Review: Liquides Imaginaires Peau de Bête — 4.0 points

I love horse riding. I love the thrill of galloping and the cool breeze that buffets my face, bringing the scent of grass, stables, and animalic sweetness of the beautiful beast. I have recently been reminded of that whirlwind of an experience as I tried Peau de Bête (Liquides Imaginaires, 2016). Its French name literally translates to ‘skin of the beast’, and I find that to be rather apt because of its rich animalic nature as the name would suggest. But it is in the accord with powdery woody sweetness that Peau de Bête has the element of surprise, turning what would otherwise be merely a blend of animalic tinctures into a memorable experience for me.

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Perfumer Carine Boin brilliantly orchestrates Peau de Bête around a theme that contrasts animalic sensuality and dry woods. In the opening, herbaceous chamomile, cumin, and leathery saffron conspire to suggest something racy. Soon, creamy animalic notes dominate, with civet and castoreum so rounded and smooth it seems as though they were a dark chocolate ganache. The puffs of civet, in particular, seems to pulsate throughout the development, and this reminds me of the civet in Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) but in a more soft-spoken manner.

The animalic richness soon finds its balance in the dryness of woods. Atlas and Texan cedarwood lend the characteristic powdery, sweet wood shavings, and it is accented by a smoky, woody touch of guaiac wood, patchouli, cypriol, and amyris. As the composition develops, its dry character becomes prominent. The animalic direction embraces musk and the crispness of ambergris, whilst the woods acquire the dry sweetness of vernal grass and styrax. Towards the end, Peau de Bête still maintains its juxtaposition of animalic and woody notes but with the accent falling on dryness.

The pairing of creamy animalic notes and dry woods creates an enjoyable sensation: at times rich and heavy, at others dry and aloft. It is the scent of animals, woods, and hay. Peau de Bête has the right balance that triggers a cherished memory for me. Though it sits quietly, it has an unapologetically animalic side that I would recommend trying it first if you have not had experience with animalic perfumes. Else, one could also layer it with florals to give a distinctive animalic richness, and I can vouch for its wonder with the bright geraniums of Égoïste (Chanel, 1990) or Géranium Pour Monsieur (Frédéric Malle, 2009). Nonetheless, Peau de Bête is just as sublime an equestrian portrait on its own.

Source: fragrantica.com

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Review: Liquides Imaginaires Saltus — 3.5 points

Saltus (Liquides Imaginaires, 2015) has the character of fragrant resins derived from evergreen trees. Created by perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu, it captures a rich exudate, from the turpentine sharpness of an oozing sap to the musky treacle of a dried resin. Smelling it, I tend to think of Saltus as a close examination of nature.

saltus

The emerging sap has short-lived green accents of cedar and eucalyptus leaves, and most of it is embodied by camphor. It has such an unprecedented brightness, to which I am unaccustomed in a perfume. I immediately think of Vicks VapoRub and find this comforting in a quirky way.

As the sap dries up, the camphor lessens. Now, one begins to glimpse its resinous depth. Styrax imbues the composition with smoky, spicy, and balsamic notes. Patchouli and incense enhance the character of resinous woods. Yet, the thick resins are surprisingly contrasted by the milky note of ethyl laitone. Musk and castoreum give their sweet animalic touch that also softens the sharp resins. The result is both resinous and rubbery. It is not loud, but it lasts well. For that, it takes some adjustment on my part to appreciate the strange duality.

Saltus offers an interesting portrait of an exudate that balances the two sides. On the one hand, it is bright and sharp; on the other, it is dusky and sensual. This I appreciate, but wearing it is another story. The sharp camphor-resin versus the soft animalic rubber may be the dynamic pairing of nature, but it is not easy. The old caveat applies: try it on first.

Source: liquidesimaginaires.com

Review: Chanel Boy — 4.5 points

Much like how Gabrielle Chanel had played with the code of women’s fashion, perfumer Olivier Polge experimented with the fougère accord in creating Boy (Chanel, 2016). This perfumery accord was born when perfumer Paul Parquet created the eponymous Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882). The accord classically revolves around lavender, oakmoss, and sweet coumarin, but also contains a citrus top, geranium and spicy herbs in the heart, and woody or animalic notes in the base. It is traditionally associated with masculine fragrances. But Polge was determined to flout that rule and toy with the accord. The result is nothing short of brilliant.

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Already, the fresh top of Boy is a tell-tale sign. It is Chanel; it is aldehydic with penetrating citrusy and rosy notes. These come hand in hand with grapefruit and fresh lemon. The effect feels like an effervescent champagne with a rosy tinge. Accompanying that is lavender aplenty with its aromatic, herbal, and floral charm easily felt. This sublime lavender of Boy runs the show for the rest of its top-note freshness.

The composition, then, segues classically into a rosy geranium heart, but it takes a surprisingly soft turn here. A touch of orange blossom and jasminic brightness wraps around the sharp geranium. A rich sandalwood accord evinces an intimate caress towards the dry down.

It becomes enveloping, but also with a dusky accent. At first, the tonka bean note of coumarin provides a warm sweetness, like a gentle fondle. This develops into a full embrace with the powdery sweet vanilla and heliotrope. There is also a hint of hidden desire in hot patchouli and civet that feels like a nod to the classic Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). But contrasted classically by the mossy note of Evernyl, this sensual sweetness has suddenly acquired a rough-hewn signature. Around this mossy sweet powder forming the dry down is a rich musk cocktail that keeps Boy soft and intimate for all of its day-long duration — those who are anosmic to certain musks may thus find this part of Boy to be a whisper.

The fougère accord is manipulated in Boy to reveal an interestingly tender side. Whilst the classical trinity of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss as well as the animalic touch of civet are kept, the character of fougère is made softer, borrowing elements of feminine fragrances. The fresh introduction consists of aldehydic and rosy notes beside the traditionally hesperidic notes. The powdery sweet coumarin is enhanced with heliotrope, vanilla, and musks. In this way, the accord sways towards its rosy and enveloping side. With Boy, Polge has saliently demonstrated the flexibility of this perfumery accord.

I think the reinvention of the fougère has been in the making, and Boy is almost the tipping point. Looking back in 1921, there was Maja (Myrurgia, 1921) whose fougère elements of citrus, lavender, geranium, and woody vetiver are hidden beneath a dominant spicy oriental personality. Then, only a decade ago, perfumer Jacques Polge perhaps tested the water with the patchouli and amber of Coromandel (Chanel, 2007) that resembles the rose-patchouli fougère of Zino Davidoff (Davidoff, 1986), except for the fact that lavender — one of the defining elements of a fougère — is absent in Coromandel. And, though Brit Rhythm For Her (Burberry, 2014) marries lavender and rosy peony, it is still a fresh floral rather than a fougère. But with Boy, the classical fougère has entered a new ground. Boy re-orchestrates the classical fougère to interesting effects. It may well pave the way for a revolution, and the next descendant of Boy might surprise us.

But, for now, I am quite enamoured of its rosy freshness and mossy-yet-sweet powder with that restrained elegance of Chanel.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Guerlain Bois d’Arménie — 4.5 points

Papier d’arménie is a curious object. The so-called ‘Armenian paper’ is neither a paper for all its purpose and intent, nor is it originated from Armenia. In fact, it was a French innovation. Auguste Ponsot had observed during his travels in the Ottoman Empire that the inhabitants often burnt incense to perfume their homes. Upon his return, he worked with pharmacist Henri Rivier to develop a method that facilitated the process. The result was papier d’arménie. They are paper strips that have been soaked in tinctures of benzoin, styrax, frankincense, and other sweet balsams before they are dried, and they emanate sweet incense upon combustion.

Perfumer Annick Ménardo took to these fragrant, combustible strips of paper and created Bois d’Arménie (Guerlain, 2006). It is a composition of glowing, sweet incense that reminisces the paper strips, but with a polished style.

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It opens with a brief pink pepper that marries well with its oriental theme. The rest is a bulk of balsamic incense. That sounds like a hefty theme indeed, but in the adept hands of perfumer Annick Ménardo, it is rendered luminous. She has a knack for interpreting heavy accords in a radiant manner, and one only needs to smell Bois d’Argent (Dior, 2004) to see how she lifts a rich iris-musk accord with plenty of frankincense oil and Ambrox to create the impression of warm, crisp driftwoods.

Likewise, the treacly sweetness of balsams and benzoin in Bois d’Arménie are offset by frankincense. Iris, meanwhile, lends its powdery touch to mellow the sharp resinous note of frankincense. And, patchouli rounds the accord with woody richness. Then, throw in guaiac wood, and the overall effect is a soft, glowing balsam with accents of smoky woods and rose petals.

It finishes on a musky, balsamic incense note. I especially like how its incense crackles, sending out its rich noble notes over a balmy and dulcet base. In a way, it is like the extinguished Armenian papers oozing its fragrant incense smoke. The difference is that the polished glow of Bois d’Arménie never fades. It lasts well, and throughout the day, I feel as though I were wrapped in a warm cocoon. Its soft glowing presence begs one to lean in and inquire as to the nature of this addictive, cosy scent.

Source: guerlain.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: 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 they do 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

Thurgau Strawberries and Sprüngli Chocolate: A Case of Perfumery

What I eagerly await at the beginning of June here in Switzerland is the sun-ripened strawberries from Thurgau. They are nothing like those imported from the greenhouses of Spain in February; Thurgau strawberries are sweet, fruity, and possess the nuances of fresh pineapple and dulcet apple. Yet, the acidity therein provides a refreshing contrast. Paired with the deep bitterness of molten grand cru chocolate slivers from Sprüngli, and one arrives at pure decadence. As I enjoyed these two deceptively complex sensory profiles of strawberry and chocolate, I reflected on the fascinating craft of perfumery and flavours.

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Thurgau strawberries and molten Sprüngli  70% chocolate

Whilst we can easily say that something smells like strawberry or chocolate, the chemical make-up of these two entities are much more complex. There is no single character-impact compound that says ‘strawberry’ or ‘cocoa’. A strawberry comprises hundreds of volatile compounds, of which possibly twelve contribute to the characteristic ripe fruit. Of note is the naturally occurring Furaneol (HDMF, 4-hydroxy-2,5-dimethyl-3(2H)-furanone), which is sweet and caramel-like, and found also in pineapples, tomatoes, and buckwheat. As for cocoa, the beans are made up of nearly six hundred compounds, and some of these are found in cooked cabbage, raw beef fat, and sweat — not the most appetising combination, surely. In any case, the specific olfactory and gustatory profile of strawberries or chocolate also depends on factors like varieties, maturity, post-harvest conditions, and treatments. Re-creating these two simple foods can be a feat.

But thanks to the craft of perfumery, we do not need as much as a dozen or six hundred chemicals to make our brains perceive strawberries or chocolate. Sometimes, we do not even need a naturally occurring component of these. For example, the fruity aldehyde C-16 (ethyl methylphenylglycidate or ‘strawberry aldehyde’) is a popular compound for the reconstitution of strawberries. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, however, begs to differ and suggests a simple strawberry accord of the strong exotic fruity note of Fructone and the crème caramel of ethyl maltol. Add the sweet berry accent of the methyl anthranilate, and one arrives at the intense smell of wild strawberries. For chocolate, the perfumer simply weaves together vanillin and the sweet, chamomile-like isobutyl phenyl acetate. And, to this accord, patchouli can create unsweetened chocolate. Whereas a trace of civet conjures a creamy ganache, orris concrete gives a cocoa powder. Other effects like orangette or minty chocolate thins can be rendered with the help of orange essence or spearmint oil, respectively. Such successful combinations have much to do with our innate ability of perception, and perfumery taps into that way we are wired. Our neural interactions allow us to perceive a new odour sensation, even if the individual odorants stimulate the neurons for very different smells. We smell chocolate from the vanilla of vanillin and the sweet charmomile of isobutyl phenyl acetate. The sensation created is an illusion of sort. The result is more than the sum of its parts.

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Wild strawberries

Instead of two, one plus one equals to three — that is the magic of perfumery.

Sources: Journal d’un Parfumeur

  1. André Schiefner, Quirin Sinz, Irmgard Neumaier, Wilfried Schwab and Arne Skerra. Structural Basis for the Enzymatic Formation of the Key Strawberry Flavor. J. Biol. Chem 2013, 288:16815-16826.
  2. Frauendorfer, F and Schieberle, P. Identification of the key aroma compounds in cocoa powder based on molecular sensory correlations. J Agric Food Chem, 2006 Jul 26;54(15):5521-9
  3. P. Schieberle and T. Hofmann. Evaluation of the Character Impact Odorants in Fresh Strawberry Juice by Quantitative Measurements and Sensory Studies on Model Mixtures. J. Agric. Food Chem., 197, 45 (1), pp 227–232