Perfume Review – Grossmith Phul-Nana: Victorian Opulence

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967) in the early 1900s.

She was a dark-haired beauty with alabaster skin and a thick mane of hair worn like a Gibson Girl. Her dazzling smile would have merited attention, had it not been for the mounds of pillowy, white flesh that almost tumbled out of her tight bodice to the great appreciation of the aristocratic men around her. Her skin was scented with orange blossom neroli, as spicy, peppered and lush as her reputation, and with amber as darkly golden as the velvet curtains of the theatre box where she held court. Her patron and lover sniffed the aroma appreciatively. It was a marked contrast from the dainty, simple, very prim, floral scents of the other women in his lives, from his fiercely proper Victorian mother who was one of society’s leading matrons, to his retiring, shy wife, and even the young nannies in charge of their children. No, his mistress went for lush abandon and expensive opulence, as was her style, and she wore Grossmith‘s Phul-Nana.

The luxury, limited-edition Phul-Nana Baccarat flacon.

The luxury, limited-edition Phul-Nana Baccarat flacon.

Grossmith is a very old British perfume house. The Perfume Shrine explains that it was “originally established in 1835 in the coterie of influential perfumeries such as Penhaligon’s, Guerlain, Floris and Creed (who were following the footsteps of Houbigant and Lubin)[.]” The house flourished with royal and international acclaim, creating perfumes for royal bethrothals, and receiving royal warrants from various European royal families. As Senteurs d’Ailleurs puts it, Grossmith “rivalled many French houses around the turn of the century. [Then, it] lost its way after the Second World War, going down market and selling synthetic perfumes in the mass market.” By 1970, the house was in serious trouble, and, by 1980, it was sold out of the family’s hands.

Amanda and Simon Brooke. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Amanda and Simon Brooke. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Then, one day, around 2005, a man called Simon Brooke was researching his genealogical background, and discovered that he was the great, great grandson of Grossmith’s founder, John Grossmith. A fantastic newspaper article in the Telegraph, entitled “Grossmith: scent by descent” charts what happened next. In 2007, Mr. Brooke decided to buy back the company, return it to the family, and revive it with the help of the legendary Roja Dove, perhaps one of the most famous perfumers alive. “The original plan was to revive the perfume house using Dove as the nose, remastering the perfumes based on photochromatographic analysis of antique samples.” In 2008, however, Mr. Brooke met a distant Grossmith relative, and found that he had old ledgers containing 300 of Grossmith’s perfume formulae which he had rescued from Grossmith’s offices during the 1940s Blitz. It changed everything. As the Telegraph explains, Mr. Brooke and his wife followed Roja Dove’s suggestion to commission Robertet (a French fragrance house in Grasse who specializes in very high-quality natural materials) to replicate Grossmith’s three greatest classics, making every effort to hew as closely as possible to the original formula. Money was no object, no matter how great the personal burden and sacrifice:

‘We didnt give Robertet a budget, we just told them to produce it using the best materials.’ Brooke is tightlipped about exactly how much money he and Amanda have invested in the company, but it is a considerable sum. “We sold our holiday home and used our savings.” The resulting fragrances are expensive-smelling floral orientals that bear no resemblance to the bland massmarket concoctions that litter today’s perfume counters.

Source: Fragrantica.

The new Phul-Nana and its siblings in regular bottles. Source: Fragrantica.

In 2009, Grossmith re-released its three most famous, historical fragrances. One of those fragrances was Phul-Nana. Phul-Nana was originally released in 1891, and caused a storm, soon becoming one of Grossmith’s most beloved fragrances. As the Telegraph article explains, Phul-Nana “was “the Chanel No5 of its day.” Luckyscent puts it into historical context by saying that, when Phul-Nana was originally released, Jicky was brand new, and Jacques Guerlain was just barely out of grade school!

The Baccarat set of crystals as it looks today, £23,250. Photo: Grossmith via The Telegraph newspaper.

“The Baccarat set of crystals as it looks today, £23,250.” Photo: Grossmith via The Telegraph newspaper.

To celebrate Grossmith’s revival with true style, even two royal families stepped in to help. The Telegraph article says, “The royal families of Oman and Bahrain… invested in the new Baccarat crystal presentation sets of the three scents costing £23,250, made using the original Baccarat crystal moulds from 1919 (tracked down by Brooke when he noticed ledger entries detailing Baccarat orders) and etched with real gold.” I find them to be stunningly beautiful, but then they should be at that price.

The new 2009 Phul-Nana was created by Trevor Nicholl. Like its siblings, it was released in both eau de parfum and pure parfum (or extrait de parfum) concentrations. This review is for the Eau de ParfumGrossmith describes the fragrance as follows:

Hindi for lovely flower

“A Bouquet of India’s Choicest Flowers”

A fresh, sweet floral composition with aromatic fougere overtones on a soft warm, woody base. Originally created in 1891, this scent is a rare marriage of the herb garden with the flower garden, unusual in a feminine fragrance. It paved the way for the ‘oriental’ fragrances that were to follow.

According to Senteurs d’Ailleurs, the notes include:

bergamot, orange, neroli, geranium, tuberose, ylang ylang, patchouli, benzoin siam, cedarwood, sandalwood, opoponax [sweet myrrh], tonka bean, and vanilla bourbon.

nerolifruitandflowersbPhul-Nana opens on my skin as spicy, peppered, herbal flowers. There is geranium which smells fiery, dark, and slightly pungent, followed quickly by neroli. The latter smells exactly like orange blossoms turned spicy, bitter, sweet, slightly herbal, green, and masculine. I should probably explain something about neroli. Both neroli and orange blossoms come from the flowers of the same tree, but the method used to extract the materials differs and, thereby, leads to a slightly different aroma. Steam distillation is used to obtain neroli oil from the blossoms of the bitter Seville orange tree, while distillation with solvents is used to get orange blossom absolute. The latter has a fragrance that is more feminine, indolic, lush, sweet and purely floral than neroli which is more bitter, spicy, green and brisk. Yet, at the end of the day, both ingredients are merely a form of orange blossom, and that is the primary characteristic of Phul-Nana on my skin.

Source: Twitter.

Source: Twitter.

At this point, however, Phul-Nana is primarily herbal, peppered geranium followed by bitter, but sweet, neroli, trailed far behind by small flashes of other elements. There is a subtle whiff of lemony bergamot and juicy, blood-orange, both infused with a hint of dark, peppered patchouli. Lurking far below, in Phul-Nana’s depths, is something floral, herbal, and aromatic that almost resembles lavender. The whole fragrant bouquet is wrapped up with sweet, slightly honeyed opononax, or sweet myrrh. Everything feels peppered, bitter, sweet, herbal, floral, and resinous all at once.

Orange geraniumThe ensuing result is a very unusual fougère with oriental spiciness and resins. In fact, it seems to be quite rare to have an oriental fougère for women at all. On Fragrantica, as one commentator noted, that there are only five such perfumes listed in the Oriental Fougère database, as compared to 139 for men and 41 unisex fragrances for all. Yet, nothing about Phul-Nana feels as though it’s purely for women. The aromatic, herbal notes which give way to an oriental floral spiciness certainly seem very unisex to me.

Twenty minutes into Phul-Nana’s development, the “rare marriage of the herb garden with the flower garden” finally takes place, and the perfume starts to shift. The fragrance is still a highly peppered, spicy combination of geranium-neroli with a herbal facade and dark, bittersweet citrus fruits, but new elements start to appear around the edges that start the transition into a purely oriental scent. There is a tiny whisper of buttery, custardy ylang-ylang in Phul-Nana’s depths, and the amber begins to grow deeper. The bitter edges seem smoothed out, as the fragrance becomes sweeter and warmer. The opoponax seems richer but, also, drier. It has lost that tiny vestige of honeyed sweetness, and is now infused with cedar which adds yet another layer of pepperiness to the spicy mix. When combined with the feel of bitter, sweet, blood orange, the result is a strong visual of orange and black.

Shortly after the end of the first hour, Phul-Nana becomes softer and even warmer. The fragrance seems to fade a little in power, and the notes feel a little less pungent or forceful, but Phul-Nana still a potent, heady, dense bouquet. The neroli orange blossom has now far overtaken the herbal, spicy, peppered geranium, though the combination still remains atop its amber base. There are hints of cedar and patchouli, even occasionally a ghostly pop of ylang-ylang, but I don’t smell any tuberose and absolutely no sandalwood. The absence of both elements never changes, either. In fact, the fragrance seems to lose a lot of its existing nuances over the next few hours. The extremely muted, subtle, herbal hints soon fade away, as does the minuscule trace of ylang-ylang and patchouli. Even the geranium retreats from center stage, becoming a background player to the warmed, amber-infused, neroli orange blossom that takes over as the star of the show.

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit in 1902, photo by Gertrude Käsebier.

By the start of the third hour, Phul-Nana is an amber neroli fragrance with a muted, hidden flicker of geranium. If one wanted to be laudatory, one could call it warm, seductive, opulent, and very languid in feel. If one wanted to be critical, then one could say it was simple, and unoriginal. I’ll say that it’s both those things, but done in a manner that feels incredibly classique. Phul-Nana feels like a very expensively made fragrance with very rich ingredients done in the old tradition of classic perfumery to create a simple, elegant, very seductively opulent, spicy floral oriental. Oddly enough, it almost does feel like a fragrance that a Victorian or Edwardian beauty may wear. It may be the subconscious impact of Grossmith’s history and Phul-Nana’s description, but something about the classique nature of the fragrance does fit for me. There is no grandmotherly powder or floral daintiness to fit with the Victorian times, but then Phul-Nana was Grossmith’s attempt to bring the Orient to England.

Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): "In the Harem."

Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): “In the Harem.”

What’s interesting to me is just how full-blooded, thick, and lusty Phul-Nana feels, thanks to the headiness of its spicy neroli blossoms. Around the 2.5 hour mark, that full-bodied, fleshy, sultry languidness is supplemented by the arrival of Siam benzoin. It adds an incredibly plush, creamy, rich warmth to Phul-Nana. Though Siam benzoin is usually very vanillic in nature, here it is initially a very dark, slightly smoky, sweet, balsamic resin. It turns the neroli into something so deep and indolic, you almost imagine the bitter, spicy orange blossoms as an odalisque, lounging on a pile of jeweled, velvet cushions while being oiled to a bronzed goldeness. Phul-Nana has the most indolent, dense, spicy, thick neroli I’ve come across in a while and, yet, the perfume isn’t heavy at all in weight. It’s a soft, airy gauze that envelops you in a tiny cloud of golden, orange warmth and opulence.

Evelyn Nesbit.

Evelyn Nesbit in 1901.

The narcotic headiness of the flower really conjures up images of heated skin and seduction. If this version of Phul-Nana is anything close to the original one from 1891, then the only women who would have worn the perfume would be those whose clothes were ripped off their large, heaving, pillowy bosoms in a dark corner during a surreptitious rendezvous. I simply can’t imagine some prim, highly repressed, ferociously proper Victorian matron, or a sheltered, virginal debutante wearing this scent. For me, the neroli is simply too bawdy and blowsy, too full-blown with improper lushness and exotic, spicy Orientalism, to make Phul-Nana a “respectable” scent by the standards of 1891, a full 122 years ago.

My perceptions of the scent, however, are apparently not shared by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. According to the article in the Telegraph newspaper about Grossmith’s revised fortunes, Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith bought a bottle of Phul-Nana for Lady Violet, the infinitely proper, regal Dowager Countess played by Dame Maggie Smith. All I can say is that Julian Fellowes knows his history, but he doesn’t know his perfume. I can’t imagine the Dowager Countess ever wearing Phul-Nana. Frankly, she’d be appalled by its overt sensuality and spicy ripeness.

Source: Stock photos.

Source: Stock photos.

Around the 3.5 hour mark, Phul-Nana starts its drydown which remains for many more hours to come. The geranium is just a faded whisper as the fragrance turns more ambered. Phul-Nana drops in sillage, as well, hovering now just above the skin. By the end of the fourth hour, a slight hint of vanilla makes its debut, but it never has a serious impact upon the fragrance. Soon, Phul-Nana is merely a blurry, warm swirl of neroli orange blossoms with balsamic, sweet, ambered Siam benzoin that has a slight hint of smokiness. In its final moments, Phul-Nana is a sheer, muted veil of warm amber. All in all, Phul-Nana lasted over 9.75 hours on my skin, with about 3.5 good smears. I suspect its longevity might exceed that amount if a large amount of the fragrance were sprayed on, instead of the dabbing method that I used.

There aren’t a ton of detailed reviews for Phul-Nana out there. Now Smell This assessed all three Grossmith releases, with Angela writing more about Phul-Nana’s feel than its scent. Part of that reason is that the fragrance seems to have manifested itself as a simple blur on her skin:

To me it smells like an earthy, ambery fougère. Most of the rest of the notes are lost on me. It’s fresh and heavy at the same time. Although Grossmith lists it as a feminine fragrance, men could wear it easily. […]

These perfumes smell old fashioned: dense and contracted, rather than expansive and bright. They smell expensive, but almost as if someone were playing with rare essential oils rather than with the magic chemicals perfumers use now.

For a visual comparison, the Grossmith fragrances each smell like an oil painting darkened by age. If you rub its surface with a soft cloth you see that one of them is a springtime landscape, and another is of a lady’s boudoir, but at a distance they are similar. Modern perfumes, on the other hand, can feel as distinct as an Ansel Adams photograph or an Andy Warhol portrait.

All of the Grossmith fragrances have moderate to low sillage, and they last for a solid eight hours.

Later, in comments to the review, Angela wrote that all three scents “almost smell pre-modern to me. Apres L’Ondee, by comparison, is super modern. The Grossmiths are almost like diluted blended oils–but really nice blended oils.” My experience is obviously quite different, so I don’t feel the same way, though I think “dense and contracted” does fit Phul-Nana in some ways. Still, what manifested itself on my skin was far more than a blurry, pre-modern, diluted blended oil. On me, Phul-Nana smells opulently full, lush, extremely expensive, and wholly baroque in a very classique way. It’s like a very full-bodied, spicy, peppered wine that mellows into a more simple, but still potent, blowsy, full-blown, lush ripeness before fading away as a warm, mellow, blur of ambered, floral sweetness.

Persolaise shares my enthusiasm, and had a slightly similar experience with Phul-Nana, though a few of the details differ:

The most enchanting of the new trio is without doubt Phul-Nana (1891/2009), an exquisite study in old-world refinement. With a trajectory that is a joy to behold, it starts with neroli (edgy-sweet citrus), which then attaches itself to geranium (edgy-sweet floral) before linking up to benzoin (edgy-sweet resin). Enriching the background is a wondrous mix of sandalwood, cedar and tonka bean which lends the whole an air of delectable hauteur. Wear it, hold your head high and walk through the world with the certainty that you’re as perfectly proportioned as the Discobolus.

Grain de Musc, however, was wholly disdainful, summing up all three fragrances as “ghosts” that should stay dead and whose “séance” she’d rather not attend. For her, the issue seems to be the dated feel of the scents and their richness:

The result is the olfactory equivalent of tight-lacing: a surfeit of rich notes which manages to be both as stifling as the corsets of the women who wore the perfumes back in the Belle Époque and as flaccid as their flesh when they removed it. Sensuous in an overbearing, costume-drama way that might appeal to tastes frustrated by today’s skinny juices the way a pastry cart will make a dieter drool…

The reason why she hates the fragrances is exactly why I enjoyed Phul-Nana so much! I would absolutely wear the fragrance if one of the “cheap,” regular bottles ever fell into my lap. The prices are steep, but I just love the spicy geranium-neroli opulence of the scent. There is nothing edgy, revolutionary, or even remotely complex about Phul-Nana, but it smells luxe and old-school, in the best way possible. In fact, it feels like some Guerlain classic from 100 years ago — perhaps, a more simple, uncomplicated, second cousin to something like the sensuous, heady Shalimar (in vintage form). Phul-Nana conjures up visions of buxom, heaving bosoms on women of minimal virtue, or reclined odalisques languidly sprawled on silk and velvet, bejewelled pillows as they’re being fanned, fed, and pampered. It doesn’t feel remotely British and, outside of a short window of time in the opening, it certainly isn’t an aromatic fougère on my skin.

Evelyn Nesbit. Source: nl.wikipedia.org

Evelyn Nesbit in 1901. Photo: Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. Source: nl.wikipedia.org

I think Phul-Nana would appeal to perfumistas of both genders who have more ornate, opulent tastes, and who are fed up with the diet of “today’s skinny juices[,]” as Grain de Musc put it. Men who love vintage Guerlain orientals could certainly wear Phul-Nana, and would probably enjoy the transition from an aromatic fougère opening to a bodice-ripping oriental amber. Women who love baroque florientals or neroli/orange blossom scents would be transported by its sensuality. If you like fragrances that have the luxurious feel of vintage Guerlains, or modern Puredistance, then I think you’ll enjoy the opulent richness of Phul-Nana. Those who are Amouage fiends will, too, though Phul-Nana lacks the thousand-layered complexity and true Orientalism of the Omani scents. However, I think young women used to more modern, mainstream offerings would find Phul-Nana’s indolic heaviness and denseness to scream “old lady” — and, as compared to many new, commercial fragrances with their focus on flirty fruity-florals like (the terrible) Petite Robe Noir, they’d be correct. Lastly, anyone expecting an edgy, complicated, morphing, unusual, modern scent will be completely disappointed with Phul-Nana. You can’t expect a perfume based on a 122-year old formula to smell fresh, bright, and different. It’s simply not possible.

Yet, I’m damned impressed by this Victorian old lady, and her heaving, bodice-ripping drama. Perhaps its my historical background, but I was definitely transported back to the golden age of perfumery, or before, to an era where chorus girls became famous mistresses, and exuded a lush, brazen sensuality that scandalized an otherwise proper world. Try Phul-Nana, and I think you’ll see.

1891, the famous Lillie Langtry, future mistress of King Edward VII, posing as Cleopatra. Source: Corbis images.

1891, the famous Lillie Langtry, future mistress of King Edward VII, posing as Cleopatra. Source: Corbis images. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The version of Phul-Nana being reviewed here is the Eau de Parfum which comes in two sizes: a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that costs $260, €175, or £125.00; or a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle that costs €260 or £185. Phul-Nana is also available as a 10 ml pure parfum or extrait de parfum, and I think prices start at £150 for that. Fragrantica says Phul-Nana “is available in exclusive glass bottles as 10 and 100 ml perfume, as well as 50 and 100 ml EDP. You can also order the fragrance in the original shaped bottle from 1919, embellished with gold.” Finally, there is also a coffret of all three of the Grossmith classics available in 50 ml. In the U.S.: Luckyscent is the only U.S. distributor of Grossmith fragrances, and they have both the small 50 ml EDP being reviewed here and the 10 ml extrait version. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Phul-Nana is available at The Perfume Shoppe which sells the 50 ml bottle for $105. In the UK, Grossmith fragrances are available at Roja Dove’s Harrod’s Haute Parfumerie, Bloom Parfumery, and Fortnum & Mason. However, the last two do not list Phul-Nanu on their website. You can find the fragrance in all sizes and concentrations at Les Senteurs which also sells samples of the fragrance. In Paris, Phul-Nana is carried at Jovoy. It is also sold at Belgium’s Senteurs d’Ailleurs, and Germany First in Fragrance. The Grossmith line is available at numerous other vendors from Italy to Dubai, Kuwait, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, the Ukraine, Australia, and more. You can look for a vendor near you at Grossmith’s Stockist page. Samples: You can find samples at many of the sites linked above. I obtained mine from Luckyscent, but Phul-Nana is also available at Surrender to Chance which sells the eau de parfum starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Profumum Acqua di Sale: The Bottled Sea

Source: Coastalcare.org

Source: Coastalcare.org

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission.

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission.

The beach stretched on for miles, dotted with rocks, and garlanded by long necklaces of seaweed. A brisk, chilly Atlantic wind stirred the waters to a salty fury, and carried the smell of the myrtle and cedar trees that lined the cliffs. Though the sun shone warmly, that fragrant wind cut through the heat, bring the forest to the beach. Dry cedar danced with the herbal, mentholated aromatics of the myrtle, but both were wrapped with ribbons of kelp as if the sea insisted on joining the game. On the beach, as the water glittered in alternating shades of cold blue and warm turquoise, solitary walkers were covered with a fine spray of salt which mixed with their heated skin, creating an interplay of salty and sweet, amber and white, gold and green.

Sun, surf, sand, and fragrantly herbal, mentholated trees are the simple bouquet of Acqua di Sale, an eau de parfum from Profumum Roma. It is an Italian niche house founded in 1996, and commonly called Profumum by most. (The name is also sometimes written as “Profvmvm,” but, making matters more complicated, the company puts it as “Pro Fvmvm” on their website). As regular readers will know, I’ve become utterly obsessed with Profumum’s fragrances, after trying their two great, incredibly rich ambers, Fiore d’Ambra and Ambra Aurea. I ended up falling hard for the latter with its gorgeous, rare, salty, expensive ambergris. In fact, I think is the best, richest, and most luxurious amber fragrance around.

Source: Profumum Roma

Source: Profumum Roma

Given the scorching heat of the summer, it seemed natural that my next foray into Profumum’s wares would be the salty, sea fragrance, Acqua di Sale. Profumum‘s website describes it very simply:

The sea waves that brake on the shore donate new shells,
with a multitude of sizes and shapes,
to the sand that glimmers in the morning sun of August.
In the desert beach flutter heedlessness and freedom.

The notes, as compiled from Fragrantica and Luckyscent, consist of:

virginia cedar, seaweed or marine algae, salt and myrtle.

Source: squidoo.com

Source: squidoo.com

Acqua di Sale opens on my skin with a burst that takes me immediately back to the sea: salty kelp lying on the rocks, sea air, pure salt, and a splash of salty water. Yet, the forest is there, too, with the minty, aromatic, herbaceous notes of myrtle fused with dry, peppery cedar. There is a surprising creaminess to Acqua di Sale’s base that definitely lends itself to the Noxema comparisons made by a few commentators. For non-American readers, Noxema is a thick, white, face cream and cleanser that first came out in 1914, and which has a very herbal aroma. The reason for the similarity here is due to the myrtle which has a herbal, Mediterranean aroma, and whose essential oil is very similar to eucalyptus in aroma. Noxema is infused with camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus. Yet, the Noxema nuance to Acqua di Sale is very subtle and, for me, extremely fleeting.

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. Website Link embedded within photo.

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. http://www.dayleannclavin.com/

Moments later, there is a strong undercurrent of watery saltiness that strongly evokes a beach. It’s not the sort of beach that you’d find in Rio or Hawaii with its aroma of tropical florals and suntan oil. Instead, the beach in Acqua di Sale is either in the Atlantic, in Normandie or Bretagne, or nestled somewhere in the South on the rocky coast of the Mediterranean. It’s a windswept, desolate, slightly chilly beach where the salty air is filled with brisk, bracing herbaceousness and woodiness, and where the kelp far outnumbers the humans.

Yet, to be honest, there is something initially quite synthetic in the base that supports Acqua di Sale’s woody, sea facade. It feels like a subtle tinge of clean, fresh, musk mixed with slightly artificial ozonic and aquatic elements. It can’t be helped, I suppose, since neither salty kelp nor salty water is a natural scent in perfumery, and light musk is always synthetic. In fairness, the synthetic accord is a lot less abrasive, fake, or extreme than it is in many ozonic, clean, maritime scents. Acqua di Sale is not Armani‘s Acqua di Gio for me — and it’s a fact for which I’m enormously grateful. Even better, it only lasts a brief time, thanks to the strength of the other notes. 

Fifteen minutes into Acqua di Sale’s development, the cedar and myrtle emerge with a roar. The combination feels crystal clear, pealing like a bell’s single note in the wilderness, a strong, bracing, brisk aroma of herbal, aromatic, chilly eucalyptus and woods. The smell is actually far more herbaceous and dry than purely mentholated, and it never feels medicinal. It’s lovely, especially when subsumed under that veil of sea water and salty kelp, though it is a very simple bouquet when all’s said and done.

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. http://www.dayleannclavin.com/

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. http://www.dayleannclavin.com/

Acqua di Sale doesn’t change in any profound way for a few hours. Around the 75-minute mark, the perfume becomes softer, rounder, and smoother. Any synthetic traces have long gone, leaving a very briskly refreshing, cool, airy fragrance. Close to the end of the second hour, Acqua di Sale’s projection drops quite a bit, hovering now just a few inches above the skin, though the perfume is still somewhat strong within its tiny cloud.

Then, suddenly, just after the end of the third hour, Whoa Mama! Acqua di Sale turns into amber. The brisk, bracing, maritime, herbal, mentholated eucalyptus, cedar, and salt perfume transforms unexpectedly into almost pure, gorgeous, salty, sweet, ambered silk with just a sprinkling of herbal dryness around the edges. I couldn’t believe just how drastic the change was from the first hour. Now, Acqua di Sale is an incredibly snuggly, soft, plush amber first and foremost. Its sweet, almost cushiony warmth is infused with saltiness, leading me to believe that there is some ambergris in the perfume’s base as well. I’ve noticed in the past that Profumum doesn’t seem to give a very complete list of notes, and they seem to love their ambergris, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they tossed it into Acqua di Sale as well.

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. http://www.dayleannclavin.com/

Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission. Website link at end of review.

The result is so lovely, I want to burrow in it. It evokes the feeling you have after a long day at the beach when your sun-soaked skin radiates a lingering soft, salty, sweet warmth, and your slightly chilled body is wrapped in a dry towel. The aroma is incredibly soothing, relaxing, and comforting, especially given the hints of dry, eucalyptus-infused cedar to give it some character. I can’t pinpoint the cause of the sweetness which is too rich to be vanilla, and, yet, there is something vaguely similar in Acqua di Sale’s undertones. I suspect it’s some sort of resin, perhaps something like Tolu Balsam which is somewhat vanillic in character but also more than that. The base and drydown in Acqua di Sale has a similar sort of sweet, golden richness, and it hovers like the finest silk right on the skin.

Around the 4.75 mark, Acqua di Sale is a sweet, salty, golden, creamily smooth amber that feels as plush as a plump pillow. It’s just barely speckled with bits of fragrant, aromatic cedar and myrtle, creating a fragrance that is incredibly cozy and elegant. I feel like snuggling in, burrowing my nose deeper and deeper into that, alas, very soft, skin scent. How I wish it were stronger, but Acqua di Sale is too fine, sheer and gauzy at this stage. And it just gets softer still. At the start of the sixth hour, Acqua di Sale is an abstract veil of sweet, slightly salty amber, and it remains that way until the very end.

All in all, Acqua di Sale lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. It would sound like a hell of a lot, but Profumum Roma makes what may be the richest, most concentrated perfumes on the market, containing between 43% and 46% perfume oil. It’s astonishing, but so, too, is their longevity. The last, faintest traces of Ambra Aurea died away after almost 16 hours on my difficult skin, and that was with just a few small dabs. (It’s one of the many reasons why I love it so!) On normal skin, I could easily see the longevity of Ambra Aurea exceeding 20 hours or more, especially when sprayed. I’ve heard stories of people getting some insane numbers from Profumum across the board, with a few saying traces of their fragrance lasted even through a shower — and I fully believe it. So, if 2 small-to-medium dabs of Acqua di Sale lasted 10.75 on my voracious, crazy skin, those of you with normal skin should expect substantially longer. The sillage, however, is not profound or even moderate, which may be expected from a scent that is so aquatic, maritime and herbal for a portion of its lifespan. It simply won’t be as strong as an oriental amber fragrance.

Profumum’s fragrances seem to consistently reflect a very Italian signature. Their style seems very similar to that of famous, high-end, Italian fashion designers, like Giorgio Armani, who intentionally opt for fluid, minimalistic, clean, very simple lines but always put together with great refinement and the richest fabrics. Profumum’s perfumes are very much the same: they have just a handful of notes done in a simple, somewhat linear manner, but with great richness and at the most concentrated levels. The downside to that is that the fragrances are easily, and with some justification, accused of being… well, too simple and linear. They are. No question about that at all. And it makes Profumum’s prices far too high for some people. Again, I won’t argue that, though I do believe that price can be a very subjective issue. 

For me, however, there is just something about the Profumum fragrances that I’ve tried thus far that drives me a little wild. Quite simply, it’s that ambered base. I love it, even in the Fiore d’Ambra perfume that didn’t sweep me off my feet as much as Ambra Aurea. There is a rich, infinitely creamy, satiny lushness and luxuriousness about the amber that differs from all those I’ve tried before. If Acqua di Sale didn’t have it, I would still find the fragrance to be a refreshing, brisk, well-crafted summer scent and I would like it. Not a hell of a lot, because it isn’t really my personal style, but I would like it. However, with that sudden twist into amber plushness, Acqua di Sale becomes quite lovely. It transforms into a more interesting, but balanced, version of two different fragrances with one half being refreshingly brisk for the summer’s hot, humid days, and one half being a snuggly, cozy, relaxing scent for the summer’s cooler evenings.

The reviews for Acqua di Sale are extremely mixed. On Basenotes, a number of people like it, but the Italian commentators seem to loathe it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. I suspect that they may actually have issues more with Profumum itself than with Acqua di Sale, given the various comments like:  “In italy this is a cult scent for all the snob-ish ladies without class but with a biiiiiig credit card. A scent that litterally makes me laughing so hard I cant’ breathe.” Or, from another Italian: “Mediocre scent despite the caos that in Italy turns it as a cult among the ignorant members of the middle class guided by the great joystick.” However, the perfume does have its admirers, though even some of those don’t find Acqua di Sale to be hugely complex or “dramatic.” I would agree with them, if it weren’t for that unexpected shift into amber that I experienced and which I don’t see much talk about in discussions about the fragrance. Still, the fans on Basenotes are hugely outweighed by the critics (even the those who aren’t Italian snobs) who find Acqua di Sale to have an artificial, synthetic or chemically sweet element that they couldn’t bear.

Fragrantica reviewers, however, are significantly more enthusiastic about Acqua di Sale. To wit, one calls it an Italian “masterpiece” that is “oceanic, wild, salty. I imagine seaweeds on a reef in the ocean. I imagine a lighthouse in the middle of a stormy sea. Is is pure freedom, also dramatic if you think to the power of the ocean.” A number of people find the scent to be extremely evocative and, at times, almost sexual:

  • This perfume melts to your skin. This is what sex on the beach smells like.
  • There is something special about this fragrance for me. It is salty and marine, woody and herbal but also sweet. It is thick, fresh and aromatic (thanks to cedar and myrtle). Very sensual and sexual. As some say – it is like a wet warmed-up naked skin by the seaside in the heat of summer, like “sex on the beach fantasy”. Sexy, sensual and provocative.
  • At first it feels as if I`m walking in a pine forest,very green and tangy, I am approaching the sea, I can smell it in the distance,
    as I walk on a cedar chip trail.Now I am on the beach, the salty air and mist of cold ocean hit my face in a sudden gust of wind.A cold fog rolls in, I smell seaweed as it dances with the tide. Very
    realistic indeed! […]P.S.,although suitable for men and women,I feel like a mermaid when I wear this:-) !! [Formatting changed and spacing added for this comment.]

Others are not as enthused, calling Acqua di Sale “over-priced” (which it is), or saying that it will “only make you smell like an elegant codfish.” (Actually, that comment comes from another Italian. I wonder why they all hate it so much?) One poster found Acqua di Sale to start with a screechingly artificial, sweet note that evoked Coppertone, before it turned into a lovely “ozonic chypre” with a “complex woody drydown” that she really liked. 

There aren’t a ton of blog reviews for Acqua di Sale out there. Perfume-Smellin’ Things has a short paragraph on the scent which Marina actually expected to fully dislike, but it surprised her:

Described by Luckyscent as “the most realistic ocean scent”, with notes of “aroma of salt on the skin”, myrtle, cedarwood and marine algae, it was meant to be my least favorite of the bunch. It is actually not bad on me at all, i.e. it is not too obviously, too nauseatingly aquatic. In fact, it is really quite good. It is the scent of the skin after a long swim in the sea. In a cold, Baltic Sea. I don’t know why, this is how it smells to me. It is understated but still has a presence and certain sensuality about it. It is slightly minty, very subtly sweet, and a little spicy. It is very nicely done, it surprised me. If ever I were on the market for this kind of scent, this would be the scent I’d buy.

Etretat, near Bretagne in Northern France. Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin, used with permission.

Etretat, near Bretagne in Northern France. Photo: Dayle Ann Clavin Photography, used with permission.

There is a more unqualified, rave review at The Scentualist, who calls it “the authentic perfume for the sea lovers, a scent that is capable to transport you into a universe filled with marine algae and a reminder of the delightful moments spent in the summer sun.” Meanwhile, Confessions of a Perfume Nerd was not only surprised to find Acqua di Sale to be her “perfect sea scent” (when she doesn’t normally like that sort of thing, it seems), but she also found it beautifully evocative:

Aqua di Sale is the sea at an forgotten, rocky bay at the mediterrean during autumn storms.

Aqua di Sale is the smell of a salty sea, but also soft notes of the cilffs, the air and the far away forrest. Aqua di Sale make me long for a mediterrean sea off-season, with abandoned taverns and beaches in rain and fog, taking long walks along empty shore lines and now and sit down on a rock and feel the smell of sea. Have you ever dreamed of being a lighthouse keeper on a distant island, Aqua di Sale may help your daydreams and imagination a little.

Clearly, Acqua di Sale triggers feelings that span across the board. From those who find it to smell fishy or like Noxema, to those who find it chemical or just plain dull, to those who adore it and find it to be, quite literally, the olfactory sensation of “sex on the beach” or a chilly, oceanic “masterpiece,” the reactions are quite strong. Obviously, this is not a perfume to buy blindly, especially at Profumum’s prices.

I personally like Acqua di Sale and would wear it if a bottle were to miraculously drop into my lap. However, I would do so primarily because of the drydown which, on me, was gorgeous, soft, luxuriously smooth, sweet, salty amber in essence. The rest of Acqua di Sale was pretty and very refreshing, but I’m generally not one for sea fragrances, no matter how powerfully evocative or well done. Or, rather, to be more precise, I’m not one for sea fragrances at $240 or €180 a bottle. So, it’s a mixed bag, all in all. One thing is for certain: my interest in Profumum Roma remains quite strong.

Postscript: I’d like to express my gratitude and thanks to Dayle Ann Clavin Photography who was generous enough to allow me to use her magnificent photos. All rights reserved. You can find more of her award-winning images at her website (link embedded), where she offers a wide range of services. Her work encompasses everything from photo-journalistic series, to business-related imagery, personal portraits, and wedding photos. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Acqua di Sale is an Eau de Parfum that only comes in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle which costs $240 or €179. It also comes in a concentrated body oil, and a shower gel. Profumum unfortunately doesn’t have an e-shop from which you can buy their fragrances directly. In the U.S.: it is available at Luckyscent, along with the concentrated body oil which Luckyscent describes as follows: “Body Oil Concentration; No alcohol. Made with almond oil, sunflower seed oil and gingko biloba extract.” Acqua di Sale in perfume form is also sold at OsswaldNYC. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, Profumum perfumes are sold at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie in Harrods. Elsewhere, you can find Acqua di Sale at Paris’ Printemps store, Switzerland’s OsswaldPremiere Avenue in France (which also ships worldwide, I believe),France’s Soleil d’Or, the Netherlands’ Celeste (which sells it for €180, along with the shower gel), and Russia’s Lenoma (which sells it for RU16,950). According to the Profumum website, their fragrances are carried in a large number of small stores from Copenhagen to the Netherlands, Poland, France, the rest of Europe, and, of course, Italy. You can use the Profumum Store Locator located on the left of the page linked to above. Samples: Surrender to Chance carries samples of Acqua di Sale starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.

Perfume Reviews: Vidi, Vici by Histoires de Parfums (Veni, Vidi, Vici Collection)

Caesar didn’t conquer everything. Vidi and Vici — perfumes from Histoires de ParfumsVeni, Vidi, Vici trilogy of perfumes in the Editions Rare Collection — reminds me more of Caesar’s tragic downfall than his stratospheric rise to power and victories. For all that I thought the first perfume in the line, Veni, was a triumph, I found Vidi and Vici to be significantly less so.

“Death of Julius Caesar” - 1798 - by Vincenzo Camuccini

“Death of Julius Caesar” – 1798 – by Vincenzo Camuccini

As yesterday noted in the Veni review, the 2013 perfume trilogy is a tribute to Caesar’s famous phrase (“I came, I saw, I conquered“) from the Gallic Wars. Each eau de parfum represents a different natural element: Veni focuses on the Earth; Vidi on the Wind; and Vici on the Fire element. Yet, they are all linked by one common olfactory thread: they all have cardamom. This review will focus on the latter two scents in the collection.

Veni Vidi Vici

VIDI:

VidiAs I explained yesterday, when I first saw the notes for the collection, I didn’t find them very appealing. They seemed odd, discordant, and a very peculiar mix, but Veni was so lovely, it told me that I shouldn’t pre-judge and I should keep an open mind. Nonetheless, as I stared again at the notes for Vidi, the second in the collection, I couldn’t help but swear. As compiled from both Histoires de Parfum‘s description and FragranticaVidi‘s notes are:

Top Note: cardamom, cucumber, ozone effects
Heart Note: plastic rose, cyclamen, water effects, saffron
Base Note: immortal absolu, musk, ambergris, vanilla, white wood

Cucumber and cardamon? Ozonic water effects? With maple syrup Immortelle and Cyclamen (which Fragrantica tells me is a pure synthetic meant to be a clean, fresh floral scent)? Plastic rose? 

I was determined, however, to keep an open mind, so I sprayed on Vidi and…… Holy Mother of God! Somewhere on a darkened Scottish moor and under a full moon, there are three, blind crones cackling over a cauldron of Vidi while Lady Macbeth frantically tries to scrub off a damned spot of the perfume. Words…. words utterly fail me. Nothing I say will truly describe the unholy hell that is Vidi, but I shall try. 

CucumberVidi opens on my skin with an overpowering, nuclear blast of antiseptic mixed with watery cucumber. The abrasive astringent is exactly like the cheap, drugstore acne medicine that teenagers use. Yet, the smell (and the ISO E Super responsible for it) is actually not the real problem. You see, within seconds, the watery, ozonic notes are joined by a shockingly discordant rush of chocolate-y cardamom. For a few minutes, the intensely odd mix of cucumber and cardamom-chocolate duke it out, egged on from the sidelines by an odd, synthetic floral note and by vanilla. It’s so revolting, you have no idea. The vanilla has an eggy quality which clashes with the metallic, aquatic notes as much as everything else. Underneath the whole thing is the cheap, drugstore acne medicine provided by ISO E Super.

ChocolateYet, despite all these individual nuances, the overall and primary impression is of watery, green cucumber slathered in thick, heavy chocolate. The synthetic quality to the perfume is profound. As noted, cyclamen is a synthetic, but I suspect that the musk and amber undertones in Vidi must be as well because the perfume starts to create a burning feeling high up in the bridge of my nose. It’s a consistent telltale giveaway for me for truly intense synthetics. As the moments pass, the discordant notes become even more jangly, for lack of a better word. The sweetness is now tinged by maple syrup, while the cucumber has a sharply metallic edge. The vanilla also feels sharp, yet there is some sourness lurking below everything. And the chocolate cardamom doesn’t go with any of it, but especially not with the cucumber.

Regular readers know that I will bear with almost anything for the sake of a thorough, full review — and for hours and hours at that. I will endure even notes that feel like urinous panther pee, synthetic, cotton fabric softener, or the ISO E Super that I loathe more than anything. But I couldn’t do it with Vidi. I tried my best but, 15 minutes in, I was actually dry-heaving after every sniff. When a scent triggers a gag reflex, it’s time to throw in the towel.

If you’re interested in other assessments of Vidi, you can try Fragrantica (where one person also gave up due to the almost 80% ISO E Super and Ambroxan, as well as the “plastic cucumber”), Lucas’ very ambivalent, dubious review for Chemist in The Bottle, or Ines’ assessment on All I Am — A Redhead. Normally, I would quote a few comparative assessments, but the mere memory of Vidi makes me want to gag. If you want my opinion, I would stay far away from Vidi.

VICI:

ViciIf Veni was meant to evoke the Earth and Vidi meant to evoke Water, then Vici is centered on the last element, Fire. The notes, according to Histoires de Parfums and Fragrantica, are:

Top Note: angelical roots [angelica], cardamom, pink peppercorns, basil, galbanum, aldehyde
Heart Note: rustic lavender effects, céleri graine [celery seed], iris concrete, osmanthus absolu, essence incense
Base Note: patchouli oil, musk, vanilla, cedar, raspberry.

dried green herbsVici didn’t evoke either fire or “victory,” in my mind. Instead, it felt like nothing more than the dark recesses of a very dusty, very old herbal shop lined with cedar and potpourri. Vici is an incredibly dry, acrid, dusty herbal scent, in my opinion, that evokes a landscape of desiccated green colours. It opens on my skin with incredibly arid, pungent, dry basil with heaping amounts of what smells like dried mint and dried tarragon, along smaller doses of dried angelica, dried violet leaves, and dried red fruits. If you sense a theme emerging, you’re not mistaken. Have I mentioned the word “dry” yet?

The overpowering impression is of dried green leaves from one’s pantry or kitchen cabinet, atop a base of musk, cedar and dried potpourri-like patchouli. Smoke flickers in the background, as does ISO E Super, though it’s nothing like the tidal wave blast in Vidi. Nothing in Vici evokes fire or richness to me; there is nothing that is either fresh and juicy like fruit, nor sumptuously molten like lava. It’s simply a desiccated landscape dominated by dry, green kitchen herbs.

Vici doesn’t change significantly with the passage of time. Thirty minutes in, the dried herbal angelica and celery seed notes rise to the surface, accompanied by what smells like dried green tea. I assume the latter stems from the osmanthus which can sometimes have a tea-like character but, here, it’s as dried as everything else. The remaining notes — like the violet leaves — have dropped away, leaving only an impression of vague, abstract woods. Thankfully, the ISO E Super has also retreated. In its place is a flicker of raspberry that pops up every now and then before flitting away. The whole thing is incredibly low in sillage and feels very thin. Less than an hour into Vici’s development, the perfume morphs into a very muted, amorphous, general sense of dried green herbs and lightly musked, peppered woods. The raspberry flickers occasionally, the ISO E Super is always there in the background, but the perfume is primarily abstract, dry, green and woody. Vici remains that way for a few more hours, becoming sheerer and more amorphous with every passing hour until, finally, about 4.5 hours later, it fades away as nothing more than abstract woody musk. 

Vici wasn’t a terrible perfume, but it’s not a great one, either. Frankly, I didn’t think it was very special, and it’s certainly not worth $175 in my opinion. Even apart from the sillage and longevity issues, it lacks great depth, body, richness and balance. There is little to counter the overpoweringly arid, almost bitter, nature of the perfume. And, frankly, I’m not keen to smell like the inside of my pantry’s dried herbs section. A greater sin perhaps is that the perfume was fundamentally boring, in my opinion. I can barely summon up the energy to describe it at greater length — and regular readers will know that I love details. But Vici leaves me feeling so utterly apathetic and disinterested, that I shall end this review here and now.

 

DETAILS:
Cost, Availability, & Samples: Veni, Vidi, Vici are all Eau de Parfum concentration perfumes from the “Editions Rare” Collection. They come in just one size: 2.0 oz/60 ml for $175 or €125. The perfumes are available directly from Histoires de Parfums with free shipping for all orders anywhere in the world for purchases over $130. As part of the special “Editions Rare” series of perfumes, it doesn’t seem that samples are available or that the perfumes are part of the Histoires de Parfums’ fantastic sample program. (6 samples of your choice whose $20 price goes towards the purchase of a large 4 oz. bottle. Further details are available here as to how the sample process works for general reference.) In the U.S., Veni, Vidi, Vici are available from Luckyscent or MinNY along with samples. I can’t find this collection listed on either Aedes, BeautyHabit or the Perfume Shoppe. Outside the U.S.: I couldn’t find the Editions Rare collection or Veni, Vidi, Vici at either Roullier White in the UK or Jovoy Paris which normally carries Histoires de Parfums, so I’d check in-store. Furthermore, only Vici is available at First in Fragrance which sells it for €125 the 2 oz/60 ml bottle, not the other two. However, Histoires de Parfums vast Store Locator that lists retailers from South Africa to Turkey, the Netherlands, Sweden and Kuwait. I’d check there for a store near you and hope that they carry the Editions Rare Collection. Samples: You can find samples at the retailers linked to above. Surrender to Chance has samples of each of the 3 fragrances starting at $7.99 for a 1 ml vial, or the full set of 3 fragrances for $21.99.

Perfume Review: Histoires de Parfums 1725 (Casanova)

Lavender fields in Provence.

Lavender fields in Provence.

Famous characters and mythical years, captured in a bottle. The lyrical, olfactory tribute to history is at the heart of Histoires de Parfums, a French niche perfume house founded in 2000 by Gérald Ghislain. As the Histoires de Parfums website explains, each of the early fragrances was entitled just with a date in history, the year in which a legendary figure was born. In the case of “1725,” it was Giacomo Girolamo Casanova who is best known for being a libertine, lover and seducer of women, though he was also much, much more. For example, did you know that some scholars believe Casanova helped write some of the lyrics to Mozart’s Don Giovanni opera, that he translated the mighty Iliad, got into a heated debate over religion with the brilliant Voltaire, or that he was a highly respected political advisor?

Giovanni Casanova via Wikimedia.

Giovanni Casanova via Wikimedia.

I bring up these other attributes because some may think that a perfume dedicated to Casanova would be a mighty oriental, intended to seduce with opulent, sensuous notes — and they would be mistaken. Histoires de Parfums has taken a very different tack with 1725, creating an aromatic fougère with gourmand qualities. The company’s full description for 1725, along with its notes, is as follows:

Venice, the riparian city of love. In that year of 1725 was born the man whose name would symbolize seduction: Giacomo Girolamo Casanova.

1725 Casanova HdP« What is love then? An illness to which man is prone to any age », claimed the one who was one after the other abbot, officer, scholar, writer, banker, con artist, magician, infantryman, spy, diplomat, but always claiming his Venetian origins. For every Casanova, here is an eau de parfum inviting intense pleasure, an amber fern mixing fine wooded tunes and touches of lemony freshness, sublimed by the elegance of lavender. Warmed with heady spices and colored by sweet fruits.

Originality: vanilla lavender combination.

Top Note: Bergamot, Citrus, Grapefruit, Licorice

Heart Note: Lavender, Star Anise

Base Note: Vanilla, Almond, Sandalwood, Cedar, Amber

1725 Casanova doesn’t evoke either the man or sybaritic Venice to me. Instead, I’m taken to modern Provence, perhaps the Luberon before Peter Mayle’s wonderful Year in Provence books made it less of a magical secret. I see vast fields of lavender infused by the aroma of a thousand patisserie shops at its base. They are filled with vanillic almond croissants, pate d’amande, aniseed galettes, and frothy vanilla drinks. Surrounding the lavender fields is a long avenue of cedar trees that create a bridge to the orchards of yellow lemons and zesty yellow grapefruits. The corridor of woody trees is occasionally tinged by smoke but, more frequently, by that wafting scent of vanilla from the patisseries at the bottom of the hill. To me, that is the perfume in a nutshell.

Source: Worldfortravel.com

Source: Worldfortravel.com

1725 Casanova opens on my skin with aromatic herbs and citruses with underlying spices and a quietly muted leather note. The lemon is zesty, fresh, very crisp and similar to the juice in unsweetened lemonade. The grapefruit is similarly yellow and tart. Intermingled with both notes is lavender that feels smooth, not bitter or pungent. A little bit of spicy anise flickers at the edges and, within seconds, is joined by some very exuberant almond atop a light vanilla base.

The almond and vanilla notes are in sharp contrast to the lavender and citrus. The former evokes a French breakfast pastry; the latter, the herbaceous hills of Provence where fields of lavender meet orchards of citrus fruits. The sweetness of the almond-vanilla accord prevents Casanova’s opening from feeling like a primarily masculine fragrance with its typical fougère combination of herbaceous, aromatic citruses and lavender.

Fennel fronds.

Fennel fronds.

Still, the perfume seems almost split into two until, about five minutes in, a bridge is formed between the two camps, thanks to the advent of the cedar note. It’s just barely peppered but, instead, creamy and backed by lightly spiced anise. The latter doesn’t feel like black licorice candy or even dried star anise; instead, it feels more like the fresh green fronds of an anise vegetable or, as Americans call it, fennel. It’s a beautifully delicate, subtle note, especially when mixed with the creamy wood accord, and the two together help to bridge the divide between the other competing groups. But I still found 1725 to be a bit jangly and discordant at the beginning.

Source: Usafilm.info

Source: Usafilm.info

Twenty minutes in, 1725 Casanova turns into a smoky cedar and lavender perfume, with the tiniest dash of citrus and anise notes– all over a vanilla-almond base. The cedar note is beautiful, especially with the lavender — a note that some of you know that I absolutely despise in large quantities. Here, however, it is well done, adding just a subtle aromatic herbaceous quality to the peppered woods while also feeling airily creamy and sweetened. It helps that it’s subtle, creating an overall gauzy haze over the notes, but never smelling like those revoltingly concentrated sachets of dried lavender that were as ubiquitous in the South of France (especially Cannes) as the air you breathed. (If you lived in Cannes, which is right next to Grasse, you were so inundated by lavender sachets, oils, perfumes, creams, bath products, and lavender of every possible formulation, you ended up almost being traumatized. Few places in the South of France are so deluged and bombarded with the note as Cannes which is only about 18 minutes away from the world’s center of perfumery and lavender. So, by the time we escaped to Monte-Carlo, it was too late; I was scarred for life with a searing, deeply rooted, life-long lavender phobia.)

To my surprise, it is actually the vanilla note in 1725 Casanova with which I have greater difficulty. Infused by almond like that in pate d’amande, there is something extremely sickly about it. And, despite its generally light airiness, it feels both cloying and somewhat synthetic. Thankfully, however, about an hour into Casanova’s development, it softens and becomes significantly better. No longer cloying and quite so jangly (for lack of a better term), it mellows out into a much more harmonious note, blending in well with both the marzipan-like almond and the lavender.

Source: Epicurus.com

Source: Epicurus.com

Starting at the 90 minute mark and for the rest of Casanova’s development, the perfume becomes a well-modulated, balanced, almondy-vanilla fragrance that has almost a heliotrope-like quality and which is infused with light, sweetened lavender — all atop a base of smoky wood notes touched fleetingly with softly spiced, herbal anise. It’s not dessert-like or gourmand; 1725 has too much lavender, light smoke and dry woods for that, but it’s also not a truly masculine fougère, either.

1725 remains that way until its very end, never changing in any dramatic way but merely softening until, finally, it is nothing more than a soft vanilla with a touch of lavender over an abstract, woody base tinged with the smallest whisper of smoke. Its sillage was generally moderate at the start, never projecting loudly; this is far too refined a fragrance for volume. Instead, it creates a very small, soft cloud within which the perfume is quite detectable. 1725 Casanova became a skin scent around the fourth hour, remaining there for a number more hours until it finally faded away shortly after the 8 hour mark.

It is surprisingly pretty — even to one who despises lavender. I wore 1725 Casanova to dinner with my parents and, to my surprise, it was a huge hit with the two biggest perfume snobs I know. I don’t know who is more difficult to please: my mother or my father. Almost everything I make them smell is greeted with disdainful silence and a faintly curled lip. Occasionally, there is a single raised eyebrow, a faint shudder, and a horrified comment on the state of modern perfumery. (“Why would anyone want to smell like food??!!) Out of perhaps 50 recent fragrances, I can only remember four or five perfumes receiving enthusiastic approval. Yet, both of them really liked 1725. Frankly, I couldn’t quite believe it. They did disagree somewhat on how powerful a perfume it was: my father thought it was strong; my mother scoffed. And, to my amusement, my mother refused to believe that 1725 Casanova was technically classified as a masculine fragrance. Simply refused. (“That’s a woman’s perfume,” to which my father responded, “Who cares? It smells really good.”)

I agree with both of them. 1725 Casanova is about as unisex as it comes. It’s also an extremely wearable, easy fragrance that would fit a variety of casual situations. I myself wouldn’t go near lavender on any frequent basis (let alone spend actual money on it), but if I think 1725 Casanova is pretty, then those with less violent lavender antipathies may love it.

On Fragrantica, opinions seem split. Half the posters think 1725 Casanova is a charming, lovely, wearable, and even elegantly sophisticated scent; the other half think it’s not hugely interesting, especially as compared to some other Histoires de Parfums perfumes. (The aggressively masculine leather scent, 1740 known as Marquis de Sade, is often mentioned.) Men seem to be more critical, while the few women who have reviewed 1725 seem to like it for themselves. And I think both facts really sum up the perfume: it’s not a very masculine scent, let alone a complicated one. As such, it will fall short with men who prefer the more unusual, and much more obviously masculine, fragrances from the same brand. Yet, there are enough admirers who find it utterly “charming” and timeless to show that it really depends on whether you want something classically elegant or something a little more rakishly adventurous.

One such admirer is the famous perfume critic, Luca Turin, who categorizes 1725 Casanova as an “Anisic Lavender” and gave it a Four Star review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide:

Anisic notes are hard to handle in perfumery: they are sweetly happy on their own (few things smell better than star anise in a bag) but usually stand out in ensemble playing as a pan flute would in a string quartet. This clever fragrance associates two such notes, licorice and star anise, to a lavender-citrus structure and somehow clips the whole thing together with a touch of heliotropin and cedarwood. Top and heart are wonderfully melodious, and the drydown comes close enough to L’Heure Bleue to feel its gravitational pull, but then escapes again. Very good.

My experience wasn’t identical to his, especially as I never detected a strongly black licorice note and the anise one was much more like soft fennel than truly spicy, almost bitterish, woody, very pungent, dried star anise. That said, I can see why he would compare 1725’s drydown to L’Heure Bleue, and I do think it’s a good fragrance — even with the lavender.

As a final note, a huge number of people on Fragrantica seem to think 1725 Casanova resembles MDCI‘s Invasion Barbare. I haven’t tried or reviewed the latter, so I can’t comment, but 33 people voted on the similarity on each perfume’s page. A few noted subtle differences, such as one commentator who said that Casanova was similar but “with the violet removed and the notes toned down and refined.” All I can tell you is that 1725 is significantly cheaper than the MDCI fragrance: a 2 oz/60 ml bottle of Casanova costs $125, while the exact same size for Invasion Barbare costs $250.

In short, if you like anise and lavender, then I’d definitely recommend giving 1725 a sniff.

DETAILS:
Cost, Availability, Decant Sets & Samples: 1725 Casanova is an Eau de Parfum that comes in two sizes: 2.0 oz/60 ml for $125 or €145; or 4 oz/120 ml for $205. (Further decant or mini-sized options are below). Both full bottle sizes are available on the Histoires de Parfums website, which also has a fantastic sample program (6 samples of your choice) whose $20 price goes towards the purchase of a large 4 oz. bottle. Further details are available here as to how the process works. Shipping is free for all orders anywhere in the world for purchases over $130; below that, there is a $10 shipping fee. In the U.S., 1725 Casanova is available from Luckyscent in both sizes, along with samples. BeautyHabit has not only the 2 bottles but also a 14 ml decant for $36. The perfume is also found on Amazon in the smaller $125 size. The Perfume Shoppe (which has a Canadian division) sells 14 ml decants of 1725 for $36. Another option may be from Beauty Cafe which sells a 3 Bottle Nomad Kit of any 3 HdP fragrances in 14 ml bottles for $96. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find it at Roullier White for GBP £125 for the smaller 2 oz/60 ml bottle. For the rest of Europe, you can find it at First in Fragrance for €145 for the 2 oz bottle. In Australia, you can find it on sale at City Perfume for AUD$179 for 2.0/60 ml oz or at the full AUD$190 price at Peony Melbourne. For all other countries, Histoires de Parfums vast Store Locator lists retailers from South Africa to the Netherlands, Sweden and Kuwait. Samples: You can find samples at a number of the retailers linked to above. Surrender to Chance has a variety of different options and sizes for 1725 Casanova, from samples to decants. Samples begin at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial.