Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Les Pluriels Masculin and Feminin: fragrance reviews

This coming September star perfumer Francis Kurkdjian is launching a duet of scents, Feminin and Masculin in Les Pluriels, for his eponymous brand. I have sampled both and have lived to tell the tale, which is a good one, if not highly original (even within his private niche line). The story is just published on Fragrantica, more of which below, and you're welcome to comment either there or here.


Basically Kurkdjian isn't traitorous to what he sets out to do, he considers perfumery more of an artistic craft than high art and believes in the concept of the fragrance wardrobe; his brand is meant to have something for every occasion (for the light "cologne" type for morning to the lush out animalics for intimate soirees) , so the newest diptych fits there comfortable. The bit that is perhaps more difficult to catch is the "eternal feminine" and "eternal masculine" he sets out to accomplish; tall order, especially because no one seems to agree on set parameters on those. After all, it's all a matter of semiotics, external signs for easy communication of a desired message and men and women are just themselves ~men and women. They're not defined by the jodhpurs they choose, the T-shirt and its bow neck or V-neck skimming breasts or not. They're not defined by the cut of their jeans (see "boyfriend's jeans"). They're not even defined by their added fragrance (read our Gender Bending Fragrances article if in doubt).

Feminin Pluriel has a very distinct progression like the passage of colors in the arc. The carrot impression of the iris hits you first, welcome solace from the overdone pink grapefruit /pink pepper or so much modern juice out there, setting the motion for the violet which follows on the skin very very soon. This note, a ubiquitous and perfect complement to both the rooty iris and the woody notes to follow, seems to meld into jasmine and a honeyed abstract orange blossom (reminiscent of its fore-bearers), comprising the main dish. This is further floralized by benzyl salicylate, a very popular ingredient boosting the "solar," luminous aspects of a scent. The cascading of the notes is so noticeable and so distinct that it's as if one ticks off the notes off a list or is watching a race course with the runners passing the baton to one another. Kurkdjian is no stranger to iris-violety things, given a sheer and non-powdery spin, lifting them from their traditional greyish mauve plumage befitting a solemn occasion via cheerful accents; witness his Iris Nobile for Acqua di Parma, surely the most optimistic and light-hearted iris floral out there.

The woody musky backdrop in Feminin Pluriel is engulfing a rose-citrus molecule (indeed, geraniol which has facets hinting at bergamot, rose, other citruses and carrot —the analogue of iris—so it all fits together, hand in glove) and feels as smooth and indefinable as the base in his rose-centered "nouveau chypres" (modern Rumeur, Guerlain Rose Barbare, Rose de Siwa and less so in the less rosy ones such as Narciso for Her and Elie Saab Le parfum). It fits his canon! Picture perfect pretty, in a (public side) Grace Kelly sort of style, maybe too pretty for its own good.

You can read my full review on this link.


Regarding Masculin Pluriel, I feel a clear progression from smoky, lightly citrusy vetiver to lavender fougère and on to leathery-smelling patchouli. It's as if the man you wake up to (after a romp in the sheets) jumps up to wash and groom to go to the office and have his "power meetings" before heading out to a private club in the evenings to indulge in a little light S&M, yourself included or not. Schizophrenic? No, just multi-layered, shadow and light, like people are, in fact. Ironic too, because the cleanness of Masculin Pluriel is overreaching like a giant fig leaf hiding the family jewels. The coolness of lavender in Masculin clutches itself to the cooler aspects of patchouli (both sharing a minty facet) echoing one another. It's also a balanced bittersweet fragrance (not sweet like Le Male); one would be fooled to think it's only plush and lush and shaven to a glistening six-pack fit for a glossy magazine…

Although not a chest-thumping kind of a scent (nor an animalic-smelling Jicky full to the brim with civet), the spicy-metallic roughness of a more traditionally rugged mien in Masculin hints at a guy who doesn't shave said pectorals and dons the occasional leather trousers that have seen some wear and tear.

You can read my full review on this link.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fragrance & Heat: Allies or Foes?

"Heat enhances the perception of fragrance," says Karyn Khoury, senior vice president for fragrance development for Estée Lauder Cos., who wears fragrance every day. Empirical data confirms this. Heated skin is skin which aids diffusion of smelly components and that includes both those which come naturally to us (apocrine gland products) and those which we put on ourselves on purpose. That might create a conundrum; does our body become "smelly" as in repulsive, or "fragrant" as in attractive? This double-edged sword needs some careful sharpening in order to cut to the chase in the best possible manner.

Marketing lore has cleverly played upon our most subconscious fears pertaining to smell. The implied innuendo of the much mentioned argument against a signature scent ("after a while you literally won't be able to smell it") is "think how horrible that will be on those around you!" A notion which isn't totally undramatic or unrealistic for the hotter months of the year. Notice too how sly they are into leaving it be hinted, without actually blurting it out: Because if you won't be able to smell it, why buy their product again anyway? It is exactly the perception of our human smell as such an intimate, personal thing, that the fear that the way we project our Homo sapiens projectiles might be repulsive to those around us is founded. It just wouldn't be the same with a visual example, something that can be tested with our eyes (this is why, for instance, recommendations for heatproof makeup products do not fall on deaf ears, like with the excellent one by The Non Blonde); and the fragrance industry knows it. After all, visual clues, illusionists' ones excluded, are unquestionable: either something is blue or it's not. But what is "good" and what is "bad" in olfactory terms? The confines are broader. And thus the perfume sale is sealed, transforming a possible "want" into a definite "need"!

Fragrance wearing is not an opaque layer of smell that stays the same throughout the day, thus inflicting odor perception blockage like it would if you were sitting in a chemical factory working every day to the same effluvium. Apart from the natural evaporation that would naturally occur, heat notwithstanding, fragrances are constructed in a purposeful way so that different elements come to the fore with warmth, friction or simply rate of evaporation of the molecules in question. Usually we refer to this as the classic "fragrance pyramid" of top notes, middle notes and base notes. Although not all fragrances are built that way (indeed, most are not nowadays), there is still a structure even in linear scents that creates a less or more intense scent that you catch whiffs of throughout the day.

Think about it: How many times have you surprised yourself by smelling your fragrance amidst a daily chore and thinking "this smells good"? Clearly, your nose blunts a bit after the initial swoosh, intense enough hence the occasional sneeze when first putting it on, but the peaks of scent are there to remind you of its presence and this nicely varieties with the weather conditions: now you catch it, now you don't; but you're not totally oblivious unless you're performing brain surgery, in which case what the hell are you distracting yourself with sensory stimuli for?

Citruses in particular share olfactory molecules with sweat thus rendering the scents complimentary to a heated body; we just hope it's clean sweat we're talking about! Some of the traditional Eaux de Cologne fragrances have become a classic exactly for that reason.

Guerlain has this down pat with their many excellent colognes such as Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat, Eau Imperiale and Eau de Guerlain, as do Roger & Gallet (their classic Farina-recipe cologne as well as the modern variations on the theme) and 4711 with their uber-classic formula. Goutal's classic Eau d'Hadrien is another hesperidic case in point, as ell as their slightly "darker" (but still quite sunny) Eau de Sud.  If you want to go upscale, look no further than Tom Ford's Neroli Portofino or Chanel's Eau de Cologne. Eau de Rochas used to be a beautiful composition with a twist thanks to a smidgen of patchouli under the freshness. The Roudnitska-authored Eau Fraiche for Dior (from the mid-1950s) was a spectacular case of a fresh scent which stood on an otherwise rich base of moss and warmer notes.

There are other elements however which can match our heated bodies and cancel out the dreaded "argh" factor of the clammy feeling. Lactones, molecules with a "milky" scent produced naturally in our bodies too as a result of protein decomposition, are also present in our apocrine products and in perfumery these ingredients are reflected in scents reminiscent of peach, apricot or coconut. Some fruity floral fragrances can be nice in the summer, as long as you don't carry it too far, becoming the Pina Colada yourself, instead of drinking it.
Things like monoi de Tahiti, tuberose, frangipani and ylang-ylang might be a siren song from creamy scents loving people. There's the traditional approach of scents mixing lush flowers and suntan lotion (Monyette, Bronze Goddess by Lauder, Guerlain Terracotta le Parfum, Kai etc.) and there's the quirky road-cut, like in Manoumalia by Les Nez or Amaranthine by Penhaligon's; these are both fragrances which literally "bloom" in the heat.

 Or there is the contrary approach; instead of complementing by mimicking, go for the opposite, cancel out by opposing. Powder-dry pitted against the muggy, sharp green instead of overripe apricot-yellow.

Chypre fragrances in general (a family built on the triptych of bergamot-labdanum-oakmoss) is a category which needn't be avoided in the summer. Their place of origin, reflected in their name (Chypre is French for Cyprus, the Mediterranean island) indicates that they were inspired by warm conditions and sunny skies. Thousands of women in Greece wear Aromatics Elixir by Clinique and the trail they leave behind is nothing short of beautiful and weather appropriate. I told you elsewhere that I personally go for Bandit EDP and Chanel No.19 EDT, so I shan't repeat myself.

Obviously you'd need to carefully monitor dosage and way of application, if you're to produce a similar effect, but, what I'm saying is, it can be done. Similarly you can pick chypre fragrances which focus on the drier, powdery smelling and more volatile elements instead of the heavier or animal-derived ones. Beautiful examples include the enigmatic Diorella, the ever crisp Cristalle by Chanel, the sylvan Coriandre by Jean Couturier, the dry as a bone Ma Griffe (Carven), the aristocratic Caleche by Hermes, the bitterish Eau de Campagne by Sisley which ushers the wind from the meadows …

Gentlemen who wear Chanel pour Monsieur, Neroli Sauvage by Creed and Guerlain's Vetiver do so for a similar reason to us ladies who don our more angular fragrances in the heat. The greener and cooly resinous scents (from vetiver, from galbanum, from angelica … ) naturally produce a refreshing feeling without resorting to the cliche of Calone (a synthetically produced note that smells of melon and defined the 1990s thanks to its use in "marine" scents).  Sometimes there's even an electric fizz and iodine rash into them; to wit, Goutal's Vetiver.

Some crisp leather perfumes can also be a great weapon in the arsenal of a discerning gentleman (ex. Gomma by Etro) as can be some airy incense fragrances (Kyoto by Comme des Garcons, Passage d'Enfer by L'Artisan Parfumeur, L'Eau Froide by Lutens). But perhaps the most dramatic shift in an incense scent happens to Etro's Messe de Minuit, an eau de cologne that really assumes its true character in the context of southerner, balmy nights, as it sheds its creepy, cool stony cathedral aspect to speak of hot tiles roasted in the sun and of resinous myrrh.

The game has plenty of choices: Eau de Monsieur by Annick Goutal, Encre Noire by Lalique, Malle's Angeliques sous la Pluie and Vetiver Extraordinaire. Several "fig" scents such as Philosykos, Premier Figuier (L'Artisan Parfumeur) or Figue Amere (Miller Harris) can be just as cooling as "sea notes" but with more intriguing points, revealed only on a hot day (like savory and fruity facets) keeping you glued to the plot even more than the average Agatha Christie paperback ever could.

The heat is on!

Please share your transformative heat-induced scent-shifting tales in the comments.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jul Et Mad Aqua Sextius: fragrance review

The shady, cloistered Cour Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence hides a treasure trove of small cafes to challenge even Athens. But it is the seemingly endless array of fountains that belies the connection with my city of dwelling. The palpable coolness and crispness of water spray in the air are solace in the hot summer months, the ivy clad building where Chez Feraud gets its business, the birthhouse of the painter Cezanne transformed into a small museum, the parade of students resting their bikes by the bottle green hitching posts on the street a buzzing beehive of life… A slice of that joyous life is caught in Aqua Sextius, launched by Jul et Mad last March during the Excence scent exhibition in Milan.


Aqua Sextius is the latest opus by Cecile Zarokian, a perfumer that shapes up to become a force to be reckoned with in the niche perfume sector. I have enjoyed her Amouage Epic for the ladies, exhibiting a gift for plushness that doesn't drag by impenetrable density. Her portfolio includes fragrances for Jovoy, Laboratorio Olfactivo and MDCI Perfumes, and also other even more esoteric or fledging brands which I admit haven't really explored (but am open to all the same!). The latest composition she submitted to the real life binational couple of "Jul et Mad" (Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica-Blanchard) who have based their brand onto their real life romance, told chapter by chapter, fragrance by fragrance, is wildly different from the thing I expected before checking out the press description.
Although Aqua predisposes one for "water", my mind reeled more into the "Eau" French counterpart that usually denotes a light and limpid citrus & herbs composition inspired by the time-honored eau de cologne recipe bequest from the 18th century onwards. Boy, as I wrong in assuming.

Aqua Sextius by Jul et Mad comes across as indeed an "aquatic" and if there's one genre which the current perfumista micro- world hasn't quite forgiven the 1990s (the median perfumista's budding years, I suppose therefore dismissed for being naive?) it is "marine" fragrances.
This is mainly a fault of the relative blandness of the blends, the impression of chilling silence before a piercing battle cry (that'd be the 2000s uber-sweet gourmands that'd risk giving cavities even by osmosis) rather than the smell of water bodies and the sea that aquatic fragrances in vain tried to approximate. As a consequence of perfumers not being entirely able to catch the nuance seascape into a predetermined "chord" or "note", a couple of aces up their sleeves became olfactory code for "aquatic", realism be damned: Calone, the smell of cut melon, dewy and too sweet to stand for convincing water but wildly propaged such as in CK Escape; violet nitriles, giving the damp and juicy impression of sliced cucumbers and dewy violet leaves (a successful example in Eau de Cartier); dihydromyrcenol, a metallic citrus-lavender molecule with a side of dish wash cleaner, famously enshrined to public consciousness in Davidoff's Cool water and its prolific spawn. Unless you'd been told (or had been suggested to by images of sea & river spray via advertising and packaging) you'd hardly pick "water" or "sea" to describe those notes. No matter, they're part of semiotics.

The duo of Julien and Madalina (the Jul et Mad of the company's brand name) apparently asked Zarokian for a fragrance that'd replicate their meeting in Aix-en-Provence (the Latin name of consul Gaius Sextius reflected in the later Germanic-rooted Aix): the fountains, the buzz of warm weather insects, the countryside, the romance of Southern France. One tends to forget it, rapped up into the Parisian sophistication perpetuated for public consumption, but France is a Mediterranean country, a significant part of its shores bathed in the azure of Mare Nostrum. But as mentioned above, catching that elusive scent is supremely difficult. Aqua Sextius instead turns to mint and a hint of eucalyptus to give a fresh green piquancy reminiscent of the "city of 100 fountains" as Aix-en-Provence is famed as, a slice of cedar woodiness and musky amber diffusive elements, the "marine" part reminding me of dihydromyrcenol (thankfully sans Calone). "The market has homogenized tastes and the crisis hasn't really changed that; people turn to   what is already familiar", comments Vincent Gregoire, trend watcher and the Nelly Rodi lifestyle director. Maybe is this a reason behind using such a familiar "note" in a celestial fragrance that comes from a niche brand?  It could be. It could also be a personal bet that Cecile Zarokian put herself in for; it's not easy to divest a popular trope of its signs and view it anew. I don't know what to make of it, really but at least I can see where Zarokian is coming from.

The fragrance's shade, an inviting aqua (bit bluer than the green depicted above in real life) that I'd love to include in my summery chiffon blouses arsenal, is one of those cases that the coloring of the juice is supremely matched to the olfactory impression rendered.

High marks to Jul et Mad for offering several options of packaging in even really small sizes for perfumephiles to cut their teeth onto, such as the 20ml black glass Compagon atomiser and the 5ml Love Dose miniatures.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall: 1924-2014

"And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion. "

~Dylan Thomas


The classy, beautiful Lauren Bacall has joined the ranks of the Pantheon. Her impeccable style and acting, her husky voice, her arched brows, her inspiring and defining romance with Bogie ( her less celebrated marriage to Jason Robarts Jr. isn't less fruitful) have etched themselves in our minds.
Her favorite fragrances, L'Ombre Dans L'Eau and Opôné  (Diptyque) and Paco Rabanne's Calandre shall remind Slim to us. She had great taste. A life lived to the fullest.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

The first movie of Robin Williams I ever watched was Popeye the Sailor Man. I remember I went with my elementary school English teacher, alongside two boys. And to this day I remember the occasion poignantly, because, first, I absolutely loved the movie (the transliteration of the cartoon into living, breathing beings, that wonderful Robin logo-diarrhea catching me like fly paper does to flies) and, secondly, it was the first time ever I got teased on my growing breasts. Yup, I as growing breasts early on, don't ask.

In 1989 Dead Poets Society (another formative moment in my timeline) was everything I aspired to be: inspirational, caring, eros-focused, unconventional for my students to be. The film remained with me for a long, long time and shaped me, I think, into part of what I am today.

From then on I never really lost sight of mr.Williams until today.

Robin Williams is my significant other's favorite actor. I recall watching a documentary together on the mating habits of dolphins (don't ask). Williams described how dolphins mated in nanoseconds, yet enthusiastically, like we do pecking the cheek, and I distinctly recall how effing tender and playful and child-like his face and eyes looked as he was describing this mating ritual. As if there couldn't be any shadow hanging down because, hey, dolphins are so lovable in just about everything they do and life is sweet, right?

For me, Williams ~like Dustin Hoffman~ will forever remain poised in my mind in that incredibly tender, (deceptively as it turns out) smiling face that resembles a naughty child one can't resist to.
O captain, my captain…

Blog Widget by LinkWithin