Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Guerlain Apres l'Ondee: fragrance review & a bit of perfume history

Lots of scents with heliotrope pose as "almond" or "marzipan" or "powder with tonka". These are all scents with a kinship that runs deeper than initially thought of, like matryoshka dolls that peel one after the other, each one revealing a smaller version of the same idea. Après l'Ondée by Guerlain feels like the great grandmother of them all, if only judging by chronology, if not adherence to the exact formula from 1906.


The synthesized material that is dosed into compositions that take heliotrope as a starting point is quite strong and can be an overwhelming molecule to work with if one isn't careful and discreet. One of the first major fragrances to make judicious use of it, in a light enough composition, so as to wear it inconspicuously, was Après l'Ondée by Guerlain. "Ça se porte léger" (this wears lightly) is the motto behind the concept of these Guerlain creations that aim to offer gouaches rather than oil paintings. In fact the composition was largely inspired by a former Guerlain fragrance, Voilette de Madame, which according to fragrant Guerlain lore served as the fragrance to scent a lady's veil. In those times of the cusp between the 19th and 20th century perfume worn on the skin was considered rather scandalous. It recalled les grandes horizontales, kept women of the demimonde like La Bella Otero or Marie Duplessis. Lightness was therefore a requisite for proper ladies; never mind that the subtle animalic undercurrent of Voilette de Madame is antithetical to our modern scrubbed down notion of how a perfume behaves.

I personally find Après l'Ondée a rather quiet fragrance, almost timid, with a sweetish air that is not immediately thought of as feminine (quite different than the airs that current feminines exhibit!), with lots of heliotropin to stand for cassie, which is the predominant element. Some heliotrope scents also recall cherry pie or lilac and powder, but not Après l'Ondée. Even the almond is not particularly identified as almond, it's a haze of lightly warmed, blurred, hazy notes.

The violets, like you might have read in evocations of gardens "after the shower" (the literal translation of its French name), are quite fleeting in this Guerlain scent, especially in more recent incarnations which are warmer and cuddlier than the older ones. The anisic note on the top note is also a brilliant addition (created through the use of benzylaldehyde, it would be recreated more forcibly in L'heure Bleue some years later) since it brings a chill cooling off the first spray and balances the warmer, almond paste flavor of the heliotrope in the heart.

Après l'Ondée is also rather less known than L'Heure Bleue, so even Guerlain wearers on the street might not identify it right off, which is always a good thing in my books; it would also obliterate your qualms about it being perceived as solely feminine.

Related reading on PerfumeShrine:

The Guerlain Series: perfume reviews and history of the French House
Guerlain Re-issues 4 Archived Fragrances for their Heritage Collection
Guerlain Chypre 53: an unknown photo-chypre, perfume history
The history of the Guerlinade accord and the modern Guerlinade fragrance

Friday, September 21, 2018

Christian Dior Hypnotic Poison: fragrance review and musings

The original formula of Hypnotic Poison by Dior was presented in a red rubber bottle (much like the 1990s Bvlgari Black fragrance, there was something about rubber in 1998, it seems), and I was expecting something similar to Bvlgari's potion at the time. The fetishy matte of the bottle was a nice touch; it felt odd in the palm of one's hand, as if it wouldn't "roll" enough. The smell nevertheless is what initially frightened me. The bitter almond was too strong for me, too medicinal, the wrong side of medicinal actually. This was not the medicinal chypre perfume of my memories of Clinique Aromatics Elixir (perfume review HERE), which I adored even as a child. After all, I'm no shy violet when it comes to Strange Smells. It felt heavily vanillic with something suffocating too in the mix; later on I discovered the culprit was the combo with coconut.

credit: suzumechan at deviant.art.com via

Coconut is forever tied in my mind with those horrible dangling trees that cabs used to come with. Back then when I was a child and we used cabs for travelling across the country from time to time, smoking IN the car, and with a child IN the car no less, was not frowned upon. The drivers therefore used to pack the most powerful scents available in the dangling trees car freshener horror: either coconut or vanilla which are weapons of mass destruction in the heat of Greek summer. Needless to say the memory of nausea follows me to this day haunting coconut scents ever since.

On the other hand, Hypnotic Poison is intensely powdery, a quality associated with dryness and grooming (more on powdery fragrances HERE). It therefore evokes a sense of pampering and cleanness, highly appreciated in warmer climates. Hypnotic Poison is a huge commercial success in both France and Greece, for what it's worth. What made it a definitive best-seller in Europe, and especially the souther countries (Greece, Spain, France...) is the fact that in a completely novel way, it reweaves the basic idea of grooming: that things should be inedible. It sounds contradictory when the main component is actually a bitter almond note, recalling liqueurs like Amaretto, but the intense powder in Dior's Hypnotic Poison suggests grooming and not stuffing one's mouth with pastries made of marzipan paste. Maybe a very naughty talcum powder to powder one's latex skirt before venturing out night-clubbing? The thing is, it works. Exceptionally so.

Hypnotic Poison is a perfect fragrance for fall and winter. It's seductive, yet not easy to decipher. Men seem to love it. Perfume lovers wink at you knowingly when you mention it. It's full of character. It's also approachable because of the almond, vanilla and coconut. It's also too effing much sometimes!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese: fragrance review

It's tough to do a good melon note, if only because in hindsight the overuse of Calone in the 1990s has tampered with our own perception of the natural object. Melon of course cannot be distilled, being mostly water in itself, so an approximation is in order. Some perfumers excel where others fail. For me, the definitive addition of melon which swerves the whole composition into something amazing comes in the top chord of Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese.


The legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska is the mastermind behind this fragrance which shares many facets with his masterful vintage Diorella. Roudnitska always brought space in his fragrant compositions, a very legible melody that sang and sang in Mozartian clarity. In other famous fragrances of his the fruit serves as the opening salve to the inkier and more serious aspects of the formula, such as the plums and hesperides in Rochas Femme and Eau Fraiche for Dior. But in Le Parfum de Therese it is the predominant melon, with its succulent, and at the same time not too sweet tinge which rounds out the violet heart, seguing to the plushness of beloved plum and leathery notes. Although Roudnitska is of Russian extraction, his composition displays a very French flair at looking on femininity; it's a little bit sweet, but also fresh, and it's a little bit dirty, but also quite polished.

In conclusion Le Parfum de Therese is both retro and decidedly modern and stands as the perfect timeless scent for those who want to possess a tiny bit of a legend; after all Roudnitska composed it with great care for his own beloved wife. Aren't we lucky that Frederic Malle salvaged the formula and offered it to us.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Pascal Morabito Or Noir: fragrance review

There's a wondrous line in Sherlock BBC S2E1 (A Scandal in Belgravia) when Irene Adler marvels at the height of the cheekbones of our eponymous hero, saying "Look at those cheekbones, I could cut myself slapping that face... would you like me to try?". This is in essence the, well, essence of Or Noir, the vintage fragrance by French jeweller Pascal Morabito; a fragrance so sharp and juttingly beautiful, one could cut themselves trying to slap it into submission.

Morabito is famous for his "free floating diamond" launched in 1970, a cube that contained a simple, clear cut diamond, that looked as if it was not suspended, but floating in space. Ten years later he launched the perfume equivalent in Or Noir, the fragrance. Diamonds are sharp and all, and scents do float in space, get it?

Or Noir the fragrance oozes with urban elegance. It's a man-made scent, it's impossible to imagine this aroma in the countryside, or coming from a natural source that you can put your finger on. The mix  of notes, with blackcurrant bud in the top notes to give that tangy feeling and the inky impression of bitter oak moss in the base, is not unheard of, but its aloofness speaks of supreme confidence in wielding those slaps expertly. It's the scent of a professional. The heart of the Morabito's Or Noir is comprised of womanly notes, green florals like narcissus and lily of the valley with budding gardenia, notes which pair supremely with chypre perfumes and leather fragrances.

The magic of the perfume comes from delineating its lineage. This owes a heavy debt to iconoclast Germaine Cellier's infamous Bandit perfume for Piguet from the 1940s, as well as Bernard Chant's masterpieces for Lauder and for Madame Grès in the 1960s and 1970s. But it's not a copy, rather the end of a prodigious line. If you ever happen upon a vintage bottle, don't let it pass you by; getting a cut pounding on this prey is very worth trying.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Manos Gerakinis Immortelle: Treackly Burnt Sugar - fragrance review

The name Immortelle comes from the golden-hued plant of everlasting flowers (immortelle in French) or helichrysum. The scent of immortelle absolute in its raw state is difficult to describe, somewhat similar to sweet fenugreek and curcuma, spices used in Indian curry, with a maple-like facet. Quite logical, if you consider the fact that the substance contains alpha, beta and gamma curcumene. Manos Gerakinis, a niche Greek line that is aiming ambitiously and delivers in sillage and lasting power most admirably, tried to harness exactly this precious oil, the one from everlasting flowers.


A cross between burnt sugar and dry straw is a rather valiant effort at conveying immortelle's nuanced profile, but the more the immortelle oil warms up on the skin, the more it reveals human-like, supple nuances of honeyed notes, waxy, intimate... It pairs well in chypres and oriental fragrances, where it is placed next to labdanum, clove, citruses, chamomille, lavender and rose essences.

In Manos Gerakinis's Immortelle niche offering, the immortelle accord takes on a sweet and deep aspect, with spicy accents, a dark gourmand. The cinnamon is pronounced, making me passingly think of a Middle Eastern dessert carré. The result is resinous without becoming heavy, nor suffocating, nevertheless. Benzoin, a resin with caramelic aspects, pairs with the rustic roughness of immortelle that recalls the Corsican maquis and Greek insular landscape.

There are some ways in which Immortelle reminds me of Goutal's classic Sables (probably the reference point for immortelle scents, for daring to be the first one seriously highlighting it) and of Serge Lutens's Jeux de Peau with its whiff of toasted bread and its subtly caramelized notes. People who love L de Lolita Lempicka and Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur might also find in Immortelle a trusty ally for their moments of daytime sensuous abandon.

The Manos Gerakinis brand has an official website by that name, where all the shopping options are mentioned clearly with international presence in the Middle East and Russia.

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