Paris Perfumers: Laurent Mazzone & LM Parfums

Fate, planning, and a little bit of serendipity gave me the chance to meet with three, very different, Paris perfumers during my trip. Actually, to be completely precise, one is primarily based in Grenoble, and one is an actual nose/creator, while the other two are more technically considered as perfume creators with their own houses. Semantics aside, I had a marvelous time with each one, and thought I’d share a little bit of the experience, each of which was very different but utterly memorable. Today, the focus will be Laurent Mazzone and some of the LM Parfums that I tried, including some gorgeous upcoming, new releases slated for November 2013 and early 2014.

LAURENT MAZZONE & LM PARFUMS:

Hotel Costes. Source: hotel-costes.semuz.com

Hotel Costes. Source: hotel-costes.semuz.com

The Hotel Costes on the Rue St. Honoré in Paris is perhaps the pinnacle of stylish, ne plus ultra, sophisticated cool. Velvet, opulence and excess are the bywords for the decor inside, but one of the main attractions is the indoor courtyard. And what a scene it is! Imagine a large, covered, indoor courtyard surrounded on high by Roman statues and greenery. At its pristine, white tables covered with crystal glasses, an array of pencil-thin, black-clad, social x-rays — draped in ennui as much as in Hermès — pose stylishly on thin, black chairs. Their fragile bones seem likely to be crushed by the great effort of lifting their cigarettes. And they’ve clearly followed the mantra and example of Anna Wintour, Vogue’s “Nuclear Winter” editor-in-chief, when it comes to haughtiness. Their male counterparts are all tanned, in dark suits with crisp white shirts that are opened a few buttons, and fixated on their cellphones as they sip a glass of chilled white wine with one well-shod limb elegantly crossed over the other. All around are a phalanx of haughty waiters, many of whom seem to be aspiring models, who look down their noses at your from their great height and seem almost offended that you’ve bothered them with a request. (Or perhaps they’ve simply got issues with people who ask for ice, or for directions to the loo? At the very least, they’ve got issues with a variety of things, and need a serious attitude adjustment.)

Hotel Costes courtyard. Source: lefigaro.fr. photo : DR.

Hotel Costes courtyard. Source: lefigaro.fr. photo : DR.

Outside the Hotel Costes. Photo: my own.

Outside the Hotel Costes. Photo: my own.

As I walked up to the hotel from the aristocratic, luxurious Place Vendome just around the corner, a large chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce was idling, and a bodyguard talking into his microphone. The chauffeur stood in the middle of the road with the famous Chopard jewellers behind him. Hovering like a gaggle of geese, outside and in, were extremely tall, elegantly clad women whose clothing, looks, and attitude marked them as somehow being involved in Paris Fashion Week which was ending the next day (October 2nd).

It was into this overly hip, excessively cool, “in” scene that I arrived — sleep-deprived, with my voice half-gone from the early part of my trip, and feeling rather bedraggled, if truth be told. I was scheduled to meet Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne, the international business agent for LM Parfums, whose incredibly warm, sweet, and friendly emails had resulted in this meeting. We had begun communicating just a few days before my departure and after my enthusiastic, extremely positive review for LM Parfums‘ gorgeous Sensual Orchid.

As luck would have it, Laurent Mazzone was going to be in Paris for the fashion shows. He had greatly enjoyed the thoroughness of my review (happily, my verboseness seems to a positive thing for some people!), and invited me for drinks. When I warned Fabienne that my French was rusty and that I hadn’t spoken it consistently in almost 20 years, she offered to come along as well. (It was just as well because, despite her opinion that I wasn’t at all rusty, I most definitely am! Plus, in the fog of my exhaustion, I often blanked out on words or phrases. Merci, Fabienne, for saving my linguistic hide.)

Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne during Moscow Fashion Week 2013. Source: annarusska.ru

Laurent Mazzone and Fabienne during Moscow Fashion Week 2013. Source: annarusska.ru

I found Laurent and Fabienne easily, sitting at a couple of tables in the corner along with Laurent’s partner, and was greeted with kisses and even a hug. Laurent Mazzone is a very dapper, youngish man in his early ’30s (I think), with a cherubic face, a naughty gleam in his mischievous, warm, brown eyes, and a big grin. He has an enormously exuberant personality, which I loved, and endless passion. Yet, he is also extremely serious when it comes to the subject of perfumery, and has a true commitment to the idea of making luxurious, sensuous perfumes in the grand tradition, but with a modern feel. There was enormous sensitivity in those brown eyes when listening to my comments about some of his line, sometimes followed by a huge, infectious smile from ear to ear when he saw that I understood and appreciated their nature.

Source: uae.souq.com

Patchouli Boheme. Source: uae.souq.com

He had brought a chic, black, and black-ribboned, LM Parfums bag of what I thought would be perfume samples. They turned out to be actual, full, 100 ml bottles of 3 of his fragrances: Ambre Muscadin, Patchouli Boheme, and the new, limited-edition, Chemise Blanche. Yet, despite my patchouli and amber obsession, I never tested any of those perfumes that day and, instead, ended up trying his forthcoming, new perfume, Hard Leather.

Hard Leather will be released in November, and I can’t wait because I absolutely loved it! In fact, I think I may have yelped or cried out rather loudly upon sniffing it because, suddenly, some tables of black-clad, haughty Parisians were turning around with raised eyebrows. I didn’t care, and I think I may have hugged Mr. Mazzone at one point over Hard Leather because it was (and is) absolutely fantastic. Mr. Mazzone describes it as an “animalic leather” that, to my opinion at least, isn’t particularly animalic or aggressive after the opening 10 minutes, but, instead, much more beautifully well-rounded and warm. It might be “animalic” by French standards, but I don’t think it is generally or as a whole, and especially not by Middle Eastern or Amouage standards.

Hard Leather has its musky side to be sure, but it’s primarily woody, sweet, rich, spicy, ambered, and incredibly sensual. From the first sniff, I could instantly tell that there was oud from Laos in it, with its own very unique, aged character, but what I liked about this version of it is that it didn’t smell fecal like so many fragrances that use that particular Laotian wood. Even better, there is none of that revolting Gorgonzola or cheese undertone that very aged Laotian oud can sometimes have. Soon after the agarwood announces itself, there is a burst of pungent civet which quickly calms down (in less than ten minutes), and melts into the rich, well-blended, richly burnished whole.

In essence, Hard Leather smells like your boyfriend’s leather jacket, lightly mixed with his musky scent, along with deep, almost honeyed, slightly smoky oud, and a vague tinge of floral sweetness, atop a base of ambered warmth. At times, it seemed to share some kinship with Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, which is one of my absolute favorite Lutens fragrances, but there are clear differences in smell. Even apart from the oud, Hard Leather has a little more edge at first, and is significantly more woody. It also seems to have a different (and much smaller) floral vein running through it. I can’t remember the rest of the notes that Laurent later told me about, but, if memory serves me correctly, there is iris absolute in Hard Leather as well. [UPDATE 10/17/13 – I have the official press release for Hard Leather with its sleek graphics and the full list of notes in the perfume.]

I also can’t recall the name of the perfumer with whom Laurent worked, but I laughed at his description of the process whereby he kept telling the nose to put in “more. More, more, more!” Not only is such a comment completely in keeping with Mr. Mazzone’s character, intensity and passion, but the perfume really has deep richness. I was so crazy about Hard Leather that Mr. Mazzone sent his friend up to their rooms to get his own small decant to give me as a gift, which resulted in a further exuberant outburst that undoubtedly horrified the Hotel Costes’ snobs, but too bad. This is such a fantastic perfume! I will do a review closer to the perfume’s launch date, but I’m telling guys, in particular, and women who like masculine, woody or leather scents: you need to check this one out.

Source: Silkcosmetics.nl

Some, but not all, of the LM Parfums line. Source: Silkcosmetics.nl

What I love about LM Parfums is that they are luxurious, sensuous, full-bodied, and rich. Hard Leather, unlike most of the perfumes from the line, is an extrait de parfum (only three of the current LM Parfums have that concentration), and clocks in at 20% perfume oil. All the perfumes, however, have an opulence that really harkens back to the golden age of perfumery. They’re not fuddy-duddy, old or dated in smell, but Laurent is clearly driven by his love for the classic perfume greats. These fragrances all feel like actual, serious perfumes — they proclaim their richness and luxurious nature without hesitation, announce their presence, and feel no shame over the fact that they are both perfume and French in nature.

Yet, the thing I found with Sensual Orchid and Hard Leather is that their richness contrasts with a surprising airiness in feel. These are not opaque, thick perfumes by any means! Based on what I’ve tested thus far from the line, even the sillage drops after about 2-3 hours to hover somewhat discretely just an inch or so above the skin. The perfumes are potent when smelled up close and linger, but they aren’t battleships of heaviness with nuclear projection that trails you for hours. (In all honestly, I wish they were like that, but I realise that my personal tastes are not the modern style, and that ’80s-style powerhouses are rarely made today.) Still, LM Parfums are all very French in feel or spirit. Mr. Mazzone mentioned a number of the perfume legends, like Guerlain’s Mitsouko, for example, and how he wants his perfumes to reflect the same sort of sophisticated complexity with layers of nuance.

His philosophy certainly shows in Hard Leather, but also in another upcoming fragrance called Army of Lovers. It is a chypre and, honestly, this is a true chypre! None of that neo-chypre or wanna-be, pretend, quasi-chypre business. (Le Labo’s Ylang 49, I’m looking straight at you with your revolting purple patchouli!) No, this is an actual, genuine chypre with an amount of oakmoss absolute that you have to smell to believe. It’s beautiful, very elegant, and reeks of class. It was created by Mr. Mazzone with a Robertet nose (I think) whose name I have now forgotten, and the perfume name references a Swedish group that Mr. Mazzone loves. I have to wonder if there will be any trademark issues in using the same name, but the perfume won’t be released until 2014, so I’m sure he has time to work out any problems that may arise.

I wish I could recall the notes in Army of Lovers, but all I remember now is how impressed I was with its elegance. At one point, I had Hard Leather on one shoulder or bicep, and Army of Lovers on the other — and I may have uttered a rather strangled, guttural moan. I certainly did something very loudly that seemed to have (further) shocked the constipated denizens of the Hotel Costes, and I saw a very disapproving gleam in our server’s eyes when he stopped by next. At this point, I most definitely did not care. Laurent Mazzone was spraying me with glee, and then himself, and we were standing up to sniff each other publicly without the slightest bit of thought to those around. I might have entered a slight fugue state at one point as the potent chypre of Army of Lovers, and the spicy, oriental, animalic leather-oud warmth of Hard Leather billowed out around me. I may have this incorrectly, but if I recall, I think Laurent Mazzone stated that Ambre Muscadin and Patchouli Boheme are two of the main corner stones or representational fragrances from his line. I suspect that either Hard Leather, Army of Lovers, or both will be soon joining them.

In telling you all this, I’m being completely honest. Just as I am when I say that there were some things I smelled that day that were not my cup of tea at all. Very well-made, and beautifully blended, yes, but most definitely not my personal style. Mr. Mazzone sprayed me with something and — blame my usual bluntness or, perhaps, massive sleep-deprivation — I instinctively recoiled, my whole body jerked back, and I grimaced. It was some floral fragrance with purple, fruity patchouli and a synthetic element. So much purple, sweetness, and fruitiness! I had blocked out the name entirely due to my sheer horror, but, in looking over the list of names in the LM line now, I suspect it was O de Soupirs.** If I recall correctly, Mr. Mazzone described its feeling or inspiration as something a woman would wear before going to a rendezvous with her lover. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out something along the lines of “Absolutely not! This is for a 14-year old girl!” (Oh God, now that I’m remembering more of the day, I think I even tried to rub it off my arm with a napkin!)  ** [UPDATE: it turns out the fragrance I didn’t like was a new, upcoming, not-yet-released perfume called Lost Paradise. It will be launched in 2014. — Further Update 1/29/14: the name has been changed to Ultimate Seduction. ]

I usually try to be more tactful and polite, so I’m quite chagrined at my rudeness, but I really couldn’t help the outburst or my instinctive, gut-level reaction. There was a pause in the conversation, and Mr. Mazzone blinked, but he was extremely gracious about it, though there was a hurt look in his sensitive eyes. I tried to explain that I was always very honest in my opinions, and that my candour should let him know that I was quite sincere in my raves for the other two perfumes. He actually seemed to like that a lot, but he’s also incredibly polite, so perhaps I’m just hoping that he put it all into context.

Even before this incident, Mr. Mazzone had quickly caught onto my personal tastes, which strongly mirror his own, so it wasn’t a surprise when he immediately noted that I would very much dislike another perfume that he had included in the very generous “samples.” It was the new, recently released but limited-edition Chemise Blanche which — unlike its siblings — is not done in a black, velvet box imprinted with the LM Parfums logo. It’s also not in one of the black bottles that Mr. Mazzone has intentionally made almost just barely opaque, but not quite. He was concerned that perfume owners would not be able to see how much was left in their bottle if it was a solid black, so he specifically had the glass done in a way which would show how much liquid was left if the bottle was held up to the light. I loved the thoughtfulness and attention to detail involved in that, especially as the issue of remaining quantity is a problem that I always have with my old, jet-black bottle of Fracas.

Chemise BlancheInstead, Chemise Blanche is in a clear, glass bottle and in a white velvet box. The reason Mr. Mazzone was sure I would dislike it is because it is very much the opposite of my favorites from his line: it’s a perfume centered around aldehydes and citruses. To me, it very much evokes something crystalline in visuals, almost Alpine, if you will: white, pure, clear, airy, and very light in feel, despite being an extrait in concentration. According to Fragrantica, the notes include:

aldehydes, bergamot, mandarin, iris, lily of the valley, rose, benzoin, tonka, amber and musk.

To my surprise, given my loathing for aldehydes, the note was much tamer than I had expected but, alas, even Mr. Mazzone admitted that Chemise Blanche smelled of soap and dishwashing liquid on my skin. (By now, sniffing yet my another portion of my shoulder, we were really receiving some strange looks!) Chemise Blanche is not my style at all, and my skin is always a huge problem when it comes to aldehydes, but I freely admit that the perfume is very well-done. Actually, with a few wearings, I occasionally persuaded myself that Chemise Blanche might almost be something I would opt for if I were looking for a crisp, light, gauzy perfume with a citric edge. Almost. I’m wearing Hard Leather as I write this, and I doubt I would ever go for crystal white when I could have shades of richly burnished brown, red, black and amber instead!

Nonetheless, Chemise Blanche turned out to be quite a hit with my friend with whom I was staying and who has very difficult perfume tastes. It’s not only that she is someone whose tastes are the polar opposite of mine; it’s also that she finds almost everything to be “too sweet” or “too strong.” She recoils in horror at even the slightest bit of Orientalism or spice, isn’t a huge fan of most pure florals, and adores airy, light, clean and citrusy fragrances. Even in that last category, however, she thinks the vast majority are “too sweet.” (It was quite interesting going perfume-shopping with her one day! No matter what citrus fragrance I found for her, almost all were rejected and, in a few cases, deemed to be “too masculine” as well.) Chemise Blanche, however, smelled lovely on her skin, and she seemed almost convinced that it wasn’t the dreaded, verboten “sweet.” (It is not. Not even remotely!) So, I left her a large decant for her to test out while she decides if it is full-bottle worthy. 

Laurent Mazzone. Source: unique.ru.com

Laurent Mazzone. Source: unique.ru.com

All in all, I had an absolutely wonderful time meeting Laurent Mazzone, his partner, and Fabienne. They were incredibly warm, friendly, effusive, generous, and filled with life. It was truly fun, whether we were laughing over Mr. Mazzone’s astringent views on some of the Paris Fashion Week collections, sniffing each other publicly, or having passionately robust discussions about the state of perfumery in the past versus today.

You know, all perfumers talk or claim that they put a little bit of themselves or their personalities within each fragrance, but it’s not always true. Commercial perfumery certainly doesn’t have that, and neither do some purportedly “niche” lines. Yet, in sniffing the various LM Parfums, I can actually and genuinely see a little bit of Mr. Mazzone in most of them. There is a quietly refined, passionate lustiness or sensuality in the ones that I’ve tried — whether it’s the overtly sexy Sensual Orchid, the smooth, sweetened, goldenness of Ambre Muscadin, the hugely smoky Patchouli Boheme with its almost mesquite-like opening, or the more masculine Hard Leather — that really seems to epitomize different parts of the gregarious, outgoing, exuberantly passionate man I met. Chemise Blanche seems to be an anomaly, at least to me personally, in terms of that character assessment theory, but the line certainly carries something for everyone and its clean crispness should definitely appeal to some modern tastes.

I may end up doing a proper review for Chemise Blanche down the line, but I definitely plan to cover Patchouli Boheme and Ambre Muscadin. Hard Leather as well, when it is released next month. In the meantime, if you have the chance to try any LM Parfums, do give them a sniff. The line is now in the U.S., and is no longer exclusive to Europe. Plus, Osswald in New York has a very affordable deal on samples which should make testing quite easy. For readers in Europe, the line is not hard to find, and LM Parfums sells 5 ml decants at a very reasonable price (€14 or €19). As for me, I suddenly fell upon the genius idea of layering Sensual Orchid with Hard Leather on occasion, and now, I really have to get my hands on a proper decant of both. The people at the Hotel Costes are lucky they’re not around to witness my reaction….

[UPDATE: I have now reviewed Ambre Muscadin and Hard Leather, with shopping information and pricing information provided in the appropriate reviews.]

Disclosure: Some of the perfumes covered in this post were, as noted, provided by LM Parfums. There was no financial compensation for any of this. I don’t do paid reviews or posts, and my views are my own. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: LM Parfums always come in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle. The European price is generally either €120 (€125 at some online vendors), or €195 (or £195). The American retail price is either $175 or $225. In the U.S.: Laurent Mazzone’s fragrances used to be European exclusives, but the range just came to America two months ago. It’s sold exclusively at OsswaldNYC. For some strange reason, the website seems to show only two fragrances now, and not all the ones it had earlier when I reviewed Sensual Orchid. In terms of samples, none of the U.S. perfume sample sites currently carry the LM Parfums line, but Osswald has a special deal for all its perfumes for U.S. customers who telephone the store: 10 samples for $10, with free shipping in the U.S., and it’s for any perfumes that they stock! That means the full, existing, current LM Parfums line (or whatever parts they may now carry of it), and some other goodies only found at OsswaldNY, for less than a $1 a vial! The deal is only available for telephone orders, however, so you have to call (212) 625-3111. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can buy the perfumes directly from LM Parfums for €125 or €195. (At this other LM Parfums site, some of the bottles are priced at €120.) Samples are also available for €14 or €19, depending on the perfume in question and its concentration, and they come in a good 5 ml size. In the UK, the LM Parfums line is carried exclusively at Harvey Nichols. In France, you can find the perfumes, and 5 ml samples of each (usually about €14) at Laurent Mazzone’s own Premiere Avenue. In Paris, LM Parfums are sold at Jovoy. Germany’s First in Fragrance carries the full line and sells samples as well. You can also find LM Parfums at Essenza Nobile, Italy’s Vittoria Profumi, or Alla Violetta. In the Netherlands, you can find LM Parfums at Silks Cosmetics or Parfumaria. In the Middle East, I found most of the LM Parfums line at the UAE’s Souq perfume retailer. For all other countries, you can find a vendor near you from Switzerland to Belgium, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Croatia, Azerbaijan, and more, by using the LM Parfums Partner listing. Laurent Mazzone or LM Parfums fragrances are widely available throughout Europe, and many of those sites sell samples as well. 

By Kilian Playing With The Devil (In The Garden of Good and Evil)

The Devil slinks into the Garden of Good and Evil, cloaked in red, emitting fire, and adding a painful bite to everything he touches. He curls his way around the cedar tree that smells mostly of green freshness with a tinge of damp earthy sweetness, entwines himself around branches carrying lychees and cassis, and breathes a hot red mist of chili all over it. Then, he vanishes in a puff of crimson smoke, leaving fruits that are sweet with a slightly poisoned, synthetic touch. But his crimson present barely lasts, and the evil drains quickly from the Garden of Eden, returning it back to a state of fruited sweetness. It’s an increasingly abstract “goodness,” a fresh blur of fruits that soon takes on a creamy tone with vanilla, before turning into powdered and a little bit sour in their staleness. That’s what happens when you are Playing with the Devil.

Michelangelo,  “The Temptation and Expulsion of Adam & Eve.”

Michelangelo, “The Temptation and Expulsion of Adam & Eve.”

The impact of the Devil in the Garden of Good and Evil has been turned from a whimsical allegory into concrete perfume form by Kilian Hennessey. This month marks the release of Playing With The Devil, an eau de parfum created by Calice Becker. The scent is the fourth edition in Kilian’s In The Garden of Good and Evil collection that was first launched in 20012 and which is centered around a common theme. According to the original press release for the collection (quoted by Now Smell This) and Playing with the Devil‘s description on Luckyscent, “it is the myth of original sin” where “the world of perfume enters into the garden of Eden and shows us another side of the story” with a “tribute to forbidden fruits.”

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

LuckyScent gives the following notes for Playing with the Devil:

Blood orange, black currant, white peach, lychee, pepper, pimento [chili pepper], cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, Rose, Jasmine, tonka, benzoin, vanilla.

Playing with the Devil opens on my skin a burst of lychee and tart, juicy, zesty, slightly sour blackcurrant. (I’m used to calling it “cassis,” so that’s what I’ll go with from here on out.) There is an unexpected touch of damp earth underlying the scent, which symbolically melts into the very green, leafy images I get from the fruits. On their trail is a fiery chili pepper (pimento) that feels as visually red as the most brutally piercing Scotch Bonnet or Ghost Chili on the market. It’s a very funky, odd, fascinating note because its bite feels a little like the capsaicin that you’d experience if you nibbled on a pimento pepper. Yet, the second time I tested Playing with the Devil, it was largely overwhelmed by a very fresh, clean scent that sometimes borders a little on the soapy, powdery aroma that you’d get from a deodorant. I actually own a deodorant that has some similarities, so it made me grimace a little, I must confess.

Lychee. Source: fanpop.com

Lychee. Source: fanpop.com

In its opening stage, Playing with the Devil is primarily a lychee and cassis fragrance with that fiery chili pepper bite lurking underneath. Minutes into the fragrance’s development, the peach makes its quiet, very muted debut, feeling white, delicate, pastel and almost liquidy like a thin nectar. It’s followed by a slightly smoky, dry, woody note that initially doesn’t feel like cedar but which soon takes on that tree’s aroma. It smells of bright greenness, mixed with pencil shavings and a light touch of smokiness. The blood orange isn’t a very noticeable note at all on my skin. At best, there is something that feels like the suggestion of its tart, citric nature, but it’s only a vague, fleeting impression. Increasingly, however, Playing with the Devil is dominated by the cassis with its tart, sometimes sour freshness leavened a little by the lychee’s watery sweetness.

Source: splendidtable.org

Source: splendidtable.org

The note that fascinates me the most is the pimento, a type of chili pepper. I’m rather obsessed with how it appears here, though not always for positive reasons. You see, I tend to have an allergic reaction to the chili peppers where my lips swell up in response to the capsaicin that is so much a part of them. Here, with Playing with the Devil, I feel a slight burning in my throat, a sensation I’ve gotten from some chili peppers on occasion, but also, from some synthetics on a much more common, frequent basis. I find it difficult to believe that Calice Becker used an essential oil derived from chili pepper distillation in Playing with the Devil, so I’m venturing a guess that the pimento note here is largely an aromachemical. Well, congratulations on mirroring the sort of physical reaction that I get from the real thing.

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

Source: free-hdwallpapers.com

On the other hand, a more sincere, genuine congratulations are in order for such a brilliant piece of symbolism. The intellectual conceit or theory here is damn clever, and I absolutely love the thought of the fiery, red-hot pepper representing Satan in the Garden of Eden, thereby turning it smoky and evil. Intellectually, I was impressed with every bit of it. Perfume wise, I find it an extremely interesting, wholly original counterpoint to the lychee and cassis.

Personally, however, it’s a whole other matter, because I’m not swooning over any of it. Playing with the Devil is pretty on some levels, and I like the effect of the cedar in adding an increasingly dry counter-point to the fruits, but none of it really wows me. I also enjoy the liquidy sweetness of lychee, but that alone is not enough to make the overall fragrance something that really knocks me to my feet. Moreover, the clean, fresh, slightly soapy, faintly powdered aspects of the beginning are most definitely not me. It’s a pretty opening, but perhaps you have to really adore fruity fragrances to really love it, and I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.

At the end of the first hour, Playing with the Devil starts to shift. At first, it’s just the slow stirrings of vanilla in the base, adding a different sort of sweetness to the zesty, tart, slightly green, fresh top notes. At the same time, the fiery, red kick of the chili pepper recedes to the background. There is the vaguest hint of something floral wafting about, but it’s so muted, it’s virtually impossible to really identify. The dry woodiness in the base starts to increase, as does the hint of powderiness. Playing with the Devil’s sillage drops, the notes start to overlap each other, and the fragrance starts to feel a little abstract. These issues were especially noticeable the second time I tested the fragrance, when I put on substantially less of Playing with the Devil. With two small smears, instead of about 4 large ones, the fragrance turned vague and abstract far sooner, became a skin scent more quickly, and the nuances in notes were significantly harder to detect. The capsaicin chili pepper element was also substantially less noticeable, though the burning sensation in my throat remained in a faint way.

In both tests, however, Playing with the Devil became a total blur of fruity notes quite quickly. The first time around, with the large dose, it took about 1.25 hours for the fragrance to turn into a generalized, somewhat abstract haze of tart, sweet fruits atop vague woodiness with vanilla. The most you can really single out from the lot is cassis. Underneath, in the base, there is the start of something synthetic lurking about that isn’t clear or distinguishable, along with a touch of fruited patchouli. The peach, and lychee have largely faded away, replaced by hints of blood orange. The chili pepper has disappeared entirely. The whole thing is a soft bouquet of fresh fruits with patchouli, cedar and vanilla that hovers just barely above the skin in an airy, gauzy blur.

Playing with the Devil continues its subtle changes. By the end of the second hour, the soft, leafy, green feel of the fragrance is joined by a shadow of a dewy, pale, watery pink rose, but it’s an extremely muted note. As a whole, the scent is a soft, cozy, fruity vanilla with an increasingly synthetic patchouli note that burns my nose when smelled up close. Playing with the Devil loses its dryness as the patchouli overwhelms the cedar, and the fragrance takes on even greater sweetness. For some strange reason, I have the subtle impression and feel of green tea, only in a creamy ice-cream version. It comes and goes, however, during the third hour, then dies completely as Playing with the Devil becomes increasingly fresh and clean.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Starting at the fourth hour, the Garden of Eden is a place where all traces of the Devil have been wiped away. The Luckyscent description of Playing with the Devil talks about how naughtiness wins out in the fight between good and evil, but not on my skin. The fragrance is now a completely nebulous haze of clean, fresh sweetness with fruity vanilla and some powder. The latter soon takes over completely. By the 4.5 hour mark, Playing with the Devil is abstract floral-fruity powder with a slight tinge of vanilla underneath. At the 6 hour mark, the powder takes on a slightly sour, stale characteristic, and the fragrance remains that way until its very end. All in all, Playing with the Devil lasted 9.75 hours with a very large dose (4 very big smears) and just over 7.5 hours with a small one (2 small smears). The sillage throughout was moderate to soft.

Playing with the Devil is far too new for there to be extensive reviews out there. On Fragrantica, only two people seem to have tested the perfume, writing:

  • smells exactly like “Enchanted Forest” but the blackcurrant note isnt as loud. if you want loud blackcurrant buy Enchanted Forest. if you want a more softer blackcurrant note buy this.
  • Fresh, peachy, fruity, bright and feminine. If you like fruity (but not sticky sweet) fragrances, you must try Playing with the devil.
    I can detect all the fruits, the peach, cassis, blood orange and lychee. The rose is present but is subtle not overpowering
    This is how fruity fragrances should be done. Thumbs up!

My experience with The Vagabond Prince‘s The Enchanted Forest was quite different because I had quite a lot of pine develop on my skin, but I do agree with some of the commentator’s assessment: this is a much softer cassis note. I wasn’t a particular fan of The Enchanted Forest, and I’m not of Playing with the Devil, either, and the reasons are somewhat encapsulated in the second Fragrantica review: it’s a fresh, feminine fruit cocktail. Playing with the Devil is also powdery, somewhat synthetic, quickly abstract, and rather boring. If that fiery pimento had really lasted, maybe my reaction would be different, but I highly doubt it.

I think you have to really love cassis, and “fresh, clean” scents to appreciate Playing with the Devil. You also have to be one of those people for whom blackcurrant doesn’t turn urinous or into “cat pee” on their skin. You’d be surprised how many people have that problem with the note, so I’d definitely counsel testing Playing with the Devil before you buy it. It’s not a cheap fragrance  — and, in my opinion, Playing with the Devil is rather over-priced for what it is — but at least there is a more affordable refill option at $145 if you really love fruit cocktails. I don’t, so I shall play with the Devil elsewhere.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Playing with the Devil is an eau de parfum that costs $245 for a 50 ml bottle or $145 for a 50 ml refill bottle. The fragrance is not currently listed on the Kilian website, so I don’t know its Euro retail price. In the U.S.: Kilian fragrances are usually available at a variety of fine department stores, but Playing with the Devil seems to be too new to be listed on the websites of either Bergdorf Goodman, or Saks Fifth Avenue. However, you can order it at Aedes or Luckyscent, though both vendors seem to be back-ordered at the time of this post. Outside the U.S.: Playing with the Devil is not yet listed on By Kilian’s international website. In London, Harvey Nichols always carries the Kilian line, but they don’t have Playing with the Devil listed on their website yet. Elsewhere, you can find the Kilian line at Harvey Nichols stores around the world, from Dubai to Hong Kong. In Paris, the Kilian line is carried at Printemps. As for other locations, By Kilian’s Facebook page lists the following retailers and/or locations: “HARVEY NICHOLS (UK, Honk Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Koweit, Turkey), Le BON MARCHE (France), TSUM (Russia), ARTICOLI (Russia) and HOLT RENFREW (Canada).” Samples: you can find Playing with the Devil at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Tableau de Parfums/Andy Tauer Loretta

Collaborations across different art forms and platforms are always intriguing. I think it is even more so when two different artists use the same source of inspiration to create works in two different mediums. Tableau de Parfums is one such collaboration, consisting of a perfume and movie pairing between the Swiss perfumer, Andy Tauer, and the American, Memphis-based, indie filmmaker, Brian Pera (who is also a perfume blogger at I Smell Therefore I Am).

Source: Tauerperfumes.com

Source: Tauerperfumes.com

There are three Tableau perfumes (Miriam, Loretta, and Ingrid) and, as the Tableau Parfums website at Evelyn Avenue explains, each one is an olfactory portrait “inspired by the films of Pera’s ongoing series, Woman’s Picture.” According to the website, “Woman’s Picture is an anthology film inspired by classic women’s films of the thirties, forties, and fifties. The story is divided into three sections, each of which presents a portrait of a specific female character.” The Miriam perfume is supposed to be quite heavily aldehydic, so I eschewed that one, and opted for Loretta which is an eau de parfum released in 2012 and which is supposed to be centered around tuberose. It’s my favorite flower, but the fragrance also has orange blossom (another winner in my book), ambergris, and other appealing notes.

Loretta‘s cinematographic tale is about a young woman by that same name who works in a motel. It comes in three parts, two of which are posted here. As Fragrantica summarizes: “She is shy and withdrawn, but creates her own life in a fantasy world where she danced and falls in love with a man. She is sensual, sexy and seductive, but she has a secretive dark side.” The reason why that’s important is because of the way the perfume is intended to reflect her light and dark sides. According to the press release quoted by Now Smell This:

Like the film, Loretta the fragrance explores the way fantasy and reality inform each other in an interplay of light and dark impulses and energies. In the film, the character of Loretta, played by Amy LaVere, deals with a difficult, mysterious past by transforming it into a dream world of possibility and romantic adventure. The balance between the past and her fantastic reinvention of it is delicate, fraught with tensions, where childlike naivete and adult awareness twist and curl into increasingly complex sensual patterns. Fragrance becomes an important gateway into this transformed world.

Andy Tauer on Loretta: “Loretta is an incredibly sensual and erotic story, in which a daydream world becomes a powerful, seductive reality. In Loretta’s world there is music, dance, romantic intimacy, soft light and a natural, childlike shyness confronted with somewhat dark, adult realities. Loretta’s flower is tuberose, and I wanted this fragrance to be as dark and mysterious, as opulent and seductive as her reveries themselves.”

It all sounds fascinating and intriguing, doesn’t it? Alas, I did not share Loretta’s adventures with the fragrance, not even remotely, which is a sad disappointment given the story, the tantalizingly dark aspects to the short films, and the wonderful notes in the fragrance. Those notes, as compiled from Luckyscent, Fragrantica, that press release, and The Perfumed Court, include:

ripe dark fruit, velvet rose, cinnamon, clove, coriander, spicy tuberose, orange blossom,  patchouli, woody notes, ambergris, leather, vanilla, and sweetened orris root.

Source: Boston.com

Source: Boston.com

Loretta opens on my skin with an explosion of grape juice that smells exactly like the American brand, Welch’s, in concentrated form. It’s as though a thousand kilos of Concord grape have been distilled down with about a gallon of sugar into a treacly syrup. There are lots of perfume explanations for the aroma, from the use of methyl anthranilate that occurs naturally in tuberose, to the amplifying effect of the dark fruits like plum. I’m sure the use of fruited patchouli had some indirect effect on the combination as well. Either way, I’m not a fan, and it doesn’t make me happy how prominent the grape juice accord is for a vast portion of the perfume’s lifespan.

Source: tastefood.info

Source: tastefood.info

In the immediate seconds after that unbelievably sweet burst of grapes, other notes are introduced. There are candied dark fruits, led by plum, and covered with more sugar, followed by coriander, some amorphous dark notes, and hints of cinnamon. A very hesitant orange blossom peeks her head through the curtains, along with touches of vetiver and sugared orris root, but all three remain on the sidelines for fear that they’ll be plowed down by the stampede of grape and crystallized dark fruits. Have I mentioned sugar yet? God, it seems to be seeping out from so many different corners! Take the orris root which is where one commonly gets the approximation of an iris smell. Here, on my skin, the note doesn’t smell so much of the flower, but of some sugared root. There is also a vague hint of some darkened, aged leather lurking about, but that too is sweetened. It’s simply too, too much for me.

Hovering all around is a wafting floral bouquet. It never feels like tuberose in the traditional sense, and it’s not like typical orange blossom or rose, either. In fact, it’s simply an abstract floral sweetness without much shape, delineation, or substance. It simply smells fruited and cloyingly sweet. (Have I discussed sugar, lately?)

Thirty minutes in, Loretta shifts a little. The leathery undertones temporarily become more prominent, along with amorphous, abstract woody notes and the blasted ISO E Super that Mr. Tauer loves so much. The latter isn’t overwhelming though, nor particularly strong, and it certainly isn’t medicinal in any way. Frankly, I think the reason why it doesn’t smell very noticeable is because not even that synthetic horror can compete with the saccharine grape juice and its bulldozer effect upon everything in its path.

While the perfume is getting a little darker on some levels, it’s also getting a little lighter on other ones. There is the subtle introduction of a powdery element that smells both vaguely floral in nature and slightly vanillic. Lurking underneath is a jarring hint of something that really resembles cooked celery to my nose. Perhaps it is the result of the combination of the vetiver with coriander, orris, and leather, but there is a definite vegetal quality in the base. Alongside it is a faintly sour nuance underlying the fragrance’s woodiness, but the latter is so vague, it’s hard to really analyze.

Source: LTphotographs Etsy store. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: LTphotographs Etsy store. (Website link embedded within photo.)

At the 90-minute mark, the notes blur, the perfume falls flat, and starts to feel thin. Loretta is still primarily a grape floral with dark fruits and increasingly soft spices, but the patchouli starts to feel more prominent. It doesn’t feel dark, dirty, and chewy like black patchouli, but it’s not wholly fruity and purple, either. Equally noticeable is the powder which is more sugared than anything akin to orris or makeup powder. In his blog entry about the making of Loretta, Mr. Tauer said he used benzyl acetate (a natural component of tuberose) to create a soft, sweet powdery note that lasts throughout the perfume’s development. He succeeded, because it does. Underneath all this are hints of something rooty, but they’re not distinguishable as either orris or vetiver. There are also whispers of darkened leather and vanilla flittering about, but they feel nebulous as well.

Source: theberry.com

Source: theberry.com

By the start of the 3rd hour, Loretta is an abstract, intangible, amorphous bouquet. The notes feel flat, muted, and vague. The fragrance itself hovers just an inch or two above the skin, though it is still very potent when sniffed up close. For the most part, Loretta is a candy, bubblegum floral, thanks to the overall combination of sweet powder, fruits, and flowers. It has little delineation or definition, and not a single bit of it feels like the woman in the tale with her dark side, her quiet eroticism, and her fantasies of seduction. To the extent that Loretta, the woman, had a “soft light and a natural, childlike shyness,” that part is covered, but the seductive, languidly fleshy, heady, opulent and erotic side of such indolic flowers as tuberose and orange blossom? There is not a whisper of it on my skin. I’m quite saddened, not only because of my love for both flowers, but because I know how much work went into the fragrance. Andy Tauer’s blog has a detailed perfume breakdown of what he did to the tuberose, and the other elements he used. All the “tuberose specials” that he talks about, along with the concentrated orange blossom absolute, somehow got lost in translation on my skin. I’m not alone in that, but we’ll get to other people’s experiences in a moment.

Juicy Fruit gumFor a long time, I was very confused as to why Fragrantica classified Loretta as a floral oriental, but things became clearer at the end of the fourth hour. Until that point, Loretta had gone from being a cloying, unbearably sweet, fruity scent with vague florals, to just plain, powdered Juicy Fruit with less sweetness and still vague florals. At the end of the fourth hour, however, Loretta veers sharply and abruptly into a whole new category when the amber rises to the surface. In less than an hour, it takes over completely. Loretta is now sweet powdered amber with a lingering trace of Juicy Fruit gum. There are hints of a jammy, patchouli-infused rose that pop up every now and then, but they’re fleeting and extremely muted. For the most part, Loretta is merely soft, hazy, sugar-powdered amber, and it remains that way until its dying moments when it is nothing more than powdered sweetness. All in all, it lasted Loretta lasted just shy of 11.5 hours on my skin. It had moderate sillage throughout most of its lifetime, though it was generally quite potent if you sniffed it up close for much of the first 7 hours.

I’m not the only person who found Loretta to be dominated by an incredibly sweet grape note and, to a lesser extent, sweet powder. The Scented Hound had the same reaction, and, like me, found the remaining notes to be hard to pull out from under the deluge. In his very diplomatic review, he wrote:

Loretta opens with candied tart sweetness.  It’s bright with just a tinge of sour.  Quickly it moves into grape soda.  Really???  Then quickly again, the grape soda is met with a light powder.  […] Thankfully, the grape soda is met with a bit of warmth that helps to anchor the sweetness.  The plum (which to me smells like grape soda) completely dominates and therefore makes it hard for me to pick out additional notes even though I know they’re there as the fragrance starts to even out.  Finally, Loretta settles down some to reveal a lightly sweetened patchouli woodiness tinged with a bit of what seems to be some coriander.  [¶]

Loretta confuses me.  I don’t hate her and I don’t love her and am struggling with when I would want to wear her. I keep reading about the tuberose in this, but that is completely escaping me.  Finally, besides grape soda, Loretta reminds me of what the penny candy aisle at the Ben Franklin store used to smell like.  Not for me, but I could see someone else digging this for its uniqueness.

On Fragrantica, there is more talk about the fragrance’s sweetness and oddness. To give just one example:

This smells to me as if I was carrying grape flavor Crush inside of a black leather pouch. It’s very weird and dissonant, like an orchestra tuning before a show.

I get a strong leather note, with a sweet plum and tuberose accord. Super strange perfume… it’s sweet, sweet, sweet, but in an airy kind of way that only orange blossom has. It’s also screechy and spicy. I’m reminded of extremely synthetic gummy candies and that’s fun. This is truly a scent for an original individual, I think, while being very sexy and confident. Who can pull this off!!?? It’s all over the place, colorful and confusing, but mesmerizing, like an acid trip. I keep on sniffing it and I get this highly enjoyable repulsion/attraction duality. I love that. 

Another trippy perfume that wears me instead of me wearing it… smells just like a purple gummy bear stuck to my black leather jacket. Fun times.

Others talk about how the fragrance smells of “spicy tutti-fruity” gum, sticky sweetness, a greasy oily nuance, or black rubber notes. One commentator finds that “the plum overtakes everything and with the other warm resinous notes it smells of decadence- overripe fruit right on the verge of rotting.” Well, I agree that Loretta has a tutti-fruitti gum note, but, for me, the scent is not “fun times” as stated in the quote above, and I can see why one reviewer finds it “unwearable.” Even apart from the fragrance’s nebulous haziness, I don’t want a weird “acid trip… repulsion/attraction duality” with “purple gummy bears” for $160 for a 1.7 oz bottle. I don’t mind very different, weird fragrances if they smell good, but a cloyingly sweet scent that makes me feel I just got three cavities is not my cup of tea at any price.   

Source: weheartit.com

Source: weheartit.com

My personal tastes notwithstanding, Loretta is not a bad fragrance, and I think it would be well suited for a young woman who is looking for something different, quirky, and playful. It’s definitely original and unconventional enough to venture into the “fun” category. In fact, I can see CosPlayers dressed up as Japanese anime characters enjoying the scent, or, perhaps, Lolita types. Whether they’d want to pay $160 for the experience, I have no idea. People who love extremely sweet fruity-florals, powdery sugar scents, or Welch’s grape juice may also want to give Loretta a sniff. For everyone else, especially men, I wouldn’t recommend Loretta.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Loretta is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle that costs $160 or €135, and which comes with a DVD and movie poster. Loretta also comes in a small 7 ml travel spray that costs $40. In the U.S.: you can buy Loretta from Luckyscent or Portland’s The Perfume House. However, neither Loretta nor Tableau de Parfums as a whole is listed on The Perfume House’s website. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can find Loretta at Germany’s First in Fragrance which sells the perfume for €135.00 and the travel size for €39. It too carries samples. In the UK, Scent & Sensibility carries Tableau de Parfums, and sells Loretta for £110.00. In Italy, you can find the fragrance at Milan’s Profumi Import, but I’m not clear about price or if they have an e-store. Tableau de Parfums fragrances are also sold at a handful of other locations in Europe, from Marie-Antoinette in Paris, to Switzerland and Lithuania. You can find that information on the company’s websiteSamples: I obtained my sample from The Perfumed Court, but I no longer see the fragrance listed on the website. The only available option is a Loretta Soap. Loretta is not sold at Surrender to Chance, so your best bet seems to be Luckyscent which sells samples for $4.

Perfume Review: Penhaligon Vaara

Source: mariyatourtravels.com -

Jodhpur, India. Source: mariyatourtravels.com –

There once was a Maharaja who loved his granddaughter very much. So much so, that her mere birth felt like the occasion to celebrate with something special. He commissioned a famous perfumer to create a scent in her name, honouring both his granddaughter and the land that he loved so much. It is the story of Vaara, the new creation of Bertrand Duchaufour for the old, famous British perfume house, Penhaligon.

Source: telegraphindia.com.

Source: telegraphindia.com.

The perfume site, CaFleureBon, explains the tale:

Vaara,  was inspired by the Royal House of Marwar-Jodphur in Rajasthan when  His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II desired a scent to commemorate the birth of his granddaughter, Vaara and to reflect his family’s deep love and connection with Jodhpur. Vaara offers a unique glimpse into this aromatic world of the Maharaja.

Bertrand travelled to Jodhpur to explore the life of a Maharaja; visiting historic forts, family palaces, exotic gardens and bustling city markets. His journey provided him with an abundance of inspiration for the fragrance and the end result, Vaara, cleverly captures the spirit of this fascinating part of India.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. Source: aboutrajasthan.in

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. Source: aboutrajasthan.in

I absolutely adore Jodhpur, which I found to be one of the most magical places in India, so I couldn’t wait to try Vaara. Penhaligon‘s description merely added to my excitement:

The fragrance begins with a delicious blend of coriander and carrot seeds, creamy saffron and juicy quince: ingredients discovered during his trips to local markets in Jodhpur. The heart of Vaara belongs to the gardens of Balsamand, the Maharaja’s summer palace, with two glorious roses blended elegantly with a billowing white note of Indian magnolia, a touch of freesia and a whisper of iris. The fragrance settles into a luscious combination of honey, white musks and resins dripping over an aromatic base of tonka, cedarwood and sandalwood.

According to Penhaligon and Luckyscent, the notes in Vaara include:

Quince, Rosewater, Carrot Seed, Coriander Seed, Saffron, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Bulgarian Rose, Freesia, Indian Magnolia, Peony, Iris, Honey, White Musk, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Benzoin Resin, Tonka Bean.

Source: imgshowcase.blogspot.com

Source: imgshowcase.blogspot.com

Vaara opens on my skin with quince and a watery rose. For those who may be unfamiliar with the smell of quince, it has an aroma between pear and apple with a honeyed undertone. For some, the smell feels fresh but exotically spicy, while, for others, quince has an aroma that slightly resembles pineapples, citruses, or lemon blossoms. In Vaara, the quince does indeed smell like something between an apple or a pear, though it’s closer to the latter for me and has a faint tinge of lemon blossoms. The rose note in the fragrance is delicate, sweet, very pink in feel, and extremely watery in characteristic. It’s syrupy and strong in a way that feels a lot like a tea-rose. Its watery aspect doesn’t feel dewy or metallic, but the end result is something that feels like a waterlogged pastel.

Source: Dennis 7 Dees Gardening center. dennis7dees.com

Source: Dennis 7 Dees Gardening center. dennis7dees.com

Dancing all around the fragrance are strong whiffs of the accompanying players. First and foremost is a carroty smell of iris, followed by violets. The latter doesn’t last for more than a few minutes because it is bulldozed over by the onslaught of a clean, white musk that smells cheap, chemical, and synthetic. It has a sharp tone to it and strongly evokes hairspray. Quickly, it infuses all the other notes from the quince to the rose and iris. It does the same to the peony which arrives on the scene, smelling very fresh, syrupy, and quite similar to the roses. There is a small whiff of freesia, too. The floral notes all feel very young, feminine, and flirty — too much so for me. I’m having visions of teenage girls in the ’80s wearing big, chintzy, cabbage rose dresses from Laura Ashley.

Making a valiant attempt to prevent Vaara from dissolving completely and thoroughly into floral hairspray are a few whispers of other notes. There is the merest tinge of something lemony from the magnolia. That said, I never smell the flower in its full, creamy, velvety, floral richness, so perhaps the note really is a subset of the quince. I have no idea. About ten minutes in, the saffron appears, adding a subtle touch of spiciness. Five minutes later, the hairspray stops acting like an advance scouting team for a Panzer unit, loses a little of its forcefulness, and lets a few of the other notes shine through. The pear-lemon blossomy quince regains its place as the star of the show, followed by the chorus of pink roses, sweetly carroted iris, purple violets, and syrupy white peonies. Despite the minor, momentary pop of saffron, Vaara doesn’t feel remotely oriental to me. Not once was I transported to Jodhpur or felt the warm breath of India. Instead, Vaara conjures up a large, full-blossomed, bridal bouquet of quince and florals all wrapped up with clean, white, musk hairspray like a bow. While the musk may make Vaara feel fresh and bright, it also makes it smell quite cheap to my nose.

Source: oncewedd.com

Source: oncewedd.com

Twenty minutes into Vaara’s development, the perfume shifts a little. The carroty undertones rise in prominence, strengthening the iris note. Yet, the latter feels as floral as it does carroty. It’s probably the impact of all the other notes which seem to grow in sweetness, as well as in strength. The potency of the pastel florals makes Vaara a scent that is primarily floral in nature, then perhaps fruity-floral, but never one that seems even remotely “oriental” to me.

Linda Evans as "Krystle Carrington" in Dynasty. Source: Kootation.com

Linda Evans as “Krystle Carrington” in Dynasty. Source: Kootation.com

What it really does is conjure up the past. Vaara has such a British, Sloane Ranger, 1980s feel. A young, shy, Lady Diana, circa 1981, might have worn Vaara in her youth — except the fragrance is probably too potent and forceful in strength. A better choice might be the very blonde, sweet Krystle Carrington from the old television show, Dynasty — except Vaara smells too commercial for the wife of a corporate magnate. Then again, Vaara’s increasingly strong undertones of floral hairspray might suit the bouffant-loving Crystal quite well.

The sad thing is that Vaara might have been quite decent without the cheapness and the low-quality, girly, super-feminine ingredients. At its heart, there is a kernel of a truly lovely scent. Unfortunately, Bertrand Duchaufour already built on that kernel, and already made that fragrance. It’s Mohur from Neela Vermeire Créations. Mohur has an extremely similar opening to Vaara, so similar, in fact, that I was initially taken aback. Ignoring Vaara’s brief spasm of quince, and considering only the opening forty minutes, the two fragrances overlap to a sharp extent. Mohur has the exact same sweet, syrupy, watery, pink tea-rose, followed by carroty notes, iris, and purple violets. The similarities largely end there, however, as Mohur’s violet undertone feels deep, haunting and rich, and evokes old, classic Guerlain scents. Mohur has a flicker of oud, a hint of almonds, and a more successful, substantial spice note, instead of the minuscule pop of saffron given by Vaara. Those are the very minor differences, however.

The substantial and main ones are the fact that Mohur never feels even remotely synthetic, chemical, or cheap. The fragrance sits atop bucketfuls of the most precious, rare, almost extinct, genuine Mysore sandalwood — not a whisper of which is to be found in Vaara, no matter what its note list may claim. Mohur is luxe, sophisticated, endlessly elegant, very expensive in feel, and layered with complexity. Vaara lacks all of that. It feels like a shrill pre-teen jumping up and down at the skirts of its big, elegant sister, clamouring at a high pitch to be allowed to join in the fun. Oh, and did I mention the ’80s? The pre-teen is a big-haired, twelve-year old with lots of hairspray, and a hell of a sharp voice.

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

One reason for that sharpness is the use of ISO E Super, an aromachemical synthetic that some perfumers use as a “super-floralizer” and to add longevity to weak floral notes. To my chagrin, ISO E Super is present in Vaara to quite a significant degree. It not only amplifies the loudness of the white musk, but it adds to the forcefulness of floral notes (like iris or freesia) that, by themselves, are quite weak, dainty, little things. Given that I only dabbed on about 2.5 large smears of Vaara, I can’t get over its seriously intense potency during the first hour. Unfortunately, the loud buzziness of the synthetic combines with the equally synthetic white musk to give me one very intense headache. I don’t always get headaches from ISO E Super, but I do when a lot is used. Or, when a perfume is very cheap….

At the end of the first hour, Vaara starts its final transformation. All traces of a fruited element vanish from the top, as the quince becomes a muted blip in the horizon. Now, the scent is a quartet of rose, rose-like peony, carroty-floral iris, and violets — all infused with white hairspray musk. Vaara’s edges have started to blur, and the notes begin to overlap. Just after the 90-minute mark, the rose takes over as the main and dominant element, followed by white musk and ISO E Super, with only subtle whiffs of the other florals. With every passing half hour, the scent devolves further into a simple tea-rose scent that is simultaneously extremely syrupy sweet, somewhat watery, and, also, quite fresh and clean. I’m singularly unimpressed with any of it. What’s odd is that Vaara is muted in feel, while still very strong in power. No doubt, it’s thanks to the chemical Panzer unit that is stomping its way up my nose to the back of my throbbing skull.

Source: wallpaperswide.com

Source: wallpaperswide.com

And that’s really the end of the story. Not a whiff of sandalwood, nary a hint of benzoin sweetness and vanilla, no tonka bean, no discernible magnolia, and no cedarwood. Vaara merely becomes more nebulous: a shapeless, very commercial-smelling, very amorphous blur of sweet roses, and white musk. It stays that way in one linear, simple line until the 8.5 hour mark, when dripping, sweet honey makes an appearance. The base feels rounder and warmer, too, but it’s never anything specific. At most, one can say that ISO E Super’s “woody hum” (as Luca Turin describes the note) vibrates a little in the base along with some warmth. In its final hours, Vaara turns powdery with a slightly sour undertone and mixed with an abstract hint of rose. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 11.75 hours, a length of time which is quite rare for a pure floral on my perfume-consuming skin but which is further testament to all the synthetics underlying it. The sillage was generally high and good for most of Vaara’s life, though it had a 1980s powerhouse forcefulness for its initial hour.

You may think some of my critical harshness for Vaara stems from my issues with ISO E Super, or perhaps from my disdain for cheap synthetics as a whole. You’d be mistaken. It’s not just me. Bois de Jasmin gave Vaara a rare 3 stars, something I haven’t seen in a while. She, too, noted both the cheapness of the scent and its early similarities to Mohur:

…[W]hy is Vaara such a wallflower? Etro has already tried to take us to Rajasthan with its recent fragrance, but the violet and rose combination never got past the South of France. Despite its promises, Vaara doesn’t even cross the Channel. It’s soft spoken and mild, a perfume for someone who really doesn’t like orientals or anything richer than frozen yogurt. […][¶]

… [I]f the drydown either had more curves (or to put it bluntly, if Penhaligon’s had spared more pennies for the juice), Vaara would have been terrific. But instead of taking me for a ride, Vaara meanders around rose and settles for a well-behaved drydown of raspy woods and laundry musk.  It’s surprisingly clean, considering that we’re talking about an India inspired perfume. There is not even a hint of the bonfire smoke that pervades most Indian cities, nor the opulent incense hanging around the temples. At best, it’s a neatly packaged idea of India, without any messy bits.

These messy bits, however, make other Duchaufour fragrances much more compelling, whether it’s the sultry Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose, playful L’Artisan Traversée du Bosphore, or even Vaara’s older sister, Neela Vermeire Mohur.  By contrast, Penhaligon’s is a more commercial and approachable brand than the others I’ve mentioned, so Vaara’s garden party exoticism is not accidental. That Vaara is the low-budget version of Mohur is also not surprising.

Source: BrownThomas.com

Source: BrownThomas.com

I think she’s being far, far too kind, and extremely diplomatic. But, if you parse that review, you’ll find the blunt truth hiding behind the extreme tactfulness. Vaara is a “low-budget,” “commercial,” “wallflower” with “laundry musk” that is the result of Penhaligon not sparing enough pennies. In my opinion, it’s definitely commercial, belongs in a mall, and is far over-priced at $125 and $160. The extremely cheap-looking gold bow on the bottle (metal? plastic?) doesn’t help.

The early assessments from those who have tried Vaara are much more enthusiastic. On Fragrantica, all three of the reviews thus far are positive and two of the three come from men. One chap happily compared Vaara to that 1980s monster Poison, writing: “Here the honeyed plum has been replaced by quince but I would not be surprised to learn Duchaufour has made use of the same lush alpha- and beta-damascone combination of the Dior masterpiece.” Well, I certainly agree with his choice of decades….

The other two praise Vaara as well, with one gushing about how Vaara was not “a heavy, cloying oriental monster. No, [Duchaufour] mastered a truly delightful, fruity, wet and juicy, interesting and compelling new age world scent” with fruits, florals, and woods. His subsequent rave about the quince element makes me think that he experienced substantially more of it than I did. I’m not very surprised; my skin tends to emphasize and amplify basenotes, which may be one explanation for why the white musk was so dominant for me. If your skin brings out the top notes, perhaps Vaara will be more of fruity scent for you as well. If it doesn’t, then welcome to my world of laundry-clean musk and floral hairspray. As a side note about those three positive Fragrantica reviews, one of the commentators does admit that Vaara doesn’t end well: “The dry down, however, is less magical, with the blurry trace of roses and the prominence of powdery and balmy notes.” 

On Luckyscent, the only comment thus far sums up a little of what I feel:

This is mostly rose on my skin. A sweet tea rose type fragrance. Not what I was expecting. Seems pretty linear with not much scent development. Disappointing!

To me, smelling cheap is worse than being linear or being simple. Smelling of floral hairspray and rose “laundry musk” (to use Bois de Jasmin’s phrase) is just as bad. I plan on getting over the whole ghastly ordeal by putting on some Mohur instead.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Vaara is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes. There is a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that retails for $125 or £85; and a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle that costs $160 or £120. I believe the fragrance will fully launch in mid-August 2013, though it is already available from Penhaligon and from some retailers.  Penhaligon: You can buy Vaara directly from Penhaligon which sells the fragrance in both sizes. They also have a U.S. Penhaligon site which offers free shipping on all orders over $100. Penhaligon also provides a Store Locator Guide which lists shops from Canada and Korea to Indonesia, Singapore, the Cayman Islands, Australia, Turkey, Hong Kong, and all of Europe which carry its products. In the U.S.: Vaara is already available at Luckyscent which sells both sizes, along with a sample. Vaara will launch at some select Saks Fifth Avenue stores on August 19th, and a little later at Gumps. In New York, the Penhaligon line is available at Aedes, Saks, Chocheng, Eisler Chemist, and some other shops. I don’t believe they have Vaara yet. In Washington D.C or Baltimore, Penhaligon is sold at Sterling & Burke, and Loafers & Lace, respectively. Vaara is also already available in the large $160 size at ShopLondons. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, the Penhaligon line is carried at The Perfume Shoppe and Beauty Bar Cosmetics (which doesn’t have an online retail website), but the Perfume Shoppe has no listing Vaara yet. In Europe, Vaara is already available at London’s Harvey Nichols in the small 50 ml size, and from Ireland’s Brown Thomas in the large size for €140. In France, the Penhaligon line is sold at Paris’ niche boutique store, Nose, as well as at Les Galleries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, Printemps, and other stores listed in Penhaligon’s vendor page. A number of those stores’ online page show no listings for Vaara yet, as it is too new. For all other locations throughout Europe and beyond, you can check Penhaligon’s Stockist listings for a location near you. Samples: You can obtain samples from a number of the links listed up above. I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells Vaara starting at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial. 

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Plum Japonais (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

Tom Ford does Serge Lutens. Or, to be more precise, Tom Ford tries desperately to be Serge Lutens, but falls flat on his face. That is my grumpy analysis of Plum Japonais, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line, and was just released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine, and Rive d’Ambre. Today is Plum Japonais‘ turn.

Source: Neiman Marcus

Source: Neiman Marcus

According to the Moodie Report, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Plum Japonais was the ume fruit:

Plum Japanais, as its name suggests, was inspired by the ume plum. ‘I have always been fascinated by unusual ingredients from exotic cultures,’ Ford revealed. ‘The ume plum…has great meaning in Oriental culture; in Japan and China, it is a sacred symbol of Spring. I wanted to craft a fragrance around the ume, because it has a texture and aroma that is so luscious.’

Now, I have searched and searched for some official word on who is the actual perfumer responsible for the Atelier d’Orient collection, or for Plum Japonais in specific. I can’t find it anywhere, which is slightly unusual these days when a perfumer’s name is frequently mentioned in press releases or in articles about a new fragrance.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens' Facebook page.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens’ Facebook page.

Still, it wouldn’t be important or significant except for one thing: Plum Japonais is a total rip-off of Christopher Sheldrake‘s gorgeous, stunning Fille en Aiguilles for Serge Lutens. It is a fragrance that I love with a passion, and it may be my favorite Lutens that I’ve tried in recent memory. So, you can imagine my grumpiness and sour mood when I thought about how Tom Ford was so blatantly copying about 90% of the Lutens/Sheldrake masterpiece. Yes, there are differences, but they are so minor that I will stick with my numeric assessment that 90% of Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles. It’s so close that much of the detailed break-down of Plum Japonais feels almost redundant (though I will do it shortly), but the main thing you should take away is this: Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles done very, very badly.

Some perfumistas have compared Tom Ford’s style of perfumery to that of a frat boy with his fragrances’ over-the-top loudness and their hyper-sexualized marketing. I don’t always agree because I think Tom Ford is quite capable of producing more restrained, elegant pieces, though his marketing definitely verges on the bold and, sometimes, crass. But Plum Japonais definitely felt like a frat boy took a sledgehammer approach to Uncle Serge’s gorgeously refined, well-balanced, utterly beautiful masterpiece. Fille en Aiguilles may not rank among the best-known Lutens, but it is massively beloved amongst almost everyone who has tried it, some of whom rate it as their favorite Lutens perfume ever. And Plum Japonais simply cannot measure up. It’s as though One Direction attempted to cover John Lennon.

Christopher Sheldrake. Source: jonathanfrantini.com

Christopher Sheldrake. Source: jonathanfrantini.com

During my initial test of Plum Japonais, my irritation was becoming increasingly sharp and hostile, so I decided to make a more concerted effort to find out which perfumer was responsible for ripping off Christopher Sheldrake‘s creation for Uncle Serge. You cannot imagine my shock when I finally dug up the rumoured answer: Christopher Sheldrake himself! [Update: 8/4/13see the note at the end of this review for the information that a different nose seems to be responsible for the creation of Plum Japonais.]

According to the blog, Best Things in Beauty, “[t]he fragrance has been unofficially attributed to perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.” I haven’t seen that attribution mentioned anywhere else, so I have no idea if it’s true or not. But it probably is, given the enormous similarity between the two fragrances — and that just irritates me for a whole new set of reasons. It’s not the fact that Christopher Sheldrake is cheating on Uncle Serge (perfumers are allowed, after all, to work freely where they want, and not just for one client). Rather, it’s the fact that he’s taken his Lutens creation, and so barely tweaked it for Tom Ford that it feels almost insulting to Fille en Aiguilles. It’s damn lazy. And, making matters even worse, the result is a nondescript, utterly imbalanced, very flat, badly done, uninteresting version of Fille en Aiguilles. If Fille en Aiguilles were a person, it should sue for defamation and copyright violation. So, let’s get to Sheldrake’s One Direction-like olfactory copy of the Fille en Aiguilles.

Fragrantica classifies Plum Japonais as “Floral Fruity,” and the notes, as compiled from both that site and Premiere Avenue, include:

Japanese ume plum, saffron, Cinnamon Bark Orpur, immortelle, plum blossom, camellia, agarwood (oud), amber, benzoin, fir and vanilla.

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine, hvmag.com

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine, hvmag.com

Plum Japonais opens on my skin with plum liqueur, plum molasses, brown sugar syrup, lots of ginger, strong frankincense smoke, and a subtle woodiness. It’s totally Fille en Aiguilles. Flittering around Plum Japonais’ edges are saffron, muted traces of fir resin, and candied immortelle. The latter shows off both its sides here: its herbal floral face, and its slightly maple syrup one. Once in a blue moon, the oud will pop up in the minutest trace, feeling as muted as the fir resin. 

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Within minutes, Plum Japonais’ syrupy plum sweetness turns darker and significantly woodier. There is almost a burnt undertone to the combination which probably stems from the cinnamon tree bark, which is a whole, different animal than mere cinnamon powder. Amusingly, it’s an ingredient that Sheldrake featured front and center in another Lutens’ creation, the woody cinnamon oriental, La Rousse. The bark has an aroma that is spiced, but more akin to very dry, somewhat bitter, acrid, smoky wood. I wasn’t crazy about its odd nuances in Rousse, and I’m not crazy about it here. Still, it’s very subtle at this point, adding just an indirect effect to the overall woodiness running like a vein through all of Plum Japonais’ sticky, fruity sweetness and smoke.

Ten minutes in, something else rises to the surface. An odd floral note that I assume is the camellia. It’s a very creamy, velvety, white, languid scent with a strange but subtle lemony undertone, and it feels quite out-of-place amidst the increasingly dry, smoky, woody bouquet. The spices feel more noticeable, too. The saffron adds a definite kick of fieriness to the fragrance, though the note is not very distinct in its own right. For a few minutes, it adds such a bite to to the fragrance that it almost seems as though a red-hot chili pepper were thrown into the mix, but that impression quickly fades. By the 15-minute mark, Plum Japonais actually feels a little off-kilter. The lemony, creamy floral camellia attempts to balance out the increasingly harsh smoky-woodiness set amidst all that plum molasses and liqueur, but it can’t pull it off. The note is too muted. And, I still think it feels totally out of place.

Fruit Jam. Source: Bettycupcakes.com (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Fruit Jam. Source: Bettycupcakes.com (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Nonetheless, Plum Japonais is still almost entirely Fille en Aiguilles, only with minor differences. The very piney, evergreen forest hues of the Lutens beauty are practically non-existent in Plum Japonais, the inclusion of “fir” or “fir resin” in the notes notwithstanding. Sheldrake (if it is indeed he who is behind Plum Japonais) has substituted instead a different sort of woodiness to the scent. Yet, woody dryness is hardly the main, dispositive characteristic of Fille en Aiguilles. It’s the bloody spiced plum liqueur infused with frankincense smoke, that trademark Lutens’ signature of stewed fruit made more concentrated and plummy, with brown sugar sap, and heaping, walloping, hefty doses of sharp, black incense. And Plum Japonais has that in spades, from start to finish.

The problem is that Plum Japonais is like a knock-off of an expensive designer suit, only all the proportions are wrong. Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles is stunningly balanced, whereas Plum Japonais is not. It feels significantly more acrid, more unbalanced in the sharpness of the smoke and the dryness of the woods. And nothing in the first two hours changes my impression, even though some of the other notes wax and wane in prominence. The immortelle occasionally rises to the surface, feeling like the herbal-floral version now, and not the maple syrup one, but it is muted and vague as a whole. The spices feel a little punchier than they did in the opening minutes, and I continue to think that there is ginger mixed in the blend. The camellia, in contrast, has now retreated to the background where it adds just a quiet, shy, creaminess and muted floral whisper to the overall bouquet.

The more interesting thing is the oud. It was just a whisper in the opening, hiding in the shadows behind all that plum liqueur. Now, however, the agarwood is more a wave that surges, ebbs, and then repeats the process. Sometimes, it feels muted, but it becomes increasingly significant at the start of the second hour, turning Plum Japonais into a fragrance where the dry woods almost compete with the incense-infused plum molasses. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly like these dry woods as compared to the richer, deeper, and significantly more interesting pine ones in Fille en Aiguilles.

As for the smoke, it varies as well. On certain parts of my arm, it feels quite bitter, pungent, and harsh, while, elsewhere, it’s more blended into the fruit. I think the cinnamon tree bark is behind some of the differences. Its smokiness in Serge Lutens’ Rousse felt quite acrid and bitter at times, and I think the note here has combined with the frankincense to create a combination that feels quite harsh at times. It’s never the smooth, almost sweetened incense that you’d expect, or, indeed, the gorgeous smoke in Fille en Aiguilles. This is much sharper and drier in nature, with a slightly bitter undertone.

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

It takes 50 minutes for Plum Japonais to soften and lose some of its harsh edges. The plum top notes start to feel flatter, while the smoky oud and the woods in the base seem smoother and less sharp. There is still a bitter, slightly burnt, pungent nuance to the woods, but the perfume as a whole feels a bit less askew and out of balance. Unfortunately, Plum Japonais also starts to feel a little murky and muddy at this time, both texturally and in terms of the distinctness of its notes. It’s starting to blur into a pretty smoky-woody-fruity fragrance just barely dominated by plum. By the end of the second hour, Plum Japonais is starting to fizzle out with notes that feel increasingly amorphous. The sillage has changed too, as the perfume just barely hovers an inch above the skin, if that. Plum Japonais is now just flat, stewed, sweet plummy jam with vague smoke and dry woody notes. In short, the Serge Lutens signature of dried, sweetened, dark fruits with oriental touches, but without the Lutens oomph and drama. At the 3.5 hour mark, Plum Japonais is a total skin scent, and has devolved to mere plummy sweetness barely flecked by some amorphous dryness and smoke. It remains that way until the very end, growing even more hazy, until its dying moments when it’s just vague sweetness.

All in all, Plum Japonais lasted a little over of 6.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, with incredibly restrained, soft sillage after the first hour. I applied quite a hefty portion too, as I had a very large sample from Neiman Marcus, so I basically wetted a long patch on my forearm with the equivalent of about 5 huge smears. If I’d applied my normal amount, I suspect the numbers would be significantly lower.

I have to admit, given the strength of Plum Japonais at first, and the power of Tom Ford’s Private Blends in general, I’m a little surprised at the shortness of time, as well as the restrained nature of the fragrance when taken as a whole. However, the fact that the perfume is ultimately quite subdued makes a lot more sense if you put it into context and in conjunction with the similar characteristics of Shanghai Lily. Both Atelier d’Orient fragrances seem intentionally designed to be more quiet, restrained takes on a spicy Oriental. I suspect that Tom Ford is aiming this collection at wealthy buyers in Asia, buyers who may not appreciate his usual, brash style, or a truly hardcore, intense Oriental in the style of something like Amouage. Plum Japonais is an attempt to give them a more subdued take on a masculine, woody, fruity oriental, with Shanghai Lily attempting to do the same for the more feminine, floral oriental version. That said, I want to emphasize that Plum Japonais is not a masculine scent at all. It’s wholly unisex for everyone except those whose perfume preferences lean towards the fragrances that are either fresh, clean, soapy, dainty, powdery, aldehydic, or some combination thereof.

Plum Japonais is too new for there to be many reviews available for comparison. My sense of how people generally see the Atelier collection as a whole is that they think it’s nondescript and uninteresting, with Plum Japonais being the best of the lot. That does not mean that they think it’s a great perfume, however. The Basenotes review section for the fragrance has only three reviews up at this time. One of them, “kende,” seemed to share my views about Plum Japonais’ development:

The problem is how short lived this wondrous moment is. Within 15 minutes the scent begins to feel more and more flat. The complexities start to vanish and what suddenly remains is a puny, underwhelming “perfumey” base that smells like a very commonplace generic perfume type of scent. This doesn’t take hours, mind you. It takes no greater the length of 45 minutes to unravel from that rich, opulent opening. […]

This perfume could’ve really been something special, that opening is something every perfumista should experience, but there is no backbone to hold Plum Japonais up over the hours. It goes on like a work of art and but feels more and more like a cheap photocopy as the minutes turn to hours. […]

The scent is 4 stars.

The longevity is embarrassing for a Tom Ford private blend. 0 stars.

Kende doesn’t know it, but Plum Japonais absolutely is a “cheap photocopy[,]” and he or she needs to go try Fille en Aiguilles. Over in a separate Basenotes board thread, the common consensus for Plum Japonais is, and I quote, “meh.” As one poster put it, “I’m honestly not impressed with any of the new Atelier scents. I guess this would be the stand out, but thats not saying much.”

No-one talks about Fille en Aiguilles because, as I noted up above, it’s not one of the better-known Lutens fragrances. But the perfume blows Plum Japonais out of the water! It is also significantly cheaper than Tom Ford’s ersatz, wanna-be copy which costs $210 for the smallest version. Fille en Aiguilles retails for $140, but can easily be found discounted at a number of online perfume retailers, with the lowest price I’ve seen being $80. (See the Lutens review for full retail links.) Honestly, writing out that price differential just offends me even more. Plum Japonais is such a total waste of money. It’s one thing to take a great perfume and use it as a source of inspiration for another; lots of perfumers create scents that have some overlap or a common signature. But Plum Japonais is such a completely out-of-whack, wholly unbalanced, fizzling, flat, totally lazy, “cheap photocopy” of such a supremely stunning, refined, mysteriously seductive, incredibly evocative, utterly mesmerizing scent that it’s positively insulting. The irrational side of me feels like shaking Christopher Sheldrake — who may be my favorite perfumer ever — and asking him, “Why? Why??!!”

In fact, I think I’m too irate to continue this review.

[UPDATE: 8/4/2013– According to one commentator to the blog, “Mike,” who left an answer below, Christopher Sheldrake did not mutilate his creation because Yann Vasnier of Givaudan is the actual nose behind Plum Japonais. Mike cites as sources two unnamed bloggers who contacted Tom Ford. He later directed me to a review at CaFleureBon which states that Yann Vasnier is the creator of Plum Japonais. That review was posted just yesterday, a few days after my own, so the information wasn’t available to me at the time, but I’m very grateful to Mike for telling me about it. I would like to extend to Christopher Sheldrake my heartiest apologies for thinking he had plagiarised himself with a bad copy, and for wanting to shake him like a rag doll.]

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Plum Japonais is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that retail for: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $520 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Plum Japonais at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t believe Nordstrom or Saks has the new collection yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Plum Japonais at Harrods (which only has the small size), Selfridges (which carries both sizes), or House of Frasier (both sizes). The small size is also carried by Harvey Nichols. All the stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, while the super-large 250 ml bottle costs £320.00. In France, Plum Japonais is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Plum Japonais at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.