Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Ambre Precieux

I’m a friend of good amber fragrances (“good” is obviously subjective, but I’ll explain more below). I find many amber scents too sweet and vanillic but I easily have a half dozen ambery fragrances I adore and don’t fall anywhere near the sweet/vanilla spectrum. It strikes me as odd that I’ve never reviewed MPG’s Ambre Precieux (MPG AP) since I find it to be one of the absolute best amber fragrances ever created.

The intriguing part about amber is that it’s not a single note but an accord usually created by a thousand different variations of benzoin, labdanum, styrax, vanilla, opopponax, ambergris, myrrh, various herbs, woods and oriental spices. When I come across uninteresting, flat or super-sweet vanilla type amber scents it just seems cheap, unimaginative and sad to me. These sweet vanilla ambers are the ones I think give the whole genre a bad reputation.

MPG Ambre Precieux, from a quick glance across various blogs and BN, MUA reviews, seems to garner diverse opinions. While most seem to love it, many of the adjectives used to describe it are a little weird to me. Take “powdery” for instance. MGP AP isn’t powdery to me in the least. I suppose powdery is one of those descriptive words that mean entirely different things to whomever uses it. MPG AP might be classified as powdery if your definition of the word is smooth, balanced and silky, like the texture of powder instead of the smell of baby powder. MPG AP’s smoothness is so perfectly balanced that in this regard it reminds me of Amouage Lyric. I don’t mean it smells like Lyric but there’s an ultimate smoothness and perfectly balanced quality in both Lyric and AP.

MPG Ambre Precieux reminds me a bit of Diptyque Eau Lente and Diptyque L’eau Trois mostly due to the herbaceous resins and myrrh. MPG AP isn’t edgy like Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche (which I love but have to be in the mood to wear), instead it purrs softly, but tenaciously, in a contented and satisfied manner. I’d classify MPG AP as a woody-herbaceous amber with just a tiny dollop of sweetness. So often it seems like many perfume aficionados are looking for the next most innovative, unique, edgy or strange juxtaposition of notes when searching for a new fragrance. I find myself, more often, looking for this type of fragrance, one where I find the quality superior and the overall scent isn’t weird but perfectly balanced and smooth. It might be mistaken as simplistic but I have a hunch that this sort of effortless perfection is the most difficult to create.

Notes: lavender, myrhh, amber, tolu balsam, resin, vanilla, nutmeg and peru balsam.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Patchouli Problem

I admitted recently that I’ve given up trying to like vetiver and leather fragrances (aside from Tom Ford Tuscan Leather and some old classics that don’t register as Leather with a capital L on me like Bandit and Cabochard). You can add cedar to that list, too. Cedar is the reason I’m not enthused about a number of Serge Lutens fragrances which are considered among his very best (Bois de Violette, Feminite de Bois). But these notes; vetiver, leather and cedar I just do not like. They don’t blend with my body chemistry; they stick out, smell awful and bother me.

One note I have a strange conundrum with is patchouli. I love the scent of patchouli. I crave patchouli, almost like I crave chocolate. I find patchouli to be warm, earthy, resinous, sweet, balsamic, multi-layered and just plain amazing. I could wear straight-up patchouli oil, if my mind would let me. In fact, I used to wear patchouli oils way back in the early 90’s when I was a kid going through a hippie phase. It was about ’90 or ’91 and I was, rather typical of a 19-20 year old, trying to figure myself by putting on various personae’s; so I dove into the whole hippie/love your mother/Grateful Dead scene for about 1 year. I wore a patchouli-rose oil purchased from Arsenic & OId Lace in Porter Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sometimes I wore straight patchouli oil and other times I mixed it with myrrh and frankincense. After about 10 months of being a hippie; wearing anklets and jewelry that jingled, long flowy bright skirts and not shaving my legs, I was quickly over the whole scene. The hippie thing was not for me. First of all, I couldn’t stand The Grateful Dead, it was a combination of the music and their scene (their followers) that drove me nuts. All those people living out of VW vans, following The Dead from show to show, cooking falafel, speaking with accents that were a mixture of California and Vermont (a unique twang all its own) and reeking of the obligatory patchouli and pot combination just got under my skin and made me want to don a conservative suit and go to Harvard B School.

So...to this day, when I smell patchouli I think of hippies and pot. My conundrum is that I love patchouli and so many patchouli prominent fragrances are fantastic. A few years ago, I think it was 2007; I was traveling with a colleague in his car to an offsite meeting. After being alone together in the car for about 5 minutes he asked if I was wearing patchouli. I was, indeed, wearing a patchouli-rich scent, it was Chanel Coromandel. This comment ruined Coromandel for me. I still absolutely love it to pieces, but I feel conspicuous when I wear it, like it signifies I’m hiding a grow room in the basement of my home. Since 2007 I don’t think I have worn any of my favorite patchouli scents in public. No more Coromandel, no Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, no il Profumo Patchouli Noir, no Keiko Mecheri Patchoulissime, no Tom Ford Purple Patchouli and no Prada (in the pink box).

I ask you: what’s a gal to do? If you like patchouli as much as I do, do you wear it often? Do you have any hang-ups about it? Do you think the public at large smells patchouli and thinks of hippies and pot? I would love to begin wearing all my favorite patchouli scents in public again, but I need some reassurance...or perhaps you agree and don’t wear patchouli to the office or in mixed company either. I love patchouli and I'm stumped.

Overrated: I Smell Hypocrisy

I've been called splenetic before.  I won't lie.

I had to look it up, and when I understood what the word meant, I didn't entirely disagree.  This might lead you to believe that I'm a mean, nasty guy who keeps to myself.  And of course I might be--mean and nasty.  But the truth is, I love reading and talking to other bloggers.  I love reading the various fragrance boards.  I belong to a few of the more popular communities--and even a secret society or two.  I've made many friends there, believe it or not.  Every day I visit these sites and forums and do my share of reading.  Often it feels like I'm at these places all day.  The windows seem always to be open somewhere on my mental screen, and the discourse wafts in and out of my consciousness.  It's a matter of record that we all routinely disagree there.  Mostly, we agree to.  I love knowing that the fragrance I love might be disliked by someone else.  I like reading what gets other people talking, even when I don't have much to say about it myself.

So what gets my goat, exactly--and where's it getting from?  I can't say.  Overrated praise for the subjects below is simply "in the air", wafting in and out of the screens--not just on blogs but in forums, boards, fragrance site customer reviews.  I don't pay tons of attention to the source.  I just smell the general stench of something fishy after a while.  The last time I wrote satire or, um, rather...angular...commentary, it was as though I'd slain a bunny in a field of dandelions.  Surely there's room for creative dissent?  Judging from our site's stats for that post, there is, and people secretly love to hate a strongly phrased, technically unpopular, opinion, believing themselves superior to someone's verbalization of things they'd secretly like to say themselves.  I suppose in this case Duchaufour will be the bunny and again I have a sharp weapon in hand.  So be it.  I like a conversation, and I enjoy saying what it seems I'm not supposed to say.  Like any community, online or off, we have our heroes and villains.  I often want to illuminate the underdog and scrutinize the hero.  Collective heroes tend to baffle me.  What makes these people or things so great?  Who died and made them king?  And to what extent is our appreciation of them socially contagious?

Lately, several heroes and trends have continued to rub me the wrong way.  Don't take it too personally.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eternity: Cleaning Up The Eighties with Calvin

Christy Turlington, saddled with motherhood, daydreams of a night out at Studio 54

For a long time, I regarded Calvin Klein's Eternity as its own sort of stand alone monolithic entity.  In my mind, it sat on its own somewhere, out of context.  It was so all over the place during the time of its release and for several years afterward and was such a brilliantly art-directed phenomenon that it seemed more like a cultural attitude than a scent.  You smelled it everywhere, on everyone.  It seemed so definitively of its time, yet it wasn't anything particularly new (Tania Sanchez has remarked how closely it resembled an earlier Caron, which itself was pretty traditionally floral; a little stuffy, even) and in fact it essentially took an older form, the dowdy floral bouquet, and shoved it into the big shouldered stance so popular in the eighties.

Sophia Grojsman, the perfumer behind Eternity, was of course the go-to woman for this kind of treatment.  She'd done Paris, the quintessential neon floral, several years earlier, and excelled at pumping up the volume without sacrificing density.  Her fragrances of that time were loud without being shrill.  No one has really matched Grojsman in terms of radiance.  Her fragrances, especially the scents she created between the mid eighties and the mid nineties, were radiant to the point of radio-activity, translating the baroque intensity of classical perfumery represented by a fragrance like Bal a Versailles in a uniquely contemporary way.  A Grojsman fragrance took over the senses in a way very few eighties scents, as loud and bombastic as they were, managed to do.  They were powerful but because of their radiance felt buoyant rather than heavy.

Obsession, which came out in 1985, was really Calvin Klein's first massive success in fragrance.  Obsession was one of the heaviest of the heavies, as dark, deep and mysterious as Eternity was bright, buoyant and straightforward.  Even the ads for Obsession were dark: dimly lit scenes viewed through screens and colored filters.  Josie Borain was the perfect model for the Obsession campaign, and really the first sign of Klein's still unparalleled brilliance at creating powerful associative images and personas which brought his fragrances vividly to life in the imagination.  Borain was the athletic-to-the-point-of-boyish Calvin Klein consumer wandering into the exotic oriental territory of Obsession.  The ads depicted her sensual saturation in a nocturnal  world of hedonistic abandon, emphasis on random couplings and sweat.  Obsession was Klein's mass-market version of the often anonymous nightlife excesses popular among the early eighties Studio 54 celebrity demimonde.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dior Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle

Just gaze at this bottle. I do all the time. I love Dior Poison bottles, all of them, and I like to group the whole set together on an antique claw-foot circular mirror atop my dresser. I don’t think the Dior Poisons are the best perfumes of all time, although the original Poison cannot be ignored, and I wore the heck out of the original Hypnotic Poison back in the late 90’s, well before I knew Annick Menardo was a big deal. But above all else I’m smitten with the Dior Poison bottles. The newest flanker, launched in 2010, called Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle (HPeS) is my favorite of all the Poison bottles. It’s a thing of beauty. I love the heft of it, the way it curls into the palm of my hand, somewhere between feeling like a forbidden fruit and a paperweight. For me, the bottle alone is worth owning, no matter what the juice smells like. I know that’s blasphemy, but I trust you won’t judge me.
Monica Bellucci is one sexy lady, no? I love that Dior used Ms. Bellucci for the HPeS campaign because she’s not blond and she’s over 30 and she’s amazingly sexaaaaay. The Dior ads also focused on orchids, purple cattleya orchids, which I used to have in my enormous orchid collection back in Jersey when I had a sunroom for them. The vast majority of orchids are entirely unscented, but the cattleya, the purple flowers feature in the ads, have a trippy sort of sweetness that’s probably the headiest of all scented orchids. Ellen Covey are you out there? Since you are an orchid grower and perfumer I’d love for you to weigh in here and let me know if you’ve smelled HPeS and whether you think it smells like cattleya orchids.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Ouds: Bond no.9 Signature and New York Oud, Dior Leather Oud, L'Artisan Al Oudh, By Kilian Pure Oud, Juliette Has a Gun Midnight Oud

Oud has been trending, as they say, for well over a year now, but it isn't exactly something that gets my imagination roaming, and for the most part I've ignored all the latest iterations.  I've smelled them, but they haven't been bottle worthy to me.  This is probably the only time I'll write about them, yet I don't intend to make anything like a definitive statement.  I'm not going to get into the history of Oud--the what, why, and where.  I think other people have said it better than I can, and generally the narrative of oud seems very manufactured to me at this point anyway, something which has steeped in corporate speak for so long that it resembles fantasy and fiction more than reality.  I'm not interested enough to parse the layers.  I just want to put my very narrow-minded two cents in.

I bought Bond no.9's Signature Scent last year and liked it very much, but it seemed only peripherally about oud to me.  It's a strange, brassy thing, and while I can't get enough of it I can see where its detractors would be coming from.  The truth is, I haven't heard much about Signature either way--good, bad, or indifferent.  Bond has done some damage to its image the past several years, partly due to its attack dog tactics, partly due to its overabundance.  People don't seem to want to say much about Bond at all these days, and I totally understand that.  A 300 dollar fragrance isn't going to change that.

But Bond no.9's New York Oud certainly changed my mind about oud.  I realize now that maybe it isn't that I dislike oud or am even indifferent to it, necessarily.  Maybe I simply don't like the overwhelming majority of oud fragrances because of the fragrances themselves, rather than because of a distaste for their theme.  On the surface, New York Oud smells like every other oud, just as one fig fragrance smells like fig, thus like all figs.  On the surface, New York Oud is true to form for an oud fragrance--so why do I like it so much and the others so little (i.e. not enough)?  Don't expect me to get to the bottom of anything, but I'll start with the oud decants I've tested over the past year, in the order they arrived.

Annick Goutal Le Mimosa

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Annick Goutal fangirl. Early last year I wrote a week-long tribute about several of their most amazing fragrances. Annick Goutal, for me, is the epitome of quality, class, sophistication and beauty. Every single fragrance from Annick Goutal is exceptional quality and I can even appreciate the few I don’t like, which for the record are Mandragore, Petite Cherie and Ninfeo Mio. To not like a mere three out of a very long line-up is pretty amazing. And it’s not that I don’t think these fragrances aren't good, it’s simply that they aren’t my style.

It’s probably also not a secret that I adore mimosa. Parfums de Nicolaï Mimosaique and L’Artisan Mimosa pour Moi are two of my favorites for spring and summer. Ironically, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled mimosa flowers in real life so when I smell mimosa prominent fragrances I can only assume that Mimosaique and Mimosa pour Moi smell somewhat like the real thing. The idea that Annick Goutal created a mimosa fragrance to add to their Les Soliflores collection was like a dream come true and I’ve been waiting with baited breath for its arrival. I love every single other soliflore in Goutal’s collection; especially Le Chevrefeuille which is like honeysuckle iced tea to me. Oh, and AG’s Neroli is fabulous. But I could go on and on and on about all their fragrances which are absolutely fantastic (Songes, Heure Exquise, Rose Splendide, Eau de Ciel, Ambre Fetiche, Encens Flamboyant, Sables, Un Matin d’Orage...seriously...I may as well list the entire line).

Sadly, I’m pretty bummed out about this, but Le Mimosa didn’t live up to my expectations. Sure, it comes in an adorable polka-dotted box with polka-dotted ribbon and as a little girl I had a fascination with polka-dots from about age 3-9 (I still remember the pink & purple polka-dot curtains in my bedroom with matching bedspread and sheets). So, as you can imagine, Le Mimosa comes housed in all sorts of cuteness and this level of adorable girlishness does give one a preview of how the fragrance smells. It’s a very young, girlish, cute and innocent fragrance. You might say all mimosa scents are like this and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But Le Mimosa turns out to be much more about peach, pear and a slight juicy greenness and very little to do with actual mimosa. Le Mimosa, like all scents from Annick Goutal is quite lovely, especially if you think you would enjoy a sweet little peachy-pear-floral, but if you’re expecting a true mimosa solifore I think you’ll be disappointed.

To me, Keiko Mecheri Peau de Peche is the best peach fragrance ever created with its oh-so-delicate fuzzy peach skin quality. It’s probably two or three times per year when I yearn to smell a bit peachy, and the Keiko Mecheri is what I’d reach for. Annick Goutal’s Le Mimosa has both peach and pear notes along with what I’ve previously described as “plant juice” essence (I think it was Hermessence Iris Ukiyoe the last time I described this “plant juice” quality). I actually like the overall scent of Le Mimosa, but can’t get past the fact that it doesn’t smell enough like mimosa nor is it truly my style. It reminds me of AG’s Petite Cherie, which, as stated above, is one of the few Goutal’s I don’t wear. Although for the record, I like Le Mimosa much more than Petite Cherie and would gladly wear it over Petite Cherie.

I didn’t need or want another mimosa scent that smelled especially similar to L’Artisan Mimosa Pour Moi or Parfums de Nicolaï Mimosaique so I’m glad the AG Mimosa isn’t in the same vein. One of the biggest differences is that the L’Artisan and PdN both use heavy doses of what I’d describe as heliotrope, giving both fragrances almost a fluffy, powdery quality. There is nothing in the way of heliotrope or a powdery sensation in the Goutal Mimosa – so perhaps for some this will be exactly what they are looking for. I was so curious to smell AG’s version of a mimosa soliflore and I’m left wishing they had amped up the mimosa note about a million times over. If the mimosa note was more prominent it probably would better compliment the peachy-pear-greenness a good deal; similar to the way apricot compliments osmanthus so divinely. Or maybe it’s my chemistry, perhaps the mimosa note just doesn’t show up on me.

As with all perfumes, your experience may vary, so even though I’m disappointed with Le Mimosa, you might still give this one a shot if you’re a Goutal fan or a lover of fresh, fruity florals. Even though I’m not head over heels for Le Mimosa its still one of the best fruity florals launched in the past year.

Notes: bergamot, anise, mimosa, iris, sandalwood, musk, peach

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

L'Artisan Fleur de Narcisse: Nostalgia and Never Say Never

For those who have moved to another state, another region or a different country do you sometimes have nostalgic moments when you remember so fondly an aspect of your former location? I’m originally from the northeast, from New England and now that I’m in the southwest I have been missing the gorgeous unfolding of a northeastern spring. I also miss the spectacular foliage during autumn in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, but there is an equivalent yet different beauty watching the Aspen trees in the mountains of New Mexico turn into a blanket of pure gold. The spring, however, is not true spring in the southwest, or at least not my definition of spring.

I have been craving the smell of spring on the east coast immensely. So much so that I’ve actually learned to adore a fragrance that I once didn’t like at all; L’Artisan Fleur de Narcisse. When I first smelled Fleur de Narcisse, many years ago, my no holds-barred reaction was “yuck.” Suddenly, after nearly 4 years, I get it. Fleur de Narcisse smells of my childhood growing up next to a horse farm in Massachusetts. I smell hay, mulch, moss and wet, damp earth. There’s a sliver of leather in Fleur de Narcisse which makes me think of the horse saddles and the smell inside the barn. It is a similar experience yet no similarity in scent to CB I Hate Perfume Black March. Black March isn’t something I would ever wear, but it’s a fragrance so evocative of spring it nearly slaps you in the face with memories of being outside in the garden. Years ago when I first experienced L’Artisan Fleur de Narcisse I was expecting something, well, floral. I wanted to smell narcissus blooms. It doesn’t smell floral and certainly not of narcissus (daffodil) blooms so I felt cheated, tricked and hated the stuff. Now, many years later, I find myself in the desert desperately craving the smells of a damp east coast spring. I don’t know what possessed me but I sprayed on Fleur de Narcisse the other day. It was a revelation. In Fleur de Narcisse I smelled everything I have been missing. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

This post is as much about Fleur de Narcisse as it’s about nostalgia; about missing places you’ve lived and experiences you’ve had. Wherever you go in life you will always bring those people and places with you and sometimes memories float to the surface at odd moments. I’ve been wearing Fleur de Narcisse for several days now and loving every moment of it. Had you told me this would happen four years ago when I first smelled it and disliked it I would have never believed you. So maybe someday I will get Frederic Malle Une Fleur de Cassie, because I still don’t like that one, but after this experience with Fleur de Naricsse, I’m a believer in the never say never approach.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Well Being: Barney's Route du The

I was surprised to learn that this little gem has been around since 1986.  I discovered it back in 1995 or so and, I guess, thought that my awareness had ushered it into being.  It's bizarre to think the stuff was around when I was in high school, out making the rounds in the world.  What's most surprising to me is the fact that Calyx, which is much better known--and which I had heard of in high school--came out after Route du The, rather than before.  The two are so similar--and Calyx is so ubiquitous--that I always imagined Route du The was something of an imitation.

What they share is an impossible, neon idea of what it is to feel fresh and clean.  It isn't a soapy impression, exactly--a la White Linen, another study in Beatific Cleanliness--but a sense of being so well scrubbed, emotionally and physically, that the world can only touch you when, where, and how hard you'd like it to.  Both feel incredibly succulent, though Calyx is a little more openly fruity.  It should also be said that Calyx would never be mistaken for a tea scent.  Calyx is much more complicated than Route in general--and smells it--so I'm going to abandon the comparisons here, but those of you who love Calyx and haven't smelled Route du The should definitely consider seeking it out next time you're at Barney's, where Route is exclusively sold.

The notes listed for Route du The on the Barney's website are citrus, muguet, and amber.  I'm not sure it feels quite that simple, but it does feel uncomplicated and easygoing.  It does speak to me of "tea" (the name means "way of the tea") but not the way other tea fragrances which have been released in the last ten years or so do.  I do smell Lily of the valley but the scent doesn't feel incredibly floral to me or even much like a white floral.  I don't smell amber in any way shape or form, but I might be bringing to Route a more literal interpretation of what amber must smell like (certainly heavier and more resinous than this).  One of the things I love about Route is how long-lasting it is.  Fact is, I like many tea fragrances but find they just don't stick around much.  Tea time is brief.  Route lasts shockingly well for what it is, and citrus remains a part of the overall effect long into the dry down on me.  Overall I get a lemony muguet aroma which comes as close to all day sunshine as a fragrance gets.

It's very affordable.  Barney's sells it for 55 bucks, I believe.  At 100 ml, this is clearly a steal.  It's been raining here incessantly and still intermittently cold. But Spring is peaking around the edges of things, already, and Route du The has again been in heavy rotation at Casa Brian.