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.

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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

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Review: Chanel Égoïste — 5.0 points

Perfumer Jacques Polge had been working on ‘Black Wood’ when Chanel wanted to launch a complementary collection of menswear. However, the clothing line was ultimately cancelled, and only by a stroke of luck was ‘Black Wood’ kept in production. It was launched exclusively in Chanel boutiques as Bois Noir. As it grew more popular, Bois Noir was distributed widely and thereafter christened Égoïste as Chanel had bought the rights to the name from the photography magazine of Nicole Wisniak. The iconic television advertisement by Jean Paul Goude accompanied the launch and made it all the more infamous. But, Égoïste itself is already a strong statement of seduction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Égoïste is a shock.

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I still recall the horror from experiencing the spiciness of Égoïste for the first time. The top of Égoïste is infused with the spicy and hot-peppery note of coriander, the sweet heat of cinnamon, and the brightness of rosewood. But what follows quickly is a surprising turn of character.

The spicy debut morphs into a suave and plump rose. The signature rose of Égoïste is, in fact, an accord of tagete oil and 3% of geranium oil at play. The fruity raspberry note of tagete oil pops up from the rosy heart of geranium. This imbues the theme with such distinctiveness that feels like juicy chunks of fruit compote bursting with flavours. To top it off, rose oil provides a floral and green spicy touch.

Égoïste sustains the rose potpourri theme towards a soft oriental fond of creamy sandalwood, vanilla, and musky ambrette seed. Late in the dry down, there is also a slight balsamic touch. By this stage, Égoïste recalls the sandalwood and balsams of Bois des Îles (Chanel, 1926). Soft and ever so slightly rosy, Égoïste surprisingly boasts a magnificent sillage and sterling longevity.

Polge wanted to do something different for a market saturated by fougères. That and having been inspired by Ernest Beaux’s lavish use of sandalwood oil in Bois des Îles, he decided to experiment with it. The result was Égoïste, a rose for men that built upon the sensual facets of sandalwood. He picked a material that had otherwise been employed predominantly in feminine compositions and supported its character with the vegetal musk of ambrette seed and creamy vanilla to create a sensual signature in the fond. This quality is further explored in a suave rose theme brought about by an accord of sharp geranium and fruity tagete oil. Égoïste also contrasts the sensual themes with the brightness of rosewood and spices, creating a dramatic interplay. Such a full-fledged rose and sandalwood theme for men is certainly avant-garde, and I have never seen anything quite like Égoïste since.

Sources: interview with Jacques Polge by Stéphane Gaboué for Hint Fashion Magazine 2nd September 2010; chanel.fr; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors; IFRA 48th Amendment for Tagetes Oil and Absolute

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: Frédéric Malle Portrait of A Lady — 4.5 points

Named after the 1881 novel ‘The Portrait of A Lady’ by author Henry James, the perfume surely must have raised questions as to the association with the novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer. What would be the connection? What would this American heiress smell of? Would Portrait of A Lady (Frédéric Malle, 2010) smell of her? This left me pondering.

Considering the rigorous tenets of a proper Victorian lady, Isabel Archer would eschew the sensual oriental drama of Portrait of A Lady. Opulent perfumes were the embodiment of vulgarity and impropriety, regardless of the social standing of the person who wore it, however high the station. Even Queen Victoria, on her 1855 state visit to Paris, was overtly criticized by Le Messager des Modes for her choice of perfume that emitted a ‘distasteful hint of musk’, despite her irreproachable stature. Such strong fragrances were the opposite of ‘good taste’. Meanwhile, lavender, violet, and eaux de cologne would be more likely; their representation of discretion, modesty, and hygiene was never in doubt.

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Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of A Lady (1996). Feisty, is she not? I should think that this version of her likes this Frédéric Malle’s perfume very much.

Portrait of A Lady is as far from Victorian propriety as possible. It is a sweeping force of opulent rose set in an oriental frame. The moment I sprayed it, I decided that I could no longer be bothered to make the connection with Isabel Archer. All my thoughts before were swept away.

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Dollops of hot pepper act as a prelude to the oriental theme along with clove and cinnamon. Its glaring brightness makes a strong introductory statement. The hot cloves and cinnamon remain as a lasting bright accent throughout the development.

The rose of Portrait of A Lady is sublime. It has a honeyed, raspberry-confit facet that lends an opulent curve to the composition. This decadent jammy richness also tells plenty about the quality that goes into the juice. It lasts through to the dry down. Its dense and rich character blankets the dark oriental notes that begin to emerge.

Much of the oriental flair comes from patchouli, incense, and musk. The rich woody notes of patchouli are interspersed with strong resinous accents of incense. Its interplay is rounded by plenty of musks.  and creamy softness of sandalwood. A crisp ambery accent sets a warm sensual tone to this oriental recipe.

The oriental rose of Portrait of A Lady is not a novel idea, but the quality and peerless execution by perfumer Dominique Ropion give it character and performance that stand out. Sterling ingredients are used with such lavish hands that the resulting richness already marks the rose with a distinctive note. The spicy contrast also lasts until the finish. The pairing of an opulent, fruity rose with rich woods and incense create a dark, dramatic accord. It lasts for days, and can sometimes come back on laundered clothes. A single spray is highly recommended, and even then, one is certain to leave a trail. That being said, this is the kind of perfume to wear with confidence. Its mysterious whirlwind may turn heads and draw questions.

Sources: ocado.com, sundaytimes.co.uk, gearpatrol.org

  1. The Force of Fashion in Politics and Society: Global Perspectives from Early Modern to Contemporary Times, p. 97-113.
  2. Le miasme et la jonquille, p. 323

Review: Grès Cabochard — 5.0 points

Inspired by the ferocious whip of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), perfumer Bernard Chant took to the leathery character and created Cabochard (Grès, 1959). The leather accord was softened and balanced with verdancy and florals. Cabochard itself would become a legacy amongst the family of leather chypres and inspire a number of perfumery’s classics such as Aramis (1965) and Chanel N°19 (1970).

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From the start, the green combination of galbanum, armoise, and basil contrasts nicely with the earthy character. Styrallyl acetate in combination with aldehyde C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde) contribute to the green floral aspect. To complement the green, there is the freshness of mandarin and bergamot with linalool and linalyl acetate. The opening is certainly reminiscent of another era: bitter green with sharp freshness. It is bright and sparkling.

The composition reveals the floral heart as expected of a classical chypre. It is dominated by a bright jasmine accord different from those of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) or Miss Dior (1947), a fresh rose note, and hyacinth. Its radiance is imparted by a muguet note. Also, the relatively high content of sandalwood compared to other chypres provides the apparent softness to Cabochard. Such pairing of the jasmine accord and sandalwood would later be found in the masculine leather chypre territory of Aramis.

Then, glimpses of leather appear. Along with isobutyl quinoline, balsamic benzoin, a castoreum note, and a costus note give Cabochard its leather character. Interestingly, there is a similarity between Cabochard and Aramis in their use of isobutyl quinoline with the floral-powdery musk ambrette, which is now banned due to safety concerns.

The warmth of its chypre accord is built around patchouli, oakmoss, animalic notes, woody notes of vetiveryl acetate and cedryl acetate, and the amber note of Dynamone, which is a base derived from cistus. The accord is sweetened by methyl ionone. The use of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone) to lend a soft creamy touch emulates the use of peachy aldehyde C-14 (γ-undecalactone) in earlier chypres like that of Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919). Spicy notes of cinnamon, clove, and a carnation accord provide a bright contrast to the dusky leathery character. The vegetal musk character of ambrettolide finally echoes the verdant top.

Cabochard is one of the few surviving leather chypre amongst feminine fragrances. Thanks to the brilliance of perfumer Bernard Chant, he extrapolated the iconic leather of Bandit. He softened the leather and gave it verdant florals. The interesting use of materials also gave Cabochard its creative twist and character. It stands on its own as another classic in the family. Although the reformulations may have rendered Cabochard more docile now, but one can still see a glimpse of its complex transformation.

Sources: fragrancex.com, Perfumery Practices and Principles

Review: Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule — 4.0 points

The attractive qualities of sandalwood — that peculiar mix of warm milk and dry woods — were what had sent me once on a quest for the perfect sandalwood perfume. Naturally, a composition with a name like Santal Majuscule (Serge Lutens, 2012) — literally ‘sandalwood in capitals’ — caught my attention. And it did not disappoint.

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Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake delivers on that promise with a seductive accord of sandalwood and musky rose. The rich milky character, for which sandalwood is adored, is not only there fair and square, but it is also reinforced by a soft caress of floral and musky notes. Underscored by bright, spicy cinnamon on top, the contrastingly plush, creamy accord forms the impression for most of the composition. It is almost decadent.

Within the silky, creamy accord, patchouli backs the woody element and lends a subtle gourmand suggestion. The result is an addictive blend of musky, creamy softness and a hint of cocoa. Basically, it is a contrast between creamy and woody notes, and it gives Santal Majuscule an intriguing quality.

My requirement for a big dose of sandalwood was more than satisfied. The strong, clear-cut idea of a sandalwood is offered here with interesting embellishments and performance to match. I wear Santal Majuscule whenever I simply want a cosy creamy aura and dry woods that wrap around me all day, and just a spritz or two certainly goes a long way.