Santa Maria Novella Nostalgia: Drive, Baby, Drive

One of perfume’s many joys is its transformative power, its ability to take you to other worlds and points in time, or to turn you into someone else. The rather aptly named Nostalgia briefly made me feel like the racing legend, Mario Andretti, in a 1970s Alfa-Romeo Spider convertible or like the ultra-cool Steve McQueen in his Jaguar XKSS.

Steve McQueen in his Jaquar. Source: mtblabel.com

Steve McQueen in his Jaquar. Source: mtblabel.com

Close your eyes and imagine a powerful old car on a racing track set in a birch wood forest. The smell of diesel fuel is in the air, along with the cracked leather seats of the ancient vehicle, and the smell of campfire smoke from a fire in the trees beyond. Bergamot swirls its sweet juices into the mix, along with vanilla, amber and earthy patchouli. As you rev your engines, and press your foot on the pedal, you speed away so fast that you leave the diesel fuel far behind, and enter into a vanilla, amber cocoon nestled amidst the birch trees. There, you take shelter in a haze of creamy, warm, lightly powdered vanillic sweetness infused with campfire smoke. It’s a simple smell, but then, Nostalgia is a return to a simpler, more nostalgic time.

Nostalgia is a fragrance from Santa Maria Novella, an Italian niche house based in Florence and one of the oldest actual pharmacies in the world. By many accounts, Santa Maria Novella is also the real, true source for the birth of cologne as a type of fragrance. You can read the full details of their fascinating, storied history going back to the 1200s and to Dominican friars in Florence in my earlier piece on the Farmacia (and its Ambra cologne). The house has been connected to everything from Catherine de Medici on her wedding day, to a marchioness burnt at the stake as the last “witch” in France, and marauding thieves who fought off the Black Plague. It’s completely fascinating stuff, if you are a history junkie as I am.

Santa Maria Novella. Pharmacy salesroom today. Source: MuseumsinFlorence.com

Santa Maria Novella. Pharmacy salesroom today. Source: MuseumsinFlorence.com

Even cooler is the fact that many of the current fragrances in Santa Maria Novella line continue to have the exact same olfactory profile as they did several centuries ago. In fact, they are said to follow a completely unchanged recipe, thanks to Santa Maria Novella’s heavy focus on all-natural ingredients (with no animal testing).

Source: Santa Maria Novella website.

Source: Santa Maria Novella website.

Nostalgia, however, is brand new fragrance, relatively speaking. It is an eau de cologne that was released in 2002, which is a far cry from the 1600s or 1800s date of some of their other creations. By those standards, it was practically delivered yesterday.

Nostalgia is a leather scent which Santa Maria Novella describes as follows:

Santa Maria Novella’s most original fragrance for men, Nostalgia is the scent of a vintage racing car. Using mixes of rare South American woods, vegetable musk, patchouli, citrus wood, tobacco, amber and vanilla, it brings to mind the smell of benzene, tires and vintage leather for a truly unique and individual eau de cologne.

According to Fragrantica, Nostalgia’s perfume pyramid is:

Top notes: bergamot, rubber and styrax. Heart: cedar and patchouli. Base: leather, amber, vanilla and birch tar.

Nostalgia opens on my skin with diesel fuel. Yes, the smell of actual gasoline, but an extremely refined, high-class gasoline, if you can believe it. It smells like filtered, perfumed gasoline that is scented with fresh, sweetened, but somewhat zesty bergamot, and with a hint of vanilla. Something very herbal and fresh lingers in the rubbery corners, along with traces of general sweetness and the tiniest suggestion of a warm element in the base. The vanilla quickly recedes to the sidelines, and its place is immediately taken by birch tar on fire. There is smoke, more smoke, black rubber, and then, bubbling black tar, all enveloped in that refined, bergamot-scented racing fuel.

Ferrari Formula 1 rubber tire, post race, via reddit.com

Ferrari Formula 1 rubber tire, post race, via reddit.com

I find the whole thing fascinating, and, I swear to you, it’s not like an olfactory assault at NASCAR. Instead, it’s oddly and shockingly smooth. I repeat, something about the overall combination feels almost refined, or as refined as such an accord could be. One reason why is because nothing is out of balance. The racing fuel is not a barrage of anything really sharp, extreme, or chemical; I never feel as though I’m filling my car at the gas station, though the vehicle may have a tiny leak somewhere. The strong element of crisp, chilled, but sweetened bergamot definitely helps, as do the subtle hints of vanilla and amber lurking at the edges.

Source: Theatlantic.com

Source: Theatlantic.com

Thanks to the singed birch trees, there is an outdoors feel to this Grand Prix race track. At the same time, there is also an undertone of black pepper and cracked leather. The latter is not the butch, latex, fetishistic bondage leather of some fragrances, like Etat Libre‘s difficult Rien. However, it’s definitely not the well-oiled, polished leather of Puredistance M, either. Despite the birch tar commonality, this leather also has nothing in common with Caron‘s Tabac Blonde, Knize, or Cuir de Russie, at least in their current, non-vintage manifestations.

Source: blog.hemmings.com

Source: blog.hemmings.com

Nostalgia’s note is a tiny, fractional bit closer to Andy Tauer‘s Lonestar Memories, but it’s not really that either. It lacks the feeling of soldering mechanics, the sticky sweetness, the sharpness, and even the forcefulness of the birch tar in Lonestar Memories. This is much smoother, softer, and more refined. As a whole, both the birch tar smoke and its leather undertone in Nostalgia feel like a completely different take on the note for me. This is the leather of an old car with some goaty, diesel, smoky aspects. It’s rough in the untamed way of birch campfire smoke, but it is also darkly resinous with styrax, and a little bit fresh and cologne-like with bergamot.

Paul Newman in his racing days. Photo: rolexblog.blogspot.com

Paul Newman in his racing days. Photo: rolexblog.blogspot.com

Less than 10 minutes in, Nostalgia shifts and starts to move away from the racing fuel. Earthy patchouli arrives, complete with both its faintly camphorous side and its sweeter, softer tonalities. The amber becomes more noticeable, too, while the bergamot takes a step back. The golden sweetness infuses the tarry, smoked woods and the old leather, softening that initial, utterly cool smell of racing fuel turned sophisticated. It’s a bit of a shame, as the opening minutes were Cool with a capital “C.” We’re talking Steve McQueen and Paul Newman cool in a Mario Andretti racing world. Instead, Nostalgia is now all about campfire smoke, tar and patchouli, lightly flecked with smoother, more refined leather, all upon a warmed, sweetened vanilla and amber base. It’s warm, smoky, masculine and sexy, but not as unique as that debut.

Source: hqwide.com

Source: hqwide.com

Something about Nostalgia mesmerizes me, for reasons that I cannot fully explain. Upon reading about it initially, I thought, “racing fuel sounds cool, but who wants to actually smell of it??!” And if you phrase it as “gasoline,” it sounds even worse. All of the descriptions seemed to entail a scent that would be too raw, tough, dry, beastly, and masculine, even by my expansive standards. Yet, somehow, Nostalgia hits that perfect sweet spot for me. It’s hardly as smoky as Profumum‘s birch tar bonanza, Fumidus, or as austerely dry as Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascece; and it’s definitely not as rubbery or leathered as numerous scents that I’ve tried recently. It also lacks the difficult, black, mentholated, “car oil” gasoline of Patchouly Indonesiano from Farmacia SS. Annunziata, another old, Italian, “pharmacy” fragrance house.

Source: saab92x.com

Source: saab92x.com

Yet, on my skin, Nostalgia is not predominantly about diesel fuel after the first 10 minutes, and it’s not even really a birch tar leather fragrance as a whole. Both aspects are there — though the “leather” is much weaker than the singed campfire wood — but they are seamlessly blended into a bouquet that is primarily about smoky warmth. After 20 minutes, Nostalgia is so smooth, refined, ambered, and golden that I find it absolutely beautiful. (And quite addictive, too, judging by my eagerness to smear on more Nostalgia wherever I could.) I love the touches of sweet, warm, slightly spiced patchouli, with vanilla, sweet bergamot, and the balsamic resins in the base. They complement the subtle touch of leather beautifully, removing its goaty, cracked, aged facets. From the seats of an old convertible, the leather has now turned into something more akin to a well-worn leather jacket worn by a guy who spends his time around a campfire.

The accompanying notes are interesting. Tiny touches of something herbal and vaguely medicinal lurk at the edges, but they are light and seamlessly blended within the larger whole. On occasion, the patchouli even offers up a touch of fresh, green peppermint that, oddly enough, works well with the bergamot. In the base, the styrax resin offers up a smoky, dark, resinous touch with the faintest hint of leather. It’s the same resinous note that lies at the heart of vintage Habit Rouge (which had a lot of styrax in its drydown in the old days), and in Shalimar.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

At the end of 30 minutes, Nostalgia is a warm, graceful, vaguely leathered scent infused with birch tar and its campfire smoke, patchouli amber, and styrax, all lightly threaded with veins of sweet bergamot and vanilla. Initially, the perfume’s sillage was very forceful, wafting about 4-5 inches above the skin, but Nostalgia never felt opaque, dense, or chewy. Now, 30 minutes in, the projection has dropped, in keeping with Nostalgia’s generally softer nature. The perfume wafts in any airy cloud about 2 inches above the skin, and feels even thinner. Up close, all the notes are potent and visible in their individual state. From afar, however, the most noticeable element is the birch with its smoked, burnt woods aroma, only this one feels sweetened, almost honeyed in nature.

Nostalgia continues to soften, turning more abstract and warm as time passes. By the end of the first hour, the perfume is a soft haze of browns and gold, dominated by birch tar amber with patchouli and bergamot, with a base that just barely nods to sweetened vanilla. It’s lovely, but very sheer and light in weight. To my disappointment, it hovers just above the skin. In fact, my voracious skin seems to be eating it up with every passing moment, no doubt because it is an eau de cologne. Still, the notes continue to be very strong when smelled up close, particularly the ambered, sweetened birch. I just wish I didn’t have to put my nose right on my arm to detect the rest of the elements.

Vanilla powder. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Vanilla powder. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

The vanilla starts to rise to the surface, increasingly taking over Nostalgia’s focus to share center stage with the birch and amber. Midway during the 2nd hour, the birch’s smoke is fully subsumed within the other notes, and the impression of leather fades away. Oddly, and for reasons that I don’t understand, the bergamot briefly seems to grow stronger again, and it occurred during both my tests of the perfume. Even odder still, on one of my arms, Nostalgia remained much smokier and less citric than it did on my main (left) testing arm. Perfume doesn’t usually vary on me, from one arm to the next, but when it does, my right one always reflects a much drier, darker, or smokier version of the scent. That seems to be the case with Nostalgia, though it’s a short-lived, very minor difference as a whole.

Source: de.123rf.com

Source: de.123rf.com

At the end of the 3rd hour, Nostalgia is a skin scent centered on vanilla amber thoroughly infused with black smoke and a touch of singed woods. The patchouli and amber have melted into the base, where they add a general, indirect warmth but they no longer feel distinct or clear in an individual way. The most striking aspect of Nostalgia at this point is how creamy that vanilla is. It feels like a sweet crème anglaise sauce: thin but rich, and almost silky in the mouth.

The vanilla increasingly becomes the focus of Nostalgia’s drydown on my skin, with slowly fading levels of birch smokiness. There is a tiny touch of powderiness, in the way that tonka can generally impart, but it is not substantial on my skin. Nostalgia is a gauzy, thin blur, and it feels as though it’s about to fade away any moment now after the start of the 6th hour. To my surprise, the perfume hangs on tenaciously a little bit longer. In its final moments, Nostalgia is a simple smear of something vaguely sweet and dry, conveying the subtle sense of a note that might once have been vanillic in nature. All in all, Nostalgia lasted just short of 7.5 hours on my skin with low sillage after 90 minutes.

On Fragrantica, Nostalgia seems to be a massive hit with the vast majority of posters, with guy after guy writing how they have to buy a bottle. Or, in the case of one commentator, a second bottle:

Cigars gasoline sweet powder rubber and a bit of sweat. What could be sexier? Take that first sexual experience in a car with a bearded guy who is way too old for you, guilty, uncomfortable and exciting, wanting to run away from it and wishing it would last forever at the same time, and put it in a bottle. Nostalgia is a perfect name for this fragrance. […] Oh man I totally need another bottle of this.

"Rush" movie still, via developersaccomplice.co.uk

“Rush” movie still, via developersaccomplice.co.uk

Another commentator amusingly began his positive review by describing Nostalgia as “FERRARI AUTO REPAIR,” writing:

FERRARI AUTO REPAIR

I could also called this ‘Elegant Benzoin’. [¶] The gasoline opening is challenging yet intriguing. [¶] The other notes are present and accounted for, even if they can’t be specifically named (at least, by me). [¶] After time, the complex notes sparkle more than the Benzoin – and this fragrance keeps pulling me into it’s unique, luxurious heart.

I just may need to own this.

1967 Fiat Spider. Source: bringatrailer.com

1967 Fiat Spider. Source: bringatrailer.com

Some other impressions:

  • Rubber and leather that smell exacactly like the interiors of my grandad’s old FIAT 500 during the summertime, when odors are emphasized by the high temperatures of the season. A great fragrance if you like challenging smoky rubber/leather scents a-la Knize Ten / CDG’s Garage / Lisa Kirk’s Revolution. I do. [¶] Downside: the drydown is quite conventional if compared to the opening, but still pleasant..
  •  this juice is damn amazing and dramatic…Reason being, right out of the gate it smells really strong like racing fuel and literally 15 seconds later it begins changing..into this gorgeous blend of rubber and leather and several minutes later upon dry down remains the alluring vanilla-leatherish-Bvlgari Black blend. [¶] 10 out of 10 for uniqueness, quality, shock factor, longevity, sillage, and originality.  [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]

For one person, it took time and repeated tries to appreciate Nostalgia. His first attempt was not positive, but then he fell in love with the opening. He writes, “I just wish this stunning opening lasted longer” — and I share his feelings. He’s going to buy a bottle, and I would too if my skin did not eat up Nostalgia.

Women have written about Nostalgia too. One lamented that she only detected “sweet, prickly green tea,” which seems to be quite a unique experience and definitely not the norm. Another female Fragrantica poster, however, had a more typical encounter, and loved it:

I love love love this perfume. Not for the fainthearted nor the heavyhanded. Best worn on autumn as it can get too heavy for summer yet it lacks that certaint ‘warmth’ necessary for winter. Very avant-garde, surprisingly sexy. The funny thing is that my husband loves it on me but not on him.

One thing I found very interesting is that the current version of Nostalgia may have been reformulated to lose a lot of its leather heart. Almost three years ago, in July 2011, a poster called “Roan” wrote:

The re-edition doesn’t have the scent of leather.
In few words, this perfume during the opening is very very unusual…the first sniff will make you cry 🙂
It smells on tyres, pit stop, road, gas, rubber, cars, colors, like the store which has everything for the house – ‘do it yourself’. The smell is fantastic hehe, after a while it settles down and becomes powdery and sweet, very conventional, it has a lot of similarities as Le Dandy D’Orsay in the drydown. This is a must try for everyone who love perfumes and the art of perfumery!
P.S. Sillage and logivity are good enough, regarding the smell, I expected that will last for days. [Emphasis to name added by me.]

Ferrari Formula 1 Pit, practice session. Photo: Reuters via Emirates247.com

Ferrari Formula 1 Pit, practice session. Photo: Reuters via Emirates247.com

On my skin, the “pit stop” aroma was very short-lived indeed, as it seemed to have been on those who posted more recent reviews of the scent. I get the impression that the fuel note (like the leather one) may have been tamed down or reduced even further since 2011, judging by a few, more recent, comments that I’ve read on its duration. It’s rather a shame, because it’s truly lovely in its uniqueness and in its incredibly refined nature. It’s not NASCAR, but the Ferrari Auto Repair that one of the comments mentions, but it doesn’t last for very long.

There are several blog reviews for Nostalgia out there. On CaFleureBon, Ida Meister raved about the scent in a 2011 article that compared it with Lisa Kirk‘s Revolution.

Nostalgia revs you up with all the aromas of an imported vintage automobile – it reeks of luxurious leather interior, exotic woods, and benzene; what’s not to like?

I’m not a driver, and I’m mad for it.

The photo used by Ida Meister to convey Nostalgia. Inspector Morse with his famous Jaguar.

The photo used by Ida Meister to convey Nostalgia. Inspector Morse with his famous Jaguar.

Both begin with that unholy blast that sears your nostrils, it’s NOT a gentle come-hither, I’ll grant you that.

Where they differ is in the drydown.

Nostalgia is an original Sillage Monster.

It may soften a bit, but it remains fairly potent and outspoken to the last, it just won’t give up the ghost.

I’m incredibly appreciative of this bizarre quality, and keep spraying myself over and over again.

But I’ve yet to purchase a bottle; where the hell would I wear this?

She does have a point. It may not be the most versatile scent, but I would wear it at home happily as a cozy scent (yes, I know, I’m odd) if it actually were a sillage monster on my skin. I’m sure that spraying from an actual bottle would improve things a bit, but only at the start. My skin simply doesn’t do all that well in the long-term with fragrances that are colognes in strength.

I think the most interesting and useful review for Nostalgia comes from the blog, Cocktails and Cologne, which analyzes in-depth just how much the fragrance does or does not replicate the “vintage race car concept”:

I love the smell of exhaust and unburned fuel from a hot rod without a catalytic converter—I even like the way my clothes smell after I’m around it. But would I bottle it? Fortunately, Santa Maria Novella’s vintage race car concept fragrance doesn’t take it too literally.

Nostalgia’s inspiration was the metal, rubber, wood, and leather of hand-built Italian race cars. It’s a great concept for a perfectly masculine fragrance, very elemental, and very sentimental too. […][¶]

NostalgiaThat Nostalgia doesn’t have more fans may be a result of its polarizing top notes and its lackluster packaging (More on that later). I’m guessing many people never get beyond the top notes to the smooth, Bulgari Black-like vanilla and rubber stage.

The top notes are bright and utterly artificial smelling. I worked in a garage for a couple years and I’ve been around vintage cars my whole life but none of Nostalgia’s top notes quite conjure up the feeling of vintage racing to me. It’s closer to the smell of the plastic glue I used to use to build 1:24 scale models of cars as a teenager.

About an hour in, it smells a little more like Bulgari Black’s top notes: smooth and rubbery with a hint of leather and vanilla. It’s much milder than you’d expect for something that comes on with such a chemical assault. Unlike Black though, Nostalgia’s vanilla isn’t sweet; it’s more leathery with a hint of smoke. I love Black but I may prefer Nostalgia. [snip.]

The whole review is very well-done, astutely noting how the Nostalgia is suited to a specific audience, and discussing the issue of the old-fashioned packaging. (It puts some people off.) The article is definitely worth a complete read for anyone interested in the fragrance.

Source: worldfragrances.com

Source: worldfragrances.com

As you may have noticed, the subject of Bvlgari Black comes up a lot in the discussion of Nostalgia. I haven’t tried it, but the perfume is mentioned so often in other, very similar fragrances that I’ve covered that I really need to rectify that soon. At this point, though, I suspect I pretty much know how it smells, and yes, Nostalgia’s drydown is probably quite close.

I bring up Bvlgari Black for another reason. I know a number of women who love the fragrance, and have no problems wearing it. Those same women should also love Nostalgia. Yes, this is a fragrance that initially skews somewhat masculine, but that “racing fuel” opening is incredibly short-lived on me and on others, and the rest of the fragrance is much more approachable. Nostalgia should work for anyone who can handle the smoky birch tar aspects of Lonestar Memories, Profumum’s Arso and Bvlgari Black, along with the leather in Rien or Tabac Blond (both of which are significantly and substantially more leathered than Nostalgia), and smoky scents which contain touches of earthy patchouli. Those people should have absolutely no problem with all those various elements coming together in one fragrance that smooths out their rougher edges into a refined blend.

For everyone else, I’m not sure I would recommend Nostalgia. If you don’t like leather or birch tar, I don’t think you’d enjoy the scent. That said, I would like to emphasize again that all of the potentially difficult elements appear only in the opening phase of Nostalgia, since the majority of the fragrance’s life is centered on a very simple amber-vanilla with birch smoke that eventually turns to mere vanilla and smoke.

In short, if you’re even slightly tempted, then don’t let the sound of Nostalgia’s opening scare you off. It is a scent that both men and women who love birch leather, smoky fragrances, vanillic leather, and Bvlgari Black should try. Nostalgia is very affordable, utterly fascinating, and extremely well done.

DETAILS
Cost & Availability: Nostalgia is an Eau de Cologne that comes in a 100 ml/ 3.3 oz splash bottle and which costs $125 or €95. In the U.S.: Nostalgia is available directly from Santa Maria Novella’s US website which offers free shipping for orders over $150. (You may need to buy an atomizer spray that they offer to go with the bottle, as I believe it might be a dab bottle, like some of their other fragrances.) Santa Maria Novella also has numerous other sections worth checking out. All items are cruelty-free and have not been tested on animals. The Pet Section includes everything from Lemongrass Anti-Mosquito repellant in lotion form to No Rinse Cleansing Foams, and more. Santa Maria Novella also has stores in 5 U.S. cities from L.A., to New York, Chevy Chase, Dallas and Bal Harbour, Fl, and you can find those addresses on the website. Also, LAFCO, on Hudson St. in NYC, is said to carry the entire SMN line. I checked the LAFCO website, and I don’t see any Santa Maria Novella’s products on it, but I believe they carry them in-store. Other U.S. vendors: Brooklyn’s Dry Goods NY sells Nostalgia below retail for the old SMN price of $110, while NY’s Carson Street Clothiers sells it way above retail at $165. Aedes in New York seems to carry a good selection of some Santa Maria Novella products, from candles to soaps, along with Nostalgia for $125. You can order Nostalgia by phone from Luckyscent, but it is not one of the fragrances that you can order from the website. Frankly, there seems to be an odd situation with a few vendors being unable to sell SMN fragrances on their website, with one NL site explicitly saying that they received a directive from the company not to do so, but only to offer their fragrances in store. I don’t understand it.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, a retail chain called Gravity Pope carries an extensive number of Santa Maria Novella products, from fragrances to shampoos, lotions and soaps. They show Nostalgia on their website, but for the reasons listed above, cannot sell it online but only in store. In Europe, you can turn to the Italian Santa Maria Novella website to buy Nostalgia, but I’m having a little trouble navigating the site. There is also no pricing that I can find. The SMN Farmacia has a number of European off-shoots: stores in London and in Paris. I can’t find an address for the Paris store, but the official distributor for the company’s products is Amin Kader Paris which has two stores in the Paris. Again, I can’t find Euro pricing information for the fragrance. On a side note, on a Fodor’s site, I read that Santa Maria Novella has shops in the following cities: Roma, Venice, Lucca, Forte dei Marmi, Bologna, Castiglione della Pescaia, London, Paris, and Livorno. In the Netherlands, Lianne Tio sells Nostalgia in her Rotterdam store for €95, but not on her website due to the SMN directive. Switzerland’s Osswald also carries the full SMN line, but doesn’t seem to have an e-store. In Poland, I found Nostalgia at Galilu, while in Auckland, New Zealand, it is available at Passion for Paper, though you can’t seem to buy it directly from the website. In Russia, the full SMN line, along with Nostalgia, can be ordered by phone from Ebaumer.
Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which carries Nostalgia starting at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial.
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Review En Bref: Memo Paris Irish Leather

My Reviews en Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to merit one of my detailed, exhaustive, full reviews. In the case of Irish Leather from Memo Paris, it’s because I couldn’t bear to leave it on my skin.

Source: haker.com.tr

Source: haker.com.tr

Memo Paris is a niche line based in Paris. None of its scents are sold in the U.S., but I got to try a few while on holiday, and there were two I rather enjoyed. However, my appreciation was tempered by the fact that at least one of them contained ISO E Super, which I loathe with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. The rest of the line also seemed replete with the aromachemical, so I never bothered to get a sample. Recently, Surrender to Chance began carrying the line, so I ordered Irish Leather.

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

The main reason was because of the incredibly evocative, romantic way that Memo describes Irish Leather on its website. The company’s co-founder, John Molloy, is Irish and he clearly wanted to convey the feel of his home country:

It’s one of those icy, biting mornings. The sun scarcely manages to break through the heavy grey clouds. The air is crisp and dry, and the wind slips beneath my clothes. The North wind whips the grass that sticks to my boots. I walk into the stable and swing open the wooden tack room doors, freeing the burning scent of leather, wood, amber and honey. Its age-old odor stands out sharply in the frozen morning air. My horse whinnies softly. It’s the smell of her freedom. The leather gathers in the wind, the grass warms with the wood. Irish Leather gallops off into the horizon.

According to Fragrantica, the notes in Irish Leather are:

juniper berries, amber, leather, mate and tonka bean.

Mate or Yerba Mate. Source: theplanteater.com

Mate or Yerba Mate. Source: theplanteater.com

However, the company has quite a different list:

Pink pepper, oil of clary sage, juniper berry, green maté absolute, oil of flouve, iris concrete, tonka bean absolute, leather accord, oil of birch, amber accord.

Flouve grass via en.academic.ru

Flouve grass via en.academic.ru

It might be worth a brief description of some of those less commonly known notes. According to Fragrantica, maté is a South American tree whose leaves are used for tea. They have a very herbal, bitter, and/or grassy aroma. A Google search for Flouve turned up a Wikipedia page for something called “Anthoxanthum odoratum, known as sweet vernal grass, holy grass, vanilla grass or buffalo grass.” The scent is apparently dominated by coumarin, and smells “like fresh hay with a hint of vanilla.” As for clary sage, it is a plant with a very herbal profile that sometimes smells a little lavendery. It also can have soapy and slightly medicinal tonalities. On occasion, it can have a leathery undertone as well.

All that is fine and dandy, but you’d rather expect a scent named Irish Leather to smell of the eponymous note. Not on my skin. Not on any of the numerous occasions where I tried it, only to give up in a deluge of Chamomile tea, green herbs, grass and, yes, ISO E Supercrappy. So, so, so much ISO E Super. I have now tried Irish Leather four times, and four times I have scrubbed it off. I have never gotten past the 5 hour stage before I finally succumbed, but at no point in those 5 hours did I ever smell leather.

Now, I fully realise that I am much more sensitive to aromachemicals than the average person. I also realise that the vast majority of people can’t smell ISO E Super. I really wish I were in their boat. All I can say is that, most of the time, I can put up with a lot of aromachemicals, despite my issues with them and despite the fact that they can give me a headache when an extremely large quantity is used. I will put up with it for the sake of a full, comprehensive review when the rest of the perfume’s notes have promise or are good enough to endure the misery.

Mate tea via 123rf.com

Mate tea via 123rf.com

That was not the case with Irish Leather. There is absolutely nothing that I found interesting enough to warrant a 5th attempt that would take me all the way to the end. It has nothing to do with the headache, the number of Tylenols I was popping, or my sensitivity to the aromachemical. Irish Leather is simply not all that interesting a perfume, especially for its high price and accessibility issues. There is something particularly irritating (not to mention disorienting) about wearing a scent that is meant to evoke leather and horses, only to smell of Chamomile tea, herbs and crappy chemicals.

Juniper berries.

Juniper berries.

Irish Leather opens on my skin with juniper berries that recreate the scent of gin, followed by massive, walloping amounts of ISO E Super, and green notes. There are fresh green herbs, maté which strongly resembles chamomile tea, grass, and a touch of sweet hay. The primary bouquet is of the green maté tea aroma, with fresh gin, herbs, and ISO E Super. The latter has a chemical, rubbing alcohol vibe that is so strong, it completely flattens the other grassy tonalities.

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

Irish Leather is very light and airy, but the ISO E molecules are so large and, more importantly, the quantity is so vast that I continuously have to sniff dried coffee in order to clear my nose. ISO E has the tendency to block out the nose’s smell receptors when it comes to the other molecules, the way an eclipse can block out the sun. On occasion, the size of the molecules can even prevent the nose from noticing the overall fragrance when it is smelled up close, which is why some people can’t easily detect their own perfume while others standing at a distance have no trouble at all.

Distance helps in smelling a fragrance replete with ISO E Super, but that doesn’t do much good for me if I want to detect or single out all the nuances up close. From afar, all I can smell is chamomile tea, green tonalities that are primarily herbal in nature, and the chemical. Unfortunately, up close, even after clearing my nose with coffee, that is all I smell as well. Leather? Nary a whisper of it. I feel as though I’m wearing one of Ormonde Jayne’s green scents (she likes maté a lot as well), only this one has the ISO E Super quadrupled. For the most part, I just feel as though I’m wearing chamomile tea. And I don’t like chamomile tea very much.

About 20 minutes into Irish Leather’s development, the green accords have been joined by what may be the faintest vestige of something smoky. I think. The hay element also seems stronger. I think. The perfume hovers about 2-3 inches above the skin. I think. None of this is a certainty because the ISO E Super has totally overpowered much of my ability to detect nuances, and there is nothing in the scent that is rich or dark enough to counter the chemical. My headache whenever I smell the perfume up close for too long doesn’t help either.

Somewhere in the middle of the third hour, the perfume starts to shift. It turns warmer, less crisp, green and wholly tea-like. There is a creamy and sweet element which infuses the herbal notes, along with hints of an abstract “amber” chemical. A vague suggestion of birch lurks about as well, but it is even more abstract in nature and generally feels like dry woodiness instead. Again, still no leather. None. What there is instead is a light whiff of an arid, desiccated chemical that simply becomes the very last straw for me.

I rarely last more than an hour or two past this point, though I admit that the wholly abstract, generalized, vegetal musk that creeps in near the start of the 5th hour isn’t terrible. It’s warm and slightly sweet, as though a farm’s wild grass and fresh hay have been turned creamy and golden. Unfortunately, it continues to be infused with the ISO E Super which takes on a very Ormonde Jayne lemony undertone. I still feel as though I’m wearing herbal tea, only now there is some warm cream and an abstract fake “amber” in it.

As a whole, on my skin, Irish Leather is merely random forms of vegetation — whether herbal tea, grass, Chamomile, or fresh hay — in a chemical cocktail for hours and hours. Perhaps it gets better by the end, perhaps the leather actually shows up, but I’m not being paid to undergo this experience and I draw the line somewhere.

Dried Camomile tea leaves via uniquecoffeeroasters.com

Dried Camomile tea leaves via uniquecoffeeroasters.com

Irish Leather is a European exclusive and is not cheap at a minimum retail price of €168 for 75 ml, with some vendors selling it as high as €190. At today’s rate of exchange, €168 comes to $233. I personally find that to be ludicrous, but then the degree of my irritation is extremely high at this point.

I generally don’t provide comparative reviews in my “En Bref” posts, but I will here because I am that irate and I want to show that my perceptions of this bloody fragrance are not the result of some idiosyncratic hatred for ISO E Supercrappy. On Fragrantica, the reviews for Irish Leather are not good, and I’ll start with the comment that also notes the massive amount of the bloody chemical:

big amount of iso e super…
..not very interesting to my nose..and actually no leather…only plus: lasting power
if you like the smell of gin & iso e super, I recommend escentric 01 over this one. if you like the synthetics more complicated, I recommend comme des garcons 2 man..

Then, the others:

  • disappointing, for every leather freak a major letdown!
  • I am not sure if the names matches this scent,I am almost convinced it doesn’t. Opens with a strong iris note,could be the juniper berries and dries down to a vetiver-suede combination that just doesn’t work miracles!Green,sharp,reminiscent of forests but not of horses or leather. It reminded me of Hiris by Hermes.Overall,disappointed because of my high expectations(again).More likely to suit a man,I find it too dry and harsh for a woman.Decent longevity and low sillage.

The one quasi-positive review isn’t particularly enthused either, though the commentator does try to put a good spin on the scent:

Opens with a beautiful, albeit a short-lived forest accord; juniper berries and birch. At first, the drydown is leafy&vegetal which is presumably the mate note, reminiscent of the smell of the drink complemented by iris, sage, birch and leather. Leather is quite subdued for the first three hours, but more obvious after the mate & his veggie friends fade a bit. The latter part of the drydown is vegetal leather (very similar to Montale Aoud Leather).

Although this not my cup of tea (pun not intended), I found IL interesting and enjoyable, but not something I’d wear on a regular basis. Lovers of intense leather fragrances probably won’t enjoy this, but if you like your leather with some greenness or are looking for a scent that reminds you of a walk in Nordic forest while sipping some mate, this is worth trying. Modest projection, got 6h of wear with one spray so impressive longevity!

Yes, ISO E Super can give you impressive longevity indeed. As for the eventual “vegetal” leather scent that she experienced, it doesn’t seem to overcome the “cup of tea” from the maté for most of the fragrance’s lifespan, including its drydown, by her own admission.

I refuse to spend any more time discussing this absolutely crappy “leather” fragrance. The end.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Irish Leather is an eau de parfum that comes in a 75 ml/ 2 oz bottle that retails for €168 or £168. The Memo line is not sold in the U.S. at this time. Outside the U.S.: you can order Irish Leather directly from the Memo website. In the U.K., you can find Irish Leather exclusively at Harvey Nichols. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Irish Leather for €190, which seems way over Memo’s own price for it. Below retail is France’s Premiere Avenue which sells Irish Leather for €160. The perfume is also available at First in Fragrance for €168, at Belgium’s Parfuma for €171.20. In Paris, you can find Irish Leather at Colette for €170, in Italy at Profumi Balocchi, and, in the Netherlands, at Babassu where it is sold for €163. In Moscow, you can find the Memo line at Tsum or Orental, and in Dubai, at Harvey Nicks. Memo is also sold in Seoul and Tokyo, and you can look at the Memo Store Locator guide for listings. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Arte Profumi Fumoir: Campfire Smoke & Promises

The promise of Russian leather, birch tar, smoke, ambergris, and velvet-covered, opulent smoking rooms in gentlemen’s clubs lies at the heart of Fumoir, a new and expensive eau de parfum from the Italian perfume house, Arte Profumi. From the company’s elegant description right down to Fumoir’s notes (which also include pepper, cumin, and rose), the perfume sounds glorious on paper. 

Fumoir, via First in Fragrance.

Fumoir, via First in Fragrance.

Arte Profumi, whose name translates to The Art of Perfume, is based in Rome and seems to have been founded around 2013, the year when it launched all its fragrances. Fumoir is classified as a leather scent, but its name refers to smoking rooms at a gentleman’s club, as well as to a smoke house. Arte Profumi‘s website has little by way of description for the scent, and absolutely no notes: 

FUMOIR
Birch
… conversations among men,
in reserved rooms,
covered by wood, leather and velvet
surrounded by smoke.

Source: Wingtip.com

Source: Wingtip.com

First in Fragrance has much more information, and describes Fumoir as follows:

“Fumoir” by Arte Profumi is dedicated to a very special world – the world of gentlemen’s clubs and the pleasures of tobacco.

The quite, intense and distinctive fragrance takes no prisoners. Pepper and cumin are the strong vanguard. The fragrance bites wonderfully with smoky and leather notes, the rose in the heart is known only by hearsay and ambergris stays firmly in the background. The rest is pure and driven to extreme masculinity.

“Fumoir” doesn’t rely on hints. Whoever enjoys assertive smoky notes and old, creaking leather, or prefers a statement to diplomacy, will love “Fumoir”. The name in French not only means gentlemen’s room or smoking room but also smoke house. 

The notes, as compiled from First in Fragrance and Fragrantica, are:

 pepper, cumin, birch tar, tobacco, russian leather, rose and ambergris.

Talisker, an Islay single malt. Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog.http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Talisker, an Islay single malt. Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog.http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Fumoir opens on my skin with beautiful birch, manifesting itself as campfire smokiness infused with a peaty, somewhat salty, single malt, Islay Scotch. I’m quite serious when I say that I actually murmured out loud, “Laphroaig on steroids!” which is a huge compliment, as I love Laphroaig the most out of the all the Islay malts. Here, the Scotch is amplified with that gloriously burnt wood, campfire smokiness that is such a core component of birch.

Birch Tar pitch via Wikicommons.

Birch Tar pitch via Wikicommons.

Birch tar is more than just smoky, though. It is often a key element in creating the impression of leather, especially Russian leather. Back in the old days, Russian tanners cured hides with the tar, and something in the popular imagination (or perhaps just in my imagination) tends to associate the leather aroma with dashing, fierce, or untamed Cossacks. (As a side note, Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie probably helped in creating this association.)

Here, in Fumoir, the campfire aroma of scorched birch wood is soon followed by a definite note of blackened, tar-encrusted leather. At this point in the perfume’s evolution, the leather very much feels like its own distinct, individual element. Unfortunately, it later ends up being subsumed into the birch tar, which drives Fumoir from its very first moment until its end.

Source: lamag.com

Source: lamag.com

The leather is really lovely at this point. It is so black and sultry in its smoky, rugged heft. Yet, there is an odd meatiness about it that continuously reminds me of a mesquite-smoked barbecue. Fiery black pepper thoroughly covers it and the overall effect is… well, you may call me crazy, but I keep thinking of Steak au Poivre. Perhaps it’s the result of the cumin with the pepper and birch, creating a combination which my mind is translating into a big, fat, meaty steak, covered with walloping amounts of pepper, and thoroughly infused with smoke from a campfire that is burning mesquite wood. The cumin really isn’t visible in its usual way, apart from that odd impression, and I detect no rose at all at this point.

Four members of the Tsar's Imperial Russian Cossack bodyguard. Source: Pinterest.

Four members of the Tsar’s Imperial Russian Cossack bodyguard. Source: Pinterest.

Instead, Fumoir is a bonfire of darkness, singed woodiness, tar, peaty whiskey, and leather. The latter slowly takes on a slightly animalic touch, a raw, butch quality. For the first time in a long time when smelling a birch leather fragrance, I’m really transported to the steppes of Imperial Russia with its Cossacks. It never really happened with Cuir de Russie, but then, Fumoir is not as refined as that scent and it lacks the avalanche of soapy aldehydes that dominated the Chanel scent on my skin. In short, the Italian perfume has a very untamed, fierce element that the Chanel never did. At the same time, both the campfire smoke and the leather are stripped of the forest or chilly pine aroma that other fragrances with birch often carry.

My favorite part of the scent, though, is definitely the Laphroaig single malt aspect that I noted earlier. As the opening minutes pass, the note grows stronger, and its peaty smokiness works incredibly well with the meatiness of the leather, the pepper, and the birch. Scotch and a campfire steak, how perfect is that?!

Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog. http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Photo: Savuista at the Savuista blog. http://savuista.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

Alas, my overall enthusiasm is suddenly tempered exactly 15 minutes into Fumoir’s development when a synthetic note stirs in the base. It smells of very dry tobacco but, also, of an ISO E-like aromachemical. It is wrapped up in an extremely arid woodiness, as well as with a touch of very, amorphous golden… something. I can’t pinpoint what it may be. My first thought was Givaudan’s tobacco synthetic, Kephalis, that is often used for its leathered undertones. Later, though, I wonder if it’s Givaudan’s Ambermax with its peppered, ISO E Super-like notes? The dry, ambergris substitute, Ambroxan? A combination of Kephalis and one of the ambers seems most likely. Whatever the real cause(s) may be, there is definitely something that is not right and very fake in Fumoir’s base.

As a whole, the perfume’s overall bouquet in the opening stage is of tarry birch wood charred in a campfire and infused with mesquite, pepper, Laphroaig whiskey, and meaty Cossack leather, all lightly flecked by a dry tobacco whisper and a good dose of aromachemicals.

Source: speckyboy.com

Source: speckyboy.com

Then, Fumoir slowly, very slowly, starts to shift. 40 minutes in, the perfume starts to gradually turn warmer and fractionally sweeter. The peaty whiskey fades away, while a kernel of “amber” in the base begins to bloom, seeping over the tarred leather and birch smoke. It creates a small dot of goldenness in the pitch black, but it is an abstract amber, an impression more than a clearly delineated, crisp note.

And it most certainly is not actual, very expensive ambergris, no matter what is listed in the notes. This is nothing like the scent that dominates a fragrance like Profumum‘s Amber Aurea. This is a wholly abstract construct that is nebulous, dry, and, increasingly, subject to a chemical taint, just like the equally nebulous tobacco note. The “amber” is actually why I mentioned those particular aromachemicals up above. Neither its ISO E-like jangly sharpness nor its excessive dryness is a joy.

The problem is that far too much of both synthetics have been used for them to blend well into Fumoir, though they certainly seem to help with the perfume’s projection. The perfume is very potent in the opening hour, and with good sillage that wafts out about 3-4 inches above the skin before eventually dropping at the end of the first hour. Despite the forcefulness of the birch smoke, Fumoir is quite airy in feel, and it grows thinner with time. Actually, it feels rather like an eau de toilette in nature, one which has a powerful start, but little actual body or depth.

"Gold smoke" by etafaz on deviantART.

“Gold smoke” by etafaz on deviantART.

At the end of the first hour, Fumoir is largely a two-note symphony centered on the main aspects of birch: burnt campfire smoke and leather. The pepper, whiskey, and vaguely abstract cumin element have faded away. However, the “tobacco” is finally starting to emerge in its own right, along with the “amber” in base. I don’t mind synthetics in fragrances if they are well-blended, in balanced proportions, and don’t render the scent into something that is heavily chemical in nature, but I have enormous issues when the quantity is high, especially at Arte Profumi’s prices. (More on that later.) Plus, Fumoir gives me a faint headache whenever I smell it too deeply for too long up close. That is a telltale sign that the aromachemicals are in a large quantity, as I don’t have such a reaction otherwise. Needless to say, I’m feeling rather grumpy at this point, and it only gets worse.

At the end of the 3rd hour, Fumoir smells of aromachemical amber, burnt wood in a campfire, and birch tar that is vaguely leathered, all in a warm blend infused with abstract, peppered, tobacco tonalities. It feels richer than it actually is, and it also reminds me of a very synthetic version of Naomi Goodsir‘s Bois d’Ascese, though not as interesting. Fumoir’s sillage has dropped to about an inch above the skin, but the notes aren’t hard to detect up close.

Source: Theatlantic.com

Source: Theatlantic.com

Fumoir is largely linear in nature, which is fine if you like the notes in question. Obviously, I don’t, but it doesn’t help that the simplicity of Fumoir’s bouquet is becoming increasingly boring. From afar, it really is nothing more than the birch tar’s burnt woods and some extremely arid relative of ISO E Supercrappy. For a brief period about 6.25 hours in, the rose appeared, turning Fumoir into a dry, woody rose and birch tar scent on an abstract amber base. It feels like a very distant cousin to Le Labo‘s Rose 31, only the nebulous rose is massively dominated by campfire smoke and an amber synthetic, instead of cedar woods and actual ISO E Super.

Campfire ashes. Source: dansdepot.com

Campfire ashes. Source: dansdepot.com

The resemblance doesn’t last long, and Fumoir returns to its core scent of birch tar smoked woods with aromachemical amber and aromachemical tobacco. By the middle of the 8th hour, the notes veer between acrid, smoked, and ashtray-like in their nuances. There is a subtle vein of dirtiness that lurks underneath, like really old, stale cumin, mixed with mesquite. The whole thing makes me feel incredibly dirty — in an unclean way, and not in the good, sexy, skanky way.

I’d suppressed the urge for a very soapy shower for hours, but, finally, towards the end of the 10th hour, I gave in and washed off Fumoir. It was exactly 9.75 hours into the perfume’s development, and Fumoir would probably have endured even longer as my skin holds onto synthetics like mad. In all honesty, I think it was the monotony which got to me even more than the acrid, burnt, stale, fetidness of the final hours. Fumoir is all about the birch tar first and foremost, then the two other aromachemicals. The remainder of the notes are hardly key players, and the lovely Cossack Russian leather subsumes itself into the overall scorched woods aroma in a way that renders it a mere undertone in the perfume’s overall scent.

I tested Fumoir twice, increasing the amount of fragrance that I applied, and the overall result was largely the same in both instance. The only difference is that I didn’t detect any rose note with larger quantity of Fumoir. It was just more linear, aromachemical laden, and boring. And I washed it off even sooner.

I couldn’t find any blog reviews for Fumoir, and the fragrance has no comments listed on its Fragrantica page. There isn’t even a Basenotes entry for it. However, Parfumo (which is like a European Fragrantica) has some votes for the quality, sillage and longevity of the scent. So, even if there are no actual comments posted, perhaps you may find 3 people’s numerical assessment of the fragrance useful:

  • 3 votes each for Longevity and Sillage, each coming in at an 83% ranking;
  • 3 votes for the scent as a whole, which puts it at 2.5 stars or a 50% ranking.

I think the 2.5 out of 5 rating for the fragrance is generally fair, though perhaps a bit high for me personal. Still, it’s telling that 3 people who may not be as annoyed as I am by massive amounts of aromachemicals don’t think highly of the scent either.

It doesn’t help that Fumoir is neither cheap nor easily accessible. It is exclusive to Europe at this point, though you can easily find samples at Surrender to Chance. Even if you were to order it from First in Fragrance in Europe (or Jovoy for EU-based customers), Fumoir costs €225 for the 100 ml bottle. At today’s exchange rate, that comes to roughly $308. This is not a scent worth $308 or €225! It simply is not, even if you don’t share my disdain for aromachemicals. There is none of the rich body, nuanced complexity, or interesting development that would warrant such a price. I generally liked Arte Profumi’s Ecclesiae incense fragrance, though I thought the price for that one was too high as well, but Fumoir lacks its sibling’s quality.

Photo: Narinder Nanu via washingtonpost.com

Photo: Narinder Nanu via washingtonpost.com

More to the point, if you’re an ardent fan of campfire birch scents, there are much better alternatives out there at a much better price. There is the richer, deeper, piney Arso from Profumum Roma; there is the drier, more austere, interesting Bois d’Ascese from Naomi Goodsir (which is hardcore birch, campfire smoke!); and there is also Jovoy‘s Private Label with its heavy vetiver focus amidst the peaty birch campfire smoke and Mad Max leather. They’re all significantly better fragrances.

In short, Fumoir fails to live up to its promises, and I would skip it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Fumoir is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and costs €225. There are no American distributors for the Arte Profumi line that I could find. Arte Profumi has a website, but not an e-shop or a Stockist/Retailers list, so your best bet in obtaining the scent is from two big European perfume sites. Paris’ Jovoy and Germany’s First in Fragrance both carry the scent. The latter also sells samples and ships internationally. I couldn’t find any retailers in the UK, the Netherlands, or outside of Europe. If you’re in Italy, however, the company has two boutiques in Rome. Samples: Surrender to Chance now sells Fumoir starting at $4.50 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also an Arte Profumi Sample Set starting at $12.99 for 3 of its fragrance (including Fumoir and Ecclesiae which I previously reviewed) in a 1/2 ml size.

Aftelier Perfumes Cuir de Gardenia

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

The beauty of a gardenia, with all its multi-faceted richness and inherent contradictions, captured in a perfume that is sometimes much more about a mood than a particular set of notes. That is Cuir de Gardenia, a feat of technical skill, innovation, and perfume mastery by the acclaimed doyenne of all-natural perfumery, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

On her website, Ms. Aftel has a wonderfully detailed explanation of why Cuir de Gardenia is different from many “gardenia” scents, along with discussion of its character and structure:

Cuir de Gardenia retains the unique beauty of the tiare [Tahitian gardenia] flower, not allowing it to morph into the hundreds of petals of a floral bouquet. I had been incredibly fortunate to find an artisanal grower and distiller of the ultra-rare, costly, precious gardenia. In Cuir de Gardenia, I wanted to retain the pure loveliness of the creamy sweet and singular gardenia fragrance, and knew that the rounded warmth of an oil-based perfume (solid and extrait) would be the perfect format.

Tiare or Tahitian gardenia. Source: Kootation.com

Tiare or Tahitian gardenia. Source: Kootation.com

Cuir de Gardenia is unusual in that it has no top notes; I created it in such a way that the gardenia appears immediately, unimpeded from the opening of the perfume onward, merging seamlessly with the leather. The natural isolates ethyl phenyl acetate (reminiscent of a bunch of sweet peas) and the candy-like maltol contribute sweet and floral notes to the animalic base of the perfume.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Cuir de Gardenia comes in two concentrations: an extrait de parfum oil and a solid perfume. This review is for the former, the extrait de parfum. The perfume is classified on Fragrantica as a “floral woody musk,” while Ms. Aftel categorizes it as “dry woods.” According to Ms. Aftel, the notes are:

Middle: tiare (gardenia) absolute, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, benzyl acetate.
Base: castoreum, ethyl phenyl acetate, maltol.

It was interesting to smell Cuir de Gardenia merely in the vial. You are struck by an intense burst of heady, rich gardenia with hints of jasmine and a strongly animalic whiff.

Source: Chris Maher or "Artonline" at Deviantart.com. (Website link embedded within.)

Source: Chris Maher or “Artonline” at Deviantart.com. (Website link embedded within.)

The latter evoked two very different images in my mind. First, the smooth flanks of an animal covered in leather that has been burnished in lush perfumed oils. Second, the flanks of the human body, with the curve over the hips and slightly musky, satiny smoothness. There is something to both visuals, as Cuir de Gardenia is more than a mere floral scent. Still, there is no doubt that the main note is unquestionably gardenia. In the vial, it smells like a full-throttled gardenia or, more accurately, the essence of thousands of flowers distilled into a few, concentrated, precious drops. As a whole, Cuir de Gardenia is almost more of a mood and feeling than a mere scent.

It’s a different matter on the skin, at least at first. Cuir de Gardenia is an oil, and the first thing I was struck by when I applied it was the glistening, golden sheen it leaves on the skin. For me, smell of the oil initially acted as a barrier between the headiness of the flower that was so apparent from sniffing the vial. You have to give it a few minutes for the oiliness to dissipate and melt. Once the heat of your skin breaks it down, Cuir de Gardenia starts to show itself in all its multi-faceted richness.

North American Beaver via Wikipedia.

North American Beaver via Wikipedia.

Cuir de Gardenia opens on my skin with a fierce blast of strong castoreum musk, infused with the fresh gardenia flower, greenness, and a tinge of sourness. Depending on how much of the perfume you apply, the castoreum either leads the charge or comes in second place. When I applied a lot (about 3 big dabs of the oil), the muskiness was both intense and very animalic, verging almost on the feral. (You can read more about castoreum on Fragrantica, if you’re interested.) It made me think of how Ms. Aftel was reported to buy a very ancient, vintage stock of the beaver secretion from the estate of a former perfumer and how that ingredient is said to be such a part of her Secret Garden fragrance. I suspect the same stock was used for Cuir de Gardenia.

Source: freerangedairy.org

Source: freerangedairy.org

When I applied a smaller amount of the oil, the dominant impression for me was something else. I was struck by how Cuir de Gardenia felt more like a texture. Yes, there is the gardenia that is more moderately indolic and encased in a subtle warmth tinged with the castoreum’s musky, plush, velvety undertones. However, my main impression was rich, Devon clotted cream and butter. Cuir de Gardenia opens like floral butter, touched by a hint of sourness and green. The latter is an unexpected freshness that feels quite contradictory given how rich and ripe the flower can be.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

I’m struck by the polarity and juxtapositions. Velvety petals that feel like buttered cream, next to dewy moisture and greenness. You have the gardenia on the stem in the early morning hours, but also the headiness of that same flower after it’s been plucked and its aroma has concentrated over time. None of it feels blowsy or decayed; there are initially no mushroomy undertones nor earthiness the way gardenia can sometimes manifest. Depending on quantity, it is either quietly lusty in its muskiness, or a little bit feral.

Ten minutes in, Cuir de Gardenia smells like buttermilk with its green, sour cream undertones. Deep in the base, there is a subtle whiff of something rubbery, but it’s more textural than anything black or leathered. It’s as if there were so much gardenia richness that it has coagulated and solidified into a hardened oil. I know I’m not doing a good job of explaining all of this, but that is because I’ve never quite encountered a gardenia like this one. For a perfume centered around one main note, there are a lot of unexpected, almost contradictory, complex facets in the opening hour.

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

I think that’s a testament to Ms. Aftel’s deft handling of the flower. It would have been all to easy for Cuir de Gardenia to be a simple, indolic, voluptuous gardenia. With all that richness, you’d almost expect a single-minded, typical gardenia. Instead, Cuir de Gardenia is one of those rare scents that somehow captures all the tiny, often disparate, layers to the flower actually growing in nature. What it isn’t is raunchy or dirty. This is a very different sort of “indolic” theme than what one usually encounters, one that is more musky than voluptuously narcotic on my skin.

And, in truth, Cuir de Gardenia’s headiness is a very quiet one. I’m not surrounded by an avalanche of gardenia; there is no nuclear-tipped cloud wafting around me, emanating a lavishly thick, voluptuous fleshiness. Cuir de Gardenia is much more restrained. I have to admit, I personally prefer my white flowers on the Wagnerian side, but there is no denying Cuir de Gardenia’s refinement. It is more akin to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons than to the Ride of the Valkyries, more Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Allegro than Beethoven’s Ninth or his Ode to Joy. None of that is meant as an insult. I love all those pieces, deeply, and I listen to Mozart more than I do to Wagner’s powerful “Apocalypse Now“- style piece, but there is no denying that there are distinct differences in style, tone, and mood.

At the end of 30 minutes, the perfume hovers an inch above the skin in a mix that is at once delicate, restrained, and rich. When you apply a larger quantity of Cuir de Gardenia, it adds another hour to the time frame before the sillage drops. In both cases, when smelled up close, the perfume is a massively concentrated hit of lush, buttery smooth gardenia infused with greenness and a tinge of buttermilk sourness. The gardenia is carefully placed upon a soft castoreum base that is very quietly musky, plush, velvety, and dark. Yet, there is very little of the animalic whiff that I detected when I smelled Cuir de Gardenia in the vial or that the perfume opened with when I applied a lot. The castoreum seems to have melted into the petals, having an indirect effect on the notes in a much more discreet manner. The whole thing is lovely, and I’m very impressed by the carefully calibrated balance.

"Dressage Black and White" by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

“Dressage Black and White” by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

You may have noticed that I’ve barely mentioned leather at this point. Well, initially, it didn’t show up on my skin in any discernible fashion. Then, suddenly, right at the 30 minute mark, things start to change. There is a muted impression of an ultra-expensive, high-end Hermès saddle which carries the tiniest lingering traces of the horse it had been on many hours before. There is something almost akin to civet in the animalic muskiness that is starting to stir on my skin. Lurking in the distance and at the edges are tiny flickers of notes that are simultaneously mushroom-y, earthy, vaguely chocolate-y, and nutty. It is undoubtedly due to the gardenia’s mushroom side combined with the castoreum. Whatever the cause, it adds dimension to what was previously and primarily a fresh-ripe, green-creamy floral bouquet.

The issue of the leather is perhaps the best evidence for how beautifully Cuir de Gardenia has been blended and the technical mastery involved. For the first hour, the leather never stays in one place on my skin, but moves throughout the notes like a very friendly ghost. Sometimes, he stops to say hello, and remains to chat for 4 or 5 minutes. Then, he drifts away to other worlds for a brief span, before popping back in. Every time I think he’s finally vanished, he waves a dark, friendly, leathered arm at you from the horizon. Then, suddenly, 90 minutes in, he decides to move in permanently. And he’s brought luggage with him! Suitcases filled with black smoke whose tiny tendrils wind their way up from their depths to slowly wrap their threads around the creamy gardenia. The leather ghost gives you a cheeky grin, puts his feet up, and is there to stay.

Yet, I want to emphasize that this is a very subtle, muted “leather” as a whole. It’s not the sort of leather that you have in fragrances like Etat Libre‘s hardcore, black Rien, the deeper, burnished brown leather of Puredistance M, the distinct leather of Parfums Retro‘s Grand Cuir, or the animalic leather of LM ParfumsHard Leather. The note here is more about an impression of leather. It is strongly infused with an animalic edge that sometimes feels a bit civet-like in nature, and it creates a subtle kinship to horsey leather. To be clear, though, the note is never fecal but is primarily just musky. Still, if you’re expecting a true, hardcore leather fragrance, you need to put those thoughts aside. Cuir de Gardenia is a spotlight on gardenia first and foremost. The flower merely happens to have a animalic leather undertone that distinguishes it from the traditional take on the note.

"Gardenia sketch" by Angel H. Juarbe on Fine Art America. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/gardenia-sketch-angel-h-juarbe.html

“Gardenia sketch” by Angel H. Juarbe on Fine Art America. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/gardenia-sketch-angel-h-juarbe.html

From the start of the third hour until its end, Cuir de Gardenia is a seamless blend of gardenia with animalic “leather” and musky touches. The smokiness lingers, but it becomes increasingly overshadowed by the warmth in the base that makes the gardenia more golden in feel. It is a skin scent on me at the 2.5 hour mark, but Cuir de Gardenia’s longevity is excellent. As an extrait or pure parfum, that is to be expected, but Cuir de Gardenia is also an all-natural perfume, so I was surprised when I noted Cuir de Gardenia lingering well after the 7th hour. All in all, with 3 big dabs, the perfume lasted just short of 11 hours on my perfume-eating skin. It was a mere whisper after the 6th hour that you could detect only if you put your nose right on your skin, but it was most definitely there. With a smaller quantity, Cuir de Gardenia lasted just under 9 hours.

As many of you know by now, Cuir de Gardenia has been a massive hit. Over 12 different bloggers have placed it on their Best of 2013 list, from The Perfume Shrine and The Non-Blonde to The Fragrant Man, Angela at Now Smell This, and many others. Out of the full reviews, I think that of The Non-Blonde is worth noting. On her skin, Cuir de Gardenia was more overtly sensual (or sexual?) than it seemed to be on me. Furthermore, her review includes a useful comparison between the extrait parfum and the solid:

Cuir de Gardenia, the new perfume from Aftelier tells the story of luxury, eccentricity, and sensuality. […][¶] This gardenia smells warm: warm from the tropical sun and sands as well as warm skin. The creamy aspect is also there, musky and sensual. This flower is unmasked by top notes. There’s nothing there to lighten the mood or make it go down easily. Instead, you get a journey from flora to fauna, as the creamy gardenia becomes fattier and more animalic and the perfume embraces the skin and wraps it an unmistakable buttery leather. […]

Cuir de Gardenia is offered as an extrait and a solid perfume, to keep the warmth and sensuality on skin-level. This perfume is pure decadence– you don’t want to send it into the stratosphere on a cloud of volatile alcohol molecules. I suspect that beyond the preciousness of the raw materials, a big sillage would have been just too much for polite company: this thing requires intimacy, which this format allows. Applied where it truly counts, Cuir de Gardenia is sweet and intense. I find it incredibly sexy in a very femme way, but then again, I’m all woman. Men who feel comfortable in dirty gardenia fragrances (from JAR Jardenia to Lutens Une Voix Noire) shouldn’t hesitate to try this Aftelier perfume in either form. The solid smells more animalic upon application but becomes smoother and almost honeyed after an hour or so. The extrait works for me in an opposite way– its true leather and castoreum nature becomes more pronounced with time. They layer beautifully, obviously, and last for at least six hours even when dabbed extremely sparingly.

Cuir de Gardenia was originally meant to be a limited-edition release, but the degree of the positive response has led Ms. Aftel to make the perfume a permanent part of her line, and to also offer it in a new 1/4 oz (about 7.4 ml) extrait bottle. It’s not cheap at $195 (or $240 for the solid), but you really need to keep in mind just what we’re talking about here: real gardenia, not a synthetic recreation through other notes. As I’ve mentioned a few times, gardenia is one of those flowers whose aroma cannot be easily captured through distillation of its petals. When you smell “gardenia” in a perfume, you’re usually smelling some combination of tuberose, jasmine, or synthetics. A fragrance made purely from actual, genuine gardenia is incredibly rare.

Tiare. Source: wahinewednesdays.com

Tiare. Source: wahinewednesdays.com

The Fragrant Man offers insight on yet another difficult aspect of using gardenia, especially when it’s the Tahitian kind called tiaré:

[Ms. Aftel’s Cuir de Gardenia] is a breakthrough moment for gardenia ‘fume lovers. The issue with gardenia oil is that when it leaves its heated homeland the scent changes to ‘off’ or more precisely, indolic at the unpleasant end of the spectrum. It is unstable when taken out of its natural tropical environment. We are talking about Tiare here, the gardenia that is native to Polynesia so my guess is that Tahiti or New Caledonia is probably the source. In these islands the local people make manoi oils. Tourists are often charmed by the scent of these oils until they arrive back home. This has happened to me. […] Manoi oil is coconut oil usually blended with the Tahitian gardenia known as Tiare but also with frangipani, ylang ylang and vanilla, in an enfleurage type process. Coconut oil is the carrier fat for the scent.

Ms. Aftel has found a way around all that, while also avoiding synthetics and gardenia substitutes. The result is a fragrance that seems to drive many men and women wild. (You can read The Fragrant Man‘s proper review of the scent, subtitled “Olfactory Orgasm,” which not only includes links to all the other reviews out there, but also has a discussion on the role of antique castoreum in recreating the leather note.)

There are a few other male bloggers who also fell hard for Cuir de Gardenia. In the case of The Black Narcissus, his immediate, instant reaction to Cuir de Gardenia was so extreme that the usually elegant writer could barely get the words out:

STOP THE PRESS! AFTELIER PERFUMES’ CUIR DE GARDENIA EXTRAIT IS GORGEOUS

the perfume, just deliciously arrived in my postbox: immediately, for me, knee weakening. not gardenia, as in gardenia,… tiare:a tropical, moist, neptunian, sultry white witch emerging, hair slicked to shoulders, from the sea. sweet Italian bubble bath honey. cuir: but fresh.tango’s eminently wearable younger sister, unencumbered

Photo: Chris or "Rapt in Roses" on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: Chris or “Rapt in Roses” on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

I liked Cuir de Gardenia a lot, but it was more quiet and restrained on my skin than I had expected. It is infinitely creamy, but I think I like my white flowers to show more skin, to ooze ripened sexuality like a heaving bosom on a courtesan. In other words, I like my big white flowers to be narcotically BIG WHITE FLOWERS, Wagner and Valkyrie style.

Yet, it’s hard not to be impressed and a little bit seduced by a more tasteful, refined take when it is as rich, buttery and multi-faceted as Cuir de Gardenia is. The perfume is a study of paradoxes — paradoxes which are perhaps the best and truest manifestation of the flower in nature that I have ever encountered — but done with an ingenuous animal twist. The whole thing is intellectually fascinating, but Cuir de Gardenia is also a testament to pure skill. You can’t be a niche perfumista today without hearing about Ms. Aftel’s role as the professor, alchemical wizard, and pioneer of all-natural perfumery. You hear it, but you may not really understand it fully until you try something like Cuir de Gardenia.

Or, in my particular case, her Chef Essences which I have to say here and now blew my foodie mind in such a way that my eyes rolled back in my head, and I was considering engaging in lewd acts with the bottle. (Well, not quite, but… close. I was certainly molesting the bottle of Ginger Essence in full disregard of the instructions on the stated quantity, and I was pretty much drooling on both myself and my food. The degree of my reaction, amazement and disbelief over those genius fragrant oils cannot be stated enough, and they will be the subject of a review sometime in the next 2 weeks, once I finish my cooking tests. Those Chef Essences…. Good God!) If Cuir de Gardenia didn’t arouse quite such an intense reaction in me, it is only because I care about food much more than I do about perfume. Gastronomy is my first love, while perfume is perhaps my fifth, so don’t misinterpret my tone. I think Cuir de Gardenia is very pretty, even if it isn’t really very “me.” It is also, without a doubt, masterfully done.

I think that anyone who passionately adores their lush, big white flowers should give Cuir de Gardenia a sniff. Those who normally fear white flower bombs would probably enjoy it as well, given the perfume’s intimate restraint and refinement. At the same time, the animalic side and suggestion of leather make Cuir de Gardenia a fragrance that men can pull off. The perfume’s low sillage also means that it is something you can wear to work, though I personally think Cuir de Gardenia feels far too special for such mundane, daily events. My only note of caution is for those who are accustomed to more commercial, traditionally sweet, or conventional florals. If you’re not used to castoreum, I don’t know how you will respond to Cuir de Gardenia’s very animalic muskiness. 

All in all, I think Cuir de Gardenia would be perfect for a date night, or an evening when you want to discreetly tantalize. It is delicate sensuality done with great refinement. 

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Aftelier Perfumes. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my opinions are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cuir de Gardenia is exclusive to the Aftelier website, and is available in 3 different sizes. There is a 2 ml mini of Pure Parfum extrait for $55; a new 1/4 oz bottle (about 7.4 ml) of the Extrait for $195; or a 0.25 oz of solid perfume in a handmade, sterling silver compact for $240. Samples are available for $6 for a 1/4 ml vial. Ms. Aftel ships worldwide, and you can find further information on her FAQ page. 

La Via del Profumo Sharif: The Bedouin Desert

Source: Friendfeed.com

Source: Friendfeed.com

Leather, civet, dry woods, almonds and amber in a scented creation meant to represent the “noble man” of Arabia. It is a list that made me sit up when I saw it, and not only because I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia a few times too many. It all sounded very Lutensesque, but the fragrance comes from Dominique Dubrana, the French Sufi mystic and poetic perfumer who goes by the name, “Abdes Salaam Attar.”

Photo: Profumo.

Photo: Profumo.

Sharif is a 2011 all-natural eau de parfum from Mr. Dubrana’s Italian perfume house, La Via del Profumo. Sharif is one of his “Arabian Series” of fragrances, and is meant to be embody the “fierce people of the desert.” As Abdes Salaam Attar explains on his Profumo website, the name “Sharif” means “noble man” in Arabic and is a description of character, not of lineage or descent:

Nobility, for the fierce people of the desert, is a quality of the soul. […] Sharif is the fragrance of a noble sheikh of Arabia who has chosen supreme elegance over flamboyance, gentleness over arrogance and seduction over haughtiness.

In the pure middle Eastern tradition Sharif blends intense leathery notes with aromatic woods and the delicious oriental aroma of amber, sweet and almondy.

The scent of Civet, far in the background, confers to the fragrance a sensual touch of desert wilderness, like the sillage left by a caravan of camels crossing the Bedouin lands at the sunset.

Source: amyglaze.com

Source: amyglaze.com

The following seems to be the succinct list of notes:

Almonds, aromatic woods, leather, civet, amber.

Sharif opens on my skin with intense, bitter almonds, followed by a darkened leather infused by smoke and dry sweetness. It’s a fantastic, wholly original combination, one that Serge Lutens would probably have loved to invent. The bitterness of the almonds feels concentrated and raw, but the brilliant touch is that their whiteness is lightly infused with blackness. The smoke is tinged with a tarry, almost licorice-like chewiness. None of it is remotely gourmand; there are no impressions of marzipan, or French confectionary pastries here at all.

Source: reinsofthenight.com

Source: reinsofthenight.com

The leather is a very subtle undercurrent, but I’m fascinated by it. It’s not birch-tar leather; there are no fecal or horsey qualities, and it’s far from rubbery or raw. Yet, it’s not wholly refined, either. It doesn’t feel like aged, burnished, oiled leather. The tiniest touch of civet gives it a rough-hewn, musky feel. Honestly, I keep imagining the saddle-bags that you would see on horses in Middle Eastern or cowboy movies of old. I myself never rode with them, but I’ve seen and touched that rough leather, and it is what comes to mind here. Perhaps the most accurate way to describe the note here is that it often feels like an impression of dark, smoky leather, more than the actual thing.

Source: pathauldren.com and YouTube.

Source: pathauldren.com and YouTube.

Something about the scent consistently makes me think about the desert, and it’s not due solely to the Profumo description. No, there is definitely grainy, warm, sandy textural quality to the scent that is really hard to explain. It makes me imagine a Bedouin tent in North Africa with raw almond treats inside, the golden dryness of sand all about, and the faintest touch of leather from the horses outside. The sandy quality underlying the notes calls to mind Pierre Guillaume‘s descriptions of Parfumerie Generale‘s Djhenné, a fragrance meant to evoke the African desert, as well as the warm, Northern, cool, woody sands that Serge Lutens used to describe Fille en Aiguilles. Sharif couldn’t be further from those two fragrances if it tried, but this is the one perfume out of the lot that successfully manages to convey a dry, woody, golden, sandy texture.

Civet. Source: focusingonwildlife.com

Civet. Source: focusingonwildlife.com

The almonds grow stronger and stronger, and their bitterness dominates Sharif, but something else starts to rise to the surface. It’s the civet which Mr. Dubrana implies that it is the real stuff with a “non vegan” label on Sharif’s page. Some of you may know that genuine civet is no longer used in modern perfumery. The synthetic type of musk that you may encounter is often quite animalic, if not urinous and aggressively feral as well. Sharif’s civet is not. It is a surprisingly well-rounded, rich, and deep, adding a modulated, carefully calibrated level of muskiness that is never perianal on my skin. In one test, it was virtually nonexistent for the first 40 minutes; in another, it was noticeable from the start, adding a subtle sharpness and depth to that abstract, smoked leather accord.

15 minutes in, Sharif slowly shifts. There is a floral herbaceousness deep in the base that I can’t pinpoint. Clary sage? It lacks the latter’s lavender or soapy qualities, but there is a distinct herbal, leathered element that is fragrant, aromatic, a touch floral, and a bit green. A more important change is that the almond note which dominates Sharif starts to soften. If you’re not an almond fan, I imagine that you’d find this version of the note to be “nose-searing” as one person described it. Yet, it does start to smooth itself out. It is still infused with incense-like smokiness and dry woods, still has a gravelly, pebble-y quality, but it is less forceful.

Source: Micks Images. (Website link embedded within.)

Source: Micks Images. (Website link embedded within.)

From afar, Sharif’s main bouquet after 30 minutes is of bitter almonds that are thoroughly infused with a dark, abstractly leathered smokiness, followed by dry sweetness and musk. The perfume remains the same for the next few hours; the only real change is in the fluctuating strength of the notes and in the sillage. Sharif becomes a skin scent at the end of the 2nd hour, the civet becomes much more noticeable on me about 3.5 hours in, and the bitter almond finally starts to weaken as the primary note around the end of the 4th hour.

Once it finally pipes down, the leathery base becomes much more noticeable and, to a lesser extent, the civet as well. At the top of the 5th hour, the abstract, incense-y “leathery” darkness vies with the almonds for center stage. The whole thing is extremely muted and blended seamlessly on my skin, so it takes some hard sniffing to single out the specific layers. The incense-like note, the sandy dryness, and the leather gradually fade away entirely. In its final moments, Sharif is nothing but creamy sweetness, vaguely reminiscent of fresh almonds. All in all, Sharif lasted 9.75 hours on my skin, with extremely soft sillage after the second hour.

I tested Sharif twice, including once with the fragrance on both my arms, and it was largely the same thing each time. On my right, non-testing arm, the almonds in Sharif were significantly smokier, darker, and more leathered — not only from the start, but throughout the perfume’s lifespan. The civet was strong in the opening minutes too, making Sharif a much dirtier, darker, animalic scent. The dry, grainy sandiness was also more noticeable. As time passed, the Sharif turned more into a leathered almond scent on that arm, while the dark accords were more muted and muffled on my main, (left) testing arm. However, all these differences were tiny, fractional ones of degree, not of kind; the scent was identical in its core essence in both cases. Instead of Lawrence of Arabia, you have leathered-incense Almonds of Arabia.

Source: gypsyriver.com.au

A Bedouin tent. Source: gypsyriver.com.au

The desert is also what came to mind when The Non-Blonde (and her husband) tested Sharif. They experienced primarily a civet-woody-leather fragrance, though the Non-Blonde’s ingredients list does put almonds at the top. Her review reads, in part:

Sharif, a 2011 release, is an incredibly complex wood/animalic fragrance. The aromatic opening is a bit deceiving– you almost think that you’re getting an old school balsamic camphoric men’s cologne when it captures you and pulls you into its world: leather, amber, and the unmistakable touch of civet. Sharif, like other  La Via del Profumo fragrances aims to take you away from the world of perfume as you know it. This time the journey is to an imaginary desert. The landscape is stark and the sandstorm blurs reality. There are tall figures approaching, their silhouettes appear in the dusty air. Are they friends or foes? There’s a smell of danger in the air.

Sharif’s desert scene is stark and only marginally sweet. It’s as far from what we call an “oriental” perfume as the artwork above is different from the opulence and decadence of Orientalist art. […][¶] I do think that it’s quite gender neutral and women who find the notes and ideas expressed in this fragrance should give it a try (must love civet). The sillage of Sharif is polite, but it’s incredibly long-lasting on mys skin as well as on the husband (10 hours easily); it also clings to fabric until after a second washing. Sharif is an all-natural perfume, meaning no synthetic ingredients, but it’s decidedly not vegan. The civet you smell here is the real thing, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know where and how AbdesSalaam Attar acquired it.

For Kevin at Now Smell This, the civet dominated to such an extent that he had to wear the fragrance outside of the house to test it, lest his “infuriated” cat attack him in an attempt “to obliterate Sharif from his environment.” I find that hysterically funny, but the non-feline parts of Kevin’s review focuses on the tarry nuttiness that he too experienced in a significant way:

Sharif smells wonderful. It starts off with a nose-searing note that smells like tonka beans in turpentine (with a nutty background aroma, almost dessert-like, but not too sweet). A beautiful, almost smoky, leather scent appears next, blending well with tonka and spice (a clear, pungent cinnamon-clove note). Sharif remains in tonka-leather-cinnamon territory for a long time before turning a tad powdery with musky (civet) amber in the dry-down. There is a hint of smooth “incense ash” in the base notes also. The entire composition is fine-tuned and high-quality (what a relief it is to smell Sharif after sampling too many cheap perfumes from other houses recently).

Now, to my “relationship” with Sharif. First, its arrival on a chilly day was auspicious; this is a cool-weather perfume. Though it is not overpowering and dense, it has more tenacity than you’d expect from a natural perfume (it lasts at least six hours on my skin, with minimal sillage).

For Grain de Musc and Octavian Coifan of 1000 Fragrances, Sharif’s main qualities were a honeyed almond, saffron-tinged spiciness, and civet leather. Grain de Musc writes:

… [L]ike a noble character, [Sharif] doesn’t let itself be approached or tamed easily: you’ve got to go through the fire of its camphoraceous top notes before feeling its softness. It is almost surprising to find Sharif so liquid in its bottle, because its smell conjures the fatty, tactile, ductile quality of a paste. It feels like something you could lick or chew: a smooth, resinous preparation similar to majoun, a type of cannabis jam where the resin is blended with honey and almond. There’s no cannabis note in Sharif, but it does have honey and almond notes, saffron providing a medicinal note and a leather effect. Though the latter is the core of the scent, it is also, to my nose, an expansion of the properties of civet. Old civet tinctures do display the smoothly dark honeyed facets of Sharif.
Desert Caravan. Photo: "Artemis." Via Tripwiremagazine.com

Desert Caravan. Photo: “Artemis.” Via Tripwiremagazine.com

Octavian Coifan‘s review also has a detailed elaboration of the notes, ranging from camels representing leathered Peau d’Espagne to the “precious ambery-balsamic” foundation that he thinks Sharif shares with Profumo’s Mecca Balsam. He writes, in part:

A small saffron-like note is the golden sprinkle above the peppery spiciness transforming the majestic combination of the 4 ancient spices into the golden precious “honey”, deep, highly aromatic with herbal undertones and melting on the skin. The almond-vanilla quality of the drydown, with subtle animalic notes suggesting the leather-skin facet of Musk Tonkin and the herbal-silex dimension of Hyraceum, transforms the darkness found in Balsamo Della Mecca into something serene and elegant. It evokes the ancient opopanax perfumes, different from modern opopanax resin. The sweetness is crystallized not in “sugar”, as in a Tonka bean, but in camphor, like the combination between laurel leaf/cinnamon leaf/clove and a balsamic base.

The perfume evokes the rich quality of dry tobacco preserved in an ancient leather pouch, blended with unknown powerful herbs and pepper. Its evolution on the skin is surprising and with Balsamo Della Mecca, Sharif is one of the most elegant natural perfumes. […] The creations from Abdes Salaam Attar are based on the true essence of an antique craft. They are the most profound and refined expression of that lost world. [Emphasis in the original.]

I’m afraid I didn’t experience anything quite as interesting, complex, or spiced. My version was fractionally closer to that described by one Basenotes commentator in Sharif’s entry on the site:

This is a sexy fragrance that I would love to smell on a man. It is the aroma of scented tobacco and suede, of being held by a man who smells manly. Yet, it is a beautiful scent on a woman, too. On me, it opens with a hint of smoke and leather, like an outdoor fragrance. Right away, a cherry-almond sweetness comes forward, inviting me inside where it is warm, and sweets are being served to guests. This one glows like a fire and simmers nicely on the skin. A must-try.

Source: gypsyriver.com.au

Source: gypsyriver.com.au

The two other reviews on Basenotes are equally positive, talking about how Sharif is an easier, more accessible version of Mecca Balsam. The description by one chap, “A Good Life,” is very evocative:

 In the pure tradition of the Middle East, Sharif consists of intense notes of leather and aromatic woods with the delicious aroma of amber scents of the East, and sweet almond,” the perfumer tells us. It is, first of all, a wonderfully pleasant perfume and an ideal entry into the world of natural perfumery, as it is much more accessible than the starkly meditative, distantly elegant Mecca Balsam. The latter requires study before you can deeply appreciate it, while Sharif provides pure pleasure even before you begin investigating its complexity. There is a perfect harmony of spice and sweetness, dryness and deftness, of clarity and density, the slender elegance of a minarett and the opulence of a plate of Arabian sweets. The dry craggy resins of Mecca Balsam’s pilgrimage are here enveloped in smooth delicious amber. Imagine yourself being entertained in the golden tent of an Arab nobleman, the scent of fine resins rising from incense burners, eating honey and almond cakes while a pipe rests by your side and a distant smell of leather saddle and noble horses wafts over from the stables. You are at peace, but you feel energy brimming inside you. New deeds of your own choosing await, but for now, you enjoy the tranquil flow of life and its pleasures.

I don’t see any similarities to Mecca Balsam at all, but then my skin rendered that one very anomalous indeed. Regardless, I join him in being transported me to a Bedouin tent filled with almond treats and smoky darkness. I was happy to see that he too envisioned “the distant smell of leather saddle,” even if he wasn’t talking about small saddle bags. I hadn’t read any of these reviews when I was testing the perfume and writing my notes, so I’m glad it’s not just my imagination.

Bedouin Oasis Ras Al Khaimah. Source: ras-al-khaimah.eu

Bedouin Oasis Ras Al Khaimah. Source: ras-al-khaimah.eu

Unfortunately, what appeared on my skin simply wasn’t as interesting as what everyone else experienced. The almonds dominated to an enormous degree, and far overshadowed both the smoky darkness and the leather. The latter was also an impression more than the smell of actual leather. The civet was a rich, warm, very smooth touch that I enjoyed, but I wish all the notes would have replaced the almonds as the perfume’s central characteristic. I particularly wanted more leather!

Clearly, skin chemistry makes a difference, and enough people got a hardcore civet, leather, woody, ambered scent for it to be worth your while to test Sharif if you’re interested in those notes. I think it is definitely unisex in nature, but, given two of the accounts quoted here, it may be wisest if you like civet musk. (And almonds!) As for the sillage, Mr. Dubrana told me that “you should use the perfumes on your clothes and hair in order to enjoy them fully and longer.” He also perfumes his beard with them as well.

Even if the vagaries of skin means that Sharif doesn’t work for me personally, I think it’s a fascinating, very different, original take on both leather and orientals. If you love almonds or leather, you should give it a sniff. 

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sharif is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Sharif are in Euros without VAT: €44,63 for 15.5 ml, €97,20 for 32 ml (a little over 1 oz), and €143,81 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $60 for the 15.5 ml, $132 for the 32 ml, and $195 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Sharif is €17,70. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that Profumo provides free 2 ml samples with all purchases, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since Abdes Salaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Sharif from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume starting at $10.99 for a 1 ml vial. It would seem more cost-effective to order the 5.5 ml mini from Profumo itself.

Caron Tabac Blond Parfum – Modern Extrait Version

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

Androgyny, the dawn of the modern age, and the desire to blend masculinity with femininity are some of the inspirations behind Tabac Blond. It is one of the legendary leather and tobacco perfumes of the early 20th-century from the famous house of Caron.

Tabac Blond was released in 1919, the same year of another perfume giant, Guerlain’s Mitsouko. Tabac Blond was the creation of Caron’s founder and “nose,” Ernest Daltroff, who sought to create a scent for the new, modern woman. As Fragrantica puts it, it was a fragrance “for women who smoke cigarettes, since a cigarette was, at that time, the perfect symbol of freedom and chic of a Parisian woman.” Caron has a more evocative and vivid description:

To mark the dawn of feminine liberation, CARON made the bold move in 1919 of dedicating a deliberately provocative perfume to the beautiful androgynous women of the era, with their long ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette-holders poised nonchalantly between their lips.

Tabac Blond: a subtly ambiguous fragrance that borrows the leathery head notes from the world of masculine fragrance, and combines them with Caron’s inimitable floral bouquet…

Source: topwalls.net

Source: topwalls.net

Tabac Blond is one of Caron’s Haute Parfumerie “Urn Scents” which originated as extracts or pure parfums. While Tabac Blond is now also available in eau de parfum concentration, what most people rave about is the vintage pure parfum. Now, I tried the parfum extrait version, but not the vintage version. I would like to, but, frankly, it’s not what most people have access to. So, modern Tabac Blond extrait is the focus of this review. You can find it at a handful of niche perfume sites, like Luckyscent, though I doubt anything would compare to the experience of buying it at a Caron boutique where the sales assistants will fill your bottle from their exquisite, famed Baccarat crystal urns into something a little more practical, portable, and pedestrian.

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

The Caron website lists only three things for Tabac Blond’s notes: Leather, iris, and cedar. Fragrantica has a much more complete list:

leather, carnation, lime blossom, iris, vetiver, ylang-ylang, cedar, patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, musk.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

You will notice that tobacco is not mentioned anywhere. Yes, this perfume known for being the original tobacco, smoking scent does not actually include a single drop of the note. (Neither, for that matter, does Habanita which followed it two years later in 1921 from Molinard.)

I need to say something at the outset. I’m not really one for powdery scents, let alone powdery florals. My tastes run towards deep Orientals, heavily spiced ambers, smoky woody fragrances, or mossy Chypres, but I always appreciate something which is well-done and refined in nature. Tabac Blond certainly qualifies, even in its modern form.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

The parfum opens on my skin with a flood of carnation that is primarily spicy, peppered, and almost a bit clove-like in its aroma. There is a hint of something akin to rose in its sweetness, but the carnation’s piquant, spicy nature really dominates. It is followed by powder, then leather which has a definite animalic undertone, as if it had been lightly coated with castoreum. Flickers of lime and vanilla quietly trail behind, but the main bouquet is of powdered carnation, lightly infused with animalic leather. There is a sweetness to the powder, which definitely comes from iris, but it is not heavily vanillic.

Marrons Glacés.

Marrons Glacés.

The Caron base which I’ve detected in a few of its other fragrances, like Nuit de Noel, is very evident here. “Caronade,” as it’s called, is very hard to describe if you haven’t smelled it, but it essentially consists of a bouquet that always makes me think of marrons glacée or glazed, iced chestnuts. It’s visually very brown, with a dark richness that is simultaneously dry, sweet, powdered, nutty, and a little bit vetiver-like in its dark, somewhat earthy woodiness. I realise that all sounds very odd, but marrons glacée or iced chestnuts are often mentioned by people when it comes to describing the Caronade, so try to imagine a slightly leathered, dry, faintly powdered, vetiver-ish, spicy, vanillic version of that, and you’ll be close.

Tabac Blond slowly starts to shift. About 5 minutes in, the iris becomes more prominent in its own right. It’s chilly, cool, and very much like scented, sweetened, makeup powder. The Caronade signature also becomes more visible, but the leather is surprisingly subtle on my skin. It drifts through the top notes as a dark spectre with an animalic undertone, but I would never sniff Tabac Blond and think, “ah, leather!” Carnation and powder, definitely, but the leather takes a distinct back-seat to the other two elements. Still, it’s really nice as it has both a warm richness and a refined smoothness that evokes kid-skin.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

It’s hard for me to review Tabac Blond without bringing up Habanita, its younger sister. The two perfumes have a similar profile, share a number of notes in common, and are quite alike on my skin. For example, a subtle tinge of sourness. I don’t know if it is my skin or something about the lime blossom, but Tabac Blond has the faintest trace of sourness. It also popped up with Habanita which has bergamot instead of lime to go with all the florals, powder, and leather, but it was significantly stronger there. With Tabac Blond, it is much more subtle and fades away after about 30 minutes. Another difference is that Tabac Blond is much more leathered, dark, spicy, and smooth than Habanita on me. The latter was fruity, more synthetic in feel, and sweeter. Tabac Blond’s leather is much smoother, lacking Habanita’s rubbery or sharp edges. The Habanita is dominated primarily by rose, while Tabac Blond is all spicy carnation with a subtext of cloves. Finally, the Habanita lacks the very key Caronade signature, and is about ten times more powerful in terms of projection.

Source: Walltor.com

Source: Walltor.com

Yet, for all the subtle differences, the two fragrances are definitely related. Powdered florals, lightly flecked by leather, and carrying a trace of some vaguely abstract “tobacco.” The latter is much softer and more subtle in Tabac Blond than it is in Habanita, but the note is pretty much identical. It smells just like the powdered, scented paper in an empty pack of cigarettes. It’s never tobacco in the way of modern fragrances that have that note; this is not the tobacco of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, or Serge LutensChergui. This is scented, powdered paper in something that once contained tobacco and whose lingering traces have merely carried over.

Source: Allposters.com

Source: Allposters.com

Tabac Blond continues to change as time goes by. The sillage was initially moderate, but starts to drop after 40 minutes. At the end of the 2nd hour, Tabac Blond is almost a skin scent, though it is very easy to detect up close. It coats the skin as a discrete, silken layer of carnation and powdered, lipstick-y iris, with a faint trace of leather and tobacco paper, all nestled within the warm embrace of the chestnut-y, dark Caronade. The lime is no longer there, and faded away about 30 minutes in; the animalic undertones soon followed. The tobacco paper impression is now almost imperceptible, requiring a lot of hard sniffs to detect it lurking in the lower layers. The vanilla is also quite muted, adding an indirect touch of sweetness to the carnation which is now much less spicy and clove-like. There is a faint touch of warmth growing in the base, though it is wholly abstract and can’t be singled out as amber in any distinct way.

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Tabac Blond remains largely unchanged until its very end, with only subtle differences in the strength of certain notes. The one new thing to appear is the cedar which becomes a tiny bit prominent in the drydown, as does the vanilla, while the carnation becomes increasingly abstract. By the start of the sixth hour, Tabac Blond is a true skin scent that is primarily an abstract, powdered floral with cedar and vanilla. There is a trace of something dark lurking underneath that sometimes feels like very soft, muted leather, but, at other times, merely seems like the Caronade.

In its final moments, Tabac Blond is just a blur of something powdered, vaguely sweet, and with the faintest trace of Caronade. A small quantity lasted for quite a while on my skin: about 1/4 of a ml, gave me just under 11 hours in duration. A slightly larger amount increased the time-frame to about 13 hours. The longevity is just as well, because Tabac Blond in the extrait version isn’t cheap. It’s $265 for 15 ml, though Luckyscent offers a 7.5 ml bottle for $100. Unfortunately, they are sold out of it, with no indication of when they might get it in. Somehow, the fragrance is cheaper in Europe where the 15 ml bottle retails for €120 or about $153. (See the Details section at the end for more information.)

I have mixed feelings about Tabac Blond. As noted earlier, powdered florals are not really my thing, but there is something appealing about the Caron’s version in the opening hours. It’s definitely very pretty at times, especially with the spicy clove undertone, and I’m sure the vintage was even better, with added darkness, smokiness, and bundles of animalic leather. The current parfum version is sophisticated, powdered femininity, but it’s a lot less complicated or interesting than I thought it would be. To be fair, this is not the version everyone talks about, and I rarely find powder puff scents to be interesting in general. Very few of them appeal to me, but I certainly think Tabac Blond is more nuanced than the current Knize Ten, another powdery leather thanks to reformulation. I definitely prefer it to Habanita, which isn’t as luxurious, high-quality, rich or smooth.

I think Tabac Blond skews quite feminine by today’s standards, as I suspect it’s too powdered and makeup-like for most men. Yet, a ton of men love Knize Ten which has been also reformulated into a very powdery scent these days, so who knows. Tabac Blond is much richer, and sweeter than the original Knize Ten, and not as oriental as Knize Gold. Plus, its leather is extremely different, as there is not an iota of birch tar in the Tabac Blond parfum that I tried. The note is much smoother and more refined than the leather in the Knize fragrance; perhaps more akin to the drydown leather of Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie. It’s also sweeter than the leather in both those fragrances, thanks to the Caronade with its mix of dryness, sweetness, vanilla and chestnuts.

Tabac Blond extrait is generally a much adored fragrance in its vintage form. You can read any number of rave, positive reviews for it on the blogosphere, as it may be one of the most discussed fragrances out there, and everyone gets around to covering it eventually. Take, for example, Angela at Now Smell This who wrote, in part:

Although I can imagine a man wearing Tabac Blond well, on me the perfume feels luxuriously womanly. It’s top notes are leather, carnation, and linden, with heart notes of iris, vetiver, ylang ylang, and lime-tree leaf. Its base is cedar, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musk, although a smoky, spicy vanilla is mostly what lingers on my skin.

Tabac Blond’s range isn’t huge. I don’t get the piquant top notes that many fragrances provide, but instead tobacco leaf, gently supported by spicy florals, starts right off the bat. Then the scent of raw leather appears for a while, and the effect is that of a buttery leather ashtray full of cigarette butts and snickerdoodles, or maybe a leather-vanilla soufflé in a smoky brasserie, if anything like that were ever cooked up. Imagine lipstick-stained wine glasses on marble-topped tables, a smeared golden haze on the mirror over the bar, and worn, red leather banquettes, and you start to get the idea. Tabac Blond has good staying power, and a dab on each wrist and behind the ears will last all day.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

It sounds lovely but, if you look at the date of that review, it’s 2007 and I suspect she may have tested the older, vintage version. I’ve tried to stay away from the issue of vintage Tabac Blond because, frankly, the majority of us will never get the chance to try it. It is simply too expensive, and hard to obtain.

It’s also not easy to find reviews of the modern, current Tabac Blond, as everyone focuses on the reportedly glorious original which was Marlene Dietrich’s favorite scent. A lot of times, talk of the modern version usually comes in the form of a comment posted to a review about the vintage version, with people lamenting the changes, the loss of the leather, and the dominance of powdered florals. Well, they aren’t wrong about that last part, and it makes me feel a lot better for my ambivalence towards the scent.

One person who has written, albeit briefly, about the current version is Bois de Jasmin who did a comparative assessment of both. She loves the vintage parfum which she rates at 5-stars, but gave the modern fragrance a rare one-star. Her review of the 2011 Tabac Blond is wholly disapproving:

It is telling that every time I try to write “Tabac Blond,” I invariably end up with “Tabac Bland.” Indeed, the new version is just that, a bland carnation. The original Tabac Blond has a dark smoky leather note that in combination with rich tobacco and sandalwood create a haunting, smoldering effect. None of those elements are present in what passes for Tabac Blond today. There is a hint of clove and sheer moss, a whisper of something green, but overall, Tabac Blond in its current form is not even worth smelling.

Others have noted definite changes in the scent as well, but my friend, Suzanne, of Eiderdown Press didn’t think they were enormous back in 2009. Perhaps things have gone further down hill since then, but you may be interested in her comparative view of two bottles of the Extrait which she purchased at different times back around the reformulation date:

the big question circulating the blogs last year was, Has this fragrance been “watered down” during the course of its reformulations?  To which I can only say, I purchased two decants of the extrait de parfum back in 2007, and there were noticeable differences between them: the one purchased later in the year was distinctly less dense and full-bodied  than the first decant. Yes, it was a little disturbing; but that said, the Tabac Blonde extrait from either one of those decant bottles still smells as provocatively unique and unto-itself as any scent in my collection. The fragrance’s smoky, spicy, burnt-rubber-and- carnations opening reminds me of the first delicious drags of cigarette—the first one you’ve had in ages—and as it dries down, the tar-like quality dissolves into warm leather, with an amber-and-vanilla finish that does not diminish the smokiness of this scent, but makes for a smooth, fat-bottomed ride that seems to go on forever. Put it all together, and everything about Tabac Blond—from its invitation to enjoy a private, leisurely smoke to its leather panels to its cushiony amber seat—says, Get into my car, babe. Let’s drive.

Suzanne’s version sounds significantly more leathered, tobacco’ed, and ambered than the sample I ordered in 2013, which makes me wonder if the fragrance has been watered down even more since she bought her decant in 2007.

Still, on Fragrantica, the current version of Tabac Blond seems to be much appreciated, though primarily by women. Something that struck me as very odd is that 15 people have voted for a similarity between Tabac Blond and Karl Lagerfeld‘s cologne. Now, I love and own the vintage version, but not the new, reformulated fragrance which appears under the name “Karl Lagerfeld Classic.” I haven’t smelled the latter in a long, long time, but, to my memory, it’s not at all similar to Tabac Blond. It certainly lacks the Caronade signature, as well as the richness and the smoothness of Tabac Blond. I also remember the new, reformulated Lagerfeld “Classic” as being significantly sweeter, more synthetic, and with more actual tobacco, but without any of the carnation spice.

Clearly, vintage Tabac Blond Extrait was a masterpiece of leather, but the current version isn’t terrible. It’s definitely something more suited to those who love powdery carnation or floral scents, but it does have pretty aspects. The Caronade adds a very lovely, rich vein of dark sweetness, and the leather (when it appears) is wonderfully smooth. It may not last very long, but I enjoyed its subtle flickers in the earlier stages. Tabac Blond definitely skews feminine in my view, and I think most men would struggle with the powder aspect. Still, a lot of men adore Knize Ten which, in its modern formulation, is also very powdery, so there is a slim chance that Tabac Blond might appeal. However, don’t expect a ton of leather with modern Tabac Blond, and the same goes for the tobacco.

The main conclusion to draw from all this seems to be this: perhaps we should all scour eBay for the vintage version. Modern Tabac Blond is a great interpretation of a carnation powder puff, with the added benefit of some other subtle elements, brief as they might be, but it’s not really a leather scent any more.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The version of Tabac Blond that I tested was the Extrait or Parfum which costs $100 for a 7.5 ml bottle, $265 for a 15 ml bottle, and up depending on size. There is also an Eau de Parfum that comes in two sizes. A 50 ml bottle that retails for $130, or a 100 ml bottle that costs $170. Caron has a website, but no e-store from which you can buy the perfumes. In the U.S.: Tabac Blond Extrait is carried at Seattle’s Parfumerie Nasreen which sells the Extrait for $265, but it doesn’t state the size of the bottle (which looks larger than 7.5 ml to me). The $100, small Parfum size is offered by Luckyscent, which also sells the EDP version, but all three are sold out. You can have them email you when they receive it. Tabac Blond Pure Parfum is offered by The Perfume House in Portland which sells the 15 ml bottle for $265, and a 50 ml bottle for $330. It also offers the EDP versions. In New York, you can find it at Caron’s boutique at 715 Lexington Avenue or can perhaps call to order (Ph: (212) 308-0270). There seems to be no other retail options. Nordstrom’s once carried the EDP, but no more. Outside the U.S.: In Paris, you can purchase the fragrance from the 3 Caron boutiques. In France, you can order Tabac Blond Extrait from Atelier Parfumé in a variety of sizes, ranging from the 7.5 ml for €90, going up to €120 for 15 ml, €150 for 20 ml, and €250 for the 50 ml size. You can contact them to see where they ship. One place that says it ships worldwide is the Soleil d’Or Parfumerie which sells Tabac Blond Extrait in the 50 ml bottle for €226. They are sold out of the 15 ml bottle. In the UK, I couldn’t find the Extrait version anywhere. I only found Tabac Blond EDP at Escentual which is briefly discounting the fragrances at £84 for the 50 ml instead of £105, while the 100 ml bottle of EDP is reduced to £134 instead of £167.50. The EDP is available for full price at London’s Les Senteurs, along with a sample for purchase. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells the Extrait starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. What I did instead was to order the Smaller Caron Gateway Pack which gives you Tabac Blond Pure Parfum, along with Poivre Parfum, and Parfum Sacré in EDP version in a set that starts at $9.99 for three 1/2 ml vials. The site also offers Vintage Tabac Blond Extrait starting at $19.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

Imaginary Authors Cape Heartache and The Cobra & The Canary

I was intrigued by the concept of scent intertwined with literature, so I recently tried out some fragrances from Imaginary Authors, an American indie line begun in 2012 by perfumer, Josh Meyers. Today, the focus will be the new 2013 scent, Cape Heartache, followed by The Cobra & The Canary. In a follow-up post, I’ll briefly cover Memoirs of a Trespasser, and Soft Lawn.

According to its website, the Imaginary Authors line was “born from the concept of scent as art and art as provocation.” Each fragrance is entitled with the name of a book, penned by an imaginary author who does not actually exist. All the fragrances are eau de parfum in concentration, and the vast majority were released in 2012.

CAPE HEARTACHE:

Cape Heartache.

Cape Heartache.

Imaginary Authors describes Cape Heartache, in the context of an imaginary novel set in a homestead in the forests of the Pacific Northwest in 1881. The fragrance was released this year, and its notes are as follows:

NOTES: Douglas Fir, Pine Resin, Western Hemlock, Vanilla Leaf, Strawberry, Old Growth, Mountain Fog.

I have absolutely no idea what “Old Growth” and “Mountain Fog” are supposed to entail as specific ingredients, but I can tell you what is missing from that list: ISO E Super or, as one of my readers accurately calls the cheap aromachemical, “ISO E Supercrappy” (™ SultanPasha). It’s there — and there is a lot of it!

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

I tried Cape Heartache a number of time, and the first time, I scrubbed it off after 10 minutes. Three sprays gave me so much ISO E Supercrappy that I had the most enormous migraine imaginable, complete with red-hot shooting pains through my eye and drilling in the back of my skull. As regular readers will know, I am sensitive to certain synthetics, but they don’t affect me physically unless a huge amount is used in the fragrance. Cape Heartache, like all of its siblings, is painfully synthetic, and filled with cheap aroma-chemicals. Sadly, it is not even the worst of the lot.

The fourth time I tried Cape Heartache, I carefully applied less, and I had an easier time of it so long as I never actually smelled my arm up close for any significant amount of time. Obviously, that makes writing a detailed review well nigh-impossible. Even apart from the ISO E, however, I disliked the scent so much, I still scrubbed it off after a couple of hours. However, I’m nothing if not determined, so I finally took two Tylenols ahead of time, avoided excessive application, and forced myself to get down to it. Thanks to the paracetamol, instead of being torturous, I merely find Cape Heartache to be a nauseating, cloying, linear, discordant scent.

Source: Cakechooser.com

Source: Cakechooser.com

Cape Heartache opens on my skin as strawberry shortcake and pine. There are the crisp needles on the forest floor, sweetened pine resin with brown sugar, and buttery, slightly floured, strawberry shortcake biscuits. Seconds later, ISO E Supercrappy follows, smelling like antiseptic toner, typewriter cartridge fluid, and chilled, metallic, peppered chemicals. It grows increasingly strong, adding an industrial bent to the cloying, sweet, top notes. I assume that the ISO E is intended to evoke the “mountain fog” mentioned in the notes, and it certainly does add a note of icy, thin chilliness. It also gives me a painful tightening in my nose at best, and a ferocious, almost crippling migraine at worst.

Strawberry Shortcake doll. Source: cakechooser.com

Strawberry Shortcake doll. Source: cakechooser.com

Cape Heartache’s dominant bouquet is a massive, walloping, thick spread of strawberry jam infused with pine resin. The fruited element has an undertone of floured, buttered bread, and it makes me think of the children’s cartoon, Strawberry Shortbread, as well as the Cabbage Patch dolls of the 1980s.

I refuse to think of Serge LutensFille en Aiguilles, a glorious scent to which a number of people find similarities. It would be a travesty to compare the bizarre Imaginary Authors version with Christopher Sheldrake’s masterpiece. Plus, there are differences between the two scents: Cape Heartache has very little smokiness as compared to the Lutens, and its heart is not darkness but strawberry jam, flour, and butter. There is no cheap ISO E Super in the Lutens, the fruited element is different, and the sweetness stems from different things. I can’t wrap my head around Cape Heartache, and it doesn’t help when a touch of vanilla joins the wholly discordant hodge-podge. 

Source: hdwallpapers.mi9.com

Source: hdwallpapers.mi9.com

Cape Heartache turns softer, sweeter, and less heavily piney after ten minutes, though the typewriter toner fluid of ISO E Super continues to thrum away. During one test, its peppered, prickly, spiky tones completely overwhelmed the strawberry pine, while on another occasion, the synthetic stood more to the sidelines. The quantity that you apply clearly makes a difference. After an hour, Cape Heartache is a blur of strawberry and pine resin, with fluctuating levels of vanilla and floured, buttered bread nuances. The scent never changes from its core essence, remaining in one linear line until its end almost 11.5 hours from the start. The sillage was soft after the second hour, though the fragrance was strong when smelled up close for quite a number of hours afterwards.

I could not bear Cape Heartache, but I’m in a distinct minority on that point. The blogosphere is filled with joyous raves about the scent, and how it’s perfect for winter. Perhaps if you have a fondness for strawberries, pine, and very sweet scents, along with total anosmia to ISO E Super, you may enjoy it. I would never recommend it, though.

THE COBRA & THE CANARY:

Imaginary-Authors-Canary-and-Cobra-CaFleureBonThe Cobra & The Canary is a leather and iris scent which Imaginary Authors describes as follows:

When a tip from a clairvoyant leads 23-year old Neal Orris to a rural Connecticut barn housing his deceased father’s secret obsession, a pristine 1964 Shelby Cobra Roadster, it is the getaway ticket he was desperately searching for. After liberating his best friend Ike from his dead-end job on the family farm, the two hit the open highway. Aiming for the Palm Springs race tracks, their journey is a blur of seedy motels, cool swimming pools, hot debutantes, cocktails, and cigarette smoke. Each stop finds the friends inventing new pseudonyms and personas for themselves, their innocent game hurtling into the depths of decadence and desolation.

NOTES: Lemon, Orris, Tobacco Flowers, Leather, Hay Fields & Asphalt.

It’s a lovely story, but The Cobra & The Canary was hell on earth for me. I mean it. The fragrance is laden with a cheap aromachemical that made me feel as though I’d been punched in the nose, had a scalpel scrape off the skin inside, and had a bloody nose. I have never had that reaction to a fragrance before, and it’s been a while since I experienced genuine physical pain in sniffing a fragrance. Each and every time.

Norlimbanol. Source: leffingwell.com

Norlimbanol. Source: leffingwell.com

The degree of the painful rawness that The Cobra & The Canary triggered in my nose makes me wonder if the fragrance has Norlimbanol, an ISO E-like cousin from Givaudan’s stable of aromachemicals that has an incredibly dry feel, and is used to recreate a leather nuance. The note in The Cobra & The Canary doesn’t smell identical to the Norlimbanol that I’ve encountered it previously, but the scent has dryness to a massive, sharp degree and there are also moments a few hours into its development where there was a definite ISO E-like tonality.

It’s undoubtedly something related to Norlimbanol, but whatever the actual synthetic may be, I felt actual, genuine physical pain every time I sniffed the scent — and I’ve tried it a few times. The first time, I had such a sharp pain in my nose and behind my eye, I had to scrub it off almost immediately. The next few times, I lasted a bit longer, but not by much. I finally gave it a full test, but my nose had to recuperate for two days afterwards from the metaphoric skin scraping.

Broken asphalt via good-wallpapers.com.

Broken asphalt via good-wallpapers.com.

The Cobra & The Canary opens on my skin with sun-sweetened lemon and dry, chemical synthetics. There is a floral element that vaguely resembles iris, but more frequently smells like a combination of lemony linden blossoms with a touch of narcissus. There is a subtle whiff of blackened leather and hay lurking underneath in these early moments, but it was hard to detect under the tsunami of synthetics. Initially, the latter merely smelled dry, but it soon transformed into a stronger tarry, rubbery note like the dry blackness of an asphalt road on a scorching day. The Cobra & The Canary’s olfactory list mentions asphalt, along with leather, and they’re definitely both there. As a whole though, the fragrance’s overall bouquet in the first minutes is of lemony florals with sweetness, a touch of hay, a subtle whiff of tarry leather, and an arid aromachemical.

Black latex rubber via bodysolid.com

Black latex rubber via bodysolid.com

The Cobra & The Canary starts to shift after 15 minutes. The lemon note begins to fade, and is replaced by a more prominent orris butter aroma. Something about the iris’ undertone in combination with the other notes evokes an industrial cleaner, along with carpeting in a sterile office. The leather element grows increasingly strong at the same time. It’s blackened and dark, with rubbery undertones akin to birch tar, though it lacks the diesel or smoky undertones of a truly birch-based creosote. Instead, it smells more like rubber latex, and is infused with the scratchy, sharp, synthetic aridness. By the start of the second hour, the synthetic leather has taken over much of The Cobra & The Canary, followed by the iris butter and the smell of industrial cleaner. Trailing behind in last place is the first suggestion of a soft suede with the tiniest hint of something powdery.

Source: artid.com

Source: artid.com

Over the next few hours, the leather and the Norlimbanol-related synthetic slowly give way to the iris butter. The Cobra & The Canary turns into an iris butter scent, with a touch of powder and a tarry, rubber latex edge by the middle of the 4th hour. The industrial cleanness replaces the dry arid, asphalt note as the dominant chemical, but both are much more muted than they were initially. Still, they hover under the top notes, giving me the feel of a nose bleed each time I smelled the fragrance up close.

Eventually, The Cobra & The Canary turns into a dry, powdered iris suede scent with greyish, industrial-smelling cleanness and general dryness. By the end, it’s a vague blur of something iris-y with that industrial signature. It lasted well over 12.5 hours on my skin, by which point, I’d had enough of the bloody thing and washed off the final traces.

ALL IN ALL:

I realise that I am more sensitive than most to certain synthetics like clean white musk, ISO E Super, Kephalis, and Norlimbanol. Aromachemicals usually have much larger molecules than other olfactory ingredients, which explains some of my reaction. This degree of pain, however, is pretty rare for me. It’s been more than 24 hours since that last test of The Cobra & The Canary, and the inside of my nose still feels a touch raw and bruised.

Experiencing actual, physical pain from perfumery never puts me in a good mood, which is why I’m going to eschew my usual approach to reviews. I normally try to include other people’s experiences, both positive and negative, to give a full, comprehensive picture of a scent. I don’t care enough to do so this time. Suffice it to say that Imaginary Authors has its fair share of admirers, and I seem to be in the minority. I also seem to be far from the target audience, as I don’t enjoy the chemical signature that I detected in all the Imaginary Author scents. Unlike some, I don’t consider the heavy use of intense synthetics to be appealing, revolutionary, or creative perfumery. 

Perfume tastes and reviewing are inherently subjective, personal matters. For me, all the Imaginary Authors fragrances that I ordered and have tried (which is half of the line at this point) are terribly cheap in smell, synthetic, simplistic, unpleasant, and largely linear. The perfumes cost $85, so they can hardly be filled with expensive oils and luxurious essences, but I am not judging them by the standards of an Amouage scent or something three times the IA price. (Plus, I’ve certainly given plenty of bad reviews to Amouage, Puredistance, Kilian, Armani, Serge Lutens, and other expensive lines for using cheap aromachemicals.) I’m judging Imaginary Authors in a vacuum, with each as an individual creation. And none of the scents is my personal cup of tea.

There are plenty of people who like The Cobra & The Canary, and I know for a fact there are tons who absolutely worship Cape Heartache. I’m glad it works for them.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Each of the fragrances is an eau de parfum that comes in a 60 ml bottle that costs $85. You can purchase them directly from Imaginary Authors, with the following direct link for Cape Heartache. The company also offers a sample service, where each fragrance costs $6 per vial with the full set of 8 priced at $35. Imaginary Authors’ full line is carried by several Portland retailers, along with Parfums1, which ships overseas, though at a high price. The line is also carried at Brooklyn’s Twisted Lily. You can find other US vendors, along with some Canadian ones, at Imaginary Authors’ Stockist site. There are no European retailers listed. Samples: you can find samples of Cape Heartache at Parfums1, and Canada’s Italian Barber which sells a 2 ml plastic vial for $4.50.  Surrender to Chance sells Cape Heartache for $4.25 for a 1 ml vial, along with several other scents from line, including Soft Lawn, The Cobra & The Canary, and Memoirs of a Trespasser.