Review: Arquiste Aleksandr — 4.0 points

Inspired by the fatal duel of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the namesake Aleksandr (Arquiste, 2012) isll a story of Pushkin riding into the fir forest on the fateful day, wearing leather boots and a copious splash of an eau de cologne.

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But without reading the accompanying story, I tend to think of Aleksandr by perfumer Yann Vasnier as a leathery iris with a splash of eau de cologne-type freshness. This idea of iris for men is not entirely new, considering that it has already begun with the advent of Dior Homme (2005) that sets its iris in a cocoa and somewhat leathery theme. Nevertheless, there is always room for a good tweak.

The beginning of Aleksandr is a cool sparkle of neroli and citrus, and there is a lot of it because it veils the bulk of Aleksandr so well that I never would imagine that there is a dense theme at heart. Its bright freshness is a beautiful contrast to the dusky iris.

In a moment, the iris heart reveals itself. I first notice its green carrot vibes, followed by the sweetness of violets. Then, a leathery musky accent gives the impression of a soft suede – not exactly what Pushkin would have worn, but it has the modern appeal of soft leather that I like. The iris theme is also kept dusky by oakmoss and fir balsam, noticeably prominent in the dry down. It is gentle and understated, but it has a good lasting power.

An iris for men has a familiar ring of Dior Homme, but it is the accents that give Aleksandr a different character of its own. Its violet and suede impart a charming note. Its mossy and balsamic note has a rough-hewn appeal. And, the copious neroli makes Pushkin radiant, I imagine. Aleksandr is surely an interesting update to the masculine iris.

Source: arquiste.com

Review: Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of A Faun — 4.5 points

The Afternoon of A Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange, 2012) was born of a serendipitous encounter. Etienne de Swardt, founder of Etat Libre d’Orange, was approached by a cantankerous patron who criticised the marketing gimmicks of the brand’s perfumes. In an attempt to rid himself of the annoyance, he gave away a perfume, only to have the patron returned two days later. It turned out that the patron was the late Jacques Damase, the influential publisher-cum-editor of several twentieth-century artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, and Le Corbusier amongst others.

A fortuitous partnership was formed. Damase would eventually inspire de Swardt to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Ballets Russes with a perfume that honours its founder Sergei Diaghilev and one of the principal choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky. The resultant composition by perfumer Ralf Schwieger was named after the ballet choreographed and performed by Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes: L’Aprés-midi d’un faune.

The-Afternoon-of-a-Faun-570x708.jpgThe composition might have been christened with Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes in mind, but I tend to think of it in operatic terms. This is because of the glowing immortelle that cuts through the heft of myrrh. Immortelle is rich and dark, yet easily soars above the rest. It is a fittingly powerful companion to myrrh, whose strong notes of sweet balsam, amber, and smoky licorice also perfectly convey the notion of ancient rites. Paired together, the result smells as though an assoluta voice were slicing through the chorus.

As myrrh forms the bulk of the composition, the style is very much contemporary. But, the skilful use of accents gives it a vintage feel of the early twentieth century. These range from the bright spicy cinnamon and tart bergamot, the honeyed rose that mellows the sharp resinous note and lends an opulent curve, to the notes of incense, leather, and oakmoss that give a dramatic touch in the later stages. Such accents give a sense of grandeur and set tone of the composition. And, what better way to pay homage to Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes than setting a chypre tone to the perfume?

What I really like about The Afternoon of A Faun is the way its heavy notes linger there, but upon the slightest movement, its warmth rises to greet. This effect is noticeable in the dry down when the balsamic myrrh becomes dominant and is punctuated with incense, leather, and oakmoss. This and its beautiful sillage of resinous woods and warm immortelle will make it stand out in the crowd. But it is certainly elegant and never begs for attention. And, a few dabs suffice to perfume me throughout the day.

Source: etatlibredorange.com, interview with Etienne de Swardt on basenote.net

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: Annick Goutal Ambre Sauvage — 3.5 points

Ambre Sauvage (Annick Goutal, 2015) by perfumer Isabelle Doyen is one of those perfumes that must not be tried on paper alone. It takes time on a warm skin to reveal the subtleties of its depth. Otherwise, it would be easy to dismiss the composition for its seemingly one-dimensional character.

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Most of Ambre Sauvage is a dense accord of amber. Pink pepper and lavender lend their bright terpenic accents, but it does not seem to make much of an impact, let alone a lift. The notes therein are so well-blended they feel as though I were looking through a filter for Gaussian blur. I can make out a warm patchouli. There is also a swirl of leather, styrax, and incense that sets the dusky tone of the composition. It stays close to skin, emanating just a woody, leathery air. It certainly feels monolithic.

Despite its name, Ambre Sauvage is far from the animalic notes and incense of Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal, 2007). Nor does it resemble the spicy and sumptuous feast of Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000) in the least. Fans of such dark or opulent ambers will be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the subdued richness feels refined. And, the absence of sweetness means that it can never be cloying. Those wishing to move from modern, streamlined, sweet ambers like Ambre Nuit (Dior, 2009) to a more challenging and shadowy side of amber might find Ambre Sauvage to be a good stepping stone. I just wish its ideas were extrapolated further.

Source: annickgoutal.fr

Review: Hermès Cuir d’Ange — 4.0 points

Cuir d’Ange (Hermès, 2014) is named after the words in the novel Jean le Bleu. In the novel, author Jean Giono describes his shoemaker father working in his Provençal cobbler. Similarly, the composition is inspired by the leather of Hermès. According to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who explored the leather pieces kept in the firm’s vault, the magnificent skins, which are naturally tanned, ‘smell of flowers’. This interpretation indeed comes through in the composition. The delicate floral notes bring out an interesting facet as they morph seamlessly into the rich overtones of soft leather.

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Cuir d’Ange opens with a sharp snap of hawthorn. Its crispness is as fresh as the cool spring air. This crisp introduction soon glides over to a floral mélange: violet, heady narcissus, and a touch of almond-like heliotrope. Its violet overtone gives Cuir d’Ange the impression of sweet leather handbags that exude a floral note. Its delicate theme seems to oscillate between floral and leather notes.

Towards the dry down, the bitter tang of its dry leather is noticeable, but the floral and leather notes are still seamlessly conjoined by musk. It is an interesting synergy. Those familiar with Ellena’s ethereal and wispy accord will find much to delight in this interesting leather etude. It may seem soft and bland in comparison to the dramatic leather chypres of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944) or Cabochard (Grès, 1959), but its clarity of its uncluttered floral-leather accord is a charm to behold.

Source: flairflair.com

Review: Aramis — 4.0 points

From the first sniff of Aramis (1965), it struck me immediately as dated. It was from a time when the grand chypre structure was in vogue. Had it been my first experience in choosing a perfume, I would have recoiled from the intensity and the tenacity of Aramis. It is a powerful idea.

But such strength alone is not what makes Aramis so memorable. It is, in fact, the way perfumer Bernard Chant creatively reworked strong ideas of his contemporaries to offer and firmly establish leather chypre amongst the families of masculine perfumes. As I smell Aramis, I am jolted by the ideas: the ferocity of leather chypre in Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), the verdancy of overdosed galbanum in Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1947), and Bernard Chant’s very own green floral and leather chypre in Cabochard (Grès, 1959).

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Aramis (in gold) and Aramis Adventurer (in azure)

The opening features some aldehydic sparkles, aromatic herbs, spicy coriander, and green galbanum. The latter feels like a creative citation of Vent Vert. The funky, sweaty cumin that follows, admittedly, startles me. Aramis is bold, indeed.

Soon, I notice a subdued floral accord, mainly of jasmine note, that seems to blend in smoothly with a lot of sandalwood. It creates a kind of bracing softness that contrasts with the strong debut and the imminent pungency of leather. This is where Aramis reminds me of the softness in Cabochard.

But this is also where it diverges: Aramis might embrace the same kind of floral softness and sandalwood, but it does not wrap its leather with flowers and verdancy. Instead, the leather accord based on isobutyl quinoline that was also used in Bandit takes centre stage. Oakmoss, patchouli, and vetiver provide a dramatic woody backdrop. Gentle puffs of castoreum add much of the animalic note. And, musks mellow the sharp leather accord.

One can think of sturdy leathery Aramis as the masculine counterpart of the more floral leather of Cabochard. Both are just as memorable and polished in different tones. For Aramis, the uncompromising nature of its mossy leather against a backdrop of rich chypre is the reason why it has since become an icon, and is amongst the most recognisable leather chypre for men. But then again, the galbanum-infused leather chypre of Aramis would find itself softened by florals, ionones, and orris, and given radiance by the first overdose of Hedione in Chanel N°19 (1970), another classic.

Sources: fashionista.com

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