Téo Cabanel Méloé: Summer Citruses & Freshness

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

It snowed here yesterday, after days of endless, bleak, icy greyness. For many of you, snow is hardly a big deal; for where I live, however, it’s akin to Hell freezing over. So, as a sign of rebellion, or perhaps as escapist fantasy against those miserable grey skies, I reached for Méloé, the one fragrance explicitly intended to represent “the heat of long-awaited summer days.” Mind you, I’m not all that crazy about my area’s particularly hellish version of summer, but I was suddenly in desperate need of sunshine in a bottle. And Méloé promises a “fresh haven” of all the best that the Mediterranean can offer, from Tunisian Neroli to Sicilian mandarin, from fresh basil to orange blossom and lavender.

Source: Hypoluxe.

Source: Hypoluxe.

Méloé is a creation from one of the most unsung gems in the niche world, Téo Cabanel, a Paris niche house whose history goes back over a century and a relatively unknown brand which consistently puts out extremely refined, polished perfumes. I have a huge soft spot for Téo Cabanel, as they make one of my favorite perfumes, the glorious oriental, Alahine (which is one of the few rose-based perfumes that I adore.) Alahine is fierce, potent, boozy, and with such intense spicy smolder that I often say it requires a form of Stockholm Syndrome to fall in love with it.

Méloé (which I’ll just write from here on out as “Meloe” for ease and speed) is the polar opposite of Alahine in every possible way. It’s as though Téo Cabanel intentionally sought to make Alahine’s counterpart with a fragrance that was a crisp, light, airy eau de toilette with the most easy-going nature. If Alahine takes you to a Moroccan souk spice market, and then to opulent palaces filled with lush roses and amber, then Meloe represents someone sitting in a café in Monaco wearing a cool, crisp shirt, and spritzing themselves with the aromatic cologne equivalent of a chilled lemon Perrier. They just chill and hang out, and, as the day progresses, the sun’s heat eventually brings out a musky, warm sweetness on their skin. It’s all very easy, smooth, and polished, but none of it is complicated, edgy, or heavy. It’s not meant to be.

David Niven relaxing on the French Riviera. Source: therakeonline.com

David Niven relaxing on the French Riviera. Source: therakeonline.com

Freshness and lightness is such an intentional part of Méloé that the fragrance was even originally called Méloé Eau Légère or, in some listings, Eau Fraiche. Emphasizing the point even further, Meloe is an eau de toilette in concentration, not an eau de parfum like Alahine. Meloe was created by Téo Cabanel‘s in-house perfumer, Jean-Francois Latty, and was released in 2008.

The company describes the perfume as follows:

In the heat of long-awaited summer days, the Méloé lover has found a fresh haven. Her elegant summer signature is underlined by her light, green, fruity eau de parfum.

Méloé’s Epicurian symphony generously draws its top notes from citrus and spices. Bergamot from Calabria, mandarin and lemon from Sicily, lavender and basil play their part in perfect harmony. 

The sparkling citrus notes linger until a dainty floral bouquet of Neroli from Tunisia, orange blossom and jasmine with just a touch of nutmeg comes to full bloom to make up the heart notes.

Unexpected sensual base notes of musk, amber and just a hint of woody notes. Lavish elegance and mystery, Méloé fully reveals its modern and distinctive character

Meloe is categorized as a green, fruity floral, and First in Fragrance offers the full list of notes:

Top Note: Bergamot, Tangerine, Lemon, Lavender, Basil

Heart Note: Neroli, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Nutmeg

Base Note: Musk, Ambergris, Woods. [Some places mention “crystal moss” as a base element as well.]

Source: 550px.com

Source: 550px.com

Meloe opens on my skin with a strong blast of bitter neroli, followed by unsweetened tangerines, and crisp, zesty lemon that feels much like the oils from a peel that was freshly grated. There is also one of my most hated notes in perfumery: lavender. As many of you know, I’m a lavender-phobe, and, yet, I actually like the note here. It is sharp, but also soft. More importantly, it doesn’t smell like the revolting, dried kind with its concentrated, vicious pungency. Instead, it smells more aromatic, like the plant in nature and in bloom. The lavender weaves its way throughout the various citrus notes, and the whole thing is sprinkled with peppery elements and a good pinch of bitter nutmeg.

The overall effect is to create something that is very brisk, incredibly bright, and fresh, but also somewhat spicy. None of it feels like a “fruity floral,” thank God. That is a category of perfumes I rather dread, for the modern sort are all too often dripping with goo, syrup and sweetness. And I have to admit, for a good half of Meloe’s lifespan, I find myself perplexed by the categorization because Meloe feels like a really fantastic cologne.

Source: societeperrier.com

Source: societeperrier.com

It’s not only the fougère-like traits of using cool lavender, citruses, green herbs, and woods, but some sort of ineffable quality that reads “unisex cologne” to me. Meloe’s fruits are refreshing and unsweetened, dominated more by crisp lemon and bitter neroli than by any heavy, sweet, juicy oranges, and the whole thing is definitely aromatic with the very dominant lavender note. Yet, it never feels masculine or akin to an old-fashioned barber-shop scent. Perhaps it’s because the lavender lacks the aggressive pungency of the sort often used in masculine colognes, or perhaps it’s because the notes are all very well-balanced. My greatest impression is of something sunny and yellow, but also chilled like Perrier — Perrier that merely happens to be infused by lemon peels, neroli, lavender, and nutmeg.

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

As the minutes pass, Meloe starts to change. The nutmeg softens its early forcefulness and loses some of its bitterness, as does the neroli. At the same time, the basil makes a tiny appearance on the sidelines, but I have to confess, I wish there were more of it. It’s so subtle, I sometimes feel I’m imagining it. The tangerine feels muted, such that I’d never smell Meloe at this stage and think “orange fruits,” but I think it has an indirect effect that helps ensure the more bitter elements are kept in check.

Perhaps its subtle sweetness is why Meloe loses some of its bright zestiness after 10 minutes and starts to feel much less brisk. The lemon no longer smells like you just dug your nails into the peel and grated the skin to release bitter oils. It’s smoother, thinner, and softer. The neroli starts to turn more abstract, too. At the same time, a hint of woodiness creeps into the top notes, perhaps from the unspecified “woods” listed for the fragrance.

Whatever the reason, Meloe settles into being a much smoother, lighter, seamless blur of crisp citruses and lavender aromatics that are perfectly balanced with a quiet spiciness, subtle woodiness, and hint of bitterness. It’s odd how the notes overlap each other and feel almost as if they lack delineation, yet, when smelled up close, you can still pull things apart. By the same token, Meloe sometimes feels very thin and sheer, yet it initially projects about 3 inches above the skin and is very rich up close. I have to think that the current arctic weather in which I’m testing the fragrance is hampering it to some extent. I suspect this is one perfume that would truly bloom in the summer heat for which it was intended.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m in the midst of doing a series on floral fragrances, and Meloe is technically supposed to focus on orange blossoms. Well, on my skin, and perhaps due to the current freezing temperatures, the flowers don’t make an appearance until 90 minutes into Meloe’s development. Even then, they are extremely delicate. Instead of the heavy, lush, ripe, indolic sort of orange blossoms that you often encounter, the ones here feel like the young buds on the actual tree. There is a crisp, Spring-time vibe, a softness that separates Meloe’s fresh take on orange blossoms from something like Serge LutensFleurs d’Orangers. These flowers never feel syrupy, mentholated, blackened, or concentrated. In fact, they’re quite muted and restrained. At times, there is the faintest suggestion of an expensive orange blossom soap underlying the notes, or perhaps it’s the odd sense that these flowers are virgin clean.

The actual orange fruit lurks behind the flowers, more akin now to a sliver of fresh, baby tangerine than to any bitter oils from the rind. The bitterness of the neroli has also vanished, but its slightly piquant woodiness remains. As a whole, Meloe is now primarily a very cool, thin blend of soft, clean orange blossoms, crisp lemons, and baby tangerines in an aromatic, woody nest. It still feels like a light, delicate eau de toilette that has been stuck in a refrigerator, but it’s not quite as crisp or zesty.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Sometimes, one has the sense that the different stages of Meloe capture the different parts of the full citrus tree. The fragrance starts first with its unsweetened fruit nestled amongst cool, waxy, bitter green leaves and petitgrain twigs, along with the equally bitter, piquant aspects of neroli and the aromatics growing all around the plant. Later, though, Meloe moves up to focus on the tree’s youthful blossoms, tossing in a dash of now sweetened baby mandarins, and a whisper of abstract warmth. As for the lavender, it is now quite nebulous in feel, adding merely a touch of aromatic freshness.

Source: fantom-xp.com

Source: fantom-xp.com

All lingering impressions of a cologne fade away at the start of the third hour, when Meloe turns into a more floral fragrance with unsweetened fruits and lingering traces of woody aromatics. The sillage slowly drops and, by the end of the 3rd hour, Meloe lies right on the skin. It becomes a skin scent about 4.5 hours in. Around the same time, the tangerine and orange blossoms surge to the foreground, taking over completely. The two notes are accompanied by a soft, musky warmth, though it never reads as actual amber to me, let alone ambergris. There are the tiniest flickers of something woody and aromatic in the background, but they are very indistinct.

Source: singer22.com

Source: singer22.com

The whole thing is very soft, sheer, and pretty. It’s very simple, yes, but also elegant, polished, and easy-going. It has a very relaxed summer vibe, like someone hanging out on a boat and sipping cocktails on the Cote d’Azur after a long day in the sun. Their skin holds the tiniest traces of the crisp citrus, orange, and lavender notes of their early morning cologne, but the summer heat has evaporated their chilled freshness, leaving behind only their sweetened essences on warmed skin. In its final moments, Meloe is merely a blur of oranges with a vaguely woody feel. All in all, it lasted 10.5 hours with 3 medium-sized dabs, which is excellent for an eau de toilette.

Téo Cabanel clearly had a very specific goal and feel in mind in creating the perfume, and I think they accomplished it really well. Nothing about Meloe is uber-complicated, let alone rich or heady, but it’s not trying to be with a name like “Eau Légère.” Yet, Meloe still has more body and depth than many Eau de Toilettes that I’ve tried (not to mention quite a few eau de parfums). Plus, it’s very reasonably priced (between $50-$70 for the smallest bottle, depending on where you buy it) with moderate sillage and good longevity.

Putting all that together, Meloe comes across as straight-forward simplicity with absolutely no pretentiousness at all, something I really like a lot. Meloe may have easy affability and versatile freshness, but it is also a very polished, refined take on a summertime citric-floral. It’s not quite as simple as it may appear, and it certainly feels more nuanced than some fragrances in this genre. In fact, as compared to many commercial “fruity-florals,” especially the syrupy fruit-chouli messes that you find in department stores, Meloe is almost a paragon of sophisticated complexity.

The thing that I keep thinking of is Creed’s much-hyped Aventus, which is really another twist on a fruity-florals with aromatics. To be clear, the two fragrances are very different in terms of their flowers and fruits, as Aventus is centered on pineapple, apple, ashy birch, and citruses, among other things. Meloe is initially much more lemony, aromatic and unsweetened, with a very robust lavender that makes it fougère-like, before it later turning orange-based and warmer. In my opinion, it’s also actually much less thin, watery, and weak in projection than Aventus, and more unisex. Yet, both fragrances share the same spirit and goal of fresh, bright crispness where fruits are nestled into an aromatic, woody base. They may smell completely different, but they want the same things. And I prefer Meloe’s journey to that goal.

There are no blog reviews that I could find for Meloe, and the fragrance isn’t entered on Basenotes, so we have to rely on Fragrantica for other people’s perceptions or experiences. Interestingly, there isn’t a single negative review of Meloe. Everyone seems to enjoy it, whether it is a man who shares the scent with his wife, or women who normally can’t stand “fruity-florals.” In fact, many seem quite surprised to like it as much as they do, perhaps because Meloe really isn’t a “fruity floral” by modern standards. One commentator, “Mals86,” actually referenced colognes in her comment:

I generally struggle with citrus scents, and traditional cologne-formulas that are meant to be refreshing, like this one. But I found it light and pleasant, and indeed very refreshing: not too floral, not too lemony, not too fleeting. [¶] It was even better on my daughter, and makes a wonderful alternative to the fruity-syrupy stuff her friends are wearing.

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

Another poster barely realized there was citrus in the perfume, and notes how well Meloe is blended:

Like Mals86 I always feel that citrus and I are no friends. But I got a sample today and tried it without knowing about the citrus. [¶] Well…citrus didn’t even come to my mind! I guess that it is because it is so very well blended with all the other notes that I wouldn’t detect it…
Might well be that the lavender calms down the citrus and spices and that, on the other hand, the citrus and spices lift up the lavender… [¶] Lavender on it’s own can be quite dull as if it was meant as an invitation to sleep without any dreams promised… [¶] Here dreams come alive while serenity remains… [¶] The amber warms up within the sillage so these dreams soon will float on the air that you’ll be happy to breath…

Smelling it, I see bright white clouds against a clear blue sky, I see Dolphins jump up out of turqouise coloured water with their friendly, smiling faces. [¶] Beautyful fragrance…

For everyone else, the citric burst was clear from the start, though some found it more fruity and sweetened than purely lemony crispness:

  • Méloé is obviously a great harmonic summer signature scent with spicy citric carnival in the beginning and intriguing soft light green fruity floral vibe with a naughty bread’ish faint sub-scent that tickles me! [¶] Without any hint of classic perfumery, it stand some steps higher than every fresh feminine perfume I know. The quality of citruses and lavender is superior. [¶] Méloé is chic, first class, easy going, generous and rich..
  • MELOE is like a windy summer day, it started with a sugary citrus and mandarin orange combo with bits of neroli and orange blossom. It was not too sweet, but more fresh fruity. The heart arrived with warm jasmine and amber. It dries down to a beautiful amber/citrus base, very light, but noticeable. [¶] I think MELOE is a very good floral fruity choice for summers for those who are too tired for synthetic mess most current floral fruity perfumes offer. This is a nice, natural, breezy and simple perfume

In terms of sillage, everyone notes that the perfume isn’t “overpowering,” and one person said the projection was “minimal,” with Meloe soon turning into a skin scent. For longevity, most people voted for “long lasting” (7h-12h) in terms of duration, and one commentator mentioned that it lasted 8 hours on her skin.

As everyone notes, Meloe is simple and breezy. It’s the furthest thing from challenging, bold, or edgy, and definitely not an original take on either colognes or fruity-florals. But it’s not trying to be any of those things. All it wants to do is to deliver a very elegant, polished take on a traditional genre. As Téo Cabanel told the Sniffapalooza magazine, their goal is create

scents in the true French perfume tradition, to rediscover the concept total sophistication. We take the greatest care in offering high quality products. The name Téo Cabanel is a promise of the quality of our essences and the elegance of our bottles and packaging.  Our perfumes deserve the finest natural elements, 100% pure and natural.

For the price, I honestly don’t think you can beat Téo Cabanel for great perfumery with a very classique, elegant feel at a bargain price. It is one of the most unpretentious brands I’ve encountered, with zero flash and a lot of substance. They quietly dedicate themselves to creating high-quality, polished products in the French tradition, and just hope that someone notices. In fact, they seem quite humble about it all.

In the specific case of Meloe, I think if perfume were offered under the Creed or Tom Ford label, people would be falling all over themselves and proclaiming that they had found their new summer scent. It is definitely unisex, versatile, and something you could wear to the office. It is also simple, but it certainly feels richer to me than Tom Ford’s very bland citrus offerings in the new Atelier d’Orient line. And I won’t even start on the issue of Aventus, or some of Hermès’ colognes.

In short, whether you’re looking for year-long freshness, summer in a bottle, or an escape from “the heat of long-awaited summer days,” I definitely recommend that you give Meloe a sniff.   

DETAILS:
All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source:  Téo Cabanel e-store.

All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source: Téo Cabanel e-store.

Cost & Availability: Meloe is an eau de toilette that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size that retails for $70 or €50, or a 100 ml/ 3.4 oz bottle that costs $110 or €80. You can order Meloe directly from the Téo Cabanel website (which also has a French language version), along with a Sample Set of all 7 Cabanel fragrances in 1.5 ml vials for a set price of €8.50. (There is also a 9 ml rollerball of Meloe that costs $28, but that isn’t commonly available except from the company.) In my opinion, the best place to get Meloe right now is also the cheapest: eBay! You can find the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Meloe in the old glass bottles for as low as $50, while the larger 100 ml bottles go for around $75. 

In the U.S.: Téo Cabanel’s U.S. retailer is Luckyscent which now carries four of the Téo Cabanel line, but Meloe is not one of them. The reason is that Téo Cabanel’s U.S. distributor is waiting for summer to bring out Meloe, and I’ll update this post when it does. It was actually extremely difficult for me to find an online vendor (outside of eBay) that currently carries this particular perfume. The Posh Peasant seems to have it, but it’s unclear to me if they are sold out. All their entries have the word “Sold” next to it. For those of you near Minneapolis, there is a store that already carries Meloe, but it does not have an online e-boutique. It is “La Petite Parfumerie” and the phone number is: (952) 475-2212 or you can email at orders@lapetiteparfumerie.com.

Outside the US: In Canada, Cabanel’s website lists Fritsch Fragrances as its primary vendor. In the UK, Téo Cabanel is usually carried at Fortnum & Mason’s, but I don’t see it shown online. Liberty’s sells Meloe in the 100 ml bottle for £75, and ships throughout the EU. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells Meloe for €50 or €80, depending on size. Another European vendor is Natural Skincare Emporium which sells the 50 ml bottle of Meloe for €59. In Denmark, Happel carries the entire Teo Cabanel line, including Meloe. I’ve also read  that the perfumes are available at: the Hotel George V in Paris, Les Galleries Lafayette, Douglas (France, Lithuania, Russia) Kadewe Berlin, Oberpollinger Munich, and Albrecht in Frankfurt. For all other countries or specific cities, you can use the company’s Store Locator guide on their website.

Samples: Meloe is unfortunately not one of the Téo Cabanel scents carried by Surrender to Chance. However, the Posh Peasant Sampler Set which includes 5 of the Téo Cabanel scents, including Meloe and my beloved Alahine, starting at $15 for 1 ml vials. The other option is to order from Téo Cabanel website with their more complete, larger sized sample set that includes the new amber oriental release, Barkhane as well.

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2013 in Review: Best of & Favorites Lists

Source: ronienfoque.com.br

Source: ronienfoque.com.br

The end of the year is almost upon us, so it seems like a good time for a “Year in Review” post with a list of favorites. I can’t say it has been easy for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I always struggle with lists, both in terms of placement and selecting the thing which will take that last spot. For another, I think I may be a little fickle in terms of my favorites, as perfumery can be as much about mood as other subjective factors.

In the case of fragrances that debuted in 2013, it’s been even harder. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the vast majority of the new releases that I tested, and the ones I did enjoy wouldn’t amount to a full ten in number. I’m not going to put something on a list simply and solely to round out the numbers, especially if I was underwhelmed with the scent in question or thought it had some serious problems. Take, for example, Tom Ford‘s Shanghai Lily from the Atelier d’Orient line. It is a scent that I liked the most out of Tom Ford’s various new collections this year, but that is a relative thing, not an absolute thing. Just because I liked it more than the rest of the 2013 Tom Fords doesn’t mean I would classify the scent as one of the best of the year. I certainly wouldn’t include Plum Japonais which I found to be a badly done, distorted copy of my beloved Fille en Aiguilles from Serge Lutens.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Another problem is that I’m not sure I should include one scent that was supposed to be released this year, and which I adored when I got to test it, but whose release was subsequently pushed back until Spring 2014. It is Neela Vermeire‘s Mohur Extrait, the formerly named Mohur Esprit. It would definitely be in my list of top 2013 favorites, and I considered saving it for the Best of 2014. In the end, I’ve cheated by including it here for 2013 with an asterisk next to its name.

In reality, my absolute favorite fragrances came from a wide range of years, but since this is the first year of the blog, everything was technically “new” for the purposes of my reviews. So, I’m going to do two lists or, to be more technically accurate, 2.5 lists: my top fragrances released in 2013, even if the number falls short of ten; then my personal top 10 of the perfumes I covered in 2013, followed by the next 15 for an overall top 25 favorites.

TOP NEW RELEASES OF 2013:

  1. Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    LM Parfums Hard Leather. Lust in the woods. A scent that, despite the “leather” in its name, is really more about dark woods, oud, incense, and sandalwood, than it is about leather. That said, the stunning, lusty leather and animalic musk give Hard Leather the best opening of a fragrance that I’ve tried in years. Pure, utter sex appeal, and lust. Sex in a bottle. An opening that sweeps me off my feet each time I smell it, and a gorgeous drydown as well. The middle stage isn’t particularly my cup of tea, but if one takes the scent as a whole and judges things on the basis of how intensely one wants a full bottle, then Hard Leather has to come in at first place. That said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. For one thing, I think Hard Leather skews very masculine in nature, and even some men may find it excessively dry, dark, or animalic, but I loved it and it is my favorite new fragrance of 2013.

  2. Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and Tweets.seraph.me

    Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture 2013. Source: FlipZone.

    Neela Vermeire Mohur Extrait**  I like the regular Mohur eau de parfum, but Mohur Extrait is profoundly stronger, deeper, and richer. It has a va-va-voom oomph that transforms the pale, quiet, restrained, sometimes excessively delicate rose Mohur into Cinderella at the ball. A Cinderella with a diva’s charisma, and wearing the most opulent ball gown and jewels around. Mohur Extrait is a deep, rich, potent blend of roses, with real Mysore sandalwood, iris, and violets. There is a touch of leather, smoky elemi, and pepper to prevent it from being too dainty or femme, and the whole thing sits on an ambered base that is faintly milky but always infused with that beautiful, rich, creamy Mysore sandalwood. Mohur Extrait is simply beautiful, and a head-turner.  **I’m cheating, as Mohur Extrait’s release has been pushed back until 2014, but dammit, it debuted at the Milan Esxence show, so I’m going to include it in my list of 2013 releases.

  3. Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.eduViktoria Minya Hedonist. A stunningly golden, happy, but refined, sophisticated, lush, floral oriental, Hedonist sparkles and soothes at the same time. It opens with Bourbon-like, boozy, dark honeycombs that are infused with lush peach, heady jasmine, citrus notes and some orange blossom, all perfectly blended in a soft, golden cloud. It eventually turns into a honey, beeswax and vanilla scent that soothes you in its soft sweetness. Whenever I wear it, I feel calmer, more relaxed, like a cat stretching out in the warmth of the sun. Hedonist has a truly classique feel of haute perfumery, but it never feels dated or old-fashioned, in my opinion. It is elegant and opulent without being excessive, heady but perfectly balanced, and sparkles in a way that reminds me both of champagne and the sunniest of skies in the South of France. Truly beautiful, and a stunning debut from Viktoria Minya.
  4. Source: it.forwallpaper.com

    Source: it.forwallpaper.com

    Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. Elfish green and the floor of a fairy forest filled with the essence of nature in a delicate but strong bouquet of oakmoss, wet leaves, mushrooms, herbs, a strip of dark leather taken over by nature’s minted greens, and a touch of balsamic resins. It’s really hard to describe in many ways, as this is not a traditional chypre, and may be the most unusual, otherworldly scent I’ve encountered. Chypre Mousse stopped me in my tracks, made me turn around on my way to the mecca of Serge Lutens to buy my bell jar, and became something I had to have after a mere 15 minutes, further tests or development be damned. Chypre Mousse won’t be for everyone, but those who love it will experience an incredibly potent, extremely green fragrance that lasts an enormous amount of time for such a seemingly delicate, ethereal scent.

  5. Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:  Glamscheck.com

    Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source: Glamscheck.com

    Amouage Fate Woman. Fate Woman is a beautiful chypre-oriental hybrid that starts off as a very restrained, cool, aloof scent that smells of citruses, oakmoss, and cool daffodils. Like shedding a sculptured black dress to reveal the sensuous lingerie underneath, Fate Woman turns warmer, more opulent, and sensuous with roses, jasmine, animalic notes, and creamy vanilla that is almost gourmand-like at times. The sensual, sophisticated heart turns warmer and more golden as the fragrance ends on labdanum amber, vanilla, and soft musk in a creamy blend that feels like cuddles after a heated night. I’m not a fan of the soapiness that appears at one point, but Fate Woman is a beautiful scent that starts off as controlled restraint before ending in warm abandon.

  6. Mary Cassat. "Mother Playing With Child."

    Mary Cassat. “Mother Playing With Child.”

    Neela Vermeire Ashoka. Ashoka is a creamy, milky fig and sandalwood fragrance with incense, peppered woods, iris, and other subtle tonalities. It has an enormously comforting vibe that feels like a mother’s warm embrace. It is not my favorite NVC creation, as it is far from my personal style which is much better suited to Neela Vermeire’s bolder, spicier creations. However, it is very well done, and an elegant fragrance that is definitely one of the top releases of the year as a whole. If any of the other NVC perfumes have felt too intense, too oriental, complicated, or fiery, then Ashoka will be for you.

  7. Source: ambafrance-kz.org

    Source: ambafrance-kz.org

    Lys Epona Lys Epona. Lys Epona is from a new French perfume house by the same name and sponsored by Jovoy Paris. It is a beautiful scent that caught my attention from the moment I sniffed it at Jovoy and, despite its sillage flaws and longevity problems, it is very well-done, extremely evocative, and has a very vintage vibe. It is also original, taking delicate white lilies, and infusing them with dark, animalic leather, and grassy, outdoorsy elements ranging from hay to daffodils, grass, and amber. The scent is supposed to replicate the dance between a courtesan and a Hussar cavalry officer in France’s elite Republican Guard. For me, however, it conjured up a Celtic princess astride a large white stallion, garbed in a softly burnished, slightly musky, brown leather cuirass, and draped with white lilies. Her skirt is made of hay, wheat and grass; her skin is coated in ambered oil; and her long hair braided with daffodils that matched the flowers in her horse’s mane. Truly, very well done, and the vintage, antique bottles from the 1930s are a perfect accompaniment to the scent.

  8. "Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

    Photo: LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within.)

    Tauer Perfumes PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. Andy Tauer’s PHI is a deep, spicy apricot-rose confection with rich vanilla mousse, dark green elements that almost feel mossy, and oriental flourishes ranging from tobacco to cinnamon and ambergris. It’s far from your usual rose scent, and I’d argue that the deep, dark flower isn’t even the main star of the show at times. PHI is a vibrant, sophisticated Oriental-hybrid with the faintest gourmand touches in a rich blend that that even those who don’t particularly like rose fragrances might enjoy.

  9. Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Parfums Retro Grand Cuir. Contradictions and paradoxes lie at the heart of Grand Cuir, which explores leather from one end of the spectrum to the other under the most civilized and sophisticated of veneers. It starts as raw leather coated with birch tar and pungent herbs before turning into the expensive, new black leather of a biker’s jacket, then burnished, softly aged leather with amber, before ending up as the most refined of creamy Italian suedes infused with amber, lavender, and skin-like musk. It’s a journey that is at once animalic and aldehydic, soapy clean, beginning as a masculine scent that is an aromatic, herbal fougère with leather, before it transforms into something very different. And the whole thing is done sotto voce, with the quiet firmness of a confident man who doesn’t believe he has to be flashy and loud to draw attention to himself. Very well done, and very refined.

MY PERSONAL TOP 10 FOR 2013:

Perfume reviewing is subjective by nature, but whittling down those personal choices into a favorites list is even more so. No-one ever agrees fully on a Top Ten list, whether it’s for movies, television shows, food, or some other category, and perfume is no different. So, I don’t expect any of you to agree with everything or even some of the things on this list, but these are my absolute favorites out of the modern, non-vintage scents available on the market and that I’ve tried this year.

I’ve struggled for hours over the placement and order, because I can be fickle and prefer some scents over others depending on mood. After re-testing a number of these, I think I have the order set, more or less, with the caveat that there may be a standard deviation of +1 or -1 for the fragrances listed. In other words, on one day, a fragrance coming in at #4 may be at #3 or #5 from one day to the next, but not really more than that. Then again, I can be a little fickle, ranking things is an utter nightmare, and who knows if this would be the precise order in two months from now? I did my best for now, however, so this is the list thus far.

  1. LM Parfums Hard Leather. As noted in my description above, I think this is sexy as hell. I’ll spare you additional heated descriptions, as I quite lose my cool whenever it comes to this fragrance.
  2. Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

    Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

    Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. At first sniff, Fille en Aiguilles is Christmas in a bottle, from the pine tree before the fire to sugar-plum treats. Look closer, though, and you’ll find Fille en Aiguilles is really all about the frankincense. Spiralling swirls of dark smoke weave its way around the pine, the crushed needles on the forest floor, and the plummy fruits infused with ginger and spices. There is warmth and sweetness, despite the chill in the snowy forest outside. From start to finish, Fille en Aiguilles is my favorite scent from my favorite house. To my amusement, each and every time that I’ve taken perfume samples to share with friends, Fille en Aiguilles is consistently the one that men fall for. The last time I sprayed Fille en Aiguilles on someone, there were precisely 6 women sniffing his neck, his arms, and his chest. I practically had to fight him from grabbing my travel decant there and then for himself. Yet, Fille en Aiguilles is wholly unisex in nature; out of all the people I know who wear it, the vast majority are women.  

  3. Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

    Source: Warren Photographic at WarrenPhotographic.co.uk

    Puredistance M. A masterpiece from Roja Dove, M has a citric chypre opening reminiscent of Hermès’ vintage Bel Ami that turns to a rich, smooth leather that briefly smells like the most expensive car seats. Soon, the leather is burnished by cognac, becoming soft, rich, and oiled with honeyed roses, jasmine, spices, and beeswax. At times, it feels a little like Serge LutensCuir Mauresque (see below at #11), but the leather phase doesn’t dominate the scent. In my opinion, the true essence of M is a molten, oriental labdanum amber. Simply stunning, from start to finish, and one of my favorite fragrances. I believe that M is unisex in nature, thanks to the florals and the honeyed amber drydown with cinnamon-dusted vanilla, but it will depend on one’s yardstick. Those who love pure florals, powdery scents, or gourmands will probably consider M to skew masculine. 

  4. Source: Huffington Post.

    Source: Huffington Post.

    Neela Vermeire Trayee. Someone once called Trayee a “force of nature,” in a slightly overwhelmed, stunned tone, and I think that’s quite true. The Bertrand Duchaufour creation is fiery, spicy, smoky, dusty, and woody, dominated by genuine, almost rare Mysore sandalwood in copious amounts that runs through the fragrance from top to bottom like a luscious red-gold vein. There are also two different kinds of Jasmine absolute, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, frankincense, oud, amber, and a plethora of other notes, all superbly blended into a bouquet that is dry, dusty, spicy, sweet, and smoky. Trayee is intense, no doubt about it, but in its later development, it loses its dry, dusty, spiced smokiness, softens and turns warm with smooth, creamy sandalwood, and deep, slightly smoky amber. Trayee is a tempestuous, stormy, fiery, rich mix that I find utterly mesmerizing. If the perfume were a woman, she’d probably be the famous, legendary diva, Maria Callas, with a touch of the young Sophia Loren in all her hot-heated, Italian ways and a dash of the fierce Mistral wind. It is definitely a force of nature that evokes India in all its multi-faceted, complicated splendour.

  5. Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Amouage Tribute attar. Perhaps the smokiest of the smoky greats, Tribute reminds me of Darth Vader’s perfect rose, a rose thoroughly infused with darkness and smoke. It’s utterly spectacular, though the variations in batch numbers is troublesome, leading some versions to be out-of-balance and with such disproportionate smokiness that a handful of people have reported experiencing an almost ashtray-like note. Still, the version I tested was magnificent, and makes Tribute my favorite Amouage scent thus far.

  6. Source: 123rf.com photos.

    Source: 123rf.com photos.

    Chanel Coromandel (Les Exclusifs). My favorite, modern Chanel scent is Coromandel, hands down and by a landslide. It’s probably no surprise, as it is made by my favorite perfumer, the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake who normally works with Serge Lutens. Coromandel begins on an intense frankincense note before turning into a milky Chai tea dusted with white chocolate powder and infused with deep, mellow patchouli. It is my favorite sort of patchouli with its nutty, smoky, woody, spicy, ambered warmth, instead of that vile purple, fruited, syrupy, fruit-chouli. The whole mix is perhaps the most refined, addictive, creamy patchouli-incense fragrance I have encountered. If I could take a bath in Coromandel nightly, I would, because I find something endlessly soothing and indulgent about its ambered, golden warmth.

  7. Source: layoutsparks.com

    Source: layoutsparks.com

    Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir. Nothing in Fourreau Noir should make it a fragrance that I would like, as I normally despise lavender with a fiery passion. I’m actually quite phobic about the note, and the mere mention of the word makes me shudder. But there is magic in Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake’s touch, and the two wizards created the most beautiful scent imaginable. It helps that Fourreau Noir is ultimately not about the lavender at all, in my opinion, but about the incense. From the very first moment, until the fragrance’s end in a cloud of spiced, mellow, patchouli infused with amber and vanilla, the dark tendrils of black smoke weave their way around you. It also helps that the dried lavender transforms into creamy lavender ice-cream with almonds. The real gem in Fourreau Noir, however, is that incense and ambered-patchouli cocoon at the heart of the scent. It says something when a lavender-phobe can love a fragrance with a note they despise; it says more when they go out of their way to purchase an expensive bell jar of it. Which I did….  

  8. Source: materialicious.com

    Source: materialicious.com

    Téo Cabanel Alahine. A Moroccan souk filled with spices under a turquoise sky. Sumptuous, dark, red roses concentrated to their headiest essence. Golden amber as far as the eye can see with rich, dark, toffee’d caramel, labdanum amber. A powerfully start of incredibly booziness, but a finish that is pure, vintage Bal à Versailles without the skank or dirtiness. Alahine is a fiery, spicy, incredibly complex, oriental monster that may require a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to love. Spray on too much, she’ll blow out your nose, or traumatize you. Don’t give her enough time or tests, and you’ll be misled into thinking she is all booziness, Moroccan spices, and smoke. It seems to require four tests to understand Alahine, and not be overpowered by her intense, smoldering start. It can take time to see that her real nature is the most sophisticated of slinky black dresses, cut low and deep, with a va-va-voom glamour that is opulent, French classicism at its best. Yet, Alahine ends as a really plush, soft, golden, slightly powdered warmth that is as rich as a cashmere, camel overcoat. Don’t let the roses fool you; Alahine is unisex, and I know a number of very masculine men who love its boozy, spiced fieriness deeply.

  9. Source: e-boolean.org

    Source: e-boolean.org

    Dior Mitzah (La Collection Privée). A start of dark incense that belongs in a Chinese temple, followed by an ode to labdanum amber in all its richness. Labdanum is the true form of amber, and Mitzah highlights all of its facets from honeyed, toffee’d, slightly dirty, occasionally leathery, and deeply warm in an incredibly refined blend that is also infused with smoke, roses, and patchouli. It’s a wave of richness that made Mitzah much loved, and I find it utterly baffling that Dior decided to discontinue one of its most popular scents. However, you can still find Mitzah online and at Dior boutiques while supplies last, so if you haven’t tried the scent and you love amber, I urge you to get a sample as soon as you can.

  10. Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. (See above. Or, better yet, read the review, as this is one scent that is very hard to describe.) 

THE NEXT 15 FOR THE LIST OF THE TOP 25.

  1. Source: hamillgallery.com

    Source: hamillgallery.com

    Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque. Cuir Mauresque is a shamefully under-appreciated fragrance, in my opinion. It’s one of my favorite leather scents, and, apparently, Serge Lutens’ own choice of perfume to wear. He and Christopher Sheldrake focus on taming animalic leather by infusing it first with clove-studded oranges and spices, then hefty amounts of heady jasmine absolute and orange blossoms. He uses powder to cut through the animalic skank and civet, keeping it perfectly balanced, while also weaving in dark incense, styrax, cedar and ambered resins. The resulting combination resembles Bal à Versailles at times, and oozes pure sex appeal, in my opinion. Cuir Mauresque is wholly unisex in nature. Some men find the leather too powdery, while some women find the skank to be a little too much. It will depend on your tastes. I’ve started using my parents — aka The Ultimate Perfume Snobs who taught me about perfumery to begin with– as my yardstick for other people’s perception of “skank” and leather. My father who finds Hard Leather to be too animalic and “dirty” has Cuir Mauresque as his second favorite leather scent after Puredistance M. In contrast, my mother (who adores Hard Leather and doesn’t find it to be “dirty” at all) thinks Cuir Mauresque is feminine sex appeal and utterly addictive. Your yardstick may vary, but if you love leather fragrances and some skank, then you really should try Cuir Mauresque.

  2. Viktoria Minya Hedonist. (See above.)
  3. "Abstract streams of gold." Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

    “Abstract streams of gold.” Photo: Jason Tockey. Site: jstimages.wordpress.com

    Profumum Roma Ambra Aurea. Profumum’s ode to goldenness focuses not on amber, but on ambergris in all its deep, rich, salty, musky glory. It’s a very different matter and aroma, as my review tries to make clear. Ambra Aurea is the thickest, most golden, opaque, intense, salty-caramel amber fragrance around, a veritable deluge of one note heightened to its most concentrated essence with 43%-46% perfume oils. It’s a linear, non-stop soliflore that coats your skin for hours on end, emitting a slight smokiness from incense. There are strong undertones of labdanum amber that are, alternatively, nutty, toffee’d, honeyed, faintly dirty, and almost chocolate-y at times. In its final stage, Ambra Aurea smells of amber and incense with beeswax, saltiness, and sweetness. Lovely on its own, and lovely when used as a layering base, Ambra Aurea is the single richest amber on the market. It blows all the others out of the water, in my opinion, especially Serge LutensAmbre Sultan which also has a labdanum focus but which is like water in comparison.  

  4. Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. A seductive floral oriental, Sensual Orchid is centered on the eponymous flower. On my skin, the orchid is a delicate, pastel, floral note that feels as crystal clear, clean, bright and sparkling as a bell rung at the top of the Swiss alps. It smells of lilies, peonies, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, vanilla — all wrapped into one in a cool, clean, crystal liquidity. It is followed by the richest ylang-ylang; custardy vanilla; a hint of smoky woods; bitter, green-white almonds; and boozy cognac fruitedness. The final result is incredibly narcotic, dramatic, opulent, and heady. For me, Sensual Orchid is all about dressing to undress, and to seduce. It is a scent that definitely skews feminine in nature, though I know a number of men to love it as well.

  5. George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    Jardins d’Ecrivains George. Feminine orange blossoms turned masculine in an ode to George Sand. The potent flowers are transformed into something leathered, dark, and faintly dirty with tobacco, resins, and more. From a mentholated beginning with neroli, George slowly takes on paper, coffee, and tobacco notes, followed by heliotrope, myrrh and Peru Balsam in a play of hardness and softness, lightness and dark, masculine and feminine. Leathered orange blossoms is quite an original take on the usually indolic flowers, and I was taken enough by George to buy a full bottle. Some find the scent far too masculine for a woman, which rather defeats the whole point of a fragrance meant to reflect the particular character of George Sand. I think it’s unisex, though you have to like your neroli and orange blossoms with a dark, dirty edge.

  6. Source: 123rf.com

    Source: 123rf.com

    Arabian Oud Kalemat. Kalemat is a fantastically affordable, easy, rich oriental centered on a honeyed amber with tobacco, incense, and dry cedar tonalities. It opens with dark berries that smell like blueberry purée, infused with honey and incense, then a rich, deep Damascena rose joins the party. Eventually, Kalemat turns into a non-powdery, more concentrated version of Serge Lutens’ tobacco-y Chergui with touches of Hermes’ Ambre Narguilé, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, and, for some, Amouage’s Interlude Man. There is a subtle whiff of oud underlying the mix, along with dried cedar. Heady and potent at first, Kalemat becomes a sheer cloud that envelopes you in a golden haze of sweetness, dryness, woodiness and incense. It lasts for hours and hours, smells incredibly expensive, and is highly affordable. If you love ambers, tobacco-incense fragrances, or sweet scent like any of those mentioned above (including Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille), then you really should give Kalemat a sniff.

  7. Arabian Horse tumblr_m7dtkdCrFl1rwt5gqo1_500Amouage Jubilation XXV (Men). I love Jubilation XXV, and always regret that it has very little longevity on my wonky skin. What a beautiful opening! Dark oranges infused with incense, balsamic resins, cedar, patchouli, ambergris and a faint touch of oud in a deep, rich blend that often makes me think of HermèsElixir de Merveilles, but better. A few hours later, Jubilation XXV takes you to the wintery outdoors, with a large stone campfire amidst a dark, dry Guaiac forest, a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is a slightly medicinal, synthetic, pink band-aids undertone to the oud, but the fragrance is really well done as a whole. If Jubilation XXV lasted on my skin beyond a mere 5.5 hours, it would be ranked much higher.   
  8. Painting by Holly Anderson. "Spherical Romance Art Set" via Artbarrage.com. (Website link embedded within.)

    Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via Artbarrage.com. (Website link embedded within.)

    Nasomatto Black Afgano. In essence, Black Afgano is a super-concentrated, richer, deeper version of YSL‘s fabled M7 in its original, vintage form. It’s a smoky plethora of darkness from the dark, quasi/fake “hashish” elements and cherry-cola labdanum amber with all its nutty, toffee’d undertones, to the incense, the oud (supplemented by Norlimbanol), leather tonalities, and resinous sweetness. I didn’t enjoy the synthetic nuances to the oud or the Norlimbanol, but I liked the fragrance as a whole. It seems Black Afgano may have been reformulated to dilute some of its super smokiness and render the fragrance more sweet, as it wasn’t the dark monster of brutish repute that I had expected. If it has changed, then perhaps the reformulation merely makes it more unisex. Those looking for a version of vintage M7 with deeper potency, sillage, and longevity, should definitely check out Black Afgano.   

  9. Source: Wallpapers4desktop.net

    Source: Wallpapers4desktop.net

    Serge Lutens De Profundis. A hauntingly delicate, evocative floral that captures the essence of flowers in purple twilight and feels like a call to Spring. It opens with its core note, chrysanthemums. that have been blended with violets, green notes, white lilies, and sweet, wet earth. Lurking at the edges are peonies, chamomile flowers, incense, a dash of light roses, a whisper of purple lilacs, and some ISO E Super. The flowers feel incredibly dewy and light, almost tender and soft. It is as though they are just waking up, releasing the airiest of delicate floral scents. De Profundis is, at the start, a cool fragrance that is almost chilly in its delicacy. As time passes, however, the floral aroma becomes stronger, more robust, almost as if the flowers have fully bloomed in the sunlight. The dew has evaporated, the petals unfurled, and the meadow floor comes to life with earthy softness, light smoke, and every bit of green around. De Profundis is a bit too watery for my personal tastes, and I’m generally not one for pure florals, but it’s hard not to be swayed by its pale, ethereal delicacy. It is really a hauntingly elegant scent.    

  10. Source: YouTube.com

    Source: YouTube.com

    Dior Ambre Nuit (La Collection Privée). If Mitzah was Dior’s ode to labdanum amber, then Ambre Nuit must be its homage to ambergris. On my skin, Ambre Nuit is smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from pepper and a little sweet from patchouli. It is laced with black incense, creating a mix that evokes parts of Chanel’s Coromandel. There is something extremely sensuous about Ambre Nuit which often makes me think of the Argentinian tango. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose never features much on my skin, though it does on others. On me, the patchouli is more prominent with its spicy, sweet, often chocolate-y mellowness. It’s a beautiful combination, and my second favorite scent from Dior’s refined Privée line.

  11. Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): "In the Harem."

    Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): “In the Harem.”

    Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour Le Soir. Described by some as beastly, by others as “dirty,” Absolue Pour Le Soir is my favorite from MFK, but how you respond to it will depend very much on your personal yardstick for honey, cumin, and animalic notes. For me, Absolue conjures up the heart of a Turkish harem besieged by musky, leather-armoured warriors. They bang on the sandalwood doors which open to release spirals of incense, as honey-swathed concubines approach to tempt with deep roses and indolic ylang-ylang. Absolue Pour Le Soir begins as an instant war between warm human flesh, the mysteries of floral-draped women, sweet honeyed intimacy, animalic leather, and feral, musky masculinity. As if tamed, the fragrance later softens to a creamy, spiced sandalwood infused with honey, dark resins, frankincense, and a dollop of roses. It’s lovely, though I’ve found myself holding it at more of a distance these days, perhaps because of the sharpness of the honey which is a core element of the scent. Still, if you want a truly skanky Oriental with the most golden of ambered hues and endless layers of complexity, you should rush to try Absolue Pour Le Soir.

  12. Amouage Fate Woman. (See description above.)
  13. Source: wallpapersnatural.com

    Source: wallpapersnatural.com

    Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chyprée. I’m generally not one for rose scents, but Andy Tauer’s Une Rose Chyprée is an exception. It’s a spectacular chypre-oriental hybrid that features an autumnal, ambered rose nestled in the mossiest of green cocoons. The fragrance swirls all around you in a veiled shimmer of greens, garnet red, earthiness, and mossy trees — all rolled into one. This is a green rose whose petals were crushed into the damp, wet soil of the forest floor; a rose that lies nestled amidst fresh, just slightly mineralized, faintly bittersweet mosses; a rose infused with the concentrated essence of a thousand dark green, slightly spicy, peppered leaves, then sprinkled with hints of alternatively tart and zesty citruses. It is a rose that is fruited, but spiced with cinnamon, and wrapped with the tendrils of black incense. Some chypres can be haughty, cold, aloof numbers that keep you at a distance. Une Rose Chyprée is almost a coquettish chypre that beckons you with a sweet smile, despite the emeralds and rubies glowing around her elegant, rosy throat. If it didn’t have an enormous amount of ISO E Super and didn’t give me a ferocious, piercing headache, I would definitely be tempted to buy a full bottle. Nonetheless, it’s an absolutely beautiful scent, and my favorite from Andy Tauer.  

  14. Tauer Perfumes’ PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. (See description above.)
  15. Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Puredistance Opardu. I’m not the sort to be deeply moved by pure florals, but Opardu has one of the most beautiful openings in the genre that I’ve encountered in years. It almost gave me whiplash as I smelled the bouquet of lilacs — vast fields of purple with a scent that was concentrated, pure, and incredibly delicate. It was followed by violets, tuberose, jasmine, lush gardenia and heliotrope in a stunning mix. It is pure, unadulterated, classique, haute elegance that calls back to the golden age of perfumery. On my skin, unfortunately, that spectacular start lasts only a brief hour before it fades, and then sheer, vaguely floral powderiness takes over. If there were a way to capture and retain that beginning, Opardu would undoubtedly be in my Top 10. As it is, I think it’s a beautifully feminine fragrance with Puredistance’s signature touch of great refinement, elegance, and luxuriousness.

So, that’s my Year in Review. I may end up having a separate post next week that divides fragrances into categories, from Ambers and Leathers, to Floral Orientals, Pure Florals, Gourmands, and the like. I’m still undecided, as I know it will take forever to compile, and some genres may only have one or two entries in it. Others may have far too many to choose from. In case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to focus on Orientals, and I rarely stick my toe into such fields as foodie gourmands, crisp colognes, or aldehydic fragrances. Plus, many Orientals are either hybrids or have two or more dominant elements that can make the scent fall into different categories. As a result, I’m not sure how useful or precise such a list will be, but we shall see.

As the year draws to a close, I want to wish you all Happy Holidays. I hope that the upcoming year brings you endless joy, peace, prosperity, good health, success, love and laughter. Thank you for staying on this journey with me, and here’s to a great 2014!

Téo Cabanel Barkhane: Mitzah’s Brother

Close your eyes, and imagine a river. It’s heavy, swollen with rain, and moving incredibly fast. It would be a “white-water rapids” except this water is thick, dense, chewy, and powerful. It’s not even really water at all, but more like volcanic lava flow; a turgid, toffee thickness of labdanum and patchouli, a mighty force of smoldering, spiced, slightly smoky blacks, browns, and reds that are lightly flecked with bronzed gold. The heady, potent force field of Mitzah-esque labdanum calls you like a siren. You get on a canoe, and shoot forward on the fast-moving, rich, toffee river with incredible speed and power.

Source: natures-desktop.com

Source: natures-desktop.com

Then, suddenly, abruptly, almost impossibly, after less than two hours….. you slooooow to a crawl. The chewy, dense, smoldering river water starts to dry up around you, becoming thinner, lighter, softer. Before you can blink, it’s turned into to a trickle, evaporating around you, until you’re left stranded in the middle of a dry, leathery riverbed with only the smallest pool of amber around you. A pool so sheer and so soft that you’re almost convinced it’s not actually there, and are completely shocked when you detect faint traces of it every hour when you check.

Source: grist.org

Source: grist.org

As time passes, the disbelief grows at the severity of the contrasts, and by the mere fact that this seemingly invisible drop of water actually still remains. As night falls, there is no more amber and you are alone with only by the faintest whiff of animalic leather. Then, even that remaining puddle of water vanishes, and you’re left longing for the mighty river that began your journey so many hours earlier.

Teo Cabanel logoThat story is the nutshell tale of my journey with the brand-new release from Téo Cabanel Parfums. When a small, hugely under-appreciated, relatively unknown perfume house makes one of your favorite fragrances in the world, you tend to root for it, and want to love all its creations. If the house comes with a fascinating history — complete with the notorious style icon, the Duchess of Windsor, as its most ardent fan — and if you’re a history fanatic, then you are even more compelled to want to like it. The reality, however, is that not all perfumes are created equal. And some fall short of the glory set by their siblings. That is the case with Barkhane, a lovely fragrance from the same house that created my beloved Alahine, but hardly a match for the latter’s potent, fierce, boozy, and utterly spectacular, sophisticated, spicy smolder.

The Duchess of Windsor

The Duchess of Windsor

Barkhane is an eau de parfum from the French perfume house, Téo Cabanel. It is a very old brand that was founded in 1893 in Algeria by Théodore Cabanel, a talented, very prolific perfumer who moved to Paris in 1908 where he developed well over 150 different perfume formulae. He fast came to the attention of high society, and became a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor — the woman for whom King Edward VIII famously gave up the British throne. In fact, she refused to be without two of Cabanel’s fragrances (Julia and Yasmina), ordering bottles in massive quantities, and Cabanel became her official perfumer.

Unfortunately, over time, the house faded away, but it was essentially reborn in 2003 under the direction of Caroline Illacqua who had a distant connection to Cabanel’s daughter. Illacqua brought in the perfumer, Jean-Francois Lattya very famous “nose” who created YSL for Men, YSL‘s Jazz, Givenchy III, Van Cleef & Arpel‘s Tsar and, allegedly, Drakkar Noir as well. (If so, I assume he worked alongside Pierre Wargnye who is usually credited with that famous men’s cologne). Latty now works solely as the in-house perfumer for Téo Cabanel.

Barkhane in the 50 ml bottle. Source: Téo Cabanel website.

Barkhane in the 50 ml bottle. Source: Téo Cabanel website.

This week, the two released Barkhane, an eau de parfum that is the first of the Cabanel line to include oud. The company describes the perfume (and explains its name) as follows:

Rich, warm and mysterious, Barkhane borrows its name from the smooth, velvety dunes which gently ripple under powerful desert winds. Barkhane owes its refined elegance to the very finest ingredients. All at once powerful and subtle, it develops its own fascinating uniqueness.

The press release documents describe the fragrance as a “woody-chypre,” which I find quite odd as Barkhane has the most oriental notes and smell imaginable. According to the description on Téo Cabanel’s website and on Fragrantica, Barkhane’s notes include:

bergamot, labdanum, Indonesian patchouli, geranium, cumin, curry tree, vetiver, oud, myrrh, tonka bean, vanilla and musk.

Mitzah. Source: Fragrantica.

Mitzah. Source: Fragrantica.

I sprayed Barkhane on my skin, and my response was instantaneous: I actually cried out aloud, “Mitzah!” Then, I sniffed the vial, sniffed my skin again, and almost did a happy dance. The first line on my note pad is: “Mitzah, Mitzah, Mitzah!” For those of you unaware of the name, Mitzah is one of Dior‘s elite Privée line of fragrances and a huge cult hit with a very passionate following. Or, rather, I should say, it was, since the imbeciles at Dior suddenly decided to discontinue it for reasons that no sane person (including people who work at Dior) can fathom. Mitzah is one of my favorite perfumes, still available at some Dior boutiques and Dior online, but the remaining stock won’t last forever, and one day, it will be nothing more than a ridiculously priced hot commodity on eBay. So, as you can imagine, I was thrilled that there may be an alternative out there should my giant bottle ever dry up.

Source: HuffingtonPost.com

Source: HuffingtonPost.com

Barkhane opens like Mitzah on steroids. No two ways about it. It has some of Alahine’s explosive, nuclear opening, but with the Mitzah aroma. Could there really be greater joy? When you sniff the vial, it’s all roses and labdanum, but the opening burst on the skin is purely the labdanum. It feels like a tidal wave of brown, nutty, leathery, sweet toffee with an almost caramelized undertone and richness. It’s immediately followed by incense smoke, and dark, chewy, spiced, real patchouli.

Then, the spices appear. There is a heaping teaspoon of sweetened curry, with just the merest dash of dry, dusty cumin. There is nothing sweaty about the mixture, and absolutely no trace of body odor. It also doesn’t smell like food or actual Indian curry dishes. The spices are blended seamlessly into Barkhane, never feeling very noticeable in a heavy, distinctive way, and really smelling more like the dry dustiness surrounding a spice merchant in a Moroccan souk or bazaar. Even if they weren’t so well-blended in the fragrance, the simple fact is that there is little that could possibly trump that powerful wave of labdanum toffee and slightly smoky patchouli.

Source: hdwallpaperstop.com

Source: hdwallpaperstop.com

Other notes flit about Barkhane’s edges. There is a bitter citrus note like the slightly sour peel of a lemon rind that has been dried. A subtle hint of woody, equally dried vetiver pops up in tiny doses. Underneath the heavy top notes, there are also subtle flecks of geranium’s greenness, some golden musk, and a sliver of vanilla. The geranium is the most interesting thing to me because, at first sniff on the skin, Barkhane differs from Mitzah in not having that undercurrent of rose. But it is the oddest thing: if you smell the vial, you definitely smell roses under the labdanum amber. And, on the skin, the same thing slowly starts to appear. It has to be the geranium whose flowers can often have a spicy, rose-adjacent, rich red smell. In short, something about the combination of the geranium and the patchouli seems to have recreated the aroma of deep, ruby-red roses in Barkhane, thereby completing the similarity to Mitzah.

Source: Huffingtonpost.com

Source: Huffingtonpost.com

Even if I didn’t know and love Mitzah, I would adore Barkhane’s opening. It’s a chewy, spicy, smoky fragrance that is absolutely stunning. The sweetness is perfectly balanced by the dry spices and the suggestion of woodiness. Speaking of which, to my nose, there is absolutely no “oud” that ever appears in Barkhane. There is a definite dry woodiness underlying the fragrance, but it’s wholly amorphous and lacking in distinction to me. It’s probably the subtlest part of the fragrance as a whole, because Barkhane’s real source of dryness are the spices and incense.

At first, Barkhane is massively potent. In that way, it is like all the Téo Cabanel fragrances that I’ve tried thus far (Alahine & Oha), but it’s not quite as ferocious as Alahine can be. That is a fragrance that is much better with less, especially as a heavy application can completely and utterly blow out your nose at first sniff. (It did to me the very first time I tried it.) To give you an idea of the potency of some Cabanel fragrances, my parents each applied a small dab of Alahine in solid form, and I could smell them almost across the whole length of the house. And even up a flight! (Alahine is unisex, by the way, and found an immediate fan in my father.) Barkhane doesn’t quite pack the same nuclear punch as Alahine in its opening minutes, but it certainly tries. And it’s definitely much more powerful than Mitzah at the start.

ApothCab2Thirty minutes in, Barkhane unfurls and blooms into the loveliest, deep, dark labdanum amber with a floral undertone. It really smells like that heady, powerful, concentrated, dark rose note that Téo Cabanel loves so much and which is probably their signature. The curry note is also starting to become more prominent. It is dusty, evoking an old apothecary’s cabinet from centuries past, a cabinet whose wooden drawers carry the lingering traces of spice and time. The patchouli continues to be forceful, and the smoke seems to have increased, adding yet another subtle dose of dryness to the nutty, slightly dirty, very toffee-smelling amber.

50 minutes in, Barkhane starts to change in weight, texture, and feel. It becomes softer, tamer, milder, dropping quickly in its heaviness, projection, and power. Now, it hovers only 3 inches above the skin, a fact that should tell you something about its opening minutes. While that is still very strong, the more significant fact is that Barkhane feels much thinner than it did at its start. It’s now more like darkened silk, rather than an opaque river of black, viscous, dense resin. The perfume continues to turn more sheer — and, then, suddenly, it drops like the wind.

Source: scenicreflections.com

Source: scenicreflections.com

Ninety minutes into its development, Barkhane is suddenly a skin scent. From a powerful Saharan sandstorm, it’s become a veritable puff of air — and it’s a shockingly fast transformation. Barkhane is now the sheerest glaze of dark, toffee’d labdanum, infused with patchouli, spices and incense. It feels amorphous, intangible, elusive, and likely to slip away at any moment. What happened?! Every 20 minutes, I sniff my arm in the expectation that Barkhane has completely vanished. My nose is right on the skin, and, at times, I have to practically inhale to detect anything beyond the amber, but it didn’t die. My notes are filled with time calculations, and the disbelieving words: “still there.” By the end of the 3rd hour, I wrote “almost all gone.” I was utterly mystified. To have that degree of drastic change is not something I’ve experienced often.

Photo: Heather A. Riggs, available at her Etsy store, ShyPhotog. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: Heather A. Riggs, available at her Etsy store, ShyPhotog. (Direct website link embedded within photo.)

Even more bewildering is the fact that Barkhane seems to have come back to life, albeit in the sheerest, most translucent manner imaginable. Hour after hour, it hung on as a labdanum-patchouli-incense fragrance. To my complete disbelief, Barkhane actually seemed to get stronger around the start of the 8th hour!! It was still a skin scent, but easier to detect. I’ve never been anosmic to amber, especially not to labdanum, so I can’t explain it, but I’m currently at the end of a second full test and the same situation is unfolding. Crazily enough, Barkhane lasted just over 11.75 hours on me. In its final hour, it turned completely leathery with an animalic, musky edge that almost bordered on the subtly urinous, but not quite. The amber warmth remained, adding a faint glow of warmth, but Barkhane was primarily a nebulous, vague, dry, animalic leather fragrance that lingered in gauzy patches that were scattered across the skin.

In the end, Barkhane’s long duration is consistent with the other Téo Cabanel fragrances that I’ve tried, but the sillage issue is quite new to me. I was really convinced that Barkhane was about to die at the end of the third hour! Making matters more bewildering is that I had actually sprayed quite a lot of Barkhane, at least by my particular Téo Cabanel standards: 3 sprays that were very big and full-sized due to the large nozzle. For this generally intense line of fragrances, that is a lot for a starting test! (Do not ever try that with Alahine, for example, at least until you get used to it.) In my second test, I used 4 and 1/2 large sprays, but the situation followed the same path with only a fractional increase in the time that it took Barkhane to turn to gauze.

Barkhane is too new for there to be reviews out in the blogosphere, but I went to Fragrantica in hopes that someone may have shared their experience there. They haven’t, but I was relieved to see some early votes in the longevity and sillage sections:

    • One person gave Barkhane the lowest longevity rating which is “Weak,” and which is defined as “1h – 2h.” However, two people chose “long lasting” which is defined as “7h – 12h.”
    • For projection, 2 people gave it the lowest rating at “Soft,” while one person chose “Moderate.”

I need to make something clear: sillage is a personal preference. Some people don’t want fragrances that howl at the moon, and that’s fine. Mitzah has discreet sillage, too, but the difference is that Mitzah becomes unobtrusive after about 5 or 6 hours! The comparative difference with Barkhane — and the speed of the changes in so many areas as weight, feel, and projection — can’t be ignored. More to the point, when it feels almost certain that a fragrance is about to die after a mere 3 hours, then it has to be discussed, regardless of what the end result is or one’s personal tastes. Judging by the very early Fragrantica votes, there is clearly someone out there for whom Barkhane didn’t die at the end of the 3rd hour, but even sooner and after a mere 1-2 hours. I have to wonder if sillage played a role in that result; if a perfume’s projection seems virtually nonexistent at times, then people who can’t sniff voraciously at their arm every 20 minutes may well conclude that their perfume has vanished.

On the other hand, early votes also demonstrate that Barkhane had great longevity on some people — and it does. So, if you’re looking for something like Mitzah that is even more discreet and intimate, then you’ve got to try Barkhane. In the ways that perhaps matter most, it’s a knock-out. It’s a sophisticated amber that has been done with great finesse and, as always with Téo Cabanel, with extremely high-quality ingredients.

All in all, only one thing stops Barkhane from getting high ratings across the board. Ignoring that one (significant) issue, Barkhane is really lovely: a heady, sweet, spicy, smoky, slightly leathery, nutty and toffee’d amber with lovely decorative flourishes in an incredibly chic, smooth, seamless, refined bouquet. It’s sexy, and seductive in its dark, smoldering glow, but also comforting in its warmth and softness. It would work well on all genders, and it would be perfect for a very conservative office environment (although I would still be careful with the quantity that you apply, given the potency of Barkhane’s first hour). If you’re not looking for the mighty Saharan wind, but the lightest, sheerest, most intimate whisper of darkened amber, then you should definitely try Barkhane. 

DISCLOSURE: My sample of Barkhane was courtesy of Hypoluxe. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source:  Téo Cabanel e-store.

All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source: Téo Cabanel e-store.

Cost & Availability: Barkhane is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size that costs $130 or €95. It is also available in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size that isn’t quite as common and which costs €120. You can order Barkhane directly from the Téo Cabanel website (which also has a French language version), along with a Sample Set of all 7 Cabanel fragrances in 1.5 ml vials for a set price of €8.50.

In the U.S.: you can order Barkhane in the 50 ml size (at $130) from Luckyscent which now carries a number of the Téo Cabanel line, including my beloved Alahine. (I should add, however, that the latter is also available from discount retailers for a cheaper price, and you can check the Alahine review for some old links.) Luckyscent also offers samples starting at $4 a vial for 0.7 ml.  (It’s a much better deal ordering directly from the company!)

Outside the US: In Canada, Cabanel’s website lists Fritsch Fragrances as its primary vendor. In the UK, London’s Bloom Parfumery carries some Téo Cabanel, but not all. You can call or email to see if they will carry Barkhane once it releases in the UK. Elsewhere, Téo Cabanel is usually carried at Fortnum & Mason’s, but I don’t see it shown online. Liberty’s states that Téo Cabanel fragrances are available only in their actual store. The Téo Cabanel line is carried at Germany’s First in Fragrance, but Barkhane is too new to be shown on the website yet. There are a vast number of perfume shops in the Netherlands and Germany which carry the Teo Cabanel line, so you can check the company’s website link for retailers that is provided down below. As a whole, for European readers, I saw Téo Cabanel online at Parfums MDP (which I think is in the UK?) for the same Euro rate as the company’s website. They say that there is “free worldwide postage” which I find to be stunning (and hard to believe)! I’ve also read  that the perfumes are available at: the Hotel George V in Paris, Les Galeries Lafayette, Douglas (France, Lithuania, Russia), Kadewe Berlin, Oberpollinger Munich, and Albrecht in Frankfurt. For all other countries or specific cities, you can use the company’s Store Locator guide on their website.

Samples: Barkhane is available to test at Luckyscent, at the link above. It is too new for it to be carried at other places, but I will try to update this post if someone other than Luckyscent offers samples. Your best bet for the next few months is the latter, or the Téo Cabanel website with their very affordable sample set.

Perfume Review – Téo Cabanel Oha

When a small, relatively unknown perfume house makes one of your favorite fragrances in the world, you tend to root for it, and want to love all its creations. If the house comes with a fascinating history — complete with the notorious style icon, the Duchess of Windsor, as its most ardent fan — and if you’re a history fanatic, then you are even more compelled to want to like it. The reality, however, is that not all perfumes are created equal. And some fall short of the glory set by their siblings. That is the case with Oha, a lovely fragrance from the same house that created my beloved Alahine, but hardly a match for the latter’s spectacular, sophisticated, spicy, Oriental smolder.

The Duchess of Windsor

The Duchess of Windsor

Oha comes from the French perfume house, Téo Cabanel, founded in 1893 in Algeria by Théodore Cabanel. Upon moving to Paris, he developed over 150 different perfume formulae and soon came to the attention of high society. He was a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor — the woman for whom King Edward VIII famously gave up the English throne — and she refused to be without two of Cabanel’s fragrances (Julia and Yasmina), ordering bottles in massive quantities.

Unfortunately, over time, the house faded away, but it was essentially reborn in 2003 under the direction of Caroline Illacqua who had a distant connection to Cabanel’s daughter. Illacqua brought in the perfumer, Jean-Francois Lattya very famous perfumer who created YSL for Men, YSL‘s Jazz, Givenchy III, Van Cleef & Arpel‘s Tsar and, allegedly, Drakkar Noir as well. (If so, I assume he worked alongside Pierre Wargnye who is usually credited with that famous men’s cologne). Latty now works solely as the in-house perfumer for Téo Cabanel.

OhaIn 2005, the two released Oha, a floral chypre. According to the description on Téo Cabanel’s website, Oha’s notes include:

Bulgaria rose, Moroccan rose, tea notes, Egyptian jasmine, Guatemalan cardamom, vanilla, iris, tonka bean, woods, and white musk.

Some perfume sites have suggested other ingredients as well. The Sniffapalooza Magazine’s interview with Téo Cabanel’s new co-founder, Ms. Illacqua, states that there is bergamot as a top note. The perfume blog, I Smell Therefore I Am, thinks that there is patchouli as one of the base notes. I completely agree with both of them.

Téo Cabanel claims that the perfumes contain “100% pure and natural ingredients.” The company later clarified those remarks in the Sniffapalooza Magazine interview, stating that they “use between 85% and 95% of natural ingredients” to create their perfumes,” and that their musk and amber are synthetic by necessity due to animal cruelty issues. Ms. Illacqua elaborated further on the ingredients, as well as on the fact that the Cabanel signature is in using a duo of roses:

Téo Cabanel’s signature is to use 2 different types of roses: Bulgarian and Moroccan rose. We are one of the only brands to use two roses in a perfume. Natural ingredients are very expensive but give to the perfumes an incredible quality. Some of the ingredients we use:
  • Rose – approximately 8000€/kg – we need 5000 kg of petals to produce 1kg of essence.
  • Iris wax – the most expensive ingredient: between 10 000€ and 15 000€
  • Bezoin: 7000€/kg
  • Jasmine – one of the most delicate flower – only 5 to 6 tons of essence are produced per year which explains the price: between 6 000 € and 8 000 €/kg. [Formatting added.]

I quoted those figures to show, in part, the rich quality and non-synthetic feel of Oha. My other reason is that the vast quantities of rose and jasmine used by the company are the main, dominant feature of Oha.

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

In fact, at times, there doesn’t feel as though there is much more to the scent than rose and jasmine, atop a base of a mossy, green patchouli. There are a few subtle nuances (especially at the start), but, at the end of the day, Oha is just a very classique, elegant, increasingly abstract, generalized, amorphous “floral” in the chypre family.

It’s very pretty — but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It certainly didn’t bowl me over or become a slight obsession in the way that the glorious Alahine did. (I sometimes feel I should do another post dedicated solely to just how much I love Alahine, and how it surreptitiously and unexpectedly manages to sneak into your head after repeated wearings to become the most fascinating, obsession-inducing fragrance that you’ve encountered in a while.) But this is a post about Oha, so let’s get to it.

Purple rose at Warwick Castle, England. Photo provided with permission by CC from "Slightly Out of Sync" blog.

Purple rose at Warwick Castle, England. Photo provided with permission by CC from “Slightly Out of Sync” blog.

Oha opens as a mossy, bright, sparkling chypre. There is fresh, crisp lemon-tinged bergamot and light, green jasmine atop a lush rose base that is simultaneously jammy and fruity. It feels as though there is a light touch of the sweet tea rose to go with the main base of a rich, beefy, meaty, and very fleshy damask rose. You can almost see the thousands of kilos of blood-red petals that they must have used to create this. The richness of the rose base is undercut by the zesty citruses and a subtle undercurrent of light woodsy notes with a flicker of musk. And the whole thing is enveloped in a powerful embrace of oakmoss-like patchouli.

Image: Moody. Source: Canadian Govt. Website.

Image: Moody. Source: Canadian Govt. Website.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that Oha has patchouli in it. Téo Cabanel clearly used it in order to replicate the oakmoss that is usually the main foundational element for a chypre but which is now increasingly rare in perfumery due to IFRA/EU regulations. Here, the patchouli is not the dirty, dried, earthy, or black sort sometimes associated with the 1970s or hippies. Nor is it like modern patchouli that is purple-fruity in nature. Instead, it’s bright green, mossy, fresh and springy. It becomes significantly more pronounced at the thirty minute mark; and it remains for almost the entire duration of the scent, heavily intertwined with the floral notes to create the primary characteristic of the fragrance. At one point, it starts to feel a little dryer, but it never reaches the levels of true oakmoss with its often pungent, almost desiccated, arid, musty nature.

I never really detect any cardamon in Oha, but I sense its indirect effects as it lurks in the background. It helps to add a slight spiciness and fieriness to the main rose note, preventing it from being a simple fruity element. There is also a subtle tinge of muskiness underlying the scent. It never feels like cheap white musk, but a natural undertone to the flowers and patchouli.

An hour into Oha’s development, it is still primarily a rose-patchouli fragrance. There are strong citric undertones, but they can’t compete with the main duet. There are also flickers of something that feels like white woods but, like the musk, it is muted. The perfume which started out being quite strong in sillage drops in strength around this time, becoming significantly softer. By the 90 minute mark, it’s almost close to the skin, though Oha (which I keep writing as the Greek “Opa”) is quite strong when you bring your arm up to your nose. 

The perfume changes around 2.5 hours into its development. It becomes quite abstract — by that, I mean that it becomes quite vague, generalized, almost amorphous in nature. You just get a general sense of a “floral with patchouli,” but there are no hugely distinct parts that are easily pulled out and separated. In part, it’s because Téo Cabanel fragrances are well-blended; in larger part, it’s because there really isn’t a hell of a lot to the scent. There aren’t layers and layers of depth — which is something that Alahine has in excess, God bless its little heart. Instead, Oha becomes a general floral that gives you the sense of some rose with perhaps a tinge of jasmine and something that feels a lot like peony. But the whole thing is swirled together to just read as “floral with patchouli.”

On occasion, different notes may briefly come to the surface. About four hours in, Oha suddenly turns very jasmine-y in nature, almost drowning out the roses. The jasmine is slightly musky, but never indolic, heady, sour or plastic-y. Then, Oha goes back to being amorphous until the 7th hour when there are flickers of a rooty, non-powdery, slightly earthy iris. That, too, quickly vanishes. By the end, midway during the 10th hour, Oha’s final traces are just simple, vague, musky “floral.” It died essentially as it lived — abstract, well-blended, elegant, and not incredibly special. Its sillage was always soft and well-mannered, noticeable if you actually smelled your arm, but never powerful or bold. The longevity was very good, given just how voraciously my skin consumes perfume.

Oha seems generally well-liked on Fragrantica, judging by the voting numbers. (There are certainly a lot more “Likes” than “Loves.”) But all comments about “sophistication,” elegance and “very French” feel incredibly lukewarm in the politest way possible. One commentator, “kterhark,” summed it up best, in my opinion:

Have you ever sat and flipped through channels at night, stumbling upon PBS where Charlotte Church was on stage, singing a pitch perfect operatic song, afterwhich everyone clapped politely?

That’s Oha. 

But I prefer it when Mariah Carey or Celine Dion take the stage and belt it out. And this is my problem with Oha.

It’s subtle. Pitch perfect, but subtle. And as a chypre floral it is competing with some grand divas in my boudoir, like Caron’s Or et Noir and Guerlain’s Mitsouko pure parfum; and they are outsinging this one.

Nevertheless, I like this fragrance, it is indeed beautiful [.]

The Duchess of Windsor wearing the famous "Lobster Dress," designed by Elsa Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali.

The Duchess of Windsor wearing the famous “Lobster Dress,” designed by Elsa Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali.

It pains me to write about how underwhelmed I was, because Oha actually is pretty. (I think “beautiful” may be pushing it a little.) It feels incredibly French and classique. It never evokes the supremely fashionable, trend-setting, iconic Duchess of Windsor, but, rather, a perfectly well-dressed, elegant French woman who doesn’t stand out from the crowd. She isn’t dripping with diamonds or furs; she isn’t even in a particularly sexy black dress or wearing the latest trend. She certainly isn’t making a scene or acting like a diva! She’s far from frumpy, she’d definitely not ugly or unattractive, and when you see her, you just know she’s French with impeccably well-bred bones and breeding. But, unless you were really, really looking at her, I’m not sure you’d notice her with her expertly cut, expensive, but completely innocuous dark suit, her expensive but unshowy handbag,her restrained chignon, her simple but expensive strand of pearls, and that quiet dab of muted lipstick. I passed by hundreds of such women in my years in Paris, and I’m sure they would wear Oha.

It’s not a negative thing in the slightest. But it’s not me. I’m not one for amorphous, abstract floral chypres without a particularly distinctive character — no matter how well-bred and classique they may be. That said, if you like floral chypres, I do think Oha is worth a sniff because it does have elegant bones and is an incredibly practical, versatile fragrance. This is something you could just spray on and go, without much thought; it would work pretty much everywhere and for all occasions, from an appointment at your child’s school, to a dinner with friends. Its discreet nature, while still being moderately strong on your actual skin, would also make it practical for the office. And you’d definitely feel feminine while wearing it. Plus, Téo Cabanel fragrances can be purchased for a relative steal on numerous discount sites (not to mention eBay).

I’m still disappointed, though. And I think the Duchess of Windsor would be, too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on some of my beloved Alahine. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Oha comes in a variety of sizes and forms. On the Téo Cabanel website (which also has a French language version), Oha Eau de Parfum (which is what I reviewed) costs €82 for 1.7 oz, and €107 for 3.3 oz. There is also a solid perfume version which costs €65 for 2 x 2 g (2 x 0.07 oz), along with a Sample Set of 6 Cabanel fragrances for €6. (Down below, you will see that the Posh Peasant also offers the Pure Parfum version).
Discounts: You can frequently find Teo Cabanel fragrances deeply discounted at various online retailers, in addition to eBay. In the U.S., you can buy Oha Eau de Parfum in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size for $61.20 from LilyDirect, a reputable perfume retailer that a number of people I know have used without problem. (As a side note, I’ve heard that Lilydirect will start shipping to Canada in June.) 99Perfume sells the small 1.7 oz size for 64.99, while BeautyEncounter sells it for $75. (BeautyEncounter is the original retailer for the Amazon offering of Oha, if you were to check there but I think you get free shipping if you go through them directly.) The prices are even higher at FragranceX which sells the 1.7 oz size for $88.30 and the large 3.4 oz size for $118. I’ve read that the line is carried at Henry Bendel’s, but I don’t see any Cabanel perfumes listed on their website. The Posh Peasant does carry most of Teo Cabanel’s fragrances, but stock is limited and amounts may be sold out (as they currently are for the Oha), so I suggest you check the website later when additional stock is added. At the moment, they have the Pure Parfum version of Oha on sale for $154 instead of $220 for a 15 ml bottle.
Outside the US: In Canada, Cabanel’s website lists Fritsch Fragrances as its primary vendor. In London, I’ve read that Téo Cabanel is carried at Fortnum & Mason’s, but I don’t see it shown online. Liberty’s states that Téo Cabanel fragrances are available only in their actual store. As a whole, for European readers, I saw it online at Parfums MDP (which I think is in the UK?) for the same Euro rate as the company’s website. They say that there is “free worldwide postage” which I find to be stunning (and hard to believe)! I’ve also read  that the perfumes are available at: Galeries Lafayette, Douglas (France, Lithuania, Russia), Kadewe Berlin, Oberpollinger Munich, and Albrecht in Frankfurt. In Australia, I saw the large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle of Oha on GetPrice for AUD$109.65. For all other countries, you can try to use the company’s Retailers guide on their website, but be aware that it doesn’t seem very up-to-date as some of the listed retailers don’t seem to carry the line. (Like Luckyscent.)
Samples: Surrender to Chance does not have Oha, but The Posh Peasant has a 5-Piece Sampler Set of 5 x 1ml vials for $15. I think that’s a great deal, especially as it will let you try one of my all-time favorite fragrances, the boozy Oriental “Alahine.”
 

Perfume Review – Alahine by Téo Cabanel: Ambered Moroccan Palaces & Opulence

Alahine was meant to evoke opulent oriental palaces, and it certainly succeeded in that endeavor. I see a Moroccan palace, shimmering in the heat under a turquoise sky, and surrounded by gardens of roses and ylang-ylang, lined with large silver urns billowing out smoky amber and incense.Kasbah-Tamadot_1259269939

Alahine comes from the French perfume house, Téo Cabanel, founded in 1893 in Algeria by Théodore Cabanel. Upon moving to Paris, he developed over 150 different perfume formulae and soon came to the attention of high society. He was a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor — the woman for whom King Edward VIII gave up the English throne — and she would order enormous amounts of his fragrances (Julia and Yasmina). Unfortunately, over time, the house faded away, but it was essentially reborn in 2003 under the direction of Caroline Illacqua who had a distant connection to Cabanel’s daughter. Illacqua brought in the perfumer, Jean-Francois Latty (who had created fragrances for YSL and Givenchy), and together they launched Alahine in 2007.

Latty describes Alahine as a soft amber, but it is technically a floral oriental (or floriental).  Téo Cabanel’s website lists Alahine’s notes as follows:

bergamot, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orange tree, pepper plant, Morroccan rose, iris, cistus, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood, and musk.

Some perfume sites have suggested other ingredients as well. Basenotes adds lavender to its list of top notes, but I’m a bit skeptical and believe it may be just how bergamot smells to some people. Luckyscent includes sandalwood as one of the base notes; that one, I can well imagine.

As the NST website noticed, Téo Cabanel claims that the perfumes contain “100% pure and natural ingredients.” Technically, that’s not really possible as musk (or civet) comes from animals and, as such, is off limits in its natural form.

In an interview with Sniffapalooza magazine, Ilacqua clarified that Téo Cabanel’s fragrances contain between 85% and 95% natural ingredients, and its amber and musk are synthetic.

For those who can’t immediately place some of the natural notes or what they smell like, here’s a brief nutshell description that may be useful later in explaining the depth and layers to Alahine. The smell of bergamot falls between orange and lemon, and is most closely associated with Earl Grey tea. It can turn a little woody and some people can occasionally smell hints of lavender lurking around. Ylang-ylang comes from a bright, banana-yellow flower and has a rich, heady, sweet, floral smell that is slightly fruity and custardy. One commentator called it “the eccentric sister to jasmine” but it’s also often compared to such flowers as tuberose, frangipani, and tiaré. Personally, I think it has a richer, fruitier and, definitely, spicier scent than any of those flowers. As a side note, the smell of ylang-ylang has long been considered to be both an aphrodisiac and soothing. Moroccan roses are a type of cabbage rose and, as such, have a sweet, honey-like scent. In contrast, Bulgarian roses belong to the damask rose category 4132690778_4a15f1c8d0which usually have a heady, richer, darker element to them. (To my nose, at least.) Benzoin is a type of resin and, as such, evokes the scent of amber. Depending on the type of resin, it can be both sweet and smoky, or just incense-y and slightly woody. “Cistus” really refers to Labdanum. The small cistus shrub is native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, and the distillation of its leaves produces a dry resinous, faintly woody smell that is called labdanum in perfume. Essentially, labdanum is another resin like amber, but it has more of a masculine toughness to amber’s sweetness. Labdanum can be dirty, animalic and almost reminiscent of sex at times, while other compositions can bring out a more leather-like smell.

The real reason that I took this detour into the notes is because the complexity of Alahine required me to take a refresher! The perfume is so expertly blended, and the scents fold so well into each other, that at times I struggled to figure out what ingredient was responsible for what! It was almost too much at times for me to distinguish what was going on. And part of that problem stemmed initially from a very big mistake I made: I sprayed on too much!

Do you want to know how much is “too much” for Alahine? Well, three spritzes where I just barely depressed the plunger! Three small spritzes of Alahine sent my nose into a tailspin because this is one seriously powerful perfume! I had to wait for the smell to fade on one arm before I could try again a few hours later with it on the other. This time, I gingerly and fearfully used one tiny spray, resulting in a few droplets. (And I never use one tiny spray! Ever. I always use 3 good spritzes spread out all along my arm and I do so for every perfume when testing it out, given how my body consumes perfume.) But trying Alahine in a small amount let me have a much better understanding of the notes. (Did I mention that this is powerful?!)

Alahine opens with a trumpeting blast of bergamot, orange, and what definitely smells like peach. After re-reading the definitions of some of the notes, I realise the peach (and some other lingering faintly fruity smells) have to be the ylang-ylang, though none of the ylang-ylang I’ve smelled (and loved) in the past ever evoked such a smell. In my first go round, I smelled such a sharply intense, screeching smell of smoky incense and black pepper that I was convinced there had to be frankincense in there as well. (There isn’t, but that is apparently what happens when you spray too much Alahine on your first try and sniff. It totally blows out your nose.)

In those opening minutes, the citrus and ylang-ylang fruits are joined by what smells like cloves, cinnamon and a fainty soapy muskiness. There is almost a medicinal note from the cloves, but also a heavy, (heavy!), thick viscous, gooey, treacly element that has to be the amber! It’s heavy and black enough at this stageA13-11-2010-22.01.49_0105 that I wonder if perhaps I’m really smelling the patchouli? It’s hard to know at this stage, but if that is really just the amber, colour me impressed.

Ten minutes in, the heady smell of roses and iris appears, followed a bit later by the jasmine. Alahine is softer now, less shrill, gentled perhaps due to the powder notes that are also there. And yet, there is also definite black pepper behind it all, pepper that is biting, faintly woody, almost balsam-like. I suspect this is from the pepper plant they used. And I still smell peach!

As Alahine develops over time, it turns more into a predominantly amber-y scent, combined with the rose, musk and powder. But this is like few amber fragrances that I have come across. There is a distinctly boozy nature to the element that brought to M1mind very aged bourbon and rum, almost cognac-brown in their richness and sweet thickness. (I wonder if it’s the labdanum that is responsible?)

I’m not the only one who thought of alcohol. The blog Perfume-Smellin Things noted: “[t]he intense, almost liqueur-like center of this perfume’s universe is Bulgarian and Moroccan rose essence of high quality that gives it a rounded and almost fruity quality overall.” She attributes it to the rose notes but I have to wonder. It seems more an attribute of the various resins at play here, particularly as the boozy accord is accompanied by perpetual smoky, incense-y notes with an almost bitter-chocolate earthiness. (Now, that’s definitely the labdanum!)

I should admit that I didn’t completely understand the enormous fuss over Alahine on my first try. (I’m going to blame that on using too much – illogical as it may be.) It was absolutely lovely, yes, but the incredible raves and almost crazed gushing?? I couldn’t see it. But my second try showed its real beauty. And that is something that has happened to others, too. The chap at the Nathan Branch blog was initially unimpressed, but repeated pleas from perfumistas he respects made him give it another shot:

At first, nothing struck me as extraordinary. The pieces all functioned properly, the mix was good, the scent pleasant, but I didn’t get a particularly noteworthy vibe. I’ve learned, however, that first impressions can be deceiving, which was the case with Alahine. What seemed initially a little lazy or derivative of its betters became much more than that with repeated wearings.

But after more than one wearing, his reaction was, “Yowza! How did I miss all this?”  Perfume Posse said something similar:

I was charmed by Alahine´s transformation. It starts out with a ladylike floral note, a generalized citrus/jasmine/ylang, very classic and expensive smelling. […] From there Alahine only gets better as the pepper, iris and the naughty bits start to bloom, but it’s sexy in a subtle way, the woman in the corner of the room who catches your eye, and suddenly compared to her quiet chic everyone else looks a bit overdone.

So, what really is Alahine, beyond just a changeling? NST‘s review (linked up above) described Alahine, in part, as “ylang-ylang crème brulée lightened with rose and dusted with powder.” I think that is true, but far from the whole story. In fact, I’m not sure I agree with a lot of their description of the perfume:

To me, Alahine is an oriental treatment of ylang ylang. Alahine takes the flower’s cold cream-like scent and spins it with amber, sandalwood, and vanilla. The result is a ylang ylang crème brûlée lightened with rose and dusted with powder. It’s warm, thick, sweet, and feminine — comforting without being maternal. Its sillage is moderate, and its lasting power is excellent.

Alahine isn’t edgy or surprising, but in some ways that’s an asset. Think of it as the camel coat fashion magazines are touting as a major trend for this fall. People have been wearing camel coats for a good long time, and they’ve always been appropriate and sometimes even stylish, even if they’re only sporadically fashionable. Alahine is like that. You’re always correct (and warm) in Alahine.

One of my disagreements with that summation is that it omits the incredibly smoky, boozy, incense-y, viscous nature of the perfume. Basically, Alahine is far too intense and powerful to be a mild camel coat, no matter how chic or expensive it may be.  And “comforting”? Please! It’s too seductive to be comforting (let alone maternal!). This is a fragrance to wear with a black dress. Not a revealing, little black dress, but a tailored one that is cut tantalisingly low, or perhaps with a very long slit up the side. Or it’s a fragrance to wear with a slinky, slightly revealing cashmere sweater over a short black skirt, with opulent jewelry and sky-high stilettos. (I have no idea what men feel is their ideal elegantly sexy attire when seeking to subtly and quietly seduce, so I will leave that up to my male readers to determine.) Alahine is not about the full-on reveal and Bada-boom, but about the most sophisticated, elegant seduction. It’s the scent of a Bond girl — but one of the quiet ones who lures James Bond into her web.  Camel coats…. bah!

I also disagree with NST’s assessment of its sillage. My body consumes perfume and this one well-nigh consumed me at first! (Did I mention those first 3 sprays were small?!) Yes, Alahine does become close to the skin…. but 6 hours later! (On me!) And the longevity? I can still smell it almost 12 hours later. On someone else, I suspect this perfume could easily go 16 hours or more. In fact, depending on amount used, a full 24 hours wouldn’t shock me at all.

One area where I actually do agree with NST is the issue of edginess. This is not an edgy perfume, particularly not in that occasionally disturbing, disorienting, or intentionally different way that some niche scents can be. There are some very classique elements to Alahine’s elegance and opulence. I’ve read some comparisons to the legendary Bal à Versailles; and the minute I saw them, I thought, “Ah, yes. They have a point.” This is like Bal à Versailles, but it’s much less soapy and powdery than my memories of BaV. Alahine is more resinous, spicy, smoky, fruity (the ylang-ylang) and incense-y. Other comparisons have been to Parfum d’Empire‘s Ambre Russe, though that is supposed to be boozier and more intense. I don’t have it (yet) to be able to assess that claim.

Alahine is marketed as a perfume for women but it is absolutely unisex, in my opinion. From the opening bergamot notes to the thick, resinous amber, patchouli, incense and faintly woody base, this is a scent that I think would be very sexy on a man. (And, according to his blog, Nathan Branch’s boyfriend thought so too.)

For me, this is a perfume that I would well consider buying as a full bottle. In all honesty, if I could, I would do so right now. This minute. There is just something about Alahine that makes me feel happy and sunny. I think it’s too opulent to be “cozy” and “comfy,” but it makes me feel like purring. It brings to mind visions of Morocco, turquoise and roses, smoke and mirrors, spice and life. Try it. You’ll see.

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discount Prices: Alahine comes in Eau de Parfum form (which is what I reviewed), but also in Extrait de Parfum. For the EDP, it costs $130 or €95 for 1.7 oz/50 ml as of 11/12/2013. The price for the larger size used to be $145 for 3.3 oz, but I’m not sure as to is current cost as of this November 2013 date. The parfum extract version was $220 for 0.5 oz/15 ml, but it may have increased from the original time this review was posted. However, Alahine is also available at huge discounts from a variety of online retailers: LilyDirect sells a large 3.4 oz bottle for $82, and they are a very reliable, reputable perfume retailer. EvePerfumeStore sells it for $102. Small 1.7 oz bottles can be found on eBay for about $50, while large 3.4 oz bottles are easily found for around $70 (instead of about $145).
Teo Cabanel: The Teo Cabanel website (in English and French) also has a separate e-shop boutique. They show a list of retailers who carry their products by country, so whether you live in the Netherlands or say, Japan, you should be able to find someone who sells their perfume. I don’t know their shipping prices, however, and I could not find any information on it.) Prices are €95 and €120, depending on the size of the bottle. A 7-Piece Sample Set is also sold of the complete range for €8.5.
U.S. Vendors: You can buy Alahine, along with samples, from Luckyscent which now carries the whole Teo Cabanel line. It sells Alahine for $130 for a 50 ml bottle. The Posh Peasant also carries Alahine, but the bottles sell out quickly so you will have to check.
Overseas: In London, you can find Alahine at Bloom Perfumery which sells Alahine in two sizes: 50 ml/1.7 oz for £89.00, and 100 ml/3.4 oz for £113.00, along with a 2 oz sample vial for £2.00. Elsewhere in London, I’ve read that Téo Cabanel is carried at Fortnum & Mason’s, but I don’t see it shown online. Liberty’s states that Téo Cabanel fragrances are available only in their actual store. As a whole, for European readers, I saw it online at Parfums MDP (which I think is in the UK?) for the same €82 and €101 price as the company’s website. They say that there is “free worldwide postage” which I find to be stunning (and hard to believe)! For Canada,
the Cabanel’s website lists Fritsch Fragrances as a vendor but I cannot find a website for the store. Elsewhere, I’ve also that Teo Cabanel perfumes are available at: Galeries Lafayette, Douglas (France, Lithuania, Russia), Kadewe Berlin, Oberpollinger Munich, and Albrecht in Frankfurt. In Australia, I saw the large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle of Oha on GetPrice for AUD$109.65. For all other countries, you can try to use the company’s Retailers guide on their website.
Samples: Samples are available at Luckyscent for $4 for a 0.7 ml vial. Surrender to ChanceStC has decants of Alahine going up in size to 15 ml/0.50 oz in size. The latter costs $51.87. The smallest sample vial is $3.99 for 1 fl. oz. Shipping costs around $2.95 within the U.S. (no matter how small or large the order), and approximately $12.75 for overseas.