Friday, 30 April 2010

Spice and amber - Ambre Russe and Caravelle Epicee

I have had samples of Ambre Russe (Parfum D'Empire) and Caravelle Epicee (Frapin et Cie) for quite some time now. Both were purchased from Les Senteurs in London. Incidentally, I don't know if any of you know of Les Senteurs, but they are a small business in London's Belgravia, selling some wonderful niche fragrances. If you visit them personally, they will usually be more than happy to provide you with samples. If you aren't able to visit, they will mail you 6 samples (generous quantities I might add) for £18. 

When I first tried these, I think it was in winter, or possibly very early spring. All I know is that neither spoke to me and I felt that they were decent, but unremarkable. I put them to one side, but recently I dug them out of my mucky scent sin bag, looked at them and then thought: "what the hell, lets give these two another go...." I'm not quite sure what made me try one on each wrist; its something I do quite often actually. I think I'm just greedy for scent. Thinking about it now, I think it was the booze that did it. No, I wasn't inebriated, but both these fragrances have boozy notes and I felt like comparing them side by side. 

Both fragrances open in an alcoholic haze. Ambre Russe has a top note of Vodka, and it opens dry and slightly vegetal, like potato-distilled alcohol. It isn't overtly boozy, but within a minute or so it sweetens slightly, when I detect a touch of patchouli, amber and something herbal. I'm not sure about herbs, it could be lavender or perhaps cardamom? There is a leather note in there as well, but it veers towards the fruity side rather than the fetish/leather jacket club, with a hint of smoke. I felt that at this point it bore a resemblance to Caravelle Epicee, but less boozy and sweet. In the heart the amber really comes to the fore and what a great amber it is. The funny thing is, when I first tried this last year, I never really got a serious amber note, yet months on, it hits me right between the eyes. Is this just me having a better-trained nose and more perfume exposure, or is it a seasonal, skin chemistry thing? This fragrance is sweet, but like the best of Serge Lutens, for example, this is tempered by the balance of herbs and spices. The dry down is amber, lightly spiced, dryish, yet enough sweetness to please those who like that style of amber. If I were to classify or pigeon hole this, I would say it is a bit like a cross between Serge's Ambre Sultan and Montale's Blue Amber. It is a complex and rich fragrance and I definitely give it a strong thumbs up.

Caravelle Epicee opens with booze too, but its cognac this time, sweet, heady but again, cleverly tempered with herbs and spices, so it never becomes cloying. The sweetness is rounded with an oaky, caramelness not unlike what one would expect from an oak barrel in which the cognac was aged. Its a clever touch. I detect herbs and a slight floralness which might be lavender or sage, but honestly, I'm not sure. There is a smokiness in this fragrance too, more charred barrel than burning wood, that weaves in and out, almost incense-like, and as tobacco and cumin seep through in the heart, I'm swooning. I can't believe how much cumin I detect (having not noticed previously, until I read a review of Ines, of All I Am, A Redhead blog). Its wonderful, and with the nutmeg and pepper, forms a formidable spice combo. Although sweet, there is a slightly sour tang that balances things. In the dry down, I am reminded of sitting in a library, comfey in a leather armchair in front of the fire, glass of cognac in hand - perhaps I am just being fanciful!  Ironically, despite the winter comfort scene, I actually think Caravelle Epicee performs better on my skin in warmer weather. This is also a complex, lush and lovely perfume.

I think these are both beautiful fragrances. I think they bear similarities in that both have a booze top note, spices and smoke. Where they differ the most is that Ambre Russe is ultimately all about amber, while Caravelle Epicee is mostly about cognac and spices, yet both are sweet, but balanced, without ever becoming cloying. Both work better in warmer weather in my opinion, despite them being ironically comfort scents, at least to my nose. I recommend both wholeheartedly.

Ineke - Field Notes from Paris

Image credit: Springtime in Paris by Isismas

Fragrance notes: Bergamot, Orange Blossom, Coriander Seed, Tobacco Flower and leaf, Patchouli, Cedar, Tonka, Leather, Beeswax, Vanilla.

I'd read a number of favourable reviews of Field Notes from Paris; many noted the prominent orange blossom note, and others described it as an urbane, cosmopolitan fragrance. I approached this with no heavily preconceived ideas. I first tried it on a paper scent strip at Liberty in London and it haunted me for several weeks before I finally got a sample from First in Fragrance in Germany. On first application this opened quite sharp, aldehydic even, with a twist of orange. The orange blossom dominates the first phase, and its quite a floral, heady accord. I get spices and herbs and a slightly flowery note that could well be the tobacco flower and coriander doing a tango. Into the heart the fragrance sweetens and I get the tobacco and a bit of patchouli coming to the fore. I find it quite hard to describe the tobacco note - its definitely not a pipe tobacco, but doesn't really seem like a cigarette either. The orange blossom stays fairly prominent throughout and for me, the fragrance stays relatively linear from here on into the dry down. It might just be my untrained nose, but I never really detect the beeswax or the cedar. The dominant notes are tobacco and orange blossom, but I don't find this a warm, comforting scent. The quality seems very good and its well constructed, but it almost seems too cerebral for me, like its trying to make some sort of intellectual statement, but its not on my wavelength. In the end, this fragrance just isn't me and I could never see myself purchasing a full bottle. However, this is just my opinion and I am sure that it could work wonderfully for others. I shall try this again in the summer, when perhaps the heat will bring out different facets and who knows, perhaps I will warm to it.

The picture I used above is Springtime in Paris, incidentally not so much because this fragrance evokes spring in Paris for me, but rather just because it is springtime in Paris right now and I wouldn't mind being there! I can see Field Notes from Paris having a lot of fans. It is unisex, but (perhaps somewhat presumptuous of me) I can see this being more popular with the ladies. 

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Caron L'Anarchiste

I have a troubled history with Caron's perfumes. Venerable house, almost niche, not that readily available, true to its traditions - I would have thought I'd have loved their perfume, but a lot of it has in truth left me cold. I enjoy and wear Tabac Blonde and En Avion, quite enjoy Pour Un Homme, yet Yatagan and Third Man did not thrill me at all; nor did Parfum Sacre. This is just my personal experience though. I'm not for one second saying that this is not a great perfume house, its just that I'm not moved by what I've tried so far. Which leads me to their most recent masculine release (which is not that recent at all, released in 2000), L'Anarchiste.

L'Anarchiste receives some serious love - one only has to read reviews on Basenotes, for example, where there are 45 positive and 15 neutral opinons out of a total of 70. The notes are listed as Orange Blossom, Mandarin, Cedar leaves, Sandalwod, Vetiver, Cedarwood and Musk.  On my skin L'Anarchiste does open bright and citrusy, and almost fizzy, or zingy might be a better description. It has been described as having a metallic feel and I can make this association, which I perhaps perceive as zingy. I find the opening a bit weird if I'm being honest. There is a freshness to it that is at the same time slightly "off", at least to my nose. I get notes of musk and cedar quite quickly after this, but not in a generic, department-store sort of way. I saw in the notes afterwards that cedar leaf is listed. Perhaps that is the slightly unusual cedar note I'm getting. In the heart the metallic accord fades away, thankfully, and it segues into a smooth and quite rich combination of musk and woods (cedar), tinged with a sweetness that I presume is the sandalwood. I never quite identify vetiver, but having said that, the fragrance does maintain a slight tartness throughout that tempers the musks and sandalwood, which could well be the vetiver note. There's something about the overall style of L'Anarchiste that reminds me of a couple of the men's De Nicolai perfumes, but not as rich or vanillic. In the dry down I do detect what I think of as that trademark Caron base - skin musk, smooth, rich and slightly buttery almost and its probably the last phase that I appreciate most of all.

I personally think it is the most interesting of the masculine Carons that I have tried, but its not that easy to wear, particularly the opening, for me. I'm still not convinced that Caron works that well for me, but granted, this is an interesting fragrance and definitely worth trying, although I would stress that sampling this first is probably a good idea.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Le Labo Patchouli 24

Patchouli 24 by niche house Le Labo seems to garner much praise on many blog websites, Basenotes, etc. I came to the Le Labo party quite late and to be honest, with the exception of Oud 27, none of the line has impressed me all that much. They all seem quite good, but lack inspiration, certainly to my nose.

The notes for Patchouli 24 are listed (not officially, as I don't think Le Labo likes to do that sort of thing) as patchouli, styrax, birch and vanilla. The comparisons with Bulgari Black are inevitable, as at first glance they seem quite similar. The opening starts quite brightly, with a brief burst of citrus, but within seconds a smokiness wells up quite strongly. The birch note is immediately apparent and the fragrance takes on a smoky leatheriness that lasts throughout most of the heart and early dry down. This is quite a sweet scent though and its not long before the smokiness becomes tempered by the vanilla note. At this point the comparison with Bulgari Black would seem most obvious. I can see why some people would think this, but for starters Patchouli 24 never has that rubber note that Black has, nor the tea accord. The smokiness is also far more pronounced in Patchouli 24. If anything, that hardcore birch tar note recalls Tauer Lonestar memories, at least for me, but less smoked-meat-and-leather. 

The dry down continues on the smoky, tarry, vanillic theme, rather sweet,  but it never becomes cloying, as the fragrance is well balanced and the edges do smooth somewhat later on. Overall this is an intense perfume, almost certainly the most masculine of the Le Labo line that I've tried. I can see this as a polarising scent - some will love it, others will despise it. I think after Oud 27 this is my second favourite of the line and I think fans of Bulgari Black or Lonestar Memories will like it too.

Amouage Tribute Attar

I have long been a fan of the Amouage line, having sampled just about all of the fragrances. I finally obtained a sample of the Tribute Attar from Luckyscent. I balked slightly at the thought of paying about $10 for 0.4ml of juice, but needn't have worried, as one or two slight dabs on the wrist last literally 10 hours on my skin. As someone who has very little experience of perfume oils firstly, and even less of Attars, I was initially taken back by how strong this is! 

The listed notes are Frankincense, Rose Taifi, Jasmine and Saffron. You can bet your last dollar that there are more ingredients than this; it is too complex and long-lasting to simply have these four ingredients. The opening is quite subdued, I think probably because it is so oily it takes a little while to warm up on the skin and open up. There isn't the typical top, middle and base notes of your EDP or EDT formulations. As it warms up there is a lovely rose note that emerges, not unlike that in Lyric Women, but slightly less dewy. As the initial innocence fades there emerges a smoky leather accord and its at this point that I realised I was in for a fairly dark journey. The attar intensifies quite considerably and takes on the form of a leathery chypre, not green, but rather dominated by rose, leather and something that emerges as slightly tangy/sour. I can't quite identify it, but it does seem slightly vetivery, although I have no clue whether this is actually the case. There is no distinct progression here - the rose, smoke and incense sort of weave in and out, mingling together a bit like a wafting smoky breeze. One minute it seems really intense and almost overpowering; the next I have to sniff quite closely. 

This is a seriously complex scent; thick, dark, sweet, yet dry. I find it quite hard to describe exactly how it smells. Much later the attar does smooth out and become a dry, rosy incense with some smoke and again, what I perceive as vetiver. If I could come up with one word to describe this, it would be shape-shifter - I can't pigeonhole this in any way. It changes character constantly and keeps me guessing.

Tribute is seriously expensive, so I think it is unlikely that I will ever own a bottle of it, but to be honest, half a millilitre could last you quite a while, if you aren't going to wear it every day. I find it too complex and dark to wear often, but every now and again is a real treat. I would say that it is more suitable to cooler weather, but having said that, Middle-Eastern perfume is usually strong and complex and usually worn in very hot weather so I am keen to try this in the summer and see how it wears on my skin - perhaps another facet shall emerge to keep me riveted. This comes highly recommended, even with the hefty price tag and I would urge you to at least sample this; it is brilliant.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Ortigia Melograno and Fico D'India

I first saw the Ortigia range of colognes, bath and body products at my local Fenwick department store. I presume they've been around for a while, but I hadn't noticed them probably because they are stuck away towards the back of the store, somewhere between Dr Hauschka and Crabtree & Evelyn. Anyway, I saw them and what struck me most was their packaging, which looks fun and vibrant, yet serious enough to come across as wearable adult products. I tried two of the line, both on paper strips, so I must admit that I don't know how these develop on the skin.

This is based on pomegranate. The website does not go into much detail about the ingredients, but does describe the pomegranate as an exotic fruit, with a dry and dusty scent, symbols of Maximilian 1 of Rome and Catherine of Aragon, both rulers of Sicily. Whether that is true, I can't really say. The fragrance opens quite fruity and pulpy and I suppose it is the smell of pomegranate, but as I am not very familiar with the fresh fruit, I can't vouch for how close-to-life this is. It isn't fruity-floral territory though, and there is something quite herby and spicy in there as well and almost smoky, which really is very nice. The opening is the best part though. Like many colognes, it fades relatively quickly and into the heart it becomes quite powdery, but more in a dusty sort of way. It starts with great promise, then fades into a fairly bland, slightly musky/woody cologne.

Fico d'India
This opens with a brief citrus accord that quickly becomes milky. Until i read the notes, I thought this was a fig scent, but apparently it is based on the prickly pear, which is part of the cactus family although I stand corrected! It is fairly woody, with a slightly sweet feel that almost verged on marine. It feels fresher than Melograno but also has that dusty/powdery note and then fades fairly quickly, being a cologne.

I'm not sure how much I really like these, although to be fair I should try them on skin. The most promising and enjoyable phases for me for both colognes was the opening and then they become kind of ordinary and fade quickly.

Friday Bits and Bobs Edition 1

Today's post is a hodge podge of Friday musings. I paid a visit to my local Fenwick department store and randomly sprayed a few scent strips with whatever took my fancy or something I hadn't seen before. Therefore, any opinions I have on the following are merely first impressions and may not do the fragrances any justice, but hey ho.

First up, the new limited summer addition splashes by Marc Jacobs. I was astounded by the size of these - 300ml! By gosh, these make the Chanel Exclusives look positively diminutive by comparion... They are huge, but as the sales assistant admitted, they are good value for money, if you like bathing in a vat of juice. I only tried Biscotti and Pomegranate, not the Apple.

To be honest, I couldn't smell much of the Biscotti, just a vague, slightly fruity accord and then something slightly musky, while Pomegranate smelled like, well, pomegranate. It was the better of two, I thought; there is a sour/sweet note at the top which is quite nice, but fleeting and then an accord that turns quite citrusy and grapefruit-like. Initial impression - nice to wear on a hot summer's day, uncomplicated and so sheer and weak that I'm not surprised they are packaged in 300ml bottles. They aren't really my style, but I think they will prove popular and for the price (£45 a bottle, or 15 pence a millilitre) you can't really go wrong.

Next up, Equipage by Hermes. I've tried this one quite a few times. Sometimes it strikes me as quite old fashioned, but it is a classic men's fragrance, a spicy fougere/chypre really. The opening is strong and spicy, mixed with citrus and spice, then moves to a spicy cumin accord that reminds me a bit of Declaration by Cartier. It is sort of sweet/spicy/dirty, all at the same time. The drydown is mostly oakmoss and patchouli. I've seen this listed as a fougere, but to me (in my limited experience) it straddles the line of what I perceive as a fougere and a chypre. It has elements of both I think. It is quite complex, having elements of citrus, woods, spices, herbs and a sweet smokiness that keeps you guessing as to its mood as you go along.

Being in a Hermes state of mind, I spritzed on D'Orange Verte. This is a wonderful citrusy, orangey, slightly mossy cologne that is a summer staple. One drawback is that it lasts for less than an hour on my skin, so reapplication is necessary, but worth it, just for that initial blast of bitter and sweet orange. Since this one, they've released a concentrated version, but this is still the best, in my opinion.

Last one for the day was Amaranthine, by Penhaligons, the classic English perfumers. This was created by Bertrand Duchafour and represents a departure for him from his usual incenses and spices into a more floral realm. I've seen some very favourable reviews of this one, but I must be honest and say that it is not really my cup of tea. It is meant to smell like the inside of a woman's thigh. I'm no expert, but I have smelled the inside of a woman's thigh (incidentally, how far up the inside of said woman's thigh are you meant to smell?) and this doesn't really capture that scene for me. It smells of powder, violets and mimosa flowers to me, slightly creamy and almost vanillic in a way. There is something about it that reminds me of Un Fleur de Cassie by Frederic Malle, which did not appeal to me either. I'm not saying that this isn't a good fragrance; lots of people with better perfume pedigree than I have praised it, but it just doesn't speak to me.

Oh well, that's it for my first Friday bits and bobs edition. Happy smelling everyone.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Prada Infusion de Tubereuse and Infusion de Vetiver
There was quite a lot of excitement when news of these releases was received in the blog community. I know there are quite a few Prada fans out there, but I must be honest and say that I have never been blown away by Prada. Of the line, I think the feminine Infusion d'Iris was best done and the masculine version inferior. Having said that, there is something in the Infusion line overall that just doesn't agree with my nose. I can't quite pin it down, but I think it might be that house note of soapy amber and benzoin - its distinctive and somewhat cloying to me and it puts me off. When Prada released Infusion de Fleur D'oranger it didn't improve either, in my opinion.

Anyway, so we come to the two latest releases in the line. Due to my history with Prada, I wasn't expecting much. The reviews I had read mostly suggested that these were ok, but not particularly great. In particular, sillage and longevity appear to be a problem. I tried Tubereuse first and I was pleasantly surprised actually. Look, I admit that if you are familiar with Tuberose as a note and have experienced Fracas, Tubereuse Criminelle or Carnal Flower then you might wonder why this is even called Tubereuse. It is subtle and diffusive and in keeping with the Prada ethos. However, if you are new to tuberose, or find the divas too loud, shrieky and in-your-face, then this might appeal. Most reviewers have said that they can't smell tuberose, but I noticed it straight up. Its true that it is quite subtle, but it is there. I think if you are sensitive to the forcefulness of tuberose, then you might notice it more, and being a male and a bit nervous of white florals, i picked it up quickly and was relieved that it did not shout out. I think it is a well done fragrance and most pleasing is that the dry down does not tread the usual ambery/benzoin path for me, or at least, not obviosly so.

Vetiver opens up with a gin-like accord, all astringent, boozy green and herby, with a touch of lemon. I can see that opening really working on a hot, humid summer's day. However, soon after I get that dreaded soapy, amber accord seeping through and I lose interest. The vetiver does come through, more in the grassy, fresh style of say Lubin Vetiver or Mugler Cologne, rather than rooty/earthy. I must admit that it is an improvement on Fleur D'oranger and the originals and stays a bit fresher and less soapy-amber.

Overall, I quite like these two. They aren't particularly innovative or unique, and if you like your tuberose and vetiver more forceful and full of character, then you won't find that here. However you could do a lot worse than try these two and I would certainly recommend at least sampling them.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Voyage d'Hermes by Hermes

Today I'm doing a quick review of the new Hermes fragrance, released within the last month. The reason I say quick, is that I think all the other blog reviews have covered it quite sufficiently. However, the reason I am mentioning it at all is that firstly I love the bottle design and secondly, I do admire Hermes perfumes.

I love Hermes' understated, chic design and concept. It is high-end luxury that never shouts but does show its class throughout. Voyage is no exception. Designed by Jean Claude Elena, it will appeal to his many fans and those who like their perfume understated yet substantial at the same time.

When I read all the reviews, one common thread that emerged was that the fragrance is literally like all J C Elena's work for Hermes, Cartier and Bulgari packaged in one scent. I was slightly bemused and sceptical about this, but having now sampled the fragrance twice, once on a scent strip and the other time on my wrist, I too can vouch for this assessment.

It is appealing and if you are at all familiar with Elena's style and particularly his previous work for Hermes, you will recognise his signature all the way, from top to bottom. The opening is tart citrus, mainly grapefruit, then in comes some rose (the most pleasurable phase of the scent for me), then cedar and a hint of cumin, a la Cartier Declaration. Into the drydown cedar (iso-e super mainly) dominates, in the manner of Terre D'Hermes. All the way though, there are little cameos from a number of the Hermes range and this makes the fragrance quite fascinating to me.

Having said that, I think if you already own a number of Elena creations, I cannot see why you would wish to own Voyage. It is a little too much like deja vu. However, if you are new to Hermes' creations and to J C Elena, then I think this would be a great introduction to their recent style and scent philosophy and you could do a lot worse.

One final comment on the bottle: gorgeous as it is, I wish Hermes had made the metal swivel-thing cover with a matt finish. The metal is glossy and shiny and the tester I looked at was covered in fingerprints, which kind of reduces the impact in my opinion, but nevertheless, an inspired design!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

A Tale of two Irises

About two or three years ago Iris in perfumery came back into fashion in a big way. It was a bit like what oud is now - you couldn't view a new release that didn't have iris as a note. I have grown to love the use of Iris, but prefer the more woody and earthy styles, as opposed to the powdery aspects. I also enjoy Iris pared with leather, especially when that buttery note emerges, like in the style of Dior Homme for example.

I tested two Iris-based perfumes recently, both by Parfumerie Generale, Iris Taizo and Cuir D'Iris.

Iris Taizo
This opens fairly bright and zingy. There is no citrus to my nose, but it is a sort of sour accord. There's also a rooty iris note that appears almost immediately and that slightly fruity/sour accord lingers beneath. It is pleasant. As the iris strengthens, it comes across just a bit powdery, but is mostly rooty and earthy. This smells slightly dusty as well, and the scent sweetens a bit as what I perceive as a subtle amber note seeps through. There is a spiciness as well, and perhaps what I'm getting as these sweet and spicy notes with a hint of fruitiness is the cardomom, a note that I am not very familiar with, but if this is it, I like it a lot. I wouldn't say this is totally an iris-focused scent; there is quite a lot going on here and I detect a bit of incence as well. However, iris is present at all times, well balanced with the spice and sweetness. I've read some reviews that describe the fragrance as cloying. I don't find it thus - I think all its parts complement each other, without any note becoming too dominant. If you like your iris woodier and less floral, with a slight twist, then I think Iris Taizo may be to your taste. Although marketed as feminine, I think it is entirely unisex and would smell great on a man or a women.

Cuir d'Iris
This opens bone dry, with a note almost like floor polish or wood wax. There is an iris note, but it is so subdued that blink and you may miss it. Within a couple of minutes or so it disappears off my skin and a very subtle, butter-leather note comes to the fore, but it is not obviously leathery, at least not to my nose. It does sweeten, but again, I don't get any obvious citrus or florals. Into the heart and I start to get quite a lot of patchouli. In fact, although not as obviously animalic, it does remind me a bit of that furry accord in Mazzolari Lui, but only for a very short while. After this the scent becomes quite dry and I get a hint of saddle-soap and then all I get for the next hour or so is patchouli, lots of it. In fact, I think this scent is all about patchouli and I get very little leather and even less iris. I know that patchouli is often used in leather scents and admittedly as one gets to the base notes a more leathery accord does emerge, but its a strange one to me. If there is still any iris present, it is very well hidden by the patchouli and I can't detect any. In the dry down it does soften considerably and the patchouli is not as forceful. In fact overall I would say it is a fairly quiet scent. It certainly is different and I can see people who enjoy Cuir Venenum quite enjoying this one.

Overall I think Taizo is definitely the more interesting of the two, for me. I think Taizo is bottle-worthy. I can't think of any other iris scent that is quite like it, so it stands out for me.

Image: Claude Monet - Field with Irises

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Spring is sprung - my daily dose of green

Spring is finally on its way here in the UK. After a long and cold winter, the daffodils are in full bloom, my cherry tree is about to burst into blossom and the leaves of trees are just budding. Today I'm wearing two perfumes that conjure up for me the spirit (if not entirely the smell) of spring. They are Comme de Garcon Monocle Scent 2 Laurel and Parfumerie Generale's Papyrus de Ciane.

Now, spring scents are often described as green, the sort of green that brings to mind fresh, dewy buds, sappy growth and that fragrant verdancy so often associated with April. The two scents I'm wearing today are not green in this sense. Papyrus is quite mossy, while Laurel is more herbal and aromatic. Yet both invoke in me that sense of spring, of a restless breeze, warming gradually as it shifts from the south, heralding a change.

Monocle Scent 2 - Laurel
This opens with a green (not sappy) blast that immediately smells familiar to me. I can't quite place it, possibly a smell from my childhood. The bay and olive soon assert themselves and the feeling is of walking through a wood on a dry, warm spring day. There is a hint of warmth, but this is no humid, damp walk. The scent sweetens slightly but overall remains dry and vaguely dusty - I think this might be the combination of subtle incense and pepper. As it moves into the heart, the scent intensifies, but is slightly creamy, which might be the olive note. I am suddenly struck, all for about a minute, of a resemblance to Yatagan, but this soon passes. Perhaps I am being fanciful but the overall feel of this scent is to me like taking a walk in a wood in Croatia (where I've holidayed) comprising mostly bay trees. Heated by the midday sun, the oils are released and the air becomes mildly fragrant, but deep in the undergrowth, I don't feel hot, but comfortable. The fragrance then becomes fairly linear, retaining the bay note and olive creaminess, which perhaps accounts for that slightly soapy note others have mentioned in reviews. Into the dry down the spiciness has faded mostly but it retains a hint of an edge. I find Laurel to be quite a comforting scent. It isn't loud and wears quite close to the skin, but has good longevity. Laurel is perfectly unisex, although I suspect (and having read favourable reviews, mostly by men) it will find a stronger following by men. It isn't really a sexy scent, but a comforting, reassuring one. I find this to be impeccably composed - it is well constructed and tasteful. Kevin, at Now Smell this, has written a very good review here.

Papyrus De Ciane by Parfumerie Generale
There are some technically in-depth reviews of this fragrance, particularly of Pierre Guillaume's use of an old base called Mousse de Saxe. See here for Octavian's very good review of the history of Mousse de Saxe. Papyrus opens more obviously green than Laurel, with a sweeter accord that is both floral and mossy. I'm not sure, but I think I get Lily of the Valley and Violet, but if so, both are quite muted and not particularly feminine. As the top notes fade there is still an undercurrent of sweetness and a bit of soapiness. Into the heart and the scent also starts to become quite linear, but again, like Laurel it is comforting and herbal enough not to be cloying. Its not miles apart from Laurel at this point; sweeter, yes, and mossy, whereas Laurel is herbier and dry, but in essence, both crystallise in my mind the feel of spring, of being in woods, although in Papyrus' case, the woods are damper and mossier, while Laurel's woods are dry and warming up in the midday sun. In the dry down the scent settles into a green, mossy accord, quite happy, but not frivolous. I'm not quite sure how to describe the use of Mousse de Saxe. I suspect it is the first time I've encountered it in a fragrance. It does smell mossy, but not in the classic Chypre style one might associate with say, Chanel no 19.  It is not as distinct or strong and feels more like smelling moss that has dried out in the sun, but not in a dusty way; it still retains a certain humid feel to it. Like Laurel, I find Papyrus to be quite sophisticated and understated. I think Papyrus might be more popular with females, as the slight sweetness lends it less austerity than Laurel, but it can easily be worn by a man too.

In summary, I think both are intellectual, refined fragrances. They appear quite simple in construction, almost pared down, but on closer examination they reveal their true identity in layers, subtle, but evident. Both come highly recommended. I wouldn't necessarily wear either daily, but when I'm in the mood for some quiet spring contemplation, I could do worse than reach for these two.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Shopping for perfume in Tunbridge Wells

Ah, Tunbridge Wells, that middle-class bastion of grammar-school-educated conservatives and the home of the infamous Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Doesn't sound appealing? Well, my family have lived here for almost three years now and I can safely assure you that, while mildly conservative, it is a lovely town and the rumors are for the most part, unfounded. It is a spa town, founded during Georgian times and is set in the glorious High Weald of West Kent, about 50 miles south of London on the way down to Hastings and Eastbourne.

Tunbridge Wells is perhaps surprisingly well-endowed with shops, restaurants and theatre, considering how close to London it is. It is well-heeled, with a lot of old money floating around and has a large professional class, many of whom commute to the City and West End of London daily. I should know - I used to be one of them, until I chose to work locally.

So, on to perfume then - are there any places to find perfume in Middle England? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are two largish department stores in town, Fenwick and Hoopers. Fenwick is a small chain and can be found in London and other parts of the country, while Hoopers (as far as I know - I stand corrected) is privately owned and unique to Tunbridge Wells. 

Hoopers is the quainter of the two, sited opposite the train station. It has an old-fashioned feel to it, with wooden staircases, narrow and slightly jumbled walkways and rooms. It has wonderful shop window displays, particularly its winter Alice in Wonderland theme. So, what perfume is stocked? There is an eclectic mix. You will find the only Guerlain counter in town, with the basic range. Nothing too fancy as far as I can tell. There are also the usual Chanel and Dior counters, again with the standard ranges. Nothing Les Exclusif here, but decent. One will also find many standard designer lines, some of which include Gucci, Prada  and Calvin Klein and Hermes. However, there are some surprises too. They carry the full Amouage range, attars notwithstanding and the Bois 1920 line. One can also find Jean-Charles Brosseau, Lalique, Creed, Miller Harris (small range) and Grossmith.

Fenwick is more modern, found in the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre at the top of Mount Pleasant. It is a touch slicker, carries the same sort of designer lines as Hoopers, but does have a few interesting lines too. The most obvious one is probably Serge Lutens (I have begged many a sample here!) but they also carry Annick Goutal, Creed, Aqua Di Parma, Penhaligons and Van Cleef and Arpels.

One thing I noticed when moving here was how much easier it is (in my experience anyway) to get samples compared to London, especially if you develop a good relationship with a sales assistant. Both Hoopers and Fenwick are very generous with their samples and I have never been refused.

Other than these two, you can get a good range of designer perfumes at Boots the Chemist, also in Victoria Place. There is also a Perfume Shop in the centre, but in my experience you don't often find anything here at a real bargain price. There is a TK Maxx out on the industrial estate on the way to the cinema complex where you can occasionally find a good perfume at a knock-down price.

Moving down to the High Street (on the way to the famous Pantiles) there is a Space NK Hypothecary, where one can find Kiehls Musk, a limited range of Diptyque (but a good range of candles) and Honore du Prez. There used to be a lovely small perfume boutique down here (sadly now closed) that stocked Lorenzo Villoresi and some harder-to-find Creeds . The owner was a real perfume fan and was keen to crack open the samples and share them with me, but rising prices in a recession and in reality not much of a market in a smallish English town did him in.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Patchouli amazing - two to try

Mazzolari Lui
Two brilliant patchouli-based scents today and first up, Lui, by Italian house Mazzolari. I had read quite a bit about Lui before finally obtaining a sample. Many people have described this as a beast of a scent, and as is often the case, I was slightly sceptical about the hype. Well, what can I say? I was proven wrong. Lui reminds me of a black panther for some reason. I think it is the opening. Upon application I get a blast of camphorous patchouli, no holds-barred. No sweetness or citrus here. Straight after this a strange accord wells up. It reminds me of fur, dusty animal fur or more specifically, the fur of a large cat, hence the panther association. Its quite disturbing, frankly. This note lasts for the duration of the heart notes; while the scent does sweeten, it maintains an edgy, uneasy feel, thanks in no part to a strong patchouli note. Its the sort of patchouli I like - earthy, almost woody and quite dusty, without being powdery. Into the dry down and the beast has put on his overcoat in readiness for dinner and the scent becomes slightly more refined, without ever totally losing that animalic thrust. The scent has great longevity and far into the dry down its pure patch, with perhaps a smidgen of what I perceive as a floral note. It is a compelling scent and I have to say, I love it.                  

Borneo 1834 - Serge Lutens
Borneo also opens with a blast of straight-up patchouli that is rapidly joined by a dusty cocoa powder note, not dissimilar to the note found in L'Instant by Guerlain. This may seem fanciful, but the effect or association for me can be likened to being in a shiny, polished corridor, lined with wooden panels and benches. I don't really know why. There is also a camphorous edge to this, but more restrained, smoother and sophisticated at this point than Lui. Borneo is like the older brother who knows he is due the inheritance; Lui is the younger brother who decided to join the gym instead and juice up on steroids. Into the heart and the cocoa note can still be detected and there is a sweet, slightly ambery note peeping in. At this point I am struggling to tell the two scents apart. Lui is perhaps less sweet and still has that vague unsettling note of animal fur lurking underneath, whereas Borneo is a touch more refined. Into the dry down and the patchouli dominates, but like Lui, it is a dry and earthy patch, not powdery or too sweet. Borneo doesn't use the familiar stewed-fruit-and-spices accord found in a lot of Lutens' fragrances. It is quite unique in the line, I think. In the far dry down it would take a good nose to tell Borneo and Lui apart. Perhaps Lui still bares his teeth a bit more, but they smell very similar at the end.

I have to admit, both these fragrances are in my opinion very well executed. I think I like them both equally, but although I said they are very similar, there are enough differences between the two, mainly in the opening and early mid-notes. I am not a huge fan of patchouli in general, having struggled with the note in the past, but these two are both very enticing. If you are looking for fruitchouli, look elsewhere - you ain't gonna find it here. 

Would I buy either of these? If my wallet allowed, both would grace my fragrance wardrobe. However, a word of caution - I would struggle to wear either of these daily as they are both powerful and make a very definite statement. Both come highly recommended though!

Panther pic from
Borneo 1834 from


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