Perfume Review: Parfum d’Empire Azemour Les Orangers

Last night, I was transported to the Dust Bowl of the American plains during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Dustbowl 1930s

The problem is, I wasn’t supposed to feel like Tom Joad in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I was supposed to be on horseback near orange groves and the moss-strewn craggy cliffs of Morocco’s coastline. I was supposed to be in Azemmour, one of the most ancient cities of the kingdom of Morocco, a Moslem and Jewish place of pilgrimage.

Silves Castle

Not Azemmour, but Silves castle in Portugal. The photo conveys what I thought I would feel and experience.

That is the goal of Azemour by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the founder and nose behind Parfum d’Empire. And it is a goal in which he seems to have succeeded for 99% of the people who have tried Azemour, a critical darling and much-loved perfume that has received endless praise in the blogosphere. I seem to be in the 1% of people for whom the perfume simply did not work.

Parfum d'Empire AzemourI’m truly saddened by that fact, as Azemour was one of the perfumes which I was most eager to try in the last few months and one which I expected to adore. For one thing, on paper, the description of Azemour is not only breath-taking, but filled with notes that should send me into a state of euphoria. Orange, clementine, tangerine, orange blossom, neroli, rose…. My God, it’s as if it were tailor-made for me! And the description even surpassed some of the notes.

In fact, I cannot remember the last time I was so transported by the sound of a perfume as I was when I read the following on the Parfum d’Empire website:

This fresh, timeless chypre plays on all the facets of the orange tree: the sparkling zest and sunny flesh of the fruit, the dark green of the leave, the honeyed sweetness of the flower, the force of the wood. But the word “amour” which nests in AZEMOUR also expresses the perfumer’s deep love for the land where he was born, and this fragrance is an evocation of the Moroccan landscape with its dunes, wild grass and orange groves… AZEMOUR, timeless elegance in the kingdom of Morocco…

The city of Azemmour, Morocco.

The city of Azemmour, Morocco.

A tribute to Azemmour, one of the most ancient cities of the kingdom of Morocco, a Moslem and Jewish place of pilgrimage; a tribute to his parents’ orange grove and to his long horseback rides on the lands that stretch along the Oum Er r’Bia wadi up to the ocean…

The golden light of the Moroccan Atlantic coast suffuses the top notes of AZEMOUR, a blend of sparking citruses dominated by the zest and flesh of orange, set in clementine, tangerine, grapefruit and citrus. Coriander, cumin, black pepper and pink pepper add their vibrancy to this burst of flavours; blackcurrant and galbanum set it in a dark green nest of leaves.

Then AZEMOUR speaks its heart with the freshness of neroli, intensified by geranium, fleshed out by suave, honeyed orange blossom absolute and delicately spicy old-fashioned rose.

Hay, moss and henna extracts conjure dry grass exhaling the day’s heat in the orange grove. Wood notes trace the undulating silhouettes of cypresses in the Atlantic wind. A tinge of saltiness evokes dunes swept with ocean spray…

Reading that lyrical imagery is almost enough to make one want to buy a plane ticket to Azemmour itself or, in the absence of that, just buy the perfume unsniffed! As for the notes which I mentioned earlier, the full and complete list (provided by Luckyscent) sounds simply marvelous:

orange, clementine, tangerine, grapefruit, coriander, cumin, black pepper, pink pepper, blackcurrant, galbanum, neroli, geranium, orange blossom, rose, hay, moss, henna and cypres[s].

Alas, on me, Azemour was not a trip to the orange grove by the sea. It was dry, dry, dry dust for a good portion of its opening, before settling into less dry green moss. My beloved orange notes were ghosts that taunted me, mocked me, laughed at me as they occasionally popped up for an instant before flitting away, teasing me with their presence in a constant vanishing act.The opening seconds of Azemour were a blast of bitter hay, strong henna powder, black pepper and moss with just the faintest hint of bitter orange. It smells of actual dust, and it evokes the barren, ravaged plains of America in the 1930s or the Sahara. Nor does it get better in those first ten minutes. In fact, as time passes, the dustiness just gets more bitter and green. The oakmoss is pungent and musty, evoking images of grey, mineralized lichen and dust. Usually, the scent of oakmoss in most fruity chypres (which is what Azemour is classified as on Fragrantica) is alleviated by the sweetness or freshness of citrus notes. Not here. Not on me. Instead, its pungent mustiness is accentuated by bitter hay and by the acrid greenness of galbanum. The overall impression is not helped by the dustiness of henna whose scent, here, occasionally, evokes ashtrays and leather.

As time passes, the oak moss becomes even more dominant but, still, no sweet mandarin, clementine, orange blossom, or zesty fruits. Instead, the dryness is joined by the faintly mentholated, tarry, pine notes of the galbanum and the dry woodiness of the cedar tree. There is the bite of black pepper, sea salt, and, fleetingly, that faint ashtray smell from the henna powder. Thirty minutes in, there is a light touch of cumin, coriander and some green geranium notes. It is at this point that the ghost of the orange notes becomes more evident but it is only momentary. It flits away like the very worst kind of tease.

My attempts at locating that ghostly note is not assisted by the fact that the sillage of Azemour drops substantially within the first hour. Quantity is not to blame, either, as I had put on a lot of the perfume in anticipation of loving the scent. (Plus, my vial partially broke on me at the time.) No, a solid, good dosage of the scent did nothing to help me locate the elusive orange. The perfume’s projection dropped so dramatically that — by the second hour — I was quite inhaling at my arm like a wild animal about to attack flesh. In all honesty, my discouragement and mood at this time were reaching an all-time low.

By the end of that second hour, Azemour was essentially just oakmoss, sea salt, an ambered leather accord, a hint of cumin and the occasional ghostly presence of orange. The oakmoss was, thankfully, much less pungent, musty and dusty than it was at first. To the extent that the leather felt “ambery,” I suppose you could say that was a subtle effect of the orange, blending with the leather for some resinous richness. And, in truth, the slightly animalic notes underlying the leather were quite nice. Or, perhaps, that’s just relief at smelling something other than dry dust for a while.

Nothing really changed for the remainder of the perfume’s development. For the last few hours, Azemour turned into a perfectly pleasant moss scent with ambered leather and a flicker of orange. There were traces of the perfume on my skin at the end of about five and half hours, I think, but I can’t be sure because, honestly, it was just so damn evanescent on my skin. I looked like a madwoman attacking my arm in hopes of smelling faint hints of something. And,yes, there were those hints. It just took monumental effort to find them! By the end, you can add intense frustration to the gamut of emotions that I experienced when testing this scent.

My experiences do not seem to mirror that of others who talk with gushing adoration of whole oranges, juicy pulp, citrus explosions over lovely mossy greens. My experiences don’t even seem to match in the longevity department, though that latter bit is not particularly surprising given my perfume-consuming skin. Others report that Azemour lasts on them for hours and hours, although many do say it’s an airy, light scent. But, as a whole, I seem to find few people who aren’t completely worshipful of the scent. There are a handful of slightly less enthused comments scattered here or there — and one person commented on Bois de Jasmin that she too smelled ashtray notes which Victoria also chalked up to the henna — but that’s about it.

I can’t even say it’s a gender thing. Yes, the vast majority of the worshipful reviews have come from men, but a large number of female bloggers have raved about Azemour, too. From Bois de Jasmin, to Grain de Musc, to Now Smell This — they’ve all loved the scent. Only Birgit at Olfactoria’s Travels noted that it could be a difficult scent to wear, but she too thoroughly enjoys wearing it from time to time. If the perfume smelled on me as it did on all of them, I might feel the same way. After all, I enjoy chypres and oakmoss, and I absolutely adore orange notes.

Unfortunately, what I experienced was simply too, too dry, dusty and masculine. I say that as someone who not only wears unisex perfumes, but who wears actual men’s colognes too at times. Azemour was simply not enjoyable in the way that it expressed itself on my skin. And I fear that the “for women” part of the title, as well as that stunning list of notes, may lead women who like more traditional, very feminine, “fruity” chypres into thinking this is the perfect scent for them. No, unless you like really DRY, dusty scents, this is not a perfume for you. As Birgit at Olfactoria’s Travels admits, this is “somber,” “severe and stern at times, hard and unyielding[.]” I think that’s very well stated. She thinks, however, that “in the end you realize that this inability to bend and give way is for your own good.”

I don’t quite agree with that. I think it depends on the person and their perfume experience. In my opinion, women who like more traditional, very feminine fruity chypres won’t bend and come to like this at all. Nor will those who prefer for more cozy, warm, or sweet scents. Or those who like more traditional, soft, feminine florals. Not one bit, and not even if they have the slightly more fruited experience that some others have done. In my opinion, this is a perfume for an adventuresome, very experienced perfumista who knows and likes niche scents, but who, most of all, can appreciate her pungent oakmoss on the masculine, dry, “severe” side.

Men, in contrast, will probably continue to worship at Azemour’s feet. And I have no doubt that it would smell wonderful on them.

DETAILS:

Azemour Les Orangers eau de parfum is available on Parfum d’Empire’s website where it costs $110 or €92 for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. You can also find it at Luckyscent which sells the smaller bottle in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size for $75, in addition to the large $110 bottle. Beautyhabitat sells the smaller size, The Perfume Shoppe sells the larger. For all other countries, you can find Azemour at a retailer near you using the Store Locator on Parfum d’Empire’s website. To test Azemour for yourself, Surrender to Chance sells samples starting at $3.49 for 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.