(originally posted at Il Mondo di Odore on November 29, 2011)
I find it very difficult to believe that excellent perfumes could also be very inexpensive. Yes, I know of quirky examples here and there, but in general, I'm more apt to believe that an inexpensive perfume is also cheap, not only in the monetary sense, but also in its composition and overall integrity. I suspect that the ingredients cost little, and furthermore that little effort was put into its creation. All of this leads me to approach houses which ask only modest sums for their wares with some caution and skepticism—and naturally low expectations.
At the same time, I expect a very expensive perfume to be really very special and find myself disappointed when it is not. If what I perceive to be a cheap-quality perfume carries a high price, I feel on some level that there is a form of swindle taking place, that the price was simply another part of the hype used to market the perfume.
I am not sure whether any of this affects my evaluations or not. Am I so relieved that I overreact and pour out enthusiasm for less expensive perfumes when it is not really warranted? I have no problem identifying bad perfumes poorly made, particularly revolting chemical soups which I would not wear even if someone paid me to because it would simply be too traumatic for me to do.
Still, I sometimes wonder whether I am less critical of inexpensive lines than more expensive lines, feeling pleased by the simple satisfaction of the rather modest criterion of being wearable at all. At the other end of the spectrum, am I perhaps also overly critical of quite decent perfumes because they cost so much?
Sometimes I think that it would be nice to be able to evaluate perfumes without knowing anything whatsoever about them—beyond how they smell and wear on my skin—paying no heed whatsoever to what they might cost. Perhaps I could avoid all of the possibly untoward effects upon my judgment of my antecedent expectations if I were to test every perfume blind, with no knowledge of its provenance or price. However, that would require that I hire a personal assistant to tend specifically and only over my sample queue, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Such concerns may arise for many perfumistas who approach low-priced lines, I believe, first and foremost because we all seem to want on some level truly to believe in meritocracy, among other closely related principles of folk wisdom such as You get what you pay for. While sometimes you really do get what you pay for, at other times you get a lot less, and anyone who has been profoundly disappointed by a high-priced niche line knows what I'm talking about.
On the other hand, sometimes we get a lot more than we expect, and that's what I have found in general with the creations of Margot Elena, founder of the house of Tokyo Milk, which recently launched a new series of perfumes, Tokyo Milk Dark, each 2oz bottle of which costs a whopping $36 MSRP. In keeping with the simple, streamlined aesthetic of this perfumer, each of these compositions combines a rather eccentric set of notes in a novel way. Here is what I found:
CRUSHED is the greenest jasmine perfume I've ever encountered. I actually like it very much. I've sniffed many jasmine soliflores, which usually differ primarily in how indolic they are. Some have a bit more of this or that base, and some are combined with sweet components. Here, in contrast, the jasmine is interspersed with a hefty pile of grass clippings.
This perfume is very natural smelling and not at all indolic to my nose. Clean and fresh, Crushed would appeal to those who want something a bit more exciting than a soliflore but not necessarily something sweet.
Jasmine lovers should check this out as it offers a new take on a flower that's been done about a million times in just about every possible way. Also a good choice for people who like floral-green perfumes in general. Very big jasmine, but also very green.
Salient notes (from the bottle): earth, moss, crushed herbs, wild grass, jasmine
LA VIE LA MORT is primarily a tuberose perfume, with a dusting of cardamom and a detectable dose of jasmine. I do not myself smell anything animalic or indolic in this composition, nor anything vegetal à la Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, but I do like what I smell.
This tuberose is very feminine, but it's quite a bit less flamboyant than the ultimate diva tuberose perfume, Robert Piguet Fracas. On the other hand, I also find it more interesting than By Killian Beyond Love. Still, it is feminine, so guys should definitely try before they buy.
To my nose, La Vie La Mort is a calmer, gentler tuberose perfume—neither very green, nor very buttery—with just enough cardamom to mark it off as distinct, imparting as that spice does a very slightly oriental demeanor and ever-so-lightly powdery texture. I am not at all sure that I detect any hibiscus, but perhaps it is blending seamlessly with the other components to produce what is indeed a pleasing perfume.
If you are big on tuberose, you should definitely give this remarkably low-priced, natural-smelling creation a sniff. I like it a lot.
Salient notes (from the bottle): white tuberose, cardamom, hibiscus leaf, jasmine
Another unique offering in this line-up, Bittersweet really took me by surprise upon initial spritz. Yes, there is a cake mix quality, as other reviewers have noted, but what is fascinating to me is that the sugar is missing. So, to my nose, Bittersweet is a sort of "cocoa meets L'Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine" perfume. It took me some time to process this one, but after a few wearings, I appear to be developing an addiction. Yum!
In addition to wearing well as a stand-alone perfume, I think that Bittersweet would make an excellent layering scent. There is no vanilla in this composition, so perhaps this pleasingly bitter cocoa-flour could be used to moderate some of the over-the-top sweetness of the vast range of vanilla-patchouli frags now in frightening ubiquity.
Bittersweet is a must-sniff for gourmand perfume lovers, and also for those who love cocoa but can't take all of the vanilla sugar which so often masks (and sometimes mars) this worthy note.
Salient notes (from the bottle): cake flour, dark cacao bean, osmanthus, bronzed musk
EXCESS may be my favorite creation from the Tokyo Milk Dark collection, though it's becoming more and more difficult to say! In this case, a big blast of labdanum amber mixes with patchouli, a touch of wood, and an even lighter touch of blood orange to produce a super-smooth and sensual cold-weather-only perfume. There are zillions of amber perfumes and quite a few patchouli-amber perfumes on the market, so the competition is stiff in this realm, particularly among niche houses.
With so many high-quality amber choices out there, it's a real mark of distinction to be something that I actually premeditatively look for occasions to wear, and Excess has swiftly become the first amber I reach for, despite being the last to join my collection. This one is definitely less spicy than some, but somehow I am drawn to its viscous golden gleam. Excess is also not sweet, which to me is a plus and would make this a sure hit among some gents as well.
Is my current infatuation with Excess only a momentary crush? Will this perfume be forgotten and lost in the back of my armoire in the not-too-distant future? I think not. This feels like the real thing: a top-notch amber-patchouli perfume!
Salient notes (from the bottle): amber resin, oak bark, blood orange, patchouli
A name like Arsenic for a perfume obviously instills certain expectations. Will it be intense—or even deadly? In the case of the new Tokyo Dark perfume, ARSENIC does mean intense, but definitely not deadly.
This creation offers a rather eccentric combination of notes, including both absinthe and fennel, but also grass and salt, which does seem to give the composition an edge. It also makes my neck sting a bit.
As far as the quality is concerned, I have to say that, although I was a bit taken aback by the masculine aromatic demeanor, I'm finding that it grows on me with each wear. I'd say that this one is probably an acquired taste, but worth trying absolutely for guys (this is by far the most obviously masculine perfume of the line), and also for gals looking for something a little bit—or even alot—different.
ARSENIC is definitely unique. The Tokyo Milk website lists the perfumes of this series under the heading FEMME FATALE PERFUMES, but this one is clearly unisex, as is the amber-patchouli, Excess.
Salient notes (from the bottle): absinthe, vanilla salt, cut greens, crushed fennel
EVERYTHING & NOTHING
This particular entry in the Tokyo Milk Dark series really toes the line between personal and home fragrance and ultimately teeters over to the other side. I am reminded by Everything & Nothing of holiday potpourri, to be more specific. Something about the combination of orange rind, tea leaves, and dried flowers just makes this scent a touch too familiar and "craft-ish" (not crafty) to me.
As a stand-alone perfume, Everything & Nothing doesn't really work that well on my skin or to my nose, but I suspect that it might be salvageable with some layering, perhaps even with this line's own cocoa-flour composition, Bittersweet. I'll give it a try...
Salient notes (from the bottle): sweet orange, pressed petals, desert moss, tea leaves
There are more perfumes in this series, but they've yet to arrive, so for now let me simply say a few words about the gorgeous bottles, which are opaque matte black with white illustrations and lettering. The caps have a titanium-like look, and add the perfect finish. My only small complaint would be that some of the illustrations are of my personal bêtes noires: insects! Fortunately, however, that's only one of the four sides, so if you're like me, you can simply turn the bottle around and put one of the other three sides on display!
Stay tuned for reviews of the final members of this collection, Bulletproof and Tainted Love...
In the meantime, I'll see if I can figure out the numerological significance of the numbers assigned to these perfumes:
10 = Everything & Nothing
17 = Arsenic
28 = Excess
32 = Crushed
83 = Bittersweet
90 = La Vie La Mort