Friday, 14 December 2012

Playing Catch-Up: Autumn/Winter 2012 (part 1) - from Lauder to Piguet

Maintaining a regular blogging schedule isn't always easy when you're meeting the demands of a full-time job, pursuing other writing interests and trying to have some sort of personal life. So it's inevitable that, every now and then, a backlog builds up of various perfumes I feel I ought to write about. In order to reduce it - and start the new year with something resembling a clean slate - I'm going to devote this week's and next week's review slots to capsule-sized musings on releases which, for one reason or another, have kept slipping through my net.

Thierry Wasser's Myrrhe Et Délires (Guerlain) insists on barging into the initial drafts of my 'Best Of 2012' list, so it probably deserves a post of its own, but time's worked against it, I'm afraid. An elegant, linear presentation of the Biblical note, it uses cool facets (possibly cardamom and, according to the notes, grapefruit) as well as natural-smelling sweeteners (rose, vanilla, benzoin) to dispel any sense of heaviness and imbue the whole with charm and effortlessness. This is the fragrance equivalent of the debutante who doesn't need a course in deportment because she already knows how to balance a book on her head, walk in a straight line and wink at the same time. The geekily-inclined amongst you would enjoy comparing it to Pierre Guillaume's Myrrhiad. The myrrh note in both compositions is unmistakeable, but whilst Guillaume's is dense and exotic, Wasser's prefers to attract less attention to itself.

Estée Lauder et al have been busy of late. For one thing, they've added a new feminine to their mainstream line-up. Sadly, I can't say that I can see Very Estée joining the ranks of Youth Dew, White Linen, Beyond Paradise and Beautiful. It just about manages to earn the label 'pleasant' - only just! - and spends most of its time trying to be as pale and inoffensive as possible... thereby irritating the hell out of everyone within its reach. What does it smell like? Well, it's hard to say, because any personality it might have had at the planning stage was probably focus-grouped out of existence when the marketing people inflicted their Fascist ways upon it. It's vaguely floral, vaguely woody, vaguely powdery... in fact, it vaguely smells like vaguely approaching a perfume counter and vaguely thinking, 'Hmm, I may be vaguely close to the perfume counter.'

The edt of Sensuous Nude is a far more interesting prospect. An opulent, skin-friendly floral musk, it appears to take Samsara's basic 'heady sandalwood' idea, marry it to a couple of elements from Chance and twist the lot with an intriguing fig note. As you'd expect, it isn't as heavy as 2011's edp version, but then that might make it more attractive to the male sector of the great buying public.

Aramis Gentleman is a recent-ish release from one of Lauder's many appendages. Sadly, it is nowhere near as gutsy as the 1966 original (still going strong, by most accounts) but it holds its own quite respectably. After the obligatory clean/fresh/unthreatening opening (cucumber and marine notes) it moves into a surprisingly smoky, tea-like, incense segment. Of course, it's never allowed to shout or become too bold, but at least it doesn't ooze boredom from its every pore.

Scentusiastic sociologists (try saying that after a few glasses of mulled mine) would probably do well to contrast its depiction of masculinity with that of the 60s version. The latter channeled Marlon Brando, sported a hairy chest and ate his steaks rare. This new lad would probably have an engrossing chat with you about how his dad's inability to hug him has prompted him to sign up for emotional literacy classes. But after an hour in his company, you might find yourself hoping Stanley Kowalski will suddenly barge through your door and rip his shirt off. One more thought worth pondering: AG shares several traits with Spicebomb. I gather both have been very successful with shoppers, which probably means the mainstream will see more of the same in 2013.

Before we leave Lauder Land, I should just mention the 'garden' quartet from Tom Ford: Ombre De Hyacinth, Café Rose, Lys Fume and Jonquille De Nuit. There's little doubt that all four are worthy of some attention, but there's equally little doubt that none of them is exceptional. I can confidently proclaim that at least three deliver the goods in the sense that they genuinely evoke the flowers in their names. The only one I'm not sure about is the jonquil, because I can't remember the last time I sniffed a jonquil. In fact, I don't know if I've ever sniffed a jonquil. And from what I've been able to gather, very few people seem to know if they've ever sniffed a jonquil. But let's put that to one side for the moment. The problem with all of them is that they're pretty flat and quickly descend into a near-generic, musk-ish drydown.

For my money, Ombre De Hyacinth and Café Rose are superior to the other two. When I asked my mother-in-law to smell the former, she furrowed her brow with puzzlement. "That's a bit strange," she muttered.

"It's supposed to be hyacinth."

"Oh, yes, I'm definitely getting hyacinth. But..."

"But what?"

"Well... it's a very dark hyacinth." At which point I smiled, told her what it's called and realised that the composition clearly achieves at least part of what it sets out to do. Madame Persolaise Senior is absolutely right: there is a sun-less mood in evidence here, probably achieved through the inclusion of admirably old-school leather notes, a la Azuree and Aromatics Elixir.

Café Rose deserves praise for making a spirited attempt to add something novel to the woefully hackneyed rosy, woody, oud accord. As the fragrance's name suggests, the originality comes in the form of a coffee facet, but its effect is inconsistent. There are times when it unquestionably lifts the scent above the miserable swamp of so-called oud creations, but there are also others when it vanishes and causes the composition to descend into clichés. It's definitely worth checking out, but I can't say it gets a wholehearted endorsement from me.

Moving on to the niche-o-sphere, the people at Robert Piguet have released four new fragrances in addition to the quintet they unveiled before the summer. If nine perfumes in one year sounds like too many to you, then I'd say you're right to worry. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that the house seems to be floundering and is unsure of the direction in which it wishes to go now that it's re-made and re-issued the classics.

Jeunesse works absolutely fine on the level of a fragrance joke - it is a nightmarish melange of teenybopper foulness, complete with pink melons, blue slushies and variously coloured Haribos - but I can't imagine anyone in their right mind actually wanting to buy it. No, not even teenagers. If they wished to smell like this, they'd just pick up a bottle of some generic 'whatever' for £20 from Boots. Chai is an innocuous and completely redundant citrus tea scent. And Blossom is a fairly standard orange blossom composition, which ups the indole factor, but also comes across as rather cheap. In a year which has given us Séville À L'Aube, a straightforward fleur d'orangers just won't cut the mustard, unless it's been made with exceptional ingredients, unlike this one.

And then there's Petit Fracas. Or is it Poison? I'm not quite sure. But I know which of the two I'd prefer to keep in my collection. Essentially, it takes Fracas' tuberose and makes it sweeter, thicker and more cloying with the addition of berries, honey, rose and sandalwood. Like I said: Poison. I wonder if it was put together by Aurelien Guichard, who's composed many of these new Piguets. If so, he may have intended it as a homage to his father Jean's work on Dior's 1985 blockbuster. If he did, then I might be inclined to view it in a more forgiving light... but then again, I might not.

And finally we have, Patricia De Nicolaï, who can always be relied upon to give us beauty, originality and quality. Or so I thought. Musc Intense ticks the right boxes - I doubt Nicolaï would ever release anything that isn't competent at the very least - but it's also forgettable, offering little more than what it advertises on its little gold label (ie a cocktail of synthetic musks taken straight from your fabric softener). Perhaps it's been designed to function as a money-grabbing, undemanding crowd-pleaser. If its existence means that Nicolaï can afford to create and release more ambitious fare, then I can probably bring myself to put up with it.

And that's it for this week. More of the same next Friday... and on the 28th, I'll present you with my run-down of the best of 2012. Don't miss it!

[Reviews based on samples provided by Guerlain, Estée Lauder, Aramis, Tom Ford and Robert Piguet.]



  1. Great article Mr. P. It's always a pleasure to read your thoughts.


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