes us as being both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Some of us are taking those fragments of sandalwood and peach and butter and rebuilding the whole picture in our mind; I personally cannot, only perceiving fragments here and there. Thus, I smell the slightly vomity undertone of milk, but not actual butter. I smell the rubbery, tart skin of the apricot, but not the fruit itself. Very clever.

I should mention that the topnotes of Selperniku smell entirely of freshly-crushed lavender buds to me, and specifically, the dried English lavender variety that one gets in sachets. I get the fierce, purple roar of lavender at exactly the same moment as I am smelling a juicy, overripe peach or apricot note, and the dual experience momentarily shocks me. It is a very unusual effect, and one that I find so compelling that I spray it over and over again to experience. Your mileage may vary (and, boy, has that overused phrase in perfumery circles really earned its keep with the January Scent Project!).

Directly under the lavender and peach opening, I sense a layer of curdled milk shifting below. It is only slightly vomitous, and probably only to me, but joined with a purplish “saltwater taffy” note I perceive, it adds up to something that approximates a lactonic wood accord.

The peach/apricot disappears for a while, but makes an appearance again after a few hours, this time in the shape of a slightly sweaty, rubbery note that hints at fruit skin more than the flesh. Kafkaesque notes that this could be osmanthus, and I’m inclined to agree, because at one point, the scent recalls the rubbery apricot leather of Osmanthe Yunnan. The rubbery fruit skin of the apricot mixed with the lactones certainly adds up to something suggestive of human skin, and perhaps specifically, the scent of a woman’s nape after a full day of wearing a gently peachy perfume, like Chant d’Aromes.

In the far drydown, blowing on my skin revealed a layering of piquant green leaves over the tart, rubbery lactonic peach skin note, which smells to me like the juice from dock leaves we would use to treat nettle burns when we were kids. That, plus, the late return of those dried lavender buds, make me think of Selperniku as being far more a rustic, countryside-ish fragrance than it at first makes itself out to be.
17th August, 2020
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Smolderose by January Scent Project

Smolderose (the EDP version) is beautiful and arresting, but I have to admit straight up that I cannot smell the rose in it. What I smell is primarily the head-spinning fumes of a room where tins of black boot polish are stored, a smell that is tarry and (pleasantly) chemical rather than smoky.

I smell the lemony-minty green sting of geranium in a minor key, which is a rosy note, I guess, as well as the leathery undertone of choya nakh (roasted seashells), a distillate used in very careful doses in traditional Indian attar perfumery to add a marine-leathery tone. Choya nakh is also used by Mandy Aftel to give Tango its smoky, skanky-leather undertone, and indeed, there is a somewhat similar tarry boot-rubber effect in that perfume too.

But, for me, that almost benzene-like honk of black boot polish is what prevails. This seething, fizzing, gaseous miasma of fumes joins with the scent of our old Calor Gas heater, whose electric bars, when heated up, emitted an addictive aroma of heated electrical cogs and springs. I have a fondness for this accord, which I smell also in Gris Clair (Serge Lutens), because it seems to occupy a physical space in the air, charging the oxygen particles with ions and static electricity. I should mention that Smolderose takes up such a firm physical presence in the air that my head swims if I inhale too deeply.

Some may be offended that I don’t pick up on the charred rose or the other multi-layered complexities that I’m sure are actually there, in the fabric of the scent. But what I smell works for me anyway. If you, like me, loved the cozy smells of the school supplies closet, with its vaporous, almost intoxicating fumes of glue, polish, paper, ink, and other chemicals, or have experienced the particularly Irish childhood experience of hugging the Calor Gas heater until it heated up enough to thaw your frozen limbs, then perhaps Smolderose EDP will strike a memory chord for you too.
17th August, 2020

Belles Rives by La Parfumerie Moderne

I’ve never smelled the legendary Iris Gris by Jacques Fath, but I imagine it to be something along the lines of Belles Rives by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for La Parfumerie Moderne: the dove-grey pallor of orris warmed at the edges by a shimmer of peach.

In The Secret of Scent, Luca Turin compared the effect in Iris Gris to a “gorge de pigeon” taffeta, its color sliding between metal and pink at the turn of an eye; this is exactly the sensation I perceive in Belles Rives. At first, it is all orris, with its lovely freshly-poured concrete smell, stretched out like grey silk on a canvas. But quickly, a flicker of fruity apricot skin – not sweet, but rubbery and warm – licks shyly at the corners. Soon, it is difficult to tell where the cool orris ends and the peachy notes begin.

I can’t adequately describe just how smoothly and quietly all this is brought about. But I can point you to The Slave Ship by Turner, if you know it – a painting where the fog of pale grey sky is punctured here and there by the golden glow of the rising (or setting) sun. In the painting, as in the perfume, everything is blurred; there are no edges clearly delineating anything. However, one can still clearly perceive the total effect, in that it is the brightness of the sun that marks out where the expanses of grey lie, and vice versa.

On their own, both orris butter and osmanthus absolute are surprisingly sturdy materials, strong to the point of being pungent (and not particularly floral in smell). Osmanthus, in particular, has something of the bullying cheesy honk of a fruity Cambodi oud. It can overpower a composition in no time at all. But in Belles Rives, both materials smell equally ephemeral, like a cloud of ethers the perfumer has had to corral into the bottle with butterfly nets.

What orris and osmanthus have in common is a certain skin-like suede note, and this is what’s been emphasized in this fragrance. The iris gives off that faintly bitter, velvety facet of suede, specifically the plushy, brushed surface of the material, while osmanthus has a more rubbery, warm aroma reminiscent of bare skin underneath. In the drydown, although they are quite different fragrances, I spot a kinship with Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermes, especially in the delicately thin (worn) suede aspect.

I love Belles Rives. I love its serene countenance. I love its simplicity, which is not to say that the scent is simple or that it was simple to make (it can’t have been). I love the equanimity between the two main notes, namely, the iris and the osmanthus. Nothing too much has been added in to distract from the wholesome beauty of the main accord. There’s no powder, no smoke, no incense (that I can smell), and crucially, no potent woody ambers to make Belles Rives one of those tiresome things that drone on for 24 hours or outlast a shower. Just osmanthus and iris, pared back, chiseled to perfection, and, still smelling naturally of themselves, set inside a simple framework to shine.

I appreciate the confidence and hard work it must have taken to turn out a perfume like this in the competitive environs of niche perfumery, where there’s a feeling that one can’t just do an iris fragrance – that one must do something weird or obscene to iris in order to grab a slice of the increasingly thin wedge of the pie representing niche buyers’ attention. I hope enough people buy Belles Rives to show support for the idea that perfumer Guy Robert’s mantra that “un parfum doit avant tout sent bon”, or in English, that a perfume must, above all, smell good[1], is still the only principle that matters.
17th August, 2020

Fucking Fabulous by Tom Ford

Here’s the thing you need to know about Irish people: despite our potty mouths, we need for you all to think we are the last remaining bastion of Christian morality on the outskirts of Europe. We are the isle of saints and scholars, so by God, we are going to live up to it. In order to preserve this (thin) veneer of respectability, therefore, Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous is sold in Brown Thomas, Dublin, with the “obscenity” scribbled out in black permanent marker. Obscenity – that’s the SA’s word, not mine, by the way. Who on earth under the age of 60 ever says the word obscenity? Right. They probably all just say fuck.

Here’s the other thing. Brown Thomas can’t keep Fucking Fabulous in stock. It’s flying off the shelves. Offended and titillated in equal measure, people are buying the fucking thing! And if Tom Ford released a flanker for the Irish market called Fecking Fabulous, it would probably double its market share. (Add in flankers with names such as Feck, Arse, and Women, and you tap into the Father Ted fan base).

What does it smell like? I’m not sure it even matters, because people are buying it for the name alone, to display in the living room cabinet to get a rise out of their Ma or to bring to parties as a sort of conversation piece. But for what it’s worth, Fucking Fabulous is pretty good. It’s basically a gentle, creamy, aromatic tonka bomb with an underpinning of bitter, doughy suede. It starts out with a lot of lavender and sage, which gives it a fougere-ish feel, but the plush, brushed-suede texture of the tonka envelops the herbs so completely that it never feels fresh or too foresty.

In fact, the smart positioning of the aromatic, herbal side against the creamy tonka side reminds me very much of other modern fougeres, like Boy by Chanel, Lothair by Penhaligon’s, and even Fourreau Noir by Serge Lutens. What these fragrances all have in common is their modern approach to the old, hair-balled fougere genre, which is basically to add so much creamy stuff – tonka, vanilla, heliotrope, sandalwood, and so on – that you barely feel the itchy, hair-shirt sting of the lavender or moss. I have likened Fourreau Noir to a dense lavender doughnut before, and Jtd of ScentHurdle called Mon Guerlain a “taffy fougere” – and that’s pretty much what’s going on with Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous. It’s a gourmand fougere, albeit one that’s far less edible and sweet than any of the other fragrances mentioned here.

If I had to distinguish or differentiate it further within the gourmand fougere category, then I’d say that Fucking fabulous feels quite masculine, thanks to its brushed suede note. There’s a moment at the start when the lavender and sage combine with the bitter almond to form a brief impression of licorice, cherry, and even mint – like the herbal bitterness at the start of Fève Délicieuse (Dior) – but it soon smoothes out into that tonka bean smell, which I think of as the scent of a freshly-vacuumed carpet.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tonka bean is often used as a replacement for vanilla in men’s fragrances because it smells like a rugged, spicy, “tanned” version of vanilla, but with a significantly more aromatic presence, possessing facets of hay, lavender, and lots of other herbaceous things. However, because it’s been so overused in masculine fragrances, especially designer ones, there’s a sort of sameyness from one tonka bomb to the next that makes it olfactory equivalent of a plushy, deep beige carpet. Think of Arianna Huffington’s comment on President Obama’s re-upholstering of the Oval Office – “the audacity of taupe”, she called it, despairingly – and you get the idea of the total effect of a tonka overload; a mushroom cloud of bland creaminess that expands to fill one’s field of vision, cheerfully water boarding any other element placed there to try and break it up a little.

And for me, that’s what Fucking Fabulous ultimately becomes; a huge, creamy expanse of tonka bean suede with only a lingering trace of the aromatic interest of its opening. It’s a very high quality tonka fragrance, mind, with none of the cheapness associated with the material’s near ubiquity. But if I’m going to wear a fragrance that’s tonka bean for about 70-80% of the ride, then I’d just as soon avoid the price tag that comes with anything Tom Ford, and opt for something more prosaic but just as tonka-ish, like Tonka by Reminiscence.

But that’s a purely personal preference – I might wear a tonka-based fragrance three times a year, at most, because I’m just not that into it. But if you are, and you have the money to go Tom Ford, then Fucking Fabulous is one of the better examples of how to do the material on today’s market.
17th August, 2020

Oud Picante by Areej le Doré

Oud Piccante calls a very specific image to mind, or at least, it does to mine. Imagine a small, country cottage in the West of Ireland, one of those whitewashed hovels left over from the Famine days clinging to the edge of a rundown fishing village. The cottage is inhabited by an Irish bachelor, a miserable Flann O’ Brien character whose Mammy never prepared him for a life of looking after himself. Inside the cottage, his hairy fisherman’s sweater – never washed – hangs over the lone chair, absorbing and also exuding decades of soot, the sweaty miasma of old lamb grease, and the yellow grime of nicotine.

One sniff of Oud Piccante and I am instantaneously looped back to my paternal grandfather’s claustrophobically small, grimy terrace house, which smelled like this. These smells make me anxious because they are the signal bearers of neglect. This is the smell of a house inhabited by an older male, once the female has shuffled off the mortal coil, leaving him alone to fend for himself. And old Irish men don’t tend to do well alone. Oud Piccante makes me feel sad, and this is hardly an auspicious start.

Where Russian Oud is sweet, and Oud Zen is nutty-smoky (neutral), Oud Piccante is savory. The astringent meatiness of the castoreum, tobacco, oud, and metallic clove/cinnamon accord makes me think of a fat steak encrusted with peppercorns hitting the sizzling lamb fat in a pan, the pungency of its Maillard reaction mingling with centuries of soot and yellow tobacco stains emanating from the greasy walls. There is a sourness here, too, which makes me think the bachelor mixed up asafetida or something pickled with the rest of the spices by accident. This is a kitchen spice rack oud, saline and metallic, peppered and lamb-fatted. The alpha to Russian Oud’s beta.

Later on, this central “peppered steak” accord gets wrapped up in a buttery, sweet labdanum; I like this part of the scent much better than the opening, but I also recognize that it could be perceived as a weakness by other people take their oudiness straight up, cut free of any oriental bits and bobs, like amber or vanilla. But for me, it’s a relief, like moving on swiftly from a macho-spiced, half raw plate of entrails to dessert, which, mercifully, seems to have been bought in.

To summarize, Oud Piccante is a sour-savory take on oud that, for me, strays too far into “old man” leather territory and seems to trigger a bad set of memories. The castoreum contributes tobacco, but it also contributes a tannic, astringent “over-brewed tea” accord that when combined with the saltwater taffy of labdanum smells very much like Ambre Loup by Rania J, which I grew to dislike quite intensely. Yes, I know, I am the sole aberration in the almost mass adoration for Ambre Loup. It’s clearly me, and not the perfume.
17th August, 2020

Russian Oud by Areej le Doré

I had a brief stint as a copywriter for a major scent subscription company in the United States, which ended only when every last scrap of confidence in my own writing had been whittled down to a nubbin by an over-zealous editor. One of the things he would constantly remind me not to do was to compare fragrances to food. Ew, he would write in one of his ten-point comments on a 300-word product description – nobody wants to think their perfume smells like food, that’s gross.

My whole being rebels against that. It’s been my experience that not only do plenty of people want to smell like chocolate, or caramel, but that people reading a review for, say, Tom Ford’s Orchid Soleil, generally find it more useful when it says that it smells like tortilla chips than if it says something overly technical about tuberose.

But then again, you can’t write something like that when you’re trying to sell perfume, because even if it does smell like masa, the brand will take that as a negative reference and automatically black-marker it. Oh, I understand it, but I’m on the side of the reader/buyer here. If something smells like food – and food that you, the reader, can immediately identify with, then you better believe I’m going to mention it. My language is impoverished enough with someone taking my food references away from me.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because it’s impossible to describe Russian Oud without bringing food into the conversation. If Oud Piccante is a piece of raw steak covered in peppercorns, slapped down into a pan sizzling with lamb fat, then Russian Oud is a dainty piece of chocolate cake laid out on a doily, tendrils of caramel drizzled on top. For something so delicious, it is remarkably spacious and fine-boned. Even in color, Russian Oud distinguishes itself as finer than her rugged big brothers, being clear in color, while Oud Zen and Oud Piccante leave great big yellow-brown oil stains all over the skin.

Russian Oud is clearly a gourmand take on oud. It is very chocolatey, with a sweet, incensey woodsmoke note giving it a nicely dusty texture, and labdanum later lending a toffee chewiness that, in turn, jives perfectly with the smoky chocolate. The papery dryness in the heart gives the structure room to breathe. Actually, in terms of texture, Russian Oud has a surprising trajectory, from dusty to papery to chewy.

At first, Russian Oud reminds me very much of several chocolate-woody-ambery fragrances I’ve been loving recently, including Ummagumma (Bruno Fazzolari), Dark Moon (DSH Parfums), and meltmyheart (Strangelove NYC), but later on, when the resiny, leathery – almost coffee-ish – tone of the oud asserts its dominance, it reminds me more of the woody gourmands of Parfumerie Generale. In other words, it becomes less edible as time goes on, and more woody-resinous.

The drydown is where the castoreum and labdanum really begin to take over, and to my nose, it is this phase that is most similar to that of Oud Piccante. The castoreum gives the oud and amber a slightly sour, musky undertone that suits the hot, bilious oud. Kafkaesque mentions Ambre Loup (Rania J) in her review, and yes, that’s spot on – the drydown of both Russian Oud and Oud Piccante is extremely similar to that of Ambre Loup.

Full disclosure; I sold my bottle of Ambre Loup because I found it to be a mess of contradictions: sweet but sour, delicious but super-heavy, like too much of a good thing, a faintly greasy mixture of animal fat and chocolate and sugar and freshly-tanned leather all melted down together. I liked it, but never wanted to wear it. It felt like the 24th course in a 25-course tasting menu – tasty, I’m sure, but might I save it for tomorrow instead? This is a feature of the oud or castoreum-tobacco accord that Rania uses in both Ambre Loup and Oud Assam. Both excellent scents, but stifling in their heavy, breathy, brocaded sweet-n-sourness. The Ambre Loup effect is much, much softer in Russian Oud than in Oud Piccante, though, and it’s one of the reasons why I prefer Russian Oud.

All in all, Russian Oud is a soft, smoky chocolate take on oud, and the refined sister scent to Oud Piccante’s brash, big brother. Oud Piccante and Russian Oud are definitely first cousins; Oud Zen, by comparison, is a very distant progenitor, a Romanov offshoot who found peace in obscurity, living a simple but hearty life in a country dacha.
17th August, 2020

Le Smoking by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

DSH Parfums Le Smoking is, to my nose, a happy mix of the bitter, smoked-out leather of Cabochard (Grès) and the sweet hashish vibe of Coze (Parfumerie Generale), two perfumes so hard-wired into the scent memory portion of my brain that it’s difficult to judge Le Smoking on its own merits.

Do I love Le Smoking, or do I love the memories conjured up for me by the ghosts of perfumes past that linger in its fabric? It’s hard to tell. But I can’t see myself not owning Le Smoking at some point. The further I get in this hobby, the more I realize that you just don’t pass up on perfumes that trigger you. I’m bored of wearing perfume just because it smells nice. I want the rollercoaster ride, please, and this time I’m keeping my eyes open.

The ghost of Cabochard in Le Smoking makes me almost unbearably sad. But I want to keep smelling it, regardless. The bottle I owned was most likely a reformulation. Like the opening of Le Smoking, it smelled like the cracked, thin elbows on a grey-brown leather jacket. Covered in layers of grime and ash, it was awful, but also weirdly brilliant.

Like Cabochard, Le Smoking has a bit of a sneer on its face, at least at first. The galbanum here does not smell like fresh lime peel, freshly cut green peppers, or mown grass, as it often can. Instead, it smells murky, poisonous, and cold, like smoke drifting across a window pane. There is also lots of dusty tobacco, vetiver, and oakmoss, together creating a pleasantly stale, acrid accord like a column of ash waiting to drop off a cigarette.

The mossy bitterness has been cleverly amended, though, to prevent the fragrance from feeling too much like a punishment. It’s much richer and more complex than Cabochard. An errant red fruit note, similar to the one in DSH Parfums Piment et Chocolat and Coze, add a touch of hot, sweet plastic that spices up the ashy leather, and the tobacco seems like it might be driven by castoreum, which brings its own sweet-sour fermented raisin vibe to the table.

But best of all is the generous dose of sweet, sticky sativa bud, smelling fragrantly like a lump of greenish hash resin. Mingling with the earthy oakmoss and tobacco, it produces a fantastically tasty note that pitches a tent between freshly-roasted coffee beans and the warm, trampled grass of a music festival. I wore Coze almost exclusively in early summer one year, and now associate it with all the pleasant things one can do outdoors on a warm morning, such as loll around on parched, yellowing grass, and drink coffee in outdoor cafes. The coffee/dry grass vibe lends a warm, friendly finish to the perfume that’s surprising after its chippy start. But, interestingly, although Le Smoking starts out in bitch mode and ends up in the chill-out zone, it is never less than debonair.
17th August, 2020

Moena 12|69 by Carta

If you’ve ever been disappointed in a fragrance that’s been advertized as smelling like tea and then goes on to smell nothing like it, then put Carta Moena 12|69 on your to-test list pronto. Utilizing a little-used essential oil called moena alcanfor, which is distilled from the leaves, bark, and branches of the moena tree native to Amazonian Peru, this fragrance smells truly and honestly of tea. Specifically, it knits together the aroma of a really earthy Pu-Erh tea with the tannic, catch-in-your-throat quality of cold, slightly over-brewed black tea.

Moena 12|69 opens up with the scent of crushed greenery, but it’s the type of greenery that tends towards the dry, resinous side of the green spectrum, rather than to the fresh or juicy. It smells like a bunch of waxy leaves mashed down with dry tea leaves in a cup, before adding hot water to it. There’s an enjoyable pungency to this aroma, with hints of camphor and furniture wax adding an undertone of polished woods.

This scent feels and smells completely natural. It has that way, like many naturals-based perfumes, of communicating the essence of plants so directly that it’s difficult to remain unmoved. In fact, wearing Carta Moena 12|69 always makes me feel like I am right there in the middle of an Amazonian forest, drinking a cup of campfire-brewed tea with mates under a thick canopy of branches, the gloom punctured by slow-moving light filtering through the leaves.

Let’s talk about texture, because this is important. It might even be a deal-breaker for some people. Carta Moena 12|69 is dry, dry, dry – all earthy tea, woods, leather, tobacco. No cream or sugar anywhere in sight. It wears like the resinous crackle at the back of your throat when you drink a cup of really strong tea all at once. If you wince at the way the aftertaste sucks the moisture from your mouth, then this scent is not for you.

This smoky, husky dryness reminds me somewhat of Mona di Orio’s wonderful Bohea Bohème, the only other perfume I can think of that captures the cool, waxen-earthy side of tea to any degree of accuracy. However, Bohea Bohème has a doughy, benzoin-driven sweetness (or even creaminess) in its tail that’s completely absent here. In Carta Moena 12|69, there’s no get-out clause, no soft landing – just a gradual fading out of the strong, dry tea, leather, and tobacco notes. The drydown smells like the sizzle of damp tea leaves thrown onto a dying fire.

Gorgeous stuff, especially if you love the tough, slightly resinous scent of real tea, unsullied by any sweet or milky notes. I should mention that this is an ecologically sustainable fragrance. Only 300 bottles of Moena 12|69 were made so as not to put pressure on the supply of moena alcanfor essential oil, and the money spent on procuring the oil went straight to the indigenous farmers who grow, harvest, and distill the oil, as well as to a local eco NGO for a reforestation project in the area. It’s the rare perfume, therefore, that both does good and smells good. Buy with good conscience!
17th August, 2020

Niral by Neela Vermeire

Picture a delicately carved silver dish piled high with quivering cubes of rose milk lokhoum, barely set and opalescent. This tower of pink jellies, as wobbly-legged as a newborn giraffe, sits perched on a folded suede opera glove. In the background, a complex but translucent inter-knitting of pink pepper, fruits, roses, and white tea recalls the faded-silk grandeur of both Etro’s Etra and Rajasthan, a series of polite, sepia-toned portraits of India as seen through the rose-tinted glasses of imperialists.

It’s exquisite, but if it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Betrand Duchaufour, as much as I admire him and own many of his perfumes, has a tendency to recycle his most successful motifs. In Niral, it’s his apple-rose lokhoum suede accord debuted in Traversée du Bosphore (2010), and carried over to both La Belle Hélène (2011) and I Miss Violet (2015), adding pears and violets to the pattern respectively, that has turned up.

Not that I’m complaining. When an accord is this good, you want to experience it over and over again, no matter how minute the permutation. I will never forget smelling I Miss Violet (The Different Company) in Les Senteurs d’Aillheurs in Brussels in the autumn of 2015, when it had just come out. It caused a small paroxysm of joy when I sprayed it on – liquefied violets, green leaves, cool iris, and a liquor-like note as smooth as satin that made me want to tip my head back and pour it down my throat.

The ambrette seed in I Miss Violet smelled like a curl of Granny Smith apple peel to me, with a liquorous richness similar to the rose-ambrette combination in No. 18. Bringing up the rear was a soft leather that, texture-wise, mirrored the marshmallowy “suede lokhoum” effect in Traversée du Bosphore. I bought a bottle but quickly sold it on when I realized that owning both Traversée du Bosphore and I Miss Violet was a redundancy in my wardrobe that I could ill afford. For what it’s worth, I sold my bottle of La Belle Hélène for the same reason. These are the mistakes that a wide-eyed beginner in love makes. (I try not to feel so bad about the money wasted).

My general impression of all four fragrances – Niral, I Miss Violet, Traversée du Bosphore, and La Belle Hélène – is of delicate grey suede pillows stuffed with rose marshmallows and curls of fruit peel, dusted with a veil of powdered iris sugar, and boasting a texture as soft as a freshly-laundered plushy. Naturally, there are differences from one to the other. But, personally, I found that owning just one, Traversée du Bosphore in my case, was enough to give me my (semi-annual) fix of apple-rose lokhoum. That’s just me, though. If you can’t get enough of this gauzy, quasi-edible suede thing, then just take from this observation that if you like any one of the scents I just named, it’s likely that Niral will also send you to heaven.

As pretty as the opening is, I like the later stages of Niral even more, when an elegant, oaky cedarwood moves in, subtly taking the reins from the jellied rose lokhoum and suede. Far removed from the balsamic huskiness of most cedarwood, here the material smells as if the perfumer gathered together hundreds of slim, pale-wooded pencils, steamed them in a wicker basket, and poured the droplets of condensation off into the formula, like a traditional ruh made in a deg and bhapka.

Hints of what smells like chili pepper glances the scent with pinpricks of heat, roughing up the milkiness of the woods a little, like the rubbery milk-and-pepper thrust of Etro’s Etra. But in general, there’s a beautifully bright, watery tea-like feel to the midsection, as if the woods and spices have been washed down with cold water in sunlight. Niral doesn’t have the delicately fishy smell of raw silk, an aroma I’m inordinately fond of, but there is something pearlescent about the scent that suggests its texture.

Niral dries down to its base relatively quickly, a demure mix of that light pencil-like cedarwood, the peppery rose of Mohur, and a gently-candied magnolia note that gives up all of its creamy honey, but none of its greener, sharper nuances. I don’t really get much sandalwood here, surprisingly for a Neela Vermeire fragrance, but admittedly I haven’t tried anything from the brand since the original Mohur-Trayee-Bombay Bling-Ashoka quartet, and the focus may have since (understandably) strayed away the much-vaunted role of the Mysore sandalwood.

Ultimately, as much as I enjoy Niral, it contains too much of that Duchaufourian lokhoum suede signature for me to find it unique. I’ve no doubt that I would have sought out either a partial bottle or a decant of this early on in my perfume journey, because it is undeniably gorgeous – swoon-worthy even. But at this stage, I am trying to keep a sterner eye on my collection, making sure that I don’t keep buying the same perfume over and over again (ask me about my collection of violet fragrances, 70% of which are, I swear, the same fragrance released by five different brands).
17th August, 2020

Jardin d'Ombre by Ormonde Jayne

It’s impossible to tell from the notes list, but Jardin d’Ombre is not a rich, velvety floriental but rather a sheer and uplifting Eau de Lancôme-style medley of lime and bergamot strung out over gauzy white flowers (Hedione-assisted) and a whoosh of what feels like aldehydes. There’s a tannic ‘linen’ note in the midst of the scent’s Big Lift which makes me wonder if there was a microtrend afoot for this sort of sourish, diaphanous white floral in 2016; the way Jardin d’Ombre is set up strongly recalls the cold champagne-and-copper-pennies fizz of Superstitious (Frederic Malle), also 2016.

Truth be told, these soapy aldehyded florals with their sharp elbows and chilly demeanor – Climat, Arpège, etc. – are not really my thing; I need a bit of warmth and sweetness (Gold Woman by Amouage and Ella by Arquiste are as close as I am willing to get). But I do love the cold, aerated feel of Jardin d’ Ombre at first. It smells like a freshly-laundered bedsheet whipped by gusts of mountain air, the scent of the lemon or jasmine-scented water still clinging to the fabric. There’s also a brief but enchanting moment where it smells a bit like a freshly-opened sheaf of printing paper.

Unfortunately, the sourish, papery freshness I enjoy so much fades away within the hour, leaving in its place a sullen clutch of gummy ‘white flowers’ and an amber accord so sticky that I feel like I’ve just peeled open one of my husband’s white shirts taken wet from the machine to discover that it’s gone through the wash wrapped around one of the children’s abandoned, half-sucked lollipops (flavor undetermined). Funnily enough, the gummy white flower/amber-Ambroxan accord that Jardin d’Ombre dries down to happens to be the point from which its sister scent – Ambre Royal – starts out.
17th August, 2020

Muschio di Quercia / Oak Moss by AbdesSalaam Attar Profumo

Oakmoss (Muschio di Querchia) is one of my favorite fragrances from La Via del Profumo, and in attar format, allows me hours of pleasure, rolling around and luxuriating in its ripped-from-nature goodness. Far more a vetiver scent than an oakmoss, Oakmoss at first smells like wet leaves, upturned soil, bark, wild mint, the air after a rainstorm, and potatoes buried deep in the ashes of a campfire. It plugs me directly into a powerful current of memory: playing War with my brothers and neighborhood friends in the sprawling ditches and orchards once attached to our Famine Era home.

Slowly, the sodden smell of tree sap, mulch, and root dries out, ceding some ground (but not all) to an incensey, blond oakwood note, which is probably cedar but reminds me very much of the aromatic woodiness of Chêne (Serge Lutens) minus the booze. It smells more like split logs drying in a shed and woodsmoke than the oozing wetness of living trees.

The oakmoss has a bitter velvety softness that calls to mind the furred green carpets creeping over the roots and trunks of old oaks in some less trodden part of the forest. And while Oakmoss is far from sweet or creamy, the nuttiness of Dubrana’s famous Mysore sandalwood gives it a rounded warmth that speaks to comfort. People have called Oakmoss formal; the kind of scent to wear with a business suit. I can see that, especially in its clipped, almost monolithic elegance. However, the attar is earthier, more sepulchral, and darker-green than the EDT, and reminds me a bit of the way Djedi (Guerlain) and Onda (Vero Profumo) make me feel. Worth saving up for.
24th June, 2020 (last edited: 26th June, 2020)
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Au Delà Narcisse by Bruno Fazzolari

Au Dela Narcisse deserves the kind of “classic green floral” status as Chanel No. 19 or Guerlain’s Chamade. Revolving around a honeyed, animalic narcissus and a dulcet jasmine, Au Dela has a brisk modern feel, but none of the clipped formality of either the Chanel or the Guerlain. The opening moments – a clustering of green notes that manage to be simultaneously crisp and nectarous – are truly riveting, and though the jasmine that follows is a hair too honeyed for my taste, the overall impression is of a green floral chypre, a feat that’s none too easy to accomplish in an oakmoss-limited era.

What I appreciate most about Au Dela Narcisse is that it is the rare green floral that doesn’t feel ramrod stiff. It has a sexy, tousled feel to it, as if Chamade had rolled around with a lover on a bed of wild, honeyed narcissi for hours and is now pleasantly drowsy.

24th June, 2020

Mown by Hendley Perfumes

I like Hans Hendley perfumes because they are artistic without being pretentious or inaccessible to a more general public taste. I would describe his style as Slumberhouse-esque, inspired by rugged, outdoorsy smells such as “pine, cedar, oak, forest floor, daffodil flowers (narcissus), honeysuckle, sage, tomato leaf, fresh bread, sawdust, smoke and the secretly amazing smell of gasoline” but much lighter than Slumberhouse and with a use of “radiant” woody-ambery basenotes.

Mown encapsulates both facets of the Hans Hendley style well. It features a damp, nutty hay accord interspersed with the dried fruit and bitter cocoa notes of curing tobacco, with a result that is syrupy, rich, and almost edible. However, layered over a radiant woody amber that smells like shards of wood impregnated with resin, smeared with honey, and left outside in the sun to dry, there is enough “burnt” in the scent’s structure to keep it buoyant. Powdery orris helps tilt the scent towards the dry, bitter “grassy” aspects of the harvest line. There’s even a toasted note in there that calls to mind cereals laid out on hay to dry out in the sun.

Before the woody amber sets itself on fire in the base, we have time for a whistle-stop tour of the tobacco curing shed. The dried fruit richness of the start mimics the chocolatey dampness of un-cured tobacco leaves, which smell like they’ve been dipped in fruitcake soaking liquor, before becoming green and waxy, similar to the smell of beeswax absolute. But as the scent dries out, so too do the sheaves of tobacco, honeycomb transitioning into the crackling nuttiness of 100% cured tobacco leaf, red-gold at the edges and barely sweet. The base is what marks Mown out as related to other powerfully dry, woody perfumes such as Woodcut by Olympic Orchids, Eau My Soul by 4160 Tuesdays, and Hendley’s own Bourbon. At $28 for a 9ml travel spray, Mown has to be one of the best deals on the market if you love the earthy smells of the harvest.

24th June, 2020

Silphium by Stora Skuggan

Silphium demonstrates the endearingly nerdy interest of some artisans in repurposing old materials and traditions for modern ends; Antonio Gardoni, perfumer of Bogue, created Maai, for example, when he discovered a stash of barrels of vintage raw materials in a disused warehouse. In the case of Silphium, Stora Skuggan wanted to create the scent of Silphium, an ancient plant native to modern-day Libya that was used for medicinal purposes in Ancient Greece. Pedanius Dioscorides, in 70 BC, described Silphium as having a “very healthy aroma”, and it’s possible that it was used as a contraceptive or even an aid to abortion.

The perfumers, probably working off the information that Silphium may have been related to fennel or asafetida, built an accord that smells like an ancient salve made from sweeping armfuls of culinary herbs and spices off the rack. But whatever medicinal pungency might have resulted from this is mitigated by the cheerful zing of freshly-grated ginger root, which sluices the dense herbal canopy with heat and sunshine. Indeed, layered with a fizzing incense note, Silphium smells more like a good mood than the inside of Hippocrates’ medicine chest, and that’s a good thing.

The clove and black pepper accents rev up the spicy and metallic aspects of the Silphium accord, making it feel half-clean, half-sweaty. Crucially, there’s no amber or vanilla to blunt the spice, so things never get maudlin. It does, however, smell incredibly soapy in a happy, effervescent way. Although Silphium doesn’t really remind me of any other perfume, I’m confident that anyone who loves the sooty, airy incense in Timbuktu (L’Artisan Parfumeur), the clovey resins of Eau Lente (Diptyque), and the luxurious soapiness of Castile (Penhaligon’s) would also love this scent.
24th June, 2020

Cocoa Tuberose by Providence Perfume Co.

Chocolate, like coffee, is one of those things that smells amazing in real life and borderline disgusting in perfume. Overly burnt, harsh, syrupy – these are all charges laid at the door of coffee and chocolate perfumes, be they natural or mixed media. But Cocoa Tuberose is very clever; it hints at the topnotes of dark chocolate (brandy, dried plum, red earth, dust) without ever tipping into the faintly metallic, period blood-like animalism that lurks beneath, or worse, adding cream and sugar to bloat it up and dumb it down.

I put this down to the surprisingly subtle influence of the tuberose, which shows up only as a faintly rubbery, vegetal note that throws a net over the chocolate and controls it. Hints of dry tobacco add a sexy, rugged accent very much like the animalic tobacco-chocolate-black tea triad in Sammarco’s Bond-T. The overall effect is of a dark, dusty richness born not of flowers and chocolate, but of cardboard, solvent, old houses, and libraries.

Sexy and evocative, Cocoa Tuberose is a rare natural perfume that transcends the limits of its constituent materials. It won’t hit you over the head with either cocoa or tuberose, but instead explores what those things feel like in a wider, more perfumey context. For people who prefer less “on-the-nose” florals like Le Labo Iris 39, this is a must-try. know, it's been discontinued. Damn.
24th June, 2020

Battaniye by Pekji

Amber fragrances are a sort of rite of passage in the first few years of one’s fragrance journey; they are un-challenging, simple in structure, and offer the kind of dopey sweetness that’s hard to pass up on when you’re in need of warmth. But what makes ambers so attractive is also what limits them. One you’ve amassed two or three of the amber stalwarts, it’s hard to find a variation that innovates or improves on the basic model to the point where you’d be happy shelling out for another.

Battaniye is that rare amber that does something new with an old idea. Meaning blanket in Turkish, Battaniye was made to evoke the feeling of restfulness and comfort of having an old wool blanket pulled over your lap, while you watch the rain bucket down outside. Omer Pekji took his inspiration from a stormy evening in Trabzon, in his native Turkey, a town on the Silk Road that served as the gateway to Persia.

The scent opens on a remarkable note of burned coffee grounds, before smoothing out into a dry, whiskeyish amber that reads more like fabric – leather, sheep’s wool, hessian – than resin. In fact, it does rather smell like an old afghan or perhaps a man’s battered leather jacket, something that you absentmindedly pull onto your bare knees and then spend the rest of the evening inhaling the rich humanity of smells bound up in its fibers.

Battaniye achieves a textured, layered feeling of warmth without ever spiraling into gooey sweetness, or at the other end of the scale, the sort of parched dryness that wears on the spirit. It’s a masculine scent, and slightly animalic in parts, a core of medicinal Peau d’Espagne-style leather hiding out in layers of wool, resin, and cool, wet earth. Once the TCP-like nuances of the leather burn off, the patchouli really piles into the scent in a big way, reminding me of the evocative smell of rain on soil. This is a scent that just gets better and better as it ages on the skin.

It’s hard to do something with amber that a) diverges from the basic model of sweet, resinous warmth, and b) doesn’t in any way call to mind the spice-rack ambers of the Middle East. Battaniye shuffles the spirit of oily, macho Peau d’Espagne-style leathers into an ever-shifting deck of resin, wool, and earth, for a result that both comforts and pulls on an emotional string.

24th June, 2020

New Sibet by Slumberhouse

Slumberhouse fragrances are fetishized in certain parts of the community, so hardly needs no talking up by little old me. But for people who didn’t jive with the original aesthetic of Slumberhouse – dense, syrupy New Gothic Americana – and thus allowed their interest to drift away from the house, might be brought back into the fold by New Sibet, a scent that marks a stylistic departure for Josh Lobb and the house.

Underneath the otherworldly chill of orris meeting the gamey funk of leather, New Sibet has a classical bone structure. The gears shift midway through its trajectory, transitioning so soundlessly from Slumberhouse weirdness to a Caronesque leathery carnation that it unnerves the wearer. The dusty coldness that permeates from head to toe gilds the scent with a silvery edge that feels like breathing in dry ice.

New Sibet is unusual in that it exhibits almost human intelligence; sometimes it is a cool-toned, ashy leather, other times it seems rather ripe, buttery, and pungent, and occasionally, it smells resolutely classical, like a beguiling mash-up of Tabac Blond and L’Air du Temps. It’s gloriously weird, borderline unwearable, and absolutely beautiful.
24th June, 2020

Ray of Light by April Aromatics

Perhaps the greatest test for any natural perfumer is how they handle The Great Citrus Problem. Citrus notes are short-lived molecules of pure joy, and it is the task of every perfumer to come up with new solutions to make them last beyond 5 minutes. Companies with a broad palette of mixed media materials (both naturals and synthetics) can extend the citrus through layering it over coumarin or oakmoss-replacing materials; see Azemour Les Orangers (Parfum d’Empire) as perhaps the best example of this on the niche side.

On the natural end of things, Ray of Light is probably the best I’ve personally encountered. The yuzu-like grapefruit topnote is so riveting that you’ll drop whatever you’re doing just to focus on it. How is this incredible note extended? The best I can tell, it’s done through using mint to bridge it to a slightly bitter, resinous galbanum or hay-like accord in the base. There’s also a candied edge to it reminiscent of the lemon-and-lime flavored chews of my childhood.

24th June, 2020

First Cut by St Clair Scents

First Cut is by far my favorite of the first round of Diane St. Clair releases. Its contrast between prickly aromatics (citrus, lemon verbena, tomato leaf) and the buff creaminess of hay reminded me at first of Jicky, especially in its famous clash of cymbals at the start, citrus and lavender stirred into dirty vanilla, but First Cut is not at all animalic. The dulcet almond tones of the tonka deepen, sweetening and thickening the scent, but the crisp aromatics persist throughout; fans of both Tonka Impériale (Guerlain) and Cologne Blanche (Dior) will appreciate the prickle of rosemary against the smooth expanse of hay here.

Although never strictly gourmand, there’s a whipped egg white delicacy of texture to First Cut that recalls the sensation of biting into the soft almond center of pasticche di mandorle, dusted with powdered sugar and aromatized with a drop of Sicilian lemon oil.

Hay fragrances can often stray too far into syrupy richness (Chergui) or sugared grass (Fieno), but First Cut gets the balance just right. It takes me a while, and multiple wears, to realize that the success of the scent lies in the same equation Etat Libre d’Orange figured out for its Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes, which is to say pitched perfectly between sweet and sour, pungent and creamy, hot and cold, like the best South East Asian meal you’ve ever had.
24th June, 2020

Mardi Gras by Olympic Orchids

Mardi Gras is what I’d call a sexy-but-weird perfume. It’s a floral for Goths and non-conformists. A quick read of the notes – vanilla, orange blossom, honey, civet, and benzoin – might make you think that this is going to be standard floral fare, but it’s anything but. Rather than go the usual soapy and sugared route with orange blossom, Mardi Gras smears a fistful of withered, leathery flower petals over the dusty flagstones of a temple, allowing them to evaporate into the heat like spores off rotting fruit.

Anybody in love with the smell of aging wood, paper, and flagstone in ancient churches or castles will experience a thrill of recognition here; at times, the perfume seems resolutely un-floral, with a mustiness so deep it’s capable of blocking out the orange blossom. At other times, powder puffs of honeyed civet poke through the orange blossom, turning it into a bathtub gin version of Bal à Versailles. Central to its character, I suspect, is benzoin, responsible for the spicy, medicated foot powder texture that makes it so unusual.

If you’re in the market for a come-hither scent that’s sexy in a slightly gritty, bohemian-messy way, then roll the dice on Mardi Gras. It’s the kind of fragrance that’s flashes its boobs at you whether you throw a necklace or not.

24th June, 2020

Adameku by Di Ser

Adameku is a very Japanese – and endearingly odd – take on osmanthus, the small flowering tree or shrub native to Eastern Asia but traditionally associated with Japan and China.

While most osmanthus-forward compositions focus on the leathery aspects of the flower (a by-product of fermentation caused by a long pre-distillation soak in water), the Di Ser take focuses on the translucent, fruity-jellied texture of the small petals themselves when sniffed fresh from the tree. This gives Adameku a bright, uplifting character similar to Diptyque’s Oyedo, but there’s a softly dirty, almost sour note in the background creating a chiaroscuro effect – cubes of delicate fruit jelly strewn across soil. If you’re an osmanthus fan and are looking for a fresh take, then Adameku’s half-Hello Kitty, half-Japanese botanical garden deserves to be on your radar.

Also, in a sector almost offensively prone to cultural appropriation, it’s thrilling to smell something so authentically Japanese. When you smell the Di Ser perfumes, you are granted a direct window view into Japanese culture rather than someone else’s interpretation of that culture, and that feels like a privilege.
24th June, 2020

Kyara by Di Ser

Di Ser’s Kyara is an exquisite natural oud fragrance that features genuine oil distilled from kyara, the highest grade of agarwood in the world, considered only to be kyara when it comes from wild, densely-resinated Vietnamese agarwood of at least 80 years in age. Because of its rarity, kyara is never used to distill oud oil. Until Di Ser decided to do it, that is. Di Ser is in the unusual position of having access, through its mother organization, a Japanese research facility in Sapporo, on Hokkaido Island, to a wide variety of rare botanicals, woods, and resins collected for research purposes. Most pieces of kyara are collector’s pieces, kept in private vaults across Japan and China: Di Ser’s mother organization happened to have one.

It’s genuinely nuts that the brand decided to distill kyara and equally nuts to put it into a fragrance, but there you go – the essence of artisanship is taking the kind of anti-commercial risks that just wouldn’t fly in the mainstream. Its price – $1,150 for 33ml of extrait, $25 for a 0.5ml sample – reflects the kind of madness that using genuine kyara entails.

The scent itself smells amazing. It captures the elusive aroma of kyara when heated gently on a burner, which is an ethereal, almost silvery-jade smell encompassing arboreal sap, conifers, and an aromatic note that, to my nose, bridges the fiery heat of freshly-grated ginger root and the dull warmth of powdered ginger. I smelled both the pure kyara oil from whence the fragrance was built, and the fragrance itself; the finished fragrance has a rose note that suffuses the taut coniferous notes with lush sweetness. If you have loads of money and absolutely no sense, then at least sample Kyara to find out just how delicate (and non-animalic) oud oil can be.
24th June, 2020

Kazimi by House of Matriarch

Kazimi, like Nahema (Guerlain) and Rose 31 (Le Labo), is one of those perfumes that boasts impressive quantities of rose oil and yet smells very little of rose, leaning instead on the sharp, peppery radiance of ambergris, ginger, and woods to broadcast an aura of danger, like the crackle of static between lightning strikes. The scent opens with a dry, ammoniac smell, with a hint of that brutish tar-and-fuel dirtiness that natural ambergris sometimes exudes, like oil rising to the surface of a plastics fire under the surface of the sea. Kazimi is a 100% natural fragrance, but interestingly, has something of the chemical buzz I associate with Rose 31.

Kazimi smells wild and a bit unhinged – every time I wear it, I think of the island that Pi in The Life of Pi lands on with the tiger, Richard Parker, which at night turns from a lush paradise into a carnivore that dissolves human flesh in its acid pools. There’s something verdantly poisonous about Kazimi, with its barely-there rose that snaps and fizzes, eating into your flesh. It smells of thickets of pine blown sideways and crippled by strong ocean winds, crusted over with salt. Kazimi is an important achievement in natural perfumery because it highlights the most stirring parts of ambergris but still feels like a proper perfume rather than a tincture.

Downsides? Price, for sure. At $330 for 50ml, it’s hard to make the case for buying this. But the ambergris and other materials used in Kazimi are 100% natural, and therefore expensive to obtain. This and the fact that House of Matriarch runs regular sales take the sting out of the price tag somewhat. For me, Kazimi is worth the investment: an essay on the strange, transformative brutality of natural ambergris, it twists a rose into a new shape that’s both ugly and beautiful.
24th June, 2020

Remember Me by Jovoy

Jovoy Remember Me is one of, if not the best chai scents I’ve ever smelled. I think it works because its perfumer, Cécile Zarokian, has attained a perfect balance between lush, spiced milkiness and bitter, inedible things like citrus rind, rubber, and suede.

When I make chai, which is similar to Karak, the popular drink in Qatar that directly inspired Cécile to make this scent, minus the condensed milk, I sometimes chop small mint leaves to go into the pan with the ginger, black pepper, and cardamom – the premise being that if the pepper burns my tongue, the mint will put out the fire. A filament of something similarly fresh in Remember Me holds the steamy milkiness of the chai in check. In Remember Me, this tart greenery comes from the peppery-lemony cardamom and bergamot rind. The total effect is of something hot meeting something cooling, like when you first stir the milk into the pan of boiling tea, cloves, and ginger.

Milkiness is a risky thing in perfumery. Too much and it teeters precariously on the edge between creamy and stale, like butter left out on the counter overnight. To date, the only milky scents I’ve liked are ones where (i) the milkiness is a by-product of another material like sandalwood, fig, or rice, or (ii) the milky note has been countered by something bitter or brusque, like smoke, wood, or rubber. Fragrances belonging to the first group would include Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s), Sandalo (Etro), and Philosykos (Diptyque), and fragrances belonging to the second would include Palo Santo (Carner Barcelona) and Leder 6 (J.F. Schwarzlose).

Remember Me belongs to the second group, in that its milk note is deliberately placed there (rather than a by-product of another material) and is effectively counterparted by a rubber-suede note and a leisurely woody drydown. This peach eraser note is actually frangipani, recognizable to anyone who owns or wears Ormonde Jayne’s Frangipani, which uses a similar, if not identical, frangipani material. The frangipani is refreshingly un-sweet and un-floral, in other words. Picture the rubbery peach tea of Frangipani by Ormonde Jayne morphing slowly into the rich condensed milk leather of Leder 6, and that’s Remember Me.

The tug between milky and spicy-hot in Remember Me eventually reminds me of another delightful scent, and one that’s widely available in department stores: Noir Extreme by Tom Ford. Although Remember Me is far more tightly focused, both scents share a ‘scoop of vanilla ice-cream in Mexican Coca-Cola’ vibe (similar to Chanel Egoiste and Roja Dove Enigma, where the combination of tobacco, spices, and a boozy, creamy element like sandalwood or vanilla creates a Coca Cola note). There’s a point in Noir Extreme where the kulfi note runs too close to the sickliness of condensed milk for comfort, so it’s something I could get tired of very easily. But Remember Me steers clear of this pitfall, its rubbery suede and woody notes working overtime to course-correct the milkiness.

Remember Me is a mostly linear affair, which is great if you like the central accord (as I do) and probably torture if you don’t. In other words, test first. It is also incredibly rich and potent, lasting a good 10 hours before showing signs of fading, so it would work superbly as a scent for when you know you are going to be out all day, in crisp, cold weather, and you’re the type of person who loves burying their nose in a scarf or jumper to get a sustaining whiff every now and then.

I can see Remember Me working well for anyone, including men, who like those big, complicated semi-gourmand fragrances that are popular these days, like El Born by Carner Barcelona. But if you’re like me and have a special fetish for chai, then you need to seek this out pronto. It is richer and stronger than Omnia (Bvlgari), more natural-smelling than Paithani (Penhaligon’s), and not as challenging as Chai (Baruti).
24th June, 2020

Vetiverissimo by Fzotic

Vetiverissimo by Bruno Fazzolari is a perfume sample that came to me with absolutely no background, no concept, and no notes. Apparently, Fazzolari just wanted to see if he could create a nice vetiver perfume for himself to wear. That’s really cool, and I imagine that Bruno Fazzolari is laid back enough as an artist and perfumer to just let his work speak for itself.

As it turns out, when I smelled Vetiverissimo, I got some references that helped me to ‘define’ what Vetiverissimo is. For example, even before I knew what the official notes were, I was able to say that it smelled very Indian to me, full of those yellow, dusty Indian spices like saffron and turmeric that smell more like the earth than of fire. In fact, the perfume smelled very much like the mitti attars (and some ruh khus) that I have collected in the course of writing my Attar Guide (which will be published posthumously, at this rate).

I’ve seen some initial feedback suggesting that people think Vetiverissimo is very simple and straightforward, an impression also given by Fazzolari himself. Other say it smells like Route du Vetiver, a very butch, rooty vetiver that smells like man sweat to me. For what it’s worth, I think it’s got more going on than its laid back, zero-concept brand note would suggest. It’s a subtly-spiced, turmeric-laden vetiver that smells like the red earth of India before the rains begin, given a pale, cloudy woodiness by a superb sandalwood. Simple, yes, but in the nuanced way sandalwood or mitti oils are, with their series of little movements plotted along a line as opposed to the dramatic, balletic leaps of stormy oud oils, or the rutting rudeness of jasmine.
24th June, 2020

But Not Today by Unum

But Not Today by UNUM is, as you’d expect from Filippo Sorcinelli, pretty much all high concept. The man can’t launch a perfume without immersing his audience in a full body experience involving dimmed lights, a concert, an art installation, and a little light whipping/bondage (I’m joking about the last part. I think). Usually, in copywriting, my experience has been the higher-fallutin’ the concept, the emptier the perfume experience, but I’ll give UNUM this: they follow through.

The inspiration for But Not Today is surprisingly pop culture in origin: The Silence of the Lambs movie. I am a huge Hannibal Lecter fan, and especially of the newer Hannibal series on NBC featuring my secret husband, Mads Mikkelsen, so to say I was hooked on the premise well in advance of smelling it is an understatement. Anything Hannibal-related is rich in olfactory and culinary references, an untrammeled joy for fragrance aficionados. There are numerous references to perfume in Hannibal (Jar, for example), but the direct inspiration for But Not Today comes from a pivotal scene in The Silence of the Lambs, when Hannibal is demonstrating his preternatural powers of observation to Clarice Starling in their first meeting. He smells the air around her and tells her, in that sibilant, sinister softness of voice, “You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”.

But Not Today smells startling. It is wholly original, and therefore difficult to describe. You end up mashing together two separate narratives: it smells metallic and bloody (because Hannibal) but also spicy and carnationy (because L’Air du Temps). Yet I’m not sure it captures the entire scope of the perfume.

But Not Today doesn’t smell entirely pleasant. Imagine, if you will, Hannibal marinating steaks taken from the inner thigh of one of his victims in pepper, bay leaf, oregano, and a range of exotic, dried esoterica from his spice rack. The kitchen is ripe with the milky-meaty decay of lilies, but there is also the unmistakably metallic, watery scent of blood running off the steak as the spices in the marinade wick moisture to the surface. You can smell the hot metal of the carving knife, the cheesy taint of indolic flowers, raw meat, and blood, but also, strangely, a waft of savory fruit, like kumquats preserved in salt. Someone like Hannibal would have preserved kumquats in his kitchen. It is a strange smell, both intensely perfumey and intensely not – more working kitchen than perfume.

But Not Today evolves into a castoreum leather that mines the same dusty-wet thematic vein as Vierges et Toreros by Etat Libre d’Orange. Vierges et Toreros is one of those rare perfumes that give me a clear vision of a scene every time I smell it. The second I inhale, I am a gladiator in Rome, slain by a sudden jab of the sword to my side, and as I breathe my last breath into the red-brown dust, I am intensely aware of the smells around me: my own blood – warm and metallic – the dust, the cracked leather hide of my scabbard, sweat, and the sickly sweetness of white flowers on the turn. Truly an unpleasant, jolting experience. But imaginative. Original.

Carnation does much to boost the dustiness quotient of any perfume, but joining it to the overblown, green wetness of lily pushes the stomach-churning to the next level. In the drydown of But Not Today, the castoreum additionally throws in a tobacco-ish or chocolate tonality that highlights the soft, dusty matte texture of the leather. I’m not sure what’s creating the very strong scent of aromatic soap, though. Maybe it’s Hannibal himself, his freshly-shaven face suddenly too close for comfort, or the lingering whiff of Will’s Old Spice.

I wouldn’t wear But Not Today any more than I’d wear Vierges et Toreros. But I admit that it is a thoroughly unusual, artistic fragrance that pushes the boat out even further than the lines suggested by the concept itself. This is a good example of a perfume, therefore, that over-delivers on a concept.
24th June, 2020

I Am Trash : Les Fleurs du Déchet by Etat Libre d'Orange

Even before I received a sample of this, I loved the concept of the perfume - an entreaty to our better selves to find the beauty in the stuff we usually throw away or regard as waste. The scent ‘upcycles’ waste materials left over from the process of making a perfume; wood pulp, orange peel, and so on. It made sense to me that Givaudan, the Swiss flavor and aroma giant, would be involved, since the company has all the waste materials required. Ogilvy, one of the world’s biggest advertizing brands, was also on board, producing (I presume) the visually stunning video that accompanied the PR launch of the perfume.

Really, nothing in the marketing campaign for I Am Trash can be faulted: the video is compulsively watchable, with its rotting fruits and imploding vegetables, and the brand copy is peppered with gems such as this plea from Etienne de Swardt “So before it’s too late, let us (s)pray to the god of waste, our dear lord of leftovers”. Ha! He sounds like he might have kids.

It’s just that, how can I put this delicately, well, the perfume itself is nowhere near as interesting as its premise. The edgy reputation of Etat Libre d’Orange, the video, the brand copy – they all set you up for an experience that just ain’t delivered. I Am Trash smells exactly like those strawberry and apple-scented animal soaps The Body Shop used to sell in the 1980’s and 1990’s, stretched over a soapy Iso E Super base. And that’s all, folks. Nothing more to see here. The perfect fruity floral, perhaps, for the Tinder generation, entirely used to not getting exactly what’s been advertized.
24th June, 2020

Lost in Heaven by Francesca Bianchi

I can never tell if Lost in Heaven is a civety floral or a floral civet. There’s a brocaded sourness of honey, pale ale, and resin in the far drydown that gives it something to rest against. But mostly this is a bunch of dollhead-sweet flowers blown out into a diffuse cloud of satiny musks and underlined with something very, very unclean – like leaning in to kiss and girl and catching a suggestion of unwashed pillowcases, scalp, and skin that’s already been licked.

At first, Lost in Heaven reminds me very much of other vaguely retro indie floral civets (or civety florals), especially Maria Candida Gentile’s irisy Burlesque – a mini of which I bought for myself as a birthday present and am rapidly burning through – and Mardi Gras by Olympic Orchids. Then it strikes me that it’s not only the civet (or technically, the ambergris in the case of Lost in Heaven) that’s linking all these scents in my mind, but a certain indie treatment of the iris, or orris, that they all share. I’ve smelled it in Andy Tauer’s iris-centric work too, most notably in Lonesome Rider and his more recent Les Années 25, and it runs like a hot streak through Francesca Bianchi’s work.

The only way I can describe this specifically indie orris treatment is this: take a huge mineral-crusted rock from the beach, wipe it down quickly with a lemony disinfectant, stick it in a clear glass kiln and turn up the heat to 1370 degrees C until it vaporizes, filling the closed-in space with a glittering miasma of acid, mica, and lime-like tartness. I have a suspicion that a matchstick’s worth of Ambrox or Cetalox is the fuse that ignites the orris here, with castoreum creating that dusty, soot-like dryness that approaching freshly tanned leather or suede.

The end result is a rather sour and acid-tinged iris that smells like you’re smelling the material diffused in the air after a lab explosion rather than from anything growing in nature. Actually, to be fair – I’ve smelled this ‘hot lava stone’ treatment of orris in landmark Guerlains too, most notably in Attrape-Coeur (one of my all-time favorite scents), which layers a dollop of peach and raspberry jam over a bed of these hissing-hot iris rocks and watches for the chemical reaction. Fridge-cold jam against hot minerals, with a side of sweet, rubbery dollhead, all blown out into sour, almost boozy mist – well, what’s not to like, really?
24th June, 2020