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

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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: Chanel N°22 — 5.0 points

Between 1919 and 1921, perfumer Ernest Beaux created a series of compositions. They were likely modifications of his successful Rallet N°1 (1914), also known as Le Bouquet de Catherine (Rallet, 1913) before the name change. They were presented to the mademoiselle. One was selected in 1921 and became Chanel N°5, and another was released a year later as Chanel N°22. This derivation from Rallet N°1 might explain resemblance between both as fragrances of aldehydic floral family, which combines aldehydic notes, flowers, and woods. But whereas the accent of Chanel N°5 falls on its opulent florals, Chanel N°22 plays up its dry woody notes.

chanel 22It is certainly a kinsman of Chanel N°5. It is aldehydic. Its metallic, citrusy, waxy notes are bright and scintillating – a counterbalance for the heft of white flowers. But there is also the warmth of sweet ylang ylang in the opening. Its solar and floral note does an excellent job at tempering the metallic chills of the aldehydic top.

The floral depth of ylang ylang that opens Chanel N°22 also bridges well to the heady white flowers. Orange blossom and jasmine absolute at 0.2% lend their peculiar narcotic accent to the composition. Th sensual florals remind me of a classic white strand of pearls that would lend an elegant touch.

Their decadent florals are matched by the dry woods, vetiver, and frankincense. The combined effect is that of incensed woods interspersed with white petals. Its woody note is rounded by a powdery sweet vanillic note. Towards the dry down, it is powdery, and incensed woods and musk form the main impression.

Chanel N°5 may be the classic floral aldehydic perfume, but Chanel N°22 is just as interesting a composition. Aside from the classical shimmering effect the aldehydic top has on its languorous white florals, the woody notes and incense provide a sober contrast. The indulgent florals are kept in check as the dry woods dominate, and this tension gives Chanel N°22 its character. It is a sublime woody variation of the original floral aldehydic composition.

A note on the concentrations: The extrait de parfum is no doubt rich with fatty absolutes from heady jasmine and carnal orange blossoms. But what startles me most in the extrait de parfum are the noble and rich woods of incense that fume out of skin on top of narcotic floral absolutes. It is basically the same as the eau de toilette, but its richness and the way its incense note emerges will make you swoon.

Sources: chanel.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

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

Review: Frédéric Malle Monsieur. — 4.5 points

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When I heard that Monsieur. (2016) by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic features a load of patchouli that it constitutes half of the formula, I approached this minimalistic, patchouli-dominated brew with caution. As patchouli is a complex and powerful material that has many facets beside the woody, earthy, and camphoraceous, there are aspects that can easily diminish my appreciation of a perfume. This is the case when I sometimes find the typical patchouli oil ‘sweaty’.

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Self-portrait (1629) of Rembrandt van Rijn

However, Monsieur. here conjures a vision of tweed suits, wild game hunting, and country estates because it feels polished. Its patchouli is replete with woody and earthy facets that it feels like a moist, dark brown bark. Its balsamic richness is complemented on top by sweet mandarin and the liquor accent of rum. The impression is much like the rich umber of this Rembrandt painting. There is no sweaty hippie or, if any, camphoraceous facet in the patchouli. Instead, frankincense adds a smoky resinous touch that offsets the sweet liquor character. And, its rough edges, are softened by a touch of vanilla and musk. The result is a well-mannered, spirit-soaked patchouli with a smoky, leathery hint.

The treatment of the overdosed patchouli here is done with a careful hand. It may not run the risk of being polarising, but its character is distinctive enough to stand out as a polished woody liquor. Its tenacity is great, but its sillage is surprisingly low-key. I think of it as well-aged whisky, rich with notes of fermented fruits and smoky casks.

Sources: barneys.com, clowesfund.org