Thursday, August 28, 2008

No More Than Meets the Eye part I - Guerlain

Advertising has been an essential element of the perfume world since the early 1900: s. After all it is the most direct way for the makers to convey their vision of what a particular fragrance represents, or perhaps more accurately - what they want it to represent.

Visually strong and original campaigns have elevated brands for ages. Examples that instantly come to mind are Calvin Klein's black and white photo ads for Eternity featuring Christy Turlington, an androgynous Kate Moss for One from the same designer, Davidoff's sporty and maritime ads for Cool Water, Dior's cartoon sailor for Eau Sauvage and Chanel's shadow boxer for Platinum Egoïste just to name a few.

Some ads have gotten attention through controversy instead, for instance full frontal nudity like Tom Fords M7 campaign for Yves Saint Laurent. Either way advertising is imperative in today's competitive fragrance market, and fundamental for setting the general mood and ambiance regarding a launch and communicating the preferred image and aesthetics of the creator.

In this section, No More Than Meets the Eye, I'll be looking closer at individual houses and designers and their visual communication through the ages by a selection of their hallmark ads and vintage artwork. First out epic French masters Guerlain:

All pictures courtesy of:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Versace - L'Homme

Versace´s L'Homme from the mid-eighties really epitomizes how brilliant mainstream designer fragrances once were. This is so well blended that it is hard to pinpoint the individual notes.

It does start with some sharp citrus and aromatic basil, eventually settling down to a semi-sweet, mossy, herbal and highly masculine base. The topnotes are slightly dissonant, astringent almost, immediately catching ones attention. I find this quality very typical of italian perfumery, often employed by for instance Santa Maria Novella and Lorenzo Villoresi. I enjoy this phase of L'Homme , but I can also understand that some have been discouraged by this particular bit. This herbaceuousness quickly transcends into total smoothness though.

The fragrance lasts forever and the progression is flawless, with each hour a new, great nuance of the scent is revealed. L'Homme slightly reminds me of Dunhill Edition, but less sweet and superior overall. The use of tobacco plays an important role in L'Homme like in other Versace fragrances such as The Dreamer and Versace Man, adding to it's perfect roundness and comforting, luxurious personality.

alanced, full of character, subtle yet decisive - this is bottled elegance. And, most impressively, it does not smell dated at all.

Year of Launch:
Gender Classification: Masculine
Reminiscent of: Dunhill Edition, Aramis, Drakkar Noir
Longevity & Sillage: Both stellar
Overall rating: 8/10

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido - Gris Clair

Extremely different from most Lutens scents, Gris Clair is somewhat brutal, quite one dimensional and very masculine. It definitely breaks the mould regarding what we've come to expect from this house. Neither ambiguous or an oriental, candied, fruit-honeyed-sweetness-meltdown. Instead Gris Clair is a modern, sharp and quite dark take on one of the most classic notes in perfumery - lavender.

The lavender has a clear metallic edge to it that is very special - reminds me a bit of the small spice sachets that grandma had lying around drawers with linen. But it´s also easy to argue that Gris Clair in fact is a stronge move toward the mainstream. It´s miles less original than most Lutens fragrances, and elements of it are extremely reminiscent of widely available stuff like Lanvin L´Homme or Rocabar from Hermès. Perhaps this is the route many niche houses will be taking? At least Fredric Malle´s Outrageous and some of the latest L'Artisans seem to indicate such a development.
To conclude, Gris Clair is a cool and macho spiced juice with some serious bite. Mellow and subtle it is not, but an accessible lavender that'll work great in a professional business environment assuming it is applied with moderation. Crisp and formal, a nice fragrance on it´s own but only okay granted its maker and niche status.

Year of Launch: 2006
Gender Classification: Unisex
Reminiscent of: Roberto Cavalli Black, Hermès Rocabar, Moschino Uomo, Lancome Hypnose Homme
Longevity & Sillage: Both well above average
Overall rating: 6/10

Friday, August 22, 2008

Speed Review: Davidoff - Adventure

Year of Launch: 2008
Gender Classification: Masculine
Availability: In Production
Dominant notes: Mandarin, bergamot, black sesame, pimento, cedar, vetiver, white musk
Reminiscent of: Paul Smith London, Giorgio Armani Code, John Varvatos
Longevity & Sillage: Subtle, muted sillage, above average longevity
Packaging & Design: Good looking solid glass flacon with steel top and faceted cap, simple and a bit cheap looking brown carton
5 adjectives: Casual, warm, coco nutty, spicy, safe
Overall rating: 6/10

L'Artisan Parfumeur - Dzongkha

2006 saw the release of the excellent Dzongkha from fab french "niche-sters" L'Artisan Parfumeur. After a few so and so fragrances, especially the austere, stiff and boringly woody Timbuktu, this house was right back on track with Fou d'absinthe and this lovely iris elixir.

y no means an instant crowdpleaser, Dzongkha is an extremely dry and somewhat demanding scent. A stunning pale iris opens the blend that progresses into deep spices, tea and muted smoke. All notes with significant dryness as their common denominator. The drydown, that lingers forever, is a woodsy leather with subtle incense - truly exotic.

t is a very evocative blend - romantic as in breathtaking nature and stunning vistas. Dzongkha sports a mellow calm without the slightest hint of superficiality. Give this a one a serious try, and don´t let a perplexing first impression scare you of. For those willing to give this eau de toilette some time, chances are it´ll be a very rewarding experience. Simply superb.

Year of Launch: 2006
Gender Classification: Unisex
Reminiscent of: The Different Company Bois D'Iris, Dior Homme, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist
Longevity & Sillage: Like many L'Artisan fragrances Dzongkha has a limited output but very good staying power.
Overall rating: 7/10

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Forgotten Gems Part I - Trophée Lancôme

In this section I’m going to be looking a little closer at the forgotten gems of the fragrance world. Not necessarily discontinued, but overlooked or perhaps just drowned out in the ever increasing new releases of each year. Our first subject is the brilliant Trophée
by Lancôme.

With it's background firmly rooted in sport, The Trophée Lancôme was a professional golf tournament which was staged in France from 1970 to 2003, Trophée was launched in 1982. The original flacon, paying hommage to the tournament, is brilliantly quirky in that decadent 80´s way and excellently representing it's content.

he fragrance itself is best described as a classic green chypre. The standard citrus opening is followed by a distinct lavender and jasmin which eventually settle into a generally herbal base with strong woods. Overall impression is herbaceous, confident, grassy and slightly spicy. An instant head turner with it's masculine sillage. Official notes are: Lemon, Basil, Lime, Petitgrain, Patchouli, Bay, Cedar, Jasmine, Musk, Amber, Labdanum and Tonka.

mong it's contemporary peers I'd say Frederic Malle's Bigarade Concentrée comes the closest. But as much as I enjoy that one, Trophée is simply superior both in terms of complexity and output.

pparently Lancôme relaunched Trophée in 2002 after a few years of discontinuation. I have not yet tried the recent edition, but let's hope that the new and boring standard bottle isn't an indication that the formula has been watered down or tampered with in any way... The rich mossiness of the original deserves to find its new fans unaltered.

Overall rating:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Penhaligon's- Hammam Bouquet

I never thought of rose as a particularly feminine smell. If you smell the actual flower in a dewy garden it smells very genderless to my nose, just a nice, mild and fresh aroma. I think it's the extremely synthetic rose in tacky mass market fragrances of the last decade that has tarnished the reputation of this beatiful, floral component. The rose found in Geo F Trumper's ancient Rose Shaving Cream for instance smells very gentle and natural. The same can be said for Comme de Garcons Red Series Rose.

So, with this in mind, I was never afraid or worried about the strong rose element when I finally got around to sample Hammam Bouquet. After all, this eau de toilette was released over a century ago.

Hammam Bouquet does definitely not disappoint in conveying a flawless image of the quitessential english dandy. Everything from the elegant, little bow tied flacon to the theme of interpreting the sumptuos turkish bath culture trough a british, dry and more discreet perspective makes Hammam Bouquet a little bottle of colonial and imperialistic history. The fragrance also serves as an interesting cultural, historical and social example in terms of gender perceptions linked to olfaction. Floral smells such as rose and jasmin are still not attributed to femininity in the Middle East in the same way as in the western hemisphere. And looking at the rich history of traditional barbershop brands like D.R. Harris and Taylor of Old Bond street or french houses like Roger & Gallet, floral colognes and after shaves were always an integral part of the offerings for the well groomed man. The distict gender classicfication of these notes is a later phenomenon, no doubt linked to factors like marketing, trends and other cultural development.

Unfortunately the overall impression of the fragrance left me somewhat underwhelmed, I guess I expected a little more - afterall Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet is a favourite of mine. Since, I've warmed up to it slightly but there is a powdery dryness in the heart notes which just doesn't sit well on my skin. The overall quality is stellar though, literally smells luxurious, and on the right person I think this could give the perfect ambiance of understated elegance with just the right, subtle opulent twist. An aromatic, heady, nostalgic and traditional oriental. Good stuff - just not for me.

Year of Launch: 1872
Gender Classification: Unisex
Reminiscent of: Hermès Hiris, Acqua di Parma Colonia, L'Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses, Emanuel Ungaro Ungaro III
Longevity & Sillage: Moderate sillage, above average staying power
Overall rating: 7/10

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Citrus Anatomy Part I - Monsieur Balmain

Colognes, as in Kölnisch Wassers - or simply citrus scents, are one of my favourite categories of fragrance. Not much can beat the invigorating freshness of a zesty cologne before heading out on a hot, sunny summer day. In this section, The Citrus Anatomy, I´ll be looking a little closer at this genre and examining the different nuances of some of the classics - both traditional and modern. First out a french bad boy that was reformulated in 1990.

've always wanted to "freeze" the lemon/citrus topnotes of many of my favourite colognes. I felt Dior's Eau Sauvage, Hermès´s Eau d'Orange Verte, Eau de Rochas pour homme and particularly the original Lacoste would benefit from prolonged citrus presence.

Then I tried Monsieur Balmain...

he initial, slightly bitter but insanely clean, lemon blast gives Monsieur Balmain a very promising start to say the least. Then this squeezed lemon and citrus peel note actually stays with you for hours - and guess what? It actually ruins the whole thing. My personal conclusion is that the best classic citruses are the ones with a fresh, zesty opening but with an equally pleasant and elaborate drydown. This progression often settles in some kind of herbal or woody base. Unfortunately the Balmain stays mainly lemon and eventually develops into a faint and not too clean nor pleasant musk. So it's linear and pretty boring, however - if the thought of a long present lemon note excites you the way it did me before, then by all means give this revamped oldie a shot.

I would however recommend trying Penhaligon's excellent Blenheim Bouquet instead, also with longlasting and somewhat bitter citrus, but paired with a refined and elgant, smokey pine making it's structure infinitely more interesting.

hen it comes to longevity though, this perhaps the rarest characteristic of the genre, nothing beats Monsieur Balmain. This one really does last, which, may actually be it´s strongest merit.

Overall rating:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Speed Review: Creed – Green Valley

Year of Launch: 1999
Gender Classification: Unisex
Availability: In Production
Dominant notes: Mint, Violet Leaves, Blackcurrant , Oakmoss, Sandalwood, Musk.
Reminiscent of: Creed Green Irish Tweed, Christian Dior Fahrenheit, Liz Claiborne Curve
Longevity & Sillage: Mild to moderate sillage, above average longevity for a Creed fragrance
Packaging & Design: Standard Creed flacon with gold print fonts and transparent cap, green carton with white relief print
5 adjectives: Mature, Semi bitter, Rugged, Mossy, Soapy
Overall rating: 8/10

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gant - Gant Silver

When classic preppy brand Gant first ventured into the world of fragrances, the result wasn't bad at all. Gant Classic from 1997 was by no means groundbreaking or original, but it was a well crafted mossy, fresh fougere with a clear concept and sense of direction. Their sophomore effort - the peachy G2 indicated serious lack of inspiration. Subsequently they´ve continued to put out bland, generic, run of the mill, watered down juices regularly. From the muted grapefruity Indigo to the artificial red pepper mess that is Soho and the aquatic monstrosities known as Adventure and Liquid, all Gant fragrances the last years have been just terrible. There is no other way of putting it.

This fact does seem to have been aknowledged by their responsible people now though. The latest release, Silver, is a serious step up for the brand, in several ways. Before anyone gets too excited I'd describe Silver as something in between Ralph Lauren Polo Sport and Giorgio Armani Code, no grand prize for originality in any way. But fact is that the fresh, ambery and faintly herbal juice works quite well. It´s a woody comfort scent that is perfect for subtle office use. Notes include bergamot, lime, basil, lavender, cardamom, thyme, patchouli, tonka bean and amber.

The packaging, ads and overall concept is executed well, and for the first time in ages the brand has managed to create something that I believe will stand out enough to get just a tad more attention and excitement than other similar, generic launches.

To read the company's own copywriting about Silver being "prestige" and "premium" this and that is just laughable though. This is just an acceptable fragrance, nothing more, nothing less. A somewhat synthetic feeling comfort-concoction that will stick around a few years simply because the competition is that bad right now. With Silver, Gant are right back where they started fragrancewise. A promising (fresh) beginning. Let´s hope they don't start making the same mistakes again.

Year of Launch:
Gender Classification: Masculine
Reminiscent of: Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Giorgio Armani Code, Azzaro Onyx, Davidoff Silver Shadow
Longevity & Sillage: Both slightly below average
Overall rating: 5/10

Blu Mediterraneo - Fico di Amalfi

There comes a time in the life of every fragrance aficionado when you choose your prefered fig, just like your sandalwood, musk, patchouli or vetiver of choice. In fact I´d go as far as claiming that fig, or more correctly fig leaf, is the one note that has become a benchmark for numerous houses the last decade. Shortly, many houses feel they have to represent this increasingly popular ingredient in their ranges. And subsequently we have a lot to choose from: Diptyque´s Philosykos, L'Artisan Parfumeur's Premier Figuier, Hermès´s Mediterranean Garden, Marc Jacobs For men, Davidoff's GoodLife, Salvatore Ferragamo's Pour Homme, Christian Dior's Dune for men - the list goes on... Therefore it´s also fairly easy to compare within this category and find the individual merits of each fragrance. The Acqua di Parma people (like most of the time) certainly suceeded with their take.

Immediately upon application you´ll sense that Fico di Amalfi is a tad more synthetic compared to Diptyque's and L'Artisan's juices, but definitely less artificial smelling then Hermès´s and Marc Jacobs dito. Overall this slightly synthetic touch doesn´t hurt the fragrance or it´s general feel. There is a bit of that same dryness as with most fig-leaf based scents, but FdA also adds a luscious sweetness of crushed fig pulp to the mix along with a sparkling touch of jasmin.

Longevity is excellent although the fragrance is very linear, but I think this is the point with the entire Blu Mediterraneo series, simple, few-note, feel good fragrances at an affordable price. With FdA they continue the good vibe that started with their excellent roasted almond gourmand Mandorlo di Sicilia and the uplifting piney freshness of their Tuscan fougere Cipresso di Toscana.

To sum up the charateristics of Fico di Amalfi in comparison to it´s peers and competitors I´d say it´s less dry, mossy and green than Philosykos, lacking the milky almond note from Premier Figuier, completely absent of the acidity in Un Jardin en Mediterranée, avoiding the coconut-sun-tan-lotion bonanza of Marc Jacobs - but instead sporting a fleshy-fruit sweetness and a plesant cedar base balancing the composition very well. Also the staying power is probably the best within this genre. A big thumbs up, and just like Guerlains Aqua Allegoria line, AdP have found a consequent and interesting aesthetic in this range - Blu Mediterraneo, that will hopefully release more care free, sunny and high quality fragrances in the future.
Review originally published on

Year of Launch:
Gender Classification: Unisex
Reminiscent of: Diptyque Philosykos, Hermès Un Jardin en Mediterranée, L'Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier
Longevity & Sillage: Both excellent
Overall rating: 7/10

Monday, August 11, 2008

Christian Dior – Escale à Portofino

Don’t let the tall, striking, round flacon fool you… Unfortunately Escale à Portofino is not in the same division as Dior’s three previous colognes: Eau Noir, Cologne Blanche and Bois D’Argent. Not even the same universe. Of course this latest Dior hasn’t been marketed as a follow up to that brilliant trio, but the luxurious packaging and old school ad easily gives one that impression.

But what we have here is just an other Eau de Cologne. Kölnisch wasser. Agua di Colonia. A simple citrus with some anchoring herbal notes. And almond! First of all I love a good cologne, classic or new, and secondly I can’t remember trying any other citrus cologne with a pronounced almond note. This microscopic stroke of genius on perfumer François Demachy’s part is enough to keep ones interest just a little further.

The juice sports plenty of classic cologne notes such as bergamot, citron, orange blossom, cedar and white musk. Soapy, zesty and fresh are the main adjectives that come to mind when smelling it. As far as the ad gearing it to women, this is nonsense in my opinion. Escale à Portofino smells just as unisex as any classic citrus to me, perhaps even a bit to the masculine side compared to for instance 4711.

And at the end of the day Escale à Portofino is definitely a competent citrus (unlike Dior Homme Sport – which we will get to in a bit…) with a bit longer staying power than the grand classics from Guerlain and a bit more exclusive feel than other modern colognes like Eau de Rochas Homme or Lancôme´s Ô. An invigorating feel good juice for the summer with a touch of exclusive, soapy cleanliness.

Year of Launch: 2008
Gender Classification: Feminine, works for everyone though
Reminiscent of: Chanel Allure Homme Sport Cologne, 4711, Guerlain Imperiale, Pierre Balmain Monsieur Balmain, Azzaro Pure Cedrat
Longevity & Sillage: Both average, which for a fizzy citrus is somewhat of a feat
Overall rating: 6/10

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thierry Mugler - Angel Men Pure Coffee

The original A*Men is one of the most complex mainstream fragrances available. With this in mind, the result is nothing short of flawless. There are so many facets to that classic that you can hardly count them. I haven't experienced a single one of it's drydowns to be quite the same yet. There is always some new nuance stepping up, be it another shade of the earthy patchouli, spicy lavender, burnt sugar, dark and bitter coffe or that weird but lovely tar note.

n this new, interim flanker release from Mugler the focus is obviously on the coffee bit. And what a lovely cup they´ve managed to emulate. Dark, steaming, sharp java is what the top notes immediately hit you with. The coffee accord stays pretty strong during the entire progression of the fragrance, and like it´s big brother the longevity is excellent. The sillage and projection are a bit toned down compared to the original though, which isn´t necessarily a bad thing, especially for summer and spring wear.

verall Angel Men Pure Coffee is a somewhat redundant gourmand release, but in the wait for the next big Mugler fragrance for men this patchouli espresso is a keeper. With it´s similarities to A*Men but significantly muted sillage it´s also a decent alternative for people who find the original too strong and eccentric. Naturally,with that trade off, what you win in wearability you certainly lose in originality.

Year of Launch:
Gender Classification: Masculine
Reminiscent of: Thierry Mugler A*Men, Bond No 9 New Harlem, Yohji Yamamoto Yohji, Rochas Man
Longevity & Sillage: Excellent longevity, moderate sillage
Overall rating: 6/10

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Comme des Garçons - parfums*PARFUMS Series 3 Incense

It´s impossible not to admire Comme des Garçons for their great integrity and artistic approach to making fragrances. This was especially true before the Sweet-series and the recent Guerillas, which are fine as well, but a bit too mainstream. No other house, fairly large that is, could or would put out a series like this. No Demeter fragrance library here - these are all standalone scents with great character. The different nuances balancing the incense range from sweet to woody, smokey and smoulderingly spicy. My reflections concern mainly three out of the five available ones, excluding Kyoto and Zagorsk.

Avignon is definitely the most straightforward "churchey" one of the lot. The comparison to Etro´s Messe de Minuit must be made. They are certainly similar, but I would argue that Avignon is far superior and above all much more wearable. Messe de Minuit stays with the gothic theme during it´s entire progression, never leaving that catholic mass groove, whereas Avignon is significantly softened by the vanilla and chamomille that appear quickly alongside the frankincense and myrrh. The subtle vanilla also prevents it from becoming to cold and musty. Avignon could be described as a mix of MdM and Gucci Rush, with the originality of the first and the pleasant, powdery wearability of the latter.

For me, Jaisalmer is easily the most challenging fragrance in this series. I suspect there´s a good amount of raw vetiver in there. A note that with it´s earthy and soily qualities certainly is not a favourite of mine. I do however like this fragrance anyway. It is intensely smokey and spicy. I get images of campfires and charred pieces of wood when wearing it - and I like it! Jaisalmer is intensely dry, a bit dirty and very masculine, would not want to smell this on my girlfriend. Like many CdG´s it is an aquired taste, so don´t buy blind. It´s siblings in the Incense-series are mucher safer bets if you´re into incense and want a cool avantgarde approach to it. Jaisalmer´s staying power outlasts all of the others easily though.

If Jaisalmer is the most challenging and Avignon the most eccentric in the Incense-series, Ouarzazate is their playful cousin. Carefree, light and very easy to wear. There´s a strong bergamot note in the opening that stays with the fragrance during it´s evolution. This adds an orange like dimension to it and also makes it smell a bit like a hot cup of tea. Additionally the incense is much more muted here than in the others. I partly agree on the comparison to Gucci Pour Homme. They definitely share a dry cedar base, but there is very little pine or smoke in this one. More of a fizzy, slightly herbal and optimistic addition to this excellent range. Not great sillage but stays on the skin for a long time.
Year of Launch: 2002 for all 5 fragrances
Gender Classification: All are unisex
Longevity & Sillage: All decent, Jaisalmer excellent
Overall rating: 9/10 for the series as a whole