Perfume Review – The Enchanted Forest by The Vagabond Prince & Bertrand Duchaufour

EF light

Source: J. Chanders at DeviantArt

Imagine a sea of pine and evergreens. There is a small hole in the thick blanket of trees through which the sun hits a golden light tunneling down to the dark, damp, forest floor. The ray of light hits turns some plants bright, incandescent green. Peeking out from behind the leaves are lush, ripe black currants. A few lie crushed — spilling out a crimson hue that contrasts brightly again the pine cones and the dark, grey-green mosses. All around, hidden outside the beacon of light, are the woods. Looming dark and majestic, they are silent, mysterious, unknown, and beckoning. That is The Enchanted Forest, Enchanted F bottlea newly released perfume for men and women created by Bertrand Duchaufour for the new niche perfume house, The Vagabond Prince.

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Source: Fragrantica

Bertrand Duchaufour has been called “the new pope of niche fragrances.” The legendary nose behind many L’Artisan Parfumeur scents — including Timbuktu and Dzongha — he has also created perfumes for Penhaligon, Créations Aromatiques, Comme de Garçon Kyoto, Acqua di Parma, Eau d’Italie, and, now, The Different Company.

BDuchaufour

Source: Fragrantica

Recently, however, he collaborated with The Vagabond Prince (a new niche perfume house out of California and owned by the founders of Fragrantica) on their first perfume, The Enchanted Forrest.

His thoughts and intentions behind the scent are quite instructive. In an article he wrote for Fragrantica, he states:

Enchanted Forest is a unique fragrance for several reasons. It is the only perfume I know of that is built around blackcurrant as the sole raw material, to such an extent that one can say it is a CASSIS. Another reason why we can speak of its uniqueness is the topic, this pagan festival that is the Kupala—a Slavic tradition that continues, more festive than other things at present, as a kind of homage to nature and the mysteries of the forest.

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Source: Fragrantica

At the same time, he wanted to evoke the dark, mysterious nature of a forest. So, he “chose the balsam fir, because it symbolizes the quintessential Russian forest,” seeking to link the “earthy notes” in the fragrance with “pine and the dried pine needles covering the floor of an endless pine and fir land.” (Id.)

But his goal was far more than just black currant, earth notes and slavic forests. Duchaufour explicitly sought to bring in a pagan element: joyful abandon, but with softness and femininity.

[N]either have I forgotten the joyful pagan side of the festival, by giving—mainly in the top notes—sparkling effects of citrus and alcohol (wine, coriander seed, pink pepper and just a trace of orange) that mingle with discrete floral notes but feminize the heart of the fragrance, such as hawthorn, rose, a touch of jasmine, carnation … just to offset everything else that could have made it a little too masculine. The whole composition oscillates between the dark masculine strength of the forest, the smooth, juicy and delicious blackcurrant and some soft flowers. The seduction which emanates from the bottom of the fragrance develops power with amber notes and very sophisticated musk.

Enchanted Forest is classified as a “woody aromatic” and its notes on the sample I received are as follows:

Top notes: pink pepper, aldehydes, sweet orange (traces), flower cassis, blackcurrant leaf, hawthorn, effects of rum and wine, rosemary, davana.
Heart notes: blackcurrant buds absolute (by LMR from Grasse), CO2 blackcurrant (by Floral Concept from Grasse), Russian coriander seed, honeysuckle, rose, carnation, vetiver
Base notes: opoponax resinoid, Siam benzoin, amber, oakmoss, fir balsam absolute, Patchouli Purecoeur®, castoreum absolute, cedar notes, vanilla, musk.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

I was quite pleasantly shocked and pleased to receive a sample from the company, but I vowed I would always give you my blunt opinion regardless of how I obtained the perfume. And the bottom line is: I don’t think I’m the target audience for this very evocative, very well-made scent, but I’m sure it will be a hit.

prairie fruit

Source: Kayben Farms

The Enchanted Forest opens with a burst of cassis (which is the French name for black currants and what I’m used to using) and citrus. It’s the bright, zesty zing of a freshly grated lemon rind, and it’s a lovely pairing with the tart, sweet, fresh burst of cassis. Cassis doesn’t have the slightly over-ripe opulence of a purple (let alone a purple patchouli) fruit as used in perfume; it’s all tangy tartness with a touch of sweetness that is more aromatic and fragrant than actual, cloying sugariness. Cassis is often a note tasted in red wine, so it should be no surprise that the added “wine” notes simply underscore that aspect here. There are definite impressions of hot, mulled, spiced wine. In his Fragrantica article, Duchaufour attributed his “alcohol” smell to “wine, coriander seed, pink pepper and just a trace of orange.” I have to say, I don’t get any of those individual components, but I definitely get the sum total.

Seconds after opening, the heady scent of crushed pine needles and pine cones joins the party. Fir balsam absolute (natural pine fragrance in a concentrated form) is listed in the base notes of the fragrance, but it feels as though it starts at the top and runs all the way through the scent. Cassis and fir balsam are the heart and driving force behind The Enchanted Forest, and there is no way to ever forget that. In contrast, the oakmoss — a foundational element for chypre fragrances — stays at the base, as do some of the other notes like the cedar, the resins and the castoreum, to arise only later during the dry-down stage.

blackcurrant buds fruits with leaves

The black currant plant with buds, fruits and leaves. Photo Source: The Perfume Shrine

For the first 60 to 90 minutes, it’s predominantly cassis and fir that lead the show but, at the 30 minute mark, other guests start to appear. I smell the black currant leaf and some geranium, though they are fleeting. So, too, is the black currant bud absolute. The latter is an interesting ingredient and, given its greater role later on, I thought I would link to the explanation provided by the Perfume Shrine:

Black currant bud absolute is known as bourgeons de cassis in French …[and is different] from the synthetic “cassis” bases that can be cloying and which were so very popular in the 1980s and early 1990s perfumery, notably in Tiffany for Tiffany (by Jacques Polge) in 1987 and Poeme for Lancome (by Jacques Cavallier) in 1995. Compared to the artificial berry bases defined as “cassis,” the natural black currant bud absolute comes off as greener and lighter with a characteristic touch of cat. Specifically the ammoniac feel of a feline’s urinary tract, controversial though that may seem.

Black currant absolute comes from the bud… but also from the distilled leaves of the plant … and is extracted into a yellowish green to dark green paste that projects as a spicy-fruity-woody note retaining a fresh, yet tangy nuance, slightly phenolic.

I want to say up front that I do NOT smell ammoniac cat pee! Nor has anyone who has tried the scent thus far. However, in general, enough people seem to smell “cat piss” from black currant or black currant buds to warrant a surprising number of bewildered questions, articles or threads on the subject on the internet. Despite that, black currant buds are featured in a number of extremely popular, famous fragrances. A few examples are: Black Orchid by Tom Ford, Chamade and Champs Elysees by Guerlain, Gucci Rush II by Gucci, Escape by Clavin Klein, First by Van Cleef & Arpel, Beautiful by E.Lauder, In Love Again by YSL, Fan di Fendi by Fendi, and
Rock & Rose by Valentino. (Source: Fragrantica.)

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Source: Fragrantica

An hour and half in, Enchanted Forest has become a very forest green scent. The cassis is still there but this is a dappled mix of greens, from the pine and evergreen, to the fresh, almost herbal leaf of the cassis plant, to more cedar-y pine cones. I don’t smell the rosemary, vetiver, honeysuckle or a few other of the notes listed, but I get a definite hint of some sweet, nutty, amber-y resin and smoke. However, the perfume is so well blended, I can’t tell which of the resins may be the cause. It could be the Siam resin, the opoponax (sweet myrrh) resin, the amber, or, even, the patchouli.

All of this brings me to the issue of linearity. Some perfumes are called “linear” because they are essentially one flat trajectory. Others, however, don’t really deserve that slightly disparaging term because they are so well-blended that they are a harmonious whole. The Perfume Shrine has a very thorough explanation of and defense for the “deceptive simplicity” of what some may dismiss as a “linear” scent. As she explains, some scents are really not akin to a flat-line on a medical device but, rather, have prisms and shifting weights amongst several key components.

A variation on the linear scent is the “prism”/prismatic fragrance, whereupon you smell a humongous consistent effect all right, but when you squint this or that way, throughout the long duration, you seem to pick up some random note coming to the fore or regressing, then repeating again and again; a sort of “lather, rinse, repeat” to infinity. A good example of this sort of meticulously engineered effect is Chanel’s Allure Eau de Toilette (and not the thicker and less nuanced Eau de Parfum) where the evolution of fragrance notes defies any classical pyramidal structure scheme. There are six facets shimmering and overlapping with no one note predominating.
In short, the engineering of a perfume is sometimes much more technically and intelligently labored than appears at first sniff. Linear scents are never “simple”, so to speak. Preferring a perfume that takes you into a wave of highs peaks & low valleys of differing “notes” is not in itself the mark of connoisseurship that it is touted to be.

I can’t decide if I think the Enchanted Forest is a “prismatic” scent or not. At times, especially during the first two hours, it seems flat-out linear. All cassis and fir trees. But at other times, especially at differing times from hours two to four, it definitely seems to be a shifting prism, highlighting some aspects, then others — sometimes in as little as a few minutes time!

Which brings me to an odd thing I noticed. Two hours in, the perfume’s notes changed depending on where I had put it on my arm and when I smelled it. You see, I often place perfumes that I’m testing in various places up my arm (or arms). Usually, the scent remains the same no matter where it’s placed — pulse points or not. That was not the case here. On one wrist, I smelled ambery resin: warm, nutty, sweet. ambery and with what seemed to be the opoponax resin (a relation to myrrh) leading the way. On the inner crook of my elbow on my other arm, I smelled all pine cones, green cassis leaf, smoky incense and a dash of oakmoss. On my other wrist and the outside of my hand, it was pine, cassis and what seemed to be a dash of the rose! And, every few moments, the scents seemed to shift or alter in small degree. One minute, my wrist smelled of amber resin, a few minutes later, it smelled of pine cones, then it shifted back moments later to honey and amber. I honestly can’t understand it. I put them all on at the same time!

I think the flickering nature of the scents underscores that this is an extremely well-blended prismatic perfume, and not a purely linear one. There really is deceptive simplicity; you merely have to wait for the opening notes to subside before you realise it.

The development of Enchanted Forest went roughly as follows: the opening of cassis and pine balsam lasted a bit over an hour; the middle notes really began at hour 1.5 and lasted for about another two hours; and about four hours from when I first dabbed on the perfume, the dry-down began. It’s a resin party! All amber, smoke, incense and honeyed sweetness. It’s warm and it’s cozy.

The whole progression of the scent is extremely evocative. It’s as though you were outside in a dark forest at night, sipping mulled wine by the light of the fire. You are surrounded by crushed pine needles and cones and there is a touch of damp greenness in the air. Then, you stomp out the fire and come in from the cold, inside to the cozy warmth of a cottage with trails of smoke and cedar still lingering on your clothes. You sip some vanilla tea with honey; the fire crackles; amber is in the air. The perfume truly does evoke such a feeling.

Unfortunately, lovely as parts of this fragrance are, I fear it’s not for me. I wanted to like this smell, but I would never wear it. And it truly is me, and not the perfume. I simply am not a fruit girl. Granted, it’s not a sugary, cloying fruit by any means! It’s tart and fresh, and there are a plethora of green notes — the zing of a citrus rind; the bright, effervescent green of leaves; the dark black of a forest floor littered with pine cones and crushed needles; and the grey-green of mossy oakmoss. But, to my surprise, it’s still not for me. Despite the warm honeyed amber from the resins (I love Siam resin!), despite my love for myrrh and musk, cassis is at the heart of this fragrance. Its opening is a bit overwhelming for one who isn’t into fruit and, on me, its threads linger faintly even in the dry-down. And the thing which initially drew me to ask for a sample — the resins, myrrh and patchouli — have too subtle a character for my tastes. I have also suddenly realised that not a huge devotee of pine and fir. At least, not enough to warrant a scent with so much of it.

I know I am in a definite minority, especially judging by the comments on Fragrantica. There, the perfume was greeted with great praise by all those who received a sample. (And most actually wanted the cassis top note to last much, much longer!) I should note, however, that the perfume is made by the founders of Fragrantica itself. The Vagabond Prince is their company. I am not implying that the comments are biased, but I thought it was something I should note. That said, there is no doubt that this scent will be a crowd-pleaser, and not solely because of how well it brings to mind Christmas. It’s a charming, evocative, well-blended perfume with obviously high-quality, rich ingredients, no cloyingly over-sweet fruit, and clearly made with love. But it seems that I prefer my cassis in champagne, not on my skin.

DETAILS:
-Sillage: Very good for the first 2 hours, then there was less projection. It became close to the skin around 3.5 hours and very close to the skin from 4.5 hours onwards.
-Longevity: Very good. It lasted well over 6 hours and, as I say repeatedly, my skin consumes perfume. I think that this would last quite a while on others and initial reports on Fragrantica would seem to support that impression. However, the perfume is too new to have more detailed assessments of longevity. I will update this post when more information becomes available.
– Cost, Availability and Location: [UPDATE: This perfume has now been released in the US. You can find it on Min NewYork where it costs $180 for a 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. ]
The perfume is now available in Paris. It’s release date was today, December 22, 2012. It costs 140 Euros for 100ml/3.4 oz. and is available at the luxe fragrance store, Jovoy Paris. The link to the Jovoy company website is: http://www.jovoyparis.com/. Full contact information is:
Parfums Rares Jovoy
4 Rue de Castiglione,
+33(0)140200619
contact@jovoyparis.com
In the US, the fragrance will be available to buy online on The Vagabond Prince website, as well as on Lucky Scent and in its retail boutique called Scent Bar (in Beverly Hills, CA). I will update this post as I get further information.

Perfume Review – Monsieur de Givenchy by Givenchy: Vintage vs. Modern

I like to wear men’s colognes. I admit that quite proudly. In fact, the modern commercial trend towards generic sugar bombs and gourmands has made me resort more and more to men’s cologne of late. So, from time to time, I will post brief reviews or impressions of ones I enjoy. One of them, deeply ingrained in the memories of my childhood, is the 1959 classic, Monsieur de Givenchy (which I’ll just call “Vintage” or “MdG-V” from now on) by nd.1968Givenchy. My father used to wear it, along with a number of other classic, legendary men’s fragrances. (In fact, it’s thanks to my father that I ever developed a nose for men’s cologne to begin with!) Recently, a dear friend of mine recently sent me a very large decant of the vintage version, circa 1970s judging by his box. And it was as amazing as I remember.

Being inquisitive and also lucky to have a father with a nice selection of colognes, I decided to poke through his current collection. There, I saw a new-ish bottle of Monsieur de Givenchy (hereinafter “Modern” or “MdG-M” with the “M” standing for “Modern.”) My father dates it to about 2004 or 2005. So, I temporarily stole his bottle and decided to do a side-by-side comparison. Bottom line: I think there is clearly a huge, HUGE difference between the two fragrances. And one of them is terrible.

First, I need to make a point of clarification about the different versions. MdG may have been reformulated a few times over its 50 year history. The array of boxes shown on different Basenotes threads could be a hint of that.

Modern version of MdG on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

Modern version on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

(I’ve seen at least 3 different ones.) Making matters more complicated, Basenotes states that Givenchy issued a fragrance called “Monsieur de Givenchy II” in 1993 as an updated version of the classic, but then discontinued it, before finally just re-issuing it as Greenergy. It is a totally different scent. So too is Givenchy Gentleman (1974). Givenchy Gentleman and Monsieur de Givenchy are complete opposites. The Gentleman is heavier with patchouli and leather, while the MdG is a citrus chypre. If you’re still with me, I fear I may lose you when we get to 2007.

2007 was when Givenchy launched Les Parfums Mythiques – Monsieur de Givenchy Givenchy for men, a fragrance that has very different ingredients listed.

Mythique version.

Mythique version.

For example, the carnation, cinnamon, and pepper in the top notes are now gone. And, by all reports, the oakmoss heart has been so diluted that it has essentially vanished. Despite these huge changes, Les Mythiques appears to have completely replaced the MdG — whatever its prior formulations. Adding to this belief is the fact that Givenchy’s Mythiques line consists of a number of its classical colognes like Xeryus and Vetyver; it would seem to be a complete rebranding and modernisation of all its oldest fragrances. So, for the purposes of this review, when I refer to “MdG-M,” I’m referring to the final version of Monsieur (1990s to 2006) prior to its reformulation as Les Mythiques. And the Vintage version refers to the 1970s/80s formulation (or older) that is the true MdG, in my opinion.

One thing I can assure you: you can easily find the Vintage version on eBay. And, in this case (perhaps even more than usual), the vintage version is best. It is absolutely something you will want to seek out if you love aromatic citrus scents that are very discreet.  But onward and upwards, to the fragrances themselves.

MdG (in all its permutations) is commonly classified as “Citrus Aromatic.” Its notes are not so clear beyond the basics which are: lemon, lavender, bergamot and sandalwood. The details, however, vary from site to site. Fragrantica lists the notes for MdG-V as follows: “Top: carnation, cinnamon, pepper and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are sandalwood, musk and oakmoss.”

Basenotes has even less details, with no reference to the carnation and cinnamon, let alone the geranium and civet that I know is there. NST has a much more complete list, though it’s completely unclear to me which version of MdG they’re talking about. Nonetheless, this is how NST described the original scent:

A hesperides lover’s dream come true, Monsieur is composed of bergamot, lemon, lime, petitgrain, lavender, clary sage, orange, basil, musk, civet and cedar. Don’t worry — if it sounds herbal, it is, but only slightly.

That’s for the Vintage version. In contrast, the notes for the Modern version are a quarter of that. Fragrantica lists them as follows: “Top notes are bergamot and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are hinoki wood and oakmoss.” (I have absolutely no idea what “hinoki wood” is, but Google informs me that it’s Japanese cypress.) My father’s bottle of MdG-M essentially lists the same, only with the inclusion of “coumarin” (a classic Fougère element), oak moss “extract,” and “cinnamal.” (No sight  of anything resembling “hinoki,” by the way.) Observe how different the ingredient list for the Modern scent is from both Fragrantica and NST’s listings for the vintage. For the Vintage, I think we should go with NST’s fuller version of the ingredients because they seem much more accurate to my nose.

I put on a 3-4 average splashes of the Vintage (circa 1970s or early 1980s) on my right arm, and about 3-4 sprays of Modern (circa 2004) on the left. From the very opening splash of the Vintage, I got a sparkling, super bright explosion of green. Green, green and more green, but never in a linear, one-note manner. There was lemon, verbena and mossy greens with depth, complexity and a lovely herbal note. In contrast, my 3-4 squirts of the Modern led me to actually mutter out loud: “What the hell is this???!” It was watery and diluted beyond belief. The difference was mind-boggling.

There was such a wimp factor that I hurriedly sprayed 2 more bursts, then an additional 2 to 3 for good measure. So, now, I’ve got about 7 or 8 sprays of the Modern on my left arm and about 3-4 good splashes of the Vintage on the right. And I still smell the Vintage more! The Modern version was all watery lemon with absolutely no oakmoss from the onset. After 15 minutes, I suppose you can say that it had turned into lemon-lavender soap. I suppose. There is really so little to say about it.

In contrast, the Vintage version had started to open up. The lemon, verbena and oakmoss accords began to include geranium and lavender. They emerged quite prominently, along with the carnation and a faint touch of soap. I wonder if I can smell the sage and basil, or if I’m imagining it, but it doesn’t matter. Oh, lordie, is that geranium lovely! I can smell no cinnamon or orange, but I’m glad for it because I think it would detract from the lovely green, herbal woodiness. The petit-grain also helps in creating that impression. (Petit-grain is the result of distilling the twigs from citrus trees, creating a bitter, woody, masculine scent.) The result is an incredibly  balanced, harmonious and sophisticated composition that oozes elegance and class.

An hour in, the vintage version has turned to a lemon lavender musk with soap, some lingering geranium and wood (especially the cedar). There is also some warmth. The musk, civet and sandalwood start a quiet purr. Some have said that the vintage contains real santal oil, and I can believe it because there is a real depth and richness to the warmth.

I think these base notes are what separate MdG-V from another fragrance that it is often compared to: Chanel‘s classic, Pour Monsieur (1955). Pour Monsieur is much, much soapier. It’s also greener and has spice (ginger, cardamon, coriander, basil) at its base, while there is none in MdG. Instead, MdG-V has warmth (sandalwood) and musk (civet). MdG-V is actually closer to Dior‘s legendary Eau Sauvage (1966) in its vintage form.

However, it is all very discreet. Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry discreet. Everyone always says that MdG is fleeting (in all its formulations), and that is especially true on me. While most give the vintage about 4-5 hours in longevity, on me it starts to seriously fade 2 hours in. A little after the fourth hour, I can smell it faintly on the skin only if I touch my nose to my arm and inhale forcefully.

In contrast, the MdG-M version died about 2 hours in. Died completely, if I may add. Dead as a door nail. And I have little to say about the rest of its development prior to that point. I think it’s an utterly undistinguished, worthless, and watery scent that is easily superceded by most drugstore lemon-lavender soaps. Yes, there is a hint of civet that adds some muskiness later down the line but, really, this thing is a travesty to the name of Monsieur de Givenchy! Others think that there is no difference between vintage MdG and its later incarnations but… bah, humbug! Not in my opinion. (And one can only shudder to think of how bad the Mythiques version must be, given the reports of even further dilution.)

However, I firmly believe that the MdG-Vintage is worth a small effort to track down on eBay. I am usually someone who opts for orientals, spice and warmth, but I can’t help but really like MdG-V. Despite its limited sillage and fleeting longevity, it’s pure class and refinement. I see MdG as something Cary Grant would wear with a Saville Row bespoke grey suit, double-breasted and with a discreet ,white pochette.

And, yet, I hear that it was Freddie Mercury’s signature scent. Freddie Mercury! Queen! Tight, red leather pants, a bare, hairy chest, bouche à pipe lips, and hot, smoldering sexuality! Freddie Mercury, the original sexpot rebel that Adam Lambert only wishes he could be. Freddie Mercury and MdG!!! Honestly, there aren’t enough exclamation points to convey the incongruity of that pairing in my mind. One thing is for certain: it proves that MdG is not necessarily your grandfather’s cologne. So, if you like herbal citrus colognes and you’re in the market for a refined office scent that is both sophisticated and elegant, you may want to consider this one.

But I don’t promise that anyone will think you’re Freddie Mercury….

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

____________________________________________
For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.

Review: Hermès Elixir de Merveilles Eau de Parfum

Heaven! I rarely have that reaction to new, mainstream or non-vintage perfumes, but this one is sheer heaven. Imagine slipping into a warm pool of creamy custard. As you slide in, you’re surrounded by what is initially a sharp burst of super bright, crisp, fresh orange before — mere seconds later — it turns into the darkness of bitter Seville orange. As you lie there, enveloped as if in a cocoon, sinuous fingers of the darkest, most bitter earthy chocolate wrap themselves like tendrils around your leg. It’s like a fin above the water, while below a huge black shark lies in wait. Patiently. For about 5 minutes. That big monster black is actually a dark, resinous patchouli and balsam wood. It lies in wait, until it slowly rises to the surface. And BITES you! That, my friends, is Hermès Elixir de MerveillesIMAG0032

The “Elixir” (as I shall it from now on) was created in 2006 by the legendary nose, Jean Claude Ellena, and comes in a lovely orange bottle splattered with gold at the top and leaning partially on its side, off-kilter. It is an Oriental Fougère, according to Fragrantica, which essentially means that it has oriental notes mixed with woody ones. The notes are: peru balsam, vanilla sugar, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, siam resin, caramel, oak, incense, orange peel and cedar.

The key notes that you need to really pay attention to at first are the Peru Balsam, the Siam Resin, and the Patchouli, though the cedar and oak become significant later. Now, from my reading of Fragantica’s explanation, peru balsam is a type of wood whose essence has a cinnamon and vanilla smell. At the same time, it has a green olive base which exudes an earthier, as well as bitter, aroma. Resin is slightly different. From general reading, it seems resin is the dark, oozing secretions from a tree that differs from “balsam” mainly in terms of its form and method of preparation. Siam Resin is a type of dark, balsam-ic secretion from a particular type of tree in Thailand, and is supposed to be more smoky and dark than other types of resins. The thing is, both share some great similarities. Peru Balsam and Siam Resin both smell like sweet vanilla but Peru Balsam has a cinnamon aspect too, along with that earthy, bitter edge. In contrast, Siam Resin — which used to be burned as incense — is more smoky and woody. In short, Cinnamon Vanilla with bitter green earth -vs- Sweet Vanilla with smoky, incense and wood.

The reason why I’m emphasizing this at the start is to allay and offset any fears about that orange custard that I mentioned earlier. Yes, the Elixir has been compared to an orange-caramel smoothie but that is really the most superficial possible interpretation possible. Because that orange-caramel smoothie is just the initial tip of a very dark, smoky iceberg.

But let’s start at the beginning. The first sprays of the Elixir creates the most crisp, bright smell of pure orange imaginable. That lasts mere seconds before the orange turns very dark and bitter. Have you had true British marmalade made from real Seville oranges? Those are the oranges I smell at play here. Maybe 30 seconds in, there is an immediate transformation from oranges (of any variety, crisp or bitter) to a suddenly warm…. ooze. I say “ooze” because I’m not quite sure how to describe the warm, seeping, almost thick (but soft) feeling of molting caramel that has suddenly appeared. There is a touch of cinnamon, too.

That seems to be the opening salvo of the Peru Balsam but it’s not jarring. In fact, the perfume has suddenly mellowed into a very complex “whole” with layers and range but, yet, still a “whole,” if that makes sense.  It’s a full package where no-one thing perpetually dominates (except perhaps the bitter orange) and where you can smell numerous different notes all at the same time. And, yet, they blend together perfectly as one. Unctuous, creamy, rich and warm…. it’s like slipping into an enveloping custard bath.

At the same time, the Siam Resin is starting to make itself noticed. That custard bath has a vanilla element that is sweet, yes, but there is also smoke and incense. Smoky vanilla-orange with caramel and incense might lead you to say, “But…. that sounds so damn strange!” It also might lead you to think of food, especially when I mention one of the most obvious impressions from those opening notes: dark, black chocolate.

Yes, chocolate. My immediate first impression was Seville oranges coated in the richest but blackest, most bitter chocolate imaginable. And with a touch of salt on it too! (Do you see why I’m leading you into this very gently, Oh Reader who may hate food scents?)

Don’t worry, this is NOT a food perfume and most definitely not a dessert one. There are chocolate perfumes out there, but this is not one of them simply because of those notes which I said were so key earlier: the Resin, Patchouli, Oak and Cedar. In fact, there is absolutely NO chocolate in the Elixir! What you’re smelling is the Patchouli, a dark, bitter, dirty 70s-kind of patchouli in the best way possible. It’s not a modern patchouli because it has a bite to it. It has a definite kick, like that black shark lurking under the water.

The dirty, earthy patchouli gives this an edge, but it is really anchored in those underlying wood notes which bring an earthy, masculine, woody foundation to the whole perfume. Strong oak, aromatic cedar and the earthy, almost pine tree-like bitterness of the balsam tree make this a scent that is definitely not foody. Plus, it has that Hermès signature in its final stages that is dry. “Dry” in the sense that it’s not sweet, moist, crisp but… dry. It’s almost hard to explain. I’ve heard it time and time again about Hermès fragrances and, after having gone back to smell all mine (as well as my father’s colognes), I can definitely agree. But it’s a bit like Porn as defined by one of the Supreme Court Justices: you may not be able to explain what it is, but you know it when you see it.

The famous perfume reviewer, Luca Turin, supposedly called the Elixir “bon chic, bon genre” and said that its dry-down was “enchanting.” (See a comment from “Lisa.M.Kasper” on Fragrantica, here.) (I don’t have his book, so I’m taking her word for it.) She agrees with Turin, as do I. It absolutely is “bon chic, bon genre” which is a French phrase to describe someone in the “now,” who is chic, stylish and hip. And, yes, the dry-down absolutely is enchanting. It’s all majestic, big, dark bitter tree (almost like a pine tree at times), mixed with peppery incense, smoke, sweetness and spice and just a remaining hint of orange wrapped in dark chocolate.  It’s so unusual that it’s just… baffling…. at times.

If Hermès’ 24 Faubourg was Princess Diana’s signature scent, then this belongs to someone else. I’m tempted to say Audrey Hepburn: sophisticated under a sweet, gamine appearance but not a child. Warm and sexy, but not overtly sexy like Brigitte Bardot. Casual in appearance (no Princess Diana tiaras and dresses here) but always stylish. And with a definitely aloof side under that initial impression of warm approachability.

The Elixir has been called “bi-polar” and I think that is a perfect description for it. It really is bi-polar. How else to explain these enormous extremes? It has also been called extremely masculine. To the point that there are a lot of complaints on Fragrantica, wishing they could like this scent but it’s so masculine. I don’t know when woody or spicy scents became masculine but I don’t consider this one. Nor, for that matter, do I consider it feminine. It is most definitely unisex, and the failure to label it as such is nothing more than a huge mistake in my opinion! I have to wonder if those who find it so masculine went into it expecting an orange dessert or a fruit cocktail scent. If so, then yes, by their standards, I suppose that green pine tree and cedar make it “masculine”. (If you could only hear my audible sniff at that.)

I should confess that I have a terrible weakness for almost all Hermès fragrances (mens, womens, dogs and horses…. no, I kid. Only the men’s and women’s fragrances), but not all Hermès scents make me whimper and moan as I sniff my arm. 24 Faubourg definitely does. And Parfum d’Hermès used to be one of my signature fragrances, though I have not smelled it as its re-named persona, Rouge d’Hermes. But I dislike Caleche from my childhood memories of it and most definitely have not liked most of the Merveilles flankers. The Merveilles line consists of Eau de Merveilles, the original one from 2004, then the Elixir in 2006, followed by Eau Claire and, recently, the very latest, Ambres de Merveilles.

There is a lot of talk about the Elixir versus the original Eau version. I’ve smelled the latter, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. It’s pleasant and nice, but it would hardly drive me to buy a whole bottle. I smelled the Elixir, and promptly went out and did just that. It has a WOW and a POW that, to me, the Eau version does not. The Eau is fresh, airy, clean and zesty. It’s subtle, less warm, and perhaps more demure. I haven’t tested out the Eau beyond some cursory sniffs and sprays, so I can’t speak as to its dry-down or process of development, but I hear that the Elixir and the Eau become very similar towards the end. And it is said that the Eau also has that typically dry Hermès signature at the end as well.

I don’t think the Elixir is for everyone. If your preference is for light, crisp scents, for florals, or for fresh, natural, understated and unobtrusive scents, then I think you will find the Elixir to be overwhelming and you should stay away. Those of you who fear fruity smells and how they may turn on you, I think you should give this a test run. Because it’s not a true fruit cocktail perfume by any means; that strong woody, resinous foundation forbids it! But for those of you who want to feel like Audrey Hepburn, in her capris and ballet flats with an Hermès scarf wrapped around her, as she quietly strolls through a bookstore in autumnal Paris where the orange leaves have fallen all around and where there is a brisk smell of smoky winter in the air… then this is your fragrance.  Bon chic, bon genre indeed!

~~~~~~~~~~
Other Details:
Longevity: ENORMOUS, even on me! I would say it lasts a good 8 hours on me. On someone else, probably 10-14 hrs.
Sillage:  Enormous at first but, on me, it becomes less noticeable about 3-4 hours in. On everyone else, I’d guess it would be pretty big.
Cost: $108 for a 1.6 oz bottle of Eau de Parfum (it does not come in Eau de Toilette); $149 for a 3.3 oz. bottle

Review: By Kilian & Montale Oud perfumes

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud fragrances from such niche perfume lines as Montale and By Kilian. (The latter was founded by the grandson of the famous Hennessy dynasty whose high-end cognac company is now part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate.) Oud scents are not cheap and the niche houses who put them out can charge a pretty penny. I could afford to try so many only thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells sample vials or larger-sized “decants” of almost every cologne or fragrance imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.)

From By Kilian (hereinafter referred to just as Kilian), I tried four unisex fragrances from his Arabian Nights Collection: Amber OudRose OudIncense Oud and Pure OudIncense Oud opened with a sharp lime note which quickly receded to the background as the smoky, incense-y wood notes appeared. I liked this scent, though I swing back and forth as to whether I prefer the Rose Oud which opens with that sharp lime note before adding a rose element to the smokiness and woodiness. Honestly, I’ve concluded that that bitter, acrid, sharp, almost burning lime element has to be some element of the Oud distillation because I get it in a number of different Oud scents on the market. Not all, but enough such that I sometimes wonder if I’m imagining its pervasiveness, particularly as “sharp, acrid lime” is not something usually associated with Oud. This is obviously where personal chemistry comes into play.

Regardless, both Incense and Rose Oud settle into a comfortable, smoky woodiness that is quite different.  Neither has much sillage or longevity on me, but as I have repeatedly mentioned, few things do. With both Kilians, they fade into softness as quickly as 15 minutes later! However, they do remain, albeit close to the skin, with the Incense lasting for about 2 hours and the Rose Oud lasting a bit closer to 3 hours.

Kilian’s Amber Oud was a different experience because I smelled no oud whatsoever! No acrid, sour lime here but, rather, a lovely, very sweet opening note of amber and brown sugar. Almost a caramel feel, you might say, mixed with some 1970s-style patchouli and vanilla. The wood accord is simply nonexistent. So much so that I wondered if I was completely insane and decided to check the website, Basenotes. Apparently, I’m sane. There is no oud, according to most of the commentators, even though the official notes include it, along with bayleaf, cedarwood, amber and vanilla. As one person noted, you could get  the same result from Prada’s Amber series. I will say this, however, it lasted longer on me than the Rose or Incense versions.

Pure Oud was a completely unique experience out of the four Arabian Night fragrances that I tried. Basenotes states that it is composed of: “Oud, Saffron, Copahu balm, Amber, Gaiac wood, Cypriol, Cistus labdanum, Myrrh, Animalic notes.” On me, it (thankfully) lacked the strong opening lime note but descended immediately into a pure, almost synthetic perhaps, explosion of woodiness. It was different, there is no doubt, and quite fascinating. I can honestly say I’ve never smelled anything like it, perhaps as it is a cold, stony, wintery wood scent with a leather undertone. It strongly reminds me of the inside of a new, very expensive luxury car with ample (real) walnut wood and leather that is like butter. Except here, the leather isn’t hugely prominant in the face of that cold, steely wood. There is definitely an outdoorsy feel to this that is quite mentally and psychologically evocative. Living in warm Houston, I was strongly reminded of living in New York at Christmas time, wrapped up in a thick woolen coat and walking a street decorated with Christmas lights and covered with snow as tall steel or stone structures loomed up above. There is a slightly stony element and a coldness (in a good way) to the scent, along with the outdoorsy elements and leather. It made me wonder if this was what “cold,” “winter” or “stone” smelled like to the antihero, Grenouille, in the famous book Perfume.

Alas, even half a sample vial of this (in one go!) started to mellow on me within 15 minutes. It did not, however, fade completely. Instead, something different emerged. I actually could smell some Saffron (I cook a lot) and definitely some Myrrh. From that very cold, almost stone-like opening of wood with leather, now emerged lovely Myrrh, Saffron and Oud. My nose is not distinguished enough to know what Gaiac Wood, Cyprior or Cistus Labdanum smell like exactly but, whatever this is and whatever they do, the overall result is lovely. All in all, Pure Oud lasted perhaps 2 hours on me. I can’t say that it is something I would reach for daily but for those occasions when I want to feel different, unique and strangely enough, powerful, I would reach for this.

In contrast, Lime Aoud from Montale made me want a “Silkwood Shower.” (“Silkwood” is a fantastic film with Meryl Streep which led to the popular term referencing the scalding shower intended to rid one of radioactive contamination.) In fact, I did take my own version of Silkwood shower. Alas, there was no remedying how revolting this smelled on me. Oh, the irony that the woman on whom most things fade is subjected to a perfume she loathes and cannot escape. (As one of my best friends put it, it’s a situation worthy of the Twilight Zone.) I should begin by stating that the niche perfume house, Montale, is well-known (and much adored) for its various Aoud scents. They have many, with Dark Aoud being one that people frequently rave about as the ultimate in pure, really dark, super intense Aoud scents. (God, if it’s stronger than the Lime Aoud, please kill me before a touch of it gets on me.)

I ordered Lime Aoud because of the many raves for it on Fragrantica. Its notes intrigued me and certainly sounded good at the time: Aoud, Rose, Iris, Amber, Patchouli, Sandalwood, and Saffron. (See, Basenotes.) Some comments mention the extremely harsh opening of lime and Aoud. (It was the first time that lime was officially supposed to be part of an Aoud fragrance that I’d tested and, yet, I sometimes smell that note when it’s not supposed to be. Baffling.) Other commentators talk about a medicinal, bitter and metallic scent. I agree with both of those impressions. I’m not sure I agree with those who say that Lime Aoud turns into amber, sandalwood and roses.

The first time I put on Lime Aoud, I put on a small amount as I could tell from the moment I opened the vial that it was intense. I was blasted back by the lime and medicinal nature of it for hours. Sharp, acrid, medicinal, camphorous even, mixed in — totally incongruously, if I might add — with competing floral scents in an utterly revolting mix that just got stronger and stronger. After about 5 hours of barely suppressing nausea, I finally caved and took a long, scalding shower. Even after that, I could still smell faint traces of the worst part of it. And my clothes and hair positively reeked of it. It was so horrendous, I threw my clothes into the washer.

A few days later, I wondered if I’d imagined it and thought that I should give it another go. After all, some scents develop and change. Maybe I hadn’t given it enough of a chance. No. I lasted even less this time. I simply could not bear it. It was like someone had sprayed a floral scent in the air of a morgue, combining with its antiseptic, harshly metallic, cold, steel, and then added about a gallon of bitter lime on top of all that. My God, I’m cringing at the sheer memory.

Montale’s Aoud Blossom was slightly more successful  on me. Probably because it seems to have very little Aoud in it! According a commentator on Basenotes, it contains: “bergamot, Sicilian mandarin, ylang ylang, violet, jasmine sambac, tuberose, rose, Mysore sandalwood, Arabian oud.”  Many seem to think there is little to no real Aoud in it. I disagree. I can definitely smell it in the opening minutes, faint though it may be. Someone says they can smell the tuberose in it. I love tuberose and I get none of that on me. What I can smell is a definite floriental. Floral from the very dominant rose component, and oriental from the more spicy notes. I’m not sure I can really detect the mandarin, violet or jasmin but I can definitely smell the bergamot, ylang ylang and the sandalwood. However, everything is essentially overwhelmed by a very loud rose note that remains consistently dominant.

While Kilian and Serge Lutens fragrances don’t last long on me (at all!), Montale ones have decent to moderate sillage, and great longevity. (Too great, alas, in the case of the Lime Aoud). Its longevity is quite surprising to me, given how niche fragrances usually die a quick death on my skin. Aoud Blossom lasted about 5 hours on me, all in all. I will be frank, however, this is not a scent I would ever reach for again. And I am fighting off the urge to take another shower. It’s simply too pungent and in-your-face. Now, I *adore* strong scents, floral orientals and anything with a POW! And almost nothing gives me a bad physical reaction. But this… I can feel it at the back of my throat, it’s so overpowering that I feel a bit dizzy and I feel the onset of a migraine. It’s a deeply unhappy experience and one which has made me conclude that I must stay very far away from the House of Montale.

That said, there are enough variations of Aoud on the market that — whether your preference is for a sweeter version, a more woody one, a floral rose variation or hard core medicinal iteration — you can be sure to find one that appeals to you. If you’re willing to pay the prices for the uniqueness! This is not Coty or even your mother’s Estée Lauder. As for me, I will continue my exploration of Oud – probably with Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next as a friend of mine reports nothing medicinal, metallic, acrid or sharp about it. If I do try it out, I will be sure to report back.

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part III: Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?

With Sugar, Dessert, and Eccentric Extremes under our belt, the one of the two categories of modern perfumes is what I call (when feeling polite) the Clean category. (The final one, the Wood or Oud group, will be discussed in Part IV.) but is useful to touch upon briefly here as it’s a sharp counterbalance to fragrances that seek to evoke perhaps no actual perfume but rather, the soapy, water smell of freshness.

Fresh and Clean. One of the most popular of the current trends in perfume are scents that are light, crisp, clean and fresh. I credit the Japanese designer, Issey Miyake, with spearheading this trend in 1992 when he launched L’Eau d’Issey, an old favorite of mine. Categorized as a floral aquatic, Fragrantica states that its main accords are: floral, aquatic, ozonic, fresh, white floral and rose. L’Eau d’Issey reflects the designer’s ethos of clean, minimalistic lines from the sleekly triangular frosted glass bottle with its silver point to the intentional evocation of water and transparency. As Fragrantica notes:

Issey Miyaké thought about creating a perfume that was “as clear as spring water”, combining the spray of a waterfall, the fragrance of flowers, and the scent of springtime forest. L’Eau d’Issey achieved an enormous popularity, especially in the United States in the 1990s. L’Eau d’Issey is an aquatic floral scent with transparent notes of lotus, freesia and cyclamen and juicy melon. The middle note of peony, lily and carnation reveals the perfume’s character. The end note is a refined woody scent with the notes of cedar, sandal, musk and amber. It was created in 1992 by Jacques Cavallier.

Id.

Personally, I’m not sure I fully agree with “refined woody scent” and the warm base-notes that are listed. I smell a crisp, watery floral that is incredibly elegant and yet, clean and fresh even in its final dry-down. True, that finish is a lot warmer than its beginning, but it’s more like the subtle whisper of thin silk, not the warm, thicker, more enveloping cashmere that I personally and mentally attribute to notes like “sandal, musk and amber.”

The incredible popularity of L’Eau d’Issey and of many of the similarly understated, fresh, crisp scents which Miyake subsequently put out. undoubtedly influenced Giorgio Armani. Like Miyake, Armani is a designer whose aesthetic leans towards the understated, clean, minimalistic and elegant. In 1995, he launched Acqua di Gio with aquatic, floral, “fresh” accords.

Now, I need to state at the onset that I loathe Acqua di Gio. Yes, loathe. To me, you’re paying a lot of money to smell like laundry detergent. I am not a fan. That cannot be said enough times. I don’t care what its notes are supposed to be; for me, it’s verboten.  Adding insult to injury for me is the fact that it’s damn hard to escape the pervasive influence of that bloody perfume! Whatever the popularity of L’Eau d’Issey, Acqua di Gio has surpassed it many thousands of times over. Everyone seems to wear it. Rollerballs of the damn thing are routinely tossed into shopping bags at Neiman Marcus as a Gift with Purchase. Other brands have attempted (alas, successfully) to replicate it constantly in some way or another. Giorgio Armani essentially threw wide open the flood gates to what I personally consider as “The Age of Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener” fragrances.

Some of Acqua di Gio’s (many unfortunate) offspring are similarly aquatic, fresh, clean, crisp and/or soapy. For example: Kenzo’s L’Eau, Bath and Body Works’ Fresh Cucumber, Bobbi Brown’s Bath, the clean, unimposing and not particularly long-lasting Omnia Crystalline by Bvlgari, Calvin Klein’s Eternity Aqua, Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Eau de Lagons, Davidoff’s Cool Water, Gucci’s Flora Eau Fraiche, and Hermès’ Jardins en Méditerranée by the famous perfume nose Jean-Claude Ellena. But perhaps few things underscore my point more than the brand that is actually entitled “Clean“! With perfumes named Warm Cotton, Fresh Laundry, Shower Fresh and Lather Clean, they are the ultimate embodiment of the trend away from perfume and towards the …. er… all natural? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend $69 for a 2.14 oz bottle merely to smell like a Fresh Shower. I will just take that bloody shower for the few cents that each soapy outing towards cleanliness may cost me.

As I have said repeatedly, perfume is subjective and personal. One person’s poison is another person’s Holy Grail. And that is completely normal. But since this is my blog, we shall speak no more of these vile things and move the discussion to the most recent (and perhaps most upcoming and popular) new trend: Oud or Aoud fragrances. You can read all about that in Part IV.  Until next time!

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For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part IV, “Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?,” go here.

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part I: Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar

Perfume is a subjective thing. Let’s get that out-of-the-way right now. Arguably, everything in life is subjective as reflected by Plato’s Cave. But perfume is especially intangible and personal since it depends on our individual body chemistry, our tastes, our olfactory memories of the world, and so much more. With that in mind, and with the awareness that a blog is all about the personal and subjective, here are what I see as the current trends in perfume: Sugar Bombs, Gourmands, Extreme Eccentrics, Clean/Fresh scents and, finally, the newest, super-popular trend which entails Aoud/Oud. For reasons of length, I’ll split up the discussion into three parts.

Sugar Bombs.  Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb is supposed to be a white floral with patchouli. To me, it’s a revolting explosion of sugar. Sugared water. Diabetes in a bottle. I have little more to say on it because: a) I find it unworthy of verboseness and verbiage; and b) it’s too linear and one-dimensional for me to *have* much to say! I will grudgingly admit  that this enormously popular perfume is not to blame for the current state of sugar bombs on the market.

No, that honour goes to Thierry Mugler’s Angel. Angel is a polarizing scent with an abundance of enemies and fans. It’s been copied endlessly – something I’m extremely bitter about, if I might add. Angel is sweet, sweet and… well, you get the picture. Patchouli candy floss which one commentator compared to sweet vomit. For me, the biggest problem may be the incredibly synthetic nature of the scent. If you went to Whole Foods, for example, and checked out the natural oils, you would usually find a depth of flavour with nuances, varying degrees of potency and some richness. In contrast, synthetic perfumes have an almost sharp, sometimes metallic or burning, element to them. They can be chemically abrasive in a way. I remember spraying some of the reformulated Shalimar a few weeks back and there was an instant harshness to the opening notes. You can also see my review of Chanel’s Coco Noir — the opening notes of which triggered an almost burning sensation in my nose. (Yes, I sprayed a lot, but still! I spray a lot of most perfumes and don’t have that feeling unless there is something synthetic going on.) But going back to Thierry Mugler’s famous Angel. It’s a synthetic, cloying sweetness. There is nothing natural about it, as there would be if you went into a bakery shop redolent with chocolate, sugar, caramel and spices. No, Angel is just artificial, chemical sweetness. And it has triggered a virtual avalanche of sweet smells that have emulated it and sought to seize a piece of the lucrative perfume market.

The cloying twin sister of the Sugar Bomb scents are the Gourmands. They share similar characteristics, especially in that artificial nature, but I do see a difference. Gourmand scents are closer to pure desserts, often bringing in fruit and candy notes, almonds and chocolates in lieu of more floral elements. Don’t get me wrong, there is sugar throughout, but the sugar is not offset by white florals or by spicy notes such as the technically and theoretically “oriental” Angel.  There won’t be rose, jasmine, patchouli and musk but blackberries, melons, raspberries, caramel, licorice, chocolate and the like. Examples would be: Michael Germain’s Sugar Daddy & Sexual Sugar (no, I’m not making those names up!), Aquolina’s Pink Sugar or ChocoLovers, numerous Victoria Secret or Britney Spears scents (like her Fantasy), and yes, probably a good chunk of celebrity scents in general out there. I really don’t have much more to say on the subject. I’m not a fan and never will be. I’ve blocked out as much of the scents from my memory banks as I can from sheer trauma.

Going in the exact opposite direction are fragrances which I will call the Extreme Eccentrics and which specifically seek to replicate or emulate the scent of genitalia, sweat, dirty sex and decay. That will be one LONG discussion, so I’ll focus on those scents in Part II here, while Part III will address yet another polar extreme, the Clean/Fresh category of fragrances that are currently  popular on the market.