Review: Jacques Fath Vers le Sud — 2.5 points

Lemon, lavender, fig leaf, and oakmoss are notes that create a beautiful rustic impression for me. When I encountered them in Vers le Sud (Jacques Fath, 2015), I was initially excited by the promise of a Mediterranean charm and quite prepared to forgive any unremarkable aspects—after all, what not to like about an eau de cologne with a twist? Even if it is not going to be novel, it must surely be likeable.

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As it turned out, however, I sit on the fence for this one. The beginning is bright, with lemons and herbal lavender. They are accompanied by fruity sweetness and aquatic freshness. Although it feels generic at this point, the fig leaf accord that soon enters lends a twist. Creamy, bitter green, and camphoraceous with hints of civet to soften the herbal edge, it offers a pleasant alternative to the traditional citrus blooms. In the dry down, the bitterness of woody oakmoss completes the rustic experience. But the composition is far from being able to transport me to the advertised Corsican wilderness and Tuscan hills.

I like the fig leaf accord at its core and the bitter woody note of oakmoss in the dry down, but I remain unimpressed. Vers le Sud does not really add anything beyond a twist to the classical eau de cologne. A variation on a theme could be interesting, but in the case of Vers le Sud, it feels rather average.

Source: Jacques  Fath Parfums

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Review: Tom Ford Vert des Bois — 4.0 points

The name Vert des Bois (Tom Ford, 2016) implies that this perfume is about green and woody notes. And it is: when I smell Vert des Bois, I think of green chypres from the 1970s. Those raunchy green-woody compositions such as Aliage (Estée Lauder, 1972), Private Collection (Estée Lauder, 1973), and Jean-Louis Scherrer (1979) come to mind.  As often is the case for Tom Ford fragrances, they are inspired by perfumery’s classics. But Vert des Bois is far removed from just another all-too-familiar knock-off.

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Instead a whiff of Vert des Bois reminds me of the summer trip from Madrid to Seville by train. I smell green olive, sweet thyme, and a sharp resinous fir from the outset. Its aromatic green accord, rounded by a plummy note, conjures the pastoral landscape. A peppery accent brings in the attribute of the mid-day heat in an Iberian summer. And even before the fragrance reveals its woody counterpoint, I can vividly recall the scorched land along route, dotted with venerable olive trees.

And when the dramatic woods do unfurl, they reveal themselves nineteen to the dozen. Leather. Oakmoss. Balsams. All at once. These are inextricably intertwined with a patchouli trail. The dry down some hours into wearing Vert des Bois retains this gripping character, but has become slightly warmer, as sweet tonka bean and musk mellow the rough-hewn woods. The result is nothing short of excitement, from top to bottom.

Whilst it does recall the heavy-hitter chypres from the seventies, Vert des Bois does not feel at all like a mere knock-off of the classics. What sets it apart is the accents. Plum, pepper, thyme, and pine needles make for a twist in the green accord, and when paired with a strong woody accord, one gets an interesting vantage point of a classical green chypre. Having said that, those who enjoy the stark contrast and drama of this genre will relish Vert des Bois and its olive groves and sun-scorched earth.

Source: GetYourGuide.co.uk

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: Guerlain Vol de Nuit — 5.0 points

During the golden age of aviation, the general sentiment was one of exploration, adventure, and fascination with the unexplored. This is because these could be made possible by the advent of aviation. Such sentiments pervaded the air of the time, and therefore, when Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the novel Vol de Nuit or ‘Night Flight’ in 1931 based on his experience as an aviator, it became an international best-seller. Its tale of a courageous pilot braving the night storm and plunging himself into an unknown fate whilst his dear wife awaited the grave news moved many.

As perfumery caught on this l’air du temps, perfumer Jacques Guerlainhimself a friend of Saint-Exupérycomposed Vol de Nuit (Guerlain, 1933) in honour of the pioneering aviator. The resplendent composition of green, floral, woody, and animalic elements was most avant-garde, and did not lend itself to any immediately recognisable category.

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The extrait de parfum that I acquired in 2015 opens with a snap of bitter-green galbanum and wonderfully tart bergamot. The latter recalls the fine tartness of Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) in the top.  More importantly, I like the way the galbanum is intertwined with bergamot, creating a temperamental green character that is, at once, fierce and gentle. From then on, Vol de Nuit begins its descent into the bottomless pit.

The dark green ripples of jonquille absolute bridge the green top with their deep mellow touch. Then, I smell what is effectively a Guerlinade accord. It is a soft oriental powder revolving around jasmine, orange blossom, orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. Throughout, the powerful leathery and animalic note of castoreum is present and becomes more evident as the composition develops. Its animalic allure maintain the gravity of the composition. The dry down is a combination of resins, amber, and a light touch of oakmoss. Much later, it smells of resinous woods.

My impression of Vol de Nuit in the extrait de parfum is that it is a dense and most beautiful atramentum. I must admit, though, that I had a hard time at first because of the castoreum funk and the fierce and dark green notes of galbanum and jonquille. But a few times of wearing it changed my mind. This is because a composition like Vol de Nuit demands patience. It takes time to play out the sublime depth of the notes.

Vol de Nuit is all about the depth of night, but neither is the familiar contrast of cool and warm notes missing. There is plenty in the fresh green top versus the animalic warm base. Jacques Guerlain brought disparate elements together, despite their strong and seemingly irreconcilable differences. There are the greens of galbanum and jonquille, the floral-oriental and the feral impertinence of castoreum and resinous notes. The heterogeneity of Vol de Nuit is what gives the anticipation and the excitement of charting an unknown territory. That is why I admire and covet Vol de Nuit. It feels like raw instinct as one plunges into the abyss.

More than eight decades later and stripped of some of its animalic tinctures and oakmoss, it is still daring, bold, and certainly one of a kind.

Source: guerlain.fr

History and Review: Houbigant Fougère Royale — 4.0 points

Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) is a composition that represents the defining turn of perfumery. It is the first fine perfume to employ a synthetic compound, coumarin, the principal odorant of tonka bean. It also started the trend of complex, abstract ideas in perfumes. Most evidently, it gave birth to the fougère or ‘fern’ family, which is an interplay of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. In this accord, citrus usually adds a sparkle to the top, whilst the heart often contains geranium, and the base contains woody, animalic, and/or ambery notes.

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Original Fougère Royale

The fougère family is one of the most popular and versatile style. It includes iconic successors like Jicky (Guerlain, 1889), Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent, 1981), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche, 1982), and Cool Water (Davidoff, 1988). Recent launches such as Brit Rhythm For Women (Burberry, 2014) and Boy (Chanel, 2016) can reaffirm that the fougère never goes out of style. For this reason, Fougère Royale is simply revolutionary.

In creating it, perfumer Paul Parquet used coumarin in combination with the natural essences of citrus and aromatic herbs. The result gave a twist of character to the familiar classical eau de cologne. Its complexity made Fougère Royale intriguing to discover and its strong character was memorable.

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Re-launched Fougère Royale in 2010

Even in the re-orchestrated version by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, there is no mistaking its fougère identity. Although thin, the building blocks are still in place. The transparency and freshness of bergamot open the composition to an aromatic character marked by a combination of lavender and Provençal herbs. Geranium also lends a green accent. Meanwhile, the spicy contrast is provided by nutmeg and a carnation accord. The notes are well-blended and nothing specifically stands out.

These cool herbs are paired with a warm mossy musk. It recalls the bitter-sweet, classic note of a barber shop with animalic suede-like warmth. Its contrasting idea of cool and warm notes is not unlike the striking contrasts found in many of Guerlain’s creations that succeeded it, starting from Jicky (1889).

The re-orchestrated Fougère Royale is worth a sniff just for the fact that it is a milestone in perfumery. From the brightness of its hesperidic opening and the rustic charms of aromatic herbs to the surprising ruggedness of mossy notes, the re-formulated version offers a glimpse of the classical fougère accord with modern transparency. However, its lasting power will surprise you. It also feels neat and smart with a penchant for old-school stylishness. It easily puts many modern launches of this year to shame.

Sources: houbigant-parfums.com, aromyth.com

  1. Perkin, W. H. (1868). “On the artificial production of coumarin and formation of its homologues”. Journal of the Chemical Society. 21: 53–63.

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: Chanel N°19 — 5.0 points

Mademoiselle Chanel once told the press an anecdote of how a stranger had stopped her on the street outside the Ritz, where she lived, just to inquire what her amazing perfume was. ‘Not bad at my age,’ thought the mademoiselle. She was eighty-seven years old, and the perfume was Chanel N°19 (1970) named for the date of her birth.

Chanel N°19 deserves its classic status, not the least of which is its quality materials that range from Iranian galbanum, Florentine iris, to May rose and jasmine from Grasse. More importantly, however, it is the way perfumer Henri Robert creatively explored the brilliant ideas of his contemporary, namely  in Cabochard (Grès, 1959) and Aramis (1965), that gave birth to a milestone in perfumery. He created an object of fascination and contemplation even amongst perfumers.

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The piercing verdancy of galbanum, tinged with bitterness, is a hallmark of Chanel N°19. This addition of galbanum to the chypre structure is perhaps a reference to the green galbanum opening of both Cabochard and Aramis. And, despite the non-aldehydic nature, it still feels like being splashed with a pail of cold water.

As Chanel N°19 develops, a rich bouquet of rose and lily of the valley unfurls. A hint of rich jasmine absolute dallies with the floral heart. These are backed by as much as 13% Hedione so that the florals diffuse and come to life. Interestingly, orris butter at 1%, especially noticeable in the extrait de parfum, provides a contrast of soft rooty powder to the sharp galbanum. Moreover, it is backed by ionones. Together they sweeten the chypre accord of Chanel N°19 and act as a bridge between the floral heart and the woody fond.

The dry down of Chanel N°19 is a dusky combination based on the woody-musky 12% Vertofix Coeur, vetiver notes, sandalwood, and guaiac wood. There is also a spicy carnation accord. These are darkened by a rough-hewn accord of oakmoss, mossy Evernyl, and a bit of leather based on isobutyl quinoline. In addition, the use of animal tinctures such as natural musk, ambergris, and civet in trace amounts probably provides the sumptuousness in the vintage composition. The chypre dry down recalls those of Cabochard and Aramis — leathery, mossy, and woody.

Chanel N°19 certainly has a striking character. Its leathery chypre is atypical of feminine perfumes. And, whilst its florals and woods may recall a floral aldehydic perfume, the abundance of galbanum and orris, the oakmoss, and the overdosed Hedione beg to differ. Interestingly also, its chypre accord contains little or no patchouli and musks. It also has little or no aldehydes, floral salicylates, and vanillin. These alone are perplexing.

And through the imaginative use of such materials and structure, perfumer Henri Robert cemented the classic signature of Chanel N°19. The verdancy of galbanum is set against the soft powder of orris, contrasting the texture. The green of galbanum also contends with the dusky woods. This potent ménage à trois of galbanum, orris, and chypre in Chanel N°19 is so original that few perfumes can remotely be considered as successors of this style. And, by a stroke of ingenuity, he added a large dose of Hedione, setting the composition aloft and diffuses its florals — it was the highest dose of Hedione used at the time since its introduction in Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966). The result firmly established Chanel N°19 amongst the great milestones.

Of course, Chanel N°19 has been reformulated over the years since its creation. With its galbanum, for example, sourcing from Iran was problematic in 1979 when the revolution erupted. Natural animal tinctures that used to give Chanel N°19 its complexity have been excluded from the composition. The rich floral absolutes are now reserved only for the extrait de parfum due to the rising costs. Even the source of its orris is different as Chanel now uses the rhizomes of both Iris pallida and Iris germanica grown in its own fields in Grasse instead of the Iris pallida traditionally sourced from Florence, Italy. Despite all of this, Chanel N°19 is still recognisable and easily puts many modern creations to shame.

Its originality and quality are so enduring it deserves a hall of fame. And, the words of perfumer Christopher Sheldrake reaffirms that notion: ‘Chanel N°19 is a perfumer’s perfume, a connoisseur’s fragrance, it is a great tribute that so many people have been inspired by it’.

A note on the concentrations: The richest formula of Chanel N°19 is no doubt the extrait de parfum. Here, the galbanum is round and complex, with green and musky notes. The richness of roots and dusts in orris is palpable throughout the development. The florals are sumptuous with the luscious confit note of May rose absolute and fresh lily of the valley complex competing for attention. The dark mossy woods, the vetiver, and the leather accent buried within feel round and mellow at first, but gradually become dramatic. The interplay of verdant galbanum, rooty iris, and dusky woods is sublime, not only because of the dramatic contrasts, but also with each part unveiling subtly its facets and complements. The extrait is incredibly rich and complex it deserves a place on the pedestal of classics.

The eau de parfum formula created by perfumer Jacques Polge in the 1980s is the most diffusive, with sharp floral notes and rough woods. The verdancy of galbanum is penetrative, but short-lived. The floral heart is bright and diffusive, but not rich and buttery as in the extrait. The lack of orris is certainly felt. The fond features a rough-hewn accord of leather, vetiver, and mossy woods. The emphasis falls on the juxtaposition between verdant florals and dusky woods.

The eau de toilette follows the development of the extrait closely, save for its more radiant style. The sparkling green of galbanum is bolstered by the freshness of citrus. The floral components fuse into a well-blended accord. The dusts of orris is noticeable – even more so than in the eau de parfum. The leather accent is also buried amongst subtle vetiver and mossy woods. Overall, the eau de toilette feels balanced and substitutes the brightness for the richness in the extrait.

Sources: chanel.fr, savoirflair.com, faz.net, vanityfair.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, Perfumery Practice and Principles, SweetspotQC’s videos