Perfume Review: Le Labo Lys 41 and Ylang 49

Le LaboI’ve said it before: Le Labo annoys the fire out of me.  I won’t go into all the reasons here since I yarked about it in my Aldehyde 44 review, but suffice it to say that I find this French high-end niche brand really pretentious, and I mean beyond your typical French attitude.  Also, I have been irritated by the fact that frequently the name of the fragrance does not necessarily indicate what it will smell like. (For the uninitiated, Le Labo names their fragrances after the number of accords and the accord that makes up the largest percentage of the formula.  Ergo, Tubereuse 40 does not actually smell of tuberose; it smells of citrus and neroli in a classic cologne structure.  For a tubey fan bored by classic cologne, GRRRRR. ‘Nuff sed.)

However, I did like Aldehydes 44 (which, stunningly, does smell predominantly of aldehydes, go figure), and Patchouli 24, which had originally skeered the bejesus out of me simply by being named after my bete-noire-ish raw material but turns out to smell like smoke, rubber, leather and vanilla, like Bvlgari Black turning into the Hulk version of itself.  And when I began to hear good things about Le Labo’s new 2013 releases named after lily and ylang, which are two of my favorite raw materials… well, I resisted. And resisted, until I just couldn’t resist any more! I snagged samples.

white flowersLys 41, composed by Daphne Bugey, has notes of lily, tuberose, jasmine, woods, vanilla and musk. And oddly for a Le Labo, that is exactly what you smell. The tuberose-lily pairing is paramount, with wisps of greenish jasmine (with possibly a hint of the bitter-orange of petitgrain, and also the yielding satiny texture of orchid) peeking through. It’s heady but not overwhelming, fresh and soft at the same time — a just-picked bouquet that hasn’t had time to reach full-blown dropping-petals voluptuousness. Eventually it softens to a very gentle vanilla-woods drydown that is neither too sweet nor too rich.  It is, plainly, beautiful, carrying the suggestion of billowing white skirts.  My guess is that a man might find this one too femme and too soft.  I’m dabbing from a vial, and the longevity is not great, 3-4 hours on me despite containing two natural materials that tend to last on my skin (vanilla and tuberose).  Spraying would probably help the lasting power, but since the sillage is gorgeous in the first 20 minutes and negligible after that, you might be in for a very wafty ride, i.e., a stay-home-until-your-cloud-relaxes one.

Ylang 49 is the one that has been making perfume bloggers and critics rave; its floral-chypre braininess is something we bloggers seem to miss in the current perfume world, which seems obsessed with calling fruity, sweet, clean-patchouli frags “chypres.”  Composed by Frank Voelkl, it contains notes of ylang-ylang, gardenia, oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood and benzoin.  Vetiver comes to the front of this one for me, hiding the lush white florals underneath rooty, leafy, earthy materials.  There’s an odd, salty, celery note in here (usually that is associated with a jasmine partial material, I’ve heard in talking with Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio, and sometimes I get celery in other vetiver scents as well) that I don’t like much, and a bitterness that tends to block the white florals.  This scent I find deeply disturbing, and when Persolaise mentions Dzongkha and Sel de Vetiver in his review, I begin to understand why: both those fragrances are also very earthy and rooty, and they tend to make me think of dank cellars, decomposing jungle vegetation, and pondwater.  I would like to report more on how it develops on skin, and whether it ever gets to a point where I find it bearable, but alas, I cannot. I made it 43 minutes the first time I wore it, and 28 the second, before I had to scrub due to nausea.

pond water

Sorry.  I really am.

I am a Philistine. I don’t like early Duchaufour compositions, and I don’t like vetiver. My recommendation is to Know thyself.  If you love Dzongkha, snap this sucker up.  I tend to do fine with very floral chypres, but not this particular one.

Both of these fragrances are available in the US at Le Labo boutiques and at Lucky Scent, at $145 for 50ml and $220 for 100ml.

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Perfume Review: Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve, parfum and EdT

I came late to an appreciation of chypres, in contrast to most perfume fans. I still have yet to really appreciate a bitter green one, or a leather one, or a fruity one. Mitsouko hates me. Even the citrus ones like Eau Sauvage or Cristalle are not really to my taste. They just don’t speak to me. But the floral ones I do love, and I find in them a softness and elegance unmatched by any other genre.

As a teen I wore Prince Matchabelli Cachet (I admit that I generally preferred my Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, with its rounded white florals, especially if I was going to be dressed up). And when I went off to college, I longed and longed for the gorgeous Victoria by Victoria’s Secret, but on my drugstore-perfume budget, couldn’t afford it.

Many years later, once I had gotten sucked into the Kingdom of Perfume, I discovered that floral chypres – or florals with a hint of chypre base, in some cases, draw me almost effortlessly: Jolie Madame. Leonard de Leonard. Soivohle Centennial. The rose chypres like L’Arte di Gucci or Lumiere Noire pour femme. I adored the first two hours of Knowing, before its Lauder base asserted itself so firmly. I found Penhaligon’s (rereleased) Eau sans Pareil quite delightful, and very reminiscent of something I’m sure I smelled on a dear aunt in the 1970s. Mary Greenwell Plum, a fragrance so “me” that I’m considering marrying it, is a white floral with fruity topnotes built on a very quietly mossy base. Chanel No. 19, another love, I don’t consider to be a chypre, but it has something of that DNA as well.

Any time I investigated floral chypres, somebody was bound to mention the long-gone Deneuve. I started an ebay search and kept it going for several months, but nothing I found there seemed within my financial grasp. Partial bottles of EdT were going for $90 and up, and even the miniature 4ml bottles of parfum were close to $30 apiece. I had nearly resigned myself to never smelling Deneuve. Continue reading Perfume Review: Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve, parfum and EdT

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Oh, the tragedy! the loss! Jacomo Silences to be revamped

Thanks to a tweet from Robin at NST (@nowsmellthis), I’ve read the news: Jacomo has revamped its classic green-floral-chypre Silences.  I feel a rant coming on…

This article at CosmetiqueMag, dated February 13, 2012, describes the changes in French.  I don’t speak or read French (I took Latin and Spanish, and precious little good it does me with perfume, I tell you), so I went to Yahoo’s BabelFish translation page to get a better handle on this news item, which reads like this: 

Image from CosmetiqueMag.

Jacomo renoue avec Silences: Propriété de Sarbec depuis 1995, la marque remet au goût du jour Silences, son classique de 1978. Le jus, un chypre-vert aux facettes animales, a été revisité par Serge Majoullier (Mane). Il en a fait une composition plus moderne et lumineuse, tout en gardant le caractère vert de la fragrance, avec du galbanum et du cassis, un trio floral rose-iris-narcisse et un fond boisé-musqué. Le flacon noir garde la même allure mais la typographie du nom a été modernisée.

I suspect that BabelFish isn’t a particularly good translator.  This literary gem is what it managed to come up with:

Jacomo joins again with Silences:  Property of Sarbec since 1995, the mark gives to the last style Silences, its traditional of 1978. The juice, a Cyprus-green with the animal facets, was revisited by Serge Majoullier (Basket). It made a more modern and luminous composition of it, while keeping the green character of the fragrance, with galbanum and blackcurrant, a floral trio pink-iris-Narcisse and a wooded-musky bottom. The black bottle keeps the same pace but the typography of the name was modernized.

Ummmmyeeeeaah.  I’m going to mess with the English version myself to see if I can induce it to make sense:

Jacomo relaunches Silences:  Owned by Sarbec since 1995, the brand has revamped its 1978 classic Silences for modern tastes. The juice, a green chypre with animalic facets, was revisited by Serge Majoullier (Mane). The composition was made more modern and luminous while keeping the green character of the fragrance, with galbanum and blackcurrant, a floral trio of rose-iris-narcissus and a woody-musk base. The black bottle remains the same, but the font of the name was modernized.

Better?  I hope so.  (Mane is an aromachemical company and its name should not have been translated.  Basket??  Pfaugh.  Also, the verb tenses were inconsistent, and I don’t know enough French to tell whether that was the fault of the original article or not.) 

NOW we get to my real point:  They’re messing with Silences again.  Is there oakmoss listed in the notes? Iris? Nope.  Dang it, this gorgeous otherworldly thing, the greenest smell possible, this galbanum genius, is likely going to wind up smelling like the revamped Lanvin Rumeur.  I’m going to be ticked.

Of course, I have two big bottles of Silences parfum de toilette, and it’s probably a lifetime supply (and Bookworm hates this galbanum anyway so I have to be careful where I wear it), but I am going to be ticked if they screw it up.  I suppose that A) it’s been reformulated before, maybe multiple times, and B) there was no way they could have kept all that oakmoss in the formula anyway – but if it loses that strangely eerie, meditative, coolsmoothsatin quality, they might as well scrap the darn thing.

floating on green satin
This is what wearing Silences should feel like.

There’s so far no word on when this will take place.  It may very well be that the revamped Silences will be decent, if completely different in character than the Silences I know and love.  I mean, if they’re putting real narcissus in there with the rose, it might have a chance. But in that case, I think I’d prefer that Jacomo discontinue Silences and give the new thing a completely different name.

Awkward Silences, anybody?   (Apologies to the amazing Jack Mason.)

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Perfume Review: Liz Zorn Centennial (formerly named Historical Chypre)

I blame Musette. And ScentScelf.

These two ladies are some of my Favorite Bloggers Ever, and I love to read what they write.  Sometimes they move me, and sometimes they totally crack me up. We don’t always love the same things, although I share a love of Big White Florals with Musette and an appreciation of Greenies with ScentScelf, and I do know their real-life names. Word is that they live not that far from Chicago (as compared to the rest of the country), and both are devotees of  Liz Zorn Perfumes.

I cast a self-righteous pointer finger of condemnation in each woman’s general direction.

Because the other week, on one of the Facebook perfumista group pages, ScentScelf was nattering on about this wonderful Historical Chypre thing (which I always seem to read as Hysterical Chypre, probably because I am Not Having a Good Week, probably because I am approaching at least Pre-Menopausal Insanity, thus the Hysterical womb reference, which is probably ironic given that my teenage daughter is suddenly out there in the dating world, which hardly seems possible given that I frequently think of her as being nineteen-and-a-half inches long with nothin’ but peach-colored peach fuzz on her beautiful hazelnut-shaped head) .

Anyway, I noticed the chypre reference because that’s what I’ve been craving lately. I checked the LZ website, thinking about a sample, and then found that I couldn’t sample this one except as part of a set of six, and I’d already tried one of the set and didn’t like it (Oolong Ti), and three of the others sounded very Not Me by the notes, and that was bad odds so I forgot about it.

And thennn, Musette referred to Centennial in her recent post about craving chypres lately (where have I heard that before?), and she followed up that glowing reference with the shocking news that Centennial and several others in its line at Liz Zorn/Soivohle were ON SALE.

So I bought a bottle.

Soivohle Oudh Lacquer (couldn't find a pic of the Retro Collection, and my camera's being temperamental today)

At discounted niche/indie prices, it was still $18 for an 11 ml bottle of eau de parfum, which is not ridiculous, but still iffy for an unsniffed thing that I could wind up hating. And this package shows up the other day, and it has a little box in it that’s filled with a bottle wrapped in this exquisitely textured blue paper, a real joy to open.

So I opened it and spritzed.

Smells like Cachet,” I said to myself. I wore Prince Matchabelli Cachet, from the drugstore, when I was a teenager. Didn’t love it the way I did Chloe, but it was nice, and I decided that I’d give Centennial a real chance.

Liz Zorn’s website says this about Centennial: Otherwise known as our Historical Chypre, is a throw back to early 20th century Floral Chypres, with notes of Rose, Jasmine and Orange Blossom, wrapped in classic chypre veil. Now, you know me: I adore me some florals. I live in them. I never feel that they overwhelm me or out-girly me. I do not love those Fierce Green Chypres, Bandit and Scherrer and the like. They skeer me a little. They’re too mean. Miss Dior kept trying to shiv me when I first opened her vial, and I had to wrassle her to get her to behave.

But you throw me a floral with a chypre backbone, and I am happy. The intelligence and aquiline features of a chypre in the pretty silk-satin dress of good natural florals seems just about perfect to me, and Centennial does not disappoint.

Centennial opens up with a smack of bergamot and a little waft of what I would swear were aldehydes, as well as a hint of the inky-green, juicy moss-and-labdanum stuff you get in real chypres. It’s pretty bloomy at this stage, but two spritzes keeps it within my self-imposed three-foot radiating limit. It’s only after about half an hour that I really notice the florals, and they are so well-blended that I can’t even tease them out from the big bouquet individually. I think that I smell something else in there, too, a note that smells quite dirty to me. It’s not civet, or at least I don’t think it is – it could be narcissus, perhaps, with the barnyard connotion it sometimes has, something overripe. There’s a sweetness to the floral mix that I attribute to the orange blossom and maybe just a sweet-banana bit of ylang-ylang, and it balances out that inky pine green of the chypre base, and it is really lovely. There is also, at the end of this stage, a suedey peachy thing over the inky pine that reminds me just a bit of Mitsouko (which I do not love, remember?) but softer, closer to the skin.

After about three and a half or four hours, Centennial is down to a skin scent, a delightfully soft bathed-and-talcumed smell that reminds me of the far drydown of 1980s Coty Chypre or of Miss Dior parfum, the vintage stuff, with its wonderful contrast of skin warmth and cool powder. It is huffable, preferably with nose about a centimeter from skin, and really almost sexy, I’d say, in a cozy yet intellectual sort of way.

Centennial does not last much past the four-hour mark. It is a little less long-lived than I’d like, especially for an EdP, but I know that mostly-natural perfumes tend to last a shorter period of time on my skin, and the drydown is so pretty that I forgive it for being short.

I went to pick up Gaze from school about an hour after spritzing Centennial; he’d had after-school band practice. He got into the car and commented, “Hey, you smell really good. I like it.” I asked him if it reminded him of anything, and he thought for a moment before responding, “It makes me think of an old church just letting out after the service. In the summer. Like… old ladies’ perfume, but like outside too, sort of fresh.” Oakmoss must remind him of church in some way; I remember that his comments on Roja Dove Diaghilev, another chypre, mentioned “old churches” as well (but were less complimentary!).

I am rather sad to report that Centennial has sold out. I have been addicted to it for the past three days, only abandoning its dregs for a hit of DSH Chypre, or the modern floral chypre Mary Greenwell Plum, or my sample of Liz Zorn’s based-on-Centennial fragrance called Love Speaks Primeval, the one with Africa stone in it.

My outstretched pointer fingers have become a potential embrace, just waiting for the time when I might meet either Musette or ScentScelf face to face. I want to thank them – for the laughs, the thoughtful connections made, the word “palimpsest,” the cow emoticons, the whole bit.

And for Centennial. You gals got it right. Thanks. Really.

Photo of Soivohle Oudh Lacquer from Nathan Branch.

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