Fragrance Throwdown: Ines de la Fressange I versus Ines de la Fressange II

THROWDOWN!
THROWDOWN!

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a throwdown, but thanks to Portia’s comment the other day, I finally got down to business to set the two Ines de la Fressange fragrances head-to-head.

Okay, first off, let’s clarify things: the first Ines fragrance was discontinued before the second came into being, so apparently nobody thought it would be confusing to give them the same name. (Wrong.) Luckily, the packaging is different enough that there should be no question which version you’ve got – unless you are looking at a sample vial labeled simply “Ines de la Fressange.” Because then, you’re going to have to smell it to find out. 🙂

Inès Marie Lætitia Églantine Isabelle de Seignard de La Fressange, daughter of a French marquis and banker and an Argentinian model, is a model and couturier who worked exclusively for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in the 1980s.  She is a designer in her own right, and has owned a chain of boutiques; she recently wrote a style guide called Parisian Chic. On top of her own career, she’s a mother as well: that’s her lovely daughter Nine d’Urso featured in the ad campaign for Bottega Veneta’s first fragrance.

Photo stolen Fragrantica.
Photo stolen Fragrantica.

And in 1999, she released the first perfume under her name. It was created by Calice Becker.  This one was packaged in the octagonal column bottle with simple silver top, and the juice inside it is a soft peachy-yellow color. That’s appropriate, because this scent is one of the best representations of fresh peaches out there (according to me), at least in the topnotes.  If you’re already shuddering, please give me a moment. It’s not about the peach. In fact, it’s a multilayered Proper Lady’s Fragrance, and if I had to classify it, I’d have to resort to a description that goes like this: Aldehydic Fruity Floral Woody.  It’s not exactly everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, but it’s complex.

The notes for Ines I include peach, aldehydes, bergamot, Brazilian rosewood, rose, jasmine, ylang, carnation, iris, lily of the valley, sandalwood, tonka bean, benzoin.  I warn aldephobes that the aldehydes are noticeable here. They are less soapy than they can sometimes appear, and add a great deal of sparkle in a fizzy Champagne-like way. The peach is not sweetened, candied, or even creamy; it’s very tart and refreshing. From that sparkling Bellini top the florals come up, and they are beautiful. The rose and ylang are prominent to my nose, but this is definitely a big bouquet of flowers, symphonically floral in the way that, for example, Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and the old Karl Lagerfeld Chloe are floral. Both of those fragrances are considerably bigger than Ines’ first – if they’re big hotel-lobby arrangements, this one is a far simpler mixed arrangement on your best girlfriend’s dinner table, not formally arranged but simply flowers heaped into a bowl in a simple profusion. The base, which blends benzoin and sandalwood undergirds all those flowers with a warmth and friendliness. I do not know whether the sandalwood is real Mysore, though given the release date, it is just possible that there is at least some in there. The general effect of the fragrance is summery, graceful, and effortless, maybe even a bit nostalgic.

I reviewed the first Ines (Garden Party in a Bottle) in August of 2012, and I still love it every bit as much as I always did – maybe more, because supplies are truly drying up. (It’s extremely hard to find now. I paid under $15 for a 1-oz bottle from Beauty Encounter – not affiliated – in 2009, and under $20 for a 1.7-oz, once I realized how lovely it was. Those days are gone.  I can’t find any reasonable supplies of this one at all, save for ONE 100ml bottle, currently listed at $150, on eBay. It seemed to have been available at the discounters when I wrote that review two years ago, but time unfortunately goes in one direction…) I wear this fragrance only in the summer, when its quiet, effortless elegance seems just right. It’s perfect for tea parties and afternoon weddings, or any occasion where peach silk and cream lace wouldn’t be out of place.  (For other reviews, click the “Garden Party” link above.)

Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn't this bottle pretty?
Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn’t this bottle pretty?

The second fragrance from the house of Ines de la Fressange came just five years later, so I might assume that the first one didn’t sell like hotcakes. (It might have been too ladylike.) This fragrance, packaged in a beautiful flask-shaped bottle with a gold overlay and gold oak leaves, was created by Alberto Morillas.

I recently snagged a manufacturer’s sample of the 2004 version and have been wearing it. It’s… nice. It’s perfectly okay.  It may be suffering from not being sprayed, because even dabbed generously it’s pretty quiet (and I’ve heard from two friends who own both versions that the Morillas one is louder and more fun).

Notes for this one include bergamot, mandarin, either blackcurrant or blackberry depending on the list, neroli, peony, iris, white rose, muguet, patchouli, benzoin, vetiver, white musk.  I’ve read reviews of this one that call it “blackberry musk,” but to be honest that’s not what I get out of it. It is, instead, something of a Coco Mademoiselle clone on me, dominated by patchouli until very late in the drydown.  I am sort of freakishly sensitive to patchouli, so of course your experience may vary, but there it is: patchy floral.

It opens up with a sharply acidic fruit note – I say it’s blackcurrant and mandarin – and, to be frank, the opening is my favorite part of this one.  “Froot” smells that approximate candy or Kool-Aid, those I don’t like, but I tend to appreciate a fruit note that smells realistic, as this does.  It’s nice. Blending with that tart fruit accord is some neroli, joined by rose and peony, and then very quickly I get a snootful of patchouli. It’s at this stage, and for the next four hours, that Ines II reminds me of Coco Mademoiselle. (It also reminds me of Patou Enjoy, for that matter, and it’s not all that surprising since all three are modern chypre florals, “modern” meaning no oakmoss, with a number of notes in common. Come to think of it, a three-way tussle between CM and Enjoy and Ines II would be a fun throwdown as well.)  There are clearly some natural florals involved here, as well as some that are clearly synthetic (the peony, obviously, and there’s a “clean rose”

Well into the drydown, Ines II becomes a real joy to wear. It’s in this late stage that I do begin to get the musk, which does have a berry tinge to it, and there’s a good deal of benzoin. I am a sucker for that, I admit. The soft plushy base lingers for a long time, as a quiet skin scent, and it’s lovely.  Whether you find Ines II pleasant may depend on whether you like this style; if the phrase “modern chypre” incenses you, you’ll curl your lip.

This one is still available (albeit in limited quantities) at discounters, and it’s reasonable, approximately $30-35 for a 50ml bottle.  Other reviews: The Non-Blonde, March at Perfume Posse, Musette at Perfume Posse (brief).

Neither one of these fragrances are groundbreaking or innovative or terribly distinctive; nor were they apparent commercial successes.  I enjoyed wearing both of them, however, and it’s highly unlikely you’d cause a fellow elevator-occupier to faint while wearing these.  Ines II seems very much “of its time,” the husky-voiced, floral-patchouli-musk “modern” chypres of the early 2000s, but for all that it’s quite pleasant.  Ines I is a Calice Becker through and through, with its soft-edged floral blend that seems shot through with light and grace.

It’s pretty clear which one I prefer, but then I love perfumes done in a soft mixed-floral bouquet style.  Feel free to disagree.

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Fragrance Throwdown: the Berry-Vanilla Gourmands Duke It Out

I’ve been saying for MONTHS now that Bath & Body Works Dark Kiss reminds me of Hanae Mori “Butterfly.”  Finally I got busy and did the comparison, so here are the blow-by-blow details…

Hanae Mori “Butterfly” (edt and parfum)

Notes: Blackcurrant, wild strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, peony, sandalwood, Virginia cedar, Brazilian rosewood, almond tree. Composed by Bernard Ellena. Given a four-star rating in P:TG. Tania Sanchez’ review says, in part, “terrifically trashy cotton-candy idea lifted straight from [L’Artisan] Vanilia… cheerfully bright berry notes… in a classic woody-floral setting… a bombshell gourmand, incredibly rich and strong…” Continue reading Fragrance Throwdown: the Berry-Vanilla Gourmands Duke It Out

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Fragrance Throwdown: Givenchy Organza Indécence versus Anné Pliska eau de parfum

 

Photo of wrestlers via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Full Review Friday post is another Fragrance Throwdown.  I’m glad to see these wrestler guys again – I had missed them!

I had owned a small bottle of Organza Indécence for three years or so and enjoyed it before smelling Anné Pliska. AP seemed to me to be a darker, thicker rendition of Organza Indécence – OI on steroids, if you will – and I thought it would be interesting to test them wrist-to-wrist.

Organza Indecence (original packaging) from Fragrantica

Notes for Organza IndĂ©cence, from Fragrantica: Cinnamon, tangerine, jacaranda wood, plum, patchouli, amber, vanilla. With all those weighty notes, you’d think this would be a heavy oriental behemoth, a 400-pound gorilla plopping himself on your couch with a bag of chips and the TV remote, but it isn’t. Instead, OI is warm but lightweight, a nice slubby silk sweater that has texture and warmth but doesn’t smother. I never seem to notice the plum, and I can’t pick out jacaranda as opposed to other wood. I do also pick up on a few notes that aren’t listed; perhaps I’m imagining them, but possibly they’re there in smaller quantities; I think I smell a bit of rose, and I’m almost certain that there’s cedar in the base as well as a light touch of skin-type musk.

Continue reading Fragrance Throwdown: Givenchy Organza Indécence versus Anné Pliska eau de parfum

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Fragrance Throwdown: Ferre by Ferre versus Gianfranco Ferre (2005)

Photo of wrestlers via Wikimedia Commons

I went looking for these in the first place because of Iris Poudre. I had read in comments on a ‘fume blog that Ferre by Ferre was a close cousin of Iris Poudre, which I love. Then there’s a review of Gianfranco Ferre in Perfumes: The Guide stating that it is a more-polished, fully-developed version of Iris Poudre. However, I’m still not absolutely convinced that the confusingly similar names of the Ferre fragrances haven’t caused a mixup in at least one case. Here are my thoughts on the matter, developed through multiple wearings and side-by-side comparisons over several months, as well as some good old-fashioned internet research. I confess that I’m still puzzled by the P:TG review.

(In case you are wondering, “old-fashioned internet research” was a joke. A terrible joke, but nonetheless.)

Both fragrances tested are minis acquired on ebay, with Ferre by Ferre in the black hand-grenade bottle (also produced as a goldtone mesh hand-grenade) and Gianfranco Ferre in the rectangular Ferre bottle, the same shape as my golden Ferre 20 bottle except clear glass with gold top. (see pix) This was the other blog comment that kicked up my interest in these Ferre fragrances: Commenter Melissa on Perfume Posse: “I am also amassing bottles of a few of the entirely underrated discontinued Ferres. Specifically, the older Ferre by Ferre (“classic”) in the round grenade shaped bottle, a modern floral aldehyde. And Ferre 20, a floral with a rich, woody-vanillic base. The latter has become crazy expensive, if you can find it at all.” That was the reason I was so happy to snag that bottle of Ferre 20 in Rome – well, that recommendation, and the fact that I think it smells great.

I warn you now – if you hate aldehydes, these two are not going to change your mind. But if you like them, these are both enjoyable and attractive fragrances, and the 2005 version is still available at a reasonable price at discounters (currently selling at FragranceX at about $37 for a 50ml bottle).

Ferre by Ferre from Fragrantica

Notes for Ferre by Ferre: Top Aldehydes, orange, green notes, peach, neroli, bergamot, lemon. Heart Mimosa, passionfruit, carnation, violet, orange blossom, ivy, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, rose, oakmoss. Base Spices, orris root, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, styrax.

It reminds me more of Le Labo Aldehydes 44 than of Iris Poudre, but I can see the IP reference. It never develops IP’s delicious, angora-fluff benzoin drydown, though.

In fact, nothing does, so far as I have been able to find out. My opinion is that Iris Poudre got robbed in Luca Turin’s three-star P:TG review, which states, in part, “Simply stated, the problem with iris-root smell is this: everyone loves its gray, nostalgic, romantic powderiness, but the stuff is, truth be told, as funereal as it gets… [Pierre Bourdon’s] expertise in making resolutely sunny, fruity compositions very quickly dries iris’ tears. After a restrained initial gravitas appropriate to the occasion, Iris Poudre veers toward a happier disposition reminiscent of Bourdon’s Dolce Vita… A good fragrance, but not true to its name or material.”

I’ll concur, Iris Poudre isn’t all that iris-y. Which is fine with me, for to be honest I am not the World’s Biggest Iris Fan. And true, it’s sunny and fruity; this is also fine with me because I like Dolce Vita very much. I would, however, quibble with the assertion that IP is “powdery.” It isn’t all that powdery; rather, it is as fluffy as a marabou stole.

Okay, true: I admit that I got pretty snarky about Elizabeth Taylor’s Violet Eyes having violet in the packaging, violet in the name, but no violet in the fragrance – but it is after all a very attractive floral that I might have bought if it had been just a little more distinctive. Dr. Turin gets similarly snarky when a fragrance name references either gardenia or iris, and turns out to not have much of whatever’s advertised, so I can’t blame him all that much. All the same, here I am looking for an Iris Poudre clone because I love it so much and it’s so expensive, and I still haven’t found one. Various fragrances replicate pieces of it – Ferre by Ferre and Ulric de Varens pour Elle mimic the sweet aldehydic top, Dolce Vita and Ferre 20 do the fruity bit, and Mariella Burani does something close to IP’s wonderful drydown. An all-of-a-piece replica? Doesn’t exist.

As a matter of fact, Ferre by Ferre happens to be discontinued and very difficult to find. Minis still float around on ebay, and I know of at least one fragrance seller on ebay that has a bottle or two of it, at approximately $100 for a 100ml bottle.   However, it’s still not all that much less expensive than a bottle of IP, so I’m still totally stuck on that “find a replacement for Iris Poudre” quest.

Ferre by Gianfranco Ferre (edp) from Fragrantica

After the fun start, GF turns into floral soap for some time, prim and opaque, flat as a piece of Sheetrock. The contrast with the sparkly topnotes is drastic. I don’t get a lot of iris in it, nor much rose. What does pop out, to my nose, is the lemony-creamy note of magnolia, and a sullen pouty jasmine, with just a hint of sugared violets. The drydown – primarily woody-musky-vanilla – is very comfortable, and easy to wear, though sweetened with amber.  It lasts well, about four hours on me (dabbed).  In my opinion, GF seems very little like Iris Poudre, despite the same perfumer and what is claimed to be a similar structure.

Notes for Gianfranco Ferre: Top Pineapple, melon, iris leaf, bergamot, [aldehydes]. Heart Magnolia, iris, freesia, jasmine, ylang-ylang, violet, rose. Base sandalwood, amber, basmati rice, musk, vanilla, orris root.

Now here’s Tania Sanchez, reviewing this fragrance (referred to as Ferre from the house of Gianfranco Ferre) and giving it four stars where Iris Poudre received three: “Five years after doing Iris Poudre… Bourdon polished the idea for Ferre. Slightly more vegetal than the Malle fragrance, Ferre is nevertheless a close match: powdery, woody-sweet in a violet way, and slightly too bright, like overexposed flash photographs.”

I admit here that I am not at all sure that I’m smelling the same fragrance that TS was reviewing. The notes list for this scent seems congruent with what I’m smelling – the fruit in particular, which TS doesn’t even mention, is prominent. “Powdery” is not at all a phrase I’d use to describe what I’m smelling here. Neither does “too bright.” This thing seems sort of dense to me, and, yes, sweet. It’s a fruity sweetness, but it’s true that sometimes violets (ionones) can seem fruity and sweet.  I am totally Not Getting the Iris Poudre reference, not in the least bit.  I noticed, too late, that my miniature bottle is Eau de Toilette, while the larger bottles are Eau de Parfum, and that may be the  issue.  Please weigh in if you’ve tried both the EdT and the EdP – and if you think I have the wrong one!

Over on Fragrantica, I notice that people keep putting reviews on the wrong Ferre fragrances. Someone has done a long, thoughtful review of the original 1984 Ferre fragrance, a rich floral oriental, on the 2005 Gianfranco Ferre scent. (FAIL!) Someone else has posted a lovely review of GF on Ferre by Ferre; I know it’s GF because it mentions a strong presence of fruit. Aargh. I think we have to blame Gianfranco Ferre himself for that. Was there ever another designer so enamored of his own name?! (Well, maybe. But nobody else has committed the marketing mistake of confusing potential customers with similar-sounding fragrances.)

A few other blog reviews of the Gianfranco Ferre fragrance: Bois de Jasmin and Legerdenez.  Enjoy.

Once again, we have a Throwdown where the winner is decided on points: While I think the 2005 Bourdon fragrance is a good one, a lighthearted sweet fruity floral with aldehydes and vanilla, I prefer the older fragrance, the hand-grenade bottle one, much more. It’s much softer, a pleasant powdery veil.  I might actually prefer Ferre 20 to either one of these, but they’re both lovely.

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Fragrance Throwdown: Coty L’Origan vs. Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

I smelled L’Heure Bleue first, not long after I’d smelled the ethereally beautiful Apres L’Ondee, and not long after I’d rediscovered lovely older versions of Coty Emeraude.  I’d run across a mention of it in a book, and just had to find out what the heroine’s perfume smelled like.  I didn’t know, at the time, any of its history.

I hated it.  I called it “Hell’s Medicine Cabinet.”  Mind you, I tend to like medicinal smells – witness my love of clove and mint, and my utter-swoon immediate love of Serge Lutens’ famously medicinal La Myrrhe, and my toe-curling happiness when I crack open the tin of Porter’s Liniment Salve.  But I thought L’Heure Bleue’s combination of anise, bergamot and coriander was jarring and unpleasant.

It was only later, when a swap friend sent me a sample of L’Heure Bleue that was a much darker color than the sample I’d tried before, that I realized I’d sniffed the Eau de Toilette.  The penny dropped: I frequently have difficulty appreciating EdT concentrations of classic Guerlains.  Not always, of course: the aforementioned Apres L’Ondee comes to mind, and so does Chamade, also Vega – but Mitsouko and Shalimar EdTs are complete disasters for me.

It turned out to be parfum my friend had sent me, and it was a totally different beast: soft, plush, rich, warm, strange, aloof yet friendly, like a stray cat who has deigned to have its chin scratched by a stranger.  It was an eye-opening experience.  “So this is what they’re talking about,” I pondered.  “Not the EdT.”  I went straight to ebay and looked for a bottle of parfum – and found one.  Modern, 1 ounce, slightly-used, missing its paper label, being sold for cheap by a woman who needed cash, post-divorce.  The impression I got was that her ex-husband had given it to her, and now she couldn’t get it out of the house fast enough!

Understandable: L’Heure Bleue is nothing if not memorable, immediately identifiable at the faintest whiff of sillage.  It’s not the kind of fragrance that one could wear casually; as a signature scent, it is both quirky and comforting, melancholy and romantic.   Its name, The Blue Hour, refers to twilight, with more connotations of romance and melancholy.

Even in parfum, the opening is a bit bumpy.  It’s aromatic and medicinal in a way that I remember from visiting hospitals as a kid in the 1970s, and still not very pleasant.  However, in the parfum, the coriander seems to drop out quickly, leaving anise and clove singing a close harmony.  The clove note becomes more floral and carnationlike in just a few moments, and then there’s that orange blossom.  I am not a huge orange blossom fan, as it often has a “milled soap” angle for me.  There is a hint of that in L’HB, but then the rose and heliotrope pop up, and it veers sweet and woody and almost almond-pastry-like.  I do notice that in hot weather, the anise note seems to be prominent throughout the development, and I like that a lot.  In winter, it’s very much Floral Bearclaw, with  lots of orange blossom and almond, and I find it less interesting in the winter.

L’Heure Bleue is the kind of fragrance that, if you loved it, could haunt your memory all your life.  Sadly, I do not love it.  I admire it.

My bottle of L’Origan came from eBay, in a little satin-lined leatherette case.  The packaging seems to be that used by Coty in the 1940s through (possibly) the early 1960s, so I’m not sure how old this bottle is.  The cap is a bit tarnished, and the liquid is definitely darker and more orange than pictured here (probably due to the aging of the jasmine and/or the orange blossom).  But the box, and the rubber (plastic?) stopper under the cap, seem to have protected the fragrance fairly well.

Of course, it is vintage, and although in fairly good shape, it is not very long-lasting (two and a half to three hours, compared to L’Heure Bleue’s five hours on my skin).  There is a slight mustiness in the topnotes, as well, and the woody parts of the base seem very dry, with cedar dominating the sandalwood.  I smell a sharp clove note, as well as some rose and jasmine with the orange blossom.  But where I sniff L’Heure Bleue’s drydown and think, “Eh, almond pastry,” I keep bringing my L’Origan-wearing wrist to my nose.  There is a soft benzoin-tonka-vanilla angle, the same sort of thing I love so much in Mariella Burani, but the woods tend to dominate it, and perhaps I’m picking up on a bit of incense as well.

As others more knowledgeable than I am have pointed out (see Denyse’s review at Grain de Musc here, or Octavian’s at 1000 Fragrances here), Jacques Guerlain seemed to take each one of Francois Coty’s groundbreaking scents and develop the ideas further: adding the rich peach note of Persicol to the structure of Chypre and creating Mitsouko, or adding a brighter citrus note, a more sharply delineated jasmine, and that genius hint of tar to the Emeraude structure to create Shalimar.   Clearly, L’Heure Bleue admits kinship to the older L’Origan, one of the first “soft,” Oriental Florals.  What’s the difference in notes and development?

I’m still not sure.  In fact, LHB seems less descended from L’O than tangentially related.  The anise and heliotrope notes hark back to Guerlain’s own Apres l’Ondee, while much of the structure – orange blossom, eugenol (clove) and ambery vanilla – seems to dovetail with that of L’O.  L’Origan, though, has what seems to me to be a darker cast; it’s less melancholy, more mysterious.  There seems to be more clove in L’O, more aromatic and herbal details, and it seems rather drier to me,  just to mention a few differences.    Halfway through the development, L’O has gone  right to the edge of a mossy kind of bitterness that makes me wonder if there’s vetiver in there, whereas L’HB  has veered toward vanilla and heliotrope.

As Denyse of Grain de Musc points out, the Coty fragrances have a tendency toward crudity, where their Guerlain counterparts are smooth and seamless.  And yet, and yet… I love (vintage) Emeraude with all my heart, while finding Shalimar a little over-the-top.  And L’Heure Bleue has very little emotional impact on me at all, while L’Origan stirs me.  Maybe it’s just me – or perhaps it’s that my L’Origan is vintage and my L’Heure Bleue is not.  The first time I opened that little bottle of L’Origan, I was bowled over by its sheer beauty.  L’HB never did that to me, not even in parfum. L’HB was a stray cat, L’O was a Siberian tiger lounging in the sun: powerful, beautiful, and potentially dangerous.

Notes for each fragrance from Fragrantica.

L’Origan: Bergamot, orange, coriander, pepper, peach, nutmeg, clove, carnation, violet, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rose, benzoin, incense, cedar, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, coumarin (tonka bean), civet.  Fragrantica reviews here.   See also Victoria’s review at Bois de Jasmin, and this lovely one at Memory and Desire.

L’Heure Bleue: Anise, coriander, neroli, bergamot, lemon, carnation, orchid, jasmine, violet, clove, orange blossom, rose, heliotrope, iris, sandalwood, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, tonka bean.  Fragrantica reviews here.  See also:  Kevin’s review at Now Smell This, Donna’s review of the parfum at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and The Non-Blonde’s review, as well as this one at For the Love of Perfume.

Photo of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons.  L’Origan ad from ebay seller adlibrary.  Other photos mine.  (Since my L’HB bottle had lost its sticker before it came to me, I added one.  It’s too big, and probably the wrong color – so sue me! At least you can tell what it is now, in case you’re not familiar with the inverted  heart stopper.)

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Fragrance Throwdown: Ulric de Varens Pour Elle Versus Frederic Malle Iris Poudre

When I first heard of Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums, it was early in 2009, and the reviews I noticed were for En Passant, the ethereal scent of green notes, lilac, and bread, and for Carnal Flower, the glowing white floral. Someone on Now Smell This mentioned going to the Malle website and filling out a questionnaire in order to receive a sample, and my ears perked up. I don’t live within ten hours’ drive of a location selling Malle fragrances, so I thought I’d try the website. I filled out the very nosy, somewhat incomprehensible questionnaire (“What clothing designers do you favor?” Uh, none.) and received a recommendation for Iris Poudre. I promptly discarded the suggestion: I’m not a big iris fan, and I don’t care for scents that remind me of baby powder, I said to myself. The second suggestion was for Une Fleur de Cassie, but that one sounded difficult too. I ignored the recommendation.

A few months later, after having tried En Passant and found it pleasant but not an emotional experience, I filled out the Malle website questionnaire again. This time the suggestions were for Iris Poudre and Lipstick Rose. I reply-emailed the Malle rep with a question about how I could find samples. “You could order them,” he said. “We sell them on the website.” Uh, thanks for your time, Philippe.

I did finally find a sample of Carnal Flower, and discovered it to be fully as wonderful as I had expected. I tried Lipstick Rose and thought it silly; I tried Lys Mediterranee and liked its salty aquatic lily. Une Rose charmed me at first with its stunningly lovely rose note, and then its woody amber base started chasing me around the house with a machete.

And then a friend sent me a sample of Iris Poudre that hadn’t suited her. I checked the reviews on Iris Poudre, which mostly said things like, “very girly,” “my dressed-up date-night fragrance,” “a pinup scent,” as well as “not very irisy.” I looked again at the notes listed: iris, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean, musk, vanilla. I don’t even like iris that much, I said to myself again. Or vetiver, for that matter. I sighed. I spritzed the sample.

And fell, hard. The snowy sparkle of aldehydes charmed me. The cool-warm character of the woody-vanilla base seduced me. Although no floral notes are listed at all, I seem to smell a faint sweetness of rose and jasmine; the satin of iris hides under the smoothness of sandalwood, tonka and musk. The whole thing is cream-colored and lovely, fluffy as angora. It lasts four to five hours on me, on the short end of average for eau de parfum.

I schemed and planned and finally managed to get my hands on a decant. I love this stuff. The drydown reminds me very much of Mariella Burani, which I also love, without the citrus angle.  (Funny how Mariella Burani seems something like No. 5, and something like Iris Poudre, all at the same time.)

I’d actually been planning a different throwdown for Iris Poudre for some time – versus Mariella Burani – but this comparison popped up out of nowhere when I was reading some older posts at Perfume Shrine. Elena calls her smell-alike reviews “Twin Peaks,” and she suggested that this fragrance I’d never heard of was a pretty good, if cheap, dupe of the wonderful Iris Poudre. I snapped up a small 1oz bottle online for less than $10.

When it arrived in the mail, I opened the box to find a stiff, translucent plastic package encasing one of the most adorable cheapo-bling bottles I’ve ever seen: it is shaped like a handbag. The bottle is glass, with a top made of plastic painted silver; it has a movable handle, cute as all get-out.

Ahem. We never buy for the bottle.

Ulric de Varens is a French company that produces fragrances for sale in what Americans would call “the drugstore market.” Downscale, you’d think, like Parfums de Coeur or Revlon? Pricewise, yes. But several of UdV’s scents were composed by Jean Claude Ellena and Pierre Bourdon. (Yes, I’m serious.) No perfumer is listed for UdV pour elle, which was released in 1999. Fragrantica lists notes of pear, rose, jasmine, lily, and white musk, which really gives no idea what the scent is like. I’d add aldehydes and tonka bean to the list.

Upon first spray of UdV, I can’t help laughing: it smells, unmistakably, of old-fashioned hair spray. The hair spray accord only lasts three or four minutes, and then I get classic soapy-powdery aldehydes overlaid with a light, synthetic pear note that also lasts just a few moments. From there, UdV is very much an aldehydic floral, a classic mixed-floral bouquet with a powdery sparkle. I can’t pick out the floral notes; “rose, jasmine, and lily,” you say? Whatever. It just comes across as just floral. It fades down to a skin scent, scarcely perceptible, after about an hour on me, even using the “sprayed wet” technique. At this point it is at what I’d call its prettiest stage: a soft musk, the powdery remains of the aldehydes, the smoothness of tonka bean, vanilla and woods. This stage lasts several hours on me, eventually fading into a very quiet vanilla-musk with a creamy-powdery texture very reminiscent of Dior New Look 1947.

It does smell somewhat like Iris Poudre, particularly in the aldehydic opening and the soft powdery-creamy drydown. There is an essential cheapness to Ulric de Varens pour Elle, a lack of natural ingredients that nevertheless avoids, to a large degree, the harshness of most drugstore-quality fragrances. The pear note is quite synthetic, and the woods, and probably most of the florals. However, the composition as a whole is very smooth and seamless, with a soft sueded texture that I find very enjoyable.  It also reminds me of New Look 1947, without the white florals – and yet I love Iris Poudre and don’t love New Look.  Couldn’t tell you why one and not the other.

Ulric de Varens is not comparable in quality to the Malle fragrance. And yet if you’re not flush enough with cash for a bottle of Iris Poudre, the UdV scent is at the very least a cheap, cheerful stopgap.

Other comparisons to Iris Poudre seem frequently to mention Ferre by Ferre, the black and gold “grenade” bottle, with the suggestion that the Ferre scent is easier to find and cheaper. Well, that’s not the case at the time of writing: Ferre is available on ebay if you are patient to sort through the Ferre fragrances for the one you want, but not much cheaper than the Malle. I have a mini bottle. It is not in good shape – the aldehydes have deteriorated, so that it smells like nail polish remover – so I have not worn it enough to write a proper review. When I have given it a thorough wearing, I’ll add Ferre by Ferre to the Fragrance Throwdown.

Image of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons. Fragrance images from Fragrantica.

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Fragrance Throwdown: Chanel Bois des Iles vs. Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois

Bois des Iles, originally released in 1926, has for decades been The Reference Sandalwood fragrance, and is still a favorite of many perfume fans.  Robin at Now Smell This calls it “the epitome of understated elegance.”  Victoria at Bois de Jasmin calls it “beautiful from any perspective.”  Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things calls it “miraculous, smooth, soft, infinitely wearable.”  Tania Sanchez, in Perfumes: The Guide, calls it “timeless” and “basically perfect.”  She describes the Chanel scents as “a series of Little Black Dresses,” and Bois des Iles as “the one in cashmere.”    

But I didn’t know any of that when I first smelled Bois des Iles, which was one of the first fragrances to captivate me when I began my sojourn into PerfumeLand.  I had started, you see, with a “Pick Four Chanel EdTs” sampler pack from The Perfumed Court.  I wanted to smell the classics first, and I knew No. 5 already, so I chose No. 19, No. 22, Cristalle, and Bois des Iles. 

I tried Cristalle first, and was not moved – except that I recognized the drydown as the smell of my mother’s best friend when I was a kid.  No. 19 came next, and I liked the topnotes, which I described to myself as “old-fashioned,” not really knowing what galbanum was.  Then I found that I had my wrist glued to my nose, and from then on we were best buds, No. 19 and me.  No. 22, which I’d identified from the notes as the one most likely to please me, was instead a sugar-bowl nightmare, with a powdery-crunchy texture that I disliked from the get-go.

Bois des Iles, from the first minute I put it on, was beautiful.  It reminded me a great deal of Mom’s No. 5, and then developed a texture so unusual and so lovely that in describing it to myself, I pulled up an old memory.

When I was fourteen, my family went to Florida on vacation.  We went to Disney World, and Daytona Beach, and Weeki Wachee Springs, and Fort Augustine, and we also went to Sea World.  My brother, then four, was fascinated with the shark tank, but the experience that stayed with me was petting the stingrays.  In a long but shallow pool, Sea World had several rays which had had their stings removed, and visitors were encouraged to pet the rays as they swam past.  The rays didn’t seem to mind all the hands, at times appearing to seek out a patting hand the way my cat will arch her back under a piece of furniture, so I stuck my hand into the water as a ray swam past.  It felt amazing – like wet velvet.  Like wet, living velvet, really, because I could feel the ray’s body flexing and arcing as it moved its propelling tail, and it was warmer than the water surrounding it.  My parents had to practically drag me away from the low pool so we could see the killer whale show, and I still wish I could go back and pet the rays again.

Bois des Iles feels like the texture of the ray: soft, velvety, warm, but with a solid, flexible frame underneath. 

So what does it smell like?  Well, as I mentioned, there are those aldehydes to begin with, much lighter than in No. 5, but with that sparkly-powdery-soapy brightness that says Proper Perfume to me.  As the aldehydic veil lifts, you notice the floral blend floating past, and it too is reminiscent of No. 5, with that rose-jasmine-ylang heart.  The florals always go by more quickly than I expect, and then we’re down into the deep heart-and-base that lasts a long time.  This, like Chanel says, actually does smell like gingerbread: a spicy warmth that’s just a bit sweet, with that wonderful bitter edge of molasses.  If you’re worried about the vanilla, fear not – it’s neither the sweet gourmand cupcakey kind nor Guerlain’s patented TarNilla, but rather, like really expensive vanilla extract behaves in a yellow cake, it gives the scent a roundness and depth without being identifiable as vanilla. BdI is definitely a Chanel, too – the identifying Chanel iris is present, noticeable mostly as that satiny texture that iris seems to give a fragrance, while itself disappearing, like the vanilla, into its surroundings.   And then there’s that sandalwood.

It’s beautiful, and nearly indescribable.  As it is, I can only come up with adjectives without really telling you what real sandalwood smells like: creamy, tangy-sweet, complex but in a completely natural way, floral yet astringent with a clean “bite.”  Once I’d smelled it here, I was then able to start picking it out of other fragrances – it seems particularly noticeable, and lovely, in vintage scents.  My 1960s Arpege extrait has an enormous quantity of sandalwood in it, and although it is accented differently in Arpege, with oakmoss, patchouli, amber and musk, it’s unmistakable.  I also have a small vintage bottle of Prince Matchabelli Stradivari, where the  top and heart notes have been irretrievably damaged by age, but the drydown is a stunning harmony of sandalwood and cedar. 

Real sandalwood from the Mysore region in India has been overharvested, and although some quantities of oil from santalum album from a government-sponsored plantation in nearby Tamil Nadu are available, most perfumers have gone one of two routes in replacing it in their compositions.  Option 1 is synthetics.  Several aromachemicals which mimic sandalwood are available: Polysantol, Javanol, Sandalore, Ebanol, Sandela, probably some others.  However, the word is that none of these are excellent substitutes, just available ones.  (Guerlain Samsara is famous, or perhaps infamous, for its proportion of Polysantol.)  Option 2 is essential oil from real wood, produced somewhere else.  This option includes the aforementioned Tamil Nadu sandalwood, or essential oil produced from santalum austrocaledonii, a similar species, in Australia, Vanuatu, or New Caledonia.  Supposedly the New Caledonian and Vanuatuan sandalwood oil is very good, albeit lighter and a bit more astringent than traditional sandalwood.  The kind grown in Australia is more plentiful, and priced lower, than the island versions, [1] but it is brighter still, with more bite and less creaminess.  Option 3, of course, is a mixture of naturals and synthetics.

I have no way of knowing, of course, but if I had to guess, I might postulate that Chanel is still getting its hands on at least some of that Tamil Nadu sandalwood.  If anybody can afford it, it’s Chanel!  However, it’s possible that they’re supplementing with the Australian.  I notice that my decant of Bois des Iles, from the Les Exclusifs line, is clearly thinner than my original vial of BdI from TPC.  Even “sprayed wet,” it is hardly smellable from a yard away, and by the time the gingerbread accord shows up, I can only smell it by hoovering my arm. 

Other people have said that their LE version of BdI smells just fine to them.  Maybe it’s me.  Maybe my decant was the first sprayed out of the bottle, and the alcohol had floated to the top.  Maybe that particular bottle, so kindly ordered from the Chanel boutique in Washington, DC, and so kindly split by hand by the Queen Enabler, Dear Daisy, was insufficiently macerated (see FlitterSniffer’s post here at Bonkers about Perfume, on how a coveted decant of Guerlain Plus Que Jamais was so different from the way that it ought to smell that even the SA acknowledged it).   My Les Exclusifs decant does have the right smell  – it’s just faint, as if it had been diluted by half.

For this review, I wore both my own decant of Les Exclusifs Bois des Iles, and an older sample of edt from The Perfumed Court.  The LE decant lasts about four hours, with the final two – my favorite part, of course – clinging very close to the skin.  The TPC sample lasts about five hours, and even dabbed from a vial, projects better and lingers longer.  A parfum version is available in Chanel boutiques and certain high-end outlets, but I have never smelled it.  (I should.)

Notes for BdI:  Aldehydes, jasmine, damask rose, ylang, bitter almond, gingerbread, iris, vanilla, sandalwood, tonka bean, vetiver.

Dear Daisy also sent me a sample of Sonoma Scent Studio Champagne de Bois, saying, “You like Bois des Iles, right? Try this.”  And she’s quite correct – CdB, while not a dead ringer for BdI, is undeniably in the same vein, and could conceivably be labeled an homage to Bois des Iles.  Certainly perfumer Laurie Erickson has smelled Bois des Iles, and I’d betcha money she loves it.

Since my small vial of CdB was nearly exhausted, I ordered a larger sample from SSS recently in order to test for this review.  My padded envelope came in the mail, and the samples I’d ordered were further encased in a small plastic envelope – yet I could smell the Champagne de Bois the instant I opened the larger mailing envelope.  A tiny bit had leaked out of the spray vial, and it immediately perfumed the air. 

SSS fragrances are fairly concentrated, I’ve noticed before.  My favorites, Tabac Aurea and Velvet Rose, are so strong that one spray lasts for hours.  This is true for Champagne de Bois as well.  The SSS website notes that the fragrance concentration ranges from 20 to 24%, which makes all these scents essentially parfum strength.  (I nearly overdosed on Tabac Aurea once.  If you’re considering three sprays – well, take it from me, it’s a bad idea.  Seriously, don’t.)  A drop of CdB lasts about six hours on me, and when sprayed, eight to twelve hours. 

The fragrance starts with sparkly aldehydes, and something that reminds me of Andy Tauer’s distinctive mandarin note, up front, and a jasmine-spice bit shining through the aldehydes.  Although it’s not listed, I’d swear there was a tiny bit of rose in there, but just a tad.  I love clove and spicy notes, and I think I’d also say there was a bit of some other spice in there with the clove – cardamom, maybe? I don’t know.  It does feel more symphonic than clove alone, which can be a rather single-minded, Genghis Khan take-no-prisoners sort of accent.

Champagne de Bois has a lovely sandalwood focus as well.  I asked Laurie if she’d be willing to identify her source for sandalwood, and she was kind enough to tell me that she uses a blend of real sandalwood and synthetic.  It’s a very beautiful interpretation of sandalwood.  The amber, though, tends to take over toward the end, so that the last couple of hours are a little sweeter than I’d like.  

Notes for CdB: Aldehydes, jasmine, clove, sandalwood, labdanum, vetiver, amber.  (I keep wondering if this is a truncated list, simplified for the Sonoma Scent Studio website because it gives a good description of what’s prominent in the scent.  I’m smelling at least three things in there that aren’t listed (orange, rose and spices other than clove).  Which may of course be olfactory illusion, and if it is, that’s genius.)

For this review, I performed two serious, all-day, wrist-to-wrist comparisons.  The first time, I tried it with a drop of CdB from a sample vial on my left wrist and two drops of BdI from my TPC sample on my right.  The second test was two generous spritzes from my BdI decant on my left wrist and one small spritz, what I call a “squidge,” of CdB on my right.  There are strong similarities between the two, but a few distinct differences. 

Right from the start, CdB has lighter aldehydes, and that orange-citrus note I mentioned before, flowing very quickly into the jasmine and spice phase, while BdI spends a good 15 minutes in the aldehydic stage before changing.  The CEO actually prefers the topnotes of Bois des Iles, although I don’t myself, finding them a little soapy.  Once the jasmine-spice of Champagne de Bois has settled in, CdB is unusual and lovely, and my family seems to prefer it over BdI’s aldehyde-classic floral blend.  In fact, CdB stays in this lovely spicy-floral stage for quite some time, during which the rich wood-and-amber base begins to float up, creating a lovely spice market effect.  It’s beautiful and luxurious, and while I know some people like to wear CdB in the summer, it’s too rich for me in the heat. 

But during the drydown, as I mentioned before, the amber of CdB tends to take over and skew just a bit too sweet, while the “gingerbread” accord and sandalwood-iris of Bois des Iles becomes more and more wonderful.  Restrained – like having afternoon tea with only a single bite of gingerbread left on your dessert plate – but wonderful, subtle, elegant, with those sculpted Chanel cheekbones.  My daughter put it this way: “It smells deep.  And smooth.  I don’t know what it is, but it smells like a fall day.” 

So who wins?  I still don’t know.  (And I still think there’s something wrong with my Les Exclusifs Bois des Iles decant, which is considerably thinner and soapier than my pre-LE edt sample from The Perfumed Court.)  I really love the drydown of BdI – it is simply gorgeous, and so perfect that I can’t imagine any way to improve it, except maybe to have it last longer.  And CdB really gets too amber-sweet near the end of the ride.

But on balance, I get hours of spicy-woody goodness out of Champagne de Bois.  Hours! For cheap, too!  At the time of writing, you can buy a 200ml bottle of Les Exclusifs Bois de Iles for about $220, and a 15ml parfum for $160 – but a 30ml bottle of parfum-strength Champagne de Bois will set you back about $60.  I know it’s vulgar of me to throw cost per wear into the mix, but hey, I got limited Perfume Bucks.  If you’re giving me perfume for free, I’ll take a bottle of Bois des Iles parfum, thanks.  But that’s only because I can manage to snag some Champagne de Bois on my own. 

(Gee, another Fragrance Throwdown where I have to declare a winner on points, and it gets all nitpicky, because I like both scents… one of these days I’m going to do an Fragrance Throwdown review where one scent just flat-out kicks the other one’s butt.  Someday.  I promise.)


[1]From Perfume Shrine, Wikipedia, and Eden Botanicals.

Images of wrestlers, sting ray, and sandalwood sapling are from Wikimedia Commons.  Images of perfume bottles are from Fragrantica.
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