Perfume Review – Ashoka by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Comforting Embrace

Mary Cassatt. "Sleepy Thomas Sucking His Thumb." (1893)

Mary Cassatt. “Sleepy Thomas Sucking His Thumb.” (1893)

A mother’s warm, comforting embrace, holding you close and protectively. A journey into a green wood of peppered vetiver. And a final resting place of creamy sandalwood infused by smoke, ambered resins, and gingerbread vanilla, caressing your skin like the softest of golden veils. 

That was my experience with Ashoka, the newest release from Neela Vermeire Créations (“NVC”) which will be released in early Fall of 2013. The perfume was shown at the Milan Esxence show this past March and someone thoughtfully sent me a small vial. The quantity wasn’t enough for my usual two tests, so I may update this review later in the Fall when I obtain a greater sample, especially if it is from a spray. But I certainly had enough for a very thorough test, and I really liked the perfume.

Ashoka is very different from Neela Vermeire‘s existing trio of Trayee, Mohur, and Bombay Bling. For one thing, it has three, very distinct phases. For another, parts of Ashoka represent Comfort for me. If Trayee could be categorized as “Sexy Seductiveness” that can sometimes feel like a wonderful force of nature, Mohur as “Sophisticated, Elegant Femininity,” and Bombay Bling as “Ebullient, Joyful Energy,” then Ashoka is, in large part, “Soothing Comfort.” There is a middle phase where that doesn’t really quite apply, but the perfume as a whole is an easy, wearable, very soothing, relaxing scent.

Emperor Ashoka.

Emperor Ashoka.

Ashoka is meant as a tribute to a legendary Indian emperor whose personal history very much matches the perfume’s development. Intentionally so, if I may add. The press release explains both points further:

Inspired by a legendary ruler, Neela Vermeire Création’s new release, Ashoka, is a tribute to an emperor who was conquered by his own compassion at the moment his victory was assured. He converted to Buddhism and devoted the rest of his life to spreading the Buddha’s teachings, to truth, to justice and to compassion for all living creatures beneath the sun.

His own evolution from ruthless conqueror to benevolent emperor is reflected in Ashoka’s journey from the fierce opening to a softly floral heart & the gentle embrace of its richly complex drydown.

Ashoka: Source: Fragrantica.

Ashoka: Source: Fragrantica.

Ashoka is an eau de parfum that was created in collaboration with Bertrand Duchaufour. According to an article on Fragrantica, the fragrance underwent numerous formulations to try to achieve a development that matched that of the Emperor himself. Over a year’s worth — until it finally matched Ms. Vermeire’s exacting standards, and the olfactory image she had in her mind of Ashoka’s character and life path. The perfume’s long list of notes includes:

fig leaves, leather, white and pink lotus, mimosa, fig milk, osmanthus, rose, water hyacinth, vetiver, styrax, incense, sandalwood, myrrh, tonka bean, and fir balsam.

I’d read a few things about how Ashoka’s pyramid of notes feels inverted, with the darker, heavier elements being first, starting with leather and green notes, followed by a descent into milkiness. My experience was different, and the usual pyramid scheme seemed solidly in place. In fact, from the very start when I sniffed the perfume vial, there was a lovely bouquet of sweet, milky figs, accompanied by green leaves and a dryly woody note like that of a stem. In essence, it replicated the whole fig on a vine — sweet, fresh, milky, green and woody. 

Unripe Figs via Giverecipe.com. (For recipe on Unripe Fig Jam, click on photo. Link embedded within.)

Unripe Figs via Giverecipe.com. (For recipe on Unripe Fig Jam, click on photo. Link embedded within.)

The perfume was a bit different on my skin as Ashoka opens primarily with lactonic notes. It’s fresh, sweet, and supported by what definitely feels like coconut underneath. Fig leaves are said to smell like coconut, and that is certainly the case here. Generally, I’m not a fan of coconut in perfumery because it’s almost invariably blob-like, heavy, gooey, thickly buttered, and verging on Hawaiian suntan oil. But not here where the aroma is much more like coconut milk: fresh, light, delicately sweet, never buttery, or unctuous. It’s a lovely note that helps bolster the fruit’s naturally light aroma and milky sap.

Wild Fig Tree via Wildernessarena.com.

Wild Fig Tree via Wildernessarena.com.

Accompanying the various milky elements is some bitter green, adding balance and ensuring that the perfume is not excessively sweet. The green notes feel like leaves that have the faint vestigial hint of the trees they came from, creating a canopy over the fig and coconut milk. Sweet floral notes lurk behind in the shadows, feeling almost watery in their delicacy. It must be from the lotus flowers which are said to have an aquatic, sweet aroma. I like the contrast of the slightly bitter green leaves with the milky fig and coconut, but I was a little surprised not to get any of the heavy leather that I had read about. Frankly, I think it works better this way.

Five minutes in, Ashoka is a swirling blend of creamy milkiness with dark greenness, and delicate, watery florals. Vetiver and a subtle hint of vanilla arrive on the scene, accompanied by what feels most definitely like a small dash of ISO E Super. The earthy vetiver with the velvety wood accord of the ISO E Super are subtle at this stage, mere backdrops for the milky notes. The latter starts to turn sweeter and more floral; and the bitter leaves begin to fade away.

Mary Cassatt's "Breakfast in Bed."

Mary Cassatt’s “Breakfast in Bed.”

Ashoka slowly turns into an incredibly soft, soothing bouquet of milky flowers that strongly evokes a mother’s embrace. It feels like a mother’s loving caress when you’re ill and feverish. It’s the sense of comfort that you feel when, as a child, you would nestle in your mother’s arms at bedtime. Ashoka, in this stage, really reminds me of hugging my own mother. Her arms, velvety soft from the milky cream that she slathers herself in at night; the warmth of her body bringing out the light smattering of sweet flowers left on her neck and chest from her morning spray of perfume; the comfort as she holds me close, nestled, protected, and safe. The peppered wood notes underlying Ashoka never really take away from that image because they are just beneath the surface at this point. What is up top is that incredibly maternal, nurturing, comforting combination.

Mary Cassatt. "Mother Playing With Child."

Mary Cassatt. “Mother Playing With Child.”

At the end of the first hour, Ashoka starts to slowly shift, and the second phase in the perfume’s development begins. The wood and ISO E Super rise in prominence, overtaking the lactonic elements which slowly recede to the background. Now, Ashoka is primarily heavily peppered vetiver with ISO E Super on a quiet base of coconut-fig milk. It’s as if your mother — or, in this case, Father Ashoka — has taken you to play outside amidst the grassy vetiver at the outskirts of some peppered woods.

The ISO E Super is not overwhelming and never has the feel of rubbing alcohol underneath it, as it sometimes does. Unfortunately, after an experience last month, I think I have almost a Pavlovian response to the note, and I react even if the bell is the smallest one around. The faintest ring — or, in this case, the lightest note — will send my senses tingling. I simply don’t like it. Yes, I realise that prior experience has scarred me for life, but that is solely my own, personal, slightly neurotic issue. Thankfully for the rest of you, most people seem to be completely anosmic to ISO E Super which has been found, in some cases, to act almost like an aphrodisiac pheromone. So the majority of you should have no worries, and only those few people with acute sensitivities to ISO E Super may want to take heed.

At the start of the third hour, my favorite part of all NVC perfumes begins: the sandalwood. As always, it is that opulently creamy, richly spiced note that feels like real Mysore sandalwood and which is the hallmark of all the fragrances thus far. The wood is so rare, it might as well be priceless, so heavens only knows how astronomical the cost to have it as the base here. But it’s lovely, especially as the milky coconut-fig accord melds in seamlessly to add extra creaminess. The spicy sandalwood is accompanied by quiet hints of incense smoke, vanilla tonka and amber, but they are subtle at this stage, just flickers in the campfire glow of that wood. I smell a few vague, almost abstract, light florals too; something that seems like the suggestion of rose, accompanied by mimosa, but it’s not strong on my skin. The peppered vetiver is still present, but it has softened somewhat, letting the other players share some time on the stage. I should add that the combination of these notes makes Ashoka a definite Oriental in my mind, regardless of Fragrantica’s classification of it as a “woody aromatic.”

The rich purr of the sandalwood and the peppered woodsy notes with amber continue their dance for a few hours. There are occasional flickers of osmanthus, smelling like light apricots and black tea, but it’s extremely subtle. There is also a fleeting impression of powdered vanilla that darts about here or there, but it might as well be a ghost at this stage. I never smell the leather. I suspect that, if I had enough perfume for the equivalent of two big sprays, it may be a very different story. I’ve noticed in the past that it’s much easier to detect the subtle nuances in NVC perfumes if one uses both a spray and a fair portion. The fragrances are simply too well-blended to allow the small, microscopic elements to be detected with a small dose, since everything blends so seamlessly into each other. Still, I’m surprised to get no leather at all, especially as that it’s a heavier molecule and one which is supposed to be quite prominent in the perfume. The leather is intentionally meant to reflect Emperor Ashoka’s early life as a cruel, ruthless, military conqueror, so either my skin is wonky or I need a good few sprays.

Marc Chagall. "La Branche." (1976)

Marc Chagall. “La Branche.” (1976)

By the start of the sixth hour, Ashoka smells of a cozy gingerbread accord with vanilla — all sitting atop quiet, velvety, softly polished woods. The perfume has the same sort of subtly spiced, vanilla-infused, ambery resin base that some of the Chanel Orientals have (like Bois des Iles, for example), but the lingering traces of ISO E Super turns Ashoka’s base into something much woodier and, to my nose, peppery. By the very end, almost 10.5 hours later, the final notes are of creamy vanillic amber. I suspect that length of time would be significantly increased if I had a greater amount to apply, as NVC fragrances usually last between 12-14 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

As a whole, Ashoka is a very airy fragrance that is moderately strong at the start, while being lightweight in feel. Its projection is moderate to low. The latter may stem from the reduced quantity that I used but, in general, I think Ashoka is fully intended to be a softer, lighter perfume than something like Trayee or Bombay Bling. It is in line with the whole goal of replicating Emperor Ashoka’s transformation into an advocate of Buddhism, peace, and serenity. The perfume’s comforting, soothing, maternal (sorry, this perfume simply doesn’t fit my mental associations and image of a paternal scent) opening was strong but gentle, never forceful or overpowering, and its final drydown is even softer.

I think all that makes Ashoka an easier fragrance in some ways as compared to its more intense siblings. It’s not that Trayee, Mohur or Bombay Bling are not versatile. They are, especially Mohur. But none of them is so gentle, soft, and casual. As I noted at the top of this review, Ashoka fills a gap in the NVC line, one that I never realised until now: cozy comfort. Bombay Bling may comfort a lot of people, but it does so through its energizing, ebullient nature. It’s not restful, the way that Ashoka is for much of its development. (I’m leaving out the middle part’s trip to the vetiver forest in my assessment, since I personally don’t equate vetiver with soothing embraces.)

I really enjoyed Ashoka. I absolutely adored the milkiness of the opening stage, and really liked the final drydown. My personal issues with ISO E Super made me struggle with the middle part, but that’s my own peculiarity. Most people I know can’t even detect it! So, don’t let it stop you. I think Ashoka’s creamy gentleness and soft embrace will make it a big, big hit.

[ED. Note: You can find a review for the new, upcoming Neela Vermeire “Mohur Esprit” which will come out at the same time as Ashoka here.] 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Ashoka is an eau de parfum and will be released in the Fall of 2013. I will update this section at that time to include links to websites where you can obtain it. I have no idea as to pricing, but I’m sure it will be in the general vicinity of NVC’s other perfumes which cost $250 or $260 (depending on which one) for a 50 ml bottle. Samples are generally available from the NVC website or Luckyscent, but I will update that part, too, when they become available in the Fall
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Perfume Review – Mohur by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Princess’ Wistful Rose

The princess stared out into the garden from her cold marble bench. The sun was setting, turning the sky into an artist’s canvas of pinks, yellows, and fiery oranges before the oncoming wave of violet and blue. In the horizon, the silver birch trees trembled in the night wind. Delicate and frail, their thin bodies added a touch of somber beauty to the tableau of colours filling the sky behind them.

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

The Northern light rendered everything crisp and silvered, casting the tall rose bushes surrounding the princess into stark relief. Every pink petal — and every red one, too — seemed brighter, more concentrated and filled with the force of life. Their intensity was a sharp contrast to the princess’ pallor. As she welcomed the coming night, her large, dark eyes were filled with longing and wistfulness, as she remembered her lost love. How many times had they sat in this very spot, watching the sky turned violet and blue?

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

As the sun bid its final adieu, the princess took out a violin and played in the violet, blue light. A single tear streamed down her milky, almond skin to drop on the irises at her feet. The tall rose bushes around her quivered, as if trembling with the force of her longing; the peppered trees swayed over the water, sending out her call to distant shores; and her sandalwood satin dress glowed amber in the night like a beacon.

Fjallnas Sweden

Source: My own photograph.

Princesses of old, legends tinged with beauty and loss, the coming of violet night, and wistful remembrances of times past…. that’s what I feel when I wear Mohur by the French perfume house, Neela Vermeire Creations, Paris (“NVS“). So many times in the past — often in reference to a Guerlain classic — I’ve heard talk of wistfulness in a scent, but I’ve never truly felt it until now. Mohur is a stunningly haunting perfume whose very quietness lends strength to scenes of longing and melancholy. Filled with restrained elegance and classic notes of violets, irises and roses, it never takes me to India but, rather, to the silvery light of northern Scandinavia. It is a fragrance for Isolde in Tristan and Isolde, for Guinevere, for the countless maidens of legend whose beauty was tinged with loss.

Mohur.

Mohur.

Mohur is technically not supposed to evoke any of that. It is a tribute to 500 years of India’s history from Moghul era of the Taj Mahal to the end of the British Raj period in 1918. It is particularly inspired by India’s most powerful Empress. As the Neela Vermeire website explains:

Known as Mehrunissa, the most powerful Empress of the Mughal dynasty, Noor Jahan was the favorite wife of Emperor Jehangir. She was the true power behind the throne while her husband lived, so much so that after his death her male relatives had her sequestered (in comfort!) for the rest of her life. In her confinement, she devoted herself to the art of perfumery as it had been passed down from her mother.

Mohur is a rose-based fragrance, a combination of opulent moghul rose perfumes and a distinguished spicy leather bouquet that can only be imagined during a high tea after a polo match. To capture this moment, Mohur has been created as a refined rose-oudh alliance that pays tribute to Noor Jahan’s power and talent.

As for the name of the perfume, Neela Vermeire Creations explains that “the word ‘mohur’ derives from Sanskrit and refers to the most valuable gold coin in India’s history, the last of which were minted in 1918.”

Mohur is the second in a trio of scents, all of which were made in collaboration with the legendary perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, and all of which were released in 2011 to great acclaim. Mohur’s stunning sibling, the award-nominated Trayee, is perhaps one of my favorite perfumes that I’ve smelled in years and years. And Bombay Bling is pure joy in a bottle — so incandescent, bubbling, bouncy, happy and ebullient that people repeatedly call it their “happy” scent or the perfume equivalent of an anti-depressant.

I actually hadn’t expected to like Mohur as much as I did. It’s considered to be the quiet sister to the other two, each of which were said to have more immediate impact — and I’m generally not one for the quiet, subdued, and restrained. Trayee is the mysterious, seductive older sister; Bombay Bling, the happy, innocent, playful, joyous baby sister. Mohur is the quiet, reserved, elegant one. To my surprise, however, it was immediate love upon first sniff. I never thought it could equal Trayee in my estimation, but it does. Oh, but it does!

Mohur has an enormously long list of notes. Unlike many perfumes nowadays with their six or, maybe, ten ingredients, Mohur has twenty-three! The fragrance has:

Top: Cardamom absolute, Coriander seed oil, Ambrette seed, Carrot, Black Pepper, Elemi oil;

Middle: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Rose Accords 11%, Jasmine accord, Orris, Aubepin Flower [hawthorn], Almond milk notes, Violet Flower, Leather vitessence:

Bottom: Sandalwood, Amber, White Woods, Patchouli, Oudh Palao from Laos, Benzoin Siam [resin], Vanilla, Tonka bean.

In the opening seconds, Mohur begins with single note of great purity: roses. The most absolute, concentrated note and it quivers in the air, like the very first stroke of a bow on a violin. It’s as tens of thousands of rose petals — pink and ruby-red — have been distilled into a single drop. The purity and strength of that note is beautiful, but it’s never cloying or sickly sweet.

Immediately thereafter, other notes trip and dance on its footsteps: woody notes that seem soft and like the white woods of the description; spices; amber; almonds; and a base of creamy sandalwood. There is the merest hint of cardamom and, perhaps, some saffron too. The latter is never red, rich or reminiscent of Indian desserts. Rather, it just adds some underlying sweetness and depth to the fragrance. 

There is also something which truly surprised me. My notes read, “Oh my God, I actually do smell carrots!” Here, the carrot note is exactly like that in a really creamy, sweet, spiced carrot soup, the sort you’d mix with butternut squash or pumpkin to create a velvety sweetness and richness. And, somehow, it works magnificently with the roses — probably due to that amazingly creamy sandalwood which is such a significant note in all of Neela Vermeire’s creations.

VioletsAs time passes, the violet and almond notes become more distinctive, contrasting with the black pepper and the subtle hint of creamy vanilla. The violet notes…. words can’t describe its beauty or its melancholy. Yet, two hours in, the violets and almonds recede a little to make greater way for the peppery elemi woods which — in combination with the actual black pepper — turn the rose into something spicy and fiery. At the same time, the patchouli works in the background to make the rose very jammy and plummy as well. One can’t smell any actual patchouli, but its effect on the rose is distinctive. Parts of my arm smell like pure, sweet pink roses, while other parts smell like fruited, purple, jammy roses.

Roses may be the motor, but violets (and their accompanying purple sibling, irises) are the petrol which truly drive Mohur forward. They are the exquisite center of the fragrance, adding a classique and very European backbone to the spicy rose. It is these purple notes which add that longing and wistfulness to the scent, emotions which are so hard to explain in the context of perfume. When people talk about Guerlain‘s L’Heure Bleue‘s blue hour or the inherent sadness of certain perfumes, I’ve always been left a little at a loss. I’ve never found L’Heure Bleue to evoke melancholy, or any other perfume for that matter. Until now. 

"Proserpina" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

“Proserpina” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Mohur definitely seems to be a call back to the most classique of French perfumery and, for a thirty minutes, I struggled with what it was. Finally, it hit me: Guerlain‘s 1906 masterpiece, Après L’Ondée. Like Mohur, it too is a fragrance whose notes are filled with violets, irises, almonds, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, oriental resins and, yes, some roses, too. Bois de Jasmin has a lovely, emotional review of Après L’Ondée’s “radiant and exquisitely graceful composition… [with its] suggestion of a brooding darkness hiding in its opulent layers,” and its “bittersweet beauty” with its “wispy and ethereal” velvety iris heart.

I feel as though all those words are the perfect description for Mohur. That said, there are substantial differences in the two scents. Mohur is predominantly a rose fragrance which is significantly woodier, as well as spicier. And, unlike many Guerlain perfumes, the powder note is subtle on my skin. But, despite those differences, there is a definite connection between the two fragrances in my mind. If Après L’Ondèe had an affair with a very tall, dark, woodsy, peppery Orientalist, their love child would definitely be Mohur. And she would be as blue as the blue hour of L’Heure Bleue, mourning a lost love like those fragile beauties who so stole my heart in Pre-Raphaelite art. In truth, Mohur’s representative woman probably would be one of Gabriel Dante Rossetti’s feminine, graceful beauties with their long necks, large eyes, quivering lips and haunted gaze.

"La Ghirlandata" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

“La Ghirlandata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

As Mohur develops, it shifts away from the blue wistfulness of the violets and the dark, brooding heart of elemi and black pepper. Now, it turns softer, creamier, sweeter. The sandalwood is out in full force: creamy, heady, and as lush as custard. At the same time, the amber and benzoin resin turn things soft and hazy; the milky almonds return; and the vanilla becomes much more noticeable. There is also the merest suggestion of oud. It’s sheer, light, far from pungent, and never (thankfully) medicinal or antiseptic. For some on Fragrantica, however, the oud was a significant part of the perfume’s later hours; and a few smelled leather. I did not.

It’s an odd experience but, on both occasions, when I tested Mohur, different parts of my skin would reflect different scents — all at the same time. It’s not only the constantly shifting nature of the rose note — sometimes pure, sometimes peppery, sometimes spicy, sometimes jammy or fruited — but the perfume as a whole. It’s so incredibly well-blended that I suspect it will throw off different prisms at different times, like a light-reflecting crystal. All of Neela Vermeire’s creations are like that; they reflect different facets each time you wear them.

Despite Mohur’s prismatic nature, the final hours were — for the most part — the same during both tests. There was endless creamy sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, and dollops of jammy rose that would pop up, then flit away. Sometimes, there seemed to be more vanilla; at other times, there would be more almond. Sometimes, it was slightly more amber than sandalwood; at other times, the reverse.

All in all, Mohur lasted a little over 9.5 hours on me. For my perfume-consuming skin, that’s very good, though I have to note that it was much less than Trayee which lasted around 13 hours. (And, almost 14.5 on a recent day). But, then again, Mohur is a much softer fragrance. As noted on Fragrantica, its sillage is good-to-moderate for the first hour. If you apply two good sprays, the scent noticeable from a few feet away; if you put on a few dabs, the projection will obviously be significantly less. At no time, however, is Mohur ever bullying or bludgeoning in its presence; it’s not going to keel over your office mate. After that first hour, Mohur becomes much softer and hovers about five inches over your skin. It becomes fully close to the skin after about 4.5 hours, but it remains like a lovely silken caress for much longer.

I think Mohur is an extremely versatile fragrance. Its moderate sillage also makes it very suitable for the office, especially if you don’t apply it heavily. However, I must be frank, I don’t think the majority of men would be able to wear Mohur. Despite its woody underpinnings and the occasionally biting black pepper, the sheer quantities of roses — with one accord being at 11% concentration — makes this a very feminine fragrance.

"Boreas" by John William Waterhouse.

“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse.

It also has such a retro, classique, restrained elegance that I wonder if very young women might think it too mature a scent for them. Or, perhaps, one just has to have experienced a lot of life and heartache to respond to Mohur’s wistful, longing calls. To be frank, it actually bowled me over. And I found that to be an enormous surprise. Traditionally, I am not a huge fan of rose scents, and I certainly am not one who usually falls for restrained florals. Yet, Mohur stole my heart from the very first sniff. I find its blue-violet melancholy to be absolutely exquisite — and exquisitely haunting.

I fear that, like many middle sisters, Mohur will get lost in the much more exuberant or forceful company of its sisters. Those who expect the immediate POW that they get from Bombay Bling or the WOW glam of the FiFi-award nominated Trayee will undoubtedly be disappointed upon the first sniff of Mohur. I think Mohur is like one of those quietly elegant women whom you never notice amidst all the exuberant, fun, laughing girls, or the smoldering seductresses. But, if you gaze upon her face long enough, you suddenly wonder: how did I ever missed her beauty?

When you apply Mohur for the very first time, I think you need to close your eyes, imagine Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and see that princess on her marble bench surrounded by roses amidst the incoming wave of violet night, as she thinks wistfully of the past and of her one true love. I think, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be haunted by her quiet beauty, too.

[UPDATE: Mohur will be released in a pure parfum concentration in Fall 2013. It will be called Mohur Esprit de Parfum, and it’s magnificent. You can read my early review for it here.]

DETAILS:

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Mohur is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $250 for a 55 ml bottle. Samples are also offered at $7 for a 0.7 ml vial. (And the site ships world-wide.) Samples are also available from The Perfumed Court where they start at $7.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. A much better offer than both of those comes from Neela Vermeire Creations itself which offers Mohur as part of two different sets: A Taste of India set and the Discovery Set. Both sets are exclusive to the Neela Vermeire website and both include the award-nominated Trayee and the fan-favorite, Bombay Bling, Neela Vermeire’s fruity-floral perfume.The Taste of India set costs: €21 (or about $27) for three, much larger, 2 ml vials; the Discovery Set is $117 or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three, large 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price. In Europe, Mohur costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, along with the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page. 

Perfume Review – Bombay Bling by Neela Vermeire Créations: Dance, Dance, Dance!

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

India stole my heart. I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt say it again, but it really did. While the ancient temples and palaces left me in awe, while the stunning beauty of Matheran left me speechless, it was really Bombay (as it was known then) which did it. For someone like myself with a nomadic upbringing and who stopped counting all the places she lived in before she was even twenty-one, Bombay somehow felt like home. It was the perfect mix of East and West, a city of contrasts with such incredibly high energy and with such a gusto for life that it left one feeling just a little more alive.

Marine Drive, aka The Queen's Necklace. Source: Floyd-n-Milan Deviant Art

Marine Drive, aka The Queen’s Necklace. Source: Floyd-n-Milan Deviant Art

Source: UncorneredMarket.com

Source: UncorneredMarket.com

Among my many memories of Bombay was one day which began with lunch at the Queen’s Necklace, a sweeping, gleaming curve of beautiful white buildings by the sparkling, electric-blue sea, and which ended at the wee hours of the morning the next day, staggering out from an exclusive nightclub to see lines of mango sellers with their stalls before us. There were cars and people everywhere, the street lights glittered, and the sheer volume of noise outside quite rivaled anything inside. Mumbai at night is as much an electric jolt of energy as Mumbai by day — perhaps more so.

Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai. Photo: Ravindra Zende. Source: Kemmanu.com

Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai. Photo: Ravindra Zende. Source: Kemmanu.com

From Moscow and Shanghai to New York or Paris, I’ve never quite seen or felt anything to rival the brightness, bustle and expresso-in-the-arm energy of Mumbai. Nor have I ever encountered a perfume that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the colours, and the very feel of a city. Not until Bombay Bling, a ravishing, euphoric explosion that really has to be tried to be believed. I fear that I simply won’t be able to do it justice, this wildly energetic creation that — unbelievably — has managed to bottle a whole city’s bursting zest for life.

Bombay Bling is one of a trio of Indian-inspired scents from the Indie perfume house, Neela Vermeire Créations, Parfums Paris (“NVC”), and it was justifiably chosen by the prestigious perfume website, CaFleureBon, as one of their top 25 fragrances for 2011. Launched in late 2011, it is the result of collaboration between Ms. Vermeire and the famous perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour. Each of the three fragrances that they created is meant to pay homage to a different part of India’s history, with Bombay Bling (the third and last in the line) representing modern India and, in specific, the glorious vitality of Mumbai.

As the company’s website explains:

This joyful creation embodies every aspect of the very modern, colourful, eclectic, esoteric, ecstatic, liberal, happy side of buzzing India, a world economic power, where nothing is to be taken for granted, where the underbelly of the big city combines with the glitter of Bollywood on the vast sandy stretches of Juhu Beach and the Queen’s Necklace. Fortunes are made and lost on the Bombay stock exchange and gambling dens of Mumbai. Abandon yourself to the nightlife as dawn breaks over the city. There is nothing like it and there will be nothing like it. Welcome to a vibrant new India!

I can’t recall the last time I read a press release or perfume backstory and thought to myself, “I’ve actually experienced part of that tale!” And I have with Bombay Bling. (Well, minus “the fortunes made and lost” bit, unless you count the small fortune I lost shopping and at the races.) But I can tell you that Bombay Bling delivers on its promise because it truly took me back to the city, collapsing space, time and geography in a remarkable way.

The perfume manages this feat, in part, due to its long list of notes. Unlike many perfumes nowadays with their six or, maybe, eight ingredients, Bombay Bling has seventeen! The fruity-floral oriental has:

Mango, lychee, blackcurrant, cardamom, cumin, cistus, Turkish rose, jasmine sambac, Madagascar ylang-ylang, tuberose, plumeria [frangipani], gardenia, patchouli, tobacco, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla.

Bombay Bling opens with a veritable BOOM of mango! It’s an explosion of the mumbai-mango fiascogelato dot cazestiest, sweetest, juiciest mango you’ve ever tried — short of cutting in twenty fresh ones and reducing them down to their most concentrated levels. It’s unbelievably fresh and bright. Even though Ms. Vermeire has used green mangoes — not yellow ones — yellow, red and orange are the colours that practically shine before your eyes. 

Black currants or cassis. Source: NWWildfoods.com

Black currants or cassis. Source: NWWildfoods.com

Seconds later, other notes follow. There is tart black currant (or, as I call it, “cassis”), carrying a hefty punch of zesty tanginess, and sweet, light lychee. There are also light hints of jasmine and rose, too, but the accompanying floral notes are primarily dominated by sweet plumeria. It’s soft, fruity, almost peachy, and has a subtle creaminess.

Thirty minutes in, the fruity-floral notes take on another hue with the arrival of sandalwood. It adds a slighty smoky creaminess and an element of woodiness to the mix. There is also a growing whisper of tobacco. It’s not sweet or fruited like pipe tobacco, nor is it anything close to cigars, but rather, like tobacco leaves being cured in the sun: honeyed, dry, and a little woody, as well as a little nutty. Or perhaps that last note comes from the cardamom — it’s sometimes hard to tell with a perfume that’s as superbly well-blended as this. Either way, the tobacco note adds a lovely depth and contrast to the perfume’s sweetness. It’s never masculine, heavy, or coarse but then, nothing in this lovely perfume is.

Source: Riflebirds.com

Source: Riflebirds.com

For some reason, my nose also detects something that really smells like bright, zesty lemon, along with a hefty dose of fresh ginger. To my surprise, there is also something that smells distinctly like anise or black licorice. None of these ingredient are in the perfume, but that’s what it smells like.

Plumeria or frangipani.

Plumeria or frangipani.

What I don’t really smell in the perfume is any one particular flower. Though there tuberose, rose, gardenia and ylang-ylang, they’ve all been blended into a single, very feminine, sweet floral accord. This isn’t a perfume where you can smell, for example, tuberose in any dominant way; by the same token, neither the ylang-ylang nor the rose trump all the others. Perhaps the plumeria does most of all but, as a whole, no single flower really stands out — and that’s a very good thing. Tuberose, gardenia and ylang-ylang can be very indolic, heavy, even bullying notes. In less capable hands, they can lead to headaches and a sense of over-ripeness that verges on rotting fruit, sourness or plasticity. None of that ever happens here.

All these new additions add further complexity to the perfume and take it far beyond the confines of a mere “fruity” scent. The sudden spiciness, subtle dryness, and smokiness are a noted contrast to zesty mango and the tart cassis fruits, as well as to the sweetness of the slightly tropical florals. Each note adds up to much more than individual parts, creating a balanced, harmonious whole that is never boring, singular, or generic.

The combination of these contrasting elements means one thing: Bombay Bling simply doesn’t smell like any fruity-florals I’ve encountered. And it is a testament to the very sure, very expert hand of the legendary Bertrand Duchaufour that all these eclectic, rich notes melt so perfectly together without any discord or abruptness.

Shopping at Colaba Causeway, Mumbai. Source: MyGola.com

Shopping at Colaba Causeway, Mumbai. Source: MyGola.com

By the second hour, there are still further newcomers on the scene. This time, it’s pine needles! The cedar tree has a distinct role here, adding some chilled freshness and coolness to the mix. It brings to mind a pine forest where the floor is covered with sweet florals but there are tangy black currant berries in bushes nestled near the giant roots of the tree. It’s unexpected — like much of this perfume — and it’s the one time that Bombay Bling didn’t truly evoke Mumbai for me. Then again, eclecticism and sharp contrasts is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of that city of paradoxes.

Four hours in, Bombay Bling is a fascinating mix of tart cassis, cool cedar pines, creamy sandalwood, and some slightly musky jasmine, with just a faint dash of earthy, dry cumin. The earthiness and spiced dustiness underlying the sweetness really brought me back to the dusty, spicy, sweet aromas of Bombay’s bustling street bazaars. But the really entrancing part is the sandalwood. It’s copious and positively swoon-worthy.

As Ms. Vermeire showed in the astoundingly beautiful Trayee, she prefers to use real Mysore sandalwood. That is a very rare thing in perfumery today given its prohibitive cost and the Indian government’s protection of this over-sourced prized wood. The expert perfume critic, Luca Turin, has often bemoaned the use of a synthetic replacement in “sandalwood” perfumes or the reliance on the very different Australian sandalwood, and he’s right. Real sandalwood is usually too expensive for most perfumers, especially if used in any significant quantity.

Here, as in Trayee, there is a significant amount of absolutely genuine, lovely sandalwood. And it dominates the final hours of Bombay Bling’s development. At the ninth hour, the perfume is sandalwood and cedar with tart black currant and hints of some musky jasmine. By the thirteenth hour, it’s just sweet, soft vanilla and creamy sandalwood. Yes, I said the thirteenth hour. Bombay Bling’s pure essences and rich ingredients makes this one very long-lasting perfume! Even on my voracious skin where very little lasts for a significant amount of time, Bombay Bling had incredible longevity. I smelled faint traces of it here or there well past thirteen hours, truth be told.

It is remarkable and supports everything Ms. Vermeire has said regarding her goal of using only the finest raw materials and expensive essences in her perfume. For example, her amazing Trayee was made without regard to cost:

I did not give a budget cap so Bertrand Duchoufour never had a budget – Trayee is one of the most expensive perfumes he has created. We made sure there are lots of high quality natural ingredients…. Most niche companies want to spend 150 euros or so max per kg of essence. We went more than 7 times that so the essences are expensive (and hopefully exceptional).

The same “to hell with the cost, we’ll only use the very best” approach shows with Bombay Bling, too. Neela Vermeire Creations is a tiny company that clearly has put the bulk of their resources in their production costs. The perfumes are not cheap, but they don’t work with giant distributors to add further mark-ups to their expenses. There is no corporate slickness behind any of this. When you order from the company, you will receive a handwritten note from Ms. Vermeire herself.

The goal is one thing and one thing only: to make truly rich, luxurious-smelling perfumes that are the very best they can possibly be. And Neela Vermeire Creations has succeeded in that goal with one perfume, Trayee, receiving a Fifi award nomination (the perfume world’s equivalent of an Oscar nomination) and the other, Bombay Bling, being critically-acclaimed as one of the best perfumes of its year.

Bombay Bling deserves that accolade without question. What you have is an unbelievably vibrant, bouncy, joyous scent. Like the Bollywood movies that it is a partial nod to, Bombay Bling screams out high-octane energy and begs you to “be happy!” and “go dance!”

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that when the perfume blog, Olfactoria’s Travels, recently asked “What is the most uplifting perfume you know?,” the repeated answer was “Bombay Bling!”  Read the answers; the references to Bombay Bling are so numerous, that Birgit at one point said it should be considered as “prescription medicine.” It’s not just the readers of Olfactoria’s Travels, either. On numerous different sites or perfume groups, people repeatedly turn to Bombay Bling when they’re blue, when the weather is grey and chilly, or when they’re in need of an energetic pick-me-up.

On Fragrantica, there is almost a uniformly gushing assessment of the perfume. One commentator raves that it is like ” like the spirit of Mardi Gras or Carnival captured in a bottle,” while another writes “[h]appiness and sunshine in a bottle, this makes me see the perfume in rainbow of colours. Full bottle worthy???? Every last penny of it to me.” Clearly, Bombay Bling’s happy, incredibly exuberant heart seems to make it people’s “secret happiness weapon.”

Bombay Bling is not cheap. It costs $260 for a 1.8 oz/55 ml bottle. In perfumery, as in many other things in life, cost is no guarantee of either quality or a positive experience. But, in this case, I think you are actually getting what you pay for. There are many similarly priced perfumes out in the luxury market (albeit, usually for a slightly larger sized bottle) but the luxuriousness of Bombay Bling’s ingredients make it truly stand out. To me, it is the equal of perfumes from Ormonde Jayne and the uber-luxury perfume house, Amouage, and far surpasses many fragrances from better-known, luxury perfume houses. Thankfully, however, Ms. Vermeire offers a Discovery Set (see below, in the Details section) which lets you try 10 mls of all three of her perfumes for a very reasonable price. 

I highly recommend Bombay Bling. The complex notes mean that you don’t have to be just a fan of fruity-florals to like this scent. Nor do you have to be a woman. There are a number of men who adore and wear Bombay Bling. On Luckyscent, the perfume is categorized as “unisex,” and I think it is.

The sillage is not overwhelming, either, so it is definitely something that can be worn to the office. In fact, I was surprised by how moderate the projection was for a perfume with notes as rich and as heady as these. After the first thirty minutes, I’d say the perfume could be detected only from a distance of about two feet away. It’s a strong perfume, and you can smell it on yourself, but it’s softer than Trayee. And it’s definitely no Fracas that’s going to immediately overwhelm someone across the room. Thereafter, the projection became much less and you’d have to be close to someone to detect it. I also noted that Bombay Bling is even more moderate when you only dab on a little, as opposed to applying a few sprays. It’s office-friendly, but it’s also something that is extremely versatile. I could see this being used as an antidepressant in a bottle, to go on a date, or just to have dinner with friends.

In short, it’s sexy, it’s happy, and it wants you to dance, dance, dance! I suggest you take it up on its offer.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Neela Vermeire Creations. However, that did not impact this review in any way.

 

DETAILS:

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Bombay Bling is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $260 for a 50 ml bottle. Samples are also offered at $7 for a 0.7 ml vial. (And the site ships world-wide.) A much better offer comes from Neela Vermeire Creations itself which offers Bombay Bling as part of a Discovery Set that includes the award-nominated Trayee and Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s rose perfume.The set is available exclusively on the company’s website. It costs: €21 (or about $27) for three, much larger, 2 ml vials; or $117 or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three large 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price. In Europe, Trayee costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie and Munich’s Sündhaft. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page. 

Review en Bref: L’Artisan Parfumeur Mon Numero 10

As always, my Reviews en Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant a full, exhaustive, detailed analysis.

Mon Numero 10 is part of the perfume “By The Numbers” series that legendary perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, made for L’Artisan Parfumeur. In a nutshell, he created ten fragrances in 2009 as a one-time exclusive deal for customers, each of whom would essentially be getting a bespoke, unique fragrance. Only one bottle was ever made for each of the perfumes and at the cost of $10,000. (NST says it was $20,000 each!) Two years later, in 2011, L’Artisan came out with slight variations on eight of those bespoke perfumes for the general masses with certain numbers in the line being exclusive to a particular city and/or retailer. Mon Numero 10 is New York’s perfume and exclusive to Barney’s which sells it world-wide for $200 for 3.4 oz/100 ml.

Mon Numero 10 comes in eau de parfum concentration and is categorized on Fragrantica as an oriental. There, as elsewhere, no perfume notes are given; you see only leather and amber mentioned as a general sense of the perfume. I did manage to find a full list of notes on Perfume Niche (which also is the only place I found to sell samples of it, priced at $5 a vial). The perfume contains:

bergamot, fennel, cardamom, pink pepper, cinnamon leather, incense, rose essence, geranium, jasmine, musks, vanilla, Tonka bean, ambergris.

Mon Numero 10 opens on my skin with an incredibly strong note of what can only be described as Cherry Coca Cola. (Perhaps Cherry Dr. Pepper or cherry root beer? It’s something in that family.) Once you have that mental association in your mind, it’s hard to shake off. Immediately on the footsteps of that main note are incense and roses. There is also a strong presence of geranium, especially the fuzzy green, leafy parts. In the background, there is light musk and amber, with a faint touch of vanilla. The perfume is sheer but heady and strong.

As time passes, Mon Numero 10 turns into a very musky Cherry Coke with some animalic notes. There is leather, incense, musk and boozy amber, but still under the umbrella of Cherry Coke. Or perhaps it’s closer to root beer now? I can’t get the impression of an 1950s soda fountain out of my head. The perfume is — like all Bertrand Duchaufour creations, superbly well-blended — so different notes only occasionally rise to the foreground but there is no getting away from that initial soda impression. On me, the leather notes are very subtle; the incense and musk are far more predominant. During the final stage, Mon Numero 10 becomes quite lovely: incensed rose with amber that is just barely boozy but always rich. It’s like a sheer veil just touching my skin.

The perfume’s sillage is like that of all L’Artisan fragrances that I’ve tried: low. It’s sheer and has little projection, becoming close to my skin after thirty minutes. However, as an eau de parfum, it has much greater longevity and presence than many of the brand’s perfumes (which are often in eau de toilette concentration). All in all, Mon Numero 10 lasted about eight hours on me.

I enjoyed the dry-down, especially the incensed amber notes, but I wasn’t crazy about the scent as a whole. My experience was slightly similar to Angela from Now Smell This who found the scent to be “leather cola” or Coke over the leather seats of a Bentley. She found it to have the “forceful, stylized demeanor of Joan Crawford in the 1940s” — which I can partially see. Something definitely feels a little retro and stylized about it. In contrast, one commentator just found it to be like “horse liniment.” I’m not sure that’s better… And, the two reviews of the fragrance on Fragrantica, are definitely not passionate raves. On the positive end, Birgit from Olfactoria’s Travels gave a whiff to all the scents in the line at the store; as an initial impression, she enjoyed Numero 10 the most. I have no idea if she tried it beyond that and ended up loving the scent. [Update: I am informed that she subsequently ended up hating it.]

For $200 a bottle, this is not a fragrance that I would recommend.

Perfume Review – Trayee by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Vibrant Kaleidoscope

In Rig Veda Psych4u  blogspot http://psych4u.blogspot.com/2010/05/in-rig-veda.html

I lost my heart to India many years ago. At the end of 1990, I spent about a month touring that magnificent country with some dear friends. India captivated my mind, overwhelmed my senses, and held me hostage. She brought me feelings of serenity, joy, amazement, and peace — a sense of having come “home” which was quite strange for someone utterly new to the country and who had lived the life of a wandering nomad. India was, quite simply, the most intoxicating, fascinating place I’d ever seen in my long list of travels. I fell in love and have never stopped. Among the many places in that gloriously dazzling country that stand out in my mind is Matheran. It is a hill station on the Western Ghat mountain range and a few hours outside of Mumbai. Every part of Matheran — and my trip up it — is etched indelibly in my mind. After a long drive, we arrived at the base of a giant mountain.

Source: BrooklynMeetsBombay Blog

Matheran. Source: BrooklynMeetsBombay Blog

Source: TouristLink.com

Source: TouristLink.com

Before us lay a vast, curling, climbing road covered in bright, terracotta-red dust. An endless phalanx of dark, leafy trees on either side provided shade and a green canopy above our heads through which peeked a bright blue sky. The trees were gnarled and twisted, their enormous, beige roots visible and clawing at what little remained of the dusty earth surrounding them, a victim of the battering monsoons. Everywhere, small taupe monkeys scampered around, chattering and talking a mile a minute as they ran ahead of us or leaped up on the trees.

Source: Trip Advisor

Source: Trip Advisor

Source: VirtualTourist.Com

Source: VirtualTourist.Com

You can’t drive up Matheran as it is one of the few places in the world where cars are completely forbidden, so you take donkeys or horses. Gingerly, you place yourself on their bony bodies as you slowly ride that long, winding, red trail up, up and up.

Matheran. Photo: Reza Ahmed Flickr

Matheran. Photo: Reza Ahmed Flickr

Eventually, you get to the very top to behold a canyon that seems as vast as America’s Grand Canyon — only this one is a sea of green trees and golden earth that stretches out as far as the eye can see. My friend had a large summer place at the very top, overlooking the canyon, and the sight at dawn and dusk rendered me utterly speechless. Words simply cannot convey any of it. Not even for one as verbose as myself.

Matheran. Photographer: Peter Akkermans. Site: http://www.fotoakkermans.nl/

Matheran. Used with permission from the talented photographer: Peter Akkermans. Site: http://www.fotoakkermans.nl/

Matheran is what flashed before my eyes when I first smelled Trayee (pronounced as “Try-ee’), a brilliant, complex, rich perfume from the Parisienne Indie line, Neela Vermeire Créations, Parfums Paris (“NVC”). The niche perfume house was founded in 2011 by Neela Vermeire, a lawyer born in India and educated in the UK who now lives in Paris and is a self-taught nose of enormous talent. She collaborated with the famous perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, to launched three perfumes paying homage to different phases in India’s history and each has garnered enormous praise. (They sent perfumistas chattering like those monkeys on Matheran!) One of them, Bombay Bling, was chosen by the prestigious perfume website, CaFleureBon, as one of their top 25 fragrances for 2011. The greatest recognition, however, came for Trayee with what would be the equivalent of a perfume Oscar when the Fragrance Foundation recognized its creative excellence and nominated it for a Fifi award in the Indie category. Trayee

The vibrant kaleidoscope that is India is at the very heart of Trayee — and it is amply demonstrated by the perfume’s long list of notes:

Madagascar blue ginger, elemi, cinnamon, ganja accord, blackcurrant absolute, basil, Sambac jasmine absolute, Egyptian jasmine absolute, cardamom absolute, clove, saffron, Javanese vetiver, Haitian vetiver, incense, Mysore sandalwood oil, patchouli, myrrh, vanilla, cedar, amber notes, oudh palao from Laos, and oak moss.

The Three VedasThe complex notes are quite intentional because Trayee is a concrete evocation of India’s Vedic period (1500 BC to 500 BC), a time of great antiquity shrouded in mystery but known to be the source for what eventually became modern Hinduism. As Luckyscent (Trayee’s exclusive U.S. distributor) explains, the perfume’s name is:

an allusion to the sacred origin of the first three Vedas, the most ancient sacred texts in India. The notes are drawn from the ingredients used in religious rituals and Ayurvedic medicine during the Vedic era. Rich in incense, myrrh and oud, the fragrance is a poignant blend of smoke, spices and resins that harks back to the very origins of perfumery – a burnt offering to the gods and an aid to meditation.

Trayee opens with a rich, potent burst of saffron, cardamom and oud. The oud was, as is often the case with agarwood, entwined with strong notes of rose. It was never synthetic or screechy, but true to the faintly medicinal, camphorous, chilly aspects of real agarwood. The combination of beautiful sweet saffron with the faintly nutty, aromatic sweetness of the cardamom provide a perfect counterbalance. Following on the heels of those notes is incense whose peppery, smoky accords provide a bit of a bite to the richness of the other ingredients.

That opening was the only consistent element in the two times that I tried Trayee. It is a perfume that is so magnificently blended that different elements peek out at different times, undulating like perfumed waves of richness, woodiness and spice. There is so much depth to Trayee that trying to pick out consistent notes is a bit of a hard task. In an interview with Bois de Jasmin, Ms. Vermeire summed up in one sentence much of my experience: “Trayee’s notes appear and reappear, keeping the wearer guessing and creating a memorable olfactory experience.” It is absolutely true. Equally true is Ms. Vermeire’s comment that:

Trayee is one of the most evocative fragrances for me. It is a rich woody composition, with sandalwood, oud, vetiver and incense lending it many facets. On me, it changes all the time.

Udaipur Market. Photo: Amos Rojter or "Brother Amos." Source: Redbubble.com

Udaipur Market. Photo: Amos Rojter or “Brother Amos.” Source: Redbubble.com

The very first time I wore Trayee, the opening was followed by hints of cassis (which is how I’ve always known “black currant”), cloves, and ginger. There was smoke that stemmed from either the incense, the myrrh, elemi, or the cedar, along with some woody elements, black pepper and sweetness. As always with Trayee, it’s hard to know what scents stem from what ingredients but it always evokes the rich kaleidoscope of India.

Saffron. Source: FoodandFarsi.com

Saffron.
Source: FoodandFarsi.com

All the notes were subsumed under the veil of saffron which is one of my favorite spices. There is a lovely floral nuttiness to the saffron due to the cardamom, and the combination calls to mind the richness of L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Safran Troublant with its evocation of Persian Sholeh Zard or Indian Kheer desserts. Trayee, however, is like Safran Troublant heightened to the max and with a thousand more elements added to the mix for a richer, more intense, more spiced and luxurious experience.

The second time I wore Trayee, the usual beginning was followed by hefty doses of creamy, rich sandalwood mixed with the earthiness of vetiver. The sandalwood is absolutely real Mysore sandalwood, a rare thing in perfumery today given its prohibitive cost and the Indian government’s protection of this over-sourced prized wood. The expert perfume critic, Luca Turin, has often bemoaned the use of a synthetic replacement in “sandalwood” perfumes or the reliance on the very different Australian sandalwood, and he’s right. Real sandalwood is usually too expensive for most perfumers, especially if used in any significant quantity. Here, there is a significant amount of absolutely genuine, lovely sandalwood in Trayee. I smelled copious amounts of it during the dry-down in my first go-round, and even more of it in the opening hour on my second attempt.

It is remarkable and supports everything Ms. Vermeire has said regarding her goal of using only the finest raw materials and expensive essences in her perfume. In The Perfume Magazine, Ms. Vermeire said: “Trayee has a high concentration of pure Mysore sandalwood oil, nearly 1% pure oud, and two different types of jasmine.” And elsewhere, in a comment quoted by Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies (in a glowing review of Trayee for the Perfume Posse), she elaborated that the perfume was made without regard to cost:

I did not give a budget cap so Bertrand Dachoufour never had a budget – Trayee is one of the most expensive perfumes he has created. We made sure there are lots of high quality natural ingredients…. Most niche companies want to spend 150 euros or so max per kg of essence. We went more than 7 times that so the essences are expensive (and hopefully exceptional).

It shows. It really, really shows. The richness of the scent, the use of the most concentrated “absolute” form for many of the ingredients, and the pure smoothness of the notes seep out from every moment that you wear the perfume.

The quality of the ingredients is matched only by their superb blending, the sure sign of an expert hand like the famous Bertrand Duchaufour. The development of the perfume in its later stages differed on both occasions I wore it. Sometimes, the dominant note was Elemi, a tree from the Philippines that is related to those from which we obtain frankincense and myrrh. (You can read more about elemi in my Glossary but, in a nutshell, it opens with a lemony note that thereafter turns into spicy, peppered pinewoods.) At other times, one notices the tobacco leaves which combine with the patchouli and earthy vetiver to create a vaguely chocolate-mocha impression. There are times when the perfume is predominantly sandalwood and vetiver, followed by cardamom, jasmine and sweet amber. On occasion, the spices take on a dusty, earthy quality, like that red road up Matheran mountain. It’s a perpetually shifting mystery that makes Trayee intoxicating, endlessly sniffable and always entrancing.

Source: Fractal ArtistFlickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8720628@N04/2257117100/

Source: Fractal Artist
Flickr (Click on photo for the link)

As a whole, however, the middle to end stages of Trayee are much sweeter than the dryer, spiced early stage. The perfume warms up in a way, evoking colours of soft burnished bronze and warm copper. The unctuous, creamy, luxurious sandalwood and deeply resinous, smoky amber rise like waves of molten gold and red, enveloping you in a scent that is deeply sensuous.

Trayee’s richness impacts its projection and sillage. This is heady, potent stuff! The perfume projected strongly for about 4.5 hours before becoming softer and less pronounced. It didn’t become close to the skin until around seven hours in — something I found to be utterly astonishing. Trayee also had remarkable longevity. On my skin which voraciously consumes perfumes and on which very little lasts for an extensive amount of time, there were very faint traces after 12.5 hours. I think that’s a new record, and one which left me utterly stunned. Granted, I did go a little crazy in the application (which is what tends to happen when I smell saffron) but, nevertheless, that ecstatic application has happened before and the perfumes never lasted anywhere remotely close to Trayee’s duration. On Fragrantica and Basenotes, however, I have read of shorter longevity with some saying Trayee lasted approximately eight hours. So, clearly, a lighter application will impact the perfume’s duration.

My one dilemma when it comes to Trayee is its cost. It is not cheap. It costs $260 for a small 1.8 oz/55 ml bottle. I was lucky to obtain my sample from a friend and fellow perfume blogger, The Scented Hound, who generously provided some from his own collection. He fell in love with Trayee, calling it “luscious, joyous, fragrant” — “like a magical day in the heart of India” — and eventually succumbed to a full bottle. I worry about the price (especially when I think of how beloved the other two perfumes in the India series are and how I’m bound to be tempted by Bombay Bling, in particular), but there is no doubt in my mind that I will try to obtain some Trayee — even if it’s only a decant. (You can read my Beginner’s Guide to Perfume to learn about perfume splits and groups that offer decants for sale.)

Summer palace on the lake Jaipur

Jaipur – Summer palace on the lake.

Despite Trayee’s cost, I honestly think you are getting what you pay for. There are many similarly priced perfumes out in the luxury market (albeit, usually for a larger sized bottle) but the quality of Trayee’s ingredients make it truly stand out. To me, it is the equal of perfumes from Ormonde Jayne and the uber-luxury perfume house, Amouage, and far surpasses those of several other prestigious houses.

Jodphur - Temple at Mandore. Source: Travel Pictures Gallery.com

Jodphur – Temple at Mandore. Source: Travel Pictures Gallery.com

At the end of the day, though, Trayee is more than just decadently sumptuous. It is elegant and evocative, mysterious and seductive, complex and quite mesmerizing. Wearing it, I was transported back to India. I was back on Matheran, but I was also in the palaces of Jaipur, the ancient temples of Jodphur, and the bustling markets of modern Udaipur. Trayee represents each part of the mysterious, complex, ancient beauty that is India. It is, very clearly, a work of love.

DETAILS:

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Trayee is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $260 for a 50 ml bottle. Luckyscent also sells a small 0.7 ml sample for $7. (And the site ships world-wide.) In addition, Trayee can also be purchased as part of a Discovery Set which includes, Bombay Bling and Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s other two India collection perfumes. The set is available exclusively on the company’s website and costs €21 for three small 2 ml vials, or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three larger 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price and, apparently, Ms. Vermeire writes a personal note for each order. (How lovely and rare is that?!) In Europe, Trayee costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie and Munich’s Sündhaft. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page.

Perfume Review: Amouage Jubilation XXV: An Oud Fit For A Sultan

The royal perfume house of Amouage would be perfect for a fairy tale or Greek myth. It would be the story of King Midas, and all he touched would be perfume gold. It would The Arabian Nightshave Ali Baba and a cave filled with treasures of scent and spice, incense and frankincense — not stolen by thieves but given freely by the Sultan with the order to create the most luxurious scent in all the land. Or, it would be the story of “Perfume” without serial killers and death, and with a happy ending.

As the renowned perfume critic, Luca Turin, said in a 2007 German magazine article:

The story of Amouage is remarkable. Twenty five years ago an Omani prince decided that his country, renowned since Egyptian times for the quality of its frankincense, home to the unique Green Mountain rose and on whose beaches half the world’s ambergris lands at random, needed a perfume firm that would take on the world’s greatest.

So, in 1983, His Highness Sayyid Hamad bin Hamoud al bu Said was ordered to do just that by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler of the Sultanate of Oman. As the perfume store Aedes explains, they wanted “to tell the world about the ingredients particularly found in Oman – the rarest frankincense from Dhofar in the south of the country and the rarest rose of all, the rock rose harvested high up in the mountains of the Jebel Akhdar range towering over the Sultanate’s beautiful capital, Muscat.”

A Thousand and One Nights.

A Thousand and One Nights.

Consequently, Amouage tends to use very Middle Eastern ingredients such as oud or agarwood, rose, incense, resins like labdanum, and spices. It also hires some of the most famous “noses” in the perfume world to create its fragrances, supposedly with an unlimited budget. No expense spared. And the result is some of the most expensive perfumes in the world, even if no longer the most expensive. (It amuses me that the Amouage website describes its offerings as “The Gift of Kings” because it truly means that – both literally and figuratively.)

The Sultan of Oman with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in Oman.

The Sultan of Oman with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in Oman.

On its 25th anniversary in 2007, Amouage launched two celebratory eau de parfums Amouage 2 Jubiliationsunder the guidance of its artistic director, Christopher Chong, and created by the famous orientalist nose, Bertrand Duchaufour. (“Orientalist” is Luca Turin’s description, not mine.) The men’s version was called Jubilation XXV and the women’s version was Jubilation 25. Both versions are eau de parfum concentration and both are essentially considered to be unisex fragrances. Certainly both genders seem to wear the different versions. I have both and plan to review Jubilation 25 tomorrow. For now, let’s focus on the men’s version.

Jubilation XXV is classified as an “Oriental Fougère” fragrance for men, which essentially means its a woody, aromatic oriental. (See the Glossary for a full explanation of the Fougère family of fragrances.) Fragrantica lists the notes as follows:

Top notes are orange, coriander, labdanum, tarragon, olibanum and blackberry;

middle notes are guaiac wood, cinnamon, bay leaf, honey, orchid, rose, clove and celery seeds;

base notes are opoponax, patchouli, myrrh, cedar, musk, oakmoss, ambergris, agarwood (oud) and immortelle.

Amouage describes the perfume’s evolution as follows:

With the grandeur of a great epic, Jubilation XXV opens majestically with notes of the finest frankincense from Oman.

At its heart are elegant notes of rose, orchid and smoky gaiac wood, evoking the philosophy of the enigmatic man carrying the essence of his sophistication across all eras and cultures.

Like the magic of a spellbinding epiphany, notes of musk, myrrh, cedarwood, ambegris, patchouli and immortelle resonate in the depth of the fragrance expressing his longing to travel far, across all continents, to find the ethereal unknown.

Jubilation XXV.

Jubilation XXV.

I don’t see it. Jubilation XXV opens with a massive bear hug of oud, concentrated honey, sweet myrrh, a  touch of saffron, an almost imperceptible whisper of blackberry, and a strongly boozy amber accord — all under the strong auspices of balsam-heavy orange amber. It is incredibly reminiscent of Hermès’ Elixir de Merveilles, a fragrance I truly adore and which I reviewed here. It is all bitter Seville oranges which, just like in the Elixir, are wrapped in bitter black chocolate (compliments of the patchouli), salt, amber and woody balsam. I find barely any of the supposedly massive blackberry accord that a vast majority of the people have noted. There is a miniscule hint of it seconds into Jubilation’s opening, but it is mere seconds for me. The real fruit that I smell is, as noted, orange.

I was so astonished by the similarities that I tested it out a second time, late in the evening, with a different perfume on each arm. The only difference between the two openings is the touch of oud but — bar that — they were essentially identical. I’m extremely surprised that no-one else has noticed, but I suspect that most men don’t realise the Elixir is really unisex, and perhaps the average Elixir woman isn’t likely to try a seemingly “men’s” oud fragrance.

The oud note is extremely interesting in Jubilation’s opening hour. It is a fleeting, flickering thing; a darting ghost that pops up unexpectedly for a little while before vanishing from sight. Numerous commentators have said that Jubilation is a ghost as a whole: one minute it’s here, the next it’s gone, then it’s back again. They say the scent keeps disappearing, before reappearing. I haven’t had that experience with Jubilation as a whole, but I have had it with the oud element. Sometimes, it feels as though there is absolutely no oud in Jubilation and that I somehow accidentally sprayed on my Elixir. At other times, it appears with an almost mentholated note that cools down and cuts through the narcotic headiness of the warm, boozy resins, the rich heavy balsam-infused orange, and the peppery, smoky frankincense.

The oud in Jubilation is not the sharply screechy, metallic clang of the very synthetic-smelling Montale Aouds that I’ve tried. Nor is it the more medicinal oud of YSL‘s M7. It is slightly closer to the softer ouds in the By Killian Arabian Nights collection (though, at this early stage, not to Kilian’s Pure Oud). No, the oud in Jubilation is too tamed and softened by the smoky resins and the balsam-infused orange. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it merely means that Jubilation’s first stage is not oud-dominant. (That comes later.)

Nonetheless, as a whole, Jubilation lacks the edge and hardness of some oud perfumes. It certainly lacks the more extreme aspect of oud scents like M7 (in its original formulation) which have resulted in descriptions like “dangerous.” Jubilation is a complex, nuanced, layered, very high quality and extremely expensive, rich scent. But it’s not dangerous, if that is what you’re looking for. And, dammit, it smells a lot like an oud version of Hermès Elixir for the first hour! It even has the latter’s unusual salty quality; a hint of the sea air mixed with saltwater taffy.

I checked to see how many of the same ingredients they share; both perfumes have cedar, orange, patchouli, resins, ambergris and incense. Jubilation has a ton more notes than the Elixir, but many of those separate notes come very close to replicating the accords in the Elixir. The myrrh, opoponax (sweet myrrh), labdanum (resin), olbanum (frankincense) and immortelle all have sweet, smoky, incense-y notes that parallel the Elixir’s patchouli, Siam resin, caramel, sandalwood, tonka bean and incense. Immortelle, in particular, has a maple-syrup, honey, caramel aspect that is definitely echoed in the Elixir. (See the Glossary for more details and definitions of these various notes and perfume ingredients.)

The real differences between the two scents begin after the first hour. Jubilation start to lose that sweet head, and the full roar of the woods start to appear. The lingering and final traces of orange are mentholated now, not caramelized. There is also far greater smoke. I smell hints of the Guaiac wood whose scent is described by Fragrantica as “smoky, tarmac notes” and which one Basenotes commentator finds to have a “rosy, honeyed-sweet and slightly smoky and waxy-oily slightly rubbery aroma. The Guaiac wood is subtle, especially under the much more overpowering oud notes, but it’s there. I don’t smell the coriander, orchid, bay leaf, tarragon or celery seeds listed in the notes. I cook extensively, and I know what all those herbs smell like. And they’re not appearing on me.

After a few hours, Jubilation turns into an intimate frankincense and oud party. The oud is much, much stronger now. It’s as though the top notes had muzzled it but now, it’s free to soar. The smell evokes a wintery outdoors, a large stone campfire among the dark, dry woods, with a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is stone-like coldness, with sharp black pepper and a definitely leather undercurrent to this oud. As such, it is very reminiscent of By Kilian’s Pure Oud. There is also that rubbery, almost plastic-y but medicinal aspect to the oud that calls to mind the pink plastic sides of a bandaid. That part evokes YSL’s M7. I wonder at times how much of this is the oud and how much is the Guaiac wood with its tarmac, rubber, pepper and smoke notes that others have found. Perhaps it really is just the oud itself combined with the incense, smoke, and biting pepper of the frankincense.

It doesn’t matter. The final result is that the two overarching smells alternate between a gentle waltz, an intimately fiery tango, and a loud cha-cha-cha. They weave in and out of the room. Sometimes, they are snuggling in the dark shadows of the alcoves – just out of sight. At other times, they tango back into the room and the rat-a-tat-tat of their heels stomp up my arm and to my nose. Then they vanish again. It’s bewildering. If I hadn’t read all those comments about the perfume’s on-again, off-again vanishing act, I would think I was hallucinating or that my nose had gone wonky.

The ghost act makes it hard for me to assess the sillage of Jubilation. Its projection for the first hour is as big as everyone says, but then it becomes much more difficult to ascertain. More than one person has wondered if Jubilation was just so strong at the start that their nose “got used to it” for large stretches of time. I will say that, on me, Jubilation does not have the massive longevity that most report — but that is hardly anything new. All in all, Jubilation lasted about 5.5 hours on me, with the last 3 being close to the skin.

All in all, I liked Jubilation XXV, but I’m hardly tempted to share in the mass genuflection and obeisance for the fragrance. Much of the adoring, worshipful praise seems — to me — to stem from those lovely opening notes that some have compared to spices and dates (the fruit) in a Turkish bazaar. Believe me, I know how utterly divine those notes can be; I raved about them extensively for Hermès’ Elixir de Merveilles. I suspect the Elixir is precisely why I’m not more overwhelmed and passionate about Jubilation; I’ve already had the experience. But, for one who hasn’t and who is seeking an oud fragrance on top of it, then I suspect Jubilation XXV will make you rather weak at the knees. It is not an overwhelming, crushing oud fragrance but a very luxurious one that feels expensive. Which is just as well, given that it is expensive.

Bloody expensive, in fact! The usual bottle is 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml and costs $290, £170.00 or around €210. There is a smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml version that costs £140.00, but a cursory review of a few US websites shows it is not available on any of the usual or big perfume sites. I found the smaller size only at Beauty Encounter where it retails for $245. It’s not a particularly good deal, given that double the quantity (or 3.4 oz) costs only $50 more. (As a side note, the women’s version of Jubilation is slightly more expensive in general: $300 for 3.4 oz, instead of $290.)

Amouage Gold in actual gold.

Amouage Gold in actual gold.

So, is Jubilation XXV worth getting? As always, that is a subjective and personal decision, but the cost of Jubilation makes it a bit more complicated than that equation usually is. Amouage may no longer make the most expensive perfume in the world — that was Gold in 1983 — but it’s still not a walk in the park. Yet, for a large number of people, Jubilation XXV is a scent without compare, one of their all-time favorites, and completely worth every golden penny. I would suggest testing it out via a sample. If it steals your heart, wonderful. If not, then perhaps you can always layer one of your existing ouds (particularly if you already own one from By Kilian) with the significantly cheaper, but always marvelous, Elixir de Merveilles.

DETAILS:
Availability & Stores: In the US, Jubilation XXV can be purchased online at AedesFour SeasonsLuckyscent or Parfums Raffy. (Google and Parfums Raffy state that it is the authorized retailer for Amouage and that it provides free shipping.) If you want the smaller 1.7 oz version, you can go to Beauty Encounter. Samples of Jubilation can be purchased from all those places, as well as from Surrender to Chance (the decant site I always use) where the smallest vial costs $3.99. In London, I’ve read that Jubilation XXV is available at Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Les Senteurs or the Amouage boutique. In Canada, I’ve read that it’s available at The Perfume Shoppe. In Germany, at First in Fragrance. And, of course, it is available world-wide on Amouage’s own website. The website also has a “Store Locator” for about 20 countries which should, hopefully, help you find Jubilation somewhere close to you.