Monday, December 15, 2014

The Varieties of Amber Experience 2: Histoires de Parfums Ambre 114 and Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

(Editorial note: the below post is a reblog from Il Mondo di Odore, which is no longer publicly accessible. Please excuse irrelevant seasonal remarks!)

The Varieties of Amber Experience, Part 2: Histoires de Parfums Ambre 114 and Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan

Amber is a metaphor in perfumery. Many casual perfume users appear to think that amber stone is somehow implicated, but it is not. Although both amber (fossilized tree resin) and ambergris (a concretized substance excreted from the intestines of sperm whales) used to wash up on the shore and so were sometimes confused, perfumers have not been able to make much use of amber stone in their work because it does not create the scent which they seek.

In creating an amber effect, there is no single substance in nature which perfumers collect up to melt, distill, condense, and extract essences from in order to build a perfume. No, what we refer to as amber is constructed, often of labdanum, benzoin, and vanillin, but other components are sometimes used as well, and these may be combined in varying proportions to produce distinctive interpretations of amber. Still, there is something, a specific type of scent, to which the term amber refers in perfumery, though it is not a monolithic thing.

In the simplest amber perfumes, embellishments are eschewed, with the result that a perfume such as L'Artisan Parfumeur Ambre Extrême may seem more like a base than full-fledged perfume. Still, some people enjoy that and similar creations precisely because they are so simple. They ask for amber, and L'Artisan Parfumeur delivers just that.

I have tried a few amber perfume oils, including one by Sage and another by Sarah Horowitz, which offer a direct amber experience unmediated by (detectable) spices or leather or flowers. Such perfumes exhibit slight variations, and they usually do contain different notes, but they all smell much more like one another than any of them smells to anything else.

People who are not wooed by unadorned amber oils or perfumes may still love amber, but they are looking for a bit more. Often the added elements are oriental in nature, and that may be why so many amber creations are categorized as oriental perfumes, though in some ways they deserve their own category.

Histoires de Parfums
AMBRE 114 (2008)
This amber perfume is said to contain 114 components, so obviously it is not a simple composition. I am not actually sure whether I should be impressed by the magnitude of that number or not, as I have no idea what the average number of components in a perfume is. I imagine that it is often rather large, since amber certainly isn't the only metaphorical, constructed note in perfumery.

Perhaps the choice of Ambre 114 as the name of this creation was more a matter of convenience than an effort to impress. Lest we forget, Chanel no. 5 became the name of a legendary perfume because it was the fifth prototype which the perfumer had created for Coco Chanel, and it happened to be the one which she selected to be Chanel's first perfume.

In any case, whether 114 is a large number or not relative to most perfumes, Ambre 114 is certainly deceptive in its complexity, for no one, I think, would ever have guessed that there were so many different elements combined in this seemingly straightforward amber perfume.

To my nose, Ambre 114 is buttery and somewhat sweet, especially when compared side-by-side to other niche perfumes familiar to me. It is not a sweet perfume per se—certainly not gourmand or fruity—but it seems to me sweet relative to other amber perfumes. I find this creation considerably more appealing than most amber oils, so it must be some of the 111 other elements—besides labdanum, benzoin, and vanillin!—which I find to be compelling. Still, I must confess that it is impossible for me to tease out what they might be.

Ambre 114 offers a rich blanket of beautiful golden amber which never becomes boring, despite the fact that I do not identify any flowers or woods or leather or fruits or spices. This smells like the idea in mind to which the term amber has come to refer, and yet I find it to be considerably more appealing than L'Artisan Parfumeur Ambre Extrême or any of the amber perfume oils I've tried. To my nose, Ambre 114, is a full-fledged and compelling amber perfume, while at the same time being only an amber perfume, as contradictory as that may sound.

Perfumers: Gerald Ghislain and Magali Senequier
Salient notes: thyme, nutmeg, rose, geranium, patchouli, sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, benzoin, musk (from the house's accompanying literature)

Serge Lutens AMBRE SULTAN (2000)
I have a difficult time finding Serge Lutens creations which I have any real desire to wear as perfume. Many of them seem more like thrill-rides, which I'm always happy to have experienced once but don't really feel the need to repeat—especially when they are as unforgettable as Chypre Rouge or Arabie or Cuir Mauresque or Serge Noire or Datura Noir, to name but a few off the top of my head. Unique those creations certainly are, but not all that pleasurable for me to wear, though I imagine that one could acquire a taste for any one of them, if for some reason one wished to do so.

Ambre Sultan is a felicitous exception to the rule, defying my general difficulty in finding Serge Lutens perfumes which do not require some sort of intensive olfactory bootcamp in order to be able to appreciate. Perhaps this is simply because, out of all of this house's offerings which I've tried to date, Ambre Sultan is the most orthodox perfume. It really does smell like an amber perfume.

To say that Ambre Sultan is recognizably an amber perfume is not to suggest that it does not stand out from the amber crowd, for it does, especially in the opening minutes, when a delightful herbaceous quality lies like a web on top of the amber base. But as Ambre Sultan dries down, it moves closer and closer to an unadorned, minimalist amber such as L'Artisan Parfumeur L'Eau d'Ambre or Ambre Extrême. Still, there is a consistent and persistent (albeit subtle) woody quality to Ambre Sultan which makes this creation seem more of an oriental woody than a simple amber perfume.

However, I should say that I only really take conscious note of the herbaceous quality and the woodiness in the drydown of Ambre Sultan when I compare it side-by-side to other amber perfumes. That is when the uniqueness of this creation becomes clear. Worn alone, Ambre Sultan seems very much an orthodox amber perfume. But I love it and am happy to have discovered a Serge Lutens creation which belongs in my collection and which I hope to acquire soon!

Perfumer: Christopher Sheldrake
Salient notes: amber, angelica root, benzoin, coriander, labdanum, bayleaf, myrtle, oregano, patchouli, sandalwood, styrax, tolu balsam, vanilla (from

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Varieties of Amber Experience 1: Bond no 9 Harrods Amber and New York Amber (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

(Editorial note: the below post is a reblog from Il Mondo di Odore, which is no longer publicly accessible. Please excuse irrelevant seasonal remarks!)

The Varieties of Amber Experience, Part 1: 
Bond no 9 Harrods Amber and New York Amber

Well, it's neither an accident nor a clerical or p.r. error: Bond no 9 Harrods Amber and New York Amber have the very same notes because they are the very same perfume, only in different concentrations. The incessant proliferation of Bond no 9 perfumes is apparently a strategy of sorts, so why simply keep the same name, slap “parfum” on the label, and increase the price, when you can pour the same perfume—with a bit less solvent—into an entirely different bottle and get credit for a brand new launch!

I suspect that the story probably had more to do with wanting to be able to sell the Harrods Amber perfume at, say, Saks Fifth Avenue. Based on some of my earlier experiences with this house, it seems quite clear that they are not at all averse to double dipping. It's not easy to get one's nose on the more obscure special “city” releases, as they are not even available in the New York City shops. However, I called up Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans and managed to procure samples of New Orleans for Her and for Him—yes, there are two.

What I discovered was that New Orleans for Her smelled remarkably similar to Chinatown, while New Orleans for Him smelled an awful lot like one of this house's less impressive (and memorable) masculine-leaning colognes. None of this is very surprising, given what is evidently Bond no 9's master plan for total olfactory global domination, with targeted strategies for winning over everyone from the neophyte perfume lover to the sophisticated niche-nose perfumista and every other random category in between—those 42 oz gold-spigoted amphora bottles encrusted with 17,500 Swarovski crystals are surely being purchased by someone!

Even fragrance tourists—literally and figuratively—are able to commemorate their visit to the not-so-fair city of New York by purchasing souvenir bottles of Bond no 9—the self-proclaimed twenty-first century perfumers of New York—above all, with the recent launch of the I Love NY trio, the bottles of which feature the famous t-shirt design logo. But wait, there's more: tourists can also buy commemorative bottles during their visits to New Orleans, Boca Raton, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and...the Great State of Texas! Only a New Yorker could regard such places as boroughs of the Big Apple, but I digress...

Returning to the ostensible topic of this review, Harrods Amber and New York Amber, the bottles are both gorgeous, and the perfume is definitely a new take on amber. This is bound to be the basis of all manner of carping about this not being “really” amber, blah, blah, blah. If Bond no 9 put out a straightforward, orthodox—done thousands of times before—unadorned labdanum amber, then of course they would be accused of plagiarism or lack of creativity. Let's face it: they're damned if they do, and damned if they don't.

My initial testings of Harrods Amber and New York Amber were less positive than my most recent ones, mainly because I was so taken aback by the strong spirits-type opening that I found myself in a sort of daze which rendered me unable to pay much attention to anything else, including the later stages of the perfume's development. The problem of dashed expectations when testing literally named perfumes is not unique to these amber perfumes, of course. New York Oud has the same problem: it smells quite nice, but it seems more like a saffron-rose than an oud perfume to me. 

It was helpful to return to these amber perfumes once again, prepared for the opening and also aware that these are not at all typical amber compositions. I recall rolling my eyes and muttering “Oh brother” upon reading the marketing phrase, “Bond no 9 breaks the rules on amber,” which struck me as nearly as risible as their “take no prisoners peony,” used to market I Love NY for Her. Peony???

But I must concede that Bond no 9 did break the rules on amber in the sense that they have produced an amber composition which really does not smell very much like the usual amber suspect. What does it smell like? There is a significant overlap, to my nose, between Harrods Amber and New York Amber and New York Oud. The notes certainly overlap, and my distinct impression is that some of the key accords, especially rose, oud and saffron, are identical, albeit dosed in different proportions.

Bond no 9, like any number of other niche perfume houses which launch dozens of new perfumes in a short period of time, appears to engage in a fair amount of modular perfuming, putting distinctive and well-formed pieces (accords) together in different combinations and proportions to produce new perfumes. There are overlapping accords between ChinatownBryant Park, and Lexington Avenue, for example. And it goes without saying that the Bond no 9 "generic masculine cologne" accord has been frequently incorporated throughout the house's ever-augmenting collection.

As of today, there appear to be sixty-two Bond no 9 perfumes, and they have already announced the imminent launch of Central Park West. It looks as though Bond no 9 is vying with Montale to be the house with the greatest number of perfumes launched in the third millennium. Actually Boadicea the Victorious seems to be in the running as well...

Do I like Harrods Amber and New York Amber? I have to say that I do. Not as amber perfumes, but as complex, well-blended, nice-smelling unisex perfumes. But, honestly, how many straight-up amber perfumes does a gal or guy need? I know that there are those perfumistas who love L'Artisan Parfumeur Ambre Extrême, but to me it smells more like a base than a full-fledged perfume. The last time I wore it, I found myself reaching for my bottle of Bal à Versailles to liven it up a bit.

That I like Harrods Amber and New York Amber can hardly be surprising, given the notes. I happen to love all of these notes: nutmeg, saffron, jasmine, osmanthus, rose, amber, benzoin, and oud. I am not the biggest fan of musk or myrrh, but each of the components of this perfume is carefully measured into what together forms a pleasing blend. I do not know what accounts for the boozy quality of this composition, especially in the opening, but it also has its appeal and has really grown on me over multiple wearings. The longevity is already excellent in the eau de parfum, Harrods Amber, and even better in the parfum, New York Amber.

I have to confess, when all is said and sniffed, that I'd love to have a bottle of this creation, under either name!



Salient notes (from Bergamot, Nutmeg, Saffron, White pepper, Jasmin, Osmanthus, Rose, Amber, Benzoin, Musk, Myrrh, Oud, Sandalwood

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Karl Lagerfeld Kapsules (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

Karl Lagerfeld Kapsules
(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 28, 2011)

Apparently über-kühl German designer Karl Lagerfeld loves geometry and music, in addition to fashion, and his launch of the Kapsule trio—a set of three unisex perfumes designed to be worn separately or mixed together according to the wearer's liking—is a multidimensional tribute to all of Karl's loves simultaneously.

Since these perfumes are sold separately, they can and should, it seems to me, be initially evaluated as stand-alone fragrances. How do they measure up next to similar perfumes in their respective categories?

Subtle or boring? Well, it's all a matter of personal values, I suppose. To my nose, Kapsule Light is without question a subtle, slightly masculine-leaning cologne. The dominant cedarish quality is, I gather, imparted by iso-E-super? Karl's not the kind to show all his cards, so there probably is a lot more going on than the officially listed notes suggest.

In any case, the principal spicey notes in this composition are characteristically strong ones: bitter orange, clove, and nutmeg. The latter two of those notes usually signal big, bad oriental. Here, however, they are very lightly applied, with the overall effect of being to my nose at the very threshold of perceptibility. The scent ends up seeming much closer to Molecule 01 than to typical nutmeg, clove, and bitter orange-laden perfumes. Yes, Kapsule Light, as advertised, is light.

This would make a fine scent for the modern wall-less open office, where loud colognes can really be too much for all parties concerned—including the wearer, given the potential for undue strife and contention caused by overly sensitive co-workers. I am fairly sure that Kapsule Light would mix well with more intense perfumes, to mellow them out a bit, though I do not mean to suggest that this is somehow solvent-like. In addition to testing some of the Kapsule combinations, I am going to try mixing this one, in particular, with some of the harder-hitting offerings from the house of Comme des Garçons.

The color of the Kapsule Light bottle is, appropriately enough, a lighter version of the tealish-smoky blue of the Kapsule Woody bottle, suggesting that a stroll in that direction might be in order...

Perfumer: Mark Buxton
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann
Salient notes (from bitter orange, jasmine, nutmeg, cloves and musk

The plum and the wood of Kapsule Woody mingle together enticingly with the moss, though I should say that it does not really seem like oakmoss to me, nor is evernia prunastri listed among the ingredients.

By far my favorite of the Kapsule trio, Kapsule Woody is fully unisex to my nose. I do find this one a bit different from the usual woody colognes out there, primarily because of the plum. Somehow I'm getting a bit of an emergent incense vibe out of the deceptively simple line-up of notes. Again, I don't think this is a three-note wonder, but it is fairly streamlined and smooth.

The gorgeous Kapsule Woody bottle is a deep tealish blue, which is dark enough to convey more of a midnight in a forest (woody, oriental, chypre) than a sunny day at the beach (aquatic) impression. Splendid!!!!

Perfumer: Oliver Cresp (Firmenich)
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann
Salient notes (from cedar, moss, gourmet plum.

Although this perfume comes in a black-tinged red bottle, the composition has a rather creamy yellow feeling to me, falling somewhere in between Kapsule Woody and Henri Bendel Vanilla Flower. Surely there's more to this perfume than violet, tea, and ivy? I'd add wood, possibly tobacco leaf, and vanilla, for starters. There is definitely a lightly mimosa-esque feel to the overall composition, although it is not overly floral. However, Kapsule Floriental does seem to me more feminine than the other two members of the trio.

Kapsule Floriental is a gentle, not-too-sweet, not-too-spicy, not-too-flowery, oriental perfume, with a softness vaguely reminiscent of Jill Sander Style Pastel Soft Yellow—but perhaps without the benzoin and with a touch more wood?

Although this perfume is not all that original, it has a soothing and warm quality which makes it suitable for cooler weather. It will be interesting to see how this mixes with the other two Kapsules.

Perfumer: Emilie Coppermann (Symrise)
Salient notes (from ivy leaves, violet and black tea leaves.
Bottle designer: Luz Herrmann

Synoptic Aesthetic Assessment
I read one amusing review in which these perfumes were described as “three flankers in search of an original,” with which I must respectfully disagree—although I certainly do appreciate the wittiness of that turn of phrase! To call a perfume “flanker-esque” these days is certainly not to pay it a compliment, so the reviewer's point was of course that, as stand-alone perfumes, none of the Kapsules is all that memorable or iconic.

In my view, it is indeed true that the individual perfumes of this collection are not earth-shatteringly brilliant. Nonetheless, I feel that overall, when all facets and factors are taken into consideration, the Kapsule collection succeeds. In order to understand how I can claim, on the one hand, that the perfumes are not individually extraordinary but, on the other hand, the collection succeeds as an aesthetic project, it is important to bear in mind what this was all about in the first place.

Karl wanted to create a modular “chord-like” trio of perfumes. In order to mix compatibly with one another, according to unique wearers' own idiosyncratic preferences, each individual perfume had to be, of necessity, relatively simple, and the names needed to reflect that simplicity as well: LightWoodyFloriental. Yes, compared to the names given to perfumes today, these all sound pretty boring. But imagine, for example, mixing together two or three classic perfumes with wild development trajectories filled with dozens of notes unfurling in various and unpredictable ways in the approach to the drydown. The effect of such a combination could quickly become unwearable, if not downright emetic.

The Kapsule trio not only invites perfumistas to be creative in applying their fragrance, it also inspires thought about the process of creating a perfume, how it is that perfumers arrive at the products which they launch as finished perfumes. Here is a list of some of the combinations which wearers might hit upon by mixing equal numbers of spritzes of the three Kapsules with one another:


When one considers the many other possible permutations, where multiple spritzes are combined with single spritzes—or even half-spritzes—then the numbers quickly leap exponentially. I did not, needless to say, try all or even many of these combinations, but I did experiment a bit with simple 1:1 mixtures, and what I found was that they actually did make wearable perfumes with varying degrees of complexity.

The Kapsules succeed aesthetically, therefore, precisely because of their individual simplicity, which is an integral part of the grand scheme underlying the overall production. A derogatory dismissal of the Kapsules as “three flankers in search of an original” fails to grasp (or appreciate) the governing concept of the project, and the designer's unique vision in coming up with the musical-mathematical-perfumic idea in the first place.

In the end, I regard the Kapsule trio as a fascinating concept, with splendid aesthetic execution on all fronts, including the visual presentation. Why even the silver-and-white-accented, textured-black cardboard boxes are beautiful to behold! Karl's signature is stamped—using raised lettering, as in Braille—on the bottom of the bottles (see the picture of Kapsule Woody, above), yet another aesthetic flourish.

The three bottles look very sleek lined up together, forming a three-layered box, and even sound nice when clinked. The sleek, brushed-aluminum cap and matching circular name plates provide the perfect finish to the appealingly colored square-shaped bottles. I really do love the geometry and aesthetics of the whole presentation—and I suspect that even some perfume haters would as well. If they perchance received this collection as a gift and have some appreciation for visual aesthetics, they might even consider, rather than throwing the bottles away, displaying the collection proudly among other objets d'art on a bureau or book shelf. Yes, believe it or not, every angle and node in logical space is covered by the Kapsules! The perfume hater would be the one who chooses combination 000.

Touching and seeing the bottles in which perfume is housed is no less of a sensory experience than is smelling what's inside. Kudos to Karl & Co. for not neglecting the all-important details all-too-often overlooked.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Le Labo: Limited Edition Anthropologie Launches (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

Le Labo: Limited Edition Anthropologie Launches
(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 19, 2011)

Le Labo recently launched a series of new limited edition perfumes (edps) in collaboration with Anthropologie, an eclectic purveyor of women's clothing and curiosities, including a smattering of niche perfumes. Having been very impressed with the small number of Le Labo perfumes I had already tried, I decided to check out three members of this special series (there are five all together), which for some unknown reason are priced drastically lower than the regular Le Labo perfumes, commanding a mere $62 for each 2oz bottle!

Interestingly enough, upon receipt of my package, I discovered that the label on the front of these bottles reads, “From the Makers of Le Labo,” thus vaguely suggesting that it is not really Le Labo perfume. Still, the bottles are made of hefty brown pharmaceutical glass with thick bottoms, and the caps are painted heavy metal (not chintzy plastic), so the overall feeling is substantial and inspires confidence in the quality of the product.

Unfortunately, the paper tab taped to the bottom of the bottles indicates that the perfumes are produced by Interparfums, and I must confess that I cringed slightly upon sighting the dreaded letters BHT among the ingredients listed there.... Still, I could not believe that Le Labo would permit their illustrious name to be used to peddle inferior goods. Happily, the confirmation of my belief was only a few spritzes away:

POUDRE D'ORIENT (2010)Upon initial application, I was somewhat taken aback by Poudre d'Orient, which must have dashed my expectations—though I must say that it's entirely unclear why I should have had any in the first place... In any case, my first reaction was that this composition was similar in some ways to Prada Infusion d'Iris—which also surprised me a lot the first time I wore it. Certainly I was not expecting the linearity, nor the woody powder quality. In the case of Poudre d'Orient, I felt as though I was perceiving a dominant super-finely powdered cedar supporting the composition. Yet cedar is not listed among the notes. According to Anthropologie, Poudre d'Orient comprises “exotic aromas of violet leaves, patchouli, vanilla, and suede musk.”

Whatever accounts for the fine powdery quality of Poudre d'Orient, I have to say that I am becoming addicted to it. Now that I know what's in the bottle, I find myself reaching for it more and more... The violet and vanilla mingle with the pseudo/quasi-cedar ("suede musk"?) powder to produce a very pleasing texture which is not very sweet and does not actually smell like vanilla (always good news for those who dislike vanilla frags...). The patchouli, too, is very low key—if detectable at all. Of course, that's a relative judgment informed no doubt by the preponderance of über-patchouli perfumes on the market today, many of which simultaneously offer super-saturated vanilla solutions. This creation is nothing like those, you may rest assured.

I really like Poudre d'Orient and recommend it to those who appreciate gently woody violet perfumes. This is similar in some ways to Creed Love in Black—well, except that the Le Labo is much better... I would categorize Poudre d'Orient as a feminine-leaning unisex perfume. Probably too feminine for many men, but a select few might take to it...

Salient notes (from violet leaf, patchouli, vanilla and suede musk

BOUQUET BLANC (2010)According to the Anthropologie website, Bouquet Blanc is a “decadent floral composition of cassis, bergamot, jasmine, tuberose, and vetiver.” As clearly and accurately advertised by its name, Bouquet Blanc is primarily a white flower composition. The jasmine and tuberose are equal partners in this bouquet, and while the cassis may contribute to smooth out the blend slightly, it is definitely not detectable as cassis to my nose.

Bouquet Blanc smells beautiful to me: not too sweet, not too sharp, not too dry. Just right! The composition is certainly nothing new, but it is a nice white flower perfume. This one is simple, not cluttered, and bright white, rather than gray and indolic. Like many big white flower perfumes, this one has good longevity and fairly big sillage.

Anyone who has an issue with either jasmine or tuberose would definitely not like this creation, but white flower lovers should consider giving this limited edition perfume a try—if they can get their hands on a tester, which unfortunately is easier said than done. Of course, those who for reasons which remain inscrutable to me believe that "women have no business smelling like flowers" need not and should not apply! This perfume is unabashedly feminine.

Salient notes (from cassis, bergamot, jasmine, tuberose and vetiver.

BELLE DU SOIR (2010)I am truly baffled by Belle du Soir, which, for starters, is totally androgynous, with an emphasis, as a matter of fact, on the andro side. Then there's the huge disparity between the alleged notes and what I believe myself to perceive: a floral green with a dark foresty quality! Honestly, I was seriously debating with myself whether this was a floral green or a woody chypre! The last thing I would have guessed would have been an oriental (it is described by the house as "spicy") or floral woody musk perfume (the Fragrantica category).

To me, Belle du Soir offers a splendid afternoon stroll through a dark green forest. I say afternoon because there is an invigorating aromatic quality to the opening. As strange as this may sound, this composition seems to me like a somewhat masculine olfactory neighbor of Chanel No. 19—believe it or not. Anthropologie describes Belle du Soir thus: “musky and rich, neroli, water lily and gardenia float above notes of cedar, sandalwood and patchouli.” Hmmm.... Perhaps there was a breakdown in communication between the lab of Le Labo and their marketing department?

Whatever may be the explanation for the disparity between my experience of Belle du Soir and the house's or collaborator's description of this particular offering, I do like this perfume a lot, but it's a definite try before you buy! The name suggests Catherine Deneuve in the 1967 Luis Buñuel film "Belle du Jour" or the Fragonard perfume Belle de Nuit, which is similar to Dior J'Adore and Bond no 9 Astor Place. But Le Labo Belle du Soir could not be farther from any of them! Nor is this a patchouli perfume, oddly enough. According to my nose, this is a fairly aromatic, greenish-woody fragrance leaning toward the masculine side of the unisex line. I would not be at all surprised if some of the women who purchased this perfume scent unsniffed were disappointed with the disparity between the expectations built up by the name and their experience. Some may even have handed the bottle over to their beau!

I am fairly sure that many men would enjoy this high-quality, invigorating composition, but the question is: would they be willing to scythe their way through the racks of billowy natural fiber gray-tinged triple-washed pastel clothing in order to get to it? Good news: it's also available on line for those who bravely blind buy. That's actually what I did, because I was unable to locate the testers amidst the piles of random stuff strewn all over the store which I visited. The Anthropologie stores really are a trip, filled to the brim with all manner of, well, for lack of a better term: random stuff!

Salient notes (from neroli, water lily, gardenia, cedar, sandalwood and patchouli. 

(adapted from reviews first posted at in October 2011)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christian Dior: Five Poisons (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 11, 2011)

POISON (1985)
I knew a woman many years ago who wore Poison, and that alone was enough to deter me from ever allowing the aptly named substance to come in contact with my skin. But one bright and sunny day, as a part of my ongoing quest for truth through and in perfume, I decided that I would take up the legendary elixir. Could I, in good conscience, continue on in such a state of ignorance even decades after the perfume's launch? I humbly asked myself.

No, the time had arrived, at last, to set my prejudices to one side and finally put Poison to the direct test, by wearing it myself. Was it not possible, after all, that my negative perception of the perfume was mere projection stemming from my negative impression of the woman who wore it, perhaps too heavily applied?

It is true that she wore too much make up as well, what became abundantly clear the fated morning when I bumped into her before she had spent what must have been the two hours of her daily ritual in painstaking application of yellowish cakey foundation, four coatings of navy mascara, thick liquid black eyeliner, opaque silver eye shadow and matte fuchsia lipstick, all of which contributed to her “twenty-one going on forty" appearance. Her over-processed, bleached blonde hair set with electric curlers and sprayed permanently in place with a waterproof lacquer did not help either. Nor did her Harlem nails and her skin-tight jeans, which she must have needed either a shoe-horn or perhaps some Vaseline to get into.

She was a tough lady—no doubt about it. My impression was that she concurred wholeheartedly and intuitively (having not read any of his works) with Machiavelli : It's wonderful to be both loved and feared, but if one of the two must be sacrificed, the latter will suffice. Sticks, not carrots, ensure immediate compliance with the ruler's will.

But now she was gone. I hadn't seen her for years, yet somehow her image etched in my mind continued amazingly to exert such an influence over me that my noble quest for perfume knowledge was being severely obstructed by the gaping Poison lacuna imposed by what had become a merely chimerical figure from whom I had nothing to fear. It wasn't just that my memory of her had prevented my testing of the original Poison. No, much worse, I had steered clear of the entire Poison series, such was her hold on my imagination.

There are occasions in each person's life when she wakes up as from a dream and realizes that it's finally time to let go, to slay the demons and throw off the chains still shackling her mind. My heartfelt hope was that I might discover that Poison really wasn't that bad after all, that, perhaps, I was just a tad bit olfactorily unsophisticated at the time when I forged an unforgettable association between a certain imposing person and this famous perfume. Perhaps my mental connection of this perfume with that woman had kept me in a benighted state and prevented me from appreciating what many others have identified as a truly great creation.

Alas, on occasion I am not wrong, and today, with some degree of sorrow, I am prepared here boldly to proclaim that I did not make a grave mistake—or even a tiny error—in refusing to don this perfume for more than twenty years. Poison strikes me (violent metaphor entirely intended!) as a direct ancestor of Thierry Mugler Angel—minus the redeeming drydown of the latter.

Dark purple fruits—grape jelly or plum jam, as you like (or not...)—and a gob of other stuff (see notes, below...) which together creates a je ne sais quoi concoction (but is it perfume?) so potent that I am frankly surprised that the FDA permits this potion to be sold in spray bottles! Honestly, I was wearing maybe .05 ml of my 1ml sample vial (yes, still 95% full), yet I labored under an intense headache from the moment the juice hit my skin. Were you perhaps wearing pure perfume? cynics may surmise. No, not at all: this was the edt!

Do women really enjoy wearing Poison? Isn't it about as comfortable as false eyelashes, a girdle, and a beehive hairdo? Isn't it like wearing shoes three sizes too small in order to shrink one's feet? Or foregoing anesthesia before having a cavity filled?

Upon this, my first direct and physiological encounter with the Poison “perfume moment” in history, I became immediately convinced that this liquid may well have been solely responsible for the rabid anti-perfume backlash of the 1990s. Mon dieu!

I have read reviews in which perfumistas wiser than I advise spraying perfumes such as Angel and Poison into the air and then walking through the mist thus created. Others prescribe a very light spritz at the hip level. Perhaps, on another occasion, in, say, twenty more years, I'll give that a try.

Perfumer: Edouard Fléchier
Salient notes (from plum, allspice, coriander, wildberries, orange honey, tuberose, opopanax, incense, cinnamon, anise, jasmine, rosewood, amber, vanilla, musk, sandalwood, heliotrope, vetiver, carnation, neroli, cedar, and rose

I naturally approached Pure Poison with some trepidation, given what had been my recent traumatic experience with Agent PurpleCould there be a potion less unadulterated by nontoxic components than Poison itself? I nervously asked myself, while running a preemptive bath.

Well, it turns out that Pure Poison is yet another badly named flanker, in this case, to my considerable relief. Pure Poison bears little, if any, resemblance to its namesake, offering a strong but alluring white flower elixir which opens sweet and becomes progressively more clean, even somewhat soapy, over time. The rich consistency reminds me in some ways of Robert Piguet Fracas, although the notes are of course very different, as tuberose is nowhere in Pure Poison to be sniffed, and Fracas is not at all soapy. What connects them in my mind is probably that both compositions seem to me to be creamy and white, with real potential for addiction.

Jasmine is definitely the star of the Pure Poison show, which in its pristine whiteness is entirely untainted by anything purple, Grace à dieu (or reasonable facsimile...). The one similarity I did find to Poison was that Pure Poison, too, is so strong that only a small application brought me close to the cusp of a headache. One more drop, and I'd have been over the top. But lightly applied, I liked it a lot.

Perfumers: Carlos Benaim, Dominique Ropion, Olivier Polge
Salient notes (from, gardenia, neroli, white amber, sandalwood, bergamot, cedar, orange, mandarin

I retain a memory from long ago of a small red bottle (sample or mini) from Dior containing a perfume which I rather liked, but never pursued for some reason... Thanks to a fellow fragrant traveler, I was afforded the opportunity to rediscover it once again. That perfume was none other than the next stop in my journey through the land of PoisonHypnotic Poison.

Another poorly named flanker—happily!—Hypnotic Poison falls into the general category occupied by Lancôme Trésor, Chôpard Casmir, and Esteé Lauder/Aramis Tuscany per Donna, in my personal olfactory memory bank filing system. Like these other viscous elixirs, Hypnotic Poison, too, is a big, expansive sweet perfume, in this case, an oriental vanilla which verges on gourmand—well, unless you're one of the wearers who arrives at a Playdoh drydown, although it's probably worth observing that some children apparently do eat Playdoh when their parents are not around...

I have to admit that after reading the root beer and Playdoh reviews, I seemed to succumb to the power of suggestion, as I began to detect those notes in Hypnotic Poison as well, with the result that what once seemed vaguely exotic suddenly began to smell a bit too familiar. 
All too familiar, in fact.

Added to that, I also feel that I really have moved on to new perfume frontiers, having left TrésorCasmir, and Tuscany per Donna and other perfumes in their neighborhood far behind quite some time ago. Suffice it to say, then, that I won't be acquiring a bottle of Hypnotic Poison anytime soon—at least not until such time as I experience another seismic olfactory shift, that is. For now it's a bit thick and insistent for a comfort scent and just too sweet to be much of anything else for me.

The only similarities I found between Hypnotic Poison and Agent Purple were the concentration and sillage: Dior has apparently not succumbed to market pressures to dilute in order to increase the volumes (literally and figuratively) of the perfumes which they sell, and that probably explains why even some of their perfumes launched decades ago continue to command MSRPs. I have not seen a lot of Dior offerings at the discount emporia, where many other brands fob off reformulated and/or watered-down nonsense for a fraction of what the original perfumes once cost.

Dior's strategy appears instead to be to produce endlessly proliferating series of flankers of flankers of flankers, to stretch marketing campaigns to ever-greater lengths and squeeze the most that they can out of their investment in the original bottle design!

Perfumer:Annick Menardo
Salient notes (from vanilla, almond, coconut, allspice, sandalwood, jasmine, rosewood, plum, tuberose, apricot, lily of the valley, rose

Continuing my travels down the fated but not always so poisonous path of Agent Purple flankers, I next arrived at Tendre Poison, and what a surprisingly not-so-tender elixir I found it to be!

While initially applying this potion, I actually spilled my sample vial down my décolleté and suffered from an instantaneous headache, along with a distinct déjà senti experience as a flash of purple lights pulsated in my brain until at last the scent had dissipated enough for me to get my wits about me again.

From there, the composition morphed into a very strong white floral soapiness, somewhat similar to Pure Poison but quite a bit less floral and quite a bit more soapy. Bright white soap, to be more precise. Perhaps even fluorescent white.

Strong stuff, this flanker is! In fact, on taking another look at the vial, which I thought I had nearly emptied, I found that it was still 80% full! Phew! Hats off to Dior for not skimping on whatever powerhouse components are found in not-so-Tendre Poison, but honestly, this should be called a parfum, not an edt. Why there was enough in my tiny vial to scent an entire pallet—in the stevedore sense—of soap!!!!

Yes, believe it or not, a single 1 ml sample vial of Tendre Poison could be used to scent this much soap:

A full ounce of Tendre Poison could be used to scent this much soap:

One day I'm sure that I'll muster up the courage to try Tendre Poison again in a nanodose, at which point I'll be able to issue my final verdict... For now, let's just say that Tendre Poison has done nothing to refute my longstanding view that perfumes boasting asafoetida as a note should probably bear a skull-and-crossbones warning label.

Have you by chance smelled the original Escada?

Better yet, have you ever smelled asafoetida straight up, my fragrant friends?

If not, please stop by an Indian spice emporium or grocer one day soon and give the stuff a sniff. Don't worry, you don't have to buy any—or even open up the jar. Those of you who like to prepare fine Indian cuisine chez vous may well have this item in your kitchen, which I myself found necessary to store inside a tightly clamped glass canning jar inside a sealed cooler.

Yes, as incredible as this may sound, the stench of asafoetida penetrates multiple layers of plastic or even glass! Why, you might even be able to smell it from the parking lot!Perfumer: Edouard Fléchier
Salient notes (from tuberose, bergamot, ►asafoetida◄, freesia, honey, mandarin, neroli, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, and heliotrope

I had been exercising a good deal of caution in my travels down the trail of Agent Purple flankers, practically tiptoeing, in fact, by taking long, multi-day "breathers" (literally and figuratively) between each potion to allow the completion of a full detox process before moving on. 

One starry night, however, lured in by a glance at the clock fast approaching midnight, I threw caution to the wind and pulled out my sample of Midnight Poison, the last in the series of first-order flankers. I knew that there were now flankers of flankers, and even flankers of flankers of flankers, but for the time being, my sense of relative completion of the immediate task at hand was near... What did I learn through this long, sometimes headache-ridden journey?

Note to self (and anyone else who intends to embark on this adventure): Ignore, I repeat: ignore, on any bottle bearing the name 'Poison' and produced by Dior, the labels 'edt' and 'edp'. Each and every one of these liquids needs to be treated as parfum.

Yes, upon applying Midnight Poison, too, I was immediately stopped in my tracks by a splitting headache. Did I perhaps spray too much on? No, I did not spray at all. I dabbed, ever-so-gingerly, a tiny fraction of my sample vial and the tell-tale Poison headache rehydrated within seconds. This must mean something! I thought to myself and jotted down a note on my mind's neuro-tablet to peruse the list (circulating around the Fragrantica threads) of the "most toxic perfumes". Turns out that my hunch was right: the Poison series made an impressive showing on that list.

Do I like Midnight Poison, setting aside my personal headache problem? Yes, I have to say that, after flushing my lungs with adequate fresh air and thus effectively loosening the vice grip clamped on my cranium, I did enjoy the drydown. Overall, I found Midnight Poison to be a dark, woody oriental with thick, rich, abiding patchouli and a nice spiciness with potential appeal for guys and gals alike—provided that they do not overapply!

By now it goes perhaps without saying that the longevity and sillage of Midnight Poison, too, are unsurpassed. But I'll have to take this perfume up once again after a thorough twelve-step detox program, featuring lots of filtered water and natural perfumes, before I can determine whether this is something that I can actually enjoy (by applying only a nanodose) rather than simply endure.

Perfumers: Jacques Cavallier, Oliver Cresp, François Demachy
Salient notes (from patchouli, rose, amber, vanilla, mandarin

What is the moral of my tale of travels through the province of Poison? Simply this:

Marketers do not always lie. 

(adapted from reviews posted at in November and December 2010)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hermès: Les Quatre Jardins (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

Hermès: Les Quatre Jardins
(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on December 6, 2011)

I think it's fair to say that reverence has never been my strong suit. Nor has the term blandishment often, if ever, been associated with my name. So when I hear people talking about figures who supposedly walk on water and the like, my quite natural reaction is one of skepticism. I am particularly wary of such claims as applied to human-all-too-human beings by other human-all-too-human beings in matters regarding values, as opposed to factual hypotheses. In the case of alleged empirical facts, there is at a possibility of some form of testing, so the claims being made can be either confirmed or disconfirmed. In the case of values? The closest we could get would be a popularity poll, but I've never been one to support ochlocracy.

People like to have role models, it is clear, and in extreme cases such as those involving religious cults and nation states, people have been known do some pretty ridiculous things in the name of false idols. Even wildly heinous crimes have been committed in good conscience by overzealous acolytes, all in the name of supposedly “great men”.

Is anyone alive “the greatest living X” for any given X? Such claims usually don't make much sense to me, since they tend to be based on some other human beings' assertion of the same, based on their own obviously finite experience and values. The basis of such claims, in other words, are the opinions of yet more human-all-too-human beings, historically situated in highly contingent circumstances, which have in many ways shaped their values, albeit perhaps unbeknownst to them. Is it beyond the realm of possibility, for example, that some entirely unknown perfumers are actually better perfumers (as opposed to marketers of their wares) than those who are famous to perfumistas today?

Given my naturally skeptical bent, I take the words of everyone about anyone and anything with a grain of salt. In my view, names and reputations mean nothing next to what the people with names and reputations actually produce. Perhaps this or that perfumer is the best of those currently living, and then again maybe not. It seems to me that, in the grand scheme of things, it does not really matter very much how or whether we apply those labels at all. Those sorts of labels may help to market products, but they do not change what they are. In the case of perfume, what matters to me is only the quality of perfumers' wares when I decide to wear them.

UN JARDIN EN MEDITERRANEE (2003)My first experience with Un Jardin en Méditerranée was sufficiently positive to motivate me to acquire a purse spray (15ml). Since then I must confess that I have not reached for this fragrance often. There is something about the opening which reminds me of a cross between Thierry Mugler Womanity and Estée Lauder Pleasures, both of which unfortunately become annoying to me after a short while. Figs, peppery florals, and a vaguely wet quality conspire to evoke chimerical Womanity-Pleasures memories, or something along those lines, at least for a short time.

I don't think that this composition is annoying over the entire course of a wear, but its first stage reminds me of an amalgam of two rather annoying fragrances, so I'm not all that enthusiastic about it. Fortunately, the cedar and cypress take over shortly thereafter, at which point I really warm up to the fragrance as a whole. Still, I do not enjoy being reminded of Womanity and Pleasures every time I spray on Un Jardin en Méditerranée, and this unavoidable association naturally serves to deter me from doing so more often than I might otherwise.

These sorts of associations are bound to arise with exposure to iconic (and quasi-ubiquitous) fragrances sharing significant subsets of notes, particularly when those combinations have not been very common before. Perhaps the best example in contemporary perfumery is Thierry Mugler Angel. Dozens, if not hundreds of recent launches, immediately elicit spontaneous responses from countless reviewers of “Smells like Angel.” Why is that? Because Angel served up its peculiar concoction of notes before all of the vaguely (or blatantly!) Angel-esque perfumes created since.

Of course, everything smells like everything to a greater or lesser degree, which is why in writing reviews a person who is familiar with only Chanel no. 5 may sincerely report that every perfume she smells is redolent of that perfume. And it is probably true that every perfume smells more like Chanel no. 5 than it smells like water! I've actually noticed this phenomenon a lot in reviews written by people with obviously limited experience who often assimilate what I regard as radically disparate perfumes because they do in fact smell more like each other to the reviewer than do any other two perfumes in their experience.

So to defend myself from the charge that my comparing the opening of Un Jardin en Méditerranée to Womanity and Pleasures is rather like comparing Guerlain Samsara to Chanel no. 5, I should clarify that I do not in fact believe that the compositions are even close to the same. It's just that this fragrance evokes vague memories of those fragrances, and from there my experience is more or less that of Pavlov's dog.

I have read many reviews of Un Jardin en Méditerranée, and I must say that I find the range of receptions to this composition fascinating. It's not just that people disagree a little about the details. No, the people who dislike it appear to detest it! I certainly don't find it unwearable and vile (as do some) but neither do I consider it a "must have," as do its ardent fans. In all likelihood, I won't be acquiring a larger bottle of this creation, as I'll probably never deplete my small supply.

For those looking for advice, there's no point in attempting to navigate all of the conflicting evaluations, since this fragrance clearly manifests itself differently on different wearers. It's up to you to decide.

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
Salient notes (from mandarin orange, bergamot, lemon, fig leaf, neroli, oleander, cypress, musk, juniper, red cedar, pistachio

UN JARDIN SUR LE NIL (2005)In Un Jardin sur le Nil, the opening salvo of salty green shredded mango is rather bitter and nearly sour enough to qualify as a pickle. But that impression subsides relatively quickly, at which point a strong steamed rice-like note takes over this composition, along with what smells to me like green tea. Conclusion: this smells more like a scene from Japan than the shores of the Nile. (I have been to Japan, but not to the shore of the Nile, so perhaps the latter really does smell more like this fragrance than does Japan! cf. Chanel no. 5, see above...)

In oscillating waves, the quasi-rice note wafts sometimes of rice cakes or even vaguely of popcorn! In fact, now that I think about it, there is an almost genmaicha tea scent here—albeit slightly too bitter. Judging by what some other reviewers have written, I gather that I'm an outlier on this one. I do believe that this member of the Jardin series is more original than Méditerranée or Mousson, but its originality is not enough to overcome the sour quality which would definitely prevent me from wearing it as anything but a novelty scent.

The refreshing, even slightly bracing quality of the opening might serve as an aromatherapeutic mood elevator, I suppose, but I cannot really imagine wanting to wear this composition as I ordinarily wear perfume.

On to the next minimalist creation by J.-C. Ellena, who does indeed appear to have a serious cult following, judging by some of the positive reviews!

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
Salient notes (from Green mango, grapefruit, tomato, lotus, carrot, bulrush, incense, orange, musk, orris, hyacinth, calamus, sycamore wood, peony, labdanum, and cinnamon

UN JARDIN APRES LA MOUSSON (2008)In spite of its reputation, I've never regarded Un Jardin Après la Mousson as very melony at all, certainly not compared to, say, Hilde Soliani Dopo Teatro Mangiami, which is all melon all the time. Although there is a detectable melon-like quality in the opening of this J.-C. Ellena Hermès Jardin offering, the peppery vetiver swiftly takes over and dominates the composition, which to my nose is quite dry for most of its life—in contrast to what I would have expected to smell dans Un Jardin Après la Mousson.

I find myself, again, somewhat amazed at the manifest detestation of this composition by so many reviewers, which leads me to believe, yet again, that how these relatively simple notes work together and express themselves varies quite a bit from wearer to wearer. Melon notes obviously amplify radically on some people's but not others' skin. Indeed, we may actually have a case in point here as regards the controversial skin chemistry dispute!

Another possibility is that the melon note was so off-putting to some reviewers that they could not stomach a full wear and so never made it to the dry down, as they dashed off for a sudsing and scrub. Others report having experienced melon from start to finish, so that note must be particularly salient on their skin.

Many people have complained about what they take to be the “synthetic” melon note, but my understanding is that all fruit notes in perfumes are synthetic, so I suppose that the substantive criticism is more that this one does not smell like fresh or real melon to them. I've smelled some pretty awful melon renditions myself, and comparatively speaking, this one smells pretty good to me—although it is rather evanescent.

That said, although I find it wearable and even somewhat pleasant under certain weather conditions, I cannot get very excited about this entry in the Hermès line-up. It certainly fits right in with the minimalist “capture a scene” Jardin series. The quality of components has never been in question, at least not in any of the creations of this house familiar to me. So what is in question is only the aesthetic conception and execution.

Lest anyone forget, this is the perfumer who also created Van Cleef & Arpels First, next to which the Jardin series seems like the proverbial pendulum swinging way back in the other direction. I'm certainly not blaming the perfumer for having lived a life full of twists and turns, only lamenting this radical change in view as regards his creative output. In my heart of hearts, I suppose that I hope that it might swing back once again... Well, at least we already know that he's not a dogmatist!

In all seriousness, given his already massively prolific oeuvre, the guy has every right in the world to spend the rest of his life twiddling his thumbs, or even bottling aromachemicals and marking them up 10,000%. Under Ellena's creative direction, Hermès has become a strong contender for my “desert island” house. Which is not, however, to say that I think he walks on water!

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
Salient notes (from ginger, coriander, cardamom, pepper, and vetiver

My first impression upon donning Un Jardin sur le Toit was that this was basically a fruity-floral fragrance with a blast of green up top. Subsequent wearings (four, in total) have not altered but only confirmed that impression. The fruit scent here is similar to that of standing at the kitchen sink and peeling apples and pears and the other components of a fruit salad before running the peels and cores and rinds, now turning slightly brown, through the garbage disposal. So that's my take on the "compost" note, I guess. It has a freshness which is nearly to the point of no longer being fresh, if that makes any sense.

If I try very, very hard to find subtlety and profundity in this fruity-floral fragrance, then perhaps I shall. But would I ever put that much effort into this sort of composition, were I not indoctrinated by the teachings of the cult of Ellena, according to which he is a genius and/or a saint? Honestly, I predict that the evaluations of this fragrance will be much, much higher than they would be if it were tested blind. Just a hunch...

Having now strolled through all of the gardens, I can confidently reaffirm that I appreciate this minimalist "haiku" or atmospheric perfume concept more as a theory than in practice. I admire Ellena and love this house, and I applaud their recent victory against the forces of hegemony. Still, the members of the Jardin series, while perfectly fine for what they are, do not hold a candle to some of the resplendent Hermès masterpieces so dear to me.

In the end, my lukewarm reaction to the Jardin series says much more about me than about the perfumer or the house. When all is said and sniffed, I myself may simply be more of a big luscious complex perfumey (à la 24 Faubourg, Calèche, Elixir de Merveilles, Hermessence Ambre Narguilé, etc.) kind of gal. That's a fact about me, not about this series, house, or perfumer. There's plenty of room in this world for all of us, and there's certainly no reason for thinking that we should always agree! What a boring place the world would be if we did.

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
Salient notes (from various sources): grass, red apple, pear, rose, magnolia, rosemary, compost note (?)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tokyo Milk, the Dark Collection, Part 2 of 2 (Reblog from Il Mondo di Odore)

Tokyo Milk, the Dark Collection, Part 2 of 2
(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on January 10, 2012)

Femme Fatale Perfumes
In part 1 of this Tokyo Milk Dark series, I reviewed six of the original eight edps: Crushed (a very green jasmine); La Vie La Mort (a slightly spicy tuberose); Bittersweet (cacao bean-flour composition); Excess (an excellent labdanum amber patchouli); Arsenic (an “unexpected” absinthe, salt and fennel unisex fragrance); Everything & Nothing (an orange-potpourri-tea scent). I promised to return with reviews of Bulletproof and Tainted Love, which were backordered and never sent to me. I eventually had to re-order them from another vendor, and happily they have finally arrived.

Since my investigations into the Tokyo Milk Dark line began, however, Margot Elena, who may well suffer from hyperactivity attention deficit disorder—given that she simultaneously runs three separate perfume houses (Tokyo Dark, Lollia, and Love & Toast)—managed to launch a whole new series of Fate and Fortune “roller parfums de cigarro” to further augment the already impressive line-up of the Tokyo Milk Dark Collection.

Fate and Fortune parfums de cigarro

These new creations (not identified as eau de parfum or eau de toilette on the applicator itself or in the descriptions at vendors, but only as “perfume”) come in 10ml thin cylinders which are matte black with stylized white lettering, to perfectly match the sleek bottles of the Femme Fatale collection. The equally sleek Fate and Fortune rollerball applicators come housed in large cigar test tubes with cork-stopper bottoms which are certainly aesthetically appealing and interesting to look at, albeit not entirely functional or helpful, it seems to me. One of my test tubes arrived cracked, and I must say that they aren't that great for putting the perfume vessels on display, because they are so tall and likely therefore to fall down.

One might consider storing the rollerballs in the glass tubes on their sides, I suppose, but a problem with that idea is that unless they are slipped very gently and carefully into the outer tubes, they are likely to crash into the fragile concave glass top and break it. It would have been nice if the tips of the test tubes had contained some sort of cushion mechanism, I suppose, but instead, they really seem to me well suited only for donating to someone's chemistry set.

The rollerball applicators arrive rubber cemented to the cork base, which of course is designed to prevent breakage during shipping. But once they are a part of your collection, the test tubes seems somehow irrelevant. In any case, it was a creative touch, for better or for worse, and for which Margot Elena can always be counted on. Now to the perfumes, the final two members of the Femme Fatale collection, and five members of the Fate and Fortune Collection:

Upon initial application, Bulletproof smells to my nose like a leather perfume, particularly if it is liberally applied. It is really quite remarkable, and must be attributable to the ebony and the black tea. I find the tea rendition here to be closest to China black—there are no chai spices, and I do not detect any coconut or coconut milk whatsoever.

I am reminded a bit of the opening of Hermès Hermessence Poivre Samarcande, which offers a very marked Assam tea note, according to my nose. Assam is not China black, but they are certainly closer to one another than either is to most other things in the universe. In any case, the two compositions diverge quite a lot in the drydown, because Poivre Samarcande manifests an incense note, while Bulletproof does not. Instead, the drydown of Bulletproof smells like a cross between a rich piece of resinous ebony and a pot of very black, stoutly brewed China tea. The seasoning is not sugar or cream, but cedar!

This creation is not at all sweet, clearly unisex, and would perhaps make a good pseudo-leather scent for vegetarians. On ne sait jamais. As for me, I find Bulletproof wearable but nothing that will need to be replaced once this 2oz bottle is empty. I think that a couple of better ebony wood compositions by Margot Elena are Tokyo Milk Dead Sexy and Love & Toast Pomme Poivre, both of which I encourage ebony enthusiasts to test.

Apparently Dead Sexy has garnered something of a following, but I like Pomme Poivre even more. I appear to be one of the few amateurs of that perfume on this planet, no doubt in part due to the radical disparity between the name and qualities of that composition. Zero apple, zero pepper. Why is it called Pomme Poivre or “Apple Pepper”? inquiring minds may well wish to know. I'm afraid you'll have to take that up with the elusive Ms. Elena, as I have no idea! You might also inquire, while you have her in your clutches, as to the meaning of “Love & Toast” or even “Tokyo Milk,” for that matter! But I digress...

Salient notes (from the bottle): smoked tea, coconut milk, crushed cedar, ebony woods

This perfume is a rare case of a Margot Elena combination of notes which has already been done so many times that it calls to mind literally dozens of middling mainstream oriental fragrances. It's the sandalwood and vanilla which doom this composition to redundancy. Sandalwood and vanilla probably smelled new and exciting at some point, but now, after a couple of decades of launch after launch after launch after launch, it all just seems tired and trite.

At first when I donned this perfume I was trying to rack my brain to figure out what Tainted Love was reminding me of. Then suddenly it dawned on me: virtually every average oriental mass market fragrance launched in recent history. Although the orchid might have come to the rescue, it is not strong enough to compete with the well-entrenched sandalwood and vanilla combination. White tea is very lightly scented, so no surprise that it did not save the day.

Needless to say, this perfume is not for me. But for those who seek out and wear sandalwood vanilla compositions, let me assure you that Tainted Love does not turn rank and stale, as many of the cheaply made cousins to this composition do. The price is also very reasonable, relative to some of the designer mainstream sandalwood vanilla perfumes. I would recommend Tainted Love for testing by those who enjoy wearing compositions along the lines of Christian Dior Addict.

Salient notes (from the bottle): dark vanilla bean, orchid, white tea, sandalwood

The names of the Fame and Fortune “roller parfums de cigarro” all have something of a gnostic ring to them: Truth, Yesterday, Chance, Tomorrow, Wisdom. I am sure that some cynical people will be criticizing this line for combining a couple of current fads, the cigar format (which I must say I myself have never understood), and the D&G Anthology-esque idea of numbers paired with Tarot card concepts. The creation process involved in the production of the Fame and Fortune perfumes is described in these terms:

Botanical extracts unearthed, crushed then distilled into this remarkably uncommon sensory experience.

We can generally count on Margot Elena for something “uncommon”, but how are these as perfumes?

This is basically a candied orange rind, gourmand perfume. Very sweet, and for gourmand lovers only. It is natural smelling, but it is not nearly so complex and compelling as, say, Hermès Elixir des Merveilles, which is my candied orange perfume of preference. I do like the scent of Truth, but it is too sweet for my taste in perfume. I'd almost rather eat it than wear it!

I should add that I was a bit disappointed with the longevity of this, my first perfume from the cigarro series. Bear in mind that the roller ball cylinders contain 10ml and go for nearly the same price as the 1oz and 2oz and 3.4oz bottles found in the Tokyo Milk, Tokyo Milk Dark Femme Fatale, and the Love & Toast line-ups. In fact, these Fame and Fortune “perfumes” cost about the same as the roller ball travel-sized formats of mainstream launches found at Sephora and major department stores such as Lord & Taylor or Saks ($24). Given the usually low cost of a 1oz or 2oz Tokyo Milk eau de parfum, I was half expecting these roller balls to contain higher concentration perfume. In fact, they wear more like eau de toilette on my skin. All of this suggests that we are paying a premium for the elaborate albeit cumbersome (see above...) packaging.

Salient notes (from label on test tube): blood orange, osmanthus, crushed cedar, and sugared vanilla

To my nose, this perfume primarily offers a somewhat odd combination of linden and old wood. It smells almost like wet, rotten wood for a few seconds, but then fortunately improves as it dries down. The linden is much stronger than the rose, and the whole composition becomes sweet, almost fruity as it dries down, making me suspect that there are perhaps some unnamed red or purple fruits lurking about. I am not smelling the ginger listed in the notes.

I would definitely characterize Yesterday as a fruity-floral perfume, in spite of the aged-wood opening and the marked linden note in the mid-stages. Eventually, the whole complex bottoms out in a reddish-purple fruity-floral scent. Not bad, but I can only recommend it to those who like fruity-floral perfumes.

Salient notes (from label on test tube): asuka rose, linden, ginger root, and aged wood

What I love about Chance is the opening brief blitz of bamboo and tea. Shortly thereafter, the fig marches up on stage and basically steals the karaoke mike for the rest of the night. Fig, woody fig, to be more precise, is without question the star of the show here. The musk is only a base, and the tea is relegated to the role of understudy by the drydown.

Fig perfumes are so popular now that I've managed to sniff about a dozen of them. Woody fig, fruity fig, green fig, dried fig, plus many permutations of the combination of those facets of fig in different proportions. I guess that, truth be told, I don't really like fig perfumes. This one smells as nice as they get, but I just am not wowed by them at all.

If you are an amateur of fig perfumes, you should try this one, because it smells natural and well-blended and certainly can hold its own against the stiff competition. But it is, in the end, yet another fig perfume in a very crowded corner of the grand olfactory map. At some point, I believe that the world of perfumery will awaken to the news that we have reached maximum fig saturation. Then we can look forward to new trends taking us far from land of figs and oud. Or perhaps we'll simply see fashion recycle, and the next New Big Thing will be the multilayered labyrinthine trajectory Old Lady floral aldehyde in all its perfumic glory!!!! On ne sait jamais...

Salient notes (from label on test tube): bamboo, tea leaves, fresh fig, white musk

This unique composition, which combines marine and salt notes along with cypress and moss, strikes me as an olfactory neighbor of Arsenic, from the Femme Fatale collection. It's obviously the salt note which lies at the intersection of the two compositions, but the general feeling here, too, is completely unisex and very fresh. I am pleasantly surprised at how much I like this perfume because I've nearly never met a mainstream aquatic fragrance that I did not not like. (yes, that was a double negative!) These sorts of perfumes usually make me feel queasy and seasick (aptly enough), probably because the mainstream versions use some “smells like aquatic” synthetic component which simply conflicts with my physiology. As a result, I have grown very wary (and weary) of perfumes with the word water or blue in their name!

Tomorrow, which boasts “marine” notes, has demonstrated to me that I do not have a deep-seated aversion to the very idea of aquatic perfumes. It is just that some of them—and most of the mainstream versions I've tried—contain something which induces in me severe malaise. This “marine” perfume, in contrast, smells just like sea spray combined with driftwood and a greenishness which could be seaweed, though it's described by the house as cypress.

I would not want to wear this as a signature scent or as a part of my regular rotation, but now and then it could be a refreshing change from the typical citrus colognes which I reach for often in summertime. My suspicion is that lots of guys would like this one and certainly anyone who likes perfumes along the lines of Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aqua Motu, although I hasten to add that the marked musk is not present in Tomorrow. What I do not know is whether guys would appreciate the roller ball “purse friendly” format. Perhaps Margot (on peut tutoyer, n'est-ce pas?) will decide to release this creation in a regular bottle. I'm quite sure there would be takers!

Salient notes (from label on test tube): mineral salt, marine, cypress, white moss

This seems to me to be another fruity-floral composition, and I'm not sure what the mystery source of sweetness is. The good news is that the water lily note wears naturally, unlike the vast majority of mainstream perfumes claiming to feature that flower. I generally do not like water lily very much in perfume, but here it is likeable and does not smell artificial and chemically.

My understanding is that “Marge” eschews the use of all manner of nasty things included in the “sourced from a massive vat” mainstream perfumes more widely available. Wisdom appears to bear that truth out felicitously yet again on my skin. Yes, it smells vaguely watery and floral, but, no, it is not sickening at all. I am not at all sure that I detect any walnut whatsoever in this composition. Instead, I perceive something slightly sweet, like a water fruit of some sort. The musk is not at all sweaty here and barely detectable. Its sole role here seems to be to support the water lily.

All and all, Wisdom is a nice, simple, balanced composition. Nothing too exciting, but the roller parfum de cigarro might make a good small and inexpensive gift for someone who likes fruity-floral and somewhat aquatic floral fragrances. There are similar perfumes to this one in the Love & Toast collection, which come in fanciful 100ml bottles at a great price. So if you're looking for this sort of composition, you might give some of those a sniff as well.

Salient notes (from label on test tube): water lily, woods + moss, walnut, and winter musk

The Numbers Game

Although it's been quite some time now since I began my journey to the dark side of the Tokyo Milk line, I have unfortunately not made very much progress in deciphering the meaning of the numbers associated with these perfumes. So far, I have only deduced that 0 = Nothing = La Mort. Using the digits 10 for Everything & Nothing makes a lot of sense. And then of course there's my birthdate, 26, which hooks up quite nicely with Wisdom. Clearly I still have some distance to travel before arriving at anything I can claim to be 85 about these matters.

The good news is that I now have seven more data points to help me to deduce the solution to the numerological anagrammatic puzzle:

10 = Everything & Nothing
17 = Arsenic
18 = Chance
21 = Yesterday
26 = Wisdom
28 = Excess
32 = Crushed
45 = Bulletproof
62 = Tainted Love
68 = Tomorrow
83 = Bittersweet
85 = Truth
90 = La Vie La Mort

There is one more parfum de cigarro, which it was apparently my fate somehow to have missed, #79: Destiny, the notes of which are fresh cut ginger, honeysuckle, davana, and midnight jasmine. Hmm... sounds promising... Plus it's another data point!

I'll keep investigating on all fronts—but I'm not at all sure that I can keep up with Margot!!!!