Perfume Review: Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert (Les Déserts d’Orient Collection)

The treasures of the Middle East, opulent orientals, and Guerlain’s incomparable style — it’s hardly surprising that I was over the moon to try Guerlain‘s exclusive Les Deserts d’Orient collection. Featuring a trio of perfumes created by Thierry Wasser (Guerlain’s in-house perfumer and creative director), the line was released in mid-2012 exclusively for the Middle Eastern market before subsequently making its way to a few select Guerlain stores and retailers in Europe and America.

Guerlain Les Desert d'Oriente collection

I was even more excited when I read Fragrantica‘s description of the perfumes:

Straddling the line between contemporaneous sensibilities and antique exotic traditions, the newest collection Les Déserts d’Orient by Guerlain has the patina of aged woods and bronze artifacts hiding in some cave in the desert, yet its Frenchiness is undeniably there too.

Rose Nacrée du Desert.

Rose Nacrée du Desert.

Clearly, this was a trio that I had to try. I’ve barely concealed my enormous disappointment over many of Guerlain’s modern perfumes with their endless sweetness, their occasional thinness, and their lack of great nuance. In my opinion, if one were to compare the vintage versions of the legendary Guerlain classics with their sultry richness, incomparable sophistication, endless nuances and stunning layers to much of the current crop, the difference would be as wide as a chasm. But I was convinced that Les Deserts d’Orients collection would change that feeling.

I started with Rose Nacré du Desert (Pearly Rose of the Desert) and was thrilled at the opening. There was hope! Then, alas, began the now-usual descent into enormous sweetness, with heaping mounds of sugar that verged on the gourmand. Rosé Nacré du Desert turned out to be the bastard child of an Oriental and a Gourmand which makes it far from my cup of tea — though it is a pleasant perfume and a very tame, neutered oriental which will be perfect for gourmands who fear any sort of spice.

"Rose de Rescht," a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source: Flowerpedia.blogspot.com

“Rose de Rescht,” a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source: Flowerpedia.blogspot.com

Almost all descriptions of the perfume’s notes begin with some variation on the words “a lush, dewy Persian rose.” According to a review of Rose Nacrée by Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like, Thierry Wasser “personally sourced a Damask rose from Iran and it is seen here for the first time in a Guerlain perfume.” Elsewhere, Thierry Wasser is quoted as saying that the rose was “savage” and dark. But there is more to Rose Nacrée than just the Persian flower. The most complete set of notes that I could find came from Surrender to Chance, which also includes:

smoke, amber, saffron, cardamom, agarwood/oud, benzoin, patchouli and myrrh.

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via RealityDefined.com

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via RealityDefined.com

The opening for Rose Nacrée was lovely. It was a dirty, darkened, black rose, tinged with smoke. There was also oud which, initially, had a medicinal touch before softening, within seconds, to something smoother and milder. Cardamom covered the petals, along with saffron. At first, the saffron was not sweet, dessert-like and yellow-orange the way it often is; instead, it was fiery and chili-pepper red in hue, adding a wonderfully spicy touch. There was a wonderfully nutty, almost toffee-like richness to the notes in those opening minutes. After a brief while, the rose becomes a little sweeter, a little more honeyed and much less black. It’s still gorgeously dirty, but sugar, vermilion and beefy red start to infuse the petals. It reminds me of the dark talons of Chinese empresses that you would see in the movies.

Black Magic Rose Wallpaper__yvt2As the minutes pass, more and more red infuses that black, smoked rose which now starts to gleam like a blood ruby in the light, reflecting different facets of sweetness, spice, woody oud, amber and smoke. Rose Nacrée du Desert is a bit like reverse animation where the dying, wizened, blackened rose trails wisps of smoke before starting to spring back to life, straightening up, plumping up, turning more and more red by the minute. As it starts to re-awaken and bloom, it first oozes drops of darkened black-red, then treacly, thickly sweetened red, before finally, golden amber. Its dark thorns reflect brown wood, cardamom, and almost a suggestion of leather; the smoke dissipates; and all that remains is a candied, pearly, iced rose on a base of golden brown.

It sounds lovely and, for those who love gourmand perfumes, it most certainly will be a huge hit. But this “pearly” rose gets its sheen through icing and endless globs of sugar. Rose Nacrée’s sweetness intensifies in as little as twenty minutes, taking on a very gourmand feel. The saffron completely changes from spicy to something reminiscent of desserts.

Usbu Al-Zainab via TheCookingDoctor.co.uk (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

Usbu Al-Zainab via TheCookingDoctor.co.uk (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

In conjunction with the cardamom and the slightly nutty amber, the result evokes Middle Eastern sweets drenched in thick honey or syrup and filled with nuts. The whole thing sits upon a rich, burnished leather base, tinged with smoke and a soft oud, but none of those can really alter the fundamentally sweet nature of this heavily sugared rose. For my personal preferences, I far preferred it when it was a dirty, blackened rose with lovely smoke.

An hour in the Rose Nacrée’s development, the patchouli starts to make itself noticeable. It’s neither the black, slightly dirty, smoky patchouli of the ’70s nor the very purple patchouli common to many mainstream fragrances today. Instead, it almost feels mossy, as if a symbolic touch of green much like a rose’s stem. Taking the analogy further, the slow start of the myrrh resin, along with the cardamom and quiet hint of wood, would constitute the thorns. At the 90 minute mark, the perfume is fundamentally a very (very) sweet rose and saffron scent over a dusky wood foundation with almost a hint of light musk.

There was a candied note to the perfume that I could not place and which I struggled to identify from the start. It wasn’t exactly nutty toffee, it definitely wasn’t caramel, but it was something dessert-like. Then, I read Bois de Jasmin‘s review for Rose Nacrée du Desert where she said that the mossy drydown of the perfume was “reminiscent more of Caron Nuit de Noël with its dark undercurrent” than of the classic Guerlainade found in things like Shalimar or L’Heure Bleue.

Marrons Glacés.

Marrons Glacés.

That reference to the famous Nuit de Noel was genius and brilliant. It instantly clarified that note in Rose Nacrée which I could not immediately place: it was marron glacé or candied, iced chestnuts. As Wikipedia will tell you, marron glacé is a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and then glazed. As a child living in France, it was (and always will be) a huge guilty pleasure of mine. (And, frankly, blog references to marron glacé are the sole reason why I blindly purchased a bottle of Nuit de Noel, only to find that the non-vintage version was a sad cry from that I had expected.) In Rose Nacrée, the base has a definite note of marron glacé, but it is far stronger than in Nuit de Noel and verges almost on a candied, nutty, chestnut syrup.

As time passes, the perfume’s inflections wax and wane, with certain notes gaining in individual strength for a few moments before again receding. Clearly, this is a beautifully blended perfume. As the dry-down phase begins, sometimes the oud shines forth, sometimes it is the amber, or the plush, velvety patchouli — but all the notes lie in the shadow of that candied, syrupy rose with iced chestnuts. In Rose Nacrée’s final hours, it turns into a chestnut-y amber with benzoin, a wisp of oud, and a faint trace of powder.

The perfume is pretty, but I found it underwhelming. It is, ultimately, a very simple perfume at heart: highly sweetened rose with oud and saffron. I’ll spare you my increasingly cantankerous views of Guerlain’s headlong descent into overly sweet, sugary perfumes and just tell you that, in my opinion, there are far better perfumes that use the rose, oud, saffron, cardamom and amber combination. At the top of that list would be the spectacular, infinitely more complicated, and complex Trayee by Neela Vermeire Créations. It is not only a “spicy oriental” in the true sense of that term, but it uses those same notes to much greater effect to create an utterly ravishing, sophisticated, highly nuanced perfume. (It probably helps that Trayee has about 11 more notes as well.)

Even if we set aside the more complex Trayee, there are an endless number of perfumes with some combination of Rose Nacrée’s notes. Whether it’s Montale‘s Aoud Safran (which also has rose), By Kilian‘s Rose Oud, L’Artisan‘s Safran Troublant, Dior‘s Oud Isphahan, or Amouage‘s Epic For Women (to which Rose Nacrée has sometimes been compared) — the point is, this ground has been hoed before. While I think Guerlain’s interpretation is richer, heavier and more nuanced than both Kilian’s lighter, more anemic, interpretation or the Montale, Rose Nacrée is still neither a particularly original perfume nor, in my opinion, a brilliant one.

I will be the first to admit that my dislike for gourmand fragrances and my love for true, spicy Orientals are influencing my assessment. But I am not alone in how I see the perfume. Fragrantica itself in its early assessment of the trio called Rose Nacrée “[a]rguably the less ‘original’ in the trio” before writing

[t]he sweetness is pervading, even more than the previous Deserts d’Orient examples, with nuances of loukhoum rosewater and copra powder enrobing the yummy delicacy. The mouth-watering gourmand quality is very Guerlain; rose and sugar are eager bedfellows with passionate results.

Commentators on Fragrantica range from some enthusiasts, to those who give a nonchalant, “been there, smelled that” shrug. Some examples of the latter:

  • another very similar Rose-oud-saffron, like some other niche ones; seems like they just copy-paste the same composition!
  • this is not bad at all, quite elegant and not too strong Rose Oud, reminds me a bit also By Kilian’s one on the same theme… nothing too original I’d say, pleasant, well balanced, the patchouly note is quite present, the rose is soft, but there, the safron is very mild, barely there… not sure it’s worth the price tag
  • this is a sweet and sticky candy rose. to my nose it does not at all smell arab. i cannot sense oud in this creation. to me its the rose and the patchouly making a sweetish scent for the day. definitely more for women. i have to say i am somewhat disappointed as i expected a full bukhoor kind of incency perfume more like the oud ispahan.
  • Rose Nacree du Desert is the sweetest floral oriental I’ve come across. It’s not Hypnotic Poison type of sugary sweetness – no fruit or vanilla, it’s a warm musky, incense sweet. […] The longer I wear the perfume the sweeter it becomes, is there such a thing as too sweet? I seriously can’t imagine this as a unisex fragrance. [My Note: that person ended up loving it.]

How you feel about Rose Nacrée will all depend on how you feel about syrup. I strongly recommend it for those who want an incredibly neutered oriental, who adore gourmand fragrances, and/or those who love their flowers enormously sweetened. By those standards, Rose Nacrée will be a wonderfully rich, safe, tame, non-spicy, luxurious choice. It is also ideal for those who fear the power and potency of (true) Orientals since the perfume turns into a skin scent at the 90 minute mark. For the remainder of its development, it is a very soft, unobtrusive fragrance without enormous projection. It has decent longevity, too, lasting about just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

I should add that Rose Nacrée du Desert is not cheap at $275, and that it is also not the easiest thing to get your hands on. It is actually not listed on Guerlain’s own website – which is rare even for their niche, prestige lines. It is, however, available via select stores which you would have to call in order to buy the perfume. (The details are below.)

If you love very sweet, dark roses and desserts, give Rose Nacrée a try. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Rose Nacrée du Désert is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 75 ml / 2.5 oz bottle and costs $275. In the U.S., it is available at Guerlain’s Las Vegas boutique at The Palazzo (702-732-7008) with free shipping and no tax. It is also available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York; you can call (212) 872-2734 and ask for Alina. However, she informs me that there is shipping costs an additional $12.75, so you’d have a better deal ordering from Las Vegas if you test out the perfume and want to buy a full bottle. In Europe, Rose Nacrée is available at: Guerlain’s flagship headquarters in Paris; at Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Belgium (which ships internationally); and at London’s Harrods and Selfridges boutiques. However, it is not listed on their websites. I’ve read that the European price is €190, but I don’t know if it remains at that price. The perfume is also available in the Middle East since the whole collection was originally created for that market, and your starting point would be the Paris Gallery perfume retailer. Outside of those regions, I would check with any Guerlain boutique in your country on the rare off-chance that they may carry it. As for samples, Surrender to Chance sells it for $4.59 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also do what I did and opt for the whole Desert d’Orient trio in a sample set that begins at $12.99.
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Perfume Review – Guerlain Angelique Noire: A House of Mirrors

Angelique Noire from Guerlain is unusual. It takes the classic Guerlain signature, up-ends it, and then sticks it in a house of mirrors. You see constant reflections of past Guerlain perfumes beckoning to you through a long hallway, but the reflections are changed, faintly distorted, sweetened, and modernized.

House of Mirrors.Source: The Consumerist Blog.

House of Mirrors.
Source: The Consumerist Blog.

It’s not only that Angelique Noire takes a gourmand approach to past classics, but also the fact that the famous Guerlain signature at the base end of the fragrance — the Guerlainade — has been brought out at the very start of the fragrance. Furthermore, it has been twisted around. It’s been made more concentrated, more herbal, bitter and green. It’s as though Guerlain decided to play with its usual pyramid of notes with a bit of a wink and a tongue-in-cheek grin. That cheeky sense of humour also extends to the name since Angelique Noire is the furthest thing possible from a “noir” perfume! (If anything, it evokes creamy vanilla and beige, with dashes of green and brown.) At all times, however, it is an extremely rich, elevated take on the modern fad for gourmand scents.

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of the Guerlain's flagship Paris boutique. Source: Interior Design.net

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of Guerlain’s flagship Paris boutique.
Source: Interior Design.net

Angelique Noire is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also:

a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners. Three famous noses were invited to work on the perfumes using the highest quality materials. The perfumes were launched in 2005.

Angelique NoireAngélique Noire is the third fragrance of the series, created by Daniela Andrièr. It was an attempt to reproduce the famous compositions of the house. Sweet and strong beginning with spices and piquant freshness of bergamot is mixing with milky bitterness of almond and vanilla notes. Unusual harmony of the fresh bergamot and sweet vanilla is a trademark of classical compositions of Guerlain. Spicy harshness of the beginning is contrasting creamy and sweet base which includes mildly spicy and sugary notes of angelica.

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as follows:

A DISCONCERTING HARMONY WITH A BEWITCHING VOLUPTUOUSNESS

Notwithstanding the humble appearance of its clusters of small flowers, angelica is thought to be an elixir promoting longevity. Guerlain elevates this understated raw material to noble rank. In Angélique Noire, the sincerity and freshness of the angelica find a luminous echo in the bergamot, before coming to fruition in the smooth, feminine sweetness of the vanilla. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

The notes for the perfume are as follows:

Top : Angelica seeds, pink berries, pear. 
Heart : jasmine sambac, caraway. 
Base : vanilla, angelica roots, cedar.
Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

To understand the perfume, you have to understand angelica itself. It’s a green plant with big white or yellow flowers, and is cultivated for its sweetly scented edible stems and roots. I’ve read that angelica is also known as “Wild Celery” because it shares a similar aroma to the vegetable. But other accounts describe no such thing. Some call its aroma sweetly spiced and honeyed, while others describe it as bitter and green. Wikipedia says that angelica has “a pervading aromatic odour” that differs from the rest of its cousins in the same plant family (fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil). “One old writer compares it to musk, others liken it to juniper.” In short, it’s pungent, green, brown, spicy, sweet, bitter and a whole host of contradictory things that make it extremely hard to describe to someone who hasn’t smelled it!

Angelica is the key to Angelique Noire because its different aspects run throughout every stage of the perfume. At times, it can be positively dizzying and overwhelming. In its opening seconds, I smell pear, bitter green, powdered vanilla, some sort of root-y woody note and then pink-peppered florals. The florals are hard to pinpoint at this stage and they are very subtle, as is the hint of cedar dancing around the edges. And then, the angelica arrives on the scene. The note is huge, monstrously big, bitter, green and yet, faintly earthy and woody brown at the same time. It well-nigh blows my head off and I keep my arm at a distance. Waves of angelica pulsate out at me, along with that famous Guerlain signature, the Guerlainade, that underlies all their fragrances at the very base and final hours. Only here, it’s Guerlainade on steroids and amped up a thousand degrees.

Source: US Forest Service

Source: US Forest Service

I recoil faintly from the combined intensity of the super-saturated powdered vanilla and the bitter, pungent, almost medicinal herb-y green of the angelica. It’s an incredibly odd twist to make the Guerlainade front and center, not to mention the added element of the angelica. I have an impression of an English meadow in Spring — all white (vanilla and angelica blossoms) and green (sweet, ripe Anjou pears and fruits). But, looming in the corner, its shadow getting larger and larger, is the dark green of bitter angelica stems and the brown of the more earthy root.

Source: TheTorchOnline.com

Source: TheTorchOnline.com

As the minutes progress, the scent becomes more powdery and sweet. And, to my disbelief, the angelica seems become even stronger! The combination as a whole feels like King Kong on the Empire State Building, swiping away planes in the sky as if they were gnats. As someone on Fragrantica noted, it “comes at you like a knife blade.” The whole thing is one enormous dichotomy and I will be frank, it was a bloody difficult thirty minutes the very first time I tried it! The second and third time, however, I was prepared for the brutal onslaught — and I think that made all the difference. I could appreciate the unusual, original twist on both the Guerlainade and on vanilla itself. I could smell the layers and the complexity, and I found them somewhat intriguing.

It’s an opening which seems to result in very split opinions: many adore it and its uniqueness, lamenting when it fades into something more manageable; others feel utterly blown away by it (and not in a good way). But one thing is certain: it’s unusual, different, creative and a bit provocative. You merely have to brace yourself for that very initial exposure, and give it more than one shot!

Vanilla Custard.Source: Sacchef's Blog.

Vanilla Custard.
Source: Sacchef’s Blog.

Once you’re over that initial hurdle, Angelique Noire mellows into a very different fragrance. The angelica recedes, and is no longer bitter or bullying but, instead, almost candied. The vanilla note starts to become much more prominent, as does that of sweet, ripe Anjou pears. But it is the vanilla which is interesting. At times in the first 90 minutes, it almost replicates a herbed vanilla cupcake! For the most part, however, it’s much creamier than any cupcake. It’s more like a smooth, rich vanilla custard, or like sweetened Carnation condensed milk.

Bergamot soap.Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Then, the truly lovely part begins. Angelique Noire takes on notes of bergamot (as in Early Grey tea) and almonds. I love almond scents, and find them endlessly comforting and soothing. Here, it is rich, not faint or milky — but it’s not strong or constant enough for my liking. It waltzes with the much stronger Earl Grey, sometimes apparent, sometimes flickering just out of sight. It’s a bit frustrating for one who adores both notes, and I wish they were stronger to alleviate the increasing sweetness of the perfume.

Soon, Jasmine Sambac joins the party. It is a muskier, richer, almost earthier version of the flower. The combination of the jasmine sambac, the musk undertones, and the very honeyed, custard-like vanilla now emanating from Angelique Noire strongly evokes the base of Guerlain’s L’Instant. I have a bottle of the eau de parfum from 2006, and the similarities are striking at times. But, like a long hall of mirrors, the evocation of other Guerlain perfumes does not stop there. Shalimar Eau Légère is another perfume that people think it resembles, though Angelique Noire is richer, in my opinion. And, then, there are those who wonder if Angelique Noire will become the new Shalimar, or a Shalimar for the modern era with its leanings towards greater sweetness and simplicity. I think that goes too far! (Nothing so gourmand can, or should, ever overtake a great, complex classic like Shalimar.)

In its final hours, Angelique Noire turns into spiced sugar, bergamot and vanilla. There really isn’t a lot to say beyond that. It’s not powdery like the usual Guerlainade accord, probably because all the powder was loaded upfront. There are traces of the angelica in a candied form in the sugar, but they are subtle. There are also minute traces of the musk that continue to linger on the skin.

All in all, Angelique Noire lasted just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On Fragrantica, many report it lasting the entire day. The sillage was enormous in the first hour — at times, a too enormous for my liking, given that opening. Afterwards, it had heavy to good projection, becoming close to the skin only about four hours in.

I was lucky to obtain my sample from a lovely, very generous friend who went to the Guerlain boutique, sniffed everything, became mesmerized by Angelique Noire, and couldn’t help buying a bottle right there and then! Given that it costs $250, that is real love indeed. But, ultimately, Angelique Noire is not for me. For one thing, I’m starting to wonder if angelica may be one of my no-no ingredients. For another, I am not generally drawn to gourmand perfumes. When I fall for a very sweet scent, it comes with so much spice and dryness that it isn’t a true dessert fragrance. For me, Angelique Noire is far too sweet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its well-blended, high quality, unusual aspects.

Others appreciate it, too. The “seductive” scent is much-loved on Fragrantica and elsewhere. If you’re tempted, but also a bit alarmed by my descriptions of the angelica, then you may want to pay heed to the comments of “Alfiecronin” who wrote on Fragrantica:

Give this fragrance a second (or third) chance! It is worth it. The first whiff brings a blast of angelica flower–very strong. Admittedly, this is not the best part of the composition. Wait 20 minutes and you will discover a delicious vanilla, delicately mixed with floral notes that lasts and lasts. Many times I have watched others spray, whiff, jump back and declare, “I don’t like this!” And then come back an hour later and say that this is just wonderful, what is it called? In my opinion, one of only 2 in the L ‘Art et la Matière collection worth buying for a woman, the other being Cruel Gardenia.

There is no doubt that Angelique Noire is a very sophisticated interpretation of vanilla. It is infinitely wearable, rich, very unisex, and a very creative entry in the highly saturated gourmand field. If you like sweet vanilla scents, you may want to give Angelique Noire a try. Or two. Or three….

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Angelique Noire costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIn the US, it is also available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman website. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give Angelique Noir a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille

As always with my Reviews En Bref, I’ll give you a summary of my impressions of a perfume that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant a full, exhaustive review.

Guerlain SDVSpiritueuse Double Vanille (“SDV”) from Guerlain is a lovely, cozy fragrance. Created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and released in 2007, it was once part of Guerlain’s “Exclusive” range but is now available outside of Guerlain stores. It is an extremely unisex fragrance, despite being labeled as a perfume “for women.”  

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent through a quote from Jean-Paul Guerlain:

If a colour or fragrance were to be associated with each day, like the planets were in ancient times, sandalwood would be the Sun, saffron would be Jupiter, and without doubt vanilla would be Venus.

Guerlain SDV 2The notes in the perfume are:

  • Head: Pink Peppercorn, Bergamot, Incense

  • Heart: Cedar, Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang

  • Base: Vanilla Bean, Benzoin

Spiritueuse Double Vanille opens on me in a way that is really true to its notes. There is an immediate burst of rose, bergamot and incense, followed quickly by pink peppercorn. The bergamot isn’t like Earl Grey tea but, rather, more like petitgrain: the woody-citric distillation of twigs from a citrus tree. The rose is heady, sweet, rich and dark. A definite damask rose.

There is obvious vanilla throughout, strongly evoking long, freshly sliced Madagascar beans or concentrated vanilla extract. It leads to a very boozy smell, tinged with florals and some incense notes. The latter is particularly lovely, as the smoke is not bitter or smoky. Rather, it’s sweet and rounded. It’s a perfect counterbalance to the rose.

Ten minutes in, the rose fades just a little, leaving a definite impression of an apple pie soaked in vanilla ice-cream with rum sauce. Twenty minutes in, a subtle, quiet cedar note emerges. It’s not camphorous, but fresh and dry, like a new cedar chest of drawers. Despite the subtle wood note, the overwhelming impression is of apple pie and hookahs (or water pipes).

And that is why this is such a short review. I feel as though I’ve been down this road before: Spiritueuse Double Vanille reminds me almost exactly of Hermès‘ 2004 Ambre Narguilé. There are a few, very small, extremely minor differences but, all in all, I feel as though I could essentially just repeat large chunks of my review of Ambre Narguilé here, and be done with it. They are both incredibly boozy, rich scents with fruity tobacco and swirling incense, smoke notes that evoke a hookah. I’m hardly the only one who has noted the incredibly strong similarity. Birgit from Olfactoria’s Travels said the same thing, and there are numerous Basenotes threads comparing the two (along with Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille).

There are some differences, though they are subtle. The Guerlain is slightly denser and richer, and a tiny bit less airy than the Jean-Claude Ellena concoction for Hermès. The latter has faintly more fruity undertones, especially to the tobacco, while the Guerlain is more fruity-floral. Also, the tobacco in the Guerlain fragrance turns from that of sweet pipe tobacco into something a bit dryer, earthier, in its dry-down, more akin to actual tobacco leaves. The Hermès perfume screams out “rum, rum raisin, rum, more rum, and amber,” while the Guerlain’s chant might be “rum, vanilla, rum raisin, vanilla, rum and vanilla, and vanilla.” Honestly, though, those nuances are not strong enough to warrant buying bottles of both. If you have one, you don’t really need the other. (That said, when has actual “need” ever figured into perfume purchases?)

As noted up above, Spiritueuse Double Vanille is often compared to Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. I have not yet tried the latter (though it is becoming increasingly apparent that I need to move my sample up on my list of things to review), but, again, there are supposed to be differences. This time, however, the differences are said to be quite stark. From what I’ve read on Basenotes and elsewhere, Tom Ford’s perfume is supposed to be brash and assertive — Spiritueuse Double Vanille on steroids, if you will. Guerlain’s perfume is said to be perfect for those who find the Tom Ford to be too much. As a side note, I’ve also read of a third perfume to which the Guerlain can be compared: Bond No. 9‘s New Haarlem. I have no familiarity with that one, either, but, if you’re interested, you can read a discussion comparing all four scents on Basenotes.

Luca Turin gave Spiritueuse Double Vanille a less than stellar review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Calling it “bad vanilla,” his snarling two-star review is as follows:

Anyone who has bought vanilla in pods knows that they do not smell very good up close, with dissonant fruity, rum-like notes that make you feel like skipping lunch. Guerlain obligingly magnifies all the negative traits of vanilla in this pointless, loud, and misconceived confection.

(As a point of comparison, Luca Turin gives Ambre Narguilé a three-star review that is slightly more flattering and positive.)

On Fragrantica, the criticisms of Spiritueuse Double Vanille seem to fall into two, related camps. First, that it is a linear scent of simple, boozy, vanilla extract. Second, that it is too expensive for what it is. Spiritueuse Double Vanille comes in only one size (2.5 oz/75 ml) and costs $250. I think price is, ultimately, a very subjective, personal thing, so I won’t comment on that. With regard to the other criticism, I don’t think SDV is a one-note scent and, on me, it’s certainly more than just plain vanilla extract. But, even if it were, I believe linearity is only a bad thing if you absolutely hate the note(s) in question.

The sillage and longevity of Spiritueuse Double Vanille is impressive. There was a scent bubble for about four hours, after which it became closer to the skin. All in all, it lasted about 8.5 hours on me. On others, it is said to last all day, though it is not the “beast” that is Tobacco Vanille.

If you like comforting, warm, sweet and boozy scents, I think you should give Spiritueuse Double Vanille a try. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is very cozy and I suspect some may find it wholly addictive.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Spiritueuse Double Vanille costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIt is also available on the Nordstrom website and, apparently, in the store. It is shown on the Neiman Marcus website (where it is priced at $225), but there is a note saying that it is not available; the same story applies to Bergdorf Goodman. (I don’t know if it is available within the stores themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give SDV a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.

Perfume News: 2013, the EU, Reformulations & Perfume Makers’ Secrets

We all know the horrors resulting from the existing IFRA regulations and how they have gutted some of the most famous perfumes in history. And most of you know that the EU is now trying to completely ban some of those legends, like Chanel No. 5, Miss Dior and a few others. But a Reuters article I recently read pointed out just how extensive the impact of some of the proposed changes would be, if they are passed — changes that could cripple the $25 billion a year global perfume industry.

As many of you know, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), an advisory body for the European Commission, is proposing a total ban on oakmoss and tree moss in all perfumes. These changes are different from prior restrictions on perfume ingredients because they’re coming from an agency outside the perfume industry. Before, “changes to perfume formulas [came] as a result of increasingly severe restrictions imposed by the industry’s self-regulatory body, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA),” though ingredient shortages or cost-cutting … also played a part.” Now, however, the proposals would come from an outside body — the EU — and would be part of a European law that would impact perfumes world-wide through even more severe restrictions. In addition, the SCCS wants 12 substances used in hundreds of perfumes on the market today to “be limited to 0.01 percent of the finished product, a level perfume makers say is unworkable.”

What I didn’t realise is the extent of the damage that would result if those proposals are passed. IFRA estimates that over 9,000 (!!!) perfume formulations would have to be changed. 9,000!

The SCCS also wants extensive perfume labeling which is fine, but I think it would definitely add to perfume costs. “Consumer groups were behind an amendment to an EU law in 2005 forcing perfume brands to label any of 26 potentially allergenic ingredients. The brands now list those ingredients – in Latin. Now the SCCS is proposing to extend that list to more than 100 potential allergens.” (Emphasis added.)

While I was extremely amused by that Latin bit, the thing that I found most surprising and interesting in that article was the apparent rift within the perfume industry on how to respond to the proposed EU changes.

INDUSTRY SPLIT

The proposals have also revealed schisms in the perfume industry – a lack of unity that makes it harder to lobby with one voice.

Brand owners such as Chanel and LVMH and scent-makers such as Coty, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble, Givaudan and Symrise all have different goals.

LVMH, which owns Dior and Guerlain, and Chanel are lobbying Brussels to protect their perfumes, many of which were created decades ago.

“It is essential to preserve Europe’s olfactory cultural heritage,” LVMH told Reuters in an emailed statement.

L’Oreal, however, already uses many synthetic ingredients in its perfumes and is thus keeping a low profile on the issue, industry representatives said.

Other companies making perfumes on an industrial scale for luxury brands, such as IFF, Givaudan and Firmenich, are less concerned about the SCCS proposal because they can rely on synthetic materials and make new perfumes using them but the restrictions, if enforced, would force them to reformulate many of their scents on a scale never seen before.

Givaudan and L’Oreal declined to comment for this report.

(Emphasis added.)

The sharply differing reactions was fascinating to me. I must admit, my favorite part though was the bit about L’Oreal. It is a company which I blame in large part for their destruction of my beloved Opium, along with much of the YSL perfume brand, so I rather enjoyed Reuters giving them a sharp dig and emphasizing the synthetic nature of their fragrances nowadays. I bet they’re keeping mum over all these changes! Of course they are; what do they care about natural ingredients or the use of oakmoss? I mean, have you smelled what they’ve done to Opium?! Have you read people’s reactions to reformulated Kouros? I could go on, but this is not the place for my pet peeve about the end of Opium or YSL’s glory days.

Still, the article’s discussion of Chanel and LVMH’s lobbying efforts made wonder why those companies shouldn’t have their perfumes be designated as the olfactory equivalent of a historic landmark? Such protected status has been accorded to the Taj Mahal and for the Great Wall of China — why not for Chanel No. 5 or Shalimar? Is being a nanny state for the 1% (or even 3%) of EU citizens worth destroying an olfactory part of Europe’s heritage as well as a world treasure? Isn’t French perfume as much a part of France’s culture, heritage and identity as the Eiffel Tower or Versailles? I certainly would argue that French perfumes have given the world more concrete, daily, extended benefit or joy than the Eiffel Tower ever did. You don’t see anyone trying to cordon off the Eiffel Tower due to 2% to 5% of the world’s population suffering from vertigo, do you? I wish LVMH much luck and think their argument is an utterly brilliant one. Bravo to whichever lawyer thought it up.

Another interesting part of the article to me was the deep sadness of many actual perfumers at the changes that old, beloved classics have gone through, changes that far preceded the 2008/2010 IFRA rules but which perfume companies have snuck in quietly over time. Some changes go as far back as decades ago!

‘Most perfumes which are 20 years old or more will have already been reformulated several times because science has evolved and we want to ensure the safety of consumers,’ said IFRA president Pierre Sivac.

Many traditional essences that perfume creators consider core to their craft have been blacklisted in recent decades. Birch tar oil was removed from Guerlain’s Shalimar several decades ago because it was thought to be a cancer risk. Clove oil and rose oil, which contain a component called eugenol, and lavender, which contains linalool, may only be used in limited quantities in case of allergies.

And oakmoss, one of the most commonly used raw materials because of its rich, earthy aroma and ability to ‘fix’ a perfume to make it last longer, has been increasingly restricted because of worries about skin sensitivity.

That means perfumes like Shalimar, Chanel’s No. 5, Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Poison, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Cacharel’s Anais Anais are only a shadow of their original, olfactory selves, according to industry experts.

“Eau Sauvage was a real chef d’oeuvre in its original form,” retired perfume-maker Pierre Bourdon, who created Dior’s Dolce Vita and Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, said of the 1966 scent. “It used to be very green and fresh. Today, it has been replaced by something softer and duller.”

He contends the scent has been stripped of furocoumarins, a class of organic chemical compounds produced by plants like bergamot that can cause dark spots on the skin when exposed to the sun.

Bourdon said he still wore Eau Sauvage because it reminded him of his father, Rene, who as deputy head of Dior perfumes in the 1960s and 1970s supervised the creation of the perfume.

Raymond Chaillan, who collaborated on the creation of both Anais Anais and Opium, believes both have changed. When it was launched in 1977, the original Opium was full of eugenol and also contained linalool, and limonene found in citruses. In large doses, Eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause exzema and prolonged exposure to pure limonene can irritate the skin.

Edouard Flechier, who created Dior’s Poison in 1985, says that fragrance has changed since its inception.

“I know the original formula by heart and I imagine they (Dior) had to change progressively because of new IFRA regulation.”

Natural ingredients are more supple than synthetic ingredients and give more depth to a perfume as well as a subtle play on various notes, says [Frederic] Malle, adding that IFRA restrictions have cost him “hundreds of hours” and “endless tests.”

If the industry largely got away with quietly tweaking its fragrances up till now, however, experts say that will be impossible if Europe backs the proposals aimed at wiping allergenic substances from the perfume-makers’ palettes altogether.

You can read the full article here, but I am interested in your reactions to some of the points it raised. Did you find the schism within the perfume industry to be as surprising as I did? Did you know of some of the ingredients removed from scents like Shalimar (the birch tar oil), Opium or Eau Sauvage? What about the point raised by Patrick Saint-Yves, president of the French Society of Perfume Creators (SFP), regarding the contradiction in encouraging the use of fragrance oils in aromatherapy massages (and hence, in use on the skin) but, yet, targeting them when used in perfumery? Do you think niche perfumers like Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens — both of whom have recently stated flat out that they may no longer be able to continue in this business — will be able to manage even half as successfully as they have now if their existing and future fragrances are essentially restricted?

I’d love to hear any and all thoughts you may have on this subject.

 

Perfume Review: Guerlain Shanghai Les Voyages Olfactifs 05 from the “Une Ville, Un Parfum” Collection.

guerlain-cities-232x300Guerlain has an exclusive, limited distribution collection of unisex fragrances entitled “Une Ville, Un Parfum” or “A City, A Fragrance.” Confusingly, the line is also often referred to as “Les Voyage Olfactifs” (An Olfactory Voyage). Until recently, the cities were Moscow, New York, Toyko and London.

guerlain-shanghai

Shanghai

In October 2012, Shanghai joined the line as Les Voyages Olfactifs 05 and the press release quoted by Fragrantica states that the scent is “noted for its freshness and delicacy which are the hallmarks of the collection.” The bottle was designed by the legendary designer Serge Mansau and depicts Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower with a big squiggly “05” to represent its numerical place in the collection.

Shanghai was created by Guerlain’s in-house nose, Thierry Wasser, and is supposed to be a light oriental, though I’ve sometimes read it described as a “woody floral scent.” I was excited to obtain a large sample of Shanghai from Debbie, my olfactory secret weapon on eBay, because I was fascinated by the city upon my visit in 2008. (If my external hard drive hadn’t died, taking with it over 60,000 photos, this post would have been deluged by my photos of that jaw-droppingly futuristic city.) It seems, however, that Guerlain is harkening back to the Shanghai of old, the “Paris of the Orient” of the ’20s and ’30s.

I believe it was Luca Turin who once said that all modern perfumes stem from the benchmark scents of the past. They are all children of the perfumed tree, if you will. As such, it’s hard for modern perfumers to escape the influence — conscious or unconscious — of such greats as Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, Fracas, Opium, Chanel No. 5, Joy, and the like. It must be even harder for a Guerlain perfumer to escape the influence of the greats within his own house, particularly when creating a floral oriental and particularly given the influence of the powdery greats like L’Heure Bleue.

Shanghai represents something that I am starting to see more and more. Perfume houses updating and modernizing their legendary classics for the modern era. They seem to achieve this through a variety of different ways: by lightening the scent, adding fruity or fruity patchouli accords to appeal to young consumers or to the modern taste, sweetening the scent to appeal to the Angel market base, or by adding fresh, clean accords to comply with that blasted trend towards soapy freshness.

Lightening the scent also achieves something convenient for houses like Guerlain: they save money by reducing the amount or concentration of ingredients; they can market the new result as an even more expensive, “exclusive” line to reap the financial profits; and their brand seems less old-fashioned, stodgy and fuddy-duddy to young consumers. (Guerlain’s Les Voyages/Une Ville perfumes cost $215 for 3.4 fl.oz/100 ml.) Everyone wins, except the consumer’s wallet, classicists like me, or those who cannot stand any of the modern trends that they are applying (which is also me).

Shanghai’s notes, according to Fragrantica and the Guerlain press release, are:

anise, orange blossom, almond, cardamom, ylang-ylang, jasmine, iris, mimosa, cedarwood, patchouli, vanilla and sandalwood.

On its website, Guerlain describes Shanghai as a “woody and floral fragrance” and adds:

Surprising and faceted, the fragrance Shanghai from “A City, A Fragrance” collection pays homage to the ever-changing megalopolis of Shanghai. The initial impression is of a sweet freshness, perfectly reflected by an almond accord, combined with a hint of aniseed. Sweet, sun-drenched flowers, ylang-ylang, orange blossom and jasmine combine to create an exquisitely full-bodied scent that conjures up an abstract bouquet with hints of iris and delicately sophisticated mimosa. This olfactory voyage of discovery is underscored by three woody notes—cedar, patchouli and, most sandalwood—offset by a gentle whisper of vanilla, which adds a softening touch to this composition. The fragrance finishes with a suave, elegant flourish.

Shanghai opens with an utterly lovely note of almond and a subtle whiff of anise. My nose finds the anise seed to be less like the usual licorice smell and more like the slightly green, bitter, woody anise scent that is absinthe. But, again, it’s extremely subtle. The anise seed combines with the milkiness of almond to create a very milky sweet impression of diluted Pastis (or Ouzo, if you’re Greek), an anise drink that is common in Europe.

French Pastis.

French Pastis.

The usually strong licorice aspect of concentrated anise is diluted to a pale shimmer, either through the milky almond or through a third note that is raising its head: sweet vanilla. It’s a powdery vanilla but not the true Guerlinade that is the signature of so many of the house’s famous scents. Here, it’s just a shadow, a faint touch. (I think “faint touch” describes almost every aspect of this scent.)

The combination of the almond and the powdered vanilla create an almost patisserie-like impression. If you’ve ever been to a French pastry shop and smelled some of their almond offerings, you’ll know what I mean. That said, Shanghai is not a gourmande perfume by any means. It’s not sweet or powerful enough, and there is none of that almost cloying, overwhelming surfeit of linear sugar that characterizes most gourmands. In short, it’s not diabetes in a bottle.

Almond Brioche. Source: Atelier Christine.

Almond Brioche. Source: Atelier Christine.

Twenty minutes in, I think I can smell some iris in the powdery, patisserie, vanilla under notes but it could simply be my imagination. I certainly don’t smell cardamon, ylang-ylang, jasmine or mimosa. I don’t basically smell much, except for anise, almond and vanilla — and the strength of those notes is sharply dropping by the minute. A full 30 minutes from the time I first put on the perfume, the sillage has drastically shrunk; and exactly 1:16 minutes from the start, I smell almost nothing. If I really push myself and plead with my nose, I suppose I can smell a faint tinge of sandalwood in the powdered vanilla dry-down that remains. But I wouldn’t bet money on it. Why isn’t there more to this scent? What the hell happened to the “full-bodied” of the website description? And isn’t this taking “light” to a new level?

I am so determined to try to smell something more than those three linear notes that I start all over again. This time, I spray about 6 squirts onto each arm. Aaah, that delicious opening of anise and almond, milk and vanilla…. it really is lovely — especially when you really spray a lot of the perfume. But the development remains the same: the hint, almost invisible shimmer of anise, strong almond, powdery vanilla and…. er…. Well, I suppose there may be a touch of sandalwood, but really, this is just a three-trick pony. If all those remaining notes (Ylang-ylang? Really?) are a part of the perfume, they’re in such microscopic quantities that they’re essentially undetectable by my nose.

There are almost no full, detailed reviews on Shanghai thus far, so it’s not easy to see if others have had better luck. One of the few reviews that does go into any depth is by The Non-Blonde. She too smells the anise, almond and patisserie notes, but she finds a bit more to the scent than I do:

Star anise, iris and almond are the first things I smell upon spraying Shanghai. Naturally, my first thought was about the inspiration that obviously comes from L’Heure Bleue more than from China. Shanghai is more floral and also lighter in every way: airier, less sweet, and the base is not that much of a patisserie creation, but the resemblance is there, especially in cooler weather. It took me a little while to really like Shanghai. I love my L’Heure Bleue dearly, so I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of a modern interpretation in a massive bottle. But the composition is very pleasing, and as I said– it’s easily recognizable as a Guerlain, which is a good thing for me.

There’s some weakness in the base of Shanghai- not as in the opposite of “strength” (the fragrance has an assertive sillage and a reasonable longevity), but in the lack of real creamy sandalwood. Guerlain Perfumer Thierry Wasser did his best with an approximation and fortified it with cedarwood (dry and almost peppery). It goes well with the powdery iris note that seems to be at the core of Shanghai, but some of the exotic element could have used a big dose of the real thing (one can dream).

I didn’t smell any cedar wood my first time round and, this second time, with about double the amount of perfume sprayed all over my arms, I think I can smell it faintly. Perhaps. Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself. Whatever is there is definitely dry, but it’s not the sort of cedar wood that I’m used to smelling, and most definitely not peppery. If I did smell pepper, I might agree more with her comparison to L’Heure Bleue but, as it is, I find the two scents completely dissimilar. I smell sandalwood much more than any cedar, but, given how little there is, that’s not really saying much. In fact, I’m very relieved to know that The Non-Blonde also has trouble with the nature or quantity of sandalwood that is supposedly in Shanghai.

While The Non-Blonde attributes the powdered heart of Shanghai to iris, I think it’s more of a plain vanilla powder. There is iris there, as I noted earlier, but it’s faint. (I’m getting tired of using the word “faint” when it comes to this scent, but really, it typifies everything about it!)

If you’ll note, neither she nor I ever mention patchouli, jasmine, ylang-ylang, mimosa or any of the other notes purportedly in this incredibly linear scent. Because you really can’t smell them. At all! If I keep at this, and keep sniffing my arm with those notes planted firmly before my eyes, I’m sure that my brain can convince itself that I’m smelling them but, the truth of the matter is, I don’t.

I also don’t share her experiences with sillage or longevity, but I may not be alone in thinking the perfume dies fast. On Basenotes, there are differing reports regarding both issues, with a number reporting experiences similar to mine. Some posters have noted a generally moderate amount of longevity, even if it’s just simmering quietly in the background.

The Basenotes comments are interesting because, there, Shanghai has generally received praise by those who have tried it thus far. Several people note a woody element to the scent that I didn’t really find. (But, yet again, no-one mentions anything about ylang-ylang, mimosa, jasmine or patchouli, so it’s definitely not just my nose that can’t detect them.) One brief review of Shanghai by a male poster, Mikeperez23, may be helpful to those seeking a different perspective on the scent:

I love the extremely limited Quand Vient la Pluie and in my opinion, there is a ‘part’ of QVLP inside of Shanghai – a sort of sweet, almond, heliotrope-ish note that smells simultaneously nutty, floral and woody. Slightly edible, but not in a full-blown gourmand way. Shanghai is more of a transparent, sheer, cologne-ish version of this accord and bolstered by an anisic top note and a less rich, complex drydown. In fact, this one fades fast, so I have to really douse myself with it to ‘stick’, which it finally does. […] Shanghai is perfect for hot weather because of its sheerness and non-heavy feeling that still allows me to enjoy the Guerlinade I so enjoy. […] Not cheap, in fact I think it’s sort of overpriced considering I have to douse myself with it. But, there is nothing that smells like this (well, except as I have noted above, other Guerlain scents) and it’s unique, versatile and comforting aura is addictive.

Another person went so far as to say that the perfume not only has great longevity, but also great “character.” Her description of the perfume is as follows:

I actually get great longevity out of it. I smell it all day at work, and into the evening. On clothing, it lasts even longer. Not as strong as it could be, but strong enough. And I can wear it more than one day in a row, easily, which I can’t do with all of my scents.

Very versatile. Not too casual, not too formal. Good in the Vegas heat, good in the current cold. Not too masculine, not too feminine. But it has character. Lots of it.

I couldn’t disagree more. But I should point out that the last reviewer states that she adores Coco Noir, and admits to loving a lot of mainstream scents that she says she doesn’t even dare mention, so she’s obviously coming at this from a very different vantage point than I am. Perhaps the only thing I do agree with is that this is not a formal scent and it’s not typically casual either. But that’s about it. In my opinion, this scent not only has very little character but it’s also incredibly linear. (And since this is supposed to be one of the better and stronger scents in Guerlain’s Les Voyage/Une Ville collection, I’m not sure what that says about the other fragrances in the line.)

What little character does exist is simply not worth the price tag. I would never pay $215 for this. In fact, I wouldn’t wear it unless it were about $15. At that price, perhaps it would be worth it for those days when I went to the dog park and fell into a mud pit. At  that price, I could drench myself with it beforehand and hope that it lasted 2 hours or more. (And, for the record, Shanghai did last longer on my second go-around when I sprayed a ton all over me. But it’s a matter of degree; maybe 2.5 hours in total, instead of about 1.5 hours.)

Bottom line, I cannot recommend the perfume. It’s simply not that interesting for the price. If it were $45 or $60, I would absolutely recommend it to someone seeking something subtle, versatile, and with a slight twist on the usual floral scents. But not at $215, even if it didn’t have dubious sillage and longevity. Life is too short. Go out and smell something with actual character and some pizzazz.

 

Details:
Target Audience: Unisex. Men definitely wear this. In fact, men have made some of the more positive comments that I have seen thus far.
Cost & Availability: Shanghai is available on Guerlain‘s website and costs $215 for 3.4 fl. oz/100 ml. It can also be found at Bergdorf Goodman and on their website. The rest of the Les Voyage line (Moscow, Tokyo, London and New York) can be found on the Saks Fifth Avenue website, though not Shanghai. Nordstrom’s doesn’t carry any of the line. Surrender to Chance has samples only of Tokyo, Moscow and New York. The Perfumed Court has Shanghai in different sample sizes with the smallest size (1 ml) costing $5.99 and the largest (15 ml) costing $83.99. Neither LuckyScent nor BeautyHabitat carry Guerlain.

Cultural Differences in Perfume Tastes & the Revival of the Classics for Men

I had a long conversation tonight with a fellow perfume blogger, Scent Bound, on the cultural differences between American and France, and each countries’ accompanying fragrance preferences. The issue was initially triggered by the comments on indolic scents like tuberose discussed in my Guerlain Mahora/Mayotte post. As a random observation, I told him that I think French women are much less terrified of certain kinds of categories of perfumes or scents than, say, the Americans.

Scent Bound noted: “I recall Chandler Burr made similar observation to yours regardingLight Blue Men how North Americans and European see fragrance. North Americans wear a fragrance as if to say ‘don’t run away, I’m clean’ and Europeans wear a fragrance as if to say ‘come to me, I’m sexy’. It’s pretty hilarious but if you think about it, it’s sort of true.”

I think it’s both hilarious and true. I find it extremely interesting to note the differences in tastes as reflected by the list of top best-sellers for women in 2011 for the U.S. versus the best-seller list for France. Surrender to Chance has a sample pack of each country’s best-sellers with some amusing observations, but the main point are the perfumes on the list themselves:

In the US:

The list is in no particular order, Chanel Cocoimages (7) Mademoiselle came in Number 1.

    1. Chanel Coco Mademoiselle – citrus adds a lightness to this gorgeous oriental

    2. Dolce & Gabanna Light Blue WomenLight Blue – citrus, easy to wear, the quintessential “reach for it” perfume

    3. Chanel No. 5 – No. 1 in France, a fragrance that has been around for decades and topping the best selling list wordlwide, this is The Iconic Classic perfume

    4. Clinique Happy – fruity floral that complete reflects its name

    5. Donna Karan Cashmere Mist – musk, woods, floral

    6. Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb – an exuberant floral with a rich base

    7. Lancome Tresor – rose, violet, iris, peach, a perennial favorite

    8. Christian Dior J’Adore – a now iconic fresh green floral that is at the top of the best-seller list in many countries

    9. Ralph Lauren Romance – romantic floral with touches of musk and ginger

    10. Burberry Body – floral oriental, easy to wear

    11. Marc Jacobs Daisy – fun, easygoing, touch of caramel, and absolutely easy to wear

    12. Chanel Chance – citrus floral that borrows from Angel and Coco Mademoiselle

    13. Estee Lauder Sensuous – elegant woody floral

    14. Estee Lauder Pleasures – green floral that can be smelled everywhere

    15. Chanel Chance Eau Fraiche – a fresher version of Chance

    16. Clinique Aromatics Elixir – Crossing international lines to appear on both French and American best-seller lists

    17. Fendi Fan di Fendi – fruity floriental.  Why won’t Fendi just start making Theorema again and stop with the stuff that’s not anywhere near its class?

    18. Prada Candy – yeah, really, and there’s a reason for it. Addictive, classic and fun!

In contrast, the top best-sellers in France for the same year (2011) are:

  • Chanel No. 5 EDP – iconic decades-old perfume that has topped the best-seller list for most of those decades.

  • Dior J’Adore – now overtaking Chanel no. 5 J'Adoreworldwide, J’Adore is a fresh green floral that is wonderful to wear

  • Thierry Mugler Angel – Every street in Paris wafts this scent

  • Chanel Coco Mademoiselle – a rich oriental withCoco Mad. amazing sillage

  • Kenzo Flower – a soft floral oriental

  • Guerlain Shalimar EDP – vanilla oriental from a rich and storied house

  • Lolita Lempicka – one of Angel’s softer, gentler children, a woody gourmand

  • Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie – sophisticated, but slight gourmand leaning with popcorn and strawberry (in the older versions, not the newest version – this one is the older formulation)

  • Nina Ricci Nina – (the old one, the original, the best, not that new thing)

  • Yves Saint Laurent Paris – violet, rose, romantic

  • Yves Saint Laurent Opium – a spicy oriental that defines that classification

  • JPG

    JPG Classique

    images (8)Jean Paul Gaultier Classique – could be the bottle?  Naw, this is a scent you don’t forget

  • Lancome Tresor EDP – peach, rose, iris and violet, a perennial favorite

  • Thierry Mugler Alien – Not loved so much in the U.S., but this odd Mugler fragrance is a big hit in France.

  • Nina Ricci L’air du Temps – a spicy floral that has endured a long test of time

  • Clinique Aromatics Elixir – a classic chypre that never goes out of style.

  • Lancome Cuir de Lancome – classic citrus and orange blossom fragrance with an amber base.

When I was growing up in France, the predominant trend was for chypres, then perhaps for orientals. Now, it seems that orientals have, for the most part, supplanted the classic. Scent Bound noted that, upon a trip to Paris last year, the majority of men seemed to be wearing sweeter, woody-oriental fragrances. I thought that was a definite change from the beloved classiques they used to wear and which were predominantly in the fougère or citrus aromatic categories. He noted that, in his country, the predominant perfume group is acquatics. (Remind me not to visit!)

Which turned the conversation around to what would be on the MEN’S list of best-sellers for 2011 or 2012? What do you think they would be and how would they differ from country to country? Scent Bound had these choices for his Top 3 in the US and in France:

North America Top Fragrance List:

1. Armani Acqua di Gio
2. Chanel Bleu de Chanel
3. D&G Light Blue Homme

France Top Fragrance List:

1. Dior Homme Intense
2. YSL Le Male
3. Terre D’Hermes

I completely agree with his list for the top North American best-sellers. However, I’m not so sure about his French list. For one thing, I think that Terre d’Hermès would be higher. Also, would the top YSL entry really be Le Male, as opposed to its L’Homme or La Nuit de L’Homme? More to the point, the list doesn’t include that infernal bête noire of mine, Acqua di Gio. That revolting thing is too much of a global best-seller not to be a serious contender for one of the top spots. (Even my best friend in Denmark wore it, much to my horror, until my pleas for a change finally took effect.)

Since Google is my friend, I decided to see if I could find the list — for 2011 or even this year to date — of most popular men’s fragrances in any country. Almost immediately, I came upon a fascinating New York Times article on the revival of the 20SKIN1-articleLargeclassics for men. (And, its main photo featured, in part, the Monsieur de Givenchy that I wrote about just the other day!)

Entitled “That Man Smells Familiar,” the article noted that “[i]n Europe, the classics still sell as if it’s 1969; last year Eau Sauvage was the third best-selling men’s fragrance in France, according to the NDP Group, a market research company that tracks sales in department stores.”

Is it the Mad Men effect, or are the fragrances simply benchmarks? The blogging world seems obsessed with the latest niche fragrances, and I sometimes get the impression that there is snobbish disdain for those who express interest in or write about the classics. It’s not hip, it’s not avant-garde or trendy, and it reeks of the old-fashioned (and possibly, in their mind, the insufficiently educated?). Whatever the reason, the experts don’t agree with that modern dismissal of the classic legends. Whether it’s Luca Turin or the founder of Basenotes, Grant Osborne, they both share a reverence for the old-timers. As the New York Times article put it:

Their names evoke two-button Botany 500 suits and martinis sipped in a 707’s front cabin: Eau Sauvage, Habit Rouge, Pour Monsieur. And although sales are a fraction of the overall market for fine men’s fragrances in the United States, experts in the field acknowledge their lasting relevance. “They’re like benchmarks — anything that comes after is almost always a direct descendant,” said Grant Osborne, founder and editor of Basenotes, a Web site for perfume enthusiasts.

Chanel Pour Monsieur, introduced in 1955, “should by all rights be sitting under a triple-glass bell jar next to the meter and kilogram at the Pavillon de Breteuil as the reference masculine fragrance,” wrote Luca Turin, the biophysicist and olfactory scholar and an author of“Perfumes: The Guide” (Viking, 2008). Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage, introduced in 1966, revolutionized the men’s category as the first perfume to make heavy use ofhedione, a synthetic analog of jasmine; Guerlain Vetiver, based on the aromatic grass and introduced in 1961 after similar scents by Givenchy (1959) and Carven (1957), continues to beget modern iterations like Grey Vetiver, by Tom Ford. These classic men’s fragrances “left very long-lasting impacts on how people develop perfumes,” said Eddie Roschi, a founder of Le Labo artisanal perfumery in New York.

While Old Spice and Brut are still enormous (enormous!) sellers, the young aren’t buying the “Old is Good” line. Not one bit. “[F]or a generation raised on CK Be and body sprays like Axe, retro scents aren’t necessarily an easy sell.” (See, NYT article.) In fact, one Beverly Hills retailer of vintage fragrances flat out admitted that Chanel’s Pour Homme would not sell well among the young today: “If you introduced this today and it did not have the Chanel brand recognition, I don’t think it would do well.” Why? “You smell it and just know: this is an old fragrance.” (Id.)

The NY Times answered my question as to what was bound to be the top male fragrance in France. As I guessed when talking to Scent Bound, it is indeed that blasted, infernal pestilence known as Acqua di Gio. The article discussed the scent, but also provided some other very interesting tidbits about perfume trends, popular fragrance categories, and why the top sellers remain so constant year after year:

Epitomizing the new is Acqua di Gio, introduced by Giorgio Armani in 1996 and the No. 1-selling fine men’s Acqua di Giofragrance for the past 10 years, according to the NDP Group. Acqua di Gio popularized the light, quiescent “aquatic” accord that dominates men’s fragrances today and has inspired countless imitators — “a slew of apologetic, bloodless, gray, whippetlike, shivering little things that are probably impossible, and certainly pointless, to tell apart,” Mr. Turin said.

Compared to the breezy aquatics, certainly, the classic ’60s scents — with their base notes of musk, oak moss, sandalwood and leather — can seem leaden, especially to younger noses. Nevertheless, sweet, unisex aquatics are ceding market share to scents redolent of woods and spices. Of the top four men’s fragrances introduced in 2010, “two were woods, one was a woody oriental and only one was a water,” said Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst with the NDP Group.

The introduction last year of Bleu de Chanel, which Bleudespite its sport-aquatic-sounding name is considered a woody aromatic, was a sign that the pendulum is swinging toward earthier accords; it became the No. 3 best-selling men’s scent in the United States.

Men are far more brand-loyal than women when it comes to fragrance, Ms. Grant said, “which is why when something becomes a top scent it continues to be a top scent — it’s hard to break into that ranking.”

I’m not an expert in men’s fragrances, despite wearing them frequently, so I’m curious to know your thoughts. What do you think are the Top 10 or Top 5 lists for men, in your country, in US/North American, in France or elsewhere? What about for women?

I would love to learn about the best-sellers in all countries and for BOTH genders,  so please don’t hesitate to chime in regardless of where you live.