Scent Sample Sunday: Le Feu d’Issey

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Feu d’Issey

I have a collector’s brain; I have always enjoyed building a collection of things that interest me and learning about them. Over the years, that has mostly manifested itself in my gardening (sometimes to the detriment of orderly design); I have to discipline myself to plant groupings of plants, not just plant one of everything. Sometimes it all comes together really well, as when my husband cleared two areas of underbrush so we could plant two small groves of almost two dozen Japanese maples I had been growing in pots.

Since I started studying, not just wearing, fragrance three years ago, I’ve built up quite a collection, but it doesn’t have a lot of coherence to it yet; I’m still in the “let me try everything” learning stage, lol. But one way I have tried to inject some structure into my collection is to try as many as possible of the fragrances given five stars in Turin and Sanchez’ “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.” One of those is Issey Miyake’s Le Feu d’Issey, created by Jacques Cavallier in 1998, which was discontinued several years ago. Here is their summary:

The surprise effect of Le Feu d’Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one’s nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B pills, and no doubt a few other UFOs that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times. Whoever did this has that rarest of qualities in perfumery, a sense of humor. Bravo to those who did not recoil in horror at something so original and agreed to bottle it and sell it, but shame, also, since they lost their nerve and discontinued it before it caught on. Whether you wear it or not, if you can find it, it should be in your collection as a reminder that perfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence.

Le Feu d’Issey has been reviewed on several well-known fragrance blogs: The Sounds of ScentThe Candy Perfume BoyColognoisseurPerfume-Smellin’ Things, and others. Almost all agree that it is an oddity with a strangely compelling appeal. My experience parallels theirs, though I am happy to say that I won’t feel a desperate need to track down a full bottle. Happy, because they go for $200 or more on auction sites! I found a set of reasonably priced manufacturer’s samples online, so I was able to indulge my curiosity.

Manufacturer's carded samples of Issey Miyake's fragrance Le Feu d'Issey

Carded samples of Le Feu d’Issey

The opening is very sharp and weird. Obviously the carded manufacturer’s samples I have are over ten years old, and one of the top notes has gone off. I think it must be the bergamot, because I don’t smell that at all — the very first thing I do smell is a harsh note of alcohol. That’s age, not design. It goes away within seconds, and I do smell the other notes listed on Fragrantica: coconut, rosewood, anise. The visual pyramid also lists as top notes coriander leaf and rose. I don’t smell rose at the start, but I do get an herbal note in addition to the anise, which could be coriander. Within minutes, the rosewood emerges as the winner among the top notes, and I like it very much.

As the heart notes emerge, Le Feu becomes sweeter. I definitely smell the milkiness coming to join the rosewood. At this stage, it reminds me of Carner Barcelona‘s Palo Santo. whose middle notes are warm milk and guiac wood. Le Feu’s heart notes are listed as: jasmine, rose, milk and caramel but the pyramid also shows pepper and golden lily. As it gets sweeter, I do smell something like caramel, but I wonder if that is due to perfumer’s sleight of hand. Here is a comment written by London’s Bloom Perfumery about Palo Santo: “Some people smell caramel, but it’s a trick played by the combination of gaiac, tonka, davana and milk accord.” On my skin, the sweetness is mostly gone within the first hour of wearing.

As to the flowers, here is where I experienced the famously shape-shifting nature of Le Feu that has intrigued so many. The first time I wore it, I definitely smelled the emergence of a smooth, classical blend of rose, lily, and jasmine. Today, as I sit with Le Feu on my hand so I can write down my impressions — no flowers. And I sprayed from the same sample!

The base notes of Le Feu are: cedar, sandalwood, Guaiac wood, vanilla and musk. At this stage, it is a very appealing, warm, woody scent with a lingering trace of something sweet. Yesterday when I tried it for the first time, that stage lasted on my skin for several hours.

Bottom line: I like Le Feu very much, but I don’t feel desperately compelled to seek out a bottle of it. However, I’m glad to realize that, while not a dupe, Carner Barcelona’s Palo Santo shares some of Le Feu’s appeal. It’s not cheap, but it is still available!

Scent Sample Sunday: Crowd Pleasers

Scent Sample Sunday: Crowd Pleasers

I have a few fragrances that I think of as “crowd pleasers.” My “crowd” these days are usually my husband and teenaged son, who are patient testers of wrists extended with the request to sniff and tell me what they think. They prefer what my son calls “laid-back” scents: straightforward, more on the subtle side, nothing too strong (tuberose, I’m looking at you!) or challenging. And I have some very pleasing fragrances that fit the bill: some by Jo Malone, some by Lili Bermuda, some by Penhaligon’s, even one by Montale when applied lightly (Intense Cafe).

The crowd-pleaser I wore today is Berdoues Grand Crus Vanira Moorea. The only notes listed on Fragrantica are:  petitgrain, brazilian orange and madagascar vanilla. I’m sure there’s more going on with it, but those are the notes one smells the most. It opens with that citrusy sparkle and moves quickly into vanilla territory. I’ve noticed that many men seem to like the vanilla note in women’s fragrances if it is prominent enough for them to notice. Some commenters find Vanira Moorea sweet, but I don’t — at least not enough to think of it as vanilla gourmand. It always draws nods of approval from my “crowd” when I wear it. It’s a comfortable, comforting scent without being heavy or cloying.

CaFleureBon‘s Gail Gross wrote a lovely review of Vanira Moorea, around the theme of the South Pacific:

This new cologne, created by perfumer Alexandra Monet and introduced in July 2016, is at once vivid, saturated and crisp. With the initial spritz the slightly bitter, leafy petitgrain lifts the vanilla right off the ground. As the cologne drifts and swirls though the air, bright sparks of sweetness are carried on a green, misty essence of twigs and leaves.  This unisex, effervescent refreshment lasts for about an hour before the fragrance melts and settles onto the skin with a sensuality reminiscent of oranges and sunshine.

I think it is this sunny, cheerful warmth that makes this fragrance a true crowd-pleaser. Which fragrances of yours would you put in that category?

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

This weekend, my husband and I had a somewhat rare, formal “date night”. Our son was going to be out all evening at a fundraiser and I bought us tickets to see the ballet “Don Quixote”, which is one of the few classic, full-length story ballets I had never seen. So of course, this was an excuse to dress up more than usual — and to wear Amouage Gold for Woman.

What a gorgeous scent it is! Like the ballet, it is a full-blown classical creation and pulls off dazzling twists, turns, changes, and lifts with seemingly effortless grace. Luca Turin put it better than anyone in his five-star review in “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”:

The whole thing is put together in a happy, slightly naive, manifestly handcrafted style, which reminds me of the few really valuable things Russia used to produce, like Red October chocolates, confirming my long-held opinion that Moscow is a big Damascus with snow… The fragrance? [Perfumer] Guy Robert describes it in the press pack as the crowning glory of his career, and I agree. Robert is perhaps the most symphonic of the old-school French perfumes still working today, and Gold is his Bruckner’s Ninth. This perfume is about texture rather than structure, a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other. It’s as if Joy had eloped with Scheherezade for a thousand and one nights of illicit fun.

Fragrantica has this to say: “This is an intensive floral for evening wearing and special occasions.” The top notes are rose, lily of the valley, and frankincense. Middle notes are myrrh, orris, and jasmine; the base notes include ambergris, civet, musk, cedarwood, and sandalwood.

It was a great match for “Don Quixote”, which is also a huge, symphonic fairy tale with its roots in the 19th century. Unlike many other such major story ballets, however, “Don Quixote” is happy throughout and has a happy ending. And if you want naivete, you have it in the character of Don Quixote himself, the idealist who dreams of knights and fair maidens, and who has visions of the beautiful Dulcinea. In the ballet, his harmless delusions lead him to rescue a village girl, Kitri, from an arranged marriage with a wealthy fop, and make her father allow her to marry her true love, Basilio. The ballet is based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa, via the Kirov Ballet by way of Rudolf Nureyev and thus to American ballet companies. It has many set pieces and Spanish folk variations, with dozens of dancers flying across the stage in colorful costumes, doing spectacular lifts and showstoppers like Kitri’s 32 fouettes. (The audience last night gasped, cheered, and clapped its hands to the point of soreness. The ballerina received a well-deserved standing ovation and several curtain calls at the end of the ballet).

On my skin, Amouage Gold is a sophisticated blend of all those notes and probably more that aren’t listed. It is so well-blended that one doesn’t really pick out individual notes; as the perfume progresses, my experience is that I suddenly notice it has changed although it is still recognizably Gold. It is a tour-de-force of modern perfumery that harks back to classical French perfumery. Turin’s phrase “a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other” is apt. Amouage is famously a perfume house that was meant to bridge the worlds of Middle Eastern and European perfume. Just so, Spain — the setting of Don Quixote — has been for centuries a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, with many Moorish influences on its art and culture. Gold and “Don Quixote” are both felicitous incarnations of that spirit of Spain at its best: gorgeous, charming, symphonic, airborne, magnificent.

Ballerina Natalia Osopova as Kitri in ballet Don Quixote

Natalia Osipova as Kitri; photo from http://www.nytimes.com

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

I always appreciate a quality fragrance that is also affordable, and I appreciate other writers alerting me to those, so here’s my contribution to the “bang for the buck” list of fragrances. The mid-price chain Target has launched a store exclusive line of fragrances called “Good Chemistry” in January; the line is a division of the company Illume. They must be selling well, as the shelves were almost empty when I wandered over to my local Target to check them out. According to the promotional copy:

… the niche fragrance brand includes four collections inspired by different personalities: Confident and Charming, Good and Grounded, Vibrant and Playful and Cool and Collected. Each collection then includes four unique scents that come in perfume, body sprays and rollerballs.

I tried a few from the testers in the store and came home with two rollerballs: Brainiac and Apricot Bloom. (Full disclosure: I may return the unopened rollerball of Apricot Bloom, because the drydown became unappealing after an initially pleasant skin test from the store tester). Brainiac has claimed a place on my shelf, and I’m glad I bought it. I’m also glad it and the other scents come in rollerballs, as I really won’t need more than the 7.5 ml those contain.

Hands holding rollerballs of Target Good Chemistry fragrance collection

Rollerballs from Good Chemistry collection; image from www.good-chemistry.com.

Brainiac is part of the “Vibrant and Playful” collection. It is further described as “clean and practical with a bit of wit.” It is definitely unisex. Its label lists its primary notes as citrus, peppercorn and vanilla. Interestingly, all the Good Chemistry scents are described as “vegan and cruelty-free with essential oils.” No parabens or propylene glycol. The interesting part is that in tiny print, the label says it contains essential oils of armoise, cardamom, and clary sage. Yes! That’s why I immediately liked Brainiac — I love the smell of cardamom. I like clary sage too, but what is “armoise”?

Turns out that “armoise” is based on the Old French word for artemisia, part of a large group of aromatic plants also known in English as mugworts. Eden Botanicals says:

Organic Armoise (Mugwort)

Artemisia herba-alba is a specific Artemisia species indigenous to Morocco which provides the essential oil known as Armoise (Mugwort). Ours has a very fresh, cool, soft green, sweet-camphoraceous aroma that is highly diffusive in much the same way as Peppermint, however while the aroma has a very penetrating initial effect, this subsides after a few minutes of exposure to air. In natural perfumery, Armoise can be used in trace amounts to provide “lift” to top note accords; to add a fresh, green, naturalness; and to accentuate other green notes such as GalbanumSageRosemary, etc.

Yep. That’s exactly what my nose smelled right away when I tested Brainiac: cardamom, and a green “lift” that accentuates the herbal aromatic impression continued by the clary sage. There is a slightly citrusy aspect to the opening, but not much and not for long. If I had to guess, I would say it is bergamot,, as it reminded me of Earl Grey tea and it wasn’t sweet like some other citrus notes. I tend to like green fragrances, both green florals and green aromatics like Aromatics Elixir and Azuree. I don’t smell peppercorn; I wonder if that was listed in the place of cardamom, as some shoppers may be less familiar with the latter. I can’t say I smell much vanilla, although the fragrance does get a little less green and a bit sweeter over time.

All in all, this is a very pleasing fragrance and a good buy at $12.99 for a rollerball, $24.99 for a 50 ml bottle.

Rollerball of Brainiac fragrance from Target's Good Chemistry collection by Illume

Brainiac rollerball from Target

 

Featured image from CalPhotos; ©2010 Zoya Akulova.

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

In an earlier post focused on Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays, I mentioned that I had also been getting a lot of holiday use from Etat Libre d’Orange’s Noel Au Balcon. As January is now almost over, together with the winter holidays, I’d better post about it!

Now Smell This says that the name refers to an old French saying: “The proverb ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’ means that a warm Christmas — warm enough to spend on the balcony — will be followed by an unseasonably cool Easter (requiring ‘firebrands’).” (I actually think the phrase “tisons” here is more likely to refer to the embers of a fire that require poking to stay warm, as in “tisonner le feu”).  That review also notes that “the expression ‘avoir du monde au balcon,’ or ‘the balcony is crowded,’ is a reference to a shapely bosom.” So basically this fragrance’s name, true to ELDO traditions, is a play on words meaning something like Christmas among the warm, if not smoldering, bosoms. I love it!

And I really like the fragrance a lot. It opens with notes of apricot, honey, and orange. To my nose, the apricot is very noticeable, sweetened by the honey but not too much. The middle notes are supposed to be chili pepper, cinnamon, and orange blossom, and it does get spicier than the opening, but to me the spice is not very strong and it complements the apricot and honey instead of superseding them. Base notes seem to be patchouli, musk, cistus, vanilla, and another aromatic spice which I’ve seen listed either as cinnamon or caraway.

Reviewer Tammy Schuster wrote a hilarious review on CaFleureBon, complete with references to her “redneck Christmases” in the mountains of North Georgia. As she notes, Noel au Balcon is a fun date that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is just here to make sure everyone, including her, has a good time. Speaking of time, this scent lasts a good long time, too, without being overwhelming.  On me, the apricot, honey, and vanilla are the strongest and most lasting notes, with warm musk, patchouli, and spices chiming in but not dominating. In short, for a winter holiday fragrance, Noel au Balcon has plenty of “sugar and spice, and everything nice”, and a warm, come-hither smile full of good cheer.

Featured image by Earl Moran.

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

As I’ve been learning about and exploring more fragrances, I find myself doing something I never used to do: picking fragrances to suit seasons of the year. I’m sure this is because I am paying more attention to the fragrances themselves and their notes, instead of just spraying on something I’ve always liked and used, lovely as that might be. So I used to rotate reliably among a small group of floral fragrances, no matter what the season, weather, or time of year — nothing wrong with that, but very predictable. Now that I have a larger collection, and one subscription (Scentbird), I am more intentional in what I choose to wear on a given day.

This fall and winter, I sought out fragrances that emphasized fewer floral notes, though those are still a major love of mine, and had more of a cold weather vibe. Two that come to mind are ELDO’s Noel au Balcon and Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays. I’ve enjoyed both very much.

I’ve found different descriptions of the notes for the Bond No. 9: Now Smell This and Basenotes listed them as: tangerine, blueberries, plum, freesia, osmanthus, sandalwood, white amber, teakwood, vanilla gelatto and musk, when it was launched in late 2013. Fragrantica, however, says the notes are: mandarin orange, apricot and pomegranate; middle notes are fennel, nutmeg and freesia; base notes are patchouli, leather, musk and praline. It is no longer listed on Bond No. 9’s own website (I think it has been discontinued), so it’s hard to know which is correct, although I would guess that the notes listed when it launched were the ones announced by the maker. Based on my own nose, the opening seems closer to Fragrantica’s description: I get mostly a strong apricot note, which I like. I definitely smell the freesia in the middle, with the apricot still going strong, and there is an astringent middle note which could be nutmeg or fennel. Not smelling any blueberries, plum, or osmanthus. When I first apply it, I get a little pop of something green, almost like balsam, but it vanishes quickly.

There is certainly a sweetness that emerges as it dries down; to me, it smells more like the praline described on Fragrantica than the “vanilla gelatto” listed elsewhere. Other commenters have said this fragrance smells like Angel to them, because of the praline and patchouli notes, but I don’t like Angel and I do like For Holidays; they don’t seem similar, to me. The latter’s sweetness is never overpowering, while I find Angel both overpowering and cloying.

CaFleureBon had a great review back in 2013, and the reviewer listed notes that were a combination of both lists, including a comment that it was osmanthus that gave off the apricot smell. I have an osmanthus in my garden, and I don’t smell it in For Holidays; I smell spot-on apricot. Regardless, this is an excellent summary of my own experience with it:

An unlikely trio of mandarin, the fruit of good fortune, blended with osmanthus flower, with its buttery smoky peachy/apricot aroma, and tart pomegranate all create this delicious “fantasy” fruit compote that had my mouth practically watering. I Love NY for the Holidays is unisex from start to finish, and despite the listed usually feminine fruits it stays balanced thanks to heart notes of crisp licorice-tinged fennel, alluring nutmeg and a soft silken (not powdery) freesia. Perhaps the fennel is where the green came from and the spices flowers and fruits are arranged just so that the sublime scent of Christmas at home comes wafting through. The finish here is beguiling. At first it is almost oriental and floral smelling and veers very close to the feminine before settling into a comfortable pseudo-gourmand haze. Labdanum, woody warm and resinous, lingers with soft skin musk and a caramel-chocolate praline note. Woven together not unlike a fine colorful tapestry, this unites fruits, a hint of flowers with herb and spice and frames it in sensual and oriental deliciousness; resulting in a festive modern gourmet/floral blend. This is a genuine beauty and truly a gift worth giving…and owning! Sillage: very good. Longevity: excellent.

Truly, although only a few of the notes are traditionally “holiday” fragrance notes, like apricot/orange and nutmeg, this DOES evoke winter holidays! I have spent many holiday seasons in New York City, and that season is magical. The tree in Rockefeller Center, the ice skating, the elaborate lights and store window decorations on Fifth Avenue, the festive events all over the city — everyone should experience them at least once. One of the ultimate holiday experiences in New York is to see the ballet The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. Ultimately, THAT is what For Holidays evokes in my mind: a dance of fruits, flowers, spices and sweets that lingers after the last orchestral strains have ended.

Two ballet dancers in the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker

The Nutcracker; photo from New York City Ballet.

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Montale Intense Cafe

Scent Sample Sunday: Montale Intense Cafe

I received Intense Cafe as part of a fragrance subscription service and it has quickly become a favorite. Classified by Fragrantica as an “Oriental Vanilla”, its main floral note is a rich rose, supported by notes of coffee, amber, vanilla and musk. This is my first Montale fragrance and it’s a hit! I’ve been complimented on it by an elderly lady while buying plants at a local nursery, and by my son while driving him to a gathering with other teenaged boys, as well as by my husband even through his recent head cold.

Intense Cafe is a great rose scent for cooler months. After an initial fruity rose burst, the coffee notes hover in the background and are more like a latte; in fact, much like the way I like my lattes from the local baristas: double shots of espresso, lots of foamy milk, and a sprinkle of vanilla powder on top. Kafkaesque sensed cocoa too, sometimes even more than coffee, but that was not my experience. Unlike many Oriental fragrances, Intense Cafe isn’t spicy; it is creamy and a bit sweet, though not overly so and not a gourmand scent, to me. Some commenters on Fragrantica think it smells like oud; I think Kafkaesque is probably right, that they are smelling another note she says is typical of Montale, Iso-E Super, as I’m not picking up anything I recognize as oud (not that I’m an expert).

The fragrance has great longevity; a few small sprays in the morning and I am set for the day. I emphasize “small sprays” because it is quite potent. Apparently sillage is excellent too; I was at a local nursery recently to buy pansies for my winter planters (yes, they bloom all winter here — lovely!) and an older lady came over to me from at least 20 feet away to ask what fragrance I had on, because she liked it so much. Keep in mind that we were already surrounded by nice flower scents from living plants, and Intense Cafe still made its presence known.

To my delight, there is actually such a thing as a vanilla rose latte! Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company (from which I borrowed the featured image above) has this recipe: Vanilla Rose Latte. Even Nespresso has a recipe for a Rose Caffe Latte with Vanilla, though ironically, the recipe for their automatic espresso machine seems much more complicated than the one from Barnie’s. I think I will just add some rose simple syrup to my next order from Starbucks once I get it home, and see how that tastes!

There is even a rose variety Cafe Latte, available through a marvelously named flower wholesaler in Holland, The Parfum Flower Company. Honestly, the photo below looks exactly how Intense Cafe smells to me: less of a red, fruity rose and more of a soft, dusty capuccino pink with lashings of cream.

Rose Cafe Latte from flower wholesaler Parfum Flower Company

Rose Cafe Latte; image from Parfum Flower Company.

The Parfum Flower Company specializes in highly scented garden roses for special occasions. As they note in their YouTube video (!), most commercially grown roses now have little or no fragrance. The Parfum Flower Company grows roses like my beloved David Austin Roses, as well as other very fragrant varieties from other hybridizers. Just look at that gorgeous color!

Intense Cafe will likely be one of the few scents I’ve sampled that will move to “full bottle” status on my wishlist. With Christmas approaching, maybe Santa will oblige!

Montale Intense Cafe snowflakes

Montale Intense Cafe; image from http://www.11street.my.