An Olfactory Postcard

tulum_mexico-1920x1200

– a review of Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur

Of all the many memories we pack into our luggage on leaving foreign shores and returning home, none are so evocative as the scents and smells of place. Whether the fishy, invigorating tang of saltwater and iodine in a Nordic city harbor, the assault of the spice market in the medina of Marrakesh, the lemon and orange-redolent Amalfi coast or the coconut, Coppertone and frangipani-soaked Caribbean recollections of my own peripatetic childhood, you can close your eyes to remember – and you are there all over again, wrapped in both the atmosphere and the mood of a time and place.

Such a memory was also the inspiration for Karl Bradl of the storied Aedes de Venustas store in New York and for a 2014 addition to their eponymous line of fragrances, Copal Azur, this time inspired by the salt air, the cerulean hues of the sea, the powdered-sugar sand of the beach and the ever-present perfume of copal incense in Tulum, Mexico.

In Central America, copal incense – sometimes but not always the resins of several species of Bursera tree – has been used since the Mayan era, as a natural mosquito repellant, as food for the Gods, to cleanse sick bodies and dispel evil spirits and as a natural glue for leather, ceramics and woods. Because several tree resins are described as “copal”, copal notes in perfumery are often reconstructed with other materials, mainly frankincense, whose odor profile greatly resembles it.

As incense is the common theme of the Aedes de Venustas’ line, it makes absolute sense that the perfumer who first put incense front and center with Comme des Garçons’ ground-breaking 2003 Avignon would be perfect to recreate the ambience and entire atmosphere of a sacred scent the Mayans called pom.

Bertrand Duchaufour began by using three types of frankincense to capture the many facets of copal. Although the press release doesn’t mention which ones, this frankincense aficionado is going to hazard a guess and say Boswellia sacra, or Somali frankincense, with its pronounced cold, spiky, dark green pine-y note, Boswellia carterii, or Omani frankincense, which is sweeter and softer with floral lemony sorbet undertones, and Boswellia serrata, a frankincense native to India, which is sharper and dryer. Having said that, they’re so seamlessly interwoven you’d be hard-pressed to tease that first emphatic burst of incense apart, and it took me several tries and my frankincense olfactionary to realize it.

Copal incense is front, center and in the spotlight in Copal Azur, but that’s just the headline, because this incense comes with a twist of salt and sea spray, just enough to remind you this is not-your-usual-incense. As it moves into the heart and base some time later, softer, warmer and sweeter fumes rise up to greet you, a delicately green-flecked tonka bean burnishes the incense with its own sweet vanillic fumes, and over 7+ hours later, exudes its final breath in a puff of patchouli, myrrh – and copal incense.

Like the five other fragrances of the Aedes de Venustas line, Copal Azur is easily unisex if you’re an incense lover of perfumes such as the aforementioned Avignon or Serge Lutens’ L’Eau Froide. I’d wear this at the drop of a charcoal tablet (because I’m easy!), although some might find the opening blast of monumental incense skews it much more masculine than feminine.

Mainly, though, Copal Azur strikes me as the very best kind of olfactory postcard – or scented place memory? – by painting not just the tropical ambience of Tulum itself – the tonka-bean marzipan vanilla sands of the beach, the salty ozone of a scorching, impossibly blue, limitless sea and sky, the cardamom-green of the jungle, a distant patchouli growl of a jaguar and towering above them all, the monumental Mayan temple complex in all its steely gray-white majesty, conjured by a shaman out of sacred smoke – and incense.

I wish I were there!

copalazurPRphoto

Notes: Three different types of frankincense, ozonic notes, salt, patchouli, cardamom, myrrh, amber, tonka bean.

Aedes de Venustas’ Copal Azur is available at First in Fragrance and directly from the Aedes de Venustas website.

Disclosure: A sample of Copal Azur was sent for review. With thanks to François and Olivier.

Image of Tulum via Flickr. Image of frankincense tree courtesy of Aedes de Venustas. Used by permission.

A Goddess, With Jasmine

Melina

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

– a review of Neil Morris FragrancesEssence of Melina

(Note: Found on my laptap when I woke up this morning, a review! It seems I had a visitor last night…)

Dear readers,

You might as well know it right from the start: this is not the Genie. She sleeps in the other room now, Hairy Krishna spooned inside her outstretched arm, and on the sofa in the living room, Janice Divacat spreads her calico belly against a magenta silk throw pillow, dead to the world. From where I sit at the Genie’s desk, I can see her twitch her tail as she dreams and softly snores. At this dead-of-night hour, even the streetlights are asleep and only the red neon glow of a Coca-Cola sign at the burger joint across the street glows its admonitions against the dark of an April night. The downtown taxis are finally silent and the Saturday night bar crowds have all dispersed at closing time towards home, to their beds, to Saturday night intents and purposes.

Meanwhile, I was summoned by a perfume.

Yet before I can get to the perfume, I should maybe explain something about the woman who inspired it.

So close your eyes and imagine a woman. She stands six feet in her stockings, six feet of willowy, long-waisted, long-legged perfection (her mother was a fashion model) wrapped around a sarcastic heart of Gothic black. Visualize a waist-length, wavy fall of glossy, naturally blue-black hair, a pale, moonlit complexion touched with a tiny brush of petal-pink, eyes as luminous, sparkling green as a secret Mediterranean cove in high summer, and a full, rosaceous mouth that could send any man and several women dreaming.

I should also add before I cook my own goose that much as I like her, she’s not my type at all. Being somewhat <ahem> vertically challenged in my current disguise, for one thing she’s too damn tall. For another, I much prefer short, busty, rather less perfect blondes.

Why not let a short, busty, perfectly flawed blonde describe her, too?

If you ever wanted to know what a Greek Goth Goddess looked like, here was exhibit A.

(Quantum Demonology, Quotidian Pleasures)

Meet Melina, the nemesis of Quantum Demonology’s nameless protagonist. Since arriving in Copenhagen 12 years ago, she has been the doom (and on one occasion, the death) of bass players and other musical paragons of testosterone from Seattle to Siberia. Norwegian black metal bands you’ve never heard of have written songs about her, and one Swedish band scored a minor Scandinavian metal chart hit a couple of years ago when they released a song called ‘Melita’ inspired by a heartbreak night to remember (courtesy of Melina) that really put the capital D in doom.

Noblesse oblige so they say, so Melina created a group of female acolytes somewhat snarkily dubbed the Black no. 1 Mafia (inspired by this song), and she’s ruled those ladies with a titanium fist in a net glove ever since.

In other words, she’s so perfect you can’t have her.

(Off the record, I’ll tell you something else. She was inspired by a certain, über-Goth Empress of Snark. Now you know.)

There things stood for quite some time, beyond publication and (so far) great reviews, until Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances decided to do something about it. Whereupon he promptly pulled the rug (and quite a few heartstrings) out from under the Genie by sending her a perfume she never, ever expected, from a project she thought had long expired, even if the perfumes certainly haven’t!

Voilà – Essence of Melina. The newest edition to the Devilscent Project.

And here you thought that labdanum, lascivious lechery and Lilith-littered cardinal sins were all the project had to say three years ago.

Neil Morris had another idea. He decided to explicate Melina through a perfume, inspired perhaps by the phrase ‘absolute essence of Melina’.

Call me biased, but I’ve always thought all of Neil’s creations had one thing in common, apart from an emphatic and profound understanding of Gothic darkness. They are all of them supremely delineated, seamlessly assembled and sublimely elegant.

Essence of Melina – capturing the demeanor and not a few of the contradictions of Melina herself – is no exception.

So how did he explain a half-Greek Goth goddess?

He began with a mainstay of Mediterranean gardens everywhere, even on the storied Greek isle Melina calls home: a fig.

A fig that wraps itself as tight as corset stays around an audacious and more than a little dissipated jasmine sambac, that bold and fruity floral babe that just dares you to come closer.

So she can eat you alive.

While that impudent jasmine breathes its celestial song of sins both sweet and salacious, her gal pals – in this case, orris, white patchouli flower and nootka that echo a hint of Melina’s consigliere Birgitte – sneak in to seal your doom.

I dare any red-blooded male to sniff this without a reaction. (In which case, check their pulse.) I’d also dare any jasmine-loving female to sniff this without swooning.

It’s that kind of perfume. Surely, you expected no less from a Devilscent?

Orris – one of the Genie’s own favorite perfumery materials – was a surprise. Its presence was unexpected, until I remembered two things: the Genie’s little lecture on orris adding depth and a certain intellectual hauteur to perfumes and also Melina’s own dirty little secret: she’s the fourth generation in her Greek family with impeccable academic credentials. A PhD underway no less, and no one knows except me since I make it my business to know everything.

But Melina is anything but chilly (except to the protagonist), and right when you think you have her all sussed out, somewhere between the jasmine, the orris, the patchouli flower, the nootka… Neil pulls the rug out from under our noses again.

Some long, long time later, nocturnal animals begin to growl.

Maybe the bestiaries so beloved by Goth culture; the vampires, the werewolves, the bats, the hordes of midnight-black cats.

That bass metal hum of vetiver, the hungry howls of civet, the purr of a feline, furry musk, the heat of castoreum and last but never least, a lecherous, leatherine lick of labdanum, and I know that one since I put it in my original brief.

All in all, a black, heady pulse bomb of a perfume! It fits Melina like a lace dress, like black tulle, like midnight and moonshine and arcane alchymical emanations.

Some time ago, I overheard a discussion between the Genie and Ms. Hare concerning a theory the Genie calls ‘the brunette school of perfume’.

‘The Brunette School of Perfume’ theory (patent pending) describes in a catchphrase the differences in skin chemistry between brunettes, blondes and redheads. Simply put, it’s the reason why Essence of Melina smells like a smexy, molten trainwreck of Goth salaciousness… on Ms. Hare. (A brunette). On the poor blonde in the bedroom, this astoundingly beautiful, flawlessly crafted perfume… smells like a wet, miserable dog shivering in a bubblebath.

But that wasn’t the point, for all the Genie does love a few select jasmine-centric perfumes, including the two she gave to Melina.

The point was to capture ‘Absolute essence of Melina.’

Where Neil Morris succeeded beyond all imagining – and gave her his own, uniquely creative spin.

Someone should have told him: ‘Beware when bearing presents to a Greek.’

Luckily for the rest of us, he never listened! Instead, he made her a Goddess. With jasmine.

Dev

NMMelina

Notes: Fig, jasmine sambac, orris, white patchouli flower, nootka, civet, vetiver, animalic musk, castoreum, labdanum.

If enough jasmine-lovers ganged up on him, I’m sure Neil Morris would make this available to the general public, as he should!

Disclosure: A sample of Essence of Melina was made available for review. For which this Devil thanks him from the bottom of his inky black heart.

Ringing In The Spring

lilybells

– a review of Tauer Perfumes’ Carillon pour un Ange

I don’t know about you, but this winter is getting old. Old as in … just move along already and give way to my most favorite time of year, the season of renewal, of hope, of sunshine and warmth… spring. And what better way to kick Old Man Winter to the curb than through a luminous perfume that exudes its own sunlight and adds a lilt to your voice and a sashay to your step?

Which was precisely where I was this wretched, rainy, cold March day when I remembered something in my Guilt Trip Review Box that just might be the one-way ticket away from all the months-long miseries caused by a seemingly endless winter of drab, dank and damp.

Many flowers have laid claim to being the embodiments of spring; hyacinths, tulips, daphne, bluebells… it makes for a long list. Yet in spite of their many virtues and the perfumes that pay homage to them, perhaps none are so emphatically spring-like in their appearance or their fragrance as those tiny, fragile snow-white bells known as lily of the valley.

The paradox about lily of the valley in perfumery is that the fragrance can’t be extracted from the flowers, so a lily of the valley perfume relies on a perfumer’s skill in building an accord to evoke it, whether that is by flower essences and absolutes and/or using hydroxycitronellal, Lilial or Lyral.

For many, the ultimate lily of the valley recreation is Edmond Roudnitska’s 1956 Diorissimo, the one lily of the valley to rule them all, but Diorissimo and I – as indeed my opinion of lily of the valley perfumes in general – don’t get along at all.

First of all, my mother wore it, which kills it for me stone cold. Second, although I adore the verdant fragrance of the flowers themselves when I find them, something about their interpretations in perfumes strike me as too virginal, too snow-white, too altogether frilly, hyper-feminine and white-tulle-with-added-meringue bridal for my personal tastes.

Until that fateful September afternoon (because I’m nothing if not perverse) in Florence when I discovered one that wasn’t, the one that was indeed a lily of the valley perfume, but didn’t strike me as an ad for the wedding service industry (or meringued-out gowns), as musty or old-fashioned in the slightest:

Tauer PerfumesCarillon pour un Ange, henceforward referred to as Carillon.

I’d read the many reviews of Carillon, read them with that instinctual frisson which informed my synapses that maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t be one of those virginal ingénues that sent this post-punk catastrophe running for the hills of the blackest, raunchiest, goatiest labdanums I could find.

So it all magically came to pass that overly fragrant afternoon at the Stazione Leopolda, when the entire glorious lineup of Andy Tauer’s creations gleamed in front of me and the first one I reached for was Carillon.

Muguet? Oh, yes. Lily of the valley and a whole supporting cast of viridian characters danced in on a silvery spring sunbeam that instantly blasted away the memories of most of the countless hyperluxe eau de niche perfumes I sniffed that day.

I left the Stazione Leopolda thinking new and very modern thoughts about lily of the valley. Such as… I want a bottle of this, pronto per favore. Not to mention: This! Is a lily of the valley I can actually love. And wear. And not feel like Bridezilla five minutes before walking down the aisle.

When Andy Tauer kindly offered to send me samples some long time later in another context (his re-release of the bottled summer known as Cologne du Maghreb), I remembered Carillon, remembered that moment and asked for Carillon, to see if my recall had been correct. The day it arrived, I sprayed it, swooned to be back in memory at least to that afternoon in Florence, put my Tauer tin in the Guilt Trip Box… and forgot all about it until today, as winter writhes its last throes outside in the rain and the wind huffs and puffs against my windowpanes, today when I am desperate for a breath… of spring.

If you could assign a color to spring, surely it would be the tender sunny green of leaves about to burst?

So it is with Carillon, right from the opening peals floating on the breeze right above my skin. I detect a smidgen of rose, certainly lilac and a suggestion of a dense, oily-green hyacinth, although hyacinth isn’t listed among the notes, but above all, clear as the bells of the flowers themselves is this lily of the valley, no ingénue but instead an olfactory interpretation of the flowers, the stalks and leaves, the cool snap of sap and the rise of sunshine, as much as to sing… wake up, wake up!

Winter is dead – long live spring!

Long may it reign, and indeed it does once these bells hit their stride and grab the airy, verdant jasmine for a Viennese waltz on the lawn in the sun and around and around they go. Ylang ylang, which is listed on the Tauer website as a topnote, doesn’t make an entrance on my skin until well into the heart and then only as a discreet sugar dusting to balance the green and banish the bitter. Off they all waltz into the sunset of a flawless spring day across that emerald lawn, echoed by a soft step of leather, moss and ambergris that is nothing in the slightest like the Tauerade you think you know.

In flower symbolism, lily of the valley symbolizes the return of happiness. If that is an omen – just as I was reminded of Carillon on a dire, drab day of doom and despair this winter will ever end – then I’ll take it, thank you very much. Or else I’ll take it as a sign that spring will – all momentary appearances to the contrary – indeed return and happiness, too, so long as I can ring in the clarion call of spring with this peal of bells for an angel (or a mortal!) called Carillon pour un Ange.

Notes for Carillon pour un Ange: Rose, ylang ylang, lilac, lily of the valley accord, jasmine, leather, ambergris, moss woods.

Carillon pour un Ange is available at Luckyscent and directly from the Tauer Perfumes’ website.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer. For the sample, for his support, encouragement and for his astonishing patience, I thank him profusely. My reviews and opinions are my own, for which see my review disclaimer here. Also a big thank you to Monica Miller, who reminded me.

Can’t. Even.

The Genie Can’t Even

I have a question to ask, dear readers. How many of you… own a smartphone, a tablet, a computer? Most of you might have at least one of these, yes? (Or you wouldn’t be reading this blog!)

Now, how many of you are on Facebook? Would I be correct in assuming that most of you are? And that just like me, you use FB to… document your lives, share photos, links, stay in touch with people, family, friends and acquaintances?

And that ain’t all you do, I’ll bet! There are perfume groups and, for lack of a better term, perfume congregations galore on Facebook also, where we can all get as silly or as solipcistic as we please over a favorite subject, which is … perfume!

I don’t know what I’d even DO without it.

Yet some time around Friday, I wondered at the sudden disappearance of one of my ultimate – and very much real-life – Facebook spots of sunshine, and yesterday, when that unease morphed into full-blown WTF, I came to discover that an old social media fracas has reared its ugly head all over again. Only this time, they might have messed with all the wrong people.

The justly renowned and celebrated perfume blogger, Portia Turbo-Gear of the likewise celebrated Australian Perfume Junkies, has become the latest victim of Facebook discrimination against performers who create their online identities via a pseudonym. Just as in another (viral) case last year with a San Francisco drag queen, his FB profile and his very existence has been called into question by Facebook, demanding verification of his true name and/or creating a page for his performing alter ego rather than the Facebook profile he has been using since the beginning.

We all know that pages – as opposed to personal profiles – are where virtual identities go to die before slinking away into obscurity.

But the bigger issue here is not so-called verification of identity, the bigger issue is discriminating against those who for myriad perfectly valid reasons choose to perform under a pseudonym they carry into the real and virtual world and use just as you and I – and I’m listed on Facebook under the same name as in my passport – would. Only because they’re performers and often prominent out-loud-and-proud members of the LGBT communities they live in, the “proof” they have to supply often exceeds far beyond what Facebook might require from the rest of us.

Which to the mind of this rabidly free-thinking former anarchist is all sorts of 5000% wrong.

Portia – whether in mufti or in full-on made up glory, has been a large and very dearly beloved part of my life since at least 2012. Although I have yet to meet him in person (trust me, it’s near the top of my list!), I can testify that his generosity to his friends, his authenticity as a magnificent human being and his heart which is surely at least the size of Australia is without peer. Much like his sense of humor, in which case, throw in Eurasia, and you might have an idea. I recall a Skype session – at 3 AM Sydney time – that had me in tears, I was laughing so hard and felt… so loved.

When life itself proved a challenge these past two years, often a private message, an email or an off-color comment on something I posted would get my brain back on track and put a smile – at least – back on my face.

Besides, no one else calls me Princess. Thanks to Portia’s indelible imprint, no one else will ever be allowed to. Having done so much to make my own drab days brighter, it’s time for me to return the favor the only way I can.

I don’t believe in or condone discrimination in any size, shape or form for any reasons at all. I also emphatically believe in supporting my true friends – which Portia certainly is. So here’s what you, I and the perfume community that is the readership of the Alembicated Genie can do – take this post viral. Reblog it if you can. Retweet it. Share it on Facebook wherever you can. A Facebook group has been created – Bring Back Portia Turbo-Gear, and the membership is growing by the minute. Join us!

Once upon a time, the issue of identity might have been a static, unmoving one. But if the virtual life we’ve all lived since at least 2007 has taught me anything at all, identity – whether you’re a celebrated drag queen or a garden-variety writer (in leopard-print PJs) is a fluid, flexible entity each and every one of us reinvent each and every day – through our daily choices, our daily selves, and even our daily status updates.

A reinvention option that everyone deserves no matter what they call themselves, how they live or what they believe in.

I believe that’s the true meaning of the phrase ‘freedom of expression’.

Which Facebook in this instance has no business at all trying to curtail.

Portia at work on New Year's Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Portia at work on New Year’s Eve, a.k.a Conchita-with-A-Bratwurst.

Éminence Grise

Iris bismarckiana

– a review of Aedes de VenustasIris Nazarena

Some long (long!) time ago, I once had a rather peculiar ritual in early May. Every morning on my way to work, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a bunch of white irises in bloom in a curbside flowerbed.

Being who I was (and still am), I had to bend down and sniff them. Some irises have no scent to speak of, but these beauties certainly did, epitomizing everything I love about iris: that cool, measured poise that belies their extravagant flowers.

At that same time of my life, I also lived vicariously through the only ‘perfume’ I owned, the print catalog of a New York purveyor of all things fantastically fragrant – the Greenwich Village store Aedes de Venustas (the House of Venus), whose stunningly photographed wares ignited my imagination in ways both great and small. By the time I lost the catalog, it was dog-eared from perfume dreaming and dilapidated from all the times I’d read it from cover to cover.

Lo and behold these many years and strange trips later, and now, a favorite flower and a fond memory come together in – what else? – a perfume released in 2013, Iris Nazarena, a fragrant ode to the iris variety bismarckiana that blooms near Nazareth in Israel.

Iris – actually, the cured fatty ‘butter’ of the rhizomes known as orris – is a bit of an olfactory paradox. The blooms may resemble the dolled-up Folies Bergères showgirls of the floral world, but the scent of orris gives nothing away.

Some find it too cold, too haughty, too earthy, too doughy, too stern, arrogant and difficult to love. Yet ever since a mohawked punk in a few hundred pounds of black eyeliner and Doc Martens stomped into a Copenhagen department store in desperate search of beauty and waltzed out in a cloud of Chanel no. 19, I have loved and adored iris for precisely that chilly, daunting hauteur.

Henri Robert’s Chanel no. 19 in fact was perfumer Ralf Schweiger’s starting point with Iris Nazarena as ‘the benchmark iris’ (I’d add Maurice Roucel’s Iris Silver Mist to that benchmark list), but Ralf Schweiger did far more than eye no. 19 over his shoulder, for Iris Nazarena is very much its own and unusual brand of orris butter with extras.

For one thing, it’s as dry as any Levantine desert right from the start, utterly devoid of the rooty-earthy-carrot facets that have ruined orris for so many. This is a perfume full of air – air for the notes to breathe, air for the story of an uncommon jolie-laide flower to unfold upon my skin.

I detect something bitter and green, fruity and rose-tinged on application, but there’s nary a fruit cliché to be found nor any sweetness at all. Instead, also from the start, a beautiful curl of the ashy-cool smoky incense accord that appears to be a running theme with Aedes de Venustas’ perfumes unfurls off my skin with a suggestion of leather – buttery-soft glove leather.

Then the iris arrives wrapped up in a deft, warming touch of clove-y spice, with lots of space to roam through that bone-dry desert and show its stunning face. Some time later, it fades away to more and slightly greener (the vetiver? The patchouli?) floral-edged leather and incense before it exits stage right after about four hours. I have to add – being more than a little averse to oud, or at least the overused synthetic and barnyard varieties – I detect no oud at all.

It’s not hard to squint and see a few similarities between the benchmark reference (no. 19) and the end result, but Iris Nazarena skews much more unisex and far less floral to my nose, yet even after comparing it to vintage no. 19, I can’t consider it anything other than its own singular perfume. A complex synaesthetic study painted in sublimely refined, elegant, arcane hues of smoky gray that is all of a piece and containing all the marvel of a bloom in the desert.

Think of Iris Nazarena as… the eminence grise of iris. Containing just enough of orris’ steely reserve, all of its mystique and more than a little of its charm, it has nothing to prove except its beauty. Which is more than enough, and already far more than this iris lover deserves.

My one minuscule gripe was the sample vial it came in. For something I’d fall this hard for, I dearly wish I could have sprayed it to grasp something of its scope and breadth, especially with a perfume that at least on my skin plays out as airy as Iris Nazarena does.

On the other hand, isn’t that what a (hotly coveted) full bottle is for? ;)

Image taken from the Iris Nazarene press release. 

Disclosure: A sample of Iris Nazarena was provided by Beauty Entreprise for review. For which I thank Shirley and Olivier. Ralf Schweiger. And last but never least, Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner for being at least as uncompromising as the iris that inspired them.

Notes: Iris, ambrette, rose, juniper, star anise, clove, leather, incense, vetiver, patchouli, oud.

Aedes de Venustas’ Iris Nazarena is available from the Aedes de Venustas’ website and First in Fragrance.

The Minx Beneath

modess-1955

– a review of Papillon Perfumes’ Angélique

Should any of TAG’s readers ever doubt I contain a fair share of what Edgar Allan Poe once famously dubbed The Imp of the Perverse, here’s the redolent (smoking) gun. Instead of dealing with the ever-increasing amounts of incipient chaos (barely) contained in the Red IKEA Cabinet of Doom, where perfumes no matter how odiferous or guilt-inducing have been known to vanish to several alternate-reality multiverses, I’ve created my own black hole (an all-black shipping box) to house all the samples I’ve received in the past six months. Neither perfumers nor perfumista friends need be offended – the box came from the Palais Royal in Paris. As I’m also one of those perverts eccentrics who thrive on a certain degree of unpredictability, (since hand-written review lists in my workbook only stuff the guilt-trip suitcase harder), occasionally I’ll reach into that black tissue-lined box and reach for a random sample and voilà! My next review…

Such was the case when I reached into the tissue paper without looking and out came…

Papillon PerfumesAngélique.

Papillon Perfumes was one of the big scented sensations of 2014, plastered all over the (many) Facebook perfume groups and several perfume blogs when Liz Moores, a self-taught British perfumer and femme extraordinaire launched her initial trio of Anubis, Tobacco Rose and Angélique. It was clear right from the start and her perfumes that this was no amateur playing with fire and florals, but a uniquely talented nose with her own stories to tell in liquid filigree, and such marvels do they tell…

If not for a mutual friend, I might never have had the chance to sample them. UK postal restrictions being what they are, all I could do was read the reviews and the discussions on the groups and marvel. Which is no fun at all if you suspect (rightly, as it happens) you’re really missing out.

Angélique is Liz Moores’ ode to those great seamless, floral, bottled bouquets of yore, when perfumes were timeless beauties, when entrances were made and ladies left not just sillage but havoc in their wake. My initial impression was this could have been a Guerlain in the halcyon days before suspicious corporate marketing ‘focus groups’ were created and Jean Paul Guerlain was retired, when Guerlain was indeed purveyor par excellence of all fragrant things grand and glorious. Yet Angelique somehow manages to pull all this off without any sort of vintage texture.

Dazzling around a heartbeat of orris and an opening aria of mimosa, the iris has all the opulence and elegance and a deft touch of the same cool, deliberate hauteur you expect from iris. Far down below, a distinct thrum of frankincense smolders.

But iris alone does not by necessity an opulent perfume make and certainly not here, because that airy mimosa touch (not exactly an ‘airy’ flower) adds its own marzipan-flecked sunshine to that song.

Once those orris opera gloves come off with a flourish, other flowers venture forth for their turn in the spotlight. Osmanthus, says the Basenotes notes list, osmanthus in a titillating tango with white champaca, each twirling, swirling, dipping and dancing with neither quite dominating or giving way to the other.

White champaca, which is also known as white sandalwood or (my favorite name) white jade orchid tree, smells like no other floral I can name without resorting to Imperial purple prose. Heady, sensuous, heavenly and with an olfactory texture like silk velvet, it smells both woody-creamy (hence the ‘white sandalwood’), green, sweetly floral and fruity all at once. That Liz Moores managed to tame this tiger to tango with osmanthus is astonishing, yet tango it does and that iris, cool as a calculated guess winks right back, sometimes in the background, sometimes catching you by complete, delighted surprise.

Alas, all fireworks have to fade away. Over eight hours later, in may case. Even these evanescent floral phantasms are brought to rest on an equally plush featherbed of frankincense and Virginia cedar, and the drydown was for me by far the biggest surprise of all.

With such notes, you’d expect something woody, bitter and simultaneously bright and so it is, but I’ll say it if no one else will: this is seriously sexy stuff.

What comes to mind more than anything is precisely one of those glorious creations of 20th-century perfumery that so defined women (it strikes me as very feminine, but don’t let that stop you) once upon a storied, less casual and more swelegant time. I detect the inspirations from a few of them, and this is no small achievement.

Someone like the flawlessly coiffed femme in the illustration I chose.

A vision in chartreuse velvet opera coat – the mimosa – concealing all those ivory silk taffeta wonder blooms, immaculately held together by the hidden architecture of iris, frankincense and Virginia cedar. She lifts her champagne glass to toast you and looks you right in the eye.

Which is when you see that understated wink, the hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth and you realize just what makes Angélique such a fascinating creature.

Beneath it all, she’s really a minx!

Wear wisely. And with not a little guile.

Notes (via Basenotes): French mimosa, osmanthus, white champaca, iris, Virginia cedar, frankincense.

With special and undying thanks to Val the Cookie Queen for the care package, the inspirations and all the shared laughter.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Angélique is available at Les Senteurs and Luckyscent.

The Epiphanies of 2014

C4crown

  • the thrills and spills of the past year in perfume

It’s that storied time of year again when I finally sit down and decide on my favorites of (the thankfully passé) 2014. In spite of a frantic year that was frantic for all the wrong reasons, and in spite of far too much to review and not nearly enough time to write about it, I did indeed, thanks to dear and generous friends and my own initiative, get to stick my nose in not a few things I loved this year, many I very much liked and a few I absolutely loathed.

This time, instead of posting three separate lists, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit on one ultra-list, otherwise you and I will be here ‘till Doomsday, and I don’t know about you, but I have a long to-do list this year…

Another thing I feel compelled to point out is that many of the perfumes that have made it to this list have yet to be reviewed. Some because… well, that’s a surprise I’ll be getting back to in a bit. In so doing, that violates a principle I have about only including the things I reviewed, but we all have things to do. Some will be reviewed here on TAG, and others… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Worst of 2014

We might as well get the bad stuff over with.

Which means that whoever is in charge chez Parfums YSL will be the first to go down in flames in my revolution dream. It evidently wasn’t enough to slaughter one of the greatest perfume heritages of the late 20th century in terrible/lazy/rushed refomulations, nor even to pour ‘PVC+phthalate doll accord’ into the dregs of (badly reformulated) Paris and call it ‘Parisienne’. But did whomever-should-be-shot-with-current-version-Tabu stop to think about how we would perceive Black Opium? Because it is neither ‘black’ in the slightest, nor Opium in the least particular. It’s as forgettable and unremarkable as last year’s haute blondes. Henceforth, I shall proceed to call it (“perfume”) Methadone, except it neither alleviates Opium withdrawals nor the nostalgic pangs of prior highs. When Hedi Slimane, chief designer at YSL, finds it necessary to dissociate himself from it in a press release, you know it’s one terrible idea. Horribly executed. Alas, not fatally.

Oud

Perfumers and perfume houses: I have a announcement for you:

I. Am. So. Over. Oud.

And yes, I do like oud, except not so much the barnyard stable ‘fierce’ ouds, and certainly not the synthetic oud that passed for the real thing this past year. This is a trend that needs to die. You still have flowers, woods, resins, plants, all with their own languages to explore and their stories to tell. Start listening.

Hyperinflation

True luxury, stated a friend of mine in the know, is always inclusive. Meaning that inflating an already hefty price tag on a niche perfume, pouring gold dust all over the bottle (or whatever gimmicks are used to justify the price tag) and marking it all up by at least 5000% is not, in fact, luxurious at all. It’s simply, as I see it, pandering to the lowest audience of all: those who are too unsophisticated and too rich to know better. There are far too many ‘hyper-luxe’ sheep masquerading as big, bad wolves worth their prices. If I ever have 1000€ to spend on perfume (because I can dream!), I hope to spend it where my business is properly appreciated, not where I leave with a big, fat “SUCKER” tattooed in risible ink on my forehead. Roja Dove and Diaghilev extrait, here’s looking at you, and I say that because Diaghilev in extrait is literally flawless. And forever and always out of my reach. Damn it.

Flankers.

Because they display a distinct lack of inspiration or ambition, and I can’t decide what’s worse. Maybe both?

Worst idea:

Guerlain Shalimar Souffle de Parfum. I spent the better part of two hours trawling through a large Copenhagen Sephora this Christmas on the first day of the sales, and lo and behold, there was Shalimar and Souffle, and I thought I might as well live a little. While I was certainly impressed with the original current-version Shalimar (although I much prefer the amped-up vanilla frangipane of Shalemur), this was a baby-faced powder puff girl desperately trying to look about 30, because that’s, like, old. Or mature. Or something. I wonder whether the marketing department of Guerlain has a huge THINK YOUNGER neon sign somewhere. The problem is, those ingénues don’t have the cash to go to town on perfume. We gens d’un certain âge, on the other hand, do. Grow up, Guerlain! Thierry Wasser – you’re better than that. And you know it.

Worst trend:

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot here, let me start by saying this is me. Your mileage may vary. Yet for all I adore consuming both chocolate and coffee, sometimes together, I’m emphatically not a fan of wearing either of them. (There are a very few exceptions.) It could be my skin chemistry, it could be something else, but as soon as I try, virtually all the perfumes I’ve tried with either note just grows and grows and grows into an espresso-choc Godzilla, the second before I’m eaten alive. Argh!

The Best of the Best

Biggest Overall Unexpected Surprise:

Jardins d’Écrivain’s Junky.

Please forget that I’m a perpetually immature overgrown teenager who took an inordinate amount of glee in wafting Junky a good deal of this past summer and fall, and then laying it on my unsuspecting audience when they asked what I was wearing. But Junky – just as the other things I’ve sniffed so far from Jardins d’Écrivain’s line – is a super-seamless unisex green floral I can’t get enough of whatever the season or the reason. I’m hopelessly addicted. You can bet your vintage My Sin I hope to explore the rest of Jardins d’Écrivains in detail, tout de suite!

Best Seamless Floral, Part One:

aroma M Camellia Perfume.

If your heart belongs to that grand age of perfumes à la Française, if Coco Chanel had a few great ideas in perfumery at least, if you like your flowers bold and luxurious, if you also love the glories of frankincense all wrapped up in a bow of Parisian Ooh la la!, if in short you’re a nostalgia freak like me, then you might love aroma M’s stupendously beautiful Camellia Perfume.

Best Perfume I didn’t expect to like, but did:

Parfums Serge Lutens Borneo 1837

It smells like unearthed secrets and undiscovered sins of the most glamorous, Baudelairean kind. A dry, dusty, ever-so-slightly rose-flecked, cocoa-dusted patchouli that shouldn’t work at all, but does. This past autumn, I’ve been rereading J.K. Huysmans’ Against Nature and The Damned. I suspect Des Esseintes would be all over Borneo, just as Huysmans would be all over Parfums Serge Lutens, when the paradox is actually the other way around!

Honorable Mention: I’m ashamed I haven’t tried this one before now, even considering I’m such a fan of leather perfumes. But Chanel’s Cuir de Russie has been growing on me like a fungus, and the more I wear it, the more I love it. Who knew?

Best Mainstream releases:

Even in my backwater part of the world, miracles happen. Such as the time I discovered Dior Homme Parfum

in my local chain shop. Since I consider the original Dior Homme (and Dior Homme Intense) among the greatest masculines ever made and I wear them whatever the label, I had to sniff this one. I was not disappointed. François Demachy, you have almost redeemed yourself. I dreamt about smelling this on the right kind of man for days. Lacking that option, I’d wear this super-sexy film noir beast, too.

Balmain Ivoire Eau de Parfum:

The original (I have a vintage eau de toilette) Ivoire is such an all-star favorite of mine, it was the very first true perfume review I wrote. There is neither a season, a reason nor an occasion when it is less than perfectly satisfying, perfectly lovely in its green soapy-sappy-aldehyde aura and perfectly appropriate. So I was expecting another hot-mess reformulation when Balmain launched the eau de parfum in 2014, only to find they’ve kept virtually everything that made the original so great except the oakmoss base. And speaking of…

Best “We’re not worthy!” perfume, Part One:

Every so often, it happens that a perfume launches I suspect Planet Perfume isn’t entirely prepared for. In 2014 came Bogue Profumo’s MAAI. Holy St. Mary Magdalene! Antonio Gardoni took tuberose, that most erotic of flowers, and super-glammed and super-sexed it up, and up and up and UP. No Superman would stand a chance against this perfume Kryptonite. It is as luxe, as grand, as velvety-plush, as mossy, as heady and did I mention s-e-x-y? as anything the Eighties ever dreamed of. I’m saving that sample for a date night with definite ulterior motives, presuming that ever happens. As they say, hope springs eternal, and Signor Gardoni – I’m not worthy! Of either hope or this perfume, I can’t quite decide… ;)

Best New Perfume House:

Aedes de Venustas. AdV, the storied Greenwich Village perfumery store, has a very special place in my black and decadent heart, because once upon a time, their printed catalog provided all the perfumes I had – to dream about. Some time later, my sister brought me back a modestly priced perfume from Aedes, and whoever sold it to her was also sweet enough to provide samples for a severely aesthetically and perfume-starved woman. I never forgot it. So when Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl launched their own perfume line in 2012 with their eponymous Aedes de Venustas, naturally I sat up and paid attention. Fate had plans when I was sent samples of everything AdV and they all blew me away. The running theme of Aedes de Venustas is incense – heartstopping, sacred, swoon-worthy incense, in unexpected combinations that both intrigue and hugely please this jaded perfume writer. I’ll be getting to those marvels in future posts. On that note…

Best Resurrected Floral, Part One:

Why carnation has such a fuddy-duddy, dowdy reputation is completely beyond me. I can’t get enough of carnation; peppery, rosy, clove-ish, fiery, feisty, thick, sweet and utterly delicious. Carnation sprang into my awareness with a bang when I had the chance to try a brand-new carnation (or so I thought) through a perfume split of Aedes de Venustas’ Oeillet Bengal. I bought a decant blind and promptly… adored it. Oeillet Bengale – actually, the name of a rare China rose – is a peppery, rich, rosy incense-laden wonder that shot to the top of my Hotly Coveted FBW wishlist, especially since that decant is going, going…

A Rose is a Rose is a Marvel… a.k.a. Best We’re Not Worthy, Part Two:

Not many perfumers can claim to have not one perfume that doesn’t do me any favors. The one who does like no other is Vero Kern of vero profumo. Heaven help me, I love all her work in any version: Rubj, Kiki, Onda (Onda did take a while) and Mito. So Vero gave us Rozy, her fragrant tribute to Anna Magnani in ‘The Tattooed Rose’, and just when you thought there was nothing new to say about rose, here is Rozy: emphatic, dramatic, sensuous and earthy, with a honey-flecked sweetness that shows a true maître’s effortless hand. I’ll have a time-travelling tale for Rozy’s crimson glories, but more on that one later…

Best Heatwave Antidote/Best Re-Release:

Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb.

Bless dear Andy Tauer for re-releasing this instant 2011 classic, for it subverted much I thought I knew about Tauers and everything I assumed about colognes, mainly that most of them are boring, as Cologne du Maghreb never, ever is. It is sparkling, subtle, intricate, cooling, distinctively different and utterly delicious, and over several sweaty weeks of a summer heatwave, it kept me and my composure as cool as a glass of chilled cedary lemonade. I think of ‘July’, and I think of this cologne. Because It’s That Good.

Best All-Round Unisex:

Olympic OrchidsBlackbird.

‘Fruity’ – as in ‘berry’ – and I don’t get along that well. But Ellen Covey’s perfume for Seattle store Blackbird is an exception to that rule. This wondrous green concoction with a heart-of-darkness is an ode to the blackberry bushes (something of a plague) of the Pacific Northwest, and if you think blackberry and balsam firs don’t mix, think again. Many of Ellen’s creations have an extraordinary sense of place, and Blackbird’s verdant ode to where the sweet wild things are has been known to make me sing in the dead of night and high noon too, showing just how much one of my favorite perfumers just keeps on getting better and better. And better.

Best Bottled Gothic Autumn:

Neil Morris Fragrances’ October & Chasing Autumn.

Neil Morris is another perfumer whose nose has an exceptional sense of place, and never more dexterously demonstrated than in his two tributes to the beauty of a New England fall, October and Chasing Autumn. Everything I love and adore about autumn is here: the scent of apples on trees and on the ground cradled by leaves, burning leaves and bonfires, the breath of forest trees breathing their seasonal farewells as flaming leaves dance a timeless measure to the forest floor. I do mean everything. If October is mulled wine, apple cider and all things sweetly great on a peerless Sunday October afternoon, then Chasing Autumn is a forest… of Halloween bonfires and eerie shadows in the dark beyond, a resolutely Gothic ode to all things autumnal with no signs of that fabled new England restraint. Nathaniel Hawthorne could do them justice. I’m not sure I could. I’ve never come across anything quite like either of them, and since they’re Neil Morris creations, I know I never will.

Favorite Perfume Experiment:

Sometimes, instead of simply chasing after the Next New Things, it can be good to take a deeper look at what you actually have. The results may surprise you. I was very surprised to learn I owned no less than 22 different Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake creations in varying degrees of full bottles, decants and samples. I then proceeded to wear each of them consecutively over the course of about two weeks, and gained a whole new artistic and aesthetic appreciation of all of them. It goes without saying I don’t have nearly enough of any of them, and wish for at least eleven more…

Happiest Perfume of 2014:

Amouage Sunshine

On rare occasions on Planet Perfume, a concept, the execution of that concept and the final result come so seamlessly and perfectly together it’s all you can do to keep your cool before you surrender with a helpless shrug and a laugh in the face of such beauty. Sunshine arrived with impeccable, supernatural timing at a time when I was seriously considering to pack it in as a perfume writer and just give up the ghost of ever trying to capture the ephemeral art through words. Yes, I reviewed it. No, my words didn’t convey what I had hoped they would. But a few scant days later, I held my daughter as she made me a grandmother to a lovely little girl, and since it was the only thing I had with me at the time, I gave her Sunshine. To see the joy on my daughter’s face as I did was all the sunshine that cold night in November needed. To experience the arrival of a new generation perfect baby girl was all the immortal sunshine I needed. Apropos finding the right words…

Proudest Moment in Prose, 2014 edition:

Amouage Journey

I’ll be honest – Christopher Chong made it very easy for me. Shanghai in the 1930s, Chinese film noir and all things grand and great (noblesse oblige!), wrapped up in the two parts of Journey Man and Woman, one a fiery gold Chinese dragon, the other a sublime osmanthus song, my story of Journey counts among my finest – and hardest – hours as a perfume writer. It took me into new and wondrous places in my research and made me wonder at that story’s continuation of ‘a celluloid cliché of a Shanghai that was an improbable fiction anywhere else but here’. You’ll find no clichés in either Journey, but just as all the best journeys do, you’ll be a changed person when you return home. Whenever I wonder at why I even bother to write about perfume, which happens at least once a day, I look to Amouage. Oh. Yes. That’s why.

Greatest Shapeshifter Perfume of 2014:

Aftelier Palimpsest.

Mandy Aftel’s Palimpsest, inspired by the layer-upon-layers-and-lines of ancient manuscripts, is without question the greatest shapeshifter I encountered in 2014. I’ve never experienced a perfume containing the Australian firetree before, which partly explains it, but this thick, honeyed animalic-peachy-ylang-ylang growl in a bottle did two spectacular things: It completely flummoxed a perfume writer of four years’ standing, and shape-shifted entirely from ‘dead-wildebeest-wearing-ylang-&-jasmine-wreath’ on a blonde semi-vegetarian to a sumptuously sexy come-hither Mae West on Ms. Hare, the carnivorous brunette. Which only goes to prove the artistry of Mandy Aftel and also the maxim, written through several layers of parchment… chemistry is everything.

Best Resurrected Floral, Part Two:

DSH Perfumes Scent of Hope

Among vintage perfume lovers, a select few perfumes stand out for their greatness of execution, their scope of imagination and their sheer, jaw-dropping sleight-of-hand artistry. When perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz was given the bespoke assignment of recreating one such perfume, Jacques Fath’s fabled 1947 Iris Gris for a private client, she apparently succeeded beyond all imagining and expectation. Luckily for those of us who don’t have access to the Jacques Fath original (and being an iris lover, trust me, it’s on my list!), Dawn decided to make it available for the rest of us, and if the original Iris Gris is even 10% of this, then by Golly, it deserves its reputation. Scent of Hope is the apex of Great, Grand Perfume and the perfumer’s art: a peerless, perfect contradiction of everything you’d suspect an orris-centric perfume could be, warmed by the caress of a sun-kissed peach. I thought she outdid herself with Iridum, another of her iris perfumes, but Dawn has had an astonishing creative year and Scent of Hope is among the stratospheric best perfumes I’ve ever encountered. In my life. Why my fixation on the art of perfumery? (Also) Because miracles like Scent of Hope happen. Stay tuned!

Best Floral Reinvention:

Envoyage PerfumesFiore di Bellagio

Readers, bear with me. I tried. I truly did. I tried to think of something else, tried to stir things up a bit, tried to come up with alternatives and be a little different this year. Only to have to give up the ghost, shrug in surrender and kowtow to the spectacular talent of Shelly Waddington of Envoyage as she once again blew my proboscis to smithereens with the companion perfume to last year’s no less spectacular Zelda. Fiore di Bellagio, her ode to Ernest Daltroff’s 1927’s Caron classic, Bellodgia, is neither Zelda nor Bellodgia, but something altogether otherwise and resolutely one of a kind. If you could somehow wrap up all the glamour, all the glitz, all the decadent fun and all the flowers of a 1920s summer day in a luxurious villa at Lake Como, you might come up with something this great, this grand and this glorious. Or, if you love carnations, summers, epically great perfumes and all those words imply, you could take the easier route and head straight for Envoyage and buy a vat of Fiore di Bellagio, the instant before you plant Shelley Waddington on an onyx pedestal in the Perfume Pantheon of Fame and crown her with 20 carat diamond-studded dianthus blooms. This was another high apex of 2014 perfumery for me and although I realize I’m repeating myself (and an army of other perfume bloggers and writers), but there is method to my madness: I recognize greatness when I smell it. That’s all. Go buy it!

My Greatest Perfumers of 2014:

I can’t even hesitate here, and if you’ve read this far, this is a foregone conclusion. But with everything I’ve stuck my nose in this past year, I’ll have to hand it to two. Understand that even the names that made this (overly long) list are at the very top of their game, but these two outdid themselves and their justly deserved stellar reputations:

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz & Shelley Waddington

I’m not quite sure what to say about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, since I know I’m preaching to the choir, but Dawn has had the most amazing, productive and creative year. Whether it’s her tribute to the Impressionists in her Passport à Paris collection, her Cannabis Culture Collection (review pending), her Brilliant Collection (ditto) or the utterly flabbergasting Scent of Hope (likewise totally ditto), Dawn should be right up there will all the Great and the Grands of perfumery, indie and otherwise.

Shelley Waddington nearly did me in. After taking my breath away with Zelda last year, she pulled another epic rabbit out of her proverbial top hat with Fiore di Bellagio. I had some intimations of what I was in for. Only to find that they weren’t nearly big enough. But Shelley Waddington certainly should be. Make it so…

A Waft of Things To Come

Anticipation is part of the pleasure of writing about perfumes. I’ll never know what pleasures lie ahead. But apart from spending this winter catching up on my review backlog and returning full-speed as a perfume writer to the best of my capabilities, I anticipate becoming acquainted with two ‘new’ brands that have been on my radar for a while: Oriza L. Legrand and Stéphane Humbert-Lucas’ 777. Stay tuned!

Another thing to anticipate is the arrival of not-your-usual perfume book at some point in the year. If you appreciate my perfumed fictions, you might like this book, which will feature not just the Greatest Hits, but also ten brand-new perfume stories, some of which have not been reviewed yet. Watch this space for a book by yours truly with the salacious title: Stories of L’Eaux.

Rumor has it that Neela Vermeire Creations (another all winner line for me) will launch her newest perfume later this year. Are we excited yet? I know I am!

So what are you, dear readers, anticipating in the year to come? What took your breath away this past year, what do you hope to try, what floats you out the door in a cloud of scented bliss?

Tell me all about them in the comments! And have a happy, healthy, fortuitous 2015, too!

With special and perpetual thanks to my greatest enablers and loudest encouragers: Val, Portia, Lucy, Shelley, Dawn, Maria, Neil, Ellen, Andy and Mandy.

Photo: The crown of Danish king Christian IV, 1596.