Review En Bref: Memo Paris Irish Leather

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



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

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

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

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

According to Fragrantica, the notes in Irish Leather are:

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

Mate or Yerba Mate. Source:

Mate or Yerba Mate. Source:

However, the company has quite a different list:

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

Flouve grass via

Flouve grass via

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

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

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

Mate tea via

Mate tea via

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

Juniper berries.

Juniper berries.

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

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dried Camomile tea leaves via

Dried Camomile tea leaves via

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

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

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

Then, the others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews en Bref: Imaginary Authors Memoirs of a Trespasser & Soft Lawn

As always, my Reviews en Bref are for scents that — for whatever reason — didn’t warrant a full, exhaustive, detailed review. I recently tried out some fragrances from Imaginary Authors, an American indie line begun in 2012 by perfumer, Josh Meyers. In another post, I looked at Cape Heartache and The Cobra & The Canary. This time, I will focus on Memoirs of a Trespasser, and Soft Lawn.

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


Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Memoirs of a Trespasser is meant to be an author’s memoir of his exotic travels, with a hallucinatory bent. The fragrance is an oriental vanilla, and its notes are:

Madagascar Vanilla, Guaiacwood, Myrrh, Benzoin Resin, Ambrette Seeds & Oak Barrels.

Memoirs of a Trespasser opens on my skin with vanilla, a weird fruitiness, musky sweetness, and oak. There is a momentary booziness, followed then a soft, creamy guaiac wood. The whole thing is laced with a scratchy, synthetic, aroma-chemical hum that is common to many of the Imaginary Authors fragrances, and which them so difficult for me. Here, it is dry, but sweet, with only a trace of the peppered element distinctive to ISO E Super. Yet, at the same time, the note is extremely dry, as if another aromachemical is responsible. Perhaps it is ISO E’s drier relative, Kephalis, but whatever it is, each and every time I smell Memoirs of a Trespasser up close, the inside of my nose feels raw, bloodied and scraped.

Within minutes, Memoirs of a Trespasser turns into a cloying, sickly Bourbon vanilla with a subtle tinge of soapy, cold myrrh, followed by smoky, woody notes and peppered, dry aromachemicals. I find the whole combination oddly nauseating, perhaps because the vanilla smells like a really cheap version of Madagascar extract with a hot, buttered rum undertone. I’m also not keen on the unexpected fruited nuance that smells like oranges, peaches, and Tang juice all in one. It doesn’t last long, perhaps 25-30 minutes, but it perplexes me the whole time. Out of all the notes, I like the oak element the best, but that is not saying much.

Towards the end of the second hour, Memoirs of a Trespasser shifts with the woody elements bypassing the vanilla and taking its place as the dominant accord. The primary bouquet is of lightly smoked guaiac wood, followed by myrrh and a touch of thin, dry vanilla, all infused with ISO E-like synthetics. The guaiac is difficult for me here, especially as it takes on an increasingly stale sourness as time goes by, which meshes oddly with the dry-sweetness of the other elements. A clean, white muskiness also starts to become noticeable, adding to the fragrance’s synthetic hum.

By the end of the 5th hour, Memoirs of a Trespasser is really various forms of sour, dry, smoky woodiness with a light sweetness and only a suggestion of vanilla extract. It remains that way for a while, until suddenly the vanilla returns at the start of the 8th hour. From that point until its end, almost 12 hours from the start, Memoirs of a Trespasser is a dry vanilla scent imbued by an abstract woodiness and a hint of powder.

I didn’t enjoy any of it, probably because I had the same extremely strong physical pain in my nose that I did to testing The Cobra & The Canary. I don’t know if it is an issue of the quantity of synthetics used in Imaginary Authors’ fragrances, or something else, but the degree of my reaction to the line far exceeds what I normally experience. This is not like the occasional headaches I get from ISO E Super when a vast quantity is used, but something akin to my more serious reaction to the super chemical Norlimbanol, and its relative, Kephalis.

Few people share my sensitivity to chemicals, and many are anosmic to things like ISO E Super. Yet, even without the synthetics, I wasn’t impressed by Memoirs of a Trespasser. It was simplistic, uninteresting, quite cloying at first, and discordant as a whole. It never felt refined or sophisticated. It was simply…. there.


IA Soft LawnSoft Lawn is described in the context of an imaginary author in 1916 who attended Princeton University and was a tennis champion. The notes are:

NOTES: Linden Blossom, Laurel & Ivy leaves, Vetiver, Oakmoss, Fresh Tennis Balls & Clay Court.

Soft Lawn opens on my skin with freshness and green notes that are crisp, bright, and aromatic. On occasion, they are almost a little herbal, as there is a minty nuance lurking underneath at the start. Then, a soft floral creeps in, along with a clean, fuzzy, synthetic element. Hints of vetiver, grassiness, and ISO E Super dance around the edges. The floral note initially smells only vaguely like linden blossom, but not as sweet, lemony, or honeyed as it usually is. As a whole, Soft Lawn truly smells like a freshly opened can of tennis balls with linden, vetiver, green elements, and synthetics.

Linden blossom. Source:

Linden blossom. Source:

As time passes, the fragrance shifts a little, though not by much and primarily in a textural way. The lemon undertone to the linden blossom becomes more prominent, along with the overall floral aspect. As a whole, though, the notes are very blurred, lacking delineation, clearness, and force. In contrast, the ISO E Super and its peppered touch are much more distinct, noticeable in a clear, separate way that stands out.



The oddest thing about Soft Lawn for me is how the fragrance’s texture is its primary smell. It’s hard to explain, but Soft Lawn soon turns into something wholly fuzzy in feel. It’s an amorphous, indistinct blur of floral greenness. The fuzziness of the tennis ball texture is its actual smell, though its infused with that fresh, green floracy. The whole thing is imbued with a synthetic freshness that is initially sweet, delicate, and light.

There really isn’t much more to Soft Lawn than that. The fragrance never changes in any substantial way on my skin, and I tested it twice. It’s linear, simplistic, and uncomplicated, though Soft Lawn is not completely terrible from afar in the beginning as some sort of extremely generic, green freshness, I suppose. Up close, however, it smells industrial to my nose, with the aromachemicals increasingly dominating the scent. Perhaps it is the power of suggestion, but Soft Lawn does smell almost entirely of tennis balls on me after the first hour. All in all, the perfume generally lasted about 11-12 hours on my skin, with moderate sillage throughout, but I didn’t apply a lot due to my problems with all the synthetics in the IA line.

My experiences with the Imaginary Authors line led me to ask a family member for a Zyrtec anti-allergy pill before my second test of Soft Lawn, in case I had potentially developed allergies for the very first time in my life. Nope, that was not the cause of my pain. I was fine until I smelled Soft Lawn up close, and then…. bam, it felt as though someone had taken a straight razor to the skin inside my nose.  Even without the synthetics though, I find it hard to summon up much enthusiasm for the fragrance. I’m not keen to smell like tennis balls, I don’t like Soft Lawn’s lack of nuance or definition, and it’s a damn boring scent from start to finish. I’m afraid I simply don’t get it.


My primary problem with the Imaginary Authors line is obviously the physical pain I experienced but, even apart from that, I struggled with the scents as a whole. None of them felt sophisticated, refined, or elegant to me. Each one seemed to merely exist, as if a combination of related (and sometimes random) notes were put together primarily with an eye to meeting a plot line about a tennis champion or an imaginary person who went on travels to exotic places. It’s hard to explain because it’s not about a scent being unfinished or amateurish, though some element of both seems to be the case with each of the fragrances.

Rather, it’s more about the feel of the perfumes as something lifeless on the skin. Some of them lack a defining identity or force beyond the novelty factor, whether it is “tennis balls” or the unusualness of the hodge-podge combinations. The Cobra & The Canary seemed to have the greatest actual or developed character out of those that I’ve tried, but it is not an approachable, easy fragrance in my opinion. I could see more of the original story and goal in The Cobra & The Canary, but the rest transported me nowhere, evoked nothing, and felt as if they were merely just… there.

I understand wanting to do something different and experimental, about wanting to create a novel fragrance that is outside the usual box. I think that’s laudable, but being different for the sake of being different doesn’t always work. Successful execution is also key, as they often tell chefs on shows like “Top Chef” when they are trying to be different but fall flat on their face with some utterly peculiar combination.

Still, the Imaginary Authors line has enough fans for all of this to be a highly subjective matter of personal opinion. At the end of the day, the fragrances simply don’t work for me.

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

2013 in Review: Best of & Favorites Lists



The end of the year is almost upon us, so it seems like a good time for a “Year in Review” post with a list of favorites. I can’t say it has been easy for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I always struggle with lists, both in terms of placement and selecting the thing which will take that last spot. For another, I think I may be a little fickle in terms of my favorites, as perfumery can be as much about mood as other subjective factors.

In the case of fragrances that debuted in 2013, it’s been even harder. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the vast majority of the new releases that I tested, and the ones I did enjoy wouldn’t amount to a full ten in number. I’m not going to put something on a list simply and solely to round out the numbers, especially if I was underwhelmed with the scent in question or thought it had some serious problems. Take, for example, Tom Ford‘s Shanghai Lily from the Atelier d’Orient line. It is a scent that I liked the most out of Tom Ford’s various new collections this year, but that is a relative thing, not an absolute thing. Just because I liked it more than the rest of the 2013 Tom Fords doesn’t mean I would classify the scent as one of the best of the year. I certainly wouldn’t include Plum Japonais which I found to be a badly done, distorted copy of my beloved Fille en Aiguilles from Serge Lutens.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Another problem is that I’m not sure I should include one scent that was supposed to be released this year, and which I adored when I got to test it, but whose release was subsequently pushed back until Spring 2014. It is Neela Vermeire‘s Mohur Extrait, the formerly named Mohur Esprit. It would definitely be in my list of top 2013 favorites, and I considered saving it for the Best of 2014. In the end, I’ve cheated by including it here for 2013 with an asterisk next to its name.

In reality, my absolute favorite fragrances came from a wide range of years, but since this is the first year of the blog, everything was technically “new” for the purposes of my reviews. So, I’m going to do two lists or, to be more technically accurate, 2.5 lists: my top fragrances released in 2013, even if the number falls short of ten; then my personal top 10 of the perfumes I covered in 2013, followed by the next 15 for an overall top 25 favorites.


  1. Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    LM Parfums Hard Leather. Lust in the woods. A scent that, despite the “leather” in its name, is really more about dark woods, oud, incense, and sandalwood, than it is about leather. That said, the stunning, lusty leather and animalic musk give Hard Leather the best opening of a fragrance that I’ve tried in years. Pure, utter sex appeal, and lust. Sex in a bottle. An opening that sweeps me off my feet each time I smell it, and a gorgeous drydown as well. The middle stage isn’t particularly my cup of tea, but if one takes the scent as a whole and judges things on the basis of how intensely one wants a full bottle, then Hard Leather has to come in at first place. That said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. For one thing, I think Hard Leather skews very masculine in nature, and even some men may find it excessively dry, dark, or animalic, but I loved it and it is my favorite new fragrance of 2013.

  2. Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and

    Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture 2013. Source: FlipZone.

    Neela Vermeire Mohur Extrait**  I like the regular Mohur eau de parfum, but Mohur Extrait is profoundly stronger, deeper, and richer. It has a va-va-voom oomph that transforms the pale, quiet, restrained, sometimes excessively delicate rose Mohur into Cinderella at the ball. A Cinderella with a diva’s charisma, and wearing the most opulent ball gown and jewels around. Mohur Extrait is a deep, rich, potent blend of roses, with real Mysore sandalwood, iris, and violets. There is a touch of leather, smoky elemi, and pepper to prevent it from being too dainty or femme, and the whole thing sits on an ambered base that is faintly milky but always infused with that beautiful, rich, creamy Mysore sandalwood. Mohur Extrait is simply beautiful, and a head-turner.  **I’m cheating, as Mohur Extrait’s release has been pushed back until 2014, but dammit, it debuted at the Milan Esxence show, so I’m going to include it in my list of 2013 releases.

  3. Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.eduViktoria Minya Hedonist. A stunningly golden, happy, but refined, sophisticated, lush, floral oriental, Hedonist sparkles and soothes at the same time. It opens with Bourbon-like, boozy, dark honeycombs that are infused with lush peach, heady jasmine, citrus notes and some orange blossom, all perfectly blended in a soft, golden cloud. It eventually turns into a honey, beeswax and vanilla scent that soothes you in its soft sweetness. Whenever I wear it, I feel calmer, more relaxed, like a cat stretching out in the warmth of the sun. Hedonist has a truly classique feel of haute perfumery, but it never feels dated or old-fashioned, in my opinion. It is elegant and opulent without being excessive, heady but perfectly balanced, and sparkles in a way that reminds me both of champagne and the sunniest of skies in the South of France. Truly beautiful, and a stunning debut from Viktoria Minya.
  4. Source:


    Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. Elfish green and the floor of a fairy forest filled with the essence of nature in a delicate but strong bouquet of oakmoss, wet leaves, mushrooms, herbs, a strip of dark leather taken over by nature’s minted greens, and a touch of balsamic resins. It’s really hard to describe in many ways, as this is not a traditional chypre, and may be the most unusual, otherworldly scent I’ve encountered. Chypre Mousse stopped me in my tracks, made me turn around on my way to the mecca of Serge Lutens to buy my bell jar, and became something I had to have after a mere 15 minutes, further tests or development be damned. Chypre Mousse won’t be for everyone, but those who love it will experience an incredibly potent, extremely green fragrance that lasts an enormous amount of time for such a seemingly delicate, ethereal scent.

  5. Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:

    Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:

    Amouage Fate Woman. Fate Woman is a beautiful chypre-oriental hybrid that starts off as a very restrained, cool, aloof scent that smells of citruses, oakmoss, and cool daffodils. Like shedding a sculptured black dress to reveal the sensuous lingerie underneath, Fate Woman turns warmer, more opulent, and sensuous with roses, jasmine, animalic notes, and creamy vanilla that is almost gourmand-like at times. The sensual, sophisticated heart turns warmer and more golden as the fragrance ends on labdanum amber, vanilla, and soft musk in a creamy blend that feels like cuddles after a heated night. I’m not a fan of the soapiness that appears at one point, but Fate Woman is a beautiful scent that starts off as controlled restraint before ending in warm abandon.

  6. Mary Cassat. "Mother Playing With Child."

    Mary Cassat. “Mother Playing With Child.”

    Neela Vermeire Ashoka. Ashoka is a creamy, milky fig and sandalwood fragrance with incense, peppered woods, iris, and other subtle tonalities. It has an enormously comforting vibe that feels like a mother’s warm embrace. It is not my favorite NVC creation, as it is far from my personal style which is much better suited to Neela Vermeire’s bolder, spicier creations. However, it is very well done, and an elegant fragrance that is definitely one of the top releases of the year as a whole. If any of the other NVC perfumes have felt too intense, too oriental, complicated, or fiery, then Ashoka will be for you.

  7. Source:


    Lys Epona Lys Epona. Lys Epona is from a new French perfume house by the same name and sponsored by Jovoy Paris. It is a beautiful scent that caught my attention from the moment I sniffed it at Jovoy and, despite its sillage flaws and longevity problems, it is very well-done, extremely evocative, and has a very vintage vibe. It is also original, taking delicate white lilies, and infusing them with dark, animalic leather, and grassy, outdoorsy elements ranging from hay to daffodils, grass, and amber. The scent is supposed to replicate the dance between a courtesan and a Hussar cavalry officer in France’s elite Republican Guard. For me, however, it conjured up a Celtic princess astride a large white stallion, garbed in a softly burnished, slightly musky, brown leather cuirass, and draped with white lilies. Her skirt is made of hay, wheat and grass; her skin is coated in ambered oil; and her long hair braided with daffodils that matched the flowers in her horse’s mane. Truly, very well done, and the vintage, antique bottles from the 1930s are a perfect accompaniment to the scent.

  8. "Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

    Photo: LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within.)

    Tauer Perfumes PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. Andy Tauer’s PHI is a deep, spicy apricot-rose confection with rich vanilla mousse, dark green elements that almost feel mossy, and oriental flourishes ranging from tobacco to cinnamon and ambergris. It’s far from your usual rose scent, and I’d argue that the deep, dark flower isn’t even the main star of the show at times. PHI is a vibrant, sophisticated Oriental-hybrid with the faintest gourmand touches in a rich blend that that even those who don’t particularly like rose fragrances might enjoy.

  9. Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Parfums Retro Grand Cuir. Contradictions and paradoxes lie at the heart of Grand Cuir, which explores leather from one end of the spectrum to the other under the most civilized and sophisticated of veneers. It starts as raw leather coated with birch tar and pungent herbs before turning into the expensive, new black leather of a biker’s jacket, then burnished, softly aged leather with amber, before ending up as the most refined of creamy Italian suedes infused with amber, lavender, and skin-like musk. It’s a journey that is at once animalic and aldehydic, soapy clean, beginning as a masculine scent that is an aromatic, herbal fougère with leather, before it transforms into something very different. And the whole thing is done sotto voce, with the quiet firmness of a confident man who doesn’t believe he has to be flashy and loud to draw attention to himself. Very well done, and very refined.


Perfume reviewing is subjective by nature, but whittling down those personal choices into a favorites list is even more so. No-one ever agrees fully on a Top Ten list, whether it’s for movies, television shows, food, or some other category, and perfume is no different. So, I don’t expect any of you to agree with everything or even some of the things on this list, but these are my absolute favorites out of the modern, non-vintage scents available on the market and that I’ve tried this year.

I’ve struggled for hours over the placement and order, because I can be fickle and prefer some scents over others depending on mood. After re-testing a number of these, I think I have the order set, more or less, with the caveat that there may be a standard deviation of +1 or -1 for the fragrances listed. In other words, on one day, a fragrance coming in at #4 may be at #3 or #5 from one day to the next, but not really more than that. Then again, I can be a little fickle, ranking things is an utter nightmare, and who knows if this would be the precise order in two months from now? I did my best for now, however, so this is the list thus far.

  1. LM Parfums Hard Leather. As noted in my description above, I think this is sexy as hell. I’ll spare you additional heated descriptions, as I quite lose my cool whenever it comes to this fragrance.
  2. Source:


    Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. At first sniff, Fille en Aiguilles is Christmas in a bottle, from the pine tree before the fire to sugar-plum treats. Look closer, though, and you’ll find Fille en Aiguilles is really all about the frankincense. Spiralling swirls of dark smoke weave its way around the pine, the crushed needles on the forest floor, and the plummy fruits infused with ginger and spices. There is warmth and sweetness, despite the chill in the snowy forest outside. From start to finish, Fille en Aiguilles is my favorite scent from my favorite house. To my amusement, each and every time that I’ve taken perfume samples to share with friends, Fille en Aiguilles is consistently the one that men fall for. The last time I sprayed Fille en Aiguilles on someone, there were precisely 6 women sniffing his neck, his arms, and his chest. I practically had to fight him from grabbing my travel decant there and then for himself. Yet, Fille en Aiguilles is wholly unisex in nature; out of all the people I know who wear it, the vast majority are women.  

  3. Source: Warren Photographic at

    Source: Warren Photographic at

    Puredistance M. A masterpiece from Roja Dove, M has a citric chypre opening reminiscent of Hermès’ vintage Bel Ami that turns to a rich, smooth leather that briefly smells like the most expensive car seats. Soon, the leather is burnished by cognac, becoming soft, rich, and oiled with honeyed roses, jasmine, spices, and beeswax. At times, it feels a little like Serge LutensCuir Mauresque (see below at #11), but the leather phase doesn’t dominate the scent. In my opinion, the true essence of M is a molten, oriental labdanum amber. Simply stunning, from start to finish, and one of my favorite fragrances. I believe that M is unisex in nature, thanks to the florals and the honeyed amber drydown with cinnamon-dusted vanilla, but it will depend on one’s yardstick. Those who love pure florals, powdery scents, or gourmands will probably consider M to skew masculine. 

  4. Source: Huffington Post.

    Source: Huffington Post.

    Neela Vermeire Trayee. Someone once called Trayee a “force of nature,” in a slightly overwhelmed, stunned tone, and I think that’s quite true. The Bertrand Duchaufour creation is fiery, spicy, smoky, dusty, and woody, dominated by genuine, almost rare Mysore sandalwood in copious amounts that runs through the fragrance from top to bottom like a luscious red-gold vein. There are also two different kinds of Jasmine absolute, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, frankincense, oud, amber, and a plethora of other notes, all superbly blended into a bouquet that is dry, dusty, spicy, sweet, and smoky. Trayee is intense, no doubt about it, but in its later development, it loses its dry, dusty, spiced smokiness, softens and turns warm with smooth, creamy sandalwood, and deep, slightly smoky amber. Trayee is a tempestuous, stormy, fiery, rich mix that I find utterly mesmerizing. If the perfume were a woman, she’d probably be the famous, legendary diva, Maria Callas, with a touch of the young Sophia Loren in all her hot-heated, Italian ways and a dash of the fierce Mistral wind. It is definitely a force of nature that evokes India in all its multi-faceted, complicated splendour.

  5. Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Amouage Tribute attar. Perhaps the smokiest of the smoky greats, Tribute reminds me of Darth Vader’s perfect rose, a rose thoroughly infused with darkness and smoke. It’s utterly spectacular, though the variations in batch numbers is troublesome, leading some versions to be out-of-balance and with such disproportionate smokiness that a handful of people have reported experiencing an almost ashtray-like note. Still, the version I tested was magnificent, and makes Tribute my favorite Amouage scent thus far.

  6. Source: photos.

    Source: photos.

    Chanel Coromandel (Les Exclusifs). My favorite, modern Chanel scent is Coromandel, hands down and by a landslide. It’s probably no surprise, as it is made by my favorite perfumer, the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake who normally works with Serge Lutens. Coromandel begins on an intense frankincense note before turning into a milky Chai tea dusted with white chocolate powder and infused with deep, mellow patchouli. It is my favorite sort of patchouli with its nutty, smoky, woody, spicy, ambered warmth, instead of that vile purple, fruited, syrupy, fruit-chouli. The whole mix is perhaps the most refined, addictive, creamy patchouli-incense fragrance I have encountered. If I could take a bath in Coromandel nightly, I would, because I find something endlessly soothing and indulgent about its ambered, golden warmth.

  7. Source:


    Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir. Nothing in Fourreau Noir should make it a fragrance that I would like, as I normally despise lavender with a fiery passion. I’m actually quite phobic about the note, and the mere mention of the word makes me shudder. But there is magic in Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake’s touch, and the two wizards created the most beautiful scent imaginable. It helps that Fourreau Noir is ultimately not about the lavender at all, in my opinion, but about the incense. From the very first moment, until the fragrance’s end in a cloud of spiced, mellow, patchouli infused with amber and vanilla, the dark tendrils of black smoke weave their way around you. It also helps that the dried lavender transforms into creamy lavender ice-cream with almonds. The real gem in Fourreau Noir, however, is that incense and ambered-patchouli cocoon at the heart of the scent. It says something when a lavender-phobe can love a fragrance with a note they despise; it says more when they go out of their way to purchase an expensive bell jar of it. Which I did….  

  8. Source:


    Téo Cabanel Alahine. A Moroccan souk filled with spices under a turquoise sky. Sumptuous, dark, red roses concentrated to their headiest essence. Golden amber as far as the eye can see with rich, dark, toffee’d caramel, labdanum amber. A powerfully start of incredibly booziness, but a finish that is pure, vintage Bal à Versailles without the skank or dirtiness. Alahine is a fiery, spicy, incredibly complex, oriental monster that may require a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to love. Spray on too much, she’ll blow out your nose, or traumatize you. Don’t give her enough time or tests, and you’ll be misled into thinking she is all booziness, Moroccan spices, and smoke. It seems to require four tests to understand Alahine, and not be overpowered by her intense, smoldering start. It can take time to see that her real nature is the most sophisticated of slinky black dresses, cut low and deep, with a va-va-voom glamour that is opulent, French classicism at its best. Yet, Alahine ends as a really plush, soft, golden, slightly powdered warmth that is as rich as a cashmere, camel overcoat. Don’t let the roses fool you; Alahine is unisex, and I know a number of very masculine men who love its boozy, spiced fieriness deeply.

  9. Source:


    Dior Mitzah (La Collection Privée). A start of dark incense that belongs in a Chinese temple, followed by an ode to labdanum amber in all its richness. Labdanum is the true form of amber, and Mitzah highlights all of its facets from honeyed, toffee’d, slightly dirty, occasionally leathery, and deeply warm in an incredibly refined blend that is also infused with smoke, roses, and patchouli. It’s a wave of richness that made Mitzah much loved, and I find it utterly baffling that Dior decided to discontinue one of its most popular scents. However, you can still find Mitzah online and at Dior boutiques while supplies last, so if you haven’t tried the scent and you love amber, I urge you to get a sample as soon as you can.

  10. Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. (See above. Or, better yet, read the review, as this is one scent that is very hard to describe.) 


  1. Source:


    Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque. Cuir Mauresque is a shamefully under-appreciated fragrance, in my opinion. It’s one of my favorite leather scents, and, apparently, Serge Lutens’ own choice of perfume to wear. He and Christopher Sheldrake focus on taming animalic leather by infusing it first with clove-studded oranges and spices, then hefty amounts of heady jasmine absolute and orange blossoms. He uses powder to cut through the animalic skank and civet, keeping it perfectly balanced, while also weaving in dark incense, styrax, cedar and ambered resins. The resulting combination resembles Bal à Versailles at times, and oozes pure sex appeal, in my opinion. Cuir Mauresque is wholly unisex in nature. Some men find the leather too powdery, while some women find the skank to be a little too much. It will depend on your tastes. I’ve started using my parents — aka The Ultimate Perfume Snobs who taught me about perfumery to begin with– as my yardstick for other people’s perception of “skank” and leather. My father who finds Hard Leather to be too animalic and “dirty” has Cuir Mauresque as his second favorite leather scent after Puredistance M. In contrast, my mother (who adores Hard Leather and doesn’t find it to be “dirty” at all) thinks Cuir Mauresque is feminine sex appeal and utterly addictive. Your yardstick may vary, but if you love leather fragrances and some skank, then you really should try Cuir Mauresque.

  2. Viktoria Minya Hedonist. (See above.)
  3. "Abstract streams of gold." Photo: Jason Tockey. Site:

    “Abstract streams of gold.” Photo: Jason Tockey. Site:

    Profumum Roma Ambra Aurea. Profumum’s ode to goldenness focuses not on amber, but on ambergris in all its deep, rich, salty, musky glory. It’s a very different matter and aroma, as my review tries to make clear. Ambra Aurea is the thickest, most golden, opaque, intense, salty-caramel amber fragrance around, a veritable deluge of one note heightened to its most concentrated essence with 43%-46% perfume oils. It’s a linear, non-stop soliflore that coats your skin for hours on end, emitting a slight smokiness from incense. There are strong undertones of labdanum amber that are, alternatively, nutty, toffee’d, honeyed, faintly dirty, and almost chocolate-y at times. In its final stage, Ambra Aurea smells of amber and incense with beeswax, saltiness, and sweetness. Lovely on its own, and lovely when used as a layering base, Ambra Aurea is the single richest amber on the market. It blows all the others out of the water, in my opinion, especially Serge LutensAmbre Sultan which also has a labdanum focus but which is like water in comparison.  

  4. Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. A seductive floral oriental, Sensual Orchid is centered on the eponymous flower. On my skin, the orchid is a delicate, pastel, floral note that feels as crystal clear, clean, bright and sparkling as a bell rung at the top of the Swiss alps. It smells of lilies, peonies, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, vanilla — all wrapped into one in a cool, clean, crystal liquidity. It is followed by the richest ylang-ylang; custardy vanilla; a hint of smoky woods; bitter, green-white almonds; and boozy cognac fruitedness. The final result is incredibly narcotic, dramatic, opulent, and heady. For me, Sensual Orchid is all about dressing to undress, and to seduce. It is a scent that definitely skews feminine in nature, though I know a number of men to love it as well.

  5. George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    Jardins d’Ecrivains George. Feminine orange blossoms turned masculine in an ode to George Sand. The potent flowers are transformed into something leathered, dark, and faintly dirty with tobacco, resins, and more. From a mentholated beginning with neroli, George slowly takes on paper, coffee, and tobacco notes, followed by heliotrope, myrrh and Peru Balsam in a play of hardness and softness, lightness and dark, masculine and feminine. Leathered orange blossoms is quite an original take on the usually indolic flowers, and I was taken enough by George to buy a full bottle. Some find the scent far too masculine for a woman, which rather defeats the whole point of a fragrance meant to reflect the particular character of George Sand. I think it’s unisex, though you have to like your neroli and orange blossoms with a dark, dirty edge.

  6. Source:


    Arabian Oud Kalemat. Kalemat is a fantastically affordable, easy, rich oriental centered on a honeyed amber with tobacco, incense, and dry cedar tonalities. It opens with dark berries that smell like blueberry purée, infused with honey and incense, then a rich, deep Damascena rose joins the party. Eventually, Kalemat turns into a non-powdery, more concentrated version of Serge Lutens’ tobacco-y Chergui with touches of Hermes’ Ambre Narguilé, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, and, for some, Amouage’s Interlude Man. There is a subtle whiff of oud underlying the mix, along with dried cedar. Heady and potent at first, Kalemat becomes a sheer cloud that envelopes you in a golden haze of sweetness, dryness, woodiness and incense. It lasts for hours and hours, smells incredibly expensive, and is highly affordable. If you love ambers, tobacco-incense fragrances, or sweet scent like any of those mentioned above (including Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille), then you really should give Kalemat a sniff.

  7. Arabian Horse tumblr_m7dtkdCrFl1rwt5gqo1_500Amouage Jubilation XXV (Men). I love Jubilation XXV, and always regret that it has very little longevity on my wonky skin. What a beautiful opening! Dark oranges infused with incense, balsamic resins, cedar, patchouli, ambergris and a faint touch of oud in a deep, rich blend that often makes me think of HermèsElixir de Merveilles, but better. A few hours later, Jubilation XXV takes you to the wintery outdoors, with a large stone campfire amidst a dark, dry Guaiac forest, a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is a slightly medicinal, synthetic, pink band-aids undertone to the oud, but the fragrance is really well done as a whole. If Jubilation XXV lasted on my skin beyond a mere 5.5 hours, it would be ranked much higher.   
  8. Painting by Holly Anderson. "Spherical Romance Art Set" via (Website link embedded within.)

    Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via (Website link embedded within.)

    Nasomatto Black Afgano. In essence, Black Afgano is a super-concentrated, richer, deeper version of YSL‘s fabled M7 in its original, vintage form. It’s a smoky plethora of darkness from the dark, quasi/fake “hashish” elements and cherry-cola labdanum amber with all its nutty, toffee’d undertones, to the incense, the oud (supplemented by Norlimbanol), leather tonalities, and resinous sweetness. I didn’t enjoy the synthetic nuances to the oud or the Norlimbanol, but I liked the fragrance as a whole. It seems Black Afgano may have been reformulated to dilute some of its super smokiness and render the fragrance more sweet, as it wasn’t the dark monster of brutish repute that I had expected. If it has changed, then perhaps the reformulation merely makes it more unisex. Those looking for a version of vintage M7 with deeper potency, sillage, and longevity, should definitely check out Black Afgano.   

  9. Source:


    Serge Lutens De Profundis. A hauntingly delicate, evocative floral that captures the essence of flowers in purple twilight and feels like a call to Spring. It opens with its core note, chrysanthemums. that have been blended with violets, green notes, white lilies, and sweet, wet earth. Lurking at the edges are peonies, chamomile flowers, incense, a dash of light roses, a whisper of purple lilacs, and some ISO E Super. The flowers feel incredibly dewy and light, almost tender and soft. It is as though they are just waking up, releasing the airiest of delicate floral scents. De Profundis is, at the start, a cool fragrance that is almost chilly in its delicacy. As time passes, however, the floral aroma becomes stronger, more robust, almost as if the flowers have fully bloomed in the sunlight. The dew has evaporated, the petals unfurled, and the meadow floor comes to life with earthy softness, light smoke, and every bit of green around. De Profundis is a bit too watery for my personal tastes, and I’m generally not one for pure florals, but it’s hard not to be swayed by its pale, ethereal delicacy. It is really a hauntingly elegant scent.    

  10. Source:


    Dior Ambre Nuit (La Collection Privée). If Mitzah was Dior’s ode to labdanum amber, then Ambre Nuit must be its homage to ambergris. On my skin, Ambre Nuit is smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from pepper and a little sweet from patchouli. It is laced with black incense, creating a mix that evokes parts of Chanel’s Coromandel. There is something extremely sensuous about Ambre Nuit which often makes me think of the Argentinian tango. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose never features much on my skin, though it does on others. On me, the patchouli is more prominent with its spicy, sweet, often chocolate-y mellowness. It’s a beautiful combination, and my second favorite scent from Dior’s refined Privée line.

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

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

    Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour Le Soir. Described by some as beastly, by others as “dirty,” Absolue Pour Le Soir is my favorite from MFK, but how you respond to it will depend very much on your personal yardstick for honey, cumin, and animalic notes. For me, Absolue conjures up the heart of a Turkish harem besieged by musky, leather-armoured warriors. They bang on the sandalwood doors which open to release spirals of incense, as honey-swathed concubines approach to tempt with deep roses and indolic ylang-ylang. Absolue Pour Le Soir begins as an instant war between warm human flesh, the mysteries of floral-draped women, sweet honeyed intimacy, animalic leather, and feral, musky masculinity. As if tamed, the fragrance later softens to a creamy, spiced sandalwood infused with honey, dark resins, frankincense, and a dollop of roses. It’s lovely, though I’ve found myself holding it at more of a distance these days, perhaps because of the sharpness of the honey which is a core element of the scent. Still, if you want a truly skanky Oriental with the most golden of ambered hues and endless layers of complexity, you should rush to try Absolue Pour Le Soir.

  12. Amouage Fate Woman. (See description above.)
  13. Source:


    Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chyprée. I’m generally not one for rose scents, but Andy Tauer’s Une Rose Chyprée is an exception. It’s a spectacular chypre-oriental hybrid that features an autumnal, ambered rose nestled in the mossiest of green cocoons. The fragrance swirls all around you in a veiled shimmer of greens, garnet red, earthiness, and mossy trees — all rolled into one. This is a green rose whose petals were crushed into the damp, wet soil of the forest floor; a rose that lies nestled amidst fresh, just slightly mineralized, faintly bittersweet mosses; a rose infused with the concentrated essence of a thousand dark green, slightly spicy, peppered leaves, then sprinkled with hints of alternatively tart and zesty citruses. It is a rose that is fruited, but spiced with cinnamon, and wrapped with the tendrils of black incense. Some chypres can be haughty, cold, aloof numbers that keep you at a distance. Une Rose Chyprée is almost a coquettish chypre that beckons you with a sweet smile, despite the emeralds and rubies glowing around her elegant, rosy throat. If it didn’t have an enormous amount of ISO E Super and didn’t give me a ferocious, piercing headache, I would definitely be tempted to buy a full bottle. Nonetheless, it’s an absolutely beautiful scent, and my favorite from Andy Tauer.  

  14. Tauer Perfumes’ PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. (See description above.)
  15. Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Puredistance Opardu. I’m not the sort to be deeply moved by pure florals, but Opardu has one of the most beautiful openings in the genre that I’ve encountered in years. It almost gave me whiplash as I smelled the bouquet of lilacs — vast fields of purple with a scent that was concentrated, pure, and incredibly delicate. It was followed by violets, tuberose, jasmine, lush gardenia and heliotrope in a stunning mix. It is pure, unadulterated, classique, haute elegance that calls back to the golden age of perfumery. On my skin, unfortunately, that spectacular start lasts only a brief hour before it fades, and then sheer, vaguely floral powderiness takes over. If there were a way to capture and retain that beginning, Opardu would undoubtedly be in my Top 10. As it is, I think it’s a beautifully feminine fragrance with Puredistance’s signature touch of great refinement, elegance, and luxuriousness.

So, that’s my Year in Review. I may end up having a separate post next week that divides fragrances into categories, from Ambers and Leathers, to Floral Orientals, Pure Florals, Gourmands, and the like. I’m still undecided, as I know it will take forever to compile, and some genres may only have one or two entries in it. Others may have far too many to choose from. In case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to focus on Orientals, and I rarely stick my toe into such fields as foodie gourmands, crisp colognes, or aldehydic fragrances. Plus, many Orientals are either hybrids or have two or more dominant elements that can make the scent fall into different categories. As a result, I’m not sure how useful or precise such a list will be, but we shall see.

As the year draws to a close, I want to wish you all Happy Holidays. I hope that the upcoming year brings you endless joy, peace, prosperity, good health, success, love and laughter. Thank you for staying on this journey with me, and here’s to a great 2014!

Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady



The Purple Rose of Cairo. The old movie title seems like the best description for a much beloved perfume where the rose is purple from patchouli and dark berries, and Cairo represents the strong backbone of incense smoke. The perfume is Portrait of a Lady (often shortened to just “PoaL“), an eau de parfum from the luxury fragrance house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Portrait of a Lady was created by Dominique Ropion, one of the most well-respected, famous noses around, and was released in 2010. The Frederic Malle website describes the fragrance as:

Source: Basenotes

Source: Basenotes

a new breed of oriental rose, a baroque perfume. It is based on an accord of benzoin, cinnamon, sandalwood and, above all patchouli, musk and frankincense. It takes off with an excessive dosage of the best Turkish rose essence that Dominique Ropion linked to the rest of the formula, thanks to a red berries and spice accord. After hundreds of trials needed to balance such an excessive formula (Portrait of a Lady is undoubtedly the perfume containing the strongest dosage of rose essence and patchouli heart), a rare symphonic perfume appeared:  a new oriental rose, a sensuous beauty that attracts people like a magnet, a modern classic:  Portrait of a Lady.

Fragrantica classifies the fragrance as a floral Oriental, and lists its notes as follows:

Turkish rose, raspberry, black currant, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, ambroxan, benzoin and white musk.

"Bleeding Rose" by April Koehler. Source:

“Bleeding Rose” by April Koehler. Source:

Portrait of a Lady opens on my skin with the familiar strains of a jammy rose. It is intensely fruited with raspberries that feel almost candied and syrupy, along with a hint of tart, juicy cassis (otherwise known as black currant). The flower is full-bodied, rich, infused with patchouli to its core, and as dark as the finest wine, but it is also set on fire with dry, smoky incense. The flower actually feels so thick with dark, purple patchouli that it evokes images of crimson blood dripping into dry, arid Arabian sands that have been swirled into a storm of incense. Whispers of clove add a subtle spiciness and, in conjunction with the dry smoke, help ensure that Portrait of a Lady is never cloyingly sweet. 

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

At its core, Portrait of a Lady is a simple fragrance of rose supported by twin pillars of patchouli and smoke. And it never really changes from that essential characteristic. The notes may vary in prominence or strength, and the background elements certainly become less noticeable as time goes by, but Portrait of a Lady can really be summed up as nothing more than fruited, jammy, patchouli rose infused with dry incense. It’s a well-done triptych of notes that eventually turns into a bipartisan interplay of incense and patchouli, but that’s really about it.

Portrait of a Lady has been largely imitated by many similar, jammy, incense purple rose fragrances since then, but it really doesn’t knock my socks off. So, I’ll spare you the lengthy, moment-by-moment analysis of how minimal the clove is on my skin, how long the raspberry lasts in an additional surfeit of fruitedness that I did not enjoy, or how it ends up creating a sour note that lingers well into the perfume’s final moments. I’ll avoid getting into the details of just how much purple patchouli there is in Portrait of a Lady, how it becomes a skin scent on me less than 3.75 hours into the perfume’s development, how there are subtle elements of something synthetic in the base (perhaps thanks to the Ambroxan), or the way there is a weirdly soapy tinge to the fragrance for a few hours.

purple smokeThe simple nutshell story is that, on me, Portrait of a Lady started as a conventional jammy rose with incense and endless heapings of purple, purple, purple, fruited patchouli. I really dislike purple patchouli, and there is a hell of a lot of it here. Portrait of a Lady then took less than 4 hours to turn into a somewhat dry, very subdued, completely muted blur of simple patchouli and incense with an endlessly lingering, unpleasant hint of sourness before it finally died away. It’s a fragrance that lasted just over 9.25 hours on me, and that I found to be tolerably nice. It was also, however, unoriginal, linear, painfully purple and fruited, and wholly boring. I certainly don’t think it’s worth the high Malle prices.

However, I’m hugely in the minority on my lack of enthusiasm for Portrait of a Lady. The fragrance is much adored; in fact, it is many people’s ideal, perfect rose. Some even consider it to be a “naughty” rose, an impression or association that never once crossed my mind. In truth, I am starting to think that Frederic Malle is a brand that simply doesn’t do much for me; thus far, I haven’t been impressed by a single one that I’ve tried. So, I shall put on my “Cone of Shame” (to borrow an apt, recent phrase from Lucas of Chemist in a Bottle), and slink to my corner. Mea culpa.  

Cost & Availability: Portrait of a Lady (PoaL) is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of different forms and sizes. On his U.S. website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays that are each 10 ml in size for $150; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $230; or a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $340. It seems as though the 50 ml size is available only from the US Malle website, as no other vendors, including even the French or International Malle website, carries that small bottle. On the International Malle website, the prices are €100 for the travel trio, and €225 for the large 100 ml bottle. I’m afraid there is a web-error page for the small 50 ml size, so I can’t see its Euro price, and oddly, PoaL doesn’t even appear on this page with all the other 50 ml/1.7 oz bottles. Malle also sells a 200 ml body cream on each website which costs $210. In the U.S.: You can also find Portrait of a Lady at Barneys in all sizes, except the small 1.7 oz, $230 bottle. You’re essentially stuck ordering from the Malle website if you’re looking for that. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Portrait of a Lady is exclusive to Holt Renfrew, which sells the large 100 ml bottle for CAD $370. In the UK, it is available at Liberty which sells the mini, travel trios for £90.00 and the 100 ml bottle for £200.00. For all other countries, you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. Samples: I received my sample from a friend but you can always order from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: A Lab on Fire What We Do In Paris Is Secret

My Reviews En Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t merit one of my lengthy, exhaustive, detailed assessments.

Source: A Lab on Fire's Flickr page.

Source: A Lab on Fire’s Flickr page.

Fluffy, clean, powdery, gourmand, and very young. That, in a nutshell, is the summation for A Lab on Fire‘s What We Do in Paris Is Secret. “What We Do In Paris Is Secret” is a bloody long name, so I’ll just shorten it to “What We Do in Paris” or “WWDIP.” The fragrance is an eau de parfum from the legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, long considered one of the most technically brilliant, talented, master perfumers. A Lab on Fire is a new niche brand, created in 2011, and, according to Now Smell This, is a sister house to S-Perfume. According to that NST article, A Lab on Fire’s mission is to create fragrances in collaboration with master perfumers, and to “emphasize the juice over the packaging (What We Do is housed in a plain lab bottle with a smear of black paint and a label, and there’s a ziploc bag instead of a box[.].” Hence, a very utilitarian, minimalistic bottle in a silver bag.

The WWDIPIS bag. Source: Fragrantica

The WWDIP bag. Source: Fragrantica

What We Do In Paris was released in 2012, and is classified on Fragrantica as a Fruity Floral. Luckyscent says the perfume notes are as follows:

Bergamot, honey, lychee, Turkish rose essence, tonka bean, vanilla, heliotrope, tolu, sandalwood, ambergris, musks.

What We Do In Paris opens on my skin with a soft, fragile rose note, infused with powder and honey. It is quickly followed by something chemical with a strong aroma of burnt plastic and a faint undertone of medical astringent. I test What We Do In Paris twice, and the same thing occurred both times. The combination is quickly joined by a light, watery, pastel, fruity note that just barely hints at being sweet lychee, but it is almost completely buried under the chemical element and by the advent of a new arrival. It’s powder. Full-blown powder, bursting on the scene, feeling girly and light, infused with vanilla and an almond note from the heliotrope. The whole thing is bound up with enormous sweetness, though it never feels like honey, and feels very airy, soft, and gauzy.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Within minutes, What We Do In Paris changes. The rose note recedes far to the background, the lychee vanishes completely, and the perfume is reduced to an incredibly feminine cloud of sweet powder scented with vanilla and heliotrope. There is a faint whiff of clean, sweet, light musk at the edges, but that’s about it. The notes are so sheer and minimalistic, I actually doubled the amount of my dose to see if it were a simple problem of application and amount. Nope. What We Do In Paris emphasizes two main notes, and you bloody well better like them. Occasionally, like a ghost, there will be flickers of rose from far recesses of the perfume’s depths, and that lingering trace of burnt plastic chemicals, but generally What We Do In Paris is all about the vanilla, almond-heliotrope powder.

Play-Doh set and station via

Play-Doh set and station via

In the middle of the second hour, the perfume turns warmer, softer, and just a little bit richer. It’s all highly relative for this airy, frothy, singularly limited gourmand confection. The minuscule hints of rose have vanished, and a subtle undertone of amber stirs in the base. The more almond-y nuance of the heliotrope has turned into actual Play-Doh, and the vanilla seems richer.

Around the 4.75 hour mark, What We Do In Paris gains another side. Now, there are the creamy, generic, beige woods that modern perfumery insists on pretending is “sandalwood,” but which smell absolutely nothing like the real kind from Mysore. There’s also a subtle sense of something ambered in the base, though it has no chance of competing with the dominant accords. WWDIP is now a simple blend of Play-Doh heliotrope, vanilla, sweet powder, and ersatz, fake, “sandalwood” creaminess flecked with amber. In its final moments, What We Do In Paris is merely creamy sweetness with vanillic powder. It lasted just shy of 6.25 hours on my skin, and had soft sillage.

WWDIP is far from my personal cup of tea. It’s soft, sweet, and fluffy, though I’m not sure I mean that as a compliment. It’s a pleasant enough scent that skews extremely feminine and gourmand in nature, but is also extremely simple with limited range and a total lack of depth. What We Do In Paris is not fruity or floral enough to merit a “fun and flirty” designation, but it does scream “youthful.” It seems like the perfect sort of innocuous, soft, sweet, powdery scent for a young, female, high school student. It’s so pleasantly and innocuously powdery sweet that it actually seems more like a commercial scent that you’d find at the mall, instead of a niche fragrance that costs $110.

The surfeit of sweetness and the young, safe, fluffy banality bore me, but a lot of gourmand lovers seem to adore What We Do In Paris. It’s a fragrance that has often been compared to the cult hit Luctor et Emergo from The Peoples of The Labyrinths, as well as to Kenzo‘s Amour. The drydown has even been admiringly compared to Givenchy‘s notorious Amarige. I love Amarige, own it, and don’t find a lot of similarities between its lovely, richer, deeper, more appealing amber in the drydown, and the deluge of powdered sweetness in WWDIP. I haven’t tried the other scents to know how they may compare, but Now Smell This and Freddie of Smelly Thoughts found some overlap between What We Do In Paris and other gourmand fragrances, including Serge Lutens‘ Rahat Loukoum and Louve. Like me, Freddie wasn’t bowled over by What We Do In Paris, calling it “slightly immature” and “safe and predictable.” He called it “a perfect blind buy for someone who just likes to smell good but doesn’t care of what in particular.”

If you’re a gourmand lover, however, and are looking for an uncomplicated, completely safe scent, you may want to read the glowing, gushing raves on Luckyscent where many people find WWDIP to be delicious, sweet nectar and utterly addictive. Everyone talks about the powder or Play-Doh, but they generally love it, with only a few dissenters finding the perfume to be excessively sweet or like “baby powder.” One admiring commentator said the fragrance was delicious Play-Doh in “a comforting, loving feminine role-model wearing kind of way. Reminds me of a kind pre-school teacher.” I agree with that last bit. I could definitely see a pre-school teacher wearing WWDIP as a scent that would comfort and soothe toddlers….


Cost & Availability: What We Do In Paris Is Secret is an eau de parfum that is most commonly available in a 60 ml bottle that costs $110 or, generally, around €110. There is also a 15 ml bottle that is sold by some vendors for €24. Both sizes are listed on the Lab on Fire website, but it doesn’t seem to have an e-store offering online purchase. In the U.S.: you can find What We Do In Paris at Luckyscent. Outside the U.S.: In France, I found the perfume in a 15 ml size bottle at Colette which sells it for €24. I couldn’t find any UK vendors, but I didn’t search exhaustively. In the Netherlands, WWDIP is sold at Skins in the 60 ml bottle for €115,85. In Germany, First in Fragrance offers What We Do In Paris for €110, and I believe they ship worldwide. For all other locations, you can turn to the Lab on Fire Stockists list on their Facebook page which lists vendors from Austria to Poland, Greece, Switzerland and elsewhere in the EU. No UK or Australian vendors are listed, however. Samples: I obtained my vial from a friend, but you can buy samples at Surrender to Chance which offers WWDIP starting at $5.99 for a 1ml vial.

Review En Bref: Vero Profumo Kiki Eau de Parfum

As always, my Reviews en Bref are for a fragrance that, for whatever reason, didn’t warrant one of my long, exhaustive, detailed assessments. In this case, it’s Vero Profumo‘s Kiki Eau de Parfum.


Kiki takes me back to my childhood. It returns me to the sun-drenched hills and promenades of Cannes, to the Croisette where we’d sit at Le Festival to have a sandwich, and to the hills where our villa’s long driveway was lined with enormous lavender bushes and mimosa trees. Sun, blue skies, the glitter of turquoise waters, the relaxing heat of a city made fragrant by the flowers that surrounded you everywhere — those are all parts of my childhood summers in Cannes, a city that is just a 15-minute car ride from Grasse whose famous floral fields have made it the perfume-making center of the world.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of that trip down memory lane are pleasant. My time in Cannes created a strong backlash against lavender that, at times, seemed to besiege me from every nook, cranny, drawer, cupboard, kitchen, restaurant, boutique, promenade, street, house, garden, market, and every other possible, conceivable location imaginable. It was well-nigh unbearable to someone with a sensitive nose, and it left a definite mark. Since that time, I cannot stand lavender unless it’s done really well and is not abrasive. That’s not the case for Kiki, a fragrance whose opening I briefly struggled with before it turned into a plain, pretty, banal blur.

Vero Profumo Kiki EDP

Source: Luckyscent.

Vero Profumo (sometimes written with odd punctuation as “.vero.profumo.“) is a Swiss niche perfume line that was established in 2007 with three pure parfums called Onda, Kiki, and Rubj. Kiki in Eau de Parfum form came along three years later, in 2010, and the new concentration had a new formula and notes to go along with it. This time, there was passion fruit — which is probably why Fragrantica puts Kiki in the “aromatic fruity” category. Luckyscent provides the full list of notes:

Lavender essential oil, bergamot, citron, passion fruit, lavender absolute, geranium, caramel, patchouli, musk.


Dried lavender in a marché in Provence. Source:

Kiki Eau de Parfum opens on my skin with a sonic boom of sharp, pungent, herbal, almost medicinal, dried lavender. In less than a minute, however, it is infused by a strange, intense sweetness that just barely hints at being caramel. The bitter, harsh dried lavender of the sachets that plagued my childhood summers — the exact type of lavender I despise the most — is on full show here. It continues unabated for a few minutes until suddenly, drastically and quite dramatically, it starts to soften. It’s now slightly gentler, warmer, sweeter, rounder, and subtly flecked by a tart, tangy fruitness and by the merest floral whisper from the geranium. 

The fruit notes are interesting. Fresh citruses are mixed into the tart, tangy, sweet, and slightly musky character of the passion fruit. Quickly, they start to infuse the lavender, creating a potent bouquet of bracing, sharp, pungently dry, forceful, but sweetly fragrant lavender with tart, sensuously musky passion fruit and general sweetness. The caramel, patchouli, and subtle, slightly spicy, floral tones of the geranium work in the background, having an indirect effect but never being forcefully noticeable in their own right. It underscores how well-blended Vero Profumo fragrances always are, but it also marks the beginning of something that becomes problematic later on: blurriness. We’ll get to that later. 

Lavender at a Provence marché. Source:

Sachets of dried lavender at a Provence marché. Source:

Ten minutes into Kiki’s development, the only distinctive, individual notes are passion fruit and lavender ensconced in an amorphous, airy sweetness. It never feels as though there is full-on caramel in Kiki; there is nothing at all like the rich, heavy, unctuous gooeyiness of the caramel you find in desserts. Actually, it rather feels as though the caramel is infused with vanilla, whipped into a frothy, bubbly, foam-like airiness. It’s extremely pretty, but very subtle. So subtle that it fails to ever fully tame the forceful pungency of that lavender. Even with the sweet notes that infuse it, the lavender is still too much like those Grasse dried sachets of my nightmares with their sharp, abrasive, aggressive, herbal blasts that assault everything they touch. (Maybe I need therapy for my feelings of hostility towards the poor plant?)

Kiki continues its bilateral focus for a while longer. At the twenty-minute mark, the perfume is bracing lavender, soft lavender, sweetened lavender, and fruity lavender, lightly infused with sweet musk and sweetness. If my words sound repetitive and redundant, it’s because they’re meant to be. Kiki is primarily and predominantly one singular theme with only minor, subtle variations. In the background, hints of citruses twinkle like dainty, tiny lights one sees in distant hills. Soft patchouli darts around like a firefly. A very pretty, plush, warn, snuggly softness stirs at the base, feeling as cozy as a cashmere throw. The whole thing is subsumed into a very powerful, potent, forceful combination that is, simultaneously, very airy and very lightweight in feel. Objectively, it’s very pretty; intellectually, I can’t find any of it to be very complex or interesting.

Less than an hour into Kiki’s development, it all starts to turn a little hazy. The perfume’s texture feels creamy, soft, and smooth, but the notes are increasingly blurry. There are a lot of very well-blended perfumes where the elements don’t feel quite so nebulous, intangible, abstract and amorphous. At least, not quite so soon. Kiki has turned into an almost hazy blur of soft, sweet, musky floralness that just barely hints at lavender. Once in a blue moon, the vanillic caramel pops up like a ghost to feel a little more concrete, but it is incredibly fleeting. There is a sweet musk, presumably from the passion fruit, but it has no concrete basis. Even the hint of lavender feels like a flittering, darting thing that you’re trying to grab onto, but it keeps slipping away. It’s an exercise in frustration to pin anything down beyond the general, abstract, creamy, floral sweetness. Even Casper the Friendly Ghost has more structure to his shape and form.

That’s all there is to Kiki on my skin. For the next few hours, its mellow, creamy, floral sweetness darts about like a will o’ the wisp, becoming closer and closer to the skin. It’s a pretty smell, but it’s nothing more than that. The word “boring” actually comes to mind. Exactly 3.75 minutes into the perfume’s development, Kiki is nothing more than sweet, musky vanilla on my skin. It lingers on, soft as a gauzy whisper, for another few hours, then dies completely just over the 6.75 hour mark.

Some of you may think that I can’t objectively and fairly judge a perfume that is centered around a note I dislike so much. You may have a point. However, if reviewers only focused on things they knew they would like, then every magazine, newspaper or website would have to hire thousands of sub-specialists. That’s simply not reality. Perfume reviewing is, by its very nature, even more subjective than most fields, but that doesn’t mean my issues with a particular note automatically doom a fragrance. I loathe ISO E Super, but I’ve given good reviews for a number of fragrances with the dreaded note. I am not a passionate iris fan, but that hasn’t stopped me from loving a few perfumes built around it, either. And, regular readers will know that I have very much appreciated a couple of fragrances which showcased lavender. I gave enormous praise to Histoires de Parfums‘ 1725 Casanova, a lavender aromatic fougère which just barely straddles the gourmand category with its vanilla. It’s lovely enough that I’ve actually considered wearing it. I also greatly admired and liked Santa Maria Novella‘s Ambra which has lavender with neroli and birch tar. And I’ve adored a number of fragrances that have clary sage, a lavender-like plant, or which have featured lavender in conjunction with other notes. So, I don’t hate all perfumes with lavender, but they have to be really good ones to get over my lack of enthusiasm for the note.

At the end of the day, Kiki simply isn’t all that special in my opinion. What manifested itself on my skin was pretty, yes, but it’s neither interesting nor complex. I think the whole thing actually verges on the plain and banal. And that is a far greater problem to me than a brief twenty-minute struggle with the lavender at the beginning. So, Kiki is a complete pass. I’ll stick to Vero Profumo’s honey-vetiver chypre, Onda, whose complexities, nuances, range, and beauty made my jaw drop. It’s a brilliant fragrance that has my heartiest admiration, intellectually and emotionally. Kiki does not.


Cost & Availability: The Kiki fragrance being reviewed here is only the Eau de Parfum version and retails for $200 or €125 (often more from different European vendors) for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle. In the U.S.: Kiki is available at Luckyscent for $200 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle. (The Vero Profumo website does not seem to sell the perfumes.) Outside of the U.S.: the Vero Profumo Facebook page offers a whole list of European retailers from Kiev, Russia, to Oslo, Norway, and Italy. It also adds: “Since 2010 distributed worldwide by Campomarzio70 in Rome Italy, in selective boutiques and perfumeries such as ROJA DOVE, Harrods Urban Retreat London, JOVOY Paris, Parfums Rares and many more.  Campomarzio70, will inform you where you find the nearest retailer in your country.” I checked the website for Campomarzio70 and it doesn’t seem to sell the perfumes online, since I could find no “online cart” (so to speak), no pricing options or no way to purchase the perfumes, but you can try to check for yourself. In the UK, you can find all Vero Profumo perfumes at Harrod’s Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, but there is no online website through which you can purchase perfumes. (It is not the same site as the Harrod’s website.) You can also find Kiki (and the full Vero Profumo line along with samples) at London’s Bloom Perfumery which sells the Eau de Parfum for £138.00. In Paris, at Jovoy Paris, Kiki retails for €145. In the Netherlands, you can find it at Leanne Tio Haute Parfumerie where it costs €150. In Italy, you can find it at Alla Violetta boutique for €125. Germany’s First In Fragrance sells Kiki EDP for €150, but they also carry the complete Vero Profumo line, offers sample sets, and ship throughout the world. Samples: I obtained Kiki from Surrender to Chance as part of Vero Profumo Three-Perfume Sample Set (Onda, Rubj, and Kiki); the set is only for the EDP concentration and prices begin $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial of each. Surrender to Chance also sells Kiki EDP individually starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial, and up.

Review En Bref: Heeley Parfums Cardinal

As always, my Reviews En Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t warrant one of my full, exhaustive, detailed reviews.

Heeley CardinalCardinal is an Oriental eau de parfum from the British-born, Paris-based designer, James Heeley. The perfume and its notes are described on the Heeley website as follows:

Incense enrobed in folds of white linen

A timeless scent built around the traditional incense notes of labdanum, ciste, frankincense and myhr. An air of lightness and purity is portrayed by a note of fresh, clean linen. The association of grey amber, patchouli and vetiver, imparts this perfume with mysticism and a rare and contemporary elegance.

♂ An immaculate young priest.
♀ Auburn hair and milky white skin. Romantic and mystical.

White Linen . Baie Rose . Black Pepper
Labdanum . Frankincense . Myhr
Vetiver . Grey Amber . Patchouli

Fragrantica also includes aldehydes which I think is quite a key component of the fragrance. And, as a side note, “Baie Rose” is another name for pink peppercorns.


Cotton. Source:

Mr. Heeley wasn’t kidding about the white linen. Cardinal opens on my skin with linen, followed in its footsteps by frankincense, patchouli and labdanum amber. The latter feels slightly leathery and animalic, though it is muted in nature and completely overwhelmed by the fresh cotton scent. There is also a strong undercurrent of soapy, waxy aldehydes.

Cardinal is quite a cool or cold scent at first, and one which definitely evokes the feeling of an old, stony church with its slightly musty aroma. Within minutes, the patchouli-incense combination grows stronger, and I find it extremely unpleasant. Something about the mix of fresh, white cotton with soap and incense atop a slightly dirty, leathery base of labdanum and patchouli feels incredibly contradictory. Even worse than the discordant aspects, the whole thing smells extremely artificial.

Bounce Fabric SoftenerIf you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that one of the things that I dislike the most are soapy scents. However, fresh, soapy, artificial, and laundry detergent all combined in one has to be the greatest evil in my eyes. Cardinal hits all my triggers. At the end of the first hour, it is all soap, soapy labdanum, white cotton, incense and…. Bounce. For those of you outside of America, Bounce is a fabric softener that often comes in sheets which you throw into the dryer to add freshness and to prevent static or lint. The fabric softener sheets come in a variety of scents, including Fresh Linen!

My tolerance for extreme aldehydes or general soapiness as a perfume note is extremely low. My tolerance for soapy, fresh scents that replicate fabric softener is practically nonexistent. For hours and hours, Cardinal wafted out varying degrees of that terrible combination. There was a growing sweetness to the soapy, fresh, incense-y, Bounce-heavy, cotton hot mess as time passed, thanks to the myrrh and labdanum. Making it all worse somehow is the impression of a white musk accord which appears about 90 minutes in. Cardinal’s artificial discordance is further cemented by a synthetic undertone which gave me a throbbing headache and a burning tightness high up in my nose.

Cardinal was such a painful experience that I actually considered scrubbing it entirely, but I stuck it out. All 9.75 hours of it. At no point did Cardinal twist, morph, change, or reflect other facets. It was linear all the way and, while linear is fine if you love the notes in question, I found its singularity to be an incredible ordeal. I suppose I should be glad that Cardinal was a light, airy fragrance but, unfortunately, it was still sufficiently strong enough for me not to feel a huge amount of gratitude for that fact.

Cardinal is often compared to Comme de Garçon‘s Avignon perfume. I haven’t tried the latter, but for those of you who are curious, Now Smell This has a comparison that may be useful:

Like Avignon, Cardinal starts off rather strong, but it has nothing like Avignon’s uncompromisingly gloomy stance: it is brighter, smoother, and not quite so bone-dry, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sweet. The dry down is soft and mildly earthy, and like many incense-focused fragrances, has a meditative quality.

Is church incense really church incense if it isn’t brooding and dark? Well, if Avignon is your idea of perfection, you might answer no, but if Avignon was too much of a good thing for you — or if, like me, you think there just can’t be too many variations on incense — Cardinal might be just what you’re looking for.

I haven’t looked up a ton of other reviews for Cardinal, but those few that I have read never seem to mention the damn linen. I’m baffled. The cotton note is, to me, a far greater characteristic than the incense. It’s even explicitly mentioned on the company’s website. A few commentators on Fragrantica mention the soapiness — and one calls it a soapier version of Avignon — but absolutely no-one talks cottony freshness or fabric softener. All I can say is that my skin clearly must amplify the note, along with the soapiness.

I know Cardinal is much-loved amongst those who enjoy incense fragrances. I love incense, too. Unfortunately, Cardinal had me praying for deliverance…

Cost & Availability: Cardinal is an eau de parfum that comes in 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. It is available from the Heeley website where it costs €120, or from Luckyscent where it costs $180. There are undoubtedly numerous other online retailers which also carry the fragrance, but you’ll have to forgive my lack of interest in looking up the links. I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial.