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: 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; yet, 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 the 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 1001 Ouds — 3.5 points

Oud or agarwood has been popular amongst perfume houses for almost two decades ever since the launch of M7 (Yves Saint Laurent, 2002). This singular and complex material that combines the notes of ambergris, musks, woods, and balsams with a fruity and leathery facet can be difficult to render and mix beautifully in an accord. One of the tried-and-tested accords, derived from the Middle East, is the synergy between rose and oud. And, whilst it is no surprise that one could also find this accord well-rendered in 1001 Ouds (Annick Goutal, 2015) by perfumer Isabelle Doyen, there is a twist here that makes this perfume deserve a place in the crowded category of ouds.

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1001 Ouds has this brash medicinal sharpness typical of many oud perfumes. I once sprayed it on a friend who is not used to oud at all, and he promptly recoiled and wrinkled the nose — that is a fair warning of its sharp edge to those new to oud. Soon, however, the honeyed note of rose takes over and sweetens. The rose is by no means as opulent as that in Oud Ispahan (Dior, 2012), but for a moment, the scale seems to tip over to the rose side.

As the plot thickens, the dusky combination of myrrh and papyrus present an earthy contrast to the opulent rose and oud. It remains dusky throughout, and late in the dry down, the smoky dryness of guaiac wood persists. It is rather well-mannered for a perfume of this style, and the sillage feels as though my skin were anointed by a ceremonial fragrant oil.

1001 Ouds is a familiar accord that offers a twist. The character is skewed towards the dusky resins of myrrh instead of the usual floral opulence or animalic musks. Even after a thousand oud perfumes, I would still be happy to add this to the one thousand and first oud.

Source: annickgoutal.fr

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.