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Jardin d'Ombre by Ormonde Jayne

It’s impossible to tell from the notes list, but Jardin d’Ombre is not a rich, velvety floriental but rather a sheer and uplifting Eau de Lancôme-style medley of lime and bergamot strung out over gauzy white flowers (Hedione-assisted) and a whoosh of what feels like aldehydes. There’s a tannic ‘linen’ note in the midst of the scent’s Big Lift which makes me wonder if there was a microtrend afoot for this sort of sourish, diaphanous white floral in 2016; the way Jardin d’Ombre is set up strongly recalls the cold champagne-and-copper-pennies fizz of Superstitious (Frederic Malle), also 2016.

Truth be told, these soapy aldehyded florals with their sharp elbows and chilly demeanor – Climat, Arpège, etc. – are not really my thing; I need a bit of warmth and sweetness (Gold Woman by Amouage and Ella by Arquiste are as close as I am willing to get). But I do love the cold, aerated feel of Jardin d’ Ombre at first. It smells like a freshly-laundered bedsheet whipped by gusts of mountain air, the scent of the lemon or jasmine-scented water still clinging to the fabric. There’s also a brief but enchanting moment where it smells a bit like a freshly-opened sheaf of printing paper.

Unfortunately, the sourish, papery freshness I enjoy so much fades away within the hour, leaving in its place a sullen clutch of gummy ‘white flowers’ and an amber accord so sticky that I feel like I’ve just peeled open one of my husband’s white shirts taken wet from the machine to discover that it’s gone through the wash wrapped around one of the children’s abandoned, half-sucked lollipops (flavor undetermined). Funnily enough, the gummy white flower/amber-Ambroxan accord that Jardin d’Ombre dries down to happens to be the point from which its sister scent – Ambre Royal – starts out.
Aug 17, 2020


Niral by Neela Vermeire

Picture a delicately carved silver dish piled high with quivering cubes of rose milk lokhoum, barely set and opalescent. This tower of pink jellies, as wobbly-legged as a newborn giraffe, sits perched on a folded suede opera glove. In the background, a complex but translucent inter-knitting of pink pepper, fruits, roses, and white tea recalls the faded-silk grandeur of both Etro’s Etra and Rajasthan, a series of polite, sepia-toned portraits of India as seen through the rose-tinted glasses of imperialists.

It’s exquisite, but if it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Betrand Duchaufour, as much as I admire him and own many of his perfumes, has a tendency to recycle his most successful motifs. In Niral, it’s his apple-rose lokhoum suede accord debuted in Traversée du Bosphore (2010), and carried over to both La Belle Hélène (2011) and I Miss Violet (2015), adding pears and violets to the pattern respectively, that has turned up.

Not that I’m complaining. When an accord is this good, you want to experience it over and over again, no matter how minute the permutation. I will never forget smelling I Miss Violet (The Different Company) in Les Senteurs d’Aillheurs in Brussels in the autumn of 2015, when it had just come out. It caused a small paroxysm of joy when I sprayed it on – liquefied violets, green leaves, cool iris, and a liquor-like note as smooth as satin that made me want to tip my head back and pour it down my throat.

The ambrette seed in I Miss Violet smelled like a curl of Granny Smith apple peel to me, with a liquorous richness similar to the rose-ambrette combination in No. 18. Bringing up the rear was a soft leather that, texture-wise, mirrored the marshmallowy “suede lokhoum” effect in Traversée du Bosphore. I bought a bottle but quickly sold it on when I realized that owning both Traversée du Bosphore and I Miss Violet was a redundancy in my wardrobe that I could ill afford. For what it’s worth, I sold my bottle of La Belle Hélène for the same reason. These are the mistakes that a wide-eyed beginner in love makes. (I try not to feel so bad about the money wasted).

My general impression of all four fragrances – Niral, I Miss Violet, Traversée du Bosphore, and La Belle Hélène – is of delicate grey suede pillows stuffed with rose marshmallows and curls of fruit peel, dusted with a veil of powdered iris sugar, and boasting a texture as soft as a freshly-laundered plushy. Naturally, there are differences from one to the other. But, personally, I found that owning just one, Traversée du Bosphore in my case, was enough to give me my (semi-annual) fix of apple-rose lokhoum. That’s just me, though. If you can’t get enough of this gauzy, quasi-edible suede thing, then just take from this observation that if you like any one of the scents I just named, it’s likely that Niral will also send you to heaven.

As pretty as the opening is, I like the later stages of Niral even more, when an elegant, oaky cedarwood moves in, subtly taking the reins from the jellied rose lokhoum and suede. Far removed from the balsamic huskiness of most cedarwood, here the material smells as if the perfumer gathered together hundreds of slim, pale-wooded pencils, steamed them in a wicker basket, and poured the droplets of condensation off into the formula, like a traditional ruh made in a deg and bhapka.

Hints of what smells like chili pepper glances the scent with pinpricks of heat, roughing up the milkiness of the woods a little, like the rubbery milk-and-pepper thrust of Etro’s Etra. But in general, there’s a beautifully bright, watery tea-like feel to the midsection, as if the woods and spices have been washed down with cold water in sunlight. Niral doesn’t have the delicately fishy smell of raw silk, an aroma I’m inordinately fond of, but there is something pearlescent about the scent that suggests its texture.

Niral dries down to its base relatively quickly, a demure mix of that light pencil-like cedarwood, the peppery rose of Mohur, and a gently-candied magnolia note that gives up all of its creamy honey, but none of its greener, sharper nuances. I don’t really get much sandalwood here, surprisingly for a Neela Vermeire fragrance, but admittedly I haven’t tried anything from the brand since the original Mohur-Trayee-Bombay Bling-Ashoka quartet, and the focus may have since (understandably) strayed away the much-vaunted role of the Mysore sandalwood.

Ultimately, as much as I enjoy Niral, it contains too much of that Duchaufourian lokhoum suede signature for me to find it unique. I’ve no doubt that I would have sought out either a partial bottle or a decant of this early on in my perfume journey, because it is undeniably gorgeous – swoon-worthy even. But at this stage, I am trying to keep a sterner eye on my collection, making sure that I don’t keep buying the same perfume over and over again (ask me about my collection of violet fragrances, 70% of which are, I swear, the same fragrance released by five different brands).
Aug 17, 2020


Moena 12|69 by Carta

If you’ve ever been disappointed in a fragrance that’s been advertized as smelling like tea and then goes on to smell nothing like it, then put Carta Moena 12|69 on your to-test list pronto. Utilizing a little-used essential oil called moena alcanfor, which is distilled from the leaves, bark, and branches of the moena tree native to Amazonian Peru, this fragrance smells truly and honestly of tea. Specifically, it knits together the aroma of a really earthy Pu-Erh tea with the tannic, catch-in-your-throat quality of cold, slightly over-brewed black tea.

Moena 12|69 opens up with the scent of crushed greenery, but it’s the type of greenery that tends towards the dry, resinous side of the green spectrum, rather than to the fresh or juicy. It smells like a bunch of waxy leaves mashed down with dry tea leaves in a cup, before adding hot water to it. There’s an enjoyable pungency to this aroma, with hints of camphor and furniture wax adding an undertone of polished woods.

This scent feels and smells completely natural. It has that way, like many naturals-based perfumes, of communicating the essence of plants so directly that it’s difficult to remain unmoved. In fact, wearing Carta Moena 12|69 always makes me feel like I am right there in the middle of an Amazonian forest, drinking a cup of campfire-brewed tea with mates under a thick canopy of branches, the gloom punctured by slow-moving light filtering through the leaves.

Let’s talk about texture, because this is important. It might even be a deal-breaker for some people. Carta Moena 12|69 is dry, dry, dry – all earthy tea, woods, leather, tobacco. No cream or sugar anywhere in sight. It wears like the resinous crackle at the back of your throat when you drink a cup of really strong tea all at once. If you wince at the way the aftertaste sucks the moisture from your mouth, then this scent is not for you.

This smoky, husky dryness reminds me somewhat of Mona di Orio’s wonderful Bohea Bohème, the only other perfume I can think of that captures the cool, waxen-earthy side of tea to any degree of accuracy. However, Bohea Bohème has a doughy, benzoin-driven sweetness (or even creaminess) in its tail that’s completely absent here. In Carta Moena 12|69, there’s no get-out clause, no soft landing – just a gradual fading out of the strong, dry tea, leather, and tobacco notes. The drydown smells like the sizzle of damp tea leaves thrown onto a dying fire.

Gorgeous stuff, especially if you love the tough, slightly resinous scent of real tea, unsullied by any sweet or milky notes. I should mention that this is an ecologically sustainable fragrance. Only 300 bottles of Moena 12|69 were made so as not to put pressure on the supply of moena alcanfor essential oil, and the money spent on procuring the oil went straight to the indigenous farmers who grow, harvest, and distill the oil, as well as to a local eco NGO for a reforestation project in the area. It’s the rare perfume, therefore, that both does good and smells good. Buy with good conscience!
Aug 17, 2020


Le Smoking by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

DSH Parfums Le Smoking is, to my nose, a happy mix of the bitter, smoked-out leather of Cabochard (Grès) and the sweet hashish vibe of Coze (Parfumerie Generale), two perfumes so hard-wired into the scent memory portion of my brain that it’s difficult to judge Le Smoking on its own merits.

Do I love Le Smoking, or do I love the memories conjured up for me by the ghosts of perfumes past that linger in its fabric? It’s hard to tell. But I can’t see myself not owning Le Smoking at some point. The further I get in this hobby, the more I realize that you just don’t pass up on perfumes that trigger you. I’m bored of wearing perfume just because it smells nice. I want the rollercoaster ride, please, and this time I’m keeping my eyes open.

The ghost of Cabochard in Le Smoking makes me almost unbearably sad. But I want to keep smelling it, regardless. The bottle I owned was most likely a reformulation. Like the opening of Le Smoking, it smelled like the cracked, thin elbows on a grey-brown leather jacket. Covered in layers of grime and ash, it was awful, but also weirdly brilliant.

Like Cabochard, Le Smoking has a bit of a sneer on its face, at least at first. The galbanum here does not smell like fresh lime peel, freshly cut green peppers, or mown grass, as it often can. Instead, it smells murky, poisonous, and cold, like smoke drifting across a window pane. There is also lots of dusty tobacco, vetiver, and oakmoss, together creating a pleasantly stale, acrid accord like a column of ash waiting to drop off a cigarette.

The mossy bitterness has been cleverly amended, though, to prevent the fragrance from feeling too much like a punishment. It’s much richer and more complex than Cabochard. An errant red fruit note, similar to the one in DSH Parfums Piment et Chocolat and Coze, add a touch of hot, sweet plastic that spices up the ashy leather, and the tobacco seems like it might be driven by castoreum, which brings its own sweet-sour fermented raisin vibe to the table.

But best of all is the generous dose of sweet, sticky sativa bud, smelling fragrantly like a lump of greenish hash resin. Mingling with the earthy oakmoss and tobacco, it produces a fantastically tasty note that pitches a tent between freshly-roasted coffee beans and the warm, trampled grass of a music festival. I wore Coze almost exclusively in early summer one year, and now associate it with all the pleasant things one can do outdoors on a warm morning, such as loll around on parched, yellowing grass, and drink coffee in outdoor cafes. The coffee/dry grass vibe lends a warm, friendly finish to the perfume that’s surprising after its chippy start. But, interestingly, although Le Smoking starts out in bitch mode and ends up in the chill-out zone, it is never less than debonair.
Aug 17, 2020


Russian Oud by Areej le Doré

I had a brief stint as a copywriter for a major scent subscription company in the United States, which ended only when every last scrap of confidence in my own writing had been whittled down to a nubbin by an over-zealous editor. One of the things he would constantly remind me not to do was to compare fragrances to food. Ew, he would write in one of his ten-point comments on a 300-word product description – nobody wants to think their perfume smells like food, that’s gross.

My whole being rebels against that. It’s been my experience that not only do plenty of people want to smell like chocolate, or caramel, but that people reading a review for, say, Tom Ford’s Orchid Soleil, generally find it more useful when it says that it smells like tortilla chips than if it says something overly technical about tuberose.

But then again, you can’t write something like that when you’re trying to sell perfume, because even if it does smell like masa, the brand will take that as a negative reference and automatically black-marker it. Oh, I understand it, but I’m on the side of the reader/buyer here. If something smells like food – and food that you, the reader, can immediately identify with, then you better believe I’m going to mention it. My language is impoverished enough with someone taking my food references away from me.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because it’s impossible to describe Russian Oud without bringing food into the conversation. If Oud Piccante is a piece of raw steak covered in peppercorns, slapped down into a pan sizzling with lamb fat, then Russian Oud is a dainty piece of chocolate cake laid out on a doily, tendrils of caramel drizzled on top. For something so delicious, it is remarkably spacious and fine-boned. Even in color, Russian Oud distinguishes itself as finer than her rugged big brothers, being clear in color, while Oud Zen and Oud Piccante leave great big yellow-brown oil stains all over the skin.

Russian Oud is clearly a gourmand take on oud. It is very chocolatey, with a sweet, incensey woodsmoke note giving it a nicely dusty texture, and labdanum later lending a toffee chewiness that, in turn, jives perfectly with the smoky chocolate. The papery dryness in the heart gives the structure room to breathe. Actually, in terms of texture, Russian Oud has a surprising trajectory, from dusty to papery to chewy.

At first, Russian Oud reminds me very much of several chocolate-woody-ambery fragrances I’ve been loving recently, including Ummagumma (Bruno Fazzolari), Dark Moon (DSH Parfums), and meltmyheart (Strangelove NYC), but later on, when the resiny, leathery – almost coffee-ish – tone of the oud asserts its dominance, it reminds me more of the woody gourmands of Parfumerie Generale. In other words, it becomes less edible as time goes on, and more woody-resinous.

The drydown is where the castoreum and labdanum really begin to take over, and to my nose, it is this phase that is most similar to that of Oud Piccante. The castoreum gives the oud and amber a slightly sour, musky undertone that suits the hot, bilious oud. Kafkaesque mentions Ambre Loup (Rania J) in her review, and yes, that’s spot on – the drydown of both Russian Oud and Oud Piccante is extremely similar to that of Ambre Loup.

Full disclosure; I sold my bottle of Ambre Loup because I found it to be a mess of contradictions: sweet but sour, delicious but super-heavy, like too much of a good thing, a faintly greasy mixture of animal fat and chocolate and sugar and freshly-tanned leather all melted down together. I liked it, but never wanted to wear it. It felt like the 24th course in a 25-course tasting menu – tasty, I’m sure, but might I save it for tomorrow instead? This is a feature of the oud or castoreum-tobacco accord that Rania uses in both Ambre Loup and Oud Assam. Both excellent scents, but stifling in their heavy, breathy, brocaded sweet-n-sourness. The Ambre Loup effect is much, much softer in Russian Oud than in Oud Piccante, though, and it’s one of the reasons why I prefer Russian Oud.

All in all, Russian Oud is a soft, smoky chocolate take on oud, and the refined sister scent to Oud Piccante’s brash, big brother. Oud Piccante and Russian Oud are definitely first cousins; Oud Zen, by comparison, is a very distant progenitor, a Romanov offshoot who found peace in obscurity, living a simple but hearty life in a country dacha.
Aug 17, 2020


Oud Picante by Areej le Doré

Oud Piccante calls a very specific image to mind, or at least, it does to mine. Imagine a small, country cottage in the West of Ireland, one of those whitewashed hovels left over from the Famine days clinging to the edge of a rundown fishing village. The cottage is inhabited by an Irish bachelor, a miserable Flann O’ Brien character whose Mammy never prepared him for a life of looking after himself. Inside the cottage, his hairy fisherman’s sweater – never washed – hangs over the lone chair, absorbing and also exuding decades of soot, the sweaty miasma of old lamb grease, and the yellow grime of nicotine.

One sniff of Oud Piccante and I am instantaneously looped back to my paternal grandfather’s claustrophobically small, grimy terrace house, which smelled like this. These smells make me anxious because they are the signal bearers of neglect. This is the smell of a house inhabited by an older male, once the female has shuffled off the mortal coil, leaving him alone to fend for himself. And old Irish men don’t tend to do well alone. Oud Piccante makes me feel sad, and this is hardly an auspicious start.

Where Russian Oud is sweet, and Oud Zen is nutty-smoky (neutral), Oud Piccante is savory. The astringent meatiness of the castoreum, tobacco, oud, and metallic clove/cinnamon accord makes me think of a fat steak encrusted with peppercorns hitting the sizzling lamb fat in a pan, the pungency of its Maillard reaction mingling with centuries of soot and yellow tobacco stains emanating from the greasy walls. There is a sourness here, too, which makes me think the bachelor mixed up asafetida or something pickled with the rest of the spices by accident. This is a kitchen spice rack oud, saline and metallic, peppered and lamb-fatted. The alpha to Russian Oud’s beta.

Later on, this central “peppered steak” accord gets wrapped up in a buttery, sweet labdanum; I like this part of the scent much better than the opening, but I also recognize that it could be perceived as a weakness by other people take their oudiness straight up, cut free of any oriental bits and bobs, like amber or vanilla. But for me, it’s a relief, like moving on swiftly from a macho-spiced, half raw plate of entrails to dessert, which, mercifully, seems to have been bought in.

To summarize, Oud Piccante is a sour-savory take on oud that, for me, strays too far into “old man” leather territory and seems to trigger a bad set of memories. The castoreum contributes tobacco, but it also contributes a tannic, astringent “over-brewed tea” accord that when combined with the saltwater taffy of labdanum smells very much like Ambre Loup by Rania J, which I grew to dislike quite intensely. Yes, I know, I am the sole aberration in the almost mass adoration for Ambre Loup. It’s clearly me, and not the perfume.
Aug 17, 2020


Fucking Fabulous by Tom Ford

Here’s the thing you need to know about Irish people: despite our potty mouths, we need for you all to think we are the last remaining bastion of Christian morality on the outskirts of Europe. We are the isle of saints and scholars, so by God, we are going to live up to it. In order to preserve this (thin) veneer of respectability, therefore, Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous is sold in Brown Thomas, Dublin, with the “obscenity” scribbled out in black permanent marker. Obscenity – that’s the SA’s word, not mine, by the way. Who on earth under the age of 60 ever says the word obscenity? Right. They probably all just say fuck.

Here’s the other thing. Brown Thomas can’t keep Fucking Fabulous in stock. It’s flying off the shelves. Offended and titillated in equal measure, people are buying the fucking thing! And if Tom Ford released a flanker for the Irish market called Fecking Fabulous, it would probably double its market share. (Add in flankers with names such as Feck, Arse, and Women, and you tap into the Father Ted fan base).

What does it smell like? I’m not sure it even matters, because people are buying it for the name alone, to display in the living room cabinet to get a rise out of their Ma or to bring to parties as a sort of conversation piece. But for what it’s worth, Fucking Fabulous is pretty good. It’s basically a gentle, creamy, aromatic tonka bomb with an underpinning of bitter, doughy suede. It starts out with a lot of lavender and sage, which gives it a fougere-ish feel, but the plush, brushed-suede texture of the tonka envelops the herbs so completely that it never feels fresh or too foresty.

In fact, the smart positioning of the aromatic, herbal side against the creamy tonka side reminds me very much of other modern fougeres, like Boy by Chanel, Lothair by Penhaligon’s, and even Fourreau Noir by Serge Lutens. What these fragrances all have in common is their modern approach to the old, hair-balled fougere genre, which is basically to add so much creamy stuff – tonka, vanilla, heliotrope, sandalwood, and so on – that you barely feel the itchy, hair-shirt sting of the lavender or moss. I have likened Fourreau Noir to a dense lavender doughnut before, and Jtd of ScentHurdle called Mon Guerlain a “taffy fougere” – and that’s pretty much what’s going on with Tom Ford Fucking Fabulous. It’s a gourmand fougere, albeit one that’s far less edible and sweet than any of the other fragrances mentioned here.

If I had to distinguish or differentiate it further within the gourmand fougere category, then I’d say that Fucking fabulous feels quite masculine, thanks to its brushed suede note. There’s a moment at the start when the lavender and sage combine with the bitter almond to form a brief impression of licorice, cherry, and even mint – like the herbal bitterness at the start of Fève Délicieuse (Dior) – but it soon smoothes out into that tonka bean smell, which I think of as the scent of a freshly-vacuumed carpet.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tonka bean is often used as a replacement for vanilla in men’s fragrances because it smells like a rugged, spicy, “tanned” version of vanilla, but with a significantly more aromatic presence, possessing facets of hay, lavender, and lots of other herbaceous things. However, because it’s been so overused in masculine fragrances, especially designer ones, there’s a sort of sameyness from one tonka bomb to the next that makes it olfactory equivalent of a plushy, deep beige carpet. Think of Arianna Huffington’s comment on President Obama’s re-upholstering of the Oval Office – “the audacity of taupe”, she called it, despairingly – and you get the idea of the total effect of a tonka overload; a mushroom cloud of bland creaminess that expands to fill one’s field of vision, cheerfully water boarding any other element placed there to try and break it up a little.

And for me, that’s what Fucking Fabulous ultimately becomes; a huge, creamy expanse of tonka bean suede with only a lingering trace of the aromatic interest of its opening. It’s a very high quality tonka fragrance, mind, with none of the cheapness associated with the material’s near ubiquity. But if I’m going to wear a fragrance that’s tonka bean for about 70-80% of the ride, then I’d just as soon avoid the price tag that comes with anything Tom Ford, and opt for something more prosaic but just as tonka-ish, like Tonka by Reminiscence.

But that’s a purely personal preference – I might wear a tonka-based fragrance three times a year, at most, because I’m just not that into it. But if you are, and you have the money to go Tom Ford, then Fucking Fabulous is one of the better examples of how to do the material on today’s market.
Aug 17, 2020


Belles Rives by La Parfumerie Moderne

I’ve never smelled the legendary Iris Gris by Jacques Fath, but I imagine it to be something along the lines of Belles Rives by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for La Parfumerie Moderne: the dove-grey pallor of orris warmed at the edges by a shimmer of peach.

In The Secret of Scent, Luca Turin compared the effect in Iris Gris to a “gorge de pigeon” taffeta, its color sliding between metal and pink at the turn of an eye; this is exactly the sensation I perceive in Belles Rives. At first, it is all orris, with its lovely freshly-poured concrete smell, stretched out like grey silk on a canvas. But quickly, a flicker of fruity apricot skin – not sweet, but rubbery and warm – licks shyly at the corners. Soon, it is difficult to tell where the cool orris ends and the peachy notes begin.

I can’t adequately describe just how smoothly and quietly all this is brought about. But I can point you to The Slave Ship by Turner, if you know it – a painting where the fog of pale grey sky is punctured here and there by the golden glow of the rising (or setting) sun. In the painting, as in the perfume, everything is blurred; there are no edges clearly delineating anything. However, one can still clearly perceive the total effect, in that it is the brightness of the sun that marks out where the expanses of grey lie, and vice versa.

On their own, both orris butter and osmanthus absolute are surprisingly sturdy materials, strong to the point of being pungent (and not particularly floral in smell). Osmanthus, in particular, has something of the bullying cheesy honk of a fruity Cambodi oud. It can overpower a composition in no time at all. But in Belles Rives, both materials smell equally ephemeral, like a cloud of ethers the perfumer has had to corral into the bottle with butterfly nets.

What orris and osmanthus have in common is a certain skin-like suede note, and this is what’s been emphasized in this fragrance. The iris gives off that faintly bitter, velvety facet of suede, specifically the plushy, brushed surface of the material, while osmanthus has a more rubbery, warm aroma reminiscent of bare skin underneath. In the drydown, although they are quite different fragrances, I spot a kinship with Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermes, especially in the delicately thin (worn) suede aspect.

I love Belles Rives. I love its serene countenance. I love its simplicity, which is not to say that the scent is simple or that it was simple to make (it can’t have been). I love the equanimity between the two main notes, namely, the iris and the osmanthus. Nothing too much has been added in to distract from the wholesome beauty of the main accord. There’s no powder, no smoke, no incense (that I can smell), and crucially, no potent woody ambers to make Belles Rives one of those tiresome things that drone on for 24 hours or outlast a shower. Just osmanthus and iris, pared back, chiseled to perfection, and, still smelling naturally of themselves, set inside a simple framework to shine.

I appreciate the confidence and hard work it must have taken to turn out a perfume like this in the competitive environs of niche perfumery, where there’s a feeling that one can’t just do an iris fragrance – that one must do something weird or obscene to iris in order to grab a slice of the increasingly thin wedge of the pie representing niche buyers’ attention. I hope enough people buy Belles Rives to show support for the idea that perfumer Guy Robert’s mantra that “un parfum doit avant tout sent bon”, or in English, that a perfume must, above all, smell good[1], is still the only principle that matters.
Aug 17, 2020


Smolderose by January Scent Project

Smolderose (the EDP version) is beautiful and arresting, but I have to admit straight up that I cannot smell the rose in it. What I smell is primarily the head-spinning fumes of a room where tins of black boot polish are stored, a smell that is tarry and (pleasantly) chemical rather than smoky.

I smell the lemony-minty green sting of geranium in a minor key, which is a rosy note, I guess, as well as the leathery undertone of choya nakh (roasted seashells), a distillate used in very careful doses in traditional Indian attar perfumery to add a marine-leathery tone. Choya nakh is also used by Mandy Aftel to give Tango its smoky, skanky-leather undertone, and indeed, there is a somewhat similar tarry boot-rubber effect in that perfume too.

But, for me, that almost benzene-like honk of black boot polish is what prevails. This seething, fizzing, gaseous miasma of fumes joins with the scent of our old Calor Gas heater, whose electric bars, when heated up, emitted an addictive aroma of heated electrical cogs and springs. I have a fondness for this accord, which I smell also in Gris Clair (Serge Lutens), because it seems to occupy a physical space in the air, charging the oxygen particles with ions and static electricity. I should mention that Smolderose takes up such a firm physical presence in the air that my head swims if I inhale too deeply.

Some may be offended that I don’t pick up on the charred rose or the other multi-layered complexities that I’m sure are actually there, in the fabric of the scent. But what I smell works for me anyway. If you, like me, loved the cozy smells of the school supplies closet, with its vaporous, almost intoxicating fumes of glue, polish, paper, ink, and other chemicals, or have experienced the particularly Irish childhood experience of hugging the Calor Gas heater until it heated up enough to thaw your frozen limbs, then perhaps Smolderose EDP will strike a memory chord for you too.
Aug 17, 2020


Selperniku by January Scent Project

Selperniku is a real head-scratcher. The list of notes, impressions, and ideas I have had while wearing this one goes on for several pages. I puzzle over this one in particular, wondering if my experience of sandalwood and butter (butyric) notes is so vastly different to everyone else’s so as to render my report invalid. John has nailed the limey, curdy texture of real sandalwood, but the fragrance itself does not, in fact, smell at all like sandalwood. Neither does it smell like butter, in any way, shape, or form, to me. Or salt, really.

Instead, what the fragrance seems to be doing is to take one small facet of all its constituent materials – salt, apricot, sandalwood, butter – and isolate them in the perfume, excising them from their wholeness. The result is that the nose recognizes one part of the material, but because it has been removed from its overall context, it strikes us as being both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time. Some of us are taking those fragments of sandalwood and peach and butter and rebuilding the whole picture in our mind; I personally cannot, only perceiving fragments here and there. Thus, I smell the slightly vomity undertone of milk, but not actual butter. I smell the rubbery, tart skin of the apricot, but not the fruit itself. Very clever.

I should mention that the topnotes of Selperniku smell entirely of freshly-crushed lavender buds to me, and specifically, the dried English lavender variety that one gets in sachets. I get the fierce, purple roar of lavender at exactly the same moment as I am smelling a juicy, overripe peach or apricot note, and the dual experience momentarily shocks me. It is a very unusual effect, and one that I find so compelling that I spray it over and over again to experience. Your mileage may vary (and, boy, has that overused phrase in perfumery circles really earned its keep with the January Scent Project!).

Directly under the lavender and peach opening, I sense a layer of curdled milk shifting below. It is only slightly vomitous, and probably only to me, but joined with a purplish “saltwater taffy” note I perceive, it adds up to something that approximates a lactonic wood accord.

The peach/apricot disappears for a while, but makes an appearance again after a few hours, this time in the shape of a slightly sweaty, rubbery note that hints at fruit skin more than the flesh. Kafkaesque notes that this could be osmanthus, and I’m inclined to agree, because at one point, the scent recalls the rubbery apricot leather of Osmanthe Yunnan. The rubbery fruit skin of the apricot mixed with the lactones certainly adds up to something suggestive of human skin, and perhaps specifically, the scent of a woman’s nape after a full day of wearing a gently peachy perfume, like Chant d’Aromes.

In the far drydown, blowing on my skin revealed a layering of piquant green leaves over the tart, rubbery lactonic peach skin note, which smells to me like the juice from dock leaves we would use to treat nettle burns when we were kids. That, plus, the late return of those dried lavender buds, make me think of Selperniku as being far more a rustic, countryside-ish fragrance than it at first makes itself out to be.
Aug 17, 2020


Eiderantler by January Scent Project

Eiderantler is softness embodied, a watercolor of pale lavender and feathery green leaves. It reminds me very much of my mother’s bathroom, which smells of a natural lavender-infused oil I bought for her on Hvar, an island off the coast of Croatia famous for its fields of lavender. The oil is old, so what meets the nose first is the fatty, waxy smell of the carrier oil itself, a little stale, but not rancid. Then the smell of lavender buds come through, the same crushed-between-your-fingers lavender smell as in Selperniku, but far gentler and balmier, as if the buds have been washed down in a sweet, milky lotion.

What I like about Eiderantler is its gentleness. The potential bitterness of the ivy and the lavender has been managed so that their natural, in-built pungency is softened and spaced out, diffused into your personal space by a humidifier.
Aug 17, 2020


Slowdive by Hiram Green

What a gorgeous and strange honey this is. Medicinal and syrupy, it begins as a river of intense aromas all knotted together so thickly that it’s difficult to make out what one is smelling. On my first wearing, I thought the opening had something of that anisic, clove-scented cherry dough that forms the medicinal heart of L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain) or even Kimonanthe (Diptyque), but a second wearing told me I was wrong.

Even in the opening, this is all about a thick floral honey with a rustic, if not medieval flavor. The honey is not animalic or smoky, but waxy and opaque with a golden, late afternoon sunshine feel to it. Dotted with tufts of mint, hay, licorice, anise, and wildflower herbs, the intensity of the honey is lifted just in time, moments before the dreaded cloy. It must have been difficult to achieve the balance between syrup (density) and air (lightness), especially in an all-natural composition, but I think Hiram Green’s managed it.

You might look at the notes list for Slowdive and imagine that the tobacco, the orange flower, and the tuberose dominate the composition. This would normally be the case, given the presence of such bullish notes. But there’s a series of pleasant surprises here in how Green has restrained these more exuberant notes in favor of the more delicate floral mead/honey/herb aspect.

The tobacco, or rather, coumarin, smells more like dry hay and chamomile tea than pipe tobacco. The tuberose hands over its textural qualities of butter and rubber, but holds back on its plushier, candied side. And although the green, waxy neroli that Green uses so well in many of his fragrances is present, under the surface, it only makes itself known through a slight orange tint to the honey.

The overall impression is of a slow-moving river of honey dragging whole drifts of meadowfoam, sunburned hay, and lacey wildflowers along with it. Imagine the court of King Henry VI camping for the night in the sprawling hunting grounds of Anne Boleyn’s uncle’s castle. It’s late summer, the hay is brown in the fields, and all about there is the gentle hum of honey bees. Cook has spilled the pale, waxy honey so beloved of the bad-tempered king, and scrapes it up off the ground hastily with a knife, not realizing that it is now flecked here and there with the malty herbs strewn on the ground to cleanse the air of unhealthy odors. And in fact, Slowdive is what the king will later taste on his bread, a delicious but inedible enfleurage of flowers in honey.

The rustic, medieval feel I get from Slowdive is underlined by the beery smell of fermenting hops in the drydown. At this point, it reminds me very much of a thick face cleanser I got in Koreatown, New York, a few months ago, called Natura Republic Honey and Herb Cleansing Cream. I love the smell of this cream, because like Slowdive, it reminds me how close the natural scent of honey is to both hay and beer hops. The smell of the Irish countryside on a good day! There is also the richness of dried fruit, but again, this gives less of the Lutensian vibe one might be expecting and more of a sour dried cherry aroma, dry and unsentimental. Like flowers doused in nutritional yeast.

Despite the syrupy intensity of its opening, I would place Slowdive more towards the clean end of the honey spectrum than the carnal one. It is not, for example, as smoky as Absolue Pour Le Soir (Maison Francis Kurkdjian), as retro-fabulous as Tubéreuse III Animale (Histoires de Parfum), or as pissy-dirty as Tabac Tabou (Parfum d’Empire), although it does share the strong rustic-rural bent of the latter. Instead, I would classify it as belonging to the same group of strong, floral, or harvest-time honeys as Golden Cattleya by Olympic Orchids and Botrytis by Ginestet. If you love thick, narcotic honey scents that balance syrupy sweetness with a herbal or floral cleanliness, then I can’t recommend Slowdive highly enough. It’s one of the best scents I’ve tried in this particular genre, and all-natural to boot.
Aug 17, 2020


Quasi Una Absurdia by Chris Rusak

Quasi Un’Absurdia by Chris Rusak is a rare joy. In the modern hodge podge of brutal woody ambers and syrupy eau-de-department-store florals, instances of classical beauty are few and far between. So a minute of silence, please, for the feat that’s been pulled off here by a small artisan.

I’ve no idea whether if it’s innate talent – genius untrammeled by the stifling stays of the classical perfumery education corset – or the simple good luck of a five year-old who accidentally hammers out a Monet with a potato stamp, but I’ll be damned if Chris Rusak, probably armed with nothing more than a small perfumer’s organ of essences, hasn’t created a glorious floral to rival that of giants such as Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue or Grossmiths’ Shem el Nessim.

Quasi Un’Absurdia is a cinematic sweep of flowers that elates my spirits in the same way as the first swell of sound from the orchestra pit. I experience the opening as a rush of colors and texture – the purple velvet of jasmine, the buttery yellow of ylang against the polleny green-yellow of narcissus, and the greenery of lily stalks. In the roar of color and sound, I swear I smell the aromatic crushed bud of French lavender, but this may just be the civet punching its way through the floral mass and drawing a phantom Jicky-lite shape in the air.

The polleny narcissus aroma splits the difference between the eyelid-droopingly indolic, over-stuffed scent of a room filled with the flowers and the tartness of freshly-cut daffodil stems plunged into water. I find the rich, true smell of the jasmine and rose absolutes used here to be intoxicating in the way only the real flowers can be. This perfume makes me feel like I’m Dorothy, walking through that field of poppies, drugged up to my eyeballs on their narcotizing scent.

The gasoline beauty of pure jasmine absolute alone would have made this an easy sell for me, even if Chris Rusak hadn’t been clever enough to underline its Sambac-like quality with the pleasantly watery bitterness of mint or artemisia and its Grandiflorum-like qualities with a bubblegummy ylang. But he has, so there you go. The arrangement here – the complex juggling and trade-offs involved in keeping this great slew of natural floral absolutes afloat – is flawlessly executed. Especially impressive is the fact that the benzyl acetate facet of natural ylang and jasmine has not been allowed to dominate, thereby saving the composition from the grapey dopiness of the standard big white floral.

A bouquet this rich in white flowers risks heaviness. But thanks to the sharply woody civet and a lily tincture that leans more towards the crunchy green-and-white freshness of muguet than the funeral meatiness of lily, the overall impression remains remarkably crisp. Quasi Un’Absurdia is definitely not as lily-dominant to me as perfumes like Malle’s Lys Méditerranée, but actually, there’s a time and a place for the insistent salty, almost aquatic-tinged heavy cream of lilies, and this is not it. The ‘lily-ness’ of Quasi Un’Absurdia is perfectly dosed.

There’s some civet here, but it’s been used less as a keystone note and more as a means by which to texturize and sharpen the fuzzy beige carpet of tonka padding out the florals all the way down to the base. Quasi Un’Absurdia isn’t terribly animalic, therefore. However, there is a subtle ‘freshly-washed crotch’ nuance here that works very well against the sweet floral mass. This too is Guerlainesque, a cheeky reference perhaps to Jacques Guerlain’s assertion that all Guerlain fragrances contain something of the undercarriage of one’s mistress.

The drydown of Quasi Un’Absurdia will be an unmitigated pleasure-fest for anyone who loves the intricate yet cozy abstraction of the great Guerlain perfumes such as L’Heure Bleue or Chamade but doesn’t adore the sometimes fussy powderiness of their finish. This perfume’s Guerlainesque almond-custard denouement is streamlined by comparison, a product of cantilevering a huge bouquet of flowers over a sharp, airy base of woods, civet, and soapy musks. In fact, Quasi Un’Absurdia is the equivalent of a John Irving novel: it spins a cracking good yarn in the classical tradition of Alexandre Dumas but borrows the dreamily absurdist, abstract style of Gabriel García Márquez to tell it.
Jun 24, 2020


Le Pavillon d'Or by Parfums Dusita

Gosh, this is so pretty. Mint, iris, and honeysuckle combine to form a fresh, green opening that sometimes reminds me of Chanel. No. 19 and sometimes of Diorella (and sometimes of neither). There is an illusion of galbanum minus the bitterness, or of vetiver without its dankness. The main note here is fig leaf, which would explain the faintly milky quality to the greenness, but there’s none of the urinous quality that often sullies the vibrant smell of fig leaf. There is also a whisper of fruit, but one so phantasmagoric that it might all be in my head.

These opening notes are quickly coated with an overlay of what smells to me like the sweet, musty alfalfa grass notes (half hay, half Quaker’s oats) borrowed from one of my favorite Dusita perfumes, Erawan, but minus that scent’s dusky cocoa. There is also, here and there, a touch of Chanel’s Poudre Universelle Libre – a discreetly-perfumey, buff-colored skein of powder dusted over the scent’s cheekbones.

Although perfumer Pissara Umavijani’s inspiration for Le Pavillon d’Or was drawn from three different lakes, this perfume smells more pastoral than aquatic to me. It carries the green-gold-lilac duskiness of post-harvest meadows and field margins and hedgerows.

The final layer in this igari blush-style fragrance is a crepuscular haze of almond-scented lotion, due to the heliotrope, a plant beloved of midwives for its babyish innocence. But while in less elegant hands the heliotrope might turn fudgy and turgid in that yellow cake way of Etro’s Heliotrope, Pissara has threaded the note through gossamer layers of green florals and iris so delicately that the finish retains the freshness borrowed from the first layer laid down. Simply lovely.

Jun 24, 2020


fall into stars by Strangelove NYC

Fallintostars by Strangelove NYC is clever because it pairs the 15th century smell of Hindi oud – the dank, rotting, wet wood smell of animal hides piled high in a medieval dungeon – with the 21st century radiance of a modern amber. For the first half hour, the dissonance is dizzying. The oud is so authentically filthy that I feel like I’m being pressed up against a wall by an lout with a shiv and bad intentions. It’s as funky as a plate of fruit and cheese furred over with mold, wrapped in a length of freshly-tanned leather, and buried in a pile of steaming, matted straw.

But just when you fear you’re slipping wholesale into slurry, you notice the bright, peppery overlay of something radiant and electric, like sparks popping off a shorted wire. This accord calls to mind the aromachemically fresh, smoky black tea opening of Russian Tea (Masque Milano Fragranze) more than the pink pepper the notes tell me this is likely to be. The distance between the light and the dark is perfectly judged. It’s more of a whoosh than a lift. It smells exciting – sexy even. I’m tempted to douse myself in it and force strange men to come sniff my neck, even though, technically, this hard, peppery smell is more masculine-leaning than otherwise.

But wait, because we haven’t really talked about the amber yet. Poor Christophe Laudamiel – I bet that after the category-defining glory that is Amber Absolute (Tom Ford) he’s afraid to touch labdanum for fear of either never reaching those heights again or being accused of repeating himself. But then again, this is Christophe Laudamiel we’re talking about – a man who, as I’ve said before, when confronted with a straight line instinctively starts to zig zag wildly across the page like a wild hoss. He seems to create restlessly in one forward motion, refusing to circle back to even his most hallowed of halls.

So, no, this is not the benzoin-thickened incense amber of Amber Absolute, but (unexpectedly) the bright, hard sparkle of a champagne-and-vodka amber in the style of pre-reform Ambre Russe (Parfum d’Empire). Like a shot of those clear gold liquors served in the Alps after dinner, I’m not sure which I want to do more – drink it or apply it to a wound. It smells…well, excuse my language, but fucking amazing. How does a perfumer get amber to smell as rich as leather but as transparent as jelly?

My nose fails me when it comes to the other notes. I don’t get any of the green, hay-like barnyardiness of narcissus (unless it’s giving the dirty straw notes in the Hindi oud some welly) or indeed any of the gentler, more jasmine-like nuances of the jonquil variety, and there’s nary a hint of rose. I don’t perceive the benzoin at all, which is strange because even if I can’t smell it, I can usually feel it thickening the texture of the basenotes into a flurry of papery dust.

What I smell in Fallintostars is really an act in three parts: Hindi oud, followed by champagne-and-vodka amber, and finally a huge honking myrrh not listed anywhere. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Christophe has managed to work the inky, astringent tones of saffron and hina attar (henna) with his feverish fingers into the shape of a rubbery, mushroomy myrrh. It’s also possible that it’s just myrrh.

Anyway, what I like about this perfume is that it transcends its raw materials to make you think about the way it is composed. The modern, near slavish adoration at the foot of complex-smelling naturals such as Hindi oud or rose or labdanum often results in muddy, brown-tinged accords that speak more to their own worthiness than to joy, especially in the indie sector. In Fallintostars, Christophe Laudamiel takes heavy hitters like Hindi oud and makes it smell like bottled fireflies. And that is alchemy, pure and simple.
Jun 24, 2020


melt my heart by Strangelove NYC

Melt My Heart, or meltmyheart, is inviting, warm, coy, and immediately expressive. It wears its heart on its sleeve, all billowing gusts of melting dark chocolate and buttery, bready orris, shouting eat me, eat me, eat me. It is so chocolatey at first that I want to laugh and eat my fingers at the same time. There is something very innocent about the way this smells; it’s so big!

The silvery bitterness of orris exerts a sobering influence on the chocolate but doesn’t truly hold its own until about five hours in, when I notice that the scent has turned from pure melted chocolate into a chocolate brown suede jacket. Towards the end, a hilariously greasy, coconutty sandalwood elbows its way onto the stage and proudly holds court there, combining with the chocolate to remind me, slightly queasily, of a mix between rancid butter and a stale Bounty Bar. It’s almost embarrassingly good.
Jun 24, 2020


silence the sea by Strangelove NYC

Silence The Sea, which is, oh Jesus, referred to as silencethesea on most sites, so let’s go with that, is an ambergris-based scent. I wish I’d been able to test this before writing my 2016 article on ambergris for Basenotes, because it would have immediately joined the ranks of the ambergris perfumes “to try before you die” I’d appended to it.

Although there are other notes or materials, to my nose, this smells as close to a pure ambergris tincture as it’s possible to get in niche perfumery. Ambergris can smell very differently from piece to piece, grade to grade, etc., but the ambergris in silencethesea smells like a deserted beach in winter. Specifically, it has a dry, oceanic smell, like the smell of stones and rocks left to dry in the sun after the tide has gone out. Dry salt, minerals, a general greyness, and the stony loneliness of inanimate objects on a beach with no people around to witness it.

Silencethesea smells completely organic to me, elemental, and a bit wild. It has the type of aroma that one finds utterly normal in nature but does not expect to find in a personal perfume, and thus, it feels shocking. It is raw and slightly intimate. There is no warmth to the aroma, apart from the vague funkiness inherent to ambergris that reminds us that this is a substance that originated in the intestine of an animal. Wearing it is like wearing no perfume at all, because it smells more like the cold air in one’s skin and hair after a long, solitary walk on a windswept beach than a perfume. This is not a perfume for community or cuddling or clubbing. It is for the pleasures of solitude.
Jun 24, 2020


dead of night by Strangelove NYC

Those with no experience of real oud oils might need a minute here to gird their loins, because this right here is the real stuff. None of the cheesy, soupy barnyard funk of real oud has been toned down or mitigated, so the initial onslaught is truly animalic.

But give it time to settle and the scent soon reveals a butter-soft rendition of leather that will have you crooning. What I appreciate in this fragrance is that it manages to be both dark and fresh at the same time, the watery greenness of violet leaf lifting the oud out of its brown gloom, aerating it a little, polishing it up for polite company.

There’s a smidge of rose and amber to soften the impact of the oud, but in general, this is not a sweet or floral fragrance. It employs an almost single-minded focus on exploring and bringing out the complexities of the oud, particularly its green, suede, and soft leather facets. Like all of the Strangelove NYC fragrances, it is linear, focusing on a simple exposition of top notch raw materials. I said once in a review of Tabac Aurea by Sonoma Scent Studio that the total effect was “as if the perfumer held a dried tobacco leaf up against the sunlight, slowly turned it around in her hands, and captured each of its changing colors and smells in one small bottle”, and that’s how I feel the materials have been treated here, for Strangelove NYC.
Jun 24, 2020


Voyage 2019 by Hiram Green

Despite the assertion that Voyage 2019 is a lighter, fresher, slightly more tropical take on the original, with lotus taking the place of suede, I find it to be neither fresh nor tropical. And it’s about as light as a brick. Although I’ve mislaid my decant of the original and my memories of it are entirely re-built from my review, I’d still say that the overall ‘feel’ of Voyage 2019 is quite different from the original, despite both being structured around a warm amber and vanilla base.

First off, there’s an exuberantly fruity (berried) bubblegum note up top, not present in the original, that reminds me of various BPAL and Arcana ‘red’ musk accords. After that, Voyage 2019 mostly heads straight for the comfort of a deliciously fudgy amber-vanilla accord common to both but skips over the overtly floral or aromatic ‘spiky’ notes from the original completely; as such, Voyage 2019 does not have the same contrast between citrusy-aromatic and vanilla-amber of the original.
The ‘lotus’ note is interesting to me, because rather than smelling particularly floral (think: crisp, fresh, botanical, juicy, etc.), it smells golden, honeyed, soft, powdery, and somewhat resinous. Dusted over the vanilla-amber accord, the lotus doesn’t give Voyage freshness or lightness but instead creates a medicinal ‘nag champa’ character.

Lotus flowers are revered in Buddhist and Hindi culture, because they are considered to be a direct route to spirituality, so the Indian nag champa reference seems appropriate. This smells like an Indian-style amber to me, with a doughy-powdery joss stick heart. In the far drydown, I’d swear to a bit of benzoin, its spicy ‘Communion wafer’ dustiness dovetailing with the powdery sweetness of the nag champa.

I like Voyage 2019 more than the original, mostly because it feels simpler and more direct – a big down comforter of Indian incense and amber to keep me going in winter. Its appeal is immediate and, despite smelling briefly exotic, devoid of the twisty-turny mysteriousness of the original that taxed my analytical bandwidth.

But I am also super impressed that Hiram was able to capture the more unfloral parts of lotus. Both the pink and white lotus varieties (from the true lotus family of Nelumbo nucifera) are ruinously expensive to produce, requiring 250,000 flowers to make just 1 kilogram of lotus concrete, which in turn yields only 250 grams of absolute after washing. I mention this to emphasize just how costly lotus absolute is, and how rarely seen on today’s market, especially outside of India itself (I have smelled a white lotus absolute but cannot attest as to its authenticity).

Because of its cost and doubts over authenticity, very few people outside attar makers and artisans working with small quantities of exquisite raw materials – like Hiram Green – will have smelled white or pink lotus absolute. You’ll probably hear talk about the lotus note in Voyage 2019 smelling aquatic, light, and crisp, because that’s what the definition on Fragrantica says. But a better source of information is Chris McMahon of White Lotus Aromatics. He describes pink lotus absolute as a “rich, sweet, floral, fruity-leathery aroma with a powdery-spicy undertone” and white lotus absolute as a “sweet, powdery, spicy, delicate floral bouquet with an animalic, dry fruity undertone”. Both those descriptions match up better with how the lotus comes across in Voyage 2019 – rich, sweet, powdery – than the Fragrantica description of aqueous or Hiram’s own description of it giving Voyage a “lighter and more tropical feel.” And honestly, I like Voyage 2019 better for how it actually smells (to me! disclaimer!) than how I’m told it’s supposed to smell.
Jun 24, 2020


The Black Knight by Francesca Bianchi

It took me a bit of time to understand this perfume, but after ten days straight of wearing the damn thing, I’m all in. Opening with a hoary ‘Old Man and the Sea’ vetiver that smells like a bunch of whiskey-sozzled men in damp tweed around an open fire in a cramped little Irish cottage beside the sea, it immediately establishes a tone of neglect and closed-up spaces. Slightly analogous to vintage Vetiver by Annick Goutal and Muschio di Quercia by Abdes Salaam al Attar, the vetiver here is denuded of all freshness and twisted into a grungy leather that smells more like something dug up from the bowels of the earth than grass. But for all its salt-encrusted, boozy ‘staleness’, I think The Black Knight succeeds for much the same reason that Patchouli 24 does, in that it balances out a smoky, barely civilized leather accord with a softening layer of something sweet and balmy, delivering both the sting of the whip and a soothing caress in one go.

The Black Knight swaps out the birch tar of the Le Labo for an interesting cuir accord built mostly (as far as I can tell) from that hulking vetiver and some of the bitter, meaty Cellier-esque, Isobutyl quinoline-infused leather that’s been popping up quite a bit recently (see Rose et Cuir). It takes some time to dry down into that softening layer of balmy beeswax – infinitely more balanced than the sweetness in Patchouli 24, which is more sugary and vanilla extract-like in character – so before we settle in for the final, long drawn-out waltz of leather and cream, there’s a surprising development or two.

Most notably, past the opening of dusty ‘grumpy old man’ vetiver, an animalistic accord emerges, pungent and sticky with honey, and almost honking with the freshly-urinated-upon-hay stink of narcissus. Bianchi’s treatment of orris is fascinating to me – she can make it high-toned and mineralic, or funky with the low-tide halitosis of ambergris or blow it out into a big, civety floral cloud. Here, the orris is briefly pungent, with disturbing hints of rubber, boot polish, tar, and urine. This pissy-rubbery stage almost never fails to surprise me – and I’ve been wearing these two samples for the past ten days straight. Don’t smell your skin too closely and you might miss it entirely.

The Black Knight seems to go on forever, dawdling in that balmy double act of creamed beeswax and ‘hard’ leather before eventually dropping all the sweetness, leaving only mineralic dust and the faint whiff of marshy runner’s sweat (a drydown it shares with Le Labo Patchouli 24). The Black Knight is a bolshy, mouthing-off-in-all-directions strop of scent that’s probably not the easiest thing for a total beginner to carry off. But it’s striking as hell, and never less than sexy.
Jun 24, 2020


Lost in Heaven by Francesca Bianchi

I can never tell if Lost in Heaven is a civety floral or a floral civet. There’s a brocaded sourness of honey, pale ale, and resin in the far drydown that gives it something to rest against. But mostly this is a bunch of dollhead-sweet flowers blown out into a diffuse cloud of satiny musks and underlined with something very, very unclean – like leaning in to kiss and girl and catching a suggestion of unwashed pillowcases, scalp, and skin that’s already been licked.

At first, Lost in Heaven reminds me very much of other vaguely retro indie floral civets (or civety florals), especially Maria Candida Gentile’s irisy Burlesque – a mini of which I bought for myself as a birthday present and am rapidly burning through – and Mardi Gras by Olympic Orchids. Then it strikes me that it’s not only the civet (or technically, the ambergris in the case of Lost in Heaven) that’s linking all these scents in my mind, but a certain indie treatment of the iris, or orris, that they all share. I’ve smelled it in Andy Tauer’s iris-centric work too, most notably in Lonesome Rider and his more recent Les Années 25, and it runs like a hot streak through Francesca Bianchi’s work.

The only way I can describe this specifically indie orris treatment is this: take a huge mineral-crusted rock from the beach, wipe it down quickly with a lemony disinfectant, stick it in a clear glass kiln and turn up the heat to 1370 degrees C until it vaporizes, filling the closed-in space with a glittering miasma of acid, mica, and lime-like tartness. I have a suspicion that a matchstick’s worth of Ambrox or Cetalox is the fuse that ignites the orris here, with castoreum creating that dusty, soot-like dryness that approaching freshly tanned leather or suede.

The end result is a rather sour and acid-tinged iris that smells like you’re smelling the material diffused in the air after a lab explosion rather than from anything growing in nature. Actually, to be fair – I’ve smelled this ‘hot lava stone’ treatment of orris in landmark Guerlains too, most notably in Attrape-Coeur (one of my all-time favorite scents), which layers a dollop of peach and raspberry jam over a bed of these hissing-hot iris rocks and watches for the chemical reaction. Fridge-cold jam against hot minerals, with a side of sweet, rubbery dollhead, all blown out into sour, almost boozy mist – well, what’s not to like, really?
Jun 24, 2020


I Am Trash : Les Fleurs du Déchet by Etat Libre d'Orange

Even before I received a sample of this, I loved the concept of the perfume - an entreaty to our better selves to find the beauty in the stuff we usually throw away or regard as waste. The scent ‘upcycles’ waste materials left over from the process of making a perfume; wood pulp, orange peel, and so on. It made sense to me that Givaudan, the Swiss flavor and aroma giant, would be involved, since the company has all the waste materials required. Ogilvy, one of the world’s biggest advertizing brands, was also on board, producing (I presume) the visually stunning video that accompanied the PR launch of the perfume.

Really, nothing in the marketing campaign for I Am Trash can be faulted: the video is compulsively watchable, with its rotting fruits and imploding vegetables, and the brand copy is peppered with gems such as this plea from Etienne de Swardt “So before it’s too late, let us (s)pray to the god of waste, our dear lord of leftovers”. Ha! He sounds like he might have kids.

It’s just that, how can I put this delicately, well, the perfume itself is nowhere near as interesting as its premise. The edgy reputation of Etat Libre d’Orange, the video, the brand copy – they all set you up for an experience that just ain’t delivered. I Am Trash smells exactly like those strawberry and apple-scented animal soaps The Body Shop used to sell in the 1980’s and 1990’s, stretched over a soapy Iso E Super base. And that’s all, folks. Nothing more to see here. The perfect fruity floral, perhaps, for the Tinder generation, entirely used to not getting exactly what’s been advertized.
Jun 24, 2020


But Not Today by Unum

But Not Today by UNUM is, as you’d expect from Filippo Sorcinelli, pretty much all high concept. The man can’t launch a perfume without immersing his audience in a full body experience involving dimmed lights, a concert, an art installation, and a little light whipping/bondage (I’m joking about the last part. I think). Usually, in copywriting, my experience has been the higher-fallutin’ the concept, the emptier the perfume experience, but I’ll give UNUM this: they follow through.

The inspiration for But Not Today is surprisingly pop culture in origin: The Silence of the Lambs movie. I am a huge Hannibal Lecter fan, and especially of the newer Hannibal series on NBC featuring my secret husband, Mads Mikkelsen, so to say I was hooked on the premise well in advance of smelling it is an understatement. Anything Hannibal-related is rich in olfactory and culinary references, an untrammeled joy for fragrance aficionados. There are numerous references to perfume in Hannibal (Jar, for example), but the direct inspiration for But Not Today comes from a pivotal scene in The Silence of the Lambs, when Hannibal is demonstrating his preternatural powers of observation to Clarice Starling in their first meeting. He smells the air around her and tells her, in that sibilant, sinister softness of voice, “You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”.

But Not Today smells startling. It is wholly original, and therefore difficult to describe. You end up mashing together two separate narratives: it smells metallic and bloody (because Hannibal) but also spicy and carnationy (because L’Air du Temps). Yet I’m not sure it captures the entire scope of the perfume.

But Not Today doesn’t smell entirely pleasant. Imagine, if you will, Hannibal marinating steaks taken from the inner thigh of one of his victims in pepper, bay leaf, oregano, and a range of exotic, dried esoterica from his spice rack. The kitchen is ripe with the milky-meaty decay of lilies, but there is also the unmistakably metallic, watery scent of blood running off the steak as the spices in the marinade wick moisture to the surface. You can smell the hot metal of the carving knife, the cheesy taint of indolic flowers, raw meat, and blood, but also, strangely, a waft of savory fruit, like kumquats preserved in salt. Someone like Hannibal would have preserved kumquats in his kitchen. It is a strange smell, both intensely perfumey and intensely not – more working kitchen than perfume.

But Not Today evolves into a castoreum leather that mines the same dusty-wet thematic vein as Vierges et Toreros by Etat Libre d’Orange. Vierges et Toreros is one of those rare perfumes that give me a clear vision of a scene every time I smell it. The second I inhale, I am a gladiator in Rome, slain by a sudden jab of the sword to my side, and as I breathe my last breath into the red-brown dust, I am intensely aware of the smells around me: my own blood – warm and metallic – the dust, the cracked leather hide of my scabbard, sweat, and the sickly sweetness of white flowers on the turn. Truly an unpleasant, jolting experience. But imaginative. Original.

Carnation does much to boost the dustiness quotient of any perfume, but joining it to the overblown, green wetness of lily pushes the stomach-churning to the next level. In the drydown of But Not Today, the castoreum additionally throws in a tobacco-ish or chocolate tonality that highlights the soft, dusty matte texture of the leather. I’m not sure what’s creating the very strong scent of aromatic soap, though. Maybe it’s Hannibal himself, his freshly-shaven face suddenly too close for comfort, or the lingering whiff of Will’s Old Spice.

I wouldn’t wear But Not Today any more than I’d wear Vierges et Toreros. But I admit that it is a thoroughly unusual, artistic fragrance that pushes the boat out even further than the lines suggested by the concept itself. This is a good example of a perfume, therefore, that over-delivers on a concept.
Jun 24, 2020


Vetiverissimo by Bruno Fazzolari

Vetiverissimo by Bruno Fazzolari is a perfume sample that came to me with absolutely no background, no concept, and no notes. Apparently, Fazzolari just wanted to see if he could create a nice vetiver perfume for himself to wear. That’s really cool, and I imagine that Bruno Fazzolari is laid back enough as an artist and perfumer to just let his work speak for itself.

As it turns out, when I smelled Vetiverissimo, I got some references that helped me to ‘define’ what Vetiverissimo is. For example, even before I knew what the official notes were, I was able to say that it smelled very Indian to me, full of those yellow, dusty Indian spices like saffron and turmeric that smell more like the earth than of fire. In fact, the perfume smelled very much like the mitti attars (and some ruh khus) that I have collected in the course of writing my Attar Guide (which will be published posthumously, at this rate).

I’ve seen some initial feedback suggesting that people think Vetiverissimo is very simple and straightforward, an impression also given by Fazzolari himself. Other say it smells like Route du Vetiver, a very butch, rooty vetiver that smells like man sweat to me. For what it’s worth, I think it’s got more going on than its laid back, zero-concept brand note would suggest. It’s a subtly-spiced, turmeric-laden vetiver that smells like the red earth of India before the rains begin, given a pale, cloudy woodiness by a superb sandalwood. Simple, yes, but in the nuanced way sandalwood or mitti oils are, with their series of little movements plotted along a line as opposed to the dramatic, balletic leaps of stormy oud oils, or the rutting rudeness of jasmine.
Jun 24, 2020

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