Review: Aramis — 4.0 points

From the first sniff of Aramis (1965), it struck me immediately as dated. It was from a time when the grand chypre structure was in vogue. Had it been my first experience in choosing a perfume, I would have recoiled from the intensity and the tenacity of Aramis. It is a powerful idea.

But such strength alone is not what makes Aramis so memorable. It is, in fact, the way perfumer Bernard Chant creatively reworked strong ideas of his contemporaries to offer and firmly establish leather chypre amongst the families of masculine perfumes. As I smell Aramis, I am jolted by the ideas: the ferocity of leather chypre in Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), the verdancy of overdosed galbanum in Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1947), and Bernard Chant’s very own green floral and leather chypre in Cabochard (Grès, 1959).


Aramis (in gold) and Aramis Adventurer (in azure)

The opening features some aldehydic sparkles, aromatic herbs, spicy coriander, and green galbanum. The latter feels like a creative citation of Vent Vert. The funky, sweaty cumin that follows, admittedly, startles me. Aramis is bold, indeed.

Soon, I notice a subdued floral accord, mainly of jasmine note, that seems to blend in smoothly with a lot of sandalwood. It creates a kind of bracing softness that contrasts with the strong debut and the imminent pungency of leather. This is where Aramis reminds me of the softness in Cabochard.

But this is also where it diverges: Aramis might embrace the same kind of floral softness and sandalwood, but it does not wrap its leather with flowers and verdancy. Instead, the leather accord based on isobutyl quinoline that was also used in Bandit takes centre stage. Oakmoss, patchouli, and vetiver provide a dramatic woody backdrop. Gentle puffs of castoreum add much of the animalic note. And, musks mellow the sharp leather accord.

One can think of sturdy leathery Aramis as the masculine counterpart of the more floral leather of Cabochard. Both are just as memorable and polished in different tones. For Aramis, the uncompromising nature of its mossy leather against a backdrop of rich chypre is the reason why it has since become an icon, and is amongst the most recognisable leather chypre for men. But then again, the galbanum-infused leather chypre of Aramis would find itself softened by florals, ionones, and orris, and given radiance by the first overdose of Hedione in Chanel N°19 (1970), another classic.


Review: Grès Cabochard — 5.0 points

Inspired by the ferocious whip of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), perfumer Bernard Chant took to the leathery character and created Cabochard (Grès, 1959). The leather accord was softened and balanced with verdancy and florals. Cabochard itself would become a legacy amongst the family of leather chypres and inspire a number of perfumery’s classics such as Aramis (1965) and Chanel N°19 (1970).


From the start, the green combination of galbanum, armoise, and basil contrasts nicely with the earthy character. Styrallyl acetate in combination with aldehyde C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde) contribute to the green floral aspect. To complement the green, there is the freshness of mandarin and bergamot with linalool and linalyl acetate. The opening is certainly reminiscent of another era: bitter green with sharp freshness. It is bright and sparkling.

The composition reveals the floral heart as expected of a classical chypre. It is dominated by a bright jasmine accord different from those of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior (1947), a fresh rose note, and hyacinth. Its radiance is imparted by a muguet note. Also, the relatively high content of sandalwood compared to other chypres provides the apparent softness to Cabochard. Such pairing of the jasmine accord and sandalwood would later be found in the masculine leather chypre territory of Aramis.

Then, glimpses of leather appear. Along with isobutyl quinoline, balsamic benzoin, a castoreum note, and a costus note give Cabochard its leather character. Interestingly, there is a similarity between Cabochard and Aramis in their use of isobutyl quinoline with the floral-powdery musk ambrette, which is now banned due to safety concerns.

The warmth of its chypre accord is built around patchouli, oakmoss, animalic notes, woody notes of vetiveryl acetate and cedryl acetate, and the amber note of Dynamone, which is a base derived from cistus. The accord is sweetened by methyl ionone. The use of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone) to lend a soft creamy touch emulates the use of peachy aldehyde C-14 (γ-undecalactone) in earlier chypres like that of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove, and a carnation accord provide a bright contrast to the dusky leathery character. The vegetal musk character of ambrettolide finally echoes the verdant top.

Cabochard is one of the few surviving leather chypre amongst feminine fragrances. Thanks to the brilliance of perfumer Bernard Chant, he extrapolated the iconic leather of Bandit. He softened the leather and gave it verdant florals. The interesting use of materials also gave Cabochard its creative twist and character. It stands on its own as another classic in the family. Although the reformulations may have rendered Cabochard more docile now, but one can still see a glimpse of its complex transformation.

Sources:, Perfumery Practices and Principles

Review: James Heeley Chypre 21 — 3.5 points

Often, I have had to brace myself when smelling a perfume with the description of ‘chypre’ attached to it. The very idea of this fragrance family dates back to Roman times, but the characteristics of ‘chypre’ or ‘Cyprus’ only took shape due to the famed perfumery materials of the nineteenth-century Cyprus. A chypre comes with the key notes of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, but is often combined with notes of rose, jasmine, patchouli, amber, and/or musks. It can be seen as a grand and dramatic perfume. It has been almost a century since this structurally defined chypre was popularised by the success of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917). I should think it safe, therefore, to say that chypre is not the kind of olfactory conception millennials like me are familiar and can readily appreciate.


As I have learned to understand the complex aesthetics of a chypre perfume, I am of the opinion that such a complex fragrance is not a grab-and-go perfume for every day. The rich complexity and, often, intensity of a chypre can be glorious, but the very same combination can also be brutal. With Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919) in the eau de toilette and eau de parfum, for example, I teeter between aversion and admiration whenever someone douses himself or herself liberally at the Guerlain counter. Only the peachy warmth and sensual Guerlinade in the extrait de parfum firmly establish it in my realm of admiration.

But thanks to the clever updates and spin-offs, there have been a fair share of chypres that I can access, like, or love. For instance, in Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the zesty lemon and agrestic herbs keep the composition bright amidst the dark mood of oakmoss. In Chanel N°19 (1970), the galbanum and iris give it the idiosyncratic green and buttery softness to the otherwise rough-hewn structure. In 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007) and Cuir de Russie (Chanel, 1924), the addition of plush iris significantly softens the harshness. Similarly, Chypre 21 (Heeley, 2015) by James Heeley takes advantage of the rich, honeyed rose to not only give opulence to the composition, but also render a headstrong chypre more obliging.


A very fine bergamot introduces the bright top. The citrus is brief and would escape if one does not sniff within a few seconds of spraying. It is bright and refreshing, and the floral nuance brings us seamlessly to the heart.

It is a rose in its prime — rich, floral, and honeyed. A Provençal accent of rosemary provides a minty touch. Now its peachy glow and richness remind me of a sip of whisky that warms the body. As time passes, patchouli dominates with a warm tone setting stage for the emerging woody warmth.

Velvety sandalwood and musks lend much softness to the woods. And its oakmoss note is subdued, but persists there with a brooding accent to reassure you of its signature chypre. The final stage radiates the warmth of musky oakmoss. The overall result is understated and balanced. It has a nostalgic ring of the classical chypre, and it smells like money. It is certainly polished.

If you ever decide to make a foray into the chypre terrain, Chypre 21 would be akin to a modern gateway to get an idea of the chypre structure like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior Originale (1947).


Photograph of the Day: The Gifts of Spring

At last, I see welcoming changes from the dreary grey of winter. Here are some of my favourite sights of spring.


English primrose (Primula vulgaris)

English primroses are remarkably resilient; they bloom amidst the freezing rain of early spring, decorating kerbside lawns with blooms in shades of white, pale yellow, or mauve set against the amber colour of the centres.


In the homes, tulips of every imaginable colours decorate our living spaces with splashes of colours and intstantly bring life to combat the cold grey


Outside I often come across these unidentified bright yellow blooms of Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in defiance of the monotonous grey.


And, the white purity of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is an unmistakable beacon of full-blown spring.

Review: Guerlain Habit Rouge — 5.0 points

In 1965, fragrances for men were still largely conservative with few styles dominating the market. There were the citrusy chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the green woods of Vétiver from Carven (1957) and Guerlain (1959), the fresh herbal fougères of Brut (Fabergé, 1964), and the leather chypre of Aramis (1965), to name a few.


Then came Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965), suffused with Guerlain’s oriental legacy à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925). It was very different. Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain created a composition of strong contrast between cool citrus and warm amber, infused with orange blossom and a leathery note inspired by dressage.

Its scintillating top note is citrus galore: fulsome 32% bergamot oil, 2% petitgrain oil, 2% lemon oil, and 0.5% neroli oil. The brightness of bergamot is a classic introduction of an oriental, joined by the suggestion of a classical eau de cologne from lemon, petitgrain, and neroli.

Then, Habit Rouge mellows with the sensuality of orange blossom. Its green, floral note lends a suave character to the oriental composition. At this point, it appears rather dandy. I imagine a gentleman doused with a hesperidic eau de cologne and fashionably sporting a white floral boutonnière on the lapel.

The sweet amber base is enriched by a Guerlinade accord of sweet vanilla, tonka bean, and powdery orris. There is also a balsamic touch of 0.5% myrrh resin. But key to the personality of Habit Rouge is a leathery iris accord provided by a Firmenich base that gives the feel of soft saddles, burnished boots, and supple reins, the elements of show jumping from the very own experience of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Habit Rouge finishes with a hint of equestrian leather on the amber powder of Guerlinade.

Evidently, Habit Rouge is an offspring of Shalimar that has been given some good tweaking. The citrus is boosted and amber mellowed, and a leathery reference of dressage gives the final touch. Its striking counterpoint of hesperidic notes and sweet amber is effectual in creating the mood of a classical Guerlain: beautiful, rich, and opulent in the panache of its forefathers.

Sources:,,, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Guerlain Samsara — 5.0 points

The house Guerlain owes much of its glory to the oriental character of its perfumes. The association of Guerlain perfumes with tales of the Orient is therefore a given, and Samsara (Guerlain, 1989)Sanskrit for the ‘wheel of life’is no exception. For Samsara, the marketing at Guerlain also twisted this Buddhist reference of perpetual rebirth into a story of serenity and harmony.

But, in fact, what is far more interesting than such a woven Oriental tale is the conception of Samsara. It is a known fact that a passion of perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain is dressage. And, through their legendary horse trainer Patrick Le Rolland, he met Decia de Pauw in 1985, a Belgian woman of English origin who would later inspire the creation of Samsara. She had the habit of perfuming her bath with two essences, jasmine and sandalwood, which are of particular affection to her. Therefore, Jean-Paul Guerlain, with Gérard Anthony playing a part, created a perfume around these two essencesit was the first time that Jean-Paul Guerlain employed this accord. He would often go to India to acquire the particular jasmine and sandalwood that he wanted. Madame de Pauw also recalled that Samsara was very recognisable at the time and once people on the streets of Vienna would accost her just to inquire what her perfume was.


The answer, perhaps, is still Samsara. It debuts with the classic freshness and brightness of bergamot. The invigorating freshness contrasts nicely with the rich development of its floral and oriental aspects. Already a radiant and diffusive sandalwood note of Polysantol appears early and resonates throughout the duration.

Then, the florals of Samsara unfold. The duet between plush sandalwood and narcotic jasmine serves as the centrepiece. Its heady depth is provided by a damp brushstroke of narcissus, whilst its spicy floral character comes from ylang ylang and rose.

The ornamented centrepiece rests on the softness of powder provided by orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. This harmony lingers for about an hour. The sandalwood-jasmine complex becomes warmer and richer, transforming along with orris, tonka bean, and vanilla into the famed praline-like Guerlinade accord.

Samsara might have set a new standard with the highest dose of sandalwood oil, but that alone cannot entitle its classic status. The time when Jean-Paul Guerlain could afford some 20% Mysore sandalwood oil is long in the past, and the sandalwood note has been supplanted by Polysantal brightness. Yet, it is the way Jean-Paul Guerlain weaves the sandalwood-jasmine richness into the distinctive Guerlinade to engender a unique yet familiar personality that makes Samsara so enduring.

A note on the concentrations: In the extrait de parfum, the rich florals are lavish with rose petals, narcotic jasmine, spicy ylang ylang, and powdery orris so much so that it reminds me of Chanel N°5 (1921). The focus on Guerlinade, likewise, makes no mistake that this is a creation of Guerlain. The eau de parfum, meanwhile, shifts the focus towards the ripe florals so that it recalls Arpège (Lanvin, 1927). In this formulation, I enjoy equal attention from the ripe flowers and the Guerlinade dry down. The eau de toilette is the brightest with a dab of Guerlinade; the sharpness of Polysantol can be slightly dissonant.

Sources:,, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, reportage Alexandre Cousin.

Review: Frédéric Malle Dries van Noten — 4.5 points

Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle (2013) was created by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic as Frédéric Malle collaborated with the namesake Flemish designer. The perfume has the atmosphere of a Belgian patisserie as it explores the delectable warmth of his Flemish roots.

Dries van Noten starts off bright with bergamot and lemon. I also notice the spicy accents of clove and nutmeg. The fresh spicy opening lends a nice contrast to the heavy oriental-gourmand theme of, perhaps, waffles, spéculoos biscuits, and sugar tarts. Through this transparent top note, the delicious direction of the composition is also evident.


The central character is of baked butter pastries. It is built around the salted butter accent of saffron, the milky sweetness of Mysore sandalwood, and the musky softness of Cashmeran. Additional creamy richness comes from the warm milk note of Sulfurol (Sacrasol) and a touch of jasmine absolute. Then, ionones and caramel-like ethyl maltol sweeten the composition to provide an addictive suggestion of Flemish confectionery. And, with such luscious notes, Dries van Noten could easily be altogether opaque if it were not for the essence of patchouli to counteract with a woody touch. Yet, to make it truly edible, the creamy sweet and salted butter character is extended by vanilla, coumarin, and musk.

Dries van Noten is my choice of gourmand fragrance. It has a presence and lingers on even after the wearer has left. It oozes a mouth-watering suggestion of creamy desserts and salted butter, but it is never outright gourmand. This is what makes it tempting and wearable. If you are averse to sugary notes but also crave for something sensual and sweet, its teasing baked aroma will satisfy you. Every time I wear it, I imagine myself walking into my favourite bakery on Sunday and savours its irresistibly creamy air.

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

Review: Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule — 4.0 points

The attractive qualities of sandalwood — that peculiar mix of warm milk and dry woods — were what had sent me once on a quest for the perfect sandalwood perfume. Naturally, a composition with a name like Santal Majuscule (Serge Lutens, 2012) — literally ‘sandalwood in capitals’ — caught my attention. And it did not disappoint.


Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake delivers on that promise with a seductive accord of sandalwood and musky rose. The rich milky character, for which sandalwood is adored, is not only there fair and square, but it is also reinforced by a soft caress of floral and musky notes. Underscored by bright, spicy cinnamon on top, the contrastingly plush, creamy accord forms the impression for most of the composition. It is almost decadent.

Within the silky, creamy accord, patchouli backs the woody element and lends a subtle gourmand suggestion. The result is an addictive blend of musky, creamy softness and a hint of cocoa. Basically, it is a contrast between creamy and woody notes, and it gives Santal Majuscule an intriguing quality.

My requirement for a big dose of sandalwood was more than satisfied. The strong, clear-cut idea of a sandalwood is offered here with interesting embellishments and performance to match. I wear Santal Majuscule whenever I simply want a cosy creamy aura and dry woods that wrap around me all day, and just a spritz or two certainly goes a long way.

Review: Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille — 4.0 points

We describe something colloquially as ‘vanilla’ when it is considered ordinary, standard, and possesses no specialities. In the same vein, the warm, sweet effect of vanilla, though universally appreciated, can be just as plain and unexciting or even downright cloying, especially when it is used ad nauseam, as has been the case in many recent launches.

But when used judiciously, vanilla is one of the most versatile and powerful tools in perfumery. In large quantities, it provides much of the sensual warmth to the base of Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) and forms the classical oriental accord à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925). In small amounts, it can still provide great effects by highlighting the character and increasing the impact of a composition. For instance, it lends a warm touch to the cold aldehydic accords in Chanel N°5 (1921) and Arpège (Lanvin, 1927) and smooths out the rough-hewn quality in chypres like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1947) and Miss Dior (1947). Vanilla in perfumery can thus be thought of as salt in cooking: it brings out the flavour, but too much of it and the dish becomes unpalatable.

un bois vaille.jpg

In the case of Un Bois Vanille (Serge Lutens, 2003) by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, there is the challenge of focusing solely on vanilla, but without succumbing to the cloyingly sweet cliché. In other words, the challenge is akin to using a lot of salt and giving it character without rendering the dish inedible. To that, I think of my favourite salty food like anchovies and dried seaweed; their marine tang best matches the sea salt, with which they are prepared. Likewise, the solution to the composition of Un Bois Vanille is a classical one: an oriental accord with vanilla at the centre.

By layering vanilla with strong oriental notes, Un Bois Vanille puts the richness of this delectable raw material into perspective. Vanilla is not just sweet here; it is, in fact, multi-faceted. The anisic liquorice in the opening contrasts with and highlights the plush vanilla that soon emerges in full glory. A mélange of oriental notes, including milky sandalwood, benzoin, tonka bean, and musk, accompanies and enhances the main theme towards the dry down. There are also plenty of interesting twists in the layers, from beeswax and lactonic coconut to roasted almond.

The orchestration of Un Bois Vanille gives the luscious vanilla its surreal, distinctive quality. The spicy, creamy, and balsamic accents along with the layers of notes emphasise the curious nature of vanilla. They suggest something delicious and unapologetically decadent. And, the waves of its warmth hover around me from dawn till dusk. Such is the quality, for which I most crave in the bleakest of winter days. Un Bois Vanille is an interesting vanilla that is anything but… vanilla.

Review: Christian Dior Sauvage — 1.5 points

Fragrances that set out to sell and appeal to their targets with trendy notes may smell similar. Their perfumers might have little say on how they should smell because such fragrances, more often than not, follow strict marketing directives. But these perfumes are not necessarily without merits, either.

First, having undergone market tests and with consumers’ thoughts in mind, these perfumes are at least wearable and pleasing to many. Moreover, although they are focused on the trendy elements, they can still have some of their personalities. One can look at perfumes that embrace the masculine trend of ambery-woody and aromatic fougères to find some good examples. Bleu de Chanel (2010), for instance, may already contain such notes, but it also incorporates a peppery incense-y note next to its citrus and woods to convey the association with fresh and spicy aftershaves. It strength lies in such effective embellishments. 1 Million (Paco Rabanne, 2008), on the other hand, challenges the classical fougère; it opts for the novel freshness of mint and mandarin, the opulence of rose, and the sweetness of cinnamon bark, instead of bergamot, geranium, clove, and nutmeg.  The flamboyant defiance of 1 Million has even spawned a new masculine trend. These perfumes have proved that, despite riding on the same bandwagon of popular elements, they can still be creative.

Similarly, the aromatic woody-ambery fougère does not make Sauvage (Dior, 2015) by perfumer François Demachy any less worthy of purchase. If anything, they make for a wearable and familiar genre. But its problem lies in the lack of personality.


From the top, Sauvage follows the prescription. Its freshness comes from a lot of sour bergamot and the sharp, citrusy, lavender-like dihydromyrcenol. It becomes a tad aromatic. Sauvage smells very generic, but I am prepared to forgive the top in hope of finding some interesting accords that would follow. Yet, the distinct marine Calone 1951 soon discourages me. Worse still, the advertised ‘Sichuan pepper’ note is so feeble that to describe it as ‘spicy’ would be an exaggeration. And, there is a kind of sharp freshness that is intrusive right through to the fond.

As I tried hard to find something in Sauvage that might appeal to me, I caught a faint suggestion of violet leaf and leather and, for a moment, thought of Fahrenheit (Dior, 1988). But I am afraid that beyond this fleeting suggestion, there is nothing that remotely suggests a signature for Sauvage.

The warmth of ambergris note based on Ambroxan® and a large dose Iso E Super contribute to the remaining part. In contrast to the peppery brightness, it presents just about the only redeeming quality. Then, the disappointment goes deep in the musk fond that smells rather soapy. I find it inadmissible considering the price tag.

Sauvage is essentially a likeable contrast between citrusy freshness and ambery-woody warmth. However, the shortage of witty embellishments or twists and turns combined with a sore lack in quality materials makes for a very generic composition. It is to the point of banality. It simply takes after the style of Bleu de Chanel, but substitutes a simplistic, profit-driven intention for quality and effective ornamentation. The mishmash is boring and borderline aggressive. It is also unrelenting, and the only aspect it will not disappoint is longevity.

Source:, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odours