Review: By Kilian Moonlight in Heaven — 4.0 points

Now is the hottest time of year in Thailand, but I am still forgiving of its scorching 38°C because this is the time when mangoes become ripe and I can enjoy the fine treat of mango sticky rice or Khao Niao Mamuang. The comforting dessert pairs juicy mango with creamy glutinous rice and coconut milk, and Moonlight in Heaven (By Kilian, 2016) evidently takes up this vibrant contrast.

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‘Khao Niao Mamuang’ — mango sticky rice

The tropical air of mango is suggested by a tart note of blackcurrant. Peppery and lemony notes lend their bright clarity to it, whilst a creamy nuance of fig softens its tang. A vivid green contrast recalling the green ivy of J’adore (Dior, 1999) tames the fruity sweetness. Perfumer Calice Becker is the creator behind both J’adore and Moonlight in Heaven, and her finesse is reflected in their fruity accords, which seem to possess the supernatural perfection of a Dutch still life.

Soon, the powdery sweet accord of glutinous rice dominates, rounded by floral hints of jasmine and orange blossom. A creamy note suggests the rich flavour of coconut milk, much like the sensuality of a moon-lit woman in the photograph by Patrick Demarchelier that also inspired the composition. The floral and milky rice powder juxtaposed with a tart mango is the lively tropical idea of the composition until the dry down, in which the sweet tonka bean of coumarin and the woody nuts of vetiver complement the idea.

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The contrast between sour fruit and powdery sweetness gives it a vibrant character. The mastery with which its radiant fruity accord is woven alone is worth exploring, and its toasty sweetness is just as refined. I especially like the way its tart cassis courses through to the dry down of sweet powder. And unlike most sweet fruity bombs, Moonlight in Heaven is composed. Yet, it is tenacious enough for the hottest days of Bangkok, during which I have been wearing it. Moonlight in Heaven proves that a dessert-inspired, fruity perfume does not have to be another boring tutti-frutti: it can be just as evocative.

Sources: bykilian.com, wikimedia commons by Terence Ong

Review: Frédéric Malle Portrait of A Lady — 4.5 points

Named after the 1881 novel ‘The Portrait of A Lady’ by author Henry James, the perfume surely must have raised questions as to the association with the novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer. What would be the connection? What would this American heiress smell of? Would Portrait of A Lady (Frédéric Malle, 2010) smell of her? This left me pondering.

Considering the rigorous tenets of a proper Victorian lady, Isabel Archer would eschew the sensual oriental drama of Portrait of A Lady. Opulent perfumes were the embodiment of vulgarity and impropriety, regardless of the social standing of the person who wore it, however high the station. Even Queen Victoria, on her 1855 state visit to Paris, was overtly criticized by Le Messager des Modes for her choice of perfume that emitted a ‘distasteful hint of musk’, despite her irreproachable stature. Such strong fragrances were the opposite of ‘good taste’. Meanwhile, lavender, violet, and eaux de cologne would be more likely; their representation of discretion, modesty, and hygiene was never in doubt.

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Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of A Lady (1996). Feisty, is she not? I should think that this version of her likes this Frédéric Malle’s perfume very much.

Portrait of A Lady is as far from Victorian propriety as possible. It is a sweeping force of opulent rose set in an oriental frame. The moment I sprayed it, I decided that I could no longer be bothered to make the connection with Isabel Archer. All my thoughts before were swept away.

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Dollops of hot pepper act as a prelude to the oriental theme along with clove and cinnamon. Its glaring brightness makes a strong introductory statement. The hot cloves and cinnamon remain as a lasting bright accent throughout the development.

The rose of Portrait of A Lady is sublime. It has a honeyed, raspberry-confit facet that lends an opulent curve to the composition. This decadent jammy richness also tells plenty about the quality that goes into the juice. It lasts through to the dry down. Its dense and rich character blankets the dark oriental notes that begin to emerge.

Much of the oriental flair comes from patchouli, incense, and musk. The rich woody notes of patchouli are interspersed with strong resinous accents of incense. Its interplay is rounded by plenty of musks.  and creamy softness of sandalwood. A crisp ambery accent sets a warm sensual tone to this oriental recipe.

The oriental rose of Portrait of A Lady is not a novel idea, but the quality and peerless execution by perfumer Dominique Ropion give it character and performance that stand out. Sterling ingredients are used with such lavish hands that the resulting richness already marks the rose with a distinctive note. The spicy contrast also lasts until the finish. The pairing of an opulent, fruity rose with rich woods and incense create a dark, dramatic accord. It lasts for days, and can sometimes come back on laundered clothes. A single spray is highly recommended, and even then, one is certain to leave a trail. That being said, this is the kind of perfume to wear with confidence. Its mysterious whirlwind may turn heads and draw questions.

Sources: ocado.com, sundaytimes.co.uk, gearpatrol.org

  1. The Force of Fashion in Politics and Society: Global Perspectives from Early Modern to Contemporary Times, p. 97-113.
  2. Le miasme et la jonquille, p. 323

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: Christian Dior Sauvage — 1.5 points

Fragrances that set out to sell and appeal to their targets with trendy notes may smell similar. Their perfumers might have little say on how they should smell because such fragrances, more often than not, follow strict marketing directives. But these perfumes are not necessarily without merits, either.

First, having undergone market tests and with consumers’ thoughts in mind, these perfumes are at least wearable and pleasing to many. Moreover, although they are focused on the trendy elements, they can still have some of their personalities. One can look at perfumes that embrace the masculine trend of ambery-woody and aromatic fougères to find some good examples. Bleu de Chanel (2010), for instance, may already contain such notes, but it also incorporates durable ozonic freshness and warm nutmeg to convey the association with fresh and spicy aftershaves. It strength lies in such effective embellishments. 1 Million (Paco Rabanne, 2008), on the other hand, challenges the classical fougère; it opts for the novel freshness of mint and mandarin, the opulence of rose absolute, and the sweet spiciness of cinnamon bark, instead of bergamot, geranium, clove, and nutmeg.  The flamboyant defiance of 1 Million has even spawned a new masculine trend. These perfumes have proved that, despite riding on the same bandwagon of popular elements, they can still be creative.

Similarly, the aromatic woody-ambery fougère does not make Sauvage (Dior, 2015) by perfumer François Demachy any less worthy of purchase. If anything, they make for a wearable and familiar genre. But its problem lies in the lack of personality.

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From the top, Sauvage follows the prescription. Its freshness comes from a lot of sour bergamot and the sharp, citrusy, lavender-like dihydromyrcenol. It becomes a tad aromatic. Sauvage smells very generic, but I am prepared to forgive the top in hope of finding some interesting accords that would follow. Yet, the distinct marine Calone 1951 soon discourages me. Worse still, the advertised ‘Sichuan pepper’ note is so feeble that to describe it as ‘spicy’ would be an exaggeration. And, there is a kind of sharp freshness that penetrates also through to the fond.

As I tried hard to find something in Sauvage that might appeal to me, I caught a faint suggestion of violet leaf and leather and, for a moment, thought of Fahrenheit (Dior, 1988). But I am afraid that beyond this fleeting suggestion, there is nothing that remotely suggests a signature for Sauvage.

The warmth of ambergris note based on Ambroxan® and a large dose Iso E Super contribute to the remaining part. In contrast to the peppery brightness, it presents just about the only redeeming quality. Then, the disappointment goes deep in the musk fond that smells rather soapy. I find it rather inadmissible considering the price tag.

Sauvage is essentially a likeable contrast between citrusy freshness and ambery-woody warmth. However, it is generic to the point of banality. It simply takes after the style of Bleu de Chanel, but substitutes a simplistic, profit-driven idea for quality and effective ornamentation. Whilst Bleu de Chanel boasts the full-bodied citrus, fresh nutmeg, and an ambery warmth on a fine musk base, Sauvage opts for an acidic bergamot, disinfectant-style freshness, a vague leathery violet leaf, and Ambroxan®-Iso E Super mix on a rather contemptible musk base. The mishmash is boring and borderline agressive. It is also unrelenting and will not disappoint in terms of longevity.

It simply is characterless.

Source: beautydecoder.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odours