Tom Ford Private Blend Champaca Absolute

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

A heady, rich, utterly opulent mix of creamy, white and yellow, tropical flowers whose velvety petals are infused with syrupy fruits and sprinkled with a touch of boozy liqueur, before being dipped in dark tea and bergamot, and then nestled in a vanilla cocoon. That’s the essence of Tom Ford‘s Champaca Absolute, a very lush eau de parfum that is part of his Private Blend line. The perfume was released in 2009, and is centered around the eponymous flower, Champaca, an Asian cousin to magnolia. Champaca has an aroma that is a mix of magnolia and ylang-ylang, but it can also have a tea-like aspect with fruited nuances. All those sides are highlighted in Champaca Absolute in a very bold, very sweet, very heavy mix that is not for the faint of heart.

Tom Ford’s description for the fragrance, as quoted by most retail sites, appears to be the following:

A floral oriental composition that is pure and provocative. With its sensuous heart of champaca, the magnolia-like flower that inspired it, this intoxicating nectar heightens the senses with notes of Tokajii wine and cognac as it warms the skin with vanilla bean, amber and sandalwood.

Source: de.osmoz.com

Source: de.osmoz.com

According to Luckyscent, the notes in Champaca Absolute include:

Tokaji [plum] wine, cognac, bergamot, magnolia champaca, orchid, violet, jasmine, vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glacé.

Fragrantica, however, has a slightly different list which is notable for the inclusion of dyer’s greenwood, a variety of the broom shrub that smells of hay. They state:

the top notes are cognac, bergamot and dyer’s greenweed [or broom]; middle notes are champaca, orchid, violet and jasmine; base notes are vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glace.

I think the complete, total list would be a combination of the two, as I definitely detect both the broom and the Japanese plum wine.

Champaca. Source: monstermarketplace.com

Champaca.

Champaca Absolute opens on my skin with an intense, concentrated blast of fruited, plummy, Japanese wine and cognac brandy, followed by tropical champaca. The flower smells of: buttery magnolia; custardy, banana-like ylang-ylang; apricots; and a heavy, syrupy, fruited sweetness. Lurking deep below the heady, over-the-top, floral richness is an almost leathered, smoky nuance. Sticky, cooked, plum molasses swirls in the floral air from the Japanese wine, while cognac is sprinkled all on top. You don’t smell as though you were dunked in a vat of alcohol, but there is a very pronounced liqueured aspect to the fruited sweetness.

I’ve noted a number of times in the past how Tom Ford fragrances can smell very different depending on how much you apply, and Champaca Absolute is no exception. When I applied a lot (amounting to a little over 1/3 of the vial, or the equivalent of 2 big sprays from an actual bottle), there was a definite vein of smoky darkness underlying the heady, sensual flowers. However, when I applied a lesser quantity (about 2 big smears, amounting to a small spray from a bottle), the notes which accompanied the champaca at the opening were quite different. There was no smokiness or leather, little plum, but a lot of orchid infused with vanilla.

Source: Foundwalls.com

Source: Foundwalls.com

Orchid has a very interesting, clear, sweet, delicate smell that can vary in its aroma depending on which variety of the flower is used. Here, in Champaca Absolute, it smelled delicately dewy, liquidy, and like floral nectar that was thoroughly infused with both ylang-ylang and vanilla. The overall effect was to remind me of one of my favorite, opulent florientals, LM ParfumsSensual Orchid. It is a scent with a couple of notes in common with the Tom Ford, namely, orchid, boozy tonalities, ylang-ylang, jasmine, vanilla, and resins.

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

However, the two fragrances differ quite a bit in their focal points and overall feel. Champaca Absolute is dominated by the very unctuous, magnolia-like flower, not the lighter, clearer orchid. The Tom Ford fragrance feels more oriental, ambered, heavy, syrupy sweet, and fruited. In contrast, LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid feels less flat on my skin, less potentially oppressive or weighed down, and much more purely floral. Its tropical touch comes from coconut, not from the custardy, buttery magnolia flower. It lacks bergamot, along with hay or tea tonalities, but includes mandarin orange, almonds, peony, and neroli. At the same time, its boozy note is substantially lighter and more refined. It’s also much fresher and less sweet at its core, and thereby, less potentially cloying in nature. I have to be honest, I much prefer Sensual Orchid’s take on the lush, over-the-top, narcotic, floriental genre.

Broom via pbase.com

Broom via pbase.com

Beyond the minor Sensual Orchid resemblance, a lower dosage of Champaca Absolute also yields other differences from the version I saw with a higher amount. The main difference is that the accompanying notes rise to the surface much sooner, particularly the bergamot, jasmine, and the broom’s hay-like note. There is a more obvious, profound, and long-lasting citrus tonality to the scent, along with increased dryness from the broom. There is also a stronger touch of earthiness in the base that verges on something like mushrooms or truffles, though it is subtle, so its impact is quite relative as a whole. (Still, it’s enough to make me think of Tom Ford‘s Black Orchid which has a truffle note in the base.) Apart from all that, and as noted above, Champaca Absolute does not feel resinous, smoky or dark at the lower dosage; and both the booziness and the fruity undertones are also much weaker. In short, if you apply less Champaca Absolute, you’ll get more of a sweetly floral-magnolia scent that has very different, very altered levels for the rest of its accompanying elements.

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Regardless of the amount that you apply, both versions end up at the same place, sooner or later, so I’ll just stick with discussing the Champaca Absolute I experienced with the larger quantity. This version is fully centered on the magnolia-like flower, with not much interference from the orchid or anything else at first, other than the very fruity accords. The plum wine is powerful during the first 10 minutes, much more so than the boozy cognac on my skin, although both are simply different form of liqueured fruits. At the same time, there is a definite suggestion of something almost like Davana, a rich Indian flower that smells like apricot-y ylang-ylang. There is almost no fresh bergamot to lighten up the notes, no hay, and little vanilla.

10 minutes into its development, Champaca Absolute slowly shifts. The jasmine arrives on the scene, imparting an additional layer of syrupy sweetness to the bouquet. The plum wine takes a small step back, the boozy cognac softens a little, and the perfume feels even richer. There is the first hint of the champaca’s tea-like facet, along with the tiniest whisper of bergamot, though both are very muted at this point. Slowly, very slowly, Champaca Absolute turns more floral in focus. The boozy elements retreat to the sidelines after 30 minutes, and the delicate nectar of the orchid arrives to coat the richer, more unctuous, buttery champaca. There is a touch of broom now as well, but its subtle dryness does little to leaven or cut through Champaca Absolute’s richness.

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

In the base, there is a tiniest whisper of earthiness, though it never smells like marrons glacé or iced chestnuts to me. Interestingly, at the lower dosage, Champaca Absolute reflected a more noticeable, almost truffle-like, mushroomy nuance in its foundation, but it’s not so apparent now. By the same token, the tea-like elements and bergamot feel much weaker at the higher dosage, too. Frankly, the lighter, more minor notes have very little chance of standing up to the power of the heavy floral cocktail. Everything but the flowers, fruits, syrupy sweetness, and the growing touch of vanilla in the base are secondary — and, in some cases, tertiary, acting as a very muffled or muted suggestions at best.

The power of the florals as the showpiece is the main reason why Champaca Absolute doesn’t change much in the hours which follow. All that happens is that certain secondary notes fluctuate in their prominence, order, and clarity. Whether it is the bergamot, the tea, the darkly smoky aspect in the base, or the various fruits, they all basically reach a crescendo by the end of the 2nd hour. After that, they either lose their shape and individual distinction, melt into the base, or generally aren’t a main or powerful part of the scent.

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

The champaca (or davana-like) facets of apricot and tea have the greatest shelf-life in weaving about the top notes, along with the bergamot to a much lesser extent, but as a whole, Champaca Absolute is really just a floral blend of lush, tropical, velvety flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness. It is infused with vanilla which increasingly takes over from the fruited elements. They, in turn, become more abstract, feeling merely like a general fruity syrupiness that coats all the flowers.

The more obvious, significant changes to Champaca Absolute involve its projection and feel. Initially, the perfume was very potent, powerful, and intense — regardless of how much you apply. However, with a little over 1/3 of a ml or about 2 sprays from a bottle, Champaca Absolute is extremely forceful indeed. At first. In fact, it’s rather a surprise how quickly the perfume turns soft and the sillage drops. I suspect Tom Ford sought to counterbalance the richness and sweetness of the notes with something that was less dense in weight. If so, then he succeeded in that goal. At the end of the first hour, Champaca Absolute turns softer and weaker. From an initial distance of about 5-6 inches, the perfume’s projection now drops to around 2-3 inches. At the end of the second hour, however, Champaca Absolute hovers just above the skin. And that’s at the very high dose! Granted, it remains there for hours, and only turns into a discreet skin scent at the 6.5 hour mark, but given the serious intensity of the opening moments, I was a little surprised by soft and airy the fragrance becomes later on.

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

By the end of the 2nd hour, Champaca Absolute is a well-blended, seamless blend of lush, tropical, buttery flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness that is lightly flecked with jasmine syrup, hints of ylang-ylang, and a touch of Davana. Tiny streaks of apricots, dark tea, and, to a much lesser extent, fresh bergamot run through it. There is no hay, earthiness, plum, or booziness on my skin. There continues to be a definite element of fruitiness, but it becomes increasingly abstract and indistinguishable from the florals. Only the tiniest suggestion of a dark, slightly smoky, resinous amber ripples through the base. Much more prominent, however, is a smooth, custardy creaminess that has a very vanillic nature.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

In the hours that follow, Champaca Absolute turns into a simple blur of rich florals with tropical creaminess. As noted above, the other notes either fade into the sidelines, or melt completely into the base. The resinous amber, smokiness, and bergamot are the first to vanish around the 5th hour. After that, the apricots and fruitiness. Late in the 6th hour, Champaca Absolute is primarily a sweet floral with a custardy, banana-like richness and sweetness. If I smell very hard with my nose right on the skin and focus intently, I can single out ylang-ylang and jasmine as the most prominent aspects, along with vanilla and a subtle hint of fruitiness. There is a brief flicker of some nebulous, vaguely woody note in the base, but it’s hardly distinguishable as sandalwood. (And it’s most definitely not Mysore sandalwood.)

From afar, though, Champaca Absolute is a mere haze of rich, custardy florals, and it remains that way until its very end. In its final moments, the perfume is a light smear of floral sweetness with a suggestion of something creamy, tropical and fruited about it. All in all, Champaca Absolute lasted under12 hours with a small amount, and a whopping 14.75 hours at a higher dosage. Given how my skin eats up perfumes, that says something. The sillage hovered just above the skin for a good portion of that time, and the perfume felt quite airy in weight, despite the heaviness of its notes up close.

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

I’m going to say this bluntly, and probably about 15 more times during the remainder of this review, but Tom Ford’s Champaca Absolute is one of those love it/hate it scents that you should not go anywhere near if you don’t love extremely heavy, lush, sweet florals. If you hate the richness of magnolia, stay away. If you can’t bear the sweet syrupy aspects to jasmine, or the custard heaviness of ylang-ylang, stay away. If you don’t like even light amounts of hay, broom, or earthy notes, you may want to pause. If you don’t like intensely fruited notes, especially very unctuous, syrupy, or tropical fruited notes, then run. Same thing if you don’t like fragrances with even light touches of booziness or liqueured aspects. And if you hate fragrances that explode like a heavy, powerful bomb at the start, then you may want to go to the other end of the planet than anywhere which is wafting Champaca Absolute. This is a fragrance for a very particular sort of perfume taste, and it will not be for everyone. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Now, if you happen to be someone whose taste or perfume style suits several of the aforementioned categories — ideally, all of them — then you may find Champaca Absolute to be the best thing ever. However, even if you are one of those people, there is a chance that Champaca Absolute will feel too heavily and oppressive in its flat, dense, richness. I happen to be someone who actually is in the target demographic, and I’m still a little uncertain about the perfume.

I enjoy Champaca Absolute’s opulence and richness, but I really have to pause at times. For one thing, the perfume is a little too monolithic in its feel. If Champaca Absolute didn’t drive over you like a Panzer unit on its way to Poland, then I might handle it better. If the linearity of “heavy florals with vanilla” had been leavened with more changes, I might not feel quite so exhausted by the end. I think it’s a great scent for a “once in a while” occasion, in low quantities; I’m not sure about anything more than that, or about wearing Champaca Absolute on a frequent basis, let alone a daily one. There is something about the scent that feels as though you just ate 6 whole vanilla-frosted cakes, when you merely asked for a single, large slice. Wearing Champaca Absolute for a few days in a row would probably put me off both cake and rich florals for a while.

I suspect that some (or many) of these issues are the reason why Champaca Absolute has received mixed reviews. In fact, on MakeupAlley, the fragrance seems to be quite polarizing. Take this long (edited) assessment by “Mac789” who seemed to initially like the fragrance, before drastically changing her mind:

A wonderful, bitchy-pill white floral that completely disagreed with me. […][¶]

This is not your mother’s white floral, nor is it something that is especially easy to wear. It’s a ballsy scent with a lot going on and it has extreme lasting power.

The drunken spree at the top, combined with the champaca absolute, a sprig of almost mentholated green, and whatever other floral is veering around, blew my mind. Nothing smells like this. Thank you, Tom Ford, for creating a five-alarm fragrance. The florals are rich, bright, and careering towards instability.

French Broom via Wikipedia

French Broom via Wikipedia

Shortly, a strong honeyed broom note appeared. I have never liked broom, although I can’t fault the fragrance for its use. […][¶] I then left the store and let the fragrance air out. Within short order, the base ripped through. This base was fanatical woods and dirt, insistently growing and engulfing, sharpening, smothering, cutting… reaching a splintering zenith from which there was no escape, not by washcloth, shower, or baby wipe…

It stayed with me until the next day, showing off. The experience left me reeling, and also realizing that sometimes the thing that stands out the most is the thing that most attracts–for the wrong reasons.

Champaca Absolute is a standout that I suspect will entrance and enchant people who adore broom, woods, and soil. It’s a highly creative fragrance [… but it]  was too distorted for me to wear, with both giant opener and closer and not a smooth segue from one thing to the next, or perhaps it was my perception that was distorted, since I liked it well enough when I first smelled it. As of right now, though, rather than being that overworked term “edgy,” it pushed me towards the edge.

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

Others had a very different experience, where the problem was not any earthiness or broom at all, but rather “putrid fruit,” too much tropicality, or just plain fatigue after a while. Some of the shorter responses:

  • This has a problem of arrested development on my skin. No matter how much I spray, it is arrested at a preliminary stage where it is about to bloom and that is it. I also get cognac-sweet top notes but the rest is just a super humid tropical evening without much in particular. Indeed Champaca Abcolute has such a humid, moist vibe on my skin that it wouldn’t surprise me if I started seeing tiny mushrooms popping up on my skin. It also turns acrid, somehow fermented on my skin after a short while. [¶] Still, even I get a meaty tropical flower smell from this. Is it champaca? […] I get something that makes me think of magnolias and other things.
  • Its an alright fragrance. At first whiff this was gorgeous and I had to have it but the drydown was not something that I liked as much. Too floral for me.
  •  It was really perfume intensity and smelled like putrid fruit. Not like a big white floral that I was hoping for. […] The next day I could still smell it on my skin. It finally had become pleasant, but nothing special.
Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Others, however, love Champaca Absolute, sometimes passionately so:

  • [At] the Tom Ford counter […] I tried White Musk (my least favorite), Oud Wood (too masculine), Japon Noir, Noir de Noir (not too bad), but none of them really blew me away until I smelled Champaca Absolute! This fragrance is mysterious, sensual, sweet and surprising. Everything that I was looking for. [¶] The cognac top note really makes this a special fragrance. The sweetness lasts about an hour and then comes the Jasmine, Violet, Orchid and Champaca floral notes. Very nice. The dry down is especially wonderful. The fragrance stays close to your skin all day. I really think this is a timeless fragrance that’s good for any adult age.
  • How lovely! TF Champaca Absolute opens with blast of champaca-scented rice in a container made of fresh-cut bamboo-stem, along with sweet ripe plum. I am a big fan of white florals and I love the real champaca flower. The name is misleading as champaca is never dominant but lingers to the end. [¶] Comparision between TF Champaca Absolute and Ormande Jayne Champaca: OJ is “browner” and denser while TF is greener and more airy. OJ is less sweet and less rice-like. Both are well-blended exotic beauties! OJ is “wilder” while TF is more lady-like. I like both.
  • TF Champaca Absolute by **no means** deserves any kind of low rating or to be compared to Ormonde Jayne et al. Tom Ford went to the most ancient of gardens, where perfumiers have been harvesting for thousands of years, and has captured not just the scent, but the **soul** of champaca (hence the “absolute.”) If it turns putrid as some say, then that’s incompatible skin chemistry my dears, NOT the perfume. When a perfume turns putrid after being sprayed on acid-free paper or linen, then and then only can it be considered a loser. TF Champaca Absolute is EXQUISITE to the extreme, and incredibly lifting, not only for the wearer, but those who experience the waft. […]  Tom Ford has nailed it. That is **exactly** what champaca is… a sacred flower that the eastern cultures maintain inspires a higher peace and joy. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

I’ve spent so much time on the average perfumistas’ mixed responses to Champaca Absolute in order to provide a counterbalance to the bloggers who generally seem to love the fragrance and who also detect very different elements. Take, for example, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin who wrote:

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Despite its name, Champaca Absolute is not a soliflore—the magnolia note is part of a bouquet. Overall, it is a quite a striking blend, full of character and dramatic presence. Like many Private Blends, Champaca Absolute has a certain vintage glamour, yet without a self-conscious retro aesthetic. The richness of the composition is evident throughout: from the top accord, with its dried fruit and candied citrus nuances, to the sugared amber and vanilla base. Set against this gourmand cornucopia is a heady, luxurious floral composition. It suggests the indolic heft of jasmine, the spicy warmth of carnation and the petally radiance of magnolia. While magnolia is only an accent, it fits so beautifully that I forget about wanting a magnolia soliflore experience.

There is a point to the development of Champaca Absolute that reminds me strongly of Tom Ford Black Orchid, or rather what I wanted Black Orchid to be—an unapologetically rich, opulent floral. The late drydown of Champaca Absolute is my favorite part. The dramatic sensuality of the composition mellows down, leaving one with an intimate, warm veil of woods, incense and violets. It is certainly worth waiting for!

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

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

Then, there is The Non-Blonde who also seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the scent:

Is Champaca Absolute the big  fruity floral in Tom Ford’s Private Blend line? Yes and no, I guess. The floral heart notes take center stage and they are accentuated with sweet round plums and a plum liqueur. But, really, this is not something that belongs in a pink bottle on Sephora’s shelves. The first blast is very alcoholic and boozy. Something between Armagnac and a plum brandy. […] Champaca Absolute smells really really good.

The flowers (jasmine, violet, orchid, champaca) are blended into a single accord of prettiness.It leans to the tropic side, a little loud and exuberant, but after wearing it enough times and learning to listen I’ve begun to smell the softness that lies underneath. It feels like a layer of silk, not quite powdery and not quite sweet- I guess that’s the steamed rice quality of champaca. I have yet to find it when wearing Ormonde Jayne’s Champaca which I like well enough, but Tom Ford’s version works better on my skin for one reason or another.

Maybe it’s the base. Champaca Absolute dries down rich and sweet. After four or five hours it becomes a full blown oriental, even though the floral accord is tenacious enough to still be hover and appear here and there, especially in the heat. I can’t say I get the promised marron glace note, but there is quite a bit of sweet creaminess to satisfy my sweet tooth. [Emphasis and bolding to name added by me.]

On Fragrantica, the reviews are as mixed as they are on MakeupAlley, though a substantially greater number seem to really like Champaca Absolute. Some find the perfume to be a wonderful successor to the tradition of big ’80s powerhouses, or even older ones like Fracas. A handful enjoyed the beginning before being overwhelmed by too much syrupy sweetness over the course of the perfume’s development, and changing their mind. Several dislike Champaca Absolute as being “too perfume-y,” too much like “an old lady perfume,” or too boring in its simple floral nature. Others rave about how it is “seductive,” “glorious,” “exceptional,” their “favorite TF buy so far,” or even their “favorite fragrance of all time.”

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Interestingly, one of the positive reviews comes from a man. Actually, I know a few men who enjoy Champaca Absolute, probably because of boozy opening, but they are exceptions as this is a fragrance that definitely skews feminine in nature. Still, you may be interested in one man’s Fragrantica assessment:

Champaca Absolute is my favourite TF and in my opinion one of his best.Boozy opening,no doubt,but once the cognac has subsided to a lesser extent the glorious chestnut aroma remains right through the mid notes and drydown. I disagree with previous commentary that its a female only scent and an old womans fragrance or overtly floral. For mine the floral notes are there but take a backseat.Granted its not the most masculine scent going around but its a standout in a bland sea of citrus/aquatics/oriental/woods and can be worn by a guy who is looking for something totally unique and is confident enough to wear it. Longevity is in the vicinity of 6 hours and sillage is close to the skin.
Definitely worth a sample and pleased I have added this gem to my collection of niches 🙂

Whether or not a man can wear Champaca Absolute is definitely going to depend on his personal tastes and comfort zone. I firmly believe that if you feel good in what you’re wearing, that’s all that matters. So if a guy enjoys lushly opulent, boozy florals, then Champaca Absolute is definitely one to consider. If, that is, he fits within all my prior parameters or warnings about both the scent as a whole and its particular notes.

We all have different perfume tastes, and there isn’t a scent in the world which is going to appeal to everyone. Tom Ford’s fragrances tend to be more polarizing in general, due to their intensity, richness, often powerhouse forcefulness, and heaviness. Champaca Absolute is no different. However, it may be a little more of a love it/leave it scent than some of his others. I’ve noticed that people really respond at opposite ends of the spectrum to big, lush, heavy florals. Here, there is the added issue of syrupy sweetness, almost tropical fruitiness, and the other supporting notes like the cognac, broom, and the very subtle earthiness. Making matters even more complicated is that lush intensity, the heaviness, and an 80s-like powerhouse strength. If all of that sounds like your cup of tea, then you should definitely seek out Champaca Absolute. You may want to remember, however, that — just like a very rich cake — a little goes a long way.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Champaca Absolute is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; and $520 or €420 for a 250 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The Tom Ford website is undergoing renovations at this time, so its e-shop is down. In the U.S.: you can find Champaca Absolute at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Luckyscent, and many other retailers. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they don’t list many of the TF perfumes on their website. In the UK, you can find Champaca Absolute at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser, or Selfridges in various sizes. The small 1.7 oz/50 ml size costs £140, and the super-large 250 ml bottle goes for £320. In France, the Tom Ford Private Blend line is available at Sephora. For the rest of Europe, all Tom Fords, including Champaca Absolute, are also sold at Premiere Avenue which offers the 50 ml size for €180. They ship world-wide. In Belgium, you can find Champaca Absolute at Parfuma, in Russia at Lenoma, and in Australia at David Jones for AUD$290. In the Middle East, the Private Line is carried at many stores, especially Harvey Nichols, but I also found Champaca Absolute at ParfumeUAE. For other all other countries, I would normally link to Tom Ford’s store locator, but his website is undergoing construction at this time. Samples: Surrender to Chance has samples of Champaca Absolute starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 Khôl de Bahreïn: Ambered Iris

Photo: My own.

Photo: My own.

A golden, ambered sun peeks out from the clouds at the edge of a grey sea. Thickened, buttered waves of iris unfold like the most expensive suede, undulating under skies shot through with sweetened smoke. An iris flower floats on the surface, making a voyage from its cool, damp, earthy cellar towards the sun which warms it, turning it sweeter and sprinkling it with sweetened heliotrope. At times, the sun peaks out like golden eyes from behind the sheer veil of cool suede and warmed powdered sweetness. A giant orb of goldenness, speckled with ambergris, red resins, and candied delights. It shines upon the iris as it makes its journey and finally arrives at a distant shore of sweetness that cocoons it like the softest whisper of pink and white cashmere silk. These are the voyages of the Starship Iris, better known as Khôl de Bahreïn.

Stephane Humbert Lucas via CaFleureBon and Marieclaire.it.

Stephane Humbert Lucas via CaFleureBon and Marieclaire.it.

Khôl de Bahreïn is a fragrance from a new niche perfume house, founded by a man who has been making perfumes for quite a long time. Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 is the new venture of Stéphane Humbert Lucas who was the in-house perfumer for Nez a Nez and SoOud. Mr. Lucas launched his new brand in 2013, along with 7 fragrances, all of which are inspired by the Middle East and their style of perfumery. Khôl de Bahreïn (which I’m going to henceforth write without all the accentuation and carets) was one of those scents.

There isn’t a ton of information out there about the perfume. Stéphane Humbert Lucas’s website is under construction, but his Middle Eastern distributor, Sagma, describes the scent as:

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Blend of amber benzene.
Unguent with an intense trail.

Heavy perfume, unctuous, amber, reference to kohl and to the zenjar used in the region of Bahreïn.

First in Fragrance has more details, along with Khol de Bahrein’s notes:

Khôl de Bahreïn offers a blend of ambergris and resinous notes which create a balsamic-woody fragrance with an intense and lasting wake.

Top Note: Violet, Gourmand Notes, Resins
Heart Note: Iris, Sandalwood, Ambergris
Base Note: Musk, Balsamic Notes

Source: Soundcloud.com

Source: Soundcloud.com

Khol de Bahrein opens on my skin with a burst of sticky, dark resins that have a caramel, nutty aroma. Almost immediately, the iris appears on their heels. It feels like the most expensive, thick, orris butter imaginable, and has a smell that is simultaneously: slightly cool, earthy, buttery, deep, and warm, all at once. Something about it evokes the feeling of velvety petals — grey and black — along with thick, grey suede. The minute it arrives, the amber and resins take a step back to let the iris shine in the spotlight. Yet, subtle hints of benzoin sweetness lurk around the flower’s edges, as if candies are about to rain on earthy iris fields any moment now. A tiny wisp of smoke adds yet another paradoxical layer in this extremely unusual combination.

Five minutes in, the sweet elements seem to tire of their brief wait on the sidelines and flood center stage to crowd around the dark floral. I can’t really place the notes, as they are definitely not the “nougat” that I saw on one site’s ingredient list. “Caramel” doesn’t really fit exactly either, though it is closer. Perhaps, the best way to describe it is as vaguely sticky ambergris and toffee’d balsamic resins.

toffee caramal nougat close up wallpaper

Yet, for all the sweetness of the accord, Khol de Bahrein doesn’t verge on the gourmand for me. First, the competing elements are very carefully balanced, but, second, and more importantly, the iris counteracts the candied resins with its earthy coolness. It is a very refined note that conjures up images of a single flower growing in the slightly damp earth of a darkened cellar. Yet, it’s neither icy nor crypt-like. There is nothing fusty, carrot-y, or dank about it, either. Just plenty of cool notes with heavy suede and creamy butter.

Something about the combination of iris with sticky resins feels very unique to me, though I grant you that I don’t have extensive knowledge of the iris category. In fact, I wholly lack the iris appreciation gene, but I spend the next few hours being utterly amazed by the note in Khol de Bahrein. It really feels like an actual “butter” version of the flower with a heavily creamed richness that I haven’t encountered in other iris scents. Not even in Nuances, the limited-edition, ridiculously expensive Armani Privé Les Editions Couture iris soliflore that supposedly had the richest, most expensive, concentrated iris as its focus.

On my skin, in the opening period, the iris butter pretty much trumps everything. Violets are listed Khol de Bahrein’s notes, but I generally didn’t detect them. However, they did appear briefly the very first time I wore the perfume when I only applied a few dabs of Khol de Bahrein. It was a dewy, earthy, pastel, delicate note, but it was short-lived. When I applied a greater quantity of Khol de Bahrein, it certainly couldn’t seem to stand up to the strength of the other accords.

What was interesting about that first test was something else that happened. From the first instant, there was an utterly addictive, sweet, powdered amber. I’m not a particular fan of iris, and I’m also not enthused by powderiness either, but, I tell you, I simply could not stop sniffing my wrists. I felt almost crazed at times by the draw of Khol de Bahrein, and I’ve finally figured out what was the lure: it smelled like an ambered form of heliotrope.

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Now, heliotrope is not listed on Khol de Bahrein’s notes, but something in one of those resins (undoubtedly a benzoin-based one) really recreates the smell of heliotrope to a T. And I’m a sucker for the note. Wholly addicted. I love its vaguely floral, powdered sweetness which always visually translates in my mind as a comforting pink and white cocoon. In fact, Fragrantica‘s great explanation of the note brings up its “characteristic, comforting scent.” Heliotrope has an powdery odor profile which can range from a vanilla meringue, to almond marzipan, tonka vanilla, and more. As Fragrantica put it,

The characteristic comforting scent of heliotrope has been proven to induce feelings of relaxation and comfort, a pampering atmosphere that finds itself very suited to languorous oriental fragrances and delicious “gourmands”.

I’m spending so much time on this because, in my opinion, that aroma is one of the secret keys to Khol de Bahrein’s beauty. In my first test, using very little of the perfume, Khol de Bahrein immediately wafted the most delicious, tasty, heliotrope amber confectionary aroma with just the perfect balance of sweetness and powder. It reminded me of a tonka-covered amber orb that glowed like candlelight in a cozy, warm, vanilla cocoon.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com/

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com/

Khol de Bahrein gets to the exact same point eventually with the larger dosage, but there is a lengthy iris butter period that you have to get through first. Since, as noted above, I’m not a particular fan of iris scents, I don’t find it deeply compelling, but it’s very hard to deny the quality of the note. I’m actually quite riveted by the sheer opulence and richness of the flower. I repeatedly thought to myself that it felt like the sort of thing that Roja Dove would do, and I mean that as a compliment.

Thirty minutes in, that golden amber tantalizes me with its nearness and elusiveness. It lingers just out of reach on the horizon, like a gauzy veil of caramel that has been thinly lacquered onto a glowing orb of musky, vaguely salty, deep ambergris which is then lightly dusted with vanillic benzoin powder. Slowly, slowly, the amber sun starts to warm up the cool iris waters, softening their damp, aloof, earthiness. The flower turns more powdered, as if it were shaking off white pollen in the sunlight, but the predominant feel is of thick orris butter.

The amber’s promise lies hidden not only behind that note but also behind a new arrival on the scene: smokiness. It’s very subtle at first, but it’s definitely there. To my nose, it doesn’t smell like black frankincense but, rather, like sweet myrrh (opoponax). It’s a surprisingly sharp note, but also sweetened and vaguely nutty in undertone.

Photo via free-desktop-backgrounds.net, then edited by me.

Photo via free-desktop-backgrounds.net, then edited by me.

As a whole, Khol de Bahrein smells from afar like heavily sweetened iris, warm powder, sweet and incense lightly flecked by caramel resins and goldenness. The perfume is really potent up close, and very heavy in feel, with initially good sillage that wafts about 2-3 inches above the skin. By the end of the first hour, the sillage drops further, and Khol de Bahrein turns into a beautiful, seamless blend of ambered iris with subtle traces of sweetened iris powder and sweetened smoke. Yet, none of it feels gourmand. The perfume screams refinement and luxuriousness to me, not dessert or candy.

Photo: Grover Schrayer on Flicker. (Website link embedded within.)

Photo: Grover Schrayer on Flicker. (Website link embedded within.)

Khol de Bahrein is largely linear in nature with the main changes over time being the order and concentration of the notes, along with the perfume’s overall warmth and texture. The iris continues to lose its cool edge and that feeling of thick orris butter. It turns more and more into pure suede, at first thickly plush and heavy, then lighter as it sinks into the base. Khol de Bahrein’s sillage drops to just above the skin at the 90 minute mark. Around the same time, the amber sun finally comes out from behind the grey clouds, and the perfume now feels like vaguely irisy, powdered amber, instead of iris that is merely tangentially ambered. Something about Khol de Bahrein’s new golden aura strongly brought to mind Histoires de Parfums‘ billowy Ambre 114. I think anyone who enjoys the latter’s ambered softness, while also loving rich iris butter, would definitely love the combination of the two notes in Khol de Bahrein.

As the perfume continues to realign itself, that addictive part that I talked about earlier creeps closer and closer. About 2.5 hours in, the heliotrope impression finally arrives on the scene. Again, the perfume list does not mention heliotrope at all, but something in the benzoin resin alluded to by the Sagma distributor definitely recreates that smell. Khol de Bahrein is now sweetened, almost vanillic powdered amber with touches of sweetened suede that is lightly flecked by an equally sweet incense. It’s a bit like Ambre 114 with incense, but with every passing moment, a much stronger comparison would be to Guerlain‘s Cuir Beluga.

Source: qcorrell.com

Source: qcorrell.com

By the end of the 3rd hour, Khol de Bahrein is a dead ringer for Cuir Beluga on my skin, only with a touch of nebulous, abstract, incensey smoke. It has lost its ambered focus, and turned into pure “heliotrope” with sweetened suede. Khol de Bahrein doesn’t have heliotrope’s almond or marzipan nuances, but reflects instead its cozy, comforting, vanilla meringue facets. The amber now manifests itself largely as a sort of warmth which works really well with the textural softness of the “heliotrope” (or whatever resin is mimicking it). As a whole, the perfume feels like the cuddliest, cashmere blanket. Since heliotrope always visually translates in my mind to pink and white hues, the perfume now does the same.

I find it all utterly addictive, but I wish it weren’t so soft and discreet. The same problem that I had with Cuir Beluga is manifesting itself here, with a scent that lies right on the skin. That said, Khol de Bahrein is much stronger and more intense in its notes when sniffed up close. In fact, whenever I thought it had turned into a skin scent, I was surprised to detect little tendrils in the air about me. In particular, whenever I moved my arm or walked about, I could smell that vanilla meringue suede as an elusive whisper trailing in the air. It’s not my favorite way to smell a perfume, but Khol de Bahrein’s sheer weight and soft sillage turn out to be quite misleading in terms of the perfume’s strength.

Khol de Bahrein feels like undulating waves in more than one way. First, there was the iris butter that lapped about the shores. Then, as the iris retreated from its cool earthiness, the grey suede moved in. Later, the amber, and then, the “heliotrope”-like, benzoin meringue powder. Shortly after the start of the 6th hour, the waves change again, and the perfume turns drier. There are fluctuating levels of smokiness. Or, rather, the smokiness reappears again in a much stronger way, now that the heliotrope-like powdered sweetness has ebbed. Khol de Bahrein suddenly feels like a much drier, darker, somewhat smoky version of Cuir Beluga.  It is also a true skin at this point, and its subtleties are much harder to detect.

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

The subtle smokiness and incense don’t last long, however. Perhaps an hour at most. Then, Khol de Bahrein returns to its main core of powdered sweetness. The impression of iris suede as an underlying base vanishes completely. The perfume lingers as the silkiest, thinnest, gauziest breath of sweet benzoin on the skin for several more hours, until it finally dies away entirely about 12.5 hours from the start.

Frankly, I was amazed that it lasted so long, because it really is such a discreet, intimate scent for a good portion of its lifespan on my skin. Khol de Bahrein feels like the sort of fragrance that many people would think had only good longevity, not an excellent one, because they wouldn’t be walking around with their nose on their arm. However, I’m sure that spraying and the use of a large amount would help matters, as the perfume really is quite concentrated when smelled up close.

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

I think Khol de Bahrein is a really lovely, luxurious, very expensive-smelling fragrance, and I say that as someone with little personal appreciation for iris. I do think, however, that it skews feminine. My reasoning is that I don’t see the vast majority of men really being into powdered iris as the dominant focus for their fragrance. I admit, it’s a wholly subjective, personal interpretation, and I certainly know some men who adore Cuir Beluga, as well as many iris-centered fragrances. I’m sure a few would thoroughly enjoy a more iris-y, oriental, less gourmand, and, at times, more smoky take on Cuir Beluga. For the vast majority of men, though, I think Khol de Bahrein might feel a little feminine. It’s really going to come down to your feelings on both iris and powdery notes, not to mention skin chemistry.

One man who absolutely loves Khol de Bahrein is Mark Behnke who wrote about the perfume while he was the Managing Editor of CaFleureBon. Mr. Behnke first smelled the new Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 line at the Milan Esxence show in 2013, and Khol de Bahrein was the one which really piqued his interest. He liked it right from the start, but once he managed to test it fully and properly, he seems to have fallen quite in love. He actually called Khol de Bahrein one of the best perfumes of 2013:

after having worn it quite a bit I know it to be one of the best perfumes of this year and the best perfume of M. Lucas’ career, so far.

The name Khol de Bahrein refers to the dark eye makeup often seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Elizabeth Taylor sported kohl rimmed eyes for her portrayal of Cleopatra. Also they are often the only part of a Muslim woman you can see when she is out and about. The darkness around the eyes causing them to feel like they almost float within the hijab. M. Lucas has created a fragrance framed in darkness with the depth of a human eye in the middle. Khol de Bahrein is as mesmerizing as a hypnotist’s stare; you will find yourself lost in its spell.

The photo Mr. Behnke used to illustrate Khol de Bahrein. Source: derbund.ch

The photo Mr. Behnke used to illustrate Khol de Bahrein. Source: derbund.ch

The metaphorical eyes of Khol de Bahrein are as lavender as Liz Taylor’s were. The opening uses violet at the core but is surrounded with a resinous frame of dark incense. The one thing I appreciate about all of the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 fragrances is there is no gentle step down to intensity. No flare of citrus or bergamot; instead it as bracing as stepping into a cold shower, it catches your attention. I love violet and the interplay of resins and violet are wonderfully woven. Then the purple of the iris deepened by the note of orris. Lush and opulent it is made buoyant with the addition of a creamy sandalwood and briny ambergris. This really feels like the real stuff on the ambergris, no ambrox here. The final touch of blackness comes from amber, balasamic notes, and musk. There is a feel of humanity in the last accord. The eyes may be all you see but they are worth getting lost within.

Khol de Bahrein has ridiculous almost 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. The sillage is surprising for something at extrait strength.

I hope this piques the interest of those of you who have never heard of M. Lucas. If you’re looking for a new perfumer to explore I can recommend nobody any higher. As one who has come to enjoy his style let me reiterate; Khol de Bahrein is the best perfume of M. Lucas’ career and one of the best new perfumes of 2013.

Mr. Behnke’s review is the only one I could find for Khol de Bahrein. The perfume has no comments on its Fragrantica page. There are also no reviews posted on Khol de Bahrein’s entry at Parfumo (a European sort of Fragrantica). However, there are a lot of votes for the perfume at Parfumo that I think you might find interesting, as they pertain to perceptions of overall quality, sillage, and longevity:

  • Scent: 80% (12 Ratings)
  • Longevity: 88% (12 Ratings)
  • Sillage: 67% (13 Ratings)

An overall 80% favorability rating is really quite good, though I’m apparently not alone in my feelings about the sillage.

Khol de Bahrein comes with some drawbacks, primarily in terms of accessibility. This is a perfume that is a European and Middle Eastern exclusive, though American readers can test it easily by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance. It’s not even widely available within Europe itself, with only a handful of distributors for the line. First in Fragrance is your best bet, and, thankfully, they ship worldwide.

The other issue is the price, though I think that can easily be justified when put into context. Khol de Bahrein costs €148 for a small 50 ml bottle. At the current rate of exchange, that comes to roughly $203, which is a teensy bit high for the size. However, Khol de Bahrein is a fragrance that its Middle Eastern distributor, the Sagma corporation, states is pure parfum extrait with 24% concentration.

Source: Sagma Corp.

Source: Sagma Corp.

Plus, there is that bottle. Judging by the photos, it looks gorgeous and I must say, I rather lust for it. Pure gold lettering and a gold metal cap with a Swarovski crystal. First in Fragrance has the full details on the very elaborate packaging:

Khôl de Bahreïn is presented in a transparent flacon with genuine gold lettering, gold cap and a small-faceted peach-coloured Swarovski crystal set on the stylized crown.

The 777 Metal cap 
A raised honeycomb pressed against a dome reminiscent of two architectures (Ottoman and Russian) where the sharp point brings to mind the summit, the sacred. The triple 7 is continued on the ring of the cap, it signifies: Spirituality, protection, luck. The figure 7 is the author’s fetish. The 777 logo is also engraved within the heart of the honeycomb. The raised facets represent work, determination and well-being. The significant weight of the cap imparts respect and strength. The cap is hand-milled, anodised and varnished.

777 Coffret by Stéphane Humbert Lucas
The box has been created using a double-coated black leather effect paper decorated with hot-stamped letters and logo. The 777 theme is taken up on the interior of the flap, followed by a short poem written by the author.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

So, to some extent, a good chunk of that €148/$203 price tag must stem from the packaging, but you shouldn’t forget about the Extrait concentration. Or the opulence of that iris butter which, frankly, probably costs more than any Swarovski crystals. When you consider that Tom Ford’s flimsy, anemic Atelier d’Orient eau de parfums are priced at $210 for the same size (but much simpler looking) bottle, Khol de Bahrein almost seems like a steal. And I won’t even bring up Armani’s suffocating, claustrophobic, painfully dull iris soliflore, Nuances, in its Privé Couture line. (It’s £500, if you’re interested.)

Is Khol de Bahrein a complicated, revolutionary, edgy scent? No. It’s not trying to be. It wants to be a refined, luxurious statement that reflects a Middle Eastern sensibility. As someone who has actually lived in the region, I found Khol de Bahrein to be as Middle Eastern as Guerlain — which is to say, not at all. However, it definitely reflects a French sensibility and the feel of French haute perfumerie. A highly refined scent with very expensive, pure ingredients that are blended seamlessly to create the feel of pampered luxuriousness. Plus, it happens to have cozily delicious parts on top of it all. If I were ever to wear an iris scent, it would probably be Khol de Bahrein. Really lovely!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Khol de Bahrein is an Extrait or pure parfum that comes only in a stunning 50 ml bottle that costs €148. I haven’t found any U.S. distributors for the scent. Stéphane Humbert Lucas’ website is under construction, and doesn’t have an e-store. Outside the U.S.: you can order Khol de Bahrein from First in Fragrance, though shipping will be delayed until after March 7th. They also offer a sample, and global shipping. Zurich’s Osswald also carries the line and lists Khol de Bahrein on its website, but I don’t think they have an e-store any more. The Swiss perfumery, Theodora, also has the perfume, but no e-store. In the Middle East, there is a UAE distributor called Sagma Corp that carries the full line, but they don’t have an e-store. However, you can buy Khol de Bahrein from Souq.com for AED 1,500. In Russia, Khol de Bahrein is available at Lenoma. It is also listed on the ry7 website, but I’m unclear as to its availability. Ukraine’s Sana Hunt Luxury store also carries it, but they don’t have an e-store. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells Khol de Bahrein starting at $4.75 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Roja Dove Diaghilev (The Imperial Collection)

A perfume with the feel of the past, concentrated as if distilled to its richest essence through the ravages of time, and brought back to life with a price tag from the future.

Source: Paris Gallery, UAE.

Source: Paris Gallery, UAE.

It’s hard to know where to begin in discussing Diaghilev, a 2013 release from the famous Roja Dove. The perfume has a history beyond just the ballet legend whose name it bears, a history that starts at an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in 2010, and indirectly goes back much further still to a Guerlain fragrance with which it shares enormous similarities for a good portion of its opening hours. Plus, Diaghilev has a huge buzz about it, and not solely because of the Roja Dove name, as you will soon see. Perhaps the real reason why I find it so hard to know where to begin is because I’m simply not moved by Diaghilev. No matter how many times I try it, I recognise its quality on an intellectual level, but it does absolutely nothing for me emotionally. From the first time I tried it last year in Paris, to repeated tests now… my emotions are always at a firm distance. 

Diaghilev is a pure parfum or extrait that was inspired by Serge or Sergei Diaghilev, the famous early 20th century ballet impresario who founded the legendary Ballets Russes. On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes the perfume and its notes as follows:

“Decadent Intoxicating Sophistication”

WARM, DRY, SWEET, FRUITY, SPICY, SOFT, & VERY SENSUAL

“I am immensely proud of this work. I love its rich opulence, its complexity and depth, volume, and sensuality. I was inspired by Diaghilev, one of the greatest creative forces of the twentieth century, who changed the world and totally re-wrote the rules – this creation is for exactly that type of person”. Roja Dove

Source: lth-hotels.com

Source: lth-hotels.com

INGREDIENTS
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Tarragon
HEART: Blackcurrant Buds, Heliotrope, Jasmine, Peach, Rose, Tuberose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Ambrette, Benzoin, Cedarwood, Civet, Clove, Cumin, Guaiacwood, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Nutmeg, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Peru Balsam, Sandalwood, Styrax, Vanilla, Vetiver.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Diaghilev opens on my skin with a flood of oakmoss on the most beautiful, animalic, castoreum-like base. The base is truly spectacular, especially in the opening 20 minutes. It’s like beautifully darkened, oiled leather with velvety, musky, dirty, and skanky undertones. There is no castoreum listed in Diaghilev, but it really smells like it to my nose. The raunchiness is kept in perfect balance; a touch sweet, urinous, and earthy all at once. It is not feral or fecal, but, rather, akin to the most gentlemanly dirtiness around. The musk is delicately dusted with earthy, dry, cumin, and infused with the sweetened, “fuzzy, warmed skin” characteristics of ambrette seeds (musk mallow).

"Novemthree" by Olaf Marshall. Source: vitaignescorpuslignum.blogspot.com

“Novemthree” by Olaf Marshall. Source: vitaignescorpuslignum.blogspot.com

The overall bouquet is a simply perfect base for the vista of green that lies atop it. There is the carpet of oakmoss that is dense, pungent, lightly fusty, vaguely oily and mushroomy, and wholly amazing in its viscosity. The greenness is underscored by the small bits of earthy vetiver, which dance at the edges next to an extremely bitter lime peel. I don’t know quite how Roja Dove has replicated the feel of vintage, real oakmoss so well, but he’s done it in spades with something that feels like juices from the past that have been reduced down to a darkened thickness.

Source: wallpaperuser.com

Source: wallpaperuser.com

In less than a few minutes, the colours change. A bright yellow arrives to dapple the mossy forest floor, followed by massive dabs of orange. The first is the bergamot, the second is the peach. The freshness of the former is a muted touch, while the heavy juices of the latter are quite noticeable on my skin indeed. The ripened fruit combines with the cumin to add to the fleshiness underlying Diaghilev, creating the image of musky, heated flesh that merely happens to be lying on a well-oiled leather couch made from castoreum in the midst of an oakmoss forest.

Jubilation 25. Photo: Basenotes.

Jubilation 25. Photo: Basenotes.

It’s all very lovely, and all massively familiar. This is Mitsouko parfum, in vintage form, reduced to the level of an attar in density, and thoroughly infused with Amouage‘s cumin-flecked Jubilation 25 (Women). Every minute of Diaghilev’s opening two hours on my skin feels like Mitsouko drenched with Jubilation, right down to the light dance of the very well-blended florals. At this point, Diaghilev’s florals are an abstract, seamless blur that are hard to pull apart, though the jasmine stands out the most. Again, like Jubilation. (And later, it is the ylang-ylang, which is again like Jubilation.) There is even a light flickering fizziness of something nebulous like aldehydes, the way I would experienced with old Mitsouko. By the way, if we’re talking about echoes of famous perfumes, there is also a fleeting, tiny kinship to the post-1989, cumin-y, vintage version of Femme by Rochas as well, though Diaghilev is darker, drier, greener, more leathered, and less fruited.

Most of those differences can be chalked up to Diaghilev’s substantially concentrated Extrait formulation. It is certainly explains why Diaghilev’s oakmoss is much more dense than it is in Jubilation 25. And I’m sure the skanky bits in the Amouage perfume would feel heavily leathered and resinous as well, if the perfume had been amped up by a 1000 to an extrait level the way Diaghilev has been.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

That said, I loved the opening 20 minutes of Diaghilev. The perfectly calibrated degree of cumin-y, skanky, leathered, castoreum-like velvetiness that rises up to bite you on the nose is glorious. And it’s so wonderful next to the dark oiliness of the heavy oakmoss, the earthy vetiver, and the bitter lime. The perfume has a real, substantial kick to it that makes it stand out at that point.

Unfortunately, the elegant meow of animalic bitchiness soon turns much more well-mannered, sedate and restrained in nature, as the dirty accords sink into the base. You can still detect them, quite easily if you sniff up close, but they blend into the overall blur of greenness that is dominated primarily by the dark, slightly fusty oakmoss with its peachy undertones. For me, by muffling the skanky whiffs, Roja Dove has de-fanged Diaghilev of its more modern, interesting touches, and moved the perfume squarely back a century to the well-bred, distant past.

Regardless, Diaghilev is a very nice, opulent, luxurious perfume in its opening stage. It is a perfectly seamless, extremely dense blend of green chypre notes with thick oakmoss, lime, bergamot, cumin, peach, amorphous florals, and touches of vetiver atop an oily castoreum-like, leathered, skanky base. It is monumentally heavy in feel at this point, as well, much to my great enthusiasm. Two big smears feel like the equivalent of 6 very large sprays of the most potent eau de parfum around.

Yet, to my surprise, the heavy Diaghilev wafts only 2-3 inches above the skin even in its opening. Spraying improved matters, but only moderately, by maybe another 2 inch at most. A friend and reader of the blog, “Tim,” was kind enough to send me a small spray atomizer of Diaghilev which I used in my 3rd test of the perfume, and there was no monumental increase in projection that I detected. The one difference is that spraying brought out the rose note after an hour, though it was still muted and muffled in that perfectly seamless blend of what really just seems like abstract “florals” from afar.

Source: 10wallpaper.com

Source: 10wallpaper.com

45 minutes into its development, Diaghilev drops in sillage, and also turns much softer in feel. 90 minutes in, the perfume loses even more of its body, heft and density. It’s primarily an oakmoss scent with sharp lime, bergamot, amorphous florals, peach, atop a velvety dark base just lightly flecked with cumin. Part of the problem in trying to dissect Diaghilev is that it’s so perfectly melded that it is really hard to separate out its tiny details at times. You get the plethora of greenness and the chypre elements up front, but many of the other notes lurk behind, peeking out in the most polite manner. And I’m only referring to 6 or 7 of Diaghilev’s 30 ingredients. The remainder is wholly subsumed within the larger whole.

At the end of the 2nd hour, however, I noticed new elements darting about, weaving their way through the top notes. Now, there is: clove, nutmeg, guaiac wood, mossy patchouli, and cedar. For about 5 minutes, there is even a really pretty touch of soft, earthy, delicate violets. Yet, with the exception of the new spices at hand, most of the elements were mere flickers and are not really a profound presence in a strong, individual, clearly delineated way.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Much more noticeable instead is the sudden arrival of the ylang-ylang with its custardy, vaguely banana-like, rich undertones. It adds a lovely touch to the pungency of the oakmoss, and is also a great contrast to the skanky, leathered, darkly oily base. I also really like the introduction of the spices, especially the cloves which add a subtle heat to the scent, enlivening it. The guaiac adds a subtle undertone of smokiness, while the cedar brings a tiny burst of pepperiness. The overall effect is to veer Diaghilev straight back into Jubilation’s arms.

Every time that I’ve tested Diaghilev, I noticed what feels like a transitional bridge period that starts always about 2 and a half hours into the perfume’s development. Diaghilev starts to lose its purely oakmoss-chypre focus, and begins the slow move towards an oriental scent. After having reviewed a handful of Roja Dove creations at this point, I get the strong sense that he seems happiest and most comfortable when making Chypre-Oriental hybrids. Many of his best and most beloved fragrances certainly start off as Chypres before turning into pure Orientals, like, for example, Puredistance M and the two Fetish Extraits. At the very least, I think we can agree that he’s a master at the split genre.

Here, the transition is gradual. The visuals are the first to change. It’s as though an oriental autumn has hit the green, oakmoss-covered peach trees and florals in the cumin-dusted forest with its skankily leathered floor. The dark greens are now heavily covered by rich, spiced, brown-reds and by velvety, custardy, ylang-ylang yellow. Sprinkles of white appear from sweetened vanillic powder, as the benzoins and tonka stir in the base. The subtle patchouli element pops up its head to inject a wine-red colour, taking on a liqueured, sweet, jammy richness. The woods encroach on the dominant moss and peach duo, as the guaiac and cedar crowd around, casting dark shadows. Bitter nutmeg is countered by the first traces of a sheer, gauzy wisp of smooth amber. 

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

Technically, it’s masterful, and theoretically, it should all be right up my alley. Yet, I’m unbelievably detached and disinterested. It’s not the sense of déja vu, but something that is very hard to explain. For me, Diaghilev feels like a technically perfect evocation of the classique tradition, but without a soul or a spark of passion in its depths. It’s like listening to a cover band who is playing all the right notes in a perfect rendition of some classic hit, but it doesn’t fresh, alive, distinctive, or individual. At least, it doesn’t for me. I feel as though I’m stuck in a room listening to Stephen Hawkings giving the most technically correct elucidation of theoretical physics… in Aramaic. Diaghilev’s soul simply gets lost in its correctness, its technical mastery, and in its translation of the past.

Vintage Ballet Russe poster. Source: Pinterest.

Vintage Ballet Russe poster. Source: Pinterest.

The perfume continues its march towards Orientalism. At the start of the 4th hour, Diaghilev is primarily a spicy cinnamon, clove and nutmeg dominated, abstract “floral” scent on my skin, with earthiness and woody elements over a leathered, castoreum-like base lightly infused with skanky civet, labdanum amber, and a whisper of warm ambrette muskiness. By the middle of the 5th hour, it is almost a skin scent that feels extremely abstract. Warm, musky, earthy, sweet, and spicy are the dominant elements. Soon, there is the sense of dry earthiness like soil that has been sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vetiver. Dancing at the edges is a dry, brown patchouli. The tiniest veins of labdanum amber, tonka vanilla, and musk run through it all like golden threads. Diaghilev is still strong if smelled up close with your nose on your skin, but it feels like a silken, brown-red sheath of earthy spiciness and sweetness, dappled at its base with musky skankiness from various accords.

At the start of the 7th hour, Diaghilev sets its course for the next few hours. It is primarily a gauzy, soft labdanum amber scent with abstract spices, skanky elements and a touch of vanilla powderiness. It remains that way for ages, until it finally turns into cinnamon, vanilla powder from the benzoins and tonka atop the thinnest smear of civet-y muskiness. In its dying moments, Diaghilev is merely spiced, sweet powder. All in all, Diaghilev consistently lasted over 14.5 hours on me when I applied moderate amounts, and over 16 or 17 hours with larger quantities.

"Copper abstract" by StarwaltDesign via deviantart.com. http://starwaltdesign.deviantart.com/art/Copper-Abstract-207268167

“Copper abstract” by StarwaltDesign via deviantart.com. http://starwaltdesign.deviantart.com/art/Copper-Abstract-207268167

It’s hard to review Diaghilev without bringing up its price. I never examine perfumes in a vacuum, but I usually state that price is an individual, wholly subjective assessment. That’s undoubtedly why most perfume bloggers rarely talk about the matter when assessing fragrances. However, when you have a perfume that costs over $1000 with tax — that retails for $990, €990 or £750 — then price becomes something more quantifiable and objectively critical. In fact, I’d argue that price becomes an integral part of the perfume’s fabric, as much as its notes or its olfactory genre. Intentionally so.

Roja Dove via his Twitter feed.

Roja Dove via his Twitter feed.

The basic bottom line seems to be that Roja Dove is aiming for a clientele that is part of the 1%. He’s aiming for the very rich, or, in the case of his special “Roja” perfume that costs well over $4,000, perhaps the super rich. He’s intentionally seeking exclusivity in a way that even Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the stratospherically expensive, legendary jeweler, isn’t trying to do with most of his JAR perfumes. It’s Roja Dove’s right to price his stuff as he sees fit, and there is no doubt that all his fragrances scream high-quality, expensive luxury. No doubt at all. But it is my right to think them over-priced at times, times like now.

I’ve pondered the issue of Diaghilev’s cost for days, and I can certainly see all the logical reasons why people would spend the money on it. But would I, even if I had the money to buy 10 Diaghilevs? I doubt it. I’ve thought about it in-depth, and I’m being honest. Diaghilev feels old in a way that never once crossed my mind when I wore Amouage’s Jubilation. I haven’t tried vintage Mitsouko in years, so I don’t know how I would feel about it now, but I never liked Mitsouko enough to be willing to spend $1000 on it. And, honestly, for me, the very best part of Diaghilev is its opening 20 minutes which are truly glorious. After that, when the skankiness subsumes itself into the base, it loses the one real spark of passion and distinctiveness that it exuded for me. It turns into a very expensive-smelling, beautifully crafted perfume that someone like Joan Collins would love. Glamourous, but dated.

Nijinsky and Pavlova, the two superstars of Les Ballets Russes. Vintage image. Source: jbtaylor.typepad.com

Nijinsky and Pavlova, the two superstars of Les Ballets Russes. Vintage image. Source: jbtaylor.typepad.com

There are quite a few reviews for Diaghilev out there, but the most fascinating one comes from The Non-Blonde. I will quote parts, but I encourage you to read the long review in its entirety, as it echoes many of my sentiments. And the opening two sentences are a doozy:

A very successful perfumer who’ll remain nameless described the perfumes from Roja Dove’s line as “belong in a museum”. After a few seconds of thought he added, “so does Roja”. I didn’t inquire further as to what specific aspect of Roja Dove’s public persona he was referring. Your guess is as good as mine. Diaghilev, a larger-than-life chypre is a perfect example for what the famous perfumer meant. Diaghilev, with its mélange of notes is so over the top that if I weren’t standing at the Bergdorf Goodman counter with the tester right in front of me when I first smelled it, I’d have thought (convinced even) that someone has mislabeled a vintage perfume sample. A very very vintage perfume. Something from the 1920s, perhaps, when leather, oakmoss, all the spices in the world, and a thick overripe floral bouquet could be thrown together and then worn in public without shame.

There’s cumin in the top notes which the husband detected immediately while my own skin smoothed it over. I can smell traces of many thick and plush perfume ideas, the ghosts of  famous perfumes the way they smelled back when Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Gish and Marlene Dietrich used to wear them. Diaghilev is rich, plush, and very animalic, padded with a thick layer of oakmoss that I can smell throughout the perfume’s development. It’s everything I can ask for in a scent. In a different time and place (ok, and a different personality) Diaghilev could have easily been a contender for my signature scent.

They no longer make them like that. They no longer sell them like that. And if you want to wear this type of perfumes you probably need to run with a very specific crowd who appreciate things like that. There aren’t all that many of us around these days, which is probably the reason that Diaghilev stands out so much and feels so shocking. You just don’t smell perfumes like this unless you’re well-versed in vintage perfumes. […]

Here’s the thing: Diaghilev is a magnificent perfume. It’s a very fitting tribute to Sergei Diaghilev and his uncompromising artistic vision. But I almost feel like an oblivious Gwyneth Paltrow prattling about in her GOOPy ways as I’m writing this, because it’s nearly impossible in this case to separate the excellent perfume from its positioning at the very top of the fragrance market. Roja Dove has made sure of that. [snip]

You should read her piece in full. In my case, I doubt I would be inspired to wear Diaghilev, whether it were gifted to me or cost $100. From the very first time I sniffed it at Jovoy around the time of its release, I shrugged and moved on. “Very well done, nice, but …. eh.” I suspect my problem is the lack of strong personality, and not the very dated, “museum” feel of the perfume. I love vintage perfumes, but this feels far too well-bred, dull, and old. Plus, given how very little time I have to wear perfume for myself these days, I would never waste a precious “free day” on Diaghilev. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. (The fascinating Jubilation 25, however, would be a very different matter….)

Diaghilev, the original EDT limited-edition bottle.

Diaghilev, the original EDT limited-edition bottle.

Speaking of museums, there is an important issue I need to cover: the original Diaghilev. A few commentators to the Non-Blonde’s post brought up the fact that Diaghilev was originally released in 2010 as part of an exhibition that commemorating Les Ballets Russes at the Victoria & Albert museum. It was a limited-edition fragrance which cost £75, and supposedly only 1000 bottles were released, though there is mention of Roja Dove selling refills in huge 250 ml aluminium bottles on his website. I paused at the comments, like the one talking about “the earlier EDP version’s affordability” and how it felt like “naked manipulation of the consumer.” And I very much agreed. It seemed like bloody cheek for a man to sell a perfume for £75, but then, 3 years later, stick the exact same thing into a crystal-capped bottle and sell it for exactly ten times as much at £750. It seemed outrageous, as if he were pulling the wool over your eyes, while laughing all the way to the bank.

Except that is not what actually happened. I did some digging, and the facts are different. It’s true, as Roja Dove discusses in old blog posts on his website, he made Diaghilev for the exhibition and, yes, he did release it back the for a substantially lower price. There are two key differences, however, between the original Diaghilev and the one released in 2013. For one thing, the original was an eau de parfum, though a number of people also state that it was a mere eau de toilette. Regardless, the new one is an Extrait, and, as noted, has the dense viscosity of an oil in feel, at least in the first few hours. For another, the current Diaghilev is supposedly remastered and changed.

The website, Cosmetopica, writes about that last fact in a glowing review for the new Diaghilev where she also explains the differences between the versions. Her article reads, in part, as follows:

Why the change, I asked Roja’s PR? Because Roja visited the Kremlin, he said. Once he got to Russia, he completely reformulated his ideas about Diaghilev and his oeuvre, and the perfume had to change with it.

The immediate effect of the opening notes of the ‘new’ Diaghilev is identical to the ‘old’ Diaghilev but it only lasts a second before there is then a massive bloom of citrus like falling head-first into a vat of bergamot. You might not get out alive, but it would be a good way to go. To this untutored nose, the citrus melange smelt above all like tangerines (a note that I see is absent). It is also strong enough to knock a horse over at 20 paces.

This phase of the perfume lasts a good 30 minutes – a very long time for citrus – and is fabulously rich and oily, not light and sparkling. […] [It] has the richness of the real deal, due to its use of natural materials in abundance.

I loved this phase of the fragrance, but it got even better in the second act. The floral heart emerges over time like a full orchestra tuning up and to be honest, I found it impossible to pick out the notes. It is at this point that the fragrance morphs back into the character of the original Diaghilev – true, old-style grand perfumerie. Ten hours later, it’s still going strong, wafting up from your clothing whenever you move or sweat, but “curiously well-behaved,”[.]

The next morning, the animalic facets are still there, which I love. I like a bit of skank in a perfume […] So the base notes of civet and musk that hang around for about 24 hours on clothing are just fine by me. […]

Source: scent-intoxique.com

Source: scent-intoxique.com

As for the issue of Mitsouko, Cosmetopica writes:

Diaghilev mark 1 smells like Mitsouko should and no longer does, and that, apparently, is no accident. Having read that Diaghilev the man used to spray his curtains with Mitsouko, this is partly Dove’s interpretation of what that atmosphere must have been like.

Does it smell like Mitsouko? Well no. It smells like a Guerlain we haven’t met yet – no accident, I guess, given that Dove worked for the company before it was swallowed up, masticated and vomited back out by LVMH.

I agree that it doesn’t smell purely and wholly like Mitsouko. However, to me, it starts off strongly as a mix of Mitsouko with Jubilation 25 (Women), before eventually shrugging off the Guerlain and turning more into Amouage territory. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. On Fragrantica’s page for Jubilation, 8 people noted a resemblance to Diaghilev, while 3 voted for Mitsouko. There are the same 8 votes for Jubilation on the actual Diaghilev entry as well.

On Fragrantica, the reviews for Roja Dove’s creation are almost all uniformly admiring. The shortest, flattest comment comes from one person who writes simply, “If Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit met and had a baby, their offspring would be Diaghilev.” Others, however, wax rhapsodic. Here are two of the shorter reviews representing the general consensus:

  • As usually with Roja Dove’s fragrances, Diaghilev as well is strongly inspired by big fragrances of the past. In this case, the old-fashioned chypre structure, comes directly from huge compositions such as Mitsouko and Sous Le Vent. A wonderful fizzy citrusy opening evolving into an extremely refined floral middle phase to then turn into a fresh and rich mossy vetiver drydown which is not so distant from the latest phases of Onda Extrait. [¶] The level of appreciation of Diaghilev is strongly related to one’s personal preference towards extremely classic fragrances. That said, if you like the genre, this is one of the best chypres currently available on the market.
  • Insanely opulent and suave chypre that, hilariously, reminds me of Aromatics Elixir. A smooth oak moss flanked by top-shelf patchouli and vetiver with minuscule touches of citrus and culinary herbs floating around. Ambrette and civet are present, but highly civilized; many of the myriad fruit / floral notes are there, but not prominent enough to isolate. The whole thing is big, round, and undeniably impressive, but it’s hard not to snicker at the kind of over-the-top luxury it’s signifying. Excellent, beautiful, stunning, and a tad ridiculous. [¶] Break out your Liberace furs and bling, slap some of this on, then go stomp around the neighborhood like you *own* the damn place.
Source: 10wallpaper.com

Source: 10wallpaper.com

Both those reviews come from men, by the way, which should alleviate any concerns that you may have that Diaghilev is a woman’s fragrance. As for the price, well, a good response comes from “Tymanski,” my friend who so generously sent me a small atomizer from his own bottle:

i never EVER thought i would even contemplate spending a week’s pay on a bottle of perfume. i made the fateful step of trying this juice out the other day and over the course of the day this smell just got better & better & better. i was extremely sceptical of roja dove – tried several and thought “what’s this guy pulling here”, but with Diaghilev, i take it all back. this is just spectacular on every level. a chypre of such depth, elegance, balance, simply a perfect fragrance. i am not going to start with notes, as this is prodigiously complex; i will say that the rose middle is the finest i’ve ever smelled. the sillage is quite discrete but very solid, and longevity is where it should be for an 850 euro (!!!) parfum. the long drydown has a beguiling affinity with amouage epic man (another favouite). some say this is similar to vintage mitsouko, i really can’t say. it does embody everything i love about chypres in the end, i was seduced.

The bottom line for you is that you should seek out a sample of Diaghilev if you’re a lover of rich chypres, vintage perfumes, Mitsouko, Jubilation 25, and/or very heavy, strongly classical fragrances. Do it for the experience, particularly you’re relatively new to perfumery and want to learn about opulent chypres done in the vintage manner. (Consider it an expensive educational lesson, if you will.) For those who don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories, I am somewhat dubious as to your reaction. I suspect that you might find Diaghilev overly heavy, very dated and museum-like indeed.

As to what will happen once you smell it, well, then the issue of price will come back to bite you squarely on the nose. You will either: be unable to separate the issue of the cost from the smell, much like The Non-Blonde; think Diaghilev is worth it and be in a quandary; or be like me and intellectually recognize Diaghilev’s quality, but be utterly unmoved nonetheless. One thing is absolutely certain, though: the price tag is the 800-pound gorilla in Diaghilev’s room. £750 to be precise.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Diaghilev is a pure parfum or Extrait which is available in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size which costs $990, €990 or £750. In the U.S.: Diaghilev is carried by New York’s Osswald and Bergdorf Goodman. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Diaghilev from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London, from Harrod’s online, or from Roja Dove’s e-store at Roja Parfums. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Parfums and sells Diaghilev for €990. In the UAE, the Paris Gallery has Diaghilev for AED 5,175. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. By the way, in Russia, Roja Dove is supposed to be at Moscow’s tsUM, but I couldn’t find the brand listed on their website when I did a search. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: I purchased my main, core sample. It came from Surrender to Chance which sells Diaghilev starting at $7.49 for a 1/4 ml vial.

Parfums de Nicolaï Sacrebleu Intense

Some perfumes have a quiet prettiness that weave their way around you over time, or that touch you with a feeling of comforting familiarity. Sometimes, they are also about a study in contrasts, contradictions that work together seamlessly in a way that becomes more important than the individual notes. Sacrebleu Intense from the Guerlain descendent, Patricia de Nicolaï, and her company, Parfums de Nicolaï, is one of those perfumes.

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

It is an eau de parfum that appealed to me the first time I smelled it, but it didn’t bowl me over and throw me into a state of maddened lust. It still doesn’t, if truth be told, but Sacrebleu Intense quietly squirreled its way into my thoughts, and I ended up succumbing to a relatively blind buy months after the fact. It has a quiet solidity and classical appeal with just enough of a nod to the past to be comforting at times.

What I like is the feeling of contrasts that have been superbly blended into a seamless whole. There is sticky, chewy darkness, but also, airy, white sweetness. Bitter green leafiness lies side-by-side with boldly fiery, red cloves, brown cinnamon, smoky blacks, and twiggy, petitgrain, neroli orange-browns. Sometimes, the contrasts are just about the stark black and whites: black licorice and smoke, against white Church incense and spicy red carnation. Sometimes, they are about gender, as femininity collides with touches of masculinity. Often, they are about boldness and strength mixed with refined quietness; or the contradictions of weightless heaviness.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense is about all those things. It is fierce and potent, but understated and quietly elegant. It is a nod to the past that is also very modern. It has a simple beauty whose appeal grows stronger with time, and it manages to stay in your head, long after you’ve smelled it. At least, that was the case for me. I first encountered the perfume in Paris where I was trying the full Parfums de Nicolaï‘s line at one of her shops. (From this point out, I hope you will forgive me if I spell Nicolaï as just “Nicolai” for reasons of speed and convenience, as it takes a while to put on the dots, or Trema.)

Sacrebleu Intense stood out immediately amidst the Nicolai offerings. A few of the other scents were pretty, but too subdued or restrained. A good number felt too damn thin by half, but Sacrebleu Intense made me do a wee, tiny double-take, and I sniffed my wrists appreciatively. However, I almost never trust first impressions and needed a sample to test to see how it would develop over time, especially on my wonky skin. Unfortunately, the Parfums de Nicolai line doesn’t seem to believe in that practice, and I was always told, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any vials.” So, I skipped it. Upon my return to America, though, the memory of Sacrebleu Intense nagged away at me for months. I finally said, “to hell with it,” and ordered a bottle.

Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

I did so for one reason, and one reason only. Every time I had tested Sacrebleu Intense, the same thought rang in my head: “L’Heure Bleue. This is a definite nod to L’Heure Bleue, only it’s more modern, fruitier, with different spices, and possibly a more unisex feel.” Now, vintage L’Heure Bleue is one of my two, absolute favorite Guerlain scents. In fact, it is only fickleness and a slightly fiercer love for vintage Shalimar that prevents L’Heure Bleue from ranking as my favorite Guerlain of all. Plus, vintage L’Heure Bleue can be a wee bit powdery for my tastes, though none of it matters in the face of the reformulated modern version. Sacrebleu Intense reminds me of vintage L’Heure Bleu, though with enough differences for it to be its own scent. It feels more modern, and not as wistful in nature.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

The strong connection to one of Guerlain’s masterpieces should come as no surprise to anyone who knows about Patricia de Nicolai‘s background. I’ve written about how she is part of the Guerlain family, a grand-daughter of the house’s founder, Pierre Guerlain, a niece to Jean-Jacques Guerlain, and a relative of the famed nose and current Guerlain family patriarch, Jean-Paul Guerlain. Madame de Nicolai is also on record as saying that she absolutely loves L’Heure Bleue, though she stopped just short of saying that it is the Guerlain scent that has had the most impact on her own perfumery. Still, her love of L’Heure Bleue shines through in Sacrebleu Intense, though I have to emphasize that I think they are very different scents at their heart.

Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that was released in 2008. It seems to have been intended as a bolder version of the original Sacrebleu which has now been discontinued, though I’ve also read in one place that the Intense was meant to highlight the floral notes more than the original. According to Fragrantica and Luckyscent, Sacrebleu Intense has:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries and fruity notes; Middle notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon and jasmine; Base notes: peru balsam, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, olibanum [myrrh], woody notes and vanilla..

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Sacrebleu Intense opens on my skin with massive amounts of carnation cloves, followed by cinnamon, dark resins, and green notes. There is a strong spiciness to  the scent beyond just the cloves, a sort of piquancy that makes me think of peppery, fuzzy geranium leaves, as well as of bitter neroli and petitgrain. Petitgrain is a citrus tree’s twigs, distilled down into the bitter, pungent woody, masculine notes, while neroli is a different method of distilling the trees’ orange blossoms. Honestly, on my skin, I don’t smell mandarin oranges in their traditional, sweet, sun-ripened juiciness. There is the strong bitterness of neroli, and the woodiness of petitgrain instead.

FrankincenseThere are other elements as well. Lurking in the base is a black, leathery smokiness from the styrax, the least sweet of all the resins or benzoin-like notes. There is also a heavy presence of olibanum or myrrh. It is nothing like the High Church, soapy, chilly, dusty character that it usually manifests, at least not yet. Instead, it smells like chewy black licorice with a hint of anise. There is a definite sense of smokiness, though. A sweet incense note that feels like sweet myrrh, rather than pure, dry, black frankincense.

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

The odd thing is the nature of the floral notes. I’ve worn Sacrebleu Intense a few times, and only once did I ever really detect tuberose. It was brief, very muted, and had a slightly rubbery, black undertone to it. However, the tuberose was so thoroughly blended into the other elements, it was extremely hard to pick out and I don’t think it lasted for more than perhaps 10 minutes at best. The main flower on my skin instead is always the carnation, though it is barely floral at all. Carnations can take on a peppered rose aroma or a clove-like one, and it is the latter which shows up on my skin. In fact, Sacrebleu Intense is heavy cloves from start almost to finish, with only a touch of actual carnation.

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

I keep imagining a clove flower with a spicy neroli heart, bitter petitgrain twigs and peppery, pungent, green geranium leaves, all dusted with cinnamon. The “flower” grows out of soil made from black licorice and the stickiest, chewiest, balsamic resin around. It’s a base that is faintly leathered and smoky, but the main impression is of bitter fruits heavily dusted with cinnamon and cloves.

For the most part, Sacrebleu remains that way for the majority of its long life on my skin. This is a fragrance that is beautifully blended, and each time I wear it, different parts seem to be emphasized alongside the clove carnation. Never the tuberose, but the green bits and the smokiness seem to fluctuate in degree. On one occasion, all that came to mind was black, chewy, resinous smokiness on a white, airy background that felt only vaguely fruited and was heavily dusted with spices instead. As a whole, Sacrebleu Intense is a scent that is very hard to pull apart. The notes move into each other seamlessly, and, as indicated, that makes the perfume a bit linear in nature. For that reason, this review will be a little different than most of mine, and will focus mainly on the perfume’s overall development and feel.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

The one thing that does change (and is quite constant each time I wear Sacrebleu Intense) is the touch of powderiness that creeps in after a while. When it precisely occurs seems to vary, and I’ve noticed that one arm (my right, which is not my usual testing arm) reflects very little of it as compared to the other, but there is always some degree of powder. At first, it’s only a subtle touch that is almost iris-like at times. It’s definitely sweetened powder, and its combination with the bitter neroli and petitgrain-like accord creates a distinct impression of Pez candy. A sort of Sweet-Tarts or Pez powderiness, if that makes sense.

I have to admit, I’m not very keen on it, and I become less keen as time passes because it turns into quite a distinct myrrh incense note that I always struggle with. It’s a spiced, slightly dusty powderiness, though much more sweetened than most High Church incense fragrances. As regular readers know, I’m not particularly enthused by High Church or Catholic Mass tonalities, let alone powder, so I must admit, I struggle a little with Sacrebleu after about 5 or 6 hours. Still, as noted earlier, the perfume is well-blended and there are enough spicy clove, carnation, and resinous elements to make up for it.

 Source: darulkutub.co.uk

Source: darulkutub.co.uk

In its final stage, Sacrebleu Intense is a blend of myrrh incense, spiciness, and sweetened Pez powder, lightly flecked with bitterness and a hint of something vaguely fruity. In its last moments, it’s powdered sweetness and myrrh. I like it… from afar and as long as I don’t smell it up close too much.

All in all, Sacrebleu Intense consistently lasts 12 hours or more on my wonky skin, depending on how much I apply. It generally becomes a skin scent about 4-5 hours into its development, though it requires absolutely no effort whatsoever to detect the perfume if you bring your nose near your arm. Furthermore, you can push both time frames if you spray on a lot. With 3 big sprays, I once experienced a 14 hour duration, even though I had to put my nose on my skin and sniff extremely hard to detect the faint traces after the 12th hour.

I’m glad I bought Sacrebleu Intense, though I have mixed feelings about the drydown stage. In fact, if some of my discussion sounds a little like blind buyer’s remorse, there is that on occasion, but only because I really don’t like Churchy myrrh incense or powder. That said, there is something about the opening moments of Sacrebleu Intense that really compensates for it all.

I can’t really explain in any logical way except to say that there is a mood and feeling which overcomes a lot of the sticky details down the road. Something about Sacrebleu Intense feels like elegant familiarity, perhaps because of that distant, tiny kinship to L’Heure Bleue. It’s such a classic, refined scent that it makes me feel as though I should sit up straighter, put on my best clothes, and get ready for a garden party. It feels like something suited for High Tea at the Plaza Athenée, or a walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg near the Louvre. It lacks the va-va-voom luxuriousness of vintage Shalimar, or the emotional power of vintage L’Heure Bleue‘s haunting melancholy, but Sacrebleu Intense has a definite, quiet charm.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense doesn’t take me back in time or feel dated. I don’t feel as though I belonged in the 1920s or 1950s. Perhaps because there is an airiness to the scent that seems to belie the strength and potency of its spicy, piquant notes. It doesn’t feel opulently heavy at all, to the point that I don’t think of luxuriousness when I think of Sacrebleu Intense. Rather, I think of spiciness — intense spiciness and resins. Peppered, resinous, smoky, chewy blackness and white daintiness, speckled with every shade of red, brown and green.

In some ways, Sacrebleu Intense feels a little like an attractive girl whose appeal grows stronger over time. She may not blow you away at first, and, in fact, she may not even sweep you off your feet after you’ve known her for years, either. But you’d definitely miss her if she weren’t around, and, whenever you’re with her, you enjoy the experience. Something about her stays with you — her good humoured spiciness, perhaps — and you can’t forget how comfortable she makes you feel.

Almost all the blog reviews out there are for Sacrebleu, the original, and not for Sacrebleu Intense. There is said to be a difference. It’s not only that Sacrebleu was an eau de toilette, while the Intense is an eau de parfum, but the notes seem to be different. The original is said to have included: black currant bud, peach blossom, jasmine, tuberose, vanilla, tonka bean and incense. I also vaguely remember one Parfums de Nicolai sales lady telling me that the focus of the two scents is different, though for the life of me, I cannot now recall how.

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

The one blog review for Sacrebleu Intense comes from Nathan Branch who writes:

For a couple of hours, Sacrebleu Intense is mesmerizingly beautiful — rich, full, deep . . . like a roomful of cellists all playing the same sad, sweet song, but then everything starts to sound (or, in this case, smell) a little off — too much noise, too many notes crammed up close together and discordantly overlapping.

It’s a shame, too, because when the stuff is pulling together it really shines, but the last half of the scent’s lifespan is a sloppy mess — well, until you hit the patchouli/balsam drydown, which deserves some praise.

Maybe the original, less pumped-up Sacrebleu is better, less messy, than this Intense version?

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

On Basenotes, one person has the following thoughts on the two versions:

Sweet but not fruity once the initial orange has departed. Close to, the jasmin is not wholly evident, but floats a nose- distance away until displaced by carnation (not cloves). The cinnamon is a mere hint (according to the assistant in PdN in Paris the ‘intense’ version has vanilla instead of cinnamon, but it’s still there to me). Overall less spicy than sacrebleu and therefore easier to wear. Intense is an edp rather than the original sacrebleu which is an edt. However the difference is not just in the concentration, they smell noticeably different, so worth trying both

As a whole, forum and website reviews for Sacrebleu Intense are mixed, with the vast majority being very positive in nature. I also think the reason for the split is that Sacrebleu Intense is a perfume best suited to those with specific tastes, starting with an appreciation for L’Heure Bleue. After that, ideally, you’d love a heaping amount of cinnamon, myrrh incense, and the bitter petitgrain and neroli aspects of orange. It might also help if you like Pez powder or Smarties, the latter being a comparison that was raised in two Fragrantica reviews.

One Fragrantica commentator, “vitabhaya,” has what I think is a good summation of Sacrebleu Intense:

Call me nuts, but the topnotes on this smell like a blend of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Smarties–you know, those colored, super-sweet candies that come in a roll. It is melancholy but energizing, sweet yet with a great mellow depth, really a mezmerizing fragrance.

After an hour or two, the tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood and olibanum lilt along the edge of a vanilla that is neither quite sweet nor spicy. It feels rich, sensual and downright sexy. It reminds me of late afternoon sun drifting through the curtains after a lover’s rendevous. There is something hypnotic about this blend, and I find myself lingering with my arm up to my nose long enough to wonder how long I’ve held this pose. Suddenly I feel as if I enjoy the longing for past lovers for pure memories’ sake. I cannot at this point decide if it is slightly melancholy (L’Heure Bleue?) or if it is rather dusky and languid. Oooooh, how I love it!

This goes on the “must have” list.

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Other Fragrantica commentators seem equally enamoured, with one saying that Sacrebleu Intense had replaced L’Heure Bleu in her heart:

  • For a very long time, since we first met in a candy-box perfumery in Salzburg decades ago, L’Heure Bleue was my absolute favourite scent of all. With all due respect and nostalgia, the Pefume Queen’s Throne in my heart is now occupied by another sovereigh: Sacrebleu. (Especially that L’Heure Bleue’s new formula does not have the perfection of its predecessor.) It is the softest, most embracing, soothing, calming scent about, and I absolutely enjoy its elegant velvety dark character. Mind you, Sacrebleu’s darkness is not menacing, it’s mistery is not dangerous. It is a peaceful night, when you know you are safe, loved and can relax without a hint of worry and care. It is related to L’Heure Bleue, but more modern, less melancholy and much more life-affirming. [¶] To my nose and mind this scent is so perfect, that while wearing it I never once try to isolate it’s notes…it is a perfect harmony, and I don’t care the least what single notes make up this wonderful olfactory symphony. Truly wonderful!
  • I think Sacrebleu Intense is one of the sophisticated and finest scents I have sniffed. Very feminine [….]  I do not get candies from Sacre Bleu, but sacred feel yess. I have also L´heure Bleue and this might be kinda sister, but they are standing quite far from each others. Sacrebleu is more sensitive…. but eaven if she is sensitive do not take her to be not strong!
  • Prepare yourself to be granted a sweet redemption, to gain a second or third youth, to leave the ground and premises in bliss… [¶] Concentrate on happiness! […][¶] Olibanum and Peru Balsam control the -harsh- tubereuse. Carnation and Tonka Bean rule over the omnipresent cinnamon. Mandarin, Jasmin and Sandal turn your face to the light! [¶] Sacrebleu Intense has lifted me with joy.
  • I got this sample from the lovely Carnation. I smell hot spice! This is warm and intense and perfect for me. There is a sweetness to it that could be vanilla but its not cloying. This is a perfect combination of the things I love, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vanilla and Spice (must be the cinnamon) I love it!
Photo: mypham.us

Photo: mypham.us

One male commentator loved Sacrebleu as well, writing:

A fruit and floral aroma that embraces you with power, quality and exuberance.
The heart is beautifully made of jasmine and tuberose, going to a soft side of the fragrance, surrounded by peru balm, olibanum (frankincense), woods and a delightful vanilla.
It starts completely feminine and then, goes to a more unisex scent during its evolution on the skin. Fierce yet delicate, strong yet romantic…nice work!

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

However, not everyone was quite as thrilled, whether from the fruit or the spices. In fact, I think the following comments underscore the importance of a love for cinnamon, not to mention skin chemistry, of course:

  •  very fruity and sweet. vitabhaya mentions Smarties and L’heure Bleue. I agree about the Smarties, but feel it’s only got a nod in passing from L’Heure Bleue. I purchased a sample because I love cinnamon and hoped for more cinnamon/carnation effect – but fruit tends to overwhelm my nose. Should have checked more carefully, because the top notes are all fruity, and they tend to hang around. Altogether not bad, won’t be one of my favourits, though.
  • Sweet,juicy fruity opening,but I could not detect any spices throughout this at all. […] It’s probably one of the worst I have smelled-cloying and rubbery would describe this perfectly.
  • I get cinnamon, but the horrid thing is that on my skin it smells like a cheap cinnamon candle. [¶] You ever been to a candle store, and then felt a bit yuck after smelling a tonne of candles? That’s this scent on my skin, unfortunately.
  • Hmmm, no. Opening is sweet orange, then comes cinnamon that has a very synthetic feel to me. A whisper of flowers, then some Tonka in the dry down. Average longevity and projection. L’huere bleu made me realize that I have a strong desire to smell like carnations and I was hoping this would be an interesting, well rounded composition with a clear carnation note, but it seems to have been hidden by the cinnamon. So disappointed.

On my skin, as noted, the clove-like smell of the carnations was far more dominant, but Sacrebleu Intense has a few resins or benzoins that can manifest a cinnamon side. Given that the perfume contains actual cinnamon as well, then you bloody well better like the spice if you’re going to try the perfume!

You should also like strong perfumes. On Surrender to Chance, one person commented that they liked the juicy, fruity opening but that Sacrebleu Intense was “too strong.” Well, it is, but that’s why I gravitated towards it, instead of the thinner scents in the line. Sacrebleu Intense is definitely a scent for those who like their fragrances to be bold and full-bodied.

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

One of the big positives about Sacrebleu Intense, and the Parfums de Nicolai line in general, is affordability. There is always a small 30 ml size which is very reasonably priced. For Sacrebleu Intense, the 1 oz size costs $65 or €51. It may be too tiny for some, but it’s great if you have a vast number of scents in your collection, or if you just don’t want to spend a fortune on perfume. Plus, as noted earlier, a little Sacrebleu Intense goes a long, long way.

Lastly, I think Sacrebleu Intense skews a little feminine, but not overly so and really only at the start. The incense, resins, spices and piquant neroli certainly make it very unisex in nature. My only hesitancy is the slight powderiness of the scent. It’s not at Guerlainade levels, and is much more myrrh-based in nature, but it’s something to keep in mind.

All in all, if you’re looking for a more spicy, modern version of L’Heure Bleue that is strongly centered on carnations with orange and neroli, dark smokiness that turns to white myrrh incense, and very piquant green leafiness, you may want to give Sacrebleu Intense a sniff.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes. There is a tiny 30 ml/1 oz bottle that costs $65 or €51, and there is a large 100 ml/3.3 oz bottle that costs $165 or €153. As a side note, I think that there might have been a recent price increase for the Nicolai line, as I see a number of sites selling the large bottle for $185 now.  In the U.S.: Luckyscent sells both sizes of the perfume, with the large one at the old price of $165, and also offers samples. Beautyhabit sells the small and large sizes of Sacrebleu Intense at the same price. In New York, the New London Pharmacy is selling the 100 ml bottle for $150 on its website. OsswaldNY lists the 100 ml bottle as retailing for $190, which is way above retail, but is currently discounting the large bottle for $150. Parfum1 sells the large 100 ml bottle for the new price of $185. Outside the U.S.: For Canadian readers, the US-based Perfume Shoppe sells the small 30 ml size for US$65, and you can email them to ask about Canadian pricing. Their Canadian website offers Sacrebleu Intense in a 4ml travel spray for CAD$30. In the U.K., Parfums de Nicolaï has a shop in London on Fulham Road. You can check the Store Link below for the exact address. For all European readers, you can order directly from Parfums de Nicolaï which sells Sacrebleu Intense in both sizes for €51 and €153, respectively. In France, the company has numerous boutiques, especially in Paris. First in Fragrance sells the large 100 ml bottle for €152. In the Netherlands, ParfuMaria carries both sizes of Sacrebleu Intense, as does Annindriya’s Perfume Lounge. In Spain, I found the perfume listed in the 30 ml size at Ruiz de Ocenda for €52. In Hungary, you can find the perfume at Neroli, and in Russia, there are a lot of retailers but one of them is Eleven7. For other locations in France and the one store in London, you can turn to the Nicolai Store Listing. It doesn’t show any vendors outside France or the UK. I found nothing in Asia, the Middle East, or Australia. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Sacrebleu Intense starting at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.

Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin: Baroque Grandeur

Blenheim Palace. Photo: WilowbrookParkBlogspot.com (Website link embedded within.)

One small part of Blenheim Palace, England. Photo: WillowbrookPark.Blogspot.com (Website link embedded within.)

Somewhere in an alternate universe, there must surely be a European palace that smells of Chypre Palatin. The massive, stony Neo-Classical structure opens onto a vast entrance hall decorated with mossy, emerald velvet and gold in an opulently ornate Baroque and Rococo style. An enormous chandelier hangs from the vaulted ceilings painted in citrus yellow, ambered gold, delicately pastel florals, and more mossy greens. Light sparkles off the prisms, bouncing into ambered air filled with just a trace of incense.

Photo: Andrew Yee for How To Spend It Magazine via FashionGoneRogue.com

Photo: Andrew Yee for How To Spend It Magazine via FashionGoneRogue.com

The vast hall gives way to a long, mirrored passage way filled with dancing ghosts called Shalimar, Bal à Versailles, Sacrebleu Intense, Coromandel, Habit Rouge. and Yvresse/Champagne. They blow you scented kisses, and the aroma melts into the citrus and mosses that waft off the velvet covering the walls, mixing with the vanilla that seeps up from the floors. The Bal à Versailles ghost is particularly naughty, flashing you her knickers and a glimpse of her musky, naked breasts. It seems as though you’re in that ornate passageway forever, but after a few hours you enter the heart of the house. The royal bedchambers are decorated with more velvet, this time in shades of resinous black, vanilla custard cream, golden amber, and refined patchouli brown. There, you curl up to sleep, covered in aromas like the finest, sheerest, but richest, silks that glide over you in a whisper of softened, ambered sweetness. That is the palace of Chypre Palatin.

Drottningholm Palace, Sweden. Photo: CubeFarmEscape at http://cubefarmescape.com/2011/06/pick-a-palace-or-two/

Drottningholm Palace, Sweden. Photo: CubeFarmEscape at http://cubefarmescape.com/2011/06/pick-a-palace-or-two/

Chypre Palatin is an eau de parfum created by the famous Bertrand Duchaufour for Parfums MDCI. The French niche house was founded in 2003 by Claude Marchal with a specific philosophy: that perfumes “should be an art more than an industry, a source of pleasure, pride and beauty more than a commodity.” Mr. Marchal was inspired by the luxurious opulence of the Renaissance, and the masterpieces that came out of it: the palaces of Catherine de Medici; the lush gardens of the Luxembourg; Greek and Roman antiquities; gold and rock-crystal vases; the vast treasures of Louis XIV, the Sun King, or those found in Florence’s Uffizi museum and Vienna’s Treasure Room.

Parfums MDCI decided to ask the world’s most famous perfumers to make a small number of fragrances with almost total freedom, and a no-holds-barred, unlimited budget. There were only two caveats: use the most expensive, richest ingredients possible; and don’t create scents that copy trends or caters to the crowd. The cost didn’t matter, but excellence did, no matter how long it took. Parfums MDCI is not one of those houses that puts out several fragrances at year, let alone several collections every few months. (Tom Ford, I’m glaring straight at you.) In fact, Parfums MDCI had only 5 fragrances in their line at first, but the number has slowly risen over the years to include 8 more scents. Chypre Palatin was released in 2012 and, as noted earlier, was made by Bertrand Duchaufour.

Chypre Palatin, regular Tassel Bottle. Source: First in Fragrance.

Chypre Palatin, regular Tassel Bottle. Source: First in Fragrance.

First in Fragrance has what looks like the official press release description for Chypre Palatin, as well as the most complete set of notes that I’ve found. I think the description is accurate to large degree, so I’ll quote it in full, even though it is quite long:

The opening is green, a warm, woody and strong green, peppered with a few hyacinths, garnished with the fragrant ripe flesh of clementines, spiced with a sprig of lavender and a hint of thyme. All this creates cozy, warm frissons, intrigues and generates a great appetite for more.

The skilled use of aldehydes lets Chypre Palatin shine, but without getting into too-familiar waters. We can already imagine the soft growl of a wild cat. She lolls pleasurably, full of devotion and delight on the sun-warmed forest floor, crushing the dark velvety roses, iris, gardenia and jasmine. It is so mysterious that our senses are in turmoil. Here and there, dried fruit and peppery Oriental spices join this lascivious game of the lioness as her birth-giving becomes more enticing and the fire blazes.

Here is masculine animality and feminine lust perfectly united and masterfully enacted. It is an indulgence and a stroll in brocade and velvet, courted by the most beautiful leather and the delicate touch of Immortelle. Balsam of Tolu and vanilla show themselves along with the extreme complexity of benzoin and storax that perfectly harmonize with typical chypre oak moss.

Chypre Palatine seems to have fallen directly through time where nostalgic, magnificent ball-nights combine with wild cat-like grace and flirt with the melting of feminine and masculine fragrant notes on the skin.

Top Note: Hyacinth, Clementine, Aldehydes, Labdanum (Rockrose), Galbanum, Thyme, Lavender
Heart Note: Rose, Jasmine, Iris, Prune, Gardenia
Base Note: Benzoin, Storax, Leather, Vanilla, Balsam of Tolu, Castoreum, Costus, Oakmoss, Everlasting Flower [Immortelle].

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

Chypre Palatin opens on my skin with mossy sharpness infused with bright, sun-sweetened tangerines, zesty lemon, and tons of smoky sweetness from the styrax resin, along with a hint of its leathered underpinnings. In the base, there is a rich plumminess mixed with incense and leather. A quiet floracy weaves through the top notes, though it’s impossible at this point to tease them out. Seconds later, the castoreum and animalic costus root arrive. Costus root is something that gave vintage Kouros is urinous growl, but here, it add a civet-like muskiness that is perfectly balanced. Sharp and definitely a bit skanky, but never urinous. It’s damn sexy. My God, is this a sexy perfume.

Galbanum

Galbanum

Completing the picture are sparkling aldehydes, and the dark, green pungency of galbanum. Now, I normally struggle with both notes, as galbanum can be painfully sharp in its green-blackness, while aldehydes often turn to pure soap on my skin. Not here. Not with Chypre Palatin. They are so perfectly calibrated, I can’t get over it.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

The aldehydes combine with the utterly spectacular, velvety, rich oakmoss (how can this perfume be IFRA compliant???!) to conjure up the fizzy, sparkling elegance of YSL’s gorgeous fruity chypre, Champagne or Yvresse. The galbanum somehow manages to evoke the famous Bandit from Robert Piguet, only in approachable, less dangerous or brutal form. There is something of Bandit’s green leathered feel lurking about that normally difficult note, but it’s just the faintest suggestion and somehow serves to amplify the overall depth of the oakmoss. The latter never feels fusty, dusty, or like grey mineralized lichen, but it’s not the bright, fresh, springy moss note generated by patchouli, either. On my skin, it smells like really expensive oakmoss — and a lot of it. I really have no idea how this perfume passed IFRA/EU compliance tests. Whatever combination of elements or tricks Bertrand Duchaufour used to create this vision of endless, forest-green velvet, it really feels genuine.

Bal à Versailles.

Bal à Versailles.

The overall effect of the avalanche of notes that falls over me is not just the impression of incredibly baroque grandeur, but a flashback to the past. Chypre Palatin feels like a greatest hits remix of: Bandit, Shalimar, Habit RougeChampagne/Yvresse, Coromandel, and vintage Bal à Versailles. I’m not complaining. Not one bit. In fact, I gulped at the opening, said “Oh my God,” promptly dabbed on some more, and then felt like one of those possessed figures you see in horror movies whose head spins around and around. Only here, I was joyously possessed by such incredibly opulence, such intense deepness, and sensual headiness in such a seamless, luxurious blend that I didn’t know what to take in first.

The Green Velvet Room at Hardwick Castle, England. Photo: NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie.

The Green Velvet Room at Hardwick Castle, England. Photo: NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie.

Yet, Chypre Palatin is more than various parts of its ghostly, perfume predecessors, and is quite its own thing. Yes, it is retro and classique; the fougère elements, the aldehydes, galbanum, oakmoss, and skanky touches all harken to the past. However, it also feels modern with the definite oriental foundation. This isn’t a Chypre to me, not even at first, but a Chypre-Oriental hybrid done with a lightness that belies the heaviness of its super-rich notes. Perhaps the most modern aspect of Chypre Palatin for me is that careful calibration that I talked about earlier. There is none of the excess of the past, whether it is vintage Bal à Versailles’ hardcore, dirty, skank, Bandit’s brutal bite, or the tidal waves of aldehydes in any number of classics from the 1920s Chanel No. 5 to the 1970s Van Cleef & ArpelsFirst. Everything here is measured, to the point of being super refined, even muffled to an extent. Perhaps that is why I keep envisioning extremely thick, forest green, velvet curtains around a four-poster bed, drowning out the sound.

Source: beauty-places.com

Source: beauty-places.com

Yet, there are dainty touches that subtly waft around the baroque splendour. Delicate hyacinth adds a floral pastel colour to the opulent decor, while the iris brings in a touch of sweet, powdered suede. Initially, I don’t detect the lavender in any concrete, individual way, but after ten minutes, a definite strain of something herbal creeps in. It’s not the revolting, pungent, almost abrasive dried sort that evokes barber shops or something medicinal. Instead, it’s creamy, slowly turning into lavender-vanilla icecream. Tiny pops of bright colour come from the yellow citruses, while the orange tangerine brings in a dash of sweetness.

Chypre Palatin sometimes feels more like a seamless movement of notes, a piece of richly elaborate music, or a mood than a set of distinct notes. It rolls over you like a plush, seamless mix that is simultaneously mossy, fresh, dark, bright, animalic, fruity, leathered, smoky, resinous, vanillic, skanky, and sparkling. It overwhelms my senses, in the best way possible. Coincidentally, around the time that I sat down to do a full, proper test of Chypre Palatin, I put in a DVD of Carmen, the opera from Bizet. (No, I swear, contrary to what it may seem like these days, I don’t listen only to opera! My favorite groups are actually Rammstein and Depeche Mode, and I also tend to listen to a lot of ’80s music.) In any event, Carmen’s overture is pretty famous, one of those things that many people will recognise once they hear it, and I’ll be damned if the movement of the music didn’t feel exactly like the movement of Chypre Palatin in the first hour.

So, the best way I can convey to you how Chypre Palatin’s opening feels like to me is to share with you this short, 2 minute clip of Carmen’s overture. Take note of the rapidity of the musicians’ movements, their enormous precision, the music’s moments of daintiness, the occasional bursts of something darker from the drums, and how seamlessly everything fits together. They manage to create a mix that has sparkling vibrancy, symphonic complexity and opulent intensity. For me, it’s not only catchy but representative of Chypre Palatin’s initial deluge of notes:

 

It’s hard to decide what is my favorite part of the scent’s opening phase. At first, my favorite part of Chypre Palatin is the skank naughtiness that lurks in the base. It strongly evokes Bal à Versailles, but MDCI’s version lacks the powderiness and extreme dirtiness of the famous legend. Ten minutes later, like the most fickle person imaginable, I decide the real beauty is not the faintly raunchy take on oakmoss, but the way the fruits are so beautifully nestled into the dark styrax. Out of all the resins, that is the one which is the least sweet, the most smoky and leathered. Then again, the growing flickers of labdanum is gorgeous, as is the subtle patchouli. They show up after 20 minutes, with the labdanum giving a quiet touch of nutty toffee in the base.

Tolu Balsam. Source: somaluna.com

Tolu Balsam. Source: somaluna.com

On the other hand, Tolu Balsam is my second favorite resin (after Peru Balsam), and it adds a rich, opulent, treacly layer to the base. It is faintly spiced with what feels like cinnamon, but it is also infused with a growing sense of vanilla. Something about the overall combination of the citrus-flecked oakmoss on top, with the smoky, leathered, animalic, resinous and vanillic accords at the bottom, keeps bringing vintage Shalimar to mind, as well as Shalimar’s cologne counterpart, Habit Rouge, and Shalimar’s descendant, Parfums de Nicolai‘s Sacrebleu Intense. Shalimar has Peru Balsam (a brother to the Tolu kind in Chypre Palatin), along with citruses, vanilla, civet, rose, jasmine, orris, and leathered, smoky touches. Those notes are either the same as, or one tiny degree apart from, the notes in Chypre Palatin. It’s the same story with Habit Rouge, though I think that has Chypre Palatin’s styrax instead of either Tolu or Peru Balsam. In contrast, Sacrebleu Intense is more overtly floral but also shares fruits, vanilla, cinnamon, smoke, patchouli and the same tolu balsam base. 

There are obvious differences, however, primarily the heady and hefty amounts of greenness in Chypre Palatin. For the first few hours, that is the dominant colour of the scent, mostly from the oakmoss but also from small strains of the galbanum and patchouli. The oakmoss is thoroughly lemony and slightly fruity, though the latter is never strongly sweet. The herbal and lavender accord fades away extremely quickly on my skin, thereby ensuring that Chypre Palatin never ventures into cologne or barbershop territory.

Chandelier reflections

Source: pbs.org

It’s very hard to deconstruct Chypre Palatin because it is a prismatic scent. By that, I mean that the perfume throw off different notes like light hitting crystals on a chandelier, with each wearing revealing different facets at different times. Part of it, again, is how beautifully Bertrand Duchaufour has blended the fragrance, as well as the obviously expensive, high-quality of the ingredients. Chypre Palatin doesn’t change dramatically in its core essence for the next few hours, but different notes feel highlighted at different times. Sometimes, it is the vanilla; at other times, the skank, the leather, citruses or resins take turns. At all times for the first 4 hours, those notes radiate out from the green-velvet oakmoss core. The weakest elements on my skin are the hyacinth, lavender, orange, iris and jasmine. In fact, the overall floral accord is the hardest to tease out into individual notes. The jasmine might be the most noticeable one, but, as a whole, you merely have the sense of a truly lush, velvety, oakmoss-infused “floral bouquet.”

The more obvious change to Chypre Palatin over time is not the development of a particular note, but the perfume’s sillage and weight. At first, it wafted out about 3 inches from the skin. The overall bouquet feels much thicker and heavier than it actually is, since the perfume itself is quite airy in weight. Chypre Palatin is so potent up close, that it feels opaque, concentrated and ornate. That is deceptive and fools you into not realising how the projection is slowly dropping, but it’s hard to miss after 45 minutes. Chypre Palatin turns thinner, lighter, and less rich in weight. It also becomes very soft and discreet in projection, wafting an inch above the skin by the end of the first hour.

90 minutes in, Chypre Palatin is a blur of vanilla, citruses and oakmoss, trailed by incense, dark resins, and a subtle, muted touch of very abstract florals. Unfortunately, you have to sniff hard to detect all the layers and details because, from afar, Chypre Palatin seems primarily like a vanilla-oakmoss scent with some citruses. The vanilla is lovely, though. Smooth, deep, air-whipped, and with only a dash of sweetness. It’s too gauzy to feel like custard, but there is a wonderful eggy richness to it.

Still, everything else seems to have collapsed on each other like a house of cards blowing over. It’s partially the fault of how well-blended and seamless the fragrance is; all the secondary notes have melted into each other. Only the prism’s core — that triptych of oakmoss, vanilla, and vaguely citrusy fruits — really stands out easily. I just wish it hadn’t happened so soon, especially as Chypre Palatin feels as though it’s about to turn into a skin scent any moment now. It doesn’t, but it’s a frustrating feeling that continuously plagues me. In reality, Chypre Palatin tenaciously hovers just above the skin for several more hours, and doesn’t turn into actual skin scent until the 5.5 hour mark. I’m constantly taken aback by how rich it is up close. The weak sillage is very misleading.

The more immediate change is that the scent turns more and more vanillic. By the start of the 3rd hour, when I smell Chypre Palatin from afar, I primarily get a blur of sweet, rich vanilla that sits atop a layer of vaguely spicy, smoky, dark resin. The fruited-oakmoss duo occasionally joins the vanilla, but, more and more, it lurks in the background.

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

With every passing hour, the resins move closer and closer to the surface. By the start of the 5th hour, Chypre Palatin is halfway transformed into an amber scent dominated by toffee’d, caramel labdanum. There are strong veins of smoke, Tolu balsam, vanilla, and lightly spiced, brown-red, woody patchouli, all blended within the amber’s golden-brown folds. But every time I think the oakmoss-citrus accord has finally vanished, it somehow pops back up. On two occasions, I briefly thought that Chypre Palatin had reverted back to being a vanilla-oakmoss fragrance, only for the amber to push the duo back and take the lead again. The overall effect is a beautiful, concentrated richness that belies Chypre Palatin’s sheerness.

New elements arrive to weave their way through the amber. There is a really subtle, muted hint of booziness that lurks about Chypre Palatin’s edges, no doubt thanks to the patchouli in combination with the labdanum. There is also a lovely cinnamon that is sprinkled over the vanilla. Much of this is due to the Tolu balsam. According to Fragrantica and other sites, Tolu balsam has a deeply velvety richness with a vanilla aroma that is much darker than that of benzoins. To my nose, however, it is always a very spiced, slightly smoky, rather treacly, dark note with a subtle leathered nuance; it doesn’t feel like a truly vanillic element. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are a some of the perfumes listed by Fragrantica as scents that feature Tolu balsam (or its close sibling, Peru balsam, in some cases): Bal à Versailles, Opium Ormonde Jayne’s Tolu, Estee Lauder‘s Youth Dew and Cinnabar, MPG’s Ambre Precieux, Mona di Orio‘s Ambre, Guerlain‘s Chamade, Rance‘s Laeticia, Memo‘s Italian Leather, Reminiscence‘s Patchouli Elixir, and many others.

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

If I’m spending more time talking about all these ambered or dark elements than the florals that technically make up a “chypre” fragrance, it’s simply because Chypre Palatin isn’t really a floral scent on my skin. It was muted and largely abstract at the start, and it soon becomes the last horse in the race. By the start of the 3rd hour, I’m not sure it’s even there any more. It certainly isn’t by the time Chypre Palatin enters into its heart phase which is dominated by the aforementioned tolu balsam, then labdanum, vanilla and refined patchouli.

And what patchouli it is too! Beautifully red-brown, slightly spicy, and wafting tendrils of incense-like smokiness. Like the Tolu balsam, it has a subtle nuance of something leathered, but there is nothing earthy, green, minty or “head-shop”-like about this note. Actually, the overall combination strongly — strongly — conjures up Chanel’s glorious Coromandel for me. It has to be the way the patchouli is simultaneously vanillic and smoky. The only difference here is that Chypre Palatin feels significantly darker. There is white chocolate or visuals of chai lattes. Also, there remains the faintest hint of skankiness that occasionally waves its musky arm at you from the edges.

Source:  dianafabrics.com

Source: dianafabrics.com

For hour after beautiful hour, Chypre Palatin radiates a plethora of brown, golden, umbered, and ambered hues. The notes are perfectly balanced between dryness, sweetness, and darkness. Somehow, to my utter confusion, Chypre Palatin almost seems to have increased in projection, or perhaps the resinous balsams are simply so rich that they’re throwing out little tendrils in the air. I could have sworn it had turned into a skin scent but, when the wind blew as I took the Hairy German out for a walk around the 10th hour, I could feel the flickers of Chypre Palatin’s incense-patchouli-balsam notes lightly swirling around me. Chypre Palatin remains that way until its very end when it fades away in a blur of abstract, dry sweetness. All in all, 3 medium-ish dabs gave me 14.75 hours in duration. I’m astonished, especially given my wonky skin. It really is a testament to the richness of the notes in question. No expense spared, indeed!

In case it wasn’t obvious by now, I’m rather in love with Chypre Palatin. If the perfume were the imperial official that the “Palatin” part of its name references, I would ask him to… well, never mind. Just trust me when I say that… No, on second thought, really, never mind. All I’ll say is that I wasn’t alone in having an intensely strong reaction to the fragrance. I made The Perfume Snob #1 try it, primarily because my sophisticated, haughty mother has loved and wore every opulent, over-the-top, oriental, chypre and/or skanky classic ever made, from vintage Bal à Versailles to Joy, Opium, Femme, Jolie Madame, and many others.

However, she’s extremely hard to please with modern scents, unless it’s an Amouage. Otherwise, whenever I’ve approached her lately at the weekend dinners, wafting some new scent that I’ve been testing, she’s given me a definite “don’t even think about it” look. (One scent that I shan’t name resulted in an ultimatum that I leave the house if I didn’t scrub it off immediately.) Many of my favorites from Fille en Aiguilles to Fourreau Noir, De Profundis, and Ambra Aurea trigger a dismissive Gallic shrug, while the glorious Mitzah resulted in a violent shudder. Perfume Snob #1 is often impossible to please, but she took one sniff of Chypre Palatin, clutched her wrist, and went glassy-eyed. She then spent the rest of the time until I left sniffing her wrist compulsively and, by her reserved standards, raving about it. I’m still blinking thinking about the intensity of her reaction.

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

For The Scented Hound, Chypre Palatin also “struck a nerve upon first sniff[.]” My sample was a gift from him, and he clearly has phenomenal taste. However, his experience was very different from mine, and shows another side to this very prismatic scent. In his review, he writes, in part:

Chypre Palatin’s first offered up a rush of citrus and cedar and then quickly a warm amberish lavender and what seemed to be eucalyptus (but I’m not seeing eucalyptus in the notes?? hmmm).  The fragrance goes on very warm without being heavy and it’s very comforting.  In a little while the scent then moves to an even warmer almost floral setting.  It’s very peaceful and serene.  The kind of scent where you want to close your eyes and breath in its aromatherapeutic qualities.

As Chypre Palatin continues it’s drydown it moves into a very familiar what I would call barbershop phase.  It’s traditional and old world and masculine at this point.  But stop, don’t let me confuse you by thinking this fragrance is old-fashioned and masculine.  It’s not.  The opening and the dry down make it much more universal and modern.  In the end, Chypre Palatin quiets down to a nice oak moss and vanilla scent with just a touch of powder.  However, depending on what you’re doing, those middle warm aromatic notes will still come to surface as the day wears on.

Longevity is average as is the sillage.  Chypre Palatin is a lovely surprise that feels old and new world at the same time and I think would be perfect for men and women alike.

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

For Suzanne of Eiderdown Press, Chypre Palatin wasn’t masculine but more akin to Amouage’s Jubilation 25 (Women), and a scent that swept her off her feet by bottling the majestic grandeur of Paris. She writes, in part:

This is one of the richest smelling chypres I’ve ever worn; to the degree that I’m not sure I would have identified it either as a chypre or as something created by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour if I had smelled it blind without knowing its name or maker. […] Chypre Palatin smells stately, grand and what I think of as classically French in terms of its construction … and maybe because it is a Duchaufour creation, it doesn’t go overboard in this direction. It’s got just enough heft and richness to suggest opulence without crossing over into ostentation.

Before I describe it further, let me say that while it’s marketed as a masculine, I wouldn’t characterize it that way at all (for maybe all of thirty seconds it is masculine-smelling on my skin) and would go so far as to suggest that Chypre Palatin would appeal to women who love scents like Amouage Jubilation 25, which it reminds me of, except that Chypre Palatin is more refined and less challenging, not having the cumin and animalic emphasis that Jubilation 25 possesses, while still smelling every bit as expensive.

The rest of the review is too long for proper etiquette to let me quote it in full, but, for Suzanne, Chypre Palatin basically has a gentle touch of fruitiness in its floral heart, “hypnotic custard-creaminess,” “golden richness, seamless blending” and cashmere-like oakmoss. You can read her review for the full details.

Remember how I described Chypre Palatin as prismatic, throwing off different notes each time you wear it? Well, for Angela at Now Smell This, a full week of Chypre Palatin seemed to reveal several different olfactory profiles. Her review describes each day; how Chypre Palatin seemed like Seville à L’Aube‘s big brother on one occasion, to a fragrance that seemed to reference fougères with its “floral-lavender aspects” on another. Sometimes it conjured up an entirely different impression with its “spicy-mossy amber” and “complex tapestry.” She was fascinated by “how Chypre Palatin could be so intricate, but yet so robust.” As she writes:

The result is a fragrance with the structure and delicacy of an 18th century French table. I’ve been wearing Chypre Palatin all week, and every day the fragrance reveals something new.  […][¶]

Ultimately, Chypre Palatin seduced me with its beauty and craftsmanship, but like a Versailles-era oil painting, it isn’t quite “me.” If my budget didn’t limit me, I’d order a bottle in a second to sniff when I wanted reminding of the skill and imagination of a gifted perfumer. This is the sort of fragrance that rewards the nose you’ve developed through all the years you’ve sniffed through piles of samples. It also rewards a mind open to beauty that melds tradition and modern sensibility.

Blenheim Palace. Source: Liveinternet.ru

Blenheim Palace. Source: Liveinternet.ru

On Fragrantica, reviews are split, primarily because a number of women think the scent is too masculine for them. One person put it best: it’s really going to come down to skin chemistry. I would also add personal tastes and experience with the classics into that equation as well. If you are the sort who finds Shalimar to be too heavy or “old lady-ish,” don’t bother with Chypre Palatin. If you dislike any bits of lavender with citruses in the opening of your fragrance, or your skin amplifies herbal notes, then you may find Chypre Palatin to skew too masculine. If you’re not a fan of even a tiny bit of naughty skank in your scents, or fragrances with a leathered, dark undertone, this won’t be for you, either. But if you love the legendary classics or deeply opulent scents like the modern Amouages, then I think Chypre Palatin is a must sniff for you.

On Basenotes, there are several discussion threads raving about the scent, but the official entry page only has 6 reviews, 5 of which are positive. The lone negative rating seems to be from a woman who finds Chypre Palatin to be too expensive, too masculine, and a bit old-fashioned, though classically elegant. For almost everyone else, Chypre Palatin is a “luxurious chypre,” or “Proudly classicist and grand in scale” like Habit Rouge or the Amouage Jubilation.

One repeated theme in the discussion pertains to Chypre Palatin being “old-fashioned” in feel. Most posters approve of that fact, but one positive review actually disagrees on the retro issue, finding that the perfume isn’t vintage enough in feel. “DrSeid” experienced a rather powdery scent for the majority of Chypre Palatin’s lifetime, not the super-rich oakmoss fest that I had, which probably explains part of his review:

Chypre Palatin is billed as a “throwback” vintage chypre, but I have to respectfully disagree. I find it quite modern, and that is my biggest problem with it. The powdery nature of the scent just does not remind me of the best chypres of old, instead Duchaufour plows new ground in having Chypre Palatin remain classy and elegant in its mild powdery nature throughout but it just does not mesh with my tastes. I personally like my chypres heavier on the oakmoss and lower on the powder showing a bit less polish and a bit more “spunk.” While I won’t be buying a bottle, I can see why many folks who have tried this have really fallen in love with it as it is top quality. If you like powdery modern scents Chypre Palatin is absolutely worth a sniff and maybe even a purchase if you can afford its relatively lofty price tag. I give Chypre Palatin a solid “good” rating and 3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The two different 60 ml bottles of Chypre Palatin. Source: Luckyscent.

The two different 60 ml bottles of Chypre Palatin. Source: Luckyscent.

As you may have noticed, the issue of price comes up a lot. Chypre Palatin does indeed have a “lofty price tag.” A 60 ml bottle called the “tasselled version” costs $250. And that’s the “cheap” version! Apparently, Parfums MDCI really takes its whole philosophy about art very, very seriously. Their regular bottles are famous for having a Roman or Renaissance-like bust statue on the top. The price: $375 for 60 ml. (There is the additional option to have your statue in exclusive Limoges china if you should so wish for the princely sum of €1200!) 

Frankly, the “discount” version sends me rather into a tizzy as it is, given the measly 60 ml/ 2 oz size and, more importantly, Chypre Palatin’s weak sillage on my wonky skin. Others had way more luck in that last regard, but I’m still frustrated by the situation. Nonetheless, if I had endless spare cash lying around, I would have ordered not only a bottle of the scent already, but a back-up as well. Low sillage, be damned! Instead, it’s going straight to the top of my Wish List.  [UPDATE: one of my readers, The Smelly Vagabond, informed me in the comments that the bottle is actually closer to 75 ml but MDCI’s owner decided to list it as 60 ml due to bottle variations. They’re all hand-blown, so he wanted to err on the side of caution. Also, there is a special deal exclusive to the MDCI website where the cost of a sample set will be credited to the cost of buying a full bottle. In short, things are looking much better than I had thought, in terms of price-per-ounce value, decants, and accessability. See the DETAILS section at the end for more.]

The Marble House, Vanderbilt "cottage," Newport. Photo: Gavin Ashworth. Source: http://blog.newportmansions.org

The Marble House, a Vanderbilt “cottage,” Newport, RI. Photo: Gavin Ashworth. Source: http://blog.newportmansions.org

Bottom line, I think Chypre Palatin is grandeur and sensuality on a scale that would have made Leonardo, half the Medicis, and all the bloody Borgias wet their pantalones. It’s been a months and months since I had such an immediate, intense reaction to a scent, such awed amazement, and a lemming turned into Moby Dick. (The last time was for Hard Leather, lest you’re curious.) I’m all in a tizzy, discombobulated, and hot under the collar. In fact, I better end this now before I spend a few thousand more words raving about Chypre Palatin and its baroque glory.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Chypre Palatin is an eau de parfum that comes in two different sorts of a bottles. There is a regular 60 ml bottle called a “tasselled” bottle which costs $250 or €215, and a fancier bottle with a bust statue on it in the same 60 ml size for $375. {UPDATE: One reader let me know that the bottles are much bigger than 60 ml and closer to 75 ml, or 2.5 oz. Various readers as a whole have also kindly shared that Parfums MDCI has a deal exclusive to their website involving their discovery sets. Apparently, if you order either of 2 discovery set (set of 5 or set of 8), that amount is credited towards the purchase of a full bottle. The sets are, respectively, €90 or €140 with shipping. At today’s rate of exchange, that comes to roughly $123 for the small set, or $191 for the larger one. One reader informed me that you can get all of the bottles in the same fragrance, i.e., all Chypre Palatin. To buy the sets or a bottle, you apparently send the company an email with the catalog # of the item you wish to purchase. The catalog numbers are listed on the page in the link. Afterwards, you pay MDCI directly via Paypal.} In the U.S.: Luckyscent has both bottles of Chypre Palatin, along with a Discovery Set of 8 different Parfums MDCI fragrances in a 12 ml size for $210. Regular sized samples are also available for purchase. Osswald also has both versions, but sells the basic bottle for $263, not $250. Outside the U.S.: Parfums MCDI has a website which shows pricing on its bottles, but no e-store for direct purchase. (You have to follow the procedures outlined above.) In Canada, the Perfume Shoppe carries the full line and sells the regular Chypre Palatin for $230, as well as a travel size of your choice of Parfums MDCI fragrance for $50. I’m not sure those are Canadian prices, even if that seems to be a Canadian link, but then I find the company quite confusing. It is US-based, so Canadian readers may want to email them to be sure. In the UK, Parfums MDCI is available at Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie at Harrod’s. In Paris, Chypre Palatin is available from Jovoy for €215 in the regular bottle. The perfume is also carried at Sens Unique, but they don’t have an e-store. In Italy, Sacro Cuore Parfumi sells the bust version for €325, but doesn’t have the cheaper bottle. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells the regular bottle for €215. The Netherland’s Lianne Tio sells Chypre Palatin for €229. You can also find the perfume at Hungary’s Neroli Parfum and Russia’s Lenoma. For all other European countries, you can use the MDCI’s Retailers List to find a vendor near you. However, there are no sellers listed in Australia, Asia, or the Middle East. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Chypre Palatin starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Roja Dove Innuendo (Creation-I)

A suggestion of skin, a tantalizing innuendo, and a knowing glance — all as soft as a whisper. Roja Dove‘s Innuendo is meant to capture some of those things, and to feel like a tender kiss that stays with you for a lifetime. Innuendo was released in 2012, but came to America last year under the name Creation-I due to legal trademark reasons. It comes in two forms, an Extrait Pure Parfum version and an Eau de Parfum. This review is for the Extrait.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes Innuendo as follows:

“As Soft As A Whisper”

SWEET, FRESH, WARM, & SOFT

“This creation is my homage to everything feminine: a lingerie drawer, make-up, and a knowing look. It is like the caress of cashmere against the skin, or a woman’s tender kiss which stays with you for a lifetime”. Roja Dove

INGREDIENTS
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Orange
HEART: Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Labdanum, Musk, Orris, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean.

"Evernia Prunastri" lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

“Evernia Prunastri” lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

Innuendo opens on my skin with a dewy, pink rose, followed by bergamot, chilled lemon, violets and a definite suggestion of mossy greens. There is no oakmoss listed in Innuendo, but something in the combination of ingredients smells exactly like mousse de chene or oakmoss absolute. According to The Aroma Connection blog, a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is the basis for the absolute. It is a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Unfortunately, since real oakmoss of any type is essentially banned out of perfume existence, substitutes are sometimes used. The Aroma Connection briefly talks about the various synthetic versions and their aroma:

It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.

Roja Dove probably did some feat of technical mastery and genius to the patchouli to make it so accurately conjure up oakmoss absolute, because Innuendo has the same sort of smell described in that article: a sharp, slightly fusty, fiercely mossy, green aroma which conjures up images of tree bark, lichen, and saltiness. Since it translates to my nose as “oakmoss,” I’ll just use that word in quotes to convey what I’m smelling. Whatever the source of the note, it’s beautifully done, and feels like dark thorns are piercing through the petals of that soft, pink rose. Yet, for all the pungent, dry, mineralized feel of the “oakmoss,” there is also a bright, plush, emerald green velvetiness from the patchouli itself.

Every inch of the lovely pink and green bouquet is infused with yellow citruses. They are simultaneously tart, crisp, chilled, zesty, sweet and a little bit bitter. It feels as if your nail has just pierced the rind, squirting out the concentrated oil. Something about the fruits makes me think of a sweet but bitter yellow grapefruit, more than an acidic lemon. There is a fragrancy and richness to the oils that feels incredibly bright and fresh. It’s a lovely contrast to the “oakmoss” (or whatever note conjures that mineralized fustiness).

Source: modavesen.com

Source: modavesen.com

Lurking at Innuendo’s edges are other elements. There is a soft, fruited, purple patchouli, though it is thankfully not cloyingly sweet. Hints of woodiness are further afield, along with the spectral figure of some powdery iris. More prominent is the dash of violets sprinkled throughout. They feel sweet, green, dewy and cool, but also woody and earthy, as if they were black violets nestled at the base of a tree.

10 minutes in, Innuendo begins the first of its many rapid changes. The rose grows jammier and sweeter; the powdered orris draws closer; and the tangy, bright zestiness of the citruses take a step back. There is a hint of jasmine that takes the iris’ place in the nose-bleed seats. In the base, the first glimmer of vanilla stirs quietly. The “oakmoss” feels less vibrant, bright and plush. It turns more fusty and dry, evoking the sense of dry tree bark. Yet, at the same time, there is also a creamy sort of woodiness in the base that replicates sandalwood quite well, even if it lacks the red spiciness of the true Mysore variety. What I don’t like is the growing presence of musk that feels sharp and too clean.

Soon, within minutes, Innuendo has turned into a very jammy, velvety rose scent, infused with both mossy and purple fruitchouli, along with sharp musk and powdered iris. The citruses and violet are extremely muted now, more of a suggestion than anything else. The jasmine, in contrast, is starting to jump up and down in the background, yelling a louder “Hello.” The most interesting aspect about Innuendo at this stage is the saltiness that circles around the notes. It’s like a lovely breath of sea air blowing from the North Atlantic, and it helps keep the purple patchouli in check. 

Source: facepla.net

Source: facepla.net

Unfortunately for me, the musk is growing increasingly white and shrill. It’s absolutely terrible, quickly taking on the aroma of very expensive floral hairspray or soap. White musk is one of my pet (perfume) peeves in life, and I simply cannot see the purpose of it in such an elegant, refined composition. I’m actually less annoyed by the growing sweetness of the fruitchouli that I hate so much because at least it doesn’t feel quite so jarring, out-of-place, and piercing. Even the growing powderiness of the iris fits in better, and is decently modulated.

Photo: stepbystep.com

Photo: stepbystep.com

It takes less than 30 minutes from the start for Innuendo to turn into an extremely high-class rose shampoo, albeit a very expensive, feminine, refined one that is infused with purple patchouli and small tendrils of dry, green mossiness. The white musk is abominable, radiating out both soap, shampoo, and hairspray tonalities into every atom of the rich, powerful rose. The impression of creamy sandalwood has faded, along with the citruses and the last gasp of the violet. The iris remains to add makeup powder to the mix.

JanusThe whole thing feels utterly bifurcated, as if there are two polar opposite things going on at once. An opulent, extremely sophisticated rich rose with an “oakmoss” bite, versus a young ingenue’s fresh, innocent soapiness. I think those who love soapy, powdered florals would probably consider Innuendo to be the height of luxurious, opulent elegance from the golden age of haute parfumerie. I admit, I can see that, myself as certain parts of Innuendo at this stage certainly ring true to that ideal. Yet, my lip is still curling with disdain over the other parts of the scent, and the overall dated feel. I don’t have anything against opulent florals with an old-time, vintage, classique feel. If anything, that is rather in my wheel-house. Yet, Innuendo still feels antiquated, and not in a good way.

Lara Pulver.

Lara Pulver.

There are two, very different women simultaneously being represented by Innuendo at this stage. The first one who repeatedly comes to my mind is the actress Lara Pulver, from the Sherlock series or, to be more precise, the woman she plays in ITV/ BBC America’s Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,. There, she is the aloof, haughty Lady Ann O’Neill (the future Mrs. Ian Fleming), a sort of Wallis Simpson type: an extremely sophisticated, hard, brittle, aristocratic woman dressed sleekly in black, and whose game of seduction centers around innuendo and breathy suggestion. She is represented by Innuendo’s incredibly refined, opulent, heavy rose with its chypre-like, mossy thorns.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Next to her and conjoined at the hip is the second woman: a young, fresh-faced, innocent beauty in her early 20s dressed in white, smelling of fresh soap and powder. Two women, one scent. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Innuendo is the scent that an ingenue with aspirations to sophistication and wealth would have started to wear in her 20s, only she’s still doing so in her 80s. I find something polarizing and unbalanced about how the fresh, soft innocent side attacks the rest of Innuendo which feels unbelievably heavy, reeking of over-done opulence, expensive wealth and aged sophistication.

I know exactly the sort of perfumista who would love that mix, finding it a clarion call to vintage Guerlains only amped up by a thousand in heft. For me, though, it’s a schizophrenic mix, one that is dominated by shampoo and piercing musk to the point of feeling oppressive. And the purple fruitchouli isn’t helping matters, either. It all felt exhausting and I briefly contemplated scrubbing Innuendo, but I’m glad I resisted because the perfume suddenly changes. And drastically, at that.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

90 minutes in, Innuendo suddenly veers 180 degrees in the opposite direction and becomes a new fragrance entirely. There is obvious mastery and talent in managing such an extreme transformation, because Innuendo turns into a lush, beautiful, creamy floral oriental scent with none of the horrific aspects of its start. The change begins with the oppressive musk suddenly softening its aggressive assault, thereby giving the other notes a chance to shine through. Innuendo turns warmer, sweeter and richer; the rose steps back; someone puts a gag on the shampoo; the makeup powder is similarly muffled; and even the fruitchouli feels less cloying.

The famous Cora "Sun Drop" yellow diamond. Source: www.people.com.cn

The famous Cora “Sun Drop” yellow diamond. Source: http://www.people.com.cn

Then, the jasmine and ylang-ylang glide gracefully onto center stage. Beautifully heady jasmine, with opulent, velvety ylang-ylang that radiates like a yellow diamond. They are enveloped by an amber glow that feels a lot more like salty, musky ambergris than the more masculine, leathery, toffee’d labdanum listed in the notes. Returning to the scene is that creamy woodiness that almost feels like sandalwood, but now it carries a trace of something vaguely smoky. The true beauty in all this is the vanilla. My God, is it good. It’s entrancingly creamy, smooth, airy but rich, vanilla mousse, and it makes all the difference to the florals. It coats the ylang-ylang — in fact, it feels as if it’s coating your very mouth — with vanilla custard, but it’s never cloying, heavy or painfully sweet. The combination of the vanilla, amber, woodiness, and hint of smoke turns Innuendo into a floral, oriental custard that radiates warmth and silkiness.

"Rosee Celeste" by David Graux via Art.com

“Rosee Celeste” by David Graux via Art.com

All images of brittle sophisticates or soapy ingenues vanish amidst thoughts of silk and satin. Roja Dove sought to conjure up a woman’s lingerie draw, along with the finest of soft fabrics against the skin, and by Jove, he’s succeeded. I think it’s the silkiness of the vanilla, the petal softness of the ylang-ylang that is increasingly dominating the scent, and the perfume’s overall softness. Innuendo began with massive potency, wafting a good 5 inches above the skin with 3 small spritzes from my atomizer (or about 1 good spray from a bottle), but that power soon dropped. At the end of the first hour, Innuendo felt airier, lighter, and softer with only about 2 inches of projection, though the perfume was massively heavy and concentrated up close.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

However, by the time Innuendo does its 180 turn, everything is different. The sillage hovers just an inch above the skin, and everything is soft. You can almost image touching the velvety petals of the ylang-ylang, rubbing it against your skin with a texture like the thinnest cashmere shot through with silk. Innuendo truly seems to coat your skin with a breathy whisper, a golden sheath that has great richness and intimate sensuality. And it turns silkier by the minute.

Slowly, the ylang-ylang and vanilla take over the whole show, while the jasmine works its charms indirectly and from afar to add a certain elusive headiness to the notes when smelled up close. To my surprise, a new element arrives on the scene — oranges — which melts into the flowers, adding a juicy sweetness and fruited touch. The rose remains on the sidelines and periphery, visible only if you sniff really hard and focus. It is imbued with just the perfect amount of jamminess from the patchouli and, thankfully, none of the vile Pantene shampoo from the musk. Meanwhile, the labdanum and sandalwood slowly diffuse into the vanillic base, though a certain smokiness still remains. I’m thoroughly enjoying Innuendo now, but the polarity after the nightmare of the first 90 minutes (which came on the heels of the loveliness of the initial 10 minutes)… well, it feels a little schizophrenic.

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

For the next few hours, Innuendo remains a soft, orange-accented, custardy ylang-ylang fragrance with creamy vanilla mousse. It’s not sweet, gourmand, or cloying, but just right, even if it is incredibly discreet. Trailing behind are small streaks of jasmine, patchouli-rose, and some amorphous, smoked woods. There is a gentle muskiness to the notes that feels golden and entirely natural, undoubtedly from the amber in the base. The latter still doesn’t smell like actual labdanum on my skin, but, rather, like a generalized warm glow. Around 3.5 hours in, Innuendo turns into a skin scent. By the end of the 5th hour, the perfume is primarily ylang-ylang and vanilla, followed by orange, and with only tiny, lingering traces of purple fruitchouli at the edges.

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Unfortunately for me, the final stage of Innuendo is another schizophrenic shift. The first traces of soapiness appears midway during the 6th hour; by the start of the 8th hour, Innuendo suddenly sheds almost all of its prior notes and veers sharply into soap territory. It is infused with an abstract orange floralacy, but it’s very muted. The ylang-ylang and jasmine have completely vanished. In the base, the labdanum has turned into its more usual form, wafting a nuttied, caramel-toffee note. As a whole, Innuendo smells largely like expensive, ambered, sweetened soap. The whole thing is so abstract and soft, it’s really hard to tease out any other elements. Soon, Innuendo is nothing more than a smear of ambered soapiness, and there it remains until its very end, several hours later. All in all, Innuendo Extrait lasted just over 13.5 hours, with soft sillage for the majority of that time.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Innuendo thus far, though a few people seem to have voted on the notes. What is interesting to me is that the main element they detect in the fragrance is white musk, followed by tonka (for the vanilla), then ylang-ylang and patchouli. The one comment comes from “Shorokh” who seems to have struggled with the same schizophrenia that I experienced:

Very unusual. Green and mossy at the beginning, and like this for quite a while; then after several hours (4.5 – 5 in my case) those notes disappear completely. It`s like putting on a totally new perfume! Some might like it – having two perfumes instead of one. But I don`t like my perfume change so dramatically while I wear it. No jasmine or rose on me. Must try again!

Basenotes has nothing in its entry for the fragrance, and I couldn’t find any blog review for either Innuendo or Creation-I, its American name. I wish I could provide more information, more details on the other side of the picture, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. 

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

What I can tell you is that there will be some women who will undoubtedly love Innuendo. Anyone who passionately adores powdery, soapy florals comes to mind, along with those who love very vintage Guerlain classics but with a more concentrated richness and opulence. Obviously, people who don’t like a very dated, old-fashioned, heavy feel to their scents should stay away. Innuendo is marketed as being a women’s fragrance which is just as well, since I can’t see the vast majority of men wearing it.

Innuendo Extrait costs $435 for 50 ml. All I’ll say on that score is that the perfume certainly does smell expensive. (Well, minus the Pantene shampoo bit.) Innuendo also reflects great perfume mastery in creating such an extensive range of movement throughout the notes. No matter how much whiplash Innuendo gave me, there is no question that it is well made or that Roja Dove is a master at luxuriousness. As you can tell, though, I disliked the perfume except for the 4 or 5-hour stretch in the middle. That part was truly and genuinely lovely, even though the projection was terribly weak. But 5 hours out of almost 14 miserable ones is not good enough for me — at any price.

The issue really comes down to personal tastes. As regular readers know, I can’t abide white musk, soapiness, hairspray notes, shampoo similarities, or makeup powder. So, put my views in that context, and try Innuendo for yourself if you love very old-fashioned florals with a soft, powdery, clean bent. It certainly has the luxurious, sophisticated feel to go with that very high price.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Innuendo Pure Parfum is available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size which costs $435, €395 or £345. There is also a Eau de Parfum version which comes in a 100 ml bottle, and which costs €265, £265, or around $350. In the U.S.: Innuendo is called Creation-I and is available in the 50 ml bottle Extrait version from New York’s Osswald and Bergdorf Goodman. The EDP version is sold on Amazon, purportedly by Roja Dove, for around $349. There is also a site called Cosmetics Now which sells it for around $355. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Innuendo directly from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London, his Urban Retreat website, or Harrod’s online. Roja Dove also has an e-store at Roja Parfums for his personal line of fragrances, and he sells Innuendo Extrait for £345, while the EDP is £225. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Dove perfumes, and sells Innuendo in the Extrait version for €395. In the UAE, the Paris Gallery carries the whole Roja Parfums line and sells both Innuendo Extrait and EDP. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: I obtained my sample from Jovoy in Paris. If you’re in the U.S., you can test Innuendo Extrait by ordering samples by phone from OsswaldNY. They offer a deal of 10 samples for $10 (shipping included) for domestic customers. Their phone number is: (212) 625-3111. As for Surrender to Chance, it doesn’t carry Innuendo. So, your best bet is really ordering a sample from OsswaldNY.

La Via Del Profumo Venezia Giardini Segreti

Source: trulyveniceapartments.com

Source: trulyveniceapartments.com

Venice, the city of canals, Casanova, and romance is also a city with a secret. Gardens and green courtyards abound in secret nooks and crannies unknown to the anyone but the city’s residents. Did you know? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been to Venice.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

La Via del Profumo wants to open up this private world to you with Venezia Giardini Segreti, or “Venice’s Secret Gardens.” Venezia Giardini Segreti (which I’ll just call “Giardini Segreti” for the sake of brevity) is an all-natural eau de parfum from Dominique Dubrana (now known as “Abdes Salaam Attar“), the second in his new “Italian Series,” and a 2013 release.

Abdes Salaam Attar explains the inspiration for the fragrance:

Venezia, Giardini segreti” is inspired by the “corti” – the courts of Venice that contain its secret gardens, hidden within the maze of the city – and particularly to the imaginary “Corte Sconta detta Arcana” of the “Favola di Venezia” di Corto Maltese, first discovered in the recesses of Hugo Pratt’s mind, and illustrated by his hand. [¶] “When the Venetians grow tired of the established authorities,” he writes, “they walk to these 3 secret places and, opening the doors that are in the bottom of these courts, they go away forever into beautiful places and other stories.”

Source: La Via del Profumo.

Source: La Via del Profumo.

The essences that recount these hidden courts, where the feel and smell of the sea are never far away, are of Jasmine and Rose, of Italian aromatic herbs and of Myrrh, the sweet resin which evokes the city’s ancient connection with the East.

Ambergris is the ingredient of this perfume that celebrates Venice’s foundation on seafaring; it’s the key that opens the door to other worlds and other stories. It is the magical ingredient that renders the fragrance three-dimensional, the noble pheromone with a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk. This smell, so rare and precious that it is no longer used in modern perfumes, confers to the “Venezia Giardini Segreti” a unique and inimitable magic.

Visit with me the secret gardens of Venice. Photo gallery.

Based on that description, the official notes in Venezia Giardini Segreti include:

jasmine, rose, herbs, myrrh, and ambergris.

Source: elstika.com

Source: elstika.com

Giardini Segreti opens on my skin with a powerful but delicate burst of green, dewy jasmine, infused with mint and dark, smoky indoles. The flower’s aroma feels as crisp and clear as a bell rung in the Alpine mountains, but there is a black, smoldering heart which is magnificent. The jasmine is not as heavily sweetened, fleshy, ripe or heavy in feel as the one in Abdes Salaam’s Tawaf; this is much fresher, greener and watery, at least at first. Yet, it inexplicably feels stronger, and its heart has a certain dark rubberiness. The wintergreen note which is laced throughout the jasmine is powerful at first, but it softens within minutes.

Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Giardini Segreti starts to slowly turn deeper and richer, losing some of its chilled dewiness and crispness. There is the tiniest flicker of something like light olive oil poking its head up in the distance. It’s hard to explain, but there is an oily richness which gradually starts to seep into the jasmine. It’s not greasy and it certainly doesn’t smell of olives, but it’s more than mere oil. It’s also lightly herbal in nature, though I find it impossible to distinguish the precise aroma. Basil? Tarragon? Myrrh can have an anise-like undertone on rare occasion, as it does in Serge LutensLa Myrrhe, but Giardini Segreti’s accord doesn’t smell like anise. Whatever the elusive herb, it’s an intangible, muted presence, but a pretty one.

10 minutes in, Giardini Segreti is a jasmine scent whose primary characteristics veer between minty green and oiled smoothness. The whole thing is flecked with black from the smoky indoles, while a tiny animalic tinge of leather stirs for the first time in the depths below. The fragrance continues to grow warmed and more oiled, but I smell no roses at all. In fact, I didn’t on any of the occasions when I tested Giardini Segreti.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

I also don’t smell ambergris in the way that I’m used to or have previously encountered. There is none of the note’s salty, marshy or wet characteristics, though there is an increasing touch of muskiness circling around the animalic accord in the base. All there is instead is a richness and warmth. I would bet it’s the ambergris which is responsible for the oily feel which I talked about earlier. With every passing quarter-hour, it feels as though a soft wave of smooth, lightly scented, vaguely herbal oil is flooding over the jasmine. It turns the petals unctuous and slightly slick, though I have to repeat that the jasmine here is not voluptuously rich, narcotic, or heavy. The greenness remains at this point, thereby ensuring that the floral aroma is still somewhat fresh and bright. Nevertheless, the ambergris helps to muffle and mute some of that minty tonality.

At the end of the first hour, Giardini Segreti has turned into a baby-soft, smooth jasmine oil, with emphasis on the oil part of that sentence. The sillage has changed accordingly. From its originally forceful, strong opening, Giardini Segreti now lies less than an inch above the skin. The velvety jasmine petals are lightly infused with ambergris, herbs, and a lingering trace of smokiness. The more interesting thing, however, is the growing presence of an animalic, almost civet-like edge in the base. It’s the tiniest bit feral, but also very subtle.

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Slowly, Giardini Segreti starts to shift into something darker, less green. At the 90 minute mark, the perfume is a softly smoky gardenia with only a trace of a green undertone but increasingly animalic, leather facets. The petals feel soft, but the sense of an oil has vanished. There is instead the first appearance of something peppered and woody in feel in the background. Giardini Segreti lies right on the skin like a discreet, intimate silken sheath. For my personal tastes, the sillage is too soft too soon, but, then, I prefer my florals to be sonic booms worthy of one of Wagner’s Valkyries. Giardini Segreti feels better suited to one of the dainty damsels who Casanova turned into a quiet sensualist.

Giardini Segreti continues to change by slow degrees. 2.5 hours in, it is a skin scent of half-sweet, half-dry jasmine with an undertone of animalic leather and a dash of peppered woodiness. An hour later, a subtle honeyed creaminess appears on the scene, leading me to wonder if Giardini Segreti has opoponax or sweet myrrh in addition to the ambergris listed in the notes. After 4.25 hours, Giardini Segreti is a blur of jasmine and lightly honeyed beeswax, and then just eventually just sweetened creaminess. All in all, it lasted just short of 6.5 hours on my skin.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Giardini Segreti. “Spookie” writes:

my first impression is that there is something very familiar about this perfume. Not in the sense that it reminds me of another scent but that it’s like turning a corner and experiencing deja vu. But this time I’ve turned a corner and I’m in a sunlit courtyard, the light dappled by a green canopy, small flowers peeking out of cracks in the cobbles and a brambly rose climbing a wall. It’s like this place has been waiting for me, patiently, to find it again. This is the scent of that place: quiet, private, and otherworldly. That was my first impression. [¶]

Over time this scent becomes more human, even sensual. There’s salty skin under the florals and an almost spicy green lifting it up. Projection is moderate but I have only dabbed from a small sample- not that there’s anything wrong with having someone lean in to smell this. I compared this to Tawaf, because I was curious about how the jasmine might appear in both, and unlike Tawaf’s almost sticky density, VGS’s jasmine is higher and brighter without losing its intensity. I like this perfume a lot, but then I’m frequently impressed by La Via del Profumo.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc loved Giardini Segreti, put it on her Top 10 List of Summer Scents (in 2013) that she had fallen for and described it as: “a haunting blend of jasmine, rose, herbs and ambergris that is just a joy to behold.” In her full review, she talks of how it evokes an alternate universe, writing in part:

AbdesSalaam Attar hails from that alternate universe. A Frenchman by birth and a traveler, he has undertaken the journey of fragrance backward, eastward, toward the origin and the Orient, via Italy. His Venezia Giardini Segreti does not attempt the dazzling technical feats of contemporary, French-trained perfumers but – I’ve written this before about his work – it nevertheless springs from an age-old culture of scent. […]

Here, rose and jasmine are both seductive and mystical. The herbs that tinge them with green and aromatic notes hint at an even richer bouquet – there is a tuberose effect – the petals vivid against sap-filled leaves and sprigs.[…]  the secret ingredient of his Venezia Giardini Segreti is ambergris, which he describes as “a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk.” I’ve only smelled ambergris tincture twice, and couldn’t truly pretend to recognize it: perhaps the “sea” and “mother’s milk” are what give Venezia Giardini Segreti the eerie, “I’ve been there before” sensation I experienced when I applied it. Like Venice, perfume is nothing if not a labyrinth.

On Perfume Smellin’ Things, Giardini Segreti conjured up “garden of dreams and reverie” inhabited by “poet or noblewoman dressed in Renaissance garb.” Donna’s review talks about Giardini Segreti’s “magical effect,” and says:

The luscious jasmine Sambac in this fragrance is particularly sublime, and since my skin tends to amplify white florals, it is quite dominant at first, but that’s fine with me, since I love jasmine, and the languid dreaminess of the composition speaks to my own personality as a lover of gardens, history, beautiful vintage objects, and good stories. The rose is the handmaiden to the jasmine here, adding a ripe fullness and plush comfort to the centerpiece of jasmine. I don’t know what pure ambergris smells like, but its inclusion in this perfume seems to give in an overall patina of nostalgia and wistfulness, like the ineffable pull of memory experienced when looking at faded photographs of places you have never been, but to which you feel a deep connection, and you wish you could somehow become a part of that long ago scene, where all the rough edges have been erased by time, leaving only the watercolor beauty of happy memories and idyllic living. Wearing Giardini Segreti is like stepping into that fantasy world, and I never want to leave it.

Casanova's Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Casanova’s Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

My experience was obviously very different from either of those accounts. I didn’t have any of the lush richness, roses, or saltiness that they encountered. Then again, I experienced animalic leather and smokiness which I far prefer to roses. Whatever the specific notes, I have to confess that I didn’t find Venezia Giardini Segreti to evoke either romantic fantasy worlds or a sense of “I’ve been there before” that both the Fragrantica commentator and Denyse Beaulieu mentioned. I liked Venezia Giardini Segreti, and agree that it has a very languid feel as a whole, but I far preferred the decadent, hedonistic excesses of the jasmine in Tawaf. Plus, as I’ve noted a few times in the past, I like my white flowers to sing operatically and at Wagnerian levels. Others, however, prefer their perfume to be more discreet and approachable, so it’s all a matter of personal tastes.

At the end of the day, though, there is no doubt that Venezia Giardini Segreti is lovely. Its gorgeous, fresh, bright opening is a head-turner. At the same time, the unusual leathered touch and the animalic whiff of the later stages make the perfume stand out from many jasmine scents on the market. If you’re looking for a languid jasmine with a twist and with a touch of darkness, then you should definitely give Giardini Segreti a sniff.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Abdes Salaam 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: Venezia Giardini Segreti 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 Giardini Segreti are in Euros without VAT: €57,52 for 15.5 ml, €114,06 for 32 ml,  and €178,52 for 53 ml/1.79 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $78 for the 15.5 ml, $155 for the 32 ml, and $243 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 Venezia Giardini Segreti is €20,83. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Also, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Venezia Giardini Segreti starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.