Sunday, 9 July 2017

Lavender Fields Forever

The warm weather in England this Summer has brought forward our lavender harvest by a few weeks. Yesterday's visit to the Cotswolds' fields proved not only timely, but offered a rare opportunity to compare the olfactory profiles of some 20+ varieties of living flowers. In addition to the more common agrestic, green and camphorous/medicinal notes associated with the Lavandula genus, I was delighted to discover in some species very fleeting fruity top notes including in one variety, banana.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Semiotic Spritz Part 10: It's Complicated...

Perfume's power to disrupt the visual has long been a trope of Chanel's campaigns.



Saturday, 10 June 2017

You or Someone Like You Review

With an almost aggressive refusal to disclose any notes or materials ('if you need to know what it's made of, don't wear it; You is not for you'*), Chandler Burr's collaboration with perfumer Caroline Sabas is being sold as 'what a Los Angeles woman would wear'. More specifically, it is the perfume Burr imagines Anne Rosenbaum - the protagonist in his 2009 work of fiction You or Someone Like You, wears.
Backstory and marketing aside, You or Someone Like You (the perfume) is modern and green, opening with the smell of fresh cut grass ((Z)-3-hexen-1-ol), here turned peachy/peary/appley with Liffarome and given an interesting minty twist before moving into a simple and uncluttered muguet and Hedione/jasmine heart. A blend of clean, slightly starchy musks and light amber provide moderate fixation. 


Nose: Caroline Sabas
House: Etat Libre d'Orange
Release date: 2017
Notes (per Fragrantica): none.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Saltus Review

In its primary sense, Latin saltūs m. means ‘jump, leap’ (cf. assault, somersault). It is to the secondary set of developed meanings ‘woodland, uncultivated land’ however, that Shyamala Maisondieu’s composition presumably points.
Uncompromisingly thujonic-terpenic, Saltus opens with a mix of cedar leaves, eucalyptus, camphor and incense. It’s green and sappy but also smells strongly medicinal and, as far as those around you will be concerned, you could as well dab on some tea tree oil.  
That there emerges from underneath the milky tones of ethyl laitone mixed with castoreum will do little to reassure others you’re not trying to treat some weird skin infection. 
A very interesting perfume that’s thoughtfully constructed but not one I’d really ever wish to wear. 

Nose: Shyamala Maisondieu
House: Les Liquides Imaginaires
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): cedar leaves, eucalyptus essence, camphor, styrax, ethyl laitone, patchouli, incense, tonka, castoreum artessence, Australian sandalwood. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Tellus Review

From the Latin tellūs f. meaning ‘earth, ground’, Nadège Le Garlantezec’s (Givaudan) composition magnifies patchouli’s earthy facets with the humid, soil-like smell of Geosmin. Beside some sebaceous nuances from costus oil replacer and further woody-spicy notes courtesy of Cashmeran, I find little else of obvious note.
The perfume is substantive and quite linear.

Nose: Nadège Le Garlantezec
House: Les Liquides Imaginaires
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): earth accord, Indonesian patchouli, Cashmeran, lily, costus, mosses, Ambroxan, fir balsam, cistus.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cologne Indélébile Review

If Geza Schoen were to ever include in his Molecule line a dilution of Habanolide/Globalide, the complementary Escentric composition could well smell like Cologne Indélébile. Constituting half the formula, the distinctive starchy, metallic, hot-iron signature of the 11/12-pentadecen-15-olide isomers dominate this blend from top to bottom, relegating the hesperidic (orange blossom, bergamot, lemon) and floral (Hedione, narcissus) notes to mere supporting roles. 
Having transferred some from my skin to my jumper sleeve by accident, I understand why this is called indélébile - even after a laundry wash, I can still smell it over whatever musks are in my detergent :/
For a more pleasant take on the Nu Cologne genre, cf. Alexandra Kosinski’s work for ELd’O.

Nose: Dominique Ropion
House: Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): bergamot, lemon, jasmine, narcissus, orange blossom, neroli, musk. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Superstitious Review

When the director of a perfume line drops names like Arpège in the same breath as their new launch, it’s generally safe to put the whole thing down to exuberant marketing and  move on. Unless, that is, the director happens to be Frédéric Malle and the perfumer behind the creation Dominique Ropion. 
Conceived in the lineage of the great aldehydic florals that dominated feminine perfumery from the 1920s (No.5, Arpège etc) through the 1960s (Madame Rochas), Superstitious not only reads as a modern hermeneutic but links to André Fraysse’s totemic creation through the creative input of former Lanvin artistic director Alber Elbaz (who, incidentally, also re-designed Arpège’s packaging back in 2009 for the house’s 120th anniversary). 
In contrast to the self-styled retro chypres released by several indy outfits in recent years which are characterised by a heavy-handed use of animalics and muddy blends of natural extracts, Superstitious displays a resolutely modern aesthetic of precise, minimalist architecture and sheer radiance. 
Softening the harsher facets of the aldehydic high notes is a floral heart dominated by a classic combination of rose+jasmine+a Lilial-type muguet note and diluted with Hedione for brightness. This is balanced with a long-lasting, sweet peach/apricot note of sunny disposition that recalls those specialty ingredients that usually have ‘nectar’ in their name (plus Liffarome?). Ionones meanwhile, serve as a customary bridge to the woody base notes of which sandalwood and Haitian vetiver are spoken of in the official description. Absent are the strong nutty associations carried by the latter, suggesting Ropion here perhaps followed Arpège’s model of using just a small amount of the oil to fill out a larger dose of the topped-and-tailed acetate. With a similar de-emphasis on vanillin/coumarin, the composition finally dries out to a very elegant blend of modern musks and a somewhat ambrox-y feeling amber(gris) note. 

Nose: Dominique Ropion
House: Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle
Release date: 2017
Notes (per Fragrantica): jasmine, rose, vetiver, patchouli, peach, incense, amber.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Civet Review

Conceptually, I like Shelly Waddington’s approach to the brief which alludes to the programmatic note without (to all intents and purposes) actually featuring it. 
A fruity-floral chypre, the composition features a lactonic peach note that, given the context, can’t help but recall Mitsouko which made famous Firmenich’s Persicol base. Where Jacques Guerlain’s masterpiece however, contrasted the sweetness of gamma-undecalactone with the austere dryness of vetiver oil (10%!), Civet links the fruit to a very dense, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink floral heart that undoubtedly contains a lot of quality naturals but doesn't leave much breathing space. 
Beyond the vintage allusions, Civet humorously conjures its namesake with a Kopi Luwak (civet-poop coffee) note that leads down to the sort of heavy, balsamic, blond woods+musk=tobacco note base which has become a sort of byword for niche perfumery. Needless to say, longevity is not an issue. 

Nose: Shelly Waddington
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2016
Notes (per Fragrantica): begamot, black pepper, spicers, tarragon, lemon, orange, carnation, frangipani, heliotrope, hyacinth, linden blossom, tuberose, ylang-ylang, canadian balsam, civet, coffee, incense, labdanum, musk, oakmoss, resins, russian leather, vanilla, vetiver, woodsy notes. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Nightingale Review

A somewhat more conventional scent from Zoologist, Nightingale is nonetheless a pretty chypre built around an old-fashioned pairing of rose and violet. As in Chanel’s Misia, the rose gets a raspberry jamminess thanks in part to the ionones and although some papery associations aren’t too well covered in the earlier stages of the perfume’s evaporation curve, the overall development is pleasing and ultimately reveals a base that to me smells mostly of labdanum, musks and a big dose of oakmoss replacer.

Nose: Tomoo Inaba
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2016
Notes (per Fragrantica): bergamot, lemon, saffron, plum blossom, red rose, violet, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss, olibanum, white musk, labdanum, ambergris.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Macaque Review

Just as ‘one swallow does not a summer make’, so the release of two galbanum+incense fragrances in 2016 does not signal a new trend. If it did though, I wouldn’t be complaining.
Where Tom Ford’s Vert d’Encens plays on the balsamic elements of galbanum more to an oriental effect, Zoologist’s Macaque goes fruity-floral with apple and some banana-ey ylang. Tucked in amongst the foliage is a green tea base (Givco?) that does well not to overwhelm the blend and, on skin in particular, I find the fond to develop a nice mossiness beside the wood and musks.
Another pleasant surprise from this house.

Ps. When are the marine animals coming?

House: Zoologist
Nose: Sarah McCartney
Release date: 2016
Notes (per Fragrantica): cedar, green apple, blood mandarin, olibanum, galbanum, honey, palisander rosewood, ylang, jasmine tea, cedarmoss, green tea, white oud, musk.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Beaver Review

By the time a UK distributor was found for Zoologist perfumes earlier this year, Beaver (one of the house’s first releases back in 2014) had already been reformulated. Director Victor Wong has, to his credit, made frank admission of the change; spoken openly about poor sales of the original; and, so long as concentrate of the latter remained, offered customers the option to purchase either it or the new iteration.
Beaver 2.0 is a surprisingly green, citrus-floral affair, its fresh linden (a.k.a. lime) blossom theme painted with aldehydic and ozonic flourishes. Underneath is a very elegent and complex-smelling blend of musks, light cedar-type woods and just a hint of something dark. I understand the original went for a much bolder leather/castoreum base and can imagine a stronger clean/animalic contrast working well in this composition.

Nose: Chris Bartlett
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2014 (original)
Notes (per Fragrantica): linden blossom, fresh air, light citrus, castoreum, iris, vanilla, smoke, undergrowth, animal musks, ash, cedar, amber.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Persil Biological Laundry Detergent Review

Jean-Claude Ellena likes to tell the story of the time he was turned away at Edmond Roudnitska’s doorstep because his clothes smelt too strongly of washing detergent. As a non-perfumer, I’m happily free from any such constraints and can enjoy the daily ritual of putting on a freshly laundered shirt and taking a deep breath as my body heat warms the fabric. 
Granted, many laundry care products these days are obnoxiously strong and with the advent of scent boosters like Lenor’s massively successful Unstoppables, only getting more obtrusive. 
Persil’s green-capped liquid detergent however, bucks the trend and smells fantastic: fresh and green with a big dose of very incense-like aldehydes (my favourite part). The scent lasts well on laundered items yet is subtle enough not to clash with the perfumes I wear. The biological formula is effective, too. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Bat Review

There’s so much Geosmin in Bat that wearing it feels like your perfume is trying to waterboard you. Heavy, humid notes of damp earth catch in your throat and oppress the smell of green banana and berries. Only in the late drydown phase does this feel integrated with a rich smelling base of strong, even a shade steroidal blond wood, resiny spiciness and a wet, Cashmeran like muskiness. 
It’s a very thoughtfully considered response to a brief, but for portability’s sake, I would prefer to see the levels adjusted. 

Nose: Ellen Covey
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2016
Notes (per Fragrantica): banana, fruity notes, soil tincture, fig, tropical fruits, myrrh, resins, green notes, musk, leather, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka bean. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Panda Review

It’s been said there are three basic types of green notes in perfumery: (1) galbanum greens (including spicy greens); (2) violet leaf greens (including ivy and fig greens); and (3) cut-grass, hexanol/hexanyl greens (including fruity greens). Locating Panda within this triangle is not entirely straightforward, though it pulls more towards corners 1 and 3 than 2.
Panda’s overall theme then is fresh, cyclamen-aldehyde like verdancy; powerful, slightly metallic greenery over a fruity-floral heart of lily-of-the-valley and orange blossom with concord grape and melon nuances and a very subtle, sichuan pepper contrast. The effect comes somewhat at the expense of naturalness of feel and come the late drydown of pale woods and musks, the scent remains close to the skin. This however, is in line with expectations given the fragrance’s (presumed) objective.

Nose: Paul Kiler
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2014
Notes (per Fragrantica): buddha’s hand citron, bamboo, Sichuan pepper, green tea, mandarin Zisu leaves, osmanthus, orange blossom, lilies, mimosa, incense, sandalwood, pemou root, cedar, fresh musk, bourbon and haitian vetiver, damp moss.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Rhinoceros Review

A boozy scent that’s as big and boisterous as its namesake, Rhinoceros announces its presence with an arrestingly terpy opening of elemi whose lemon-citrus notes dovetail with bergamot and a herbal accord of lavender/sage/armoise. Detectable even in the top is the elaborate blend of nearly a dozen different musks (c.15%) and this complexity is further expressed with one of the most convincing liquor notes I’ve come across. The official pyramid lists rum, but to me the richly textured accord - alcoholic, woody, leathery, smoky – reads closer to whisky, at least initially. As the perfume dries down, the dried-fruit facets of the oakwood extract do become clearer, as does a honeyed sweetness that links to deep, woody amber fond.
Colour me impressed!

Nose: Paul Kiler
House: Zoologist
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): rum, bergamot, lavender, elemi, sage, pine needles, artemesia, tobacco, oud, immortelle, geranium, cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, amber, leather, musks.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Figue en Fleur Review

A straight fig fragrance (meaning sundry Stemone type green notes over coconut lactones and a sweet coumarin/tonka, musky base) of no particular merit or distinction. 

Nose: unknown
House: Andrée Putman
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): fig leaf, fig tree, rose, tonka, almond, sandalwood.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Je Suis un Homme Review

Je Suis un Homme is a take on the masculine herbal-citrus genre, aspiring to such classics as Guerlain’s Derby. 
From under the toppy citrus notes develops a dry herbal accord that has a lightly burnt quality. Patchouli, labdanum and musks meanwhile, make up the fond.
Technically accomplished but not wildly exciting. 

Nose: Antoine Lie
House: Etat Libre d’Orange
Release date: 2006
Notes (per Fragrantica): bergamot, orange, lemon, myrtle, clove, cognac, leather, patchouli, animal notes.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Semiotic Spritz Part 9: Penhaligon's Portraits: From Pen's to Le Pen

It’s winter 2016/17: Britain is negotiating its exit from the EU; Trump has been elected President of the USA; and Penhaligon’s has just released its ‘Portrait Series’ – a set of six fragrances inspired by the ‘British aristocracy’. Housed in eye-catching bottles each topped with a gold, hunting-trophy head, they carry names such as 'The Tragedy of Lord George' and 'The Coveted Duchess Rose'. 

In another age, it might have been the price that was cause for comment: £178 for 75mL is, as they say, ‘aspirational’. But we’re largely inured now to sticker shock, hardened by the likes of Roja Dove, Xerjoff and Henry Jacques.  

Instead, what’s noteworthy about this line is how far it departs, designwise, from Penhaligon’s standard and how well this resonates with the prevailing ‘populist’ (nationalist-xenophobic, really) mood that is currently sweeping much of Europe and North America.

Just like the Portrait series, which is said to represent the ‘English spirit’, right-wing populism employs a nativist rhetoric, favouring monoculturalism over pluralistic cosmpolitanism. And just as the copywriter for Penhaligon’s campaign freely interchanges British with English, populist narratives aren’t too concerned with the granular. 


They, the authors of populist propaganda, are constantly making appeals to a mythical, ‘pure’ past; a time before mass immigration, a time, in fact, very much like the one represented by the Portraits who are all reassuringly Anglo-Saxon. 

Where Penhaligon’s have previously looked beyond the shores of our tiny islands, finding inspiration in Egypt (Oud de Nil, 2016) and Iraq (Ninevah, 2015), the Anglocentrism of the new range is easily read as reflecting the inward focus of nationalist ideology. And if this seems like a stretch, consider that the next release from Pen’s is ‘Savoy Steam’ – an homage to London’s old Savoy steam baths. 

As a counter-reaction to the creeping liberalism of the past fifty years, this political movement represented by Farage, Le Pen, Wilders et al. argues for a turning away from Post-materialist values and an embracing of ‘traditional’ ones. And who better to represent English/British traditionalism than its nobility whose singular distinction is its vast material capital?

Whether this strategy by Penhaligon’s pays off remains to be seen. Whilst capturing the Zeitgeist, the marketing campaign appears targeted at an affluent, youthful sector whose first encounter with Fitzgerald was likely Baz Luhrmann’s successful adaptation of Gatsby in 2013. It is precisely this demographic who, studies show, are least likely to vote for Trump and Brexit and therefore identify with the line. One thing we can be certain of though, is that Sales will be keeping a very close eye on the figures, praying the effort doesn’t backfire as it did in the case of the gloriously misjudged Tralala (2014), which is now, unsurprisingly, discontinued. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Noël au Balcon Review

From an orange blossomy opening that has a pronounced, metallic-green aldehydic facet, Noël au Balcon quickly turns into a near dupe of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Tea for Two (Olivia Giacobetti, 2000) – all transparent honey, cinnamic spices and amber offset by some bitter, black tea-like nuances.

Nose: Antoine Maisondieu
House: Etat Libre d’Orange
Release date: 2007
Notes (per Fragrantica): honey, apricot, mandarin, orange blossom, cinnamon, chilli pepper, patchouli, musk, vanilla, black clover, labdanum, caraway.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Gucci Eau de Parfum Review

A white floriental from the Tom Ford era, Gucci’s eponymous EdP segues imperceptibly from orange blossom to almost tuberose with wintergreen salicylate and tart green apple inflections before settling into a long-lasting powdery, sweet oriental base.
The opening is marked by a cuminic contrast that I find myself wishing would hold out longer against a certain aldehydic soapiness. The dirty/clean dialogue however, is engaging and Daniela Andrier’s composition is a standout in both Gucci’s and her back catalogue.

Nose: Daniela Andrier
House: Gucci
Release date: 2002  (discontinued)
Notes (per Fragrantica): orange blossom, heliotrope, caraway, iris, thyme, incense, leather, sandalwood, musk, vanilla, cedar.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Semiotic Spritz Part 8: Kenzo World: Just Another Man(t)ic Monday

One of the most talked about fragrance campaigns of 2016 was by the Framework agency for Kenzo’s World. Directed by Spike Jonze and featuring an all acting, all dancing Margaret Qualley, the highly engaging spot drew praise and quizzical looks in seemingly equal measures.
As noted by Richard Vine in his piece for The Guardian (21/08/2016 link), Jonze’s film is but the latest example of a collaboration between an indie director and a fine fragrance house: David Lynch and Sofia Coppola having previously shot for Dior; Wes Anderson for Prada. At just shy of four minutes in length, the advert moves apace thanks to the frenetic, dancehall-inspired track by Ape Drums and Sam Spiegel (who just so happens to be Jonze’s brother) which accompanies it.
For all its vaunted rejection of the clichés associated with perfume adverts, Kenzo World’s narrative draws on one of the most enduring and widespread messages targeted at women: liberation. From junk food to high fashion, females are over and again sold a fantasy of freedom and escape which assumes the form of a moral imperative. 
The short film opens with a scene from a black tie gala event. Seated at a table adorned with bright pink flowers representing a stereotyped image of femininity is Qualley, her youth and emerald green dress conspicuous in the stiff, formal surrounds. From the unseen stage drones, Peanuts-style, a man’s incomprehensible speech.
With a feigned smile, Qualley excuses herself and walks dejected and pensive from the hall through the wide, empty spaces of the Los Angeles Music Centre’s Dorothy Chandler pavilion. Rubbing her neck in a classic self-touch gesture that’s long been a staple of perfume advertising, Qualley’s eyes suddenly focus and come alive. Then, like someone possessed of an outside force, her pupils begin to dart rhythmically, her face contorts and her limbs flail uncontrollably.

(Qualley vs. Walken)

Reprising the role of Christopher Walken in Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice video (also directed by Jonze), Qualley proceeds to dance her way energetically up the mirrored staircases, through the mezzanine levels and onto the stage in an empty auditorium. Her movements, choreographed by Ryan Heffington, reference everything from pre-war Vaudeville steps through Star Wars, Fifth Element and Black Swan. With each lunge and arcing high kick, Qualley’s power increases till it assumes a supernatural dimension. A lone, unsuspecting man on his telephone is thus felled Matrix-style while the walls are pock-marked by laser shots fired from her fingers.

 (like a boy ft. Qualley, Ciara)

Bursting forth from the building, Qualley grand jetés across a deserted courtyard, clearing invisible hurdles till at last she arrives before a giant, floating eye composed of flowers. With arms raised in reverence, she experiences a final throw of ecstasy before launching herself head-first through the ocular icon, landing in a starter’s block position amid a shower of blossoms that are most definitely not pink. Spent, Qualley yet rises again, beating her chest to the thump of a snare.
The all-seeing eye motif, captured too by the perfume’s flacon, was a major imprint of Kenzo’s 2013 fall-winter collection and, according to the brand’s art directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim “alludes to the force of the third eye and to spiritual protection from above”. Before this supernatural symbol, Qualley figures as a modern day πύϑια – those high priestesses in the temple of Apollo at Delphi consulted as oracles. Like her, the Pythia too 'raved' in apparent trance (at least according to some accounts), the exertion leaving them ‘like a runner after a race or a dancer after an ecstatic dance’. And like the priests who were charged with translating the Oracles’ enigmatic prophesies, we the audience must struggle to decode Qualley’s message.  

As arguably the most powerful female figures in the classical Greek world, the Pythia provide a compelling model of strength and sagacity. This image of femininity targeted at a culturally literate group is far removed from the typical presentations found in perfume advertising (cf. Paco Rabanne’s Olympéa) while also avoiding the #GirlBoss banality to which pop-feminism has been reduced.
On the face of it then, Kenzo World launched with a successful campaign. 2016 Q4 sales reports however, will ultimately tell if the big advertising budget was worth it for a so-so smelling fragrance (Francis Kurkdjian) that has comparably limited distribution.