Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Narciso Rodriguez Narciso For Her: fragrance review

There are brands conceived to claim something very potent, to break with the mold of their times, and to establish themselves in the market, spawning a thousand variations on their theme in their wake. Narciso Rodriguez Narciso For Her is not only a sort of a pioneer (albeit indirectly), coming out in the market as a "nouveau chypre"—a modern take on the mossy "chypre" family of perfumes—but also one of its most radiant representatives: it's hard not to notice a wearer of Narciso For Her, even though the scent itself isn't particularly pungent in any of its broken-apart constituents; not too harsh, too sweet nor too bitter, it's however very noticeable and radiates for miles.


Technically Narciso For Her is a floral woody musk, not a proper "chypre" perfume (chypres are a classic fragrance family of very perfume-y scents with a floral heart sandwiched between fresh bergamot on top and the tension of trickle-like, leather-smelling labdanum resin and mossy, inky oakmoss, from a parasite growing on oaks, in the less volatile stages of the fragrance's development) Narciso For Her instead constructs the scent on vetiver (a Far East grass with a fresh and earthy feel) and fractalized patchouli, meaning a "cleaned up" patchouli essence, manipulated in the lab to divest it of its more hippie-like facets for which the natural extract, with its dirty chocolate overtones, is famous.
The floral component in Narciso is all a fantasy of abstraction: the orange blossom and osmanthus notes are registering as an intense sweetness, but you cannot bring yourself to proclaim "this is X flower, that is Y." Fans often say it doesn't smell like perfume per se and this is its major draw.

The aromachemical Amberlyn (a variation on woody amber notes, another name for Ambrox) plus a cluster of musks supports the floralcy, but most importantly gives tremendous diffusion and lasting power, without gazing everyone in close proximity, the pitfall of many a potent fragrance. The ingenious quality of Ambrox is its ability to come into and out of focus at intervals without being perceived as anything concrete; the person wearing the scent or someone sitting close by that person isn't constantly aware of the potent aromachemical. This allows for the necessary breathing space, alongside the clean egyptian musk at the core of the Narciso For Her scent, but also the necessary time chasm that gives us license to re-appreciate a beautiful thing we have come in contact with. "Look. Turn away. Now look again." If that is the definition of a beautiful human being's impression on those who pass him/her by on the street, Narciso For Her is its analogy in scent terms; smell, now forget about it, then smell again and be charmed anew.

For a breakdown of the concentrations (eau de toilette, eau de parfum, musk oil etc) & flankers of Narciso Rodriguez Narciso For Her fragrance, refer to THIS GUIDE.

More Narciso Rodriguez fragrance reviews and news HERE.
Musk fragrances guide and reviews HERE.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Fiery Ginger Gingerly Scenting

Ginger is older than we think of but its prevalence amongst the Eastern tradition is what makes westerners regard it as "new". The warming effect of this wonderful spicy oil is part of the reason it lends itself so well in cuisine and why oriental but also floral compositions benefit from its shimmery aura. It shares DNA with turmeric and cardamom and the commercial rise of the latter in perfumery (notably through Jean Claude Ellena's many creations extolling its refreshing qualities) probably aided ginger as well.


I should probably begin my exposition of newer ginger fragrances with a respectful nod to their precursor. The "humble" Ginger Essence by Origins was launched in 2000 but it soon gained something of a cult status thanks to its simple but uplifting properties which married the hot and sensuous qualities of ginger root oil to the aromatic and happy disposition of lemony essences. It's still cheerful after all those years and highly recommended to women who can't stomach perfumes around pregnancy (much like ginger itself is recommended for morning sickness) but it lacks the complexity that makes for a classic. Still it gave wings to a rising star.

Of course ginger can be treated two-fold.

On the one hand, there is the spicy aromatic quality that pairs well with citruses and men's colognes, such as Dior Homme Sport and L'Homme (YSL), where it gives that delectable sheen we associate with summery skin.

On the other, ginger has the association with that traditional wintery treat, the gingerbread, going for it for those who have more of a sweet tooth. Even the Japanese appreciate ginger for its dessert-leaning properties; when they don't pickle it, they turn it into a candy.

Nutmeg & Ginger (Jo Malone) as well as Vaniglia e Zenzero (L'Erbolario Lodi) both treat ginger as a spicy component of a delicious dessert.  Tonka Impériale (Guerlain) smothers the gingerbread with the almondy goodness of tonka beans and honey; it's a cashmere wrap for cold winter days. Five o'clock au Gingembre by Lutens on the other hand is as if dipped in brown sugar and molasses; the ginger turns ambery. For a while gingerbread in gourmand renditions was the golden rule of thumb. Then something shifted.

The re-emergence of fresh ginger notes came to the fore with a bang via Hermès; the brand as we will see is really on the vanguard of major trends and I consider it a pioneer in consolidating newer directions to the mind of the public. With Un Jardin Après La Mousson Hermès managed two things at once: evoking the Kerala landscape in all its humid monsoon glory without using the melon-smelling Calone aroma chemical, and injecting the whole with that precise amount of subdued spiciness which would never make the folklore element of an India-inspired scentscape appear maudlin or condescending.

The only logical next step for Hermès would be Twilly d'Hermes and indeed its novelty factor lies in upturning the tables once again. Twilly as I have analysed in its "sparring" with Chanel's Gabrielle hits all the right spots with street smarts coupled with an impressive pedigree; it basically had Gabrielle for lunch. But that's beside the point when it comes to its composite elements that help make it memorable. The ginger is treated like a gauze. It's never scathing or too hot to handle and its interlacing with the white floralcy of tuberose seems novel and familiar all at once. It's impossible not to like it. Twilly's success on the market will probably be used as a focus group litmus test for other perfumes to come... so its ginger note is one that begs attention.

Meanwhile other scents by niche or smaller as well as big companies have cornered ginger for its exceptional olfactory profile which elevates the rest of the composition. If you want to have an unusual combination with powdery iris and abstract cedar notes look no further than the woody muskiness of Arz el Rab (Berdoues). Korres, the Greek pharmacy brand that is exported in several countries, has recently introduced Ginger Mint Eau de Cologne, which is probably what someone going on a warm place vacation should stock up on; the tingling of the nose helps keep you going when it's muggy or hot.

Last but not least, the fact that Dior has followed on their surprisingly OK Poison Girl (more on the happy paradox HERE) with  Poison Girl Unexpected makes us pause and consider how ginger has its place even in a young girl's fragrance wardrobe.

We surely haven't seen the last of ginger yet!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Calvin Klein Obsession for Men: fragrance review

Back in the old days, when Calvin Klein was a bona fide designer house and the fragrances weren't made by Coty, the churning of smells was set on the decidedly loud end of the spectrum, and on the rather creative side as well. This was the decade of Dallas and Dynasty, of shoulder pads that pushed you over on the ladder to the corporate top, when women started to bring back home the bacon in earnest ("and fry it on a pan") and when the tip-toeing of perfume wearing in public spaces was only considered far-fetched dystopian sci-fi.

Obsession (for women, 1985) and Obsession for men (1986) were the natural products of such a period. Loud, brash, gold jewelry statement, knock-your-socks-off scents, full of the inherited warmth of their French counterparts (the success of the Opium perfume by Yves Saint Laurent fresh on the collective memory), but very American in their stylized presentation. And who could forget those infamous advertisements with the naked bodies standing atop a hammock in black and white, shot by Bruce Weber? Ann Gottlieb, creative director for Klein fragrances and responsible for countless commercial hits for countless brands, had demanded "sexy with a touch of raunchiness" and possibly, as it has been argued, got the balance reversed. But that's not a bad thing.

The person credited with the creation of Obsession for Men, a certain Robert Slattery, unaccredited for anything else, got the raunchy and sexy in spades by relying on the tension between trustworthy materials: mandarin on top contrasting with warm amber on the bottom, nutmeg and cinnamon spicing it up, giving a certain piquancy which recalls a man-made space somewhere in the late 80s, early 90s; gregarious, evening-time, where people smoke and drink freely, and where confident men in lots of aftershave prowl for the casual encounters of the evening, their own clean sweat mingled with the adrenaline of the flirting. It was a happier time, a less controlled time, and a time when anything seemed possible. Or, perhaps, it was a time when we felt ready for anything.

Obsession for Men in its current format feels watered down and lacking that density which sealed its unmistakable presence, but it still is a great trip down memory lane.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Hermes Eau d'Hermes: Thoughts on Revisiting a Classic

Choosing an Hermès fragrance is, to me, an embarrasement of riches. The brand is among my very favorites for several reasons; most important of all is that their axiom of effortless luxury is very simpatico to my own aesthetic values. I love so many of their fragrant canon...In the end if put into the position to choose, I have to distill the exercise into a search for clarity. In that field, two clear contestants came head and shoulders above: Terre d'Hermès and the original Eau d'Hermès. After all the latter is advertised as being "l'eau de la terre d'Hermès depuis 1951" (i.e. Hermes's essence since 1951)

They're both unexacting on the wearer, feeling like lucid impressionistic creations that manage to be abstract without coming across as maudlin, nor conspicuous. In the ensuing bras de fer the progenitor rose triumphant in those stakes, even though the child, Terre, is stellar on its own merits. Eau d'Hermès for the ride then!

This old creation from 1951 was a composition by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, and since such a huge part of the Hermès modern legacy has been composed by Roudnitska's magnificent pupil, master perfumer Jean Claude Ellena, it was long due to pay respects to the fountain that brought forth such scented marvels. Additionally, Ellena has overseen the perfectly decent modern reformulation of the vintage composition with his customary attention to detail; a feat in today's world of watered-down reformulations that leave new perfumephiliacs in a query as to what we, rather more seasoned aficionados, see in the monuments of the past.

Eau d'Hermès is predominantly a fresh and the same time sensuous scent for both sexes, with emphasis on both qualities. Nowadays these might seem mutually exclusive, but they definitely are not by default; it's culturally imposed to view them so. The inspiration couldn't have been more Hermès if it tried: the soft insides of a luxurious leather handbag where a spicy citrus mingles with the odor of fine leather. The important addition of cardamom, a "cold" spice which pairs exceptionally well with both leather and citruses, and which gives a cool feeling of freshness alongside the spiciness, is pre-empting several of Ellena's spicy arpeggios, inclusive or exclusive of Hermès fragrances.

At the time of writing, Eau d'Hermes has ONLY 4 PEOPLE naming it as a signature scent on a popular database of millions of viewers, which I think must be a record for a scent from a major fragrance house. It's high time more people talked about Eau d'Hermès and tried it on for good measure. I hope my update accomplishes that and ensures a continued production of this silent strong type of a scent.
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