Review: Tom Ford Vert d’Encens — 5.0 points

I admit that I am rather jaded of exclusive lines. Nowadays, every brand seems to have this so-called ‘special offerings’. They come in similarly packaged flacons and tend to arrive in sets of a few fragrances, much like variations on a theme. There are simply too many of them to catch up, and too often, they are outrageously priced. A prime example would be the Private Blend of Tom Ford, whose entire range I tend to simply skip  altogether.

But with Vert d’Encens (Tom Ford, 2016), it was such a momentous discovery. Truth be told, I had imagined it to be yet another banal interpretation of the Corsican coast, as the accompanying description would have me believe. Little did I know when picking up Vert d’Encens for a quick sniff that I would end up discovering a hidden gem in the sea of launches.

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What makes Vert d’Encens memorable is its fierce duel of green and incense. However, to describe it as such would be simplistic. The notes that revolve around this juxtaposition of cool green and warm incense are orchestrated in layers, creating a complex and almost baroque sensation. Take a look at the first stage: it is never plain green, but it morphs instead from bright chartreuse to deep green at heart. Citrusy shades of lemon and bergamot segue into cool Provençal herbs of lavender and sage before arriving at the intense bitterness of galbanum. And, only then does the glorious battle commence.

Swirls of resinous incense begin to exude and pulsate throughout the development. So, the next stage, as you might have guessed, is a warm oriental bed of sweet vanilla, benzoin, and heliotrope. It is a familiar chord, but when accented with cardamom and pine needles that echo the green stage, the result is surprisingly original. The dry down is also smouldering, with sober incense slicing through cosy vanilla and heliotrope. In the end, the oriental sweetness is offset nicely by the dry woody notes of vetiver.

The idea of green versus oriental in Vert d’Encens alone is sufficient to grab attention, but it is in the elaborate arrangement of its components that it truly spurs my passion. It makes me want to discover the filigree and ornate columns of its green and incense cores. That being said, it will appeal to those who like strong contrasts and ornate arrangements. If you, for instance, like the galbanum and animalic-leathery oriental of Must de Cartier (1981), chances are you might adore Vert d’Encens. It defers to some of the by-gone notes of perfumery — the galbanum, the dark oriental — and does so without being contrived. You can enjoy the fiercely green galbanum and sober incense easily for a whole day and without having to smother passers-by. You can appreciate the dramatic interplay and discover also how beautifully the battle unfolds.

Source: tomford.com

Review: Chanel N°5 Eau Première – 4.0

Few brands do justice to the re-working of their classic creations as does Chanel. This is why I enjoy re-tracing the incarnations of Chanel N°5 (1921) to see what each interpretation has to offer. Previously, I examined the verves and radiance of a young mademoiselle in Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016). This time, I say we look back at the modern legacy of the grand dame in Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2007).

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Its cascade of notes makes for a luscious sensation, whilst its clarity lends itself to ease of wearing. One is first greeted with heady and sunny ylang ylang, and there is a dalliance with the aldehydic note, both of which are customary to Chanel N°5. This leads over to the iconic bouquet of rose and jasmine blended into a floral mélange, but with each note still lending their nuances to the mix.

As Eau Première develops, I notice the progression from a bright, crystalline layer to a warm, round and sensual one. Its powdery iris note, in particular, gives the luminous sheen and softness of silk. And in the dry down, the warmth of its vanillic, musky base is still accompanied by a lingering hint of floral bouquet. Eau Première lasts easily a whole day and continues to persist on fabric. Its radiant, indistinctly floral sillage is also recognisable.

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From top to base, the framework of Chanel N°5 is preserved: only the emphasis has been shifted. By trimming the top and base, the composition acquires greater clarity and the focus now falls to the beloved bouquet of Chanel N°5. Here, perfumer Jacques Polge seems to have struck the perfect middle ground between classical pomp and modern clarity. In other words, Eau Première is an excellent update to the original.

Sources: chanel.com

Review: Chanel Jersey — 2.5 points

Chanel is one of the few fragrance houses whose quality and consistency I admire. From the aldehydic and floral cascade of Chanel N°5 (1921), the citrus chypre of Pour Monsieur (Chanel, 1955), to the verdancy and chilly iris amidst the chypre of Chanel N°19 (1970), and even the generic and not-so-original Bleu de Chanel (2010) and Chance (Chanel, 2003), one can smell quality in the juice. In fact, sniff Sauvage (Dior, 2015) and Bleu de Chanel side by side, and one easily sees the difference already in the opening. From such experience, it follows naturally that Jersey, both the eau de toilette (Chanel, 2011) and the extrait de parfum (Chanel, 2014), by perfumer Jacques Polge from the Les Exclusifs line does ‘smell of money’.

An exquisite lavender is at the centre of the composition. It takes the spotlight here, with compliments from a little rosemary in the top. Replete with aromatic facets and floral sweetness, the lavender in Jersey is a Provençal dream. This is especially so in the rich extrait de parfum.

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Its lavender is also shaped by vanilla and a nuance of caramel, showing yet another sign of promise. One often thinks of lavender as perfumes marketed to men or as a perennial favourite note of grandmothers, but Jersey revamps its lavender with sensuality and an almost edible quality. It is somewhat reminiscent of the lavender gourmand direction of Brin de Réglisse (Hermès, 2004).

It is all well and promising for good fifteen minutes when the lavender recedes and the first hints of musks appear, especially in the eau de toilette. They seem to play a role in softening the agrestic herb, which is fine. But the trouble is that I am reminded of toiletries and fabric softeners. The combination of lavender and soapy musk is quite the slippery slope. Such a pairing is popularly employed by consumer goods so much so that most of us have come to subconsciously associate lavender and musk with functional products. And, this is where Jersey falls short.

To be fair, it does employ quality materials and touches upon an interesting facet of lavender. The vanillic gourmand and cosy side of such a rustic material is a nice surprise. Moreover, Jersey also has the longevity of easily six hours on skin. I do like it for this, and smelling it from my clothes, it brings a sense of clean comfort.

Nevertheless, the olfactory implication of such a lavender-musk pair remains: it recalls fabric softeners. Jersey might offer a glimpse into a new side of lavender, but that is not enough to dispel the overwhelming association with functional products, especially when the lavender is paired with strong soapy musks. Without leaving the tried-and-tested accord, the fine material alone will not suffice to produce originality. There is a need for audacity and experimentation to ever challenge the way lavender is orchestrated.

In sum, Jersey is a first-rate lavender whose orchestration, sadly, does not quite flatter it.

Source: chanel.fr

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 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 temp, perfumer Jacques Guerlain — himself a friend of Saint-Exupéry — composed 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 impertience 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

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: 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.