Review: Tom Ford Vert d’Encens — 5.0 points

I admit that I am rather jaded of exclusive lines. Nowadays, every brand seems to have this so-called ‘special offerings’. They come in similarly packaged flacons and tend to arrive in sets of a few fragrances, much like variations on a theme. There are simply too many of them to catch up, and too often, they are outrageously priced. A prime example would be the Private Blend of Tom Ford, whose entire range I tend to simply skip  altogether.

But with Vert d’Encens (Tom Ford, 2016), it was such a momentous discovery. Truth be told, I had imagined it to be yet another banal interpretation of the Corsican coast, as the accompanying description would have me believe. Little did I know when picking up Vert d’Encens for a quick sniff that I would end up discovering a hidden gem in the sea of launches.

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What makes Vert d’Encens memorable is its fierce duel of green and incense. However, to describe it as such would be simplistic. The notes that revolve around this juxtaposition of cool green and warm incense are orchestrated in layers, creating a complex and almost baroque sensation. Take a look at the first stage: it is never plain green, but it morphs instead from bright chartreuse to deep green at heart. Citrusy shades of lemon and bergamot segue into cool Provençal herbs of lavender and sage before arriving at the intense bitterness of galbanum. And, only then does the glorious battle commence.

Swirls of resinous incense begin to exude and pulsate throughout the development. So, the next stage, as you might have guessed, is a warm oriental bed of sweet vanilla, benzoin, and heliotrope. It is a familiar chord, but when accented with cardamom and pine needles that echo the green stage, the result is surprisingly original. The dry down is also smouldering, with sober incense slicing through cosy vanilla and heliotrope. In the end, the oriental sweetness is offset nicely by the dry woody notes of vetiver.

The idea of green versus oriental in Vert d’Encens alone is sufficient to grab attention, but it is in the elaborate arrangement of its components that it truly spurs my passion. It makes me want to discover the filigree and ornate columns of its green and incense cores. That being said, it will appeal to those who like strong contrasts and ornate arrangements. If you, for instance, like the galbanum and animalic-leathery oriental of Must de Cartier (1981), chances are you might adore Vert d’Encens. It defers to some of the by-gone notes of perfumery — the galbanum, the dark oriental — and does so without being contrived. You can enjoy the fiercely green galbanum and sober incense easily for a whole day and without having to smother passers-by. You can appreciate the dramatic interplay and discover also how beautifully the battle unfolds.

Source: tomford.com

Review: Guerlain Bois d’Arménie — 4.5 points

Papier d’arménie is a curious object. The so-called ‘Armenian paper’ is neither a paper for all its purpose and intent, nor is it originated from Armenia. In fact, it was a French innovation. Auguste Ponsot had observed during his travels in the Ottoman Empire that the inhabitants often burnt incense to perfume their homes. Upon his return, he worked with pharmacist Henri Rivier to develop a method that facilitated the process. The result was papier d’arménie. They are paper strips that have been soaked in tinctures of benzoin, styrax, frankincense, and other sweet balsams before they are dried, and they emanate sweet incense upon combustion.

Perfumer Annick Ménardo took to these fragrant, combustible strips of paper and created Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006). It is a composition of glowing, sweet incense that reminisces the paper strips, but with a polished style.

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It opens with a brief pink pepper that marries well with its oriental theme. The rest is a bulk of balsamic incense. That sounds like a hefty theme indeed, but in the adept hands of perfumer Annick Ménardo, it is rendered luminous. She has a knack for interpreting heavy accords in a radiant manner, and one only needs to smell Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) to see how she lifts a rich iris-musk accord with plenty of frankincense oil and Ambrox to create the impression of warm, crisp driftwoods.

Likewise, the treacly sweetness of balsams and benzoin in Bois d’Arménie are offset by frankincense. Iris, meanwhile, lends its powdery touch to mellow the sharp resinous note of frankincense. And, patchouli rounds the accord with woody richness. Then, throw in guaiac wood, and the overall effect is a soft, glowing balsam with accents of smoky woods and rose petals.

It finishes on a musky, balsamic incense note. I especially like how its incense crackles, sending out its rich noble notes over a balmy and dulcet base. In a way, it is like the extinguished Armenian papers oozing its fragrant incense smoke. The difference is that the polished glow of Bois d’Arménie never fades. It lasts well, and throughout the day, I feel as though I were wrapped in a warm cocoon. Its soft glowing presence begs one to lean in and inquire as to the nature of this addictive, cosy scent.

Source: guerlain.fr

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.

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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.

Layering with strong notes contrasts and brings out the delectable sweetness. The anisic licorice in the opening, for instance, highlights the plush vanilla character, which emerges in full glory. A mélange of oriental notes, including amber, musk, benzoin, and tonka bean, accompanies and enhances the main theme. There are also plenty of interesting twists in the layers from waxy, lactonic coconut and roasted almond to the floral touch of jasmine.

However, the duel between the luscious sweetness of vanilla and the leathery animalic amber is its most distinctive quality. It suggests something delicious, but also dark and mysterious. The accenting layers, then, serve to emphasise the curious nature of its vanilla. 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.