Review: Liquides Imaginaires Succus — 4.0 points

Despite what its Latin name might imply, Succus (Liquides Imaginaires, 2015) by perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu does not readily recall any kind of sap. The eclectic layers of fruity, herbal, and woody notes are far removed from the bitter green note typical of tree saps. Rather, they lend themselves to an arboreal fantasy, and I find myself wishing if only such a tree existed…

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What first strikes me is its fruity grapefruit note. It does recall grapefruit, but is not so much as citrusy, and has the sweet accent of pineapple. Its fruity top has a distinctive tone that intrigues me and that continues towards the dry down. And even if you, like me, are not so enthusiastic about fruity notes, you should still give Succus a try simply to see its interesting direction.

But unlike other perfumes that resort to hard sell with their top-note whirlwinds and end up being anti-climactic, the excitement of Succus continues. The next layer is a blend of rustic herb notes: rosemary, juniper berry, cedar leaf, and bay leaf. These are also interspersed with incense. The bright, camphoraceous character recalls that of Saltus (Liquides Imaginaries, 2015), another in the Eaux Arborantes series, but is not nearly as glaring. This layer of herbs creates a curious twist to the fruity grapefruit, and the pairing between these notes gives Succus a unique and enjoyable character that I cannot quite find a comparison.

But as the bright note of herbs dims, the composition reveals a luminous base of dry woods and radiant musk. Its vetiver harmonises with the accent of grapefruit and the cedarwood lends its distinctive note of wood shavings. The musk note here is rich, but also remains in keeping with the pleasant dryness. This dry woody and musky layer persists well on skin.

The idea of Succus revolves around a pleasant duel between grapefruit and herbs, but the composition also seemingly peels away from fruity and aromatic to woody layers. It certainly gives an interesting arboreal portrait, but more importantly this peculiar character is what keeps me coming back to it. A perfume that keeps one pondering is, I feel, a perfume worthy of exploration. Succus is one such composition that arouses curiosity; it leaves me wondering what that mythical tree would be. We surely need more compositions like this.

Source: moodscentbar.com

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: Hermès Épice Marine — 3.5 points

Épice Marine (Hermès, 2013) was conceived as a result of the dialogue between perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and chef Olivier Roellinger. They first met in 2011 in Cancale, the hometown of the Breton chef, and collaborated for eight months. Ellena took inspirations from the spices that arrived in Cancale, and he was also particularly enamoured of the roasted cumin. Meanwhile, Roellinger insisted on l’odeur du brouillard — odour of the mist — in the composition. These would come to shape the character of Èpice Marine.

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The fresh misty ocean comes through in the form of bergamot, bitter orange, and a marine accord. Then, the spices arrive with the punch of sweaty cumin, the sweet accent of cinnamon, and the characteristic cardamom. That the cumin is roasted is conveyed by a touch of sesame. There is also a hint of aged whiskey, as if to suggest the long sea-bound journey. The theme of mild spices and marine notes form the character of Épice Marine, and it remains until the dry down, which is accented with a touch of vetiver.

The juxtaposition of aquatic notes and spices is executed with polish, but the idea itself feels a little too familiar. It is not that far from his earlier brainchilds like Déclaration (Cartier, 1998) or Un Jardin après la Mousson (Hermès, 2003). And, however much I enjoy Épice Marine, I cannot help but think that I could simply layer Déclaration, Un Jardin après la Mousson, and perhaps Cologne Bigarade (Frédéric Malle, 2001) for the same effect, or rather better with more projection and tenacity.

Therefore, one should not expect to find the unexpected in Épice Marine. But if one is in search of a well-executed composition with curious accents, this will not disappoint. It is a nicely done variation on the theme of soft spices.

Sources: hermes.fr

Review: Chanel Sycomore — 5.0 points

I have few vetiver perfumes that I love and admire. These are Vétiver (Guerlain, 1959), which is an all-time classic, and Encre Noire (Lalique, 2006), which I have come to think of as a modern classic. But, they are not the vetiver that I mostly reach for. That honour goes to Sycomore (Chanel, 2007).

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Sycomore is likely named after Sycamore (Chanel, 1930), an aldehydic floral created by perfumer Ernest Beaux. However, Sycomore was composed by perfumers Jacques Polge and Christopher Sheldrake, and it features vetiver as the main woody note.

But, just as important are the layers of accents that shape the vetiver. From the bright green pines in the opening to the smoky and roasted notes, the vetiver is so skilfully embellished that the composition feels like an abstraction that blooms and glows on skin. I find its subtle character of green pines, smoky notes, and soft woods sublime. And it stays smoky and roasted for a long time

Sycomore is just as elegant as it is versatile. The vetiver is carefully chiselled, and nothing is overdone that would compromise its subtleties. Wearing it, I feel as though I dressed myself up, but remain comfortable. For this reason, it acquires a special place even amongst my favourite vetivers and wins hands down when it comes to the frequency of use.

Source: chanel.fr

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 

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: Hermès Vétiver Tonka — 4.5 points

Whereas most vetiver compositions tend to dominate with its smoky, earthy woods, few resort to the less explored facets of grapefruit as that in Sel de Vétiver (The Different Company, 2006) or of roasted nuts as in Vétiver Tonka (Hermès, 2004). Here, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena showcases vetiver in a most interesting light. Enamoured of this handsome material, he wanted to bring out its warm enveloping side. He chose to contrast the woods with the nutty facet, and this duel between woods and nutty sweetness forms the central idea of Vétiver Tonka.

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In keeping with this concise, clear-cut idea, there is no need, then, for an elaborate introduction. A touch of simple fresh notes mixing grapefruit, lemon, and a bit of bergamot will do, and the choice is a clever one. Not only does the grapefruit link to the grapefruit-facet of vetiver, but the citrus also contrast well with woods. It is fresh, yet simple and straight to the point of being a vetiver.

From then on, it is the woody impression of vetiver, but its intensely bitter and smoky character needs to be tempered. The use of cedarwood is ideal here. The dry woody and ambery character of cedarwood naturally enhances the woody notes of vetiver whist softening its bitter roughness. Filed and polished, the composition is smooth, but does not detract from the woody character.

At the same time, the delicious nutty facet of vetiver is played up to contrast the rough-hewn beauty of its woods. An accord that recalls glazed roasted nuts is befitting. The sweetness of coumarin, and the caramelic suggestion ethyl maltol, too, push this gourmand suggestion. The interaction between sweetness and woody bitterness gives a vetiver that possesses its much-loved classical woody note and a warm sensual side. And, the nutty sweetness of vetiver lingers from dawn till dusk.

The coarse wood is made cosy and enveloping, whilst the caramelic sweetness is tamed by bitter smoky woods. The composition strikes a perfect balance. I often associate vetiver with crisp white shirts, tailored suits, and all things of classical elegance, but here it has a surprisingly easy-going and relaxed side. The sum feels like a smart casual, but its versatile character will fit just about any outfit for me. Its portrayal of vetiver as smoky firewood and roasted cashews is a most tempting combination.