Lui by Mazzolari

Mazzolari Lui does not have the complexity or unisexiness I was looking for when I ordered my sample, seeing as it promised so many of my choice poisons, patchouli, flowers, Woods, and so forth. The reviews here on BN, from people whose taste I trust, echoed my expectations, so maybe my mediocre evaluation of it is partly due to frustrated, or at least confused, expectations. Because, what I get from Lui, is almost all leather - dirty leather (nothing wrong with that) with a large-molecule mammalian type musk (ditto) that reminds me of well worn saddles, var. sweaty, literally rode hard and put away wet, as the ranch hands and oil field workers from our old Brownsville-area ranch used to say, damp from the sweat of two mammals, including some of the crotch of one, most masculine.

The notes pyramid therefore bemuses me. Citrus? Where? And where is the patchouli hiding? This has happened to me before, with another perfume that wore its tarry leatherness proudly on its belt buckle, Tauer's Lonesome Rider, another perfume that advertised a similar mix of florals, and woods, and served me manly leather instead, so mind that if you are reading this, as it could be a blind spot in my olfactory perception. And, as with Lonesome Rider, I want to smell those other ingredients, so I came to this perfume with all the best intentions. I can handle a butch leather, but this is too grizzled for me, I suppose, to get past its initial impression.

There are two other things I do smell: something like powder, and a hint of something plastic**** that I find across the spectrum of Mazzolari's perfumes, both maybe there to help improve performance. Lui does not project especially hard, but it sticks to skin quite well, a solid ten hours at least without aggressive application. It doesn't do much, to my nose, over that much time, and I guess, I just find what it does do, to be grim, devoid of any debonair or other manly charms. I also find it boring. If I could find its promised complexity, I would be more charitable, but Lui just does not get out of the gate for me. However, if crotchy manly kind of saddlesque leather is what you want, or if you must compulsively smell everything “dirty,” then don't let my reservations stop you. I am not always right, and I have only tested this perfume once, using a dabber sample–which might be suffocating the ingredients I want to smell, in here. I plan on giving it another test, maybe on my boyfriend on a night out, when I might be more favorably inclined in general, and also experiencing it closer to its intended use, as I think this is probably supposed to be a masculine snuggler.

I'm not giving Lui less than a thumbs up simply because it is too masculine for my taste, there is enough of that kind of thing here on Basenotes with presumably male reviewers downgrading obviously feminine scents for simply being what they are, and I see no point in writing reviews that would be useless to our obviously, largely, masculine membership and audience. I can just think of a dozen better masculine or unisex leathers, most at better price points, too. Or, if just you want a perversely yummy masculine stink bomb, buy Kouros or Yatagan.

So, two stars, I guess, and a wavering sideways thumb.


**** still a hell of a lot better than a huge woody amber, so I won't detract from my overall evaluation
Aug 27, 2021

Elixir des Merveilles by Hermès

I notice that professional perfume critics, have some tendency to beat up on and even ridicule, a little, Elixir des Merveilles, a perfume I love so much that, should I somehow lose my collection, it should be one of the first perfumes I would replace. Luca Turin suggests that it is prim bourgeois chypre in disguise, and our own Claire V compares it to Kim Kardashian's physical disproportions (must we body shame? Even if our comments aim at the shameless?). I think it is one of the most appealing perfumes in the modern canon, a classic that stands alongside its ancestor, Eau des Merveilles, and perhaps it is so easy to like that its obvious desire to please is too much for some people's tastes. But this review is not a speculation, as to why some people might dislike it. I hope I can explain why I do, and also why other people do, and why someone who has not smelled it should have it on their test list, at least, before fall comes, as it shines in autism like few other perfumes.

I also notice, with more that a bit of irony, that many people seem put off by Elixir des Merveilles' lush character, as these are often the same people who complain about JC Ellena's minimalist tendencies. Ellena has not always been the watercolorist perfumer who limits himself to a total palette of something like 30 ingredients, with which to create his entire ouvre. His early efforts, Eau de Campagne and Van Cleef and Arpels' First, are, if anything, maximalist creations stuffed with accords within accords within accords, the nes plus ultras of their respective genres, as the former is the greenest of all the greens, a Mediterranean garden complete with tomato plants, and the latter the grandest of amber-civetesque jasmine florals, a grand ballroom chandelier of endless crystals lit with tiers candles.

Ellena did not, exactly, return to this style of perfumery with Elixir, as its construction is much more legible, in part, likely, as it is made of neatly trimmed captive molecules with few if any sloppy natural edges. Yet, it has an incandescent warmth, as lit from within, as well as a cheerful and brusque afternoon freshness. It has a sweet orange zest accord, full of the sunshine that citrus somehow captures are no other tree fruits can, the scent of which feels like sunbeams streaking through a window, a wonderful opening that would make a great perfume in itself, as it lasts for hours without wearing its welcome out.

Being a chypre, Elixir also has purring mid-toned resins, the necessary cantilevers that separate a chypre's citrus ceiling from its dense and slow-evaporating base ingredients. I do not smell much if at all earthy labdanum, but I do pick up benzoin. However, most of the resin seems to come from the scent of orange zest, which somehow makes itself felt within the orange accord. Somehow Ellena got a little bit of the bitterness of the inside of the orange's peel into this accord. It is such wizardry, that I am willing to squash my usual martinet tendencies, regarding perfume categories. This is a modern chypre, made after IFRA took away our oakmoss, and it uses the base ingredient that most perfumers turned to in the mid/late 00s as they tried to rescue the genre. And besides, it somehow has the quality of mineral saline, something I smell in oakmoss, and also refers to the original Eau des Merveilles, one of the best olfactory meditations on salt ever created.

So, Ellena uses patchouli, and it is such an excellent patchouli accord that it covers all the bases of this versatile material, from its icy aromatic menthol to its spicy red hot cinnamon to its opulent yet dehydrated cocoa dust. It is rich, complex, and delectable, and combined with the equally complicated orange ingredients, the perfume comes together to reference some of the heights of confectionary art–dark chocolate with orange zest, and those thin strawlike orange candy sticks coated in chocolate that used to be served at high-end restaurants in my childhood. The combination is classic, a marvelous referent, to the Christmas tradition of chocolate oranges and expensive imported chocolate bars sprinkled with Sel de Mer or Maldon salt. Ellena, then Hermes' gnomic minimalist mandarin, found the humor within a notoriously humorless genre of perfume, and created a gourmand as distinctive as any I have ever smelled.

Its orange is too bitter, and its patchouli too authentically dirty, that its edible qualities seem improbable, but they are undeniable. I understand why this perfume could make anyone smile,or even laugh, as oranges and chocolate are the stuff of which pure gustatory and olfactory happiness is made of. But I love wearing it, it acts as one of my most reliable antidepressants, and also a soothing and cozy bedtime companion, as well. It somehow never gets old, for me, and every occasion I wear it, I wonder why I don't wear it more often (and I do wear it often enough). It is the most exuberant of Hermes' perfume lineup–even more so than the wonderful ambers Ellena also made for the house–and one of the few that, despite the house's mission statement for only daytime perfumes, wears wonderfully for evening and even going out clubbing, inspiring the occasional nibble on the neck from my boyfriend.

I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Elixir des Merveilles should be on any neophyte's test list for autumn. It has a beautiful balance of warm daytime freshness and cool evening richness, with a crisp textural quality that mimics the season's air, leaves, and fruit. Its happy orange bottle even resembles a pumpkin, so even its decorative qualities suit the season. I have been wearing this perfume since one of my favourite SAs obtained for me a sample a few months before its official launch, as she knows I have a weakness for patchouli Orientals, and an obsession with chypres. I feel like it is still a mystery, year after year, and it lifts my mood with the same consistency as our first cool evenings, the first day my scarves and sweaters are unpacked. It makes me senile, but I laugh with it, not at it. It is serious perfumery but not somber or dull-making.

Elixir des Merveilles performs excellently, no doubt due to whatever crispy musk materials Ellena uses to give it its glassy lamplike qualities, along with low-volatility patchouli in the base. Expect much more projection and longevity than most of Hermes' modern perfumes, and consider it for evening if you are going somewhere that you would like to smell attractive from a distance. I believe it is marketed to women, but we all wear citrus and patchouli, so unless you just hate sweater Oriental style compositions, you'll likely enjoy this. It adds variety to my usual autumnal Ambercentric lineup, and I wear it through the colder months and even sometimes in the warmer, as its citrus is sufficiently fresh. It is an extraordinary value on the Grey market, and I believe it is generally–at least by amateur perfume enthusiasts–justifiably considered a classic. I believe it deserves five stars, for its inventive timeless clever cross-genreation, and two spice-lacquered thumbs up. Really, go try it. eBay sellers always have adorable minis that come with cute little leather strings, should you wish to hang your little orange orb around a turtleneck sweater, or some seasonal decoration. And please try its mother perfume, Eau des Merveilles, if you haven't–another scent about which I will gush unashamedly, another evening soon.

Aug 26, 2021

Habanita l'Esprit by Molinard

Quite a success, actually. Sometimes the atomic tobacco-spice-amber-boudoir-powder bomb that is Habanita is too much in summer, and that is where L'Esprit comes in. Too often, these lightened takes on classics are disappointments or stray a little too far away from the classic accord, but not this one. It's like Habanita but transparent, and freshened, with just a sneaky little hit of modern musk to hold the spice and tobacco accord together.

Definitely worth a purchase if you love the original, and either don't like it in summer/daytime/office, or find it a little too vintage for your personal style. This somehow splits the difference, and does justice to the grand diva that Molinard has kept in production for about a century–one of the few perfumes that can give Lady Shalimar a run for her money, in both their original forms and lightened flankers. Very nice work. Four stars from me, and two tastefully rose gold flecked thumbs up.
Aug 26, 2021

Une Voix Noire by Serge Lutens

There are so many contenders now, for the Greatest Gardenia Ever Made, that Une Voix Noire belongs on the shortlist, for sure, but I don't know if it is a finalist–in part, like JARdenia, because of its price and availability, especially considering that the house of Estée Lauder's gorgeous Tuberose Gardenia knocks so many out of the park for value-to-Money-to-realism. Also, I am not sure that it even wants to be simply a Gardenia soliflore–it is more than that, a portrait impression of the iconic Billie Holliday, her voice, her visual presence, her cultural significance, as much of one of the enduring figures of the 20th century as can be captured using all the resources of the olfactive arts.

I don't want to say to what degree I think they succeed in their endeavor to capture Billie Holliday. I just want to stick to the perfume, as a complex accord that includes Gardenia, a flower that inspires unusual passion in its perfume devotees. Being me, I want to break these things down, into simple, and quantifiable, categories, to at least get my bearings, when I try to compare one perfume to another, if I am trying to determine which is somehow, “objectively” better–and to include an extra category, in my assessment, for my own perspective, a necessarily subjective category included with the others. That way, no matter to whom I give my account, or assessment, or evaluation, or rating, I can explain why I decide how to rank a perfume, next to others. I don't really like ratings, grades, numbers, Stars, whatever–but people who read ratings like them, if for no other reason, so they can decide if my general taste aligns with theirs, and also so I can offer some account, of how I decide if a perfume is good, mediocre, or bad. I want my reviews to be useful, and to that end, I want people who read the reviews to understand that I try to be systematic.

Disclaimer almost over, and almost back to Un Voix Noire. I think my usual five star system still applies when I rate these perfumes–quality (of ingredients, of the accord's construction, and other quality-related aspects of the perfume, that I explain in the user review, sometimes including cost), originality, wearability, performance, and whether I actually like the perfume. Quality is always the broadest category (read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, if you want to learn what type of maze the idea of quality can take someone into), and when it comes to Gardenia perfumes, I suppose, this is where I will include the perfume's resemblance to real live Gardenias. Now, disclaimer really over, and back to Une Voix Noire.

I would expect nothing less than excellence from Chris Sheldrake and Serge Lutens' Imperial Phase, the grand perfumes that Lutens found worthy of bell jar presentation, and Une Voix Noire is certainly that. What it is not, strictly speaking, is pure Gardenia, as the marketing notes show. Lutens says it comprises “strawberry, jasmine, gardenia, rum, Iris, Rose, tobacco, vanilla [and] Amber.” Its gardenia accord dominates, but it is not the whole story.

It opens with a hissy hairspray rose, indicating the presence of some aldehydes, yet the perfume does not have a particularly fizzy quality. I think, the aldehydes are mostly present, to preserve a sense of note separation, among the perfume's different accords. The notes are accurate–the perfume has a rich and ripe strawberry that smells more like a complete Daiquiri than a fruit (and hence the rum, I suspect), plus Gardenia with sweet plump jasmine (and uncredited tuberose), plus a woozy Amber-vanilla and a soft hint of tobacco on the

So the perfume's Gardenia is a component, an imporession, rather than the perfume's whole story, and I don't think the perfume deserves to be rated solely on the realism of this one single accord. Gardenias have a certain savoury tone, that isn't here, but this perfume is more about its complete impression of opulence, of the experience of listening to music with company and drinks, and maybe the ghost of an iconic singer, than presenting a naturalistic fragrance. This perfume is neither a soliflore nor a bouquet–its fat, sweet, fruity, boozy base lands it instead in the realm of floral orientalis, not surprising in the least, as Lutens is most at home on Oriental turf.

Une Voix Noire doesn't have the elegance and cleverness of Sarrasins, nor the simplicity of Lutens' Fleurs series. It is busier, more in the realm of Musc Kublai Khan, than Lutens' more straightforward florals. And its drydown steers closer to a fruity-floral vanilla, albeit a very opulent one. The quality of ingredients is excellent, the composition is interesting, and it is obviously a meticulously considered creation from two masters of perfume art. If you like big white florals with vanilla bases, you might love it. I find its middle and end stages just a little too sweet for my personal tastes–and I can take a lot of sweetness, depending on what else is happening in the perfume. Here, a little more earthy tannin, a little more tobacco, might have added some bitterness to balance the perfume's headiness. Or even some animalic filth.

I love a grand floral, but lately, I am finding many from houses like Xerjoff that are so powerful and so bolstered with synthetic sweetness that I can't really evaluate them–I have to scrub them off before they give me headaches. Une Voix Noire's sweetness likely comes mostly from excellent naturals, plus perhaps just a pinpoint of ethyl, so it doesn't have the same piercing sharpness–but it is still confectionary-sweet, the kind of perfume that makes my teeth ache a little. This affects my assessment of its wearability, but, as I should have more clearly stated at the beginning of this review, all the categories I use to evaluate a perfume are, to some degree, subjective. I couldn't wear this every day, but I know people who could.

Performance is solid, about seven or eight hours, with a soft parfum-strength volatility that provides more sillage than projection. I think this is a relatively formal perfume, made for bare shoulders and evening gowns, unless you live in a culture where Carnal Flower is applied with abandon–in which case, go for it. This is not an easy perfume to get, nor is it cheap, but Lutens completists need to try it, and so do Gardenia lovers. Just because it does not suit my personal needs does not mean it won't meet yours.

Just a little more darkness in the composition would have made it perfect for this reviewer. As it is, it's a solid four stars, with two classic red-lacquered thumbs up.
Aug 26, 2021

Champs Lunaires by Rogue Perfumery

Another one from Rogue knocked straight out of the park–Champs Lunaires is everything I want from a Big White Floral, summery, tropical, luscious, luminous, luxurious, languid, unashamedly itself. I loathe how some tuberose perfumes seem to try and hide their star ingredient under a layer of sugar, as tuberose has enough happening in it anyway, and it will always smell like tuberose, no matter what else is done to it. Those sweetened tuberoses feel *de trop*–like a hat on a hat, as tuberose is already quite sweet, albeit not in a sugary way, but more like honey, the sweetness of green things, and some overripe fruits, rather than the flat out crunch of cane sugar or, shudder, corn syrup.

The coconut in this composition is not aggressive, should that be a problem for potential testers of this perfume. I don't mind significantly more coconutty white florals than this one, but some people hate it, and here it is almost undetectable as coconut per se, as instead it had more of a presence, smoothing the tendency of some tuberoses to screech in their high register. This element keeps the florals in a pleasant, almost mellow contralto range.

Within this, I can smell the complexity of what must be very nice raw tuberose materials. I rarely smell the mintiness I always catch from real live tuberose, but it is on show here, adding to the pleasant cocktail-like accord along with the mint. I believe I also smell an almost orange-ambery tinted jasmine incense that reminds me more than a little of two of my absolutely favorite perfumes, Bal a Versailles and Le Maroc pour Elle.

The perfume has a lovely cushiony softness around its edges that becomes more evident as it dries down. This sets it apart from two other modern tuberose creations that I believe are considered the gold standard Queens of tuberose, Carnal Flower and Beyond Love–both great perfumes but, compared with Champs Lunaires, unnecessarily powerful and hard to find good reasons to wear, also both with with very intense base ingredients that seem to bounce off the skin rather than sink in. Champs Lunaires' base is a simple, soapy, slightly sandalwoodesque accord, less complex than some of Rogue's showy bases, although appropriately simple for this perfume's overall balance of rich versus light–the baroque intensity of the florals speak for themselves, but sotto voce. Luca Turin says that chic and luxury are, basically, mutually exclusive, but this perfume proved otherwise, in my opinion.

I don't really see this as a strictly seasonal, floral despite its obvious tropical-summery points of reference. As Wingie notes, it is incredibly wearable and would work as a daytime perfume for all but the absolutely strictest professional settings. Its performance is about 6 to 8 hours on skin, perhaps longer with more aggressive application, but I am being miserly with my sample, so I am wearing it to work, at dosage appropriate for my office, where scent is allowed but obviously not distracting ones. I have only been wearing it for a few weeks this summer, and I think I would love its bottled sun rays on an otherwise chilly day. It is on my purchase list for fall. Two deep coral thumbs up, and 4 glossy yet soft focus stars.

Aug 24, 2021

Teint de Neige by Lorenzo Villoresi

Teint de Neige is, so I have read and heard, Lorenzo Villoresi's best selling fragrance, far and away. I also believe it is responsible for the existence of an entire genre of niche perfumery, the powdery heliotrope-rose musk. Such things have existed before, but not in such elevated form, with high quality ingredients, in three formulations including an ultra luxe oil based parfum strength, and bath and even hair care products to match. It is clearly a moneymaker for the house, and I support their decision to support and exploit its success.

Teint de Neige belongs to a larger class of Boudoir perfumery, not a formal classification, perhaps, but certainly a group of knowing-it-when-you-smell-it kinds of scents that are largely characterized by a sense of privacy and intimacy, of the scent of the boudoir as a place of both solitude and companionship, of serene solitude and sultry seduction, the dresser and the bed, nightwear being for show or for solitary pleasure and comfort.

An example of textbook boudoir fragrance is the inimitable Shalimar, which I think works beautifully for bed alone or with company, and for other occasions besides, with its famous accord including references to the most intimate anatomical regions of M. Guerlain's mistress–insinuating, yes, but also comforting, in its creamy vanilla-lemon custard and meditative incense. As with much modern niche perfumery, Teint de Neige borrows from the classics, taking only one accord from perfumes like Shalimar–their rich, powdery bases, a scent with associations that divide my memories evenly between childhood bedtime and early experimentation with my grandmother's vanity table, which always had a box of Coty Airspun powder (which I still use, and many beauty bloggers agree that its classic status is well deserved). Airspun famously smells like Coty's L'Origan, the “inspiration” for L'Heure Bleue–the other great Guerlain powder bomb from around the same era as Shalimar, and another perfume that wears beautifully at bedtime, carrying as it does the sweet melancholy of iris and heliotrope.

Niche perfumery, as I was saying, often borrows a little of this, a little of that, from classic vintage accords, often leaving out their most distinctive but also most obviously vintage references. Teint de Neige does not smell obviously modern in any obvious way, at least not because of what it smells like, but rather for what it leaves out. There are no powerful or indolic florals, no sweet amber, and no pungent spice or raunchy civet. It has an emphatic sense of cleanliness that its vintage congeners would never contain, and that is why I think modern women like it, despite their general fear of aggressively powdery scents.

Teint de Neige is unsophisticated in its celebration of what can only be described as billows and billows of fluffy whiteness. Heliotrope adds almond and cherry to its scent, just enough sweetness that it pulls a little towards the world of cherry-inflected fruitchoulis like Le Petit Robe Noir, without being in any sense a gourmand perfume. The images it flashes include Degas ballerinas and yards of tulle, plush white unicorn toys and pale macarons. It is the scent of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, a pastel confection of a movie with a modern New Wave soundtrack.

I shamelessly adore these perfumes. Teint de Neige was my first but it is not my only–I have quite a few of these fragrances now, in part, initially, to save my expensive Teint de Neige, and then, later, because I like variety in my bedtime scents. I am certain that it can be worn during the day, as I sometimes do when I need an extra layer of comfort for times when I feel fragile, but I prefer it for night–not evening–just before bed, and I sometimes use it to spritz the vacuum's HEPA filter before I do the Hoovering, as its scent fills the house with the same sense of domestic bliss conveyed by clean white sheets, down feather pillows (asthma be damned), and a good night's sleep.

It is not a complicated perfume, and therein lies its genius. I own the EDP formula, but I have tried them all, and they all work the same for my needs. I long for the luxe parfum–someday, I will spring for some, or at least for the body care products, because how marvelous would it be to shower and moisturize after doused in this beautiful scent, and feel like it has completely suffused one's entire being, even unto adding its inimitable pearly lustre to one's metaphysical aura, should such a thing exist? Teint de Neige makes me feel, a little, that maybe it can, just like it makes me feel like I did as a little girl, wishing Tinker Bell back to life, and graceful white horselike creatures with wings or horns to exist, out there, somewhere. I'm not ashamed to admit I love this stuff, as much as I love my vintage divas and edgy modern scents–they occupy different places in my life, and so I hope Teint de Neige or one of its powdery and ever growing family can for any lover of scent. We should all have at least one of these (and thus I can never forgive Van Cleef for taking away an excellent, more stereotypically masculine take on this idea–but that is for another review, and I will get to it).

Performance is excellent–this is mostly base materials, big musk molecules with very slow evolution and low volatility. I get 13 hours or more from an evening's application, waking up with my sheets and nightwear well scented. I can't give it 5 stars, although it is a classic, as Teint de Neige doesn't do anything terribly original or complicated. It is just the best at what it does, and that is enough for me. So, four pearly-blue-pink stars, and two matching pearlized thumbs up. See you in the morning ....
Aug 24, 2021

Vanille Blackberry by Comptoir Sud Pacifique

I read somewhere, I don't remember where now, that Luca Turin told the owner of a perfume shop that specializes in niche perfumes, somewhere in the UK (I believe), that they should really get rid of their selection of Comptoir Sud Pacifique fragrances, and not carry them any more. It was a credible source, I remember that, so–I want to ask Mr Turin, if only he would answer me, what exactly kind of fuckery that is supposed to be. Is it a personal vendetta? Does he not like the perfumes themselves? Mr Turin is generally an advocate for perfumes that are not overpriced, and he often argues for the virtues of straightforward and unpretentious scents? He also likes, as I do, what he sometimes calls “downmarket” French perfumes, and also mid-market houses like Rochas, who I think occupy a similar space to CSP, in the mainstream world, as it holds in the niche universe.

So far as I know, Comptoir Sud Pacific is historically (since the 1970s, I believe) one of the original niche perfume houses, with an unswerving sense of its aesthetic concepts–a slightly fanciful, but not actually wrong, presentation of perfumes that represent the fragrances of the South Pacific Islands and their environs, with a special emphasis on vanilla and flowers like tiare. Surely, this is niche, more so than some of the high-end houses of more recent establishment and less clarity of focus. It is not expensive, or haute parfumerie, niche, but the house has been consistent, a cornerstone of lighthearted, vacation-worthy, fun, uncomplicated perfumes, appropriate across quite a range of age and gender barriers. It is a house that deserves championing, and it also makes my absolutely favorite tiare fragrance of all time, which I have been wearing enthusiastically, sometimes even exclusively, since a college trip to Paris, decades ago.

But what most people know about CSP is that they do great vanilla gourmands, and this is one of them. It is has jammy-sweet blackberry accord, woven into the early stages of the peefume's recognizable and distinctive, classic clean musky vanilla accord, that the house consistently uses in most of its perfumes. The vanilla has a little throaty ylang, some hints of distinctly Tahitian floral vanilla beans, and a very subtle toasty accord suggesting just the hint of a pastry crust.

It also has a soft quality that dodges modern vanilla's plasticky artifice in favor of an almost powdery diffuseness, possibly from the perfume's musk base. Altogether, the composition smells, in fact, quite like a classic English trifle–a little more booze, a touch of almond perhaps, and more aggressive musk might have resulted in Montale or Mancera Vanilla Blackberry Trifle Aoud Musk, and just that notion, and the restraint it took the creators of Vanille Blackberry to dial back any hints of such a thing, demonstrates the good and sensible taste, and clarity of vision, of this solid little house. The final accord, in its minimal but still interesting development, lands on a floral vanilla with a blackberry bramble accord, as much outdoors as bakery, and does not smell cheap or disappear from skin in half an hour. It's lovely, really, and not too sweet.

I admit that I had hoped for a little more tartness and less purple jam when I first heard of this scent, which is relatively new in the CSP lineup. But I like it. I have almost drained my subscription service decant, mostly on nights when I want something comforting for bedtime, and occasionally in daytime across all seasons–vanilla gourmand for cold, but fruity vanilla for warm–and it is smart and tidy, an uncommon quality in gourmand scents, making it excellent for office wear as well as its more obvious casual purposes. I realize that I have nothing that even remotely fills its place, and not only will I replace it–I think I shall be buying a full bottle, if I can find a good deal. If not, a perpetually full decant seems necessary, and a promotion from the “sample” shelf, to the permanent collection.

I fear that I, and we, might take this house for granted, or even find it objectionable, for reasons, that are not very good ones. I am obviously not the final authority on the definition of niche perfumery, versus whatever Mr Turin allegedly thinks it is, as this anecdote implies he sees no place for it in a retail shop that only sells niche. (I should add here that I feel less than comfortable about scolding Mr Turin in print, on the basis of a secondhand story, and I genuinely hope to be corrected on this point, but I think Chandler Burr might have been the source, in the Emporer of Scent, and he is reliable). I think it is actually the dictionary definition of niche perfumery, as it used to be, back in the days of the Perfumer's Workshop, the early days of Diptyche, and L'Artisan parfumeur, a player since the garagiste days of what is now chic big business. Comptoir Sud Pacifique has never to my knowledge tried fo produce a higher priced second line, nor any other such expensive silliness that could alienate its core audience: young people, perfume lovers who do not have 500 dollars to spend on perfume. and people who just like vanilla and gourmands. The house also has some really interesting woods and curiousities like Aqua Motu–good things, the like of which do not exist on the market, especially not so comprehensively as they do in this house. I also like to think it is an excellent commodity level moneymaker for the retailers who do sell it, and I support the perfumeries who stick to their guns and sell it. Nobody, especially us feckless scribbling types who opine about perfume on the Internet, should dictate retailers' decisions, at least in negative terms, as hopefully they will listen to us when we ask for new things.

I feel more than a little annoyed that I had to write so much defensive prose just to get a review written about a perfume that I have repeatedly emphasized is simple, not fussy, not sophisticated, and refreshingly free of marketing and packaging nonsense. I hope my taste in and for expensive and sophisticated perfumes is sufficiently established now that I can just lay this out in the simplest terms possible–It just smells good, comforting, and well executed enough that, after a decant, I am still finding things to smell.

I hope this review, which is too long I know, takes its readers back to some scent or scents they know, and appreciate, from this house, or encourages anyone on the fence about a CSP to look into its lineup and experience some of them for themselves. There is more here than you might think, and we as niche lovers must guard ourselves against the snobbery that sometimes leaks into our passions, as it might deprive us of exactly the kind of non-mainstream perfume pleasures that we all seek. For all the endless novelties offered to us on the niche market, most of which lead to frustration and disappointment, a visit with a long-established house is often just the path to restoring one's faith, enjoyment, and of course sensual pleasure, in perfume, when the palate is fatigued, curiosity burned out, and senses are dulled. There is a reason this house has lasted so long, and I think the perfumes speak for themselves.

After all this verbiage, I am unsure as to how to assign a star rating to the perfume. Performance is good, a solid 10 hours or so on skin with traces lasting on fabric for several hours longer. Its pretty, brambly drydown, and its transition from gooey trifle to just a hint of tart sophistication elevates it from just another gourmand, however interesting, to a real perfume, with a true and lasting blackberry accord–not an easy accomplishment, so far as I know. Vanille Blackberey gets four out of five stars from me, because it suits me particularly well, but I could see a more objective three stars from most people, if they used my criteria of one star each for originality, quality, performance, wearability, and whether or not I actually like the scent–one star each, with perhaps some extra credit for simply appealing to me in some deep inexplicable way.

And two deep, blackberry tinged thumbs up .

I also hope that Sarah McCartney someday gets around to doing something like a traditional trifle in perfume form. If anyone has the goods to pull off such a thing, it is her, and I want to smell it.
Aug 24, 2021

Jasmin Kâma by Rania J

Jasmin Kama is exactly what I expected it to be, yet it is also a fun surprise. The part that met my expectations is its jasmine floriental composition, lightly indolic, with a touch of honey, structured with a bergamot opening and a lightly powdered heliotrope, ambient take on a whisper-light Amber Floriental style base.

What differentiates Jasmin Kama from its many, many, many ilk, is the treatment of the jasmine itself. It is fizzy, but not like a carbonated aldehyde fizz. It seemed aerated, maybe even ozonic, without any of the plastic or chemical off scents that sometimes accompany ozonically treated scents. (In this way, it feels related to White Fire, although White Fire is all air and clean jasmine–no indoles, or any of the rest of Jasmin Kama's complex supporting harmony). It almost smells like petrichor, if pertrichor smelled like jasmine as well as fresh oxygen and incipient rain. The effect is startling, refreshing, and lasts much through the life of the perfume (6-8 hours before it's just pale amber base)–such a nice change from the usual jasmine/white floral bludgeoners niche houses feel like they must turn out, else their lineup will otherwise be somehow incomplete.

The accord itself is not novel, but the treatment is, and it demonstrates that someone actually thought about how to do something different with a bog-standard jasmine, and, they gave it enough consideration to ensure that it would still smell appealing to anyone looking for a pretty, twirly, feminine jasmine, but also signal to perfume geeks that this wasn't the same sort of afterthought as most crowd-pleasing niche floral orientalals.

This kind of attention to detail reminds me of
the excellent Jasmins Marzipan, that Dominique Ropion did for Lancome. That perfume could have been a paint-by-Numbers affair, and, instead, he made a delicately constricted olfactory box of curiosities, with false lids, hidden compartments, and perpetually varying enchantments cast by a benign wizard with a sense of humor who wants the wearer to experience true perfume

Jasmine Kama is not nearly as complicated, but it still plays with your expectations–you brace yourself to be choked out and bored to death by a gigantic wallop of jasmine, and instead it feels like someone someone has just opened a window with a delightful whoosh of seaside-saline fresh air, laced with spicy jasmine but not overdosed with it–an excellent practical choice as well, since powerful florientals are not as acceptable in polite company as they once were. Jasmin Kama isn't too dense for everyday wear, yet it is not compromised or camouflaged by sweetness or chemical musk. It just smells
smells lovely and manages to do something different with one of the most predictable accords in perfumery.

I need to do more investigation into Rania J, as I remember some of these perfumes had a big marketing push a few years ago, and I also
remember some reviewers complaining about Ambre Loup's being overly chemical–I do not think it is, in fact, I plan on purchasing a bottle this autumn, and Jasmin Kama makes this house 2 for 2, for me. This is an interesting perfume that uses technology to add interest, innovation, and finesse, and if this is what the house keeps doing, I will stay along for the ride. Four and a half stars (extra half for figuring out how not to make just another jasmine floriental), and two glossy-pearly-almost-pastel-beige thumbs up.

Aug 15, 2021

Encre Noire by Lalique

Lalique Encre Noir

The first time I smelled Encre Noir, I didn't like it. I cut my teeth on vetivers from Guerlain, Givenchy. Goutal–the pre IFRA good stuff, grassy, wild, smoky, almost enough to make you sneeze, with their wild untrimmed personalities contrasted against gentlemanly bewigged powdery bases (except for the Goutal, that stuff was extra scruffy). I loved those compositions for bringing the outdoors to the tailored gentleman's aesthetic of the classic masculine, especially since much of what we think of modern gentleman's tailoring is based on the country life of the European nobility, a life of riding and shooting and hacking through countryside, a life not so different from growing up in some of the last untamed land in the American South-West, our southern coastal country of marshes, beaches, cattle farming, rodeos, and Spanish Missions dripping with moss.

Many of the more aspirational boys I knew from my parents' country club, and also went to university with, wore Guerlain's handsome Vetiver, so I have pleasant associations with that scent, memories of dressing for dances and those warm humid moments when you and your date are both still freshly scrubbed and groomed, and nervous, helping a boy's sometimes trembling fingers pin a corsage on the bodice or the sweetheart neckline of a new dress. (The pre-dance scene in Blue Velvet always quickens my heart a little, I was just that age when the movie came out). I would always inhale my date's scent and sense the warm body underneath the starched buttoned up shirt, and I am sure he could smell mine, too, our scents mingling as surely as the clinch that usually ended a night that involved a date with a dance.

Encre Noir didn't bring forth those memories with the same uncanny accuracy as other Vetiver fragrances, likely because it didn't exist back then, and it is different. This is a modern Vetiver, messy bits trimmed away, and no old fashioned powder-musk. Its Vetiver accord smells good, although I miss the rest. However, I have warmed up to it, especially since pre IFRA Vetiver soliflores are hard to find, and expensive. Encre Noir is _very_ affordable, attractively packaged, and so easy to wear that I cannot be mad at it.

It is also _very_ uncomplicated. It smells like Vetiver, lifted and diffused with the complimentary mild pine scent of ISO-E-Super, which gives it a soft and pleasant radiance, instead of the brown-around-the-edges, almost swampy and oxidized scowl that some vetivers adopt once they pass their opening stages. There is no citrus fanfare, no jackboot polish anchoring it, just a Fresher and then Drier Vetiver Sensation, and then the ISO-E gets to work creating a nutty-grassy aura for you to walk around in all day.

Unlike some Vetiver creations–Diptyque's wonderful Vetyverio (a great personal favorite not yet in my collection) for instance–the composition does not lean into a toasted hazelnut accord that sometimes emerges from simple Vetiver fragrances. I like the perfumes that do this, but I also respect Encre Noir for sticking to its guns and just being Vetiver, Vetiver, and then some more Vetiver. As I mentioned above, it also does not have a recognizable base as such, so cleaned up is it, minimal modernized–and perhaps just a touch synthetic, but only in the service of maintaining its cropped, controlled, very precisely composed accord.

I believe untrained perfumers probably do not understand how much work must go into creating something that smells so simple, never goes off message, and ends on the same path from which it starts. I am not a perfumer, but I smell so many bad perfumes in proportion to the good ones that I believe that I have some sense of how easily things can go wrong. Encre Noir is a successful exercise in singleminded discipline. I almost forgot one other point. It smells really damn good. (I notice some thumbs-down reviews for EN here on Basenotes, but they seem mostly to complain of Vetiver smelling like Vetiver, which is silly, as it does not try to be anything else).

A note on the name and concept–Tania Sanchez, in her review of EN in Perfumes The Guide, remarks on Encre Noir's witty resemblance to its namesake. I do not smell black ink, India Ink, or whatever ink she was thinking of–not like Byredo's aggressive tribute to photocopier toner cartridges, M/Mink–as a former longtime admin assistant, I don't miss that smell at all (now, if someone could bottle the scent of blue mimeograph paper, or has, I hope they contact me, because they have a buyer, eagerly waiting here). Encre Noir's Vetiver has a roasted, nutty profile, but it isn't edible, and it only flirts with the idea of machine materials. I believe more ISO-E, either concentrated alone, or with some specific ingredient, could produce that true inky smell–not a terrible idea, just not what Encre Noir is doing, for which I am glad, as M/Mink is a fun bit of arty ness but not a versatile fragrance like this one. I would and do wear Encre Noir everywhere, from meditative afternoons with a cuppa and a poetry book to evenings out when I want my fragrance to stay in the background of food and conversation. It is handsome on a man, but alluring and mysterious on a woman, a surprising twist on the usual come-hither feminines. (It would also be an excellent gift for the incorrigible tomboy in your life, to help wean them from their Light Blue dependency, should they be so inclined).

As to its performance–at the risk of repeating myself, Encre Noir is all Vetiver, all the time, to its (deliciously) bitter end. Even quite generously sprayed, it is not a massive projection beast, I think you have to find the Extreme flanker if that is what you want, and I have not tried any of its flankers, including the now hard-to-find and quite expensive Encre Noir pour Elle, which I might have liked, even if that was not what I had hoped it would be, a slightly more feminine Vetiver, badly needed these days, as Vitamin V is one of the few ingredients that IFRA does not seem to have it in for. (If you have found a source for Encre Noire pour Elle that does not cost a fortune, would you please contact me? Compulsive perfume curiosity is tough to live with, and I want to know what it actually smells like). My Encre Noire gets me through eight hours of comfortable albeit not overwhelming wear, and its low scent profile makes it less embarrassing if oversprayed than some other more “perfumey” accords, so spray away.

A few more words in praise of Vetiver, since this review is already much longer than I expected it to be/. IFRA's permissive attitude toward Vetiver is probably one of the few reasons modern perfumery is not an entirely lost cause. The remarkable versatility of this ingredient seems to sit under the hood of many of the best mainstream and niche creations of recent times–Angel Muse, Rogue Vetifleur, Narciso Rodriguez Narciso (White Cube and its gorgeous EDT), as well as classics like Gucci Rush, and evergreens like Habanita. Its grassy-smoky scent stands in where oakmoss is forbidden to go, at least in designer perfumery, so we don't have to solely rely on patchouli to get our chypres through these dark times.

Encre Noir is now a modern classic. Its simple versatile scent profile, which knows no age or gender (just ask Sarah Jessica Parker, although I believe she prefers Guerlain's Vetiver, I am sure she might like Lalique's crisp take as well), plus its clever and elegant bottle design, IFRA-dodging composition, and excellent value for money make it one of the few perfumes that I think everyone (unless you just hate Vetiver, in which case I wonder just a little if we could really be friends–but that's so damn judged, and you probably do not care anyway. De gustibus non est disputandum. I came here to praise Vetiver, not to fight about it) should have in their collection. It is typically one of the first fragrances I see newbie guys but when they join BN, and there's a reason for that . If you have not worn it in a while, or think you have moved beyond it, perhaps now is the time to revisit, especially since Indian Summer is creeping up, with its humid summer hangover hanging around while we all long for turned leaves and crisp nights.

5 stars, with the extra point for originality going to the marketing and research team, for creating a modern must-have.

Are the flankers worth checking out? My message box is open.

Two chic, matte nude thumbs up!

Aug 8, 2021

Patchouli by Jalaine

What?! Patchouli? Nope, not much in here. Jalaine's very attractively packaged perfume oil contains lots of cakey vanilla and a little spice that I can sometimes smell when my boyfriend wears it. Makes me wonder what Jalaine's Vanilla smells like. I understand their desire to avoid a generic head shop patchouli accord, I suppose, but if someone puts “patchouli” on a label, the contents of the bottle bearing said label best bear some resemblance. Otherwise I just can't rate it.

Extra disappointing considering that Jalaine's version has been touted as one of the best. I do not mind vanilla with my patchouli, but expect the former served on the side, should the latter be the expected main event. I am disinclined to consider the accord in itself, except to note that it smells like a diet vanilla, like the perfumer substituted whatever the perfume versions are of Nutrasweet and butter–like an artificially sweetened angel-food. At the risk of repetition, extra disappointing on this account as well, as concentrated perfume oil suggests to me a sensual and indulgent wearing experience. Fails on all levels for me–a rarity, as I can find redeemable qualities in nearly anything.

Fortunately my boyfriend likes it. I guess that makes it worth a star and not a total waste. Perhaps my sample was mislabeled. Anyone who reads this and thinks that could be what happened–please send me a message and I will try again. High hopes are often dashed the hardest, and maybe a mistake was made.

One star. Sad thumbs down.
Aug 6, 2021

Black Gardenia by Black Gardenia - Michele Bergman

I was beginning to wonder, if every review I would ever write would be, at least to some degree, positive, but then I tried a couple of–nice, high quality, expensive–oils that both reminded me that, no, I do not love everything unilaterally. Jalaine's “Patchouli” (quotations intended, as it is a gourmand vanilla perhaps hiding patchouli beneath it) and now Michele Bergman's Gardenia were both a resounding No. The boyfriend took the Jalaine off my hands, but I am unsure what to do with Bergman's Gardenia, as even a tiny matchstick dab is much, much, too much.

And I love Gardenias, and also strong and powerful floral perfumes. This one is just wrong, with everything that counts in the wrong places. So many gardenia perfumes fail because they are too tropical, too full of Tuberose or even monoi, but this one is squeaky clean, too much so for me. The name had me hoping for sensuality and mystery, and I am sad to report there is none here.

Instead, Black Gardenia has a screechy quality, perhaps on account of its somewhat green accord, which possibly indicates a muguet accord intended to ... well ... I am not sure why its composer would choose muguet, as it has nothing to do with Gardenia. These flowers typically live in different perfume universes, unless they join up for the purposes of a multi floral bouquet. Even when they do, muguet's aggressively clean/soapy/virginal ingredients require careful measurement in the presence of tropical white florals, causing an otherwise sensual accord to contort itself into ugly and strident shapes if muguet is left unchecked. I suspect that is the problem with the basic composition, along with this being not any Gardenia that I know. What I mostly smell is very sweet and blousy jasmine accord.

Gardenias incorporate some of the same qualities as jasmine, but they have other notable qualities that set them apart from their little vine-growing distant relatives. This composition lacks Gardenia's jizzy, savory, umami-mushroom, and its lactomic-buttery texture: and seems to try compensating for its lack of verisimilitude with temple-pounding volume. Black Gardenia is _strong ( and I am not usually averse to seriously powerful perfume, with a wardrobe of perfumes that pong from here to eternity). Its room-dominating, sinus-burning intensity is not a sin in itself, but its screechy blinding green-White floral accord is at this volume. It is eye wateringly, headache inducingly powerful. Repeated scrubbing did little to dimish it, either, as its oil carrier medium stubbornly cling to my skin and repulsed repeated soap-and-water assaults. Only time, and long sleeves, did much to reduce its overwhelming effects. And all this from a single cautious test dab.

I can report one mixed blessing, which does not however mitigate my bad experience with Black Gardenia–it suddenly faded and disappeared about 4-5 hours after I first applied it. By then, I had a rare, for me, perfume headache, in full swing–when I could
think, despite my pounding temples, I considered the perfume lovers who object to conventional white floral compositions, as I–literally–felt their pain, and wondered if I might be joining their ranks after this experience. It also reminded me of my feckless youthful psychedelic experiences, in those moments when my young self wondered if my perceptions would ever return to their original state after hours of sensory overload. I was already past the point of surrender when Black Gardenia seemed to, without explanation, recede with the suddenness of a hand sweeping across a hand sweeping across an audio fader–it just gave up the ghost, leaving just a trace of white musk (the blinding white kind, which probably explains its aggressive quality). And, as suddenly as it came, it was no more.

So I cannot even recommend Black Gardenia for its performance, as it is simultaneously too much, yet not enough. It comes on much too strong and then disappears. And I don't like the scent itself. I wish I could figure out to whom I could recommend it, as I realize that people mostly read these reviews in hopes of finding something they will endjoy, rather than to learn what Random Lady Reviewer X thinks. I believe I have a high tolerance for both Big White Floral fragrances, and also appreciate and understand a very wide variety of perfumes, including many that I would never actually buy and wear for myself. I can find redeeming qualities in most scents I try, so I hope it carries some weight when I say that I cannot recommend this.

However. Many BN reviewers seem to like Black Gardenia, and even consider it a reasonably good representation of the flower. So please read the other reviews if it interests you, and also know that it is not outrageously priced. As I write this review, Luckyscent has it on summer special for a significant percentage off its usual retail price, so it is perhaps worth a try, if you are a Gardenia completist, if you love oil based fragrances, or if something else about it appeals to you. Just do not wear it around others without first extensively testing, especially in situations where food or close quarters might be a factor when you want to wear it. Maybe, just maybe, it could work for a clubbing scent, although these days, nobody smokes in clubs much anymore, and the necessity of a room-dominating full-voice aria-singing diva like this has limited application (and it also doesn't last so take backup if this is your plan. At least won't need much for a touchup)

Be that as it may, t this perfume was painful to test and review, and a fragrance that sends me to bed with a headache, gets one star and no thumbs up from me. Very disappointing, as a Gothic Gardenia could be an interesting idea, if it were well executed.
Aug 6, 2021

Angel Garden of Stars : Rose Angel by Thierry Mugler

It is almost not fair, how much more enjoyable Thierry Mugler's work is, than at least 90% of the house's competitors. Not everything they do might be for you, but when you find something from Mugler that works, it clicks on a level that inspires intense feelings. Consider Angel, decades old, and still edgy with a dedicated following. It's one of the once-a-generation scents, a “cultural monument,” like Chanel No. 5. I didn't wear it for a long time, and I do not think I am alone, as in t seemed like everyone was wearing it, once it caught on.

Angel presents an interesting case study, as Mugler did what I wish more perfume houses were still doing–if they are even doing it at all. Stick with an intense, striking, divisive perfume, market the daylights out of it and ensure the sample people are on the sales floors all the time during heavy traffic, and not just for the first few months–let it catch on, slowly, even if it takes a while. (The same things had happened with movies, and music, too ...). Years, even. As Mugler learned, the perfume was not loved by everyone, and there were probably lots of customers like me who did not buy it until the hype died down, Obviously, it takes a special perfume to make this happen, but Angel was loved so intensely by the people to whom it did speak, that it is still selling well enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the new launches at Ulta. And, more times than not, it is the perfume (or the latest flanker) that it is the one I leave wearing, even if I already own it.

I believe that Garden of Stars was Mugler's first foray into Flankertown. I think it might have been intended as a limited edition, the kind of packaged thing that required the purchase of all four. I have tried all four, and they are inspired, the answer (at the time, as I believe this was done before Alien) to Mugler and Angel's complete lack of floral perfumes, and kind of a troll, on its customers –“You want florals? Okay, here's Angel with violet/lily/etc.”. Not until Alien appeared and brought us its DEFCON level jasmine, would Mugler offer something that was, ostensibly, floral.

Of the Garden of Stars options, Angel Rose is streets ahead of all the rest. I think the math is actually pretty simple, with this one. It's because rose and patchouli are MAGIC. As a devotee at the shrine of patchouli, (look at my wardrobe and wishlist, I am crazy about it), Angel La Rose speaks to me in my unique perfume language (everyone has one, out tastes all form a giant Venn diagram that Inwiuod actually like to see, at least for the Basenotes membership. Grant, can you do that?). I have heard competing accounts that Angel La Rose's patchouli is either more, or less, dirty than vintage Angel (of which I have no reference samples) and also that its ethyl maltol is more, or less, strident than Angel's typically is. I think fattening up the perfume's middle makes the two harmonize more, as rose likes and works well with both.

So Angel La Rose s like wearing Coriandre, or Agent Provocateur, with bonus points. Rose loves most fruity accords, so Angel's native red fruits fall right in line with fruit rose soliflores like Nahema (it does not smell like Nahema, but I think almost all good Roses have a little plummy or winey aroma, probably from fruit esters), so it neatly fits Angel's structure, a custom glove for a peculiar but not impossible hand. Also, rose can be loud, brash, and day-glo enough to feel right with Angel's synthetic nature. It might be as tacky as those Swarovski Crystal roses, but I like those, for the same reason I like Angel Rose. Tackiness has taken on a different meanings contemporary culture, now that good taste and endless advice how to acquire it, is no longer gate-kept by money, class, or education.

Angel works because it is so confident in its wackiness, and Angel La Rose is the same. It takes some confidence to wear in public, and I don't advise it for the office, dinner, or any situation where you could be closed up in close quarters. It is so strong that what appears a normal dose of any other perfume is much too much, unless you are going clubbing, in which case, it's perfect. Or wear it on the weekend when hopefully nobody you love with or cross paths with will care. Its radius is at least a block long, sillage probably the same, and it lasts for a time least 48 hours on skin. Thierry Mugler's flanker programme is enviable, with very few duds that I am aware of, yet this is still one of the best. 5 stars (from me, if you hate strong perfume or don't like Angel or roses, do not even bother), and two salon-sculptured acrylic neon pink thumbs up. With glitter on the tips.
Jul 23, 2021

L'Instant Magic by Guerlain

Genre: Floral Musc, var. Bedtime

I was about to write a “meh” review about L'Instant Magic when I realized that my bottle is damn near empty, so I guess I like it more than I think I do. Or, I should say, I find it useful. Guerlain has always excelled at what the French like to call “boudoir perfumes,” Shalimar being the Queen Mum of the clan, and LIM shows her grandmother's DNA, not so much in its accords as in its obvious intention.

Vintage boudoir perfumes were, I think, supposed to smell suggestive of sexual fluids and such, but since we as a culture are all about clean linen and all these crazy new vaginal wash products these days, I guess LIM is what we're intended to wear while we rumple our eleventymillion thread count sheets and artfully muss our hair. I don't wear it for that particular purpose–it's basically fluffy neroli-almonds-heliotrope-benzoin inflected baby powder, so not really what gives me a stiffy–but it sometimes coincides with such activities, as I like to wear it to bed, because it is a comfort perfume with childhood bedtime associations.

I am a grade A insomniac who has a highly ritualized bedtime routine that I have been refining for decades, one crucial element of which is this type of scent, which is why I own so many: Teint de Neige, Sweet Dreams, Musc Intense, Mona di Orio's Musc and also her Vanille–anything with girly girl billows of powder will do. (Variety is also key, as one insomnia episode requires changing the bedtime perfume for a while, because I'll start associating not sleeping with whatever I wore on a bad night). I know some people actually wear this kind of thing in the daytime, and picture them dressing like Kimmie Roberts/Lucy in Twin Peaks, with her deranged cardigans and big floof of blonde hair. No offense if this is your daytime jam. At least you're scenting.

But LIM is mostly utilitarian for me, strange as that may sound. Because I have a lot of similar fragrances to compare it with, I'll reiterate that it has an unusual amount of orange/neroli for a powdery floral musc, and I can smell the genetic connection to Guerlain's original L'Instant, a sexy Orangesicle with a hint of suntanned skin (go for the EDT or the parfum). For some reason, it also reminds me
of Tauer's Orange Star, a perfume that I believe may now be discontinued, perhaps because Andy T and I were the only people that loved it. I wish I'd gotten a bottle when I could have.

Guerlain excels at this kind of perfume. Opulent comfort is kind of their wheelhouse, so if you are looking for a delicious nighttime (as in PJs and fuzzy slippers, not skimpy undies and stockings), I can enthusiastically recommend it. It is a nice break from the usual rose-violet accords that usually make up
these scents, and it works like a charm. Hell, i'm falling asleep just writing this, so please excuse any typos.

I have to admit that I initially expected more from LIM, as it was one of those legendary discontinued Guerlains that I thought I would never get to smell. Huzzah to the house for bringing it back. I suspect this is the kind of thing that Sylvie Delacourte is trying to do with her Musc series, as she art directed this year while at Guerlain, and that brings me to my final point. The difference in quality between her muscs and this one is staggering. Even at its least intellectually challenging and likely most artificially concocted, Guerlain's materials are superlative. If you must have quasi infantile powder, or just want to round our your L'Instant or Guerlain collection, this one is worth it. It also makes a great linen-pillow/closet freshener–not obnoxiously functional, but not recognizably “perfumery.”

If I spray on LIM at bedtime, it is still very much with me in the morning, so it is consistent with the kind of excellent staying power Guerlain is known for–feathery little things (aside from some of their eaux) are not what this house is about. It clings well to my pillow and sheets and feels like an olfactory hybrid of high tech customizable sleep surface mattress and old fashioned feather bed. Simple, direct, but very nice work for what it is. Four softly glowing ceiling lamp stars, and two peachy-pink thumbs up (with Maribou sleeves, natch). Zzzzzzzzzz ...
Jul 15, 2021

R'oud Elements by Kerosene

I first smelled R'Oud Elements completely blind, which is how I typically smell all my new samples--I put them all in a little box, fish one out, smear a little on, and jot down impressions or share them with the boyfriend, when he participates. And my first impression of R'Oud Elements was, this is a dirty joke--fecal oud, stale (masculine) pee, urinal cake, and a lemony industrial cleaner providing the powerful citrus accord that John Pegg loves to use in his fragrances. I couldn't stop giggling, the image was so vivid, of a recently cleaned airport toilet or a recently installed, barely defiled Port-O-Potty. Its constituent elements stuck out to the point that I could not grasp the whole of the accord. It was the very last of the Kerosene perfumes I obtained as a discovery set, and I thought, maybe, it was the near-Unwearable Art Scent, the Secretions Magnefique or M/Mink of the lineup, of which many niche perfumeries keep in their offerings, to keep it real. Respect, and all of that.

What I didn't know is that Pegg considers R'Oud Elements one of his one or two favorite creations, that it was the first (I think) composition he did for Kerosene, and that it has ties to his personal Road to Damascus moment, when he felt his professional calling to become a perfumer. (It is actually kind of a cute story, he says he was at Epcot Center, smelling Acqua di Parma, and connecting its prominent citrus with the scent of bergamot in his beloved Earl Grey tea). Also, in preparation for writing this review, I read other user accounts--reviews and thread discussion--of R'Oud Elements, and found that it is one of the most popular of his fragrances, especially among the masculine types here on Basenotes. Time to revisit the fragrance, with all the information in mind, to determine if my initial impression held up under further scrutiny.

The headline, from here on out, is that I was wrong. I have some theories about why I reacted so strongly to it the first time round, but I will save those until the end. I am sitting here with a generous dab on the index finger of my left hand (it does not take much, no surprise if you know much about this house), and here are my thoughts, as recorded on second visit, and confirmed on this go:

(1) R'Oud Elements is a kind of 21st century Acqua di Parma, with cedar largely standing in for the patchouli that comprises the classic AdP cologne accord. Given the preponderance of citrus-cedar accords, in 21st century perfumery (two words: Light Blue), I like what Pegg has done here, giving the kind electrical jolt to an accord that is becoming annoyingly common in mainstream fragrance, that I usually associate with Tom Ford's work in fragrances like Neroli Portofino.

(2) Giving the lie to my initial impression, R'Oud Elements is one of Kerosene's most versatile scents, as it wears as both a handsome classic masculine, and a fresh but substantial citrus-based scent for tomboyish females, or, better yet, a genderless classic. Its resemblance to Acqua di Parma is undeniable, but that means that it can go anywhere AdP can go, which is to say, pretty much everywhere, tee shirt to tux.

(3) There is something irresistable about the scent of bergamot and woods that accounts for the classic appeal of Acqua di Parma (patchouli is a woody scent, albeit an aromatic one) as well as Earl Grey tea. These being the ur-inspir

Jul 3, 2021

Black Vines by Kerosene

Yummmmmmmy! I am a girl who loves black jelly beans, and wishes they made black Twizzlers. I even buy licorice root at the health food store sometimes just to chew on. And, here is a little secret–the magic throat moistening ingredient in Throat Coat Tea is ....licorice! It's good for you! Especially when illness, allergies, climate control, or other circumstances, like falling asleep with one's mouth open, cause your throat to dry so badly you cannot stop coughing–licorice soothes and stops the most throat-lacerating itchy compulsive coughing spells dead in their tracks.

It is an acquired taste. I used to hate the stuff, so I am not mad at you, if you quail at the thought of it. Even if you don't like licorice to eat, you still might like the scent, as its herbal complexity has little in common with anything else I can think of. Black Vines uses a handsome broad spectrum licorice profile, a little bitter but more like the resinous herbal cough-drop smell of Ricola drops.

Luca Turin, and our own House of Phlegethon, detect fig in the composition, but the only aspect of this perfume that reminds me of figs is its illusory stickiness, that is reminiscent of opening a fresh package of Turkish figs, the kind that come shrink wrapped in a circular shape. Cracking one of those packages open, I get a kind of herbal-honey aroma, but the sweetness of figs, their almost floral smell, that is not here.

Like most Kerosene fragrances, it comes on strong from the outset. There is no classical citrus blast, but rather a dank, kind of mentholated initial stage, that evolves into (in my mind) the scent of all the black hard-shelled candies I adore–jellybeans. ropes, Good & Plentys from the movie theater, English style Allsorts (my favorites–I can gorge myself on those things). The pwefume's Initial dankness indicates the scent's origins in nature, with its rooty funk lightened and, I think, rendered spicier and even more complex with the addition of anise (another personal favorite–my grandmother always made anise biscotti for Christmas, which might explain my love for black candy).

Anise, with its nose-numbing clove and hints of black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, might seem an obvious choice, for a licorice accord. Both anise and licorice also have menthol in their scent profiles, so even at its most basic, the perfume has delicious hot-cold tension, warm spices and cool aromatics, confusing the senses to the point of intoxication. It all smells black, black as a black hole in space, the scent pulling you through its black mirror and rumbling you into disorientation. Cold
stone, fir needles and balsam, mastic gum–and then another burst of hot spice as a hint of red pepper (a razor thin slice like Fate Woman's) leads to a burst of fizzling, sparkling smoke

This stage is like light reflecting off jet beads and faceted onyx, black stones that refract low-spectrum shades of red, blue, and purple. I smell frankincense with a touch of opoponax for sweetness, mirroring the aromatic duo of licorice and anise. From the dank greenness of its fir balsam, I also smell an accord that could almost be cannabis resin. Another reviewer mentioned opium (not the perfume), which this has a touch of, more complex plant resinoids laced with the darkness of the intoxicating aura of the forbidden. As it develops, it becomes spicier and hotter, with an alluring sweetness to balance any bitter off notes. The drydown turns to a woodsy incense not so far from the drydown of my beloved Ormonde Jayne Privé, a perfume with otherwise nothing in common that I can possibly think of. Black Vines s an extraordinarily attractive perfume on the right person at the right time, and I appreciate its halo of dark mystery (how many times can I use the word “dark” in a review? I suppose this gets the point across).

This is a different treatment of licorice than another one of my favorite perfumes, the remarkable Reglisse Noire from 1000 flowers (under-appreciated, and deserving of more discussion here, even if the old bottle with its lovely atomizer option has been replaced), a silky licorice perfume that employs the accord's freshness rather than its spicy darkness. It also brings to mind. a series of other perfumes with clever use of fir balsam, Robert Piguet's marvelous Oud series–not licorice per se, but dark, aromatic perfumes that, to my nose, bring forth phantom licorice scents, especially as much of Piguet's house, or at least Aurelian Guichard's work for them, seems hard shell candy-coated (he has done the same for some of his perfumes at Bond No. 9).

Black Vines smells like it has neither liquid silkiness, a hard shell, or the softly powdered exterior of Allsorts–it feels like those candies turned inside out, their sticky insides freshly opened. It captures the moist, dense, resiny qualities of plant materials usually protected by tree bark, things that are not meant to be exposed to the light. It seems like a perfume made for lovers of oddball candy (obviously), modern and old tyme goths, gearheads, Wiccans, incense enthusiasts, people who live to wear black, anyone who wants to cultivate a bit of extra mystery, lovers of deep shades of lipstick and nail varnish, maybe even the perverse preppy looking for more from life. I shall be attending a Gary Numan show in a couple of months, and I've found my scent–hard part's over, the clothes will be comparatively simple).

Black Vines is not a projection beast. It is built from so much resinous material that it probably does not get more than a few inches from skin, unless you artfully layer. I have considered creating some body crème with a scentless lotion so I can layer up (I might make some soap too). Luca Turin very famously awarded it one of a parsimonious few five-stars in his and Tania Sanchez's most recent guide, and the more time I spend with Black Vines, the more I follow its twists and turns down its byways and alleys, the more I feel inclined to agree.. I can't evaluate it as a fig scent, but maybe someday i will smell its figgy ness. As a woodsy-licorice-gourmand-incense, I think it is outstanding. There is something about the accord (not the execution) that brings to mind a rough-around-the-edges, scruffy, artisinal take on the fragrances of Thierry Mugler, where Aurelian Guichard sometimes moonlights, too. This is not the only Kerosene perfume that reminds me of something Mugler might do, which serious praise, coming from me. It seems to have no gender, although some very high femmey types might feel uncomfortable in it.

All of Kerosene's perfumes are extremely long lasting. Black Vines is no different. I get at least 12 hours on skin with 3-4 sprays. I love it so much that I usually overspray, and then top off. It is a rarity in the perfume world–a novelty that does more than just be different, for difference's sake, and it is one of Kerosene's best. If you enjoy candy-shop gourmands that aren't Pink Sugar, any of the Reglisse variations in established classical perfumery (serious pedigree there, btw–Caron, Hermès, etc), witchy-gothy stuff, bold and spicy accords, or unusual incense perfumes, you should smell this, even if you hate the black candies. This is my kind of thing, and I am promoting it to my 5 favorite perfumes on my virtual bathroom shelf over on that other site where I don't go so often. 5 pitch black glittering matter-devouring stars, and two (surprise!!) matte black thumbs up.
Jul 2, 2021

Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez

The best mainstream designer pillar fragrance launched in the last 15 years or so, at least on the feminine side–an opinion borne out by blockbuster sales, rapturous industry and critical response, and excited user reviews. I almost did not bother to write a review, but I wear it so often that I suspected–and was correct–that I could start, and finish, a user review in one go.

So, Narciso is that all-purpose scent, that goes with everything, from slouchy “going to the post office” house cleaning clothes/loungewear, to one's most pressed dinner ensemble–even a fun evening out, just consider how bewitching this could smell when leaning in ....). It is perhaps my most versatile fragrance, fine for office wear (worn appropriately discreetly) but with a flamboyant southern belle Gardenia accord, that will not hide under a bushel–no, it's going to let itself *not* glow. It's like cool, steady, and smoothly diffused moonlight, not a flickery candle, or bothersome invasive rays of the sun.

It is exquisitely beautiful, which I suppose, I have failed to state, until now (and is not always the case with bestselling and even beloved fragrances, not that many are not attractive, but few have Narciso's ephemerally gorgeous decadent floral/austere Vetiver, especially stated and balanced with such precision) . Its category, of powdery musks, usually circumscribes and ghettoizes itself with pretty cosmetic and powder accords, often more suited to bed, or to women who might put pink grosgrain ribbons around their head a la Snow White in the daytime, not funky-tailored tomboys like your humble scribe. I love those powdery little things, adore their retro juvenile associations, and collect and keep them for after-shower dryoff, bedtime, and sleepless nights when I want some fairy godmotheresque comfort. (Milk Musk, take me away!). This–perfectly legitimate–perfume category belongs to a wider family of sometimes maligned perfumes that mostly don't develop along the usual pyramidal lines (such as they are), and prize a single aggregate chord or effect over a long, complex development, and featuring a single musk material–animal/vegetable/mineral–dressed up a little, but the supporting players don't need to do perform too much work, as they exist to only decorate and enhance the primary Musk, after the drum roll, leaving a trailing puff of powder at the end for the curtain call, if the composition is long lasting and high enough quality.

Narciso is a floral musk, which means, it uses a lot of powder. I am not a perfumer, but all the floral musks I know, depend on this scent of powder, a powerful base musk–the perfume's raison d'etre. So, floral musks are really powder musks, although I suppose “floral musk” sounds better for marketing reasons. The character of every powder musk depends on its floral accords–the aforementioned (and most common imo) rose/violet accord, or maybe just a rose with a little jasmine or sweet fruit, or the bolder heliotropinesque Aprée l'Ondèe musk composition that somehow became Sweet Dreams. But floral musks do not tell the whole musk story, as there are also sweet musks (I think Pink and Gold Sugar kind of fall in here), animalic musks (the oldest kind), and even metallic musks. Narciso Rodriguez's first perfume, For Her, was an orange blossom and patchouli composition that looks a fruithouli chypre on paper, but actually forms a lovely solid state musk perfume with the two complimentary sweet/spicy elements of its accord running on parallel tracks without tipping the perfume's balance.

These compositions are essentially static, as how you smell when you leave is very close to how you return. So what, you may ask, differentiates musks, from modern linear perfumery? History and technology–classic modern llinear perfumes, like CKOne, borrow the static character of musks, add new and much more aggressively projectile modern ingredients to produce a relentlessly fresh perfume that projects miles around and does not quit, but have none of classical or postmodern musk's references to skin or to the body. In contrast, musks stay close, without loud projection (even under pressure), and the chemical components of musks help them achieve a sense of no particular point of origin. They speak of body and skin but also
feel ephemeral. They form an aura, but not an aggressive one. A soft aura, a gauzy aura–that is musk, as opposed to the science fiction shield aura of 90s linear perfumes.

This effect of “nowhere/everywhere” is exceptionally well achieved in Narciso. But it wouldn't be worth all the fuss if it were not so ridiculously gorgeous smelling. It has a near-perfect Gardenia accord (imagine, for a moment, composing that, and then having the restraint to not bolster it into a big soliflore–because this Gardenia might lack a little indoor and nail varnish but it is not a poorly masquerading Tuberose/orange blossom/jasmine, as one might expect)), thoroughly blending it with the perfume's powdery musk until the fragrance suggests a very expensive Gardenia afterbath talc–clean, dry, elegant.

Then comes the coup de grace–a tomboy twist, a pair of Chuck Taylors with the gauzy gown, as a rooty yet still refined and powdered Vetiver finishes the base. The Vetiver is the twist that elevates this perfume from an excellent Gardenia (hard enough to do) to a brilliant, modern, delicious and addictive creation.

I suppose you could describe Narciso as feminine, enough so that average wearers (presumably female, as online reviews confirm) don't object to its woody and classic masculine base. In fact, powdery Vetiver fragrances, go back, as far as guerlain's classic, powder bomb Vetiver, and further back than that, most of which were marketed to men. The question of who is carpetbagging upon whom–well, it doesn't even matter. Narciso R has built an empire of great although confusingly-named musk fragrances. I am becoming increasingly obsessed with the house, now that summer is causing my amber/incense/gourmands to lose their luster, and I hope to augment my collection with quite a few more of these.

I have worn Narciso several days in a row with no end in sight. I have trouble growing tired of it. It will be one of the first perfumes, I have ever wanted to buy at least four backup bottles–excessive, yes, but what's the point of a perfume hobby without excess?

I also want to try some of the flankers– the edt, I hear it is really different but excellent, the Poudré cousin, the fleur musc and so far. I also have my eyes on their Amber Musc–a perfume that has KHANADA written all over it, with the fantasy of donning it as summer ends.

Narciso is not a projection beast, it is not meant to be, so if you want to leave traces of yourself and call attention to it, add extra to your wrists (movement and pulse points), your chest/cleavage (same), crooks of your elbows (ditto), and one on the back of your neck. Even then it will be subtle, but that will be too much for ordinary office wear, where a normal 2-3 spritzes will more than do. It never reaches much of a crescendo, just hums along at its pleasant mezzo-mezzo for at least ten hours, and sticks very nicely to skin. If you can bear to misuse a little, add some to your pillow or soft hair accessories like scarves, bandanas, and fabric hats, which will subtle refresh your locks.

One final comment. Please do not fear the frequent references to powder. This is not the choking, old fashioned toilet water style powder. It is not thick, has no iris, and feels contemporary and light, yet also comfy, bearing an almost minimalist “my house is all white upholstery and carpet” vibe, yet done by the Anthropologie catalog stylists, with their signature textured pillows, and stitched coverlets. and fuzzy jute interest pieces. And if you just cannot got over your fear of powder, contact me and I will take yours if you made a bad blind buy).

This stuff is glorious. 5 glowing hazy stars and 2 matte milky thumbs up. Extra credit for NR for making this dreamy perfume at a busy designer house with a zillion flankers and spinoff projects. I want to believe the big houses are watching its success, and, hopefully learning. Guerlain, Chanel, Dior–is how it's done. Insert finger snap emoji.

Jul 1, 2021

Anucci Femme by Anucci

Annuci Femme is aldehydic rose/jasmine plus Peru balsam amber bomb. Even current issue smells vintage. Lots of powder rises up in the finish, so I find it a nice perfume for settling in at bedtime. Something about its assertive and spicy quality makes it smell very Italian to me, cruising in the same lane as the great old Fendis and Laura Biagiottis--perhaps the savory herbal signature in its amber accord, a sun-warmed blend of eucalptus, bay leaves, marjorum, maybe even rosemary. You can find a large 3.3 ounce bottle for less than 30 dollars, and it is worth it--the kind of complete, well composed, and polished perfume that also has a hint of outdoors and wildness around its edges. (Maybe there's a hint of civet in here, or something modern that takes the place of what used to be civet in the original formulation). I'd wear this anywhere. A light spritz for feeling polished at work, a little more for evening to accentuate the animalics, and the aforementioned bedtime use for its snuggly powder. This is an excellent floral oriental that transcends its 90s origins. Two beige, retro squared-off thumbs up!
Apr 19, 2021

Lonesome Rider by Tauer

I wish I smelled all the promised florals, iris, and such, but Lonesome Rider smells exactly like a Texas barbecue joint. Its woods are comprised largely of mesquite, the scrubby little trees that grow from the 98th parallel west of Ft Worth all the way through New Mexico, where the high desert plains take over, Saguarro and other giant cacti start to appear, and the scent of resiny wood is replaced by clean, hot, minerality sand.

I love a good funky leather, and I had great hopes for this one, but I don't think it os for me. I think it is probably the castoreum and another ingredient that smells exactly like bottled liquid smoke.

I appreciate anyone's efforts to capture their impressions of my home state. Lonesome Rider is a little too much of a caricature, the kind of thing that comes from the same set of assumptions that cause people to believe that all Texans actually ride horses as a primary mode of transportation, all tote big guns everywhere “cuz we got a right to do it,” ans generally behave obnoxiously because we're outlaw crazy people with little education, exposure to the world outside of our starte, or interest in dental care.

I don't really mind the stereotypes, they don't particularly hurt anyone so long as people realize that's all they are, and I even recognize the kernel of truth that resides therein. Some Texans are exactly what you might imagine if you've never been here, but this is a really big place with at least five distinctive regional
subcultures, and it's important to remember that the percentage of intelligent, sophisticated, well-mannered proper in any given population is about the same anywhere you go in the world. Some people just attract more attention or, often unfortunately, weird disproportionate political power.

I do believe that Andy Tauer has spent some time in Texas. Most likely in Austin–it seems to be where everyone who visits wants to go–and perhaps also out to the artist's colony in Marfa, where he would have seen and smelled mesquite trees in the sun. Marfa seems to have a special fascination for outsiders (Memo
has a very pretty Tuberose scent named after it, and it attracts filmmakers and musicians in addition to the painters and sculptures who have long made their homes there). Maybe it's the famous cemetery lights (look it up). Maybe Lonesome Rider has something to do with Josh Grobin in the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men (a movie that brings back so many vivid memories of my early childhood). Comparatively, Lonestar Memories, with its pitch tar and pine, reminds me more of East Texas and the hill country that encompasses Austin. It's still a raunchy,
smoky leather, but t lacks the sweetness that I find in Lonesome Rider, that, with its smoky profile, never fails to give me a craving for a trip to the local smokehouse, or to one of my absolutely favorite places in the state. I won't post the name here (it's a pretty well kept secret), but if you private-message me, i'll tell you.

Definitely worth a try. Lonesome Rider is thick with what I've seen other people on Basenotes call “tauerade,” Tauer's analog to the famous ratio of jasmine, rose, iris, vanilla, benzoin, and herbs that seems common to all the great Guerlains. Tauer's perfumes often have a similar aignafure–pertrol, castoreum, labdanum, pine tar–and a gasoline jasmine (guess that's part of the petrol accord) that especially distinguishes many of his masculines.

He does love his petrol. Who else would create a spring green floral like Hyacinth and a Mechanic? That, incidentally, smells more like
the Texas I know in the spring–the sweet but pungent scent of Eastertime bulbs combined with driveway and lawn mower fumes, and the scents of an afternoon spent working in the garden while my partner works on his project car. Those are my Lonestar Memories, at least today–not as romantic as Loneaome Rider, but the satisfying olfactory portrait of a spring Saturday well spent. Nice, in a personal way. Worth trying? Sure, if you like dirty leather and good barbecue. I'd raise a thumb or two, but they're covered in sauce and someone is hogging all the paper towels

Apr 18, 2021

Blue Silk by Agent Provocateur

Agent Provocateur has offered some excellent value perfumes since its inception, but in recent years, it seemed like they were becoming more generically musky-floral type things, and I stopped paying attention. Blue Silk has changed that. I do not know if it is an anomaly or a return to form, but I hope it is the latter, and it makes me want to explore the rest of the house's current perfumes.

The house DNA is here; Blue Silk picks up where the house's fun, loud, decadent, and at one time very affordable L'Agent ended--L'Agent's powerful, sweet/spicy incense, so heavily augmented with woody ambers that it requires a very light dusting on application and still occupies the house whenever I wear it. Next to L'Agent, Blue Silk has the volume turned down considerably, with a hint of soft fruit and culinary spices along with its foresty juniper accord, with the result being an incense perfume with a contemplative personality, the love child of a less sweet and fruity Dolce Vita, a less gothy CDG's Jaisalimer, a more projective and long-lasting Maitre Pafumeur et Gantier's beautiful Bois de Turque, and several classic Serge Lutens as well.

The marketing pyramid is misleading. Looking at it, I would assume it's a musky floriental lite, with only patchouli missing from the blend that makes up about 95 percent of inexpensive designer perfumes right now. The top notes are close enough, a sharp slice of lemon with pith and zest, a surprisingly interesting and accurate pink pepper (one of the most boring and overused accords in modern perfumery), and the aromatic green and resiny juniper, a scent that reminds me of both majestic pine forests and scrubby desert rocks, not to mention the sharp profile of quality gin.

Then the middle opens up. The note tree promises rose and jasmine, but I only smell a trace of something like nag champa incense and nothing even remotely rosy. There's just enough plump stone fruit (nectarine, supposedly, but I don't smell anything that specific) that the perfume doesn't turn dusty or austere. Cinnamon follows, dry enough to marry well with the perfume's other spices, but with its characteristic warmth giving the perfume a more inviting character, hinting at sweetness without compromising the perfume's spicy profile.

The perfume then transitions with a mysterious and almost undetectable myrrh accord (yes, I smell myrrh everywhere) that I don't see in the notes, but I smell its signature earthiness almost from the perfume's opening, and it picks up steam as the scent develops. Then, vetiver emerges, its gentle bitternesss matching the myrrh, and a sandalwood accord that utilizes some cedar without turning to sawdust. I smell some tonka, but, as with the perfume's cinnamon, it's a compositional element that has comforting associations without intruding sweetness. Then an accord appears that could be cannabis, a green accord with a pleasant funkiness, and the scent ties together with a a little fuzzy musk that buffers the dry spices and almost makes them pop like fresh seeds toasting in a skillet, especially sweet green lemon of coriander, hot and almost floral piquant pink pepper, and subtle of stone fruit that reminds me of Christine Nagel's signature overripe plums, peaches, cherries, and, yes, nectarine. I sometimes also detect a phantom iris impression, perhaps because of the perfume's blue packaging and subdued projection. It seems to have the braininess of many iris scents, but without their melancholy--or their cost.

My bottle of Blue Silk is still brand new, just out of the box, and I suspect that it will probably develop more fruit, more tonka, and probably more florals than I smell right now. But I don't mind if it doesn't move in that direction. It smells wonderful as it is, a marvelous dry-spicy accord that would work on everyone--no obvious gender signaling here at all, aside from the house name and the egg-shaped bottle that reminds me of the old L'Eggs pantyhouse, a lingerie reference that I'm not sure if is intentional, or not.

I found this perfume completely by surprise, on an afternoon cruising the new perfume reviews on Fragrantica, when I saw a surprisingly interesting account of it. It was a perfect discovery for this time of year, an perfume that feels and acts like an incense without full-tilt official incense perfume's stridency, with a soft and fresh yet spicy and assertive quality, something to add to this season's usual mix of greens, florals, green florals, and of course, irises. The perfume it reminds me most of is MPG's Bois de Turquie, a very subtle blend orange blossom and myrrh--Blue Silk shares it citrus top and spice melange, but its spices are more distinctive, and Blue Silk has a little stronger performance and seems to last much longer than Bois de Turquie's notoriously short life on skin.

This perfume would be appropriate for any time of year, and pretty much any occasion. It feels especially welcome right now, as my favorite spicy and incense-y perfumes become too strident to wear during our scorching summer days. It has soft but persistent projection and sillage, and middling longevity, which I suspect might mature into stronger presence as my bottle settles in. It costs just a little over 20 USD, an incredible bargin for such an interesting perfume. Betweeen IFRA and an apparent general lack of either inspiration or aversion to risk on the current perfume market, I feel excited to have found a perfume that threads the needle of all these challenges and actually smells like nothing else out there, and I also can't wait to have a reason to wear it out of the house. It is a wonderful perfume for a quiet day or evening inside, but I also find it inviting enough that I expect it will pull compliments as well.

I shall be searching out perfumer Beverly Bayne's work, and I hope that Blue Silk is only the tip of the iceberg, possibly the first of many scents helmed by someone who could be one of my new favorite perfumers. I also feel less cynical about Agent Provocateur's current offerings. It is a house that always inspired faith, especially for its excellent prices, from its original rose chypre onwards, and perhaps the house has not lost the plot after all. Four stars, for originality, wearability, interest, and quality of composition, and two metallic blue thumbs enthusiastically up.

Apr 16, 2021

Mojave Ghost by Byredo

I am on a permanent seasonal hunt for interesting magnolia fragrances, because I grew up in the south, and the sight of the huge, beautiful, creamy-white and flamingo-pink blossoms against the trees' thick and glossy leaves awakens my sometimes cynical heart. I also love their lovely, milky, lemony-waxy scent, and I enjoy exploring perfumers' interpretations of them. The scent conjures memories of childhood games on summer evenings, romantic walks with college boyfriends, and my beloved neighborhood in my historic old neighborhood.

There are some wonderful classic perfumery expressions of magnolia, notably L'Instant de Guerlain (I am partial to the EDT and the extrait), and also some fantastic arty explorations of it, especially Commes des Garcons second signature scent (magnolia and toner cartridges--who would have thunk?). I recently discovered Mojave Ghost, a scent that I had always thought was one of Byredo's lesser creations, a lightweight fruity thing made for people who don't like perfume. Then, I noticed--in fact, felt smacked in the face by--its fantastically rendered magnolia accord, and I stumbled over myself, and my skeptical attitude about the perfume, and I fell in love.

Most magnolia-featuring scents are exactly that, perfumes that have other things happening in them, with magnolia as one element among many. Mojave Ghost puts its creamy-texured, delicately sweet but oddly robust scent right in the center, instead of burying or confusing it with citrus, florals, or Xerox machine. Wearing it feels like melting into a pillow-soft cloud of lemon mousse, or falling into Tania Sanchez' proverbial feather bed. It also avoids the (forgivable) slight plasticky harshness of my other favorite magnolia scents, and the penetrating sweetness that sometimes distracts from those same scents. On fabric, it also displays a fantastic doughy accord that reminds me of high quality iris ingredients, which I do not find in the perfume's pyramid. An iris flanker of this perfume would blow my mind, so, anyone at Byredo--seriously, please consider that.

The best part--the magnolia accord--is also persistent, the main event in a perfume that uses its other accords as an effective supporting cast. A little Parma violet adds an attractive tartness that accentuates magnolia's lemon. I'm unfamiliar with sapadilla fruit, but Wikipdia says it has a sweet, soft, and pear-like quality, and I love the juicy and perfumey scent of ripe pears, which, used judiciously, also a tart and acidic as well as touch of funk to a perfume's blend, a clever additional semi-floral element to prevent the perfume from tipping into insipid fruitiness. It enhances the magnolia accord, it finds a place for the attrative but sometimes difficult to blend scent of sometimes underappreciated pear.

I don't smell much sandalwood or ambrette here (and I love both, so I wish I could). Also, I do not smell ambergris or cedar (and I don't love either, at least not in their modern artifical perfumery forms). This could be because I am smelling the oil version, which might cut some harshness on both the top and botom ends of the scent's construction. Byredo's oil formulae are, not surprisingly, smoother on the top and bottom--less crispness on the tops, and less overwhelming woodiness on the bottoms--and with this particular perfume, the oil formula servces the scent well, emphasizing the parts I like best. I sometimes catch a phantom vanilla accord drifting from its sillage, but I can't locate it when I smell the perfume up close. Perhaps it is a side effect of the sandalwood materials.

Mojave Ghost is more than just another pretty face. On the surface, it might be just another fruity-floral, but if you hanker after magnolia, put it on your test list. It threads a difficult needle, capturing a relatively simple and uncluttered magnolia scent with good persistence, apparently a difficult technical feat, considering how few I have found, and I have tried quite a few. It lasts about 6 hours on my skin, possibly longer, depending on heat and humidity, which usually extend its life on skin. I don't mind that it doesn't last all day, as Mojave Ghost is best used for daytime wear, comparable with some Hermessences, and a couple of Byredo's other daytime florals.

Mojave Ghost is a hard perfume to rate, as I imagine an appreciation for magnolia is essential to enjoying this perfume beyond its obvious prettiness. If I didn't love that particular scent so much, I would probably give it a scant three stars, more for what it doesn't do wrong, than for what it does well. Factor in my magnolia fetish, and I think it deserves closer to four. It doesn't have massive projection and sillage is discreet, neither of which is surprising in floral perfumes from a modern house like Byredo. It is not for everyone, but not for the usual reasons--it is an easy wear, perhaps too easy for some people, but it has a surprising touch of brains with its prettiness, and I like it. It's a great choice for southern American spring, and I will enjoy wearing it this year, as a pleasant alternative to my usual yearly L'Instant bender, although of course I will be wearing it, too. Two tastefully flesh-pink lacquered thumbs up.
Mar 20, 2021

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum Absolue by Prada

Prada's Infusion d'Iris Absolue is just gorgeous, a luxurious and lush Parma violet powder bomb, enriched with orange blossom, on a bed of rich-smelling, puffy, doughy, cool, but not icy, yet also chocolatey orris butter, the latter of which is, arguably, the finest blending material on earth. This is a perfume review, not a lesson, but this perfume is such a successful celebration of all of orris's inherent characteristics, that I think it is worth a detour, to explain what orris is, what is smells like on its own, and why it is such a big deal in the perfume world. Also, I cannot accurately describe this perfume, without delving into what orris butter is, what it smells like in its unadulterated form, so I hope the reader of this review will indulge me, and tolerate some technical discussion. I promise, I will come back to what the actual perfume smells like, after I finish what I will try to make the briefest possible explanation of this very special ingredient.

Used as a perfume base, orris butter has a relatively neutral scent profile, for its low volatility, compared with the assertive qualities of other plant oils and resins, or powerful animal musks. Yet, what can be smelled in orris butter, is startling, and complex, with simultaneous impressions of cool roots and powdered starch, icy vegetation and creamy butter, raw earth and purple fruit, crisp green and rich chocolate, boozy yeast and honeyed beeswax–the kind of olfactory oppositions that make, or break, a great perfume, and they are all there, in this raw material. I am not a botanist, but I am a gardener, and I recognize qualities of orris root in common, edible roots–the buttery scent of Yukon Gold potatoes, the floral sweetness of fresh carrots, or the bitter cocoa inflection of beets. It is the only ingredient I know, besides Vetiver, that is directly obtained from roots, and its rendering is almost as complex as the scent itself.

To obtain orris butter, the roots of bearded iris are steam-distilled, for their essential oils, a process with an extraordinarily low yield, as it requires a ton of orris root to produce about kilo of orris butter. These roots' aromatic profile is enhanced by a prior three-year aging process, during which the root dries, allowing complex interactions between the root's aromatic components, while the roots dry and their aroma is concentrated. Even in 2021, this process typically begins with hand-harvesting, although I have read that a more streamlined mechanical process, with a shorter aging requirement, has also come into use in the last decade or so, but I am embarrassed to say that I cannot now find my source of this information–and no wonder, as the perfume industry probably wants to keep this information on the qui vive, to preserve the illusion of scarcity and keep prices high.

So, fine hand harvested orris butter, which is the type used in Absolue, requires a striking amount of time and effort for small amounts of raw material. Despite the final result's complex aromatic profile, it also has a mysterious, muffled quality, due to its waxy density. Bruno Fazzlari calls orris root “The Phantom,” and, I wish I had thought of that, because the metaphor is perfect. It a shapeshifter, that is elusive and haunting. Its scent holds intimations of most of my favorite perfume aromas. Orris butter also has a curious quality, of bringing harmony to other materials, likely because it has so many aromatic properties of its own that match, enhance, and marry with them, and its buttery texture enriches florals and smooths resins, and harmonizes them with other ingredients, including those that are lab-grown. If it is not obvious by now, orris butter is my favorite perfume ingredient, and learning about it, was the Road to Damascus moment, of my personal perfume journey. It is my white rabbit, and my financial white whale.

So, I have chased orris more obsessively than I have any other perfume ingredient, and I understand why the great houses of Chanel and Guerlain, have chosen to build their empires on perfumes that employ generous doses of it. I have watched as production of perfumes like Chanel's No. 19, especially the EDP, has fluctuated, over the years, and I have read reports of the effects of climate change on orris production with concern. Most of my most expensive perfumes contain large amounts of orris, but, I love the stuff, and I hope this review will help explain why, as well as convince skeptics, of its beauty and its value.

I was excited, and relieved, when Prada first introduced its original Infusion d'Iris, a classic in its own right–excited that Prada was taking on an iris perfume, and relieved that it was excellent. It summed up many of the best qualities of Chanel No. 19's green iris elegance, but added a couple of elements that softened No. 19's unforgiving iciness, notably a smoky black streak of frankincense, and a soft, almost indetectable background thrum of tonka. It made iris more approachable, and it smelled contemporary, but not aggressively “modern.” Its profile is discreet, but distinctive, professional, and yet comfortable, a jersey tee-shirt that works equally well. under a structured suit, or over a pair of cutoff jeans. It was, also, shockingly affordable, on the gray market, and still is. It gave orris a new kind of approachability, both olfactory and financial. But, decadent, it is not, and, I suppose, the Absolue flanker, introduced as a limited edition, was, initially, an artistic foil to the first Infusion's relative austerity.

Rumor has it that the basic Infusion, Mark One, and its Cedre relative, is made with industrially harvested orris, where the Absolue version uses the traditional hand harvested low-yield stuff. The market seems to bear this out, as Absolue appears and then disappears from Prada's retail site and the gray and aftermarkets, just as Chanel No 19 and its ancillary products do. Whether this is manufactured scarcity or not, I cannot say, although I doubt it, as the mass perfume market that these houses play in depends on regular availability, because the casual perfume customer probably doesn't want to bother with waiting lists, and will probably move on to something less troublesome, rather than wait. I believe that this other, large-scale produced orris, also goes into Dior Homme, but the perfume industry is not known for its transparency, and I cannot prove this. I point this out, because since Prada introduced the first Infusion d'Iris, I have seen more (relatively) inexpensive designer iris perfumes on the market, a sign that there is a consistent source of affordable orris butter that shares some of the expensive version's aromatic, textural, and blending properties. Some of these perfumes are very good, and worth seeking out, but Prada's Absolue is special.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Infusion d'Iris Absolue opens in a rich, powdery haze, and I think it contains an extra helping of violet ionone, a component that is already part of unadulterated orris butter. It smells like a very rich cosmetic accord, the scent of dressing-table items, like setting powder and lipstick, and its violet has a deep purple fruity accord, that is joined by an equally rich orange blossom accord. This phase of the perfume feels especially luxurious, and it lasts for the first hour or two of the perfume's life on skin. Adding orange blossom to the blend was a genius creative decision, as it lifts the naturally melancholy nature of orris and violet onto a sunnier plane, the same way that peach esters are often used in similar iris accords, including the legendary Iris Gris, or adds a youthful blush to severe chypres like Mitsouko.

As the fruity accords settle into the perfume's persistent powdery musk, it feels like the clouds shift, to reveal an enhanced but lifelike orris accord, that shows all the complex and contradictory aromas of orris, both its cold and vegetal qualities, and its warm and buttery ones. Almost animatic yeast, pillowy dough, and then powdered chocolate emerge, and this pairs beautifully with the perfume's
orange blossom, as orange and chocolate are natural allies. I notice a hint of raspberry, another great chocolate pairing, and a scent also inherent in the basic material of orris butter. This elevates the perfume's profile to quasi-gourmand, yet relentlessly floral, luxurious and limpid, without feeling fussy or overstuffed. The only other perfumes that interpret the luxury of orris butter this successfully that I have actually smelled, are Chanel's titanic Coromandel, and Serge Lutens' scrumptious Borneo 1834, and these latter two lean further into gourmand territory than Infusion d'Iris Absolue.

Parma violet returns, as the perfume relaxes into a drydown that preserves the opening's powder into its final stages. It conjures the same indigo-and-orange, sunset-with-clouds, images as Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue, but it is less sweet, less spicy and medicinal, and I appreciate the way it punctuates the perfume's opening accord. The perfume never loses its sense of almost velvety richness, and wearing it feels both indulgent and meditative. The only other perfume that captures this same quality of decadence and serenity is Stephane Humbert Lucas 777's Khol de Bahrain, a fragrance that took me much longer to appreciate than this much more affordable offering from Prada, possibly because Khol de Bahrain's immortelle accord is something of an acquired taste, I hated it at first, and wondered why I would spend more than three times the price of Infusion d'Iris Absolue. But, I chase orris, like Don Draper chased melancholy brunettes, and it eventually seduced me, too. But, that is another perfume, another review, and this one has gone on long enough.

I am not alone in my rhapsodic appreciation of this perfume, and I sincerely hope that rumors of it's discontinued status, are exaggerated. It is certainly worth seeking out, as it is celestially beautiful, and extraordinarily wearable. People who find other orris perfumes, like Naomi Goodsir's Iris Cendre, or Serge Lutens' Iris Silver Mist, foo angular and fleeting, should try this, provided they have a high tolerance for powder and big florals. It is very, very, stereotypically feminine, as curvaceous as Guerlain's best work, and as elegant as Chanel's. It deserves a place on any list of great, and must-try, iris celebrations. I smell orris butter to the very end of its life on my skin, a technical miracle, with orris's notoriously fleeting nature.

Infusion d'Iris Absolue is a fantastic performer. Its powerful powder musk makes it possible to overspray, and even careful application will give a it radiant projection and massive sillage. Wearing it is a serious, all-day-long affair, as it deserves to be enjoyed to the very last stages of its drydown, as it sets into a husky-voiced whisper, at least 14 hours after two or three initial sprays. It is elaborate enough for formal and evening wear, yet just sunny enough from its orange and violet to be welcome for day. I don't think this perfume has a special season, but hot weather can bring it to almost deafening and choking volume, if I don't apply it with care. It is one of the jewels in Prada's perfume crown, as distinctive, and beautiful, as the house's original Amber and L'Eau Ambrée, and it shows that modern designers can make classical style perfumes, that walk the thin line, between rich old vintage accords, and modern requirements for simplicity and cleanliness. It deserves 5 pave-studded stars, and two equally bejeweled thumbs up.

Feb 7, 2021

Grisette by Lubin

The revived Austrian house of Lubin has been on fire in the last few years, and some excellent perfumes have resulted. Their newer perfumes are modern, with restrained, reserved, contained ingredients, and personalities, that seem common to perfumes that come from northern and Central Europe, in contrast with many of the Mediterranean's more exuberant niche houses. I think this difference largely rests on how lab-grown the fragrances' ingredients smell, and the wearer's appreciation for, or tolerance of, materials that smell “edited”–clean jasmines with no indoles, pretty roses with clipped accents, plus menacing woody ambers that could drown a Motörhead concert, and bouncy saffron-Ouds that smell like nothing except their own peculiar selves. Some great perfumes have come from this house's recent efforts, especially the colossus that is Korrigan, and then there are some others, that smell like classical perfumes, reworked with these “edited” ingredients. Grisette is one of the latter, a youthful, springtime feminine, with a synthetically boosted punch that makes a long day's wear, a bit of a chore, as I prefer pretty florals drawn more from life.

I will try not to wander too far off the reservation, now, but a miniature rant seems appropriate, in the context of this review. Much modern perfume, has become about this sort of editing, a process of slicing, or carving away, at recognizable ingredients, and reducing, or replicating, some of them, with mutated and synthetic features. This technique can give the resulting perfumes a grimness of mein, as a cleaned-up jasmine is like a tight lipped smile, rather than a full throated laugh, and a bit of enthusiasm, would benefit this perfume's girlish character. Maybe, the perfumer wanted that effect, but I cannot, personally, connect with it. Jasmine is far from the only perfume ingredient that has been subjected to this kind of treatment, but it is one of the most common, as a little jasmine goes into almost all perfume, and it seems like bare, space-age jasmine accords are a thing now, with the house of Dior making their Uber minimalist Joy their current pillar offering. Perhaps, it is an olfactory expression of Kim Kardashian's monochromesque wardrobe, which has a deceptive plainness that does not suit my own tastes. I appreciate the aesthetic, but I am not a minimalist. I like comfortable old things, and my sartorial basics tend toward more more texture and pattern, a preference that translates into the perfumes I love. I have learned to enjoy some of Byredo's more austere offerings, but I struggle with perfumes that use of these sterile materials in complicated accords like Grisette's, because there is a lot happening in this perfume, and the way it has put its jasmine on a muzzle and leash, illustrates how the rest of the perfume's floral components are also treated.

Grisette is built around a jasmine-rose accord of the type I have just described, with a soapy muguet accord that seems to gain traction, as the perfume develops. It is like hearing a beloved classical piece of music replicated with synthesized strings, that are not quite plastic enough to gain the crystalline beauty of late 1970s/early 1980s synth strings, they just seem to be missing their traditional warmth, and the perfume is discordant at its calibrated levels. A little less volume, might take off what I believe is ita unintentional edges, as the accord is drawn from life, and would benefit from a lighter hand. I do not think this perfume is trying to be a Piguetesque diva, so it is like a lovely young woman with surgically augmented breasts, silicone injected lips, and too much contouring makeup, where plump natural features, are already beautiful, in their youthful freshness. From a distance, or in dim light, things look very attractive, but close range, the effect is jarring.

To clarify, I have no objections, to obvious artifice. I love electronic music, it is something I understand, and create in real life, and I find beauty in the glorious sound of Gary Numan's highly treated string accords, the click and hum of arpeggiated sequencer programming. But, these sounds can lose their appeal, if they simply substitute for what a live violinist can do, and it seems like, paradoxically, the closer to approximating the sound of human hands and wooden instruments, the more grotesquely artificial these sounds can become. It takes taste, and care, to get the sounds right, and the difference is like the lush, gorgeous, orchestral sounds of a Trevor Horn production, like Horn's exquisite work on Grace Jones' Slave to the Rhythm, versus the recreated classical Muzak I hear at my local dim sum restaurant, and Grisette is like the latter. It needs either more, or less, enhancement, my choice being for less, for such a theoretically pretty perfume to work.

Grisette isn't awful, it just needs something, perhaps an airier sensibility, as it feels too tightly wound, to be the perfume, that I think it strives to be. Even its vanilla base, where it could loosen its hair a little, seems too controlled. Some texture, some creaminess, some resin, would contrast with the perfume's monotone floral ingredients, and their tightly bound composition. It is suggestive of a well-tended and carefully landscaped garden, but, look closely, and you see that its flowers are artificial. It is very tastefully composed, and its predictable loveliness works in theory, but I want more, or less, from it. In the hands of a minimalist master like Jean-Claude Ellena, it could work much better, perhaps because Ellena has a talent for adding an element of strangeness, and grace, to his perfumes that fit into similar spaces, like his underappreciated Rose Ikebana, which has a watercolor softness that is missing here. Grisette also sits awkwardly on skin, as its soapy musk would have benefited from a more elegant, silkier texture, and a melting connective tissue that I have found in other modern pretty perfumes in this same family, from Ormonde Jayne's Privé to Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle.

I cannot fault this perfume's technical performance. It projects away to at least six feet, and lasts for at least 12 hours, too long for me, for this type of fragrance. I am not certain whom to recommend it to, as it seems aimed at young women, but its presence seems too powerful for what it is, and would distract, rather than enhance, the appearance of the wearer. I have noticed similar problems with some of Lubin's other perfumes, and, I think, the amount of effort and complexity that went into Grisette could have been justified if the perfumer had aimed for more elegance and less raw power. This is the type of perfume that has been done better by so many other houses, that I would recommend Annick Goutal's lovely Rose Splendide, Miu Miu's L'Eau Rosée, or any of Cartier's recent florals, over Grisette. Perhaps the current obsession with performance was too tempting for the perfume's creative team to ignore.

It is a quality scent, and clearly well considered, but it is simultaneously too much, and not enough. I have given it two carefully observed wearings, before I have come to these conclusions, and I feel like warm weather, its natural habitat, would only exacerbate the problems I have with it. I cannot help, but feel like it is in Lubin's lineup, because they felt like they needed something like it, instead of considering what they could do with this accord, in the context of the house's aesthetic, as Korrigan shows how creative Lubin can be, when they try. Two stars, and thumbs sideways.
Feb 6, 2021

Eau des Baux by L'Occitane

L'Occitane de Provence is not considered a heavyweight perfume house, probably because most of their perfumes are relatively simple one-note explorations of single ingredients, like lemon verbena–useful, but not complicated–sold in the context of products used mostly for home fragrance and skin care. Eau des Baux is different, a genuine classic that belongs in anyone's collection who enjoys resinous and spicy Oriental fragrances. L'Occitane's marketing materials say it is a tribute to a brotherhood of medieval knights that met in cypress groves, and describe it as a tribute to the scent of those trees. I don't think it smells much like cypress, but it has a pleasing, outdoorsy quality that smells like mastic gum, pine, eucalyptus, and myrrh, lit from within with a hot spicy amber glow.

It smells salubrious, nearly medicinal, with a similar aromatic punch to patchouli, without patchouli's swampy greenness, or its cultural hippie connotations. There is a natural-smelling woody accord that reminds me of being in a big redwood forest, complete with saline breezes, and sinus-clearing aromatics. It reminds me of bay rum, and the gingerbreadesque comfort of Chanel's Bois des Iles and Egoiste. It opens with a hint of something fresh, perhaps a bit of begamot, and then comes the incense sparkle of opoponax, and nose tingling baking spices, like nutmeg, allspice, and, perhaps, black pepper, with some heat from
a chile accord. It smells comforting and handsome, but without traditional masculine accords like clary sage that might suggest a more gendered identity than the fragrance actually has.

Molasses and maple sweetness join the spices, and then the initial resin burst fades, like almost an upside-down amber, as sprinkles of spice become more prominent. This is the perfume's middle gear, an inviting scent that comforts without some of the usual cosseting accompaniments of milky accords, or powder. Its sweetness takes on an almost chewy quality, recreating the presence of mellow tonka, and perhaps even some lulling benzoin, without a hint of cloying sugariness.

Tonka dominates the perfume's later stages, balanced by its continuing, throaty heat. It is a fine, uncluttered, base accord, and even heavy application doesn't bring out any questionable or unpleasant artificiality that might spoil the perfume's sense of being outside in clean air in an autumn forest. I think I smell a delicate, minimal bit of clove in the mix, but the spice mix is so well blended that nosing out individual spices is difficult.

It is an extraordinarily easy wear, the kind of “dumb reach” perfume that calls me when I want a scent that makes me feel serene and relaxed. I sometimes wear it in summer, as it is like amber with more space between the notes than other perfumes in its family can sometimes have, but casual evening wear is its natural habitat, and I often wear it to bed, when I want something outside of my usual bed-time floral musks. Tonight, as I wear it, it is helping to dispel a perfume-induced headache, and it has calming properties that remind me of fresh lavender, which makes me wonder if there is a touch of that herb in it.

L'Occitane used to do more of this kind of thing, and I miss the beautiful ambers it used to make. I am glad that Eau des Baux is still in production, easy to find, and extremely affordable, especially on the gray market. I notice it often appears in the collections of beginning perfume hobbyists, especially those looking for masculines that don't smell like petrol or leather. It is intelligently composed, very sophisticated for the price, and smells good on everyone of any gender.

It is classified as an Eau de Toilette, and thus not a performance beast, with gentle projection and sillage. I think its relatively high resin content causes it to wear close to the body, it is the kind of perfume that feels like it invites leaning in, rather than hearkening from a distance, and it lasts at least eight hours or more, depending on application–more for evening, especially if the wearer wants to wear it for events or dates, when it makes for good nuzzling, yet won't compete with food or wine at dinner. Something about it, reminds me of Shalimar, likely its opoponax, less Shalimar's floral and leather. It is a fragrance I feel confident recommending to anyone, unless they just don't like resin, or only feel comfortable in traditional feminine fruit and florals.

Eau des Baux is an old favorite of mine, a perfume so direct in its development and construction, that this review has practically written itself. Some reviewers might give it three stars, as it is not expensive or complex, but I prize wearability and versatility as highly as any other qualities, and its obvious quality and clever composition elevate it beyond the realms of the basic. Not many houses do this kind of thing so well at this price, and it earns a well deserved four-plus stars, with two enthusiastic thumbs up. At the risk of repetition, I feel compelled to restate that this is a classic, and it deserves the high marks, and cult status, it occupies among the folk here on Basenotes. Thumbs up.
Feb 6, 2021

Real Patchouly by Bois 1920

Bois 1920's Real Patchouly (with a “y”) is a complex, interesting, paper-dry patchouli soli...folium (patchouli is distilled from its leaves, not its flowers), with a comforting chocolate accent in its profile that satisfies my personal love of unusual gourmands, with quirky but easygoing personalities. It reminds me of a cross between Lutens' massive Borneo 1834, only more austere, with no apparent floral ingredients, and Comme des Garçons' Luxe Patchouli, a dry, spicy, greenish, perfume with a very dusty patchouli base, only less dark and weird. It used to, also,
be a real bargain, with Bois 1920's standard 3.3 ounce bottles going for around $50-$60, but prices for Bois 1920's line-up have increased in the last year, or two, and gray market prices have risen to about $150 or more, still better than retail. I am glad I got my bottle when it was very cost-effective, but, I think, it is still worth discussing, as it is a powerful, high-quality perfume, from a house that I like and respect, for their interesting and sometimes even daring creations, including the gorgeous Realtivamente Rosso.

The perfume moves through several stages before it settles on its final patchouli base. Despite my wearing it for a couple of years, at least, I had to look at the notes, today, to, not only determine if they are accurate, but also to understand what I am smelling, in its opening. Sometimes perfume notes are useless, but Bois 1920's are usually accurate, and, looking at them, I understand what makes Real Patchouly's opening so intriguing, occasionally polarizing, and a little strange–celery, a scent with crisp bitterness, that I, personally, love, but find that some people, inexplicably, dislike. Real Patchouly's celery accord is almost anisic (another scent that some people hate, but is typically beloved by Italians, and Bois 1920 is a very Italian house), with a strong aromatic signature, that lingers over the perfume, well past its opening stage. More outdoors-y garden scents follow, notably, an herbal waft of thyme, that contribute to this perfume's relaxed, yet poised, character. There is also some cedar, an ingredient that I sometimes love, and sometimes hate; in the opening accord, it contributes to the perfume's dry, but not desiccated, atomsphere, without adding cedar's sometimes overpowering scent of sawdust.

Real Patchouly's forest/garden theme continues with more green aromatic ingredients, including subtle eucalyptus that matches patchouli's camphoric profile. Black frankincense wafts and weaves into its heart, as dry patchouli moves from a background hum, to a mid-volume rumble, with a pipe-shop tobacco accord, bringing cozy humidity to the opening and middle grassy-woody accord of dry herbs and middle phase woods. I don't smell sandalwood, unless it is part of the perfume's cedar accord (many perfumes that claim to include sandalwood “notes” usually have more cedar than detectable milky-rosey santal, not an unusual thing, with sandalwood in extremely limited supply these days). The perfume's feeling of moisture grows, as it warms and melds with skin, leading to the perfume's final stages, as its amber base emerges.

I think Real Patchouly's base is especially appealing, but then, I have met few ambers that I don't like. It is soft, in that it feels like a warm blanket, yet muscular, built on an incense accord, with frankincense blending with earthy myrrh, not a listed ingredient, but definitely detectable, another forest-y scent in the mix, and a benzoin/labdanum purr that probably contributes to the perfume's tobacco accord, as well as laying out the amber elements of the perfume's later stages. It reminds me of opening a fresh can of rolling tobacco, a scent that always makes this former self-roller's spine tingle a little. Then its patchouli darkens, and deepens, its chocolate tones showing an almost fluffy, diffused quality, that reminds me of the intoxicating scent of cocoa powder, a lovely place for the perfume to land, as it shifts between benzoin-inflected tobacco, and patchouli cocoa dust, through its final, long-lasting end stages.

Lovers of both fresh and dry spicy Orientals will, probably, love this perfume, as it starts dry but finishes rich and damp. I do not put it, exactly, in the “patchouli and only patchouli” box, but, it has enough dank, weedy, swampy patchouli to please patch lovers, and it has enough extra trimmings to keep its patchouli interesting. It smells, and behaves, like a golden-to-shadowy-dark-brown olfactory rendering, of a Mark Rothko painting, or Brian Eno and David Bowie's elegiac “Warzsawa” from the gorgeous ambient side of their groundbreaking first collaboration on Bowie's Low–smoothly shifting gears between the two, a dark lullaby that makes wearing this perfume especially pleasant at bedtime.

Bois 1920's nomenclature is sometimes confusing to me (what, exactly, does “Sushi Imperial” even mean? I love that perfume, but I am glad it doesn't smell like fish–some things that smell and taste delicious wouldn't make very appealing perfumes), and I am not sure what the “real” in “Real Patchouly” signifies, as the name suggests a simpler perfume than this is. As I wrote in the opening of this review, it lives in the same space as Lutens' great Borneo, with some obvious references to Chergui, especially its judicious use of benzoin, a material in which I could drink, bathe, or, quite happily drown, like a bug in brandy in a big bronze cup, to paraphrase the great Andy Partridge, although Chergui is sweeter, and has nubbly hay absolute in its herbal accord. It also reminds me of 19-69's Chinese Tobacco, one of Chergui's many perfume progeny that I just tried, and really enjoyed.

I prefer Real Patchouly for day wear in cooler months, as its sepia tones suit gloomy days like the late January afternoon on which I am writing this, especially well. It is also one of my favorite bedtime perfumes, year-round, its
cocoa and benzoin make it an excellent comfort scent. Its versatility is one of the best reasons I believe it delivers excellent value-for-money, along with its performance, as it has outstanding longevity, 24 hours and then some, and good projection, that isn't overpowering, but is noticeable at a distance of at least six feet. My bottle is aging well, I think the opening has grown smoother, and it is displaying more complexity, the longer I have owned, worn, it. I love this perfume, and I hope this review will lead some readers to giving it a try. Four solid stars, hovering on an extra half, as I am finding something new nearly every time I wear it, and two coppery-bronze thumbs up.
Jan 29, 2021

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