Review: Hermès Eau de Narcisse Bleu — 4.0 points

Narcissus plants grow in a green fluttering field and bear their white blooms that dot the landscape. However, these seemingly benign paper-white flowers harbour such a heady and complex fragrance of green, intoxicating floral note with facets of hay and honey. Its narcotic tone does not exactly spell ‘freshness’, but leave it to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena to interpret this heady flower as a lasting spring breeze.

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Eau de Narcisse Bleu bursts with a snapshot of green galbanum. But before long, violet and orange blossom succeed. The floral clarity of the composition has the familiar ring of the ‘green tea’ accord in Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (Bulgari, 1992) that similarly pairs the violet note of ionones and the luminous jasmine note of Hedione. The violet blooms and orange blossoms are a great floral extension that combines light and sensual notes.

Then, the heady density of narcissus is built around powdery iris, soft woods, and musk. There are also sweet accents of hay and almond. The composition now shifts from cool spring blossoms to warmer elements. This has a similar tonal shift to that in Eau de Gentiane Blanche (Hermès, 2009), in which the cool green herbs segue into warm incense. It feels as if the subject matter of these compositions were alive, and that is why even the simplest theme by Ellena exudes a lively attraction.

It stays quiet, but lasts well for an eau de cologne. I can still smell it after a day. It keeps me entertained on the most humdrum and grey days.

All in all, Eau de Narcisse Bleu reminds me yet again why I admire his knack for interpretation. He brings out freshness in the most unexpected of materials like gentian and narcissus. The bitterness of gentian root is served as a palate cleanser in Eau de Gentiane Blanche, and now the green floral head notes of narcissus are the new blooms amidst the grey, rainy day. And his subtle oscillation keeps the theme alive. Another marvellous composition that creatively highlights an unexplored idea for freshness.

Source: uk.hermes.com

Review: Hermès Eau de Mandarine Ambrée — 5.0 points

Eau de Mandarine Ambrée (2013) is by far the most intense in the collection. Experiencing it is as though I were gorging on a kilogram of ripe mid-season mandarins from Spain that are without a hint of sourness. But what impresses me more than the succulent sweetness is its interpretation of a jovial citrus with a longevity and sensual curve to match.

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Now imagine those golden mandarins being peeled and savoured: its hesperidic burst of bitter rind and juicy sweet pulp. And, just when I am about to expect the aftertaste, a strong tropical accent of passionfruit emerges. It exudes a fruity, musky ripeness and spins the composition from an uplifting eau de cologne into a sensual sweet perfume.

It taunts me further with its gourmand dry down of vanilla and sweet amber. Fresh, warm, and exotic, Eau de Mandarine Ambrée will accompany you most of the day, but it will linger quietly. It is like that tempting box of freshly baked mandarin tartlets sitting at the kitchen counter waiting to be savoured.

The idea of succulent sweetness, ripe intensity, and sensual amber is possibly as far from the classical eau de cologne as possible, but the combination of Eau de Mandarine Ambrée does just as well in lifting the spirit. And, it lasts. A simple, but powerful accord can be just as fantastic.

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A note on the soap and shower gel: The soap smells of dry mandarins with some vanillic amber, instead of the over-ripe note I get in the eau de cologne. When it comes to functionality, the soap bar strips the skin squeaky clean and dry, and what lingers is a decent warm mandarin. I think it is a decent soap bar, but not terribly worth the price.

As for the shower gel, I do not get the same oven-fresh mandarin tartlets as I do from the eau de cologne. The sweet mandarin, the ripe tropical passionfruit, and the vanillic amber seem to form a solid tripartite. It is rather monolithic, with little to no development. Nor is there any lingering sweet treat after the shower. I hoped that the shower gel would be faithful to the eau de cologne, but its performance falls short of my expectations.

Source: uk.hermes.com

Review: Hermès Eau de Gentiane Blanche — 4.0 points

When one thinks of eaux de cologne, one thinks of the freshness from tart citrus. I should think that a refreshing eau de cologne falls along the lines of bergamot, lemon, orange, lime, and grapefruit. But in an eau de cologne such as Eau de Gentiane Blanche (Hermès, 2009), the notion of freshness may surprise you.

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This is because perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has chosen the bitterness of gentian for its refreshing power. Its deep vegetal bitterness, much like a green stem that has just snapped and is oozing its bitter sap, provides a fresh effect. Accented by a spritz of bitter orange, the bitter-green mix feels crisp, cool, and radiant.

Cleverly, the herbaceous verdancy of gentian is paired with the dry earthy woods of incense and 0.7% myrrh oil. The notes of resinous woods provide a warm contrast to the cool bitter herbs. The tension between the vegetal and woody notes serves as the centrepiece of Eau de Gentiane Blanche. And, the composition is kept fresh by the persistent bitterness.

Towards the dry down, iris and musks mellow the sharpness of incense and the bitterness of gentian with their powdery softness. Eau de Gentiane Blanche has longevity, and I love the way its dry, bitter incense rises to greet from a warm skin.

Much like how hops have long been used to provide a mouth-puckering bitter contrast to the rich fermented flavours of beer, the crisp bitterness of gentian is an equally powerful palate cleanser for the resinous incense. The pairing of these two potent notes give Eau de Gentiane Blanche its lasting brightness that shifts in tone from crisp and cool to dry and warm. It is an interesting exploration of the rarely used note. The composition itself is a palate cleanser amongst the inundated fragrance shelves, and I find myself coming back to its addictive cool and warm bitterness.

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A note on the shower gel: I finally succumbed to the shower gel. It leaves a fresh combination of tannic dryness and bitter verdancy on skin.

Sources: usa.hermes.com, Scents and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Hermès Eau de Pamplemousse Rose — 3.5 points

Grapefruit is a popular note in perfumes. It gives novelty to the freshness of top notes and eaux de cologne. However, few compositions interpret its odour profile well. My grapefruit gold standard is the fiercely brilliant burst of grapefruit on a hot trail of patchouli in Pamplelune (Guerlain, 1999). Other than that, I can hardly recall any other grapefruit-centric perfumes because they suddenly seem like fleeting head notes. It is a challenge to interpret this ever-popular theme without being all too mundane. But with Eau de Pamplemousse Rose (Hermès, 2009), perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena gives us a dynamic portrait of this citrus theme.

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The bitter and fizzy grapefruit accord feels like a sip of champagne, and when rounded with the sweetness of rose, it has a vibrant quality. Bitter and sweet, it is refreshing. This well-loved exuberance can also be found in Rose Ikebana (Hermès, 2004). But unusually, it does not turn all sweet and musky, as would most citrus colognes.

Instead, the juicy citrus finds harmony with sheer woods. These possess a mineral, flint-like quality similar to that in Terre d’Hermès (2006), and together with their green and piquant facets, fill the dry down with complexity. The result is a nice contrast of bitter-sweet citrus and light woods. It is simple and fresh, and it has a dimension.

The only complaint I have against Eau de Pamplemousse Rose is that it is short-lived. The end at three hours is a little too short even for a fleeting eau de cologne. But in terms of composition, it is a lively citrus cologne with an interesting edge. It is also easy to wear and will not offend. These should be enough a reason to like it.

Source: uk.hermes.com, firmenich.com

Pinot Noir: A Wine Grape and Christian Dior Poison

Liquor notes are not new in perfumery. There is the red wine in Une Rose (Frédéric Malle, 2003), the rum in Monsieur. (Frédéric Malle, 2016) and Idole (Lubin, EdT 2005/ EdP 2011), and the whisky-cognac in Korrigan (Lubin, 2012). But, no, there is no wine in Poison (Dior, 1985), let alone the wine-evoking, fruity, sulphurous wine lees essential oil. Still, this flamboyant bomb actually shares an odorant with the Pinot noir wine grapes.

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Pinot noir is a vineyard favourite that is notoriously difficult to grow and work with. It has the potential to make for the finest wine. And, key to this is the right time to harvest: when the grapes are ripe enough that the build-up of sugar diminishes and the aroma compounds accumulate. But because variations in temperature, rainfall, and soil condition fluctuate the rate at which aroma compounds accumulate, it never is as easy as simply harvesting the grapes when they are full of sugar and ready.

Yet, researchers from Oregon State University, Michael Qian and Fang Yuan, might have recently pioneered a way to decide when to pluck these bunches of ambrosia – by evaluating the concentrations of aroma chemicals. From early- and late-maturity Pinot noir grapes, the researchers identified 49 aroma compounds. Most of these remained at low concentrations throughout the growing season, but β-damascenone, vanillin, 4-vinylguaiacol, and 4-vinylphenol were determined to be in higher concentrations in the late-maturity harvest. To the researchers, these might serve as indicators of the ripeness of Pinot noir grapes.

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As an enthusiastic student of perfumery, however, I immediately thought of the milestones: Poison (Dior, 1985) and Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). As far as this post concerns, I shall discuss only Poison for now. The reported β-damascenone is a naturally occurring compound found in rose oil, raspberries, cooked apples, roman chamomiles, coffee, wine and even beer. It has a fruity-floral odour recalling dried fruits, raisins, plums, prunes, blackcurrants, and roses. In combination with other compounds, it also imparts a honeyed facet to rose oil. In Poison, legend has it that Nathalie, the assistant of perfumer Edouard Fléchier, might have erroneously increased the concentrations by ten times so that such a milestone was born, containing 0.04% α-damascone, 0.09% β-damascone, and 0.09% β-damascenone. Although I admittedly struggle with the intrusion of Poison from wherever I leave the blotter, a perfume that elicits strong opinions — be it aversion or ardour — surely has a character, and that should be found in any good perfumes. In the case of the damascones, they lend themselves to the fruit facet in the floral-oriental body of Poison and have since been catapulted from perfumery niceties to olfactory protagonists.

Sources: news.bbc.co.uk, yesterdaysperfume.typepad.com

  1. Yuan F, Qian MC. Aroma Potential in Early- and Late-Maturity Pinot noir Grapes Evaluated by Aroma Extract Dilution Analysis J. Agric. Food Chem., 2016, 64 (2), pp 443–450

Review: Frédéric Malle Monsieur. — 4.5 points

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When I heard that Monsieur. (2016) by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic features a load of patchouli that it constitutes half of the formula, I approached this minimalistic, patchouli-dominated brew with caution. As patchouli is a complex and powerful material that has many facets beside the woody, earthy, and camphoraceous, there are aspects that can easily diminish my appreciation of a perfume. This is the case when I sometimes find the typical patchouli oil ‘sweaty’.

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Self-portrait (1629) of Rembrandt van Rijn

However, Monsieur. here conjures a vision of tweed suits, wild game hunting, and country estates because it feels polished. Its patchouli is replete with woody and earthy facets that it feels like a moist, dark brown bark. Its balsamic richness is complemented on top by sweet mandarin and the liquor accent of rum. The impression is much like the rich umber of this Rembrandt painting. There is no sweaty hippie or, if any, camphoraceous facet in the patchouli. Instead, frankincense adds a smoky resinous touch that offsets the sweet liquor character. And, its rough edges, are softened by a touch of vanilla and musk. The result is a well-mannered, spirit-soaked patchouli with a smoky, leathery hint.

The treatment of the overdosed patchouli here is done with a careful hand. It may not run the risk of being polarising, but its character is distinctive enough to stand out as a polished woody liquor. Its tenacity is great, but its sillage is surprisingly low-key. I think of it as well-aged whisky, rich with notes of fermented fruits and smoky casks.

Sources: barneys.com, clowesfund.org

Review: Hermès Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate — 4.0 points

Rhubarbs are strongly tart. They can add freshness to even the most syrupy of cuisine. The resulting mix of intense sourness and sugary sweetness in rhubarb compote is vibrant. This simple match also applies to perfumery, in which the green tart rhubarb pairs well with and tames the sweet notes of berries, rose, and violet.

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Perfumer Christine Nagel similarly employs this idea in Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate (Hermès, 2016). She pairs fresh rhubarb and sweet berries to create a lively eau de cologne with a sultry suggestion. The tangy citrus and green acidic notes conjure the crunchy stalks at first. These are, then, contrasted by a blend of fruity rose, violet, and musk. In effect, it is a dynamic between tart rhubarb and musky raspberry.

Such pairing of fresh tart notes with sensual sweetness give the composition its character. Towards the dry down, the lingering tangy promise keeps the sweetness at bay, and the richness of musk lends a soft caress. Refreshing and flirtatious at the same time, Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate demonstrates that fruity-floral perfumes are not necessarily bland, when executed well and with a character.

Its rhubarb compote and raspberry sorbet is luscious. It is also surprisingly long-lasting for an eau de cologne. It lingers close to me, like a second skin. It may be a polished fruity-floral cologne, but make no mistake, the character still pops out and is as bold as its scarlet flacon.

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A note on the shower gel: The development follows exactly that of the perfume. Upon lathering, the tart-sweet rhubarb and rose intensify. Its dewy rose and musky berries linger on skin afterwards. I am very happy with the shower gel.

Source: photograph of Philippe Jarrigeon