Category Archives: Chypre

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.

 

 

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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

THE WITCHY CHYPRES : Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso (1984) + Magie Noire by Lancôme (1978) + Eau du Soir by Sisley (1990) + Sinan by Jean-Marc Sinan (1984)

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I was, in some ways, quite a weird child.The boys would be playing football, play-punching, or moronically shooting each other with invisible karashnikovs. The girls would be playing with dolls and each others’ hair, skipping daintily, bitching, and doing whatever else little girls do.

I was always off somewhere with my posse, imagining I was a warlock doing magic with my petalled potions;  reading my secret collection of Flower Fairy books, or else pretending to be a black panther (which was my ultimate dream at the time…)I would lie in bed at night and see myself morphing, slowly, into that beast, feeling the power of the claws start to surge as I leapt off into the undergrowth…

Might these childhood urges be one of the reasons why I am so drawn to the sleek, pantheresque perfumes that follow; the rose/patchouli/ leather chypres, those taloned, ruminating creatures that come nearer to approximating that black cat in perfume than any other type? Those perfumes that have been replaced in the contemporary canon by industrial effluent and the drabbest of candyflosses, but which, when worn correctly (and knowingly), can be quite delectably pointed and erotic?

 

In Annick Le Guerer’s academic treatise ‘Scent’, the panther, long venerated by various cultures for the beautiful perfume of its breath, is said to have been historically viewed as ‘prudent, intelligent, and cunning…’, emitting an odour that is ‘agreeable to all other animals’, a blessing/curse of nature that allows it to hunt, furtively, by ‘remaining in hiding and attracting animals to it by its smell…’

 

And, like a beautifully-attired woman sat in some late night bar wearing Paloma Picasso, esconced patientlyin her corner with her trailing cigarette, ‘…. it conceals itself in a dense thicket, or in deep foliage, and is invisible; it only breathes. And so fawns and gazelles and wild goats and suchlike animals are drawn by the spell, as it were, of its fragrance and come close up…….

 

Whereat, the leopard springs out and seizes its prey…..”

 

 

MON PARFUM  by PALOMA PICASSO (1984)

 

Probably the most successful of perfumes in the chypric rose genre, by contemporary standards Paloma smells hopelessly out of fashion and animalic:  just smell the beaver. Less pronounced in the eau de toilette form, which is essentially a different fragrance and less impressive, in the eau de parfum, the oily, leathery note of castoreum, extracted from the sweat glands of the Canadian beaver  – troubling, aphrodisiac –  is very apparent in this perfume and verges on shocking. It is, nevertheless, with a flourish of Iberian magic, extravagantly cloaked in woods; lashes of patchouli; a spiced Spaniard heart of the deepest rose, jasmine and mimosa; and a sharp, sassy green top note like the click of glinting heels on a Barcelona sidewalk.

 

The perfume has been around for quite a while now, and despite the fact that the world’s tastes in scent have since changed irrevocably since its release, in a survey done by various global beauty editors and perfume people (and not so long ago, either), Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso was voted the sexiest perfume on earth. While I am not sure if the perfume can definitively claim this title, it certainly is damn good on the right person who can carry it off, and it is very hopelessly difficult to resist.

Mon Parfum is just so…….cocksure of itself: an adult woman with experience,  sexual confidence and power coursing through her blood. It needs a glammed up, lipsticked predator with attitude to do it full justice, to unleash its torrid potential –  a woman, or man, who doesn’t mind, in fact loves, its eighties femme fatale clichés.

 

 

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MAGIE NOIRE  by LANCOME  (1978)

 

Paloma’s darker, occultist, more serious elder cousin, Magie Noire has a similarly ensorcelling theme of sharp green notes contrasting with a rich Bulgarian rose heart, patchouli and provocative, animalic/woody finish. But in Lancôme’s finest scent there is very little sweetness (there is a touch in the heart of Paloma) and the sharp green/earth divide (a mesmerizing accord of galbanum, bergamot, raspberry and hyacinth, contrasting with a mossy patchouli note tempered with honey) only grows more potent and disturbing with time, stronger and more scary as the day, or night, progresses.

 

It is witchy, truly, but also tender, mysterious, elegant, erotic, and a touch sinister, as you are gradually drawn into the depths of a midnight forest. Or at the very least to a very edgy seventies dinner party hostess in a busy black dress.

 

EAU DU SOIR  by SISLEY (1990)

Eau Du Soir, especially in vintage, is more dormant, and quietly explosive, than either of the above scents, a tasteful and intoxicating brew that, as its name suggests, is the evening perfume par excellence, absolutely made for black and grand occasions.

What I love about the Sisley perfumes is their lack of the saccharine ; where their first perfume, the classic Eau de Campagne (created by Jean Claude Ellena in 1974) is astonishingly green, almost unbearably so, as if you were trapped inside a giant basil or tomato leaf, Eau Du Soir is Campagne’s night counterpart, similarly dry and unsentimental: a ravishing patchouli, rose d’orient, seringa, juniper, and Moroccan rose absolute accord with a centerpiece of the perfume’s star ingredient, Egyptian jasmine absolute (less civilized, rougher, more animalic than its French counterpart), which purrs and insinuates itself beautifully within the radiant, effortless chic of the spicy chypre base. Eau Du Soir is a difficult scent, almost formidable.

 

You would never mess with someone wearing this.

 

 

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SINAN by JEAN-MARC SINAN (1984)

Sinan, an obscure fragrance not so easy to find these days, is another taut, chypre animalic with a full-bodied, sweetly lingering rose twined with woods and patchouli: one more fur-clad siren leading her black-widow victims to their (always willing) fate….

 

The perfume bears some similarities with Paloma, and also Lauder’s fabulous Knowing (which took this essentially European idea and Americanized it), but where that perfume has a certain seamless infallibility (present in all Lauder’s creations) prone to exaggerations with its honeyed electric rose, Sinan presents a similarly perfumed face but less emphatically; not a white-gated mansion in the centre of Florida, but a house, near the woods, somewhere in the depths of France…

 

 

 

 

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Cranky floral chypre: FAROUCHE by NINA RICCI (1974)

 

 

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Politics and fashion obviously influence all fragrance houses, so while the fifties perfumes tended to scream ‘madam’; the sixties ‘young and beautiful’ and the eighties ‘sex and power’, the seventies, in general, to me at least, shout ‘depressed.’ Yes, there was disco and emancipation, but the dark, masculine chypres that abounded for women in that difficult decade were just that: dark. If they had a colour it would be brown. This was fine for houses like Givenchy, whose Gentleman and Givenchy III were convincingly hairy, animalic and horny, ready to get out the velours and groove.  Nina Ricci, however, whose lady-like fragrances of the prettiest porcelain pink and yellow are some of the lightest and most feminine scents ever made, could never be described as brown (incidentally my most hated colour).

 

It is fascinating, then, to look at the scent that Ricci released into this velvety seventies environment, ‘Farouche’ (which translates as sullen; shy; lacking social graces…) a strange choice of theme and her only ‘moody’ perfume, a weird floral chypre that Michael Edwards, world authority on perfumes and author of many a seminal text, lists as one of the all-time greatest perfumes ever made. Though on Fragrantica, where you can still get vintage bottles of this long forgotten creation, there are  fans clamouring for its return to the main Ricci lineup because they love its delicacy (no chance in hell, ladies!), I must say I personally agree with one reviewer who phrased it perfectly:

 

 

“It’s very dated; cranky like it’s wearing polyester, and shy because it’s older than everyone else at the party and wants to go home; put comfy shoes on and be wild in the only way it knows how: dancing alone to Neil Diamond”.

 

 

 

 

 

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I once had a beautiful vintage parfum of Farouche in Baccarat crystal flacon, but could never fathom its mysteries no matter how many times I tried it (just couldn’t connect to the crestfallen, more narrow-eyed formation of the classic Ricci template – those strange additions of galbanum, clary sage and cardamom to the usual aldehydic florals and musks), so I gave it to my Japanese dressmaker friend Rumi, who immediately pronounced herself in love. To her it has a dignity and mystery, an emotive sense of detachment, and is also redolent to her of Japanese paper and of incense in temples – the smell of the wood after decades of smoke – and, most crucially, intelligence.

 

 

 

I could agree. But there was just something in that sour, dusty, exacting and ill-humoured perfume I could not abide.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lips and hips : FEMME by Rochas (1944)

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Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful experience that is the Shinagawa flea market in Tokyo, and I forgot to mention one of the scents that I once found there….

And I was thinking. Are these vintage classics that I am so excited to find in their original incarnations mere museum pieces; dusty relics that smell so dated they become laughable?

Or can classic perfumes still be sexy? Can they appeal in the modern age?

It would seem so. One Sunday, a few years ago, our dinner guests, Penny and Terry, sampled the myriad delights of the perfume cabinet and its latest acquisitions. And despite all the goods on offer, the perfume that got the unanimous wow was, to my total amazement, an old, pre-formulation edition of that timeless classic, Femme. Neither of these two is old-fashioned in their tastes (Terri goes for fresh, modern tuberose and wears it well, Penny more the Indian amber and khus), yet somehow this smooth, voluptuous peach of a scent had them inhaling and inhaling  (at this point, possibly from elbows, knees and ankles, so much skin space had been covered in scent – this was one of my last pitches).

 

 

How could such an old classic garner such a response?

Because, quite simply, they don’t make them like this any more. Femme was a splendid scent, as rounded and full-bodied as it is possible to be without ever becoming obvious.

 

 

The perfume clearly has powers of seduction (my friends were up in arms over its sexual magnetism), personified as well in the muse for the perfume, Mae West. Marcel Rochas, head of the house, did a clever thing when he modeled the curves of the original bottle on the hips of his most famous client (the Chantilly black lace of the corset the couturier created for her forms the main design on the box.) At the time of the perfume’s release Ms West was the box office and theatre’s greatest star. West was hilarious, the queen of steamy one liners, and the world  needed cheering.

 

 

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It was nearing the end of the second world war and amid the ruins of Paris, or so legend has it, the great perfumer Edmond Roudnitska was determined to create something happy to banish the ghosts of grey. He had happened upon a perfumery material in one of the laboratory vats, a gourmand ‘apricot-brioche’ molecule that would be the starting point for the perfume that later became the ravishing Femme.

 

 

 

There are two other famous scents to which Femme can be directly compared, its blood relatives: Mitsouko (1918), and Pour Monsieur (1953). All belong to the fruity chypre category. In fact, wear all three and after ninety minutes you will barely be able to distinguish them.

 

Where Mitsouko  (a beautiful, serious creation ) is not conventionally sexed – though its dark spice has intrigue – spiked, undercurrents of piquant green, spices and earth make it forever cerebral, removed. Femme takes the same olfactory template of warm mosses, flowers, spices and fruit, but if Mitsouko is a cool dark wood, then Femme is an orchard of peaches ripening in the sun. It is this full peach note, undercut with plum, fused brilliantly with velvety flowers and warm woody notes of cedar, sandalwood and civet that makes it that much the sunnier of the two: moss suffused with light, a tantalizing scent like a second skin.

 

 

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Funnily enough, the scent isn’t in the least bit redolent of Mae West (Rochas had had it made originally for his demure wife Helène, the legendary Madame Rochas, before Mae become the perfume’s face and derriere):  Roudnitska’s formula was so flawless you can’t even see the seams, never mind rip open the bodice. There is nothing throaty about this scent. It is perfect.

 

 

And yet in 1989 Rochas scandalously commissioned another perfumer to reorchestrate the classic – against the wishes of its creator, and thus vulgarized a work of art. The new version, though capturing the fundamental feel of the original, is brassier, louder – probably more like the inimitable Ms West, who once quipped on stage: ‘I feel like a million tonight. But one at a time.’

 

 

 

 

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THE GRASS IS NOT ALWAYS GREENER : Trophée by Lancome (1982), Central Park by Bond Nº 9 (2004), & Herba Fresca by Guerlain (1999)

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Central Park occupies a very important place in the mental scape of New Yorkers (and cinemagoers); it is the heart and lungs of the city. Bond No 9, a brand I have not had much success with, apparently wished to pay homage to this island of chlorophyll with a fragrance inviting us to ‘commemorate New York’s grand oasis of greenery; a lush sensory landscape that simulates a walk in the park’; a park, as we have seen in countless movies and soaps celebrating the metropolis, with joggers in visors and white shorts running every which way but loose; tennis courts, basketball, dogs a-larking, you name it – this is a place for the lovers of the outdoors.

 

 

Lancôme’s Trophée, another celebrator of green (discontinued but easily found online) has a similar, pastime on the lawns  theme; with a golfer on the bottle, and a golf ball as a stopper, its sporty, green-grass message couldn’t be more explicit.

 

 

 

 

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Trophée, while not desperately original (a slightly more masculine version of the seminal lemon-leaf eau fraîche, Ô de Lancôme) is a great fragrance you just can’t go wrong with; citrussy, natural, minty notes of lawns, verbena, and a gentle, chypre finish; bright, clean, refreshing. It is liberating: you can imagine a man in newly laundered polo shirt, up bright and early, splashing it on before a day out with his friends on the greens. The citrus notes don’t last so long, but the base is lovely too; a soothing note reminiscent of cold cream that makes me think of the aforementioned tired golfer in bed, later, with his wife; clean white sheets, late afternoon, the hot sun outside kept at bay with breezing white curtains.

 

 

Bond No 9’s scent begins with a vivid technicolour panorama of Central Park; vibrant green, grassy notes of verbena and basil, and a neroli note similar to Thierry Mugler’s cologne. Impressive. A  momentary, dazzling vista. And worn with Trophée on the other hand you might say it beats it, initially, in the lushness stakes. But Lancôme’s little known trophy has great subtlety. Bond No 9’s creation gets gradually worse, and worse, then even worse, as time passes.

 

 

Bond No9’s website informs us that

 

the park has its very own lawn bowling area. Here the terribly civilised pastimes of lawn bowling and croquet can be indulged without fear of colonial intervention.

 

 

Translated into perfume terms, that would mean, then, eschewing the classic (European) template for perfumery which dictates that a perfume, like a person, should fade and die gracefully, yet be anchored with earthy base notes to let it stay as long as possible; not botoxed and plumped to eternity.  The final accord in Central Park of ‘water jasmine’, ‘muguet’ and ‘cashmere musk’ sticks to the skin, irremovably, like a tattoo and is vile. If it is Central Park, then it is some obscure, forgotten corner; an oil-covered pigeon, stiff and festering, near some frayed, yellowing astroturf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GUERLAIN’S HERBA FRESCA : a ball of just discarded spearmint chewing gum; still fresh and ever so minty, left lying, alone, among the long, tall grass.

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Filed under Chypre, Grass, Green, Mint, Perfume Reviews, Verbena

KEEP YOUR FLOWERS: :::::::::::THE ORIGINAL MISS DIOR by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1947)

 

 

 

 

“My dream is to save them from nature.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, apparently, said Monsieur Dior.

 

 

And his first scent, the marvellous Miss Dior, was the highly abstract, crisp and green aldehydic chypre that was the sensation of its day, a refreshing post-war antidote to the idea of woman as flower. In its original form, this was a lush, complex, and very poised blend that managed to be womanly without even a hint of sweetness, like a sharply-tailored tweed suit. The keen-edged aroma that you experience as you first apply the perfume comes from a vivid, racy blend of green galbanum; clary sage; bergamot and fresh gardenia petals, on a spiced, and unfloral, heart of rose, jasmine, muguet, carnation and orris, and it is one of those dastardly well constructed scents that brilliantly radiate out these ingredients so you experience each soloist in turn – yet never out of step with the whole ensemble. Dark, musky depths of mosses, patchouli and woods finish the scent with a lingering suggestiveness and a touch of leather, and it is this quality, the combination of a masculine accord with the crisp fresh florals of the top, that gives Miss Dior its unique allure.

 

 

 

A touch kinky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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