Somerville Metro Man

Black Afgano by Nasomatto

Nasomatto Black AfganoAlessandro Gualtieri is the head perfumer at Nasomatto and he steadfastly refuses to give out note lists. His reasoning goes that each wearer should experience a Nasomatto scent for themselves without any preconceptions. Which is a nice theory and for the most part works. Except Sig. Gualtieri then adds incredibly descriptive copy to his fragrances which while they don't point to notes, per se, they do definitely give you a direction to let your imagination run. If you believe the stories around the 2009 release Black Afgano, Sig. Gualtieri was inspired by the odors of good hashish and supposedly smuggled some into his lab so he could have a reference while working on Black Afgano. Based on that description I was expecting a richer take on the cannabis note from the two Fresh scents Cannabis Santal or Cannabis Rose. Instead I got a deep incense centered scent with lots of smoke, tobacco, oud, and patchouli. The top of Black Afgano lands with a resounding bang as right out of the atomizer I get a deep incense accord and this is paired with an unsmoked menthol cigarette tobacco vibe. This tobacco accord comes off the way a pack of menthol cigarettes smells after the wrapper is removed. The very slight mentholated note adds to the heady mix and accentuates instead of detracting. As we move into the heart a distinct oud appears, along with a smoky tea accord, which really deepens the incense feeling of Black Afgano while beginning to add some woodiness which is joined by some cedar. The base is classic dirty patchouli which Nasomatto and Sig. Gualtieri have used so well in the past. Here it seems appropriate and the next logical step in the development of this fragrance. Very late in the development, hours later, a hint of vanilla manages to break through. This comes so late it took three wearings to convince myself that I just hadn't somehow gotten another scent on me. Black Afgano is amazingly long lasting and was still detectable the next day after a shower! Funnily enough it is very much a skin scent with very little sillage. For a scent that was supposed to be all about the intrigue and danger of hashish Black Afgano, on me, is more about the incense one burns to cover up the smell of hashish. In any case I think Black Afgano is one of the best of the Nasomatto line.

Dover Street Market by Comme des Garçons

Comme des Garcons Dover Street MarketWhen it comes to incense scents Comme des Garcons has certainly found its niche. From the Incense Series through to Hinoki you would think they've found every variation on the theme but 2009's Dover Street Market shows that there is at least one more variation left to be explored. Dover Street Market was described as "a modern twist on a classic woody fragrance". I guess what that means is this is an incense scent laid over woody notes. The funny thing is that the woods are the least prominent part of this fragrance. The top is a yin and yang mix of citrus and pepper. This kind of tart and spicy beginning leads well into the appearance of the incense along with a very lively juniper and coriander which almost gives off a gin accord under the incense. The base is mostly patchouli with cedar and pine finally coming into play to supply the promised woods. Dover Street Market is perhaps the lightest incense fragrance that Comme des Garcons has made and that might make it a good introductory scent to the Comme des Garcons style of incense perfumes. Dover Street Market has average longevity and average sillage, on me. As one who likes almost all of them I think this, for me, will be a more everyday kind of incense and another possibility to think about when I'm in an incense mood.

Black Cashmere by Donna Karan

Donna Karan Black CashmereI think there has to be a rule that if a feminine marketed scent contains the word "black" in the name it really means its unisex. It has taken me so long to try the 2002 release, by Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Donna Karan Black Cashmere that it has sadly been discontinued. After wearing it I am not surprised that it never found its mark on the designer shelves as this has niche stamped all over it. The top of Black Cashmere begins with a melange of soft spices. Nutmeg, saffron, pepper, and clove all appear as if on a spice-laden breeze. This is an unexpectedly warm combination and M. Flores-Roux continues the warmth into the heart. There a dark rose accord takes the lead and it is the spicier aspects of rose that are accentuated to complement the spices that linger from the top. The base is a woody incense olfactory fireplace at which to warm one's sensibilities. The woods are wenge and sandalwood which add a sharpness and a creaminess. The incense is frankincense and labdanum which again creates a shrap and rich aesthetic. Black Cashmere has modest longevity and average sillage on me. I think this is where the quality of ingredients needed to keep the price down shows a bit. If this were truly a niche product the quality of ingredients would have made this one last much longer.I am sad that I didn't discover Black Cashmere until it was too late because these are the kind of releases I want to support from the designer end of things. For now I'll just pull my fragrant cashmere tight around my shoulders and lose myself in its softness.

Shaal Nur by Etro

Etro Shaal NurOne of my favorite incense fragrances is Etro's Messe de Minuit. There is a dry austerity to that fragrance that really connects for me when I want incense, most of the time. Then there are times when I want a more rounded incense expereince and when I am seeking that I don't have to move out of the Etro section in my wardrobe. The 1995 release Shaal Nur is a more lush incense experience as it adds citrus, rose, vanilla and amber to the mix to create the antithesis of Messe de Minuits chilly incense and instead create an incense that feels like a Snuggie.The top of Shaal Nur begins with a bracing combination of lemon and coriander with rosemary lurking in the distance. The incense is also present right from the beginning and the resinous nature of the incense versus the tart feel of the lemon would be jarring without the presence of the coriander to create an almost bridging note between the two. As a result the top comes off as something quite enjoyable. The heart is supposed to be a mix of four floral notes but the only one that really awakens on my skin is the rose, and this combination with the dry incense is really nice as the spicy aspect of rose complements the incense at the core of this scent. The base is where this turns towards the comfortable notes of vanilla and amber and this is where Shaal Nur becomes like a blanket of soft notes to be pulled tight around you and enjoyed.Shaal Nur has average longevity and slightly above average sillage.There are times when I want my incense to be dry and austere but for those times when I want to just feel warmth and comfort along with my incense Shaal Nur is where I will turn.

Tiffany for Men Sport by Tiffany

Tiffany for Men SportSport is an innocuous word. If you make it plural and attach it to car it conjures images of sleek design and high performance. Keep the plural and add it to the word bra and you get a functional useful piece of everyday clothing for an active woman. Do a search using the word sport in the Basenotes Fragrance directory and you will be directed to a motley assortment of 87 fragrances none of which I would describe as sleek, high performance, or functional; insipid, lame, and useless are the adjectives that spring to mind. The word sport on a bottle of fragrance usually makes me roll my eyes and that some of the truly great fragrances like Habit Rouge and Dior Homme have spawned ridiculous sport versions do nothing to temper my disregard for the class....and yet. In every group of things there has to be one member that might make the grade; one sport version that might be a highly performing sleek and functional fragrance, doesn't there?Jacques Polge is one of my favorite perfumers and has created many of my favorite fragrances out there including Tiffany for Men, which is one of my top 10 men's fragrances. Unfortunately M. Polge has also created one of the insipid versions of a sport cologne of another favorite when he perpetrated Allure Homme Sport, in 2004. This has all the purported hallmarks a sport fragrance is supposed to have; easy wearability, bright citrus notes paired with clean cedar notes. It is all eminently forgettable and did not prepare me to be experience his first attempt at Sport in 1998 when he created Tiffany for Men Sport. Everything I dislike about Allure Homme Sport, and most sport fragrances in general, doesn't exist in Tiffany for Men Sport, for me. Where most of the 87 fragrances on the sport page of Basenotes reek of citrus and cedar overload neither note is to be found in Tiffany for Men Sport, and that's what makes it so enjoyable for me.Tiffany for Men Sport begins with the greener citrus note of citron and it is paired with a wonderfully sharp juniper berry. This has the effect of being refreshing without being boring. The heart brings in a mix of spices in pepper and coriander matched with the "green rose" accord of geranium. The heart of Tiffany for Men Sport is a great little blast of green. The base is a creamy light sandalwood that never rises in intensity and thus keeps Tiffany for Men Sport on the light side as I imagine M. Polge expected a sport fragrance should do. One thing I really appreciate about Tiffany for Men Sport is that M. Polge creates a fresh and clean fragrance without resorting to loading up on the citrus and woods and instead uses a balanced hand and a different set of notes to create the same effect.Tiffany for Men Sport has slightly below average longevity on me and slightly above average sillage. Again probably by design as this seems like what a sport fragrance is supposed to do.Does Tiffany for Men Sport redeem the other 86 sport fragrances in the directory? No, I still think they're all mostly glorified underarm deodorant. I think I'm going to go cross the word sport off the Tiffany for Men Sport bottle it doesn't deserve to be lumped in with the boring fresh and clean sport masses. I'm just going to call it Tiffany for Men II from now on.

New Haarlem by Bond No. 9

Bond No. 9 New HaarlemOnce the gourmand field became as popular as it has become the search was on for a gourmand fragrance that would exude a sense of sophistication to go along with its mouth-watering notes. In 2003, Maurice Roucel achieved this feat with the creation of New Haarlem for Bond No. 9. Many gourmands make the error of amping up the food note, usually coffee or chocolate, to levels that make it hard for anything else to compete. In New Haarlem M. Roucel keeps the coffee note front and center but it is kept in balance at all times and in the prescient choices of notes to go with it, has created one of the finest gourmand coffee scents available.The top of New Haarlem begins with the coffee note but there is a beautiful light fleeting movement of green notes that also appear right at the beginning. This passes quickly and cedar adds clean lines to the rich coffee and this is also complemented with an earthy feel of patchouli. I know that your thinking you've had this kind of woody coffee patchouli mix before, most notably in A*Men. This mix is entirely different as, in this case, the coffee is more pronounced and the cedar is almost used as a framing boundary in which the patchouli is allowed to add an herbal counterpoint. The base of New Haarlem simmers with amber and vanilla and it almost feels like a rich hazelnut coffee has been served and placed in a cup on my skin.New Haarlem has above average longevity and above average sillage, although not as much as A*Men in either category.If you are a lover of A*Men or are just looking for a coffee fragrance I think New Haarlem is the best cup available in town.

Hermèssence Vétiver Tonka by Hermès

Hermes Hermessence Vetiver TonkaI have really enjoyed the Hermessence line from Hermes as a concept and in the execution. Jean-Claude Ellena has done a wonderful job at exploring the interplay of some of perfumery's signature ingredients and making something fresh out of them. Case in point is one of the original Hermessence releases from 2004, Vetiver Tonka.Vetiver has to be right up there with patchouli and sandalwood as one of the most used and versatile notes in the perfumer's toolbox. Vetiver can be used to add edge or a green feel but rarely does it come off smooth. In Vetiver Tonka, M. Ellena turns this sharp edged note into a thing of cashmere like softness and shows just how versatile a note vetiver can be.The top of Vetiver Tonka begins with the vetiver feel most men are familiar with. In fact it opens almost identically to Guelrain Vetiver. Almost immediately that changes as M. Ellena chooses to blend two gourmand notes of roasted hazelnut and dried fruit. This has the effect of accentuating the natural nuttiness that vetiver has but too often gets lost when it is paired with more powerful notes. Here the feel comes off like smelling a nut roaster from a distance. The fruit accord could be jarring but it adds a little necessary sweetnes to keep this on the smooth side. The base is all tonka and its richness really brings the vetiver's suave and debonair side out. The now very intense vetiver is truly matched by the tonka making this comforting at the last.Vetiver Tonka has average longevity and sillage on my skin. It is a typical light Ellena compsoition but it has a little more depth than most of his other works. Vetiver Tonka is what happens when the most talented perfumers decide to look at the tried and true and make something bright and new, it can be eye-opening and wonderful and Vetiver Tonka is all that.

10 Corso Como by 10 Corso Como

10 Corso ComoSometimes perfume is simple. Sometimes the fragrance just does what it is supposed to do. It always acts the same on my skin and it always produces the same response in me. 10 Corso Como, named after Carla Sozzani's Milan clothing boutique, is one of those fragrances for me.Olivier Gillotin is the perfumer behind this 1999 release and he uses some very common notes and doesn't really ask them to do anything more than exist. The art here is the balance he brings to 10 Corso Como which makes it so wearable.The top of 10 Corso Como begins with a zephyr of sandalwood and incense and that zephyr never stops blowing those notes to my nose. Eventually the breeze shifts slightly and it blows past a rose bush and I get a nice rose note with the sandalwood and incense. Then the best part of 10 Corso Como comes when the oud appears. The slight medicinal quality of agarwood is appropriate counterpoint to the slightly sweet sandalwood and incense. This middle phase of 10 Corso Como is the best part of the development. The finale is a mix of vetiver and musk which add an air of familairity to things at the end.10 Corso Como has below average longevity and average sillage on me. This isn't a work day fragrance for me because it doesn't last long enough but it is a great nighttime fragrance because it does last long enough for an evening out.10 Corso Como is one of those fragrances I reach for when I'm getting a sandalwood or incense craving and it scratches that olfactory itch for me every time.

Voile d'Ambre by Yves Rocher

Yves Rocher Voile D'AmbreCan somebody show me a reasonably priced Eau de Parfum which has staying power and complexity? Right this way, young Colognisseur, let me introduce you to the Yves Rocher line and the 2005 release Voile D'Ambre, created by Olivier Pescheux. Note the use of quality ingredients the distinctly balanced development and the tiny price tag. This is the answer to the question. Yves Rocher has a number of very reasonably priced fragrances and one of the five or six standout fragrances in this line is Voile D'Ambre. This is an amber where the amber is like a pizza crust as it is the base upon which all the remaining notes rest and combine with.The top of Voile D'Ambre begins with a sharp mandarin note that contains a bit of green to it. This combines with the soft spiciness of cardamom as the amber softly supports everything. The base moves toward a couple of traditional partners of amber as myrrh and incense take their place. M. Pescheux keeps the resinous notes in balance as he adds opopanax to them and the floral aspect in combination with the incense and amber make a delightful mix. The base is all woody warmth as sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli all add to the now more intense amber to leave Voile D'Ambre in a lovely place.Voils D'Ambre has incredible longevity on me, 24 hrs. worth, as well as above average sillage. Voile D'Ambre is one of the best amber based fragrances available for one of the most modest prices. If you're looking for one of the best bangs for your buck out there I think you could do much worse than to start here.

Sandalo e The by Bois 1920

Bois 1920 Sanadalo e TheWhat to do with the scent that doesn't do what you think it should do. I like the House, as Real Patchouly from Bois 1920 is a beautiful meditation on patchouli. Enzo Galardi has shown a deft hand using a few notes to create subtle interactions as in Sushi Imperiale. So when faced with the 2005 release Sandalo e The I think "yum sandalwood and tea should be great". Instead I am sadly underwhelmed. The quality ingredients are there, the perfumer is there; the sum of the parts just never add up to a coherent whole for me.The top of Sandalo e The begins with a floral accord of rose and jasmine along with a slight herbal accord. This only lasts a minute before the tea and sandalwood come into the mix. This opening phase is the best part of Sandalo e The and if it somehow could have remained this balanced mix of woody rose and tea I would have loved it. Instead the sandalwood gets out of balance and really takes over everything with the tea attempting to try and get back into the game from time to time. This makes the drydown almost annoying as I want to enjoy both of the titutlar notes and I really am only getting the sandalo at this point. If I want a great sandalwood drydown I'll turn to Burberry London for Men for a great example of how to do that.Sandalo e The has excellent longevity and sillage.I really like the idea of sandalwood and tea as complementary notes that can carry a fragrance. Unfortunately Sandalo e The is not the fragrance I'm looking for.

Tom Ford Extreme by Tom Ford

Tom Ford ExtremeI am an admirer of Tom Ford's style of fragrance making, there are very few releases that I have just dismissed out of hand as not being wearable or boring. Unfortunately one of those fragrances that didn't zing my strings was Tom Ford for Men. I found it to be a confused melange of too many notes over that lemon pledge note that all perfumers try to avoid. Therefore a scent named Tom Ford Extreme should be a stay away at all costs kind of experience. But I read that, the 2007 release, Tom Ford Extreme was very different and that in this case Extreme signified something different and not more of the same.To those who didn't like Tom Ford for Men, like me, Tom Ford Extreme is a very different fragrance and it reminds me of another set of flankers and the differences between Cartier Declaration and Declaration Bois Bleu. Bois Bleu doesn't work for me because it tries to be all traditional masculine aquatic while nodding to the completely unique original. Tom Ford for Men tries too hard to be a generic masculine and throws too much into the mix. Tom Ford Extreme manages to be the real deal and feel like a completely original masculine and easily the better of the two.The top of Tom Ford Extreme begins with that lemon note that so dominates in Tom Ford for Men but in Extreme it is light and zesty versus turgid and cloying in Tom Ford for Men. It also helps that it goes away and in its place comes what Tom Ford calls a truffle accord but which on my skin comes off as a mix of spices like coriander, cumin, saffron, and pepper. As a spice lover this is a beautiful spicy phase that wears very well on me. Underneath all of these spices is a perfectly applied fig note. This is the dark fig accord and not the green fig accord and it is the right choice for Extreme. Next comes a very clean cedar note along with patchouli, this is not unusual but it sets the stage for the base which is a great leather accord along with musk. Tom Ford Extreme has average longevity and below average sillage on me. There is a fair amount of concern about the longevity of Tom Ford Extreme but I didn't find it to be unusually short lived on my skin.Tom Ford Extreme succeeds in all the ways Tom Ford for Men fails for me. By keeping to a list of strong notes and letting them each develop and hold the olfactory stage Tom Ford Extreme is the fragrance I want to return to again and again.

Cruel Intentions, tempt me by By Kilian

By Kilian Cruel IntentionsI've only recently begun exploring Kilian Hennessy's By Kilian line of fragrance and when I was first sniffing the whole collection earlier this year there was one that hit me just right. That scent was the 2007 release Cruel Intentions by Sidonie Lancesseur. I think the thing that grabbed me is it is perhaps the most restrained use of oud in a fragrance I've found. Most oud based fragrances come out and at some point in the development use the oud like the bright blare of brass in an orchestra. I found Mme. Lancesseur's much more restrained use of oud to be much more interesting like placing a bell mute in the aforementioned brass section. This has the effect of making me feel like I'm always hearing the oud from a distance and while I expect it to pick up in intensity it never does and that makes this fragrance unique.The top of Cruel Intentions starts with a pedestrian mix of bergamot and orange blossom it is light and fresh and a tad boring. Just after this the oud begins to appear and as I mentioned already it rises in intensity and then holds at that level for the rest of the development. This allows the notes that appear later to interact with the oud and not be overwhelmed by it. The next group of notes that appear are a floral bouquet led by violet. Violet is a good compatriot for oud as it has a sharpness to it that goes well with the medicinal quality oud brings to fragrance. The fragrance then settles into a base of gaiac and sandalwood along with a dollop of vetiver. As with the violet, the vetiver has its sharper edges on display to go along with the oud. Very late in the development on my skin I get a healthy bit of animalic castoreum and it seems a like a late-comer to the party but not an unwelcome guest, to be sure.Cruel Intentions has above average longevity on me but it is a very close wearing skin scent with almost no sillage to speak of. Another oddity for an oud scent.The thing I admire most about Cruel Intentions is the ability Mme. Lancesseur has with making one work to find the oud. It makes the journey that much more enjoyable when its done.

Acqua Fiorentina by Creed

Creed Acqua FiorentinaThere are many times when I wear the best of fragrances from Creed that I am impressed with what they do with just a few notes. One of the latest successes in that area, for me, is the 2009 release Acqua Fiorentina. According to the note list this should be a fruity floral but on my skin it is a citrus plum wood fest and I never catch even a whiff of either of the listed floral notes of rose and carnation.Instead Acqua Fiorentina starts with a tart lemon note which is paired with an equally bright plum note. This mix of sweet and sour is really well done. The plum is lush and juicy while the lemon is austere and sparkling. From here the clean woodiness of cedar comes into play and it is the appropriate counter point for the fruit of the top. The base is a warm and creamy sandalwood and that transition also works nicely. Acqua Fiorentina has average longevity and modest sillage both of which are surprising coming from Creed.I have to say from a juice that is pink to a simple but compelling development I am surprised at how good Acqua Fiorentina is. It's probably a good lesson to not judge a juice by its color.

Oriental Lounge by The Different Company

The Different Company Oriental LoungeI have not been as impressed with The Different Company and their nose Celine Ellena as I thought I would have been. I am a big fan of Sel De Vetiver but the rest of the line has just failed to make me sit up and take notice. For that reason I wasn't overly excited about the 2009 release, Oriental Lounge. Oriental Lounge is supposed to be Mme. Ellena's modern take on an oriental. This is a style of perfume that I like a lot and I was worried that this would be too light in tone to really be an oriental. That worry turns out to be the case as Oriental Lounge is a light airy amber-centric fragrance that I can't really call an oriental even though some of the classic bones of an oriental are present. On the other hand I found it to be a delightfully wearable amber that is surprisingly complex for its airiness.The top of Oriental Lounge begins with a mix of bergamot followed by a hint of pepper and the note that many will be talking about who try this, curry leaf. The curry leaf adds a green woody aspect that also has the hint of a metallic nature to it. This is never overwhelming but it is present throughout the development of Oriental Lounge and it add an air exoticism to it. The heart is a mix of semi-sweet boxwood and spicy rose, again layered so as to feel as if wafted in on a breeze. It is during this phase that I first detect the presence of amber and it starts off at a distance before growing in intensity. There is a wonderful moment in Oriental Lounge where the curry leaf and amber are in equal balance and that mix is very enjoyable. The base adds in tonka, to sweeten things up a bit, and labdanum to add a touch of resin.Oriental Lounge has excellent longevity for something as sheer as it is. The sillage is modest and that's what makes this so wearable in my opinion as most scents with this note list would be overpowering and Oriental Lounge is never that.Maybe I'm fooling myself by not thinking of Oriental Lounge as a true oriental because it doesn't have the strength of so many others of that class. I like Oriental Lounge a lot for being something less than oriental but at the same time something more.

Spezie by Lorenzo Villoresi

Lorenzo Villoresi SpezieWe have a wonderful spice store near us called Penzey's and I love when I shop in there that first moment when I walk through the door. My nose is met with a melange of spices and it all smells different and unique every time depending on what is out for sampling and in bulk. I've always thought what a wonderful smell this would be if a perfumer could capture this. Well Lorenzo Villoresi must think the same thing because his 1994 fragrance Spezie does exactly this. Twelve of the 18 listed notes in Spezie are spice notes and they create the feeling of walking in that spice store near perfectly. The entry to Sig. Villoresi's spice rack starts with a mix of coriander and cardamom these are the most prominent notes but off on a far rack the aromatic jars containing eucalyptus and mint are noticeable. Another few steps deeper into the store and I encounter the section containing pepper and thyme which when I turn around on the other side of the aisle, the cinnamon and nutmeg also appear. Underneath all of this floats a cumin note that is exquisitely balanced. Cumin is the note that could have pushed all of the spices to the side but Sig. Villoresi keeps it under control and instead it feels like an appropriate partner. The base carries the clasical mix of rosemary and smoky sage along with a more unusual accord of tomato leaves. This isn't an accord I would think I'd want in a perfume but in Spezie it fits seamlessly and appropirately. Spezie has excellent longevity and sillage. If you are a lover of spice notes in perfumery this is a must try, as along with Piper Nigrum, Sig. Villoresi has made two of the stand-out fragrances in this area of fragrance. Back in the 60's Alka-Seltzer used to have a commercial built around the line "Mama Mia That's a Spicy Meatball!" I'd like to update that line a bit "Sig. Villoresi That's a Spicy Perfume!"

Encens Chembur by Byredo

Byredo ChemburByredo is a new perfume House created by a Swedish Indian designer, Ben Gorham. In 2008 they released their first five fragrances. Jerome Epinette was the nose behind Chembur which is the incense centered scent of the line. Chembur is a city outside Mumbai, India and it is where young Mr. Gorham would spend days with his mother having a picinic. There was a temple nearby and he wanted to capture the mix of green grass and incense from just over the hill. I think M. Epinette succeeds in that but this makes Chembur a very light fragrance. The top carries a lovley lemon zing to it and it carries nicely into mix of nutmeg and ginger before the incense comes wafting in. The inspiration was to have it feel like incense from far away and M. Epinette does pull that off but as someone who loves the note this was a tease for me. I wanted the incense to slowly get more intense and pick up depth. Instead it stays just over the horizon and out of reach. The base is musk and amber and they are good compliments but again I wanted them to be stronger. For all that it is light Chembur has good longevity on me and it is very close wearing. I found my experience with Chembur to be frustrating as I was left wanting more. If you are someone who likes incense in lighter doses then Chembur might be just what you're looking for as it is a well-constructed piece of perfumery.

Vanille 44 by Le Labo

Le Labo Vanille 44Le Labo has an irritating habit of making some of their best scents exclusive to one city. The 2008 release by Alberto Morillas for Le Labo, Vanille 44, is one of those examples as it is only available at Colette in Paris. I really like M. Morillas' Aramni Prive Vetiver Babylone for the bubble of vetiver that fragrance seems to create around me. It has a subtlety and a strength all at the same time. Vanille 44 does the same trick but with vanilla this time. When trying any Le Labo you always have to wonder whether the titular note will be prominent or a supporting player. The top of Vanille 44 starts off with a mix of bergamot, incense and gaiac with no vanilla to be seen. These three notes are lovely together and they are applied in a light way so as to begin to create that bubble I spoke of earlier. The heart is where the vanilla does come in and at first it is in balance with the light notes of the top before gaining in intensity until it is the dominant note. That intensity never becomes the sugary sweet overpowering vanilla of other scents. Instead this gains in intensity and then starts to warm on my skin and radiate in sheer waves of austere vanilla. Just as in Vetiver Babylone I feel encased in a bubble of vanilla and enjoy it tremendously. The base is a sheer musk which helps attenuate the vanilla slightly but this scent stayed all about the vanilla from the heart to the end. Vanille 44 has average longevity and is a close wearing fragrance with minimal sillage. As much as I want to be able to dismiss one of these Le Labos as overpriced hype; Vanille 44 is not Heinz 57.

Cuir Pleine Fleur / Fine Leather by Heeley

Heeley Cuir Pleine FleurThe 2007 release from James Heeley's eponymous fragrance line, Cuir Pleine Fleur, is often seen renamed as Fine Leather on some english speaking sources. When I looked up the real translation of the words it strictly translates to "leather full flower". While fine leather captures one aspect of this fragrance it is the strict translation that really tells the full story as the presence of a floral accord is what makes this leather scent stand out from others. The top of Cuir Pleine Fleur is all fleur as violet and mimosa bring this scent to life. Violet is one of my more favorite floral accords and the violet here is one of the better vioilet accords I've come across. It is tricky working with violet as too much and it becomes sharp and bitter. Here the mimosa rounds off those sharp edges with a dollop of sweet floral and helps accentuate the softer side of violet. The heart is where the leather shows up along with a deep slug of birch. This is a full-throated leather and oddly appropriate in combination with the violet at the top. There is a moment in the development where the violet is waning and the leather is in its ascendancy that I have a short period of unusual beauty as the floral and leather aspects are sublimely balanced. The base is a smoky vetiver which supports the continued presence of the birch and leather and give a little bite to the drydown. Cuir Pleine Fleur has above average longevity and moderate sillage, on me. Each Heeley I try has found a way to make me appreciate a note I think I know well in a new way. This is true in the case of Cuir Pleine Fleur not only for the central leather note but also for the violet and in both cases the results are eye-opening.

Prelude to Love, invitation by By Kilian

By Kilian Prelude to LoveI do enjoy when I discover a scent from a House that I don't expect. I've gone through most of the By Kilian line and have found them to be dense collections of notes from the tuberose in Beyond Love to the rose in Liaisons Dangereuse to the tobacco in Back to Black these fragrances can be overwhelming. By Kilian recently opened a section in my local Sak's and I had the opportunity to try all of the fragrances in the line. The one that surprised me was the 2008 release Prelude to Love, which is unusually light and refreshing for a By Kilian fragrance.Calice Becker, who has been the perfumer on most of the By Kilian line, starts with a lovely citrus mix of lemon and orange with a hint of grapefruit lurking underneath. This is a pretty standard citrus opening but it has an unusual depth to it and unlike many citrus top notes these persist into the heart of Prelude to Love. What they find in the heart is iris and this is the cool version of iris and it is the right choice to match with the citrus. Occasionally this cool iris accord is too cold and leaves me a little frostbitten, as in L'Artisan's Iris Pallida. In Prelude to Love the coolness is a match to the citrus and imparts a refreshing quality to this fragrance.The base adds a little spice in the fresh tones of cardamom and ginger beofre a sheer white musk brings this all home. Prelude to Love, for a citrus forward scent, has amazing longevity and the lemon in particular lasts a very long time on me. The sillage is modest for Prelude to Love. When perusing the nine fragrances in the By Kilian line I can easily play the children's game of "Which Doesn't Belong and Why?" and call out Prelude to Love. Even though it doesn't share the same temperament as the rest of the By Kilian line it definitely shares the quality.

Amaranthine by Penhaligon's

Penhaligon's AmaranthineIn any artistic field it is just fun to see an artist hit their stride and start producing at the highest levels within that field. 2009 is shaping up to be that kind of year for Bertrand Duchaufour as in the last half of the year he has composed two very different scents that are also two of the most compelling scents out there. The first was L'Artisan's Havane Vanille and on the flip side is his contribution to the Penhaligon's Anthology series, Amaranthine. His stated goal in creating this fragrance was to compose a "corrupted floral oriental". The idea was to take a structure of white floral notes over green and then find a way to dirty it up a bit by traveling the spice road that M. Duchaufour has traveled so successfully in the past. The top of this is like an overture to a Broadway musical as the first group of notes give you a little hint of each of those qualities; the floral is represented by freesia, the green by a banana leaf and the spice components are cardamom and green tea. This is a beautiful beginning as the banana leaf adds a tiny fruity hint to the top but it really is more green in nature. The heart is completely floral as a mix of jasmine and ylang ylang create a heady bouquet. This mix of jasmine and ylang ylang create a very strong floral aspect to Amaranthine and if you are not a fan of other strong florals like Bandit or Carnal Flower then this is probably not your cup of tea. I do like those scents and this is exactly my kind of floral as it is deep and lush. As promised M. Duchaufour dirties the heart up a bit by adding in carnation and its clove like aspect before allowing clove itself to come in and carry the development into the base. The base has what will probably become the make it or break it accord for many, warm milk. As this transitions into the base I get an accord of the smell of heating up milk in a pot on the stove and it has a comforting feel to me. M. Duchaufour then adds in more traditional comfort notes as vanilla and sandalwood join the warm milk accord. This takes Amaranthine into comfort scent territory, for me, and it feels like the reward at the end of a long day. Amaranthine has good longevity and excellent sillage on me. For most I think Havana Vanille is going to be the scent that most remember by M. Duchaufour for 2009; which is too bad because I think Amaranthine is every bit as good while being completely different.

Pure Oud by By Kilian

By Kilian Pure OudThis renaissance of oud we've experienced in 2009 has found a number of perfumers attempting to tame the wild beast that is oud. It is not an easy task. Give it too much space and that is all you get. Dumb it down too much and you wonder what the point is of having it in your perfume. Too much oud and it is an acquired taste as it overwhelms, too little oud and the interesting qualities leave you wanting more. Calice Becker has, for my money, done the best job of getting this balance right in the 2009 release for By Kilian, Pure Oud. When you see a fragrance named Pure Oud you brace yourself for a blast of oud and what Mme Becker does, that is quite wonderful here, is she gives you that but then she pairs it up with the strongest notes set of notes in the perfumer's toolbox. This creates a beautiful complex trip into the darkest areas a fragrance can land. The top is the promised oud and it is paired with just a hint of tobacco. The slightly sweet aspect of the tobacco contrasts well with the oud. The heart is a dance of leather and oud and it is a raw leather to go with the raw oud. Just when I think this can't get more intense a civet note enters the mix. This phase is an animalic lover's dream as the oud provides an incredible base for the leather and civet. Plus those notes have enough heft to push back against the oud and take their place as olfactory equals in the heart. The base is the maple syrup accord that immortelle brings to things and it is also a great choice as it imparts a woody richness to the oud which allows Pure Oud to finish on high note. Pure Oud has outstanding longevity on me but it is a very close wearing scent. Mme. Becker has created the most well-balanced oud I've experienced, so far, as by choosing notes and accords that have an equal intensity to oud she ends up revealing all of oud's wonderful complexities in comparison. Pure Oud is a pure pleasure to wear.

Urban Musk by Tom Ford

Tom Ford Private Blend Urban MuskThose who read my reviews know I frequently kvetch about the name of perfumes that don't match the juice in the bottle. Hold on here we go again. Tom Ford released four new Private Blends in 2009 as the White Musk Collection. White Suede smells like leather and musk, Jamine Musk smells like jasmine and musk, and Pure Musk while not as strong as I might want smells like musk. What would you think Urban Musk should smell like? Does a barnyard conjure up images of a concrete jungle to you? Apparently to Tom Ford it does as the central accord here is akin to that same barnyard accord that is found in L'Artisan Dzing! and if you like that accord you should try Urban Musk because it is enough different than Dzing! to be worth giving a sniff. The top of Urban Musk starts with a jasmine and pepper zing. This gives way to a combination of ambrette, cumin and musk which puts me right in the center of the urban barnyard. I find this accord pleasant in small doses and the first few times I tried Urban Musk I over-sprayed and it lasted too long for my taste. With a little lighter application I found the barnyard to be a shorter lasting trip and thus more pleasant, to me. The base finishes with a mix of honey, benzoin and incense which gives off a light and airy sweetness overall at the end. Urban Musk has slightly below average longevity when sprayed with restraint and slightly above average longevity when sprayed with normal abandon. although as mentioned above I found the experience to be very different for me depending on the number of sprays I used. The sillage on Urban Musk is modest, as well. When properly applied I like Urban Musk but from now on I'm referring to it as Rural Musk.

White Suede by Tom Ford

Tom Ford Private Blend White SuedeTom Ford released the White Musk Collection subset of his Private Blends in 2009. My favorite of the four scents is White Suede. One thing that can be said about the Private Blends is the name of the fragrance tends to give a good indication of what you're going to get. No Le Labo bait and switch in this line of fragrance. What I like so much about White Suede is it has a lovely refined leather to it that I have only encountered in one previous fragrance, Serge Lutens Daim Blond. The major difference is that Daim Blond is accompanied by a dark apricot and White Suede is accompanied by an herbal aspect. That herbal aspect is evident right from the top as saffron, thyme and mate tea combine. The thyme adds a smoky herbal character while the mate adds to the smokiness but gives an unusual note which I like a lot in this scent. This all gives saffron the opportunity to be the slightly leather and hay note that leads into the leather heart. The heart is plush suede leather. This is leather that has been lovingly treated and refined. There are no rough edges here. I love this form of leather and it is one of the reasons I return to Daim Blond over and over. It will also be the reason I keep coming back to White Suede. The base is a mix of musk over amber and sandalwood. White Suede has outstanding longevity and little sillage. It might be the closest wearing of the Private Blends, so far. For something that is part of the White Musk collection White Suede is all about the leather and it is good.

Ubar Woman by Amouage

Amouage UbarUbar was a fragrance created in 1995 to celebrate Oman's Jubilee Year. It went out of production and in 2009 was re-introduced. The previous version was an EdT and this new version is an EdP. As with many of the Amouage scents this is no shy flower of a fragrance, although it is full of strong floral notes. The top of Ubar begins with a palate cleanser of bergamot and lemon followed by lily of the valley. This gives the top a green citrusy beginning. The heart comes in with a deep jasmine note followed by an equally intense rose accord. The indolic nature of the jasmine in conjunction with the spicier aspects of the rose make a beautiful duet. Starting at the top there is a hint of civet underneath the proceedings and in the base that civet comes to the foreground along with sandalwood and vanilla which add extra warmth to the drydown. Ubar is of a genre with the other scents in the Amouage line full of intensity and quality. Ubar has excellent longevity and sillage; enough so that like many of the Amouage scents a light hand on the atomizer makes for a better experience. Ubar was made for Oman's Jubilee Year but as a fragrance it is a floral jubilee all its own.

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