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.

tom ford

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

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History and Review: Chanel Eau de Cologne — 4.0 points

The refreshing blend of citrus and herbs that we classify as ‘eau de cologne’ today can be traced back to the fourteenth-century ‘Hungary water’, the first alcoholic perfume known in Europe. Reputedly formulated per the order of the Queen of Hungary, possibly Elisabeth of Poland (1305 – 29 December 1380), the concoction is said to have been based on the distilled essence of rosemary. Later formulae might also call for other aromatic essences. More closely associated to what we recognise as eaux de cologne, however, is the original 4711 Kölnisch Wasser created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709, containing essence of bergamot, orange, grapefruit, and petitgrain. Defunct though the original compositions may be, the freshness and radiance of their character have survived and come to define the hallmark of eaux de cologne.

Likewise, the sweltering heat of summer had inspired me to seek out such beloved traits in eaux de cologne, and I revisited a few modern compositions over the past weeks. I revelled in the avant-garde intensity of Pamplelune (Guerlain, 1999) and the wondrous contrast between green fig and wood of Ninfeo Mio (Annick Goutal, 2010), but I beheld the immaculate Eau de Cologne of Chanel (2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, which seems to strike the ideal aesthetic between classical allure and minimalistic polish.

eau de cologne de chanel

Here, the beautiful backbone of vibrant citrus versus sensual musk in an eau de cologne is not only well preserved, but also polished. The creation of Eau de Cologne, it seems, necessitates only the essentials: bergamot, orange blossom, and musk. These are dosed generously, and the composition executed with such balance that each turn — from the bright clarity of bergamot and the green floral of petitgrain and neroli to the sweetness of orange blossom and musk — is seamless. It is simple yet brilliant, like a chip of white diamond.

This bright character is not unlike 4711 Kölnisch Wasser, an all-time classic and affordable eau de cologne, and one may well question the necessity of another pricey eau de cologne. However, the quality of materials and simplicity of Eau de Cologne are what sets it apart. The beloved freshness and radiance is brought to the fore, but kept understated. That is the quality of Eau de Cologne that I admire. So, even if I did not own one, I think it would be worth a trip to a Chanel counter just to smell it.

Smelling the result of beautiful materials and excellent balance is already pleasing, and such an uncluttered presentation of a classical idea is all the more reason to like this one. It perfectly distils the classical essence of an eau de cologne in a modern manner.

Sources: chanel.fr; Élisabeth de Feydeau, Les Parfums: Histoire, anthologie, dictionnaire, Robert Laffont, 2011, 1206 p.

History and Review: Houbigant Fougère Royale — 4.0 points

Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) is a composition that represents the defining turn of perfumery. It is the first fine perfume to employ a synthetic compound, coumarin, the principal odorant of tonka bean. It also started the trend of complex, abstract ideas in perfumes. Most evidently, it gave birth to the fougère or ‘fern’ family, which is an interplay of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. In this accord, citrus usually adds a sparkle to the top, whilst the heart often contains geranium, and the base contains woody, animalic, and/or ambery notes.

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Original Fougère Royale

The fougère family is one of the most popular and versatile style. It includes iconic successors like Jicky (Guerlain, 1889), Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent, 1981), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche, 1982), and Cool Water (Davidoff, 1988). Recent launches such as Brit Rhythm For Women (Burberry, 2014) and Boy (Chanel, 2016) can reaffirm that the fougère never goes out of style. For this reason, Fougère Royale is simply revolutionary.

In creating it, perfumer Paul Parquet used coumarin in combination with the natural essences of citrus and aromatic herbs. The result gave a twist of character to the familiar classical eau de cologne. Its complexity made Fougère Royale intriguing to discover and its strong character was memorable.

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Re-launched Fougère Royale in 2010

Even in the re-orchestrated version by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, there is no mistaking its fougère identity. Although thin, the building blocks are still in place. The transparency and freshness of bergamot open the composition to an aromatic character marked by a combination of lavender and Provençal herbs. Geranium also lends a green accent. Meanwhile, the spicy contrast is provided by nutmeg and a carnation accord. The notes are well-blended and nothing specifically stands out.

These cool herbs are paired with a warm mossy musk. It recalls the bitter-sweet, classic note of a barber shop with animalic suede-like warmth. Its contrasting idea of cool and warm notes is not unlike the striking contrasts found in many of Guerlain’s creations that succeeded it, starting from Jicky (1889).

The re-orchestrated Fougère Royale is worth a sniff just for the fact that it is a milestone in perfumery. From the brightness of its hesperidic opening and the rustic charms of aromatic herbs to the surprising ruggedness of mossy notes, the re-formulated version offers a glimpse of the classical fougère accord with modern transparency. However, its lasting power will surprise you. It also feels neat and smart with a penchant for old-school stylishness. It easily puts many modern launches of this year to shame.

Sources: houbigant-parfums.com, aromyth.com

  1. Perkin, W. H. (1868). “On the artificial production of coumarin and formation of its homologues”. Journal of the Chemical Society. 21: 53–63.

Review: Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of A Faun — 4.5 points

The Afternoon of A Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange, 2012) was born of a serendipitous encounter. Etienne de Swardt, founder of Etat Libre d’Orange, was approached by a cantankerous patron who criticised the marketing gimmicks of the brand’s perfumes. In an attempt to rid himself of the annoyance, he gave away a perfume, only to have the patron returned two days later. It turned out that the patron was the late Jacques Damase, the influential publisher-cum-editor of several twentieth-century artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, and Le Corbusier amongst others.

A fortuitous partnership was formed. Damase would eventually inspire de Swardt to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Ballets Russes with a perfume that honours its founder Sergei Diaghilev and one of the principal choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky. The resultant composition by perfumer Ralf Schwieger was named after the ballet choreographed and performed by Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes: L’Aprés-midi d’un faune.

The-Afternoon-of-a-Faun-570x708.jpgThe composition might have been christened with Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes in mind, but I tend to think of it in operatic terms. This is because of the glowing immortelle that cuts through the heft of myrrh. Immortelle is rich and dark, yet easily soars above the rest. It is a fittingly powerful companion to myrrh, whose strong notes of sweet balsam, amber, and smoky licorice also perfectly convey the notion of ancient rites. Paired together, the result smells as though an assoluta voice were slicing through the chorus.

As myrrh forms the bulk of the composition, the style is very much contemporary. But, the skilful use of accents gives it a vintage feel of the early twentieth century. These range from the bright spicy cinnamon and tart bergamot, the honeyed rose that mellows the sharp resinous note and lends an opulent curve, to the notes of incense, leather, and oakmoss that give a dramatic touch in the later stages. Such accents give a sense of grandeur and set tone of the composition. And, what better way to pay homage to Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes than setting a chypre tone to the perfume?

What I really like about The Afternoon of A Faun is the way its heavy notes linger there, but upon the slightest movement, its warmth rises to greet. This effect is noticeable in the dry down when the balsamic myrrh becomes dominant and is punctuated with incense, leather, and oakmoss. This and its beautiful sillage of resinous woods and warm immortelle will make it stand out in the crowd. But it is certainly elegant and never begs for attention. And, a few dabs suffice to perfume me throughout the day.

Source: etatlibredorange.com, interview with Etienne de Swardt on basenote.net

Review: Hermès Épice Marine — 3.5 points

Épice Marine (Hermès, 2013) was conceived as a result of the dialogue between perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and chef Olivier Roellinger. They first met in 2011 in Cancale, the hometown of the Breton chef, and collaborated for eight months. Ellena took inspirations from the spices that arrived in Cancale, and he was also particularly enamoured of the roasted cumin. Meanwhile, Roellinger insisted on l’odeur du brouillard — odour of the mist — in the composition. These would come to shape the character of Èpice Marine.

epice

The fresh misty ocean comes through in the form of bergamot, bitter orange, and a marine accord. Then, the spices arrive with the punch of sweaty cumin, the sweet accent of cinnamon, and the characteristic cardamom. That the cumin is roasted is conveyed by a touch of sesame. There is also a hint of aged whiskey, as if to suggest the long sea-bound journey. The theme of mild spices and marine notes form the character of Épice Marine, and it remains until the dry down, which is accented with a touch of vetiver.

The juxtaposition of aquatic notes and spices is executed with polish, but the idea itself feels a little too familiar. It is not that far from his earlier brainchilds like Déclaration (Cartier, 1998) or Un Jardin après la Mousson (Hermès, 2003). And, however much I enjoy Épice Marine, I cannot help but think that I could simply layer Déclaration, Un Jardin après la Mousson, and perhaps Cologne Bigarade (Frédéric Malle, 2001) for the same effect, or rather better with more projection and tenacity.

Therefore, one should not expect to find the unexpected in Épice Marine. But if one is in search of a well-executed composition with curious accents, this will not disappoint. It is a nicely done variation on the theme of soft spices.

Sources: hermes.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

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