YSL Majestic Rose & Supreme Bouquet (Oriental Collection)

YSL’s new Oriental Collection is a trio of fragrances that are meant to be “an invitation to travel” to the Orient. Each one is an eau de parfum housed in a gold-covered bottle, and offered in limited distribution at a very high price. The other day, I covered the toxic abomination that is Noble Leather. Today is the turn of the remaining fragrances in the line: Majestic Rose from the great Alberto Morillas; and Supreme Bouquet, created by perhaps the even greater Dominique Ropion

MAJESTIC ROSE:

The most complete and detailed information I found for Majestic Rose comes from Osmoz which states, in part, that:

Source: Osmoz

Source: Osmoz

Majestic Rose pays tribute to the queen of flowers. Rose goes animalic here, becoming one with the oud wood in the trail. […] Composed around rose, the fragrance starts by unveiling notes of bergamot, raspberry and papyrus. The rose heart is sweetened with honey and spiced with saffron and maté. The woodsier trail is composed of oud, guaiac and vanilla. Perfumer: Alberto Morillas, Firmenich.

Note of Top : Raspberry, Bergamot, Papyrus

Note of Heart : Rose, Mate, Saffron, Honeyed Notes

Note of Base : Vanilla, Oud, Gaiac Wood

Maté is not a common note in perfumery, and it plays a part in Majestic Rose’s opening, so I thought this description of it from Osmoz might be useful:

Tobacco, Herbaceous, Hay, Tea. […] Maté is a variety of holly that grows in South America. […] Used primarily in men’s perfumery to create fougere and chypre tonalities[.]

Source: apartmenttherapy.com

Source: apartmenttherapy.com

Majestic Rose opens on my skin with: indistinct, anonymous “fruit;” something very much like ISO E Super; stale, dusty, dry tobacco; fruited rose; dusty, dry parchment paper; cheap synthetic “oud;” dry, leathery, spicy saffron; and a hint of vanilla. Oh, did I happen to mention dust? The fragrance is the oddest mix of sweet syrup and dust notes. All I can think about when wearing it is actual dust in an old library that has been drenched in a thin layer of fruit syrup, saffron, and jammy roses, all sprinkled with astringent, peppered ISO E Super, synthetic tea, and a drop of honeyed tea. It’s an airy mix with moderate sillage, but the prickly, peppered, spiky, synthetic elements all give it a certain roughness and sharpness.

Majestic Rose may not be the toxic dust cloud of its brother, the vile Noble Leather, but it has its own share of chemicals. I would bet anything that the perfume contains Kephalis. It is a synthetic which smells a lot like ISO E Super, is extremely dry, and which Givaudan describes as a long-lasting note with an amber-woody-tobacco profile. As for all that dust in Majestic Rose, it may stems from the papyrus, but the sheer degree of aridness underlying the scent seems much more consistent with the super synthetic, Norlimbanol. It is produced by Alberto Morillas’ own firm, Firmenich, and has been described by Chandler Burr as “quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation.”

Source: The Guardian.

Source: The Guardian.

At its core, Majestic Rose is a dust, rose, and “oud” fragrance. Certain notes act as supporting players, waxing and waning in prominence, but the perfume’s essential profile doesn’t really change. Five minutes into its development, the vanilla in the base starts to stir, while the papyrus becomes stronger and more significant. Majestic Rose just gets drier, and drier. And drier. 15 minutes in, Majestic Rose loses much of its syrup, and the fragrance starts to feel like a dust bowl with synthetic peppered ISO E Super, bone-dry woodiness, and, in a wholly discordant mix, sweet pink roses. It’s almost disconcerting to smell the flowers given the other notes. It’s as though a single, fresh, pink rose were pressed in parchment paper scrolls, then stuck in a monastery’s library which hadn’t been dusted since the late 11th Century. 

Thankfully, that phase is short-lived and only lasted about 40-minutes, but at least it was somewhat interesting and different. It’s a lot more than I can say for the rest of Majestic Rose’s development. As the dust recedes, the fragrance turns into a generic bouquet of syrupy rose, synthetic oud, and ISO E-ish chemicals in a cocoon of indistinct, abstract dryness. Hints of other things come and go, like vanilla and tobacco, or the merest drop of something that occasionally feels tea-like, but Majestic Rose’s main thrust is rose-oud (with synthetics). Needless to say, it’s not a particularly distinctive combination these days. In fact, something about Majestic Rose feels awfully familiar, but it’s hard to know which rose-oud fragrance it might be — there are literally hundreds of them.

Source: Ashes of Roses Designs, Facebook page.

Source: Ashes of Roses Designs, Facebook page.

I’ll be honest, I scrubbed off Majestic Rose after three hours. Normally, I would put up with an unpleasant fragrance, partially to see what happens but, primarily, for the sake of thoroughness. However, after the indescribable horror of YSL’s Noble Leather, my tolerance levels are wholly depleted. Moreover, I saw zero chance of Majestic Rose suddenly morphing into something different, it was giving me a mild headache, and I’m pretty much fed up with bad perfumes from YSL. So I had a Thanksgiving Day indulgence, even if that consisted of soap and aggressiveness with a loofah. You probably won’t be shocked to hear that Majestic Rose — like most very synthetic, chemical fragrances — was not easy to remove….

As with all the fragrances in the Oriental Collection, Majestic Rose costs £185 or €177 for an 80 ml bottle. At the current rate of conversion, £185 is $301. I’ll spare you a repetition of how inexpensive it is for individuals like you or I to buy a bottle of each of those synthetics cost in concentrated, undiluted form, or how little L’Oreal/YSL probably spent to make this fragrance. Suffice it to say that the cost of this fragrance is utterly ridiculous, given the ingredients and banality of the scent.

SUPREME BOUQUET:

Source: dubaidutyfree.com

Source: dubaidutyfree.com

According to Osmoz, Supreme Bouquet was created by the legendary Dominique Ropion of IFF, and it provides the following description of the scent:

Sweet and creamy, Supreme Bouquet is a perfume in Yves Saint Laurent’s Oriental Collection. Inspired by the mysteries of the Orient, the line is an invitation to travel. The house describes Supreme Bouquet as an escapade in an oriental garden. The fragrance is composed around white flowers.

Supreme Bouquet opens with notes of bergamot, pink pepper and pear. The heart pairs tuberose with jasmine and ylang-ylang. The slightly ambry trail is composed of white musk and patchouli.

Note of Top : Pear, Bergamot

Note of Heart : Jasmine, Tuberose, Ylang Ylang

Note of Base : Patchouli, White Musks, Ambry Notes

I’m a sucker for tuberose, so I perked up a little when I sniffed Supreme Bouquet back in Paris. It was still a very tempered response, however, and one that was wholly relative to my utter disdain for the other two fragrances in the Oriental Collection. On paper, it seemed moderately pleasant and pretty, but nondescript and lacking much originality.

The sad thing is that it’s actually much better on paper! On the skin, it’s merely yet another synthetic trip to disappointment. In a nutshell, Supreme Bouquet is like any fruity-white fragrance available at Sephora or at a middle-level department store. Actually, I’m pretty sure some celebrity fragrances are like Supreme Bouquet — right down to their chemical base.

Source: ilikewallpaper.net -

Source: ilikewallpaper.net –

In the vial, Supreme Bouquet smells like a dewy, watery, sweet, white floral scent dominated by tuberose, and lightly infused with pear and white musk. On the skin, it opens with pink peppercorns, white musk, sweet greenish pears, and tuberose. The notes sit atop a base of synthetic, clean, white musk, a synthetic like ISO E Super, and fake “ambry” notes. The synthetics soon become as dominant as the supposedly natural notes, turning Supreme Bouquet into a very sharp, almost laundryesque white floral bomb with pear, pink pepper, and prickly, peppered, sharp ISO E Super. The perfume is a lot of things: it’s very sweet, very fresh, very clean, very white, and very synthetic — but not, alas, very interesting.

TuberoseIt takes less than five minutes for my skin to be radiating sharp, synthetic white musk and spiky ISO E Super infused with tuberose, pink peppercorns and pear. It gave me an instant headache. Only after an hour do the synthetics finally start to soften, retreating to the edges of the fragrance. The purple patchouli surges to take their place, turning the tuberose even sweeter and adding a much heavier, deeper, fruited touch. By the end of the second hour, Supreme Bouquet is fruity-floral with gooey, purple patchouli and still sharp musk over a sheer, generic, abstract “amber” base with ISO E Super. The jasmine is as prominent as the tuberose now, but the patchouli threatens to dominate them both.

Supreme Bouquet is a largely linear, simple fragrance. Only at the start of the 7th hour does it change, but it’s one of degree. The fruited patchouli is now equal to the tuberose, if not sometimes a bit more dominant, and both notes are trailed by lingering traces of peppered synthetic. Honestly, I see no amber whatsoever in the base. In its very final moments, Supreme Bouquet is merely an abstract blur of a fruited white floral. It lasted 10.75 hours on my skin, with sillage that was moderate only for the first hour but which quickly turned soft. The potency of the synthetic notes, however, meant that Supreme Bouquet was still quite sharp and easily detectable if sniffed up close. The perfume only became a skin scent after about six hours.

If you’re looking for a tuberose with fruity patchouli and synthetics, you should spare yourself Supreme Bouquet’s ridiculous price, and just take yourself off to Sephora, or a bargain basement to look for a celebrity fragrance. There are any number of places where you won’t be charged £185 or €177 for an utterly generic fruity-floral fragrance reeking of ISO E and white musk. Let’s not forget those pink peppercorns, either, something which is wholly passé as a perfume trend now but which was such a mainstay of commercial perfumery to go with the fruited patchouli and the white florals.

Dominique Ropion via fotomag.com.ua

Dominique Ropion via fotomag.com.ua

It’s sad to see the great Dominique Ropion‘s name attached to something that, quite frankly, makes some of the Tocca line of perfumes look like high-quality masterpieces. He really is a superb perfumer; from Ysatis to half of the most famous Frederic Malle fragrances and many other celebrated gems, he is enormously talented. He’s also seems to be a wiz with florals, and tuberose in particular. For example, the famous Carnal Flower, Dior‘s white Pure Poison, and the sadly maligned Amarige. To go from Carnal Flower to this?! In fact, if you’re looking for a simple fruity-floral, you may want to go with the Tocca brand than YSL. Tocca’s Florence is a much better fragrance which also has pear, tuberose, jasmine, bergamot, and musk. In addition, it also has more nuance, thanks to gardenia, violet, iris, and apple; it lacks patchouli; and it is a much fresher, greener, less sickly sweet perfume. Plus, it costs $68, not $300.

I don’t blame Dominique Ropion, however, for the utterly generic, Britney Spears-like fragrance that he’s created. (Britney Spear‘s best-selling Curious has a similar tuberose, pear and musk profile, but also many more notes and no fruited patchouli.) No, in this case, I blame Ropion’s masters at L’Oreal, since the simple fact is that all perfumers must abide by the agenda, briefs, and price point set by the client. Still, there is no getting around it: Supreme Bouquet is not Mr. Ropion’s finest hour. I wonder if he was bored out of his mind making it? I certainly was while wearing it.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Each fragrance in YSL’s Oriental Collection is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.7 oz/ 80 ml bottle, and is subject to very limited distribution. The price is £185 or €177. The French YSL website and the UK YSL site both carry the Oriental Collection, but not the US one. In the U.S.: I haven’t found any American retailers thus far that carry the line. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, from what I’ve seen thus far, the Oriental Collection is most widely found in the UK and France. In the UK, and for Supreme Bouquet, the London links are: House of Fraser (which is discounting the scent at £148), Harvey Nichols, and HarrodsJohn Lewis is offering Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet at a slight discount with a price of £166 instead of £185. There are only 3 bottles left of each at the time of this post. John Lewis ships internationally to over 33 countries, and has free UK delivery. For Majestic Rose, the perfume is currently sold out at London’s House of Fraser, but it is available at Harvey Nichols. I couldn’t find it on the Harrod’s site, but I know they sell it. In Paris, I’ve read that the full line is available at the main Sephora on the Champs Elysees. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet for €205. In Russia, Orental has Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet. Airports: Finally, you can find YSL’s Oriental Collection at a number of airports. I myself tested it at Paris’ CDG International Departures, and I know it is also available at London’s Heathrow. I suspect the same applies at all other large airports. Samples: I obtained my samples from Surrender to Chance which sells the complete trio in a set starting at $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet are also available individually starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Obviously, the complete set is a bit of a better deal. 
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YSL Noble Leather (Oriental Collection) – Ignoble Leather

Source: www.luxe-en-france.com

Source: luxe-en-france.com

You better hold onto your seats because I’m not in a good mood. In fact, I’m in a distinctly vile mood, thanks to Noble Leather, a new fragrance from YSL that was released last month in very limited distribution. Ignoble Noble Leather is one of three scents in the new Oriental Collection that is meant to honour the brilliant Yves St. Laurent himself.

All I have to say to that is that the poor man would cry in his grave if he smelled this fragrance. He happens to have been a personal idol of mine, a man I practically worshiped in my youth, and whose creations were once a huge part of my life in numerous different ways. He would cry at the toxic horror that is Noble Leather, and I would join him — if I didn’t feel like taking a sword and stabbing it through L’Oreal‘s heart. 

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

The most common, frequent description of Noble Leather lies through its teeth when it states:

Yves Saint Laurent has drawn its inspiration from the splendours of the East to give birth to an exceptional collection. In honour of its creator and his never-ending passion for the elsewhere, the Oriental Collection celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness. The potent and deep scent of leather fervently states its case and whispers an elegant, raw and carnal sensuality. The ambery wood accord embraces languid vanilla and the earthy scents of patchouli before giving way to intermingling tanned leathers. Enhanced by a dash of bright saffron notes and softened by the candied sweetness of the dried fruit accord, this skin-deep fragrance leaves an unforgettable impression.

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

The most complete and detailed information I found for the fragrance comes from Ozmoz. It states that Noble Leather was created by Julie Massé of Mane, and it provides both a description of the bottle and the full list of notes:

Sensual and animalic, Noble Leather is a fragrance in Yves Saint Laurent’s Oriental Collection line. Inspired by the mysteries of the Orient, the collection is an invitation to travel. Noble Leather is composed around a leather accord that’s sweetened with dried-fruit notes. The cubic bottle is sheathed in gold and nestles in a golden box inspired by an Oriental palace. Available from selected points of sale only.

Top : Violet Blossom, Saffron, Tangerine

Heart : Tobacco, Leather, Dried Fruit

Base : Vanilla, Patchouli

A pack of lies, if you ask me. Nothing in this fragrance “celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness.” What it celebrates are laboratory concoctions. An invitation to travel? Where? To see the scientists at work in the bowels of Givaudan creating vats of cheap Norlimbanol, the ISO E-like Kephalis, cheap purple fruit-chouli, and Safraleine? As for the Orient, bah! It would join Mr. St. Laurent in weeping copious tears of shame that its name has been linked to this over-priced, outrageous hot mess. At least one of them should sue for defamation.

And L’Oreal, you should be utterly ashamed at what you’ve done to the Yves St. Laurent name, a name that was once highly respected, and my own personal favorite amidst all the perfume houses. For shame. FOR SHAME, you revolting, mercenary creatures. Stop picking at the Yves St. Laurent carcass, like the maggoty, mangy, flea-ridden vultures that you are. Haven’t you done enough with the emasculated eunuch and abomination that is the current Opium?

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

I suppose I should get to what this vile horror smells like, but I’ve been trying to put off revisiting the memory from sheer misery. Well, Noble Leather opens like a toxic cloud of chemical napalm on my skin. There is a momentary pop of saffron, rich rose, and then a powerful, unexpected burst of an oud-y woodiness, followed by a tidal wave of synthetics. That artificial “oud” is highly peppered and dry, to the point that it feels prickly, spiky, and almost sulphurous. It actually doesn’t smell like the real wood, but my brain is clearly making the connections between the chemicals that often accompany agarwood in fragrances like Montale’s Aouds, and interpreting it as “oud.” Only here, it smells like a really bad, cheap version of Montale’s “oud” — which says something….

In these opening minutes, it is genuinely difficult for me to detect much in Noble Leather behind the deluge of chemicals that are, alternatively, profoundly peppered, aggressively sharp, sulphurously smoky, prickly, and syrupy sweet. My nose is pounding from some sort of piercing dryness, while a sudden pain shoots behind my left eye. But, eh, I’m generally used to such things when there is a gallon of synthetics involved, no matter how miserable the experience. What I’m significantly less used to is the feeling that someone has taken the edge of a sharp kitchen knife and scraped it all along the back of my throat. It feels raw, scratchy, and then it starts to burn. What the hell is in this bloody perfume?!

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

It is a rhetorical question because I actually recall the unpleasant medley of toxic chemical smells from a prior experience, though it had been faint in comparison then and it never — ever — triggered a reaction like this. This smell that is almost like ISO E Super, but not quite; this olfactory cocktail that begins with a slightly astringent (and quite oud-like) note, before quickly radiating a spiky, smoked, highly peppered cedary dryness, with amber and the vaguest undertone of leather — this medley feels extremely familiar.

Early this summer, I came across a discussion about the synthetic aromachemicals, Kephalis and Norlimbanol on the blog, Scent Intoxique. I am forever indebted to Duke Hunt whose invaluable description taught me to recognize the cocktail of synthetics that I detect here (only Noble Leather has them amped up on steroids, if you ask me). In his review for Nasomatto’s Black Afgano, Duke Hunt wrote:

Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).

Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”. 

As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”

It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber. [Emphasis in font to the names added by me.]

Almost everything he’s written — not everything, but almost all — I detect here. From “the subtle leathery tones along with the amber,” to the spiky, peppered, almost greenish notes that resemble smoked cedar, to acutely dry, astringent, almost sulphurously burning woody-amber notes. The patchouli he mentions, well, that is provided in additional form with the actual note, as is the supposed tobacco (which is probably just more Kephalis in disguise). And the whole, utterly heinous, indescribable abomination is wrapped up with an ISO E Super-like bow that explodes at you right out of the starting gates. I sharply and vehemently disagree with Chandler Burr that this is genius gold.

To me, Noble Leather’s toxic brew is a chemical hell on earth that is the perfume equivalent of napalm. Each and every time I sniff I my arm, the back of my throat burns, and I get a spasmodic pain behind my eye. I have smelled a lot of ISO E or synthetic fragrances, and, while I may hate the aroma, I don’t get physical reactions unless the quantity of aroma-chemicals is really enormous. And I certainly can’t recall the last time I had a physical reaction that was this strong.

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

Minutes after the traumatizing tsunami of toxicity that is unleashed on me, more notes arrive on the scene. There is a jammy patchouli that evokes the aroma of syrupy red roses dominated by dark fruits, then small bubbles of a sweet tangerine and a powdery violet. At first, the citric element is a bit juicy and tart, but it soon takes on a plastic synthetic profile. You know those cheap “Made in China” plastic toys? Well, imagine the smell of one of those just barely infused with something orange-like. As for the violet, it’s delicate, but also somewhat woody and is quickly transformed with a peppery bite from the other accords. Much more prominent to me is a note that distinctly smells like jammy roses, even though there is none listed in the perfume. I assuming it’s my mind making those connections again, as fruited purple patchouli often accompanies a rose accord in perfumery. Whatever the reason, there is a fruited floralness in Noble Leather that goes beyond mere “violets” and which I’ll just call “rose” from this point onwards.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Then, there is the saffron. It starts off being a little fiery and spiced, but soon takes on a warm, almost leathery bent. It is most definitely Safraleine, a Givaudan creation that the company describes as follows:

Safraleine has a very unique warm and vibrant character offering a new alternative to existing spicy odorants. Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects.

The shrieking madness finally starts to abate about 10 minutes into Ignoble Leather’s development. Now, it’s only a moderately aggressive chemical bath of violet, jammy fruited patchouli, plastic orange, fake oud-y woodiness, and highly peppered, ISO E-like sharpness. For the first time, the tobacco and leather appear on the scene. The former is dusty, dry, and smells a bit like a stale, unlit cigar. The latter smells like suede infused with cheap, pleather vinyl. Yet, neither one feels distinctive or much like the notes in their own right.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

The best way to explain it is that the tobacco doesn’t smell like the actual tobacco found in other fragrances focusing on the note. It smells like an abstract approximation of what “tobacco” is supposed to smell like. My guess is that there is no actual tobacco in Noble Leather but that the aroma has been artificially created by Kephalis, that cousin to ISO E Super. Duke Hunt talked about Kephalis in the section I quoted above, but Givaudan‘s description of the synthetic is useful:

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. 

Thirty minutes in, the balance of power in the perfume starts to shift. As the super-shrill astringent, sulphurous, dusty and dry woody synthetics abate (a little), there is a matching rise in the fruited patchouli. It becomes heavier, more prominent, and suddenly, Noble Leather feels even sweeter. The most positive thing that I can say about the whole ghastly concoction is that the violet is pretty. Oddly enough, the peppered ISO E-like note seems to give the sometimes wan, frail note a little oomph. As a whole, though, the violets are never a significant part of Noble Leather on my skin. How could something so delicate withstand the power of a super synthetic like Norlimbanol?

"Rose Reflections" by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

“Rose Reflections” by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

At the end of the first hour, Noble Leather is a slightly softer mess of sharp, dusty, woody dryness with spiky, peppered ISO E-like notes, a syrupy pink rose, sticky fruits, cheap vinyl-smelling leather, hints of violets, stale tobacco, and synthetic, buttered saffron. It starts to devolve, with the fruited patchouli becoming more prominent, the fragrance taking on an amber undertone, and the woody notes turning more abstract.

In the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather feels more and more like a vaguely floral patchouli with fruited molasses, amber, and ISO E, over a base of extremely dry woodiness that, at best, resembles a sharp cedar. The vague abstraction of cheap leather retreats to the sidelines. The whole thing is much softer and, though I’m not keen on patchouli rose, Noble Leather smells better. It is almost pleasant — albeit on the most relative of absolute scales fabricated in the bowels of Hell. Perhaps it’s the relief talking, as Noble Leather’s soft cloud is now radiating only 3 inches off my skin, instead of punching me in the head like Mike Tyson.

Regardless of what the notes may say, Ignoble Leather has a definite underpinning of amber. I suspect it stems from some combination of the synthetics together. Whatever the precise reason, by the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather smells of a soft, “oud”-y rose with fruited patchouli, dusty saffron, dusty and stale tobacco, dry cedar-ish woods, and Norlimbanol amber. The perfume’s sillage drops, but the notes are still forceful when smelled up close. In fact, each and every time I sniff my arm, it feels like someone has taken an old-fashioned 18th-century straight razor to the back of my throat.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

At the end of the fourth hour, Noble Leather is a woody, dry amber fragrance with tobacco, saffron, and that patchouli rose. There is the vaguest hint of suede that pops up every now and then, but leather? Elvis left the building a while ago. Taking his place is a subtle, very dry vanilla that starts to rise to the surface. Noble Leather turns increasingly abstract and hazy, and its final moments consists primarily of an amber with indistinct, super dry woodiness and vanilla, atop an amorphous, slightly fruited sweetness. All in all, the bloody perfume lasted just over 9 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with sillage that was initially fierce, then strong, before it turned soft about 2.5 hours into Noble Leather’s development. As you might have gathered by now, I was not a fan. Of any of it.

In fact, I wasn’t a fan even in my first encounter with the perfume. I actually smelled Noble Leather while I was in Paris. It was on a paper mouillette, but I was taken aback even then by the sharp wave of horrors that came at me. I didn’t know Noble Leather’s official notes, but I recall telling the sales assistant that I smelled oud, and asked if it had ISO E Super. When she stared at me blankly, I wrapped things up by simply saying that I was tired of safraleine-oud-rose fragrances. I could smell much of it, even back then from mere paper. But on actual skin…. it’s a whole other matter entirely.

On Fragrantica, the main focus of people’s discussion of Noble Leather is Tom Ford‘s Tuscan Leather. I took out my sample of the latter today to give it a cursory comparative test, and the two scents are simultaneously extremely alike and nothing alike. Yes, the perfumes have an extremely close olfactory bouquet but, at no time, does the Tom Ford fragrance hit you with a tsunami of toxicity. There are definitely traces of Norlimbanol in Tuscan Leather, and it has an incredibly dry, peppered base, but the relative degrees are night and day apart. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the amount of synthetics used in Noble Leather would rate a solid 10 in the opening minutes. Tom Ford’s would rate a 1.5, which rises to about a 2 or 2.5 as the Norlimbanol starts to stir and become more prominent. For what it’s worth, Tuscan Leather triggered some scratchiness in my throat as well, so I’m clearly sensitive to that particular aroma-chemical in ways that I am not even to ISO E Super. But it is more like minor irritation, a small cough, as opposed to feeling that my skin has been scraped raw by a straight razor.

I realize that the degree of my fury may seem quite disproportionate to the situation at large. I am sure many of you think that the perfume can’t possibly be that unpleasant, and that my nose is simply much more sensitive than the average person. I concede that last point. I always had an acutely sensitive nose but, the more I sniff perfumes daily, the more sensitive it becomes, since, in essence, the nose is merely another type of muscle. Exercising it daily makes it much stronger. But, in my opinion, Noble Leather really is that bad. For all that people think it’s a clone of Tuscan Leather, the latter is an infinitely better, smoother, more well-rounded, high-quality, expensive-smelling fragrance. It lacks Noble Leather’s sharp, bony, spiky elbows and prickly roughness. Noble Leather amps up the chemicals to a shocking degree; it’s vats of the stuff, instead of a few table spoons.

One of the reasons why I’m so angry is the cost of Noble Leather. YSL is charging £185 or €177 for an 80 ml bottle. At the current rate of conversion, £185 is $301. That is completely outrageous given the ingredients used in the fragrance. Yes, real saffron is bloody expensive, and a lot of perfume companies use Safranal or Safraleine instead. But the ISO E-like tobacco, Kephalis? Norlimbanol? I can go out right this minute and buy 4 ml of Norlimbanol in undiluted concentrate from The Perfumer’s Apprentice for $3.99, or a large 80 ml bottle (the same sized bottle as Noble Leather) for $36. I can buy 80 ml of Kephalis for $18. Given that L’Oreal undoubtedly gets a massive discount for wholesale orders of the stuff, the cost to them would be even lower. Plus, since all this stuff is subsequently diluted in an perfumer’s alcohol base, 80 ml of either chemical could probably make several hundred bottles of perfume.

That makes Noble Leather’s $300 price tag simply insulting. Sheer venal greed for a totally crap, cheaply made, chemical perfume that is a tsunami of toxicity. Yves St. Laurent was the epitome of elegance, luxury, seductiveness, and opulent orientalism. This “homage” to him is an utter abomination. I can’t even bear to talk about it any more.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Each fragrance in YSL’s Oriental Collection is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.7 oz/ 80 ml bottle, and is subject to very limited distribution. The price is £185 or €177. The French YSL website and the UK YSL site both carry the Oriental Collection, but not the US one. In the U.S.: I haven’t found any American retailers thus far that carry the line. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, from what I’ve seen thus far, the Oriental Collection is most widely found in the UK and France. In the UK, I found Noble Leather slightly discounted at John Lewis which sells the scent for £166 instead of £185. There are only 3 bottles left at the time of this post. John Lewis ships internationally to over 33 countries, and has free UK delivery. Elsewhere in the UK, London’s House of Fraser carries Noble Leather, as does Harvey Nichols and Harrods. In Paris, I’ve read that the full line is available at the main Sephora on the Champs Elysees. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Noble Leather for €205. In Russia, Noble Leather is carried at Orental. Kuwait’s Universal Perfumes had tester bottles of Noble Leather for $189.99, but they are “out of stock.” Airports: Finally, you can find YSL’s Oriental Collection at a number of airports. I myself tested it at Paris’ CDG, and I know it is also available at London’s Heathrow. I suspect the same applies at all other large airports. Samples: I obtained my samples from Surrender to Chance which sells the complete trio in a set starting at $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Noble Leather is also available individually starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Obviously, the complete set is a bit of a better deal. 

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

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For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.