Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Review: Voyage d'Hermès by Hermès (2010)

The idea of a perfume taking you on a trip has been a cliché for quite some time, so when you encounter a new creation which dares to call itself Voyage, you can't help but raise your eyebrows and wonder if this isn't tempting the gods of disdain just a little too much. But the top notch pedigree of this new release - the nose responsible for it is Jean-Claude Ellena, whose place amongst the greats of perfumery is secure - persuades you to push aside any prejudices and take the first sniff with a clear head.

Voyage d'Hermès opens with an immediate, gently bracing freshness: green citrus notes - most notably a delicious lime - smile their way into the air around you, followed by a hint of Ellena's trademark glassy, white musks. Then comes the most interesting part: there's a burst of mango peel, which leads to a scattering of fenugreek, which is then followed by shavings of unostentatious woods, after which a spicy sweetness starts making its presence felt, only to be countered by what comes across to me as the elegant dryness of saffron. Those who take an interest in M Ellena's work will probably enjoy a wry chuckle at this point, because, as has already been pointed out by several other reviewers (see the voyage with which we're being presented is essentially a hop from one Ellena fragrance to another, with extended stays in his Jardin scents. The final destination is, unsurprisingly, the land of the aforementioned musks. This is perhaps something of a let down after the excitement of the first few minutes, and you do spend several moments wondering whether you've really arrived or you're stuck in some waiting lounge somewhere. But after a short while, you realise that, wherever they may be, your surroundings are impeccably elegant - if slightly bloodless - so you shrug your shoulders and just sit back and relax.

Voyage is marketed as a unisex scent and whilst its classically sleek, luggage-tag-shaped bottle is suitably non-gender-specific, I wonder if Hermès shouldn't have stuck their leathered necks out on the line and declared it an all-out masculine. The move might have aligned the fragrance a little out of the 'safe' territory it seems to want to inhabit and it would probably have made it a more intriguing addition to the market. Still, it's a solid piece of work and will no doubt prove popular to those who don't wish to attract too much attention to themselves. I just happen to prefer voyages that kick up a little more dust.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]

Monday, 29 March 2010

Questionable Secretions

The other day I was carrying out a totally non-perfume related presentation at work. One of the points I wanted to make was that we need to appreciate that many people around us experience the world in a way that is utterly different from how we experience it. The same external stimulation may be processed and interpreted quite differently by two different brains. So, in order to make my point, I passed around a couple of tester strips doused with what must be one of the most controversial fragrances I have ever encountered: Sécrétions Magnifiques.

This curious creation by État Libre D'Orange is, according to many, a fresh, gentle, marine-like floral. Certainly, Turin and Sanchez's Perfume Guide awards it 5 stars and praises its originality. I'm reliably informed that it's a pretty good seller. But when I smell it, I feel as though I've been punched right to the pit of my stomach. Shockwaves of revulsion course through my body - all the way down my throat - and I immediately feel the urge to be sick. My brain rattles as the odd/unearthly/wrong metallic note rushes to the top of my head. Every inch of my body screams, "Run! Get this vile concoction away from yourself and run!"

I kid you not. No other perfume I know of - regardless of how unpleasant I consider it to be - has such a visceral effect on me. There are plenty of fragrances that I think are below-par in many ways, but they tend to elicit little more than a frown and a grimace. This one makes every inch of my insides hurl with digust and horror. And, sure enough, as I passed the tester strips amongst my work colleagues, some of them looked mortified and wanted to leave the room as soon as they could, whereas others smiled and said all they could smell was pretty, soft, white flowers.

It's a wonder any fragrance is ever a success!

[For an interesting little follow-up to this story, please click here.]

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Over the last couple of days, my Net-roving eye has been caught by some articles about the increasingly tight restrictions imposed on the perfume industry by regulatory bodies. Apparently, jasmine absolute is now a no-no, although I should point out that I don't have the technical knowledge to state whether this assertion is strictly true or an exaggeration. Perhaps the recommended limits of jasmine have simply been lowered. Either way, many bloggers seem certain that this move will have disastrous consequences on indisputable classics like Chanel's No.5... although I suspect that the juice has already been tampered with in the last 12 months or so. Certainly the EDP with which I've been familiar for many years isn't as uplifting and floral as it used to be. Maybe that's one of the reasons Chanel decided to introduce the Eau Premiere variation? Perhaps it adheres better to safety guidelines? It's beautiful in its own right, but it's not the No.5 I love.

But I digress. In my day job I have to work within equally ridiculous constraints and requirements imposed by a fearful regulatory body which keeps shifting the goal posts and altering the rules. The sad thing is that these changes are not led by a genuine desire to serve the 'client' better, but by a frenzied rush to cover corporate backs and tick boxes. We all suffer because of the off chance that maybe one person, somewhere out there, might decide to take legal action against some perceived injustice.

I think I read on some blog that even though peanuts are deadly to a few people, no-one has asked for them to be banned. Products which may contain peanuts have to be clearly labelled and the responsibility for avoiding them is placed on the consumer, who is considered intelligent enough to avoid substances which may be harmful to him or her. Perhaps the perfume industry needs to learn a lesson from that fact.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mountain Voices

I've got considerable experience of teaching, so I should know better than most people that the first steps up the mountain tend to be the hardest. Still, when you're the one who's doing the travelling, it's hard not to get despondent. Or maybe the reason why I'm feeling overwhelmed is because my teaching experience also tells me that when you reach the top of the mountain, you usually find that there's another, even taller mountain right in front of you.

There are times when I think that pursuing my interests is silly, that I should just 'grow up', be sensible and push aside all my 'unrealistic' dreams and ambitions. There are times when I allow the rational voice inside my head to dominate: 'You don't have a background in chemistry'; 'You've got no connections with France/Grasse/the perfume industry etc.'; 'You're setting yourself up to compete against people much younger than you who are actually attending perfumery schools and obtaining qualifications'; 'You're devoting too much precious time to what should only be a casual hobby'; 'You know you've got better things to do, other ambitions to fulfil'.

And then sometimes I think of this woman I know. When she was in her mid-50s, she left Africa - where she'd already founded a respected University - and went to the Middle East. She learned English. She met people. She made contacts. And she founded what has become one of the most successful schools in that part of the world. That school is now one of several in a chain. And she's now in her 80s and writing a book about some of her experiences.

Time to focus on the positives. This week, I hope to visit the Haute Parfumerie at Harrod's for the first time, which should be fascinating, and I'm also hoping that a stock of some new perfume supplies will arrive in the post before too long.

Onward and upward...

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Weekend Knowledge

If too many cooks spoil the broth, then maybe one cook can spoil the broth with too much tinkering... especially if the broth needs several days - if not weeks - to settle! After fiddling around with different renditions of Vert over the last few days, I decided to give the nose a rest today.

Still, I haven't been idle. Today has mostly been spent going through the entries in the excellent 'Fragrance DIY' section of the Basenotes forum: essential reading for anyone wishing to turn their perfume hobby into something a little more serious. A lot of the information I gained from my day's browsing has manifested itself in several new entries on this blog's Links section.

Lots of information to digest; lots of thoughts to ponder.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Vert 14

I should have been doing other things last night, but I'm afraid I pushed them all aside and set up my mini-lab on my window sill. It's typical of me not to rest until I think I've cracked a problem. Mind you, after three hours of tinkering, I'm not sure I managed to create even a hairline fracture.

To recap: the current challenge is to produce a green scent and the previous effort - Vert 12 - suffered from a cloying coconut overdose of gamma-Nonalactone.

Yesterday's rendition dispended with g-N and brought in a few other materials, such as vetivert oil and javanol. I also told myself not to use my two synthetic musks: exaltolide and ethylene brassylate. More on that later.

By the end of the evening, I produced something that started off with a warming, peppery blanket of lemon and bergamot, softened by some mandarin. It then skipped fairly quickly into the realms of the green, with violet leaf acting as the star of the show (albeit, thankfully, in a less strident performance than in the earlier Vert 10). I thought that maybe I could also detect a hint of the rose, perhaps there was a touch of the lavender absolute coming through, but within a few moments, the whole thing had rushed to the base, which, in this case, isn't terribly interesting because I haven't got very many green-y base notes.

Then I remembered that Chandler Burr's highly readable The Perfect Scent contains a complete formula for a fragrance. Needless to say, the frag's name isn't revealed, but Burr implies it's extremely well know and very highly regarded. I looked up the formula and was intrigued to discover that it features approximately 30% of ethylene brassylate, one of the very substances I'd decided not to use. Throwing caution to the wind, I quickly worked out how much ethyl-brass to add in order to bring it up to about 26% in Vert 14, and, several drops later, I ended up with a juice that is intriguing, to say the least. I think I can now just about begin to understand the effects of a 'musk fixative': the fragrance is now much slower, which does, I think, automatically make it better. I've still got the problem of an uninspiring base, but at least I've now moved closer in the direction of something that bears repeated sniffs.

Arrggh! So much to learn, so little time, so little money, so many other things that should be done!

Last night ended with me sniffing Vert 14 on my left wrist and my new sample of Montale's Black Oud on my right wrist, thinking that I may as well give up before I've even started, because I'll never be able to match the alchemy of M Montale.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Vert 12

No preambles... except to say welcome to the blog if you've only just got here. The plan is for this to be a space where I chronicle my attempts to make fine fragrances and to share my views on those made by others. To business...

Yesterday, I tried fiddling around with the green fragrance formula I created on Tuesday night (which is currently being called Vert, just for the sake of convenience, you understand). Tuesday's effort - Vert 10 - ended up hissing a far a too strident violet leaf note about half-way through its development, so I tried a couple of things to rectify that. The new scent, Vert 12, certainly prevented the dominance of the violet leaf, but it wasn't terribly green and it came across as far too coconut-y, which was no doubt caused by the inclusion of gamma-Nonalactone, although I was careful to add what I thought wasn't an excessive amount of the stuff. We live and learn: clearly, even a minute dose of gamma-N can send your frag into the land of biscuit tins. Still, the reason I included it was because, on its own, somewhere on the edge of the coconut, it displays a certain green-ness. Maybe it does still have a place in Vert.

Of course, the other issue I'm battling with is that I've currently got only 27 ingredients at my disposal, which, when you consider that a professional perfumer has over 1000, is pretty pathetic. But then, obtaining more ingredients means spending more money, and I've got even less of that right now. Is it possible to make a green fragrance out of ingredients which were purchased mainly with the intention of making woody orientals? Probably not. But I'm going to keep trying.

Vert 12 contains (in no particular order):
lemon oil
bergamot oil
basil oil
mandarin oil
galbanum coeur
ethylene brassylate
oakmoss absolute
rose absolute
jasmin absolute
methyl ionone
violet leaf absolute
lavender absolute
petitgrain oil
ylang ylang
ethyl vanillin
and of course gamma-Nonalactone

Any views from anyone who knows whether the above have the potential to turn into something pleasantly green would be welcome. When I get a chance to tinker with the formula again, I'll publish a new post.

Ciao for now. 


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