Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Not to be confused with the Arabian instrument of the same name, Oud is a secretion produced by the Agarwood tree (or Aquillari Tree).

It's been used in Arabian perfume for centuries and appeals to the Middle Eastern preference for strong, rich scents made from high quality natural ingredients. It's only in the past few years that it appeared as a new, trendy note in Western perfumery, intially in niche perfumery.

As such, it was very much embraced by hipsters alongside joke beards (thankfully we seem to have to reach peak-beard some time ago, though oud survives!) and it's true to say that oud gets a bit of bad press in perfumista circles for this reason. Once marketing teams decide it's a trend there's no stopping its ubiquity. I'm kind of surprised not to see it sprinkled in cocktails or salads, like pomegranate seeds.

Nonetheless it was and is a welcome change from fruity, sweet patchouli style perfumes, which I'm far from alone in loathing. Most oud in contemporary western perfume is synthetic, since the authentic stuff is so rare, difficult to make and therefore expensive. Similarly to ambergris, oud varies in quality and effect due to an ageing process. In perfume it's quite difficult (for me anyway) to tell if it's the real thing, I've only tried one or two Arabian perfumes with a touch of oud, and in my far from expert opinion, I'd suggest the real thing is more challenging, the synthetic versions seem softer-edged and seem to have added synthetic woody musk of some description.

If you're into perfume you don't need a description of how oud smells; it's very distinct. From the Arabian oils I've tried I'd describe it in its authentic form as initially sharp, tarry, medicinal, sour, very dry, astringent and smoked in effect. The medicinal quality has been described by some as smelling like old-fashioned cloth plasters, which is pretty accurate - imagine a woody germolene scent or a touch of TCP left on aged wood and that's quite close.

It sounds unpleasant, but what it seems to do is refresh the nose; the foody equivalent might be a touch of mustard. I can definitely see why it's enjoyed in the Middle East - the dry quality is astringent and the effect in hot weather would be refreshing in an entirely different way from, say, a citrus scent. Perhaps more lasting. For example (to use another food and drink comparison) you can see why green tea is enjoyed in hot countries- the tannin astringency is more refreshing than a sticky, sweet drink could be. Citrus is cooling in effect, yet it does have a slight sweetness.

I think the other advantage of oud might be that it blends so beautifully with those classic notes of Arabian perfume, such as strong rose, aber and woody resins, which is why most oud-based perfume whether Arabian or Western, usually pairs rose and oud. Personally I love the combination. It lends a little dirt and depth to rose, yet unlike patchouli (often paired with rose) it's not cloying or heavy due to its dryness and the smoke-like effect. Add incense notes to this and it creates yet another harmonious facet.

For the purposes of this blog, I've dabbed a few samples on my arms and wrists (I also tried on a couple of new ones on my travels today when I dropped into a perfume department) so here are a few below (in order of least to most liked!) ...

Another Oud by Juliette Has a Gun
Hmm, another frutichouli with oud, more like! The combination of synthetic ice-cream sundae raspberry and austere oud is utterly wrong, though humorous in a way - evoking the soberly robed Muezzin of a Mosque being accosted by a lap-dancer wearing a pink vinyl bikini. Possible in this day and age, but just wrong!

Rose d'Arabie, by Armani Privé 
Very nice - oud warmed with amber, vanilla and damascus rose, but it's far too light and fleeting for this price. If I had money to recklessly throw away, I'd buy this as a daytime oud/rose.

Oud Cashmere Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Much as I love others from MFK's oud series, this appealed the least to me, probably because it's a more masculine, harsh take on oud with a hefty dose of labdanum (a resin from the rock rose plant). I find labdanum quite goaty and sweaty, so it really depends on what it's paired with. In this case I find the combination of oud and labdanum too dirty and animalic -a bit like something left to dry on the bottom of a shoe, I'm sorry to say. For others though (and I think men more likely) this dirty aspect may have a pleasingly satanic beastiness to it.

Attar Al Kaaba by Al Haramain Perfumes 
The real deal, therefore a slightly more challenging perfume. I dab it on every so often just for that odd perfume hit which I think of as the equivalent to enjoying mustard! This is definitely medicinal at first, but into dry-down it becomes more and more like the lingering incense scent you'd expect to find on the clothing of someone who works in a Bazaar. The rose is powerful, quite clean and hard edged, the oud almost chlorine-like, but there's underlying amber and sandalwood, so that into drydown the effect is like rose-scented treacle (though not as sweet) quite more-ish. The name refers of course to the journey to Mecca and the black cube-shaped building at the centre of Islam's most sacred mosque, so the perfume is correspondingly challenging, yet rewarding in the end.

Oud Velvet Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
If you can imagine a velvety/dusty tarry effect, I think that describes the texture and scent of this perfume quite well. Dusted with saffron and cinnamon, the effect is warm and pleasing, though the tarriness of oud remains throughout. As someone who likes leather scents (which often use birch tar notes for the leather effect) I enjoy this, but I wouldn't describe it as feminine or elegant. It's more of an outdoorsy effect, which is lovely in its way.

Arabian Nights by Jesus Del Pozo
I really enjoyed this perfume from the sample I was gifted a while back by a generous member of Oud is balanced by an abstract, elegant bouquet of woods, rose, herbs and grasses. The effect is a very blended oud, not in-your-face yet distinct because of oud. I wore it first on a warm summer's day nd found it highly refreshing. This perfume is described as 'for men' but I think it's quite unisex.

Oud Silk Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
To me, this has exactly the right blend of that oud-y smoky astringent/dry bite alongside a beautiful rich, sweet rose and hazy musks, to make this elegant, intriguing and mysterious. It's very distinct and I'd say ideal for evening, especially when wearing something either ethnic and silky, or black with a contemporary, arty cut. It's stylish and unusual. Other notes include papyrus grass and chamomile and while I can't say I identify these notes alongside oud and rose, there is a haziness and dry quality that's really lovely.

Lastly my favourite so far, Santal Royale by Guerlain, combining the usual suspects - rose, sandalwood, a hint of cinnamon, leather and of course oud, but also jasmine, neroli and peach. The last three alongside sandalwood are maybe what gives this a softer edge, not so challenging, with the oud adding a small bite but not taking over. It's very soft, very unisex and perfect for cooler weather.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Tuberose; a divider of taste. Despite the name it has nothing to do with rose. Rose can be described as anything from soapy or pretty to dark and gothic but it's not likely to be described as fleshy, voluptuous, carnal, buttery, decadent, strident or narcotic, as tuberose is.

Such is its reputation that in Victorian times it was believed it had a corrupting effect on young women, like Elvis's hips in the 50s. It was even said it could induce spontaneous orgasm, which just makes me think those Victorian ladies needed to get out more!

It's instantly recognisable. If you think you don't know the scent, once you get a whiff you'll know it straight away - most recognisable in perfumes where its most strident qualities have been amped up, two of the most notorious being Piguet's Fracas and Dior's Poison. If you hate those don't let that put you off, since (as with all perfume notes) it depends which facets are highlighted and what's in the perfume composition.

Most tuberose in perfumery is synthetic, but there are natural extraction versions, perhaps the most well-known being tuberose steeped in natural coconut oil and used as sun tan lotion, especially popular in tropical islands such as Hawai.

In the west we obviously associate tuberose with the idea of the 'exotic', or tropical holidays, and it's why a lot of tuberose perfumes contain coconut notes. Natural tuberose flowers on their own though are not very sweet. Like most tropical flowers the scent varies throughout first opening of the flowers to their point of decay.

Newly opened tuberose has what most perfumers describe as camphoraceous notes. I.e. moth balls, or an almost gas-like menthol quality. Also green. I, and many others, find the menthol aspects also petrol or diessel-like, and with some perfumes there's a hint of fruity bubblegum or (weirdly) popcorn. These scent-exuding qualities make the flower a raging success in the jungle obviously, no doubt attracting pollinators for miles around. If you add these strident qualities, the buttery or creamy effect and pretty floral aspect to the idea that beautiful flowers echo feminine beauty, you can see why so many perfumers want to capture its intensity. Its wilting notes remind me of decaying fruit (some say it's more like rotting meat, but to me it's quite similar to the decaying notes of madonna lily, or the smell that emanates from the dustbin outside a grocer's shop in mid-summer - fruit rind on the turn).

It does have some qualities in common with orange blossom, lily and jasmine, but as someone who's sensitive to tuberose (similarly to patchouli) I immediately recognise it in perfume; the difference is in that diesel/petrol butteriness - a certain cool, waxy, gassy solidity. Texture-wise I'd describe is as rounded, fleshy, with a quality I'd associate with womanly-ness as opposed to girliness. It has sophistication, but not necessarily elegance, since elegance is usually associated with a sort of 'less-is-more' contained poise, tuberose cannot be contained, hence its diva reputation!

I've written quite a bit about other perfume notes in this blog (see 'Perfume Reviews A- Z')  and if you're wondering why I've not covered the notorious tuberose it's because truth be told I find it a challenge. Many people do, and in perfume forums we're liable to be dismissed as perfume lightweights, perhaps even envious because we don't have the requisite confidence, style or sex appeal to carry off tuberose-rich perfumes. Ouch!

My excuse is that when it's strong I find it headache-inducing. I'm not into loud, strident perfumes, also my appearance and behaviour would never be compared to that of Marilyn Monroe or Madonna (both Fracas devotees!)

The most high-end, popular and contemporary tuberose perfume at the moment is Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower, which according to many perfume reviewers is sex on wheels, so I had to try a sample of course...

I did my best with it, but since a small squoosh to my left wrist was still making my eyes water and head ache after 4 hours, I gave up and washed it off just so I could get a decent night's sleep. As for its sexy reputation, well, headaches are historically a bit of a killer! I read of someone who doesn't like it but wears it on the back of her neck so she can't smell it but others can! I'm a strong believer in the fact that if you love the perfume, it loves you and vice versa. If you don't enjoy tuberose, it's never going to suit you in its more powerful forms.

Part of the effect of Carnal Flower is the menthol aspect which echoes the actual flower, it was this that made my eyes water, the tuberose (in this perfume the highest amount of tuberose absolute in perfumery) provided the inevitable headache.

Just google 'tuberose perfumes' and you'll soon discover that the population can be divided into swoon-iduced and migraine-induced reactions to tuberose. Never fear though, in the examples below I'll mention those that I find enjoyable, so if up to now you've loathed this fleshy floral with the man-eating
reputation, there are some you might enjoy ..

Powerful tuberose
Tuberose perfumes with huge heft and presence, statement perfume for glamorous events

Fracas by Piguet
Often described as the reference-point for strong tuberose perfumes, tuberose in Fracas is accompanied by a host of white florals, woody notes and musk. Tuberose dominates though and this is one of the most distinct perfumes you'll encounter. Its statement or message suggests someone who enjoys attention and it's no surprise that it's a favourite with Madonna, also Mariliyn Monroe. (Madonna lent her name to the contemporary perfume take on Fracas; Truth or Dare by Madonna

Other glamorously strident tuberose perfumes include Dior's Poison which darkens tuberose with intense purple-toned plum, also Armani's Giorgio and Amarige by Givency. 

Elegant Tuberose
Tuberose perfumes that tone down the strident effect,either through less tuberose in the composition, or with accompanying notes that soften it

Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Number One Sophisticated, slightly green yet buttery. This is a very elegant tuberose. Galbanum lends it bitter greenery while sandalwood does its thing of lending a soft velvety effect.It's less of a party tuberose, and could easily be worn in the daytime.

Amouage Honour Woman 
A pricy concoction and a silkier take on tuberose, with notes of frankincense, leather. It has the creamy aspects of tuberose and gardenia adds to this. Very elegant, if a bit conservative or reminiscent of coiffed haired Chanel suited women organising high-end charity events.

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta 
Softened with sandalwood, less 'fleshy' in tone with the addition of clove, this is velvety in texture and quite complex, slightly dated these days perhaps, due its complex bouquet, but very sophisticated in effect

Soft and pretty tuberose
These perfumes enhance the creamy aspects while toning down the headache, partly because tuberose doesn't entirely dominate in these, but also because the accompanying notes have a softening or lighter effect.

L'Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon
Though the opening is a bit bright, with white florals and lime blossom, in dry down this reminds me of suede, the soft effect is largely thanks to a buttery tuberose, minus the petrol and menthol.

Noix de Tubereuse by Miller Harris
Softened considerably with the round, powdery notes of tonka bean, also iris (orris root) and mimosa, this retains tuberose's sultry aspects while being easy on the nose. Very pretty.

Do Son by Diptyque
One of my favourite perfume houses, inevitably their take on tuberose would be to my liking (though probably not to lovers of full-on tuberose). Do Son has subtle tuberose buttery roundness added to very pretty white florals - orange blossom, honeysuckle - alongside an easy-on-the nose white musk and woody warm benzoin resin. Perfect for summer and a very popular scent.

Unusual tuberose 
Niche versions, a little bit different

Serge Lutens Fleurs d'oranger
This, as the name suggests, has more to do with orange blossom than tuberose, nonetheless its fleshier floral effect is partly thanks to tuberose's abundance, the unusual aspect is thanks to cumin, which lends a spicy, slightly sweaty tingle. Very pleasing, as long as you're ok with cumin!

Serge Lutens's Tubereuse Criminelle - a love it or loathe it perfume, so given my ambivalence to tuberose I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. I realise now it's partly that it lacks the bubblegum/fruity aspect and instead focuses on tuberose buttery/waxy roundness. Even the menthol hit in the beginning doesn't trouble me, it's moth-ball-like but I don't mind that as a smell, in fact I like it, far more than eucaylptus, which in perfume is an absolute 'no' for me, since I find it medicinal and eye watering, and which features in...

Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle
For some people this should be up there in the elegant or pretty tuberose categories but that's probably for those who don't find the eucalyptus and melon notes so unappealing. Even with sweet creamy coconut as a subtle note here, and the large amount of high quality green-toned natural tuberose absolute (I normally love green florals) it doesn't work for me.  I find that the notes compete and clash, but for many thousands of others this is tuberose Nirvana.

Tropical tuberose

Isabey Panouage, Lys Noir
A 'darker' take on tuberose/lily, you'd imagine from the name, though I don;t get much lily from it. Folks who want a strong hit of tuberose may be disappointed, but it's definitely there. Fatty and fruity with soapy coconut,  the fruity hint for me echoes Dior's Poison. Coconut isn't listed in ingredients as far as I can see, but it's definitely there. There's some patchouli here too, but very light. It feels like a glam' summer party girl perfume - a simple, yet distinct effect. Not my scene but if you fancy the idea of a lighter summer-style tropical Poison, you'll like it!

Other popular tropical tuberoses include Killian's Beyond Love (sweet coconut, heady tuberose and pretty white florals) and Hiram Green's Moon Bloom, a fresh green, sweet take on tuberose, which uses high amounts of natural absolute.

For the authentic beachy feel of natural tuberose infused coconut cream try Aloha Tiare Eau de Parfum by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, or seek the cream itselfMonoi of Maui (Maui Tuberose) which can be found online and is considerably cheaper! I have a bottle of this and like to use it in summer, or for a relaxing face massage in the evening.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 7 (Miss Dior)

'Winter Birch'. Rose Strang 2014

This is Part 7 of a series in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Miss Dior.

 The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Miss Dior, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and Part 5 Chanel No. 19 .

This is getting a bit confusing perhaps, but in Part 6 I introduced Miss Dior and the chypre accord in perfumery, so if you want to know more about chypre and the making of Miss Dior have a look at Part 6.

Today's post though, is all about perfumes that might appeal to those who love Miss Dior and would like to try something slightly similar. It's impossible to go into all the nuances of chypre and the hundreds of perfumes to try, but this article is hopefully a good startign point.

'Wild Chamomile'. 2015
(I've illustrated this post with some of my own paintings that have a chypre-ish feel! More can be viewed here on my - arts website  )

Because chypre contains oakmoss which has been restricted, and is due to be banned in 2015, perfumes nowadays rarely contain the classic chypre notes.

Instead, what the perfume industry normally does is to simply class patchouli as the chypre note, sometimes alongside vetiver.

Patchouli is often included as part of the classic chypre accord but is far more heavy than oakmoss, and to my nose has nowhere near the sense of mystery and intrigue of chypre. I do love vetiver a lot, but again it's distinctive - more smoky and astringent than oakmoss.

They can't fool the perfumistas with their patchouli nouveau chypres! What the lover of Miss Dior is looking for is an elegant, classic perfume that's ladylike in feel, yet pretty. The fact is you won't find a classic Miss Dior these days unless you seek a vintage. (more info on that below). Or try the following perfumes...

Contemporary Perfumes similar in style to Miss Dior

As with all the classic perfumes in this series, Miss Dior is available in a series of different flankers which vary on the original. Last time I looked there were about 20!

As mentioned though, most of these new formulations contain patchouli in place of oakmoss and chypre, so if you'd like to explore vintage chypres, I recommend you log on to or (see 'hard to find perfumes' list on right). Both these websites specialise in vintages and are reliable as far as I know. I've not heard complaints about them on perfume forums, except delays in sending on rare occassions. They're both based in America, so you're going to pay around £8 for p+p if you're in the UK and Europe (I'm not sure about other countries).

'Spring Sycamore'. 2013
At this point I normally make mention of other iconic perfumes from the same era, so other famous chypres are Ma Griffe by Carven, and Sous le Vent by Guerlain. Earlier than these though, was one of the first chypres in western pefumery - Coty's Chypre (as mentioned in the Raymond Chandler novels and worn by his femme fatales!) Again you can find this on Surrender to, but all of these vintage perfumes can also be found on Ebay. Just be aware you're taking a risk, and do your homework on bottles/batches etc before buying. There were earlier chypre perfumes in western perfumery, but they weren't as well known as Coty's chypre.

Through a perfume swap recently, I received a miniature of vintage Miss Balmain which was an absolute classic. I enjoy chypres, but I don't wear them often, so I offered Miss Balmain to my mum who's a definite chypre afficionado and she was delighted with it. I've included many more fruity chypres, such as Mitsouko, in Part 3 - Femme

A great alternative to exploring vintages is to explore niche or independent perfume companies, who for various reasons can get away with adding oakmoss to perfume despite it being restricted.

*These perfumes can usually only be found online on the manufacturer's website...

'Glentress Mist'. 2015
Mousse de Chine by Ava Luxe and Green Oakmoss by Soivohle are niche chypres that are fairly green/woody and earthy, so if you'd like a more old school abstract and French style floral chypre, try Chypre Palatin by MDCI Parfums (it'll cost you mind!)

The best niche indy perfumer when it comes to original chypre though, is DSH Perfumes, which is owned by 'nose' Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (I wrote a blog post about her which you can read Here)

'River'. 2013
There are so many oakmoss or chypre perfumes here it's best if you just have an explore of her website - DSH Perfumes - to see what appeals to you. I ordered several pure oil parfum samples a year or so ago and recommend Vert Pour Madame -  a very fresh, green, springlike chypre with the distinct smoky/salty green notes of oakmoss.

If your love of chypres includes Rochas Femme, you might love DSH's fruity/spicy/chypre Mirabella.

In the UK you can't order full bottles overseas from the US where DSH is based, but I promise you the wax or pure oil samples go a long way, they're affordable, and you can have fun testing many more than just buying one bottle.

For an air of indulgent luxury, if you have the money to spare, try some of the perfumes by French/Arabian company Amouage. They commission some of the best 'noses' worldwide to compose their perfumes, and use high quality ingredients.  

'Black'. 2013
Memoir Woman is immediately recognisable as a luxuriant chypre (though far more dark and sultry than Miss Dior) with notes of leather, herbs, labdanum, oakmoss, civet, spices and white florals. It smells hyper posh (too posh for a somewhat casual dresser such as myself truth be told!) and it costs about £200 for 50mls. For another spicy, warm chypre, try Fate for Women by Amouage

For more reading on chypre, log on  to this excellent article by perfume expert Elena Vosnaki at Perfume Shrine - Chypre for newbies

'Oakmoss'. 2013

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 6 (Miss Dior)

I did say I'd only do a five part series, but after chatting on the Fragrantica forum, realised that I'd missed out the noble chypre, in particular Miss Dior, which was very remiss of me!

So this is Part 6 of a series of six posts in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Miss Dior by Christian Dior.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and Part 5 Chanel No. 19 

Because Chypre perfumes have such a fascinating history, and the story of Miss Dior's inspiration is so moving, I'll write about that in this post, then in part 7 I'll recommend contemporary perfumes that may appeal to lovers of Miss Dior

I hope you're in the mood for a good read, because a post about chypre comes with quite a bit of baggage attached these days, since perfumes rarely contain a significant amount of oakmoss (the central note of traditional chypre) because its use is now restricted and is due to be banned in 2015.

This seems nonsensical to say the least, when we can buy sugar drenched drinks and pre-prepared food with additives, stuff our faces with that, wash it down with a gallon or so of alcohol, then smoke ourselves senseless, but from 2015 we're not allowed to wear perfumes with oakmoss.

Why? Because it may cause an allergic reaction. So why not just put a warning on the label? Considering all the illnesses caused by sugar, processed fats, nicotene and alcohol, or the fact that we don't ban, for example,  nuts - despite the fact they can cause an allergic reaction in some people, it seems to me utterly pointless.

Two of oakmoss's molecules – atranol and chloroatranol – are to be banned on the grounds that they could cause up to 3 per cent of the population to suffer an allergic reaction. But there are also 83 other potentially allergenic notes in perfumery, so where would it stop? The offending molecules in oakmoss can in fact be removed, though this may cause some difference in scent, also it's an expensive process which means probably only the most high end perfumes would use this technique.

If you think I seem a bit exercised about the whole subject, you should hear what the perfumers and 'noses' have to say. For many of them, it's like telling a painter they can no longer use their favourite mediums, or a musician their favourite notes. (If you'd like to know more, have a read of this feature in the Independent: 'Will a Ban on Oakmoss Kill the French Perfume Industry?')

Chypre is actually one of the world's most ancient perfumery blends and we know this because remains were found in perfume vats during an archeological dig in Cyprus (hence the name chypre, which means cyprus in French).

The blend always contains oakmoss and cistus labdanum (resin from a Meditteranean shrub), also bergamot.

Once it's been extracted and made into a thick green sticky sludge, the scent of oakmoss is complex: woody, musky, lingering and very slightly salty or smoky. I've smelled it in vintage perfumes (it's one of the notes that can last perfectly if the perfume has been kept well).

My way of describing it would be - twiggy, smoky, like someone has thrown a handful of sap-filled twigs onto a fire where they smoulder gently - slightly salty like driftwood. It's also haunting, not just a literally earthy scent. Sometimes certain facets evoke distant wood smoke. It smells intriguing and the musky quality (not an animalic musk, more a 'haze' for want of a better description) means that on skin it exudes its scent in a way that enhances a perfume's sillage, somehow it has an aura of sophistication. The large musk molecules act as a fixative, hence its popularity as a perfume note over thousands of years.

Nowadays a perfume heavy on chypre smells classic, or you might say 'old school', or old fashioned. But certain perfumes are very enhanced with even a small addition. Those smoky/woody/salty/musk notes, in combination with, say, vanilla or amber can take a perfume into new realms.

Miss Dior was indeed in those realms (finally I get on to the actual perfume!) I say 'was' because it was reformulated when oakmoss began to be restricted. A new version was brought out, and shunned by experienced wearers of Miss Dior.

Then more recently, due to the massive increase of interest in perfume (thanks largely to the internet and perfume forums) it was re-reformulated to smell somewhat more similar to the original.

Annoyingly however, they've replaced oakmoss with notes of patchouli, which we're expected to accept as the new 'chypre'. It's true that a chypre blend may include patchouli, but anyone familiar with patchouli knows that it has almost zero in common with oakmoss.

Patchouli is more earth-bound, dark, heavy, soily, with notes that are enhanced depending on its age. Aged patchouli can smell almost like unsweetened dark chocolate - a dusty, rich note. Less high quality patchouli smells like hippies did in the 70s. If you walk into a vintage clothes shop you can smell the whiff of it still.

The fact that patchouli lasts so long means that for anyone sensitive to patchouli (me included) large amounts can ruin a perfume because that's all that can be smelled after an hour. It's not oakmoss by any stretch of the imagination, so no wonder so many niche, indy perfume companies offer authentic chypre perfumes.

Miss Dior in original formulation is a complex blend that includes most florals except ylang and tuberose (which would make it far more exotic and rich, less soapy). Iris (orris bulb) adds the additional haze of classic perfumery - those haunting notes that exude a sophisticated perfumy aura. Galbanum and leather offer cool green astringency, and 'bite'. It's not a playful or flirty fragrance, hence why it's an icon of its time.

Dior 'the look'
Like almost all the classics, it was designed as an addition or extra note to a fashion house - a signature perfume that echoed the aesthetic of the house style. Dior commissioned two of the perfume industry's most talented 'noses', Paul Vacher and Jean Carles to create the perfume. (Their other creations include Arpege, by Vacher for Lanvin and  Ma Griffe by Carles for Carven). I definitely sense the family resemblance to Arpege and Ma Griffe - both cool, elegant classic in themselves.

Miss Dior also features aldehydic top notes - aroma chemicals first introduced by Chanel in the 30s to lift and enhance a perfume. All of these notes combine to create a perfume with the distinct and umistakable sillage of expensive classic perfume.

Dior himself was originally interested in art, and owned a gallery where he sold work by the likes of Picasso. His clothes designs seem to echo those monochrome, cubist lines and shapes of Picaso's early work. The mood is elegant, poised, stand-offish, avant garde - aesthetics very much echoed in Miss Dior!

Christian Dior
Miss Dior was more than a fashion statement however. In 1947 Dior commissioned this first perfume with the instruction to Carles and Vache to create a fragrance that is like love.

In the post war years Dior's sister Catherine (who had been captured by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbrück were she was treated brutally) was finally released.

On her return, Christian cooked her favourite dish to welcome her home, but she was exhausted and traumatised by her experience and unable to eat properly. It was many months before she managed to eat rich food again. He was deeply affected by this, and so he created something she could enjoy - a beautiful perfume made especially for her - Miss Dior. 

As a member of the French resistance, Catherine Dior's bravery was recognised with the Croix de Guerre; the Combatant Volunteer Cross of the Resistance; the Combatant Cross; the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom (from Britain); and she was named a chevalière of the Légion d’Honneur. She lived until 2008.

Catherine Dior

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 5 (Chanel No. 19)

This is Part 5 of a series of five posts in which I've recommended variations on a classic. Today it's Chanel No. 19. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Chanel No 19, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, Part 4, Chanel No. 5 and today it's Chanel No. 19.

Since I've already explored Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel's background and inspiration in Part 4, today I'll just skip straight to the perfume!

As well as being innovative classics, the five perfumes in this series represent five very different styles - Oriental Vanilla, Musky Floral, Fruity Chypre, Floral Aldehyde and Floral Green.

Chanel 19  - a Floral Green, could also be considered as a perfume on the cusp of chypre though, with its oakmoss notes, but it's definitely green in tone in comparison with the others in this series.

Just to briefly describe No 19's style..

Green florals are often associated with spring and summer, since their notes are more astringent and refreshing, but there's a lot of variety in terms of the type of green-ness. Evergreen perfumes for example, which could be lovely in winter, but to my nose Chanel 19 in Parfum is well suited to any time of year, its green notes are mostly thanks to Galbanum and Vetiver, both quite deep-toned in their greeness - vetiver particularly is quite foresty in feel.

The summery fresh green of lime is described as citrus/hesperedic, and leafy green herbs as aromatic. So with No 19's deeper green tones, paired with iris, leather, lily of the valley, narcissus and oakmoss, there's a fuller perfume scent, i.e. it's not designed simply as a refreshing summer tonic.

The biggest difference between No 19 and the other perfumes in this series is the lack of vanilla, animalic musk and amber. Launched in 1971, No 19 was Coco Chanel's own signature scent, named after the day of her birthday on 19th August. The scent is alluring in its elegance, yet for many people it's seen as a cold, or 'stand-offish' perfume.

In fact, in many perfume forums, if someone asks for suggestions for a work/office scent, No 19 is most often mentioned. So there's a certain formality about No 19. Yet its associations are to do with the outdoors and nature.

Where the other perfumes in this 5-part series refer to musks, soapiness and gourmand fruity or vanilla notes, No 19 recalls a river valley or forest with its cool green tone. Which is why, for some, it's a cool scent and for others a comfort scent, in the sense that it's relaxing to be outdoors.

As someone who's very inspired by nature, I like the associations of No 19. At the same time though, No 19 does smell very perfumy and pretty old school, and though I have a small bottle of the pure parfum, I rarely find an occasion to wear it ( mostly just for myself every so often!). Its iris/leather combination exudes a sort of mysterious regal elegance, which is one of the reasons why No 19 has inspired many imitators. Nowadays it smells quite old fashioned to the modern nose (like the others in this series) but the aura is timelessly classy, always recognisable as 'a good perfume'.

It's a perfume that suits my skin, and I've noticed that those who suit warmer toned ambery or headier floral perfumes tend not to enjoy it so much, but as always you can never tell until you sample it.

Contemporary Perfumes similar in style to No. 19

As with all the classic perfumes in this series, No 19 comes in several varieties, as mentioned above you can read about the EDT, EDP and Parfum in the links at the top of this post. Also though, Chanel's No 19 Poudre was released in 2011 and geared towards a younger market with less leather and galbanum but with added slightly sweeter notes. I think it's lovely, but I find almost any perfume with iris and vetiver lovely!

Similar perfumes from this 60s and 70s era would include Lancome's Climat (more animalic) Jacomo's Silences and Vent Vert by Pierre Balmain. Vent Vert was actually one of the first green florals, before No 19, but it doesn't share No 19's perfumy polish and is a zingier more summery and astringent green scent. Chanel's La Pausa with notes of iris and vetiver is like a simpler paired down and more unisex No 19, and Chanel's Cristalle edt is a gentler, simpler floral green perfume with subtle oakmoss and refreshing citric notes. Chanel's haughty Cuir de Russie is, strictly speaking, a leather scent, but it does have No 19's leather/iris combination.

Contemporary green florals, or perfumes similar in style to No 19 would include Prada's Infusion d'Iris - a beautiful woody vetiver/iris with warmer orange blossom notes and a hint of incense, minus No 19's leather. Again, this is a perfume others describe as cool and distant, it really must depend how it works on skin because I've had so many compliments wearing Infusion d'Iris and never once been told it's 'cool' or 'aloof'. 'Easy on the nose' and 'lovely' tend to be the kind of remarks. If though, you'd prefer a warmer version Prada's Infusion d'Iris Absolue might be perfect with its warmer tones of benzoin and exotic floral touch.

If it's No 19's elegant iris you love, I recommend the poetic Iris de Nuit by James Heeley - a cool iris but complemented with a powdery violet, cedar and warm-toned carrot seed. Hermes Hiris is a very cool take on iris - I find it somehow too restrained, as though it's trying too hard to be elegant, but that's just me! A more earthy, dark iris would be Serge Luten's Iris Silver Mist, but to me that has nothing in common with No 19 and is far more rooty. Prada's No 7 Violette has something of No 19's beautiful elegance, but violet does tend to add a more romantic, powdery or soapy feel.

No 19 has a lovely spring flower green dewiness, and if it's this you enjoy then I highly recommend Cartier's Baiser Vole EDP. This deceptively simple peppery green lily is really a piece of understated genius by the current Cartier 'nose' Mathilde Laurent. It's sparkling yet soft, tart, green and peppery yet with a hint of sweetness, it's as balanced as a perfume can be. I find it uplifting, yet with a polished cool elegance. For gentle green florality try Frederic Malle's En Passant a romantically green perfume featuring lilac and cucumber.

For a fresh green floral perfume that feels more literally green and leafy, try Diptyque's Eau de Lierre (which really does smell like fresh ivy) or the more floral Ombre Dans L'Eau by Diptyque, which features lovely leafy notes alongside rose and blackcurrant.

On the left - my own little bottle of 19 in parfum

Monday, October 26, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 4 (Chanel No. 5)

This is Part 4 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Chanel No. 5. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Chanel No 5, or perfumes with similarities.

(In Part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in Part 2, Joy, Part 3 was Femme, and in the next post I'll explore Chanel No. 19.

Chanel No. 5, of all perfumes, needs little introduction. The name was chosen simply because it was number 5 in a series of test batches.

Gabrielle Chanel was superstitious about the number 5 because of the influence this number had on her as a girl while attending a convent orphanage. She decided to launch No 5 on the 5th day of the 5th month in 1921.

By 1921 Coco, as she became known, was already a successful clothes designer and an extremely astute, even ruthless business woman. There's evidence that she may have supported the Nazi regime, and it's known she was a lifelongfriend of General Walter Schellenberg (chief of SS intelligence).

Coco Chanel's political allegiances are particularly contemptible from our modern persepctive, as were the allegiances of many high profile, powerful figures at the time. (Allegedly Winston Churchill exonerated her during the later trials, at which time she was questioned, because her evidence would have implicated so many British officials and VIPs.)

Coco Chanel was the daughter of an unmarried laundry woman, she had no inheritance, no privilege, no connections and to look at her early life, some might have said no chance.

Her mother died at age 32 and Coco was sent to a religious orphanage where she experienced harsh discipline and little affection. So viewed from this perspective her sheer determination to succeed, as well as her hard-nosed attitude is perhaps understandable.

She was a strong believer in women's liberation, it was Chanel who wanted to 'free' women from their corsets! Her designs were truly mold-breaking. Similarly to Patou (who I wrote about in Part 2 on Joy by Patou) she popularised sportswear and casual clothing.

She favoured a paired down minimal luxury that was highly influential, and she's probably one of the most quoted women in fashion and famously said:  

a woman who does not wear perfume has no future.
(a bit unfair to people with allergies!)

Her perfumes reflected this paired down, elegant yet casual aesthetic. At the time, most European women favoured clean floral simple scents, musky scents were seen as vulgar perfumes for  prostitutes or courtesans, so with No 5 Coco wanted  in-house perfumer for Chanel, Ernest Beaux, to create a perfume that would 'smell like a woman', yet have the Chanel minimalist signature.

Like Shalimar, No. 5 was a truly innovative perfume. During its creation Ernest Beaux introduced a new perfume synthetic - aldehyde. Aldehydes are still used in perfumery, albeit more sparingly, because we associate the aldehydic effect with classic, or if you like, slightly old fashioned and ladylike perfumes. (Which is why Chanel now offer a range of flankers that are less aldehydic).

I'd describe its effect as slightly metallic and soapy, it also 'opens' out a perfume, making it project more. When paired with high quality jasmine, rose, ylang and natural musk (civet) this is what gives No. 5 its ladylike yet sensual quality, what I'd describe as a cool/warm juxtaposition. To this day it's perceived as a classy, if perhaps slightly safe, perfume choice.

For women of any age who enjoy ladylike yet womanly florals, it has great appeal. The musk, paired with a truly pretty floral bouquet, is subtle and completely different from the abundant floral muskiness of Patou's Joy, for example, making Chanel No 5 suitable for any occasion. Few would find it offensive or over-bearing.

Coco Chanel understood her target market very well indeed - No 5 could be worn at work, in the evening, or as Marilyn Monroe (the 'face' of No 5 advertisements in the 50's) would famously attest - in bed while wearing nothing at all!

Contemporary perfumes similar in style to No. 5...

As with the other classic in this series, there are a range of flankers that riff on the original No. 5: Eau Premiere for example -  a more fresh modern take, with less aldehydes while retaining the classic aura, or Chanel No 5 Elixir Sensuel, which again retains the feel of the original yet with more warmth thanks to the addition of amber and woods. No 5 comes in EDT, EDP and pure parfum, each with subtly varying character, though the parfum as would be expected has a richer more lasting (slightly more musky) dry down. It's worth also trying Chanel No 22, which has the floral aldehydes of No 5, but with notes of incense rather than musk. Similar aldehydic florals from other houses include Hermes Caleche and the lovely Arpege by Lanvin (more woody/warm than No 5), possibly Diorissimo by Dior would be appealing as a subtly animalic lily of the valley

No 5 is unique and the reason it has iconic status in perfumery (apart from clever marketing!) is because it is a truly beautifully balanced perfume (and I say that as someone who as a rule doesn't wear floral aldehydes), however, there are some contemporary perfumes which may appeal to the lover of No 5 who seeks a change now and then...

If it's that aldehydic soapy ladylike buzz of classic perfumery that you seek, try Frederic Malles Iris Poudre - an elegantly woody iris floral that's more powdery than No 5, or Byredo's Blanche again, elegant, but more airy than Iris Poudre and more soapy than No 5. Aria di Capri by Carthusia is like a summer's breeze, warmer in tone than No 5, but still with that cool/warm feel thanks to aldehydes alongside sunny citrus and soft mimosa.

If its No 5's floral prettiness without aldehydes that interests you, for a more contemporary feel, try these mainstream and slightly conventional but ladylike perfumes which share No 5's floral prettiness - J'Adore L'Absolue by Christian Dior, Bulgari Pour Femme, Love by Chloe or Idylle by Guerlain. Possibly Donna Karan's Cashmere Mist, a light musky floral with hints of suede

Or, for a more niche, less mainstream feel, pretty, elegant floral perfumes with hints of musk that might suit the lover of No 5, are Claire de Musc by Serge Lutens, which focuses on clean floral musk, or Olene by Diptyque - a slightly animalic jasmine/lilac

Veering away from florals, Eau des Merveilles by Hermes is not similar note-wise to Chanel No 5, but I do think it has a similar elegance that suits evening, formal or daytime wearing, or try Eau Claire des Merveiles

Another out-of-the-box choice might be Lumiere Noire by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, which is far warmer and earthier than No 5, yet has classic balance while retaining an uplifting quality thanks to narcissus and rose.

There are many, many elegant green florals that those who enjoy No 5 might like, but I see them as a category in themselves, so I'm saving them for my next post - Chanel No.19, or as I call her the queen of green!

Chanel on the shoulders of Ballets Russes dancer Serge Lifar

Friday, October 23, 2015

Variations on perfume classics, part 3 (Femme)

This is Part 3 of a series of five posts in which I'll recommend variations on a classic. Today it's Femme by Rochas. The idea is to explore perfumes which feel like modern-day versions of Femme, or perfumes with similarities.

(In part 1 I explored Shalimar,  in part 2, Joy, and in the next two posts I'll explore No 5 and Chanel 19.

Femme was created in Paris during the war in 1943. The 'nose' behind the fragrance was Edmond Roudnitska, who's now regarded as something of a legend in the perfume industry, which is as much to do with his innovatory approach as his talent for creating beautifully balanced classics of perfumery.

Most people will be aware of at least one of the following: Femme, Diorama, Eau d'Hermes, Eau Fraiche, Diorissimo, Eau Sauvage, Diorella and, released posthumously by his son through perfume company Frederic Malle, Le Parfum de Therese. (If you're interested in reading a more in-depth post about Roudnitska, here's a post I created last year - Roudnitska.)

In later years, Roudnitska's perfumes became more minimal, more in keeping with the streamlined sixties and Dior's clean-cut monochrome designs, then the seventies when people began to favour a more casual, outdoorsy style.

It makes sense, though, that one of his first, and ever popular perfumes, embodied the idea of abundance - a lush harvest of fruits, woods, spices, musk and leather. For me, Femme is the quintessential perfume of Autumn and the idea of abundance is also subtly echoed in the curved bottle that suggests the female form.

Like Joy, and Shalimar before it, this perfume was targeted toward women who sought an air of sophisticated elegance. It's interesting perhaps to speculate on the fact that in this era, young women too aspired to this sophistication, poise and mystique.

The ingenue style embodied so elegantly by women such as Audrey Hepburn arrived in the 60s and we can imagine Hepburn exuding the white, radiant chic of Diorissimo, whereas Mae West and Sophia Loren, who were both the 'faces' of Femme in its advertisements, are far more suited to Femme's lush warmth.

Roudnitska created Femme in the midst of WW2, and to me this perfume, taken in this context, poignantly suggests a longing for security, or a carefree life of pleasure while everything around was in chaos -  a fact emphasised by the setting in which it was created:

“Let me tell you, I created Femme in 1943 in Paris during the worst days of the war in a building that had a rubbish dump on one side and a paint factory on the other,” Roudnitska

With Femme, Roudnitska wanted to create a thing of beauty, an escape from brutality and a celebration of everything good in life.

It's a perfume I've long been familiar with, because my mum wore it a lot in the 70s, then sought other perfumes when the original Femme was reformulated in the late 80s due to the restriction on oakmoss. The latest version, brought out in 2013, relies on cumin for the spicy, musky notes, and some find this aspect slightly heavy-handed. The general tone is still Femme-like - autumnal and warm, but the lovely suede-like leather isn't there.

A year or so ago, I tracked down two pre-80s versions of Femme for my mum. Both retained the original character, with the slightly later vintage most resembling the Femme my mum would have worn. She was delighted to rediscover Femme, and in fact this sparked a renewed enjoyment of perfume!

Before I recommend perfumes with a similar mood, these are the original Femme's notes: Apricot, plum, cinnamon, peach, bergamot, rosewood, lemon, rosemary, carnation, iris, jasmine, clove, ylang, rose, leather, amber, patchouli, musk, benzoin, vanilla, oakmoss.


Contemporary perfumes similar in style to Femme..

As with the two previous classics Joy and Shalimar, there's nothing quite like Femme these days; it's a classic complex blend in a grand French style, but there are quite a few perfumes that share aspects, or recall Femme's warm autumnal mood..

Classics of the same era or earlier might include Mitsouko by Guerlain , but though that's autumnal and complex, the mood is more haunting. I recently discovered a few contemporary takes on the classic style by indie perfume company DSH Perfumes, which use a high amount of naturals. In particular Mirabella, which reminds me of spicy autumn leaves alongside tart plum, and Mata Hari, which recalls an earlier vintage of Femme, with darker, woodier notes.

Serge Luten's Feminite du Bois, which centres around a lovely rich cedarwood, has echoes of Femme and shares many similar classic fruity notes - plum, cinammon, peach and musk, but the feel of the perfume is simpler, perhaps earthier and less mysterious.

 If you love Femme's suede-like leather, then you might enjoy Lancome's Cuir de Lancome. I offered a sample of this to my mum, and though I say so myself it was an inspired choice as she went on to acquire a full bottle! It doesn't smell like Femme, but it has a similarly sophisticated, rich, warm aura, yet more contemporary.

Taken in a more indulgent direction, the rich ,complex, gourmand aspects of Femme are echoed in Cartier's Le Baiser du Dragon. I love this rich woody, dark chocolate/boozy perfume, even though it's not really my style! It's very comforting and has a lingering mysterious musk that recalls classic perfumery. Some people hate it and find it too complicated, but it's worth a try if you like the idea of a rich, indulgent, winter-style gourmand.

In a lighter more effervescent direction, Yves Saint Laurent's Yvresse (formerly called Champagne) is a fruity chypre that's remained very popular since its release in 1993. It shares Femme's fruity/spicy elements, but it's far sharper and lighter. It might appeal to fruity chypre perfume lovers in summer, but it is a divider of taste so test first! From the same decade, Shiraz by Natura features autumn fruits and spices and is not disimilar to Luten's Feminite du Bois, which also brings me to Dior's Dolce Vita, one of my own favourites, like a sunnier version of Feminite du Bois (though its recent reformulation lacks depth).

Out of interest, it's well worth acquiring a sample of Frederic Malle's Le Parfum de Therese, as mentioned earlier, this is a posthumous release (by Roudnitska's son, Michel) as it has all the elements of a classic Roudnitska from the spice and leather notes of Femme to the summery overripe melon of Diorella. 

And so we come full circle back to Roudnitska himself. Le Perfum de Therese was never released in his lifetime because it was made exclusively for his wife, Therese. Such a romantic gesture!