Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin: Baroque Grandeur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

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

Galbanum

Galbanum

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

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

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

Bal à Versailles.

Bal à Versailles.

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

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

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

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

Source: beauty-places.com

Source: beauty-places.com

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

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

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

 

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

Tolu Balsam. Source: somaluna.com

Tolu Balsam. Source: somaluna.com

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

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

Chandelier reflections

Source: pbs.org

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

Source: Wallpaperscraft.com

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

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

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

Source: footage.shutterstock.com

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

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

Source:  dianafabrics.com

Source: dianafabrics.com

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

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

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

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

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

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

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

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

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

Alexandre III bridge, Paris. Source: wallpaperscraft.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blenheim Palace. Source: Liveinternet.ru

Blenheim Palace. Source: Liveinternet.ru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Rig Veda Psych4u  blogspot

Source: In Rig Veda Psych4u blogspot

A while ago, I asked Neela Vermeire of Neela Vermeire Créations (“NVC”) if she would be kind enough to do an interview. She graciously agreed, and I sent along some questions. “Some” is an understatement — not being one for brevity, I’m afraid I inundated her with rather a lengthy list. Ms. Vermeire never blinked, and never once said that her incredibly busy schedule couldn’t accommodate such a barrage. Instead, she spent a portion of her holidays answering them. (And she never told me to fly a kite when I came back with follow-ups, twice!) I’m incredibly grateful for her graciousness, her time, her enormous patience, and her always sunny disposition.

Neela Vermeire. Source: NVC

Neela Vermeire. Source: Ms. Vermeire.

My goal with the questions was for us to learn as much about Neela Vermeire the person and perfume lover, as about the one who creates beautiful perfumes. Many of you know the brief outlines of Ms. Vermeire’s story. She was born in India, living life in the lushness of Calcutta (now Kolkata), before travelling around the world. She studied in America, completing a Master’s Degree in social sciences, then eventually moved to England where she studied law and became a solicitor. She spent a little time in Aberdeen, Scotland, practiced in London, and, for a brief period, moved to Paris where she remained for two years. She went back across the pond to England, then, six years after she left Paris, Ms. Vermeire and her Belgian husband moved back for good, this time for her husband’s work.

Bertrand Duchaufour. Source: mparis.ru

Bertrand Duchaufour. Source: mparis.ru

Ms. Vermeire was always passionate about perfumery and, in an almost organic process, she decided to express her love concretely by starting her own line. So, she approached Bertrand Duchaufour — one of the most famous perfume noses in the world, who has worked with everyone from Dior, to Acqua di Parma, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garcons, Givenchy, Penhaligon, and many others. The result was Neela Vermeire Créations, three highly acclaimed fragrances, an award nomination, inclusion at the top of many perfume sites’ annual “Best of” lists, and a passionate following of admirers. And now, a fourth creation whose release is just a week away: Ashoka, Imperial Buddhist, a scent intended to capture the essence and life of India’s most famous Emperor, the man whose very symbol (a chakra) is now placed right in the center of India’s flag.

Emperor Ashoka.

Emperor Ashoka.

I asked Ms. Vermeire about Ashoka, its creation, and the feelings that she sought to capture. But what about the woman herself? As I said earlier, I wanted you to know the complex, intellectual, extremely diverse, fascinating woman behind the fragrances, as much as the perfumista who created them. Ms. Vermeire kindly shared everything from some of her favorite perfumes that she used to wear, to her favorite television shows, her culinary weaknesses, and even her favorite type of chocolates. I hope you enjoy the answers as much as I did.

*    *   *

What are some of your favorite notes in perfumes? Notes that make you sit up with excitement when you see them on a perfume list?

There are too many to list but here are some: iris, jasmine sambac, tuberose, rose, lavender, vetiver, galbanum, sandalwood and most precious woods, styrax, resins…

Are there any perfume notes that you struggle with or that you don’t like at all?

Certain fruits, heavy patchouli, overtly sweet “gourmand” notes.

Which fruit notes don’t you like? Peach? Grape? Grapefruit? Blackcurrant?

I have difficulty with fruity notes in general – difficult to point to and blame certain fruits. It really depends on how a perfumer works with some of the fruity notes.

What was your earliest perfume memory? 

It comes of course from my childhood years in India –smell of sandalwood paste, incense, tea, spices, flowers…

Before you started your own perfume line, what were some of your favorite perfumes?

There are too many to list as I collected many fragrances over the years. What I reached out for the most were:

Chanel Bois des Iles Extrait; Chanel No. 22 Extrait; Guerlain Jicky, Vega, and Sous Le Vent; Frederic Malle Iris Poudre and Une Fleur de Cassie; Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist and Bois de Violette. used to wear the Le Labo Tubereuse 40 NY exclusive, Iris 39 and Labdanum 18.

Also, I love and collect vintage perfumes. My main haul this year include an unopened Shalimar extrait in the box from the 1940s with the original wrapping paper, vintage Femme, and vintage Madame Rochas over summer from an antique fair, among a few…. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

Did you ever have a signature fragrance?

I don’t have a signature fragrance; I have always been too interested in experimenting or trying new scents. That said, I do wear NVC Mohur frequently, and a future creation which is still work in progress. [Font emphasis added by me.]

When you started your own perfume house, you obviously had a clear overall vision and inspiration for the perfumes that subsequently became Trayee, Mohur and Bombay Bling. What happens after you have that initial idea for a scent? Can you share a little about the steps in the creative process, and the methods by which you and Bertrand Duchaufour rendered your initial idea into something concrete? For example, would both of you test out different formulas each week? 

Once I have clear vision – it is expressed to the perfumer. Sometimes we can start with a part of the entire vision and then build the foundation of the fragrance – we usually work on a couple of options in line with the original idea.

For Ashoka, the challenge was rather different compared to the first trio (which express vast periods of history) and not a legendary personality who helped spread a magnificent religion Buddhism. [Font emphasis to the name added by me.]

Can you expand a little on the process of building the perfume’s foundation and working with different options in line with the original vision?

It is one of the ways for me to develop and flesh out ideas – when you express an idea – you may not get (as a mod) what you think it is going to be. [Me: “Mod” is industry-speak for “version.”] The guiding factor is in imagination of the notes and the balance of the work-in-progress creation.

A perfume can take shape from those early stages to something very different from what was presented at say stage one. It is truly a matter of being on the same page for all parties involved in the creation.

Things take time in general – it is either a matter of being quick/hurried and accepting mods which may not be fully formed or the tougher route when one decides to carry on with the development and make sure that one reaches a satisfactory stage where the “eureka moment” actually happens!

Why did Emperor Ashoka appeal to you in the first place as a source of perfume inspiration, as opposed to some other Indian figure representing peace? Has he always interested you?  

Emperor Ashoka's Chakra, which is the very symbol in the center of the Indian national flag.

Emperor Ashoka’s Chakra, which is the very symbol in the center of the Indian national flag.

Personally as an Indian, Ashoka has always held a very special place since my childhood. One cannot ignore his importance if you grow up in India.  In a nutshell – he was a true humanist (after his self-realization) and possibly one of the greatest emperors ever. He believed in secularism and was way ahead of his times.

NVC LogoIn fact, our logo was adapted from Ashoka’s famous Chakra.

The bottle for Ashoka, as designed by Pierre Dinard.

The bottle for Ashoka, as designed by Pierre Dinard.

Our new bottle, designed by Pierre Dinand, has 24 ridges just like Ashoka’s chakra. The logo [adaptation of the chakra] is also embossed on the metal cap. [So, the perfume] is about the meaning of this important symbol.

H.G. Wells summed up what you need to know about Ashoka in his book A Short History of the World. (1922):

“Asoka was at first disposed to follow the example of his father and grandfather and complete the conquest of the Indian peninsula. He […] was successful in his military operations and —alone among conquerors—  was so disgusted by the cruelty and horror of war that he renounced it. He would have no more of it. He adopted the peaceful doctrines of Buddhism and declared that henceforth his conquests should be the conquests of religion.

The Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, constructed by Ashoka. Two monks are meditating in front of it. The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment is on the left, behind the monks. This temple is the number 1 pilgrimage site of Buddhism in the world.  Source: Wikicommons.

The Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, constructed by Ashoka. Two monks are meditating in front of it. The tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment is on the left, behind the monks. This temple is the number 1 pilgrimage site of Buddhism in the world. Source: Wikicommons.

His reign for eight-and-twenty years was one of the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind. He organized a great digging of wells in India and the planting of trees for shade. He founded hospitals and public gardens and gardens for the growing of medicinal herbs. He created a ministry for the care of the aborigines and subject races of India. He made provision for the education of women. […]

Such was Asoka, greatest of kings. He was far in advance of his age. He left no prince and no organization of men to carry on his work, and within a century of his death the great days of his reign had become a glorious memory in a shattered and decaying India. […] But beyond the confines of India and the realms of caste Buddhism spread—until it had won China and Siam and Burma and Japan, countries in which it is predominant to this day…”

Perhaps the sole sculptural depiction of Emperor Ashoka that remains today.

Perhaps the sole sculptural depiction of Emperor Ashoka that remains today, though the identity of the figure has not been fully established.

What made you both decide on certain notes, like fig, being a perfect way to reflect a stage in Emperor Ashoka’s life?

The main idea was to ensure that the fragrance has a contrasting start from a strong top note to a gentle drydown. We included some floral notes, fig leaves and fig milk, styrax, and sandalwood as some of the important notes to bring about this contrast.

Buddha achieved his enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree/Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa) and the fact that Ashoka converted to Buddhism to gain his own enlightenment.

Ashoka.

The new NVC bottle design by Pierre Dinand.

For each of the perfumes, including the upcoming Ashoka, when did you finally know that a particular version or formula was “the” final, perfect one? Was there one of the perfumes that was a little harder to finalize and perfect (according to that mental vision) than the others?

I could go on perfecting a perfume forever and I do not care to rush towards any deadline. In the case of the trio, Trayee was the toughest to declare “final” as well as Mohur. Bombay Bling appeared to be relatively less complex to finalize in comparison to the other two.

Ashoka was incredibly tough and took many iterations. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

Speaking of Ashoka, there is already a tidal wave of anticipation and excitement. I read your interview with Fragrantica back in April about the two versions of the perfume that you showed at Milan: versions 108, 110 and their differences. To quote the relevant part of the Fragrantica reviewer’s perceptions: “108 is more masculine, green and harsh, with a fierce start recalling the period of the youth of Ashoka—a fearless hunter, cruel warrior and a great conqueror. 110 is more lactonic and sleek; it shows Ashoka after his enlightment [sic], as a kind and compassionate person…” Given his description and your own words about having different versions in Milan, it sounds like you went through numerous different interpretations for the scent. Did you finally settle on #108? And, if so, what made one formula seem like a better, truer, more representative fit for Ashoka than the other?

The numbers got juxtaposed somehow and did not get amended! It is 110 we settled for as it “is more masculine, green and strong, with a fierce start recalling the period of the youth of Ashoka—a fearless hunter, cruel warrior and a great conqueror.”

110 was the overall character of the perfume that we had in mind for Ashoka.

108 was relatively gentle in the opening.

One of the many, many things that I think will make Ashoka such a hit is that it hits that sweet spot in your line-up for a comfort fragrance. Each of your other ones represent a certain type of fragrance: Trayee is the seductive temptress with flair; Mohur is quiet, refined elegance; and Bombay Bling is fun, jubilant, exuberance. For me, Ashoka represents soothing comfort, a sort of serenity mixed with a mother’s protective embrace. Obviously, that’s my subjective interpretation of it, but I’m curious if you thought about the types of perfumes that you had already, and if you sought to create a type of refined, sophisticated comfort fragrance for your line-up?

Thank you for your faith in our fourth creation! To answer your question, for us – it is about the general mood of a fragrance.

Trayee is spiritual, contemplative and refined.

Mohur is elegant and glamorous as the same time.

Bombay Bling is sheer sophisticated fun.

Ashoka is intended to be that sophisticated comfort fragrance that you describe, both powerful and gentle.

All are created for men and women. We wanted everyone to be able to select a fragrance wardrobe from the collection. [All font emphasis to the names added by me.]

If you had to choose a painting, picture, photo or place that you think sums up the overall feel of Ashoka, perhaps as an emotional experience, what would it be? 

It is very much a collage of various images – it is very tough to link it to one single image. The only image I can think of right now is the Ashoka’s chakra.

Emotionally it is a fragrance that works from a powerful top note to a very warm and comforting heart and base notes.

Ashoka's Chakra in stone

I’m always in awe of the quality of your ingredients but, especially, of that stunning sandalwood in your original trio. Without getting into trade secrets, can you tell us anything about the sandalwood or perhaps the Laotian Oudh that you use?

I have faith in a specialist perfumer like Bertrand Duchaufour’s choice of materials – naturals and aroma chemicals he uses in the compositions and we know that in the case of the NVC perfumes we did not cut any corners for the sake of economics.

We have used some precious woods like Mysore sandalwood oil and Laotian Oudh.  We hope to continue on this path.

To what extent has your creative process or the perfume’s development been impacted by sourcing issues for ingredients? For example, that beautiful sandalwood is neither cheap nor in great abundance.

As mentioned above, I leave this to the perfumer and the essence company. The perfumers are specialists and know their materials well. It is their tool. Using some of the rare and precious raw materials can make a formula exorbitantly expensive.

When you work with experts/professionals in the fragrance world and I will underline experts – who know how to create a formula and know that if the ingredients are excellent – the end result will usually be very good.

There is a level of complexity to get an idea or message across through the perfume – even though the message is used mainly as an intellectual prop.

The perfume should make one “feel”/emote…

You make very French perfumes, even if they have an Indian inspiration. I think there is a very definite style to French perfumery as a whole or, at least, there was. Do you think that may be in danger in the years ahead due to things like IFRA or EU restrictions? Do you see any changes ahead for French perfumery?

Yes, but as long as one can conform to the new rules – it will hopefully be ok.

Perfume and your company obviously take up a vast amount of your time. What do you do to relax? Or, to put it another way, what are some of your non-perfume-related passions? Do you have any guilty pleasures — whether in television, books, food or something else — that you would confess to? 🙂

Music – all forms – I do enjoy going to classical concerts and productions of baroque opera.

Theatre when we visit London or NYC. We enjoy some French Theatre.

Art – everything from street art (like Space Invader), to Chagall.

Food – see below.

I adore the Cinema but rarely find the time to go.

I am also a fan of intelligent TV series – enjoy some excellent HBO productions, BBC and Nordic productions.

I know you love the TV show, Borgen, but what else? Which HBO or BBC series?

Borgen, Wallander, The Killing, The Bridge. On the BBC, there are too many to list, as I grew up with the BBC – crime, justice, comedy. But I am a Downton Abbey fan. I’m also a HUGE Poirot fan.

From HBO or American television, there are also too many, but some include The Wire, Boardwalk Empire (fabulous), The Sopranos…. I also watch other shows like: Engrenages (French), The Shield, and The Good Wife.

I’ve enjoyed Mad Men very much. It’s very stylish, and I love John Slattery’s part, as well as many other characters. Homeland is also great, and I liked the original Israeli version, Prisoners of War. Another show I like is the new Netflix series, House of Cards, mainly for Kevin Spacey. I’ve been a fan of his since early in his career with The Usual Suspects.

I do not dare to mention feature films, as I am film buff and have an endless list that may bore everyone.

Source: Ms. Vermeire.

Source: Ms. Vermeire.

Since you live in Paris with all that glorious food, and since I’m a foodie myself, I have to ask as my last question: what are some of your favorite dishes, cheeses, patisseries, breads, or other aspects of French culinary life? Please let us live vicariously through you!

Even though I live in Paris, I remain a huge fan of all types of Asian cuisine (which I still like the best). Second for me comes Italian cuisine. I also enjoy savoury Persian and Lebanese cuisine. In fact, I am known to impose Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine on my friends.

There is nothing like good organic bread and we have some excellent artisanal boulangeries near us.

Sadly, we have not found a truly great Indian restaurant in Paris, the UK and the US just seem better for that.

In India, the cuisine is varied – I love most regional cooking. My favourite type of cuisine is Dum Pukht. If you are in New Delhi, you must try the restaurants Dum Pukht and Bukhara for an excellent culinary experience.

I also enjoy creative meals from any of the great French chefs and from chefs from all over the world. There, I go more for quality than quantity.

Source: goodealmart.com

Source: goodealmart.com

However, if I have to go for general French cuisine, I enjoy good fish restaurants. I enjoy platters of my favourite French oysters — speciales Gillardeau with some vintage champagne — followed by a deliciously cooked sole (grilled or fried), or grilled sea bass with olive oil or cooked in salt crust.

Biscuits Roses de Reims. Source: agence-des-grands-crus.com

Biscuits Roses de Reims. Source: agence-des-grands-crus.com

I also enjoy wine tasting wherever we go. And we enjoy looking for good champagne houses that are rather niche in production. My favourite champagne maison is Jacquesson. I also enjoy dunking rose biscuits from Reims in champagne.

I’m not fond of heavy patisseries, but I enjoy some good dark chocolate from time to time. My favourite chocolatiers include Pierre Marcolini (Belgian), Patrick Roger, Debauve et Gallais (French)…

*    *   *

Oh my God, I don’t know about you, but I salivated like a dog reading her food answers! Wouldn’t you love to go eating and drinking across Europe with Ms. Vermeire?! Coincidentally, I went to the famous Bukhara in New Delhi years ago, and can attest that it is as good as Ms. Vermeire says it is. (Actually, it was completely mind-blowing. And I gained 6 pounds to prove it!) Ms. Vermeire clearly knows her food. And her oysters, too! The New York Times calls Gillardeau “the most famous name in oysters.” If you’re curious about Jacquesson, the champagne house has a fascinating history that goes back to 1798 and not only pre-dates Krug, but arguably gave rise to the latter.

Macarons, Pierre Marcolini, via Wikicommons.

Macarons, Pierre Marcolini, via Wikicommons.

Lastly, if you’re a masochist who loves to torture yourself with food porn from afar (as I do), then you really should check out the handsome Pierre Marcolini, his lovely website with its various chocolate collections, and his e-Boutique that offers everything from macarons to your own choice of chocolate selections. (No U.S. deliveries, alas.) A much less visually appealing website is that of Debauve & Gallais, and it offers chocolate deliveries on a more global basis, including FedEx shipments to the U.S. The company was founded in 1800, and became the official chocolatiers to Emperor Napoleon, as well as to several kings who followed him.

As for the perfumes, I think we would all agree with Ms. Vermeire that the fragrance should make us feel. And the very best ones always do. I have felt the soothing comfort of Ashoka, and I think many of you will love the Emperor’s embrace. I’m still madly in love with the upcoming Mohur Extrait above all else (yes, even more than Trayee!), but I think Ashoka has a refined gentleness that makes it very appealing and perhaps the most versatile of all the NVC creations. I can’t wait for you all to try it!

I would like to repeat my grateful thanks to Ms. Vermeire for taking big chunk of time out of her extremely busy schedule to answer my questions. She is working on a new fragrance, is constantly on the move, and is also preparing for the new launch of Ashoka that is mere days away. The fragrance will be officially released at the Pitti Immagine Fragranze Faire in Florence on September 13th! In light of all that, her graciousness, and patience mean even more. I shall see if I can one day repay her with dark chocolates or, perhaps, with some grilled sea bass.…

[AVAILABILITY UPDATE: Ashoka will be available for sale starting on September 23, 2013. In the U.S., it will be sold at Luckyscent and Min New York. I asked Ms. Vermeire about Ashoka samples and the Discovery Sets. This is her reply:

Here is what we are planning till we have Ashoka in the sets.
Try your India sample sets (3×2 ml) and Discovery sets with Ashoka EDP from late autumn from the site.

We will include a free glass vial sample of Ashoka with every purchase of the NVC Discovery set 10 ml x 3 of the first trio.

Please stay tuned for news on e-boutique.

The full flacons of Ashoka will be available at 190 Euros plus shipping.

So, starting on September 23rd, if you order the Discovery Set, you will get a glass vial of Ashoka. Ms. Vermeire says that samples of Ashoka won’t be available to go with the smaller “Try your India” sample set until much later in the Fall. So you can only get a sample if you order the NVC Discovery Set. As for a possible 10 ml bottle of Ashoka, at some point much later in the Fall, Ashoka will be added to the Discovery Set, but it is not offered being right now. (When it is, the Discover Set’s prices will presumably change for 4 x 10 ml, instead of 3 x 10 ml, but that is just my guess).]

Perfume Review: Penhaligon Vaara

Source: mariyatourtravels.com -

Jodhpur, India. Source: mariyatourtravels.com –

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

Source: telegraphindia.com.

Source: telegraphindia.com.

The perfume site, CaFleureBon, explains the tale:

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

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

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. Source: aboutrajasthan.in

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. Source: aboutrajasthan.in

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

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

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

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

Source: imgshowcase.blogspot.com

Source: imgshowcase.blogspot.com

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

Source: Dennis 7 Dees Gardening center. dennis7dees.com

Source: Dennis 7 Dees Gardening center. dennis7dees.com

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

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

Source: oncewedd.com

Source: oncewedd.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

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

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

Source: wallpaperswide.com

Source: wallpaperswide.com

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

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

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

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

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

Source: BrownThomas.com

Source: BrownThomas.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – 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

Perfume Review: Seville à L’Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur

There are perfumes that one should theoretically love but which, in reality, one simply cannot bear. Seville à L’Aube (Seville at Dawn) is one of those fragrances for me. A perfume that has sent the blogosphere into an utter tizzy, accompanied by a book of seemingly great sexiness, and a back-story of even greater romanticism, it is centered on one of my favorite notes: orange blossom. It is a perfume that would seem to be tailor-made for me. Ultimately, however, I couldn’t stand it. My personal perfume profile — and a particular note that I always struggle with — made Seville à L’Aube a very difficult experience for me.

Seville a L'Aube L'Artisan

Seville à L’Aube is a limited-edition eau de parfum released in 2012 and made for L’Artisan Parfumeur by the great Bertrand Duchaufour in conjunction with the writer and perfume blogger, Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc. According to a quote from Ms. Beaulieu on Now Smell This, the perfume is supposed to represent one night in Seville and the start of a passionate affair between Ms. Beaulieu and her Spanish lover:

[Séville à l’aube] was inspired by one of the most beautiful nights in my life, in Seville during the Holy Week under an orange tree in full blossom, wrapped in incense smoke and the arms of a Spanish boy…

seville2

Fragrantica provides even more details on Ms. Beaulieu’s encounter:

I am in Seville, standing under a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Román, the black-clad Spanish boy who is not yet my lover. Since sundown, we’ve been watching the religious brotherhoods in their pointed caps and habits thread their way across the old Moorish town in the wake of gilded wood floats bearing statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary. […]

[The statue of the Madonna] is being carried into the golden whorls of a baroque chapel, smoothly manoeuvred in and out, in and out, in and out – they say the bearers get erections as they do this – while Román’s hand runs down my black lace shift and up my thigh to tangle with my garter-belt straps. […] I am in the pulsing, molten-gold heart of Seville, thrust into her fragrant flesh, and there is no need for Román to take me to bed at dawn: he’s already given me the night.

"The Perfume Lover." US Edition.

“The Perfume Lover.” US Edition.

Bravo! If the story doesn’t leave one heated and intent on trying the perfumed encapsulation of that night, then I have no idea what will. I certainly was keen to test the perfume, and the blogosphere’s gushing, often poetic reviews only strengthening that determination.

Denyse Beaulieu with her book. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Denyse Beaulieu with her book. Source: The Perfume Magazine.

Things seemed to have reached a crescendo this week with the U.S. release of Ms. Beaulieu’s book, The Perfume Lover: A Personal History of Scent, which describes, in part, the process of creating Seville à L’Aube with Mr. Duchaufour. (Apparently, the book also covers quite a bit of Ms. Beaulieu’s sex life, according to an article in The New York Times yesterday.)

I wasn’t aware that the book’s release was this exact week (and I hadn’t intended to cover the perfume until next week), but I have been feeling unwell lately, so I thought my beloved orange blossoms would be the perfect antidote and pick-me-up. It wasn’t until I read the perfume’s notes that a flicker of worry crossed my mind. The notes as compiled from Lucky Scent and Now Smell This include:

Orange blossom, lavender, pink pepper, petitgrain, lemon tree leaves, jasmine, magnolia, beeswax, incense, Benzoin Siam, Luiseiri lavender.

lavender-550pxYou see, I really do not like lavender very much. I really, really do not. And Seville à L’Aube opens on my skin with a veritable tidal wave of dry, pungent, concentrated lavender, followed by bitter petitgrain and overwrought orange blossoms. I can tolerate lavender in small doses, but this degree of super-concentrated, intense lavender was well-nigh unbearable for me. It was akin to the most concentrated lavender oil, but with a particularly bitter, pungent, dry character. When combined with the equally bitter petitgrain (the distillation of the twigs from an orange blossom tree) and some incredibly peppery notes, the overall result passes into forcefully unpleasant territory.

The orange blossoms weren’t my salvation, either. Sometimes, orange blossoms can impart a faintly soapy undertone but — though there was just a hint of that here in the opening moments — the real issue for me was the impact of the other notes. They turned the orange blossom into something extremely dry with a definitely pungent, woody, almost herbaceous, peppery twist. There is some relief from the sweet magnolia flower which adds a soft, velvety, plush floral note with some fruity nuances — but not much. At this stage, it is predominantly lavender, bitterness, dryness, more lavender, and orange blossom.

Fifteen minutes later, the overpowering lavender has started to meld a little better with the orange blossom. The notes turn into one spicy-sweet accord with some pungent green notes, but it’s still an ordeal and I still struggle. As time passes, the lavender starts to recede a little, the orange blossom takes the lead and the perfume turns much sweeter.

Orange Blossom Syrup.

Orange Blossom Syrup.

Except now, it is too sweet. Revoltingly so. I’m having strong flashbacks to Tom Ford‘s Neroli Portofino which I found to be a similarly excessive, cloyingly sweet, orange blossom scent. It’s as though the flower has been put on steroids, in both perfumes. And, frankly, there is something very unnatural and artificial about the extremeness. I am strongly reminded of the thick, concentrated orange blossom syrup used in Middle Eastern desserts — but amped up with aromachemicals. Just as with Neroli Portofino, Seville à L’Aube makes me feel physically queasy. (Perhaps I can’t handle perfumes that are essentially orange blossom soliflores?)

My intense queasiness and nausea continue for quite a long time, leaving me wondering if I shouldn’t just save myself and scrub this off. To be honest, the first time I tried Seville à L’Aube, I completely gave up but, since I had an appointment I couldn’t miss at the vet, I simply sprayed another perfume over it to be free of it.

The second time, however, I persevered and, around the 2.5 hour benchmark, the perfume finally became less of an ordeal. That unnatural, extreme and painfully cloying sweetness starts to slowly dissipate. Somewhat. The lavender has — thank God — retreated for the most part, to be replaced by a quiet note of beeswax and vanilla benzoin. Soft touches of jasmine lurk behind the orange blossom and there is also the advent of a subtly smoky base, though the incense is never more than a faint shimmer in the background. From the start, the perfume has always been incredibly airy and lightweight in feel, though also surprisingly strong and powerful. Now, near the 3 hour mark, it finally drops in sillage and power. It is still, however, far too sweet for my liking.

For the next seven hours, the perfume is predominantly orange blossom with some light vanillic benzoin. It’s an incredibly persistent, long-lasting scent. It’s not completely terrible; there are times when I even think I may like it. Then I remember that brutal opening — and shiver. I could never go through that again, but I fully recognise that my reaction is due to my own personal discomfort with some notes. That said, I really do think that the perfume is overly sweet by more than just my standards. I made two people sniff my arm, and both thought the same thing with one actually recoiling in aversion.

We’re not alone in that conclusion, though we are in the minority. Bloggers may generally (with some exceptions) adore Seville à L’Aube, but the reaction from general commentators is distinctly more mixed. On Fragrantica, a number of people mention the “cloying” nature of the perfume or how it is “a little nauseating.” (See, it’s not just me!) On Luckyscent, some of the reviews are equally unenthused:

  • urgh, not sure how I feel about this. Lots of orange blossom. Gives an impression of orange and green. It’s somehow too much, has a weird gourmand quality, like a big too-sweet meringue covered in candied flowers and orange leaves. Also a tiny trace of celery.
  • I so eagerly awaited a decant, only to discover this smells uncannily like Fruity Pebbles. The opening (as much as I could ascertain with my sample) is smoky and sexy with the sweetness of orange blossom but the dry down is straight Fruity Pebbles. I was really hoping for smoky holy days and my garters getting tangled.
  • I get a lot if benzoin in this one, and the same rooty, astringent carrot from Nuit de Tubereuse. The orange blossom note has a burned sugariness to it, so that it isn’t airy, but syrupy. Definitely a fall perfume.
  • The opening is a lively orange blossom composition with some unusual notes. But that lasts only a few minutes. The drydown is a sweet, fairly generic orange blossom cologne. It’s gone completely in 45 minutes on my skin, according to my housemates. There is one note in common with Nuit de Tubereuse that actually sears my nose briefly. No idea what the aromachemical is, but it can be a bit painful.

Oddly, there are a number of comparisons on the Luckyscent reviews to Nuit de Tubereuse which is also from Bertrand Duchaufour and L’Artisan Parfumeur. I couldn’t stand that one, truth be told, but I can’t see the similarities unless it’s in the area of unpleasant aromachemicals. I think Seville à L’Aube is a much better scent, relatively speaking — though given my feelings about Nuit de Tubereuse, I’m not sure that’s saying much.

I should also add that I know others who do not have issues with lavender but who, nonetheless, struggled with Seville à L’Aube. Some found it painfully dry at the start. A few found it “sour,” like my friend and fellow perfume blogger, The Scented Hound, who also described the perfume as “a cross between floor cleaner and sour shampoo,” and called it “purgatory.” One blogger, Almost au Naturel, suffered entirely different notes, summing up the scent as “funky, sexed up baby powder.” Though she ended up appreciating Seville à L’Aube for what it was, she begged people not to fall for the hype.

I definitely agree with that last conclusion. Don’t let the hype lead you to unrealistic expectations. If you love lavender, orange blossom and very sweet perfumes, then Seville à L’Aube may be one for you to consider. (However, the perfume is limited-edition and, with the advent of the U.S. edition of the book, it is even hotter than it was before, so I suggest you test it out very soon if you want to try to obtain a bottle.) For those who are less than enamoured of those notes, however, it may be “purgatory” and you might want to stick with reading the book.

 

DETAILS:
Seville à L’Aube is a limited-edition Eau de Parfum that is only available in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle. At the time of this post, the perfume is temporarily sold out on L’Artisan Parfumeur’s US website where it retails for $165 but it is available on the company’s UK website and costs £88.00. (The same price is listed on the Euro version of the site.) US buyers can also purchase the perfume from Luckyscent, though it is currently back-ordered and won’t ship out until April. The perfume is carried at Aedes de Venustas (along with the book, The Perfume Lover), but they too are currently sold out of the scent. In Europe, you can find the scent available at Ausliebezumduft where it retails for €105.00. If you’d like to try a sample, you can find Seville à L’Aube on Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.49 for 1 ml vial.

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.