Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sample Giveaway + Review: Wonderwood by Comme Des Garçons (2010)


What kind of scent is conjured up in your mind by the words "wood gone mad"? Not, I reckon, a scent like Wonderwood, although that's precisely the term CdG are using to describe the latest addition to their 'pebble bottle' range. My nose does, unquestionably, read it as woody, but far from finding anything remotely psychotic about its take on timber, I see it as displaying a balanced air of sanity. The key players in its heart are the pencil-shaving notes of cedar, the smokiness of clean frankincense and the familiar pseudo-sweaty raunch of vetiver, which eventually give way to the powder and spice of IFF's Cashmeran. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the fragrance, but if this review sounds a little lukewarm, then that's probably because my longing for something surprising to spring up in the middle of this lumber yard was left unfulfilled. As an experiment in a wholly wood-based perfume, this is certainly interesting - and it's much more wearable than most of the forgettable fodder that gets released at this time of year - but it also serves to highlight the importance of contrast. Wonderwood's closest cousins are Gucci's Pour Homme and CdG's own 2 Man, fragrances which I admire for their ability to bring out the characteristics of what appears to be a single note (cedar and candle smoke respectively) by setting it against a suitably different background. Had Wonderwood displayed similar skill, it may well have risen to the majestic altitudes of a giant sequioa.

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For the next few weeks, Selfridges is one of the only places where Wonderwood is available, but the friendly CdG staff at the London branch have kindly provided me with one sample to give away to a reader of this blog. If you'd like to enter the draw, then please leave a comment on this post.

Please note: i) the draw will be open only for a few days, after which the comment facility will be disabled; ii) the winner will be selected at random and announced on this blog; iii) readers from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; iv) by entering the draw, you indicate that customs regulations in your country permit you to receive an alcohol-based perfume posted from the UK; v) if the sample is lost in transit, it will not be possible for a replacement to be sent; vi) the address of the winner will not be kept on record, nor will it be passed to any third parties; vii) Persolaise takes no responsibility for the composition of the scent, as regards potential allergens and/or restricted materials.

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

Persolaise.

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UPDATE 3rd July 2010: The draw is now closed. A big thank you to everyone who entered. To find out if you're the winner, please click here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Amouage - New London Boutique

On a peaceful street in Knightsbridge, hidden behind an unsightly pyramid of scaffolding, is London's first stand-alone boutique for Amouage, the highly-respected house founded in the early 80s by a member of the Omani royal family. Occupying two large rooms, the shop showcases all of the firm's fragrances in their various forms, as well as the full range of the attars, bath products and scented candles. The decor emphasises modern sensibilities, but there are sufficient classical touches to add the required sense of Middle Eastern wealth. Upon a Persian carpet stands a large, round wooden table holding crystal bowls and delicate vases. A glass chandelier casts tiny circles of rainbow lights on the jade green wallpaper with its glimmering gold patterns. A complex floral scent fills the air, speaking of lands miles away from the crowds at Hyde Park.

When I visited, the staff were quick to point out that the scaffolding will soon be gone, after which they proceeded, with impeccable professionalism, to entice me with one heady concoction after another. Of particular interest was the new Library Collection of three scents, currently exclusive to the boutique. A full review may follow on Persolaise in due course, but for now suffice it to say these are intricate, intriguing creations which combine the ancient with the modern in characteristically opulent fashion.

Generally speaking, employees at UK shops find it difficult to be formal without projecting an air of stuffiness. Thankfully, the people at Amouage pitched their approach perfectly, which is why I felt sufficiently comfortable to make one good-natured complaint. "Surely," I said, "a brand new shop representing a company owned by an Arabian royal family should greet its customers with a cup of coffee and a few dates." Apologies were forthcoming, together with an explanation that last Friday's opening constituted a sort of 'soft launch': the official unveiling won't take place for several weeks.

The Amouage brand is currently trying to develop itself as an international name for a widening range of luxury goods - a Middle Eastern Hermès, perhaps? - which explained the rather incongruous presence of leather purses, wallets and handbags. But these couldn't detract from the real stars: the heavy, seductive bottles with their mixes of the finest frankincense, oud and rose, which will no doubt succeed in tempting many passersby to walk through the welcoming doorway.

[The new Amouage boutique is at 14 Lowndes Street, London.]

Persolaise.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Advance Warning...

A little teaser for you: come back on Tuesday to find out how you could win a sample of a brand new scent from a well-known name.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Smoke Interrupted


Squeezing in a few, manically rushed moments of formulating never seems to produce worthwhile results. Despite the inexorable encroachment of the day job, I've tried to spend a few moments here and there with my pungent friends and my pipettes, but I don't think I've created any masterpieces... although who knows what I might encounter in a month's time when I take the vials out of the fridge and give them a sniff...


One of my intentions was, as I've mentioned before, to construct a piece based on the idea of an excess of animalic smoke: a long-lasting, dry smoulder, almost too rasping, almost too harsh. This time, I decided not to hold back with the synthetic castoreum and poured a sinful dose into a concoction of other, suitably smoke-infused ingredients. The result was that they all cancelled each other out and politely made room for a glimmer of rose absolute, of which I'd added a tiny quantity, just to round things off. Needless to say, the formula will have to be revisited, when I've got more time.

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And speaking of time, I'm really pleased that although this blog hasn't been around terribly long, it seems to have attracted a core group of loyal - and very generous - readers. I'm grateful to you all for popping round and leaving comments, but I've got to inform you that I need to put Persolaise on the back burner for a little while. However, I don't want to drop off your 'blog radar', so I've prepared a few, short posts which are scheduled to appear automatically over the next few weeks. Hopefully, they'll be sufficient persuasion for you to keep coming back.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Perfect Preservation

The next time you go shopping for food, ask yourself if you can smell any of the fresh fruit and vegetables as you approach them. And if you can, then please send me an email to tell me where you do your shopping!

I suppose I should no longer be surprised by this, but it really is astonishing how the fresh produce aisles of our branches of Sainsbury's and Tesco's do not seem to contain one iota of a single olfactory molecule (except, thank goodness, for when you get to the herbs growing in the little plastic pots). Each time I visit Warsaw, I'm always struck by how every grocery is filled with the edgy tang of tomatoes, the watery green of lettuces and the sharp sweetness of a multitude of raspberries and red currants and gooseberries. All the street stalls selling fresh goods advertise their presence from several metres away with the earthy rubberiness of forest mushrooms or the curiously heavy waft of cabbages. And as for the south of France... well, one of the most enduring memories of a glorious summer near Nice was of the magnetic pull of countless Provençal market stalls.

So why do we settle for less in Britain? Probably for the same reason why we're not bothered by the lack of decent perfumeries: smell is a sensual experience from which most people here are just not interested in deriving pleasure. Their loss, if you ask me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Orange Star by Tauer Perfumes (2010)


Confession time: over the last two weeks, I've made several failed attempts to write this review. It's one thing to put down your thoughts on a fragrance whose maker is a completely unknown quantity. It's quite another to publish an assessment of the latest effort by Andy Tauer: I've been fortunate enough to meet him, I'm a fan of his blog and I freely admit that the sum total of his web output is a source of great inspiration in my own attempts to create perfumes. Initially, I thought the best thing would be to avoid writing about it altogether, but then I decided that perhaps this would be seen as damning with silence. So I've now persuaded myself to push my biases to one side and just treat this juice like any other.

Orange Star is hard to pin down. It smells almost suspiciously different from one person's skin to the next. It takes on alternate personalities depending on whether you spray it on paper, fabric or your own wrist. It makes you believe it's a citrus before pulling your senses into something thicker and deeper, and just when you think you've got it sussed, it lightens up and gives you a cheeky tangerine wink.

One one level, it does pretty much what it says on the can. Top notes of sweet mandarines? Check. A heart of orange flowers? Check. Ambergris and tonka beans in the base? Yes indeed, check. But this compelling new scent has a life far beyond a few words printed on a marketing leaflet. Sure, you get citrus notes when you first spray it, but there aren't many citrus openings out there that immediately make you think you've just sunk your teeth into a freshly cut segment of the most succulent orange this side of Eden. The juices run down the side of your mouth and you roll your tongue across your lips, trying to catch every drop... but wait, the analogy doesn't quite work, because this fragrance is never sticky, and whilst it flirts with gourmand sensibilities, you wouldn't mistake it for a confection.

Next comes the seamless (but perhaps too rapid?) transition to the blossoms, and you throw your head back and realise you're sitting on the grass in the middle of a pristine orchard with hundreds of fragrant blooms bursting upon the branches around you. The leaves above your head frame the sunlight into a thousand different shapes. And every now and then, a contrast appears, just enough to prevent the whole experience from becoming twee or sickly. Is it the richness of the soil below you, the smokiness of the tree bark or the bitterness of the pips you've just tasted? Perhaps it's all three, working in harmony with the petals.

Night falls. You know the orange flowers are still nearby, but now you realise that the orchard has been in a familiar country all along: Tauerville. Allowing your body to sink down onto the floor, you breathe in the delightful, vanilla-tinged riches of Incense Extrême - and to an extent, L'Air Du Désert Marocain - which have now been made suitably cleaner and lighter. You drift into sleep... and guess what, when you awake, you're still in the same place! Purple prose aside, if nothing else, Orange Star is easily one of the most long-lasting scents I've encountered for a while, not to mention one of the most diffusive. Indeed, when I wore it to work the other day - in the name of research for this review - I was virtually attacked by a horde of ravenous colleagues demanding to know the name of this astonishing nectar I was wearing.

My only criticism - and I admit, it's minor - is that I'm not at all keen on the name. The connotations of phrases are, of course, culturally bound, but for me, the main sense created by 'Orange Star' is of the infantile, throwaway, market-research driven celebrity frags that couldn't be further away from the world inhabited by Andy Tauer. Having said that, I'm not sure I could suggest an alternative. Apparently, the scent's working title was Mandarin Ambree which would probably have been a touch too portentous. I don't object to the word 'orange', but I think it's 'star' that introduces unwanted notions of teenage girls obsessed with all that's pink. So perhaps I would've preferred Orange Supernova, or Crystal Orange, or the less dramatic, but more adult Orange Extrême. In the end of course, it's the contents of the new blue bottle that matter more than the words on the box. And the contents are first rate. There's no doubt I enjoy some Tauer creations more than others, but as far as I'm concerned, this one's a winner. It's perplexing and beguiling and, most importantly, it makes great company from the moment you apply a few judicious sprays in the morning, to the quieter hours of the early evening, when your attention is caught every now and then by that cheeky tangerine wink.

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hard Pressed

I don't quite know how, but in between the extra demands of the day job, the insurmountable ironing and the million-and-one other things that need doing every single weekend, I managed to find a few hours to have a play with my bottles of smellies. The task was to create a heavily animalic smoke accord based on synthetic castoreum, labdanum absolute and vetivert oil. The results were, to put it bluntly, frustrating.

There is still so much I've got to learn. What's more discouraging is that I now seem to be at the phase where each subsequent 'lesson' succeeds in illuminating little more than further gaps in my knowledge. This causes moods to turn bleak. Grim internal conversations echo in my brain. Why persist with this perfumery lark, I ask myself. It's difficult enough to find time for passion/hobby #1: writing. And the expense! Couldn't I have settled on a cheaper hobby? No, I had to go and choose an interest where some of the materials are several times more expensive than gold! But I'm not sure I did choose it. I think it chose me, many, many years ago, when I was the only eight year old I knew with a collection of miniatures of Dior and Oscar De La Renta and Cacharel...

I permit myself a quiet sigh and tell myself that maybe next time, when I try to coax a few drops of magic to emerge from my pipettes, things will go better.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Opium

Some of you may recall my brief lament for the loss of YSL's majestic Opium. Well, in the name of courteous reciprocal linking, I'd like to draw your attention to this post on Perfume Shrine about the new version of the scent. Of particular interest is the video containing the unintentionally ironic statement that classic fragrances remain the same forever! Do take the time to read the visitors' comments too; the debate is turning out to be quite absorbing.


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UPDATE 18th June 2010: It would appear that the Opium situation is more complicated than I suspected: check out this post from the Scented Salamander. The old Opium is dead. The new juice that's now called Opium is nothing like the old Opium. And YSL have just unveiled a newer Opium called... wait for it... Belle d'Opium, which is meant to be a modern reinterpretation of the old Opium. Are we confused yet? Or is this some devilish marketing campaign designed to make us feel like we're tripping out?

Review: Orange Blossom by Penhaligon's (2010)

Many scents are described as soft, but few actually convey the sensation of resting your head on a floating pillow of immaculately-shaped petals. Penhaligon's Orange Blossom - the latest release in their 'Anthology' line of reissues, put together by Bertrand Duchaufour - is just such a fragrance: a quiet, verdant little cushion. Eschewing the eponymous ingredient's animalic tones, the opening opts for a blanket of gentle white buds, not unlike last year's much-praised Amaranthine. Citrus notes peer through and more traditional florals - mainly rose and jasmine - are allowed a moment to shine as well, although they too are kept elegantly pearly. Finally, the smoky woodiness of petitgrain is just permitted to hover in the background, brushing the whole with a wisp of richness. On paper, the effect is much sharper and more citrusy, so a combination of fabric and skin application is probably the way to go with this one, but regardless of how you choose to wear it - and despite the fact, that strictly speaking, it should have a different mame - you'll most likely enjoy the tender halo it creates around you. 




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

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Andy Tauer Back In London

Some of you may already be aware that Andy Tauer, the creator of several well-loved niche scents, including Lonestar Memories and Orange Star (soon to be reviewed here on Persolaise) will be back in the UK at the end of month. Please click here for more information.

You may also like to watch this recent interview in which Andy discusses Orange Star.


Stunning Wages

If you've got a couple of minutes to spare, you might like to read an article in last Sunday's Observer (click here) about the wages of some Indian workers who bottle various low-end celebrity perfumes, including Jordan's. I must say I'm not terribly surprised to learn that the makers of cheaper fragrances exploit poor labourers in developing countries, but I wonder if the same applies to more prestigious brands. Does anyone out there know if our bottles of Chanels and Diors are 'morally unimpeachable'? Or maybe we'd rather not hear the answer to that...?

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UPDATE 17th June 2010: Click here to see how some organisations have responded to the above news.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Double Bonded


The clock keeps ticking and it won't be long before I'll have to put the essential oils away again and devote several weeks' worth of evenings to the day job, if you see what I mean. It's a shame that perfumery isn't like riding a bike. If you stay away from the raw materials for too long, your nose is seriously out of tune the next time you try to tell the difference between one orange-like top note and another.

Never mind. Instead of complaining, I should be grateful that the last fortnight provided a couple of opportunities to sit down with my tester strips and glass vials. I've mostly been working on an old formula, which attempts to strike a balance between vetivert, castoreum and an incredibly tenacious synthetic sandalwood. So far, the latter keeps stealing the show, but I'm not beaten yet. I'm sure a happy medium can be found between the three of them. I've also given some more thought to the 'guest room cologne' mentioned in a previous post, but I'm still not clear in my head about where I'd like the scent to go after the familiar neroli/lemon scents have bubbled away.

Despite the shortage of time, my collection of samples and - more importantly - perfumery books seems to have had no trouble growing. I'm sure I'll never manage to get through all the little bottles I seem to attract to myself each time I go into town (my last foray into Debenham's yielded about sixteen different samples!) and as for the books... well, some of them require a degree in chemistry before they can be fully understood.

But by far the most exciting development of the last few days was this: someone I know who runs a local hairdressing salon said he'd love to have an exclusive scent which he could use to perfume his workplace and which he could then sell to clients. What's more important is that he said he'd like me to create the scent. Not to put too fine a point on it, I've (sort of...?) been commissioned to create a perfume. So now all I need to do is make sure the day job doesn't kill me between next week and the end of July...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: Eternity Aqua by Calvin Klein (2010)

When I found out that Escape For Men has been discontinued, a triumphant smile appeared on my face. Sadly, that's now faded, because CK have played around with the formula and are about to inflict it on us all over again... except this time it's called Eternity Aqua. A textbook example of redundancy, this characterless flanker throws in the predictable stock of 'fresh' materials (think: the aquatic-melon quality of helional + the aquatic-ozonic feel of calone) and laces it with a hint of the lavender that made the original Eternity memorable. As a name, 'Aqua' is spot-on: this is washed-out perfumery in full, market-driven, cynical glory. Sure, a good deal of competence has gone into putting the ingredients together, but with the aim of doing nothing more than cloaking you in blandness. As far as I can see, only one aspect of this release is noteworthy: the advertising poster. Or, to be more specific, the thin kitten whiskers that are meant to represent chest hair in the advertising poster. For years, CK have pushed the borderline-fascist image of young men with androgynous faces and depilated physiques. Now they're aiming for a look which, by their standards, is 'coal-miner rugged', but their attempt is as awkward as the juice it's trying to sell.   


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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Relatively Mainstream

One thing I never take for granted is my wife's patience. During our brief pop into France, we had to go into every single - and boy, do I mean every single - perfume shop we passed, but the smile on the face of Madame Persolaise did not waver for an instant. It was great revisiting old classics with her, particularly the Guerlains, like Vol De Nuit and Après L'Ondée. I shattered the peaceful atmosphere of one branch of Douglas with my laughter when I made her smell my Jicky-scented wrist. "That's got that poo stuff, hasn't it?" she said, her face curled up with revulsion. After a few minutes, when the initial civet blast had calmed itself, she conceded that the world's oldest fragrance does somehow manage to smell pleasant and stink at the same time.

I had a few sprays of Dior's latest - Escale Aux Marquises - which is currently a Harrods exclusive in the UK. I've got tremendous admiration for the relaxed elegance of Escale À Pondichéry, and I think Escale À Portofino works very well as a citrus cologne, but my initial reaction to Marquises was disappointment; it seemed quite pale and thin in comparison to its radiant predecessors. Perhaps I shouldn't jump to conclusions just yet and give it another chance when it becomes more widely available in Britain.

I could go on at great length about the joys of scent-browsing in France, but the main thought that struck me during this last visit was to do with French buyers' own perception of their endless rows of Sephoras and Marionnauds. In the UK, my closest half-decent perfumery is the Southampton branch of John Lewis: it stocks the main Guerlains, Diors and Chanels; it has a fairly extensive range of brands like Cartier, Davidoff and Issey Miyake; and it even manages to find some shelf space for L'Artisan ParfumeurTom Ford and Aqua Di Parma. But even though it seems moderately impressive in a non-London UK context, it looks pretty pathetic next to an ordinary Douglas in a normal French town. For instance, while I was in Southampton the other day, I tried to buy a bottle of Shalimar body cream and was told that such "special products" are available only in the run-up to Christmas. And when I asked if they had the eau de parfum of Habit Rouge, the look I got from the salesperson suggested I'd just shoved a calculus exam under her nose. Both those products were available in abundance in all the French perfumeries I walked into, and I think it's pretty safe to make the generalisation that the scent buyer is offered many more options in France than he or she is in Britain (although I confess I'm not aware if that statement also applies to buying online).

Having said that, I wonder if French people consider themselves blessed with sufficient olfactory choices. Firstly, most of their shops carry the same stock. There are minor exceptions, of course: for instance, only one establishment I entered stocked Vetiver Extreme; only one had the parfum of Poison; only one had a Serge Lutens stand... and so on. That's what makes it worthwhile popping into more than one shop, but essentially, all their stock is the same. Secondly, there don't seem to be any independent perfumeries left any more. I may be wrong: perhaps they're still there, but they've just moved away from tourist haunts. That's certainly what seems to have happened with the traiteurs: about a decade ago, most of them were smack in the middle of town; now, you're obliged to hunt them out. And thirdly, no-one seems to sell niche brands. Where do French people go when they want to sample something by Frederic Malle, Montale or Amouage? Even Comme Des Garçons couldn't be found anywhere, and they're not exactly niche. Are French fragrance fans bemoaning what they might perceive to be the poor state of the retail perfume market or do they look upon their shops with the same glee and excitement experienced by a visitor who's sailed across the Channel? Do French people complain about all the most interesting stock being concentrated in Paris, in the same way that Brits might complain about the dominance of London? Has Sephora reduced everything to the lowest common denominator?

I would genuinely appreciate any comments from readers with a more intimate knowledge of France, as I would love to know the answers to my questions... although regardless of what those answers may be, I'd still return to any French town at the drop of a hat.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Food And Fragrance

Whilst going through my files today, I encountered the very first perfume formula I put together, which - in my naive way - I thought smelled pretty good, until someone came along and told me about a group of nice people who call themselves IFRA and how much they dislike oakmoss...

Although there's no way the formula can ever enter a public setting, I wonder if it might be worth revisiting. I've now got a bottle of a substance that is considered a fairly decent oakmoss substitute, so perhaps the bare bones of Persolaise #1 could be used as inspiration for something better suited to the demands of the big, bad, allergic world.

There won't be any formulating this weekend, though, because I will hopefully be enjoying the delights of northern France for a couple of days, which, needless to say, will entail popping into as many perfumeries as Mrs Spouse will allow. And as food and fragrance are vital aspects of French culture, I thought I'd leave you with this link to a short, entertaining video in which the perfume critic Chandler Burr organises an 'olfactory meal' at the Four Seasons restaurant.

By the way, I should just mention that if you're on the lookout for a perfume-related book, I recommend Burr's The Emperor Of Scent and The Perfect Scent. The former tells the story of Luca Turin's attempts to get the scientific establishment to consider the merits of his theory of smell; the latter is a detailed description of the creation of Hermès' Un Jardin Sur Le Nil and Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely. Both of them are thoroughly good reads.

Finally, I should thank Andy Tauer for pointing me in the direction of the above video clip.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

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