Review: Dior Homme — 5.0 points

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I say Dior Homme (2005) deserves its place on a pedestal of classics. Rarely do mainstream launches proceed without deliberation on market tests, but Dior Homme did. And its composition does not conform either: at the centre of it is iris, a material that does not have a firm ground on the masculine territory like, say, lavender or geranium. Yet perfumer Olivier Polge did an astounding job, thereby firmly establishing its place amongst masculine fragrances.

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Iris, which has the connotation of powder puff and lipstick, is not exactly a fresh note. However, in Dior Homme, its carrot facet is cleverly extrapolated with green herbs to give a fresh top note. A combination of bergamot, lavandin, geranium, and carrot seed renders the impression of aromatic green herbs. Cardamom and coriander provide a spicy contrast. Such cool herbs introduce freshness to the dense note.

The lively iris theme at heart revolves around 0.25% of orris absolute with its rich powder, carrot-like green, and chills. A peachy glow, the fruity touch of δ-damascone at 0.11%, and violet-like ionones warm and sweeten the composition. A radiant floral touch keeps the heart limpid. The glow and shimmer impart such clarity and polish, rendering an otherwise austere and sometimes dull note of iris vibrant.

Towards the base, the composition is warm and inviting. Here, vetiver is sweetened by vanilla, coumarin, and musk with a crisp ambery note of Ambrox. The resultant gourmand sweetness is brilliantly offset by the combination of myrrh and frankincense oil each at 0.5%. Patchouli conjures a surprising touch of bitter cocoa when paired with powdery iris. The character of vanillic woods strongly contrasts with that of iris, and pairing them together creates a gripping tension between warm and cool notes. It is riveting.

Offering iris as a masculine fragrance untested is a bold and risky move, but in doing so Dior and Polge have created a milestone with a memorable character and a lasting influence. The iris is rendered surprisingly fresh and spicy, and its rooty chills polished by radiant florals and glow of fruits. Then, pitted against vanillic woods and incense, it makes Dior Homme unforgettable. It is tenacious and its suave sillage of grand cru cocoa and supple leather will impress. Its boldness has certainly left a mark in perfumery.

A note on the concentrations: Since its launch, Dior Homme has been a success, spawning various incarnations. The versions which are clearly related to the original character are Dior Homme Intense (2011), which is an eau de parfum, and Dior Homme Parfum (2014) by perfumer François Demachy. The eau de parfum is like a creamy, sweet leather-cocoa as the levels of vanillin and coumarin are increased. For the parfum, its richness is overall increased, creating a dark supple leather; and the emphasis shifts to the fond with fumes of frankincense and myrrh — the blotter has been oozing these dark swirls even after three weeks from the first spray. The longevity of both is, likewise, sterling. Their presence also lingers long after one has disappeared.

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

Photograph of the Day: Skylines

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Bürkliplatz, Zürich

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Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

The skyline at Bürkliplatz is set against a backdrop of the Alps. The skyline of Causeway Bay, in the mean time, has another kind of mountain range made of concrete and steel. They are very different. Yet, there is a peculiar similarity between them:  a clear blue sky framed by lush trees on either side.

For sure, both have something beautiful to offer.

Review: Christian Dior Ambre Nuit — 3.5 points

If one wants a gentle amber, this is it. Ambre Nuit (Dior, 2009), despite the name, is perfect for day, night, and just about any season. It is not the rich, dark, classical amber accord à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925), Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal, 2007), or the slightly gourmand Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000). Ambre Nuit, instead, focuses on the transparent warmth of the mix of a classical perfumery accord called amber and throws in a nice measure of rose. A nicely done modern rose-amber by perfumer François Demachy.

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Ambre Nuit opens with the freshness of bergamot and is somewhat aromatic due to the lavender-recalling dihydromyrcenol. From there, it plays on the interesting metallic facet of its rose to complement the amber. It begins with the metallic tonality of pink pepper oil at 0.25%. Then, the tone is extended towards the rather metallic musk fond comprising 11.2% each of Habanolide and ethylene brassylate. This firmly establishes the metallic character of its blooming rose at the centre.

Later, the composition gradually unfurls its sweet amber. There are the vanillic sweetness and balsamic labdanum. The ambery warmth of 5.1% Ambrox is present as a warm ambergris accent, which is in turn extended by the woody-ambery tone of 28% Iso E Super and a touch of cedarwood oil. The ambery warmth feels more like a gentle caress than the enveloping warmth at the fore of Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) and Allure Homme Édition Blanche (Chanel, 2008).

Such a well composed composition is thoroughly enjoyable. It presents a well-done oriental accord of rose and amber accented by an ambergris note. Also, the metallic aspect is a quirky twist to the rose. Ambre Nuit is nothing ground-breaking, but I say we always have room for another well-done amber that delights all day long.

Sources: dior.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odor

Review: Annick Goutal Ambre Sauvage — 3.5 points

Ambre Sauvage (Annick Goutal, 2015) by perfumer Isabelle Doyen is one of those perfumes that must not be tried on paper alone. It takes time on a warm skin to reveal the subtleties of its depth. Otherwise, it would be easy to dismiss the composition for its seemingly one-dimensional character.

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Most of Ambre Sauvage is a dense accord of amber. Pink pepper and lavender lend their bright terpenic accents, but they do not seem to make much of an impact, let alone a lift. The notes therein are so well-blended they feel as though I were looking through a filter for Gaussian blur. I can make out a warm patchouli. There is also a swirl of leather, styrax, and incense that sets the dusky tone of the composition. It stays close to skin, emanating just a woody, leathery air. It certainly feels monolithic.

Despite its name, Ambre Sauvage is far from the animalic notes and incense of Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal, 2007). Nor does it resemble the spicy and sumptuous feast of Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000) in the least. Fans of such dark or opulent ambers will be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the subdued richness feels refined. And, the absence of sweetness means that it can never be cloying. Those wishing to move from modern, streamlined, sweet ambers like Ambre Nuit (Dior, 2009) to a more challenging and shadowy side of amber might find Ambre Sauvage to be a good stepping stone. I just wish its ideas were extrapolated further.

Source: annickgoutal.fr

Review: Christian Dior Bois d’Argent — 4.5 points

Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) is not only a great perfume in terms of quality, but also a salient example of how its shades of iris are played to open the material to a unisex effect. We would later see a ground-breaking success a year later of the ‘masculine iris’ in Dior Home (2005) which truly demonstrates the potential of iris. For this reason, this excellent Bois d’Argent by perfumer Annick Ménardo is ahead of its time.

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At the heart of the composition is a combination of musks and 0.8% orris butter. Accents of vanilla lend its sweetness, and completes the powdery musky iris theme. In contrast, the woody shades of iris are expanded by patchouli and a noble whiff of frankincense oil at 1.1%. Thus, the character is powdery deep down, but with an interesting woody incense subtext.

The woody tone is kept warm and salty like driftwoods. Here, the unprecedented amount of Ambrox at 13.6% plays a major role with its crisp ambery note. It also gives an interesting warm sillage and a lift to the musky iris theme of Bois d’Argent.

Often, when I have already forgotten that I put on Bois d’Argent, I would still catch its warm, powdery, faintly sweet, and woody semolina hours later. It recalls somewhat the late dry down of Chanel N°19 Poudré, but is inflected with a warm woody accent.

Interestingly, Bois d’Argent explores the warm woody shades of iris whilst remaining easily accessible to both men and women’s shelves. At the centre is iris. The woody aspects are played up by ambergris, patchouli, and frankincense, meanwhile the soft powdery element is expanded by vanilla and musks. My favourite part is in the interesting pairing of the warm ambergris note and the musky flour of iris. It gives not only a beautiful contrast, but also a signature warmth. It is a brilliant composition.

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

Thurgau Strawberries and Sprüngli Chocolate: A Case of Perfumery

What I eagerly await at the beginning of June here in Switzerland is the sun-ripened strawberries from Thurgau. They are nothing like those imported from the greenhouses of Spain in February; Thurgau strawberries are sweet, fruity, and possess the nuances of fresh pineapple and dulcet apple. Yet, the acidity therein provides a refreshing contrast. Paired with the deep bitterness of molten grand cru chocolate slivers from Sprüngli, and one arrives at pure decadence. As I enjoyed these two deceptively complex sensory profiles of strawberry and chocolate, I reflected on the fascinating craft of perfumery and flavours.

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Thurgau strawberries and molten Sprüngli  70% chocolate

Whilst we can easily say that something smells like strawberry or chocolate, the chemical make-up of these two entities are much more complex. There is no single character-impact compound that says ‘strawberry’ or ‘cocoa’. A strawberry comprises hundreds of volatile compounds, of which possibly twelve contribute to the characteristic ripe fruit. Of note is the naturally occurring Furaneol (HDMF, 4-hydroxy-2,5-dimethyl-3(2H)-furanone), which is sweet and caramel-like, and found also in pineapples, tomatoes, and buckwheat. As for cocoa, the beans are made up of nearly six hundred compounds, and some of these are found in cooked cabbage, raw beef fat, and sweat — not the most appetising combination, surely. In any case, the specific olfactory and gustatory profile of strawberries or chocolate also depends on factors like varieties, maturity, post-harvest conditions, and treatments. Re-creating these two simple foods can be a feat.

But thanks to the craft of perfumery, we do not need as much as a dozen or six hundred chemicals to make our brains perceive strawberries or chocolate. Sometimes, we do not even need a naturally occurring component of these. For example, the fruity aldehyde C-16 (ethyl methylphenylglycidate or ‘strawberry aldehyde’) is a popular compound for the reconstitution of strawberries. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, however, begs to differ and suggests a simple strawberry accord of the strong exotic fruity note of Fructone and the crème caramel of ethyl maltol. Add the sweet berry accent of the methyl anthranilate, and one arrives at the intense smell of wild strawberries. For chocolate, the perfumer simply weaves together vanillin and the sweet, chamomile-like isobutyl phenyl acetate. And, to this accord, patchouli can create unsweetened chocolate. Whereas a trace of civet conjures a creamy ganache, orris concrete gives a cocoa powder. Other effects like orangette or minty chocolate thins can be rendered with the help of orange essence or spearmint oil, respectively. Such successful combinations have much to do with our innate ability of perception, and perfumery taps into that way we are wired. Our neural interactions allow us to perceive a new odour sensation, even if the individual odorants stimulate the neurons for very different smells. We smell chocolate from the vanilla of vanillin and the sweet charmomile of isobutyl phenyl acetate. The sensation created is an illusion of sort. The result is more than the sum of its parts.

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Wild strawberries

Instead of two, one plus one equals to three — that is the magic of perfumery.

Sources: Journal d’un Parfumeur

  1. André Schiefner, Quirin Sinz, Irmgard Neumaier, Wilfried Schwab and Arne Skerra. Structural Basis for the Enzymatic Formation of the Key Strawberry Flavor. J. Biol. Chem 2013, 288:16815-16826.
  2. Frauendorfer, F and Schieberle, P. Identification of the key aroma compounds in cocoa powder based on molecular sensory correlations. J Agric Food Chem, 2006 Jul 26;54(15):5521-9
  3. P. Schieberle and T. Hofmann. Evaluation of the Character Impact Odorants in Fresh Strawberry Juice by Quantitative Measurements and Sensory Studies on Model Mixtures. J. Agric. Food Chem., 197, 45 (1), pp 227–232

The Shoe Designer

Whilst browsing the shelves of perfumes for some random inspiration, I noticed this Italian man driving the salesman crazy as he asked to try the ultimate patchouli. The man tried Javanese Patchouli (Ermenegildo Zegna, 2012), Patchouly (Etro, 1989), and 1740 Marquis de Sade (Histoires de Parfums, 2000) on both arms, and his wife enthusiastically sniffed him like a professional judge. As the salesman struggled to find words in English to explain the years on Histoires de Parfums, I interceded: ‘It is the year of birth of the individual’.

‘Ahhh…’ said the lady.

‘If you like patchouli, I recommend the new Monsieur. from Frédéric Malle’.

The salesman thanked me and rushed over to the counter of Frédéric Malle to pick up Monsieur. for them to try. They were impressed by the juice and inquired about the names on the bottle.

‘Mr Frédéric Malle is like the publisher of scent authors,’ explained the salesman.

‘Brunooo…Jovaaanovic — he is the shoe designer!‘ exclaimed the lady.

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Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums (left) and IFF perfumer Bruno Jovanovic (Right)

 Source: wsj.com

Chocolate and Chili

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Recently, I have had the chance to try this grand cru seventy per cent Madagascan chocolate and chili from the brand Menakao. There has never been anything quite like it. Even the very good one from Läderach is around forty per cent, and its piquant chili is nowhere near the heat I crave. Already when opened, the rich-amber scent permeates the air around it. It even has an animalic tinge. What little sweetness therein seems to open the rich flavours recalling bananas when completely melted in my mouth. The fruitiness goes on a bit further. Then, the dense cocoa leaves a dusty mouthfeel and a little tannic accent. The burning heat now sets in and lingers on longer than that of any other chocolate-chili I have tried. Marvellous.

Source: menakao.com