Review: Christian Dior La Colle Noir — 3.5 points

The moment I saw the name ‘La Colle Noire’, I was struck by the automatic translation that my brain provided — the black glue. But, then again, perfume names should never be taken too seriously in many cases. So, I read the description and learnt that this composition is inspired by Christian Dior’s holiday home. As for the juice, one can tell without having visited the château and its garden that the namesake La Colle Noire (Dior, 2016) by perfumer François Demarchy is filled with May roses.

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The Rose de Mai in La Colle Noire is distinct. There is jammy and honeyed richness along with the green depth of mimosa note. Accents of cloves provide a spicy contrast. And, after an hour, there is a light amber in the background. Its delicate warm tone is the perfect complement to the soft rose, and it gives La Colle Noire a classical contrast that is easily likeable.

And, classically, sandalwood and musk render a sensual aura in the dry down. The sum is pleasant and elegant as the May rose theme should be. It is carefully balanced and its ingredients smell of quality. The impression it gives is a photorealistic May rose with a warm twist of amber.

I like it for its quality and well-crafted composition, but other far more interesting rose themes abound. It will not sweep you off your feet like the oriental whirlwind of Portrait of A Lady (Frédéric Malle, 2009). Its richness is a tea spoon of raspberry confit, when compared to the red wine of Une Rose (Frédéric Malle, 2000). Nor is it the potent rose that provides a synergistic complement to the oud in Oud Ispahan (Dior, 2012). La Colle Noire is a balanced treatise on Rose de Mai, exploring its facets with quality materials. And, though far from being a literary trophy, it is a cogent essay on May rose.

How the château came to be named as such is more of a mystery than the composition.

Sources: oriental.ru

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Review: Hermès Muguet Porcelaine — 5.0 points

Lily of the valley or muguet is a classic example of flowers that refuse to yield a feasible quality or quantity of essence. Perfumers make it their eternal quest to capture its delicate scent. They initially constructed muguet based on combinations of essential oils, but later painted their ideas of the flower with the help of new aroma chemicals such as hydroxycitronellal, Lyral, and Lilial. But these were later found to be able to induce allergic reactions and are therefore restricted or even banned. Given such limitations, it is a creative challenge for perfumers to compose and interpret the scent of these white bells.

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Enter Muguet Porcelaine (Hermès, 2016), a testament to the mastery of perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. The lily of the valley is vividly captured here with notes of fresh rose, spicy clove, jasmine, and green sap. A surprising melon accent makes the accord full-bodied with its fruity voluptuous touch. Its vivid beginning is as bright as the start of a fine spring day.

But as the clove-like freshness of its floral evaporates, the dewy greenery becomes more apparent. The interplay between peppery floral and watery green note keeps the muguet accord fresh. The sum is spot-lit, radiant lilies of the valley amidst their lush foliage. It also leaves a crisp green dry down that lingers for as long as six hours on me, and it has a green trail.

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I adore it with just as much enthusiasm as I do Diorissimo (Dior, 1956). Whereas the latter is an impressionistic take that paints a mélange of muguets and damp woodlands, Muguet Porcelaine is a close study of muguet. Here, the white porcelain bells are clearly delineated with floral, spicy, and green nuances, and then nestled amidst their dewy leafy stalks. Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska gave a fantasy of vernal woodlands for Diorissimo, but Jean-Claude Ellena draws our attention also to its evergreen foliage — it provides just as beautiful a lush ground cover in summer and through to autumn. With Muguet Porcelaine, he met the creative challenge successfully and in his own way.

Source: uk.hermes.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: Frédéric Malle Dries van Noten — 4.5 points

Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle (2013) was created by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic as Frédéric Malle collaborated with the namesake Flemish designer. The perfume has the atmosphere of a Belgian patisserie as it explores the delectable warmth of his Flemish roots.

Dries van Noten starts off bright with bergamot and lemon. I also notice the spicy accents of clove and nutmeg. The fresh spicy opening lends a nice contrast to the heavy oriental-gourmand theme of, perhaps, waffles, spéculoos biscuits, and sugar tarts. Through this transparent top note, the delicious direction of the composition is also evident.

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The central character is of baked butter pastries. It is built around the salted butter accent of saffron, the milky sweetness of Mysore sandalwood, and the musky softness of Cashmeran. Additional creamy richness comes from the warm milk note of Sulfurol (Sacrasol) and a touch of jasmine absolute. Then, ionones and caramel-like ethyl maltol sweeten the composition to provide an addictive suggestion of Flemish confectionery. And, with such luscious notes, Dries van Noten could easily be altogether opaque if it were not for the essence of patchouli to counteract with a woody touch. Yet, to make it truly edible, the creamy sweet and salted butter character is extended by vanilla, coumarin, and musk.

Dries van Noten is my choice of gourmand fragrance. It has a presence and lingers on even after the wearer has left. It oozes a mouth-watering suggestion of creamy desserts and salted butter, but it is never outright gourmand. This is what makes it tempting and wearable. If you are averse to sugary notes but also crave for something sensual and sweet, its teasing baked aroma will satisfy you. Every time I wear it, I imagine myself walking into my favourite bakery on Sunday and savours its irresistibly creamy air.

Source: maisondexception.com, tfsltd.com.au, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.