Roja Dove Diaghilev (The Imperial Collection)

A perfume with the feel of the past, concentrated as if distilled to its richest essence through the ravages of time, and brought back to life with a price tag from the future.

Source: Paris Gallery, UAE.

Source: Paris Gallery, UAE.

It’s hard to know where to begin in discussing Diaghilev, a 2013 release from the famous Roja Dove. The perfume has a history beyond just the ballet legend whose name it bears, a history that starts at an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in 2010, and indirectly goes back much further still to a Guerlain fragrance with which it shares enormous similarities for a good portion of its opening hours. Plus, Diaghilev has a huge buzz about it, and not solely because of the Roja Dove name, as you will soon see. Perhaps the real reason why I find it so hard to know where to begin is because I’m simply not moved by Diaghilev. No matter how many times I try it, I recognise its quality on an intellectual level, but it does absolutely nothing for me emotionally. From the first time I tried it last year in Paris, to repeated tests now… my emotions are always at a firm distance. 

Diaghilev is a pure parfum or extrait that was inspired by Serge or Sergei Diaghilev, the famous early 20th century ballet impresario who founded the legendary Ballets Russes. On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes the perfume and its notes as follows:

“Decadent Intoxicating Sophistication”

WARM, DRY, SWEET, FRUITY, SPICY, SOFT, & VERY SENSUAL

“I am immensely proud of this work. I love its rich opulence, its complexity and depth, volume, and sensuality. I was inspired by Diaghilev, one of the greatest creative forces of the twentieth century, who changed the world and totally re-wrote the rules – this creation is for exactly that type of person”. Roja Dove

Source: lth-hotels.com

Source: lth-hotels.com

INGREDIENTS
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Tarragon
HEART: Blackcurrant Buds, Heliotrope, Jasmine, Peach, Rose, Tuberose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Ambrette, Benzoin, Cedarwood, Civet, Clove, Cumin, Guaiacwood, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Nutmeg, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Peru Balsam, Sandalwood, Styrax, Vanilla, Vetiver.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Diaghilev opens on my skin with a flood of oakmoss on the most beautiful, animalic, castoreum-like base. The base is truly spectacular, especially in the opening 20 minutes. It’s like beautifully darkened, oiled leather with velvety, musky, dirty, and skanky undertones. There is no castoreum listed in Diaghilev, but it really smells like it to my nose. The raunchiness is kept in perfect balance; a touch sweet, urinous, and earthy all at once. It is not feral or fecal, but, rather, akin to the most gentlemanly dirtiness around. The musk is delicately dusted with earthy, dry, cumin, and infused with the sweetened, “fuzzy, warmed skin” characteristics of ambrette seeds (musk mallow).

"Novemthree" by Olaf Marshall. Source: vitaignescorpuslignum.blogspot.com

“Novemthree” by Olaf Marshall. Source: vitaignescorpuslignum.blogspot.com

The overall bouquet is a simply perfect base for the vista of green that lies atop it. There is the carpet of oakmoss that is dense, pungent, lightly fusty, vaguely oily and mushroomy, and wholly amazing in its viscosity. The greenness is underscored by the small bits of earthy vetiver, which dance at the edges next to an extremely bitter lime peel. I don’t know quite how Roja Dove has replicated the feel of vintage, real oakmoss so well, but he’s done it in spades with something that feels like juices from the past that have been reduced down to a darkened thickness.

Source: wallpaperuser.com

Source: wallpaperuser.com

In less than a few minutes, the colours change. A bright yellow arrives to dapple the mossy forest floor, followed by massive dabs of orange. The first is the bergamot, the second is the peach. The freshness of the former is a muted touch, while the heavy juices of the latter are quite noticeable on my skin indeed. The ripened fruit combines with the cumin to add to the fleshiness underlying Diaghilev, creating the image of musky, heated flesh that merely happens to be lying on a well-oiled leather couch made from castoreum in the midst of an oakmoss forest.

Jubilation 25. Photo: Basenotes.

Jubilation 25. Photo: Basenotes.

It’s all very lovely, and all massively familiar. This is Mitsouko parfum, in vintage form, reduced to the level of an attar in density, and thoroughly infused with Amouage‘s cumin-flecked Jubilation 25 (Women). Every minute of Diaghilev’s opening two hours on my skin feels like Mitsouko drenched with Jubilation, right down to the light dance of the very well-blended florals. At this point, Diaghilev’s florals are an abstract, seamless blur that are hard to pull apart, though the jasmine stands out the most. Again, like Jubilation. (And later, it is the ylang-ylang, which is again like Jubilation.) There is even a light flickering fizziness of something nebulous like aldehydes, the way I would experienced with old Mitsouko. By the way, if we’re talking about echoes of famous perfumes, there is also a fleeting, tiny kinship to the post-1989, cumin-y, vintage version of Femme by Rochas as well, though Diaghilev is darker, drier, greener, more leathered, and less fruited.

Most of those differences can be chalked up to Diaghilev’s substantially concentrated Extrait formulation. It is certainly explains why Diaghilev’s oakmoss is much more dense than it is in Jubilation 25. And I’m sure the skanky bits in the Amouage perfume would feel heavily leathered and resinous as well, if the perfume had been amped up by a 1000 to an extrait level the way Diaghilev has been.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

That said, I loved the opening 20 minutes of Diaghilev. The perfectly calibrated degree of cumin-y, skanky, leathered, castoreum-like velvetiness that rises up to bite you on the nose is glorious. And it’s so wonderful next to the dark oiliness of the heavy oakmoss, the earthy vetiver, and the bitter lime. The perfume has a real, substantial kick to it that makes it stand out at that point.

Unfortunately, the elegant meow of animalic bitchiness soon turns much more well-mannered, sedate and restrained in nature, as the dirty accords sink into the base. You can still detect them, quite easily if you sniff up close, but they blend into the overall blur of greenness that is dominated primarily by the dark, slightly fusty oakmoss with its peachy undertones. For me, by muffling the skanky whiffs, Roja Dove has de-fanged Diaghilev of its more modern, interesting touches, and moved the perfume squarely back a century to the well-bred, distant past.

Regardless, Diaghilev is a very nice, opulent, luxurious perfume in its opening stage. It is a perfectly seamless, extremely dense blend of green chypre notes with thick oakmoss, lime, bergamot, cumin, peach, amorphous florals, and touches of vetiver atop an oily castoreum-like, leathered, skanky base. It is monumentally heavy in feel at this point, as well, much to my great enthusiasm. Two big smears feel like the equivalent of 6 very large sprays of the most potent eau de parfum around.

Yet, to my surprise, the heavy Diaghilev wafts only 2-3 inches above the skin even in its opening. Spraying improved matters, but only moderately, by maybe another 2 inch at most. A friend and reader of the blog, “Tim,” was kind enough to send me a small spray atomizer of Diaghilev which I used in my 3rd test of the perfume, and there was no monumental increase in projection that I detected. The one difference is that spraying brought out the rose note after an hour, though it was still muted and muffled in that perfectly seamless blend of what really just seems like abstract “florals” from afar.

Source: 10wallpaper.com

Source: 10wallpaper.com

45 minutes into its development, Diaghilev drops in sillage, and also turns much softer in feel. 90 minutes in, the perfume loses even more of its body, heft and density. It’s primarily an oakmoss scent with sharp lime, bergamot, amorphous florals, peach, atop a velvety dark base just lightly flecked with cumin. Part of the problem in trying to dissect Diaghilev is that it’s so perfectly melded that it is really hard to separate out its tiny details at times. You get the plethora of greenness and the chypre elements up front, but many of the other notes lurk behind, peeking out in the most polite manner. And I’m only referring to 6 or 7 of Diaghilev’s 30 ingredients. The remainder is wholly subsumed within the larger whole.

At the end of the 2nd hour, however, I noticed new elements darting about, weaving their way through the top notes. Now, there is: clove, nutmeg, guaiac wood, mossy patchouli, and cedar. For about 5 minutes, there is even a really pretty touch of soft, earthy, delicate violets. Yet, with the exception of the new spices at hand, most of the elements were mere flickers and are not really a profound presence in a strong, individual, clearly delineated way.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Much more noticeable instead is the sudden arrival of the ylang-ylang with its custardy, vaguely banana-like, rich undertones. It adds a lovely touch to the pungency of the oakmoss, and is also a great contrast to the skanky, leathered, darkly oily base. I also really like the introduction of the spices, especially the cloves which add a subtle heat to the scent, enlivening it. The guaiac adds a subtle undertone of smokiness, while the cedar brings a tiny burst of pepperiness. The overall effect is to veer Diaghilev straight back into Jubilation’s arms.

Every time that I’ve tested Diaghilev, I noticed what feels like a transitional bridge period that starts always about 2 and a half hours into the perfume’s development. Diaghilev starts to lose its purely oakmoss-chypre focus, and begins the slow move towards an oriental scent. After having reviewed a handful of Roja Dove creations at this point, I get the strong sense that he seems happiest and most comfortable when making Chypre-Oriental hybrids. Many of his best and most beloved fragrances certainly start off as Chypres before turning into pure Orientals, like, for example, Puredistance M and the two Fetish Extraits. At the very least, I think we can agree that he’s a master at the split genre.

Here, the transition is gradual. The visuals are the first to change. It’s as though an oriental autumn has hit the green, oakmoss-covered peach trees and florals in the cumin-dusted forest with its skankily leathered floor. The dark greens are now heavily covered by rich, spiced, brown-reds and by velvety, custardy, ylang-ylang yellow. Sprinkles of white appear from sweetened vanillic powder, as the benzoins and tonka stir in the base. The subtle patchouli element pops up its head to inject a wine-red colour, taking on a liqueured, sweet, jammy richness. The woods encroach on the dominant moss and peach duo, as the guaiac and cedar crowd around, casting dark shadows. Bitter nutmeg is countered by the first traces of a sheer, gauzy wisp of smooth amber. 

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

Technically, it’s masterful, and theoretically, it should all be right up my alley. Yet, I’m unbelievably detached and disinterested. It’s not the sense of déja vu, but something that is very hard to explain. For me, Diaghilev feels like a technically perfect evocation of the classique tradition, but without a soul or a spark of passion in its depths. It’s like listening to a cover band who is playing all the right notes in a perfect rendition of some classic hit, but it doesn’t fresh, alive, distinctive, or individual. At least, it doesn’t for me. I feel as though I’m stuck in a room listening to Stephen Hawkings giving the most technically correct elucidation of theoretical physics… in Aramaic. Diaghilev’s soul simply gets lost in its correctness, its technical mastery, and in its translation of the past.

Vintage Ballet Russe poster. Source: Pinterest.

Vintage Ballet Russe poster. Source: Pinterest.

The perfume continues its march towards Orientalism. At the start of the 4th hour, Diaghilev is primarily a spicy cinnamon, clove and nutmeg dominated, abstract “floral” scent on my skin, with earthiness and woody elements over a leathered, castoreum-like base lightly infused with skanky civet, labdanum amber, and a whisper of warm ambrette muskiness. By the middle of the 5th hour, it is almost a skin scent that feels extremely abstract. Warm, musky, earthy, sweet, and spicy are the dominant elements. Soon, there is the sense of dry earthiness like soil that has been sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vetiver. Dancing at the edges is a dry, brown patchouli. The tiniest veins of labdanum amber, tonka vanilla, and musk run through it all like golden threads. Diaghilev is still strong if smelled up close with your nose on your skin, but it feels like a silken, brown-red sheath of earthy spiciness and sweetness, dappled at its base with musky skankiness from various accords.

At the start of the 7th hour, Diaghilev sets its course for the next few hours. It is primarily a gauzy, soft labdanum amber scent with abstract spices, skanky elements and a touch of vanilla powderiness. It remains that way for ages, until it finally turns into cinnamon, vanilla powder from the benzoins and tonka atop the thinnest smear of civet-y muskiness. In its dying moments, Diaghilev is merely spiced, sweet powder. All in all, Diaghilev consistently lasted over 14.5 hours on me when I applied moderate amounts, and over 16 or 17 hours with larger quantities.

"Copper abstract" by StarwaltDesign via deviantart.com. http://starwaltdesign.deviantart.com/art/Copper-Abstract-207268167

“Copper abstract” by StarwaltDesign via deviantart.com. http://starwaltdesign.deviantart.com/art/Copper-Abstract-207268167

It’s hard to review Diaghilev without bringing up its price. I never examine perfumes in a vacuum, but I usually state that price is an individual, wholly subjective assessment. That’s undoubtedly why most perfume bloggers rarely talk about the matter when assessing fragrances. However, when you have a perfume that costs over $1000 with tax — that retails for $990, €990 or £750 — then price becomes something more quantifiable and objectively critical. In fact, I’d argue that price becomes an integral part of the perfume’s fabric, as much as its notes or its olfactory genre. Intentionally so.

Roja Dove via his Twitter feed.

Roja Dove via his Twitter feed.

The basic bottom line seems to be that Roja Dove is aiming for a clientele that is part of the 1%. He’s aiming for the very rich, or, in the case of his special “Roja” perfume that costs well over $4,000, perhaps the super rich. He’s intentionally seeking exclusivity in a way that even Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the stratospherically expensive, legendary jeweler, isn’t trying to do with most of his JAR perfumes. It’s Roja Dove’s right to price his stuff as he sees fit, and there is no doubt that all his fragrances scream high-quality, expensive luxury. No doubt at all. But it is my right to think them over-priced at times, times like now.

I’ve pondered the issue of Diaghilev’s cost for days, and I can certainly see all the logical reasons why people would spend the money on it. But would I, even if I had the money to buy 10 Diaghilevs? I doubt it. I’ve thought about it in-depth, and I’m being honest. Diaghilev feels old in a way that never once crossed my mind when I wore Amouage’s Jubilation. I haven’t tried vintage Mitsouko in years, so I don’t know how I would feel about it now, but I never liked Mitsouko enough to be willing to spend $1000 on it. And, honestly, for me, the very best part of Diaghilev is its opening 20 minutes which are truly glorious. After that, when the skankiness subsumes itself into the base, it loses the one real spark of passion and distinctiveness that it exuded for me. It turns into a very expensive-smelling, beautifully crafted perfume that someone like Joan Collins would love. Glamourous, but dated.

Nijinsky and Pavlova, the two superstars of Les Ballets Russes. Vintage image. Source: jbtaylor.typepad.com

Nijinsky and Pavlova, the two superstars of Les Ballets Russes. Vintage image. Source: jbtaylor.typepad.com

There are quite a few reviews for Diaghilev out there, but the most fascinating one comes from The Non-Blonde. I will quote parts, but I encourage you to read the long review in its entirety, as it echoes many of my sentiments. And the opening two sentences are a doozy:

A very successful perfumer who’ll remain nameless described the perfumes from Roja Dove’s line as “belong in a museum”. After a few seconds of thought he added, “so does Roja”. I didn’t inquire further as to what specific aspect of Roja Dove’s public persona he was referring. Your guess is as good as mine. Diaghilev, a larger-than-life chypre is a perfect example for what the famous perfumer meant. Diaghilev, with its mélange of notes is so over the top that if I weren’t standing at the Bergdorf Goodman counter with the tester right in front of me when I first smelled it, I’d have thought (convinced even) that someone has mislabeled a vintage perfume sample. A very very vintage perfume. Something from the 1920s, perhaps, when leather, oakmoss, all the spices in the world, and a thick overripe floral bouquet could be thrown together and then worn in public without shame.

There’s cumin in the top notes which the husband detected immediately while my own skin smoothed it over. I can smell traces of many thick and plush perfume ideas, the ghosts of  famous perfumes the way they smelled back when Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Gish and Marlene Dietrich used to wear them. Diaghilev is rich, plush, and very animalic, padded with a thick layer of oakmoss that I can smell throughout the perfume’s development. It’s everything I can ask for in a scent. In a different time and place (ok, and a different personality) Diaghilev could have easily been a contender for my signature scent.

They no longer make them like that. They no longer sell them like that. And if you want to wear this type of perfumes you probably need to run with a very specific crowd who appreciate things like that. There aren’t all that many of us around these days, which is probably the reason that Diaghilev stands out so much and feels so shocking. You just don’t smell perfumes like this unless you’re well-versed in vintage perfumes. […]

Here’s the thing: Diaghilev is a magnificent perfume. It’s a very fitting tribute to Sergei Diaghilev and his uncompromising artistic vision. But I almost feel like an oblivious Gwyneth Paltrow prattling about in her GOOPy ways as I’m writing this, because it’s nearly impossible in this case to separate the excellent perfume from its positioning at the very top of the fragrance market. Roja Dove has made sure of that. [snip]

You should read her piece in full. In my case, I doubt I would be inspired to wear Diaghilev, whether it were gifted to me or cost $100. From the very first time I sniffed it at Jovoy around the time of its release, I shrugged and moved on. “Very well done, nice, but …. eh.” I suspect my problem is the lack of strong personality, and not the very dated, “museum” feel of the perfume. I love vintage perfumes, but this feels far too well-bred, dull, and old. Plus, given how very little time I have to wear perfume for myself these days, I would never waste a precious “free day” on Diaghilev. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. (The fascinating Jubilation 25, however, would be a very different matter….)

Diaghilev, the original EDT limited-edition bottle.

Diaghilev, the original EDT limited-edition bottle.

Speaking of museums, there is an important issue I need to cover: the original Diaghilev. A few commentators to the Non-Blonde’s post brought up the fact that Diaghilev was originally released in 2010 as part of an exhibition that commemorating Les Ballets Russes at the Victoria & Albert museum. It was a limited-edition fragrance which cost £75, and supposedly only 1000 bottles were released, though there is mention of Roja Dove selling refills in huge 250 ml aluminium bottles on his website. I paused at the comments, like the one talking about “the earlier EDP version’s affordability” and how it felt like “naked manipulation of the consumer.” And I very much agreed. It seemed like bloody cheek for a man to sell a perfume for £75, but then, 3 years later, stick the exact same thing into a crystal-capped bottle and sell it for exactly ten times as much at £750. It seemed outrageous, as if he were pulling the wool over your eyes, while laughing all the way to the bank.

Except that is not what actually happened. I did some digging, and the facts are different. It’s true, as Roja Dove discusses in old blog posts on his website, he made Diaghilev for the exhibition and, yes, he did release it back the for a substantially lower price. There are two key differences, however, between the original Diaghilev and the one released in 2013. For one thing, the original was an eau de parfum, though a number of people also state that it was a mere eau de toilette. Regardless, the new one is an Extrait, and, as noted, has the dense viscosity of an oil in feel, at least in the first few hours. For another, the current Diaghilev is supposedly remastered and changed.

The website, Cosmetopica, writes about that last fact in a glowing review for the new Diaghilev where she also explains the differences between the versions. Her article reads, in part, as follows:

Why the change, I asked Roja’s PR? Because Roja visited the Kremlin, he said. Once he got to Russia, he completely reformulated his ideas about Diaghilev and his oeuvre, and the perfume had to change with it.

The immediate effect of the opening notes of the ‘new’ Diaghilev is identical to the ‘old’ Diaghilev but it only lasts a second before there is then a massive bloom of citrus like falling head-first into a vat of bergamot. You might not get out alive, but it would be a good way to go. To this untutored nose, the citrus melange smelt above all like tangerines (a note that I see is absent). It is also strong enough to knock a horse over at 20 paces.

This phase of the perfume lasts a good 30 minutes – a very long time for citrus – and is fabulously rich and oily, not light and sparkling. […] [It] has the richness of the real deal, due to its use of natural materials in abundance.

I loved this phase of the fragrance, but it got even better in the second act. The floral heart emerges over time like a full orchestra tuning up and to be honest, I found it impossible to pick out the notes. It is at this point that the fragrance morphs back into the character of the original Diaghilev – true, old-style grand perfumerie. Ten hours later, it’s still going strong, wafting up from your clothing whenever you move or sweat, but “curiously well-behaved,”[.]

The next morning, the animalic facets are still there, which I love. I like a bit of skank in a perfume […] So the base notes of civet and musk that hang around for about 24 hours on clothing are just fine by me. […]

Source: scent-intoxique.com

Source: scent-intoxique.com

As for the issue of Mitsouko, Cosmetopica writes:

Diaghilev mark 1 smells like Mitsouko should and no longer does, and that, apparently, is no accident. Having read that Diaghilev the man used to spray his curtains with Mitsouko, this is partly Dove’s interpretation of what that atmosphere must have been like.

Does it smell like Mitsouko? Well no. It smells like a Guerlain we haven’t met yet – no accident, I guess, given that Dove worked for the company before it was swallowed up, masticated and vomited back out by LVMH.

I agree that it doesn’t smell purely and wholly like Mitsouko. However, to me, it starts off strongly as a mix of Mitsouko with Jubilation 25 (Women), before eventually shrugging off the Guerlain and turning more into Amouage territory. And I’m not the only one who thinks that. On Fragrantica’s page for Jubilation, 8 people noted a resemblance to Diaghilev, while 3 voted for Mitsouko. There are the same 8 votes for Jubilation on the actual Diaghilev entry as well.

On Fragrantica, the reviews for Roja Dove’s creation are almost all uniformly admiring. The shortest, flattest comment comes from one person who writes simply, “If Mitsouko and Vol de Nuit met and had a baby, their offspring would be Diaghilev.” Others, however, wax rhapsodic. Here are two of the shorter reviews representing the general consensus:

  • As usually with Roja Dove’s fragrances, Diaghilev as well is strongly inspired by big fragrances of the past. In this case, the old-fashioned chypre structure, comes directly from huge compositions such as Mitsouko and Sous Le Vent. A wonderful fizzy citrusy opening evolving into an extremely refined floral middle phase to then turn into a fresh and rich mossy vetiver drydown which is not so distant from the latest phases of Onda Extrait. [¶] The level of appreciation of Diaghilev is strongly related to one’s personal preference towards extremely classic fragrances. That said, if you like the genre, this is one of the best chypres currently available on the market.
  • Insanely opulent and suave chypre that, hilariously, reminds me of Aromatics Elixir. A smooth oak moss flanked by top-shelf patchouli and vetiver with minuscule touches of citrus and culinary herbs floating around. Ambrette and civet are present, but highly civilized; many of the myriad fruit / floral notes are there, but not prominent enough to isolate. The whole thing is big, round, and undeniably impressive, but it’s hard not to snicker at the kind of over-the-top luxury it’s signifying. Excellent, beautiful, stunning, and a tad ridiculous. [¶] Break out your Liberace furs and bling, slap some of this on, then go stomp around the neighborhood like you *own* the damn place.
Source: 10wallpaper.com

Source: 10wallpaper.com

Both those reviews come from men, by the way, which should alleviate any concerns that you may have that Diaghilev is a woman’s fragrance. As for the price, well, a good response comes from “Tymanski,” my friend who so generously sent me a small atomizer from his own bottle:

i never EVER thought i would even contemplate spending a week’s pay on a bottle of perfume. i made the fateful step of trying this juice out the other day and over the course of the day this smell just got better & better & better. i was extremely sceptical of roja dove – tried several and thought “what’s this guy pulling here”, but with Diaghilev, i take it all back. this is just spectacular on every level. a chypre of such depth, elegance, balance, simply a perfect fragrance. i am not going to start with notes, as this is prodigiously complex; i will say that the rose middle is the finest i’ve ever smelled. the sillage is quite discrete but very solid, and longevity is where it should be for an 850 euro (!!!) parfum. the long drydown has a beguiling affinity with amouage epic man (another favouite). some say this is similar to vintage mitsouko, i really can’t say. it does embody everything i love about chypres in the end, i was seduced.

The bottom line for you is that you should seek out a sample of Diaghilev if you’re a lover of rich chypres, vintage perfumes, Mitsouko, Jubilation 25, and/or very heavy, strongly classical fragrances. Do it for the experience, particularly you’re relatively new to perfumery and want to learn about opulent chypres done in the vintage manner. (Consider it an expensive educational lesson, if you will.) For those who don’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories, I am somewhat dubious as to your reaction. I suspect that you might find Diaghilev overly heavy, very dated and museum-like indeed.

As to what will happen once you smell it, well, then the issue of price will come back to bite you squarely on the nose. You will either: be unable to separate the issue of the cost from the smell, much like The Non-Blonde; think Diaghilev is worth it and be in a quandary; or be like me and intellectually recognize Diaghilev’s quality, but be utterly unmoved nonetheless. One thing is absolutely certain, though: the price tag is the 800-pound gorilla in Diaghilev’s room. £750 to be precise.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Diaghilev is a pure parfum or Extrait which is available in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size which costs $990, €990 or £750. In the U.S.: Diaghilev is carried by New York’s Osswald and Bergdorf Goodman. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Diaghilev from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London, from Harrod’s online, or from Roja Dove’s e-store at Roja Parfums. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Parfums and sells Diaghilev for €990. In the UAE, the Paris Gallery has Diaghilev for AED 5,175. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. By the way, in Russia, Roja Dove is supposed to be at Moscow’s tsUM, but I couldn’t find the brand listed on their website when I did a search. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: I purchased my main, core sample. It came from Surrender to Chance which sells Diaghilev starting at $7.49 for a 1/4 ml vial.
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Roja Dove Innuendo (Creation-I)

A suggestion of skin, a tantalizing innuendo, and a knowing glance — all as soft as a whisper. Roja Dove‘s Innuendo is meant to capture some of those things, and to feel like a tender kiss that stays with you for a lifetime. Innuendo was released in 2012, but came to America last year under the name Creation-I due to legal trademark reasons. It comes in two forms, an Extrait Pure Parfum version and an Eau de Parfum. This review is for the Extrait.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes Innuendo as follows:

“As Soft As A Whisper”

SWEET, FRESH, WARM, & SOFT

“This creation is my homage to everything feminine: a lingerie drawer, make-up, and a knowing look. It is like the caress of cashmere against the skin, or a woman’s tender kiss which stays with you for a lifetime”. Roja Dove

INGREDIENTS
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Orange
HEART: Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Labdanum, Musk, Orris, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean.

"Evernia Prunastri" lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

“Evernia Prunastri” lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

Innuendo opens on my skin with a dewy, pink rose, followed by bergamot, chilled lemon, violets and a definite suggestion of mossy greens. There is no oakmoss listed in Innuendo, but something in the combination of ingredients smells exactly like mousse de chene or oakmoss absolute. According to The Aroma Connection blog, a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is the basis for the absolute. It is a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Unfortunately, since real oakmoss of any type is essentially banned out of perfume existence, substitutes are sometimes used. The Aroma Connection briefly talks about the various synthetic versions and their aroma:

It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.

Roja Dove probably did some feat of technical mastery and genius to the patchouli to make it so accurately conjure up oakmoss absolute, because Innuendo has the same sort of smell described in that article: a sharp, slightly fusty, fiercely mossy, green aroma which conjures up images of tree bark, lichen, and saltiness. Since it translates to my nose as “oakmoss,” I’ll just use that word in quotes to convey what I’m smelling. Whatever the source of the note, it’s beautifully done, and feels like dark thorns are piercing through the petals of that soft, pink rose. Yet, for all the pungent, dry, mineralized feel of the “oakmoss,” there is also a bright, plush, emerald green velvetiness from the patchouli itself.

Every inch of the lovely pink and green bouquet is infused with yellow citruses. They are simultaneously tart, crisp, chilled, zesty, sweet and a little bit bitter. It feels as if your nail has just pierced the rind, squirting out the concentrated oil. Something about the fruits makes me think of a sweet but bitter yellow grapefruit, more than an acidic lemon. There is a fragrancy and richness to the oils that feels incredibly bright and fresh. It’s a lovely contrast to the “oakmoss” (or whatever note conjures that mineralized fustiness).

Source: modavesen.com

Source: modavesen.com

Lurking at Innuendo’s edges are other elements. There is a soft, fruited, purple patchouli, though it is thankfully not cloyingly sweet. Hints of woodiness are further afield, along with the spectral figure of some powdery iris. More prominent is the dash of violets sprinkled throughout. They feel sweet, green, dewy and cool, but also woody and earthy, as if they were black violets nestled at the base of a tree.

10 minutes in, Innuendo begins the first of its many rapid changes. The rose grows jammier and sweeter; the powdered orris draws closer; and the tangy, bright zestiness of the citruses take a step back. There is a hint of jasmine that takes the iris’ place in the nose-bleed seats. In the base, the first glimmer of vanilla stirs quietly. The “oakmoss” feels less vibrant, bright and plush. It turns more fusty and dry, evoking the sense of dry tree bark. Yet, at the same time, there is also a creamy sort of woodiness in the base that replicates sandalwood quite well, even if it lacks the red spiciness of the true Mysore variety. What I don’t like is the growing presence of musk that feels sharp and too clean.

Soon, within minutes, Innuendo has turned into a very jammy, velvety rose scent, infused with both mossy and purple fruitchouli, along with sharp musk and powdered iris. The citruses and violet are extremely muted now, more of a suggestion than anything else. The jasmine, in contrast, is starting to jump up and down in the background, yelling a louder “Hello.” The most interesting aspect about Innuendo at this stage is the saltiness that circles around the notes. It’s like a lovely breath of sea air blowing from the North Atlantic, and it helps keep the purple patchouli in check. 

Source: facepla.net

Source: facepla.net

Unfortunately for me, the musk is growing increasingly white and shrill. It’s absolutely terrible, quickly taking on the aroma of very expensive floral hairspray or soap. White musk is one of my pet (perfume) peeves in life, and I simply cannot see the purpose of it in such an elegant, refined composition. I’m actually less annoyed by the growing sweetness of the fruitchouli that I hate so much because at least it doesn’t feel quite so jarring, out-of-place, and piercing. Even the growing powderiness of the iris fits in better, and is decently modulated.

Photo: stepbystep.com

Photo: stepbystep.com

It takes less than 30 minutes from the start for Innuendo to turn into an extremely high-class rose shampoo, albeit a very expensive, feminine, refined one that is infused with purple patchouli and small tendrils of dry, green mossiness. The white musk is abominable, radiating out both soap, shampoo, and hairspray tonalities into every atom of the rich, powerful rose. The impression of creamy sandalwood has faded, along with the citruses and the last gasp of the violet. The iris remains to add makeup powder to the mix.

JanusThe whole thing feels utterly bifurcated, as if there are two polar opposite things going on at once. An opulent, extremely sophisticated rich rose with an “oakmoss” bite, versus a young ingenue’s fresh, innocent soapiness. I think those who love soapy, powdered florals would probably consider Innuendo to be the height of luxurious, opulent elegance from the golden age of haute parfumerie. I admit, I can see that, myself as certain parts of Innuendo at this stage certainly ring true to that ideal. Yet, my lip is still curling with disdain over the other parts of the scent, and the overall dated feel. I don’t have anything against opulent florals with an old-time, vintage, classique feel. If anything, that is rather in my wheel-house. Yet, Innuendo still feels antiquated, and not in a good way.

Lara Pulver.

Lara Pulver.

There are two, very different women simultaneously being represented by Innuendo at this stage. The first one who repeatedly comes to my mind is the actress Lara Pulver, from the Sherlock series or, to be more precise, the woman she plays in ITV/ BBC America’s Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,. There, she is the aloof, haughty Lady Ann O’Neill (the future Mrs. Ian Fleming), a sort of Wallis Simpson type: an extremely sophisticated, hard, brittle, aristocratic woman dressed sleekly in black, and whose game of seduction centers around innuendo and breathy suggestion. She is represented by Innuendo’s incredibly refined, opulent, heavy rose with its chypre-like, mossy thorns.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Next to her and conjoined at the hip is the second woman: a young, fresh-faced, innocent beauty in her early 20s dressed in white, smelling of fresh soap and powder. Two women, one scent. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Innuendo is the scent that an ingenue with aspirations to sophistication and wealth would have started to wear in her 20s, only she’s still doing so in her 80s. I find something polarizing and unbalanced about how the fresh, soft innocent side attacks the rest of Innuendo which feels unbelievably heavy, reeking of over-done opulence, expensive wealth and aged sophistication.

I know exactly the sort of perfumista who would love that mix, finding it a clarion call to vintage Guerlains only amped up by a thousand in heft. For me, though, it’s a schizophrenic mix, one that is dominated by shampoo and piercing musk to the point of feeling oppressive. And the purple fruitchouli isn’t helping matters, either. It all felt exhausting and I briefly contemplated scrubbing Innuendo, but I’m glad I resisted because the perfume suddenly changes. And drastically, at that.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

90 minutes in, Innuendo suddenly veers 180 degrees in the opposite direction and becomes a new fragrance entirely. There is obvious mastery and talent in managing such an extreme transformation, because Innuendo turns into a lush, beautiful, creamy floral oriental scent with none of the horrific aspects of its start. The change begins with the oppressive musk suddenly softening its aggressive assault, thereby giving the other notes a chance to shine through. Innuendo turns warmer, sweeter and richer; the rose steps back; someone puts a gag on the shampoo; the makeup powder is similarly muffled; and even the fruitchouli feels less cloying.

The famous Cora "Sun Drop" yellow diamond. Source: www.people.com.cn

The famous Cora “Sun Drop” yellow diamond. Source: http://www.people.com.cn

Then, the jasmine and ylang-ylang glide gracefully onto center stage. Beautifully heady jasmine, with opulent, velvety ylang-ylang that radiates like a yellow diamond. They are enveloped by an amber glow that feels a lot more like salty, musky ambergris than the more masculine, leathery, toffee’d labdanum listed in the notes. Returning to the scene is that creamy woodiness that almost feels like sandalwood, but now it carries a trace of something vaguely smoky. The true beauty in all this is the vanilla. My God, is it good. It’s entrancingly creamy, smooth, airy but rich, vanilla mousse, and it makes all the difference to the florals. It coats the ylang-ylang — in fact, it feels as if it’s coating your very mouth — with vanilla custard, but it’s never cloying, heavy or painfully sweet. The combination of the vanilla, amber, woodiness, and hint of smoke turns Innuendo into a floral, oriental custard that radiates warmth and silkiness.

"Rosee Celeste" by David Graux via Art.com

“Rosee Celeste” by David Graux via Art.com

All images of brittle sophisticates or soapy ingenues vanish amidst thoughts of silk and satin. Roja Dove sought to conjure up a woman’s lingerie draw, along with the finest of soft fabrics against the skin, and by Jove, he’s succeeded. I think it’s the silkiness of the vanilla, the petal softness of the ylang-ylang that is increasingly dominating the scent, and the perfume’s overall softness. Innuendo began with massive potency, wafting a good 5 inches above the skin with 3 small spritzes from my atomizer (or about 1 good spray from a bottle), but that power soon dropped. At the end of the first hour, Innuendo felt airier, lighter, and softer with only about 2 inches of projection, though the perfume was massively heavy and concentrated up close.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

However, by the time Innuendo does its 180 turn, everything is different. The sillage hovers just an inch above the skin, and everything is soft. You can almost image touching the velvety petals of the ylang-ylang, rubbing it against your skin with a texture like the thinnest cashmere shot through with silk. Innuendo truly seems to coat your skin with a breathy whisper, a golden sheath that has great richness and intimate sensuality. And it turns silkier by the minute.

Slowly, the ylang-ylang and vanilla take over the whole show, while the jasmine works its charms indirectly and from afar to add a certain elusive headiness to the notes when smelled up close. To my surprise, a new element arrives on the scene — oranges — which melts into the flowers, adding a juicy sweetness and fruited touch. The rose remains on the sidelines and periphery, visible only if you sniff really hard and focus. It is imbued with just the perfect amount of jamminess from the patchouli and, thankfully, none of the vile Pantene shampoo from the musk. Meanwhile, the labdanum and sandalwood slowly diffuse into the vanillic base, though a certain smokiness still remains. I’m thoroughly enjoying Innuendo now, but the polarity after the nightmare of the first 90 minutes (which came on the heels of the loveliness of the initial 10 minutes)… well, it feels a little schizophrenic.

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

For the next few hours, Innuendo remains a soft, orange-accented, custardy ylang-ylang fragrance with creamy vanilla mousse. It’s not sweet, gourmand, or cloying, but just right, even if it is incredibly discreet. Trailing behind are small streaks of jasmine, patchouli-rose, and some amorphous, smoked woods. There is a gentle muskiness to the notes that feels golden and entirely natural, undoubtedly from the amber in the base. The latter still doesn’t smell like actual labdanum on my skin, but, rather, like a generalized warm glow. Around 3.5 hours in, Innuendo turns into a skin scent. By the end of the 5th hour, the perfume is primarily ylang-ylang and vanilla, followed by orange, and with only tiny, lingering traces of purple fruitchouli at the edges.

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Unfortunately for me, the final stage of Innuendo is another schizophrenic shift. The first traces of soapiness appears midway during the 6th hour; by the start of the 8th hour, Innuendo suddenly sheds almost all of its prior notes and veers sharply into soap territory. It is infused with an abstract orange floralacy, but it’s very muted. The ylang-ylang and jasmine have completely vanished. In the base, the labdanum has turned into its more usual form, wafting a nuttied, caramel-toffee note. As a whole, Innuendo smells largely like expensive, ambered, sweetened soap. The whole thing is so abstract and soft, it’s really hard to tease out any other elements. Soon, Innuendo is nothing more than a smear of ambered soapiness, and there it remains until its very end, several hours later. All in all, Innuendo Extrait lasted just over 13.5 hours, with soft sillage for the majority of that time.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Innuendo thus far, though a few people seem to have voted on the notes. What is interesting to me is that the main element they detect in the fragrance is white musk, followed by tonka (for the vanilla), then ylang-ylang and patchouli. The one comment comes from “Shorokh” who seems to have struggled with the same schizophrenia that I experienced:

Very unusual. Green and mossy at the beginning, and like this for quite a while; then after several hours (4.5 – 5 in my case) those notes disappear completely. It`s like putting on a totally new perfume! Some might like it – having two perfumes instead of one. But I don`t like my perfume change so dramatically while I wear it. No jasmine or rose on me. Must try again!

Basenotes has nothing in its entry for the fragrance, and I couldn’t find any blog review for either Innuendo or Creation-I, its American name. I wish I could provide more information, more details on the other side of the picture, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. 

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

What I can tell you is that there will be some women who will undoubtedly love Innuendo. Anyone who passionately adores powdery, soapy florals comes to mind, along with those who love very vintage Guerlain classics but with a more concentrated richness and opulence. Obviously, people who don’t like a very dated, old-fashioned, heavy feel to their scents should stay away. Innuendo is marketed as being a women’s fragrance which is just as well, since I can’t see the vast majority of men wearing it.

Innuendo Extrait costs $435 for 50 ml. All I’ll say on that score is that the perfume certainly does smell expensive. (Well, minus the Pantene shampoo bit.) Innuendo also reflects great perfume mastery in creating such an extensive range of movement throughout the notes. No matter how much whiplash Innuendo gave me, there is no question that it is well made or that Roja Dove is a master at luxuriousness. As you can tell, though, I disliked the perfume except for the 4 or 5-hour stretch in the middle. That part was truly and genuinely lovely, even though the projection was terribly weak. But 5 hours out of almost 14 miserable ones is not good enough for me — at any price.

The issue really comes down to personal tastes. As regular readers know, I can’t abide white musk, soapiness, hairspray notes, shampoo similarities, or makeup powder. So, put my views in that context, and try Innuendo for yourself if you love very old-fashioned florals with a soft, powdery, clean bent. It certainly has the luxurious, sophisticated feel to go with that very high price.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Innuendo Pure Parfum is available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size which costs $435, €395 or £345. There is also a Eau de Parfum version which comes in a 100 ml bottle, and which costs €265, £265, or around $350. In the U.S.: Innuendo is called Creation-I and is available in the 50 ml bottle Extrait version from New York’s Osswald and Bergdorf Goodman. The EDP version is sold on Amazon, purportedly by Roja Dove, for around $349. There is also a site called Cosmetics Now which sells it for around $355. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Innuendo directly from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London, his Urban Retreat website, or Harrod’s online. Roja Dove also has an e-store at Roja Parfums for his personal line of fragrances, and he sells Innuendo Extrait for £345, while the EDP is £225. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Dove perfumes, and sells Innuendo in the Extrait version for €395. In the UAE, the Paris Gallery carries the whole Roja Parfums line and sells both Innuendo Extrait and EDP. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: I obtained my sample from Jovoy in Paris. If you’re in the U.S., you can test Innuendo Extrait by ordering samples by phone from OsswaldNY. They offer a deal of 10 samples for $10 (shipping included) for domestic customers. Their phone number is: (212) 625-3111. As for Surrender to Chance, it doesn’t carry Innuendo. So, your best bet is really ordering a sample from OsswaldNY.

Roja Dove Fetish (Woman)

Succumb To Your Desires.

Fetish for women in pure parfum extrait.

Fetish for women in pure parfum extrait.

That is what Roja Dove tells you when he talks about Fetish, his line of chypre-leather fragrances. Yesterday, we explored the men’s version of Fetish Extrait, and, while it didn’t awaken any desires in me, I certainly concede that it is a leather scent. However, I’m wholly unconvinced on that matter when it comes to Fetish for Women (also in pure parfum Extrait form). There was nothing remotely leathered about this white floral chypre on my skin.

On his Roja Parfums website, after he’s ordered you to succumb to your desires, Roja Dove offers the following description for Fetish:

WARM, DRY, FRESH, SWEET, & LEATHERY

“Nothing is darker than leather in all its guises. Beware once you have entered there is no escape, as I have created a perfume that once under its spell there is no return”. Roja Dove

INGREDIENTS

TOP: Bergamot

HEART: Jasmine, Rose, Tuberose, Ylang Ylang

BASE: Castoreum, Cedarwood, Cinnamon, Clove, Galbanum, Musk, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Vetiver

Galbanum

Galbanum

Fetish for Women Extrait (hereinafter just “Fetish“) opens on my skin with galbanum sweetened by jasmine. It’s a combination of great crispness, freshness, and greenness, but without the usual pungent froideur, distance, and iciness that I typically find with galbanum. The ingredient’s sharp edge and unapproachability render it something that I often struggle with, but here, it’s very different. The jasmine adds a fragrant sweetness and warmth, while the galbanum keeps the usually indolic, sometimes heavy flower quite crisp, clean, and green. There is the faintest trickle of jasmine’s sweet syrupy nature lurking underneath, but it’s always kept in check and balance. 

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

On the heels of the two main notes is the oakmoss. It feels simultaneously pungent and mineralized, but also a wee bit plush, fresh, and lightly sweetened. In Fetish’s middle layer, hints of dry, woody vetiver and slightly sweet, green patchouli round out the tableau of variegated greens. The one exception to the colour spectrum are the flickers of aldehydic soapiness that dart about. In Fetish’s depths, there are elements of tuberose and extremely dry cedar. Even deeper below, the castoreum briefly stirs. Here, it thankfully lacks the animalic raunchiness or sweaty perianal parts prevalent in Fetish Pour Homme; instead, it merely feels like something velvety brown and soft in the base. A mere drop of animalism, if you will, instead of whole bucketfuls.

For the most part, however, Fetish for Women is primarily a triptych of jasmine, galbanum, and oakmoss on my skin. The degree of each note fluctuates in prominence and strength, but the perfume’s core essence never changes. Not once.

Source: dilei.it

Source: dilei.it

What happens instead is that Fetish goes through a small shrieking period. The galbanum becomes more forceful and incredibly sharp; so, too, does the oakmoss. Something about the two notes in tandem, along with that aldehydic soapiness, consistently creates an almost synthetic sharpness that I find abrasive. I tested Fetish three times, and there is always a brief 20-25 minute period when the jasmine retreats. The loss of its sweetness permits the galbanum’s inherently icy, sharp edge to come out, along with the more fusty, pungent aspects of the oakmoss. I don’t know to what extent the latter may be partially synthetic in nature, but the effect of the overall combination repeatedly causes a tightening sensation in my nose. It’s almost like something verging on sinus pains, but not quite.

"Evernia Prunastri" lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

“Evernia Prunastri” lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

I want to take a moment to briefly talk about that oakmoss which I suspect is mousse de chene. It is actually a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) that is an oakmoss absolute according to The Aroma Connection blog, and, in some people’s eyes, seems to be considered the “true” oakmoss. It’s a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Still, “real” oakmoss of any type is largely banned out of perfume existence, and substitutes are often used, either by themselves or as complements to smaller portions of the real thing.

There is a very interesting, detailed, and somewhat technical discussion of the different types of oakmoss on The Aroma Connection, including the various synthetic versions or additives thereto:

we are left with a few synthetic oakmoss chemicals, such as Evernyl (methyl 2-4-dihydroxy-3-6-dimethylbenzoate) and formerly, the less popularly-utilised Orcinyl-3 (3-methoxy-5-methylphenol), which the hype from synthetic aroma chemical producers would try to persuade you ‘represent the essential character compound of oakmoss’.

… It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.

Here, the oakmoss never has a leather aspect on my skin, but it does have an incredibly sharp character that occasionally smells a little salty and like the bark of a tree. There is a subtle smokiness, but it is mild and overwhelmed by the more pungent, almost acrid characteristics. More importantly for our purposes here, the oakmoss has an undertone that, to me, smells synthetic to me. I don’t react with the equivalent of a sinus headache or pinching otherwise, and it happened to me with both men and women’s versions of Fetish.

On all three occasions with Fetish Woman, the shrieking phase was brief, and never lasted beyond 20-25 minutes, ending about 50 minutes into the perfume’s evolution. Part of the reason why is because the jasmine returns in greater strength to counterbalance the green notes, tame them, and turn them into something less forceful. A Fragrantica commentator described Fetish Pour Homme as being very “shouty,” and I think Fetish for Women has a brief period of the same thing, despite being a considerably softer, tamer fragrance. Actually, “shouty” isn’t so accurate in this case, and a more apt description would be “unbalanced.” Regardless, it’s not a very long period, and Fetish soon calms down.

In fact, it turns a little too mellow and goes too much the opposite extreme. On each occasion where I tested Fetish, a little after one hour, the perfume dropped in sillage, hovered just an inch over the skin, and became a virtual blur of white florals with green notes and oakmoss. By the 90-minute mark, it’s a skin scent.

At times, the oakmoss turns so gentle and muted, it felt like the description that one reader emailed me about with regard to another very oakmossy, green fragrance: “green tea and honey.” To my surprise, the oakmoss in Fetish’s base might truly be described that way from afar. Something about the green accords has the soft, fragrant gentleness of green tea, albeit a very concentrated one that has been infused by a very delicate touch of sweet, white floral syrup. Unfortunately, the somewhat synthetic elements remains, lurking far below, and whenever I take whiffs that are too forceful of my arm, the sharp tightening in my nose returns instantly.

Source: bioloskiblog.wordpress.com

Source: bioloskiblog.wordpress.com

There really isn’t much more to be said about Fetish’s development on my skin. It remains as a blur of white florals atop a chypre base. For a brief period, the jasmine and oakmoss are vaguely distinguishable in their own right, but the notes are generally a haze, overlapping each other, and rarely having any definitive, firm shape. In its final moments, Fetish is merely a nebulous floral smear with something vaguely green about it. All in all, it lasted just over 7.5 hours with 2 large sprays, and a little under 9 hours with double that amount.

I liked Fetish for the most part, but what manifested itself on my skin was also a big disappointment. If I hadn’t been told that this was a “leather” fragrance, I never once would have guessed it. For me, Fetish is exactly and precisely the “floral chypre” that Fragrantica classifies it as on their site. My skin always amplifies base notes, and that includes leather, yet none showed up in any of my 3 tests of the perfume. I was also a little taken aback by the lack of complexity, nuance, and body of the largely simplistic scent that appeared on my skin. Fetish was a perfectly nice — even occasionally lovely — white floral perfume, but nothing more. I’d still enjoy wearing it, however, were it not for the synthetic feel in the base and the fact that it consistently became a skin scent on me between the 60-90 minute range (depending on quantity). For $425 or €395, I expect more. A lot more.

On Fragrantica, the only review for Fetish Woman in extrait version comes from Dubaiscents, a reader and a friend who loves the fragrance. She describes it as “both elegant and feminine but, also tough and a little dirty. One of my all time favorite leather scents!” It sounds infinitely more interesting on her skin than on mine, and I envy her her complex experience. If I had experienced some grit, some toughness, something other than linear two-dimensionality, then perhaps I wouldn’t have been so bored. As it is, I’ve struggled to write this review from sheer lack of inspiration, enthusiasm, and interest. In fact, Fetish bores me so much that I will end this here and now.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The Fetish for Women Pure Parfum is available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size which costs $435, €395 or £345. In the U.S.: Fetish is available at New York’s Osswald. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Fetish directly from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London. Roja Dove also has an e-store at Roja Parfums for his personal line of fragrances, and he sells Fetish Extrait for £345. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Dove fragrances, and sells Fetish in both the Extrait and Eau de Parfum versions. (The Homme EDP costs €265.) In the UAE, the Paris Gallery carries the whole Roja Parfums line and sells the women’s Fetish Extrait for AED 2,050. Samples: I obtained my sample from Jovoy in Paris. If you’re in the U.S., you can test Fetish Homme in the Extrait version by ordering samples by phone from OsswaldNY. They offer a deal of 10 samples for $10 (shipping included) for domestic customers. Their phone number is: (212) 625-3111. As for Surrender to Chance, it only carries Fetish in the men’s EDP version, but doesn’t offer any version of the women’s fragrance. So, your best bet is really ordering a sample from OsswaldNY.

Roja Dove Fetish Pour Homme

Roja Dove. Source: The Glass Magazine.

Roja Dove. Source: The Glass Magazine.

Roja Dove is an enormously respected, admired Master Perfumer, in addition to being a fragrance historian with an appreciation for the grand, classical tradition of haute perfumery. I had the opportunity to try a few of his fragrances at Paris’ Jovoy, and was struck by his Fetish line which was released in 2012. The scents come in both a men and women’s version, with each one then broken down further into an eau de parfum and extrait (or pure parfum) concentration. This review is for Fetish Pour Homme in extrait form.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

Osswald Parfumerie quotes Roja Dove’s description of the scent:

“Succumb To Your Desires”. Warm, Dry, Sweet, Spicy, Leathery, & Very Sensual. “Leather can be so compulsive that for many it becomes a type of fetish. I then thought of leather in a man’s world. I thought of the soft sensuality of it against the skin, and the timeless appeal of a successful, masculine man and the things he surrounds himself with. Beware, as I have created a perfume that once under its spell there is no return”. Roja Dove

According to Roja Parfums, Fetish Pour Homme (hereinafter just “Fetish“) includes:

TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Lime

HEART: Fig, Jasmine, Neroli, Violet

BASE: Ambergris, Benzoin, Cardamom, Castoreum, Cinnamon, Elemi, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Pepper, Pink Pepper, Vanilla, Vetiver.

Source: leatherchairs.co.uk

Source: leatherchairs.co.uk

Fetish opens on my skin with crisp lime and zesty, clean, slightly soapy citric notes followed immediately by contrasting animalism from pungent, brown, musky castoreum. The latter has an oily feel that is also plush, velvety, and slightly sweet. It is leathery, but leather in its own right soon appears. It has a slightly raw, rubbery facet, but it also feels very aged and burnished. It is heavily infused by cardamom that is nutty and dusty.

In essence, Fetish’s initial bouquet is of a very expensive leather sofa in a gentlemen’s club that has been cleaned with a sharp, waxy, slightly soapy and very bitter lime peel oil, then further oiled by musky, animalic castoreum, before being finished off by a heavy sprinkling of sweet cardamom that was taken from the bottom of a very dusty spice drawer. It’s all spice, bitter lime, sweetness, dust, muskiness, and animal secretions over aged leather — and it’s quite a discordant jolt to my nose.

I struggle with Fetish’s opening sharpness which I find hard to blame on any one, single note. The accords have combined to create enormous bitterness that is one part pungent green, one part smoky tar, and three parts animal. I suspect the oakmoss, smoky elemi wood, leathery fig, dry vetiver, and bitter lime are also partially responsible for a combination that feels as though raw animal hides have been tarred by the most bitter distillation. The fusty, mineralized, almost fossilized, dusty oakmoss and lime peel oil are joined by what seems like bucketfuls of castoreum.

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

Fetish’s increasingly powerful animalism takes on nuances that aren’t easy for me to bear. Forgive my forthcoming rudeness, but there is no other way for me to describe how the castoreum smells here except to say that it repeatedly reminds me of sweaty anus with a dash of dried urine on genitalia. There is also a sub-tone of fur to the musk, which brings back memories of a sick, elderly German Shepherd Dog that I had with some bowel problems. I never had problems with Serge LutensMusc Kublai Khan, a fragrance that has been described in the most explicit of terms, but Fetish? Fetish is tough, and it evokes all the things that others seem to have encountered in the Lutens fragrance. When that leathered, animalic side is mixed with the oakmoss-lime duo, the final result is one that I found painfully abrasive for the first 10 minutes.

Castoreum, a secretion derived from beaver anal gland sacs.

Castoreum, a secretion derived from beaver anal gland sacs.

Fetish softens a fraction thereafter, losing a minute portion of its musky, anus-like, castoreum aggressiveness. What’s left behind is a bitter, pungent, lime-infused, leathered muskiness that is very oily at its core. The cardamom, subtle tinges of soap, and smoky woods stand close by, on the sidelines, and are soon joined by the arrival of sweetened amber and patchouli. They turn the leather into something slightly gentler, more rounded, and richer.

Fetish continues to subtly change. Twenty minutes in, it is a leather chypre with contrasting undertones of green, mossy bitterness, clean soap, and oily castoreum body parts. The smoky, tarry, phenolic aspects slowly grow stronger, mixing with the very sharp, almost synthetic-smelling soapiness to create a combination that is as much a problem for me as the castoreum-oakmoss pairing. In all honesty, I am not a fan of a single part of Fetish’s opening moments, and find Roja Dove’s earlier leather-chypre creation, the famous Puredistance M, to be a smoother, better balanced, less aggressive, more refined, and infinitely easier fragrance. At the end of the first hour, a dark chocolate aroma begins to become noticeable, undoubtedly from the patchouli mixed with the dark, nutty, toffee elements of the labdanum amber. It would be enjoyable if Fetish weren’t also wafting huge amounts of bitter lime peel oil and fusty oakmoss at the same time.

Early into the third hour, other elements become noticeable. There are tiny hints of violet, neroli and jasmine that pop up in the background, but they are extremely faint and minor. Much more pronounced is the tarry undertone to the leather which feels almost burnt on occasion. The smoky elements may be from the elemi wood, but whatever the source, there is a disagreeably sharp, almost abrasive touch that lingers under the top bouquet of leather, oakmoss, and patchouli-amber.

Source: caffiendsvictoria.com

Source: caffiendsvictoria.com

Things only improve for me at the start of the 4th hour when Fetish finally turns soft, mellow, smooth and attractive. It is now an ambered leather with a well-balanced amount of chypre-y moss. There is an additional, quite unusual, undertone as well: the labdanum, patchouli and castoreum have somehow melded together to create a distinctly coffee-dark chocolate aroma. It’s delicious, neither particularly sweet, nor particularly bitter. Fetish’s sillage is soft as well, hovering right on the skin, though it is easily detectable if sniffed up close.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Fetish continues to lose its moss, smoke, and bitterness, turning into a beautiful amber at the 5.25 hour mark with richly burnished, aged, smooth leather, a light dose of spices, and warmth. It has a touch of dark-chocolate caramel from the labdanum-patchouli, along with saltiness from the ambergris. As time passes, Fetish turns almost entirely ambered, taking on an actual cognac aroma along with that hint of dark, dry, bitter chocolate and leather. It’s lovely, and addictive to sniff. The cognac-amber phase continues to the very end when Fetish finally fades away in a blur of golden warmth and sweetness. All in all, it lasted 11.25 hours on me, with initially moderate sillage that dropped about 90 minutes in to hover about 2 inches above the skin. It became a skin scent on me by the end of the fourth hour, but it continued to be easy to detect if you brought your nose to your arm until the end of the seventh hour.

There aren’t many detailed blog reviews of Fetish Pour Homme in Extrait form, but the lone comment on Fragrantica is for the pure parfum version. It’s too lengthy to quote in full here, but the poster, “deadidol,” seems to have had an experience similar to mine and, like me, much preferred Puredistance M. His review begins with talk about the “chypre bitterness” which dominates the scent, followed by “a faint soapiness.” After that,

[a] bulky castoreum, sprinkled with cinnamon, hums along underneath, and I get a gourmand texture that I believe might be patchouli. It’s massive scent, with a lot of individual components at work, yet oddly, I’m not getting that much leather from it—or at least not as much as I expected.

It settles into a scratchy cardamom musk over bronzed resins that come across as a touch candied, yet the tart, bitter notes remain as a reminder of the citric opening as it begins to fade. The whole thing winds down to a very tasteful vanilla musk that manages to sidestep predictability through the residual bitterness that reads as touch mentholated.

This has a wide profile: it’s a very loud and prominent composition which, like its infamous sibling M, is extremely tenacious. […][¶] For me, M keeps the gold medal out of the two, but that’s mainly because Fetish is playing a deck that I’m personally not that drawn to. There are several notes in this that don’t sit right with me, but they sit perfectly within the composition itself, and certainly within its genre. Objectively speaking, it’s an impressive scent although perhaps a tad too shouty; but subjectively, it’s not quite my cup of tea.

His last paragraph encapsulates my views down to a T. Fetish Extrait is well done, but it is also extremely “shouty” in my view, with discordant, sharp, abrasive elements that aren’t my personal cup of tea.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Elsewhere, Basenotes has a whole thread to Fetish, but it focuses almost entirely on the Eau de Parfum which most people conclude (again) is extremely similar to Puredistance M, but dirtier, darker, and not quite as nice. I’ve included the link here because there is quite a difference in price between the Eau de Parfum and the Extrait (which is $425 or €395), and so the former may be of greater interest. Some people talk about the Spanish leather and the animalic base in the Eau de parfum, which I can only assume have been ratcheted up a lot in the Extrait judging by what appeared on my skin. Others mention some problems with longevity and projection.

Puredistance M in its various flacons.

Puredistance M in its various flacons.

As regular readers know, Puredistance M is one of my favorite fragrances, but I don’t see it as being a pure leather. I actually see it as being a hardcore Oriental instead. I don’t think Fetish Pour Homme Extrait is a pure leather fragrance either, but it’s definitely much more of one than the M in my view, as well as being more of a chypre. For me, the intensity of the skanky, oily castoreum, along with the pungency and bitterness of the green elements, and the duration of the tarry, phenolic leather stage make the Extrait quite different from Puredistance M. I thought the latter had a much smoother, more balanced chypre opening, with a short leather phase that never felt skanky, dirty, raw, or tarred. When M takes on its main amber oriental characteristics, it not only does so sooner than Fetish, but its notes are profoundly richer, deeper, more molten, and heavy that the amber drydown in the Fetish Pour Homme Extrait. M is never “shouty.” It’s always smooth and refined, and it feels much richer.

As you can tell, I prefer M a thousand times over, but if you’re looking for something with a much stronger leather characteristic, with truly tarry, at times raw, and intense Spanish leather, accompanied by serious chypre elements and some aggressively musky, animalic skank, then Fetish Pour Homme Extrait might be your cup of tea.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The Fetish Pour Homme Extrait or Pure Parfum is available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size which costs $435, €395 or £345. In the U.S.: Fetish Pour Homme Extrait is available at New York’s Osswald. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Fetish directly from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London. Roja Dove also has an e-store at Roja Parfums for his personal line of fragrances, and he sells Fetish Extrait for £345. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Dove fragrances, and sells Fetish Homme in both the Extrait and Eau de Parfum versions. (The Homme EDP costs €265.) In the UAE, the Paris Gallery carries the whole Roja Parfums line and sells Fetish Pour Homme Extrait for AED 2,050. Samples: I obtained my sample from Jovoy in Paris. If you’re in the U.S., you can test Fetish Homme in the Extrait version by ordering samples by phone from OsswaldNY. They offer a deal of 10 samples for $10 (shipping included) for domestic customers. Their phone number is: (212) 625-3111. In addition, Surrender to Chance carries Fetish Homme in the EDP version starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Puredistance M: “M” for Molten Marvel

Molten lava, gold and red, coursing richly over dark rocks. An aristocratic cavalry officer’s perfectly oiled, brown leather boots, gleaming with scented oils of honey and rose. The richest amber and the darkest honey, intertwined in a kiss.

Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

Those are the images which come to mind when I try “M” from Puredistance, a niche luxury house whose exclusive (and very costly) perfumes are made by Master Perfumers in London and New York. Puredistance M, as it is known, has an added cache: it’s made by the great Roja Dove himself.

Roja Dove. Source: The Glass Magazine.

Roja Dove. Source: The Glass Magazine.

Roja Dove is the only man in the world who bears the title, Professeur du Parfum. His legendary nose is said to be able to detect over 800 perfumes from a mere sniff. After working for almost twenty years for Guerlain, he left to pursue his own ventures which include the speciality boutique within a boutique at Harrod’s called Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie.

Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie.

Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie.

He also creates his own perfumes — some of the most highly acclaimed and admired in the world. A few years ago, he collaborated with Puredistance , a company whose perfumes typify the luxury and richness associated with his own fragrances. Each Puredistance perfume is an extrait de parfum blended at a whopping 25-32% concentration and filled with the finest perfume oils. Puredistance M for Men and Women (sometimes written as PuredistanceM) is no exception.

Puredistance-Packshot-M-01-HRReleased in 2010, Puredistance M is technically categorized on Fragrantica and elsewhere as a unisex leather perfume. All the talk about leather led me to expect a hardcore leather scent — which I’m very wary of —  so I was surprised to find “M” to be a glorious lovechild of an oakmoss chypre and an oriental that merely happened to have leather undertones. I was also relieved to see Puredistance’s own description for the perfume state pretty much the same thing:

M is inspired by the stylish comforts of the interior of a grey Aston Martin. M is a leather
chypre of classic proportions… with an unexpected oriental twist, which lends the perfume an original and modern feel.Puredistance-Metal-Perfume-Spray-Cap-01-HR

The warm smoothness of the blend is incomparable. The composition purrs softly along, weaving the leather accord into the road-map of spices, woods and resins. The chic, sensual and comforting trip takes the wearer from the leathery start to the softly-smoldering woody, balsamic base via the delicately earthy heart.

Enveloping and comforting as it is, M, with its elegantly smoky leather, has a hint of excitement and danger, which is just how it should be, in a fragrance inspired by Bond’s car.

Ingredients: Bergamot, Lemon, Rose, Jasmine, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Mosses, Cistus [Labdanum], Vetiver, Vanilla, Leather, Musk.

Puredistance M opens on my skin with a rich, unctuous, baroque mix of dark rose, labdanum, leather, jasmine, musk and a subtle dash of citrus. There is the swirling aura of leather all around, but it’s almost ephemeral at this point and nothing distinct. And, yet, there is also the faint impression of a barnyard that pops up, only to flit away after two minutes.

Rose Petal Honey. Source: Gardenista.com. (Click on photo for the website which has a DIY recipe for rose-infused honey.)

Rose Petal Honey. Source: Gardenista.com. (Click on photo for the website which has a DIY recipe for rose-infused honey.)

The rose is rich, dark, beefy and meaty; it is also slathered with the darkest honey you can imagine. The sweetness tames any zestiness of the citrus note, rendering it sweet, not sharp. There is a noticeable backdrop of oakmoss but, unlike many chypres, it is never fusty, musty or dusty. Instead of being pungently dry, the mosses are sweetened by the honey notes from the labdanum resin — it’s absolutely glorious.

Interestingly, the second time I tested Puredistance M, the oakmoss was even less noticeable in the start. Same with the citrus notes. Instead, the predominant impression was a panoply of honeyed beeswax, rich roses, dark honey and cinnamon. In fact, honeyed beeswax is such a persistent part of this perfume on both occasions that I wore it that I am convinced it is one of the hidden ingredients, along with cloves and a smidgen of cumin. I am also convinced that Puredistance is one of those perfectly blended perfumes which will reveal different facets each time you wear it.

Source: FilterForge.com

Molten Lava. Source: FilterForge.com

The combination of notes — on both occasions — lead to an overwhelming impression of molten lava: a fiery river of honeyed labdanum turned burnished red from spices and roses. The labdanum is so rich that, at times, it has a faintly burnt quality to it. In fact, during my first test, there was an impression almost of burnt wax. The predominant note, however, is of a very balsam-like resin that is as dark as possible; it’s unctuous, opaque and thick. It’s hard to describe what labdanum smells like to someone who has never smelled it but, at its core, it is far more than just an amber-y smell. It takes honey to a depth that is almost unimaginably medieval in its complex, burnished richness. At the same time, it has a subtle, almost dirty, nutty, slightly leathered edge that is never animalic but which definitely turns the whole thing into something more masculine and musky than actual honey. I love labdanum and it is the fiercely beating heart to Puredistance M, evident from start to finish, in the richest way possible.

About fifteen minutes in, the leather starts to appear. It has the feel of darkly brown, softly caramelized aged leather. There is a subtle, earthy feel to it that I suspect comes from the underpinnings of the vetiver which is never a really detectable note, in and of itself, but which is a quiet thread in the overall tapestry. I know the perfume is meant to evoke the leather seats of a luxury car and, for most people, Puredistance M does exactly that. For me, however, I imagine an aristocratic cavalry officer’s well-worn riding boots, tended to lovingly with a mix of beeswax and oils tinged with rose, honey and jasmine.

Royal Household Cavalry - HouseandCountry dot tv

This is really the smell that I expected from Chanel‘s legendary Cuir de Russie which was inspired by Tsarist imperial officers and the Russian treatment of birch leather. Instead, on my skin, Cuir de Russie was all horse feces under a heavy pile of soap. I’m in a very distinct minority on that point, but the disappointment remains the same. No Cossacks, no Imperial Grand Dukes, no passionate sensuality evoking Coco Chanel’s love affair and, most of all, no smooth, aristocratic leather.

Young Winston Churchill in uniform. Source: Imgur.com

Young Winston Churchill in uniform. Source: Imgur.com

With Puredistance M, however, the leather is pure elegance. It feels screamingly rich, covered with cognac, warmed by honey, and reddened by quiet spices. The latter start to become more evident  about thirty minutes in. Cinnamon is the most obvious note, but there is also the merest touch of cumin. It’s not the sort of sweaty-smelling cumin; it’s simply dry and a little bit earthy. I’m convinced there are also big dollops of cloves in Puredistance M, adding a little bit of fiery heat to the sweet honey and resinous labdanum.

The floral and musk accord also become more noticeable around this time. The musk is not skanky, sour, or redolent of personal intimacies. Nor is it even remotely animalic. Instead, it is quietly intertwined with the rose and the increasingly evident jasmine notes for a combination that is narcotically heady and extremely rich.

An hour in, to my surprise, Puredistance M changes quite drastically. First, it becomes significantly less opaque and thick, though it is still very strong and heady. Second, it turns from a floral oakmoss chypre with oriental elements into something that, to me, is purely orientalist in nature. The oakmoss was always a subtly blended accord in the opening, intertwined perfectly with the other notes but never dominating. Now, however, it is completely overshadowed by the growing impression of honeyed beeswax with spices and cinnamon-tinged vanilla. The floral notes are still there, however, including the increasingly noticeable jasmine note mixed with a slightly sweet dose of patchouli. Lastly, the sillage has dropped quite substantially. Where Puredistance M was evident from a few feet away in the first hour (at least, when you put on a decent-sized amount), it is now hovering just a foot above the skin.

Vintage bottle and box of Bel Ami.

Vintage bottle and box of Bel Ami.

In this first ninety minutes and during the opening stage, Puredistance M strongly reminded me of Hermès‘ classic Bel Ami in its vintage form. Bel Ami is a scent I grew up with and loved, so while I haven’t smelled it in years, it was the first thing on my mind in the opening hour of Puredistance M. In fact, I’ve read that Bel Ami is one of Roja Dove’s favorite fragrances.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, vintage Bel Ami is the scent to which most people compare Puredistance M, suggesting that you save your money on the latter and buy the Hermès instead. I don’t necessarily agree. Even if we consider the much stronger, more potent vintage version of Bel Ami (as compared to its current reformulated self), Puredistance M is still significantly richer, darker and denser, with much more labdanum and far less citrus influences. Plus, based on my memories of Bel Ami, it only explains the first ninety minutes of Puredistance and certainly doesn’t fit with its remaining development. Because, you see, at the start of the second hour, the perfume changes again and now, it is almost a dead ringer for Serge LutensCuir Mauresque!

I recently reviewed and loved Cuir Mauresque, so I was quite stunned to find its middle notes replicated here in Puredistance’s similar stage. There are differences in the notes in each perfume and Puredistance significantly lacks the animalic civet of the Lutens but, on my skin, the middle stages for both perfumes was musky jasmine, honey, and resined amber. The burnt styrax in the Lutens is mimicked here by the occasionally burnt aspect to the different sort of resinous amber, the labdanum, and both scents share a subtle, sometimes imperceptible hint of cumin and cloves — all supported on the subtle base of leather. It helps that the Lutens was never very animalic or dirty on my skin because the civet was never strong. Here, however, the real link between the two fragrances is the jasmine, musk and dark amber combination. With the oakmoss having vanished in the second hour, Puredistance has turned into a seductive floral oriental.

Bees on beeswax. Source: McDanielHoneyFarm.com

Bees on beeswax. Source: McDanielHoneyFarm.com

The final stage of Puredistance M is very simple and is no longer anything close to Cuir Mauresque. The dry-down consists almost entirely of dark, dirty labdanum amber; rich honey and beeswax; and a hint of musky vanilla hovering underneath. The amber accord is tinged by the merest breath of something earthy, but it’s as light as a feather. In its very final hour, Puredistance M evoked pure honey and nothing more. At no time in its development were some of Puredistance’s more earthy notes dominant players; both the vetiver and patchouli added some underlying support but they were barely noticeable in their own right. There was no dirtiness or rooty darkness to the scent, and never anything animalic to the leather.

Interestingly, for a perfume with such strong notes, the sillage on Puredistance was not enormous. It was evident from a few feet away for the first hour, then dropped dramatically. By the second hour, the scent hovered half a foot away from the skin. Thereafter, it became very close and you’d have to be nuzzling someone’s neck to detect it.

The sweetness and spices make Puredistance the least “butch” leather that I have ever encountered. When you throw in the prominant florals, it also becomes one of the most unisex leathers. This is nothing like the stony, cold, black leather that I experienced with Montale‘s Aoud Cuir d’Arabie or the barnyard leather of Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie. It’s also far from the bitter, green, harshness of the butch legend, Bandit by Robert Piguet, which I admired and found most intriguing but which, in hindsight, is simply too brutal for me. It certainly is not remotely close to Tom of Finland by Etat Libre d’Orange which wasn’t even leather on my skin but, rather, powdered, vanilla suede.

Puredistance M is an absolutely marvelous scent, but its steep price is enough to give one the vapors. A miniscule 17.5 ml/ 0.59 fl. oz sized spray (essentially, a travel-sized mini) is a whopping $198. The full 100 ml/ 3.4 fl oz. bottle? A stunning $590! On Luckyscent (where, to my astonishment, that $600 bottle is sold out), one reviewer makes this observation about the scent and the price:

When people say that M makes everything else obsolete, I am afraid that is very close to the truth. From the very first whiff till it fades away (up to 24 hours later), this is an experience of constant astonishment. And just as much – constant, giddy delight. Of course, I will still wear other favorites. But M inhabits that rarified air of very few others – Gobin Daude Nuit Desert and Guerlain Derby come to mind (in terms of quality, not scent). The price is initially off-putting, but the 18ml bottle is easily the equivalent of many 100ml edp’s. The very tiniest little drop last all day, into the night, and into the next morning. Like I said, constant astonishment. This is the real deal.

I don’t agree. I used far more than the tiniest little drop to test the perfume the first time around. When, on the second test, I used the smallest possible amount, the perfume faded away in sillage quite quickly, demonstrated far less complexity, and also lasted far time. On neither occasion did Puredistance M last 24 hours. That said, when I used the equivalent of one large spray, the scent lasted about 11 hours — and I should bloody well hope so for something that is concentrated extrait de parfum! But, again, it was hardly a drop, so I hardly think that the 17.5 ml bottle is “the equivalent” of many 100 ml full bottles of eau de parfum. Nonetheless, on skin which is less voracious than mine, I think the $198 travel mini might be a good compromise if you really love the scent.

[UPDATE – 3/26/13: The perfume, along with all the other fragrances in the Puredistance line is now available in a much more affordable pricing scheme. All four scents now come in a 60 ml bottle of pure parfum extract that costs $330 or €275. For the concentration and size, that is a much, much more accessible deal. You can find the new bottles on the company’s website at the link listed below in the “Details.”]

On Fragrantica, one commentator says simply to buy Bel Ami and to save your money, but I don’t fully agree with that either. Even if you buy vintage Bel Ami on eBay (where I recently saw a bottle starting at around $65), Puredistance M is a much richer affair. Though I can’t remember Bel Ami’s dry-down after all these years, what I do remember is a much more citrus-aromatic chypre which turns into leather that is nothing as sweetly resinous or honeyed as Puredistance M. A review of Bel Ami’s notes on Fragrantica supports that impression: there is no labdanum, not a lot of resin, and those amber notes which are present do not seem to be the driving heart of the perfume according to people’s votes of the main notes. Still, if that is the only financially practical alternative, then Bel Ami may be worth pursuing. (So long as you avoid the current reformulation and stick with vintage.)

My belief is that price is a very subjective thing and, if the quality is there, an outrageous price may well be worth it to a particular individual. For me, a full bottle of Puredistance M is well outside my means. To my cheapskate mind, it translates to five full bottles of Serge Lutens or Chanel. And the 0.5 oz/ 17.5 ml mini is similarly too expensive, given the microscopic size and what else I could buy. If, however, price were no object, I would absolutely buy Puredistance M. The “M” really stands for magnificent, molten masterpiece.

DETAILS:

Sample or Gift Set of four Puredistance parfums.

Sample or Gift Set of four Puredistance parfums.

Cost & Availability: Puredistance M is available in a variety of different sizes and forms on the Puredistance website. You can buy a 17.5 ml travel size spray for $198 or €168. The full bottle is 3.4 oz/ 100 ml and costs $590. [UPDATE: The perfume is now also available in a 60 ml bottle for $330 or €275.] However, you can also buy Puredistance M as part of a sample Gift Set of four Puredistance perfumes (I, Antonia, M and Opardu) with each sample being 2 ml. The whole set costs $59 and includes free shipping. Puredistance M is also available at Luckyscent in both the $198 travel size and the $590 full size, though the latter is sold out until the end of March (2013). Luckyscent also sells a 0.7 ml sample vial for $6. I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance, where prices start at $3.99 for a miniscule 1/4 of ml vial, $7.98 for a 1/2 vial and $15.96 for 1 ml.

Modern Trends in Perfume: Part II – Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay

Earlier, in Part I, I covered the super-sweet and gourmand categories of perfumes that are currently popular on the market. Perhaps as a backlash to those scents, some designers have sought to go in a polar opposite direction. I’m not quite sure how to characterize the varying scents in this group or groups, so I’ll simply call them the Extreme Eccentrics.

The perfumes range from scents which seek to replicate post-coitus … er… muskiness, to armpit body odor to (allegedly) unwashed female genitalia or semen. Even decay and decomposition. No, I’m not joking. I understand everyone’s body chemistry differs, but not when a perfume is *intentionally* made to smell like that. I also understand the interest in the scent of sex and the impact of pheromones. But when a scent’s after-effects have been compared to “canned tuna and urine,” and when you specifically tell your perfumer/composer that you want the smell of female genitalia (washed or unwashed is unknown), then perhaps you’re taking your brand’s famous eccentricity to really extreme levels. Vivienne Westwood’s famous (infamous?) Boudoir is one of the perfumes in question here. According to some, she specifically wanted the perfume to have a note resembling that of a woman’s private parts. And, it seems the perfumer succeeded. In fact, a large number of people seem to adore the scent – though almost all its fans admit they wouldn’t dare wear it to work and that it needs to be (as the name suggests) restricted to the boudoir. A proper, in-depth description of Boudoir can be found here.

Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom (discontinued after his death) is slightly different. Like Boudoir, descriptions of the perfume seem to imply that it too falls under the “sweatiest of skanky, dirty sex” category. But there is another added element: body odor. Kingdom has cumin in it and cumin has a tendency, in strong doses, to smell like bad B.O.  (Personally, I think cumin smells like revoltingly dirty socks combined with bad armpit sweat. No, I’m not a fan.)

Now, I haven’t smelled either of these two in person (Kingdom is not easy to find nowadays), but I’ve read plenty on both and find the whole concept behind them fascinating. Both scents come from designers known for being cutting-edge, unconventional, eccentric, and avant-garde. Both are clearly representative of their designer’s aesthetic and ethos. But they are also both perfect examples of the rebellion against the more mainstream modern scents with their predominantly sweet characteristics.  They are also not alone. There are numerous perfumes and colognes out there that seek to emulate sex and post-sex muskiness in different degrees. It’s just that few have pushed it to the extremes of Boudoir and Kingdom.

Or have they? A 2008 article in the British paper, The Guardian, points out the intention of some perfumers, going all the way back to Jacques Guerlain in the early 20th century:

Jacques Guerlain – begetter of the scents Jicky, Shalimar and Mitsouko – observed that his perfumes should recall “the underside” of his mistress, while Tom Ford declared that he wanted his Black Orchid to smell “like a man’s crotch”. Such flights of fancy are known as “knicker scents” and conjure the vagina, semen, even the anus. […] Still more notoriously, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan comprises a ripely resinous vegetal amber suggestive of female arousal.

Sperm-wise, we have Alan Cumming’s aptly named Cumming; Thierry Mugler’s Cologne with its carnal “S note”; and Sécrétions Magnifique by Etat Libre d’Orange, its packaging emblazoned with a spurting penis. The truly fixated should embrace Orgie, a graphic aroma created by Christoph Hornetz and Christophe Laudamiel as part of a 15-scent tribute to Süskind’s novel. An evocation of a copulating crowd, it positively spews semen. Those of a rear-ended persuasion, meanwhile, should consult Eau de Hermès, which revels in a certain sweat-spiced, masculine intimacy, while Roja Dove is proud that his “Roja Dove No 3” has a salty sensuality about its nether regions.

You might wonder how perfumers achieve such results. The Guardian article (linked to up above) explains:

Many of perfumery’s most venerable creations owe their sensuality to the use of animal ingredients with a certain “spray” element: civet, a faecal paste extracted from the anal glands of the civet cat; castoreum, a leathery emission from the genital scent sacs of the castor beaver; ambergris, a briny and vomitous by-product of the digestive system of sperm whales; and musk secreted from the sheath gland of the musk deer have all been popular perfume ingredients. Then things become still more complex: civet may be cut with hair or – brace yourself – infant excrement.

So, if you always wondered why that one perfume of yours smelled …. unpalatable…. to put it politely, baby poo and feline anal glands may be to blame. Or perhaps it’s something else, like the smell of rotting decay which the U.S. Department of Defense allegedly researched as a weapon of mass olfactory destruction. Okay, perhaps it didn’t go THAT far, but they certainly tried! It was part of another sub-set of scents in this Extreme Eccentrics group: perfumes that smelled of death and decomposition! From that same, incredibly fascinating article:

An American department of defence collaboration to devise non-toxic olfactory weaponry found the stench of decay to be more intolerable even than that of vomit or burned hair. A forerunner of such tactics, a putridly flatulent stink called Who Me?, was devised during the second world war to be used by the French Resistance (who else?) to humiliate fastidious Nazis. […] But the ultimate paean to decomposition is Laudamiel and Hornetz’s [2007 scent] Human Existence, a robustly repellent reek smacking of oral abscesses and vegetal decay. Apply to your wrist and you will desire only to hack it off.

Laudamiel was specifically influenced by Patrick Suskind’s fabulous, infamous, legendary and brilliant novel Perfume and its anti-hero, the scentless, Grenouille. It is a book I highly, HIGHLY recommend for all perfume addicts. Those who lack the time to read it may be interested to know that Grenouille’s ultimate and final perfume creation leads to an orgiastic explosion of excess and was made from the essence of 25 virgins. Laudamiel expressly sought to recreate the pivotal scenes from Perfume and the murderer’s scents, one by one, starting in 2000. (Without murdering anyone, I should hasten to add!!!) According to an informative N.Y. Times article on Laudamiel, he was assisted in his endeavour by a perfume scientist who “recruited two young female virgins and, with their parents’ permission, recorded their aroma using a polymer needle. Laudamiel found this scent on I.F.F.’s shelves, then added the scents Süskind describes as clinging to the virgin’s skin: apricot, nuts, sea breeze.” (See, “Smellbound.”) There has been no indication as to whether Laudamiel succeeded in his efforts to replicate Grenouille’s infamous and orgy-inducing fragrance….

Thankfully, most perfumers don’t go to such extremes. But niche perfume houses are increasingly pushing the envelope in order (in my opinion) to counter the avalanche of mass-market, generic Sugar Bomb and Gourmand perfumes on the market. There are no limits, no even the smell of human decay!

If all this has left you with the strong urge to take a shower or to cleanse yourself, then you’re in luck. Part III of this article will focus on the Clean/Fresh category of perfumes, along with the latest, popular trend of Aoud/Oud scents. I’ll add that link here when it is up. Stay tuned!