Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: Aqua Allegoria Flora Nymphéa by Guerlain (2010)

The Aqua Allegoria range often gets a bad press, but I reckon Guerlain ought to keep going with their fragrance haiku, because every now and then it allows us to enjoy an endearing little ditty like this one. As its name suggests, the emphasis is on a scented garden, with pride of place awarded to a velvety, white jasmine, minus the glassy sharpness of indoles. In fact, this is essentially a quieter, one-dimensional version of last year's Idylle, with a drydown that, regrettably, is allowed to descend into pre-pubescent sweetness. Mind you, as far as sins go, this one isn't especially heinous. And when you consider how little Guerlain charge for 75 ml of this stuff - and the lack of pretentiousness with which its opening acts bring a smile to your face - you realise you haven't got much cause for complaint. 

[Review based on a tester of eau de toilette from 2010; fragrance tested on paper.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Launching The Past

I think excitement is always made more electric when it carries a crackle of nostalgia, like the anticipation of meeting up with a dear friend you haven't seen for over a decade. It's for this reason that I'm especially looking forward to Friday's London launch of Andy Tauer's new fragrance, Orange Star, because perfume launches are events I strongly associate with my childhood.

I should point out that I was never fortunate enough to attend any myself, but I did get to hear about many of them from my mum. She's worked in perfume retail in the Middle East for quite some time, and back in the 80s, when I was still young and fragrance houses still spent ridiculous amounts on parties, she was invited to several high-profile extravaganzas, which she'd then describe to me in mouth-watering detail. There was the launch for Calvin Klein's Escape which featured a mini-play wherein a man on horseback rescued a damsel in distress and then sailed off into the Gulf with her on a tiny raft. There was the party for Lacroix's (much-maligned) C'est La Vie, at which the man himself signed my mum's Spanish fan. And I'm fairly certain there was a funny story surrounding the launch of Dior's Dune at which a synchronised swimming presentation ended in rather comical fashion. I listened to all these tales, utterly rapt, and totally unaware that decades later, perfume would still hold an important place in my life.

So even though I suspect that Friday's gathering won't be as dramatic as those my mum experienced in the 80s (and if Mr Tauer ever happens to read these words, I'm sure he won't mind my saying that), I have no doubt that the evening will bring back many old memories... and, more importantly, that it'll also create some new ones.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: L'Eau by Serge Lutens (2010)

Artists are allowed to change direction. But their fans aren't obliged to follow them wherever they go. So when Serge Lutens decide to propel themselves as far away as they can possibly leap from their usual terrain of thick, balsamic scents, they shouldn't be too surprised to hear more than a little disappointment, because whatever else it may be, L'Eau certainly isn't typical Serge.



According to the (unintentionally?) comical presentation on the SL site, this new creation is supposed to smell like the world's most exclusive soap. Its aim is to convey a long-lasting sensation of wearing clean clothes that have just been taken off a wind-swept washing line. Sure enough, the first whispering notes are ozonic and marine-like. There's a hint of borderline-salty, aquatic transparency, a touch of melon green and the faintest wisps of citrus peel. There's a sprinkling of sweetness. But all is bloodless and quiet. You wonder if the whole thing's going to vanish almost as soon as it's arrived. And then, after a few minutes, you realise that, actually, nothing else is going to happen. The rabbit has been pulled out of the hat and is staring you in the face. You've been given the familiar top notes... and the trick is that they're going to be sustained all the way through to the end.

As far as technical accomplishments go, this is not unimpressive: the sweetness and softness increase - culminating in a translucent vetiveryl drydown - but the central soapiness does remain faithful. However, it also makes you realise that perhaps top notes are as bracing as they are precisely because they're fleeting. Smelling as though you've just stepped out of the shower after having spent the day on an Atlantic beach is undeniably wonderful, but only for a few minutes. Drag the experience on for several hours and the effect you achieve is more like being forced to spend a night on the same beach and not managing to fall asleep because of the drone of a mosquito that just refuses to go away.

[Review based on a sample obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]

Sunday, May 23, 2010

All Greened Out

The words 'outdoorsy, 'practical' and 'green fingered' are never, ever used to describe me, which is why today was something of a trial. A sizeable patch of our garden has been bugging me for... ahem... quite a while (by which I mean more than just a few weeks...) and as the weather was as perfect as it ever gets in Britain, I knew the time had come to hunt in the shed for our old rake and shears and get to grips with the thorny brambles that have slowly been taking over the few trees that have survived our appalling lack of care.

I am now covered in scratches, I have a throbbing, sun-induced headache, but I have managed to defeat the evil triffids and reclaim some garden territory.



At the end of my ordeal, I wondered if it might be fun to round off the day by having a play with my perfumery equipment, but I decided against it on the grounds that my nose is probably seriously out of tune. I've been smelling utter greenness all day. Leaves, twigs, roots. They've all attacked me with the hiss of their oddly synthetic-smelling chlorophyll vibe. Then there was the damp earth, which instantly makes me think of patchouli (or should that be the other way round?) minus the chocolate drydown, of course. And finally, the near-corrosive reek of the white spirits I used to try - unsuccessfully! - to set the uprooted weeds on fire. Yup, my olfactory organ wants nothing more than a rest now. Instead of making more demands on it, I made an attempt to soothe it with the reassuring, gentle freshness of 4711.

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Changing the subject, I'm very excited about Friday because I'll be attending the London launch of Andy Tauer's latest creation, Orange Star. I hope to post a report about the event soon after the weekend.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Genuine Start?

I think I've mentioned before that the demands of my day job go through distinct phases. Most of the time, I'm fortunate enough not to have to take a great deal of work back home with me. Then there are moments - usually once every six weeks or so - when I have to give up a whole weekend for work-related joys. And then there are episodes - like the one I've been enjoying for the last three weeks - when pretty much every single evening of every single day is a breathless drive to meet a deadline. Naturally, this leaves almost no time for Passion #1 (writing) and even less for Passion #2 (perfumery).

Thankfully, the first deadline's been met and I can breathe normally for the next three weeks... which means that I'd like to devote some attention to my bottles and potions. But I also think I need to abandon my leisurely approach and succumb to the rigours of a prescribed discipline. Or, to put it less portentously, I think I need to develop a specific perfume project. Where would I like to start? Well, this isn't exactly original territory, but I feel inspired to formulate my own eau de cologne.

My wife and I are currently putting the finishing touches to our guest room. We've been waiting for years for an opportunity to decorate it (long story!) but we've now got fresh paint on the walls (in fact, we've got fresh walls!), a plush white carpet, a welcoming bed and flowing pink and lilac curtains. Last weekend, we found an antique mahogany dressing table which, we thought, might add a touch of belle époque Frenchness. And as we made the decision to buy it, I jokingly said, "I'll make my own cologne and leave a bottle on the table for our guests to use. If they like it, I could give them their own bottle to keep."

And my wife looked at me with total seriousness and said, "Why not?"

Why not indeed?

So here we go: a cologne for guests. The scent of hospitality. Fresh without being too zingy. Reassuring without being overfamiliar. Classical without being old-fashioned.

Let's see how far I get with it... perhaps in a few weeks I might be in a position to send samples of the work-in-progress to readers of this blog. Anyone interested? 


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Géranium Pour Monsieur by Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle (2009)

What's the smell of the modern dandy? Does a metrosexual wear one of the generic woody cocktails that flood the market at the rate of twenty a week? Does he scour unfamiliar stores for something dark, heady and balsamic? Or does he actually wish to convey a sense of approachable freshness whilst maintaining his edge? Enter stage left: Géranium Pour Monsieur, a fairly new addition to the enviably pretentious Malle line and recent winner of the first UK FiFi 'Best Independent Niche Fragrance' award, as voted for by readers of Basenotes, including yours truly.

What's remarkable about this scent is how it manages to be both radiant and nocturnal, animalic and fresh, unobtrusive and all-encompassing. Needless to say, its central note is a rousing geranium, with all the familiar minty, peppery, chewing gum overtones. But a eucalyptus smokiness emerges too, coaxed into smoothness by joyfully coloured fruitiness. The effect is delectable without ever being edible, and is sustained with unwavering clarity throughout this happy little gem's development. And it's no accident that it's called 'Pour Monsieur' rather than 'Pour Homme': you need a certain amount of good-natured continental sass to pull this one off with the jauntiness it deserves.

[Review based on a sample obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring Bargains


Don't ever let me say that good luck never comes my way.

Today, at an antiques fair, I spotted a pristine, sealed box of 10ml of Diorissimo Esprit De Parfum. I grabbed it, presented it to my wife as a gift and, when we ripped off the plastic, we were both thrilled to discover that the scent comes in an elegant, refillable (!) houndstooth-patterned atomiser. One spray, and we were transported to the very definition of lily-of-the-valley perfection. And all for the reality-bending price of TEN POUNDS!!

Bargain shopping, or what?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Science Of Scent At The Royal Institution

Some of you may be interested to learn that the Royal Institution in London has rescheduled the Science of Scent talk that was meant to have taken place in April; it's now happening on Thursday 22nd July at 1900. Here's how the RI's site advertises the event:

Where do the sparkling, creative ideas for new perfumes come from? How are they translated into scent without compromising the creative purity of the idea? This lecture – the third in the series – covers one of the most abstract perfumery subjects: the creative origin of new perfumes. Find out what is going on inside the perfumer’s mind, how it is nurtured to deliver those scented moments of true brilliance, and how the ideas are developed into tomorrow’s perfume classics.

The speaker, Will Andrews, is an "evaluator and fragrance scientist" at Procter & Gamble. To book tickets (standard price: £8) please click here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Of Time And Salisbury

Time for formulation has been almost non-existent over the last few weeks. The inevitable delays caused by the ach-cloud-induced rail journey from Istanbul meant that it took a while for life to return to a state approaching normal. And then, just when daily routines began to settle, I had to enter the usual 10-week phase of the calendar when the commitments of the Day Job spill into my evenings and compel me to enter a form of social hibernation.

All my droppers and essential oils are still there on the window sill, tempting me, but I'm doing my best to ignore their call. I wonder how rusty my nose will be when I eventually find a moment to take a sniff of galbanum or Iso E Super. I expect I probably won't be able to tell the difference between civet and vanillin.

Needless to say, I am trying to inject as many tiny 'olfactory events' into my days as possible. Over the weekend, I visited Salisbury again, convinced I'd track down a smart perfumery. Clearly, my naivete is alive and well: the only scents worth bothering with were to be found at the branch of Debenhams, and even they were mostly pedestrian. Gaultier and Miyake took up a fair amount of counter space with the summer versions of their signature scents. Dior and Estée Lauder were pushing the usual suspects. As expected, there were no Guerlains in sight. The sales assistants were busy chatting about the "gorgeous man" for whom they were gift wrapping some apple-shaped Donna Karan parcel. Sadly, the most interesting thing I found was a little paper plane made by Kenzo in place of the usual smelling strips. I shoved one in my pocket, making sure not to spray anything on it.



Still, I'm not allowed to leave a perfumery without having a sniff of something, so I settled on the new-ish Eau Tendre flanker of Chanel's Chance. Pleasant enough - if you want to smell like an orange peel - but how anyone can consider it to be worthy of standing next to No. 5, Coco and No. 19 is beyond me. Mind you, the entire Chance line has been hugely successful, so I guess Chanel are having the last laugh.

The moral of the story is: if you'd like to have an enjoyable perfume outing, don't go to Salisbury.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Idylle eau de parfum by Guerlain (2009)

When Idylle hit the shelves late in 2009, the response from Guerlain acolytes was muted. The realm of the soft-focus floral was, they felt, best reserved for flash-in-the-pan celebrity fragrances, not for one of the most revered perfume houses of all time. But Idylle isn't necessarily the sell-out some have claimed it to be and it deserves a second spray.



With astonishing diffusiveness, the scent plunges you headlong into the middle of a lush flower garden, where you can barely catch your breath long enough to take in the indolic notes that surround you. Jasmine, geranium, lily of the valley, ylang ylang. They all waft into view, managing to be both fresh and intoxicating, after which the real star emerges: a rounded rose, white and enticing, balanced by the faintest suggestion of delicate, petitgrain-like woods in the background. But it's at this point that Idylle almost collapses: the floral overload threatens to become headache-inducing; the heart yearns for a touch of something intriguing. Paradoxically, this is also the very moment when Thierry Wasser's effort demands a little more patience from our noses than most modern scents dare.

It stands to reason that an idyllic garden is a place where time is frozen. Sure enough, if you wait a tiny bit longer, the almost garish middle section of this scent finally softens and, more importantly, becomes drier. Guerlain have stated that Idylle displays a "chypre sensuality" - notice they haven't claimed it's an outright chypre - and you can feel the evidence in the drydown. Although the basic territory is still floral, the closing act - which seemingly lasts for ever - is arid and musky in a manner that may not exactly be elegant but is eminently wearable.

Although it's suitably multi-dimensional, Idylle is no masterpiece. It does not display the refinement or innovation of Guerlain's classics. But if you want to exploit its potential, treat it as a masculine. Gaultier can pull it off with Fleur Du Male - and trendy European guys can douse themselves with Anaïs Anaïs - so there's no reason why Idylle can't have the same impact.

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

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Scent Of Blighty

This is too good not to post; it's extracted from an article in the current edition of the Times Education Supplement:

The tourism quango VisitEngland was pilloried for spending £8,500 producing and marketing 30 bottles of perfume that “smelt of England”. It was sprayed on people in tourist hotspots at the cost of £108 a bottle.

To read a fuller piece on the scent, which is called By George!, click here to be taken to the Daily Telegraph's website.

Jokes aside, grass and petrol actually sounds like a combination with interesting potential!

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