Perfume Reviews

Reviews by khanada

Total Reviews: 35

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum Absolue by Prada

Prada’s Infusion d’Iris Absolue is just gorgeous, a luxurious and lush Parma violet powder bomb, enriched with orange blossom, on a bed of rich-smelling, puffy, doughy, cool, but not icy, yet also chocolatey orris butter, the latter of which is, arguably, the finest blending material on earth. This is a perfume review, not a lesson, but this perfume is such a successful celebration of all of orris’s inherent characteristics, that I think it is worth a detour, to explain what orris is, what is smells like on its own, and why it is such a big deal in the perfume world. Also, I cannot accurately describe this perfume, without delving into what orris butter is, what it smells like in its unadulterated form, so I hope the reader of this review will indulge me, and tolerate some technical discussion. I promise, I will come back to what the actual perfume smells like, after I finish what I will try to make the briefest possible explanation of this very special ingredient.

Used as a perfume base, orris butter has a relatively neutral scent profile, for its low volatility, compared with the assertive qualities of other plant oils and resins, or powerful animal musks. Yet, what can be smelled in orris butter, is startling, and complex, with simultaneous impressions of cool roots and powdered starch, icy vegetation and creamy butter, raw earth and purple fruit, crisp green and rich chocolate, boozy yeast and honeyed beeswax—the kind of olfactory oppositions that make, or break, a great perfume, and they are all there, in this raw material. I am not a botanist, but I am a gardener, and I recognize qualities of orris root in common, edible roots—the buttery scent of Yukon Gold potatoes, the floral sweetness of fresh carrots, or the bitter cocoa inflection of beets. It is the only ingredient I know, besides Vetiver, that is directly obtained from roots, and its rendering is almost as complex as the scent itself.

To obtain orris butter, the roots of bearded iris are steam-distilled, for their essential oils, a process with an extraordinarily low yield, as it requires a ton of orris root to produce about kilo of orris butter. These roots’ aromatic profile is enhanced by a prior three-year aging process, during which the root dries, allowing complex interactions between the root’s aromatic components, while the roots dry and their aroma is concentrated. Even in 2021, this process typically begins with hand-harvesting, although I have read that a more streamlined mechanical process, with a shorter aging requirement, has also come into use in the last decade or so, but I am embarrassed to say that I cannot now find my source of this information—and no wonder, as the perfume industry probably wants to keep this information on the qui vive, to preserve the illusion of scarcity and keep prices high.

So, fine hand harvested orris butter, which is the type used in Absolue, requires a striking amount of time and effort for small amounts of raw material. Despite the final result’s complex aromatic profile, it also has a mysterious, muffled quality, due to its waxy density. Bruno Fazzlari calls orris root “The Phantom,” and, I wish I had thought of that, because the metaphor is perfect. It a shapeshifter, that is elusive and haunting. Its scent holds intimations of most of my favorite perfume aromas. Orris butter also has a curious quality, of bringing harmony to other materials, likely because it has so many aromatic properties of its own that match, enhance, and marry with them, and its buttery texture enriches florals and smooths resins, and harmonizes them with other ingredients, including those that are lab-grown. If it is not obvious by now, orris butter is my favorite perfume ingredient, and learning about it, was the Road to Damascus moment, of my personal perfume journey. It is my white rabbit, and my financial white whale.

So, I have chased orris more obsessively than I have any other perfume ingredient, and I understand why the great houses of Chanel and Guerlain, have chosen to build their empires on perfumes that employ generous doses of it. I have watched as production of perfumes like Chanel’s No. 19, especially the EDP, has fluctuated, over the years, and I have read reports of the effects of climate change on orris production with concern. Most of my most expensive perfumes contain large amounts of orris, but, I love the stuff, and I hope this review will help explain why, as well as convince skeptics, of its beauty and its value.

I was excited, and relieved, when Prada first introduced its original Infusion d’Iris, a classic in its own right—excited that Prada was taking on an iris perfume, and relieved that it was excellent. It summed up many of the best qualities of Chanel No. 19’s green iris elegance, but added a couple of elements that softened No. 19’s unforgiving iciness, notably a smoky black streak of frankincense, and a soft, almost indetectable background thrum of tonka. It made iris more approachable, and it smelled contemporary, but not aggressively “modern.” Its profile is discreet, but distinctive, professional, and yet comfortable, a jersey tee-shirt that works equally well. under a structured suit, or over a pair of cutoff jeans. It was, also, shockingly affordable, on the gray market, and still is. It gave orris a new kind of approachability, both olfactory and financial. But, decadent, it is not, and, I suppose, the Absolue flanker, introduced as a limited edition, was, initially, an artistic foil to the first Infusion’s relative austerity.

Rumor has it that the basic Infusion, Mark One, and its Cedre relative, is made with industrially harvested orris, where the Absolue version uses the traditional hand harvested low-yield stuff. The market seems to bear this out, as Absolue appears and then disappears from Prada’s retail site and the gray and aftermarkets, just as Chanel No 19 and its ancillary products do. Whether this is manufactured scarcity or not, I cannot say, although I doubt it, as the mass perfume market that these houses play in depends on regular availability, because the casual perfume customer probably doesn’t want to bother with waiting lists, and will probably move on to something less troublesome, rather than wait. I believe that this other, large-scale produced orris, also goes into Dior Homme, but the perfume industry is not known for its transparency, and I cannot prove this. I point this out, because since Prada introduced the first Infusion d’Iris, I have seen more (relatively) inexpensive designer iris perfumes on the market, a sign that there is a consistent source of affordable orris butter that shares some of the expensive version’s aromatic, textural, and blending properties. Some of these perfumes are very good, and worth seeking out, but Prada’s Absolue is special.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Infusion d’Iris Absolue opens in a rich, powdery haze, and I think it contains an extra helping of violet ionone, a component that is already part of unadulterated orris butter. It smells like a very rich cosmetic accord, the scent of dressing-table items, like setting powder and lipstick, and its violet has a deep purple fruity accord, that is joined by an equally rich orange blossom accord. This phase of the perfume feels especially luxurious, and it lasts for the first hour or two of the perfume’s life on skin. Adding orange blossom to the blend was a genius creative decision, as it lifts the naturally melancholy nature of orris and violet onto a sunnier plane, the same way that peach esters are often used in similar iris accords, including the legendary Iris Gris, or adds a youthful blush to severe chypres like Mitsouko.

As the fruity accords settle into the perfume’s persistent powdery musk, it feels like the clouds shift, to reveal an enhanced but lifelike orris accord, that shows all the complex and contradictory aromas of orris, both its cold and vegetal qualities, and its warm and buttery ones. Almost animatic yeast, pillowy dough, and then powdered chocolate emerge, and this pairs beautifully with the perfume’s
orange blossom, as orange and chocolate are natural allies. I notice a hint of raspberry, another great chocolate pairing, and a scent also inherent in the basic material of orris butter. This elevates the perfume’s profile to quasi-gourmand, yet relentlessly floral, luxurious and limpid, without feeling fussy or overstuffed. The only other perfumes that interpret the luxury of orris butter this successfully that I have actually smelled, are Chanel’s titanic Coromandel, and Serge Lutens’ scrumptious Borneo 1834, and these latter two lean further into gourmand territory than Infusion d’Iris Absolue.

Parma violet returns, as the perfume relaxes into a drydown that preserves the opening’s powder into its final stages. It conjures the same indigo-and-orange, sunset-with-clouds, images as Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, but it is less sweet, less spicy and medicinal, and I appreciate the way it punctuates the perfume’s opening accord. The perfume never loses its sense of almost velvety richness, and wearing it feels both indulgent and meditative. The only other perfume that captures this same quality of decadence and serenity is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777’s Khol de Bahrain, a fragrance that took me much longer to appreciate than this much more affordable offering from Prada, possibly because Khol de Bahrain’s immortelle accord is something of an acquired taste, I hated it at first, and wondered why I would spend more than three times the price of Infusion d’Iris Absolue. But, I chase orris, like Don Draper chased melancholy brunettes, and it eventually seduced me, too. But, that is another perfume, another review, and this one has gone on long enough.

I am not alone in my rhapsodic appreciation of this perfume, and I sincerely hope that rumors of it’s discontinued status, are exaggerated. It is certainly worth seeking out, as it is celestially beautiful, and extraordinarily wearable. People who find other orris perfumes, like Naomi Goodsir’s Iris Cendre, or Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist, foo angular and fleeting, should try this, provided they have a high tolerance for powder and big florals. It is very, very, stereotypically feminine, as curvaceous as Guerlain’s best work, and as elegant as Chanel’s. It deserves a place on any list of great, and must-try, iris celebrations. I smell orris butter to the very end of its life on my skin, a technical miracle, with orris’s notoriously fleeting nature.

Infusion d’Iris Absolue is a fantastic performer. Its powerful powder musk makes it possible to overspray, and even careful application will give a it radiant projection and massive sillage. Wearing it is a serious, all-day-long affair, as it deserves to be enjoyed to the very last stages of its drydown, as it sets into a husky-voiced whisper, at least 14 hours after two or three initial sprays. It is elaborate enough for formal and evening wear, yet just sunny enough from its orange and violet to be welcome for day. I don’t think this perfume has a special season, but hot weather can bring it to almost deafening and choking volume, if I don’t apply it with care. It is one of the jewels in Prada’s perfume crown, as distinctive, and beautiful, as the house’s original Amber and L’Eau Ambrée, and it shows that modern designers can make classical style perfumes, that walk the thin line, between rich old vintage accords, and modern requirements for simplicity and cleanliness. It deserves 5 pave-studded stars, and two equally bejeweled thumbs up.

07th February, 2021

Eau des Baux by L'Occitane

L’Occitane de Provence is not considered a heavyweight perfume house, probably because most of their perfumes are relatively simple one-note explorations of single ingredients, like lemon verbena—useful, but not complicated—sold in the context of products used mostly for home fragrance and skin care. Eau des Baux is different, a genuine classic that belongs in anyone’s collection who enjoys resinous and spicy Oriental fragrances. L’Occitane’s marketing materials say it is a tribute to a brotherhood of medieval knights that met in cypress groves, and describe it as a tribute to the scent of those trees. I don’t think it smells much like cypress, but it has a pleasing, outdoorsy quality that smells like mastic gum, pine, eucalyptus, and myrrh, lit from within with a hot spicy amber glow.

It smells salubrious, nearly medicinal, with a similar aromatic punch to patchouli, without patchouli’s swampy greenness, or its cultural hippie connotations. There is a natural-smelling woody accord that reminds me of being in a big redwood forest, complete with saline breezes, and sinus-clearing aromatics. It reminds me of bay rum, and the gingerbreadesque comfort of Chanel’s Bois des Iles and Egoiste. It opens with a hint of something fresh, perhaps a bit of begamot, and then comes the incense sparkle of opoponax, and nose tingling baking spices, like nutmeg, allspice, and, perhaps, black pepper, with some heat from
a chile accord. It smells comforting and handsome, but without traditional masculine accords like clary sage that might suggest a more gendered identity than the fragrance actually has.

Molasses and maple sweetness join the spices, and then the initial resin burst fades, like almost an upside-down amber, as sprinkles of spice become more prominent. This is the perfume’s middle gear, an inviting scent that comforts without some of the usual cosseting accompaniments of milky accords, or powder. Its sweetness takes on an almost chewy quality, recreating the presence of mellow tonka, and perhaps even some lulling benzoin, without a hint of cloying sugariness.

Tonka dominates the perfume’s later stages, balanced by its continuing, throaty heat. It is a fine, uncluttered, base accord, and even heavy application doesn’t bring out any questionable or unpleasant artificiality that might spoil the perfume’s sense of being outside in clean air in an autumn forest. I think I smell a delicate, minimal bit of clove in the mix, but the spice mix is so well blended that nosing out individual spices is difficult.

It is an extraordinarily easy wear, the kind of “dumb reach” perfume that calls me when I want a scent that makes me feel serene and relaxed. I sometimes wear it in summer, as it is like amber with more space between the notes than other perfumes in its family can sometimes have, but casual evening wear is its natural habitat, and I often wear it to bed, when I want something outside of my usual bed-time floral musks. Tonight, as I wear it, it is helping to dispel a perfume-induced headache, and it has calming properties that remind me of fresh lavender, which makes me wonder if there is a touch of that herb in it.

L’Occitane used to do more of this kind of thing, and I miss the beautiful ambers it used to make. I am glad that Eau des Baux is still in production, easy to find, and extremely affordable, especially on the gray market. I notice it often appears in the collections of beginning perfume hobbyists, especially those looking for masculines that don’t smell like petrol or leather. It is intelligently composed, very sophisticated for the price, and smells good on everyone of any gender.

It is classified as an Eau de Toilette, and thus not a performance beast, with gentle projection and sillage. I think its relatively high resin content causes it to wear close to the body, it is the kind of perfume that feels like it invites leaning in, rather than hearkening from a distance, and it lasts at least eight hours or more, depending on application—more for evening, especially if the wearer wants to wear it for events or dates, when it makes for good nuzzling, yet won’t compete with food or wine at dinner. Something about it, reminds me of Shalimar, likely its opoponax, less Shalimar’s floral and leather. It is a fragrance I feel confident recommending to anyone, unless they just don’t like resin, or only feel comfortable in traditional feminine fruit and florals.

Eau des Baux is an old favorite of mine, a perfume so direct in its development and construction, that this review has practically written itself. Some reviewers might give it three stars, as it is not expensive or complex, but I prize wearability and versatility as highly as any other qualities, and its obvious quality and clever composition elevate it beyond the realms of the basic. Not many houses do this kind of thing so well at this price, and it earns a well deserved four-plus stars, with two enthusiastic thumbs up. At the risk of repetition, I feel compelled to restate that this is a classic, and it deserves the high marks, and cult status, it occupies among the folk here on Basenotes. Thumbs up.
06th February, 2021

Grisette by Lubin

The revived Austrian house of Lubin has been on fire in the last few years, and some excellent perfumes have resulted. Their newer perfumes are modern, with restrained, reserved, contained ingredients, and personalities, that seem common to perfumes that come from northern and Central Europe, in contrast with many of the Mediterranean’s more exuberant niche houses. I think this difference largely rests on how lab-grown the fragrances’ ingredients smell, and the wearer’s appreciation for, or tolerance of, materials that smell “edited”—clean jasmines with no indoles, pretty roses with clipped accents, plus menacing woody ambers that could drown a Motörhead concert, and bouncy saffron-Ouds that smell like nothing except their own peculiar selves. Some great perfumes have come from this house’s recent efforts, especially the colossus that is Korrigan, and then there are some others, that smell like classical perfumes, reworked with these “edited” ingredients. Grisette is one of the latter, a youthful, springtime feminine, with a synthetically boosted punch that makes a long day’s wear, a bit of a chore, as I prefer pretty florals drawn more from life.

I will try not to wander too far off the reservation, now, but a miniature rant seems appropriate, in the context of this review. Much modern perfume, has become about this sort of editing, a process of slicing, or carving away, at recognizable ingredients, and reducing, or replicating, some of them, with mutated and synthetic features. This technique can give the resulting perfumes a grimness of mein, as a cleaned-up jasmine is like a tight lipped smile, rather than a full throated laugh, and a bit of enthusiasm, would benefit this perfume’s girlish character. Maybe, the perfumer wanted that effect, but I cannot, personally, connect with it. Jasmine is far from the only perfume ingredient that has been subjected to this kind of treatment, but it is one of the most common, as a little jasmine goes into almost all perfume, and it seems like bare, space-age jasmine accords are a thing now, with the house of Dior making their Uber minimalist Joy their current pillar offering. Perhaps, it is an olfactory expression of Kim Kardashian’s monochromesque wardrobe, which has a deceptive plainness that does not suit my own tastes. I appreciate the aesthetic, but I am not a minimalist. I like comfortable old things, and my sartorial basics tend toward more more texture and pattern, a preference that translates into the perfumes I love. I have learned to enjoy some of Byredo’s more austere offerings, but I struggle with perfumes that use of these sterile materials in complicated accords like Grisette’s, because there is a lot happening in this perfume, and the way it has put its jasmine on a muzzle and leash, illustrates how the rest of the perfume’s floral components are also treated.

Grisette is built around a jasmine-rose accord of the type I have just described, with a soapy muguet accord that seems to gain traction, as the perfume develops. It is like hearing a beloved classical piece of music replicated with synthesized strings, that are not quite plastic enough to gain the crystalline beauty of late 1970s/early 1980s synth strings, they just seem to be missing their traditional warmth, and the perfume is discordant at its calibrated levels. A little less volume, might take off what I believe is ita unintentional edges, as the accord is drawn from life, and would benefit from a lighter hand. I do not think this perfume is trying to be a Piguetesque diva, so it is like a lovely young woman with surgically augmented breasts, silicone injected lips, and too much contouring makeup, where plump natural features, are already beautiful, in their youthful freshness. From a distance, or in dim light, things look very attractive, but close range, the effect is jarring.

To clarify, I have no objections, to obvious artifice. I love electronic music, it is something I understand, and create in real life, and I find beauty in the glorious sound of Gary Numan’s highly treated string accords, the click and hum of arpeggiated sequencer programming. But, these sounds can lose their appeal, if they simply substitute for what a live violinist can do, and it seems like, paradoxically, the closer to approximating the sound of human hands and wooden instruments, the more grotesquely artificial these sounds can become. It takes taste, and care, to get the sounds right, and the difference is like the lush, gorgeous, orchestral sounds of a Trevor Horn production, like Horn’s exquisite work on Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm, versus the recreated classical Muzak I hear at my local dim sum restaurant, and Grisette is like the latter. It needs either more, or less, enhancement, my choice being for less, for such a theoretically pretty perfume to work.

Grisette isn’t awful, it just needs something, perhaps an airier sensibility, as it feels too tightly wound, to be the perfume, that I think it strives to be. Even its vanilla base, where it could loosen its hair a little, seems too controlled. Some texture, some creaminess, some resin, would contrast with the perfume’s monotone floral ingredients, and their tightly bound composition. It is suggestive of a well-tended and carefully landscaped garden, but, look closely, and you see that its flowers are artificial. It is very tastefully composed, and its predictable loveliness works in theory, but I want more, or less, from it. In the hands of a minimalist master like Jean-Claude Ellena, it could work much better, perhaps because Ellena has a talent for adding an element of strangeness, and grace, to his perfumes that fit into similar spaces, like his underappreciated Rose Ikebana, which has a watercolor softness that is missing here. Grisette also sits awkwardly on skin, as its soapy musk would have benefited from a more elegant, silkier texture, and a melting connective tissue that I have found in other modern pretty perfumes in this same family, from Ormonde Jayne’s Privé to Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle.

I cannot fault this perfume’s technical performance. It projects away to at least six feet, and lasts for at least 12 hours, too long for me, for this type of fragrance. I am not certain whom to recommend it to, as it seems aimed at young women, but its presence seems too powerful for what it is, and would distract, rather than enhance, the appearance of the wearer. I have noticed similar problems with some of Lubin’s other perfumes, and, I think, the amount of effort and complexity that went into Grisette could have been justified if the perfumer had aimed for more elegance and less raw power. This is the type of perfume that has been done better by so many other houses, that I would recommend Annick Goutal’s lovely Rose Splendide, Miu Miu’s L’Eau Rosée, or any of Cartier’s recent florals, over Grisette. Perhaps the current obsession with performance was too tempting for the perfume’s creative team to ignore.

It is a quality scent, and clearly well considered, but it is simultaneously too much, and not enough. I have given it two carefully observed wearings, before I have come to these conclusions, and I feel like warm weather, its natural habitat, would only exacerbate the problems I have with it. I cannot help, but feel like it is in Lubin’s lineup, because they felt like they needed something like it, instead of considering what they could do with this accord, in the context of the house’s aesthetic, as Korrigan shows how creative Lubin can be, when they try. Two stars, and thumbs sideways.
06th February, 2021
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Sunshine & Pancakes by 4160 Tuesdays

My first encounter with Sunshine & Pancakes did not impress me. It was, admittedly, an interrogatory sniff, and I smelled woody amber (Sarah, why? She uses more woody amber bases than I would like, Ambera was just unwearable for me, but so many people love Sunshine & Pancakes that I was determined to figure out why, what made it tick, and if I could, either find something to love, or at least find out what other people love about it, and, hopefully, find a reason to recommend it to someone, even if that someone is not me.

I am glad I persisted with it. Today is an especially gloomy, dull, iron-gray January day that has “winter blahs” written across the sky. It is a day for a comfort scent, if there were ever a day I needed one, and I thought, Sarah is English, she understands gray-sky blahs, and the name of this perfume feels like a restorative on its own. The first sniff gave me the same hit of Norlimbanol, or perhaps Timberol (I cannot tell the difference in solution, blended with this many other ingredients), but it was quickly motivated by an intense lemon and a hint of furry amber, so I decided, time to find out if this perfume stands up to its uplifting reputation.

Sarah McCartney’s work is usually humorous, often whimsical, the work of someone whose perfumes are supposed to be fun to wear. Even when she delves into more serious territory, like her vintage-y floral Raw Silk and Red Roses, her perfumes have cheeky personalities that almost always seem to smile. Sunshine & Pancakes is that kind of a perfume, composed of its namesake sunny and comforting elements, and wearing it today has helped ease me out of a darkening mood, into a better emotional space, enough to motivate me to sit and write what is becoming my daily perfume review.

Lemon is really the story for the perfume’s opening stages. It pushes forward quickly, a brilliantly-hued accord that is probably aided by white musk, the way a swirl of white makes a primary colored oil paint pop with almost day-glo luminescence. It smells like sunshine looks, and the scent of powerful lemon has kitchen associations for me, both culinary and sanitary, the smell of both a clean house and citrus fruit. It is like sitting in my mother’s sunflower-yellow applianced Seventies kitchen, including the wafting scent of lemon furniture polish, not that the lemon is that agressive, but it is a little phenolic, not exactly gourmand, either.

It is also extraordinarily long-lasting for a lemon accord. Most citruses blow off in a matter of seconds, or minutes, but this one really sticks to skin, becoming airier as the perfume blooms. Sweet but not plump jasmine joins it, a big hit at first, then a more muted version, calibrated to skate alongside and support the lemon accord. At this stage, it smells a little like Serge Lutens’ underappreciated Fleurs de Citronnier, less its sexy indoles, and more than a little like Annick Goutal’s citrus classic, Eau d’Hadrien, sharing the latter’s uplifiting citrus

The perfume takes a more gourmand direction as vanilla enters, creating a lemon-pie impression, complete with billowy meringue, even to a hint of toastiness, that I think must be coming from its amber base, not the woody amber, but its honey-benzoin duo, an edge of darker gold around the perfume’s bright center. Its vanilla edges further forward, and at this stage, Sunshine & Pancakes is pretty close to what I initially expected. but with more lemon (at the risk of self-repetition, it’s worth noting this lemon’s persistence. It lasted until well into the evening, long after initial application).

Jasmine rejoins the blend as the perfume wends its merry way across several hours, and the voices of lemon-jasmine-vanilla song in a cherry trio that could be from a Disney animated movie, where a downtrodden kitchen waif finds herself assisted in her chores, by anthropomorphic implements and appliances.
It has pleasantly surprising antidepressant effects, I can feel my mood improving while I write this, and, I expect by the time I have finished writing, I will finally be up and moving around the house.

The perfume’s vanilla is as cheery as its lemon, not particularly cozy or sensual, more like a bosomy hug from a busy maternal person who seems to genuinely enjoy her work. It gives me the same emotional charge, and nostalgic longing, as thoughts of my grandmother lovingly frying blintzes, on late Sunday mornings. I find myself searching for a maple accord that never arrives, but then, this is called Sunshine & Pancakes, not Sunshine & Maple & Pancakes, so, it does what it says, and says what it does. I do notice a sweet honey, a lovely accompaniment to lemon, that feels as salubrious on a cold night, as it would feel refreshing on a warm one—hot toddy, or lemonade, take your pick.

When I sat down, smelled, and reviewed it, I did not know how much I needed this perfume today, until it broke through a burgeoning depression, and made my senses wake up. If that is not what perfume is made for, I’m not sure what it should do. As the perfume’s lemon further softens, vanilla becomes more noticeable, and the perfume winds down like a whistling walk down the sidewalk, with an infectious good mood that reminds the wearer that the world has so many, and such good, things it. A last honey-lemon accord melts into skin, and it hangs on for a nice eight to ten hours. I notice a soapy accord in its ending phases, the scent of Mom’s sunflower-yellow kitchen scrubbed up, sparking, waiting for another day with sunlight framing the windows, busy hands creating nourishment, and the joyful sensations of letting the world outside color everyday objects. Sugared lemon continues to return, with vanilla lingering, throughout the perfume’s life.

I didn’t love this perfume’s opening, and I am hoping that its aggressive woody amber calms down, because that is the only reason I wouldn’t look into purchasing a bottle in a hurry. I probably need more of its sweet and jolly influence these days, as the dog days of February stretch out on the calendar in front of me, and a long week of packing and moving, throws menacing shapes next to the coming gloom. My little sample will likely disappear fast, and I will look for a decant, as 4160 Tuesday’s handy and economical travel sizes, are not available in the US (I hope someone reads this who has access to her, and perhaps, encourages her to help us here, get some of those, because I would rather she have the money, than send it to a secondhand seller, as indie perfumers are a cause worth suppporting). Thank you, Sarah M—you made my day better.

I would give S&P four stars if it didn’t have such an assaultive, woody amber in its opening. I have learned that age, and also spray mechanisms, can tame these materials, and if I find that happens, I’ll circle back to this review, and revise what I have said about it. It has a just-past fingertips reach, and I’ve already mentioned how long it lasts. This is not my first experience with 4160 Tuesdays (I own and love Raw Silk & Red Roses, Doe in the Snow, and Tart’s Knicker Drawer, with Silk, Lace, and Chocolate creeping onto my wishlist). It is my first experience with Sunshine & Pancakes, and I like it. I can’t decide which season it would suit best, as it is such a hit of ... sunshine (I don’t know how else to put it) on a day with terrible weather, yet it would also be a natural reach, for warm days, when a simple citrus Cologne. As I live in a place with long, blistering summers, I am always on the lookout for alternatives to the usual tangle of eaux, white and fruity florals. I can see a pace for it in my wardrobe, and if you want a citrus with some filling that doesn’t involve patchouli (I love Acqua di Parma and its relatives, but, I also crave change), this is a worthy contender. Even with its jasmine component, I don’t find it particularly gendered. The story here is lemon citrus, and it is a good one, worth following to its end.

So, three stars for now, with possible revision, and two neon-yellow manicured thumbs up. I’m glad it was the sample that I reached for today.

29th January, 2021

Real Patchouly by Bois 1920

Bois 1920’s Real Patchouly (with a “y”) is a complex, interesting, paper-dry patchouli soli...folium (patchouli is distilled from its leaves, not its flowers), with a comforting chocolate accent in its profile that satisfies my personal love of unusual gourmands, with quirky but easygoing personalities. It reminds me of a cross between Lutens’ massive Borneo 1834, only more austere, with no apparent floral ingredients, and Comme des Garçons’ Luxe Patchouli, a dry, spicy, greenish, perfume with a very dusty patchouli base, only less dark and weird. It used to, also,
be a real bargain, with Bois 1920’s standard 3.3 ounce bottles going for around $50-$60, but prices for Bois 1920’s line-up have increased in the last year, or two, and gray market prices have risen to about $150 or more, still better than retail. I am glad I got my bottle when it was very cost-effective, but, I think, it is still worth discussing, as it is a powerful, high-quality perfume, from a house that I like and respect, for their interesting and sometimes even daring creations, including the gorgeous Realtivamente Rosso.

The perfume moves through several stages before it settles on its final patchouli base. Despite my wearing it for a couple of years, at least, I had to look at the notes, today, to, not only determine if they are accurate, but also to understand what I am smelling, in its opening. Sometimes perfume notes are useless, but Bois 1920’s are usually accurate, and, looking at them, I understand what makes Real Patchouly’s opening so intriguing, occasionally polarizing, and a little strange—celery, a scent with crisp bitterness, that I, personally, love, but find that some people, inexplicably, dislike. Real Patchouly’s celery accord is almost anisic (another scent that some people hate, but is typically beloved by Italians, and Bois 1920 is a very Italian house), with a strong aromatic signature, that lingers over the perfume, well past its opening stage. More outdoors-y garden scents follow, notably, an herbal waft of thyme, that contribute to this perfume’s relaxed, yet poised, character. There is also some cedar, an ingredient that I sometimes love, and sometimes hate; in the opening accord, it contributes to the perfume’s dry, but not desiccated, atomsphere, without adding cedar’s sometimes overpowering scent of sawdust.

Real Patchouly’s forest/garden theme continues with more green aromatic ingredients, including subtle eucalyptus that matches patchouli’s camphoric profile. Black frankincense wafts and weaves into its heart, as dry patchouli moves from a background hum, to a mid-volume rumble, with a pipe-shop tobacco accord, bringing cozy humidity to the opening and middle grassy-woody accord of dry herbs and middle phase woods. I don’t smell sandalwood, unless it is part of the perfume’s cedar accord (many perfumes that claim to include sandalwood “notes” usually have more cedar than detectable milky-rosey santal, not an unusual thing, with sandalwood in extremely limited supply these days). The perfume’s feeling of moisture grows, as it warms and melds with skin, leading to the perfume’s final stages, as its amber base emerges.

I think Real Patchouly’s base is especially appealing, but then, I have met few ambers that I don’t like. It is soft, in that it feels like a warm blanket, yet muscular, built on an incense accord, with frankincense blending with earthy myrrh, not a listed ingredient, but definitely detectable, another forest-y scent in the mix, and a benzoin/labdanum purr that probably contributes to the perfume’s tobacco accord, as well as laying out the amber elements of the perfume’s later stages. It reminds me of opening a fresh can of rolling tobacco, a scent that always makes this former self-roller’s spine tingle a little. Then its patchouli darkens, and deepens, its chocolate tones showing an almost fluffy, diffused quality, that reminds me of the intoxicating scent of cocoa powder, a lovely place for the perfume to land, as it shifts between benzoin-inflected tobacco, and patchouli cocoa dust, through its final, long-lasting end stages.

Lovers of both fresh and dry spicy Orientals will, probably, love this perfume, as it starts dry but finishes rich and damp. I do not put it, exactly, in the “patchouli and only patchouli” box, but, it has enough dank, weedy, swampy patchouli to please patch lovers, and it has enough extra trimmings to keep its patchouli interesting. It smells, and behaves, like a golden-to-shadowy-dark-brown olfactory rendering, of a Mark Rothko painting, or Brian Eno and David Bowie’s elegiac “Warzsawa” from the gorgeous ambient side of their groundbreaking first collaboration on Bowie’s Low—smoothly shifting gears between the two, a dark lullaby that makes wearing this perfume especially pleasant at bedtime.

Bois 1920’s nomenclature is sometimes confusing to me (what, exactly, does “Sushi Imperial” even mean? I love that perfume, but I am glad it doesn’t smell like fish—some things that smell and taste delicious wouldn’t make very appealing perfumes), and I am not sure what the “real” in “Real Patchouly” signifies, as the name suggests a simpler perfume than this is. As I wrote in the opening of this review, it lives in the same space as Lutens’ great Borneo, with some obvious references to Chergui, especially its judicious use of benzoin, a material in which I could drink, bathe, or, quite happily drown, like a bug in brandy in a big bronze cup, to paraphrase the great Andy Partridge, although Chergui is sweeter, and has nubbly hay absolute in its herbal accord. It also reminds me of 19-69’s Chinese Tobacco, one of Chergui’s many perfume progeny that I just tried, and really enjoyed.

I prefer Real Patchouly for day wear in cooler months, as its sepia tones suit gloomy days like the late January afternoon on which I am writing this, especially well. It is also one of my favorite bedtime perfumes, year-round, its
cocoa and benzoin make it an excellent comfort scent. Its versatility is one of the best reasons I believe it delivers excellent value-for-money, along with its performance, as it has outstanding longevity, 24 hours and then some, and good projection, that isn’t overpowering, but is noticeable at a distance of at least six feet. My bottle is aging well, I think the opening has grown smoother, and it is displaying more complexity, the longer I have owned, worn, it. I love this perfume, and I hope this review will lead some readers to giving it a try. Four solid stars, hovering on an extra half, as I am finding something new nearly every time I wear it, and two coppery-bronze thumbs up.
29th January, 2021

Ramune (Japanese soda) by J-Scent

I asked the nice people at Luckyscent to include some more J-Scent perfumes, with my recently purchased bottle of Black Leather, and they went above and beyond their usual three-sample standard. I like this house, I think it deserves some attention, and so I am working my way through the samples, and recording my impressions as I go. Ramune is a Japanese soda, that I used to occasionally buy at my local Asian market. It comes in a variety of fruit flavors, but the original was a lemon-lime that tastes sort of like Sprite or Seven-Up, with an Asian twist, that I think comes from the addition of yuzu. (Fun fact: Ramune was created by a Scottish chemist, and the name was a Nipponization of the English word “lemonade.”). I loved the bottles, because they did not have a traditional cap, but a glass marble held in place by the soda’s carbonated gas. The marble rattles around in the bottle, while you drink the soda, and drinking it requires a little practice and finesse. Wikipedia tells me that recent innovations to the bottle design have made it easier to drink, as the marble can catch in the bottle’s neck, and stop the soda’s flow. I always found working around the marble to be part of the fun, and I have not tried Ramune since the bottles became, supposedly, easier to drink from. My memories of its flavor, and the experience of drinking it, date back to the 1990s, when I was fascinated with Japanese movies and culture, and its scent and taste remind me of the other Japanese products I used to buy at the same market, especially cleaning and skin products, and smelling J-Scent’s rendition is a trip down the memory lane, of cooling mint skin masks and peony-scented laundry products, as much as it is reminiscent of the perfume’s titular soda.

I am, honestly, surprised, that J-Scent beat Comme des Garçons to the punch, with Ramune, as the scent of Japanese soda seems like something CDG would have done, for their scent library series. It is a sweet, but refreshing, fizzy, pop-the-top soda accord, that starts with a hit of ethyl maltol and aldehydes, nose-tingling, and sharp, almost soapy. Mint follows, adding to the nasal tickle, and the accord it creates is almost soapy. Then, foamy lemon-lime-yuzu emerges, and I get an impression more like shaving cream, than something I would like to drink, possibly because the heart stage of the perfume has soft-edged florals that mostly smell rosy, or like the watery sour rose that some perfumes claim to be peony, less peony’s sometimes peppery quality. A dry, sawdust-inflected vanilla follows, and the aromatic scene of myrrh that melds with the perfume’s woods. Its aromatic fizz returns, with the citrus accord bubbling through, and the perfume seems to bounce back-and-forth, citrus-to-vanilla, with candyfloss sweetness, sometimes, clinging to the scent’s virtual bubbles.

It is nice, to come across a gourmand, that does not smell like the usual sticky chocolate, caramel, or typical vanilla accords. Ramune is not a drawn-from-life gourmand, but its referent soda is present enough, that it deserves its name. It would be a playful, pleasant, departure from spritzy summer eaux like O de Lancôme, wearing it reminds me of a more aldehydic version of Diptyque’s delicious Oyedo, with its similar sour-sweet Asian candy rainbow scent, and I can imagine looking forward to its cheerful, wakening personality, on muggy summer mornings.

Ramune doesn’t cast much of a projection radius, at least from my dabber sample, but aldehydic fragrances often behave differently, from spray bottles, than they do when dabbed, or poured, onto skin. I imagine Ramune probably leaps off skin, if it is applied with a sprayer, and that probably affects its performance. Like other scents I have tried from J-Scent, its base has a melting-into-skin effect, and the perfume’s final stages smell like a cleansing bubble bath, soapy but fizzy to the last. I can smell it on my skin for up to six hours after application, not bad for a perfume that wears like an Eau. I like it, and I look forward to revisiting it in summer, when I am tired of my usual summer options. I don’t know if I would buy it, yet, but a lively citrus-mint-rose-soap could have a place in my collection, when my senses are exhausted and the summer heat is overwhelming. Three easy stars, and thumbs up. Another fun scent from a house that has a lot of interesting choices, at very good prices.

27th January, 2021

Usubeni (Rosy Cheeks) by J-Scent

J-Scent’s collection largely conforms to things I have read about the East Asian fragrance market, notably, that the perfumes that succeed there are, generally, not “beast mode” powerhouses, and tend toward freshness and softly filtered accords, especially in their feminine perfumes. I have never been to Japan, or anywhere else in Asia, so I can’t confirm this from experience. I don’t wish to propagate something untrue, about a place I know so little about (personal passions for sushi and Japanese design elements aside), so I hope the disclaimer I am offering here, will be accepted by the reader in good faith: even though I lack personal experience with Asia, I have plenty of experience with some East Asian perfume houses, and I believe that J-Scent (“J” for “Japan”), a house that wears its Japanese identity on its sleeve, aims to create (at least some of) its scents to reflect something about their national and cultural tastes and identity, especially when they name a fragrance with a Japanese name.

Usubeni means “Rosy Cheeks,” a name that it does not require much imagination to create some associations, aside from the obvious imagery, of a healthy human face with a hint of flush. The company says that the scent’s intended impression is something about breezes, and their effect on its titular rosy cheeks, but the rosy cheeks Usubeni brings to my own imagination, are pink-tinged, lightly fuzzy, curvaceous, mildly suggestive tree fruits. Because Usubeni’s main accord is a tangle of nicely rendered, albeit on the delicate side, white flowers like gardenia, twined around stone-fruit scents of tart apricot, fleshy perfumed peach, and their aromatic floral twin, osmanthus, and the fruit accords are very nicely done, not overwhelming neon creatures of the night (which I love in Gucci Rush, but which would not work, here), nor the sometimes extroverted, sometimes shy,
nylon imitations of peach I find in some inexpensive fruitchoulis. It smells like the delicate C-5 aldehyde that has shaped fruit chypres since Mitsouko, and aldehydic florals
since Chanel No. 5, the slightly milky fruity ester that melts into florals and cuddles up to oakmoss. The perfume opens with a tart apricot, a tad of aquatic green freshness, and then relaxes into its peachy-floral heart. Orange blossom comes forward first, then gardenia (and it is a decent gardenia accord, distinct from jasmine-tuberose accords that often stand in for it), then a buttery smooth ylang curls around these with soft, persistent, lactic peach, which melts into a milky/rosy sandalwood impression, and the perfume glides along in at sweet, springtime altitude that would make a lovely pairing with a floral sundress, a straw hat, and wedge espadrilles.

I cannot be certain what J-Scent was aiming for with Usubeni, but it is impossible for me to smell a delicate, peach and Gardenia inflected floral, without thinking of Guerlain’s great, underestimated, Chant d’Aromes, and I also, consciously or not, consider every peachy floral I smell in relation to Mitsouko, the anointed Queen of peachy florals—not to evaluate them as greater or less than, but to help myself understand what these perfumes might be trying to be. I think Usubene is like a watercolor rendering, of Chant d’Aromes in particular, with a bright white oil paint blended with its peach tones, adding a sunny, summery touch.

Usubene is the kind of perfume that Luca T and Tania S would probably dismiss as (they frequently use this kind of phrasing) “fruity-floral thing of no particular interest.” Somehow they do that without noting that some of their favorite perfumes, from Badgley Mischka’s first, great effort, to the first Maiboussin, to Hermès’ Osmanthe Yunnan, are, well, fruity florals—peachy fruity florals—and also, that Luca Turin considers Mitsouko the greatest perfume ever created, and, also, contends that Chant d’Aromes is not as good as it used to be, as its peach is less ... delicately peachy. If you like Chant d’Aromes, and you are interested in finding a relatively affordable niche rendering of the same idea, Usubene could be worth sampling. It lacks Chant d’Aromes buzzy oakmoss base, but current CDA does, too. The perfume doesn’t have much happening in its pretty little head, aside from sheer prettiness, but on a cold winter night, like the one I am writing this, it reminds me that seasonal change is around the corner, and I find it uplifting, especially the way it melts comfortably into my skin.

J-Scent has more interesting offerings, but I am not surprised that the house sells a peachy gardenia floral, as these scents make such pleasant wearing, when the season calls for it, or even when it does not. Like the house’s other scents, it has delicate projection and soft sillage, with about six or seven hours’ detectable presence on skin, unless I really lay it on. Many of the house’s perfumes remind me of slightly less minimalist Hermessences, from the Jean-Claude Ellena era, and they cost an extraordinarily reasonable 85 dollars, across the range. I don’t think the house has yet delved into the ultra luxury, Exclusif, market, and that in itself is a reason to recommend exploring what they have to offer. This particular perfume would be an excellent perfume for a young person who wants something pretty and tasteful, and devoid of the powdery accords that so frighten young girls these days. I don’t see a bottle in my future, as I have peaches galore in my wardrobe, and vintage CDA, if I want this particular gardenia-peach accord. I can’t find anything about it to dislike, and I think it deserves at least three stars, and two sheer, warm-toned, manicured thumbs up. Very nice work—if a modern, peachyfloral, is worth doing, it is worth doing this way.

27th January, 2021

Tiptoeing Through Chambers of the Moon by Pilar and Lucy

Pilar and Lucy’s Tiptoeing Through Chambers of the Moon has a sci-fi name, but this lovely perfume is all analog, hippie tinged goodness. It comes from a house that does not receive much attention on Basenotes, perhaps because it has been around for a while, and also because it makes relatively simple but well crafted perfumes that neither shout nor whisper. This perfume comes in both oil and EDP formulations, and I will discuss both of them here.

The construction is classic, a tuberose on amber, floral oriental. The interest, and the beauty, lies in both the details, and the complete impression it creates. The tuberose begins almost sharp, and then unfurls its sails into a full throated, complex, and natural-smelling floral accord. It smells rich, not indolic or animalic, and it is, strikingly, smooth, in its transitions, and its total impression. It is not sweet, and it has what I perceive as an almost green quality. A lovely opening, and it only gets better.

The perfume’s floral opening is plumped by a delicious buttery impression that adds a luxurious feel to the perfume, especially in the EDP. Buttery accords can sometimes feel like they catch in the throat, but this is well-executed, adjusted to support the perfume’s tuberose. It twins with tuberose’s naturally occurring buttery scent, and it makes an excellent transition to the perfume’s next phase.

An equally rich amber accord follows, of middling sweetness, enhanced with labdanum (a material I love, as many of my reviews will indicate), and a warm incense that adds a bit of mystery and darkness to the open and middle stages. I read, and hear, the word “sexy” tossed around to describe perfumes from Dior’s new Sauvage to classic animalic feminines like Madame Rochas (see ClaireV’s review), to gourmands of every type, and I do not usually like to use it, unless a perfume has a truly alluring, come hither, quality, and this amber has It, with a capital “I.” It is not caramelized, or vanillic, it is genuinely sensual, with a feline growl that reminds me a little of the way damp civet functions, in Ungaro’s colossal Diva, only less aggressive, as if it is drawn from nature, even its gourmand buttery element smells like the real thing. With tuberose lingering in its mix, the perfume assembles into a gorgeous, vintage-tinged, whole, part polished pencil skirt and heels, part earthy, welcoming, Earth mother hippie kaftan.

In the oil, tuberose dominates, while the EDP’s amber is more prominent. I find the oil doesn’t last very long on my skin, four or five hours at the most, while the EDP sticks around for eight hours or more. Both formulations are excellent values, coming in at well under one hundred dollars. I was a little disappointed, that my EDP bottle doesn’t have the cute flower pictured on Luckyscent and Basenotes’s thumbnails, but I suppose the house is trying to keep its costs consistent, and I can always decorate my own darn bottle, if it means that much to me (have hot glue gun, will use it).

Lovers of tuberose, and Big White Florals, really need to smell this. Its beauty stands out, especially as tuberose is making a comeback in designer perfumery (Gabrielle, Twilly, and Gucci’s recent run of good tuberoses, among others), and this perfume surpasses most of them in quality and appeal, leaving them in its delicious, sensual dust. It reminded me that there are a lot of great niche perfumes that I have not given enough serious attention. I will be revisiting more perfumes from this house, and probably buying some of them. Tiptoeing... was an instant love for me, and I hope my enthusiasm will help bring a little more attention to it, and Pilar and Lucy’s work, in general.

Tiptoeing...’s rich, luxurious texture, and its beautiful amber, lend this white floral enough substance to wear year-round, a perfume that feels as appropriate with a cozy sweater on a cold night, as it would with a bikini and an icy cocktail in summer. Its sunny floral works for daytime wear, and its rich amber makes it a great choice for evening. Its versatility was a major factor in my decision to buy a full bottle, and, every time I wear it, it elevates my mood. I owe Basenotes institution, and master perfume reviewer, Teardrop, for leading me to purchasing a sample in the first place, and I encourage anyone, who is intrigued by this review, to read Teardrop’s positive review, if they are on the fence about trying it. The oil wears closer to the body, while the EDP has moderate projection, and I prefer the latter for its performance, as well as its more present amber accord. Great stuff. Four stars, and two gold-flecked and sparkling cherry-magenta thumbs up.
27th January, 2021

Soavissima by Profumum

Mmmmmm Soavissima!!

Profumum Roma specializes perfumes that,
perhaps, seem like standard comfort scents, but I have noticed, that they zig, where one might expect them to zag. Fiore d’Ambra opens like a lot of familiar ambers, sweet and inviting, and then snatches the wearer, into a bear hug, and throws it over its shoulder, and carries them into a world of beastly labdanum. Soavissima performs a similar duck-and-switch. It begins like a powdery Teint de Neige number, indicating heliotropin, and signaling its intention to continue to rosey fluffy girlyville, and then does for tonka what Fiore d’Ambra does for labdanum.

There is citrus in its opening, dusted with the scent of powdered sugar, that reminds me of
opening a box of Lemonheads candy, an otherwise run-of-the-mill sour lemon hard candy. Perhaps, comparing Soavissima to confectionary, notably at this stage, might turn off the potential tester, and-or lose my reader, but, please, stay with me, because it changes quickly.

Most powder comfort perfumes, barrel straight on to pink florals, and I like those. Soavissima retains its powdered lemon edge, that seems to gain in sharpness, as it moves on to its next stage. A canyon of Tonka yawns under its lemon dust, a deep, angular, indigo-charcoal chiaroscuro effect, that reminds me of the shadows in a de Chirico painting, an olfactory deception that appears flat, to the nose, at first, and, then deepens into mystery, as green herbal licorice Angelica joins, and makes this wearer wonder, what else lurks around that corner.

I love perfumes that celebrate Tonka (oh, my dear, late, lamented, Commodity Tonka. Why??!!), without completely surrendering their identity, to its, sometimes, unpleasant burned-out, fluorescent-light, dull-gray hum. Soavissima’s Tonka retreats as soon as it marches forth, it blends with ashy herbal Angelica, then lemon rejoins, with its attendant haze of powder, with a greenish citron note that coaxes its Angelica impression back to the fore, in tangy contrast to Tonka’s chewy sweetness. a long-lasting, tart line of gradient, pale yellow, a streak of sun through clouds, sustaining some substantial, but not ding batty, cheerfulness as Soavissima relaxes into a phase, that feels like the purr of a well-tuned engine in idle, a pulsing ambient hum, that is like the entrancing, extended, musical bridge in Tame Impala’s sublime, “Let It Happen.” The perfume critic Tania Sanchez sometimes, favorably, compares perfumes, like Nicolai’s Maharanih, to falling into a feather bed, and that is the trick I find in Soavissima. I expected its Tonka to solidify into into a boulder, and, instead, it softens, depeens, plushes out, without losing substance. As it dries down, it seems lit from within, its usually persistent powdered citrus glowing through its Tonka base.

Soavissima can have a strong presence, but, its projection is not aggressive. It lasts for about 15 hours on skin, and has lingered on my sheets and scarves, for days. As I am writing this, I realize how apt the name Soavissima is, for this perfume. It is, indeed, ultra-soft, smooth like a fluffy cat, rather than a Brancusi sculpture, and wearing it is a disorientingly tactile experience. I have never worn Tonka that feels so velvety and thick-piled. The perfumes I have tried, so far, from Profumum Roma, have deceptive intelligence, that hides beneath the simplicity of their exteriors, and has, finally, enabled me to understand, a little, why these perfumes cost more, than they initially seem like they are worth. The care in their composition, attention to detail, and quality of their ingredients, rewards attention. I once thought they were hideously overpriced, for what they are, but I am re-evaluating them, as each perfume I have tried, has haunted me, after an initial impression of, that is/was nice, to beckoning me back, and, finally, seducing me, as it takes me repeated wear, and focus, for me to penetrate the source of their allure.

I have found nothing from this house that challenges me, but, so far, I found much that has surprised, and impressed me, over time. The perfumes have a muted opulence, that reminds me of modern versions of Guerlain’s more amorphous creations, like L’Heure Bleue. Soavissima’s initial impression does not do it justice. I have not found many perfumes, aside from Vol de Nuit, with any greenish countenance, that are also appropriate for cozy, cold, evenings in loungewear, or for wearing to bed. Soavissima can lull me to sleep, but not from boredom. It is a perfect snuggling companion, with witty conversation. I have not tried it in warm weather, I wonder if the powder might overwhelm, but I also wonder if its citrus might give it seasonal versatility. This is better work than its other reviews indicate, I think. 4 stars, with two softly glowing, sheer golden-flecked, thumbs up.

21st January, 2021

Al Oudh by L'Artisan Parfumeur

Al Oudh belongs to a class of outrageous incense Orientals, that I mostly associate with Italian fragrance houses, especially a couple of fancy, limited-edition perfumes, from Bois 1920. Those perfumes have a lot of Uber spicy patchouli under the hood, and I think that is what is also powering this complex monster. L’Artisan has not launched anything worth discussing in a long time, and revisiting some of their old classics lately, has reminded me what an amazing house it used to be, with perfumes that smelled like nobody else’s. I cannot really say, that I have found any signature accords, or obvious thematic elements, that tie the house’s perfumes together, I don’t smell any of them and think, this must be L’Artisan, like I do with perfumes from Guerlain, or Chanel, or Etat Libre d’Orange, however, I used to know that, whatever it was, it would be fresh, stimulating, and likely take a while, for me to understand everything I was smelling. Al Oudh is still confusing to me, but I think that might be one reason I love it so much.

If I had to choose a single word to describe Al Oudh, it would be ... raspy. It smells like hot sand, dried peppercorns, desiccated fruits, a shot of Scotch whiskey, the kind of incense that gets in the back of your throat and makes you cough a little, Smelling it, is like running your fingers over the rough surface of my favorite set of makeup brushes, that have a rose-gold sandpapery texture on their handles, rough, but with an appealing dull sparkle that makes holding them an experience. It almost attacks you when it first comes from its sprayer. It is, almost, like pepper spray, and I say this, as an endorsement. It is like wearing a desert, if the desert were packed with chili peppers and dates, which are fruits that love desert climates. Perhaps, that was what Bertrand Duchaufour was thinking, when he composed Al Oudh, not only the dead things in the desert, but the live things, too, and the stuff they leave behind, the scraggly plants that grow on rocks, and their resinous products. I smell dried rose, the leathery trail of labdanum, a powerful cloud of frankincense, and masculine-urinous castoreum twinned with feminine-uruinous civet. Clove slices through the melange. It is, actually, much like Opium, but with two-day unshaven stubble.

The perfume critic Luca Turin, likes to describe Duchafour’s perfumes as “transparent.” Al Oudh is not transparent. It is not just dense, it it opaque, in texture, and it does not let up. Rose comes forward, as it warms on the skin, and the perfume’s spices swirl in its winey density. At this stage, it reminds me of the red-hot cinnamon-candy spiciness of a glass of powerful California Zinfandel, with the same restorative effect on the senses. Wearing Al Oudh always wakes me up, and I reach for it on dull, gray, winter days, for a similar warming solace. Then its amber base comes forth, and it dries down to a spiced cocoa base that sticks to skin for up to 24 hours.

Al-Oudh is not universally loved, in fact, some people actively hate it, so I recommend it, with a warning. If you like some of the more exotic Commes des Garçons Incense Series, Sahara Noir, or L’Artisan’s own Timbuktu and Dzongkha, you will find something here of interest. What you will not find, is oud. I do not smell petrol, bandages, or anything fecal, so its name is confusing, if not actively misleading, which does irritate me, perfume names are poetic, and I believe Duchaufour was aiming at a perfume that speaks of the place and atmosphere of the same places and world that celebrate oud, not a reconstructed imitation of the actual ingredient. It also makes interesting smelling for lovers of spicy rose perfumes like Rose Rebelle Respawn.

I have a personal perfume category of “kitchen sink” perfumes, scents that seem to combine nearly everything in the perfumer’s library, and Al Oudh occupies a spot on that list. Most kitchen sink perfumes, are opulent floral oroentals, so this one stands out among those bedecked and bejeweled feminines. I love it in cold weather, and it is one of my favorite scents for nighttime and clubbing, where it stands out among all the fruity desserts, that usually dominate that landscape. It is dashing, daring, never a dull companion. I am still trying to understand it, and I write this review, in the hope that someone who has not tried it, or has not smelled it in a long time, perhaps, will find it as interesting, and even lovable, as I have found it. It is a standout, in the work of a perfumer, and the roster of a house, with an outstanding record of great work. It is, also, one of only a very few L’Artisan perfumes, that can still be found in their beautiful old presentations, at extremely economical prices. Four and a half stars, as not everyone will find Al Oudh wearable, and two coppery-red, manicured, thumbs up.

18th January, 2021

Lavande 44 by Rania J

Why is this called Lavande 44? Is Rania J doing a Le Labo?

Lavande 44 is lavender on steroids, bolstered with a creamy barbershop accord, that the lavender smacks down, within the first two hours of wear. I don’t usually like power lavenders, Lancôme’s Lavande Trianon is just impossible for me to wear, but this one is surprisingly friendly. It is so strong, that one spray made the dog jump to attention, and two sprays brought my boyfriend in from halfway across the house, to ask how much perfume I was wearing, something he never says, even when I wear room-owning divas like Insolence and Angel.

Its lavender has a warm, caramelized quality, with herbal undertones. As it settles, I also find an ambery base with some resinous animalic implications. But, it is basically lavender, lavender, and, then ... more lavender. Somehow, the perfume achieves its nuclear-grade sillage without any metallic woody ambers, that I can detect.

If you are looking for a Wall of Lavender, give this a try. It has massive projection, and lasts for more than 24 hours on skin. I like it, but it doesn’t do enough to justify its price. I prefer a more nuanced lavender, give me Jicky any day, but I don’t dislike Lavande 44. I don’t have anything clever to say about it, and I don’t think it is trying to do more than stick to its script and be a Big Bad. I will enjoy the rest of my house sample. Three stars, for quality, wearability, and not doing any more, or less than I expected. I can’t not recommend it for being what it is, so I suppose, that means a basic and no-frills thumbs up.
14th January, 2021

Alaïa by Azzedine Alaïa

Alaïa is a surprisingly divisive fragrance, for something seems so unassuming and, basically, solid and pleasant wearing, despite its fundamental strangeness. When I wear it, I wonder what the brief, exactly, was. I feel certain, it had something to do with skin, as it seems like “skin” is one of the fundamental tropes is contemporary perfumery*, and, also, because Azzdeine Alaïa’s clothing, those band-aid stretch corset dresses, are so much about skin, from how they mimic the way it hugs the body (in beige-to-brown shades that make the wearer appear nude), to the way they accentuate the body’s lines, and provoke curiosity about what lies beneath, skin both seen and unseen. Regardless of whether this perfume was literally inspired by skin, Alaïa references it, because it is a leather perfume, and not just a leather, but a suede, the most intimate of leather materials, made from the underside of skins, the part of skin of that lies beneath the surface of skin itself.

Suede is traditionally scented with violet and nitrile ingredients, metallic and mineralic, the scent of the sturdiest materials available, of stone and steel, and that is how Alaïa opens. It is evocative, of both nature and artifice, things that grow, and things that are carved, melted, sculpted, and built with human hands. The opening is lifted by a broad, ozonic accord, the scent of air, whooshing its violet, stone, and metal apart, and leaves this accord hanging, like the ingredients’ molecular structures are trying to tear themselves apart from the inside—metaphysical and weird, but also beautiful.

Then, the violets turn lusher and fruitier, almost plummy, steering the perfume to a floral accord with a steely edge, as bitter suede unfolds in its purple flowers. I wish this phase of the perfume lasted longer, because I love aggro, edgy violet perfumes like Insolence. But Alaïa isn’t as sassy as Insolence, and it is considerably more restrained and tasteful. There are aquatics hissing in its ozone, and they contribute to the steely sheen of its violet accord, giving it a disorienting, fizzy, buzzy quality. I think this comes from a carefully dosed combination of aldehydes and ISO-E-Super, that makes the perfume seem to be both everywhere and nowhere, with a kind of atmospheric transparency.

Alaïa tunes down to a background hum with a greige tint that could be boring, if it weren’t so texturally surreal. Clean, soapy musk, more aldehydes, and then the scent of great grass emerge, reminiscent of Jacomo’s classic Silences, with violet returning to the mix, almost like a more floral take on masculine perennials, like Grey Flannel, and Green Irish Tweed, and finally, in its last stages, it reminds me of an upscale reimagining of Irish Spring Soap, a comforting scent that brings back memories of 1970s childhood. I think there is also some kind of synthetic ambrette in its drydown, which brings the perfume full circle, back to the animalic leather opening. Its mineral texture persists, a granite path in its greenery, and that, with the occasional reappearance of its abstract ozone materials, makes the perfume really interesting to me.

I notice that a lot of reviewers have said they have trouble smelling Alaïa, and I had similar problems with my bottle for at least six months, after I bought it. I hear this is a problem with lots of fragrances that lean on ISO-E-Super, and, while some people might be genuinely anosmic to it, it is possible that, one, this ingredient requires a good spray mechanism to work properly, and, two, perfume that contain it need time after the first two or three wearings to expel any inert gas (perfume manufacturers add it on top of the juice during bottling to help preserve shelf life), and let in oxygen so the perfume can continue to macerate and develop. Other people don’t like it because it doesn’t smell like vintage perfume. I love vintage, but I love other things, too. And I love this.

Alaïa is one of the most challenging perfumes I have yet tried to review, because it has an elusive, hide-and-seek quality that made it very difficult for me to pin down what was happening, where the transitions began and ended, and what was happening with its note separation. I can understand why Luca Turin loves it so much, as he seems to prize originality, and Alaïa is not like anything else I have ever smelled. It genuflects towards one of the great mid century leather perfumes, Balmain’s Jolie Madame, and, noticing that, helped me get my bearings, and untangle the rest, as did smelling Tom Ford’s really good Noir Anthricite, which helped me sleuth out the mineral materials in Alaïa.

Because of its ISO-E-super powered transparency, it is hard for me to quantify Alaïa’s projection and sillage. It is the opposite of dense, and it seems to form a kind of bubble or aura around the wearer, rather than emenate from a specific location. Just a couple of sprays seems to fill a room, but it mingles so easily with other ambient scents that I cannot locate the limits of its projection, especially during the first three or four hours of wearing it. It lasts about seven or eight hours on skin, at least twelve or more or fabric. I sprayed some inside my favorite corduroy cap, and I can detect it there after over 24 hours.

Alaïa is a great choice for office wear, and I like it more during daytime, than evening, but it’s so versatile, that it doesn’t have a particular season, or occasion. I have no idea what the given note pyramid has to do with this perfume, because I literally cannot find any pink pepper, peony, or anything else on that list. That is the only thing I can find to complain about. I love this stuff. Five stars, and two sculpted, buffed-and-shined thumbs up.

*see Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent

14th January, 2021

parfums*PARFUMS Series 7 Sweet: Sticky Cake by Comme des Garçons

If my memory is correct, CDG’s Olfactory Library was vaulted for a while. If it was, I can say that I’m glad Sticky Cake is back, because it’s so much fun to wear. I love powdery iris gourmands, and this one is just terrific.

It is actually not that heavy on the powder, even on the drydown. It opens with a milky accord, a delicate blend of almond and pistachio, and more nuttiness, from a puff of steamed rice, that simulates the scent of Asian sticky rice desserts, and Indian rice pudding. What powder I can smell, seems to be from a cold and carroty iris material, probably not orris itself, but a gentle iris nitrile that has not a hint of the metallic whang, that sometimes accompanies this ingredient.

It develops quickly, even on fabric, and evolves from a pale bluish-white iris accord to a soft and hazy beige, lightly caramelized, sweet and somewhat buttery scent. There is a little earthy ambrette in the base, and a toasted accord of myrrh and probably a little benzoin. I am sure there must be a little ethyl maltol in the composition, as it imparts a specific candy sweetness that becomes more
prominent in the later stages of the perfume. The drydown is pretty, returning to a pastel, pearlescent, powder.

The perfume reminds me of an iridescent white nail polish I own that has reflective blue and pinkish shades, that appears opaque in its bottle, but becomes sheer when it’s laid down in a coat or two on my nails. There is something about it that reminds me of the costume design in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a movie filled with pastel colors and beautiful pastry work. I can really douse myself in this stuff and it still wears lightly. As with most iris scents, it would be easy for office wear. The gourmand accord is always appropriate in cool weather, but it would be a nice gourmand for hot weather, as it isn’t cloying or overwhelming, even in large doses. I enjoy it as a comfort scent, the kind of perfume that goes where Teint de Neige, Sweet Dreams, most Loukhoum perfumes, and What We Do in Paris Is Secret can go.

Perfumer Nathalie Fiesthauer has done some my favorite feminines, including Putain de Palaces, another powdered scent, but with cosmetic accords, and Gardenia Petale, one of the most elegant and lifelike gardenias I have ever smelled. Her work is he generally refined, but also lighthearted, and Sticky Cake is just that kind of perfume. It has more brains than Pink Sugar, it reminds me more of Angel Eau Sucrée, so if you like those perfumes, or if you enjoy iris gourmands, this is a perfume you’re going to enjoy.

I do not have the same issues with its performance that some reviewers have mentioned. It behaves differently on fabric than skin, showing more of its ambrette and myrrh on skin, and more sweetness on fabric. It has soft projection and sillage, lasts about six to eight hours on skin, but days on fabric. I have seasoned my favorite cozy, fuzzy, plaid blanket scarf thoroughly with Sticky Cake, and I find that burying my nose in it keeps me calm when I have to go out in public. I am writing this review on a night when things in the United States are very tense, and I need the gentle consolations it provides during this unhappy time.

The Library series has excellent value for money. Some, like Rhubarb, are more like eaux, and provide brief but fun wearing. Sticky Cake has better longevity. I have been coveting a bottle of Lancôme’s Iris Dragees for a while now, and I think Sticky Cake is a more reasonably priced version of the same idea. Some people just don’t like this kind of thing, or might consider it a guilty pleasure, but I love it. I’m glad it is back, if it was ever gone, and I will be wearing it enthusiastically throughout the next few months. I like its level of attention to detail, and I think it deserves somewhere between three and four stars, as my bottle is still fresh, and its performance on skin might improve. Two pearly-pink thumbs up.

12th January, 2021
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Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain

Time has been kind to Spiriteuse Double Vanille. I think it’s helpful to remember that it was launched as part of a pretty great collection, Guerlain’s early entries into the high-end niche market, with bottle sizes and flacon styling comparable to Armani’s Privé line. You could argue, I suppose, that Guerlain already had its Privé line—its parfums/extraits—but Chanel also jumped on the Excluaif bandwagon, so I don’t fault Guerlain. for refusing to enter the 21st century, with perfumes that were less dense, heavy, and classical, not with so much interesting action occurring in indie and niche perfumery. Besides, if any house had a right to create and marked a scent that celebrated pure, unadulterated,vanilla, Guerlain is it. Their Shalimar was, is, and always will be the greatest Oriental perfume ever created, it opened up its own darn genre, and Guerlain’s famous benzoin-vanillin base was a landmark in modern perfumery, with an exemplary use of synthetic materials to add texture and interest to natural resins.

I think, with SDV, Guerlain took Shalimar’s other most striking compositional features, its creamy Bergamot lemon-pudding opening, and its bold, raw, almost acrid green frankincense, and remixed them into a perfume that pays tribute to Guerlain’s past and, at least at one time, almost 15 years ago, what Guerlain’s future could, and still can, be.

It opens with a relatively bright but still resinous bergamot, with a an almost leathery citrus peel texture, that links the opening to the perfume’s middle phase, a dense, shadowy vanilla, that smells like vanilla beans, boozy extract, and a smooth woodsy accord that distinguishes SDV, from more overtly marshmallow-toasty gourmands. Not that SDV is not a gourmand, it just is a much woodier style than the powdered floral gourmand, of Vaniglia del Madagascar, or the campfire-and-kitchen meringue of Tihota.

This darkness, this depth. Is enhanced by a thick frankincense that smells both black and green, at the same time. Concentrated frankincense also contains a burnt-lemon that ties the perfume’s bass with its lemon opening. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, all of these accords are present in Shalimar, and I think this supports my contention, that SDV has a clear connection with Shalimar, bringing the house’s work almost full circle, with its woody elements a nod to the work of Serge Lutens, whose revolutionary Orientals brought, or even substituted woods, to and for, the sweet amber accords of classic perfumes of that family.

The final verdict I have on SDV is, actually, pretty simple: it’s just gorgeous. It is comforting but also mysterious, even if it is not challenging or difficult. The impeccable quality of its materials stand out when I compare it with most of the other vanillas I’ve smelled, that have plasticky off notes or a quality of thinness that is completely absent from SDV. It is the rarest of things, a vanilla with brains, and a serious but not somber or bleak demeanor. Some people who love perfume just cannot get on the vanilla train, they find the concept itself either too simple or too ditzy to embrace as serious perfumery, but the excellence of work like this redeems SDV, making it a solid best-in-class.

My bottle also has had the benefit of age. Guerlain built the best of its classic fragrances to last. A Guerlain boutique SA told me, a long time ago, that Guerlain cave-ages their haute parfumerie, like the great French wine and cheese producers. and examples of aged Shalimar make for some of the most decadent and near-orgasmic perfume smelling experiences I have ever had. I think Spiriteuse Double Vanille was probably created the same way, and I look forward to exploring its slow changes, as the perfume continues to mature. It is one of the treasures of my collection, and I feel like the serious money I spent on it, was worth every penny. It is a terrible shame that Guerlain discontinued it, as it deserves a place among the greatest perfumes this house ever created.

Pure Vanilla is not an original concept, but I give this treatment of it a pass in the originality department, as the treatment of it here is so thoughtful, and its subtle, carefully wrought details are enough to make it special. The quality speaks for itself. It is incredibly wearable, perhaps best on snowy nights, like the one during which I write this review. It has no gender, being woody and smoky enough for even the pickiest of masculine wearers, and it is both a comfortable perfume and a contemplative one. I find something new to appreciate, every time I wear it. I believe it is less foody than some reviewers find it, and for Vanilla Grail chasers like me, I am not sure there is anything greater.

As befits a perfume so profoundly packed with resins, SDV wears close to the body, with more sillage rather than projection, although it reaches a foot or two past my fingertips when I wear it on my wrists. It hangs on at least 12 hours, leaving its delicious, smoky trails around the house for closer to, at least, a full day.

There has been so much hissing and moaning, abour what has, or has not, happened at Guerlain, since its corporate takeover by LVMH—Guerlain has lost the plot, the boutiques are almost all gone, what IFRA will do to Mitsouko (and Chant d’Aromes, and Chamade, too)—that the perfumes, the reason we are all here, I think, sometimes get lost in all the noise. It is easy to forget that, even in its golden age, Guerlain launched many perfumes that were not nearly as successful as the classics that are still in production, so it is kind of silly to pretend that every perfume was a masterpiece and a commercial success. There were more misses than there were hits. Out of the perfumes Guerlain launched since its corporate purchase, I think Spiriteuse is an excellent example, of the house at its best, a summation of the house’s lush, flamboyant style. Five solid gold stars, and two triple-layered Chanel Vamp-coated thumbs up.
11th January, 2021

Cacao Porcelana by Atelier Materi

Last fall, I bought a discovery set of Atelier Materi scents, for the very reasonable price of 18 Euro. I saw their striking presentation, in beautiful cobalt bottles with what appear to be concrete or stone caps, and that was enough to get my attention. Now that I have worked my way through them, I have found two that I feel excited enough about to review. One is Cuir d’Iris, and the other is Cacao Porcelana. They both suit my personal style—iris and leather, and interesting gourmand—more than the others I tried, primarily because I find most of their scents too heavily reliant on woody amber base ingredients. Cacao Porcelana uses some woody amber, but the perfume has enough other interesting qualities, that I think it is worth a positive review.

Atelier Materi’s house copy says that each of their perfumes explores a single material drawn from nature, not unusual marketing talk in the modern perfume world, but I think it is accurate, in that said single materials are expensive captives that smell like streamlined renditions of their natural referents. The house keeps their nomenclature simple, they don’t indulge in much poetry, and their linguistic simplicity suits the perfumes’ olfactory style. They are not complicated, kitchen-sink compositions, and I agree with Fragrantica’s Sergey Borisov, that house perfumer Marie Hugentobler’s work is a lot like some things Jean-Claude Ellena did at Hermès, particularly the Hermessences, which share their focus on a single material or accord, economy of style, and use of a limited palette of modern ingredients, rather than opulent naturals, which is why AM’s perfumes. probably, have a relatively heavy hand with woody ambers, rather than unruly patchoulis or funky resins. I think these base ingredients suit some accords more than others, I don’t like them with citruses or most florals, but they blend well with Cacao Porcelana’s interesting concept of cold, rather than cozy and warm, gourmand chocolate.

The perfume doesn’t smell like raw cacao or cocoa powder, so much as a near desiccated milk chocolate, and its blend of milky and lactonic, with stony and cool, textures is both intellectually interesting, and attractive smelling. This is not a chocolate that loves you up, wraps you in a cozy blanket, and makes you want to gnaw your arm. The actual chocolate accord reminds me of Pierre Guillaume’s Musc Maori, but Musc Maori is like a milkshake with a side of melted butter, a hyper-real gourmand pastry kitchen on steroids. Cacao Porcelana smells like that same milk chocolate, worked into a piece of satiny stoneware, neither rough nor glossy, an elegant, and original, use of an accord that sometimes tries too hard to make you love it. It does not change over time so much as seem to sink into itself, the cool exterior turning to an only slightly darker tone, from chilly Cadbury’s Extra Milk to cold chocolate ganache. I think this is why I can tolerate its woody amber base, because that same ingredient is jarring and dissonant in another chocolate perfume that I want to like, but just can’t, 4160 Tuesdays’ Silk. Lace, and Chocolate (although, Valentine’s Day is coming around again, and I will give it my traditional annual try, because I adore Sarah McCartney so damned much, and I have a dogged, Quixotic desire to find it gift packed with lingerie, come every February, because I am a cheeseball romantic, and so is my boyfriend), a more extroverted chocolate gourmand that would work much better, with a proper resiny amber base, rather than its metallic faux ambergris.

Atelier Materi’s complicated note pyramid doesn’t really scan, to my nose. I can’t find the curried scent of immortelle, or dried dates of davana, or anything I recognize as jasmine. This comes back to the point I made at the beginning of this review. I think these perfumes are constructed from the kind of lab grown or manipulated materials that take tiny slivers from each of these natural (and I hate this word) “notes,” so that it is, possibly, enhancing its main chocolate accord, with pinpoints of each, such as the maple aroma of immortelle, minus its scrubby and wild herbal qualities, the aromatic fruitiness of davana, minus its raisiny richness, and, perhaps something spicy from “Indian,” which I assume to be Sambac, jasmine. I admire the level of detail the note pyramid provides, because these days, more often than not, we are given generic three-word descriptions like “florals,
amber, and musk,” and, while I understand that these things are, often as not, more marketing blather, than actual descriptions of a perfume’s profile, I also appreciate the opportunity and intellectual challenge of decoding how a modern IFRA-compliant perfume this delicate and sophisticated, is constructed, and I appreciate the pyramid’s precision, which fits with this house’s immaculate image.

Minimalist contemporary perfumery can be brutally dull in its straightforwardness, as if 2021 consumers lack the imagination to find pleasure in something that is not obviously and completely self-explanatory, even if the explanation, like “White Tea” (and, this is a random example, I don’t mean to beat up on it in particular, but it was the first thing that came to mind) is so fanciful that it’s, basically, a lie. But there is something serene about Cacao Porcelana, that I keep coming back to. Perhaps I just want a chocolate perfume that I can comfortably wear in summer, or perhaps this perfume has foxed this wearer of shamelessly excessive, sticky, resin-powered gourmands into considering something more tasteful that still fits within the same family. It would be nice to have something like this in my collection, for times when I want something contemplative, well-mannered, and softly-spoken, but not in the mood for Iris Prima or Tam Dao. The retail price (220 Euros, whatever that translates into dollars) is terrifying for what it is, so I will be looking for it on the decant sites and gray markets, and hoping it finds its way there.

Cacao Porcelana has projection that I can charitably, but also honestly, describe as intimate. It is more than a skin scent, but it takes several sprays to make it detectable past my fingertips, at which point its woody amber threatens to overshadow the perfume’s delicate charm. It performs much like its relatives in the Hermessence line, with maybe six or seven hours of detectable wear, and longer on fabric. I like it, it’s interesting, and it’s obviously a quality perfume, and very easy to wear, with a pleasing versatility and elegance. I have paid a lot more than its retail cost, for some perfumes in my collection, but they are either rare, vintage, stunners, Chanel, or all four, and its price is the one serious complaint I have with this otherwise very nice perfume. I am edging towards four stars but sticking to three, and perhaps considering adding a half. The discovery set is worth exploring, especially if you like Ellena’s Hermessence series. A well groomed, French manicured thumbs up.
10th January, 2021

Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur


Dzing! Is supposed to be an olfactive portrait of a trip to the circus, like a scratch-and-sniff accompaniment to the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” John Lennon famously said, “I want to smell the sawdust.” And, the great Olivia Giacobetti executes this, with style, panache, and animalic stank for miles.

The perfume opens with big blast of bergamot, followed by a rising, massive, cloud of cedar, leather, and white-pepper horse poo. It is the kind of animalic leather accord, that could cause some confusion, regarding the state of the wearer’s hygiene. It is so horsey, that it takes me back to my grandparents’ farm in the South Texas Valley, the dust and hay and weirdly comforting scent of freshly mucked stalls.

It settles into a musky leather accord, that is rough and furry, like the animal musk in dirty mustachiod 70s perfumes, like Jovān’s Musk for Men, elegant musks like Kiehl’s Original Musk, Serge Luten’s floral Musk Kublai Khan, and Parfum d’Empire’s Musc Tonkin. It is a ketone musk, the artificial substitute for Tonkin Deer Musk (the real thing has become fashionable again, thanks to Bortnikoff and his “sustainable” deer musk perfumes).

The musk is assimilated into the dry, funky leather, which begins to take on the vegetative, resinous, almost caramelized sweetness of labdanum, itself a furry-smelling substance that used to be harvested from goat beards using a rake-like combing device, and even in cultivated form has a goaty smell that reminds me of childhood misadventures at petting zoos (a goat once managed to untie and swallow most of a grosgrain belt off of one of my little jumpsuits, before my mum intervened, and rescued both me and the belt, from the goat’s overenthusiastic chewing).

It is a genius transition, as the sweet edge of the labdanum, leads to a swelling, delicious scent of buttery, toasty esters, the popcorn in Dzing!’s conceptual, virtual circus. The perfume balances, like a seal on a beach ball, the animalic leather accord, with an animalic amber, that reminds me of Profumum Roma’s fabulous Fiore d’Ambra, one of the greatest celebrations of labdanum in modern perfumery. I also smell a teeny, almost subliminal, hint of cotton candy, another circus element, that lingers in a puffy cloud, as the perfume darkens, in a long sunset, over the tents, and wagons, and animals bedding down for the night.

Dzing! Is one of the great L’Artisans, a landmark in niche perfumery, that belongs with the house’s other mid period masterpieces, such as Bertrand Duchaufour’s vetiver duo of Timbuktu and Dzongkha (btw, this house and its “Dz” names, am I right?), his equally magnificent orange-blossom/beeswax Seville a’L’Aube, and his iris tour-de-force Traversée du Bosphore, his savage incense Al Oudh, and Giacobetti’s creepy incense Rue d’Infer, a masterful run of niche perfumery classics, that L’Artisan Parfumeur has, unfortunately, probably, left behind, as their new corporate masters at Puig, have left behind, just like they have spoiled the house’s lovely packaging, with grim gray glass, that replaced their sparkling, clear, colorfully labeled bottles.

Dzing! packs a punch. It projects in about a three foot radius, and it lasts for at least twelve hours, in its final phases, a gradually boozy amber, that could perhaps be imagined as drunken carnies, relaxing after a day’s work, of wrangling horses, elephants, big cats, and crowds of people. From its marketing , I expected it to fall further on the gourmand, than the leather, spectrum, as its featured vanilla and amber, listed in L’Artisan’s description, are largely subsumed beneath its beastly animalics. It is a scent that leather, and certain amber, junkies will love, but it is likely not for people, who don’t like strong musks and barnyard accords. Nevertheless, this it necessary exploratory smelling, for anyone who wants to expand their palate, and understand, what great niche perfumery, with brilliant execution and artistic direction, can, and should be. There is literally nothing else like it. On my personal rating system, I give it four and a half stars, as I sometimes find it a difficult perfume to wear, I definitely have to be in the mood for it, but when I am in a Dzing! mood, it is like the old Snickers as copy—it really satisfies. I wish I had purchased a bottle, a couple of years ago, when Puig bought L’Artisan Parfumeur, and the gray market had been flooded with discount bottles, with the old packaging. If you are reading this, and have an old unfinished bottle, that you would like to sell, send me a message, please. Until then, my 10ml decant, will probably get me through the cold months left in this winter, and cooler days in the spring. Thumbs, absolutely, up!!

10th January, 2021

Black Leather by J-Scent

J-Scent is a house that we don’t talk about much on Basenotes, and I think we should. I own and love Roasted Green Tea, and I just bought a bottle of the excellent Black Leather. These perfumes—and others I’ve tried from the house—are elegant, high-quality, well-crafted scents, classically composed, with very good manners. This house doesn’t do air horn powerhouses, so they aren’t on the radars of the Cologne Bros. They also don’t wave their middle fingers at IFRA, so the Cult of Oakmoss (I carry a card, so no judgement) has not really noticed them, either. They’re not wild floral sex bombs, or Oud-driven Nu Skool Orientals, or freaky, arty conceptual showboats. They need a champion, so I am saddling up my white horse, and taking up the banner.

I love floral leathers, and Black Leather belongs squarely in that family. It opens with a smooth, polished, birch-tinged leather accord, which also qualifies it as a Russian leather. As it warms on skin, it reveals a hazy jasmine, with a hint of petrol that reminds me of the way jasmine is used, in Dior’s classic Fahrenheit. Beneath the layer of jasmine, lies a warm, dry, almost bitter amber, followed up by a lightly toasted tobacco that ties the perfume together, with smooth tannins that run from the tarry leather, to the dusty amber. to the dry-sweet tobacco, and a hint of ashy, desiccated, probably fractionated oakmoss, tying the perfume together, like a piece of raffia twine. It finishes on a bed of wood that hints at cedar, but doesn’t fully embrace its pungency, and bone dry vanilla (also a wood). I love the way the woodsy notes fill out the tannic skeleton, with some plushness on its frame —a buttery lambskin jacket, not a rough gangster’s overcoat.

Despite its manly attributes on paper, and Luckyscent’s classifying it on the far end of their femme-to masculine spectrum, Black Leather marshals all these edgy
elements, into a suave, sophisticated, graceful composition—Cary Grant, not Marlon Brando. It’s one of the easiest-wearing, and most versatile, leathers I have ever found, both elegant and relaxed, equally at home with jeans, work clothing, clubwear, and evening dress—something about leather, lends even a quietly spoken creation like Black Leathef, enough swagger to go anywhere, that a more aggressive composition typically could.

This is 100 percent unisex—its jasmine is present, but lean and not remotely indolic. As I mentioned, it is not a beast—its projection doesn’t go far past the fingertips; this perfume is more about intimacy. than extroversion. It lasts about eight hours on skin, longer if you really get after it with your application technique (layer up—bare skin, underclothing, wrists and neck, plus a last “aura” spray will give you the best and longest wear).

Time now, for the obligatory “this is like . . . “ part of the review, and this is where. I think, things get interesting. It took me a couple of wears to get my bearings with Black Leather, until one day I gave myself a good smack to the head and realized what I was smelling. I realized that, one, it is my beloved Bulgari Black (vanilla-gasoline-Woods-greenish-leather), reimagined more successfully. for the post-IFRA world than the weird powdered-doughnut version. that Bulgari landed on, after they had to remove its tea ingredients. Its soft but persistent performance reminds me of the work of perfumers like James Heeley and Olivia Giacobetti. And it is impossible for me to smell a floral birch tar leather without thinking of Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. Final result: Heeley and Giacobetti team up to rework Bulgari Black, using Cuir de Russie as a blueprint. Except (almost forgot to mention this), there’s no perceptible powder anywhere. It’s up to you, as to whether you find this a benefit or a drawback. I love powder, but I think Bulgari overdid it in the post-reform version of Black, and it is a treat to find an Alternate Universe version, of one of my all-time favorite perfumes, reworked in such a classy, but sensual, form.

This perfume was an instant love for me, and if you like good leathers, you need to smell it. It delivers amazing value, for the money—a full bottle runs for significantly less than 100 dollars from Luckyscent, a steal, in today’s niche world. It was launched in 2019, a pretty dismal year in for interesting new perfumes, and it’s not the only good perfume I’ve tried from J-Scent. I can’t find much on the internet about the nose, or noses, J-Scent looks like they’re part of some kind of larger operation, so these are, likely, not funky little artisanal scents. They’re just good perfumes, really well-crafted, with interesting accords, that are just a little left of the dial. This gets an easy four, or maybe even four and a half, stars (we’ll see how often I wear it once my bottle arrives), for its quality, wearability, interest, and, the fact that I just love it so damn much. It threads the needle between sometimes hard-to-wear bleak leathers, and kinder/gentler leathers like Kelly Caleche and Cuir d’Ange, so even though it is not wildly original, it brings a contemporary sensibility to a vintage classic. Thumbs way up. Go smell this—and, check out Roasted Green Tea, while you are at it
09th January, 2021

Aura by Thierry Mugler

Mugler Aura

I love vanilla fragrances, but even I am getting a little fed up with the way every major house, and the horse it rode in on, have jumped onto the vanilla train. So, my first reaction when I heard that Mugler’s first pillar fragrance since Womanity was going to be vanilla, I thought, oh, no, not Mugler, too. And I, duly, harassed the poor SA at the local Macy’s for months, because it took freaking forever to actually arrive in the US, after its initial launch, which made me wonder if Aura was not doing as well as initially desired, and also if Mugler was reconsidering their marketing strategy. When it finally got to the US, I smelled it, didn’t feel moved to like or hate the scent itself, but still disliked it on principle, because I felt like Mugler were playing things, relatively, straight, as this kind of greenish vanilla has been around for a while, at least since Dior Addict, and of anything, Aura came to that game, very, very late.

It took a few months of lurking around Basenotes (I was a lurker for years, before I had my account), and some enthusiastic, or at least positive, reviews, from people whose opinions I have come to respect, to convince me to give it another try. That, and its price point, as Mugler always delivers value for money, to a degree that no other major house of its stature even tries to touch, probably because their perfumes are largely lab grown,’and also because of economy of scale. I like this about the house, they walk the path of Francois Coty, who famously argued that people, especially women, want good perfume in great bottles at a decent prices. This house doesn’t spend too much time trying to convince the punters about rare essences and Grasse materials, and I like that, because these perfumes are not supposed to smell like anything on earth, anyway, so I revisited Aura with different expectations, and found a lot to like, maybe even love.

It is unabashedly artificial, so let’s just get that out of the way now. It smells like plastic, floor wax, industrial grade bathroom cleaning products—especially airplane bathrooms, for some reason—aggressively fresh scents that attack your nose, with a rhubarb and ivy accord that smells tart, green, watery, a little sweet, and just ... weird. I can’t figure out which cleaning product I am smelling here, maybe glass cleaner, or the blue liquid in aforementioned airplane toilets.

Mugler put all this greenery up front and center, and I think that is really the per fume’s story, rather than the vanilla I initially thought would be its main event. There is vanilla in here, like a cold vanilla pudding in a chilled basin, which reminds me very much of Pierre Guillaime’s iris-and-vanilla scent. Its personality also has has a mysterious smoky quality, and something almost phenolic.

Because Aura’s vanilla primarily reads as cold, it blends well with the frosty aromatic green accords, their shared chill giving these accords a sense of being kindred spirits—unexpected relatives, as vanilla usually reads as warm, either because of our primal association with its scent in baked goods and desserts, or the generally cozy bear hug provided by sweet perfume with a little caramelized darkness. The vanilla in Aura doesn’t quite venture into comfort territory; as it wears, its base ingredients reveal themselves as something more like incense, the scent of firewood freshly lit (and the vanillin in the wood steaming and then smoking), and perhaps the vanillic edge of toasted wood I smell in many American- or New World-made brown liquors,’whose aging time in oak barrels, a hint of aromatic vanilla that I treat with a welcoming but respectful distance, because they can mess up your world in a hurry.

I don’t know what the perfumers found in vanilla that is so oily and phenolic, but vanilla is extremely complex ingredient, with a lot of varietal variations, and I probably need to spend more time, just huffing on and enjoying my pricey (but, totally, worth it, as a single one will fill gallon bag of plain old sugar with its heavenly scent), occasional Tahitian or Madagascan vanilla bean purchases, their precious tubes themselves aromatic enough to bury in my baking sugar, along with the beans themselves. I think about the shiny, slightly oily surface of vanilla,’and I wonder if that is where it comes from. Obviously, Mugler—whose gourmand credentials are beyond, impeccable, have pulled, splintered, fractionated, and isolated pretty much everything that comprises the deceptively simple scent of so many childhood sweets, from Nilla Wafers to the plainest ice cream, and found its secret hidden chambers that offer more alienation than comfort.

Aura is almost the opposite of Mugler’s first big hit with Angel, as Angel seemed to be about finding, and throwing together, as many unrelated elements as possible,’and making them stick. Aura is a little more like Alien, which was a one-note exploration of the wild and dark (as in undiscovered and unobserved, like the dark side of the moon) aspects of one of perfumery’s most common ingredients, Jasmine, with the result being a Vick’s Vapor-Rub/Tiger Balm menthol accord that emphasized and celebrated sambac jasmine’s subtle, aromatic, cool, inside its more aggressive and spicy profile.

Aura takes a little from both of these. It brings out a less celebrated quality from a bog standard material that we thought we all knew—Alien—and it throws it in a blender with some apparently unrelated materials that actually have a lot more in common than anyone would have guessed. Gas spectrometers, and the fine dissection of natural materials they allow, and the fractionated materials they create, have opened up, not only a new universe of novel scents, but also an equally novel artistic space where these very specific bits of familiar scents can find new companionship and expression,
In areas that classical perfumery could never have even comsidered.

Overall, Aura is excellent work. Mugler put almost all their chips into its ride-or-did reaction and launch, and I think history will be kind to it. It reveals a different side of the house, a slightly more introspective and less in-your-face style of perfumery, that reflects some of the more refined work happening in Mugler’s higher-end Exclusifs line, and I, for once, won’t grumble about their being almost two houses split along economic lines, as I think Mugler is actually using what they have learned from its fine(r) Fragrance Line, to apply new techniques to its pillar lines. Which is exactly what a higher priced line should do, rather than ust flog Woody Amber Extreme at the people who have a lot more money than sense, the way that Guerlain seems to be going.

Finally, Aura gives me hope that (1) green fragrance is not dead (and not just in niche perfumery, where it is enjoying a long and exciting renaissance), because other houses follow where Mugler goes; that (2) “smart” or “clever” or at least unexpected perfumes can find a welcome spot in the heart of mainstream perfume customers, and that (3) Mugler is—I pray—cooking up some real zingers for Aura’s first batch of related perfumes , as (I have said this before, and will almost certainly say it some more), that Mugler’s flanker game is strong as an Olympic power lifter, and I am poised and ready for Aura Chcolate, Boozy Aura, Hippie Patchouli Aura Sensielle, Cuir de Aura, and all the madness that will bubble forth from Mugler’s corporate cauldrons. Bring it on, people. I’m ready.

Btw that bottle. I have a May birthday, so it feels especially made just for me. And who else is doing emerald right now, in this sea of cod-Chanel minimalist apothecary and whiskey decanter-inspired flacons? Those work for a house founded on the simplicity of Little Black dresses, and the tired old “take one thing off” saw, but a perfume cabinet filled with color and excitement, is a cabinet that makes me feel inspired, confident, and interested in what the people who work this magic 8th art for our 7th sense will think of next.

Four solid stars—I’m not 100 perfect behind the plastic accord that sometimes feels like a jab in the eardrum, and it’s a clever remix of Addict, but Dior got there years ago, so a few little nitpicks here and there keep it from the masterpiece range. Nevertheless, Aura is excellent work, and I hope that Mugler will find a flanker for it as good as Angel Gout de Cacao, which elevated a brilliant popular scent into the realms of the most sublime fine fragrances ever created. Two, very excited, thumbs up.

04th January, 2021

Archives 69 by Etat Libre d'Orange

Archives 69 opens with the kind of aldehydic whoosh that I have only previously experienced with some of the great, classic Chanel feminines, No. 5, No. 19., and especially No. 22. I don’t know what to think of the notes that the Free Orange folk give with this perfume, as it lists a lot of the usual fruitchouli/Modern Musky Floral suspects, but doesn’t smell like them. Pink pepper, plum, patchouli—that could be anything from Modern Muse to the 30 dollar Betsey Johnson fragrance we picked up at Walmart during Christmas, to Allure, and the Coco flankers that Luca Turin likes to describe as “grim.” But Archives 69 doesn’t resemble them in any substantial way, except perhaps a passing similarity to Coco Noir, another uplifting fruit-and-patch concoction, that I really like, and have already written a defensive review, explaining why I think it’s so good. But this is great in a different way from the Coco Noir, and everything else I have smelled from Etat Libre d’Orange.

For one thing, the aldehydes—they’re really something, here. Aldehydes (these aldehydes, anyway, I know there are otters that smell like fruit esters, and maybe some of those are in here, too) smell like a substance marketed as Ozium, that all the stoner kids I knew in high school, bought at the local head shop, and used to try and convince their parents that they weren’t smoking the devil’s tobacco in their bedrooms. That stuff confuses the nose—it smells like a weird combination of nothing, clean air, and the first seconds of a window-unit air conditioner as it rattles to life and starts to pump Freon. It’s also kind of like the New Car scent you can purchase in cans, those weird jars of rubbery stuff used for car scents, or at the hands-on car wash. They cause a special nasal tickle, almost like the feeling you get before you’re going to sneeze. I think they do something to overexcite the smelling apparatus, which I guess could exaggerate some scents. They last unusually long in Archives 69, which makes the perfume behave like fizzy, exploding Pop Rocks candy on the skin.

It’s an opening like an announcement that says “hang on, folks, this is going to be fun,” (which is, incidentally, what ELDO has been printing on their marketing materials lately), the kind of thing a crazed airplane pilot might broadcast over the speakers before executing a stunt roll, and scaring the hell out of the passengers. It’s one of the best openings in modern perfumery, and other reviewers have noticed it, too. What happens next, probably depends on your personal frame of reference. Salty plums, olives, overripe fruits, they’re all part of Christine Nagel’s perfume vernacular, and she gets them all in here. I think I, maybe, smell candied tuberose in a small dose, a little hairspray that is probably aldehydic rose, and they crackle and buzz like puffed rice cereal, with freshly poured milk over the top.

This salty-savoury and fruity-funky accord is the main business of Archives 69, and it speaks to the perfume’s mission statement, to capture the general olfactory atmosphere of the ELDO shop on the Rue de Archives. It belongs to a category, that I think has become an established niche perfumery trope—pick out the predominant scents wafting around one’s retail space, and name it after the street address where your main headquarters are located—L’Artisan Parfumeur did it, and so have Diptyque, and possibly some others that I am not aware of. All three of these, are, incidentally, really great perfumes, some of the best of each house, and all of them have an “organized chaos” personality, that makes them useful all-rounder sort of perfumes.

Christine Nagel borrowed quite a bit of her technique here, from the great Edmund Roudnitska’s penchant for funky overripe fruit accords, and his recombinant use of those accords, across perfumes he authored for Rochas, Dior, and, posthumously, Frederic Malle. It takes ... I want to say balls, but in Nagel’s case, ovaries (I suppose), to borrow from a legend like Roudnitska, but when someone is as great a perfumes as Nagel, they can do whatever the hell they want.

Archives lands on a still fizzing, popping base of patchouli and ELDO’s signature lotionesque musk, and with that, I think it accomplishes the mission statement. There are probably pieces and bits of other perfumes from this house, buried subliminally within, and as i work my way through ELDO’s boxed set. I am sure I will recognize some of them. The ELDO-ade coats the perfume’s patchouli base with a smooth finish that accents its cocoa-chocolate qualities, with a milky-lactonic and the final stages of the perfume finish with that. It is the final vapour trails, left in the sky, after the crazed pilot has performed his final, terrifying dive, and headed for the horizon. This is, so far, my favourite perfume this house has produced, and the only (so far) masterpiece I’ve found there, among some very good contenders. It definitely swings towards the stereotypical feminine side of the perfume spectrum, but it isn’t exactly girly—no talcum powder or apparent florals leap out, to give it ruffles or bows. It gives me about 8 hours, of very pleasurable wear. Five stars for originality, wearability, quality, interest, and the fact that I just love it, so damn much. Two glittering thumbs up. If you like great perfume (and that is, I assume, why you’re perusing Basenotes reviews, in the first place), you need to smell this. Close your browser, and go find a sample ...

03rd January, 2021

Dangerous Complicity by Etat Libre d'Orange

Words! Yummy!! I’m eating some more, as I sit here this evening, the proud owner of a full
bottle of Dangerous Complicity, after I wrote a review a few days ago, and said that I couldn’t find much in it, whether to love or hate. It grew on me so much over the next few hours. after I wrote that review, that I went over to eBay, and found terrific bargain (40 dollars!!), for a full 50ml bottle. Hooray!

So, you may ask, what made me change my mind? The end of my initial review, which I leave, unedited. below, offers an explanation—Bay Rum, a scent that I fell in love with during my quasi hippie raver chick college years, when I found Burt’s Bees Bay Rum at the funky little member-owned granola-and-Dr Bronner’s Soap grocery Co-Op, and adopted it as my personal scent, because, as a former Opium-and-Coco girl, I loved its spicy profile, it cost less than a pizza, and I didn’t have to go to the mall to get it.

Dangerous Complicity’s bay accord is one of its most noticeable features. I have been cooking a navy bean soup this evening, using the bone from our glazed holiday ham, and I am holding a fresh bag of bay leaves, which I use in all my soups. I love their sweet, spicy, aromatic, fresh-tea scent, and its combination of great outdoors and cozy indoors. I don’t run across it very often in modern perfumery, or at least not niche perfumery that isn’t aimed exclusively at men, and it brings back happy memories, not only of dancing up a storm to Freaky Chakra, Plastikman, and the late great Frankie Knuckles, when I was a young and wild aspiring DJ, but also of the scent of comforting pots of soup, and cups of spice tea (I suspect it is in the blend of Constant Comment).

Dangerous Complicity captures the qualities of its main Bay Rum accord, the scent of indoors and outdoors. in a single accord. I love perfumes that embrace indoor-outdoor accords, they do what the best perfumes are capable of, making impossible things possible, at least in the magical space of olfactory art. It is both cozy and spacious. Its beachy coconut-rum cocktail is matched up with a comforting blanket of aromatic spice, and I think that makes if appropriate for both winter and summer.

Its only weakness is the opening. ELDO’s perfumes often come out swinging, but this one takes fime to reveal its best features. I’m revising my initial evaluation, and giving it a positive review. I’ll be enjoying it on cold nights like tonight,’and wearing ir on summer days, when I will want its smooth rum-cocktail personality, to contrast with my usual citrus and florals. Thumbs up.

**Written on January 2, 2021, and revised since:**
When Etat Libre d’Orange first appeared in the perfume world, these guys were swinging for the fences. Every scent was so distinctive, that I honestly felt like I would never smell something they did and think, I have something in my collection similar to this. But, as I’ve started smelling some of their more relatively recent releases (Dangerous Complicity was launched in 2012), I am finding less and less of their old wild originality, and more scents that feel both safe and same-ish.

I think ELDO’s marketing blurb for this scent says something about both the Garden of Eden, and something about a beachy accord of life-coconut-rum cocktails and bay leaves (I suppose that makes it a twist on Bay Rum, a fragrance I was obsessed with and wore throughout my college years), plus Osmanthus, leather and patchouli. I cannot find much connection between these, but I also recognize that this house writes some of the silliest promotional materials in the perfume business. More importantly, I would not have picked any of these “notes” out, if I had not looked them up.

Instead, I got a smooth but bland floral accord with some jasmine and violet, with a nutty quality, and a lotiony-smelling musk that I have found in varying proportions across several fragrances from this house, especially Noël au Balcon and Like This. This ELDOade typically appears in their feminines, and it is weird to smell it blended with this Bay Rum accord. It doesn’t smell bad, just mildly confusing, as it distracts from the perfume’s more interesting elements. As a whole, it smells kind of like someone wearing a high-quality moisturizer with a weak, inexpensive coconut cocktail body spray and some weak, fleeting Bay Rum cologne, things that smell good, but do not constitute a fully fledged, compelling scent, especially one worthy of a house that is so patently capable of brilliant work, like Rien, Eau de Protection, Like This, Noël au Balcon, Fat Electrician, Archives 69, Putain de Palaces, I Am Trash, and You or Someone Like You, perfumes I love and either already own, or plan on purchasing either for myself or my boyfriend. Every one of these perfumes is excellent, either a great execution of an idea that no other house has done as well (You or Someone Like You is the best mint scent I have ever smelled, it is like freshly crushed mint, not toothpaste, with a gorgeous florist greenery accord, and I Am Trash has a long-lasting candied strawberry that I adore wearing in our scorching summers), or are so original (Like This and its unprecedented and brilliant pumpkin accord), that I think my high expectations from this house are justified.

I am willing to reconsider my thoughts about Dangerous Complicity, as I am smelling it for the first time on a sub-freezing winter night, when I suspect that its beachy personality might be more appropriate for warm weather. I’ll hang on to my sample, and give it another turn when the weather changes. I have much general good will toward this house, I find its prices very attractive, and I would also love to find an updated and interesting take on my old love Bay Rum, and perhaps Dangerous Complicity could turn out to be that perfume. We’ll see ...

For now, it’s a mildly disappointing two and a half stars. It’s obviously decent quality, it’s an easy wear, and I smell some things in it that I like, but not enough to push me to a thumbs up. Maybe I’ll find something more interesting in it, if I keep smelling it. Thumbs sideways, until then.
02nd January, 2021 (last edited: 07th January, 2021)

Remarkable People by Etat Libre d'Orange

Yummy! Remarkable People opens with one of the best grapefruits I’ve ever smelled, a juicy Ruby Red Rio Star that is a welcome hit of sunshine on a wintry day like today (I am writing this on January 2nd, and it is sunny but cold outside). It also has a delicious cardamom note, and a bit of immortelle that I think constitutes the “curry JE accord” that ELDO lists among its heart notes (I have no idea what JE means. If you do, send me a message). I don’t smell Champagne, but then, I’ve yet to find an alleged Champagne that actually replicates the ineffable bouancy of the real thing. (My boyfriend described the opening as “rubbing alcohol, but I didn’t get that).

The scent mellows into a melange of cold spices, very appealing with the slightly bitter grapefruit accord. Its base is an unsweetened Amber and sandalwood blend, that boosts the mixed spices and citrus. I like this for what it is not as much as what it is, as I don’t smell the woody amber that I was frankly bracing myself for. I also detect some leather, even though I don’t see it in the house notes—probably labdanum, a friendly animalic ingredient—and a creamy smoothness emerges as the scent settles down after its bouncy opening.

It reminds me a little of another ELDO (Dangerous Complicity) that first elicited a “meh” reaction from me, but which grew on me so quickly that I snagged a bottle when I found one for forty dollars on the aftermarket—another boozy, creamy, slightly animalic scent that seems to sit in the center of this house’s fun, amberesque, non-gendered fragrances. Even though they don’t resemble one another on paper, they hit on similar cylinders for my nose, and would occupy a similar olfactory space in my collection, with this one leaning more towards “interesting sandalwood” than “fruity leather,” but they’re both made of fruit, Amber, spice, and cocktail accords. If I can find this for a price as good as the one I found for Dangerous Complicity, I might spring for it, as I am really enjoying this winter citrus.

ELDO’s always kooky ad copy says a lot about how this scent has something to do with (and I quote) demigods, scientists, nonconformists of various stripes, artists, and people who like the Free Orange State’s other perfumes. I fit at least three of these criteria, so I suppose it’s for me, to some degree. It isn’t particularly loud, it doesn’t really project beyond the opening grapefruit, but it creates a nice, moderate aura that drifts past the fingertips. As with many of ELDO’s fragrances, it lasts about eight hours on skin. It is a quality fragrance, it has some original thinking, it’s absolutely wearable, and I like it, so it’s pushing up against a solid four stars for me. If you like interesting citrus, if you are looking an easy-wearing spice box, or if you want a sandalwood that doesn’t force a woody amber down your throat, this could be for you. Thumbs up

02nd January, 2021

Portrayal Woman by Amouage

Oof. Portrayal Woman is a Big White floral on steroids, starting with a heavy, indolic jasmine and then opening up into an equally massive tuberose. It also has a sweet and crunchy amber accord in the base. I don’t smell Annick Menardo’s usual clever hand at work here, as it’s such a common and bludgeoning accord.

The notes claim elemi is in the mix, and I love elemi. It is aromatic, cold, bitter, herbal, resinous, and almost anisic (if you have smelled Dune for women, and you really should smell it, if you have not, you know what elemi smells like). Anise/licorice is Menardo’s signature accord, she uses it to extremely clever effect in the phenomenal classic Lolita Lempicka women’s and men’s fragrances, and I wish I could find it here, but it’s hiding behind the monstrous florals.

It’s not an awful perfume, it’s made of obviously excellent quality ingredients, and like most Amouages, it is strong as hell. It just doesn’t smell terribly distinctive, and what it does do, can be had for significantly less cash than Amouage’s asking price. If you want an indolic floral with a crunchy amber base, go get Rogue Perfumery’s excellent Jasmine Antique, which will set you back for about a quarter of Portrayal’s cost, and also supports a smaller indie house. I’m sure I will finish my sample, probably when it’s hot outside, and this screaming tuberose diva will pair well with a cold cocktail or iced hibiscus tea.

Amouage seems to be drifting into disapppointingly repetitive territory. Ubar Woman is a much better grand floral, with a lot more going on, and the house also has a couple of great gardenias, as well as a very pretty tuberose in Tuberose Love. I’ll give this two stars, for quality and wearability, but I cannot recommend spending 300 dollars for it. But if you are a Big White Floral or Amouage completist, it is worth a try. Maybe I’ll rethink this when winter is over, because I want to like it, as I am generally a fan of Menardo’s work, and I almost always find that Amouage’s fragrances grow on me. I’ll edit this review if I discover anything new.
02nd January, 2021

Attar AT by Tauer

I got a little bottle (although, I believe, it is the only size there is) of AT, as a gift with purchase from Luckyscent, and it’s great. It is a tough little guy, like a mechanic’s overalls, the scent of 40 weight motor oil, monkey grease, and petrol—itself a strangely addictive scent, with that weird bit of sweetness that one gets from the drop or three of gasoline that sometimes gets on my hand when I finish filling up the car.

It goes on with a shocker of an opening, hard and leathery, and unapologetically artificial. Petrol notes sometimes denote the presence of jasmine (Fahrenheit and Salome both use jasmine in this way), and I wonder if that’s part of how Tauer constructed its accord. Petrol is also so popular now, especially in masculine-marketed fragrances, that at least half of my boyfriend’s most loved and worn perfumes smell like automotive shops. It’s probably the most distinctive fragrance trend in modern perfumery (aside from women’s Modern Musky Florals), so if that is your kind of thing, you’ll love AT.

The fragrance softens as it warms up. About 30 minutes in, I notice what I think is an oily rose hidden somewhere in its pockets, that reminds me of the Balsamic vinegar rose of Rose Flash. Tauer tends to use some of his accords, in rearranged configurations, across his different perfumes, and this one is almost like Hyacinth and a Mechanic, retold as Rose and Mechanic.

A spicy accord appears as well, with nutmeg, and maybe allspice, and possibly red chili flakes—hot spices that warm the nose, like the spice in Tauer’s Sotto la Luna florals, or even ELDO’s Spice Must Flow. They do not take AT in a gourmand direction, but they give the dense main accord a sense of lift, and that’s what I smell in the perfume’s wake when my boyfriend wears it (it is hard to smell one’s own sillage, so I have to deduce from his). The spices balance the savory rose and chemical refinery accords, in a weird, but appealing, trio of voices, that harmonize like a bluesy seventh accord, somehow melancholy but also edgy. It reminds me a little of Le Labo’s bizarre Patchouli, which leads me to believe that there is patchouli contributing to the mix, as well.

It is unlike the more traditional floral attars I own, it packs less of an obvious aromatic punch, as a dab doesn’t waft off skin and fill a room the same way that my Amouage attars do, but they’re unusual attars. It stays close to your body, with sillage rather than projection, an effect I expect from parfum and attar formulations, as they have significantly less volatility, because they have, respectively, relatively little, or no. alcohol in their formulae. In its latter stages, the hard leather changes to something more plush and almost buttery. The drydown turns progressively more floral, with a juiciness emerged that reminds me of the watermelon rose from some of Maria Candida Gentile’s perfumes, that I think indicates good quality natural rose ingredients. The gasoline accord ticks on alongside until the very last stages. It blends very well into skin, a “you-smell-good,” rather than a “your-perfume-smells-good” kind of fragrance. It lasts about eight hours on skin, maybe longer with a little heavier application than I prefer.

I’m a great fan of Tauer’s perfumery. I think his training as a chemist, must have taught him to find beauty in strange, atypical scents, and also taught him some technical tricks that fool the nose into experiencing textures, like AT’s transition from hard to soft. AT is a very specific perfume, rather than an all-rounder/crowd-pleaser, and some people might find it hard to wear, if they are not comfortable with hard, smoky, funky, abstract, chemical scents. But, there is nothing out there like it, and that makes it worthy of a test, at least. It is very stereotypically masculine in style, so if you are interested in manly floral scents, or if you like shadowy, smoky, mysterious perfumes, you should definitely check this out. Its retail price is extremely reasonable, a tiny bottle of AT should go a very long way, because it is not the kind of thing to douse oneself in. Too much of this would be unbearably harsh, and I think Tauer made the right choice, when he crafted this to be an Attar.

I am not crazy about the one-to-five star rating system, but I am learning to use it, and make it meaningful for myself. I rate perfumes according to originality, quality, wearability, interest, and, finally, how much I like them. This gets a solid four stars (I see how it could be a difficult perfume for some people to wear), and an obvious thumbs-up. Plus, I just love the little bottle ...
02nd January, 2021

Vaniglia del Madagascar by Farmacia SS. Annunziata

Vaniglia del Madagascar is a “smart” vanilla. I love vanillas, ambers, and gourmands, and I enjoy the exploring the sometimes subtle differences among them. Sometimes they are simple, ditzy creations, and sometimes they are intelligently crafted, and this is one of the latter type. It is not a straight gourmand, or a one note wonder, but a complex and interesting scent, a truly complete perfume.

It opens with a puff of smoky darkness that contributes a sense of mystery, and I think this gives the perfume a sense of completeness that I have not found in other vanillas. It is layered with a strong lemon peel note, and the floral scent of vanilla bean (so many perfumes claim “orchid” or “vanilla orchid” in their accords, and they usually smell like plastic). It has a powdered texture without turning into a powered perfume. Maybe it’s iris, or maybe an irisy musk, but whatever it is, it adds to the scent’s perfumyness, and moves it further from straight gourmand territory.

There is also a deep, aromatic, almost green amber accord in the perfume’s heart. Farmacia Ss. Annunziata makes one of my favorite ambers (the brilliant Ambra Nera), and Vaniglia del Madagascar smells like a close relative. There is a bit of woozy booziness that emerges on a parallel track to its continuing smokiness. Wearing it on a freezing cold night, like the one during which I am writing this, the scent comes together into a dense, comforting, but also intelligently crafted fragrance, like wearing a beautiful, warm, comfortable, deceptively simple, impeccably crafted Italian designer coat. Maybe that is a lazy analogy, but that’s the perfume, for me.

My boyfriend loves this perfume as much as I do. It’s one of a handful of scents that elicited an immediate “what is that?”, and not just in a neck-chewing, throw-me-over-his-shoulder sense, because his next move was to pick up the bottle, and spray it on his own wrists. It holds its own with the king of vanillas (Guerlain’s Spiriteuse Double Vanille), and the gourmand holy grail (Indult’s mighty Tihora). Farmacia has just released a new vanilla (it has something to do with Tahiti), I hope it will be a companion rather than a replacement, and I can’t want to try it, because Vaniglia del Madagascar is so damn great. The quality is also outstanding—strong, long-lasting (a solid 12 hours of skin time, but with a close-to-the-body radius that wears like a parfum). I am dithering between four and five stars, mostly because vanilla is vanilla, and I can only justify a half “point” for originality, but the more I wear this, the more I discover in it, and its complexity makes it so addictive that I might elevate it to a full five. It is unlike any other vanilla fragrance I’ve tried, and that makes it special. An obvious, worthy, and enthusiastic thumbs up.
02nd January, 2021

Putain des Palaces by Etat Libre d'Orange

Winter is here, and I am, happily, buried, in my seasonal loves—vanillas, ambers, gourmands, and les grandes parfums, vintage and otherwise. The last thing I am usually thinking of, in my favourite perfume season, is violets, and, yet, here I am, doused in a cloud of Putain de Palaces, a violet perfume rich enough to stand up to the challenges of another three months of cold air, bare branches, fierce winds from our lake, cashmere sweaters, thick scarves, and leather boots.

This is not a naked, shivering little violet, not a bright and fresh one, meant for summer frocks and sunny climes. It is a fine cosmetic violet, in the most classic sense, powdered, and with a bit of rose, and the powder is enriched with vanilla, gradient enough to suggest the presence of iris. It is fluffy, but not frivolous, a down comforter or fine wool coat, rather than ostrich feathers, powder puffs, or silk. It also has an animalic warmth in its bones, possibly from labdanum, a material I have rhapsodized over enough elsewhere—a scent of intimacy that has a particular affinity with skin, suggestive of the aroma of toasting bread, the scent of a cat that has been sleeping in the sun, and the sweetness of baby animals, human and otherwise. The hint of animal is what carried me over the threshoid with this one, from like to love.

I have smelled ambered violets before, but none have the lightness of mein I have encountered with this one. It has a touch of Serge Lutens’ Bois de Vanille, without being overtly gourmand. It seems like an almost impossible thing, a perfume centered around the freshest of spring flowers, without drowning their appealing bright quality. It doesn’t smell like outrageously expensive ingredients, but I don’t hold that against it. It is the third excellent perfume I have found from this daft house with its silly names, and I cannot wait until my full bottle arrives, so I can continue to spray it to excess every evening, until the warm weather comes, and even then, I might continue to do it, especially since my boyfriend, who is used to all kinds of scents emanating from my dressing area, commented on it with unusual enthusiasm. I don’t only wear perfumes that please him, but it’s nice to know when he likes something.

I almost forgot, to mention its performance. PdP casts a lovely radius, just arm’s length, and it really sticks to skin for at least 12 hours, long enough for an evening’s wear, with enough left for a lazy morning wakeup afterwards. I have praised it as a traditional boudoir perfume, but there is no hour it won’t suit, as its fresh top and middle are great for day, and its amber and vanilla for night. Like many of Etat Libre’s perfumes, it has a relaxed personality that fits a t shirt and denim, and it also smells inviting enough for dressy, date, or evening wear.

If you like cosmetic perfumes, like Lipstick Rose and its bevy of relatives, or warm-hearted violet perfumes like L’Heure Bleu, or floral ambers of any sort, I highly recommend seeking out Putain de Palaces. It might appear to be exclusively feminine in its intentions, but its gourmand and animalic qualities would be attractive on anyone—even the manliest of fellows would benefit from its friendly charms and cozy demeanor. Etat Libre d’Orange sells it in their handy and economical 30ml size, a great value, for its quality. Four rock solid stars, and a rose-gold-polished thumbs up.
29th December, 2020 (last edited: 14th January, 2021)

She Was An Anomaly by Etat Libre d'Orange

One of the less celebrated fragrances from ELDO, She Was an Anomaly is actually pretty well named. I expect perfumes from this house to be friendly freakazoids like Rien, classics-with-a-twist like Putain de Palaces and Fat Electrician, or unwearable art projects like Secretions Magnefiques. next to these, She Was an Anomaly is ... an anomaly, all right.

It is. primarily, a quiet iris fragrance, with a satiny musk to make the ride even more cushioned, perhaps even muffled. With its listed plum, vanilla, and patchouli notes, I hoped for something more like Ramon Monegal’s party-girl purple neon fruity iris, or even Heely’s musky-fruity Iris de Nuit, but in SWAA, those rich and vivid gourmand ingredients are almost subliminal bit players, supporting a somewhat plastic—polyvinyl acetate, perhaps—but still leatheryesque orris material.

As a previous reviewer mentioned, Daniel Andrier helmed this girl, and she would not be out of place next to her more understated creations for Prada—especially, the perfumes she has done for its little sister label Miu Miu, whose eponymous fragrance is a watery little bit of nothing (although I like its Rose Eau variant enough that I’m considering it for next summer, especially because I adore its pretty fluted bottle), with a peppery-metallic accord, that has just enough presence to confirm that the wearer is, indeed, actually wearing perfume. She Was an Anomaly opens with a similar metallic burst, that is probably some kind of violet nitrile, which is the most persistent note across the life of the perfume’s wear.

As with all of Andrier’s perfumes, this is very skillfully blended, and easy to wear, with nothing potentially offensive going on . I think the creative team might have been going for a contrasting, cold/warm effect, but. aside from the cold nitrile, I can’t find a particular accord that stands out from the others, to provide the necessary level of contrast. It does have a hint of detergent musk, that became more prominent when I warmed up a little, chasing our dog around the house, playing with his basket full of new Christmas toys.

It is less like Andrier’s work in Prada’s original Infusion d’Iris, which has a genius touch of incense, than it is like Masque’s L’Attesa, an elusive iris perfume that I can sometimes smell, and sometimes can’t. It also reminds me of Penhaligon’s ballet-slipper-and-suede Iris Prima, and Keiko Mecheri’s underrated Iris d’Argent, so if you have any of these last three, She Was an Anomaly could be redundant for your collection. On the other hand, if you’re an iris completist, or if you’re shopping for something same-but-different, it’s definitely worth a try.

Generally, I prefer my iris perfumes to be more flamboyant, either sharp and silvery, or rich and decadent. If I want a Muzak iris, I still have the last of my Iris Silver Mist, and the lovely. osmanthus-plumped lip gloss of Daim Blond. I agree with the aforementioned other reviewer’s assessment that this is perfect for office wear, and that dousing oneself in it won’t scare the horses.

On the dry down, which comes on quickly, She Was an Anomaly turns first waxy, and then gives up a puff of powdered low-sugar vanilla. I would have liked more of the latter, as I am a vanilla whore who passionately loves Ormonde Jayne’s Vanille Iris, and, of course, Chanel’s irresistible Coromandel. It’s not a dumbed down iris—it is just written in ten-point or even smaller type. I think I also detect just a trace of spice, from what could be its patchouli, and I could do with more of that, too—a baby Coromandel would be something I could get behind, as my Coromandel EDT will
not last forever, and I can’t justify nearly a thousand dollars to replace it, nor do I like the EDP, nearly as much. I understand its place in ELDO’s lineup, as every house should have an office-and-other-close-quarters perfume (I think of these as doctor’s office and airplane perfumes, since they won’t distract or annoy someone who has to be very close to you), and if I didn’t have several of the irises I mentioned in this review, I might consider purchasing it with the handy 15% off coupon that came with my very nice ELDO box set of samples, since, like many of ELDO’s offerings. it’s fairly cost effective for what it is. But this house has lots of more interesting offerings, and I will probably use my coupon for something with more distinctive character.

Still, it’s not a bad perfume, and I can’t bring myself to even give it a sideways-thumb rating. I think it accomplishes its mission, and it smells fine. I evaluate perfumes up to five stars, based on quality, interest, wearability, and originality. with a fifth star based on the entirely subjective business of whether I just like it or not, and this one gets a solid three, as it’s a quality scent that’s both wearable and has nothing happening in it, that I don’t like.

I have half of my house sample left, which I will save, until I can give it the Medical Office test, and I could reconsider my opinion, on its level of interest, depending on how it performs in the situation to which I think it best suited. If it shines there, I might be less inclined to damn it with faint praise. I certainly don’t regret trying it, and I wish I could write a review that doesn’t refer to so many other perfumes, but this perfume is so similar to several others, that it’s the best way I can find to discuss it, so I hope I haven’t annoyed any readers who made it this far with me. Three stars gets a thumbs up.
28th December, 2020

Chypre-Siam by Rogue Perfumery

Of all the perfumes I tried for the first time this year (2020), Chypre-Siam is my favourite. Smelling it for the first time made the little perfume buying gnome in my head slam its hand down on the “buy” button from the very first sniff. I already owned Jasmine Antique at the time, due to several Basenotes members’ enthusiastic advocacy, and when I bought that bottle, I requested several more samples from
Rogue, thinking I would need some time and meditation to determine what else could possibly be as appealing and wearable as JA. Chypre-Siam was a slam dunk.

Rogue is one of those houses, like Liz Moore’s brilliant Papillion Artist Perfumers, that seems focused on creating perfumes that hark back to great the vintage perfumes of the past, with some tweaks that make them also feel appropriate for daily wear in contemporary polite society. IFRA slid a sword into the heart of the mighty dragon-lady chypres, when the agency determined that oakmoss—the backbone of any true chypre—was no longer safe for large-scale perfume manufacture, at least in the necessary quantities to create the chypre’s distinctive olfactive footprint.

Oakmoss smells like a combination of dry, somewhat swampy greenery, and it has an ashy quality, that almost evokes a fresh puff of light, toasted cigarette smoke. It is not even remotely sweet. It is a harsh and tannic scent, but like many harsh and tannic materials (cocoa powder, oaky red wine), it does at least two things—it gives softer scents, like florals and fruits, a complementary kind of structure, and it also develops an almost plush greenness, when it is combined with those plump, ripe-smelling ingredients. It is also a uniquely persistent material, with a low chemical volatility, that causes it to stick to skin, and evaporate relatively slowly. There is no other base material like it, as most resins with similar volatility smell sweet, or have a pungent nasal-clearing camphor, like patchouli. When IFRA chose to ban the significant use of oakmoss, classic chypre perfumes, like Guerlain’s Mitsouko, and Estée Lauder’s Private Collection, which depend on that unique combination of ash, plush, and persistence, could no longer smell like they formerly had, without the unsweet balance that gave Mitsouko’s pretty peach its melancholy edge, and Private Collection its uncompromising, green, elegance.

While the big commercial perfume houses scrambled to find a substitute for oakmoss, or refocused their marketing efforts toward perfumes that do not need green/ashy bases, smaller indie perfume houses didnnot have to play by the same rules, and they have been free to play with unadulterated oakmoss, in whatever proportions they wish to, recognizing (as I think IFRA should have) that perfume buyers can make their own decisions, about the risks versus benefits, of exposing their skin and olfactory organs, to potential allergens. For example, Bogus Perfumery’s hippie chypre MAAI, uses oakmoss in near-excessive quantities, giving it a raw Earth Mama quality. When I smelled MAAI, I thought, this is the future of chypre perfumery—new fractionated or artificial substitute oakmoss ingredients in mainstream commercial perfumes, and wild-Woman and -Man in small production niche perfumes.

Chypre-Siam is neither of these. It is an elegant throwback to what Luca Turin called the big-boned, Joan Crawford-tempered, chypre perfumes, with a unique personality, that speaks to the Far Eastern referents in both vintage perfumery (Mitsouko, with its Japanese name), and modern niche perfumery (Aphorie’s obvious Asian roots). Its name is entirely apt, as it brings the uniquely
south Asian scents, of kaffir lime and benzoin, to the classic chypre profile. It smells citric, resinous, and sweet in equal proportions, so balanced between these, that no particular accord stands out above the others.

Its vintage references are accentuated, with three other accords that add to its old fashioned quality. I recognize Jasmine Antique’s signature floral, a very indolic jasmine that is full-bodied, bold, and spicy, with Jasmine Antique’s ambery-animalic resins, that I think mostly rely on labdanum (one of my favorite perfume ingredients). It also has a prowling, growling, civet accord, but it is a “clean” civet, that sidesteps civet’s most blatantly urinous qualities, giving to the perfume’s florals a warmth that reminds me of Bal à Versailles. And, finally, speaking of Bal à Versailles, it is cloaked in a cloud of sweet and talcy powder that adds a gradient effect to the perfume’s total impression, bringing just enough curvature to the perfume, that wearing, and smelling it, feels more like a hug and a kiss on both cheeks, than a diva’s slap on the face.

This is a perfume that feels like the modern equivalent of a soft stretch fabric added to a stiff brocade. It is a dance of sunny plants and shadowy resins. It is equally opulent and comfortable. It conforms to the personality of the wearer, and the occasion of its wear. I reach for it as a perky wake up perfume, a versatile daytime choice, an evening dress-up scent, and a relaxing bedtime fragrance, as its lime, Jasmine, animalics, and powder (respectively) fit, into each of these hours of the day. It has enough citrus for men who feel most comfortable in traditional citrus scents (and the lime accord lasts for hours, the way that nouveau powerhouse citruses, like Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino and Acqua di Parma’s Colonia Intenso last), enough jasmine for women who feel best in pretty florals, and a total balance of these that feels like it is genderless, which should suit anyone who doesn’t want to identify their person, or their scent, with either of these genders.

I have lots of “blind reach” perfumes, for those days when I am in no particular mood, and Chypre-Siam elevates this type of perfume, as its character is so definite. It is, unmistakably, itself, and it proves that a vintage-style perfume can still be wearable on occasions when true vintage perfume can set off alarm bells, in today’s modern perfume-avoidant culture. One spray allows you to keep it close and personal, two lets you have an intimate but detectable radius, and a full coat can own a room. It lets me, an Amber addict, have my benzoin fix, and also get in my necessary dose of labdanum. It is a smart, tailored perfume, made with a sense of sophistication, and it is also a genuinely attractive perfume that feels like it enhances one’s attractiveness. Chypre-Siam deserves classic status, and I hope it finds the commercial success it deserves. I give it five solid, shining, stars, and a very enthusiastic thumbs-up. Put away, or walk away, from your reading device, and go smell this, now ...
28th December, 2020

Sahara Noir by Tom Ford

I have a theory about Tom Ford’s creative vision, especially for the early perfumes, and the mainstream/pillar fragrances, that he signed off on at Gucci, and later under his eponymous fashion label—they’re either modernized versions of vintage classics, or rescue missions for vintage classics, that lost their oomph and impact when IFRA and/or corporate accountants clipped their claws and sawed off their fangs, or had disappeared completely—the great perfumes of the late sixties and the Studio disco era, perfumes that were in the air when Ford was a young club scenester, an era of hyper-sexy excess that he has continued to celebrate in his clothing designs (those clingy, sculptural, one-armed jersey dresses remind me of Halston’s work that the likes of Jerry Hall and Bianca Jagger wore to Studio 54).

Gucci Envy? The queen of the mean greens, an icicle-dripping interpretation of vintage Fidji and Piguet’s Futur. L’Arte di Gucci—Rive Gauche and Coriandre. Youth Dew Amber Nude—the name says it all. Brown Gucci’s sleazy orange blossom is like a disco remix of Bal à Versailles. Gucci Rush is harder to peg, but its xenon-gassed peach smells like an updated Diorama. Black Orchid is its own beast, and while it doesn’t smell like one perfume of the end of the Perfume Golden Age, its bold, take-no-prisoners attitude and Deco packaging is a post-modern throwback, the kind perfume that the 70s designers and their muses loved. And White Patchouli, like L’Arte di Gucci, is another update of the Rose chypre, on the same train as disco divas Rive Gauche and Calandre.

Sahara Noir fits right into this program. As a lifelong wearer and lover of vintage Opium, I appreciate what I consider Ford’s rescue operation of the queen mother of spice fragrances. With Opium’s clove materials outlawed by IFRA, Ford’s team pivoted to incense, and added something that must be near and dear to the heart of a man who makes his second home at a ranch in New Mexico—piñon wood, the scent of New Mexican tribal native incense, and the smoke from hundreds of thousands of adobe chiminias, the domed wood-burning outdoor fire pits that amplify the resiny native pine wood of the New Mexico forests. Like Opium, it is fueled with a massive aldehyde boost so powerful that it transcends the stereotypical twinkle these materials usually supply, into a turbocharged powerhouse afterburn. A single spritz fills a room. A spoonful of this stuff weighs a ton.

I suppose that “Rocky Mountain Noir” does not have the same poetic impact and exoticism as Sahara Noir, but its name tips Ford’s hand. Its name evokes the same kind of Orientalist exoticism, and its scent profile does the same. It still has Opium’s spice cabinet melange, but its style evokes the wide open desert spaces of both the Middle East and the American West. I know its pine accord is made of frankincense, possibly the most evocative of ancient, Biblical, scent ingredients, but it still smells like America, as much as it smells like Eastern Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals across Europe—and Central and South America, and Middle Eastern spiritual spaces as well.

It also has another accord that I think is quintessentially Ford. Spray enough of it on your skin, and a dark, musty, very masculine animalic quality appears in tandem with the scent of sacred spaces. Ford famously said that he wanted Black Orchid to smell like a man’s crotch, but that’s even more true of Sahara Noir. Perfume lovers all over the world are still scratching their heads about why Ford’s house chose to market Sahara Noir to women, but I think the Opium connection explains what the team’s thought process must have been, and it also shows that nobody could have anticipated how perfumes like Amouage’s great Jubilation XXV could have been, with men in the West, as well as its target audience of wealthy male customers in the East.

I don’t know why Sahara Noir was discontinued—if it was because, as has often been surmised in user reviews, that it was just not feminine enough, or too edgy for the mainstream customer. I suspect, however, that its powerful accord might contain something that ever-evolving IFRA regulations must prohibit, because, as beloved and influential as Sahara Noir has become, no contemporary niche house has even tried to replicate it—and doing that, would be a savvy move, as a new and continuous supply of something like Sahara Noir, would surely be a reliable seller in today’s perfume market. And if it failed as a broad spectrum mainstream hit, why wouldn’t Team Ford have reinvented it, for their Private Label lone? Perhaps, it ultimately, and ironically, met the same fate as the grand perfumes that I believe Ford wanted to revive for our modern world, and this modern classic was cruelly taken away by some of the same demands that destroyed those same fragrances that Ford wanted to bring back in the first place. There’s no way to know for sure. I’m just glad that the aftermarket seems to be well supplied.

Whatever the reason, this perfume is an essential smelling experience for anyone interested in serious perfume, and a necessary addition to any fragrance wardrobe. It is the ne plus ultra of incense perfumes, and a modern classic. Five shining stars—a masterpiece.
27th December, 2020

Fiore d'Ambra by Profumum

Whether or not you’lll like Fiore d’Ambra depends on how you like your ambers. It isn’t exactly what I think of as a starter amber (sweet, vanilla based, cozy), it is not a gourmand amber (also,’vanilla based, sweetened more with ethyl maltol/cottncandy/candy floss, usually buttery-toasty, and sometimes with cinnamon or other spices, like the comforting scent of premixed apple pie spice), and it is not a hippie amber (less sweet, more resinous, and usually herbal, with the scent of bay leaves, Rosemary, eucalyptus, —a ).

Fiore d’Ambra is a darker kind of amber, an animalic, intoxicating celebration of labdanum, a plant resin that has an uncanny resemblance to leather, clean animal fur (especially the sweetness of puppies and kittens), and some whiffy intimate human scents that I’m, perhaps, a little too tightly wound to describe in detail.

At first, I thought the name was confusing, because “Fiore” is the Italian word for flower, and some ambers are actually floral, sometimes with soft or dark rose, or pungent jasmine, or sweet orange blossom. But labdanum is produced from a Mediterranean plant called cistus, otherwise known as rockrose (look at the icon for labdanum on Fragrantica to see what its little white flowers look like). It was once gathered by shepherds from the beards of goats graze on these plants, as the goats’ grazing behavior leaves the remains of the chewed plants in their fur. Today, the plants are commercially harvested, with the labdanum resin rendered from the plants through solvent extraction or steam distillation. So, I think Fiore d’Ambra (amber flower) refers to cistus itself.

This vegetarian animalic material gives amber perfumes their sensual edge, and that’s the starring ingredient of Fiore d’Ambra. It is paired with benzoin, an equally sensual resin that smells like barely caramelized sugar, that is also used in most amber perfumes, and is the starring material in Prada’s often underestimated Candy and its army of flankers, and Pierre Guillaume’s scrumptious Indochine, which smells like the caramelized sugar cane used in some Thai and Vietnamese dishes, usually paired with a moussey shrimp mixture wrapped around the cane stalks and grilled until the sugar seeps into the shrimp (and leaves a delicious residue that makes for delicious chewing after the shimp is finished, especially with strong sweetened coffee with condensed milk).
But Fiore is all about labdanum, and if you like dense, rich, resiny perfumes, or if you love animalics and resins, it is a must try.

I love the full spectrum of amber perfumes, and Fiore d’Ambra is the one I reach for when I want something tall, dark, and seriously, nearly exaggeratedly sexy. Its lack of sweetness puts it on the less stereotypically feminine side of the amber family. Its resinous density means that it’s not a big projector, which is typical of perfumes that come from Profumum Roma, a house that specializes in subtle, elegant perfumes. It lasts about twelve hours on skin, which I expect from a perfume with this much resin content. Its intimate, animalic scent profile suits the way it wears close to the body. It melts right into skin, a you-smell-good kind of scent, rather than a your-perfume-smells-good perfume. I think it’s best for cool to cold weather, since its animalic personality could be confused with a lack of hygiene in hot weather, although I am a kinda prudish American who and I prefer it for nights and dates, although it’s fun to wear to the office in sweater weather. It came with very high recommendations from the Basenotes family, so I owe the Female Fragrance discussion contributors a big thanks for this one—one Profumum offering that earns the house’s startling prices. Both thumbs, enthusiastically, up.

14th December, 2020

Café by Cofinluxe

I have wanted something analogous to an Opium Shalimar Eau Legere since, first, my vintage Opium began giving me asthmatic smoker’s cough (I still wear it, I carry my inhaler, because I am a lifetime Opium addict), and, second, our world is becoming intolerant of perfumery at vintage Opium’s decibel levels. I considered exploring the tangled web of Opium flankers, but, first, I decided to try something different.

I adore some downmarket French takes on grand maison classics, like Jacomo’s fabulous Silences, and Molyneux’s Quartz, so I had to try Cofinluxe’s Café, and it is exactly what I hoped it would be, a well crafted and creative riff on Opium, with a sassy, roasted coffee accord that fills in for some of Opium’s expensive naturals, with a . It has Opium’s spice, heat. and perverse aldehydic sparkle, less powerful, especially since it lacks Opium’s clove yet equally satisfying. Reformulated Opium contains a plasticky musk that just smells cheap, since its sandalwood is now unavailable, and its clove extract is IFRA-forbidden, so I will never bother with it. Café was never expensive to begin with, so even in its current version, it is a balanced melange of pungent cinnamon. cool nutmeg, fiery allspice, and lively black pepper. It doesn’t change much from first application to end stage dry down, except that the coffee, perhaps, comes forward.

It is, exactly, the Opium Eau Legere I would wish for. It is much more acceptable for daily wear in 2020, and having Café in my collection will help me save my precious vintage Opium parfum for the special occasions it deserves. I, also, find it ironic, that YSL turned to a coffee accord, when they created Black Opium, which in no way resembles its namesake, but shares a central accord with a perfume that began its existence as a cheap (seriously, less than ten dollars cheap) copy of one of the last of the great classic luxury designer perfumes. Orientalists of all genders, this one is worth having in your collection, and I also recommend it to anyone who loves things like the aforementioned Silences and Quartz—very different perfumes, but all brilliant cheap thrills. Thumbs up!!
13th December, 2020