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

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Review: Terre d’Hermès (Eau de Toilette) — 4.0 points

Jean-Claude Ellena observed a landscape during his trip to Ireland. Across from where he stayed, he saw the land, its meadow, and its wood sticks. ‘Someone must have been there and taken possession of it,’ he thought to himself, ‘that is why the landscape has been changed’. Armed with the concept of ‘terre’ that Hermès had issued earlier that year, he reflected on the astute observation and set about telling the story of earth and humanity. Eight months of industry and with thirty ingredients, a frank interplay between orange and dry woods was conceived as Terre d’Hermès (2006).

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At first, it sparkles with citrusy effervescence of orange. Its brightness is complemented by those of aromatic green herbs and pink pepper. The bright mix of sweet orange and peppery herbs find perfect harmony classically with woods.

Therefore, these would dominate the dry down of Terre d’Hermès along with the citrus tang. They are marked by a cedary warmth, a vetiver note, and a sliver of woody-mossy resin. The combination is marked by unusual transparency and has a mineral dryness reminiscent of chalk dusts and flints. I find this part most intriguing as it allows the orange to shine even until the dry down.

Overall, it is fresh and earthy. Its simple character reflects the thought of life on a piece of land. It has a clear-cut, strong character coupled with great longevity and a gorgeous sillage of dry orange and mossy woods. It has all the qualities of a very good composition.

Sources: hermes.com

Review: Christian Dior Sauvage — 1.5 points

Fragrances that set out to sell and appeal to their targets with trendy notes may smell similar. Their perfumers might have little say on how they should smell because such fragrances, more often than not, follow strict marketing directives. But these perfumes are not necessarily without merits, either.

First, having undergone market tests and with consumers’ thoughts in mind, these perfumes are at least wearable and pleasing to many. Moreover, although they are focused on the trendy elements, they can still have some of their personalities. One can look at perfumes that embrace the masculine trend of ambery-woody and aromatic fougères to find some good examples. Bleu de Chanel (2010), for instance, may already contain such notes, but it also incorporates durable ozonic freshness and warm nutmeg to convey the association with fresh and spicy aftershaves. It strength lies in such effective embellishments. 1 Million (Paco Rabanne, 2008), on the other hand, challenges the classical fougère; it opts for the novel freshness of mint and mandarin, the opulence of rose absolute, and the sweet spiciness of cinnamon bark, instead of bergamot, geranium, clove, and nutmeg.  The flamboyant defiance of 1 Million has even spawned a new masculine trend. These perfumes have proved that, despite riding on the same bandwagon of popular elements, they can still be creative.

Similarly, the aromatic woody-ambery fougère does not make Sauvage (Dior, 2015) by perfumer François Demachy any less worthy of purchase. If anything, they make for a wearable and familiar genre. But its problem lies in the lack of personality.

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From the top, Sauvage follows the prescription. Its freshness comes from a lot of sour bergamot and the sharp, citrusy, lavender-like dihydromyrcenol. It becomes a tad aromatic. Sauvage smells very generic, but I am prepared to forgive the top in hope of finding some interesting accords that would follow. Yet, the distinct marine Calone 1951 soon discourages me. Worse still, the advertised ‘Sichuan pepper’ note is so feeble that to describe it as ‘spicy’ would be an exaggeration. And, there is a kind of sharp freshness that penetrates also through to the fond.

As I tried hard to find something in Sauvage that might appeal to me, I caught a faint suggestion of violet leaf and leather and, for a moment, thought of Fahrenheit (Dior, 1988). But I am afraid that beyond this fleeting suggestion, there is nothing that remotely suggests a signature for Sauvage.

The warmth of ambergris note based on Ambroxan® and a large dose Iso E Super contribute to the remaining part. In contrast to the peppery brightness, it presents just about the only redeeming quality. Then, the disappointment goes deep in the musk fond that smells rather soapy. I find it rather inadmissible considering the price tag.

Sauvage is essentially a likeable contrast between citrusy freshness and ambery-woody warmth. However, it is generic to the point of banality. It simply takes after the style of Bleu de Chanel, but substitutes a simplistic, profit-driven idea for quality and effective ornamentation. Whilst Bleu de Chanel boasts the full-bodied citrus, fresh nutmeg, and an ambery warmth on a fine musk base, Sauvage opts for an acidic bergamot, disinfectant-style freshness, a vague leathery violet leaf, and Ambroxan®-Iso E Super mix on a rather contemptible musk base. The mishmash is boring and borderline agressive. It is also unrelenting and will not disappoint in terms of longevity.

It simply is characterless.

Source: beautydecoder.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odours

Review: Lalique Encre Noire — 5.0 points

Vetiver is a material so complex it can be considered a perfume in itself. There is a rich profusion of vetiver fragrances to honour this material since, perhaps, the debut of Vétiver by Carven (1957) and Guerlain (1959). But when asked for some of the modern classics of vetiver, Encre Noire (Lalique, 2006) immediately comes to mind. Its dusky monolith of woods and musk — at one time rugged, at others suave — has much to behold.

Perfumer Nathalie Lorson created it with the intention of breaking away from the more classical use of vetiver in citrus colognes. Instead, she wanted to draw attention solely to its woods. But in any good fragrance, there must be a contrast that keeps the main theme lively, and unless it is something as striking as woods and citrus, it is going to be challenging. Despite that, the polished inky woods of Encre Noire is proof of her skills and creativity.

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What comes out of the black square flacon is, first, a glinting note of cypress. Its combination fresh pines and woods is the prefect prelude to vetiver. It is an introduction that not only provides a bright contrast, but also remains true to the woody focus.

A rich combination of vetiver and musk soon takes over. It recalls wood shavings and damp earth. The vetiver, moreover, has a rugged, guttural layer, which lends a dusky element to the composition, but which can also feel rough. However, when paired with the velvety musk, it acquires a polished character. This appeal of both rough-hewn woods and smooth musk is what keeps me coming back to explore the paradoxical duality of Encre Noire.

The clear-cut framework of rich vetiver and tempering musk is memorable. Its dense, no-frill style is minimalism at its best. It is the perfect fragrance if you love the rugged yet noble quality of vetiver as it highlights both sides of the woody material. If Encre Noire were an ink, it would be an atramentum of vetiver.

Sources: rlalique.com, basenotes.net