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.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme: fragrance review

Paco Rabanne has been the green giant looming on the bath sill of many a bathroom in my country of origin in the 1970s and 1980s. This classic fougère has marked a generation, alongside best-sellers Drakkar Noir and Aramis, not to forget Azzaro pour Home; with a scent that has come to characterize maleness. In the case of Paco Rabanne pour Homme the underlying brutishness is there, but the sophisticated veneer and the hint of sweetness makes it friendlier than any of the others.

Like any classic fougère the abstractness of Paco Rabanne pour Homme tries to replicate a feeling, an impression, rather than an actual smell. The fern from which the fragrance family takes the name (in homage to the 19th century Fougère Royale fragrance by Houbigant discussed above) is more like the green tentacles of soapy leatheriness of the barbershop than anything anyone would actually meet in a forest. Ferns don't smell much after all. The fougère is a man-made smell rather than an approximation of the natural.

The soapy overlay of Paco Rabanne pour Homme makes it exceptionally attuned to that prerequisite of any masculine fragrance that aims for wide appeal: a sense of cleanliness, though not entirely ersatz thanks to the familiar recollection of lavender essence; but at the same time a man-made product for sure. It's an entirely inedible smell, alternatively cool and warm, gaining warmth in the drydown thanks to an ambery note, always forceful despite the hint of honeyed softness, the hallmark of any good representative in the fougère genre. Some things are not to be trifled with.

The newer version alas does not live up to the old one, but it's still something that needs to be visited in order to appreciate how steadfast a classic fougère can be. It's how fathers should smell like, a scent of dependency and safety.
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