Varanis Ridari

Yuzu Man by Caron

Yuzu Man by Caron (2011) was touted as the next big thing in men's fragrance by the house, and first new masculine release since L'Anarchiste (2000) utterly bombed for the brand, so much to the point then-house perfumer Richard Fraysse felt compelled to slightly re-orchestrate it's opening to increase appeal. With Yuzu Man, Caron owners The Alès Groupe were not going to let Fraysse take the same creative risks, and this scent is the result. As Richard had done with The Third Man (1985), and later the modernized DNA of Pour Un Homme (1934), his main mode of operation was derivation from a main theme, and that theme was the ozonic citrus freshie. Keep in mind, ozonics had not really been popular since the beginning of the previous decade when L'Anarchiste had launched, and really after L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme (1994) and Acqua di Giò pour Homme (1996), where was the genre to really go next? Speaking of L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme, that scent also featured yuzu as a top note, so funny coincidence, that. Here with Yuzu Man, I feel Fraysse was trying to give the Caron lineup the fresh casual dumb-reach male scent it was lacking, and at least in that regard, Yuzu Man was a success; but in regards to sales, this tanked just about the same as L'Anarchiste. Crucial difference being absolutely nobody complained or cared about how hard this tanked compared to L'Anarchiste, so it's a "fool me once, fool me twice" scenario for the brand. People didn't even blink when this launched, and didn't seek it out to test.

For those who don't know, Yuzu is a hybrid between mandarin and lemon, and is extremely popular where it's cultivated in Japan. With L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme, yuzu is part of a bombastic and dry citrus onslaught, while here in Yuzu Man, it is delivered somewhat softly by Fraysse. Yeah, ozonic aldehydes exist here, with buzzy acetates and ionones, tempered with green notes like basil and verbena, softened with fig. To be honest, Yuzu Man sort of becomes more about fig than Yuzu after 30 or so minutes, feeling like a niche twist on Marc Jacobs for Men (2002), which already dates it to the relevance-obsessed as fig masculines have already had their day in the sun. Stuff like Dior Dune pour Homme (1997) and Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme (1999) are hanging on by a thread as is. The base here is a pillowy nü-chype cloud where mastic replaces oakmoss beside cedar, sandalwood proxies, and ambroxan, coming across like Creed Royal Water (1997) at times. I'm a real big fan of Royal Water's "ambergris" treatment, and Caron does it similarly here. Ultimately, the fig and effervescent dry down make Yuzu Man fairly unique as a yuzu/fig freshie with a good bit of transparency. Richard Fraysse was clearly cut from a different cloth than what Caron wanted or needed for mass appeal, and I find charm in that. Projection is moderate while projection dies off after only a few hours, making this mostly a summer deal or as an after shower fragrance. I also feel Yuzu Man is quite unisex. How niche or how much like Caron does this truly feel? Eh, not much, but who's counting anymore?

Yuzu Man isn't the men's fragrance Caron fans wanted, but most Caron fans are also still stuck worshipping the classics made by Ernest Daltroff and not wishing for the house to join its rivals Guerlain or Chanel in the present. Likewise, young and trend-conscious buyers with the kind of cash and wherewithal to be buying from brands like Caron either don't know who Caron is anymore (small part of the problem), or why they even should know who Caron is (bigger part of the problem), which makes creating fragrances for them almost a paradoxical effort doomed to failure. You make something trendy and relevant, the installed fanbase cries betrayal while the target market who doesn't know you exist ignores it too, and you make something daringly different only to have everyone cry foul because it isn't "classic perfumery" as expected from your brand, so you split hairs and end up with really pleasant yet still vaguely odd Yuzu Man. This is a satly fig on a bed of cedar wrapped in yuzu rind and splashed with dry ice, which isn't very on-brand for Caron, but definitely is for Richard Fraysse. There's a bit of 90's in here, a bit of early 2000's, and something for the kids too; but nobody was picking up what Caron's putting down, and they still aren't despite a new house perfumer and owner too. I like Yuzu Man as a simple, well-designed fresh fragrance that actually develops over time, although that's not what it will be remembered for, if anyone remembers it at all. Thumbs up
Nov 25, 2021

Pour Un Homme Parfum by Caron

Pour Un Homme Parfum by Caron (2017) is third generation perfumer William Frayse's take on the limited edition scents his father made for the 70th and 80th anniversaries of the original Pour Un Homme by Caron (1934), respectively. The second of three Caron masculines that he would create, and the most limited of the three, Pour Un Homme Parfum merges the deep base of Impact Pour Un Homme (2005) with the naturalness of Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 (2014), sitting somewhere between the two. For me personally, this rectifies my problems with the former, and offers a more-concentrated base-heavy experience of the latter, which corrects the problem some had with Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 due to it seeming to live more in the top and heart than base. Like Impact, this came in only a 75ml bottle and not a 125ml, and also like Impact, is a pure parfum. As you can expect, super-fans ate this up when it was available directly from Caron, and it never really hit secondary or gray markets. Like Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 , this release is so extinct that you never see a bottle of this stuff anywhere, and if you ever do, it will sell for way too much money. Oh well, at least I can tell you what you missed, and reassure you that the only one you really need is the 1934 timeless original.

The opening is the natural French lavender of Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 , sparkly and round, not the medicinal dry affair of lavandin communelle that is the staple natural material in original Pour Un Homme. Compared to synthetic lavandin materials that appear in designers, original Caron Un Pour Homme's lavandin is downright technicolor anyway, so this is even better yet. Like Impact however, Pour Un Homme Parfum quickly descends into its base of tonka, musk, and vanilla. Clary sage is more present in this edition of Pour Un Homme, and the natural vanilla is less sweet than the ethyl vanillin used in Impact and standard Pour Un Homme, meaning the sage and tonka take on a bit more of a hay-like and tobacco-like essence that is then rounded slightly by the vanilla. The "Play-Dough" factor that proved too difficult for me in Impact is lessened here, and the listed cedarwood along with some form of earthy amber comes through too, making this the deepest edition of Pour Un Homme I have yet smelled. Musk is here and smells like it does across all modern versions of Pour Un Homme. Wear time is eternal and projection sits close, even closer than Impact (which is also a pure parfum), probably due to the slight down-turn of sweetness here. Still plenty sweet and plenty dandy though, so beware if that's not your thing.

All told, another variation on a theme of classic Pour Un Homme and not only the darkest Pour Un Homme ever produced, but arguably the most intense too. It's a shame this or some semblance of it didn't come in a larger 125ml size and sold as a non-limited edition like Pour Un Homme Sport (2015) and Pour Un Homme L'Eau (2018), because owners could then have a "William Fraysse Pour Un Homme Triptych" of sorts. I guess it wouldn't have mattered anyway, as he was bounced out of Caron like a tenant evicted by a slum lord when Catttleya Finance bought Caron from The Alès Groupe in 2019, after only a year in the official capacity as house perfumer taking over for his retiring father. Maybe Cattleya didn't trust a relatively new perfumer to the job regardless of pedigree, or maybe they looked at father Richard's track record of unsuccessful original compositions and said "waiter, check please" on the whole thing. Either way, Jean Jacques took over, has so far sent Caron in a slightly more commercial direction, and most release from Fraysse and company beyond the proven classics have been discontinued, being sold through until they're gone. This means that eventually Sport and L'Eau will join Parfum in the Caron afterlife anyway. The dark side of Pour Un Homme, if there ever was one. Thumbs up
Nov 22, 2021

Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 by Caron

Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 by Caron (2014) is another anniversary celebration fragrance of the original Pour Un Homme by Caron (1934), this time at the 80th year mark. In a similar manner to Creed but obviously more genuine about it, Caron via then house perfumer Richard Fraysse, sought to create an exceptionally high-quality version of Pour Un Homme that used the finest crops of naturals for that year, compounded into a single-run bottling of the scent that placed the focus on those materials versus the usual smell of Pour Un Homme. Unlike the previous limited Impact Pour Un Homme (2005), Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 would appear not in a 75ml bottle, but in the standard 125ml bottle, and only in the 125ml bottle, presented in a special coffret to boot. All this pomp and circumstance assured that the limited edition would sell out among super-fans, collectors, scalpers, and high-end physical retailers of Caron alike, making it extinct literally within the same year of release. For most this is an instant pass, since nobody is going to shell out Creed-like money to a reseller for a rare limited bottle of something you can have for literally one zero less on the price tag in standard configuration, but at least I can tell you how it smells.

The opening is pretty frickin' glorious for lavender lovers, and you can tell Fraysse sacked the original's communelles of lavandin for the high-quality crop of real French lavender from that year. This mixes with the usual clary sage in the heart, and no real lemon present like in the original, only to move into a natural vanilla extract. This natural vanilla replaces the ethyl vanillin that was a staple of the classic Pour Un Homme, lending a lighter and less-sweet feel to the vanilla/lavender overall. This move makes Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 feel more like it lives in the top and heart notes than in the base, although the slight reduction of sweetness does give the tonka more of a tobacco-like feel than in the standard variety too. All told though, once the musk kicks in, this is still Pour Un Homme as you know and love it; or rather if you don't love the dandy effect of the proper Pour Un Homme dry down, you still won't like Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 even after the transcendental lavender vanilla comes to an end. Performance is much the same as this is an eau de toilette and not a pure parfum like with the Impact Pour Un Homme 70th anniversary edition scent, and this 2014 edition feels just about as much top hats and white gloves as the original too, context-wise.

The big bugaboo about Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 isn't actually the expected exorbitant price from scalpers and collectors, looking to make a mint of backups or hoarded inventory from "buying the dip", as cryptobros say; but rather the situation surrounding Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 is finding a bottle at all. This one was apparently so limited, and so precious, that even people who clamored to get a bunch extra just don't put the stuff up for sale. I guess like a precious batch of Creed Aventus (2010) to all the Bruventus types out there, true hard-boiled fans of Pour Un Homme bought their excess bottles to keep and slowly use up, not resell. When you do find a bottle of this, it of course has a ridiculous price tag, and typically comes from the usual suspects on eBay or websites like CouCouShop, all which exist to exploit "scarcity" in limited or discontinued collectable items. Even from those dens of opportunitistic scum and villainy however, Pour Un Homme Millésime 2014 simply does not turn up, forcing me to conclude that this one really truely is rare, and not just "rare" by F.O.M.O. hype seller standards. A more natural lavender and vanilla on top bog-standard Pour Un Homme base materials is this, leaving a more floral, dry, and uplifted take on the dandy classic. Thumbs up
Nov 22, 2021

Impact Pour un Homme by Caron

Impact Pour Un Homme by Caron (2005) is a limited-edition pure parfum concentration of the original Pour Un Homme (1934) crafted by Richard Fraysse in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the scent. This parfum treatment actually renders quite the different experience from the standard Pour Un Homme and isn't just simply "stronger". First thing we have to get out of the way is the nearly 20-year tenure of Richard Fraysse himself as house perfumer for Caron, appointed by Revillion in 1988 and kept by the Alès Groupe after they purchased Caron in 1998. Fraysse had been working as a contracted perfumer before that, and maybe thanks to the success of compositions like The Third Man (1985) for Revillion Frerés and the fact he was the son of a famous Lanvin house perfumer from the golden era when Caron was on top of the world, Fraysse landed the job as curator of the house. Obviously, he also got to compose new product, seemingly all on his own (although collaborations with folks like Dominque Ropion happened too), and without any creative direction from anyone but his inner self. This lead to some rather strange and wonderful new releases for the brand, including the doomed L'Anarchiste (2000) for the men's market, which may have lead to a return of sorts to pushing the classic evergreen Pour Un Homme by way of this celebratory limited flanker.

The main gist of Impact Pour Un Homme is to focus on the base of Pour Un Homme proper, meaning downplayed lavender and lemon, with increased focus on tonka, vanilla, and musk. Herein lies the challenge with Impact, as there is just so much damned tonka and vanilla here now, that it leads to an over-amplification of the "play-dough" effect the original scent has, especially in regard to the removal of civet and replacement with a more general-audience synthetic that does nothing to counteract any of this at all. Within just a few moments you find yourself ensconced in blanket of oooey-gooey vanilla, coumarin, white musk, and a bit of anchoring cedar that does precious nothing at all to try building an aromatic foundation under it. We were a few years away from something like Versace Eros (2013) more or less perfecting this style with a double-dose of cedar and ambroxan to lift the vanilla and tonka out of the quagmire they make for themselves, so if you hate cloyingly thick and sweet masculines, run for the hills when you see Impact Pour Un Homme coming. Wear time is all day although projection is not monstrous because of how dense this is. You can wear this in the dead of winter, one of the few times original Pour Un Homme gets timid, and see no reduced effect from Impact Pour Un Homme. Like Megan Traynor, this one is all about the base, the base, the base.

Most importantly, this was a bit of experimentation on the age-old Pour Un Homme DNA, post re-orchestration from Fraysse in the previous decade. Les Plus Belles Lavandes de Caron (2008) would effectively come of this experiment, and be the attempted feminization of the Pour Un Homme DNA based on a retired special edition of Pour Un Homme (the most beautiful of lavenders translated), that ironically lead to a better and cleaner take on what was going on between this and the reworked Pour Un Homme. Also, further revivals of limited edition Pour Un Homme varieties would result from sales of Impact Pour Un Homme, so I'm glad this came into being, even if I don't particularly care for it. In many ways, without the success of Impact, Richard Fraysse would have never continued to tinker, nor allow his son William to tinker further when his brief time came to shine, meaning we may have never gotten Pour Un Homme Sport (2015) or Pour Un Homme L'Eau (2018) either. As a scent on it's own, this ultra-rare 75ml bottle is all but extinct unless you want to pay scalpers and collectors exorbitant prices to part with one of their obviously-hoarded back stock bottles, and isn't worth the effort being it feels like an unbalanced take on the original. Strictly for the collectors. Neutral
Nov 22, 2021

Pour Un Homme L'Eau by Caron

Pour Un Homme L'Eau by Caron (2018) would be the third and last men's fragrance William Fraysse made as the brief house perfumer for Caron, before his ouster at the end of 2018 in favor of Jean Jacques under new owners Cattleya Finance. I feel overall that perhaps former owners Alès Groupe didn't know what to do with Caron, so they really left Richard Fraysse and eventually son William Fraysse to be "stewards of Gondor" in the absence of the Númenor King, and they were also left mostly to their own devices to create whatever they wanted that they thought would sell. Sure, Richard had more or less been curator of the back catalog since 1988, a few years after he first got involved with perfuming for the house (among several others since the 70's) and was asked to be sole house perfumer by Alès, but his original contributions to the Caron canon tend to be overlooked as too weird outside of The Third Man (1985) or Montagne (1986), both early perfumes from before he even took the job. William Fraysee fares only slightly better really, and mostly as assistant to his father before he took over as house perfumer for all of a year before being replaced, something Cattleya initially announced they wouldn't do. Oh well. here with Pour Un Homme L'Eau, we see William tug on the original structure of the classic Caron Pour Un Homme (1934) once more, like he had with his first official outing Pour Un Homme Sport (2015). After releasing the limited edition Caron Pour Un Homme Parfum (2017), I guess there was nowhere left to go but a lighter cologne-like direction for the DNA, which William delivers here. Were they trying in vain to hook a new generation of fans on the Pour Un Homme vibe? Who can say...

The opening of Pour Un Homme L'Eau delivers a mix of the classic lavender accord (supposedly composed mostly of lavandin and not true lavender), and sharp dry citruses with a puff of ozonic aldehydes. This combination recalls both 90's fresh classics like L'Eau D'Issey pour Homme by Issey Miyake (1994), and William's father's own Yuzu Man (2011), the last standalone masculine pillar Richard would work on for the house. Of course, the lavender ultimately wins the day over the dry citruses (mostly lime), but it is then folded into some geranium, making more of a true fougère accord for a brief moment than in the whole of the original Pour Un Homme, which itself notably lacks geranium. From there however, things take a turn away from fougère and head once more back into aquatic territory, via use of a very noticeable and salty ambergris accord, coupled with vetiver and a subtle, dry vanilla. Those who've smelled Pour Un Homme Sport already know this vivid ambergris accord, itself a Creed-like combination of the real thing and a much-larger helping of ambroxan to pad it out. The extra marine-like saltiness I'm sure is faked out in some sort of way, even if it is a nice touch that helps balance the lavender. Pour Un Homme L'Eau is a rather simple creation compared both to Pour Un Homme Sport and Pour Un Homme Parfum, being the truest flanker in spirit to the original Ernest Daltroff composition. I think for fans of the original, this may end up the best flanker of them all, as it is the most like the original beyond the limited edition ones, and offers a hot weather option. Performance takes a small hit in the projection, but wear time is nice and long. best use here is going to be summer, or after a shower, you know the deal.

For as much as I love the Sport flanker as a true modernization of the Pour Un Homme DNA, it was that very modernization that made it stand apart from fans of the classic Caron lineup, guys who didn't want anything remotely blue or "fresh" in their Caron collections. Conversely, L"Eau is much more focused on just being a lighter Pour Un Homme that swaps tonka for ambergris, and downplays vanilla for geranium, using only a sliver of modern aromachemical trickery (mostly in the top notes) to keep things light and airy. Since most fans of classic Pour Un Homme are not likely to find much offense in a bit of 90's freshness mixed in, the fanbase may embrace L'Eau, even if the larger buying public that needs to float Caron's bills might see this as a weirdly dated combination. Caron is supposed to be France's second-oldest continually-operating niche perfume house anyway, so they're not looking for that basic FragBro money, or are they? Well, evidently the new stewards of Gondor are doing much more in the vein of appeasing more mainstream scent profiles with the limited edition Caron Nuit Fraiche (2019) and the major pillar release of Aimez-Moi Comme Je Suis (2020), both Jean Jacques creations that distance themselves from the more traditionally-minded or bizarrely experimental work of the Fraysse family for the brand. In any case, this light and fresh marine interpretation will make happy the people who thought Sport was too weird, but if you had me smell this without knowing what year it came out, I would have never guessed 2018. Depending on where you sit, that can be either a very good thing, or a very bad thing. Whatever it is, I like it, even if L'Eau may feel redundant to some. Thumbs up
Nov 21, 2021

Dawn by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Dawn by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle (2018) is one of the "Desert Gems" collection, coming on the heels of Promise (2017) and The Night (2014), being something of a sequel to the latter. Like The Night, Dawn claims to use a large amount of natural oud oil in its composition, and focuses mainly on this note throughout. Also like The Night, this scent comes with an enormous price tag that pushes $1,200 for a 3.4oz or 100ml bottle of eau de parfum, testing even the most spendthrift oud fan with a cost that pushes what could be close to a month's rent somewhere. As such, you'd think that what is delivered here would smell like the epitome of Arab oud opulence and European refinement merged into one bottle, but that isn't the case. Not saying this isn't good, because it is very good, but Dawn by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle smells too close to oud fragrances (real or not) to be taken seriously for its price. Even with The Night, which was a very cheesy/animallic oud in the raunchiest way imaginable, you can dig hard enough and find something pretty close to it for a fraction of the price.. The type of oud Dawn is on the other hand, is the far more common slightly sour and leathery kind that tends to be the subject of lower-price oud perfumes actually from the Middle East, devoid of much bedroom shenanigans but still animalic enough that its wearer comes across assertive. Everyone from Jacques Bogart and Montale to Perris Monte Carlo and even Le Labo has done takes on this style, and all of them cost less than this (especially the Bogart). Now I'm not saying all these represent the same quality of experience, but they do offer the same type of experience, which may be all that matters to the frugal fraghead.

This time around, the notable perfumer du jour is Carlos Benaim instead of Dominique Ropion. Both perfumers come from rather commercial (and these days soulless) backgrounds, although Benaim in particular has a number of huge blockbusters from the 70's, 80's, and 90's under his belt. Therefore, I was really kind of curious as to what he'd do with oud oil if given the chance and he did... pretty much nothing. In a similar move to Ropion's classic cheese funk oud, the sour leathery oud vein Benaim chose takes no risks within the oud realm, although smells very risque to the outsider not accustomed to stiffly animalic perfumes. If you've smelled anything like Dior Leather Oud (2010) or Montale Aoud Cuir d'Arabie (2006), you're already pretty close to what Dawn offers. The cheese is not as high as the Montale, while the leatheriness is closer to something like Bogart One Man Show Oud Edition (2014). Funny how I can compare a $1,200 fragrance to perfumes costing $340, $150, and $50 respectively, which is a problem. Sour oud and dry Turkish rose accompany a thin layer of pepper on top of a vivid frankincense note in the heart. No doubt this is real olibanum and not norlimbanol giving the incense effect, while the base is full of dry ambers, patchouli, labdanum, and a bit of sour cypriol to give a combined leathery amber effect similar to Perris Monte Carlo Oud Imperial (2012). As a daytime counterpart to The Night, this works in my eyes, although this is not something you put on before going to work. Wear time is going to be all day, and projection is so strong I don't need to mention it, really. You also get to figure out when to smell like this, or just not to care about that.

I think overall, this is a very serviceable, masculine-leaning oud interpretation, that avoids pitfalls like over-using rose or saffron to "silken" the accord, and doesn't sweeten or overly dry out the oud so it goes too musky or woody. Right down the center this goes, without a ton of floral flash or dirty underwear waving, and less lewdness for those who don't appreciate barnyard romps. For fans of more ambery ouds like Diptyque Oud Palao (2015) or even the long-dead Balenciaga pour Homme (1990), this one won't do, as the dryness and sourness of the amber here is of a different nature. Of course, speaking strictly of the fragrance itself, this is on another level from anything MFK or Tom Ford calls an oud too, so don't think that by dry I mean comet cleanser and soot ash like those seem to rely on. There are no rubbery ambery gummy mastic notes to get in the way either, and no cashmeran overtdose in an attempt to hide the rough-hewn seams of the oud treatment. In regards to being a true luxury perfume experience, this is clearly not, as it does not wear easily nor will take anyone aback in a positive way. What this is here, for those who love oud but refuse to dive into the esoteric world of distilleries or attars, is the next closest and authentic thing to that experience, housed in a convenient spray bottle that looks like any other Malle. Therein lies the luxury I suppose, of wearing a raw oud fragrance that still has a French perfumer's touch and clearly French presentation. Like The Night, you have to ask yourself if that's worth $1,200, or if you want to keep digging among a plethora of more affordable yet similar-smelling options. Thumbs up
Nov 14, 2021

Esprit de Oud by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Esprit de Oud by Christian Provenzano (2021) is the third of the brand's faux oud takes, this time claiming to contain "oud assafi" at its core. The first of these ouds I tried, being Oud Al Fayed (2018), was an accidental avant-garde cyberpunk not-oud where everything you know about the natural properties of the substance is inverted; this yielded an "oud" that was light, clean, and musky yet floral with a peppery nuance. Yeah, Oud Al Fayed was still unapologetically a rip, but it was a very creative and wearable rip I might actually own if discounted. Here we see Provenzano playing around once again with the DNA of Amyris Homme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2012), taking the dry tonka and ambroxan lift that defines the fruity fresh chic of that scent, and swirling it with some of the Blade Runner replica oud from Oud Al Fayed. In doing so, we now have a floral fake oud with the core values of a niche-tier versatile freshie, which is super cynical but also somehow still wearable. For the kind of money you shell out for the experience of a Christian Provenzano perfume, you'd at least expect what you buy to be wearable on the daily, so bravo there.

The opening hits like a ton of bricks, with bits of petrol-infused woody-amber essence that has moments of the medicinal feel Western-style oud distillations impart, but with none of the bottom end real oud has. I dare say Provenzano's oud accord here feels more vaguely oud-like than in any other presentation where he has used it thus far. Once that mixes with the a bit of rose and jasmine hedione, inflected with birch tar smoke, I'm left defending the brand's creativity when I really don't want to be, considering the other high-priced trash they release. Weirdly artistic fake ouds must be one of Provenzano's specialties, and his most famous works with Boadicea the Victorious all seem to be based around synthetic oud, so maybe even his own imprint is a B-list roll of formulas rejected for other CPL Aromas brands, they're at least well thought. The bergamot and mandarin top notes really get lost in the mix here, and some saffron smoothness helps segue into a cypriol and patchouli base that anchors the fake oud, alongside ambroxan and tonka. Wear time is about 8 hours and projection is fair, with best use probably being spring, summer, or early fall.

Crisp and fresh are weird descriptors to assign an oud fragrance, and outside unconventional treatments of real oud by Bortnikoff, I'd never expect to use those adjectives on oud perfumes. However, Christian Provenzano proves yet again that even though most of his house cranks out cynical derivative money grabs, when he gets to play with "oud accords", something bizarrely beautiful results. He really deconstructs the synthetic oud perfume in ways that make it lose all context and meaning as an "oud" fragrance, but that's exactly what I like about them. As with Oud Al Fayed, I'd definitely buy this one if I could find it discounted, although recommending it is tough unless you're like Lydia Deetz and are a fan of the strange and unusual. If you don't like your oud accords channeled through the mind of Johnny Mnemonic or worn by The Ghost in the Shell, I might say stay away from Esprit de Oud. Does this really have the "spirit of oud" in it? Hell no! Although if you thought that going in, Provenzano has already got you hook, line, and sinker, so never mind what I say. Even overwhelming shallow luxury niche brands can make good fragrances, sometimes. Thumbs up
Nov 14, 2021

Santal Indien by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Santal Indien by Christian Provenzano Perfumes (2021) is another tiresome "luxury" sandalwood take, that smells more like the cheap lotion you buy at Wal-Mart than sandalwood of any sort I've smelled. I've been pretty fair to this house so far, with positives and neutrals taking into consideration the house, perfumer, supplier and corporate backers of the brand, plus the price. Some have been accidentally brilliant at best, while others seemingly intentionally derivative or tepid. Cynicism runs rampant at perfumes made above the $200 price point it seems, unless they come from independent upstarts just trying to live out their dreams and recoup enough cash to keep it going. Here with Santal Indien, the namesake perfumer, CPL Aromas Creative Director, and alum of brands like Boadicea the Victorious, delivers us "sandalwood" just as we've seen it a million times before with these luxury price fly-by-night perfumes. They can do better, and so can you. I wouldn't even bother sampling this one.

The opening is creamy because "creamy" means "sandalwood" in the modern YouTuber clout-mongering shill lexicon these days; but it is really a saffron and compound floral musk note you're getting here. I get musky orange blossom like what Francis Kurkdjian prefers to use, with some iris/orris ionone compounds to boot, both of which conjure the lotion vibes I detect when mixed with some coconut-like essences that could be shea butter or something similar. The vetiver and vanilla combo are most peculiar in the base, but not the first time I've gotten this kind of strange sweet nuttiness, before the sandalwood and cedarwood compounds finally kick in to deliver the promised note of "sandalwood". Lastly, there's goopy-sweet tonka here meshed with ambroxan (the latter being the best part), and the whole thing just once again defaults to "lotion smell". Wear time is appreciably long, if I appreciated this smell, and projection is acceptable. Best use is maybe in winter, but I would never use it.

So far this whole house is shaping up to be an Ali Express MFK that is only slightly cheaper per milliliter compared to actual MFK perfumes, which is a similar vibe I also caught from brands like The Perfumer's Workshop luxury imprint Amouroud, but at least they do some novel things with their luxury perfume mash-ups. Here, I get bits of APOM pour Homme (2009) mashed up with bits of Bacarrat Rouge 540 (2014) slathered with coconut like Provenzano had Creed Virgin Island Water (2007) on the brain too when he made this. Nowhere in here do I ever get a lucid sandalwood, with the vaguely woody "creaminess" being the thing that will have all the trashcan-lid flapping gums of the "FragComm" going "creamy sandalwood" every five seconds. I guess a sucker is born every minute, whether they have a million bucks or a million subscribers to their online platform, with Santal Indien by Christian Provenzano equally preying upon both. For $250+ to get 100ml,, this has to be a joke. Thumbs down
Nov 14, 2021

Ébèné Fumé by Tom Ford

Ébènè Fumé by Tom Ford (2021) is claimed by enthusiasts to follow in the footsteps of Fougère d'Argent (2018) as another psuedo-reimagining, or soft-reboot of past work by Ford as creative director for Gucci/YSL; but also has enough unique qualities of its own that hardcore fans of the house may argue that fact, claiming a "return to form" either way. In the case of Fougère d'Argent, the past work referenced was the now-unicorn Rive Gauche pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent (2003), while Ébèné Fumé's chosen target is allegedly the Ford-rebooted Gucci pour Homme (2003). Some of you may be saying that Tom Ford Oud Wood (2007) also was a spiritual rebirth of Gucci pour Homme, or quite possibly Yves Saint Laurent M7 (2002), and both answers are semi-correct because they all use the same stew of woody-amber molecules in high dosage. In the case of Ébènè Fumé, I think the idea here was to build something different on top of them rather than focus on them solely like Oud Wood does. I'm not the biggest fan of this style, and being priced how this is, even less enamoured here, although at least there is more complexity found in Ébènè Fumé than the typical front-loaded Private Blend fragrance. If Ford brought Ébènè Fumé into the main "signature" line to replace something out-going like the original Tom Ford for Men (2007), I'd be much kinder in my analysis, since the value proposition would be higher.

Ébènè Fumé claims a focus on Palo Santo, a wood native South America, that much like Mysore sandalwood trees in India, gets over-harvested unsustainably by poachers for use in perfume or religious practices where it is burned for smudging. Also like sandalwood, Palo Santo has been fairly accurately duplicated by synthetics as an odor available for fragrance, although that doesn't stop Tom Ford from claiming the real deal is used here. The core of Ébènè Fumé has Palo Santo as a note, which reminds me of the red sandalwood or "pickle sandalwood" notes both used in many niche perfumes. On top of this there is a little bit of messing around with black pepper and cade oil, mixed with something slightly sweet that as a whole merges into the dark syrup that is reminiscent of Gucci pour Homme's opening, that then moves through the usual synthetic "incense" notes of norlimbanol (mild however) and violet leaf. Eventually, this reduces to the "core" that powers the old Gucci and YSL above, flanked by that dry woodiness similar to Diptyque Tam Dao (2003). Wear time is average, as is performance. Projection is surprisingly aggressive for a scent of this type, so be careful when first applying, although it does calm itself in about an hour. Best use is in winter, maybe for office or days out when something like this can cut the air without making too much ruckus in the process like something sweeter.

There are so many woody amber incense fragrances with or without the word "oud" on the bottle, sold at so many different price points (all below Ébènè Fumé) that I see no reason to pick this up. If you like the kind of woodiness found here, pick up Tam Dao or even Perris Monte Carlo Santal du Pacifique (2016) for much less and double your quantity to boot. If it's the woody-amber aspects you're after, Avon Premiere Luxe Oud (2017) has you covered for peanuts, or you could go a bit higher and get Bentley for Men Absolute (2014). Even Le Labo Santal 33 (2011) is oddly a better value simply in cost per ml. None of them claim containing Palo Santo wood, and none of them smell identical, but they're all kissing counsins of this, just like the venerated Gucci pour Homme and YSL M7. In summary, the reductionist way of describing Ébènè Fumé is Gucci pour Homme fused with dry modern "sandalwood", while the more judicious way of phrasing it is as a self-referential retro woody-amber with both a twist of incense and exotic wood. Is this truly a return to form for Tom Ford? Yeah, I suppose it is, but that form is one that never represented much value in the first place, at least not at the Private Collection price point. If you're a fan though, you may understandably disagree, and I wouldn't be the least upset. I tend to miss the appeal of this range in general beyond a few outstanding examples. Neutral
Nov 12, 2021

Synthetic Jungle by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Synthetic Jungle by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle (2021) is a fragrance that proves you don't always need materials from the past to create authentic styles from the past, even if some of the execution here is decidely fresher and more transparent in sillage than most vintage varieties of what this scent embodies. Making a chypre these days is really more an exercise of creative license than following a formula like it was in the old days, and that is mostly because two thirds of the main note trio that defines the chypre are restricted or banned in modern perfumery by IFRA as of 2021. Formerly-restricted atranol is now banned, which cannot be completely separated from oakmoss if you expect to have any oakmoss note actually remain, so oakmoss is for all intents banned too, unless you are a small indie operation that doesn't care about selling inside the EU where IFRA regulation are basically law thanks to the ECC. Likewise, citral in bergamot oil is restricted; but more importantly, many of the natural floral essences and citrus oils that once joined labdanum alongside oakmoss are just too expensive or difficult to source in large quantities, hence the common belief that these kinds of perfumes aren't commercially viable anymore. Classic chypres are the realm of indies these day anyway, whether made with IFRA-restricted materials or not, due to the fact that everyone just seems to like much sweeter and more abstract perfumes anymore, which is why Synthetic Jungle is such fun to smell.

Anne Flipo looks like she had fun making this one too, revisiting greats like Fidji by Guy Laroche (1966) or Chanel Cristalle (1974), bringing a cool, green, slightly fruity, but clearly floral chypre into the future using nothing but synthetics. A black currant note and classic green styralyl acetate (a favorite of Jean Carles) mix with a basil and muguet note in the opening, before hyacinth and ylang-ylang add a slight musky banana-like feel that merges into a tropical gardenia-style essence popular in the era. This essence is then lifted by jasmine hedione and further greened by galbanum, synthetic forms of which have been around for decades themselves. In place of anything like oakmoss or labdanum, we see some clear woody and patchouli materials blend with clean musks, giving a bit of a musk mallow and pencil shavings wood vibe that reminds me a lot of both the aforementioned Cristalle and Jacomo Silences (1978). Synthetic Jungle is not quite the cold boss bitch perfume that I make it out to be with those comparisons thanks to the modernity of the happy and buoyant jasmine heart; but fans of vintage 70's feminines will find the callback charming nonetheless. Wear time is pretty long, and sillage is potent thanks to the fact that this is a synthetic and therefore ultra-stable perfume mostly impervious to breakdown on skin. Best use for me would be spring time, but you can wear this any time of year. Synthetic Jungle is marketed unisex but leans feminine to my nose.

Obviously, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle is not an affordable or accessible brand by design, but the fact that a green floral chypre like this can be ripped straight out of the 1970's and remade with relatively inexpensive synthetic materials and still smell so good, is proof of concept that brands like Versace or Kenneth Cole could do this too if they thought there was a market for it. I'm hoping the hype builds around this enough in the fragrance community (the kind of people who'd drop the insane money Malle asks) to inspire downmarket clones, which like with Creed Aventus (2010), will in turn lead to mainstreaming of the style. Considering this hasn't really happened to any Malle yet since the brand launched in 2000, I am probably just daydreaming. Like Portrait of a Lady (2010), I am torn by Synthetic Jungle, as it is a perfume I'd very much love to own but will likely never due to the extreme exorbitant pricing and lack of discounter presence (eBay is full of fakes). In many ways, it may just be more economical to track down the vintage fragrances it celebrates, but then you miss the point of this scent completely. While I'm still not a fan of the "curated masterpieces" pretense or manufactured exclusivity of the Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle brand, I can at least admit when they turn up with something that's pretty neat to behold. Thumbs up.
Nov 12, 2021

Film Noir by Clandestine Laboratories

Film Noir by Clandestine Laboratories (2021) asks of me a question that I certainly have no trouble saying yes to, and that question is one that I gather people who reminisce about the golden era of modern perfumery would also be keen to answer positively. The question is: Would you like a modern fougère built like an old one from the pre-war years? More specifically, something along the lines of Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur (1904) or Caron Pour Un Homme (1934) back when it had civet instead of white musks, and would you like that channeled through the conduits of modern perfumery? Now, I don't mean tamped down and bleached of all challenge or personality, so it's more likeable to the general populace like a designed-by-marketing modern fragrance, I mean just made with today's array of materials according to the tastes of yore. You get all the complexity, all the evolution during the wear, all the revealing of various facets on subsequent wearings, and all the little wriggly bits that can sometimes step out of line and make the scent imperfectly perfect, but made in accordance to what's available to perfumers today versus 80-100 years ago. If you said yes, then FIlm Noir is for you. Like the name implies, this is the fragrance for the down-trodden private eye of an old black and white Noir thrillers, with his inner monologue narrating the film in first person. The sultry and gravelly-voiced love interest of his, that he likely met in a smoky jazz club and who will put a knife in his back by the end of the film, can wear this too. As a pre-war fougère archetype, Film Noir straddles the lines between being green, powdery, woody, musky in that urinous way common then, and vanillic just like mid-century "barbershop" fougères that basically succeeded this style.

Film Noir crosses a lot of different swords in the fougère universe both new and old, and the best way to describe it via comparisons to other perfumes, is to say it serves as the missing link between something like Amouage Braken Man (2016) and the civetone of Amouage Figment Man (2017), mixed down in an antique French fougère bed. Bits of Pour Un Homme, Mouchoir de Monsieur, and even Dana Canoe (1936) all intermix with the updated clarity of the fougère tones in something like Bracken, but with the animal component replaced with synthetic civet instead (which is still potent). Even with this comparison, a lot is left out, as Film Noir is very multiplicitous. The opening comes across with a blast of sharp neroli, reminding me a bit of Parfums D'Orsay Etiquette Bleue (1908). From there, the urinous civet and honey makes itself known, conjoined with a full patchouli containing all its camphoraceous glory. This is not the chocolatey or woody patchouli "mayonnaise" that is really just an isolate, but the full monty. Things get nicer and more powdery once the lavender and orris kick in, softened and sweetened by vanilla. Rose serves in the capacity of geranium to create the tandem that defines the fougère accord, with allspice and choya loban (Indian Frankincense) adding smokey spice. The rose and lavender core meld into tonka, oakmoss, and vetiver in the base, while the sour civet, honey, and near-turpentine patchouli combo offset the base to keep things from getting too powdery or like play-doh from the softer bits. The barbershop side competes with the animalic green side, and this tug-of-war makes Film Noir feel so period correct and fun. Wear time is so long you don't need to ask, and potency is pretty high too, so be careful with sprays. Best use is pretty year round, and this could be a signature .

Slapping so much disparate complexity from the various corners of the fougère world from about 1900 to 1940 is sure to shake up some feathers, and I don't expect a lot of people to go leaping into the arms of perfumer Mark Sage to smell what is basically a cross between Guerlain, Caron, and Pinaud schools of thought but translated through the finessed modernity of high-end brands like Amouage or even Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. Clandestine Laboratories as a brand is all about secrecy, and the perfumer toiled away for a decade in secret before deciding to finish anything enough to formulate in bulk and sell. Film Noir is one of the perfumes he toiled away on for years before eventually going "it's done", which is part of why it is so full of contrasts and feels rather "kitchen sink" like an old Guerlain. Not every perfume I've tried from this brand is quite so dichotomous nor complex, as the fragrance Master by Clandestine Laboratories (2021) is pretty much the equal opposite of Film Noir, being direct and to the point with more of a linear transition from top to base. Also I should note that Clandestine is an artisanal house that isn't shy with aromachemicals; but in the case of Film Noir, is using a good portion of naturals too, just not with the animal musk because this scent is one of their vegan-safe varieties. Most modern reformulations of stuff like Mouchoir de Monsieur moved from real civet to replacers anyway, so the point there is sort of moot. Price-wise, Film Noire is going to run you a lot more than most of those classics I named, but still costs less than anything Malle or Amouage makes, so it meets in the middle there as well. Besides, this stuff is strong enough to peel paint off walls if sprayed enough, so you won't blow through a bottle quickly. Edward G Robinson in a bottle? You decide. Thumbs up.
Nov 8, 2021

Master by Clandestine Laboratories

Master by Clandestine Laboratories (2021) is a fragrance that I didn't really see coming, nor did I really see a house like this coming along either, but I guess that's the point with a name like Clandestine Laboratories. People familiar with artisanal and independent perfumers know that they usually fall into two distinct categories within this community, the first of them being the all-natural hand-distill-everything types like Areej le Dore or Bortnikoff, that usually bring along with them a very vocal minority of sycophants that end up paradoxically hyping and gatekeeping these brands to death. No offensive to anyone meant because we love what we love, but the Papa John's ethos of "better ingredients, better pizza" tends to leave a lot off the table both creatively and in terms of how these perfumes continue maturating and wearing over time, even if there is definitely a strong appeal to smelling things like oud and sandalwood in the raw. The second variety of artisanal perfumers, and the far-less celebrated it seems, are the ones like Fzotic's Bruno Fazzolari or Grey Matter's Joey Nieves, who use industrial aromachemicals alongside naturals like any perfumer working for big labs such as IFF, just often with a self-taught or apprenticed background versus an academic one. Clandestine's Mark Sage also falls into this category as well, and it allows perfumes like Master to both be more abstract and conceptual than anything strictly relying on rose oil and ambergris tincture, but also more "synthetic" and "modern", adjectives that are often given a pejorative spin by the congnoscenti of the online space. However you feel about Master though, I assure the perfume itself doesn't care, nor does anyone wearing it, because this is an out-and-out butch black leather fragrance to the extreme.

Master is very much in the modern leather vein which seeks to be photo-realistic, but unlike many of this type, does not have that annoying raspberry touch found in such leathers like Tom Ford Ombre Leather (2018). In fact, this pretty much eats Ombre Leather for breakfast and then looks for more, because it is just so jet black and brazenly strong. Like the name suggests, this is for the big BDSM power tripper in everyone, whether it's Fifty Shades of Grey or your local Eagle bar. The opening goes quite bitter with a chemical "new leather" smell, offering up dry lime and bitter orange alongside a boozy note that the brand calls cognac. There are a ton of notes listed, but I am only going off what I smell. Eventually things settle a bit and get a little less "leather shop" and a little more "black leather chair" in vibe, with dried gourmand tones of vanilla and cocoa mixed in with incense and saffron. The base is really jam-packed with things like an oud accord, some cedar, civet, and tobacco notes, but ultimately most of that is superseded by a light clean powderiness of orris. Obviously, most of these representations are synthetic ones, but the quality of blending and density of the overall composition is such that you don't ever think about that (nor should you). All told, Master ends up being a dense woody tobacco leather scent with a thin veneer of clean powder, never too sweet or animalic, not pissy or scratchy, just leathery above all else with a vanilla smoothing. The black polished leather harnesses and tight pants is what this smells most like to me, and I've been in those shops, so I know what I'm talking about. Wear time is going to be literally all day, although projection is thankfully more moderated. This is an eau de parfum, but I swear it has the tenacity of an extrait. Best use is up to you, as this perfume is too dominant for context, although feels best for colder months.

All told, this is probably the most like-leather fragrance I have ever smelled. This is not a spiced carnation chypre like Moschino pour Homme (1990), greened mousse de saxe like Piguet Bandit (1944), castoreum and dried petrichor like Caron Yatagan (1976), or the pyralone bombs of Knize Ten (1924) and its ilk. I love all those too, but this is leather and leather and leather and leather plus leather with leather added. The softness of the orris and dry vanilla comes only after an hour or so settled on skin, although you can probably reach this conclusion sooner with a finer application. You certainly do NOT want to over-spray Master, unless you fancy a trip to a ventilator. Because this is so resolute and to the point, Master may only appeal to the hardest of the hardcore leather fans, and the kind of people that weren't happy with Etat Libre d'Orange's take on a perfume for Tom of Finland. If you veer more to the chypre side of the leather spectrum, you may want to pass on this too, as there isn't much by the way of detectable oakmoss or labdanum here. Like the blurb from the brand, this one really does speak of intelligence and good "breeding", but there isn't a ton of subtlety here, so some of you may feel Master is a bit too on-the-nose (pun intended) and maybe gimmicky. Really, it all depends on what you look for in a fragrance, and the brand as a whole may have already lost those of you who only buy natural perfumes or things made before 1990 or whenever IFRA destroyed the world et al. The big ask here of course is price, as this is an artisanal perfume made by hand regardless of materials, and sells for about $125 for 50ml or $195 for 100ml. Considering what many designer prestige brands want for their takes on this genre though, this still may be a steal. Thumb up
Nov 8, 2021

Ambre d'Or by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Ambre d'Or by Christian Provenzano (2018) is yet another fragrance not what it seems by name, as if to say like Le Labo, this is a brand that enjoys taking great liberties with its perfume subjects to the point where what you see is definitely not what you get. While admittedly this can be a cute practice, when you combine it with a brand that has thus far proven itself a sort of cut-rate prestige brand for the obliviously wealthy, while positing that it's really the vanity label for CPL Aromas master perfumer Christian Provenzano, the feeling left behind after spending time with a perfume like Ambre d'Or is that Provenzano clearly doesn't put his best work under his own name. This is puzzling really, since he has basically made a career of working almost exclusively with high-end UK niche brands, which is nothing to sneeze at since the British more so than other Western perfume-loving cultures seem to absolutely adore the ultra high-end boutique stuff, dare I say more than the French. You're actually much more likely to find solid mid-tier designer and classic house fragrances from France than $500+ ultra-luxe brands with worthwhile output; but once you switch over to the UK, nearly the total opposite is true. There seems to be more ultra-high end perfume brands per square yard in London alone than pretty much anywhere else, and all this stuff somehow sells despite how fickle the one-percenters can be; so being able to thrive - let alone survive - in that world like Provenzano has, is commendable. You'd think then, that there's be some really creative and breathtaking stuff here, things he'd pulled aside from releasing through other current or former CPL houses he's worked with like Boadicea the Victorious, Amado, Penhaligon's, or Agent Provocateur, but nope.

So what is Ambre d'or then? Well to my nose, this is clearly a riff on Maison Francis Kurkdjian Amyris Homme (2012), despite being labelled unisex by Provenzano, and having a few other choice elements that make it smell a bit different asides. The elements in Ambre d'Or that make it stand out actually have the effect of cheapening it a tad in my eyes, because what these elements draw comparison to is the main structure of Calvin Klein cK Al (2017) as composed by Harry Freemont and Alberto Morillas. Now that scent is absolutely marvelous for the prices you can find it at online, but grafting bits of the paradisone overload and vetiveryl acetate found in ck All to the overall vibe of Amyris Homme doesn't do it any favors. The opening of Ambre d'Or comes out with a huge blast of tart fruitiness just like Amyris, smelling to me like mandarin and lime with some bright herbal bits. Provenzano lists mastic here, and if it is here (doubtful), serves the same purpose as the elemi in Amyris. Likely, these are the same aromachemical producing the same effect, and whereas Amyris plays with iris ionones over coconut, Ambre d'Or has the same iris but placed over that aforementioned paradisone blast accompanying by the fake vetiver. This slight deviation creates a grassiness and a bit of extra effervescence that Amyris doesn't have, reminding me a bit of Etat Libre d'Orange Remarkable People (2015). From there, it's ambroxan, a big dry tonka (both just like Amyris), and a bit of patchouli. Provenzano also lists vanilla and amber, but I get neither of those. This is not an amber fragrance, full stop. Wear time is good, sillage is also good, and best use would be in warmer times as a casual or work thing. I can also see something like this getting you a lot of compliments, if that's your thing.

Overall, Ambre d'Or is the first fragrance in the line I've smelled thus far that feels truly more masculine than anything, as even the house-launching oud I tried read very clean and ethereal (by far it's best and weirdest facet), while the two rose-based fragrances I sniffed were both clearly perfume for privileged barbies. So far, this is the first Ken doll fragrance I've discovered, and my guess is despite the unisex labeling, this was meant to run right up against the popular Amyris Homme, which it is slightly cheaper than per ml at retail. The big problem here is Amyris Homme had an extrait upgrade after the launch of this fragrance, meaning once again people with enough knowledge of luxury good and the money to burn on them are going to float their pretty little heels on over to the MFK boutique and pick up that over this. The only places I know even carrying anything from Christian Provenzano are the niche boutiques that didn't want to risk carrying the pricier but slightly better-known Boadicea the Victorious, and thus were talked into this range instead since it's by the same perfumer. Outside of that, it's the usual suspects like Jovoy and Lucky Scent; but people who shop those types of big online emporiums of niche perfumes at retail prices tend not to browse because they're only there to buy something expensive that they really want but can't get discounted. In a nutshell, only people with tons of cash that are so bored to tears because life is too easy, and thus are easily talked into spending it (the brand's target market), are the only ones actually buying Ambre d'Or. since it has zero amber, copies something done better that is easier to find discounted, and has this cheap edginess to it, I'd suggest deep scrutiny before investigating Ambre d'Or. Neutral
Nov 7, 2021

Ultimate Rose by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Ultimate Rose by Christian Provenzano (2019) comes across like yet another high-end tart candy rose take in the wake of the successful Delina by Parfums de Marly (2017), although it does offer something a bit different and therefore earns its keep for fans of the psuedo-genre. As for me, this kind of thing is take it or leave it, although I like the smell of Delina and some of its "clones" as it were. Here, a lot of the candy sweetness is compressed out and replaced with actual fruit sweetness, meaning Ultimate Rose feels juicier than Delina, but just shy of something like L'eau À la Rose by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (2019). Funny that, because MFK is sort of the defacto leader of the perfumer vanity plate fragrance house market, with brands like Christian Provenzano nipping at its heels. For all intents and purposes, this is really just a fruity floral with a big lean towards rose, and the furthest thing from an ultimate rose in my eyes, although it is certainly better than Initio Atomic Rose (2019). If you're a fan of big, sweet, juicy fruity florals with a tart candied lean to them, read further. If not, this is your warning to turn back now. Still a steep ask considering what you pay for and what you get, at least smell-wise I can't say this was made to be like something targeting those with terminal affluenza like some others in the range.

The opening here is a cheap hairspray explosion that thankfully subsides in a few minutes, or else this perfume would have been ruined for me. Then we get a cocktail of peach, raspberry, grapefruit, and rose. There is violet leaf here in brief, but those ionones are clearly overpowered by the beta ones mixed with lactones, frambinone, and other synthetic fruit notes that feel like Christian Provenzano raided the fridge of its fruity molecules when composing Ultimate Rose. From there, the centifolia and may rose that MFK used is here, alongside the candied Bulgarian rose PdM favors, but no green tea rose or dark Turkish varieties, avoiding the jammy feel of Christian Provenzano Patchouli Noir (2018). Neroli adds further sweetness, but more of the floral kind, alongside hedione and a huge ambroxan lift, elevating the juicy rose bombast into the heavens. From there, we get bits of akigalawood or it's CPL Aromas proxy, alongside ethyl vanillin and a backbone of clean white musks. There isn't much else here, and I definitely do not smell anything woody here, but there doesn't need to be. Wear time is excellent, projection is excellent, and best use is whenever you want a happy fruity rose trail. For me, this is a spring and summer fragrance, but you may see it suitable for colder weather too due to the vanilla curvature.

Overall, you smelled one candy rose, you've really smelled them all, and although Delina is still my choice in this vein, the Provenzano has it beat in price per ml by just a bit. Biggest bang for buck at retail in its class, Christian Provenzano Ultimate Rose is still an overly expensive false promise, but isn't everything in this segment? I'd most certainly take this over Tom Ford Rose Prick (2020), because that one is so cynical (and cynically priced) it might as well be an empty bottle with a "gotcha" note inside. Once more, I can't help but feel this is a brand that exists less as a star vehicle for Provenzano himself, and more as a B-list for fragrances that didn't make it into Boadicea the Victorious, a brand that by far has the most critically-acclaimed work from Provenzano for CPL Aromas. Since most things I have smelled from this house are either also-rans to other popular niche styles (seemingly mostly aimed at rich women), or things that so far miss their mark as to transcend their intended form by accident and become good for entirely different reasons, it's safe to say this vanity plate label Provenzano works under is mostly done so in vain. Still, Ultimate Rose is likeable enough to pass my muster for what it is, and I suggest seeking a sample if interested. Thumbs up
Nov 7, 2021

Patchouli Noir by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Looks are deceiving with Patchouli Noir by Christian Provenzano (2018), as this is really less about patchouli and more about "fruitchouli" than anything else. Typically I am not enamored by this genre, but perfumer Provenzano merges the style with a more-traditional rose chypre structure, hiding much of the synthetic fruit and pink pepper mish-mash behind the lovely jammy rose heart, so my interest is kept longer than it normally would have been. Clearly this is a brand aiming at the affluent know-nothings of modern upper middle-class American and British society, especially since owned by UK-based CPL Aromas and made in a way that far more critical perfumistas from the European continent would find laughable at best. However, if you're not from France and steeped in the Layman's Handbook of Perfume History (a nonexistent tome comprised of a lifetime's worth of accumulated knowledge from living in the birthplaces of modern Western fragrance), you're not going to care about what a patchouli fragrance is "supposed" to smell like anyway, nor care that what is being presented at a niche price point here is the equivalent of a bog-standard designer women's fragrance amped up in quality just a hair. I have no problem with synthetics either, as they were wielded with haunting beauty by Provenzano in Oud Al Fayed (2018), this one is just a bit too vapid. Really, there's a whole lot of creativity here too, it's just aimed in a direction that to me feels like a big waste, but such is the name of the game in this market tier. Maybe Oud Al Fayed was a happy accident though, since being avant-garde isn't the brand direction.

I know that I sound overly critical to the point of being negative myself, but I just have to be honest about what this is and how it comes across. That being said, I still think what is here can be enjoyable to the right person in the right context, even if the price point is a hard ask for what's given; so on paper, I do like Patchouli Noir. The opening is going to be stuff like frambinone and pink pepper mashed up with bergamot essence and fruity beta ionones. The heart gets to business with jammy Turkish rose (likely also synthetic) swirled with a peachy osmanthus and some alpha ionones for the iris soap. Don't get too excited about the iris though, as it is plastered in sugar from ethyl maltol and given a huge hedione lift, to make it bright and smooth. The rose jam and the fruity top merge into a chocolatey patchouli isolate below, with no green camphor or terpene vibes to be seen. Eventually, a bit of woody-amber compound shows up, like the ambermax that gets shoved into many mascuilines, alongside trace slivers of labdanum musk for the chypre feel. All in all, this smells good, but feels like a custom car made with off-the-shelf components from GM or Ford, like so many failed 80's supercars that used bin parts for everything but the body shell. Wear time is good, and projection is also good; but that's it, just good. You can wear this anywhere you'd like to smell pretty and chic, but not like you shop at Macy's like the interns do, because you can't be seen in places like that. Best time of year to use this would be fall and spring to my nose, because of the woody-amber base riff.

This kind of jammy rose or alternatively, candied rose vibe over isolated patchouli and woody ambers is something that has been shoveled more and more into the faces of wealthy Karens since Parfums de Marly Delina (2017) hit the scene to make it popular. The ultimate rich platinum blonde daughter of a Wall Street shark kind of fragrance, where you can almost tell by looking (and smelling) her that she believes in "family values", watches Fox News, and thinks minorities are fine so long as she doesn't need to deal with them, although she'd never openly admit that. She comes from a "good family" and runs credit checks on people she talks to on the Tindr app.. Our imaginary wearer of Patchouli Noir also listens to Arms by Christina Perri or A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton (irony) on her morning drives to Starbucks in her Volvo Xc90. Something like Guerlain Vol de Nuit (1933) would be like splashing holy water on a vampire for a person like this, not that I'm suggesting anything. If you're looking for a relatively modern and high-quality niche-tier rose and patchouli fragrance, Juliette has a Gun Lady Vengeance (2006) has you covered, and it's perfumed by Francis Kurkdjian, a veritable modern aromachemical wizard who's probably too "exotic" for the target buyer of this perfume. The problem with having the means to be discerning, is that not everyone has the actual discernment to back it up, and luxury niche brands are cynical enough now to exploit that. I can recognize the merits here and I don't hate it, but next time you make an expensive fragrance called Patchouli Noir, try to make it a bit more about patchouli please. Neutral
Nov 7, 2021

Oud Al Fayed by Christian Provenzano Parfums

Oud Al Fayed by Christian Provenzano (2018) is not really an oud fragrance, but most of you out there that know the difference don't need to be told. A lot of times, these "Western Oud" takes can contain traces of the real thing, filtered of nearly all the barnyard or fercal qualities that make "poo poo ouds" so challenging for outsiders, or endearing for their fans. However, far more often is it the case that there is really no oud at all, regardless of how filtered it is or isn't, and what you're smelling is some abstraction of the oud accord created with aromachemicals. Even then, some Western ouds can still do a good job of mimicking the more medicinal side of real oud, or work in civetone and other animalic approximations to put back the barnyard feel that is lost. I've seen that in Dior Leather Oud (2010) and Le Labo Oud 27 (2009), the former of which is sadly discontinued, but even these synthetic ouds with an animalic vibe get shunned by the air-headed luxury consumer that wants to spend money for the sake of being seen doing it. Therefore, the market has given rise to something far weirder than a synthetic oud that attempts simulating authenticity, and we are left with fragrances like Oud Al Fayed, a fragrance that smells damn good but not one single iota like oud. Luckily, what Oud Al Fayed does smell like, is something I think a lot of people looking to spend this kind of cash can enjoy: a synthetic oud pushed so far away from any structure resembling oud as to transcend and become something of a beautiful monster all its own. Accidentally avant-garde futurism or just cynicism that's brilliant for the wrong reasons? You decide.

Like with many things culturally appropriated in classic European colonialist style, the soul of oud has been bleached to the point of being nothing more than a faint vestige of exoticism, made clean and wholesome for consumption by the cowardly and affected, which here translates as woody-amber vapor trails reminiscent of rubbing alcohol over clean laundry musks. In this way amber was tamed too about a century beforehand, although more by the French thanks to houses like Houbigant, Caron, and Guerlain all wanting to play with it. Despite the oud here being little more than a chemical tracer round shot through a jar of scented hand sanitizer, the effect Christian Provenzano wraps around this anemic oud android is quite interesting. The opening brings you the faintest wafts of something animalic before a load of frambinone and black pepper bring a raspberry leather feel a la Tom Ford, but not as dense. There is avery faint synthetic rose, like the "rose concrete" in the cyberpunk dystopian gray roses used by Cartier and Calvin Klein. Hedione and muguet bridge the gap into the synth woody amber base touched by clean white musks.. I don't get any noticeable patchouli or oakmoss here, so sorry pal, no chypre feeling at all. Oud AL Fayed stays cold, clean, chillingly beautiful, and haunting in the gaunt androgynous husk it presents to the wearer. Wear time is going 8 hours with moderate sillage, and best use is year round, since this strives to be even-keeled. Since this is so devoid of emotion, I'd dare say Oud Al Fayed could be a unisex office fragrance.

Christian Provenzano himself is a perfumer with UK-based CPL Aromas, a supplier that like Firmenich, makes perfumes for other clients. CPL tends to only work with higher end luxury and niche upstarts though, and a lot of them also from the UK, so if IFF manufactures Toyotas, CPL is the brand making Jaguars. Inasmuch, Provenzano has worked nearly exclusively with luxury outfits like Fragrance du Bois and Boadiceo the Victorious, even exploring similar olfactive ground to this on Nemer by Boadicea the Victorious (2012). If you've smelled that one, you're already halfway there with Oud Al Fayed. Nemer is richer, smoother, rounder, and sweeter, therefore less interesting than this one, as the thing that makes Oud AL Fayed so much fun is how sheer it is. It's almost like someone sat around a table and asked what are all the things ouds are not supposed to be, then picked one from a hat and built this to suit. A clean, woody, soapy, emotionally distant synthetic oud with a laundry musk note so fat, you'll think you're in a Macy's from 1993. Price concern aside, as this is from yet another industry perfumer's personal vanity label a la MFK, if you want what is the equivalent of aliens from outer space building an oud fragrance based on written third-party accounts they gleaned from orbit, this is your jam. I like the distant, almost depressed grayscale vibe of Oud Al Fayed, and it's as close to a perfume appropriate for the world of Blade Runner 2049 as we'll likely get, with only a pale sanitized shadow of the natural world, perfect for colorless, soulless ghouls of corporate hegemony, and their disenfranchised subjects alike. Thumbs up
Nov 1, 2021

Stetson Untamed by Stetson

Stetson Untamed by Coty (2003) is a sweet leathery-fresh type thing that frankly wasn't really all that great of a style mashup to begin with, and ended up being forgotten after only a few years on the market. I feel like Coty ultimately replaced this with Stetson Black (2005), which was a better scent doing a similar sweet leather vibe, but went more down the 1980's path to achieve its goal. Still, not a fantastic scent either, but definitely better than this one. I might also have a certain bias against Untamed, because like with Joop! Homme by Parfums Joop! (1989), I knew someone who very much over-wore this stuff. Oh well, some things can't be helped, and for the prices this was selling back then, I can see someone hosing down with it and replacing in short order if all they wanted was a sillage cloud. It took an awful lot of this juice to get it at offensive levels too, since unlike Joop! Homme, this was no powerhouse. I think the proliferation of very noticeable aromachemicals are what turns this into a nightmare at higher applications.

The opening of Stetson Untamed reminds me a bit of Avon HisStory (2003) in the use of green notes and aldehydes to make a fresh leather zing. This part of the scent is good and I wish it lasted longer. Lemon and lime mix with carnation to form a familiar leathery chypre core that is beefed up with clary sage and lavender for barbershop touches. Everything is still nice until this candy vanilla enters the mix in the base, alongside what can only be iso e super for the woody elements. Once these enter the fray, I get the feeling that the anonymous perfumer was trying to recall the original Stetson by Coty (1981) structure in Untamed, but did so at the cost of the integrity of the rest. yeah, this trainwrecks into a skeleton of the original Stetson base type, and it doesn't work. At least performance is short and weak without aforementioned over-spraying. Best use is going to be spring through early fall for this one, just not near me please.

The prices this goes for nowadays since its early retirement aren't exactly offensive, but aren't what the stuff is really worth either. Stetson Untamed is a C-tier fragrance from a B-tier licensed brand that only really made good on the original pillar entry into the line, then farted around coasting on the coattails of its success for the next 40 or so odd years, like MEM did with English Leather (1949) until it collapsed and was bought up by another company. I don't absolutely hate Untamed if worn at a moderate level, but then you have to compete with the poor performance, so there is no in between with this stuff. Either you annoy the piss out of everyone with Untamed, or squirt it on and forget about its existence after an hour. Either way, I wouldn't mess with such mediocrity unless it came at a near-throwaway price. Stick with the original Stetson to understand what all the fuss is about, as it's basically Houbigant Chantilly (1941) "untamed" itself. Neutral
Oct 31, 2021

Civet by Zoologist Perfumes

Zoologist Civet (2016) had all the makings of something horny and horrible, or horribly good, depending on how you want to look at it. Either way, I expected a shock to the nose and an entertaining ride. Well, that's pretty much the opposite of what En Voyage Parfums perfumer Shelly Waddington delivered in Civet, which ends up not being a whole lot about the note of civet at all. Now make no mistake, this does contain civet, or at least the synthetic civetone replacement molecule, but there is so much else going on here that really this could have been called "Zoologist Chypre" and have been more apt. For the most part, Civet tries to follow the Guerlain Mitsouko (1919) school of chyrpe design, being more floral than green, but adding significantly more fruit to the mix to make this feel a tad more modern. I use the term "modern" pretty loosely, because this is a chypre, and there is really nothing modern in a taste sense about the genre. The base has all the prerequisite mossiness, muskiness, and aromatic leathery tones that at one point in history could be attributed to De lare's famous "Mousse de Saxe" base, but now is conjured only in memory by synthetic proxy due to IFRA. The slightly urinous warmth of the civet starring note itself does finally emerge after the fragrance settles, but with so much fruit and floral prettiness on top, you won't be looking for it. Considering the overall obtuse nature of Zoologist compositions in general, and the brand being known for tossing out and remaking its own fragrances when they aren't well-received enough, I'm not surprised.

The opening is a blast of citruses and spice, replacing what would otherwise be seen as the dated aldehyde opening of chypres past. The sweet tangerine, orange, and lemon play well with the black pepper and tarragon, bringing us easily into the fruity-floral core that defines most of Zoologist Civet. Tuberose, frangipani, and carnation form the heart, and here is the biggest reason I ultimately feel indifferent about it. I'm not the biggest fan of peachy, fleshy tuberose, nor am I the biggest lover of sweet frangipani either, so with both overdosed as they are here in Zoologist Civet, I struggle to overcome the apricot nightmare they create in my mind. This is one osmanthus note short of making me run to scrub however, and they do gradually soften with the carnation, backed by hyacinth and musky ylang-ylang, although it's not enough to save it for me. The claimed wisps of coffee are also noticeable here, which adds yet another gourmand facet in addition to the fruit blast which I am not super okay with, even though the rest of the base is nice. Patchouli, birch tar, oakmoss, labdanum, and the rest of the classic chypre vibe is here, recreating some of the Mousse de Saxe beauty that merges with the latecoming civetone to bring a slight urine quality to the finish. Notes of fresh cedar polish it off, and the far dry down I actually enjoy. Performance is stellar, and use where/when you want, because the affable nature of the arrangement really does belie the musky growl underneath, although it stops shy of being a modern day red light fragrance.

Problem for me personally, is it's not really worth waiting for the far dry down while putting up with all that tuberose, frangipani, and swirling sweet citrus notes which dominate for the first four hours or so of this fragrance. This is strictly a taste thing on my part, as I really do not like sickly-sweet fruity florals, "fruitchouli" orientals, or candy fruit ethyl maltol gourmands. What Zoologist Civet effectively does, at least in my mind, is mix this very popular modern style with the form factor of a classic early 20th century chypre, then tosses some cat pee on top to justify the name of the perfume. For lovers of far feminine-leaning perfumes, this might just be a perfect blend of new and old, bringing all the youth bounce and sweetness of a modern day designer women's fragrance, with the gravitas and come-hither allure of a classic chypre once worn by mature take-charge women who knew what they wanted and didn't ask for it. I can really appreciate this vibe, as it's something we need to see more of (and not just in expensive niche land), it's just not something I could particularly enjoy wearing. I tend to like my bold women's chypres full of butch leather and smoke, or resplendent yellow florals filled with blooming aldehydes, real Bette Davis or Catherine Hepburn stuff. By comparison, Zoologist Civet is more like Joan Rivers, who was in a perpetual state of cosmetic revision her whole life, in that it feels so face-lifted as to be more about its own revision than about what originally lied under it all. Still, if you like fruity sweet animalic chypres, this is of a rare breed not to be missed, and samples are easy to come by. I'm just not a fan of the style presented, but can appreciate the work put in by Waddington herself. Neutral
Oct 25, 2021

Ambre Vie by House of Matriarch

Ambre Vie by House of Matriarch (2012) is a simple, good, reference amber fragrance, full of nuance despite being mostly single-minded in subject. Perfumer and owner Christi Meshell works only with natural essences, and ages her creations for a time before release. As was the case with Kazimi (2016), the continued aging and strengthening of the base threw the entire composition out of whack for me, making it a total bust for the price asked. However with Ambre Vie, this continued aging only works to the perfume's benefit because the base is amber and the perfume is all about that amber. The perfumer actually talks about something of a reverse dry down because of how heavy the natural amber compound is, and how it shows up first, only to slowly recede as the floral top notes come into view later into the wear. I can actually vouch for this, and I've seen it a few times elsewhere along my "perfume journey", which is pretty neat. At very least though, this does have some kind of dry development at all, which Kazimi clearly did not, so I'm left to think my experience with that one was but a fluke and not representative of the entire house offerings. If this is what I can expect from other House of Matriarch releases, color me excited.

The opening is that lush, rounded, and sweet amber powered by costus, labdanum, spices, and resins. It's a very complex amber shown here, and I'm not going to be able to break down everything in it, but really I shouldn't be able to if it's done well enough. From here, that reverse dry down thing the perfumer mentioned does gradually happen, as davana and artemisia complicate and at the same time smooth the amber, adding slight leathery animalic qualities from the former, and herbal floral facets from the latter. Broom nettles and tagetes further add floral brightness to the amber as it settles, then tonka and frankincense add smoky sweetness to the mix. Natural sandalwood brings up the rear here, and whether or not it's mysore makes no difference to me, as it smells great nonetheless. I'm very happy with this, as it's a warm, rich, floral amber that is just sweet enough to be cozy, and just animalic enough to be complex, being a balance of all things expected from an amber made in the old way.This all combined is why I say it is a reference amber, a real center of the graph type of representation that you can use as a baseline to judge other ambers natural or synthetic. Performance is all day, but projection won't knock anyone over with judicious application. Best use is in winter for me as a feel-good smell.

Granted, I'm still on the fence about all-natural fragrances because as I've seen time and time again, they tend to break down no matter how well they're stored, unless you are loaded enough to blow through a handmade perfume like this in under a year. Collectors and hobbyists are the real folks to watch out for this phenomenon, since we tend to keep perfumes for years and slowly go through them since we have larger collections which we rotate through, rather hammering down then replacing a single signature scent. If you do this, you probably won't have to worry about Ambre Vie loosing much of its complexity over time, since you'll expend it before that happens. For me, working off a sample that was produced around the time that House of Matriarch switched to blue uniform bottles (2015-2016ish) and released Kazimi, I can see the continued aging of the sample since then has only rounded the corners further on the amber, and made the davana a little more present than it probably once was. The price is obviously very steep here at $360 for 50ml, but you pay to play for artisanal exercises like this anyway. I catch mild Wiccan/New Age vibes from the house and owner, so if there's a little bit of witchcraft going on here, I'm ready to draw the circle myself and summon some more goodness like this to my nose. Expensive, albeit high-quality amber of ancient design, execution, and character. Thumbs up
Oct 25, 2021

Kazimi by House of Matriarch

Kazimi by House of Matriarch (2016) is a fragrance that boasts a lot of naturals, and like most artisanal one-person-brands, comes from a self-taught perfumer working mostly alone. It stands to reason then, that if you've played with brands like Areej le Dore, Bortnikoff, Slumberhouse or Auphorie, you are well-prepared for both what to expect stylistically, and price-wise from House of Matriarch. Kazimi mentions no less than six different kinds of rose in its scent pyramid, which is something that would make you think it is centered mostly around rose, especially after reading the blurb provided by the brand. Perfumer Christi Meshell goes on about the mood-lifting properties of rose oil, how the note is stretched using synthetics in modern perfumery, and how all the many facets of the material shine in her perfume due to the exclusive use of so much natural rose. It therefore somewhat makes me wince to say that this really doesn't smell like rose, or at least doesn't smell like rose is the center of the perfume, at all. Rather, it seems the usual pitfalls of using all natural essences come to bear in Kazimi, whereas continued maceration and infusion occur long after internal aging and bottling has happened, changing the perfume from what Meshell probably smelled upon initial inspection, to what I smell when the travel-sized spray vial I'm using for review ended up in my lap. $24 for just this little 4ml thing too! Luckily, this sample was provided gratis by a friend, so I don't feel as if I need to be super charitable to the fragrance itself. House of Matriarch is a local Seattle niche perfume brand, so I was hoping to show some local business love, but that's not going to be the case here. Oh well, that's the point of niche perfume anyway, having a limited and often super-dedicated audience. No harm done.

The opening of Kazimi is sour, musky, and a bit camphoraceous. Nowhere is listed that this scent contains patchouli, but I swear that green does smell like natural patchouli oil. Regardless, you'll get hit with this alongside hyraceum, an animalic note from the hyrax rodent in Africa that produces a similar note to civet. Hyrax is somewhere between the urinous fecal civet, and the dry leathery castoreum, being something of a "best of both worlds" animalic material. Since hyraceum literally comes from the dried dropping of the hyrax, you may want to think twice about using it if you don't want to smell like literal animal shit. If you choose to live on the wild side, you're rewarded by this note joining with some also-animalic oud (surprise), making Kazimi feel a bit more like Parfums Dusita Oudh Infini (2014) than any sort of pure rose soliflore like it claims to be. The types of rose infusions listed here are numerous as stated above, with rose concrete (paste), rose otto (attar base), bourbon rose, and then other rose sources like "rose Edward" and "white rose India", which I can only guess are European and Southeast Asian rose absolutes, respectively. Well let me tell you, all of them drown under all the hyraceum and oud, which is then joined by a salty breathy natural ambergris tincture and resinous opoponax. Wisps of cedar oil flicker between to finish this off, and the end result is still a very sour musky aromatic journey, almost devoid of recognizable floral character. Kazimi is interesting for a few minutes, but for literally none of the reasons claimed. After much past an hour of this overwhelming swamp of a base, I'm ready to scrub,. Performance is weapons-grade strong, so be careful. If you like massive doses of turpentine and salty/urine animal notes, this may be just the thing for you to scare the neighbors. I love animalics, but only when in balance.

Now I'm no perfumer, but the moral of the story here is when using naturals, which still very much have a tendency to continue breaking down and intermixing long after the creation process is over, you need to be careful how you want your perfume to be perceived a few years down the road after you bottle it. In a similar case with Bortnikoff Bonheur (2018), whatever the fragrance claimed to be about when bottled in 2018 isn't what it's about now, and even when I got my 10ml vials in 2019, it smelled different than it likely did at first, and definitely different than it does now. There are actual preservatives in commercial perfume, that stabilize the product to have a shelf-life so you can have a bottle smell mostly how it did even after decades. Granted, oxidation still occurs even then, which perpetuates part of the vintage vs modern debate on long-lived designer perfumes; but what we see here in Kazimi is an accelerated form of that process. In the case of Bonheur, I'm okay with the mostly caramelized brown sugar feel of the fragrance, which itself has been reduced to just its base. Here in Kazimi however, what I find is a sour and off-putting bomb of animalics with all trace of rose submerged beyond the surviving green elements. Maybe if Meshell had made the base lighter to account for its eventual strengthening over time, I'd still be able to smell some rose in a perfume claimed to be all about rose, but deteriorated to be pretty much just a base after 5 years. The fact that the hyraceum hit me in the face first thing already clued me in to what I was in store for, since even with the civet-dominated Oudh Infini, I still get plenty of rose front and center in the opening moments. If you like this acrid green vibe, power to you, but for $330/$560 per 50/100ml, that's not acceptable to me. Thumbs down
Oct 25, 2021

Pro Fitness for Men by Avon

Avon Pro Fitness for Men (1996) was the male counterpart of a pair, both fragrances themed around the 1996 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Avon Products was lucky enough to become a sponsor for the US team, which put the ailing cosmetics direct-selling brand back under the cultural spotlight in its former home market of the US, helping to increase interest in the brand once more. This move would help send Avon upwards sales-wise, culminating in ventures with athletes into the 2000's which lead to record growth in sales. Unfortunately, these sales were pretty much countered by rapid and expensive market expansion, that left enough red ink for Avon to be purchased by its creditors in 2016 and moved to the UK. Oh well, at the time Pro Fitness for Men launched, Avon was riding high on the renewed attention towards its fragrances, leading ultimately to better ones than there had been for over a decade (including improvements to men's releases). Pro Fitness for Men itself sold really well, and is effectively a fresh green musk crossed with some fougère elements to adequately "man it up", while being deliberately kept light as an advertised "sport cologne". Fans of simple, clean 90's fare will recognize the vibe of Pro Fitness for Men right away, as countless designers and mass market brands rushed simular products onto the market around this time.

The opening is fresh juniper and some fruity-metallic aldehydes that remind me of peaches, with dihydromyrcenol and rounded by lavender. There isn't much noticeable natural citrus here, just that bright peachey laundry sheets vibe. Geranium, clary sage, and tomato leaf make a linkage, then I get a tiny bit of violet and iris ionones too, but not enough to pull this into Kiton for Men (1996) territory. The fresh rounded juniper vibe would also be revisited in Avon Prospect (2003) a few years later. All told, this scent bridges that fragrance to Avon Maxx (1996), a fresh fougère release concurrent with Pro Fitness for Men. The base is clean musks, a Calvin Klein Eternity for Men (1989) vibe from similar linalool-heavy synthetic base materials, synthetic woody molecules, "avon amber" and a speck of tonka. I am hesitant to call this fougère because it feels far soapier than it does green or "fern-like", being of a common thread to something like Clinique Chemistry (1994) from a few years before or Prada Amber pour Homme (2006) from a decade later. Performance is light but detectable in the projection department, while longevity is actually pretty decent, making this office-capable like the Prada. One thing is certain: You will offend absolutely no one, in true 1990's fashion. I'm a sucker for soapy, so this one hooked me super duper fast.

Pro Fitness for Men paved the way for some really good stuff that helped Avon climb out of their fragrance malaise, especially with men. Starring! for Men (1997), Far Away for Men (1998), Friktion for Men (1999), and Perceive for Men (2000) all followed Pro Fitness for Men out of the shadows. The latter would become a rather unique favorite that remains available today. If you're a fan of soapy clean, there is a lot to love about Pro Fitness for Men, and it's all refreshingly devoid of the usual Avon kitsch too, as the packaging is plain and focused on Olympic sponsorship advertisement. Pro Fitness for Men is the soft creative direction reboot Avon needed to be relevant for men again, and because it was, Avon took the opportunity to begin re-orchestrating Avon Wild Country (1967), then eventually re-introducing Avon Black Suede (1980), which somehow went onto be the brand's biggest seller for men. Pro Fitness for Men itself is simple as it looks, functional, satisfying, and oddly un-Avon in vibe; from it, Avon would continue the "Pro" series in some markets (using metal bottles) to the current day. Not much else to say here, since you either like this style of fragrance or you don't, although "enlightened" FragComm types need not apply; there's nothing for you here. Thumbs up
Oct 21, 2021

Hero by Burberry

Burberry Hero (2021) is a lazy fragrance, and although that doesn't necessarily make it an awful one, it is very hard to ignore just how lazy it is. Burberry's creative director Riccado Tisci must have been extremely specific in what he wanted for this fragrance line, choosing the "everyman" appearance of actor Adam Driver over the usual "heroin chic" models, or the square-jaw beefcake übermensch you sometimes see; but coupled to this plain look comes an equally-plain bottle that houses a plain fragrance, which feels designed to be the bare minimum all around. Maybe that's the point with Burberry Hero, to be unmistakably plain, to imply that Burberry's ideal of a hero could be anyone. Or maybe the marketing campaign was created to cover for the fact that Burberry looked at Dolce & Gabbana K (2019) and Dior Homme (2020) then said "I'll have some of that". Aurelian Guichard did as he was told here, and simply fused the two, adding something "ostensibly British" to the mix so Hero stays in line with the Burberry tradition of understated middle-class Londoner style. Union Jack and tartan patterns thankfully witheld this go-around, but along with them went the focus on traditional British men's fragrance subjects like violet, lavender, or tobacco. Stuff like Touch for Men (2000), Brit for Men (2004), or London for Men (2006) at least had unique character unto themselves.

The key difference between Hero and those other three, is the aesthetic focus on three types of cedar, all of which I can tell you are not actually in here. I know what cedar smells like, and while there may be three different molecules that go under the trade names of atlas cedar, virginia cedar, and himilayan cedar, none of them much smell like actual cedar chips or oil to me. More than anything else, this scent is about vacuum-distilled bergamot essence, juniper, and an overcharged woody-musky base just like Dior Homme (2020) and D&G K eau de toilette. The opening gives you a big hit of juniper, which steps out of its place at the heart of the scent to really be the top note. In this brief moment, I get vestiges of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Gentle Fluidity [Silver] (2019), but then the sour-sweet bergamot takes over and joins with something peppery. Burberry calls this black pepper but it smells just like the pimento in K, before the cashmeran and vetiver nü-chypre vibe of Dior Homme (2020) reasserts. If you're a fan of this style, you'll undoubtedly like this, as it keeps in that perfectly pleasant and unwaveringly masculine mode, avoiding sweetness and massive overdoses of tonka, plus not relying on scratchy aromachemicals or ambroxan warheads. Performance is "just fine" and this could be used year-round. I'll leave it at that, since someone's likely to think you're wearing something else anyway.

There isn't anything wrong with a "me too" fragrance from a technical standpoint. When Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche (1982) hit the market, it was such a game changer that it had dozens of "me too" fragrances from other major designers or perfume labels chasing down its spotlight. Even now, decades removed from that frenzy, clone operations in the Middle East still copy this one; and many of the things that embellished or modifying the original DNA of Drakkar Noir I actually like more, such as Houbigant Duc de Vervins (1985) or Givenchy Xeryus (1987). So with that in mind, I don't instantly deduct points for the "gimmie some o' dat" mentality shown in Burberry Hero, since it's only logical to chase the money Dior makes and to a lesser extent, Dolce & Gabbana makes, with their latest pillars. However, this is so lazily slapdashed and crowned with a bit of the old British gin vibe, that it feels too cynical for me. Add the equally-lazy bottle to boot, and thrust the rather normal-looking Mr. Driver out there front and center, then say: "it's plain on purpose, because you're plain, and that's how we see our heroes". Bam, got'em. Check please. Okay look, this isn't bad and is perfectly serviceable for the guy who doesn't really care and just wants something to kick around in when he feels obligated to, but is that really something Burberry wants as an artistic direction? Neutral
Oct 21, 2021

Maxx by Avon

Avon Maxx (1996) is the poster child for Avon's "malaise" era weirdness, arriving at the tail-end of a creative spiral the company was trying to right itself out of after unsuccessfully attempting to join the luxury market with designer brand acquisitions. By 1996, Avon had ended collaborations with celebrities and designers, plus sold off its stakes in Parfums Stern, Giorgio Beverly Hills, plus Tiffany & Co. Avon was just handling its own affairs by then, with creative direction help from Ann Gottleib, who came on board to help the brand as they transitioned from internal development of fragrance to contracting out like other major players, using IFF, Mane, Givaudan, and others. I don't know who perfumed or created Maxx, but it does look painfully 80's in color and design graphically, even if the smell is right in that 90's fresh fougère pocket where it needed to be. Like Mesmerize for Men (1992) before it, Maxx was one of the new rare examples of Avon giving a men's release a bespoke natural spray bottle of its own, something it had been doing for women's fragrances for decades. This goes contrary to the tradition of Avon sticking men's fragrances in unique splash bottles and only giving them sprays in the form of generic, cheap-looking "pill bottles" if they do well. Image does sell an Avon fragrance equally as the smell if not more, since many are bought blind from the catalog without being sampled and given away as gifts to men, rather than being purchased by men directly. Because of this, I don't know how many ladies saw this tacky 80's holdover bottle and went "let me get that one for hubby", making Maxx a bit on the rare side all these years later.

The basic construction of Maxx falls somewhere between the style of Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989) and Paco Rabanne XS pour Homme (1993), with little stylistic flourishes that also make it reminisent of the concurrently-released Curve for Men by Liz Claiborne (1996). Begamot and metallic aldehydes that shimmer with acetates and a tiny sliver of calone-1951 introduce a very fresh and vibrant lavender, joined by geranium and a small touch of what feels like violet leaf. Hedione is also here to give lift, with a speck of vetiver and sage too. Claiborne Sport by Liz Claiborne (1997) would surface the next year and swap out violet for tomato leaf in a formula very similar to this, and of course the base is a bog-standard 90's fresh fougère foundation of white musks, synthetic woody materials, a sliver of oakmoss and tonka, plus all the usual shiny L-words that today would get listed as allergens on the box but didn't back then. Avon Maxx is as competent a daily-driver as one can expect from this genre regardless of brand, sitting alongside similar entries from Bob Mackie, Salvador Dali, Mary Kay, Burberry, Yves Rocher, Perry Ellis, and even Chanel, that all littered the decade. Best use is as a year-round daytime work scent, or something casual to slack off in when you're not feeling like being engaged. Creed Himalaya (2002) is the "niche quality" take on this style, if you're curious, but Avon Maxx does the same job for far less, even as a long-discontinued vintage. Performance is pretty moderate all around, but projection here does die a bit earlier than some of the others, with Maxx being a skin scent past 2 hours that goes for about 7 in total.

Avon was smart on one hand to enter the fresh fougère game, although stupid on the other hand by using what looks to be unused packaging designs held over from the previous decade. Avon from the mid 1980's either had trouble with what felt like old unused formulas in modern packages or reasonably-modern fragrances for the time in really dated packaging, as if they just could not throw anything away that they had spent R&D money on, to maximize return on investment with the pittance they charged for their fragrances to start. Women's scent didn't have quite as much stylistic recycling, because they were money-makers, along with the empire of cheap makeup the brand had started to lean into more than the fragrance by that point; but when it came to men's fragrance, the brand wasn't really trying anymore when not forced to by Gottleib. In conclusion, if you can look past the shape and color scheme of the bottle, what you get inside is something that should have been a huge success for the brand yet somehow wasn't. Maybe this stuff was overshadowed by the Olympics-themed Pro Fitness (1996) released in the same year, as Avon won a sponsorship spot for the US team in the Lillehammer winter games, acting as a relevancy lifeline for the brand until the 2000's came along. If the scent of Maxx had been put in a bottle more like Pro Fitness, it might have been a big enough hit to stay around even to this day, like many of the fresh fougères it ran against in the 90's that linger in the market decades on. On the other hand, with the glut of affordable designer freshie choices now in discounters, did Maxx really ever stand a chance at all? Thumbs up
Oct 19, 2021

Chantilly by Dana

There is a lot to say about Chantilly by Houbigant (1941), and more commonly-known now as being by Dana; but before we dig into any of it, we should make mention of the obvious. Like a lot of classic Avon or Coty fragrances for women, Chantilly carries the stigma of being cheap and for old ladies. Well, I guess that is inarguable to a degree, because Chantilly is primarily found in big box retailers like Wal-Mart and used mostly by people who are halfway to 100 or older, unless one has a particular affinity for the golden oldies. Even then, most people seek out Guerlain, Caron, Patou, Lauder, Lanvin, or classic Chanels for that particular fix if big-boned fragrances for women are what they want. Houbigant and by extension of it, fragrances like Chantilly, get left out in the cold either because they're too rare for having been discontinued for far too long (like a lot of classic D'Orsay perfumes), or sent into downmarket Hell when Houbigant imploded and sold off a bunch of their catalog. It doesn't take too much of a guess if you're familiar with vintage brands and their tendency to die, only to resurrect like the Phoenix when a nostalgic rich person comes along (this saved Caron recently), you'll know Houbigant has been happily back at the niche level where it once sat hundreds of years ago. Chantilly however, one of the brand's biggest fragrances from the 20th century, has not fared anywhere near close to as well. 1941 is the year of the original release, and being that Europe was embroiled in World War II, we're lucky this came out a all. Especially since Germany was clearly gunning for France and eventually occupied them, it's flabbergasting to ponder how anyone could sit around and compose perfume literally under the gun. Gabrielle Chanel was off playing smoochy-smoochy with Nazis to keep her business alive, and to attempt wresting it from the Wertheimers, so go figure.

Marcel MIllot is credited with making this perfume, which is part of the "lot to talk about" I mentioned at the beginning. He is a virtual unknown to the world of perfumery, despite having been a key collaborator on several important perfumes of the era, like Amour Amour by Jean Patou (1925), which is credited solely to Henri Alméras. Millot also bares no relation to the house of F MIllot founded by Felix Millot and famously perfumed for by Jean Desprez for a time. Marcel Millot in an article written in 1966 for American Perfumer and Cosmetics, talks about his involvement with Chantilly being a collaborative one as well, implying most perfumes made in the labs he worked during that period were typically not purely solo efforts. In any case, whoever the unknown co-contributors to Chantilly are, they helped give Millot his sole perfume credit. As for the fragrance itself, Chantilly is fairly typical for the time, being a mash-up of chypre elements and oriental elements, a compromise between Chypre de Coty (1917), Chanel No. 5 (1921), and Guerlain Shalimar (1925) as it were. This kitchen sink of notes opens with aldehydes, because of course it does, and then moves through sweet citruses of orange, lemon, and neroli, before moving to indolic florals. The rose and jasmin bring their virility, which is flanked by a fat carnation note and given a slight soapy edge of orris. The powdery resinous base of benzoin, vanilla, and tonka is boosted by a Mousse de Saxe leather note full of oakmoss and warmed with sandalwood. The leather here isn't butch per se, but it adds a unique punch. In it's original form, Chantilly was very expense, and rather expensive-smelling too, but a softer and more-glowing counterpart to aforementioned women's classics. Wear time and projection vary by vintage, but there isn't a weak formula of this anywhere, just strong and stronger. Best use is probably in colder months. Either way, you're going to smell like a madam, and you know what kind I mean.

My mom wore Chantilly when she wasn't wearing Chanel No. 5, her other "big expensive" perfume at the time. When Houbigant went pop and New Renaissance Cosmetics picked this up in a fire sale alongside Raffinée (1982), Lutèce (1984), and Demi-Jour (1988), they were all tossed onto market under New Dana Parfums alongside Monsieur Musk (1972), unchanged at first but much cheaper. Obviously, my mom like many others went nuts over this and started using Chantilly a lot more, even more than her Avons, because now she could replace it for pennies at the local Rite-Aid when it ran out. I remember her having face powder, cream lotions and everything, to the point where she reeked of Chantilly and I had to slow her roll a bit or risk fumigation. Sadly, once New Dana became Dana Classic, and manufacturing went in-house (up in New Jersey somewhere), this got reformulated to oblivion for cost. Lutèce, Raffinée, and Demi-Jour were dropped altogether, although the first two would find a new brief lease on life in some form under Prism Parfums. Meanwhile, all that goodness in the old Chantilly was gutted out, even if the new cheapo bottles still smell tolerably pleasant. I actually compare Coty Stetson (1981) to a masculine interpretation of this fragrance, as it too is a semi-oriental floral leather chypre mish-mash with vanilla, carnation, and benzoin. Smell them side-by-side (vintage in both cases) and see what I mean. As for my mom, she knows her beloved Chantilly is a pale impression of what it once was, but I think she's just casual enough of a fan to be happy with that impression all these years later. Most people seem to be, hence Dana keeps it rather than letting Houbigant have it back. Still, a proper loving reconstruction a la how Houbigant treated Fougère Royale (1882) would make this old gal glorious once more. Thumbs up
Oct 17, 2021

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