Review: Christian Dior Diorissimo — 4.5 points

In the years following the post-war austerity, perfumes took on a new level of sophistication with increasing number of complex compositions entailing long formulae. These included the grand chypres blending citrus top, floral heart, and woody, mossy, animalic fond in perfumes like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946), Miss Dior Originale (1947), and Jolie Madame (Pierre Balmain, 1953). Even other styles such as the exhilarating floralcy of L’Air du Temps (Nina Ricci, 1948) or the oriental seduction of Youth Dew (Estée Lauder, 1952) were just as puissant.

They were beautiful, of course, but perfumer Edmond Roudnitska differed in his ideal of aesthetics. Why not a simple formula that could just as well bring out novelty, signature, and beauty clearly? And, perhaps, when he collaborated with Christian Dior — whose lucky charm was a boutonnière of muguet — the chips fell into place, and Diorissimo (Dior, 1956) was conceived.

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It came along and threw everyone back to the soliflores of the early nineteenth century when flowers that did not yield scents to extraction were being rendered by perfumers. There was no abstraction of elaborate ideas. Diorissimo felt as though it were against the idea of baroque grand parfums: it was just a flower.

Was it not?

One ought to smell again to see the concealed complexity beneath the white porcelain bells. The current Diorissimo is rather intense in the opening blast of ylang ylang. Its spicy solar note spearheads the brightness, whilst its fruity and heady notes also hint at the underlying depths.

As the jarring debut settles, the shimmering white bells emerge. It is coloured in layers, from the rosy top, the narcotic floral volume, to the green depth. These are interspersed with the watery shades of lilac. The infinite patches of muguet are to be admired along with the accompanying crisp, cold spring.

However, the current eau de toilette is not as radiant and rich as it should be. It has certainly been reformulated. Lily of the valley odorants are now limited to a certain concentration and animalic tinctures that once suffused the composition with a vernal impression of damp earth is banned. This likely accounts for some lost radiance and depth.

Despite that, Diorissimo is still excellent and surprisingly modern for a fragrance concocted half a century ago. In any case, the composition settles after some time into the distinct lily of the valley note of cool white flowers. It stays close to skin for six hours, and occasionally wafts out its crisp green floral sillage.

Diorissimo came at a time when perfumes were fuzzy formulae. Its impression of a single flower might seem like a reversion to the tradition of soliflore at first, but the depth of Diorissimo begs to differ. Its character leaves a strong impression with simplicity and veiled complexity found in shades and nuances of muguet. In Diorissimo, Roudnitska painted a vernal backdrop for the lily of the valley. He did so with the Impressionistic touch of Debussy. No longer are the lilies of the valley confined to a delicate vase. The result is redolent of the muguet in its very habitat deep in the damp, earthy woodlands.

Source: dior.fr

Review: Guerlain Jicky — 4.5 points

Legend has it that Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) was named either for the English lass, of whom perfumer Aimé Guerlain was enamoured, or for the nickname of his dear nephew, Jacques Guerlain. But, for certain, Jicky claims the title of ‘the oldest perfume in continuous production’.

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What makes it special is the creativity of Aimé Guerlain. He made use of what he knew and had at the time. He exploited the popularity of the fougère accord, which had been successfully pioneered by Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882), and experimented with the increasingly affordable synthetic compounds. The result was that Jicky was not only an imminently attractive fougère, but also one with a memorable signature that began to take shape and would later set the framework for later oriental icons of Guerlain like Shalimar (1925) and Habit Rouge (1965).

Jicky, as a classical fougère, features lavender, a material that possesses herbal, floral, and warm gourmand facet. Aimé Guerlain dressed it up with a lot of sparkling citrus, a sprinkle of herbs, and a warm vanillic base.

The aromatic freshness of lavender is expanded by citrus and herbs in the top. Bergamot and lemon lend their hesperidic sparkles. The original formula of Jicky likely contains as much as 32% bergamot oil and 2% lemon oil, with a boost from linalool obtained from distilled rosewood. Rosemary and thyme add an agrestic accent, giving it a rustic Provençal charm.

In contrast, the warm base that emerges later accentuates the sweet gourmand aspect of lavender. It is a powdery mélange of iris, vanilla, tonka bean, and sandalwood – a rudimentary Guerlinade, if you will. The use of aroma chemicals such as coumarin and vanillin gives Jicky a special sweet vanilla character. The animalic overtone of civet is also there, like a creamy ganache. Jicky settles into this warm animalic powder with an aromatic backdrop of lavender and herbs for most of its duration.

Jicky might have a familiar ring to its predecessor Fougère Royale because of its fougère structure, but its juxtaposition between raw citrus and vanillic base lends a different character. This memorable contrast would not be possible without the use of aroma materials that give a strong signature to Jicky. For such a creative twist on a familiar accord and a memorable character, Jicky is very special.

A note on the concentrations: I find the extrait de parfum indubitably richer than the eau de toilette. Already in the beginning, the bergamot is plump with tart-sweet and floral nuances, not so much as diffusive as that of the eau de toilette. Lemon oil is more pronounced as well. The lavender is rich with floral and herbal facets, and it lasts longer. Of note is the civet that feels like a ganache smoothing over the bucolic herbs. Its oriental vanilla and tonka bean accord is present in full glory. The emphasis of the extrait de parfum is on the aromatic and warm oriental character.

The eau de toilette of Jicky, however, starts on a more diffusive note of linalool-laden bergamot. Its lavender is more herbal. Civet puffs seem to come and go. The familiar oriental accord requires a nose pressed hard to the skin to detect. Overall, the eau de toilette feels like a hesperidic eau de cologne with herbal and oriental accents. Its lasting power is mediocre.

I have not tried the eau de parfum, so I cannot comment on that. But between the extrait de parfum and the eau de toilette, the former is classically rich and infused with a Guerlain DNA, but the latter is like a creative twist of a classic eau de cologne. Though not a die-hard Guerlain fan, I am partial to Guerlinade and would pick the extrait de parfum. Perhaps, spraying the eau de toilette on top to add the hesperidic brightness would be perfect — alas, the price may not permit such a double purchase.

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

  1. Esposito, Lawrence J.; K. Formanek; G. Kientz; F. Mauger; V. Maureaux; G. Robert; F. Truchet (1997). “Vanillin”. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 4th edition 24. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 812–825
  2. Reimer, Karl Ludwig (1876). “Über eine neue Bildungsweise aromatischer Aldehyde”. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 9 (1): 423–424

An Aural Refuge…

Listening to Casa by pianist Jean-Michel Blais makes my heart yearn for a place to call home. The piece is just one of the amazing tracks that explore the colourful textures of the piano.  The transformations from nostalgia, pensive silence and reflections, melancholy, yearning, and a homebound journey with renewed perspectives. Casa plucks my heartstring. But, listen also to the jolly life of Budapest, and one finds the multi-layered texture reminiscent of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance N°5 or Listz’s Hungarian Rhapsody N°2. And, then, the background sounds incorporated into the pieces — children playing, birds singing, the weather, a camera’s shutter clicking and whirring, and inhalations — create enriching backdrops for the compositions. There is a refreshing effect in these works by the Quebec native, yet they are peppered with John Cage’s silence, Philip Glass’s repetition, and a moment’s spark of creative improvisation.  But most important of all is that I have found an aural refuge in Jean-Michel Blais’ offerings.

Review: Caron Pour Un Homme — 5.0 points

In fine fragrance, lavender had often been associated with lavender water or the tried-and-tested fougère accord. It features a complex interplay of citrus, geranium, lavender, oakmoss, coumarin, and musk. So, the lavender forms part of the abstract complexity. It dresses up lavender in an elaborate and dramatic fashion, with fresh cool notes on top and warm dusky notes deep down to contend.

But perfumer Ernest Daltroff begged to differ and conceived a visionary plan for it in 1934. The result was Pour Un Homme (Caron, 1934). It brings out a striking character of lavender in a clear-cut manner, not unlike the minimalism inherent in many modern-day creations.

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A quick sniff will tell you that this is lavender galore. Pour Un Homme contains as much as 41% lavandin oil and 31% lavender oil — they amount to 72% of the note. Like lavender, lavandin is also aromatic with sweet floral notes, but is relatively more herbal and camphoraceous; it adds brightness and projection. Compounded with accents of rosemary and clary sage, the rustic freshness is over the top and radiant, much like a bright day in picturesque Provence.

Most of the lavender is allowed to shine in Pour Un Homme, and I sometimes forget that this seemingly minimalistic composition is from 1934. But towards the dry down, vanilla emerges and one begins to see why it is the perfect pairing: cool herbs versus warm vanilla create a dramatic contrast. Rounded off by a slightly powdery musk, it feels polished.

Lavender had been used unadorned or in elaborate fougère compositions, but then there was Pour Un Homme that puts the spotlight on lavender. Perfumer Ernest Daltroff brought out a strong character in lavender through a strong contrast. Its pairing of aromatic herbs and sweet vanilla is simple, yet stunning. And, the inherent minimalism makes it feel as though Pour Un Homme were conceived today. But above all, Pour Un Homme is atemporal.

Pour Un Homme de Caron, les plus belles lavandes’ — the most beautiful lavender, literally.

A note on the concentrations: Pour Un Homme Millésime (Caron, 2014) is basically the eau de parfum created by perfumer Richard Fraysse. It feels more transparent compared to Pour Un Homme. But, that does not mean any less intensity or volume. On the contrary, the lavender note is sweeter, more long-lasting, and more camphoraceous. The ambery warmth of clary sage is amplified to match. The vanillic powder and musks have been toned down. Overall, it is more diffusive, and the transparency therein keeps Pour Un Homme Millésime decidedly modern. One might find this updated version to be more to contemporary taste.

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

Review: Chanel N°22 — 5.0 points

Between 1919 and 1921, perfumer Ernest Beaux created a series of compositions. They were likely modifications of his successful Rallet N°1 (1914), also known as Le Bouquet de Catherine (Rallet, 1913) before the name change. They were presented to the mademoiselle. One was selected in 1921 and became Chanel N°5, and another was released a year later as Chanel N°22. This derivation from Rallet N°1 might explain resemblance between both as fragrances of aldehydic floral family, which combines aldehydic notes, flowers, and woods. But whereas the accent of Chanel N°5 falls on its opulent florals, Chanel N°22 plays up its dry woody notes.

chanel 22It is certainly a kinsman of Chanel N°5. It is aldehydic. Its metallic, citrusy, waxy notes are bright and scintillating – a counterbalance for the heft of white flowers. But there is also the warmth of sweet ylang ylang in the opening. Its solar and floral note does an excellent job at tempering the metallic chills of the aldehydic top.

The floral depth of ylang ylang that opens Chanel N°22 also bridges well to the heady white flowers. Orange blossom and jasmine absolute at 0.2% lend their peculiar narcotic accent to the composition. Th sensual florals remind me of a classic white strand of pearls that would lend an elegant touch.

Their decadent florals are matched by the dry woods, vetiver, and frankincense. The combined effect is that of incensed woods interspersed with white petals. Its woody note is rounded by a powdery sweet vanillic note. Towards the dry down, it is powdery, and incensed woods and musk form the main impression.

Chanel N°5 may be the classic floral aldehydic perfume, but Chanel N°22 is just as interesting a composition. Aside from the classical shimmering effect the aldehydic top has on its languorous white florals, the woody notes and incense provide a sober contrast. The indulgent florals are kept in check as the dry woods dominate, and this tension gives Chanel N°22 its character. It is a sublime woody variation of the original floral aldehydic composition.

A note on the concentrations: The extrait de parfum is no doubt rich with fatty absolutes from heady jasmine and carnal orange blossoms. But what startles me most in the extrait de parfum are the noble and rich woods of incense that fume out of skin on top of narcotic floral absolutes. It is basically the same as the eau de toilette, but its richness and the way its incense note emerges will make you swoon.

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

Review: Arquiste Anima Dulcis — 4.5 points

Take a look at the esoteric prose of Serge Lutens and Freudian reference on Un Bois Vanille (Serge Lutens, 2003), for example, and one sees why I am happy with the accompanying information of Arquiste. It talks about the creativity of the nuns of the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria in Mexico that has inspired brand owner Carlos Huber. They exploited local ingredients such as chilies, cinnamon, and vanilla to spice up their cocoa infusion, and Anima Dulcis (Arquiste, 2012) by perfumers Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier explores this beverage recipe along with its circumstances. The concept is direct and simple.

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Likewise, the original fragrance communicates clearly and with a beautiful surprise. At heart is a warm dark chocolate theme: imagine dusky bitter cocoa and hot chili infusion. Its gourmand accent is shaped by vanilla, cinnamon, and a bit of glazed orange peel on top. It would be the kind of hot beverage I would love to have on a chilly grey day.

But if you are worried that this might be cloying, fret not because it is surprisingly sombre. The rich balsamic, animalic tone of its amber is a dark revelation for such a gourmand direction of its theme. So is the whiff of incense that weaves in a liturgical air. The sum is dark and sensual, and this is a seriously creative beverage. Anima Dulcis seems to oscillate between dark chocolate confection and animalic amber that envelopes me for most of its six hours.

Although the theme of chocolate is not new, Anima Dulcis is such a surprise because it explores the other interesting side of chocolate: the animalic amber. But it is also perfectly paired with the intense heat of chili. This is the kind of gourmand composition with an edge. The swirling dark gourmand composition is certainly redolent of originality.

Source: arquiste.com

Review: Chanel Sycomore — 5.0 points

I have few vetiver perfumes that I love and admire. These are Vétiver (Guerlain, 1959), which is an all-time classic, and Encre Noire (Lalique, 2006), which I have come to think of as a modern classic. But, they are not the vetiver that I mostly reach for. That honour goes to Sycomore (Chanel, 2007).

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Sycomore is likely named after Sycamore (Chanel, 1930), an aldehydic floral created by perfumer Ernest Beaux. However, Sycomore was composed by perfumers Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake, and it features vetiver as the main woody note.

But, just as important are the layers of accents that shape the vetiver. From the bright green pines in the opening to the smoky and roasted notes, the vetiver is so skilfully embellished that the composition feels like an abstraction that blooms and glows on skin. I find its subtle character of green pines, smoky notes, and soft woods sublime. And it stays smoky and roasted for a long time

Sycomore is just as elegant as it is versatile. The vetiver is carefully chiselled, and nothing is overdone that would compromise its subtleties. Wearing it, I feel as though I dressed myself up, but remain comfortable. For this reason, it acquires a special place even amongst my favourite vetivers and wins hands down when it comes to the frequency of use.

Source: chanel.fr