Review: 27 87 Elixir de Bombe — 4.0 points

In this era where syrup and fruit salad dominate the market, another gourmand fragrance will have a hard time catching attention. That was exactly my thought upon the first spritz of Elixir de Bombe (2016) created by perfumer Mark Buxton for the Barcelona-based niche perfume house 27 87. But the more I wear it, the more it grows on me, as it shifts from a plain, sweet bonbon to a master’s confection with the manifold nuances and flavours.

Elixir de Bombe is one of those fragrances that needs some test wear to be certain that you love it. It is brazenly sweet; the opening already gives the impression of syrup. But the sweetness is foiled by pink pepper and ylang ylang that brightens the accord, and these are soon joined by ginger. The warm spice is an elegant solution to countering the sweetness, and its employment here is similar to that in balancing the floral sweetness of ylang ylang in Eau Mohéli (Diptyque, 2013). Still dominated by sweetness, it gets more exciting with herbal, gingery, earthy, and resinous facets that it feels like being taken on a technicolour ride with a harlequin.

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Then, dry amber takes centre stage and plays a crucial role in the dry down. It balances out the syrupy sweetness and sets a dusky tone to the composition. The resinous warmth of labdanum, the powdery touch, the leathery accent, and the spicy effect form a complex counterpoint to the sticky sweetness of toffee. This is the part that grows on me, and it lasts and lasts.

The gourmand character of sticky crème caramel that goes hand in hand with complex amber is fun and sophisticated. It is a feat to dose the caramel with such a heavy hand whilst orchestrating opposing elements skilfully to tame the sweetness. It is intensely sweet, especially in the beginning, but the effect—unlike the heft of gourmands such as Angel (Thierry Mugler, 1992) or Casmir (Chopard, 1992)—is intimate, polished, and unisex enough. So, unless you have put a ban on all perfumes sweet, give this intrepid fellow a try. Love it or hate it, a character like this does not leave you indifferent.

Source: 27 87 Perfumes

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Review: Memo Italian Leather — 4.5 points

I once lavished praise on Chanel N°19 (1970) and argued for why it deserves a place on the pedestal of classics. Perfumer Henri Robert employed aroma ingredients and sumptuous natural materials—galbanum, iris, May rose and jasmine, and vetiver—to explore and extrapolate the ideas of superb contemporaries, such as Cabochard (Grès, 1959) and Aramis (1965). He wove together an idiosyncratic accord of green galbanum, buttery orris, and mossy woods, and gave an inspiring successor to the old-school chypre perfumes. In a similar vein, perfumer Aliénor Massenet draws on this backbone and carves out a niche for Italian Leather (Memo, 2013) 

Despite the name, it is not so much an interpretation of leather from Italy as a road trip in Italy, which is the vision of Clara Molloy, the founder of Memo. The very first note that strikes is the piercing green of galbanum, but it is quickly softened by aromatic clary sage so that the impression the green accord gives is of sticky tomato sprigs. How fitting. After all, a road trip in Italy must surely involve tomatoes? 

The green lingers, gradually tempered by the buttery iris that emerges. There it is, the marvel of Chanel N°19 revisited. Whereas the galbanum-orris accord in Chanel N°19 is joined by dark woods, the green tomato leaf and soft orris in Italian Leather transition slowly into a complex oriental accord. If this were an Italian road trip, it would be in Tuscany, where the gentle zephyr carrying the scent of the evergreen cypresses tempers a warm summer afternoon

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After that oriental languor comes the sweet vanillin, the long-awaited climax of the act. But if it were just that, Italian Leather would not be nearly as compelling as it is. Joined by benzoin and warm labdanum, darkened by myrrh and balsams, and rounded by musks, the accord is faceted and rich, with a hint of molasses. I particularly cherish the part one hour into the development, in which opoponax lends much of the powdery, velvety comfort. And, all this while, the green sap of tomato sprig sticks, keeping the heft of the oriental accord grounded.  

It bears a relationship to Chanel N°19 and a more recent release, Vert d’Encens (Tom Ford, 2016). It borrows the galbanum-iris interplay from the former, whilst in the latter, the bitterness of galbanum is tamed with citrus and herbs and a peppery frankincense is thrown into the oriental accord. If you relish these and their original, multi-faceted accords with challenging green notes, you may well revel in sniffing Italian Leather. And, like these two other fragrances, it possesses great lasting power.  

I am drawn to it not only because of the strength of its character but also the depth of its accords. Massenet did not simply take the backbone of Chanel N°19 and tweak it to give us a pastiche. On the contrary, attention has been paid closely to the notes that make up and balance the accords.  The harsh character of green galbanum is softened by clary sage. The oriental accord is a complex plot of multiple shades and textures, from luminous to dusky balsams. Ingeniously, the duality of orris—its chilly crunch and buttery facet—is used to bridge the transition. In Italian Leather, Massenet achieves an equipoise of green and oriental notes rich in nuances.  

sources: fragrantica

Review: by Kilian Amber Oud — 4.5 points

Previously, I confessed to my aversion to oud. But ever since Pure Oud (by Kilian, 2009), I have consistently been wearing the oud collection from by Kilian. I reckon I am beginning to warm up to this multi-faceted note, especially when it is as excellently crafted as the ones from by Kilian. And, Amber Oud (2011) is yet another sublime creation around this note that I heartily recommend.

In spite of the rather banal name, Amber Oud offers an interesting vantage point from which to appreciate the rich oriental notes. It opens right away with a stirring whiff of incense and labdanum, and without any attempt at a prelude, segues into warm amber. A vanilla so resplendent sets the stage, with the complexity of the cured beans one often finds in a gourmet section. Benzoin provides the dry, lingering sweetness that harks to the fantasy of honeyed almonds. All the rich, hefty notes that make my mouth water constitute the bulk of Amber Oud, but the composition is far from being cloying. Instead, it remains lucent.

The description alone is a testament to the quality of its amber, but what is it that distinguishes it from being a mere ‘nice amber’? The answer to that can remain elusive for the first few tries, as, I find, is often the case with the deceptively simple quality that marks many of perfumer Calice Becker’s creations. However, as I pondered the question, I found myself reminiscing more and more about the time when my mother made traditional desserts.

One of the last steps is to perfume them, and this is almost always a rite to Thai desserts. She would put flowers such as sambac jasmine, rose, and ylang ylang in a small cup and place it in a lidded ceramic pot containing the dessert, thereby imbuing the treats with the fragrance overnight. On the next day, a fragrant candle called ‘tian op’ was instrumental in imparting its unmistakable lingering scent to the treats. The candle has a wick that can be lit on both ends and its wax comprises a mixture of frankincense, benzoin, dried kaffir peel, brown sugar, camphor, nutmeg, sandalwood, and bee wax. After having set tian op in a holder in the ceramic pot and lit it, she would extinguish it by covering the pot with a lid, allowing the dessert to soak up the aroma for ten to fifteen minutes. Even after this step, a potent mixture of frankincense, benzoin, kaffir peel, brown sugar, nutmeg, and camphor that had been seared in a pre-heated terra cotta cup would be similarly used to suffuse the dessert with its opulent fumes. How fondly I recall that caramelised, incense-y, floral accent that staved off some of the rich sweetness of the dessert. The flavour was a combination of melancholic incense and decadent sweet amber, which is essentially what Amber Oud mirrors.

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Tian Op: a scented candle used to perfume food and clothing. Its melancholic fragrance balances out the sweetness.

Now, the answer to what sets Amber Oud apart is clear: it is the floral and incense inflection of its amber accord. Just like how the rich dessert was lifted with floral hints and dry incense, the same effect is employed in Amber Oud in taming the hefty notes. This also explains why the drydown of Amber Oud possesses an uncanny resemblance to Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006), another favourite composition of mine that revolves around benzoin, incense, and balsams with a sprinkle of rose petals. The result is an unexpected delight in an ostensibly straightforward composition, a hallmark of Becker who has a knack for subtly weaving together multiple layers and facets.

All in all, the played-up aspect of sweet amber together with the unique accent that carries well to the next day makes Amber Oud my perennial favourite. It is an intriguing oud aspect that is both cosy and refined—a quality which I rarely see in an oud composition. A spritz suffices to catapult me to those scrumptious recollection of floral and incense-y fantasy.

Review: Jacques Fath Bel Ambre — 4.0 points

Bel Ambre (Jacques Fath, 2015) is literally ‘beautiful amber’. As the name might already suggest, the bulk of the composition rests on a classical blend of vanilla and labdanum, which is called ‘amber’ for its rich, golden brown hue resembling the precious tree resin. One could be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that the name betrays yet another classical sweet amber perfume, but this is not case. This is because Bel Ambre certainly has a few beautiful surprises up its sleeves.

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Of course, the main impression is traditional. The beloved warmth of this perfumery accord indeed already makes itself evident in the top notes. Juniper berry, which is often used to flavour liquor, imparts a boozy note to the bright citrus and savoury herbs. Cumin lends its complementary spicy note. The sum is like the warmth of a strong liquor coursing through your veins.

But the surprise that soon sets in comes as a chill. Buttery iris note creates an interesting cool contrast to the warm amber composition, and along with an animalic overtone of castoreum and smoky leather, they meld into a soft leathery note. It develops in the dry, smoky side, which will suit those who prefer their amber a little less opulent.

The pleasing amber accord reveals itself fully towards the dry down. The powdery sweetness of vanilla, tonka bean, and musk creates a cosy, ever-so comforting cushion. The balsamic note of labdanum imbues the composition with much warmth here. And in the background, a vetiver note offsets the sweetness nicely with a bit of a woody touch.

Bel Ambre is a gentle take on classical amber with a twist. For me, the overall warmth recalls that of Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000), but it is quieter in terms of volume and slightly sweeter. Of course, there is also the soft leathery and animalic tinge. Its lasting power is great enough to be enjoyed throughout the day. If you are looking for a taste of classical amber but with a chic twist, this is it. And, I am sure that fans of classical amber will hardly find fault with such a beautiful amber, and that applies to me as well. Even when I constantly look for novelty in compositions, a familiar accord that is well-executed such as this one has already won half of the battle for my affection.

Source: spirale-rp.fr

Review: Chanel 31 Rue Cambon — 5.0 points

There have been great chypre perfumes such as Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), Chanel N°19 (1970), and Cristalle (Chanel, 1974) amongst the arsenal of perfumes Chanel can boast. Pour Monsieur contrasts hesperidic citrus with mossy woods, giving an otherwise austere eau de cologne a dramatic twist. Similarly, Cristalle drapes a bright green floral veil on top of a mossy, musky base. More opulent, however, is Chanel N°19, which showcases the interplay between green galbanum and rooty orris on a grand chypre stage, redolent of floral elements, leather, oakmoss, and woods. And, the latest addition to the chypres of Chanel, 31 Rue Cambon (Chanel, 2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, is just as great.

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The photograph above captures its mood well: 31 Rue Cambon is like a figure of cool elegance amidst the baroque warmth of the interior. The green carrot and steely chills of iris are set against a warm backdrop of patchouli, labdanum, and musks. The juxtaposition between cool iris and a warm chypre accord creates a dramatic tension that gives 31 Rue Cambon its character. But, despite the drama, it never loses the polished elegance. Floral shimmers sweeten and soften the chypre accord and a peppery bergamot provides a charming introduction.

Towards the dry down, the combination of iris, warm balsamic note, and creamy musk is truly elegant and sensual. Thanks to the creative strategy of Polge, the sublime chills of iris are not lost in the dramatic interplay. He simplifies instead of overdosing to achieve emphasis, and the chypre accord sans oakmoss thus allows iris to shine along with glow of its chypre warmth.

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As a chilly iris set in a warm chypre style, 31 Rue Cambon is a stunning update to the portfolio of great chypres. Its lasting glow will also keep you warm and mesmerising throughout the day.

Sources: chanel.com; elle.gr

Review: Christian Dior Ambre Nuit — 3.5 points

If one wants a gentle amber, this is it. Ambre Nuit (Dior, 2009), despite the name, is perfect for day, night, and just about any season. It is not the rich, dark, classical amber accord à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925), Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal, 2007), or the slightly gourmand Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000). Ambre Nuit, instead, focuses on the transparent warmth of the mix of a classical perfumery accord called amber and throws in a nice measure of rose. A nicely done modern rose-amber by perfumer François Demachy.

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Ambre Nuit opens with the freshness of bergamot and is somewhat aromatic due to the lavender-recalling dihydromyrcenol. From there, it plays on the interesting metallic facet of its rose to complement the amber. It begins with the metallic tonality of pink pepper oil at 0.25%. Then, the tone is extended towards the rather metallic musk fond comprising 11.2% each of Habanolide and ethylene brassylate. This firmly establishes the metallic character of its blooming rose at the centre.

Later, the composition gradually unfurls its sweet amber. There are the vanillic sweetness and balsamic labdanum. The ambery warmth of 5.1% Ambrox is present as a warm ambergris accent, which is in turn extended by the woody-ambery tone of 28% Iso E Super and a touch of cedarwood oil. The ambery warmth feels more like a gentle caress than the enveloping warmth at the fore of Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) and Allure Homme Édition Blanche (Chanel, 2008).

Such a well composed composition is thoroughly enjoyable. It presents a well-done oriental accord of rose and amber accented by an ambergris note. Also, the metallic aspect is a quirky twist to the rose. Ambre Nuit is nothing ground-breaking, but I say we always have room for another well-done amber that delights all day long.

Sources: dior.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odor

History and Review: Miss Dior Originale (1947) — 4.0 points

I find the reflection on the classics of perfumery just as difficult as an analysis of the literary classics. These perfumes are, for most cases, complex; they are filled with ingredients of distinctive qualities that, by modern standards, are either restricted due to safety concerns or unattainable due to social and environmental changes. The state of these perfumes is, therefore, often a pale shade of their former glory. Miss Dior Originale (1947) is a case in point. But before we smell our vintage sample, let us examine the trends and ideas surrounding the inaugural launch of Miss Dior Originale — which I shall refer to in its original name ‘Miss Dior’ in this article — to understand why it would become a smashing success of its time.

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It was 12th February 1947 at 10:30 am when those who had gathered in the salons of 30 avenue Montaigne heard the first announcement: ‘numéro un, number one’. Then, ninety silhouettes filed past the astounded crowd as Christian Dior debuted his collections: En Huit and Corolle.  They captured the feminine aesthetics of hourglass figure and of full skirts resembling a bloom with its open corolla — hence, the names ‘In Eight’ and ‘Corolla’. Amongst the silhouettes, the ‘Bar Suit’ — the cream shantung coat and rounded tails following the curves of the bust as well as the calf-length, full-pleated, black wool skirt — epitomised the aesthetics with the sloping shoulders, cinched waist, articulated bust, and padded hips. At the end of the show, the then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Camel Snow exclaimed, clearly impressed, ‘It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have created such a new look!’ The collections have since been dubbed ‘New Look’, which softened the shoulders, accentuated the waist, volumised the hip, and emphasised the bust. It was a repudiation of the 1920s and 1930s fashion. Dior tore off the pages of sartorial restriction, gloom, gravity, rationing, and uniforms, and revived a long-forgotten tradition of the corseted silhouette and opulence in the late nineteenth century. He opened a new chapter. A new outlook.

This thrilling sense of atavism pervaded right down to his final touch: perfume. Above all, it must translate his retrospective sense of aesthetics. Christian Dior worked with Serge Heftler Louiche, perfumer Jean Carles, and perhaps, perfumer Paul Vacher in the creation of Miss Dior, named after his sister Catherine Dior, to ensure that the creation reflects the quintessence of his couture. And rightly so, Jean Carles took to the structure of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917), hearkening to the heyday of the classical chypre. But he also wove into Miss Dior the green galbanum of Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1945) by perfumer and colleague Germaine Cellier that he admired and the bold accords of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) that he created a year earlier — both were popular elements of their time.

From the first spritz, Miss Dior is unmistakably a chypre. The structure alone is foretelling, with the main chypre accord of bergamot, jasmine, patchouli, vetiveryl acetate, oakmoss, labdanum, and animalic notes comprising 60% of the composition. Yet, Miss Dior is wondrously original.

In the opening, Miss Dior sports the green citation similar to Vent Vert. It combines galbanum with a green accord based on styrallyl acetate, styrax, and aldehyde C-10 (decanal) and C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde). It feels like a fresh opening buds of gardenia. This is balanced by the spicy brightness of pepper and coriander. The sharp green top is also bridged to the floral heart by lavender and neroli.

The rich floral notes come into full-bloom with mainly a jasmine complex. Rose and confit-like tuberose also vie for attention. The green aromatic note of celery seed oil also enriches the tuberose. And, soon the warm base notes emerge.

Amber, animalic notes, and the powdery sweet combination of orris and vanillin provide the much-needed softness to contrast the sharp top notes. Much of the woody aspect in the chypre structure of Miss Dior also comes from 9.2% patchouli oil. And, what remains on skin is a combination of rich animalic musks, sweet floral powder, and warm damp-woody oakmoss.

Miss Dior harked back to the glorious chypres, but was also well-attuned to its time. The ingenious composition successfully demonstrated the versatility of the chypre structure in accommodating themes as different as leather, green, and floral. Jean Carles, though anosmic by that time, effectively placed the galbanum green of Vent Vert and the bold green accords of Ma Griffe into the classical chypre accord to take advantage of the remarkably versatile structural materials. He, then, gave Miss Dior the richness and complexity of natural ingredients such as jasmine absolute, tuberose derived from enfleurage, and even with traces of celery seed oil. The result provided such originality.

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Miss Dior is a grand parfum so inventive and idiosyncratic. But, it is also reminiscent of the sensorial richness of good old Lux soaps in the 1960s. This is also a compliment to its brilliance. That the accords of Miss Dior have trickled down to the functional scents of everyday life proves its trend-setting capability. Miss Dior is phenomenal.

Nevertheless, the fate of this classic perfume is lamentable. The current formulation of Miss Dior Originale in the eau de toilette is sorely lacking. Its verve has been lost due, perhaps, to the unattainable ingredients. For instance, oakmoss is restricted to a minimal concentration; the popularity of galbanum has waned; and the tuberose absolute of today is of a different profile than, back in 1947, when its confit-like richness was procured through costly and laborious enfleurage in India, using the now-restricted animal fats. What is left of Miss Dior Originale is a whisper of galbanum, a murky floral heart that lacks the richness and opulence befitting a classical chypre, and a fond of lukewarm oakmoss. It is now a hollow chypre, devoid of striking character and dramatic richness.

Sources: dior.com, hpprints.com, Perfumery Practice and Principles, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, vogue.ru