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Eau de Gentiane Blanche by Hermès

Cool, austere, dank yet dry, powdery-dusty, vegetal, foggy, and maybe slightly smoky (but not warm); a greenness steeped in an old stone and dirt-floor cellar. I don't know gentian, but what I perceive here is a big dose of iris, mostly root. In this respect, my mind connected it to Eau d'Italie's wonderful Bois d'Ombrie. In the latter, the rhizomatic note is enhanced by other facets; here it far more front-and-center, sweetened only the tiniest bit by musk and something that strikes me as grapefruit pith. I don't really get incense from this at all, unless it is the faint, slight smokiness, which I would be equally attempted to attribute back to iris. Ultimately, this strikes me as gothic and aloof--for Heathcliff out on the moor. Some have called it depressing; I find it transporting. In all, a very cool and unconventional scent, appropriately presented in a sleek and minimal dark grey bottle. I don't know its concentration, but with 3-5 sprays, this out-performs some fragrances purporting to be EDT/EDP.

L'Antimatière by LesNez

Humanoid robot skin scent This is just really weird, yet not unlikeable. If CdG had a fragrance called "Baby Doll's Head," it would probably smell a lot like this. "Baby doll's head" is the only real-world scent I can relate to L'Antimatière, both the hair and the plastic of the doll's head. It is at once musty and clean; plastic yet somehow mineral-metallic; cool and warm. It is less the skin scent of a human, more the skin scent of a humanoid robot. And yes, once it gets going, it lasts and lasts, projecting moderately or better, seemingly in waves. There is something in this that reminds me a lot of an element in Miller Harris's L'Air de Rien. It is the same element that up close, smells overly sharp, but is much softer and more likeable from a distance. I cannot say I love or hate this, but am definitely intrigued.

New-York by Nicolaï

This perfume seems to embody some of the best elements of classic male citric-spicy-sweet-orientals of the 1970s-1980s, as if in 1989, Nicolai took the best of the genre for those decades and refined it all into New York. While sharing aspects with numerous other perfumes of its time, there is something about New York that I find much more warm, inviting, nuanced, self-assuredly humble, and comforting than the others. It walks a perfect line between the bitter-citric, spicy, and sweet moves one associates with the era, keeping those elements acutely balanced. It is a bit mysterious to me that while I note the warmer, sweeter elements of this fragrance, they are hardly there when sniffed close, leaving me to wonder if this smells even better from a few feet away.

New York evokes, to me, classy menswear of the 1980s, and those who wore it with style and ease. While not entirely unique or groundbreaking, it is among the best in its class, if not the best, and could easily become a go-to perfume for practically any occasion, especially the office. If this is niche, it is more by association than smell, yet it is a step above the scents to which it is frequently compared, and in my opinion, worth the extra money. Some will say it is dated, but to me that means it does not smell like what others are wearing; and besides, my generation and those younger probably would not pick up on it anyway. A child of the 70s-80s, this strikes me as classic, timeless, and comforting.

French Lover / Bois d'Orage by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

In the opening, galbanum presents as broken vines and pulled weeds (dirt included), and is accompanied by many aspects of juniper (berry, stalk, and wood). Green, fresh, dense, and earthy. I would have guessed this also contains vetiver. I imagine walking through the topiary gardens of Versaille on a crisp morning, just as the gardeners are leaving. The slow transition from green-spiciness to a warm cedar-and-spice-dominated heart is captivating; one of the best perfume narratives I have experienced. I am grasping for incense, but it just is not there on me, nor do I miss it, really. The long drydown is chiefly a woody, cedar affair, with faint trails of spices persisting. Lasting power and projection are a bit better than average.

Cardinal by Heeley

As was said below, this has a surprisingly sour opening, which strikes me as under-ripe grapefruit peel (might actually be vetiver) accompanied, of course, by a boatload of frankincense. In my opinion, the sourness sets it apart from other incenses fragrances. As the sourness recedes, the frankincense warms up a bit, aided by perhaps amber, and dry woods--woods that I imagine have been polished with incense oil for years and years. A very atmospheric, austere, and transporting scent, which, once it gets going, strikes me as more authentic (less synthetic) than many other incense perfumes. Longevity seems average, with projection slightly less-than, but still respectable. As usual for Heeley, the bottle, graphics, and packaging are a joy to see.

Eau Duelle Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

The opening contains a realistic note of juniper, grounded already in vanilla. Other spices develop to provide a warm, calm midrange, filling in the space between. As the opening transitions, there is a span in which this smells like lemon cream pie; it is odd but lovely. In the middle phase, this is more towards spicy vanilla, but with the juniper added, the spice accord is somewhat more unique, and not really what comes to mind when you think of “spices.” I find the vanilla, while prominent, to be a more subdued take on the theme, more towards the bean than the extract (that is, not overly sweet) making nearly moot any comparisons between this and the big vanilla scents. Eau Duelle is simply different in intent and effect. Although, if you can't take vanilla in any form, avoid this. I don't typically go for vanilla-based perfumes, but this I love. Fresh, slightly sweet, and comforting. Perfect winter scent.

Je Suis un Homme by Etat Libre d'Orange

Opens very sharp with citrus, bergamot, and also slightly boozy with the cognac accord (perhaps parched woods and vetiver) which seems to dominate. Refined, somewhat aloof, somewhat old-school. Cloves and spices in the dry down warm things up a little bit as the leather emerges--dry and dusty, but never quite dominating. Bergamot lingers, as does citrus in the form of astringent pith, rather than fruit or zest. Things are pretty stable from here on, so, all told, on me this is a citric, slightly spicy, and astringent leather/cognac. The cognac seems to outweigh the other elements by just a tad. It projects well and is long lasting. Oddly, I do not sense any animalic values at all. Perhaps warmer weather would bring these out.

Fou d'Absinthe by L'Artisan Parfumeur

I've never smelled actual absinthe, but there is a note in the opening that I would believe, based on a literary understanding of the drink. Which is to say there is a detectible note of anise, or something similar. Pepper, clove, nutmeg, ginger, and pine present themselves within about a minute of application. One can easily parse the constituent notes, not because they are poorly blended, but because they are believable, the pine in particular, which quickly dominates in the way of pine needles and sap, sap covered pine cones, pine trees oozing sap. Amazingly, this coniferous blend with added spices is not suggestive of Christmas, beyond cutting down your own Christmas tree, perhaps sweating a bit while you do so. There is also something a little boozy about this. The whole is exceptional and highly enjoyable, although short lived. For about 2-3 hours this has average strength and projection, but it tapers off pretty quickly at around 3 hours, at which time I once again get the “absinthe” note, faint though it may be, which hangs around skin-close four several hours.

Sel de Vétiver by The Different Company

Opens as a citric, sour (yes, like grapefruit) vetiver, but the citrus impression is quickly replaced with something saltier, I suppose coming from cardamom and patchouli, although it is hard to readily identify either. This succeeds in imparting open, fresh, and airy elements of vetiver, rather those dank, dark, roots-of-the-jungle, even though there are undertones of the latter. I do perceive the scent fantasy of salt water drying on skin, but also imagine salt water drying on rocks and coastal boulders, driftwood, and seaweed (the latter being subtle, with no fishy overtone). When the florals arrive, it is as if they are carried over some distance by the breeze. Later they are elevated to be about equals of the vetiver, at which point the whole becomes less salty and a bit more sour-floral. It is still nice, but given the fragrance's name, I hoped the salt would stick around. Of the vetivers I've tried, I find this to be the most transporting, particularly in the first half of its development, and different enough from the others to merit attention. At the end, for the most part, this goes the way of pretty much every vetiver I've experienced; that is, it basically becomes vetiver. If you sniff your wrist deeply, you may get a trace of the saltiness. But in its best phases, this is: end-of-the-day-sun-warmed, windswept, and astringent, but also somewhat stoic and detached, despite the (sometimes) intimate impression of salty skin. Longevity, projection, and sillage are slightly above average.

Volutes Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

Writing about the EdP here, but it hardly matters, as I am out of my depths with some of the stated notes. The opening is a honey and hay affair with an intriguing note of freshly peeled tangerine, which briefly adds a cool edge, before disappearing completely. I gather this is supposed to be spicier and less powdery than the EdT. I don't have the EdT (am interested enough to try at some point) but would never call this spicy. But there are spices, e.g., a warm underlayment of saffron. Less powdery this formulation may be, but there is a pronounced, non-dominant sense of iris-y powder. All I really want to say is this is really wonderful stuff. Very warm, comforting, and comfortable. I've not smelled the Egyptian cigarettes that inspired this fragrance, but this is pretty evocative of the tobacco fantasy.

Terre d'Hermès by Hermès

Mildly spicy and definitely citric opening combining, as some have said, a slightly turned orange/dried orange peel (it is not bad) with grapefruit. The vetiver is soon detectible, calling to mind large sun-warmed stones, rather than cool, dank, dark forest floors; it is an interesting twist to the note. It is significantly less bitter/sour than usual, even if that edge is preserved, nicely enhancing (or vice-versa) a later-appearing lifelike geranium. Patchouli lurks, lending an essential heft; hours in, vague leathers arrive. Grapefruit and vetiver stick it out for the long-haul, at the end moving towards a darker and more familiar vetiver scent. After reading numerous reviews, I am surprised to find that any woody notes rather buried, but this is not a fault. No pencil shavings for me. On the whole, this is a unique composition that works exceptionally well. All is subdued and relaxed; languorous and earthy.

L'Air de Rien by Miller Harris

The Miller Harris website claims this "is the fragrant expression of Jane Birkin's life and style, evoking the nostalgia of dusty libraries and old books, which perfumer Lyn Harris masterfully conjures with rich notes of oak moss, neroli, amber, and vanilla." Other sites report the inspiration included Birkin's "father's pipe, floor polish, empty chest of drawers, old forgotten houses." It is hard to believe, but in this perfume, Harris really captured these things. The fragrance opens powdery, like the scent of talcum powder on a warm shoulder, which, it soon turns out, belongs to someone seated next to you on a couch in the library of an some 19th century estate; a room in which tobacco pipes have been smoked daily, the aroma absorbed in old leather chairs, rugs, drapes, floorboards, everything. The impressions are veiled, as if you are in this room on a warm, overcast day, with the curtains pulled; veiled also by the passing of time. If there is floor polish, it is century-deep within the floorboards, not fresh from the can. If there is an empty chest of drawers, the drawers have held several lifetimes.

Huffed from the wrist, the spell is broken by a slight unattributable sharpness (which might be the mustiness noted by others). Happily, there is no need to do so, as projection is better than average. Oversprayed, the character of this fragrance changes greatly, for the worse. 1-2 sprays should be sufficient, if not ideal. Longevity is quite amazing. I could smell this in my workspace the day after wearing it.

Commenting on the notes is futile. Sure there is some vanilla, and sure, there is some oak moss, but they do not combine or represent in familiar ways. Yes, there is a sweet musky aura throughout (not animalic or overtly sexual). All told: comforting, alluring, dreamy, magical. Is there any other scent remotely like this? I don't think so.

Absolue Pour Le Soir by Maison Francis Kurkdjian

When I put this on at the end of the day yesterday I was basically horrified. Things that came to mind included burnt hair, Sharpie markers, chemical fire, and scents of alarm in general. I scrubbed it after an hour or so, but read up on it later. Trying it again today with the notes in mind, I find it much more intelligible, even through the admittedly harsh opening. Certain references in other reviews seem fairly spot-on. There is definitely a filthy, warm honey aspect (I keep thinking of honey freshly regurgitated from the bee) coming from the honey/civet combination. I also appreciate the comparison of this to sniffing the leather wristband of a watch that has been worn for many years. More than anything, I agree with a reviewer who likened the scent to worn underwear. I do not mean to be vulgar or shocking; this is pretty much right on, and if there is any truth to the legend of Germaine Cellier's creative process for Bandit, this reference is nothing new. Ultimately, Absolue pour le Soir is corporeal and sexual, vividly conjuring sweat, traces of other body fluids and/or functions, and a feminine powder. In my heart, I feel these scents have a firm place in perfumery. I just don't know what to do with them personally, because they have a context antithetical to the vast majority of my perfume wearing occasions. On the other hand, I can imagine this being very enticing on my wife on a promising date.

So, a very, very challenging fragrance. As someone interested in perfume, I am willing to work with this, but considering those in my olfactory zone will most likely not be patient perfume aficionados, I am concerned about reactions. It really projects, and the notes tend to cut through any competing scent. You will be noticed. For better or worse, who can say? Another reviewer described this as a fragrance that wears the wearer, rather than the other way around. I don't entirely agree, but do find this requires rather than inspires confidence.

I thought this was going to be my first thumbs-down review, but Absolue Pour le Soir receives a thumbs-up for its uniqueness and highly evocative nature (not necessarily for accessibility or even general wearability). Longevity, projection, and sillage are unquestionably outstanding.

Aventus by Creed

Opens with a strong pineapple note, which quickly dissipates into bergamot. I can also imagine "French apples" (just as easily I could imagine the apples to be German, Peruvian, American, etc.). At any rate, I find the apple note even more subtle than the pineapple. All is very crisp, but also rather strong, if that makes sense. To be honest, through the fog of more than 20 years, the opening reminds me of Aspen, which wouldn't necessarily be bad, except for the price-point. Drydown is a much different story. The pineapple note is pronounced and likable. Here also develops what becomes a prominent smokiness, and from this point forward, the composition becomes increasingly interesting. I am reminded, in theory but not effect, of Lush's/Gorilla Perfumes' Breath of God which also prominently features a smoky fruity accord. Personally, I prefer Breath of God, in which the smoke lasts much longer and the whole is less sweet, but the comparison is one of apples and oranges (or rather, pineapples and melons). Post-smoke, I find this is mostly pineapple and vanilla. Oddly everything works, even if I don't recognize many of the stated notes. All in all, this is a nice, slightly unconventional "male" fragrance, with a very interesting development. For Aventus-obsessives, this is lot C42B12J01, a 2012 purchase.

Chergui by Serge Lutens

It goes on almost soapy-spicy, also very bright, but quickly turns to lovely spiced flowers, with a grassy/hay accord; soon imparting a sense of warming, verdant fields on a spring morning. This is much more close to nature than typical for this house. It is not heavy, syrupy, or fruity; rather it is fresh and slightly powdery, and as such is quite a departure for Lutens. I suppose the powdery flower is iris, but I also get a reserved suggestion of jasmine. As the tobacco unfolds, filling in the olfactory blanks below the flowers, this becomes rather stunning. Note, though, that this is not a tobacco dominant fragrance; the note is nowhere near as overt or sweet as in, say, Tobacco Vanille, to which Chergui has been compared for reasons I don't quite understand. Dry woods enter to further support the above, providing as well a subtle background sharpness. I am trying to buy into the incense note. I suppose it is not out of the question, but this has nothing to do whatsoever with, for example, CdG incenses, various of Tauer's offerings, Cardinal, etc. In drydown, honey makes its presence explicit and begins to dominate, the whole now leaning toward heady and sensual, while still remaining somewhat fresh and personable--an intriguing rather than discordant effect. What a journey. I find this to be straight-up unisex, but that is how I feel about most scents. Some guys might find the first hour a bit femme.

Five O'Clock Au Gingembre by Serge Lutens

Opening suggests dried citrus peel, tea, and spices. A kind of potpourri. It is probably the tamest Lutens opening I've experienced. The bergamot quickly takes a dominant role, but it does not quite add up to a creamy, sweet cup of Earl Grey. Cocoa, patchouli, and a touch of honey soon add a much-needed sweetness, depth, and body. This is a very lovely, well-blended stage, with the bergamot still going strong. With the exception of the opening, I find the spices (cinnamon, ginger, and pepper) to be pleasantly mild background presences. On the whole, I find this difficult to pin down, as elements are constantly, even if slowly, changing. At the core, I experience undulating bergamot and slight spices over a cloud of cocoa (sometimes bittersweet) and a polite, somewhat docile patchouli, the composition being sweet, but not overly so, which is of no small consequence with this house. This operates within the domain of spicy oriental or semi-gourmand, maybe more the latter. It doesn't really smell like gingerbread at afternoon tea, but works acceptably to impart that vibe. It is generally more reserved in projection and silage than other Lutens I've known. This, together with less controversial notes, makes for a more social bottle than the rest. Maybe not so niche as some would like, but still rather unique.

L'Ombre Fauve 8.1 / Private Collection - L'Ombre Fauve by Parfumerie Generale

I was surprised and enthralled by the sharp amber opening, which I briefly perceived as citric, although there is nothing in the stated notes accounting for the tanginess (perhaps it is patchouli). The sourness shortly eases back, although never entirely, revealing a softer, sensual powdery amber/musk, which leans towards animalic, but is not brash or in your face. In dry down, comparisons to Musc Ravageur are merited, although I find MR to be saltier and thus a little more suggestive. MR is also slightly more varied throughout, does not contain the wonderful and persistent slightly sharp and sour edge, and has a cooler ending, while L'Ombre Fauve plots a comparatively linear musk+amber course throughout dry down. On the whole, I find L'Ombre Fauve more reserved. Maybe you don't need both in your wardrobe, but they are different. I can't say which I prefer. I think I like them equally while appreciating their differences.

Une Fleur de Cassie by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Entrancing botanical opening of white flowers (starring a heady and realistic jasmine) with cumin briefly screaming human sensuality. I mean that in a very specific way that I am not comfortable sharing in a review, although I will say it is not b.o., rather it is something better and more personal. The cassie and mimosa probably deserve more mention than I am capable of making. The cumin fades pretty quickly; I wouldn't mind it sticking around longer. Far from being off-putting, it is a key component to the genius of the opening. The arrival of roses adds a dusky character, while the violets simultaneously add light. Of course, these are merely metaphors; there is no confusion or tension in the fragrance, which at this point situates the wearer in some imaginary, dewey spring arbor, including all the greenness implicit in such a setting. Strangely, the cumin returns, doing more of what it did before, with the effect being more towards animalic, but only briefly so, as it shortly hides again. Everything keeps changing, in a sense of shadow and light, and generally it just gets better and better. Just as you think you have reached the magical plateau, the composition turns an unseen corner and begins to climb again. As some have indicated, there are longevity issues. Dabbing, I get about three good hours of activity, with a fairly abrupt ending. Perhaps spraying this would give a different result (perhaps, too, I am being stingy with this precious liquid). Oddly, pleasantly, elements of the top notes persist and permutate throughout.

I usually regard nearly everything as unisex, and this is no exception, although I imagine more women would want to smell like this than would men. As a man, I love wearing this, yet, as a man, I love this even more on my wife. In any case, this is among the finest bottled fragrances I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, on par with, if not at least more interesting than Carnal Flower. Convincing on every level. Curse you, Mr. Malle, for pricing your potions so far out of my reach.

EDIT: it seems prudent to add that warmer environments will really bring out the spices in this, making it perhaps more challenging for some. On a warm day, I find this is still fantastic, but am likely to choose this more frequently in cooler weather.

Full Incense by Montale

Yes, it is Full Incense for the long haul, but that is not to say it lacks variation. It goes on as a lightly smoked, austere (but not aloof) frankincense-plus-cedar. Where some have said it is dark, my experience is of dappled light, as in a forest infused with incense from an adjacent church. No doubt forest imagery is suggested by cedar, but there is also airiness and movement, rather than a stationary density. The cedar slowly undulates throughout. Sometimes I think it has gone, but it reappears. In its heart, this is name-appropriate "full incense" consisting of frankincense, spices, a resinous ambery note, steadily increasing, sharp and lovely patchouli; cedar, and not much suggestion of smoke. In its final stages as a skin scent, the composition becomes sharper still, in the way of dry woods and patchouli. Regrettably, this is my favorite phase, and I wish I could have had more of this up front, projecting. Comparisons to Avignon, which I like quite a bit, are merited, but I think Full Incense is better put together, more convincing, sweeter, and less synthetic in effect. As for longevity, silage, and projection, Full Incense performs as expected for a Montale item, even though it is not as monstrous as certain of its Aoud brethren.

L'Air du Désert Marocain by Tauer

The lightly spiced opening is fairly unique with its creamy, high, smokeless incense accord, although I can't say I detect any of the stated notes. I would have believed cinnamon and particularly nutmeg, too. It is slightly rooty from the get go, with the rootiness gaining prominence and darkening the affair as the heart notes begin to rise. The affect is rather tobacco-like, with hints of amber and the brighter aspects of jasmine, although the latter is muted; and an increased suggestion of smoke; the whole very smooth and well-rounded. There is an airy and indistinct quality to the fragrance that intrigues rather than detracts, giving the sense of things smelled from afar, or carried on the air, as the name suggests. I feel the base notes never actually assert themselves, but rather anchor the heart notes throughout the life of the fragrance. I wish they emerged to a greater degree in order to make the experience a little darker and earthier, as well as less linear. This fragrance does not elicit as much passion in me as it does others, but it is very nice, with good silage and projection, and better than average longevity, somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 hours.

Black by Bulgari

I've given this several wears, but it just doesn't work on my skin. No burning rubber (thankfully) but also no smoke, wood, vanilla, etc. On me this is just an inoffensive and slightly floral soapy/powdery scent, which, after two hours, yields a tiny hint of vanilla and/or amber. On the whole, it is more "light pink" than "black." Allowing that this is a problem of chemistry, I won't give this more or less than a sideways thumb. I am very confused as to how my impression of this scent is so markedly at odds with so many of the other reviews. It's a shame, because based on the stated notes, and many of these reviews, this should have been wonderful for me. (Oddly, the same thing happened with Lonestar Memories.)

Black Tourmaline by Olivier Durbano

Opens like a smoldering bonfire on the beach at night: burnt wood, smoke, ambient saltiness, darkness. Spices slowly rise, adding warmth and a certain sensuality. In a way, the spices are not too far removed from the b.o. spectrum, but in a clean sense that I personally enjoy, although it may limit the social situations in which a scent like this is acceptable (or at least those in which one would feel comfortable wearing it). Personally, I would wear this to work without a second thought. It should be noted that after about two hours, probably no one will be able to smell this on you unless they are within intimate range. Also at this stage, the effect is slightly more incense-like. While very nice, you will have to sniff your wrist for it.

Given that this is pretty far removed from gendered scent touchstones, it is difficult to call this masculine or feminine. It simply is what it is, and I can imagine it appealing to a small subset of either gender, either on oneself or one's partner. Seems appropriate for fancy dress, casual dress, no dress... It will be intriguingly out of place no matter what you are wearing, unless you are at a bonfire. As has already been said, this is very skillfully and beautifully done, the stuff of scent fantasy. It is definitely one to sample and figure out for oneself.

Géranium pour Monsieur by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Opens with a brief minty blast, with the geranium entering rapidly. This brief minty-geranium stage lasts mere minutes before the mint recedes to the background. The initial opening, while perhaps strange, it is also strangely invigorating, fresh, and crisp; and while not warm, is not as cool as one might imagine. The majority of the opening proper, which is atypically long, is dominated by an accurate leafy-green geranium note (bitter, bright green, and slightly citrusy) with anethole providing a brief suggestion of anise/fennel. After an hour or so, spices enter to warm and round the brightly focused geranium, but at no stage is GpM spicy. Nor is it at all animalic, despite the basenotes of musk, ambroxan, and syrax, which seem mainly to further warm and ground the lingering geranium. The effect is a warm skin accord; but it is a fresher, less sensual variation on the theme. If only I could have this last stage amplified and extended! This wears very close on me after about three hours. All told, GpM has a rather bizarre, but engaging and interesting trajectory. Unisex, in my opinion.

I sampled this out of curiosity, not because I thought I would love it. So, while this is not for me, it is well crafted, and the stated notes reflect very well the reality of the scent. If the pyramid appeals to you, definitely give this a try, as you will probably be pleased.

Musc Ravageur by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Opens with a lovely lavender tinted bergamot, and quickly gets down to business with a salty vanilla musk--a very good and rich one. Definitely on the carnal side, certainly towards animalic. Thankfully it is not nearly as over-the-top as Muscs Kublai Khan, although it does call MKK to mind (in fact, this may be my gateway to finally being able to appreciate MKK, we'll see). Woods register in the brighter end of the spectrum but remain subtle in the mix. This is a sensual salty sweet and slightly woody musc through and through, with great longevity (detectable as more than a skin-scent for 8+ hours) and projection, and silage that is decent or better. It is not vulgar, but certainly suggestive, falling on the erotic side of "sensual."

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