Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Layering Serge Lutens

I'm not sure about you, but I have never been a huge layerer of fragrances. I'm not sure why, but perhaps I've always been loathe to combine two fragrances that on their own are gorgeous. If it's good enough on its own, why corrupt it by coupling it with something else, no matter how beautiful that might be too? Recently however, I've been dabbling a bit with combining some of Serge Lutens' perfumes, with surprisingly good results. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but two combinations that really hit the sweet spot for me were as follows:

Ambre Sultan and Sa Majeste La Rose - I suspected this would be a good combo, and I wasn't wrong. Amber and Rose, a match made in heaven, in my opinion. There was something about this development that reminded me surprisingly (or perhaps not) of Amouage Lyric Man. I love Ambre Sultan at the best of times and combined with the dewy purity of Serge's export rose, it reached a sultry, heady height. Yum.

Chergui and A la Nuit - I originally paired  A la Nuit with Ambre Sultan and it fell flat. Combined together the amber never emerged, while the jasmine dominated. However, jasmine and tobacco is a great pairing and with Chergui thrown into the mix it was a totally different story. I was reminded a little of Nuit Noir by Mona Di Orio, but not as skanky. Surprisingly this combo was quite dry, whereas on its own I usually find Chergui to be quite sweet. It worked really well on the hot, humid summer day we were experiencing.

What I find really showed in both these cases is that layering works really well when you combine a soliflore (or a relatively simple, linear perfume) with a more complex one. In these cases both Chergui and Ambre Sultan are  complex, rich arrangements, while A la Nuit and Sa Majeste La Rose are all about jasmine and rose respectively, and quite simple (but not inferior). The result is both stunning in each case, but not stunning for some; I asked my wife to sniff my wrist with tobacco and jasmine on and she said I smelled like a woman. Well, I happen to think women smell very nice, thank you very much!

Does anyone else layer? I would certainly recommend giving Serge Lutens a go. I'm sure there are many others in the line that would work too. 

Well folks, that's the end of June. Halfway through 2010 and I wish you all very happy perfume adventures for the next six months.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Perfume inspiration?

Denyse from Grain de Musc had an interesting article today on the general malaise in the perfume industry, with complaints from people in and around the industry about too much product, uninspired launches, no originality and so forth. Her article can be found here. She ended the article by posing the following questions:

When was the last time you were enchanted by a perfume, and which one(s)?
Are you starting to suffer from launch fatigue?
And are you restricting the number of houses/perfumers you follow as a result?
Do you feel moved to seek out new voices online, or is it all just too much to keep up with?

These are interesting questions, and ones I have thought about before, although not necessarily consciously in each case. I am a relative newcomer to perfume, having only really started wearing and thinking about it since 2007, although I did wear perfume prior to that. I signed up to my perfume addiction with very few preconceived ideas, and with very little experience! Perhaps it is this lack of history that has led me to answer thus:

I am not often smitten or enchanted by a perfume, particularly when I have read too much about it prior to sampling. Perhaps it is the weight of expectation that very often leaves me asking the question: "so what is all the fuss about?". This is particularly true of newer launches; I find that stumbling across a little-talked about gem can be far more satisfying. If I had to name a perfume that charmed me, it would be Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, and that wasn't even recently. Another that springs to mind is Amouage Lyric Woman.

It may seem strange, but I am not suffering from launch fatigue. If anything, I get excited by many launches, and wait eagerly to read reviews of the latest stuff and even more so to sample it. Having said that, I feel far less excited about most mainstream launches, particularly for men. Most times it is another yawn-inducing sports/citrus cologne. Mainstream-wise, recentish releases that inspire me include Dior Homme and Guerlain L'instant for men. Ok, so these were released almost five years ago...

I definitely don't restrict the number of houses or perfumers I follow. I am always willing to try anything by anyone; otherwise how do you know what you're missing? Also, I think only sampling or buying from one line or perfumer is restrictive and I am still at that stage where I am expanding my perfume knowledge and reference points and the only way to do that is by trying a lot of different perfumes, in my opinion.

Finally, onto blogs and other online voices. I must admit that almost all my knowledge of and desire to try perfume stem from having read numerous blogs. If it weren't for the blogs I frequent, both well known and otherwise, I would never have been inspired to start my own, and I thank each and every one of them for doing what they do. Of course there is an argument against blogs, but in my opinion the building of the online perfume world is a revelation and is good for the industry. Clearly very few (if any) of us are true perfumers or have any relevant experience, but I think constructive criticism and voicing of opinions, provided it is done so in the right spirit, can only be a good thing. 

And finally (yes, finally) a big thank you to those of you who have taken the time so far to read and follow my little blog, still in its infancy, and post comments. I do appreciate it and in part it inspires me to keep on going.

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Black pepper blues

Why the blues you ask? Well, I love black pepper in cooking - hardly a meal I cook or eat is without this now ubiquitous, but formerly precious, spice. Yet for some reason I find it a very difficult note to deal with in perfume. Not so much when it is well-blended with other spices, but when it is the primary focus of a fragrance. Two such perfumes with a heavy use of black pepper spring to mind, Piper Nigrum by Lorenzo Villoresi and Noir Epicee by Frederic Malle. Fragrantica list the notes for Piper Nigrum as watercress(!), mint, star anise, citrus and green notes, pepper, nutmeg, olibanum, petitgrain, clove, rosemary, spices, elemi resin, styrax, amber, benzoin, myrrh, peru balsam, virginia cedar and woodsy(!) notes. That's a list of notes for you! On my skin the top notes, in particular mint and citrus, are quite clear, and there is a definite greenness to it. However, after that it is predominantly a pepper scent on my skin and a lot of the other notes are lost. In fact, if I hadn't read this list, I probably would have identified very little other than perhaps the clove, incense and perhaps a touch of amber and myrrh. Piper Nigrum was one of the first perfumes I ever sampled and I've worn it quite a few times. It is a weird fragrance, strangely compelling, and the pepper is just bearable for me.

Noire Epicee's notes include nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, pepper, orange, geranium, sandalwood and patchouli. On my skin, this is a powerhouse of a pepper fragrance, dark, austere, severe, even melancholy, I find. It may seem strange, but I always feel every so slightly depressed wearing this. The spices are very intense, but ultimately, Noir Epicee smells to me like someone has savagely pounded a mortar-full of black peppercorns and rubbed the resultant powder all over me. I may like pepper, but I don't want to smell exactly like it. I have read that Noir Epicee has a chypre-like effect and I can see where this idea comes from. There is that austere effect that I often get from a dry chypre. I find Noir Epicee a challenge to wear, I really do, but I can certainly see people either loving or hating this. Try it for yourself. One thing is for sure, you won't be bored by it!

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Perfume frustration

I'm afraid a silly post today folks. I've had one of those days that started ridiculously early and it was downhill from there. I was up at 5 am this morning, as I had to attend a business breakfast with clients, followed by an intense morning of work, a meeting that lasted my whole lunch hour, more meetings and crappy work issues the afternoon, and staff issues that took me into the evening. To top it all, I never got the chance to eat any lunch, as I had no cash and when I tried to draw money from a cash machine, my card wasn't working. Aaarrrh!!! The worst part about today though, was that I didn't even get around to trying or wearing any perfume. I know this sounds silly, particularly when we all live in a world that has so many problems and more pressing issues in our lives than a spray of perfume. However, for me perfume is a relaxation, a meditation, and an escape from my more mundane life. To go through a day without wearing any is pure frustration for me, and puts me in a bad mood. Does this seem like an extreme reaction? Probably, but I suppose we all have our vice, and perfume is mine.....

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Honore des Pres - Vamp a NY

I was one of the recent participants in the project involving readers of Grain de Musc blog whereby 100 readers received a sample of Vamp a NY to try and then the option of reporting back on Denyse's blog or linking to their own blog. I've chosen the latter.

Firstly, I should say that I am probably one of the odd ones out in this project, being male. Tuberose is a notoriously difficult note for men to pull off successfully, with its diva-like status; it is heady, floral, and strongly associated with femininity, albeit often in a slightly trampy, slutty fashion. I should say from the outset that I love the smell of tuberose, but not really on me. So why did I participate in this project? Well, firstly, I am a sucker for free samples, and secondly, I am always open to trying new things in perfume and am not afraid of pushing the envelope slightly with regards to the perfume 'gender line'. Just to get the female perception out the way, I let my wife try Vamp a NY. My wife is not a perfume fanatic, but is usually willing to humour me. Her comment after half an hour was: "this smells like frangipani flowers, but God, it's cloying. I don't think I can wear this all day!". Well, as I said, she is not a perfume fanatic.

So what about me? Vamp a NY opens primarily with a sweetish hit of coconut, with a slightly fleshy, green undertone of tuberose. It feels quite tropical to me, but not particularly heavy. We're talking about Olivia Giacobetti here, after all. For some reason the overall tone of Vamp reminds me of reclining in the shade on a beach, this being the shade of lush vegetation on a sand dune. The day is hot and humid, but the scent of cool beach sand surrounds me, my skin bearing the faintest trace of suntan lotion. I know this comes across quite fanciful, but the overriding feel of Vamp to me is of cool, fragrant beach sand. The tuberose note intensifies in the heart, slightly creamy, oily even, but not as lush and heady as one might have expected. There is a tropical feel throughout, of green, fleshy coastal vegetation, not of the sap, but a slight suggestion of humidity. It's quite strange, because despite the tropical, coconut vibe, I feel cool and refreshed wearing this. As we move into the dry down the tuberose is accompanied by some dry woods - perhaps this is the secret balsams they talk about. Every now and then I detect a very slight smokiness, almost incense-like, but it is fleeting.

On paper, the opening was much sweeter, and reminded me of praline or toffee. I know there is meant to be a rum accord, but it felt less boozy to me and more gourmand initially. The creamy notes are accentuated more as well, but after a couple of hours it smelled very similar to what it had on my skin. Although Vamp is composed of entirely natural ingredients, we are told, the longevity is certainly not lacking, unlike some previous fragrances in this line. Vamp lasted through a day and an evening shower on me, which is impressive. I never found the tuberose to be excessively strong, or overbearingly feminine, although I still couldn't see myself wearing this on a regular basis - it is still firmly on the feminine side of the line, but hey, at home, I might indulge from time to time. I think it is a nice take on tuberose, not too heady, well suited to every day use and quite fun really.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Frank No.2 by Frank Los Angeles

I first came across Frank No. 2 on the Lucky Scent site, where it is evocatively described in such a way that I could imagine sitting in an armchair in front of a roaring fire in winter, with my snifter of cognac and a fine cigar. There isn't much written about Frank No. 2 in the blogosphere, so its hard to find any in-depth reviews, but the notes include bergamot, white lavender, coriander, plum leaves, cognac, plum, fir balsam, coffee bean essence, red maplewood, teakwood and white musk. Let's face it, these notes sound gorgeous and I was salivating at the thought of getting my sample. The opening is a fairly typical citrus assault, which quickly moves into  a green, herbal phase that reminds me of a sweeter version of Eau de Iles by MPG. It's that green coffee bean accord I think. I also get a fairly boozy cognac note not too unlike that in Caravelle Epicee. The heart is a mix of woods, vetiver and something slightly resinous, which I take to be fir balsam. I have to say, I quite like Frank No. 2, but I can't help feeling that it's slightly generic, in a been-there-done-that-smelled-that sort of way. I don't mean to be disparaging, but it is a little too safe and boring for my liking, especially considering all these wonderful notes. I know I might not have the greatest nose around, but I honestly struggled to detect plum leaves, maplewood or the teakwood, although to be fair, these are slightly unusual notes (at least to me) and if I'm being honest, I couldn't tell you what plum leaves, teak or maple wood smells like. The dry down is admittedly quite smooth and suave, but ultimately I'm left feeling like Frank No. 2 could have been so much more. However, I would urge you to sample this, as this is only my impression of the fragrance and it might develop better on your skin.

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Micallef Gaiac

I don't know all that much about the Micallef line. I have sampled Oud Homme, which is a delightful, fairly straightforward oud number, so thought I would try another from the line, Gaiac. The notes are listed as bergamot, clove, jasmin, vetiver, gaiacwood and vanilla. I think what surprised me most was how feminine Gaiac developed on my skin. Gaiacwood is not that often the focus of a fragrance; very often it plays a supporting role and in my limited experience, is used more in masculine fragrances (but please correct me if I am wrong). The opening of Gaiac is a weird citrusy and herby combination, which is surprisingly sweet. it quickly becomes peppery, which I take to be the clove, which incidentally is not my favourite note in perfume. I don't really enjoy cloves in baking and cooking either, but this is clearly a very personal perception. The vanilla note emerges soon enough to combine with the gaiacwood, which is slightly smoky, yet sour. I hate to say this, but this does not appeal to me at all. The longer I wear Gaiac, the more cloying it becomes and although I usually enjoy a pairing of woods and vanilla, it doesn't work for me in this case. I don't even know if I detect jasmin or vetiver. I hoped that Gaiac would improve into the dry down, but it just continues to develop in a very strange way on my skin. I wish I had a more succinct and elegant way of describing it, but in the end only one word comes to mind - weird. Unsatisfactory, I know, but there you have it. It's not often that I give a blatant thumbs down to a perfume, but having worn this a number of times, I eventually gave the sample away to a female friend, on whose skin hopefully Gaiac works better than on mine.

Monday, 21 June 2010

By Kilian - Cruel Intentions

The By Kilian line seems to evoke strong emotions in perfumistas. You seem to have those who adore the perfume and those that deplore the prices (and the extreme luxury positioning of the brand). While I could never see myself buying a full bottle, I must say that I have quite enjoyed two in the line that I've tried, Pure Oud and Back to Black. I also have a sample of Cruel Intentions, the subject of my review today. The listed notes include bergamot, orange blossom, violet accord, rose absolute, agarwood, papyrus oil, gaiacwood, vetiver, sandalwood, styrax, castoreum, vanilla and musk. Crumbs, what a list. The opening is bright and citrusy. It goes to show how poor I am at identifying notes sometimes. Having not read any listed notes, I wrote down that I could detect lavender, coriander and cardamom! In any event, there is a piquancy early on, but as the top fades, the oud slowly comes into focus. What really surprised me is that the feel of the oud here is very much like M7 by YSL. It is a slightly sweet, peppery oud accord, with a bit of a muddy feel to it. This is the best way I can describe it. At one point, I was really struggling to tell the difference between the two. I don't get any of the other notes, especially the violet and rose. At about the half way point, the oud becomes less pronounced and a very familiar accord came to the fore. I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but then it struck me - Gaiac by Micallef. I sampled this only a few days before Cruel Intentions, but I realise now that Gaiacwood is a big component of both Cruel Intentions and M7. I'm afraid to say that Gaiacwood and I are not best mates. I don't mind the smell but I'm not doing backflips over it either. At the end of the day I found Cruel Intentions to be a decent perfume, but not really my cup of tea. I actually prefer M7, and at the very least a third of the price, I can't see why I would shell out the cash for Cruel Intentions instead. Cruel Intentions is perhaps a slightly more refined, sophisticated take on M7, but packaging aside, I don't personally see what the fuss is about in this case.

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Abdul Samad al Qurashi - Musk a Ajeeb Oil

I mentioned in a review here that I had bought some samples of Abdul Samad al Qurashi attars and oils from TPC. I really enjoyed the oud-rose attar I tried, but the two musks perplexed me. As a westerner, perhaps I have some preconceived ideas of what musk smells like, and admittedly my exposure to musk (as much as I thought I liked the note in perfume) is in reality quite limited. My benchmark of musk is probably Serge Luten's Musc Kublai Khan, which is considered to be fairly hardcore by many perfumistas' standards. So what was it like sampling Musk a Ajeeb oil? Well firstly, the sample vial contains an oil that  is thick, viscous and the colour of dark treacle. I used the wand on the vial to try to scoop out some of the oil and it clung to the wand like a gloopy tar. When applied to my skin, it stained it a deep orange, ambery colour. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt at the time and I was a bit nervous of staining the sleeves. So what did it smell like? Honestly, I'm finding it very difficult to find suitable words. Weird comes to mind. For the first hour, it didn't even smell like musk to me. Being an oil, there isn't really a definable progression of top, heart and base notes. However, the opening was very peppery, and of all things, minty. I really wasn't expecting that. It actually smells like a fougere, with prominent herbs and lavender. The strongest note to me was geranium, loud and clear, and again, I just wasn't expecting Musk a Ajeeb to smell like this. After a while I started to detect some musk, but it smelled more like a sweet, dark, syrupy cola. The tone of this oil is complex, dark, spicy, minty, even vaguely animalic, without me being able to say exactly why. Underpinning all this is a disturbing sweet note, which as I said, is a bit like cola, yet I am sure it is the musk. I also detected some floral notes later on, and there is a point where it became slightly dryer and more earthy, but overall, I found it to be quite sweet and strange. If this review seems confusing, I apologise, but I am confused, because I have never smelled a perfume like this before. Is it a dirty musk? Again, I'm not really sure. The musk is very intense and sweet, yet beneath it all I couldn't help feeling like there was something a bit disturbing and hidden. I couldn't quite pinpoint it, but it's there.

I really need to test Musk a Ajeeb oil a bit more. This is only my initial impression and perhaps with repeat wearings I will get my head around it. In a way it is quite exciting because I have discovered a perfume style and a style of musk that I haven't encountered before, although initially I don't know if I really like Ajeeb, but perhaps time will tell. Another thought crossed my mind - I wondered if this contains real musk tincture? As I'm almost certain I haven't smelled real musk before, I have no benchmark for comparison. I know it isn't ethical to use real musk in perfume, but I have read a number of Middle Eastern perfume websites that seem to suggest they use real musk. Whether this is just marketing speak I don't know, but this musk was strange enough to suggest to me that perhaps this is the case. If any of you have tried any strange musks, I'd be interested in reading your impressions. 

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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Ormonde Jayne - Isfarkand

I haven't had much exposure to the Ormonde Jayne line. It seems to have some fervent fans, but doesn't appear to receive a lot of blog time. I won a sample of Isfarkand recently through a small competition I entered on Nathan Branch's website. The perfume notes, according to Ormonde Jayne's website, are lime, mandarin, bergamot, pink pepper, vetiver, cedar and moss. Looking at those notes one would be led to believe that this is a fairly conservative men's fragrance and yes, it turned out to that way for me, albeit with very high quality ingredients. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Not all perfume has to be (or should be) weird or forceful. Sometimes it is just nice and comforting to encounter and wear a fragrance that is just well made, sophisticated and versatile. And that is exactly what Isfarkand is. On my skin it opened in a style reminiscent of French Lover, by Frederic Malle. There's loads of pink pepper, with an almost gunpowder-like aroma, along with some citrus that was spicy and green, more like galbanum than the normal bright citrus opening one very often expects. The cedar was very prominent on my skin quite early on and Isfarkand felt to me very dry, dusty almost. It was almost incense-like in style, with some subtle, herby notes in the background which may have been the vetiver and moss. The dry down was very pleasant,  woody and mossy, and was rather refined and restrained. I detected a smidgen of sweetness which I thought smelled like sandalwood, but I can't see the note listed, so perhaps I am wrong.

I think Isfarkand would be a perfect office scent, quite sophisticated and refined, very well made, but ultimately a touch boring for me. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with it and would make a perfect Fathers day gift I think. Not totally me, but certainly no dud either. 

Monday, 14 June 2010

Serge Lutens - Bas de Soie update

As I mentioned on the weekend, I tried the new Serge Lutens release Bas de Soie, on skin, and my initial impressions can be read here. What I said at the time was that I thought it developed on my skin as a leather scent, rather than the described iris and hyacinth accords. Well, today I decided to spray Bas de Soie on a blotter and I was immediately overwhelmed by a prominent hyacinth note, extremely bold and quite feminine. It's amazing how this didn't show up so distinctly on my skin. I can also detect Iris, although quite a strange one. I have read a review that describes Bas de Soie as an ultraviolet rendition of hyacinth and iris and I must admit, on paper it is a bit oddball. On my skin I found it hard to perceive this and as I said, it felt like a cross between a soapy Spanish leather and a Russian leather. Weird. I've had a eureka moment, but I still feel quite confused. On paper Bas de Soie is forceful and brash; on my skin it is more subdued and very nice. 

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Chanel Antaeus

If anyone has been reading my blog articles, one might have noticed that I have reviewed very few (if any) mainstream perfumes, concentrating mainly on niche releases. That probably says more about my current perfume journey rather than a possible perception of my snobbery. I won't lie to you, a lot of mainstream releases leave me stone cold, but I do sample a fair amount of non-niche perfume and Antaeus is a stand-out example of how in my opinion a designer/mainstream perfume ought to be. Ok, this was released in the early eighties, a long time before marine/acqua/sports fragrances hit the scene, but it still smells incredibly good. I've read that Antaeus has been reformulated, and those who owned it prior to that swear that it has changed, and not for the better, but to be honest, I doubt I've even tried the original and I still think it is amazing. I've also read that many people find Antaeus dated; very much an eighties fragrance. Again, to me it doesn't really come across as powerhouse eighties at all. Granted, it isn't a wilting flower, but it doesn't smack you across the head and say: "look at me, I'm a banker-wanker with loads of dosh who does blow and power lunches" either.

The notes for Antaeus, according to fragrantica, are lemon, lime, coriander, myrtle, clary sage, bergamot, thyme, basil, rose, jasmine, patchouli, castoreum, labdanum and oak moss. although more commonly, I've also seen beeswax absolute listed and even cedar and sandalwood. To me, Antaeus smells primarily like a lead pencil, pencil shavings and that smell you used to get at the bottom of an old-fashioned pencil case. To me therefore, this is all about cedar, and a pencil note that smells like lead or graphite. However, most sites that list the notes don't mention cedar at all, but I thought that this is possibly the best rendition of cedar (without resorting to men's cliches of cedar) in a perfume that I've encountered. So if Antaeus doesn't contain cedar, then am I clearly confused and deluded? Anyway, that is what I smell and I'd love to know if any of you who are familiar with Anteaus also think it contains cedar. 

Moving on, that smell of pencil case and pencil shavings is an incredibly evocative and nostalgic trip down memory lane. It takes me right back to early primary school (not sure what you call it in the US) and memories of being handed out our quota of pencils for the school term, and the smell of sharpening pencils in those big old rotary sharpeners that used to be fastened to the desks (at least in my school they were - if this dates me, so be it!). I loved those early school days, the thrill of learning to write and draw, before it all got too serious. The beeswax smell is very noticeable to me too and it blends beautifully with the warm woods smell. I do detect patchouli (which I think may be that lead/graphite accord I get) and I think a touch of sandalwood, which adds to the woody vibe. I must admit, looking at the list of notes above, I don't detect half of these, and I do test Antaeus quite often. I don't detect even a sniff of jasmine, rose or basil, but there is a slight herbal powderiness to Antaeus that I think is the oak moss. A question to you all - how well do you know labdanum? Because again, I don't know if I can detect it, although perhaps it is so well blended that it is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There is a distinct leatheriness to Antaeus as well, particularly later in the dry down, but it is not overwhelmingly leathery.

I don't know if this post does Antaeus any justice. Perhaps my confusion about its notes detracts from how good it actually is. I think if I was to buy any of the mainstream Chanel Men's fragrances, Antaeus would top the list. I know there are some others of note, particularly     Pour Monsieur and Egoiste (actually I own Egoiste, but anyway) but I think what I like most about Antaeus is that for me certainly, it smells like nothing else on the market. It is distinct and compelling.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Samples confusion

This is a slightly silly post, but does anyone else feel slightly overwhelmed with both their samples/perfume collection and obsession? I'm sure my collection is by no means large, but for me I am really struggling to keep on top of my samples. My drawers are crammed full with atomisers, carded samples, vials, boxed sets, you name it. I don't have a very good system of keeping tabs of what I've got! Even more worrying is that it really takes me quite a long time each day to decide what I want to sample. If I have new stuff to try, it is quite easy, as I just work through it fairly systematically, but when it comes to perfume I have tried at least once before, it takes ages to decide. I'm finding it even trickier in summer, as a lot of the perfume I like seems to be better suited to the cooler months. This situation hasn't curbed my desire to sample more though. If it weren't for my limited finances I think I'd be ordering new stuff every other day.....

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Serge Lutens - Bas de Soie

Bas de Soie is the latest export release by Serge Lutens, which was destined for international release sometime in August. Imagine my surprise then, when walking into my local Fenwick department store this morning I saw a tester of Bas de Soie on the shelf. So of course I tested it immediately. Now, I had briefly read about its launch, but hadn't paid all that much attention to it, so I was approaching it with no preconceptions. Now, I am not a perfume expert by any means, but I think I have a reasonably good nose, and after an indistinct half an hour of weird florals, which my wife told me reminded her of a hair conditioner called Sheen, it dawned upon me that this was actually a leather fragrance. When I got home tonight, I started to read up a bit more about Bas de Soie, which seems to be a release for the ladies, and translates as silk stockings! What surprised me even more was that the primary notes in Bas de Soie are Hyacinth and Iris, not a mention of leather. In fact, Uncle Serge is releasing another perfume, a non-export, called Boxeuses, which is actually the leather fragrance. I'm seriously confused folks. On my skin, this is not remotely feminine, although admittedly it is decidedly floral for the first half hour or so and I definitely had it down as a leather fragrance, sort of a halfway point between a Spanish and a Russian leather; it smelled quite a lot like saddle soap to me. I love an iris note and I did not remotely detect iris in Bas de Soie. If anyone has tried this yet, I'd love to get your opinion on how it played out on your skin.

I'm not going to do a full-blown review of Bas de Soie, save to say that I really liked it. In fact, I thought it was the best Serge Lutens release in a long while. I know a lot of people loved Fille en Aiguilles, but it did very little to float my boat. L'eau Serge Lutens did even less for me. But Bas de Soie definitely has something folks. I'm sure it will please some and not others, as Uncle Serge never fails to do. I have seen reviews of Bas de Soie by Octavian at 1000fragrances and Denyse at Graindemusc, both of whom seemed to get the interplay of Hyacinth and Iris, albeit in a fresher, almost metallic style, so maybe it is just me who is deluded! Anyway, I think Bas de Soie is definitely worth a try.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

First encounters with Laura Mercier

 The picture tells it all for me. Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know that Laura Mercia has a perfume line, or two, if you split it into the main line and the gourmand line. I'm not into makeup, but every time you go to a good department store anywhere in the UK, you are bound to see a Laura Mercier concession and that was all I knew. Then I read a review about Minuit Enchante and how nice it is, so I thought I'd have a closer look the next time I went into one of my local department stores. Well, Fenwick doesn't seem to stock Minuit Enchante, but they did seem to have most of the rest of the line. Now it seems that Laura Mercia perfumes are marketed mainly at women, so instead of spritzing at lunchtime, for fear of disturbing work colleagues, I sprayed a number onto paper strips. So my initial impressions as jotted below are not based on proper wearing. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by what I tried. Admittedly some were obviously feminine, but there were at least a couple that I thought could be easily pulled off by a man.

Ambre Passion Elixir - this is my initial favourite. As the name amply describes, this is amber from top to bottom, no question about it. Amber is evident from first spray and it is a lovely amber which, to me, is in the style of Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens. It's not quite as herbal and intense, but even so, it does bear more than a passing resemblance and I liked it a lot. I need to test it on skin now and see how it develops.

Vanille Gourmande - this is a lovely little number that seems to have some tenacity; It sprays quite dark on paper. This isn't overly complicated, but starts with some florals (lily and heliotrope) and the vanilla is joined by amber and sandalwood later on. There is just a touch of smoke or incense in here to prevent the vanilla from becoming too sweet and cloying. I'm reminded quite a bit of Vanille Exquise by Annick Goutal, although less smoky. 

L'heure Magique - this was quite feminine, and it reminded me a little of Kelly Caleche, with a subtle leather note. It also smelled quite musky, in a clean, slightly powdery way.

Eau de Lune - this was the most overtly feminine of those I tried, and seemed to me like a very nice, subtle, fruity floral. It was fairly restrained and also a bit powdery. Definitely not me, but I'm sure many women would like it.

Neroli - this one surprised me the most. I was expecting it to be a straightforward orange blossom scent, and in a way it is, but I was amazed at how strong and indolic it opened. It reminded me very much of  Serge Lutens' floral style, with amped up but very pure flowers and the two most obvious associations are with Fleurs d'Oranger and Fleurs De Citronnier. It lasts incredibly long on paper; I can still smell it clearly well over 24 hours later. I really like this one too.

I'd be interested to find out if anyone has tried Laura Mercier and what you think of the line. I thought that for a line that specialises in makeup, its fragrances were very well-executed and quite interesting.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Abdul Samad al Qurashi

I have recently become quite interested in Middle Eastern perfume, or at least, the concept of it. I say this because up to now, my only exposure to this style/idea has been through sampling the Amouage line and trying some of the Montale ouds. However, I have not tried anything from perfume houses that are, to me at least, slightly more exotic and less accessible. Price is probably one factor, particularly with real oud, which can be prohibitively expensive, and another consideration is that unknown factor; the fear that who you're buying from over the internet is some fraudster. Perhaps I am too conservative. In any event, I ordered some samples of oils/blends through The Perfumed Court that are made by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi. At least I think they are. I get a bit confused by perfumes made, marketed and sold in the Middle East because the names can be quite confusing to a westerner, and very often an outlet may stock a number of perfumes by different manufacturers. I ordered the Al Qurashi Blend, Musk a Ajeeb oil and an Oud Musk attar. 

The blend is a wonderful classic combination of oud, saffron and rose, with some woody notes. If this sounds familiar, you're right. If you've ever tried a Montale oud, such as Black Oud, for example, this will be a very familiar association. In fact, in many ways the blend is almost a dead ringer for Black Oud, but where it excels is in the superior blending, at least in my opinion. It opens with that medicinal, band aid oud and saffron accord, perhaps a bit less pungent than Black Oud, but quite assertive nevertheless. The saffron is beautifully  aromatic, spicy and dry, and there's just enough dewy, slightly sweet rose in the background to balance the oud and saffron. Whereas Black Oud assaults one's senses, Qurashi blend feels like a better-balanced, more refined take on oud, rose and saffron. What I find interesting is that after the initial medicinal opening, the oud shifts to a more woody, slightly musty/mushroomy accord, quite similar to that encountered in By Kilian's Pure Oud. I apologise if I am using western oud perfumes as a reference point, but I have not been fortunate enough to try the real stuff and therefore I have no idea whether the Qurashi blend contains any real oud, or if it is entirely synthetic. But I don't think it matters; it smells wonderful anyway. The rose thickens to a jammy, sweet syrup, which counterbalances the drier and woody oud perfectly. In the dry down the notes all soften considerably, until what is left is a dry wood and oud accord, which is quite lovely.  I find Qurashi blend to have more clarity than Black Oud. I detect each one of its notes more distinctly, whereas Black Oud muddies the waters a bit, in my opinion. I do like Black Oud, but I just find the Qurashi blend to be a more sophisticated and clearer take on this classic combination.

I am not going to review the two musks I sampled; this will be the subject of another post, as I think they warrant separate discussion. However, what I will say at the outset is that I found these musks to be totally confusing, and they have possibly permanently altered my perceptions of musk. If that sounds confusing, it is! All I do know is that as someone who enjoys musk, particularly animalic musk, and admittedly has only really tried a number of more mainstream/Western-style musks, I could not get my head around these. 

To end, I would certainly encourage you to try some of the Abdul Samad al Qurashi blends or oils. I'm sure some would be hit or miss, but they are certainly different and very interesting.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Guerlain - L'art et la Matiere and Spiritueuse Double Vanille

I recently ordered and received some Guerlain samples from The Perfumed Court. I was particularly interested in trying some of the  more exclusive fragrances, from the L'art et la Matiere range, for example. I ordered Bois de Armenie, Cuir Beluga and Spirituese Double Vanille (SDV). It was only later that I realised that SDV is not in that particular range, but fairly exclusive it still is, or to me anyway. I'm not sure if anyone from the UK is reading this, but is it just me, or are these sorts of fragrances really hard to find here? I mean, Guerlain is only a two-and-a-half hour train journey away, is it not? Again, these are probably carried at one or two of the large London stores, but I'm not personally aware if they are. Anyway, onto the fragrances. I'm not really sure what to say. When I recently ordered these and some of the Chanel Exclusifs, for some reason I thought the Guerlain ones would in all likelihood impress me, while I was prepared to be let down by the Chanels. In fact, it was the opposite way around and Chanel pleasantly surprised me while Guerlain left me feeling well, not let down exactly, but underwhelmed. It's not to say that these were not good, but they just did not do enough to hold my interest. My main issue was with longevity - I was dabbing, but even so, they were very subdued on my skin, SDV in particular being the guilty culprit. I ought to say that I don't judge the quality of a fragrance purely on longevity, but when you are paying these sorts of prices, one (or I in any event) would expect a bit more than a whisper. So below are my initial impressions. Like with all the perfumes I try, I will give them a second chance, because you never know what another day's wearing might bring.

SDV - this opened quite boozy and with loads of vanilla. Within a few minutes there was a nice vanillic, woody smell left on my skin, but decreasing in strength by the minute. Within an hour I was left with a faint vanilla accord, but I had to sniff really close to detect this. I wore SDV on a warm, muggy day, so perhaps this had something to do with it. To be fair, I don't think this is the sort of fragrance (at the risk of pigeonholing) that is suited to summer. I should really be wearing this on a cold, damp autumnal or winter day. Perhaps I didn't apply enough, I don't know. I do know that SDV has a lot of fans and conceptually, I can see why. It did smell good, for the hour that it lasted.

Cuir Beluga - I didn't keep any notes for this one, but it was very nice. It was a fairly subtle, leathery scent, quite sophisticated and not too powerhouse leather. What I enjoyed most though was a slightly salty, briny note that came through every now and then. Perhaps this was ambergris, but it blended surprisingly well with the leather.

Bois d'Armenie - this started with quite a sweet, boozy, vanillic hit and for a short while I wondered if I had been given another sample of SDV. However it quickly tapered off to a surprisingly dry, incense accord, with perhaps a hint of bergamot that created a slightly spicy interlude. The incense is very smooth, sophisticated and is not particularly gothic or church-like. There's a bit of amber in the background, slightly sweet, which might be labdanum and what I later realised is probably benzoin. At this stage I noted a similarity to Profumo's Mecca Balsam. It also becomes slightly dusty in feel, almost like the odor of books that have been stored for a while and have gathered dust, but not mouldering away. What I find really interesting about Bois d'Armenie is that far into the dry down it becomes much sweeter again, with vanilla at the fore and I even detect a slight boozy return. It's like it has done an about turn. The vanilla is very nice and reminds me a bit of SDV again and even slightly of Havanna Vanille by L'artisan. There is a faint lactonic milkiness at the very end.

I think of the three, Bois d'Armenie struck me as the most original and I particularly liked the way it ended up almost back where it started, after a journey of incense. SDV was disappointing and I will need to try it again to prevent it being sin-binned. Cuir Beluga is nice (what a bland word) but other than that brininess that I liked, it could to my nose be pretty much any smooth leather on the market. It's well done and I certainly like it but I probably expected a bit more.

I think what I find a slight letdown overall is that with such interesting possibilities, with strong and slightly mysterious ingredients, they all wear a little light and unobtrusively. I expected them to be a bit more assertive and it's probably no coincidence that the one I liked the most, Bois d'Armenie, did have the best longevity and sillage, but having said that, it was still relatively subdued.

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Sunday, 6 June 2010

I'm a Tom Ford winner

Now, I'm not sure what you are thinking, but the title of this post does not mean that I've embraced Tom Ford as a Dale-Carnegie type guru. All it means is that I have won a coffret of Tom Ford mainstream samples, pictured here. These are a fairly generous size, 4ml each. The only one not included is Grey Vetiver, so what  I have are Black Orchid, Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, Tom Ford for Men, Tom Ford for Men Intense and White Patchouli. One of our local department stores, Fenwick, was offering this as part of their Beauty Week promotions and on a whim I entered the free draw. I do a lot of this these days; I'm such an opportunist. I've tried these all before, as they are readily available here in the UK, but I thought 4ml of each would be a nice thing to have. One thing that strikes me writing this is how difficult it is to find the Tom Ford Private Blend perfumes here. I assume one of the major London stores carries the line, possibly Harrods or Selfridges, but I'm not sure. If any of you know, please let me know.

So not really a major perfume review today, but I was quite chuffed at winning this. I hardly ever win anything. Although I did win a round of cheddar cheese once. It came in the post wrapped in its big old cheesy bandage. I must have been the only entrant.... Have a good week everyone.

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Friday, 4 June 2010

Sonoma Scent Studio part 2

So, part 2 of my sampling of some of the Sonoma Scent Studio fragrances. My final three were Winter Woods, Ambre Noir and Fireside Intense. My general feeling about the line so far is that most of them would wear far better in the cooler months. I could particularly see myself sampling these again in the autumn. Nevertheless, I tried these on fairly warm spring days and these are my initial impressions:

Winter Woods - This opens quite dry, woody and spicy, with no citrus note embellishment. I think I detect a bit of incense, but mostly it is about light smoke, wood and spice. I thought I detected a floral note too, which seemed a bit rooty, so perhaps iris, but I honestly don't know for sure. It started to become quite sweet after a while, with what I think is a hefty dose of vanilla. I sort of like this, but I need to try it again in cooler weather. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on here.

Ambre Noir - this has to be the strangest amber perfume I have smelled. It opens with a weird, skanky note. It's hard to describe, but it smelled to me like slightly rotting vegetation, like stems that have stood in water for too long! It's one of those perfumes that is oddly compelling and repulsive at the same time, so certainly no lack of interest here. The amber seeps through soon enough, but it is a bone dry amber, no sweetness at all, and almost smoky. I think I detect a floral, rosy note, but again, quite dry, more like potpourri rather than dewy fresh. It develops a little like Rose Poivre or even Voleur de Roses, so I wonder if there's not perhaps a bit of patchouli in here as well. I need to try this one again. It's very strange, but a take on amber that I haven't encountered before, so I am quite excited about this.

Fireside Intense - I was scared that this would turn out like Tauer's Lonestar Memories. I don't mind that one, but I wasn't in the mood for scary, pungent birch tar, and thankfully this one turned out to be possibly my favourite of the lot. It opens with an almost boozy, cognac-like note and quickly becomes peppery, with spicy cedar and a faint birch tar accord. It is nice - smooth, rich and slightly smoky. I'm reminded a bit of Gucci 1 for men, the very pencil-cedar one, but richer, sweeter and more well-rounded. The sweetness fades in the heart, when the smokiness intensifies, but this is not an acrid smoke, but more like the fumes released from dying embers. I get a lot of cedar too, and what I think is guaiac wood. In the dry down it stays nicely woody. I'm getting a cedar and sandalwood combination, I think, and suddenly a number of fragrances spring to mind, such as 10 Corso Como and Let Me Play the Lion in particular. Overall, I think it is a lovely fragrance.

So, overall verdict? As I said above, I think a lot of these would perform better in the cooler months, but I like the overall style of the line. I think my two clear favourites are Incense Pure and Fireside Intense. The most quirky is Ambre Noir, while the slow burners may be Winter Woods and Wood Violet. I didn't care much for Sienna Musk I'm afraid, while Tabac Aurea reminded me too much of the Histoire 1740  perfume, with its immortelle feel, which I'm not a huge fan of.

La Via del Profumo - Balsamo della Mecca

I've come to the Mecca Balsam party quite late, the fragrance having received much attention and praise back in February and March this year. The notes include labdanum, benzoin, frankincense, agarwood, tonka, tobacco, damask rose and Indian tuberose. The creator behind La Via del Profumo, Dominique Dubrana, claims to use only all-natural ingredients in his perfumes. A number of people have marveled at the strength and longevity of Mecca Balsam, but actually, when you look at the list of ingredients above, it is no wonder, as they are all powerhouse notes, most with very good fixative properties. The perfume opens with what I perceive as Indian spice notes. I haven't seen a full list of notes, but I detect a lot of coriander, cumin and what I think is clove and maybe even fenugreek. It's quite heady, with an underlying current of ambery sweetness and perhaps some rose and what I thought was saffron, but perhaps not. I think I detected some oud, or agarwood, but it is by no means a dominating note and this is not an oud-centred fragrance. It's in the heart where Mecca Balsam really became compelling and interesting for me. It veered off in a smoky, resinous direction, with a strong frankincense note emerging, slightly musty and even off-putting. It reminded me ever so slightly of the style of incense in Etro's Messe de Minuit, all moldering church building. It becomes very complex, with the labdanum adding an ambery, deep sweetness, which with the rose, tobacco and incense, is quite amazing. The dry down smoothes out quite a lot, becoming quite woody, yet that slightly musty incense note persists almost to the very end. Late in development, one is left with the lingering labdanum, tinged with incense and a faint tobacco-amber woody sweetness. The late dry down reminds me a little of Bois d'Armenie by Guerlain, which I have also recently sampled, but perhaps a bit richer and more complex. I think the similarity might stem from a similar use of Benzoin. 

Mecca Balsam is a compelling and very interesting perfume. It is complex, rich and has extremely good lasting power on my skin, and good sillage too. I can see why many people have raved about it; it is very well made. One thing that surprises me is that the tuberose completely escapes me. I think I generally know the smell of tuberose quite well, but if I hadn't read a note list, I would not have detected this at all. I'm not sure if others have found this as well. Overall, I think Mecca Balsam is definitely worth trying, and looking at Profumo's website, a 16ml bottle only costs about 34 euros, which is not bad for a niche perfume. It comes in 50ml size too, but I always like it when perfumers allow you to purchase smaller bottle sizes; I really think its the way to go.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Chanel Cuir de Russie

I've arrived at my final Les Exclusif sample, Cuir de Russie. I know there are more in the series, but I did not order them. I've wanted to try Cuir de Russie for quite some time, having read quite a lot about it over the years. I had a notion that it would wear a bit like Caron's Tabac Blonde, which I adore, and in the dry down I can detect similarities, if not in notes, certainly in spirit. However, Cuir de Russie if anything reminds me of Bandit, but without any green or chypre notes. It has that same feline snarl to it, albeit toned down a touch, in true-to-style chic Chanel fashion, but with the masterful presence of civet, it definitely has a rich, animalic edge to it. I actually find Tabac Blonde less feminine than Cuir de Russie, particularly with its smoky tobacco and hay notes, but having said that, Cuir de Russie is not overbearingly feminine, and I did not feel uncomfortable wearing it. The notes for Cuir de Russie are orange blossom, bergamot, mandarine, clary sage, iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedar, vetiver, styrax, leather, amber and vanilla. For such a complicated set of notes, I find that it opens on my skin with quite an aldehydic haze and a soft, almost velvety leather note. I don't detect any citrus, but again, dabbing rather than spraying might mute these notes. There is a significant floral undertone, but the only distinct notes on my skin are iris and ylang-ylang, which Chanel loves to use. I find that at this stage the fragrance is ever so slightly soapy, but in a good way and even buttery. There is a voluptuousness to Cuir de Russie, which I didn't think I would find in a Chanel perfume and I suspect this richness is a result of the deft use of civet, augmenting the other notes. At this stage, once the leather intensifies, I feel that spirit of Bandit emerging, but as I said, with no greenness to it at all. There is a vague skankiness to Cuir de Russie, but it is subtle and just bubbling under the surface. The leather is identifiably in the Russian Leather style, but not aggressively so and I find it quite smooth. Into the dry down Cuir de Russie wears like a skin scent and to my nose even smells like skin to an extent, sexy female flesh just slightly blushed with the heat of passion. It does become slightly smoky too. Longevity is good, although it has very muted sillage for me. I really like Cuir de Russie, but I can't help feeling that it would be so much more devastatingly sexy worn by a woman. 

At the end of my Les Exclusifs sojourn, I find that overall I am probably pleasantly surprised by the quality of the fragrances I have sampled; for some reason I was expecting to feel let down. As I mentioned in a previous post, I loved Coromandel and Bois des Iles, and Cuir de Russie is a hit for me as well, although I don't feel my skin does it as much justice to it as the former two do. 28 La Pausa is good but the only one that disappointed me was 31 Rue Cambon. I know this is just my opinion and I'm sure many others would disagree with my rankings.

Image credit - taken from Grain de Musc blog

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Chanel 28 La Pausa and 31 Rue Cambon

Following on from my recent foray into the world that is the Chanel Exclusifs, today I am sampling 28 La Pausa and 31 Rue Cambon. La Pausa opens very dry, with a rooty, carroty accord of iris. I don't smell much else for the first few minutes; I do perhaps detect a slight fizz of aldehydes, but it is muted. I haven't found any firm list of notes, but some have listed iris, violet, white musk, vetiver and even pink pepper. I must admit, I struggled to categorise La Pausa. The iris is the dominant note, but once the opening passes, it is neither particularly woody, rooty nor powdery. If anything it is a hybrid of all of this. In the heart La Pausa continues fairly dry and I do find this a very subtle and muted perfume. It has that Chanel "edge' of sophistication and elegance, but I find it almost too light and restrained. I wish it had more 'oomph'. The dry down continues as a fairly light and now woody iris. If anything it takes on a more fruity accord at this point. Someone referred to La Pausa as smelling a bit like Estee Lauder Pleasures, with a fruity white musk component, and I definitely do feel a slight Lauder vibe going on here!

31 Rue Cambon opens very green, even creamy to my nose. It has a much more forceful aldehydic fizz in the opening and is a bit sweeter. To me the green smells like galbanum, although I can't see this listed anywhere. It reminds me a bit of no. 19, albeit a lot smoother and restrained. I found it quite feminine at this stage. In the heart there is still quite a lot of greenness to Rue Cambon, but it also becomes mossy and loses the sweetness. It does wear like a chypre, but to me it smells nothing like Mitsouko, to which it has been compared. I'm not sure what to make of Rue Cambon. I have read a lot of favourable reviews of it, and it seems like it is the favourite Les Exclusif of many, but frankly, I don't get it.

Of the two, I prefer La Pausa. I especially like iris as a note, and if I'm honest, green perfumes are not my favourite genre. That's not to say that Rue Cambon is not good, but it isn't me. Having said that, so far neither of these two is really up my alley. I much prefer Bois des Iles and Coromandel, both of which made an immediate impact on me, whereas I'm feeling almost guilty about being lukewarm about La Pausa and Rue Cambon. It just goes to show how different everyone's taste is. I will give both of these another chance, as I do with most fragrances, because you never know - it could all be so different on another occasion. For the time being, Rue Cambon goes into my purgatory basket, while La Pausa is just on the right side of the fence.

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