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

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: 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.

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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 Eau de Gentiane Blanche — 4.0 points

When one thinks of eaux de cologne, one thinks of the freshness from tart citrus. I should think that a refreshing eau de cologne falls along the lines of bergamot, lemon, orange, lime, and grapefruit. But in an eau de cologne such as Eau de Gentiane Blanche (Hermès, 2009), the notion of freshness may surprise you.

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This is because perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has chosen the bitterness of gentian for its refreshing power. Its deep vegetal bitterness, much like a green stem that has just snapped and is oozing its bitter sap, provides a fresh effect. Accented by a spritz of bitter orange, the bitter-green mix feels crisp, cool, and radiant.

Cleverly, the herbaceous verdancy of gentian is paired with the dry earthy woods of incense and 0.7% myrrh oil. The notes of resinous woods provide a warm contrast to the cool bitter herbs. The tension between the vegetal and woody notes serves as the centrepiece of Eau de Gentiane Blanche. And, the composition is kept fresh by the persistent bitterness.

Towards the dry down, iris and musks mellow the sharpness of incense and the bitterness of gentian with their powdery softness. Eau de Gentiane Blanche has longevity, and I love the way its dry, bitter incense rises to greet from a warm skin.

Much like how hops have long been used to provide a mouth-puckering bitter contrast to the rich fermented flavours of beer, the crisp bitterness of gentian is an equally powerful palate cleanser for the resinous incense. The pairing of these two potent notes give Eau de Gentiane Blanche its lasting brightness that shifts in tone from crisp and cool to dry and warm. It is an interesting exploration of the rarely used note. The composition itself is a palate cleanser amongst the inundated fragrance shelves, and I find myself coming back to its addictive cool and warm bitterness.

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A note on the shower gel: I finally succumbed to the shower gel. It leaves a fresh combination of tannic dryness and bitter verdancy on skin.

Sources: usa.hermes.com, Scents and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.