Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Absinthe Series 4: Fragrances of Anisic Goodness

Today we continue our project of organising fragrances with anise inspired by one of the herbs that aromatize absinthe and offer a distinction between those who draw upon aniseed and those who explore facets of the chinese spice star anise. The two are not interchangeable:

"Aniseed is a member of the parsley family and native to the Eastern Mediterranean. Nowadays it grows in all warm climates. Anethole is the oil that accounts for the distinctive sweet-licorice taste. Both the leaves and the seeds have this flavoring, which is used in breads, cakes, and confections in parts of Europe and the Middle East, in curry and seafood dishes in India and neighboring countries, in various dishes in Southeast Asia, and as the flavoring of such alcoholic drinks as the French pastis and Greek ouzo.[...]Star anise is the fruit of a small evergreen tree native to southwest China, and now also grown in Japan and Southeast Asia. The plant puts out a small star-shaped fruit with (generally) eight points, and a seed is contained in each of the points. Star anise can be used whole as a flavoring, its seeds can be used as a flavoring, and both can be ground. It is the dominant flavor in Chinese five-spice powder. It has been used in Asia to flavor pork and chicken, in teas, and as a seasoning.[...]Like aniseed, its flavor comes primarily from the anethole oil, but it is considered more bitter than aniseed".
~Through Ochef.com

Scents with Anise and/or Licorice:

*Aimez-moi by Caron: A violet fragrance on a powdery vanillic backdrop, it profits from the slightest touch of anisic piquancy to lift it from the usual.

*Alpine Lily by Crown: Anise leaves over a floral composition, resulting in a fresh and young interpretation. Very "clean".

*Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens (nose Chris Shledrake): This back to the roots of oriental perfumery legend has the interlay of various herbs, such as bay, oregano and anise which give it a dusty, kitchen cupboard smell that deviates from the crowd-pleaser little ambers out there. Individual and unsurpassed it has been likened to a woman's sexual juices. You have been warned!

*Anice by Etro (nose Jacques Flori): The success of Anice is that it maintains its headstrong persistence in smelling anisic till the very end. According to Luca Turin the heart uses cis-jasmone (which has a smell of fennel and contributes to natural jasmine aroma) along with fennel seed and a macrocyclic musk that also has an anisic ambrette character. Whatever! It's a lovely fragrance if you yearn for that liquor-like note.

*Anisia Bella in Aqua Allegoria line by Guerlain: Another single-minded fragrance that focuses on smelling mostly like anise and a rather pleasant example of the Aqua Allegoria line before all the flavours of chewing gum took over.

*Après l'ondée by Guerlain (nose Jacques Guerlain): What is it that makes this so nostalgic, trembling with delight after the shower which its name hints at? Is it its heliotropin soft powderiness married to melancholic iris like a smooth-faced Ophelia contemplating the joys of the river? No, it's probably what is more culinary and which confirms that reputation of Guerlain as a grand chef of French perfumery: provencal herbs and spices of which anise is more pronounced give a glimpse of the sun forming a rainbow over dewy petals. A 1906 classic.

*Acqua e Zucchero by Profumum: A scent that one would be hard pressed to detect anise, it combines orange blossom to berries and vanilla to render a sweet fragrance. The slight hint of anise/licorice is a welcome inclusion, but the whole is too close to Pink Sugar to justify the price.

*Black Annis by BPAL: In the familiar tone of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab scents, this is seriously strong and pungent with the eponymous aroma and what seems like catty civet. Part of the Diabolus series with notes of "damp cave lichen and oak leaf with a hint of vetiver, civet and anise".

*Confetto by Profumum: Very sweet almond fragrance with a touch of anise. I am amazed though that it demands such high prices for something that Hypnotic Poison or even Jour de Fete does better.

*Duel by Annick Goutal (nose Annick Goutal, Isabel Doyen): One of the more individual fragrances in a line of limpid and lucid watercolours, it is a masculine with an original touch.

*Etra by Etro: A soft, aromatic composition of woods and florals, very ethereal and rather soapy on top, more shady later on with spice and cedar. The whole reminds me of eating fruity pie while sipping ouzo, which is as strange a gastronomic combination as any, but somehow works: I have seriously mellowed on the fruity note of it, I was much more dismissive before. All those horrible fruity florals out to compare must have helped.

*Hypnôse by Lancôme (noses Thierry Wasser and Annick Menardo): For something that is so obviously inspired by the recent gourmand crop following into the footsteps of Angel a touch of anise is unexpected but not enough to redeem it in my eyes. Too derivative.

*Hypnotic poison by Dior (nose Annick Menanrdo): I recall the first time I smelled it with dread: a spectator in front of me had ruined an exceptional Genet performance in an art-house theatre one evening a long time ago with the cough suryp fumes emanating from her heavy sweater. I had thus shunned it for years. Finally, a litle while ago I tested the eau de toilette in a store prepared to hate it and finally it dawned on me. It's trippy, yes, but oh so good! The anisic touch with the bitter powder of coumarin makes it soar.

*Insolence by Guerlain (nose Maurice Roucel): The old-fashioned take of L'Heure Bleue, merely dressed as lamb with a strobo light on top. Everything exterior belies its contents and I for one liked it from the very first.

*Iris Pallida 2007 by L’artisan (nose Anne Flipo): A woody iris for a very demanding price, encased like a precious vintage wine, it uses anise to highlight the dry softness of the rest of the composition.

*Jasmine de Nuit by The Different Company (nose Céline Ellena): A dirty, spicy jasmine fragrance which mesmerises by its feral power and animalic prowl. It begs to be taken on a date with naughty intentions. All this and a touch of anisic goodness too!

*Jil Sander No.4 by Jil Sander: I always liked this deep oriental from almost 2 decades ago. I don't know why I relied on decants and minis all this time. It projects, it envelops, it brings about questions as to what I am wearing.

*Krizia by Krizia: A great chyprish fragrance that is seriously underrated. A touch of anise with all that cool moss makes it supremely elegant and confident.

*L'heure bleue by Guerlain (nose Jacques Guerlain): The archetypal anisic floral, it poses an enigma for serious perfume lovers: to wear or not to wear? It's an undisputed work of art, very characteristic of both its times and the artistry of Guerlain. However I could never since find the exact formulation that made me appreciate it about 15 years ago. Which is a pity: nothing comes close to what I had smelled that glorious afternoon strolling around the perfume boutiques of my city, with all the elation of my own hard-earned money in my pocket.

*Lolita Au masculin by Lolita Lempicka: The masculine interpretation of the feminine Lolita Lempicka fragrance with a touch of violets and for me even better. It is succulent but restrained in its sugared stakes and it proves to be extremely wearable through its licorice kept in blood-sugar check.

*Lolita Lempicka and Lolita Midnight (nose Annick Menardo): One of the few fragrances in the wake of Angel to leave their own mark. Intensely liquorice-like, herbal in its pungency and with a gorgeous bottle the shape of an enchanted poisoned apple it has become a little cult of its own with a fairy tale advertising campaign. The limited edition Midnight bottle is in darker bluish hues and completely covetable. They also do some of the most darling limited editions sets every once in a while.

*LouLou by Cacharel (nose Jean Guichard): A great underrated overly sweet fragrance hailing from the 80s, heavy on cassis (a synthetic so characteristic of that decade) over plums and heliotrope, it has an aniseed top note which gives it a piquant salty-sweet air there for a second (like those bands of licorice that refuse to budge), tantalising you to smell it again and again. It helps that it evokes so influential feminine icons.

*Mandragore by Annick Goutal (nose Annick Goutal, Isabel Doyen): To me it's not particularly evocative of dark medieval practices of uprooting a magical root under the feet of hanged men. It is mostly bergamot to my nose, although a good rendition, no doubt. A slight anisic touch is very welcome and I can see this being a great choice for warm weather for both sexes.

*Perfect Twilight by Creative Scentualisation (nose Sarah Horwitz) : Violets sprinkled with aniseed. No doubt inspired by L'Heure Bleue and Apres l'ondee, but simpler, more streamlined and ergo less of an art work.

*Pink Sugar by Aquolina: The brilliance of such a juvenile concoction lies in the details. A strong liquorice-like accent on what is basically ripe strawberries buried into the plush of burnt cotton candy reverts one to a mental state of My Little Pony, but if you're above average IQ anyway it will be seen as a terribly clever turn!

*Piper Negrum by Lorenzo Villoresi (nose Lorenzo Villoresi): Mostly strong pepper to my nose with a touch of anise for good measure. It has its fans and I like Villoresi's use of pepper in his other fragrances, but this is too thick for me.

*Poison by Dior (nose Edouard Flechier): A classic oriental encased in a poisonous apple of Cinderella tale bottle, it is greatly responsible along with other usual suspects of so many people's distrust of perfume. And yet it is a grand fruity oriental which uses anise to reinforce the spicy accord which juxtaposes the rich plum, tuberose and the berries and make it an grenade for olfactory amunition.

*Pomegranate Anise Fresh Index: Like its name suggests, two notes, one fragrance. An aquatic fruity with a liquorice touch due to aniseed and weirdly enough a grapefruit top. Index describes this fragrance as 'a crisp winter kiss'. I think not.

*Quand vient la pluie by Guerlain (nose Jean Paul Guerlain): Tied to the tradition of L'Heure Bleue, more than the similarly named After the Shower (QVLP means "when rain comes") it draws upon the anisic floral composition of the former in an effort to remodernize it with a fresh lime top-note on a bed of heliotrope, iris and licorice. Lovely, if a little too sweet for me to become a signature.

*Raving by Etro: Spicy (with nutmeg) and sweet (a touch of coconut) with a salty and iodine aroma which makes it completely offbeat and unisex. It might also make a good substitute for the intense spicy oriental Kenzo Jungle L'elephant.

*Rose d'argent by Rosine: An unconventional rose fragrance with a cool anisic touch and spicy geranium notes over warmer amber. It takes some getting used to, much like Caron's Or et Noir. The antithesis of cool and warm is magnificent to experience, like drinking a glass of water after chewing a cinnamon-mint gum.

*Shiso in Leaves Series by Comme Des Garçons: A trully bizarre, therefore typical CDG scent that recalls mint leaves on which animals have smeared their furry behinds. Cumin and anise dominate after the mint.

*Simply by Clinique: Roasted cereals without being too sweet with a touch of anise-bread just like local bakeries like to make. It was destined not to be a success.

*Tarot the Chariot by BPAL: Inspired by the deck of Tarot Cards, this represents the Chariot, which I am told represents the recognition of Karmic issues. I don't know if I have some of those, but sniffing fruity florals like this makes me think maybe I do. A touch of anise might save my unredeemed soul.

*Timbuktu by L’artisan (nose Bertrand Duchaufour): A wonderfully individual unisex woody with spices and incense, utilising the rare Indian essential oil Cypriol. I like how it interplays anisic tonalities in there and remains tremendously fresh while definitely redolent of human warmth.

*Yvresse by YSL (nose Sophia Grosjman): It's hard to imagine that formerly named Champagne came out in the aqueous 1990s: it's so loud! However among Grosjman's oeuvre, it's one of those who take a classic form (fruity chypre) and give it a modern twist that somehow smells contemporary. If only it came in a more diluted form, it would have been fab! As it is, it needs good spritz control.

Scents with star anise:

*Casanova 1725 by Histoire des parfums: Naming perfumes after historical personages, especially those who have a naughty reputation is a sure instigator of interest for Perfume Shrine. We succumbed and promptly ordered a sample of Casanova, after loving Marquis de Sade 1740 when exploring Leather scents. Casanova is surprisingly airy and delicate with "head notes of Italian bergamot and lemon, grapefruit, French armoise, lavender, tarragon, and rosemary; the heart notes of star anise, lavender, and geranium, and base notes of vanilla, sweet almond, sandalwood, cedar, and amber". Nice...

*Donna by Lorenzo Villoresi (nose Lorenzo Villoresi): A musky rose with a nail products top note, it is strangely pleasant, although a little sour perhaps at times. The musky background is very fetching to me, if a little standard.

*Energising Fragrance by Shiseido (nose Claudette Bernavis): A fresh spice accord that manages to be uplifting and -yes- energising. It's quite nice!

*Fire Opal by DSH (nose Dawn Spencer Hurwitz): One is at a loss regarding the sheer choice of DSH oils and fragrances. Someone sent me this sample and it registered as a gently spicy affair worth of inclusion in this line-up.

*Fraîche Badiane by Maître Parfumer et Gantier: If you want a cool, bright summery scent to wear under azure skies, this is very pleasant. Like drinking cool lemonade while snacking on star anise-flavored cookies after a hot day in the countryside.

*Iris Nobile By Aqua di Parma: This citrusy iris is one of the most elegant around and if you're bored with irises smelling like carrots, you should try this one. The star anise gives just a hint of warmth. I love it!

*Jean Paul Gaultier Classique (nose Jacques Cavallier): Drenched in orange blossom of the synthetic variety that can become cloying, it is backed by copious vanilla and musks and it makes me wonder why it has been such a best seller all these years. It does have a great advertising campaign though, which is so witty as to render the contents of lesser importance to the eyes of the public.

*Méchant Loup by L'artisan (nose Bertraand Duchaufour): A woody oriental for men with the unusual heart of hazelnut, only it doesn't marry it to chocolate to get the perfect Nutella. Which is a shame, if you ask me...A spicy touch comes from star anise.

*Navegar by L'artisan (nose Olivia Giacobetti): A watery interpretation that doesn't go for the usual marine notes. Fresh and reminiscent of the high seas, I could wear this in summer. Notes: red pepper, ginger, lime, absolute rum, black pepper, incense, star anise, juniper, cedar wood, guaiac wood.

*Rive Gauche pour homme by YSL (nose Jacques Cavallier): Purpotedly "a warm blend of bergamot, star anise and rosemary, centered around a masculine heart of soothing lavender, geranium leaves, and clove bud, spiked with modern essences of vetiver, patchouli and Gaiac wood." Now that the feminine is not as I remember, I could make friends with this one, despite its whiff of cigarette smoke. Or is it because of it?

*Un parfum d'ailleurs et fleurs by The Different Company (nose Céline Ellena): I had reviewed it among its sister scents ending on the note that "the whole is inspired by a French style garden which if you know anything about gardening you will know is about submitting nature to man's will; although the moniker of the company is talking about an ode to the virginal purity and the tentative voluptuousness of nature". It's a pleasant citrusy floral with a subtle touch.

*Very Irresistible and Very Irresistible Sensual by Givenchy: For some reason I remain sorely unimpressed with the synthetic rosiness of both fragrances. It's good that the spiciness of star anise makes a brief appearence but does it suffice to save to day? The Sensual version adds strawberry with what seems like patchouli. I didn't need this and neither do you.

Painting Old Absinthe House (1933) by Guy Pène du Bois and Paris Rainy Days by Gustave Caillebotte, both courtesy of wikimedia commons. Pic of L'heure bleue ad through parfum de pub and of Mandragore bottle through Annick Goutal site.


  1. Just wow Helg; this is the ultimate list for all those Absinthe/aniseed/star anise lovers. I love what you had to say about Lolita Lempicka; for years I hear people compare it to Angel when their chemical does not share anything similar in scent, nice to see it recognized as the unique gourmand it is. L'Heure Bleue is a fragrance I can admire but I can never wear, brings out sadness every time I wear it. Piper Nigrum- not necessarily I scent I am in love with but I admire a lot. Pink Sugar- I really do actually like it, I'm just way too embarrassed to get a bottle. Poison- bizarrely I like this grape juice laced tuberose. And ditto on Very Irresistable. But I have found my best appreciation of aniseed and star anise is in cooking (never pastis). Aniseed is that gorgeous element in pain d'epice that gives the bread a marshmallow like undertone and I absolutely love the use of it in savory dished. Star Anise really does work wonders with the sweetness of pork.

  2. Thank you dear Jen for your wonderful comments and compliments :-)

    Lolita is quite individual: I don't find it derivative of Angel, although realistically such a perfume brief wouldn't have been given if Angel hadn't been a success before.
    I also have trouble wearing L'heure Bleue: no less so because I can never find the one version that appealed on my skin. I savour a little bottle of it for its own sake.

    Aniseed and star anise are magical in cooking: we have aniseed bread and cookies here (I sometimes make my own) and they are wonderfully fragrant. And I love star anise in pork: that's a classic! We have many interests in common it seems :-)

  3. Could be because we are both interested in History, I just recently graduated with a BA in History and now I am working on my Masters in the Library and Information Sciences (I'm wanting to go into archivist work).

  4. Could very well be!! Congrats on your Bachelor and good luck on the Masters!

  5. Maria B.18:50

    Helg, I'm sorry you can't wear the gorgeous L'Heure Bleue, one of my two favorite fragrances in the world. Perhaps I'm naturally wistful. :-) Champagne/Yvresse is strong even with careful dabbing.

    Since I was a child I've loved the smell of anise. You didn't include Caron Eau de Reglisse. Are you doing a separate post on licorice?

  6. Dear Maria,

    I don't know...I consider myself naturally wistful too, although perhaps that's better left to others to judge, but since I can enjoy Mitsouko so much, I have no complaints.

    You're so right: Yvresse is very strong!

    I could probably focus on liquorice on a seperate post down the road. As it is I hadn't amassed such an extensive list of mostly liqorice-smelling fragrances to warrant a seperate post.

  7. Another very literal example: STAR ANISE EDT by Monotheme, an Italian brand. they make small bottles and can be found in mail order...

  8. stella polaris08:19

    Impressive list, and very helpful for us who haven't tried such a variety of perfumes, but nevertheless have odorophilia! Look foreward to reading about liquorice-perfumes. By coincidence the one I am wearing today, Miller Harris' Coeur d'Eté, have a rather strong liquorice accent. I love this perfume and on my skin it is heavier and more sensual than the 'official' characterization light floral should indicate. The mix of florals, black currant, liq., chocolate beans, vanilla, is just wonderfull, especially then the day is grey, cold and heavy with sleet..

  9. Thank you Haus, I wasn't aware of that one. Should probably check it out!

  10. Dear SP,

    I am very happy you say so! "Odorophilia" is right, LOL
    The liqorice list must wait a bit until I amass enough frags.
    Very interesting what you say about Coeur d'Eté, I liked it but I should retry it with your wonderful description in mind :-)

  11. this is extraordinary, Helg! this really sums up why i like aniseed on my skin more than star anise - aniseed matches with blue florals so well, and the only star anise perfume i enjoy is Iris Nobile. now i have to go explore the absolutes!

  12. Dear Risa,

    thank so much! I am thrilled this explains a perfume conundrum for someone. Fascinating what you say! (and btw, I do love Iris Nobile)

  13. stella polaris08:19

    I also love Iris Nobile, as I love irises and this is for me the best of those perfumes. From Acqua di Parma I also think/feel Mandorlo di Sicilia is delicious, and that one also contains star anise, I think! (?)Perhaps it really is the star anis that my brain reacts to, but without the conscious part of me realizing.. :)
    MMmmm, anise is nice in some food also, like the scandinavian type of "kringle".

  14. It's no surprise that you would like the elegant Iris Nobile, I guess :-)
    Mandorlo di Sicilia is an almond perfume which I like, although I usually do not favour such compositions: it has a necessary bitter touch and now that you mention star anise, everything falls into place (so thanks!)

  15. i am so happy to have found some notes from you on Etra. the first 'unconventional' non-commercial scent i ever came across was Etra- my friend introduced me to it 10 year ago and since then, i have been in love. it remains very spicey on me, from start to finish. i also adore Gomma (i love your description of it- amber leathery), Heliotrope and Shal Nur. would you be so kind to tell me more about Etra and Etro scents? i simply adore them- and though i wear v floral scents (Olene, Spring Flower and Narciso Rodriguez are my signature scents) i cant get enough of Etro's scents. why are they so addictive? would greatly appreciate your insights... x shayma


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