Tag Archives: 2010s scents

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

A LA RECHERCHE DU SHOE PERDU…….. FLASH by Jimmy Choo (2013) + JIMMY CHOO by Jimmy Choo (2011)+ ILLICIT FLOWER by Jimmy Choo (2016)

 

 

 

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I am not a fashionista. And I am definitively not a shoe person. Since I was a young boy I have been vastly indifferent to them, loathed shoe shopping, hated the stress of it; the boredom, the heat and stuffiness of the shoe shops, the artificial lights boring a hole in my brain, the floor mirrors; the shoe ‘horns’ (what the hell are they?); the fact that I have to choose something that I have no interest in looking at in the first place, and also the fact that, in Japan, now an adult, I can’t find any shoes to fit even when I do find myself compelled to buy some new ones, always and only when they are starting to fall apart and my friends or relatives urge me aggressively to go and get some right now because you really need some new shoes ( I buy at most one pair of shoes a year I would say, when they get scuffed beyond recognition, and I still have trainers from about twelve to fifteen years ago which I like well enough and which look fine to me); but even when I do want to buy some new ones, even then I have to go to a specialist store in Tokyo for personages with overlarge feet called Big B, full of hulking trolls looking for something among the rank, ugly selections, which means I, when I have finally found something I can bear to hand over money for, I have to then slink shamefully out of said shop with an ugly brown plastic bag slung over my shoulders advertising to all the fact that on the Lilliputian island I inhabit, at least, I am a Caucasian with giant feet – an ungainly, unelegant maxiped (for the record I am only a UK size 10 1/2, or US 11, which hardly makes me King Kong)……..

 

 

 

 

 

But,  with the increasingly westernized diet that has crept in steadily here, the feet of the nation’s youth are also getting bigger as the youth gets taller, and regular shoe shops, not just ‘specialists for the gargantuan of foot’, are now, finally, starting to stock my size.

 

 

 

 

Yippee!!

 

 

 

 

This still doesn’t mean that I am about to be badgered into caring about shoes because I never will. In terms of my appearance they are the last thing I care about (also in others, I don’t tend to notice shoes on them unless they are especially spectacular): for some reason my eyes rarely stray down that far, despite (or because of) the fact that my father always chided me forebodingly as a child that you judge a man by his shoes and encouraged me to polish my school ones on a Sunday night, especially the bit at the back – no, don’t skip it! that is the part they look at the most! (this was absolutely guaranteed to make me want to do the opposite: my young brain figured that if someone were stupid and shallow enough to judge me by how the back of my shoes looked then they definitely needed to be as dirty as possible); and the fact that my mother and I would literally get into skin-scratching, hair-pulling frenzies of exasperation at the whole experience as I would huff from changing room to changing room, from shop to shop, refusing to take an interest in the leather-soled bullshit around me or else suddenly becoming so shoe-choosy that it was impossible to find anything that would please this evil, shoe-hating Little Lord Fauntleroy  – as we viciously skin-pinched each other in pure and unadulterated, momentary mutual hatred. Ah the memories. (And now, to boot, haha, as destiny would have it, I happen to have an extremely  shoe-centric partner, who gets complimented frequently on his choices, from nifty blue suede numbers and blue sequinned Wizard Of OZ, to pink converse (whoopee!) from Kenzo to Klein to Prada, who then also nags me about my lack of shoes………fat chance D, if I have a spare lump of cash you know straight away what it is going on………….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To those of you reading this who are shocked that ‘a gay’ is not inexorably drawn to the world of shoes à la Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (which, to me, is nothing short of anathema – that whole mincing, sour-mouthed, fag-hagged schtick that pisses me off no end for its insidious, limiting categorizations of the non-‘straight’ male, the assumption that ‘we’ are all shallow and so easily marketed to, shocked that I wasn’t genetically born to shop, that I wasn’t forever craving some more unneeded chaussures), well to all of you I say examine your conscience and your entrenched, if well-meaning stereotypes: darling my middle name is not f*&@5&  IMELDA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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YET!  and despite all of the above (amazing that I can get so furious about something as irrelevant as shoes….. Perhaps I need shoe aversion therapy or something, to be introduced slowly to them gradually  – here come the heel, are you ready, Mr Chapman? – until I can being to understand their inherent supposed attractiveness), my eyes, I have to say, do like a bit o’ beauty (as hopefully you may have noticed), and I can, most definitely  appreciate other people’s fashion aesthetically even if I don’t spend any time thinking about it myself (the exception being neckties –  I do love a nice vintage floral Léonard tie to go with my work suits). Don’t imagine I will wear just any old crap – I won’t ; I am quite fussy and narcissistic in my own way – but it must be simple and unfashiony: when I am talking about ‘what to wear’ I am almost always talking about perfume. (Also, while I am on the topic, surely skin, hair, aura are more important than what you don on your hooves – I am always amazed and visually insulted when a person traipses out in some blallywally pair of new boots or whatever expecting the world to come crashing down towards their feet when their flippin’ lips are chapped, their hair is smelly, or their skin is as dry as a locust’s arse. Some people stink but look ‘trendy’ (there’s nothing I hate more than a fashion victim), oh dear how they forget about the essentials. Who cares about your stupid feet if your face looks like a walnut?)

 

 

 

 

 

But to contradict myself now and come across like a total hypocrite: Despite what I have just ranted above, I do, very much, quite obviously, appreciate beauty of all kinds;  I used to read Suzy Menkes of the New York Times religiously before the more miserabilist Vanessa Friedman took over, she with the famous pompadour do who with her delectable prose can translate the fickle and shallow world of clothes and la moda into poetry and from which I get any knowledge I might have of the latest collections and who is creating them. I am also a deep cinephile, as may be obvious from some of my posts. I can swoon over light; colour; the sensations that flow through me in my chest when I am in thrall of good cinema, and one of the key components of this mystery that I can never solve (quite why I love film to the extent that I do) is surely the element of that capturing of a moment in time; the fixed, the plotted, but also the random, aleatory realities of the times; particularly the fashion, captured permanently on celluloid, fashion that immediately dates a moment and yet preserves it, makes it live again before your eyes: : : I  can thrill to the chiffons of the models in Cassavetes’ Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, feel my heart beat with pleasure at the camouflaged Dior boots (see, I knew they were Dior thanks to Suzie) running in slow motion across a Paris pavement from the assassins in hot pursuit in Brian De Palma’s deliciously oneiric Femme Fatale; smile in poptastic appreciation of the pink satin delicacies and blue Converse tossed into the shoe closets of the queen in Sofia Coppola’s gravely underrated Marie Antoinette (the only film that Duncan and myself will argue ferociously about :he thought it was shallow pop candy, I myself know that it was a delicate, delectable masterpiece)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And, for my sins, though I haven’t had a TV for 20 years now ( I don’t need it – mental pollution),  I do watch TV series sometimes on rental DVD, and for a while there, like every other idiot, I was glued to the ridiculous Sex And The City: that addictive, stupid, fun, engaging HBO series where a gaggle of wealthy, self-obsessed, vain, superficial, yet somehow just about likeable women met in Manhattan island restaurants to wail and toast and lament and laugh about their careers, their men, their apartments, their shoes..

 

 

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Yes, those shoes. Carrie was famously obsessed with them; would squeal with delight when that lantern-jawed fool she ended up marrying created a walk-in closet for them both as though she had entered the Pearly Gates themselves. The Louboutins; the Manolos; the Jimmy Choos. She was an inveterate shoeholic, and though I harbored a secret fantasy (which still makes me laugh to this day) that they would all somehow, most improbably, be mowed down by a combine harvester as they sashayed down Fifth Avenue in the final episode, I do know that even this obstinate shoe-phobe had those glamorous labels rammed into his skull. I learned from the show that you could, apparently, spend thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on shoes (  I would go into a coma from buying even two pairs) and that the holy triad – Choo, Louboutin and the others, represented the stilettoed, rarified zenith of those people who, mystifyingly to this shoe-autistic creature, spend hours and hours fantasizing about what to put on their feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UGH!!

 

 

 

 

(look about behind you, ladies ..here come the truck)

 

 

 

 

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Ahem. What is far, far more mystifying to me though, now that we are finally moving away from my initial shoe trauma and on to the related ‘perfume’ (inverted commas very much a necessity here, ladies) is how such a revered celebrity cobbler as Jimmy Choo, presumably licensing (whoring) himself out, could allow his (for shoe-philes, hallowed) name to be attached to such  trash as these two fragrances: Flash, the ‘brand new fragrance!’ and the original ‘Jimmy Choo’, which, to me, in all honesty represent new lows in the glitzy hollow shite that is presented to us these days as perfume. Perfumes that have no connection whatsoever to the apparent quality that the shoemaker is known for. That bring his image down to such an obvious, painful, degree.

 

 

 

 

 

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How can such a thing happen? I realize, naturally, that perfume has always been a way for the relatively moneyless to dream of high-end fashion, that, in buying a bottle of Miss Dior, they could taste a bite of the pie even if they could never in a million aeons afford one of the gowns for themselves. But in the case of Dior, in the old days at least, the perfumes themselves were of such good quality that you surely didn’t mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flash is, we are told, all  ‘about the cool rush of excitement and the sense of excitement a woman feels when dressed in a pair of sexy shoes. Its character, which is both heady and effervescent, captures this perfectly….the thrill of the red carpet, the fun of the nightclub, the glamour of dressing up. It captures a moment of sheer hedonism where adrenaline and confidence collide…..encased in a luxurious, shimmering, crystal faceted bottle, reminiscent of a paparazzi flash bulb, Flash is for the glamorous, urban woman. At once provocative and a little bit naughty, she challenges convention; she’s a risk taker, charming, audacious and magnetic…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R E T CH. 

 

 

 

 

These descriptions amount to nothing less than a gross, misleading deception for those brainless,

barbette twiddlies who haven’t got a nostril hair between them and believe whatever they are told by glossy fashion magazine beauty editors because they cannot for a moment judge a good perfume for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ugh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my piece on the new ‘toilet waters’, Like A Monster, which you can read here, I discuss how haute parfumerie and functional perfumery, (which is another way of saying toilet sanitizers) are, on some of the lower echelons of the industry, becoming virtually indistinguishable.

 

 

 

 

 

It has got to the point where these cheap

 

 

 

(god, Flash smells cheeeeaaaap)

 

 

 

 

 –    these cheap cheap cheap vile aromachemicals have come to form the main ‘bouquet’ of a fragrance, yet, personally, all I can think of when I smell these lavatorial accords is what have you got to hide there, missy?

 

 

 

 

Those sparkling, florachemicals from the sparkliest of toilets, those high class restrooms with surfaces so clean you could eat your dinner off them, that you don’t mind smelling in that environment, as anything is better than the alternative, yet when they are transferred to a perfume emanating from a real person’s skin just smell FOUL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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But I am getting a bit carried away here again, spiralling down in a shoe-phobia induced frenzy, so let’s (deep breath),  for fairness’ sake, do a hand to hand comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left hand: Jimmy L’Original, et, sur la main droite, FLASH.

 

 

I have to tell you that this is not easy for me. As I type this I have just been eating my lunch, and I have both the Choos sprayed on tissue paper next to me on the computer. They are not pleasant, and to actually brave them on my skin strikes me as rather gallant – see what I will put up with for your amusement and pleasure ?- as the lunch – quite nice, actually, might be about to go into reverse….(though I doubt that we need any more vomit pictures right now, do we)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh, go on then.

 

 

 

 

No but right, here goes:

 

 

 

 

Jimmy (he sprays, lifts his hand up to his nose…..)

 

 

 

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Mmm, the first top notes of sparkly pear and fruit salad over new shampoo aren’t too bad; in fact, the first time I smelled this for a microsecond I wondered if it might be suitable as a work scent: ah but no, see how it swiftly cheapens, contaminates itself, the ill-matched, nasty, vulgarizing notes of ‘tiger orchid’ (in yer f*&^^^^ dreams!!), ‘toffee caramel’ and ‘Indonesian patchouli’, bleeurrrgh,  BLEEURURUR rising up like a tramp from the gutter we are find ourselves, ONCE MORE, in strictly toilet bowl territory: in fact I can vividly see that coloured water swirling, swirling round sweetly as the doo gets flushed down, finally, to eternity…

 

 

 

 

 

On the subject of which, ‘Flash’ is so irredeemably shit that I can only think in bathroom metaphors. Sorry. I can’t find a single nice thing to say about about it. The PR is a bare-faced lie; this is nothing but a rank, sickly, astonishingly banal and artificial concoction (‘strawberry’, ‘tangerine’, ‘tuberose’, ‘white woods’) that I am going straight to the sink to scrub off, ferociously, right now. Sorry. I just can’t.

 

 

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE!

 

 

NEW ADDITION 2016! More shoes!

 

 

 

ILLICIT FLOWER

 

Smelled this the other day at Takashimaya, and in comparison with the other two, this one is a masterpiece. Apricot, ‘grapefruit blossom’, a freesia-ish vanillic fruity floral, the opening stages aren’t so bad at all, but I am afraid (honestly, I do try to keep an open mind and be fair about these things), yet again, after twenty minutes or so we are back at the Grand Station restrooms of Cheapsville.

 

 

 

Yes, our Jimmy, that canny shoester, as usual, will be laughing all the way to the bank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All in all then, to conclude this noble, subtle and poetic post, I have to say in good conscience that all these perfumes are nothing more than sickly, trite flashes in the pan. A bedpan. To me, for such a well esteemed couturier to have allowed his name to be associated with such utter crap as these perfumes are is mind-boggling. It cheapens the brand;  soils the soles, and does nothing whatsoever to enhance what this papoutsiphobic louse (Yes! there is an actual medical term available for a shoe-hater!) would have liked the fragrance to do – rev up some interest in something that bores him to tears, to DEATH: the whole essence of what Monsieur Jimmy Choo is supposed to be all about – the SHOES.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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

THE TREE THAT SOOTHES: COCOA SANDALWOOD by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

It is exam season in Japan, or as the locals call it, ‘exam hell’: students and teachers cramming and exhausting themselves into high schools and universities; an impressive, if sadomasochistic, demonstration  of Japanese will power and conformity. Some of my colleagues have been working straight since the beginning of November and yes I mean straight: with the exception of January 1st, some of them have been coming into school every day, for at least twelve hours, for about six weeks. This is illegal, but the pressure is so high to get the results that they can really not do otherwise.

And there I am, with my three week holiday at Christmas and New Year, waltzing in to do my bit come the first week of January, but even a month of it has left this indolent foreigner feeling frazzled and debilitated: I came home on Friday night feeling teary and depleted; a husk with his juice sucked out, porous sensitivies over-flooded with tense, heightened Japanese voices. Knowing I would have to be going in on Saturday morning  as well for a whole day of examination interviews, I decided just to collapse in to bed…

But perhaps just a touch of perfume beforehand, something new, before I turn out the lights to let my mind veer…….?..something from those little boxes of samples I had not yet tried that might subdue my humming synapses..?

Yes.

I semi-randomly alight on something called Cocoa Sandalwood, apply it wearily to the back of my hand.

And

 

 

 

 

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suddenly a towering forest of sequoia trees flashes up before my eyes. I can feel them, smell the cool of them, the bark, the dappling light between their trunks, as they soar up into the sky that is blue, and the air that is clear, miles and miles of them out in the Californian country – a synaesthestic mirage that makes my soul briefly snap into place again on a disconnected plane and I find myself wanting to go back down into it all again, back down from the shimmering skyline treetops and back into the forested depths, this time to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the mysterious redwoods behind which you disappear, somewhere in the heart of deep green………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All of which I realize might sound rather exaggerated and forced, but which I did actually experience on Friday night, lying on my futon as something loosened its grip on my psyche and a gentle, alternative universe released me….

I have been finding this recently with natural perfumes. There is something in the essences themselves, the plants’ ‘life force’ if you like, that speaks, that stimulates my nervous system in a very different way to other perfume ( which is perhaps more purely aesthetic). Where I was expecting to just find the usual sandalwood (one of my least favourite notes in perfume as I have always found it so fatty, unmysterious, and splayed somehow), the perfumer (Laurie Erickson) surprised me with a creation that temporarily took me out of myself.

The sequoias I saw originated, I imagine,  in the significant dose of Cedar Virginia that opens the perfume, giving the richer, more oozy New Caledonian sandalwood a solid backbone through which a slow, warm sap of cocoa absolute, cinnamon bark, coffee, rose, clove, vanilla and ginger rises slowly, the sandalwood gradually thickening in generosity, expanding and revealing its wise depths. Soothing, comforting, with an excellent equilibrium between savoury and sweet, the perfume helped me to sleep.

 

 

 

This was my first try of a Sonoma Scent Studio perfume and I am officially intrigued. Cocoa Sandalwood is a very high quality scent, rich and full of energy and soul, and though I would never wear it myself as sandalwood  so emphatically does not reflect me somehow (in the way vetiver, patchouli or even cedarwood do for example), for those looking for an enveloping, woody perfume I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

 

 

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Filed under Cocoa, Perfume Reviews, Sandalwood

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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Filed under Benzoin, Frankincense, Perfume Reviews