Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Brooks Otterlake

Total Reviews: 258

Italian Cypress by Tom Ford

A case of a fragrance unicorn actually being worth the hype (some of it, anyway), this is a gorgeous Z-14 riff that takes that DNA in a dark, smoky, woody direction. (Floris 1962 takes the same DNA but goes more citric/green.) The result is more spellbinding and fascinating, if less wearable, than the Halston original, and surely ranks among the best of the everything-old-is-new-again powerhouse revival fragrances to be released by a luxe-niche house as a statement-making object d'art.

In a way, the smoky, spicy darkness and the powerhouse overtone makes this a Noir Anthracite predecessor, though it has nothing of Noir Anthracite's biomechanical tone.
13th July, 2021

Noir Exquis by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Noir Exquis was released the same year PDM Carlisle, TF Noir Extreme, V&R Spicebomb Extreme, Maison Margiela By The Fireplace, and many others in this smoky gourmand style, and Noir Exquis very much feels like it belongs in that family.

I'm inclined to mark this the best of that particular pack by virtue of compositional refinememt and raw quality; there's an appealing smokiness to this chestnut-tonka creation that avoids the aromachemical harshness of some of the others listed here.
12th July, 2021

Un Bois Vanille by Serge Lutens

A coconut-infused, sugary, caramel vanilla with a salty-waxy undertone providing some contrast (the waxiness also imbues it with a "scented candle" aura).

This serves as a higher-end alternative to a Bath & Body Works "cake frosting" style of fragrance with a good dash of niche-y "weirdness" thanks to an animalic, acrid undercurrent that emerges primarily in the opening and then afterwards only upon close inspection.

More of a curiosity than a revelation, but also a good example of a perfumer smuggling some decidedly off-kilter elements into a fragrance that might otherwise feel very mass-market.
10th July, 2021
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Ummagumma by Bruno Fazzolari

Opens with a short-lived blast of "Christmas candle" that suggests a spiced gourmand, but really this settles into a woody, sticky blend of tobacco and incense. Gorgeous stuff, really.
06th July, 2021

Beau de Jour by Tom Ford

A well-made retro-fougere that hearkens back to 70s/80s fougere styles (as opposed to the more "classical" styles of the early twentieth century fougeres), but with the mossy/ashy skank dialed back to accommodate present-day tastes.

It's a great option for the market as it stands today, though is likely to be less novel to those who have extensively sampled or collected fougeres from the eras to which it tips its hat.
25th June, 2021

Vetiver pour Homme Cologne by Roja Dove

The opening is nice, the drydown is harsh. With the vast number of vetiver scents in the world, it's impossible to recommend this one as the one to get.
22nd June, 2021

Dark Rebel by John Varvatos

Dark Rebel is definitely a frontloaded experience, but the initial two hours or so are an absolutely lovely blend of smoky tobacco, motorcycle jacket leather, and sticky booziness. That booziness is all that survives into the drydown, alas, but at least it's pleasant.
17th June, 2021

Vintage by John Varvatos

A Drakkar Noir throwback with a touch of 90s fruitiness (the tobacco-y drydown recalls the likes of Remy Latour Cigar), this is a smart, sharp composition for folks who miss the 1980s but aren't prepared to hunt for vintage bottles.

It's well-blended with a nice dose of dark, piney stickiness, but does suffer the fate of most genre pastiche pieces: it feels a touch anonymous.
10th June, 2021

Bottega Veneta pour Homme Extrême by Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta pour Homme Extréme sits at a halfway point between Tom Ford Plum Japonais (2013) and House of Matriarch Blackbird/Black No. 1 (2012) and is inferior to neither of them.

There's a prominant plummy fruitiness to BV Extréme that isn't disclosed in the note pyramid, which gives way to a sappy pine-infused leather. The leather is the soft, luxurious, cozy type, and it gives this a distinctly unisex quality.

Projection is modest but longevity is good, in keeping with the tasteful aesthetic of the fragrance.
09th June, 2021

Teatro Olfattivo di Parma : Bell'Antonio by Hilde Soliani Profumi

There are grassy tones here, but it's mostly roasted coffee and cigarettes with a touch of sweetness. Artful and delicate.
05th June, 2021

Bourbon Eau de Cologne by Hendley Perfumes

Sharp citrus provides an uplifting opening (very much in the EDC style) to a blend of spices, vanilla, and musky amber that verges on dirty but never quite tips over into that territory. Polished and compelling.
03rd June, 2021

Elements of Man : Passion by Ermenegildo Zegna

Ah, Passion is splendid, and it's a shame that Zegna didn't deem it worthy of becoming a staple of their lineup.

It's a luxurious, but altogether wearable, blend of boozy accords and incense, effectively serving as a "luxury" alternative to Bentley for Men Intense (and one that is superior in every respect).

Incense addicts fond of some of the more opulent or edgy takes on incense that have permeated the niche market, but speaking as someone who finds incense accords challenging, this hits a "sweet spot" between quality and wearability.
27th May, 2021

Royal Oud by Creed

Creed is essentially a "dad cologne" house (and I say that not as a pejorative, but just an acknowledgment that the Creed lineup is fairly conservative in its style), and Royal Oud is no exception. This feels like a modern scent for the person who remembers what it was like when oakmoss was around. No oakmoss here, but the ambient, fuzzy greenness of Royal Oud feels like it's taking a path to a neighboring destination.

This spicy, green take on cedar (no oud in sight) wears lightly but wears well: an everyday cologne for a man of means whose tastes don't lineup with niche/luxury "statement" fragrances. Its effortlessness makes it my favorite of the Creed lineup from the last fifteen years. It's rich, but it's also linear and restrained, with the only development here being a shift from spiciness to a richer, deeper register, with a light, coumarin-style sweetness lingering in the base. The cedar here isn't a "pencil" cedar, but a satisfying "tree" cedar, bark and all.

Like any Creed, it's impossible to recommend at retail, but it's nevertheless a good one that feels destined to age well due to its limited market influence and its avoidance of cliches.
25th May, 2021
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Tihota by Indult

It's a nice vanilla with a dark, rich heart and a woody base. There's not much else to say about it.

Where this leaves me cold is pricepoint. I did a blind comparison between it and two downmarket competitors in the same vein--Cologne of the Missions and Mercedes-Benz Club Black--and I was unable to distinguish any meaningful distinction in raw quality between the three. (On a compositional level, the Mercedes-Benz was actually my favorite of the set by virtue of being a touch more aromatic in its design.)
22nd May, 2021

Plum Japonais by Tom Ford

Maybe the closest Tom Ford has come to making a Sheldrake-authored Serge Lutens fragrance. Dense, dark, syrupy, and sweet.

There's welcome complexity to this on paper, but on my skin it's all candied, fruity sweetness.
13th May, 2021

Sandor 70’s by Carner Barcelona

Rodrigo Flores-Roux has delivered something brilliant in Sandor 70's, a robust, rich, dynamic take on tobacco and leather.

The official ad copy breaks this down as three core accords, each built from different components:

SUEDE ACCORD - Italian Bergamot, Vintage Jasmin Absolute, Chinese Osmanthus Absolute, Bulgarian Rose Essence

TOBACCO ACCORD - Clary Sage Absolute, Virginian Cedar Wood, Peru Balsam, Mexican Vanilla Extract

SPANISH LEATHER ACCORD - Patchouli Essence, Vetyver Essence, Ethiopian Frankincense Extract, Oakmoss Absolute

I don't find that breakdown misleading. It all seems to be there.

The start of Sandor 70's is pungent and bracing, evoking a a horse stable by way of a luxurious cocktail bar: rough, animalic leather and a thick, hay-like tobacco buttressed by cedar. The florals and balsam provide support, creating a soft, suede impression. As the opening develops, the horse stable feeling scales back a bit and things begin to feel softer and more enveloping.

There's a golden, boozy undertone coming from the blend of frankincense and Mexican vanilla, but this isn't gourmand. There's a warmth here but it's a background glow rather than a dominant impression.

Now, take note, this is a fairly dense, complex blend and will shapeshift a bit based on context, sometimes feeling more green and floral (shades of classic floral masculine releases from the first half of the 20th century) and other times feeling richer and earthier. The leather accord that provides the backbone here gives it some heft.
11th May, 2021

Havana Cologne by Geo F Trumper

A more floral, green, breezy take on Spicebomb DNA by way of Soleil Blanc.

Grapefruit and pink pepper gives it a fresh, uplifting start before the creamy floral notes creep in with the subtle, doughy vanilla. The vetiver adds a cooling, green touch to the base. There's a sunscreen effect somewhere in here (though no real coconut).

It's nice, but not thrilling. This Havana lacks the panache and presence of Trumper's more famous releases.
10th May, 2021

Memory Motel by Une Nuit Nomade

I agree with Dane's review. This is Menardo's Patchouli 24 sequel with a fantasy tobacco touch: dark, smoky, creamy, and woody. There's a clear green and smoky Darjeeling note here unlisted in the pyramid.

Pricing is a bit steep for what it delivers (as it is for Le Labo), but Menardo has done good work here and deserves acclaim.
06th May, 2021

Cuir Cuba Intense by Nicolaï

This is essentially a masterful version of barbershoppy herbal-floral that could pair beautifully with a linen suit and a cigar: not necessarily "Cuba in a bottle," but a scent that would nevertheless be a true pleasure to wear in Cuba.

The heavy licorice here is the best version of the note I've encountered in a fragrance, making this a nice tribute to the memory of Hemingway (shades of the "Death in the Afternoon" cocktail). In the base is a hay-leather fantasy tobacco note, rich and satisfying.
06th May, 2021

Black by Bulgari

It's amusing that this was ever seen as radical, but early reviews treat Bvlgari Black as downright edgy.

What it is is a sophisticated but modest rubbery, smoky, floral vanilla (with more artful blending in older bottles, but it never became unrecognizable). I find it comforting.
06th May, 2021

Oro 1920 by Bois 1920

Another entry in the well-trod "suederal-rasberry" category, Oro 1920 distinguishes itself through its canny use of beeswax to buttress that leather accord, giving the fragrance a woody creaminess to compliment the leather. There are hints of tobacco and incense, but the leather and the beeswax are the stars here.

It's satisfying, though it falls short of stunning. The rasberry-tinged opening is its weakest moment, but it rallies in the mid and drydown as the leather becomes drier and spicier.
05th May, 2021

Meehan Bay Rhum by Bonny Doon Farm

A pure bay rum that is rendered with satisfying depth and richness. A must-try for fans of bay rum.
04th May, 2021

H.M. by Hanae Mori

Better than its somewhat condescending reputation as a "good value" would suggest, this is a tremendously creative fragrance that would go on to influence such darlings as Invasion Barbare (which borrows HM's opening, minus the zesty lime, and goes in for a niche-y odd version of the creamy-sweet dry4).

This is a fresh-fruity-floral-fougere-gourmand, which is to say it's a bit of everything, and in the best way. HM is the life of the party.

The EDT is the more exuberant, refreshing, and floral concentration. The EDP skews more into the musk-and-white-chocolate direction, but is satisfying in its own way.

The worst thing you can say about HM is that it's synthetic (but, outside of the artisanal circuit, what isn't these days?), but that's hardly damning; it's never scratchy or harsh, just creamy-smooth and invigoratingly zesty.

Thumbs way up.
03rd May, 2021 (last edited: 09th May, 2021)

Vanille Havane by Les Indémodables

If you've tried the likes of Chergui and Herod or Boclet Tobacco, you're not worlds off from what you're getting here. This strips back the sweet excesses of the genre and focuses on building out the nuances of its core elements.

The vanilla is authentic: dark, boozy, and woody, without "white sugar" tones. The tobacco is pleasantly dirty and virile (not exactly barnyard-y, but definitely earthy). Vanille Havane shifts to that sort of "cosmetic" powderiness as it develops.

It's elegant and clearly made to a high standard of quality, but it's not a revelation.
03rd May, 2021 (last edited: 07th May, 2021)

Cairo by Penhaligon's

A very sweet, vanillic rose over a woody backing. A forgettable entry in an overcrowded genre, this is outdone by many lower-cost options (S.T. Dupont Perfect Tobacco, for one, which at least adds some juicy tobacco and spices for interest).

Egregiously overpriced.
03rd May, 2021

Chambre Noire by Olfactive Studio

Opens up a bit like Lalique Hommage a L'Homme before moving into that familiar niche/artisan "dusty leather" accord.

I don't really understand why folks would compare this to Bentley for Men Intense. They feel worlds apart to me.
03rd May, 2021

Sandalo by Lorenzo Villoresi

Dry, bitter sandalwood, tastefully composed from seemingly immaculate ingredients. Perhaps a bit too subdued for its own good.
27th April, 2021

Halston Man Amber by Halston

Who would've thought that Halston would produce such a refined, rich amber? This is powdery, soft, sweet, creamy, and a touch salivic, with a fully three-dimensional interpretation of the amber accord.
26th April, 2021 (last edited: 02nd May, 2021)

Collection Homme Thé Brun by Jean-Charles Brosseau

The opening is the oddest and most satisfying section of this fragrance's development. It eventually settles into a sturdy early 00s floral (think Prada Amber), which is somewhat underwhelming after that wild, smoky opening.

Still, hard to fault it overall. Even at its most conventional moments, it's a good, well-built scent.
22nd April, 2021

Shooting Stars : Kobe by Xerjoff

Orange blossom and woods. More durable than brilliant, but as far as orange blossom bombs go, you can't really do better.
22nd April, 2021