Here’s today’s collection of reviews of some new-ish mainstream fragrances. (I dunno, is Guerlain mainstream? The only Guerlain you can buy in a department store around here is Shalimar. On the other hand, none of the department stores in my area would carry Prada or Tiffany either.)
Mon Guerlain – This was a freebie tossed in by the eBay seller because she was out of one of the carded samples I had bid on. I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own (as you might remember, I am truly not much of a Guerlie-girl). In any case, without checking the notes, I threw the sample in my gym bag and spritzed a bit on after my shower. Within three minutes I was sporting a massive lavender hangover headache.
And I can barely tell you anything else in there except the flat powdery vanilla (also a note I dislike) and that weird powdery-chalky baby-aspirin orange thing (double-hate), because I scrubbed. Bleargh. I’m sure there are people who love this thing, but the only way I would have hated it more would be if they crammed it full of fig leaf, too.
Tiffany & Co. – I liked the first Tiffany fragrance. It was a 1987 release, and it smelled like an 80’s release: a jam-packed, rich floral, the opposite of “light.” This one was getting some decent reviews so I thought I’d give it a shot. The first sniff was not promising: some screechy Coco-Mademoiselle-type patchouli, a high-pitched citrus, plus the clean and quiet iris-musk familiar to us from Prada Infusion d’Iris, which should surprise no one because Daniela Andrier did the Prada as well. Within a few moments, though, it settled down into a very pleasant blackcurrant-peach-rose floral not all that far from my beloved Ines de la Fressange. Too bad the drydown isn’t nearly as good, but I swear I think there’s real sandalwood in the Fressange. This one eventually subsides into a lighter, sweeter Coco-Mademoiselle-ish drydown, which is still fairly pleasant. I give this one a B-minus because it could have been much worse, and because it is such a no-brainer pleasant thing. The drydown, which is my favorite part, lasts several hours on me and stays pleasant, reminding me just a tad — in feel, not smell — of another no-brainer just-pretty that I love, Carven Le Parfum. I won’t buy this, but I won’t mind smelling it on someone else.
Prada Infusion Amande – This smells like they started with Infusion d’Iris and added a clean, sweet heliotrope. It’s soft, powdery, not quite sweet. Listed notes are almond, heliotrope, tonka bean, musk, and anise, and I smell all of those plus a dry satiny iris, and just mayyyybe a bit of orange blossom. It’s fairly linear in my experience. However, it’s very nice stuff, and for an almond/heliotrope scent, seems to avoid all Play-doh references, which is unusual and refreshing. I don’t need it, but I enjoyed it.
Have you smelled anything mainstream-ish lately that’s good? Tell us about it!
I tried a few Ava Luxe scents early on in my perfume journey, and then not again until recently. Ava Luxe is one of those indie perfumers whose work is the darling of the bloggers… until the next New Hotness comes along and everybody goes flittering off to admire the New Hotness and forgets what was hot yesterday. (Humans. We’re like tha — OH LOOK A SQUIRREL!) On top of that, I have some vague memory that the house went offline for a period of time, during which the line was revamped and many people, including me, forgot it existed.
Back in the day, it seems that I tried the following: Thé Noir (black tea with wood, amber, and spices, very nice, still in production), Oeillet Rouge and Oeillet Blanc (straight-up carnations, one pleasant and the other really really not, and since I can’t remember which was which, it’s probably a good thing that these have vanished), and Love’s True Bluish Light, a milky skin-musk/vanilla that many fumeheads were raving over but I found not to my personal taste. During my intensive Tuberose Exploration, I also tried Tuberose Diabolique (interesting and pretty up top, and savagely weird with an interesting bitter note in the drydown).
The Ava Luxe website is attractive, and while the interface is a tiny bit clunky (I did a fair bit of flipping pages back-and-forth to read scent descriptions and choose which samples I wanted), it’s no harder to use than the much-malignedDSH Perfumes’ site. (I will put up with that website because DSH fragrances are so good, and I feel the same about Ava Luxe.) Indies are awesome. There is a person behind the products, and if you have a question, it’s pretty easy to shoot an email to that person… and very often, unless the matter is proprietary, you get an answer!
This go-round, I chose the following to test: Amande,Crepe de Chine, and Vintage Apple Blossom, all in eau de parfum format (parfum and perfume oil are the other formats available) and a small spray bottle.
Amande:“The deliciousness of sugared almonds, with a base of creamy vanilla and sweet musk. Notes: bitter almond, apricot, almond milk, vanilla, cream, heliotrope, sandalwood. A gourmand.”
I do love almonds, would love to smell like marzipan, and consequently have tried a fair number of almond scents. The One Almond For Me seems to be Montale Amandes Orientales, so you have some idea of what I like. This one sounded like it would be up my alley. However, after a queasy moment where it reminded me of a lip gloss I owned ca. 1979, it settled into plain ol’ sweet musk without the almond or milky notes I was hoping for. It stayed sweet musk from minute T+22 to minute T+260 or thereabouts, whereupon it faded away.
Crepe de Chine: “A stunning feminine chypre fragrance with a full bodied green floral accord and creamy woody base notes. Notes: bergamot, basil, neroli, aldehydes, bourbon ylang-ylang, gardenia, rose, jasmine, oakmoss, patchouli, Mysore sandalwood, Indian musk, Vetiver Haiti, vanilla.”
I was excited about this one. I wasn’t exactly expecting the classic F. Millot Crepe de Chine (which I have tested from two sources, and which, seriously, tried to bite me both times), but given that it’s described as a floral chypre, I thought I would enjoy. Alas, no.
It sounds great, right? Given the notes, it sounds stunningly like Soivohle Centennial, or Pierre de Velay Extrait No. 11, both based on classic floral chypre formulae. But on me, Crepe de Chine smells like herbal soap. It smells like Dial, actually. It smells like my great-aunt Leacy’s bathroom. Which was pleasant, mind you, but (again with my whine) I don’t want to smell like soap. I got a headache wearing it, into the bargain. I had to scrub it off, with real soap, and immediately felt better.
Vintage Apple Blossom: “A lovely fresh aldehydic floral fragrance based on the vintage apple blossom perfumes of the 1940s. Notes: Aldehydes, Hawthorn blossom, Acacia Farnesiana, Aubepine aldehyde, Lilac, Lily, May Rose, Sampaquita blossom, Jasmine, Rainwater, Sandalwood.”
Apple Blossom is probably an homage to fragrances of the same name from, I think, the 1940s, when it was a popular motif. I do love apple blossoms and their pale, fleeting fragrance, but it can’t really be captured naturally. And I like aldehydic florals, too. However, this Apple Blossom is strongly lilac on me, and very powdery. I retested it at various times, trying to find the individual floral notes listed, but never caught anything except lilac and a hint of the rose. It was pleasant but not memorable, and for some reason I did not feel comfortable in it. I felt like a room freshener.
Sometimes there is a consensus that certain perfume houses seem to “work” for certain individuals, while others don’t see the appeal — or actively dislike that house’s offerings. For example, I myself tend to do well with the classic and boutique Chanels (leaving aside Chance, Allure, and Coco Mlle.), and even if a de Nicolaï scent is not to my taste, I tend to appreciate it. Guerlain is more misses than hits, and Caron, with a few exceptions, is a Don’t Bother house for me. So are Diptyque and L’Artisan.
I’ve only tried, at this point, fewer than ten of Ava Luxe’s 100+ fragrances. But the only one I liked was Thé Noir, and not enough to buy it. I did spend a good couple of hours reading fragrance descriptions when picking out my recent samples, in the attempt to choose scents that appealed to me. All were not just fails, but big fails, with two being scrubbers (Crepe de Chine and one of the Oeillet scents). I’m not going to say these are badly done, because I found them very nice on paper and would probably like them on someone other than myself. Maybe I’m being too picky — I’ve long looked for the perfect almond, and have found only a few I like — and maybe I’ve tested the wrong scents. However, I will say that based on my limited sampling, they do not suit me and I’m probably done with testing any more Ava Luxe fragrances. Your mileage may vary, obviously, and it might be a skin chemistry thing. I still believe that matters, at least in some cases. It seems to matter here.
Ava Luxe’s website is here. It was a pleasure to shop there, and I like to throw some business to independent perfumers from time to time (ahem, as well as buying unsniffed vintage minis, of which I have FAR TOO MANY). These weren’t for me, but they might be for you. You never know.
Penhaligon’s Orange Blossom, 2010 reorchestration of the 1976 release, composed by Bertrand Duchaufour: really very nice. I had bought this small split portion a couple of years ago, and then apparently “put it away for safekeeping”, which any fool knows is like tossing things into the Bermuda Triangle: you never know if you’ll see those items again. I found the decant when cleaning out my closet recently and, despite barely remembering buying it, decided to give it a shot. Regular readers know that I Haz Orange Blossom Issues, by which I mean that OB fragrances nearly always smell like soap on me. I mean, it’s generally nice soap, of the creamy Dove kind, but still: soap. Bleagh. Don’t get me started on the list of OB scents that do not work for me, because it’s long. If they don’t smell like soap, they smell like candy. I really like By Kilian’s (pricey) Sweet Redemption, which is orange blossom and myrrh, but every time I wear it, Taz says I smell like grape and root beer lollipops. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Honestly, I can’t remember why I went out on a limb for a 5ml split portion of the Penhaligon’s, other than I remember hearing it was good.
I’m glad I did, though. This one is distinctly un-soapy, which is a blessed relief, and more floral than candy-sweet. It’s a simple-seeming floral fragrance that is what I’d call a true soliflore, in that although there are materials in it other than orange blossom (notably petitgrain, jasmine, muguet, violet leaf, virginia cedar, vanilla), it mostly smells of orange blossom all the way through. The angle of light shining on the flowers changes, from a lemony-green sparkle up top to a warm, mellow, honeyed base. It’s lovely. It also only lasts about three hours with a moderate spritz, so the Annick Goutal spray-until-wet method would serve you well with it.
Lubin Epidor: Angela’s review on Now Smell This last May made me think that it would not be up my alley in the least. “Thick”? Not my kinda thang. And Lubin’s ad copy mentioning peasant girls and ripe wheat and dreams is soppy and even more useless than ad copy usually is — even from Lubin, which is famous for its ridiculously OTT ad copy.
But then my almost-Evil Scent Twin Kafkaesque reviewed it and said it was very simple, linear, but called it “cozy comfort” and said she needed a decant. And then March’s review of it on Perfume Posse in December made me think that I needed to try this. She called it “unashamedly romantic” and “narcotic,” and told me the base was more hay/woody than sweet vanilla. So I ordered a 1.2ml spray sample.
And y’all, it’s gone already. I used it up. I like it that much.
The notes include violet, plum, orange blossom, jasmine, cedarwood, sandalwood, vanilla and tonka bean. It is not complicated at all: it is just so golden and pretty. I get lots of violet, a haze of white florals, then a gentle wheaty, almond-cake drydown. Which sounds like not much, right? but it’s just so dang pretty, and it smells relatively natural. None of that blocky, lab-created jasminoid thing that annoyed the pants off me in Twilly d’Hermes. No buzzy Ambrox. I’m not saying there aren’t any synthetics in it, I’m just saying that the synthetics in it are not ones that trip my “this smells like Chem 102 lab” threshold.
Annick Goutal Nuit et Confidences
Ad copy mentions sparkling champagne and sequins; the bottle is floofy (see left). But the notes list is pretty simple: bergamot, black pepper, tonka, frankincense, white flowers, vanilla, white musk. The fragrance is pretty simple, too. It’s basically . . . vanilla.
To confess, I’ve never tried what’s generally recognized as the ne plus ultra of vanilla fragrances, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. (SDV itself has been revamped in the last couple of years anyway, and aficionados say it isn’t as long-lasting now.) Never mind the fairly malicious review of it in Perfumes: The Guide, because people who love vanilla still love SDV. Haven’t smelled L’Artisan’s late, lamented Vanilia, either. I did enjoy a sample of Dame Perfumery’s Black Flower Mexican Vanilla, though it’s a tad more powdery than I’d prefer.
The thing is, I love vanilla-flavored anything, so long as it’s real vanilla. Offer me a choice of vanilla or chocolate cake? Vanilla, please. Vanilla or chocolate ice cream? VANILLA. Hands down. But for some reason, I generally don’t want to wear vanilla perfume. (See the Sexy Cake post for further explanations.)
In fact, on my skin Nuit et Confidences was so straight-up vanilla that I got out a bottle of vanilla extract to compare it. The extract lasts longer — and is significantly less powdery.
Now, for full disclosure, my bottle of vanilla extract is actually double-strength Madagascar bourbon: fairly expensive stuff from The Spice House, with vanilla bean in the bottle, absolutely worth its weight in gold. It has taken me three years to get the bottle down to the last teaspoon, and that vanilla bean has been macerating in there for long enough to infuse the stuff with real magic. At the current price point, it’s $26 for a 4 oz. bottle, compared to $190 for 3.4 oz. of Nuit et Confidences (currently out of stock at the Goutal’s US website). Frankly, my dear, I’d rather have another bottle of the double-strength vanilla extract.
Yee-haw! Round ’em up, the short reviews of new (to me) things I’ve been testing:
Blackbird Perfume The Minimals Apricot
From the Surrender to Chance website, where I ordered this: Blackbird was first an award winning menswear store that opened in 2004 in Seattle. Nicole Miller, its founder and creative director, brought Blackbird to new heights in 2013 when she decided to focus on distributing the Blackbird brand internationally and closed her stores. Today Blackbird is known worldwide for its unconventional and remarkable fragrances and grooming products.
Apricot is from The Minimals Series which is a limited edition experimental natural perfume collection designed to be layered or worn alone. Each scent is a single ingredient distilled purely from nature in its raw form.
So, okay, an all-natural from an indie perfumery. Apricot is light and fresh in the matter of slightly-unripened fruit, tart and delicious but smelling somehow more of the twigs of the tree bearing the fruit, and of leaves, than of ripe jammy fruit. It’s airy and full of sunshine, a happy smell. It doesn’t last long on my skin, maybe a couple of hours (about par for an all-natural), but it’s wonderful while it does.
Like the above copy said, this was a limited edition that is not now being sold at Blackbird, so there was little point in mentioning it except that I liked it and found it interesting. I probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway: too short-lived.
Guerlain Bois d’Armenie
I’ve read multiple times that if you like benzoin, you must try Bois d’Armenie (based on the smell of Papier d’Armenie, which is paper impregnated with incense and benzoin that you’re intended to burn for . . . um, I guess a pleasant smell in the air? BdA had been on my wishlist at the decant services for, like, two years straight before I finally caved (hey. during a 20% off sale) and ordered a sample.
Turns out I needn’t have bothered. This is nice, very nice indeed, but not all that interesting. The notes are pink pepper, iris, rose, coriander, benzoin, Indonesian patchouli, incense, precious woods, musk and balsams but all I get is smoky benzoin, period. Pleasant, but oh well.
Amouage Figment Woman
I had completely written off trying this one because I thought it was a Fig Perfume. Which I hate, because Fig Leaf YUCK. (I still think that would have made a great fig perfume name.) Turns out it’s a Big White Floral instead — a “deconstructed tuberose,” several blogs are calling it.
Which, yay. Because the last time I tried an Amouage BWF with tuberose, it was Honour Woman.I really liked it for the first two hours (cue ominous music) AND THEN IT BECAME FROGS, so I was horribly disappointed. I was happy to give Christopher Chong another shot at wowing me with an Amouage white floral as fabulous as the packaging. This is really pretty packaging, y’all, probably my favorite Amouage so far, and that’s saying something.
The notes are Sichuan pepper, saffron, gardenia, tuberose, jasmine sambac, lisylang, cassia, orris, papyrus, incense and patchouli, and it looks like it would be a heavy hitter, doesn’t it? Incense. Patch. Spices and all the usual suspects of the BWF. The notes list makes me think to some extent of that massive and scary-weird deconstructed-tubey frag, Comme des Garcons for Daphne Guinness Daphne.
However, I was surprised to find Figment a whitish haze of nothin’-much that gradually devolved into that jasmine aromachemical that sets my teeth so absolutely on edge that eventually I have to scrub. Again a disappointment. I am about to give up on Amouage. (My wallet is relieved, I must say.)
You do know this smell, right? The smell of rain hitting dry earth. Petrichor is the reason you open your door after a summer rain and inhale and inhale and inhale, sucking all that good freshness in until you get light-headed, and then you have to lie down and thank God you’re alive, because petrichor.
Petrichor By Viromnibus
The world where I stood was a desert
longing for a kiss that never came.
Not until you did.
Demeter’s rendition isn’t quite that transformative. It lasts less than an hour on me, and only smells like real-life petrichor for about 15 minutes. But it’s a lovely 15 minutes.
Le Galion La Rose – a 2014 reorchestration of a 1950 fragrance, La Rose is not the soliflore I’d thought it would be. It is warm and woody, and yes, rosy. Very attractive, comfortable, pleasant; more interesting than a plain rosewater scent but I find it quite comforting.
Head notes | Bergamot, Violet Leaf
Heart notes | Rose, Ylang Ylang, Water Peach, Royal Lily
Base notes | Cedar, Patchouli, Vanilla, Musk
I have no idea what “water peach” is, but La Rose doesn’t accent any peachy notes. It’s not particularly vanilla-y either, which is refreshing. I mean, a gourmandy rose-vanilla is always nice (Rochas Tocade, Lush Rose Jam, Montale White Aoud, etc., etc.), but this one is mainly fresh pink rose and soft woods. Very lovely. Lasting power is about average for an eau de parfum on me, 4-5 hours, and the sillage is mild to moderate. €140 for 100ml, €9 for a 6.5ml mini at the Le Galion website.
Dame Perfumery Desert Rose – A bit of overlap here with the Le Galion, but… you know. Rose. Duh. I’m always a sucker.
Dame Perfumery says this about it: “A blend of Turkish rose otto and Damascenia Rose with touches of peach, Sicilian lemon, Egyptian jasmine, geranium, carnation, heliotrope, sandalwood, musk, amber and vanilla. For a woman, mostly.”
I suppose in my mind, a desert rose would be dry, but Desert Rose is quite pleasantly fresh and dewy, at least for the first half. I was thinking that “Damascenia Rose” was a typo, since I had only ever seen it written “damascena.” Turns out that Damascenia is a Firminich molecule. Whatever it is, it’s really pretty in this fragrance, which does smell fairly natural. I get little touches of peach in it, as well as carnation, but as it wears on, the whole thing goes a bit soapy. $85 for 100ml edp spray, $35 for 10ml oil rollerball, $10 for $5ml edp spray.
Serge Lutens De Profundis – I had only a vague memory of testing this one before — you know me, not the biggest Serge Fangrrl — and wanted to retry it. I am completely ignoring the wacko Serge description (death, chrysanthemums, carnality at the graveside ew ew ew, no, I’m not quoting it here) and the letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his bosom buddy Lord Alfred Douglas from prison, which is the purported inspiration for the fragrance. And maybe the Fleurs du Mal Baudelaire reference too.
To be honest, the backstory put me off trying the fragrance seriously for a long time. Instead, I have focused on the “Out of the deep” movement from John Rutter’s Requiem. The Rutter is one of my favorite choral pieces, and it is somber and gorgeous and ethereal. And then there’s the J.S. Bach setting of Psalm 130, also wonderful. (FYI, there are two Bach settings of this text, and it’s not Cantata BWV 131 but BWV 38 that I remember.)
De Profundis the fragrance does not move me the way the Rutter does, but it is very very pretty. Yes, I just called a Lutens “pretty,” and I’m not takin’ it back. It’s pretty, y’all. Shaddup. It is both bold and tender at the same time, quite floral and cool and meditative, and while that may be because I don’t associate any particular flower with funerals, still. I like chrysanthemums in flower, and I like them in this fragrance along with the carnation and the violets and the incense.
I could wish for better projection and longevity from this one, at least from a heftily-dabbed sample. Maybe it’s better with a spray application, but I got about three hours’ wear and very little sillage.
De Profundis will run you $300 for a 75ml bell jar at theSerge Lutens website. (Ow. And that’s for the plain one, so nope.)
The 1920s was an influential decade for perfume, though striking changes in fashion began in the years immediately after World War I. The dust was settling in Europe after the war which had laid waste not only to infrastructure but also political alliances and the young male population, and everybody was tired of wartime bleakness and deprivation. There was a feeling that the old ways were gone and done with, and young women in particular were ready for a change. Gone were old-fashioned morals as well as those complicated hats, hairdos, and long dresses over rigid wasp-waist corsets.
The modern young lady was wearing tube dresses with little underpinning and tank-style bodices and short skirts, as well as dramatic makeup. She was drinking, not tiny ladylike glasses of sherry but potent cocktails in jazz clubs. She was cutting her hair and smoking! in public, yet! She could vote (as of 1918 in the UK for women over 30, and as of 1920 in the US). She could drive. She could — gasp! — possess her own checkbook.
And she wasn’t wearing her mother’s perfume, either.
She wasn’t wearing a soliflore — lavender toilet water, or a simple floral like Coty’s Jasmin de Corse. She wasn’t wearing a simple floral bouquet like Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, or a soft floral oriental like Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. No, she was wearing a decadent, sensual oriental, a sharp and bold chypre, a sparkling aldehydic floral, or a gender-bending leather or tobacco scent. New directions in scent abounded, and aren’t we glad?
Here are some fragrances that graced many flappers’ wrists and décolletages, and which are still in production today (albeit in changed form). Try one, or a handful of these, and smell history.
Guerlain Mitsouko (1919, fruity chypre) This more elegant take on the chypre is such a classic among perfumistas that it is hard to imagine it being daring, but it is. It has the bold chypre tripod structure of bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum, rounded with peach undecalactone, and it smells not only formidable but also kind of, well, ripe. I’m guessing that those flappers who danced the night through smelled a bit like this on their way home at dawn.
Millot Crêpe de Chine (1925, aldehydic chypre) Crepe de Chine was a mashup of the bold three-part chypre structure and the modern-at-the-time aldehydic floral. It is bold, but in a well-groomed, exquisite-tailoring kind of way. Where Chypre was a little, well, tribal, Crepe de Chine is much more civilized. This is for the flapper who only drinks her cocktails out of proper glasses, rather than resorting to a hip flask.
Guerlain Shalimar (1921, oriental, came into wide release in 1925) It was once said that there were three things a respectable woman did not do: smoke in public, dance the tango, or wear Shalimar. With its almost chiaroscuro contrasts of bright bergamot-lemon top and dark smoky, leathery, vanilla-balsamic base, it is striking… and sexy. Louise Brooks wore Shalimar; ’nuff said.
Corday Toujours Moi (1920, spicy oriental) This one is a kitchen-sinky oriental similar to Tabu (1932) with some green notes, and it is extremely bold. It wafts. It is a Liberated Woman scent very far from, say, the very-Victorian Berdoues Violette. It goes perfectly with its name, “Always Me,” and the attitude “Look, I have my own checkbook! and these great T-strap shoes!”
Caron Tabac Blond (1919, tobacco/leather) There is no tobacco listed in the notes, by the way, but the effect is at least somewhat tobacco-like. This scent seems to me to be an androgynous, “let’s steal all the things that smell like a gentlemen’s club,” appropriation of notes that had been regarded as traditionally masculine, softened by traditionally-feminine florals.
Molinard Habanita (1921, leather oriental) This scent began its life as an additive for cigarettes — you were supposed to dip the glass rod into the oil and stroke it along the length of your cigarette, so that while you smoked, the fragrance filled the air. Leaving aside the reason this was A Thing (you didn’t want Mumsy dear to know you were smoking? I mean, presumably she also knew about the hip flask and the lace step-ins, so you weren’t fooling anybody), Habanita probably smelled good with the tobacco smoke. Here’s Robin’s description at Now Smell This, because it’s pretty perfect: “If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you’ll get the general idea.”
Chanel No. 5 (1925, aldehydic floral) Perfumer Ernest Beaux’ attempt to recreate an Arctic snow field and Coco Chanel’s affinity for the smell of starched linen combined with No. 5’s enormous overdose of aldehydes, the aromachemical that is in smell form big Hollywood klieg lights. (Maybe.) And Chanel’s famous dictum that a woman should not smell of flowers, but like a woman, played into its abstract presentation, too. (Maybe. There are a number of contradictory stories about its genesis.) No. 5 feels like a smooth marble sculpture to me. In its day it was utterly modern, and to its credit, its florals are still lovely.
Lanvin My Sin/Mon Peché (1924, aldehydic floral) Like No. 5, My Sin is an aldehydic floral, but it is dark and carnal in a way that No. 5 has never been and will never be. It’s a complicated perfume: along with the aldehydes and florals are some deep woods and an animalic base just shy of “Are there mating buffaloes somewhere on the premises?” I suspect that it got worn more often by women grabbing a little vicarious sinful pleasure than by women who were actually sinning while wearing it, but there you are. Brilliant marketing. And that cat! Love it.
Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924, leather) Again with the gender-bending for 1920s gals. Leather was previously known as a masculine note, and this leather-for-ladies boasts the enormous and expensive Chanel powdery iris as well as florals and aldehydes. Fans speak of its “good purse” leather, or its “expensive car” leather, both things that flappers seemed to enjoy.
Weil Zibeline (1928, aldehydic floral chypre-oriental) “Zibeline” means “sable” in French, and this fragrance was intended for scenting furs. As you might guess, Zibeline is heavy and rich, and yet dry and aromatic. It smells very much not of this century, but it is a luxurious scent in the best sort of way. One imagines fancy cars and diamonds and satin gowns, and that ne plus ultra sable, for a fancy party.
By 1929, with the stock market crash around the corner, the general prosperity which had allowed so many young women to taste freedom and decadence was about to disappear, and the day of the flapper was drawing toward a sudden twilight.
What the flappers left behind were some glorious abstract perfumes. Like much of the Art Deco of the period, the fragrances are bold yet graceful, natural yet influenced by humans. Chanel No. 5’s beautiful florals are buttressed on either side by the highly-artificial aldehydes and the pillowy strength of (nitro) musks. Shalimar’s combination of lively bergamot and smoky-sexy vanillin makes it round and memorable, unlike anything smelled in nature — but if you smell it on a person, even now, fifty-‘leven reformulations after its release, it has affinity for skin and does not scream I AM SYNTHETIC! the way many modern fragrances do.
There were, of course, several other classic fragrances released during the 1920s which are still favorites today, but I have not included everything here. Caron’s Nuit de Noel (1924), Bellodgia (1925), and Narcisse Noir (1925), for example, were hugely popular and remain extant, but they are not what I think of as bold and daring “flapper perfumes.” Nor are Chanel’s lovely woody Bois des Îles (1925) and satin-smooth Lanvin Arpège (1926). Coty L’Aimant (1927) is likewise a bit too prim, Emeraude (1920) too soft. Jean Patou’s Chaldée (1927), as a perfume recreation of French suntan oil (we can blame Coco Chanel for popularizing the tan!), seems to go with the flapper propensity for displaying bare skin, but it was not as widely worn as the others. Bourjois Evening in Paris (1928) is a gentle floral composition. Patou Joy, released in 1929, in my mind belongs to the Depression era.
Do you have a favorite flapper perfume? Do you love Art Deco and low waistlines? Does Daisy Buchanan make your heart sing? (And did you prefer Mia Farrow or Carey Mulligan?) Do share!
If you’d like to read more about how the social phenomenon of the flapper arose, check out this post at We Heart Vintage.
I always forget how much fun it is to do mini-reviews! I should do more of them.
Masque Milano Romanza: Okay, so you know I love me some narcissus, right? Oh, how I do love it. PdN Le Temps d’une Fete is still my favorite narcissus scent (not to mention, probably favorite scent of all time. OF ALL TIME, y’all), but I’m always looking for another narcissus scent. So then this Masque thingie showed up on the fumie blogs and I had to sample.
It’s pretty great, actually. The first five minutes it’s all drrrty intoxicating narcissus and a whap of something aromatic and bitter, and then that animalic stuff recedes to a lovely floral – narcissus and jasmine with green leaves. After that, the scent dwindles gradually to a vetiver-cedar base, very pleasant. The drydown sticks around for the bulk of the time the scent’s on my skin, but that’s not the part I love, so this will never be a replacement for LTdF. All the same, it’s very good.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Natura Fabularis Tenebrae 26: Somebody I know from a fragrance split group offered a bottle split of several of L’Artisan’s Natura Fabularis (“Nature Mythology,” according to three different Latin-to-English online translators). Tenebrae was the one that seized my attention for some reason, and although the split didn’t work out — not enough takers, I think — I decided to sample it.
This is not at all my usual sort of thing, of course. But something about the description, “a ‘dense and dark forest’ with incense, resins and sap,” just whispered that I needed to try it. Tenebrae means “shadows,” and I guess I was in a shadowy sort of mood, maybe. At this remove, I don’t remember.
So is it dark and dense? Is it foresty, shadowy, a David Lynch movie in a bottle? Nope. There’s enough vetiver and dry cedar in here that it comes off being quite light and dry and pleasant. The incense is prominent. Forest? Sap? Not so much. This reminds me a good bit of CdG Incense: Zagorsk, which I like. Good stuff. The juice is sort of light bluish-green, which I also like. It lasted for a good five hours on my skin, a big surprise for something that wears this lightly.
Serge Lutens Cèdre: this is the Serge that’s famous for its name being all Le Labo-misdirectiony, as in “Where’s the cedar? This is all tuberose!” (or amber, depending on who’s reviewing it). It’s also famous for being, and I’m quoting more than one person here, weird. I blew it off for a long time, but I finally broke down and got a sample, so I could check my opinion against everybody else’s.
Not that anybody is talking about Cedre these days. It’s one of the older scents in the Lutens stables, yet not a classic, so people forget about it. The official notes are cedar, tuberose, cinnamon, honey, musk and amber.
I put a dab of this thing on my left hand, and then I burst out laughing. Because, yes, it’s weird. It’s got some seeeeerious menthol going on the first two minutes, almost as minty as Tubereuse Criminelle, and then the next thought I have is, Hey, this is like the early blueprint for Memoir Woman: weird mint-spice thing, big white floral thing, cat-butt musk and leather. I love Memoir Woman, which has Almost Too Much, including a bizarrely medicinal opening, going on for its own good.
Twenty minutes later, the honey is coming to the forefront of Cedre and the whole thing is getting softer and sweeter, muskier and cat-furrier. It’s less weird, though I would not call it conventional by any stretch of the imagination. And yes, there is (eventually) cedar in here, although I’m still getting a very caramelly-buttery tuberose all the way to the bottom. Good 4.5-hour sticking power, not much waft, but that might be the fault of applying from a dab sample. Four hours is a pretty good EdP ride for me and my scent-eating skin; your mileage may vary.
This is kinda nice. It’s got way less teeth than Memoir Woman, though, so I think I’m finding it a little tame. (inorite? In 2009 I’d have probably run screaming from it found it too weird to wear, but now I’m all blasé and claiming it’s not teethy enough for me. Heh.)
I was going to do my usual history-in-brief, but I think I’ll just link to the Fragrantica info on this perfume house, and get straight on to the frag reviews. My sample set came with seven scents, really nice sturdy 2ml sealed glass spray vials, and then I managed to scrounge up a couple more in the standard decant service 1ml dabber vials. Deep breath. Okay, I’ll start with the ones I didn’t hate and proceed from there.
Reve D’Ossian – The name makes reference to Ossian, the purported author of a cycle of epic poems in Gaelic (really the 18th-century work of James MacPherson), and the notes are aldehydes, incense, pine, cinnamon, benzoin, elemi, tonka, guaiac wood, opoponax, balsamic notes, sandalwood, leather, labdanum and musk. Longtime readers will look at that list and think, Okay, Mals is gonna definitely hate this. I thought I would, too. I don’t. It might be my favorite of the nine I tried – not that I’m jonesing for a larger amount of it, but I enjoyed wearing it. It does that cool-and-meditative thing that incense does, and when it softens into the basenotes it gets comforting. Not ground-breaking, quite linear, but it holds a feeling of quiet, expansive equanimity for me.
Heliotrope Blanc – I’m iffy on heliotrope, too. (Never once has perfumery heliotrope ever smelled like the plants I had growing in the front flower bed – those smell like jelly doughnuts! – but often will go very powdery or Play-doh-y.) This one is powdery, but pleasant nonetheless. Did I love it? Nope. Notes are orange blossom, heliotrope, violet leaf, almond, mimosa, iris, musk, rice, benzoin and tonka. I tested this on one wrist, with Parfums de Nicolai Kiss Me Intense on the other, and KMI was far more to my taste.
Marions-Nous – The silly name means something like “let’s get married,” and of course it is a floral bouquet – with aldehydes, orange blossom, hyacinth, rose, carnation, ylang, iris, jasmine, cloves, tonka, civet, musk, and sandalwood. The preponderance of orange blossom in there pretty much guarantees its resemblance to scented soap to me. I mean, it’s nice soap. Nice soap is better than most of the rest of this fragrance line, IMHO.
Relique d’Amour – okay, I didn’t hate this one either, though I didn’t mind it. It’s faint lilies, incense and a cold stone effect, but there’s also a hint of old vasewater and celery in there too. Official notes include: fresh herbs, pine, white lily, powdery notes, pepper, oak, incense, myrrh, elemi, musk, moss, waxed wood. I wished to pick up the “waxed woods” note, but didn’t find it.
From here it gets much, much worse. #sorrynotsorry
Oeillet Louis XV – Y’all know I love carnations, except when they go bitter-soapy. This one is bitter, soapy, AND powdery, on top of cloying honey sweetness, and I really hated it. Official notes are carnation, pink pepper, mandarin, honey, white orchid, iris, rose, clove, rice powder, musk, woody notes. The topnotes are okay, and from there it keeps devolving further into OMG why did I put this on my skin? gedditoffme.
Jardins d’Armide – I suppose it’s not all that weird that a company that used to make scented wig powder should feature powder in its modern creations, but this thing is OTT powdery. We are talking baby-powder BOMB, people. It starts off promisingly enough – I get the heliotrope right off the bat, and there’s a nice rose-violet, and then five minutes later I’m blinking from a Dumpster’s worth of powder. Remember the picture of that lady who was covered in dust after the World Trade Center bombings, and who died of cancer last year? (Prayers for her family.) That’s how I feel wearing J d’A. Official notes are rose, powdery notes, orange blossom, orris root, violet, carnation, wisteria, honey, almond, tonka bean and musk.
Horizon – I didn’t expect to like this “oriental fougere”, and I sure didn’t. Petitgrain, tangerine, marmalade, rose, cognac, amber, tobacco leaf, cacao, almond, oak, patchouli, benzoin, ambergris, white tobacco, vanilla, honey, leather and peat. Sounds great, right? But on my skin, it’s a big ol’ slug of patchouli and sweated-out booze, and it smells like poor judgment – not just no, OH HE** NO.
Chypre Mousse – this is the reason I bought the sample set. I blameKafkafor this one; she is my Mostly Evil Scent Twin, but every now and then we have congruent tastes. I was expecting something like vintage Coty Chypre, or even original Miss Dior (which is an acquired taste, to be sure): green notes, moss, woody notes, and labdanum, a veritable Bambi’s Forest right there on my wrist.
Instead, I got this pile of garbage right in the middle of said forest. Yes to moss and a hint of galbanum, but also tons of dirt and garbage atop it, with the sour fizz of rot over all. It gives me enormous stonking headaches every time I try it, and terrible nausea. Every member of my family recoiled from me with horrified expressions, so it wasn’t just my sniffer. Sprayed on paper, I pick up fleeting impressions of various woodsy things – wet fern, mushroom, raw chestnut, something sweet like pipe tobacco, and was that mint? – amid the overall greenness. On my skin? Awful. Indescribably awful. A decomposing mess.
But the worst disappointment for me was Deja le Printemps. Described as a gentle green floral, it seemed like the one most up my alley, and I didn’t check the notes list (mint, orange blossom, chamomile, fig leaves, clover, mown grass, lily of the valley, galbanum, musk, vetiver, cedar, moss) before trying it on skin. You saw it in the list, right? It’s there. I should have known: those blasted fig leaves.
I’ve never experienced live fig trees or eaten fresh figs (I love the dried ones, which are the only ones you can get in this temperate zone), so I do wonder how I’d react to this bitter, acrid green scent in the wild, so to speak. I don’t usually mind sour, pungent notes like blackcurrant or grapefruit – but fig leaf just does me in. I hate it. I could not wait to get Deja le Printemps off my skin. I stuck it out for two hours, and then just could not stand it any more. The galbanum in this thing was pretty and soft, and everything else just lovely, but that (@*% FIG LEAF… I’m still mad about it.
Oriza L. Legrand’s range includes sixteen fragrances; I tried nine. I might be interested in giving Muguet Fleuri a go, and I wouldn’t turn down a shot at Violettes du Czar either, if I didn’t have to buy it. I don’t know how different Royal Oeillet is from the earlier rendition of Louis XV or whether to bother with it. However, I have zero interest in Villa Lympia, Vetiver Royal Bourbon, Foin Fraichement Coupe (perfumery hay absolutely never smells like hay to me) or Cuir l’Aigle Russe.
I am now sending my Oriza samples off to a new home, where I hope they’ll be welcome. How have you done with this house? Like it, love it, hate it?
The Friday challenge at Now Smell This this week was to wear a fragrance rated five stars in Perfumes: The Guide. Some readers, including me, made it a five-star week, and in fact I’m going to continue wearing one five-star scent for as long as it’s still fun. We’ll see how long I can keep going before I want something else.
Part One of this series is the list of five-star fragrances according to Perfumes: The Guide. Part Two will be the list according to me. Five-star fragrances are described in P:TG as “masterpieces.” From my reading, additional criteria seem to involve things like distinctiveness, coherence, consistency, decent raw materials, and possibly innovation.
I won’t get into critique of the book that had the perfume blogs buzzing, or of the criteria used by authors Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, though I would recommend that everyone who’s interested in perfume at least read it. Today I’d like to talk about the fragrances instead.
However, I will point out that even though the authors undoubtedly have a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the industry as well as of the heart of perfumery, they’ve got their own personal biases. So do I. So does everyone with a nose, so if you disagree with anyone on perfume, take their judgment with a grain of salt. Your own judgment is what matters most.
Tania Sanchez addresses the preference issue head-on when she says, “… one can certainly admire a perfume without necessarily loving it. Love, of course, is personal (but best when deserved).” She hits the issue from the side when answering FAQs, in this fashion:
Q: Why has Amarige got only one star, when it is in a top ten list in the back? A: Amarige is a genius work of perfumery, utterly recognizable, memorable, technically polished, and spectacularly loud. But we hate it. In the end, we figured this was the fair thing to do.
Well, okay then. There you go, bias is acknowledged so you are allowed to disagree.
Here is the Perfumes: The Guide’s list of five-star fragrances (in alphabetical order by house, not by perfume name), and what I think of each one of them. If there is no description, I have not smelled the fragrance.
Amouage Gold Wearing this is like walking into a football stadium or some other giant enclosed space, albeit in the case of Gold, the AstroDome ceiling has been gilded and carved into rococo shapes. Enormous, colossal, too big for any one person to wear. (The body lotion, however, is wonderful.) Four stars. Amouage Homage (now d/c) Amouage Ubar I own a 5ml decant of this and am always forgetting I have it. It reminds me of my small bottle of Lancôme La Collection Climat, and of Parfums Divine Divine: creamy civet lemonade. Nice, but there are other fragrances I love better, and other Amouages I prefer. Four stars. L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzing! Yep, virtual circus. Fun, but who really wants to smell of stale orange circus-peanut marshmallow candy, sawdust, and tiger pee? Three stars. L’Artisan Timbuktu L’Artisan Vanilia (now d/c) Azzaro pour Homme Instant headache. So. Much. Lavender. Two stars. Badgley Mischka Fruity chypres never suit me. They always seem curdled; I always get nauseous. Two stars. Bond No. 9 Chinatown Fruity chypre/oriental. See “Badgley Mischka.” Two stars. Boucheron Boucheron Pleasant, but muted. Basically floral soap with very sharp edges. Described by LT as “huge floral,” but he’s wrong. Three stars. Bvlgari Black I like Black. I do. It smells mostly of new sneakers, or new bike tires, plus a powdery vanilla that reminds me of flavored coffee-creamer powder. That’s fun. Genius? Nope. Four stars. Cacharel LouLou For once I’m in total agreement with LT’s description of it as having a texture like those glass Christmas-tree baubles that look like velvet and feel like sandpaper. We just differ in our enjoyment of that texture. Also, this sucker is really loud. I lived through the 1980s; I don’t necessarily want to revisit them. Two stars. Caldey Island Lavender Caron Pour un Homme Caron Le Troisième Homme This is a floral (jasmine) fougére. Not my thing, and actually I find it sort of creepy. Three stars. Caron Yatagan Chanel 31 Rue Cambon For full disclosure, TS gave it four stars and I’m with her on that. It’s lovely, I enjoy wearing it, but I don’t think it’s groundbreaking or classic. I’ve gone through a 10ml decant (of which the last ml was unwearable, after six years), but to be perfectly honest, I could probably get by with just my Téo Cabanel Alahine for a floral amber. Chanel Bois des Iles Lovely, lovely stuff. I first tried it from a sample of pre-Les Exclusifs eau de toilette, and it lasted at least four hours, dabbed. The Les Exclusifs version lasts about two hours on me, sprayed-until-wet. The parfum lasts better but hovers only two millimeters above skin. I’m taking half a star off the P:TG rating because of the longevity and sillage issues. Chanel Cristalle Citrus chypres are not my thing, but in any case Eau Sauvage kicks this thing’s butt all over. Four stars. Chanel Cuir de Russie As I’ve commented before, smells like our cattle working pens: live hides, dust, iodine, dry manure, sweat and fear. Just no. Two stars. Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette Absolutely. The Guide nailed it. Chanel No. 5 parfum Ditto. Chanel Pour Monsieur Chanel Sycomore Clinique Aromatics Elixir As I’ve commented before, AE smells like somebody took a wiz all over a rose hedge. On paper, two days later, it’s absolutely wonderful; too bad I can’t skip that opening. Great stuff, unwearable by me, and a real bludgeoner into the bargain. Three stars. Clinique (formerly Prescriptives) Calyx (now reformulated) I can’t manage the opening, which smells like overripe, rotting fruit. Once it’s past that stuff, it’s a wonderful sweet juicy floral with good intentions. Four stars. Davidoff Cool Water This is the men’s version. Groundbreaking and all that, sure, but I think it smells a bit bare and chemical. Four stars. Dior Diorella Fruity chypre. See “Badgley Mischka” and “Chinatown.” Two stars. Dior Homme (now reformulated) Nice stuff. I don’t love it, but I think I may have tested the current version, which seems thin to me. Four stars. Dior Dune Like a lot of powdery vanillas, it sits there on my skin being boring and flat. On my SIL, it’s great, warm, cozy. Four stars. Dior Eau Sauvage This is what Cristalle wants to be when it gives up merely pretending to be nice and trims those lethal fingernails. Five stars. Dior Poison (now reformulated) Man, I used to hate this thing back in the day. Dorm halls reeked of it. So did the university buses. Now that it’s been tamed and everybody isn’t wearing six spritzes too many, I rather like it. It has, however, lost its poisonous edge and they’ve upped the orange blossom in it so that it’s almost soapy. Four stars, unless you’ve got the old, soft, esprit de parfum concentration, in which case it gets five. Elternhaus Unifaith (MoslBuddJewChristHinDao) Estée Lauder Azurée Gin with lemon, driving gloves, a full ashtray, pointy fingernails and a steely gaze. Scary. Three stars. Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise Two hours of lovely flowers, becoming barer and shriller after that thanks to whatever jasminoid aromachem. Like all the other classic Lauders, has something in the base that turns my stomach after a couple of hours. One of my aunts wears this, and she always smells lovely; I think it’s my skin. Three stars. Estée Lauder Beyond Paradise Men Estée Lauder Knowing Gives me the same nausea issue as the others, but it’s probably my favorite from this house. I love a nice rose chypre and wish I could wear Knowing as well as another one of my aunts does. Four stars. Estée Lauder Pleasures Pale flowers and laundry musk. It might be the first and best of this kind of squeaky-clean thing, but leaving aside the usual Lauder base, this might be one of the most boring things I’ve ever smelled. Three stars. Estée Lauder Private Collection I so wish I could wear this; green florals are right up my alley. Alas, the Dreaded Lauder Base pops through at T-2 hours. Four stars anyway. Estée Lauder White Linen I like aldehydes, but White Linen has always smelled sour and vinegary too me. My private name for it is “Mildewed Laundry.” Three stars. État Libre d’Orange Sécrétions Magnifique In The Little Book of Perfumes, which wound up being largely a stageshow revue of the five-stars in P:TG (plus reviews of four classic fragrances you can only smell at the Osmothéque in Paris), TS admits that she disagrees on SM and describes it as “absolutely revolting, like a drop of J’Adore on an oyster you know you shouldn’t eat.” Bang on, lady. It’s horrifying. One star. Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel Classic, conservative, reassuring, absolutely masculine. Five stars. Givenchy III I agree with LT that it smells like dirt under the flowers. We just disagree on how appealing that should be. Three stars. Givenchy Insensé (now d/c) Gucci Envy (now d/c) Metallic enough to make my back teeth hurt. Two stars. Yeowch. Gucci Rush Guerlain Après l’Ondée (recently reformulated) Impressionist perfection, at least in the version available in the mid-2000s. Now it’s more irisy and colder, less wistful with its heliotrope toned way down. I’d give it four stars now, but the older stuff is amazing and absolutely deserved its five stars. Guerlain Chamade The epitome of romantic surrender, starting cold-shouldery as it does in galbanum and hyacinth and aldehydes, moving through rose, jasmine and other assorted flowers, and then gradually melting into a powdery-creamy mimosa-vanilla-woods comforter. Five stars. Guerlain Derby Guerlain Eau de Guerlain Guerlain Habit Rouge Guerlain L’Heure Bleue The EdT is Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. The parfum is medicinal pastry, but in a really good way. Five stars. Guerlain Insolence eau de parfum Horrifying shrieky attack parrot with knives attached to its beak and feet. One star. Guerlain Jicky Lavender and bad breath. Two stars for being groundbreaking and influential, zero for smelling good. Guerlain Mitsouko Mitsy hates me. It took me over twenty tries to really “get” Mitsouko. I tried current EdT, I tried EdP, I tried vintage EdT, I tried vintage parfum, I tried current parfum. I tried different times of year and different weathers. Finally I tried some parfum from the early 1990s, and then I got it: round, full, autumnal, tapestried. I still don’t love it the way I love the vintage Coty Chypre parfum I tried – Chypre made me cry tears of overwhelmed happiness – but Mitsy is a force to be reckoned with. Five stars. Guerlain Nahéma I have trouble smelling Nahema. The first time I tried it, I could tell there was something on my skin but could not smell it. The second and third time, all I really got was scented soap. I feel cheated, but there it is. I can’t give something this inane five stars; I’ll go with two. Word is this one’s discontinued anyway. Guerlain Shalimar Lemon-vanilla-tar-and-sex. Utterly distinctive; in all its variations it’s always Shalimar and it’s always far too sophisticated for me. A marvel of perfumery. Five stars. Guerlain Vol de Nuit I don’t understand this scent at all. If I look at the notes, I should like it if not love it: galbanum, jasmine, narcissus, moss and woody notes. On paper it sounds like my beloved Le Temps d’une Fete. I’ve gotten two different samples from the decant services (both edt, both relatively recent), and they smell like… nothing. Musty nothing. As if I opened the trunk that belonged to my great-great aunt and a moth flew out of it. I can’t be smelling what everyone else smells. One star. Hermés Osmanthe Yunnan Gorgeous apricot-tea floral that lasts all of 2.4 seconds on me. How can they charge $200+ for this? Three stars. Histoires de Parfums 1740 Marquis de Sade (now reformulated) Issey Miyake Le Feu d’Issey (now d/c) Jean Patou Joy parfum Heh heh heh. This thing is raunch in overdrive on me – amazing, alive, and thoroughly unashamed to be walking home the morning after, with hair bedraggled and makeup smeared, missing her panties. I can’t wear it, but it’s a five star if anything is. Kenzo Ça Sent Beau “Beau” as in beautiful? No. This struck me as being like Calyx for Dudes. The melon-mango-flower-shaving cream thing is just Too Weird. Three stars. Knize Ten Le Labo Patchouli 24 (now reformulated) Smells like the 150-year-old stone smokehouse behind my grandparents’ house, which produced many a Virginia ham in its day. Fascinating, but who wants to smell like that? Three stars. Lolita Lempicka I resisted trying this one for ages, as I’d read that it was a takeoff on Angel. It’s only tangentially related, and LL is both interesting and really pretty. Four stars. Lush (formerly Be Never Too Busy to Be Beautiful) Breath of God Missoni Missoni Off-putting, like a soft chocolate with an incompatible flavor center (lemon? Kiwi? Mango?) Two stars. Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Man Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman Wonderfully coniferous for three minutes, violet for one, and then amberamberamberamber. Dull and considerably overrated. Two stars. Paco Rabanne Calandre (now reformulated) I was taken aback by TS’s “wire mother” review of Chanel No. 19, particularly because this hissy, metallic, narrow-eyed parody of femininity should have gotten that review instead. Three stars. Parfums de Nicolaï New York Parfums de Nicolaï Odalisque (now reformulated) Doesn’t move me, but is really wonderful. Delicate yet strong in nature. Okay, fine, I’ll call it five. Parfums de Nicolaï Le Temps d’une Fête (reformulated twice and now d/c*) If you held a gun on me and told me to choose one bottle, just one, of all the ones in existence in the world, I’d pick this one. Magical. Eight stars. 😉 *For a time, you could special-order it through the PdN website. However, when I emailed PdN in November to ask about it, I was told it was not available. I have backup bottles, but I mourn. Parfums MDCI Enlèvement au Sérail Reminds me of Joy. Different flowers, same raunch, same aliveness. Still unwearably skanky for me personally. But given my reaction, how can I give it fewer stars than Joy? Five. Parfums MDCI Invasion Barbare Parfums MDCI Promesse de l’Aube Absolutely gorgeous. As innocent as Enlevement is carnal and just as florally overwhelming. Five stars. Pascal Morabito Or Black Robert Piguet Bandit How can I give this perfume that always rushes at me with a scimitar five stars? (shudder) Sure, it’s got galbanum. Sure, it’s amazing and influential and all gender-bendy kewl, but I hate it. I can’t wear it. Four stars, and that’s because I’m allowing for history. Robert Piguet Fracas Everybody always says Fracas is The Quintessential Tuberose scent, but that’s not so. However, you can make a case for it being The Quintessential Big White Floral, because of that metric crap-ton of orange blossom in there. Basically, on me it smells like tuberose cold cream, and wearing it is like whacking a guy you fancy over the head with the heel of your marabou kitten-heel slipper and dragging him into your boudoir to have your way with him, once he wakes up all disoriented by your cloud of scent. Five stars. Rochas Tocade (now reformulated) I liked Tocade at first. I used up a good 30 ml of it when I first bought the bottle, because it was awfully friendly. Then That Slut Tocade started hanging out with the smokers, and every time she came home her bottle smelled like ashtray. Maybe this fragrance doesn’t age well, but whatever. I’ve gone right off her and am ready to kick her out of the sorority. Three stars. S-Perfumes 100% Love Hissy, screechy geranium-y rose backed by pungent patchouli and dusty chocolate-milk mix. Dear God, kill me now. One star. S-Perfume S-eX Serge Lutens Bois de Violette Nice. Faint and timid version of Feminité de Bois. Way overrated. (And I even like violets.) Three stars. Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist Reportedly the earthiest, driest, rootiest, most pallid and ethereal iris evarrrrr. I don’t know why it makes me think of pigtailed little girls with freckles playing hopscotch. I find it cheerful. Four stars. Serge Lutens La Myrrhe Like a pink-and-gold sunrise over blue-shadowed snow. Pristine, cold yet warm. Astonishingly beautiful. Five stars. Serge Lutens Sarrasins Filthy jasmine leather. Who wants to wear this? Smells like what I imagine the back room of a strip club would smell like. (Also, it’s purple. I hate purple.) Three stars. Tauer Perfumes L’Air du Désert Marocain A very calm, meditative, yet comfortable scent. I wouldn’t have called it transcendent, but I can’t really name a reason I would knock a star off, so all right, five stars. Theo Fennell Scent (now d/c) Thierry Mugler Angel Like I drank an entire bottle of cherry cough syrup and fell into a vat of Drakkar Noir. I do not give two flips that Angel started the whole gourmand trend and the fruitchouli trend and the gender-crossing Coco Mlle. trend. Famed perfumer Guy Robert is quoted at least a couple of times in P:TG as saying “A perfume must above all smell good.” This? Doesn’t. One star. Tommy Hilfiger Tommy Girl Like drinking lemony iced tea in the sunshine in an American garden. Pretty, unpretentious and easy to wear. (Hello, Angel? This one smells good. Take notes.) Five stars. Yves Saint Laurent Kouros Yves Saint Laurent Opium (now reformulated) If I may use someone else’s words: “A genius work of perfumery, utterly recognizable, memorable, technically polished, and spectacularly loud. But [I] hate it.” One star, and I’m not sorry. Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche This aldehydic floral packs every bit as much metal as a factory floor and is considerably less warm and fuzzy. It has rose in it? Where? That’s no rose, that’s a very screechy geranium, plus a hyacinth note so metallic it twangs. Two stars. Yohji Yamamoto Yohji Homme (now d/c)
This list does not include anything released after 2009; nor does it include anything Dr. Turin has reviewed since the publication of P:TG in his Style Arabia columns. It was a vast undertaking, and yet it is now (and always was, really) inadequate to the current flood of perfumes on the market today. Still worth a read for information and entertainment, if you ask me.
I’ve been testing a few things new to me and trying to work my way through the Sample Stash, having becoming interested again in sniffing things other than my favorites. So here goes!
L’Wren Scott (for Barneys): This perfume, released by the model and designer in 2009, in conjunction with her design label, generated some buzz around the time of its introduction with the then-staggering price of $195 per 100ml bottle. It’s a price that certainly seems less staggering now, given the price hikes we’ve seen across the board, but it was a shocker at the time. Scott, who was dating Mick Jagger for a time, died in 2014 and her business folded, of course. I’ve recently seen bottles on eBay for $50, so it’s within reach now of those of us not able (or willing) to drop big bucks on our fragrance.
Ms. Scott said in interviews that she mixed her own oils and was highly involved in the creation of her fragrance, from the notes to the packaging. This I believe – celebrities who are interested in fragrance for itself tend to release fragrances that are interesting, at least.
This one is downright quirky. First, it’s a spicy floral modern chypre. And when I say “spicy,” I don’t mean cozy baked-goods spices like cinnamon. I mean anise, artemisia, curry tree, coriander and cloves. The anise seems prominent to me, but the effect is highly aromatic in an unusual way. There’s a ton of patchouli, and lots of jasmine and geranium – very little oakmoss, but this is a chypre in the modern style. It’s big, bold, and in character something like that 80s beast, Ungaro Diva. Oddly for something so bold, it doesn’t last very long on my skin. It’s aromatic and woody enough that I would think it would be perfectly comfortable for a man to wear.
Here’s a masculine take on L’Wren Scott, at CaFleureBon.
Comme des Garcons Blue Encens: I went through a brief period of wanting to smell all the incense fragrances I could, after finding the smell of high-church incense very pleasant. (Hey. The Baptist church I grew up in had cinderblock walls, and although I visited St. Andrew’sseveral times to admire its beautiful jewelbox interior, I never went to services there. It took a visit to Malta five years ago to introduce me to church incense.)
Blue Encens has the traditional incensey mix atop a dry (not sweet) amber, with cool spices. It reminds me a good deal of the late, lamented Comptoir Sud Pacifique Eau du Gouverneur – all that pepper and sheer spice! It’s not particularly ashy, nor very woody. Nor is it groundbreaking; it’s just nice. I enjoyed this one. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that I did – its composer, Evelyne Boulanger, also worked on CdG Zagorsk (speaking of which, I like it again).
Miller Harris L’Air de Rien: Luca Turin’s review of this one in Perfumes: The Guide doesn’t make it sound like anything I would want to wear. However, there’s a regular commenter on Now Smell This who loves it and finds it comforting. I can’t remember which of her mentions of it convinced me that I needed to try it, but I’m pretty sure she talked me into it.
The notes listed are simply neroli, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk and vanilla. Of this one, Turin says, “It smells of boozy kisses, stale joss sticks, rising damp, and soiled underwear. I love it,” and gives it four stars.
Eww. To me, however, it simply smells like “skin musk,” with perhaps a veil of that “old books” smell. I mean, I can smell it, but it sort of melts into the skin and becomes a pleasant ambient scent. I don’t get a lot of patchouli in this, though I expected to. Would I wear it? Probably not, but that’s more a matter of finding it unexciting than finding it dirty.
Okay, so it’s MUSK. We know what happens with musks – they’re large molecules right at the edge of human perception, and many people are anosmic to (they can’t smell) several musks but can smell others. I suspect this is what happened to me with Smell Bent’s Commando, a fragrance recommended by Tom of Perfume Posse and Perfume-Smellin’ Things as smelling like the “impeccably clean skin of a child.” Um, nope. Nope. That thing is crowded locker room all the way, dude. And Patty at Perfume Posse calls L’Air de Rien “the huge catbutt perfume that skanked its way across the perfume universe,” at first, before deciding it was a lovely musky leather.
Burberry Weekend for Women: According to Fragrantica, it’s a fruity floral with some powdery notes. I thought it might be safe to test it when going to the salon for a haircut-and-highlights, but wound up having to scrub it off. Why? It smells of adult diapers to me – that is, stale urine. It’s horrible.
With notes of citrus, peach, and your quieter floral elements of hyacinth, peach blossom and mignonette, it sounds completely inoffensive, right? Well, somewhere down the list of notes, there is sage. Sage, in perfumery, is straight-up pee to my nose, and there’s the culprit. Aromatics Elixir smells urinous to me, too. (Sorry. It is what it is.)
Victoria over at EauMGhas a different opinion on it, and I’m betting that hers is the more common reaction. (How about that? The inoffensive one offends, and the skanky-catbutt one smells fine to me. You never know.)
More mini-reviews coming soon – I’d forgotten how much fun this is!
Caron Pour une Femme– I’ve been interested in trying this for some time now. C’mon, I know that I don’t typically get on with the classic Caron fragrances (oh, don’t get me started), but this one is typically labeled a floral chypre. Okay, maybe we could be quibbling over whether it’s a floral chypre or a chypre floral – that is, whether it is primarily a chypre with a strong floral angle, or primarily a floral with chypre undertones. That’s a distinction I don’t feel myself particularly qualified to answer.
However, Pour une Femme, originally released in 1934 and reformulated who knows how many times (definitely in 2001, when it was reorchestrated by Richard Fraysse) is actually one of those modern chypres. I smell very little oakmoss in here. Plenty of dark marmalade-y orange to start with (as with many Carons, the topnotes are not particularly nice), plus a deep rose and some orange blossom. Lots of patchouli, lots of amber. Deep into the drydown there’s a bit of incense. It’s pleasant. If you’re a Coco Mademoiselle/modern floral-chypre fan, it might suit you well. I’m glad I sampled rather than springing for one of those adorable silhouette bottles – seriously, is this not a fabulous bottle? I love it. It goes more ambery the longer it’s on skin and I like it less.
Notes (via Fragrantica): Orange blossom, mandarin, orange, incense, rose, vetiver, musk, sandalwood, amber. The patchouli isn’t listed, but it’s there.
Another review: Victoria at EauMG.
Uzac Satin Doll – yes, another one of those modern floral chypres. There’s quite a bit of raw-carroty iris root in the topnotes of this one, though, and I rather like it. Can’t help being unimpressed in the first half hour, though, because where’s the tuberose? I was promised tuberose. And rose. And incense.
It was named for Duke Ellington’s jazz standard (listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing it here on Youtube.)
This one, I like more and more the longer it’s on skin. Oddly, the florals show up deeper into the base than they typically do, and they stick around awhile. It’s really lovely; I find myself thinking of Penhaligon’s Eau Sans Pareil (the new one – I never smelled the older version) and how refreshing and elegant it is.
Iris can sometimes feel satiny to me, and I like its presence here in Satin Doll. There is actually a bit of oakmoss in here, though I find myself wondering if it’s the atranol-free version. Not that that’s bad, necessarily – it just doesn’t feel like an old-school powerhouse chypre. Which is not a dealbreaker for me. The patchouli, too, is the heart-note stuff, very green and austere, no powdery dirt mess. There’s a good bit of wood in here, and a bunch of black pepper. I seem to have gotten more iris out of it than some other reviewers did, but since I’m not particularly fond of rooty iris, that isn’t really an enthusiastic recommendation. This is a nice smell. Not shelling out for it – and it doesn’t smell much like the song sounds to me – but it’s nice.
Two more reviews for you: The Silver Fox at Ca Fleure Bon and Angela atNST.
Notes (Fragrantica): elemi, pink pepper, black pepper, iris, tuberose, jasmine, rose, myrrh, incense, patchouli, opoponax, oakmoss.
I had also planned to include a review of Bogue Maai, but my reactions to that one were… um… unconventional, to say the least, so I’ll be putting that review up later. I’ve also got reviews for Hiram Green Moon Bloom and Shangri-La written, as well. Watch this space for those.
Yee-haw!!! A mini-review roundup again, after, like, months.
Guerlain Vol de Nuit (modern EdT, from Surrender to Chance) – after a brief hit of galbanum, this smells like… um… nothing, really. Musty nothing. I keep spraying it multiple times, trying to find it, but it is so pale it’s like it doesn’t WANT to be found. The notes list and descriptions I’ve read say that this is supposed to be a woody oriental. The only thing I can call it is confusing. I’ve heard that the current version isn’t good (see Victoria’s comparisons of vintage and current Guerlains at Bois de Jasmin), but I assumed it was another one of those “compared to the old stuff it’s terrible.” Boy, they weren’t kidding. It’s awful. Doesn’t even smell like a Guerlain to me, whatever that means. (Notes: bergamot, galbanum, petit grain, jasmine, daffodil, spices, iris, vanilla, amber and woody notes.)
Carven Ma Griffe (vintage EdT, again from Surrender to Chance). Another big hit of galbanum to start, but also a blast of decaying aldehydes, followed by moldering whitish floralish stuff and then a ton of vetiver and musk. Vetiver/musk/aldehydes seems to pop up a lot in fragrances that had their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s (Madame Rochas, Rive Gauche, Prince Matchabelli Cachet – and even in the wonderfulChanel No. 19), but I don’t like it. It bores the crap out of me. The reason I love No. 19 and like Annick Goutal Heure Exquise is the galbanum-iris-rose stuff, not the vetiver-musk. Borrrrring. I thought I’d love this. Nope. (Notes: aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, asafoetida, clary sage, lemon, iris, orange blossom, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, rose, labdanum, sandalwood, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vetiver and styrax.)
Also, I hear that Carven has reorchestrated and rereleased this one with a “soft” rollout, no heavy advertising, but I can’t find a sample of the current version anywhere. Guess you have to live in Europe to get it, even though their recent Le Parfum is available in the US.
Speaking of which, I really enjoyed my carded spray sample of Carven Le Parfum. So pretty. So, so, SO pretty. I am often just as thrilled with a just-so-pretty floral fragrance as I would be if you came up and thrust a dewy bouquet right into my arms. I’m not ashamed.
In any case, Carven Le Parfum starts off with citrus and a tart apricot note, and then quickly eases into a gentle mixed-white-floral. It is clearly a Francis Kurkdjian fragrance, which is generally a good thing from my viewpoint – I like FK’s stuff, generally. There’s some clean patchouli in it, which absolutely ruined Elie Saab Le Parfum (also composed by Kurkdjian) for me, but here it isn’t too hijacky, it’s just a support for the lovely florals to rest on. I’d say that it skews a bit younger and more innocent than the Elie Saab, and despite the apricot, less sweet to my nose. The hyacinth is prominent to my nose, but it does also actually smell like sweet peas, which my mother used to grow up against the wood fence in our yard when I was a child. The only other sweet pea fragrance I can recollect trying was Lolita Lempicka’s Si Lolita, which was also jam-packed with pink and black peppers, but ended with a lightweight amber. That one was sweeter, and spicier, less floral in character.
I like it. If I owned this, I’d wear it. So what if it’s not groundbreaking or dramatic? It’s pretty. Fragranticans are calling it “sweet,” but it’s real fruit as opposed to the fakey-fakey stuff I call “froot,” and as I say, not particularly what I would call sweet. No cotton candy here, though if you’re a fan of dry, woody, incensey stuff you’ll probably hate it. (Notes: mandarin blossom, apricot, white hyacinth, sweet pea, jasmine, ylang, sandalwood, osmanthus, and Indonesian patchouli.)
Historiae Jardin De Le Notre – apparently this was an exclusive fragrance created for sale for the Domain of Chantilly at the Le Notre Gardens, and it’s no longer available. But it’s a pretty, gardeny floral that came my way as a carded sample, and I enjoyed it so I’m discussing it. It starts out with a green-leaves accord, which slides into an attractive mixed-floral bouquet (rose, hyacinth, lily of the valley). The notes list on the card also includes gardenia, but that’s clearly delusional; I get a lot of clean jasmine out of this. It eventually goes a little screechy, but not more so than my 2006 Diorissimo; I just have less tolerance for that these days, and after three or four hours, I’m ready for something else.
DSH Perfumes Peony – this is, well, peony. Plus a bit of rose and a good bit of greenness, and it is another bundle of pretty flowers atop a tiny bit of musk to extend the florals. I like it a lot, though not quite as much as the delicate, lovely peony/fresh-rose MDCI Rose de Siwa. But I can’t afford Rose de Siwa, so if you loved that you might want to check out DSH Peony. (Notes: peony, grass, green leaves, rose.)
Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire California Reverie – OOOOOH, I said to myself upon smelling it for the first time. Citrus floral! So pretty! That lasted a fairly long time for this sort of light floral thing, at least about three hours, before I started getting tired of the jasmine. (Notes: mandarin orange, neroli, jasmine sambac and frangipani, beeswax and vanilla.) If I owned this, I’d respray every two hours for the addictively beautiful citrus-floral opening. And then I’d kick myself for literally blowing, like, $2 a spritz.
Parfums d’Empire Corsica Furiosa – not “furiosa” at all. Nope. It’s a pleasant herb-garden fantasy with grass and plenty of tomato leaf, and something that smells like juniper to me, as well as some light woody notes. Stays green all the way through, but it is quite light and fleeting, with minimal sillage to me. Reading Kafkaesque’s review of it has me wondering if I *am* anosmic to ISO E Super after all, because I’m not picking up rubbing alcohol or pepper at all, and Corsica Furiosa is so light! There and gone. (Notes: mastic, lime, grass, hay, honey, moss, labdanum, mint, tomato leaf, pepper.)
I’ve also recently tested Piguet Douglas Hannant, which reminded several people (including me) of a lightened-up Fracas. Then I reacquainted myself with Fracas. I’m planning on a Throwdown for those two soon.
Enjoy the weekend! Our high school football team travels about 75 miles away for tonight’s game (WHAT were they thinking, scheduling that? Driving right past a dozen other schools? Silly), so the band isn’t going. I get a rare band-mom night off. 🙂