La Via Del Profumo Don Corleone

Palermo, Sicily. Source: Von Ikarus tours. fernweh.ikarus.com

Palermo, Sicily. Source: Von Ikarus tours. fernweh.ikarus.com

The sun-bleached, craggy island of Sicily holds a charm and beauty that is far more rugged than many of its Mediterranean compatriots, but it’s lovely. The capital, Palermo, is nestled in a bay at the foot of Mount Pellegrino, and retains faint traces of its old grandeur at the height of the Arabic domination of the 9th and 11th centuries. Cafés line the Via Principe di Belmonte, filled with Italians enjoying their particularly relaxed form of Mediterranean joie de vivre. On a hill overlooking the city, there is the majesty and grandeur of the Norman cathedral, the Duomo di Monreale, with its towering ceiling, opulent decor, and famous Byzantine-era mosaics.

Palermo. Source: skyscraperlife.com

Palermo. Source: skyscraperlife.com

It’s all very far away from Don Corleone, “capo di tutti capo,” or the Godfather of the famous films. Yet, what else does one think when one comes across a perfume called Palermo Don Corleone (hereinafter just “Don Corleone“)? For someone like myself, a film and television addict, the mental association was instantly and automatically to Godfather III, Michael Corleone’s trip to Palermo, and Don Tommasino’s Sicilian villa. (Not to mention the unfortunate issue of Sofia Coppola ruining a perfectly good film.) I absolutely love the Godfather films (minus that last one that we really should forget about), but I wasn’t sure what to expect from a fragrance actually called by that name — never mind one that involved tuberose and vanilla. Talk about a contradiction! But, honestly, for someone like myself who loves both the Godfather and tuberose, how could I possibly resist?

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominique Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

I should have known better than to expect a straight-forward tuberose floral scent from someone like Dominique Dubrana, a wizard with all-natural essences who never follows the conventional, generic path in anything. Now going by the name Abdes Salaam Attar, he is a Frenchman turned Sufi with an Italian perfume house called La Via del Profumo. I’ve covered 6 of his creations thus far, and they have all been unique, smelling like nothing else on the market. And Don Corleone is no exception. In fact, if you’re expecting anything resembling a simple white floral, you’d be quite mistaken.

Don Corleone. Source: Basenotes directory.

Don Corleone. Source: Basenotes directory.

Mr. Dubrana explains that the inspiration for Don Corleone stemmed from a surprising scent that he noticed was characteristic of many Sicilian men and women:

Palermo Don Corleone” was composed during a Sicilian summer holiday. The predilection that Sicilians have for the Vanilla note reveals a psychology very different from what we imagine about them.

I smelled so many Vanilla accords in the wake of Sicilians men and women  that I felt challenged to compose a Vanilla theme perfume, which I never attempted before. [¶] Their love for this aroma is of course in line with their passion for pastries, sweets and chocolates, but it also denotes a very strong sentimental attachment to the mother, the need to be comforted and of tenderness.

I imagined a fragrance that would represents the Sicilian people, a perfume in which everything is exaggerated, starting with an exageration of Vanilla. I wanted a fragrance that would be extralarge also in sensuality, but having in it the hidden dark dangerous side of Sicily. To obtain this result I played Vanilla in an accord with Tuberose and Tobacco.

The result is a strong masculine perfume that paradoxically many women will like and easily wear, deeply sensual but at the same time serious.

Dried tobacco leaves. Source: colourbox.com

Dried tobacco leaves. Source: colourbox.com

The succinct list of notes would appear to be:

Vanilla, tuberose, and tobacco.

I’ve noticed that Abdes Salaam Attar tends to skip over the fine-print details when providing the general description for his fragrances, and Don Corleone certainly smelled of far more than those three things on my skin. Going solely by aroma, what I detected was roughly more akin to this:

Haitian vetiver, cedar, Ouzo, tobacco, leather, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, styrax resin, and tuberose.

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

I know full well that most of those are merely the result of impressions, one’s nose, and skin chemistry. A good chunk can be explained by the various nuances of the Tobacco Absolute that Mr. Dubrana likes to use in some of his fragrances. However, I would bet one of my bottles of my holy grail, vintage Opium that there is vetiver, along with some other woody notes, in Don Corleone. Not only does Don Corleone have the exact same note that wafts about Milano Caffé (another fragrance where there is unlisted vetiver), but Mr. Dubrana recently sent me a small vial of the essential oil to show me how fresh, minty, and smoky it can be — and that is exactly what I smell in Don Corleone as well. My bewilderment led me to write to Abdes Salaam Attar, and he clarified that the complete olfactory list in Don Corleone is as follows:

Tuberose, Tobacco, Vanilla, Vetiver, Cypress, and Fire Wood.

[Fire wood is apparently something that Australian Bush Men use, and Mr. Dubrana has a bit about it on his blog. He says: “It has a fruity top note sweet and strong, kind of apricot and myrtle, which continues in the heart of the smell to leave a woody fruity, very discreet.]

Hennessy's aged cognac barrels. Source: graperadio.com

Hennessy’s aged cognac barrels. Source: graperadio.com

Don Corleone opens on my skin with booze, smelling of rum, cognac, and brandy all in one, followed by rich vanilla custard, tobacco, and a hint of white flowers. The initial explosion of a cedar-soaked vat of vanilla and cognac retreats after less than a minute, but it is still exceedingly strong. The vanilla custard suddenly loses its richness, perhaps because it is quickly overshadowed by black, minty, rubbered and mentholated tonalities. It definitely stems from the tuberose, as it feels similar to the deconstructed flower in such scents as Tubereuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens. Yet, even that quickly vanishes.

Greek Ouzo. Source: Photocuisine.

Greek Ouzo. Source: Photocuisine.

What takes its place is Ouzo (or Pastis), the milky anise-based Mediterranean liqueur, only this one is flavoured with a dash of almonds to go with it. Swirling all around is a minty note that I initially thought was from the tuberose, but I soon realise that it’s Haitian vetiver. I truly can’t smell tuberose in its conventional and traditional way. Not at all. Instead, what I detect is coffee.

For whatever crazy reason, each of the three times that I’ve worn Don Corleone, my initial impression (after that momentary boozy rum/brandy blast) is of ouzo and coffee, followed by a cedar-flecked, dry vanilla, and a hint of mintiness. I realise it’s just my skin and mind playing tricks on me, but I was thrilled. I love Ouzo, never mind ouzo coffee, so to toss vanilla with a dash of almonds in there as well? I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrists. Things become even prettier when, at the perfume’s edges, the tobacco pops up. It is dry, unsweetened, and verges on the Virginia leaf and Cuban cigar accord that I loved so much in La Via del Profumo’s Tabac. Here, however, it’s woodier, more influenced by the vanilla and cedar. (I know the perfume has cypress, but my nose keeps smelling the drier, smokier cedar wood, and not the green, coniferous cypress.)

10 minutes in, Don Corleone starts to shift. I could swear that I smelled a note of chocolate wafting about, and it’s strong enough to make me double-check my sample to ensure that I wasn’t somehow accidentally sent Milano Caffé instead. No, it definitely says “Don Corleone,” and this is not a patchouli scent. I’m telling you, though, I smelled dark, bitter chocolate, no matter how subtle it was at first. Much more distinct is the definite note of vetiver which arrives on the scene. It is bright and redolent of peppermint, though that changes down the road.

As the vetiver slowly pushes its way onto center stage, the vanilla retreats. Originally as strong as Bourbon vanilla and as rich as a custard, it is now merely dry, gauzy, and light. The vanilla truly isn’t the star player on my skin, no matter what the description may have stated. Instead, it weaves its way through the overall fragrance, subtly infusing each and every individual note with its touch. Don Corleone’s dominant bouquet at this stage is cedar, vetiver and coffee, followed by anisic ouzo, peppermint, and a hint of tobacco, all softly kissed by the dry vanilla.

Palermo, Sicily. Photo: CNN via istock photos.

Cafe in Palermo, Sicily. Photo: CNN via istock photos.

The image which comes to mind is an elderly Sicilian man and his young granddaughter sitting at a café in Palermo. His woody, vetiver-vanilla cologne mixes with his Ouzo and cigar; her sweeter vanilla perfume intertwines with the bitter scent of her coffee. A small plate of almonds, black chocolate, and mint lies between them, while the dry, golden, afternoon light covers them both. In the distant horizon, so far away as to be blurred to the naked eye, are fields of some undefined white flowers that soon fade away almost entirely. Taking their place is the smell of something dark, leathery, and smoky. Like a dark cloud, it starts to drift closer, slowly blocking out the sun.

30 minutes in, the vetiver follows the path that it has taken before with La Via del Profumo scents, particularly Milano Caffé, and takes over my skin. This seems to be something that my skin does to vetiver, and I really wish it didn’t, especially as its peppermint characteristic is far from my favorite. Unfortunately for me, the vetiver soon overshadows the lovely vanilla, tobacco, chocolate and ouzo. I think on other people the woody, vanillic and tobacco notes would continue to remain in the foreground.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

For a short while, I thought Don Corleone had turned primarily into a vanilla-infused vetiver fragrance on my skin, with the other notes playing a more muted role. The impression of “ouzo” and almonds has vanished, the cedar/cypress has turned into amorphous woods, and the chocolate has taken a backseat along with the tobacco on the sidelines.

However, 90 minutes in, that dark cloud that I mentioned earlier comes to pass. There is definitely something resinous and bitter lurking in Don Corleone’s base. At first, it is merely a tiny vein of something balsamic and smoky, verging on the leathered. For me, and on my skin, the “vanilla” in Don Corleone smells like it was derived, in small part, from styrax. That is a benzoin resin with a very dark, smoky, leathered characteristic, and it is the least sweet of all the balsamic resins. Whatever the actual source, Don Corleone turns increasingly leathered and dark. The vanilla has lost all lingering traces of its sweetness, turning completely dry, and a little bit smoky.

Photo:  "Whistle and Run" on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

Photo: “Whistle and Run” on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

At the end of the 3rd hour, the vetiver-woody-leathered-vanilla bouquet in Don Corleone has a definite undertone of something tarry, rubbered, and singed. It probably stems from the tobacco absolute, though there is a faint chance that it’s the tuberose in its deconstructed form. I’m doubtful, though, because, on my skin, the flower truly never appears beyond that tiny whisper in the opening minute; it’s not visible in either its typical way or in the more mentholated, indolic version. By the end of the 5th hour, Don Corleone is a skin scent playing between sweetness and darkness, with leathered tobacco, vetiver and woody notes, all lying atop a thin layer of something leathered, burnt, and tarred.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

For the next few hours, the vanilla appears to have vanished from my skin, muted as it was to begin with. From afar, Don Corleone smells merely like a woody tobacco fragrance. Up close, you can detect the leathered undertone to the tobacco, along with an abstract, dry sweetness and a lingering touch of freshness from the vetiver. The tiniest flickers of smokiness and coffee dance in the shadows, but they are very subtle, and you have to sniff hard to detect them. Yet, to my surprise, the vanilla makes a return in the very final hours. At the start of the 8th hour, Don Corleone turns into a simple, sheer smear of woody vanilla, partially sweet, partially dry. And there it ends, fading away after 11 hours with 5 really big smears, but after 8.75 with 2 moderately big ones.

That brings me to another point: sillage. All-natural fragrances don’t have massive projection, but Don Corleone felt a little softer in its start than one or two of the other La Via del Profumo scents that I’ve tried. The key for this one is really going to be quantity. With 2 big dabs, the sillage hovered right above the skin from the very start. However, 5 huge smears changed things substantially; Don Corleone bloomed, wafting about 2-3 inches at first, before turning into a skin scent in the middle of the 4th hour. Even then, it was very easy to detect if you brought your arm to your nose. It only became much harder around the middle of the 6th hour. Obviously, spraying will enhance both the perfume’s longevity and projection, and Mr. Dubrana often recommends applying some of the scent on your hair, beard or clothing to amplify its smell. My suggestion for anyone who tries Don Corleone in a small, dab, “Mignon” bottle is to be very generous with application.

The all-natural aspect also has implications for how Don Corleone may manifest itself on your skin. The use of such concentrated absolutes, unleavened by synthetics, means that you may experience a wide variety of undertones to things like the tobacco or woody notes. As Mr. Dubrana wrote to me, “Essential oils are very complex compounds of sometimes hundreds of molecules.” And “We smell with our brain more than with our nose.” So, I highly doubt any of you will get chocolate, let alone anise-based Ouzo, though the only blogger to review Don Corleone thus far did mention herbal nuances.

What those of you without my weird vetiver-amplifying skin are bound to get is a fragrance with the full spectrum of tobacco and vanilla facets, followed by some woody, smoky and dry undertones. Honestly, I’d be shocked if you experienced a heavily floral perfume dominated by tuberose. Don Corleone seems intended to be a masculine vanilla, with the tuberose as the most tangential of players. And that is not merely my perception of things, either.

On Fragrantica, the lone comment on Don Corleone’s entry is from “Henri345que,” who experienced a predominantly tobacco-vanilla fragrance with very little tuberose:

I don’t know how much my impression is influenced by the name and the idea itself, but i picture this scent on my skin as the perfect aroma for an italian mafia boss. It exudes class, power, intensity, from the beginning until the end. I don’t know if it is strange to me, i have already smelled and sample so many things through my journey that this is hard to classify, but i see it as very powerful. [¶]

It’s for me a scent of as much of vanilla as tobacco. They are the stars, where the tuberose is more of a second player on me, just providing a round, sensual touch to bind those two essences. It makes me think that vanilla is much more deep and dimensional that we might think at first. I guess that this is because we are so used with the sugary, creamy vanillas that we forgot that it can also smell flowery, a little bit animalic, erotic, but also smoky, leathery too. This vanilla is edible, but more smoky, spicy, it merges completely into the tobacco nuances. It’s different, for instance, from the vanilla used in Frutti Paradisi, that is close to skin and smell exactly like the vanilla pods after you have extracted the seeds. As i expected, i love this scent and i’m impressed that a natural scent can be this way, intense just the way i like. Amazing.

Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale. Source: Luckyscent.

Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale. Source: Luckyscent.

On Basenotes, there are a handful of reviews for Don Corleone. None of them had anything close to my experience, which emphasizes once again how much of an anomaly it is. One chap compared Don Corleone to Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale, writing:

This is my favourite masculine floral, and I would never have guessed that it would be tuberose!

Don Corleone plays off of Abdes Salaam’s masterful hand with tobacco, and features a fantastic, fleshy, rich (but not too sweet) tuberose absolute. The closest comparison I can come up with is with HdP Tubereuse 3, but the Don is drier, simpler and more tobacco oriented. It is much more wearable in my opinion. The drydown features an equally rich and subtle vanilla.

For a woman commentator, “iivanita,” Don Corleone started off being very masculine before quickly transforming to a very sweet, feminine scent that was almost gourmand:

… at the first sniff from the vial it hit me as i expected from a perfume of such name:-) the macho man, very strong , rich, a touch unpleasant maybe, masculine fragrance , smoky like smoked ham:-) ,very gourmand, i was sniffing my oily vial, cause its dense sweet smoky scent to recognize what kind of a meet it reminds me of , what dish?:-)  [¶] And i thought i wont be able to pull this off:-)

But when i tried it on the skin,in just 5 minutes it transformed into very feminine sweet scent,to my big surprise!! [¶] This perfume seems like very wearable scent, it projects , has good longevity, and is unisex, but men who want to wear something vanilla like but some may find it too [sweet] although its not!

The third most important player in this composition, tuberose, is so well hidden behind tobacco smoke, it was there but i could not identify it!! [¶] The combination of vanilla, tuberose and tobacco make this scent very gourmand, oriental, warm but not cloying, its nothing like typical vanilla scent,

As the reviewer before said, its simple yet delicate composition, it dances between beeing too gourmand, too feminine, too vanilla, too tobacco, and in the end its one very unique scent for people who are temperament in nature! Like Sicilians are !

The only blog review I could find for Don Corleone comes from The Scentuary where “Diamondflamewrote, in part:

Created entirely of naturally derived components by talented perfumer composer Dominique Dubrana or Salaam as he is known now, Don Corleone is an understated yet no less arresting composition involving aromatic herbs, tuberose, tobacco and vanilla. On my skin I get an unmistakable aromatic smokiness from tobacco ablsolue blending into the softly subdued vanilla and floral-herbal elements. But Tobacco Vanille this is not for it wears lightly, nowhere near as sweet given the lighter approach and herbal nuances, with a complexity that only all-natural perfumery can portray.

Sillage may not be its strong suit but the quiet aura it radiates is not without authority. There is an indefinable quality about it that speaks of respect, family tradition, strength and fortitude. Add ‘Sicilian flair’ to the mix and it seems Don Corleone has just made me an offer I cannot refuse.

At the end of the day, and taking the scent as a whole, Don Corleone wasn’t for me, personally, and I blame my skin fully for that. I found the opening entrancing and addictive, but I simply am not fond that fond of the vetiver or the peppermint characteristic that took over my skin. It frustrated me, but it’s hardly Don Corleone’s fault. I would have loved the version that the Fragrantica chap got, which I suspect is the version that most of you will experience as well.

In short, if you’re looking for a much drier version of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, one with far greater woody tonalities but without the syrup or plum pudding foundation, then you might want to consider giving Don Corleone a sniff. The same thing applies to anyone who would like a more vanillic version of Mr. Dubrana’s fantastic Tabac. (I loved Tabac!) That said, I personally don’t think Don Corleone is unisex. It feels strongly masculine in nature, due to its dryness and the darkness of the tobacco absolute. However, it’s all going to depend on skin chemistry as that one woman on Basenotes thought Don Corleone was very sweet, vanillic, and almost gourmand!

Much more obviously feminine in nature is the next Profumo scent that I will be reviewing. It is the remaining installment in Mr. Dubrana’s “Italian Series,” and is called Venezia Giardini Segreti. Inspired by Venice’s secret gardens and courtyards, it is a jasmine scent with rose, herbs, myrrh, green nuances, and ambergris. In the upcoming weeks, I will cover Amber ChocolateFrutti Paradisi (animalic, leathered osmanthus, jasmine, vanilla, and black currant); Acqua Santa (or “Holy Water”); and Cuba Express. Hopefully, either Don Corleone or one of these other scents will make you an offer you can’t refuse…. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist and finally gave in to temptation.)

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Palermo Don Corleone is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Don Corleone are in Euros without VAT: €36,70 for 15.5 ml, €78,69 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €112,13 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $50 for the 15.5 ml, $107 for the 32 ml, and $152 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Don Corleone is €15,57. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Also, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Don Corleone starting at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.
Advertisements

La Via del Profumo Tabac

Imagine a fragrance that bottles the olfactory trajectory of the tobacco plant from its natural start to its finish, a perfume that evokes images of its greenness rooted in the dark earth of a Virginia plantation where it blooms with flowers, to its brown softness as the leaves are later dried in the sun, to Havana where it is rolled into Cohiba cigars.

Tabac via the Profumo site.

Tabac via the Profumo site.

That is Tabac, a 3-D display of the note in all its complexity. It traverses the spectrum from floral and green, to tarry rawness and chewy resinous darkness; and then from leathered smokiness to its final manifestation as the most expensive of smooth Cuban cigars that are eventually dusted with cinnamon-tonka and dry amber. It is a remarkably deft treatment of a very concentrated absolute essence, augmented by the smokiest of cedar, but also tamed by the breathiest whisper of dry vanilla and gingerbread warmth. I find it to be brilliantly done, from start to finish.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Tabac is an eau de parfum from the highly respected perfumer, Dominique Dubrana, who also goes by the name “Abdes Salaam Attar.” His Italian perfume house, La Via del Profumo, creates all-natural fragrances. In the case of Tabac, the focus is on tobacco absolute. Abdes Salaam Attar describes Tabac on his Profumo website as follows :

The absolute of tobacco is the theme of this perfume. In the composition the overwhelming aroma of the tobacco is moderated with the spicy and resinous essences traditionally used to scent pipe tobacco…. Vanilla, cistus, tonka etc.

At a bare minimum, the notes seem to be:

Tobacco Absolute, Vanilla, Cistus [Labdanum Amber] and Tonka.

Native American Tobacco Flower via Wikipedia. Photo: William Rafti.

Native American Tobacco Flower via Wikipedia. Photo: William Rafti.

Tabac opens on my skin with floral tobacco, as if the blooming flowers on the plant were captured and bottled with all their fragrant sweetness. It is followed by the rawness of tobacco juice, and by honeyed, sun-dried leaves. Within seconds, the flowers are infused with a camphorated, resinous greenness that is simultaneously grassy and a bit tarry.

The light, bright freshness of the flowers stands in stark contrast to the dark, chewy, gooey treacle that quickly overtakes them. The note is blackened, extremely smoky, tarry, and leathered. Yet, at the same time, there remains a touch of green; it feels as though a rich mass of chewing tobacco and leather had been infused with the brightest of summer grass, along with a touch of aromatic, herbal concentrate. I also detect a strong note of cedar in Tabac, revealing itself as a woody smokiness that is laced throughout all the other elements. It mixes with the hardcore, resinoid aspect of the tobacco absolute to accentuate the leathered undertone running through the fragrance.

"Autumn Abstract." Photo: Tim Noonan via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Autumn Abstract.” Photo: Tim Noonan via Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Tabac is fascinatingly multi-faceted in its presentation of tobacco. I’ve noticed that if you only dab on a little, perhaps a 1/5th of a vial, the floral and grassy accords emerge more strongly. However, if you apply on 3 really big smears, you’re suddenly presented with significant dark, smoky, and resinous elements.

Source: rgbstock.com

Source: rgbstock.com

In all cases, however, Tabac is a very dry take on tobacco, especially as compared to the versions put out by Tom Ford with his Tobacco Vanilla or the even sweeter Tabac Rouge by Phaedon. Mr. Dubrana’s version is unsweetened, substantially smokier, and earthier. It’s as though a heaping dose of the smokiest, dark cedar and an earthy, woody version of something green (vetiver?) were used as accompaniments in lieu of the usual vanilla or sweetened fruits. Yet, for all that, Tabac isn’t bitter or acrid. The sweetness is delicate and subtle, but it is definitely there, even if it is a hesitant whisper in the shadows at this stage. Tabac also differs from Serge Lutens‘ Chergui in a number of ways. Tabac lacks Chergui’s strong touch of powder and honeyed tonalities. It is much more leathered, dry, dense, smoky, and heavy. The main difference, however, is that the tobacco is more multi-faceted, complex, and powerful a note.   

Source: fivepalms.com

Source: fivepalms.com

Ten minutes in, Tabac starts to change. The smoky, dried tobacco leaves lose their grassy and fresh touches, while that initial pop of floralacy retreats to the sidelines. There, it takes up a ghostly act, sometimes materializing noticeably before flitting away, then reappearing again much later on. As a whole though, Tabac is now a very woody, resinous, chewy tobacco fragrance with serious heft in its notes. I keep thinking of Cuba or humidor rooms with shelves of boxed Monte Cristo or Cohiba cigars. At times, the best part of the scent is the smokiness which verges more on mesquite wood than either incense or actual tobacco smoke. It certainly doesn’t smell like cigarettes or stale ashtrays. What I keep imagining is a wood-burning BBQ at an old plantation in the South, under the shade of cedar trees, while tobacco leaves slowly dry inches away. It’s very Gone with the Wind, with a small detour to Havana. 

Dry tobacco leaves. Source: cigarettesplace.net

Dry tobacco leaves. Source: cigarettesplace.net

30 minutes in, Tabac turns softer, warmer, and smoother. The vanilla and tonka stir in the base, indirectly adding a light touch of sweetness. They can’t be singled out individually, but you can definitely feel the impact on the tobacco. The camphorated, green pungency has faded from sight, along with the grassy element. Lingering traces of a leathered accord remain, however, as does the overall smokiness. The dark undercurrent feels less chewy, and most of the blackness has visually turned to a deep brown-gold. The tobacco itself has changed, feeling primarily like semi-sweet, dried leaves, though there is still a subtle wetness and tinge of rawness left behind. The sillage also changes, dropping from its initial forcefulness to a soft cloud that wafts about 2 inches above the skin. Nonetheless, Tabac is still very potent and strong when sniffed up close, and it remains that way for a couple of hours.

The Cohiba Behike, one of the best cigars in the world. Source: cgarsltd.co.uk

The Cohiba Behike, one of the best cigars in the world. Source: cgarsltd.co.uk

Almost all the tobacco fragrances that I’ve tried seem to manifest pipe tobacco with its fruited, sweetened tonalities. They also toss in vanilla — whether powdered, resinous, or both. Profumo’s Tabac is very different. To me, this is pure cigar tobacco. A dry, unsmoked cigar, but also one with very smoky and woody nuances. There are no fruits, barely a drop of sweetness, and what amber there is isn’t a molten thickness.

At best, the fragrance is nestled in a tinge of golden softness and warmth, but nothing about it translates as real, hardcore amber to my nose. In fact, for the longest time, there was none of the nuttied, caramel, toffee elements of labdanum amber that forms the core of such fragrances as Dior‘s Mitzah, nor the ambergris amber in Dior’s Ambre Nuit or Profumum Roma‘s Ambra Aurea. The golden warmth here is much more abstract in nature, and wholly infused with mesquite smokiness and dryness rather than with heavy, thick sweetness. I love Tabac’s pure authenticity, and find it to be a novel change from the traditional tobacco scents on the market. This is the plant in all its manifestations, from the initial greenness and flowers of its natural state, to the cigar at the end of the line.  

Shortly before the end of the 2nd hour, Tabac changes once again. Now, the tonka bursts onto the scene, dusting everything with cinnamon. The labdanum finally perks up, adding a faintly burnt caramel, nuttied undertone to the proceedings, but it’s incredibly muted, sheer, and thin. Most of the time, it’s hard to single out, as Tabac is superbly blended. What happens instead is that it works from the sidelines to impact the other notes, and the overall cocoon in which the tobacco lies. It still doesn’t change Tabac’s dryness, however, which continues in large part thanks in part to the cedar’s smokiness.

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

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

A strange thing slowly happens. Tabac takes on almost a mocha-cocoa quality. Some combination of the bitter tobacco, the toffee’d labdanum amber, and the tonka has melded into an accord that smells like bitter coffee, dusty cocoa powder, vanilla, and cinnamon. The overall effect is to create a mocha tobacco impression on my skin that I love. I initially thought I was imagining it, but there was the same nuance that popped up both times that I tested Tabac. It’s obviously a question of skin chemistry, but it’s a super outcome in conjunction with the lingering traces of darkened leather and wooded smokiness. The leather undertone — muted and mild as it now is — is particularly great in tying everything together like a cord.

Source: ironwood-design.com

Source: ironwood-design.com

Tabac continues to soften, and its sillage drops further. For the first two hours, Tabac hovered about 3 inches above the skin, then it drops to a mere inch at the start of the third hour. By the 4.5 hour mark, it is a skin scent that is primarily cinnamon-dusted, tonka tobacco with traces of chocolate mocha, leathered darkness, and cedar smoke, all nestled in the quietest cocoon of dry amber. Tabac turns more and more abstract, spending the next 5 hours as a blur of vanilla-dusted tobacco leaves with amber and the lightest, tiniest speckle of powder. To my surprise, it’s still not hard to detect if you put your nose on your skin. In its final moments, Tabac is merely cinnamon sweetness and dryness. All in all, Tabac lasted 12.75 hours on my skin, with moderate sillage for the first third of its life, then discreet sillage.    

On Basenotes, the consensus over Tabac is overwhelmingly positive. Out of 12 reviews, 10 are positive, 1 is neutral, and only 1 is negative. The most interesting thing concerning the last two is that those people seem to significantly disagree as to whether Tabac actually smells like tobacco. So, let’s start with the neutral and negative reviews first:

  • [Neutral:] cedar verging on turpentine.
  • [Negative:] I’m a huge fan of tobacco scents (a “reformed” smoker), but I get absolutely no tobacco from this one… not even a hint. What I do get is “grass”; not new-mown grass, not “pot”, but a strong, soothing, grassy smell. Which I like. I’d like it much more, if it wasn’t astronomically expensive. But no tobacco.

Well, skin chemistry is a funny thing, and his skin obviously brought out all the greenness of the scent. Another commentator also found that Tabac had no tobacco but he, in contrast, gave the fragrance a thumbs-up, writing: “Definitely NOT Tobacco, but….. a great perfume!”  

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Others, though, got a full dose of the note, with several posters proclaiming that Tabac is a “must try” for any serious tobacco lover. The analysis of one commentator, “Hirch_Duckfinder,” is superb:

Starts with a slightly boozy blast of tobacco, like an islay malt, smokey and resinous with echoes of hay. For a short while the tobacco remains centre and top until it settles down and it drops into a strong structure with the warm tobacco at the low register, some lovely fluid labdanum, sweet tonka and beautiful vanilla sitting in layers. There is clary sage too, seamlessly integrated as flavouring. The drydown is absolutely my favourite tobacco accord of all time. The balance is wonderful, the tobacco is present but not too sharp or musty, not sour and thin or thick and overwhelming but with body and lightness at the same time. The other notes are carefully built around to pull out aspects of its complex smell.

This has instantly become my favourite tobacco scent and one of my favourite perfumes of all. If you like tobacco at all, you must try this.

While the opening is quite masculine, I think the drydown is very wearable by a woman who likes tobacco.

I am not sure if it is the natural materials, the composition or both, but there is something in these profumo perfumes which gives me the impression of 3D, its almost like I can see the layers of the structure, distinct but in balance and with clear air between them.

Two more reviews are useful in providing comparisons to other tobacco fragrances on the market. First, “The Good Life” who writes:

I can’t add much to hirch’s lucid desciption. It is indeed a wonderful, must-try fragance. I, too, appreciate the absence of honey-dripping sweetness, as in SMN’s Acqua di Cuba, Boellis Panama and many other tobaccos and anyone who finds the musty density of [Creed‘s] vintage Tabarôme overly stifling will find here a clearer, more accentuated and tobacco-focused scent. That said, it is by no means simple – Dubrana has pointed out that this is in fact his most complex fragance in which he employs ingredients themselves constructed from many individual oils. Yet it is supremely elegant and easy to wear and even quite long lasting for a natural perfume. [Emphasis and bolding to names added by me.]

Gingerbread Cake by Mark Woods, at Shelbyville Times-Gazette, t-g.com.

Gingerbread Cake by Mark Woods, at Shelbyville Times-Gazette, t-g.com.

WillC” adds a comparison to Miller HarrisFeuilles de Tabac, and also brings up Luca Turin:

A deliciously comfortable masculine” (cf. Luca Turin) is a brilliant encapsulation of this fantastic fragrance. You might look at this description in the following way: “deliciously” referring to the slightly gourmandish aspects of the fragrance – most obviously gingerbread-like (as with Feuilles de Tabac – which Tabac, in my view, comfortably outclasses), although sometimes I seem to catch a faint whiff of something a bit like cocoa in the top notes. “Comfortable” – sometimes it reminds me of putting on a favourite old jumper (Tabac works well in winter, I’ve yet to try it in warmer weather), and there is definitely a strongly comforting aspect to the fragrance (perhaps this is partly because I used to be a smoker), although Tabac wouldn’t be at all out of place at a black-tie event. “Masculine” – I would say the fragrance is most obviously masculine, though I think a daring woman could pull it off.

There is a kind of sense of depth and density the fragrance has to it – this is perhaps due to the complex blending of a large number of natural ingredients – which I find very appealing. [¶] All in all, one my personal favourites from the La Via del Profumo line, and, I think, a definite must-sample for anyone looking for a truly high-quality tobacco fragrance. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

As for Luca Turin, yes, he does indeed love Tabac, which is one of three Profumo scents to which he awarded Four Stars. In fact, Profumo is supposedly the only all-natural perfume house that he includes in his book, Perfumes: the A-Z Guide. There, he calls Tabac a “tobacco leaf” fragrance, and writes:

Some years back I lived for a time in [Durham] North Carolina… home to half a dozen tobacco companies, including Lucky Strike. On some days, the downtown streets smelled so wonderfully of tobacco that the whole place felt like it had been carved out of a giant gingerbread. Tabac approximates that beautifully, without being overly sweet or honeyed. A deliciously comfortable fragrance.

I agree that Tabac is a comfortable fragrance, but I find it much more than that. I think it’s damn sexy. It conjures up the masculinity of the hottest, most rugged man on earth with a seriously gravelly, stubbly cheek that you could light a match against. (Those of you who know me well know of my massive obsession with …. er… interest in Jim Caveziel and “Mr. Reese” in the television show, Person of Interest. And, yes, I’m imagining smelling this on “Mr. Reese.”) Yet, the softness and spiced coziness makes Tabac something that would be fascinating on a confident, strong woman, creating an utterly alluring set of contradictions between Hemingway’s unlit Cohiba and the softly feminine tonka bean, the honeyed touch, and the gingerbread. If you’re a woman who loves tobacco scents or whose skin amplifies sweetness, then I don’t think you’ll find Tabac to be very “masculine.”

Photo of Faun by Forest Rogers, via Australian Perfume Junkies.

Photo of Faun by Forest Rogers, via Australian Perfume Junkies.

I know I’m quoting a lot of people but I want to give you the fullest picture possible, which is why I have to toss in perhaps one of the most visually descriptive takes on Tabac. It comes from Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, who has a terrific photo to convey what she experienced:

It opens up deliciously vanilla and murky green tobacco on my skin, deep and humus rich earthy, maybe the cistus (rock rose) flies above but to me there is a fruity/jammy quality to the higher notes so you have a 2 speed fragrance. The depth and steady boom of the vanilla/tonka/smoking tobacco are played against this light flower/green tobacco/hay/fruity accord, there may even be a boozy side story here just on the edge of smelling. It is quite a ride, you can almost feel the sun on the cut grass, warming and drying it. This is a perfume, hefty, tasty, lusty and delicious; not for the faint hearted or affeared of fragrance. There is no hint of light aquatic, fruity nothing here. As it begins to lose its potency and aims towards dry down Tabac becomes sweeter before it goes dark, like the vanilla has come back to round the whole story out. Scent, longevity and sillage; Tabac by La Via del Profumo seems to have it all for me. When I finish this nearly empty sample it will be FB time.

I’m with Portia because, in case you hadn’t gathered by now, I thoroughly enjoyed Tabac and want a bottle for myself. It hits my sweet spot of a “comfort fragrance,” but it’s also so much more than that. Tabac’s grassiness, tarry leather, woody smokiness, soft cinnamon tonka, and mysterious floral element make it a 3D hologram of a tobacco plant. For me, the sum-total effect is very original, complex, sexy, and sophisticated. It’s also such a damn relief not to have a tobacco fragrance dripping with gooey syrup, powder, or oud!

Yes, I admit, the sillage isn’t monumental. No-one will ever compare a Profumo scent to a Tom Ford powerhouse. That said, I thought Tabac tied with Milano Caffé as being the strongest of the line that I’ve tested thus far. (Plus, Mr. Dubrana suggests spraying a fragrance on one’s hair and clothing to increase longevity and power.) At least it is something you don’t have to fear wearing to the office. As an added bonus, Tabac is moderately priced at $50 for the smallest bottle, a little goes a long way, and samples aren’t difficult to obtain, either.

Tabac is the last of my Profumo reviews, and I think it is a great way to close out this mini-marathon. It joins the expresso-patchouli-vetiver fragrance, Milano Caffé, and the “death by jasmine” Tawaf as my personal favorites from the line. I think that many other tobacco lovers will also enjoy Tabac. That includes women, too, so long as they like dry, unsweetened, and/or semi-masculine fragrances. Tabac’s gingerbread, cinnamon, tonka drydown feels as unisex as you can get, so perhaps it’s merely a question of getting past the more overtly masculine opening. Give it 15-30 minutes, and you will see that the raw edges start to soften. Give it 90 minutes, and you’ll see the beginnings of the delicious drydown. In short, whatever your gender, if you’re looking for a pure tobacco scent with leather, smoked woodiness, and softly spiced amber, then Tabac should definitely be on your list of things to try.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tabac is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Tabac are in Euros without VAT: €36,70 for 15.5 ml, €78,69 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €112,13 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $50 for the 15.5 ml, $107 for the 32 ml, and $152 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Tabac is €15,87. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Additionally, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: you can order a sample of Tabac from Surrender to Chance which sells the perfume starting at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Caron Tabac Blond Parfum – Modern Extrait Version

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

Androgyny, the dawn of the modern age, and the desire to blend masculinity with femininity are some of the inspirations behind Tabac Blond. It is one of the legendary leather and tobacco perfumes of the early 20th-century from the famous house of Caron.

Tabac Blond was released in 1919, the same year of another perfume giant, Guerlain’s Mitsouko. Tabac Blond was the creation of Caron’s founder and “nose,” Ernest Daltroff, who sought to create a scent for the new, modern woman. As Fragrantica puts it, it was a fragrance “for women who smoke cigarettes, since a cigarette was, at that time, the perfect symbol of freedom and chic of a Parisian woman.” Caron has a more evocative and vivid description:

To mark the dawn of feminine liberation, CARON made the bold move in 1919 of dedicating a deliberately provocative perfume to the beautiful androgynous women of the era, with their long ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette-holders poised nonchalantly between their lips.

Tabac Blond: a subtly ambiguous fragrance that borrows the leathery head notes from the world of masculine fragrance, and combines them with Caron’s inimitable floral bouquet…

Source: topwalls.net

Source: topwalls.net

Tabac Blond is one of Caron’s Haute Parfumerie “Urn Scents” which originated as extracts or pure parfums. While Tabac Blond is now also available in eau de parfum concentration, what most people rave about is the vintage pure parfum. Now, I tried the parfum extrait version, but not the vintage version. I would like to, but, frankly, it’s not what most people have access to. So, modern Tabac Blond extrait is the focus of this review. You can find it at a handful of niche perfume sites, like Luckyscent, though I doubt anything would compare to the experience of buying it at a Caron boutique where the sales assistants will fill your bottle from their exquisite, famed Baccarat crystal urns into something a little more practical, portable, and pedestrian.

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

The Caron website lists only three things for Tabac Blond’s notes: Leather, iris, and cedar. Fragrantica has a much more complete list:

leather, carnation, lime blossom, iris, vetiver, ylang-ylang, cedar, patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, musk.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

You will notice that tobacco is not mentioned anywhere. Yes, this perfume known for being the original tobacco, smoking scent does not actually include a single drop of the note. (Neither, for that matter, does Habanita which followed it two years later in 1921 from Molinard.)

I need to say something at the outset. I’m not really one for powdery scents, let alone powdery florals. My tastes run towards deep Orientals, heavily spiced ambers, smoky woody fragrances, or mossy Chypres, but I always appreciate something which is well-done and refined in nature. Tabac Blond certainly qualifies, even in its modern form.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

The parfum opens on my skin with a flood of carnation that is primarily spicy, peppered, and almost a bit clove-like in its aroma. There is a hint of something akin to rose in its sweetness, but the carnation’s piquant, spicy nature really dominates. It is followed by powder, then leather which has a definite animalic undertone, as if it had been lightly coated with castoreum. Flickers of lime and vanilla quietly trail behind, but the main bouquet is of powdered carnation, lightly infused with animalic leather. There is a sweetness to the powder, which definitely comes from iris, but it is not heavily vanillic.

Marrons Glacés.

Marrons Glacés.

The Caron base which I’ve detected in a few of its other fragrances, like Nuit de Noel, is very evident here. “Caronade,” as it’s called, is very hard to describe if you haven’t smelled it, but it essentially consists of a bouquet that always makes me think of marrons glacée or glazed, iced chestnuts. It’s visually very brown, with a dark richness that is simultaneously dry, sweet, powdered, nutty, and a little bit vetiver-like in its dark, somewhat earthy woodiness. I realise that all sounds very odd, but marrons glacée or iced chestnuts are often mentioned by people when it comes to describing the Caronade, so try to imagine a slightly leathered, dry, faintly powdered, vetiver-ish, spicy, vanillic version of that, and you’ll be close.

Tabac Blond slowly starts to shift. About 5 minutes in, the iris becomes more prominent in its own right. It’s chilly, cool, and very much like scented, sweetened, makeup powder. The Caronade signature also becomes more visible, but the leather is surprisingly subtle on my skin. It drifts through the top notes as a dark spectre with an animalic undertone, but I would never sniff Tabac Blond and think, “ah, leather!” Carnation and powder, definitely, but the leather takes a distinct back-seat to the other two elements. Still, it’s really nice as it has both a warm richness and a refined smoothness that evokes kid-skin.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

It’s hard for me to review Tabac Blond without bringing up Habanita, its younger sister. The two perfumes have a similar profile, share a number of notes in common, and are quite alike on my skin. For example, a subtle tinge of sourness. I don’t know if it is my skin or something about the lime blossom, but Tabac Blond has the faintest trace of sourness. It also popped up with Habanita which has bergamot instead of lime to go with all the florals, powder, and leather, but it was significantly stronger there. With Tabac Blond, it is much more subtle and fades away after about 30 minutes. Another difference is that Tabac Blond is much more leathered, dark, spicy, and smooth than Habanita on me. The latter was fruity, more synthetic in feel, and sweeter. Tabac Blond’s leather is much smoother, lacking Habanita’s rubbery or sharp edges. The Habanita is dominated primarily by rose, while Tabac Blond is all spicy carnation with a subtext of cloves. Finally, the Habanita lacks the very key Caronade signature, and is about ten times more powerful in terms of projection.

Source: Walltor.com

Source: Walltor.com

Yet, for all the subtle differences, the two fragrances are definitely related. Powdered florals, lightly flecked by leather, and carrying a trace of some vaguely abstract “tobacco.” The latter is much softer and more subtle in Tabac Blond than it is in Habanita, but the note is pretty much identical. It smells just like the powdered, scented paper in an empty pack of cigarettes. It’s never tobacco in the way of modern fragrances that have that note; this is not the tobacco of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, or Serge LutensChergui. This is scented, powdered paper in something that once contained tobacco and whose lingering traces have merely carried over.

Source: Allposters.com

Source: Allposters.com

Tabac Blond continues to change as time goes by. The sillage was initially moderate, but starts to drop after 40 minutes. At the end of the 2nd hour, Tabac Blond is almost a skin scent, though it is very easy to detect up close. It coats the skin as a discrete, silken layer of carnation and powdered, lipstick-y iris, with a faint trace of leather and tobacco paper, all nestled within the warm embrace of the chestnut-y, dark Caronade. The lime is no longer there, and faded away about 30 minutes in; the animalic undertones soon followed. The tobacco paper impression is now almost imperceptible, requiring a lot of hard sniffs to detect it lurking in the lower layers. The vanilla is also quite muted, adding an indirect touch of sweetness to the carnation which is now much less spicy and clove-like. There is a faint touch of warmth growing in the base, though it is wholly abstract and can’t be singled out as amber in any distinct way.

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Tabac Blond remains largely unchanged until its very end, with only subtle differences in the strength of certain notes. The one new thing to appear is the cedar which becomes a tiny bit prominent in the drydown, as does the vanilla, while the carnation becomes increasingly abstract. By the start of the sixth hour, Tabac Blond is a true skin scent that is primarily an abstract, powdered floral with cedar and vanilla. There is a trace of something dark lurking underneath that sometimes feels like very soft, muted leather, but, at other times, merely seems like the Caronade.

In its final moments, Tabac Blond is just a blur of something powdered, vaguely sweet, and with the faintest trace of Caronade. A small quantity lasted for quite a while on my skin: about 1/4 of a ml, gave me just under 11 hours in duration. A slightly larger amount increased the time-frame to about 13 hours. The longevity is just as well, because Tabac Blond in the extrait version isn’t cheap. It’s $265 for 15 ml, though Luckyscent offers a 7.5 ml bottle for $100. Unfortunately, they are sold out of it, with no indication of when they might get it in. Somehow, the fragrance is cheaper in Europe where the 15 ml bottle retails for €120 or about $153. (See the Details section at the end for more information.)

I have mixed feelings about Tabac Blond. As noted earlier, powdered florals are not really my thing, but there is something appealing about the Caron’s version in the opening hours. It’s definitely very pretty at times, especially with the spicy clove undertone, and I’m sure the vintage was even better, with added darkness, smokiness, and bundles of animalic leather. The current parfum version is sophisticated, powdered femininity, but it’s a lot less complicated or interesting than I thought it would be. To be fair, this is not the version everyone talks about, and I rarely find powder puff scents to be interesting in general. Very few of them appeal to me, but I certainly think Tabac Blond is more nuanced than the current Knize Ten, another powdery leather thanks to reformulation. I definitely prefer it to Habanita, which isn’t as luxurious, high-quality, rich or smooth.

I think Tabac Blond skews quite feminine by today’s standards, as I suspect it’s too powdered and makeup-like for most men. Yet, a ton of men love Knize Ten which has been also reformulated into a very powdery scent these days, so who knows. Tabac Blond is much richer, and sweeter than the original Knize Ten, and not as oriental as Knize Gold. Plus, its leather is extremely different, as there is not an iota of birch tar in the Tabac Blond parfum that I tried. The note is much smoother and more refined than the leather in the Knize fragrance; perhaps more akin to the drydown leather of Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie. It’s also sweeter than the leather in both those fragrances, thanks to the Caronade with its mix of dryness, sweetness, vanilla and chestnuts.

Tabac Blond extrait is generally a much adored fragrance in its vintage form. You can read any number of rave, positive reviews for it on the blogosphere, as it may be one of the most discussed fragrances out there, and everyone gets around to covering it eventually. Take, for example, Angela at Now Smell This who wrote, in part:

Although I can imagine a man wearing Tabac Blond well, on me the perfume feels luxuriously womanly. It’s top notes are leather, carnation, and linden, with heart notes of iris, vetiver, ylang ylang, and lime-tree leaf. Its base is cedar, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musk, although a smoky, spicy vanilla is mostly what lingers on my skin.

Tabac Blond’s range isn’t huge. I don’t get the piquant top notes that many fragrances provide, but instead tobacco leaf, gently supported by spicy florals, starts right off the bat. Then the scent of raw leather appears for a while, and the effect is that of a buttery leather ashtray full of cigarette butts and snickerdoodles, or maybe a leather-vanilla soufflé in a smoky brasserie, if anything like that were ever cooked up. Imagine lipstick-stained wine glasses on marble-topped tables, a smeared golden haze on the mirror over the bar, and worn, red leather banquettes, and you start to get the idea. Tabac Blond has good staying power, and a dab on each wrist and behind the ears will last all day.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

It sounds lovely but, if you look at the date of that review, it’s 2007 and I suspect she may have tested the older, vintage version. I’ve tried to stay away from the issue of vintage Tabac Blond because, frankly, the majority of us will never get the chance to try it. It is simply too expensive, and hard to obtain.

It’s also not easy to find reviews of the modern, current Tabac Blond, as everyone focuses on the reportedly glorious original which was Marlene Dietrich’s favorite scent. A lot of times, talk of the modern version usually comes in the form of a comment posted to a review about the vintage version, with people lamenting the changes, the loss of the leather, and the dominance of powdered florals. Well, they aren’t wrong about that last part, and it makes me feel a lot better for my ambivalence towards the scent.

One person who has written, albeit briefly, about the current version is Bois de Jasmin who did a comparative assessment of both. She loves the vintage parfum which she rates at 5-stars, but gave the modern fragrance a rare one-star. Her review of the 2011 Tabac Blond is wholly disapproving:

It is telling that every time I try to write “Tabac Blond,” I invariably end up with “Tabac Bland.” Indeed, the new version is just that, a bland carnation. The original Tabac Blond has a dark smoky leather note that in combination with rich tobacco and sandalwood create a haunting, smoldering effect. None of those elements are present in what passes for Tabac Blond today. There is a hint of clove and sheer moss, a whisper of something green, but overall, Tabac Blond in its current form is not even worth smelling.

Others have noted definite changes in the scent as well, but my friend, Suzanne, of Eiderdown Press didn’t think they were enormous back in 2009. Perhaps things have gone further down hill since then, but you may be interested in her comparative view of two bottles of the Extrait which she purchased at different times back around the reformulation date:

the big question circulating the blogs last year was, Has this fragrance been “watered down” during the course of its reformulations?  To which I can only say, I purchased two decants of the extrait de parfum back in 2007, and there were noticeable differences between them: the one purchased later in the year was distinctly less dense and full-bodied  than the first decant. Yes, it was a little disturbing; but that said, the Tabac Blonde extrait from either one of those decant bottles still smells as provocatively unique and unto-itself as any scent in my collection. The fragrance’s smoky, spicy, burnt-rubber-and- carnations opening reminds me of the first delicious drags of cigarette—the first one you’ve had in ages—and as it dries down, the tar-like quality dissolves into warm leather, with an amber-and-vanilla finish that does not diminish the smokiness of this scent, but makes for a smooth, fat-bottomed ride that seems to go on forever. Put it all together, and everything about Tabac Blond—from its invitation to enjoy a private, leisurely smoke to its leather panels to its cushiony amber seat—says, Get into my car, babe. Let’s drive.

Suzanne’s version sounds significantly more leathered, tobacco’ed, and ambered than the sample I ordered in 2013, which makes me wonder if the fragrance has been watered down even more since she bought her decant in 2007.

Still, on Fragrantica, the current version of Tabac Blond seems to be much appreciated, though primarily by women. Something that struck me as very odd is that 15 people have voted for a similarity between Tabac Blond and Karl Lagerfeld‘s cologne. Now, I love and own the vintage version, but not the new, reformulated fragrance which appears under the name “Karl Lagerfeld Classic.” I haven’t smelled the latter in a long, long time, but, to my memory, it’s not at all similar to Tabac Blond. It certainly lacks the Caronade signature, as well as the richness and the smoothness of Tabac Blond. I also remember the new, reformulated Lagerfeld “Classic” as being significantly sweeter, more synthetic, and with more actual tobacco, but without any of the carnation spice.

Clearly, vintage Tabac Blond Extrait was a masterpiece of leather, but the current version isn’t terrible. It’s definitely something more suited to those who love powdery carnation or floral scents, but it does have pretty aspects. The Caronade adds a very lovely, rich vein of dark sweetness, and the leather (when it appears) is wonderfully smooth. It may not last very long, but I enjoyed its subtle flickers in the earlier stages. Tabac Blond definitely skews feminine in my view, and I think most men would struggle with the powder aspect. Still, a lot of men adore Knize Ten which, in its modern formulation, is also very powdery, so there is a slim chance that Tabac Blond might appeal. However, don’t expect a ton of leather with modern Tabac Blond, and the same goes for the tobacco.

The main conclusion to draw from all this seems to be this: perhaps we should all scour eBay for the vintage version. Modern Tabac Blond is a great interpretation of a carnation powder puff, with the added benefit of some other subtle elements, brief as they might be, but it’s not really a leather scent any more.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The version of Tabac Blond that I tested was the Extrait or Parfum which costs $100 for a 7.5 ml bottle, $265 for a 15 ml bottle, and up depending on size. There is also an Eau de Parfum that comes in two sizes. A 50 ml bottle that retails for $130, or a 100 ml bottle that costs $170. Caron has a website, but no e-store from which you can buy the perfumes. In the U.S.: Tabac Blond Extrait is carried at Seattle’s Parfumerie Nasreen which sells the Extrait for $265, but it doesn’t state the size of the bottle (which looks larger than 7.5 ml to me). The $100, small Parfum size is offered by Luckyscent, which also sells the EDP version, but all three are sold out. You can have them email you when they receive it. Tabac Blond Pure Parfum is offered by The Perfume House in Portland which sells the 15 ml bottle for $265, and a 50 ml bottle for $330. It also offers the EDP versions. In New York, you can find it at Caron’s boutique at 715 Lexington Avenue or can perhaps call to order (Ph: (212) 308-0270). There seems to be no other retail options. Nordstrom’s once carried the EDP, but no more. Outside the U.S.: In Paris, you can purchase the fragrance from the 3 Caron boutiques. In France, you can order Tabac Blond Extrait from Atelier Parfumé in a variety of sizes, ranging from the 7.5 ml for €90, going up to €120 for 15 ml, €150 for 20 ml, and €250 for the 50 ml size. You can contact them to see where they ship. One place that says it ships worldwide is the Soleil d’Or Parfumerie which sells Tabac Blond Extrait in the 50 ml bottle for €226. They are sold out of the 15 ml bottle. In the UK, I couldn’t find the Extrait version anywhere. I only found Tabac Blond EDP at Escentual which is briefly discounting the fragrances at £84 for the 50 ml instead of £105, while the 100 ml bottle of EDP is reduced to £134 instead of £167.50. The EDP is available for full price at London’s Les Senteurs, along with a sample for purchase. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells the Extrait starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. What I did instead was to order the Smaller Caron Gateway Pack which gives you Tabac Blond Pure Parfum, along with Poivre Parfum, and Parfum Sacré in EDP version in a set that starts at $9.99 for three 1/2 ml vials. The site also offers Vintage Tabac Blond Extrait starting at $19.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

Odin New York 11 Semma: Chili Peppers & Tobacco

Source: Odin Facebook page.

Source: Odin Facebook page.

One of my perfume resolutions for 2014 was to explore perfume houses that aren’t as well-known, and to pass wider afield of the usual mainstay niche brands. Odin New York isn’t new, but it is much less well-known than the Le Labos and L’Artisans of our little world. The company is a hip, edgy men’s fashion retailer in New York who branched out into unisex fragrances in 2009. Each fragrance comes with a name and a number, like 04 Petrana, 08 Seylon, or 10 Roam.

I sniffed much of the line while in Paris, noticing that the fragrances seemed to get consecutively darker or more oriental as the numbers grew higher. Still, they were all too sheer, light, and insubstantial for my tastes. In addition, I was unimpressed with their concept of an “Oriental,” and didn’t find any of the scents to be particularly interesting. They felt rather pedestrian, lacking oomph, distinctiveness, and soul. However, when I heard that Odin New York had released a new perfume that was centered around tobacco, I decided to keep an open mind. After all, it was number 11, so, at the very least, it should finally be dark and rich enough, right? Not exactly.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

11 Semma was released late in 2013, and is an eau de parfum that was initially available only for pre-order at Barney’s New York. Odin describes it as follows:

SEMMA is a collection of notes from distant lands veiled in mystery. A vibrant composition bended in discoveries of sweet tobacco leaf and warm myrrh. Core spices of cinnamon bark and herbaceous clove intertwine within the brightness of fresh chili pepper. Aged sandalwood and powdery tonka bean uncover a buoyancy both familiar and enduring.

Top: Warm Myrrh, Fresh Chili Pepper
Middle: Cinnamon Bark, Herbaceous Clove
Bottom: Sandalwood, Tonka Bean, Sweet Tobacco

11 Semma (or “Semma“) opens on my skin with a puzzling but very distinctive aroma of fresh citruses that resemble bergamot. There is no such note listed in the olfactory pyramid, but I smelled subtle elements of citrus for a good 40 minutes on my skin. It is followed by a delicate carnation note, but within seconds, a fiery burst of chili pepper arrives on the scene.

Source: wallpapersfor.biz

Source: wallpapersfor.biz

Piquant, peppered, spicy, and fierce, the chili infuses every part of the crisp bergamot and sweet carnation. Hints of smoky myrrh, dried tobacco, and a whisper of cinnamon follow, but everything is subsumed under the dancing peppers. The spices and sweetness melt into the vague woodiness upon which the fragrance is based, suffusing it with some of the undertones of sandalwood, though it never feels like the real wood to me. I like how the chili adds a bite to the carnation, which felt almost rose-like in its sweetness until the fiery pepper transformed it. As a whole, Semma’s opening bouquet is of a highly spiced, peppered, biting carnation-rose mixed with juicy, ripe bergamot, dry tobacco, and a touch of smoke.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

Ten minutes in, there is the first whiff of something that smells of ISO E Super infused with tobacco. I have to wonder if it is Kephalis, because it really aggravates my nose when smelled up close in a way that regular ISO E Super does not. Kephalis is a cousin to ISO E Super, only woodier and drier. Givaudan‘s description of the synthetic is useful, as it points out that Kephalis is used to recreate tobacco and woody tonalities:

Kephalis is a very versatile and rich product, used as a long lasting heart/basic note. It blends well with floral notes (jasmine, rose, violet, lavender, etc.) as well as sophisticated amber, woody-aldehydic, tobacco and masculine creations.

Source: Walltor.com

Source: Walltor.com

Whether Semma has Kephalis or actual ISO E Super, it is initially only a brief whiff of something peppered, and serves to amplify the fiery bite of the chili note. It also helps to offset the growing sweetness of the carnation note. There is something about the floral accord that my nose keeps translating as a jammy rose aroma, but thanks to the other elements, it is never cloying or excessive. Ten minutes in, the synthetic tobacco aroma grows stronger, along with the cinnamon and a touch of smokiness. The chili pepper is very authentic in feel, right down to the burning whiff of capsaicin that you’d get if you bit into a Habanero pepper.

Source: art4uk.co.uk

Source: art4uk.co.uk

11 Semma really seems to have three distinct stages. For the first 40 minutes, it is entirely fiery chili peppers with jammy, sweet, fruited carnation, followed by dry tobacco, cinnamon, and a touch of myrrh, all infused with an increasingly sharp, aggressive, peppered ISO E Super or Kephalis aromachemical. Semma is an airy, sheer, insubstantial cloud that wafts 3 inches above the skin. It may not have much heft or weight, but it is extremely strong when sniffed up close. Unfortunately, within 30 minutes, the notes become more and more indistinct, apart from the chili, and the perfume feels utterly bland except for that one element of fieriness. There is nothing terribly wrong with it (except for the aromachemicals that really hurt my nose), but it just feels so damn pedestrian. It doesn’t feel rich, luxurious, deep, or complex. It is merely… there.

Dry tobacco leaves. Source: cigarettesplace.net

Dry tobacco leaves. Source: cigarettesplace.net

At the end of the first hour, the second and main stage begins when the ISO E Super/Kephalis takes over, and transforms the scent into a scratchy, super dry, prickly, jangling tobacco synthetic. There are fading hints of chili pepper capsaicin, and an increasingly abstract, amorphous, sweet floral element, but both are muted, and recede further to the edges as time goes by. In the base, Semma’s extreme dryness and generic woodiness are lightly flecked by powdered cinnamon and vanilla, but neither note is enough to add much warmth or softness to the dry scent. Semma remains this way for the next few hours, with all the notes becoming hazier and less distinct except for the arid tobacco aromachemical. At the end of the 3rd hour, the sillage drops, and Semma hovers right above the skin.

Source: rgbstock.com

Source: rgbstock.com

The final stage begins shortly after the start of the 6th hour. Semma has devolved into a generic, dry, tobacco woody blur, infused with cinnamon and vanilla. The drydown is nice, relative to the sharpness of the opening, though I admit my feelings are influenced by the fact that the bloody aromachemicals have finally dulled and retreated to the sidelines. The growing presence of the vanilla helps make the scent softer, and cozier. Now, Semma is merely an amorphous, fuzzy haze of dryness, sweetness, and woodiness. The tobacco is still the most distinctive element in a distinct, individual way, but it finally feels much more muted and hazy as well.

In its final moments, Semma is a nebulous, generic woody sweetness. There are suggestions of vanilla and a dry spice, but it’s subtle. To my surprise, the fragrance never really demonstrated the “powdery elements” referenced in Odin’s description or in Fragrantica‘s entry. All in all, Semma lasted just under 10.5 hours on my skin. It wasn’t a sillage monster, and projected about 3 inches at most in its opening hour. However, the aromachemicals make it extremely potent when sniffed up close. As a whole, Semma had moderate sillage that became soft at the start of the 4th hour. It took about 6 hours for Semma to become a true skin scent.

As you might have guessed by now, I didn’t think much of 11 Semma. Even if we put aside the excessive aromachemicals, the fragrance simply wasn’t all that interesting. Another abstract, dry, woody fragrance led primarily by a synthetic, arid tobacco… how novel. I do give kudos for the use of chili pepper, despite it being chemical as hell, because at least it added some whimsy. But a whiff of Habanero-pepper capsaicin isn’t enough to rescue the pedestrian, familiar character of Semma. Plus, it’s so thin in its simplicity! If there were some added richness, like a deep amber heart, oodles of labdanum nuttiness, creamy vanilla, substantial smoke, a tinge of leather, or even some molten warmth, then maybe Semma would feel more luxurious. At $165 or €140 a bottle, I’d like something other than generic tobacco dryness with aromachemicals and a whiff of vanilla-cinnamon.

11 Semma is too new for there to be any blog reviews about it, with the exception of CaFleureBon. Naturally, they liked it, though they concede that it is really only the chili pepper which makes Semma interesting:

When I first put it on, I was disarmed by the vegetal aroma of a fresh, snappy pepper, assertively making a statement before the spice notes try to stomp it down. Like an unexpected giggle, this pepper note pops up here and there even when you think it is gone. Myrrh, cinnamon, and clove are some of my favorite perfume notes this time of year, but without this fresh, almost humorous blast of chili up top and weaving its way in and out, Semma wouldn’t be as interesting.

As the perfume wears, the blend of notes creates a haze of autumn around your body. The perfume takes on that “favorite old sweater” quality, comfortable and warm. It is familiar, yet unique enough to be a welcome addition to the cool-weather wardrobe. It has some sweetness from the myrhh and tonka, but it is balanced by the woods and tobacco. The drydown is lovely, and longevity is also quite good. All in all, this is a pleasure from beginning to end.

There are no reviews for Semma at this time in either its Fragrantica or Basenotes entries. I must say, I’m glad, as that means I don’t have to talk about it further. Life is too short for such mediocrity.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Semma is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml/3.4 oz size and costs $165 or €140. In the U.S.: you can purchase Semma directly from Odin New York, which offers free domestic shipping, but does not ship world-wide. The fragrance is also available at Barney’s, Fellow Barber, and at numerous brick-and-mortar stores throughout America. You can find a list of shops from Wisconsin to Texas at Odin US Stockist page. Outside the U.S.: I had difficulty finding online retailers for both Odin in general and 11 Semma in specific. Those sites which do carry Odin often only offer about 6-8 of the line. I found no Canadian vendors. In the UK, I’ve read that Odin is carried in Liberty London, but the site shows no products under the Odin entry. In Paris, 11 Semma is already available at Colette where it is priced at €140. Odin fragrances are also carried at Sens Unique in the Marais district of the 4ieme arr., but it does not have an e-Store, unfortunately. I do remember from my visit to Sens Unique in September that they have all the Odins on the market. Elsewhere in France, Odin is carried by Premiere Avenue, but not 11 Semma. Your best bet would be to use the Odin EU and Odin Asia stockist links to find a vendor near you. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells Semma starting at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Phaedon Tabac Rouge, Rouge Avignon & Pure Azure

Pierre Guillaume. Source: Fragrantica

Pierre Guillaume. Source: Fragrantica

While in Paris, I had the chance to sniff fragrances from Phaedon, the Paris niche perfume house founded in 2011 by Pierre Guillaume (who also owns Parfumerie Generale and is behind Huitieme Art). The line previously had seven eau de toilettes, but, this summer, Mr. Guillaume launched seven more fragrances that are all “High Concentration Eaux de Parfums.” The new creations were all made by Pierre Guillaume in collaboration with various perfumers.

I obtained samples of three of the fragrances, thanks to the kindness of the Paris niche boutique, Sens Unique, a fantastic store which I will rave about in another post one day. The perfumes in question are: Tabac Rouge (Turkish Blend), Rouge Avignon, and Pure Azure. For reasons that will soon become clear, I’ve decided not to follow my usual course of doing a lengthy, comprehensive review for each fragrance individually. Instead, I’ll merely provide a brief synopsis and my impressions for all three perfumes in a single post.

TABAC ROUGE:

Tabac Rouge. Source: Fragrantica

Tabac Rouge. Source: Fragrantica

Phaedon describes Tabac Rouge (Turkish Blend) as follows:

Turkish Blend is a quintessentially Art Deco composition. Turkish tobacco absolute and incense make up the core accord, spare, dry and perfectly balanced. As in Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings, the “color” palette is pared-down and vibrant: ginger, cinnamon and a lick of honey. In the base notes, musks, bolstered by warm, powdery Siam benzoin, blend the scent with your skin. Androgynous, stylized and luxurious.

Fragrantica‘s list of notes, oddly enough, excludes the main ingredients in the scent which are Turkish tobacco absolute and incense. Adding those in, Tabac Rouge’s ingredients would include:

Turkish tobacco absolute, incense, ginger, cinnamon, honey, musk, powdery notes and benzoin.

Source: Basenotes

Source: Basenotes

Tabac Rouge is, in a nutshell, a simpler, slightly less forceful, lighter version of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. The major differences to me are that the Phaedon version is fractionally less sweet than its cousin, lacks a fruited base, has weaker sillage, less density, and doesn’t quite take on the Yankee Candle Plum Pudding undertone of Tobacco Vanille.

Like Tobacco Vanille, Tabac Rouge starts with a strong blast of honeyed tobacco that is infused with incense and vanilla, and dusted with spices in a potent blend that eventually turns softer, airier, more powdered, and more vanillic in nature. The differences that exist are largely minute, and one of degree. As noted above, Tabac Rouge lacks a plum pudding undertone, but it also feels much more honeyed to me. In fact, the honey was much more pronounced on my skin than the vanilla which seemed less significant than in Tobacco Vanille. A much bigger difference is that Tabac Rouge feels much softer and lighter than the Tom Ford fragrance. It doesn’t have the latter’s dense, thick chewiness, but it does have its longevity.

In essence, it’s very sweet, it’s pretty, and it’s a much better deal than the Tom Ford fragrance at $160 for 100 ml, instead of $210 for a mere 50 ml. Nonetheless, it’s obviously treading water that’s been explored before, which is why I agree, to some extent, with Mark Behnke of CaFleureBon whose entire summation of Tabac Rouge amounted merely to this:

Tabac Rouge, travels a well-worn path of combining tobacco and incense. It is fine but it didn’t ever rise to a level of something I would be reaching for when I am in the mood for tobacco and incense. If you like these notes and want a lighter simpler take on them Tabac Rouge could fill the bill.

I like Tabac Rouge more than he did, but I too would get my incense and tobacco fix elsewhere.

ROUGE AVIGNON:

Rouge Avignon. Source: Fragrantica

Rouge Avignon. Source: Fragrantica

Phaedon describes Rouge Avignon as follows:

A Gothic composition, as opulent and dark as the shadow of the Papal Palace looming over nations and centuries… The carmine red of the papal stole is conjured with a fleshy, spicy rose facetted by ylang-ylang and raspberry. In the heart notes, waxed woods, cocoa bean, black truffle and earthy smoky vetiver lure us into the private apartments of the Supreme Pontiff. Gilt moldings and religious ornaments glint in the firelight while gray tendrils of smoke rise from a censer burning sandalwood chips mixed with musk and amber.

The succinct list of notes is:

raspberry, ylang-ylang, rose, cacao pod, hinoki wood, tuber [black truffle], vetiver, sandalwood, musk and amber.

Rouge Avignon opens on my skin with a bouquet of honeyed sweetness and delicate florals that soon turn into a fleshy, fruited, purple rose. A strong heaping of sharp, almost clean musk ensues, and deep down in the depths, there is a very noticeable dose of cocoa powder. The latter is soon overwhelmed by the syrupy, jammy rose, and doesn’t really appear again until a few hours later. I honestly don’t smell raspberry as the fruit, per se, in its own right but, instead, an amorphous, almost berry-like fruitiness.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com -

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com –

Something about the overall combination and my skin chemistry has produced instead an accord very similar to a patchouli rose. It’s a profusion of abstract dark berries and syrupy sweetness, much like the purple patchouli I loathe so much. In fact, I’m reminded of Frederic Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady, only Rouge Avignon has a greater degree of musk that feels a little synthetic, along with extremely muted, minor hints of something dark in the base. I’m not the greatest fan of fruited, syrupy, patchouli-like roses, and I don’t like Portrait of a Lady, so I confess that I’m equally underwhelmed here.

I was surprised to see that Mark Behnke of CaFleureBon also struggled with the forceful combination. On him, the fruited element definitely seemed like raspberry in its own right, as opposed to some amorphously red-purple fruit syrup, but he still wasn’t fond of the overall effect:

I really enjoyed the foodie heart of Rouge Avignon but I must confess the strength of the rose and raspberry in the top notes took some getting used to. I think I will revisit this in the chill of the fall.

By the standards of CaFleureBon with their positive, laudatory take on everything, that simple confession speaks volumes. As for the issue of seasons, it’s almost December here, and I’d like Mr. Behnke to know that Rouge Avignon is still a painfully sweet, berried rose from start to finish.

There are only a few minor changes in the fragrance’s primary backbone and theme. After a few hours, a subtle touch of sweetened powder emerges, as does a slightly earthy, murky, brown funk with a faint undertone of cocoa. On my skin, it’s never the “foodie heart” that Mr. Behnke talks about, at least not in any dominant or substantial way. Still, there is some minor darkness deep down in the base, and that turns Rouge Avignon from a scent that begins as Portrait of a Lady into something closer to Tom Ford‘s Noir de Noir. Rouge Avignon is lighter, airier, thinner, and more synthetic in feel than both those fragrances, and it also lacks Noir de Noir’s powdered violet nuance, but the similarities struck me repeatedly nonetheless.

At the end of the day, I simply don’t find the sum-total of Rouge Avignon to be all that interesting. Actually, I grew to hate it quite intensely. The rose is painfully, almost torturously sweet for my tastes, and the perfume feels wholly unoriginal. The list of notes is fantastic, but the reality on my skin is primarily of a very fruited rose with sharp, very synthetic musk, and only a modicum of a dark, earthy heart. However, if you’re looking for something in the general vein or family of Portrait of a Lady, but much lighter and airier, then you should consider Rouge Avignon. It is a much better bargain at $160 (or €120) for a large 100 ml bottle, than Portrait of a Lady which costs $340 for that same sized bottle. The same goes for Noir de Noir which Tom Ford sells for $210 for 50 ml. Rouge Avignon has moderate sillage, turns into a skin scent after four hours, but has good longevity.

PURE AZURE:

Pure Azure. Source: CaFleureBon

Pure Azure. Source: CaFleureBon

The description and advert for Pure Azure are meant to transport you to Mykonos in summer:

This giddy balancing act of a scent carries us high above the cliffs of the Aegean Sea, where azure skies contrast with the blinding whiteness of fishermen’s villages… The fragrance of fig trees and orange blossom, the warmth of vanilla and spices, the sensuousness of jasmine rise from the shores of the Mediterranean. In the base notes, the mouth-watering warmth of tonka bean is brought out by a delicately salty note. A “Mediterranean Oriental” hovering between the radiant and the animal….

The succinct list of notes is:

fig, orange blossom, vanilla, spicy notes, jasmine, tonka bean and salt.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Pure Azure opens with an explosion of whiteness that is both clean and verging on the florid. There is orange blossom, tinged with hints of a more bitter, woody, spicy neroli, and then a big burst of saltiness that is truly wonderful. It’s a visual landscape of white with orange blossoms that are languid, sweet, indolic, utterly lush, and, yet, also fresh. There is spiciness and a definite sense of greenness underlying those orange blossoms, but it is the initial sprinkling of saltiness that really captured my interest.

Unripe Figs via Giverecipe.com. (For recipe on Unripe Fig Jam, click on photo. Link embedded within.)

Unripe Figs via Giverecipe.com. (For recipe on Unripe Fig Jam, click on photo. Link embedded within.)

Unfortunately, it soon fades, but it is replaced by an interesting fig note. Like the orange blossoms, the fruit is simultaneously sweet, fresh, and green. There is none of the leathery darkness that figs can sometimes take on. Instead, there is an almost milky quality that evokes a slightly unripe fruit in late Spring, before the summer heat has turned it fleshy, dark, and gooey. Deep down in Pure Azure’s base, there are touches of vanilla, but it’s never custardy, heavy, or rich.

Pure Azure has a beautiful medley of notes, but what is initially so great about it is the paradoxical mix of freshness and lushness. The orange blossoms have hints of lush, heavy, indolic ripeness, but not quite. It’s as though the sweet flowers are almost green, with a dewy, light feel that truly feels fresh.

The scent is crisp (though not like a cologne), feels very summery, and most definitely meets Phaedon’s goal of recreating the Mediterranean coast. (I actually saw Capri more than an Aegean island, but let’s not quibble about lovely places where fresh flowers bloom in the warm, salty air.) The best way I can describe Pure Azure’s feel in my mind is to refer to a crisp white shirt worn against a man’s tanned skin (à la Kilian Hennessey), instead of the more common or traditional visual associated with indolic white flowers, namely, languid courtesans reclining with ripe, white flesh and heaving bosoms.

On the negative side, however, Pure Azure’s opening has an undertone of soapiness, as well as an increasingly strong blast of white, clean musk that, unfortunately, feels very synthetic. Both elements help underscore the fresh crispness of Pure Azure’s opening, but I would have been happier without the splitting headache that the musk gave me for a few hours. Despite that, I generally liked Pure Azure’s opening stage because of the green touch to the flowers and fruit.

Agave. Source: Self.com

Agave. Source: Self.com

The freshness doesn’t last long. About 75 minutes in, Pure Azure turns into a simple, honeyed floral, as the jasmine emerges and the white musk recedes to lurk underneath. The jasmine soon becomes fully integrated into the orange blossoms, and both are completely drenched in sweetness. The honey is not heavy syrup, however, but more like agave nectar which is both sweeter and lighter. Despite the lack of density, it’s very potent, transforming even that clean, laundry, white musk into something warmer.

Pure Azure soon turns rather abstract, feeling like a soft cloud of blowsy, ripe, white florals, with heavy honey, a dollop of musk, and the faintest smidgen of salt. It’s like a floral cousin to Mona di Orio‘s Eau Absolute, only lighter, airier, and without citric elements. In its final moments on my skin, Pure Azure is a nebulous smear of honeyed sweetness with just a vague hint of something floral behind it. I like honey, which my skin tends to amplify, but I have to admit, I was taken aback by how quickly and by how much it dominated Pure Azure. I know it’s probably my skin’s fault, but it was all too much for me by the end. Too linear, too simple, too boring.

Source: picsfab.com

Source: picsfab.com

At this point, I have to bring up Mark Behnke’s review again, because Pure Azure is where we part ways a little. He loved it, finding it his favorite of the new Phaedon line. I’m less enamoured. His review reads as follows:

My favorite of the new collection was a surprise to me as with a name like Pure Azure I was expecting a variation on an aquatic theme. Instead I was treated to a fantastic summer floral which appealed to me on many levels. Fig and orange blossom open Pure Azure on a bright accord. Vanilla and jasmine turn things sweeter and deeper. Tonka and a bit of a marine accord cut the sweet without making it go away. For almost the entire time I wore Pure Azure I was in the midst of a grove of fig trees, orange trees and jasmine swirling in and out of each other. I ended up wearing this on a day the thermometer hit 100 and it was perfect for that kind of heat. It wasn’t cloying or too much it was just right.

Pure Azure was significantly less interesting on my skin than on his, but I can see why he liked it so much. I smelled pretty much all of them at Sens Unique, and Pure Azure captured my interest the most at first sniff. Nonetheless, my feelings are highly qualified because I struggle with the potency of the clean, fresh synthetics, as well as with the way Pure Azure veers so sharply to the other extreme of warm, almost indolic sweetness. I also wish Pure Azure had a more complex evolution than mere honeyed florals in its later stage.

ALL IN ALL:

My problem with the new Phaedon line isn’t that many of them seem derivative, but, rather, with their extreme sweetness. Pierre Guillaume is a chap known for having a very gourmand touch with his Parfumerie Generale fragrances, and the Phaedon line doesn’t seem to be an exception. It’s simply too, too much for my personal tastes.

I also struggled with the synthetic feel to some of his fragrances. During one test for Rouge Avignon, I became completely exhausted by the deluge of syrup and roses, and tried to scrub it off. “Tried” should be the operative word here. It took me over an hour to get most of it off my skin, using everything from rubbing alcohol (3 times), nail varnish remover (2 times), soap, dishwashing liquid (2 times), and Tide laundry detergent (2 times). Even after all that, I still could smell lingering traces of that damn fruited rose on parts of my arm later that evening. Only something with definite synthetics in the base will be that impervious to cleaning agents. (As a side note, a few of the fragrances I sniffed at the store had ISO E Super, an aromachemical that Pierre Guillaume loves to use in his Parfumerie Generale line.)

The synthetics may also help explain why the line has such good longevity on my perfume-consuming skin. The Phaedon fragrances consistently lasted over 11 hours, with some tests almost approaching 13 hours, depending on quantity. The sillage was potent at first, and the fragrances very forceful, but they are all uniformly airy in feel, lack density, and turn into something that is generally quite soft. On average, it took between 4 and 4.5 hours for them to become skin scents, though they were usually easy to detect up close.

Judging by what I’ve sniffed as a whole and tested in specific, I think the Phaedon line is generally pleasant, and good value for those who want a more affordable, lighter, softer cousin to some existing fragrances on the market. They’re not my personal cup of tea, but I can see the appeal.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tabac Rouge, Rouge Avignon and Pure Azure are all eau de parfums that comes in a 3.3 oz/100 ml size and which costs $160, €120, or £95. In the U.S.: you can purchase Tabac Rouge, Rouge Avignon and Pure Azure from Luckyscent, though the first two are currently sold out and can be back-ordered for December delivery. Pure Azure is in stock. Samples of all the fragrances are generally available for purchase. Elsewhere, the Phaedon line is at NY’s Osswald Parfumerie, which also offers a US-only sample program for telephone orders. 10 samples for $10 with free domestic shipping. Outside the U.S.: You can buy all three perfumes directly from Phaedon, which also offers samples of all 14 of its fragrances (7 EDP, and 7 EDT) in a Discovery Set which costs €40 for 14 x 1.5 spray vials. The set is sold out at the time of this review. I should add that Phaedon doesn’t provide any information as to the countries they ship to, and if they limit things just to the EU. In the UK, you can buy Phaedon from London’s Bloom Parfumery which sells each Eau de Parfum for £95, along with samples. In Paris, Tabac Rouge, Phaedon and all Pierre Guillaume’s other brands are carried at Sens Unique in the Marais district. They don’t have an e-Store, but they have teamed up with DesFragrances for online orders. In Switzerland, I found Phaedon at Osswald Zurich; in Russia, I found the line at Lenoma and Lesse Parfum; in Poland at Galilu; and in Italy at Profumeria Gini. For the full list of retailers carrying the Phaedon line, you can turn to the company’s Stockist page. Samples: many of the sites linked above offer samples for purchase. I obtained mine from Sens Unique in Paris. For American readers, Surrender to Chance does not carry any of the new Phaedon Eau de Parfums at this time, so your best bet is Luckyscent.

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque

I had high hopes for this one. Very high hopes. Smoke, tobacco, leather, vanilla, and spice. The famous, beloved Chergui supposedly ratcheted up a notch. Turkish rose, smoke, and honeyed pipe tobacco in a sensuous, opulent, oriental fragrance done by Uncle Serge and that mad wizard, Christopher Sheldrake. Well, not on my skin…. 

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that was created by Serge Lutens‘ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2003. Though it is primarily an expensive Paris Bell Jar perfume that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, Fumerie Turque came out at some point in a regular, cheaper, import-version, 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is still sometimes available online. And, somewhere along the line, the fragrance was reformulated — quite drastically, according to some — to become a softer, less tobacco-centered, more vanillic, sweet fragrance. My sample is of the current version, and it leads me to wonder what on earth it must have been like before.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens describes Fumerie Turque on his website as follows:

Smoking can kill you.

That’s one reason why I like using leafy blond tobacco as a raw material together with honey, underpinned with a few, slightly obscured hints of rose petal.

For some reason, Fragrantica has two entries for Fumerie Turque. There is no indication of which is the entry for the current version, and each lists slightly different notes. I haven’t seen that before, even for reformulated fragrances. Whatever the explanation, if one compiles both versions, the notes in Fumerie Turque would seem to include:

white honey, candied Turkish rose, juniper berries, chamomile, Egyptian jasmine, smoked leather, beeswax, Balkan tobacco, red currants, Peru balsam, patchouli, tonka, styrax, suede, and vanilla.

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Fumerie Turque opens on my skin with smoke, vanilla, leather and spices. The fragrance is dominated by styrax, a resin which has a very dry, smoky, spicy, leathery nuance. It infuses everything it touches, including the rose note which starts out being sweet, but which quickly turns dry and smoky. Alongside are tobacco curls, nestled amidst sweet vanilla and a light touch of vanillic powder. In the background is the faintest chilly touch of a woody, pine note that feels syrupy and resinous, almost as if it were juniper resin instead of juniper berries. Wafts of a floral, slightly tea-like note flit about, as if the chamomile has been infused with the same, spicy, chewy, dense styrax as everything else.

There is something a little bitter and sour about the blend, despite the sweet, smoky, somewhat leathery notes underneath. It must be the honey with its slightly sulphurous undertones. Honey is an extremely tricky note for some people, as their skin chemistry can turn it sour, urinous, skanky, animalic, raunchy, or some combination thereof. I happen to be generally lucky with the element, which I adore, even on those rare occasions when it can feel almost sulphurous as it does here. But, I must say, I am not at all keen about its sour nuances in Fumerie Turque. I’m even less enthused as it gets worse, quickly turning into a smell that is simultaneously stale, sour, bitter, sharp, acrid, and, eventually, almost rancid in feel. The beautiful, sweet, freshness of the rose has receded along with the vanilla, its powder, the juniper berries, and the dark, tea-like chamomile, leaving the harsher, animalic notes utterly untamed. Rank bitterness is what comes to mind, and I imagine that people who traditionally have always had problems with honey might fare even worse.

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

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

Ten minutes into Fumerie Turque’s development, those harsher notes become extremely prominent. The leather feels almost raw, like tannery hides left to cure in the sun. There is a tarry, animalic, phenolic, musky sharpness to the smell. And the rank sourness of the honey now feels quite rancid. Making matters worse is the tobacco, a note I normally love. Here, it feels neither like dried tobacco leaves, nor like sweet, fruited, honeyed pipe tobacco. Instead, it smells like a stale, dirty ashtray with the remnants of a few, old cigars.

Source: skylighter.com

Source: skylighter.com

To be honest, I’m somewhat appalled by the overall combination: urinous, sulphurous, rancid honey with raw leather and stale ashtray smoke is really not my cup of tea. Not even the occasional flickers of rose and vanilla which pop up and down, going back and forth from the background to the foreground, can fix the stale, sour, bitter, animalic pungency emanating from my arm. And, have I mentioned the word “rancid” yet? I once had the misfortune of cleaning a friend’s fridge which had been left untouched for over a year; the smell of the rotten eggs had a similar sulphurous, smoky rancidness. Only here, they’re mixed in with a disconcerting stale sweetness. I know the horrible bouquet is due purely and solely to my skin’s chemistry — just as I know that others may (and do) have a wholly different, extremely positive scent sensation with this much admired fragrance — but I can only recount my own experiences and, thus far, it’s revolting. I’ve never, ever had honey go south on me… until now!

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Fumerie Turque continues in that painful vein for a while. The vanilla makes every valiant attempt to come to the foreground to soften things, and once in a while, it actually succeeds. It’s short-lived, however, as the rancid sourness marches on like a Turkish army hell-bent on whipping me into submission. Thirty minutes into Fumerie Turque’s progression, beeswax joins the Devil’s Brigade, mocking me with yet another, additional layer of sourness. The animalic, almost dirty, raw leather, and the stale tobacco ashtray aromas join in, cackling gleefully at the faint whimpers that are starting to emanate from my miserable little self. I look at the Fumerie Turque’s longevity rankings on Fragrantica (“very long lasting” say the majority), mutter some expletives, and contemplate sending dear Uncle Serge a “Dear John” letter. I also wonder if it’s too early to start drinking.

Red Currants via onlyfoods.netClose to the end of the second hour, Fumerie Turque decides to take some pity on me. It starts to soften, becoming milder, less feral and brutal. The leather, ashtray and honey elements take on a rounder, less intentionally hostile and aggressive edge, though their undertones retain that rancid stench that is still too bloody sharp and acrid for my tastes. Thankfully, the sillage has dropped from its previously potent levels, making me hope that Fumerie Turque has decided to engage in an olfactory cessation of hostilities. Er… not quite. We are now launching into a whole new sort of merciless madness. At the 2.5 hour mark, Fumerie Turque turns into a strange mélange of vaguely sour, vanillic baby powder infused with the odd tartness of red currants berries, atop a base of light, sweet smoke and somewhat treacly rose. I sighed so deeply, you have no idea, and wonder what Uncle Serge would think of a blotchy, tear-splattered letter.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Fumerie Turque continues its descent into powdery, smoke-tinged sweetness. It’s quite a relief, given what came before. Close to the end of the fourth hour, there is more vanillic baby powder, tart fruit notes, whispers of smoke, and a definite subtext of honeyed sourness. The new addition, however, is beeswax — and it’s the only part of the somewhat muted, faded combination that I find pleasant. Around the middle of the fifth hour, Fumerie Turque fades into abstract, powdery vanilla with honey and a whisper of beeswax, and remains that way until the end. All in all, Fumerie Turque lasted just short of 6.75 hours, which is much less than the enormous longevity that I had braced myself for. On average, the sillage was moderate: very forceful in terms of projection for a brief period at the start, but then, significantly softer while still being noticeable within the tiny bubble that wafted an inch above my skin.

Normally, with fragrances that take such a terrible turn on my skin, I would give the perfume two tests. Sometimes, maybe even three. I couldn’t do it with Fumerie Turque. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t only that extremely difficult opening but, rather, how exhausting the progression was in its forcefulness and in the unalleviated monotony. Fumerie Turque isn’t linear from start to finish but, within its two distinct stages, it certainly feels a little singular. I always say that there is nothing wrong with linear fragrances if you love the notes in question but, obviously, that was not the case here. 

Chergui.

Chergui.

There are a few reasons why I’m so incredibly disappointed with the manner in which Fumerie Turque manifested itself on my skin, beyond the really obvious ones, that is. First, many people consider the fragrance to be the more advanced, complex, sophisticated brother to Serge Lutens’ Chergui. Fumerie Turque is supposed to be richer, smokier, less vanillic or powdery (in both its original and reformulated version, presumably) than the fragrance that I own and love. It seemed indubitable that Fumerie Turque would be even more up my alley.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. The non "Classic" but vintage bottle.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. Not the current “Classic” bottle, but the vintage one.

Second, Fumerie Turque seemed very familiar upon first sniff of the fragrance in the vial. It instantly and immediately brought to mind one of my favorite comfort scents, the superb Karl Lagerfeld Cologne in vintage formulation. Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s beauty is actually the sole reason I started this blog. I needed a place to properly express my love for this fragrance when I reacquired a bottle on eBay, and I couldn’t do it in a Facebook status post, though I certainly spent a good few paragraphs trying. My very first perfume review was, in fact, a rushed, hurried, rather short affair on the joys of Karl Lagerfeld’s interpretation of and homage to Shalimar. A few parts of that review:

Imagine your boyfriend’s leather jacket, covered with honey, and in an old Russian or Greek Orthodox church filled with smoky incense and the whiff of a passerby in rose and jasmine…. this is better. If there were a honey seller in a stall sandwiched between a musky spice vendor of nutmeg, tarragon and anise, and one who sold sweetly fragrant tobacco that your uncle put in his pipe — all in a giant leather store filled with the finest British leather saddles, which was in a Turkish bazaar… this is better.

[…] Some say that it’s like a male-version of Shalimar and I suppose it’s the faint touch of powder in it. But if Meryl Streep wears Shalimar (and she does), then Tina Turner would wear this. If Shalimar is a Rolls Royce, this is James Bond’s Aston Martin or perhaps a BEAST of a muscle car driven by a Russian Orthodox monk in a leather jacket. That’s it! This is the smell for Rasputin, though one commentator elsewhere said that they thought Robert Redford in the Great Gatsby would wear this. I disagree. This is pure leather smoke covered with honey.

And….. it’s sex on a stick. […] Just be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart and that, depending on your body chemistry, powder may predominate over leather, tobacco or honey. Also, if you’re not into powerful scents, do not put on more than one spray.

Not a week goes by that I don’t regret the brevity of that article (relative to my usual verboseness). Not a week passes that I don’t vow to do the perfume proper justice with a revisit. Karl Lagerfeld Cologne has been a favorite fragrance of mine for over two decades — and Kafkaesque exists purely and solely because of it.

That fragrance is what I immediately came to mind when I took a gandering sniff of Fumerie Turque in the vial: a richer, smokier, drier, less powdery, less sweet Karl Lagerfeld. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped, and I couldn’t wait to try it on the skin. Later, much later, after the bloody, leathery, stale, rancid chum in Fumerie Turque’s shark-infested waters had faded away, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only one who thought there were similarities between the two fragrances. A passing, brief comment on a Basenotes thread devoted to Fumerie Turque said: “When I read these threads, I wonder how many who enjoy FT have tried the original Lagerfeld Cologne (before it became “Classic”).” I have no idea who the poster, “Bigsly,” is, but I want to give him a hearty Bravo for unknowingly reassuring me that I’m not insane (and, also, for his excellent taste). Because, yes, when I read positive descriptions of Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica, they sounds a bit like what I experience with Karl Lagerfeld.

Source: turkishculture.blogspot.com

Source: turkishculture.blogspot.com

There are significant differences, however. The Karl Lagerfeld is much sweeter, more vanillic, and more powdery than the largely acrid Fumerie Turque. It has a bergamot, citric, and subtle, vaguely herbal element to its beginning. More importantly, the leather is very different in Karl Lagerfeld; it lacks the raw, animalic outbursts in Fumerie Turque, while being significantly stronger and richer than it is in Chergui. Also, the tobacco smoke is sweeter than the more acrid, stale, dirty version in Fumerie Turque, more akin to pipe tobacco, and is additionally supplemented by incense. If the Lagerfeld didn’t precede both Lutens fragrances by almost 20 years, I would call it a lovechild of Chergui and Fumerie Turque, combining the best parts of both in a much stronger, more potent, intense, powerful blast. But Karl did it first. There is also another big difference: the Lagerfeld is available in vintage form for a mere pittance on eBay. You can buy a 2 oz bottle for between $20-$30, depending on times, vendors and competing bidders. Sometimes, they can go up to $45, but I bought my bottle for about $18! The key — and this is really important — is to AVOID anything that has the word “Classic” on the bottle because that is the reformulated rubbish version! (I beg of you, don’t do it. It’s not the same at all.)

I realise that my review of Fumerie Turque has descended into an ode to Karl Lagerfeld Cologne, so let’s return to that Basenotes thread. It’s interesting because the chap had an equally brutal start to Fumerie Turque, which he bought blindly based on the positive praise for the fragrance. Though he subsequently fell in love with Fumerie Turque, I think his experience is illuminating, in part because it also references some other well-known fragrances:

I sprayed some on my bicep. OH NO!!! I REALLY SCREWED UP BUYING THIS STUFF!!! Immediately, I got this sickly powdery feminine stale urine porta-potty smell that some of the negative reviews had mentioned. Totally, totally unwearable. […]  five minutes later I noticed that tobacco note– and it was actually a very nice specimen of tobacco. If only that other “pissy, honey, rose” stuff wasn’t going on…

Yet, he gave it a second shot, mostly due to the many, many raves for Fumerie Turque from people he respected. And, this time, he noticed some differences. First, there was a strong similarity between Fumerie Turque’s “beeswax and the emerging red currants/fruit” and the smell of Chanel‘s Antaeus, a fragrance that he had initially hated but then grown to love. Second, with a little time, Fumerie Turque developed into something lovely on his skin:

… the pipe tobacco was starting to come out very noticeably. I’ve truly NEVER experienced a fragrance that did such a 180 in the wearing and bloomed into something so cool. It still had a bit of that Habanita powdery quality and that dense honeybun beeswax in the base, but the tobacco was starting to steal the show in a big way. Some people call this scent “smokey” but thankfully, it’s not smokey to my nose– at least not in a negative manner. The first time I smelled it, it did conjure the back room of a bar where there had probably been a lot of second hand smoke, but once it started to blossom, it was smooth and ethereal. Again the beeswax is right there in the beginning and it almost makes you nauseous, but it only takes about two minutes for the composition begin unfolding into what it will become. As time goes on, the scent becomes more “blonde” as in blonde tobacco, and begins to feel lighter, but not lesser.

To compare this to a tobacco scent like Pure Havane almost makes me laugh now. I like Pure Havane a hell of a lot, don’t get me wrong– but this stuff is on a whole different level. This is adult, it’s grown up seduction in a bottle. Pure Havane is the most playful, fun tobacco scent I’ve tried, but Fumerie Turque is not for children. […]

What Fumerie Turque is, is an ACTUAL PERFUME.  […] Christopher Sheldrake has created a real masterpiece here. Top to bottom. Something that relies on a little necessary chaos out of the bottle to get on its feet, but once it does, and starts walking upright, god it’s beautiful. [Emphasis in bold added by me to the perfume names.]

There are numerous gushing, quite poetic raves about Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica (where it is enormously loved in both of the perfume’s listings), but I chose that particular Basenotes review for a reason. It highlights how some people can have a very positive experience with Fumerie Turque at the end, despite the sour, “pissy” start.

It also shows that, as many Basenotes commentators agree, Fumerie Turque is a perfume that can sometimes take a few tries. A number of Lutens fragrances require patience but, given the trickiness of honey as a note, Fumerie Turque may require more patience than most. In all candour, if I didn’t already have my beloved Karl Lagerfeld and Chergui, I probably would have given Fumerie Turque the necessary second chance that so many people say it requires, especially as I found some of the vintage bottles (which are supposed to be far better than the current version) available online for a significantly cheaper price than the current Bell Jar formulation. But I do have Lagerfeld and Chergui, so I’m not hugely motivated. Plus, there is also the simple reality that some honey fragrances never work out on a person’s skin, no matter how many chances you give them.

Would I recommend that you give Fumerie Turque a shot? Well, never as a blind buy, no. However, if you love Chergui, then yes, by all means, give Fumerie Turque an exploratory sniff. Get a sample, see if it works for you, and, if you love it, then you can get the more affordable vintage version that I’ve found on some of the online retailers below. (Actually, I would highly recommend the Karl Lagerfeld above all else, especially if powder notes don’t go south on your skin.) On the other hand, if you don’t love Chergui, or if you already know for a fact that honey is always one of your fatal notes, then I would advise that you stay clear of Fumerie Turque entirely. If it didn’t work on my honey-loving skin, I can’t imagine how badly it might turn out for those who never have any luck with the note. I suspect you’d end up in a foetal position, crying for a Silkwood shower….

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that Serge Lutens now offers only in the large 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version that costs $290, or €135. However, you can still find the smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle (that is now considered “vintage” or discontinued) on some U.S. and European perfume websites. About seven of the usual, big, online perfume sites (Amazon, FragranceNet, etc.) have Fumerie Turque listed, but the fine print shows it as “Sold Out.” However, I found the perfume at several smaller vendors. Buy Beauty Deals sells the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Fumerie Turque for $108.50, A Matter of Fax for $117.11, Perfume Mart for $121.50, Fragrance Zoo for $127.49, Planet Aroma sells Fumerie Turque for $130.63, Islander Mall for $132.92, and SurfAvenueMall for $140. I have no idea how reputable any of these vendors may be.
Serge Lutens: You can find Fumerie Turque in the bell jar option on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). It’s priced at $300 or €135.
U.S. sellers: Fumerie Turque is exclusively available at Barney’s in the bell jar format for $290. The site has a notice which states: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.” I did not find Fumerie Turque listed at Luckyscent or any of the big, niche perfume vendors.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I think you can find “Fumerie Turque – Retired” at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US$120, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch, but I’m not sure what they mean by “retired” and if the perfume is actually in stock. For Europe, I couldn’t find the 50 ml bottle sold at a single online vendor. It’s the expensive bell-jar, or nothing. In Australia, you can get Fumerie Turque on sale in the discontinued 50 ml bottle from Brand Shopping for AUD$199.65 with free shipping. In the Middle East, I saw the “vintage” Fumerie Turque listed on the Universal Perfume‘s site. However, there is something weird going on where there is no pricing, and it won’t let you put it in your cart until you give one. Elsewhere on the site, the perfume is priced as $189.99.
Samples: You can test out Fumerie Turque by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Serge Lutens Sample Set of 3 Paris Exclusives (Fumerie Turque, along with Borneo 1834 and Chergui), which starts at $11.50 for a 1/2 ml vial of each. Fumerie Turque is also included as an option in a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Tobacco Vanille

I’ve tried a number of tobacco fragrances lately and, to my surprise, my favorite has TF Tobacco Vanillebeen Tom Ford’s Private Blend Tobacco Vanille! It was quite unexpected, since I haven’t had a ton of luck in my prior experiences with the line and since Tom Ford fragrances can be a bit too potent even for my liking. (I usually adore powerhouse fragrances, so that says something!) Unintentionally, I seem to have started on the light end of the tobacco spectrum with Hermès‘ airy, ambered, rum and tobacco Ambre Narguilé, before working my way to the heavier, denser, more vanilla-y tobacco and rum Spiritueuse Double Vanille from Guerlain, and ending up with the richest of them all – a chocolate, tobacco and rum scent which I thought was wonderful!

Tobacco Vanille is a unisex eau de parfum which Fragrantica categorizes as “Oriental Spicy.” On his website, Tom Ford describes it as follows:

A modern take on an old world men’s club. A smooth Oriental, TOBACCO VANILLE opens immediately with opulent essences of Tobacco Leaf and aromatic spice notes. The heart unfolds with creamy Tonka Bean, Tobacco Flower, Vanilla and Cocoa, and finishes with A Dry Fruit Accord, enriched with Sweet Wood Sap.

The most complete list of notes that I’ve found was, oddly enough, on Nordstrom’s website which says Tobacco Vanille has:

ginger, tobacco leaves, anise, coriander, tobacco flower, clove, spices, fruit wood sap, benzoin, vanilla, tonka bean.

Tobacco Vanille opens on my skin exactly like a Christmas plum pudding, a sort of Christmas Plum Pudding PuddingDessertz Blogspotdark, blackened, moist-to-dry fruitcake that often is accompanied by a vanilla rum sauce. The similarity is so strong, it’s striking. The rum opening is accompanied by dark pipe tobacco, cinnamon chocolate, and spices. There is a touch of cardamom and ginger, just like in a really strong Chai tea. The subtle ginger note combined with the dark spices renders this a very different scent than Ambre Narguilé or Spiritueuse Double Vanille on my skin. The pipe tobacco is different, too. It’s not as sweet, light or fruity as it is in the other two fragrances, and there are no smoky, incense notes. Here, the tobacco is not like airy hookah smoke, but something a thousand times more dense. There is almost a chewy, black vibe to the whole thing with a faintly bitter underpinning, though I don’t know if it stems from the tobacco leaves, the fruit, or something else.

The rum note here is also different from that in the other two fragrances. It’s not as light or sugary but, rather, like a dark, sullen version. Or, perhaps, it’s just not very rum-like at all in the beginning, though that may well be the result of the amount you put on. I tried Tobacco Vanille twice, in differing concentrations, with the first time involving half my usual dosage. On that occasion, I didn’t get rum so much in the opening as some other strong alcohol. drambuieI couldn’t pinpoint which one but, for some reason, Drambuie consistently came to mind! Drambuie, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is a Scottish liqueur that is made from honey, herbs, spices and single malt whiskey. It’s very much like herbed honey with spices, whereas rum is a much more consistently sweet, dense, heavy black note in my mind. On the second try, with a lot more Tobacco Vanille on my skin, the aroma was unquestionably rum and not Drambuie.

A higher dosage of Tobacco Vanille results in yet another difference: a significantly stronger chocolate note. The more perfume I used, the stronger and darker the chocolate. In my first test, I used half the amount of perfume that I normally use because… well, frankly, one must be cautious in applying Tom Ford fragrances. They can be massive, potent, savage beasts — and I learnt the hard way after Amber Absolute that one should start with perhaps less than what one normally uses. So, using that halved dose, the cocoa note was a bit like a ghost. It popped up here, popped up there, and vanished for stretches of time, before re-emerging like a tease. In my second test, using my normal number of dabs, the chocolate was apparent from the very start. It wasn’t light, dusted cocoa powder either, but more akin to cinnamon-spiced, dark chocolate.

That the rich, dense, chocolate note combined with the slightly smoky aspects of the tobacco almost verges on a chocolate patchouli accord. Though Tobacco Vanille is often brought up in discussions of Serge LutensChergui, the opening make me think of a very different Lutens fragrance: Borneo 1834. Tobacco Vanille lacks the camphorous elements of the latter, but the rich chocolate-patchouli, spiced chai, smoky elements seem much closer to Borneo 1834 than to what I experienced with the lovely Chergui. Chergui is simply not as dense, chewy and dark as Borneo 1834 and Tobacco Vanille. It also has a predominantly honey note, with florals, hay, incense and a very different sort of smoke element. Never once did Chergui call to mind a Christmas plum pudding! I should note, however, that despite the comparison and its sweetness, Tobacco Vanille is not a gourmand fragance. I think the dryness of the tobacco and the spices prevent it from being like dessert. In other words, it’s not cloyingly sweet or diabetes in a bottle.

Thirty minutes in, in my first test at a lesser dosage, the spice notes started to unfurl even more. There is a lovely light note of coriander with its lemony undertones, some candied ginger, and a soupçon of anise. There is also an almost milky accord which makes me think of thick, sweetened tea. The lemony note to the coriander adds to that mental impression of a dark black tea with milk and a sliver of lemon. In conjunction with the dark fruit, spices and tobacco notes, I feel transported to a British gentlemen’s club in Mayfair where High Tea has been served in one corner of a wood-paneled library and where members quietly smoke cheroots or pipes. It’s very masculine, very proper and, yet, simultaneously, for reasons that I can’t quite pinpoint or put into words, it’s also none of those things.

St. James Hotel's Library Bar, Paris. Source: Oyster.com

St. James Hotel’s Library Bar, Paris.
Source: Oyster.com

At a higher dosage, the impression of lemony, thickened, sweetened, dark tea goes away. The gentleman’s library is now serving pure rum, expensive dark chocolates filled with liqueur, and slightly fruited pipe tobacco. A butler brings in Christmas Plum Pudding with a white rum sauce that he sets discreetly to the side, as the gentlemen talk business and smoke away in their club chairs. It’s utterly lovely, either way.

Other perfume bloggers haven’t had quite the same mental association and imagery with Tobacco Vanille as I did. Scent Bound likened it to “loud frat boy” as compared to Spiritueuse Double Vanille‘s “beautiful and constrained young librarian,” though he has often stated that he really likes Tobacco Vanille and wears it when he wants to stand out.

Scent Hound, in contrast, seemed much less enthused about it. He found it to be “very much a 1980s fragrance, sophisticated, big and maybe a bit dated.” Interestingly, Mr. Hound noted: “[t]he first time I wore this, I liked it better than the 2nd time I wore it which made me feel a bit like I was walking around with a ‘Yankee Candle Company’ candle hanging from my neck. For those of you not in the US, that’s not a good thing.” That Yankee Candle Plum Puddingwas an extremely astute observation and dead on. At times, Tobacco Vanille really does evoke a Yankee Candle! Frankly, I rather wish I hadn’t read that comparison because it’s hard to shake the mental association once you’ve noticed it. It’s even harder when you Google “Yankee Candle Plum Pudding” out of morbid curiosity and find that, yes, they actually had such a scent for a limited time!

Despite all that, I find myself really enjoying the perfume, especially in smaller doses where it seems to have more layers and complexity. In my normal, regular dosage for perfumes (3 to 4 large-ish dabs on each arm), it’s a lot more linear and soon ends up as a predominantly rum and tobacco, plum pudding scent, especially in its dry-down.

I should note that dosage may not be the only contributing factor for why I had a slightly different experience than my fellow bloggers. It makes a big difference if one sprays on a Tom Ford scent, as opposed to merely dabbing it on from a vial. Perfume is usually milder or softer when dabbed on, as opposed to when it is aerosolized (if there is such a word). In my case, dabbing on Tobacco Vanille may explain why I didn’t find it to be quite as brash, aggressive and bullying as others have.

Then again, maybe not. After all, I dabbed on Amber Absolute and was well-nigh assaulted by its notes. It was such an 800-pound gorilla that I found it almost unbearable at times. Noir de Noir was also very potent on me (though never anything remotely close to Amber Absolute), as were others like Neroli Portofino and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. No, the bottom line is that, on my skin, Tobacco Vanille was surprisingly gentlemanly for a Tom Ford fragrance and far from a brute. It had great projection, but not a beastly amount. The real surprise was the longevity which, even by the standards of my voracious, perfume-consuming skin, was much less than for other Tom Ford fragrances. All in all, it lasted about 8 hours on me. On normal human beings, you can easily double and, in some cases, triple that number.

Tobacco Vanille is, thus far, my favorite Tom Ford Private Blend fragrance. I think it’s cozy, comforting, richly heady, almost compulsively sniffable, and completely unisex. I definitely recommend it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tobacco Vanille is an eau de parfum. It is available on the Tom Ford website where it sells for: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, $280 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In the US, you can also find it at fine retailers such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth AvenueBergdorf Goodman, and others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods where it sells for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. Elsewhere, Tom Ford fragrances are carried in numerous different countries; hopefully, you can find one near you using the store locator on the Tom Ford website.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, given the potency of Tom Ford’s perfumes as whole, you may want to ordering a sample to see how it develops on your skin. You can find them starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.