Friday, 21 April 2017

I've had it on my wishlist blind for a long time and eventually got round to getting the First Sample. It was quite a disappointment:

Either my nose is off or my sample is but I get hardly any rose here - instead a very obvious and persistent coriander (seed not leaf) note...

But I persisted and ordered another one...

This one was marked as 2015 batch and the rose is, indeed, there, beautiful, transparent and persistent. But so is the coriander (?? as it's ot listed in the notes), now greener, fresher, woodier.

I think I'm falling in love with Lyric Man (huh). As others mentioned it has an almost hypnotic quality. I want to go in, let myself be pulled into the space this fragrance creates, somewhere beyond... I'd say beyond the veil, if it didn't sound so wanky.

I have looked up some rosewood images and you know what? Lyric Man smells the way that rosewood looks... minus the jungle humidity, of course.

I am yet to think of another scent that somehow manages to be both cool and warm, at the same time. Like silk, dry and cool but unfolding in desert air. Extremely smooth but matte, not shiny satin. There is a wind, a hot dry breeze that cools me down. I know I'm not making any sense.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

The great Jo Malone cult mystery

I have just read a lovely blog post on the 4160 Tuesdays website  on aspirational and less-aspirational scents and although I entirely agree with the general gist of what it says (go on, read!) I take exception to one example of less aspirational given there.

Jo Malone. The mysterious Jo Malone cult. I don't mean the appeal of the fragrances, nothing wrong with that, though not my kind of thing at that price point tbh.

I mean the lower-key, sneaky, very... very English, perhaps very lower-middle-class English aspiration of a perfect honey-blond bob and Boden.

Jo Malone, however simple and Demeter-like the frags are, is, somehow, unbelievably aspirational as well as pretty bloody expensive for what is essentially a cologne house. It seems to have a cultish following unlike any other mainstream designer brand (mind you, these are all conclusions derived purely from regular observations of eBay sales, which just tells you how much you can tell from second-hand sales patterns) which basically defies my understanding. A kind of English wholesome equivalent of the American soccer mom thing.

Sure, the following of Jo Malone's is very different from, let's say, Creed's but also very different, I'd guess, from Lush's.

But consider this: people sell not just the empty bottles (this is common for many perfumes) but also empty boxes and even empty carrier BAGS (!!!) of Jo Malone products on eBay. I doubt all of them are bough by shady individuals intending to produce fakes.

You see, I get that. In the 1980's Poland, I strategically chose German supermarket and cheap high street shops' carrier-bags to make a certain impression (of someone who has been abroad! in the West! and even did some shopping there! not just in ALDI!). Totally aspirationally.

To see a similar pattern repeated in relation to standard designer-logo-ed stuff is expected, to see it repeated in relation to the boring-in-a-bottle embodied by Jo Malone is... curious.

The lush girl Tuesday (1)

I have to confess to something approaching love for 4160 Tuesdays.

According to Fragrantica, 4160 Tuesdays (the number of Tuesdays we will have if we, optimistically, live till 80) is an artisan perfume house based in London, founded by Sarah McCartney. An author and former writer for Lush, Sarah is a self-taught perfumer who studied fragrance composition in order to bring to life the fictional fragrances crafted by a character in her novel The Scent of Possibility.

Now, who could possibly NOT become immediately interested in such a perfume maker.

I did poke around the website which combines fabulous (blog! stories! notes! humour! cheek! stories! descriptions!) with touchingly twee and yummy-eco-mummy infuriating (the obsessive eco-friendliness, the warnings not to put vintage scent on your skin, presumably in case the evil nitromusks give you rash, I bet you they support breastfeeding at all costs too) with inspired (fragrance! prices! vintage stuff!) and ordered a sampler set. 

I received my generous vials, in a sturdy box complete with Bowie stamps (and I bet you the Bowie stamps are chosen on purpose) plus one extra one, and a hand-written note, and a discount code....bloody hell, I have just realised I had that but I bought more from them since and not used it ;(

And thus started my exploration of 4160 Tuesdays' oeuvre. So far, it has been fantastic fun. Unexpected, exciting, interesting, and unexpectedly joyful. And I think this matters almost more - and certainly as much as - the scents, which are interesting, and some of them fabulous, anyway. I made notes as I tried them on: here is the first batch. 

Goddess of Love & Perfume: Sex Bomb

I bought this one as an extra sample on top of my 7-scent taster set (as a perfume/extrait it wasn't available as part of the set) for 6 GBP - a lot of money for a 2.25ml sample so I admit I had high expectations.

I'm wearing it now and to be perfectly honest I don't smell any oakmoss (or any moss) but what I smell is a very noticeable 'Lush base' (that scent that underlies most Lush bath products and quite a few of their perfumes) plus a very specific fragrance that took me a while to recall but when I did it was obvious and clear: this smells exactly like the Sex Bomb bath ballistic. Fizzy, fruity, sexy, powdery and all that. What I am most strongly reminded of is the original Agent Provocateur frag.

Nice, if not quite my thing.

Mother Nature's Naughty Daughters: Gran Titania

I am half way through the first run of the 4160 Tuesdays sample box and I have decided that although the idea, style and concept of what Sarah McCartney does, I should avoid their scents that feature fruity notes. Not because there is anything technically wrong with them, but because that thick rosy/powdery base (if it is a base?) that I termed 'Lushiade' they share with Lush products make it hard for me to distinguish anything else.

This opens up with blast of lush (and Lush) strawberry which I don't like in a fragrance. Other fruits are there too, caramelised pear is noticeable for example; and also a jammy (syrupy) rose. As well as a lot of powdery notes.

It gets a little less sticky with time, but still just too jammy for me, especially as any moss or chypre-like bitterness is just too hidden for my sense of smell.

Eight hours after applying and after washing up, washing hands, scrubbing carrots and chopping onions, and it's still there, mellowing into a sweet and rosy and maybe just a tiny bit mossy softness. So, longevity on this of this fragrance is mega impressive so far. I'd say my rating is a solid 3/5 at this stage and if someone gave me a bottle I'd keep at least half of it ;)

All in all, it's very nice in its own way, and I'd very happily bathe in this, but as a fragrance is just too Midsummer Night's Dream. In this sense, I think it accomplishes the perfumer's objective. It's should have been called "Gran Titania".

Who Knew?: Roseberry

I love rose in all incarnations,but I'm not so sure about grass with strawberry. As many Tuesdays frags I've tried, I like this one and it's fun and enjoyable to try but not quite what I like. Just as vanilla and tonka in Lush, straw/raspberries get too much voice in Sarah's sweeter stuff for my liking.

But for a non rose fan this could as well do well as it's really well put together ;)

Flora Psychedelica: Who knew?

I don't know what it is, because it's not a kind of fragrance I'd normally go for, but I love it.

It's a floral, but not a classic floral, it's fresh and it's green but at the same time neither cold nor twee.

Strangely, from the Tuesdays' sample set, I love the ones I wasn't at all sure choosing, and I ended up kinda meh about ones I thought I'd love... but trying all of that has been extremely enjoyable.

This one goes on my (recently heavily culled) wishlist.


Filthy flappers and my problem with leather (Robert Piguet Bandit EDP)

The current Bandit is a reconstruction of an original fragrance launched in 1944 and created by Germaine Cellier, discontinued (when a pallid and harsh version of its former self) in the 1970's and revived in 1990's when the Piguet brand was acquired by the somewhat mundane sounding Fashion Fragrances & Cosmetics.

Many of their reconstructions of the original Piguet fragrances using modern ingredients and with some updates for modern regulations and sensibilities are considered to be largely successful, and Bandit is among those.

The original Bandit fitted in a style of provocative early 20th century fragrances for emancipated women: women who wore trousers, smoked in public and generally transgressed social mores of the time. The current Bandit is a dirty chypre with a powerful leather note and an animalic side, and might be more challenging nowadays than it was originally. Why do I say that? Because the current standard for feminine perfumery oscillates between two poles. One is generally sweet: fruity, vanilla, gourmand, fruitchouli, berry, all that stuff that when done well is nice and sweet and when done badly is sickly sweet. The other pole is fresh: aquatic, ''clean'', watery, washed out citrusy fragrances that at best resemble classic Eau de Cologne and at worst smell like laundry soap. There is even a whole brand/fragrance line called Clean, I kid you not. Luca Turin told me it was uniformly horrible, and I believed him without trying them, so there.

Anyway, in the times when smoking indoors is unacceptable, cleanliness is again equalled to goodliness and sweet berry smells are considered to be (1) suitable for grown women (2) actually sexy, a chypre that reeks of sweaty leather might be a sniff too far.

Technically speaking, Bandit is a dark leather chypre and the official notes are as follows:

Top: Aldehydes - Orange - Artemisia - Gardenia - Galbanum - Neroli - Bergamot - Ylang-Ylang

Middle: Carnation - Violet Root - Jasmine - Rose - Tuberose

Base: Leather  - Amber  - Patchouli  - Musk  - Coconut - Civet  - Oakmoss  - Vetiver  - Myrrh

I was very excited to test this when I got round to getting a sample but I was also wary because I rarely love leather fragrances. I mean, I LOVE the smell of actual leather, and I like stuff made of leather, from jackets to wristbands, belts, shoes and occasional less conventional item of leather apparel. But I rarely ''get'' leather notes, or maybe I can't interpret them as leather and so far most ''leather'' fragrances I tried have been less than 100% love - even though I want to love them very much.

I do get leather in Bandit. After the aldehydic/citrusy opening leather comes on in a big way, and my nose reads Bandit on my skin mostly as a woody leather.

This in itself is very impressive in a somewhat inhuman and fairly old-fashioned way. There is a definite hint of a dungeon - a definitely '''cold''' dungeon - about Bandit, and although it's not quite de Sade, neither it is the glossy images of contemporary Tumblr-friendly kink.

A few minutes in Bandit starts to develop into the dirtiest scent this side of ELdO's Secretions Magnifiques (don't even go there): sweaty and borderline gag-inducing animalic note wrapped in leather, surrounded by ripe flowers, underlined by the bitter oakmoss. And it stays like that for hours.

As you might have worked out, the animalic aspect of Bandit is pretty overwhelming - possibly TOO overwhelming - on my skin/for my nose.

Still, this might not work the same way for everyone and as Bandit is a reference leather chypre and widely considered to be a successful retelling (re-smelling?) of a legendary fragrance, it's a must-smell for anybody interested in perfume. I definitely don't recommend buying it blind, especially considering the price, but I do recomemnd acquiring a sample.

All in all, I mark this as good or like but it's less of like really and more of utter awe mixed with a bit of repulsion.

I am glad I didn't buy a bottle blind, but now I am still not entirely sure if I want one having sampled this.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ornaments of scent

There seems to be a bit of a (esoteric and semantic but perhaps more interesting in the wider context and not just for perfume enthusiasts) debate on whether fragrance (or at least ''fine fragrance'') is an art. And if it's not an art, what is it, and if it is art, then is it fine art or applied art. The alternative to ''art'' is ''design'', which to me sits indistinguishably near ''applied art''.

This dictionary problem has been occupying me for quite a while now, and inevitably led to attempts to define ''art''. And I think that people who believe that perfume is art simply (or not so simply) have a different working definition of art to those that think of it as ''merely a design''.

Art can be understood as a creation of beauty, something that evokes emotions or brings aesthetic pleasures. Thus defined, a lot of ''design'' has at least an element of art, even if this aesthetic aspect is functional/applied and subordinate to function of the object. Thus defined, perfume is definitely (applied) art.

In fact, one can argue that perfume is more of an art than for example architecture, a lot of ceramics, clothing, furniture or interior design. Sure, it's functional, but its essential function is ornamentation. It's decorative. It doesn't provide expression, commentary or reflection of socio-historical realities, human condition or spiritual experiences. It has no content as such. It doesn't tell a story, and it doesn't transmit ideas, as such. Any possible (and generally fairly thin) content in the art of perfumery is derived from context, not from the object (fragrance) itself. But it can - and sometimes it does - provide new ways of seeing, or rather new ways of smelling.

This is not a mean thing. One could argue that a lot of visual art is just like fragrance. And so is a lot of instrumental and at least some vocal/vocal-instrumental music.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Two roses (Tea Rose & ELDO Eau de Protection)

I like rose scents. Rose is odd, because on one hand it's an epitome of all that's sweet and feminine and lovely, oh so lovely, and yet it's one of the most unisex florals out there, and when woven into proper fragrance composition, can go pretty much every way, while still being, well, rose.

These are my two favourite roses at the moment, with ''the moment'' being defined as last ten years.

Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop 

Tea Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. A huge rose, very rose-y indeed, and as some reviewers mentioned, with a hint of the leaves and stalks and even thorns. It lasts and projects. No more and no less. You get exactly what you pay for and you don't pay much at all.

I have a slightly ambivalent relationship with florals, not because I don't like certain flowers' scents but because "floral" fragrances are often awful. Or really, really sweet. Or both. Still, I do love some specific florals, particularly jasmine, rose, neroli (and iris though I don't think of it as floral ;)

At the same time I was reading the Luca Turin book for the first time ever (2008? 2009?) I was also slightly obsessed with rose notes. The proper floral rose, just as it grows in the garden, not rose jam or rose-based fragrances. And so I was on a search for a rose soliflore, trying to get the desired effect from rose essential oils and testing various fragrance (Bvlgari and Paul Smith were two that proved somewhat thin and unsatisfactory). When I'd read the Guide's notes claiming that the PW's Tea Rose is "huge painted in watercolour and has the species name written below it in cursive" I thought it was worth a try. I discovered that it was available really cheaply from American eBay, I bought three (THREE!!) of those giant 120 ml bottles and drenched everything in that scent for as long as it lasted.

It didn't put me off, though I got my fill for a few years I guess because I didn't replenish for a few years. I got a new bottle at the very beginning of re-establishment of my current ''collection'' few months ago and it's all still very much there. A rose that's a rose that's a rose that's a rose.

Fragrance wise, it reminds me most of those little folksy-painted turned wooden boxes that housed a small bottle of Bulgarian rose oil that one occasionally came across growing up in the 1970/80's behind the Iron Curtain. Fabulous as far as roses go and brilliant for layering.

Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection from Etat Libre d'Orange

I was reluctant to buy this as I have a thing (a Bad Kind of Thing) about celebrity fragrances but Rossy de Palma ain't Paris Hilton or even that horselike woman from that TV series, after all. So after a sample vial made its way to me somehow, I bought more, and used it, and decided that just as the Tilda Swinton ELdO one, this was a clear winner and as for now probably my favourite "proper fragrance" (i.e. not a plain one-note soliflore) rose.

The official notes are as follows:
Top: ginger, bergamot, pepper
Middle: geranium, jasmine, rose
Base: frankincense, patchouli, cocoa and benzoin

For a change, the official notes reflect what I can smell pretty well, though the rose is present throughout, not just in the middle.

But it starts truly gloriously, in some dry and warm place where citrussy green of bergamot meets a small roadside rose bush and they roll on a ginger bed for a while.

So it's all lovely, but after few minutes geranium raises its weird, cloying head. Luckily, not for long and what happens next, and what remains for the next ten hours (I did apply LOADS, though, because I couldn't get enough of that first accord) is an aromatic, not-at-all sweet yet not-at-all sharp or jarring rose: peppery, incensey, warm yet not cloying.

The non-celebrity part of the name, Eau de Protection is well chosen. This scent has quite a talismanic, even battledress of sorts, feeling for me. Maybe it's the incense lurking at the base, maybe I'm being influenced by the blurb, the name and the colours. But maybe it is the composition.

If the Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop is a rose to lounge on a veranda to, all chintz and Earl Grey, Eau de Protection is one for when you need to kick ass - or just feel more together.

Oh, and I agree with the Fragrantica reviewer that this is indeed a rose-based floral for someone who wears a tattered leather jacket and jeans. I do.

Try it if you like rose scents at all. Actually, try it even if you don't like florals unless you hate rose because it might offer a moment of epiphanic conversion.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sweet and clean

I have been trying to figure out what bothers me about the modern trends in fragrance fashions, and no, it's neither the oud obsession nor the unreasonable idolisation of vintage scents.

It's not even the sad rise of sports ''fragrances'', mostly among the masculines. These are simply boring, but I am not fond enough of classic masculines to be bothered, and anyway there are still some pretty good ones to be bought easily and cheaply, from Aramis and Polo aromatic fougeres to the Old Spice.

Before I go on, here is a picture:

And, to put a very candied cherry on an already thickly iced cake, here is another picture:

These are both screencaps of the voting screens of the 2017 Fragrance Foundation Consumer's Choice. I don't know how the shortlist is determined. It might be done by sales (FF is an industry organisation, even if it claims to be passionately devoted to increasing the awareness and appreciation of fragrance in all its forms) but if it is based on sales than so should be the winner, just the same way charts work.

And the interesting thing about all these fragrances, both the 2017 five and the Hall of Fame candidates is that, apart from the only ostensible masculine on the Hall of Fame list (Calvin Klein's Eternity For Men) which is a cheap and cheerful, youthfully aspirational aromatic fougere, they are all the same. So, of the nine nominally feminine fragrances on these lists, nine are are the same.

Before someone (if there is anyone out there reading this, which I sincerely doubt at this stage) starts to accuse me of ignorance, I will freely admit that I haven's tried all these scents. But I did look up the ones I didn't know and really, I didn't need to. The names would have been enough.

They are all sweet and clean. Or rather, they are all clean and sweet.

Yes, even Pleasures, which (incidentally to the subject of this rant but obviously) stand out from the others in a towering manner as a historical monument to a certain style of fragrance, not even style but a certain message, and which I personally don't like much, firstly because that particular message is not what I usually want to either explore or transmit, and secondly because it smells close to a lily of the valley soliflore on my skin.

Now, as much as I might personally dislike ''clean'' in its feminine expressions (which usually seem just too buttoned up for me), I can appreciate it (see below). I also don't object to ''clean'' as such, and for example classic barbershop masculines are an excellent expression of that, as are straightforward citrus colognes. From Azzaro Pour Homme to 4711 and Hermes' Eau d'Orange Verte (the latter available mega cheaply at least at the moment so one can literally douse oneself in it).

But I have a huge - HUGE - HUGE - problem with ''clean and sweet''. When the sweet part is figurative and manifests as prim florals evoking either d├ębutante virginal muslins and pale pink bedrooms, or a scrubbed and douched to perfection vibe of a soccer mom who hasn't found her inner MILF yet, I can appreciate it even if  I don't like it.

But the modern sweet is fairly literal and often distinctly food-evoking, as in all the gourmands spawned when Angel somewhat incestuously deflowered the original Lolita Lempicka (I reluctantly but undoubtedly like both of these). Honey, chocolate, vanilla and candy, red berries covered with mountains of icing sugar, vanilla, hazelnuts, caramel, latte and did I mention vanilla?

Now, I love vanilla and chocolate and berries. With some spices it's just about a perfect way for a house - especially kitchen - to smell and sweet, spicy warmth is one of my primary reason for loving classic and not so classic orientals. Shalimar and Hypnotic Poison are among my favourite scents.

But c'mon. These are not clean scents. Sugar and all things related is one of the key categories of dirt in the life of even a semi civilised human. Ask anybody who ever gave a chocolate bar to a toddler and had to clean up the fallout. Sure, sweet dirt doesn't have the naturally repulsive characteristics of organic waste, human, animal or vegetable which we have evolved to avoid as it promoted survival (there is a very good reason why the vast majority of people are disgusted by the smell or even the idea of faeces, vomit, rotten animal flesh, to a lesser extent rotten vegetables, and to even lesser, rotten fruit, and it's not merely the social training we undergo in childhood). But sweet dirt attracts insects (with their danger of bites and contamination) and because it's very sticky, it attracts other types or dirt, not necessarily as innocent as smears of chocolate, caramel or jam. So there might be something in it even from the most wanky ev psych perspective.

Sweet is not clean. Sweet when fruity (i.e. with sour and floral notes woven in) is sticky, juicy and can be heady. Sweet when non-fruity (as in vanilla, honey, chocolate, various sugars raw or burnt) is sticky, oozy, creamy and heavy. In the so-called nature, in ''real life'' outside glossy mags and design offices and possibly outside shopping centres too, sweet is dirty.

But mass-market (which includes large swathes of ''designer'') feminine fragrances nowadays, while maintaining the sweet factor sky-high, also insist on being clean, on invoking the idea of cleanliness as it was so well discussed by Bryan in this post on the meaning of ''soapy''. Those two current prerequisites for a feminine fragrance with a reasonable popular appeal seem to be tad contradictory to me and yet countless scents seemingly manage (as in the FF voting shortlists above).

The result is a weird kind of sweetness, a sugar-free sweetness which I would call ''chemical'' or ''synthetic'' if these poor words weren't abused enough as they are. What I mean is an artificial, kind of fake sweetness (the cleanliness has to feel real), a sweetness that is an olfactory equivalent of aspratame: it is there, it's undoubtedly sweet, and it generally tastes all right, especially in combination with other strong flavours, but it isn't quite the same. It might be sweet enough, very sweet, too sweet even, but it's not sticky.

The success of Angel, and the fact that in all its monstrosity, it is a wonderful fragrance miles above most of followed it, lies partially in that it isn't clean.

The choco sweetness goes hand in hand with (earthy = dirty) patchouli, and the initial outpouring of fruit is neither horrid nor trite. There is a solidity about it that's surprising. Angel is like a woman who seems like a bimbo with a boob job but who turns out to be not just a decent human being but not stupid at all. And amazingly, she also has a sense of humour. So few fragrances laugh but rather remain full of themselves and dead serious, but Angel has this dirty belly-laugh that means you can forgive it the Barbie heels and berry-pink lipstick. Unlike its aspratame sisters and daughters.