Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lady In Red: Pour Une Femme by Caron (2001)

Lady in Red, is dancing with me.

I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight.

Never seen you shine so bright….

A made-up, quintessentially vermillion ‘date perfume’ for night time and silk, this beauty by my side has the hairdo of Jennifer Rush and smells indelible, typical; I move my head slightly back.

However, as the candles flicker, our wrists flick glinting champagne glasses, and we sway and smooch to Luther Vandross, the intensity of her opening gambits fades, and the heart of her fragrance is slowly and gradually revealed – an intense, seductress sweet rose and spiced frankincense/benzoin accord that goes quite beautifully with her gown.

Image Image Image Image     I will never forget the way you looked tonight.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose, Slinky

THE THRILL

of finding in your postbox a package full of perfume samples, when you have woken up depressed for no apparent reason and then

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little boxes full of intriguing perfumes, 97% of which you have never smelled before.

For you jaded perfumists out there this is possibly commonplace. For me it is a delight, especially when it comes with a portrait of the person in question standing, as a girl, with Rudolph Nureyev.

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Arigato.

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COME HEALING: ANCIENT RESINS (for Leonard Cohen), by AFTELIER PERFUMES (2012)

‘Ah, the man she wanted all her life was hanging by a thread.

” I never even knew how much I wanted you” she said.

 His muscles they were numbered and his style was obsolete.                

 ” O baby I have come too late”. She knelt beside his feet.’

 

           –    ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ (1977)

 

 

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Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, is currently undergoing a period of late-career renaissance, having recently completed a world tour that received ecstatic, rave reviews verging on religious reverence, a number one album (“Old Ideas”), and virtual canonisation, in the anti-establishment, as the author and singer of some of the most penetrating, uncompromising lyrics in music.

I have a couple of Cohen albums myself, and there are a fair few songs of his I love, including “Who By Fire”, ” Suzanne” and ” Famous Blue Raincoat”, but I would not quite describe myself as a disciple.  The mournful strummings of Cohen’s guitar, which always create such dark cavernous spaces in any room you care to listen to his songs in; his plaintive, sonorous voice, seem almost too painful for me sometimes, as though the man (like his English counterpart, Nick Drake) had, through trial by fire, stumbled upon the secrets of the universe, or at the very least pierced through to the essence of the sad, if joyous, realities of what make us human. I cannot listen to such philosophically wry, morose music on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

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“Ancient Resins” is a bespoke fragranced body oil made by natural perfumer Mandy Aftel for Leonard Cohen, and he is said to wear it now every day. I find the idea of Mr Cohen (” a lazy bastard living in a suit ” as he refers to himself on one of his new songs) wearing this dignified, but tender, perfume under his  shirts, very beautiful – a perfume made for a famous person that for once makes sense.

 

 

 

 

 

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“She used to wear her hair like you except when she was sleeping.

And then she’d weave it on a loom, of smoke and gold and breathing….” 

 

(“Winter Lady”, 1967)

Like many perfume enthusiasts, I have relished my copy of Mandy Aftel’s “Essence and Alchemy”-  a passionate treatise on natural perfumery – for many years, and found it inspiring. Though almost all of my own experiments with perfume creation using essential oil blends have ended in failure (I always get overexcited and put too much of something in, restraint and balance never being my forte), the book is an in-depth look at each aromatic material from historical, cultural and olfactory perspectives, and reading it deepens your understanding of the fundamentals of perfume. At the same time, as I mentioned the other day in my review of Aftelier’s Parfum De Maroc, the scents that this independent perfumer creates often go beyond the standard apothecary preparations found at the aromatherapist’s and into the realms of true artistry, a challenge without full use of the perfumer’s palette of synthetics. While some of the perfumes by the house may lack a certain transparence, they make up for it with an emotive sense of richness, life and spirit that feels very real. Alive.

If Leonard Cohen were ever going to be made a perfume (the words ‘celebrity fragrance’ seem so cheap and crass in the context of this review I am tempted to go back and erase them), you can be sure it was not going to be a pink, fruity floral. But neither could it have been some crass, acrid masculine, despite the old seducer’s reputation. No: it would have to speak, have soul and an air of wisdom, and so Aftel has gone for a blend of Biblical essences that manage to be spiritually reflective without the undue po-faced austerity of many recent incense fragrances; a sensual composition of balms and base notes of resins with a singular heart of organic frankincense. I imagine you could wear Ancient Resins either as a subtle body perfume, or else use it to soften and augment other scents, to add a gentler haze to the dark, otherworldy invocations that certain incense perfumes can bring.

In ‘The Calculus Of Fixation’, Aftel writes that “base notes are the deepest, most mysterious, and oldest, of all perfume ingredients. Every ancient culture used them – indeed, for centuries they were the essence of perfume, so when you work with them, you literally have ancient history in your hands”. She also describes these base notes as “thorny and difficult”, words that I can imagine could also be attributed to Leonard Cohen….

“Thick, unformed, gunky, base notes are a reminder of the unconcious – of all that is shadowed, thick, obscure, but fixed and defining about us – and the inertia and resistance that guard it”……. a perfume then, formed of notes that perhaps attempt to capture the unyielding nature of The Bird On A Wire, who, may have tried, in his own many ways ‘ to be free ‘ but who, like the rest of us, is ultimately tied to the limitations of his own being.

 

 

 

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” You strike my side by accident as you go down for your gold”,

sings Cohen in “Avalanche” (1971), religious imagery that alludes, perhaps, to the crucifixion, but which also unwittingly links to the ingredients used in Ancient Resins. Much of the singer’s work deals with suffering and absolution, and there is thus something very fitting about the use of ingredients such as frankincense, elemi, and benzoin that are obtained by wounding the trees in the process of extraction, in the deserts of the Yemen, Somalia or Saudi Arabia, where the workers make incisions in the barks of the trees, and wait for them to pathologically exude their ‘tears’: thick, vital unguents from incised bark that are beautiful-smelling essences with restorative, curative elements, used historically to embalm and preserve the dead in ancient funeral rites, but also to regenerate the tissue of the living. The oils used in this perfume are all skin-cell stimulators, which makes their use in a body oil preparation ideal.

Ancient Resins is a very uncomplicated scent. But it is soothing, and it is warming. While the frankincense works as a light, protecting veil over the deeper resins, the principle note for me in this perfume is not that mystical oil, but rather benzoin, an essential oil I am very drawn to with its balsamic, vanillic smell and its drying, healing properties. It is linked here to an essence I have never smelled before, Balm Of Gilead, a ‘miracle cure’ mentioned in the Old Testament and in various medical texts over the centuries, an essential oil extracted from poplar trees, and seemingly quite a medicinal smell that gives Ancient Resins a hint of bronchial expectorant –  a linctus sanctus, if you like, that, for this writer, with his vulnerable lungs that are susceptible to pneumonia and the like, is very comforting.

 

 

 

” O gather up the brokenness, and bring it to me now..

  The fragrance of those promises you never dared to vow.

  The splinters that you carry, the cross you left behind.

  Come healing of the body. Come healing of the mind”.

 

“Come Healing” , 2012 )

 

 

 

 

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A hint of leather: CUIR OTTOMAN by Parfum D’Empire (2006)+ SPANISH LEATHER by Geo F Trumper (1902)+ ROYAL ENGLISH LEATHER by Creed (1781)

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CUIR OTTOMAN / PARFUM D’EMPIRE

As sensual and smooth as brand new suede, this is a great leather.  The beginning, freshly raw and animalic, might be offputting for some, like just-skinned hides being dried in the sun. But this uninhibited, free introduction is then tamed: with gentle woods, iris, and a proud, clean leather that dries down to a superb, suave, finish.

SPANISH LEATHER / GEO F TRUMPER

Antique teddy. Brideshead. Anthony Andrews.

Soft, soapy; gentle. Leather. Hints of sensuality. A touch half-hearted, perhaps, although my friend’s daughter proclaimed, upon smelling it in the shop,  that ‘it does, really, smell exactly like Spain and the air there!’

ROYAL ENGLISH LEATHER/ CREED

Diffusive, warm and powdery; a heliotropic, gorgeous, air-filling suede caress. A scent that thoroughly envelops you in elegance yet is totally seductive.

If you like L’Heure Bleue but can’t quite take all the marzipan,  Royal English Leather makes a beautiful, distinctive,  alternative.

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Filed under Leather, Perfume Reviews

PRECIOUS ONE by ANGELA FLANDERS (2012)

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The talk is all of tuberose, and jasmine, and fleurs de nuit, flowers floating ethereally above vetiver and oakmoss; a velvety, new, but classically-leaning chypre that won Angela Flanders the award for best independent fragrance at the 2012 FIFI awards.

The first thing I can say about this fragrance is that I can really see why it won this award: it has depth, richness, and integrity, and is one of the earthiest women’s perfumes to have been released in decades.

Which brings me to the second point: there is some serious gender subversion going on here, as the perfume, to me, smells emphatically masculine, almost brutishly so. I love the idea of delicate, spindly, fashion creatures honing in on the Precious boutique in Spitalfields, London, on a  cold Monday morning, being seduced by the immediacy of the store’s in-house fragrance, and emerging, clad in moss and peat, ready to overturn perfumed clichés in a ‘back to Bandit!’, balaclava-wearing revolution.

While the name of the perfume seems to allude to a beloved – only one in my life – for me, no matter how many times I smell Precious One, this is nothing but a vivid, bisexual, menage à trois.

She may be wearing white flowers, procuring a slight sense of vague floral sweetness to the proceedings, but her two men, young, sinewy and virile, vy for her attentions and each other, almost completely drowning her out with their male aromas, which compete in the air like a dance of the dryads, their bodies and aromas concurring and wreathing aromatically: the spice and fougèrish warmth of vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme; the classic, dark green auras of the oakmoss and pine-drenched vintage Lauren Polo: mouthing up the flowers, kissing, and merging with the trees.

Sparring together, the three lovers eventually settle on an arid, mousse de chêne-covered rock to catch their collective breath which they exhale together, sighing: a bark and foliage layered vetiver, tarry in the early evening light, somewhere in the heart of the forest.

 

 

 PRECIOUSONE_3068

 

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Filed under Chypre, Vetiver

A bristling citrus: PHILTRE D’AMOUR by GUERLAIN (2000)

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With so many perfume houses releasing limited editions that are released, fanfared and then disappeared without trace, it becomes easy to equate their brevity on the market with similar levels of imagination. Neverthless, occasionally, the spontaneity and lack of expectation placed on limited editions can produce bursts of creativity that lead to more singular, less market-tested and common-denominator fragrances; scents that pop up unexpectedly like crocus-bulbs in spring and enchant you with  their fresh-breathed joie de vivre.

For a while at the beginning of the 2000’s, Guerlain would release limited perfumes that were not flankers to their main-line-up perfumes, but separate work, released in a prolific spirit of productivity that yielded such well-regarded treasures as Guet Apens and Gentiana.

In a spirit of mercy to these more inspired saplings that were culled before their prime, some of them were given a reprieve, a chance to star again, however briefly, on the billboard of ‘Les Parisiennes’, a kind of Guerlain Golden Hall of Fame for discontinued classics and limited releases that stubbornly refused to die a death, and Philtre D’Amour, a wonderful, moody citrus, is one of them.

I found my bottle at the flea market and bought it unsniffed, expecting, as the name would suggest, something sultry and floral. Spraying the scent was thus a total shock. Philtre D’Amour is a sour, concentrated, and very natural accord of verbena, myrtle and lemon-leaves layered delicately over a sharp, fantastically dark patchouli: a mysterious and lovely, almost powdery citrus chypre that leaves an intriguing and surprisingly nuanced trail in its wake.

She is a delicate thing, this Philtre; treat her carefully, don’t rub her up the wrong way or step on her emotions, and she will yield; show you through the ivy-covered doors of her secret garden to the other side: her neroli’d, fresh air garden petals of jasmine diced with petitgrain: gentle walks around the topiaries, the April skies opening up and bestowing newness, vitality and Spring as the lemons shine youthfully and you sigh gratefully that someone out there still knows how to make a modern, yet classically structured, perfume.

Vistas and groves open up when I smell Philtre D’Amour: it is slight, it is curious, but it is something I would wear all the time if I had more of it:  the delicate, little 30ml cylinder you see in the picture is kept for special, precious use.

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Filed under Chypre, Citrus, Lemon, Patchouli, Verbena