(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!!!!