Review: Tom Ford Vert des Bois — 4.0 points

The name Vert des Bois (Tom Ford, 2016) implies that this perfume is about green and woody notes. And it is: when I smell Vert des Bois, I think of green chypres from the 1970s. Those raunchy green-woody compositions such as Aliage (Estée Lauder, 1972), Private Collection (Estée Lauder, 1973), and Jean-Louis Scherrer (1979) come to mind.  As often is the case for Tom Ford fragrances, they are inspired by perfumery’s classics. But Vert des Bois is far removed from just another all-too-familiar knock-off.

olive

Instead a whiff of Vert des Bois reminds me of the summer trip from Madrid to Seville by train. I smell green olive, sweet thyme, and a sharp resinous fir from the outset. Its aromatic green accord, rounded by a plummy note, conjures the pastoral landscape. A peppery accent brings in the attribute of the mid-day heat in an Iberian summer. And even before the fragrance reveals its woody counterpoint, I can vividly recall the scorched land along route, dotted with venerable olive trees.

And when the dramatic woods do unfurl, they reveal themselves nineteen to the dozen. Leather. Oakmoss. Balsams. All at once. These are inextricably intertwined with a patchouli trail. The dry down some hours into wearing Vert des Bois retains this gripping character, but has become slightly warmer, as sweet tonka bean and musk mellow the rough-hewn woods. The result is nothing short of excitement, from top to bottom.

Whilst it does recall the heavy-hitter chypres from the seventies, Vert des Bois does not feel at all like a mere knock-off of the classics. What sets it apart is the accents. Plum, pepper, thyme, and pine needles make for a twist in the green accord, and when paired with a strong woody accord, one gets an interesting vantage point of a classical green chypre. Having said that, those who enjoy the stark contrast and drama of this genre will relish Vert des Bois and its olive groves and sun-scorched earth.

Source: GetYourGuide.co.uk

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Review: Hermès Twilly –4.5 points

When I first read the tagline ‘the scent of the Hermès girls’, I did not have much hope for Twilly (Hermès, 2017), the latest creation by in-house perfumer Christine Nagel. Clearly, it is targeted at young women in their twenties and we all know too well what sort of composition major fragrance houses tend to have in mind for this demographic. My thoughts wandered off to the theme of La vie est belle (Lancôme, 2012), sugar confection that often ends up in very cloying vanilla and musk.

hermes

But the very first sniff simply debunked all that stereotype. In fact, at the outset, Twilly is sparkling with fresh petitgrain and this is soon joined by a beguiling white floral note at heart. It is something between orange blossom and soft tuberose; and to those who are averse to white florals, fear not: the sweetness of its white florals is foiled by a gingery accent. Even in the dry down, which also lasts well from morning into evening, its musky amber is peppered with herbal accents and sweetened only by powdery heliotrope and bitter-sweet coumarin. Nothing about Twilly betrays a hint of sugary confections.

In fact, Twilly might just be the proof that young women in their twenties do not need saccharine musks to smell good. If they want something coquettish, addictive, and quirky, this is it. Its white floral is sensual enough without being carnal. Its sweetness is just tantalising without being treacly. And, the gingery and herbal accent lends a distinctive note to the mix. It feels like a quirky, seductive eau de cologne that blends citrus, herbal florals, and musky amber. And, it remains wearable. For this reason, Twilly, much like a short, memorable melody, is easily my favourite.

Source: hermes.fr

Review: Gucci Bloom — 4.0 points

White florals seem to be back in vogue these days. Recent major launches that come immediately to my mind such as Twilly d’Hermès (2017) and Gabrielle (Chanel, 2017) were infused with such notes. With such popularity, it is easy to feel jaded of white florals. But, Bloom (Gucci, 2017), the latest launch by Gucci, makes for an exception; its vibrant interpretation breathes life into the white floral accord and makes it memorable.

Gucci Bloom

Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci, wanted a rich white floral fragrance that transports one to a thriving garden, and Bloom superbly captures that spirit. At first, it offers the promised offering of a creamy white floral set in a lush green garden. The initial green stem suggestion is followed by sweet creamy notes of tuberose and jasmine, with a hint of bright lily of the valley. However, this seemingly simple pairing of green garden and white floral belies the creative streak of perfumer Alberto Morillas, who crafted Bloom. Look underneath and one finds a rose juxtaposed to the rich white floral, lending a bright effect to lighten the creamy heft. Perhaps this effect is what the marketing at Gucci refers to Rangoon Creeper whose flowers turn from white to red as they open. And as Bloom develops, the white floral accord is also accompanied by the green contrast, which morphs from stem to fruity, musky pear. In the dry down, its creamy floral segues into powdery vanilla and musk.

Bloom offers a white floral garden with a vibrant surprise. Its floral is sensual yet possesses a radiant effect, and that makes for a highlight. While those of us lusting after a take-no-prisoner white floral will have to look elsewhere, the restrained character of Bloom makes it versatile and will suit just about any occasion and time. If you want to enjoy a daydream about a fantasy garden, a spritz of Bloom will suffice.

Source: gucci.com

Review: Chanel Gabrielle — 3.5 points

I find it difficult to write about Gabrielle (2017), the latest major launch in fifteen years by Chanel Creative Team and perfumer Olivier Polge. This is because it does not evoke anything beyond the propriety of a nice, likeable launch. I have but few adjectives and words with which to work.

gabrielle

Perhaps, I should start by describing all the notes of Gabrielle with the few vocabularies that come to mind: lovely and bright. The vivacious debut of grapefruit and mandarin segues into a bright white floral heart. Although Chanel purports that this is a quartet of orange blossom, ylang ylang, jasmine, and tuberose from Grasse, what I smell is mostly a fresh lemony jasmine with a creamy accent, which is cushioned in the dry down by soft sandalwood and musk. Whilst a fresh white floral such as this is a dime a dozen, there is an accent reminiscent of dried fruits and prunes to it that lends Gabrielle its lasting luminosity — that is probably just about the only aspect that I find interesting. Other than that, Gabrielle seems to have borrowed its bright white floral from Jour d’Hermès (2013) and diluted the fruit syrup of Coco Mademoiselle (2001), arguably its more daring chypre-esque sister.

Still, I am quite willing to forgive Gabrielle. Its well-mannered white floral intended to appeal to the market at large is hardly distinctive, but at the same time it is not entirely without ploy. It also smells of quality, from the zest of its citrus to the creamy accent of white florals and the soft musk. This is rare by today’s standard. Hence, for its purpose and intent, Gabrielle makes the cut for a decent launch. Everything about Gabrielle is intended to hook, and it did me, but it does not arouse any feeling beyond mere satisfaction and fleeting delight.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Thierry Mugler Aura — 3.0 points

Love it or hate it, one can never remain indifferent to Angel (Thierry Mugler, 1992). Its unprecedented accord of patchouli versus crème caramel coupled with a monstrous sillage and tenacity makes it impossible to forget. This ground-breaking spirit was henceforth associated with the house of Thierry Mugler. To achieve the status of a commercial blockbuster whilst remaining edgy is exceedingly difficult a feat, but they did it with Angel. Even their later releases such as Alien (2005) and Womanity (2010) are just as interesting. So, when the newest launch Aura (2017), signed by Daphné Bugey, Marie Salamagne, Amandine Clerc-Marie, and Christophe Raynaud, hit the shelf, I jumped at the chance to try it, only to be somewhat underwhelmed by its mishmash of green and musky vanilla.

Thierry Mugler Aura

To be fair, its idea of faceted green and musk, which represents the exotic forest and ‘feline sensuality’, is promising. Both the green and the musk accord are complex. Plenty of violet leaf is embellished by some sweet minty and herbal accents; the impression they give is just as eccentric as the emerald green bottle. These are equally matched by an enveloping musky accord. It has the dense powdery character of cedarwood punctuated by sharp woody hints and tempered by sweet vanilla. I liked the idea of its green-musky interplay at first because of the mélange of off-beat accents that make it fun. It has the right performance, too, in terms of presence and tenacity.

Nevertheless, after only a few months, I quite forgot what Aura is about. It feels nice, but it never quite captures and holds my attention. On the face of it, the peculiar contrast and technicolour accents should render it memorable, but Aura ultimately boils down to a safe sweet musky vanilla. It is a well-crafted perfume with an eclectic green and musky character that lasts like an armour, but ultimately where is the drama? The more I try Aura, the more I find myself wishing for more excitement and punches.

If you are indeed looking for a combination of green, musk, and wood, there are plenty of other exciting offers in the market. For a verdant yet silky take, the galbanum-musk-wood interplay of Untitled (Maison Martin Margiela, 2010) is just as well-executed, but perhaps far more enthralling with its counterpoint and harmony at once. If you want a dramatic and an almost chypre take, the green olive, leathery woods, and musky balsams of Vert de Bois (Tom Ford, 2016) make for a worthy tribute to its classical predecessors. Or, better yet, look no further than the old-school green chypres: Chanel N°19 (1970), Aramis (1965), and Cabochard (Grès, 1959) offer their opulent sets and dramas full on.

Source: Clarins Press Release.

Festival of Scents: A History Through an Olfactory Lens

It has been a while since I last composed a reflection. But despite the hectic period with personal decisions and career transition, I have not forgotten to pen my thoughts here and there, and with this piece, I assemble them together to describe my fascination with scents from a recent visit to a festival dedicated to olfactory experience.

Festival der Düfte, literally for ‘Festival of Scents’, took place between 17th and 22nd October 2017 at Wildegg Castle. It aims to expose members of the public to the rich history of scents and perfumes. With the help of perfumers, some of the rooms and halls of the baroque-ised castle were equipped with scents inspired by their historical contexts.

schloss wildegg view

As I made my way through the rooms, I was greeted by olfactory exhibits that brought their histories to life. Suddenly, these chambers could narrate the lives of the Effingers, who had lived here from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century. Some of the scents indeed make for such a surreal experience. For example, the salon was infused with Le Salon created by perfumer Christophe Laudamiel; its notes of tobacco and herbal tea conjured the social gathering and leisure that must have taken place here a long time ago. For the banquet hall, he created Myrrhmetal whose notes of balsamic resins, myrrh, oud, and rose captured the Oriental history of the magnificent chainmail on display. And how apposite it is: This centrepiece was brought back by Bernhard Effinger after he had fought for Emperor Leopold to defend Vienna against the Ottoman invasion of 1683.

Schloss Wildegg

The salon. A place of social gathering in the seventeenth century.

Another interesting interpretation is of the corner room. Here, Albert Effinger once composed many letters and his sister Sophie von Erlach-Effinger kept a diary of her son, who was an Austrian officer. He had died at the age of twenty-five and lay in state here in this corner room. Therefore, perfumer Ralf Schwieger created Der Duft des Junggesellenzimmers or The Scent of The Bachelor’s Chamber. The warm ambery note paired with lavender indeed kept the memory of its gentlemen occupants alive.

Not only the noble family, but also the lives of those who worked for them are the inspirations behind the olfactory experiences. In the room of the maids, perfumer Laurence Fanuel composed ‘The Helper’s Life’ to tell the tale of drudgery, sweat, soap, and vinegar. The greasy-versus-floral note begged one to imagine the lives of those maid servants in 1820 and how they must have toiled away, washing and cooking, with barely any time for leisure.

Perhaps, my most favourite of all is in the library. Here, perfumer Ralf Schwieger gave us Der Duft der Bücher or The Scent of The Books, which embellished the sweet vanillic scent of old books with notes of glue, printing ink, and grease, suggesting that these books had passed through several hands over the years. It was incredibly intense that the line between reality and imagination became blurred.

the library

The library

I ended my visit to the idyllic castle with the talk Geheimnisse lüften or Uncovering Secrets, a moderated discussion between Christophe Laudamiel and Ralf Schwieger. I was most fascinated, of course, to meet my inspirations and learnt first-hand something of their insights. They shared their thoughts on raw materials, perfumery effects, and how they work.

At one point, Mr Schwieger described rose absolute from Grasse — the likes of which many of us could only imagine to be beautiful beyond measure — as ‘smelling like cheese’. He then talked about accords that are difficult but nonetheless interesting to create, such as an apricot. Unlike, say, a rose, which one can approximate, an apricot requires precise dosing of specific materials, otherwise the accord turns into a peach or another fruit. Likewise, a grapefruit demands a sweaty note and a jasmine would be insipid without its horsey note; some accords also need just a smidgen of that funky element to bring them to life. He likened such materials to salt, of which only a pinch is needed and without which the flavour is incomplete.

The discussion also included their approaches. There are perfumers who work like minimalists and those who work without limits to the number of ingredients. As for Mr Laudamiel, he views raw materials as piano keys and does not strictly distinguish between natural and synthetic ones but rather sees them as either existing in or derived from nature. He also loves to work with different bases, including, for example, candles, which demand that various challenges of formulation be met.

At one point, the discussion turned to the age-old question of market test and success of a composition. ‘Can you recall any fragrance in the last twenty years or so that went on to become successful without prior market test?’ asked the moderator. The perfumers promptly recalled the prototypical gourmand, Angel (Thierry Mugler, 1992). There was also the mention of Light Blue (Dolce & Gabbana, 2001). And, did you know that Aqua di Gio (Giorgio Armani, 1996) was considered at first to be too feminine just before its launch? All these later became great commercial successes.

And, when it comes to recommendations of fragrances, the articles of Bois des Jasmin by Victoria Frolova came first to perfumer Ralf Schwieger’s mind. And, I could not agree more.

ralf schwieger and I

A selfie with my favourite perfumer to end the visit.

All in all, it was a most insightful learning experience and excursion. I hope that more museums employ such installations to evoke olfactory experiences, as they prove to be even more engaging than mere sights and sounds. Indeed, history did come alive.

Sources: Museum Aargau.

Review: Jacques Fath Bel Ambre — 4.0 points

Bel Ambre (Jacques Fath, 2015) is literally ‘beautiful amber’. As the name might already suggest, the bulk of the composition rests on a classical blend of vanilla and labdanum, which is called ‘amber’ for its rich, golden brown hue resembling the precious tree resin. One could be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that the name betrays yet another classical sweet amber perfume, but this is not case. This is because Bel Ambre certainly has a few beautiful surprises up its sleeves.

belambre

Of course, the main impression is traditional. The beloved warmth of this perfumery accord indeed already makes itself evident in the top notes. Juniper berry, which is often used to flavour liquor, imparts a boozy note to the bright citrus and savoury herbs. Cumin lends its complementary spicy note. The sum is like the warmth of a strong liquor coursing through your veins.

But the surprise that soon sets in comes as a chill. Buttery iris note creates an interesting cool contrast to the warm amber composition, and along with an animalic overtone of castoreum and smoky leather, they meld into a soft leathery note. It develops in the dry, smoky side, which will suit those who prefer their amber a little less opulent.

The pleasing amber accord reveals itself fully towards the dry down. The powdery sweetness of vanilla, tonka bean, and musk creates a cosy, ever-so comforting cushion. The balsamic note of labdanum imbues the composition with much warmth here. And in the background, a vetiver note offsets the sweetness nicely with a bit of a woody touch.

Bel Ambre is a gentle take on classical amber with a twist. For me, the overall warmth recalls that of Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000), but it is quieter in terms of volume and slightly sweeter. Of course, there is also the soft leathery and animalic tinge. Its lasting power is great enough to be enjoyed throughout the day. If you are looking for a taste of classical amber but with a chic twist, this is it. And, I am sure that fans of classical amber will hardly find fault with such a beautiful amber, and that applies to me as well. Even when I constantly look for novelty in compositions, a familiar accord that is well-executed such as this one has already won half of the battle for my affection.

Source: spirale-rp.fr