Review: Arquiste Aleksandr — 4.0 points

Inspired by the fatal duel of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the namesake Aleksandr (Arquiste, 2012) isll a story of Pushkin riding into the fir forest on the fateful day, wearing leather boots and a copious splash of an eau de cologne.

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But without reading the accompanying story, I tend to think of Aleksandr by perfumer Yann Vasnier as a leathery iris with a splash of eau de cologne-type freshness. This idea of iris for men is not entirely new, considering that it has already begun with the advent of Dior Homme (2005) that sets its iris in a cocoa and somewhat leathery theme. Nevertheless, there is always room for a good tweak.

The beginning of Aleksandr is a cool sparkle of neroli and citrus, and there is a lot of it because it veils the bulk of Aleksandr so well that I never would imagine that there is a dense theme at heart. Its bright freshness is a beautiful contrast to the dusky iris.

In a moment, the iris heart reveals itself. I first notice its green carrot vibes, followed by the sweetness of violets. Then, a leathery musky accent gives the impression of a soft suede – not exactly what Pushkin would have worn, but it has the modern appeal of soft leather that I like. The iris theme is also kept dusky by oakmoss and fir balsam, noticeably prominent in the dry down. It is gentle and understated, but it has a good lasting power.

An iris for men has a familiar ring of Dior Homme, but it is the accents that give Aleksandr a different character of its own. Its violet and suede impart a charming note. Its mossy and balsamic note has a rough-hewn appeal. And, the copious neroli makes Pushkin radiant, I imagine. Aleksandr is surely an interesting update to the masculine iris.

Source: arquiste.com

Review: Annick Goutal La Violette — 4.0 points

Nothing spells quaint like a good old violet scent. It was a defining note of perfumery during the early twentieth century when most, if not all, down puffs, toiletries, and fragrances were perfumed with violet notes. Therefore, anything that boasts violets certainly has a vintage vibe.

But for La Violette (Annick Goutal, 2001), it is not just about reminiscing that vintage powder puffs, violet corsages, and candies of era past. There is also a natural quality and an interesting accent to it that make La Violette a special soliflore.

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Perfumer Isabelle Doyen must have revisited this seemingly old-fashioned and outworn note with such a focus. One is greeted with the veiled sweetness of rose and fruity raspberry. These come on strongly at first and settle into a palpable element throughout. Along with these is the characteristic powdery note of violets. Here, La Violette contains as much as 48% of isomethyl-α-ionone and 19% β-ionone, mirroring nature’s very own proportion of 35.7% α-ionone and 21.1% β-ionone. And, with a green violet leaf touch, the composition is convincingly photorealistic.

But these overdosed ionones are just part of the violet story, for there is a special peppery, woody touch to La Violette. It becomes more prominent as time passes and lasts until the musky dry down. I find that this adds an interesting dusky contrast to the sweetness of the ionones.

It is by no means a complex or ornate composition, but the simplicity is key. The nuances that make violets charming are captured here along with the subtle but assertive peppery, woody contrast. Simply put, La Violette keeps it short and sweet, which is why it is a memorable delight.

Sources: annickgoutal.com; M Cautschi, JA Bajgrowicz, P Kraft, Chimia 2001, 55, 379; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

Review: Hermès Cuir d’Ange — 4.0 points

Cuir d’Ange (Hermès, 2014) is named after the words in the novel Jean le Bleu. In the novel, author Jean Giono describes his shoemaker father working in his Provençal cobbler. Similarly, the composition is inspired by the leather of Hermès. According to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who explored the leather pieces kept in the firm’s vault, the magnificent skins, which are naturally tanned, ‘smell of flowers’. This interpretation indeed comes through in the composition. The delicate floral notes bring out an interesting facet as they morph seamlessly into the rich overtones of soft leather.

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Cuir d’Ange opens with a sharp snap of hawthorn. Its crispness is as fresh as the cool spring air. This crisp introduction soon glides over to a floral mélange: violet, heady narcissus, and a touch of almond-like heliotrope. Its violet overtone gives Cuir d’Ange the impression of sweet leather handbags that exude a floral note. Its delicate theme seems to oscillate between floral and leather notes.

Towards the dry down, the bitter tang of its dry leather is noticeable, but the floral and leather notes are still seamlessly conjoined by musk. It is an interesting synergy. Those familiar with Ellena’s ethereal and wispy accord will find much to delight in this interesting leather etude. It may seem soft and bland in comparison to the dramatic leather chypres of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944) or Cabochard (Grès, 1959), but its clarity of its uncluttered floral-leather accord is a charm to behold.

Source: flairflair.com

Review: Hermès Hiris — 4.5 points

Pablo Picasso was adept at using either melancholic blue hues or warm shades of red, orange, and earth to create masterpieces characteristic of his Blue and Rose Periods. Similarly, fragrances in styles that are as distinctly opposite as dark woods and pastel florals number amongst the œuvre of perfumer Olivia Giacobetti. Her virtuosity can be seen in both the spiced sandalwood of Idole (Lubin, 2005) or the sublime soliflore of Hiris (Hermès, 1999). And if I had to pick a spring time favourite, it would be this water-colour iris par excellence.

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Despite its delicate character, Hiris is not simplistic. In fact, the composition is polished. It possesses the various facets that afford iris its inimitable complexity. Green and waxy notes in the beginning provide the vegetal impression of orris, which is reminiscent of raw carrots. This is contrasted by a spicy touch of coriander seeds. Then, a hint of orange blossom imparts the subtle floral nuance. These subtleties give Hiris its sophisticated bearing.

At the heart of it is an interplay between powdery and woody notes of iris. Violet overtones emphasise the powdery aspect, whilst cedarwood lends its subtle woody, powdery character. Such curious duality is what makes this raw material beautiful, and it is employed here as the centrepiece of the composition. Then, rounded by musky notes, the combination of powder and woods also acquires a soft, hazy signature.

The sum is a composition that offers a vibrant contrast even with its soothing pastel shade. Her unique treatment of iris is the reason why I find the composition intriguing. And though its diaphanous character may be intended for the wearer’s admiration, it is surprisingly persistent. Having said that, if you have an appreciation for such a style, you will find her other water-colour works just as beautiful an offering. And in the case of Hiris, it is a great example of how a light composition can have yet a strong character.

Sources: usa.hermes.com

Review: Hermès Eau de Narcisse Bleu — 4.0 points

Narcissus plants grow in a green fluttering field and bear their white blooms that dot the landscape. However, these seemingly benign paper-white flowers harbour such a heady and complex fragrance of green, intoxicating floral note with facets of hay and honey. Its narcotic tone does not exactly spell ‘freshness’, but leave it to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena to interpret this heady flower as a lasting spring breeze.

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Eau de Narcisse Bleu bursts with a snapshot of green galbanum. But before long, violet and orange blossom succeed. The floral clarity of the composition has the familiar ring of the ‘green tea’ accord in Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (Bulgari, 1992) that similarly pairs the violet note of ionones and the luminous jasmine note of Hedione. The violet blooms and orange blossoms are a great floral extension that combines light and sensual notes.

Then, the heady density of narcissus is built around powdery iris, soft woods, and musk. There are also sweet accents of hay and almond. The composition now shifts from cool spring blossoms to warmer elements. This has a similar tonal shift to that in Eau de Gentiane Blanche (Hermès, 2009), in which the cool green herbs segue into warm incense. It feels as if the subject matter of these compositions were alive, and that is why even the simplest theme by Ellena exudes a lively attraction.

It stays quiet, but lasts well for an eau de cologne. I can still smell it after a day. It keeps me entertained on the most humdrum and grey days.

All in all, Eau de Narcisse Bleu reminds me yet again why I admire his knack for interpretation. He brings out freshness in the most unexpected of materials like gentian and narcissus. The bitterness of gentian root is served as a palate cleanser in Eau de Gentiane Blanche, and now the green floral head notes of narcissus are the new blooms amidst the grey, rainy day. And his subtle oscillation keeps the theme alive. Another marvellous composition that creatively highlights an unexplored idea for freshness.

Source: uk.hermes.com

Review: Hermès Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate — 4.0 points

Rhubarbs are strongly tart. They can add freshness to even the most syrupy of cuisine. The resulting mix of intense sourness and sugary sweetness in rhubarb compote is vibrant. This simple match also applies to perfumery, in which the green tart rhubarb pairs well with and tames the sweet notes of berries, rose, and violet.

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Perfumer Christine Nagel similarly employs this idea in Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate (Hermès, 2016). She pairs fresh rhubarb and sweet berries to create a lively eau de cologne with a sultry suggestion. The tangy citrus and green acidic notes conjure the crunchy stalks at first. These are, then, contrasted by a blend of fruity rose, violet, and musk. In effect, it is a dynamic between tart rhubarb and musky raspberry.

Such pairing of fresh tart notes with sensual sweetness give the composition its character. Towards the dry down, the lingering tangy promise keeps the sweetness at bay, and the richness of musk lends a soft caress. Refreshing and flirtatious at the same time, Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate demonstrates that fruity-floral perfumes are not necessarily bland, when executed well and with a character.

Its rhubarb compote and raspberry sorbet is luscious. It is also surprisingly long-lasting for an eau de cologne. It lingers close to me, like a second skin. It may be a polished fruity-floral cologne, but make no mistake, the character still pops out and is as bold as its scarlet flacon.

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A note on the shower gel: The development follows exactly that of the perfume. Upon lathering, the tart-sweet rhubarb and rose intensify. Its dewy rose and musky berries linger on skin afterwards. I am very happy with the shower gel.

Source: photograph of Philippe Jarrigeon