Category Archives: amber floral musks

SHE SELLS SEA SHELLS…… DUNE by CHRISTIAN DIOR ( 1991)

 

 

 

 

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Apricot dunes; the glow from a studio-lit, ochre trompe l’oeil sunset; seagulls on the soundtrack; the glistening ‘ocean’ beyond. A seasoned French actress, distractedly reaches down into the pillowing sands and scrutinizes, with her smooth cream hands, carefully placed pebbles, starfish and seaweed.

 

 

 

On the beach, pensive, to a backdrop of golden, solar rays…

 

 

 

 

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It is probably quite hard for the perfume youth of today to imagine how exciting – and rare an occurrence – it once was when one of the great ‘houses’ – Guerlain, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Givenchy, Christian Dior – released a new scent. They were like monuments, fortresses, designed to be aesthetically pleasing but also infallible, made to last. Perfumes that, naturally, were not designed for everyone, but once, if they did catch your senses and made you hers, would then become your perfume, to buy again and again, your signature: huge money-making engines for their parent companies, who relied desperately on these gleaming olfactory colossi to line their coffers for couture.

 

 

 

Rather than the constant floods and inundations of scent that we are treated/subjected to now, ever intrigued but overwhelmed, we were almost starved of new perfume back in those days. What you saw was all there was, and if you were bored by what you were smelling you just had to wait. Many years would pass between the launch of one major scent and the next, and to budding young perfume obsessives, always on the look out for new perfume adverts in fashion magazines like Vogue, the arrival of a long gestated new perfume always felt like a real, magnificent, event.

 

 

 

The concept for Dune had apparently already been thought out and worked on behind the scenes at Dior back in the 1980’s, but it was presciently decided that the next project, the purple hearted, bullet shocker Poison, was more scandalously fitting to the Joan Collins times, (and their instincts were most certainly right in that regard), with the result that the project was somewhat put on a back burner for a while until the radical explosion of all things ‘natural’, pared down, marine and ozonic occurred in the following decade, when Dune then suddenly emerged as if out of nowhere: a heavily, but immaculately, made-up Venus, transpiring from the foaming waves of Perfumia to claim her crown.

 

 

 

 

At the time, I myself was a second year university student, back home for the summer, working, believe it or not, on a golf course. Although I am the last person on earth to play golf (those pastel colours; checked trousers, all that ‘gear’…….) it was, in many ways, the ideal job for me at the time: entirely solitary, surrounded by trees and nature in my wooden hut, just listening to music, looking at the sky, and finally having definitively enough time to properly read the long novels I had always wanted to read as the hours of green and blue stretched on before me ( I have great memories of losing myself entirely in great big nineteenth century tomes such as Anna Karenina, among others). There, with the kettle boiling quietly, the birds in the trees, the occasional customers coming for a round of mini golf – I merely had to collect the money and hand out the tickets, and then take the flags down at the end of the day; passing the summer quite nicely, saving enough money to set myself up in Rome that November: immersed in aloneness, literature, music and perfume, and, more importantly, the great and exhilarating unknowingness of an upcoming Italian future.

 

 

 

 

Dune was released during that summer. It was a period in which samples were given out more freely at the department stores, and, as usual, I managed to get a lot of them, vials and vials of the scent which I would try on my hand while sitting outside, or even soak the cassette liner notes of the tapes that I had in the hut with their contents, to make the scent last longer, to be opened and experienced at will, so that in this way Dune formed an almost permanent scented backdrop to that carefree period and is seared in my memory as such (maybe that’s why my Prokofiev Violin Concertos I+II tape went all funny – the very reels of music themselves were drenched in sea broom and powder of mollusc).

 

 

 

 

Although I was never entirely sure if I actually liked the scent – and certainly never wore it beyond the confines of my golf cabin – I knew that I was kind of fascinated: that weird combination of ambery, salty warmth, and floral, quite definitely duney seaness that all felt so peculiar and uneasy, yet new; compelling. It had a certain thrall. I had simply never smelled anything like it before.

 

 

 

 

Yes, this weird perfume, which felt, almost, as if it had come from another planet, had been proudly announced by Mothership Dior to be the very first ‘floriental oceanic’, a very unusual concept at the time, when anything that reeked of the sea simply didn’t seem suitable, somehow, for a fragrance. It was a forceful, clinging floral amber scent with top notes of sea broom and lichen, peony and lily, immersed in a smooth marine compound, edged with rich and salty flowers, benzoin, ambers, and musks. Desperately original and popular when released, I soon got sick of smelling it in Rome, where, together with the ultra-swimmingly sweet Trésor, it blotted the air all around it with its comeliness, the women of Rome taking it to their commendable, tailored bosoms (these women were always perfumed; profumatissime) with an overly great enthusiasm.

 

 

 

To me, it always felt self-satisfied and overplenished somehow, more a performance than a perfume, with several acts, all perfectly balanced (the original formula was extremely complex): warm, emboldening and luminescent, but still, there was always that unsettling contrast between those sandy, decaying seashells whitening in the sun, and the more demure and feminine flowers and balsamics lurking beneath, an aesthetic tension which, when all is said and done, makes Dune the enduring creation that it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In a old and crowded box, dusty and thrown in together like trash, I recently retrieved a vintage parfum of Dune – the one you see in the picture – for a dollar at a fleamarket as you know I always do, and for that price I thought why not. I was quite intrigued to smell this perfume again, to be able to reappraise its flaws, and its charms.

 

 

 

As you might expect, the current formula still on sale worldwide is said to be a unsatisfying reformulation of the original perfume, which was bolder; more detailed; with a more extreme and delicate arc between the marine notes, the florals, and the sandalwoody ambers (these new versions of the Diors seem more like snapshots, somehow). This little bottle I got in Tokyo, a considerable amount of which proceeded to spill all over me when I eventually got the stopper off coming home on the train, was unboxed, the label worn off as well, but the perfume inside, was still fresh, intense, and rather pleasing. This smell is at once entirely familiar to me: stamped in my brain, nostalgic, comforting, even, yet still retains that inherent strangeness that the original formula always had and that made it distinctive: that insistent, almost sickly amber that also inhabits the base of Cartier Must parfum (a scent I adore); the emotional component coming I suppose from that sense, beyond the immediate, concentrated perfume essences in the heart of the perfume, of an enlivened, agoraphobic dream vista; a beach stretching off for miles and miles, and miles and miles, into the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING : INNUENDO EXTRAIT by ROJA DOVE (2012)

 

 

 

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Whenever I smell a perfume by Roja Dove I usually think two things:

 

 

1.  That the quality of the ingredients is extremely high, and that the creations available in his growing stable of perfumes are a beautiful throwback to a time when perfumes didn’t smell cheap, pink, and nasty.

 

 

2.  That they don’t really have any discernible character. I always smell chords, and lovely notes, and delicious things floating up towards my nostrils, but they always tend to remind me of some other perfume; reminiscences of Mitsouko here, of another amalgam of Guerlain or Dior there, of roses, and amber, and jasmine (and always bergamot), but rarely coagulating into something unique, distinctive or especially memorable.

 

 

And Innuendo, a scent I applied in extrait, as I settled down with a glass of wine post-work to watch a film and relax last night, seems to suffer from the same, repetitive identity crisis (‘who am I?’), while simultaneously plushing up my senses, as usual, with something, once it settled down, that made a rich, comforting, and very sensual wrist companion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The other day, as I came up the escalator from the basement supermarket in Ofuna, I found my smell brain instinctively uttering

 

 

 

 

” I NEED ANANYA”

 

 

 

 

a sudden yearning in me, perhaps because of the drab, rainy season weather and the scentless zombies that were coming at me from every direction with faces like miserable, slapped arses, for the kaleidoscopic, tropical, fruited and heavily made-up event perfumes of the eighties, on this occasion for some unknown reason The Body Shop’s shiny, laundry- soap Xanadu of musks, glinting oranges and faux frangipanis that was, at the moment, exactly what my smell brain was craving as food. The scents that abound these days are often so damn serious and worthy (in niche), or else shallow, cheap and crass beyond belief (in duty free) that sometimes I just yearn for the days of Ysatis, Poison, Lumière and the like, shining extroverted amulets of perfume that women would wear on their sleeves like sleek, bejewelled hearts – pedestrians be damned –  the delectably noxious fumes that would encircle their tart, stiletto medusas.

 

 

 

Or else Obsession, which despite what anybody might say about it (I’m talking to you, Perfumed Dandy) for me personally remains an absolute cornerstone in my olfactory life, the precise moment I went insane over perfume (my university friends will attest to how strongly I smelled of Obsession For Men and all of its body products (good lord the liquid talc) how I stank up the entire staircase with it even though I lived on the fifth floor); or the moment, when a friend of a friend got into a taxi, all dressed up and gorgeous and  wearing the original Obsession, with its delectable, delectable amber and taunting top notes of mandarin and I practically swooned, instinctively wanting to sink my teeth into her neck like a dizzied, inflamed, Saturday night vampire.

 

 

 

 

Roja Dove, a flamboyant type if ever there was one (you should have seen his Scarab-beetle-green jacket at The Jasmine Awards) obviously has a yen for this opulent period in recent perfume history too, as his Innuendo is like a heartfelt paen to this decade of earrings and excess, of synthetizers, eyeshadows and lip gloss, of extroversion, in spite of whatever the press copy for the scent might say about Innuendo being a ‘delicate scent of suggestion’, a ‘feminine perfume of violets, orris, and musk….. soft as a whisper’.

 

 

 

No, the somewhat confused entry notes are a glacé swirl of Bulgarian rose, iris, orris powder, and citrussy orange jasmine ylang in the finest eighties tradition, a miniature, inverted tornado of diffusive, womanly vapours that suggest the dresser (“a lingerie draw, make up, a knowing look” as the perfumer himself suggests), and big, beautiful hair being teased up ready for the juiciness of the evening ahead – an excitement that the spritz of this perfume can surely only heighten.  At this point in the proceedings, however, we do not have the sense of a perfume that has been fraught over for years and years until its idiosyncratic heart is nailed and become unmistakable, like the true classics, but a kind of generic, sweet and floral cloud that floats above her lovely head but doesn’t quite know what it is trying to say.

 

 

 

 

But. As the clock hands seem to go faster (“Will you hurry up?!”), and she clasps that bracelet to her wrist; by the time she is actually ready for the door, last check in the mirror, she is smelling as heady and delicious as a panther queen: those sweet, floral, but almost redundant heads notes faded, now, and what is left just the most perfect amber – sultry, skin-cushioned, soft, crushable, (an expertly crafted base accord of labdanum, tonka, orris, patchouli and musk) that smacks less of innuendo, now, and more of thrilling, stark, and downright suggestion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REVOLUTION A VERSAILLES by JEAN DESPREZ (1989)

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It’s strange. Despite the reams that pour out of me on perfume, there are certain scents that I find myself almost unable to write about for fear of not doing them justice. The scents I am talking about are so complex, so ingeniously put together that they rise above the usual analysis and enter into the realm of poetry; beyond the obvious striations of most perfumes and into something tender and eternal.

 

 

These perfume ‘reviews’, which I plan to tackle at some point, but will not  publish unless I feel they have captured, at least a little, of that scent’s essence, will include some of the genius perfumes by Guerlain; Chamade, Apres L’Ondée, and particularly Vol De Nuit; N° 19 by Chanel; some Carons, and, undoubtedly, Jean Desprez’s seminal Bal A Versailles, the richest, most decadent floral amber I have ever smelled and a perfume with one of the best final accords – powdered, voluptuous, living – of all time. I don’t wear the extrait much, but when I do, and only in winter, I plan it with meticulous, military precision; calculating in advance exactly how many hours I need to bring if off perfectly.

 

 

How long in the bath, then how long to let it sit on my skin before the glorious base begins to emerge…….. and I smell, basically, like the ancient God Bacchus.

 

 

Yes, Bal A Versailles is a belovedly notorious animalic in the perfume community, and with good reason. The floral unguents of the heart, fusing immutably with the vanillic resins and animals of the finale, are like nothing else, and the extrait, available quite easily if you look for it, is a cherished trophy of many a true perfume lover. There are very few perfumes, if any at all, that are more resplendent.

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1989 I am not sure if the word ‘flanker’ even existed in perfume talk, but if it did, then Revolution A Versailles, a perfume I knew nothing about but spied at a Berlin antiques market by Schoenberg city hall, would surely have been one.  And a not very special one at that, I am afraid to say, though I do love the bottle and that red target design (sorry if this led you to believe you were about to discover a masterpiece..)

 

 

No, this revolution would not have been televised, though I have to say that I do quite like this perfume; one of those big boned, eighties-opulent affairs, taking some of the ambery base of the original Bal, and layering it with a sandalwoody, plummy, flagrant jasmine and thick rose heart à la Caron Femme, or Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie by Creed (but not quite as bosomy and ludicrous, but then what could be?), with perhaps some touches of Balenciaga’s more tender and touching amber-rose Prélude.

 

 

 

Revolution A Versailles, in truth,  is  a  touch vulgar, rather brash, even,  but something I would be definitely quite happy to smell on a woman at some high-swinging party; unpretentious, vivacious, full of life

 

 

 

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