A Blog about my love in perfumes, the aesthetics, the hedonism, the greatness of these artistic creations of the olfactory world. It is about my wish, my dream to create something like this one day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Coco Madamemoiselle

It is a fragrance that I did not like when I initially smelt it. It really turned me off with its overdose of the heavy florals, with something like a coconut cream overtones, so much so I thought I was smelling a rather expensive sunscreen lotion, rather than a perfume.

Its when I bought a bottle of the parfum and in really small doses, started to understand and appreciate this fragrance. I wondered, since this fragrance is one of the success stories in Europe, I wondered how people grew to love this fragrance? I really wanted to know!

The Osmoz website states that “After Coco, Coco Mademoiselle is a tribute to Gabrielle Chanel's contrasting personality. It's an expression of femininity, a sparkling fragrance, fresh and sophisticated for an elegant and sensuous woman”.

At the heart of Coco M., the key to this sweet floral fragrance is a crystalline amber note that is both solid sweet like a block of crystalline rock sugar, yet smooth and heavy like a black abyss. It is this note that is the seed and foundation of the sensuality of the fragrance. It contributes to the sense of darkness and the sense of mystery. This amber note is beautifully married to a sweet vanilla, making the whole construction even more rock hard crystalline.

Around this deep amber base, is built a huge column of a floral rose note, that seems like a tornado swirling around the amber. This is not the big blossoming blood red cabbage rose that gives out a rich syrupy scent, but this rose is sharp, green, clear (a little like PEA (phenylethylalcohol, the principal leafy rose odour combined with the sweetness of Irises (ionones) and somewhat like a thousand shards of glass flying out at you. It is a beautiful effect however, because it shimmers and gives a sort of architectural structure above the equally structural amber base.

After this, is where I lost it, and cannot follow the rationale behind the composition.

At the top, the citrus notes, mandarin, bergamot and orange, I think gives this a rather sweetish, soda soft drink like feel, throw in a syrupy honey feel and the whole thing starts to look really bizarre to me.

And then, they decided to put in a heavy blooming floral and dressed it with sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli, around this massive structure, like drapping a heavy curtain around a steel frame pyramid, it simply obscures the beauty of the structure below, and makes the whole perfume so heavy and ponderous.

The creaminess is reminiscent of Madam Rochas, with the accord of rose, lily, adehydes and a rich creamy sandalwood linking of them together. However, in this context, it was off, we did not have the nice lily notes to lift the fragrance or the aldehydes to countpoint the overwhelming sweetness.

To improve, as a personal suggestion, I think if the lily note, and a slight dewey rose aldehyde (rosalva perhaps) would fill up the perfume. Otherwise, the sandalwood should have been toned down, for a more edgy, lighthearted feel.

Nevertheless, the overall perfume is a successful one, and has gone on to inspire other similar structures. The idea of the crystalline amber note, has in my view, inspired other beautiful renditions like L’Instant, and Omnia.

And even so, the heavy iris and sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver combination is once again found in Attraction of Lancome.
I don't know, after thinking about this fragrance for a week, it still eludes me. Perhaps the vanilla and the rose remind me of No. 5. But otherwise, it does nothing for me…
Image from Chanel.com

Friday, June 15, 2007

Chanel : Coco

As it unfolds, a flurry of fruity and floral notes rush at you. It was like you were entering a closed up room, and suddenly the door opens at you and the warm air within gushes out, laden with odours within, fruits from the bowl of ripening peaches sitting on the dinning table, and the bouquet of roses, green and full of life, and the brewing cup of cocoa with the creme brulee served up beside.

Michael Edward's book, Perfume Legends, gives some insights on this fragrance. Jacques Polge who visited Coco’s hotel apartment noted that she had this baroque side to her. Amidst all her girlish simplicity and cold Parisian elegance, there was this side to her that revealed that she was full of passion and complexity, in her life story, in the way she wanted to live it.

Coromandel screens, asian antiquities, Chinese porcelain litter the cramped apartment. Yet Jacques did not immediately take this and go out to create an oriental. (Well he eventually succumb to it, when he made the very beautiful Coromandel Exclusifs).

He mentioned that Shalimar will bring you to India, and Opium will bring you to Marrakech, but Coco will be neither of those. Because Chanel never lived in those exotic lands, she just reveled in their mystery. And her baroque dream of the orient chic was what Jacques noted as Venetian at best. So he said that Coco will bring you to Venice, in its olden apartments cramped with curios overlooking the distinctly European cityscape. Coco brought you to Venice!

What a wonderous line of thought!, such brilliant inspiration that led to this brilliant brilliant floriental. And it was well that he did not just go out to create yet another oriental, but merged the best of two worlds, no, three worlds, to create such an object of sublime beauty.

As we continue, the flurry of fruity and floral notes remind me of summery florals like orchids, roses and jasmines. The fruity note is reminiscent of Opium, with its melonish opening, and a bit like Femme, with its jammy prune like opening. All these, perfectly balanced against an oriental background. Now, orientals are split between ambery orientals (eg. Shalimar) and mellis orientals (eg. Youth Dew). Jean Louis Sieuzac was one of the pioneers to combine the two into the enigmatic Opium. Mellis orientals have fallen largely out of favor, as its note is a bit overly spicy and after several decades of the success of Youth Dew and Blue Grass, seems a bit dated. Opium revived that with the addition of the evergreen ambery oriental notes, which gave it a breath of new life.

And of course, Coco added on to that, with flowery and fruity notes. This allowed the fragrance not to be confined to winter days or night time wear as a perfume like Opium would be confined to, but it would open it up to more moderate days where the fragrance will not so much overwhelm a lovely spring day, but just add a touch of warm and indoors to a cool breezy day.

Coco was an example again of an evolution of a family, from the inter-marriage of ambery and mellis orientals and then a further inter-marriage. New “categories” are created everyday, but not everyday, you see an object of beauty and imagination come to the fore such as Coco.

Photo from www.staleywise.com/collection/dahl_wolfe/revised4_03/8.html

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs : 28 de la Puasa

I have left this to the last of the Exclusifs to review, however, that does not mean that it would be the best of the six new launches. Only that it intrigued me long enough to keep coming back to it again and again.

Sometimes fragrances are just like that. At first, you might not like it very much and after many tries, and given lots of chances, you grow to like it or even fall in love with it. It may be the other way around. Love at first sight, but after a while, simply boredom, and little death.

28 was something old and something new. In the long line of iris perfumes, it was the newest luminary to be added to that list of perfumes constructed around this noble note. Yet, for all its newness on the market, it really was something old. I could say the lineage of this watery iris note started all the way from Apres L’ondee. That enigmatic fragrance, a little sad and grey, yet tinged with a touch of hope of new life. It truly was a masterpiece.

Thereon, fastforward, the next great piece I smelt was Hiris by Hermes, constructed, or rather painted by the genius Olivia Giacobetti, the note was simply like layered chiffon on the glidden body of the goddess Isis.

My latest love affair with the Iris fragrance was with the Homme by Dior. In such a traditionally feminine note, sprung an invention of utter understated elegance.

How does 28 compare? It is good to know that perfumery ideas continue to evolve and to be borrowed, and like so many of the other Exclusifs, 28 did just borrow an idea, abeit too closely, from Homme.

I did not really fall in love with it, merely was captivated with it at the start, and immediately, I said, “Ah! a female Homme de Dior!” The strong iris heart is evident with the powdered lavender, amber and powdered musky heart. Yet it was not strong and elegant like L’Homme. As I smelt on, it had the lively carrot notes of Hiris, a bit vegetal, warm and a bit steamy.

The second day, and then the third day, and then I started to tire of this. There is nothing original in its construction. There are no intricate little stories. Just predictable little elaborations, of themes I have long known before.

It is a sad little fragrance, grey like Apres but it had no little spark to make you happy once again. It is all doom and gloom, there are no highlights in the fragrance. It is beautiful yes, but it is boring as it is refined ad nauseam, it is featureless as it is subtle ad nauseam.

There goes the problem. Sometimes when you try to be too greedy, and start taking good things from everywhere, doesn't mean you get the best. Something new and something old, but that did not make something great.

Image from http://www.waple.net/bbs/data/gallery_color/sad_b.jpg

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Evaporation Model Incorporating Top, Middle and Bottom Notes.

An Essay on the Evaporation Curve
Within the entire perfume, which I shall call total evaporation curve, there are a mix of 3 evaporation curves, ie. Of the top, middle and bottom notes.

In these three, they blend together to form a harmonous total evaporation curve.

Quantity of MaterialsThe top notes start at the top and mostly evaporate by the time they reach middle of the evaporation curve. The middle notes are perceivable I the start of the evaporation but takes the greatest effect in the middle of the evaporation cycle and the bottom notes become more and more perceivable by the time the end of the evaporation cycle is reached.

Total Evaporation Curve

The total evaporation curve will determine how much the top, middle and bottom notes are in the perfume. For heavy perfumes, more bottom notes are being used. For fresher perfumes more top notes are being used. Perfumes with large amounts of bottom notes, like orientals, chypes etc. Well Balanced perfumes with equal proportions of top notes, middle and bottom notes, eg. Florals, aldehydics etc. Citrus Type perfumes, or fresh perfumes with a high percentage of top notes

Materials linkage within Evaporation Curves

The role of a perfumer is to find materials that blend well a single note within a perfume to form distinct Notes within the perfume. For example, a floral perfume will consist of a blend of Rose, Muguet and Jasmin notes. The perfume will design these three notes with Rose top notes, Rose middle notes and Rose bottom notes, and like wise for muguet and jasmin. The “idea” of the perfume is carried through from top to bottom this way and a good harmony is achieved.
Examples of Fragrance Materials in the Evaporation Curve

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Chanel : No 19

19 is one of those rare beauties that come out once in a blue moon. Some perfumes borrow ideas from other people and build on them, and once in a while, someone comes out with an entirely original creation of such abstract beauty that once you experience it, you will simply sigh.

I must qualify, of the three concentrations, Parfum, EDP and EDT, all reflect different part of the personality.

The parfum version is the only version I feel reflects truely the main intention of the creator. The green galbanum top note is carefully controlled to reflect the grassy note of a very expensive extract of irises or tuberoses. It does not overpower the fragrance, in many ways, I feel the green note is not the defining moment in the fragrance but the beautiful interplay between the roses and the irises.

There were many perfumes full of irises before and after I guess, but the real iris root butter has a smell which is a bit creamy (you would say buttery), sweet, powdery, woody (or rooty, earthy, some would put it) and has this sweet violet note which distinguishes it. When introduced into fragrances, many believe it will smoothen out any rough edges and give it a suede like effect, a bit fuzzy yet soft.

And 19 is really about irises, boosted with a very beautiful rose note, the same rich blood red roses present in the No. 5 parfum version, rich and beautiful. Two very expensive and noble materials combined to give something wonderful, rich and elegant.

In the base, a leathery mossy note, probably built around Isobuty quinolenes (like in Bandit), which has both a leathery and mossy smell, and also a strong sweet spicy anise like effect, gives the whole base of 19 a chypre animal effect. It introduces something interesting, because not, it is not some fuddy old grandmother's floral, but a sensual animal dressed up in a soft floral tops. This duality is again something I have explored in Shalimar and Anais Anais, and would be exploring further in L'Heure Bleu.

To top off the rather heavy and sweet floral construction and dark and heavy leather mossy base, a light jasmine note has been added that is both the idea behind a chypre as it strives to lighten the whole fragrance and gives it diffusion and lightness. The jasmine then link to the citrus in the top note and the iris link to a raw, elemental galbanum green note. These additions of jasmin, citrus and galbanum brings a spring like youthfulness about the fragrance. This deceptive youthfulness lends 19 to be generally perceived as a fragrance for the younger market, the daugthers of the Chanel mothers, and generally serve to initiate these younger ones into the club.

In some ways, I am once again reminded of the the earlier theory that Coco wanted No. 5 to be uncopieable given the richness of its homegrown jasmines and roses coupled with the raw energy of aldehydes ie. only such soft richness of the jasmines and roses can tame the powerful rough aldehydes. In 19, the raw energy of galbanum (you only need to smell Vent Vert to feel its raw energy) and the quinolenes can only be tamed by the iris and roses to make a fragrance of such polish and yet such uncopieable originality.

The parfum smells really young and youthful in the first 15 minutes, thereafter the iris notes begin their effect, which makes you feel as if a lady has stepped out of her initial girly outfit. Then after a full 2 hours, the leather moss note is apparent and the whole picture starts to get a bit dangerous and mature. So I think the parfum will be as suitable for a mature lady as it would a younger lady.It is really an interesting fragrance to watch as it evolves.

The EDP and EDT are another story altogether. The EDT is so strong on the citrus and green notes, the initial spray, and I feel I am walking through an overgrown grassyard, stomping and falling every step of the way. The EDP is no better, the green galbanum overtakes the whole fragrance for a good hour, before the heart is to be heard. However, perhaps these two will appeal to an even younger crowd that likes the green outdoors and the citrus vibrancy of the fragrance.

These 3 versions are somehow like different manifestations on a same theme. One is like an evening gown, and the other two like short dresses but on the same theme.

Photo from Biblioparfum.net

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Chanel : Cristalle

Sometime ago, a perfumer friend taught me a lesson about accords. An accord, in simple terms, is a harmony of perfumery notes, that forms an idea or gives a distinctive perfumery note.

I used to think that accords are huge things, like the most obvious smelling things that makes up the idea of the perfume. Like woods, amber and vanilla can give oriental accord. I used to think they have to shout out loud, be made of materials that smell hideously strong, that paints everything the same shade of colour.

But when he presented me with one of the little secrets behind Cristalle, a well known secret in the industry, one that Henri Robert spent many months trying to get just right, I was just blown away.

Four little materials formed this accord, one smelling like raspberries, one of pineapples and violet, one of roses, and the last, of just some light chemical. Even when you combined them together, they did not really smelt like anything, it was just a chemical smelling mixture. An accord that is indestructable, even though it is present in the final formula in less than 1%. Its like a sequin flower pattern sparkling on a perfectly made yellow dress.

When we put this accord, which he liked to call “Sparkle” in one of the trial formulas, wow, the sleepy little composition took on a little life of its own. It was as if, on top of the faceted faces of the diamond little bits of light began to dance. The twinkle, sparkling effect floated above the structured cut stone, lending an air of magic and charm.

Cristalle opens with a lemon citrus with a smart green and herb note. Then the peach/raspberry/melon(helional?)/jasmin accord starts to show itself, carrying on from the citrus opening. It is very sweet, but only for a while, when suddenly the whole thing is over, and all you smell is the lingering woody note, light, woody and powdery ghost of a dusting on your skin. A very befitting end, clean and dry.

And so it is with Cristalle, such a beautiful composition that was somehow a little overshadowed by its bigger sisters No. 5, No. 19 and Coco for a while. While No. 5 was into classic heritage, No. 19 into haute parfumerie elegance, and Coco into heavy duty seduction, Cristalle had a much simpler calling, a summer sprizz to refresh its wearer on a hot sweltering day, it was launched in a time where light summery chypres like Ma Griffe (1946) were the rage of the day.

Had a Chanel perfume been launched as a man’s perfume, like the immortal and much higher profile Eau Sauvage, which I much believed it has evolved from, lemon, herbs, jasmine heart (hedione!), moss and musks, I think it would have seen the profile that it deserves.

Some 20 years later, a EDP version was launched by Jacques Polge, which tried to revive this. Unfortunately, I did not think it was a very good job. The top notes were not green and tart and refreshing, as I would have liked it to be. The heart notes, simply brutal, too much tangerine and peaches, and it smelt like someone rubbed overripe fruit on the skin. The delicate, shimmering citrus chypre accord was destroyed!

In my view, Cristalle EdT stays true to its calling, the original calling that Eau Sauvage set out to solve, prolonged freshness.

H&R states that Cristalle has top notes of bergamot, lemon, basil, cumin, hyacinth, peach, middle notes of jasmine, melon, narcissus, cyclamen, muguet, tangerine, and bottom notes of oakmoss, musk, civet, patchouli and sandal.

The citrus notes is given a spring fresh with a taut note of hyacinth. This leads, after a while, seamlessly lead into the herbal / jasmine heart notes, with a lively jasmine / hedione dance, with the sparkle accord topping it off. Try it, you will smell it, try to look for a sweet crystalline raspberry note floating on top of the citrus/jasmin base.

As the heart note carry on, honey and other phenolic notes (narcissus) provides it the essential hint of girlish sexiness in the heat of summer, oakmoss gives it depth and longlastingness, and musks for the diffusion.

Voila, like a sip of a perfect lemonade in an hot summer afternoon in Chanel haute pre-a-porter, of course.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs: Cuir de Russie

Cuir de Russie is really a fragrance of its time. Again a creation of Ernest Beaux and created in an age and time when women were gradually taking charge of their lives. In this era are milestones like the “smoking jacket” by YSL, and the many smoking women, and of course the large variety of tabac type (Tabac Blond (Caron), Emeraude (Coty) and leather type fragrances (Cabochard(Gres), English Leather, Jolie Madame (Balmain), Cuir de Russie (Guerlain, Chanel)) or even orientals with a a captive leather note, like in Shalimar.

Top notes, Orangeblossom, Bergamot, Lemon, Clary sage, middle notes Carnation, Orris, Yasmin, Ylang, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Base Note, Leather, Opopanax, Heliotrope, Vanilla (from H&R)

Having a leather note in a fragrance is nothing new, because in Europe, one of the first areas where fragrances found extended use was in perfuming leather gloves. After the tanning process, the leather usually had a very pungent leather smell. Glove owners often sent these gloves to be impregnated by perfumes to mask or harmonize this pungent leather note.

Over time, when the smell of leather has become highly coveted, perhaps due the fact that a leather smell is indicative about the quality of the leather, and a sign that it is real, amidst the large variety of synthetic leather materials that does not possess that rich authentic smell. Anything with the feel and smell of leather had a decidedly luxurious feel about it.

In Cuir de Russie, these same ideas come through; a sense of luxury, a sense of empowerment, a sense of daring and independence.

The parfum explodes off my skin and it was as if I put on a pair of really expensive leather gloves. The first notes I sense are a cologne-like top note, with neroli, herbs and bergamot, and immediately I noticed the dry animalic chypre structure. This quickly gives way to a floral and leather accord, which is dry and woody. Irones (dry woody iris material) and isoeugenol (carnation) forms the floral component, and that surrounds the core of the fragrance a leather note and a sweet liquorice/moss note typical of Isobutyl Quinolene (together with the resinous tar like sweetness of opopanax) and vanilla, similar to the combination found in Shalimar. The dryness and smoky notes supported by careful use of cedarwood, coupled with styrax. The drydown is vanillic sweet.

In many ways, this fragrance feels like wearing animal skins lined with fur, smoking a cigarette. This fragrance works well for a man too, as the fragrance is rather androgynous, smoldering sensuality that is neither too feminine, nor overtly masculine.

The leather note is not a new leather smell, which would have made you feel as if you had put on some artificial leather conditioning fluid. Neither is the leather note totally taking the center stage, as in some other fragrances. The spices, carnation and resins help to lend a warm and “age” this leather, making it something convincing. The iris note lends a certain elegance to an otherwise brutal leather and IBQ combination. Finally, the tabac and woody notes create a story of a woman who dears to dress with assertiveness, of a certain bohemian chic.

I would say overall, this is really a fragrance that is very classy, luxurious and rich.

Photo from Chanel.com

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Article by Chandler Burr

Discovered this really good article by Chandler Burr on the background of the Chanel Exclusifs for The New York Times.
Do give it a read.

Photo from Chandler Burr.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs : Chanel No. 22

Today I reached out to my three samples of Chanel 22.
One is a vintage version parfum, the other a modern parfum from a 5 sample parfum set by Chanel and the last is an Eau De Toilette bottle which is about 10 yrs old. I am frankly amazed at how different these 3 fragrances smell, even though they are all supposed to be the same thing, same theme, and same raw materials.

The vintage parfum is like a ghost, a whisper on my skin. As I put it on my skin, it drapes like a transparent veil on it, and I almost cannot smell it initially, because it was so smooth, there was no rough edges to catch hold in my nose, no distinct notes that you will notice, nothing like a serrated blade cutting painfully through the skin like many modern fragrances, but it was something so smooth that, in fact, you did not notice how much of it you inhaled, until you are quite so drunk on it, like a fine brandy, you get drunk even before ou know it.

Top Notes Aldehydes,Middle Notes Jasmine, Tuberose, Ylang-Ylang, Rose, Base Notes Vetiver, Vanilla, Incense. (Basenotes.com)

And so, it is the same thing for many of the vintage Chanel fragrances. They are so smooth, that the notes are well blended and subtle, you take sometime before you make them out. I read from BaseNotes that some people do not like the modern No. 22. I could not agree more, because compared with the vintage versions, the modern version is just plain roughness. Immediately I smell an overdose of PEA, sharp and piercingly green, and the harsh terpineol notes! I know a perfumer who told me once that the rose and jasmine bouquet of Chanel 5 and other Chanel perfumes are uncopyable (unmatchable) by GC, because their richness and bouquet is simply so complex, so subtle and so beautiful.

Apparently, in modern remakes, they may have cut back on these beautiful naturals specially grown in the Grasse fields for Chanel. They also would have switched from naturally derived rhodinols to switch to synthetics. I believe these naturals, and especially the rose note in No. 22 is most critical to its success, even more so than in No. 5, which tends to depend more on the fineness of the jasmine and ylang extra, to moderate the aldehydes.

In No. 22, the rose soars above the iris/vanilla accord to form the pillar around which the other white flower notes surround. The rose melds everything together, and gives the powdery flowery accord a theme. Within this, a spicy carnation note, similar to Bellogia (Caron) fixes the rose to the musky woody base. The aldehydes play a rather subdued role than in No. 5, so it is more elegant, less shocking. Many have speculated that the original intended volume of the aldehydes was just perfect in No. 22 (no overdoses here!). One could have mistaken that it was the original choice of Coco, the abstract yet uber feminine floral. But alas, perhaps it did not have as much character until someone mistakenly (allegedly) overdosed the aldehydes in No. 5.

An infinitely refined fragrance, only the finest raw materials will do justice to this fragrance. Anything less and it will begin to smell a bit vulgar. Yes, perhaps it is only a perfume for those who are in a bygone era, where it is not polite to scream. No. 5 was a scream, an advan garde peice of artwork, edgy like a cubist painting, chosen for its shock value, while No. 22 was like a classical painting, smoothed until no edges showed, like a Monalisa or a madonna on the rocks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs : Bois des Îles

The first time I smelt Bois des Iles was in a samples fridge in the fragrance library in Firmenich.

The thought of exotic wood, in a faraway land, hardly related to the cold open refrigerator door and the cold bottle dripping with condensation. Yet the mildly golden liquid within transported me to another place.

As I put my nose to the touche, I sense immediately the spicy woody accord, led by a short burst of aldehydes and bergamot (so typical of Beaux), it quickly led to the main interlude of the fragrance.

The exoticism of the fragrance can hardly be denied. Slowly rising from the skin of my hand, it is like a warm stream of vapour, from a cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon and cloves. The accord is formed between the familiar milky creamy sandalwood and spices. The dominant sandalwood note is flanked and accentuated by soft aldehydes and rose/jasmine to give it lift and volume and a certain lightness, and supported by other notes like vetiver or perhaps vetiveryl acetate to give it the dryness and fine woody feel.

Before the sandalwood note becomes too sickly stifling and boringly “nourishing“, a spicy note immediately contrasts with and balances the rich creaminess. The slightly clove and cinnamon spice note is enriched with ylang.

The whole perfume is carefully balanced, not too overtly woody, just a hint of spices, florals and citrus/musk to lift it up. This fragrance could be a feminine or a masculine fragrance, either way. Many think of it as a feminine perfume because it comes in parfum, but I think it works really well on a man’s skin too.

Eventually this fragrance would evolve into another masterpiece, Egoiste, who many say is a fragrance way too ahead of its time. It was through the lens of Egoiste, with its ultra masculine note of sandalwood and black spices that made me understand this very sublime and subtle fragrance. If Bois des Iles is a exercise in polished elegance of the feminine, then Egoiste is a conscious exercise to push these elements to an almost rough hewn chiselled torso of a man. In many ways, Bois des Iles is one of, what I consider, the trilogy of Ernest Beaux. One of the last perfumes that is still on offer that is created by this great Russian perfumer. He started with the same group of materials with which he created No. 5 with the aldehyde overdose, and then polished up the florals which eventually gave birth to No. 22 and 4 years later, Bois des Iles.

Watch out for it, other woody perfumes I will review are Sandalwood by Elizabeth Arden, Samsara by Guerlain, Rush Homme by Gucci, Egoiste by Chanel, Feminite du Bois by Shiseido, Poeme by Lancome, amongst others.

Image from www.toutenparfum.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs : Gardenia

Gardenia is one of the original creations of Ernest Beaux, and it belongs to the original collection of the Chanel Exclusifs.

I have always had a love affair with gardenias, and I was always very excited when the gardenias are in bloom during spring time. The creamy fruity scent of the flowers often bring to me a feeling of new hope. Its headiness pregnant with expectancy, yet is verdant greenness and its fruity playfulness bring it into another realm altogether, one that is lively and light, like a little dance.

Gardenia by Chanel is a meld of all of this and more. It is meant to reflect Chanel’s personal favorite flower. I had always wondered why, because it is such an emotional fragrance, not elegant and abstract.

In any case, the perfume starts off with a profusion of light floral notes, not so much of the fruity or green notes, which although present, were very well blended into the background in a supporting role. The impression I got, was one of orange flowers (in the Yardley sense), something like the top green note of muguet, brighten slightly with orange citrus notes, elaborated with neroli and dew.

The tonality is very modern, in a way, and gave me a glimpse into how a perfume like that can evolve into the modern and brilliant Beyond Paradise in about 70 years.

And like Beyond Paradise, the swirling light watery atmospheric notes quickly gave way to a very full and sensual jasmine heart. Woven into the jasmine note is a sweet, almost chocolaty sugary sweet note, something like honey and syrup, yet not as sweet. The creamy notes of a typical gardenia are not so evident, no strong lactone notes in sight here, but rather it leads into a kind of sweet fruity jasmine note with lots of benzyl acetate, blended into an ambery, musky, woody and vanillic note that is as smooth as velvet.

I think this is the most beautiful of the lot, the most sultry, passionate and emotional. Compared to this, the rest of the perfumes are quiet elegant pieces, a bit emotionless by comparison, a little like pictures on a wall. But this, this is the flesh blossoming beneath the cool structured Chanel pieces, this fragrance comes alife, like life heralding of the coming spring. In the range, the parfum version is the best of the lot.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Chanel Exclusifs : 31 Rue Cambon

31 Rue Cambon was inspired by Chanel's legendary boutique.

Chypres, known in its present form since the creation of the great La Chypre (Coty) has been taken in all directions due to the ease at which a chypre can be defined. But ultimately, chypres find its core in the mousse de saxe (oakmoss) note, which smelt by itself is one of great wonder.

The moss note is at once dark, with an algae & tar note, a bit sticky. Enveloped within this is the ripen fruit note of sometimes prunes, berries or peach. The tar note sometimes extends to a burnt note or a tabac note, and the algae note extends to a slightly floral effect accorded with a resinous effect, reminiscent of rich heavy florals, with lots of styrax, myrrh or frankincense.

From this theme, the basic chypre accord is defined eloquently by La Chypre, building on the moss note upwards would be a jasmine note, which in its happy top notes of benzyl acetate link really week within a citrus accord. Downwards, the mandatory woody and resinous/balsamic notes, with a touch of dark chocolaty patchouli. Within this, the moss completes the fruity and mossy background to the chypre accord.

Variations of course stem from this, the earliest was to take the fruity note of oakmoss and accentuate it, and accord it with things like peach aldehyde (undecalactone) in Mitsouko (Guerlain), with gamma methyl ionone plus patchouli in Femme (Rochas), jasmine in Rumeur original (Lanvin), citrus / green in Miss Dior (Dior) to finally the modern strawberry/chypre accord in Miss Dior Cherie.

It is from this heritage, the 31 rue Cambon is conceived. It is the rich jasmine aspect that has been greatly accentuated in this case. Reminds me of Rumeur or My Sin of Lanvin. The jasmine is very classic and very rich, full of indoles and built on a classic base of woods and resins.

What is modern about it, is that it also reminds me of Miss Dior Cherie (Dior), although rue Cambon is vastly superior to Cherie in its execution, the fruity notes at the top of peach and berries is similar, but much more toned down, less in your face.

Downwards, in the base, a good, subtle patchouli note, pushing the rest of composition up, more so than Cherie, giving it a oldish, yet very opulent, very sensual, and faux oriental feel, reminding me always of Femme (Rochas).

The fragrance is quite interesting. It does not smell pungent up front, rather, it is friendly and refined. But take a step back, 3-5 centimenters from the skin, and immediately the opulent jasmine, fruity and patchouli accord explodes to its fullness. I think the sillage of this fragrance will be great, and quite unforgettable.

In this fragrance, I see the opulence and haute couture of Mme Chanel. I also see stubborn, dominant character of Coco, defiant and very independent. At the same time, something sexy and dark and sinful right in the core. Really very complex, very well put together.

While it is not of great originality, since it takes its precedence from so may other greats and not so greats, it is wonderfully executed. I think the fragrance signals another great era of chypres (in its more classical sense) making a comeback. Great…

Photo from Chanel.com

Chanel Exclusifs : Coromandel

This fragrance was inspired by lacquered Coromandel screens.

On initial smell, it reminded me of cinnamons and patchouli, forming the central accord and signature theme of the fragrance. The patchouli forming the woody theme of the wooden Coromandel Screen, the cinnamon giving it a much eastern twist.

To support the lacquered screen them further, this accord is further supported by a slight aldehydic note (something like Lipstick Rose from Frederic Malle) which gives it a waxy and plastic feel, coupled with a resinous benzoin note which completes the lacquer like feel. I must say this aspect is really subtle and not really in the forefront, which is good, its meant to hint, not reek of lacquer. Although I would have wanted it to be slightly more pronounced. The overall effect also reminded me of Old Spice so a rather masculine opening, it also reminded me of Opium (YSL) to a much lesser extent, with the mellis accord of spices (cinnamon), labdanum and benzoin.

Just as I was being transported into the mystical east, I was gently reminded that a hot vanilla coco drink wafting into the slightly old, slightly avant guard European apartment, filled with bouquets and bouquets of red and white roses.

Running underneath this accord is a typical floral note of roses, jasmines and the likes, which gave a very delicate floral bouquet, filling what must be a harsh accord of cinnamons, patchouli and aldehydes. The overall impression is one of an oriental like the classic Shalimar (Guerlain) (the rose, vanilla & rose accord) or like the sweet gourmand Angel (Thierry Mugler) (the rose, vanilla, chocolate and patchouli accord) or the light radiant powdery Prada (labdanum, benzoin and vanilla). In any case, this theme switches between an ancient classic Shalimar and a modern Angel. It is quite interesting, the oscillation between the two or three fragrances.

The fragrance is like a mélange of well connected ideas, the chocolate building on the patchouli theme, the vanilla building on the chocolate, leading on to an oriental theme, then the mellis accord, leading back to the spices and wrapping it all up with flowers. It is a well thought out fragrance, full of skill and refinement. Yet, strangely, it is rather forgettable, rather same, rather familiar.

If the waxy, resinous, lacquer like note was stronger, it would be a fragrance of such distinction.
Photo from Chanel.com

Chanel Exclusifs : Eau De Cologne

Easily the most forgettable and unremarkable of the 6 new launches, the opening note is a classic eau de cologne note which is the standard neroli, bergamot blend. If you just took it at face value. I think it is like the duality of Shamilar (Guerlain), at first citrusy fresh, but in actual a alluring oriental.
This reminds me of a fragrance by Sacre Nobi, Sloth, which also had an opening note that is similar, orangeflower and neroli, easily dismissed until you take the time to appreciate it.

From the quick expected cologne top note, the fragrance settles rather unexpectedly into a more sweet spicy floral note. This distinctly reminds of that this is a very refined take of Cologne by Thierry Mugler. Although Cologne is rather rough around the edges, and a bit synthetic with its greenish tint and silver cap, Eau De Cologne is quite refinement of a very old Penhaligon bouquet and yet modernized with a sheer orangeblossom note.

Rather unexpectedly, a note something like L’Origan (Coty) or L’Heure Bleu (Guerlain) springs up, full of violets (ionones), sweet anise and spices and woods. Yet because of the overdose of EdC notes, is totally luminous and more airy and more atmospheric than L’Heure Bleu even.

I think the orangeblossom note is the most beautiful central note of EdC, it makes the fragrance logical, tying two halves which are totally unrelated. It ties the fleeting top cologne note and instead of leading it to some herbaceous musky note, it leads it into a sweet floral note, with flowers and woods.

Not exactly original, yet beautifully done, summery and dreamy, like a sun beam shining all the way from morning into dusk. Sadly, perhaps EdC was not a good name, it made me stereotype the fragrance, it should be L’Air or Atmosphere or something like that…

Chanel Exclusifs : No. 18

Les Exclusifs are “based on the complicated trajectory of the founder’s difficult and flamboyant life. They are also the scents she cherished, outdoors and at home” (Allure, Feb. 2007, page 178).

No.18 is an homage to Chanel jewelry consisting mostly of diamonds and platinum. Jacques Polge was inspired by this to create No 18, building it around the ambrette seed.

The opening notes are confusing, raw and seems like I was smelling a raw accord rather than a completed fragrance. Notes of ambrette, musk, irises, carrots and strangely cumin! waft up from my skin. This strange arrangement, with the ambrette and cumin forming an uncomfortable arrangement which is both of startling originality and arresting.

The olfactory imagery I immediately get is that of cold on hot. The cold polished glare of diamonds and platinum, with fresh and sparkling initial notes, set on the warm of l’peau, soft skin filled with a soft glow of silky muskiness and its like the owner of this diamond necklace was oozing sensuality with the soft spicy notes of cumin, spices and geranium. The contrast brings the fragrance to life, not a piece of jewelry on display, but one that is worn, adorning the wearer, making her alluring, desirable, sensual… This whole fragrance effect links me to a very recent range of fragrances, Le Parfum, by Thierry Mugler. It reminds me of the accord found in Virgin. Virgin pulsates with virility, tenderness and such vulnerability.

Immediately, this spicy floral note brings to mind several fragrance precedences. I realized the main structure took reference from the great classic Dioressence (Dior) and the more recent Gucci Rush. Indeed, Dioressence was made from a great accord between Ambergris (which has a very similar profile to Ambrette Seed) and a soapy aldehyde woody accord.

The ambrette seed took it into another direction. While the smothering sensuality of Dioressence might have overwhelmed many, it would seem that the clever exploitation of the Ambrette seed element brought to the foreground a more innocent and ethereal note. That of carrot seeds, which then links to a iris background (ala Hiris of Hermes, which is an accord of carrots and irises). The musky background is made more powdery, like the soft glow of the platinum reflecting off the skin. The musky background is simply so special, one of the best I have smelt so far, a natural extension of the key ambery musky component of ambrette seeds (ambrettolide, which is one of the most expensive musks known to perfumery). This brings to me again the duality theme again, at once innocent, cold and aloof, but then suddenly sensual, with the smell of human skin, the elbows, the navel and all places sexy.

Overall, I really love this fragrance. If many people say that 31 rue Cambon is one of the best, to me No. 18 simply is simply then transcendent. Bellissimo..

Chanel Exclusifs : Bel Respiro

The name Bel Respiro, comes from a country house that Coco Chanel owned.

This vegetal fragrance starts off with a rather abstract green note, fresh and like a breeze, then settles down to an accord of resinous galbanum, reminding one of sap, broken twigs and even deeper still a earthy and leathery note.

Immediately, it reminds me of the great classic, the original Vent Vert, but that was not all, it also reminded me of Miss Balmain. The green top notes, merged with a herbal aromatic middle, and then an almost castoreum like leathery note in the base.

This fragrance is a leather fragrance in hiding within the green lushness. All this reminds me of an imagery of Coco taking a horse ride in her estate. When she walks out of her house, the lush vibrancy of the flowers, their tender spring green greet her. But then, she climbs onto her horse and decides to take a ride into the grassland, into the woods. The resinous hay (labdanum and salicylate accords (familiar in Miss Balmain(Balmain), but more famous in the smoky Je Reviens(Worth)) give way to the sap and dark green of lush undergrowth, trampled on grass and broken twigs. All the while, the subtle notes of the saddle of her horse keeps her grounded.

It is an almost impressionistic fragrance, with sudden abstract notes fleeting in and out. With a strong program to follow, you can really relive the times in that villa. However, the strong green vegetal notes will never allow it to be very commercial. Interesting to follow, but not easy to wear on the skin. I think I will smell like the incredible green hulk if I somehow wore this, or someone will mistaken me for someone who has just wondered out of a forest. Perhaps the twigs should have been toned down somewhat, and the floral salicylate and leather notes increased somewhat…the balance will still not be spoiled, yet making it immensely much more commercial.

Photo from Chanel.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Anaïs Anaïs, the goddess, the nymph, the fairy, the girlish woman.

The theme about duality and contrasts brings me to discuss another interesting fragrance that is about the same idea but a very different type of fragrance.

Anais Anais is probably the best known floral, created by Firmenich some 30 years ago. It still remains a very beautiful floral. This ethereal fragrance is quite a different thing from the bleached white and watery ozonic florals you see being launched into the market nowadays.

Anais Anais looks simple and approachable on the surface, and it likes to seem that way.
A refreshing burst of citrus and greens that consist of galbanum, lemon, jasmine, tart crips notes of gardenia, fruits and bergamot reminds one of the singing top notes of Chamade.

But unlike Chamade, which leads slowly down into a sweet vanillic balsamic base, Anais Anais develops slowly into a floral, fruit and musk accord.

As it develops from the top notes, the simplicity of the top note gives way to a simple yet strange personality. One that is nice and one that naughty, very much like the Shalimar that I talked about earlier. The duality comes in the effect of the floral accord and how it is carefully balanced between the innocence and sensuality. The immediate impression is that of the freshness of the white florals, ie. the happy citrusy jasmine notes, the pureness of the virginal white rose notes, the green lily notes that links it all together as the dominant note, making one feeling it's a peaceful, idyllic and innocent fragrance.

This reminds me of the scent of trumpet lilies, which carefully balances a fresh, tart green note, with a phenolic, indolic heart. The effect is strange, fresh and yet exotic and sensual. Its booth daylight and nighttime.

On second impression, the fragrance, with the innocent veil lifted, starts to hint of something quite different. The fruity exotic richness of the peaches, jammy sweet honey together with a slightly oily, mildly indolic note of HCA and indole.

All this nicely wrapped up with a touch of musk, that smells human, warmth and like the smell of clean girlish skin.

The overall effect is one that is like lying in the lap of a girl with a nice white blouse, sitting in field of grass and wild flowers freely blooming in a spring day, and under that, the alluring smell of skin at once musky, smelling of peaches, honey, slightly oily and buttery…delicious.

The floracy starts to develop from there, the grean notes develop iConsidered a symbol of purity by the ancient Greeks, Madonna lilies enrich the heart of this romantic perfume. Amazingly it takes one ton of petals to produces just one pound of lily oil… making Anaïs Anaïs precious indeed! Inspired by the Persian goddess of fertility and death, Anaïs Anaïs celebrates the innocent yet sensual duality

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Shalimar, the gift of life, the mother, the lover

Many years ago, when I first smelt Shalimar, it was as if I fell into a deep sleep and was wisked away into a dream world. This dream world is something I occassionally visit and go back to again and again.

Described by many as the most sensual perfume in existance, it was for me another thing altogether. That dream world was one of innocence, like as if I am being cuddled into my mother's bossom once more. The sweet smell of skin gently heated by the warmth of love and care. The delicate mix of roses, sandalwood, benzoin and vanilla (vanillin and ethyl vanillin) formed an accord so wonderfully comforting that now, people will instantly recognise this as the baby powder smell. Popularly adopted for J&J's talcum powder, that accord simply is everything about a mother's loving care and a baby's innocent dependence. It makes me want to cuddle and hug that person.

However, as I immerse myself further into this perfume, the outer veil peels away like a chiffon dress. Revealing a darker note, an uneasy accord of the bitter notes and poisonous peppery notes of oppopanax and the daringly wild leathery note, further enforced with civet and castoreum and styrax. These two are like the fiery red rubbies enclasped in the pale blue hue of a platinum bracelet. If I were to describe this smell, it will remind me of the deeper darker regions where my nose dare not go. The boundaries between the hair on the the neck behind, the playful creases of the ear, the bend of the elbows, the plunging bossoms, need I say more? This accord is so alluring, so sensual, yet it is so well hidden, that it ensnares without the person knowing what has happened.

If I said I was first attracted to Shalimar for its gentleness, I am in love with it for its smouldering sex accord. This duality is disarming.

This duality theme is again evident in the interplay between the luminous notes of the sparkling bergamot and lemon, cheerful and outgoing, and the dark sensual "oriental" ambery notes of labdanum and benzoin. The vanilla ties the two in, as vanilla acts in the first forming a perfect accord with the bergamot, to give the effect of a fluffy meringe pie, and persists all the way to the end, where the vanilla blends with the oppopanax and labdanum in a almost sugary sweet, burnt and caramel like feel of a creme brulee. The vanilla being the key to this fragrance. The dualistic play between the diffusive citrus notes and the sticky close to skin smell of the resinuous notes is again something that never fails to give interest to the wearer.

To say that this is the grand dame of gourmand pieces is an understatement. Guerlains have always been very gourmand. This is by no means the first gourmand creation, like a sinful dessert, a fatal delectation sitting innocently dressed in creme fraiche on the dessert tray. It allures sweetly, yet kills softly when you partake of it.

It is a very complex composition, full of changes, full of surprises on the skin. I tend to like the Eau de Parfum(vintage version) more than the Parfum(vintage), as the interplay between the notes are more noticeable. The luminuous nature of the EdP is more evident, the balance between the innocent and the sensual a bit more evened out. I would not comment on the modern version, which I do not feel much for.

Shalimar, created in 1925 by Jacques Guerlain, was inspired by a love story of Shah Jahangir and his wife, Mumtaz Majal. Upon her death, Shah build a mausoleum in her honour, which is Taj Mahal. The fragrance was named after the Gardens of Shalimar, so beloved by Mumtaz Majal. Whether the story is true, or just an example of clever marketing playing upon the fascination with the East in the 1920s, the magic of Shalimar is indisputable. The notes include: lemon, bergamot, jasmine, rose de mai, opopanax, tonka bean, vanilla, iris, incense, ambergris.

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