History and Review: Chanel Eau de Cologne — 4.0 points

The refreshing blend of citrus and herbs that we classify as ‘eau de cologne’ today can be traced back to the fourteenth-century ‘Hungary water’, the first alcoholic perfume known in Europe. Reputedly formulated per the order of the Queen of Hungary, possibly Elisabeth of Poland (1305 – 29 December 1380), the concoction is said to have been based on the distilled essence of rosemary. Later formulae might also call for other aromatic essences. More closely associated to what we recognise as eaux de cologne, however, is the original 4711 Kölnisch Wasser created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709, containing essence of bergamot, orange, grapefruit, and petitgrain. Defunct though the original compositions may be, the freshness and radiance of their character have survived and come to define the hallmark of eaux de cologne.

Likewise, the sweltering heat of summer had inspired me to seek out such beloved traits in eaux de cologne, and I revisited a few modern compositions over the past weeks. I revelled in the avant-garde intensity of Pamplelune (Guerlain, 1999) and the wondrous contrast between green fig and wood of Ninfeo Mio (Annick Goutal, 2010), but I beheld the immaculate Eau de Cologne of Chanel (2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, which seems to strike the ideal aesthetic between classical allure and minimalistic polish.

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Here, the beautiful backbone of vibrant citrus versus sensual musk in an eau de cologne is not only well preserved, but also polished. The creation of Eau de Cologne, it seems, necessitates only the essentials: bergamot, orange blossom, and musk. These are dosed generously, and the composition executed with such balance that each turn — from the bright clarity of bergamot and the green floral of petitgrain and neroli to the sweetness of orange blossom and musk — is seamless. It is simple yet brilliant, like a chip of white diamond.

This bright character is not unlike 4711 Kölnisch Wasser, an all-time classic and affordable eau de cologne, and one may well question the necessity of another pricey eau de cologne. However, the quality of materials and simplicity of Eau de Cologne are what sets it apart. The beloved freshness and radiance is brought to the fore, but kept understated. That is the quality of Eau de Cologne that I admire. So, even if I did not own one, I think it would be a worth a trip to Chanel counter just to smell it.

Smelling the result of beautiful materials and excellent balance is already pleasing, and such an uncluttered presentation of a classical idea is all the more reason to like this one. It perfectly distils the classical essence of an eau de cologne in a modern manner.

Sources: chanel.fr; Élisabeth de Feydeau, Les Parfums: Histoire, anthologie, dictionnaire, Robert Laffont, 2011, 1206 p.

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: Chanel N°5 L’Eau — 4.0 points

A flanker of Chanel N°5 (1921) aiming at the modern crowd must not only possess the glamour and history of its forbear, but also appeal to modern taste. Perfumer Jacques Polge bore that in mind: the structure must be kept, but some old-fashioned notes reduced or replaced. The result was Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008) — made more transparent to highlight certain notes, but still faithful to the original. Effortless sophistication.

That responsibility has fallen to his son and successor Olivier Polge who took the rein early in 2015 as in-house perfumer. And, in creating the latest flanker for an even younger crowd, namely women in their twenties, he accorded the same respect. Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016) thus exudes the vivacity of a young mademoiselle, but at the same time, possesses the bearing of its predecessor.leau

The aldehydic shards, for which the opening of Chanel N°5 is infamous, are reduced to just a dash in L’Eau. The exuberance of citrus and neroli sets the bright tone. It is transparent, fresh, sparkling as I imagine the perfect eau de cologne version of Chanel N°5 should be.

Its iconic floral bouquet is sheer and well-blended, but all the flowers are still vying for attention. I can make out the components now and then. Sunny heady ylang ylang dominates; jasmine petals are scattered here and there; and the spicy and green nuance of rose imbues the composition with a strong rosy accent.

L’Eau is also heavy on musks and sweet vanilla, but it feels tender. If the rich, balsamic, animalic dry down of Chanel N°5 were velvet, then the cottony radiant musk of L’Eau would be layers of shimmering organza. But those anosmic to certain musks may find L’Eau even more reticent than is the case.

L’Eau is an example of how a good flanker should be. The spirit of the great grand dame – the hesperedic top, the floral bouquet, and the musky woods — is kept alive in a different light. The vivacity of citrus is emphasised and the musky dry down is radiant. The aldehydic and powdery aspects are also reduced. This lighter take on the original icon resembles Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008), but is even more light-hearted and jovial even. Its ingredients smell of quality. And, I am sure those other than its target audience will be pleased.

source: chanel.fr

Review: Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur — 4.0 points

Named for the bygone fashion of men sporting their scented batiste handkerchiefs, the composition goes by the name of Mouchoir de Monsieur (Guerlain, 1904) — handkerchief of the gentleman. It was created by perfumer Jacques Guerlain well over a decade after Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). Yet, both fragrances share an uncanny resemblance, and one can see the interesting development and twist that Jacques Guerlain did to Jicky, its iconic fougère predecessor by his uncle Aimé Guerlain.

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The lavender at the centre of its fougére accord reminds me of Jicky, and it is similarly dressed up with plenty of citrus, a bit of herbs, some fresh flowers, and a warm sweet base. The juxtaposition between cool and warm notes is also there. But this time, it is the floral accent and fulsome civet that set the tone for the fougére accord in Mouchoir de Monsieur.

The fresh aromatic facet of lavender is enhanced by the brilliance of its top notes: bergamot, neroli, and lemon verbena. These form the cool refreshing eau de cologne accord, and I can imagine gentlemen of those days dousing their batiste handkerchiefs with the concoction.

Contrary to Jicky in which the floral note of its lavender is left as such, Mouchoir de Monsieur embellishes the dainty purple florets with a bit of jasmine. Dollops of civet impart a mellow depth, much like a creamy dark chocolate ganache. It feels very dandy and polished.

The composition segues into a warm sweet powder combining orris, vanilla, tonka bean, and musks with the floral embellishments. Compared to the rudimentary accord in Jicky, the famed Guerlinade is more recognisable here with its floral, powdery, praline sweetness. Its warm vanillic base is fully enveloped by the sensual civet cream, much like the warmth of ermine robes. Mouchoir de Monsieur ends as a faintly floral powder with sweet animalic puffs of civet that stay close to skin for five hours; it does slightly better on fabric.

Mouchoir de Monsieur might be a derivative of Jicky, but that does not necessarily mean that it is any less interesting. In fact, I see it as an experiment of Jacques Guerlain to develop a unique character in the house style. Just like Jicky, the cool hesperidic and agrestic notes contrast sharply with the redolent vanillic fond. It is a beautiful duel. However, the floral inflection and redolent civet are where Mouchoir de Monsieur diverges from its forebear and flaunts its dandy appeal. And, I should think of its memorable character as a glimpse of the La Belle Époque opulence.

Source: guerlain.fr, Sotheby’s

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

Review: Diptyque Eau de Sens — 3.5 points

Eau des Sens (Diptyque, 2016) was created by perfumer Olivier Pescheux with the focus on a fairly known flower throughout the world: orange blossom. The goal, of course, is to highlight its beauty. But, it is also important to make the fragrance accessible with considerations given to its general appeal. For example, some may prefer the carnal sensuality of the flower, while others look for the comfort that it provides in scenting talcum powder. Eau des Sens takes these well into consideration and straddles nicely between the two sides. Eau des Sens is a balanced idea of shared fragrances from its character right down to its longevity.

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Eau des Sens opens with a bright theme of the bitter orange tree. The combination of bigarade oil, petitgrain oil, and neroli oil – all from the bitter orange tree – introduces the theme nicely. Its citrusy sparkle, green woody nuance, and spicy floral note are there to behold. And, perhaps, juniper berries lend their bitter pine accent to give the impression of woods and stems.

The sensual central character of Eau des Sens emerges with the floral opulence of its orange blossom. The accent here is luminous, and not so much the narcotic creaminess that often typifies orange blossoms. But, at times, I find this orange blossom heart slightly ‘high-pitched’. Here, the woods of patchouli also contrast nicely with the heady orange blossoms and keeps the composition wearable.

It finishes on a floral musky note that marries well with the central orange blossom character. It also projects its orange blossom very well. Often, I kept catching whiffs off Eau des Sens, only to find out that the sources of that floral power were the blotter or my scarf a few metres away. More importantly, the dry down cleverly avoids coming close to the soapy musks of many orange blossom toiletries.

Eau des Sens is a balanced, well-crafted orange blossom theme with longevity to boost. Whilst it may not possess the ultimatum of Fleur d’Oranger (Serge Lutens, 2003), the multifaceted richness of Séville à l’Aube (L’Artisan Parfumeur, 2012), or the nectarous harvests of Fleur d’Oranger (L’Artisan Parfumeur, 2005 & 2007), Eau des Sens offers accessibility and fulfils its promises. It explores the fairly familiar theme of orange blossom on both sides, balancing between sultry seduction and reassuring comfort.

Source: diptyqueparis.com

Review: Guerlain Habit Rouge — 5.0 points

In 1965, fragrances for men were still largely conservative with few styles dominating the market. There were the citrusy chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), the green woods of Vétiver from Carven (1957) and Guerlain (1959), the fresh herbal fougères of Brut (Fabergé, 1964), and the leather chypre of Aramis (1965), to name a few.

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Then came Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965), suffused with Guerlain’s oriental legacy à la Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925). It was very different. Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain created a composition of strong contrast between cool citrus and warm amber, infused with orange blossom and a leathery note inspired by dressage.

Its scintillating top note is citrus galore: fulsome 32% bergamot oil, 2% petitgrain oil, 2% lemon oil, and 0.5% neroli oil. The brightness of bergamot is a classic introduction of an oriental, joined by the suggestion of a classical eau de cologne from lemon, petitgrain, and neroli.

Then, Habit Rouge mellows with the sensuality of orange blossom. Its green, floral note lends a suave character to the oriental composition. At this point, it appears rather dandy. I imagine a gentleman doused with a hesperidic eau de cologne and fashionably sporting a white floral boutonnière on the lapel.

The sweet amber base is enriched by a Guerlinade accord of sweet vanilla, tonka bean, and powdery orris. There is also a balsamic touch of 0.5% myrrh resin. But key to the personality of Habit Rouge is a leathery iris accord provided by a Firmenich base that gives the feel of soft saddles, burnished boots, and supple reins, the elements of show jumping from the very own experience of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Habit Rouge finishes with a hint of equestrian leather on the amber powder of Guerlinade.

Evidently, Habit Rouge is an offspring of Shalimar that has been given some good tweaking. The citrus is boosted and amber mellowed, and a leathery reference of dressage gives the final touch. Its striking counterpoint of hesperidic notes and sweet amber is effectual in creating the mood of a classical Guerlain: beautiful, rich, and opulent in the panache of its forefathers.

Sources: ozmoz.com, horsecollaborative.com, tvinsider.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.