Category Archives: Perfume Reviews

PIU BELLODGIA + MY YLANG by CARON (2013)

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You cannot envy Richard Fraysse, head perfumer at Caron. Much maligned by perfume lovers for his reformulations of the Caron classics (whether in an attempt to bring them into line with modern sensibilities, to match IFRA regulations, or to bring the price of the formulas down for the pleasure of his accountants I couldn’t say), but in any case his strikes me as being  something of a lose-lose situation. Caron is in a funny position: revered, adored, yet with little consistency. The new perfumes are rightfully scorned (Yuzu Man? Miss Caron? I think not…), and when the perfumes you think you are buying are not what you hoped they would be, you know that with Caron, every perfume is something of a precarious risk.

 

Though I often think the rumours of total and disastrous reformulation are exaggerated, I have myself owned and been highly disappointed by certain contemporary versions of classic ‘Carons’  (Poivre, Nocturnes), then, conversely,  found myself ogling at, and spraying on, the urn perfumes in Fortnum & Mason,  finding many of them strange,  glorious and in perfectly good condition. That name, ‘Caron’, still has so much cachet and appeal for me, and I can’t help hoping against hope that Mr Fraysse will, one day, somehow again deliver the goods.

 

 

Bellodgia, the legendary perfume Caron originally released in 1927, was/is a spicy, musky, creamy and very emotional oeillet soliflore that enfolded cloves and thick, cinnamon-embalmed carnation petals in quilts of roses, jasmine and musks, and it is yet another well-loved classic from the house that I have in the original perfume extract. She is, to me, the Grand Duchess of carnations, this Bellodgia:  vulnerably bosomed, sensitive, and hopelessly, almost embarrassingly, romantic. But she is also rather old-fashioned, and Più Bellodgia ( a play on the Italian words più bello, meaning ‘more beautiful’), is a decent attempt to bring the carnationy rose template back to the modern palate.

 

Like Serge Lutens’ unpopular Vitriol D’Oeillet, which it resembles in some ways,  Più Bellodgia is boldly enlivened and refreshed with the rosey, pink-peppered top notes we have come to anticipate in many contemporary feminines, and this stage of the fragrance, I have to say, is my least favourite. However, the more sprightly headrush of the top notes lead the perfume into more zested territory that does, basically, work: Più Bellodgia has more spine than its osteoporotic predecessor (the original Bellodgia was always so cushioned I thought), so this is not, necessarily, a bad thing.

 

The good news for Bellodgia lovers is that the original formula has not been eviscerated: the essential structure of carnation, clove, cinnamon, rose/jasmine and cedar wood musk is intact, the spices just that little bit spicier, the aura brighter but essentially unchanged. She may not be more beautiful, but the Grand Duchess’ great niece is still vivacious and alive, inclined towards the classically Parisian, and she has certainly not disgraced her family.

 

 

 

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Ylang Ylang is one of my very favourite essential oils, and I get through bottles and bottles of it each year. It arouses me, lifts me, tropicalizes my senses, and in our sadly aborted mission to Madagascar, originally set for August, part of the itinerary was to have been a trip to ylang ylang distillery on the famed perfumed isle of Nosy Bé. To have seen those flowers: picked, distilled and bottled, would have been as exciting to me as encountering the vanilla we were specifically going to Madagascar to see……I love it: more than jasmine, gardenia, even possibly tuberose…for me, though it is cheaper and more readily available, ylang ylang is intoxicating.

 

Call me crazy but I have even drunk ylang ylang essence. I had read somewhere that one drop in a bottle of champagne was a dizzying experience, and, when I tried it one summer evening, it was. The giddiness was doubled, my nerve endings delighted.

Hiccuppy ylang ylang kisses…..

 

 

Sadly, Caron’s My Ylang has none of this. In fact, perhaps unbelievably, I can’t really think of anything to say about it. I have tried the perfume four or five times, but it makes almost no impression. Supposedly a ‘luminous, powdery floral’, with top notes of cassis and mandarin layered over a green muguet/jasmine accord and (practically undetectable) ylang ylang with a light base of green vanilla and woods, it is pleasant enough in a nineties sort of way: a light, greenish floriental, a bit going-outish, not entirely unsexy, but without any real draw to actually make you want to re-smell it. The only perfumes I can think of that it vaguely reminds me of are two obscure scents whose own characters were never very clearly defined either: Jean Claude Ellena’s mix-everything-in-blender leaf-floral Miss Arpels, and Guerlain’s weird, tea-ish floriental Secret Intention. It smells nice enough, and My Ylang is certainly not bad exactly, but it certainly is a slightly baffling release (I am not really sure who is going to buy it.) If you try it and it does make sense to you, do please enlighten me on how to approach it.

 

In the meantime, Your Ylang should, if do you like this flower, come in the form of Parfumerie Generale’s lovely tropical sundress Ylang Ivohibe; Calice Becker’s new perfume for Oscar De La Renta Mi Corazon (similar to By Kilian’s Beyond Love, but with a shirtier, ylang ylang twist), or, my personal favourite, the blasé, vogue-reading-girl-on-a-summer-beach, sun kissed caress of Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Ylang Vanille, a perfume I use by the bucketload when the season is right.  I have also heard amazing things about Micallef’s exotic Ylang In Gold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS

There is also, apparently, a remake of Caron’s classic Nocturnes (1981) which has just been released.

The original, an aldehydic mandarin/stephanotis/vetiver/vanilla, is by far my favourite Caron to wear on myself (you should smell the base notes on a winter’s morning, glinting and magical as crystalline sunlight on snow), though (un)fortunately this wasn’t included in the package of samples I received. I wonder what they have done with that one; perhaps it is better I don’t smell it……

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Filed under Carnation, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Ylang Ylang

PACO RABANNE METAL (1979) : CHAMPAGNE JACUZZIS, BIANCA; BUBBLE-FOAMed ECSTACY, AND THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO

 

 

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This week I find myself deeply drawn to Paco Rabanne’s Métal.

 

 

It is spring outside.  Bright, something between warm and cold, and the flowers are blossoming slowly: tulips pushing through, peach blossoms already blown away by the wind.

 

 

With the sunlight, the new air, and all the freshness I feel in the atmosphere, as well as the freedom of being off work for almost three weeks (sheer heaven), I want optimism: zest, but with emotional, and aesthetic,  intelligence.

 

Métal, a sly, forever fresh, delicious concoction, fits the bill perfectly, a scent that is not often written about for some reason, but one that I find very beautiful, and strangely not dated considering the fact that it is already 34 years old.

 

No: Métal is ageless. A shimmering, (dirty) angel of the disco set who constantly has one eye on the next: a laughing, exuberant, parfum savonneux: always soaped down and lightly fresh from the shower, washing away the sins from the night before with dismissive,deft swishes of the hand;a foaming, aldehydic sparkle of fresh greens; ylang ylang, white iris, rosewood and peach, all gently laminated with the classic, subtlely metallic sheen of rose à la Calandre, Paco Rabanne’s other, rather more philosophical and held back masterpiece from 1969.

 

 

Upon contact with the skin, this lugubrious scent bursts with life: quills forth from the bottle clean and energized, elegant, green and sweet, the protectant veil of aldehydes preserving the joyous flowers and fruit within in a bubble of about-to-step-out-the-house ecstacy that never fades; a white pant-suit (white, white, most definitely white – the white of Bianca Jagger and her Studio 54 stallioned entrance, the white of the Scarface mansion:  that seventies, flared Travolta white; the white of the lights; cocaine, and the mindless, careless, flamboyant last days of disco……)

 

 

Under the glorious sheen of this scent is that effervescent, pampered smell of expensive designer bubble baths that was taken up again later in the eighties in such scents as Courrèges In Blue (1983) and Byblos (1989). Beneath all that luminosity, if you look at her closely, Métal is smiling, of course; but wide-eyed, with gleaming shark-white teeth. Though she never betrays it, there is something depraved beneath this epidermis, and herein lies the real beauty of the perfume: unlike other disco era perfumes of the period – Ivoire, Scherrer, Rive Gauche, Michelle – which all have some internal self-awareness of their in-built shelf lives, an inner knowledge of their decadence, Métal conceals this side of herself to mad perfection – even to herself :: we see just a glimpse of it, occasionally, under her future-seeing façade, in her eyes: and, as with other such perfumes such as Chanel’s Cristalle, to which this perfume bears a slight resemblance (though fruitier, younger, less haughty), this is, to me,  what seals the scent in forever-fresh immortality.

 

 

 

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Unlike the ‘clean’ fragrances of current climes though, which are so chemically preened you immediately smell a rat, Métal is evincibly human ( if perfectly put together: it is very difficult to pick out individual notes – all so sheened and shined together effortlessly in a manner very much of the time); a scent that must have smelled stunningly beautiful emanating from the shoulders of the disco creatures of that era;  or the valiumed wives moving about their bay area lidos and mansions, as sunlight spliced their vodka martinis and their long, floating sleeves trailed the secretive jungles of their houseplants.

 

As they, like Nina Van Pallant in Robert Altman’s  The Long Goodbye, concealed the potential numbness within the cold veneer of the current, of the fashionable, the momentary; the flesh that would decay; but which, at this moment in time, laminated in Métal, felt preserved.

 

 

To me, there is definitely something of all this in this scent, like the liana females who also inhabit Harry’s House, one of my favourite songs by Joni Mitchell…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caught up at the light of the fishnet windows

Of Bloomingdale’s

Washing those high fashion girls

Skinny black models with raveen curls

Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes

Looking for the chic and the fancy

To buy

 

 

He opens up his suitcase

In the continental suite

And people twenty stories down

Colored current in the street

 

 

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof

Like a dragonfly on a tomb

And businessmen in button-downs

Press into conference rooms

 

 

Battalions of paper-minded males

Talking commodities and sales

While at home their paper wives

And paper kids

Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid

 

 

Yellow checkers for the kitchen

Climbing ivy for the bath

She is lost in House and Gardens

He’s caught up in Chief Of Staff

 

 

 

He drifts off into the memory

Of the way she looked in school

With her body oiled and shining

At the public swimming pool….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes: these slender, maquillaged, loose-limbed, pant-suited women who, in the movies at least, exist to rest on the arms of the rich men who own them…

 

 

And the white Art Deco mansions, in Florida.

 

 

 

I have referenced De Palma’s perennially popular classic Scarface before in relation to Léonard’s lovely, if simple, Tamango (1977), which always reminds me of the character Elvira and her gauche, ‘bored’ moves on the dancefloor early on in the film as Tony is listing to possess her, materialistically, as his trophy wife. Métal, which is far more complex, expensive smelling, and downright gorgeous in many ways, might, in some ways, be the same character a couple of years later, when, married to Pacino, we see her, still beautiful, but pining away in their gilded mansion, their giant, ivory jacuzzi filled with foam, champagne bottles and excess.

 

 

 

 

This perfume might almost be what holds her together: it never loses its ever-recurring sparkle, its  foaming, delirious lustre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For this review I have been discussing two bottles of vintage Eau De Metal, and also the parfum (pictured), a bit ropey and old now, but still lovely. There is not a great deal of difference between the two perfumes; one is just lighter and fresher, the other more long-lasting, as you might expect. Ultimately, though, I think I like Eau De Metal best and would recommend it to anyone who goes for this deeply appealing, timeless, feminine sheen,  still easily found at discounters online. Get vintage if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Perfume Reviews

EQUILIBRIUM : SPICED CITRUS VETIVER by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

 

 

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I had a brazen woody on one hand – Wazamba (Parfums d’Empire), and Spiced Citrus Vetiver on the other. And passing from the simplistic ebonic rudeness of the former, to the latter, far superior perfume, it seemed as if I were suddenly staring right down through my own hand, down through to the glassy surface of a forest pool, a three-dimensionality and sylvan aliveness that was quite startling in comparison.

 

 

 

 

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A shimmering vista, like curtains opening on a intricate, pastoral scene at the opera, the eye taking in a thousand details at once as the prelude of the orchestra starts up; each ingredient shifting into its place with a well-grounded twinkle in its eye.

 

 

 

 

Soon, there blooms a big, beautiful orange, surprising us when we might have expected more tart citruses such as lemon, or lime – the usual suspects in vetiver/citrus blends – but this vivid, delicious blood orange immediately casts a warm, solar glow over the proceedings; an interlude for viola and orchestra in a definitively major key, as soft, floral absolutes of osmanthus and jasmine sambac emerge and shield us from all harshness.

 

 

 

 

The cited ingredients of clove, ginger and cinnamon are only subtly perceptible to my nose, adding complexity and a certain nose-tingling aspect perhaps (particularly in that delectable opening), but nothing in this blend can detract from the key players of the perfume, who, when Orange gracefully leaves the stage, sing their contrabasso mellowness in balanced unison for hours: a measured duet of Sri Lanka vetiver and Mysore sandalwood (believe it: I can smell it), while a sly touch of vanilla absolute adds an extra suffusion of delicate heat.

 

 

 

The simplicity of this final stage of the perfume may disappoint some who are more enamoured with the elaborateness of the opening, but the overall effect of the scent is so optimistic and uplifting, with such a sense of inner equilibrium that, as with the studio’s Cocoa Sandalwood, you can feel your shoulders unstiffening, loosening; a scent perfect for a day alone at home when you feel that you need to compose and regain yourself.

 

 

 

For those looking for an exciting, virile, off-kilter vetiver, you might want to try a more earthy take on the note such as Route Du Vetiver, or a stricter interpretation such as Artillery No 4. This perfume is a more rounded, feminine take on a overly-trodden path, and the perfumer, Laurie Erickson, has, with this creation, cannily filled a vetiver void in the market – this could be the one that converts the vetiver haters.

 

 

 

Gone are the soil-sodden, earthen smokiness; the resinous, lingering, almost astringent aspects of the root (all of which incidentally I love about such vetivers and the reason I wear them…) Instead, in their place we find a scent of balance, solidity and natural well-being; an elixir of grasses, woods, spices, flowers and citrus fruits that for many, I imagine, will become a dependable, well-loved balm for the soul.

 

 

 

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MY PRISTINE BEAU: VETIVER BABYLONE by ARMANI PRIVE (2008)

 

 

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Continuing on our theme of blameless young men, and their faultless, light colognes (see Signoricci and Original Vetiver), we find ourselves today revisiting Vétiver Babylone, a perfume that forms part of the Armani Privé Collection – one of the most overtly superbist lines in the world of perfume: at least four times as expensive as his regular scents, immaculately blended and housed in stylishly low key flacons of African Kotibe wood; scents that always smell rich, soigné, but never stray beyond the faultlines of taste;  and never take that extra, daredevil risk that would make them smell truly exciting. Like a faultlessly made-to-measure suit, his clients can swan into the Armani boutique, have their scent chosen from one of the muted, glorious blends in the selection; and put their trust in his wise, been-there done-that, hands.

 

 

 

 

 

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One can easily imagine Signore Giorgio some afternoon in June, with a young, exquisitely dressed and handsome companion, getting ready for their day ahead, and, before clothing himself and at the behest of the maestro – several, light but perfectly judged spritzes of the immaculate Vétiver Babylone sprayed in all the right places as they descend from their balcony and head out into the streets of Milan  – the celebrated, experienced master designer, and his bright-eyed willing consort.

 

 

The scent of his giovane on this day is a sharp, refined and masculine tea citrus, crisp and new, with echoes of woods, patchouli, and a purified, vetiver delicately poised somewhere in the distance. The contemporary, metallically preserved top notes (bergamot, cardamom, mandarin, pink pepper, coriander), stay pure and crystalline as a Dolomiti stalactite;  the stately, more suggestively sexual undertones taking hours to appear, finally later at dusk, when this beautiful man is  back at the villa being undressed.

 

 

 

 

 

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O The Virtues: ORIGINAL VETIVER by CREED (2004) + SIGNORICCI by NINA RICCI (1976)

 

 

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A bright winter’s morning.  The bathroom of a stately home.

 

On the wash basin,  lies a pristine bar of soap.

 

It is the most perfect soap imaginable; a hard, impenetrable, triple-milled yellow soap; the clean, heart-clearing brightness of bergamot: the finest essences of sun-binding neroli all married grassly to a light, fresh note of cool, purified vetiver root planted down, somewhere beneath the surfaces, in its fragrant, pounded, centre.

 

A vetiver, then, of spanking immaculateness and spruceness; a perfect accoutrement to the face-splashing morning ritual: a scent that very reeks – very nearly,  ALMOST – of trust.

 

Until you smell Signoricci that is, when the artificial, clammed together, and somewhat hysterical brightness of Creed’s Original Vetiver is suddenly exposed……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signoricci, one of the few key masculines from a classical house that, in its heyday, produced some of the most delicate and exquisite feminine florals ever created, predates Creed’s scent by three long decades and is of a similar soap-cleansed theme; citrus (lemon, verbena and lime), over delicate, cologne-steeped vetiver, but in this long discontinued perfume the effect is incredibly, incredibly refined.

 

 

I first smelled smelled Signoricci at my brand new friend Federico’s apartment in Rome one October afternoon – standing there, alone as it was on his wooden bookshelf in his room – and I remember how immediately blown away I was by its deceptively simple beauty; a beautiful conception of fine-hearted masculinity that is almost impossible to imagine now in today’s world of hard-hitting woods; spices;  and designer-bearded synthetics.

 

 

Beginning with perhaps the most piercing, yet simultaneously gentle and perfect citrus top note I know of, the vetiver, cedar and sandalwood heart of this composition is  revealed gently and gradually;  an accord of almost heartbreaking cleanliness: a perfection and purity of soul.

 

 

 

Its perfection notwithstanding, if there can be any criticism of Signoricci (and must there be, really?) it is just that: this perfume, in all honesty, is possibly too perfect; a saintly, flawlessly scrupled man who seems too good, almost, to be possibly true.

 

 

 

 

Like doubting Thomases,  we stand agape.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mon serpent, mon cygne…………… D’HUMEUR JALOUSE by L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1994) + L’OMBRE DANS L’EAU by DIPTYQUE (1983) + EAU DE CAMPAGNE by SISLEY (1974)

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I find myself in a green temperament;  aggressive almost, for fresh, sharp, verdant scents that match the shooting growth and push away the winter, the comforting sloth of my recent smothering orientals and let me feel like a snake shedding its skin.

 

And D’Humeur Jalouse is the snake: possibly the greenest scent ever made (please tell me if you know of one that is greener);:  almost painfully so at first – a serpent in the grass, the eyes of jealousy; spiked, strident tones of malicious stinging nettles and grasses, softened, only barely, with a sinuous touch of barely detectable almond milk to temper a rather curious,  olfactory sketch that is bitter, unusual, and solitary: green to the point of catharsis.

 

 

 

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A movement from the river bank under the shades of weeping willows- a swan glides slowly by…..

 

Evoking a green riverside garden, the shadows of plants rippling the waters, L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (Diptyque’s most iconic perfume?) is at first intensely green  – a sharp, rush of galbanum resins entwined quite cleverly with the lush, tanging tartness of blackcurrant leaves, but from this compacted flourish there then emerges, unhurriedly, the quiet, more melancholic dignity of the Bulgarian rose: calm, romantic, yet austere,  rather supercilious and snobbish even, and thus, the main theme of L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (‘the shadow in the water’) is set.

 

As light fades, and the murmurs of evening approach, a soft base note of pot pourri-like rose, with the slightest hint of something like peachstone, finishes off a singular, enduring composition that breathes an air of familiar timelessness.

 

 

 

Eau De Campagne

 

 

The perfect green?

 

 

This classic scent from 1974 is the summer; the exhilaration of meadows; of stalks crushed underfoot, swords of sunlight infiltrating blades of grass.

 

 

Chlorophyll at dusk; ladybirds….

 

 

 

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Filed under Basil, Blackcurrant leaf, Green, Perfume Reviews, Stinging Nettles, Tomato Leaf

BLOOMS A ROSE IN THE DEEPS OF MY HEART…… Rose Volupté by Sonoma Scent Studio (2012)

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I like a big rose. A rose that is generous and of itself; a lovely rose: not a mean, thin-lipped rose; nor a methane-dipped rose, a high street rose or a sneering, clipped, high-octane rose; a fashion rose or a bridal rose; a cheap, leering acid rose, nor some dusty old, crabby rose, no: I like a full, joyous pronouncement of a rose, a rose that knows who she is.

 

The world, though, it seems, loves scents like L’Eau Chloé, a mingily pertinent fragrance formed of rose water and green things and reduced-fat patchouli, but I most certainly don’t: we smell far too many of these perfumes around us in cities, especially in Japan, where immaculately turned-out young women walk the streets of Tokyo, untouchably beautiful, a red-blooded, heterosexual male’s idea of paradise; girls with the flawless patina of a Shiseido commercial but in the flesh, slender young things in the all latest fashions and just a touch of rose to finish: nothing too thick, now, and a touch acidulous if you please – I maintain you, sir, at arm’s length with my thorns, my scent a barrier not a come-on, my artificial rose with its just-so projection perfected in the laboratory for this very purpose to offer that strange, iced chasteness, that modern-girl impenetrable whim of here-and-now Ginza sexy: this, this hideous perfectionism we smell in all the roses of the day such as Stella, Paul Smith Rose, and, especially, here, the vile Eau Des Quatres Reines by L’Occitane, which from personal exposure I would say is by far the most popular female scent in the country: you smell it all the time, as though, like everything else in Japan, it were accepted by the group and thus sanctioned, even by young mothers!

 

Young mothers, yes, those saintly, desexualized mama-san as they are called, poor creatures in my view, who, unless they rebel and refuse to conform, will often be co-erced into fascistic, nasty, Lord Of The Flies groups they cannot escape from even as they smile and present their iron-haired, A-line skirted, guilt-racked personas to the playground. The Occitane perfume, with its hints of salted, musks under penetratingly sharp, artificial rosey top notes, fixed, unchanging as it hangs in the air around train stations and department stores is the rose du jour, accepted, sucked into the mainstream, worn constantly, and I can tell you quite passionately that I loathe it.

 

No: give me an unfettered, uninhibited rose any day, a rose of love, not of conformity, a rose which springs directly from the heart: give me Nahéma, Montale Aoud Rose Petals with its blackness of the desert and Turkish Delight, give me Caron Rose, with its cherished poetical heart of Damask, or, if we need pearlescent dew drop roses, Fleurs de Thé Bulgare by Creed: just don’t dilute it with ‘market trends’ , fear of trying, or with ‘what women want‘: give it to me straight and liberated and heartfelt. Or don’t give it to me at all.

 

 

Rose Volupté, a huge, blowsy thing, belongs in this latter category of mine; roses with heart and soul, a big Valentine’s Day rose that is as rounded, enveloping as imaginable; powdery, effusive, diffusive: a tampy, musky pink rose of thick material: balanced – an undeceiving, happily direct perfume.

An oriental rose, with ambered base notes of labdanum absolute, vetiver and sandalwood, and a heart of heliotrope and cinnamony plum, all leading the perfume somewhat into the ‘old fashioned’ category, but neverly over so in my view, more pleasingly, just slightly, retro: top notes fruity and full, flowered like sugared raspberries on a summer trifle, and as multitiered, the geographical strata of the perfume leading down to pillowy, benzoiny, classic oriental skin scents, generous and feminine, soft:  Teint De Neige’s rosier, more bosomy country cousin.

 

While the perfume might lack a certain psychological complexity ( I find it rather ‘straight’ and ‘thick’ in some ways) this is simultaneously very much part of its appeal. Rose Volupté is simple, lovely, and it wears like an honest statement of love for the flower, and for perfume come to think of it, not some anorexic urban cipher and her puny, half-hearted, haughtily prettily ‘rosy’ emanations.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose