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

Review: Liquides Imaginaires Peau de Bête — 4.0 points

I love horse riding. I love the thrill of galloping and the cool breeze that buffets my face, bringing the scent of grass, stables, and animalic sweetness of the beautiful beast. I have recently been reminded of that whirlwind of an experience as I tried Peau de Bête (Liquides Imaginaires, 2016). Its French name literally translates to ‘skin of the beast’, and I find that to be rather apt because of its rich animalic nature as the name would suggest. But it is in the accord with powdery woody sweetness that Peau de Bête has the element of surprise, turning what would otherwise be merely a blend of animalic tinctures into a memorable experience for me.

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Perfumer Carine Boin brilliantly orchestrates Peau de Bête around a theme that contrasts animalic sensuality and dry woods. In the opening, herbaceous chamomile, cumin, and leathery saffron conspire to suggest something racy. Soon, creamy animalic notes dominate, with civet and castoreum so rounded and smooth it seems as though they were a dark chocolate ganache. The puffs of civet, in particular, seems to pulsate throughout the development, and this reminds me of the civet in Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) but in a more soft-spoken manner.

The animalic richness soon finds its balance in the dryness of woods. Atlas and Texan cedarwood lend the characteristic powdery, sweet wood shavings, and it is accented by a smoky, woody touch of guaiac wood, patchouli, cypriol, and amyris. As the composition develops, its dry character becomes prominent. The animalic direction embraces musk and the crispness of ambergris, whilst the woods acquire the dry sweetness of vernal grass and styrax. Towards the end, Peau de Bête still maintains its juxtaposition of animalic and woody notes but with the accent falling on dryness.

The pairing of creamy animalic notes and dry woods creates an enjoyable sensation: at times rich and heavy, at others dry and aloft. It is the scent of animals, woods, and hay. Peau de Bête has the right balance that triggers a cherished memory for me. Though it sits quietly, it has an unapologetically animalic side that I would recommend trying it first if you have not had experience with animalic perfumes. Else, one could also layer it with florals to give a distinctive animalic richness, and I can vouch for its wonder with the bright geraniums of Égoïste (Chanel, 1990) or Géranium Pour Monsieur (Frédéric Malle, 2009). Nonetheless, Peau de Bête is just as sublime an equestrian portrait on its own.

Source: fragrantica.com

Review: Liquides Imaginaires Succus — 4.0 points

Despite what its Latin name might imply, Succus (Liquides Imaginaires, 2015) by perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu does not readily recall any kind of sap. The eclectic layers of fruity, herbal, and woody notes are far removed from the bitter green note typical of tree saps. Rather, they lend themselves to an arboreal fantasy, and I find myself wishing if only such a tree existed…

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What first strikes me is its fruity grapefruit note. It does recall grapefruit, but is not so much as citrusy, and has the sweet accent of pineapple. Its fruity top has a distinctive tone that intrigues me and that continues towards the dry down. And even if you, like me, are not so enthusiastic about fruity notes, you should still give Succus a try simply to see its interesting direction.

But unlike other perfumes that resort to hard sell with their top-note whirlwinds and end up being anti-climactic, the excitement of Succus continues. The next layer is a blend of rustic herb notes: rosemary, juniper berry, cedar leaf, and bay leaf. These are also interspersed with incense. The bright, camphoraceous character recalls that of Saltus (Liquides Imaginaries, 2015), another in the Eaux Arborantes series, but is not nearly as glaring. This layer of herbs creates a curious twist to the fruity grapefruit, and the pairing between these notes gives Succus a unique and enjoyable character that I cannot quite find a comparison.

But as the bright note of herbs dims, the composition reveals a luminous base of dry woods and radiant musk. Its vetiver harmonises with the accent of grapefruit and the cedarwood lends its distinctive note of wood shavings. The musk note here is rich, but also remains in keeping with the pleasant dryness. This dry woody and musky layer persists well on skin.

The idea of Succus revolves around a pleasant duel between grapefruit and herbs, but the composition also seemingly peels away from fruity and aromatic to woody layers. It certainly gives an interesting arboreal portrait, but more importantly this peculiar character is what keeps me coming back to it. A perfume that keeps one pondering is, I feel, a perfume worthy of exploration. Succus is one such composition that arouses curiosity; it leaves me wondering what that mythical tree would be. We surely need more compositions like this.

Source: moodscentbar.com

Review: Hermès Hiris — 4.5 points

Pablo Picasso was adept at using either melancholic blue hues or warm shades of red, orange, and earth to create masterpieces characteristic of his Blue and Rose Periods. Similarly, fragrances in styles that are as distinctly opposite as dark woods and pastel florals number amongst the œuvre of perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. Her virtuosity can be seen in both the spiced sandalwood of Idole (Lubin, 2005) or the sublime soliflore of Hiris (Hermès, 1999). And if I had to pick a spring time favourite, it would be this water-colour iris par excellence.

usa hermes

Despite its delicate character, Hiris is not simplistic. In fact, the composition is polished. It possesses the various facets that afford iris its inimitable complexity. Green and waxy notes in the beginning provide the vegetal impression of orris, which is reminiscent of raw carrots. This is contrasted by a spicy touch of coriander seeds. Then, a hint of orange blossom imparts the subtle floral nuance. These subtleties give Hiris its sophisticated bearing.

At the heart of it is an interplay between powdery and woody notes of iris. Violet overtones emphasise the powdery aspect, whilst cedarwood lends its subtle woody, powdery character. Such curious duality is what makes this raw material beautiful, and it is employed here as the centrepiece of the composition. Then, rounded by musky notes, the combination of powder and woods also acquires a soft, hazy signature.

The sum is a composition that offers a vibrant contrast even with its soothing pastel shade. Her unique treatment of iris is the reason why I find the composition intriguing. And though its diaphanous character may be intended for the wearer’s admiration, it is surprisingly persistent. Having said that, if you have an appreciation for such a style, you will find her other water-colour works just as beautiful an offering. And in the case of Hiris, it is a great example of how a light composition can have yet a strong character.

Sources: usa.hermes.com

Review: Hermès Vétiver Tonka — 4.5 points

Whereas most vetiver compositions tend to dominate with its smoky, earthy woods, few resort to the less explored facets of grapefruit as that in Sel de Vétiver (The Different Company, 2006) or of roasted nuts as in Vétiver Tonka (Hermès, 2004). Here, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena showcases vetiver in a most interesting light. Enamoured of this handsome material, he wanted to bring out its warm enveloping side. He chose to contrast the woods with the nutty facet, and this duel between woods and nutty sweetness forms the central idea of Vétiver Tonka.

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In keeping with this concise, clear-cut idea, there is no need, then, for an elaborate introduction. A touch of simple fresh notes mixing grapefruit, lemon, and a bit of bergamot will do, and the choice is a clever one. Not only does the grapefruit link to the grapefruit-facet of vetiver, but the citrus also contrast well with woods. It is fresh, yet simple and straight to the point of being a vetiver.

From then on, it is the woody impression of vetiver, but its intensely bitter and smoky character needs to be tempered. The use of cedarwood is ideal here. The dry woody and ambery character of cedarwood naturally enhances the woody notes of vetiver whist softening its bitter roughness. Filed and polished, the composition is smooth, but does not detract from the woody character.

At the same time, the delicious nutty facet of vetiver is played up to contrast the rough-hewn beauty of its woods. An accord that recalls glazed roasted nuts is befitting. The sweetness of coumarin, and the caramelic suggestion ethyl maltol, too, push this gourmand suggestion. The interaction between sweetness and woody bitterness gives a vetiver that possesses its much-loved classical woody note and a warm sensual side. And, the nutty sweetness of vetiver lingers from dawn till dusk.

The coarse wood is made cosy and enveloping, whilst the caramelic sweetness is tamed by bitter smoky woods. The composition strikes a perfect balance. I often associate vetiver with crisp white shirts, tailored suits, and all things of classical elegance, but here it has a surprisingly easy-going and relaxed side. The sum feels like a smart casual, but its versatile character will fit just about any outfit for me. Its portrayal of vetiver as smoky firewood and roasted cashews is a most tempting combination.