Thursday, August 15, 2019

Points of Contrition: What Makes a Modern Fragrance Tick?


 Several fragrances flummox the shelves of department stores nowadays, more than at any other time in history; greed is a sin. But few of those survive or make their presence memorable enough to warrant having fans mention them after their afterglow has subsided. I began wondering: what makes a contemporary fragrance tick? What makes for its saving grace?

I made a list of some of the mainstream perfumes of the last few years which really stick and explain the reasons why, in my opinion, they deserve their well-earned redemption. 

Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum is unquestionably among the finest releases of its time; if not the best, then definitely among the top 5 best mainstream fragrance releases of the last decade. The densely fruity compote of plums recalls fruity chypres of yore, in the frame of Femme and Mitsouko, while the leathery base lends refinement and self-confidence in a way that's sensuous and alluring.  
There are four key notes in Bottega Veneta's Eau de Parfum: jasmine sambac, Brazilian pink peppercorn, bergamot, and Indian patchouli; not particularly "dirty", but richly mature. The citrus and leather are recognizable from the start, while the perfume warms increasingly with candied plum notes fanning the floral heart of jasmine, on a resinous backdrop of caramelic notes and earthy oak moss. Bottega Veneta gains in patchouli strength, nuttier and sweeter, boosted by the humming leather, the longer it stays on. By no means a powerhouse, but the sillage and tenacity are undeniably very good, always creating that spark of dreamy wonder from strangers and friends alike that is the hallmark of a great scent: "which perfume are you wearing?"

Twilly by Hermes, 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. 
The fragrance looks like a kaleidoscope of green, floral, and even earthy and woody nuances, passing before your nostrils in quick succession, as if buoyed by the golden light of a glorious afternoon full of grace when everything seems to happily melt unto itself.
Twilly by Hermes doesn't remind me of any other fragrance I know, which is admirable in today's market, and it's witty enough, light enough to appeal to younger women without appearing condescending in the least.


Nomade by Chloé is a specimen of "everything old is new again". A total surprise, probably the best mainstream release of 2018 and for all the right reasons: It is different than anything else on the roster right now, it lasts exceptionally well, it projects in a civilized but definitely perceptible way, and it unites the past with the future thanks to its alliance of an old school concept executed in an achingly contemporary way.
 
What starts in Nomade Eau de Parfum as a fragrance to suggest traveling forth in place, is actually a scent to take you traveling back & forth in time. The retro inclusion of a significant portion of oakmoss-smelling materials, some of them cutting edge modern analogous stuff amassed by Quentin Bisch, makes for an "a-ha" moment.

Nomade not only smells, but also lasts, like perfumes of yore, with a powdery and earthy dry down, in that it has the backbone and solidity of older fragrances, yet it's transparent on top and airy, the way contemporary fragrances project. Most young women would nowadays find it rather masculine smelling, but I admit I find it intriguing and hopeful. The opening with its tingling note of hesperidia and peppery jolt is full of motion. But it's the alliance of the apricoty-peachy heart note, which is the marvel that causes the original Eau de Parfum concentration to make me sit up and notice in particular. 
There is the good news that Nomade has been updated in recent months with an Eau de Τoilette version of the already critically acclaimed eau de parfum.

 A floral fragrance is usually associated with romantic feelings and more prim personalities who personify all that is stereotypically feminine. Cartier, who fairly recently brought out Carat, is a very classy brand and their woman perfumer-in-house, Mathilde Laurent, is anything but stereotypical, so her latest feminine fragrance might seem like a prim and proper offering, but it is much more than simply that. This shiny little gem of a bottle hides a very fetching floral fragrance that would satisfy those after a cool-type floral with softness and ladylike projection.

Cartier Carat is a soft fragrance (the way Baiser Vole by Cartier also is), but manages to project in a very piercing, prismatic manner that unfolds the floral notes one by one, with lily and hyacinth predominant on my skin.


The scent of Estee Lauder Sensuous is also rather clever, even if not particularly ground-breaking, but again balances all the ingredients and chords in an effect that would make you feel, like one reviewer said, "the victim of your own fragrance snobbery." We tend to bypass mainstream releases in favor of niche, and yet there are some mainstream releases which make us wonder what we have been neglecting, or viewing with unwarranted contempt, and Sensuous is one of those scents.
 
Sensuous was moving the boundaries from already well known Estee Lauder floral notes towards an opulent oriental woodsy-amber concept, to praise the beauty and sensuality of women all ages, a decade back.
Lightly spicy and quite creamy, the original Sensuous gives me a warm, soft, just right impression of lightly scented skin, in a way paying homage to the creations of Lutens (though less spicy-sweet), but also winking in the direction of Tom Ford's personal favorite Santal Blush, which is also a very creamy and smooth skin scent if you let it dry down. The sandalwood is what is most prominent on my skin, totally a creative attempt at giving that old mainstay of perfumery a valiant effort, but quite effective and very indulgent; it's skin-like at the same time as it's clean and polished, perhaps with a distant whiff of smokiness in the background.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Guerlain Cuir Intense (Les Absolus d'Orient): fragrance review

For the latest release of the Les Absolus d'Orient collection, Cuir Intense, in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser creates a bewitching fragrance with the powerful leather note, while the osmanthus flower brings a sweet and apricot facet. The Virginian cedarwood adds structure to the deep and mysterious creation with a woody note that sublimates and unveils the diversity between the raw materials.

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 Those who expect a very suave training-bra leather, in the manner of Guerlain's previous and quite popular vanillic Cuir Beluga, will be astonished by the bite of Cuir Intense, although the name should have warned them somewhat. The leather facet is much drier, tar-like, with a spicy undertone that is cinnamic-clove-y in nature. The beautiful apricoty note of osmanthus reinforces the leathery impression in Cuir Intense and smothers the harshness in confident arpegios of projection. Much like Chanel's emblematic Cuir de Russie, there is a floral note that recalls jasmine-like tonalities in the heart, but Guerlain's is overall thicker. What is also important is a facet of violet-like undercurrent, if I'm not mistaken, before, or rather in tandem with, the woody-musky backdrop. I found that an intial sampling of Guerlain's Cuir Intense lasted very well on my skin and exceptionally well on a blotter, probably thanks to the intensity of the musks in the formula.

 It is very much on point in the Absolu series, as it translates well the concept of a dense oriental elixir, the way we Westerners imagine those things through, no doubt, rose-tinted glasses (or shall I say "noir-tinted glasses"?) Most would find it leans more masculine than feminine, although as with all the fragrances in the line, Cuir Intense is aimed at both sexes. It's certainly interesting enough to warrant sampling for all Guerlain fans and then some.

Serge Lutens Sarrasins: fragrance review


The beast cradles the jasmine vine in the garden and its salty-dirty stench of its hide, as well as the warmth of its fur, only serve to enhance the character of this not so innocent blossom. Smelling Sarrasins I'm momentarily reminded of horse saddles, India ink (no doubt aided in my allusion to it by the deep purple of the mysterious liquid in the bell jar bottle,) ripe fruit that sweetens the breath like apricot pulp, camphor, everything and the kitchen sink; but it's all an illusion.  

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The jasmine is laced with spice, notes of cardamom, star anise and cinnamon, which all sounds like a natural course for Lutens, wedding the Arabian cuisine condiments & spices to single materials of his liking, like he did with Chypre Rouge and Rousse. But truth be told, spices are only alluded to in Sarrasins, with a pong of sweaty cumin and a cool mantle of cardamom, while jasmine clutches them fiercely.  Essentially, no pun intended, Sarrasins is a big jasmine fragrance, natural essence off-notes of petrol and all, molested against the wall by animalic notes: the salty-dirty pong of civet, the skanky smell of musk, even a tamer musk which silkens out the feline quality of this superb scent.

Always, always, in the best creations by the tiny Frenchman, whom we love to affectionately call "uncle Serge," we're dealing with Beauty and the Beast, to reference that other Frenchman, Jean Cocteau. The beast cradles the jasmine vine in the garden and we dearly hope that small children have reverted to their beds for a nightmare-free nap.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Gucci Bloom Gocce di Fiori (2019): fragrance review

The interpretation of tuberose floralcy in Gucci Bloom Gocce di Fiori is beautifully lighter, cooler and altogether more stereotypically "pretty" than all the previous editions. Gocce is plural for goccia in Italian, the perfume's name meaning "drops of flowers." And it is!


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The honeysuckle impression is quite pronounced in this flanker fragrance, reminding me of one of my favorite honeysuckle fragrances, the extremely cute Petals by Lili Bermuda Perfumery, a burst of refreshing, nectarous, piercingly sweet blossoms floating in the suspended air of a mild springtime afternoon.

A lighter and fresher variant of the original "vintage" floral perfume, Gocce di Fiori brings an atmosphere of the beginning of spring. Instead of the classical scented composition of the top, middle and base notes, Gocce di Fiori opens with trio of highly concentrated noble ingredients: jasmine bud, natural tuberose absolute and Chinese honeysuckle flower (Rangoon Creeper).



The fragrance circulates as an Eau de Toilette, as compared with Nettare di Fiori which is Eau de Parfum Intense and the original Gucci Bloom which is Eau de Parfum concentration.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Gucci Bloom Nettare di Fiori (2018): fragrance review


"Intensely sensual and feminine, Gucci Bloom Nettare di Fiori celebrates the intimate and authentic character of a woman. Rose and Osmanthus flower resonate in an enigmatic, woodier blend together with the notes of the original Gucci Bloom." This is what the company says about Gucci Bloom Nettare Di Fiori Eau de Parfum Intense (2018) composed by perfumer Alberto Morillas who developed both the original Gucci Bloom and Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori.
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Gucci Bloom Nettare Di Fiori is a sensual and darker interpretation of the original, with additional notes of rose, ginger, osmanthus, and patchouli. Don't take that darker claim too seriously, now, though. Gucci Bloom Nettare di Fiori is admittedly not as airy and sentimental as the lighter interpretations of Acqua di Fiori and Gocce di Fiori (for which you will have to read on to find out what it's about), but it's not really sinister, nor dangerous. The concept remains a modern and feminine patchouli-sprinkled scent of white flowers with a good intersection of a prune-peachy base chord with a salty musky hint, that might have been extracted from an older fragrance, but not quite. The balance leans into the contemporary, with only a hint of retro.

Although both tuberose and patchouli share mentholated facets, and the tuberose in the original Gucci Bloom is certainly mentholated on top, not a blanket statement for all tuberose fragrances in the market, in Nettare di Fiori the effect is mild and subdued. There is no risk of alienating anyone with the suspicion of mothballs emanating from your clothes.

Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori (2018): fragrance review

The funny thing with tuberose is that in its complex glory it's a blossom that hides an intensely green facet. Its top note is a mentholated cool blast of frosty air to surprise your sinuses, before the meaty and juicy facets reveal themselves. How could this green element be extended from the original Gucci Bloom into a lighter interpretion?

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Alberto Morillas thought about this and confidently injected a galbanum resin top note which braces without cutting. The slightly fruity and at once ammoniac feel of cassis should round out the green in a sour-sweet note which provides the characteristic freshness in Bloom Acqua di Fiori. The fragrance sweetens after the opening, comfortably retreating into the familiar white floral bouquet of the original.

Gucci Bloom Acqua Di Fiori is therefore a greener interpretation of the original.The perfumer took the original delicately spicy-floral composition of tuberose, jasmine and Chinese honeysuckle (Rangoon creeper), the red-flowered vine that premiered in perfume design, and made it fresher by introducing green accords. The drydown is woody and musky, made to convey warmth and depth. It is said to be an invigorating and radiant, lightly green and floral fragrance of highly concentrated ingredients.

Top notes: galbanum leaf, cassis bud
Heart: tuberose, jasmine, rangoon creeper
Base: sandalwood, musk
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