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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.