Photograph of the Day: Nostalgia

In Bangkok, I came across these nostalgic Tiffin carriers also known as pinto in Thai. It is a series of stacked stainless steel or cream-coloured tin containers. They are the forerunners of modern plastic containers. They can be used to carry a few side dishes to go with a staple, which is rice or noodle, separately. By the time one is ready for lunch, the rice will not be soggy.

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It was an invention for a time when people did not have the purchasing ability for outside food, and often brought their own homecooked meals to work. But nowadays they come in all sorts of colour and with more advanced materials like microwavable plastics or enamels. Still, there is no denying its inherent vintage vibe, and many restaurants employ these to serve their dishes.

Review: Les Liquides Imaginaires Saltus — 3.5 points

Saltus (Les Liquides Imaginaires, 2015) exudes the character of camphoraceous resins of an evergreen, just as one of its Latin meanings implies. In Saltus, perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu manages to capture the facets of a rich exudate in details from when it has just oozed out with a sharp turpentine until it dries up into a musky treacle. Smelling it, I tend to think of Saltus as a close examination of nature.

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The emerging sap has short-lived green accents of crushed cedar and eucalyptus leaves. Most of it is embodied by camphor. It imparts such an unprecedented brightness to which I am unaccustomed in a perfume. I immediately think of Vicks VapoRub. I find this comforting in a quirky way.

The camphoraceous note soon lessens as the exudate dries up, and one begins to glimpse the main resinous depth. Styrax imbues the composition with smoky, spicy, and balsamic notes. Patchouli and incense enhance the character of resinous woods. But, surprisingly, the thick exudate also hides the creamy fresh milk of ethyl laitone that provides the contrasting softness. The drying sap of Saltus feels like a resinous rubber. As it thickens and solidifies, the treacly exudate unveils its musky note with a feral touch of castoreum.

Saltus stays rather milky, rubbery, and with smoky resins and animalic notes for most of the day on my skin, and it stays close. Despite most of the heavy notes, it is neither loud nor blanketing as one would otherwise expect.

From the sharp opening notes towards a sensual resin, Saltus offers an interesting portrait of an exudate. I like how the immense camphoraceous and terpenic notes impart such a strong signature, and they are equally matched and balanced by the smooth milky note. But to wear it is another story. Its terpenic and camphoraceous notes in the early part, though not terribly long, are somewhat reminiscent of cold-relieving Vicks VapoRub. So, I offer a caveat: try it on your skin first.

In the end, I can say that I like most, but not all of it.

Source: liquidesimaginaires.com

Review: Arquiste Aleksandr — 4.0 points

Inspired by the fatal duel of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the namesake Aleksandr (Arquiste, 2012) isll a story of Pushkin riding into the fir forest on the fateful day, wearing leather boots and a copious splash of Eau de Cologne.

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But without reading the accompanying story, I tend to think of Aleksandr by perfumer Yann Vasnier as a leathery iris with a splash of eau de cologne-type freshness. This idea of iris for men is not entirely new, considering that it has already begun with the advent of Dior Homme (2005) that sets its iris in a cocoa and somewhat leathery theme. Nevertheless, there is always room for a good tweak.

The beginning of Aleksandr is a cool sparkle of neroli and citrus, and there is a lot of it because it veils the bulk of Aleksandr so well that I never would imagine that there is a dense theme at heart. Its bright freshness is a beautiful contrast to the dusky iris.

In a moment, the iris heart reveals itself. I first notice its green carrot vibes, followed by the sweetness of violets. Then, a leathery musky accent gives the impression of a soft suede – not exactly what Pushkin would have worn, but it has the modern appeal of soft leather that I like. The iris theme is also kept dusky by oakmoss and fir balsam, noticeably prominent in the dry down. It is gentle and understated, but it has a good lasting power.

An iris for men has a familiar ring of Dior Homme, but it is the accents that give Aleksandr a different character of its own. Its violet and suede impart a charming note. Its mossy and balsamic note has a rough-hewn appeal. And, the copious neroli makes Pushkin radiant, I imagine. Aleksandr is surely an interesting update to the masculine iris.

Source: arquiste.com

Review: Annick Goutal La Violette — 4.0 points

Nothing spells quaint like a good old violet scent. It was a defining note of perfumery during the early twentieth century when most, if not all, down puffs, toiletries, and fragrances were perfumed with violet notes. Therefore, anything that boasts violets certainly has a vintage vibe. But for La Violette (Annick Goutal, 2001), it is not just about reminiscing that vintage powder puffs, violet corsages, and candies of era past. There is also a natural quality and an interesting accent to it that make La Violette a special soliflore._0001_soliflore-violette100ml-711367020630_z_2_2.jpg

Perfumer Isabelle Doyen must have revisited this seemingly old-fashioned and outworn note with such a focus. One is at first greeted with the veiled sweetness of roses and fruity raspberries. These come on strongly at first and settle into a palpable element throughout. Along with these is a powdery note characteristic of violets that also reminds me of vintage dressing tables. And, with a green violet leaf touch, it is convincingly photorealistic.

This attractive natural quality simply leaves a memorable impression. Considering that La Violette contains as much as 48% of isomethyl-α-ionone and 19% β-ionone, it mirrors nature’s very own. The proportion closely resembles the major composition of violets in bloom: 35.7% α-ionone and 21.1% β-ionone.

But these overdosed ionones are just part of the violet story, for there is a special peppery, woody touch to La Violette. It becomes more prominent as time passes and lasts until the musky dry down. I find that this adds an interesting brightness and contrast to the sweetness of the ionones.

It is by no means a complex or ornate composition, but the simplicity is key. The nuances that make violets charming are captured here along with the subtle but assertive peppery, woody contrast. Simply put, La Violette keeps it short and sweet, which is why it is a memorable delight.

Sources: annickgoutal.com; M Cautschi, JA Bajgrowicz, P Kraft, Chimia 2001, 55, 379; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

Review: Chanel Jersey — 2.5 points

Chanel is one of the few fragrance houses whose quality and consistency I admire. From the aldehydic and floral cascade of Chanel N°5 (1921), the citrus chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), to the verdancy and chilly iris amidst the chypre of Chanel N°19 (1970), and even the generic and not-so-original Bleu de Chanel (2010) and Chance (Chanel, 2003), one can smell quality in the juice. In fact, sniff Sauvage (Dior, 2015) and Bleu de Chanel side by side, and one easily sees the difference already in the opening. From such experience, it follows naturally that Jersey, both the eau de toilette (Chanel, 2011) and the extrait de parfum (Chanel, 2014), by perfumer Jacques Polge from the Les Exclusifs line does ‘smell of money’.

An exquisite lavender is at the centre of the composition. It takes the spotlight here, with compliments from a little rosemary in the top. Replete with aromatic facets and floral sweetness, the lavender in Jersey is a Provençal dream. This is especially so in the rich extrait de parfum.

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Its lavender is also shaped by vanilla and a nuance of caramel, showing yet another sign of promise. One often thinks of lavender as perfumes marketed to men or as a perennial favourite note of grandmothers, but Jersey revamps its lavender with a kind of sensuality and an almost lactonic, edible quality. It is quite reminiscent of the lavender gourmand direction of Brin de Réglisse (Hermès, 2004), but Jersey is marked by a vanillic touch.

It is all well and promising for good fifteen minutes when the lavender recedes and the first hints of musks appear, especially in the eau de toilette. They seem to play a role in softening the agrestic herb, which is fine. But the trouble is that I am reminded of toiletries and fabric softeners. The combination of lavender and musk is quite the slippery slope. Such a pairing is popularly employed by consumer goods so much so that most of us have come to subconsciously associate lavender and musk with functional products. And, this is where Jersey falls short.

To be fair, it does employ quality materials and touches upon an interesting facet of lavender. The vanillic gourmand and soft cosy side of such a rustic herbal material is a nice surprise. Moreover, Jersey also lands comfortably on a musky cushion with decent longevity of easily six hours on skin. I do like Jersey for this, and smelling it from my clothes, it brings a sense of clean comfort.

Nevertheless, the olfactory implication of such a lavender-musk pair remains: it recalls fabric softeners. Jersey might offer a glimpse into a new side of lavender, but that is not enough to dispel the overwhelming association with functional products, especially when the lavender is paired with strong musks. Without leaving the tried-and-tested accord, the fine material alone will not suffice to produce originality. There is a need for audacity and experimentation to ever challenge the way lavender is orchestrated.

In sum, Jersey is a first-rate lavender whose orchestration, sadly, does not quite flatter it.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Diptyque Tam Dao — 4.0 points

Sometimes a beautiful composition is simple. It might not have a thousand layers to unfold, but its signature  character and quality more than make up for those. Tam Dao (Diptyque, 2003), the eau de toilette, by perfumer Daniel Molière is a case in point. It is focused. It is about dry, sensual woods – and a precious one at that.

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Indeed, the terpenic opening is kept to a minimal without much fanfare. Cypress gives the impression of an aromatic resin and woods with a leafy touch. From then on, it is sandalwood galore with as much as 17% of sandalwood oil. Its milky note embraces and calms, yet cedarwood imparts a distinct woody texture. A quirky description I could give is ‘a creamy pencil’.

The monolithic sandalwood character of Tam Dao can be dense and opaque, but the subtle ambery shades and woody dryness of 7.5% Texas cedarwood oil render it tangible and wearable. In fact, once Tam Dao reaches its musky dry down, it wears like a creamy second skin.

That said, those who prefer a trail in their perfumer will likely be disappointed by the intimate nature of Tam Dao. It is the kind of perfume that asks one to lean in and experience. Tam Dao lasts well, but its quiet character means that I often forget about it only to wonder later what that cosy creamy scent is.

Tam Dao is simply all about the beauty of sandalwood.

Source: diptyqueparis.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

Gardenia

The weather warms, so my gardenia buds open, seeking attention and permeating the night air with their perfume. As I made a study of the fragrance, I decided to write on this nature’s wonder. The common gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) has highly fragrant white flowers. In the evening, the opening buds smell slightly green and piquant because of the salicylate aspect. The flowers also smell creamy, recalling coconut and peach skin. There is an unmistakably heady indolic element of jasmine. In ripe blooms, they have a sharp green ‘mushroom’ overtones. Gardenias also share some aspects with lily, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, and a bit of rose.

In terms of composition, (E)-ocimene, linalool, methyl benzoate and a number of tiglates compose the gardenia flower headspace. However, there are likely olfactory variations amongst species. For example, the critically endangered native of Hawaii Gardenia brighamii, as demonstrated by headspace analysis of its gas-phase components, contains 41% methyl benzoate, 13% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl benzoate, 7% indole that recalls ‘white-flower smell’, 7% jasmine lactone that lends the jasminic and coconut touch, and 3.7% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl tiglate that gives the tang of soil fungi and mushrooms to the flower. It is possible to extract the desired fragrance from their flowers by enfleurage as the villagers of Fusagasugà in Colombia have continued to produce gardenia absolute since 1945. However, such enfleurage-derived absolutes are rarely ever produced in industrial scale due to the exorbitant costs involved. And, yet, I have stumbled upon a solvent-extracted absolute of the Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré (Gardenia tahitensis) which can be used in fine fragrances up to 1% of a composition to impart the exotic white-floral quality.

Like many flowers that do not yield the desired quality of their scents or do so at a prohibitive cost of extraction, the smell of gardenia is also the object of fascination in perfumery. Early reconstitutions of gardenia often revolve around a tuberose note and aldehyde C-18 and may eschew styrallyl acetate altogether. Still, most gardenia bases almost always call for it. Such bases rely on its powerful rhubarb-like green note in combination with jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, lilac, and a small amount of orange blossom to render gardenia odour characteristics. But styrallyl acetate is rather harsh, so salicylates may be used to soften it along with aldehyde C-14 and C-18 as modifiers. The top note of such bases may call for aldehyde C-8 to C-12 and citrus oils such as lemon, mandarin, orange, or bergamot. To fix the components, heliotropin, coumarin, musk, labdanum, myrrh, tolu balsam, cinnamic alcohol, and synthetic ambergris may be used.  Other aroma chemicals such as the mildly floral ‘gardenia oxide’ (isoamyl benzyl ether) and the citrusy fruity linalyl isovalearate are sometimes incorporated into gardenia compounds. Meanwhile, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, who professes his love of simplicity, draws a more-or-less complete gardenia note with just three ingredients: the fruity sweetness and coconut of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone), the fresh green of styrallyl acetate (Gardenol), and the Concord-grape sweetness of methyl anthranilate. Indeed, the reconstitution of gardenia is subject to the creative interpretation of the perfumer.

In fine fragrances, gardenia was initially a secondary floral. It formed part of the composition, but was itself not featured. For instance, gardenia found its way into the floral aldehydic L’Aimant (Coty, 1927) via the styrallyl acetate contained in infusions of jasmine, cassie, and tuberose used in the original formula. The green freshness of gardenia pairs well with chypre accords in perfumes such as Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), Ma Griffe (Carven, 1947), Miss Dior (1947), Cabochard (Grès, 1959), Coriandre (Jean Couturier, 1973), Michelle (Balenciaga, 1979), and the excellent fruity chypre La Panthère (Cartier, 2014).

Gardenia as main floral theme can be seen starting from soliflores like Gardénia (Chanel, 1925) and Jungle Gardenia (Tuvaché, 1933). If you like your gardenia creamy, Lou Lou (Cacharel, 1987) offers an interesting interpretation of the creamy Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré based on an oriental accord and tuberose. Another very creamy, coconut-like gardenia is Crystal Noir (Versace, 2004). But if you like the company of magnolia and jasmine, the bright gardenia of Un Matin d’Orage (Annick Goutal, 2009) may suit you better. A recent resurgence of the note seems to have produced a slew of gardenias for everyone, ranging from the sombre gardenia of Une Voix Noire (Serge Lutens, 2012), the fruity frangipani and gardenia of Gorgeous Gardenia (Gucci, Flora, 2012), to a full-fledged gardenia offered in the masculine context of Boutonnière No.7 (Arquiste, 2012). But for those who crave a more realistic impression, Gardénia (Robert Piguet, 2014) offers a no-frills flower with minimal contrasts.

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As for me, I cannot quite pick a favourite gardenia perfume at the moment. My pot of gardenia has had all the attention from me — perhaps, the only other rivals are the gardenias in my mother’s garden.

Sources: enfleurage.com, firmenich.com, P&F Vol.8 October/November 1983 by Danute Pajaujis Anonis, Perfumery: Practice and Principles; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, Scents of the Vanishing Flora

  1. Müller PM, Lamparsky D. Perfumes: Art, Science & Technology. Amsterdam, New York: Elsevier, 1991
  2. Tamogami S et al. Analysis of enantiomeric ratios of aroma components in several flowers using a Chiramix column. Flavour Fragr J 2004;19:1-5.