Tag Archives: incense perfumes























The first words that came to my mind upon smelling this, L’Orpheline, -The Orphan – Serge Lutens’ latest addition to his ever-expanding portfolio of perfumes, were…. ‘meanspirited.’





Spiteful, grey; flinty, miserable, a scent that if you were to wear on a dark and rainy day, skulking through jet-black puddles under your November umbrella, might just tip you right over the edge in its haunting, face-reflecting bleakness……………..this perfume, to me, really is bad mood in a bottle.




The second word that came to my mind, I’m afraid, was ‘unoriginal’. The sheer number of peppered, dour incense perfumes that have been released recently in the world of niche perfumery is quite startling, as if the fiscal austerity that has gripped a few parts of Europe over these last few years of economic and societal difficulty had been translated, in grim and unrelenting unsmilingness, into our perfume. For those that consider themselves ‘serious artists’. For the people in the fashion industry; dressed in black, their no- nonsense baby, drip me in incense, feel my cool, metallic exteriors; their no sweetness, no pink; no gourmandise flippancy – please!……These Byredos, Comme Des Garçons, Agonists and Tauers; these taut and unforgiving bleaknesses that sear the nostrils and clad the air around them with their drynesses and armour and that have become an overfamiliar leitmotif of angular self-consciousness; of hair-cut severity, and of a very specifically urban, grave-hungry, and sunken-cheeked, chic.






L’Orpheline, a perfume I do quite like, actually, despite what I have just written above, still smells incredibly familiar to those that know Lutens well. There is the inky black Japaneseness of the (far more daring and interesting) Serge Noire; a slight touch of the spiced, forest darkness of Fille En Aiguilles (though with none of that perfume’s delicious, caramellized ginger compromises) but there is, also, a new departure of dry, skeletal boniness; of seared and moisture-sucked frankincense resins that does bring us in mind in fact of physical and spiritual emaciation. An orphan, indeed. A matchstick girl, playing alone with tindersticks. A barebranched winter; a mournfulness, the theme making most definite sense. Yes: an orphan.





And Lutens has totally gone to town this time with his background story, his imagery, his psychosexual pathways meant to lead us into ‘understanding’ a perfume that is, when all is said and done, rather simple. It is a watery, and melancholic ink painting, effective and atmospheric, well-executed and canny, that nevertheless does smell, as I have said, like scores of other niche perfumes that we have known these past few years; brittle scents that flood the trendier shelves of the outlier boutique perfumeries with their skeins of dead leaves; their deracinated woods, their frowns under fringes; their ‘pain’ and pseudo religious nonsense.





I still can’t help being slightly drawn in, though. I like these linkings of creative psychobabble and autobiography being segued into scent, the passion involved in someone’s innermost sanctums being candidly and liquidly immortalized (if you just allow yourself to suspend some disbelief for a moment and become willingly immersed).



“Yes, if you believe that she is the abandoned part of me. I have cut the world in two”, the ‘master’ writes in his (quite incomprehensible) commentary, alluding quite openly to his traumatized childhood; his hatred of the father, his splintering off into a girl child alter ego that he is releasing, here, from incarceration……(so is this perfume, in fact the first ever Transgender Fragrance?)




L’Orpheline is a perfume, apparently, come from ‘dust’, from the ‘wake of his life’: a darkened duality of almost Gothic gloom and speckled soil (unmoistened frankincense; black pepper, myrrrh and woods, with patchouli) that is severe; mineralic, moody and very deflective in these initial, love-fearing stages. We do sense quite strongly that this person, damaged and sensitized, most definitely does, when we first come across her, want to be left alone.




And this is perhaps the key to L’Orpheline. Perhaps the least fleshed and voluptuous of the Serge Lutens creations, it is more like a fragile, self-protecting shroud, with only the crows nesting in the trees keeping a watchful eye on your progress as you talk to them, solitary, making your way, out of necessity, to some destination beyond those blackened, psychic trees that line the pathways.





No doubt. There is a doleful blanket of wintriness that encircles the air about The Orphan as she walks along, in timidity, keeping the frays of tears – always, when visible, in her eyes – (because she wants you all to see them) but I must reiterate again that there also is a thinness: a musty, old font of church ozonic wateriness (the base notes do, I have to say, remind me somewhat of Demeter’s rather tongue-in-cheek Holy Water) that grates, and nerves me as it lingers in my mind.




She cannot keep this up, though, this pitiful charade. Perhaps the orphan is a Sagittarian, like myself, and, you know, that unavoidable unbridled optimism will always inevitably, eventually at some point just lay some more full-bodied stakes, some warmth in the proceedings. Soon, soft musks, modern, familiar cashmeran, and a more anchored, tonka bean wilfulness come into play, and she is one of us, again, now – more playful, eased, and smooth. She evinces a happier (if more banal) aura at this point: a soft and comforting stole that makes quite an enveloping contrast with the cold, wind-chipped bitterness of those initial, more painstaking overtures.




In between, during her more satisfying middle act (the most successful stage of this perfume), there is a very nice morphing that occurs between the two contrasting facets in the scent, where a blanket of sandalwood-like warmth begins to hover above, and the more balsamic and gentle undertones begin to coalesce quite happily with the damp and evil peppercorns persisting in the scent’s thorny outer layers (the ‘forgiveness’ that Lutens is talking about, his way out of the emotional labyrinth?). Whatever it is, the base notes of L’Orpheline, as they make themselves known, are soft, smoothed over, and certainly, for many people I would imagine, quite potentially soothing.





For me, though, they are also uninspiring. While wearing and smelling this scent throughout the day today has been intriguing (and I think it could actually smell quite beguiling on the right, wide-eyed person who can carry it off), the gauntness at the heart of this perfume’s composition, though in some ways linking quite convincingly to the spindly-limbed images we have of little, undernourished orphans, make me yearn, nevertheless, for the original, unreformulated Serge Lutens perfumes from back in the day when he first unleashed himself on us all with those rash, impassioned Moroccan oil paintings that were anything at all but wan, miserabilist and tear-flecked. They were bold. They were thick, they were quite uncompromising and exotic. Outrageous, even. So though the pathos inherent in the concept behind the L’Orpheline is admittedly quite interesting to me (and I love the fact that the emotional palette of the Lutens collection is gradually widening) I also think, ultimately, that I do definitely prefer something more generous.























Filed under Flowers

the mountain moonlight, and roses…..TAUER PERFUMES’ INCENSE ROSE (2008) + UNE ROSE DE KANDAHAR (2013)






















The very existence of an innovative and imaginative independent perfumer such as Zurich based Andy Tauer, an alchemist who produces strange and unique perfumes within his own apartment and boxes them, packages them, and sends them to his eager recipients all over the world, is quite gratifying in this overly compromised and commercialized world of vacuous, olfactory pap. Tauer’s releases regularly get the fragrant stratosphere all lathered up; stark, strong, and very contemporary blends that defy the usual gender-seductive expectations and take perfumery into interesting, and unidentified, zones.


They are not to be taken lightly, however. For me personally, Tauer scents are never an easy wear. Rather than just an immediately pleasing smell to apply, to fuse with and merely enhance my own physical aura and persona, these very complex (very male, actually) perfumes feel more like miniature, fully realized tableaux or skin-inhabiting theatrical productions; dramatic plays or ballets taking part on my skin, curious circumstances where all I can do is stand back and watch. Creations such as Reverie Au Jardin, a lavender-based, iridescent soap bubble fantasy that could easily have been directed by Peter Jackson; or the bizarre orchestrations of the fantastical, compellingly vivacious Vetiver Dance, these are scents from which I feel disembodied but simultaneously magnetized.


I did in fact once buy a full bottle of a Tauer, though, in London at Les Senteurs: the fabled, and much lauded, L’Air Du Désert Marocain, thinking it would be good for Duncan. How mistaken I was. We both loathed how it smelled on him, in its undiminishing, almost acrid intensity (and I would never even consider for a second wearing a stark, woody arid: probably the last category in the world I would wear – give me unscented instead, I just can’t do it). There was a relentlessness there, and, ironically, a total absence of air in that perfume that made for quite an unpleasant experience. So off was sent the bottle to my brother, who apparently wore it so well, and so naturally, that he was constantly followed about and complimented wherever he went, all the time, by strangers, by both women and men, trails of spices and resins surrounding the air perfectly matched to his skin chemistry (drier, more top-note centric than my own base-note enslaving canvas). He always wears fragrance, but has never had quite this reaction before or since. I would have really loved to have experienced how it smelled on Greg, actually, but by the time I got to England, the bottle had long been drained and he was asking for another (at that price, fat chance, mate).




Which brings me to today’s focus: two vehement, opulent, East-inspired roses. Before we begin, though, I must ask the question: am I even qualified to review these perfumes knowing full well in advance that they are very likely to be too fortified for me; that there is something in Andy Tauer’s perfumes that, quite honestly, usually just make me shudder?  (Am I alone in this, incidentally?)
















But let’s see. Let’s go closer. Let’s smell them anyway. Just because we want to, and because we love incense, and we love roses, and because one simply cannot ignore a perfume which has the name Une Rose De Kandahar.



































First, to Incense Rose. I have had several samples of this scent, which in my view has an effortless integration of freshness (cardamom, clementine, bergamot, Texan cedarwood and a light Bulgarian rose), and a subtle, insidious mysticism, melded cleverly as it is with a fervent, long-lasting oriental bedding of labdanum, myrrh, patchouli, and ambergris that supports the starring ingredient in this perfume; a deep, smouldering frankincense. A spiced, lingering tapestry, quite beautiful in its linear night sky; a wise agelessness of orientalist, expanded canvas in the base; an incense scent (if you love incense scents) that you can trust; that just lasts and lasts and lasts (and lasts) throughout the day. I do rather rate this perfume, actually, and have used it to scent the house (it smells great on curtains in winter), but these parched, ascetic scents, I have to say, ultimately, just aren’t me.





Une Rose De Kandahar, a new, (kind of) limited edition perfume, is founded upon a rare and special rose essence produced in the prime rose growing region in Afghanistan of Nangarhar, and consequently, (and beautifully, for me, ) constant availability of this perfume cannot be guaranteed. I am a real sucker for this kind of story; I love the idea of terroir-specific natural essences (especialy somewhere as poignantly fierce and unyielding as this fascinating country) and in fact, compared to the drier, more masculine Incense Rose, Une Rose De Kandahar is really much more about the rose flower itself; plush, rounded, feminine, bolstered with gentle, almost gourmandish notes of almond and apricot; a pleasingly sweetish blend of tobacco leaf and cinnamon-touched Nangahar and Bulgarian roses, over warm, almost ambery, notes of patchouli, vetiver, vanilla, tonka bean and musk.



The first stage of the perfume is a forbidden, sensualized kiss of this quite beautiful rose, quite intense and yearning : very emotional.  If you are a rose lover, and enjoy the scent of rose otto, of the natural essential oil, then I would definitely recommmend Une Rose De Kandahar. Unconscious perceptions of dusted cinnamon apricots over a soft, blouseful bloom of innocent, light pink roses, make for a scent I find somehow quite beautiful, if slightly too wide-eyed in sincerity. The scent is never overblown, but even so, rather than the soft, vanillic ending I would have been hoping for (because, obviously, I just would), instead, the usual Tauerade woodiness, some incense (some oudh? Some frankincense? ) rises up through the rosed, ambery pillow, eventually, and presents something….I don’t know. Unwanted. For me at least.



Is this incensey ending, as insistent as that central note in Incense Rose, even though it is imperceptible at the beginning, the natural ending for this perfume? Is it even warranted? I first put this perfume on about nine hours ago, and this sinewy incense is still going strong as I write this,  even though all traces of roses, of softness, of what the perfume was initially, have long disappeared.




Mmmm. Incense Rose and Une Rose De Kandahar. I couldn’t wear either of these personally, of that I am quite sure, in the same way that I would never wear yellow, russet, beige, or brown. I just never would. Some colours just don’t suit me. And yet, despite my own slight aversion to these scents on a certain plane of consciousness, to be sat somewhere next to a man or woman in Incense Rose, or Une Rose De Kandahar, both quite riveting and rapturous perfume in many ways, I can honestly imagine being almost hypnotized. What does this mean?













With thanks, as always, to the lovely Bethan for the samples. I never take it for granted. x









Filed under Flowers