Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kristen Michéle Épice Orientale: A Review

Kristen Michéle is a new niche perfumer on the scene creating some lovely fragrances. I had the opportunity to try all three of her fragrances; Épice Orientale, Fleurs Blanches and Notes Fraiches, each of which are lovely and different yet carry within them a similar thread that makes them seem obviously created by the same individual. Kristen Michéle perfumes smell to me like chic timeless classics with a modern twist. My favorite of the three is Épice Orientale.

To me, Floral-Orientals are the sexiest fragrance category. The blending of typically feminine florals with typically masculine spices creates a beautifully balanced yin-yang impression. The base notes of patchouli, amber and sandalwood seem to allow the floral and citrus notes to flutter in and out of your awareness in a light, sweet but understated manner. Épice Orientale is a beautifully classic oriental, which makes me think of film actresses from the 30’s and 40’s. While Épice Orientale definitely shows its classic oriental roots, there’s an airy modern appeal, keeping it from smelling too heavy or serious. Épice Orientale is a sexy little number but I think it can easily be worn for any occasion, from the most casual to formal elegance.

Notes: blood orange, jasmine, clove, amber, patchouli, incense and sandalwood

I’m impressed by the balance between sweet and dry ~ Épice Orientale is perfectly in the middle, it’s not too sweet or too dry. The amber, patchouli and sandalwood seem to be of high quality. The amber, in particular, is not syrupy sweet in the least and reminds me a bit of the ambery quality of Teo Cabanel Alahine. I don’t frequently receive perfume compliments but both days I wore Épice Orientale I received several.

Longevity: Slightly better than average ~ 4-5 hours

Sillage: depends on application, it can go either way. The first time I wore it I applied 2 sprays, one on each wrist and it was soft. The second time I wore it I applied 2 sprays to each wrist/arm and then it was easily detected by me and others very close to me.

Kristen Michéle website

Casran by Chopard: reviewing the basenotes reviews

For a while I laughed at the i-Phone. The way its devotees made it sound, the device would solve world hunger and stop destruction of the ozone, if only the right add-ons were downloaded. An i-Phone doubles as a calculator, I was told defensively (how handy!), would serve as a flashlight in the darkest of alleys, and in the event you were approached by storm troopers in the Wal-mart parking lot with less than good will on their minds, you could ward them off with its simulated light saber, frightening them long enough to make a run for it. Good for a laugh, it seemed to me--if nothing else.

Then my partner got the newest model, and gave me the obsolete version, and now I’ve come around. It only took going to the perfume section at TJ Max, where various perfumes I’d never really considered buying were stocked. Within minutes I was able to look these fragrances up on basenotes, ascertain their pyramids, and find out what naed_nitram, foetidus, and all the other regular reviewers had to say about their relative merits or lack thereof. While it does take some patience as the pages to load, like most perfume fanatics (do we have a sense of humor about using that word yet?) I have an abundance of patience when it comes to researching and tracking down scents. I can wait.

Yesterday, I decided I needed a fragrance to smell on the drive out of town for Labor Day Weekend, so I returned to TJ Max for the second time this week. I told myself I was going there to buy Calvin Klein’s Obsession Night eau de parfum. Though I’ve smelled it many times, considered purchasing it, and opted for something else each time, I’d temporarily run out of options and it suddenly seemed the perfect choice.

I like Obsession Night well enough. It smells nice. It’s only twenty bucks. Nice is about as much as I expect for that kind of money. It has a tenacious woodsy benzoin base, and I can imagine myself wearing it if somehow everything else in my fragrance cabinet suddenly self-implodes, and of course when you shop for your 225th bottle of perfume you need a good excuse to get more, so you tell yourself such ominous catastrophes might occur.

I did buy Obsession Night, but while I was looking for it I came across a bottle of Casran by Chopard. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t remember reading anything about it. I assumed it was a feminine, though I don't know why. The bottle was selling for 15 dollars. I couldn’t really think of a reason not to get it, at that price, but I looked it up all the same, just to make sure exactly what kind of bargain I was getting. I like to be informed. I like to keep abreast. Usually, I open the box to smell the perfume at TJ Max. But after the boxes have been opened, as Casran had been, the store tapes them shut securely as if they might leak poisonous gas, and it can be hard to pry one open without drawing attention to yourself, especially with a tall security guard several feet away.

When I look up a fragrance on Basenotes, I immediately scan the reviews to see if foetidus has rung in. It isn’t that I always agree with foetidus. I don’t. But he talks so informatively and with such poetic acuity about perfume that it makes me feel good about being so single-mindedly obsessed with it. Good writing can elevate a subject to mythic importance, which isn’t to say I can be persuaded to believe that Casran or any other perfume will throw the earth off its axis, but I like a dramatic perspective which has the common sense and the facility to disguise itself as more than a highly biased, emotion-driven response.

I was happy to see that he’d written about Casran. “Linear, sweet, clean, sharp, and somehow very satisfying,” he said. “That’s what I get from this scent. I don’t exactly understand why I feel good about Cašran—it doesn’t seem to have any standout qualities, and yet it is certainly a scent that I enjoy.” That’s not exactly high praise, but it seemed favorable enough. The inclusion of coriander and cardamom in the pyramid convinced me I might like it more than he seemed to; so much so that the dry ambered cherries, dates, and prunes didn’t trouble me as much as it seemed like they should. Chocolate seemed promising. Had I paid more attention to the overall tone of disappointment in the reviews I might have adjusted my expectations, but I told myself anything with these combinations couldn’t be less than interesting.

And Casran is interesting, in its way. I waited until I got out of town to open the package. Maybe this was a bad decision, because it wasn’t until today, after jogging and showering and smelling what lingered on my skin, that I could really appreciate this fragrance with any lucidity, and even now, like many of the basenotes reviewers, I remain fairly ambivalent about it.

There’s something about Casran which gives it an aquatic quality. Maybe it just feels a little thin, thus watery. Maybe it’s the cherry. I’ve even heard tell of geranium, which in this mix could resonate as a marine accord, resembling the geranium-coriander accord of Cool Water. Ultimately Casran is a nice, slightly powdery fragrance, or so I thought at first. As Pasha says, “The rum and chocolate I can smell pretty easily and benzoin is also present with the mix of the other two. At the end though, it is a dry vanilla scent that has absolutely no significant identity.” To me, the benzoin is indeed discernable, but I’m hard pressed to smell chocolate or anything remotely gourmand for that matter, nor am I at all getting the “fluffiest cloud in Heaven” vibe mentioned by Chris-p.

It’s hard to believe that of 23 reviews of Casran on basenotes, only 3 are neutral and 3 negative, because the ambivalence about it carries over even into many of the positive remarks, as in Randolph314’s characteristic entry: “After reading the reviews here I had very high expectations going in for Casran. It doesn't quite meet them, but other people (I've been around) really seem to like it, and I guess I do too.” And yet it has that strange, indefinable thing going for it, the kind of thing where you forget you’re wearing it, you’ve dismissed it as largely uninteresting, and suddenly you catch a whiff of something spicy, like the uniquely fresh coriander and cardamom accord I smelled after I’d washed off what I thought was left of Casran.

Many people on basenotes dismiss Casran as conventionally linear, but not foetidus. After experiencing this new, unexpected turn the fragrance had taken, I reread his review, which sums its subject up perfectly:

“There’s no syrupy, sticky sweetness here, just a clean, sharp, incisive, somewhat spicy sweetness that holds true for a very respectable time. The middle gourmand notes are certainly not overdone; they are quite restrained and subtle to my nose, and yet they don’t lack substance. I don’t really get much chocolate but the cherries and prunes come through—especially if I use a little imagination. They, too, are delicate notes that don’t suffer from an excess of syrupiness, and they are so like the top notes that the fragrance gets a deserved reputation for linearity.”

Like him I’m unsure what exactly attracts me to Casran, but find myself watching it a little more closely now than I first did.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

CB I Hate Perfume: Investigation & Reviews

At first I entirely dismissed CB I Hate Perfume without even smelling the perfumes or knowing anything about the reason behind the name. I’d read about others loving the smell of Black March, which was described as smelling like dirt, mud, chilly cold puddles in early Spring. I thought to myself, “Why would I want to smell like that?” I figured CB I Hate Perfume was a flash in the pan. I thought CB was a bizarre little niche line that would last a few years and then disappear.

Just for kicks I requested a few CB samples when I placed an order with Luckyscent about eight months ago. I received Black March, Russian Caravan Tea, Patchouli Empire and In the Library. Ok, so Black March wasn’t to my liking, as I’d imagined it wouldn’t be. But it sure is an amazingly dead-on smell of early spring in New England, where I grew up. Patchouli Empire, In the Library and Russian Caravan Tea knocked my socks off. I thought, this “CB” guy, he’s an artist, I need to find out what this line is all about.

I went to the CB I Hate Perfume website. There I read that the perfumer’s name is Christopher Brosius and that the meaning behind the name “I Hate Perfume” is actually quite the contrary to how it sounds, he is quite passionate about perfume.

Here’s an excerpt, in what I believe to be CB’s mission statement taken from his website:

“I hate perfume.
Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape.
A lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego.
Too often a substitute for true allure and style.
An opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing.
A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative.
An arrogant slap in the face from across the room.
People who smell like everyone else disgust me
* * * * * * *
Perfume is a veil that reveals the soul.
Perfume is the fanfare of our individuality sounding differently to everyone who listens.
Perfume is a signpost to our true selves – a different journey for the brave to travel.
Perfume is the weather of our inner world bringing life to a personal landscape.
Perfume is an art that shows us who we can be if we dare – an invisible portrait of who we are.
Perfume is discovered fully only by our lovers when we are together – naked
* * * * * * *
I encourage you to be yourself, expand yourself and please yourself.
Allow yourself the luxury of your own vision.
Perfume is an adventure I encourage you to explore.
I love making perfume.
I love being a perfumer.”

I love this mission statement or manifesto or whatever Christopher Brosius calls it. It also makes me think Christopher Brosius has balls – he calls out most of the perfume industry for churning out crap and giving perfume a bad reputation or at least a reputation of being a trivial unnecessary accessory. However, I also think that it’s easy to sit back and be a critic; it’s relatively effortless to point out others failings. In order for CB’s statement to pack a punch, he needs to create beautiful artistic original perfumes that are also wearable.

So, I decided that the proof is in the pudding, or in the perfume in this instance. I went about ordering samples and tried at least 2/3 of his line. My overall impression, in the end, is that CB most definitely lives up to his mission statement. CB makes beautiful, artistic perfumes that are incredibly evocative. Evocative is the word I mean to highlight the most. So many of CB’s fragrances evoke a specific “thing,” such as Burning Leaves (no surprise, it smells like burning leaves), In the Library (no surprise, it smells like an old library, books, paper, a bit musty); these fragrances smell as exactly as they are named. But the reason why I believe Burning Leaves is a work of art, is that when I smell Burning Leaves, I very quickly forget that I’m smelling burning leaves and I’m transported to a beautiful crisp autumn day. The neighbors are out raking the leaves from their yards, and one neighbor a few houses down is piling up his leaves and burning them. I smell the smoke in the distance, I also think about apple picking and mulled cider with cinnamon sticks. I feel the cozy sweatshirt that I’ve had for more than a decade against my skin, I always wear these “bum around the house” sweatshirts for weekend yard work. I think of my dogs, frolicking around the yard, diving into the piles of leaves making a mess and making us crazy. Burning Leaves doesn’t smell like all these things ~ but it transports me to this scene. As an aside, if anyone reading this loves Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque, I highly recommend you try Burning Leaves.

Another fragrance from CB is called Lavender Tea. Again, no surprise, it smells of lavender and tea. The notes are: French lavender, Black Indian tea, woods and a touch of Indonesian patchouli. CB does it again; he takes me on a sensory journey with Lavender Tea. I see lavender fields in Provence; I recall my last trip to France where I stayed at a bed & breakfast overlooking fields and vineyards sipping tea while the late summer sun slowly set. I also think of my Mom when I smell lavender tea. When we lived in the same state we had a ritual of meeting for afternoon tea at least once per month at the Four Season’s hotel. My Mom loves lavender and keeps little lavender sachets in all her drawers and in the closet. She uses Yardley lavender soap exclusively. Wearing CB’s Lavender Tea conjures up our monthly tea visits, when we first met and hugged I’d smell a very faint lavender on her and then we’d sit and drink tea and chat. CB’s Lavender Tea makes me very happy.

Another fragrance from CB is called Fire From Heaven. Fire From Heaven’s notes are incense, frankincense, myrrh, opopanax, cedar, sandalwood, styrax & labdanum. The scent is much more subtle that you might expect. Fire From Heaven is smoky, soft and incredibly soothing. This fragrance, unlike the others I’ve described is abstract, there obviously isn’t an actual “thing” called Fire From Heaven. I love this scent, it reminds me of my Dad and his house in Santa Fe. The smoky quality reminds me of the smell of the fireplace, which is called a kiva in adobe homes. My Dad burns mostly mesquite logs and cedar in his kiva. Fire From Heaven reminds me of my Dad, visiting him over the holiday’s, sitting in front of the kiva, the smell of juniper bushes and the cool dry desert air outside. CB describes Fire From Heaven as the memory of smoke….

CB offers his perfumes in two forms; 1. perfume absolute (which is an oil), 2. water perfume (which is a spray edt to me).

I’ve tried both the perfume absolutes (oil) and the water perfumes (edt). I usually prefer a spray edt/edp over oil but with CB’s line I'd recommend the perfume absolute/oil. The oils are more concentrated and last longer. The water perfumes tend to be too fleeting. All of the perfumes I’ve described above are the perfume absolute/oil concentrations.

If you’re intrigued by CB I Hate Perfume I encourage you to visit his website. There is much more interesting information there than I could possibly provide in a blog entry. Plus, you can also purchase all of CB’s products from his site:
CB I Hate Perfume website

Photo of Christopher Brosius above courtesy of CB I Hate Perfume website.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Coversation with Neil Morris

The conversation with Neil Morris is also posted more completely at Perfumce Critic,

Abigail: Hello, Neil, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you for After our rather, shall we say, unusual introduction, it’s so nice to be able to do this!

If you don’t mind, let’s jump right into the good stuff!

This is my typical first question, what brought you to the art/craft/science of perfumery?

Neil: I have always been a scent person. Even as a child I would find myself paying close attention to the scents around me. So I realized at an early age just how powerfully evocative our sense of smell can be and how closely it's linked to our emotions. So working with fragrance became a passion for me.

Abigail: What is it that you enjoy most about creating perfumes?

Neil: Well, perfumery isn't really about scents, it's about people. It's a form of communication. Whether conjuring memories from our past or creating future memories for ourselves and others, perfume is about connection. It reminds us of where we've come from, for all judgments on scents are based on our experiences. Exploring the endless possibilities of where fragrance can take us is what I most enjoy about creating perfumes.

Abigail: Is there anything you dislike about creating perfumes? Is there a part that is tedious?

Neil: Well, yes. Making samples is quite tedious! That's all I can think of.

Abigail: I won't ask you to choose amongst your own perfumes, but what would you list as your favorite 3-5 perfumes? Or perhaps the perfumers / perfume houses that most influenced you?

Neil: My all time favorite perfume is Chanel No 5. It’s a singular act of brilliance, in my opinion. The scent is so iconic that it's as if the perfume has always existed and it was simply rediscovered. Ernest Beaux was a genius. I'm also a fan of Jean Claude Ellena and his minimalist approach to perfumery.

…ah…let me see… other perfumes I love: Nirmala by Molinard, Jean Claude Ellena's First, Maurice Roucel's Tocade.

Abigail: ....yes, Jean Claude Ellena is one of my favorites as well....

Now, let’s talk about the niche & indie perfumers. Which of this category, aside from yourself ;-) do you think is creating some beautiful perfumes?

Neil: In my opinion there are several niche perfumers that are creating gorgeous works of art.

Sarah Horowitz has created some truly lovely scents. My favorite of hers is Perfect Sunset. I also love Perfect Nectar and Beauty Comes From Within. She's also one of the nicest people I know.

Other niche perfumers whose work I respect are Andy Tauer, Ineke Rühland, Liz Zorn, Yosh, Serena of Ava Luxe...just to name a few.

Abigail: I’m also very impressed by many of the perfumers you just named... Each of them create at least one perfume that I love.

So, this is something I’ve wanted to ask you, what's your take on the distinction between fragrances for men and fragrances for women? Do you like to wear floral or not stereotypically masculine colognes yourself?

Neil: Ahh... one of my favorite subjects! In my humble opinion, there is NO SUCH THING as a fragrance for men or a fragrance for women! This is simply a marketing ploy to get men to wear perfume. Yes, some fragrances smell more like what we’ve learned to associate with a woman. But that doesn't mean that if you're a man who likes that scent you shouldn't wear it! By all means, WEAR IT! I often wear Chanel No 5 and I can't tell you how often people come up to me - both men and women - and ask me what I'm wearing! And do I love to tell them!!! You should see the looks on their faces. Priceless!

We've actually created a line called Flowers For Men just so men will not be afraid to try floral scents...true florals are frequently touted as being strictly for women…

So my advice - man or woman, wear whatever scent appeals to you and don't get caught up in labels.

Abigail: I thoroughly agree and I really hope this line of thinking catches on. It seems so limiting, otherwise. Not just for men, but for women as well…

Let’s see… for you…what have been the most difficult scents/fragrances/notes to create? Have you had one or more perfumes that took ages to perfect but ultimately worked?

Neil: Oh, took me more than 8 months to get CLEAR the way I wanted it. I wanted a fresh, clean scent but not like other scents in that category. I wanted something unique that would be subtle but would also have persistence. I went through 15 different iterations of CLEAR but finally got it where I wanted it and now it's our best seller after ZEPHYR and AFIRE.

There have been other fragrances over the years that have given me sleepless nights but most worked out in the end. Others I put away for another time.

Abigail: Obviously I need to try ZEPHYR and AFIRE since I haven’t yet. My favorite in your line right now is SPECTRAL VIOLET, it’s a gorgeous gorgeous violet and this is coming from someone who couldn’t stand violet perfumes until very recently!

How long does it normally take you, from the idea all the way through to a finished perfume?

Neil: It depends. If I'm creating a scent for a client and they have a deadline then I try my best to meet that deadline. But if I'm working on a scent for our own line then I give myself as much time as I need to get it right.

How do I know its right? That's a tough question and sometimes I just have to live with the scent to see if it's going in the direction I want.

Abigail: Can you explain to our readers, (in lay person's terms) how you go about creating a perfume? Approximately how many different ingredients are needed? How many "tries/tweaks" does it take? I personally imagine it to be very difficult, and am curious as to how you go about the process of making a fragrance.

Neil: When I begin a new perfume I first consider the theme. Almost all of our fragrances have a story behind them. In fact, I consider what I do "storytelling through scent". I then begin to dwell on which components will create the effect I'm looking for. Let's take STORM as an example. STORM is based on the memory of a summer thunderstorm on Cape Cod when I was 12 years old. I wanted to capture the feeling of the approaching storm so I combined Papaya and Lime with an Ozone Note. The Ozone Note runs through the entire composition. This gives the illusion of the charged sea air before the storm. We drove back to the cottage we were staying in as quickly as possible. Just in time too, as the storm crashed down around us. When the storm ended and the sun came out, I walked outside and smelled a combination of flowers that were growing in the yard, sea air and warm sun. To capture this I blended Hyacinth and Delphinium Notes with Ylang Ylang. I've created a gorgeous, warm Musk that I call Golden Musk and that, in combination with Tonka Bean and a hint of Patchouli, gave me the effect I was looking for to represent the aftermath of the storm.

As far as tweaking goes, each scent has its own personality and some take longer to create than others. I created STORM in a relatively short period of time - around three months - while others can take 6 months to a year to get right. Tweaking can become an ongoing event so at some point I just have to tell myself to stop!

So perfume creation is the same yet different for each perfume.

Abigail: The same, yet different, hmmm, that makes perfect sense! But it does...

Tell us, is there a trend in perfumery that you're excited about?

Neil: Yes! Naturally I'm excited about the continuing attention Niche perfumery is receiving. This shows that the perfume buying public is interested in trying new and different scents created by dedicated artists as opposed to the myriad floral/fruity things being pushed on us by marketing gurus who are out of touch with what many perfume lovers really want. There are future classics being created in the Niche perfumery realm and that excites me!

I am also excited about the attention being focused on the art of perfumery and the focus on perfumers in general. In his wonderful book “The Perfect Scent,” Chandler Burr talks about demystifying the fragrance industry and lifting the veil of secrecy, which I think is very exciting indeed. My business partner and friend, David Garten, compares this trend to what happened in the wine industry in the 1970’s. Back then the prestige brands were primarily French and your average American thought of wine as two extremes, either coming in a big jug or a box, or something you may order at a restaurant for special occasions. People were intimidated to ask questions or purchase wine. Then, serious artisan wine makers came on the scene in Napa and Sonoma California. They invited people into their world and educated people on how wine was made, how to evaluate wine, and gave some simple rules to make it easier to pair wines with foods (even putting some of this information on the label).

Abigail: That’s a fascinating point about the comparison between perfume and wine. I've noticed some perfume houses creating 'harvest editions' or 'limited editions' based on an especially good crop of mimosa in India (or insert any ingredient here) that year. This has always made me think of wine – and a good vs. bad year for the grape harvest. Given your expertise, are the Harvest Editions truly superior/unique or a marketing ploy?

Neil: Yes, there seems to be a similarity between perfumery and wine. Both rely on aroma and our sense of smell. Both are concerned with crop harvesting at the optimal time, such as picking jasmine just before dawn. And there are many similarities between attitudes and behaviors of perfumers/perfumistas and sommeliers.

As far as limited editions go, I'm certain there's some marketing involved. Perfume lovers will want to run out and buy it before supplies are depleted. It's similar to the concept of DVD Special Editions. Movie collectors have to have them.

But to answer your question of whether the harvest editions are superior because of claimed ingredients? You'll have to let your own nose tell you!

Abigail: Huh, that’s interesting. I’ve often noticed that those who love perfume and all things scented also have a similar enthusiasm for food & wine…since all of these things are sensory…it makes a lot of sense!

Onto a different topic…Do you read reviews by Chandler Burr, Luca Turin, Tania Sanchez and the perfume bloggers? What do you think of this relatively new phenomenon of perfume reviewers?

Neil: What is now happening in the fragrance industry is that you have perfume lovers and advocates coming forward, like Karen Dubin and Karen Adams of Sniffapalooza, Grant Osborne and the entire Basenotes community, as well as Perfume Critic, Perfume Posse, MUA and many other great forums where people can share their passion, opinions, and knowledge of fragrances and the fragrance industry.

My feeling is the more approachable we make fragrances and the fragrance industry the better off we all are. I’m a huge fan of Frederic Malle. I’ve met him and he is incredibly welcoming. I also love the fact that for each of his scents he includes the perfumer’s name on the package. With Neil Morris Fragrances, I include the inspiration for creating the scent as well as a description of the scent on the package. I want people to come into my world and understand where the inspiration for the perfume is coming from.

I think perfume reviewers are a good sign. To me it means more and more people are becoming interested in fragrance and learning about perfume through their writing. I could get excited to try a new scent that the reviewers are raving about.

...However, we must remember something very important. Few things are more subjective than what smells good. We all have different memories and emotions attached to scent. If you had a grandmother who was very loving and kind to you and wore lavender, then lavender will be a trigger for happy memories. If you had a grandmother who was mean to you and wore lavender then lavender will be a trigger for unpleasant memories. A perfume reviewer cannot know these things about you. He/she can only reference his/her own associations with scent. They may know many things "about" perfume that you don't know. But when it comes down to it, you have to rely on your own nose to tell you whether a perfume is right for you or not.

Abigail: Is there a trend in perfumery that disappoints you?

Neil: Not really. I think it’s mostly all good. Well...if you pushed me I would say the whole anti-synthetic movement seems a bit out of hand. (I think the term “synthetic” is off-putting and should be changed to “Art Essences.”) I think there is place for both essential oils and aroma chemicals in fragrances. Chandler Burr had a great article on this a while back and as I was reading it I was thinking “yes, yes, a major figure in the fragrance industry defending the use of synthetics!” My concern is by eliminating synthetics you are eliminating a huge portion of the palette from which to work.

Abigail: regarding synthetics / “art essences” I wholeheartedly agree. The anti-synthetic movement really makes me nervous. I understand and prefer your term “Art Essences.” Perfume has always been mostly synthetic, (aka man-made ingredients/aroma-chemicals) if these ingredients weren’t an option, none of the classics would exist! As a comparison, this makes me wonder how painters would react if they were told they could only use so-called “natural” paints derived exclusively from crushed berries and nothing man-made, no preservatives whatsoever...perhaps a slightly feeble example...but you understand what I mean.

So what's new for Neil Morris? Do you have some fragrances in the works that you'd like to tell us about?

Neil: Yes! Lots going on…my friends at Takashimaya New York asked me to create a new fragrance for them. We’re launching “Neil Morris for Takashimaya New York” perfume in September. We hope to launch it in Japan in early 2009. My goal was to create a scent that would encompass the beauty and serenity of the Japanese culture and also incorporate the stylish sophistication of Fifth Avenue. The reactions to the scent have been very positive.

Oh, and David has some other things up his sleeve for us, let’s just say it’s going to be an amazing year and we are enjoying every minute of it.

Abigail: Neil, thank you ever so much. Your enthusiasm is transparent and contagious! I’ve learned a great deal chatting with you and I look forward to trying more of your perfumes and especially your exciting new fragrance for Takashimaya! Takashimaya is a beautiful shop, a destination in and of itself, and I’m sure you’re excited about this unique opportunity :-)

Neil: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much, Abigail.

Neil Morris' WEBSITE


Monday, August 25, 2008

Aramis 900

It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Bernard Chant behind Aramis 900. After all, he made everything else that smells like it, excepting Bandit.

Released in 1973, Araqmis 900 is a woody, herbal masculine with a bright cirtus opening and a dense, deep rose heart.

The fragrance has a slightly fecal, animalic character, most noticeably up top, and relates to the chypres Chant is famous for. It has the tang of Aramis, Azuree, and Cabochard, not just up top but at the base, likely from vetiver, and their floral embellishments too.

Luca Turin was surprised to learn that today's Aramis is nearly identical to the old Cabochard. It might surprise less seasoned connoisseurs just how similar Aramis 900 is to Aromatics Elixir. What surprises more than anything is how little difference there is between them. If they're brother/sister fragrances, then their relationship is decidedly incestuous.
It goes some way toward indicating how conditioned we are to segregate fragrances down a gender divide. Once the marketers have assured us enough that one can be safely worn by women and the other by men, we separate them in our minds, convincing ourselves the distinctions remain safely in place. A similar phenomenon tends to happen in general with fragrances, complicating things. Until someone points out the marked presence of violet in Halston, you might smell only “floral” and “woods.” Once you’re told, you can hardly smell anything else. That smell is deeply tapped in to memory is old news. Few explore how suggestible the sense is.
The truth is that if you’re inclined to wear 900 you might as well cross the aisle and pick up AE instead. While both are strong, AE is stronger, its rose less apologetic, its sillage more robust and therefore perhaps manlier than its male counterpart. Aramis 900 handles rose beautifully, despite or even due to that fecal note (those who go on about a dirty rose clearly haven’t yet smelled one rubbed in dog mess) but there’s no denying that 900 ultimately smells like the faint whiff left once AE leaves the room.
Aramis 900 runs about 45-50 dollars for 100 ml. You can find it sometimes in the department store with the Aramis fragrances for men.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile edp: A Review

Acqua di Parma launched Iris Nobile (edt) in 2004. Acqua di Parma then launched the parfum (edp) concentration of Iris Nobile in 2006.

This review is based upon the edp only. The original Iris Nobile edt is a beautiful, light, sweet, floral fragrance. Iris Nobile edp takes on a very different personality ~ it’s richer, denser and closer to a chypre than the edt.

Iris Nobile is not an iris fragrance for those that prefer the earthy, dirty, cold metallic iris fragrances like Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, The Different Company Bois d’Iris or Hermes Hiris. Iris Nobile is sweet, floral and flirty.

Iris Nobile is described as a chypre but it’s definitely a modern chypre. There is only a slight similarity between this and older chypre classics like Miss Dior. If Iris Nobile contains oakmoss, musks and patchouli they are used conservatively. When I compare the edt to the parfum side-by-side there’s definitely a woodsier quality and a small amount of oakmoss-musk to lend the parfum a more substantial quality. I like this modern-style chypre, it’s abstract and interesting but also “fluffier” and lighter than traditional classic chypres.

Overall, Iris Nobile parfum starts off with a citrusy blast which then dries down to a beautiful floral heart that smells to me of iris and violets. There’s just a hint of woods and musk in the background. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with sweet iris scents that I think of violets blended with the iris.

Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile parfum is drop-dead gorgeous. It is a breathtaking iris, floral fragrance which seems easily worn in any season and perfect for any occasion.
Notes are listed as: bergamot, tangerine, iris, star anise, ylang ylang, oakmoss, vanilla, amber crystals and patchouli.

Lasting power: Average 3-4 hours
Sillage: soft/medium – I applied four sprays today and those close to me (within 1 foot) can smell it.

Comme des Garçons 2 Man and Gucci Pour Homme

Gucci Pour Homme and Comme des Garçons 2 Men seem similar enough at first whiff that for a while now I’ve been inclined to dismiss one or the other as inevitably redundant. The similarities, as it turns out, are purely superficial.

Gucci Pour Homme was created in 2003 by Michel Almairac, the nose behind several Bond No. 9 fragrances (Bryant Park, Fire Island, Saks Fifth Avenue for Him, Scent of Peace, West Side), L’Artisan’s Voleur de Roses, Dunhill, Rochas Lui, and Casmir, among others.

Gucci can’t seem to make up its mind. How many Gucci Homme’s must there be, or is it the company's intention to confuse their consumer base? Before 2003 there was Gucci Pour Homme 1976. In 2007 Gucci Pour Homme II was released. This year, another Gucci Pour Homme has appeared, Gucci by Gucci.

Comme des Garons 2 Man was created by Marc Buxton in 2004, close on the heels of Gucci Pour Homme. Buxton is well known for his unusual creations at Comme des Garçons. In addition he has orchestrated fragrances for Versace, Salvador Dali, Cartier, and Paco Rabanne. Early on, he did some of the Alain Delon fragrances. Like Gucci Pour Homme, Commes des Garçons 2 Man is something of a muddle in terms of nomenclature. Its name implies something of a masculine flanker to Comme des Garçons 2, which until then seemed to have been considered by many a unisex scent.
These confusions only add to the seeming interchangeability of the two fragrances themselves. Smell them at a remove from one another and you might swear they’re virtually identical. I did, many times. Yet there are subtle and even distinct differences between the two. Both are anchored by leather, vetiver, and incense accords. This gives them a shared tone of tangy smokiness, but whereas CDG retains a strong orientation towards tangy, Gucci submerges itself under more smoke.

Gucci is often considered a cedar fragrance, but you won’t find cedar in the pyramid. You will find olibanum, however. Like Guerlain Nahema, which conjures rose without actually employing it, Gucci manages to evoke something which isn’t there. Many people mistake olibanum for cedar and thus detect in Gucci Pour Homme the dreaded “pencil shavings”. Interestingly, olibanum typically has an orange aroma to it, which I don’t discern in Gucci Pour Homme, but I don’t discern pencil shavings either. Of the 123 customers sounding in on basenotes, many do. Perhaps that subtle aroma of citrus complicates what seems like a fairly linear scent in largely undetectable ways. There are ginger and white pepper up top and amber at the bottom, the latter probably contributing to the overall coniferous impression. Yet more than anything Gucci Pour Homme is the rich, oily but arid smell of burning incense, and a useful comparison can be made with YSL’s M7, the agarwood of which takes Gucci Pour Homme’s incense inclinations to their logical end points, and smells nothing like cedar but very much like Gucci Pour Homme--on steroids.

The top and middle notes of Comme des Garçons 2 Man are listed as white smoke, nutmeg, cumin, mahogany, saffron, iris, and nutmeg. The frankincense at the bottom can be smelled from the first, but it’s vetiver you apprehend most discernibly into the dry down. The vetiver note is made a little more complicated by cumin, nutmeg, and, according to Luca Turin, a big dose of aldehydes, which seem to wear off fairly quickly.

It might be the aldehydes which give some of the fragrance’s detractors an impression of synthetics. Either way, Comme des Garçons 2 is made more unusual by their inclusion, and though they leave quickly their effect createes a lasting impression, creating a singeing sensation, as though someone had struck a match to light incense and snuffed it, mingling the smells. Saffron adds an interesting touch, a tobacco or hay-like aroma. There's a lot going on in there. Comme des Garçons feels much more conceptual than Gucci Pour Homme, the picture it paints more vividly detailed, and it seems less linear for it.

Both have respectable sillage, though less than you’d expect from incense fragrances. Gucci Pour Homme is available at Perfumania. Comme des Garçons can be found online, or you can call the Perfume House in Portland, which stocks it. I own both now and find, however often they intersect as they develop, they stand alone quite well, too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CARON Farnesiana: A Review

Mimosa is among my top five favorite notes. Mimosa is in my beloved Amarige by Givenchy (and FYI the mimosa is much more apparent and breathtaking in the 2007 Harvest Edition of Amarige). One of my favorite L’Artisan perfumes is Mimosa Pour Moi. Unbelievably Mimosa Pour Moi lasts for a few hours on my skin (yay, for L’Artisan!) and it’s a wonderfully rendered greenish mimosa soliflore. Jean-Paul Guerlain's Champs-Elysees is also meant to be based on a mimosa accord. Caron’s Farnesiana is nothing like Amarige, Mimosa Pour Moi or Champs-Elysees but I mention them so you can make comparisons amongst mimosa-focused fragrances.

Farnesiana was recreated by Michel Morsetti from Ernest Daltroff’s notes after his death in 1941 and released in 1947. The name is taken from the Latin name for cassie, Acacia Farnesiana, as well as the garden in the Roman palace of Farnese which is the inspiration for Farnesiana.

Farnesiana’s initial burst is mimosa, cassie and heliotrope. Heliotrope usually smells like play-doh to me and it also does in Farnesiana but it’s a lighter, fluffier and gorgeously gourmand heliotrope which causes me to envision marzipan and almond milk. I’m in awe of how groundbreaking Farnesiana must have been in 1947. To me, it’s a floral gourmand, wayyyy ahead of it’s time, and simply heavenly. If you sniff really hard, with the intent of detecting the other notes, you can smell a powdery violet and perhaps other florals. Overall Farnesiana is a sweet (but not overly sweet in the least), floral, powdery gourmand masterpiece. When I use the term gourmand please don’t think of sickly sweet dessert fragrances from Comptoir Sud. In my mind, the gourmand category has sadly been “dumbed down” to the point of only being associated with sweet cupcakes, chocolate, frosting, and bakery confections. The gourmand category has unfortunately received a bad rap lately but if there were more gourmands created like Farnesiana, well, I think this reputation could easily reverse.

Farnesiana is drop-dead gorgeous. It’s so soothing and comforting I wish I could spray my bed linens with it. Almond is not listed in Farnesiana’s notes but it seems like everyone (myself included) find it to be an almondy-floral-mimosa-powdery nirvana.

Lasting power: Average ~ 3-4 hours
Sillage: soft
This review is based on the eau de parfum, not the extrait.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Diptyque Opôné: A Review

Disclaimer: I’m a lover of many Diptyque perfumes; Tam Dao, Oyedo, L’Ombre dans L’eau, and Philosykos are among my favorites. Diptyque launched Opôné in 2001. I never investigated it until recently and think it might be because there are several Diptyque fragrances that begin with the letter “O” and I just sort of missed it. Had I known Opôné was a rose & saffron scent I would have sampled it many years ago!

Opôné is what I wish Juliette Has A Gun, Lady Vengeance had been. Opôné is rose, saffron and soft woody spices. I’ve noticed Opôné is often called a vampy rose fragrance but I don’t think it’s vampy, it’s really quite tame to my nose. It reminds me of a woody rose potpourri and I mean this in a good way. Some say Opôné is dark and earthy, but it’s definitely not earthy like L’Artisan Voleur de Rose, and nowhere near as edgy as Strange Invisible Perfumes Black Rosette. Opôné is an easily wearable rose/spice fragrance. The overall effect of Opôné is an equal blending of rose and saffron/spices ~ the rose doesn’t stick out more than the spices and vice versa (so don’t expect this to smell mostly like a rose fragrance sprinkled with a little saffron). Like most Diptyque fragrances Opôné doesn’t evolve much from the initial application. This is good, I suppose, because you’ll know right away whether you like it. I really like Opôné, it’s dry, rosy and spicy and while not edgy, it’s unusual and interesting enough to keep me smelling my wrists all day. I have my very own bottle of Opôné now and will definitely wear it often.

Lasting power: slightly less than average ~ about 3 hours on me.
Sillage: depends on application, but if you apply about 2-3 sprays, it has soft/average sillage.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beautiful Vessels

I maintain that only the juice matters, but when a beautiful perfume is paired with a gorgeous vessel, well, that's killer. My taste leans toward the simple, understated and classic bottles, with a few exceptions of course. Here's a tribute to some of the loveliest perfume bottles I've ever seen:

Let's go straight to the museum worthy ~ Serge Lutens Mandarine Mandarin bell jar (photo courtesy of PerfumeShrine blog). Is this not the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen?

Guerlain L'Heure Bleue ~ simple with a flourish

Bond No. 9 outfits their perfumes in drool-worthy flacons. There are so many amazing Bond bottles. I prefer transparent glass where I can see the color of the perfume, though. There's no doubt that Chinatown and Lexington Avenue are collectibles whether you like
the perfumes or not!

Frederic Malle's bottles are substantial, effortless luxury

Jo simple, sophisticated, makes me want rows of them...

Teo Cabanel quietly saunters into the room. All heads turn. The others guests feel overdressed compared to her effortless sophistication.

CB I Hate Perfume ~ there's something about these tall, straightforward no-nonsense bottles. They're ordinary yet different.

Sage Machado's Onyx Vanity Bottle.
Elegant, artsy little treasure. I can barely bring myself to use the fragrance oil
for fear of emptying the bottle. To use an "oh-so-ten-years-ago" word: it's eye candy

Tocca might be my favorite of all (assuming I'll never have the Serge Lutens Mandarin bell jar). Tocca's bottles are drop-dead gorgeous. They seem exquisite yet whimsical and charming.

This Week At The Perfume Counter: random notes

The Korean perfume store closed its newest location, and the older location does not have Rochas Femme. I purchased it online for next to nothing instead. Roudnitska did the original. The reformulation was done by Olivier Cresp and substitutes cumin for the shock value once provided by now-outlawed animal no-no's. I haven't received the bottle yet but know when I do I'll smell the fragrance wondering what the first Rochas Femme must have smelled like.

I ordered Jacomo Silences. I believe this is the one Luca Turin was crazed over at some point, but I've looked through everything I have on him and can't find a mention of it. Supposedly, green florals with galbanum, so one would think it's a no brainer for me.

The friendly young woman at the Chanel counter in the local department store let me smell the new Chanel No. 5 flanker. It smelled fine. Chanel No. 5 EDP did not, to my nose. Something foul and one dimensional in the heart, after a rich opening full of busy distractions.

One thing I'm fascinated by is the relative ignorance at the perfume retailers regarding concentration. Most of the people I've talked to seem to think the EDP and EDT versions of any given perfume are interchangeable, considerations of strength aside. Both Sephoras here, for instance, place tester bottles on their extravagantly pristine shelves for only one of Chanel No. 5's iterations. This means that someone buying the EDT has no real idea what it smells like until she or he gets it home. Tom Ford's iterations are even more markedly different than Chanel No. 5's, and yet a tester bottle for Voile de Fleur stands in for the Black Orchid EDP, and the two smell nothing alike, not even remotely, but don't try to point this out, because it's futile. When I shop at Perfumania (sigh) I often have to pointedly ask whether the bottle they're spraying on the test strip is EDP or EDT. It never occurs to them to tell me, otherwise.

I smelled the new Lancome. A lot of people must be smelling it, because the testers I've seen are all half empty. Perhaps this is something the perfume companies do? They send the department stores half-empty bottles so that customers will believe something like, say, Magnifique to be a hot commodity. To me the perfume smelled like some sickly sweet something or other I couldn't put my finger on. I liked it--the way a child likes his favorite page in a scratch and sniff book. I'm not sure that's wearable. People like to put cocaine up their noses, too, but they don't want to cover themselves in it. Al Pacino's white-powdered mug in Scarface just popped into my head, so perhaps I'm wrong and haven't spent enough time amongst coke fiends.

I returned Guerlain Heritage because I can always buy it for my friend once Christmas is closer, whereas I'm short on funds now and need money to buy more perfume for myself. The woman who'd sold Heritage to me didn't understand why I was buying it. Strangely, she didn't seem to understand why I was returning it either. I returned Chanel No. 5 too, explaining that I'd purchased these two as bride and groom gifts, and--wonder of all wonders--she already wears Heritage and he already wears Chanel No. 5. I know these salespeople recognize my sickness but I'm helpless to stop myself. It's some reassurance that they must pretend as if they don't recognize my obsessive, unreasonable behavior.

I bought a cheap bottle of Gres Cabaret online because I haven't yet exhausted my need for the perfect dark rose. I smelled many in LA but none knocked me to the floor. Intending to buy Eau d'Italie's Paestum Rose, I got Sienne L'Hiver instead.

I bought Miracle Forever at Perfumania because I needed something right that minute. I was interested in Calvin Klein Euphoria for some reason I don't fully comprehend. Weeks before I'd been interested in Miss Dior Cherie. People online slam such fruity patchouli's viciously, with an open hostility which only piques my interest two-fold. I forgot my wallet so at Perfumania I only had enough cash for the slightly cheaper Miracle Forever. "This smells like Euphoria," the saleswoman exclaimed to her co-worker, amazed. "Can you tell me if that's EDT or EDP?" I asked.

I'm going to venture that people now denigrate these fruity numbers the way others once put down the civet-driven, musked out chypres of yesteryear when maybe refreshing colognes were more sensible or considered more "mature". I'm not yet sure what's so bad about fruity, other than the fact that it's everywhere. Pants are everywhere too. I don't understand the whole mature and immature thing when it comes to fragrances. I don't always understand pants, either.

Getting Miracle Forever home, I realized with a twinge of disappointment that it's very similar to Chanel Allure Sensuelle. I also realized that Beyond Paradise is very close to Gucci Envy, which leads me to suspect that BP has galbanum in it, which no one talks about. Instead they talk about banana and melon, which I don't get in the least.

At TJ Maxx I was obsessed with Anais Anais, Diamonds and Emeralds (recognizably Sophia Grojsman), and Fendi for Men. I managed to get out without purchasing everything I put my nose to, though not empty-handed, mind you. Never empty-handed.

I did not bother smelling Kate Moss, as I'm saving that for a more desperate day.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Feeling protective

Brian sent me a huge number of decants from his collection that arrived today. I have never smelled any of these fragrances. I opened the package, unwrapped all the vials, then I proceeded to take a nap without smelling a thing. I was utterly overwhelmed.
Once I started sniffing, I began sending him emails with my reactions to each. One interesting point Brian mentioned is that he feels protective towards certain colognes/perfumes and notes. That got me thinking. I, too, feel protective towards a number of fragrances. As I ran down the list I realized that most of them are powerhouse 80’s fragrances from high school. There are only two from the 90’s, zero from the 2000’s and zero from the niche category.
Here’s the list of fragrances that I feel protective towards, and, I suppose you might understand why:
  1. Dior Poison
  2. Givenchy Amarige
  3. Lou Lou Cacharel
  4. Thierry Mugler Angel
  5. Ungaro Diva
Perhaps I’m more embarrassed than protective. All five of these perfumes are seriously powerful and shriekingly loud. There are only two that I wear occasionally now, Amarige and Lou Lou, and when I wear these I’m careful to apply lightly. But back in the mid-late 80’s when I was in high school, I cared not for others. I applied Poison and Lou Lou as if they were fleeting body sprays. I sprayed Diva in my locker, in my car, all over my bedroom with wild abandon. My friend Megan wore Estee Lauder’s White Linen in much the same fashion. Nicole bathed in Lou Lou. Becky was scented with Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Melissa was also a Poison girl like me and Lesley liked to wear Laura Ashley No. 1 (which was by far the tamest scent in our group). I shudder to think of what the car smelled like when we drove off together on a Saturday night headed for a destination entirely different from what our parents were told.
Fast forward to the early-mid nineties when I wore Amarige exclusively during college. I’ve never received as many compliments on any other fragrance by a mile. Amarige is sexaaaay and that’s the way it made me feel.
I wore Angel for about 6 months when it first hit the shelves in 1997. I felt like I was the first to wear it. I loved it. It was during this time that I also loved my job. I was traveling the world (Europe, Asia, South America, you name it) and I was professionally quite happy. Once an Angel-laden-smog developed around all major cities due to the number of people wearing it I had to stop. It was just too trendy. Now it seems like everyone hates it. I don’t hate Angel at all, I rather like it, but I think fifty years of olfactory distance need to pass before anyone can truly appreciate it now.
So it seems that these fragrances make me nostalgic. I’m protective of them because they hold the memories of good times in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever objectively smell the horrific things that others smell in these fragrances because I wore them, I loved them, and they’re tightly intertwined with happy memories.
PS: Happy Birthday, Madonna! Madge is 50. I can’t believe it.

Bad Rap: Anais Anais

I'm generally astounded at the viciousness directed toward Cacharel fragrances, Anais Anais in particular. My ability to appreciate the latter might have something to do with gender. Anais Anais wasn't pimped on boys with the same virulence used to market it to girls. Giorgio, Poison, Paris, et al were made so aggressively ubiquitous to the female adolescent consciousness. Being a boy, I was spared that, but don't envy me too much before considering my teenage crosses to bear: Polo, Chaps, and Oscar Pour Lui were my own adolescent wallpaper, visible everywhere I went.

Anais Anais has no pre-conditioned associations for me. I smell it with fresh nostrils, and find all the vitriol against it curiously over-compensatory. Admittedly, some of my favorite perfumes are made by Cacharel. I can't say a bad word about Lulu, Eden is gorgeously strange, and Noa is at least interesting, if fleetingly so. Anais Anais has galbanum in the top notes, which is often about all I need to hear before robotically pulling my wallet out. Galbanum works wonderfully here against the counterpoint of Muguet and rose, and in some ways the effect reminds me of Ivoire, creating a certain spectral disposition, a hot, near-rubbery glow. If aldehydes make accompanying notes pop with 3-d precision, galbanum makes them burn bright by surrounding them in a white hot aurora borealis outline. Another way to describe galbanum's effect, at least on Anais Anais, is to liken it to condensation on a bathroom mirror and the humidity that comes with it.

I love the Anais Anais ad campaigns, past and present. I love how the image on the bottle is vague, a little hazy, like something you'd see across the room through a blanket of steam. The milk-white bottle, designed by Annegret Beier, has a vintage boudoir feel to it. Best of all, the frosted plastic cap, which reveals the nozzle the way you ascertain a naked body through a foggy glass shower door.

Amber, oakmoss and a particularly nice cedar note in the base burnish the composition further, working in concert with the galbanum to create the sensation of hot, moist skin after a protracted shower. Anais Anais is more than anything a muguet fragrance, but to say that is like saying a Bentley is primarily a machine sitting on four wheels. The galbanum and amber and cedar, judiciously used, tease out the best qualities of lily-of-the-valley, enhancing its intrinsic oiliness in the best possible way. It helps that they and rose all share with galbanum an intrinsic tension between aridity and moisture.

Blogs We Love: Perfume Shrine

Some fragrance blogs are the CNN of the perfume world, relaying information about the newest releases, commenting on industry events, prolifically posting reviews. Perfume Shrine is their literary counterpart, providing in depth insight into the ever-changing context of perfume throughout the past several decades.

Perfume Shrine has been publishing since 2006, which is like the online equivalent of the paleolithic era. If you want to know about the social history behind perfumes and perfume trends, look no further. That makes sense, given the author's background in history at university.

Highlights have included: the pieces on the Patou Ma Collection, which gave detailed descriptions and informative impressions of the individual fragrances; the leather series (quoted below); the YSL series; the incense series; and the Christian Dior series. Check out the latest entries on Vetiver and Lancome's Magnifique.

"...the 1920s and 30s would be the heyday of leathers from the spectacular 1924 double feature of Ernest Beaux's Chanel Cuir de Russie and Vincent Roubert's Knize Ten and Jacques Guerlain's odd Djedi in 1927 to later renditions: Caron En Avion (1929), Lanvin Scandal by Andre Fraysse (1932), Lancome Revolte by Armand Petitjean (1936) and Creed Cuir de Russie (1939), initially Errol Flynn's bespoke fragrance, and LT Piver's Cuir de Russie the same year. At least thirty houses launched their own versions of Cuir de Russie from the late 19th Century to the late 30s (the trend continued into the 50s), which bears witness to the enduring attraction of the note."

from Perfume Shrine, The Leather Series, December 17, 2007

Site url:

She Said, He Said: behind the scenes memos between your I Smell Therefore I Am editorial staff

Hey Brian,

...disappointing perfume day. I bought a bunch of perfumes from - they have amazingly good deals. I bought everything unsniffed, but for the price, no biggie.

1. Habanita - gagging from the powder - I thought I would love this - but the baby powder is too much - I can't get through it to the tobacco or leather.

2. Casmir by Chopard - Josh said it smelled like a street hooker (i seriously hope he doesn't know this from first hand experience). It is wayyyy too sweet.

3. Balmain Ambre Gris - very sweet - I might end up liking it - smells so differently on Rob. Maybe the chemistry thing is true after all, I always thought it was a farce. I like the bottle.

I also got Madness by Chopard - haven't tried it yet.

I was so excited about Habanita. The reviews were glowing. Sometimes I wonder if perfume-addicts smell the perfume too closely. If I didn't know what Habanita was 'supposed' to smell like - I wouldn't get it at all. It's only because I read the reviews and know the list of notes that I didn't scrub it off after 5 minutes. The bloody stuff doesn't scrub off either - I can still smell it!!! I'll happily wear Bandit and Tabac Blond and skip Habanita if I want to smell leather/tobacco.

I have no tolerance for sweet 'fumes lately. I wonder if I'm changing? I'm obsessed with vetiver, balsam, sandalwood and patchouli.

Purchased Chanel No 19 from ebay today. Anxiously awaiting Chanel Bois de Iles - should arrive tomorrow or next day.

I really like the Balmain Ambre Gris bottle. I'm looking at it right now. The top is making me think of a microphone. I love the cube-shaped bottle and label. I really like simple bottles - like FM, SL, Jo Malone, Teo Cabanel, Miller Harris, Hermes, and Chanel.


Hey Abigail,

I just decanted Habanita for you yesterday, and doing so I thought, I wonder if I should even do this, I bet she won't like the powder. Still, it was on your list. I'm holding off on the Cuir de Russie since you don't know if you ordered it or not, but I'd love to smell the bois when you get it.

The Balmain sounds right up my alley. I typically love their stuff, bar none.

Casmir I have too. I bought it as a gift and re-acquired it several years on. I don't wear it and rarely sniff it. It smells like suntan oil to me, which can be nice, when you're sunning, and your sunblock is scentless.

Turin wrote an article recently which commented on how many perfumers are heavy smokers. Lots, he concluded.

Cuir de Russie came from Chanel today and arrived in pristine condition. They wrapped the shit out of that thing. No samples, disappointingly. I had visions of them trying to make it up to me. I'm interested now in Coromandel and Respire.


Hi Brian,

You know, I actually thought the whole "it doesn't work with MY chemistry" thing was just a way for people to say they didn't like it, politely. The difference between Balmain Ambre Gris on Rob's arm vs. mine was astounding. The woods and ambergris/salt was apparent on him and not at all on me. If it smells on you like it does on Rob I'm sure you'll like it (and it's $24.95 for 100 ML!!)

So I'm working from home today and as yet unshowered. I still reek of Habanita and Casmir!! Both of these deserve recognition for their lasting power - Mon Dieux!

Parfum1 sent a free bottle of Worth by Je Reviens. I've never heard of it but am scared to try it. The juice is NEON BLUE.

I'm oddly obsessed with the Balmain Ambre Gris bottle. I want to keep it in front of me and use it as a paperweight.

I also ordered Ivoire for next to nothing. It hasn't arrived yet.


Oh Abigail,

It saddens me that you aren't enthused with Habanita, but I'm holding out hope that it'll grow on you, like Bandit. I took the Habanita decant out of the package I sent you and sprayed it on myself in the early morning. It lasted all day. I'd forgotten how persistent it is.

Here's the thing: Yes, there's something very powdery about it, but I think that's just the edt, and it eventually goes away. Recently I smelled the EDP and it doesn't have that powdery density--at all. When I first sprayed the EDP I thought they'd completely reformulated the fragrance. I'm sure they tweaked something (they always do) but many edp's are slightly different, and Habanita's ends up in roughly the same place as its edt concentration.

When Turin called Habanita "vetiver vanilla" I couldn't understand what he was getting at--until I smelled the EDP, where the vetiver is pronounced from the beginning. The EDP has that lemongrass tang to it, and feels much lighter going on, almost transparent, and yet into the heart and the dry down it has reached the same points as the edt. After discerning the vetiver in the EDP I can now smell it in the edt, and I enjoy it much better. I'm sickened though. I looked on perfume1 and see that it sells at half what I paid for it elsewhere.

I think part of the problem with fragrances like Habanita whose reputations precede them is the fact that by the time you get hold of them you've built up an unconsciously specific idea of what they must smell like, and you're inevitably disappointed. Usually, some sort of adjustment period follows, where you grow to appreciate the scent on its own terms or--not.

I purchased Ambre Gris online yesterday. What does gris mean, anyway? It's like Bois and Tabac and Cuir: all over the place in perfume nomenclature. I suppose I could look it up, but you can only open so many windows on the computer screen, and mine are all occupied with perfume blogs and discount vendors.

On the way to work this morning I thought, I don't even LIKE Amber. Then I started to think how a bad review can make you just as interested in a perfume as one which praises it. Somehow, the things you said about Ambre Gris made it sound super appealing to me. Elsewhere I saw burnt sugar and caramel, some earthiness, etc. I hope I like it. The bottle alone seems have-worthy.

I'll expect to know what you think of Ivoire, naturally.


Hey Brian,

Balmain Ivoire arrived today. My first reaction was: Dial & Dove soap! Now it's settled in and it's really nice. It IS mostly soapy but when I smell closely there's a lot more going on - sort of a spicy green with a hint of soap. I like it. There's something comforting and parental about it. The smell makes me feel like I'm being taken care of and everything is going to be all right... ;-) what is that sortof dark, medicinal, metallic smell? And I'm not being negative, I like this smell...(oh, but this bottle, so ugly! looks like it came off a drugstore counter from 1976!)

re: Gris ~ I assumed Ambre Gris was just the French word for ambergris. You know what ambergris is...that's why I was expecting Ambre Gris to smell salty - which it DID on Rob's arm and not mine.

I totally agree about fragrances whose reputations precede them. Unfortunately there are so many of these. I could make a really long list of perfumes that are classics and receive rave reviews that I'm smelled and wondered "what's the big deal?" I definitely think I oversprayed Habanita the other night. I tend to spray quite a bit when I'm smelling a scent for the first time. With Habanita, this really wasn't a good thing to do.

Bois = Wood
Tabac = Tobacco
Cuir = Leather

'Bois' seems everywhere. Now that I'm thinking about SL Bois de Violette - the name accurately describes the fragrance. I expected more violet - but the name roughly translates to 'wood violet' - so that's why it smells to me of a pile of cedarwood with one tiny violet plunked in the middle.

On my left arm is Ivoire and on my right arm is Caron Parfum Sacre. The jury is still out on Parfum Sacre, I don't know what to make of it yet. One thing I really like to do is AVOID reading reviews and the list of notes as much as possible. This way, when I smell something, it isn't influenced by whatever has already been said. I like to lessen the power of suggestion as much as possible.

Did you see the comment I received a few days ago about Immortal Flower on the Balmain Ambre Gris review? I thought that was an interesting and helpful note. I didn't know the story of Annick Goutal Sables nor the story of Immortelle. You know, of course, Annick Goutal Sables is on the list now...

I love amber. Teo Cabanel Alahine is very ambery to me and it's one of my favorites. Amber needs to be relatively dry, not sweet, and then I love it. I've been waiting for Serge Lutens to make a nice dry amber for years.... Serge? Are you reading?! Because his last few launches...mostly cinnamon and veering toward gourmand....haven't impressed me....

- A xo

Dear Abigail,

Yeah, I figured out the bois and tabac and the cuir (though it took a while to bring myself to pronounce it correctly out loud), but gris seemed contradictory. How can ambre be gris then Iris too? It seems to mean gray, from what I can find online, which makes perfect sense for the latter, which is totally gray to the point of glittery. But it makes little sense when tagged onto amber. So go figure. I'm sure some kind benevolent soul out there will write to let us know.

There is something medicinal about Ivoire, now that you mention it. I bet it's the galbanum, which probably gives it that weird, menthol glow. I really love Ivoire. It does smell parental, too. I kind of like the bottle. Compared to the new Van Cleef bottle it's downright high class. The bottle seems like a drugstore version of Chanel's packaging but I love it. It's down to earth.

I love immortelle. I didn't realize you'd never smelled Sables. Something else I'll have to send you. I wonder if you'd care for it. The overall effect is burnt sugar sweet. Immortelle is to Sables what aldehydes are to No. 5, like someone had a little left in the bottle and thought, well, I might as well put it in, otherwise it'll go to waste. Immortelle is in Coriolan by Guerlain and in Diesel Fuel for Life, though to me it's more difficult to detect in both of those. Boucheron's Initial uses it too.

I've seen that Ayala Moriel has a perfume based around immortelle, called Immortelle l'Amour. The notes are: Vanilla, Rooibos tea, Wheat absolute, Broom, Sweet orange, and Cinnamon. What the hell is broom? Basenotes lists four or five fragrances using it as a note. Perhaps there is a broom absolute? To my uninformed mind, it's like saying "hair from the seat cushion my dog Alfie sat on yesterday." But who am I?