Sunday, February 26, 2012

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb: fragrance review

I sometimes wonder what would happen if the art of fragrance naming is asked to be, as the French would put it, en clair―to speak in plain language.

     ~by guest writer AlbertCAN

I am by no means chiding the mass launches, for niche brands wax lyrical, too. (Case in point: Serge Lutens Daim Blond ought to be Daim Abricot.) Viktor & Rolf’s latest masculine introduction, Spicebomb, could benefit from en clair. To spell out its proper name would probably look a great deal like this:

Une ‘grenade’ ambrée à la manière de Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille avec un peu de L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two

(An amber ‘grenade’ in the style of Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille with a little bit of L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two)

Of course, the ironic thing with the truthful title above is that a copyright infringement lawsuit would probably ensue, followed by the requisite injunctions and appeals. And how to fit the sentence above onto the bottle is beyond mysterious to me. So, no in a million years. Yet it is probably the most apt description of the scent one could find, for the similarities between the scents in question are uncanny.

Now one might notice that that I’ve put quotation marks on the word ‘grenade’, for although the campaign promises something explosive and daring Spicebomb is hardly so. In fact the bomb motif is really a hand-me-down from V&R popular franchise Flowerbomb (2005), more of tie-in for marketing integration purposes. It’s a handsome tobacco-infused amber dandy with a fair hint of spice, but hardly a bomb threat as suggested by model Sean O’Pry’s tease with the grenade safety pin.

The resemblance between Spicebomb and Tobacco Vanille is truly remarkable, although I wouldn’t call them Siamese twins. V&R Spicebomb opens with candied citruses—or so I call them since synthetic bergamot and grapefruit are tempered further with fruity pink peppers, giving the scent a suave, silken sheen. It’s on the sweet side, though short of the full-on dried-fruit effect found in Tom Ford’s opus. The bouquet is really ho-hum and plays second fiddle to the tobacco accord, which really asserts its dominance after a short introduction. The press-release lists the tobacco as the base note but it really acts front and centre like a heart note since the scent is so character driven, forming a very obvious alliance with vetiver and amber. Knowing Spicebomb’s creator, Olivier Polge, I would bet my money on the liberal use of ambroxan (and even some tonka bean) when forming the amber—and indeed that amber motif is evident in Dior Homme, another creation by O. Polge. The leather and elemi are there, too, although really upholsterings to create subtle dried fruit facets. On the other hand I would say Tobacco Vanille lacks the spicy edge, though it’s hardly a surprise when the name is Spicebomb—what comes with the subtle spice is the real surprise.

Tea is nowhere to be found in Spicebomb’s press release, but the smokiness found in L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two (2000) is fairly evident in the drydown of Spicebomb. It’s by no mean literal, for there’s nothing transparent or soft about V&R, but the spiciness is there—a touch, really—once its presence is felt. To me it isn’t the main attraction, just there to keep things in good social order.

Thus given all the information above Spicebomb is an interesting breed: Considering V&R license is owned by L'Oréal, one of the more conservative cosmetic conglomerates out there, having a mass-market launch based on two niche offerings—with Tea for Tea being discontinued to bootSpicebomb is a slick take on past creations, almost like a ready-to-wear referencing a Tom Ford couture. Yet does it really take a perfumer of Olivier Polge’s calibre to do such faithful reference? I honestly don’t have an answer to that, and I might have gotten a bottle if: 1) I didn’t have a small bottle of Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, which I have, and 2) If the bottle for Spicebomb were more sleek, as the tinted bottle looks a bit clumsy in person. Mind you, if I were given a small bottle I wouldn’t mind wearing it from time to time.* But I’m probably not detonating Spicebomb anytime soon.

Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb is created by perfumer Olivier Polge and contain notes of bergamot, grapefruit, elemi, pink pepper, cinnamon, saffron, chilli, leather, tobacco and vetiver. The bottle is designed by Fabien Baron. My review is based on a free sample I received from a sales associate at The Bay, who was horrified by me using Dior Eau Sauvage and promptly quipped, “It’s really for old men, no?” (Thank goodness I’m not buying anything from her.)

*Read: This is not a hint. Do not consider buying me this as a present: and I’m not being ironic.


  1. Anonymous01:16

    I actually find it nothing like Tobacco Vanille, I wish I did though as this one is much more in my price range.

  2. This release sounds kind of boring or I've become that big of a perfume snob. The notes seem to be a little bit like Frapin's Caravelle Epicee, must be the hot pepper. I remember smelling Flowerbomb once at Sephora and wasn't impressed.

  3. Anonymous: I know exactly how you feel about Tobacco Vanille! When I wrote this review I actually had the blotters for both Spicebomb and Tobacco Vanille side by side in front of me to check for fragrance developments within the span of 2 hours before concluding my thoughts. Too bad it doesn't work as a replacement though--would have been nice indeed.

  4. Anonymous06:03

    AlbertCAN - my nose isn't the most accurate so my opinion should really be taken with a grain of salt. it is perhaps due to me being much more perceptive of TV's vanilla note than the tobacco note, whereas the sweetness in Spicebomb is more from a powdery floral kind of aspect. Great review regardless

  5. Eldarwen22: I remember Viktor & Rolf, before they were famous, once pulled a practical joke to their most loyal clients by passing out plain rose water as their 'debut' feminine fragrance. Flowerbomb was supposed to have that kind of humour until one understands that Fracas mastered the punchline eons ago.

  6. Anonymous: Your forgiveness if my previous comment inferred you to reconsider! After all, a nose can never be wrong and I very much appreciate your comments: you are absolutely entitled to your opinions!

    What I wished to convey is that when I guest write for Perfume Shrine I like to check and double check things before even putting down a draft. Now doesn't mean my reviews are always spot on: In fact I value difference in opinions because they make me think of other things down the road! And thanks for the kind words on my review: your time is much appreciated.

  7. Helg, almost forgot to mention--I tested Tobacco Vanille via dipping the test strip into the vial & putting a dab on my skin. I absolutely did not spray it as the vanilla and dry fruit notes in TV is just too strong for me otherwise. On the other hand the Spicebomb sample came from a tester spray. And Spicebomb does have a floral facet, although I find it more of a theme among O. Polge's masculine creations.

  8. Horrors of horrors! Eau Sauvage for OLD MEN! Fire her right away!

  9. The Frowzy Chickadee: My jaw dropped for a good 15 seconds literally before I muttered through my answer to her. Another 15 seconds before I regained my full composure. I walked out of the department store feeling very horrified!

  10. Ha ha ha ha! You made me laugh out loud. Great review. I feel like I've actually smelled this.

  11. Sujaan: Thanks! I aim to please the readers and I know Helg shares the same sentiment as well :-)

  12. That ad is ridiculous. I thought greased up models would be out of fashion by now. Go figure

  13. Kostas: I'm afraid the video is even worse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVllNnIw1KM

  14. This actually sounds pretty great to me, for a mainstream release.

  15. Anonymous20:06

    tried this very quickly at nordstrom this weekend, and liked it. it's not a huge, vivid, innovative thing, but it does smell very good - IF, like me, you enjoy spices in men's scents (i love equipage, bel ami, for reference).

    it is much more interesting than the rest of the citrus-musk scents so many men seem to be wearing now, and which smell the same to me (interchangeable, and like laundry detergent).

    so, yeah, if guys start wearing this one i, for one, will be very happy! my first thought upon smelling it was that i would like it on a guy - so that's a big thumb's up from me. and if i didn't already have some powerhouse spicy men's scents, i might be tempted to buy this and wear it myself.


  16. Elisa: Spicebomb is definately not run of the mill compared to the recent mainstream launches. Glad you like it!

  17. Minette: Great to hear from you! I am not partial to spices, but nor am I to really to any particular olfactory group. (Except maybe a very poorly constructed, unapologetic suede--that's where I draw the line.) I think even citrus and musk can be interesting if they are used creatively, be it unusual citruses or interesting effects produced by new varieties of musks used in lieu of white florals/fruits (both can be done). Spice is no different. Some extracts of purple ginger actually have a yuzu overtone and some cardamom extracts can be used as a floral fixatives. (The opposite is also true: top notch ylang ylang can be used as a spice element when placed thoughtfully.) With this being said certain spices and the combination thereof can be a cliche.

    Now like I have said Spicebomb is not derivative, at least not in the sense of other main stream launches. But I have smelled Tobacco Vanille and it's my duty to think about the different aspects, and there are influences. At the end of the day though I wouldn't mind smelling it on others, and am glad that you liked it!

  18. Honestly I'm not the hugest fan of "spicy" colognes for men all of the time, but this one hit a serious chord with me! I wasn't interested in the slightest when it first came out due to the marketing campaign which seemed really juvenile to me, but after giving it a try at Nordstroms I was hooked. A very complimentary blend of sweet and spicy.


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