Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The dirty green leather Chypres

La Nuit by Paco Rabanne (1985)
I do like the Chypre style and particularly green, dirty, leathery types like La Nuit and also Bandit by Robert Piguet.

La Nuit opens green, sappy and syrupy. There are loads of florals in here, but I can't identify any individual notes. The effect is almost cloying and probably the opening is too feminine for me to pull off in public. However, once the top notes fade, I detect a sudden wisp of smoke lurking beneath the flowery facade. Its presence is akin to a subtle sneer in the corner of the mouth of a sexy, heavily-made up woman. She looks glamorous, but underneath there is a hint of slut. The sappy greenness becomes more aromatic, almost vegetal. I get hints of vetiver and patchouli and the sweetness is tempered as it dries somewhat and oakmoss starts drifting up from the murk with a powdery edge. I don't get much leather at this stage, but I can feel the fragrance darkening and becoming richer, with what I perceive as civet. Into the heart and early dry down and the leather comes to the fore. I initially find the leather a bit like that in Oud Cuir D'Arabie by Montale, but then it turns plain raunchy. There's an odour here that hints at a sweaty groin, or some body part unwashed, but feminine, not a man. Ouch, I'm blushing... Toward the end, and I'm talking a good 12 hours here, there is still a hint of this animal, feminine warmth and it is alluring.

Bandit - Robert Piguet (1944)
Ok, what can I say about a legend? Firstly the sample I have is not vintage - it dates from 1999 and is the relaunch by Delphine Lebeau. The original was by Germaine Cellier, who needs no introduction.

This opens brighter and dryer than La Nuit. There are florals, but less pronounced to my nose. I also get a brief burst of aldehydes but this quickly changes to a sophisticated greenness. The greenness is not sappy, but herby and a bit like tomato leaf. The florals are still there, mainly tuberose, but they never dominate, as oakmoss and leather emerge quite rapidly, tempering the effect. It is quite refined at this stage, not as tacky as the similar phase in La Nuit. As it moves into the heart a smokiness creeps in, not disimilar to Tabac Blond. This fragrance never becomes sweet, there is a sharpness that lasts throughout the duration - first it is herby tomato leaf; later I get something akin to vetiver and perhaps some patchouli. The true chypre accord emerges, bound by a leather that is more S&M than suede handbag. The animal undertone really hums along and by the time we reach the dry down I swear it is very close in style to La Nuit, except La Nuit has that unsettling, slightly more rotting vegetal sweetness. The far dry down is hmm, shall we say sexy? Again, I get that groin accord, which teeters on the edge of repulsion but stays onside enough to be arousing. The lasting power is also great - easily 10 hours on my skin.

So - verdict: is one better than the other? I like them both. La Nuit is definitely much cheaper. I purchased a bottle for about £10, which is about $16, whereas Bandit is closer to £70. I think ultimately Bandit is more refined, still sexy and animalic, whereas La Nuit is much sweeter and I think after the top fades, the raunchier of the two. If I were to choose, I'd probably go for Bandit, but I think both are deserving of a place in one's perfume closet.

La Nuit from
Reclining woman from

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A rose by any other name

Having written about Rose 31 yesterday, I felt the urge to try two more rose-focused scents. I'm a sucker for roses - I love them both as a flower in my garden and on my skin, but although I adore the purity of a rose in nature, when it comes to perfume, I prefer a bit of a twist, a dark shadow over the brightness that this note often evokes.

So first up is Rose Poivre, by the Different Company. Having browsed through some reviews, it seems there is a view that this has been reformulated and that the current version is not as skanky as the original. I don't know - I'm almost certain I must have a sample of the later version. Rose Poivre opens with an alcoholic blast, perhaps a smidgeon of citrus and then the rose quickly asserts itself. This is not a fresh rose though. It is quite dry and earthy and reminds me of being in a rose garden, soil freshly dug, with the rose bushes full of buds, not yet quite open. As the top notes fade, there is a rather aromatic accord, almost like potpourri, but not sickening in any way. Then it becomes spicier as cumin kicks in and this is quite a powerful cumin. Its vaguely animalic to me, a bit like dusty rugs or furs. It does sweeten a bit but the rose never asserts itself like one might expect. It's in the background, but as the scent progresses, the rose stays more like dried rose petals, aromatic and I never feel that that potpourri smell is too far away. Far into the dry down Rose Poivre still retains a hint of spice and cumin and stays subduedly dusty. I must say, I really like this one. It is unique in my opinion and I like how it never follows that rose route one might expect. It is slightly offbeat and has a hint of beast about it and I can highly recommend trying this if you are looking for a rose with a thorn and a twist.

On my other wrist is Un Rose, by Frederic Malle. This is parfum strength and it shows. It has great tenacity and lasts on my skin for ages. This perfume surprised me though. it starts off citrusy, with what I perceive to be a very brief prickle of aldehydes. Very quickly a gorgeous rose note seeps through, bright and pure. This phase is uplifting and powerful and excuse the hyperbole, but feels radiant to me, like warm sunshine. There's a sappy greenness here too, like a bruised stem and bud. Then the scent does an about turn. Just as you think it might stay joyful, a rounded sweetness emerges and the rose deepens and loses its youthfulness. It only increases in richness now, becoming spicier and resinous. There is meant to be a truffle accord in here. My association with truffle is a mushroom-like smell, peppery, a bit like fresh olive oil, so I don't quite know if I'm identifying it here. Perhaps the smooth, earthy richness I refer to here is meant to be that accord, I'm not sure. Into the drydown and the fragrance hums along like a Rolls Royce. There is a slight sourness, which could be the wine-dregs accord Edouard Flechier was trying to achiever. Is there civet in here? The richness of this perfume and its depth seem to hint at this, although looking at the notes I see Castoreum is listed. Perhaps this is it. In any event, I am moved by Un Rose. It truly is also unique and shows great depth and imagination by Mr Flechier.

Well, you may ask, which one of these would I buy? If I had the money, I would buy both. I think they both are unique and interesting and could appeal to either sex. I could see Un Rose perhaps appealing more to a woman and cumin-phobes might not appreciate Rose Poivre. So if I had to choose between the two? Without hesitation I would take Un Rose. It is da bomb!

Le Labo Rose 31 and Oud 27

I am a relative newcomer to Le Labo. Although I have known about the line for some time, it is quite hard to access in the UK, unless you happen to be in London, where their line is carried at Liberty. I understand their flagship store has recently opened here too.

I ordered some Le Labo samples from Luckyscent a while back, and two that I've tried a couple of times now are Rose 31 and Oud 27.

Created by Daphne Bugey and released in 2006, Rose 31 has received a lot of favourable reviews. I am a fan of rose scents, but like them quite dark and broody. I went through a phase last year of trying lots of rose dominant scents, including Un Rose by Frederic Malle, Voleur de Roses by L'artisan, Amouage Lyric, Dark Rose by Czech and Speak and Rose Poivre by The Different Company. You get the picture - roses and then again some. Rose 31 opens with a quick blast of citrus and a faint rose smell, more like a crushed stem (but not green) rather than the flower. It soon becomes a lot more rose-focused, reminding me slightly of Voleur de Roses. As the rose note strengthens, it loses that initial freshness and sweetens up, becoming richer. At this point I am reminded a little of Malle's Un Rose, with its truffly richness, but only briefly, because then it veers off on an interesting path as it becomes spicier, when I start to notice the cumin. Cumin is not a deal-breaker for me and I've always associated the note with cooking rather than the dreaded body odour. In any event, it is so well blended here that it never becomes overwhelming. I do get a hint of pepper in the mid-phase and the spiciness is appealing as the scent loses some of the sweetness and becomes dryer and dustier to my nose. I wish this lasted longer because soon the scent becomes quite linear and the rose returns, brighter than before and stays like this for the duration of the drydown. I do get little wafts of cumin weaving in and out from time to time but by this stage it has become a skin scent and is mild and pleasant. I think it is a good scent; I'm just not blown away by it, but its well-constructed and well-executed, just not terribly daring in my opinion. 

What about Oud 27? Released in 2009, I find its opening surprisingly dry, with only a hint of sweetness, which I interpret as a honeyed note. If you like your oud accords to lash your senses with Montale-like ferocity, then you will be disappointed. I don't get that medicinal/band aid note and I'm glad. There is a slight synthetic feel to the opening, reminding me for some reason of new plastic, like the dashboard of a new car. After a few minutes the scent darkens and becomes woodier, plusher and more oppulent. The honeyed note fades and I get more of the oud accord. I have read other reviews that describe the oud note here like wood that is charred on the outside but still raw and sappy inside. I don't know if I quite interpret it like that, but I sort of know what is meant. The scent does become more resinous in the middle and then in the drydown stays woody and then sweetens, not cloyingly, but enough to keep it feeling quite rich, yet in a close-to-the-skin type of way. For some reason the overall feel of Oud 27 reminds me of polished wood - not the actual smell of polish, but the shininess of old wood that has that sheen of polish. Its hard to explain, but that is the mood it evokes for me. Of the two scents, I find Oud 27 a bit more daring and interesting. Its not an oud accord I've personally encountered before and definitely is not in the same mould as the Montales, M7 or the By Kilians, Pure Oud and Cruel Intentions.

Would I buy a bottle of either of these two? I'm not sure - at these price points a perfume has to pretty much knock my socks off. Rose 31 is nice, but doesn't really move me. Oud 27 comes a lot closer - it is interesting and it is different. Perhaps time will tell.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Perfume beginnings

Welcome to my blog on fragrance and perfume. As this is my first post and no one knows who the hell I am, it is unlikely that anyone is reading this, or if you are, perhaps you stumbled across it by accident.

Firstly, in case anyone is wondering, I am blogging on perfume purely out of interest and love. It is self-gratification, and like a lot of bloggers, I can claim no genuine background in perfume - I certainly have no qualifications to write at all, let alone about fragrance. I have no literary background, no history of being published and do not claim to be good at writing at all!

Secondly, my opinions about fragrance are exactly that. I am biased, probably like many others, and also influenced by how I feel on a given day. I find that my mood can alter my fragrance perception and appreciation quite considerably. I do try to wear a perfume or perfume sample a number of times to give it a fair chance, but even so, if I don't like something, I will say so.

How did I "get into" fragrance? Well, to be honest, up until 2007 I wore fragrance usually because it had been given to me as a present, or probably because I had read about it. My very early exposure to scent was through my dad; I have vivid memories to this day of the smell of Old Spice, which was always in his medicine cabinet. In my teenage years I wore stuff like Brut and Tabac, graduating to Hugo Boss in my early twenties. My dad worked for a while for a pharmacy and he got given quite a few testers and other perfumes through promotions and I was passed quite a few perfumes, which at the time I wore only because they were there. Ones that spring to mind are Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels and Farenheit by Christian Dior.

Anyway, for the next ten years I "dabbled" a bit with fragrance. I tried Paul Smith London, which I liked a lot, then bought Helmut Lang for Men, which I read was Robbie Williams' favourite. But in all honesty, I never thought about fragrance much, and at the time if you had to mention a perfume structure to me, or talk about top, heart and base notes, I would have stared at you blankly. 

Then for my birthday in 2007, my wife gave me a bottle of Calvin Klein's Euphoria for Men and that is when my perfume journey started. Now I can hear you say: "Calvin Klein, hmm, not exactly Eureka! is it?" Well, first, I am not a perfume snob, and second, for some reason I looked up Euphoria on the internet, as I had never heard of it. I clicked on the first link I saw and was directed to some weird site called Basenotes, and lo and behold, to my surprise there was a whole load of reviews on this perfume. Reading a bit further, I found out that all Calvin Klein's perfumes were listed with reviews and indeed, so were other perfume houses, most I'd never heard of. Two hours later I'd learned that there are hundreds of perfume houses, and that people seemed to be obsessed with perfume. I even discovered that perfumes have a progression, from top notes to heart notes to basenotes.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I started to read Basenotes regularly, then started visiting some blogs, such as Now Smell This and Perfume Smellin Things and the bug started to bite. At the time I lived in London and would spend almost every lunch visiting department stores like Debenhams and House of Fraser, spritzing on perfumes I had read about. Within six months I had started to become interested in trying more niche perfumes, so went to Liberty, Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, discovering houses like L'artisan, Serge Lutens and Maitre Perfumeur et Gantier, to name but a few. I then read about a place called Les Senteurs, which specialised in hard to find niche fragrances. I popped in one day and a charming bloke guided me through some of their stock, giving me samples of the mens' Carons, Knize 10 and Uomo by Lorenzo Villoresi. I was hooked - big time. What started as a quick dabble into finding out what people thought Euphoria smelled like had ended up within a year as what quite frankly, was fast amounting to an obsession!

This post is really drifting on now, so apologies. Three years on, I am a full-on perfume addict. I read many blogs daily, I visit department stores, both locally and in London, whenever I can. I usually order samples monthly from sites like First in Fragrance, Les Senteurs and Luckyscent. I cadge and beg what I can for free. I order directly from houses. You name it, I do it. And you know what? I love it and make no apology for my obsession. It gives me daily joy and satisfaction and I can't ask for more than that.

Over the next few weeks and months I will aim to delve a little deeper into my obsession. I don't know exactly what I will write about. Some days it may be perfume reviews, other days it may be about what I find interesting or irritating about the fragrance industry. Who knows. I am no perfume expert and I know there are many people who are able to write about perfume and review perfume far more intelligently and eloquently than I probably will. However, this is perfume in my world, the way I see and interpret it and I hope if you reading this, that you will join me on a journey of discovery from time to time.


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