Review: Hermès Twilly –4.5 points

When I first read the tagline ‘the scent of the Hermès girls’, I did not have much hope for Twilly (Hermès, 2017), the latest creation by in-house perfumer Christine Nagel. Clearly, it is targeted at young women in their twenties and we all know too well what sort of composition major fragrance houses tend to have in mind for this demographic. My thoughts wandered off to the theme of La vie est belle (Lancôme, 2012), sugar confection that often ends up in very cloying vanilla and musk.

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But the very first sniff simply debunked all that stereotype. In fact, at the outset, Twilly is sparkling with fresh petitgrain and this is soon joined by a beguiling white floral note at heart. It is something between orange blossom and soft tuberose; and to those who are averse to white florals, fear not: the sweetness of its white florals is foiled by a gingery accent. Even in the dry down, which also lasts well from morning into evening, its musky amber is peppered with herbal accents and sweetened only by powdery heliotrope and bitter-sweet coumarin. Nothing about Twilly betrays a hint of sugary confections.

In fact, Twilly might just be the proof that young women in their twenties do not need saccharine musks to smell good. If they want something coquettish, addictive, and quirky, this is it. Its white floral is sensual enough without being carnal. Its sweetness is just tantalising without being treacly. And, the gingery and herbal accent lends a distinctive note to the mix. It feels like a quirky, seductive eau de cologne that blends citrus, herbal florals, and musky amber. And, it remains wearable. For this reason, Twilly, much like a short, memorable melody, is easily my favourite.

Source: hermes.fr

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Review: Chanel Gabrielle — 3.5 points

I find it difficult to write about Gabrielle (2017), the latest major launch in fifteen years by Chanel Creative Team and perfumer Olivier Polge. This is because it does not evoke anything beyond the propriety of a nice, likeable launch. I have but few adjectives and words with which to work.

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Perhaps, I should start by describing all the notes of Gabrielle with the few vocabularies that come to mind: lovely and bright. The vivacious debut of grapefruit and mandarin segues into a bright white floral heart. Although Chanel purports that this is a quartet of orange blossom, ylang ylang, jasmine, and tuberose from Grasse, what I smell is mostly a fresh lemony jasmine with a creamy accent, which is cushioned in the dry down by soft sandalwood and musk. Whilst a fresh white floral such as this is a dime a dozen, there is an accent reminiscent of dried fruits and prunes to it that lends Gabrielle its lasting luminosity — that is probably just about the only aspect that I find interesting. Other than that, Gabrielle seems to have borrowed its bright white floral from Jour d’Hermès (2013) and diluted the fruit syrup of Coco Mademoiselle (2001), arguably its more daring chypre-esque sister.

Still, I am quite willing to forgive Gabrielle. Its well-mannered white floral intended to appeal to the market at large is hardly distinctive, but at the same time it is not entirely without ploy. It also smells of quality, from the zest of its citrus to the creamy accent of white florals and the soft musk. This is rare by today’s standard. Hence, for its purpose and intent, Gabrielle makes the cut for a decent launch. Everything about Gabrielle is intended to hook, and it did me, but it does not arouse any feeling beyond mere satisfaction and fleeting delight.

Source: chanel.fr

Review: Diptyque Tam Dao — 4.0 points

Sometimes a beautiful composition is simple. It might not have a thousand layers to unfold, but its signature  character and quality more than make up for those. Tam Dao (Diptyque, 2003), the eau de toilette, by perfumer Daniel Molière is a case in point. It is focused. It is about dry, sensual woods – and a precious one at that.

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Indeed, the terpenic opening is kept to a minimal without much fanfare. Cypress gives the impression of an aromatic resin and woods with a leafy touch. From then on, it is sandalwood galore with as much as 17% of sandalwood oil. Its milky note embraces and calms, yet cedarwood imparts a distinct woody texture. A quirky description I could give is ‘a creamy pencil’.

The monolithic sandalwood character of Tam Dao can be dense and opaque, but the subtle ambery shades and woody dryness of 7.5% Texas cedarwood oil render it tangible and wearable. In fact, once Tam Dao reaches its musky dry down, it wears like a creamy second skin.

That said, those who prefer a trail in their perfumer will likely be disappointed by the intimate nature of Tam Dao. It is the kind of perfume that asks one to lean in and experience. Tam Dao lasts well, but its quiet character means that I often forget about it only to wonder later what that cosy creamy scent is.

Tam Dao is simply all about the beauty of sandalwood.

Source: diptyqueparis.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

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: Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin — 5.0 points

The most memorable compositions are often times the simplest compositions. They focus on one dominant theme, but the execution of such compositions is far from simple. Their concise nature calls for strong contrasts, ideal proportions, and minimal embellishments. A salient example would be a rose theme, for rose essence can be a very good perfume by itself, so any rose compositions must exceed that expectation, let alone transcending its peers.

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Enter La Fille de Berlin (Serge Lutens, 2013), a composition by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. It is what I would imagine the perfect red rose to be. The plot is simple, but it is done with such mastery that its cogent essay on a crimson rose is most convincing. For the first ten minutes, all I can smell is a sweet majestic rose: opulent, jammy, and satisfyingly dark. It evokes the luxurious sensation of red velvet cushions of grand opera houses.

It is a beautiful rose, no doubt, but what makes it memorable is the way the rose accord is minimally but strikingly embellished. Amidst the sweeping richness of it all is the contrasting clarity of pepper and green-metallic note, much like that of geranium. These facets of the rose are rarely observed, but here they are used to distinctive effect. The result is a rose larger than life.

And the composition maintains this signature towards the dry down, with only soft sandalwood and musk to round off the sharpness of its bright notes. Simple yet powerful, the quality and personality of La Fille de Berlin distinguishes it from its rose brethren. I am in awe of how luxurious the rose feels and how its lustre remains through to the dry down. Even if you are not a rose fan, I highly recommend smelling it to see just how a short parable can be just as gripping.

Source: basenote.net

Review: Diptyque Eau Mohéli — 4.0 points

Whilst roses and jasmines are revered as queens and kings amongst flowers, the yellow, droopy blooms of ylang ylang never enjoy such reverence they so deserve. Much has been said about the extrait de parfum of Chanel N°5 (1921) being infused with jasmine and May rose from Grasse, but what of the solar radiance provided by its ylang ylang, without which the aldehydes of Chanel N°5 cannot be overdosed to achieve such a sparkle? In fact, ylang ylang can be found to impart its solar quality to as much as forty per cent of all feminine compositions. Such is its cardinal role, and yet it is never the focus of a composition.

However, with the arrival of Eau Mohéli (Diptyque, 2013), ylang ylang takes all the limelight — and I am not only talking about the perfume. Eau Mohéli uses an ‘extra superior’ grade of ylang ylang oil, which is derived from the cultivar of ylang ylang grown on Mohéli, an island of the Union of the Comoros. Years prior, Mohéli produced a rather poor quality of ylang ylang oil because of inadequate distillation tools as well as the poor living conditions of the ylang ylang farmers. But, it would later become a successful model of ethical sourcing as Givaudan partnered with a local producer to improve harvesting techniques and livelihoods of the community. The fruit of such efforts is a very special quality of ylang ylang oil rich in all facets: crunchy, sweet, floral, fruity, spicy, and vanillic. Then, it falls to the adept hand of perfumer Olivier Péscheux that does justice to this sterling material in Eau Mohéli.

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The combination of grass-like green of hexenol and green galbanum conjures the fresh and crunchy texture of this tropical flower. Its spicy burst is accented by ginger and pink pepper. This develops into a peppery accord that contrasts beautifully with the floral and narcotic sweetness at heart. Up to this point, the rich character of ylang ylang is excellently captured right to the details with green receptacles, spicy brightness, and heady floral. If you have never smelled an actual ylang ylang flower, this development in Eau Mohéli is likely sufficient to satisfy your curiosity as to why this tropical flower is so revered.

The sweetness of ylang ylang is also enriched by vanilla, sandalwood, and musk. The vanillic facet is thereby projected to the dry down, and the milky depth of sandalwood provides a classical harmony with ylang ylang. The result is a rich, rotund character that unfurls in layers, and it lasts well.

Eau Mohéli is excellent. It highlights the rich, multi-faceted ylang ylang essence and makes it lively and wearable. It is not too sweet, thanks to the fresh, crunchy green accent. Its narcotic floral is kept vivid by the spicy, peppery accord. Sandalwood also lends its depth and softness. There are turns and accents that make the composition come alive. A simple, well-crafted ylang ylang soliflore.

Sources: diptyqueparis.eu, Scents and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Chanel Égoïste — 5.0 points

Perfumer Jacques Polge had been working on ‘Black Wood’ when Chanel wanted to launch a complementary collection of menswear. However, the clothing line was ultimately cancelled, and only by a stroke of luck was ‘Black Wood’ kept in production. It was launched exclusively in Chanel boutiques as Bois Noir. As it grew more popular, Bois Noir was distributed widely and thereafter christened Égoïste as Chanel had bought the rights to the name from the photography magazine of Nicole Wisniak. The iconic television advertisement by Jean Paul Goude accompanied the launch and made it all the more infamous. But, Égoïste itself is already a strong statement of seduction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Égoïste is a shock.

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I still recall the horror from experiencing the spiciness of Égoïste for the first time. The top of Égoïste is infused with the spicy and hot-peppery note of coriander, the sweet heat of cinnamon, and the brightness of rosewood. But what follows quickly is a surprising turn of character.

The spicy debut morphs into a suave and plump rose. The signature rose of Égoïste is, in fact, an accord of tagete oil and 3% of geranium oil at play. The fruity raspberry note of tagete oil pops up from the rosy heart of geranium. This imbues the theme with such distinctiveness that feels like juicy chunks of fruit compote bursting with flavours. To top it off, rose oil provides a floral and green spicy touch.

Égoïste sustains the rose potpourri theme towards a soft oriental fond of creamy sandalwood, vanilla, and musky ambrette seed. Late in the dry down, there is also a slight balsamic touch. By this stage, Égoïste recalls the sandalwood and balsams of Bois des Îles (Chanel, 1926). Soft and ever so slightly rosy, Égoïste surprisingly boasts a magnificent sillage and sterling longevity.

Polge wanted to do something different for a market saturated by fougères. That and having been inspired by Ernest Beaux’s lavish use of sandalwood oil in Bois des Îles, he decided to experiment with it. The result was Égoïste, a rose for men that built upon the sensual facets of sandalwood. He picked a material that had otherwise been employed predominantly in feminine compositions and supported its character with the vegetal musk of ambrette seed and creamy vanilla to create a sensual signature in the fond. This quality is further explored in a suave rose theme brought about by an accord of sharp geranium and fruity tagete oil. Égoïste also contrasts the sensual themes with the brightness of rosewood and spices, creating a dramatic interplay. Such a full-fledged rose and sandalwood theme for men is certainly avant-garde, and I have never seen anything quite like Égoïste since.

Sources: interview with Jacques Polge by Stéphane Gaboué for Hint Fashion Magazine 2nd September 2010; chanel.fr; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors; IFRA 48th Amendment for Tagetes Oil and Absolute