Tabac Blond by Caron

Much has been written about the differences between the vintage and modern reformulation of Tabac Blond. This is a review of the current extrait, which - if not identical to its predecessor - is a beautiful fragrance in its own right. It smells very much like Habanita to me, albeit with more tobacco in the opening; in the drydown, they are almost identical twins to my nose.

Note: I'm editing this review of the current extrait because I just received a 1940 sealed bottle of Tabac Blond extrait, and the differences between them are striking. The vintage perfume is every bit the "angular, dykey leather" that Luca Turin says it is - it's one of the best leather-and-tobocco scents I've ever smelled. The opening is sharp, distinctive, in-your-face, and its floral notes provide a muted backdrop for the atmospheric top and heart notes. It's exquisite, a masterpiece of the perfumer's art.

The current extrait, by comparison, is more about the florals, with leather and tobacco subdued; some people will like it better than vintage, for that very reason. The Tabac Blond DNA is there, but in a very polite and genteel form. It's quite beautiful, but missing key elements in its character.

parfums*PARFUMS Series 3 Incense: Avignon by Comme des Garçons

I had to chuckle about 20 minutes into the drydown of Avignon, because it smells exactly like the dry cracked church pews of my youth, permeated with decades of incense and the smell of old prayerbooks and hymnals. I love it! And I also understand why some people would not appreciate it, in the absence of a similar personal history. It does smell musty, dusty, etc. Avignon is an experience, and the evocation of ages past - it is exactly what it purports to be, and I think it's wonderful.

Casbah by Robert Piguet

Casbah is very much in the same family as Avignon (Comme des Garcons), but it is simultaneously - and perhaps paradoxically - richer, more lighthearted and intriguing than the latter, without Avignon's stentorian "churchiness." I am glad to have both, as sometimes I welcome the dusty incense-and-old-wood ambiance of Avignon, and at others I want the insouciance and spicy chatter, the joie-de-vivre, of the marketplace.

Casbah's life on the skin develops in subtle layers: at the 12-hour mark, with all of its notes singing in unison (and still going strong), I'm reminded more of Havana by Aramis than Avignon - even though those two fragrances, by themselves, have little in common. Casbah is a mesmerizing blend of notes, smelling of curry and nutmeg and incense, and it warms my heart.

Havana by Aramis

What an intoxicating scent. It contains so many notes that one might think it would be a study in confusion, but no…instead, it is an intricately arranged and orchestrated symphony of accords.

I bought this for my husband, who likes bay rum, but most bay rum scents smell heavy-handed and unbalanced to me - Havana incorporates that heady scent, but imbues it with layer upon layer of nuance and surprise. Havana smells to me like raisins steeped in brandy, with sweet tobacco leaves and baskets of herbs drying nearby, accompanied by a floral breeze. It has extraordinary sillage and longevity. While Havana is a very masculine fragrance as commonly understood, I wear it, too, and revel in its unexpected harmonies.

Havana pour Elle by Aramis

This is a very pretty fragrance, and I use that adjective purposefully in order to distinguish Havana pour Elle from the loftier and perhaps less approachable category of "beautiful." From its bright citrus opening, to its warm heart, to its sweet scintillating drydown, this is a friendly fragrance, without being any less magnetic and seductive for that: it creeps up on one in surprising ways, and lingers in memory.

I am not ordinarily a fan of fruit notes, but here they are so well done that I not only appreciate them, but understand why they are there, and how they contribute to the olfactory impression of a world filled with color, variety and joie de vivre. The honey-and-vanilla finish is like a golden wash of sunlight, seen just on the cusp of dusk: embracing, rich, radiant and full of promise.

Havana pour Elle smells nothing like its brother, Havana, but it evokes the same kind of sensory experience. I don't think it is given the attention it deserves, possibly because Havana pour Elle is so unassuming that its depths don't yield to a passing glance. Sillage is moderate, longevity long - like the smooth, inviting impression it leaves.

Jungle Gardenia (original) by Coty

The original Jungle Gardenia featured an interesting blend of herbal and floral notes, and it had a great deal of depth. Sillage was massive, longevity 12 hours and counting, yet it was not cloying and it never emptied a room. It was still a quality fragrance when Yardley acquired it, and only started to deteriorate in the 1990s when Coty took over and reformulated it.

I recently purchased a couple of bottles of the vintage Yardley spray cologne, when it became clear to me that no modern reformulation of Jungle Gardenia is ever likely to duplicate it - especially in view of restrictions on ingredients. Evyan now holds the trademark on the name and formula, and it does smell like a thin version of the original - but it has no longevity on my skin, an hour at most. I have not tried Long Lost Perfume's version, called Tuvache Gardenia 1933 - I've heard it's pretty good. But the original is, well, the Real McCoy, and it's stunning.

There are many tuberose and gardenia fragrances in my collection, and the one that most resembles the original Jungle Gardenia is Fracas; but Fracas is primarily floral, whereas Jungle Gardenia smelled like the whole tropical forest. To me, it ranks right up there with vintage Tabu for warmth, depth, projection and sultriness.

Cuir de Russie Parfum by Chanel

Words can't even begin to do justice to Chanel's Cuir de Russie, about which so many have been written. It is a masterpiece, and one which I am very glad to have after years of dithering: Should I? Is it worth it? Do I really need it? The answer to all three turned out to be a resounding Yes.

This is one of the most elegant, beautifully balanced fragrances ever created, perfect at every stage of its development, with enormous but not overpowering sillage. On my skin, longevity is well over 12 hours (and that's just from one spray of the EDT). As others have said, Cuir de Russie really does evoke the presence of top-quality leather, such as one associates with bygone eras - in addition to gorgeous floral and well orchestrated animalic notes.

Following a period of indecision over whether to buy the EDT or parfum, a decant of EDT so astonished me with its full-bodied presence that I ordered both from Chanel. The EDT seems crisp and self-assured, the extrait softer and gently pervasive: I liken the EDT to rustling silk, the latter to velvet. I'm so glad that I decided to acquire Cuir de Russie in both concentrations.

Cuir by Lancôme

This is a soft leather fragrance that smells like top-quality suede. Warm, earthy orris root is more prominent to my nose than floral notes, and sustains Cuir de Lancome throughout its development and drydown.

Several years ago, this fragrance was widely available for around $30, but as of 2015 it is harder to find and costs in the neighborhood of $75. From the outset, it smells to me almost identical to the drydown of Knize Ten (both original and Golden Edition), and that is the only reason I haven't stockpiled Cuir de Lancome - I probably have enough Knize Ten to last a lifetime, so it's like having two great leathers in one.

On my skin, Cuir de Lancome very quickly becomes a skin scent with little sillage or projection. I can detect wafts of it many hours after application, but no one else can. It is powdery and gentle and I am not able to detect much change from one stage to the next in its development; nevertheless, this is a fragrance that really does smell like fine leather, and it deserves the accolades it continues to receive.

Bandit by Robert Piguet

Bandit has been called the edgiest of "butch leathers," and I suppose it is, but for me it always enters the room with a wink and a healthy capacity for enjoying its calculated effects. Bandit's bitter notes are interwoven with indolic floral airs - glorious discord, fragrant (and flagrant) irony!

Comparing the 2015 EDP with a vintage extrait - which might be too much a case of apples v. oranges, even for Bandit - I find the vintage juice much more bitter, with accords that are smoother but at the same time harder to pin down; nevertheless, the core personality of this reference leather fragrance is intact and alive in its current iteration. Bandit will always be among my favorite leathers, but it is so much more than that: like all noteworthy incarnations, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

Fracas by Robert Piguet

To me, Fracas is every bit the masterpiece it is purported to be, the ultimate reference tuberose. I love white flower fragrances and have acquired a number of them over the years, across a wide range of pricepoints and labels: beautiful as each might seem on its own, next to Fracas they seem either limp or starchy. I find Fracas exquisitely balanced between delicacy and exuberance, even in its 2015 reformulated iteration.

A friend who does not share my perfume obsession, once remarked that surely a drugstore 'gardenia' must smell as good as any other white floral, regardless of reputation or history - so I sprayed a reasonably faithful tuberose/gardenia blend on one wrist and Fracas on the other, waited fifteen minutes, and let him smell them. He just blinked and shook his head. Not even close.

Tabu by Dana

Tabu is one of my favorite fragrances, and has been since I discovered it in 1962 - yes, I even remember the year! It's that special. Rich, warm, evocative, over-the-top (in the best way) yet perfectly balanced within itself, true to its own character and mission (utter seduction of the senses), Tabu will always be front and center in my collection.

The most recent iteration of the cologne by Dana costs about $12 and is widely available at pharmacies and discount department stores. Like all fragrances - and especially Dana's - it has suffered through reformulation, but it still packs a seductive wallop and is instantly recognizable. It is thinner and less deep than in previous years, but still worth having at that price. Sillage and longevity are enormous on my skin.

If you like Tabu and find a vintage bottle of the extrait, bath oil or cologne, snap it up - the earlier versions are 3-dimensional, and (in my experience) they seldom go off-center if they've been carefully stored. The extrait is to die for, the bath oil is almost as good (and I've never come across a rancid bottle), and the cologne is very nearly as potent.

Knize Ten by Knize

I have never smelled earlier versions of this EDT, which many reviewers say was richer and more distinctive than the current juice. If that is so…wow, it must have been incredible because I love my bottle of Knize Ten and have purchased a couple more for backup. It is phenolic, tarry, and floral (all at once), and it dries down to a subdued, beautiful suede scent very similar to Cuir de Lancome. I do not find Knize Ten raw, disconcerting, excessively animalic, redolent of the urinal or machine shop; to me, it is a strong, elegant leather whose floral notes accent and unite the overall composition. It is noir-ish, but sophisticated - not crude or brutal.

Sillage and projection are weak for me, but within a couple of hours Knize Ten becomes a tenacious skin scent that persists for well over a day - lean in to smell it!

I appreciate and wear many fragrances that are categorized as masculine scents, and Knize Ten is among my favorites. For me, a fragrance's quality and integrity of construction supercede conventional notions of gender, and that is emphatically the case with regard to Knize Ten.

Knize Ten Golden Edition by Knize

I am giving this a thumbs-up even though I prefer the original Knize Ten. The Golden Edition (GE) has had its angles polished, its leather smoothed and its florals blended almost to a puree, and as a result it has lost (for me) much of its interest, but little of its beauty. Like the original Knize Ten, the GE dries down to a lovely suede scent reminiscent of Cuir de Lancome.

It's a funny thing about scent perception that - given the same fragrance, bottled in the same production year - one person will be strongly impressed by specific notes or accords, while another finds them utterly lacking; likewise for sillage, projection and longevity. On me, sillage and projection for both the regular and Golden Editions of Knize Ten are weak (especially the GE), but each develops into a tenacious skin scent that lasts for many hours.

Many people (myself included) find the leather diminished in the GE, while others perceive it as stronger. For me, the GE also lacks the strong phenolic aspect of regular Knize Ten (which lasts well into the drydown), and the GE's floral accords are blurrier than regular Knize Ten's - but I've read a number of reviews that state the opposite. I love the strong juxtaposition of leather and florals in the regular version - but others say the same about the GE!

So you'll probably need to try both and see what you think. It would not be wasteful to buy a decant or small bottle of each for comparison, as they're both excellent but strike people in various ways. You'll encounter reviews which state that the GE and regular Knize Ten are almost identical twins, but this reviewer disagrees.

Habanita by Molinard

This is a glorious fragrance which is often included in the leather family, and I would not disagree - but it is equally a tobacco scent, and not only because it was originally created as an adornment for cigarettes. I am reminded of flavored pipe tobaccos when I smell Habanita, and its smokiness is as friendly and familiar as a fine blend.

Having extraits from the 20s and 30s, I can happily report that the current reformulation is excellent. Side-by-side comparisons between vintage and modern versions yield almost identical results for accords, sillage and longevity (expansive, enduring and consistent) - the only difference I can detect is that the current Habanita EDP has a very faint petroleum smell at the tail-end of its life on my skin, but the same could be said of almost every modern fragrance and it would not be noticeable to anyone who didn't have his/her nose plastered to my wrist with the intention of finding fault. I love Habanita.

Pavlova by Five Star Fragrances

This morning, my husband found a box of vintage fragrances that went missing during a move many years ago. I thought the box had probably been stolen, but it was discovered in the basement in a cubbyhole behind a false wall, its contents beautifully preserved. To my delight, Pavlova by Payot was there. In its earlier incarnations, this was a lovely floral blend which - as others have noted - was sweet without being excessive or cloying. I have not smelled recent bottles, but I've read that the juice has suffered a great deal through reformulation - if you find a vintage Pavlova somewhere, she might reward you for giving her a good home.

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